49 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality

I landed my feet in San Francisco on Tuesday evening after a pretty harrowing drive from Denver. By myself, this trip put me to the test with snow storms, frozen windshield wipers, impatient truckers, and sudden hail storms. Donner Pass was closed and would remain closed, forcing me to turn south on I-15 and travel down to Las Vegas, cross the Sierras from there, and then turn back north to San Francisco.

On this long trek, one gets to see the America that is currently so very divided. There are the wide open ranges of Wyoming, where the rebellious conservative radio station has the tag line, “We play what we want!” I entered into Utah, a state that upon just the mention of its name, we are reminded of the religious freedom guaranteed by this country, as the Mormon pioneers settled the area. It is a naturally stunning part of the world, with five national parks. I couldn’t help but to think of the recent silencing of this federal organization, as well as the now frozen funding of the Environmental Protection Agency, wondering what does the future hold for these federal departments. Finally south of the storm, now unexpectedly sleeping in Las Vegas, I see a place of opulence and promiscuity, as well as a towering gold-plated building baring our new president’s name in large lighted letters. I cut across the barren Mojave desert, where the discussion regarding the environment, water shortage, and industry sustainability is a daily concern. As I approached the Sierras, I crossed into lush green hills, then drove back down onto flat land covered in leafy green tangerine trees, in season and full bloom. Six hours later, I landed in the most liberal city of the United States, known as a leading immigrant sanctuary, complete with daily protests in this turbulent political time.

Once the car was unloaded, dinner became a must. We have rented a one bedroom apartment on the bottom floor of a house in the Inner Sunset District, just a few blocks from Golden Gate Park. It only took walking two blocks to get to an intersection in the neighborhood where I had the choice of authentic Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Peruvian, or Guatemalan cuisines. We walked by four coffee shops and six distinctly different ethnic bakeries. There are dive bars and Irish pubs. It is glorious. Oh, the choices! In the morning, we walked to the market for coffee and a breakfast sandwich, and strolled into the park past St. Anne’s Catholic Church, of which sponsors a Chinese school on its campus. At the apartment, we reviewed the guidelines regarding trash collection, as there are three cans: compostables, recyclables, and landfill, literally labeled as such to remind us that our choices have an impact on our environment. Man, this liberal America, with all of its education and green space and tasty food. I just don’t know what I am going to do with myself for the next four weeks. Yes, I do… I’m going to hike and eat and write and read books in the park, then sleep, then repeat.

The next day was all about work. We travel with my husband’s job as a technician for a Broadway show, and the crew spent two days loading in to the newly refurbished Curran Theatre, built in 1922, in the heart of Union Square. It reopened its doors after several years of renovation last night with a performance of the show, and the house was papered with local arts professionals, friends, and family. The Lt. Governor of California, as well as the Artistic Director of the Public Theatre in NYC (responsible for the original production), welcomed the enthusiastic crowd. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom started by stating that San Francisco is “often thought of as 49 square miles surrounded by reality.” Everyone seemed to know this joke well and chuckled politely. He then went on to say that it is a place where “we don’t just tolerate our diversity; rather, we celebrate our diversity.” The audience erupted in applause. Artistic Director Oskar Eustis stated that the Public Theatre is participating in the Ghost Light Project, an activism put forth by the theatre community to leave a symbolic light on for marginalized groups in our nation. Mr. Eustis stated, “The Public will be leaving the ghost light on in the lobby as a symbol that the theatre is now, and always will be, a sanctuary where no one is discriminated against and hate is not tolerated.” At the end of the performance, local benefactor and arts activist Carole Shorenstein Hays, who lead the funding of the theater’s renovation, joined the cast on stage, stating simply, “the arts heal.” It was a moving evening of theatre, where a story that contains the themes of acceptance and tolerance was performed for an appreciative and empathetic audience. This tour somehow continues to place us near historic events. It is a complicated time period, with many different points of view being loudly expressed through multiple mediums. But on that night, I sat amongst artists, and we collectively shared a moment.

We are just beginning our time here in San Francisco. I am excited to soak up all of the yummy immigrant sanctuary food, participate in the environmentally conscious trash collection, hike the urban walking paths to the ocean, and ultimately indulge in as much of the liberal acceptance as I can for a little while. It may be a peninsula that is separate from the reality of the rest of the country, but what is wrong with that? I am reminded that this type of America is possible and does exist. The people who live here have made it their own and are responsible for its beauty; may they reap the benefits of their hard work as a society. Hopefully I will be able to explore it in such a way that I discover at least one or two of their secrets.

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