I find myself defending San Francisco more than usual lately. Every time I leave the city, I'm met by looks of vague alarm or polite concern as the out-of-towners envision me navigating through Downtown streets filled with poop.
I came to the city four years ago to satisfy my dream of living vibrantly. I was in my early 20s and thought it natural to get on a one-way flight to pursue my crush on San Francisco, willing our relationship to turn into something more. After bumming on my friend’s air mattress for a few months and emailing everyone I knew in search of a job, I landed an education consulting job with median income for the San Francisco Bay Area and started putting down roots.
Since then, my crush on San Francisco has grown into a full-blown love affair. Every day is a date, with effortless and insatiable adventures. My core group of friends comes from the swing-dancing scene, where a dedicated crew has hosted events every night for 40-plus years. My neighbor calls me up, and an hour later, we’re biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, up Hawk Hill or down Paradise Loop. My partner runs trail races, so I’m often making platters of mini peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or industrial-sized pots of salty soup for an aid station.
They say love is blind—also the name of a great trashy Netflix show for group watch parties—so I try to live here with both eyes open, not staring at my phone. Market Street is cleanest in the mornings, but I know the smell of the bleach power wash will be overshadowed by the still-untouched grime ahead. I deliberately don’t have social media, but I know what goes on in the streets of the Tenderloin. And when I’m commuting by bike, I’m either bracing myself for the next car crash or thinking of the most appropriate hand gesture to indicate, “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.”
Despite San Francisco’s hazards, there are many quaint streets lined with bakeries, boutiques, art galleries, chocolate factories, Michelin-starred restaurants and hole-in-the-walls side by side—or sometimes in the same place. I’m not eating off the street, but I certainly don’t mind sitting on the curb to gulp down a burrito before I head to a dance class or join a board game night.
I also make time to help out this love of mine, San Francisco. Project Homeless Connect gave me an easy way in, starting with a regular neighborhood stroll where a volunteer buddy and I walked around handing out hygiene kits to homeless people. Muttville runs a great senior dog rescue program, so we opened our home to foster dogs, which has been delightful. I recently took a half-day off work to check in attendees at Day of Service, where city agencies that help low-income residents come together under one roof for a day. The volunteer I sat next to was a visitor himself last year who came to give back. Incredible.
Young-ish professionals like me should stop doom-scrolling and invest more in San Francisco through activism, volunteering and community participation. My experience working full-time and making it a habit to give back to the city I love is doable—many of our neighbors and friends give back, too.
There are so many San Francisco love stories waiting to be told.
Di Zhu is a Canadian gal who enjoys swing dancing, biking to work, going to the library and talking to strangers. She is hopeful about San Francisco’s future. firstname.lastname@example.org