Thursday, March 11, 2010

Some Thoughts on San Francisco & Travel In General

Well, now I'm well and truly home and everything looks weird. That seems to be one of those travel hazards: I'm homesick for the entire trip until the minute I start heading for home, at which point I immediately start missing my destination. I couldn't wait to get back to Asheville and now I want to go back to San Francisco immediately. Figures.

Anyway, San Francisco is cool. It is also warm, as in when I got there at 3 in the morning my time or a little after midnight Thursday their time, the shuttle driver said, "Cold, cold, is so cold tonight!" and I laughed disbelievingly at him, because it was easily 50 degrees and, as we know, I was coming from the Winter From Hell in Asheville. I nearly froze walking from my car in the Asheville airport parking lot (through several inches of snow) because I left my heavy winter coat in the car with a feeling of worry and disbelief. I didn't need to worry because it is not only warm in San Francisco, it is green. I mean there is green grass on the ground and flowers everywhere and green leaves on the trees and on Thursday morning I nearly wept with joy at this green world. It was more or less exactly like that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy's house lands except for the fortunate absence of the squashed witch. I wasn't expecting it to be so green and I surely wasn't expecting palm trees. Palm trees! Right up and down the center of the streets as if you're in New Orleans! (It has occurred to me that I, who never travel, have now traveled twice in the last eight months, once to New Orleans and once to San Francisco - clearly, I'm on the Anne Rice tour of the world.)

The other thing that was wildly notable to me about SF was how calm it was. My main experience with large cities has been New York and Baltimore, neither of which are noted for their peaceful aura. So I was expecting the usual madness of people shoving and snarling and that sort of vaguely palpable feeling of menace and urban decay that keeps us east coasters on our toes. It was lacking. I mean completely lacking. My brother said, "The great thing about this place is that it has everything New York has but without the agita." And that is the best possible description. People are friendly and polite.

Even the street people (for the most part, although there were a couple who would have fit in okay in Tompkins Square Park back before gentrification days) are cheerful: two punk kids sitting on the sidewalk in the Haight Ashbury asked me to take their picture - they smiled while I took it, shot peace signs and didn't ask me for money. I nearly fell over in sheer astonishment. It was unreal: a lady gave us a two day MUNI pass because, she said, her daughter had left and didn't need it and, I heard from one SF friend that people routinely hand her their bus transfers. That just doesn't happen in New York. I mean, first off, if you had tried to give me a bus pass in NYC while I was living there I would have thought you were crazy and I would have thrown it away immediately, if I even took it. And, of course, that would never have happened in the first place. Ha ha! I laugh at the thought! Yeah, San Francisco is just nicer.

I went out drinking with a group of genial and delightful San Franciscans, a couple of whom were transplants from places like DC and Baltimore and they knew exactly what I was talking about. I asked if it was okay for me to walk home alone and slightly intoxicated through the Mission after midnight and they said yeah, sure. "I've never seen anything here, even in the Tenderloin on a Saturday night," said one, "that even compares to the kind of shit you see in DC on, like, a Tuesday night at 9."

The question is, does that make San Franciscans weak and pointless? Could shock troops from Baltimore totally take them out and colonize their palm tree laden city? I kind of doubt it. I am beginning to believe that there is something to be said for peaceful energy - that just possibly you don't need constant chaos and strife to thrive. I know, heresy, but I'm beginning to think it might be possible. Clearly I have been infected by the California virus. I'm sure it will wear off - probably as I trudge through the sleet to take my dogs to run illegally in the park.

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