A few hours separate one coast – and one world – from another. This morning, I braved gutsy hurricane-like winds in San Francisco, now I’m warmly tucked in to my Brooklyn nook. Air travel, akin to time travel, will never cease to amaze.
So there I sat at 4:30 am PST, my thoughts dripping steadily like the rain drops coalescing on the airplane window. My SFO – – > JFK flight was delayed. We had been stuck on the runway for nearly 2 hours before the pilot was forced to head back to the gate to refuel and wait the storm out. Storm gusts blew at more than 15 knots per hour. (know what that means? neither do I)
For 72 hours before, I took in San Francisco like a vagrant. I stayed at a humble artist’s hotel with morbidly beautiful paintings adorning the wall (my first two room options consisted of one: a crying geisha, two: a stripper staring me down). I finally settled on a more calming bedroom backdrop reminiscent of a Japanese ‘Starry Night’.
Night time brought walking escapades through the city, often with nary an idea of where I was going. Thankfully there were friends who led the way through various neighborhoods. Interesting to observe their tendencies. Just like some New Yorkers shudder at the mention of certain neighborhoods (ahem Williamsburg), San Franciscans have similar reactions to particular areas (Marina?) Ultimately, each neighborhood has a distinct character and way of life that makes San Francisco what it is. In addition to downtown, there are neighboring suburbs: Palo Alto, San Jose, Cupertino, Oakland, Marin County etc. which collectively comprise the Bay Area, a whole other world to itself.
I jotted mental notes comparing San Francisco to New York. Each is arguably the ‘golden’ city on its own coast so, of course, I was evaluating the potential of each as a future home.
The main differences I noticed:
– Residential: San Francisco, while urban, is markedly more residential. You’ll see long stretches of houses and apartments even in the thick of downtown. In Manhattan, aside from maybe the Upper East and West, that’s unseen. And even in neighborhoods like those, Manhattan retains an utterly cosmopolitan environment.
– Style: San Franciscans are more casual. Admittedly, I spent all of my time at startups (one in downtown, and another in Palo Alto) but even around the more corporate Financial District I sensed a greater level of openness and earthiness. New York, while scrappy in ways, is all business with its swank and suits.
– Health: San Franciscans veer natural. They are close to the outdoors with hiking paths, access to mountains and actual room to breathe. Living in New York, meanwhile, might take a year off your life. Physically and mentally, you drive yourself sick between riding the subways, battling anxiety and other neurotic souls, while being lured into oil-dripping street Halal food. But…it’s New York.
I spent most of my time in the more touristy parts of San Francisco: Union Square, Ferry Building, Financial District. Next time, I’m intensely interested in understanding the people, values, and pace of the city. This visit was far too short to get at the city’s real essence. But from the few people I did encounter (including the good samaritan who paid my MUNI fare because I didn’t know you needed exact change) – I’d say it was quite nice.
– seeing my childhood best pal and longest friend to date, Diana
– eavesdropping on “big ideas” at Ground Up Cafe, a shared space for employees in the AOL building (which houses several startups and Stanford’s startup incubator)
– touring the ZeroCater office and shadowing their account managers for a very accurately depicted “day in the life”
– eating cioppino and sea dabs for the first time at a homey family-owned Italian restaurant in North Beach
– exploring the bar scene. Local Edition (located in the Hearst building; the displays of old San Francisco Chronicle editions with typewriters make this a news nerd’s heaven) and Bourbon & Branch (prohibition-style bar with great whiskey & gin cocktails; there’s an old-school library too)
– being a tourist and eating overpriced hamburgers and martinis while overlooking Union Square. Totally worth it.
“Look at all those fish swimming in a fish bowl down there.”
Thanks for a great time, San Francisco. I hope I get to spend more time with you one day.
Some things never change.
My friend Kristin who has been out of the country for 18 months returned to the States this weekend. Before going home to Florida, she made a stop in New York City where she was greeted with big hugs, kisses, and a rousing homecoming from close-knit friends. We ate cupcakes, shopped, and hair-flipped our way through New York City like an obnoxious group of sorority sisters. It was almost like college again 🙂
Kristin and I traveled together last summer when we both taught English in Italy through a program called ACLE. We have always shared a strong connection through our mutual love for traveling and culture, but it was our OBSESSION with gelato that really solidified our bond. (One scoop? Try two or three…per day.) I left Europe after 3 months but Kristin stuck to the peripatetic life for another year and a half. Her travels took her from Italy to London to Paris to all throughout Asia (Taiwan, China, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia).
Over dim-sum on Sunday, Kristin shared stories about her travels, ranging from her run-in with Asian girls at karaoke ‘gangnam style’ to the incredible hospitality she experienced in Malaysia. Kristin has always been an adventurous spirit but she has now surpassed everyone within our circle of friends in sheer bad-ass status with the number of far-fetched tales she has.
She is that girl, the cultured one, the one who has friends everywhere because she’s actually been to those countries. She’ll begin a story with “This one time, my Dutch friend…” On a practical level, she can tell the difference between a good macaroon and a bad one, and has developed a strong inkling for when someone is ripping her off. She appreciates hole-in-the wall authenticity over flashy tourist traps. As a plus, she can probably educate you on all the details of the various visa application processes since she’s faced several interesting experiences with that herself. Read all of her helpful travel tips on her blog, Lost Abroad.
A year and a half seems like a long time. But as Kristin said herself, it’s really just a spec. What matters more than all of her worldly stories is that she can still snort a big laugh and engulf several slices of American pizza with a smile on her face. Some things never change…and they never should.