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Forty Three Oh Four

4304AThis is my old San Francisco apartment building on the corner of 23rd and Douglass in Noe Valley. My flat, on the top floor, was about 900 square feet with windows in every room, a large sit-in kitchen, high ceilings, and two spacious front rooms connected by sliding pocket doors. I was paying $900 rent beginning in the early 90’s and it stayed that way for a long while. Then an older gentleman named Lionel bought the property and increased it annually by about 3-4%, the maximum allowable by the S.F. Rent Board. It was still relatively affordable when I left for New York in 2003 and he was more than ready to bump it considerably for the next tenants. I don’t want to say he was happy to see me go, but the cartwheels he turned while speaking of converting the place into a two-bedroom were impressive for anyone, let alone an 85 year-old man. Had he survived to see the latest rent trends in San Francisco he’d likely be looking for a way to get the current tenant out of there too. It’s gotten to where one might consider moving to NYC for the affordability, an odd concept to say the least.

The building included a corner store, the Sunshine Market, operated by two different proprietors over my residency. The first was a Korean gentleman who was rather particular about about being paid in full at the end of every transaction – so much so that I came to dub him “Yoo-Pay Now.” It was a somewhat racist moniker, but he came up with it himself. I’d been living there for six years and stopping in the place most every night, paying a sizable purchase premium for the small store convenience on everything from beer to tire chains. My face had to be the most recognizable in the joint and I always had cash in hand ready to pay. Then one night in my seventh year I was eighty-five cents short on a six-pack (something more than a few have claimed about me.) I didn’t have any intention of asking him to let me slide but before I could excuse myself to climb the stairs to my apartment and find the spare change he started yelling .. “You pay now! You pay now!” After that both he and the store itself became known by the name. “I’m gonna stop in Yoo-Pay Now and grab some paper towels.” .. “I’d say your odds are about as good as obtaining a no-interest loan from Yoo-Pay Now.”  It fit a hell of a lot better than ‘Sunshine Market.’

Noe Valley is a family-oriented neighborhood bordered by The Castro and The Mission. Baby strollers, Victorian houses, and trendy boutiques dominate.  It has working class roots but those were mostly gone by the time I arrived and obliterated by multi-million dollar property sales by the time I left. Add another ‘multi’ to that and you’ve got an idea of how it is today. When I moved there, nine hundred bucks was the going rate for a spacious one bedroom apartment and I was likely looked upon as part of the “twenty-something wave” driving up rents and obliterating Noe Valley’s authentic origins. (Or I would have been had anyone noticed me.) Now my old apartment rents for upward of four thousand dollars and is being pitched for its proximity to Google Bus stops. “Gentrification,” in all its loosely based interpretations, was in place when I was there, so whatever’s going on now is just a subset. I don’t think the area would lose much if some of those baby strollers cashed in and moved to Orinda, but I don’t live there anymore and can only speculate. From a distance it feels like the people I didn’t mix with are now bitching about a new crop of people that they don’t mix with. I’m not sure how long the current ‘tech boom’ can sustain but I hold to the theory that everything is cycles and the most relevant factor is human tolerance and longevity. Affordability is key too, but those who survive and really want to stick around find some way to ride it out or move away and come back.

But back to my old digs. The roof on my building was a nice spot and when I first moved there you could roam the entire space. Then Lionel took over and installed a cheap seven by seven foot deck to discourage tenants from going any further. It had three thin plastic cords going around it, looped through four two by fours at the corners like a child’s boxing ring. I’d step over them easily, ignoring the obstruction. Up there you could better understand the “Valley” designation to “Noe Valley.” Fog would creep over the cusp of Twin Peaks but usually stopped there, allowing for better weather in the hood. There were a lot of birds that descended on the area from surrounding hills and I’d sit on the edge of the building observing them with my buddy Spears, like we were a couple of regular John Muirs. I remember being up there with Spears once and remarking that I’d become the longest-standing resident in the building and probably come to be viewed as something of an odd figure. “Nonsense,” he said, gesticulating with his hand as he did for emphasis. “You’re a steady and valued presence lending the place a sense of security.” He paused the hand gesticulation mid-air on ‘security’ to drive the point home. I think he may have even used the phrase “local hero.” Of course I was picking up a lot of his tabs back then, and Spears dug the view from my roof.

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