The Two Faces of San Francisco

From the airport it’s easy to get into San Francisco, it’s just a short hop on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) an aged metro system that still chugs along merrily. I like to travel a little spontaneously, this is a polite way of saying that my travel plans can be chaotic or even ill conceived!

This was indeed the case in San Francisco, I got off the BART at Civic Centre. Any SF local will tell you this is not the right part of town for tourists. I meandered through the Tenderloin, located in the heart of the city, this is a notoriously rough area. The effects of SF’s drug problem were immediately evident. Like a scene from walking dead, sleeping addicts lined the street, grubby and worn out. Some wandered aimlessly shouting at passers by and stumbling in front of cars.

I was shocked that a prestigious city responsible for the worlds digital industries could foster such levels of squalor. It’s evident that the American Dream is a double edged sword, one can rise to the capitalist heavens but there is also no social safety net to stop people falling to hell.

Although my entrance into SF was not glamorous the city soon began to grow on me. It’s an ethnic melting pot that brims with creativity. In the mission area street art fills the walls while the smell of incredible mexican food wafts through the air. SoMa, South of Market is being taken over by the technology industry, big companies like Twitter, AirBnB and Zynga have moved their headquarters there and it’s starting to have a knock on effect. Trendy coffee shops are everywhere, salad bars are rife and the price of rent is extortionate. San Francisco must be one of the few cities where the cost of living is more expensive than London.

During my last weekend in San Francisco I visited a Scottish Start-Up conference, the highlight for me was a talk from Eric McAfee, a businessman with interests in everything from computer hardware to biofuels. Eric preached the American dream, “hard work can take you anywhere”. I was impressed by his talk and we got to chatting at the end of the event. Eric was kind enough to invite me out to dinner the next day.

Some internet searching revealed that getting a dinner invite from Eric was infact a pretty big deal, he was a major investor in numerous businesses and had a net worth of over $4billion dollars. Here I was in my first week of traveling off to dine with a Billionaire!

We went to a small restaurant in Palo Alto about 40 minutes outside of SF, the food was fantastic but the conversation was even more delicious. I was amazed that such a successful individual could be so down to earth. We spoke a lot about business, how enterprises grow and the importance of building strong teams. But we also talked a lot about society, what technologies would help change the world of tomorrow? It was an incredible conversation spanning agriculture to the atrocities of female genital mutilation.

My time in San Francisco really did open my eyes to the American dream, you never know who you will meet or how they might help you. The friendly yet hard working Americans that I met in this beautiful city inspired me, there optimistic, sunny attitudes rubbed off and I felt positive about the new experiences I would have going forward on my journey!