I was born a New Yorker in the suburbs of Connecticut. I spent my youth waiting for the day I would move to New York City and live that fast-paced, high-powered lifestyle I saw in movies. And I finally got my chance when I landed my Manhattan dream job in cable TV at age 23.
As a love slave to the entertainment industry, my career goals limited me to settling in either New York or Los Angeles. So in 2004 when a psychic named Raymond said he saw me writing in California, I assumed he meant LA, and that he was dead wrong.
Three years later, Raymond’s prediction began to unfold. I sat in my Flatiron district office reading about plastic bags choking turtles and thought, “What the fuck am I doing managing comedians when I could be saving the world?” Logically, I decided that saving the world would require getting an MBA (this is America, after all). Of course, the only program that made sense to me – Presidio Graduate School’s MBA in Sustainable Management – was in San Francisco. Damn you, Raymond!
I loved my life in the vortex that is New York City; I couldn’t imagine leaving it. My FOMO (fear of missing out, for those of you who don’t suffer from it) and I were addicted to NYC’s energy, the pace, the possibilities. Where else could I see an intimate David Cross-hosted comedy show for $6 with a surprise appearance by Wilco? It’s no wonder I would lie in my bed, staring at my mini fridge, thinking, “So what if 80 percent of my income goes to rent? I live in New York Fucking City!”
How could I be pondering a move to San Francisco, a place that was too quiet, too white, and that closed at 1:45 a.m.? In addition to not being sold on SF, I would be leaving behind awesome friends, the majority of my extended family and, here’s the clincher: aging parents. Jewish guilt is some strong shit. But when I was accepted to Presidio, I knew that’s where I had to go to be with my fellow turtle savers. Still, I left for San Francisco kicking and screaming with two suitcases full of clothes and told my friends and parents I'd move back in nine months.
Needless to say, when I first arrived in SF I had very low expectations. I was sure I wouldn’t want to stay and I constantly compared it to New York. I found myself speed walking past plaid shirts on Valencia Street, think-shouting, “Move those fucking Toms, people!” I commiserated with former New Yorkers about the forfeiture of weekend nightlife for day life (read: hiking). I dodged the meth-fueled craziness on mid-Market Street, longing for the New Yorkers who just mumbled to themselves instead of using shopping carts as bowling balls.
But within a few months of actually living in San Francisco, it started to make sense. I began to appreciate things this new city offered – like bigger apartments, lower cost of living (nope, not a typo), composting and recycling (any number, not just bottle-shaped ones and twos!). But maybe even more enticing were the escapes. Just days into my first Bay Area January, a few friends and I went on what we’d later refer to on Facebook as “Best Hike EVER!” It was 70 degrees in January and we were twisting and turning along the Coastal Trail above Stinson Beach and that big lake we call the Pacific Ocean. Around every bend was a new, incredible perspective peppered with amazing flora. There I was with relatively new friends but with the feeling that they were my (turtle) people. All this played out to the repetitive soundtrack in my head, “I can’t believe I live here!” Thank you, Raymond!
The longer I was here, the more I realized that San Francisco made me feel human again. I was no longer crammed in a subway car, pretending to ignore the guy without pants, on a 45-minute ride to a glorified closet. This city’s mediocre public transportation system begged me to bike and rewarded my hill climbing with a more toned body than I ever achieved in six-plus years of powerwalking through crowded New York sidewalks. Despite appreciating NYC’s extensive subway system, I don’t miss descending into a station in July to be gut punched by 103 degrees with 450 percent humidity. Another thing I don’t miss? Barreling through a 20-degree blizzard in a parka to an 85-degree restaurant in which you immediately have to peel off four layers before you can say, “Table for two and a pile of clothes.” Or the polar opposite – dragging yourself through a heat wave to get to a location that’s cranking the AC so hard your whole body goes into shock and you die. I’ll take the mild – yet somehow bone-chilling – San Francisco climate over that manic bullshit any day.
And can we just talk about the Mexican food here? It’s edible – enjoyable even!
Also enjoyable is the spirit of the people of this city – it’s contagious. SFers go all out for events like Bay to Breakers, the Valentine’s Day Pillow Fight, Folsom Street Fair, and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, creating a sense of real community and city pride. While I used to covet the anonymity and excitement of a giant population, I now treasure the small-town feel and constant run-ins with familiar faces. I’ve also noticed a difference professionally. In New York, I worked in an industry where the subtext of most conversations was “Who do you know and what can you do for me?” In San Francisco, the subtext of my conversations with social entrepreneurs is, “I’m so grateful for you and the work you’re doing. How can we collaborate? Namaste.” While each is annoying in its own way, I do appreciate that the people I meet in San Francisco genuinely want to support each other; they realize that saving all those turtles is at least a two-person job.
But my story isn’t about fueling the East versus West Coast rap wars, which I’ve been wont to do; like most things, it’s really about timing. I moved to San Francisco at age 30 after spending my 20s mainlining the Big Apple. I’d flushed partying ’till-da-break-of-dawn every weekend out of my system, along with needing the option to buy Twizzlers without having to cross a street at 3 a.m. I’d also grown to be more open-minded. A former Burning Man hater, I’ve now been to the playa thrice and I’ve found that it’s an unmatched personal and cultural experience, not just a party for hippies, ravers, and nudists. Of course, my participation is a wellspring of mockery from my New York friends who think I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. (That chemical crap? Never!) Much to their chagrin, I still don’t know my spirit animal. However, I do know how to curate a solid costume box – make that two boxes, going on three.
A few months ago, encouraged by Raymond’s accurate predictions, I met with a San Francisco clairvoyant named David. Sitting fireside in August, David told me I’m not leaving this city any time soon and that it’s not about where I am – that my dreams and fears are with me wherever I go. But that’s just not true – in SF I fear earthquakes and sharks; in NYC I feared terrorist attacks and sharks. Place determines a lot. San Francisco’s culture and landscape have captivated me but more importantly, they’ve captivated the community who keeps me here and happy; the same community that forces me to push my personal boundaries and embraces the New York me cracking downer jokes about us save-the-world types. So here I am, three years later still in San Francisco, saving the turtles with my people…while wearing costumes, of course.