San Francisco: Insulated from Reality

E-mail last week:

I’d think a hip cat like you’d be more into their version of things than some tired academics who are just jumping on the caboose of a rapidly leaving bandwagon.

Oh. Woops. You’re in San Francisco.

That explains everything.

Seems to be a common bit of knowledge that San Francisco is pretty well insulated from the realities of the world.The population here tends to be — how should I say it — a tad left of center. Diversity and eccentricity are the norm here. The intelligence, literacy, and education levels are higher here than in most of the country. Queers and other minorities have “nothing to worry about here”.

Of course, anyone who lives here knows that last statement is anything but true, although — at least for some minorities — life is somewhat easier here. Particularly noteworthy is the phenomenon known as the Castro. I’ve written a lot about the Castro. Most of it has not been complimentary. As a matter of fact I’ve often described it as sort of a “reality-free zone”, where the troubles of queers in the hinterland, people on the wrong end of the socio-economic scale, and unfashionable people are no longer a concern.

Could this is true of the whole city?

Well, of course it is. I’d venture to say that a fairly large percentage of the San Francisco transplants moved here to escape the “reality” of the places they came from, be it suburban North Carolina, rural North Dakota, or even the Phillipines or Central America. This collection of backgrounds has produced a wide variety of knowledge and awareness within the city. Unfortunately, it also may have produced a strange sort of insulated cultural vacuum wherein all these individuals fleeing from their own realities have lost touch with large parts of them as well.

I would not disagree with the statement that San Francisco as a whole strongly overestimates its own importance in the world. The things that we believe and hold dear are not the same as those which are important to the rest of the world. Our influence on society is waning, if not close to nonexistent. New York, Los Angeles, even Houston and Atlanta are much more important on a national scale. Contrary to what we may tell ourselves, the world doesn’t generally follow our example, nor does it even particularly care what we think or do.

San Francisco is the capital of muliti-cultural thought, tolerance, and “PC’ (God, I hate that overused term…) Every issue, no matter how inane or trivial is perceived by someone as indicative of society’s oppressive nature. If I get my order ahead of someone else at McDonald’s, it must be because I’m a white male, not because the other order was for a “Big Mac, no salt, light sauce, well done, on a cruelty-free bun”. If I refuse to break the law and reproduce copyrighted material en masse for a customer, it must be because I don’t agree with his politics, not because I fear for my job. Everyone here seems to have an “oppression complex”: gay, straight, male, female, WASP, Latino, Asian, whatever… It gets a bit silly. And people laugh at us, even though many “oppression complexes” may be based in past truths.

The “single issue” politics in San Francisco are astounding and disturbing. Particularly in the “gay community”. This may be our biggest means of forgetting that there is, in fact, a world outside our little peninsula. Most of the world is far more concerned about keeping (or getting) a job which will allow three meals a day and shelter than about whether a school in the Castro is named for Harvey Milk or whether a Lesbian couple is featured in the Valentine’s Day story in the local paper.

We’re creating a city that fewer and fewer people can enjoy. Gentrification has destroyed neighborhoods worldwide, but in San Francisco, we seems to be doing it on a city-wide level. The upper middle class is taking over, raising rents, and pushing out the diversity (musicians, artists, ethnic communities) which attracted them in the first place. Our small mom and pop family restaurants and hardware stores are being replaced with wall-to-wall bistros, Gaps, Starbucks, and Z-Galleries. How livable is a city where it’s easier to buy a $125 framed print or a piece of FiestaWare than it is to find a $4 meal?

And our hypocrisies and inconsistencies are showing:

  • We revel in our love of ethic cultures and foods provided and prepared by people who can no longer afford to live here. (San Francisco is the only city of its size and stature in the country where the African American population is actually DECLINING, and with the current rental market, things will get worse.)
  • The gay movement was built largely on a platform of freedom of speech and association, but try posting a flyer on a lamppost in the Castro.
  • Discount stores like Target or Home Depot face immense opposition from city residents who would prefer to drive to the suburbs and shop there, free of the hassles of anyone who might walk or take transit to them.
  • Marin County contains one of the most “liberal” suburban voting blocks in the country. Funny that any form of affordable housing there is consistently voted down, as was the BART rapid transit system many years ago. Shopping centers are OK though, as long as they “look OK” and they’re located in the one predominantly black area of the county. It’s a special bonus if they displace an unsightly flea market or craft fair where “outsiders” can make money in a non-landscaped environment.
  • A reviewer fro the Examiner applauds a show which glorifies urban street sensibilities while decrying the real street life — she refers to it as “human garbage” — which surrounds the theater outside.

It all comes down, I guess, to whether we want to live in a real city or a Disneyland-style sanitized version of one. Is it preferable to take the bus to the Western Addition or the fake cable car tour to Fisherman’s Wharf? Is Mission Street or Castro Street what San Francisco is really all about? I must confess to a bias toward the former in all three cases.

