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Ever Upward: The Excelsior, the Blue-Collar Soul of the City, Struggles to Keep It Real in San Francisco's Era of Make-Believe 

Tuesday, Sep 16 2014
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Page 5 of 5

Or perhaps a starker future awaits. Establishments catering to well-heeled newcomers could price out those patronized by its struggling underclass. The businessmen drawn by low rents and neighborhood potential could yet be swamped by the very success they beget. A rising tide may lift all boats, but it's quite a different situation for those tethered to the ground.

On the other hand, Excelsior newcomers may not even think to give a damn about their gritty retail corridor. They may drive to the Safeway or the spiffy new Whole Foods on Ocean Avenue surrounded by all those condos, condos, condos. Cao says her Chinese clients still prefer to do their shopping in Chinatown; she doesn't even bother to talk up the corridor.

Those who do shop in the neighborhood may simply migrate to and from their chosen stores and restaurants, never giving a moment's thought to the totality of the place they live in, the types of establishments they don't frequent, or the types of people who'd frequent them.

There is, after all, no flagpole here.

The Southeast is Red.

And never more so than on a Sunday. It gets real quiet here during game days. Until, invariably, it gets real loud. This is what the 49ers left behind when they abandoned this city: The Latino brothers in Michael Crabtree and Aldon Smith jerseys arguing about the game in Spanish; the ebullient man who unfurls a bedsheet-sized San Francisco flag as he teeters atop an AT&T utility box; the woman who walks out of one of the 25-odd hair or nail salons along the Excelsior Mission corridor with red-and-gold talons.

This will always be 49ers territory, even if the privilege of attending the games has been wrenched away from this population and rendered the exclusive domain of wealthy arrivistes willing to buy in at any cost.

It's hard to miss the deeper meanings here.

"I love this city," says community organizer Oscar Grande, an Excelsior lifer and father of four in a part of town where that's not yet an aberration. "But I don't feel like it loves me back."

Grande and his family have made a life here because, in a prior epoch, the city's love wasn't merely apportioned to the highest bidder. His father, a union janitor, was able to afford a house here within five years of emigrating from El Salvador. Because of that, subsequent generations of Grandes can stay in San Francisco as well. It's that sense of nostalgia that keeps people here — in this neighborhood and this city. But not nostalgia if it's still happening.

A few months back, sirens blared and the harsh, smoky odors of a nearby fire pervaded a side street along the Excelsior's southern tip. An impromptu block party of curious neighbors ensued. Men and women laughed and talked on the streets; kids rode bikes and played with dogs; old women leaned off their porches and chatted with one another.

In that fleeting moment, everyone knew where the flagpole was. In that fleeting moment, it looked a bit like San Francisco.


About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

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