Archive for January, 2016

Week 4: Explore a neighborhood you haven’t previously.

25) Explore a neighborhood you haven’t previously.

San Francisco is 46.87 square miles. Given its roughly square shape, that is the source of the 7×7 appellation (if you’ve ever wondered). As for the number of neighborhoods? Your guess is as good as mine. Wikipedia indicates over a hundred, but then, it’s Wikipedia, so you take what you can get from it (though it does seem to be pretty good as Wikipedia goes). The San Francisco Planning Department shows a much more conflated number, defined by the neighborhood group associations, which is a different metric altogether. But that is a conflated list itself, and they will tell you to go to the neighborhood groups themselves for more details. I live in a pretty clear cut neighborhood (I think we can all agree Inner Richmond exists and has fairly defined boundaries), but you can find more nebulous examples out there (Is Jordan Park really a neighborhood? Many people don’t even really know the neighborhood it is conflated with, Laurel Heights. so…?). In addition, there are many disputed areas that share names, Nopa and Western Addition (which is what it is, c’mon) being a prominent example. So how many are there? I don’t know. I just know that even after almost three years, there are several I’ve never really spent much time in. I work in the Financial District, and I spend a lot of my free time in the neighborhoods that have venues, Fillmore (not just a clever name), the Mission, whatever part of Hayes Valley/Civic Center the Rickshaw gets lumped into, Portero. I have spent a fair amount of time in many others, especially the ones with parks, like Bernal, the Sunset and the Richmond, and that even gives me a good excuse to go to further flung ones occasionally like Crocker-Amazon and Bayview. Some are just neighborhoods I pass through but never stop.

For this card, I decided to go to one of those places: The Marina. While I have certainly been around the edges of it, biking along the Bay, stopping by the Palace of Fine Arts, I have never walked down Union or Chestnut. And there are a lot of shops and bars and restaurants over there. It’s just…not my scene? The neighborhoods here are very defined entities. Which is true of every city. But here, they feel hyper defined by the type of people who choose to live there. While that metric has been screwed (and probably always has been to some degree), there’s a reason you hear people complain about the same businesses in the Mission that appear long established in the Marina, and that’s because the Marina has already been gentrified, if it ever wasn’t. That happened a long time ago. Or no one cared. I’m not sure which. The Marina doesn’t really have much of a history. Certainly there was likely class displacement, but it’s not the Hispanic hub of the city (though that was Rincon Hill until they were all displaced to make way for the Bay Bridge). Of course it’s not on top of a BART station either (and may liquefy again like in 1989, but hey, whatever). It’s just a place where rich, young post-grads drink whatever rich, young post-grads drink and do pilates and whatever.

Of course, it’s not. That’s just a reputation. If you want to dispel that kind of stereotypical thinking, the easiest way to do that is go and see for yourself. But there’s just not a lot there to pull me there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the bars and restaurants are fine, but I don’t know anyone who lives there, and it’s not the most convenient neighborhood for me to get to. The shops looked cute, and I did have a good piece of chocolate banana walnut bread from a nice little vegan cafe, but I hardly ever go to the very similar nice little vegan cafe five blocks from me. A little crunchier than I tend to gravitate toward on my own. I saw lots of parents with strollers, lots of people watching the Warriors game, and the occasional car with doors that opened up. It didn’t really feel all that different than wandering down Valencia these days, which puts the fear that many people had about what the Mission’s becoming (has already become?) in stark relief. But let’s be real, that’s a deeper problem than one neighborhood’s or even one city’s here in the Bay Area.

