On Leaving San Francisco…Converse All Stars, High Rents and the Fillmore Jazz Fest

Um, yeah...right.
Um, yeah…right.

I was standing outside the Converse All Star Store on Market Street in San Francisco when it became clear to me it was again, time to leave this city.  The sign in the store window yelled, “SHOES ARE BORING! WEAR SNEAKERS!” in large, capitalized letters and behind this sign stood an equally loud, colorful scream of red sneakers, white sneakers and blue, all arranged on the wall to form a huge American flag of Converse, Chuck Taylor All Stars. It was a catching display, big and bright and then further inside the store, large banners did their turn, celebrating the rebelliousness of the shoes themselves, of the purchasing, owning and living in these shoes (or…sneakers) and what doing so might say about you and your lifestyle, about who you really are and hey…you know, you can step right inside and go to the “Create lab” and with the able help of a “Maestro,” actually design your own sneakers while playing “loud raucous tunes” to further express your unique individuality in their biggest store ever for the low, low price of $75.00! Yes-sir! Express all that you are, and can be:

With. Fucking. Footwear.

Yes sir, time to fucking go…Converse told me so, reminding me clearly of the power held in reputations and the potential emptiness existing below their surface. Them All Star’s got a reputation, an individuality image and so does San Francisco, often defined round here as: “Kook City,” and that is only one example. Some also consider it the land of gay rights, gay marriage and the Castro, or maybe it’s the hippies in the Haight (smaller in number, but still there). It’s known as a liberal playground of civil rights, of compassion and care, as the land of a truly progressive politics that tries to see the big picture for the benefit of everybody. Good lord, by reputation alone this is clearly not a city in America, it’s a nation unto itself, a utopian peninsula where the best of American liberalism has taken it upon itself to finally shine from the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco Bay.

Yeah. Okay…right.

Honestly, if any of that was ever really true, it’s bullshit level has been increasing exponentially the past five years or so, leaving a lot of longtime residents disillusioned about the myths they chose to believe in, kinda like the people who buy into that All Star reputation as some sort of independent status symbol only to later discover the black death of child factory footwear, Nike, bought out the whole chain years ago. Oops.

And who bought San Francisco?

Well, the San Francisco of today is real estate developers and speculators flipping properties and evicting people to work around rent control. It is tech companies getting tax breaks to stay in town while they make money hand over fist. It is the gearing of an entire city towards a luxury class while our compassionate citizens, lead by story after story in the Chronicle demonizing panhandlers and the homeless, help enact a set of brutal homeless laws that make it a crime to sleep in a park or sit down on a sidewalk. It is a wealth gap forming like a canyon between the quite well off and those unable to afford even the most basic needs, continuing an ever-increasing homelessness while the city also cuts shelter beds and mental health support in the same shelters. It is a glut of tech workers moving in and greedy landlords going batshit insane, raising rents to a place where the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco is around $2400 dollars and at those prices, now left out of the new San Francisco are such mainstream salaries as teachers, nurses, cops, social workers and city employees (just to name a few) all being forced out by these high rents, forced to commute in from the East Bay or go away altogether. Right now, I pay $1000 a month for a tiny studio in one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. The only reason my rent has stayed so low over the past couple of years is rent control. New rentals in my building now go for $1,450 dollars, and by market rates this is still pretty cheap. If I were to be evicted I would have to leave this city, no longer able to afford it and I work a professional job, and that’s a fucking powerless feeling, and Jesus Christ, what if you were dumb enough to be here with fucking children? How do you put down roots knowing if your landlord decides he’s had enough of owning his building and sells to the speculators constantly knocking on his door with ever increasing offers, you would have to abandon everything?

Yeah, even childless, I say fuck that.

And that’s a big part of the problem, a lot of people are saying “fuck that.” People like…the aforementioned teachers and nurses, but also the musicians, artists, designers and writers. So many are leaving, and though many have tried Oakland…Oakland is now going the way of San Francisco and as their rents keep climbing, it too is being abandoned. The cultural center of San Francisco is hollowing out, leaving behind a shell of wealthy techies and other higher paying professionals who run around this playground trying hard not to get bored while people commute in from all over the Bay Area to serve them doing retail, restaurant, hotel and other service jobs.

Let them have tips. Let them eat cake.

That’s not a city.

It’s a pretty fiefdom of entitled, dull dilettantes wearing Google Glass and buying eight dollar cups of coffee. It’s a place that hosts the America’s Cup boat races. It’s the land of foodies and food snobs, and so many of the (new and old) wealthy entitled. Now, this doesn’t mean the city’s all bad, and not even bad for me. I love my job, the Bay, the views and the movie houses. I enjoy how most bands on tour stop here, the hills, the never-ending series of taquerias (I have a favorite in every neighborhood in the city and can recite them like poetry). These are all good things, but it’s not enough anymore. Not for me and not for many others, and certainly not when you have other options because everything I like about this town is also available somewhere else. Even one of the strongest reputations San Francisco is known for is losing it’s luster; the city may still be a gay mecca of sorts, but the country’s changing and is it really anymore of a Mecca than many other cities? Even the famed Castro neighborhood is now filled with families complaining about the noise of a scene they once were a part of, back before they decided to get married and adopt kids. It’s all changing. The reputation has expired. One hanging dick from some naked guy on Folsom street no longer makes you “Kook City” when your city council actually went to the trouble to outlaw nudity. Little by little, the unique character of the city gets stripped away. Hell, they even kicked the chess players off of Market Street, stating they (were homeless) attracted crime. The Castro Halloween party? Gone. The Lusty Lady? Gone too. The long trite phrase “Only in San Francisco” becomes vain and rather pointless when there’s far crazier and far friendlier shenanigans happening in Austin, Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Denver, Pittsburg and Seattle…just to name a few. Oh, and with the exception of New York, I can actually afford to live in all of those other cities (and many more) and much more comfortably, and with a much cleaner conscience, especially when I know that the guy who got my coffee or made my tacos or helped me find that book in the bookstore is actually living in the same city I am…maybe more difficultly than in the past but he or she is still there.

