To paraphrase a line inaccurately attributed to Mark Twain: The most unsafe I ever felt in Iran was seven years later on the streets of San Francisco.
Like many of the city's tourists, I'm staying in the Tenderloin district. A local shares some advice: "Watch your back. And your front." My hotel is next to a pot dispensary and across the street from a luxury apartment building where the monthly rent for a 387 sq. ft. studio starts at $3,300. These are among the only going concerns on the entire block, which is teeming with trash and drug-addled vagrants.
As disconcerting as the daylight hours are, the Tenderloin is a dystopian nightmare after dark. The 200-yard walk to Chico's Pizza feels like two miles. The three-minute timeframe suggested by Google Maps does not take into account improvised detours to evade the hordes of frenetic zombies roaming the streets and shouting at no one in particular. Before drifting off to sleep I am jolted awake by an automated voice—the voice of God?—blaring outside my window: "You are trespassing. This area is under video surveillance and you have been recorded." I start to wonder if I'd merely dreamed that U.S. Army recruiting commercial about how the military is a fun club where you get to drink beers and shoot pool with your buddies. (I had not.)
It doesn't feel very safe. Some liberals argue it's morally abhorrent to feel this way, that it is simply an expression of "discomfort with poverty being more visible." In the words of one local columnist, the city's Democratic leaders should stop "pandering" to "affluent city dwellers who freak out any time they see a f—ing homeless person." Even in San Francisco, these attitudes are starting to chafe. Days from now, a diverse coalition of city residents will vote to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin, the Yale-educated son of domestic terrorists and former Hugo Chavez intern whose "arrogant" demeanor and radical approach to criminal justice reform managed to piss off a majority of the city's solidly progressive voters. Asian Americans in particular were eager to fire Boudin given his refusal to crack down on violent offenders as anti-Asian hate crimes surged in 2021.
The writing was on the wall. Boudin had struggled to feign enthusiasm during a last ditch get-out-the-vote rally at an "unapologetically punk" dive bar in the Mission district. I managed to avoid becoming (I assume) the only Trump-Boudin donor in America by pretending to pay the recommended entry fee on my phone, and arrived just in time for the emotional reunion of a recently paroled domestic terrorist (Boudin's father David Gilbert) and Angela Davis, a former Communist Party vice-presidential candidate and winner of the Lenin Peace Prize. The embattled district attorney blamed his plight on "Republican billionaires." Days before the recall vote, he appeared in one of the saddest photos ever taken.
Alas, firing Boudin won't change the fact that large swaths of San Francisco, a city that hasn't elected a Republican mayor since 1960, are s—holes."It's disgusting," says my Uber driver, Amjad, a Tesla-owning accountant who is trying to afford the $30,000 a year it costs to send his son to UC-San Diego. He lives across the bay in Albany, where the schools are decent and the median house costs $1.3 million. Boudin is "a character," he says. "They're going to kick him out."
Parts of the city are, in fact, disgusting. The morning walk from my hotel to city hall is more harrowing than the one last night. Straight through the squalor past the tented allies, discarded syringes, and human droppings. Past the drug dealers hawking fentanyl to the 99.9+ percent of addicts who aren't earning half a million dollars on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm—some passed out on the sidewalk next to broken glass, some fiddling with their government-provided smoking kits, some wearing a ratty Oakland Raiders shirt and urging passersby to "avoid Canada at all costs!" (Fair enough.)
Past a Walgreens with half its entrance boarded up and an armed guard lurking just inside. Everything from pistachios and Slim Jims to mouthwash and Vagisil is already behind lock and key but they aren't taking any chances. Even the Ross Dress for Less has "loss prevention" officers standing guard. Around the corner to Black Box, a virtual reality gym where people pay $199 a month to experience "the future of fitness." Over to United Nations Plaza and the large vacant building at 1128 Market Street—80,000 sq. ft. of otherwise prime real estate that will struggle to find a tenant so long as the surrounding area remains a favored gathering spot for homeless addicts and a staging point for their taxpayer-funded enablers. Plenty of pride flags, though, and two old white ladies demanding climate action on the steps of city hall.
It's just as bad a little further south, past the Quaker Meeting House with the giant "Black Lives Matter" banner and over to the Pacific Gas & Electric Company's mission substation, an emphatically Soviet structure where the sign says "no loitering" but the small army of loitering vagrants says "f— the sign." They are supervised by harm-reduction acolytes from Urban Alchemy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to "transforming the energy in traumatized urban spaces." The CEO is a longtime friend of Mayor London Breed (D.), who has awarded the group a number of no-bid contracts to help clean up the "bullshit that has destroyed our city."
Urban Alchemy has been patrolling the area in their green-striped vests for several months. Most employees are ex-cons like "Huggy," who says he served 22 years on an array of charges and is trying to stay out of trouble. He has just intervened to stop a vagrant from pestering some poor old woman eating lunch near the Twitter headquarters on Market. His duties include "helping people find drugs safely" and "calling the supervisor" whenever someone collapses on the street or goes nuts and pulls a knife. He's ambivalent on Boudin but thinks the city has come a long way since the 1980s under Mayor Dianne Feinstein. "You'd get knocked the f— out."
