I moved to the East Coast for college. Eager to start my new life of learning and jungle juice, I plunged headfirst into new student orientation ready to make friends and cause trouble with the other freshmen. We moved in packs, rolling through parties and down the streets in a frenzy of liberation. “What’s your name? Where are you living? Where are you going next? Where are you from?” we’d ask at a rapid-fire pace, wearing wild grins and clutching Solo cups. “I’m from San Francisco,” I’d say smugly awaiting the response of, “OMG CALIFORNIA – YOU ARE SO COOL!” Sip. Pause. “WellfromtheBayArea,” I’d mumble, casting a sideways glance.
Oh, sad, deceitful 17-year-old Lauren. You’re not from San Francisco. You’ve been there plenty, sure – to dinner with your parents, maybe on a shopping excursion to Union Square or the Haight, occasionally to a show at the Warfield. But from there? C’mon. Just say it: You’re from the suburbs.
Yeah, it’s true. I’m from San Mateo to be exact, located 25 minutes south of our fair city on that stretch of land known descriptively as The Peninsula. I didn’t live in The City until after college despite my impassioned commitment to being “bohemian” and “urban.” No matter how tight my skinny jeans are, or how competent I am at shoving myself on a crowded Muni bus, I can’t change that.
And you know what? Now, years later and some serious city living cred under my belt, I’m ready to accept my roots. I’m prepared to come clean, to say it loud and say it proud: I’M FROM THE FUCKIN’ SUBURBS. And sometimes, I even miss living there, a little. I’d like to take this opportunity to right my youthful wrongs and tell you why it’s freaking fantastic growing up in the shadow of this marvelous city.
Take Your Car Everywhere
Let’s get the obvious shit out of the way. Our parents and their parents hustled themselves out of the Big Bad City for a reason – the ’burbs have lawns, space for kids to ride bikes, fewer crackheads, etc. That’s cool. But the best part of growing up in the suburbs is the incredible heady rush of freedom you get when you turn 16. You’re given the golden ticket: a driver’s license. The world is suddenly open to you and your insatiable need for speed. If you’re me, you now have the perfect place to blast your massive CD collection at top volume. City kids may have cut the proverbial cord at a younger age (and avoided the embarrassment of getting dropped off for a date by their moms), but riding the bus always pales in comparison to rolling down the highway with your best friends and a killer soundtrack.
In California suburbs, the driver’s license means freeway driving. On The Peninsula, that means 280, a stupid-gorgeous highway that basically is a postcard for Northern California without the hairpin turns of Highway 1.
I took to the road with relish, a ’94 Volvo station wagon as my chariot of fire. Rico Suave was my first love – he’d start to vibrate a little as I slammed on the gas and accelerated up to 80, screaming along to the Stones and Petty and whatever else came up on my impressive collection of mix CDs with Sharpied titles like, “Lauren’s Hot Mix.”
Driving was rad when we were kids, but the suburbs are the gift that keeps on giving. You know what you can always find there? Parking. Lots and lots of parking. And that metered parking? A quarter gets you like, three days. None of this quarter-for-five-minutes bullshit we put up with in San Francisco. Also, it’s warmer there. A lot warmer. You get summer in San Mateo during actual summer months, perfect for lazy pool days and backyard tanning (and you’ll have a big backyard worthy of tanning in, not one beset by joint roaches and a dead couch growing mold).
Excellent ’Burb Eats
There’s solid eating in San Mateo, too. I may be a bona fide glutton here in San Francisco, conducting fried chicken roundups and pie tastings while filling mason jars with homemade kimchi. But that all has roots in years of grubbing San Mateo-style. We’ve got the original Mr. Pickles, slinging Dutch Crunch masterpieces named after local high school mascots. Pancho Villa may not get voted the best burrito in the Mission, but its DTSM (that’s Downtown San Mateo, duh) location was my neighborhood taqueria growing up – a damn good one, at that. And there’s no beating a salty, drippy cheeseburger and shake at Jeffrey’s.
It’s only gotten better, too. The Poleng Lounge guys opened Attic in San Mateo after shutting down their Fulton Street spot. The Curry Up Now truck opened its brick and mortar location on B Street, just down the block from Osteria Coppa, whose chef learned pasta making at Quince. You may be seated next to some aggressive moms out having a girls night instead of a whiney gluten-free vegan, but you can bet that the wait is way shorter.
DTSM is an actual downtown, with storefronts and stoplights, not one of those strip mall nightmares that seem ubiquitous to Orange County and Arizona. We’ve got a Fifth Avenue that runs alongside Central Park, which features a kiddie train and a Japanese Tea Garden. It’s not the Met, but it’s a pretty good spot to brown bag.
Downtown’s an all right place to get drunk, too. McGovern’s is the place for pitchers of beer around a table, where you can expect to run into that guy you made out with in 10th grade and the bitchy girl from your physics class. But O’Neill’s is where San Mateo brings the party. I’ve shot a lot of tequila, danced to one of the sloppiest cover bands ever, and sang Joan Jett during Sunday night karaoke with my best friend’s mom. Sometimes in the bathroom you’ll hear girls talking about what prison is like. More likely than not, at least one of your posse will end up falling down in the street on your way to get late night slices (with tubs of ranch dressing, of course) at Mr. Pizza Man.
Is San Mateo better than any other medium-large suburb? Probably not. But its proximity to San Francisco means we get some similar perks: amazing ethnic food, stunning natural beauty, and a 20-minute straight shot to the Pacific. There’s a lot of Spanish speaking and liberalism and people who like riding bikes. You can often find the cyclists on the Sawyer Camp Trail, which runs alongside the Crystal Springs Reservoir – our own little Lands End.
There’s No Place Like Home Washing
Mostly, though, it’s home. It’s where I learned to read, where I had sleepovers with friends and tried sushi for the first time. Now, it’s where I can go and see my parents, do laundry, and marvel at how clean their house always is, while snacking out of the fridge.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not moving back anytime soon, if ever (until city rent forces me out, kicking and screaming). Once, to my mother’s extreme amusement, I deemed San Mateo a great place to live from birth to 18, and 30 to death. I’ll stick to that, though I’d like to push the 30 back a decade or two. And even if it is a nice place to live, there’s a reason I was so quick to dismiss my suburban background: I’m a city girl through and through. San Francisco is my number one, but I’ve lived in and loved New York, Philadelphia, and London. In every case, I’m taken by the neighborhoods, the people, the grime, the color, the constant going-on-ness.
But, no matter where I reside, I’ll always be that 16-year-old girl, barreling down the 280 at top speed. The windows are down, the sun is shining, and the world is mine. If that’s not a moment of true suburban glory, I don’t know what is.