“You guys really love this city don’t you? You know it better than many people who have lived here all their lives”.
Thus spoke the balding young Oakland man with neat goatee beard, with whom my wife and I had struck up a conversation over our eggplant wraps and blueberry smoothies on the outdoor patio of the Progressive Grounds coffee house in the civilised neighbourhood of Bernal Heights one warm June afternoon.
“You’re certainly no tourists – you’re San Franciscans”.
Whilst such a statement would have incurred the wrath of the natives who fiercely proclaim their privileged status on internet forums devoted to the subject, it was, nonetheless, pleasing to hear, especially coming from a lifelong Bay Area resident.
As regular readers of my blog will attest, I invariably turn to Herb Caen, the legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist, for his trusted opinion on such matters. In one of his many ruminations on what made a San Franciscan he said:
I don’t think that place of origin or number of years on the scene
have anything to do with it really. There are newcomers who
become San Franciscans overnight – delighted with and interested
in the city’s traditions and history. They can see the Ferry Building
for what it represents (not for what it is), they are fascinated
with the sagas of Sharons, Ralstons, Floods and Crockers, they
savor the uniqueness of cable car and foghorn. By the same token, I
know natives who will never be San Franciscans if they outlive
Methusalah. To them a cable car is a traffic obstruction, the fog is
something that keeps them from getting a tan, and Los Angeles is
where they really know how to Get Things Done.
So, after ten visits of increasing length, we have gravitated from being “sophisticated tourists” who are “charmed and fascinated” by the city to anointment as “San Franciscans”. If I harboured any doubt, perhaps the existence of this article is further evidence. And statements like the one from the Cortland Avenue coffee shop, and that of the usher at the ballpark who thanked me for both loving her city as much as she did, and articulating that love so passionately in my writing, reinforce that judgement still further.
Moreover, they act as a useful counterpoint to the recent assertion by Travel & Leisure magazine that San Francisco is the snobbiest city in the States. Anybody – whether natives, “transplants” or wide-eyed, first time tourists – with a willingness to learn, understand, appreciate and celebrate everything it has to offer, should equally be capable of qualifying for such an accolade.