When I was a little girl, I would sit for hours in front of the hotel windows in San Francisco inventing stories about the people down below. My favorite was at night, when the streets were almost empty, and I could use a pair of binoculars to invent scenarios for the lone figures still roaming the sidewalks. I loved watching the cars spiral down from the tops of parking garages, the police cars patrolling late at night.
San Francisco was the big city, alive and wild. There were rules for how I walked on the inside of the street and held tight to my dad’s hand. These rules were exciting because they implied a certain danger as I grasped first his hand and then the crook of his elbow, my arm eventually through his as I grew older. Today we still walk those same streets arm-in-arm.
Visiting San Francisco each year to spend the night during the holidays was not just our family tradition through years of less and more, it was also an education in the world around me. Homeless people, transvestites, activists, street performers, doormen– these people were all less visible in my childhood version of Sacramento. Unsurprisingly, San Francisco fascinated me, the nexus of its existence Union Square, my family’s yearly destination.
When finally I was old enough to pick where to live on my own, it had to be San Francisco. In a misguided vision of starting my own sweatshop-free apparel company, I fell into a job managing a national apparel store in the Union Square shopping district. I only lasted two days, my college idealism short-lived when confronted with the realities of folding overpriced sweaters and teaching pretty teenagers to use cash registers for practically minimum wage in a city where renting a converted living room space from a newly-divorced law student cost me $1,100 a month.
Even though my first attempt at Bay Area residency only lasted mere days, there was still one single moment that stood out as one of those moments you hold onto forever. After work the first night, I climbed aboard the MUNI headed toward the Richmond District and found my seat on the crowded bus next to a stranger. It was dark and a group of my younger employees were huddled nearby chatting eagerly. They were stylishly clad in the clothes my company forced them to buy. I was too.
From the window, I could see the St. Francis, the same hotel my dad’s dad would take him to as a child, and where my dad took me and my brother to stare down at the tiny ant people on the street. In that moment, I realized I was one of those very people. I lived in San Francisco and was starting my very own grown-up story.
I was proud of myself for becoming a resident of the city my dad taught me to love. I independently navigated public transportation, just another face through the bus window that a visiting child might wonder about. Of course, that story was not the one I chose to keep. I went back to Sacramento just a couple days later, abandoning a hefty deposit, a disappointing job, and my childhood dream of starting my story in San Francisco. Of course, I returned again, more triumphant in my second round as an economic analyst in Berkeley, but that first round cemented my attachment to the San Francisco of my childhood, to Union Square.
Sitting in my St. Francis hotel room this morning, watching the sun rise over the bay, I could not help but again feel connected to these prior versions of myself. The little girl making up stories from 30 floors above Union Square. The teenager walking arm-in-arm with her dad. The recent college grad riding MUNI home from her first day of work in the big city. I may not live in San Francisco now, but Union Square is still a major part of my story. It’s the yearly destination for my family’s big December Christmas trip, and today the place I sat and reflected on life.
I could not help but think of the future versions of myself that will sit and look out over the same view five years from now, ten, twenty. My story is still unfolding. I’m excited to see what comes next.
I love that city too. I never lived in The City but I did live in the bay, Pleasant Hill and I worked in Palo Alto. San Francisco is a vibrant cosmopolitan place and one of the most beautiful cities of all. Sooooo expensive though. I like you writing. I have just rediscovered your blog. I didn’t know you were an economic analyst. Did you major economics? UC Berkeley? My daughter wants to attend there. 🙂
Yes, very expensive! Part of the reason I’m not sure we’d move back. I majored in international relations and Spanish at Davis, took some econ classes, but mostly got hired because I could write reports. Thanks for the blog compliment. Hope your daughter gets to go to Berkeley! We loved living there!
SF is a GREAT hotel city! My current inamorata lives in Potrero Hill, so once a month I drive the 70 miles up and get a hotel for the weekend. I like the Warwick, it’s not touristy and its a little bit run down but its funky and I like that – the Des Arts is okay too but it’s kind of hipsterish which a hotel should never be. The St Regis is a great location but kind of cold feeling and I love the Mosser. Great location, a little bit funky, a little bit odd and it just has that greasy feeling that the right kind of history gives it. I might try the St Francis one day!
Love the hotel recommendations! We’re always looking for new places. I like the St. Francis because of its sentimental value, but I think it’s a little overpriced and you have to be very specific that you either want to be in the new tower or need a room with natural light and little noise. One of my favorites is the Palace at Christmastime, but we’ve only stayed there once, so no proof it’s consistent.
Never been to SF; it’s on my list, though. Really nice post, Olivia.
Thanks– definitely put it on your list. San Francisco is a beautiful city, (even if I’m obviously biased!).
Love the sticky notes … and this, “somehow grownups.” At the age of 48, I still feel that way.
Maybe that somehow feeling never goes away then 😉
And that’s not a bad thing …
I’m overwhelmed by this story. Having grown up in Berkeley and then working in SF for at least 15 years of my career I truly feel attached to the City and the memories especially memories of my dad who was my hero and my champion. Your writing is magnificent and I’m privileged to know such a wonderful author.
Oh Marcia, your words are too kind. Thank you. I’m glad it connected. Cheers to great dads! I miss you!
I totally had the same view of San Francisco as a kid visiting from Sacramento. I still get a nostalgic feeling every time I visit!
So funny how Sacramento and San Francisco are two such different worlds so close together. I’m grateful we live close enough to enjoy the best of both!
How old are you? Are you elder? I am 25!!! 😦
Yes, I’m ancient. 29.
you must have been a kid for the first 4 years.. or else we are class mates of the same age!!! 😀
Sounds like your Oregon hippies need to take a visit to SF. You got 700+ quality words for NaMoWriMo. Your post makes me see a city so close to me through new eyes. Thank you.
Funny you say that, one of them is definitely from San Francisco! And, yes, time to get to work on NaNoWriMo, I feel a bit behind again, even on my own smaller goal. I’ll catch up though, I hope 😉
I love the sticky notes on the window!!! LOVE!
I live so rurally that a town looks big. We are traveling to the East Coast next week and your pics of San Fran got me good and ready!! 🙂
That kind of rural sounds nice 🙂 Enjoy your trip!
I am the queen of composing many important things on post-its! I absolutely love this entire entry. The imagery is beautiful and I love your honest reflection.
Thanks Katie! So glad we share a love for post-its 😉
Beautifully written! I have so many wonderful childhood memories of San Francisco and have tried to revisit some of my favorite spots over the last few years. This is such a heart-felt post about how our love for a place can evolve as we grow and change. Thank you for sharing it with us!
Thanks for the kind words Jen! San Francisco will always be one of my favorite places on earth. 🙂
[…] view a city. If you’re up for it, you can keep this Bay Area party going by stopping in here and […]