Dean Clough

May 10, 2021

Portico Darwin: Do I Still Love SF?

Before I pontificate about living in cities post-Covid, I'd like to share with you a link to the School part of my website.  There, you'll see I've added a list of 8 books I hope you'll take the time to read, as I have.  Together, they provide a better understanding of the state of America today, and why things are as they are.  We've got a lot of work to do to avoid the fate of Great Britain and the collapse of its empire.  IMHO, right now is our "Suez Canal Moment" in terms of our own empire and pre-eminence.  Taking our global standing and "way of life" for granted might be dangerous - just look at the events of the past 18 months if you doubt that.  Yes, it's a lot of reading, but we have a lot of history to understand and overcome.

But (as usual), I digress.  Today is not about politics - well, at least not directly.

My wife Julie and I have lived in San Francisco since May of 1992.  In fact, we still live in the same apartment.  There are 4 reasons for that.  The apartment itself, while dating to the 1920's, is comfortable, beautiful and has great details.  Next, its price, which remains ridiculously inexpensive because of rent control (I still use the term "it's like we won the lottery").  And its location, which make up the last two reasons.  On one hand, we're walking distance to a true National Park.  On the other hand, we're also walking distance from the two wonderful high streets of SF's Marina and Cow Hollow neighborhoods, Chestnut and Union, which have all of the non-chain shops, services, bars, and restaurants one could want.

And beyond our neighborhood, we're an easy walk, bus, or ride share to legendary 'hoods like North Beach, Haight Ashbury, and Pacific Heights.  Arguably America's best baseball stadium.  Some of the world's finest art museums.  And all of it with easy access to wilderness that simply isn't on the menu in any other city that can match SF's other amenities (Sydney perhaps excepted).   Do you have this within walking distance of your home?


So what's not to like? 

Well, pre-Pandemic, the woes of SF were a secret to no one, especially those that actually live within its 49 square mile confines.  A homeless problem that in the '90's we thought could never EVER be worse, got WAY worse.  Selfish, spoiled and overcompensated tech bros of all genders who cared nothing about SF nor its history overpopulated the city, jamming streets and coarsening the civility that was always an SF hallmark (God, how I miss the Herb Caen vibe here, a.k.a. "the real San Francisco").  Completely unaccountable civil "servants" making mid-six-figure incomes, while SF devolves into an adult Disneyland that's gone terribly, horribly, wrong.

And pre-Pandemic, we were already growing weary of "City" prices (and not just our city).  $18 cocktails.  A nice lunch downtown with a friend becomes a $200 splurge, simply because you have a couple of glasses of wine.  Surge Uber and Lyft pricing, where a $10 cab ride is now $50.  An otherwise fun day out at the ballpark to see my beloved Giants turns into hundreds - seats that were $25 are now $75, and my God a shitty beer and an f'ing hot dog add up to almost $30?  And I won't even bring up what a night with the Warriors at the McMansion Chase Center can cost.  But bring the Bitcoin.

Fires?  Smoke?  Oh, yeah, that.  Forever, one of the true features of SF has been its air quality - being right on the Pacific coast, there's nothing for thousands of miles to foul the air.  While there have been wildfires every year since we've moved here, it was not until 2018 that the air in San Francisco was ever impacted.   Oh, how it has been impacted.  Every year since then, our air during fire season has been downright awful, and of course, short of flying to another state, there's no escape.  Here's a shot around noon on September 9, 2020, a.k.a., the day the sun didn't rise.  It was almost this bad for days and weeks at a time.


(For reference, here's a picture on a normal day; both pictures are from the dining room of our apartment.)

That was all mostly pre-Pandemic.  SARS-CoV-2, for us and everyone, meant we rediscovered the joys of cooking and staying in.  Or meeting friends in parks, and drinking wine and snacking.  Since hotels were closed, we found incredible Airbnb's, vs. the swank hostelries we had always leaned into previously.   And you know what?   It's all been fine.  More than fine.  Frankly, a lot of it was great and all of it was an awakening of sorts.

Don't get me wrong - I sincerely miss our old way of life.  Places like Perry's on Union.  In fact, Prof. Howard Blum, Esq. and I will be making a triumphant return to that very place, this coming Friday (if you like Fernet Branca and really, really scintillating conversation, by all means - stop by at 3:30PM).  With that said, I remain skittish (and not out of fear of getting sick) about getting back out there.  As Julie has said:  it's great not getting pissed off at indifferent or worse service, whilst dropping hundreds of dollars, and sharing a bathroom.

