It's Still Here
It never went away. The City by The Bay is not an uninhabitable, technocratic, pseudo-third world hellhole populated only by the capital-E-Elite and the very poor. You’ve read that story enough times if you have an internet connection. If you live here, you’ve no doubt heard people decrying the above.
There was always money here. There was always capitalistic innovation. There were always carpet-baggers, ruthless profiteers, and shady politicians - backroom deals and kickbacks. Money has always talked, since the Gold Rush and its fortune seekers, since the Barbary Coast and its Shanghai tunnels, through the Season of the Witch and its serial killers, past the Dot-com boom-and-bust’s bean bagged offices, around the Great Recession and its vile bankers, and into this time of real-estate hungry IPO millionaires and their goddamn electric skateboards.
Nobody and nothing “ruined” it. Not two devastating earthquakes. Not the Civil War. Not two World Wars. Not the defeat of Vietnam. Not the loss of our army and navy bases. Not the closure of our factories. Not the weekday crowds on BART. Not the Niners packing up for the burbs. Not the Warriors coming to rain down threes and royally screw traffic even more than the Ubers. Not the increasingly visible and sickly homeless population. Not the broken car windows or filthy streets. Not the boring modern residential architecture. Not the new MUNI trains that look like crayon boxes inside.
It was always dirty here. There was always crime. The criminal justice system was once so corrupt that people started their own vigilante forces, staged their own trials, and made their own prisons. Business owners bought their own, private cops. Actual cops ran their own protection rackets. People have always been addicted and destitute, not just in the Tenderloin. There’s always been pushers, gangsters, thieves in black masks or in white collars, stick-up-men, rape-o’s and murderers. Remember the Trailside Killer? The Zebras? The Night Stalker? Okay, you at least remember the Zodiac?
Yeah, it was cheaper when you were a kid. News flash: everywhere was. Yeah, you pay a premium for the view. This-just-in: there ain’t a place where you don’t. Yeah, the neighborhoods don’t look exactly the same as they did thirty years ago. Now hear this: doubt you can find a place that does.
The skyline has changed, sure. I recall that our brothers and sisters in NYC had their skyline change pretty dramatically, a while back. Maybe we should shut up a bit about ours having more buildings, know what I mean? Lacks a bit of decorum.
Want to see something beautiful? Hike up Billy Goat Hill or Kite Hill Park. Look northeast at the majesty of our mirrored skyscrapers framed by the steel-gray sky, the shadowy silhouette of the East Bay hills, and the undulating water of the bay. Don’t know where those places are? Find them. Don’t know how to Google? Really, in this town? Fine, Twin Peaks, the old standby. Tough to find a bad view there, in any direction. Oh, but there’s still a bunch of tourists. Or, better, Bernal – fewer tourists and lots of cute dogs.
The things that made this place special are still here: the Michelin Stars, the greasy-spoons, the dive bars, the G-Men, the drag queens, the protestors, Engine 1 screaming by code-3, black-and-whites triple parked in front of 850, the cable cars, the Irish coffee, the Irish who overstayed their visas, the original ugly houses in the Sunset, Geary that goes on forever, the Union Square ice-skaters, the angry bicyclists, the shitty drivers, the steep-ass hills, Chinatown and its bounty of foreign vegetables, Japantown that survived internment, Hunters Point that survived the shipyards closing, the Playaz Club, the Lands End Trail, Ocean Beach’s sandblasting wind, that huge rock covered in bird shit, Crocker Park, the Fillmore, the Panhandle and the rest of the “pan”, the Presidio and its final resting place of so many heroes, La Mision, the lowriders, the taquerias, the mariachis, the bikers, the Haight, the spare-changing street kids, North Beach’s bohemians, the strippers, the sidewalks loitered on by Keroac and Ginsburg, the cacophony of aquatic mammals gawked at by tourists and guilty locals, the squawking parrots, Coit Tower, the Sutro Tower, the eastern span, the western span, the Golden Gate’s love letter to the bay it heralds with open arms, and the Ferry Building proclaiming: PORT OF SAN FRANCISCO.
I’m not saying it won’t piss you off. I’m not saying you won’t fantasize about the way it was in the Nineties or the Forties or 2010, 2012 and 2014. It’s a city. It’s a vibrant, luminous, spectacularly screwy and confounding enterprise. It will never stop surprising you with how ridiculous it can be.
But it’s my city. It’s our city. It’s their city too.
It’s The City.