At what point do you become an insider, and not an outsider, on your street?
Is it when the unofficial mayor of your block, always with a smile for passersby, invites you into his house to proudly show you the renovations he’s made?
Or is it when you finally remember, after months of bone-jarring forgetfulness, to swerve your bike around that stealthy pothole on Third and Thornton?
Or when a neighbor rings your doorbell and hands you a bouquet of flowers a few days after you blurt out, unintentionally, that your mom recently died?
My family and I have lived in the Bayview for almost four years now and I can rattle off 100 reasons why we love this place. That’s not an exaggeration. Just ask me.
Here’s one: On a recent Sunday, I woke up to find a loaf of the most amazing bread – Sicilian olive loaf – outside my door, because there’s a guy, Earl, who makes bread and delivers it for free in the neighborhood. We ate the entire loaf as plain, unadorned slices, it was that good.
Here’s another: Walking over to Old Skool Cafe and happening upon some live music in the plaza at Bayview Opera House.
I love it because of the diversity. On my block alone, there are Latino, black, white, and Chinese families.
There’s the view from our back deck – downtown San Francisco sparkling like a silvery mirage – and watching the fog sail past, out of reach of our sun-drenched garden.
There’s the fact that we have a back deck. And a house, all our own, with an in-law for my daughter. A house we bought.
But I’m not going to lie to you. My neighborhood and I don’t always see eye to eye.
I lived in San Francisco off and on as a child, but the Mission was my first real neighborhood here. It was the place I moved to in my early 20s, the place I spent two decades, the place where I raised my daughter. Before Dynamo Donuts, before Humphry Slocombe. My little kid, now 22, grew up on Balmy Alley in the 1990s. We swam at Garfield Pool, walked our dog in Garfield Park.
My Latina neighbor’s four young children spent almost as much time at our house as at theirs. She and I were both young single mothers, a shared experience that seemed to at least partly transcend language and culture.
I didn’t wonder whose neighborhood the Mission was. It was all of ours. We came, we stayed. Done. Anyway, I was too low-income to change the neighborhood into something it was not.
Over time, I got better jobs and my income increased. When my daughter was 16, I won a city-run lottery to buy a below-market-rate home, as part of San Francisco’s first-time homebuyer program. My daughter and I spent three years in a high-rise condo in South Beach. Then I met my husband. Eventually, I sold the condo and we bought our house in the Bayview. The idea of buying a home in San Francisco was impossible to resist.
But sometimes, when I’m walking my dog down the street, I have to remind myself that it’s OK for me to be here. That this is a street in my town.
Why do I need that reminder? Because I’m a white person in a historically black community. I’m a sign of change for this neighborhood.
Thirty-two percent of Bayview residents are black. Citywide, that figure is about 6 percent.
And that 32 percent? It’s a huge drop from previous years, due to a decades-long exodus of black people out of the city. These days, the Bayview is also 33 percent Asian, 20 percent mixed race, and 12 percent white. Twenty-five percent of people in the Bayview identify as Latino (of any race).
Even in the four short years I’ve lived here, it seems the white population has grown. There are more of us flocking to the Fresh & Easy market on Third. More white people taking the T to their downtown jobs.
On top of that, I’m a symbol of the racism that’s existed for centuries before me. I’m not sure what to do about that. All I know is to respect others, and to try to be worthy of respect in return. To smile, and say hello to my neighbors.
I've only had a couple of instances where people told me I don't belong here. I could detail these events for you — they tend to loom larger in the memory than the many more welcoming experiences I’ve had — but suffice to say, I’ve heard a threatening comment here, a “get out of my neighborhood, peckerwoods” there.
These felt, to me, like brief flashes of generalized anger, and while I can understand why this anger exists, I’ve also been happy that these events were soon overshadowed by another person’s bright smile or warm greeting. The mood can change as quickly as the wind rises out here. Bayview is a neighborhood of contradictions, of open hearts and friendly waves; of rage and poverty in a wealthy city.
My husband and I aren’t rich – I’m a freelance writer and he’s a retail buyer at a worker-owned cooperative. But we have jobs, health care. We’re one of a wave of relatively privileged white people changing Bayview, because it is the last bastion of almost-affordable homes.
The fact that we could buy this house means we’re helping to increase home values – that’s a boon for the many longtime Bayview homeowners. Forty-nine percent of homes here are owner-occupied, versus 38 percent citywide.
That’s the thing about gentrification: It’s not all bad. We’re spending money at local stores; we’re boosting home values. But we’re also helping to price out people who may have grown up here. We’re here, in the Bayview, with that baggage. It’s our own baggage, brought by us, not handed to us by anyone else. And stowed somewhere in among our luggage is another bag, the one that bulges with liberal white guilt.
And then, there’s this: My daughter got mugged in front of our house. Early one evening, two young men came up behind her and one tried to grab her purse. She held on to it, and he hit her in the face and then ran off with her bag.
It’s not as though I don’t know about violence in the city. I once yelled, straight out of some cop show, “Duck!” when my daughter – she was maybe six years old then – and her friends and I got caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout in Garfield Park.
I was hit in the face by a guy in Bernal Heights who was probably on PCP. He walked up out of nowhere and punched me as I walked down the street, carrying my then two-year-old in my arms.
And you know how the Wells Fargo ATM at 16th and Valencia doesn’t stay open late? That’s because one of my friends, Paul O’Meara, was beaten to death in the parking lot there, in 1990.
So, yes, it’s a city. There’s violence. I’m well aware. But there’s something about the victim of a crime being your daughter. Right in front of your house. At 7 p.m. on a weekday evening.
When I first moved to the Bayview, I was an evangelist. Warm weather, welcoming people, beautiful homes. I told everyone I knew. But since my daughter was mugged? Not so much.
Yes, it’s violent everywhere. But I don’t want to invite people here under false pretenses only to see them get mugged in front of my house. The way I brought my daughter.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the Bayview.
I’m never going to know this place the way my neighbors who grew up here know it. But I am beginning to think that maybe I’m one tiny piece of thread in this neighborhood’s fabric. Sometimes my daughter and I sit on our front step, and our neighbor’s grandchildren come by to show us their bike-riding skills. Christian no longer needs training wheels!
My daughter and I bemoan the way people write off the Bayview without ever exploring it, without ever walking along the Bay’s edge at the vast park that is Candlestick Point, or shopping at the best Goodwill Thrift Store in town. My husband and I revel in our garden, planting artichokes and bachelor’s buttons.
I used to long for the Mission, but lately, when I bike home through that neighborhood, the air feels too hot, heavy; the streets too crowded.
As I ride down 26th Street toward Hampshire, the sidewalks empty. There’s the detour through the park there and a mad scoot across car-crazy Potrero. Then, onto the secret bike path under the freeway, followed by a zig onto Bayshore, a zag over to Barneveld.
That’s where the sky opens up and shows me its stars. Up Oakdale, as I ride over the train bridge, the Bay Bridge glitters in the distance, and the wind blows harder, fresh and clean. I breathe deep.
The sky is so big it swallows the broken glass. Slaloming down Third Street, swerving around the potholes, I’m heading home.