Tale of 3 Cities—High-Tech San Fran, Skid-Row LA, Tucson not-so-Hostel
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…so far like the present period…”–Dickens, Tale of 2 Cities I think my house, aka ‘Hypertravel Hostel’, is mad at me—seriously. Since the day we signed the sales contract—poof! Something just went away at that moment, and may not come back. And since the closing date is still months away, this is no laughing matter. We still have to live together.
Now I think the house is jinxing me—good time to travel. When the sale of this house in Tucson is final, if I try to operate another hostel, I figure it’ll be in the Bay Area, the closest thing the US has to a true ‘gold rush’, what with dot-com companies finally coming of age and looking for permanent digs, having now outgrown the freshman dorm on the Silicon Valley campus and taking firm root in downtown San Francisco…
They’re all there, almost anybody and everybody you’ve ever dealt with online: Air BnB, Trulia, Docu-sign, all of them with physical locations in central San Fran, not just on your mobile phone or your 4TB hard-drive. So I stopped in LA to check my mail and pick up my wife, and up we went, for a quick preliminary survey. It’s changed since the time I lived there thirty years ago—but not so much. It’s still my favorite US city, though others have now closed the gap. You couldn’t pay me to live in LA back then—I tried.
The two cities are like night and day, San Fran the intellectual, LA the superficial; San Fran full of the Beat scene in its history, LA full of the surf scene; San Fran the home of espresso and cappucino, LA the home of the chocolate malt. You get the idea. Now that’s changed somewhat, but not totally. LA’s legendary fast cars and fast blondes may be fading into memory, but then, so are San Francisco’s hippies. In fact, with the current dot-com ‘gold rush’, San Fran may be reclaiming its former role as California’s economic front-runner.
House prices are high in both places, ‘California high’, but rentals in the Bay are almost like New York. Hmmm. Have ‘millennials’ made a miscalculation in their mobile virtual ‘digital nomad’ calculations? I smell opportunity, and maybe a chance to salvage my dreams of a hostel not-so-hostile USA. It might just be worth a try, this after almost concluding that Americans are lost in their delusions of ownership and privacy, their capitalist consumerist credit-ridden lifestyles and one-man/one-car democracy.
The irony is that one of the big attractions of San Francisco has long been its reputation as the ‘alternative’ city in America: alternative this, alternative that, alternative everything. Well, that may or may not be true now, may or may not matter now, may or may not include the ‘dot-com’ ‘revolution’, and may or may not include me, but it’s strange to see the place as something like USA, Inc. This is weird. ‘My’ San Francisco is more like browsing through City Lights Bookstore or listening to music in Golden Gate Park. Will there still be a place for that?
If nothing else the San Francisco Bay is the perfect compromise—something there for everybody, like traveling from Canada to Mexico, north bay to south. It worked before for me and mine, and it may work again; only time will tell, so to speak, all cliches considered. But right now I’ve got bigger fish to fry, bigger turkeys to baste. I’ll have to pass on the Dickens Fair out at the Cow Palace, site of the 1964 Republican convention, one of my earliest memories in the history of political misgivings, just a year after JFK’s demise… back to LA…
It’s Thanksgiving! And LA’s perfect for that—Skid Row, that is, no better place to give thanks, that there but for the grace of God, go you. It’s downtown LA, scheduled for remodel, but still the opposite of the high-tech predatory world of finance and industry just witnessed in San Fran. This is a Third World country, fluent in several languages, but cognizant of only one: the universal language of hunger. And that’s what Thanksgiving is for, right?
This is a world from the ground up, the street, not trickled down from banks and mortgage men and other accredited creditors. This is India, this is Haiti, this is the failed state of Biafra. And for that very reason, I like it, not LA the surfers’ paradise or LA the Hollywood fantasy factory, but LA the siren song to immigrants and refugees, manatees and dugongs, luring them to their delirious existence in shallow pools and other tidal waters, or dying trying, creating life where none previously existed.
LA has the largest immigrant populations from almost all Asian countries, most Latino ones, and many others around the world. That’s my LA—Little Armenia, Little Tokyo, K-Town, Tehrangeles, Little Ethiopia, Chinatown, Filipino Town, Little Russia plenty ‘bolshoi’, Thai town ของผม more than ‘nitnoy’, and of course el pinche barrio, lleno de Mexicanos, Guatemaltecos, Salvadorenos, Hondurenos y otros como-se-llamas del sur. Comemos guey. Let’s eat.
Meanwhile back home in Tucson my house is warming up slightly as the temperatures begin to dip. I assure the big guy that this is for the best, that we’re still best buds, and that I’ll come back to visit—some day.
“Really, man? You mean it?” I thought I heard the house say.
“Yeah, man; you know I do.” I’ll miss it, both Tucson and the house, but especially the house. I like Tucson, but I love the house. I think I see a little smile creeping across its face now….