By Mieke Eerkens, Writer | San Francisco
What is your idea of a perfectly happy day in your city?
Coffee at Café Trieste in North Beach and browsing through Citylights bookstore, a stroll in Golden Gate Park’s botanical garden before perusing the De Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. Hit the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building downtown for crusty bread and heirloom tomatoes.
In the evening, meet up with friends for cocktails at moody and chic Absinthe Brasserie and Bar, followed by mind-blowing sushi at the intimate Sushi Zone, or at Chez Spencer, with its warm French country ambiance and to-die-for foie gras with blackberry compote. Depending on how much Sake or wine we have drunk by that point, we may decide to camp it up at the gay and colorful piano bar Martuni’s as the perfect way to close out the evening with song and laughter.
Knowing your city and its citizens, what is your greatest fear?
That it will become so expensive to live here that all the wacky and colorful folks that give the city its bohemian character will be forced out and we will be left with a city full of generic bankers, lawyers, and computer whizzes. That and earthquakes
Which historical figure would do best in your city?
Amelia Earhart, Martin Luther king Jr., Susan B. Anthony…People who pushed against the establishment.
Which do you admire most about your city (something from recent years)?
Gavin Newsom and San Francisco’s pioneering role in the fight to legalize gay marriage.
I really admire San Francisco’s commitment to engaging with things that have substance and are relevant in the broader national arena.
I’m proud that San Francisco’s local NPR station KQED is the most listened to NPR station in the nation. San Francisco’s citizens tend to be well informed about important global issues and care about things like the environment and social justice.
Which is the trait you deplore most about your city?
Driving and parking! The city has made it very difficult for commuters. With only seven square miles, finding parking is nearly impossible or will cost you your firstborn.
To combat auto traffic, the city keeps raising bridge tolls, but has not improved public transportation access. Public transportation to the North Bay and other areas is infrequent and inefficient, so driving into the city becomes a necessity for people living in these suburbs. As a result, parking is at a premium. I once spent an hour and a half trying to find parking to attend a dinner party.
What is the negative trait that others falsely accuse your city of having?
Being full of unrealistic and flighty people. While San Franciscans can be whimsical and idealistic, I’ve found that most people are also pretty pragmatic when it comes to their ideals. They will put their money where their mouth is to address the issues they care about, getting to work on practical issues when they want to affect change.
What is the greatest extravagance one can experience in your city?
A fine meal and some bubbly at Top of The Mark at the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel. Best 360° view of San Francisco you can find.
What is a positive trait your city is known for that is actually false?
The California “sunshine.” San Francisco is actually miserably foggy and cold most of the summer, due to it being surrounded on three sides by water.
You watch poor tourists arrive from places like Ireland, emerging from their hotels in heart-wrenchingly hopeful sundresses and shorts, only to be met by a chilly grey fog. If they dare to expand outward, however, they will find that a quick skip over the Golden Gate or Bay Bridge will bring them to sunnier climes.
San Francisco tends to be the isolated “Shleprock” with a little cloud over its head, and 20 minutes up the road it will be 20 degrees warmer with all that California sunshine they came for.
What do you dislike most about the architecture, city layout and general appearance of your city?
This is a hard one, because I think San Francisco is one of the most visually striking and architecturally spectacular cities in the world. If I had one complaint, it would be the one-way streets downtown and “no left turn” anywhere, which often means a mind-bending puzzle to figure out how to get from point A to point B.
When was your city’s hey-day?
No doubt the ’60s! The Haight-Ashbury hippie movement, Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Poets, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, the Summer of Love…It all happened here!
If you could change one thing about your city what would it be?
See traffic, parking, and weather, above.
What do outsiders (or transplants and long-time visitors) to your city generally answer to the last question?
Affordability. As one of the most expensive places to live in the country, people coming from anywhere other than NYC or LA usually have a mild heart attack upon learning that they will be paying substantially more for basement studio in San Francisco than their four-bedroom house in the Midwest.
What do you consider your city’s greatest achievement?
Completely rebuilding after most of the city was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and ensuing fire.
If your city was destroyed and one day its ruins discovered, what do you think they would find and/or learn about it?
They would discover that San Franciscans are incredibly resourceful with limited space and building homes on hills. The cable cars would interest them–the ingenuity of a pulley system that makes it possible to traverse the steep inclines of the city.
They’d be intrigued by the military history– the missile silos, the bunkers and forts in the Presidio and the Marin Headlands, all built as a first line of defense against an attack from the Pacific.
What is particularly impressive is the way these military sites have been repurposed to serve the community after being decommissioned. The former barracks and officers’ quarters have become housing for students and low-income people. The land a nature preserve, and the cold war missile silos in the Marin Headlands now host a state of the art water treatment system for TheMarine Mammal Center, a nonprofit that rescues, rehabilitates, and does environmental research with sick and injured marine mammals.
What is your city’s greatest artistic or architectural acquisition?
The Golden Gate Bridge.