It is appropriate that my last business trip of the year was to San Francisco. I took 15 trips to SFO in 2015 … 15 whole weeks. I’ve been told I should get an apartment there, but who could afford that?
This is Union Square, with the skating rink, Dewey’s Column and the giant Christmas tree, and the St. Francis hotel in the background. As the Americans say (ever mindful of their constitution’s first amendment), “Happy Holidays!”
I love San Francisco. It is an exciting, vibrant, fascinating city, and one of my favourite places to work. But it is not a kind place for the very poor, for those who have made bad choices, have bad luck, and who struggle with health and addiction problems. There is little evidence of a social safety net, and more people living on the street than I have seen in any other American city. Short blocks away from this sleeping homeless man there are luxury hotels with $1000-a-night rooms. For rich San Franciscans, walking past the homeless on the way to work is an unconscious part of daily life. For poor San Franciscans, they live in another world that occupies the same time and space. A city of extremes, San Francisco is privately rich and publicly poor.
Most people talk about the Golden Age of air travel as being the 1930s, the era of the China Clipper flown by Pan American Airways. For its self-consciously futuristic style, I’d like to put my oar in for the 1970s. Discount airlines brought air travel to the masses, along with groovy gear like what you see here. These are stewardess uniforms from 1973, from Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA). They’re on display at the SFO Museum, the airport museum in San Francisco. Violently-coloured mini skirts, a “comm badge” swoosh brooch, and go-go boots — with these, a PSA “sky waitress” looked almost as cool as Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek.
I have spent a lot of time in San Francisco this year. Business has been good. Most of the time, I stay around Union Square. Always busy, the activity in and around Union Square in December is especially frenetic. I like this photo for the mish-mash of images, and what it says about San Francisco. The big banner with the menorah, saying HAPPY CHANUKAH, and the giant Christmas tree, show the openness of the city to all kinds of people. The giant tree and the temporary outdoor skating rink reflect a little of the wannabe New York character of the city. The Christmas lights in the palm trees is pure California, but the adjacent Powell Street cable car and St. Francis Hotel is pure San Francisco. The name of the square, Union Square, and Dewey’s column in the centre, are monuments to an American history that is forgotten in the life of the city, but formally remembered nevertheless. San Francisco is one of my favourite American cities, because it has its own character — could be a city-state if it wanted to be — and shows it with style. So Happy Chanukah indeed, everyone!
This is a photograph of San Francisco City Hall, which I took from the nearby Fox Plaza. I am working in the San Francisco office this week, and had the opportunity for a unique view of this landmark building. Built in 1915, after the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the City Hall building boasts the fifth largest dome in the world.