But:  if our taste for hitting bars and restaurants and all of the rest has diminished, why be in SF, or any city like it?  If you're reading this blog post in the hope I have a definitive answer, I do not.  In fact, with things reopening, I'm more conflicted than ever.

The reality:  a little over a week ago, on the Thursday I came home from the Murphy Villa and the day before our departure for Mendocino, we reverted to norm and strolled through the Palace of Fine Arts, in to the National Park, and to long-time fave Presidio Social Club.  We dined outside, had great service and even better prime rib and wine.  Killer.  Just like the old days.

And just this past Tuesday, after a hectic day filled with root canals (Julie) and Global Entry renewals (Julie) at SFO, we decamped to the Textbook Original Joe's of Westlake for the early bird special (and an Old Fashioned, and wine) at 4PM.  Again, great food and service, and jeez, it feels great to be out.

But we've changed.  We shared the prime rib last Thursday, and I ordered a carafe of house wine at Joe's vs. some high-zoot Super Tuscan.  And I've literally become Clint's stand-in on Grand Torino - I find I like peace and quiet more and more (my recent visits to the isolation of Tupper Lake and privacy of our place in Cathedral City confirm that), and my tolerance level for big and/or uncivil crowds has dropped to Kelvin levels.  I even find those GEICO ads are hitting home.

But are there any real changes coming, in terms of our place of residence?  Unlikely.  I have Tupper Lake fantasies that likely will not be fulfilled, and that's fine.  Our plan now is to stay here at our perch in the SF Marina through Julie's retirement in 4.5 years, and then spend 1 - 2 months in Asia and Australia.  From there? Perhaps buy a non-city home, somewhere, in which we'll live for 15 - 20 years, until we head to a place like this.

I'd love to hear from fellow city dwellers (or not) who have a take on this - do you love your city as much as you did?  Are you staying?

My headphone review brought kudos, with some advocating I take a position at CNET.  I doubt they'd have me, but it was still fun writing that Gear piece.  And it motivated the inquisitive Byron Browne to query me on the efficacy of the Sennheiser Momentum 2's in bed with a sleep app.  Me sleeping is not a pretty sight (let's just say I have a high metabolism) and thus in-ear monitors are not an option for me in that regard.  But if you sleep on your back, or start out that way, my new M2's would work great - they're super-comfy.

(P.S.  Several days now with my Sennheiser Momentum 2's, and if anything, I like them even more.  Great performance and the fit is very comfortable and as importantly, secure - they don't feel like they're going to tumble out of my ears.)

Starting Friday, I had the pleasure of hanging with not just one esteemed former colleague at TEECOM, but two.  It began with a fairly benign (for us) day out with proud Redwood City native and Los Lunas aficionado  Miguel Shannon.  He was brimming with pride as we patronized the gin mills and juke joints of his youth.  And then Saturday,  it was a reunion of sorts with Cardi A - another brainiac-genius-but-cool-geekmo-engineer type, just like Miguel Shannon, and also just like Miguel, a real, live Professional Engineer (or PE, for those in the know).  So great to hang with him at the Killer Green River Brewing and Tap Room in the hidden gem town of Winters, just off the 505, and about a 90 minute drive from SF.

Over the weekend, from his Chicago thinktank, the noted AI entrepreneur and intellectual Steven Simon commented on the David Brooks opinion piece I shared in my last post.

Spot-on article by David Brooks. One thing that surprised me about this pandemic is how people think on such a basic level, as Brooks points out. Actually it did not surprise me as much as confirmed a disappointing observation. Some people I know could not understand why the government would demand that we not gather in groups. They really thought it was dumb because the chance they would spread COVID was so low. My response was, "You are absolutely correct. The odds that you would spread COVID resulting from a house party with 10 people is extremely low. Call it 1%. But what are the odds of spreading it if there are 100,000 10+-person get-togethers?" People seriously could not make the statistical leap from themselves and consider that the Gov't is working on a national level. They were so caught up in "individual freedom" that they could not see the forest for the trees. 

100 percent!  We've lost the script on the whole citizenship thing - with individual freedoms come civic responsibilities.  

Steven wrapped with a somewhat pessimistic view of our shared future, and he expressed his sentiment quite bluntly . . .
"We're fucked."

Thank you to any one that is reading this blog.

While at times the antithesis of peace and quiet, here is U2 and their sonic temple, "Achtung Baby".  Life as zoo, fake seemingly being better than real, people being cruel to each other, a cry for us to unite, etc. - yeah, those themes seem about right for a blog on cities and life in general today . . .

And for you Captain Obvious types out there - here's the other choice; sadly, I own it in MP3 format only.

About Dean Clough

Plans To Enjoy Life.