By azradon / /
I was instructed to write something inflammatory (or maybe the word was “controversial”) about San Francisco. Pit it against New York. Bitch-slap your sprightly city some. Well, unfortunately, the San Francisco Egoist might have the wrong man for the job. The problem is this: I like San Francisco. I like it a lot.
What’s not to like?
You have a shiny airport that smells nice. Your cash register clerks are polite. Your ATM vestibules are spotless. Your streets are spacious. You take pride in your novelty transportation. You have microclimates. You serve organic donuts. You studiously obey crosswalks. You all look like you just returned from a nice, fulfilling jog. Your trains not only have a schedule; they actually run on time. On a sunny day you have a beautiful, vibrant city. On a foggy day you have a beautiful, moody city. Yours are among the world’s best beers. You drink fine wine at reasonable prices. At 2:47 on a Thursday afternoon your traffic flows relatively freely. You have lovely, postcard-ready Victorians marching down every sweeping hillside. You wear vests without the slightest hint of self-consciousness. You have awesome Mexican food (a rarer thing than you might realize). You’re all hyper-educated and earnest. You have a noble work/life balance in that you actually have lives. You enjoy fresh citrus. You believe in the belief that you — yes, YOU! — matter. You have carpeted public transportation, for God’s sake. If that’s not the best kind of adorable optimism, I don’t know what is. Not to mention the fact that you all look like you slept soundly the night before.
Now, granted, it’s not all suicide-inspiring bridges and Gilroy Garlic Fries. I realize the place has its drawbacks, too: hippie feet, earthquakes, and the sad circus that is California State finance. But those are a small price to pay for such an enjoyable, likeable city.
That, however, is the difference right there: I like San Francisco, but I love New York.
It’s why Milton Glaser got it right 33 years ago when he came up with the “I Love New York” slogan. Damn, did he ever get it right. Because what is love? Love isn’t all tiny gifts and giddy smiles and raging hard-ons. (Though there is that.) Love is also an angsty, insecure, sticky mess. Love gets you doing things no sensible person ought to be doing: making the bed, shopping for teakettles, parenthood. Love gives you presents. Love gives you gonorrhea. Love exposes you for the temper-tantrum throwing, occasionally weak child you are capable of being. And, of course, love is capable of bringing out your ferocious best. Love is some complicated brew. Love is damned hard work.
I love New York.
Our subways often stink of urine, chunks of Friday night’s vomit, unwashed Jesus freaks. Our August subways add humidity and sweat and frustration to the mix. Our neighborhoods are either gentrified or frightening. Our apartments are not cozy — they are tiny, even the big ones. We all wish we had more closets. We are exhausted. Our steam radiators emit either too much heat or too little, transforming January apartments into saunas or freezers. Those same radiators clang. Loudly. Our bedrooms echo with the honkings of the 24-hour streets below. We work late hours and sleep sleepless nights. Our yoga is competitive. Those fortunate enough to have cars are unfortunate enough to have them salt corroded and driver dinged. We have rats and mice and cockroaches and these weird centipede-looking bugs that supposedly eat the cockroaches, but mostly just drop a couple dozen of their twitching legs when startled. Our one convenient convenience store will always be out of the one thing we need. Our skin is often pale. Our cafes are crowded. I live down the street from a Superfund site for God’s sake. (Do you know all it takes to qualify as a Superfund site?) The strength of many friendships is inversely proportional to the amount of subway stops in-between. Have you ever carried two week’s worth of laundry up a 5th-floor walk-up in New York City mid-August? If not, I don’t recommend it. We abuse Ambien. Our sidewalks are incredibly filthy. It’s a desperate place, even when the getting’s good. Our roads are always crumbling, yet our construction is always everywhere. Getting cross-town during the weekday is an impossible dream. Our gardens are of the rooftop kind, anemic and sun-scorched. Our interactions are rude and often inaudible. And, let’s face it, our attitudes are bad. This is one New York; but then there’s the other. Our parks are surprisingly many. Convenience abounds. Everything is delivered. Everything is open. Here, you live thick in history. Those same stank subways run 24 hours a day. No two boroughs look or feel the same. For that matter, most neighborhoods within those boroughs don’t either. Mediocre restaurants close quickly. You’re never more than a block away from something truly interesting — sometimes that’s a store that sells nothing but pickles, sometimes that’s a lady beating to death a pigeon — either way, it’s an experience. Most everyone is from everywhere else and this makes it an uncertain, vibrant, strangely friendly place. You just need to get to know it some. In fact, I probably know more neighbors here than I’ve met in a six- city lifetime of neighbors. Those same people arrive by design, not by default. We got good sandwiches. We’ve got better pizza. Our last call beats the crap out of your last call. If you’ve ever been to the New York City Marathon, well, we could stop right here. In the 49 other states there are plenty of people who don’t know their own senators, yet know our mayor. People (for the most part) are good about cleaning up the shit their dog leaves. If a band is playing in the US that band is playing in New York. Spring here is better than any season anywhere. Then there are the museums never visited. There are the plays you never go to. There are all the pretty girls of SoHo. And every time I return from the airport I see Manhattan’s key-teeth skyline and there is no place I’d rather be. It’s a mixed bag, New York. And it’s my favorite place in the world.
I fucking love New York.
I love the struggle. I love the reward. Most days I even love the hate. Ask me, and it’s this push and pull that is the lifeblood of any creative quest. Sometimes that’s a job at Droga 5; sometimes that’s using your advertising dollars to escape advertising once and for all and open yourself a Hawaiian shave ice joint in Queens. It’s harder here and the success is sweeter for it.
Sorry, San Francisco. You remain America’s number two. Agree? Disagree? Either way, I can’t really say you’re wrong. But whether you’re from San Francisco or you’re from New York, I’m sure there’s one thing we can all see eye to eye on: L.A. sure does suck dick.
In addition to bits for blogs, Sean McLaughlin writes for Wieden + Kennedy, New York. He’s also worked at Anomaly, JWT, and began his career at The Richards Group. He says ‘hello.’