Dean Clough

October 23, 2023

Portico Darwin: It's F'ing San Francisco, Baby!


3 Minute Read

On the ride home from SFO last Tuesday after a vacation of contrasts, it was more of the same here.  It was hard to avert my eyes from the homeless tents on the recently rebuilt and beautified Van Ness Avenue, one of SF's main promenades.  It was something I had never seen before, at least not on Van Ness nor in this volume.

But don't hit delete quite yet:  this is not another SOPTOC post.

It's about why, despite it all - the homeless, the "bips", the dental work-ruining roads, and the $$$ -  San Francisco will never go away, and why its reputation for rebirth is completely warranted.  It's also about those of us here who remain extremely proud (defensive?) of our beloved SF.

Look, I am among the first to hammer our city's plutocratic "leaders," as well as the worthless do-gooders who fight like hell to ensure people can die on the streets. 

But many residents are weary of the questions that imply San Francisco is now a modern-day Calcutta.  It is not.

Indeed, in a recent long-form article on my city, even the august New Yorker magazine said so.

But let me illustrate further with - shocker - a story of my own.  It covers both my own (boorish?) pride in SF and why I contend SF is primed for yet another rebirth.

It begins with one of my sojourns down to the playa and sea while we were in Mexico.  One early evening, I ran into some of our neighbor's friends, also going down to the beach.  It was dusk, so I asked if one of them was Leah, the owner whom we'd met previously.  "No," was the reply, but for some reason, the very next question (true) was, "We know we're neighbors here, but where are you from?"

My proud response - of course - was "San Francisco!"  That answer typically elicits oohs and ahs most everywhere. 

But not so much any longer, and the next comment came from someone else in this fatcat knitting circle: 

"I hear that's a hellhole now."

I had to take a stand.  So I said, "Look, my wife and I have lived there for 32 years.  Problems?  Sure, but all cities have problems.  And it's San Francisco!  I mean, we're talking about fucking San Francisco!  It is one of the best cities in the world - if not the best!  Have a great night." 

And off I traipsed, on the cushiony sand, thinking I was either very cool, or a real jerk.

But I digress. 

How can I brag about SF, to strangers, still? 

It's beyond the obvious answers of scenic beauty, history, diversity, culture, etc.  And despite its shabby or worse appearance in some locations now.

Heck, I think I've shared a photo or two here of the former, and written plenty about the latter.

No, I can still pop off because the wealthiest and soon-to-be-wealthiest still want to be here.  The smartest and soon-to-be-smartest also still want to be here.  Generations of families stay here.  It's all because of one central reason:  it's San Francisco.

And, from The New Yorker article:

San Francisco is the capital of social media, streaming media, app tech, the sharing economy, the gig economy, and other building blocks of modern life.  It can measure its influence in dollars: the city, whose early industry harvested outlying gold, silver, and timber as the heart of what the architectural historian Gray Brechin has called the “imperial” West Coast, remains the fifth-largest metropolitan economy in the global Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Indeed, I was reminded why San Francisco will always be f'ing San Francisco just last Thursday.  It was a vivid glimpse at one of the two 21st-century industries that are going to influence the world, and both are either based or extremely active here.  These two industries will, in large part, dictate our futures. 

And fuel yet another SF comeback.

Autonomous Driving
Last Thursday, in the early hours before sunrise here, I looked out the window, at the intersection of Beach and Broderick.  Going north on Broderick was a now-ubiquitous Cruise robotaxi.  That's no big deal.  But what was behind it sure was.  GM is now testing - very much on the streets of SF, I can assure you - the real deal:  a fully autonomous vehicle, with no controls inside its capacious cabin.
Cruise AV.jpeg

In some ways, I'm surprised this is happening before autonomous long-haul trucking.  Think of where you've seen ginormous truck stops, near big, long-haul interstate highways.  Tell me why an autonomous truck can't drive 300 - 400 miles point-to-point, if the car above can traverse SF?  They can and it will happen.

And a whole heck of a lot of the tech and science behind autonomous cars and trucks is based right here.  In f'ing San Francisco.

Cruise is not alone.  Alphabet's Waymo is here, too, as is Amazon's Zoox.  And I would hazard a guess the tech for King Elon's autonomous big Tesla trucks is being perfected nearby.

Artificial Intelligence
Not many days go by now when there's not a reference in our fine local paper, The San Francisco Chronicle, of more vacant office space being gobbled up.   

Wait?  What?  By who?  In this "hellhole"?

The fact is many of the big AI players are taking root, right here in shitty SF.  Sure, there remains an office vacancy problem, but I believe the tide may be turning, in large part due to the AI boom.     

For the record, the companies above are either owned or largely funded by Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon, respectively.  Resources aren't a problem and they can have offices anywhere.  But they're here.

Regular readers (and visitors to my always-growing AI Gallery) know I've been enamored by the whole AI thing for quite a while.  Yes, there is a nutty amount of hype and hysteria about artificial intelligence.  There is also a mostly valid fear about what it might do to us and our world.

But those concerns will be sorted out largely here, in f'ing San Francisco.

Is all of this just blind optimism?  Maybe, but perhaps I'm not the only one?  Here's a cool new PR campaign, kind of our very own "I❤️NY" thing:

YouTube:  It All Starts Here

Its short 2 minutes are a vivid reminder of why SF will always be San Francisco . . .


We're living it, too, as we had our very first robotaxi ride, on Saturday, in a Waymo.  It was easily the most futuristic experience of my life.

And wow, was it smooth and it felt very safe.  Here's a video Julie took, of us pulling away.  With no driver.

Dean & Julie Take a Robotaxi

I'll wrap this up with a response from my business-owner friend who got caught on the wrong side of the Wokistan border.

Okay, that made my day! 

"My kids now put the 'R' word on the level of the 'C' word, the 'F' word, and others.  Pretty soon every letter will have 'a word.'  We are grooming a generation of fucking retards."

Maybe your purpose now is to be an editorialized group therapist . . . helping people get through the BS of the current state of the world :-) 

If only.

Thank you for reading this newsletter.  


Here is another reason to love (or hate?) SF.  This is my personally curated Journey playlist.

About Dean Clough