I used to hate just rich people.
Now I hate nearly everyone I see in my neighborhood.
By ‘hate just rich people’ I mean an off-hand, on-the-fly, facile and judgmental dislike and mistrust for anyone who looks like they might be a corporate board member (or their spouse or progeny), down to those obviously aspiring to the same (or to an equal level in a different stratosphere–the tech/app industry, for example). Like certain San Francisco Opera (or Symphony, or Ballet) patrons, especially on one of the many ‘gala’ nights throughout their seasons. I personally believe that no-one attains such wealth without doing some deliberate damage to others (to quote Fran Lebowitz “No one earns $100 million. People steal $100 million.” Only I would set the bar much lower than $100 million). Just like politicians. The higher up the rung any politician climbs, the more dirty deals and sleazy partnerships and unsavory compromises they had to make to get there. You get up high enough and you’ve got no more integrity left to sell.
By ‘hate nearly everyone I see in my neighborhood’ I mean hate nearly everyone I see in my neighborhood.
We live in Hayes Valley, just up the street from Civic Center and the Opera and Symphony houses. We walk (and drive) a lot to the SF Public Library in Civic Center, where my wife works (she walks to work, and I sometimes walk with her, and I usually drive her home because of a back injury disability she suffered). So we struggle through the Opera+ performance crowds all the time. They’re usually headed ‘to’ when we are heading home.
The auto and pedestrian traffic at these events is horrific. Car valets at Le Jardiniere double-park their cars because they use their (3) assigned white zone spaces as a permanent parking space for someone’s special Maserati or Bentley (I even saw a De Lorean enthroned there once; I hung around awhile, but I never saw Michael J Fox or Christopher Lloyd), and long lines of cars waiting to get into the parking garage straddling both westbound lanes (these people are terrible drivers, if you watch them), and Marin-ites (nor Mariners?) flying up Franklin Street toward the GG Bridge, trying to beat every yellow light to make it home faster.
No-one pays for any type of traffic safety guard at these events (unless it’s some special gala, with a reception at City Hall, where San Francisco Police are paid overtime to protect our special citizens and special friends). No police, no DPT, no private guards to help this elderly throng (more elderly than most throngs) to safely cross Franklin Street (they often cross en masse against the light) without getting booted into the upper balcony, where I’m sure they would be lost, by their neighbor’s Lexus from San Anselmo.
So for many years we have lived with the knowledge that the city and its prestigious civic arts organizations don’t give a shit about the residents who live in their neighborhood with them. Over the years I have complained via emails and phone calls to various people (the organizations themselves, city hall, the police). But nothing is done and you get tired of the effort and you eventually come to believe that nothing will ever be done, so why bother anymore. So I hate them. To be more specific, I hate the city (politicians) and the Opera and Symphony and Ballet for not doing anything about this. But, like the ‘Google Bus’ syndrome, they’re not the ones I see on these nights. I see the people headed to these events, the expensive cars driven by tiny shriveled old men and women blocking our way home. So I transfer my hatred to them. That’s just the way it works. I’m not saying it’s right (I know it’s wrong), just that’s how it works. And that’s not to say these people are blameless (don’t walk against the light! and if you can’t get in line for the parking garage without blocking the intersection? go around the block and try again!). In the same vein the riders on the commuter shuttle buses aren’t the real target of my hatred (which is corporate greed, and, again, city hall politicians, among others), but they are the most visible to me. And they are not blameless, either.
Regardless of what your opinions may be about the latest Great San Francisco Debate, I think I can make a few statements here that everyone can agree on (and if you cannot, I suggest you break out that old set of Maude DVDs and stop reading this):
- The commuter shuttle buses are offered as an employee perk by private companies, and helps add to their corporate profitability by attracting and keeping employees
- These companies utilize San Francisco public infrastructure without paying into our city revenue
- The city has allowed these buses to use MUNI stops for several years without paying the $271.00 fine which, by law, should have been served for every violation
- It is questionable whether the city has the legal authority to over-ride state law regarding the use of the MUNI stops (and this should be investigated and decided before any further action)
- An impact study (environmental and otherwise) should have been done by the city when these buses first started to appear
- The city needs to develop new broader long-term policies for dealing with the new problems and new economic models that arise from the emerging Bay Area tech proliferation
And now… Gentrification? Displacement? Population density? Rent control? New housing restrictions? Yadda yadda yadda? These have always been a problem here, but the advent of the commuter shuttle buses put rocket fuel into the mix. They put every related facet of this discussion on steroids. Like it or not, it’s true. The influx of highly paid tech workers in the past ten years has telescoped maybe 30 years of housing and gentrification and income inequality woes (and public debate) into a few short years. I can connect the dots. Shuttle buses … Tech employees moving to San Francisco … rising rents … luxury condo/apartment developments … more highly-paid tech employees moving to San Francisco … my building put up for sale. If you don’t see the connections I can’t help you. It’s like trying to argue about evolution to a creationist. You can’t. They believe what (they say) they believe.
As I said, we live in Hayes Valley. We’re thankful we don’t live in the Mission, because what we’ve witnessed happening in our neighborhood over the past few years we don’t like, and we know that long-time residents of the Mission have been dealing with much worse for many years more than us. It seems like just in the past year or so it has exploded here in Hayes Valley. I won’t go into the details, you’ve heard it all before, in many different versions, but…when the $4000 couch stores are pushed out of the neighborhood because they can’t afford it anymore, well…truly the death knell has rung.
