I wrote this a year ago but as the sun begins to surface at the start of our late San Francisco summer, I felt it was time to share with you all. Enjoy…
I must admit that for the past 8 years I’ve been in a tumultuous, polarizing, dysfunctional, magnetic, beautiful love affair with this city. For as long as I can remember, I have had a small case of commitment-a-phobia. A prolonged commitment to careers, to people, to cities, to dreams, to things, to places, to love all tends to suffocate me. By nature, I love to constantly toy with the idea of new and next. I live for the next adventure, the next chapter and the next great love. So for someone who tends to avoid routine at all cost, how is it that I’ve ended up living in the same city for the majority of my twenties? How have I kept the same geographical lover for the past 9 years? I get asked this question so often, as everyone I meet seems to think I was born for somewhere else.
“You are a New Yorker, you just haven’t lived there yet. Trust me, you have to move to New York. Then you will understand.” …“Why aren’t you in Italy? You have the soul of an Italian. I see you in Florence.” …“You would die for Paris. Paris, the fashion, the culture, the people, the style. You must move to Paris.” …“Why is it that I can imagine you living on a beach in Costa Rica, with long hair to your waist and just a bikini, making jewelry and teaching yoga on the sand?”
I listen, I dream, I visit, I make plans to pack up a bag and move to another place. I leave San Francisco for months at a time and when I’m gone I don’t miss it. I don’t get homesick, I don’t miss my local corner shop or crave the food from my favorite restaurants. It moves on without me. But there has always been a day when I simply come home. Not because I have to, or necessarily because I want to, I just simply come home.
It’s a strange relationship, my lover and I. Not the most passionate or exciting; San Francisco doesn’t throw newness, thrill and inspiration in my face everyday. And unlike my life in Santa Barbara– which was a sleepy, stable, reliable marriage that allowed my kite to fly free within very specific yet comforting constraints– I wouldn’t describe San Francisco as stable or consistent or structured in any way. So what is it about my lover that keeps me coming back to him? There are places, cities, countries I enjoy more and hundreds more places, cities and countries left to explore. What is this chemistry we share, this magnetic pull that has made me call it my home for so long? I began writing a list this week of “Things You Should Experience in SF” for a recent NYC transplant and I think I may have finally found some semblance of an answer.
I don’t believe that San Francisco is the best city in the world, I would be a fool to claim such a thing. I will, however, claim this: San Francisco is simply San Francisco and it is and will always be true to that. It is authentic in the simplicity of itself. San Francisco isn’t trying to compete with LA or New York, with Paris or Miami. San Francisco doesn’t really care that he falls asleep at 2 am and sometimes wakes before sunrise. He is content to know, although shockingly beautiful, that his sunsets will never be as breathtaking as New Zealand’s or Tahiti’s, his artists and writers will never be as vast in numbers as New York or Paris, his people will never share a consistent and identical soul and culture like you find in Spain, Italy, or Thailand. He will never have the hottest clubs or the coolest bars. There will never be a true “after hours” scene. His people will never be international style icons or world known socialites. San Francisco is small and it doesn’t try to be big. His buildings are beautiful but don’t try to compete with the history of Chicago or DC. He’s okay that people call him corny, kitschy or touristy. Why shouldn’t people love taking pictures of his Cable Cars and Golden Gate Bridge? He’s as proud of his Lombard Street as he is of his up-and-coming new restaurants. And his locals are proud of him too. We aren’t too cool to run on the Golden Gate Bridge or visit Alcatraz. San Franciscans love San Francisco. We love that it looks like a child’s random array of dollhouses all crunched together and placed haphazardly among his hills. He loves that he can dip his toes in the ocean every morning but never tries to compete with the beaches of Southern California or the great outdoors of the Pacific Northwest. San Francisco isn’t a jealous lover, he gives us quick access to Napa, Tahoe and Santa Cruz and never gets offended when we need to take a weekend away from him. He pushes us to travel the world by bringing a constant stream of international transplants through his doors. He begs us to leave him and come back to him, full of new stories to tell.
