Later on this week, Tara and I will be getting on a plane, fly for about two hours, and then land in what is one of my three favorite cities in the United States: San Francisco. For the record, the other two cities are New York and Chicago. When I think of World-Class cities, these are the three that immediately come to mind.
It has been eight years since I have been to the city by the Bay. This is far too long. Alas, I told Tara seven years ago that we needed to go, and then later promised her that I wouldn’t go again unless she was going, so I had unintentionally painted myself into a corner. I couldn’t just up and go, as she had to be part of the equation. But because her works schedule is what it is, I had to wait for her to get the requisite amount of vacation days. By the time she had the requisite amount, I had gone ahead and planned my vacation into working holidays, where I had to be somewhere else for the sake of one book or another.
After seven years of this back and forth, I decided to get my act together, draw a circle around a few dates on the calendar and said “We’re going, come hell or high water.”
The problem is, eight years is a long time to spend away from something you love, and I’ve been revisiting the reasons why I have such of a fondness for the place. Certainly the beauty of the location plays into it. The two peninsulas jutting out to help form the bays (San Francisco Bay to the South, and, if memory serves, San Pablo to the north). Then there’s the area surrounding the Cliff House, just off of Sutro Height Park, where the Pacific Ocean manages to look dramatic yet inviting at the same time.
And let’s not forget the infamous hills of the city that help paint its landscape. While in some cities, it’s possible to forget of the nuances of physical geography because man has nearly beaten nature into temporary submission (see Houston or Phoenix as examples), the hills of San Francisco required man to work within the local geography. The nature of the city has led to engineering solutions both majestic (the Golden Gate bridge) and comical (Lombard street) and multitudes of examples in between.
But a city is more than its location. Just ask Seattle or Portland, Oregon, both of whom are wonderful, beautiful cities in their own right, with each seeming to lack the certain something that San Fransisco has that allows it to garner all of the good press.
Does San Fransisco benefit from having a better documented history? Better identifications with their neighborhoods? A better ability to draw the attention of artists?
Part of San Fran’s reputation comes from the role in played in World War II, having been the last stop for many a man off to war in the Pacific, and the first stop back when they were done. Nothing starts a romance better with a city when you equate that place with home.
Perhaps its allure comes from the counter-cultures that have taken up home in the city, from the Beatniks at City Light in the 50′s, to the Hippies at Haight-Ashbury in the 60′s, to the Gays in the Castro in th 70′s, San Fran has always been a little more than open to those ignored by the mainstream.
Is it the role the area has played in the Silicon revolution of the past generation? I am an avid technophile, and for people like me, this part of the country is our holy land.
Individually, these characteristics are admirable in any city. But in San Fransisco, they work together to make something greater than the sum of its parts. I can’t fully explain my love for the city, but as with any good romance, it shouldn’t be explained. It just works.
It’s not a perfect city. No city is. But for whatever reason, San Francisco has been on of the best the United States has to offer to the world. To me, New York City represents our nation’s id, Chicago our ego, and San Francisco, our super-ego. It’s an incomplete analogy, but it works for me. It’s a city that strives for the best, for what’s right, for philosophical reasons that are difficult to ascertain at times.
This weekend, I’ll get the chance to revisit my love affair, perhaps rekindle it. For all one really needs in a romance is the ability to allow yourself to be romanced in return. That’s where San Fransisco really shines.