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Published: March 7th 2008
Crossing the Pacific from Bali to the Bay area gave me a 1st of March lasting for 40 hours, courtesy of flying through the International Date Line. Sadly, the majority of (literally) the longest day of my life was spent in transit, however it did give me time to ponder how Taiwan's Taipei airport could have the best wifi I've ever encountered yet the national carrier China Airlines could only provide an in-flight entertainment system seemingly from the 1970s, with just one screen in each aircraft section.
My previous visit to San Francisco had been at the tail end of 2004, a 10 day comprehensive tourist tramp through the city which, in conjunction with an all-too-brief 3 day trip to Yosemite Valley, had convinced me that one day I'd like to live there. The mild year-round climate looked perfect on paper, backed up by the empirical evidence of crisp sunny days under a glorious blue sky during my stay.
On price grounds, this time I'd chosen a hotel in the infamous Tenderloin neighbourhood, an area with a murky reputation stretching back to days when policemen had been paid extra to walk its violent streets, thus enabling them to afford
the better cut of meat that gave the district its name. Whatever it may have been in the past, now it seems merely seedy, patrolled by a staggering and shuffling street population of homeless and drunks. It was hard to imagine coming to harm at the hands of these muttering unfortunates, pushing their cartfuls of belongings past the corner stores, adult DVD shops, and dingy bars.
The future of the Tenderloin will no doubt lie in gentrification. To the north, the heights of Nob Hill contain some of the city's plushest real estate, with the wealth gradient between these two areas producing a blurred, upwardly-mobile boundary lovingly called the Tendernob. Heading east, the quality of the hotels improves steadily, and a 15 minute walk took me from my current 2 star lodgings, past a boutique hotel I'd stayed in on my previous visit when I was a member of the ranks of the employed, to the $300+ per night hipness of the Clift.
Despite Starship's assertions to the contrary, San Francisco's origins lie in the gold rush of the mid-19th century. The city grew rapidly with the wealth generated by both mining and subsidiary industries, such as that
started by a certain Mr Levi Strauss. The last 20 years have seen a similar boom, stoked by the tech giants making their paper billions in Silicon Valley and the vicinity. Real estate prices rival New York's, which maybe has helped prevent the overcrowded feel of the latter city.
San Francisco has a reputation for liberalism that seems incongruous given that it lies in a state currently governed by Arnie. The hippie manifesto of the '60s has waned in prominence (Haight-Ashbury contained less evidence of a counter-cultural vibe than Nimbin or Byron Bay), but the city still has a progressive air - during my visit, the Supreme Court of California was debating whether or not the ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, an issue that must be wearily frustrating to same-sex couples who see the divorce rate for opposite-sex marriages.
Not surprisingly, San Francisco is also a Democrat stronghold, with Bush polling only about 20% of the vote at the 2004 presidential election. My previous visit had coincided with this moment in American history. Playing pool in a late-night bar with a friend, we'd seen the early results coming in from around the country, with an unfolding sense
of disbelief that the pollsters had been so wrong. Whatever the outcome of the 2008 election, at least America will have a president who can string 2 words together in a coherent fashion. Bush's rise to become the most powerful person in American politics was highly instructive to me when I was working in an American corporation, as it helped to explain why there were so many morons in positions of responsibility in my own firm.
It was dangerous of me to come to San Francisco when I still have further travels ahead. Of all the places I've seen in my life, it and Seattle are by far the most appealing in terms of where I'd like to live next. Strolling the Hispanic quarters of the Mission, watching armies of pram-pushing mothers jogging fiercely along the Marina, dodging the crazy cyclists on the Golden Gate Bridge, and roaming the various neighbourhoods whose street plan so defiantly and brilliantly ignores the topography, I felt pangs for a settled existence that I haven't felt in a while. There's a comprehensive infrastructure I only appreciate more after seeing some of the world's other offerings over the last couple of years. Even though
my appetite has clearly declined recently - I barely managed one slice at the Cheesecake Factory, whereas my previous visit had encompassed nearly two (and a close brush with vomiting) - I wouldn't mind the chance to work my way through a chunk of the city's many and diverse restaurants. And people's friendliness and enthusiasm is by no means the least of San Francisco's charms.
Sadly, I'm unlikely to be living here any time soon. Even without my South American plans, there's the small matter of getting a visa to live and work here. For a country originally built on immigrants (and with California especially being a state that would die without its immigrants, illegal or otherwise), it's extraordinarily tough to just move here. Being fingerprinted and photographed as you come through immigration is one indication that you're only allowed in on sufferance. Even large employers looking for specialised skills can not easily circumvent the constraints on work visas that were introduced after 9/11.
Fortunately working is not in my immediate future so I'll worry about this another time. Next up was a flight to New York, where I'd be meeting with various friends and then using up
a few more of the airmiles kindly donated by my previous employer to jet down to Buenos Aires.
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