Archive for December, 2012

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Haight for the Holidays

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Words & Photos: Babak Haghighi

Money. Power. Free beer. These are the things that drive the human life force, the latter of which was in no short supply at the Lower Haight Holiday Art Walk. “Happy Holidays” is damn right.

Spirits were high, both in terms of mood and alcohol, at this makeshift block party. Free beer, free wine, free live music, free live art, and free good times. The handful of blocks that comprise the Lower Haight turned into the ultimate neighborhood holiday party on the first Friday of December. Shops, restaurants, and bars all had special events to celebrate the holiday season. Many boutiques invited people in for complimentary drinks, as long as they also enjoyed live DJs and local art. Idle Hand, a tattoo parlor, offered “get-what-you-get” tattoos for $60. Burger shops gave patrons free munchies. Every local business seemed to have something special going on. Some businesses took their parties to the streets with live music and art shows. Each store threw its own party, but it brought the neighborhood together in a very special way.

D-Structure, a clothing boutique and art gallery, is one of the hot spots of the Art Walk. The place is packed. DJ Oli spins vinyl upstairs while guests enjoy the showcase of new local art downstairs while sipping on free booze. Others bring their own booze. It’s like a house party, only cooler. D-Structure owner Devon Chulick mingles with the crowd as he enjoys his own party, perhaps the most popular on the block. Next door, a folk band plays some tunes on the sidewalk in front of their apartment. The crowd dances accordingly.

San Francisco State University student Wesley Deimling arrives at Lower Haight. This night isn’t formal by any means, but it’s one hell of an introduction to one of San Francisco’s hippest neighborhoods. Deimling grabs a six-pack from the local grocer and hits the streets.

“The only thing I didn’t like about the event is that I didn’t show up earlier,” says Deimling.

Deimling arrived at Lower Haight at around 10 p.m., towards the end of the Art Walk, which started at 6 p.m. Although things were supposedly “dying down,” the party was still in full effect. Shops stayed open late and there were plenty of after parties.

“The vibe felt a lot like a music festival,” says Deimling, “except a lot less expensive and in a cooler location. Each shop was its own stage, and each piece of art was its own song.”

Various shops’ walls were covered with local art of all styles, from oil paintings to stencil art to photographs, and everything in between. In all of these shops and on the street, everyone seems to have beverages in their hands and smiles on their faces.

Beer in hand, Deimling walks into P-Kok. On a regular day, P-Kok is a quirky fashion boutique. On this night, it’s a dark-room art show turned dance party. To the left of the entrance, a plastic table holds an abundance of beer, wine, and liquor for all to enjoy in typical house party fashion. A DJ spins her favorite beats in the back while people dance their feet off in the middle. Nearby, local artist John Benko puts finishing touches on a fresh painting that Deimling can only describe as a “panda on acid.” Benko insists it’s a polar bear. His art is displayed all over P-Kok’s walls. Impressed by Benko’s art, a man asks him to paint his face, to which Benko kindly agrees, as he did to many others earlier. “Do you accept tips?” the man asks. “Yeah sure,” laughs Benko. “I’d be glad to take your money,” he says as he pockets a lone dollar bill.

Nearby, a Seattle Seahawks fan does the unthinkable and shows his face in division rival 49ers territory. This sparks a heated but friendly debate between him and a Niner-loyal local. They flash each other with their team’s respective swag before realizing that they were both here for the same reason—to have a good time.

“There was a real sense of togetherness that this city doesn’t seem to ease up on,” says Deimling about the event. “It was easy to forget that we were walking along a busy San Francisco street and not some sort of eccentric museum grand opening.”

A few doors down, Nickies bar and restaurant holds the official Lower Haight Holiday Art Walk after-party, but it pales in comparison to the party at P-Kok. Regardless of the venue, the Art Walk provides good vibes to anybody looking for them.

Lower Haight holds similar events throughout the year, but the standouts are the Summer Art Walk and the Holiday Art Walk. These cherished traditions shouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

“There’s nothing better than free drinks,” says Deimling. “Except when accompanied with free music, great people, and amazing art.”

It’s hard to imagine a better way to celebrate the holidays.

Artist Profile: Before the Brave

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Words: Babak Haghighi
Photo: Cassie Palmer

The quintet takes the stage. The lights dim. The music begins. The sea of beanies that makes up the crowd starts to create waves as heads begin to bob. Jason Stevens’ powerful voice rips through the room and the voyage begins.

Stevens is the frontman, accompanied by Kyle Teese on drums, Nick Morawiecki on electric guitar and piano, Steven Binnquist on bass, and Beth Garber providing backup vocals as she plays the organ. Together, they are Before the Brave, an up-and-coming indie-folk band from San Francisco, and they take the audience on a journey of vast sound and emotion.

The band recently released their first EP, Great Spirit, a milestone that they celebrated by throwing a release party at the Barrel House, a hidden gem of a venue buried deep in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood.

Among the crowd, but without a beanie, is Spencer Haar, an San Francisco  State University student and fan of the band. He came for the music, but stayed for the free beer and cookies.

“I honestly think that Before the Brave makes great music and has the potential to pursue great things in the future,” says Haar, who is experiencing his second Before the Brave show. “Their sound is just generally appealing.”

What that sound is exactly is another matter entirely.

“The thing that I like so much is that our music doesn’t neatly fit into any one genre or sound,” says Teese, an S.F. State student and drummer for Before the Brave. “I might generally describe our music as folk-rock, but it doesn’t capture the band completely either. I hear traces of the Avett Brothers and Head and the Heart in our music. But then we also sound like Arcade Fire at times, or Ray Lamontagne, or even Ryan Adams in more folky songs like ‘Holy River.’”

The dynamic on-stage presence of this mostly-bearded group of San Francisco residents is not characterized by energetic stage moves or gimmicky crowd pleasers. Rather, the music, as well as the passion the music is seeded in, speaks for itself. The acoustic riffs range in style, which the rest of the instruments complement accordingly. Catchy folk-rock anthems are followed by sentimental ballads, upbeat blues tunes, and everything in between. The music is alternative and honest, and the audience expects the unexpected in a show full of musical surprises, all of which are met with success.

“Before the Brave is not the kind of band that is going to cause a riot,” says Haar. “But their shows can be equally exciting as those of higher energy bands because their music and their performance creates a lot of tension. It’s almost meditative in a sense.”

It is clear that the band emphasizes the importance of a truly well-crafted song. These young musicians are not here to show off their chops on their respective instruments. Instead, they focus on creating engaging melodies and crafting a cohesive musical experience. Every person, every instrument, every sound is there for a reason, and together the pieces fit together perfectly. The only thing that could be argued to stand out on its own is Stevens’ voice, but this is due only to the sheer power of his vocals. Stevens sports a set of vocal cords that would put a majority of successful vocalists to shame. His harsh, deep voice aims for impressive notes and never misses. His lyrical belts are both soulful and enchanting. Depending on the song, his leading vocals can either soothe or excite.

