Friday, December 19, 2008

The "give up your seat" controversy.

The west coast is generally thought of as being nicer than the east coast. I've had the benefit of living on both coasts, as well as major stints of time living in the middle. What entertains me the most about these stereotypes is what "nice" and "mean" are defined as in each city.

I got indirectly ripped on in a missionmission shoutout about a week after moving here, about how assholes move from the east coast and then don't understand what life is about. 
maybe because all the bad attitudes come from points east. i love this thing about carpetbaggers wishin frisco was more like the crappy places they come from. we californians try to take it slow & easy but there’s always some new-be not gettin w/ the program. we have become LA. sorry for the rant but were on edge down here in the flats.
And, I mean... fair enough. Feel how you want to feel. This dude portrayed "mean" as me yelling some equivalent of "If you hit me with your fucking door, so help me God" at a guy who... well... almost hit me with his fucking door. This, of course, is sort of a panic instinct for me. Being able to throw that many words out was somewhat shocking, as I usually have the time to scream "Seriously?!" in the hopes that they realize it was directed at them, by which point I am half a block away. So, if that's mean, I'm mean. I'm also from a crappy place, I guess. And I don't really wish San Francisco was more like where I came from. If I liked where I came from, I probably would have stayed there. Ah, but I digress.

The definition of mean and hateful is subjective. "Fuck you" really, honestly isn't that offensive in New York. It is a way of showing displeasure. They are words that are forgotten as soon as the two involved parties - the fuckee and the fucked - have gone their separate ways. They are forgotten, because they are just words. Certainly I wouldn't throw out a "fuck you" at my grandmother if she bumped into me on the subway, and I would feel badly if I threw one out after someone stepped on my heel and I turned around to learn that they were seven years old. But I believe that we get to a certain point as adults where maybe words aren't so illegal. I'm just saying I would much rather someone tell me to get fucked than tell me my bike is ugly. (Sometimes, words do hurt.)

A post from BART Musings that I  just came across brings up something that I find to be really awful: not giving up a seat to people who might need it on public transportation. This is where New York owns you, rest of the country. If you are sitting and remotely do not look like you need that seat, and someone comes along that really does need it, watch your ass. The ragamuffin teenager who spent approximately thirty-four subway stops talking about "that ho" will spring to action when someone with a cane rolls deep onto the 1 train. It is a beautiful phenomenon. Someone will give up a seat, somewhere, for you.

MUNI riders kind of don't do this. Of course, I am speaking from somewhat limited experience, I guess. I'm not a daily MUNI commuter. I was riding it regularly when I broke my collarbone and couldn't hold myself up on a bike for awhile. I ride it when I'm with people that aren't cyclists. There are other special occasions, like today when I bought a new bike for The Roommate and learned I cannot ride one and roll the other along with me like that super hot cyclist girl from a few months back on Van Ness. But I do know that I have seen a lot of sort of shameful behavior when elderly or disabled people get on the bus and there are no seats.

What I find funny about this is that maybe this behavior really isn't a San Francisco thing. One of the comments on the aforementioned post says something about being afraid they'll offend someone. I've gotten this sort of reaction - I'm a seat giver. I feel so crazy guilty sitting down on public transportation that I pretty regularly stand when it looks even remotely crowded, even if there are still seats I could squeeze into. I've offered my seat to people and had them look completely shocked. I don't mean to offend someone. I'm really trying to help. 

I got pretty irritated with this during the collarbone incident. I had the sling on. There was a day in particular where I was carrying a few huge bags. There were no seats and I was in a lot of pain. But I'm also very young, and I look healthy aside from that sling thing. I don't like being the one to select who doesn't deserve a seat that day, so I felt really weird asking. It would have been nice to have someone offer. I would have been grateful. No dice - from 4th street to 20th on the 12, not a single offer. 

The "to give or not to give" controversy is interesting to me, and people talk about it pretty much anywhere with an active public transportation system. I think the dynamic is very different. Here, I see so few people actually offering seats that I can see how someone might get offended. In New York, it is customary. You are sixteen years old and I am eighty holding this walker. Give me your seat.

Yes, we all pay the same $1.50, yes, we all have equal rights to that seat. But really, it's just kind. I would destroy someone if my grandmother got on a bus with me and no one offered her somewhere to sit. It's nice. She is old and tired and hopefully gave up seats in her day. Let the poor woman sit for sixteen blocks, for God's sake. I was still giving up seats even with the broken bone. I still felt like people needed to sit down, and it was clear that no one else stepped up.

So what's up, San Francisco? Am I totally clueless? Is offering someone a seat actually a dick move and I don't know it? Are there really nice bus lines where everyone just stands in the event that someone with a cane shows up, and I just haven't taken any of them? Tell me how it really is so I can judge fairly.

Monday, December 15, 2008


I saw Milk at the Castro on Saturday night. If you live in San Francisco and have yet to do this, you should probably get on it.