But not in San Francisco, here they would need several roommates in their studio to try it, and even then they still couldn’t afford a pair of fucking All Stars.

One more example: a couple of weeks ago, they had the Filmore Jazz Festival. The Fillmore District in San Francisco is a legendary neighborhood once known as the “Harlem of the West.” It was where Louis Armstrong played, where Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday performed in the clubs and shopped at many black owned businesses, historically important and culturally iconic. Every year, they still hold the Fillmore Street Jazz Festival in the district, but today Fillmore Street is a fucking joke, a collection of high end shops, pricy eateries and a Starbucks on every block. The only reason one might ever know the history of the neighborhood is by spotting a banner that hangs off a light pole when you walk out of the Mac cosmetic store or the cute little homemade organic soap shop. They might call it the “Jazz District,” but that’s about as accurate as referring to the famed Cable Cars as anything but a tourist trap. In truth, the Fillmore is nothing but  a series of cosmetic stores and clothing boutiques punctuated by the occasional artisan cafe all tailored to the new gentry of yuppies and other assorted professionals who can somehow afford the exorbitant rents.

And this is your new San Francisco.

Many people like it. These people often own and work in tech companies and/or own a lot of property, or maybe they own high end restaurants or shops that sell five hundred dollar handbags, three hundred dollar pairs of sunglasses or expensive organic food. The CEO of Apple? He fucking loves San Francisco but the people who work at the Apple Store…not so much. They all live in fucking Pleasanton or with their three roommates in Oakland or in their rent controlled studio hoping the owner of the building doesn’t decide to Ellis Act their ass and kick them to the streets so he can flip the building and double or triple the rent on new tenants. Cities change. I get it. I can accept that, and sometimes you roll with that change or you decide that the dissonance between what a city claims to be is too great from what it actually is and you get the fuck out. Sometimes you take a look around you and just get disappointed, and then maybe you even get bitter and start doing your research and realize how places do exist in this country that actually are what San Francisco (still) claims to be…

Growing up I used to wear Converse All Stars. Great fucking shoes…I mean, sneakers, but then they got bought out by Nike and the prices for them tripled over time and their reputation became only that to me, a reputation and I moved on…to shoes that didn’t define me, but were authentic and affordable and they’re fucking shoes! Who fucking cares! It’s not a lifestyle.

It’s. Fucking. Footwear.

And San Francisco is just a city, just another city, not really all that special anymore and sometimes, it even feels kind of ugly being here so very soon, it’s off to Chicago again and yes, I understand it suffers from many of the same problems as San Francisco but it’s way better off for a few reasons: hell 0f a lot more room to maneuver, it’s still affordable, there’s a real chance they might kick Rahm Emanuel the fuck out of there and maybe most important of all…it’s a hell of a lot easier to get to New Orleans from Chicago than it is from San Francisco. And I really love New Orleans too, despite what’s happening in the Bywater, and you know? Maybe because of what’s happening in the Bywater, you can bet your ass I’ll be watching for any sign of a Converse store on Canal or Magazine and if that should start to happen, I’ll be ready…

It’s only fifteen hours by car from Chicago to NOLA and even though I don’t smoke anymore, I seem to always have a lighter around and I’m betting that shoes burn a lot easier than a reputation, no matter how empty.

Have a nice day.

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Reflecting on a show: Ani Difranco…

The Fillmore gives free posters when the shows sell out...
Now featuring free posters!

I saw Ani DiFranco two nights ago at the Fillmore in San Francisco…great show, some songs I’d never heard performed before like “School Night” or “Overlap,” and she was in fine form, striking the guitar so hard during “Napoleon” or “Shameless,” you’d think it might break, and performing new songs that thanks to Youtube, I knew by name already, “Careless Words,” “Genie,” and more…and none of this was a surprise. Great shows from Ani Difranco are what I’ve come to expect in seeing her frequently over the past fifteen years.

What did surprise was the crowd…a good crowd, really good crowd and in this days version of San Francisco, these things are not a given. At the show, surveying the people who surrounded I saw a disappearance of the tech-entitled PBR types drunkenly sporting Google Glass or tech company logo’d hoodies. Not this time, the usual omnipresent forerunners of their own declared future instead gave way to what my friend described as a more “earthy” representation of the city…dreadlocks and patchouli oil, couples: straight, gay and lesbian couples (not singles) in jeans with a surprising lack of ornamental facial hair from the men or provocative spandex dresses from the women. It was like being in the city I loved again, and for a night the people seemed more real, genuine, less entranced with status and being seen, and serving more as a communal backdrop to the music Ani Difranco played…

It was nice, special, thoughtful.

And as mentioned above, it was a reminder of what this city used to be, and sadly, will probably never be again.

And it made me think of what this city was like when I moved here the first time, and who I was back then, or who I was the first time I saw Ani DiFranco perform and all the changes I have seen in myself over the years and the changes in the country, by way of all those performances in many other cities since…

Back in 99 or so in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was the first, on a freezing cold night and I was not prepared for what I was about to see, who I was going to see it with or the emotions the show might elicit. This was back in time when most everything I listened to was punk rock and death metal. An acquaintance had turned me onto an album called “Little Plastic Castles” and I used to listen to it alone, quietly and I never really talked about it, lest I be referred to as “soft” or “selling out.” This was a time in my maturation process where such things still mattered, and even though I do shake my head today at the thought this ever mattered, it did once. I even bought the ticket in silence and didn’t tell anyone I was going to the show. I just went quietly and over the course of Ani’s performance was amazed how, just by being there, I was suddenly a part of something so joyful, so genuinely political and real. I was surrounded by more women than I think I’ve ever been surrounded by in my life and most of them were wearing handkerchiefs around their head (standard at the time) and smiling, dancing. They were celebrating. At this time I usually only saw bands called Slayer, Marilyn Manson, KMFDM, etc…and the idea of celebrating music with anything but aggression was foreign to me, and it became surprisingly emotional to me and so very different. I remember when Ani sang the song “Napoleon” and the lights splayed across the crowd and all the movement, the moving heads and dancing and shouting and joy…without anyone clobbering anyone else or slamming into each other in waves of bloody noses and flying elbows and I remember feeling genuinely, very happy. Happy in a good way, a positive way, a way that I wasn’t used to, not then and this helped open my eyes to the possibility of maybe doing things differently…

Six months later, I left the Midwest and moved to Seattle.

