There’s a certain sense of doom that hangs over San Francisco. You see it when you look around and see so little from before 1906. Or the eastern span of the Bay Bridge. Or Hayes Valley. Or West Oakland. I’m constantly aware of that, living here. How could you not be? We don’t know when the next big one is coming, but we do know it’s coming and no matter what, we don’t truly know what it’s going to do. And while it’s doubtful we’d see something on the scale of April 18, 1906, it’s important to remember how little we truly know. I don’t think anyone went to bed on April 17, 1906 expecting much of the city they called home to lay in ruins the night after. We may be more aware, we may be more prepared, we may have better tools to deal with whatever comes next. But we may not. And it’s arrogant to forget that. We may be cavalier, joking about how the next big one will drive down housing costs, and we may put together our emergency kits and go over our evacuations drills at work. We do that to be ready, but we won’t truly know what it’s like, or how to act until it happens. The repetition of things beforehand? That is so we don’t have to think about what to do and we can just act.
San Francisco is undoubtedly an amazing place to call home. I consider myself fortunate to be able to. I never get tired of the views, of the ocean, or the bridges, or the characters that populate this place. At least, those that remain. But when people ask, am I telling them or reassuring myself? Am I in a bad relationship with the city I call home? Is this really a good place for me? Is this really a good place for anyone? But then you turn the block, look out over Outer Richmond, and catch the tops of Golden Gate and remember. You see the city from Alameda and it looks like a mirage. Perhaps it is. It certainly doesn’t feel like a real place at times. This city has you questioning why you live here and remembering why you love it in the span of one block. It might not be as foggy as they tell me it used to be, but the city still has an ethereal quality, blanketed in fog, with fog horns for white noise some nights if you live in Inner Richmond like me. If I keep telling myself how wonderful it is, perhaps I will believe it too.
I’m about to begin my third year here. It feels like half the people I’ve met have already moved or will be moving soon, half I barely see. It feels like I haven’t met that many people at all. Every year, it gets just a little bit more taxing to try to get to the shows I want to go to and make everything else work. Living by yourself is great, but I spend more time alone than you probably realize, though we have technology that ameliorates that these days at least. I love San Francisco, but city has its own problems, deep, creaking faults beneath its superficial charms. It feels like those things are never going to change, not when we have people seriously considering the idea of a moratorium on market-rate housing in the Mission, not as we continue to fight over a few street parking spaces that get in the way of making biking much more appealing and safe on Polk Street, not as we idly dream of a second trans-bay tube that’s 30 years away at best if it happens at all. Besides, I am not getting any younger, and my priorities as an individual shift as well. It isn’t just a pecuniary consideration. At what point does this city no longer have enough to hold me? At what point is the cost of living here too high beyond the rent?
As I begin my third year, I wonder if that would be better anywhere. Many of my issues are not place-specific. I feel constant stress about changing anything in my life, and you might too if you are trans and you are in a good situation in a lot of ways. I have found the thirties somewhat trying as my life has diverged from many of my friends because I do not have kids and I still like to go out on a Tuesday night. I had those same problems in Saint Paul, too. As much as I love San Francisco, it cannot solve problems like that. This is one of the best places for me to be professionally. But I still wonder, is it the big one I should worry about? Or is it all the little shifts that are constantly happening that I don’t notice as much? It’s not the earthquake you have to worry about anymore, it’s the notice of rent increase from your landlord, the eviction that turns your place into an Airbnb, the loss of any amount of income that allows most of us to maintain the tenuous balance we call living here, the loss of friends that help make a place something more than coordinates. Most of us aren’t prepared for that, no matter how much we’d like to think it. Every day here feels like it’s April 17, 1906. Until suddenly it’s April 18, 1906.