If there’s still some quirkiness left to a place like the Marina, which seems to have long since lost and probably never really wanted that edge, it’s definitely along Lombard, with its magnificent stretch of motels. These days they look like most motels look (kind of run down), but it’s a reminder that used to be a gateway to the City, with people coming in over Golden Gate and driving along that stretch until the 101 turns on Van Ness. And while some of them are Super 8s or similar sorts of affairs, most of them are their own unique entity, each vying to lure you in with a heated pool and free Wi-Fi. Of course, they all had vacancies. We don’t stay in hotels any more. We stay in Airbnbs. It’s another vestige of a world that is slowly disappearing, perhaps a last vestige over there in a neighborhood that has no apparent interest in standing out or drawing in outsiders. No one comes to the City to go to the Marina (I mean, I’m sure someone does, but work with me here), and perhaps that’s the way they like it. Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad place. It’s just to say that it is probably (rightly) not the neighborhood for me. Though I wonder sometimes how much we are defined by where we live and how much we live where we are already defined. But that didn’t look much like a place that was interested in asking it.

Week 2: See a band you’ve never previously listened to live

31) Week 2: See a band you’ve never previously listened to live

Like I said last week, I ended up getting behind pretty much right away. January has…not been the best. But hey, I’m an adult. You get back up off the mat and get back to it. That’s all there is to do. That or stay there. While I definitely have some decisions to make about things in 2016 as I try to make some better choices about where I’m going and what I’m spending my money on throughout the year, the deck becomes something I can channel my energy through in terms of finding outlets. Perhaps it has a different purpose than last year. Last year it was an excuse not to stand still and to keep exploring San Francisco. This year, it becomes the thing that gives me stuff to do while I figure everything else out.


Part of that is remembering the shows I enjoy most. While I certainly appreciate legacy acts and reunion tours, they come with quite the price tag, and for all of that, it’s the small rooms I love most. I imagine this year will feature a lot more Rickshaw and Hemlock than the Fillmore and Warfield. It’s just hard to stomach $300+ festivals and $60+ gate prices in the big rooms over and over. I still want to support bands though. And here’s the thing, as much as I love bands that are selling out rooms like The Fillmore, that’s just it. They are selling out The Fillmore already. They are going to with or without me. And good for them if they do. But those are expensive tickets. In my heart, I am the kind of person who loves getting a ticket and a beer for less than $20 if I can. I like being there with 50 other people. Perhaps it’s just a desire to get there first, or perhaps it’s just fun and worthwhile to support bands in those positions. I don’t know. I love First Ave and the Entry equally, but I can tell you which room I spent more time in (and probably more money).

That is to say, it’s fun to be in those small rooms as bands are cutting their teeth. To see them their first time in a city, or to see them go from 50 to 200 people even is something. It’s something to see them sell out to 1,600 people too, but it’s a different something. It’s one of those things I cannot adequately explain, but I just know about myself. The intimacy of small rooms and sell-out arena shows can both be excellent, but I know which I prefer. It’s with that spirit that I got a ticket to see PWR BTTM on a Monday night. I had heard many things about them, as venerable local label Father/Daughter Records had a hand in their new record and they just seem to be catching some good press recently.

On the one hand, they are wholly unremarkable, just another duo singing songs about the post-college doldrums of loans and shitty jobs, looking for love, or just looking for a good time. Plenty of bands have and will continue to sing songs like that. On the other, how many queer bands are there out there doing that? Why does it still sound so unusual to hear someone sing songs about shopping and boys when that singer is a guy? Because that just doesn’t get played out much, and it certainly doesn’t get the attention of so many people that frequently. Not that there haven’t been awesome and awesomely queer bands prior to this, just that they are catching the right thing at the right time. They aren’t just queer artists, they sing very queer songs, and it’s something that you just don’t hear about as much. But that’s still where we are at. They aren’t the first to do it of course, but sometimes it’s just about timing. Being in a fairly full room with a lot of people who I can’t imagine would have been at the show 10 years ago, that was something to see. Much of it is on me for not finding and support artists like them sooner, because they have been there and you just don’t hear about them.

