Considering a Move to San Francisco? My Reflections One Year Later on Why I Fled the City of App...athy
While many people love living and working in San Francisco, I could not count myself amongst them. Sure, the city offers great cultural events to attend, phenomenal food to enjoy, and stunning architecture to appreciate.
For me, though, the drawbacks of living there outweighed those urban perks. After about six months in San Francisco, I realized I had to get out. Luckily, after almost five years of living there, My Person felt the same way.
There are numerous folks who will extoll the virtues of this city. This post is my perspective on why I had to leave the city of app...athy. If you're unsure about whether or not San Francisco may be the city of your dreams, I hope you find the information here useful.
The city feels like you're living in the movie Elysium...
The disparity between the haves and have nots is astonishing. The city enacted rent control in 1979, so there are some people who still have reasonable rent. But landlords hike rental prices every chance they get. And the stream of incoming engineers and tech employees continuously pay the extraordinary market rates.
My Person and I are part of the diminishing middle-class. When we decided that we wanted to be in the same city, the logistics of my life made it easier for me to move to San Francisco. Knowing that earthquakes were a major concern for me, My Person leased a studio on the 28th floor of a new high-rise building around the Civic Center. We were paying market rates...through the nose!
In our budget we could afford (barely) the extraordinary rent every month because we were strategic with the rest of our spending.
The building was beautiful, full of amenities, and safe. We were actually awake on the morning of 8/24/14 when the 6.0 earthquake shook the Bay Area. The epicenter was at Napa, so the city sustained no damage, but we could feel the rumbling beneath us and saw the building swaying back and forth, probably about 18-24 inches, through our floor-to-ceiling windows.
Now I'm glad that we lived in this safe structure, but paying over $3,000/month in rent was ridiculous.
Life in our building was even more discouraging since our neighbors could be best characterized as stand-offish. Most people did not speak in the elevators. There were even some people who would not look at you or acknowledge your presence in the elevator.
And this extended to many neighbors living on the same floor. I had introduced myself to our neighbor, so one day when he and his wife entered the same elevator as me and My Person, I said hello. He replied. His wife just stared blankly ahead. Really?
If you're considering a move to San Francisco, I encourage you to follow the feature Apartment Sadness on SFist. You need to be prepared to see what rental conditions are like, and this feature highlights apartments that are particularly sad, but expensive nonetheless. Even more sad is that they will rent to someone.
Another great website for some real estate research is Curbed San Francisco. They feature a variety of homes for sale with some great photos to give the reader the complete picture of what buying at a specific price point looks like. They're also really good about updating their articles so if a home was listed at a certain price, they'll update the article with the actual sell price.
Focusing on the impoverished residents of San Francisco...
When I moved to the city, I knew that I would sometimes have to ignore people on the street because they were being inappropriate and rude. I also knew that I would need to be wary. I've moved around and traveled so I was prepared for maneuvering around the unique rules of an urban environment.
While in San Francisco, I never witnessed someone having their phone stolen, but twice I had MUNI drivers point out some known local pick pockets to me. I'm fine with ignoring people in isolated incidents or having to keep my guard up on some blocks. But in San Francisco, those incidents were not isolated and the blocks where I felt like I needed to be more vigilant seemed to extend endlessly.
What I was truly unprepared for, though, were the astounding number of homeless people and poor. Walking down the street and seeing the mental illness, the addictions, and the desperation was depressing. And I saw variations of sad scenes every day.
As an extreme example, I was in the Starbucks across the street from our building when a homeless man entered. He started taking off all of his clothes and proceeded to roll around on the floor. The baristas had clearly asked him to leave earlier, but he was back. The employees had to call the police to escort the man out and then they started cleaning the floor.
Less extreme examples involve regular yelling matches. On more than one occasion I would be standing at the F-line street car stop up by Whole Foods and random people would start shouting at each other or at me. Once a man wearing torn and dirty clothing approached me kind of dancing and singing. He seemed like he was in a jovial mood, but maybe not aware that he was in public. He jumped toward me, planted himself about three feet away, made the "jazz hands" gesture, and yelled, "White ho bitch!" Luckily, the trolley was pulling up, so I proceeded to board and move away from this person. I have no idea who this man was or if he was addressing me. I just know that he did not seem to be in the best of mental health for whatever reason and I did not feel safe being near him.
And while there were some homeless people who concerned me because I did think they could be dangerous, many of them were just human beings trying to find shelter or food. There was one man who sat outside the Starbucks at the Whitcomb Hotel who would hold up a sign that said something like, "I'm homeless. I'll take anything, even a smile." I would smile at him and say hello. And he would say "Hello" or "Have a good night" back with a smile of his own.
