Since I’ve lived in San Fran for two and a half months now, I figure it’s time for me to try to start quantifying some of those subtle (ok, and some overt) American-city differences, while they still make an impression on me. Please note I haven’t lived in any other American city but I’ve visited many of them. I think the following things are particular to San Fran, but the locals would have to chime in to validate.
Green Doesn’t Mean Go
I had to learn the hard way. Once a light would turn green, I’d naively step off the curb. Bad idea. Many times I was almost hit by various vehicles, like a bus, countless bicycles, numerous cars, and an odd truck or two. No matter what part of the city I was in, near misses happened. I quickly recognized I had a fatal misconception: green means go.
Now I pause once the light turns green, wait for the drivers gunning through the red, and then cross, often not making it to the other side before the light changes. Sometimes a sprint at the end is required because drivers also love to anticipate the light. Pedestrians don’t have the right of way here. Who knows, maybe drivers think I’m a tourist because I’m walking. And you know, given the city is overrun by tourists I can understand that they may seem more pylon-worthy.
I’ve already had a transit (MUNI) tirade in an earlier post so I’ll try to keep this succinct. San Fran’s “subway” is way too small. The bus and tram routes are circuitous. Sometimes the MUNI doesn’t arrive. When it does, you must have exact change, which involves all quarters if you are taking the subway. Who just happens to have six quarters handy? Of course the train clerks don’t make change. No, for that, you must use the ticket machine of the suburban train system (BART). Very intuitive. Also, MUNI drivers only grunt. Therefore, you must phrase your question in such a way that you can extrapolate the info you require from a guttural response. I never would have believed it, but I miss the TTC.
The only bonus is that the MUNI’s service doesn’t warrant a high price tag. San Fran transit is cheap. You cobble together your $1.50 and you can ride practically for the whole day on one transfer. Or a monthly pass is $45.
Well, if you can call it style. ;) The city is over-run with Birkenstocks and Tevas and all the other unattractive sports shoes you can imagine. Don’t people know those ugly shoes have a place? And it’s not on city streets.
San Fran is home to the summer scarf. Only here would you see a woman with a jacket, a scarf, AND sandals. Why? She’s then ready to discard her layers if she’s lucky enough to find the one warm street that the sun is shining on.
On any day, it’s perfectly legitimate to pass a woman in a leather jacket and boots, another in a tank top and flip-flops, a guy in a wool cap and jeans, a woman in a sundress, and someone in a thick sweater and shorts. Mismatched seasonal pieces underscore that I now live in the metropolis of microclimates.
I did fully appreciate how laid-back people are about appearances when I and the rest of the camping crew took a champagne tour on our way back to the city. People didn’t even bat an eye at our dusty selves as we happily tried bubbly vintages.
People cut others off on sidewalks without turning, even if contact is made. In the grocery store, people bang into one another with body parts, backpacks, carts…whatever can be used, it would seem, to try to herd each other. Needing my elbow room, I refuse to grocery-shop on a Monday night. I can’t take the dents in my patience and the rise in my aggression. Somehow, I suspect that the disrespect for personal space isn’t just a San Fran thing.
And these next two, I know, are nation-wide.
You can buy alcohol just about anywhere, anytime. Très civilized. One evening I wanted a cocktail. Ten minutes later I was back home with some Campari and soda. I can get liquor as easily as potato chips. No longer do I need to make a special trip to a liquor store (LCBO) at a set time. Stocking up for a party is now so easy. Love it!
Debit or Cheque
I’m perplexed by the need to make one card do two things: debit or cheque. With debit, I enter my PIN when I’m purchasing something and it immediately comes out of my bank account. However, to mix things up, I can request “cheque” and then I sometimes (only sometimes) sign after the card is swiped. Cheque purchases take a couple of days to come out of my account.
When I explained to the woman at the bank that I needed only a debit card, she tried to highlight the virtues of the cheque card. She said it was more secure because you don’t have to enter a PIN, which someone may see – implying that that someone is going to memorize it, follow me, and mug me for my card. But now I want to go back and ask the banker how a cheque card is secure if I only have to sign occasionally? My would-be mugger wouldn’t have to surreptitiously note my PIN and then memorize it before the take-down. Seems less complicated. I’m guessing a cheque card is a bonus for the financially energetic in that they have a couple of days to transfer funds to the cheque card’s account. But that’s way too involved for me.