San Francisco Squeezed

Between the boom cars and the "creatives", between the techies and the tourists, between Airbnb and Uber, and all the other wannabe "disruptors" and "innovators", San Francisco is getting squeezed on all sides. There is no room for poetry, music, or even a pleasant thought anymore!—only the motion of the card being swiped through the reader and the occasional, nostalgic jingle of the cash register.

All is "Hey, dude!", "What the fuck!", "awesome", and "cool", which nothing really is in the new economy and city.

San Francisco, you have become a sad place. The wind on the Bay has gone out of your sails, your inspiration now replaced by software, integrated circuits, and schemers' schemes.

"The City"—or perhaps we had better just call it "the city" now—has handed over its soul to money and mediocrity, with tours of all its treasures, private parts included. For a price now, San Francisco—better called "Francesca" and without the saintly suffix—will let you feel her up.

In Francesca, once proud of its writers, Jack Kerouac is now a commodity sold at the Beat Museum along side his old buddy, Neal Cassady; Ina Coolbrith, Frank Norris, and George Sterling are, unfortunately, long forgotten but, fortunately, not peddled by rough hands; the name Ferlinghetti still rings a distant bell, with occasional ghost-like sightings of the ancient bard in North Beach; and Alan Ginsberg is still remembered for his anger and displeasure with everything under the sun, a popular San Francisco theme to this day.

With nearly every alley named for a deceased poet, the city has become a shadowy ghost town, a city of shades, artificial and pumped up by the "hospitality" industry out to make as many bucks as possible short of armed robbery and pulling wallets on buses.

Hip poets come and go like politicians without qualifications. "Metaphor, meter, symbol, simile ...? Who needs 'em?" Poetry, once an art form, is now more like the confession of a prisoner on death row. "Kissing her ruby lips and looking into her starry eyes, I told her goodbye, then cut her throat."

Moreover, anything hip or cool is taken for a poem, "outrageous" being the sole measure of quality.

Ditto music. Loud is the standard of quality, assault on the listeners' sensibility the measure of aesthetic value. The lyric trumpet of Chet Baker is long gone, replaced by the heavy metallic twang of guitar strings strained to the breaking point and the brutal pummeling of drum heads. "Take that you son of a bitch!"

The spirit of Baron Haussmann, once the bane of Paris per poet Charles Baudelaire, roosts now in San Francisco, straightening out not the streets but the minds and souls of San Franciscans while putting a cell phone in every new Merry Pranksters' hand and pocket. The electromagnetic disturbance of the caller is directly routed to the brain of the person called. Haussmann would love this, though the brain may not.

"TECH IS RIGHT AND LIFE IS WRONG!" shout the Baron and his Millennial throng.

Staying in Ken Kesey's bus and taking drugs might have been a better way to lose one's mind than Facebook on Androids. Generationally speaking, "Far fucking out!" probably trumps "Way cool!" when it comes to saying that something is good or interests you.

Coffee houses and bars, once the intellectual lifeblood of the city, are now on every tourist hit list—Caffee Trieste, Vesuvio's, Tosca, Specs' ...—"must see" attractions like the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge, demanding proof that you were there.

"Sir, can you move for a moment while I shoot a picture of the picture on the wall? And who is that odd fellow with the hat?"

And while Starbucks was made for techies, they don't always stay there. When it comes to discussions of XML, or the Extensible Markup Language, or "monetizing" access to medical statistics on cancer research, these darling kids seem to prefer Trieste or Tosca. Remember Doctor Strangelove? Any day now I expect these kids to start striking themselves while drinking their double lattes. "Why did you do that, right-hand dude?"

As for the Islamic State, I think cell meetings are held at Specs on Wednesdays. But don't quote me on that one, okay?

But let me stop right here. Between one bad thing and another, there is only bitterness to be found—soot, grime, ashes, even excrement—which, if swallowed, can make you throw up. I don't want to do that today.

But I do ask you, Dear Reader, to consider this:

While some of the above may appear humorous, where is the substance in a city that panders to tourists, relegates many of its solid older citizens to "gig" laborers exploited by young "entrepreneurs", and treats the arts, when it acknowledges them at all, like politics, as a personality contest among immature youths trying to appear defiant, disruptive, and outrageous? And what about a city that trades all substantial business to shipping yards across the bay, thereby avoiding all honest labor?

With tourists demanding everything—even, perhaps, your old apartment—, with techie entrepreneurs running the show into the ground, and with the arts reduced to children acting out in the back seat of the family car, such a city seriously lacks authenticity. From Nob Hill or Russian Hill the view is still stunning but don't look down. You will be appalled at the lack of anything real beneath your feet.
By Louis Martin