Archive for the ‘San Francisco’ Category

Going Deeper Into The Meme

December 19th, 2013 6 Comments

Someone from the tech world wrote me back!

Last week I was caught in a false internet meme of a tech guy yelling at the protestors who body-blocked the Google bus to call attention to the housing crisis in San Francisco. He was quickly identified not as a man from Google, but a labor organizer who wanted to provoke a debate.

I was humiliated by being duped by this, as I confessed in my last blog post. I was so ready to believe this angry man was a Google employee because he said what I feared those people think as their huge flood of cash cleanses the city of natives like me. Yet, as I said when I confessed I’d been duped, I don’t know anyone from Google. I don’t know what they think or how they feel and it was wrong to make those assumptions.

Taking up that challenge is a man who rides in the Apple bus from San Francisco to Cupertino to work every day. He responded to my blog post because he has been stung in his own way by the hostility to him and his co-workers.

As he wrote:

Danelle, thank you for the honest explanation of how we can be duped by things you want to believe. I hope you’ll take the broader opportunity to reassess what you believe about tech employees that live in the city, of which I am one.

No one that I have ever met thinks that it’s just OK for long-time SF residents to be kicked out. None of us is out there evicting people. Most of us would support community efforts to improve things for everyone, even if it means higher taxes for those of us that can afford it.

At the same time, though, I can believe that you have a right to live here, but that *I have a right to live here too*, even though I was not born here. I support local shops, restaurants, the arts, and civic organizations. I vote here. I hope to live here the rest of my life, if I can. How am I not a part of this community too?

It seems ungenerous, and, well, un-San-Franciscan to demonize newcomers, in this case just because they can afford to live here. The busses are not the problem; they’ve just become a convenient symbol for other things that *are* problems. Why don’t we work together to solve those?

I agree with the writer that it is very un-San Francisco to demonize newcomers. One thing this city is known for is acceptance, but in my mind that is acceptance of artists, people who think differently, those who don’t participate in the conventional hustle for money, those who just are a little, or maybe a lot, off kilter. There were reasons the beats, the hippies, and gays came here: rent was cheap and the atmosphere was more tolerant than most places. What the writer is asking is for me to see those who have brought the on-rush of this huge amount of capital into the confined world of San Francisco real estate with the same tolerance as I see artists, free thinkers, radicals and outliers. I don’t.

There’s been an 8 percent rent increase in the last quarter alone creating a situation where the median monthly rent is $3,400. The number of evictions in the last year, according to the SF chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, was a record 1,700 and that doesn’t include the buyouts renters are taking to vacate their apartments for the wealthy. So while the writer and his friends are not posting eviction notices on the doors of my friends’ homes and tossing their belongings out into the street, the staggering increase in prices has driven landlords to use a number of unethical and even cruel tactics to chase out the rent controlled tenants who might be paying $800 for an apartment the landlord could now rent for $4000. He and his friends may be great people with empathetic souls, but their money is brutal.

San Francisco is a boom town, and those of us who grew up here have seen these cycles before. This time, though, it seems like an assault, not just a temporary spike in the economy and here’s why. My income has fallen dramatically because of the digital economy. As a writer I never made that much, but I raised two children on a pretty decent salary as a journalist and then as an author. The digital world has upended the way people pay, or don’t pay, for content. I’m at the top of my skills, but I’m making less now than I did when I was a pup journalist just hired by The New York Times. And while I am an enthusiastic consumer of tech, I am also its victim.

These dual assaults on my livelihood and on my ability to afford a place to live in my hometown is what makes it very easy for me to think my world would be better if the tech people lived some place else, like in those apartments Facebook is building next to its new Menlo Park campus.

The writer says he and many of his friends would be willing to pay more taxes, which shows a lack of understanding of how local taxes are collected. He can’t pay more taxes on his salary here as it is constitutionally illegal in California to impose an individual municipal income tax. Property tax is set at the state level by Prop. 13.
And although it’s not the writer’s fault, San Francisco tax policy favors millionaires. The city gave Twitter a break on payroll taxes that will cost the residents of San Francisco $22 million. The voters just changed that to a gross receipts tax, but mid-Market tech companies get breaks on that tax too. With the Twitter IPO creating an estimated 1600 new millionaires (who won’t have to pay much tax on their stock options) more money is about to flood into the real estate market, making my position here weaker still. He’s right that my anger about that is more properly directed at the Mayor and the griftocrat Board of Supervisors.

