Volume 48 Number 42
THE WEEKNIGHTER I don’t know, man. Would I believe what, that cocktails exist? Yes absolutely, I have four in my belly right now. Is this an X-Files themed bar? I hope so! Why is the grammar so totally screwed up in the name of this bar? What is the goddamn question anyways?
These are all things I was thinking as Ashley and I walked into Would You Believe? Cocktails (4652 Geary Blvd., SF. 415-752-7444). We’d wandered down from Trad’r Sam on our little weeknight adventure in the Richmond and here we were. Walking in I surveyed the scene: sitting around the bar was a crowd of Asian folks of various ages. Some were drinking and talking, others flirting with each other, while still others were at the short end of the bar slamming down dice. One girl kept squealing very loudly every time the dice went down. I don’t think she quite understood the game.
“I know what the question is,” I told Ashley. “It’s ‘Would You Believe how cheap the drinks are here?!'” Well drinks were $4, a shot and a beer combo was $5, and Hennessey was also $5. I don’t drink Henny, but I spend enough time in bars to know that’s insanely cheap.
“Hey, wanna have an orgy?” Ashley smiled as she asked me. I’d been trying to get her to warm up to the idea of a threesome for a while, so I was surprised that, of all places, Would You Believe? was what finally got her in the mood. Then I looked where she was pointing and saw that I’d been had. An “Orgy” was just the name of one of the spot’s signature cocktails. Other drinks had names like “Wet Pussy” and “One Night Stand.” I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was a drink called a “Long Slow Fisting Against a Wall.”
I stuck with my usual vodka soda, and we picked a place on a banquette to soak in the atmosphere. In this case the “atmosphere” was fake flowers, lots of mirrors, low lighting accented with some blues and purples, and songs by 2 Chainz. I fucking hate 2 Chainz.
My favorite part of Would You Believe was the sign outside that said “Forecast for Tonight: Alcohol. Low Standards and Bad Decisions.” I’m always a sucker for clever sidewalk signs. I was telling Ashley this when a group of five guys rolled in, none of which could’ve have been more than 22 years old. Considering they were all so clean cut and of pretty much every ethnicity but Asian, I said, “Those guys have to be hostel kids. There’s no way they are local.” I strained to hear what their accents were but dice kept banging on the bar and the damn woman kept squealing about it. Nobody likes dice that much. The whole scene was pretty weird.
The new boys flirted with the pretty bartenders and then played some pool and Ashley and I lost interest in figuring out what their accents were. The night was misty and cold and the thought of my warm bed was enough to draw us out of there and send us on our way. But we still never got the answer to the question “Would You Believe?”
Stuart Schuffman aka Broke-Ass Stuart is a travel writer, poet, and TV host. You can find his online shenanigans at www.brokeassstuart.com
THEATER If you were milling around the Asian Art Museum last Thursday evening, you might have seen a woman tumble — ever so slowly — down the Beaux-Arts building’s elegant flight of central stairs. Ringed by a crowd of onlookers and the second floor’s imposing colonnade, her limber form caressed the marble steps luxuriously as she cascaded beneath the elegant arched ceiling, entirely at her own pace, leaving behind her the unraveling, impossibly long train of her white and lavender gown.
Bystanders ruminated silently or chatted quietly, sipping cocktails, for the duration of Fauxnique’s 20-minute high-art pratfall, Beautility, as house music reverberated from DJ Hoku Mama Swamp’s station in the nearby lobby. Passing through the lobby, you would have seen mercurial artist Dia Dear offering free makeovers, while members of TopCoat Nail Art Studio applied lacquer to willing hands, in designs inspired by pieces in the museum’s current show, Gorgeous, built from the permanent collections of both the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Having at last landed on the first floor, in front of the shiny red and white speed demon parked there — German designer Hartmut Esslinger’s Prototype for Frog 750 motorcycle (1985), from the SFMOMA collection — Fauxnique (aka Monique Jenkinson) gathered up her enormous train and rushed up the stairs and out of sight.
Back in the lobby, you might also have caught sight of Nude Laughing, a peripatetic work by La Chica Boom (Xandra Ibarra), and followed the nude figure as she went by, dragging behind her a large nylon stocking filled with what appears to be hair and plastic breasts. You’d have ended up in an alcove on the first floor between several incongruent sculptures — including British artist Tracey Emin’s hot pink neon phrase-sculpture, Fantastic to Feel Beautiful Again (1997); a voluptuous, powerful, and headless stone torso of a female deity from southern India (1400–1600); and American Dan Flavin’s horizontal row of fluorescent colored beams, untitled (in honor of Leo at the 50th anniversary of his gallery) (1987).
In the company of these disparate pieces, the performer slips inside the giant nylon pouch — a Marilyn Monroe wig over her dark hair and atop her painted face, fake furs and sundry toy boobs pressed against her brown body — as she stretches the sheer fabric enveloping her, writhing in coquettish spasms, emitting artificial squeals of pleasure. A puissant abstraction, seriously unsettling and completely mesmerizing in her vaguely menacing flirtation with her audience, the figure eventually sheds her gauzy cocoon and, with a confident stride, disappears down a hallway, leaving behind some flotsam of costume pearls, wigs, and fur.
Headlining this promiscuous night of performance making — part of the museum’s seasonal Thursday night programming, which also featured work from queer punk drag artist Phatima Rude and drag duo Mona G. Hawd and VivvyAnne ForeverMORE — was art-band collective Nicole Kidman Is Fucking Gorgeous (John Foster Cartwright, Maryam Rostami, and Mica Sigourney). At about 8pm, NKIFG took over the regal upstairs chamber with its show, Fuck Gorgeous, a 45-minute incantation, exultation, and rumination on the elusive properties of art, celebrity, fashion, and existence — Nicole Kidman, for short — by three Goth punks with microphones and boundless insouciance.
With enormous projections of full moons looming over a small stage, John, Mike, and Mary engaged in welcoming speeches, banter among themselves, victory laps with streamers, occasional howling, extended ferocious lip-synched roaring, and worshipful mouthing of one truly insipid Oscar acceptance speech. Sound rose and fell, a cacophony of noise gave way to mumbled quips, focus blurred and shifted, bodies went slack, writhed on the dance floor, or bounded around the room. At one point, Mike’s address from the podium slipped from a kind of self-actualization seminar into an outright stab at mass hypnosis as he charged us all to “be Nicole!”
