10 September 2013

Carpetbaggers

I vividly remember during the First Web Boom, when San Francisco had an influx of ’99ers, that I resisted grumbling about the folks coming to San Francisco to seek their fortunes.

I moved to the Bay Area in 1992. I met plenty of people who had a kind of chauvinism about the Bay Area, who would talk about how the real San Franciscans were only the people who had moved to SF before they did, the day they did, or the day after, and everyone else was just a newcomer and not the real thing. It's a thing you hear in any place, organization, and subculture — you should have been here in the old days — and I didn't want to be one of those folks.

So I held my tongue for a good long time, thinking that resentment of the influx of people from the Boom was more of the same. The tone of the City changed, but hey, things change. I tried to appreciate the weird excitement it brought.

Still, it bothered me, and I tried to resist letting it get under my skin ... until I figured out why.

I was doing some consulting for a doomed startup with a nonsense business plan to IPO as quickly as possible so everyone could cash out. The founder told me about his first drive down 101 to talk to the venture capital firms on Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto; he described how he felt he was “treading on hallowed ground”. I felt a surge of disgust: there was nothing holy about this guy's business plan.

The San Francisco I loved was raffish and queer and weird, and it attracted people like me who didn't quite fit anywhere else. But ’99ers weren't moving to San Francisco because it was San Francisco. They were moving here to get rich. And they resented that San Francisco was weird; they wanted it to be like anyplace else and they did their level best to make it that way.

The First Boom crashed out after just a few years. In that brief time, it seriously damaged the San Francisco ecosystem but didn't quite kill it.

And now we have a Second Boom. And for a while it wasn't so bad; the young hipsters drawn by the Boom weren't exactly San Francisco weird but a lot of them had an appreciation for it, and more than a few joined the ranks of Freak Nation after living here for a while. But this boom has lasted longer ... which also means that the phase of assholes drawn to SF wanting to get rich is lasting longer. The tone of the City is changing more, and with the double shock of two booms in a row it seems to be changing more fundamentally and permanently.

Yeah, I know that I'm middle aged now, which is a risk factor for irrational nostalgia for the the world as it was when I was young. I don't think it's only that.

There are plenty of places for assholes who want to get rich. We only have the one San Francisco. And it's getting to the point where I'm tempted to say we only had the one San Francisco.


Update: Heather Gold comments wisely on Twitter. Chris Tacy says something very similar to my own thoughts, even more harshly.

3 comments:

Al said...

The only San Francisco I've known is the "after" version you describe. Since I moved to the Bay Area in 2006, it has seemed to mostly be million dollar houses, IPOs, hipsters, and rich fucks.

If there was a weird and funky and not wealth seeking San Francisco, I think it has been gone for a long time.

But, heck, I live in the East Bay, which might as well be LA as far as most people in San Francisco are concerned. You do too, now. Time to embrace your new home!

Unknown said...

Well, if *you* say that San Francisco, the capital of Freak Nation, is done, then I know it truly must be. I decided awhile ago that the San Francisco I love really is mostly a product of my own mid-90s nostalgia, run through the lens of my mid-40s & a different set of priorities. I could only grab fleeting tastes while I was back last year, but I could still catch a whiff of the Freaks in SF from time-to-time, even if they were mostly 20-years out of sync with me personally. But, almost all of my people were in East Bay. However, even that world proved difficult to reconnect with, which is part of why I could seize the opportunity to run north when it presented itself. (Eugene is lovely, btw, come visit us some time!)

Anyhow, my question is-- in my view, the entire Bay Area has long been tinctured with the essence of the Freaks. So, when you say that spirit is truly waning, do you mean just San Francisco proper (as Al seems to read), or is it the whole region (which I would say seemed to be undergoing similar changes, being in SF's wake...)

Al said...

Oh Unknown who is known to me,

I do think the East Bay has a very different vibe than San Francisco. Is it just five or ten years behind the trend? Who knows.