What's It Like to Be a Teen in SF?
One thing that seems striking about San Francisco compared to other cities is the seeming lack of teenagers interacting with the city alongside the rest of us. As a former server, I can recall the exact number of times (two) that I waited on a table of teenagers and can vividly recall how strange and rare it felt. Park-blanket conversations at Dolores so often turn to Mission High School and the curiosity of what it would be like to spend those formative years of your life in a city like this. Instead of simply wondering, we asked Sarah Aineb, a 16-year-old from the Richmond District, some questions about what it’s like to be a teenager in SF.
Where are you and what do you do? I feel like I so rarely see teenagers out and about here.
I guess teenagers are a little rare here but if you look closely or ride on a certain bus for a while, you'll definitely encounter and witness some good ol' teenage tomfoolery. Honestly, teenagers are not that great; really, they're just a bunch of hooligans who happen to be lovable on occasional good days. They are wonderful and awful, sweet and cruel, beautiful and hideous, tolerable and uncontrollable, fantastic and incredibly shitty, just like life.
We also have magic powers so we can be seen only when we allow others to see us, which means we are performing our shenanigans behind closed doors.
But usually I hang out at friends' houses wherever their house is. Indoor hang-out sessions are usually filled with food, tea, movies, bonding, and card games. When I go out, I like going to the Fillmore/Japantown, China Beach, the Sunset, the Haight, the Castro, and Noe Valley. I also like to hang out around the Richmond, my neighborhood. I love to walk so I sometimes, when I have spare time, I walk all the way home from my school, which is at Portola and O'Shaughnessy, and I get to pass through some of my favorite places. The Japanese Tea Garden is so beautiful and I love going to museums with friends. SFMOMA is one of my favorite museums and it is a real treat to go there. It is very unfortunate that it will be closed down for about three years but I know it will be just bonkers! Oh gosh! Just thinking about it is making me excited.
What's the weirdest thing you've seen in SF?
Weird things happen so often in SF that I don't really notice anymore. I am sure that to other people, what I encounter is weird, but to a San Franciscan, it's nearly normal. Once, I was walking near the border of Chinatown and Broadway with my grandfather and my mother and we saw a man in a white bathrobe with a dog leash and at the end of his dog leash was a carton of milk. He was walking a carton of milk. I have never forgotten that story.
Does SF seem to be saturated with 20- and 30-somethings to you? Is that just in our heads or what?
I suppose San Francisco is kind of filled with 20- and 30-year-olds. I don't really mind it, though. At work, all of the baristas are in their 20s and I am not intimidated by them. I kind of like the fact that SF is saturated with 20- and 30-year-olds because I'd much rather encounter that crowd in public than encounter teenagers in public. Teenagers make me nervous and anxious, especially in public places. But it is way worse when you have unintentional eye contact with them. It is such a feeling of mutual ultimate judgment when I have eye contact with teenagers in public; it is like time has slowed and you have finally become self-aware. It's awful.
Seeing and meeting 20- and 30-year-olds is fun because most of them didn't grow up here and they can tell you how they spent their teenage years in a different place. It's also nice to have them as a reassurance that teenagedom, this awful hormonal age of adolescence, will end and we will be young, hopefully hip adults. Twenty- and thirty-year-olds give me hope.
Do you have to learn to drive in the city? Does SF driving kind of freak you out or do you feel like you even have to learn because of public transportation?
I do not think learning to drive is a necessity in San Francisco, unlike Los Angeles. Driving frightens me because of the fact that you not only have to operate the car correctly and safely, but you also have to maneuver the vehicle among many other moving vehicles. Also, so many things can go wrong while driving. Even though I am a little afraid, I think I will learn before I hit college. My parents and teachers say it is important, but just because they are authority figures does not mean that everything they say is correct. In this case, I agree with them. Driving is a useful skill and I'd like to learn it, just like how I want to learn Japanese.
I love Muni, though. I take the bus home every day from school and that is how my friends and I go about town, unless I am hanging out with a friend who has a license and car. Bus rides are really nice and peaceful; I often get Muni hypnosis and space out comfortably while listening to some good music or reading a book. I will miss it a lot if I move out of the city for college.
It seems like events and things to do in SF often seem to center around drinking. Do you feel that way or feel left out sometimes, not yet being 21?
I don't really feel left out. I don't notice it really. My adult friends often recommend bars to me for when I am old enough to go, but it doesn't bother me. I probably will be happy to be in that scene when I am older, but I don't feel envious or excluded.
So many people that have moved here can't really imagine where they'd go after SF. Do you imagine you'll stay in San Francisco for a while, or are you kind of over it as you've grown up here?
I'd really like to move out of SF for a little while, to experience a different area and location while attending college. I love San Francisco and it will always be my home and I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up living here again as an adult, but I need a change of pace.
Is there a city that you've visited that you'd rather live in?
OH, HELL YEAH! I often travel north to Portland because my awesome aunt lives there and it is the sweetest destination in all of the Pacific Northwest, in my opinion. Portland is so unique and it's inhabited with weird, interesting people and artists from all over. I would move there in a heartbeat. No, I would move there in a flash of lightning, which is a few ten-thousandths of a second according to the Internet. New York is, well, it's New York. It's kind of the center of the universe in a way, but still San Francisco is better because it is the awesome underdog of cities.
What do “older” people do that annoys you?
Well, I hate it when people ask about my plans for college. It always happens and I never know what to say. It also bugs me when older people get insulted that you won’t eat their food. Sometimes, I am just not hungry.
It's hard to list things that older people do that are annoying because I love older people. I love listening to stories and rants and how "the good ol' days were a much different time." I love that stuff! I love sitting with older people; they are really good at sitting. I love going to their favorite restaurants and looking at old pictures of them. The refreshing perpetual nostalgia of their existence is so magnetic to me. I wish I could time travel, which is one of the many reasons why I watch Doctor Who, and listening to older people's stories is as close to time travel as I can get.
This doesn't just apply to people over the age of 50. I love talking to my 20-year-old friends and coworkers and listening to what it was like going to high school in the early 2000s. It is so great. Everyone has stories to tell and I really want to hear them.
Do you have questions about what life is like for the elusive SF teenager? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get them answered in an upcoming post.