Monday, April 27, 2009


Orange Alley, the Mission
Sunday morning


As a child, when people asked me what I wanted to be, I said a writer. If they pressed further I'd say I want to write in a big city. Didn't matter which one at the time--Chicago, New York, Los Angeles--I just wanted to be near the pulse that comes from an urban environment.

Then I went on vacation to San Francisco, and decided right then and there that if I could live anywhere I'd been, that would be the place. I wrote letters to friends promising that one day I would move to San Francisco. I put the dream on the about page of my personal blog.

Then it happened. I was offered a job, writing, in San Francisco just a few months shy of my 30th birthday. Just when I thought I might never leave the Tennessee town I grew up in, I got the call of a lifetime. It was finally on.

This crazy parrot-having place I landed in could not be more different than where I lived for the entirety of three decades. When I think of trying to put down into words how it makes me feel to to see a palm tree in my peripheral vision, I go numb. Which is crazy, it’s just a palm tree. What could be so fabulous and compelling about a palm tree that I cannot manage to convey its impact in writing? The issue isn’t the tree itself, it’s the unexpectedness of it. It’s purely foreign to me. A palm tree, to a girl who always lived in Tennessee, is an exotic thing. It is a large, looming figure of otherness; an iconic beast that exists in postcards and at the movies and on vacation. Never when you are walking the dog. So, when I see it out of the corner of one eye my chest brims with the thrill of not just something new, but a regular something new. Something different from what always was, and I can see it whenever I want. I just walk outside.

I am still experiencing culture shock a year and a half later. I am often stopped where I walk. I am struck still by a brand new experience almost every day, some as tiny as a speck of glitter. But, oh, do they shine. They are made up of elements I've seen before, but each behaves in a way that I am completely unfamiliar with. It's kind of been like being on vacation for a long time (and just as expensive!), save for all the working and chores and washing your own towels stuff.

I have skills now I never would have gotten had I not moved. I don't have as much street smarts as I'd like, but I've learned how to walk through sketchy neighborhoods at night without too much fear of harassment. I can almost always hail a cab, provided they are available, and after some time I'm finally able to tell the driver which route I prefer. "Mission or the freeway?" Now I know, depending on what time it is, whether or not it's Critical Mass and if there are any protests planned, which way to tell the cabbie. After some time, I know when riding in the back of a speeding cab when to brace myself. Sitting in back, the taxi taking jutting hills at break-neck speeds, I find my breath trapped in my lungs. Sailing over the crest of the hilltop, all my air is tight in my chest. Sometimes I swear the tires leave the pavement. But sometimes after topping one of San Francisco's notorious summits the bay waters will spill into sight. Then I exhale.

All the thrills, the sights, the people, the bay air: It all feels like what I thought home would feel like.


On a rooftop in the Mission, near Valencia
Saturday morning


I was born in SF General but didn't grow up in San Francisco. My family moved to Sebastopol when I was two years old and I no longer have any memories of the city from that period of my life. However I always loved coming to the city as a kid, there was always something about coming out of the tunnel on 101 and seeing the SF skyline while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge that awed me. It jut seemed so big and exciting.

I found the city really interesting, especially all the different neighborhoods and how distinct they all are. From the grungy back alleys of Chinatown, to the tall buildings in the Financial, and the quite streets of the Sunset, or the sunshine in the Mission. I still find enjoyment just walking around areas of the city I've never been to before.

Here's a short list of my favorite things about SF:

• Sutro Tower, I love it because you can see it pretty much anywhere in SF
• The cement slides on Seward St
• The Indian summers, but not the fog of actual summer
• Laying on the grass at Dolores Park
• The craziness that happens on MUNI
• Free concerts in the park
• The noodle houses on Clement St
• Baker beach, the clothed side.
• SFMOMA, I can get lost in here for hours
• Bay to Breakers, and all the awesome costumes
• Kickball with my friends
• All the taquerias in the Mission
• Riding my bike down Market
• Getting lost in Golden Gate park
• The view from Twin Peaks


The rest of Ben's photo shoot can be seen here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


on Broadway above the tunnel
Russian Hill

Friday noon


I moved to San Francisco a little over a year ago after living in Austin, Texas for a year. Before that I lived in New York City for 10 years, and before that Boston, New Hampshire, and Maine.

