Boy Town

Chinese LanternsOne way to define a city is by who feels most at home there, most full of swagger that’s barely conscious to the person in question but obvious to others. As of April, by this logic, I can say that San Francisco looked like boy town. It’s always been a drinking city, but, wow, there were a lot of 20-something dudes at the Romolo bar in North Beach. Similar packs of young men crowded a sports bar on Clement Street in the Richmond, next to Green Apple books. You could hear the yells for the Warriors down the block. Still another bunch of guys roamed the flanks of Telegraph Hill at 9am on a Sunday. Frankly I had been expecting some Tai Chi practitioners, or another couple from the hinterlands like Annie and me, away for their anniversary.

The Chinese used to call this city Gold Mountain. Never has the name been so apt. Back in the 1850s San Francisco would have been mobbed by packs of ambitious young men, but most of them would have just been passing through. Now the boys are here to live, and to live here with the rents as they are they must have substantial incomes, not just the hope of a gold nugget in some dusty canyon.

Maybe this is why the city feels so safe, when a city packed with young men ought to feel dangerous. This is not a roughneck “man camp” like those outside Williston or Watford City in North Dakota. Nor is the vibe that of a developing world boomtown like, say, Kinshasa. I’ve never been to North Dakota, much less Kinshasa, but if San Francisco is boy utopia right now it seems like utopia for the world’s proportionally ever-shrinking cadre of male ex-honors students.

It made me wonder, why aren’t young women more visible here? Sure a decent number of the young guys must be gay – this is San Francisco after all – but still you would think such a concentration of employed single young men would attract throngs of young women. I was recently talking to a colleague, a new mom in her 30s whose eyes lit up in reminiscence when I mentioned all the men roaming San Francisco. “They hit on you too,” she volunteered.

As a parent of a couple of male honors students myself, this made me wonder some more. What the future might hold for my own boys, and how long they will live in some kind of literal or metaphorical boy town before having kids of their own, if they ever do? Then again, this very thought marks me as a denizen of a different kind of city, one where the person most full of barely conscious swagger is not a questing young man. But I wouldn’t know for sure. These things are hard to see when you’re living there.