In addition to the "bullshit" destroying San Francisco, the Democratic machine that runs things around here has other priorities to address. In the days leading up to the recall, for example, Mayor Breed established an official "drag laureate" post to honor the city's "commitment to inclusivity and the arts" and inspire "the next generation of drag performers." San Francisco public schools banned the word "chief" in response to "concerns" about its "connotation with Native Americans."
The city already funds "safe smoking kits," pays people to help addicts find drugs, and puts up billboards urging fentanyl users to "do it with friends." It also spends taxpayer dollars on anti-tobacco propaganda and ads supporting the Biden administration's controversial ban on menthol cigarettes. "Our loss is their profit," reads a poster sponsored by the California Department of Public Health. "Big Tobacco targets Black communities with menthol cigarettes." Damn those evil corporations. Why can't they be more like the scrappy entrepreneurs flooding our streets with meth and fentanyl? Boudin and his fellow Democrats love to blame their problems on others. The problem with San Francisco is there's no one else to blame.
The Surrounding Environs
Parking a Tesla correctly is easier than you'd expect from watching Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) traipse around her posh Washington, D.C., neighborhood in her Model 3. Driving one isn't as fun as you might expect. It's like driving one of Arianna Huffington's nap pods for anxious Millennials. The acceleration is fantastic, but without the satisfying roar of a real engine, more of a dull whine—somewhat irritating like the sound of someone vacuuming down the hall with the door closed.
Gas is $7 a gallon. This is the future ruling class liberals want. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Americans they wouldn't "have to worry about gas prices again" if they bought a fancy electric car like his Ford Mustang Mach-E. Alas, the Mexican-made SUV has since been recalled due to a safety defect that "could cause a crash." Its price tag is equivalent to the median household income ($68,000) in the United States. AOC and other Democratic politicians love to brag about being rich enough to own an electric car, while also claiming to "feel the pain" of the unenlightened masses.
We'll all be driving them soon enough. On the bright side, Elon Musk will get even richer and grow even more insufferable—in a good way since it annoys the hell out of obnoxious online libs. This is the future the Bay Area has wrought: Nerd billionaires in outer space gazing down on fentanyl-ravaged wastelands. Heading south on the 101, my Tesla wheezes past gleaming empty skyscrapers touting companies with names like BitThrashr and Apex.dryft and 1mpacct. Everyone still works from home. San Jose, the 10th largest city in the country with a population of more than a million, calls itself the "Capital of Silicon Valley." Its downtown area has been charitably described as a "ghost town" that has "struggled … to transform itself into a destination."
On the contrary. Downtown San Jose is the ideal destination for those who want the grime and the ubiquitous hot garbage stench of New York City but without the crowds or entertainment. Plenty of homeless addicts, though, and a climbing gym with a massive banner declaring itself "No Place for Hate." There's a five-story mural of Ruth Bader Ginsburg holding up two fingers on which someone has spray-painted the words, "I dissent." She certainly would, if she weren't dead. Delaying retirement until President Hillary Clinton could name her successor was a brilliant idea.
The Adobe headquarters advertises its "sustainable landscape" of "low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plants." It overlooks a highway overpass and park trail where the homeless have set up camp. It's a beautiful day. The parks are mostly empty save for some sleeping vagrants and a delightful weirdo wearing a fedora and carrying a briefcase labeled "Top Secret." The majority of the people on the street are construction workers building God knows what for God knows who. Luxury condos for Chinese money launderers? Extra parking for anti-racist mountaineers?
Berkeley is a total "vibe shift." It has people, anyway. Residents of the legendary college town apparently would be horrified if you walked an entire block without being reminded that they "stand united against hate." A lot of Ukrainian flags, too. How do you think Berkeley's hippie forefathers would feel about this? These coddled yuppies openly support a war effort aided and abetted by the military-industrial complex in a country they only care about because of an all-consuming hatred for Donald Trump and his "pee tape," "kompromat," "collusion." Bunch of sellouts.
Sure, the town has its bike lanes and fancy trash cans for "plant debris" and churches celebrating "God's inclusive love." But it's also home to the likes of Robert Reich, the university professor and former Clinton Labor secretary who was very concerned about income inequality until someone tried to build affordable housing units in his neighborhood, which is quite nice. An old man in an N-95 lurches onto Berryman Street to avoid passing within six feet of me. This evening I was planning to attend a "Conscious Cannabis" gathering where participants "journey deeply" via "guided meditation" and "the use of evocative music," an experience hailed as "deeply heart-opening." Canceled at the last minute. Classic stoner move.
I walk to People's Park instead. After a bunch of hippies occupied the site in 1969, Gov. Ronald Reagan sent in the cops to clear them out. He wasn't a fan of Berkeley, which he not unfairly called "a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants." These days, People's Park is just another dumpy campsite for crackheads whose fathers aren't running for president. It was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Wake up. Head to the airport (SFO), which is nice in the same way airports in China and Qatar are nice. It gives a great first impression and politely invites you to ignore the unsavory bits. You can buy a latte from a robot.