People have left San Francisco, where streets have been spookily empty since the pandemic began. (Courtesy photo)

People have left San Francisco, where streets have been spookily empty since the pandemic began. (Courtesy photo)

What an odd, half full city San Francisco has become

Despite feeling empty, mad and sad, we can make changes by getting out the vote

What an odd, half full city San Francisco has become

I was surprised to see traffic on the 101 Tuesday morning. Looking out my bathroom window, I can see a small bit of the freeway, and for the first time in a long time, I noticed cars barely moving while they tried to enter The City.

Before the coronavirus killed 200,000 Americans – before it upended our way of life, decimated our economy, gutted our jobs, closed our favorite places – before all that, the tiny sliver of freeway I can see from my window was practically a parking lot during the morning commute. And for a few minutes on Tuesday (I didn’t really pay attention to the length of time, but it wasn’t long), it looked like the terrible snarl of frustrated vehicles that I was used to.

What a strange thought that “normalcy” was people sitting in their cars, polluting the environment with their exhaust, while commuting to jobs they might’ve hated, to pay for things they probably didn’t really need.

I don’t see that part of “normalcy” coming back anytime soon. I mean, plenty of people still have jobs they hate so they can continue paying for things that only give them fleeting amounts of enjoyment, but the commuting thing won’t be happening like it was for a very long time, if ever again. A whole lot of companies realized they don’t need offices anymore and figured out that all their employees could now work from home – of course minus the ones whose jobs were dependent on the existence of offices, like facilities managers, janitors, security guards, etc.

Then many of the people who moved here for these office jobs decided there was nothing here for them, and began leaving. And with all the bars and concert halls and museums and galleries and restaurants closed, even some people who were in San Francisco not for a job, but for the culture, well, they left too.

What an odd, half full city, San Francisco has become. I just hope all those people remember to register to vote wherever they end up, especially if it’s a swing state.

There are some good things coming from all this though. For the past half a year, the air has felt far nicer to breathe…at least during the times where wildfires aren’t filling the sky with smoke and ominous orange hues. And rent is coming down at astounding speeds. After nearly a decade of landlords squeezing every last penny out of tenants before evicting them and then jacking up the rent on the next sucker, it’s suddenly a renter’s market. I’ve heard dozens of stories of people negotiating their rent down by at least a third, and in some cases, even by 50 percent.

It’s also incredible to see how people are creatively adapting to the horrific circumstances this pandemic has landed us in. The City’s Shared Spaces program has helped scores of bars and restaurants build cute and funky parklet-like structures all over town so the businesses can go back to serving people. And just the other day I came across The Mask Shop in the Castro where people can pop in and get masks custom made. Apparently, the idea came together after the founder, Michael Petri, was laid off from his job at the Chase Center.

Perhaps the most unnerving thing about weathering this pandemic though is that, while we are suffering either from the virus itself, or the necessary precautions we’re taking to avoid getting it,not everyone is playing by the same rules. Just the other day my fiancé and I talked to her best friend who recently left San Francisco and moved back to Kansas City, Mo. He told us that, not only are the bars open there, people are inside and not wearing masks. Yeah, I made the same face and sound you just made when I heard that too. It’s no wonder our death rate is the highest in the world.

The most galling thing about that is knowing how much we have all sacrificed – whether it’s our livelihoods, homes, sanity, health, relationships, or even our lives – because of COVID-19.

I’ve written at length in previous columns about the absurdity, stupidity and the evilness that has brought us to this point. But the rage and sadness I feel could more than fill the emptiness left behind in this once bustling city.

So, I implore you not to just vote, but to volunteer a couple hours a week to getting Trump out of the White House. The fact that Trump knew how deadly this virus is, and decided to do nothing, because of vanity and political reasons, is quite literally a crime against humanity. Over two hundred thousand individual parts of humanity that is.

Even though you’re most likely in California if you’re reading this, you can still help flip battleground states. I’m part of group that’s focused on calling Florida voters to get them out for early voting. You don’t have to call people, you can do text banking, postcard writing, letter writing, and so much more. To learn how to plug into this, go to america/.

The year, 2020, has been one of the hardest years many of us have ever faced. The only way 2021 will be any better is if we all give our time and effort toward stopping the people who allowed this to happen.

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

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