San Francisco vs. New York City

When I landed in San Francisco for a week's vacation from New York City I immediately realized, "Toto, we're not in Queens anymore."

No worries.

If you have ever taken a plane into JFK you realize that Dante missed "baggage claim" in his stages of hell. New Yorkers move at the speed of light meaning the second they step out of the plane they are already pissed that their bags aren't out on the carousel three floors below. The windy carousel is say, 50 miles long, yet New Yorkers feel the need to ALL stand directly in front of the car-wash-like flapping strips of plastic so that they can dive directly onto their black sleek bags the second it peeks out from the baggage claim hole.

If you are really lucky, and get a true New Yorker on your flight, you may even be privy to a yelling spectacle. As people are trying to ram each other in the ankles with their smart cart luggage carriers within two feet, after about ten bags appear someone inevitably gets worried that their bag is lost. In an attempt to rush the great and powerful Oz that is unloading baggage, an impatient woman will likely move the flaps back and scream, "Have you seen a black bag with wheels, I don't see it yet. You didn't lose it did you?"

Whereas in San Francisco, everyone just kicked back, waited for their bags to come out and actually looked as if they’d be forgiving should their luggage be stolen by a band of luggage gypsies. I think I could get used to this. I put on my big blue hiking backpack after it was spat out.

Air Train
The Air Train was recently completed in New York City, finally connecting JFK Airport with the rest of the world. This airport is notoriously difficult to get to, and I, known for always being on time and early, had missed planes and arrived late. Granted the Air Train has had some problems in its early stages, such as derailment and mysteriously veering off course into electrified train yards instead of the airport, but it was touted to be a fast, effective, and cheap way to get to JFK.

Even though the train supposedly took only a few minutes to make it to the airport, I still left plenty of time "just in case." Glad I did. Getting to the Air Train proved to be the hardest task. Slowed down by 30 pounds of backpack strapped to me and a carry-on, I headed out for the 7 Train then an E Train before getting onto the Air Train. Nothing was working. Construction here, construction there, no local trains, no escalators, no way was I making it to the airport in time. Five trains, 15 flights of stairs, an accidental walking detour through a construction site and two whole hours later, I was finally at JFK where my mantra soon became "Air Train blows!"

When I arrived in San Francisco I had to jump on an identical looking Air Train. However, the San Francisco Air Train was actually free, led directly to transit, had working escalators, and wasn't full of people screaming on cell phones. The entire subway system is on an "honor system." For the most part they trust that you pay, and occasionally ask to see your pass. I think I could get used to this.

The Weather
I left New York in the snow. I love snow. I arrived in California in 75 degree sunshine that was unlike the New York 75 degree weather that usually has me complaining about sweat and humidity, hair looking like an afro. This was breezy, I wanted to go hiking, be in a convertible with a dog while boogying to a Beach Boys song. This was weather I think I could get used to.

The only thing people in San Francisco talked about oddly was "the fog." We had to go see stuff "before the fog." I didn’t see why it was a big deal, not until I went out with my friends one night and we encountered the fog. We couldn't see two feet in front of the car! I guess living near water does that.

Protestors, Hippies, the Homeless and Dogs
On my first day in San Francisco, the friend I was visiting had to work so I had a few hours to roam around on my own. I heard some drums in the distance, and seeing as I like bands, marching included, I followed the sound that led to a giant protest against George W. Bush—one placard read: "Lesbians Against Bush, Imagine That." An earth mother type came over and asked me what county I was registered to vote in, and I replied "Queens." She said, "Hmm…What district is that?" After I explained I was from New York, she said, "Well you can't sign the petition, but fight the power, sister." I smiled as I was just "sistered" by a genuine bra burning hippie woman, though no one was going to get me to burn MY bra, especially with all those hills I had to walk up! I felt like Janis Joplin was going to burst out into song, whereas in New York the limited protests tend to be pre-approved.

