Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

Celebrating 100 San Francisco Lives

Corner Launderette, California Street, Inner Richmond District, San Francisco, 2021 photo by Denise Sullivan

The idea of the “soul of San Francisco,” and whether it’s been lost or found in these years of our gentrification and more recently the pandemic is worn-out. But what exactly does it mean, to go in search of something as ephemeral as a city’s spirit? After 99 columns, I’m still trying to find out.

“One of the things people say to me all the time is they’re happy we’re still here. As if they are expecting me not to be,” said Paula Tejada, the self-proclaimed Empanada Lady who presides over Chile Lindo, her specialty food stand and catering business on 16th between Capp and South Van Ness, the crossroads of good fortune and hard luck.

Tejada is the among the San Franciscans I’ve talked to for SFLives, my column that has been running every other week in the San Francisco Examiner for going on four years. In that time we’ve earned second and third place awards in the columnist category of the San Francisco Press Club’s annual Northern California Journalism Awards, launched a monthly talk series at Bird and Beckett Books & Records, talked to over 100 San Franciscans and shared a bit of our own history. The space has been devoted largely to probing the idea of what keeps some of us here, while there are others who try us, then decide it’s time to leave in a hurry. The whole project has been a thorny proposition, fraught with the usual contradictions of writing about a complex city. And yet, I learn more and more about San Francisco each day by talking to folks who call this place home.

“Foot traffic in the morning is done,” Tejada told me when I checked in on her pandemic status, three years after we first sat down for a chat.

“There are no Google buses, people who used to walk by in the morning aren’t going to work on BART and I never know if I’m going to have that customer that’s coming in for a dozen.”

And yet, Tejada digs into reserves she doesn’t really have to pay topflight jazz, salsa and bossa nova musicians to perform at her storefront, thanks in part to The City relaxing regulations around outdoor dining and drinking during the pandemic. She does it because she believes in that ineffable thing we call the soul of San Francisco…

READ THE ENTIRE COLUMN HERE and 99 other columns HERE.

As I like to say, please don’t believe everything you read in the national and international press about San Francisco. But if you get a chance to talk to one of us who lives here, you might find out, like I’ve found out, that our people have still got that indescribable something that it’s been said we San Franciscans are made of and carry with us wherever in the world we go: Maybe it’s a can-do spirit, maybe it’s soul; some might call it grace and I call it home. We all carry the place where we’re from with us, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. I truly hope that here in this place once known as the City That Knows How we can find within us and its city limits the ability to rise from this very, very broken place we’ve arrived post-pandemic. Until then, squint your eyes and try to find some light in the darkness: I promise it’s here, but you have to look up at just the right moment or you just might miss it.

Filed under: San Francisco News, , ,

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