02 April 2015


One of today's online local papers here in the Bay Area has a wretchedly ill-programmed slide show on "20 things you miss when you move from the Bay Area." Since I'm leaving the Bay Area shortly, here's a bit of counterpoint — 20 things, plus bonus points, I hate about the Bay Area that are driving me away. Some of them are idiosyncratic, admittedly; some of them, I think, less so.

  • Traffic/driving/transportation is among the worst in the developed urban world. The BART system itself is pretty good, but it doesn't extend to where it needs to go and has suffered from years of "no more taxes!" neglect. Even when it gets extended, it still won't go where it needs to go!

    What makes it worse is that Californians are so arrogantly convinced that they're good drivers to go along with it. Umm, no: There are safety and traffic-flow reasons for the "two-second rule," you dweebs, and people can get through red lights and stop signs and drive-throughs if you pull up to one-third-carlength-or-less of the car in front of you. Then, when you finally get somewhere, you can't park legally — there isn't a legal parking space, and even if there is it will be partially blocked by an incompetent parking job or needless orange cones for some self-righteous renovation work.

  • NIMBY forever. In particular, the arrogance of those who are "natives" and who have become "old money" through ownership of real property is absolutely astounding. "Old money" need not be "big money" for this, either; just try changing the purported "charm" of a facade on Russian Hill — perhaps so that it's wheelchair-accessible — and see what happens.
  • The weather sucks. More to the point, locals' whingeing about how "cold" it gets in San Francisco is constantly annoying to anyone who has ever spent a winter damned near anywhere else (except SoCal). Combine the lack of precipitation with salt air and it's no wonder that everybody is always getting a new car.
  • Restaurant accessibility and pricing sucks. Once one gets away from a few designated neighborhoods and the downtown area, dining out (even from a taco truck... and they're a lot better in Portland) is simultaneously anti-family and anti-unplanned. And expensive. And generally bland. One can't make up for it at home easily, either — whether the (unearned) reputation for restaurants or the crappy kitchens and kitchenware availability came first is open to debate.
  • Jeans everywhere is a bit excessive... largely because jeans pockets are almost useless and one cannot run in them. I don't object to casual so much as the way it's implemented — more cowbell, more Hawaiian-print shirts (with pockets, in cotton).
  • Fast food is, as noted above, marginal at best. And particularly once one gets south of the Mission District or across the Bay, McZorgle's is ridiculously dominant. (There's nothing that anyone can do to make me defend shoestring fries under any circumstances.) Then throw in the limited hours; perhaps I was spoiled by the default 0500-0100 schedules in a college town, but...
  • Rolling up the sidewalks at 2100 — except if there's booze involved — is pretty annoying, especially when almost nothing opens until 1000 the next morning. Even local restaurants away from downtown Berzerkeley do this; I recently had an instance in which it took five tries to find a reasonably convenient, non-fast-food/chain-diner restaurant for a casual business meal within five miles of the bloody airport at 9pm on a weeknight.
  • Obsession with bad agricultural practices in the face of drought — drought which has been predictable, in at least some sense, for two decades — at the expense of taste, of preparation, of affordability. It's all organic GMO food, guys... and the subtle "our food was not handled by migrant workers" vibe does you no credit. That said, I will miss supermarket-sized-and-priced Asian food stores after I move. Many of them are cleaner, better-stocked, and much less expensive than their 'murikan-style counterparts — and all of them have friendlier, more competent, more helpful staffs (even with broken English).
  • Doughnuts are not the only worthwhile baked good, and most areas of the country have many good alternatives to Dunkin' Donuts. Forget about Krispy Kreme or local doughnut shops for the moment; go to a decent supermarket and get some of the offerings from local bakeries. Oh, I forgot: San Francisco, in particular, dosn't have decent supermarkets.
  • I will be overjoyed to get away from the stupidity of lane-splitting, especially when I may be forced to swerve inside my lane to avoid one of the numerous potholes, or bicyclists... or another lane-splitter.
  • So much stuff to do, huh? Almost no bookstores, no art, no non-alcohol-soaked-club music of dubious quality and no acoustics (presuming, that is, that one can get close enough to park if one doesn't live in walking distance, especially since public transportation essentially closes down at about the time the clubs do) — and the less said about the overt hostility of the audiences and classical music venues/organizations themselves to newcomers who aren't writing five- and six-figure donations, the better — and what there is is so overpriced that no kids will ever see it.
  • Every city in America has its own purported "special" sweet treat. Get over it's it.
  • I'll take the Cascades and the Olympics over the Sierras in a heartbeat. If nothing else, there's less litter.
  • Nobody can afford a backyard in San Francisco (or the rest of the Bay Area), so having the outdoors in it is beside the point. And if you mean "nearby that you can drive to," there's that traffic issue again.
  • Avocados are nice, but not by themselves; a nice, fresh, crisp apple is a helluva lot more portable (and healthy, if it's not one of the so-called "delicious" varieties). And you won't find such an apple at the local farmer's markets.
  • Politics? Really? San Francisco's politics are nowhere near as amusing as Chicago's. Or DC's. Or St. Louis's. Or Seattle's. They're not even overtly corrupt enough to compete...
  • Local wines that don't suck are easily available in, for example, the Pacific Northwest... and given that wine is one of the earliest packaged foods, emphasizing "local" is more than a bit arrogant and self-contradictory in itself. Then there's the mismatch between "drought" and "local wine."
  • Dungeness crabs are nice, but they're mishandled and miscooked by just about everyone after they come off the boat... and, frankly, not as good as colder-water crabs from farther up the coast.
  • Acceptance of diversity extends only to race and to social/sexual orientation. The Bay Area is relentlessly conformist in its politics and demographics, being built around mind-numbingly uniform neighborhoods. Just try being the "different" one in one of those neighborhoods unless you're with a date who fits the expected demographic! And the less said about the archly, almost violently, antiintellectual/antiscience bias of this area, the better — it's rather telling that, for a city with no workshop space available to renters, everything celebrated as culture requires a workshop and fulltime-job orientation.
  • The bike lanes everywhere were designed for clowns on bicycles... and are not kept clear enough to be used by bicyclists who are moving at speed, so they're forced out into traffic to everyone's peril and annoyance. This is a particular problem outside of San Francisco and Palo Alto proper.
  • Fog with no rain, no snow, no rainbows, no mountain sunrises or sunsets... and no street layout or signage or driving skills accommodating the realities of the fog.

