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That’s San Francisco!


I’ve been here a week now, so I’m pretty sure I know all there is to know about this city.

Yet still, people feel obliged to tell what’s it’s like. I don’t think it’s because I’m a newbie though, I think they’ve been doing it to each other since the beginning of time. It’s a unique place, this Saint Francis, and the people here like to remind themselves that they are indeed unique for living here. I know so, because on average of once a day, somebody tells me: “That’s San Francisco!”.

They say it with a mixture of exasperation and adoration, like one scolding a fluffy puppy that found its way into the sock drawer.  At the same time they throw their arms out to the side, palms up, a gesture of forced apology; but really, closer to body language for ‘deal with it’.

I thought after the first couple of days I had worn out the typical San Fran scenarios that would illicit this reaction, but it keeps coming back. It started on my first day. I was wandering most the day, just getting my bearings. In the course of a couple of hours, I went through every weather condition known to man. The highlights were three sun showers and a hail storm that left the streets covered in white pellets. So many, that I was expecting a tragic, but hilarious, sequence of over-animated slipping, like on a cartoon banana peel. Screeching tires, flailing limbs and rickety front wheels all attempting, for far too long, to prevent the inevitable. It didn’t happen. But replaying the scene to my roommate that evening got me the first of many…”That’s San Francisco!”

Just a day later, I was biking home, a partial flat tire making every pedal stroke a chore. It felt like I was powering the neighbourhood with each rotation. So I was being very careful to avoid all hills, which I’ve heard, believe it or not, is possible around here. I was doing a great job too, had made it halfway home, out of the hilliest section of the city, with barely an incline. Maybe I let my guard down, but all of sudden, out of nowhere, four of the biggest hills I’ve ever seen popped out of the ground, without even making a noise. One on each side. I was stuck. Nowhere to go but extremely up. Recounting the story the next day, I should have seen it coming…”That’s San Francisco!”

And yesterday, I was taking in a St. Patrick’s Day parade; actually, more like people just walking down the street and other people watching them. The Irish are not known for their parades. Well out of no where, a man comes running through the middle of the parade, police hot on his heels. He’s missing a couple of teeth and having trouble keeping the drool from flowing out the gap, and his laceless shoes aren’t the best for escaping the pigs. They catch him. Two store workers catch up soon after and gab their way through the story; they told this guy to get out, he started swinging a screw driver at them. Probably an unexpected response. Sure enough, the screwdriver is there in his pocket. The parade crowd has found themselves a new spectacle, and a much more interesting one at that. When it all calms down, the guy next to me turns, and obligingly announces the phrase I’ve come to expect…”That’s San Francisco!”

So I’ve been trying to figure it out. Three very different scenarios, three “That’s San Francisco!” So what is San Francisco? It’s hilly yes, but there must be more to it. It’s eclectic sure, all sorts of different people find there way in this city. But I think what folks are getting at is that San Francisco is completely unpredictable. And not just with the weather. This city keeps you guessing every single day, and that’s the fun of it.

Yesterday, I was downtown and saw a big group of guys running around in wedding dresses. Found out later that it’s a yearly tradition. It’s called the Brides of March, and it’s actually an organized event attended by hundreds of locals.

Never would have seen that one coming. Now THAT is San Francisco.

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  1. Vitaly
    April 2, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    Nice observation! I tried to pull that with a friend of mine once in Chicago, “That’s Chicago!” But she just rolled her eyes and said everyone says that about where they live. I guess it’s at least partially true.

    As far as the Irish and the parade, all the parading Irish live in Chicago. Ever watch “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?” =)

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