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True Jasmine: What Really Happens When New Yorkers Move to San Francisco?

Caleb Pershan | August 5, 2013 | Lifestyle Story Culture

Woody Allen once famously said, “In California, they don’t throw their garbage away, they make it into TV shows.” Um, actually Woody, here in San Francisco we compost it.

In his new movie, Blue Jasmine, Allen sends Cate Blanchett’s character (a modern day Blanche DuBois) from Park Avenue to slum it in S.F. after her husband (Alec Baldwin, playing a thinly veiled Bernie Madoff) is jailed for financial fraud. That got us thinking: Does the world’s most New York-centric filmmaker actually understand San Francisco? Or, in adapting Tennessee Williams’s New Orleans-set play, was Allen just free-associating cities with streetcars? We rounded up a panel of True Jasmines—folks who have made the NYC to SF move in real life—to see what trading The Big Apple for The Big Kale is actually like.

True Jasmine #1: Katherine Fletcher
“If I had to choose a place in California, I thought it would definitely be San Francisco,” says Fletcher, who works in PR and, like Blanchett, thought she would never leave New York. She did in 2012, after growing up in Westchester County and attending NYU. “Graduating was like everything was being torn out from under me. The economy wasn’t—isn’t—in great shape. I decided to go on a road trip, traveling through Canada and down the West Coast.” Soul-searching and the economy also conspire to bring Blanchett here, where she’s cooped up in the nicest “dump” apartment we’ve ever seen (in the Mission, no less). Fletcher lives in Japantown. “It’s less crammed than NY, but the prices are comparable.” Blanchett seems under the impression she’s in a backwater: says Fletcher “I feel further from that center of the universe mentality, but tech in San Francisco is obviously very relevant. We might be three hours behind, but in terms of most things, we’re pretty on track.”

True Jasmine #2: Jon Steinberg
“We have more in common with New York culture than we have in contrast to it," says our editor-in-chief Steinberg , who moved from Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn to the similar Glen Park in 2012, doubling his rent but gaining a driveway and a yard. “I see a lot of people coming from New York because it wouldn’t be a stretch for them socially—or professionally, or culturally,” he says. “A city of blue-collar bohemians, fortunately or unfortunately, it’s not.” But isn’t Blanchett supposed to be in exile from high society New York? Sorry, Woody: according to Steinberg, “we’re just as status oriented, even if status here is different.” Eventually Blanchett hobnobs in Marin with a diplomat—but isn’t SF pricier, and wouldn’t she be better off with a big shot restaurateur or CEO?

True Jasmine #3: Stephanie Orma
Blanchett’ anxieties certainly haven’t faded in SF—and neither have Orma’s. A lifelong New Yorker and now a freelance writer and cartoonist, Orma would travel to avoid the “frenetic” city. “By the time I got back, I felt like I needed another vacation.” That’s not to say Orma wasn’t attached: “When I left New York I bawled my eyes out,” she says. Of her new home, she’s found that “People are stressed out in different ways, demanding stuff like: is this organic?” (That question keeps us up at night.) Like Blanchett, Orma has encountered some cultural inconveniences, and we’re not talking about getting a taxi. “New York has the best yoga classes and teachers—I was hardcore into it. I came here and it’s been a struggle to find a great class: I sn’t San Francisco supposed to be Zen?”

True Jasmine # 4: Lizzy Tarr
Tarr bartends at Chez Panisse and works at San Francisco General Hospital, but as a Roosevelt Islander who moved to the Bay last fall, she too had counted on more convenience. “I was expecting later hours, more food available all the time, to feel safer walking on the streets,” she says. Tarr cites some perks, like being able to wear the same shoes no matter the season. But in San Francisco, she’s found that culture can be polarized where things in New York average out. “No matter how crazy certain factions are, like Brooklyn or the Upper East Side, there’s always a much larger contingent of everybody else, like people who live in Queens and don’t give a fuck about your coffee.”

So, Woody, despite our distance from Park Avenue and your conceptions about our rent, San Francisco is no Jersey. And according to our True Jasmines, its not exactly Manhattan, either. That sounds like the point. Despite the instinct for analogy and comparison, SF and NY might turn out to be different places. “If you can’t fall in love here,” says one of Woody’s San Franciscans, “you can’t fall in love anywhere.” Here’s hoping that much about San Francisco is true, whatever the hell it means.

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