Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Just Another Day in SF’s Mission


Morning brought two new (or just-noticed?) lines of lean, mostly white men. They stand, awkwardly, in a single row. They face outward, toward the street, like some sort of police lineup. But not. All stare downward, toward smart phones or tablets, with lean white cords running from their ears to their thin mobile technologies. Their button-down shirts and casual-dress pants share a sameness, or what one well-known chain store is currently selling as “normal” on billboards around town.

There are many such lines, morning and evening. They congeal outside whatever luxury condo-eatery complex has just been opened, or in front of barberships that pretend to be old-fashioned and charge $75 for haircuts, or near boutiquey-tiny groceries and ice cream shops, where others lines — lines of leisure — form on weekends. Rumor has it that one of the Google lawyers leaves his big hummer at home, with home being a Victorian that’s far too big and expensive for one person, to stand in these rows, where bodies appear to have no relation to each other.

The two new lines this morning were like a gauntlet, one across the street from the other, both in what’s dubbed a transit hub of public buses and public subway and public plazas. One queue formed below a yoga studio; the other was against a chain-link fence protecting a vacant lot that, if further rumors have it right, will be approved for a 7-story luxury development next week. “Friendly” city politician-bureaucrats feign disbelief that permitting upscale projects on empty lots tailspins out to eject all sorts of nearby poor and working-class residents and businesses. These lean, mostly white, mostly young men must have the inside track on such rubber stamps, getting a jump on claiming temporary, insular turf for their lean, white, private bus. A ghost image almost forms behind them of the building-to-come.

Buses pull up on the both of this San Francisco street, unmarked, stealth-like and foreboding, and lines and men and smart phones vanish into the interior. One can see vague outlines of what might be humans, finding seats, but only vague. The bus windows are always darkened, and the humans, with downturned heads, are trying not to lose a beat in staying connected to their own private worlds.

There are so many of these buses, as the armored vehicles of this war zone, you could almost stop seeing them. Almost. But two so close at hand to your front door, especially before coffee, snaps you awake. Your home, after all, is now slated for eviction because it’s slated for likely sale for its land value, then demolition, then rebuilding as lean, high, expensive home-cubicles where other lean lines for these private buses will form.

This is not a dream (although it should be a nightmare). It is not your imagination (that requires venture capitalist these days, right?). Nothing stays solid here anymore.

Yesterday, rumor spread like the urban version of wildfire in this drought-stricken region: Sunflower, another in a long and tired line of affordable neighborhood haunts, was suddenly sealed tight. It, too, is within a block of your Mission home. An 8.5 x 11 white piece of paper posted in this Vietnamese restaurant — a down-in-the-heels spot, with ill-tempered wait staff that usually hurry patrons to eat and get out, but a place for locals and those with lower incomes — read, “We are closed until further notice. Sorry for the inconvenience. Thank you.” The sign peeks out, timidly, through a metal security gate, held firm by padlocks. Everyone decodes this message as, “Our rent went up. A lot.” Another eviction, by any means necessary.

Standing in front of Sunflower last night, to see for yourself, you can glimpse in your mind’s eye the taqueria that was priced out, and the produce store, too, and so many others that you can’t quite recall.

A bit earlier, you’d already walked past a flea-bag, bed-bug of a “hotel”/SRO closed a year or so ago. You’ve been watching its steady reconstruction, from sketchy to sleek, from dark to white. Today, as if from nowhere, you notice a tall, natural-wood-framed door with pristine glass, on which a tasteful address has been hand painted, discreetly. Through the glass, exposed brick walls line a staircase leading upward. A lean, artificial-looking, but tastefully dressed white woman comes up behind you with a key, to let herself in.

“What is this place?” you ask, with less than your typical friendliness.

Perkily, with plastic smile, she replies: “It’s a new bed and breakfast! It’s lovely!”

“Poor people used to live here.”

Her smile doesn’t falter. “It’s a new bed and breakfast! It’s lovely.”

You put on your best “look of hate,” which your housemates were practicing/modeling the other night, when talk inevitably turned to such vanishing acts.

It’s of no use, of course. Her face won’t lose its mask, part real and part something out of the architectural renderings plastered around the city to entice buyers and renters into the latest new high-priced high-rise. She, like the near 40 percent of this new city who make at least six figures (or more) in income, are studiously choosing not to see.

Her response, you suppose, is far better than the lean, white tech guy who recently declared, “They’re not worth it. Displace them!”

As bleak amusement, even earlier in the day, you decided to count cars. Your findings displaced your own hunch that most were mini or tiny cars. One out of every 4 or even 3, parked as well as moving, was a Prius. Capitalism here is progressive.

This day — with no exaggeration, like every day now — more buildings are clothed in scaffolding, more cranes rise like phoenixes, another tech convention puts thousands and maybe millions into setting up its couple-day show of force.

It’s private property as theft.

Even the art that imagines demise of all this destruction, the bust to this boom, like the bus in the photo here, is itself already dust. The building on which this mural sat was sold a few months ago for over $8 million. The person who bought the building has already spent $350,000 per luxury apartment before they’ve even broken ground, much less done the demo work.

Recently, someone thought to remove this painting, along with ones depicting indigenous histories in times past. Faceless plywood has taken its place, as guard and “fuck you.” Below the plywood, black men, likely without homes, still try to sell bits of found objects, laid out on the dirty sidewalk, though not for long.

The other gauntlet you walked through this morning was one of tents. In haphazard line. Colorful, albeit encrusted with dirt. Lean, too, but in a different manner of speaking. Tent city in a tech city, not there yesterday, probably not there tomorrow.

*  *  *

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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, 16th Street near Valencia, SF’s Mission, on a day that seems like history, sometime way back in 2014.)


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This entry was posted on September 26, 2014 by in Dispatches from Gentrifying San Francisco.
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