I remember a particular conversation I had with someone. She asked me where I grew up. I answered ‘San Francisco’. She replied ‘Wow, I never met anybody who grew up in San Francisco before!’
This conversation happened in San Francisco. She had been living in San Francisco for over a year.
Compared to most corners of the world, children make a very small portion of the total population of San Francisco.
Many people move to San Francisco because they want to get away from the stifling social conventions of their hometowns (my mother belongs to this category, by the way). Often, one of the social conventions they are trying to get away from is the pressure to have children, which is one reason why there are so few children in San Francisco. They also generally choose their social circles – and San Francisco has many social circles to choose from: native plant lovers, lindy hoppers, history buffs, and that’s not scratching the surface. In total, they are trying to craft their own kind of happiness. Greta Christina describes this eloquently in Land of the Lotus Eaters.
I, on the other hand, never chose to live in San Francisco. It’s just where chance put me on this planet. Most of my social life in San Francisco was dominated by a) family b) neighbors c) people who I met at school, which meant that for the most part I did not choose who I socialized with. As I grew older and was allowed to spend the night out without my parents’ supervision, I got a bit more control over which social circles I particpated in, and the internet gave me a wide range of freedom to associate with whoever I wanted, but even then my off-line social life was still dominated by family, neighborhood, and school. If San Francisco is Greta Christina’s lover, then San Francisco is my parent. Indeed, my parents and San Francisco are so closely associated in my mind that in many of my thoughts the phrases ‘my parents’ and ‘San Francisco’ could be readily interchanged.
Because there are so few children, the community of children and teenagers was quite knitted together. If you were around the same age as me and attended public school (and possibly even private school) I probably knew you or knew someone who knew you. While many people came to my neighborhood, lived there for a few years, and moved out, the people who stayed for 10+ years got to know each other, even if we never got beyond being … neighbors. It felt like living in an invisible small town that was camouflaged inside a cosmopolitan city.
I expect San Francisco, and my complicated relationship with it, to be one of this blog’s recurring themes.