A note from San Francisco

Hello,

I hope this finds you well. Or as well as can be during this difficult time.

It’s been a crazy year, hasn’t it? Half a million people died unnecessarily and a mob of bozos stormed the Capitol looking to kill, all because a bunch of baby boomers and genxers sat in their suburban homes for too many years smelling their own farts and watching FoxNews.

That hasn’t really been the case in San Francisco. Oh, sure, society here is tilted against anyone without generational or startup wealth, or whose skin tone is darker than mildly Italian, just as it is everywhere else in America. And yes, our Covid cases hit harder in communities of color and among the working poor who live in multi-family housing. But we didn’t have so many cases compared to the rest of the country, or even state. There are a whole lot of people in the work-from-home class here, obviously. Mask usage is near-universal. People mostly did the things public health officials asked them to do — probably as a fuck-you to Trump, but whatever. And nobody I know of has stormed the capitol, yet. But, hey man, anything could happen. 

As we approach a long-awaited reopening, San Francisco has a decadent energy bordering on violence. The city feels edgy and small and like you — yes you — could maybe break something open. The talk of the town is all crime and death and vast orange particulate-filled skies as far as the east coast media and west coast venture capitalists can see. In 2020 our fentanyl crisis dwarfed our Covid crisis, with too many of our brothers and sisters gurgling out their last breaths while city supervisors did nothing. Housing access remains a joke. We leave our dead in the streets here. There are multiple deep divides over what to do about our homelessness crisis. No wonder there’s an exodus of people streaming out (if there is in fact an exodus, which is unclear). The schools, though, are undisputedly closed – unless you are wealthy and then there’s always private school. (Cura Personalis, baby.) If I’m to believe what I read on Nextdoor, there is in all likelihood someone breaking into your garage right now. Mine too. (Hang on, I’m gonna go look.)

Everything seems up for grabs. We’re recalling the school board and renaming all the schools. (We’re gonna name ‘em all Karl.) We’re recalling the district attorney, too, because he’s too soft on crime and too hard on tech bros. Everyone’s moving to Miami. (But actually Oakland and Alameda.) The fires are out, for now, and the only smoke is coming from the exhaust of the ferris wheel.

Like I said. Things are changing. 

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When I moved here, 20-something years ago, I remember standing on the sidewalk of Folsom Street as the fair swirled all around me and looking up and seeing a young guy jerking his enormous hog over the crowded street, bending his hips outward in a bow shape to get as much of that big dick out the window of a charming old Victorian as he could; me deciding I should step aside because I didn’t want to get blasted from above. I remember standing at the cable car turnaround on Powell street, across from Blondie’s Pizza and Rasputin Records, and watching a clearly drunk and high as fuck guy stumble past a line of tourists with his pants down, fall over on his back in the sandy soil of a tree well cut into the sidewalk, and then spray piss straight up into the air and all over himself. A fountain of youth. Nobody said shit. I remember walking home one night, up the hill on Page Street from Divisadero, blotted from a night at the Noc Noc Room, laughing spectacularly into the night, when two men stepped out of the shadows and held a gun on my wife and took all our money and It’s Its bars that we were saving for later. So we ran downhill and banged on the door of a bar called Chance’s and even though it was closed the two enormous brothers who worked there let us in and called the cops. I didn’t have a cell phone with me.  I remember leaving the End-Up and getting in a taxi to go home, all giddy and fucked up on ecstacy and whatever else, and the driver turning on the radio in the morning light and the war had started. I remember when the church of St John Coltrane was on Divisadero Street, and the restaurants weren’t. I remember bike messengers. I remember seeing a dead body in the street outside the Treat Street Bar, on 24th. I remember getting kicked out of the 500 Club for smoking weed with a friend. He’s dead now. I remember going to the Lexington. I remember not being able to get a cab. There wasn’t an Uber back then, or a Twitter, or a Facebook. But the city was pretty great. 

Or it was for some people. But clearly not everyone. I wish I’d done more to help back then. I wish I hadn’t just let things go.

