Eric Mar vs. The E-Cig

e_cig_supesI think some of you might believe that I enjoy railing on Supervisor Eric Mar. I don’t think it’s because of what he believes in so much as how he says it. His current project which passed was getting electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes banned everywhere that smoking is banned. I don’t have much of a problem with this because most people don’t have a good understanding of how an e-cigarette works or why people like them.

I have been a smoker for a long time. I’ll even go so far as to admit that it’s been the biggest addiction that’s been hard to break for me. I remember the good old days [I think I was still a teenager] when you could buy cigarettes anywhere even a pharmacy and you could pretty much smoke anywhere. Movie theaters, grocery stores, restaurants, night clubs, hospitals probably had a smoking room right next to the delivery room. Then people became aware that it was bad for you and San Francisco in all it’s draconian-ness banned smoking from well, pretty much everywhere except public streets. I remember hating that at the time, but I came to accept it and it helped me to cut back a little bit.

wpid-halo-triton-iridescence-starterkitOne day, I like many others decided to try an e-cigarette that was a disposable that the shop that sold my cigarettes was also selling. Since I drive for a living it might be nice if my car didn’t smell like smoke and it might get me a few more tips. From that first day I was hooked. That one disposable lasted me two days and I went from smoking a pack of cigarettes a day to one fifth or four cigarettes a day. I went all out and got a non-disposable e-cigarette that was a little bit bigger and joined the small, but growing clan of vapers as they like to refer to themselves. This is where the problems start.

People into e-cigarettes don’t always seem to realize that what they’re doing while healthier [I'll get into that in a second] than smoking still looks a lot like smoking to anyone else. Even smokers. Some of those people feel like they should be able to vape in church, schools, pretty much anywhere that you currently can’t because, it’s not smoking. Well, while that’s true the rest of world at the moment still thinks it’s smoking. It looks like, but what it is is a vapor created by heating a combination of vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol and food grade flavoring that also usually contains nicotine [you can get liquids for the electronic cigarettes that contain no nicotine]. Vegetable glycerin is just what it sounds like. It comes from vegetables and is used in food as a thickener. Propylene glycol sounds kind of scary, but is a sugar alcohol that was used in hospitals to disinfect the air. Hospitals stopped using it when they started to get bigger and the cost of the PG started to get too high, but many veterinarians still use it. It’s safe unless you’ve got an allergy to it, but then again the same holds true of water. While doctors don’t want to come out and say it’s harmless, or safe they will at least admit that e-cigarettes are much better than smoking a cigarette.

Where does Eric Mar come into this? Well he is the one that got the law passed banning e-cigarettes anywhere other forms of smoking are banned. That’s not too big a deal in my book. His original arguments are what got to me. One of the things with the liquids used by e-cigarettes is that they can be flavored to be pretty much anything you want. I’m vaping some coconut mango right now and have root beer, Jamacian rum, Kentucky Bourbon in addition to my Dominican and Havana tobacco flavors. There are lots of candy flavors available and some of the few shops in San Francisco actually only stock the berry and candy flavored liquids. The problem was that kids also like candy so if they’re making a candy flavored nicotine liquid they must be marketing it to kids. Never mind the fact that adults like candy as well or that people get carded much more frequently than when Eric Mar or I were in High School. While there is a group of vapers who are into the candy flavors only and can’t understand why someone would want a tobacco flavor these are the 20 something crowd, not little kids. Eric was quoted as saying the line he frequently uses of, we have to think of the kids. Well, yes we do, but we also should then ban cars and alcohol and knives and bikes and anything else that might hurt a child because there’s a lot of stuff out there. When I was a kid and it was easier to get cigarettes I think I can count on one hand the number of kids I saw with a cigarette. High School was a bit different, but that was the late 70′s and it was still kind of cool and rebellious back then, but the word kids denotes young children not teenagers. He’s since taken a step back from that since getting people to get behind him on the ban wasn’t really that hard. I honestly don’t think it was a bad idea and I do believe it has at least gotten a few more people to look at the alternative to the dangers of smoking. For many of us it’s been a good way to get tobacco and the thousands of harmful chemicals out of our bodies for a couple of chemicals that don’t cause cancer and help us move away from our addiction.

Oh, if you’re wondering I just passed two months without cigarettes.

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I’m Not Dead Yet…

Eric in a pondering mood.Geez, it’s been awhile hasn’t it? I’ve been kind of busy and haven’t had a chance to post anything lately, but I just wanted to let you know that I’ve got a few things that I’m working on that I’m going to get started on tonight and hopefully will be able to post them soon, that is if I can keep my daughter from interrupting me every five minutes to drop something in my coffee instead of her just walking up to me and saying hello.