And I saw her there too, at the Moore Theater on a usual, drizzly night. I went to the show not only to hear the music, but because I was homesick, nervous, scared about my decisions and intensely lonely. I loved the city of Seattle, but I didn’t know anyone, not closely except a woman I was dating at the time, selfishly because I was afraid of being so alone…and at the show that night, though I don’t really remember too many of the songs (I was drunk. I was drunk a lot of nights that first year in Seattle) I do remember that familiar feeling of inclusion, of being a part of something…a feeling that to this day is something I don’t get to feel too often, and when  this is a stranger to you, when this inclusion approaches, you treat it well, savor and enjoy it because you don’t really know the next time such experience will knock on your door…and I saw her twice more in Seattle and felt the same each time, a special security held in the joy of a resonating performance that though difficult to explain is very real, welcoming and welcomed.

The next concert was in another new city, another new home…in New Orleans. I saw her play at the House of Blues, just her onstage with a guitar. I had always seen her with a band, never alone like this and conversely, this is the first show of hers I went to see with other people. I went that night with a woman I was dating and another couple she was friends with…supposedly I was friends with them too, in name anyways though it never really felt that way. He was an asshole who ran around with a handgun worried the mob was coming after him and she was a willing victim, caught between her concerns about his drinking, his erratic behavior and her desire to get out of the relationship (she eventually did). So even though I was with others that night, oftentimes through the show I pretended I wasn’t, listening to this woman onstage with such strength, and a voice alternating powerfully between soft and huge, concerned and angry, in love and in politics and I was reminded of the night in Milwaukee and those nights in Seattle, who I was then and who I was in New Orleans. Concerns on being soft were long gone, concerns about being lonely were fading into my own growing sense of strength. Being independent in mind and life was a growing focus. I was in full swing on my second cross country move and had spent a month in New York, weeks in Las Vegas, a crazy weekend in Los Angeles and I loved living in, being a part of New Orleans. I was bar-tending there, which was okay but I really wanted to do social work. Just couldn’t find a job. The city that care forgot had yet to see Katrina, but it was still plenty uncaring, tight communities notwithstanding; it was the government that didn’t give a fuck.

I was living there when Nagin was first elected mayor: need one say more?

Two years later I was in San Francisco for the first time…and I saw Ani play at the Warfield Theater on Market Street. I was in a strange long distance relationship that I enjoyed, but couldn’t quite figure out. I was falling hard and it was probably more honest than any relationship before because I didn’t care at all about being alone anymore. I didn’t care about being accepted or included…and the softer parts of my personality were welcomed; they blunted the sharper edges of my cynicism and ever increasing anger at this county and the priorities contained therein: Iraq wars, political lies as fact, the forgotten homeless, alienation of the mentally ill and corporation city shopping for the best tax-breaking deal, workers be fucked. I was fully in the trenches of the Tenderloin by this point, working at homeless shelters and wandering my neighborhood of drugs and containment and prostitution and police reprisal, watching it all…all night long. It was around this time that I watched Katrina unfold on the television and at the show that night, those disastrous affects were still paramount in my mind. I felt a loss, one that still affects me at times today…the people lost during the storm, the loss of housing and resources during that storm and as I watched and listened to the show that night I thought about all of it…even as Ani herself reminded us all of the ongoing struggles in Louisiana.

And two nights ago I saw her play again, and I thought some more, about Milwaukee, Seattle, New Orleans and San Francisco…about how much I’ve changed over all these years and about how much our society and these cities have changed. The increasing inequality, the gentrification driving out longtime residents, the political games being played in some far away world while people are being strangled in their homes or on the streets by a lack of opportunity, lack of food, lack of health care and a corporation sought, and government enabled willful transition of money, up to the highest rungs of a ladder whose lower rungs were seemingly smashed for good by the financial collapse of 2008. A growing segment of America’s population gets willfully discarded or ignored, left to dwindling resources they are blamed for needing, shamed for falling victim to a system that has destroyed them through destruction of pensions, false foreclosures, cutbacks on energy and food assistance, skyrocketing rents and layoffs.

I feel fortunate to have the times for these reflections; they remind me to try to do more, to be more than I am on given days and I feel fortunate to see a performer and a performance that helps provide a medium and an open, musical space for these reflections. A life’s soundtrack is an overly used expression, but probably overused because of the truth behind it and there are several performers I would include on that list…the aforementioned Slayer, the Nine Inch Nails, the Dax Riggs and Dr. Johns…and Ani Difranco. So much corruption and decay in this world and she plays, singing about it all, with an energized, joyful anger…and a politics of reality that resonates with so many, myself included.

And of course, who can forget the mistakes…I’ve made so many mistakes over the years and her mistake on Nottoway helps reflect that as well and that’s fine, so long as we all learn and try to do better, be better. And move on once the apologies have been made. As stated before, it was a great show and I feel fortunate to have seen it for the performance, the stories she told from the stage and the time needed to think about who I was and who I’ve become, about the mistakes I’ve made and what I still need to learn and what I need to do.

There’s so much more to do…with joy.

And music.

And integrity.

Have a nice day.

It happened again last night…

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Another Friday night in the sister-city…

Walking down Polk Street and taking a left onto Sutter, I passed the entrance to one of the many bars just as a rather rotund fellow came stumbling out. He said something to me, rather excitedly but I had ear phones on and couldn’t hear him. Again, we do that here so random strangers typically don’t try to talk to us, but he was insistent. I took out an ear-bud and he grinned, red-faced and sweaty…

“Is that a who-dat sweatshirt?”

I nodded, “Yeah.”

