H. and I unwittingly took a quick, sentimental stroll down nostalgia lane yesterday--first visiting the old-school Yellow Submarine Sandwich shop in the Sunset on Irving, then driving through the Excelsior and Portola Valley neighborhoods--a time warp if there ever was one, where the 'old San Francisco of the 1970s and '80s is still apparent in the old-school storefronts, decidedly UN-gentro potholed streets, and working class residents--then finally, watching 'Milk', the Gus Van Sant-directed film about the late, great San Francisco gay supervisor of the same name.
H. and I both grew up in the Bay Area--a somewhat rare status in our particular circle of friends, and seemingly an increasingly rare status for people living in the Bay Area overall. Call it gentrification, call it 'progress', call it the result of larger social and economic forces pushing people in and out of certain cities, the Bay Area and San Francisco especially is definitely not what it was when we were growing up here in the 1970s. Some elements of it have not changed, that's for sure--it's still a progressive bubble, sheltered in many ways from the cruel cold conservative world outside the way our many microclimates seem to exist in isolation from each other. But many things have changed, and seeing so many reminders of the San Francisco of our childhood yesterday made me long for a simpler, less hectic and, yes, more beautiful City by the Bay. When....
...the I-Hotel and Manilatown were still around, Manongs played pool on Kearny Street and Mabuhay Gardens hosted punk shows a few blocks away on Broadway.
...public schools were still decent, and kids of all colors and income backgrounds learned together in schools that looked like the neighborhoods they were in.
...sandwiches cost $1.50 and you could get a good meal for less than $3 (as evidenced by the old, hand-painted price sign at Yellow Submarine).
...the Fillmore hadn't been 'redeveloped' yet, and Black people could still call it their neighborhood, instead of being subjected to newbie rich white folks moving in and calling it the 'new Fillmore' or 'lower Pacific Heights'.
...places like Art's Soul Food, a Southern food joint run by Filipinos near the Castro, were still around and thriving.
...you could walk around town or take the bus as a little kid and not be afraid, or be tailed by a security guard who thinks you're going to steal something.
...blue collar, working class folks of color could actually afford to rent OR own in the City, and didn't have to leave the neighborhoods they or their kids had grown up in to make room for arrogant, know-nothing white kids from the suburbs who just want to party.
...Candlestick didn't have an odious corporate name (which I refuse to even acknowledge here, it'll always be Candlestick for true Bay Area folks).
Yes, I know I'm romanticizing the era, and I never experienced some of the things I listed above (I was way too young to go to the Mabuhay Gardens, for example), and maybe this nostalgia stems from the bittersweet feeling the winter holidays always gives me, but I can't help but long for a time when the City looked more like the people who actually made it great, instead of a playground for people who have a selective memory about its history, and a money-machine for those whose main goal is life is the accumulation of wealth. San Francisco, as the Harvey Milk film reminded me, was made great by the grittiness, soul, hard work and loving sacrifice of an at times painfully diverse resident population, the awesome mix of which contributed to the City's once-thriving and amazing arts and political scenes. Of course, the City is still a cool place in many ways, but a much more homogenized and segregated place and fearful place.
I wonder if we couldn't all do well to look back into the past of our respective cities and learn a few lessons from it. Or at the very least, fondly remember a time when some things were just a little sweeter.