A Year In The City

A year ago on January 2, Katie and I drove a U-Haul filled with our things from San Diego to a rented room in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Next week on January 2, movers will be driving a truck filled with our things from San Francisco’s Outer Sunset to our new home in the Fruitvale neighborhood of East Oakland.

That’ll wrap it up at exactly a year in the City: three hundred and sixty-five days that were interesting, enlightening, joyful, and challenging, in more ways than I can count.

It’s easy to see why people fall in love with San Francisco. The city’s beauty alone is staggering. But more than that, San Francisco in the last decade has become one of the major imperial centers of the contemporary world, drawing in not just the best and brightest meritocrats but people from all countries and all walks of life, in search of opportunity. The city is a bubbling cauldron of humanity in good and bad fortune, with all the tragedy and elation and, most notably, change, that brings.

For me personally, I find the quality of life in San Francisco amazing compared to where we came from. I don’t really need to drive a car, which is a great boon. True, the MUNI public transit system is desperately overloaded and needs a massive expansion in order to keep up — but at least it’s a complete system that serves the whole city, something that few American cities can offer.

The city’s bike infrastructure, meanwhile, is awesome and getting better. I haven’t been to Portland in nearly a decade so I can’t compare the two cities directly, but getting around by bike in San Francisco is better than anything I’ve experienced anywhere else in the country. And as certain San Francisco streets are shown to be unsafe for non-motorized users, the city makes safety improvements. This is striking to me, compared to the nearly criminal inaction I grew used to in San Diego, in such cases as the Fairmount and Montezuma area, and the Balboa and Clairemont Mesa bike lanes over 805.

That said, 17 pedestrians and a handful of cyclists were killed by drivers on San Francisco streets this year; when winter’s cold came, homeless people died on the street from hypothermia. Life is cheap in the imperial center, and we’re often reminded of that.

The most strikingly unusual thing about living in San Francisco, I would say, is the food. It’s just so damn good, unlike anything I could have imagined. I mean, I knew food would be better here than in San Diego; I didn’t understand it would be orders of magnitude better.

Bi-Rite Market might be the single highest-quality grocery store in the world, and living within range of it has been a life-changing experience. Beyond Bi-Rite there exist dozens of similarly-inspired markets, practically one in each neighborhood of the city. I have two within a short walk of my front door. It’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to groceries here.

And, San Francisco is of course a city of a million billion restaurants. Among them are plenty of bullshit places, but the city also boasts a really staggering number of world-class places to eat. Our friend Richie Nakano of Hapa Ramen said on Twitter, perhaps jokingly, that San Francisco was overrated as a food city because most places are nothing special and there’s only about 25 great restaurants in the city. He might be right — but we’d need to stipulate there may not be another city on Earth with 25 truly great restaurants. My personal 25 include State Bird Provisions (really as good as all the hype says it is), Heirloom Cafe (which I don’t understand why it doesn’t get that much hype, too, it’s superb), Outerlands (our local for the last 9 months, not by happenstance), the aforementioned Hapa Ramen (currently a pop-up, soon to be a brick-and-mortar), and Tosca. And that’s just the restaurants — before we start talking about coffee places and wineries and bars and wine bars and so on.

While all this has made for an amazing experience for us this year, I have to temper it all by saying that, to my eyes, it’s hard to see San Francisco proper continuing to be the region’s wellspring of new and exciting culture going forward. The city’s mojo is being constricted by some very unusual economic circumstances, the effects of which many people are watching intently. It’s a complex and emotionally charged topic — it relates to the Google Buses and gentrification and more — and one which is big enough for its own blog post, that I’ll provide before too long. I know a fair number of my friends from outside the area have been curious about these issues, so I hope to help out with an explanation.

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