Garber’s background vocals only make things better. Her subtle yet profound vocal presence goes a long way in supporting Stevens’ dominant voice. Garber’s soft vocal touch adds an exciting element of on-target harmonies. Before the Brave’s lyrical prowess truly stands in a league of its own. But this doesn’t detract from the band’s overall sound, nor does it steal the spotlight away from other members of the band. It is just one of several parts that makes Before the Brave’s unique sound the endearing entity that it is.

As the band prepares to wrap up its performance at the Barrel House, Stevens thanks the audience for coming out before leading into a crowd-pleasing encore of Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.” “This amazing city has brought us all together for a reason,” he says to the crowd.

The band members met each other at RealitySF, a church in the Castro.

“Our songs express different aspects of what it has been like for each of us to live as followers of Jesus here in San Francisco,” says Teese. Lyrical themes include reconciliation and looking for hope amidst suffering, while others lyrics deal with the inward struggle involving purpose and meaning of life. “And other songs are just about joy. Plain and simple, they’re celebrations of the lives we’ve been given.”

The band as it is today, however, formed years after the members met at RealitySF.

“The band started in a bedroom, actually,” says Teese.

He and Stevens were roommates for two years, during which time they jammed casually and wrote songs. “From there, Jason [Stevens] met Nick [Morawiecki] through work and the three of us began to play together,” says Teese. “It took another year or so before Steve [Binnquist] and Beth [Garber] joined us. It wasn’t until last Spring that all the pieces really came together.”

Since the band’s formation in 2011, Before the Brave has made a name for itself thanks to consistent practicing and playing shows. “Those two things are essential in creating a polished live show and developing a following,” says Teese. When the band was away from the music, however, they looked to social media to expand their audience. “Facebok, Twitter, and Instagram are simply the best way to communicate today,” explains Teese. “So that has been essential.”

As a result, Before the Brave has gained a well-deserved following, which has contributed greatly to the atmosphere of their shows.

“The vibe at our shows has been so incredible,” says Teese. “So many of our fans sing along throughout the set, which is probably the coolest feeling ever for a musician. There’s a definite ebb and flow of energy throughout our set, which gives the audience such a variety of experiences. It’s almost cinematic.”

It’s been an undoubtedly great year for Before the Brave. Great Spirit is now available for download on iTunes and can be streamed through Spotify. But the up-and-coming band has high hopes for the future.

“It’s a pretty exciting time for us,” says Teese.

Before the Brave’s 2013 plans include a tour the West Coast during the summer, and the band has already been invited to play at the South by Southwest Conferences and Festivals in Austin, Texas in March.

1vinyl

Hipster Holiday Gifts for Under $10

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Words: Barbara Szabo

1. Amoeba Records

Amoeba Records has an entire section with discounted vinyl, with records for as little as $1. That means you could buy your favorite hipster as many as ten records! (Amoeba Records, $1 and up).

2. Academy of Sciences

Academy of Sciences holds an event called Night Life Thursday nights. There is usually a band or DJ that performs throughout the night, as well as a bar, and some weeks focus on a theme. For example, earlier this year, a Night Life was devoted to all things bacon: vendors from around the city served bacon treats, there were scientific illustrations of pigs for viewing, and of course a vegan pig roast. Hipsters love bacon and veganism. (Academy of Sciences, Admission is $10 for members and $12 for everyone else)

3. Finger Tattoos

Cameras, black-framed glasses and mustaches are universal symbols of hipsterism. Make those into tiny, temporary finger tattoos and you have the perfect hipster gift. (Therapy, $8)

4. Hip Book Selection

Hipsters love reading books, especially works of writers such as Jack Kerouac or ironic books like “Understanding Rap: Explanations of Confusing Rap Lyrics You and Your Grandma Can Understand.” Vinyl Coffee and Wine bar has an entire corner dedicated to books from Green Apple for cheap. (Vinyl Coffee and Wine bar, $5 and up)

5. Refreshing Beverages

Pabst Blue Ribbon on ice: It’s not just a Lana Del Rey lyric, but also a of hipster lifestyle. (Fred’s Liquor Store, 12 pack: $7.99)

6. Printed Goods

Taylor Reid and Erin Fong are two local San Franciscans who recently opened a studio called Western Editions. They design and create printed goods, such as fun cards to give or mail out during the holiday season. (http://westerneditions.wordpress.com, $5 and up)

7. Penguin Socks

Hipsters are cool all-year-round, but during winter they literally get cool. What better way to warm their feet than with penguin socks with grippers on the bottom? (SFSU Bookstore, $10)

8. A New Ornament Style

Back in June, The Head and the Heart played three sold-out shows at The Fillmore. They looked good on stage, and their faces look just as good on an ornament. (http://zeitgeistmanagement.com, $10)

9. Cool Nails!

Nail art is really trendy among hipsters these days. These jeweled stick-on nails are easy to put on and look really good when holding a PBR. (Lucky Supermarket, $6.99)

10. Mustaches

Put a black mustache on a white mug, and there’s really nothing more to say about that. (Urban Outfitters, $8)

View locations: 10 hipster holiday gift ideas under $10 in a larger map

A More Human Experience

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Words: Kenny Redublo 

Waking up in the back of a crashed police car is never a good situation. Lee Everett crawls out of the wreckage, disoriented. The driver is gone and a shotgun is left unattended. Two shells left. It’s enough for now. Lee hears voices from every direction. Unfriendly voices. The cover of the woods should provide him enough time to figure out his bearings.

Lee finds the driver, but something’s not right. His eyes are white and look at Lee with an animalistic hunger. Lee knows he’s just been arrested by this cop, but this is inhuman. The cop has a broken foot but he shows no concern. He keeps stumbling toward Lee.

Lee cocks the shotgun. If he shoots, he’ll be in worse trouble than he already is. If not, he’s dead. It’s life or death. What should he do?

With a push of a button, the player decides Lee’s fate. This is the beginning of the Walking Dead video game, an episodic title by Telltale Games for most modern video game consoles, even mobile devices like the iPhone or iPad. The video game is based on the Robert Kirkman comic, which has also been adapted into an AMC television series. The setting of the Walking Dead is of any zombie fiction, but what it does differently is its focus of the human condition. It questions the acts of humans when civilization crumbles. What Telltale’s video game adds to the Walking Dead experience is giving the players a bigger sense of weight to their own decisions. This is the aspect of a video game that comics, film, or television cannot provide. Visuals can get more lifelike and sounds can get clearer, but the importance of this moral interactivity is what can evolve video games as a serious medium and provide something film, books, or television have not before.

The Walking Dead is about Lee Everett. He was arrested for the murder of his wife’s lover and was on his way to prison when the zombie outbreak occurred. Lee’s past is put on the backburner in order to focus on the choices the player must make throughout the game. It’s less of a distraction and more of a foundation for players to build their image of Lee or themselves in the situation. The player’s interpretation of Lee is developed further with the addition of Clementine, an 8-year-old survivor Lee encounters in the first episode. They are dependent on each other, even if they are strangers. But in this desperate time, strangers are vital to survival, for better or worse. The inclusion of Clementine provides the player with a sense of duty and consequence. Are the choices made for Lee’s or Clementine’s benefit? It plays around with the conflict burden versus attachment. As many other survivors met throughout the course of the game, Clementine is a constant. Her innocence as a child conveys the feeling of care over mistrust, which the other survivors may have ulterior motives.

