Back in Northern California for the first time in several years, I realized I’d forgotten just how beautiful San Francisco is. I wandered around the streets close to my hotel, enjoying the city pace, the crazy eclecticism.
I was in this area with my family for two academic quarters in 1989. Back then, I thought this part of the state was gorgeous and fascinating. I also thought it was too crowded, too expensive and way too smug.
The last quality, in particular, irked me. Northern Californians were as annoying as Texans when it came to loyalty to their roots. But they had some kind of breathless reverence for their region that Texans lacked (I know, I know: the glorious scenery — when you could see it through the fog — could account for much of that). That reverence and smugness about the Bay Area kind of got on my nerves, but I didn’t say much about it. I hate people who come barging into an area, announcing their opinions about it.
My husband, though, had another strategy. He took to dropping the dreaded and reviled San Francisco nickname “Frisco” into conversations. Just to see how much he could deeply irritate people. Smack in the middle of a talk about weekend happenings, he took to announcing how our family had gone to “Frisco” for the weekend. Then he’d watch, out of the corner of his eye, while people squirmed.
Finally, inevitably (out of both a sense of kindness for his ignorance and fury about the faux pas), they would tell him that no one in the Bay Area, no one on earth with an IQ above the single digits, called San Francisco “Frisco.” He’d nod, agreeably enough, and talk about other things till he could drop “Frisco” back into the conversation.
I can’t tell you the sheer horror he evoked — or the enormous enjoyment he got out of it.
* * * * *
But, anyway, I’m here in San Francisco for the BlogHer conference to see if I can polish my almost-nonexistent technological skills and meet some bloggers with like interests. I’d feared everybody would be about a third my age, all of them tech-savvy. But they aren’t. It’s a really lively, mixed group, with women of all ages from all kinds of different lives, from everywhere.
Last night, at the mixer cocktail party, after speaking to several different bloggers, I ended up in a drink line. I was standing in front of one of the very few men who was in the room. He didn’t seem inclined to talk to me, but what the hell. I asked why he was here. As it turned out, he was from some kind of online magazine, here to pick up news of the latest blogging trends.
We didn’t exactly hit it off. He started provoking me about being from Texas, about my accent. Clearly, I was from Georgia. Obviously, I was from East Texas. I took the bait. No, that’s not a Southern accent. No, I’m from West Texas. Dumb, I know. I get that way sometimes.
Finally, he reared back and pointed two fingers at me. “I’m just kidding you,” he said. “If you can’t figure that out, I don’t know why we’re even talking.” Clearly, I was slow-witted and humorless, too uncool and irony-impaired to spend his time with. There you go. I’d thought we were having a conversation. As it turned out, we were playing a game. And I was losing big-time.
“So,” I said to him, “how long have you lived in Frisco?”
“Fourteen years,” he said. A long, ominous pause, then, “You’re supposed to call it San Francisco,” he spat out.
I reared back and pointed two fingers at him. “Gotcha,” I said. “Just kidding!”
It was kind of funny. He didn’t look amused at all. I guess I must have been playing the wrong game.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)