San Francisco & The New Normal

San Francisco

As if mood dictates the city I want to see when I step outside my door I see two different sides to San Francisco. If I am feeling fearful and doubting my decision to move back to the city after so long I see the homeless people lying crumpled along the side walk. I see the garbage that blows down the street as I walk along it. If I am happy I see the cafes full of people laughing. I see tourist in groups of five. The mother, the father and three kids varying in age. The kids are fighting and pushing each other as the parents exasperated try to cross the crowded streets near Union Square.

The homeless population is what touches my heart the most. These are not the homeless people I remember from my past as a Product Manager at Bank of America when I worked on the corner of Van Ness and Market. Then, I took the BART train to the Civic Center Station where I was met by dozens of homeless people as this is the base of the Tenderloin District where many lived in hotels or on the street. But, those homeless people were different. The homeless people I remember would interact with you, they would ask for food, or a cigarette and of course money. They would try to sell you stuff, they would not leave you alone, they would chase you down the street until you thankfully disappeared behind the thick glass doors of your office building. Engulfed by security guards and a large bank of elevators during the day it would start all over again at 5 p.m. I would see them around the city in different neighborhoods, but they had their own groups, and their own ecosystem of support.

One morning I come across a boy with strawberry blond hair. He is in his twenties alone and asleep outside of the entrance to Bloomingdales on Mission Street. He’s face down wearing one shoe. I stop and stand over him. He was just barely breathing. I look at him and wonder if his mother knows where he is and if she is looking for him? I am sure she is. I walk along and think that all of these people living on the street have at least five people wondering where they are tonight; mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and children. Many of these people are addicted to drugs. The free love era of the 1960’s is at the root of the drug tolerance of the city today. In the 1960’s it was acceptable to take all the drugs you wanted to take. They were mostly innocuous then, but now, fentanyl is on the rise and it alone killed 700 homeless people in 2020. For comparison Covid-19 killed 261 that year. This is not the 1960s. This is something entirely different.

The homeless people rarely speak to me. Many don’t even know I exist. They are often young and alone. They sit silently along the street as I walk by which in it’s own way is much worse than the alternative of being bothered by them.

When I am happy I see the gorgeous architecture of St. Patrick Church where I am now attending mass. I sit in the pew looking at the green marble imported from Ireland in 1855. This church survived the earthquake and the fires of the early 1900’s. In a city with problems such as these, it is ironic that this historic Catholic Church that has seen so much of the history of San Francisco would be thriving and full of people. They are even raising money to replace the flooring and are selling raffle tickets. The elderly women that sell them even take Venmo. It’s peaceful inside with the original stain glass windows and statues of all the saints from my childhood including Saint Ann. Afterward, I walk down to the Ferry Building and look at the colorful produce lined up outside and the tourists that sit eating oysters along the waterfront. A sailboat goes by reinforcing my belief that this iconic city is the most beautiful in the world and it too will also have a second and better chapter.

Moving is interesting in that you are confronted with your worst fears. In this next chapter all of the choices that I make are mine alone. In a marriage there are joint decisions, later decisions based on the wellbeing of the children. Choosing to return to San Francisco with so many economic and social problems was my choice alone.

Moving is also messy. You are forced to confront all of your own blind spots. The unfinished projects and years of mindless living fills the drawers, cabinets and closets with things you do not use, need or want. You realize how little you actually do need. I brought very little with me here, and still it is too much. Like packing a suitcase; you pack and then subtract again by half, and then again.

What I did notice when I moved was that I chose to bring with me many things that people had given to me as gifts. When making a choice of divesting myself of random things like coffee cups, serving platters, and books. I choose what had been a given to me. These useful items came with the added benefit of a happy memory. I have the platter gifted to me by a grade school friend for my birthday one year, Japanese bowls from another friend, coffee table books from another friend, and of course the many gifts from my children.

On other good days I see the way the light touches the glass buildings and they twinkle in the distance. I can feel the energy of the city and see all of the opportunity it offers to anyone willing to work hard. I live near the offices of Yahoo, Twitter, and Sales Force. Living in the city makes me feel that I am in the center of the world in terms of innovation. My neighbors work for these companies. Most are young and on the rise. They are also painfully polite. My building is quiet and I am surprisingly happy and comfortable here.

A few weekends ago, I staffed the US Open qualifier for the Olympics at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. I sat on the beach there and checked the kite racers in and out. There is no place more beautiful. Children run through the soft white sand and couples sit with their picnics. I was lucky enough to have my daughter Siena with me. We sat on the breaker wall with snacks and met all of the racers. It was truly an amazing day. In my twenties I would run along these paths and through Chrissy Field then return to my Russian Hill flat with an unobstructed view of the bridge.

San Francisco has always had a juxtaposition of the good and the bad like most cities. I came here because I wanted to make a difference. There is opportunity and many directions my life can take now. The people on the streets make me want to be an activist again and use my political background to drive positive change. I think that would be a very brave thing for me to do. There is a new term called a Portfolio Career, where you do different things with your life professionally simultaneously. I think this is something I have always done, but it didn’t have a name. There is an article in the Harvard Business Review called Why You Should Build a Career Portfolio and not a Career Path by Anne Rinne that is useful to those who are charting their own new course. As I continue to navigate this next chapter of my life I can see myself doing many different things, but as always the most important thing for me to do is to make a positive impact.

Love and blessings to all.

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