I am a New Englander at heart and sometimes I have trouble relating to San Franciscans, especially those who are are into really new-agey kinds of things, or who feel the need to parade the streets in costume for every little holiday, or who sit in trees for 21 months in protest. There are general things I don't like about this place, like the pale foggy light, the washed out building colors, and chilly weather which means I can never go out at night without a winter jacket. Coming directly from Austin, I was used to pretty much perfect, warm, sunny weather year-round and the climate in San Francisco was definitely a disappointment.

But there are some things that I really do like: super-fresh produce, awesome thrift stores, and most of all the fact that I never feel in a rush to go anywhere. Living in New York City, there were so many people around all the time that I always felt in a hurry and my day-to-day stress level was high enough to feel like I was having a panic attack sometimes.

Life in San Francisco is pretty much completely hassle-free. I have a friend who described living here as 'being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it' (like sit in a tree for 21 months). Because of this aspect, I've been able to open a dance studio and shoe store here. This is something I don't think would have been possible had I stayed in NYC. The rents there are too high and the hoops you need to jump through to get a lease are just crazy. Here, we have our own stable business (where we can do whatever we want, whenever we want to do it), it's just a block from where we live so it's insanely convenient, and I have everything I need right here within walking distance. I am able to keep a car here, so I have the freedom that provides.

Also, San Francisco probably has the biggest and best tango community in the United States. There is a lot of business here for us, and I always have fun when I go out dancing. Sometimes I think about moving somewhere that is closer to my family and life-long friends, but every time I do, San Francisco gives me something else that makes me want to stay. The longer I am here, the
more I like it.

And I've started wearing a puffy vest and sensible hill-climbing shoes, so I guess I am slowly but surely assimilating.


Jennifer's contact info is here:

Jennifer Bratt
Maleva Shoes @ TangoVida
1120 Pacific Ave
San Francisco CA 94133


The rest of Jennifer's photo shoot is here, also pictured with her partner, Ney.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


on Broadway above the tunnel
Russian Hill
Friday noon


I am a native New Yorker, I was born in the South Bronx, attended high school on the Upper East side of Manhattan, and lived in an apartment in the East Village. My San Francisco experience happened by chance. I have a younger sister who relocated to San Francisco a couple of years ago and I would make a point to visit her if I was teaching tango workshops on the West Coast.

About 2 years ago, I was getting tired of the NYC grind and my visits to my sister became more frequent. On one of those visits I went apartment hunting for fun and I actually found a decent apartment in Nob Hill! So I decided to test SF out for a couple of months. A couple of months after that, one block away from my SF apartment, I found the space that was to become the TangoVida studio. Once again, I decided to "test it out".

In a short amount of time, the studio amassed a large following and I have become more comfortable with the idea of living in SF. The most difficult adjustment I had to make was to let go of the idea of "the struggle". Whether they realize it or not, many New Yorkers are hooked on NYC because they have become conditioned to think that simple things should be a struggle (getting an apartment, getting a job, getting a cab, etc.) but that is not the mentality here in SF.

SF is a much healthier and stress-free town than NYC. The people here are into being healthy and eating well. That is such an easy thing to do since the restaurant scene here is fantastic and it is very easy and inexpensive to drink good wine!


Ney and his partner Jennifer own and teach Argentine tango at Studio Tango Vida.

Studio TangoVida
1120 Pacific Ave
San Francisco CA 94133


The rest of Ney's photo shoot, also with his partner Jennifer, can be seen here.

Friday, April 10, 2009


on Hayes Street
Friday morning


I live here in this glorious city of San Francisco. I grew up just across the bridge, and have always knew that I would be here in this fantastic, diverse, beautiful city.

I have lived in many other cities, I have lived in Europe, and I just find this city to be one of the greatest places to be. Ah, but I am leaving this City once more for Europe, my other love. It tears at my heart to leave, but I know that San Francisco will always be here for me to return to. I also know that I will never forget the things that make me love this place, and I thought I would compile a list of those things so you can enjoy them for me.

