Tips to Avoid the Tourist Track
Most people do not understand my obsession with San Francisco. My mom didn’t understand when in high school, I drove up to the city every weekend instead of hanging out with my friends in Mountain View. My ex didn’t understand why I wanted to spend an hour commuting to San Francisco every day instead of just working locally. And now that I finally live here, many of my non-SF friends don’t understand why I want to pay such high rent to live in such tiny little rooms.
This post is an attempt to explain why I am so head over heels in love with San Francisco. Why I NEED to live in this city. Why I am willing to pay $1,000 + rent a month for a dingy little apartment, deal with parking meters where each quarter buys you no more than two minutes, walk through dirty streets that smell like pee, and get harassed every day by horny homeless men.
The thing is, San Francisco has a certain charm that I have not encountered anywhere else. This city is alive. It’s full of art, culture, and character, and just being here makes me feel inspired. This place brings out my creative side – when I’m in San Francisco I do artsy things that I never did when I lived in the suburbs. Sometimes I walk around taking random pictures of people and things. Sometimes I sit in a café and sketch an image that’s inside my mind. Sometimes I just wander around a neighborhood, and am fully entertained just by watching the people around me.
That’s a big part of it – the people. Our city has the most fascinating people. I’ve lived in places where I couldn’t people-watch because the average person just bored me to death – it was an irritated businessman on his cell phone, or a bored soccer mom pushing a stroller. I’ve lived in places where everyone seemed like a zombie, rushing around and doing their daily business. Also, none of those people were my age (or attractive). I’m sure some of them had interesting stories if I had bothered to get to know them, but from an outside perspective, those people were boring. In Mountain View, for example, I would run into the same tech-worker people wherever I went. Bars, restaurants, clubs – they were all full of the same people. All dressed the same, all talking about boring things. Blah.
In San Francisco, though, things are interesting. I walk down the street and I see people wearing funky outfits, butch lesbian couples holding hands, groups of kids huddled around a joint. I see men strutting around in power suits in the Financial District, skinny old toothless guys trying to sell me pills in the Tenderloin, hippies sitting around playing drums in the Haight. I walk through this city and I find street fairs and farmers markets and people sitting in little booths outside selling jewelry and funky hats.
It’s not just the daily grind –people going to work, then going home to zone out in the front of the TV all night, then waking up and doing it all over again. Thing are HAPPENING here. People are DOING things. San Franciscans are always out in the street doing something cool. There is a guy I always see in the North Beach park walking a tightrope he sets up between two trees. I see the same group of gutter alcoholics every time I walk by a certain street corner in the Tenderloin – they’re always there, sitting around drinking 40′s and yelling at each other. The other day I stopped to check out a guy tap dancing on Market Street, and a few minutes later, a young man approached me and handed me a drawing of myself. He said that he had sketched me and asked me if I wanted to keep it, then asked me for money. I gave him a couple bucks, then when I asked how he’d drawn such a great picture so fast, he taught me how!
A while ago I saw a cop harassing a couple homeless people (we have a ridiculous law against loitering, which means our homeless sometimes get tickets). While the cop was writing this poor guy a ticket, his buddy was sitting on the ground, playing a slow, sad song on his guitar. The whole scene looked so surreal – the stern-faced cop, without a trace of emotion on his face, and with a huge baton and gun on his belt, and the sad-looking man on the ground, peacefully playing his guitar – that I had to take a picture. The guy getting the ticket looked straight at me, deep in my eyes, and said, “Thank you sweetie, you’re an angel.” For a moment, I felt like we bonded over our shared distaste for cops.
I love the people here, and I love how we all talk to each other. Sometimes I feel like we’re all part of the same club – a bunch of unique personalities, bored with the daily grind of the rest of the world and only content here in the eclectic San Francisco, the only place that can satisfy our desire for something different.
But I’m getting off track – this is only one of the reasons I love San Francisco! I also love how it’s such a pedestrian-friendly city, how you can get anywhere so easily without a car. I love how I finally feel like a local now that I’m starting to understand our complicated network of public transit. How we have so many amazing foodie restaurants, so many fantastic dive bars, SO many cute little coffee shops.
How we have a kinky coffee shop where you can drink coffee and buy whips at the same time – Wicked Grounds – seriously, where else do you find something like that? Only in San Francisco.
Living here makes it easy to live a full and exciting life – there is just so much stuff constantly going on. I love how last Friday for 420, we had thousands of people invade Hippie Hill with boomboxes, tents, blankets… and plenty of drugs. I love how we have grand old Victorian houses in the Haight, left over from before the 1906 earthquake. How we have hipsters walking around wearing huge black-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans. How you can hang out in the Mission all day and spend the entire day speaking in Spanish – to the person selling you groceries, the guy making your burrito. (Deep in the Misson, not in the Valencia part.) I love how our rush hour includes a hoarde of bikers zooming down Market Street, dodging cars and smoking cigarettes. I love how North Beach really does feel like being in Italy, with all the crazy, loud locals sitting around all day drinking coffee and arguing in Italian.
I’ve fallen in love with three cities in my life: Paris, France, Sevilla, Spain… and San Francisco, California. Each place has its own distinct personality and charm, and with each place, it’s been almost as intense as falling in love with a person. I NEED to be in San Francisco – I crave this city. No other place is the same.