But I guess none of that matters if the songs and the show aren’t good. The songs and the show were both beyond good. It’s something you need to see and experience, something that would be a different experience every time. This isn’t about the setlist and precision, about how the show will generally be the same from night to night. I imagine it could oscillate wildly.  I hope that somewhere down the line queer loves songs become more normalized to listeners (myself included in the sense that they still sounded so refreshing and unheard), though I doubt you’ll ever see a band like PWR BTTM be anything less than who they are. A couple guys in drag crushing it on stage, telling good stories, having a good time, and making sure we do too. I said it at the time. I am usually feel like the queerest person at many a show I go to by default. Which is more of an indictment of the kinds of shows I see and the kinds of crowds they attract. If I learned anything, it’s that I want to be at more of these kinds of shows. That these kinds of shows tend to align with my goal of spending a little less to see a little more is just a nice bonus. You can still be surprised by the shows in the bigger rooms. I know I have been. There’s magic there too. But I’m not seeing the bands I want to see as much make it to those rooms. Perhaps it’s just time to get back to it. Someone’s gotta help support those bands until they get to the Fillmore, after all.

Week 3: Go to a City, County, or Regional Park site you’ve never visited

08) Go to a City, County, or Regional Park site you’ve never visited

So you may notice Week 3 came before Week 2. I’m working on that. January has presented some…challenges in other areas of my life. So don’t worry, I have plans for Week 2 this upcoming week, and I’m sure I can manage to squeeze Week 4 in as well. Anyway…

CranebowThere are not that many parks in San Francisco I have not visited. It’s less a brag and more a statement of things that matter to me. I was the same way in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, too. I love to explore the outdoors, to see different vistas, to find not just the parks that everyone says are great like Land’s End but the hidden gems that people really ought to get to but don’t as much, like Bayview Park. For every Minnehaha, there’s Shadow Falls. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy immediate access to Golden Gate Park and the Presidio. They are amazing places. But sometimes it’s good to go see if other places are amazing too.

The TownWith that spirit, I rode my bike over to Heron’s Head Park, one of the last parks I haven’t made it to in the city. Bayview and Hunter’s Point are not the easiest to get to, a legacy of freeway construction and poor transit options dividing a city. You can either bike through the tangle of Cesar Chavez (officially: Cesar Chavez-Potrero-Bayshore-US 101 Interchange) or come down through Dogpatch. The 44 will get you there, too, but it’s a long ride to Evans. Oddly, Bayview has some of the best protected bike lanes in the city. You just have to get to them first. Heron’s Head, and the greater India Basin are, are tucked away by Hunter’s Point, which, if we’re being honest, doesn’t have much because the rest of us in the city neglect it. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course, and won’t stay that way as the redevelopment of India Basin on the whole and whatever is happening with the shipyards and Candlestick, change is coming. It might not get as much attention as what’s going on in neighborhoods like the Mission and Soma, but gentrification will likely be just as ugly there.

Looking back at the CityThe neighborhood I found now, though? It was a pretty quiet ride through low-rise commercial, by the main Post Office and Speakeasy, near some of the few still active shipyards of the city. I don’t want to sound like some bumbling asshole “discovering” it because I certainly didn’t. I just think there’s something about the quiet over there, something about the fact that even if it’s a small city, at least by square mileage, there’s a lot to this city, a lot you might never see if you don’t challenge yourself to get out there and see it. The park itself is basically a little marshy peninsula jutting out into the Bay, with excellent views of Oakland and the flattened remains of Point Avisadero that the shipyards rest on. I stumbled upon an open house about the future of India Basin with multiple firms there to pitch their plan for the future. So perhaps that future is sooner than we think for Bayview. As for the present? Get over there and see for yourself.


A Little Light

I noticed a little light in the sky as I rode up Market just before 6 pm. Not much, mind you. But a little. It may not feel like it between the waves of clouds and rain, but the days are getting longer. It’s one of the underrated aspects of January. It can be hard to appreciate in the dead of winter, I understand that, but it’s true. The evidence was right there over Twin Peaks and Diamond Heights.