There’s quite a few interesting things I’ve run across lately that aren’t making a lot of attention in the news so I thought I’d share them with you. Some of them have taken some time to gather more information on so that I had all the information first and I think I’ve got that part down so I’ll be writing tonight and through the week to get some of this out of my head and into your eyes.

Oh yeah, here’s recent pic of me so you don’t have to look at me eight years ago anymore.

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Taxi’s vs. TNC’s

Hey Taxi!I’ve been reading a lot lately of the war between taxi drivers and those who drive for TNC’s [that's the new name for ride sharing companies such as Sidecar, Uber & Lyft]. Actually, it’s not so much a war between the two as it is taxi drivers voicing their anger to just about anyone in the media who will listen. This is were is starts to get interesting.

The reality of the situation is that the cabbies should be looking at the system they’re operating in and quite a few have started. Approximately one third of all taxi drivers have stopped leasing cabs and started using their own cars with TNC’s, mostly Uber, because they are well known and offer the chance for them to make more money through Uber’s surge pricing. It’s not the TNC’s that are a problem, it’s the cab companies that have to charge the drivers so much in order for them to drive the cabs.

One taxi company owner was quoted asking the question, what’s to keep me from buying a bunch of cars and running my own ride share company? Well, to be honest, nothing. There are actually several that are doing so right now. The owner wouldn’t have to purchase the exorbitant taxi medallions [$250k/car], and they wouldn’t have to provide comprehensive insurance to the drivers as they do now, but they could rent the cars out to drivers who don’t own a car and collect on what they make paying a small percentage to the driver. Cab company owners like this idea.

For the drivers, they wouldn’t have to sit down and take a 7 hour class and test [yes, it's not a very comprehensive test and they are allowed to consult notes] and they can get started quicker with no outlay of cash from their pocket. To get serious for a moment, what cabbies are taught in the training school is minimal at best and they usually take the test right after the class so what they do after they’ve passed don’t necessarily apply to what they just learned. The cab company owners don’t like that idea.

So in the end you’ve got the cab company owners pushing the drivers telling them how bad all the TNC’s are, when in reality it’s the system that the cab drivers have to work under that is the problem. When the TNC’s started as Ride Share companies there was a lot of anger at these new drivers, but now that many cabbies are moving over to the TNC’s they might be yelling at a fellow driver that’s just decided to switch teams in an effort to make more money.

I haven’t had a cabbie yell at me in months lately and a few have actually talked to me about how they could get into the business. One thing that sets apart cabbies from TNC drivers that I think a lot of cabbies learn quickly is that they’re driving their own car and they can’t treat it like a car they’re renting for a shift. Everything is now on them to keep the car looking nice and they have to make sure the brakes are working and the shocks are in good shape, not the company owners. That’s a new way of thinking for a lot of cabbies, but if it makes them more careful drivers when they’re out on the road then everyone wins in the end.

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San Francisco And The Drought

It's not easy being dry...I’m not dead yet, I’ve only been taking some time away to get things in order. That being said…

Governor Brown has announced drought situations for the people of California and I realized that lots of the people in San Francisco weren’t here for the last one in the 70′s so I thought I’d tell you a little about it so you’ll know what to do.

Before I get into that though I think you’ll all need to realize that a drought in California doesn’t just affect the state, but the entire nation in many ways. We’re home to a lot of the agriculture that supplies the nation with food. The central valley is where a lot of crops are grown that you won’t find being grown anywhere else. Strawberries, almonds, olives, honey and more come from California alone so if we get hit, the nation gets hit. The red state politicians don’t like to think about this, but that’s just the way it is.

Because we need lots of water for our agriculture we have to cut back in other places. Back in the 70′s things were different. If you went into the bathroom to grab some tissue to blow your nose, you didn’t throw the tissue in the garbage, you flushed it down the toilet. People would shower or bathe sometimes two times a day. Your lawn wasn’t properly watered unless you had a river running down the street. Things like this needed to change.

In San Francisco, especially in the Sunset and Richmond Districts you might notice that there aren’t lawns in front of every house. This changed in the 70′s. Originally it was law that a certain percentage of the front of your house needed to be green. Some people didn’t like being forced to water their weeds as it were because they weren’t into keeping up the lawn so they pulled the lawn and tossed in rocks. Usually those sparkly white dolomite rocks that you’ll see. A few people paved over their lawns, but then painted the concrete green to keep the idea that there was green in front of the house.

Bathing became rather interesting as people were told not to bathe as frequently. Some people would only bathe once a week which you realized rather quickly. Other people would just wet a wash cloth and drag it across their underarms and naught bits. Not much help really. Other people got inventive. There were the bath blocks that make your bath tub smaller so less water was needed to fill it up, but you were of course cramped in a smaller space. There there was the buckets in the shower to catch water that would run down the drain so you could water your plants or wash dishes with it.

