Sunday, September 4, 2011

A tale of two cities: Boston and San Francisco

 Going to two baseball games, a week apart, in San Francisco and Boston, invites comparisons between the two cities, and random thoughts how, in recent years, each has moved beyond its postcard personas.

AT&T Park

AT&T Park, with its views of sailboats and kayaks in the bay has a beautiful setting, and, as one of the newer parks, it comes close to Safeco in Seattle at the top of that list. Its seating and sightlines are better than Fenway’s, and its ballpark food, - from Ghirardelli ice cream, to redolent Gilroy garlic fries, to freshly made, hand-cut sushi - dwarfs Boston’s offerings in quality and often at a fraction of the price. Although AT&T is not as bad as the nearby wind-freezing Candlestick Park, when the fog rolls in you’re sitting in mist by the sixth inning. And despite winning the World Series last year, Giants management still feels the need to stage half-inning hokey “amusements” which makes the fan experience more like that at a minor league game. Give me the tradition, sights, smells and sounds of overpriced, even uncomfortable Fenway anytime. [BTW: I wore my Red Sox cap at the Giants game and received only positive comments,]

The San Francisco transit system is very user-friendly, clean, well lit, with up-to-the-minute information about how many minutes until your train arrives (usually just a few). Its employees are professional and eager to help you find your way. They are not condescending just because you don’t know your way around. On the T to the Red Sox game, the fare machine was going out of order, but still deducted my ticket. The conductor impatiently (and rudely) ordered me to pay a second time.

San Franciscans for years fought efforts large and small to improve both driving and public transportation. They have yet to have their Big Dig, and driving in the city is a mess. Most of the day is “rush hour.” Thank goodness it’s still a great walking city, like Boston, albeit one more challenging to legs and lungs.

When it comes to being green, S.F. may be a little more environmentally sensitive. Instead of hotels just having waste baskets in each room, hotels have waste baskets plus recycling bins in every room. And, in tourist areas like the Ferry Building’s farmers’ market, there are waste baskets, recycling bins and containers for organic waste. Bicycling is very big, and the last Friday of each month, cyclists overflow the bike lanes and virtually take over the main thoroughfares. And a few of them, as a protest against fossil fuels, do it buck naked. It’s a bit much, I must say.

I do feel that, while I can’t prove it, there seem to be fewer fat people in San Francisco. And I’m not referring to the naked cyclists. I do know that there seem to be a lot of options for healthy food. And, oh yes, there are, happily, many, many more Peet’s Coffee shops, along with the usual Starbucks dishwater to drink. Boston has come a long way as a dining city, but it still is no match for San Francisco. Where in Greater Boston can you get really great Greek food, like at Kokkari’s? Here lovers of authentic Greek cuisine have to rely on Greek Orthodox Church suppers and invitations to private homes.

As they’ve moved into the 21st century, the cities have become similar in many ways and have lost certain distinguishing characteristics. Just the way our North End is far less an Italian enclave today, so too would S. F.’s North Beach area be unrecognizable to the late Joe DiMaggio, who grew up there. While the two cities are noted for their cultural activities, sense of history, tourist appeal, and progressive politics, I am relieved that the Hub has never – and, I hope, will never, put a referendum on the ballot to outlaw circumcision (It was overturned in court.)

A generation or two ago, San Francisco had a distinct magic, which could make a Bostonian envious of its cosmopolitanism and self-conscious about our parochialism. I don’t feel that way any more.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Photos by Jim Barron


  1. You mean the worst run big city in the nation?

    SF is a notorious cesspit of corruption and incompetence. I'd worry more about that fact, and less about coffee shops.

  2. One article in a weekly paper is what you base it on. Obviously you don't know how Menino operates. That's right our papers won't touch him.

  3. Both cities are increasingly little more than bedroom communities for corporate aparatchiks who are not from either place- and bring with them generic "American" corporate blandness that has no regional distinctiveness. Both cities have dead or dying ethnic neighborhoods that hang on, if at all, in museum-like fashion- Disney pavilion type fashion. And what passes for progressive-ism in both places is simply a love of Whole Foods and sexual freedom- and boutique causes and issues that mostly have no connection to the communities around them.

    Both places are dreary and dead culturally.

  4. City A sucks!
    City B sucks!
    Both cities suck!

    Only three posts necessary to get the trifecta. Well done.

  5. Brothers Kouzina in Peabody has a decent Greek food