Frontierism 2.0

Google Buses have been around for a while, but with the mobile boom raising rents and giving way to weird new semi-spiced fusion restaurants, they are suddenly BIG NEWS.  So big that the controversy surrounding them has leaped form humble stencils outside of coffeeshops to the likes of NY Mag.  And now the London Review of Books is getting in the mix with an essay by 30+ year San Franciscan Rebecca Solnit.

It's long and comprehensive, tackling more than I could possible summarize in an early morning blog post.  But it goes beyond the usual whine of rental costs and Those Damn Kids With Their Cellamaphones and tries to give the boom some historical context.  So rather than pick out some highlights, I'll just leave you with the first few paragraphs and encourage you to read on:

The buses roll up to San Francisco’s bus stops in the morning and evening, but they are unmarked, or nearly so, and not for the public. They have no signs or have discreet acronyms on the front windshield, and because they also have no rear doors they ingest and disgorge their passengers slowly, while the brightly lit funky orange public buses wait behind them. The luxury coach passengers ride for free and many take out their laptops and begin their work day on board; there is of course wifi. Most of them are gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and some days I think of them as the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us.

Other days I think of them as the company buses by which the coal miners get deposited at the minehead, and the work schedule involved would make a pit owner feel at home. Silicon Valley has long been famous for its endless work hours, for sucking in the young for decades of sixty or seventy-hour weeks, and the much celebrated perks on many jobsites – nap rooms, chefs, gyms, laundry – are meant to make spending most of your life at work less hideous. The biotech industry is following the same game plan. There are hundreds of luxury buses serving mega-corporations down the peninsula, but we refer to them in the singular, as the Google Bus, and we – by which I mean people I know, people who’ve lived here a while, and mostly people who don’t work in the industry – talk about them a lot. Parisians probably talked about the Prussian army a lot too, in the day.

My brother says that the first time he saw one unload its riders he thought they were German tourists – neatly dressed, uncool, a little out of place, blinking in the light as they emerged from their pod. The tech workers, many of them new to the region, are mostly white or Asian male nerds in their twenties and thirties; you often hear that to be over fifty in that world is to be a fossil, and the two founders of Google (currently tied for 13th richest person on earth) are not yet forty.

Another friend of mine told me a story about the Apple bus from when he worked for Apple Inc. Once a driver went rogue, dropping off the majority of his passengers as intended at the main Apple campus, and then rolling on towards San Jose instead of stopping at the satellite location, but the passengers were tech people, so withdrawn from direct, abrupt, interventionary communications that they just sat there as he drove many miles past their worksite and eventually dumped them on the street in a slum south of the new power centre of the world. At that point, I think, they called headquarters: another, more obedient bus driver was dispatched. I told the story to another friend and we joked about whether they then texted headquarters to get the email addresses of the people sitting next to them: this is a culture that has created many new ways for us to contact one another and atrophied most of the old ones, notably speaking to the people around you. All these youngish people are on the Google Bus because they want to live in San Francisco, city of promenading and mingling, but they seem as likely to rub these things out as to participate in them.

Read on.

Comments (18)

Author  : These kids suck! Except when I wanted to cash out on my condo.


It always comes down to housing in SF. We should build a few huge, NYC style, housing blocks.

No thank you.

It’s happening - and will continue to happen - in Mid-Market. I doubt it’ll make much of a difference in rent in other areas, but it’s a start.

No, more evictions please!!!

It’s the same old implicit argument that the only way to be interesting is work a shitty job that you hate and do artsy stuff with the rest of your free time.

Kids these days - they developed useful skills that take time and effort to master, and now they figured out how to get paid well to use them in jobs that are actually pretty fulfilling too! What’s the world coming to?

And then they gravitate here and make the local economy boom. Awful stuff.

The comparison to miners is an interesting one. Would anyone be complaining if these “outsiders” worked blue collar jobs? Somehow I doubt it.

It’s not that long:

“The oil and gas boomtowns of the present, in Wyoming, North Dakota and Alberta, among other places, follow this model. Lots of money sloshes around boomtowns, but everyday life is shaped by scarcity, not abundance. The boom workers are newcomers. They work long hours, earn high wages, drive up the cost of housing for the locals, drive out some locals, eat out, drink a lot, brawl, overload local services, often get addicted or injured. In Wyoming last year I met a disability counsellor who told me about the young men who go into the coal and gas mining business, make more money than they’ve ever seen, go into debt on a trailer home, a fancy truck, extravagant pleasures, and then get permanently disabled on the job and watch their lives fall apart. A journalist who’d been reporting on the boom in North Dakota told me about ranches ruined by toxins and a trailer park full of Native Americans who’d lived there for many decades evicted to make room for higher-paying miners with brand-new trailers. Like a virus, mining destroys its host and then moves on. There are ghost towns across the west full of dying businesses with the landscape around them ground into heaps leaching toxic residue.