“And your hat, Giants. Who-dat and the Giants!”

I laughed, “Uh-huh.”

“Man, that was a great year! Super Bowl and the Giants win their first series! I’m from New Orleans, born and raised. You made my night!”

He stuck out his hand and I shook it, saying, “Used to live at the corner of St. Ann and Royal.”

“St. Ann and Royal!” He yelled, looking up at the night-sky, “Christ I miss home!”

And then we parted ways and I continued up Nob Hill to meet a friend for drinks. As I’ve written before, it’s a common occurrence round these parts. All it takes is one simple symbol in this chilly city to find a warm exchange…

The fleur-de-lis.

Heard dat, and see you all real soon…

Have a nice day.

Not so undercover…

Like a sore thumb...
Like a sore thumb…

I like to keep a low profile.

I’m the background guy, the one standing in the back of the room, watching, paying attention and figuring out what to do next… It’s a role I’m most comfortable and familiar with and my ability to hide in plain sight works well, most of the time.

You see, in the city of San Francisco, I live in one of the worst neighborhoods where people don’t like to be known so I slide quietly through, eyes open and watching the drug deals behind parked cars or out in the open. I hug the building facades on midnight strolls looking at lit candles and flowers and graffiti placed seemingly at random alongside a wall, maybe on Leavenworth Street but marking a place not random at all, another place somebody died on some night, some day. I move through groups of homeless people who if they eye me at all, eye me suspiciously and I especially enjoy sitting on benches outside of darkened, closed, small urban parks where the bus comes, stops and then moves on while across the street people huddle against the outside walls of twenty-four hour convenience stores bathed in the neon glow from beer signs. I’m good at being unseen, fortunate to be ignored or when not, physically big enough for most to realize there are easier targets in my neighborhood’s night…

That is, unless I’m wearing one particular brand of clothing…one emblem in fact that pulls me from this background, from these shadows and from my more comfortable anonymity.

The fleur-de-lis.

It’s a defining difference out here. I can wear anything by the San Jose Sharks, any band living or dead or just my usual mostly all black, but if I’m wearing the fleur-de-lis, it might as well be a warm spotlight on these darkened streets, and with this symbol, you find friends and acquaintances you never knew you had and sometimes, on those rare nights where one doesn’t want to be so nondescript, it’s awesome.

“Saints!” I hear called out from across Ellis Street.

“NOLA!” shouts a guy rounding the corner onto Larkin.

“New Orleans, baby…” says the person I pass while coming out of the movie on Van Ness Avenue.

Just the other day, I was wearing a sweatshirt with that well known symbol, partially hidden under a black jacket and I found myself engaged in conversation with a woman outside my building, someone I’d seen a number of times but never acknowledged until she saw the fleur-de-lis…and suddenly we’re talking about Uptown, the Bywater, Mandina’s, seeing Rebirth at the Maple Leaf. She told me how she and her mother were displaced after Katrina and how they wound up in San Francisco living in subsidized housing, how they really want to go home and still can’t. We talked about restaurants we knew, stores that are long gone and the vibrant, warmer, slower feeling in New Orleans that, much as I enjoy this city, is very, very different.

The symbol.

It’s really that simple and it says something which is probably not news to a lot of people until you maybe experience it for yourself – New Orleans has a special place in the hearts of most any who have ever been there, lived there and/or left there. It’s simply that kind of place.

Last night, I had the good fortune of seeing a musician’s first stage performance in San Francisco. He’s someone I know through work and he helps make my job just a little bit better, a few more laughs and a bit more relaxed…all because he’s from New Orleans. We have nothing else in common really, nothing but that city and we hang out here and there, just talking about the politics, the Quarter, the Marigny, the river. We talk about three egg breakfast from Verti-Mart brought by bicycle to the bar at 3 am. Best yet, we reminisce about the look of the fog as it rolls into the Quarter off the river, lending a few square blocks some of the most darkly beautiful atmosphere I’ve ever experienced.

A little something else about San Francisco: it does have its own beauty, the Ocean and the Bay, City Lights and Vesuvios, the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park but man, it is a cold place and I don’t just mean the temperature. People here are wary of strangers. They rarely speak to one another on the street. Hell, eye contact is asking a lot round here. It’s just not done, which of course means, for someone who likes to sit in the background or go unnoticed, this can be a real easy kind of town, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing0 even if it is my preference. I’ve lived in my building for a year. 40 apartments. I don’t know anyone’s name and have never stumbled more than a halted hello or two. But two weeks ago I was on a city bus, coming back from the grocery store wearing a Saints hat and some guy I didn’t know was talking rapidly at me. I didn’t know what he was saying cause I had headphones on. You do that here so people don’t talk rapidly to you, but he was real insistent so I pulled out an ear bud and he grinned…

“Saints baby!”

I laughed and he clapped me on the shoulder before getting off at the next stop.

No, not so undercover when you’re wearing the fleur-de-lis.

New Orleans got a spirit, even 2300 plus miles away. It’s infectious and it will make a stranger your friend and sometimes, every once in awhile, even that guy in the background could use a friend.

NOLA baby…

Love it, and wouldn’t have it any other way…

Have a nice day.

Down: A little New Orleans in San Francisco…

Last night I attended a little shindig put on by Down, a great band from New Orleans.

Great show. Knew all the songs. Got some bruises. A lot of spilled beer. I suppose that’s all I need to say about it and if it had been a normal night, maybe that’s all I would…but when I got home after the show, a quick eight block walk through my beloved Tenderloin, I couldn’t get to sleep. I just laid in my bed, my ears ringing while I stared at the ceiling…thinking. On the street outside, people were shouting. I heard a scream. Maybe a gunshot? Don’t know for sure. Those sounds are pretty typical so no worries. Sirens. Ho-hum…but I couldn’t get to sleep. reminded me of my place many years ago in the Quarter where I would listen to the revelry on St. Ann below my hurricane doors and balcony and yeah, thinking…

Thinking.

Fuck I miss New Orleans.

