San Francisco, You Are a Speed Addict…And I Still Love You!

October 4, 2023

San Francisco, You Are a Speed Addict…And I Still Love You!

May 29, 2023

San Francisco has seen its share of boom and bust cycles: the Gold Rush, the 1906 earthquake and fire, the sexual liberation of the hippie 60s and 70s and the AIDS epidemic of the 80s, the dot-com boom and bust, the Great Recession, the Pandemic and remote work phenomenon and, finally, however you would currently describe the “balagan” (chaos in Yiddish) that describes the current state of this 7-mile by 7-mile earthly bardo.

On a recent sunny, naturally air-conditioned day, I took a Lyft to the Sutro Baths at the city’s northwest “land’s end” and strolled the nine miles from there to my Potrero Hill condo in the southeast part of the city. Beyond just wanting to get my 20,000 steps in, I was hoping this stroll would reacquaint me with why I’ve had a long-term love affair with The City since the time my parents brought me to my first cable car ride 55 years ago. It’s been six years since I sold my home and planted my roots in Baja, so my relationship with The City has become somewhat transactional: I fly in to see family or friends, do meetings with the teams running the hotels I still own, or submit to endless medical regimens due to my cancer. I haven’t had time to be a flaneur. 

So, it was a divine coincidence to see this recent article in the New York Times, “‘Are You OK?’ San Francisco Residents Say They Most Certainly Are.” The basic gist of the article is summarized in this sentence: “San Francisco’s national reputation has plunged since the pandemic began, and many residents say they are frustrated by how their beloved city is being viewed.” Some of my San Franciscan friends laugh at how their city is currently characterized and quote San Francisco-lover Mark Twain, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” 

My personal experience of San Francisco on this walk was glorious. The raw nature of Land’s End with its view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Baker’s Beach. The posh suburban ‘hood of Seacliff with pristine homes with lovely lawns. Lunch at Pizzetta 211, an authentic Italian cafe that reminded me why The City is a culinary mecca. Strolling along the Asian-influenced, middle-class Clement Street merchant corridor with upside-down cooked chickens in the windows and three generations of families shopping together. The upscale Upper Fillmore with its boutiques and baby strollers. The surprising bustle of the Japantown Mall, full of Gen Zers who love manga and sushi. The Venice Beach-like outdoor gym, Burning Man sculptures, German beer gardens, and hipster shops of Hayes Valley. And, finally, before I arrived back at my tiny condo, the grittiness of South of Market punctuated with hundreds of leather queens filling the streets and bars in anticipation of the legendary Folsom Street Fair the next day. 

Yes, I avoided the Tenderloin, Union Square, and downtown on my journey, given my northwest-to-southeast trajectory, so my experience was heavily influenced by The City’s bustling neighborhoods. However, it was clear that this city still had a pulse.

Maybe San Francisco is just a speed addict who loves the occasional euphoric rush of all these eras mentioned earlier in this piece. It’s an addict that keeps returning to recovery, remaking itself like the mythological bird—the phoenix—which graces the city flag and is the name of my first San Francisco hotel. If history offers us any evidence, it’s that The City knows how to heal quickly and recreate itself in pioneering ways that are a window into our future as a society. Let’s hope this place that I called home for forty years—the Bay Area—is ready for its next incarnation, as we’ll all probably learn something from it.

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