EEF33646-832E-47C7-9329-A006153AD436 Baghdad by the Bay

Back To Work: The Commute

IMG_7784Having been encapsulated in my car for the past three years and not really having to walk the streets of the mid-market area it was a bit of a shock at first.While there are tech companies galore in the area, most are within a few feet of the metro station and the people who work there have little interaction with the locals.

I have a two block walk from Van Ness Station down to 11th and Howard and it’s an interesting walk depending on which side of the street you’re on. But before I digress, let’s start from the beginning. I consider myself rather lucky in that I live in the fifth house from the corner of a stop by the 48 Quintara. I can use the app Routesy to check the arrival time of the bus and thankfully it is very accurate. I can hop on and be driven up to West Portal station where I grab whatever shows up and take that four stops to Van Ness where I can get to work in 35 minutes. Considering most techies consider the Sunset District to be too far away I think that’s a pretty short commute compared to living in say, Oakland.

That being said, when I get off it’s a whole different story. There is a noticeable difference between the left side and the right side of the street as I walk to work. Both are dirty, but the right side is definitely more on the smelly side. On the left side I start off walking by Uber, Square and a couple of other companies and while I don’t have proof I can’t help but think they’re part of the reason it’s not as smelly. There are security guards stationed at the entrance of all the buildings and garages and they’re all big and stern looking gentlemen, but when I walk by they sort of lose that street face probably because they know I’ve got better things to do than mess with them. There’s still a ton of old dried up gum on the sidewalk as I get to 11th and Mission, but it’s missing from the block were Uber and Square reside.

Once I hit Mission things begin to change. There’s a taco truck that I mentioned previously that was chasing away a homeless person who was trying to hide behind it to take a dump. The amount of trash increases here as well as people who obviously look much older than they really are. I have to walk past people having arguments with no one else in side who’s faces show that while they look old and haggard they aren’t as old as they look. Meth comes to mind, but it could easily be years of alcohol abuse as well. If I’m not asked by something slurring their words hunched over for a cigarette even though I’m not smoking it’s considered a good day. As I reach Howard street there’s a bus stop which looks like it kind of doubles as a rest room. In the mornings there are lots of young people who go to a couple of places for mentally disabled people that I feel sorry for because they have to see the ugly soft white underbelly of the city. Most of the people on the streets look angry. If I had to live there I’d probably look angry too. It’s not a very inviting place, yet all the of the tech and tech related companies I pass by have these unadorned fronts with large glass windows showing off their beautiful insides. I can totally relate to people who have to walk by these places daily on the outside looking in. It just feels a bit grim to me.

I mentioned before that there are lots of car repair shops, but what I didn’t mention is that they’re all high end car repair shops. You walk by garages that are dingy on the outside, but when you walk by the opening they’re immaculate Mercedes, BMW, Audi and even higher end repair shops. All the cars look like they just came out of a car wash even if they’ve been in a wreak.

When it’s time for me to go home it’s been a bit warm lately in the evenings and so I walk up the right side of the street to stay out of the sun. This is a whole different area even though it’s just across the street. There are lots of support buildings for those in need and unfortunately it tends to show the downside of those who are less fortunate. There are makeshift tents, people passed out against buildings and smell of sewer plant is highly evident. Why it doesn’t cross the street is beyond me.

There’s a Salvation Army store that takes up a sizable chunk between Mission and Market that I assume is attracting people who go through the stuff the SA can’t use. Having to walk past old dried out gum on the other side of the street isn’t so bad in comparison to having to step over puddles of urine and feces on the other side of the street. I was walking up to Market the other day behind a couple of kids who might have been in their early 20’s chugging a 40oz of MGD when the guy says, I gotta piss hella bad, so he just stopped in a corner and started to relieve himself. His girlfriend noted that she had to too and dropped her pants in the bus stop and took care of business both of them ignoring that I was walking by or that there was an elderly woman sitting waiting for the bus.

Once I make it back to Van Ness Station things seem safe again, not that I’ve been harassed by anyone on the walk back, but still, it’s been an eye opening experience.

Next: Back To Work: Tech Bros, The Real Story.

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Back To Work: Introduction

techThere comes a time in every persons life when needing to earn a more steady income becomes necessary. I’ve had to put driving for rideshare companies on hold for awhile and possibly permanently because an offer came my way that was better than what I was earning from the flailing pay cuts of the rideshare industry in San Francisco.

So as of a few weeks ago I, a third generation San Francisco have started a job where I’m one of the oldest people at the company and I am now…a techie. Part of the joy I got from this offer was getting to see how that half lived that lots of my friends blame for everything that’s changed the way they used to live in San Francisco as if time hasn’t had anything to do with that.

