“I Left My Heart in San Francisco,
high on a hill, it calls to me.
Little cable cars, they climb half way to the stars
the morning fog may fill the air, but I don’t care…”- George Cory
It’s been almost seven years since I moved away from San Francisco. And yet, I still dream, just like this morning, that I am there. It’s usually the mayhem of Chinatown or the Mission and I am with a group of people desperately trying to coordinate an outing of some kind. Or I am looking for housing. This morning, I was trying to talk my other single mom friend into moving in together.
I get an article in my FB feed once a week about a beloved venue, an old school restaurant or some other pivotal cultural institution coming down to make way for more upscale housing and wine bars. The most heartbreaking so-longs recently have been Elbo Room and Cafe du Nord.
Like many of my friends, I feel like the San Francisco I loved is no longer. Most of my artist friends have made the exodus to Oakland or Berkeley. On the scale, I don’t think I am terribly sentimental, but the great architecture, the dive bars, the magic hole in the wall cafes and most of all the live music, all seem to be evaporating.
However, just as a counterpoint, I just finished reading #FrogMusic by Emma Donoghue, which is about an unsolved murder that happened in the City during a heat wave in the 1870s. A bigger-than-life character named Jenny Bonnet was renowned city-wide for wearing men’s clothes, riding a boneshaker bicycle and generally causing a disturbance. The story is about her unlikely relationship with a lady of the stage, Blanche Beunon, and Jenny’s mysterious murder. http://www.sfchronicle.com/entertainment/books/item/Frog-map-28408.php
At one point, Jenny is in the as of yet undisturbed edge of town called San Miguel Station (known to you San Franciscans San Jose Ave and Alemeny Blvd) when a construction crew suddenly emerges to dam a pond and Jenny rants about how the whole city is changing. So it ain’t new news.
There is another line in the story when the investigating officer sniffs at Blanche’s french origins and makes a cutting remark about how her kind flooded into the city around the Rush, threatening the City’s dignity. The French, for godsakes.
San Francisco has always walked the line of defining civilized society and opportunity while hosting the shadiest of markets; it has always lauded it’s reputation for bohemian inclusion while cordoning off whole segments of its population. Like any other American city that has prospered, it is a crystaline reflection of how the system fails most of its people.
I am far from defending the tech influx that has driven working people, retired people, disabled people out of their homes. Where the charge of the City used to excite me, it now makes me acutely claustrophobic; the traffic is a nightmarish sea of cars at any time of day and the sidewalks are the same, just with people instead of cars. Every good idea you have: “hey, let’s go to the De Young” is exhaustive with time/money/logistics because everyone else had that same idea, and a latte is like, ten dollars now. If I’m going to live in New York, I want to actually live in New York.
I will not spoil the end of Frog Music for you, since it is a wild romp, truly delicious with details of a San Francisco of yore, but I relished the fact that Sacramento is the greener pasture, in the story anyway. That is not to say that we don’t have our own version of gentrification here, but we still have reasonably priced housing and a middle class. For now.
When I was an 11 year-old girl, my parents used to take us on family vacations driving up the length of California. San Francisco was always my favorite and I would look out at the wild dips and dives of the streets and see myself at 21: long-legged, stylishly dressed, on my way to a gig singing jazz in some smoky dive bar. I really believed San Francisco would be my forever home. And while I have no urge to return again, not even in my older, billionaire fantasies, there is still a way in which “it calls to me.”
#SanFrancisco, #SiliconValley, #Emma Donaghue, #Bay Area, #SFmusicians