The author’s son swings at Bernal Heights Park as San Francisco prepares to reopen from COVID-19 pandemic closures on June 15. (Al Saracevic/The Examiner)

The author’s son swings at Bernal Heights Park as San Francisco prepares to reopen from COVID-19 pandemic closures on June 15. (Al Saracevic/The Examiner)

Come back to San Francisco: The City needs you now

Time to get out of the house, people. The City’s been lonely and sad without us.

There’s no denying it’s been a tragic and challenging year. We owe a debt of gratitude for the front line workers who never got to stay home. For the dead and disenfranchised who bore the brunt of the pandemic, there are really no words. But now San Francisco stands poised to fully reopen its doors. We all did an amazing job following the protocols, keeping each other safe and making our town one of the most successful battlegrounds in the COVID war.

We’ve weathered the worst of it, emerging with a legitimate shot at herd immunity. Congratulations on a job well-done, citizens. Now put on your walking shoes and don’t forget your wallet. The most beautiful city in the world requires crowded streets and cultural DNA to thrive.

Me? Feels like I’m winning San Francisco’s re-entry sweepstakes.

For well over a month now, your faithful Examiner correspondent has been living like the Before Times, BARTing my way to our Financial District office every day to perform my newspaperly duties. I’m shopping indoors. Meeting friends after work. Don’t even ask about my dining escapades. (Hint: Dim Sum!)

It’s been a fabulous journey, in a back-to-the-future kinda way. Now, to help you prepare for this Tuesday’s reopening, here are some of my post-pandemic observations for those still suffering from a touch of #COVIDCave Flu.

A few things to consider:

The water’s fine. Despite reports to the contrary, downtown San Francisco is doing quite nicely. A few weeks back, I felt like the last man on earth, emerging from an empty BART car to drift up an escalator onto eerily abandoned streets, save for windblown trash and beleaguered homeless people. But that’s starting to change. More people are coming back every day. You may be thrilled to work from home in the Sunset or San Leandro, but now’s the time to get out of the house. Don’t be the last one back on the bus.

Homelessness remains the same. As usual, the homeless situation is dire in the mid-Market area, but honestly, it’s not much different than pre-pandemic days. Same folks suffering in the streets, sans hardened office workers treating them as the invisible mob. The problems are persistent and clear, but this we know. This we must fix. But further down Market Street, in the towering canyons of the Financial District, I’m pleased to report that local business district workers are keeping things clean and shops and restaurants reopening on the regular.

The neighborhoods survived. Took a drive with my college-aged son the other day, showing him around San Francisco’s famed neighborhoods. From the hard-scrabble Bayview District in the Southeast, to spiffy Seacliff in the Northwest, The City’s famed neighborhoods withstood a potential knockout punch and persevered. On the windswept peak of Bernal Heights, hikers have emerged to take a ride on the greatest swing in town. Cortland Avenue looks vibrant, with patrons returning to the neighborhood’s beloved Wild Side West Saloon. Same story in the Mission, where Dolores Beach looked like Coney Island on a recent sunny afternoon. A laughing couple sharing a drink in an open window at The Castro’s Moby Dick. Shops reopening in the Haight, the Avenues and the Marina. Golfers hitting a practice tee shot over the cliff at Lincoln Park’s majestic 17th hole.

These were all mental snapshots we took that day, as I explained San Francisco’s strength to my son, a native born at Kaiser on Geary. “San Francisco is a patchwork quilt of neighborhoods,” I could hear myself saying. “And each one represents its own village, with a main street, favorite shops, churches and so on. Weave ‘em all together and you have the greatest city in the world, kid.”

Sheboygan rules. This one you already know. But I wanted to remind everyone. There’s nothing like a Polish Dog at a Giants game. Except, of course, for a loaded Sheboygan with extra mustard. Had the pleasure of spending a night at the ballpark last month, celebrating Willie Mays’ 90th birthday with a few thousand of his ardent admirers. Now, I was happy for the Say Hey Kid, but I was happier for me…after I wolfed down a six-pound sausage. The Giants are legitimate contenders, and we should all be hungry to get back to the ballpark.

The bickering must stop. As we crawl out from the pandemic cocoon, it’s been sad to see the incessant bickering and posturing over something as positive as “Safe Streets.” Some major arteries — notably JFK and the Great Highway — were shut down during the pandemic to give The City’s cooped-up residents somewhere safe to recreate. Now, a full-blown street fight has broken out over how and why the closures could or should continue. Let’s take a breath and check our pulse. San Francisco is facing an existential crisis, wrestling with a crippled economy, major quality of life issues, small business obstacles and a perceived black eye because carpetbaggers left town in the plague times. Let’s stop arguing over closed streets where kids can roller blade and couples can walk hand-in-hand. There are compelling arguments on both sides of this issue, but well-intentioned street closures are not paramount or pressing. Table the discussion and take on the real problems. Start with creating legitimate mental health facilities, where The City’s most-troubled residents can find a bed and get long-term rehabilitation and treatment.

Chinatown needs us. One neighborhood that hasn’t bounced back is Chinatown. While North Beach streets are beginning to hum again, Chinatown remains a ghost town to some degree. There are signs of life, and the mahjong games are back in full swing at the neighborhood’s Portsmouth Square park. It’s the restaurants I’m worried about, and we run the risk of losing some of San Francisco’s most cherished establishments. I’m happy to report that lunch at R & G Lounge is still scrumptious. And the folks at House of Nanking haven’t changed a bit. Dining solo for lunch the other day, a family of tourists walked in and sat near me. After the mother began asking about getting something without cornstarch, the waitress cut in and put the issue to rest, explaining that they’d be having a special chicken and shrimp dish the chef would whip up in a flash. No debate, no discussion, just telling the customers how it was going to go down. On the way out, I explained to the gobsmacked group that they’d just experienced a uniquely San Francisco moment. And they should consider themselves blessed.

That’s it for now, readers. I can report from the newsroom that The San Francisco Examiner is also alive and well. And it’s rebuilding and reinventing itself, in lockstep with its namesake city. Join us for this journey of discovery, where we hope to offer common sense solutions to the myriad issues facing our beloved hometown.

We’re here to help The City.

Al Saracevic is Director of News and Sports for The Examiner. Reach him at asaracevic@sfexaminer.com.

 

The view of the San Francisco skyline is inviting as The City prepares to reopen this week. (Al Saracevic/The Examiner)

The view of the San Francisco skyline is inviting as The City prepares to reopen this week. (Al Saracevic/The Examiner)

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