This of course also led to the rule of the toilet of, if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down. Some people went a little bit farther than that much to the disgust of their company that was invited over.

Some were much easier to do. When you brush your teeth or shave you don’t need to let the water run unless you’re using it. People realized that they didn’t need to wash their cars every weekend and that gave way to lots of waterless car cleaning products as well.

All of these changes led to a new way of life for people in San Francisco [the water from here that went down to LA was happily sprayed daily on the nice green lawns back then.] So now if you’re new to the City here are a few tips if you didn’t know.

  1. You don’t need to run the water constantly when you brush your teeth or shave: Previously stated, but the water will stay warm even after you’ve turned it off. You really only need to wet your brush or razor a couple of times. Shaving and brushing in the shower doesn’t save water as it is running the whole time you’re doing it.
  2. Low flow shower heads: If you’re renting an apartment you’ve probably got one already. The old ones used to push out 10 gallons per minute. Great you want to feel like your standing under Niagra Falls, but not really that necessary. 2.5 gallons per minute is fine and you can find 1.5 gallon per minute shower heads, but you might feel like you have to run around to get wet.
  3. Spend less time in the shower: You don’t really need to take a shower for a half hour to 45 minutes. Most people can be in and out in under 5 and are just happy about it. If you do this you can help yourself avoid…
  4. Military Showers: Not fun at all, but lots of showers have little switches to turn the water off while keeping it warm. The problem is that unless your bathroom is warm and humid going from being drenched in warm water to nothing while you lather up isn’t pleasant. Let’s all hope it doesn’t come to this.
  5. Low water appliances: Again, most renters if they have washing machines or dish washers probably have low flow versions that do the job with less water. We realized we didn’t need a big dishwasher anymore and got an 18″ free standing one that can wash a full weeks of dishes with 2.5 gallons of water. Many washing machines are also low flow now so you probably don’t have to worry about that unless you’ve got one that’s 25 years old or more.
  6. The toilet: People are mixed on this one. Pretty much all rentals are required to have low flow toilets, but some people feel they don’t need to flush them as often to save water. That’s fine as long as you have enough flow to get rid of what you have sitting there. Try it and see, but some people just don’t want other people to know that they pee.

So all of this being said I’m not exactly sure how much more we can save since there are already lots of changes that have been put in place since the 70′s. It would be good though if you start to take a look at where you’re using the most water and see if you can cut back there.

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Things I’ve Learned About San Francisco: The Mission

The Mission DistrictThe Mission was a place I called home about 25 years ago and back then it was nothing like it is today. Back then there was hardly anything to do except get a burrito or go to the El Rio bar because it wasn’t really a spot for nightlife for the non-Hispanic community.

Today, the Mission has changed and the people who have moved there have ended up turning the place into something that almost doesn’t belong as a part of San Francisco anymore and let me explain. The people of the Mission today, stay in the Mission. They really don’t know about anything outside the Mission other than if they have to make a trip downtown to go to a work related meeting. Nothing else exists for them.

For New Mission residents today they don’t seem to understand that you don’t have to wait in line for over an hour to get an ice cream cone or that you can get a slice of pizza for under $10. Most of the time when I’m driving through the Mission to give people a ride you can tell the people who live there. It’s never more than an $8 ride because that’s pretty much how much it costs to go from one end of the Mission to the other even though most of them stay within the area of 16th Street and 24th Street and usually between Dolores and maybe Bryant.

These aren’t the residents from 10-15 years ago or even the residents for 20-30 years ago, but the new techies that everyone complains about because it’s their fault that the rents are going up. I might be wrong here, but last time I checked I never heard a renter who said, no that’s really far to little for me to pay every month to live here, let me give you more. I sincerely believe that it is the landlords who are raising the prices on the real estate here more than the techies. Most who I meet are living with 3-5 other roommates when renting a house or at least more people than there are naturally occurring bedrooms. They have to cram themselves in to be able to afford the rents out there that they didn’t set in the first place.

Because of this it gets pretty crowded. Weekends can be extremely ridiculous because you have not only the Mission street residents, but also people from all over San Francisco that now have a reason to go there on a weekend evening other than to buy drugs. [Remember I lived there 25 years ago. It was way easy to buy drugs without having to walk more than a block.]

Buying a burrito will take you a long time now even though there are many taquerias there because there’s even more people drawn there. On a weekend night the crowds from the restaurants and bars are spilling over into the streets on Valencia and it is not a street to try and drive down. My old roommate and I used to split a two bedroom house with a full living room, dining room [which would be two other bedrooms now] and kitchen for $800 a month. We had the chance to buy the house for $209,000 and thought it was too much in 1995. Guess what…it sold for less and would now sell for around a million dollars. That’s a pretty good increase in value and yes, I’m still kicking myself about that today.

