The City

I have become more attuned to the smell of human urine in this city than I have ever had cause or want to be.

It’s a paradox in a lot of ways—San Francisco, California. Silicon Valley. The gleaming jewel of human intellect and innovation. Also—a place where you will walk past human feces, an almost exclusively black/latinx homeless population, and people smoking literal crack—all on the same street. A street mind you, mere blocks from the headquarters of some of the largest and most profitable tech corporations in the world.

Sleek businessmen and airpod wielding millennials traipse by like schools of fish, seeing only their next destination, their next project, their next score. They move above the detritus their industrialization leaves behind, taking no note of the displaced and disenfranchised.  I am eerily reminded of the words of Commander Fred from The Handmaid’s Tale:

“Better never means better for everyone…”

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

I know I’m not being fair. And I am being hyperbolic…kind of. I don’t know anything about the economic demographics of this city. I’ve lived here barely a month and in that time have seen fit to make the trek from Oakland, a place they call The Town, to the bustling metropolis of San Francisco (The City), all of three or four times. But still. Coming from the South, where we know poverty, sure, but not the kind of poverty that allows us to be comfortable walking past a woman and her children on the street, or pretending not to see people begging for food/money in the middle of the farmer’s market…something about this place feels off. Maybe not overtly nefarious. But definitely willfully blind. There’s too much obvious wealth here for the disparity in wealth to also be this obvious. And it’s hard not to notice.

As I enter the city the unease settles around me like a cloak. San Francisco reminds me of New York City in a lot of ways, a place that I have tried desperately to like on more than one occasion, and that instead leaves me jumpy and nervous every time. Everyone is moving, entirely too fast, toward God only knows what.

To thrive here requires a certain level of complicity, an understanding—that better here,  probably comes at the expense of someone else.

…It always means worse, for some.

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

2 Comments

  1. Matt Luedke

    This post is so true in so many ways. The economic inequality in SF is tragically enormous. I moved here in part because of the city’s historical reputation for being a place accepting of all people, but it turns out that acceptance now costs more money than most people have.

    And, sadly, SF residents’ behavior does veer towards the “overtly nefarious” section of the spectrum: https://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/Residents-file-lawsuit-against-Embarcadero-14086507.php

    I love this: “the unease settles around me like a cloak.” It *should* feel unsettling but sometimes my being here a while sort of makes me used to it in a twisted way I don’t like. So a fresh reminder like this post to say “no, this is not normal” is very welcome. Thank you for posting!

    Like

    1. Camryn

      Thank you Matt! The article you posted alludes to a sentiment I intuited but didn’t want to call out point blank.

      I’m always wary of casting judgement on situations I don’t totally understand, but having someone who’s lived here a while acknowledge the disparity and agree with the wrongness is super reaffirming.

      Thanks for reading!!

      Like

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