25. Brave New San Fran

  1. 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
  2. 02. A Public Service
  3. 03. The 22% Solution
  4. 04. On The Campaign Trail
  5. 05. Athens of America
  6. 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
  7. 07. My Canadian Family
  8. 08. Edmonton? Why?
  9. 09. Prairie Singers
  10. 10. Deconstructing Calgary
  11. 11. My Kelowna
  12. 12. Wine Whine
  13. 13. Fire Mountain
  14. 14. A Stopover and a Popover
  15. 15. Inspiring Victoria
  16. 16. Planet Rosehip
  17. 17. Carry On Grunge
  18. 18. Street People
  19. 19. The Curse of Portland
  20. 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
  21. 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
  22. 22. Managing Yosemite
  23. 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
  24. 24. Parched
  25. 25. Brave New San Fran
  26. 26. Over The Hill
  27. 27. Greatest Again

San Francisco and I get along better now than when we first met in 1985. Then, I was visiting my boyfriend who had just graduated from Boston University. He found himself jobless and penniless in Boston, so retreated here to live with his mother in an uncomfortable silence.

Then, it was pretty clear that with me living in Boston and him living in SF, after this trip we’d probably never see each other again. We didn’t. He cinched that by playing a cassette tape of “Don’t You Forget About Me” every time we got in his car. Sean was a good man, but I do not react well to needy.

Then, the AIDS epidemic was in its early stages, with San Fran leading the way in diagnoses, community reaction, enlightenment, fear and loathing. At the time, I knew no one HIV positive — indeed “HIV” had not yet entered the lexicon.

Then, I found San Francisco to be full of insincerely pleasant people. As a Bostonian, I was prepared to have a frank and earnest conversation with anyone about anything. I could abide New Yorkers, who spoke, shall we say, plainly. It took me awhile to understand San Franciscans. Their welcoming smile and airy demeanor always obscured ulterior motives. Sometimes, the ulterior motive was completely agreeable: “Oh, this is about sex? Good, for a minute I thought you really wanted to show me your Lladró figurines.”  Sometimes, not so much: “So when you said ‘only five dollars’ you meant ‘only five dollars per day plus taxes, fees and insurance, coming to $150?’ Really?”

Then, I had a hard time finding a good restaurant in San Francisco. Of course, I was twenty-four years old and broke. San Fran was expensive! Moreover, at that age I wouldn’t have known good food if it bit me.

So I left San Francisco puzzled. What was the attraction? I didn’t get it.

Seven years later, all grown up, I spent the month of July living in San Francisco. I had put myself out of work in Boston. Frank and I, together a mere six years at that point, were considering a move. I came out on my own to look for a job, and to see if I could live here.

After a lifetime watching the national weather reports showing San Francisco with pleasant sunny warm days most of the year, I came for the summer with one interview suit, a suitcase of shorts and T-shirts, plus one pair of Levi’s and one sweatshirt. Except for two hours a week shivering in the Laundromat, I spent the entire month in those Levi’s and that sweatshirt. Every day was foggy, damp, drizzly and cold — except at one o’clock in the afternoon. At one, the fog would recede, the clouds part, and the sun would warm the San Franciscan peninsula to a perfectly glorious seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit — for fifteen minutes. Then the foggy, damp, drizzly cold would resume.  Each day the national weather report would perpetuate a myth by reporting that San Francisco was sunny with a high temperature of seventy-two.

I stayed in the Castro in the shared home of four friends, all former Bostonians. All of them were HIV positive, at various stages of AIDS, and had moved to SF out of hope, love, fear and desperation. They found all of that here before dying here over the course of the nineties.

San Francisco was less responsive to my needs. Even with a free place to stay, San Francisco was expensive.  I had a couple of interviews, but no job offers. Truth is, after two weeks I stopped looking, having decided I didn’t want to live here — it was cold, depressing and expensive. Once again I left San Francisco not getting it.

I’ve visited San Francisco somewhere between a half-dozen and a dozen times since. It’s grown on me. The weather and the people still appear warm when being cold, but these days I understand them both well enough to find a decent meal, take in a concert or a show, and generally enjoy the city.

