not a city girl

I am about to come across as the most privileged, most sheltered, most suburban, most ignorant white girl you may have ever heard. Consider yourself forewarned.

I want to preface this post by stating that I live in the far suburbs of Chicago. Some Chicagoans wouldn’t even consider my town a suburb, I’d venture to bet. I have lived here all my life. When I went to college, I went two hours south to a relatively rural location (comparatively). While I’ve lived 40 miles west of Chicago my entire life, I really don’t make it to the city much. I don’t have any friends who live in the city. For all intents and purposes, whenever I’ve gone into the city, I’ve lived very much the life of a tourist. Typical city day for us: ride the Metra to Ogilvie Station. Walk east. End up at Grant Park/Millenium Park/State Street/Michigan Avenue/Adler Plantarium/Field Musem/Aquarium. Grab lunch/dinner. Walk back to the train. Depart city.

Really, I can count on two hands the amount of times that I’ve entered the city and my experience differed from the above: sure, I’ve been to my fair share of Cubs games. I’ve been to Hawks and Bulls games. I’ve been to the Briar Street Theater. I’ve been to Union Park for Pitchfork. I’ve been to concerts at the Aragon, the Riviera, the Chicago Theater. But by and large, my Chicago visits have been to the same general area. Yes, there are homeless people in abundance. But there are always so many people on the street that I have never felt unsafe. Every morning I listen to the news on my way to work and every day, there’s been a new murder or 10. I keep hearing how our crime rate is increasing. The difference is I know not to go to the crime-ridden areas. Crime can happen anywhere but there are certain areas to stay away from, and I do. In short, I’ve never been in a situation where I really felt fear in Chicago.

I never considered myself so painfully suburban, however, until the past few days. I’ve been researching San Francisco, as we leave for our trip Saturday, and my eyes have been forced open. The crime rate in San Francisco is absolutely, frighteningly high. This is something I didn’t know until we were discussing our trip with my boyfriend’s mom and she made an offhand remark–“just be careful, San Francisco has an incredibly high crime rate.” When we left, we discussed her comment in the car. Was she serious? San Francisco, in my mind’s eye, is full of either a) peace-loving, 4/20-friendly hippie wannabes or b) incredibly successful businesspeople. I googled it. I found out that not only was his mom absolutely right, but our hotel–the hotel I was so excited about–was smack dab in the center of it all.

What’s funny about all of this is that I used to work at a publishing company that printed community guidebooks. I was promoted to staff writer and the first book I got to write was the San Francisco book. I did a lot of research, obviously. I never came across anything like what I’ve come across in the past few days…not that they’d want us to print “the truth” in a book targeting tourists and new residents, anyway.

When I booked my hotel, I knew the neighborhood I wanted. I didn’t want to stay in the Fisherman’s Wharf because I thought I was too cool to succumb to staying in an area so touristy. I was aiming for either the Haight or Nob Hill. The hotel I found was in Nob Hill (or so I thought)…it wasn’t until yesterday that I realized, in actuality, the hotel was in the “Tender Nob”–Lower Nob Hill, where Nob Hill turns into the Tenderloin. For anyone unfamiliar, the Tenderloin has one of, if not the, highest crime rate in the city. I’ve combed through blog posts and informative articles–and even seen photographic evidence–of hypodermic needles in the street, people exposing themselves and pissing on buildings in broad daylight. I found an interactive crime map. Behold:

That big red area is mostly comprised of the Tenderloin and Soma neighborhoods, but also bleeds into the Civic Center/Downtown/Chinatown/Union Square areas as well.

Needless to say, I started to feel really pathetic. Here I was, wanting an “authentic” San Francisco experience. I wanted (and still want) to take transit like a local instead of renting a car. I want to walk everywhere I can. I want to experience the city on foot because one of its hallmarks is its walkable, pedestrian-friendly nature. In my head, I had this idyllic vision that we would leave our hotel in the morning and pick a direction and just start walking. I’ve always refrained from carrying large purses when I walk around in the city for fear of being pickpocketted or mugged–but that’s Chicago. I didn’t think this would be like Chicago. I thought I could carry my big bag with my expensive camera and not worry about being bothered.

I never used to fear this. In fact, I visited Paris when I was 16 for a class trip and my mom made me buy one of those tourist wallets you wear under your shirt to keep your passport and money safe–and I thought she was ridiculous. I wasn’t once hassled in Paris, aside from a few gypsies in the Latin Quarter and a few bracelet-making African implants in Montmatre. By and large, even in a foreign country, I’ve just never really felt unsafe. And now I do. From the stories I’ve read, I’m just a little scared. The reason the crime spills into Downtown/Union Square is, in my assessment, because that’s where the majority of the hotels are located. Hotels = tourists = naive, vulnerable rich people. Easy targets. And I’m going to be one of them (except the joke’s on them because I’m flat broke!)

We’ve already switched hotels once but we’re still only about a block from that big red area on the map. I have half a mind to give up my original plan and pick yet another hotel in the Fisherman’s Wharf. I just don’t want to spend my entire vacation afraid. I don’t want to be afraid to walk back to my hotel at night. I don’t want to feel afraid on the Muni or the BART. I should have known, I guess, that this is the price you pay for staying downtown. Had I been smart, or rich, maybe we would’ve stayed in Sausalito and commuted into the city via ferry each day. But it’s too late for that now.

A city is a city is a city. I should’ve known. I remember being shocked at how many homeless people hung out near the touristy 16th Street Mall in Denver. I should have expected the same experience.

Sadly, I think I’m too suburban for this shit. My bark was much bigger than my bite. Here I go, tail between my legs, to peruse the Fisherman’s Wharf hotel listings once more…

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7 thoughts on “not a city girl

  1. bobmortland says:

    San Francisco is a crazy place to move to even for someone that has lived in a city for my whole life. SF is just a little backwards.

    • I’m getting that impression! I’m still very excited about my trip (we leave on Saturday) but I just hope all the crime knowledge I’ve taken in during my past few days of extensive research isn’t going to follow me like a black cloud and ruin all my fun!

  2. VivianaAyre says:

    Trust me, I live forty minutes to an hour outside of Boston. You’re not alone.

  3. Though I’ve lived in big cities for most of my life, I’m a country girl (and live in a rural place now) at heart. However…do not fear San Fran. Yes, there’s a seamy side and yes, areas that are best to avoid. But don’t let your fear spoil your trip. It’s a beautiful and vibrant city with many safe, fun areas. Always be aware of your surroundings and do not act or look like a victim. And have a fantastic time!!

    • I know I will. I’m very excited and I hope I’m worried about nothing! I’m researching sights in Chinatown…what a MAJOR bummer that I won’t be able to indulge in freshly made fortune cookies at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory! A vegan option would be nice… 😉

  4. Kinenchen says:

    I’m not worried about you. I think you’ll be just fine and maybe kick some butt. Pardon my language.

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