Alex Horowitz grew up in the Washington, DC area and moved to Oakland, CA after graduating from college two years ago.
Let me paint a picture for you.
The other day, while strolling down the street, a man comes up next to me and humps the air, moaning aggressively. He continues to make sexual thrusts towards no living being, while meandering along the sidewalk. On my other side, a skinny white dreadlocked man sits on a raggedy old blanket selling a pair of worn sneakers, some Ethernet cables, and old shot glasses. This all led up to the finale of a seemingly insane individual “playing” a string-less violin at the end of the block. Sound familiar? If so, you have spent time in what we call “The Bay.”
San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and the surrounding beauty of ocean, hills, and valleys make up the Bay Area. To claim you live in one city, rather than the area as a whole is truly an injustice. The fact of the matter is that you cannot experience this greater region without truly spending time in each of its diverse places. Given the complexity of the Bay, it is hard to define. Therefore, I have constructed a simple list of things that make it awesome, and thing that make it dreadful. Certainly, there is some overlap.
1) Diversity of Activity
Are you a city person? Do you love crowded urban sprawls lined with shops, restaurants, bars, and record stores? Or are you more into nature, with an ideal weekend spent on the beach, or hiking along breathtaking trails? Either way, the Bay Area will satisfy you. To my knowledge, it is one of the only regions in the country that offers such a unique blend of city and nature. San Francisco and Oakland both appeal to urban desire, and each offer their own spin on city life. Outside of the cities, you can take your pick of beaches, excellent trails along beautiful hills, valleys, or coast, and of course wine country.
For example, just last weekend my girlfriend and I were tired of the Oakland grime surrounding our apartments. We decided to drive 40 miles north, into Marin County, and spend a few hours at Tomales Bay. There, we parked along the water, and found a beautiful stretch of paradise. Roaming green hills lined the bay, and painted a picture straight out of Scotland. We bought some oysters, picked out of the water that morning, and had ourselves a barbeque right next to the beach. A few hours later, we had enough coastal delight, and headed back to Oakland to see a DJ at a club (ERA) downtown. Seaside outings by day, downtown bar/club by night. The Bay.
I won’t lie. The weather in the city of San Francisco can be pretty cold and rainy. However, it never gets cold by the standards of real wintery places, and heat streaks are nearly unheard of. Further, the surrounding cities and towns are constantly sunny and warm. It is never too hot, and never too cold. Humidity? Haven’t heard of it.
3) Presence of Uniqueness
The culture of the Bay is pretty hard to describe. Let’s just say there are lots of “different” and “creative” people, and the various cities offer tremendous diversity. You see something new every time you walk down the street. The area is so liberal that unless you literally live in a tree in the name of environmental justice, you’ll feel conservative. I have experienced and seen many new things due to the characters that inhabit these parts.
So long as you are not committing a heinous crime, you can get away with anything in these towns. Walk around Oakland, Frisco, or Berkeley and you are likely to smell herb, see it smoked openly on the streets, and view people feeling the effects. Want to have a beer on the street or in the park? No problem. The police are pretty concerned with major crime, and don’t waste their time pestering people over the small things. For example, if you’re ever in SF on a nice day, take a walk over to sunny Dolores Park. Here, you are the outcast if there is not a 40 in your hand. Stay an hour or two, and you will most certainly have someone try to sell you a drugged bake good you’ve never even heard of. Just look out for the hipsters. Seriously, they’re everywhere. If you are easily offended by their antics, avoid my Dolores suggestion.
Northern Californians are total food and beverage snobs. With wine country an hour away, and a plethora of microbreweries up and down the coast, you have access to some great booze. The restaurants in the various cities are great regardless of the prices you are willing to put up. The snobbery can be annoying, but it means all the bars have great beer on tap, and local California wine is in abundance (although wine snobbery is always too much for me).
You know all those songs about how California likes to party? Well, they’re lying to you. The bars throughout the state close at 2 am, with last call happening around 1:30. Don’t let those L.A. people fool you about how their city is any better – the 2 am deal is statewide. I came here from Washington DC, where last call is around 2:30, and the bars don’t clear out until 3. If you have spent any time in NY, then you know that last call barely even exists there. Further, California cities lack the bar district options other places have. Out here, you tend to pick a bar, and maybe hop once. The lack of bar sprawls seriously limits your ability to move around. Again – don’t let L.A. folks fool you. That city is even more spread out, so getting around the party spots can be even harder. California rocks it during the day, and then passes out at night.
2) Presence of Insanity
As I mentioned in the previous section, you get a lot of unique characters in and around the Bay Area. While the towns are in many ways socially liberating, there also seems to be a high presence of lunatics here. My friends and I have plenty of theories on why there are so many oddballs around, but the bottom line is you see a lot of nutty people. The scene I described in my opening paragraph is not in any way unusual. My pals and I constantly joke about the number of people driving cars and riding buses who rock back and forth talking to themselves. Sure, it’s usually no big deal, and often creates funny stories, but sometimes you just feel like you’re in an institution.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that “Lawlessness” has made both my pro and con list. The element of doing whatever you want is pretty awesome. However, at the end of the day, the Bay Area is pretty violent. There are always shootings and muggings, and as I mentioned, you constantly see suspect individuals. My car has been broken into five times in the two years I have lived here. I stopped locking my doors, and I just take all the valuables out. At least that way I don’t end up with any broken windows. While the area is always dubbed as hippie and liberal, there is a lot of discontent. Just this summer, Oakland rioted over a police brutality case, and the downtown area was smashed to bits.
California is the land of highways, and the traffic blows. Living in DC, you know to avoid the highways during rush hour. However, it feels like there is no rush hour here. The roads are just always jammed.
5) Public Transportation
With traffic being terrible, you would hope public transportation would step it up. However, transit systems are pretty weak here. BART, which is our equivalent to Subway, has a very limited number of stops, ends at midnight, and costs a lot. The buses go all over, but are frequently off schedule. Good luck flagging down a cab anywhere outside of downtown areas.
So what’s the final verdict on the Bay Area? The truth is, I’ve lived here just over two years and still have not made up my mind. There are many amazing things about this place, and I truly value it’s uniqueness. Everyday, I see something new, and utter to myself, “Only in the Bay Area.” However, the downsides are there as well.
At this point, I am unsure of my future here. One bit of advice for you: If you want to move here, look for a job first. The recession has hit California in ways not felt back east, and the cities here are certainly experiencing it. I’ve met too many people who decided it would be fun to move to California, and then can’t find work. Also, if you want to visit, don’t just spend a few days in San Francisco. The traditional tourist spots of the city have nothing to do with the greater area, and you are truly missing out if you don’t try to see more.
Alex Horowitz grew up outside Washington, DC in McLean, VA before attending The George Washington University where he spent four years telling Uptin how much he wanted to move to California. In 2008, he relocated to Oakland to become a high school teacher. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Eruptin City Series
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