He says he wants to live here for the rest of his life and enjoy the shops, cafes and the arts. I hope he is able to do that. Yet if the evictions and the rent increases persist, it won’t be the same place he was attracted to originally.

He’s right the buses are a symbol that stimulates strong emotions in me as it is difficult to identify individuals with whom I can discuss my anger and frustration. I see the huge buses gliding through the narrow streets of the little village of my old neighborhood, Noe Valley, where I cannot afford to live.

Google bus stranded at 23rd and Noe in Noe Valley

There are the tech workers in their shiny cocoons already working on their laptops, oblivious to how much their presence increases the fragility of my connection to the things I hold dear. The urge to stop them at the bus stop is an urge to get them to take their eyes off their screens and look at me and those like me and acknowledge for a moment that they must do something besides have kind sentiments if they want the San Francisco they love to have the qualities that drew them here in the first place.

Anyway I am grateful to him for responding and for expressing his opinion in a reasonable fashion, as I have tried to do.  I hope others write to do the same.  It’s good to have a conversation about this and there is plenty more to say.

Passing On The Meme

December 11th, 2013 1 Comment

I got caught in an internet hoax, and I’m still stewing about how I got sucked in.

This is the clip I gleefully re-posted to Facebook: a supposed Google employee is yelling at San Franciscans who were blocking the departure of a company bus to Mountain View. They were protesting the rapid rent increases here brought on by the influx of high-paid tech employees.

In the clip the man screamed, “Why don’t you guys just move out of the way? I can pay my rent. Can you pay your rent? Then why don’t you go to a city where you can afford it? This is a city for the right people who can afford it. If you can’t afford it, it’s time for you to leave.”

As it turned out, this guy was not a Google employee but union organizer Max Bell Alper who was doing a bit of political street theater by pretending to be a Google employee.

I didn’t wait to find that out, even though his real identity was published in The Bay Guardian about an hour after I saw this. Although when I saw the clip on Facebook I had a little flutter of doubt about the truth of interaction, I ignored it. I quickly posted it to my Facebook page with the snarky precede, “Listen you pesky natives, if you can’t afford to live in the city of your birth, get a better job. The measure of your worth is your ability to pay $4000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. Otherwise, you’re just in this guy’s way.”

People like him are the jerks who are shoving me out of my hometown, I thought, driving the rents beyond affordability. The clip verified for me that they really are as horrible as I believe them to be. They are cruel, dismissive, and entitled, the worst of humanity, people who have no understanding of the havoc they are causing among the residents. They are the very visible hand of the marketplace that lately has been firmly at the small of my back shoving me out of the city of my birth.

I’m a fourth generation San Franciscan. My grandfather played for the San Francisco Seals. In Noe Valley, the charming working class neighborhood of my childhood, four generations of my family lived within walking distance of each other. I went to the same elementary school and middle school as my mom and I had some of her same teachers.

If someone like me, someone with deep roots and traditions that stretch back generations, can no longer claim this city as her own, then something profoundly wrong is happening. The effect of this huge increase in millionaires in San Francisco has made me feel that that man was telling me I have no right to live here. The clip gave me a chance to hate him and what is happening around me, the world where I am no longer one of the “right people.”

Truth is that I don’t know anyone who works at Google. I have no idea how they think. It is unfair of me to assume that they are as mean spirited and dismissive as Max Alper portrayed them to be. Yet there was something that felt so right and righteous about revealing their crass materialism in public (well, among my sympathetic Facebook friends).

There’s been a lot of these fake internet memes lately, so much so that The New York Times published a story about it on the front page of the business section yesterday. There was the waitress humiliated by customers who tipped her poorly because she they thought she was gay. (Yes, bigots are cheap and mean, my friends and here is the proof.) The Thanksgiving story about the airline passenger stuck next to fellow passengers behaving badly. (Yes, holiday travel exposes you to the worst people and the worst in people.) Even my respected colleague Alicia Shepard, formerly the ombudsperson for NPR, was fooled by a Kayne West meme asserting that he had compared himself to Nelson Mandela.

I think she gets a pass on that one. Kanye West says really stupid, egomanical things all the time.

