A few nights ago, I had a nightmare that I was packing to move out of San Francisco. I didn’t have enough space in the car for my furniture or enough time to get all of my books, cookware, clothes, and tchotchkes sorted and placed in boxes. I rushed around throwing random buttons, pens, and remote controls into paper bags just to get stuff out of the way. It occurred to me that I could ask my landlord to let me stay another month to better handle the whole moving process. Suddenly, it felt incredibly important to get that extra time in my house and in my city. I scrolled through my phone’s contacts list desperately trying to find her number, rehearsing what I wanted to say.
And then I woke up, blinking at the nylon walls of a tent as I lay there at a campground somewhere in Southern Minnesota. My waking reality hit me: I had already left San Francisco. It hurt.
My boyfriend Jeff and I were in the midst of a cross-country road trip, driving to New York state. Upstate, to be specific. Ithaca, if you must know. It wasn’t even the standard SF to NYC migration that we witness so often, that young city dwellers seem trained to take. I didn’t have the big-city glamour or corner-office career aspirations, or efficient public transit system or super-late-night bars to look forward to. Instead, I now have quiet (oh so quiet) suburban streets, the occasional five-minute thunderstorm, a local 24-hour Wegmans grocery store (people here are seriously obsessed with it), and plenty of gorges. Ithaca is gorges, everyone! Sigh.
It’s not that Ithaca is a bad place. Far from it. Jeff is starting graduate school at an excellent university. There’s a lovely farmers’ market, a beautiful lake, plenty of amazing hiking trails. Everyone I know who’s lived in Ithaca – a surprisingly large number for such a small town – raves about it. But it’s no San Francisco, and that’s the toughest part.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had to leave the city for the suburbs, but it’s not any easier. My parents met in San Francisco, and I was born in St. Mary’s hospital in the Inner Richmond. Up until I was 10, I grew up in Noe Valley, where I ran around Douglass Playground and went on “nature walks” along the edge of the dog park. I went to elementary school in a converted Victorian across from Alamo Square, where we ate lunch with a view of the Painted Ladies, but where we were never allowed to go after dark. At that same school, I discovered that the otter is my spirit animal. I spent many afternoons and weekends exploring the main strip of the Inner Sunset. As a child, San Francisco was bliss. Then my family dragged me to Davis. It was a ghost town in comparison. There were no other Asians in my sixth grade class. Downtown seemed deserted by 8pm. I had a good long cry once a week for months. Eventually, I grew to love Davis. But I always knew that I’d go back to San Francisco one day, when I was all grown up.
And that’s exactly what I did. After a long stint in Davis, college in San Diego, and then Berkeley, I graduated and immediately moved back to my birthplace. It was 2010 and I sublet a room in the Castro for $700. (A miracle feat at best today.) I later moved to the Inner Sunset, where I spent the next two and half years, while I worked across the city from Lower Pac Heights to Cole Valley to the Mission to Embarcadero and SOMA. The diversity and variety of neighborhoods is one of the things I miss most about SF. How you can walk a couple blocks and feel such a huge difference between the baby stroller–filled sidewalks of Cole Valley and the sidewalk sitters of Haight. Or how you can go shopping at giant department stores on Union Square and quickly find yourself in the bustling streets of Chinatown, red lanterns hanging above. Or how you can take a seven-minute BART ride from the suit-and-tie Financial District to the plaid-and-skinny-jeans Mission. San Francisco feels like it has a place for everyone.
I also miss the food. Especially the Mexican food. Chipotle is one of the highest-rated Mexican restaurants on Yelp in Ithaca. That’s just sad. I miss the El Farolito and Taqueria Cancun burritos. And I miss the baked goods, Arizmendi and Acme bread in particular. I miss how much people love food and live for food. It matches the vibrancy of San Francisco, one that is so hard to find elsewhere.
I love how San Franciscans can’t get enough of celebrating and partying – a mildly sunny day is enough to incite one of the many, many mini-Woodstocks at Dolores Park. I’ll never forget events like Bay to Breakers 2011, when I found my friends sunburned and happily/drunkenly passed out, wearing their ’80s running outfits, on a stranger’s stoop a block down the hill from my house with $40 worth of take-out dim sum neatly packaged up next to them. Not only did nobody kick them off the stoop, nobody stole their dim sum. Classy, SF.
Of course, I can’t truly say good-bye to San Francisco without acknowledging its tech scene. Where else will I be able to see huge, highway billboard ads for cloud service marketplaces and management platforms? And what about all the open-bar parties where tech execs announce the latest iteration (is it 1.6 or 2.3?) of their company’s Android or iOS app, along with a special 15-minute performance by the latest hot indie band? It seems too that I no longer have much use for all three of my ride sharing apps – Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar – and now need to move them to a third, lesser-used iPhone home screen. San Francisco’s tech scene has its many flaws – hiking up rent prices, diluting the city’s culture, upping levels of general douchebaggery – but I can’t help but miss the buzz of a new gadget or the latest app. I even kind of miss Google Glass sightings. Just a tiny bit.
There are definitely parts of San Francisco living that I don’t miss though. Like Muni. Muni is totally atrocious and should only be taken during leisurely rides to places where you don’t actually have to arrive at a specific time. I do not miss scoffing at people who drive from the Haight to SOMA for work, while I had to survive the unpredictable 40-minute to 1.5-hour bus and tram ride from the Inner Sunset, squeezed between a violently coughing woman and a man who refused to take off his enormous backpack. (Don’t you understand proper Muni etiquette?!)
And as much as I love the food, San Francisco has its dining pitfalls. The one I definitely don’t feel sad to leave behind: The absurdly long lines to get anything to eat. I’ve waited embarrassing stretches of time (read: hours) for places like Ike's, Tartine, Bi-Rite, Outerlands, San Tung... almost every single sitdown restaurant in the Mission on a Friday night.
Most importantly, I don’t miss seeing people poop on the sidewalk.
And yet even the things I don’t miss have left rose-colored imprints in my memory. They’re all rites of passage to being a San Franciscan. Just like knowing and accepting Karl the Fog, cheering on the Giants, picking a favorite third-wave coffee roaster (cough, Sightglass), ogling the bison in Golden Gate Park, competing for an apartment like it’s a job, knowing that you always need a scarf and a light sweater even when it’s sunny, watching a heated Muni fight on the N Judah.
Most of all, I’m sad to leave the people I met and the friends I made in San Francisco. They’re some of the best I’ve ever known. They’re open-minded and smart and accepting and grounded and laid-back and free. Sure, San Franciscans are amazing guilt trippers and the most polite flakes. Yes, techies and yuppies are invading the city and making it ever more homogenous. But get to know some of those people and you’ll probably like them too – just don’t get them started on their latest “delightful product.”
I’ve never wanted to move out of San Francisco. It’s just sort of happened. For now, I’ll just have to settle with living vicariously through you, all the while looking forward to coming back again one day.