11 Ways You Know You Are in San Francisco

I have been fortunate enough to live in the Bay Area now for eight and a half years. And every day I still marvel at the unique differences between the Bay and the rest of the US. Which is probably why I like to set my books here.

1. It is entirely possible to see people in full costume. Any day. Any time. Yes, you may see a grown man in diapers, bonnet, and pacifier ride by on his bike. Five o’clock shadow, too.

2. Everyone’s really friendly. On the other hand, they are probably stoned. An SF cabbie set me straight on this my first month living in the city. Which could be why the whole damn city smells like weed. Before cannabis became legal, the joke was that one hell of a lot of people in this town need medical marijuana.

3. Every coffee bar has coders. Lots of them. They are all seriously caffeinated, staring at computer screens filled with row after row of numbers. They may be men or women. They are almost always young. 4. People wear down jackets in July and August. I was once chastised by an elderly woman wearing a pea coat, gloves, hat and scarf on a chilly summer night. I was wearing only a light jacket. She called me ‘crazy’.

5. Meet Carl the Fog. You’re standing on an average, humdrum corner of the city. It’s night. Then suddenly everyone looks like Sam Spade, walking towards you through the fog, as the city goes all forbidding and mysterious. This is a natural phenomenon San Franciscans have taken to calling Carl the Fog because … well, this is California and we do what we damn well please. And yes, Carl has a Twitter account.

6. The subject on nearly everyone’s mind is sex. And I do mean everyone, both young and old. Witness 1960’s topless dance icon Carol Ann Doda. Her death rated a front-page story in The San Francisco Chronicle. Then there’s the world’s largest leather fair – one of the few places it’s still legal to hang out completely in the nude, with or without your harness.

7. The guy in the corner store can talk wine. You drop by the beaten up deli on the corner to pick up a quick bottle of vino. Suddenly you find yourself involved in a ten-minute discourse on the relative fruitiness of two merlots, or the hint of chocolate and mesquite in an old vine Zin.

8. You become one with the homeless. They’re everywhere. I still have fond memories of The Screamer, a mentally ill man who stood outside my window and screamed loudly at the top of his lungs from time to time. We had a nodding acquaintance. I gave him cash, and he called me ‘Sister’. Even Super Bowl 50 was rife with homeless encampments – more than 100 tents sprang up around the edges of the festivities.

9. You begin to hate having a car. Broken car glass is called ‘San Francisco Snow’ by the SFPD. If it’s not broken into, your car will be dinged, bumped, scraped and dented. And that’s IF you can actually get a parking space. Eventually you will succumb to Lyft and Uber. And MUNI.

10. You, too, will become a Foodie. It’s inevitable. Hang around this food-coffee-wine-obsessed town long enough and you will start worrying about which ranch your grass-fed beef was raised on. (Was it Prather?) Relax and enjoy. You’ll gain weight and drop serious amounts of money, like $85 on a leg of lamb at the farmer’s market. But damn it will be good!

11. One day, you will finally chill out. You wake up one morning and you realize you no longer care about all that driven, success-oriented stuff that used to be so critical. Instead, you find you have time to stand in line waiting for artisan grilled cheese sandwiches and six dollar pour over coffees. And so the city has done her work.

Congratulations.

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If you like Suzanne’s writing about San Francisco, check out her funny, sexy LGBT thriller written with co-author Jack Harvey. Transformed: San Francisco.

Suzanne Falter