Last weekend I spent in San Francisco for my family’s annual Christmas party. It was the first time I’d ever gone; my fiancé Olivier made a detour on his way to see his family in Paris to meet my cousins and uncles and aunts before our wedding next year. My two favorite great uncles were both there, all 90+ years of them:
Five days in the city got me thinking about the differences between SF and NY. Just for fun, here are a few of the biggies I noticed in the epic “Best Coast” battle:
Crab v. Lobster Since my family is from SF I went there every summer and grew up on crab and sourdough. Since December is crab season, this trip I ate it with almost every meal – lemon-fennel salad with crab, crab-cake burger, crab bruschetta. Here, eating dungeness crab toasts and crispy mushroom-egg polenta cakes with two of my besties at Park Tavern in North Beach:
As a kid I loved breaking open the legs of crabs, picking out the meat with my fingers and soaking it in mayo (I was 28 before I realized all the really good meat’s in the body…my mom kept that part from me for years!). Lobster is more rich and buttery, but it’s more of one-and-done (no fun picking it apart). They’re both perfect in soups and salads and sandwiches…but nothing beats a buttery lobster roll. Point one for New York.
Santa Con While I thought SantaCon started in NY, the first one was actually held in SF in 1994. On Saturday the 14th we were staying in a hotel near SF’s Union Square, and Santa Con was ON. My fiance Olivier and I sat on a bench outside and watched thousands of Santas and Santa-ettes walk by, white and black and Hispanic and Asian, straight and gay, from three to 75 years old.
The craziest costumes were two middle-aged dudes wearing only Santa hats on their heads and stockings over their junk. I have to say, compared to New York’s Santa Con, which is 90% drunk white frat kids, SF takes the milk & cookies. One for SF.
Castro v. Chelsea I’ve lived in NY’s gay neighborhood Chelsea for years (I like walking down the street and feeling safe since no one’s interested in looking at me!). Olivier’s cousin – from France, married to an American, works in tech – lives in SF’s gay neighborhood the Castro, where we visited him and his wife and two kids on Sunday morning for breakfast. Both Chelsea and the Castro are super-clean with tons of coffee shops, restaurants, bars (and of course draped in rainbow flags). I love living in a city where no one even notices other people’s lifestyle choices. The most liberated gay couples in Chelsea just hold hands and maybe kiss. But in SF they go all the way…there are even cookie shops with tightie whities and half-naked men photos in the window where they sell penis-shaped macarons:
Olivier’s cousin told us about old hippie men who stroll around the Castro completely. Butt. Naked. Even when it’s freezing outside. (Then they apparently put on a sweatshirt but no pants; his theory is that it’s harder to have a cold upper than lower body…but I think they just like having their junk on display for the shock factor). Another friend told me SF just passed a law legalizing public nudity…as long as you bring a towel for bus seats…for sanitary reasons. Gotta love how rationally liberal SF is. Point two for SF.
Bay Area Bikes v. CitiBike This summer in New York, we got CitiBike: a bike-share program with over 5,000 bikes and counting. For $95 a year, you can pick up and drop off a bike anywhere in the city for rides of 45 minutes or less (which is totally doable since there are stations everywhere). A public program, it’s privately owned and paid for by CitiBank, which puts its ads all over the bikes and docking stations. SF’s bike share program, Bay Area Bikes, has 700 bikes and 70 stations around San Francisco and other nearby towns. It’s $103 a year for as many 30-minute rides as you can pedal (and that’s a lot in a city with year-round biking weather). But it’s a government program, paid for and run by a number of public transport groups (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency). I have to say, the ads for the NY program are minimal — plus because it’s a private organization it saves taxpayers money. While I love that both of these cities offer a clean, practical, affordable transportation option for residents…still gotta give point two to NY.
BART v. Subway Besides the bike-share program and lots of buses, BART is SF’s MTA — except that besides being fast and efficient, it’s clean. Downside? There is no monthly pass and the lines are limited within SF. But you can get from the Embarcadero to the Civic Center for less than $2 and Oakland to the SF airport for less than $10. New York’s subways cost $112 per month, smell like a garbage dump and are full of just as many rats. But they get you literally anywhere in the city. Of course both cities always have the bus, but I try to avoid it because the stop-and-go makes me gag, plus my butt always finds itself pressed up against someone’s thigh (that’s the other problem of one bus vs. 12 subway cars that comes every 10 minutes instead of three). Plus even though the NY subway has been broke for years, it runs 24-7. In SF, BART workers are on strike apparently all the time and public transport closes at night. So while I hate to give props to the stinky NY subways, for the convenience and reliability gotta give point three to NY.
San Francisco Bay v. Hudson Running on the Hudson is literally a breath of fresh air in an otherwise pretty stinky city (Olivier remarked “the air’s so clean!” when we arrived in SF). I usually run up the perfectly-pruned Highline and down to the grassy docks along the water, the perfect place to picnic and play cards in the summer. The SF-side of the East Bay near the Bay Bridge seems like the Hudson of the Bay Area. When I went running on Saturday, I saw a farmer’s market near the bridge selling local tomatoes and crabs and fresh croissants. A dude played the steel drums, and other joggers smiled as they passed by. I think this one is a tie.
Droughts & Earthquakes v. Blizzards & Hurricanes The weather in SF was in the 60s and blue skies every day (in NY it was 25 and snowy…does it for some people but not me). I was surprised by the heat and lack of fog so I mentioned it to my uncle who grew up in the area, and he said it’s the start of a drought — which means serious water rations (turn off the water while you shower, no baths, no sprinklers on the lawn). I remember droughts from when I used to visit my grandparents in San Rafael the 90s. Not fun. That, and with the fault lines around SF causing earthquakes big enough to destroy the city, it’s seriously scary. But the winter snow in New York is killer: it’s pretty for the hour while it falls but soon turns into slush and ice that paste the streets in a thick, slick brown sludge for months. Three years ago we were iced in from December to April – and since I had knee surgery in December I spent the entire season sliding around on crutches, praying I wouldn’t fall on my face (I didn’t). Then last year we had Hurricane Sandy. We were without power and hot water for a week, but we had it mild compared to the many people who lost their whole homes. So weather-wise it’s almost a draw. Except that I hate snow and cold so much even with the SF fog I have to give this point to SF.
Point-counting doesn’t account for much after all, since my best friend and partner is in New York. It’s still looking like we’re going to be New Yorkers for a while.