Player choice is primary to gaining that sense of involvement. It gives in to the idea that the player’s actions greatly affect and manipulate events in the world, either socially through character interactions or how characters react to your actions. It creates the difference between staged and reality. Games differentiate themselves with this concept from other narrative media.

A Gut Reaction

The use of player choice in games opens a way for games to affect gamers as people. The presentation of choice disregards the concern for points or rewards, but to immerse players into a character’s situation.

“It comes down to personal preferences in those situations,” says Ben Janca, gamer and Twitch.tv broadcaster. “I don’t try to think if [the choice] is good or evil.”

The choices come less from a perception of morals, but more from a gut reaction, especially in the case of The Walking Dead. Early adventure games like Grim Fandango or text adventures didn’t have a limited time window to make a choice. There was a no negative outcome for taking time out to look at the choice objectively.

“You just have to do it,” says Hayes. “The time mechanic keeps you subjective.”

One of the first major choices is when Lee must kill the zombified babysitter. It is a life or death choice but it matters in the way it is carried out. The player can approach the situation brutally, mashing the button with instinctual fear, but what comes out of the situation is all in front of Clementine’s eyes. It’s an exercise of instinct over logic or survival over innocence. Are the player’s motives to ensure safety or preserve the innocence of a child? The surprise of the outcome is the notification that Clementine will remember everything that took place. It’s a reminder of how these choices will impact the rest of the game. Be it major or minor, these choices have impact.

A Universe of Choice

One franchise that capitalized on player attachment is Mass Effect. Mass Effect is a science fiction epic trilogy for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, and now the WiiU that kept every choice recorded throughout the series. The main character, Commander Shepard, is portrayed physically and morally by player choice. Shepard can be male or female, and a noble or brash commander. The player can choose whether or not to punch a nosey reporter in the face, or calmly talk his or her way out of the situation. Players can choose to pursue romantic relationships with fellow teammates or keep their distance. Each choice has their benefits in gameplay, like new abilities or equipment. The Mass Effect series exercises choice on an epic scale in a literal universe. The sense of fictional scale is on par with the Lord of the Rings series, or Star Wars.

As with those literary and film series, there is a barrier of entry and can cater to the most loyal fans. Mass Effect is expansive and uses moral choice as supplement to its universe but it’s one bullet point on an expansive list of features.

One Life, One Choice

One titles that made that bullet point into a defining feature is Heavy Rain. This PS3 exclusive adventure game is boasted as more of an interactive film, due to its heavy influences from noir, crime scene television shows, and films like Seven. Heavy Rain asks “how far will you go for someone you love?” The question is posed to the player and the four interconnected characters controlled. Each character has their different motivations when faced with the overarching plot of the Origami Killer, a child murderer connecting each character.

The game presents its moral choices like Mass Effect and the Walking Dead, through its dialogue. In contrast to Mass Effect, Heavy Rain is a singular focused narrative. There are no side missions or extraneous worlds to visit. Heavy Rain stays within the sphere of the character in a guided experience. This may take control away from the player but it exercises the pressure of each situation and reliance on instinct. The Walking Dead did take inspiration from Heavy Rain with its quick time events.
Another taut feature of Heavy Rain is how the player’s choices can kill the character for the rest of the game. Choices and mistakes can lead to extreme consequences. The player can even have all four protagonists die and the endings can vary wildly. It mirrors how real life is singular. You only get one shot, according to the writer and director of Heavy Rain, David Cage.

Immersive Attachments

Spencer Hayes, community manager at Destructoid.com and philosophy major at SF State, initially felt Lee as an established character was going interfere with the immersion into the narrative.

“I came into the game detached,” says Hayes.

After more of the game, he felt his decisions as Lee became extensions of himself. It dissolved this line between him and Lee. The easiest way to get over the initial hurdle of immersion into a fictional world is for the player to make themselves, a virtual avatar. The Walking Dead has Lee’s story to tell so creating a character wouldn’t work in the game. Other games, like the Fallout series, have players create an avatar of them in the post-apocalyptic future but there is an established backstory written out for their character.

“Creating a character is an immediate way to gain player investment,” says Hayes. “Players buy into what they made.”

Though the experience may seem contained within the confines of the player’s world, at the end of each episode, the player’s choices are compared with others in the form of percentages. It’s a sociological experiment that helps the player reflect upon their own morals. When this is presented at the end of an episode, it alleviates the social pressure that would exist if the choices of others were presented throughout the initial experience. There is a sense of confidence provided when the stats are shown. It provides the player’s choice with solidarity among the community.

The Grey Area

In games like the Mass Effect series, choices are blatantly labeled good or evil. Good and evil in Mass Effect is more labeled as talking calm or brash measures in a situation. The actions of the player character are never morally evil. In the Fallout series, choices are more black and white. The situations that arise are either setting off an undetonated atomic bomb for a large sum of money, destroying a town and its inhabitants, or defusing it for good reputation among the townsfolk. These decisions have great effect later in these games like future characters referencing and judging the player on their decision.

Games like Mass Effect and Fallout are classified as role-playing games, which The Walking Dead is an adventure game. The concept of player choice works better in certain genres.

“I wouldn’t want to see a moral choice decision in Halo,” says Janca.

The Walking Dead is modern exercise in moral choice in video games. Video games have historically presented this concept back from the early days of PC gaming and onwards onto the original Nintendo. The concept isn’t new since morality is fundamental in gauging human nature but how it has been implemented in video games is a new exploration.

Nobunaga’s Ambition was the first instance of moral decisions in video games. It was originally released in 1988 for the PC. This feudal Japan strategy game used moral choices like resource management to affect troop morale and loyalty. This innovation led the series to a now 12-game franchise on multiple systems.

The difference of moral choice in Nobunaga’s Ambition and modern games is the implementation to progress a narrative. The concept leads to a greater sense of character development and player attachment.

What the Walking Dead does differently than the other modern examples of moral choice is the selfishness vs selflessness. Heavy Rain doesn’t have that group survival aspect and sociological analysis like the Walking Dead. It doesn’t pose the choice of what’s best for others. The characters’ motivations lean toward selfishness. There’s a sense of who lives or dies but it’s mostly if the player’s character lives or dies.

An Age Gate

Video games may be hard for the general public to perceive it as a serious medium due to its name. Video games have the word “games” in it, along with the association of kids’ toys and playgrounds. Hayes says there’s a movement to rename video games to “interactive entertainment.”

“It’s not the medium to be concerned about, it’s the message,” says Hayes.

