November 26. I’ve been invited to visit the country of Ecotopia by the higher-ups in Washington. I’m instructed to fly to the edge of the territories, somewhere in Nevada, and complete three months of observation while living in San Francisco. I’m to publish an article analyzing my experiences. Ecotopia has been shrouded in mystery for years, so a lot is riding on this – and that also means checking my internal biases, and being conscious of how I observe, record, and report back. As a journalist, this is [of course] always true, but it applies to this assignment in a special way: since Ecotopia does not allow outside visitors, the words I write could possibly shape people’s perceptions of the place.
CROSSING INTO THE BORDER AND MAKING IT TO SAN FRANCISCO
I travel from Durham, North Carolina to Reno, Nevada, a nervous tension in my stomach. Before Ecotopian Independence, I had lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I didn’t know what I’d find when I visited it this time. My perception of San Francisco is that it had always been a hyper-industrial locus of the United States – distinct in the buzz and fervor it generated, an important West Coast port, a cultural and historical appendage to Silicon Valley.
The ride from Reno to the border went by quickly enough, and when we reached the border, my passport was checked by two members of the Ecotopian military (who were amicable). The train to San Francisco was lovely, but unlike anything I’d ever seen before – ferns hung from the train ceiling, swinging lightly as the train followed its tracks through the Sierra Nevadas. When I finally arrived to the San Francisco station, I braced myself for a different city, one that had become unrecognizable – however, to my surprise, as I departed the train and walked through the main station, many of the Ecotopians looked like the stylish San Franciscans I knew and loved.
As I took one of the free public buses on the way to my lodging, I reveled in how much greener this city seemed in comparison to the San Francisco I had known before. Instead of the urban slate, industrial concrete, and glass that had previously come to characterize Market Street – the symbols of “modernity” – trees, flowers, and even a stream now flowed through it, while human activity, much like a country market, was secondary to the nature. It was as if the nearby Muir Woods had been transplanted into the middle of San Francisco, and people even seemed to move about in less of a rush, sauntering to work, or picking up a stray bicycle if they needed to traverse the city’s long corridors. I like this foreign-but-familiar culture so far, and I look forward to what the next three months will bring.