Oh how I will miss:
  • Feeling the wind against my cheeks as I run through Golden Gate Park, and get to my destination, the Pacific Ocean.
  • Lounging at Baker Beach with my friends, on a clear day with a fantastic view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Hearing that damn Muni bus go up and down my street.
  • Eating at my favorite restaurants: A16, SPQR, Delfina & Beretta.
  • The Warfield & the Fillmore.
  • Walking in to the lush courtyard of my apartment complex, entering my building and getting to my amazingly cute apartment.
  • Scoring big time with some new Louboutins for dirt cheap at CRIS on Polk Street. (That one is going to be tough to get over.)
  • Night time views of the City from Alamo Square.
  • Crazy conversations with sane people over San Francisco politics.
  • Driving up and down the steep hills.
  • The streetcars!

That is just a short list...there are so many things to love here. I will be back!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


East Portal MUNI stop
Lower Haight
Saturday morning


I was born at Mt. Zion hospital, in the old wing at Post and Scott, before San Francisco was a "knowledge center" full of "thought leaders," in the dead zone between the counterculture revolutions and the technology boom. They don't have a birth wing any more. It's a cancer research center now. Which you know, I might be grateful for someday too.

In 1986, my bedroom window at Vermont & Mariposa looked at the sunset over Sutro tower. The other side of it seemed like a foreign land, like on the other side might be the other side of the world, where someone had told me their sun comes up when ours goes down and they start their day as we are going to bed. It didn't occur to me that on the other side of it was just the Sunset, where we had moved to Potrero Hill from a house at 2206 39th Avenue. A Chinese family had bought it in probate and wanted to sell it to my parents. They had it appraised around $108,000. My dad couldn't really see the value in it, and neither was really ready for the commitment.

During the day I went to Katherine Michiels' School at 1335 Guerrero, where we made our own vegetarian lunches and made up rap songs about farm animals and social justice. After school, I played in Dolores Park or ate quesadillas from La Cumbre at 515 Valencia. I still do both of those things on a fairly regular basis. My mom bought duck sausage at a butcher on Mission Street and made things that tasted like New Orleans, where she had lived briefly before moving to San Francisco.

From our house on Vermont Street, we walked to Goat Hill Pizza and Farley's. There used to be a make-your-own teddy bear factory near the Anchor Steam brewery somewhere, and mine was a fat one named Farley. They only TV channel I was permitted to watch (on a black & white set with an antenna) was KQED, which I knew was where Sesame Street lived, a few blocks away at the bottom of the hill. But it was a big hill to a small girl, and the few short blocks seemed an enormous distance from the Slovenian Hall to McKinley Square.

I believe early childhood in Potrero Hill was, spatially, one of the most positive impacts on my cognitive development. The relationship of the industrial flats to the neighborhood ascending the hill, the freeway as a visual and psychological border, and the mix of residential and commercial uses all worked together to subvert the conventions that are taught to American children as the "proper" kind of neighborhood to live in, while being exactly the most salutary kind of neighborhood to live in. The city in the eighties was a real, live Sesame Street; presenting the languages of plurality and urbanism at the most formative time, so that homogeneous single use residential areas would always seem wrong and foreign.

Of course, I couldn't articulate any of that until one day in college, when I worked for my dad in the dispatch center at Luxor Cab Co. In my downtime, I pored compulsively over the reverse phone directory and made indexes on a map of callers' old telephone exchanges, addresses, and real estate listings. I was obsessed with the movement of people, where they lived and worked, where they went, and what of the city was leftover from before. The young dispatcher I worked with on Sunday mornings told me I should consider urban planning as a vocation, and lent me a copy of Jane Jacobs' The Death & Life of Great American Cities. He's a MUNI driver now, and I see him occasionally on the system around town. There's never time to thank him for illuminating my purpose, and I keep meaning to return his copy of the book.

It was the most incredible revelation; here was the lens through which I see the world, perfectly articulated and preceding me by forty years. To this day, it informs so much of what I think and talk about. I went on to study most of the rest of Jacobs' body of work, but even now I keep a copy of The Death & Life next to my bed for quick-reference, finding it as prescient and useful as ever on an almost daily basis. I can hardly speak about anything without relating it back to the built environment or transit infrastructure or demographics or history; it bores the snot out of my friends but frankly, I don't care to think about things any other way.

I love the idea of continuing Jacobs' legacy in the information age, and feel oddly lucky that I just happen to be indigenous to a city and region on the forefront of information technology and dissemination. I see such incredible potential there, and I love thinking about what she would say about Streetsblog and the Livable Streets movement, and the creation of virtual neighborhoods through localized blogs and social networking sites. And I'm so excited to be an active participant in furthering the urban literacy ethic in as many ways as I can; I'm currently working with two really talented urbanists to put together a Jane's Walk for early May, in the neighborhood I call home. So many people see the upper Haight through a narrow lens, whether because of its history or aesthetic or street life, and I can't wait to illustrate the specific aspects of the environment that make it a wonderfully livable, pluralistic, self-sustaining neighborhood.

