sky view of city during sun set

San Francisco Days, San Francisco Nights (blog post)

My days take the usual round of gentle yoga when I can manage it, as soon as I wake up. I go make a cup of tea, eat the dreaded infernal banana which is my usual morning fare, and pad back to my bed, where I have a lap desk and my notebook computer. I might read the news if I am feeling masochistic, or peer at twitter and see what is interesting the masses today. Sometimes it is something utterly strangely, even grossly unexpected. Yesterday the words #supercum splashed over the screen. I was not in the mood for such shenanigans.

2023 is a cold year so far. We are still enduring unseasonably cold days, and nights where the heating needs to go on. May has been wetter than usual. I used to joke that I only needed an umbrella one day a year in San Francisco. There is usually a lot of fog, but not much rain. This year I am onto my third umbrella, and it is getting tiresomely usual to look at the window to a Seattle-esque drizzle instead of the glorious California sun. I dream of heading south to L.A. or San Diego sometimes, and baking myself by a pool in some hacienda-style motel. I am chilled down to the bone, which is not helpful for someone in the throes of autoimmune arthritis. I need a day of heat to defrost somewhat, and perhaps loosen up a little.

By the time it is bedtime I stumble to bed like a tin soldier who has been left out in the rain to rust. It takes time to fold myself in half in order to sit back down, swing my legs up and very gingerly stretch out under the covers. Can’t lay on the right side because my shoulder is so arthritic and it feels as if it is collapsing in on itself. The left side never feels right and besides, that hip hurts. At this grand old middle age I have somehow reached I now have to change my style of sleeping. I have taken to propping myself up with two pillows and sleeping on my back. This new indignity and discomfort has made me a little dismayed. I miss curling up into a ball and putting the covers over my head like I have always done since I first made my appearance in this world. The little things this disease is taking away from me are almost as painful as the big things.

I struggle to get out and do stuff. I had to go and fix some official business. It meant an entire day doing very stressful bureaucratic dances with people who hate their jobs, detest the world and really really don’t much enjoy dealing with problems like me. I had to take a walking stick in order to be able to do it. People look at you differently when you use a stick to walk and you tremble as you move. I can’t help it. I have a bit of a tremor when I walk. It feels as if someone is pouring boiling water over my leg. It is ‘just’ the connective tissue disease doing its thing, but still, that does not make it hurt less. The pity and the curiosity in people’s eyes is very unpleasant to me. I usually stomp around in my big ole black boots, dynamic and striding. Now I hobble and have to lean on my son’s arm. I feel faint and dizzy very easily, which means having to sit down or fall down. It also means having to ask someone who is able and seated if they would not mind giving up their seat. Trust me, a lot of people don’t want to do that and simply ignore me.

I am glad I decided not to do the weekly chemotherapy. I would not be able to do anything at all. The side effects, at least for me, were far too extreme. There was no point to having a life spent so very unwell from the treatment. Getting used to this new normal is tough on anyone, but for me, with my extreme taste for freedom and independence, it is outrageously challenging. Of course, after my day trip to fix some stuff was over, it laid me up in bed for the following days. I could not do anything. I couldn’t write, I couldn’t lift my head. Making it to the bathroom was like walking to the moon. I have had a very upsetting few days. I’m barely eating, and the pain was horrendous. I ‘think’ I might be feeling a bit better today – hence the blog post and the fact I am actually sitting up and not in tears. How pathetic for me, eh? The wanderer, the traveler, the fucking outlaw reduced to weeping in her bed.

I did, however read the news a little while I was out for the count. Apparently San Francisco is a ‘zombie town’ in the midst of a retail apocalypse. A few overpriced shops have closed down – who goes to Ray Ban store anywhere, when online prices are so much better? In fact who goes to these shops that have to pay outrageous rents to the Westfield Center and these big Union Square locations, in a major recession, and pay more than they have to? The push to make everyone use the absolutely useless Muni public travel system is not helping. The number of times I have stood waiting for a bus only for it to ignore me and drive right on by! The expense of it – by far the best way to travel is on the streetcars. They are safe, they are open to the outside world, unlike the buses which feel like you are taking your life in your hands every time you get on one, and they are fast. They are also $8 a trip. There should be concessions for locals. We should not have to pay the same price as tourists taking a pleasure trip! It is impossible for cars to park anywhere except the underground parking lots, and it is way too expensive even then.

The world is undergoing a shopping culture change. Malls, and physical shopping are dying. Everyone goes online for the best prices. Shopping is no longer a day out, a way to spend time, and that is especially true in a recession like this. The issue is not San Francisco per se, the issue is global and as a result of everything going online, and the rise of Amazon. San Francisco is undergoing a cultural change – the tech money is leaving fast, no one is shopping in person, people do not want to use the Muni, especially after the pandemic. Now there are a bunch of maskless people coughing and to be frank, San Francisco has a mental health crisis which is going totally unaddressed, but are not all major cities struggling in similar ways, it is just that the right wing press like to pick on San Francisco for our progressive views. In my opinion we are not progressive enough.

The overdose rates are rising thanks to closing down harm reduction locations. The National Guard and the Highway Patrol on the streets made a noticeable difference for a week or so, but now it has settled back down to the usual parade of suffering. People cannot be scared into sobriety and if one area is cracked down on, then the dealers just move onto a different tactic to avoid the cops. The drug problem can only be solved with compassion and pragmatism. The war on drugs is for show only at this point – it was lost. Now it is a war the the powers that be are waging on their own people, the people who are suffering the most and it makes me incredibly sad. The politicians are not stupid, but they do play to the lowest common denominator – those people who really don’t understand anything except judgement and punishment, and we already know that doesn’t work.

This period in our City’s history is like a rebirth of the City. We lost who we were to some extent when tech decided to make this their home. All this uproar, with the offices going unused and retail space sitting empty thanks to a change that was precipitated to a certain extent by the pandemic will settle down. These buildings and areas will simply have to be repurposed and reimagined. Greedy landlords who charge retailers a fortune for space they don’t need, since everyone wants to buy online, are going to have to understand that prices must fall. Rents in general need to fall, at least as much as food prices have risen dramatically. I wonder if we will see a dying away of all the materialistic wealth and a flowering of a new arts and music scene? I wonder if San Francisco can really get back to the garden and be the progressive, compassionate place that is is at heart. I hope I live to see people with flowers in their hair walking down Polk Street once more, and the young and vibrant making this beautiful City on the Bay about people living their lives authentically and with joy. In the meantime things are going to get bumpy.

I am glad I didn’t take the opportunity to leave, for better or worse this is home. Fleeing the changes, and yes, the occasional scary incident, and the upheaval, and moving north would not have made me happy. I belong here and so does the Boy. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same forever, but I truly hope that this is where I get to live for the rest of whatever I have left, which hopefully is longer than expected.

I would like to take a trip to the zoo. I wonder if I could do it if I rented a wheelchair for the day. I think I am probably too weak to manage it otherwise. I think I would also like to go to see the gardens in Golden Gate Park. I am going to try, try, try and do a few things I want to do and pace myself. Life goes on, after all, whether I stop or not and for now I would very much like to come along for the ride.

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