If You’re Going to San Francisco…

I didn’t write much last week because I took the wife to San Francisco. I’m back to report that I don’t think George W. Bush will be winning that city. By way of illustration, how many of you remember Dennis Kucinich ( D Socialist, OH)? Many San Franciscans seem to remember him fondly, having enshrined him on the bumpers of their hybrid Toyotas and squat Subarus. They’re warming to Kerry, though the enthusiasm is less abundant; for all his bad hair and poor fashion choices, Dennis Kucinich never murdered babies in an imperialist war of aggression.

This is a city built on the notion that man can worship nature while warring with its underlying physical laws, and win — or at least achieve proportional representation on its democratically-elected board. They’ve erected (oh, the words this city has ruined) buildings where no weight seems capable of staying, laced together streets so confusingly that even Mapquest throws up its hands in disgust, and piled together a host of taxes and regulations that should, by all known tenets of economics, leave San Francisco just south of Bangladesh on any index of prosperity.

And yet, they make it work. Surely this is due in no small part to the beauty of this region, with its glorious sunshine setting the bay on fire, its misty white clouds that periodically pour over its hilltops like smoke. There are the bridges and the eclectic houses stacked side by side, broken apart at intervals by parks filled with beautiful people. There is the steady bustle of a city animated by the opposed notions that markets are bad and that acquisition is good.

Then there is the city’s celebration of all that is merely tolerated in other parts of America. While the economic burden placed on its denizens is great, San Francisco’s social tax is very low for many. So they flock here, and the taxes and restraints on most (not all!) forms of economic exchange are a small price to pay for this freedom from all that appears to oppress.

In light of all this, I couldn’t help but giggle when I realized that turning left on most of San Francisco’s major streets is forbidden. Instead you have to go right three times and then go straight. The city has yet to defeat all natural laws.

One day we drove into the hills across the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Muir Woods, named after the man who helped bring Gaia-worship to children’s textbooks. It cost three dollars a person to get in, which was a bargain to see the giant redwoods stretching up toward heaven. The receipt, handed to me by a smiling pony-tailed girl, admonished me to “Hug a tree.” This proved difficult, given that nearly all of the trees are fenced off, and with good reason — we passed a woman intimately stroking a tree and passing a large white crystal up and down its bark. “I love this tree,” she said throatily to her companion. Perhaps San Francisco will be the vanguard of human-flora marriage as well.

We also passed a park ranger explaining how the Sierra club had stopped loggers from clear-cutting the entire area. His listeners dutifully shook their heads in disgust. “This forest used to be all there was for miles,” he said wistfully, his arms stretched wide.

“Yes,” I muttered to my wife, “and five hundred years ago people lived in mud huts and died at thirty. I’d clear-cut this whole damned forest today if I thought it would save a hundred kids from exposure.” In reply she gripped my arm with a steeliness that says, “don’t you dare pick an argument.”

So I didn’t. Instead we had a lovely few days, ate too much, bought little, and flew home exhausted, to the waiting arms of our little monkeys. There was much tickling and smooching, and it struck me as I snuggled them both close: I didn’t leave my heart in San Francisco; I left it someplace far less glamorous.


  1. Jeff Brokaw

    Good for you and Celeste. SF is a nice place to visit … if you can ignore the bums sleeping on every street corner and then quickly get out of town to wine country or Monterrey/Carmel/Big Sur. I’m exaggerating of course, but only a little.

    I’ve been there twice – 89 (just before the quake, thankyouverymuch) and 98, and there were no bums in 89. Not sure what that means, but the difference was like night and day. Each time I then went to the aforementioned spots and found it much more relaxing and enjoyable.

    I hope you took the road trip down U.S. Route 1 along the coast; one of the most beautiful and memorable driving trips one could ever do. If not, make it a point next time you go, it’s unforgettable. And bring lots of film.

  2. Alex

    Would you really have argued with this man?

    Now it would take someone braver than me to claim you’d picked the wrong side. But this guy clearly loves the place, you’d simply be annoying somebody for that “I’m smarter than you” feeling. Who knows, you might even have ruined his week.

    Plus, what he was proclaiming was an achievement. Five hundred years ago, a tree was firewood in the wrong place to starving people; now, thanks in part to the Sierra club, we recognise that some trees are better off standing.

    And cutting down every little pinprick on the horizon wouldn’t ever have helped matters. The Americans of old would simply have wrecked unwitting disaster on their ecosystem (note difference between some trees and all trees before biting back please).

  3. pds

    How about “thanks in part to Thomas Edison,” one has the luxury of second guessing nearly every productive achievement, especially since, without such achievements, those of us over the age of 30 would be dead?

    I don’t mind the idea of the lady hugging her favorite tree as much as I mind the idea of tax-subsidized park ranger offering up a class in Cliches 101 to the assembled crowd. Tony: your restraint was admirable, even if its proximate cause was fear of your wife.

