San Francisco is like a former love you end up putting on a pedestal and then when you see them after a year, you realize they smell like piss, will leave you freezing in summer, and are full of people on meth singing Adele off-key. Oh, but then your crafty love gives you a hazelnut-nutella croissant paired with a blended chai, sunny blue skies, and entertaining hipster fights in a park with no police jurisdiction. Once again, you’re smitten.
San Francisco is a safe haven for freaks and artists so it would be obvious that The Beatles, Jack Kerouac, Jerry Garcia, and The Merry Pranksters drifted in and out of it’s foggy form of hypnotism. I loved going to San Francisco as a kid for the magic shows on the pier and driving the roller coaster-esque roads, but as I grew older that love became a fervent adoration. I wanted to snap my fingers in smoky jazz lounges like Kerouac, dance wildly in Golden Gate Park, and wear lots of flowers in my hair. I wanted San Francisco to go back to how it was in the 50’s and 60’s. It definitely has some thick hippie blood pumping through it these days, but the city is no longer the hippie heaven it once was. Business men, college girls, skater boys, immigrants, web mavens, the homeless, veterans, the tree huggers, the gays, and the politicians are swirl together in a confusing mess of ideas and lifestyles. San Francisco will always be very liberal, but it’s not free love anymore and that’s okay because that makes it even more diverse and interesting to me.
San Francisco isn’t a city that presents it’s freak flag straight up; you have to go find it. As a tourist, you’ll know to cycle the bridge, go to the wharf to see the seals, walk down Haight and Ashbury to buy a tie-dye shirt, and go see the Full House home. You may go to a bar you found online and you’ll probably have some clam chowder. If this is all you do, you have missed out significantly.
Some of my favorite memories of San Francisco are of street performers who told us stories of using vegetable oil to travel the country in a Hooters, wandering away from a Stevie Wonder performance at Outside Lands to find a band playing for about twenty people in the dark woods surrounded by eerie circus lights, drinking Earnest Hemingway inspired cocktails in a bar that required a password, eating penis shaped cookies in the Castro, uncomfortably, and hearing the life story of a man selling newspapers. The best parts of San Francisco are in the crevices and cracks. It’s the cafe full of old books and drink concoctions you’ve never heard of and the girl with the red rimmed glasses on the Muni who laughs with you at the girls discussing whether they want their wedding to be “Audrey Hepburn” style or not. It’s the people you meet and the things you discover that feel like no one else has found them before.
Yet, San Francisco also has its problems. The amount of homeless people asking for money in the hot-spot tourists areas, sleeping in doorways, or performing music and tricks to try and make what money they can is depressing and even more so, is that locals in San Francisco are so used to passing them by. The juxtaposition of Union Square, where tourists shop at Macy’s and eat burgers in fancy restaurants and the Tenderloin, where a significantly black population line up at the soup kitchen in a crumbling neighborhood, can be unsettling. San Francisco also is starting to look its age. After spending two years in Korea, I was shocked at how dirty the Muni stations were in comparison to Seoul’s fairly pristine metro stations. Affluent areas are getting more beautiful with art from local artists and freshly planted flowers blooming, while the poorer areas seem to be forgotten.
San Francisco; the mix of new and old, clean and dirty, and rich and poor. A concoction true of most the world’s major cities, but what sets San Francisco apart is that magical and soon enough, exasperating fog that rolls into the bay making it look like the iconic Golden Gate leads to nothing.
Sharon and I were driving with the windows up, air con blasting, on a hot August day as we passed Sausalito, a fancy little town on the water’s edge. We rounded the corner, where one gets their first glimpse of the powerful bridge and all at once, we had entered a world of gray. The sun was nowhere to be seen and neither was the top of the bridge as the fog had swallowed it up. I looked down uneasily at my backpack that contained dresses, sunglasses, and shorts. I was grim and annoyed that San Francisco wasn’t welcoming me with open, warm arms. I was caught up in these thoughts when Sharon brought me back down, through the fog, to Earth.
“Hannah, I can’t believe this song is playing!”
My Ipod was on shuffle and “Fake Tales of San Francisco” by the Arctic Monkeys was playing just as we had crossed the bridge.
“Oh my god this is perfect!! Sometimes I think my Ipod has a brain..,” I said as we sang along.
We were giddy once more to be in this city that has inspired so much music, art, and literature. I hate San Francisco when it goes from hot to windy to freezing in one day, but then I easily adore it when, coincidentally, a song about it comes on my Ipod. It seems I always forget to bring a sweater when I drive down because my mind erases the bad things about San Francisco and holds tightly to the good. Like a person you really love, you’ll forgive San Francisco anything.