I’M FROM LOS ANGELES, and I love San Francisco. I’d never call it San Fran or crowd the streetcars on my way to eat Ghiradelli chocolate and Boudin bread bowls of clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf. We’re Californian too! We respect your vibe man!
But many San Franciscans see it differently. You can be brutally attacked (read: coyly judged) for merely mentioning that you’re from Los Angeles.
Last summer my girlfriend and I went to a cafe on Warschauer Straße in Berlin. An American employee was excited to meet us because we could be audience to her joke about how her boss looks like Screech from Saved By The Bell. She was friendly when we told her we were from California, but when we explained we were from the south, she spent six minutes talking shit. All we wanted was our certified organic blueberry muffin and maybe to make another friend who spoke our language, so we could tell them about how our landlord looks like the German Mr. Belding. But no, she decided to stand by her NorCal values (NorCalVals) from 5,657 miles away.
Yet still, I hold no grudge. I love San Francisco. Last week I was delighted to discover that all the credit card debt I’d accrued would come in handy: I now had enough rewards points to fly to The Bay for about the cost of a German ATM fee. I would travel to San Francisco in hopes of pacifying the haters and finally unifying both So- and NorCals under the ideology of PanCalifornianism!
When I touched down at SFO, I almost left my backpack on the gangway, because I didn’t read the part of my ticket stub that said: Pick up your bag from the gate…you idiot. I walked out to the terminal to look for rapid transit and asked a man checking into his flight for assistance.
“You know where BART is?”
I even omitted the “the” that we Southern Californians are obsessed with putting before our modes of transportation.
“A bar? Nah. What? I dunno.”
San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit goes directly from the airport to the downtown, like in every other legitimate city besides Los Angeles. It was eight bucks to take BART into the city. I sat in a train car with dudes who looked like they were commuting from Silicon Valley to a website launch party in SoMa. They either ran a start-up or took their fashion cues from Fast Company: so many blazers, they may have actually been the brothers Brooks themselves.
The BART conductor was pretty chatty. She reminded everyone on board to report any unattended baggage and to keep an eye on your own bags. I remembered overhearing a rumor that thieves try to pickpocket your electronics while you’re sitting on the train. I wondered if that’s why San Franciscans think of their city as “European.” I disembarked at UN-Civic Center and took a cab to an old friend’s apartment.
He’d recently moved from New York and was just discovering it all. We had a quiet evening of drinking IPAs, watching crime dramas, criticizing design choices on HGTV. The next morning dressed in khakis and a button up shirt, he made me a cup of drip coffee. I said that he looked dapper. He said that he felt underdressed. If he was still in New York City he’d be wearing a suit and tie. The only people wearing suits and ties in San Francisco are out-of-town businessmen and lawyers, but only if they have to go to court.
Even though my friend is a native Angeleno, he said he hates LA for its fakeness.
“It’s a city built on the business of deception. If you run into your enemy, he will pretend to make plans with you. In New York, your enemy will tell you to fuck off.”
I found a cafe well regarded by the Internet at the corner of Divisadero and Turk. They served Intelligentsia instead of Blue Bottle Coffee. I was surprised to discover a Los Angeles roaster in San Francisco. That’s like a Blood hanging out in Crip territory. (Well, technically it’s more of a Sureño/Norteño prison gang rivalry thing, but I thought that the Bloods/Crips analogy would make more sense to a wider audience. Because obviously the Crips would prefer Blue Bottle.)
I checked my email, sent dumb tweets, and searched for more highly reviewed nearby destinations.
I ate a delicious sandwich while fighting off dogs in the park, and then, still entirely caffeinated, met a former colleague at a bicycle shop serving coffee in pint glasses. We’d previously seen each other in Berlin and Austin. We talked about how every neighborhood in San Francisco and Berlin and Austin were like different scenes from Portlandia. I walked from the bike messenger sketch through the feminist bookstore routine to the depths of the hipster hide-and-go-seek bit.
