The train takes exactly 12 hours to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco, leaving at midnight and arriving in the high noon sun. This is quite apt in a way, because by making you wait for the good things to come, it builds up expectations, but more importantly, it separates San Francisco from LA in the same way that day is separated from night.
If San Francisco did not exist, it would have to be invented, to balance out the existence of LA and act as its counterweight. Everything in nature has its opposite — black and white, good and bad, heaven and hell — and San Francisco is the very antithesis of LA: the hope to LA’s despair, the yang to LA’s yin, the warm vitality to LA’s frozen dread.
Usually it is too simplistic to sort reality into such mutually exclusive, dichotomous categories. Nothing in the human world is so clear-cut; everything has aspects of light and shadow to it. But it’s so easy to place LA and San Francisco into those kinds of classes. LA really is the place where your dreams and destiny are destroyed and San Francisco really is the place where your dreams and destiny are fulfilled. The only catch is that San Francisco fulfills them on its own terms.
If paranoia is the all-pervasive ambience in LA, then pronoia (the belief that the people around you, as well as the whole Universe, are conspiring to secretly help you and to do you good) is the predominant mood in San Francisco. (The name ‘San Francisco’ bears an aural resemblance to Safe No Risk(o), while the name ‘LA’ suggests aLArm.) And, just as the threats that paranoiacs believe are being directed at them do not have to be real to make paranoiacs’ life a misery, so the good deeds that the pronoiacs believe are being done for them do not have to be real to make their life bliss. It is enough that one has that particular attitude; it is enough to believe that that is the case.
Sometimes you have to wonder whether San Francisco is such a happy and serene place because its residents are so happy and serene — or are its residents so joyous and mellow because their city’s vibes are so joyous and mellow? Actually, this question is relevant for any place where people gather to live, work or associate together: Is it the people’s disposition and behavior which give the location its unique character and vibes, or is it the location’s innate character and vibes which make its denizens feel and act the way they do? Or perhaps it is a process that works both ways, with the two effects reinforcing one another in a kind of a perpetual loop: the mood of the people imbues the character of the place, which in turn imbues the mood of the people, which in turn imbues the character of the place…ad infinitum.
In any case, as opposed to LA, a city of nightmares posing as a city of dreams, San Francisco is a city of anti-nightmares, a city of the kind of dreams that, after you awaken from them, leave a warm, safe feeling in you for the rest of the day. That’s why I always cherish dreaming about it, and, fortunately enough, San Francisco is a place that had regularly appeared in my dreams, years before I ever arrived in it, and it still appears in my dreams, years after I visited it.
But I spent so little time in San Francisco when I finally went, that I often wonder whether the visit itself happened in my dreams too — especially as certain features of the city accentuate its surreal character: the soft, diffused light permeating it; the splashes of wild, vivid color on its distant hills; the road that winds unceasingly from side to side, like a colossal snake that is slowly uncoiling while making its way down a hill, and the massive sea lions dwelling incongruously right next to the city’s center (even the animals can sense and are drawn to the safe haven that is San Francisco).
Maybe such an enchanting place can’t really exist in our world. What if, indeed, San Francisco has always been a mirage, without any reality or substance to it? Or is San Francisco just an idealized fictional construct representing the Promised Land on which we all could pin our aspirations for a utopian existence? Or what if, all along, San Francisco has been my own very cherished delusion, an invention of my overactive imagination that had given me sustenance and hope during my struggles and crises? That would certainly explain why I have always felt such an uncannily powerful personal affinity to it and why it has been such a persistent presence in my dreams.