A gated community. A city that is becoming uniformly wealthy, out of reach and out of touch. Too much reclaimed wood. Too many high-backed chairs. Teardrop light fixtures, everywhere. Soulless where there used to be a soul. Blank screens where there used to be imagination…Some shitty tapas place called Bask (get it, it’s Basque!) where there used to be Clown Alley. Whatever it is, San Francisco (and its football team) is fucking terrible, but not yet beyond repair.
There’s a moment in Alex Pelosi’s compelling new HBO doc San Francisco 2.0 when the camera pans over to the crumbling concrete-and-rebar remains of Candlestick Park. Like a spaceship that crash-landed decades ago and has been marveled at, pulled apart and now ignored—the stadia sits there slowly merging once more with the horizon.
A resident of neighboring Hunter’s Point—a woman who is one of the thousands of long-time San Francisco denizens who currently faces eviction in the name of progress—laments the closing of “her” stadium. Seagulls swarm overhead like vultures as cranes remove the ramshackle homes and graffiti’d storefronts she grew up amongst. Crews work double time to replace the old with temporary-looking shelters. Ikea-ized versions of aspirational Dwell magazine-ready structures—all right angles, plate glass and “eco-friendly” composite materials.
Candlestick Park, looking every bit the dystopian scorched earth backdrop—a discarded set from a Neill Blomkamp film—was a brilliantly stark reminder of where the city is going in its continuing crusade to whitewash over the dark corners—or at least its murals. The statistics are depressing: 2,500 residences involuntarily vacated per year (and climbing.) If you click one link today, click this one for the PowerPoint on wrongful or forced eviction put together by SF’s Anti-Displacement Coalition.
The overriding concern, which former mayor Willie Brown summed up in the doc is: everything, including this generation of “young geniuses,” gets old. And nothing ages worse than technology.
Pelosi’s doc draws a parallel between the current infestation of bro coders and Valley wunderkinds and the guy with an advanced degree and thirty years work experience living in squalor in the Tenderloin as a ward of the state—no income, no prospects and no one returning his calls. Too young to retire, too old not to be discarded. Every boom has its bust and though San Francisco, like yesterday’s ingenue succumbing to Botox®, will find a way to reinvent itself—or at least plump out its lips and stick out its hips—is going to be anchored with a massive midlife crisis in less than two decades as the artisanal cocktail swilling, photos of reclaimed wood walls and chalkboard menus posting, left- or right-swiping innovators of tomorrow find themselves more bloated and outmoded than the gas guzzling car model that shares their same birth year.
A city is a fragile ecosystem and when you move out the creatures who do actual work—the beavers who engineer the dams, the egrets who build their nests… and fill the waters with young and hungry crocodiles, it’s only a matter of time before all the resource is dried up, sucked away and the carcass is discarded. And when you fuck with something so fragile as a small city’s biosphere, the real side effect—the evaporation of its delicate soul—is the only reasonable outcome.
I was reminded of this while watching the San Francisco 49ers continue their dismal march though the 2015 campaign cowering at home over the weekend to the fan-owned, still-relevant Packers. At this point, less than five weeks into the season, the once most-decorated and proud franchise in all of sports has been reduced to a child squirming in his seat refusing its vegetables.
In some ways, suffering through a 49er game is an exercise in persistence—thinking about these old 49er faithful balking at re-education made me smile. Resist! Most of Generation One: The Kezar-and-Brodie sect who happened to hitch their wagon to a winner, have died out or at least aged out of the desired demo. But there are some, perhaps I am one of them, who grew up during that gilded era and still have enough sepia-toned memory—mostly about how happy our dads were for a few hours every Sunday when the rest of life, well, was pretty much a grind—to sustain at least moderate interest. Either way, my grandfathered nostalgia and I were told to back off Warchild when that first golden shovel kissed the ground in Santa Clara to build the tax-payer and Goldman Sachs-funded Erector Set of corporate-friendly inequity in the shadow of the Google campus.
But, something else bothered me when I attempted to watch the 49ers Sunday. I realized, they’re just not interesting anymore. The glass menagerie stadium isn’t welcoming. The head coach is a pitiable slob, a patsy of Oswaldian proportions. The players are disaffected and drab. The ownership is uncharismatic and detached. There is absolutely zero there there.
Only then I realized, that’s exactly the same feeling I have when I set foot on the familiar but completely unattainable soil of today’s San Francisco. It’s no longer The City. It’s not the fog-lined streets Herb Caen described as a woman putting on her slip and sneaking out in the pre-dawn shadows of Sunday morning. It’s not the foghorn quieting conversation over cocktail hour. It’s not finding comfort in all the similarly octagon-tiled bathroom floors of Pacific Heights. It’s not the steam rising from the manhole covers, straightening out the wrinkles in your slacks as you hit the ground running off Muni, late for a 9 a.m. Monday meeting.
It’s not that I still don’t have to swallow hard when admiring the majestic sundial shadow cast by Coit Tower over North Beach at dusk. It’s not that I can’t sneak into the Tonga Room and still feel, quite literally, the numbing effects of a drink consumed from a hollowed out pineapple take effect and transport me to a time when businessmen enjoyed three Martini lunches at Tadich and got their shoes buffed next to Shorenstein in the basement of the B of A building. When Giants games could be heard on the radio, cracks of the bat ricocheting off the the office buildings on California and ascending to Nob Hill and above. Where the Brown twins (Marian and Vivian) and their matching dresses, hats and hair ambled around like they were living in a snow globe. You have to look hard, but in the serpentine back alleyways of the Mission and the skunky street corners of the Haight, it exists. Some of that San Francisco, my City, hasn’t been demo’d yet. It’s still there, barely.
And The City shall survive, barely—even if a bit of that goop and grime of Dashiell Hammett’s de-colorized imprint is sitting at the bottom of a safe in the basement of the old mint, I believe it can outlast the current infestation.
I’m not so sure, however, I can say the same about the employers of the gremlin-in-the-pool spawn generation. Those companies, hellbent on turning a carefully crafted and marketed collection of zeros and ones into a surrogate for actual, real human interaction, inherently are flawed.
They are devoid of a conscious, of value—be it social, intrinsic, communal or monetary. When the hoax of coming together through technology is revealed—when everything shiny about how we insulate ourselves present-day in flimsy but formidable individual digital fortresses begins to fade; when the reality that machines and apps alienate, make arrogant noise, create an illusion of commentary, feedback and thoughtfulness where once there was actual dialogue, then what?
Once we (re)discover that a him or a her is more than an account and password and headshot, that we can put aside our devices in exchange for experience—where do we go? What will happen to the thousands of businesses that started without a sustainable revenue model when this round of funding dries up and this stock market plunges? What will happen to recycled ideas of recycled ideas? What will happen to the single-word vowel-laden quippy business names? Who will ping in the
break room communal work space if nobody else is there to pong?
Do I root for the demise of San Francisco 2.0 as vehemently as I root against this version of its home football team? Absolutely. It’s something I used to question, used to feel guilty about. Like am I that kind of sick individual who waits for tragedy and revels in delivering the bad news, just so I can see a reaction; just so I can take comfort in the fact that it’s not happening to me?
The answer is no.
I’m just ready for the party to be over. I am ready for The City to shut its eyes with the room spinning. Wake up late with a hangover. Take a quick shower. Wash off all the makeup and glitter, wipe the steam off the mirror, give itself a good hard look and say, “enough.”