Jarvis Cocker once stood on the stage of Glastonbury, and sang the immortal words ’cause everybody hates a tourist / Especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh’ and to be frank, I think he was never more correct. Tourists are the scab that forms on summers, taking over vast swathes of the world, using up hotel rooms which should be used to shelter people with no home at all, filling up areas which are quiet all winter, and eating up space and peace like swarms of locusts bent on pleasure. When I was living outside, people with homes to go to took up every single camping space available all summer long, pushing us out into parking lots and rest areas, while their homes stood empty and they decadently stood in ours.
When the pandemic hit the tourists even flooded the little coastal towns where we stayed, and swarmed our grocery shops, stripping them of toilet paper and groceries to take back to their inland non-touristy abodes. Some people get all the fat and meat from life…others are barely left the gristle. Now I live in San Francisco, and the pandemic has calmed down, the summer has brought the tourists in. The Pier is packed. The city is groaning under the weight of tourists, and this little enclave of cool beauty on the Bay is hopping. Of course, the tourists don’t make it out as far as the TL, and so my area is the same as it ever was, gritty and suffering, heaving under the weight of addiction, homelessness, and a City which keeps on doing the same thing over and over again, which has not solved the problems before, and never will do. It is the definition of insanity to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result, and San Francisco keeps trying the same old tired thing again and again only to be surprised when it does not work.
You see, I will let you all in on a secret. I first realized this when I spent my first night outside, unhoused. People can’t just disappear. If you move them on, they do not cease to exist. If you sweep them, tell them they have to go, it does not make them be housed, or get off the street that they would love to be away from, but have no home to go to, and no home they can afford. People cannot just disappear. While those tourists sit in their hotel rooms, their homes empty, actual people who live in San Francisco can’t find a place inside to lay their heads.
Of course it is a huge luxury, a massively enjoyable experience to play at being tourist. I have been doing just that for the last few days. I have sat drinking pop in bars, and wandered down to the Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf to push quarters into antique games in the Musee Mechanique. I have sat on the pier with a peach and a cup of tea and watched the ships go by. I have walked miles and miles round the city, to this park and that. I walked up so many hills in these past few days that my legs have turned into cooked spaghetti.
My legs ache, and I have a terrible case of sunburn. I don’t even know how, it has not been hot, yet my skin is the color of a cooked lobster and I am sitting here with aloe and lidocaine on my arms and neck feeling very sorry for myself, and very much like a tourists. Californians don’t get caught out by the sun. San Franciscans don’t go playing down on Fisherman’s Wharf. I never was good at behaving how I was meant to. I suspect people who belong here don’t often go sitting in famous City bars and staring out the window at City Lights with an untouched cola in their hands. I can’t drink booze…well I can…and that is most of the problem, so I don’t. I have not been in a bar in years, but it felt good to do something out of my comfort zone. It felt good to get out there into the city, into the streets and out of my comfort zone, even if I am a forever tourist, even if I don’t even belong.
My serious food allergies mean that I can’t eat or drink outside of the house very easily. So I wander around hungry, clinging onto my travel mug of tea and eating up the scenery like someone who does not live here. I have never felt more at home than I do in San Francisco, but I fear I will never not feel as if I am simply travelling through. The road was my home for so many years, I can’t quite believe it is the only place I belong. Life here feels like a rest, not a permanent solution. I often wonder if it will feel any different, I wonder if I will ever feel like I belong, that I am wanted and that I am settled. I hate tourists, but am condemned to never belong anywhere. I might as well embrace it since it is the way things are. I might as well take that California trip, walk by the palm trees, stare out over the Wharf and wonder at the blueness and beauty of it all.
Being a tourist in my own city has made me feel a little bit more alive again. Leaving my comfort zone, walking to places that I don’t usually see, taking a trip off the beaten track, all of that was good stuff. I guess in the midst of all this upset, judgement, stress and failure there will always be a few good reasons to be a tourist.