Now that my work time is parceled out within a specific period of the day 5 days a week and not chasing the surge as it was when I was a rideshare driver I actually have more time to myself even though technically I’m working more hours. While I can’t go into too many details about the company that I’m working for because of the NDA [Non-Disclosure Agreement] I had to sign before I accepted their offer I can tell you that this company is a mid-market tech start up who’s offices are just a couple of blocks away from Twitter, Square and Uber and it’s not any of those. It’s actually owned now by a very large American corporation with a long history in the United States so that alone gives it a little more clout [Klout?] than most other start ups.

Since it’s been over three years since I actually had to work downtown and I have to say that driving your car downtown is a much more isolated experience than actually walking the streets and taking public transportation, it was a rather eye-opening experience. The Mid-Market area can be a little bit terrifying to walk in for someone like me who hasn’t had to walk past people arguing with a fire hydrant or people trying to not be noticed trying to take a dump next to a taco truck. The initial smell wasn’t too off putting of the area, but there was a lot more smell of diesel mixed in urine and feces. As I leave the Van Ness metro station and begin by walk down 11th street I notice there are a lot of car repair shops mixed in with a few tech oases for start ups that don’t even have any real estate.

Food is far and between in this part of town which is probably a part of why lunch is catered every day where I work. [more on that later]. The people on the streets have a bit of hard look to them which is contrasted by the tech workers trying to get to the safety of their workplace a quick as possible. From my short experience of close to a month it seems like the company I’m at likes sheltering their employees from the World of Horrors that is right outside their doors. I have been cursed at by people wandering the streets who most likely never grew up in San Francisco, but where probably displaced homeless people or meth heads [again, more on that later] who think I am the one destroying their town, when I was born and raised here and not them and the fact that these people are only old enough to be my children.

Overall there is a sharp contrast of joy and revulsion between the time I leave the metro station and when I get to work that makes me understand why I was picking up so many people and driving them to work. It’s hard to stare at people who tried to make something of their lives here and are having trouble or just gave it up as a lost battle. More in the coming days.

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Visitacion Valley Greenway

IMG_7561The family happened to take a trip out to Visitacion Valley today on a quest for a DVD for my daughter and happened to arrive a few minutes before the library there opened so we decided to walk around. Once again we found a little gem in San Francisco.

I don’t know too much about this little urban park, but it runs for three blocks between houses and the beginning can be found at Leland St. and Peabody St. It was a cool little walk that while you’re in an area that’s very urban and a bit on the industrial side has very little inviting in the area. This part of VV is mostly single family homes, but you won’t even find much greenery around there other than a weed growing out of the cracks in the concrete so this was a pretty nice place for the people who live there.

As you can see from the quick shots I took there are places for people to sit and relax. It’s a nice bit of respite from all the concrete and asphalt in the area and because it’s a bit inland on the warmer side of the City the streets are a bit dirty due to a lack of rain. True you could go up a couple miles to Crocker Amazon Park, but for some of the older residents which we saw walking around and sitting in the little urban parquet that might have been too much trouble.

If you’re ever over in the area I think you should check it out. It’s not Golden Gate Park, but for those who are probably the farthest away from Golden Gate Park I think it was nice that the City gave them some nature to relax in. In the central park there’s a community garden where they’re growing vegetables and fruits. I couldn’t make out any of the plants and trees other than lettuce and a few artichokes, but since this is a warmer part of the city you could grow much more tropical produce than in other parts of the City.

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Tacos Are The New Burritos!

Taco, San Francisco StyleI know, that statement is sacrilege and should never be uttered in San Francisco, but I have been noticing a new trend where people are moving away from their first love of burritos and trying tacos again. Not the Taco Bell style fast food garbage, but real, California Style Tacos.

I’m not really surprised by any of this as the burrito as we of the San Francisco Bay Area know it is monstrous. Even the smallest burrito is size of a baby’s leg. The only way to get something smaller is to pick up one of the gigantic bean and cheese pre-packed things at 7-11 which, let’s get serious, to San Franciscans that isn’t really a burrito.

The burrito as we know it in San Francisco started when the migrant farm workers needed a serious meal to take with them when they were harvesting all the fresh produce we all know and love in California. They started out simple and then expanded to be more than just beans and rice with some meat to include cheese, avocados [or guacamole] and sour cream [if you want to be on point it’s called crema agria or angry cream].

If you were working hard all day pulling crops then you need an extreme form of energy supplying food. We in the San Francisco Bay Area today don’t need that much food any more since even the hardest working person in San Francisco is usually sitting behind a desk most of the day [I will tip my hat to construction workers even though most of the time they only look like they’re directing traffic]. There are a few of us who living on a budget will eat toast and coffee for breakfast and then grab a burrito for lunch which in our minds will hold us over through dinner. I’ve been there and done that. Currently, if I get a burrito I tend to eat only half of it and then have the other half the next day.