For anyone who's not following movies, doesn't live in a major city that's playing it, or has managed to stay under a rock when it comes to cinema, Milk is the true story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay public official in San Francisco. He was killed in 1978 by another supervisor, in an act that stunned the city and will forever tarnish San Francisco's history. (I would have given you a spoiler alert, but that's sort of like when people reminded you that the ship sunk in that big boat movie a few years back. You should know how this story ends.) 

The film couldn't have come out at a more poignant time. One of the biggest moments in the movie is when Prop. 6, an initiative to keep gay and lesbian teachers (and anyone that supports them) from working in the public schools, failed. It was around this point that I started uncontrollably sobbing. I'm not a crier. It's not really my thing. But seeing all these people getting to dance in the street for gay rights only made me think, "That should have been me." And once that thought hits you, you can't let go of it. And if you're me, it'll mean you continue crying until the lights come up in the theater.

The movie is stunning. Truly. I know what Sean Penn looks like and might be able to do a quick illustration of him off the top of my head. But he becomes this character. He is funny, he's a little awkward, and he makes you fall in love with him. His supporting cast is absolutely fantastic. They capture the spirit of the 1970s in San Francisco: over the top, but with a mission, because they're more than a little scared. This is not the flamboyant, out-and-proud Castro district of 2008. This is people coming together because they need each other's help.

If you live in San Francisco, please do not go see the movie at any other theater. Please have the experience of seeing it across the street from where this movie actually happened. There is no greater landmark for the neighborhood than the giant neon "CASTRO" sign outside of the theater, and we are exposed to grainy 1970s footage of it over and over in the film. You are sitting in the building you are seeing on the screen. People laughed and cheered, everyone got the little jokes and the ironic parallels to our current time, people cried together. Gus Van Sant manages to take one of the most tragic events of San Francisco's history and turn it into a beautiful celebration of life and a reminder of where we came from. 

If Prop. 8 would have lost, we could have all left, gone out and had a drink, and congratulated ourselves for continuing his legacy. But it passed. I wish the movie had come out before the election - not that I necessarily think THAT would have turned the tables, but still. I think everyone got complacent. I kept my voter registration in Ohio (to my defense, by the time I had to register in California, I didn't know if I was permanently relocating here or not), mostly because I thought they needed my Obama vote more. This state is full of transplants like me. I think we all just assumed that Prop. 8 would fail because, come on, it's California. Of COURSE we're not going to pass this crazy proposition.

If you have the opportunity, go see Milk. I've already admitted how much I cried, which means you don't have to feel badly if you do. Promise.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Caltrain commuting.

So, I've been doing this Mountain View thing for a couple of weeks now, and I'm starting to get the hang of it. I feel like public transportation is an intimidating system for people who have never done it before, so hopefully my grand two weeks of experience can be helpful to someone else.

The first three times I took Caltrain, I was convinced it was cursed and that I was never going to get to work on time. 

Trip #1: Truck stopped on tracks, gets hit by train, fatality. Trains run 2+ hours late and the system completely shuts down.
Trip #2: Wandering pedestrian gets hit by train, system shuts down.
Trip #3 (very next day after trip #2): Computer that controls train signals goes on the fritz; trains run 75+ minutes late.

These, however, appear to have been pure coincidences, as I haven't run into a single problem since then. (If everyone could knock on wood a little bit, that would be great.)

Here's the deal with Caltrain. Buy a ticket before you get on. It may or may not actually be checked - there's nowhere to swipe, no one looks at your ticket before you get on the train, but it is required that you have one. I've never had someone check my ticket in the morning yet, but the regular conductor on my nighttime trip always checks between Millbrae and 22nd. You can buy one way tickets, day passes, books of 10 tickets (that have to be validated when you use them), or monthly passes. The fares work by "zone". So, San Francisco is in zone 1, the very first stop. Mountain View is in zone 3. So I have to buy a monthly pass that allows me unlimited travel between those three zones. It costs me $152.50 a month, a number that sent me reeling at first until I compared it to the cost of owning and driving a car 80 miles round trip every day.

And, to my major joy, Caltrain is doing what it can to be bike-friendly. Every train has at least one bike car. Now, to be honest, there is not enough room to accommodate all the cyclists. Caltrain appears to know this and I haven't seen anyone get particularly lippy when too many bikes get put on there. Technically, it's four bikes to one rack. The new cars have four racks; old cars have eight. This really, truly is not enough space. Sometimes the train ends up with two bike cars, which makes life much easier. The racks are metal and have bungee cords attached to them. Wrap them around your bike and you're set. Every bike is required to be marked with its destination so bikes going the same place can be grouped together, and if I'm going to Mountain View in the morning, I don't end up having to dig my bike out from five others on top of it going to San Jose. 

