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One Last Walk Around the Old Neighborhood: In Which Your Humble Narrator Bids Adieu 

Wednesday, Mar 18 2015
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Well, that was fun. But now, it's time to go.

The buildings here are old. The silhouette of the crenelations against the morning sky have changed little since the time of Sunny Jim Rolph, the days when Everyone Liked Ike, or opted to Unite and Fight with Dan White. Whether you first experienced this city in the 1930s, '50s, '70s, or yesterday, this neighborhood still feels like home.

Who knew timelessness could be so malleable? Who knew nostalgia could be a mix-and-match affair?

Outside your front door, the residents of the (illegal) boarding house mill about and talk: The handyman; the Navy vet who spends his days endlessly toiling over a Trans-Am; the Uber driver who laments his colossal 2007 Escalade will, next month, be aged out of the fleet. A series of bleary-eyed parents pull up and drop off their infants and toddlers at the (legal) garage day care center across the street, and then head off to a long day earning the money required to store their children in a garage.

You wander past the bony man in an undershirt smoking an ever-present Marlboro Red and sidestep his guinea pig-sized chihuahuas. Elderly, visor-wearing Asian women collect bottles on either side of the street. Several blocks along, a young woman wearing pajamas parks her SUV on the sidewalk, weaves through the half a dozen other SUVs parked on the sidewalk, and catches a fistful of dollars hurled from an upper story window by a friend. She bellows she's off to buy an undisclosed item at an intersection at which there is no store.

This is the same intersection at which your humble narrator lives. Huh. Note to self.

These, to paraphrase the line from Sesame Street, are the people in your neighborhood. While the architecture here is constant and unchanging, the same cannot be said for the individuals who reside within. It's a group with little in common save the trait that binds so many city dwellers. We are struggling to stay here, for as long as we can.

Until we can't. That's what it is to be a San Franciscan.

Jr. the bike messenger rumbles up Valencia Street on his archaic Schwinn Spitfire. He resembles a more bedraggled Santa Claus outfitted exclusively in dark polyester jumpsuits; his ride, held together with black electrical tape and copious welds, looks like it could use a reindeer or two to ease the burden.

When he first moved to this street more than 30 years ago it was "a backwash. There was nobody down here. All the stores were closed. It was only lesbians and holy rollers."

You'd have better luck finding Santa here now.

It's easy for today's San Franciscans to wallow in nostalgia, but it's a difficult feeling to square. Like the Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment, our observation of the situation alters the situation. We desire a condition our presence helped to ensure is no longer possible.

A few blocks from Jr.'s twee thoroughfare sits Dolores Park, the unwitting symbol of everything this city was, is, and may yet be. The befouling of this park with tons of garbage and its collection at great public expense is a trending topic among media tubthumpers. The park recapitulates the old Yogi Berra line: Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.

But this situation — or the devolution of so many public festivities into booze-soaked bacchanals — isn't so hard to grasp. There's no future here for most of today's young San Franciscans and many of them don't desire one. The New Yorker's George Packer was on to something when he noted that "the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that's who thinks them up." Visitors to Dolores Park treat the place the way Keith Moon treated hotel rooms because, to an extent, this entire city is a hotel.

A generation ago, however, Dolores Park — and this city — had a different set of concerns. Veteran cops recall it as an open-air drug emporium; crime was so rampant that cash-rich drug-dealers actually begged police for protection from armed robbers lest they be transformed into human ATMs.

Dolores Park — and the Mission — were different places when they served as the stomping ground for residents of the Valencia Gardens and Army Street Projects. The city long ago razed those places, and the people who resided within, be they law-abiding or criminals, have scattered off to parts unknown.

The park is now wreathed in the odor of pot smoke and hoppy lager piss and laden with tons of entitled detritus — and the garbage these people produce. The Mission is the city's hottest neighborhood. San Francisco continues to struggle to make life better for its residents without driving large numbers of them away.

Dostoyevsky, who knew of such things, pondered the fate of a condemned prisoner grasping, desperately, to the fleeting experiences of quotidian life as his tumbrel draws closer to its final destination.

At the onset of the journey, it still seems like you've got all the time in the world. But as the final destination draws near, the realization that this will be the last time you experience even the most banal of things — the scent of the cobblestones, the warmth of the sun, the laughter of children at play — grows overwhelming. The desire to register life's totality grows as the time to do so recedes.

It's a hell of a thing.

"Your humble narrator" is a reference to the film A Clockwork Orange where, among other things, a character is saturated with myriad and terrible images he cannot unsee. In truth, however, it was mostly a gimmick to stave off excessive first-person writing, which is to print journalism what the selfie stick is to photojournalism. My goal has always been to focus on the subjects and not the author; you can't write "your humble narrator" more than twice in a column without it growing onerous (as this particular column doubtlessly proves). It was a crude but effective tool, much as putting the pretzels on a high, unseen ledge is a crude but effective way to keep yourself from eating them all.

The tumbrel has reached its destination. This will be the final your humble narrator column in this paper.

By all means, continue reading SF Weekly. In a city in which the newspaper of record sees fit to allow San Francisco's biggest fixer free rein to conduct his backroom deals in writing — and nobody seems to much care — SF Weekly is one of the few outlets still providing journalists the time and space necessary to effectively analyze a city in which there are no easy answers. It is a vital role and one that was taken seriously by those privileged enough to be handed the ball and given room to run.

So, keep reading. But, if you please, read San Francisco magazine as well, where your humble narrator starts this week.

I stayed at this paper for as long as I could.

Until I couldn't. But I remain a San Franciscan. I remain your humble narrator.

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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