San Francisco - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
This weekend is Pride in San Francisco. This caused me to think back to my recent visit there to doggie-sit my "granddog", Reese. Sean and DPaul went to Kentucky for a week to visit DPaul's family there. I was thrilled to take care of Reese and to also take advantage of being in San Francisco to visit potential customers for my Gay Friendly Greeting Cards.
Here are my thoughts on San Francisco:
The Good – What a magnificent city!
The architecture! Those Victorian houses are beautiful. And as you walk through the neighborhoods, you see that one house is more beautiful and more interesting than the last. They are large and beautiful with three stories of gorgeous windows and color and gingerbread to gape at. The owners take great pride in their property and take the time to landscape them beautifully as well.
The culture! They have opera, museums, symphony, ballet, theater, beaches and parks – what more can anyone ask?
The public transit system – San Francisco boasts an incredibly sophisticated and efficient public transit system that includes buses, trolleys, the Muni, BART and even a couple of cool car share programs so that you don't HAVE to own a car in the city. And every San Franciscan can advise you – a tourist or newcomer to the city – as to exactly how to get where you want to go via public transit.
The diversity! “Like many larger U.S. cities, San Francisco is a minority-majority city, as non-Hispanic whites comprise less than half of the population. As of 2007, the Census Bureau estimated that 45.0 percent of the population was non-Hispanic white. Asian Americans make up 33.1% of the population; Chinese Americans constitute the largest single ethnic group in San Francisco at about a fifth of the population. Hispanics of any race make up 14.0% of the population. San Francisco's African American population has declined in recent decades, from 13.4 percent of the city in 1970 to 7.3 percent of the population in 2007. The current percentage of African Americans in San Francisco is similar to that of the state of California; conversely, the city's percentage of Hispanic residents is less than half of that of the state. According to the 2005 American Community Survey, San Francisco has the highest percentage of gay and lesbian individuals of any of the 50 largest U.S cities, at 15.4%.”
The restaurants! “It's almost unfair. With world-class wineries, artisinal cheese makers and small farms just a short drive away, San Francisco is awash in culinary riches. The quality and quantity of the restaurants here make San Francisco an unparalleled food city. The city is best known for its farm fresh, ingredient-driven food showcased at restaurants like the Foreign Cinema, Greens and Boulevard. Trendy neighborhoods like the Mission District and Noe Valley have come on strong with inventive but down-to-earth restaurants such as Range, Delfina and Incanto while top-of-the-line newcomers Coi and Ame wow locals and visitors alike with their eclectic, technically precise cuisine rooted in western and Asian traditions. With so many choices, the only downside in this city of plenty is deciding where to eat.” As it happens, my son Sean is an avid food blogger and has had occasion to east or drink in some of the best and less than best places in the city and then write about them. To learn what he has learned visit Hedonia.
The shopping! “San Francisco offers some of the best shopping in the world, so it is no wonder that tourists and serious shopaholics alike want to spend some time and money in San Francisco's varied shopping centers, districts and malls. Union Square, Hayes Valley, upper Fillmore, the Mission, Sacramento Street, Chinatown and downtown's San Francisco Shopping Center offer a unique style with one-of-a-kind shops, each mall and neighborhood with a distinctive feel suited to any shopper's mood, from urban sophisticate to funk fantastic.” This is where I feel like I am in a really big time city. It's cool that the Levi Strauss flagship store is right on Post Street downtown. And favorite locations for the tourist are Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. Lot's of shopping for San Francisco trinkets there. And the famous City Lights Bookstore is there: “This little piece of history was founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti as an outgrowth of his small-press imprint, which introduced us to Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac and most gloriously, Frank O'Hara. Now a North Beach tradition, this well-worn haunt blends right in with the neighboring trattorias and strip clubs. You'll find a vast assortment of poetry and fiction here.” (San Francisco Citysearch).
This is truly a cosmopolitan city. It's civilized. It has a very European feel to it. It's hard to visit San Francisco without falling in love with it – at least a little.
