My dearest city by the Bay,
Love is supposed to be blind, stupid, irrational and sudden. And I am overwhelmingly all of the above with you.
How do you write a letter to one of the greatest loves your short young life has ever known? Do you start off in praise of everything you have to offer? How about beginning by saying how empty your life was in the “before” time? What about the part where you laid in bed and cried silently because you had to give up a life there before it even began and how every single day since you’ve wondered what if? What if it all worked out? What if you stayed? Or how about the thought that every single day since you were last there, it has been one of the first things you think about when you wake up to one of the last memories that blurred before sleep took you?
I’ll start with our first night together. It was a Friday in March and my old college roommate and her boyfriend were driving up to the Bay area to go home for Spring Break. I was going back with them since I had booked myself an almost-week at a cheap hotel in the heart of San Francisco’s Union Square. We rode for the next six hours in his car, with a nonstop car ride playlist playing. I wore a pencil skirt and tights and drank orange juice. It was stupidly hot outside but the closer we got, the air began to gradually cool off. Devandra Banhart sang ‘Carmensita’ on an iPod and I stared at the changing landscape around me, the rising mountains and fall away of stores and shops to a foundation of fields. We arrived at my roommate’s house and then she drove me and my suitcase up to the BART station where we rode through Oakland to get to downtown San Francisco. I got off at the Montgomery Street stop, the closest one to my hotel even though I would still have to take a cab to get fully there. My red trench coat that I thought was too stuffy for the car ride had since been dug out of my suitcase because it was freezing out! The elevator outside of the station was broken so my suitcase and I went up a flight of stairs, with the assistance of a super friendly homeless lady. The cab I hailed took me right to my hotel and after checking in, I went upstairs to my room. It was on the 10th floor, the highest possible floor available and after putting my suitcase down and locking my door, I pulled back one of the curtains on a window facing out into the street. You could open all of the windows and so I did, tugging it up until I could lean outside and greet the city beneath me. The chill in the night air and the far-off sounds of the trolleys going by filled my lungs and ears. My eyes feasted upon your vast skyscrapers, the fact that there was a Banana Republic across the street from me and the sky, in that purplish grey shade that only skies under an overwhelming amount of city lights can ever turn.
SF, I remember Tweeting that you were charming for our first date.
For the rest of the almost-week there, I got to know you better. You were my foggy playground, one with sharp dips in the hills that I never quit exploring (or running out of breath climbing). There were moments where you were less than charming, like when that homeless man called me a bitch on Montgomery Street in the rain. But these were all minor details that your architecture in Pacific Heights, museums, art galleries and of course, sourdough bread at Boudins made up for in spades. Even though it hadn’t even been a week, I felt like we were meant to be together. I was so sure of it that I worked to plan my post-college life around it, deliberately avoiding applying for jobs everywhere else so that I could live and work in the city. It was like that thing that Ryan Gosling once said in The Notebook: “It’s not gonna be easy… We’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you.” I was more than prepared to sacrifice everything if it meant keeping you.
Ultimately, my biggest sacrifice would be living in San Francisco. I fought hard for it, fought for my future there and to live out to be the image I had in my mind’s eye, but the economy and the job market won out. Falling in love with a city is different than with a person. You have to take into consideration so many more specifics. Cities are sweeping and beautiful and if you play your cards right, they can give you the world. But they will never fight to keep you there. The moment you lose your job or your money or your home is the moment that you have to open your eyes and figure out a game plan of whether to stay or go. It is a plan that the city will not assist you in, unlike a person. I did land a job in the heart of downtown San Francisco (neatly located four blocks from my hotel) but while the position itself was wonderful and did offer me a beautiful office with a view of the Bay Bridge from the window, I had to decline it. The position would begin as a three month internship with no pay and move directly into being paid. I would have to live and survive for three months in an expensive apartment funded by my slowly dwindling $$$, pay bills and oh yes, eat. Can’t forget that! I had to make a choice after graduating and the choice was one I mulled over, spoke to dozens of people for advice on, and spent many sleepless nights wondering: here or there? (There is LA.)
I moved back to LA. I don’t and I do regret it all at once. Life would have happened either way. It just would have contained two very different versions of me. Sometimes I wish I had a fortune teller who could show me the girl I could have been in SF versus the LA version of myself. Would she be happier? I don’t know. I would hope that the city would have been enough, but you never know. You could ask this sort of question about so many aspects in life- picking a college, deciding to date someone, accepting a job- that in the end you will never know exactly what the “right” thing ever is to do. What’s right to me is defined by circumstance and timing and how you feel within both of those. And I’m not yet done with the city either. My life could very well take me back there. It still isn’t over! Oops, more Notebook quoting you guys.
Personally, I love my LA self and the routes that I have chosen to pursue thus far. Though I do look forward to the many, many other cities I have yet to explore and journey to, I know that none of them will ever hold my heart in the same way that the city by the Bay did- and still does.