Gotham forgive me. I’ve loved your grimy streets and your aggressive charm but maybe it’s time I started seeing other towns...
After nearly a decade in the city, I’m having a ten-year itch. And this week, spending time in the Bay area with a cute little number with the initials SF, I’ve having some serious doubts about our future together. Yes, New York has so many things going for it, but that’s for another day. Today’s all about the city made famous by the Beats and the freaks and the hippies too.
Here’s why I am falling in love with San Fran…
1. A general all-around West-Coast inflected niceness.
“Hey man, thanks a lot,” says the dishwasher with bright-eyed glee at Four Barrel Coffee, when I return my cup and saucer to him on a busy Saturday afternoon. “How’d it go?” asks a complete stranger at a thrift store when I come out of the changing room after our brief introduction, apparently without any traces of irony or sarcasm, (two conversational staples in New York). During a memorable cable car ride up Market street , one chatty passenger put it more succinctly than I ever could – “People think this is a big old gay Metropolis, but once you live here, you realize it’s just like Mayberry.”
What first attracted me to New York – cheap thrift stores, dusty old bookstores and cinemas, diners that looked like they had been lifted wholesale out of the 1960s, is disappearing into the ether (Case in point, this NYC landmark just had a wholesale renovation). The retro cinemas for example are a site to behold. Leading the parade is the Castro Theater, a gem that surpasses anything I’ve seen in these United States. Within its cavernous cathedral walls are floating balconies, a chandelier the size of a small Manhattan studio and a Wurlitzer organ that still gets regular use. On the night I went I caught a screening of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Add to that a plethora of vintage signage and an endless array of book shops and clothing stores ( Clothes Contact has cool fashion bargains by the pound) and record shops. Topping the list of classic experiences is the City Lights Bookstore , where Kerouac and Ginsberg hung out and got their kicks. It still carries the aura of quirky originality that has been lost in a lot of big cities.
3. The Mexican influence.
And not just the food, which is great — try Taqueria Cancun which, to quote another prominently anonymous San Franner I overheard is “the best Mexican food in San Francsico and it’s cheap too”. It’s on Mission Street in the heart of the Mission district, a neighborhood that feels as close to living in Mexico as you can get without crossing the border. If you handle the rougher edges of decay it’s one of the best neighborhoods in the country and doesn’t feel like a shunted off ethnic enclave. It’s as if the locals have a tacit agreement to build around its history instead of on top of it.
4. Triumph of the Weird.
The city that gave birth to a succession of movements meant to annoy authority is still home to all manner of oddballs and eccentrics. Children dressed like it’s Halloween, adults dressed like children and unhinged folks scattered all over. The 1960s radicals are all grown up now and are putting on mind-bending shows like the one at Audium, an indescribable soundscape experience held in complete darkness at the behest of a mad scientist at the control panel.
5. It’s oh so pretty.
Like, ridiculously pretty. Orange trees growing in front yards in the Castro…Vintage street cars from Milan and Chicago lurch up hills past impeccably beautiful row houses. Turn a corner and a row of palm trees greets you in the Mission. Flowers bloom and colorful murals appear like beautiful mirages…You’ll feel like you’ve died and gone to hippie heaven.