The other day I was listening to City Arts & Lectures on NPR and heard Justice Stephen Breyer interviewed. I confess—I'm not so interested in constitutional law, but I was interested to hear his childhood memories of San Francisco.
"I remember falling asleep with my windows open and hearing the foghorn in the distance," he said. "That's still true, you can still hear that haunting sound. I also remember growing up in a San Francisco where you didn't have to be a millionaire to live here. "
Unfortunately, that's becoming increasingly less true in the Bay Area.
Housing prices and rents are in the ridiculous range. In our neighborhood in Marin, small homes that once housed families of five are being torn down and replaced with McMansions for two (or three), each overbuilt, over-designed house rubbing elbows with the other on chicly landscaped lots that once grew wild with decades-old fruit trees and brambly rose gardens.
Ed, my neighbor, walks his dog Bodhi every day down the street and stops to rest on a stone wall to bask in the sun. Ed's been in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. He remembers when the house next door to ours was the Grateful Dead's "administrative office," or as Ed whispers, "love nest."
"Oh, the women," says Ed. "They'd sunbathe topless on the back deck." He recalls a time when Jerry Garcia stopped him in the street to say that there were rumors of a break-in down the street and not to worry because he (Jerry!) would act as the neighborhood watch guy.
The house that Ed and his wife bought years ago was a whopping $32k, a stretch, says Ed, on their salaries as a teacher and a fledgling banker. I don't even want to tell you what it's worth now. As Ed says, it's crazy money.
So what, you ask, does all this have to do with rowing?
As Stefan and I pushed off the dock in the dark this morning and ghosted our way out on to the bay, the sun rose and the city silhouette revealed itself—a far away kingdom with skyscrapers spiking the sky. By the time we'd rowed under the Golden Gate, there was already a steady hum of commute traffic overhead.
And there we were, bobbing on the bay with that view all to ourselves.
"This is why we live here, " I said to Stefan. "This is why it's worth it."
It's not the tech boom, the hipsters or the hundreds upon hundreds of great restaurants. No, for me, the appeal lies in the bay's wild waters and the trails lacing the hills. And judging by the fact that I'm almost always alone when I'm enjoying these treasures, I'm guessing that the majority of the Bay Area doesn't necessarily feel the same way.
That's fine by me. Let's keep this quiet and maybe, just maybe, I'll see you out there.