The ‘new kids’ in my neighborhood are very young and have a lot of money, from what I gather. Marlena’s, an old San Francisco landmark drag-queen bar, has been closed and re-opened and now caters to this crowd. When I walk by I feel as if I’ve been magically transported to the Balboa Cafe/Bermuda Triangle. They spill out onto the street, it’s always packed and noisy, and everyone’s looking down at their cellphone as they drink and cavort. I was that young once. When I was, I was really stupid and I did some really stupid stuff. Alcohol didn’t help. I could say that I was lucky that I didn’t have a lot of money at the time to afford more stupid. But that was me, you say. I say in return, young is stupid in the sense of no wisdom gained from experience. None of life’s humility lessons learned. And when you add money to that, and an inflated sense of self worth derived from a sheltered life-style of like-minded individuals, you can easily step over into arrogance and egotism. So yes, I truly dislike the ‘culture’ that I pass through as I walk in my neighborhood. And they are employed by the companies that are causing me grief. They symbolize the companies I have grown to hate.
I cannot walk the eight minutes to our local Walgreen’s without passing a few dozen people that I speak to in my head: “Fuck you!” I say. Over and over and over. That’s all. Just “Fuck you”. No “Put down your phone when you’re crossing the street!” or “Go back to Mountain View” or “Would you please take that stupid fucking hat off? It’s 75 degrees!” Just “Fuck you”. It’s not a healthy state of mind.
Because I know they’re not leaving. I know that this is not a ‘bubble’ that will eventually burst and things will settle back into almost normal. Google is not going anywhere. Nor Facebook, Yahoo, and most of the other corporate tech behemoths. Our city politicians sold us out, cheap, to the tech companies and the property developers. San Francisco, as it was, is no longer, and never will be. This city’s politicians (most of them) don’t have the courage (if they even had the desire) to enact policies that will roll back some of the damage that’s been done. The best they will ever do is put the brakes on, lightly, here and there, to assuage some of their voters’ anger (and maybe some of their own guilt).
Originally, I was going to end this here with…
We will stay as long as we can, because living here with the memory of San Francisco is better than not living here at all. But until that day comes, when our building gets sold, and we’ve gone through every resource we can muster to hang on as long as we can, and the U-Haul is rolling past the latest glass box condo and $9 frozen yogurt kiosk, I want to give a hearty and heart-felt “Fuck You!” to Mayor Ed Lee, and Ron Conway, and Serge and Brin, and Scott Wiener, and every other shithead that has contributed to the demise of this once great city.
I wanted to end this on an upbeat note, but I just couldn’t find one.
But then I decided to let it sit for a day or two. And now I will add…
I can sit at my computer today (any day) and scroll through an endless barrage of news items that physically upset me as I read them. Anger me. They make me wonder how in the world my country has gotten to this miserable mean petty selfish state. Voting rights (aimed at minorities and/or democrats) slashed by (GOP) state politicians. Women’s rights, and health facilities, demolished by the same GOP nutcases. Wealthy rapists and child molestors let off by judges with a slap and a wink. The Supreme Court validating the right of corporations and wealthy individuals to buy my elected officials. Some days I just cannot stand it, I cannot bear to read another infuriating word.
There used to be three things that helped to keep me from drowning in despair over the endless crap I idiotically subject myself to: (1) the Jon Stewart ‘Daily Show’, (2) Stephen Colbert’s ‘Colber Report’, and (3) knowing that San Francisco was an island (peninsula) of sanity in the midst of it all, that we knew better, no matter how bad things got everywhere else, and eventually the rest of the world would come around to our way of thinking and follow suit (after mocking and deriding us for as long as they could). Now I only have two things to help keep my sanity afloat (and, newsflash, I may be losing Stephen Colbert, too!). It used to be I wore the badge of San Francisco Resident with pride. The rest of the country laughed at us, ridiculed us, then eventually followed us (gay marriage, public smoking, plastic bags, etc). Now they sit back and post smug un-related comments on internet articles like “Welcome to the real world” and “If you can’t afford it move out” and “No-one in this country deserves a free ride”. And my self-righteous San Francisco pride is no longer what it once was. I can no longer assume that we will have the last laugh, because we no longer lead, we follow. And the path we follow is corporate greed, with no compassion for our fellow human beings. Just like the rest of this misguided country.
So, yes. I hate the opera patrons, and all they symbolize. And yes, I hate the GOP, and all they symbolize. And yes, I hate nearly everyone I see in my neighborhood, and all they symbolize. But I know my ‘hate’ isn’t real hate. I know it’s not that old guy in his Lexus, who can barely see above his steering wheel, at the root of my hatred. It’s not the Republican clerical worker who lives down my street, sick of her government telling her where her kids need to go to school, at the root of my hatred. And it’s not the twenty-two year old app developer walking home from Marlena’s, mindlessly flashing his expensive phone in a dicey neighborhood in the dark, oblivious to his surroundings, at the root of my hatred.
So maybe we’ll stay here a little longer. Maybe our building won’t get sold. We’ve already seen some small improvements by the Board of Supervisors (and Sacramento) for protecting renters from the speculative developer rampage. Maybe we’ll get to vote Ed Lee out of office, and put someone in there who values what San Francisco once stood for, and values the people who live here now over private corporate interests. We’ll stay at least that long, if we can, and see what happens.