Nicole Kidman, their vessel, “both everything and nothing,” was not quite an object and not quite a projection. Like the other performances enlivening the spaces of the museum and the strange harmony of the artworks on display, Fuck Gorgeous was deeply ambivalent but committed to being in-between, both a come-on and a refusal. *
Through Sept. 14, $10-$15
Asian Art Museum
200 Larkin, SF
One of the more exciting places to hit the scene in a summer full of tons of new openings is Monsieur Benjamin (451 Gough, SF. www.monsieurbenjamin.com), a project from Corey Lee (Benu), with chef Jason Berthold (previously RN74, and French Laundry and Per Se, where he worked with Lee) and Thomas Palauqui.
Lee has wanted to open a late-night bistro in San Francisco for some time, something he thought was missing from our local scene. He’s right. So now we have a hot spot open until 1am nightly in Hayes Valley, serving a modernized and technique-driven take on classic French dishes like escargots and sweetbreads Grenobloise, plus steak frites, roast chicken, and blanquette de veau. The list of entrées is significant, with 13 in all.
You can come by for a cocktail and oysters at the intimate marble bar before the opera, or find a spot at a communal table for small plates and appetizers to pair with wines from smaller family-owned producers from France after the symphony (or when you get out of work). You’ll definitely be entertained with peeks into the gleaming open kitchen — the joint is staffed up. The vibe is lively, and the room is chic yet understated, kind of like Isabelle Huppert. Coming soon: weekend brunch and a prix-fixe theater menu. Hours are nightly 5pm–1am for now.
BALLIN’ ON A BUDGET
The original location of Loló in the Mission has been tweaked by the owners and reopened as Loló Cevichería (3230 22nd St, SF. www.lolosf.com/lolo-cevicheria), serving a casual and affordable menu of ceviches — five in all — and some Loló classics, like the taco tropical and tuna tacon. It’s a fun place to hang out for an impromptu meal, and there will be plenty of beverages to get you feeling good, from a couple different sangrias to agave wine margarita slushies (which include one made with tamarind).
If you’re over waiting for a table at the recently opened Loló on Valencia — that place is caliente! — or if you’re a larger party than that funky little spot can handle, this one’s for you. Designer and business partner Lorena Zertuche has updated the space, featuring lots of tropical birds (caw caw!) and of course a riot of bright colors. The grand opening is Wed/16; hours are Mon–Thu 6pm–10pm, Fri–Sat 6pm–12am, closed Sun.
While fans of the hefty hoagies from 1058 Hoagie in SoMa will be sorry to hear that joint is closed, here’s your silver lining: Owner Adam Mesnick has turned the space into Rye Project (180 Seventh St, SF www.ryeproject.com), his take on a Jewish-style deli. He’s calling it “Newish Deli.” This is the place for overstuffed corned beef and pastrami sandwiches on rye bread from a special source in Detroit ($14). Other choices: roast beef, tuna salad, kosher or hard-beef salami, and turkey. You want double meat/double bread? Go for it for $6 extra.
Also coming in from back East: par-baked bagels from New York that are finished here (top those bad boys with lox, smoked trout, or Mesnick’s smoked whitefish salad). A whole other category to explore is his creative salads, including the Rye House ($13), with romaine, corned beef, Muenster cheese, hard-boiled egg, cucumber, cherry tomato, and chickpeas. Bonus: All salads come with a bagel, because hey, more is more. Additional options are soup of the day (expect some matzoh ball soup in rotation), chopped liver, mac and potato salad, and other classic deli faves. Eat, eat! Open Mon–Fri 11am–4pm.
Marcia Gagliardi is the founder of the weekly tablehopper e-column; subscribe for more at www.tablehopper.com. Get her app: Tablehopper’s Top Late-Night Eats. On Twitter: @tablehopper.
Everyone knows that true artists do their best work right before deadline. [Ed note: I may or may not be writing this an hour or so before mine.]
Now in its third year, the Music Video Race is an annual San Francisco tradition that takes this dictum to heart, pairing 16 different musical acts with 16 filmmakers for a challenge that makes that “find a flag in the middle of this big fake nose filled with green goop” thing on Double Dare seem like a cakewalk: Conceive, film, and edit an entire music video in 48 hours.
After accepting applications from both filmmakers and musicians for roughly two months, MVR organizers matched up pairs by random drawing at 7:30pm on Friday, July 11, turning the teams loose around the Bay Area, with a final deadline of 8pm on Sunday, July 13. This year’s bands include SF’s Rin Tin Tiger (which will cap their participation with a headlining spot at the video release party, held at The Independent Sun/20), Oakland’s Bill Baird (fresh from rocking Phono del Sol), Rich Girls, Lemme Adams, and bed. [Another ed note: Yours truly will be helping to judge said videos, and I’m rather excited about it.]
“We try to pick a diverse group of bands — we don’t want 20 garage bands or folk acts, etc. There’s so much variety in the Bay, and we really ant to respect that,” says Tim Lillis, an MVR founder, of how they select the participants. “But beyond that, we’re mostly just looking for flexibility, a willingness to roll with the punches, a sense of adventure.”
New this year: We Bay Area-dwellers aren’t so special anymore. The MVR is expanding to Austin and LA, over the weekends of Sept. 5-7 and Nov. 7-9, respectively.
“We’ve had a few really expansive years here, and I think this will help people understand that this isn’t just a San Francisco thing — we’re stoked to help local scenes build themselves,” says Lillis.
MUSIC VIDEO RACE PREMIERE PARTY W/ RIN TIN TIGER, BED.
July 20, 7pm, $14-$16
628 Divisadero, SF
LEFT OF THE DIAL In a parable that opens one of the best-known speeches by the late great David Foster Wallace, two young fish are swimming along when an older fish passes them. “Morning boys,” says the (sentient, verbal) fish. “How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a while, until one of them looks over at the other and says “What the hell is water?”
Living in the Bay Area, especially, water is a constant: Our travel routes often entail tunneling under or gliding over the Bay; white sheets of fog roll out in a damp coat over city daily, even in June; the Pacific, with its cold, gray version of the beach imagery most Midwesterners probably think of as “Californian,” provides our most obvious grounding point — I can’t un-learn directions based on the way I learned them growing up here. “Well, the ocean’s that way, so that’s west.” This was problematic when I lived in New York.
The ubiquity of water in our lives — and the corresponding ease with which we take it for granted, until, you know, we’re in a major drought that severely threatens California’s agricultural and therefore economic well-being — is part of what made H20 such a natural theme for this year’s Soundwave Biennial, a festival of music, science, visual and performance art thrown by the arts nonprofit Mediate every other year. Throughout July, August, and September, in museums and music venues throughout the Bay Area, on beaches, in bunkers and even aboard a boat or two, more than 100 different artists across all different media will explore water and its relationship to sound.
