As I write this, I’m sitting next to the big window of my apartment facing the city. It’s similar to the one you see in the picture, but instead of being set in the day, it’s night now.
I can see hundreds of cars streaming down Mission Street, twinkles of white light flowing down a line of warm yellow street lamps that extend into the horizon. People go about their daily lives, or night lives in this case, far below me, completely unaware of the young, quiet soul observing them from the big window of his apartment. I see a group of adolescents walking along one side of the street, caught up in an energetic conversation and exuding the spirit of the nightlife. I see a homeless man huddled against a graying wall, simply observing people walking past him, unnoticed. I see a young couple, one Asian and one white, sauntering towards a parking garage, their hands locked together in a quiet embrace. I see a middle-aged man, his hair peppered black and white, standing outside the front of a store, one hand jammed into the pocket of his leather jacket, the other hand wielding a lit cigarette.
Were I not sitting here, looking out from the big window of my apartment, it would seem like any other city.
But it’s not, isn’t it? This is San Francisco, a city where lives are started and fortunes are built, mostly to pay for housing.
Only a year ago, I dreamed of San Francisco. As I sat in a desk in a classroom at Georgia Tech, tuning out the professor’s animated lecture about emerging technologies, I stared out a window. Outside that window weren’t trees and bushes, but an imaginary scene of my adventures in Silicon Valley.
I was denied that chance at one point in my life. I didn’t get to go to my dream school. Instead, I went to Georgia Tech. But that wouldn’t stop me. I would make my own opportunity, and take advantage of the plentiful resources at the institute to make it happen. Now, I will be a Fellow at True Ventures, a true mix of working at a startup and learning from the heart of venture capital.
For someone like me, who dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur and solving the world’s problems, San Fran was the Mecca. It was the name whispered in the halls of my university, discussed in bright tones among groups of computer science students exchanging their summer internship plans. It was the place that appeared in news articles and blogs describing the origins and exploits of world-class entrepreneurs and founders, brandishing distinct names like Mark, Larry, and Brian. It was the destination for young people with a mission to change the world and strike it rich, with the latter usually overtaking the former.
“Well, you’re here,” said my friend Tejas, a Google intern. “How do you feel?”
I looked at the white walls of my apartment, which smelled new and unused. “I don’t know.”
I’ve lived here for roughly two days. In that time, I’ve walked miles around the area around my apartment building, trying to get a feel for the city. I went to Chez Maman, a French cuisine, for lunch and ordered a delicious chicken burger with avocado. I’m told that avocado is the food of choice here, which I won’t complain about. I later ate at a small family-owned Chinese restaurant only a block away from my apartment, a bit more of a familiar experience for me. My legs were a bit sore from all of the walking, but with a couple of decent photos on my camera and a better knowledge of the area in my head, I considered the trip worth it.
But what about this city makes it so unique? Why is it any different from another city, like Atlanta, the one I came from?
There are differences. I don’t think that I have ever encountered a billboard advertisement written in code (while also telling a joke). Twitter’s headquarters sits a block or two away from my apartment building, its bright blue logo speaking louder than any 140-character message. The sheer amount of hoodies here is astonishing. Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft are as integral to life here as the air itself, perhaps even more pervasive. There’s even a Lyft billboard visible just outside my apartment. And when someone talks about starting a startup in conversation, the other person simply nods and continues the discussion, having just exchanged an ordinary piece of information.
I should feel absolutely excited. And I am, to an extent.
But then again, San Francisco seems like any other city. There are many, many homeless people in the streets, not a part of the famed fortune, or perhaps merely the flip side of it. Traffic is bad as ever, filling the air all the way up to my apartment in the sky. Most of the food is rather overpriced, except in places where I’d rather not be this time of night. Skyscrapers ensure the horizon isn’t just occupied by a lonely sun. And the night is never over, its heart kept beating alive by the bars, clubs, and halls that become a blaze of neon lights and raucous dialogue when day transitions to night.
It’s supposed to be the place of my dreams, but is it any different?
As I sit here, looking out the big window of my apartment, down the yellow stream of light that highlights Mission Street, I wonder if San Francisco is that place. Is it the hallowed summer workplace destination for computer science students around the world? Is it the origin of so many world-changing organizations, even the one where this piece rests? Is it where I will one day make my own mark on the world?
Only time will tell.
And I hope it is.
San Francisco, 2016