That’s what was going through my mind. I miss the hell out of New Orleans.

Out here in San Francisco, I can watch all the Treme I want. I can go to Brenda’s for breakfast lunch and dinner. I can go see bands like Down when they come round, or Rebirth brass Band or Dr. John or whoever…but these things make me miss New Orleans all the more.

Where I work, at a support services apartment building for people who’ve been through the mill…or maybe four, five and six mills, I was actually put in charge of organizing the Mardi Gras celebration with and for the building residents. I was talking to one guy who asked about decorations. I laughed and said I’ll just bring in all the shit hanging on my walls for the day. He thought I was kidding until I described the things hanging on my wall…art, beads, posters. Hell I got a full sized City of New Orleans flag on my wall.

But no, none of that helps either.

And then last night at the show…don’t get me wrong, the music was great…beyond great. It’s the best show I’ve seen since I moved back to San Francisco but what really got me thinking about things were the band members and how much fun they were having. Down’s a pretty serious band, heavy stuff and dark moods, but when the singer leads the crowd in a chant of “Fuck the Falcons,” before they even play a note or when the guitarist mentions how he is envious of the 49ers defense because the Saints just have two offenses and then the general camaraderie of the band between songs: the laughter, the obviously long friendships and the feel. Yeah, that feel…for brief moments inside the Regency Ballroom last night, I felt like I was hanging out at the Maple Leaf or maybe the Spotted Cat, the Blue Nile or One Eyed Jack’s. Felt like community, that’s how it felt, and it’s a feeling still with me today, right now as I type this.

To New Orleans and the people I’ve come to know there…you’re missed and much as I love San Francisco…

I got some more thinking to do.

Have a nice day.

Down – Eyes of the South

It’s a love/hate thing…now featuring GoatWhore!

“Oh hell to the no…”

I woke up this morning in San Francisco, stumbled to the coffeemaker and then to my desk…and after turning on the computer, I put on the latest release by GoatWhore, one of New Orleans finest metal bands and leaned back in my chair. Coffee was good, not chicory good, but certainly Peet’s good. I heard shouting from the street, then police sirens and I turned the music up. I hear shouting on the street and police sirens every day, so much so that a lot of the time, they don’t really register and usually, that’s okay…

Today, I love San Francisco and am alright with not living in New Orleans. But yesterday, I was really annoyed with San Francisco and wished I could be in New Orleans.

This is the spectrum I drift across.

Oh, and the GoatWhore CD is called “Blood for the Master,” and it is crazy fucking good and imagine my surprise to hear GoatWhore mentioned in a recent episode of Treme…figures it would be the journalist from the Bay Area who wanted to see their show. But back to my point, what was my point?

Indecisiveness, that and 2001. And Albuquerque, yes, that’s my point…Albuquerque sucks.

But first, 2001 was a pretty big year in my life. I decided to leave Seattle and travel the country, writing. I wound up in Portland, Las Vegas, New York, the Black Hills, Los Angeles, but most important, this is the year I visited both San Francisco and New Orleans for the first time…and now in 2012, I’ve spent time living in both places.

The span I lived in New Orleans was pre-Katrina so rents were cheap. I worked 26 hours a week tending bar and this was enough to pay all my bills and go out, often. I didn’t really leave the Quarter much, where I lived and worked and I had a good time. Met a lot of good people and some not-so-good, but that’s to be expected. I was a bartender and the people who make up the service industry, at least back then were all drama, all the time. Kind of like living in a soap opera of who’s sleeping with who, who’s getting fired from where and who got beat up last night. I remember getting tipped with Saints tickets, with LSD, all kinds of fun stuff. Good times really, I enjoyed it. Funny to me that I had to move away to begin exploring the city more, leaving the Quarter’s comfy confines and heading Uptown, Mid-City or to the Bywater, the Marigny…wherever. But what I remember most about my time living in New Orleans, besides the amazing food and plentiful booze was that I was glad to leave…not because of any real dislike of the city, it was simply because I missed social work. I was unable to find a social work gig while I was in town and bartending, though definitely fun, was feeling overall pretty meaningless to me. I wanted to get back to work helping people and so I left for the Midwest, with plans to stay for a year and build up a nest egg before relocating again to San Francisco, a place where I may not have liked the culture as much as New Orleans, but it had the social work gigs.

And that’s what I did.

Did I mention GoatWhore’s new release?

Really good…and they’re playing One Eyed Jacks on November 19th. Do yourself a favor…go, and make me jealous for going. I won’t hate you…

Much.

Anyways…

So I moved out to San Francisco and stayed for about five years. It doesn’t have the culture of New Orleans and which culture is better would purely be a matter of taste, but I find mine more suited to New Orleans ease and friendliness and whatnot. Out here, people are less friendly, more isolated and really don’t appear to be having all that much fun. One of the bigger myths you might encounter is this idea of a progressive, liberal San Francisco and sure, there is an element of that, but it is not predominant. This city is about money. Greed. All the artistic freedoms so championed hides a big lie, being that the city is so expensive to live in the people who do live here as musicians or artists or writers really have two choices: live in a studio with two to three roommates or live in Oakland. Everywhere you look…every retail position, server, all the people who make this city run, they don’t live in this city. They commute in to serve the hipster-techies, the financial types and the oh so professional class. Even myself, with a good job…only way I can afford to live here is to reside in a small studio in one of the worst parts of town (worse being relative..I actually like it). But, the work I love to do is here. I have a job where when I get home at night, I feel satisfied and fulfilled for the most part and I have the time and a few dollars to do partake in that which I do enjoy. In a way, San Francisco is kind of like how New Orleans has become for a lot of people, post Katrina. The rents are so high, people can’t afford it. Property companies in San Francisco are buying up as many of the buildings as they can in my neighborhood, sometimes even sitting on empty apartments while they watch the rental market rate climb, then they hold open houses and charge each person thirty dollars to run credit checks, and a week later they’ll do it again, and again. On average, 20-30 people apply for each of these apartments, each time there’s a viewing. Do the math…

Yes, love/hate it is…the arts out here are something to experience…the art museums, all the concerts within walking distance, the scenery of the Bay and the Pacific Ocean, all the hills with their huge, majestic views of downtown or North Beach. Man, it’s really beautiful, especially if you ignore the police brutality in my neighborhood, all the tax breaks given to all the tech start-ups while the city cuts funding to social programs. That, and the drinks’ll cost you ten bucks, plus if you go to a bar with “Mixologists,” you’ll get some goofy drink with bacon in it for twenty dollars while everyone in the joint, mixologists and clientele alike take themselves really, really seriously.

