By Kristen Hines
I visited San Francisco for the first time six years ago in July 2010.
I like to immerse myself in a new city the first time I visit. About two weeks — long enough to move through the five stages of grief for the reluctant traveller: bargaining (mostly at the airport), unfounded overconfidence in one’s navigational abilities, rage, eating and, finally, acceptance.
This initial immersion, while intense, makes subsequent trips much easier and more enjoyable. I learned a lot about San Francisco on that first visit and, when I returned for a long weekend this past June, I noticed how much had changed … and hadn’t. Here’s what I observed.
My first visit happened during the Oscar Grant trial, in which a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer was charged with second-degree murder for shooting the unarmed Grant while he was being restrained at Oakland’s Fruitvale station early on New Year’s Day 2009. This case received so much profile because of the numerous BART passengers who recorded cell-phone video of the incident.
I unknowingly rode the BART through Oakland to Berkeley on July 7, 2010, the day of the verdict, and learned of the events surrounding the case from the people who lived them. Grant’s case was influential in the organization of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is now a strong and visible presence in the Bay Area.
On this visit, at 10:00 am on a weekday, my taxi driver told me that I was only his second customer of the day. He gave me his card and offered to drive me to the airport or really anywhere else I needed to go while I was in town. I didn’t need to ask why business was so bad, because … Uber.
I learned of an app called Cabulous while talking to fellow patrons of a new San Francisco restaurant back in 2010 (still open). The app, which no longer exists in its original form, allowed you to track your taxi on its way to pick you up. Cabulous seemed highly innovative at the time, but now just looks like one small element of the infrastructure that makes up Uber. Just replace “your taxi” with “someone with a licence” and add personalized service and seamless payment options to the offering. It’s an appealing alternative to the necessary annoyance of hailing a cab and hella disruptive.
With the latest tech boom, a growing number of long-time residents of the Mission neighbourhood faced eviction under the Ellis Act — the California law that allows a landlord to evict all of their tenants in order to “go out of business.” Technology workers, who are shuttled by their employers to and from the Mission, are often the scapegoats for this complex economic issue.
Whether the evictions are served by overstretched landlords selling their properties to finally cash in on their sole investment, or by those hoping to run a full-time Airbnb hotel, the effects of this displacement on the neighborhood’s character are unmistakable.
My very optimistic Mission tour guide explained that this infiltration hasn’t been all bad. He was adamant that the Mission would not have been tourable 15 years ago. Furthermore, a combination of development restrictions and grassroots opposition are helping to keep gentrification at bay and preserve the character of this vibrant and historic neighborhood.
The spirit of the Castro
Harvey Milk is still looking down from his camera store; he’s literally painted on the front of the building. Like Milk 40 years before, my Castro tour guide left a job in finance and moved thousands of miles to become an LGBTQ-rights activist in San Francisco. The Castro is still proud to let you know that it is the gayest place on Earth.
Thankfully, California food excellence endures. Chez Panisse, badly damaged by fire in 2013, was restored to its former glory, with not a leaf out of place. The dining room serves a multi-course tasting menu that is out of reach for most of us, but the café offers the same quality but with a simplified à la carte menu. This time I had a white pizza with a mild Italian cheese, garlic and bottarga. Shawn had quail with cauliflower gratin and the best peas either of us has ever tasted. We split a strawberry profiterole for desert, which was amazing. I would have taken pictures, which would have guaranteed a more eloquent description of the aforementioned meal, but the menu asks patrons to refrain from doing this.
Apparently, Bay Area residents still love waiting in line for food. And, the rising popularity of Tartine’s award-winning country loaf has only made those lines longer. You can consider attempting the recipe yourself, but know that it’s 38 pages long.
Much of the changes that have taken place in the city since my first visit have been heavily influenced by technology — not surprising for a tech town, or for this time. As yet there appear to be no net gains or loses. Things just appear to re-organize and settle; echoing the very history of the Golden City.