The recent great weather had us meeting friends and strangers out and about San Francisco, including a stop in Washington Square. (Shutterstock)

The recent great weather had us meeting friends and strangers out and about San Francisco, including a stop in Washington Square. (Shutterstock)

This town still has heart

Optimism in the air as The City opens up again


Even in the rainiest winters there always seems to be one perfect weekend in February, and this time around, it was last weekend. My word, it was glorious. What made it doubly wonderful was that, after months of being shut down, many places that we love were able to open up for outdoor seating.

After a year of longing and suffering through an evil pandemic, this place is starting to feel, bit by bit, like San Francisco again. Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart, you just gotta poke around.

Outdoor art markets are taking place as are outdoor film showings. Art openings have begun anew and for the first time in what feels like years, we’re bumping into some of the people we used to always see around. Even if our small talk has gotten a little rusty.

Kayla and I spent Thursday evening eating San Diego-style Mexican food at The Wooden Nickel while we had drinks with Meaghan. We’ve seen Meaghan a few times during the pandemic, but it had been a minute, so it was lovely getting to sit six-feet from her while we all shared our recent ups and downs. It was the Nickel’s first night back open and we had to be there to support our dear friend and old roommate Nancy as she once again shared her hospitality with the public. All the tables were full, and plenty of other familiar face, like street artist Ricky Rat and Tim and Liz, owners of the Willows and the Sycamore, popped by.

Friday brought us back to The Wooden Nickel to see Jess and Elias’ new baby…and another burrito, of course. Then on to The Royal Cuckoo Market where we socially-distantly sipped wine on the parklet with Andy and Katie while Douglas Hilsinger played an old upright piano illuminated by Christmas lights. Yes, it was starting to feel like San Francisco again indeed.

During all our gallivanting one thing kept popping into my mind: Everyone we saw on the street – sitting near us, walking by, biking past – all were San Franciscans. There weren’t tourists from Lichtenstein or bridge and tunnelers from Walnut Creek. Everyone we saw lived here. Granted, this isn’t proven scientifically, I didn’t do an ethnographic study, and I’m sure there were some people who lived in other parts of the Bay in town working. But by and large, these were all people who were proud of their city and despite our many current difficulties, they were sticking by it while 100,000 people had fled.

It warmed my heart…though that might’ve also been the wine.

Sunny Saturday afternoon found us in North Beach having lunch with Christine at Chief Sullivan’s. We chatted with a sweet couple who liked my writing, as well as another couple who was there with their 5-month-old. It was the baby’s first time out in public and they were absolutely delighted to find out how much he loved people. “We had no idea,” the mother told us, “he really hasn’t seen very many people since he was born.” I kinda knew what she meant; I couldn’t remember the last time I had the opportunity to chop it up with friendly strangers. It made me realize how much I’d missed it.

Wandering around a little bit led us to Local Maker Mart, the art gallery/craft market that popped up just before the pandemic in an old bank building at Columbus and Green. While Kayla looked at handmade jewelry, I bumped into Alicia who I hadn’t seen in ages. Standing there, chatting on the sidewalk I spotted a little drug baggie nearly full of white powder. I snatched it up and immediately threw it in the trash. The last thing I want would be for someone to find some floor drugs and do them not knowing what they were. Both Alicia and I have spent many years working in bars and restaurants and we lamented how many industry people we know who have died recently by overdosing on fentanyl when they thought they were doing a different drug. I know I keep saying this people, but seriously, if you party please get some Narcan. It’s free. Lost Soul Courier Collective will even deliver it to your home.

We floated around North Beach for a few more hours and learned that Spec’s was still not open, since they couldn’t get outdoor seating in that weird little alley, but that they had a GoFundMe to help keep them afloat. Eventually we ended up in Washington Square Park, reconnecting with various people we’d crossed paths over the previous days

It felt good to be there while North Beach buzzed and whirred around us. The City felt like it was shaking out the cobwebs after a long nap, and that sooner than later it would be back on its feet again. I am optimistic about the future of San Francisco. The people who are here want to be here. They believe in this place. They’ve said, “This is my home and I’m gonna fight for it.” We are San Franciscans, and that means something. And that’s about the best news I’ve heard in a long time.

Stuart Schuffman is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at and join his mailing list at His column appears every other week. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.

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