Between Life and Death, There’s San Francisco: A Reading List

They came in the tens of thousands, pushing baby carriages and packing roller skates. All in all, an estimated 200,000 pedestrians crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on May 27, 1937, its first day in business. The bridge was already a San Francisco landmark—a flaming, burnt-orange beacon conceived a decade earlier by Leon Moisseiff, who had engineered the Manhattan Bridge. It was a graceful design, but suspension bridges still weren’t entirely safe—the engineer’s Tacoma Narrows Bridge would fail spectacularly only a few months after it opened in 1940.

The Golden Gate also has a dark side. To afford a view of the city, the bridge has a low barrier that is easy to scale. (In “Jumpers,” the New Yorker’s Tad Friend meditates on the bridge’s reputation for death—for the families and friends of those who succeed in their jumps, it’s an indelible monument to their loved ones’ pain.) This month, city workers will finally begin the installation of a new barrier, a grey netting that will blend into the water without obscuring the view. Officials hope it will finally reduce suicide rates on the deadly bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge has long embodied the contradictions of the city it overlooks: ambition, connection, innovation, a beginning and an end. San Francisco has always held those contradictions—a deep tension between life and death, old and new— and here some of our favorite stories about a changing city and the resilience of those who call it home.

1. “Death by Gentrification: The Killing That Shamed San Francisco” by Rebecca Solnit (The Guardian, March 2016)

Alejandro Nieto, a 28-year-old man murdered by policemen who claimed he was trying to taser them, died in part because of changes in neighborhood he’d lived in his entire life. Solnit argues that Nieto’s death was caused by the clashes that happen when a city’s new and old residents square off during periods of explosive growth.

San Francisco was never anti-newcomer: Until recently, it had always been a place where new people arrived to reinvent themselves. When they arrive in a trickle, they integrate and contribute to the ongoing transformation. When they arrive in a flood, as they have during economic booms since the 19th-century gold rush, including the dotcom surge of the late 1990s and the current tech tsunami, they scour out what was there before. By 2012 the incursion of tech workers had gone from steady stream to deluge, and more and more people and institutions— bookstores, churches, social services, bars, small businesses—began to be evicted.

San Francisco had been a place where some people came out of idealism or stayed to realize an ideal: to work for social justice or teach the disabled, to write poetry or practice alternative medicine—to be part of something larger than themselves that was not a corporation, to live for something more than money. That was becoming less and less possible as rent and sale prices for homes spiraled upward. What the old-timers were afraid of losing, many of the newcomers seemed unable to recognize.

2. “San Francisco is Dead. Long Live San Francisco” by Gary Kamiya (San Francisco Magazine, April 2014)

Is San Francisco dying? It’s a question that’s become a kind of parlor game for city residents and journalists like Kamiya, who calls the city’s war against itself “The Change.” That change is sweeping through the city as it becomes richer. But could it end up rebirthing the city?

The Change is an unconquerable force of nature, like death. And much of the reaction to it recalls the first three stages of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grieving: a combination of denial, anger, and bargaining. If we yell and rage loudly enough, if we find someone to blame, if we replace reason with hyperbole—Solnit memorably compared newly-arrived techies to ivory collectors in China—then somehow the city we know will come back…

But cities are also always being reborn. And as I wander through our new city, I find myself open to it. I’m not convinced that it is really going to become a soulless simulacrum of Manhattan (or worse, Atherton). I’m curious to know what San Francisco in 2025 or 2050 will look and feel like. I’m interested in the young people who are pouring in. When I wander through Dolores Park on a hot Saturday afternoon and watch the throngs hanging out, talking, drinking wine, smoking weed, and listening to music, I don’t examine them suspiciously, trying to figure out which ones are the bad techies and which ones are the good baristas (except for the people playing that inane toss-the-beanbag game—they gotta go). As I walk through Nob Hill or the Mission or mid-Market and see the fancy single-family homes or the sleek high-rise apartments that are sprouting up here and there, I don’t inwardly groan (except with real estate envy). Mostly, I view them with equanimity, as if they’re seedlings growing in the forest.

3.  “To Whom Does San Francisco’s Oldest Neighborhood Belong?”by Joe Garofoli and Carolyn Said (San Francisco Chronicle, December 2014)

The Mission is ground zero for the city’s gentrification wars, as families who have lived there for generations can no longer afford stability in their own neighborhood. In 2014, the Chronicle spent months diving deep into life in the Mission, finding that things aren’t as simple as out with the old, in with the new.

