Connie Hwong: San Francisco

Connie co-founded 2905(miles) with Erica Berger in May 2013. By day, she works as Gigaom’s marketing and community manager. By night, she bikes around San Francisco and makes as many trips to NYC as possible.

What’s your historical San Francisco and New York connection?
I was born and raised in New Jersey. When I was in middle school, my dad would hand me $20 and a train ticket and send me into New York for the day – I think it was meant to teach me independence (and to read a subway map). I’d spend the afternoon wandering around St. Mark’s Place, buying cappuccinos (when they were still an exotic thing) and Manic Panic. I wound up going to college in New York and spending a brief stint in Greenpoint. And then I guess the independence lesson came roaring back, because I moved to the Bay Area on a whim, with whatever I could fit into the backseat of a friend’s Honda. Eleven years later, I’m still here (although I go back to NYC regularly – usually 3 or 4 times a year).

Describe your experience in SF.
After spending the first 23 years of my life living in the Midlantic/Northeast, where the next major city is just a couple hours’ drive away, the Bay Area’s relative space (as opposed to sprawl) was a welcome change. In New York, if you hop in a car and drive for half an hour, you wind up in Weehawken. In San Francisco, if you hop in a car and drive for half an hour, you can be in Muir Woods or headed to Tennessee Beach or staring out at Half Moon Bay.

It also just seems easier to find people who share your interests out here, and to…just startthings. Within a year of moving to the Bay Area, I joined a fashion and design collective in Oakland, started an experimental theater company with my roommates (and produced shows in Berkeley and an outdoor immersive show in Woodside) and started writing for a few local music magazines. I’m not sure that staying in New York would have provided me with the same opportunities. Or at least, they wouldn’t have come as easily.

What was the biggest challenge of moving to SF?
To be honest, I didn’t even have enough time to think about challenges. I made the decision to move within a couple of days. My best friend from high school got accepted to Cal for a grad program, and I flew out to Oakland with him (and a few other friends) to help him find an apartment/have a mini vacation. Three days later, I wound up signing a lease. I was 23, freshly graduated from college and marginally employed. I didn’t have any sort of grand plan, other than the notion that maybe I should try living somewhere besides New York.

Obviously, there are things I miss about New York – the bagels, the late night food options, the energy. But I go back to visit regularly, and I still have a solid group of friends there, mostly based in Brooklyn. And I’m there often enough that I can run into friends at the Woods or at the Foodtown on Metropolitan like it’s no big deal.

How can NYC and SF best engage with each other?
There’s a lot that each city can teach the other: I wish San Francisco was more diverse – ethnically, culturally, and socioeconomically. The sheer population density and size of New York City (across all 5 boroughs) allows for that – it’s baked into the city. It’s easy to get stuck inside your own little social bubble in San Francisco, and I’ve especially seen that in the tech industry (it’s a topic that Valleywag delights in covering). There are some days where I have to stop and remind myself that there’s a greater world outside of the tech industry, and I hate that (I worked in the nonprofit and education sector until 2 years ago – it’s amazing and disconcerting how quickly you become immersed).

Then again, New York could learn to take it down a notch. At the risk of sounding like a true West Coast acolyte, I sometimes wish that the pace of life in New York was just slightly less frenetic. Maybe it’s because I walk slightly slower and don’t edge halfway into an intersection when jaywalking anymore, but I think that living in San Francisco has made me less high strung and more able to appreciate the here and now. Maybe the New Yorkers reading this won’t agree with me, but I definitely needed that nudge. And my friends in San Francisco will probably find this utterly absurd, since the pace of my life in San Francisco is still pretty hectic.

Favorite SF secret spot
It’s not really a secret, but my favorite place to be on those rare hot San Francisco days isGray Whale Cove State Beach, which is just south of San Francisco. It’s bit of a sketchy skitter to run across Highway 1 and then scramble down to the beach, but it’s worth it. WIthin the city, I love the miniparks, slides and the swings that are scattered across the city – Seward Street, Esmerelda Street, and Billy Goat Hill.

Favorite NYC secret spot.
Since San Francisco doesn’t ever get a true East Coast-style summer (the kind with warm nights), I love al fresco drinking in July at t.b.d. in Greenpoint. Inside, it’s a too-sleek sports bar for the neighborhood, but their massive patio is delightful. I also recently discoveredNights & Weekends, an excellent alternative to the brunch line at Five Leaves.

If you were not at Gigaom, what would you be doing?
Working on a project that somehow combines my three greatest interests: music, technology, and the nonprofit/social change sector.

Roadtrip Entertainment: tell us what song/album, TV show, podcast, or web videos you’ve been watching lately.
I recently discovered a French techno/rock band called Carpenter Brut. They remind me of Kavinsky crossed with Justice, and they’re fantastic crunchy dance music. I also just saw Sini Anderson’s The Punk Singer, which is a documentary about Kathleen Hanna, so I’ve been listening to a lot of old Bikini Kill, Julie Ruin, and Le Tigre stuff.

From the 2905 Miles newsletter: connecting NEW YORK CITY + SAN FRANCISCO

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