Really seriously.

So yeah…it’s a love/hate kind of thing.

Just ask the guy who lives on the sidewalk in front of my building.

When I come home at night, he’s sleeping on cardboard. When I leave for work in the morning, he smiles and wishes me a good day and I like him, he’s one of the friendliest people in the City, but he’s got no home and I get it. The home he could have is an SRO room filled with crack, bedbugs, roaches, and other assorted predators. This is usually the housing solution for too many low-income people here and I get that it is the same most other places, but when your city lives on a bullshit myth of being “so progressive,” it does make the reality that much more glaring.

The spectrum:

I love New Orleans culture, the music, the history, the food…I can picture myself sitting down to a steak at Adolfo’s right now, or maybe lunch at Mandina’s, but there’s few social work jobs in town paying a liveable wage, plus I would more than likely need a car…and I hate cars. Cars suck worse than the San Francisco Police Department, or the NOPD for that matter. Meanwhile…I love San Francisco work, but the culture of this place is so much status, cliques and competition: two worlds of strikingly disparate haves and have nots. Ever see the Hunger Games? Think of all the regular people and the artists being bussed into Capitol City in the Hunger games. Hell, there’s a blog round here which pretty much exists to attack the unfortunate and a particular Chronicle columnist who seems to feel the best way to improve Capitol City would be a Wal-Mart in every neighborhood, built on the ashes of any non-profit and publicly naked person because you know, that’s just common sense.

Really, what an asshole.

Maybe there is a happy medium somewhere, but when I look at a map, that happy medium puts me in New Mexico, somewhere around Albuquerque and I’ve seen Breaking Bad…Albuquerque doesn’t look like fun: blue meth, bleak deserts and the plot lines get real complicated. So yeah, much ongoing in the thought process. Hell, there’s worse things to wonder about. I got a place to sleep, enough to eat and a job I enjoy. I just think a lot, probably too much at times…and I do plan to be up online more often from here on out, get back to the BP Spill…what? That’s still an issue? And more about San Francisco and New Orleans…two best cities in the country, problems or not…and GoatWhore. Much more to come about GoatWhore, spectrums, and the Saints, who won this morning.

Did you know Saints games start here at 10am?

Been a long time since I had a beer in my hand at 10 in the morning and now that I think about it, the last time was when I lived in New Orleans.

Ah, spectrums can be such dilemmas.

Have a nice day.

Today would be that day…westward.

No, I can't afford to live in this neighborhood...pretty though huh?

By the time any of you read this, I will have left my comfy confines in the Midwest for a far more uncertain future on the West Coast…San Francisco to be exact. Got some money saved, a lot of social work experience, several contacts and possibilities and a 2nd job interview already scheduled for three days after my arrival…

Oh, and did I mention the San Jose Sharks are in the playoffs? If ur around, I’ll be at the Outsider on Geary Street watching the games.

Anyways, the past two years of writing this blog have been frustrating, fascinating and fun. I’ve met a lot of good people in the New Orleans area and plan to meet more. My change of scenery isn’t the end of this blog, however, it will be a bit spotty the coming weeks as I’ll be writing it on a shitty laptop over wi-fi connections until I get things all set up.

Furthermore…this cross country move will be my fourth of this type. Every previous transition has been one solely of great adventure, possibility and new experience…good things all, but this time it is bittersweet. Although it does contain that similar sense of thrill and excitement, it’s also tempered by sadness.

Those who know, know why.

Enough said…

Alright then, a couple of links before I go, for those not already in the loop…

Of course I will stay informed about all things New Orleans the next four days as I drive through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Nevada and California…how can one not with Editilla around, putting together the New Orleans Ladder?

BTW…fuck Sean Pamphilon, what an asshole.

And of course I will stay informed about the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs by way of Fear the Fin.

BTW…fuck the Blues, Go Sharks!

So then, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you all back up here soon…and I’ll also be looking forward to May 12th, more than anything.

Have a nice day.

-Drake

Melinda Haag, US Attorney for Northern California warns banks to shut down, or be closed down…

And the Haag says: marijuana dispensaries helping cancer patients? Bad. Banks taking cancer patient's homes? Good.

Oh wait…

Not banks, marijuana dispensaries…my bad.

But you can of course understand my confusion, considering Melinda’s most recent statement:

“Marijuana dispensaries are full of cash and they’re full of marijuana, and everybody knows that…they are at risk of being robbed, and many of them are robbed…people in the community may be supportive of the dispensary until there’s an armed robbery and people come running out of the dispensary shooting guns.”

Ah, I see…

So Melinda wants to close dispensaries as they are in danger of being robbed, what with all that cash inside…

Really.

Then…why not close the banks?

You want to talk about cash inside…especially the banks that are close to schools, yes, they must be forced to shut down now…immediately. And I am sure the people who normally support the banks in their community would quickly change their minds if confronted with armed assailants, coming out of the banks shooting at their kids, their cats and dogs, grandma…hell, shooting at everybody.

Oh but hold on, hold on…

Also according to Melinda, these marijuana dispensaries are committing crimes, maybe not on the state level, but certainly federal statutes so really, she could shut them all down if she so chose, but she isn’t so you see, she’s being fair and reasonable after all.

Fine.

Then again, shut down the banks, especially the ones close to people’s homes because the banks are committing not only federal crimes, but state crimes as well…

Mortgage and foreclosure fraud, not to mention the defrauding of investors by selling derivatives with bogus grade A ratings…you know, all that stuff the banks did to make themselves great profit while helping cause the collapse of the housing market and the ensuing recession, yeah, that little economic morass that cost houses, jobs, pensions?

