Two years ago I went to San Francisco and it made me feel incredibly small. I called it San Fran, instead of “ess eff,” like the locals want you to. I was precariously employed, I didn’t know what I wanted out of life, and where I lived was not a sparkling gem of a city like San Francisco.
Two years later I returned. Twice. I still wanted to call it San Fran, but was more reluctant because I felt ashamed and utterly uncool. I was reminded of the wealth disparity yet again — and also of my own wealth. The sunsets and ocean views hurt me — because they were clearly not mine to own. And while I knew what I wanted out of life, I didn’t know how to get there.
I watched dogs live a great life, running on Crissy Field on a weekday afternoon. Working remotely in the library, I walked to a banh mi place with good reviews for lunch and ate alongside other office workers. I went to SFMOMA for a stroll after work, like it was just routine.
Being there felt homey, but also incredibly isolating. Having such quick access to the beautiful nature the city had to offer was a blessing, but knowing what it would cost for me to live there was alienating. If I could never pay my way into this place, what good are these sunsets for?
But I chased them anyway, like it was possible for me to bag it up to bring home. I went to see the bridge transform from red to a glistening terracotta in golden hour. I let the sound of waves crashing swim in my ear canal, swirling. I touched my toes to the sand and squealed in equal parts delight and terror when the water came too close. And I sat there, waiting for the sun to descend below the Californian horizon. When it got dark, the waves kept roaring, a reminder that nature has its own course to run.
I recall the city with mixed feelings. Every day it squeezes another person out onto the streets, while I converse about it casually because I have the luxury to do nothing to fix the problem. And every day the sun sets brilliantly against a coastline that is beautiful, but inhuman.