The Bad – OK. Nobody's perfect.
The traffic – I mean OMG! I once took a bus tour through San Francisco when Sean and DPaul got “married” for the first time (Domestic Partnership, September 1993). The tour guide kept pointing out the drivers who were obvious tourist since they never knew where they were going and consequently did a lot of sudden turns and cutting off other drivers.
The parking – God help you if you have to park your car in San Francisco. OK. Sometimes you can get lucky parking on the street, especially if you are in your own neighborhood and you know the best time and places to look. Otherwise, may the force be with you. You spend a lot of time and gas driving around in circles trying to find a spot to park. And, I hope you are an expert at parallel parking. I have seen people parallel park their car into areas that measure exactly the dimension of their car. Makes you wish that you could just turn your wheels perpendicular to the sidewalk and just slide in; because as hard as it is to squeeze your way into those spots, it's just as hard to work your way out. And don't forget the traffic whizzing by you as you try to maneuver in and out of the spot. During my last visit, I had a hard time even parking in a grocery store parking lot.
The hills – The benefit of the hills of San Francisco is that they offer magnificent vistas of the city. If you're driving up and down those hill, you may catch a glimpse of them. If you are driving a standard shift car up and down those hills, you may have a nervous breakdown and the hell with the vistas! I mean, You are going up a hill that has a more than 45 degree angle and you have to stop because the car in front of you is stopped for a stop sign and the car behind you is 6” from your back bumper. Again, expertise is required here. Even automatic shifts require a little finesse. And if you are walking your sweet little “granddog” 3 times a day, you look at those hills with terror in your heart. You'd think I would lose some weight going up and down those hills, but noooo.
The litter – It breaks my heart to see a city as beautiful as San Francisco with such littered streets and sidewalks. Of course, it is no easy task to keep that city clean. Considering how many tourist visit San Francisco all year and how many come from areas where litter is just a way of life, it is no surprise that litter happens. Still, I wish there was a way to manage that. Because San Francisco is truly one of the jewels of our country.
The climate – Well, it's not that the climate is BAD. It's that it is not user-friendly. Some people cite Mark Twain as saying “ The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” But it turns out that he really never did say that (Snopes). But anyone who has visited San Francisco in summer can understand the need for SOMEONE to say this. It's the fog. It rolls in and stays there. With no sun and the bay right there, it can get darn chilly and you will often find yourself in a rather windy spot as well. Luckily it is not always like that. In fact in any one day the climate can change radically – chilly in the morning, warm in the afternoon, cold in the evening. Bring sweaters, T-shirts and coats if you visit in summer.
Those Victorians – They are beautiful. Did I mention the 3 stories? Do you know what it is like to walk up one of those San Francisco hills to your house so that you can then climb the 3 stories to your condo or apartment? Great for your health! Exhausting too. And they have really high ceilings – like 10 to 12 feet high. In the kitchen, the upper cabinets go all the way up to that ceiling height as well. Works out great for storage, and if you're tall there is no problem.
The Ugly – Me.
Let's start with the streets of San Francisco. I haven't driven in the city for years, and I haven't driven a standard shift for years either. During my visit I had the occasion to deal with both at once. Luckily, the standard shift skill came back to me rather quickly. Even driving on the highways was relatively easy for me. But the city traffic was a trial. This is not all the fault of the city itself. I have absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever. And, I am not familiar with the streets of San Francisco as a whole. There are these little added lanes that allow you to make a turn and somehow avoid crashing with a cable car or bus. You need to know that ahead of time. You may not be able to take a left or a right when you want to. Good to know ahead of time as well. Be prepared to drive up a hill so steep that when you reach the top all you can see is the front of your car. No street. Just the front of your car – like a roller coaster ride – not for the faint of heart.
The parking would be comical to anyone observing me trying to park in San Francisco. I was never an expert at parallel parking. I would circle the blocks for 30 minutes just trying to find a space large enough that I could comfortably park and not be up or down a steep hill. Many times it would take me several tried to squeeze the car into a spot. And I would handle it with my usual aplomb – cursing, sweating, screaming – you know.
