Seven years ago, I had just signed the lease to my first San Francisco apartment, an overpriced two bedroom in Parkmerced with three strangers from Craigslist whom I had met roughly four minutes prior. Since then, I’ve gone through two additional apartments and a grand total of 35 roommates – some of them intentional, some of them not. (For example, if we count the feral cat my housemate found in Oakland that came to live under my bed in the aforementioned Parkmerced apartment and gave us all fleas, that’s 36.)
I moved to San Francisco for school in August 2011 when I was 19. My friends and I used to spend long afternoons at Dolores Park that turned into evenings wandering the Mission drinking 40s, surrounded by other people doing the same. One of my friends and I attended a poetry slam outside the 16th Street BART station every Thursday night. (The 16th Street BART station has never exactly been somewhere a parent would necessarily want their 19-year-old daughter hanging out after dark, but it used to be slightly less harrowing.)
If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m super into reggaeton. Consequently, one of the first bars I stepped foot inside was Esta Noche, a Latino gay bar that served cheap beer, blasted Daddy Yankee and was full of dancing men in short shorts.
Now, seven years later, while the 16th St. BART station somehow got more terrifying, the rest of the Mission has changed drastically. I’m using the Mission as an example since it’s the neighborhood I’ve always hung out in the most. It’s now heavily patroned by all the Ashleys and Seans who moved to the South Bay from an M state to work for their buddy’s startup in “San Fran,” and like to hit the bars after work before going back home on Caltrain. Esta Noche closed down in 2015 and was replaced by a bar which ditched the Daddy Yankee in favor of Maroon 5, serves $12 cocktails and gives off the general vibe that they would quickly chase out any dancing men in short shorts as to not scare Ashley all the way back to Palo Alto.
The large amount of gentrification that my city has seen in the last 7 years has caused many former San Francisco residents to move to Oakland, move to Portland, move to anywhere that still celebrates freedom of expression and sense of self more than a newly built and ever-expanding Salesforce empire. (Obviously, the rapidly climbing rent prices are also a large factor in people relocating.The other day someone told me their SF-dwelling friend is paying $1000 a month to rent out a space under a damn stairwell, Harry Potter-style. Nuts.)
I’m still here, because the San Francisco I love is still here, somewhere. (Well, I briefly left to have an affair with a Spanish temptress named Barcelona, but I came back.)
You don’t have to live in this newish, corporate version of San Francisco if you don’t want to. I’m still frequenting all the same dive bars I did in 2012. Some of the same colorful characters who graced our streets and street fairs in 2011 (and definitely long before I was around) are still here baffling tourists. I still refuse to go to the Marina.
Although it might not seem like it, this is my love letter to my city, albeit confused and bittersweet. (As most real love stories are.)
This is my ode to my insomniac 19-year-old-self watching the sun rise behind the Bay Bridge at the Embarcadero, before the LED light sculpture that shoots up and down the bridge’s cables had made their first appearance. This is my tribute to attending the Folsom Street Fair every year since my third week here, even when I was too young to know what I was looking at. This is my commemoration of having too weird of a time at How Weird, of all the dubious things I’ve ever seen and heard on MUNI that used to be shocking but now barely make me bat an eye, of the guy slinging pizza at Dolores who shouts “pepperoni COMBO cheese!” to announce his wares.
This is to show my gratitude for how easy it is to make fast friends with random people in the park, on MUNI, at Hardly Strictly. This is to show my gratitude for the fact that I live in a city that even has a free music festival every year. This is to show my gratitude for all the friends I’ve made that I still know, and for all the people I’m glad I don’t but who have given me some damn good stories. I’m even grateful for the long-bearded gentleman on Sutter St. vaguely shouting at “all you Noe Valley sons of bitches” at 9 a.m., because he helps give this city the color that keeps me here.
Seven years isn’t a very long time in the grand scheme of things. If I’m already seeing changes in this city in the past seven years, I know that people who have been here for 10 years, or 30 years, or their entire lives have seen way more changes than I have. I don’t know how she’s going to change in the future, or for how much longer I’m going to call her my home base. I sort of feel like we’re not going to make it another year.
But then again, I said that last year.
*As always, all photos are my own.