Having spent my last summer in Mountain View, only 50km south of San Francisco, I was looking forward to my internship in its younger and more vibrant neighbor. After a long but comfortable flight from Riga and an annoying baggage delay I was rewarded instantly by the afternoon sun. The shuttle bus arrived in due course to take me and my fellow ride-sharers, an old traveling couple, into the city. While having a good look at the square houses decorating the hills, I was disappointed by their dirty and rudimentary look and had to remind myself that refurbishment is not a priority in an expensive rental market with high turnover.
Speaking of expensive, I chose to stay at a “hacker hostel” called Chez JJ where a bunch of techy people room together and crash in bunk beds after hacking in startups, developer bootcamps or internships. Week-end nights can involve pizza, beer and great conversation, making it a bargain for temporary housing in the city. Living together with many people has its quirks and awkward moments, but this is only one of many ways San Francisco can extend one's comfort zone.
With housing set, next thing to sort out was transport and food and neither posed a challenge in this city. The light rail system (MUNI) is not as rigorous as the London underground, however, buses, trams, cars, and even rideshare startups complete the coverage efficiently. If that fails, one can often fall back to walking with some healthy awareness of dodgy neighborhoods like the Tenderloin. The people here have demanded some adaptation. Even traveling through relatively well-behaved neighborhoods I have witnessed rape threats, women shaking from drugs as well as more minor things, such as people simply getting too close in a non-crowded car.
I enjoyed cycling in Cambridge as a student and opted for a bike in San Francisco to complement the public transport system. I had wanted to try a fixed gear for a while and this seemed like a good opportunity. The immediate reality of cycling in San Francisco are the hills — they offer quite a bit of resistance. Riding fixed in itself was confusing at first, but despite that, I have lots of company on the streets. It is definitely more exhausting than regular cycling for a beginner, or a better workout, whichever way you want to look at it.
The food is great and I do not need to delve into that. One interesting facet is that there are very few chain restaurants. The locals are agressive at supporting family run, local (organic) businesses and they must have driven the chains out of the center.
I discovered that more people share my interests than in any other part of the world I have lived in. Apart from conversations on sports teams and remotely independent music, I feel right at home. The common trait of spending a lot of time on the internet has endowed us all with similar favorite books, shows and products as well as interests and skills centered around creating software products and understanding the world.
Folks here know how to balance lifestyle and career. They will not only readily fit exercise, entertainment and creative hobbies into their lives, they strive to make their main work challenging, interesting and meaningful. People are also very individualistic and love being true to themselves.
Agreeably, there are a lot of people who are worse-off than those involved in software businesses. You can see anything from loud homeless people to drug addicts and people in Stanford sweaters on the same street. This stratification is unique and inescapable. You can be hacking (or drinking) away on a Friday and have a shooting three blocks away from the office.
The plethora of experiences here has already given me a broader perspective on life and society. San Francisco is an amazing place to be if you are passionate about software products, but it has its dark side.
I didn't (and don't) want to end this on a bad note, because my time here has been overwhelmingly positive and has exceeded my expectations. However, I wanted to outline some of the issues that people leave out when praising Silicon Valley.