San Francisco’s Economic Unease, Depicted in Stupid Ads

As a regular NPR listener, I’ve gotten a pretty good earful in recent weeks about the particular fuckery and unease in San Francisco. I stayed in SoMa across from a Caltrain stop to boot, so the painful transitions going on were on my mind when I arrived.

All of that background listening did not help my friend and I make heads or tails of this baffling thing on Haight Street, near Market.

weird-ass diet coke ads on haight in san franciscoI will admit to a certain lack of sobriety in that moment (thanks, Cha Cha Cha! Love the sangria!), but that still doesn’t justify just how long we stood in front of this, trying to figure out which part was the ridiculing satire and which part came straight from some ad agency boardroom. And, beyond that, just who the fuck the real ad was trying to target here. Are they appealing to frustrated natives sick of the threat of eviction? To said trustafarians? We never figured it out.

Here’s a closer view of the artist’s addition.

satirical diet coke posters in san franciscoAt least we got the point of those.

The next day, we saw this conversation in public Sharpie not far from Dolores Park.

class-aware sharpie graffiti in the mission in san francisco“Fuck Google” was scrawled in Sharpie on another window we saw later. Shit runs thick.

On Sunday, we spotted another bank of them near the Cartoon Art Museum. (Sorry, you missed the Sandman exhibit.)

more weird diet coke ads in san franciscoI did a very cursory bit of research about these, and there’s a lot of debate about their edginess and whether they’re targeting tech people or making fun of them or both or whatever. On the one hand, I guess they’re successful in that I’m writing to you about them; on the other hand, I can’t help but think it’s shitty writing if you leave people wondering just what the fuck you’re going on about. But there are reasons I was never tempted to go into advertising, and limited patience for other people’s attempts to draw out an emotional reaction with exactly zero substance is one of them.

Also, I feel I should add here that I have had a real experience that proved conclusively that, in a desert, I will go thirsty rather than let a single drop of this fucking poison pass my lips. Barf barf barf.

Everybody to Dolores Park

holy crap dolores parkThere’s a quality that places I like have in common, and that is gratitude when the going is good. In Boston, I saw it in the pale, uncovered bodies that would starfish across the grass in the Boston Common and the Public Garden when the sun emerged and the temperature began its first languorous reach toward 60 degrees. It happens in Seattle too – the weather gets juuuuust good enough, and there’s suddenly a preponderance of sunbathers in Cal Anderson and kayakers in Lake Union.

San Francisco has it easier than us in the winter, I think (or it did in the very last days of it last weekend), but even if this day wasn’t remarkable, it was sure as shit seized. Look at that. When we first walked up to Dolores Park, I looked around for the stage, because I’ve never seen a park crowd like this that wasn’t summoned by some kind of music festival. But no: it was sun, and blankets, and picnics, and the joy of being a bit stoned under the sun (overheard: “Could I light my joint off your joint?”), and the very real pleasure of being in a small grassy area with a bunch of people who came there for the same reason as you.

Here’s my park plan for you, which I recommend because it worked for me. Set out into the city, aiming for burritos. Get waylaid when you pass, by happenstance, an HONEST-TO-GOD ZINE STORE. Buy the new Optic Nerve and a copy of Murder Can Be Fun, restricting yourself to that for the sake of next month’s rent. Keep on going; get in a long line for a burrito at Taqueria Pancho Villa. Be very very clear if you don’t want meat – and you probably only need a baby burrito, not a regular one. Take that and your quickly sweaty cup of horchata (or bottle of Jarritos, if you swing that way) and wander to Dolores Park.

Gasp at the crowds, and spend a long moment wondering if maybe you should find some other grassy incline to recline on in some less-popular park. Spot a shady patch under some shedding palm trees; go for it. Smile at the bold woman in the bikini and the fuchsia party hat. (Later, you’ll see her in that same getup in the portapotty line; your amusement will be replaced by concern.) Smile at the guy sitting, clad all in black in the full sun, playing the quietest accordion in the world, like he was transported from 1920s France, but his sound was left behind.* Say no thank you to the well-shod woman in the black-and-white dress who offers you brownies from her basket. (Your companion may chide you for telling the woman selling pot brownies to go away, so don’t answer too fast.) Discuss how curiously European the whole scene is, down to the unconcealed alcohol. It’s all so very civilized.

I hadn’t been to San Francisco in about three-and-a-half years; too long, and I forgot (or never fully discovered) just how much I like it there and why. For me, it has the variety and intensity of New York with the, I don’t know, West Coastiness of the West Coast. Ambition and groundedness. Or so it seemed on the Muni as I spent my time staring at people, as I always do.

That afternoon, we saw men with tiny dogs, and we saw families with children who will grow up to be weird and worthwhile. Young women in full flower having very good days that will warm them in their dotage. A woman in a stellar brown dress selling cookies (“Pot-free,” she quickly assured us) and Rice Krispy treats from a basket.** And this guy:

ukulele seller in dolores parkSo far as I’m concerned, this guy is freaking Merlin. He brought his bag… of rainbow ukuleles… to Dolores Park… for all to purchase and enjoy. Canonize this man.

So go to Dolores Park. Or go to Cal Anderson Park, Volunteer Park, Central Park, Forest Park. The beach. Find a warm-enough day and go outside where the people are and remember what it is to be a person, the same way pets only know themselves when they have another animal to play off of. We are made for the sun and grass, and for being next to people we love on a grassy hill on a day with a fine breeze and a faint, persistent smell of high-quality California weed.

And always, always buy something from the woman with the basket.

*Or maybe he traded his accordion’s voice to the sea witch for legs, I dunno.

**It’s a killer business model and a pleasure to behold once, let alone twice.

One of the Most Beautiful Things I Saw This Weekend

the best sign of the timesMy god, it’s full of stars.

This was taken at the bus stop at Queen Anne Ave and Roy, just in front of Kidd Valley. Do you know how I have longed for this? Do you know how I have envied other cities this? Even One Bus Away is far from infallible.

Years ago, on my first visit to San Francisco, I was surprised to find that the thing I was most awed by – the thing I longed for the most in retrospect – was not the interesting culture or the beautiful houses or the great food (though those are all, of course, mighty fine, and continue to have their own gravity for me in these uncertain days).

No. It was the “bus is coming in X minutes” signs and the easy-to-understand, readily available bus route maps. Seattle, at the time, was still claiming that making a bus route map was technically impossible, a claim that was just insulting to all involved.

Because of that clear information, we were able to get around the city via the bus in a pre-iPhone era, even though we had no idea of where we were going. And, at the time, such a thing would’ve been just about impossible for a newbie visitor to Seattle.

So yes, this makes me happy. And it was accurate the whole time I stood there. May the lord bless thee and keep thee, Seattle. You’re getting there.

Though Sunday found me sick and coughing, I still had the good fortune to see a variety of beautiful things this weekend before the plague claimed me. The various short features at Hump fell within this category – or FAR WITHOUT. As is the way of the thing.