There are ways in which Silicon Valley is nothing like this: it’s clean, quiet work, and here to stay in one form or another. But there are ways in which technology is just another boom and the Bay Area is once again a boomtown, with transient populations, escalating housing costs, mass displacements and the casual erasure of what was here before. I think of it as frontierism, with all the frontier’s attitude and operational style, where people without a lot of attachments come and do things without a lot of concern for their impact, where money moves around pretty casually, and people are ground underfoot equally casually. Sometimes the Google Bus just seems like one face of Janus-headed capitalism; it contains the people too valuable even to use public transport or drive themselves. In the same spaces wander homeless people undeserving of private space, or the minimum comfort and security; right by the Google bus stop on Cesar Chavez Street immigrant men from Latin America stand waiting for employers in the building trade to scoop them up, or to be arrested and deported by the government. Both sides of the divide are bleak, and the middle way is hard to find.”

…but they aren’t making our economy boom, if you have noticed (and most likely haven’t) tax revenues are down, education funding is down, wages across the board for all service jobs (from janitor, to administrator, to teacher, to bartender) non profits are closing their doors, and more people that have jobs that preserve the very essence of the city that makes it a desirable place to live are being pushed out-

the thing is, people that live in the city don’t hate people that have money- it’s always been a city of money (old money), these people are charitable (mostly) they promote arts, music and culture and they know the importance of making sure that the poet, painter, dancer, musician et al, are able to survive in order to keep this small attractive ecosystem flourishing.

the new bubble that has come along appears to be more arrogant and fixated on living the life, but not interested in actually being part of what makes this city so incredible. They go to all the cool new restaurants (the ones the locals just avoid due to stupidly long lines), they have made it possible for long standing stores to be evicted so some new trendy whatever shop can open, and for the most part they are just biting the appearance of being interesting, but instead they come off as pushy and pretentious- creating this attitude of us against them-

but, hey I would rather be friends than a hater, so how about a few ground rules so that this dumb conversation can end-

1. stop with the apartment bidding wars- this is creating a problem in the city for anyone who doesn’t have never ending zeros in their bank accounts.
2. stop waiting in line for food or coffee, there are a bunch of places that might have 3 stars and yelp and are just as good- and even places yelp hasn’t even gone…explore. oh and stop fucking yelping- ugh.
3. stop with the mission hipster crap, the mission is made up of all types rich, poor, hip and a bit less hip- it just makes you sound like an asshole that wishes they were a bit cooler-
4. donate some of that great money you are making to something in san francisco, become a philanthropist, lay down roots and prove that your type isn’t flighty.
5. stop turing what used to be called cafe culture into your own fucking office space- what happened to listening to crass and drinking those giant cappuccinos while have a long ass conversation with your friends about the night before? Go to the library or something….
6. stop replying to blog posts with your useless defense of ‘its not my fault I make a lot of money and make a good living’ no one cares.

Somehow I think the real lesson here is this: Stop judging people as an aggregate.

Perfect summary!

Funniest thing about this blog is a a recent transplant tech nerd runs it, but complains all day about how tech nerds are ruining his neighborhood.

Sure he has adapted to the uniform of the Mission - Vans, Ben D’s, and complaining about everything.

But we see him and the trolls for what they are.

In case you were confused, I didn’t write this, just thought it was a good read.

Thanks for weighing in!

All these youngish people are on the Google Bus because they want to live in San Francisco, city of promenading and mingling, but they seem as likely to rub these things out as to participate in them.

Translation: I have never once had a conversation with a single Google (or apple or facebook etc etc) employee, and I spend very little time outside my apartment.

Jesus people. From above: “Another friend of mine told me a story about the Apple bus from when he worked for Apple Inc.”

I know you love your strawman arguments because you feel under siege from people calling you infiltrators and what not, but her argument is much different that the typical google bus bad / ruined the neighborhood. She’s weighing this latest influx of people against not only the first dotcom boom, but also previous booms in SF and other places.

Just read the fucking thing before you comment. It will really help out the comment section.