In the wildly inaccurate, but delightfully violent epic Braveheart, King Edward I (portrayed by an awesomely wicked Patrick McGoohan) opines that “the trouble with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots.”
Personally, I have no issue at all with the Scots. I spent two weeks in Glasgow and Oban back in 1996, my hosts were among the most kind-hearted and funny people I’ve ever met, and the Highlands are the most beautiful place of scenery I have yet visited on this planet. Scotland rocks, plain and simple.
Therefore, I have no problem stealing Edward Longshanks’ line, but I have to adapt it to the subject of my own geographical analysis:
The trouble with San Francisco is that it’s full of hippies.
I’ve been to San Francisco twice, both times in the employment of a national travel center chain which shall remain unnamed. I was part of the team that went out to the newly built stores to set up their computer network.
The first time I visited the Bay Area was in 1999, and I had just finished a skillfully-mapped business trip to eight different stores, taking down serial numbers for a site survey, and updating their systems to Y2K compliance. (There was a boondoggle that could have made me rich…all I would have had to do for the duration of 1999 was to lock myself in clients’ server rooms for a few weeks, and then come out and present a $20,000 bill for Y2K consulting.) Anyway, I got to map the trip out myself, so I flew into Salt Lake City and made my way up through Utah, Idaho, and Washington before heading back down to Oregon. My last store was located in southern Oregon, and due to my amazing geek skills, I was finished three days early.
(I can neither confirm nor deny that I had sort of expected this circumstance, and that this expectation resulted in my request to the travel office to book my return flight from San Francisco.)
So there I was, with a swank rental car, three days of company-funded leisure, a generous daily meal budget, and a company AmEx at my disposal.
I can say without a doubt that northern California and the Bay Area are the most beautiful patch of America I have yet seen, and I’ve been around the country quite a bit. I decided to go down the Redwood Coast instead of zipping through to SanFran on I-5, and it was absolutely amazing, tempered in its awesomeness only by the fact that I was by myself, and couldn’t share my impressions with someone else. There’s a majestic grandeur to the coastline and those redwood forests that makes you intensely glad to be alive.
It took me the better part of a day to make my way down to San Francisco, because I enjoyed taking the coastal roads, slowly heading south with the Pacific Ocean to my right, and the redwood forests to my left, and it was the most relaxing and inspiring drive I’ve taken in my life.
Then I got to San Francisco.
There’s something special about cities that are surrounded by water on three sides. Maybe it’s the climate, or the ever-present faint smell of the sea, or the sense of openness you get when you walk down the street and see the ocean past the high-rise buildings, something liberating that can’t be suppressed even by the knowledge that you’re sharing a few square miles with a few million other people. If it can be said that you can fall for a city, I fell for San Francisco the moment I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time.
I rented a room at the Radisson Marina in Berkeley, right by the water, and spent the next two days just exploring the city. It was early fall, which seemed to be a good time to visit–fewer tourists, and still agreeably temperate. The job with that company wasn’t the greatest in the world–I was eating fast food and living out of suitcase a hundred and fifty days out of the year–but that one trip to San Francisco made up for all the crummy ten-day working exiles in desolate places like Dog Hump, Nevada.
When I got back home, I started browsing the online job boards for listings in the Bay Area. Then a good friend of mine moved to San Francisco to take a job with an Internet startup, and she was sending me not-so-subtle hints that it might be kind of fun if I were to relocate as well, with the added incentive of finally acting on some mutual attraction. For a few weeks, I was packing bags in my head, and I even went so far as to do a few phone interviews.
Then reality rudely intruded, the way it often does, and my reason wrestled my emotions back into their proper place.
For one, the housing market was (and still is) completely out of control. I’ve seriously shopped for apartments in and around Manhattan before, and I turned down a lucrative-sounding job offer because I would have had to spend more than half of my gargantuan paycheck on housing, just to live in a one-room studio smaller than my then-current living room. As expensive as Manhattan would have turned out to be, however, there was one market that looked even worse, and that was the Bay Area.
That’s not so much a question of public policy, no more or less than the housing prices in any desirable metropolitan area, but the next point of contention certainly was, and that one I can lay square before the aforementioned hippies who seem to run the place.
I had a sizeable collection of firearms, and California has a really onerous list of restrictions regarding gun ownership. I would have become an instant felon for half the content of my gun closet the moment that U-Haul crossed the California state line. I was accustomed to being able to put a gun on my belt while going about my daily business, and carry permits are simply not issued to anyone in the City By The Bay, unless your name is Feinstein, and you go by “Madam Senator.” That was a big roadblock to me, even bigger than the economic downside, and it was enough to outweigh every positive aspect. Add to that the out-of-control regulations and taxation in California, and I soon realized that no scenery in the world can make up for living as a forcibly disarmed tax slave among a bunch of folks who mostly have decidedly screwy ideas about the morality of self-defense, and the nature of property rights.
I still love the city, and the entire northern part of the state. Can we maybe start an exchange program with France, and trade them our Bay Area hippies for a few metric tons of decent cheese and a supertanker full of wine? The French don’t seem to mind subsidizing out-of-work foreigners with an overgrown sense of entitlement. Also, the average Frenchman takes a bath about as frequently as the average Berkeley hippie, so there’s some sort of cultural compatibility present already.