Video games have barriers of entry and one is the generational gap. There is an issue of complexity of video games. Controllers can be intimidating, rules and concepts can be confusing for some and understandable for others. Hayes feels that this barrier can be broke with time.

“As the current generation gets older, technology gets less scary to them,” says Hayes.

As for other media, the act of immersion is what video games have an advantage in, but it’s still a fresh concept.

“Putting yourself in the role of another person is alien to people,” says Hayes.

The Walking Dead is also an example of modern accessibility of the medium over Mass Effect and Heavy Rain. In addition to being on every accessible video game platform, its episodic format is a comfortable length to play casually and not in long binges. The shorter experience is easier to approach and more focused. Its readiness to be downloaded directly onto the system of choice contributes to its accessibility. The barrier of entry of going to buy a physical disc is eliminated with downloadable titles.

Hayes says The Walking Dead is a good place for newcomers to start. It deals with fundamental human ideas and emotions, making the game easier to relate to than other titles like Call of Duty.

The blockbuster games like Call of Duty are still needed in the industry but the success seen by The Walking Dead, as developed by a smaller team and has reached more than one million sales, has shown that the adventure genre is still relevant.

“The player choice is still a financially viable concept in the near future and beyond,” says Hayes.

The smaller titles are accessible to a wider audience, but in The Walking Dead’s case, the content matter may turn a few away. The game is gory, like any other zombie film, television show, or game. It deals with death in a mass amount and in a personal sense. The themes of desperation in an apocalypse are usually the worst of human nature and some audiences don’t want to see that or it’s not appropriate for them.

A Human Experience

Narrative is what mostly what drives the game. It’s progressed through player choice but what keeps the player engaged is the character development. The Walking Dead isn’t particularly a difficult game. The learning curve is low and it gives the game a more accessible chance for its characters to shine.

“I love playing games for the interesting characters and settings,” says Janca. “That’s what drives me to continue with the game.”
With its small package, The Walking Dead packs in enough characters for it to be manageable, unlike other epic series like Mass Effect or Fallout. The small group of characters gives way for more player attachment and as much death as there is in the Walking Dead universe, the weight of any of the characters is immense.

The Walking Dead is an important video game. It takes risks and succeeds where previous attempts failed. It’s important to the medium. Video games still have the stigma for being as young as its audience. The Walking Dead’s exercises in the concepts of morality and choice give the title a deeper meaning other than being just a game. The Walking Dead is an experience, a human experience.

Alternative Medicine

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Tanner Anderson, 19, and Kenneth Malone, 26, met at Igzactly 420 where they often run into each other on Monday mornings before Malone goes to classes at Academy of Art downtown. This week he is preparing for finals. Dec. 17, 2012.

Tanner Anderson, 19, and Kenneth Malone, 26, met at Igzactly 420 where they often run into each other on Monday mornings before Malone goes to classes at Academy of Art downtown. Dec. 17, 2012.

Words: Emily Gadd
Photos: Tearsa Joy Hammock

Right on the edge of the Financial District in San Francisco is a small store that sells medicine for all kinds of ailments like insomnia, chronic pain, psoriasis, and depression to name a few. When you enter the store it is nicely furnished, with many lounge areas for its patrons to hang out at; the walls are painted a light green and there are large aquariums filled with Koi fish sporadically around the room.

Marijuana

Igzactly420 is a medical marijuana dispensary; it opened in 2009 and since then has been helping a clientele of all different ages with all sorts of different problems.

Igor Khavin is one of the owners of Igzactly 420, he used cannabis recreationally since the age of 15. In 2004 he broke his back, and was prescribed a lot of strong painkillers like oxycontin by his doctors. His injury left him in a lot of pain, but the painkillers that the doctors gave him kept him from doing much of anything. “I was basically a heroin addict,” Khavin said. He began using cannabis medicinally and he was finally given relief from his pain, but was still able to lead a functioning life.

"Jack the Ripper" up close and personal under a lighted magnifying glass. Though it is more difficult to determine the difference between indica leaves and sativa leaves once they are in the dried and cured form of buds, indica buds have the tendency to being denser and darker while sativa buds are more light and airy. This selection is a hybrid of both types. Dec. 17, 2012.

“Jack the Ripper” up close and personal under a lighted magnifying glass. Though it is more difficult to determine the difference between indica leaves and sativa leaves once they are in the dried and cured form of buds, indica buds have the tendency to being denser and darker while sativa buds are more light and airy. This selection is a hybrid of both types. Dec. 17, 2012.

Khavin is only one of many Americans who feel that they are not getting the help they need from the “traditional” types of medicine. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Americans spent $234.1 billion on prescription drugs, up six times from 1990, when Americans only spent $40.3 billion. Illness from prescription drugs cost Americans about $289 annually.

Another study estimates 2.2 million adverse effects to prescribed drugs while still in the hospital, and 106,000 people die annually from these side effects, costing about $12 billion. Dr. Richard Besser from the CDC estimated that 20 million antibiotic prescriptions were entirely unnecessary. In 2003 he believes it is close to the tens of millions.

Marijuana is still very controversial for medicinal use most likely because of all the different laws that have been passed trying to control it. In 1906 cannabis was officially labeled a poison and the government started regulating it. In the mid-1930s the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act helped tighten regulation on cannabis as a drug.

In 1936 the film Reefer Madness was released , showing wayward teens smoking marijuana and then committing suicide, killing people, or just losing their minds. The makers of the film hoped to frighten parents enough that they would ‘educate’ their children on the ‘extreme’ dangers of marijuana.

According to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 cannabis is a Schedule I drug, meaning it shouldn’t be used for medicinal purposes and users could easily begin abusing the drug.

This past November in the 2012 election Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize possession and use of cannabis for recreational purposes.

Khavin thinks that the public’s attitude towards marijuana is slowly changing because people are no longer paying attention to propaganda.

He enjoys running a dispensary in California, and San Francisco is one of the easiest cities in California to run these types of business. There are a lot of conflicting laws that regulate medicinal marijuana in the United States which make it very difficult on dispensary owners.

Although there are still some hard parts about running a dispensary, they aren’t allowed to write off anything as a business expense and because of the strict possession laws there is no such thing as a legal way to grow marijuana in large enough stock to supply a business. In order to supply their patients with their medication Igzactly420 must depend on other patients to supply for them. Khavin says it makes the store “for patients by patients.”

Medical Marijuana cardholders are allowed to hold half of a pound of marijuana on them at a time. They bring it in and are reimbursed for their cannabis. Khavin says that without a large network like theirs, it becomes very difficult for a dispensary to survive.

Igzactly420 set up their store to create a comfortable and social environment for patients. They wanted to avoid an “in and out” place and a “check cashing” environment. The store is a smoke-free facility, so when patients take their medicine in the store, they mainly do it by using vaporizers that are set up around the rooms among the fish tanks and couches.

Medicinal marijuana patient, Kenneth Malone, 26, utilizes the vaporizer in a lounge at Igzactly 420, Dec. 17, 2012.

Medicinal marijuana patient, Kenneth Malone, 26, utilizes the vaporizer in a lounge at Igzactly 420, Dec. 17, 2012.