Super Taco Al PastorEnter the taco. I have a couple of taquerias I frequent and know the people who work there and asked them, How come you don’t make a pequeño, but you make a super? Every time the answer was the same…If you want pequeño order a taco!

So Wife and I started ordering tacos. I grew up on tacos, but they weren’t what most people today would get in San Francisco. They were crispy, fried with just meat and you’d add in some white people stuff. American cheese, head lettuce and if you were lucky some jarred salsa. Nothing like what you get today.

Today when Wife and I go to a taqueria regardless of where it is in San Francisco and don’t want to down 3lbs in one sitting we order tacos…usually super tacos and while the price is only a little bit cheaper than a burrito it’s still far worth the price. Tacos aren’t anywhere near the size of a burrito, but you’ve got lots of fully customizable choices: Street Taco, with just meat and onions, peppers and cilantro, the Standard Taco with rice and beans and maybe a bit of lettuce and then the Super Taco which is everything mentioned that is dumped into a burrito only it’s more like a small open faced burrito [see photos above].

If you’re a little on the big side it’s a good snack or at least make a lunch that you don’t need to go into a food coma after eating it to recover. Like burritos, pretty much every where you go in San Francisco you can get a pretty good taco. Yes, some people will disagree with that statement, but if you’re not from San Francisco you won’t be able to understand the subtleties.

Currently there are several bars in the City that are hosting Taco Tuesdays where the tacos are cheap. Usually between $2-$4 when you’re buying drinks which sounds like a pretty good reason to buy a couple of tacos. Now I am seeing articles popping up of people analyzing and dissecting the quality of tacos around San Francisco just as they did with burritos and that’s probably because I am seeing burritos approaching the $15 range in some parts of the City which is ridiculous.

The time has come to give the taco its due, so dig in and enjoy. The above food porn taco photos were taken by yours truly at Taqueria San Jose, currently one of my favorite places to grab an Al Pastor Super Taco, because it’s a Taqueria, not a Burritoria.

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The Purge of 2016

1939 World's Fair BrochuresI am a third generation native San Franciscan. My Grandparents moved here in the 20’s and my family has never left. Unfortunately my family has been collecting lots of junk since the 20’s that my wife and I have been uncovering since we moved into the house.

My Grandfather was born in 1887 and my Grandmother in 1906. Apparently while I knew my Mom was a pack rat, I didn’t realize that my Grandparents were even worse. As Wife and I have been going through all the nooks and crannies of the house discovering things there are of course something we want to keep, but other things that have no value except to someone who knew my Grandparents which are few and far between in the 21st century.

I’ve decided to start a chronicle of the stuff we’ve found in the house because it’s kind of fun to look back on parts of San Francisco history through the eyes of people other than yourself. In a lot of ways I wish I had spent more time talking with my Grandmother about some the things I found that I wish we had found while she was still alive, but at least I still have my 98 year old Auntie Gert who remembers some of these things to help me out.

The first thing I came across was a collection of brochures from San Francisco’s 1939/1940 World’s Fair. My Mom was 10 years old and I’m pretty sure she collected most of these. It’s kind of interesting to look back to the earlier part of the 20th Century, pre-WWII and see what was on everyone’s mind. Apparently, electricity wasn’t everywhere in the United States and that was a big thing to talk about back then. Just take a look at some of the pictures and enjoy. Keep checking back as I’ll be archiving more photos for this gallery…

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Why Self Driving Cars Won’t Work For Ridesharing

Driverless CarsSan Francisco is where ridesharing started. Uber, Lyft and the defunct Sidecar as well as smaller players have all started here in the City and they all seem to think they can get rid of drivers now.

This is one of the strangest ideas I have heard in a long time and these companies need to look at Muni in San Francisco to understand what will happen if you remove drivers from cars. Our Muni and BART trains have tried to be autonomous in the tunnels and that didn’t work very well now did it. Many of you may not know this, but there was a time when Muni tried [for a very short time] to have the drivers step out of the compartment when trains entered West Portal Station and let the trains, on tracks, be controlled by a computer. That didn’t work and now a driver has to sit there and make sure the computer is working right and doesn’t crash when the train begins to pass 60 mpg in the tunnel.

I know what some of you are saying, but Google/Uber/some other tech company wasn’t controlling them. OK, fine, but even with a driver riding along on a Muni or BART train have you seen what happens on one of those trains? How would a driverless car picking people up and taking them to their destination on city streets be any different?

There is already the reported problem of lots of these cars getting into accidents. Most of the time it isn’t the fault of the car’s computer, but the humans that are driving around them.  You can write that off if you want, but I don’t think everyone is going to jump onboard from day one when a driverless car becomes available.

