Ben in SF

cropped-dsc095452.jpgI spent three months in San Francisco after accepting a position at the University of California branch there. What follows is basically an account of the first month, along with the epilogue.

Nov. 17, 2014

1) The adventure begins…
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Jan. 3, 2015

2) Pre-flight jitters

Jan. 4, 2015

3) The first night
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Jan. 4, 2015

4) The first morning and my short-term furnishings
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Jan. 11, 2015

5) One week down
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Jan. 25, 2015

6) Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach

Feb. 6, 2015

7) So many changes and adventures

May 27, 2015

Epilogue

Although the entries above felt like a lifetime because of the process of adapting to a new environment, in fact, they comprised only about a third of my journey. After moving to the Central Apartments on Third Street in the up-and-coming SoMa district, I had many more adventures–some of which you will have to ask me about in person, I guess. Memorable experiences (in no particular order except that in which I remember them):

Of course, there were plenty of other days spent in seclusion around the apartment, watching “Breaking Bad” or generally missing Virginia.


A week after my move, things at work took a turn for the worse. The previously pleasant boss started losing her patience with my progress (remember: this is a month in to my full-time job) and made mention one day of my still being in the probationary period.

It was demoralizing to think that while I was so focused on adjusting to my surroundings, getting my apartment furnished (I had spent a large amount of money the day before on furniture and was in the process of putting it together), grieving the loss of my cat back home, and trying my best to learn the various systems and negotiate the politics of UCSF, suddenly the honeymoon was over.

Things didn’t improve from there; mixed messages and unclear performance expectations abounded. It became clear to me that there was much more to the story than I was getting–either the woman had taken a personal disliking to me for reasons unknown or, perhaps, with our funding presentation out of the way for the year, the next step was doing away with the newspaper’s print edition (which I was hired to manage) and using my newly approved salary for a web redesign instead. Although I tried hard to manage the expectations and make myself indispensable, there was no way of pleasing the powers that be with the skills I had. On March 16, they released me.

It was a tremendous relief to be able to move on, but also extremely daunting due to the lease I’d just signed (at $1,800 a month–a bargain for SF, but not without a source of income) and all the furniture I now had to do something with. I spent the remainder of March in SF before deciding to regroup and pursue job opportunities on the East Coast. Once again, those two weeks felt like a lifetime. I made the best of it to the extent I could, although my concerns for the future and financial insecurities loomed large. In the end, I knew all would be well again. It’s a shame, however, that we can rarely see the end while we are on the actual journey.

At one of my last meetups with Matt, he asked my final thoughts on the experience. I had two insights to share:

  •  The expectations versus reality: When living there, it often becomes mundane and business-as-usual. The expectation is that you go out thinking that you’ll run into movie stars and be all blase about it. The reality is that you’ll see people defecating in the streets and be all blase about it (an epiphany that struck me walking down around Fisherman’s Wharf one day and noting some tourist reactions to just such an event). But the contrasting forces of SF–the dream and the reality–all are part of its identity.
  •  Living in the moment: I spent a lot of time noticing clover patches during my nature hikes and looking for a four-leaf clover. And I had the realization early on, during that first trip to Golden Gate Park, that when you find yourself looking for four-leaf clovers, you are already lucky. It isn’t finding one, but the experience of looking–living in the moment–that you must appreciate. Such was my brief but unforgettable time in San Francisco. I never found my four-leaf clover there, but I got to spend three whole months looking for it.

Two months after returning to Virginia, I finally have enough closure to revisit the blog, with some exciting prospects in the pipeline. My apartment got rented out quickly enough (I only lost about $1,000 on April rent), and my cousin Drew recently sold the last of my furniture.

Nowadays, I am especially attuned to news about SF, and what impresses me the most is the important things I walked past on my regular, everyday treks (not the special journeys) and was completely unaware of:

  • The Palace Hotel where Warren G. Harding died (or was poisoned)
  • Lotta’s Fountain, which was the central meeting spot after the 1906 earthquake
  • The modern art museum, which would have been an easy trip had I realized where it was
  • The original site of the Mars Hotel, made famous by The Grateful Dead, which was now the Target where I did my furniture and grocery shopping
  • The site of the famous Fillmore West which was the Honda Dealership I walked past every day during my first month and soon to become more housing in a booming area on mid-Market
  • The Darwin Cafe, a restaurant in the back alley of my apartment building, a block away, which I never went to but discovered to be nationally renowned for its sandwiches

I am sure the hidden/forgotten history of SF will continue to unfold for a long time to come now that I am aware of it. Although I regret the things I can’t appreciate in person (for now), I take consolation in knowing that I am now a part of that history, albeit a very small one.

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