There are no video games or anything that would keep patients from mingling. Khavin really enjoys talking to other patients because he learns things from them all the time, and he wants other people to have that experience as well.

Igzactly420 also offers other alternative medicines for their patients like acutonics, otherwise known as tuning forks that, when hit, give off vibrations that re-align a patient’s energies. They also have support groups for veterans, and bicycle league for all of their members.

The Power of Massage

Dominque Paillet is a licensed massage therapist and an acutonics practitioner. She currently works at the franchise massage clinic Massage Envy. “As a massage therapist I do my sessions according to my clients’ needs using my tool box.” Paillet said. Her toolbox includes deep tissue techniques, Swedish massage, trigger points, acupressure, myofascial release, cranial sacral, and Reiki to name a few.

“To treat my clients, I use my intuitive abilities,” Paillat explains. “ [by] evaluating [their] posture, mood and emotional state.”

Reiki is the first technique she learned, which is a Japanese form of healing that believes healing energy can be pushed into another person from special hand positions. Paillat describes the sessions as “really relaxing.”

At the end of each session Paillat likes to incorporate stretches and exercises she has learned from her Tai-Chi, Yoga, and Qi-Gong classes.

Although she can’t give out any prescriptions as a massage therapist she has a bit more freedom when she is working with Acutonics.

Paillet describes Acutonics as, “a form of acupuncture [without] needles [that uses] tuning forks scientifically calibrated upon the velocity of the planets…Acutonics is a complex system combining sound healing, oriental medicine, the Tao of Astrology and science-based astronomy.”

The Kairos Institute of Sound Healing’s website further explains that acutonics uses the same pressure points that acupuncture and acupressure use “to access the body’s Meridian and Chakra energy systems.”

Donna Carey created acutonics while she worked at an acupuncture college sixteen years ago. The Kairos Institute estimates that there are hundreds of practitioners and over 50 instructors.

She places her tuning forks on the same places on the body where acupuncturists put their needles.

To get the certification she currently has, Paillet completed a two-year special training in Berkeley. She is currently writing a thesis to obtain a higher certification. Some examples of classes that is taking right now are “Energetics, Points and Meridians”, “Soundscapes for a Natural Facelift” and “Harmonic Pathologies” where she learned how to treat a wide range of illnesses from the common cold to lupus.

As an acutonics practitioner she can give a lot of medical treatments. Most of which are caused, she believes, by imbalances in the body. Colds, viruses, high blood pressure, depression, and fibromyalgia are just a few of the ailments that her treatments can cure.

“I have a certification in essential oils which are so powerful when combined with Acutonics and I can prescribe in that case the appropriate essential oil,” explains Paillet.

According to Paillet, essential oils were mankind’s first medicine. “Essential oils are the volatile liquids that are distilled from plants, including their respective parts such as seeds, bark, leaves, stem, roots, flowers, and fruit,” she said. “Essential oils have different electrical frequencies affecting the level of health and have different medicinal and curative effects on different ailments.”

Paillet has had patients who have seen a lot of results from her Acutonics work. They tell her that they believe what she does is magic, but she assures them it’s just from completing the proper training.

Acupuncture

Albert Cortez has been a massage therapist for seven years. He was 22-years-old when he began studying massage therapy, he enjoyed doing it but he was looking for something new to do.

Cortez hurt his back while break dancing and was having trouble getting rid of the pain. He met an acupuncturist in Florida and decided to see if acupuncture could help him.

“One needle and the pain was gone,” said Cortez. He was inspired by this encounter to begin pursuing acupuncture. As a student, he met his wife and they eventually opened up a clinic together.

“Acupuncture is for everyone.” Cortez says. “It’s new but it’s old. It’s been out for 30,000 years but it’s new to us because we grew up with western medicine.”

When Cortez explains how acupuncture works to other people he is always trying to “add a western spin” to his descriptions. He knows that “the chi talk” turn people off of treatments like acupuncture. “They don’t believe in chi, when they try it, it’s magic.” he said.

Cortez would best describe acupuncture as preventative medicine. “Headaches can come from many places. When the elements enter your body it changes you chemical balance.” He explains. This is very different from the western medicine way of teaching. “In western medicine a headache is a headache, you would just take an ibuprofen.” But in the theory that goes with acupuncture your stomach could be giving you your headache, or really any other part of your body. Herbs are also a very important of acupuncture, because “they are natural and not synthetic,” Cortez says.

To become an acupuncturist you have to go through what Cortez describes as a very rigorous training because they are considered primary health care providers, it took a long time to get this way.

According to the California government’s acupuncture board website people who practiced acupuncture were once prosecuted, but the practitioner and the patients that really believed in it eventually convinced the government to protect the people that were interested in using acupuncture.

In 1972 acupuncture was only allowed under the supervision of licensed doctor’s for research purposes. A few years later in 1975 acupuncturists were allowed to take patients as long as a licensed doctor had recommended them. By 1978 acupuncturists were given the ability to be primary health care providers meaning that they could take patients whenever they wanted to without waiting for referral from other medical professionals.

When acupuncture students begin school they have to learn to be competent in their understanding of western medicine as well as the philosophy and Chinese theory that acupuncture is based off of.

Cortez is really enjoying practicing acupuncture. “It’s fun, interesting, and really hard at the same time,” he says. Cortez says that there are both physical and spiritual aspects to acupuncture but he prefers to go deep in the spiritual aspect of it. When he has a patient he really likes to understand them and know everything from what they are thinking to what they are eating.

One of Cortez’s favorite patient success stories so far in his career is about a man who came to him for treatment for an injury he got from when he was in the army and he was in a lot of pain, he had great difficulties walking for about a month, and for about two weeks he was entirely paralyzed from the waist down. The man felt like he had no other choice, but to have surgery in order to get rid of his pain and begin walking properly again.

He was very reluctant to get surgery and was looking for alternative treatments that would help him get better. The man met Cortez and started receiving acupuncture treatments, and was able to finally get relief from his pain and he didn’t need surgery.

Cortez is really excited about his path ahead; he sees a lot of good things happening for him in his career as an acupuncturist. “This is only the beginning for me,” he says.

Serious injuries have turned people like Cortez and Khavin into more than just users and advocates but it inspired them to make their careers about educating and helping people get better with the same treatments that helped them.

Although positive experiences with alternative medicines won’t make everyone change their careers it still changes their lives.

See a Chiropractor

Sheila Cook, a 23-year-old business marketing major at SF State is one of these people. When she had just turned 18-years-old Cook was in a serious car accident when someone ran a red light and hit her car.

“I was t-boned on my driver’s side at 50 miles per hour,” Cook said. She was rushed to the hospital where it was quickly discovered that although she had been fortunate enough to not break any bones or have any lacerations, but she didn’t get out of the accident entirely unscathed.

“The X-Rays showed swelling that the doctors said [were] 95% likely [to] lead to long-term or permanent soft tissue damage and horrible back pain that would require painkillers twenty four seven,” says Cook.

