Urban Ledger: Why San Francisco Weather Isn't That Bad


Looking out my home office window on an improbable, fourth consecutive day of beautiful San Francisco weather, I’m reminded of the Tolstoy biopic from a couple of years ago, The Last Station. In the movie’s opening moments, James McAvoy, playing the idealistic secretary Valentin, beams to his colleague Sergeyenko, “It’s a beautiful day.” Sergeyenko responds, “Yes, but we’ll pay for it.”

We all know that good weather in San Francisco is fleeting; we all realize that talking about it is banal; we’ve all heard that hoary old (misattributed) Mark Twain quote ad nauseum. And yet, we obsess. We scamper to Marin at the first sight of a gray cloud. The moment the temperature ticks over 70 degrees, we queue up for half an hour to buy $3.25 ice cream scoops. Those of us who were born in sunnier climes move from neighborhood to neighborhood to recapture a hint of our childhood warmth. Eventually, it causes the more thin-skinned—and SAD-afflicted—among us to leave.

Most of us stay, though, and continue to whine. Why?

For one thing, I think more of us like the weather here than we’re willing to let on. Melancholy artists and overly dramatic creative-types thrive on vitamin D depletion. Our already peerless skyline becomes downright mythic when skirted by mist. And the everyday demands of our long-term spouse Mrs. Fog drive us again and again into the arms of San Francisco’s faddish mistresses: craft-roasted coffee and artisanal cocktails. At the risk of sounding a little 2008, it could be that complaining about the fog and bad weather is just more Stuff White People Like (secretly, of course).

Or it’s a technology thing. Direct sunlight makes it hard to work on our laptops, nearly impossible to play with our iPads. The city’s vapor shroud lets us stay focused on our computer screens, remain isolated even when surrounded by other people in a park or on a cafe patio. But a bright, sunny day can still lure even the most die-hard geek away from the keyboard to enjoy a few hours of IM-free interaction with humans and Mother Nature. If you work in technology, as more and more San Franciscans do, the sun does more than produce an annoying glare; it can apparently be a big productivity killer.

Last year, I was subletting a writing space in a SoMa office building. To be more precise, it was a windowless, former storage room that I entered through a windowless, former storage closet. The protagonist of the novel I was working on lives in the attic crawlspaces of an abandoned office building, so I convinced myself that renting this room was synchronous. It also allowed me to wax poetic when describing my working conditions to other people.

“No sunlight,” I would murmur, “at all.”

“That sounds awful,” was the typical response.

“I manage,” I would sigh. “I manage.”

One night, I found myself at the 21st Amendment brewpub talking to a young, excitable South Park web dev guy. I wagged my beer meaningfully, squinting as I told him about my cave.

“Awesome!” he said.

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah,” he said. “All that sun is a major distraction.”

Ah, that big old distraction: the sun.

He made me think that maybe we’re evolving past “weather.” If death-phobic Ray Kurzweil and his Singularity acolytes prove right, in the not-too-distant future, we won’t physically perceive the weather anymore, let alone miss it. With our downloaded consciousnesses wrapped up snugly in silicon chips, we won’t even have skin upon which the sun can—or can’t—shine. Living in San Francisco, then, might be the perfect test run for a disembodied existence.

Here’s the real reason why we stay in spite of the weather: It’s not that bad. People who say it’s the worst part of living in San Francisco need to, well, get out more. For example, as much as I love Portland, every time I step off the plane in that fair city, I feel like I’ve taken a quick-release dose of whatever the opposite of Prozac is (Lowzac?). Remember last December’s East Coast blizzards? Google the images on your iPad—if the sun’s not too bright—for some perspective.

And, of course, it goes both ways: Six weeks of Los Angeles sunshine can be just as relentlessly oppressive as February in the Outer Sunset. A friend of mine in Chicago always carries a second set of clothes for when the humidity soaks through the first. And don’t get me started on Arizona.

I’m thinking that if this fourth day of improbable sun turns into five, I’ll have a surfeit of San Francisco fair weather riches to choose from. There’s a Giants game tomorrow, so maybe I’ll walk down and wander around McCovey Cove and see if I can catch a contact high off of Timmy’s fans. Maybe I’ll jump on the N and go hang with some cranky old French dudes at the pétanque courts in Golden Gate Park. Maybe I’ll bike down to one of the Embarcadero’s beer shacks and work through a bucket of Coronas with the bike messengers and branding-firm interns.

Or maybe I’ll keep it inland, start with a burrito crawl through the Mission and then throw down a blanket at Dolores Park and watch the gay boys unpack casual picnics fancier than most meals I’ve made reservations for months in advance. Then I’ll cross the street and buy my scoop of ice cream for $3.25—make it a double, thank you very much.

Wherever I go, I’m not bringing the iPhone, the iPod, the iPad, or the laptop. I won’t be checking my Facebook status, my friends’ Foursquare locations, or my next Lexulous move. I’ll let the sun hit my skin, the heat burn off the San Francisco chill, and the warm breeze remind me of my long-ago summers in the South Bay suburbs.

And you know what? I’ll gladly pay for it.


Jay O’Rear is a San Francisco-based writer who hereby releases all intellectual property claims to the concept of Lowzac.



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