It’s the end of the world as we know it — and we’re fine, San Francisco

When things go wrong, as they have in the past few months, people start talking about an ancient curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

These are certainly interesting times in this part of the world. We had a long drought with a series of big storms. We had wildfires that killed dozens of people. We’re looking at the crash of the tech boom, a virus that won’t go away, a drug epidemic, a never-ending homeless crisis. Elon Musk bought Twitter and fired almost everyone, every time you turn on the TV you see a disaster or Prince Harry.

The rain on the last day of the old year drowned almost all of us, and on New Year’s Day the sun came out and smiled upon us. Maybe this is an omen, a sign. Be careful. You haven’t seen anything yet.

That is because we are in a different era, at the beginning of a new era. It was the 20s, a decade we will remember for years to come. The same thing happened a century ago. Roaring ’20s. Prohibition, gangsters, jazz, movies, football. We had airplanes, fast cars, good times.

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In San Francisco we have Sunny Jim Rolfe, the Great Freeway, Playland-at-the-Beach, new skyscrapers: the Russ Building, 450 Sutter, the Telephone Building. You can still see signs from the 1920s all over San Francisco.

Now I bet the new 20s will be a decade to remember. It just needs a name. Sometimes Storming ’20s, Zooming ’20s. something else

The Bay Area has always measured its life in decades or civil times. It began with a boom: the Gold Rush of 1849, when thousands of people from all over the world transformed sleepy, muddy Yerba Buena into San Francisco, an instant city.

Nothing remained the same. After the Gold Rush came the bonanzas of the 1870s, 80s and gay 90s. The city was famous. People compared it to Paris.

It all ended on April 18, 1906, when an earthquake and fire destroyed the city. A new San Francisco rose from the ashes. It was followed by World War I, a flu epidemic, and the Roaring ’20s, which ended with a stock market crash. Then came the 30s, both an economic depression and a building boom. Our two great bridges opened in 1936 and 1937 and completely changed the region.

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World War II turned the Bay Area into an arsenal. New people came by the thousands. The silent 50s fondly remembered by senior citizens. And then the 60s – marked by the summer of love. Look what it brought: a whole new San Francisco. Maybe you remember.

We thought the world would end on January 1, 2000 — Y2K and all that. And sometimes it did. We got Manhattanization, gentrification, Google buses, major demographic shifts. A large, two-sided boom. Every house in San Francisco was worth a million dollars. Millionaires were everywhere. At the same time desperate poverty. Interesting moments.

You could argue that when the new 20s began, we entered a whole new era. The coronavirus began spreading around the world in early 2020, and on March 17, 2020 — St. Patrick’s Day — Bay Area health authorities ordered everyone to stay home. That was the day that changed everything.

The stay-at-home order was quickly lifted, but the COVID pandemic has never gone away. More importantly, nothing is the same.

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First, of course, was the world of work. Back in the good old days circa 2019, working from home was viewed with suspicion and an excuse for stupidity. People came to work every day. Now there are three days a week. To use a 20s cliché, working from home is the new normal. Can you imagine what a boss would have said two years ago if he said he couldn’t come to work because of the rain?

Five day work week, rush hour, thank god it’s Friday, going to a movie, drinks after work, office romance. All old school, with neckties and high heels.

Some of the changes brought by Corona are good. Check out the parks that line nearly every shopping street, or watch the rise of new San Francisco neighborhoods like Mission Bay and Treasure Island. It is not the city we once knew. For the new 20s, San Francisco reinvents itself. once again.

Carl Nolte’s column appears in the Sunday edition of The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]


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