Then there are the other problems that people don’t think about. I’m one of those guys that do and here’s something to think about. A driverless car is like the set of Home Alone. People won’t have an overseer to keep them in check. I’ve given rides to young people who even with me behind the wheel have gotten into a fight in the back of my car. I stopped and threw them out, but think about what the first thing that dominates a new technology is…PORN.

VHS, DVDS, the Internet all become intrenched because of the porn industry. I would not be surprised if some of the first people who grab a driverless car will shoot a porn film in it that will be on the internet within a couple of days. The second or third will be someone who pukes and after that will probably be some kid who thinks it would be cool to take a dump in a driverless car.

Imagine if you will for a moment the amount of human body fluids that will be flooding, soaking into and dripping from the insides of a driverless car. No one has talked about safety features in these cars because that of course would be an invasion of someone personal privacy.

Will these cars be equipped with cameras that can see all over the car? Will these cars be equipped with fluid sensors to notify home base if someone barfs or pees in the car? NOTE: I have heard from lots of drivers who have had riders not just puke, but also pee in their cars. This usually happens after midnight and the person is pretty drunk and well, it seems like a good idea at the time… Maybe the companies that are on the bandwagon will make these cars self cleaning so that after a person or porn film crew leaves the car it will sanitize and sterilize the interior for the next rider’s safety.

Then there is the drunken factor that I barely touched on. People like the current ridesharing services because they don’t have to drive home drunk, but their faculties are not at their best. I’ve been asked to pull over so someone could jump out and vomit. I’ve also had a large number of people who put in the wrong address or wanted to go to Safeway, but Google’s Maps which every system uses for some reason chose not the Safeway that was closest to them, but one in the East Bay or North Bay [seriously, try it]. How will the computer controlling the vehicle know whether the customer is right? Will the car electrically zap the riders who have passed out after drinking too much to rouse them to get out because the car has hopefully arrived at the correct location?

In the end the public has been sold a science fiction novel that has been poorly written. This isn’t the taxis of Blade Runner or even Total Recall for that matter. Driverless cars for the masses are a long way off and the idea of driverless transport vehicles are an even longer way off.

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A Way To Make Housing More Affordable

Rent-or-BuyAbout eight years ago I was unemployed for almost two years. A friend of mine told me that I wasn’t unemployed, but that I made $40,000 per year. I looked at him and shook my head. That made no sense, but he pointed out that because I had been lucky and inherited my parents home I didn’t have to pay rent which [at the time] would have worked out to about $40k/year.

While that number has increased nowadays, it hit me hard. There are some things that many people don’t understand about owning a house that is different than renting and I feel that should change. While it’s a change that should happen nation wide, it’s something that makes a lot more sense in San Francisco.

If you own a house you must pay property tax. The thing that some of you might not know is that property tax is tax deductible. I met a woman who recently bought a house and is paying over $11k/year just in property tax. All of that is deductible from her tax return every year as a living expense. With rental rates at an all time high in San Francisco this is a bit of a drop in the bucket, but getting to cut $11k+ off your yearly income is still nothing to sneeze at. She can also claim her mortgage payments as a living expense and deduct them from her income.

This is why I believe that rent should be tax deductible as a living expense. I recently saw an article where an elderly couple in the Sunset District who were paying $2100/month in rent had their new landlord remove an in-law apartment from their house thereby making the home a single family dwelling. The landlord was then able to increase their rent because the home was no longer under rent control to $8900/month.

San Francisco is one of the few places in the United States where something like this could happen, but there are places where it is happening more often. Most of the Bay Area is quickly approaching the rental prices of San Francisco because when you leave San Francisco the homes are bigger thus demanding a higher price. Even the apartments are larger outside of San Francisco.

So why isn’t this happening? I can only make a guess, but let’s use San Francisco as an example. If residents were to be able to deduct their rent from their income as a living expense San Francisco would look like a very poor city. Yes that new techie family that’s paying $10k/month for a house in the Mission would suddenly have a $120k deduction from their income each year which would probably qualify them for financial aid unless they were pulling in closer to $200k/year in salary. This also probably wouldn’t help reduce rent because hey, it’s a tax deduction.

Overall, San Francisco has for a long time been difficult to live in due to the increasing rental prices and that also increases expenses in the Bay Area. To make this change so that rent was tax deductible would probably make a large number of people in the U.S. look much poorer than we realize, in California where Proposition 13 is in effect so that property tax can only increase by 1.1%/year, home ownership even with these high purchase prices currently has advantages over other parts of the country. Perhaps this is more of a state wide thing, but I believe it’s something a lot of our politicians should start talking about.

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