One Month In: Thoughts on San Francisco

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Me walking up or down Kearny on my first day in SF

I’m riding on the tail end of an awesome weekend here in San Francisco and thought I’d write up what I’ve been thinking and feeling about this city.

It was never my dream to move to San Francisco, but boom, here I am and I’m LIVIN’ it! Before arriving here in April, what I knew about San Francisco was only from books like I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, an illustrated children’s book I used to ogle about the 1906 earthquake (I loved reading about disasters as a kid, I was most fascinated with the San Francisco earthquake, the Chicago fire, Pompei, and the Titanic), and the 1849 Gold Rush version from Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune. I also had associations from movies like Shadow of a Doubt and The Birds (Hitchcock once said, “San Francisco would be a good location for a murder mystery”), Mrs. Doubtfire, and honestly, The Princess Diaries (1&2). I knew it was hilly and Victorian, but in reality, I knew nothing.

So here are my thoughts and musings one month into my Northern California life as I’ve pieced together what a Safeway is, where Monterrey is located on a map (this is where Jack Dawson worked on a squid boat), and which team to pretend to root for when prompted (Go Giants, Boo Dodgers!).

– Californians are really friendly. Genuinely friendly. It doesn’t feel forced, like when you walk into the American Eagle store in the mall and some kid in a polo who’s been standing on his feet for the last five hours asks you how you’re doing. Generally I’ve gotten really big, welcoming “Hello!”s walking into the bike shop, the grocery store (obviously including Trader Joe’s as well), or even Walgreens. The clerks at the Walgreens I’ve been to in the Sunset and in the Tenderloin have been so beyond knowledgeable and sharing about the household items on their shelves I was compelled to take to Twitter to let their employers know (I’ve seen my sister do this). When I gave the guy at the bike shop in North Beach an unaffected “Hey” and he shot back with the biggest, “HEY!” imaginable, my sister and I were so caught off guard I ended up stuttering and stammering out some nonsense before regaining my composure. I never thought of New Yorkers as being particularly mean, just impatient and at times artlessly straightforward, but I feel like the West Coast friendliness is enhanced because of the laid-back attitude supporting it in sickness and in health.

– Someone once said (it’s been attributed to Twain but no one knows for sure), “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” I was not made aware of that quote til I arrived here – Northern California is not a warm sunny destination! Apparently even Southern California is just room temperature all the time. It’s fine, there’s no snow at least (you have to go to Tahoe for that), I’ve just been surprised, I always just assumed the entire 163,696 square mile area of California was the same temperature as Miami. But now that I think about it, Ryan Atwood did often wear a black leather jacket over his gray hoodie and wifebeater, and really sweetly gave his suit jacket to a chilly Marissa after her dad got punched in the face at Cotillion, and the kids on Laguna Beach always wore North Face polar fleeces to the beach bonfires (“Steveeeeeen!”). I should have paid better attention, clearly I did not put two and two together. There have been some nice days, but quite honestly I would describe the weather in San Francisco on June 1st like a day in Brussels in early March. Manageable, but not ideal! At least I have a cute pink pea coat. Apparently we’ll get an Indian summer, but I’m not holding my breath.

– The homeless situation here is terrible. It’s really sad, a large majority of the SF homeless population are extremely mentally ill, not just down-on-their-luck. I am currently live in the Tenderloin and I’ve seen some shocking and rather upsetting things out in the streets in front of my building or on the way to work. I try to just stay positive and greet everyone with a hello and a smile when I’m walking down the street 🙂 It’s definitely bizarre to be waiting at the crosswalk for a guy with a limp and one shoe to hobble on by pushing a shopping cart filled with all his life possessions, only for some slick guy in a Mazerati to roar on past down the fast lane. I wish I had something more enlightening to say about the homeless in San Francisco, but I would go ahead to say that yea, I was very taken aback when I first got here and while sometimes they yell funny things (“Check ya b*tch, don’t check me”, or a woman yelling about “asinine citizens” and I thought to myself, “Wow, SAT word?”), it’s a very disheartening reality about the city.

– It’s a very young city. You don’t see very many children on a day-to-day basis, and I’ve been told there are more dogs in the 7×7 area than school-aged kids. I went to a friend’s afternoon backyard party on Sunday and there were two four-year-olds, and I was very pleasantly surprised (they were adorable)! It’s easy to find yourself almost solely in the presence of a large group of people who are 22 – 35, well-educated, well-traveled, doing really interesting stuff like VR (Virtual Reality) or VC (Venture Capital), and have interesting hobbies they actually find time to do, like being a member of one of those clubs that actually go swimming in San Francisco Bay or surfing the western coastline on the weekends (in wet suits of course).

