Most San Franciscans are from someplace else. Why do they come here and what makes them stay? We walked into three separate bars and bought drinks for three random strangers, in exchange for their tales of how they ended up in SF. Their stories may surprise you.
We published one story last week (from The Latin American Club). This week's story comes to us from The Philosopher's Club in West Portal. Next week, we'll share a story from The Page in Lower Haight.
Who: John Lancaster, 63
Where: Philosopher's Club, West Portal
"I grew up in a little town south of Richmond, Virginia. When I got out of the military in 1969, I wanted to see the world. I'd been to college, it wasn't my thing. I went to airline school, got a diploma in commercial transportation, and my first job was with Northwest Airlines. I started in New York at Newark Airport in '69, and transferred to San Francisco in '74. I was 27. My plan was to stay two years. I never left.
It was the last of the hippie era, of people painting their cars, lots of sex, lots of experimentation in terms of people moving outside of various barriers. Interracial relationships, etc. It was very peaceful. It wasn't hostile. People were crossing ethnic lines that I never saw crossed on the East Coast. People were blending. Along with the incredible beauty of the city, it appealed to me.
I got my first apartment in Japantown, then moved to my next, in Twin Peaks, in '77. I'm still in the same apartment, but I used to be pretty different-looking: big afro, beard. I'm retired now, but I worked for the airline then, did a lot of traveling, did a lot of partying. Just had a good time. As life progresses, your attitude changes a little -- but I'm still the same person.
When I got here it was like mecca. Back east, there's not a lot of exchange between different ethnicities. That never felt comfortable for me. I felt like a fish out of water back there. Suddenly I felt like I'd reached the place I was trying to get to. The live-and-let-live attitude is what impressed me the most. It wasn't like that on the East Coast. In San Francisco the rule book had been tossed out the window. "You're not hurting me, I'm not hurting you, whatever you want to do is fine." That's the philosophy I grew up with, from my parents. But it didn't exist outside of our home. But here it was the reality.
If I'd stayed back east, I probably would've fallen into a lifestyle of doing what everyone else thought I should be doing. I don't want to demean the East Coast mentality, but the pursuit of what I wanted to do probably wouldn't have happened. The freedom to be an individual, to be expressive. If I stayed on the East Coast, there are probably situations or opportunities I would not have pursued because of racial barriers. I've studied Japanese ikebana here. I've taken Japanese conversation classes. I felt free here to step outside of stereotypes. To go someplace and speak Japanese to someone and not have people turn and say, "Oh no he didn't" -- that's liberating.
This place unites people that might have had different ideas about each other. I've been friends with Steve, here, for 25 years. He used to drive truck at the airport. If we'd met on the East Coast back then, a black guy and a white guy working at the airport, we probably never would've been friends. It's just the Bay Area -- we couldn't give a shit about what you do, or who you do. There's a cohesiveness to the place. And it's still like that. It's still a place where that happens.