January has always been one of my favorite months. I like summer, but I’m not really a summer person. Everyone loves fall and spring, sure, but winter is my season. I get this is not everyone’s opinion of winter, but give me frozen waterfalls, downhill skiing, the heart of the hockey season, and a good winter beer. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the other seasons. I just really enjoy winter. And I particularly enjoy January because the days are getting longer again, because even if I had nothing to do with it, it’s a damn fine month to be born in. Even if it’s arbitrary, watching the calendar roll over and the sense of recrudescence it foments (even if it is short-lived in many cases) because it’s a new year is pretty cool. Perhaps it would make more sense to time that with spring, but who ever said the Gregorian calendar made sense?

The 2016 edition of January has not been my favorite so far. Work has been…not that great. I missed applying for the job I meant to, have been working way more weekends than I ever want to, and I’m finding myself burned out. And the short-term ramifications are that I find it harder to get done the other things I need or want to do. The dishes pile up, the laundry doesn’t get put away, I’m not cooking as much as I’d like to. Thankfully, I’ve managed to keep some other things in motion. I’m still getting my running in, and there’s still time for trivia and I am taking care of myself okay, but not as well as I’d like. I find I’m making more mistakes in little things too, at work, or in the kitchen, almost putting in the wrong ingredient or running out of something I could have sworn I checked on before I started halfway through. That’s why I missed applying for the job I meant to, I saw the email, it didn’t magically mark itself as read, I just didn’t really see it. I’ve felt that way a lot this month.

We all make mistakes. I’ve learned to own mine. Sure, there are a lot of other unlucky little things that happened, but the first mistake I made was missing something I said was important to me. I didn’t take the proper steps to ensure I took care of myself. There’s not always going to be someone to catch you when you fall. In this case, there wasn’t. While the ramifications feel bigger right now, everything just feels a bit more exaggerated. And it feels like the lows have been lower. Or perhaps not lower, but just way more frequent than I’d like. Lots of little indignities piled up on each other. It’s just been one of those stretches where I find myself muttering “of course” a lot. And it’s easy to get distracted by the fact that if I’d received an offer for the job (strong possibility), that would have meant more money, more prestige, I don’t know, whatever you imagine goes along with that kind of stuff.

But mistakes also present opportunities. If I’m feeling overwhelmed doing the position on an interim basis, why do I want to do it on a permanent basis, while adding an hour to my commute each day? Is it worth it? Is this really the best opportunity for me right now? Sure, some of that is spin, bargaining as I work my way through processing the mistake I’ve made. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Perhaps this isn’t the right fit for me, or the right time. How do I juggle a longer commute and more responsibility with still wanting to have the flexibility to make it to the Hemlock on a random Wednesday? Time is a finite variable. What gives in that equation? How can I use my time more fully in ways that I want to? Money is not the only measure of success, and due to a fair amount of luck, I’m doing just fine. I won the lottery when it comes to my living arrangement. How much do I want to actually enjoy living in San Francisco? Even in its (current/constant) broken state, it’s an exceptional place. I am exceptionally lucky; I have a good thing going on right now. How much do I want to disrupt that?

Of course, I’m not just thinking about present me. I’m thinking about future me. I turn 35 tomorrow. Which is not old. But it’s hard to call myself young anymore. How many more shots am I going to get at that next chance? Do I want to delay it another year? Well, now I don’t have much of a choice. I did delay it, at least for the indefinite future. But that also creates new choices.  I can evaluate the path I thought I was going down and ask myself why I really was. And the answer is…I’m not really sure? Because it seems like the right thing to do? Because the rent doesn’t pay itself? Because it allows me to do the other things I want to do? Because it is the right thing to do? It’s probably all of those things, and a few more.