– This being said, I thought people might be snobby in SF because there’s lots of money rolling around these hills and everyone’s been to a fancy college (I guess except all those college dropout guys like Steve…Jobs or Wozniak?), but people actually seem really down to earth and humble so far. I’ve only had one memorably snobby exchange since being here. It was at a start-up fashion event, and it went like this:

Me: Ohh, is that champagne?

Caterer: No.

Me: …Umm, but it’s in a flute and there’s bubbles.

Caterer: It’s prosecco.

– San Francisco is quite small. “The City” is only 7 miles by 7 miles. That being said, I’ve still not seen it all and haven not yet ventured across to the East Bay. I have, however, at least so far been to Stinson Beach in Marin, a trip to Sonoma with Bill and Nancy, and down to visit friends in Palo Alto/Mountain View/San Jose. Phew! But there is plenty of time for all that, and a great app for renting a car without having to sign up for Zipcar (it’s called Get Around).

– Speaking of apps – there is an app for everything here. In fact, there are so many apps for so many niche things I almost think people are joking when they tell me about them. I tried this app called Munchery because my sister gave me a $20 credit towards it, and when I told people at work about it (“Have you guys heard of this service called Munchery?”) everyone rolled their eyes and rattled off at least three other apps that do more or less the same thing. Basically you never have to leave your house here because there is an app to do your shopping, whether that’s for food (Blue Apron), clothes (Stitch Fix), or stuff (Task Rabbit), and someone will surely deliver it to your door as well (Instacart). However, the best app I’ve been introduced to recently has no real purpose – It’s called Drizzy, and it texts people one-liners from Drake lyrics. Out of context, it’s a game-changer.

– Hobbies seem important here. People like to talk about the stuff they do, and where people work comes up less or later on in conversation.

– The architecture is amazing. Queen Anne’s, Victorians, Bungalows, Modern, Edwardian, Mission … SF has it all. I love the grandiose buildings and homes of Pacific Heights, and the beachy feel of the Inner and Outer Sunset and even the Marina (bros and betches aside). Anything in or around Alamo Square is intricate beyond belief – each one of these homes had the utmost attention paid its detailing. My immediate vicinity isn’t beautiful per se, but there are lots of cool retro-style hotels in the Tenderloin. And even some motels! I also live near the Mitchell Brother’s O’Farrell Theatre, aka “the Carnegie Hall of strip clubs in America”, which has a surprisingly PG exterior mural of a vibrant, fantasy aquatic scene and a reference to Maurice Sendek’s children’s classic, Where The Wild Things Are.

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– The pigeons here fear neither man nor machine. For this reason, there are lots of dead ones in the roads. It’s gross.

– I’m the only person who is scared of earthquakes. I’ve yet to feel one, but I’m waiting with bated breath.

– Sonoma is the Montauck of wine country, Napa is the Hamptons.

– People smoke a ton of weed here. I smell it on the way to work in the morning, if I leave to get lunch, and when I come home in the evening. San Franciscans are almost Belgian about weed smoking – I walked by someone the other day in The Mission hitting a bowl outside a bar (although a Belgian would be smoking a spliff). I’m also pretty sure I was living near the local neighborhood grow house in the Sunset. Very chill.

– If someone tells you they “went to school in Boston”, you know they mean Harvard or MIT.

– The hills in this city are unreal. You can’t even be irked because once you find yourself at the top huffing and puffing, the views you end up with take your breath away anyway. Sometimes you get a valley-view, other times you’re overlooking downtown, maybe it’s a giveaway to the bay or to Alcatraz or to the Golden Gate. And sometimes it’s to another set of hills so high you’re not even sure a car could make it up without sliding back. On that note, I saw a sad little snippet somewhere at Fisherman’s Wharf about how horse-drawn carriage rides often used to end pretty tragically for all parties involved. Horses, carriage, and people just tumbling back on down the hill. Breaks my heart. Hyde Street from the wharf up to Lombard Street is so steep I was afraid my Achille’s tendons were going to snap.