Know thyself! And acknowledge your limitations. I wish I had.
I'm basically a do-gooder. While I had a position in San Francisco that allowed me to help others, my income was lower than it had been in years. I could live in San Francisco because I was living with My Person, whose income was considerably more than mine, but not enough to consider our studio a pied-a-terre.
Seeing the sadness of the homeless every day wore on me. I started to read about specific issues related to homelessness and that was frustrating. I am not trying to sound like an authority here because I am not. I am not native to San Francisco so I do not understand the nuances of how decisions were made over decades about public housing, public toilets, shelters, food banks, and the all of the other services to help the poor and displaced.
What I did recognize was how helpless I felt to do anything. When I was in the process of moving my stuff out to San Francisco, My Person tried to make it clear to me that our neighborhood had some rough edges. He shared me with a story from the first week he moved into the studio. He was walking to Walgreens and passed a 50-something looking man injecting a needle into the neck vein of a teenage girl. It was a Saturday afternoon, about two blocks from City Hall. I think My Person knew me better than I did. He was concerned that I would not be happy. He was right. Seeing the disparity in income levels was a disheartening daily reminder that I should be doing more. More with my life and more to help others.
While seeing the homeless and the poor was discouraging, the people who exasperated me were the narcissistic drones living in their protected bubbles. In my estimation, the drones were a majority of the population. And I was living among them in a sheltered bubble.
Indeed, San Francisco is a city overflowing with completely self-absorbed people...
The number of pedestrians who don't even pay attention as they walk down the sidewalk tapping away on their phones with ear buds in continuously blew my mind! In the last months before we moved, I saw more and more people starting a truly irritating trend of video calling whoever was so important and walking at the same time. Because, it's really important that I, a perfect stranger on the street, hears your conversation.
On a regular basis, I would be walking on the right-hand side of the sidewalk, the side I consider correct for anyone with common sense and common courtesy, and would almost collide with the moron who was not looking and walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk. My strategy was to stop just before collision and most times people would look up, realize that they were not the only person in the universe, and then walk around me.
One of the most disturbing examples of pedestrian cluelessness involved a body. On the block over from where we lived, a dismembered body was found in a suitcase and reported to police at 4:15pm. PM. How many people had walked by the Goodwill Store completely ignoring the "suspicious looking suitcase" and the smell? I don't begrudge anyone not wanting to investigate themselves, but there are police officers around this dicey neighborhood all the time. Take a few minutes and tell one of them..
Standing at most traffic stops, I learned that cars were accustomed to waiting for pedestrians who had the right-of-way. But even drivers have limited patience.
There were pedestrians who assumed they had the right-of-way at all times. I saw a few instances where a myriad of theater-goers dressed in cocktail attire would run with their hands up to stop traffic as they crossed against the signal. "I'm late for Newsies because I did not adequately plan my time, so now you...automobile...must bow before me!"
Yeah, great. That strategy worked out well for Zod too! So these clueless pedestrians created quite a bit of frustration with drivers, which did not make me feel any safer.
However, the travelers who scared me the most were the entitled cyclists who plague the city. One would think that since I was walking in San Francisco, the cyclists would view me as an environmentally-friendly ally. While some of them may have, there were too many entitled jerks, who also frequently rode with ear buds in, rolling right through cross walks, oftentimes going about 25 mph and maneuvering about 20 inches from me or fellow pedestrians. Their aggressive behavior made it clear that they gave a total of no fucks about anyone else on the street.
If you think I'm kidding about the level of entitlement, please check out the video from Comedy Hack Day's 2015 grand prize winner spoofing the privileged and entitled of San Francisco. This piece beautifully encompasses the acceptance that many in San Francisco live in a protected bubble and have no idea how the rest of the world lives.
After surviving the street gauntlet, the city would find new ways to reinforce how devoid of humanity it was...
Restaurants oftentimes would have lines, which would be fine, if I were allowed to eat my meal and visit with My Person and friends. On more than one occasion either one of my dishes or someone in my party's dish would be whisked away by wait staff before the plate was even empty. While the server would always apologize, the message was clear: "Eat faster so I can get the next round of people in here."
I get it. As a server you're not making a living wage. Can you even afford to live in the city? Or do you have a monstrous commute every day? I know you want to make as many tips as possible, but I'd like to enjoy our occasional meal out.
My Person and I were having brunch in Cole Valley and three twenty-something's at the table next to us barely said a word during their meal. They kept taking pictures. And posting to social media.
