The Terrible Truths About San Francisco

San Francisco is, alas, not a city. It is a large, filthy village. Not many people live here. BART — the train that connects this podunk town to other podunk towns in what's called The Bay Area — stops running at midnight. At midnight, yes, that's right.

Restaurants close at around 9; they'll kick you out if you're still eating come 10.

Did I mention that this city is filthy? And I mean not just filthy but fetid. It's all the moisture in the air coupled with the astronomical homeless population: it breeds the most grotesque disease. The Bubonic Plague is back — in SF. I'm not kidding.

It's not a friendly city. As it is overrun with 26 year olds, it has that very particular post-collegiate angst. People go out in cliques. Rarely are these cliques penetrated. In my brief time in LA, everywhere I went, people would look up to see....if I was a star. Still, they actually made eye contact. Not in SF. Lord knows what might happen should you lock eyes with a stranger. (Now try being a single guy. In SF, the women prefer online dating to real space encounters. Eeesh.)

The whole city is organized like a college campus with its egregious sororities and fraternities. Somehow, if you live in a certain neighborhood, it means you are a type — a Marina girl, a Mission hipster, a Noe Valley yuppie (which is ironic as the new SF hipsters are the new yuppies — they don't work for banks, as they did in the 80s; they work for Apple — corporate lackies who party).

The thing about 26 year olds is that they feel like they're the first to discover whatever it is they've discovered. Raw food! French press coffee! Pho! While I enjoy the excitement they feel at their discovery, their self-righteousness undoes said enjoyment.

Of course, I came here 20 years ago, when I was 21 and it was amazing — cheap and filled with freaks. Now it's freakishly expensive and all those young 'uns? They work for Google (or Apple or Yahoo or Genetech; there is an endless parade of corporate buses barreling up and down Guerrero headed to or from the Peninsula on a daily basis).

Don't get me wrong. There are some things to love about this city. The sky, for instance, is fucking amazing — impossibly close and ever aswirl. And the ocean is right there. And, yes, there is a lot of good coffee. A lot. It's silly, in fact, how much good coffee there is — and each shop is owned and managed by those 26 year olds. And the food: I can get locally grown, organic produce, meat, and cheese on nearly any corner of the city. That is amazing and not to be taken for granted.

But, fuck, it's such a socially and culturally limited town that it distracts itself with 10 million breeds of kale and an equal number of coffee roasteries. If we keep eating, maybe we won't notice that we live in a filthy village of anxiety riddled 20-somethings.

Ah, maybe I'm just a curmudgeon. Maybe I've outgrown this dirty playground. Thing is, I'm stuck here. Suddenly, I feel like Joseph Garcin.


what the Tee Vee taught said...

It's certainly a city (I'm using a definition taken from Derrick Jensen: a way of life requiring the importation of resources)... and that's largely why it will always be dead — like all cities, they create death in order to survive: the terminal vampire.

And Garcin? Hey Zeus! You've made it! Well, you can either get on with it... or get on with it. There might be a 3rd possibility (but I suspect it might look like the first two).

If you accept that you're stuck now, that's fine: whatever. But that 48 pound force of nature will triple in size soon enough... so you best get your body enveloped in a real move. Put that Houellebecq away (good as it is, it will overstay it's welcome) and wake the fuck up, eh?

dg said...


: a densely populated usually urban area marked by crowding, dirty run-down housing, poverty, and social disorganization.

What you're describing sounds about halfway to the above. I know it's weird, but I'm fascinated by the reaction of the Anglo-American to his/her gradual impoverishment.

Enjoy your blog.

Daniel Coffeen said...

TV: I am not sure I share you aversion to the urban. I like the proximity and intimacy of strangers — to a degree. I like the whiff of the erotic. San Francisco, alas, is not really a city in other senses than the one you prescribe: it has no adults. It's a weird version of Lord of the Flies only rather than running wild, they run to Google.

dg: SF is not densely populated. It has a small population. For some reason, people imagine it to be a major American city but, alas, it is not. It's a provincial town with a lot of homeless and coffee.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

I know you don't, I'm attempting to push you there.

