Tuesday, January 16I haven't been reading Mcsweeney's Internet Concern very often lately, because it's usually too silly. (And if it's too silly for me, well . . . ) But this meditation on e-mail etiquette is just perfect.
(8:16 PM | #)
Thursday, January 11(warning: long and possibly tedious thoughts ahoy, also: rambling.)
I've loved (and continue to love) three cities in my life. At least two of them are, and have been for a long time, deeply fucked. (These would be Glasgow and Washington D.C.) San Francisco is much less deeply fucked that either of those two, but it has--especially recently--a boatload of troubles. I suspect I like hard cases. City love is a strange and heavy thing.
(Side note: the soundtrack for this ramble is Sacred City, by Shriekback. It's the best album ever written about cities. Really.)
When I hear people--especially people who aren't or haven't lived there--slag off on the cities I love by saying things that just aren't true, I get really, really angry and defensive. When I hear people--especially people who do or have lived there--slag of on the cities that I love by saying things that are pretty much true, I get sad. Because hey: they're true. San Francisco has responded to a sudden huge influx of wealth in ways that his driven out artists, the poor, the middle class, small busineses, etc. Washington D.C. has a racial schism that will probably never be healed, a (still) enormous crime problem, has no congressional representation, and yet is run by congressional fiat. Glasgow is a shit-poor industrial city in a shit-poor country that, the year that it was billed as Europe's "cultural capital", strategically excluded almost all of the interesting (and very pissed off) writers and artists that actually form its cultural center. And they're all dirty, and all of the public schools suck, etc. It bothers me, but what can I say in response? List all the reasons that San Francisco (or whichever) is still a lovely city? This doesn't usually work if someone's really done with the place. (And if they're just bitchin', well, there's no point.)
(Side note two: If you *do* want to remember why you loved San Francisco, go for a walk. Get a map out, pick a route through streets and neighborhoods you've never been to on foot (or haven't been for a while), or just start wandering. Wear good shoes. Bring a camera, and cash for the inevitable little hole-in-the-wall restaurant you'll wander across. Um, do wait till it stops raining, though, unless you really like walking in the rain.)
I guess I haven't been disappointed with San Francisco for a bunch of reasons, some of them peculiar to me. First of all, like I said, I've always assumed that I was going to move back to Washington to settle down. This means I've never had to give serious thought to putting down roots here. If I had given it serious thought, I certainly wouldn't contemplate doing the house/family thing in the city. It's too expensive, and there aren't enough trees. I would contemplate Berkeley and/or Oakland, however.
(Side note 3 on the tree thing: The Chronicle ran a profile on a fellow a few days ago who is apparently responsible for the planting of most of the street trees in the city. When he started in the 60's, there were something like 80,000 trees. When he was done, there were 200,000. If it can be done once, it can be done again. Starting, for example, in my alley.)
Secondly is the loving hard luck cases thing. When I got here, I only saw the good parts of the city: the creativity, the energy, the diversity, the landscape, the old houses, a loony-left political spectrum that sometimes even did things I agreed with, the oddballs and the nutcases, and the rest of it. Now that I've been here a while, I can see the problems, and not just the ugly side effects of the dot com invasion, but deeper ones: a fleeing middle class, a broken public school system, nasty identity politics, a corrupt political system whose interests are irrevocably intertwined with business and media figures in ways that have more to do with old family alliances (and feuds) than democratic processes, and rampant NIMBYism where each little clannish neighborhood refuses to take its share of the burdens of the city. In short, it feels a lot more like home to me now. Which leads to my last reasons: San Francisco didn't feel like a home to me until I began to understand its problems, in part because I often don't feel the value in something until it needs fighting for. San Francisco desparately needs people to fight for it right now, as all good cities do in times of crisis. Inevitably, many people will leave for other places, as SF is one of those transient places, but some will have to stay and live here and fight to make it the place they want to live.
I intend to do my bit, but my bit will be pretty small: I'll be going home eventually to Washington, where I intend to put down my roots and make my stand. There's a lot of work to be done there, a lot of stuff that San Franciscans take for granted that just doesn't exist. (Example of the day: there is an entire section of town in D.C. which is poor and black and *does not have a single grocery store*. Not one. This has been the case for years, politicians have been promising to do something about it for years, nothing has happened. Entire neighbohoods have to either schlep their groceries halfway across the city or do all their shopping at scary corner markets. And people wonder why nutrition is an issue in the inner cities.)
This isn't meant as a slam on y'all who are thinking about leaving: if it's time to move on, it's time to move on. It is a plea, kind of, to take the time to remember why you loved this city before you leave it--leaving on a sour note is bad for the stomach. It's also a plea to look with open eyes at the next place when you get there, to look for what problems it is having as well as what it has to offer, and maybe decide to pitch in and do something about those problems (and create some new things as well). That's what will make it a home for you. If this sounds too hippie for you: remember that creating giant flame-spitting robot machines that attack other giant flame-spitting robot machines is a perfectly legitimate way to improve culture in a city. Really.
If, on the other hand, you are one of those people (and no one I know actually is one of these people, but I'll bet you know who I'm talking about) who has or will be moving on because San Francisco "just isn't cool anymore" and who moved on from the last "cool" place before that and will be moving again when the next places loses its hip: FUCK YOU. (This goes double for the people who are moving on to follow the money, but I don't expect them to know better.) You were never and never will be the kind of people who build culture in a city, you were only and will only ever be leeches on that culture.
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