Now maybe they were communicating with each other on these platforms, but I don't think so. From the bits of conversation, I got the impression that each person was posting to one-up another friend who was not enjoying nearly as nice of a brunch as these three.
I was not aware that brunch was a competitive meal. But that was just another disgusting element of life in the city. Eating out means being surrounded by vapid people who want to document their "experience" just to compete with the Joneses.
And then there was the rudeness I experienced on a regular basis at the public library. At the San Francisco Main Library, there were three clerks who I could count on to say hello, engage in a short conversation, and generally be polite humans.
If one of those clerks was not working, my "Hello" was usually reciprocated with a grunt. I could smile, say something like, "Here's my card. I should have six movies in the back." And the clerk would say nothing. Nothing! They'd scan the card, get up, come back with the movies, and hand them to me. I would say, "Thank you" and I would still get no words from the library employee.
I wish I were kidding.
On my first visit to the library, I was walking around, seeing where everything was. I had a list of books to track down, so when I was on the third floor, I noticed that I was rounding a corner where numerically the 600 section should be. I think I was looking for a cookbook.
Now I will admit, my notes did specify that the book was on the fourth floor, but looking at the Dewey Decimal numbers around me, I thought I must have walked up an extra flight of stairs. I could not find the 600 section, so I decided to ask at the Information Desk.
When I interact with the public, I consider myself a basically polite person. I smile. I say hello. I ask my question with the words please and thank you. The older man at the Information Desk must have consumed Cheerios drenched in piss that morning because the entirety of his response was to speak very slowly, enunciating each word: "The...600...section...is...on...the...fourth...floor." Then he proceeded to hold up his hand with four fingers showing, placed his hand a few inches from my face and repeated, ever so slowly, "The...fooouurth...floor."
And that interaction basically sums up how most of the public library employees interacted with me. I actually dreaded going to the library in San Francisco. I would let my holds pile up a bit more because I didn't want to be exposed to the multi-layered amount of negativity that I would encounter on my way there and during the visit.
I know that's several paragraphs about the library, but I love libraries. They are sanctuaries to me. In most cities where I've lived, several clerks and librarians knew me. Maybe not by name, but as the person who would be looking for that new book to bring back to my classroom. Or as the person who maybe has read the latest YA best seller. Or watched that documentary they recommended. Having such regularly negative experiences at the public library made living in San Francisco even more unbearable. There were few places to go where I felt like there was any community.
And then, there was the insufferable weather...
San Francisco is cold. Like we left on May 13, 2015, and I was wearing jeans and a hoodie cold. And I could have conceivably worn that hoodie all summer. Our building actually had a pool, which I never used because the winds were so terrible.
When I told people that I was moving to San Francisco, I repeatedly heard how I'd love the weather there. Since I was moving to be in the same city as My Person, this move was the first one where my city research was cursory at best. I assumed that people were being sincere when they said that I would love the weather. Now I think they were messing with me. Stupid sarcasm!
I know everyone has different expectations for the definition of perfect weather. But I honestly don't understand how anyone could think San Francisco's weather is desirable.
I love the sun. Living in Tucson with summer daytime temperatures over 100 degrees does not bother me. My sister, on the other hand, hated the Tucson summers. She's quite happy now living in Canada with something she describes as "real seasons."
Be sure to look at the temperature averages by month. Compare those numbers to the averages you're used to and decide if the activities you love the most are conducive to the windy, cold, damp, foggy environment that is San Francisco.
And finally, one more reason to leave San Francisco...
On the sidewalk...on a regular basis.
I really wish I were kidding about this one, but I cannot count how many turds I had to navigate around. Sometimes the turd had already been smooshed by one of those clueless morons not paying attention to where they were walking. That could get extra tricky because then I had to avoid the poo spread.
And what kind of poo was it? Oh, don't worry. The people of San Francisco are so thoughtful. You can check the (Human) Wasteland website to see a map of all human waste reports in the city.
Living in San Francisco was aggravating and demoralizing. Walking around with my guard constantly up was exhausting. The undeniable income inequality that accosted me every day psychologically beat me down.
And the insulated people who live there think they're living the dream urban adventure. They don't understand how I can dislike their city of technological disruption because they choose to ignore the circumstances that are actually worth being upset by. Instead they bury themselves in their apps. I grew tired of their apps, but more so the apathy surrounding me.
When I realized that I was beginning to succumb to the apathy, I knew that My Person and I needed to move back to Tucson where I now have a teaching position that allows me to make positive contributions in a city that is much more thoughtful about how we treat each other. I'm not saying Tucson is perfect or perfect for everyone, but it is a place we are happy to call home.