You can never go home

san francisco's golden gate bridgeSo I’ve been abroad for the past couple weeks. For the first time in three years I boarded a plane and flew back to the bay area. It has been said that you can never go home – a saying that, as a child, I never understood. I mean, what? Did an earthquake/fire/hurricane sweep home off the face of the earth?

Unfortunately, as an adult I understand it all to clearly: any place you’ve left for any amount of time may have suffered a certain number of changes, but the real difference is what time has worked in you. Even if home remained frozen in time awaiting your return, you are not the same person who left.

It was a different set of eyes that looked out on the bay area last month.

The first thing that struck me was the size of the bloody cars in the parking garage – holy crap, cars in the states are big! I mean, there are SUVs everywhere. I have gotten so used to these little european cars I really had forgotten about the huge footprint of the american automobile. While we’re discussing cars, I also noticed a huge number of hybrid Toyoya Priuses everywhere we went. I wonder whether the car-loving bay area is really becoming more environmentally minded or the 60mpg rating of the Prius combined with the rising price of petrol is driving this . . .

The second thing that hit me was how decadent my old neighbourhood had become. The Safeway supermarket around the corner from my folks place is no longer the simple, white, linoleum-clad utilitarian supermarket. Oh no – no more linoleum and bright florescent lights blaring from the ceiling! Now it’s an ambient shopping experience: wood panelling, indirect lighting, off-center product displays in wood and earth-tones, lattice-work vegetable bins, decorative aisle signs, and alongside the bakery, deli, pharmacy and bank stalls are a number of hot food counters, an olive bar and a manned sushi counter.


No wonder, the working-class neighbourhood I grew up in is gone. Most of the tar-and-gravel-roofed houses have been sold off and rebuilt as giant Taj Mahal structures with 3-story-high entrance awnings by wealthy eastern immigrants.

I couldn’t help but feel like I was walking around Rome before it collapsed under its own opulence. I also reflected that Ireland is not far behind in these inclinations – domestic palaces and upscale food joints are replacing old council estates and the local butcher with frightening speed.

Ah, San Francisco – will I even recognise you when next we meet?

In any case, the first evening as I sat eagerly with root beer in one hand chopsticks poised over a platter of takeaway sushi in the other, I was willing to forgive the strangeness of my birthplace for some eminently delicious familiarity. Mmmmm.