After 25 years on Valencia Street, Andrew McKinley’s Adobe Books was forced out because of high rents. His store reopened on 24th Street last year as a cooperative. “We were looked on as the gentrifiers of the old neighborhood,” McKinley said. “In the end, we (became) the victims of gentrification. Maybe now we are the gentrifiers again.”

On 24th Street, no business has earned that reputation more than Local’s Corner.

Milgrom uses “local” to refer to the food’s provenance. But to some Mission activists, “local” seems a strange choice, coming from a guy from New York.

And now they were picketing in front of his restaurant on behalf of a longtime Latina resident—a local—who was angry her party had been turned away from Local’s Corner.

After midnight, vandals attacked all four of Milgrom’s businesses. The message in the graffiti scrawls was unmistakable: “Die Yuppies.” “Get lost.” “Keep the Mission Brown.

4. “The Great West Coast Newspaper War,”by Eli Sanders (The Stranger, March 2010)

Tensions about money and legacy can play out in weird ways, like when San Francisco’s alt-weeklies went to war during the 2000s. The conflict was sordid at best, pitting the SF Weekly against its rival, the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The epic battle that caused the two papers to steal one another’s delivery vans and smear each other online could be framed as one of gentrification too. (Spoiler: Three years after Sanders published this piece, the Guardian lost its battle and shuttered.)

No warm greetings from Michael G. Lacey [the executive editor and a co-owner of Village Voice Media], no kind wishes for ongoing professional relationships with everyone in the room. Instead, according to testimony in the court record, he disparaged the writing of the paper’s staff, the neighborhood in which they worked, and the product they put out. He told them things were going to improve now that he owned the place, but this would involve some big changes. No more political endorsements. (Younger readers don’t vote, he would later explain.) Less coverage of city hall. (Not what the 18-to-35 demographic wanted, he thought.) Longer investigative pieces. (To get at the “bigger picture” of San Francisco.) And a total ban on drawing inspiration from what, at the time, was unquestionably the city’s dominant alt-weekly: the Bay Guardian, founded in 1966, fascinated with the workings of city government, fond of picking fights with the local power structure, stamped each week with the motto “Print the news and raise hell,” and long a tribune for a certain strand of crusading West Coast liberalism.

To make clear his point about the changing frame of reference, Lacey grabbed a copy of the Bay Guardian off one of the desks in the room, threw it to the ground, and stomped on it. People who were at the meeting recall Lacey saying, “We don’t want to just compete with the Bay Guardian; we want to put the Bay Guardian out of business” and “We want to be the only game in town” and “We’re going to bury the Guardian.”

6. “Suddenly That Summer,”by Sheila Weber (Vanity Fair, June 2012)

Clashes between old and new, local and outsider, are part and parcel of San Francisco life, and they always have been: The city was born in the cradle of the Gold Rush, withstood generations of immigration, and is still in the throes of transformation. As radical as 1967’s Summer of Love wanted to be, it also was a movement with a foot firmly planted in the past:

What was unique was happening across town, where a group of young artists, musicians, and San Francisco State College students became besotted with the city’s past. “There was a huge romanticism around the idea of the Barbary Coast, about San Francisco as a lawless, vigilante, late-19th-century town,” says Rock Scully, one of those who rented cheap Victorian houses in a run-down neighborhood called Haight-Ashbury. They dressed, he says, “in old, stiff-collared shirts with pins, and riding coats and long jackets.” […]

More and more young people were flooding the Haight, including four beautiful girls from Antioch College, in Ohio. A sexy anarchist movement, the Diggers, had sprung up, and the girls joined in. One day two of them, Cindy Read and Phyllis Wilner, “were walking down Haight Street,” Cindy recalls, “and Phyllis said, ‘Isn’t this how you thought the world would be, except it wasn’t? But now, for us, it is!’ ”

 


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/05/27/between-life-and-death-theres-san-francisco-a-reading-list/

What Alex Jones and Amanda Chantal Bacon Have in Common

I imagine it’s hard to interview Amanda Chantal Bacon. When Molly Young arrives at her house, the Moon Juice guru doesn’t answer her knock, but instead, politely, calmly, asks Young to remove her shoes. What follows is a feature for the New York Times Magazine that shows how easy it is to make fun of wellness and and how hard it is get to the heart of it.