Her father was reluctant to have his eighteen-year-old daughter on pain medication for the rest of her life, so they quickly began looking for other treatments.

“I was released from the hospital and taken to a chiropractic center. I met with my first chiropractor who reviewed my X-rays and [saw] that the soft tissue damage was there and was messing with the alignment of my back already,” Cook said. She was still in pain from the whiplash she had received and the soft tissue damage added even more.

Her chiropractor started ‘correcting’ her spine that day. “I felt a little better, but he said it would take months to feel almost anything,” Cook explained.

Cook had sessions with her chiropractor once a week for about six months. She used a combination of electro stimulation therapy, where small electrodes were attached to her back and sent pulsations to the tissue, adjustments to her spine and neck and at home strengthening exercises.

Now Cook only needs to visit her chiropractor sporadically, but she is ecstatic with the results she got from her treatments. “They worked wonders,” she says, “I still and always will have permanent soft tissue damage but by spending the time originally and going in every once in awhile for adjustments my spine and non-damaged muscle tissue is strong enough to keep me out of severe enough pain to require painkillers constantly.”

Cook’s experience taught her that there are some circumstances where alternative treatments were much more helpful than more traditional western treatments. However there are still many people who are unconvinced of alternative treatments.

“Alternative medicine is specifically the shit that isn’t proven to have serious clinical efficacy, and it’s usually a bunch of expensive crap that might make you feel better but won’t actually make you better,” says Frankie Griffen, an SF State alumna.

“Some herbs do have clinical efficacy, yes, but the number of ‘alternative medicine’ therapies that actually have directly attributable positive health outcomes is pathetically low,” says Griffen.

Griffen is especially disbelieving of theories that revolve around chi, like acupuncture. “You might as well get tickle therapy and look at a map of the body drawn by the same people who make park maps for Disney World.”

Collaborative Consumption

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Ryan Card delivers the 35 zafus to his client on Friday evening, Dec. 14, 2012.

Ryan Card, an employee of Exec, a San Francisco-based service created to accomplish a variety of tasks through the web and an app on your phone, delivers the 35 zafus to his client on Friday evening, Dec. 14, 2012.

Words: Kelly Leslie
Photos: Jessica Worthington

Ryan Card stands between eight-foot-tall glass dividing walls that separate the rooms of the small office building he works in, located on the two hundred block of Carolina Street in San Francisco. His iPhone silently buzzes in the pocket of his forest green skinny jeans. Without letting a minute pass, he slips the phone out of his pocket, swipes the arrow to unlock the screen and opens a mobile application to check his most recent notification. “Green apples”, says Card.  The person on the other side of the app has made contact. They are sending him to Whole Foods grocery store, with an urgent shopping list to be delivered immediately. Card swiftly zips a black and white hoodie that displays the company name “Exec” under the right-hand shoulder, over his multi-colored plaid button up shirt and prepares to leave the building. After responding to the job request and grabbing his small, colorful shoulder bag, he is ready to get to work.

“Whole Foods is two blocks away, so in this case we’ll be able to walk,” says Card who has shoulder length, pin straight brown hair and wears three or four necklaces around his neck. The most prominent necklace is adorned with a strawberry-sized crystal pendant in the middle. “Normally I would use my car,” explains Card, who notes that it is easier if the “execs” have access to a vehicle.  “It’s more efficient, and works out better for everyone that way,” he says.  Card has been with the new, start-up company Exec since May, and has seen it undergo many different changes.

Exec, founded in January of 2012, is a company that allows people with busy lifestyles to get local help with errands and other miscellaneous tasks that they do not have time for, for the flat rate of twenty-five dollars an hour.  The idea was born when the CEO of the company, Justin Kan, wanted to be able to call someone to have them run his errands for him.  “I wanted it to be something easy, convenient and low effort,” says Kan.  “It’s all about simplicity if you’re really busy and just want to get something done fast.”  Kan says that it only takes roughly two minutes to assign the task to an exec, the person who actually does the job, once it has been posted.

Ryan Card  communicates with a client about the task at hand.

Ryan Card communicates with a client about the task at hand.

 

To guarantee both customer satisfaction and safety, all execs are hired by the founders of the company, before they are assigned to the job. There are roughly two hundred and fifty execs in the system, according to Kan, and all of them have undergone an extensive application process, which includes an online application, a video interview, a phone interview, an in person interview, and several different background checks. All communication between execs and job posters is within the active mobile app, which is available for both iPhone and Android operating systems.

Matt Lewis, who has worked behind the scenes for Exec since the company was founded, likes to think of it as where magic happens. “Really our goal is to make it as easy as possible… to have it work like magic,” says Lewis. “[All of us who go out and do it], we’re the magic makers,” chimes in Card.

Exec is currently only available in San Francisco, but Kan, Lewis and the rest of the company hope to see it expand in the near future. They also hope to make it where, “more and more things people want done can be done through exec,” says Kan. “Right now we are really good for some things, especially delivery, but eventually we want to add more things that we are good at.”

For now, people who are looking for a service similar to Exec, but don’t live in the city, should call upon a nation-wide company known as TaskRabbit. TaskRabbit “is a website and mobile app where people can go to outsource small jobs and tasks to people in their neighborhoods,” says Johnny Brackett, who handles all of the marketing for the company. It was founded by Leah Busque, who realized she was out of dog food at the same time that she and her husband were already on their way out the front door. “It was February so there was a ton of snow on the ground, and the cab was already on the way to pick them up to go to dinner,” said Brackett.  “They had a one hundred pound yellow lab at the time who didn’t miss very many meals.”  Leah told her husband she wished she would be able to pay someone from the neighborhood to help them out, and that is when the idea for TaskRabbit was born. “Leah quit her [engineering] job about four months later, and started the first version of the site,” notes Brackett. The company headquarters and market were later moved to San Francisco in 2010. TaskRabbit is now available in nine major metropolitan cities across the United States, which includes: San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Orange County, Portland, Seattle, Austin and San Antonio.” The market also covers the suburban areas surrounding those cities, explains Johnny.

Just like the execs that are hired, people aspiring to be “task rabbits” also have to undergo an extensive interview process, but the assigning and pricing runs a little bit different.  Rather than a flat twenty-five dollar an hour rate, there are two ways that pricing is determined, which goes hand-in-hand with the way that the task rabbits are assigned to jobs.  The job posters can either choose how much they are willing to pay and then TaskRabbit will automatically assign that job to the closest person in the area who bids that amount, or the poster can wait and choose the best price that is offered to them, which also allows them to choose who fulfills the task.  “It’s kind of like eBay,” says Brackett.  “Except you don’t type in any form of monetary value.”

