I keep wanting to write something about living in the city, but I’m hesitant to do so, because how I feel is such a moving target. Last week I was struck by a bout of typical beginning-of-the-year boredom. So that’s kind of been coloring my mood. Next week I’ll probably feel different than what I write here.
When I look at maps of the city, I often feel trapped on the tip of a peninsula of grayness. A 7×7 mile square of development and concrete, walled in on three sides by water and in the south by suburbs and mountains. I bet that a green map of the city might actually make me feel better.
As it stands my hood consists of only a few blocks around where I live, Polk Village (née Gulch) up to Union Street, and the TenderNob (whatever that really means) towards downtown. Compared to my old haunts from Sebastopol to Annadel, it seems like such a small sphere by comparison.
People (myself included) frequently bemoan the vast expanses of suburban sameness, and the malls. But sometimes I feel like I live in the mall. I went on a 4.2 mile city hike this weekend. It was great. But the entertainment factor was all about walking into shops and looking at things. The area I liked the most? The Haight, to my surprise, because the shops and restaurants were particularly funky and dense. Ha. And I laugh at the people who move into the condos that spring up around supermalls.
For the first time yesterday morning, when I remembered I had to drive my car back to work, I felt a tinge of disappointment. I was actually looking forward to the completely passive, brain-dead interlude of traveling to work by bus. I drive so little now, the idea of “driving in between the lines” actually felt like a burden. I didn’t want to deal with the confrontation of other drivers, even though I knew my commute would be so much shorter.
Giving up driving can be a great freedom (some give up TV, but how many people also give up driving?), but it’s also an obvious limitation. It takes me 50 minutes to travel 8 miles to work in the morning, 15 minutes of walking, 5 minutes of waiting, and 30 minutes of busing.
By car it takes around 18.
I admit I have a strange commute. Tens of thousands of people come into San Francisco to work each morning—some from more than 2 hours away (I’m curious what the actual number is). I am one of the tens of people who leave San Francisco to work in Sausalito each morning.
I would hate for anything I say to be taken by anyone contemplating a move to the city as reason not too. The city is challenging. It challenges me. After several short trips abroad in developing countries, I’ve entertained the idea of an extended stay at some point. I don’t know what I’d do exactly (something with computers and people?), but I like the idea because it would be probably one of the most challenging and mind-widening experiences I could undertake. Lately though I’ve started considering living in San Francisco as my first experience living abroad.
I have a hunch that more children grow up in suburbs than in cities nowadays. In San Francisco, because the public schools are mediocre and the private schools are so expensive, family-flight is apparently epidemic. Which is why the schools are so bad, which is why the families leave… Ironic that it’s apparently so cool for people in their twenties to come here. All this to say, I can’t be the only one trying to make sense of life in the city, having recently escaped the burbs.
I was somewhat joking when I imagined among some friends that a city orientation and welcoming committee should stop by and orient me after we finished moving in. The more I think about it, a support group might be entirely more appropriate. A support group, ahem, where you’re encouraged to drink. It occurred to me that the human-constructed environment of the city means that nothing is or really feels that new. Discovery is not social, it’s personal. The probability is much higher that someone has already stood in line at Dottie’s than that someone saw the severed head of a wild turkey at Annadel. The only way to stand out then it seems is to create. Or to be discovering the city with other new people, at the same time.
I did realize something this weekend. I need novelty. I thrive on novelty. I think I’ve been a little lazy lately, going straight home right after work, sticking my nose in my laptop. Fixing up my old ultraportable laptop was the first salvo. It’s what I wrote this with yesterday night, in a coffee shop with an empty bottle of Pacifico next to me. God Bless California’s liberal alcohol laws.
Luckily laziness is somewhat self-correcting for me. After a while I get bored, and then there’s nothing I want to do on the computer, and then I start wanting to pull out my hair.