Right, so this is Melinda Haag’s crusade, this is her choice, either go after the marijuana dispensaries selling medicine to cancer patients, or the banks that are stealing the cancer patient’s homes and pensions…and Melinda chooses to leave the banks alone so she can focus in on those non-profit dispensaries, the dispensaries that donate to charity, give good health insurance to their employees while paying them a livable wage, in the Bay Area…the dispensaries that pay their share of taxes, contribute to city revenue and get few complaints from their neighbors. Yes-sir, Melinda Haag, that devotee to justice orders a shut down, because the dispensaries might be robbed, because they are funneling their product nationwide, because they are a crime center…

Yet, when asked, she and her office will provide no proof for any of these latter charges.

Meanwhile, the criminal banks commit fraud, illegally foreclose on peoples homes, use robo-signers and dangle out all that cash, just an open invitation for multiple, multiple bank robberies at many of their financial crime centers, and many of them within residential communities, near schools, near preschools and damnit, even near maternity wards…I mean, think of the CHILDREN!…and all of these charges are well-documented.

But Melinda Haag does nothing, they all remain open, they agree to a settlement that is little more than a slap on the wrist, financially while nobody, not one of these banking types go to jail.

Melinda closes nothing, does nothing…

Nothing, but get her name in the papers one more fucking time for going after medicinal marijuana dispensaries, approved of within their communities and legally approved by the state of California’s voters.

As Chris Roberts writes in SF Weekly, regarding the allegations by Haag of complaints and crimes around the dispensaries:

“So the feds won’t name the schools, won’t name the complainants, and won’t provide the statistics used to justify the crackdown. But trust them: The problems are real.”

Trust…right…tell ya what Melinda, I’ll start to trust you when the Feds finally really do something to reign in the criminal enterprises known as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Chase…until then, I got nothing for ya’ but scorn. You’re an absolute fraud who may know the law, but knows nothing about justice.

Read the articles:

Medical Marijuana Crackdown Explained: Feds Are Saving the Children

Berkeley Patients Group, City’s Most Prominent Medical Marijuana Dispensary, To Close

Then if so inclined, please call, tell Melinda Haag what you think about her brand of American Justice and her utter lack of honesty about this crackdown:

Federal Courthouse
450 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

The U.S. Attorney’s office is located on the 11th Floor of the Federal Courthouse.

Phone: (415) 436-7200
Fax: (415) 436-7234
TTY: (415) 436-7221

Have a nice day.

So, this is the Tenderloin…San Francisco…

Always liked the rain...

The Tenderloin: the TL, Little Saigon, the Loin, Tenderloin Heights…

Fifty square blocks or so wedged between San Francisco’s downtown Civic Center – City Hall, the courthouses and Federal buildings – and the main Shopping/Financial Districts with your Niketown’s, Apple Stores, Macy’s and rapists like Bechtel, the banks and their assorted bullshit…fifty square blocks crammed into the center of San Francisco that too many people of this city either try to ignore or take great pains to avoid.

Fifty square blocks that in my opinion, form one of the most interesting neighborhoods in the country…

Why?

Because, as a person, I don’t fit into a box…like so many I can be complex, conflicted and contradictory…and I never saw all these elements so put together and on display as the five years I lived in an apartment building at the corner of Turk and Leavenworth, and the affection I have for the place is one of many reasons why, one month from today, I’m moving back…

Oh…but it’s so rundown, so crime-ridden, drug infested and it smells like hella piss, don’t ya know…

Yeah, I know…

But I find it so much more vivid than so many of our American suburbs, or Home Depot homogenized cities, these monotonous places on a fast track to mass consumer conformity, so ugly that when one walks out the door, one knows precisely what headache one will get: a Burger King, a McDonalds, a strip mall Barnes, Bath and Beyond Noble Starbucks, and maybe a convenience store or two, a newly insatiable Wal-Mart and a few miserable, but shiny people walking quickly past you on the street, some hello’s maybe, so mundane, definitely… Things ain’t like that in the TL. In the Tenderloin, anything can happen, both good and bad and if you stay on the streets long enough, you’ll see all of that anything. Very few semi-lawless places still exist in this country, and take it or leave it, the Tenderloin is one of those last remaining, crumbling demonstrations of the best and worst of American culture and its consequences.

We got colorful street art covering whole buildings and public drunkenness stretched out for blocks…loud games of Mahjong played behind steel security doors and that guy, sleeping below an afternoon blanket strung between two stolen shopping carts…We got Vietnamese sandwich shops and human shit between parked cars. We celebrate great music at punk rock bars, drag shows at Aunt Charlie’s and classic bay window, SRO architecture. We vibrate with the neon signs, the gyrating strip clubs and the dimmest of dive bars, and not the trendy kind of dive bars either…but real honest to goodness dark and damp closets without windows or fresh air, stale and in need of repair and when the outside doors are propped open to the streets, we have a beer while watching some of the most interesting public observation the city has to provide. The TL’s got small neighborhood parks where kids play, and our people walk by chanting “klonopins,” or “OC’s” or “solids,” maybe we’ll see a fist fight on the corner, watched from a window eating cheap, but great tacqueria food. Maybe we’ll step past discarded hypodermic needles in the gutter or another lost soul hitting another crack pipe beneath his t-shirt, stretched over his head, too high to realize he’s not wearing pants while we listen to shrieking siren after siren after siren as the police race the one-way streets or the fireman jumps off the fire engine, races inside the SRO only to walk stiffly back out, grumbling as he gets behind the wheel and drives back to the station from this, another false alarm.

The Mitchell Brothers, O’ Farrell Street Theater and Behind the Green Door?

The Tenderloin.

The Compton Riot in 1966 that predates New York’s Stonewall?

The Tenderloin.

Tessie Wall, Sam Spade, William Vollman, the Nighthawk jazz club and Fantasy Records?

