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Old San Francisco
Richard Swerdlow gets a tour of a neighborhood that used to support people with regular paychecks.

By Richard Swerdlow

In a city of transplants, my friend Jane is that rare creature, a native San Franciscan. She traces her family five generations, back to the Gold Rush.

And like her parents and grandparents, she has lived her entire life in the Outer Mission. Back when San Francisco was a city of ethnic neighborhoods, this was working-class Irish, corner grocers, pubs and parochial schools.

One Sunday, I asked Jane for a tour of the block where she grew up. She laughingly showed me the laundromat that's now a sleek $5-per-cup coffee bar. That chic home decor boutique used to be a corner store. The hip hair salon was a shoe repair, the microbrewery a locksmith.

Those million-dollar condos may be new, but for Jane the street still has memories.

"See that sidewalk? When I was six, I tripped there and I still have the mark on my knee," she told me, pointing to a faint scar.

"In high school, I used to do my homework sometimes on this bus stop bench," she remembered, "That tree over there, that's where I kissed my first boyfriend. Mom was watching from the window and yelled at me to stop. And I yelled right back."

"Dad taught me to drive on this street. That old blue Ford..." She wiped her eyes, thinking of her long-dead parents.

Her parents wouldn't recognize the street now, wealthy from a new gold rush. High-tech hipsters in skinny jeans, crunching kale salad as they stare at tiny phone screens. Her parents wouldn't recognize the prices, either. Jane's flat, where she raised four daughters, has been sold, the monthly rent increased to $5,000. A 20-something website developer is moving in. He loves the neighborhood.

So Jane is pushed out of the city of her birth, moving to those same suburbs the hipsters are fleeing. She may be leaving her heart in San Francisco, but after five generations, the city doesn't seem to have room anymore for families like Jane's, who earn a working-class wage.

I'm glad I asked Jane for a tour of her San Francisco because soon there won't be any Janes left to remind us once this was a regular place, for regular people, with regular paychecks.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches at the Robert Louis Stevenson School in San Francisco.

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