But, so what if San Francisco isn’t friendly to the tech industry? So what. Who cares. Sayonara, Salesforce. Ohana’s over. Etc., etc. It’s not that I’m anti-tech. I just care more about other things. I want the restaurants to open and the music to go all night and for my kids to be able to be in a classroom with other kids. I want to go inside a stranger’s house during open studios and buy some fucking art. I want to tip my bartender. I want to dance all night long to familiar music with my closest friends. I want this to be a place where weird new people fuck each other in weird new ways that no one had ever before imagined possible in all of human history. Preferably in the streets at the Folsom Street Fair. 

San Francisco has always been an oddball hotspot and may well be again. But it’s not like an influx of artists are going to move here unless we solve the housing crisis by, I don’t know, turning all that empty office space downtown into apartments or fast-tracking multi-unit construction all over the city. Something’s got to give.

On Sunday morning I was standing in the street again, hosing the grime off my car, when my neighbor approached me. “Hey,” he said, “you should really start parking your car in the driveway.” Someone had stolen the catalytic converters from both of his family’s cars. Two cars! Sawed them off in the night! I said Chesa’s name and spat on the asphalt. Fuck that guy.

And fuck the guys on Clubhouse, too. I mean the ones ranting about Chesa because he’s on the wrong team, the wrong tribe. The ones talking shit about the city and the media and trying to dominate the rap, jack. The ones who come and go. All those self-styled grey tribe motherfuckers who haven’t realized they’re just as guilty of groupthink as your average below-average Berkeley sophomore. The problem is bigger and deeper and worse than Chesa or the New York Times, my dudes. Go storm the capitol if you want a revolution. Run for office. But: Stand for something. Just take a stand, talk radio. 

Anyway. I love Clubhouse.

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So: Can we all just vibe for a bit? No matter what you think right now? I’m still alive and you’re still alive. Life is hard but it’s the only thing we have. That and each other. Tech’s a fact and it’s not going away. It made our lives better and this last year bearable in any way at all. It kept untold millions employed and connected, when we couldn’t be there in person. Tech’s a vital and humanistic part of the world, and a vital and humanistic part of the city. Being against it is like being against money. Which... fine. I feel you. But it’s not going anywhere. 

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Years ago, yet years later, my wife and I were going out for dinner on our tenth anniversary. We called this new thing called UberCab and the guy who came and picked us up that night (in a black car) was one of the enormous brothers who had let us into Chance’s after closing time, when we were so scared and so freaked out, long ago. He still lived above the bar, but now he drove for UberCab.

I asked if he remembered me, if he remembered us. He did. It was a real moment. You had to be there. (Maybe you were there after all? Maybe you just forgot after being locked down and shut up for a year?) 

But now, San Francisco is opening again. You can eat inside soon enough, if it doesn’t scare the shit out of you. Schools can open again, if the fascists on the school board ever decide to make it happen. You can go to the gym or the museum or a movie. You could take a long walk in Golden Gate Park, all the way to the beach. Maybe you could already do that. But this time, you’ll be able to ride the ferris wheel. Things are changing.  

UberCab is just Uber now. Chance’s is called The Page, and has been for years. I guess some people moved to Miami. Or Orinda. Or somewhere else. Things changed. San Francisco will change again. 

Can we be optimistic about its future? Can we rebuild the city so that it’s just as free and freaky and weird as it ever has been, but also actually takes care of the people suffering in the streets? Can we make it a place where we build the things we need when we need them? Can we take advantage of its massive store of financial and human capital to help the people who have been left behind in San Francisco’s previous booms? Can we feed the hungry and house the homeless? Can we recognize that there is no dogma, and live up to the potential and ideals of this weird place at the edge of America? At the edge of the world?

Everything seems up for grabs. We can break open whatever we want, including and especially the traditional power structures of the city. We can unfuck the machine. We can start again.

Let’s end single family zoning. Let’s build a massive housing complex right next door. Let’s get people off the streets and into that housing. Let’s show that black lives matter. Let’s end anti-Asian violence. Let’s get treatment for those who need it. Let’s punish the motherfuckers who stole my neighbor’s shit and implement a strong policy of decarceration and restorative justice. Let’s get the vaccine. Right in the fucking arm. Two times. Let’s hug again. Fuck that: Let’s all make out. Let’s close the streets. Let’s open the schools. Let’s save ferris. Let’s do it. Let’s fucking go. Let’s go. The city is ours. Let’s take it.

Anyway.

That’s what’s up here. Also I’m germinating some zucchini, which did really well for me last year. How are things with you?