TaskRabbit is for everyone, but the key demographic of users does tend to skew slightly female, according to Brackett, who says that the majority of the demographic is young professional women ranging in age from twenty-three to thirty.  Beyond this, the user ship jumps to older women who tend to be busy mothers with small children at home.  As far as the people who work for TaskRabbit… that’s pretty much everyone as well.  There is a large variety of people ranging from college students, to young professionals who live in expensive cities and want to make a little extra cash, and even moms who are already out running errands for their own families and don’t mind picking up other people’s groceries while they are at it.  Perhaps the most interesting category of people who work for the company happens to be senior citizens, according to Brackett.  “These are people who have had full-time careers and are using task rabbit to stay active,” he says.  “They want to utilize the skills they don’t use every day and go out and meet people and talk to people and tell their story.”

Exec and TaskRabbit are only two of many new start-up companies of this form that are popping up all over the country.  Whether it is paying a neighbor to run your errands and build your Ikea furniture, or profiting off of sharing your home or car with someone who needs it, the possibilities are endless.  If a company hasn’t been created to make it happen yet, the chances of it showing up around town soon are very likely.  As these companies begin to flourish, the lingering question that remains among many is: why now and not before?

It’s all thanks to the up-rise of technology, and the idea of collaborative consumption, according to Brackett, who says people are learning to benefit from each other’s resources.  “Services like TaskRabbit are allowing people for the first time to share resources in a streamlined way,” he says.  “With TaskRabbit it’s the sharing of your free time and skills, but these other companies that fall under collaborative consumption are sharing underutilized assets.” He says consumer habits in modern days are different than they were in the nineties and early two thousands.  People no longer want to go out and spend money on things that they don’t necessarily need to own, and it is beneficial for them to be able to make use of someone else’s that may happen to be underutilized as it is.  “It’s peer to peer rather than the mass consumption that we saw [before],” Brackett notes. “It’s definitely fascinating and something that’s up and coming.”

According to Brackett, there are three key components that make companies such as these able to operate in modern times and they are all technology based.  These three things are: mobile, social, and location based technologies.  By mobile, Brackett is referring to the recent invention of mobile smartphones that allow people to have access to their communities and the outside world at their fingertips.  By social, he is referencing social media sites that allow people to socialize and be in touch with each other and even strangers on a regular, very instant basis.  These are the sites that make it possible for people to communicate with each other in order to share resources.  Location means that we are now able to find the resources and services that we need locally, because of the present technology. “If you think back to five or six years ago, social networks were in no way what they are today,” says Brackett.  “Five years ago the things we are doing now hadn’t even been imagined yet.”

Adam Werbach, cofounder of the start-up company, Yerdle, says that “the big idea here is access over ownership.”  This is the notion that, in regards to recent economic times, it is more beneficial for people to have access to a commodity rather than being able to own it as part of their own personal belongings. This is because many things these days are unnecessarily pricey and people should be able to benefit by sharing their resources with each other instead of having to pay for their own.  Yerdle, which was founded in San Francisco, and is based on this principle, is a company that allows people to share things with their friends for free through utilizing social networking communities and sites.  “You shouldn’t have to buy something new when your friends already have it and aren’t using it,” says Werbach.

Launched on Black Friday, which was November 23rd of this year, Yerdle is very simple and easy to use.  All you have to do is log in with your Facebook account, and then you can pull together a list of all the things that your friends and people in your neighborhood, are sharing.  Most people will have about three hundred and fifty things just waiting for them as soon as they log on, according to Werbach, who says this is that the company is all about the idea of making things that we already have work more for us.  “If we use information about what our friends have, we can get things without having to buy them new,” he says.  Say you want to go camping and need a twelve person tent, but don’t have one, according to him, it’s as easy as knowing that you already have access to one and then you won’t have to go spend the money on it.

Yerdle currently has around 2,000 users, “but is growing really fast,” says Werbach.  The company is used by communities all throughout the country, but is currently most popular in San Francisco and the Bay Area.  Werbach hopes that someday the company will revolutionize the way that people shop.  “We see it as a way that people will start to do retail,” he says.  “It’s a new generation of social shopping website.”  Before immediately running out to the store or shopping online, Werbach hopes that people will learn to check whether their friends already have what they need, just sitting on the shelf waiting to be used.  The benefits of doing it this way?  “You get something you need, do something for the planet, and see your friends at the same time,” he says.

In addition to companies that revolutionize the way that people work and shop, RelayRides is a San Francisco based company that has forever changed the way people get around.  It is a peer-to-peer car sharing company that was founded in 2010, by Shelby Clark, according to Steve Webb, the company’s director of corporate communications.  It happens to be the first peer-to-peer car sharing company that was founded in the United States, and “arguably the first in the world,” says Webb.

The idea was born when Clark attended graduate school at the Harvard business college in Boston.  He didn’t have a vehicle and instead resorted to using a more traditional car sharing company, known as Zipcar.  One day while biking in the snow to pick up the Zipcar, which was a few miles away from his home, he thought it would be more convenient if he could just hop in one of the many parked cars along the side of the road, pay the owner what they would charge for him to use it, and everything else would be taken care of.

“The concept [of the company] is very simple,” says Webb. “What we do is enable owners with idle cars to safely rent out their vehicles to someone who has been embedded and approved within our market place.”  This process is complete with background checks and driving checks on all of the renters before they are added to the system, and the owners of the vehicle get to determine the price and availability that there car will be listed at.  According to Webb, this “gives people who don’t have cars access to a vehicle and the possibility of living a lifestyle where they don’t even have to own a car, and they give their money back to a neighbor in return… which is really cool for them.”  There are countless benefits for the owners in this situation as well.  The greatest benefit being the ability to make money off of a vehicle that is quickly decreasing in value as the days go by.  According to Webb, a car is one of the most expensive assets that a person can own, but it is idle almost ninety-two percent of the time that they own it.  RelayRides is a highly beneficial option for car owners, because some who have chosen to use this service in the past were able to make anywhere from two hundred and fifty dollars to one thousand dollars on average, a month.  Some people were even able to make the value of their car back within a year, says Webb.

RelayRides has an insurance policy that covers all drivers who use the service, so if anything happens the insurance will pay for it.  The only requirements for the owners who chose to rent out their vehicles are that their cars are not any older than the year 2000, and have been driven less than 100,000 miles.  RelayRides relies on the owners of the vehicles to make sure that their cars have been serviced and are safe to be driven.  If a car is not in proper condition, or a driver misused the service in one way or another, there is a two-way rating system that allows them to write reviews on one another.  This ensures that other people who want to use this service will be aware of unreliable cars or drivers, so they can avoid any problems they might encounter.

RelayRides is a part of the collaborative consumption movement because it “is definitely feeding into the trend of access over ownership,” says Webb.  Lisa Gnasky, the initial investor of the company, who also happens to be a thought leader of collaborative consumption, said that the company is a gateway for the broader sharing economy, according to Webb.  “In a lot of instances people get their first exposure to the sharing world or find out about it through something like RelayRides and then become interested in other areas of the sharing economy,” he says.  “I think that the really cool thing about the sharing economy is that at its core it is utilizing unutilized assets, which you know as an environmentalist is amazing because it means greater efficiency,” adds Webb.