“We’re the city by the bay; water’s all around us, literally, but we don’t really talk about it, or what that means to us,” says Alan So, the festival’s executive and artistic director. “We’ll talk about drought or climate change, but it can be myopic — water makes up 70 percent of our world, and there are so many kinds of life we don’t get to see; there’s still so much that’s mysterious about it.”
After kicking off the evening of July 10 with a party at the California Academy of Sciences’ Nightlife featuring special interactive water life exhibits and live music from Rogue Wave (get it?) and Kasey Johansing, the festival continues with a somewhat overwhelming menu of happenings.
On July 19, SOMArts will host Pool, a video installation by Fernanda D’Agostino that plays off the idea of pairing memory with place, projecting watery images — a choreographer, Linda Johnson, submerged in water; salmon swimming upstream — via a two-channel generative video system.
July 26 will mark the opening night of Water World and no, that doesn’t mean you have to sit through any Kevin Costner dialogue. A multi-media exhibition that will take over SOMA’s Alter Space gallery through Aug. 30, Water World is a combination of sound and light installations, a collaboration between seven artists, designed to take the visitor through different sea levels that mirror humans’ levels of consciousness.
Viewers begin with “Ark and Surroundings,” a foggy seashore designed by Jeff Ray that features boats and bridges as interactive beings, including a 15-foot sailboat that’s been outfitted with a pipe organ. “Sirens,” by Reenie Charriere, aims to connect ocean pollution with the siren songs that nearly did in Odysseus, using sounds and fabric and barnacles and man-made tapestries, while “El Odor del Agua” explores the importance of access to clean water from the perspective of women living in rural Mexico. On Aug. 26, a musical performance called Flooded at Intersection for the Arts will see, among other artists, SF’s experimental musician Daniel Blomquist exploring the experiences of floods and flood victims, using video footage and audio from tapes that have literally been flooded — recordings that were discarded after being exposed to water.
Maybe most interesting, however, are this year’s site-specific installations. Those willing to bundle up for a trek out to Ocean Beach on July 27 will hear “music for a changing tide,” listening to an original composition by Seattle composer Nat Evans (attendees are encouraged to download the music ahead of time onto an iPod) whose ebbs and flows were designed specifically for watching the tide recede, with one group listening scheduled for twilight and one at sunset.
And on Aug. 3, a program that has Soundwave partnered with the National Parks Service will explore the potential water actually has to create music and art. Travis Johns’ hydroprinting instrument features an invented instrument that makes prints using a sonograph, measuring underwater sound reverberations in the battleship gun pool to create the water-equivalent of a seismograph line, while Jim Haynes — an artist whose bio often begins with “I rust things” — will delve into water as a chemical agent and sound conductor, making music out of amplifying processes like water turning to steam.
The festival will wrap up in late September with what So called “without being cheesy — a love letter to San Francisco,” featuring concerts (artists still TBA) on board an “audioboat” that takes participants around the Bay, with a cruise by the Bay Lights. Soundwave has done concerts on buses since about 2008, says So; this time it was only nature to make the jump to water. (This event is especially worth noting if other offerings like, say, Sept. 21’s Exploratorium performance that includes a meditation on the fear of water and/or drowning isn’t for you.)
“I’m always surprised by what comes back [from the open call for artists’ submissions],” says the director. “I think we don’t want to tell people what to do. There are some social, political pieces here, and some that aren’t at all. But if we can get people to appreciate water, what it means in terms of our daily lives — we drink it, we buy it, we swim in it — we can appreciate it for what it is, and not take it for granted. And we have researchers and city planners and scientists and artists of all kinds coming together for the closing symposium [at CCA Sept. 27-28]. I think the exciting part for a lot of people is ‘Where do we go from here?'”
Soundwave ((6)) Water
Through Sept. 28
FILM As one of the Bay Area’s largest film festivals prepares for its opening (that’d be the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which runs July 24-Aug. 10), this weekend heralds several smaller fests with unique approaches to programming, including the San Francisco Frozen Film Festival at the Roxie, and Oakland’s outdoor Brainwash Drive-In/Bike-In/Walk-In Movie Festival. Also in Oakland: the second annual Matatu Film Festival, which takes its name from colorfully decorated mini-buses found in Kenya and other East African countries.
The reference suggests a focus on films from that region of the world. But while it is an international festival, it’s more interested in “matatu” as metaphor, presenting films as a way to transport the viewer to new places or points of view. Amid an overall strong program, one of the most timely entries is Mala Mala, a gritty yet joyful exploration of Puerto Rico’s trans community that makes great use of neon-lit streetscapes, a retro-synth score, and the oversized personalities of its subjects. Among them are drag queens, including recent RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant April Carrión, and transgender activists like Ivana Fred, who cuts a striking figure whether she’s raising awareness on TV talk shows, handing out condoms to sex workers, patiently enduring the opinions of a homophobic priest, or modeling her carefully sculpted assets (“I was born in Puerto Rico, but I was made in Ecuador,” she jokes).
The less-glamorous figures are also compelling, including prostitute Sandy, who’s refreshingly candid about all aspects of her life, and Paxx, the sole transman interviewed, who faces what he sees as a “harder transition than trans girls,” since his hormone therapy is far less accessible, and his social support system is far more limited. With trans issues in the spotlight more than ever — see: TV actress Laverne Cox’s Time magazine cover and Emmy nomination — Mala Mala directors Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles do an admirable job showing how diverse the community is, and how complex each individual’s struggles and triumphs can be. Speaking of triumphs, once the dance moves of future drag superstar Queen Bee Ho command the screen, it’s pretty clear who should star in the filmmakers’ next project — or at least season seven of Drag Race.
Elsewhere among Matatu’s docs is Evolution of a Criminal, Darius Clark Moore’s deeply personal film about his detour from standout Houston, Texas, high school student to bank robber, and from prisoner back to school — this time, at NYU’s esteemed film school. Criminal benefits from the sheen of executive producer Spike Lee, but Moore’s story would be gripping even with less polished production. He frames the film as a series of interviews with family members — mom, step dad, grandma, assorted aunts and uncles, etc. — and others (former teachers, the district attorney who prosecuted him) who reflect on the family history and financial circumstances that nudged Moore down the wrong path.
He was a bright kid from a close-knit, hardworking family that couldn’t seem to dig its way out of debt. One night, he was watching America’s Most Wanted and got the bright idea to plan a crime so flawless there’d be no way he’d get caught. He and his fellow teenage accomplices even had the perfect alibi: They’d show up at school, fake illness so they could slip out for the heist, do the deed, and then return to class several thousand dollars richer.
