Fear and Loathing in San Francisco
Let me get two things out of the way right away. I am a die-hard New Yorker and this is my second time moving to the San Francisco Bay area. When I lived out here over ten years ago, I had a hard time. I felt people were too sensitive, nosy and a bit humorless. At least, they didn’t get dark humor all that well. Many, although they didn’t really know many Puerto Ricans, wanted to tell me how to identify as a Hispanic. Specifically, I was to not identify as a Hispanic bit instead as a Latina. Apparently, it was culturally inappropriate for me to self-identify as Hispanic. This coming from people that didn’t know there were Hispanics other than Mexicans. Ok. I had a hard time in California ten years ago.
I love to travel and I love adventures. I love new cultures. Thus, I came back to San Francisco to give it another try. Four days into my new west coast jaunt, a new study by The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index was released whereby Alaskans were found to be happier than other Americans, including Hawaiians and Californians. As a matter of fact, California was ranked 12th . The public at large gasped wondering how California was not even in the top 10. Actually, not many cared other than Californian newscasters. They wondered, as part of the early morning news shows, how California could not be the top happiest state. Let me elaborate a little on this situation.
First off, California has the highest incremental state tax rate of 12.3%. It also has a fairly high sales tax while property taxes are extremely unequal, uneven and unfair due in large part to Proposition 13 that passed decades ago. This property tax issue has led to some really bad school districts. Note that Alaska is one of two states that has no sales or income tax. It may be dark and cold for six months but they get to keep their money.
Second, there are wide income disparities in the state. Further, northern and southern California feel like two very different states.
Third, the streets of the bay area are filled with people that are afraid. They are afraid of crime. Just today, the building manager of my workplace was beaten up and robbed in the elevator and my staff called in the police and ambulance. That was how I began my workday. I ended my day by walking home the long way and reaching my apartment building at the same time as another resident who upon seeing me come up in back of him pretended to not have his building entry keys immediately available. He was afraid of me and wanted me to take my keys out and prove that I lived there. I was stunned. I am not very big. I am not menacing. Yes, I speed walk like a New Yorker but I was wearing a cute dress with a pink spring coat and a pink backpack. I didn’t realize pink was so scary. I think pink is awesome and usually non-threatening. We both then entered the building and got into the elevator. I then refused to hit my floor button until he hit his first. Fear is pervasive.
Now, let me backtrack a few days. My first day back to San Francisco, a belligerent perhaps mentally ill homeless woman came up behind me threatening to bash my head in. I had to run into a hotel in order for her to back away. Welcome to San Francisco. Then fast forward a few days when I headed to my job for my official first day. As I came up out of the BART (train) station, I noticed a middle age woman was pausing rather oddly right at the bottom of the escalator. I needed to take that escalator up. I looked at her and she was pretending to be fumbling around with something in her purse. I looked at her and noticed she was scared of a young man that was himself oddly darting about the area of the escalator. Eventually we all headed up the escalator but the fear she had been experiencing was palpable. Meanwhile, you could sense that the young man was angry at her for being fearful. This is what I refer to as fear and loathing in San Francisco. Think of it as three movie scene shots wherein a woman gets threatened and she must rush into a hotel to hide out; a woman and man eye each other suspiciously with fear and anger; and a city teethers on edge while basking in intermittent fog and sunshine.
There is much anxiety and anger as a result of many disparities and inequalities. Urban blight and fright most definitely need to be addressed. And to the guy that was frightened by me: just wait till I get my matching pink taser. Maybe then you would not be so afraid of me?