One must pity the poor little rich city of San Francisco
Dear San Francisco,
My heart breaks for you. Please accept my thoughts and prayers. Depending on which media you read, you are now in collapse, having become either a “hellhole” or a “Third World” city. The Washington Post declared you dead (headline: “San Francisco Broke America’s Heart”), and even the Chronicle says you’re a “mess. ” The summer’s best movie involves the departure of your “last black man.”
And here’s what may be worst about the crisis: other Californians look at you — and your beauty and success — and can’t understand what’s so wrong. Your hell is so new and different that we can’t sympathize with it.
Take your wealth. You
are among the richest cities on the planet, which residents of Coalinga or Compton might see as a good thing. But they don’t understand how much that costs you. You can never build enough houses for all the wealthy people who want to live there. And you fail to build enough housing for those who clean up after the wealthy.
As your poorer residents leave, you must look with great envy upon Bakersfield and Fresno, and wish you could be as real as they are. I don’t mean to diminish those poor cities’ struggles, but San Franciscans must endure the far greater difficulty of living among 42 billionaires, who use you as a petri dish for their save-theworld plans — artificial intelligence, eternal life, digital currencies.
These are hardly your only maladies. Your status as one of this country’s healthiest cities — with all those vegetables, exercise opportunities, and universal health care — creates expectations for impossible perfection. I can’t imagine the pressure of knowing that you have no excuse for turning into a fat slob. And when you travel to other parts of this bloated country in your stringy, kombucha-fueled bodies, you must feel so desperately out-of-touch.
Yet that feeling is nothing compared to the headpounding suffering you experience when you must choose from the myriad options for recreation, spiritual sustenance, and culture. I mean, say you want to go to the park, and your choices are Golden Gate, Dolores, and Presidio — who wouldn’t suffer a mental breakdown if forced pick just one of those glorious public spaces?
It’s only natural that, confronting choices and pressures incomprehensible to other Americans, you seek solace in nostalgic celebration. You’re positively obsessed with official and media remembrances of your good old days — you know, when City Hall hosted dramatic assassinations, when you birthed strange serial killers and terrible cults and the AIDS plague, and when Dirty Harry represented a San Francisco of 100-plus homicides a year. These days, a mere 50 people are murdered each year — leaving you more people to house while contributing to your deficit of urban authenticity.
Despite all the strains of your current crises, you keep taking on more powers and more responsibility. Your ever-growing tech companies now hold sway over billions of lives that bear little resemblance to your own. And in an era when politics is poison, you are ingesting far too much — consuming the House speakership, the governorship, and soon, judging by Kamala Harris’ performance in the Democratic debate, the presidency. Under the weight of all that influence, you may have to confront your inconsistencies, not in the privacy of your 49-square-mile peninsula but in front of the whole world.
If you complain about all the headaches of power, no one cares. You just sound like those movie stars who tell glossy magazines how hard it is to be a movie star.
Just as you stand atop the world, you’ve developed a case of vertigo worse than the one Jimmy Stewart had in that Hitchcock movie!
Sometimes when I think of you, I remember the song “Poor Little Rich Girl,” as recorded by Tony Bennett, whose heart keeps a rent-controlled apartment in San Francisco.