I passed a man in a wheelchair smoking a joint and commended his leashed cat for being such a good boy. I walked further into The Mission and was struck by how sketchy-as-fuck the 16th and Mission BART station was. It reminded me of the addicts and crazy people in front of the MacArthur Park Metro stop in LA, but in SF members of the creative class waltz by the penniless wielding iPads and decidedly not making eye contact with meth-heads.
My former Bushwick roommate and I headed for Mexican food, veering around several people making broad-daylight drug deals. This was the third time I’d seen my former roommate over regional Mexican cuisine. We’d had Jalisciense birria in East LA, poblano mole in Bushwick, and now Yucateco salbutes de pavo in The Mission. Anyway, the Oaxacan restaurant was shut, so we went to Yucatasia around the corner. We thought it was Asian fusion cuisine, but it just turned out that these emigres from Quintana Roo really liked that Disney movie where Mickey Mouse wears a wizard hat.
I asked the East Coast native for some insight into the LA-SF rivalry. He said he really likes San Francisco, but you can’t beat the weather or the fact that people are actually doing things in Los Angeles.
We went back to my friend’s apartment and watched Kojak and The Rockford Files on KOFY. The network only broadcasts commercials for AARP or Colonial Penn Life Insurance. Elderly lunch ladies earnestly talk about the recent deaths of their husbands, and about Alex Trebek’s handsomeness. I wonder what commercials will look like when our ironic generation finally needs life insurance in a few decades: keyboard cats, Facebook albums filled with only pictures of food, the Old Spice guy.
I got a call from another former colleague and walked to his studio at the residential edge of The Mission. We drank White Russians and shot a weird video in front of a green screen. I held a chihuahua and he gave me a haircut while dressed as a fox. It will be the fourth in a series of barbershop videos that I’ve made. In the first video I got a reggaeton haircut. This video will be a haircut in outer space.
We finished early. I was pretty drunk, and my tummy kind of hurt from mixing dairy with alcohol. I took a cab to meet another friend from high school at a bar in the Lower Haight. I ate a slice of four-cheese pizza and waited in line for the bar. A lesbian walked by and told the bouncer that the party was not as queer as she would have hoped. He said “come back tomorrow, or any other night.”
After being made to pour out a water bottle, I walked in and found my high school friend in the back. The DJ played house music and disco edits. I danced around for a while, before clowning on the maestro for using zip disks on his drum machine from ’98. I ordered more shots that I didn’t need and after the club closed we walked back to my high school friend’s high-ceilinged apartment and I crashed on his couch.
The next morning, the native Angeleno friend concisely explained why San Francisco hates LA: “They just don’t get it, and they’re kind of jealous.” On his way to work, he stopped for a coffee at a cafe that wasn’t a chain, picked up a newspaper from a non-corporate bookstore, and bought a gluten-free raspberry scone at an independent bakery. I was kind of jealous that San Franciscans can get so many things from indie retailers so easily. I said goodbye at his bus stop, and wandered the city attempting to wait out my hangover.
I bumped into two people that I knew from various coasts walking down Market towards the bay. I sat next to toddlers and watched the boats go by. I walked into the Ferry Building and noticed a huge crowd of people waiting for drip coffee. I hadn’t seen this many dummies waiting in line for a cup of coffee since I walked by Intelligentsia on Sunset a few weeks ago.
I walked back through Chinatown toward Hayes Valley to meet up with a series of old friends. I ran between three separate happy hours, talked about the profitability of new-new media, chatted about the Tiki-themed bar trend, promptly ran to one, drank a hot buttered rum, ran to the next happy hour, got chewed out by the bar maid at Toronado, ate a burrito, drank a shot of whiskey, took a cab to the depths of The Mission, danced the Twist, returned to my friend’s house, broke a lamp, fell asleep, vaguely awoke to the sounds of lesbian sex.
I fell back asleep after counting drunk people walking past the thin walls, woke up early, sliced my finger trying to fix the lamp, put on a band-aid, drank more fancy coffee, watched people freeze their compost, ate a frittata, bought porcelain repair adhesive, walked to Dolores Park, hung with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, remembered I’d once given her a business card for a clown that I’d written my information on, and then met up with friends I’d only known from the internet.