But I would suggest that (as I throw this one against the wall) there are no strangers in the city: everybody is so fucking obvious — just a bunch of humans, sporting similar look, similar ideas, and the same shitty spirit: the city does this to us.

Now, head out into nature... and then it gets weird. Scary. The city has no surprises (at least not for me). The city is just dead — busy, sure... but dead.

And, taking drugs in the city is awful.

You enjoy yourself, Coffeen.

drwatson said...

It's interesting that people from small, country southern towns, like myself, often think of SF and Berkeley as some bastion of free-thinking, wonderfulness. The county I live in is named after Robert E Lee and growing up a left leaning, wannabe intellectual it always felt confining. Like if only I get around people like me - then everything will be better. But I went to college at a "hippy" college in the mountains and after a few years, even though I loved, absolutely loved the place, the hippies started to be unbearable - all the mystique had worn off. I found myself starting to love the way the people from my hometown lived, talked, and thought. Even though I tend to disagree with lots of their thoughts. I'm not sure that makes sense exactly. The southern thing, as the Drive by Truckers explained well on their album Southern Rock Opera is a duality - if not a triality or a quadality or whatever we want to call it.

Lauren said...

Why do adults make a city? Maybe this is more a question of why 26 year olds are not adults. I don't think they are. But why should that define San Francisco as a non-city?

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ Lauren: I didn't mean to imply a causal relationship. SF is not a city because it's tiny and more or less culturally bereft. It has an incredibly provincial mindset — it is not diverse, it does not teem with difference, not culturally, politically, racially, nationally, etc.

26 year olds — for the most part — in our culture are still adolescents. They are ardent in their ways — vegan or die! democrat or die! When I say "adult," I mean people who are self-possessed, not self-righteous; I mean people who understand that the world is complex, that life changes.

Is it possible that because SF is so young, it remains so provincial in its thinking, so culturally limited? Partially, probably.

All this said, there is much to enjoy is 26 year olds. I just wish there were some adults in this goofy village.

Lauren said...


I remember you mentioning in class, several years ago, that you weren't interested in seeking the new through travel or change in situation- that you wanted to discover the new in your neighborhood bar, in the same streets you walk every day. I'm not sure if you even remember saying that, but it stood out to me because the idea in and of itself struck me as so difficult to put into practice. Difficult, but worthy of exploration.

I guess I'm wondering-do you still feel this way? Or has the dirty playground managed to grind you down?

Daniel Coffeen said...

That IS a great idea — very generous, very joyful. Perhaps, as I say, I've become a curmudgeon.

But the city has changed; my neighborhood changed. The influx of money has done what money does: it homogenizes everything. So now all the restaurants in the Mission look the same — $21 hamburgers.

So methinks it's a combination of a) my defeat; and b) the changing landscape.

I will say this: I moved out of the Mission and I love having a different view of the city, literally.

Are you enjoying SF?

Lauren said...

Yes, I enjoy. But at the same time, I don't know if I'm fully satisfied by San Francisco. I'm still getting to know this city and I'm not ready to make any formal declarations of my feelings yet.

Which neighborhood have you moved yourself to? I'm trying to imagine (pigeonhole?)

Daniel Coffeen said...

Ambivalence is a fine response, methinks. And I live in no man's land known as outer Mission or Mission Terrace....all residential. What does that tell you about me?

W. Kasper said...

This is a theme I've been seeing a lot these days. I'm writing from the UK, but maybe it's not so much what 'everyone' is like in given areas, as much as who's 'visible' in most major cities? Definitely a class/wealth/property thing:


The media and marketing depts may largely be 'speaking' to the types you describe, especially over the past decade. Or maybe it really is that conformist in the US.