Sure, I admit, he can be a bit cocky when it comes to his ever-evolving innovative ideas, and laundry lists of start-up technology companies but I love the way he balances that arrogance with his ability to attract, accept and keep a small but very impactful group of eccentrics, creatives, and free-spirited activist types. San Francisco feels authentic because San Francisco isn’t trying too hard. My favorite part, I’ve decided, is that San Francisco hasn’t really made up his mind of who exactly he wants to be yet. More importantly, he has decided that he never has to. He can be a combination of a thousand different things. He doesn’t have to commit to being small or big, or of being an outdoors town or cosmopolitan city, he doesn’t have to decide whether he’s gorgeously warm or shockingly mild. He can’t decide if he likes the wind or the sun or the fog better. He wants to feel both residential and industrial within a matter of blocks. He’s suburban and palpably urban. He’s never really safe, yet always feels as if he is. I’m not even convinced, as I am writing this, that he isn’t a she or identifies as both.
San Francisco allows you to be anyone you want to be, on any different day and doesn’t judge you for not joining a clan, a tribe, a neighborhood, or a movement. San Francisco tells you that indecision is okay, hell it’s actually quite healthy. He allows me to take pieces of all of the best in him and, in turn, build a beautiful conglomerate mess of a person. A brilliantly chaotic, indecisive, patch-worked together personality. I can live in the Marina and dance in the Mission. I can take hip hop classes on Mondays and boil crabs with my water polo players and their gorgeous successful girlfriends on Thursdays. I can see live music any day of the week, hit open mic nights that are always going to be hit-and-miss because they are small and quaint and unorganized and not yet the “cool place” to be. I can be the girl who loves to hike and be in nature within 15 minutes in any direction. I can brunch in sundresses and blow-outs or paint in torn jeans in my reconstructed warehouse. I can eat Ramen every Sunday in Japantown or drink signature cocktails from a hipster bartender with an ironic mustache next to a strip club. And I can do it all on the same day, within 15 minutes and within a $15-20 cab fare. And no one cares. I don’t have to join one group, or be one thing. No one is going to throw me out of a cocktail party for being too interesting or saying the wrong thing or having opinions. San Francisco likes different. The people may not at times, but my lover (the city itself) he reminds me with his parades, diverse districts and constant surprises that he loves whomever I choose to be. Even when that person makes absolutely no sense.
This city loves itself, and the people love this city. And I don’t have to decide if I’m straight, or gay, bi or confused. I don’t feel uncomfortable walking into a Marina bar in leather pants; I never feel over dressed or under dressed. San Francisco is so small yet so diverse and there are no hard lines between anyone or anything. The longer I live here, the more I realize that there is no true “Mission type” or “Marina type”. Not really. Not for locals. People that understand San Francisco appreciate that the beauty in this city is how small it is. It doesn’t allow itself to take anything or anyone too seriously. It can’t play favorites with its districts, its hobbies, its people, its neighborhoods. He loves his Castro as much as his SOMA. His Presidio Heights as much as his Tenderloin. And there is a pocket, a bar, a restaurant, and a corner shop for everyone in every 1 by 1 mile neighborhood. You never have to decide, or choose. San Francisco allows you to just be. And for someone as noncommittal as I am. The ability to just be makes this feel very much like a safe, stable lover and a beautiful home.
I don’t know how you feel about San Francisco. You may already love it or maybe it’s just not your cup of tea. And my job isn’t to convert you or sell you on my city. My job is just to let you know that the beauty of this place is that he doesn’t necessarily care what we think of him. We either get him or we don’t, but San Francisco will be the same, with or without our love. And he will always be here to embrace us warmly when we return, bringing whatever new perspectives, identities, or stories to share with him.
And that is why, dear Reader, it will always be home for me whether I live here or not.