I first moved to San Francisco twenty years ago. It was a different city then, and I was a different person, but it’s been a great place to live. It’s felt like home since just after I got here.
It was my sophomore year of college and I had been told to take some time away, grow up, and figure out if I really wanted to be in school. I had never been west of the Mississippi. On April 22, 1986, I took a People Express flight from Newark to San Francisco, paying $99 on the plane. I stayed at the Embarcadero YMCA, where I paid $20 per night. The desk clerk told me I had a room on the fifth floor and asked if I minded something facing the street; I thought it was fine, not realizing until I got to the room that there was an elevated freeway about a car’s length from my window.
That, of course, encapsulates a few of the changes to San Francisco. The Embarcadero Freeway is blessedly no more, a casualty of the Loma Prieta earthquake and San Francisco doing some sensible urban planning. The YMCA hotel is now the Harbor Court, which runs $220 per night, according to Trip Advisor.
I’ve had a bunch of different lives here: single, part of a couple with Susan, and as a parent; working for CalPirg or in Silicon Valley or as a consultant; renting and as a homeowner. Every life change has made me see new parts of San Franciso. In my early time here, AIDS and homelessness drove the tone of the city, which had a “we’re in this together” feel in those days. During the boom, geeks like me were (almost) the cool kids, though I never made it to cool kid. Now, as a parent, the awful state of the public schools, the frothy housing market, and the consequent flight of the middle class leave me depressed; at the same time, the physical plant of the city is better than ever: the new De Young Museum, the ballpark (which I voted against, but now approve of), Octavia Boulevard, the Ferry Building, and the soon-to-open Third Street Muni Line are all good things.
San Francisco feels more divided to me than it has before. There used to be some cohesion to being the most liberal big city in America, but now it feels like the infighting in local politics is dominating all the big issues. It almost feels like the city, after a long time as a forward-thinking place, has just fallen off the map.
I’ve lived and traveled elsewhere since I first arrived — back to finish school, some time in the UK — but I’ve been here for a total of about fifteen years of the last twenty and expect to call it home for as long as I can see.