Emee and I got back from almost a week in the San Francisco Bay Area, from Saturday night, June 18th, until Friday June 24th. This was the first time I exclusively flew to and from the Bay Area from Portland, I usually take the train. (In 2014 I took the train down and flew back.) I much rather take the train, but flying meant we could spend the maximum amount of time down there, and since we now own Bromptons we could easily bring our bikes along.
The last three times I was down there was in winter or very early spring, when it can rain. The last time I was there in 2019 was pretty wet, so I hoped to go during nicer weather the next time. Well, it was drier for sure, but it was surprisingly hot for a few days–92F/33C in San Francisco on Tuesday the 21st. When I lived in San Francisco in July of 2000, it was rare when I didn’t need a hoodie during the day! Oh well.
Overall, the trip was good and I managed to cram in a lot of good things: a ride along the water, over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito. Visits to the Marin Museum of Bicycling and Rivendell Bicycle Works. Ferry trips and streetcar rides.
But every visit to the Bay Area is a bittersweet experience. I lived there from late June of 2000 to early March 2001. It was not an easy time. I hoped that the passage of time would soften the sting, but there’s still a bit of prickliness each time I go, as there’s always reminders present of that time.
Let’s back up and talk about my time living there in a little more detail. At the end of the last millennium I was anxious and unfulfilled. In January of 2000, my car died, which meant no more pizza delivery. After five cars in about as many years I decided to not get another vehicle. And the band I “worked” for also broke up that month, the last reason why I wanted to stay in Connecticut. I was laser focused on leaving, and I decided to move to San Francisco. I had visited a few times already, and loved the climate, the scenery, and the scene. It seemed warm and welcoming, and I would finally be living in a large city amongst other young artist types. In June I boarded Amtrak westward, and two weeks later (after stops in Yellow Springs, OH, Chicago, and Portland) I landed in San Francisco.
But I never felt that warm embrace. The first day in town I fell pretty hard while walking through Golden Gate Park. (A few days later I’d fall while hiking Mount Davidson, giving me nasty road rash.) Foreshadowing, anyone? I found work easily, but it quickly turned into a grind, sucking up much of my time and energy. Finding a place to live was extremely hard: It was the height of Dot Com Boom 1.0, housing was very scarce, and very expensive. After a month I found a place to live in North Oakland. This would mean a longer commute into The City, but I had to take what I could get.
August was really my only good month during this period of my life: I had a stable job and house, my roommates seemed OK, and I was also living in the thick of a bunch of cartoonists. In fact, 49th St in the Temescal neighborhood, where I ended up, seemed to have an inordinate amount of cartoonists living on it, supposedly Dan Clowes lived a few blocks down from me, though I never saw him. I also hung out with a group of East Bay cartoonists who would meet up every Tuesday. For a moment I thought I had it figured out.
That did not last. Quickly I learned that my roommates screwed me out of my rent, and by the end of September I scrambled to find another spot to crash. I stayed on my friend’s couch for six weeks before he took a backpacking trip in Asia, then I ended up in a room in my friend’s mom’s house in East Oakland for the last three months or so. This area was far from everything, so I felt pretty isolated out there. And while the rent was affordable and my friend’s mom was nice and all, this wasn’t exactly the situation I had hoped to be living in. In February she informed me that I had to move on. It wasn’t anything I did, but one of her sons was struggling with housing as well, so she wanted to take him back in. Rather than find another place in the Bay Area, I decided to cut my losses: quit my job, travel around America (and a bit o’ Canada) by Amtrak again, and land in Portland where I figured things would work out better.
So every time I visit, there’s always this “What If?” that hangs over my head. What if it all worked out? What if that first set of roommates turned out good? The place was moderately affordable (by 2000 in Bay Area standards) 1 so I could have stuck it out. But that job was still a drag, taking up 10 hours a day (that includes commute) five days a week, plus I had to work every other Saturday. I didn’t have a lot of energy for anything else, especially no energy to explore this amazing new metro area that I made a point to move to. (As noted in my comic report, I never took a ferry or visited Marin County when I lived there.) I could have found another job, but there’s no guarantee it would have been any better, and due to the high cost of rent I would still be working all the time to afford a place. And while I had a few friends that I met during my time there, I had few folks that I’d really consider close, people who I wanted to stick by or who would stick by me. There weren’t many social bonds and I had barely any personal history there. Why stick around any longer than I needed to?
There’s also another “What if?” I visited Portland right before moving to the Bay Area, and really liked it. I did briefly consider just staying here, but I naively believed I was heading for “the greatest city on Earth”. What if I just said, “Y’know, why I don’t give Portland a chance instead?” It would have saved me eight months of grief, for sure. But it would have robbed me of the “hard-luck” experience the Bay Area gave me. Much like my life in the nineties, the Bay Area taught me what I really did want out of my life, and what I don’t. Living in a cool city doesn’t mean much if you are struggling.
Would I ever move back? Not a chance. That bird has flown many a year ago. Living in big bustling metro is a bit easier when you are younger, but the quieter vibe of a mid-sized city suits me a lot more these days. I can deal with a visit just fine, but that’s it. I’ve been in Portland for twenty-one years and I’m quite happy here. I’ll enjoy visiting the Bay Area from time to time, but despite my melancholy feelings I know it was not the place for me.
1 I paid $500 for a room in that apartment. In all my years of Portland I still haven’t paid that much rent.