A Letter to San Francisco’s Realities in the Rain

Every time it rains in San Francisco, there’s a certain revealing nature to it that shows the city in its many facets.

This past weekend and today, November 8th, proved to be a rather wet span of time for San Franciscans. Over the past 72 hours, the city (and much of the Bay Area) has been soaked with much-needed rain. Though by no means equivalent to the record-breaking rainfall totals we saw in October of 2021 — when over 4” of rain fell in downtown San Francisco.

Nevertheless, the rain managed to wash the city of trash, election day flyers, and the general grunge that accumulates in a metropolis nearly as dense as New York City.

And there’s forever something particularly captivating about San Francisco in the wet. Why? For one, there’s a sense of newness, of fresh commencements when the asphalt around the city slicks with rain.

San Francisco’s urban sprawls, especially in and around downtown, are filthy. That’s just a fact. Anyone trying to convince you otherwise clearly hasn’t traveled outside of Marina in quite some time.

When any amount of rainfall wets the city, discarded remnants of modern life — the synthetic detritus we busy our lives with; wrappings that once enveloped perishable goods; materials used to make face coverings worn amid a global pandemic — bleed into the streets. As if emerging from dormancy, only to then ride a murky river to somewhere.

Perhaps nowhere. But likely somewhere. Maybe the ocean. Or a lake. Another puddle. Filled with trash. Next to a toppled waste bin.

There’s also a chance that said items of trash are picked up by kind strangers. These individuals express their principled SF nativism by not shouting on Twitter, but rather helping in small ways to better the world around them. Which, in this instance, includes the beautification of a reduced San Francisco — America’s largest green city set inside a country failing on virtually every climate crisis initiative.

But what is one to expect when living in a nation that was fundamentally founded on human suffering and odious amounts of greed?

I like to think rainfall in San Francisco opens up a passageway to change. Like how this flushing of residual matter makes way for better things.

I wish and hope and pray (to a higher power I struggle to believe in) we can walk through such a reality, soon.

Before I move on from this mortal coil. Before my friend’s children die without ever seeing a Sumatran tiger. Before our only celestial home becomes a martian landscape, alien and unaccepting of human life.

There’s an inordinate amount of human suffering laid naked by the rain in San Francisco.

Unhoused residents of the city seek respite under concrete buildings, some of which house the very company offices that have made securing permanent shelter here unreasonable.

In a city where you need to make more than $80,000 to rent the smallest of studio apartments, tent encampments aren’t monstrosities.

No, far from it, in fact.

They exist as unprotected reminders of how we’re all one medical catastrophe, one car accident, one layoff away from sudden displacement.

And all the pains and traumas that come with that. All of which are made worse by the rain.

San Francisco’s antiquity is unignorable when it glistens from precipitation.

In my corner of the TenderNob, the neighborhood’s decades-old neon signs flicker in the presence of moisture. The particular blue-hued emblem jutting out from my own building regularly goes dark after a certain amount of rain is poured. When I leave my unit — which, not unlike many other city dwellings, boasts a gorgeous view of a concrete shaft — after a storm, I look at the sign to gauge how much rain might’ve fallen.

Stumbling through San Francisco after such storms, the city’s patina comes in full bloom, as well. But so does its future… defined by COVID-19 and mass layoffs amid a looming economic recession.

To see historic eateries with drenched parklets sit as both juxtaposition and symbolism: The building erected in a pre-COVID-19 world that has adapted to the pandemic certainties we’ve all been served these past two years.

Bodegas in the Inner Sunset glow in the soft streetlight when Karla the Fog rolls in. The greens at Alamo Square Park — and Mission Dolores Park and Golden Gate Park and John McLaren Park — perfume with a fresh scent. Not the pungent aroma afforded by lawnmowers trimming green blades, but rather a gentler, sweeter fragrance.

Like spring rain on cotton candy.

I find myself thinking of what San Francisco would’ve looked like in yesteryears on rainy days.

How the cityscape’s lack of vertical office space — void of handsomely paid tech workers who view the homeless as inanimate objects, not sentient beings — some decades ago looked like against gray skies. What people valued then, compared to those worshiped now. How days were spent, sans algorithms dictating their decisions. The sight of people hunched over while reading magazines and alt-weeklies, as opposed to checking their Slack notifications. Where ideas of growing old in grace weren’t supplanted by notions of immortality — promised by supplements and microchips.

Maybe it’s during these rainy times that I allow myself to admit that I yearn for a San Francisco that matches my own ambitions; my own viewpoints of what a liberal metropolis should evoke.

Alas, daydreaming under an umbrella must suffice for now. And may the language available to me continue serving me in making sense of San Francisco’s realities on stormy afternoons.

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