I'll never be cured of this.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


inside the Marsh Theatre
Valencia Street
Sunday afternoon


My name is Cari, and I've been a San Franciscan for four months, one week, and six days.

I move around a lot. I've lived in three countries, dozens of cities, and I've visited just about everywhere at least once. In my four months, one week, and six days in San Francisco, I've already had two different addresses.

But I've never lived somewhere like this. I'm still shocked that I can go to work, take a yoga class, meet some friends for dinner, see a show, and make it home without ever getting in a car. How is that possible? Every day, I try to take a different route to work and I find something different each time. (Today's discovery: vintage hats for $12, just down the street from work!)

About eight months ago, I fell in love with a boy and the city he lived in. I moved here to be with them both. After a little while, the boy and I stopped seeing each other, but the city and I grew ever closer. Without my tour guide, I was worried I'd be lost in the city alone. But San Francisco took me in.

In four months (etc.), I've made more good friends here than I ever had elsewhere. I go out more often; I find more things to do. The city draws me out and makes anything seem possible. I was afraid I'd be swallowed whole, but just the opposite is true. For example: I've been trying for years to put my theater degree to good use, and to no avail. Two weeks after I moved here, I saw a cute little theater on Valencia and 22nd, gave them a call, and a week later I was working for The Marsh. Just like that.

This city means something different to everyone. That's part of its magic. To me, it's a blank slate, a followed dream, and a great love (or two).

I think I'll stay a while this time.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Friday afternoon


We belong somewhere like this.

Those were the words I wrote in an email to my husband, Brent, inspired by San Francisco on my first business trip to the city. Several years passed and my passion for the city intensified, eventually spreading deep through Brent as well. We were sick with desire to pick up and start over with the cold fog on our bags. But at the time, we were a newly married couple with mortgage payments and careers firmly fixing us in Raleigh, North Carolina. I've learned in life that when you really want something... I mean, really, deep down inside of you want something, things have a way of working out. In some strange twist of fate, San Francisco opened itself up to us when my company offered me a new position and the opportunity to transfer to the Bay Area. In a matter of a few weeks and many boxes, our house was sold, our cars too... our belongings either packed away in the attics of our family or sold to someone off craigslist.

We were minimal. Only the bare essentials were placed on a truck and headed for Baker St., San Francisco. Arriving here was like exhaling. I'd been so fearful for so long that somehow our impossible stroke of luck was going to fall away and leave us short of realizing our dream. The mornng of our move, we flew out on the first flight from RDU, our two small dogs in carriers under our seats. We slept on the floor of an empty apartment for three days until the moving truck made its way to our door.

Our tiny new apartment was a mere fraction of the size of our former home, and yet it felt like a kingdom to us. The Victorian ceilings were high enough to hold all of our expectations. The old uneven hardwoods supported our dancing feet and the old furniture we dragged in off the street. We explored our new neighborhood like wide-eyed children. We absorbed everything. Everyone. In two months time, I went from never having ridden a city bus to navigating from one neighborhood to the next without even looking up.

Our relationship and trust in one another grew exponentially in our new city. We discovered new places, took winding rides to the top of Twin Peaks and to the edge of the Cliff House. I smelled and breathed and viewed everything on the back of my husband's motorcycle, never needing to say a word, feeling his energy and mine and that of the city abounding. In the beginning we were euphoric.

And then as time passed, we began to feel comfortable. We slept through grocery carts clanging past our windows and people laughing loudly at 3am. We learned where to find a killer barbeque sandwich, delicious Pho, and the best hardware store to purchase paint. We began to know people. Shop owners, neighbors, new friends. Our dream was growing into a solid new life. Brent found work as an art assistant for an established San Francisco artist and his music has been welcomed by venues and patrons across the city.

San Francisco has changed both of us. Every day we throw back the covers, open the blinds, and expect to be charmed. We close our eyes each night, with expectations met. We are living in San Francisco deliriously, passionately, feverishly... because it was true all along. We belonged somewhere like this.