“This really is an amazing city,” Quincy said as we drove past the Panhandle on our way to dinner in the Sunset. She had just returned from traveling extensively through Germany, France, and England and was tying up loose ends before returning to London to continue graduate school.
“Sure, most of the soul has been sucked out,” she continued, “but the city itself…there’s no place quite like it.” Quincy and I had been roommates for over 3 ½ years. Outside of just a handful of people, Quincy is the person I’ve lived with the longest since leaving my parents’ place when I was 18. And now her time as a San Franciscan was officially ending.
San Francisco has long been a transient city – people would move to town because they’d always wanted to live here, stay for a few years, experiment with various lifestyle choices, get at least one questionable piercing or tattoo, and then move someplace else. The ones who stayed longer realized that they hadn’t chosen San Francisco, it was San Francisco which had chosen them.
All that started changing around 2011 when the second tech boom kicked off. The siren call that had attracted so many to San Francisco wasn’t crashing them into the rocks, it was now banishing them from the kingdom. Evictions skyrocketed, rental prices soared, and communities were wrenched apart, all so that people could be imported from around the world to fill the jobs being created in San Francisco, that weren’t going to San Franciscans. And while the city itself remained the picturesque, fogged in, mini-city on the edge of the continent, the humans who made it truly special were rapidly being expelled.
No matter where you live, getting older is just a series of life changes that you have to get used to. The people I frolicked with in my mid 20s are different from than the ones I hung out with in my early 30s, and those folks are different than the ones I spend my time with now. Sure there are certain individuals who’ve remained constant during these times, and, there too, are others who pop in and out of the timeline like a recurring cameo in a Netflix series. There are also the ones who are now just people whose life updates I see on Facebook. All of this is the natural byproduct of not dying young. If you live long enough your life goes through changes, that’s just how it works.
The difference with growing older in San Francisco is all the vitriol that has gone along with it over the last few years. I saw too many friends, lovers, and acquaintances leave, not because they wanted to, but because they no longer had a choice. Some were just too tired of fighting so hard for something that no longer loved them back. It was heartbreaking for those of us who stayed to watch, but for those who left,it was devastating. So many of those who moved away felt they’d been betrayed by a true love, and as they crossed a bridge in a moving truck or boarded a plane for their next chapter they said, “To hell with San Francisco! I can’t stand this place anyways.”
Driving out towards dinner the other night — the car filled with Quincy, her sister Sasha, and our other roommate Nancy — I thought about how burnt out on San Francisco Quincy had been before her travels. She had finally hit that wall, and she did what everyone does when they reach that point, she left.
So it was good to hear her speaking so lovingly about our city. “I missed this place so much,” she told us as we turned onto Lincoln Way. “Despite everything, it really is a special place.”
After dinner, as she dropped Nancy and I back off at the apartment, Quincy said “It’s weird to think that I don’t know if I’ll ever come back. Sure I’ll be back to visit but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to live here again.” I knew she meant that she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to afford to live in San Francisco again. But she also meant something else: Once you give up on San Francisco as a idea, can you ever fully embrace it as just a place?
I guess those of us still living here are trying to answer that question every day.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list to stay up on the work he’s doing: http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. His guest column, Broke-Ass City, runs Thursdays in the Examiner.