It did work — we watch the crime unfold in re-enactments far more tasteful than anything ever seen on America’s Most Wanted — until it went sideways, as recounted in interviews with Moore’s now-grown, now-regretful friends, and Moore himself, who brims with genuine emotion and yearns for closure, even going so far as to track down, and apologize to, bank workers and patrons who witnessed the robbery. After awhile, this feels like we’re witnessing a 12-step program in progress, but one of the men, a born-again pastor, is an effective mouthpiece for Criminal‘s themes of forgiveness. On the other hand, the DA is far more skeptical, wishing Moore well with his film career, but suggesting she won’t believe he’s really turned a corner until his prison stint is more than 10 years in the past.
Also among Matatu’s doc fare is Evaporating Borders, Iva Radivojevic’s poetic take on the current immigration crisis in Cyprus, an island ruled by both Turkey and Greece (with an “open wound” of a border between). “Its story is multi-layered and complex,” the filmmaker explains in voice-over. “It’s sordid and manipulated.” She has personal insight — she immigrated there herself during the war in her home country, the former Yugoslavia — but also offers of-the-moment perspective via firsthand accounts from recent arrivals. Many arrive fleeing war, as Radivojevic did, though now most come from Iraq, a situation that inflames the island’s considerable anti-Muslim bias. (The filmmaker interviews one Cypriot politician whose anti-immigration rhetoric sounds awfully Tea Party, a reminder that sweeping intolerance isn’t a uniquely American trait after all.)
Other Matatu docs include Virunga, about park rangers fighting to protect the dwindling population of mountain gorillas in Congo’s Virunga National Park; 12 O’Clock Boys, about a scrappy pack of young Baltimore dirt-bike riders (it had a Roxie run earlier this year, though here it’s paired with dreamy sci-fi short Afronauts as an added incentive); and Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace, which follows the famed NYC-based painter as he shifts his focus from male to female subjects for the first time.
Clocking in at under 40 minutes, Kehinde Wiley is paired with a film of similar running time, if not subject matter: Unogumbe, a refashioning of the Benjamin Britten opera Noye’s Fludde. Set in South Africa, sung in Xhosa, and orchestrated with African instruments, it also recasts the Noah character as a woman (the wonderful Paulina Malefane) who gets a heads-up from the guy upstairs that she needs to gather her family and build an ark, pronto. The other two narrative films in the festival are Of Good Report, a contemporary film noir that also hails from South Africa, and the African folklore-inspired Oya: Rise of the Orisha.
But the best companion piece for Unogumbe is Matatu’s opening-night film, The Great Flood, which pairs archival footage shot during and after the devastating 1927 Mississippi River flood (curated by filmmaker-multimedia artist Bill Morrison) with a jazzy, bluesy score (by guitarist-composer Bill Frisell). It’s a memorable, haunting collection of images: slow pans across small towns with just rooftops visible; residents paddling whatever few belongings they’ve salvaged to higher ground; a makeshift tent city for the displaced, with an open-air piano providing much-needed entertainment; and starched politicians, including future POTUS Herbert Hoover, surveying the damage while skirting the mud as much as possible. *
MATATU FILM FESTIVAL
Most screenings at Flight Deck
1540 Broadway, Oakl
FILM Time is money, making both things usually in short supply when it comes to moviemaking. Ergo, a movie that takes forever to make is often a novelty — an extreme conceptual luxury. (On the other hand, movies that never actually get finished are probably more common than you’d expect; there’s a whole invisible history of films abandoned mid-production, usually because the money ran out.) This week sees the theatrical release of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, an unusual and by all accounts wonderful experiment shot over a 12-year course, so its actors (particularly Ellar Coltrane’s titular youth) could grow older naturally within the story’s time span.
Unfortunately, the by-all-accounts wonderfulness of Boyhood didn’t screen in time for this particular column — necessitating an attention shift to the Roxie, which just happens to be opening a movie also shot over several years’ course. If Boyhood is obviously about life’s formative early years, Tamar Halpern and Chris Quilty’s Llyn Foulkes One Man Band leaps forward decades to that point where an individual life no longer seems to change very much. Not nearly as much as they’d like, in this case. Foulkes is a veteran of that fabled Los Angeles art scene briefly and famously (albeit mostly in retrospect) centered around the Ferus Gallery. He was such a prodigy he dropped out of the Chouinard Art Institute (now known as CalArts) to go professional, then got kicked out of Ferus for (he says) dissing another, better-entrenched resident “rebel,” Bob Irwin.
Of course, no one since approximately 1900 has ever met a “serious” painter who wasn’t also a “rebel.” After that parting of ways, Foulkes became quite a popular artist for a while via large paintings derived from vintage landscape (in particular, rocks) photography. Such popularity chafed, so he turned toward what he calls his “bloody heads” period, gory portraiture that made his “macabre edge” very plain to anyone who somehow hadn’t sussed it already. Suddenly he was no longer the US artist invited to international biennales and handed prestigious prizes. One Man Band follows him some time later (2004-2012, to be exact), when he passes age 70 with no ebbing of lust — for acclaim, that is, for the sales and exhibitions and critical raves he possibly bypassed in “going out of his way to turn his back on the proprieties of the art world,” as one bemused observer notes.
We see him prepping for shows that force him into the position he most resists: actually finishing a work. At least that’s his problem with two notable pieces. Intense surreal landscape The Lost Frontier was started in 1997. It has grown so thick in places that he’s periodically used saw and hammer to excise a section he wants to rework. It duly includes a representation of Mickey Mouse, the pop culture icon he worshipped early on (in high school he’d aimed at working for Disney), then increasingly used as the perfect symbol of all things corrupt, exploitative, and American. A gallery deadline finally forces him to sign off on it, following a typical final frenzy of tinkering all-nighters.
There’s no similar happy ending for The Bedroom Painting, aka The Awakening, which depicts himself and his second ex-wife (she wasn’t “ex” when he started it) in bed — she in a near-fetal position, alone, the very definition of neglect. “The one thing I’ve failed at in my life is being a good husband. I’m too self-centered. My marriage was falling apart, I was trying to solve it in the painting,” Foulkes says here. We hear from this wife, and the prior one — albeit so briefly and tactfully it’s as if the subject forbade the filmmakers from digging into the psychological truths his art so often bares nakedly. (That second wife mentions realizing he could “not be a nurturing partner,” a terribly polite way of describing what must have been a colossal disappointment.) His grown children also appear, fleetingly. Why does their tone invariably hit the “long-suffering” note? Viewers would like to know.
