The Mask of San Francisco

You come here and you know. There is something entirely compelling about this place. Something that fosters the grittiest kind of creativity. It is beauty covering a deep cynicism. It is art meets reality.

This is a city full of contrasts. Young wealth on thousand dollar motorized skateboards zoom by disheveled old men pushing broken shopping carts holding the entirety of their livelihoods. Overbearing acceptance belies a deep intolerance for intolerance. The gifted and the deranged rub elbows on overcrowded trains, though nobody is going anywhere in particular.

One thing is very clear. This city has never let go of its roots. When in the mid-1800’s, millions flocked to the Bay in search of wealth and success, there quickly emerged a bifurcation between the haves and the have-nots. Those who found gold in the hills and the entrepreneurial businessmen who realized those fortunate fools would need somewhere to spend it created a blue-collar aristocracy, the remains of which can still be felt today.

Then there were those who came with nothing and found even less. They could not leave, and were sucked into this city. Their hands built the cable cars and old Victorians that today support the same glamour it once did. And , in exchange, they became the foundation of this place, buried in the wall.

It’s interesting how we forget. In the midst of this new gold rush we see the same truths unfolding. Wealth and innovation have driven tremendous beauty to the city. Unique culture and elaborate architecture epitomize this new Rome.

Yet, simply look down, and you can see how little things have actually changed. The poor still lie across the sidewalk in crumpled heaps, strewn about heroin needles and crack pipes. Violence persists in the wealthiest neighborhoods, as gentrification has driven the displaced to extremes of anger and desperation. Lines of trains and cars shuttle the foundation in and out from their increasingly remote origins.

Still, this place is beautiful; hauntingly so. But the beauty you see when you live here is not the beauty you see when you visit. One of the most telling truths about San Fransisco lies in it’s most recognizable icon, the Golden Gate Bridge.

Every year workers cross back and forth along the spanning cables, applying the quintessential red glow to the steel beams. Without this constant painting, the bridge would still be large, still imposing. But, instead of the timeless photograph it is, it would be green and rusted, a reflection of the age and experience under the surface.

San Fransisco wears a mask of red. Don’t let the paint fool you.

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