I’m Mourning What San Francisco Used to Be | by Vanessa Karel | Mar, 2021
And it’s okay if you are too
China Beach. Photo: Reuben Kim via Unsplash
As someone who has lived in downtown San Francisco since before the tech boom, it is haunting and disturbing to see what the city is today.
I live in Nob Hill, just a few steps from the once tourist entrance to ChinatownlOck away from the once busy financial district and two more streets away from the once hectic Union Square. I lived in the heart of this city where nothing used to stop and nobody could be bored. During my final walks through the now deserted streets that were usually like the Shibuya Crossing, I can only imagine the pre-pandemic scene on a day before the pandemic.
I realized that not only do I miss the old, charming aspects of town – like dancing to live music in a bohemian North Beach bar or hiding in a dimly lit restaurant – but also the annoying, random things.
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I miss being stopped in the middle of the street by a distracted tourist taking a picture of Chinatown on a normal weekday.
I miss a sporadic sighting of the “therapeutic piglet pet” on the way to Huntington Park. (Please google this amazing creature if you don’t know what I am talking about.)
I miss the traditions like climbing the steep streets of Nob Hill as I took my weekly religious yoga walk in the maze of the almost entirely Gothic Grace Cathedral, where I gathered with neighbors to exercise and meditate.
Who would have thought that all of those little moments that made up life in San Francisco are now impossible?
Do you remember when we shared rides with strangers?
Do you remember when we could all take to the streets to make a rainbow together to celebrate pride?
Do you remember when we could even be together?
I often think back to moments that seem so far away now.
Like the last Halloween party I went to in a big, old, four-story house on Mission in 2019. One of those that a friend of a friend invited you to, so you ended up inviting other friends who invited other friends, and so on. Everyone and nobody knew each other. Rooms full of strangers. We sang and danced after 4 a.m. It was loud, full. There was sweat, there were drunken witches.
Like the Castro of yore. If you’ve ever ended up heartbroken at the Castro, where a stranger, and most likely your next gay best friend, cheered you up, bought you a $ 1 margarita and hugged you endlessly while you cried, you did it all wrong.
Like networking in the city, which was so fun and easy. Every night you can find a cool underground get-together for innovators or work with an international group of people here to create the next big invention.
Like a night where you might have met a new crush who grew up in South Africa and moved here from an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. You’d have to sneak into the bathroom quickly to google some cool facts about these places and casually include them in the conversation to keep up to date.
We have been learning all the time. Constantly in motion. Constantly challenged.
We met people who were in town promoting a new gelato artifact at a convention. We heard about a friend of a friend who funded millions on a new idea and you wondered why you didn’t think about it before.
The City by the Bay has been an expert at allowing you to discover new cultures in so many ways, especially the experimental food scene. For a weekend, visit France at the newest hip eatery on Octavia Street, and take a quick trip to Thailand on Sundays at the local best kept secret, Thai Time, in Inner Richmond. I really hope they survive this.
Dating used to be more of a part-time hobby for us, not the current research experiment we’re now conducting to assess whether the risk of meeting her in person is worth it.
It used to be a burden going to the office and now we miss it. A friend of mine mentioned that she even misses being late for work because she is stuck at BART with no cell phone reception. We miss the routine, the rush and the ordinary.
I see flashes of the ghosts of San Francisco’s past ahead of 2020. They wear North Face and Lululemon, roam FiDi and Market, and line up endlessly for an overpriced kale salad. I hope you are all fine, you handsome, fit, rich people! Wherever you are!
The San Francisco I miss is about to reappear because this place has been wired like this since you or I were born. This is a city of flowing energy and the spirit of innovators – always on the lookout for gold, the new world-shaping idea.
While I realize that I sounded melancholy in this essay, I promise I am also optimistic. It’s part of the grieving process. It’s good to remember the past and let yourself be guided to a better version. The past, the present and a positive vision are the influences we need to escape these “dark times”.
The renaissance is coming.
That moment was a fragment of a picture that told us what we were, what shaped us, what brought you and me here.
After the pandemic, I’m excited to see how our creative and progressive minds can find new ways to hug each other, learn from each other, and come together to make our city better.
Until then, I’ll mourn.