Young’s profile is a gloss on lifestyle brands — from Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP to Juicero’s gloop — with a brief interlude from Bacon as she measures out the potions of her trade for Young, who plays the role of bewildered writer from the East Coast. I recently asked Rachel Monroe, who wrote a feature on the social media celebrities of #vanlife culture for The New Yorker, about how she chose her subjects for the piece: “They were also willing to be very open about the realities of their lives with me, which was crucial to make the story work.” Bacon is not forthcoming, and Young ends up paraphrasing much of her life story, which is dusted over lunch like a wholesome powder—we don’t get much of her sense of purpose, business or spiritual.

At 18, Bacon moved to Italy alone. Why Italy? “If I thought about all the times I felt connected or alive, it was around the rituals of people gathering and eating and sharing food and slowing down,” she said. In Florence, Bacon discovered that food was her calling. After several years of traveling, she wound up at a culinary school in Vermont. Following graduation, she emailed the Los Angeles-based chef and restaurateur Suzanne Goin and asked for a job. Goin emailed back with an invitation to meet. Bacon hopped on a plane and moved into a garage three blocks from one of Goin’s restaurants, where she hand-whisked aioli and pounded salsa verde with a mortar and pestle until her biceps ached. In early 2012, having absorbed lessons of entrepreneurship from Goin, she opened the first store. “It really is not my name,” she explained, when I asked where the phrase Moon Juice came from. “It just dropped down from the universe.”

Perhaps this is unfair to Bacon—she’s been the butt of the joke before—and it appears she doesn’t much care for you, your humor, or your unglowing skin. But there is a fascinating moment in Young’s piece that is revealing about the politics of wellness. It’s a brief aside about the hippie principles of a company like Moon Juice, and its counterpart on the corrosive far-right:

We tend to think of “wellness” as the province of swoony liberal elites, but it does, in fact, blossom at both cultural poles. The far-right conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones sells some of the same supplements as Moon Juice on his Infowars website. Jones’s organic fair-trade coffee can be purchased in an “Immune Support” variety that includes cordyceps and reishi mushroom extracts; Moon Juice sells cordyceps and reishi powders with similar claims attached. The “Super Female Vitality” supplement at the Infowars shop shares a number of ingredients with the Moon Juice Dusts: maca, epimedium, shilajit. Alex Jones and Amanda Chantal Bacon each sell probiotics. They each warn against the encroachment of “toxins.” Bacon has a recipe for strawberry milk with drops of colloidal silver in it; Alex Jones pushes tiny bottles of colloidal silver online for $19.95. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two purveyors is context. Alex Jones sells his merchandise alongside tactical body armor and Trump shirts; Bacon sells hers next to chia pudding.

What unifies the two is the subtext of their pitches—a seeming conviction that widespread forces are acting on benighted consumers, who can thwart harm only by venturing to the fringes and buying non-F.D.A. approved supplements with which to purify themselves. For Jones, the treachery comes in the form of fluoridated water and chemtrails. For Bacon, it’s Western medicine and the standard American diet. One brand is designed to look like an ashram and the other to look like an underground bunker, but you walk away from each with the same conclusion—that the only way out is way, way, out, in a land of mystical mushrooms and miracle herbs. The valor of separatism, after all, is our founding myth.

Read the story


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/05/26/what-alex-jones-and-amanda-chantal-bacon-have-in-common/

Treating Our Border As a Battle Zone

At Fusion, Sasha von Oldershausen revisits the story of Esequiel Hernandez, the 18-year old who Marines fatally shot when they were patrolling the border in 1997. They mistook him for a drug smuggler in a part of West Texas that the U.S. Government characterized as the front line of the War on Drugs. But how dangerous is this area? And is militarization the most effective way to reduce the drug trade? Twenty years later, many people here feel less safe. As one longtime resident said, “The moment you employ the rhetoric of war, it becomes a battle zone.”

It was this same wrongful characterization of Redford that would ultimately lead to Esequiel’s death. In some ways, it’s plain to see how the Marines could have mistaken Esequiel for a criminal, given “the fragmentary and sometimes inaccurate picture of local conditions,” as the congressional investigation stated.

JTF-6 was equipped with a cursory understanding of the area gleaned from notes written by their sergeant, recounted in the Marine Corp report, which stated: “Redford is not a friendly town,” and “Connections between town residents and drug traffickers were assumed to be the norm.”

