The story goes that, the day after breaking ground for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, President William H. Taft, the last of our exquisitely mustachioed Commander-in-Chiefs, toasted San Francisco as “The City that Knows How.” It had been less than a decade since the Great Conflagration had burned most of The City to the ground, and President Taft was in awe at the incredible speed at which San Francisco had managed to rebuild.
As far as nicknames go, it’s not a terribly great one, especially considering how easy it is to add your own two cents to the end of it. In fact, I’ll try a couple right that would be especially appropriate for 1915: “The City that Knows How to take a bribe” or “The City that Knows How to discriminate against Chinese people”. Now you try it … see, the options are endless. As you can imagine, the nickname didn’t stick.
The San Francisco of today is starkly different than the one of 1915, so I thought maybe it was time for a new awkward nickname that sums up The City and allows you, dear reader, to inject your own jaded, urban cynicism. This new nickname is “The City Where You Can’t”
Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? While you ruminate on your own snarky endings, I’ll go ahead with some of mine:
The City Where You Can’t park without hiding or taking out anything that might even look like it has any monetary value. According to NBC Bay Area, there are an average 80 car break-ins a day and there were more than 30,000 in 2017.
The City Where You Can’t walk a block without getting your heartbroken by the homelessness epidemic. There are nearly 8,000 homeless people in San Francisco — at least those that were able to be counted — and there are more than 1,000 people on the waiting lists each night to get into a shelter.
The City Where You Can’t leave your bag, phone or coat out of your site for one minute because there’s a good chance it will disappear. All of us know numerous people who’ve gotten things stolen from them while in a café or bar. Hell, I’ve had three jackets walk out on their own.
The City Where You Can’t walk down the street in many neighborhoods without having to step over needles and human feces. There is so much human shit on the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco that there is even an interactive google heat map showing you where the most poop is.
The City Where You Can’t sleep at night because you worry your landlord will evict you sooner rather than later. While I’m incredibly lucky to have a great landlord, I’ve known hundreds of people who’ve gotten evicted in San Francisco over the past decade. And I know tons more who constantly live in fear they’re next on the chopping block. Luckily if you vote for Prop F in the June election, which would provide city-funded legal representation for tenants facing eviction, renters will have less to fear in the future.
The City Where You Can’t walk down the street without seeing someone you know. I actually love this part of San Francisco. It reminds me of how connected we all are and that this city is one big community. Plus, I had to throw something positive in here.
The City Where You Can’t be a tourist and not be shocked by the things you see. From the mental illness and the homelessness to the poop and needles, nearly every tourist I talk to is blown away by the pervasive brutal economic inequality in San Francisco.
The City Where You Can’t believe you live like this. It’s not the roommates or the lack of a washer/dryer, or even the crazy people next door. It’s all that combined with the things listed above.
Hopefully this won’t always be The City Where You Can’t. In fact, there’s a lot that can be done and much of it starts at the ballot box on June 5. The San Francisco Examiner and I have endorsed Jane Kim for Mayor and I also support Mark Leno because both candidates have the political will to change things in San Francisco.
There is a lot at stake in this election beyond the aforementioned Prop F and the mayoral race. So check out my voter guide by googling “June 2018 BAS Voter Guide” or find the Examiner’s voter guide as well. Together we can make this The City Where You Can.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.