It always starts, and ends, the same way: entering into Oakland’s 19th Street BART station, daydreams of California-style city life and well constructed burritos are jettisoned by an uncomfortably moist train car rank with what could be the smell of a month-old cadaver's rotten feet. Exiting the car to secure a less musky seat, I resume my daydreams only to realize, in the end, that they were all in vain.
It used to be that people wanted to escape the city in order to find a suburb where you could have a nice family, a nice car, and a nicely matching wardrobe, all safely enclosed within a community gate and white picket fence. The panhandlers, noise, and “urban blight” that contributed to the “realness” of the city had been swapped for an hour commute that put a good deal of distance between yuppies and what they saw as destitution, crime, and poverty. This dream is long since over. With so many people realizing the stunting nature of the anti-social suburban sprawl, the initial exodus of 20-somethings has been followed by legions of tired-looking yuppies who have also given up on the suburbs.
San Francisco is a place that offers at least a semblance of social life in the streets and has a mass-transit system that, being at least semi-functional, can get you home even after chasing large doses of MDMA with multiple Irish carbombs, resulting in an uncontrollable throwing up of copious amounts of last nights frozen pizza onto strangers who you had drunkenly mistook for childhood friends. Who doesn’t want to live in a place where you can simply exit your apartment, walk a few blocks, and end up at a bar filled to the brim with a battalion of apparently creative, interesting patrons? Or, at least, so went my daydreams.
As it stands, the reality is much different. Upon exiting BART and walking down the streets of the Mission, it becomes apparent that San Francisco has transformed in ways that I cannot appreciate. Newly Ipe-planked luxury condominiums with fancy, all glass, automatic underground garage doors, and heated post-industrial concrete polished floors, sit adjacent to coffee shops whose patrons sip on $6-7 dollar coffee while they guiltily donate some small, insignificant pittance towards “saving the third world” on their new high-end Mac gadgets.
In fact, it’s almost as though yuppies had gotten bored of the suburbs and decided to move to the city, only to bring with them the worst parts of the place that they now claim to loathe. Walking down almost any SF sidewalk, you can see what is in fact the real blight: the late-thirty-something upper-management Google/Wells Fargo employee who, armed with a six-plus digit salary and a lengthy history of family money, recently demolished some jenky apartment building in order to have it reconstructed as a suburban home disguised as an edgy urban loft.
Striding through the Mission, my thoughts always tend towards the same conclusion: that despite the perks and quirks that come with living in San Francisco, there really isn’t much left that is all that interesting. Certainly in its heyday, the Mission District had actually housed an engrossing mixture of people--artists, anarchists, musicians, writers, communists, sculptors, hackers, party people, street fashionistas, punks, etc.--but that seems to be largely a thing of the past. Those people do not live in the city anymore; and, frankly, how could they? Rents are monumental, and San Francisco has become an attractive beacon for people who have a taste for something interesting, but are utterly uninteresting by themselves. What monied couples and Googleplex-funded singles alike do not realize is that, having arrived in droves in search for cultural happenings and social life, they have unwittingly killed any semblance of such by way of their own arrival.
Walking back to the Mission Street BART station has, for myself, become a ritual of loathing for my naive dreams of city-like ecstasy. Swearing off SF like the hungover after a night of blackout-level drinking, my brain always begins to scan for any real reason for me to return to the city. And, right when I’m almost certain that there is none, one pops up: burritos.