San Francisco: City of A Thousand Dry Cleaners

It’s hard to go to a new place and not compare it to places you’ve been before. The more you travel, the more you start to see the trends. That doesn’t mean every city doesn’t feel very different to the one before or the one after. Cities are like lovers: it doesn’t matter how many you’ve been to. A first time is a first time, every time. And when it begins to feel too much like home, it’s probably time to leave before you get kicked out.

The market for laundries is er… flooded. So you get natural specialisation: Dry Cleaning is the biggest one. Then there’s organic dry cleaning. And finally, there’s this place with the doggie in the window.

San Francisco lives up to its reputation. I was there for about five minutes when I overheard my first classic conversation between two drunk guys on the pavement outside a bar.

CURLYHAIRED GUY: You just tell him “Imps and Elves party, my place, now!”
SLICKER DUDE: No no, he already likes me, it’s not that… it’s just…

A photogenic city, as pretty as the pictures.

I’ve heard more people discussing that their therapist said, yoga, and wine in the last 48 hours than I have the entire five months I lived in Orange. I don’t mean to make it sound pretentious. Some people might say it is. I think it’s cultured. And hilarious. Like yogurt spiked with LSD.

 

Speaking of LSD...

The picture you have to take. Golden Gate Bridge is as beautiful as you imagine, and more. San Francisco is probably the only city that really rivals Cape Town for pure beauty.

Got me thinking about the cities I’ve loved most in my life. You know those places – the ones where you imagine an entire lifetime on the first night, or where a whole new future seems possible.

While sitting in an asian bar-restaurant eating the most amazing prawn dumplings with dried shaved garlic and shopped spring onions in a warm vinegar sauce, I thought it over. I decided that a great city needs to have certain elements to be great. Not all of these, but most…

A harbour – or large river: Or something like that. Because great cities all have a history of having lots of immigrants, who enrich the culture. I am a sea girl, in any case, so gulls, the sound of fog horns, fog and the smell of salt all make me very happy. Being landlocked makes me very sad. Without the Sea, Cape Town would just be a stuck up little town with a big rock in the middle (think Paarl+hippies). With the sea (and the music and the food) it’s awesome.

Great food: If not an amazing cuisine, like Florence, then variety, like any great American city, or like Paris. Prague will never really be a great city because the food sucks. The Russians are apparently responsible for ruining it. Same goes for Rome (unless you’re loaded). Antananarivo (Madagascar) scores on may levels, with food being one of the major ones. You can eat like a king there (French, Malagasy, Chinese, Indian… you name it) for three dollars. Think free range foie gras steaks. And the most amazing pastries.

Music: Antananarivo may be polluted and its clubs sex markets for asshole tourists, Maputo’s police will pull you over for a bribe on the way home, and Paris is expensive. But you’ll find stuff that’ll blow your mind when it comes to live music. Barcelona’s clubs are the best. The dance floors are air-conditioned – although not air-conditioned enough to stop every guy over the age of 15 trying to get it on at random. Yes, that cliche, it’s true. Same goes for Cape Town. I’m excusing Florence cause makes up for the lack of decent live music with incredible food and art.

Walkability: Every now and then, when they drop the butter-vs-margarine debate for five minutes to take a leak, the lifestyle news feeds put out an article about why French women are so thin, even though they eat butter and bread all the time and drink red wine. They never tell you why, really, so I will: European women walk a lot. That’s why they make the best high heels in Spain and Italy. I love cities where you can walk everywhere. And when you can’t? There should be options. Like the Paris Metro, or free options like the Cable Cars in San Francisco and the free zone buses in Seattle. London’s underground doesn’t count because sharing it with most of the people who ride it makes it the most depressing experience on earth. Not sure why, but the same technology in the hands of the French is fun. It think that’s because it’s acceptable to make eye contact with strangers in Paris, but not in London.

Which makes Cape Town, Durban, Paris, Florence, Antananarivo, Maputo, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, and Barcelona the best places I’ve been.

Still haven’t touched down on a few continents, and I got to get to New York and New Orleans before the clubs close. And Baltimore. And Boston. Shit and Chicago. Actually I’d visit any US city… so far there isn’t one I’d I’d call a shithole, or where I’ve felt unwelcome.

And now – after breakfast in a diner where the waitress called me Honey – it’s time to drive home to Orange on Martin Luther King day. I’m always longing to leave The County, but after two nights of listening to the ceiling creak as the couple upstairs get it on, coming home feels comfortable, safe. I look forward to my own shower, and my own bed, and my own coffee machine. It’s my own little town and my stuff is there, if you know what I mean.

 

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