Something I learned about the area that I hadn’t noticed at first is that there are a lot of homes and apartments that have been gutted and rebuilt. Because they have done this and it is after 1979 these places aren’t linked to rent control so anyone renting them doesn’t have any protection. In my book this is wrong. Even the places that aren’t being rebuilt have been pulled off the market so that they could come back at a vastly increased price.

The techies moving into the Mission aren’t millionaires. The largest bracket for income is in the $35k-75k range pretty much like every other area in San Francisco [except for SoMA in the 94105 zip code which is the richest]. There really isn’t much reason to raise the prices so high that someone has to spend $30k/year just on their portion of the rent, but seriously, these new residents don’t know any better. The insiders say things like, well I don’t stand in line for ice cream at the Bi-Rite. I go across the street and buy a pint. OK, buy you’re spending $6-$8 for a pint of ice cream. Wife and I happened to be in the area during the week when everyone was gone and there was no line. We stopped in at the Bi-Rite and I have to say we loved the ice cream.  It was worth the $3 cone…no everyday, but once in awhile and it certainly wouldn’t have been worth it if he had to wait an hour and half for it. To be fair, Mitchell’s ice cream is just as good, but the same rules apply. Just go when no one is in line or buy some at a grocery store that carries it. We also stopped in at a taqueria and there was no line during the week. The prices were pretty fair, but if we had to wait in line we would have fixed something to eat at home that would have been close enough for about a fifth of the cost.

Seriously though, if anyone from the Mission who’s a new resident reads this can I suggest you check out the ice cream from a couple of friends of mine called Ben & Jerry. It’s a little cheaper and you can get it at pretty much any grocery store in the City. Hell, liquor stores even have it. There’s also some things called tortillas and Mexican cheese you can get at those same stores and toss in a pan for an instant quesadilla. I won’t tell everyone that you like to put Sriracha sauce on your quesadillas though. No really I won’t.

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The Death Of A Wizard

Sword and the RoseThe first thing I saw this morning when I got up was sad news. Not the best way to get up, but sometimes it has to happen. Randy Sapp, the owner of the Sword & the Rose occult shop in Cole Valley died on Christmas Evening.

Randy and his shop were know around the world. It was a tiny place that if more than five people were inside it would feel crowded, but it was the magical feeling of this place that made it special as well as adding to San Francisco a little bit of weirdness. Randy was a master of incense and oils starting as an apprentice at the old Mystic Eye occult shop on Broadway where he spent ten years just sitting in the back focused on making incense. Randy looked a bit like a dark version of David Bowie

Randy’s incense was not the hippy, heavy floral stuff that you’d find on Haight street to cover up the smell of pot [well that's why they burned it according to my Mother.] Randy’s incense would actually transform you by its smell. Depending on which one you burned it would fill the room with the elegance of a cathedral, but it would also reach inside you and change you. His blends had names such as Anubis, Xepera, Horus, Isis, Holy Grail, Shekinah. He would make the incense when he felt like it. That’s the kind of guy he was. I guess you have to be in a certain state of mind when creating an incense to invoke Anubis.

His shop was just like a movie set when you’d walk inside. There were curtains hanging everywhere. It was dark with an old pot bellied stove to warm the small shop which you could never see from the street. You would have to walk through an alcove and to the back through a very ornate garden to the small ivy covered door. San Francisco has had many occult shops over the years, but that name just doesn’t seem to fit for the Sword and the Rose. This was not a buy my magical trinkets kind of place, but a place where people who seriously needed something different would come. Sure, he’d welcome the curious who might spend a few dollars or just want to talk, but he supplied people from around the world with his incense many of whom would make a special trip to his store when they were in San Francisco on vacation.

His partner of 29 years, Patrick managed to survive and will continue on with the Sword and the Rose once he recovers. Randy will be sadly missed. Was like the David Bowie or the magic world. Not the David Copperfield.

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Happy New Year 2014!

Yes, I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to lately, but I’m hoping to be here more often in 2014. 2013 was a nice comeback year for me as a micro-preneur and it’s working out pretty darn good so far.

Now that i’ve gotten my act back together I’ll be finishing up my travels around San Francisco set of articles in the New Year and I might even have a few stories to tell about tonight even.

Just a notice to anyone who’s out tonight that I have heard that Sidecar will be charging demand pricing like the other services, but to help the riders out and to get and keep more drivers out there they’re giving all riders a $50 credit to use between 8pm and 4am tonight. Sidecar wants you to get home and to your destinations safely and they’re putting their money where their mouth is.

Expect my next article in a couple of days and I hope that 2014 is the best you’ve ever had so far!

Happy New Year!
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