Saturday, February 05, 2005

City of Anger

Today, I'm sorry to report that I fell out of love with San Francisco. There is an angry vibe in this town that rivals Manhattan of the pre-Giuliani years. We came here expecting and hoping to enjoy ourselves - we have both heard enough good things about SF to start believing that it's a veritable Shangri-la. Perhaps our expectations were too high? Perhaps we haven't given it enough of a chance? Hard to tell.

Things started off well - we drove in, had a good time driving around the city - the hotel we reserved far exceeded our expectations (it's sweet, quaint, staffed by kind and helpful people, fastidiously clean, perfectly located and wonder of wonders: affordable) - so it's not the bad accomodations. Our dining experiences have been fantastic when we've elected to actually spend money - so it's not bad food. The city is picturesque in its own way, but not nearly the paradise that the promo literature would have you believe.

Sadly, I think it comes down to the people.

It's not uncommon to be walking down the street and hear a cel conversation that goes something like this: "How dare you speak to me like that?!"

The children that you do see are atrociously behaved.

Drivers in this city are worse, if anything, than advertised. And that's saying something. The Lonely Planet we bought says that we should take the time to do some Zen preparations before venturing out to drive in SF (this is not a joke). That doesn't help you when you go out to walk, though - you really have to watch yourself to not get run over. And then you're just as likely to get flipped off and cussed out for being in the right in a crosswalk...

There is a level of anger boiling here that defies simple description. Perhaps it has something to do with GWB getting a second term. Perhaps it has something to do with the gay marriage amendments getting soundly trounced. I've been trying to get my arms around this since I've been here, and I wonder if it has something to do with privelege.

Karen and I were walking around in a farmers' market this morning in a well-traveled part of the city. The way people look at you and treat you is remarkable - several times I thought that I had become doggie doo that someone had stepped into - other times I've been run into by pedestrians - not even so much as a rueful or apologetic look - nothing even approaching an apology. When I thank someone for service in a restaurant, or just for answering a question, they pretty much haven't a clue what to do with my courtesy.

What's happening here?

As I was walking around this market this morning, I remember seeing perfectly coifed men and women, wearing beautiful clothes - the men are perfectly moisturized, the women are perfectly made-up........and I remember thinking that there is probably more money walking around on the faces of these people in this market than some third-world countries have for their entire monthly GDP.

There is a curious impotence that comes to rich liberals. It's a combination of being able to see the problems (of which there are admittedly many) of the world we live in, but not having anything approaching a coherent strategy or set of answers to answer the rampaging Republicans. So, there is no plan, and there is no willingness to lift a finger to address the issues. I want more social programs from the government, but I don't want to pay more taxes. I want better environmental responsibility, but I'm not willing to get rid of my Lexus SUV for something more efficient....

This was my primary critique of the John Kerry run for the Presidency. It's not enough to proclaim "anyone but Bush". While we may agree with the sentiment, there needs to be an alternative that captures the hearts and minds of voting men and women in America. It's "the vision thing". Sadly, oddly, GWB has it (as Bill Clinton did before him) and John F Kerry did/does not.

But back to SF. We took the "F Line" up to the "Castro district" today. The "F Line" is the line of restored trolley cars that runs from the Fisherman's Wharf up Market Street. "Castro" is the gay district here in SF. It's no exaggeration to say that it's the epicenter of gay activism in America. Both Karen and I expected an experience kind of like South Beach in Miami FL - that is, happy gay folk celebrating their gay-ness. What we actually saw was a great deal of commentary on gay porn (in shops, magazines, news rags, cinemas, etc.), and gay folk holding hands. We did NOT feel safe, I'm sad to report.

I know, by now you're probably pissed at me, saying that I haven't given the place enough time to grow on me. Maybe you're right. But I can tell you this: I've been to a lot of cities in my life, both here in the states and in Europe and Asia. I've not felt this unsafe in a place since my early teen trips to Manhattan in the early to mid 1980s.

We've still got a couple of days here. Perhaps things will change.


Blogger Allyn said...

I actually didn't spend much time in the city itself outside of Fisherman's wharf and Alcatraz. Its a shame that a city like that would haev the bubbling undercurrent.

If you get a chance check out the last alcatraz tour. Its a lot less crowded and very very cool for see the sun set over the bay from the Rock.

2/08/2005 2:17 PM  
Anonymous Rich said...

we did check out alcatraz...there are pics on that subject to come... :-)

2/22/2005 12:28 AM  

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