Foulkes himself is spry, petulant (“If something doesn’t happen with this show, I feel like quitting art”), quite possibly brilliant, admittedly obsessive (“My process is kind of make and destroy and make again”), random (“I think vegetables are overrated”), and self-indulgently juvenile in that way of men who once got away with it by being very handsome. (When we see an archival clip of him clowning on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1974 as part of a joke band, he looks like a delighted prankster passing among actual misfits.)
Foulkes’ proclaimed alternative second career is as a “one-man band” whose bizarre stream-of-consciousness autobiographical lyrics (sum: he’s bad with women) are accompanied by the often delightful racket of his “monkey on my back” — a massive sculptural whatzit composed of myriad cowbells, bicycle horns, and other gizmos. He’s the ultimate Incredibly Strange Music ironicist, goin’ all primitive as an art project. You can exit One Man Band thoroughly intrigued, yet still so puzzling over its subject’s overall personal history or impact on contemporary art. *
LLYN FOULKES ONE MAN BAND opens Fri/18 at the Roxie.
SUPER EGO I’ve been kind of taking a healthgoth/normcore approach to life lately — banging my sequined coffin shut at 10pm or so, then springing out, my mirrorball Reboks shooting fire, for an early morning jog and beet shake (extra pollen). Does this mean I’m ready to be a dad? I’m even hanging out most nights at the gay sports bar, hiking volcanic parks on weekends, and refusing cocktail straws with my drinks, to save the Earth.
None of this has quite stopped me from finding myself off my eyeballs with 3,000 others in the middle of a packed Basement Jaxx dance floor, or huddling at noon with a vodka rocks in a dark corner of Hole in the Wall on occasion. I’m still San Franciscan, duh. But I can’t have my midlife crisis yet. I’m only 21!
Hunky Beau says it’s typical SF summer hibernation, a sort of supernatural supermoon precharge as we head into a ginormous party fall. I certainly hope so. Please, if you ever see me jogging 10k to fight restless leg syndrome or whatever, drag me to the nearest giant speaker and sacrifice some whiskey down my throat. The Blackout Goddess must be appeased.
Moon Boots is cute. Moon Boots is spacey. Moon Boots will give you that marshmallow-floor feeling via classic R&B samples, tropical/freestyle grooves, and catchy tech house hooks. Nothing new under the sun, but a lush moonscape of aural delight.
Thu/17, 9:30pm, $10. Monarch, 101 Sixth St, SF. www.monarchsf.com
The Swedish hypnotic techno genius put together a band a few years ago — and pulled off one of my favorite live shows of 2011 (despite it almost being ruined by a clutch of talky gay bears. Talky gay bears STFU!). Hot on the heels of releasing a pair of remix volumes of latest LP Cupid’s Head he’s back with the band to lead us far and away.
Fri/18, doors 8:30pm, show 9pm, $18–$22. The Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. www.blasthaus.com
Aw, you gotta love this rave legend. Philly’s Wink started on decks at 13, soon launched Ovum Records and a slew of pounding singles, and made the kind of surprisingly complex mixtapes that were passed around like “candy” at underground gatherings. It’s about time “Evil Acid” came back into vogue.
Fri/18, 9:30pm-3:30am, $12–$20. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com
Since 1981, Brooklyn’s Tony has been holding down the uptempo soul and classic house side of things with his “Hump in the Homefries” style. I have no idea what that really means, either, but I do know this adorable legend brings true light and love to any floor.
Fri/18, 10pm-4am, $10–$20. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. www.nighty119.com
TRANNYSHACK BOWIE TRIBUTE
One of my favorite tribute nights from the T-Shack crew. Heklina was born to be a Spider from Mars! This will be a night of stunning performances to rekindle your love affair with the vanishing pansexual whirligig of glitter and blood we call San Francisco.
Fri/18, 9pm, $15–$20. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St, SF. www.trannyshack.com
All the stylish gay men will be here, air-kissing hostesses Juanita More and Walter, and showing off their back bacon to DJ Sidekick.
Sat/19, 9pm, $5. Powerhouse, 1347 Folsom, SF. www.powerhousebar.com
JUSTIN VAN DER VOLGEN
A couple years ago, Brooklyn disco-tech wiz Justin put out one of my favorite summer mixes of all time. “Pool Mix” (find it on Soundcloud, k?) is an effortless ripple of groovy Balaeric psychedelia tempered with loose and funky DFA effects. He’ll be glowing up the Public Works loft in a lovely way.
Sat/19, 9:30pm-3:30am, $10. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com
One of my favorite Sunday things (since I can’t go to EndUp anymore). Daytime dancing at Mars Bar and hanging on the patio with new friends and great tunes from top local DJs. The series kicks off with soulful house master David Harness headlining. Bonus: tiki bar!
Sun/20, 1pm-8pm, free before 3pm with RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mars Bar, 798 Brannan, SF.
By Beth Powder
OPINION I left a 17-year career in film to become a taxi driver. I just wanted to be here full time, drive a taxi, and write.
I’ve taken cabs in several cities and countries over the last 20-odd years. When I got here in 1998, it took two hours for a taxi to get to my house on 43rd Avenue. I still never would’ve gotten into anyone’s personal car and paid them for a ride, no matter how hard it was to get a cab sometimes. Not in San Francisco. Not in Jamaica. Not in Jamaica, Queens.
I’m from Toledo, Ohio originally. We always went on road trips. Maybe being in such close proximity to Detroit, some of that car mojo rubbed off on us. My mother is the kind of woman who, at 70 years old, will drive cross-country alone, stopping to call me at 3am from deserted truck stops outside Amarillo, Texas. You might see why I’d drive a taxi.
I have a feeling that a lot of the anti-taxi contingent now in this city haven’t taken too many cabs. Cabs could never put me off because I’d taken so many of them and I knew I was safer in one than standing in a crosswalk. I’ve been hit by cars on foot and on my bike but I’ve never been in an accident in a cab. Not in London. Not in Los Angeles. Not here.
I don’t drive for Lyft or Uber because San Francisco cab drivers receive workers compensation and TNC drivers don’t. Because Lyft mustaches look unprofessional to me. I went to taxi school, got fingerprinted, had a background check, and got licensed.
My taxi has 24/7 commercial livery insurance. My company pays the bills if there’s an accident. San Francisco taxi companies don’t have bylaws stating that passengers cannot hold them liable. San Francisco taxi companies don’t have bylaws stating that passengers take taxis at their own risk. San Francisco taxi companies don’t have bylaws that can be legally interpreted to allow discrimination against passengers of any persuasion. We have to accept pets. And we have to be green.