And I’ll skip a lengthy discussion of our own version of the costumed “greeters” here in “UrbanLand”: the stockbrokers who dress like gas station attendants on weekends, the trust fund hippies on Haight Street, the artists posing as gangbangers, antuque shop owners posing as longshoremen. However, I must congratulate them for producing an intersting — if not entirely accurate — version of urbanism in safe neighborhoods. Perhaps in a “city of freaks” it is necessary to punctuate one’s identity with an exclamation point.

I must add that I do not claim to be free or above some of the inconsistencies I’ve discussed here. I am also probably no less insulated from reality than anyone else here. The South of Market Area is not really all that high on the “reality index” either (especially given all the drugs down here). Who knows…maybe I’m more insulated than anyone…

All in all, I still love San Francisco and the Bay Area. At least there is an attempt at justice here. In most neighborhoods, it is not necessary to duck immediately after kissing your boyfriend goodnight on the street corner. People here at least feel guilty when they make bigoted comments. Hate-spewing Jesus freaks are regularly challenged when they preach on the streets. And as shallow as it sounds, it’s just pretty here!

Fun with Unemployment

OK…I’ve rearranged all my books and grouped them by subject (while stopping short of using the Library of Congress system), all the dishes are clean, and the floors are swept, I’ve rearranged and fixed almost every page on the web site, answered all my email, cleaned up the hard drive…what do I do next?

Unemployment is hard to get used to. I’ve never done it before. So frighteningly much free time. No structure to my life or my days. It’s really odd. I never really noticed it until this week; for the first few weeks, I was in North Carolina, so it seemed like a natural vacation. Now I’m home and I’m a little perplexed by the whole scene.

A few good things: I’ve been able to do things in the daytime, like the MacWorld Expo Friday, lunch with Mark today, “I Love Lucy” at 2PM on Channel 20 every day… Tomorrow I get to wait for the repair person from PG&E to come fix the heat. Great timing…the coldest it’s been in San Francisco in the 4 1/2 years I’ve lived here and I have no heat. And just when I’m spending all day at home too…

I’ve decided that this month would be a really convenient time for me to have a heavy romantic involvement, if anyone’s interested. I have time now, and I don’t have to worry about getting out of bed to go to work. I can linger by the phone all day waiting for “him to call”, without worry about having to be somewhere else at a given time. Plus, someone else in the sack would help with the heating situation immensely…

Anybody wanna go see a bargain matinee?

I Love San Francisco

It is good to be back in San Francisco. I missed my neighborhood, my friends, my computer…

It continues to be freezing cold here. Granted, freezing cold in San Francisco means the temperature dips into the 30’s occasionally. But we’re all major weather wimps here, so if it’s below 45 or above 75, everyone sort of freaks out.

I love San Francisco. It’s as if the cream of the crop from around the country — the deviants, the psychos, the geeks, the skaters, the punks, the sluts, the artists, the musicians — all converged here in order to pay ridiculous rents to live in old buildings with less than adequate heat but to have stunning views (and viewpoints) thrust on them constantly.

Got picked up on the subway yesterday by a way cute boy who has not as yet called back. Neither of us had time to do anything right then and there (pity…), but we did manage to play the game and moved really fast into the conversation stage,etc. This doesn’t happen so easily other places. In most other cities, you have to go through the “is he queer or just trying to sell me drugs” phase, which wastes precious time. Depending on your tastes, there’s also often the “does he just want to rob me” stage. Here, you can be pretty certain that (a) he’s queer and (b) even if he wants to rob you or sell you drugs, he’ll probably have sex with you first.

I love San Francisco.

Reflections on home

I guess my two-plus weeks in North Carolina could best be described as “restful”, which may be just what I needed following my newfound umeloyment. I spent a lot of time with mom and dad, not much time going out, only minimal times shopping and cruising, and I slept a lot. Good things included seeing the family at Christmas, spending time with Jeff and Duncan, and much excellent food. Less good were the fact that I was half sick for my whole visit (not used tp places with heat, I guess…), I didn’t get to visit my friend Dawn in Charlotte, and really heinous airline food.

