If someone would have told me ten years ago I could live in a a place where I could wear anything I want, look any way I like, walk to and from jumping bars, smoke bud freely and ride motorcycles like a maniac, I would have replied, "Yeah, 2080."
It's hard to describe the sense of individual freedom expressed here. Everyone seems much less inhibited. If tripping on mushrooms while roaming about Golden Gate Park sounds like a fun Saturday, you do it, no questions asked. You would have to set your hair ablaze, tear off your clothes and rollerblade down Market Street for anyone to take notice, and that would be momentary.
Much of this freedom can be attributed to the inherent tolerance in this area. But this is augmented and perhaps rooted in the near constant influx of new residents. No one questions the goings-on for fear this is indeed the way it should be done, and doubting this would flag them as a newcomer, a novice, a nonbeliever.
There are sights and experiences in this land that would boggle the mind of the average workadaddy:
The scenery alone is enough to keep one going out here. The beauty is just so concentrated and so diverse that every 15 miles or so looks like a completely different state, if not country. You can go from sandy beaches and seaside cliffs to rolling hills and oh-so flatlands to jagged mountains and gigantic rock faces - and back again - in hours, in a freaking day. It's arid yet evergreen, always cool but never cold.
But perhaps the most attractive quality to me is its apparently complete lack of racism. Coming from an area still fairly segregated, I can think of no greater achievement than a true interpretation of equality. Where I'm from, white folks and black folks interact only when necessary, such as in business. A distinction exists between the two that is self-defined yet all encompassing. Whites have the upper hand and both sides know it.
This is not to say all is perfect in the new, new world. A lack of overt racism doesn't mean it doesn't exist. There is a larger representation of virtually every ethnicity, which looks really good on paper. But Chicanos hold lowly jobs held elsewhere by black males, jobs once held here by Asian men. Despite the goals of equality, neighborhoods remain divided by background.
Awe-inspiring scenery attracts awesome crowds. Combine these attractions with an ever-burgeoning population and you get an urban stampede, with lines of cars filtering into pristine forests like the log ride at Disneyland. Individualism to the Nth degree can breed just that, individuals with little sense of community. I live in a real-life neighborhood, with corner shops and virtually every need fulfilled within walking distance. Yet I don't know the names of the people who live next door to me.
And possibly the worst trait of SF is the willingness to exclude those not of a like mind. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. After years of being accosted with the hatred of the conservative, the selfish, the narrow, the last thing I want to hear is some Republicanatron spouting off about our duties as Americans in wiping out the lives of others in distant lands to protect "our interests."
Yet we become no better than them if we merely discount their thoughts and beliefs outright. It only creates further division. Deep down, I do want to believe these patriots/zealots mean well. It's just that most of us who move to SF do so to get away from the closed-minded, rednecky bigots that are so loud and proud in much of the rest of the world. There are too many places where prejudice is acceptable to go out of your way and practice it here.
Slurs do more than grate on us. They remind us this is not utopia, and it's the closest thing we've got.