I can’t see the Golden Gate outside my window, but if I step outside, turn left, climb six blocks and then turn around, there it is, the tip-top of my famous neighbor. Driving away from the city on Nineteenth Avenue I can see the bridge in my rearview mirror, its splendor reduced to a red speck. Walking around my neighborhood I find that the bridge easily gets lost amid the steep hills, skyscrapers, and fog so that I forget it is there until I turn this or that corner and behold, unannounced but always welcome. Regardless of how many times I’ve seen it I always pause, struck that for once the commonplace and the majestic are one in the same. “The image of the Golden Gate is very strong in my mind. As unifying images go this one is particularly vivid,” writes Joan Didion.
Once on the other side of the bridge in Belvedere in Marin County, my boyfriend and I were admiring a mansion from the sidewalk (the address was on a list of homes and buildings designed by California architect Julia Morgan) when the owner and his dog spied us from the balcony and invited us to join them. We took in a view that encompassed Angel Island, Alcatraz, San Francisco, Sausalito, and not only the Bay Bridge but also the Golden Gate. I said little, passing the burden of small talk to my loquacious boyfriend who wouldn’t notice I was doing so, but before I left I asked if the view ever got old and the owner smiled and assured me that it never got old.
One of two things I disdain about San Francisco is its wholehearted embrace of a low-wage service economy made all the more sinister because it operates under the guise of progress and goodwill (“the sharing economy,” they insist). It is impossible to walk even a few blocks without seeing people hopping into Ubers, receiving their delivery of groceries or Pad Thai or marijuana, or walking dogs that don’t belong to them. The day-to-day tasks of city dwellers seem to be taken care of by those who live hours away and drive into the city for the very purpose of providing these services; those who are not even considered employees by the billion-dollar companies that rely on them.
During college I studied abroad in Bahia, a state in northeastern Brazil where I lived with a host family for six months. Families received a small stipend for hosting students, though they largely hosted because they were somewhat well-off to begin with, not least for having a furnished room to spare. My host family spoke no English and only Portuguese, which was the point, so it took countless fragmented conversations over a period of a week to discover that at their disposal was a full-time driver, two cooks, and a cleaning woman. Impressed and curious, I brought it up to one of my teachers at the language school, whose explanation was that widespread inequality had resulted in an economy so stratified that the upper class, upper-middle class, and even the middle class (my host family), were all able to afford the miserably small wages paid to the service class. So while my host family was not particularly wealthy, there were feasts served at lunch, rides to and from work, and fresh laundry folded on each of our beds several times a week.
I’m inclined to think that what I saw in Brazil resembles what I now see in San Francisco. Personal drivers are beckoned with a few taps of an app while gourmet dinner kits are dropped off nightly. I have a friend who ordered a scratch post for her cat and without even opening the box, arranged for TaskRabbit to come by the next day, open the box, and put it together (“freelance labor,” they insist). San Francisco is an expensive city, and even those who make a considerable amount of money find that there isn’t much left when over half of monthly income goes to rent. Yet here we are, an entire service staff on hand, ready to feed the illusion of privilege and wealth. It’s the sharing economy, they insist.
Summer is not my season, it never has been and likely never will be. As a child I relied heavily on routine, and because summer signaled the end of the school year and thus the end of a nine-months-long routine, I regarded the season nervously. As an adult I find the sun’s constant and cheerful presence to be exasperating, like that of a talkative child. The heat does not feel enveloping but oppressive. As I watch summer die and fall resurrect itself, I also start to come alive. I love effortlessly waking up before the sun; scarves as big as blankets and my alpaca coat; election season; colder days that encourage time spent in the great indoors; and above all, spending the final months of the year ensuring that goals made at the beginning of the year are accomplished. In regards to Bookswept, this fall marks eight years since the beginning. A new section on art will commence and book reviews will recommence. I also aim to take my writing beyond the comforts of this little space I’ve created. Stay tuned!