When the Fog Clears
By Sammy Sklarin
People around me always squawk that San Francisco has changed into a completely different city than it was before. Even those who have never been here before feel comfortable chiming in on the issue.
In an Uber pool with my girlfriend and a woman wearing a hat and personality big enough for the Kentucky Derby, the conversation of birth places arose as they consistently do out of awkwardness and reluctance to talk. As I proudly marked my territory as a native San Franciscan, our outspoken co-passenger was shocked by the thought that anyone could be so proud to come from such a place. Her thesis on the state of the city came straight from the newsroom of the Washington Post: the streets are filled with homeless people defecating, the tech boom has made rent completely unaffordable and acid is far less attainable than it was in the ‘60s. What a drag! At the end of the ride, I deeply regretted not spending the extra $3.50 to get a car sans the peanut gallery.
But charmless Mary Poppins and CNN pundits fail to look beyond downtown San Francisco, the Tenderloin and the Mission District to the sleepy northwest tip of the city. The Richmond District is a bastion of sameness in an ever-changing city, protected by the blast of foghorns and the misty grey sky.
While few here complain about the gentrification of their neighborhood, some bring up that a couple restaurants they like have become restaurants they like less and some of their neighbors are not the same as the ones they had 10 years ago. To this, I argue that even such a magical city is not immune to the basic biological principle of death. And maybe Armenian baked goods aren’t as popular as they used to be.
The Richmond continues to hold onto its identity not out of nostalgia, like much of the rest of the city, but out of necessity. Families need a place to live, a place to eat and a place to get their dry cleaning done. They need a place to go to take a break from their families, out near the ocean where the night sky is blocked by the fog and they can ponder what could have been if they didn’t have one too many kids. They need a place where they can have a silent argument while pretending to be polite because “there are people watching.” They need a place where they can escape to do what Bill Clinton refused to and Obama did triumphantly and inhale because, well, this is San Francisco after all.
It is here where the values of the city carry on. Giant bonsai-esque trees overlook rows of homes covered in a light pastel paint that surely doesn’t exist in stores anymore. Chinese markets display their fruit in precarious positions alongside beaten down movie theaters and knickknack shops that should have gone out of business years ago. This, the forgotten San Francisco, is home. A space of endless exploration which energizes the careless wanderer. Nowhere could be better.
As long as the foghorns continue to blare through our bedroom windows lulling us to sleep each night and the sky continues to turn grey, we can never lose touch with our identity. It is only when the fog clears that we will be lost.
Categories: Letters to the Editor