The Gentrification of San Francisco

I used to love San Francisco. As a teenager, and a ward of the state, I got free BART passes every month, and I used to jump on a train from across the Bay whenever I could. I’d hop off at the Powell station and take the escalator up. Whenever I hit street level and felt that cold air on my face, I’d get butterflies every single time. I’m getting them a little bit now, even thinking about it; that’s how strong the feeling was.

And it was usually the same plan: wander around the stores at Powell, maybe shoplift something small from the giant Forever 21 on the corner. Walk up to Blondie’s pizza and eat a veg slice, then back down to Market Street to look at some of the weird street vendor art and crafts.

When I was finished there, I’d pay 85 cents to take the 7 bus up to Haight. They had a weird t-shirt shop there that sold vintage pins with punk bands or weird phrases or Michael Jackson’s face on them. I really loved it there. Amoeba music was at the top of a hill and I could spend hours in there, I don’t even remember what I would do the whole time. Sometimes I would go into tattoo shops and look at the samples on the wall. I wasted so many days up there, just looking at things and watching people and wishing I had money.

Once in a while I would hang around the financial district and watch attractive men and women in chic tailored suits walk in and out of buildings, dodging each other like cars on the streets of India. There was something in the concrete around that area that made the sidewalks glisten when the streetlights came on at night. I used to swear someone had mixed glitter into them. It was fucking magical.

There was something palpable there. Some kind of aura that the hippies of the free love era had blessed us with. It’s hard to describe but I always sort of felt the history there. People living the way Lennon talked about, loving each other and feeling freedom to express. People taking care of one another and wanting to connect with the earth. There was so much culture there, and not any specific one, it was all of them. All of the cultures together in a tiny city. How fucking wonderful is that?

I was in the city this weekend. To be fair, I am an adult now. I don’t see things in that magical, rose-colored lighting that teenagers see “grown up” things and big cities in. I’m a little more callous, a little more cynical. Even so, I am not the only one that would say with absolute certainty that this is not the same city it was 10 years ago. Whenever I’m out there, I inevitably end up using the word “bougey” at some point. San Francisco citizens are rich. They’re tech savvy. They eat organic. They wear Armani and Givenchy and Louboutins on a daily basis. The shops I used to wander into have been repurposed as open-office workspaces with ping-pong tables and iMacs scattered beneath the exposed pipes.

I went to the Mission, which used to be a certifiable barrio. My friend and I went into an ice cream shop. A (for lack of a crueler term) hipster guy in his twenties sold her a single scoop of bourbon-flavored ice cream for $8. As we walked out, she made a comment about “getting got” by his tranquil tone. We walked past a broken pay phone on the sidewalk and I felt a little sad because I felt the same way, but not about the ice cream (that soft-spoken douche didn’t trick me into paying that much for his mediocre alcoholic mush), but by my love of tech.

I remember when the tech boom was starting. My hometown is the on the “corner” of two freeways. One will take you into San Francisco, and then other takes you into Palo Alto, home of the garage startup. When I used to visit Palo Alto, I’d feel inspired. Things were happening there, and everyone was young and up to date, if not ahead of the curve. But pretty soon after the world started paying attention to Palo Alto, it started bleeding into San Francisco like a minimalist, Helvetica-covered plague. It spread over the little districts that used to house families and middle class workers. It pushed out the people who had been there all their lives to make room for people coming in to work at Twitter and Uber. The cost of living skyrocketed and even those who had rent controlled apartments couldn’t afford to buy food or gas so they were forced to give up their homes. Etc, etc. I could go on, but by this time you all know what gentrification is. You all know what it looks like.

I went back to the Mission to catch a movie with a friend last night and we discussed this while we walked back to my car in the rain. “Where are we all supposed to go?” she said. Yeah. That’s the question. We all want to stay, but there are no corners left for the average person to hide from the cost of living anymore. Even Oakland is filling up with the upper class. Even Portland. Even Seattle.

I don’t want to live in Oklahoma, you guys. I want to have babies and raise them near my family. I want to take them to the beaches where I rolled up my jeans and drank Coronas. I want to show them where I got married, surrounded by redwoods. I want to see my childhood friends get married and change jobs, and I want to see the houses they buy. But it seems like those things aren’t really options anymore, because they’re all starting to talk about what state they plan to run away to.

So who’s to blame? I don’t know. I don’t blame the tech companies. I’m still a fan of capitalism at it’s core. At the end of the day Facebook started out as a guy with an idea and I’m 100% down with that. I suppose I blame greed, but how do you stop that? What’s the solution? I’m not sure about that either. I guess I’m just another disenchanted kid that misses my city and my childhood. I miss the San Francisco that I used to ride the train to to escape suburban monotony. My kids will never know it, and that really, really sucks.