When I was thinking about how I was duped I saw it as a five-stage process.

1) Someone I trust posts this thing. In this case it was Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, someone whose work I respect very much.
2) The meme rouses in me something that I have an emotional attachment to believing to be true.
3) That meme appears to prove something I fear and justifies the feeling that the world really is as bad as I think it is, that I’m not just making this stuff up.
4) I am conscious that posting it will arouse strong feelings in my friends.
5) I need to do this quickly because it’s likely to go viral and I want to be one of the first up with this shocking piece of the truth.

The impulses behind this are emotional, status and a sense of urgency, all factors that make one less likely to verify that something is true.

But the bigger insight isn’t my jackrabbit like lack of impulse control. It’s the fact that this thing, whatever it is, says something to me that I am fully capable of articulating on my own. I’m a writer. I have a website. If something enrages me, horrifies me or even makes me feel small and discarded, I have the skill and the forum for discussing it rather than doing the cheap and easy act of repeating, re-posting. This re-posting almost as false as the meme itself. It mimics an action, or mimics an attempt to say something but repeating is reflexive, immediate and shows no judgment.

Interviewing Kwame Harris

May 29th, 2013 No Comments




Kwame Harris said he needed to meet me before he’d agree to being featured in an article about his life as a gay player in the NFL for ESPN magazine.  Many journalists had contacted him after his preliminary hearing on domestic violence charges outed this former 49er in January, me among them. He’d turned them all down.


We met at Four Barrel Coffee on Valencia Street in San Francisco. He drove up from Stanford, where he was completing the undergraduate work he’d delayed in his junior year when the 49ers drafted him in the first round. Kwame had prepared carefully before meeting me.  He’d read the articles on my website, something that no other subject I’ve written about had bothered to do.  Fitting for someone who had switched his major from music to English when he re-enrolled at Stanford.


He said he liked my writing style and quoted a few phrases from my articles from memory. “In each of these articles you have a personal interest in the story,” he said. “Why would you be interested in the problems of a gay man?”


I was speechless for a minute.  No subject of a story has turned the tables on me like Kwame Harris did.  In every other article the subject is so pleased to be profiled he or she inquires no further about the writer.


I told him I’d grown up in San Francisco, fourth generation in fact.  All of the women in my family had gay male friends who were just part of the world we lived in.  Their sexuality was never a topic of conversation. They broke up or coupled up just like our straight friends.  I thought this was the way of the world until I left the tolerant atmosphere of Noe Valley.

I had always had gay friends too.  One of my closest was Scott, a man who was my boyfriend before he embraced the fact that he was gay. I was in the room with him when he phoned his parents to tell them he was gay and that he had AIDS.  And I was with him when he died. I understood, as much as a straight woman can, the problems of a closeted gay man.

After I told him this, Kwame agreed to the article. I said we’d need to speak three times, but it turned out we saw each other seven. I’d meet him at a Starbucks at the southern end of the Stanford campus and we’d drive up Stanford Avenue in his battered gray SUV, the Yukon Denali he bought with his 49er signing bonus a decade before. Then we’d wander the campus to find a place to talk.  At 5’4” I’d hustle along, my stubby legs pumping to match the effortless stride of his much longer ones.

Kwame busted my stereotype of football players in the first conversation. If I had met him not knowing about his struggles inside the NFL, the fact that he was gay would have been about the fifth or sixth quality I’d used in describing him. He is a talented athlete, a gifted musician, a trained chef, someone who reads with great insight, a man with a strong analytical mind and he’s gay.

He asked me almost as many questions as I asked him. His were more philosophical than personal, although my answers often veered into personal history.  Seated together at a table in the student union or on the patio of the English Department, I’d forget how much larger he was than me.  He’d lean in as he asked a question about the true nature of love or one about the impossibility of relationships. Those were the topics that interested him the most, although we ended up discussing cooking, the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing, and the nature of family, true brotherhood and friendship.

The story that posted today focuses on his struggles staying in the closet, how he played at the edges of wanting to be known and fearing that he would be. There are some who will judge him for his inconsistency in both wanting to taunt the coaches with the truth of who he was, and the terror of being known. What I wanted for the story is for it to be a true depiction of that struggle and the costs both to the man and to the team for this “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” way of handling a gay player.  I see Kwame as very brave to be as candid as he was about how he played on that edge.