I joined the line at Blue Bottle in Mint Plaza in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood at 8:40 a.m., on the dot. Despite the early hour, the temperature was already in the eighties. The light and sky were big and empty in the way that the light and sky are only in the West. When I moved here, in the nineties, everyone used to debate whether or not “SOMA” was a real thing. Once largely empty warehouses and live-work lofts, it’s now full of excellent restaurants and soaring apartments and there’s even a Whole Foods on 4th street, and so, we’ve all arrived at the conclusion that it does in fact exist in some sort of definite spatial sense.
Soon enough, my visitor from Los Angeles arrived. He wore a suit jacket and a densely woven shirt with french cuffs. Cufflinks. He didn’t wear a belt on his black jeans, and I assumed that it was intentional; it was a good look. Mint Plaza used to be a desperate little shit-squat of an alley. But it’s nice now. It has a long line of chairs that no one uses, and it’s literally in the shadow of Jack Dorsey’s old flat. Just across Mission Street, nearly within eyesight, is the Chronicle building, where the paper was published before it presumably went out of business a few years ago.
We ordered two iced coffees and two orders of poached eggs over toast. I paid. With tax and tip, it came to slightly more than $26. Blue Bottle has a few tables outside—perhaps only when the weather is nice since I’ve certainly never noticed them before—and so we sat in the sun. My visitor was staying at the W, where, he said, the cocksuckers were charging him some $640 a night for a bed and a flatscreen. Can you imagine? Have you been to the W? Sure, it’s okay, but it’s basically the Marriott with better shampoo. If you come to San Francisco, skip the flowers in your hair and definitely bypass the W.
As we sat in the intense California sun, I watched a teardrop of sweat swell on my visitor’s forehead. I could feel my own brow beading up. (Oh my God. You can’t believe what the weather is like here right now. Even now, 12 hours later, as I sit on the steps of my Ocean Beach apartment writing this letter and drinking a beer in the moonlight, it’s still blowjob temperature. Normally, you can’t go outside in San Francisco at night, or even during the day, because it is consistently chilly. But not today. Not tonight.)
We talked about Los Angeles, and we talked about San Francisco.
Los Angeles is rising again. It is the most American of cities, and maybe our last great city, given the spoil of New York and San Francisco, and Chicago’s mean winter. Everyone worth a goddamn is moving there. Only the hangers-on, too slow to realize what has already passed them by, are sticking around elsewhere. You can still find a comparatively reasonably-priced home—an entire home—even in hotspots like Los Feliz or Silverlake. And then there are always the hills and canyons. But if enough refugees flee there, who knows, maybe it will end up in a miserable state too.
San Francisco, on the other hand; San Francisco is all train jumpers.
Is it really happening, he wanted to know, is the city really emptying itself of the middle class? Will it really let itself become a city of the very rich and the very poor?
I wish I could repeat his exact words, but I can’t, because there was a front-end loader next to us tearing up the street—but first, it had to change out its dump bucket. This took about ten minutes, and it was exceptionally loud, making it hard to hear. Yet also impressive, given the complexity of the task.
The thing about San Francisco is that nobody will tell you when you have a bad idea.
I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant to say.
The thing about San Francisco is that someone or something is always vying for your attention. The guy handing you a flyer for something you don’t want. The cyclist ringing her bell at you as she blows through the stop sign. The rattle of Muni. The homeless, everywhere the homeless, San Francisco’s great intractable shame. And something is always under construction—I mean, other than houses.
It can be very hard to focus on any one thing here. I had to cup my hand to my ear to hear what my visitor had to say. We sat there in the sun, creatures of warmth and youth. And it was good.
(Well, mostly good. Our breakfast was repeatedly interrupted by the homeless, who kept asking us for money. Or at least two of them did. The third person to interrupt us wasn’t clearly homeless—he was both clean-shaven and wore clean clothes. He had light colored Levi’s on, in fact. Dad jeans, I’d say, and a nice, if casual, shirt. He pointed at my visitor’s plate as he walked past us, and asked if we were finished eating, which of course we were at this point. We were just sort of lounging before going back to work. When my visitor said yes he was, this stranger, who looked like me and my father and your father and everyone’s father picked up the half-eaten toast with the half eaten egg on top and thanked us and walked off down the street sating his appetite and we were both a bit taken aback by it all. Shocked, even. Can you imagine eating another man’s eggs? I am a father myself.)
It’s a funny time here. Half-eaten plates of charcuterie left on the table. Last week, my family and I were evicted from the apartment we have lived in for nearly four years, and now we have fewer than sixty days to find a new place to live. My landlord wants to sell. Who can blame him? Times are fat. If you own property or vestments, it’s a great time to be here. And I just can’t stress enough how nice the weather is here these days. Which is what I told my visitor, too. He’d picked a good time to come up.