As I pivot, I applied for something else. Now I can wonder if that’s the right fit. There are different challenges to that position, as it’s a lateral move, not a move up; it does not present any immediate financial reward, which let’s be real, never hurts. I still need to be offered a job before I get too far ahead of myself. But that position is where I thought I was heading if you’d asked me a year ago. And then some things changed and I thought I was heading somewhere else. Now I may be heading back to where I thought I was going all along. On the surface, it plays to my professional strengths. While it may be short on the immediate bump, perhaps it is what’s best for me professionally in the long run. There’s not really any way to know that, of course. Perhaps they are all justifications. What isn’t? When I write it out, it’s a ridiculous thing to be hung up on. But that’s a reason to write. It helps me step back and remember I am objectively a very lucky woman. I am mad at myself for missing this opportunity, but that I had it at all would have been hard to fathom even a few years ago.

Perhaps that’s the clarity that comes with acceptance. It’s still real a couple weeks later, but I’ve processed it. Not 100%, of course. I’m in no rush to say that I’m past this, or I still won’t feel the effects for a while. I will. We live with our mistakes. They are not our sum, but they inform who we are. How we respond, who we are in the face of them, who is there for us when we make them, how we move past them. Hopefully, we learn from those mistakes. We make changes. We become more fully realized versions of ourselves. We explore new opportunities. We take new chances that lead to new mistakes, and through this cycle, we continue to grow. It may not feel like everything is going the right way right now. But there’s still 10 days left in January, still time for it to be the month I know and love. Sure, it’s gonna rain tomorrow. But we need the rain. And behind the clouds, it’s only getting brighter.

Week 1: Attend A Live Sporting Event

A new year, a new attempt to document things. I tried last year, but Tumblr just isn’t my thing. I have this space I pay for, so I am going to do it here. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to put myself down in front of the keyboard a little more, and perhaps be surprised by what else happens besides short recaps. But for the time being, I’m here to talk about Week 1 of the 2016 edition of Oblique Activities.

01) Attend a live sporting event

I swear I shuffled the deck. But as it turned out, the first card out of the deck was #1. I was hoping it would wait until a bit later in the year as baseball is a little easier to get to, but it wasn’t meant to be. I thought about basketball, but it’s not really my thing, Golden State tickets are too rich for my blood, and all the local college teams seemed to be out of town this weekend. I got a bit lucky, though. The Sharks were not only in town, but the Sharks-Maples game on Saturday started at the rather unusual time of 4:00 pm. Most Sharks games start at 7:30 pm, which isn’t too late for me by any means, but it’s a 2 hour trip and Caltrain’s last train during the weekdays is 10:30 pm and may leave early. An NHL game is typically about 2 hours and 40 minutes, so it’s possible, but tight. In addition, it’s a $22 trip down and at a minimum a $35 ticket. So it takes some forethought. What I’m saying is one does not just go to San Jose on a whim. That’s one of the reasons it was so difficult to complete that card last year.

Still, with all those factors on my side, it was hard to pass up. Not only did I get a Mike Ricci collectible locker, I got to see a game and not feel pressed for time. Still, it’s a haul. I left my place at 12:40 pm to make the 1:15 pm to get there over an hour early. In retrospect, I could have taken the 2:15 pm, but live and learn, right? 7:00 pm back and I got off at 22nd just in time for it to start raining on me just after 8:30 pm. That’s a lot of my day. Still, I love hockey, and I don’t see nearly enough of it live for how much I enjoy it. I only caught the Winter Classic and Djurgården-Hoveå last year in person. I had a lot of built-in excuses not to go, and sure the dishes didn’t get done, but there are always dishes to do. Not an excuse to let them pile up forever, just a reminder that there’s always something else you could be doing. And some nights those things are the right things to do. But last night, the right thing to do was watch the Sharks post a 7-0 victory over the Maple Leafs. How can you pass up a double anthem night anyway? Not saying I’m gonna go to a Sharks game every week for the rest of the season, but the first one is always the one with the most built-in excuses to not do. Now I know how long it takes to get there. Now I know how close it is to the Caltrain terminus. And now that I know, what excuse do I have not to do it all again when the Sharks host the Caps on March 12 on a Saturday night when the last train is far less of a concern? Sometimes the best reason to do something is just to see that it is possible.

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