And a few more that don't correspond to that slide show:

  • The libraries and museums suck on their good days. When they're open, that is. And when there's any parking near them, because none of them are convenient to public transportation.
  • Bookstore availability is almost zero, except if you think a B&N with even-less-diverse-than-normal stock is a "bookstore."
  • Pricing — largely driven by the arrogance of real-estate investment and "my family was here first" inheritance — is utterly insane. And this is a relatively new big-city area that is (or at least should) be better laid out for earthquake tolerance... which would also keep prices down.
  • One-party dominance drives local politics to the right, with the narrow exceptions of a subset of environmental policy and a subset of social-grouping tolerance. Need proof? Even local malls will be closed all day this coming Sunday for Easter... it wasn't that severe even in Bible-belt Oklahoma City in the mid-1980s. If one removes the label and name from elected local officials and looks just at their voting behavior, every single one who is prominent is center to center-right; there are some voices elsewhere, but they're so mired in hyperlocal "constituent services" (and corruption) that they have no real power. And in that way, it's just like Chicago and DC, which have similarly unmerited reputations for being "liberal."
  • Beer and pizza. There's one word that uniformly describes them: Weak. Even national-chain pizza is weaker out here!
  • Cured meats. When decent — not great, let alone "artisanal" — sausages cost more then sirloin steak per pound, something is seriously wrong. And the less said about what passes for "bacon" and "ham" around here, the better.

I came here for work. I'm leaving in the next few months due to work. I'm not sorry... and I felt more welcome in East Central Redneckistan, despite my disdain for its local "culture" (which seldom exceeded the culture in a 6-ounce tub of commercial yogurt), because it wasn't so relentlessly "there isn't anywhere else that matters." And if you know anything about small- to mid-sized-town America, that should give you substantial pause — and remind you of the worst aspects of New York.