To Be Young and Subletting In Bernal Heights


The SubletSF blog chronicles the adventures of Neighbor Valerie, a young woman exploring San Francisco while subletting space in several apartments around town over the course of a year:

My name is Valerie. I’m 25 years old and a founder of Rice Paper Scissors, a pop-up Vietnamese cafe. I cook, organize pop-ups in alleyways and warehouses, as well as monthly underground dinners. I’m a sometimes writer for The Bold Italic.

After stints in Divisadero, Inner Richmond, the Mission, the Marina, and Chinatown, fate has brought Valerie to Bernal Heights, which has been good for her equilibrium:

Finding a Home in Bernal

Bernal is a series of stairways and hills, of weird streets with names that seem like the residents build and named themselves. Bernal is a series of backyards you can peek into, of amazing vistas — the neighborhood where you can see all other neighborhoods.

Bernal has dogs, families, and alien-looking plants that make you feel like you’re on Mars. Things grow wild here, I’m convinced, due to the lack of bum piss.

I found my Bernal sublet through a friend of a friend. The master tenant texted me a fuzzy picture of what looked like a unfurnished top floor room with a peaked ceiling and one window. Nothing else. I was sold on the 2 megapixel photo.

Located on Florida and Precita, it was the first single family home I’ve ever really lived in, in San Francisco and otherwise. My roommates included the master tenant’s 20-year-old daughter, his brother, and Nico — the sweetest Border Collie I’d ever met.

I called my room the Hobbit Hole because of the low, peaked ceiling. It was the closest I’d ever come to my dream room: it had nothing in it but great sunlight, it retained the daytime heat, and boasted a beautiful view of Potrero Hill.

For my furnishings, I set up a clothing rack, a milk crate for a table, and two camping chairs and a camping pad for a bed that the folks at Alite kindly lent me. Outside my window was a private roof deck, where I spent many mornings hanging out before work and many nights camping outside in an Alite tent.

Having my own space was a relief after the past few months. Right before Bernal, I experienced a small bout of anxiety. Walking down the street would make my heart race for no reason; the world seemed too busy and like it was changing too fast for me to grasp. I was unsure about most things in my life — I was tired, lonely, and cold.

Maybe it was because I had been working till 3am almost every night, then skating home to a freezing room in Chinatown where I had to crawl into bed with my roommate and her cat (which I was slightly allergic to.) Combined with nine months of moving around SF, two failed romances and two months of the death flu, copious amounts of whiskey and subsequent regrettable decisions – the instability of everything had finally caught up to me. I started seeing a therapist to deal with it.

A little peace of mind and stability was what I was searching for — and I found it in the Hobbit Hole.

It’s sweet. And familiar. She writes stories of boozy urbanism and romantic confusion that send us tumbling down the memory hole of youthful Mission District folly:

We finally happened when I moved to Bernal a few months later. I was loitering around 22nd Street when I bumped into Donald and his friends at the Latin American Club. I politely asked how he’d been and if he’d decided on New York. He was going to leave in May. We realized we were going to be neighbors during my stay in Bernal, and joked about how we would throw rocks at each others windows and find ladders so we can climb through, just like in Clarissa Explains it All.

That night continued with peanuts and whiskeys at The Homestead. I suggested we go back to my office and eat Girl Scout cookies but we ended up making out the whole way back to his house.

On our first date we sat on my Bernal roof deck on a hot spring day, admiring Potrero Hill together along with Nico, the house dog. We biked through Bayview and ate at Taco Bell and rode back as the SF fog settled in at its usual hour. We awkwardly hooked up on the camping pad I used to sleep on the floor. An alliteration outlined the agenda for our next date, “Pupusas, Pies and Premium Crush,” where we watched the awefulsome movie camped outside on the roofdeck with string lights and a bottle of whiskey.

That particular story ends on a sad note, but the blog is fun stuff, and the photos are terrific too. There’s something timelessly San Francisco about the SubletSF odyssey, with its tales of bohemian exploration that have been a fixture of the local terrain at least since the days when Janis and Carlos were partying just around the corner.

Mostly though, it’s cool that she is enjoying her time here, and allowing us to see Bernal through her eyes. Welcome to Bernalwood, Neighbor Valerie.

PHOTO: Top: The Hobbit Hole, by SubletSF

3 thoughts on “To Be Young and Subletting In Bernal Heights

  1. The Hobbit Hole reminds me of an attic room I rented as a Berkeley student. Having your own space, no matter how small, is good for the soul.

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