San Francisco taxis pick up bartenders, sweet old ladies at the hospital who don’t have smart phones, teachers, lawyers, wheelchair users, people of color, San Francisco Giants, former mayor Willie Brown, hookers, trannies, ballerinas, and limo drivers. Everybody. You don’t need a smartphone, but you can always hail a cab using an app called Flywheel.
I’m not a fan of the smugness emanating from Lyft, Uber, et all. Perpetuating spurious claims that cab drivers are all scary or awful is neither cute nor clever. And it certainly isn’t true.
It’s far more likely for a passenger to physically attack a cab driver than the opposite. About a month ago, several men took a cab from my fleet to San Mateo and severely beat up the driver. We have video cameras in every single San Francisco cab, but that still didn’t guarantee this driver’s safety. Nonetheless crime and accidents in taxis are down significantly.
We’re mothers, fathers, grandparents, students, artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs. Cab drivers give companionship, counseling, and safe passage to their passengers.
I want to know how we can have faith in TNCs when drivers aren’t commercially licensed, fully insured, and packing security cameras. How should we feel about droves of these Uber and Lyft phones being shared by multiple drivers, when only one is on record? What happens when a TNC is wrapped around a pole and the driver is held responsibility for their own safety and well-being. These brand new cars won’t be paid off before we start to witness incidents such as this.
How’s a “young mother just trying to make some extra pocket money” going to feel when she has her wages garnished into perpetuity because she rear-ended someone? She’s personally liable with the TNC company. She’s your friend with a car who absorbs all legal responsibility whether she’s found at-fault or not.
As long as there’s a taxi industry, I’ll keep proudly driving my taxi in the city I love. I’ll pick up sweet and not so sweet old ladies, people in wheelchairs, people with dogs, and whomever else needs a ride wherever it is they need to go.
Beth Powder is a cab driver and writer.
Believing that they’re somehow discriminated against on the streets of San Francisco, a new political coalition of motorists, conservatives, and neighborhood NIMBYs last week [Mon/7] turned in nearly twice the signatures they need to qualify the “Restore Transportation Balance in San Francisco” initiative for the November ballot.
It’s a direct attack on the city’s voter-approved “transit-first” policies, which prioritize alternatives to the car, and efforts to reduce automobile-related pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. It would prevent expanded parking meter enforcement unless requested by a neighborhood petition, freeze parking and permit rates for five years, require representation of motorists on the SFMTA board and create a Motorists Citizens Advisory Committee within the agency, set aside SFMTA funds for more parking lot construction, and call for stronger enforcement of traffic laws against cyclists.
“I think it’s been building for a long, long, long time, but the real catalyst was the Sunday and holiday parking meters,” political consultant David Looman — the 74-year-old Bernal Heights resident who is one of three official proponents of the measure — said of the motorist anger that led to the campaign. “That’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Yet he also said the meetings that led to the measure began in March, after Mayor Ed Lee had already called for a repeal on charging for parking meters on Sundays. The SFMTA voted to repeal Sunday meters in April, a month before the measure was certified to begin gathering signatures — an effort paid for by tech titan Sean Parker (founder of Napster and a top investor in Facebook) and the city’s Republican Party, which kicked in $49,000 and $10,000 respectively.
But Looman fears the repeal of Sunday meters could be temporary and that a small minority of road users are dictating transportation policy in a way that unfairly discriminates against motorists.
“The bike lobby is running transportation policy in San Francisco,” Looman said, even though motorists “are the overwhelming majority and we make this society run.” He said the city needs to do more to facilitate driving “so the economy can continue to function, so people can continue to shop.”
But given that drivers already dominate the space on public roadways, often enjoying free parking on the public streets for their private automobiles, transportation activists say it’s hard to see motorists as some kind of mistreated population.
“Anyone looking at how street space is allocated in our city or at the fact that a mere 1 percent of transportation funding is focused on biking improvements knows that we have a long way to go toward creating real balance on our streets,” San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum told us. “City leaders are making up for decades of lost time by rightfully investing in safe, affordable and healthy transportation options.”
“The idea that anyone who walks or cycles or takes public transit in San Francisco would agree that these are privileged modes of transportation is rather absurd,” Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and an elected member of the BART board, told the Guardian.
He said this coalition is “co-opting the notion of balance to defend their privilege. They’re saying the city should continue to privilege drivers.”
But with a growing population using a system of roadways that is essentially finite, even such neoliberal groups as SPUR and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce have long promoted the idea that continued over reliance on automobiles would create a dysfunctional transportation system.
“This balance measure would be a terrible step backward for San Francisco, and it misunderstands what makes cities work,” SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf told the Guardian.
But the revanchist approach to transportation policy in San Francisco has been on the rise in recent years, starting with protests against parking management policies in the Mission and Potrero Hill, and continuing this year with the repeal of Sunday meters.
The coalition behind this ballot measure includes some of the combatants in those battles, including the new Eastern Neighborhoods United Front (ENUF) and old Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods. Other supporters include former westside supervisors Quentin Kopp, Tony Hall, and John Molinari, and the city’s Republican and Libertarian party organizations.
They seem to be banking on the idea that motorists are a majority of the population and should be able to dictate transportation policy.
“With 79 percent of San Francisco households owning or leasing an automobile and nearly 50 percent of San Franciscans who work outside of their homes driving or carpooling to work, it is time for the Mayor, the Supervisors, and the SFMTA Board to restore a balanced transportation policy for all San Franciscans,” the group claims on its petition.
Walk SF has long advocated transportation policies that would better protect pedestrians, focused largely on trying to slow down automobiles and create safer street crossings using curb bulbouts and other tools, all of which proponents of the initiative criticize for making the streets less “efficient” for cars.
“Between bulbouts and bike lanes, the space given to cars has been drastically reduced,” Looman said.
Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider told the Guardian that any effort to bring “balance” to the city’s transportation policy would help those who walk, which includes all San Franciscans at times.
“Pedestrian safety is something that accounts for 50 percent of all traffic fatalities in San Francisco and has traditionally been given 1 percent of the transportation budget,” Schneider said.
While some city officials have embraced pedestrian safety after a recent record 20 pedestrians were killed by cars in San Francisco last year, joining New York City with Vision Zero goals that seek to eliminate pedestrian fatalities, that program still hasn’t been fully funded.
Schneider said that addressing pedestrian safety means slowing down cars, citing studies showing that the chance of a collision causing a death increases exponentially with a vehicle’s speed: “There is a direct connection between slowing down traffic and reducing all deaths.”
But the initiative criticizes the “increased travel time for motorists” and calls for this official city policy: “Any proposed re-engineering of traffic flows in the City should aim to achieve safer, smoother-flowing streets.”
It’s hard to see how the initiative does anything to create “safer” streets, particularly when one listens to the rhetoric and standards of proponents of the measure.
