Having gone through the process of making sure I was registered to vote, I pulled together a simple guide to voting in the California primaries and General Election.
At 3:30AM on December 10th, the fire alarm to my building went off. In my groggy slumber with earplugs in place, I didn’t react immediately, but my roommate Brad burst into my room only saying “there’s a fire and we need to get out NOW.” Fair enough.
Wondering what I should take, I threw on some shorts over my boxers, my Vans, and a winter coat, clearly a fine choice for the cold, wintry rain dumping on the sidewalk that early morning. My laptop was all I could think to grab.
We didn’t smell anything inside our apartment, but upon exiting, a thick fog of smoke enveloped the hallways. Luckily, we were only a short distance from the exit and were able to leave unscathed. SFFD was on the scene quickly and shortly thereafter we saw that all of our neighbors had escaped safely.
We huddled in the cold under an awning, watching firefighters cut open locks of adjacent businesses and drag in a hose to get the fire under control. Medical personnel and the Red Cross offered us blankets and made us feel like someone gave a shit. My deliriously tired state or perhaps just shock, enabled me to remain calm while hoping that all our stuff wasn’t destroyed. After a couple hours, we were allowed to head back in to miraculously find that our apartment and belongings were safe. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the same fate for two of the apartments in the rear of the building where fire fighters had to hack down walls to prevent the fire from advancing. An electrical fire had started in the kitchen of the restaurant below us and moved up the back of the building.
Displaced for that night at the very least, Jenny and I called up our friend in the Haight to crash and hailed a Lyft Line. At 5:30 AM, our shared riders happened to be someone my roommate knew, drunk from partying the night away. Upon hearing our story, they asked us if we wanted to have a party to celebrate the fire and told us they had a bottle of vodka waiting for us. Too tired to explain how ridiculous and insensitive that offer was, we politely declined and took shelter for the night.
The next morning we awoke and tended to our jobs (coincidentally a work from home day for both of us) as an attempt to establish some sense of normalcy. We still had no idea of where we were going to stay or if we’d ever be allowed back in. After acquiring rations and coffee from the market, we continued to work, remembering that we had lunch plans for today and were going to stick with the plan. Cha Cha Cha seemed in order and after selecting our meals, we decided that, fuck it, a pitcher of sangria was happening. We were both #32andHomeless now, so we deserved it. As depressing as that sounds, it still beats #16andPregnant.
Three weeks have passed since the fire and we still don’t have a timeline of when or if we’ll be allowed back in. Power and water has been cut, even for the units that were not damaged on the inside. Our landlord has been less than stellar in communication, not bothering to ask how we were when I reported the fire, nor attending to their fiduciary duties of returning rent for days we have paid in advance. It’s a very strange feeling to go back in and sense that everything looks alright, but it definitely isn’t. You just want to curl up in your bed and pretend it never happened.
I can’t deny that the situation sucks. But if there’s any consolation, it’s that it has made me think about who was there for me in a time of need. My roommates have been my best teammates in working through the problem together. Countless numbers of friends offered me couches to crash on, use of their showers, or even their whole apartments because they were going on vacation. Several have tipped me off to sublets or more permanent housing solutions. A special lady has been generous enough to take me in off the streets for many a night, even if she ribs me by saying she can’t wait to tell people she’s dating a homeless guy. I feel incredibly rich to have these people in my life. I can’t express my gratitude enough.
My sublet starts in a few days and on my flight back from New York, I began to think about how numerous acts of kindness bestowed upon me have come from individuals residing mere blocks from one another. My move to SF four years ago went smoothly largely in part to a college friend that rented out a room to me at the time. I’m currently staying at a friend’s place two blocks over from that and my sublet is one block over from that. I don’t know what it is about this triangle, but I like it a lot.
I’m surprised how little the situation has bothered me given the circumstances. I think it’s a combination of having had something much worse happen to me in the past, the generosity of my friends and blind faith that something even better will ultimately come out of this. The universe has its way of providing for us, not necessarily with what we want, but what we need.
I remember attending Treasure Island Music Festival shortly after moving to San Francisco in 2011 and catching a performance by The Coup. The sunny October skies and first brew of the afternoon had me blissing (and buzzing), but I can’t shake the memory of Boots Riley telling the crowd that the single most important difference that they’ll ever make is to participate in life and their community.
It’s nearly four years later and hating on San Francisco has become perhaps the easiest and cheapest sentiment out there. It’s this defeatist attitude that San Francisco is OVER from people who have most likely lived here a short time. Are there some serious issues at the moment? Of course! But what disturbs me the most is how few people are actually offering solutions.
I find these attitudes, even in my own friend circles, frustrating because the people doing the most complaining are often people who aren’t contributing in the least to what they’d like San Francisco to be. It’s all about what San Francisco can do for you and that seems selfish. I find myself wondering, whether in spite of this city’s astounding history, people are really going to just lie down and give up on it. To me, that’s embarrassing. That’s lacking the resolve of every single person that came before us to make this place great.
Great cities aren’t sustainable when its residents’ participation merely consists of fancy brunches and expensive cocktails (or for you homebodies, watching Netflix). Sure, by all means, enjoy those things. I do sometimes, too! But living here comes with more responsibility than your job and existing within that bubble. It requires participation in thecommunity. Don’t opt out of the experience of being a San Franciscan. Otherwise, what’s the point of living here?
So if you’re down for the cause, here are 11 things you can do to earn your karmic keep:
San Francisco is admittedly pretty good at this, but you’d be surprised how much of our money is being shelled out to large corporations or others that, if we’re being honest, only make life marginally more convenient and solve first-world problems. While not the cheapest, supporting local businesses and co-ops is a great way to support the community and help our friends and neighbors cover basic needs from housing to health insurance.