They were not informed that families lived just a stone’s throw from where they were hiding, and that among them were Hernandez and his brothers and sisters, his mother and father, who resided in a small cluster of humble homes below the hill where he was shot. They were not told that Esequiel would herd his goats daily in the very region they were monitoring. They didn’t even know that the Polvo Crossing was a “Class B” entry—a legal route for pedestrian traffic to cross the river—until two days into their mission.

Read the story


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/05/26/treating-our-border-as-a-battle-zone/

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Alec MacGillis, Justin Heckert, Peter Vigneron, Michael Lista, and Anthony Breznican.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

* * *

1. Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire

Alec MacGillis | ProPublica & The New York Times Magazine | May 23, 2017 | 26 minutes (6,521 words)

ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis investigates Jared Kushner’s Baltimore-area housing history. Kushner’s company relentlessly pursued former tenants of its Baltimore-area housing developments for unpaid rent, while leaving many buildings in disrepair.

2. Fire on the Mountain

Justin Heckert | Garden & Gun | Jul 1, 2017 | 18 minutes (4,530 words)

The surreal story of the worst fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in 100 years. Started by kids playing with matches, the fire began small and crept across the Smokey Mountains to threaten residents as they slept in their beds. It took the lives of 14 people, displaced 14,000 more, and consumed 2000 properties in under 24 hours.

3. The Curious Case of the Disappearing Nuts

Peter Vigneron | Outside | May 24, 2017 | 15 minutes (3,789 words)

In California, massive nut heists were underway for two years before the industry figured out they were the target of a well-organized theft ring. “Nut theft has ­exploded into a statewide problem. More than 35 loads, worth at least $10 million, have gone missing since 2013.” At Outside, Peter Vigneron reports on these daring nut jobs, thought to be linked to a Russian organized crime ring.

4. Love and Death

Michael Lista | Toronto Life | May 17, 2017 | 18 minutes (4,626 words)

When a controlling Canadian neurosurgeon was charged with murdering his wife, a brilliant family doctor, Canada had to stare in the violent face of the patriarchy one more time.

5. Remembering Mr. Rogers, a true-life ‘helper’ when the world still needs one

Anthony Breznican | Entertainment Weekly | May 23, 2017 | 7 minutes (1,906 words)

When disaster strikes, people often quote Mr. Rogers saying, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Did he really say that? It turns out, that yes, yes he did. And, as Anthony Breznican recounts after randomly meeting Mr. Rogers after the death of his grandfather, the ultimate neighbor was as kind and thoughtful in real-life as his cardigan-wearing, television alter-ego.


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/05/26/the-top-5-longreads-of-the-week-171/

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Alec MacGillis, Justin Heckert, Peter Vigneron, Michael Lista, and Anthony Breznican.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

* * *

1. Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire

Alec MacGillis | ProPublica & The New York Times Magazine | May 23, 2017 | 26 minutes (6,521 words)

ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis investigates Jared Kushner’s Baltimore-area housing history. Kushner’s company relentlessly pursued former tenants of its Baltimore-area housing developments for unpaid rent, while leaving many buildings in disrepair.

2. Fire on the Mountain

Justin Heckert | Garden & Gun | Jul 1, 2017 | 18 minutes (4,530 words)

The surreal story of the worst fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in 100 years. Started by kids playing with matches, the fire began small and crept across the Smokey Mountains to threaten residents as they slept in their beds. It took the lives of 14 people, displaced 14,000 more, and consumed 2000 properties in under 24 hours.

3. The Curious Case of the Disappearing Nuts

Peter Vigneron | Outside | May 24, 2017 | 15 minutes (3,789 words)

In California, massive nut heists were underway for two years before the industry figured out they were the target of a well-organized theft ring. “Nut theft has ­exploded into a statewide problem. More than 35 loads, worth at least $10 million, have gone missing since 2013.” At Outside, Peter Vigneron reports on these daring nut jobs, thought to be linked to a Russian organized crime ring.

4. Love and Death

Michael Lista | Toronto Life | May 17, 2017 | 18 minutes (4,626 words)

When a controlling Canadian neurosurgeon was charged with murdering his wife, a brilliant family doctor, Canada had to stare in the violent face of the patriarchy one more time.

5. Remembering Mr. Rogers, a true-life ‘helper’ when the world still needs one

Anthony Breznican | Entertainment Weekly | May 23, 2017 | 7 minutes (1,906 words)

When disaster strikes, people often quote Mr. Rogers saying, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Did he really say that? It turns out, that yes, yes he did. And, as Anthony Breznican recounts after randomly meeting Mr. Rogers after the death of his grandfather, the ultimate neighbor was as kind and thoughtful in real-life as his cardigan-wearing, television alter-ego.