  4. Palmer Haas

    “Yes,” I muttered to my wife, “and five hundred years ago people lived in mud huts and died at thirty. I’d clear-cut this whole damned forest today if I thought it would save a hundred kids from exposure.” In reply she gripped my arm with a steeliness that says, “don’t you dare pick an argument.”

    Is it possible that you are letting your disgust at a few wackos manifest itself into an illogical hatred of trees? Chances are cutting down trees will increase exposure and susceptability to skin cancer.

    If you want to direct your hatred towards smelly hippies, commies or Barbra Streisand please do, but don’t let the things that the aforementioned individuals love cause you to detest or hate them. I try to keep myself in check on the same issues when regarding certain stereotypical conservatives… I don’t always succeed, but I try.

  5. michaelh

    I had a professor once who used to mark tests with “rtdq.” It meant “read the dam question.”

    Tony didn’t say word one about hating trees. He said he would “clear-cut this whole damned forest today if I thought it would save a hundred kids from exposure.” This statement contains no emotion toward trees at all. It is a simple statement of cost versus benefit. The fight he wanted to pick wasn’t with the tree, it was with the idiot who would reverse the trees and children in that statement. Now I suspect that if phrased that the way, the nice ranger would (hopefully) disagree. But because he may well have never considered cost versus benefit in his entire life, the policies he champions risk axactly that outcome!

  6. michaelh

    By the way, Tony,

    I just discovered your site through Stuart Buck a week or so ago. I’m slowly making my way through your archives and am in awe! You are an amazing writer. Humor, depth, passion, intellect, faith; You are are a gifted writer writing about stuff worth reading. I plan to read often.


  7. Palmer Haas

    No, you are correct when you say “Tony didn’t say word one about hating trees”, BUT…

    He is talking about destroying something that is the object of someone’s affection. And the desire to cut the trees down seems more an attempt to hurt the person or persons who holds that affection. What I am saying is Tony wants to “cut down” the ranger or the hippy or the Sierra Club.

    My impression is the anger is displaced. I am making the assessment that Tony hates the Sierra club or the crystal weilding hippy and therefore wants to cut down a tree just to piss them off. The tree is unrelated to the anger.

    I only say this because I used to hate the Grateful Dead… it took me years to realize I could care less about the GD. Heck, I hardly knew a single song by them excpet that touch of grey song they played on classic rock radio. I just hated the acid taking BMW driving psuedo hippies that populated my high school, and they loved the Dead. I wanted to slap the psudedo hippies, not Jerry Garcia…

  8. pds

    PH: do you think you might be over-science-ing this one abit? I wish I had a dollar for every pseudo hippie I’ve felt like slapping….

  9. Palmer Haas

    I might be, but I just thought I would share with the group and hope to open up some eyes of how people from either side of the political spectrum do the same thing if you let your political views color your vision. I thought it was pretty folksy wisdom, not psycho-analytical scientific BS.

    And we’ve discovered we have something in common! We’re coming together by agreeing we’ve had the urge to slap psuedo hippies! Liberals and Conservatives, Israelis and Arabs, Cats and Dogs living together as one happy….

    oh forget it…..

  10. ronin

    Palmer and pds – i ahev actually slapped, and shoved pseudo-hippies in my town!!! Have kicked them out of the coffeeshop I used to manage too!!!
    But all kidding aside, what Tony seems to be talking about is the habit people have of glorifying nature over everything else, and irrationally dissing every advance made by science, or by modern industry. I dont think society would have been in a better place, if pseudohippies, and their supporters like Congressman Pete Stark( Democrat- Oakland, CA), had been in charge, and t heir hippie inspired policies had prevailed. T hank God for that!!!!!
    It is seeing too many hippies on my University campus that made me seriously consider libertarian and conservative ideals.

  11. Tony

    To clarify, what I detest is the mindless notion that one can have top-notch medical care, protection from the elements, a safe, comfortable, 40-hour a week job, instant access to all forms of entertainment, 500-mile an hour travel to any part of the globe, a nice frothy cappuccino, and yet return us to the state of nature that existed 500 years ago.

  12. Palmer Haas

    I can agree with that! There are sacrifices to be made for technological advancement that many of the (for lack of a better word) “pie in the sky” liberals I’ve known don’t always realize.

    And it is on a level hypocritical for those who rail against a global economy who also love their Taiwan made ipod.

    I have more to say. but not the time to say it… maybe later…

  13. TulipGirl

    Ahhh. . . Reading this brought back great memories of when my Hubby took me to San Fran for the weekend about 6 years ago. . . It really was wonderful.

    But like Jeff said, I was really shocked at the homeless people that seemed to pack the sidewalks. It really illustrates the reality that what one subsidizes, one gets more of. . .

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