Dec 142014

SAN FRANCISCO – I got confused and so we got off at the wrong stop on our Muni ride from my son’s place to Market street. Instead of getting off at Powell, we got off at Civic Center. Then my jetlagged disorientation continued and we started walking the wrong direction.

Two blocks down and the neighborhood just got seedier, confirming that we should be walking the other way. The smell of “bum piss” was also overwhelming.

We saw the office of Twitter in what seemed like the wrong place for a trendy dot com company. Maybe its presence there will eventually improve the neighborhood but who really knows.

We finally got to Powell and my wife needed to go to the restroom so we went straight to Westfield mall. Surprisingly, the “CR” there was worse than NAIA’s. In fact, my wife just couldn’t use it.

We found a cleaner restroom at the fast food area of the same mall. It wasn’t as clean as any at Rockwell or Robinson’s Galleria or Ayala malls but better than the first one. Westfield, home of Bloomingdale in SF, was supposed to be a premier mall but the upkeep seems to have deteriorated since the last time we were there two years ago.

Indeed, the city seems to have deteriorated too. Or maybe we just wandered in an area we don’t normally go to. There seems to be more homeless people in the streets…more jobless folks asking for dole outs. One such man at the underground entrance to the BART and Muni station had a sign asking for a dollar to buy food for his dog. Cute.

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A feeling of disconnect grabs you. Didn’t you just read about how San Francisco is overtaking New York as the dot com billionaires of Silicon Valley pour new wealth into this city by the bay? 

Or maybe what I saw on the wrong end of Market Street dramatized the “one percent versus the 99 per cent” phenomenon. A handful of rich folks are scooping the economic gains of recent times and leaving everyone else behind.

My old friend from my UP college days, Ed Liu is right. Ed was born and bred in Binondo who migrated to the US when martial law was declared and has become a lawyer in this city. He had been ranting on Facebook about how San Francisco has seen better days, to put it mildly.    

I related to him my observation about the seemingly growing number of homeless in San Francisco streets. But of course, he exclaimed, San Francisco officially has over 7,000 homeless. Unofficially, it is more like over 10,000.

In San Jose, Santa Clara County, the homeless also made news. Last week, The Mercury News reported government just cleared out a homeless encampment called “The Jungle” in San Jose downtown Coyote Creek.

California’s public sector is broke, broken, dysfunctional, Ed observed, and citizens can no longer depend on government. They are on their own.

Ed should know…he was a recent crime victim. He related in a Facebook post how he lost and recovered his car.

“Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, my 1997 Honda Civic 2-door sedan was stolen in the streets of town. After eight days, they found the stolen car in the Excelsior District neighborhood…. abandoned with all my coins, quarters and dimes (in my car compartment used to feed the city’s parking meters) all stolen.

“The good news is the cops found my stolen car. The horrific bad news is I had to pay ‘ransom’, a hefty $272 in towing and overnight storage fees to the towing and storage company-contractor in cahoots with the San Francisco Police Department to retrieve my car from the towing lot.

“This is America… America’s streets are no longer paved with gold and gold nuggets, but full of homeless bums, druggies, dog poop, and predators!

“Lining up on the long queue to obtain release of my stolen car from the San Francisco Police Department, I was joined by two other victims whose vehicles were also stolen from the mean streets of San Francisco.

“An elderly African-American man in his seventies commiserated with me… his old 2001 Ford Focus sedan was also stolen by a car thief over the Thanksgiving weekend. It was found in the streets of San Francisco.

“Because he is not a San Francisco resident, this elderly man had to pay $533 in towing and storage fees to retrieve his 2001 Ford Focus car!

“Another victim, a young Filipino-American who recently arrived from Dallas, Texas… in search of a job…. had his Honda Elite motor scooter stolen from downtown San Francisco. They found his motor scooter with a dead battery after a month. He too had to fork over $670 for towing and storage fees to the towing company. All three of us commiserated with each other!

“We have been “raped” once and victimized by a hoodlum who stole our vehicles! Now we are being ‘raped’ twice by a city whose officials conspired with car-towing companies to rip off the victims of vehicle thefts with gouging towing and storage fees!

“To compound the problem, the hoodlum who stole my Honda Civic screwed up my ignition. He also screwed up my old car radio! Talk about crime in America’s cities!

“Welcome to America. Government as we know it is ‘broke and broken’ and public officials are ‘devouring tigers’!

“The moral of the story, you are on your own!’”

Last Friday, a major storm hit Northern California including this city. Traffic was horrendous in the major 101 freeway to the airport which was flooded in parts, power was knocked out in some areas including downtown where Ed has his law office. There were flooded streets notably in Daly City where many Filipinos live. So much like home no wonder many Filipinos feel at home here.

On the other hand, the things I love about San Francisco is still here… the normally year long mild weather…the panoramic views…the restaurants. The day after the storm, the sun was out, the sky was blue with patches of clouds and the weather mildly cool. Perfect for a day out in the park with a book.

They also have a functioning mass transport system. The train stations could stand some cleaning but the escalators are working, at least the ones we used. And an all weather airport that works warms the heart…my son was able to fly in from Osaka in the middle of the storm.

Fare for my Muni ride to Market Street one way is $2.25 which translates to a hefty P101.25 using the P45 to the dollar exchange rate. Senior citizens just pay 75 cents or P33.75. But you have to be 65 years old to be considered senior.

The Golden Gate Park is beautiful but even here, one can see signs of decay arising perhaps to limited available public resources for upkeep. Street maintenance is also not what one would expect from a first world country.

Maybe the urban blight here is typical of any of the world’s top cities. But it is still disconcerting to see such poverty in America. China is doing a better job of trying to present a better first impression through cities like Shanghai. Maybe China hides its poor better.

Still and all, I will not trade San Francisco for Shanghai. Many young Chinese from the mainland feel this way too. They are trooping into San Francisco and other US cities buying up real estate for cash and filling up the classrooms of US colleges and universities. I recall reading that the Chinese now constitute the largest foreign nationality in US educational institutions.

I guess it is all a matter of perspective. The quality of life in American cities suffered in the last economic downturn. But there is still something about breathing the air of freedom not found in countries like China.

 Most Filipinos living in America today will not trade that privilege and go back home. Even if they have to work two or three jobs at a time to make ends meet, America remains the country of their dreams for the good life.

For those back home contemplating a move to the supposed land of milk and honey, a careful due diligence is called for. Life back home may be a bit too challenging but making the move could be like jumping from the frying pan to the fire.

As for me, I always enjoy my visits to San Francisco and always leave my heart here when I leave. But home will always be where the EDSA traffic jam beckons and the polluted air killing me softly with every breath I take. I figure there must be a reason God made sure I was born a Filipino and I am still trying to find out what it is and why.

 Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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