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/05/26/the-top-5-longreads-of-the-week-171/

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Alec MacGillis, Justin Heckert, Peter Vigneron, Michael Lista, and Anthony Breznican.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

* * *

1. Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire

Alec MacGillis | ProPublica & The New York Times Magazine | May 23, 2017 | 26 minutes (6,521 words)

ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis investigates Jared Kushner’s Baltimore-area housing history. Kushner’s company relentlessly pursued former tenants of its Baltimore-area housing developments for unpaid rent, while leaving many buildings in disrepair.

2. Fire on the Mountain

Justin Heckert | Garden & Gun | Jul 1, 2017 | 18 minutes (4,530 words)

The surreal story of the worst fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in 100 years. Started by kids playing with matches, the fire began small and crept across the Smokey Mountains to threaten residents as they slept in their beds. It took the lives of 14 people, displaced 14,000 more, and consumed 2000 properties in under 24 hours.

3. The Curious Case of the Disappearing Nuts

Peter Vigneron | Outside | May 24, 2017 | 15 minutes (3,789 words)

In California, massive nut heists were underway for two years before the industry figured out they were the target of a well-organized theft ring. “Nut theft has ­exploded into a statewide problem. More than 35 loads, worth at least $10 million, have gone missing since 2013.” At Outside, Peter Vigneron reports on these daring nut jobs, thought to be linked to a Russian organized crime ring.

4. Love and Death

Michael Lista | Toronto Life | May 17, 2017 | 18 minutes (4,626 words)

When a controlling Canadian neurosurgeon was charged with murdering his wife, a brilliant family doctor, Canada had to stare in the violent face of the patriarchy one more time.

5. Remembering Mr. Rogers, a true-life ‘helper’ when the world still needs one

Anthony Breznican | Entertainment Weekly | May 23, 2017 | 7 minutes (1,906 words)

When disaster strikes, people often quote Mr. Rogers saying, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Did he really say that? It turns out, that yes, yes he did. And, as Anthony Breznican recounts after randomly meeting Mr. Rogers after the death of his grandfather, the ultimate neighbor was as kind and thoughtful in real-life as his cardigan-wearing, television alter-ego.


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/05/26/the-top-5-longreads-of-the-week-171/

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Alec MacGillis, Justin Heckert, Peter Vigneron, Michael Lista, and Anthony Breznican.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

* * *

1. Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire

Alec MacGillis | ProPublica & The New York Times Magazine | May 23, 2017 | 26 minutes (6,521 words)

ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis investigates Jared Kushner’s Baltimore-area housing history. Kushner’s company relentlessly pursued former tenants of its Baltimore-area housing developments for unpaid rent, while leaving many buildings in disrepair.

2. Fire on the Mountain

Justin Heckert | Garden & Gun | Jul 1, 2017 | 18 minutes (4,530 words)

The surreal story of the worst fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee in 100 years. Started by kids playing with matches, the fire began small and crept across the Smokey Mountains to threaten residents as they slept in their beds. It took the lives of 14 people, displaced 14,000 more, and consumed 2000 properties in under 24 hours.

3. The Curious Case of the Disappearing Nuts

Peter Vigneron | Outside | May 24, 2017 | 15 minutes (3,789 words)

In California, massive nut heists were underway for two years before the industry figured out they were the target of a well-organized theft ring. “Nut theft has ­exploded into a statewide problem. More than 35 loads, worth at least $10 million, have gone missing since 2013.” At Outside, Peter Vigneron reports on these daring nut jobs, thought to be linked to a Russian organized crime ring.

4. Love and Death

Michael Lista | Toronto Life | May 17, 2017 | 18 minutes (4,626 words)

When a controlling Canadian neurosurgeon was charged with murdering his wife, a brilliant family doctor, Canada had to stare in the violent face of the patriarchy one more time.

5. Remembering Mr. Rogers, a true-life ‘helper’ when the world still needs one

Anthony Breznican | Entertainment Weekly | May 23, 2017 | 7 minutes (1,906 words)

When disaster strikes, people often quote Mr. Rogers saying, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Did he really say that? It turns out, that yes, yes he did. And, as Anthony Breznican recounts after randomly meeting Mr. Rogers after the death of his grandfather, the ultimate neighbor was as kind and thoughtful in real-life as his cardigan-wearing, television alter-ego.


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/05/26/the-top-5-longreads-of-the-week-171/