A few things which come to mind after this visit:

  • The preppy look never goes out of style in North Carolina, especially among gay men. I’ve never seen so many oxford shirts “tastefully” layered over polo shirts all tucked into khakis or acid-washed jeans anywhere else.
  • People on airplanes flying home for the hoildays look as if they’re going to a funeral. Guess the stress level is a bit much, huh? Maybe it’s even more intense on flights out of San Francisco, where it seems everyone is running away from something.
  • There should be a law against going to “retro” nights at clubs in cities where you grew up and no longer live. Major emotional roller coaster.
  • The last call rush is much more intense in North Carolina than in California, maybe because state law in NC gives you a very civilized half hour to finish drinks bought at 2AM.
  • Why is it that in an intense place like San Francisco, speed is the drug of choice, while in a laid back (OK…boring) place like Greensboro, it seems to be all about heroin. You’d think the reverse would be true.
  • Newspaper stories in North Carolina still tell you what to do with an Internet address: “if you have Internet access, take a web browser, such as Netscape, and type in…”
  • Why is it so intensely unpleasant to be in a gay bar alone in the South? Here, it’s pretty standard for me, but everything is so damned clannish and cliquish there, it just seems really uncomfortable. It doesn’t help that absolutely NO ONE would dare appraoch an “outsider”.
  • A few things which will always happen when I visit mom and dad: meals at the K&W cafeteria, a trip to the Virginia line to play the lottery (NC doesn’t have one yet), and a tour of every new suburban development within 30 miles. Fortunately, I enjoy this…
  • In the Charlotte airport, it is cheaper to go to a bar for a Coke than to one of the fastfood places. Plus, you get free refills and can smoke! Of course, in the Greensboro airoprt, you can smoke everywhere, so it’s not even an issue.
  • Southern friendliness and hospitality are often overrated. If you don’t “look right”, you’ll see what I mean.

Home for the Holidays

  

Aah…Christmas morning. This is the first one I’d spent at home since 1991. It wasn’t quite the same as when I was a kid, but it had its certain charms. We had breakfast with my aunt and her family next door, and dinner with my dad’s relatives in Reidsville. I’ve reached the point in life where few of my family members know enough about me to give me anything other than money, which is fine.

It was a foggy Christmas, and the weather for my whole trip was unseasonably warm (until the day I left when the ice came). I had a bit of a hard time getting used to the fact that places are actually heated in North Carolina. This is sadly not the case in San Francisco, where no one admits that it ever gets cold. Of course, Christopher in Minneapolis tells me “you don’t know the meaning of cold.” Jeff had to work Christmas night; he tends bar many nights. Not a good thing for him, but it was very nice for me…

  

Greensboro bars are even more depressing than I remember, with the exception of Babylon, which is really happening despite the overabundent and annoying rave children on certain nights.Suffice to say, I didn’t get laid the whole time I was in NC, and never even felt really inspired to attempt it. There was a cute boy named Brian at the Palms one night (pictured above) but our association never got near the point of sex. Todd (above right) supplied his boyfriend for my “amusement” last visit, but only took pictures of Brian for me this time.

 

Believe it or not, I spent New Year’s Eve at home with mom and dad, despite the festive decorations at the Palms. It seemed the sanest thing to do in a town where (a) cars are the only mode of transport and there are all of three cabs in the whole city, (b) I was stationed in the ‘burbs, and (c) concealed weapons are legal.

  

I made the annual pilgrimage to the trailer park to visit Anthony, Jeff, and Jeff’s new beau Dave and trade Christmas presents and drink beer. Jeff showed me his affection for Dave’s size 17 (?) boots, Dave worked on a model of something I can’t remember, and hideous pictures were taken of me. The we left, ‘cuz the cat was giving me fits.

 

There were the usual tours of the city, “what’s new”, “looks ‘big city’, doesn’t it?”, the trip to Virginia to buy lottery tickets, a jaunt to Winston Salem, where I found this sign which was of interest to a certain fiendishly cute webmaster. I saw the old schools, all the buildings which had been torn down, the monster malls, etc. And food at all my favorie places. Then it beacme time to rent a car and leave my real home town for my adopted home town, the land of all night diners, the Hornets, the Panthers, NationsBank, First Union, and other world class attractions.

 

In Charlotte, I stayed at the nifty new home of my nifty old friend Duncan. We did lunch at Gus’ Sir Beef, always a damn near religious experience, and sampled other Charlotte food as well. Tours of the thrift stores, aimless driving through the city (always a favorite pastime when Duncan and I convene), and more. Friday night started late, but we still hit a few bars (and Duncan got hit on by an adorable boy, while alas I didn’t). Saturday night, we made the trek to Columbia (and back), always one of my favorite road trips when I lived there.

  

On Sunday, much to the chagrin of bigger sports fans than myself, I got to see the Panthers/Cowboys playoff at the new Erickson Stadium. We tailgated next to the most beautiful redneck boy in the world (or at least in the parking lot). Good game, great stadium, cute boys, no tearoom scene (inside joke). Alas, Green Bay kept the Panthers out of the Super Bowl the following Sunday.

Sunday night took me to Oleen’s and back to Scorpio, and Monday morning took me back to Greensboro for one more day. Now I’m home. While it’s good to visit my family and friends, and while I miss having them nearby, I’m not itching to move back. If only they’d come out here…