I stayed with two great friends in their tony digs near the Castro. Unlike other visits, this trip was very much about entertaining at home, which was appropriate for the holidays (as well as for the really crappy weather we had), so the visit wasn’t a booze-fueled bar crawl like a holiday at home would have been. Instead, it was a bit like living everyday life in the city, if you lived there and didn’t need to have a job (which is my dream).
I don’t need to recount the obvious joys of San Francisco, mosey out there and check it out yourself. While certainly gentrified to the gills in its post-dot-com way, it still maintains vestiges of it’s boho charm. Reports of an invasion by the stroller set notwithstanding, the Castro remains a thriving and vibrant gayborhood (if quite a bit more upwardly-mobile than my first visit fifteen years ago). It’s literally gay people everywhere you go, an experience I always find a little jarring at first.
It was great to be around so many gays near my age. In Detroit there is a real tendency for guys in their 30’s and 40’s to stay firmly rooted in the OC, or to leave. There is a bit of a lost generation of gays in the Detroit area, where a large portion of the gays born from, say, 1960 to 1975 have moved on to the gay centers of the country. SF, being one of those centers, has every color of the gay rainbow represented: twinks, hipsters, circuit boys, porn stars, bears, guppies, silver foxes, drag queens, leather queens … you get the idea. Oddly, lesbians aren’t that visible here, just like almost everyplace else I’ve ever lived (except Ann Arbor). I swear, they have a secret network of burrows so they can move around unseen.
Near the end of my stay I heard a few stories from long-time residents about how the city was ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. The large beautiful park in the fancy neighborhood my friends live in used to be a haven for drug users and gay cruising.
Buena Vista Park is now for doggies, not druggies or daddies.
In the same area very nice homes used to be quite rundown. One guy related a story about passing on buying a building that now houses three expensive condos because he thought it was far too expensive at $300k ten years ago. And of course there are the stories like the NY Times article linked above that depict with a rosy hindsight the glory days of neighborhoods like the Castro or Haight-Ashbury and lament the romance and excitement of those places that is lost now that they've been Starbucked.
Detroit could be said to be in that place right now, and I think people need to start thinking about that. There will be a time when there will be a Starbucks on every corner and we’ll talk with a dreamy look in our eyes about the great community that thrived at Café de Troit, where it seemed like everyone you met was making something happen in town. Lower Cass will get the Ilitch touch and we’ll laugh about the days of dodging crack whores and roosters on our way to Honest John’s. Corktown will turn into Birmingham and we’ll actually miss all those hipsters and Terry-oke at LJ’s.
Let’s keep pushing for progress in town, but don’t forget to appreciate what we’ve got. Detroit is in a really unique place in time right now. Have fun and take advantage of it, because someday we’ll be talking about it like people talk about the Castro or New York City in the ‘70’s. And won’t it be nice to say you actually were a part of it, instead of just a bystander?