For example, Looman considers Valencia Street to be “a disaster” after taking away a car lane to create bike lanes more than a decade ago. Yet many cyclists and city officials see Valencia as a well-functioning transportation corridor, with its “Green Wave” timed stoplights that allow both bikes and cars not to get caught in any red lights if they travel at 13 mph. Obviously, good transportation policy is a matter of perspective.
“Any city that has a Costco has to make substantial accommodation for automobiles. It’s not realistic for this to be a transit and bike town,” Looman told us, calling for the city to cater more to shoppers, families, and others that he says need to drive.
But Metcalf said it’s not realistic for San Francisco to continue catering primarily to automobiles in its transportation policy, which was the approach adopted in the bland and environmentally unsustainable suburbs that simply doesn’t work in big cities.
“Cities are crowded, diverse, and messy. There is not a great city in the world where it is easy to park,” Metcalf said. “What we need to be doing is ramping up our investments in transit, walking, and biking, not ramping it down. We need to be moving toward a city where there is less driving.”
At its core, the initiative calls for a revanchist approach to transportation policy, conjuring up a bygone era of unfettered automobility even as the number of residents and workers using the finite street grid increases substantially.
Asked what he’d like to see in transportation policy for San Francisco, Looman told us, “Let’s go back 10 years, before the proliferation of bike lanes and increased parking fees.”
“Prioritization of the single modes of transportation isn’t a matter of ideology, it’s a matter of geometry,” counters Radulovich. “We’re all better off, including motorists, if we prioritize other modes of transportation and encourage people to get out of their cars.”
Yet many San Franciscans resent being told there are limits to how much transportation policy can prioritize free parking and fast-moving streets. Radulovich said that while conservatives are driving this coalition, anger over the city’s transportation policies is based more on a sense of entitlement than conservative principles (for example, the SF Park program criticized by the coalition uses market-based pricing to better manage street parking and encourage turnover in high-demand areas).
As Radulovich said, “There are certain people who believe in the welfare state, but only for cars and not for humans.”
Although the mid-Market Street headquarters of Twitter was targeted with protests by the city’s largest employee union this spring, Zendesk was technically the first company to take advantage of what came to be known as the Twitter tax break.
Crafted by Mayor Ed Lee along with Sups. David Chiu and Jane Kim in 2011, that controversial policy lured the elite tech sector to the central core with the promise of payroll-tax exclusion — leading progressives to deride it as corporate welfare, served up to an industry already soaked in venture capital.
In the years since, the property values around mid-Market have swelled — ushering in the revitalization fervently desired by Lee and his political allies, but also putting the squeeze on long-term tenants who couldn’t keep pace with rising rents.
Some area nonprofits have been sent packing for the East Bay, while a group of relatively low-income tenants residing at nearby 1049 Market Street continue to float in a state of limbo, having been threatened with evictions that haven’t been carried out yet but also haven’t been rescinded.
When members of the media were invited to survey Zendesk’s sprawling new corporate headquarters July 9, spanning eight floors of newly renovated office space, I took the opportunity to witness firsthand the mid-Market facelift ushered in by the Twitter tax break.
What we found was a meticulously crafted corporate space populated by hip, well-intentioned employees, who seemed as if they inhabit an altogether different city — maybe a different world — than that of low-income residents living in the surrounding neighborhood.
“My, how things change so rapidly,” Mayor Lee said when he took the stage at Zendesk. “Two years ago, [Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane] and I, and Sup. Kim, were celebrating the expansion from one floor to two floors. And just in literally two years, we’re celebrating a fantastic IPO.”
Zendesk’s May 15 IPO was hailed by investors as a sign that cloud computing stocks could perform well, raising just under $100 million on its first day of public trading.
Lee thanked Zendesk for its contributions to the community. The company had just announced its intention to open up its basement space for community programs and dinners for neighborhood groups, in partnership with area nonprofits and childcare providers. Under its community benefit agreement with the city, a required tradeoff for the tax break, the company commits volunteer service to activities like serving hot lunch to destitute clients at the St. Anthony’s Foundation.
“Already, being a major resident in mid-Market, I congratulate you on working so closely with our Office of Economic Development staff, our … nonprofits, our arts community,” the mayor said. “This building compliments so much of what I’ve envisioned for Market Street — to bring it back as a grandiose place. “
“The sense of being part of San Francisco reverberates with all your employees,” he added with an approving smile.
Zendesk, which sells customer-service software that’s widely used even if not well known outside the tech industry, has more than tripled in size in just a few years, expanding from 80 employees to more than 360 since 2011.
The grand opening bash was held on the basement level, equipped with a stage, amphitheater, and bar, with natural light filtering through the first floor. The mood was celebratory, with catering staff circulating through with trays of hors d’oeuvres and fresh-baked treats. Lee and Sup. Kim mixed with the crowd and delivered short speeches. Zendesk staff even presented Kim with a birthday cake, candles ablaze.
The unveiling of Zendesk’s crisp new headquarters was paired with the launch of a new initiative, the Mid-Market Business Association. With membership including Zendesk, Spotify, Zoosk, Benchmark Capital, WeWork, Silicon Valley Bank, and Koch Ventures, the newly formed group aims to spur even more business activity along Market Street between 5th and 10th streets.
It “came about organically,” explained Zendesk’s Tiffany Apczynski, who heads up the company’s corporate responsibility programs. “We’re all neighbors.” The Mid-Market Business Association “is mainly going to be focused on getting ground-floor retail space filled,” she added.
I asked Svane about working in the neighborhood. “The week we moved in, there was a murder,” right across the street from its first Mid-Market space, he said. “We did this thing, like if you’re working after dark, just take a cab — we’ll pay for it.” Three years later, “we’ve had no incidents,” Svane said, adding that he was glad to have Zendesk staff engage in community volunteer work. “It’s great to get people out there,” he said. “Like it’s really changed people — it makes them smarter, more well-rounded.”
RAGS TO RICHES
Mid-Market used to be the type of neighborhood that middle-class white people might refer to as “gritty.” Years ago, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom bemoaned the stubborn blight of the area, vowing to do better, and Lee echoed that sentiment in the early days of his administration.
A few short years later, some long-term nonprofits and businesses have found it tough to adjust to the new market forces. And with venture-capital firms and tech companies flooding in, the contrast between rich and poor is jarring. In the area surrounding Zendesk’s gleaming new headquarters, it’s typical to see homeless people rummaging through shopping carts, or curled up in sleeping bags in storefront doorways.
