I woke up at 6:30 this morning momentarily confused as to where I was. After opening my eyes and looking at the stick/light bulb/moss art piece above the fireplace in my room, I smiled. I was home in my bed in San Francisco. Pulling back my window curtain I looked out onto the grey fog, streaked with pink and orange from the sunrise over Folsom Street, where tweekers skittered by on bicycles below.
I was home alright, San Fran-fucking-cisco, The City where so many people have famously left their hearts … only to have them broken.
Despite being on vacation in Mexico City for two weeks and being semi-unplugged, news still trickled or gushed in, depending on what the subject was. Paris was attacked and Ashley and I spent half the day on the Internet trying to figure out what had happened and if our friends were OK. Then we watched as so many normally kind and companionate folks let fear get the best of them, turning them into the kind of people who deny help to those who need it the most. But it also inspired some very beautiful things and Ashley was able to use her website Kinda Kind with Ashley Lauren to help spread them.
News also reached me that Rec and Park are literally selling the Palace of Fine Arts to the highest bidder. The idea of the Palace being turned into a hotel or a restaurant is almost as appalling as putting a freeway down the center of the Panhandle, something that genuinely would’ve happened had activists not stopped it. In every generation there are those who try to take what belongs to the people in order to sell it to those who stand to make immense fortunes from it. They call it “progress” or they say “change is inevitable” but what they mean is “the history, beauty and public space of a city isn’t as important as the revenue of a select few.” Wanna make money off the space? Then please by all means do so, but do so in a way that benefits everyone.
The Exploratorium managed to pay rent in the space while also creating a wondrous place where science, art and creativity inspired the curious kid in all of us. For a city that prides itself on innovation, putting a restaurant or hotel in such a glorious place as the Palace of Fine Arts, isn’t only laughably mundane, its downright stupid. Rec and Park should be ashamed of themselves. With all the wealth in this city, what they should be doing is reaching out to companies like Google or Facebook or Oracle and partnering to create a space where technology and art conspire toward brilliance. Something like a permanent version of Vice’s The Creators Project. Or you know what? Fuck it, just put a freeway there instead. No sense of doing something halfway.
Seeing things unfold from a separate country many miles away is like listening underwater while also seeing things more clearly. While in Mexico I watched a video of police in San Francisco mercilessly beat a man who was not resisting. But then I would walk the streets of Mexico even more scared of their police because, since they are so underpaid, they have to resort to extorting people to pay their bills. Do we want a well paid police force who often does good, but sometimes beats and murders the people it’s supposed to protect? Or do we want one that’s underpaid and can’t care enough to beat you or save you? Maybe it’s time to reexamine the role of police in general.
Regardless, it’s good to be home, whatever that means.
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.