Have I mentioned the hills? Driving up and down the hills in standard shift car, not sure if I was on the right street or not was nerve-wracking. I reverted back to my religion on those hills. “Please, God, PLEEEEASE don't let me stall on this hill!!” Walking the hills was no better. Hey! I am an old lady and not in any shape to take on those hills! Should have gone to boot camp first to prepare for it. Unfortunately, Reese can sprint up them effortlessly. We managed to work out a pace that allowed her to get some amount of exercise with out killing me in the process. But then we got to the house (the Victorian that was converted into condos) and – damn! - now we have to climb the very steep stairs up to the third floor. All I can say is, I was worn out at the end of every day.
The climate – I was actually prepared for the climate. I had sweaters, a sweatshirt, sweatpants, socks, sneaks, shorts, T-shirts, dress slacks, a jacket, heels, sandals, you name it – I brought it with me. I wore the sweatpants and sweatshirt for the morning walks, dressier clothes and heels for the business sales calls, jeans and T-shirt for the late afternoon walks, and back to the sweatshirt for the evening walks. My hair, on the other hand, was NOT prepared for the climate. Along with the fog comes an element of humidity in the air. That equates to frizzy hair that borders on the more retro Afro do I once sported in the 80's. OK. No problem. I can manage that with a blow dryer and a flat iron. So what if it takes an hour to beat my hair into submission? It's worth it. But the wind is an entirely different matter. Wherever I was or which way I was facing, the wind was always blowing my hair in the exact opposite direction from which I so delicately styled it. It gave me Divy-divy hair. (In Aruba, they have trees that bend with the wind. The natives call them Divy-divy trees - “Our topography and vegetation are unusual for a Caribbean island. Divi-divi trees, easily recognized by their distinctive wind-sculpted shape, dot a landscape defined by miles of pristine white beaches and a rugged northeast coast.")
And no matter what time of day it was and what my corresponding outfit was for the weather at that time, by the time I finished walking the hills and climbing the stairs I was all sweaty. This gave birth to the aforementioned Afro look. Every day was a bad hair day.
The Victorians – You now, those 10 - 12 foot ceilings are really nice. The ample cabinets are nice. But I am only 4” 10” tall (ish). I found that while visiting my son and son-in-law's house, everything that I needed was at least 2 feet over my head. A cup for tea in the morning, plates for dinner, the pots and pans, paper for the printer, the laundry detergent, eco-friendly bags for grocery shopping. I decided to open up the 3-step step stool and just leave it open in the kitchen for the duration. I felt like I should somehow attach it to my neck and carry it around the condo with me.
What is my conclusion? It's HARDER to live in San Francisco than it is to live in San Diego. We San Diegans have it easy. Our hills are so manageable! The traffic on the highways can be bad but driving in the city is sooooo much easier than in San Francisco. Parking is available. Sure, you may have to pay to park in a lot or feed the meters, but at least you can PARK! Of course we do not have the elegant public transit system San Francisco has, but we do have a trolley system and buses. The climate is – well, you know, PERFECT. Even in winter we rarely have to bundle up. Sometimes it gets down to 60 degrees. We are FREEZING and light our fireplaces for warmth. But the real San Diegans are wearing shorts with those sweaters or sweatshirts. In July or August we get a little heat wave that offers a little humidity that lasts about 2 or 3 weeks. We whimper over it. “Oh, this HUMIDITY!!” Many of our homes have vaulted ceiling, but they are in the living room not the kitchen. I am really short, so I do occasionally need my step stool in my kitchen – but not for the every day things. I can reach them all by myself. And lousy haircut aside, my hair looks relatively normal every day – no Afro, no Divy-divy hair. So I plan to stay here in San Diego where the condition agree with my wimpy constitution.
But I will visit San Francisco any chance I get, to see my son and son-in-law, my granddog and that fabulous city with all the beauty, food, culture, architecture, and diversity it has to offer. Happy Pride San Francisco! You have so much to be proud about.