I am happy here – in The Bay. I feel safe. I am eating lots of fresh food. I am resting my body. I am supported by connections from years past. There is sea, there are hills, and forests too. The weather has been nice – not too hot, not too cold.
The San Francisco Bay area feels very liveable to me. My kind of place. There seems like there is something special here – open, liberal, accepting. Maybe it is everyone’s kind of place, if we want to be happy. But actually, I wonder, maybe not quite.
I’ve been here for nearly a week now and for some unknown reason there are several different people who live here that I originally met elsewhere in life. It turns out that they are the first familiar faces I’ve seen since I was in Peru. I’d forgotten what it is like to see a familiar face, but it seems to settle something in the stomach, and no matter where I am a familiar face is almost guaranteed to bring with it a lot of happiness.
I’m wondering, though, how the reconnection with old souls influenced my experience of the San Francisco Bay area.
Right now I sit alone in a café, writing and watching all that is about me. I’m ready and waiting for that opportunity to connect – if it will come. It’s lively in here, people are talking, smiling, and laughing, and I consider ordering another tea – but it is a little bit expensive, as most things seem to be around here, so perhaps not. Actually it might be time to move on – the café has too high an energy for me, like many I’ve been to over the week, and anyway I don’t think anyone has really noticed me, so I think a connection is probably unlikely here.
What I’ve discerned is that it is great if you know people around here but the trouble is what if you don’t know people. Then you’re a bit stuck. It reminds me a bit of London, where I grew up, like many large cities; lost in a sea of faces. There is busyness in most places I’ve been to here across the Bay area and I have searched around for eyes to connect with, as I have a habit of doing, but all the eyes seem to be heavily absorbed in something or other.
There are though some people who seem less busy – the streets dwellers. The folks with no home, of which there are lots here, will often meet my eyes and we might nod or say hello to one another. I haven’t dared to speak in depth to them yet though.
Part of me is wondering why the busy people don’t meet other peoples’ eyes very often. Why are we so busy? Could it be because of some sort of fear? What will be seen if we stop to look? To look inside or out? Perhaps it is safer to keep the head down, eyes darting around nervously, or focused to the front, busy, occupied, safe?
That aside, and it is a big aside that I can’t reconcile with what follows, the Bay area is a liberal progressive kind of place. I think that perhaps it always has been. There was the infamous “Summer of Love” back in 1967 that took place in Haight-Ashbury. What a time to have been alive? The LGBT+ community in San Francisco is large and prominent. The Bay area is also home to some of the world’s most prestigious universities – Stanford and UC Berkeley – and that means there is a good chance they’ll be a lot of people about open-minded and eager to learn new things.
Actually there are some inspiring happiness projects affiliated to UC Berkeley. There is the Greater Good Science Center – an institute that takes happiness and well-being research and advises as to how to put it into practice (why not register to their free course exploring the roots of a happy meaningful life?). There is also the Berkeley Well-Being Institute who help individuals and organisations generate more well-being in their lives. I met with Dr Tchiki Davis to hear about all their latest interesting work.
Another progressive thing to come out of San Francisco and that has long inspired a cyclist like me is the anarchic Critical Mass. It began here back in 1992 and has since spiralled out across cities throughout the world. It just so happened my visit coincided with the last Friday of the month and so I got to ride Critical Mass SF – and so that was like a happiness and connection guarantee. Also my stomach was happy with all the veg*n cafes and restaurants I came across, and my body appreciated the 5 Rhythms dance class I went to.
But it certainly wasn’t an inexpensive place to hang out and just be. I struggled to come across alternative living scenes – ways to really “turn on, tune in, drop out”. Other than perhaps taking to those streets and being destitute. I was fortunate to have the support that I had. Without it I’m not sure what my experience in the Bay area would have been like – very lonely perhaps, and I doubt I would have wanted to stick around and explore for as long as I did.
Once again on this journey happiness comes back to relationships and connections – let’s keep working at them.