It happened slowly like all things happen slowly, then overnight.
Did you see? Did you hear? Maybe both or neither or both at the same time, but it happened. Somehow, some way, San Francisco became the place. The (italics) place. Not just the place for hippies or panhandlers or homeless teens or righteous gays or wayward straights or young families who were once part of young families who are now just progeny of old families: Gettys and Trainas and Wilseys and Shorensteins and Fishers and Tompkins. Art collectors and opera gala attendees and teeth like subway tiles; bankers and builders and clothiers and robber barons, the old guard labored and outlasted and built the infrastructure for the fuller head of hair. Global hoodies and electric cars, the fallow Fanning and Pincus and Musk and Mayer aristocracy abandoning the written word and the artist class and especially the more destitute, more overlookable-than-ever working class — all pushed out like a blackhead. The gray matter of upper-middle cube-dwelling flotsam who descends to the hell of debt beneath them — those who’d be earning the town maximum back home had they just stayed and, you know, dealt with it. Existing barely enough to make life more difficult and afford their sometimes-controlled flat rent, the requisite wine-inspired print to go with it and, on weekends, $4 toast.
It used to all line up so natural. A 5 a.m. set on Ocean Beach. The untouchables behind the hedge on Broadway and Steiner and Pacific stepping on the hard hats and hollow fractured skulls of the working-class Irish and the working-class Italian who built a city, not counter tops, from granite — who had their own festivals and their own heroes, most through words or through sport or through tremendous undocumented feats of alcohol-addled courage borne through the ever-thinning bloodlines.
Thousands of nights of the ocean’s own dry ice taking his feet from under him as the lights fade to sun and the fog horn rocks him to sleep in his birdcage town. Even the beggars on Market Street, defecating out their suppositories along with your own wildest supposition, your hidden missives about how people are at once brutal and beautiful and how could anyone dare say they care about anyone if this is the way human trash is discarded, right there on the streets. And how it is all so very, very unfair — until someone offers to buy you dinner.
This Barbary coast, once a brave milkshake of drug-addled creatives when they were known as Bohemian crashing in rent- and lifestyle-friendly derelict Victorians creaking tunes out that defined a generation, or rather, let a generation define it.
Beats in a North Beach bookstore blowing cigarette discharge over charcoal shoulders as the capital D in that bird Doda perched in the nest of the Condor and watches the service men roll in and out with the tide, dozens of them at a time. Career drunkards whose mordant orders to dare the daylight could be barely heard over the seagull’s squall, the sea lion’s call, one last drink to let that fog obscure their floating prisons and leave them in the arms of that one girl in a room of black and white for a few collapsing minutes more before the ugly bright gospel of morning.
Those who could not hold a home or at least didn’t have the means to define a singular place as such found their way to San Francisco. A Golden Gate instead of a giant green copper French girl revealed the way. Two of the world’s most remarkably placed prisons serve as the only permanent residences. A temporary roof over seven million transients who are from somewhere else are going somewhere else or maybe just wish the time on their watch was wound back a dozen or so years so they could buy Apple or apply at Google or think of Facebook.
They still come to line up on Fisherman’s wharf, hoping to discard half a bread bowl to the birds and smash a penny and turn it into an artifact to place forever into a nephew’s forgotten shoebox of baseball cards, concert stubs and love notes which said the exact things that would never happen.
The City in its brief pre-PC moment coughed up a designer killer who used signs of the Zodiac to telegraph his crime, like some kind of anti-hero they now dedicate entire premium cable seasons to. And a cult leader who said such sensational things, made such sensational promises that, well, the flock couldn’t just help but follow to a new colony in South America because, well, after awhile up is down SF.
She’s left you standing alone floating above the fray of other pairs who are, for tonight anyway, clasped against each other in that very brief-but-earnest entreaty of the slow dance, feeling so down at The Top of the Mark, but realizing there is hope. Hope in the city blinking comfortably below.
The new denizens in the glow of the new commerce: the app and the algorithm. Their money, not yours. Billions in small change for completing simple human services in a way that used to be done with a dime flicked to the corner newspaper barker, “Where’s the best nearest white-tablecloth in town?” It’s Tadich Grill and it’s two blocks down. There was a fire there. They said it wasn’t as good after, but don’t believe them. It’s still there. They turned Moose’s into a shit small plates disaster, sorry, “Tavern”, so what the fuck do you think of that?
The twin sisters are down to a single shoe: no longer on their daily financial district cordial dressed like champagne cake strolling in the shadow of Coit. There is no paper of record, just a website showing celebrity sideboob slideshows. AT&T park, separated from the fray of similar communications conglomerate grounds like The City itself — by location, exhumed a two-time champion out of perennial losers whose playoff hopes perennially got lost in the bay breeze sometime before Labor Day, and they did it on top of a bayside landfill. Selling out. Every game.
The surrounding neighborhoods which were once shipyards are now steel and glass human aquariums. In The City your great-grandfather stumbled about still uniformed, the signs of his footprints ever disappeared: No more room for the crime noir chalk line on Powell and Geary. No more licking of the mustache chops in expectation on Polk and Clay. No more buskers on Fillmore and Eddy that made you think is he going to make it or freeze to death in this August rain tonight?
The City has been condensed and passed over and then bought and re-bought then staged for sale again. It has turned into the elementary school visited twenty years later. Shrunk to Monopoly board modules and made accessible for those who only are capable of owning the blue squares. It is more unrealistic per square foot than Manhattan, $1,000/per will start you on the right foot. New York had a lot more ground to gentrify, and did so over three-plus decades. San Francisco’s broadband is better and did so all this century, when they thought nobody was looking but begged everyone to anyway.
Steve Kerr, a man who has never slipped on loafers to watch the sweat cleaned from neath them on the glass blue of an NBA floor, will — like the local groupthink voices of tomorrow awash in the self-importance of sameness — make more in his first year on the job than 90 percent of his contemporaries. He chose San Francisco over Manhattan and not because it was cheaper or better or because people expected him to. He did it for the same reason the rest of them have.
It is the thing to do. And it happened overnight if it happened at all — like all things do in San Francisco.
Blame the fog.