San Francisco: Utopia, Limited

August 30, 2021
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AND so, I caught the plane down to San Francisco, the progressive city in northern California where it is sometimes said that the future happens first.

Greater San Francisco is home to the excellent Bay Area Rapid Transit or BART system, one of the few brand-new public transport systems built in mid-twentieth-century America. BART was the product of a temporarily utopian vision of what the future city would be like.

Computer-controlled, running on mostly overhead tracks, BART began service in 1972. The early BART A-series trains from the late 1960s are streamlined and painted white and still look futuristic today, in the way that a Stanley Kubrick movie from that era does. There is also a separate metro system within the downtown and inner-suburbs part of San Francisco, called ‘Muni’.

It’s always great to be back in San Fran. Even so, I was feeling really tired, and I was only spending one night there before heading on to Yosemite National Park.

I ended up in the International Hostel in San Francisco, which was very clean and had plenty of lounges and seating everywhere. That was great. But it also had a bit of a congregation of people, locals I think, who had no money.

Large numbers of poor and homeless people have converged on California, apparently because it isn’t so cold in winter as the northern states, nor as punitive as the Old South.

Anyway, I couldn’t get to sleep for ages because my room-mate kept talking to me. I got up early in the morning and I ran into a guy who told me he was a drug dealer and had got caught up in some bad things.

The city definitely had its seedy side. At the same time housing costs were the highest in the USA, higher even in Auckland, which was saying something.

Workers in the high-tech industries can’t afford to live there and want housing to be provided socially. So much for the West Coast Utopia, which needs to have its social arrangements brought into line with its technological promise.

People thought I was homeless myself because I had a backpack. So, after a while I caught a bus to Emeryville on the Oakland side of the Bay, and from there I got the San Joaquins train to Merced, which is just outside of Yosemite National Park.

I could have got a bus all the way to Yosemite National Park, but then I wouldn’t have had as much freedom to get around. I decided to hire a car there for $34 a day so I could go where I wanted and when.


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