Jennifer Nelson, SFGate.com, Jan. 5
In the three years since I moved to the Bay Area, I have been astounded at the general rudeness of people in the area and, more specifically, the antichildren, antifamily attitude that prevails.
Although I grew up in the Sierra foothills, I had never lived in the Bay Area until my husband and I moved our family from Illinois to the East Bay three years ago. We settled in Oakland, trying to shorten the daily commute into San Francisco as much as possible.
I took a part-time job at a high-tech public-relations firm, which had a dog policy (no more than three dogs in the office on any given day) and corporate calling cards from a company that gave part of the proceeds to left-leaning nonprofits. At the holidays, the firm donated money on behalf of each client to a nonprofit that gives farm animals to poor families in developing countries. Not your run-of-the-mill American corporation, but very Bay Area.
But in the months and years that followed, I discovered an angry, unpleasant element to the Bay Area kookiness. My first real experience with the rude attitude prevalent in the area started when I found my way into Berkeley. A friend had recommended Berkeley Bowl as a great alternative to haunting farmer’s markets.
Berkeley Bowl is a fabulous market. The parking lot and many of the patrons, however, are not. I have never seen such angry people as I saw on my first visit to Berkeley Bowl (and every visit thereafter). These are people who drive used Volvos plastered with bumper stickers that say “Wage peace,” “The truly educated never graduate” and “Barbara Lee speaks for me.” But many of them have no patience and don’t seem to think the rules of the road apply to them. After parking and shopping next to these folks for three years, I’m starting to think that a steady diet of edamame, veggie burgers, organic greens and soy milk makes people really, really angry.
Part of my problem, I’ve decided, is that I’m easily tagged as a “breeder” by the many folks in the Bay Area who believe in population control or who just dislike children.
The tell-tale clues of my status are hard to miss: First, I drive a minivan with three, sometimes four, car seats. Second, I often am seen in the company of three children who call me “Mom.” These traits have led people to freely let me know that they think I’m overpopulating the world. Probably the strangest experience I’ve had is being pregnant in the Bay Area. During my other pregnancies, I lived in Sacramento and was used to people smiling when they saw a pregnant woman. Here, no smiles — mostly scowls.
My favorite story is this one: When I was getting physical therapy when I was six months pregnant (after falling and breaking my wrist), the therapist asked me whether I was pregnant with my first child (she had already told me that she had one child and planned to have only one). When I said, no, this was actually my third child, she immediately asked me whether I was going to have my tubes tied after the birth.
After my baby was born, the hostile looks and mutterings continued. While I was waiting in line for coffee one day with the kids in tow, one woman offered to me that she thought three children constituted a big family. When I told her it really isn’t considered a large family in many other parts of the country, including the Midwest town I had recently moved from, she asked me with disdain, “Where was that, a religious community?” Then there was the woman who said to me as she pushed by my stroller, “Three? Don’t you think you have enough?” It’s not like I was asking her to contribute to their college fund! I was just taking my kids to the bathroom.
From time to time, I have to bring one or more of my children with me to shop at the Bowl. (And let me just say that I am on the strict side of parenting — my kids behave in public, or we leave.) People are less than happy to see kids in that market (the same is true at Market Hall in Rockridge).
I can understand why — both markets are crowded with people and products, making the navigation really tough. But, you know, even people who don’t regularly get out to Oliveto’s, Aqua or Roxanne’s (because Bay Area baby-sitters charge $12-$15 an hour) like fresh cracked crab, a nice selection of domestic and imported cheeses and Artisan bread. Sometimes we just have to bring our wee ones along to buy the food we’re eating.
Part of the problem with some folks in the Bay Area is that they have lived here too long. They have no other experience with other towns, no diversity in their idea of community.
A couple years ago, The Chronicle ran a series on neighborhoods in Berkeley. According to one longtime resident of the very white, very expensive Elmwood District, “We think of ourselves as being part of Berkeley and don’t worry about our neighborhood being diverse.” Wow, how nice for them. I guess Hispanic gardeners and African-American housekeepers provide that neighborhood’s diversity. Meanwhile, they live in their million-dollar homes, drive expensive Volvos and walk on Oriental rugs that require insurance — and they still get to call themselves liberals.
My favorite quote from that article reveals clearly how sheltered and close-minded Bay Area liberals can be. According to the story, Republicans are rare in the Elmwood District. One lady, who grew up in Elmwood and now lives next door to her childhood home, told the Chronicle reporter, “I don’t think I know any.”
In the few years I’ve been living in the Bay Area, I’ve come to realize how rigid many liberals can be in their thinking. As a minority in this area (politically speaking), it’s interesting to me how people here just assume you think the way they do. That just isn’t true in most other parts of the state or the nation.
I’m sure some readers are yelling, “If you don’t like it, then move!” as they read this. In fact, despite the loudmouthed, judgmental liberals I’ve run into since moving here, the Bay Area has a lot to offer. There are liberals who like kids, aren’t jerks and use their turn signals. I’m glad to call many of these folks my friends.
Few areas in the nation can match the sheer beauty of the Bay Area. Finally, catching Taj Mahal at Yoshi’s Jazz House, hiking with the kids in Joaquin Miller Regional Park, watching the elephant seals at the Año Nuevo State Reserve, enjoying the crispy chicken tacos at Cactus Taqueria on College Avenue — these are just a few of the benefits of living in the Bay Area.
The email I get from readers runs the political spectrum. But, with each column, I get notes from several readers who are furious that The Chronicle gives someone with my political beliefs any space at all, even if it’s only on the SF Gate Web site (they seem to be unaware that the paper itself has a conservative columnist on staff). Some revert immediately to foul language and name calling. One reader wrote that he’d throw a party when I die.
I guess what it all comes down to is that, for a segment of the population that prides itself on its tolerance and diversity, some Bay Area liberals can be extremely hypocritical. They believe in cultural and racial diversity (Elmwood notwithstanding), but not in diversity of opinions.
It’s too bad. Debate and discussion only strengthen democracy. Our nation’s strength comes from our belief in freedom — freedom of speech, religion and thought. So, for the time being, I’ll continue to annoy those Bay Area liberals by driving my minivan and daring to push a stroller through Market Hall when I run out of Gruyere and my husband’s not around to watch the baby.
Jennifer Nelson, an Oakland writer, worked in policymaking positions in the Deukmejian and Wilson administrations. She can be reached at email@example.com.