Not crazy, just a little unwell

A man stands in the street. He’s yelling about something, incoherently but with enthusiasm. He crosses against traffic and disappears. I cross with the light. Suddenly, he’s back in the road, continuing his rant. The group of hipsters outside the coffee shop are incredulous: “How the hell did he get back over there?”

San Francisco is like a crazy aunt – you love her to death but wish she’d remember to take her meds. She’s not intentionally racist or homophobic although she says the most inappropriate things. She’s incredibly tolerant, open and welcoming and leaves you to your own devices but still manages to be in your face though she doesn’t baulk at the guy with the bespangled gentleman parts strolling along Market in his birthday suit. In some ways it’s freeing – there’s a lack of judgement and a sense that you could do and be anything. In other ways it highlights the need for a universal healthcare system to protect those who aren’t simply expressing themselves. If the most vulnerable in our society aren’t able to access decent healthcare provision – particularly for mental health – the place they’ll end up is the middle of the road, imploring the passers by to ask the Israelis about President Clinton.

Not everyone needs pity. The grubby man sitting on the pavement with a group of drunks who asked me how my puppy’s socialization was coming along, the woman with the cart of junk who instructed the slurring man (whose pot habit was probably the mildest of his addictions) on the correct way to ask to pet the puppy may well be living with the results of their own actions and choices. But the veteran asking everyone within earshot alternately if they have any food and if we know what really happened in Vietnam is clearly not getting the help he needs. Who can say where these people will end up without the proper help? It’s important to remember that, wherever we are, some people aren’t just crazy, they’re very unwell – in a genuine sense that requires medical interventions they’re unlikely to ever see – something we should not only be saddened but embarrassed by. It should shame us that there are so many ways to drop out of ‘the system’ and so few ways back in.

Of course it should also be remembered that, particularly in San Francisco, some people are properly mad. Mad like your crazy aunt who wears oversized floral hats and a bright yellow track suit to go to the shops. It adds to the flavour, which is a good thing as long as there’s not a bitter aftertaste.

A man who crossed the street with me catches my eye. “I’ve not been in San Francisco for a while. I’d almost forgotten.”

If you’re going to San Francisco…

It’s been a week since we got to San Francisco.  I appreciate that we moved on Monday and it’s now Tuesday, but even though we pretty much got to do last Monday twice I’m not counting it because my brain had practically given up playing the game by the time we got here.

In short – I like it.  It’s a beautiful city.  It’s clean, friendly, sunny and has a gentle buzz about it, as if there’s a whole load going on just beneath the surface.  It’s also a dog city.  Seriously, almost everyone here has a dog.  They’re everywhere – trotting behind their humans in the streets, playing catch in the park, waiting patiently outside cafes and restaurants. Despite this I have yet to see poop on the pavement.  It’s the little things.

Speaking of the little things, these are the things that are taking the most getting used to.  Looking the wrong way before crossing the street.  The light switches and plugs.  The fact they don’t seem to sell squash (juice) and that creme fraiche is $7.  I’ve spent about half an hour staring at the shelves in Safeway and Mollie Stones in baffled silence.  I’m looking forward to the moment I don’t have to translate the dollars into pounds and the pounds into grams to know whether it’s good value.  The same goes for temperature.  And the oven.

So far this week I’ve done a lot of exploring.  San Francisco is a city of neighbourhoods, each with its own distinct flavour and yet clustered together, so they almost run into each other.  And, thanks to the Muni (the bus/tram/underground system) it’s possible to run into each with remarkable ease.  We were told before we arrived that areas can change dramatically with just the cross of the street and it’s certainly true, which makes for interesting bus rides.

So far, I’m in love with Pacific Heights.  It’s a boutiquey neighbourhood – everything from Marc Jacob, Betsy Johnson and Ralph Lauren to independent book shops, interior designers and neon outlined burger bars.  There’s a little cinema that’s currently showing Rocky Horror at midnight, a park that looks down over the Bay and two Starbucks.  The buildings are a mishmash of styles, predominantly reminiscent of the Jazz era, with no two exactly the same.  The colours add a sense of individual style and bring vibrancy and fun, the gold painted details catching the sun with sparkling warmth.

The houses of Pacific Heights proudly show their colours (www.silverlionservice.com)

Noe Valley (pronounced No-ee) is another area I’ve already developed a fondness for.  Even after only one visit,  it’s hard not to be taken in by the small-town feel of the place and quirky little shops.  It’s a haven of the technology set – Google and Facebook have a lot of employees in the area – so it wasn’t surprising (although it was still all I could do not to burst out laughing) when, on entering the small Starbucks we were met with a sea of laptops, all lined up neatly, and the insistent tapping of the keys.  For the downside to Noe, the clue is in the name. It’s set along a valley so it seems like wherever you go, you’re heading uphill.  To be fair, this is the case with most of San Francisco but for some reason in Noe it seems more pronounced.  It makes the bus ride more of an adventure, though, as you roll up and down slopes that at first you think you’ll never make it to the top of and then wish you weren’t facing backwards as the ground disappears beneath you and you desperately hope the breaks are working.

When they say 'Hill', they're not kidding... (www.brokeassstuart.com)

 The ride back from Noe Valley passes through Castro, the rainbow district.  And, man, do they have their rainbow on down there!  By all accounts it’s the party neighbourhood, full of bars and clubs.  So far I’ve only seen it from the bus but I’m going to have to go and explore this vibrant neighbourhood.  It sounds a little hippy, and possibly a bit patronising to say it, but I was genuinely excited and happy to see this place where rainbows were plastered on everything from the lampposts and benches to the banks and restaurants, people were expressing themselves freely with their clothes and and couples could walk down the street hand in hand without fear of abuse.  I was less thrilled to see the naked guy at the bus stop (why is it always the old, slightly overweight guys?) and laughed to see the nail salon called ‘Hand Job’ (until which point I’d been thinking ‘way to keep it classy, Castro’).  It’s certainly somewhere I’m going to have to check out in greater detail.

The bright and vibrant Castro district is somewhere I'm looking forward to exploring. (www.sfcityscape.com)

I think it’s safe to say that San Francisco is gradually increasing her grip on me.  It’s only been a week and I’m feeling like this is somewhere I could really get used to living.  More than ‘used to’ in fact.  I think I could love it.

Here we go…

I’m Q.  Not the all-powerful Star Trek favourite; the 29 year old living in Kent.  In six months, I’ll be married, living in San Francisco and turning 30.  I’m not sure which one freaks me out more.

This is the story of how I get there.

I guess I should start with the story of how I got here…

I was born on a winters day in…. nah, I’m kidding.  Most of that is irrelevant.  Needless to say I grew up in a very loving home with a wonderful family who managed not to mess me up too badly, which is all we can really hope for in a childhood.  I went to a school I actually liked and made some fantastic friends worthy of keeping forever.  I did a degree in the cold, rainy north of England where I developed a tolerance for bad weather and a love of good beer.  While I was there I met a boy, affectionately known as The Boy by the friends, who turned out to be a keeper.  We got engaged within the first few months of being together and then successfully managed to stave off the mental and financial nightmare that is getting married for 8 years.  Until now.

Two months ago The Boy was given the opportunity to relocate to the San Francisco office of his company.  It would have been insane to turn it down, even though this was one week before we were due to exchange contracts on a house and would have to get married if we both wanted to go (we did).  Still, an unmissable opportunity is an unmissable opportunity so we said yes.  Yes to pulling out of the house purchase, yes to getting married within six months and yes to uprooting our lives and moving 6,000 miles away.

Here’s hoping that sometimes the maddest ideas are the best ones!