Walking away from a place you love


FIRST PERSON | Chuck Smith

Strange. I feel as if I’ve always been a San Franciscan, even though we’ve only lived here for 16 years. The city was in me before I was in it.

As soon as my wife, Lorna, and I arrived in San Francisco, we were drawn to this neighborhood, and a few years after we got here we were able to buy a condo on Sutter Street. We moved in on the Fourth of July weekend in 2000 during the Fillmore Jazz Festival. What a welcome.

From there we made friends up and down the street, never tiring of trekking down the hill to the bay and then back up. Along the way we stopped in every restaurant and shop, new and old — Fillamento, we still miss you! — never passing up a chance to sit outside in the sunshine at The Grove. 

After seven years on Sutter, we were the lucky first ones to buy into the new Fillmore Heritage Center condos above Yoshi’s. Again, what a welcome: the grand opening of 1300 on Fillmore and Yoshi’s, and meeting all the great people behind the scenes there. The sunrises from our top floor window. We even got to eat at State Bird Provisions before word got out and made it nearly impossible to get a table.

While San Francisco and Fillmore Street will always be our home base, we must be moving on. As Lorna and I leave our hometown, we can say we were among the privileged ones who got to live and own a home in San Francisco.

Just before leaving, we both made a bucket list of things we wanted to do in the neighborhood:

• Sit at that little waterfall park at the Fillmore Center.
• Have a Thanksgiving feast with crabs from Mollie Stone’s.
• Eat at our favorite restaurants: OTD, Delfina, The Grove, 1300.
• Take in some sushi and music at Yoshi’s.
• Jog the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building to Marina Green and up Fillmore.
• Go to the Saturday morning farmers market.

Mostly we walked up and down Fillmore Street a lot, standing at the top of the hill at Broadway, taking in that spectacular view.

We’ll return often, shooting for that fantastic, fleeting window between summer and fall when the weather is just perfect. Maybe we’ll get back on another Fourth of July for a jazz festival weekend. Then perhaps one day I’ll leave my ashes here to be a part of it in perpetuity. 

For now, our new adventure begins in our new home: Mexico.

In truth, a rub had been developing. Even though our infatuation with the neighborhood and the city never wavered, things are changing. For the better and for the worse — depending on your vantage point, your job and your point in life. It’s getting to be all about tech. The toys. The money. Driving things to crazy heights. Tech used to be a subset of the whole. Now it’s becoming the engine that drives the train. It’s fun and profitable if you’re riding on the crest of that wave — and I’m in a career that overlaps with much of that.

But as we looked to our future, it seemed too much. Sure, we could continue to do our jobs, making good money and maintaining the status quo. But then what? Retire here with our current lifestyle? Maybe if we work until we’re 90. Or we could look for a change, from swimming hard just to stay with the current to swimming in calmer waters.

Still, this is not easy, walking away from a place you love. It’s hard. Really hard. So this is a bittersweet move. But now my world will be bigger than Fillmore Street, San Francisco and the Bay Area.

I plan to learn to play guitar. Harmonica, too. It always seemed so relaxing and effortless to breathe in and out and make those sounds. That’s it: Move from Fillmore to Mexico to play the blues. Oh, and to speak Spanish. Fluently. Or as close as I can. As soon as I can.

But I’ll miss San Francisco. Especially Fillmore Street.

  • I left my heart on Fillmore St

    @Chuck: Fabulous write-up, spot on, and thank you! You’re not alone: I, too, just left Fillmore Street after more than a decade in the neighborhood. It was a wrenching decision, brought about by many of the realities you point out. Tech used to be a part of the city, not the entire city…and I questioned what my future looked like. I fear that SF is becoming like Manhattan – it’s all about the money, directly or indirectly, and that constitutes the zeitgeist. And I was a lucky one, with a nice piece of real estate! With a heavy heart, but also with a desire to acknowledge that there is life beyond the Bay Area and to explore it, I sold into the market insanity and packed my bags. Of course, I now miss all the things I previously took for granted, but I’m thankful I got to live there for as long as I did. What a blessing! And thankfully, I can report that there is a lot going on in other areas – art, culture, food, beauty are not the exclusive domain of San Francisco. Good luck with your guitar and spanish lessons!