The End of the Golden Gate

End of the Golden Gate coverThe End of the Golden Gate: Writers on Loving and (Sometimes) Leaving San Francisco
introduction by Gary Kamiya
Chronicle Prism (May 25, 2021), 203 pages
Kindle edition $8.99, Amazon paperback $14.46

It should be no secret that I love San Francisco. Having said that, I have not spent as much time there as one might expect. Most of my time in The City has been on 19th Avenue, from the end of Interstate 280 to Park Presidio, and then across the Golden Gate Bridge to U.S. 101, heading to points north. Still, I have been to Golden Gate Park a handful of times, visited the Convention Center, and Terry and I have seen Phantom of the Opera (three times) and the revival of A Chorus Line at the Curran Theater while staying across the street at our favorite hotel, the Westin St. Francis. And I have worshipped at Grace Cathedral one time (or perhaps twice). Still, of all the trips I have made and the places I have stayed, San Francisco represents only a small percentage.

That does nothing to diminish my love for the city, of course, so when I read about the publication of The End of the Golden Gate it immediately popped to the top of my reading list. The subtitle accurately depicts that content of the book. These essays, well written, all of them, are about coming to San Francisco, living there, often leaving the city, and sometimes returning. There is a lot of reflection about how the place has changed.

One writer recalls people telling him how he arrived in San Francisco, too late. How it is no longer the same:

quote“I once did a show at Vesuvio Cafe with Allen Ginsberg opening with a new poem. Margaret Cho dropped in to try out some new material. Kirk Hammett from Metallica and Jerry Garcia played folk songs on acoustic guitars. Annie Sprinkle did a visual history of porn, and wow, was it visual! Armistead Maupin sat in the back writing a book that ended up being Tales of the City. And unbeknownst to all of us, Willie Mays and Rick Barry were in there the whole time.”

Me: “Um, I don’t think that timeline works.” Them: “You missed it, man. It was so cool.”

While a couple of the essays are written by people of an earlier generation, many of the pieces are written by millennials. They see San Francisco differently than I do. For me high tech was rooted in Silicon Valley and only much later started sprouting up in San Francisco. For many of these writers San Francisco was made less livable by gentrification, by the arrival of tech start-ups, and yes, by buses transporting high workers (in part responsible for the gentrification) to firms like Google in Silicon Valley, all of which helped contribute to less affordable housing and a higher cost of living. But even those who moved on loved the city they left.

These essays portray San Francisco with all of its faults. One Black author writes angrily about the subtle racism there, and how she felt compelled to do her grocery shopping at the Sprouts in Daly City to avoid suspicious stares at an upscale grocer in The City. Still, for these writers there is plenty to love about San Francisco, and I enjoyed sharing their experience.

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