Something Foreign

She had on a form-fitting pantsuit, white and decorated here and there with something flashy, perhaps rhinestones. Her glasses were of the larger than life variety, her hair piled accordingly. In short, she wasn’t very San Francisco looking. More Grand Old Opry or Las Vegas. No, there was something quite conspicuous about this woman on our street. But I understood instantly.

It was a Tuesday, the second of the month, which means street cleaning here on the lower slopes of Twin Peaks. It also means an $80 ticket if I don’t move my car, so I responded accordingly, positioning my Chrysler at the end of a nearby alley, and all ready to go as soon as the clock neared 1 PM. And long about 12:45 dammed if I wasn’t heading for the alley, prepared to seize the space in front of my home before anyone else did.

This move-the-car-before-the-parking-guys-ticket-you routine is unvaried. At 11 AM on magic Tuesdays, meter guys in their three-wheeled scooters are parked down the hill, ready to swarm. And I have spaced out often enough to get hit by their swarm, which is a costly and utterly wasteful endeavor. So I do this, month after month, knowing exactly what to expect vis-à-vis pattern detection on our street. 

I could tell that the pattern was noticeably off on this particular day. Not only was a car parked in my space, before the actual 1 PM all clear signal. Another car was parked just behind it and only nominally, askew in a very obvious way, one end of it sticking into the street. This was a rush job, temporary as could be.

An old house…not that there are any new houses on the street…just across from us is going on the market. How do I know this? The people next door told us. Homes for sale is news in San Francisco. There are never very many available, and they don’t last long. By which I mean that people start making bids before the homes even get listed. And then, buyers exceed the asking price by a shocking amount of money. And I speak from experience here.

My home purchase was a sort of miracle. And I’m glad it is behind me. But what’s not behind me is the general mishegas around homes and housing. The situation may be acute, even absurd, here in San Francisco. But it is pretty crazy everywhere in California.

Anyway, having shopped for a house just a few years ago, I knew what was happening. This might be the first day of the listing. Or it might be the first open house for realtors. Actually, I suspect the latter, because the middle-aged rhinestone woman who hopped out of a white Mercedes had to be a realtor. By the way, our realtor was named George, a stunning individual, not remotely given to tackiness. But the field overall is rife with it, I’m sorry to say.

And this sounds rather provincial, and it is, but I knew the woman in the white pantsuit wasn’t from around here. Nor were the other people parked crazily behind her. I can easily think of them as foreigners, not in terms of nationality but, let us say, culture.

Here I am focusing on an absolutely superficial symptom of a much larger problem. The latter being, in the minds of many, the lamentable fact that San Francisco has sold its soul, become a sort of theme park for high-tech professionals. And although I can’t dispute this, there are some things worth noting. One is that young professionals don’t want to live in the suburbs. They willingly undertake the crowding, abrasiveness and noise of urban life. In fact they hunger for it. I can’t help but believe this is basically a good thing.

Also, as a theme park experience, San Francisco’s in-your-face homeless population is steadily undermining the whole thing. People who live in multimillion dollar condos along the newest waterfront development have been forced to accept a service center for homeless people right in their neighborhood. They have screamed and yelled in protest, but it’s happening anyway.

And there’s something idealistic in me that still clings to the idea that there is something “foreign” about our rape and plunder in the name of real estate. Maybe this is because I am old. I easily recall in my university days visiting hippies making tie-dyed artsy stuff in Telegraph Peak. A couple lived in a creaking old wooden walk-up which today is probably barely changed yet costs millions and millions. That couple doesn’t live there anymore, needless to say. No one is making artsy anything. In all this is sad, yet it still seems foreign. And maybe this isn’t so bad.

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