All photos taken of the same construction site at 8th and Mission, tracking the progress of yet another one of San Francisco’s future apartment buildings. Aside from the rainbow shot, all taken from various floors at SFPUC HQ.
In 1999, I had the enormous pleasure and privilege of performing with the Thunderbird Theatre Company (possibly the only theater company in history named after a motel in Chico, California) in a cowboy comedy called Lariats of Fire. I played the virtuous Marshall Stewart, who drank a potent brown liquid “…called lat-tays, and a lat-tay is a kinda coffee made from an Italian coffee called ee-spresso. Don’t be surprised if you taste something strange to you. It’s called hazelnut, and I think it’s dee-licious.” That remains one of my greatest experiences in acting.
A curious feature of the excellent cast consisted of this: aside from myself, and an actress who moved to Hollywood and failed to make it there, everyone else in the 15-strong cast worked in various dot-coms in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco. All of them worked ridiculous hours for a rediculous number of days per week, for a rediculous (as in rediculously low) salary–and rediculous amounts of stock options in the companies for which they worked. In a few years, their companies would go public. Following the model of companies such as Pets.com, they would cash in their options for millions of dollars, and they would quit their jobs en masse and devote the rest of their lives to acting in movies and films.
In simple English, they were this close to paradise before the age of 30.
Yours truly, the low-paid temp at the time, did not envy his fellow actors. Envy is The Pointless Emotion–it does nothing to make your life better and everything to make your life worse. I felt nothing but happiness for them. I could not partake of the same great fortune as did they. Silicon Valley and the San Francisco dot-coms would not have the likes of me for one simple reason.
A now-defunct but then a must-read weekly called Tech Week or TechWeek (whichever) published exactly one Anonymous article during its short history, written by an HR specialist in the Valley whose company blatantly practiced age discrimination. His or her article explained that they discriminated, how they got away with it, and why they felt that they had to commit age discimination. I don’t know if anyone else remembers the story, but at the time it whipped up a huge storm in the tech world.
Well, Tech Week or TechWeek (whichever) is long gone, a casualty of the dot-bomb. So is every single one of the companies where my friends worked. So is every single one of their stock options. Some of them were only a few months away from wealth. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only cast member out of 15 who still lives in San Francisco.
San Francisco, the world’s ultimate boom-or-bust city, has attracted the attention and fascination of the world again. The New York Times recently published an article going to great lengths to describe how our legendary Exploratorium moved all of their exhibits from their old home in the Marina to the new one on Pier 15. Everyone seems to want to weigh in on the new San Francisco constructing itself before our very astonished eyes.
Salon has become the latest to chime in, with a sometimes brilliant, usually witty, and always snarky article (How the Internet ruined San Francisco, again) on the changes in my hometown. The author makes some superb points worth keeping in mind the next time some major media outlet publishes some major media article about Baghdad by the Bay. The funny thing is that some of the commenters disagreeing with him also make some superb points in reply. The best comment: “It’s not like the displaced artists and minorities and other longtime residents ever moved back. So, you know, the fact that it’s happening again does, in fact, suck.”
And that is the best and worst of San Francisco’s latest boom, summed up in one sentence, and the commenter probably doesn’t even know it. We don’t know what comes next. The Salon writer is absolutely correct to skewer the moaners and whiners who moan and whine about how things are changing and therefore they are changing for the worst (sic). However, it is every bit as correct to wonder what happens when the artists who make San Francisco well, uh, you know, San Francisco move out–which frankly looks inevitable. No one, but no one, has any idea of what will move in, and the people who assert that life will be fine and dandy because life has always been fine and dandy are no less ignorant of the future.
The San Francisco Future could prove amazing, glorious and wonderful, as new art forms spring up, created by the tech workers moving into the city during their days off from work. And I would truly be a total and hopeless moron to lament changes that have not yet arrived–for cryin’ out loud, a WordPress blogger complaining about the tech boom?? Our gracious hosts are those very same tech workers, and I’ve visited the WP HQ on Mission Street! Heck, I want to know when they plan to go public.
However, San Francisco historically has proven a city of busts as big–and as inevitable–as the booms. When the next bust comes down upon like an earthquake from above, and the city empties out again, who will move in?
My final speech as the virtuous Marshall Stewart of Lariats of Fire, to the equally virtuous Sheriff Betty: “And I would be honored to have a warrior woman like you by my side. A woman true to herself, and in touch with both the feminine, and masculine, aspects of her spirituality.” I want to say lines as bizarre and inspired as that for decades and decades to come. I want to say those lines in San Francisco, as part of a cast of wild and crazy artists who can somehow afford to live in this magnificent City by the Bay.
Vonn Scott Bair
PS–I forgot to mention something in Part III of this series. All those people who obtained real estate licenses in 2004-2005? Today, I read their job applications.