The Tenderloin…this place where there’s always something to see, hear or avoid twenty four hours a day…and though it is sometimes dangerous, it’s never boring and it’s an amazing place to be.

Oh, and I suppose it helps that I’m a social worker…

I’ve been in the field for twenty years, been everything from an adult crisis counselor to a mental health worker in shelters and support service hotels, doing the job by day while at night, I take in my surroundings on midnight strolls, emerging from my old apartment on Pill Corner and walking until three am…walking and watching and watching some more…and despite the neighborhood’s reputation, believe it or not, I was never terrorized, robbed, beaten up…

None of it.

In all those years of wandering, nothing ever happened to me, not while talking to the dealers I came to know while sitting and smoking cigarettes on the front steps of my building, or the odd corner conversation with those who live on the streets, maybe handing out a cigarette or joking around…I never even got hassled by the addicts I came to know through my work by day or the streets at night.

Sure, I spotted the precursors to a couple of robbery attempts: the baseball bat inside the trenchcoat on Turk near Jones, or the guy coming up behind me on Larkin, between O’Farrell and Geary while the guy in front tried stopping me for a light. Once I called 911 after the stranger I was talking to got jumped at Ellis and Hyde, and I waited around to make sure the ambulance came and hell, I even called in a body I stumbled across underneath the Moser Apartment overhang on Turk Street, right by the grocery store, the one owned by that cool Asian couple who let me borrow their hand truck when I moved…and that’s what I’m talking about…for all the bullshit reputations this neighborhood is forced to take on, the good stuff I’ve seen creates a more than equal balance. From the happiness of the toothless woman who begged change outside the Walgreens on Van Ness and Eddy, introducing me to her boyfriend, proudly telling me they were now engaged, to the guy I often spoke to out front of the corner store at Eddy and Leavenworth, telling me about his successful heart surgery…and I won’t soon forget the client I worked with at the shelter for just two weeks before he disappeared, only to have him break down and cry when I ran into him on the streets a year later outside Ken’s Kitchen at Polk and Eddy, emotional just because I remembered his name, and addressed him by it.

People.

They’re all people.

I don’t care how hard so many San Franciscans try to forget that basic fact, they’re still people.

The main newspaper in town, it loves to celebrate the occasional entrepreneur who raises himself up, out of the ashes of these streets, makes a success of himself and though these people should be celebrated, they shouldn’t be held up as a beacon to judge those not yet in the light. What about the guy who cries as you walk him into his first hotel room, the first place he’s been able to call his own in ten years. I’ve seen it…let’s celebrate that guy’s success too and let’s celebrate the people who made it through their haze, the needle or the pipe to get to another day, and another opportunity to do better, to be better. Yeah, celebrate them and don’t use the guy who made it shining shoes as an excuse to condemn those who pissed on yours. Rags to riches make a nice narrative, but they are the rare reality and surely not the benchmark with which to judge the rest of the Tenderloin, the rest of this amazing, colorful neighborhood.

Wanna know when you give up on an individual, for every poor choice he makes?

You don’t.

And wanna know when you give up on the Tenderloin?

Never.

Shit, you really want to fix these fifty blocks? Create jobs, lower rents, provide drug treatment, treatment, treatment… You want to get rid of panhandlers? You gotta do more than give people a room and call it a day…

That’s the reality.

The rest is just bitching from behind your closed, locked doors.

How can you give up on a place that is home to so many, and so unique, block after block of SRO’s and cheaper apartments, so many of which were built soon after the earthquake in 1906, and one of the few neighborhoods where low income individuals, families and for that matter, a social worker like me can afford to live…

And enjoy, and wander through and help to build…

It was my home a few years ago, and in a month it will be home again…and I couldn’t be happier about it…poetry readings at Edinburgh’s Castle, punk shows at the Hemlock and art shows at the Shooting Gallery…yeah, so the next time you find yourself in the TL, maybe having a beer at the Brown Jug, the 21 Club or taking in a Sharks game at the Outsider…

Take a look around, I just might be there…watching. Next to New Orleans, I can’t think of any place I’d rather be…

Have a nice day.

The winds of change…

Another Disenfranchised Citizen at the corner of Geary and Larkin, Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco. See ya soon...

Hello again…

Some of you out there are aware the moving days are upon me…just completed one move, literally down the street which helped pave the way for the big move, five weeks from today to New Orleans San Francisco. Originally, I wanted it to be New Orleans, but alas…you got yourself one fucked up governor down there and the only thing he likes better than giving no bid contracts to his campaign donors is to cut education and social services so…long story short…you got no jobs down there man! Not for a person like me…so I go to the one other place I enjoy so much and that would be San Francisco…

So, what does this mean for the Citizen…well…there gonna be somewhat of a pivot going on round here…

Now…never you fear, I got enough hatred of oil companies like BP and frankly any company who run roughshod over a populace with complicit politicians, government agencies, the courts…Looking at you Barbier and a bunch of asshole lawyers like Feinberg and the Plaintiff Steering Committee…

For example, if you haven’t seen this article yet, man…really, check it out:

BP Settlement Sells Out Victims

Wait, what? You mean to tell me the people of the Gulf Coast got screwed again?

No way, say it ain’t so…

However…like I mentioned, there will be a pivot where I’ll also now be writing about some Bay Area stuff…like the coming fiscal and environmental tragedy called the America’s Cup…where you just know the city of San Francisco in general, and the people who can least afford it in specifics are all about to get financially hosed by a bunch of wealthy bastards on racing yachts…oh yeah, and then of course there’s San Francisco’s newly elected Sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi who is about to go to court on domestic violence charges…

Yeah, and I’ll be attempting to keep writing while I move cross-country, find a job, find an apartment..etc… Hell, I even had to go buy me a new smart phone for the task…

Oh, and by the way…want to know a huge similarity between California and New Orleans?

One big fucked up levee system courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers with a long legacy of mismanagement and shortcuts.

Anyways, wish me luck and I’ll see you back here tomorrow afternoon…

Have a nice day.

-Drake