On Maps and Infinite Friendships

A few days ago I went to a going away party of a good friend. Although it was a rainy night and my friend expected few to show, the apartment was crammed with an odd assortment of people she had met in her time here — roommates, coworkers, former soccer teammates. Stories were told of broken hearts and drunken nights, of book clubs and coffee shops.

My friend has not lived in San Francisco much longer than I, and yet, I got a sense from that night, that she had truly lived here in a way I never have — that while she may not consider herself a San Franciscan, there are ways in which she will always be one, even if she never returns.

I was still thinking about this when I finally got around to reading Infinite City this weekend by Rebecca Solnit. In it, Solnit writes:

San Francisco has eight hundred thousand inhabitants, more or less, and each of them possess his or her own map of the place, a world of amities, amours, transit routes, resources, and perils, radiating out from home. But even to say this is to vastly underestimate. San Francisco contains many more than eight hundred thousand living maps, because each of these citizens contains multiple maps: areas of knowledge, rumors, fears, friendships, remembered histories and facts, alternate versions, desires, the map of everyday activity versus the map of occasional discovery, the past versus the present, the map of this place in relation to others that could be confined to a few neighborhoods or could include multiple continents of ancestral origin, immigration routes and lost homelands, social ties, or cultural work.

It’s a gorgeous insight and I think it illuminates why I still feel most days like an Angeleno in exile. My maps are boring as shit.

Contrast for example:

My map of brunches and baby showers with my friend’s map of places she cannot go running for fear of running into a former flame.

My map of five restaurants that I get take out from (always ordering the same one thing on the menu that works for my diet) versus my friend’s map of bars she’s closed out.

Now, the reality is that I don’t want to close out bars anymore. I’m 32 and I get tired by 11pm most nights. And while I don’t have such vivid and dynamic maps of San Francisco, I have a map that I value much, much more — a roadmap for my life. After spending my twenties getting lost, going in multiple directions, and arriving in the strangest of places at unexpected times, I am so grateful for this map.

But my roadmap is not one that connects me to the beautiful city I live in. In fact, my roadmap isn’t geographical but is based in the stable, concrete relationships I’ve built up over time. I may live in San Francisco, but my home is where my family is. Right now the place I live, the place I eat, the place in which I sit on the couch and watch TV with my husband is San Francisco, but that place could be anywhere.

And so I wax nostalgic for Los Angeles. My city. And the map I made of seedy rentals that Honda and I saw before settling on our own shabby apartment in Little Armenia. Or the map of artist lofts I went to in my pretending-to-be-a-hipster-phase. Or the map of first dates, of awkward kisses, of starry nights when Honda and I dreamed about our futures.

All those maps connect me to Los Angeles in a way I fear I may never be connected to San Francisco. Sometimes I think that the city you spend the bulk of your twenties in will always be your city, and no other place will ever be able to compare. Sometimes I think that maybe if I took more time to explore San Francisco I’d get to love it. And other times, I am reminded that I hated LA for two whole years before loving it, grudgingly at first, and then with my whole heart.

And sometimes, not often, but perhaps, more and more frequently as time goes on, I realize that bit by bit, I am creating my own maps of San Francisco. And maybe they are not as glamorous as the map of We Ho gay bars I danced my ass off in or the map of totally sketchy places I drove all over to simply because they had an ad for an audition in Backstage West. But they are my maps all the same.

As I say goodbye to my friend, I think of the deadlines we’ve stressed over at Summit, or the lambics we’ve drunk at Rosamunde, the hike at Angel Island, and the many, many BART rides underneath the Bay. I realize that the map of our friendship is indelibly tied up in my map of San Francisco, that had I never lived here, we never would have met. And of course, had we never met, my map of San Francisco would include many fewer drunken nights over vegan sausage.

And it is this that makes me realize that San Francisco is not and cannot be a placeholder, that even my mundane, crunchy yuppie life is tying me, slowly but surely, to this city, my home.

Confidential to YOU: Best wishes on your journey. I can’t wait to see where your map takes you next.

2 responses to “On Maps and Infinite Friendships

  1. Might I suggest if you want another Graduate level degree take one up in Geography concentrating on Social Geographies since this is very much what you are describing. It’s fascinating the maps we make around ourselves since we each are a set of nested geographies that represent different scales of existence and interaction. We just spent 4 days in Chicago and the emergence from the L in Logan Square filled Steph and I with a intense set of rightness and a feeling of being in the geography that we belong to and cannot find in Long Beach.

    If these ideas interest you I would like to suggest: “Place: A short introduction” by Tim Cresswell. It’s a lovely short work that covers the basis of the ideas around place and touches on the ideas of space as well.


  2. Ruchi, I think you’re right that the city where you spent your twenties is “your city.” That’s how I feel about San Francisco. I grew up on the East Coast and have spent the last 10 years living in Oakland. But every time I go into San Francisco, I feel like I’ve come home. There’s a feeling of coming home to my tribe that I don’t feel anywhere else. I’m really glad that Michael and I chose to get married at SF City Hall even though we were living in the East Bay. So now we have a shared connection with The City.

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