San Francisco -The city I left behind-Part One

“Leaving San Francisco is like saying goodbye to an old sweetheart. You want to linger as long as possible.” -Walter Cronkite-

San Francisco or SF to us natives has an exotic quality about it compared to your average American city with its look-a-like brown stone dwellings, the socialist glass boxes we call modern office and government buildings. I left SF when I was a kid. In a previous article ‘Chicago’ the last thing I remember when leaving was my mom yanking me by my hand pulling me one way as I tugged hard the other way. I left not only my many friends, an enemy, our large touristy home – EVERYTHING — my entire way of life behind. Train travel was popular in those days before intercontinental flying became the norm, Greyhound if you couldn’t afford train fare and for the rich, by air. Long distance vehicular travel wasn’t in vogue. Superhighways or interstates were still on drawing boards.
San Francisco like Seoul and Rome is a city of hills. I stayed away from my hometown until my early 20’s. Upon my arrival I toured the city on foot. I walked from the Presidio across the Golden Gate Bridge to Lime Point on the other side and back again; what an experience! During my long hike I peered over the guard rail and noticed long white lines in the water below. Someone later told me these were shark trails. The Bay is infested with those vicious critters!
When I returned, the hippie movement was still the rage. I took the customary jaunt through Haight-Ashbury or ‘Hashbury.’ What I saw was depressing. The so-called ‘flower children’ were dirty, ragged, emaciated. The streets were cluttered with garbage. Store and street signs were in varying stages of disrepair and people were walking about like zombies. It was a living episode of the now popular ‘The Walking Dead.’ The negative vibes moved me to tears. I said to myself, if this is what they call countercultural, they could have it. I left Haight in a big hurry.
Lombard Street is a must do experience if you got the legs for it. It’s a wicked walk. I’m 68 with two bad knees. Reader if a trip to SF is in your future take a hike along twisted Lombard Street; you’ll never forget it.
One of the finest examples of colonial Spanish religious architecture is the Dolores Mission. Its’ a church with a history; founded in 1776 by Spanish missionaries under the supervision of Blessed Junipero Serra the cemetery is final resting place to a cross section of people. Luis Antonio Arguello – first Mexican governor, graves of early Indians, settlers who came to strike it rich during the Gold Rush, victims strung up by the Vigilance Committee or Vigilantes, and a slew of others lay under ancient headstones. The mission was the first building in San Francisco.
The traditional café society flourishes in San Francisco. Unlike the rush-rush lifestyle back east folks sit for hours sipping tea or coffee with friends instead of hurrying off somewhere else.
There are lots of homeless people in SF. With the present no-go economy, the ridiculously high salaried ‘Dot Com’ computer geek types from Silicon Valley priced ordinary San Franciscans out as rents sky rocket. Its’ easily understood why the homeless population is growing exponentially. The financially challenged live in the small communities that border the city limits.
San Francisco became part of the United States after being seized from Mexico during the Mexican-American War of 1845-48. Prior to that California was part of New Spain, then Mexico, the short lived Bear Republic before merging with the United States in September of 1850.
35% of San Franciscans are of Asian decent. San Francisco appears ‘Asia friendly.’ Historically SF wasn’t kind to its’ Asian population until very recently. Thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s and subsequent passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 African-Americans, Asians, Mexican-Americans, economically challenged whites and Gays benefited tremendously from Dr. King’s legacy. Despite Black leadership in the vanguard for human rights the latter four aforementioned groups paradoxically view African-Americans as social pariahs. Asians didn’t receive full civil rights until the signing of the Immigration and Nationality Act a year later in 1965 and the nixing of the earlier Chinese Exclusion Act.
Of San Francisco’s many Asian-American enclaves Chinatown the largest is home to nearly every subgroup on the vast Asian continent. The city’s ‘Chinatown’ is a great place to visit. If you’re going to San Francisco I’d cozy up with some of the locals who’d be more than happy to tell you where the good restaurants are rather than pricy tourist traps.
If you’re planning to dress appropriately, bring a hat and light jacket. Bay area weather is finicky. Nowhere was that so obvious was when I watched the Giants play Chicago’s Cubs. Though the home team won in the 9th inning 2 to 1 over the visiting Chicago team I nearly froze my butt off. The seat I purchased was in the shade three seats back from where the sun shown. I shivered in the shade while fans in the sunny sections were in T-shirts. The kindness of a young lady usher who felt sorry for me made the ball game enjoyable. She gave me permission to move to a seat in the sun; God bless that girl!
California is famous for its eccentrics. Stuff they’d put you in jail here in Chicago is ignored, smiled upon and tolerated in San Fran. Case in point: the Hippie movement had a long run on the West Coast. In Chicago it was quickly quashed by brutal authorities. I could never imagine an ‘Emperor Norton’ decked out in his goofy getup meandering through the streets of New York City, Chicago, Detroit, or down south without getting jacked or mugged, arrested and committed. Could you visualize a hooker or Gay convention in Savannah, Georgia? Most anything goes in Frisco! Are San Franciscans snobby; uh-huh. My being a native spared me the cold shoulder when I intermingled with the locals. A family friend recently attended her daughter’s wedding to a local man. She told me she enjoyed the wedding but felt shunned by some of the guests. She returned to Chicago post haste once the padre pronounced the couple hitched.
I’m a practicing artist (ceramicist & sketch artist). I have an honors degree in Fine Arts. I know my business. Art (and writing) is my life. San Francisco has so many fine art, craft galleries and museums. You couldn’t possibly see them all.
California has its’ own cuisine. ‘California Cuisine’ is a distinct style of cooking that’s a fusion or joining together of disparate cooking styles using fresh local ingredients. Foods are virtually fat free, fresh garden grown veggies, local fruits, non-fatty meats and seafood from California’s coastal regions. Now that’s California style cooking!
SF has food items that cater to whatever suits your fancy. I’m partial to Asian cooking, particularly Filipino…Chicken Adobo, Barbecue, Bistek Tagalog, Camaron rebosado, Crispy Pata, Kaldereta and the ever popular Lechon Kawali or suckling pig with brown lechon sauce on the side
The San Andreas Fault is the Golden State’s great divide. It physically separates the state. There’s an even greater divide that separate urbane sophisticated San Franciscans from their glitzy more colorful cousins in the south. For decades I thought it was California’s version of Chicago’s Northside vs. Southside vs. Westside thing but the Balkanization of California runs deeper. The perceived chaos in the southern half of the state with its burgeoning population, the Los Angeles gang culture, growing social problems, under funded public programs serve to drive a wedge between the two ‘Californias.’ Northern California is sparsely populated, ecology minded, has state-of-the-art rapid transportation service that local government officials use at least twice weekly compared with the disorderly south. At one time state legislators seriously considered petitioning Congress to divide the state in half, forming two states.
-To be continued.-

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