I can’t figure out if what I had last night was a dream or a nightmare. We were moving to Berkeley. The house was so huge that there were multiple places to put a dining table. And it came with a Pee Wee Herman doll, which was always chasing after the Miss Yvonne doll. Not sure if that is a plus or a minus? But it doesn’t matter, because the house was in Berkeley. Berkeley. “What do you have against Berkeley?” you might ask. Well, nothing really, but it even if it were a utopia without palazzo pants, I still wouldn’t want to leave SF. As columnist Herb Caen famously said, “One day if I do go to heaven…I’ll look around and say, ‘It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco.’”
But I do understand why I am dreaming of other towns – San Francisco has been getting me down for a good clip now. Nearly every day I hear of another eviction, and the public transit has gotten so abysmal that I have had some scary experiences on it alone at night – without the critical mass of people taking the bus instead of Uber, Lyft, or luxury busses, predators feel free to harass at will. And in a week in which I learned that they are renovating the ground floor apartment in our building, adding a negligible square footage to call it a “Two Bedroom” and therefore charging double what we pay for basically the same tiny place, I can’t help but feel that this city is being sold to the highest bidder. I should be happy, however – the fact that they are re-renting the unit means they are not Ellis Act Evicting the entire building!
Recently I read Season of the Witch, David Talbot’s journalistic retelling of the tumult in San Francisco between the Summer of Love and the subsequent decade and a half of terror and death. It made me realize that this city has always been in flux, and goes through a huge upheaval every ten years or so. When I arrived here, nearly a decade ago, it was a very different city, one where my neighborhood, The Mission, was a haven for a diverse community of artists, social workers, and working class folks. Now, the block where I live is more of a tourist destination than a residential area, almost unrecognizable to what it was when I arrived from Philadelphia.
I am still sad about this change, but Season of the Witch made me realize two things: 1. It could be worse – we could all be hiding in our house due to serial killer rampages and 2. It will change again. Hold on. San Francisco is a unique place that is worth fighting for. To be fair, I do acknowledge that I was part of the gentrifying force a decade ago, and that is much of the reason that I don’t want to move to another “affordable” neighborhood and do it all over again.
I subtitled this piece “Season of the Rich” with my tongue firmly placed in cheek, but the reality is that all of the wealthy San Franciscans I personally know are generous, engaged members of our community. I’ve learned something important from my friends in different tax brackets than my family: WEALTH IS DIFFERENT FROM GREED. It’s the speculators, predatory corporations, and people that have given in to the pull of greed that are screwing the place. And I love that, in any other city, people would just be like, “Yay money!”, but here, we are really thinking about the changes, mourning the losses, and tracking the displacements.
One thing I hope San Francisco can really get a handle on soon is the aforementioned problem of public transit. We don’t own a car, and after recently being stalked by a drunk man with a weapon on a bus, I don’t take public transit alone at night anymore. Despite the fact that I’ve been hating on my neighborhood a bit (at first I typed neighBROhood, which actually makes a lot of sense), a recent experience reminded me that accessibility is a big reason I still live in the Mission, despite feeling less at home here daily.
A friend moved into an apartment in The Bayview, and invited me to her housewarming party. Public transit there takes 45 minutes from my place, and only 13 in a car. I caught a cab easily from my corner. The cab driver gave me a ridiculously hard time about having to go to The Bayview, couldn’t stop bitching about the “low income housing project” and how drivers have died taking their fares there. He also made me map it for him on my phone, despite the fact that it was a $20 cab ride.
So, at the end of the party, which was in a charming un-renovated San Francisco apartment, I decided to try Uber, and see what all the fuss is about. They picked me up, said absolutely nothing to me the entire way, and dropped me off at home in The Mission. No commentary, but when I got my bill I was less happy: $28! A $50 transportation night is not exactly what I bargained for on a random Friday evening – it meant I had zero spending money for quite some time. The inaccessibility of many neighborhoods in San Francisco is certainly adding to the housing troubles – I started the night imagining myself in an apartment like my friend’s, and ended it knowing I may not even visit her there again.
Despite all this, I’m sticking it out in San Francisco. I am a monogamist, who sees challenges as a chance to dig in deeper. The loyalty and intense feelings one has for their city is similar to a love relationship. My husband and I just celebrated 11 years of marriage, and in that time we’ve seen several couples therapists, dealt with a myriad of changes and issues, and have come through loving each other more than I ever thought possible. I am not the kind of person who throws in the towel when shit gets weird. That being said, you gotta know when to fold ’em, and I have no judgment for the families who can’t stay in the midst of this current iteration of our fair city.
But as for me? Throw in all the Pee Wee Herman dolls you’ve got (even Chairy), I’m not budging. I’ve only got one dining table, anyway, and I know just where to put it – the only space it will fit in my itty-bitty apartment, which just happens to be in my favorite city in the world.