I arrived in the Bay Area in September 2000. I still remember arriving at SFO with two bags, three grand in the bank, and an unwavering plan to spend only one year in California. This would be enough to complete a graduate degree and get an international education job back on the East Coast.
That was almost 14 years ago.
Like so many, the appeal of the “Best Coast” worked its magic on me. I loved the sunshine, the positive energy, the active lifestyle. I started running on campus, going on local hikes, and visiting San Francisco on the weekends to explore. For someone with no interest in cities, I was charmed by the diverse neighborhoods, the abundant public transportation, the gorgeous Victorians and sweeping bay views. So in 2001, I abandoned my plans and moved into a three-bedroom Edwardian in the Castro District with two friends. We were knee-deep in a recession and it was extremely difficult to find a job. Many questioned how I was going to make it work; I was an outsider with no local connections and little work experience. But a dwindling savings account is great motivation, and my full-time job searching paid off. Within four months of graduation, I had a job.
Thirteen years later, despite two recessions and three job changes, I’m lucky to still call myself a San Franciscan. On a daily basis I tell myself how much I love it here and how lucky I am to live here. Despite my love of travel, I always smiled with gratitude upon returning, happy to be home in my city, with no desire to live anywhere else.
Until I went to Italy.
San Francisco taught me to pursue your passions and live life to the fullest. And that’s why I spent a month in Italy, taking cooking classes, running a marathon, and traveling around the country. Like San Francisco, Italy worked its charm. Suddenly, I had found something new and exciting to pursue.
I decided to move to Italy in July, and gave myself nine months to financially, physically and mentally prepare for the transition. But most of all, it gave me nine months to say goodbye to San Francisco. I took time every day to admire, appreciate and give thanks to some aspect of my daily life: my neighborhood coffee shop, a streetcar, rolling fog, my funny coworkers, the sound of a friend’s laughter. I relished my runs in Golden Gate Park and the views of the Bay Bridge from my office window.
My last month in San Francisco was incredibly special. Although I was busy emptying out my apartment and packing, I was also unemployed. So I dedicated my time to doing all of the things that I loved about San Francisco. I ate at my favorite neighborhood restaurants. I lingered over coffee at my local coffee shop. I took the N Judah train out to Ocean Beach and watched the sun set. Most of all, I had so much incredible one-on-one time with close friends. We ate, drank, laughed, and shared memories.
On my last day, April 30th, I awoke early and set out for a 5-mile run through Golden Gate Park. I took my time and thought about some of my favorite runs. I stopped and admired the bison, watched the loons play on Spreckels Lake, managed one last push up that tough incline on JFK at Transverse Drive. I stopped when I got to the Conservatory of Flowers, bursting with tears and gratitude. Golden Gate Park. One of my favorite places in the whole world.
I met my oldest and dearest San Francisco friend at my coffee shop for lunch. Our friendship is strong, and I know it will continue no matter where we are. She is too important to me.
More frantic packing. A trip to Goodwill to donate some final items. It was unseasonably warm, in the mid-’80s. Before returning the Zipcar, I drove through the Castro one last time. The rainbow flag waved proudly over Harvey Milk Plaza; all are welcome here. I always felt welcome.
I then headed to Lower Haight, to Toronado, my first San Francisco bar. It’s only appropriate that it be my last. I drank two Anchor Steam beers at the bar and smiled at the large beer selection. Thirteen years later, I’m still impressed at and delighted by this place. How appropriate.
The final stop: Park Chow, my favorite neighborhood restaurant. The food here is solid good, the atmosphere lively and inviting. I chose an iceberg wedge and their signature fusilli with chicken and sausage. The flavors paid tribute to this city represents: bright and diverse, yet harmonious. My city.
To anyone considering a similar life change, my advice is to give yourself ample time to say goodbye. And give thanks.
Thank you, San Francisco.