Talk to Your Neighbors
It surprises me how few people know their neighbors because that’s the backbone of community. I think that regular conversation and dialogue with your neighbors, particularly when you’re new, can help you understand and co-exist with people that are different than you. It also shows you give a damn and aren’t just looking to colonize their neighborhood. If your neighbors aren’t up for schmoozing, there are always local business owners to chat up. Become a regular at your local café or bar. These small efforts can help you feel better connected to your city and neighborhood. We live in the 2nd most dense city in the country. Take advantage of it and if you don’t feel like interacting with people, go live in a more suburban or rural area.
Use Public Transit
Yeah, I know. You planned poorly and ridesharing is the only way to get there on time. That has its time and place, but public transit is part of the magic of living in a city. I’m not the biggest fan of New York, but I love that nearly everyone there rides the subway. It’s the great equalizer. We don’t need any more class separation than we already have.
Explore Different Neighborhoods
San Francisco is SO MUCH more than The Mission, NOPA or SOMA. Explore all the different neighborhoods because they all have something to offer from authentic international cuisine to iconic history. You might shock yourself to the diversity that still exists here even when every internet article paints SF as all tech. If you can, walk, because it’s healthy and gives you a sense of how all the neighborhoods are interconnected without being so dependent on your phone. I don’t think everyone realizes the privilege we have of things being so walkable. Yes, there are hills, but they’re gorgeous and they build character, goddamnit. Take pride in them and thank them for being the reason your ass looks so great.
Time is the most precious resource we have and there’s nothing more selfless than sharing a bit of yours with your community. Is it too much to ask to spend an hour a week, not thinking about yourself? I don’t think so. Plant trees, mentor a child, clean up the streets or offer your personal area of expertise to another cause or individual. Those are some pretty basic ideas, but this is San Francisco and you could probably find a way to help LGBTQI youth learn acroyoga if that’s what you’re into. It feels damn good and many of these activities are an opportunity to rally your friends and do it together.
Practice Everyday Kindness
Look for everyday opportunities to practice kindness and make people smile. You never know how that can turn someone’s day around and how contagious it can become. Small actions matter and help us create the kind of place our hearts know is possible.
Despite the exodus of artists, musicians and creatives leaving the city, many of us still have friends doing some really rad things. When they have events, stop being so non-committal and get your ass over there. Support them, especially if you’re one of those people pining for when San Francisco was rampant with culture. When you’re there for someone, it’ll mean the world to them and it’s often the boost of confidence they need to keep going when doubt creeps in.
Throw Your Own Events
Creating your own events is an awesome way to participate in community. If you’re feeling a void, someone else probably is too, but don’t wait for someone else to do it. Throw a neighborhood block party, host a craft night or create a regular event around a mutual interest (I love having vinyl record listening parties). Try to keep at least some events free and welcoming to all types of folks, but if it does involve dropping some skrilla it’s pretty easy to make sure at least part of it benefits a good cause.
Become A History Buff
Immersing yourself in the rich history of San Francisco is an excellent way to feel more invested about living here. Visit the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society or borrow one of the many excellent reads on our city from your local library branch. Try Season of the Witch by David Talbot, Cool Gray City of Love by Gary Kamiya or Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas by Rebecca Solnit for starters.
Get Involved in Local Issues
If there are issues you care about (affordable housing, evictions, homelessness), go to city council hearings and talk to your local representatives or community organizations to let your voice be heard. Posting on social media is fine and all for awareness, but it doesn’t get anything done by itself and often isn’t where the most meaningful conversation happens.
I know much of today’s generation is disenfranchised with the political process, but if you can vote and you don’t, it’s pretty hypocritical to complain when you’re not even exercising your rights. Seriously though, registering doesn’t take very long. Just fucking do it.
Boots Riley was right. San Francisco (or any city for that matter) just doesn’t live up to its potential unless we participate and make it a place that welcomes all types of people. We need a mentality not of “me first,” but leaving this place better than we found it. Ask not what San Francisco can do for you, ask what you can do for San Francisco. When you make that the focus, it will be every bit the amazing city you want it to be.
p.s. Thanks to all my friends and acquaintances who helped contribute ideas to this story. If you have ideas yourself, don’t hesitate to join in on the discussion.
This post was first shared on Medium.
I haven’t been faithful to my promise of writing about one thing I’m grateful for each month, but it’s been weighing on my mind. Instead of trying to catch up on the six I’ve missed, I’m going to just post when I can because well, it’s good for me and others to hear (thanks Lexi!).
Today I’m feeling grateful to be a resident of San Francisco. There are a lot of problems here that need to be addressed, but it’s a place that always astonishes me. Take today for example. I went to see Charles Bradley for free at Hardly Strictly because Warren Hellman was kind enough to subsidize a music festival as his gift to the public. I went on a lovely bike ride to get there. The weather was idyllic and Golden Gate Park is a beautiful place for humans to gather. From there, I biked back across town to attend a vinyl record swap hosted by a friend at a rad bar. I met new humans there who happened to share my affinity for records and even traded a few with an 11-year old who surprised me by being into records at all. I also now own Shaquille O’Neal on vinyl.
That is just a small sampling of the kind of stuff that happens here all the time. There are a lot of great places to live around the world, but right now, I don’t have fomo because San Francisco is magical. It challenges me (sometimes a bit too much) and rewards me (also sometimes a bit too much) for being here. I feel like I’m part of something special and am getting life experiences that don’t happen just anywhere. Thank you San Francisco. I'd probably cry if I was forced to leave you right now and it's damn important to feel like that about somewhere.
Photo: Sherese Elsey