I expected this similar spirit to be alive and well in the Haight, where I thought "it" all began. When we got there I realized that the hippies that remained were strung out old homeless people. The rest of the Haight was filled with teenage punk-type kids who hung out in front of the McDonald’s each with their own pit bull puppy and outfits that looked well thought out in a homeless-grungy-chic way with their parents’ credit cards in their wallets. I was a little disappointed to see all that remained of history on these streets were St. Mark's type shops and people who seemed to only subscribe to the fashions and drug habits of their forefathers.

The homeless of San Francisco seemed to outnumber those in New York, primarily because there seemed to be no police around (I didn't see a single one!) anywhere nor anyone anxious to move them elsewhere. Now, New York does have a huge homeless population, but the typical street beggar here sits on the ground or stands in the corner holding a coffee cup occasionally asking for change.

In San Francisco, the homeless not only want money, they want a little chat as well. They approach you and literally do not leave your side until you somehow get rid of them. A little frightening at first until my friend taught me the "Sorry man" trick. Apparently, if you add ‘man’ to your no thanks routine, that is the magic word to get rid of them. However, unlike New York, some of the homeless are hilarious!

Equaling the homeless in number and ability to be everywhere were dogs. I have never been to such a dog friendly city in my life. Dogs were running loose everywhere from the beach, to the parks, to the sidewalk. Sidewalk cafés, stores, and even the subways allowed dogs with no one giving a second glance!

A Different Light
Now, the biggest part of the San Francisco experience was, of course, the gay culture. That’s not to say I have joined the homosexual ranks, but I have definitely solidified my position as “queen of the queens,” “gay magnet,” or as my friend says, "fagnet."

Anyhow, my friend works at A Different Light Bookstore in the Castro, one of the first gay-owned and operated bookstores. I expected to walk in and find some books by Sedaris, the Beats, and have some Cher playing on the sound-system. As a heterosexual female with a huge number of gay friends, I thought I knew all there was to know about the gay world, that nothing could shock me.

I walked in and to the left were books by gay authors, to the right was gay porn next to postcards and books about San Francisco. The rest of the shelves were filled with gay erotica, fiction, non-fiction, and some of the most explicit stuff I had ever seen. The patrons also shocked me, from burly looking men in leather, to lesbians who looked more manly than my dad, to a man who had a mustache, button down shirt and tie with a skirt on the bottom and a pair of heels. And this, I learned was one of the tamest stores on the block.

From bars to clubs, my gay attraction powers were apparently set on high, and I had more men talking to me than I ever had at a regular bar. One asked me how tall I was, another commented on my outfit, and at a gay lawyers’ dinner one actually touched my boobs just in a "Wow look at those!" sort of way. While it was an honor to be approached and fondled by some of the most gorgeous men I had ever seen, the only mutual admiration we had was for Wham! playing on the sound system.

In New York, you can kind of tell the gay men for the most part, or at least I thought. Many are stereotypical could-be-a-Will-and-Grace cast member type. In San Francisco, guys who look like they are lumberjacks will suddenly burst out into show tunes and I kept thinking, "Wait, he's gay?"

Anything goes in San Francisco, from dreadlocks and piercings to chaps and cowboy hats. Even though I don't think I would partake in many of the looks, it was refreshing to not walk into a bar with a multitude of cookie cutter people in black outfits with matching blonde highlights and knee-high boots. Or the alternative, which also happens in New York in some of the downtown and Williamsburg crowd who try too hard to be counter-culture that they actually all look like each other.

I Feel the Need for Speed
While it seemed by the end of the trip that I felt New York City should fall off the face of the earth, I was missing it.

Decisive people who jaywalk, use escalators as a way to keep up the stairs faster as they run, and a little bit of crappy weather that supports some melancholic music. I wonder if all that freedom and acceptance makes people not crave more out of life which definitely is the case in New York where everyone is always looking for the next adventure. I just wonder if it would be very easy to get stuck there like a hippie who is still fighting a war they don't even realize is over.

So for now I am still a New Yorker who receives her gay worship in the West Village, but I definitely think San Francisco may get a shot in the future!