Not far from Zendesk’s new headquarters, on Golden Gate Avenue, the Tenderloin Outpatient Clinic has found it must relocate due to a steep rent increase. Cindy Gyori, executive director of the clinic’s parent organization, Hyde Street Community Services, said she’s hoping to move the clinic to medical offices on Nob Hill but it has run into neighborhood resistance. The clinic, which has been in operation since 1975, serves about 1,200 clients per year. If the pending move doesn’t go as planned, then the clinic could be forced to shut its doors, Gyori said.
A city analysis from several years ago showed that a full 31 percent of the households in the densely populated Mid-Market neighborhood, mostly single-room occupancy hotels, earned less than $15,000 a year, making it three times as poor as the citywide average.
A Central Market Economic Strategy for revitalizing the area, published by the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development in November 2011, listed guiding principles voiced by community stakeholders at the time. Among them was: “Prevent displacement of existing residents and businesses.”
But in the face of market forces, revved up by the high interest in mid-Market created by the payroll tax exclusion zone, those guiding principles haven’t exactly panned out.
Last fall, a mass eviction facing long-term tenants at 1049 Market made headlines. Attorney Steve Collier, of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, continues to represent some of those tenants. While the eviction notices they received have long since expired, they haven’t been kicked out, but they also haven’t been given assurance that they can stay.
“For some reason the landlord hasn’t been accepting rent,” Collier said. “The tenants know to save the rent money. But it’s always hard for people who are low income to save.”
Just before he left after touring Zendesk, we caught up with Mayor Lee to ask him a few questions, including whether he thought enough was being done to assist nonprofits being displaced from the area.
“We have a lot of focus on how to help nonprofits,” Lee responded, adding that he thought a solution was to “create even more public-private partnerships between nonprofits and tech,” and that “we need to bridge that more quickly.”
Zendesk’s new headquarters is a veritable fortress, housed in a 1909 building at 1019 Market that was once a department store. Renovations were completed in June, exposing historic wood beams and brick walls to complement the spacious workspaces, all featuring white and green hues for consistent corporate branding.
The building renovations cost $9.5 million, the same amount as the 2012 purchase price. When a reporter asked Jay Atkinson, a managing partner at building owner Cannae Partners about the sale price, Atkinson gave the number and then quipped, “Less than it’s worth today.”
Compared against the recently surging property values, that $19 million investment might now be considered small potatoes.
Just across the street, the recent flip of Zendesk’s other Mid-Market office space, at 989 Market, underscores the dramatic commercial property value increase in what the buyer termed the “rapidly-evolving Mid-Market district.”
ASB Real Estate nabbed the six-story building — which Zendesk shares with Zoosk, a social dating service — for $61.3 million. As the San Francisco Business Times reported, that’s more than double what the building sold for in 2011.
“Led by Twitter, Spotify, Yammer, and Intuit, new and expanding technology companies have made the Mid-Market District a location of choice,” ASB President Robert Bellinger said in a prepared statement, “leading to a market renaissance, from which our investors can take advantage.”
Back at 1019 Market, side office nooks and conference rooms were interspersed throughout the new space, with signs taped into the windows bearing enigmatic labels such as S’MORES, or FEATHER.
Ainsley Hill, a Zendesk staffer, led reporters on tours of the newly renovated space, describing how it had been configured “to our core brand values: airy, humble, valued, uncomplicated.” The aesthetic, Hill explained, might be described as “Danish Modern,” true to the company’s Scandinavian roots.
Danish Modern with a splash of California-style zen, you might say. The corporate logo is a cartoon Buddha wearing a telemarketers’ headpiece. Ergonomic workspaces are highly prioritized at Zendesk: That means adjustable desks, which can be lowered to the point where “you can actually sit on an exercise ball, and still be ergonomic,” Hill noted. Some choose to raise their desks and stand upon memory-foam pads (priced at $100 a pop) to support spinal health while working.
Svane, Zendesk’s genuinely approachable and gregarious CEO, could not express enough appreciation for the mayor. “Ed Lee has just been such a fantastic supporter,” he said. “I got his number, he got my number. He’s very hands-on with these things. Ultimately, we all have the same goal — to see mid-Market become a fantastic space.”
I asked Svane what he thought about the trend of displacement that had been affecting some long-term tenants in the area, particularly nonprofits. “As this neighborhood becomes more popular, it’s really hard to keep rents down,” he said. “There will be change. It’s hard to avoid.”
San Francisco’s rapid economic growth is increasingly being framed in reference to the Tale of Two Cities, and signs of its staggering wealth gap are ubiquitous. Luxury retailers are gravitating to the South Bay to cater to the tastes of newly minted millionaires, the San Francisco Chronicle recently reported, while low-wage workers on opposite sides of the Bay are charging forward with campaigns to increase the minimum wage, since soaring rents and a rising cost of living have made it tricky to achieve basic economic survival.
And while sidewalk graffiti delineating “real San Franciscans” from “techies” has raised some eyebrows, a stark and growing disparity does exist between the abundant tech sector and the day-to-day struggle of lower-paid residents to maintain a foothold. When it comes to the youth being raised in the economic margins — including the thousands in San Francisco public schools — that contrast has disturbing implications. Can the kids who weren’t born into wealth hope to someday raise families of their own in San Francisco?
Some tech companies have signaled that they wish to do the right thing — or at the very least, they’ve taken seriously their commitments under a deal with the city that requires community givebacks in exchange for a sweetheart tax break. Zendesk, which unveiled its newly renovated, plush corporate headquarters July 9, has promised to welcome Mid-Market residents into its palatial building for community dinners and events, with an emphasis on youth programming.
But to create real opportunities for up-and-coming generations to sustain themselves, the thriving tech industry needs to go a lot farther than welcoming the poor kids into the gleaming office space. If tech wants to coexist in harmony with the community members who are bearing the brunt of this dramatic economic shift, then tech needs to act like a community member.
That doesn’t mean spreading wealth around here and there, to placate local anger. Nor does it mean checking a box to fulfill obligations. It means seeking community partnerships, finding ways to hire local, racially diverse applicants, and partnering with educational institutions to carve out reliable pathways for disadvantaged youth to connect with decent-paying jobs.
This week’s cover story turns its gaze upon the “brogrammer,” that stereotypically white tech-sector worker perceived as self-absorbed, clueless about sexism, and unaware of his fantastic privilege. The “brogrammer” is the boastful, misogynistic brat who has it all, thanks to his connections and his programming skills.
In the current climate, the “brogrammer” may as well represent the aristocracy in San Francisco’s own version of the Tale of Two Cities. But if tech manages to grow up a bit and make a concerted effort to solve its own diversity problem, the industry could open a new chapter in its relationship with San Francisco.