– Ohh here it comes, my first complaint about San Francisco: cityscapes -> city planning –> street signs. The street signs here are infuriatingly impossible to locate. For a reference, in NYC there are street signs on all four corners of an intersection, maybe about 3/4 of the way up a pole. They are a unique color of green and the name of the street is in bold white writing. Hell, in Brussels they have the street names in French AND in Dutch, just for clarification. But here, at an intersection there is one lone corner of an intersection bestowed with a street sign stunted about halfway up the sign pole, off-white and with small black letters. If you’re in a bus, the street signs are too low to see if you’re trying to peer out the window; if you’re on a bike, you’re trying to watch out for cars coming at you from all other directions while trying to discern which corner to look at to figure out if you should turn or keep going, and the sign often blends into whatever building is behind it. Emily can vouch for my frustration. And that’s my ramble, thank you for listening.

– Fun fact for the next trivia night you end up at: The Golden Gate Bridge is painted International Orange. FYI.

– I don’t have a TV set, but I’m still trying to find out what time TV shows are on here. It’s just something I always wondered as a kid – if Are You Afraid of the Dark was on at 6pm, 7 Central back East, then what time was it on in California? What’s the deal with Mountain time? What time is it in Arizona if they don’t do daylights savings? But no one I know here has cable either, everyone’s got Netflix or HBO Go hooked right up to the TV screen. Still in the dark on this one.

– Just the way people talk about the East Coast is very different than I’ve ever experienced. Being from New York and having been to Tulane, which is essentially the Tri-State Area (New York, Connecticut and New Jersey for all you foreigners) transplanted to the middle of New Orleans for four years, the East Coast has always been the default. Everywhere else was foreign. But people I meet here say, “Oh I lived out East for a few years”, “Oh, I went to college out on the East Coast”, or “I lived in New York City for a few years, I did my New York thing”. “Out” is a preposition you hear all the time from East Coasters and West Coasters when they’re talking about where they used to be in reference to where they physically are now. Throwing an “out” in the sentence seems to make the other coast feel more far-flung, not just “down South” or “in the Midwest”, but literally as far as you could possibly get on the other side of the continent.

– You can spot your fellow New Yorkers from a mile away. Woo hoo! Most recent NY spottie? My improv teacher, Rebecca. Called it the moment I laid eyes on her.

– Sometimes I look at where I am on Google Maps and it hits me that this is the final frontier. This is it. The East Coast seems to open up to Europe and Africa, faraway enough but a friendly face across the pond nonetheless. On this coast of California, our closest neighbor is the small scattering of the Hawaiian islands, which if they had their choice would probably move even farther away from us. While eventually Alaska and Russia get as close as two 11-year-olds slow-dancing at the 8th grade dance, America looks out onto endless miles of Pacific ocean, and it boggles the mind. I can’t imagine how Lewis and Clark and Sacajewea must have felt once they walked all the way here (I personally was mentally exhausted from a six-hour JetBlue flight with the free snack mini bar). It certainly merits getting your face on a coin named after you, even if it’s a coin no one wants because Americans ain’t got time for dollar coins  :-/ Hence why we left Europe.

– Listen to the men at the bike shop. They know what they’re talking about. Please buy my bike.

– The farmer’s markets are incredible. The strawberries and blackberries are fresh, juicy, and out of this world.

– Alcatraz is a sad experience. I got caught up beforehand in the glitz and the glamour of it’s famous inmates, true crime stories! and Hollywood interpretation, but it’s a cold, desolate island that once house a maximum-security prison for criminals, psychopaths, and the families of the men who surveilled them. Times were tough for the inmates. Just looking at the surviving buildings now, weathered down and somewhat rotting, you imagine how the effect that would have had on the prisoners. Americans have the most incarcerated population on earth in 2015 and prison is an awful place to end up, but these guys were locked up even before the concept of ethics review boards or prisoner rights remotely existed, so it was truly a terrible place to be. Especially on windy summer nights when laughter and music from the piers across the bay would waft over into the cells, bringing along with it the aroma of chocolate brewing over at the Ghiradelli factory. I left Alcatraz feeling a bit weatherworn myself.

– California has the best burritos. Compared to California, New York doesn’t even have burritos at all. We’ve been out-burritoed. Mas El Farolito por favor.

– Nobody will steal your bike helmet. Ever.

– Bay to Breakers was super fun, would never be allowed in New York, and the best way to end this post. Yee hawww

About alicestockwellegan

Language and culture enthusiast from New York living in San Francisco.
This entry was posted in America., Cities, FYI, Just for Fun, Musings, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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