Today, that meant a long walk and a ballgame. Frank and I headed off to walk downtown, through the Mission neighbourhood, to take the BART to the Oakland Coliseum for the afternoon Oakland Athletics’ baseball game.

San Francisco is more expensive than ever, not in small part due to its adjacency to the Silicon Valley. Tens of thousands of highly paid techno geeks have flocked to the city, driving real estate prices and rents to stratospheric levels, having gone through the roof long ago. District after district has mutated from hard scrabble working class community to upper class showplace, stunningly beautiful and equally inaccessible.

IMG_2301This has had profound effects on every neighbourhood.  San Francisco’s “painted lady” Victorian mansions haven’t look so good since, well, Victoria — if ever. Yet with the grandeur and splendour of rich refurbishment comes a sterility and loss of character.

The Castro, for example, looks great but it is a shadow of the seething hotbed of gay activism it once was. Its well-heeled newcomers have encroached upon the adjacent Mission, a largely Latino neighbourhood, chasing many longtime residents out of the city.

Away from the Castro side, we found parts of the Mission with its character intact. So were its characters. A middle-aged black man approached a young Hispanic woman exiting a grocery store, asking her out of the blue “Excuse me, do I look attractive to you?”  Later we overheard a front stoop conversation: “The baby don’t look like him, baby don’t look like her, the baby looks like the janitor!”

IMG_2260As we continued it became clear that downtown was encroaching on the Mission from the other side, with numerous apartment towers on the way up. The Mission that San Francisco has known for the past half-century will not be the one it will get to know in the next. There’s a lot of hand-wringing going on about the effect this is having on the lower classes and minorities, and rightly so. Yet change and upheaval in a city is as inevitable as it is continuous. For me, it was nice to say good-bye to the old and meet the new.

My twenty-third campaign pledge – and here’s something you don’t hear from a presidential candidate very often: The Smiling Kodiak administration will not have the foggiest notion what to do about the effects of gentrification. This is an issue in cities around the world, although it is more extreme in San Francisco. I’m all ears.

We reached downtown at 12:30. Realising I didn’t know what time the game started, I checked online, shocked to discover it started at 12:30. Who starts a baseball game at 12:30? The Oakland Athletics, that’s who. More to the point, who can attend a baseball game that starts at 12:30 on a weekday? My grandfather, a civil servant, once answered that question for me. “Civil Servants!” he said, that’s who.

The BART whisked us under the bay to the Coliseum. We were in our seats by the start of the third inning. IMG_2212Missing the first few innings of a baseball game is no crime, particularly when the home team has the worst record in the American League and both teams are well out of the running. Meaningless baseball is the best baseball, drawing crowds consisting of die-hards, statistic-obsessed, loud-mouths, and drunks. “Civil Servants!” my grandpa would shout.

We joined the drunks contingent, consuming much beer at great expense ($11 each!). IMG_2219There was a classic loud-mouth in the next section, bellowing “Is that all you got?” after every pitch and other thoughtful witticisms in between. Immediately behind us IMG_2216three middle-aged statisticians kept scorecards and maintained a surprisingly intelligent running commentary. I made the mistake of nodding my head in agreement with one comment, whereupon an aluminum briefcase filled with old newspaper clippings appeared. For the next four innings a tap on the shoulder told me another clipping of obscure baseball history was about to be handed me. (This one was particularly interesting: Ernie Shore’s “Perfect” Game and Babe Ruth’s Ejection in 1917)

The Oakland Coliseum is an aging ballpark, a brutalist concrete monstrosity, personality-less. IMG_2236The men’s room featured vintage troughs instead of urinals, a throwback to the 1960’s. Our new statistician friends explained that once there had been a lovely view over center field, but an addition, built to lure the football Raiders back to Oakland, now blocked it.IMG_2208

The game went into extra innings, but we didn’t. At the start of the tenth inning we made our way to the exit on the far side of the park. As we did, the Baltimore Orioles loaded the bases. Just as we left, the O’s Chris Davis hit a grand slam, assuring their victory. Perfect timing.

Back in the Castro we met up with Eric again, this time for dinner at a French restaurant named Bisou, where I had an excellent chateaubriand. All in all, a very pleasant day.

San Francisco and I have changed over the years. These days, we seem to have a fair bit in common.