magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
San Francisco is a mess. Possibly this is the Midwestern kid in me talking, but I've never really felt like I have a sense of the city itself. There's too much going on – and not in the sense of the human bustle of the streets, though there's that too. (Though I've never felt more overwhelmed in the crowds of San Francisco than I have on campus in Iowa City when school is going on.) It's more that I don't have a sense of the city-as-entity, the unified sense of place and identity I have in a place like Lincoln or IC, where the quality (as in qualitative, not as in value) of the neighborhoods changes, but gradually, and there's still something somehow recognizable about each one and all of them together.

Now, a Bay Area native might have more of a sense of the City; I don't know. But since I got here it's been a jumble to me, like neither the city nor its inhabitants are sure what it's meant to be. There's the ridiculous wealth disparity, for one thing; people might pay $6000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in this place where there are 6,000 homeless in a 47 square mile city. And there's the density and diversity in the neighborhoods: pick a palce, go two blocks over and it seems like odds are the entire characteristic of the city changes around you. And this can be a really neat thing. But it adds to my sense of displacement.

I love a lot of the stuff in San Francisco. The shops, the restaurants, the resources. Noisebridge and Alchemy and Paxton Gate and Frijtz and El Farolito and, and. But for the most part I don't grok why people want to live here. Compared to Lincoln, say, the streets are dirty. Cracked in a lot of places. The area feels more compressed, everyone pressed in by the water on three sides and no room to expand south, by the buildings which are shoulder-to-shoulder, holding each other up. (A friend mentioned that you could tell the rich people's houses because there was space between them.) Places have yards, but just about every ward I've seen has been because I was invited into someone's house – they're behind walls, or cradled as backyards between rows of houses which only show their faces to the street. Murals seem to pop up in place of green growing things – and some of the murals are quite lovely. People seem to have less respect for the immediate environment – not the big Green-energy stuff, not the recycling, but the everyday litter-on-the-sidewalks cigarette-butts-on-the-streets thing. I'm not uncomfortable walking down the streets, but I've never preciselt been comfortable either.

And the infrastructure doesn't add anything to my sense of stability. Three inches of rain on Thursday knocked out power to what seemed like half the city. I fully expect that if the city saw a flake of snow, it'd all shut down. They seem to be pretty well prepared for earthquakes, but coming from the Midwest, the SF attitude toward weather events seems bizarre to me. (Though, in fairness, I imagine that if a big quake hit the Midwest, that'd be an out-of-context problem there, too...)

But. Today, staying in a place just off Mission Street, I went wandering to get a cheap umbrella for the ongoing rain. And on 18th street with the jumble of Mission shops in front of me I passed a guy in a yellow rainjacket, wandering down the sidewalk with an umbrella open in one hand and a burger in the other, chewing away as he walked. And I cannot tell you what it was, exactly, about that scene, but I fell in love with San Francisco. Just a little. But there was some qualia there – in the light, in the guy's distraction, in the adapted chaos of the shops, in his effortless adaption to the city environment – that hit me right.

I'm on an Amtrak back down south in a couple of hours. And I'm not sure I'll miss the city, really. But there's so much about the city I will miss.

And maybe it's just my propensity to fall a little bit in love with everything this past week or so, but I'm beginning to catch glimpses of why people love this city. I don't think it'll ever be my city, but I'm beginning to understand the people for whom it is.
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magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)

January 2017

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