You too can parachute into the city and produce a column by deadline. Just use this handy MadLib!
Not long after _____ (Twitter/Facebook/Salesforce/Good Vibrations), a company that didn’t exist ______ (eight/two/seven/one hundred) years ago, spit out _____ (1,600/100/infinity/2) instant millionaires in its first day on the stock market, I joined a queue for an evening train from Silicon Valley to San Francisco.
The fare, one way for $9, was a bit of a shock. But then, this is the same region now _____ (charging $4 for a single piece of heated bread/building private clubs for the technorati/doing smoothie shots in rooftop gardens/practicing orgasmic meditation), prompting a _____ (blog post/newspaper article/Snapchat snap/carrier pigeon message) with the headline _____ (“$4 Toast: Why the Tech Industry Is Ruining San Francisco”/The Pleasure Principle/As Companies Seek Tax Deals, Governments Pay High Price/Backlash by the Bay) to go viral.
Because I’d just missed an earlier train, I now had to kill 45 minutes before the next ride. Midway through the wait came an announcement: All trains were shut down, indefinitely, because of ____ (a power glitch/labor unions/Peter Shih/the Big One). Have a nice evening!
San Francisco still has its Hitchcock moments—the Mediterranean light, the _____ (Golden Gate Bridge/Sutro Tower/Transamerican Pyramid/Willie Brown Bay Bridge) poking out of the fog, the allure of possibility, all there in a film like _____ (“Vertigo”/”Bullitt”/”Zodiac”/”Mrs. Doubtfire”/”Star Trek IV”). But of late, the city named for a 13th century pauper from Assisi serves more as an allegory of how the rich have changed America for the worse.
A spate of recent news stories carried the same lament: San Francisco is becoming a one-dimensional town for the 1 percent. Its housing prices—median home sale, $900,000, median rent, $3,250 a month—are the highest in the nation. Only 14 percent of homes are affordable to the middle class. Evictions of those who ____ (don’t fit/can’t pay/smell funny/read the Bay Guardian) are up 38 percent in the last three years.
The texture of inequality can be felt, and seen, in the rise in _____ (private transportation/uber for yachts/Hyperloops/Google Barges)—the fleet of buses giving tech workers a bubbled commute between the city and the social media campuses to the south. At the high end, Google’s top executives are building an $84 million private corporate jet center at San Jose International Airport.
The backlash, in the form of voter disapproval of the _____ (latest gilded condo project/Peter Shih/sexting/$42 half chickens-for-two at Tosca) and open scorn of the digital elite, has reached a stage where even techies no longer want to be called techies.
“Techies take the Mission” goes one song played in clubs, referring to the latest neighborhood to face the transition from slope-shouldered authenticity to gleaming soullessness. “Techies gentrify me.”
“Every day in every way, from rising rents to rising prices at restaurants to its private buses, the tech world is becoming an object of scorn,” wrote _____ (former Mayor Willie Brown/former Mayor Art Agnos/Batkid/the vengeful ghost of Herb Caen).
Much of this scorn is deserved. And those who shrug should take a second look. In one recent comment about this _____ (tale of two cities/tale of two cites/tale of two cities/tale of two cities/tale of two cities), a reader here wrote: “Why is it a problem that underachievers are moving out?”
Why? Let me count the ways. A city without its _____ (nurses/teachers/artists/12 Galaxy-style crazies/homeless poopers/public nudists) as residents is a monoculture—as sterile as a forest of a single commercial tree species.
But much of the scorn is also not fair. Cities develop organically, and if the young, rich and digitally obsessed want to cluster in this peninsula by the Pacific, who’s to stop them. A neighborhood like _____ (the Mission/Frat Mason/North of NoPa/West Oakland), with its beautifully tattooed buildings, open-air bodegas and Victorian flats unchanged since _____ (Jack London’s/Gavin Newsom’s/Jerry Garcia’s/Emperor Norton’s/the Ohlone tribe’s) day, is a place close to my heart. But it’s not destined, for all time, to be frozen.
Go to any city with a thriving hub of young, creative job holders and you’ll find a version of what’s happening here. New York has its Park Slope; Portland, Ore., has its Pearl District; Seattle its _____ (South Lake Union/Meat Puppets/Howard Schultz/bring back the Sonics), all thick with people who work at jobs that don’t pollute, pay well and tap into the tomorrow economy. Detroit, Cleveland or El Paso would sell their civic souls for a shot at some of that scorned prosperity.
Some solutions—such as _____ (a raise in the minimum wage/rent control/housing for the middle class/floating libertarian islands/bike sharing)—are getting a fresh airing. The United States now ranks third among all advanced nations in the amount of income inequality, according to the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality. This issue is at the heart of preserving our nation’s _____ (egalitarian sense of self/rugged pioneer destiny/free love/fists full of LSD).
But absent a big legislative resolution, there is one thing a city like San Francisco can do to hold onto some of its unique character (and characters). That brings me back to my ruined evening, courtesy of _____ (Caltrain/Rose Pak/8 Washington/Chicken John Rinaldi/the Ellis Act). The next day, _____ (BART/MUNI/the Hyperloop/an America’s Cup yacht) broke down in the morning rush hour, stranding thousands of people trying to get to work. The Muni system, which operates the city’s buses, is the slowest fleet in the country, averaging eight miles an hour; its breakdowns cost the city $50 million a year in lost productivity.
While New York’s subway system boasted of moving 5,985,311 people on a single day in October (an all-time record), the Bay Area’s trains, buses and light rail cars limp through technical failures and labor strife. They’re old, dirty, slow and prone to _____ (system-wide breakdowns/disruption/being humped) as the euphemism goes.
In New York, at least, rich and poor are more likely to rub _____ (elbows/iPhones/genitals) and even make _____ (eye contact/drug deals/world peace) while getting around. The commute is a daily reminder to the very wealthy that not everybody can afford those new condos overlooking Central Park, just listed at $53 million.
Here, transportation segregation is on the rise because you can’t rely on the public system. And when you put _____ (the working poor/the middle class/Stanford graduates/unemployed mimes) out of sight, you put them out of mind. The sleek fleet of Google-bound buses and black über-taxis is a market response to a costly, unreliable, unpleasant transit system.
With all its money, and all its _____ (techies/gays/makers/Chinese people), San Francisco can do better. To avoid the kind economic dystopia that Pope Francis recently warned about, the City of St. Francis can, at the least, make its public transit system something other than a disgrace. Somewhere in these seven by seven miles of densely packed ambition is a ____ (solution/joint/taxi/thousand word column I can turn in before deadline).