Oh, Caltrain. I had hoped to be productive on you. So far, I've done a whole lot of crossword puzzles. I had hoped that I'd finally start reading the newspapers I buy every day instead of just turning to my puzzle, but alas. I'm tired when I get on the train to come to work. I'm tired when I get on the train to come home. I get halfway through a puzzle and then I just want to stare blindly out the window for a little while. Still - enables me to ride a bike eight miles a day, and it keeps me from driving a car. You are my best $152.50 investment of the month.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Oh, internet, we simply have so much to catch up on.

I will provide you with a lovely touristy post soon, but here are the highlights from Mom's visit: Inner Mission, Make Out Room, Ferry Building, Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, 49 mile drive, Mt. Tam, Stinson Beach, Presidio, Dolores Park, Tartine, Bi-Rite, El Faro, Sutro Baths, Ocean Beach, Mission Bar. We'll do the real re-cap of that later.

Today, we're discussing the job situation. Again.

So, I moved to San Francisco because I had no money and I really wanted a job. The midwest showed interest but didn't really love me. So here I am, California. Employ me.

Yeah, me and the rest of the assholes that recently got out of college. Then Wired laid everyone off. Then Current. Then... well, you get the idea.

My first client was amazing - a banner ad for one of the city propositions. (The campaign was ultimately successful, and they sent me an email later thanking me for my work on it. Score.) My second client was the one that paid all my bills for November, but we had to split ways because we were honestly not suited for one another. His process and mine just did not line up. He paid me as soon as I had completed a day's worth of work, he paid me incredibly well. I'd paypal him an invoice and he would have money to my account within 10 minutes. I was grateful for him, but our differences were just too much and we had to end it. Haven't heard from him since one mixup where I didn't reply to his email within a day of him sending it and he flipped out. Probably for the best.

Then there was the little animation that I took about a month to do and could have finished in a week. I am a bad person. He was an amazing client and loved the work I did for him. He also didn't seem to mind that I took way, way too long to do his very small job.

Then came the biggest success yet: on-site freelancing with a really amazing little firm. This company showed me what my life could be if I could really sustain this lifestyle. They loved me and I loved them, and that's all I have to say about that. I am invited to their Christmas party despite not being salaried with them. They're Net-30, so I have yet to prove that they pay their freelancers, but they are an amazing little company and I sincerely hope to maintain a relationship with them.

They are all wrapped up by one of my favorite people I've gotten to meet in San Francisco. I talked to this gentleman in August before I ever moved here. He gave me hope that I'd be employed. Then I bought a plane ticket. Then I wasn't employed. But he kept in touch with me, by god, brought me in for a coffee chat in October, then randomly emailed me out of the blue a month and a half later to ask me if I could do some freelance for them. I was - and still am - ecsatic. We had our first meeting this morning after over three months of email tag, and now my foot's in the door and I actually have files to work on.

Leaving the meeting, I got the phone call with my full-time job offer from the company I thought had given up on me. 

Allow me to show you a timeline:

September 26th: Apply to job from craigslist.
October 1st: Get email asking salary requirements.
October 1st, 12 minutes later: Reply with salary requirements.
October 24th: Get email at 4:18 on a Friday asking if I can come interview on the following Thursday.
October 24th: Reply at 4:29 that oh my god I absolutely can.
October 30th: Trek to Mountain View, learn how to operate CalTrain, have amazing interview and get really excited that they're going to hire me.
November 11th: Send email, nervous that they hired someone else and that I'm not going to be able to pay my student loans ever.
November 12th: Receive email saying they have three more interviews but hope to make a decision soon. Cry.
November 27th: Tell mother that job will not be mine, pretend it's for the best, get excited about continuing to freelance.
December 2nd: Receive phone call while in 30 minute meeting with newest freelance client, offering job. Make three very important phone calls to closest family and friends. Take job.

It is not enough money and it is in Mountain View. But I am employed, after six months of being out of college and financing my life mostly on credit.

So I'm a commuter now. I think I've decided to try and be a pseudo-bike commuter. Riding from 21st & Guerrero to 3rd & Bryant every day? Not an issue. But now we've got Caltrain to contend with. I think biking to 4th & King is honestly my best way to go. I could BART it to Millbrae - I live close to the 24th St. station. But it takes me 10 minutes to walk there, I don't get any exercise, and I don't save enough money losing that one zone off my monthly Caltrain pass to justify the daily BART expense. Plus it's one more method of public transportation I can't control. I can basically control the time it takes me to ride to 4th & King. I can take my bike on Caltrain, though I've heard the horror stories about not having adequate room for bikes. At least I'll be getting on it at the very first stop, so as long as there are less than 32 of us trying to get bikes on there every morning, we should be okay.

I never really wanted to be a commuter. But we don't always have control over the way things go. Here's to commuting - and to getting a paycheck, by God, perhaps even before 2008 ends.