After all that I felt pretty hungry. I found a taco spot somewhere along Valencia. At the taqueria a customer wearing a Chivas jersey was jabbing the taquero about being an América fan. Guadalajara has the same qualms with Mexico City that the Bay Area has with Los Angeles. Namely being a large city that matters locally, but not as much on a global scale.
I met up with friends from the dorms. I drank more beers than I could have handled a decade ago and told them to come visit me in Los Angeles. They declined. “Ugh, LA? So much traffic, so many assholes, why don’t you come up here more often?” I agreed to visit more frequently, but right now, in typical LA dickhead fashion, I had to roll to another party.
I walked a few miles to meet up with more college friends at a designer bar with craft cocktails, maybe the one that those Silicon Valley guys from earlier were on their way to. I told my college buddies about my favorite scenes from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Not specifically because I’m a pervert who remembers that scene where Judge Reinhold imagines Phoebe Cates topless, but because that scene was playing on the big screen.
At the bar I ran into some old study abroad friends. I told them I was in San Francisco for travel writing, which was somewhat true, but I only said that so they wouldn’t think I was a total weirdo for wearing a huge backpack inside of a blazer bar. I told them I had to jet in a hurry, because I wanted to see everyone I’d made plans with that night. San Francisco is great because you can actually cover most of the city on foot. In LA it’s a huge night if you hit two separate parties.
I walked to a birthday party at a soon-to-be-discovered dive bar with high ceilings and low prices. I was supposed to go to a fiesta in The Mission, but I didn’t know if I could travel with the dozen amigos I was already drinking with. I texted the party purveyor:
Yo is it fun? I think Imma roll through. How big is it? I’m with various depths of peeps.
fun! big! bring every1!
We got to the hella crowded party and made it hella more crowded. It felt like a cross between a Williamsburg warehouse dance party and somebody’s hippie parents’ basement yoga studio.
We formed circles around our friends and pushed them into the middle. We chanted their names as they did fun dance moves. A buddy allegedly challenged me to a rap battle, which he claims to have won, but it was so loud in there I thought we were still chanting our friends’ names.
Drunk, sweaty, temporarily deaf, and with a plane to catch in six hours, I found a cab and headed back to my friend’s spot. The Bangladeshi cab driver asked where I was from, and for the whole ride talked about how he fucking loves Los Angeles. When he lived there, he’d make so much money driving drunk idiots back-and-forth from downtown to the Westside — “Tonight I’m only making $14 off of you drunk idiots.”
San Francisco has the best cab drivers in the world. A taxi driver once told me that he was the understudy for the Phantom of the Opera and sang the titular song to prove his point. Another time I got in a shouting match with a cab driver. We weren’t yelling at each other, we were just seeing who could shout crazier things. He won. I’ve never had a memorable cab ride in Los Angeles.
We got back to the townhouse overlooking the southern hills of San Francisco. We ate quesadillas while his roommate’s dogs ate compost. I passed out quickly. I woke up a few hours later to a buff pit bull licking my face and guys telling me that I should find somewhere else to sleep because they had to watch last night’s Australian Open match. I took a shower and then my friend drove me to the airport.
He is a Bay Area native and has lived in The City for five years, but he’s also one of the most well-traveled people I know. As a San Franciscan he hates Los Angeles for its artificiality, lack of rapid transit, divorce from nature, and haphazard design. I told him he should come visit, that I’d show him a good time. He said that he was totally down. Travelers kinda get that there’s more to a place than the stereotypes about it.
He dropped me off at Terminal 1. I scowled at new TSA security measures (“put your hands over your head and cough three times”). Then I bought a Boudin sourdough loaf to remember San Francisco by. I felt like shit. I wished I was staying longer. In part to recover from the previous evening, but also because I had such a great time. San Francisco is somewhere I could live for a while — or at least sublet for a few months.
This was originally published in Matador Network.