|Coit Tower Mural, c. 1936|
The last time I was in San Francisco, only a year or so ago, to see Asleep At The Wheel at the Herbst, I thought that it would be the last time, for sure. I hadn't been there in quite a while, there being no earthly reason to go any more than I typically go to downtown Sacramento unless on duty. But I'm in San Francisco today and will be spending the night because it turns out that Ray Davies of the Kinks is playing the Fillmore, and well... there's a story.
There's a whole novel, if you want to get into it.
I came across a box the other day as I was packing stuff up for the move to New Mexico. It was full of surprising stuff: letters I'd written, a hotel brochure from San Francisco, some projects I'd done in college, etc; all from the 1960's, some of it as early as 1966 or possibly even before that. I barely recognized my own handwriting (it was much neater then!), I had no idea exactly when I'd picked up the hotel brochure and stationery but I found a San Francisco travel brochure dated 1973, and a letter written on hotel stationery dated "Saturday" -- referring to the Kinks at Winterland. I sort of remember that concert as well; it was where I was introduced to Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. Oh. Of course. Who could forget.
There's a story about them, too; not quite a novel though, say a novella.
At any rate.
So off we go to visit Baghdad by the Bay at least one more time.
Like many others, I have mixed feelings about San Francisco. From a tourist perspective, there's practically no city better, but I'd rather not live there. It's foggy and cold and damp and windy. All. The. Time. The hills are monstrous if you're on foot; they can be more than a challenge if you're driving, too. Traffic is often horrendous. I remember a time when it took me over five hours just to get on the Bay Bridge to leave town one Friday evening after I'd conducted a training at the Civic Center. There wasn't a wreck. It was just extremely heavy traffic. This was during the dot.com bubble, and Bay Area traffic in general was nearly impossible practically everywhere nearly all the time. One reason I was leaving town rather than spending the night was that it was almost impossible to get a hotel room anywhere in the Bay Area as well. (Grouse, grouse, complain, complain. But the Money!) There are earthquakes, too, you know! Sometimes bad ones.
Ah but! The galleries, the museums, the parks -- Golden Gate Park remains my all-time favorite urban park -- the beaches (brrrr!), the views from practically anywhere; gasp inducing. The Marina, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Presidio, the Bridges; Marin. The flowers... there used to be a lot more flowers. There were flower stands everywhere, flowers seemed to be blooming everywhere too. Now there are not so many, nor are they "everywhere."
The City (we always capitalize it) used to be very dirty; trash in the streets and on the sidewalks was almost as common as flowers. It was like no one ever cleaned up, and those who tried found themselves defeated in short order. I found some pictures of San Francisco street scenes taken in the 1850's, and it was like that then, too. So I figured all the trash in the streets was a historic/cultural thing, but then there was a big campaign to clean up when Willie Brown was mayor, and by and bye, it worked. I wouldn't say San Francisco is as clean as Seattle (Seattle is really too clean for an American city), but it is much, much cleaner than, for example, when I lived there in the mid-70's.
I don't care for Muni, and I still won't ride the 38 Geary bus, but the cable cars are fun and they can get you where you need to go. A variety of old fashioned street cars now run on Market Street, and that's a good thing. I'm old enough to remember when they still had streetcars in downtown Los Angeles, and while I can only remember riding them once or maybe twice, I was very fond of streetcars when I was little. So it's nice to see the old ones on Market Street in San Francisco rattling and careening along.
We had a one bedroom apartment on Geary St. between Leavenworth and Hyde. Neighbors called it "Lower Nob Hill," we called it "The Tenderloin." It was an urban neighborhood, not that rough, but certainly not deluxe and very convenient to my work and practically everything we needed. We paid $225 a month rent, which we thought was outrageous, and we had to park the car at a garage over on O'Farrell St. for an additional $45 or $50 a month. Well. I saw a listing last year for a one bedroom apartment in the building where we lived in the mid-'70's. It actually looked just like our apartment -- it was in the back of the building with a view of a beautiful garden where we could sit on nice days somewhat protected from the wind. The kitchen and bath had been upgraded, so there was that. The rent was $2450, if I recall correctly. Parking at the garage on O'Farrell is running about $300 a month these days.
We didn't like paying as much as we did to live in San Francisco back in the day, but we could afford it. I wasn't making a lot of money by any means, but it was enough to get by -- on one salary.
It would take two "median American" salaries to approximate our living standards in San Francisco in the 1970's -- standards we could maintain on what was then considered one relatively low single salary. This gives an idea of how far workers' compensation has fallen since then and how much costs have increased.
As the number of employed Americans went up from the 1970's onward -- thanks in part to the pressure of a lot of liberation movements -- the value of their labor, strangely -- or maybe not so strangely -- went down. Workers today, if they can stay employed at all, are earning about half on average what they should be making based on productivity and comparable living standards. Of course there are tens of millions of unemployed -- forcing down wages and benefits for those who remain employed. Millions more Americans are forced into poverty every year which further erodes the living standards of everyone else -- except the 1%.
For their part, they've been happy to help themselves to all the profits of the last few decades. How much longer they'll be able to ride on the backs of everyone else is a question, though, isn't it?
Meanwhile... there's some geezer performing at the Fillmore...