When Tony Bennett sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” my heart sang along with him. Although he recently left us, at the age of 96, he immortalized a song that previously had had little traction. And along the way, that old-time New Yorker became a permanent icon in the hearts of San Franciscans.
It was not my intention to live my life in San Francisco. I grew up in suburbs, and had my eyes on the temperate climate of Berkeley, CA, home of “Cal,” my alma mater. Or perhaps Mill Valley, a beautiful town at the base of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. But my first job out of college, as a sales manager for The Emporium department store, brought me to San Francisco, and I never left.
In my 20th year, I spent a summer in Hemel Hempstead, a town in Hertfordshire, England. The family I lived with cultivated a water cress farm at Water’s End. The “mom” in my English family remained a good friend and pen pal for many decades, until her life was taken short in a tragic automobile accident in South Africa. Her letters were the best, hand-written and full of details about her life and children, though sometimes needing a bit of sleuthing to decipher the writing.
In addition to Hemel Hempstead, I toured on a bus with a group of young people to London and the breathtaking scenery of Cornwall, through what was then known as The Experiment in International Living. Probably the most popular pop song of the time was San Francisco (“If You Are Going to San Francisco, Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair”). This was part of the origin of my romance with San Francisco.
My city has recently undergone a slew of bad and sometimes deliberately misleading news headlines. As a former communications specialist (now retired), I am familiar with bad publicity and how it originates, usually with a party or parties with a specific agenda.
I do not think the slew of recent bad press about San Francisco is accidental. Many other U.S. cities suffer the same problems or worse. It is both frustrating and harmful when not only the national news piles it on, but then the narrative is taken up by the local press. There are people out there who are suffering. But hey, let us not let the facts get in the way of a good story.
For well over a year, post pandemic, I have traveled by public transportation a couple of times a week from my neighborhood home to downtown San Francisco in order to work out and swim at my athletic facility. I saw the early whispers of tourists returning. Today, there are long lines for the fabled cable cars that “climb halfway to the stars.” The streets, while not as busy as they were pre-pandemic, are filling up.
I walk for miles every week and most every day, in the Presidio of San Francisco, the Embarcadero, Golden Gate Park, along Ocean Beach, and in the neighborhoods. I see flowers, well-tended gardens, exotic plants, a shimmering bay, shiny ocean waters, and lots of tourists, who fortunately were not deterred by the negative stories.
Where are the stories about our pristine and well-run parks and libraries? Or our stunning Presidio, with gorgeous vistas, hiking trails, and the new Tunnel Tops overlooking the Bay? Or about all of the natural beauty that surrounds us?
San Francisco is not without its problems – homelessness, drugs, income disparity, theft and burglary, and empty storefronts and offices. Despite the narrative, however, statistics show that violent crime is lower than in most U.S. cities.
I am saddened by the loss of many of my favorite downtown retailers. On the up side, others are opening or expanding. Luxury stores Breitling and Kern’s Fine Jewelry are opening, and Brunella Cucinelli, Bottega Veneta and Saint Laurent all are expanding (from San Francisco Chronicle, July 21, 2023). They all have a stake in the future of downtown Union Square. Hopefully, smaller and less expensive retailers will follow suit. San Francisco has proven itself to be resilient and will continue to be so, that we need to do a better job of reducing and/or eliminating the problems.
It has been a bit cool this summer in the City by the Bay. “The morning fog may chill it air,” but I don’t care. For people suffering in the deadly heat gripping the nation and the world, come leave your heart in San Francisco this summer. You will not be disappointed.