There have been a lot of companies popping up around the Silicon Valley area and making a real world difference by changing the habits of consumers, according to Webb.  He says that RelayRides is one of those social online companies that “have tangible benefits to the real world.”  There are 1.5 cars in the United States for every registered driver, but each shared car takes thirteen cars off of the road.  Webb says that the future of RelayRides not only has the capability of changing the way people get around, but also by changing the affects cars have on the nation.  “If we were able to get just a fraction of the cars to be on RelayRides we would revolutionize personal transportation,” he says.  “We can also revolutionize things such as traffic congestion and Co2 greenhouse gases, so the potential for benefits across the board are huge.”

So what can be accounted for as the reason there has been such an up rise in collaborative consumption businesses?  Recent studies show that teenagers in modern society identify their personalities most with the type of mobile phone that they have, whereas in the past it used to be based on the car that they drove.  “Formerly recognized as quintessentially American, [cars] used to be a symbol of independence and a teenage personality,” says Webb. “Now all the studies that have come out show that the mobile phone is actually something that teenagers identify more with than a car.  The spread of mobile technology has revolutionized the sharing economy.

A customer pays for her meal at Hapa Ramen at the Embarcadero Farmer's Market in San Francisco on Thursday, Dec 13, 2012. Hapa Ramen sells their food at the farmers market Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Photo by Godofredo Vasquez/Xpress

From Popping Up to Settling Down

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pop A customer pays for her meal at Hapa Ramen at the Embarcadero Farmer’s Market in San Francisco on Thursday, Dec 13, 2012. Hapa Ramen sells their food at the farmers market Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Photo by Godofredo Vasquez/Xpress

Words: Kenny Redublo
Photos: Godofredo Vasquez

The propane tanks hiss as they pump fuel into the burners. Steam comes out of every boiling pot as they cook the day’s batch of broth. Bins of hand made noodles stack up over five bins high. Coolers filled to the top with brown eggs ready for poaching. The deep fryer heats up oil for breaded garlic chicken. Hapa Ramen is up and running outside of the Ferry Building. All of this equipment is set up underneath a canopy next to other vendors just like Hapa. All of this equipment is commonplace for any fully loaded restaurant. This isn’t common. This is a pop-up.

A pop-up is a business that doesn’t have its own location and uses temporary locations to serve meals. For a restaurant, the pop-up is a concept that creates a sense of rarity and spontaneity. The pop-up gives way for innovation in the food world by approaching the customer in unorthodox ways. The pop-up is a recent trend in San Francisco food culture, but as with all trends, its longevity is always in question. The process of gaining notoriety in the food world has changed with the implementation of social networks–pop-ups can be easily tracked and followed. What this brings to the culture is finding what’s unique about the “then and now” experience of dining. What happens after “then and now” is up to the chef and the staff.

Hapa Ramen manager Richie Nakano, center, helps get customers’ orders ready at the Embarcadero Farmer’s Market in San Francisco on Thursday, Dec 13, 2012. Hapa Ramen sells their food at the farmers market Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Photo by Godofredo Vasquez/Xpress

Richie Nakano looks cold. The beanie on his head and simple grey hoodie don’t mask the fact that he sees the breath in front of him. Nakano is the owner of Hapa Ramen and they set up shop in front of the Ferry Building at the farmer’s market every Tuesday and Thursday. The morning is cold, the perfect ramen weather. His crew of six, including Nakano, maintain the rush that comes in at around 11 A.M. The line bends and follows along the sidewalk. Hapa is the most popular booth at the market.

“The term ‘pop-up’ is used so loosely now,” says Nakano.

Hapa does have a regular spot at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and the Off the Grid food truck meetup, but it maintains that pop-up sensibility by showing up at restaurants like Wing Wings in lower Haight, and most recently at Hawker Fare in Oakland.

“A pop-up is a restaurant concept, but you’re constantly changing your shit around,” says Nakano. Hapa Ramen has been around for two and a half years, three in the spring. It was initially supposed to be a one time deal, but it evolved into a monthly, now weekly, spot.

Nakano says pop-ups give more leeway to experiment with dishes. They are unique experiences that play to a captive audience, not just the ones looking for sustenance, or the “diner type” according to Nakano. “Pop-ups are special experiences and we wanted to see what else we can do,” says Nakano. A special dining experience isn’t the only motivation to open a pop-up. It’s a way to get a business started.

Pop-up Non-Fiction

One progression of a pop-up is a to transition into a brick and mortar restaurant. Sarah and Evan Rich started as chefs in different restaurants and then started Chef’s Night Off, a pop-up that hosted dinners in different restaurants’ kitchens. The pop-ups started in 2011 and after practicing their specialty dishes, they secured their own space in February 2012. Rich Table opened in mid July and has become one of the hottest restaurants in San Francisco.

One of the first pop-up successes is Mission Chinese Food. Launched by Anthony Myint and Danny Bowien on July 5, 2012, Mission Chinese Food used the kitchen out of Lung Shan Restaurant in the Mission. Offering a Sichuan spin on traditional Chinese food without the MSG, the pop-up gained its notoriety through various food blogs and word of mouth. The pop-up’s big break came in when Bowien and Mission Chinese Food was featured on the Travel Channel’s The Layover, hosted by famed chef and writer Anthony Bourdain. Since then, Mission Chinese Food has made top ten lists including GQ Magazine’s Best New Restaurants of 2011, and Bowien has become the face of the restaurant, appearing on the Martha Stewart Show and modeling for the clothing line UNIQLO. The notoriety also gave Bowien enough motivation to open a Mission Chinese Food in New York.

Mission Chinese Food is a rare case of pop-up success. It has spawned that interest in starting pop-ups but that can be a gamble, according to Nakano.

The Hapa Ramen crew work together to get costumers’ orders ready at the Embarcadero Farmer’s Market in San Francisco on Thursday, Dec 13, 2012. Hapa Ramen sells their food at the farmers market Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Photo by Godofredo Vasquez/Xpress

“Since there are so many pop-ups, some people get the impression that they can do it too when their abilities aren’t there,” says Nakano. “I don’t want amateurs getting people sick.”

A Different Way to Pop

The end point for a pop-up is usually a brick and mortar restaurant or a food truck. The kitchen at Dear Mom had a different pathway.

Before it was the Dear Mom kitchen, it was Fogcutter, a food truck opened up by Carolina Hummer and Guillermo Perez in July 2011. The two worked in food trucks before, one for Hummer and two for Perez, so they knew the workings of the culture. Perez had heard of a new bar opening up with a full kitchen and they were infatuated.

“We’ve been stalking Dear Mom for a long time even before they opened,” say Hummer. “We want to use that kitchen.”

They were invited to do brunch pop-ups when Dear Mom opened up. They were already serving brunch out of the truck so they did whatever they could to get into that kitchen. Fogcutter initially turned into a pop-up to promote the truck, since they were both still in operation. They realized the food in the truck wasn’t selling so they decided to scrap the truck. The truck didn’t help alleviate any stress.

“With the truck, you had the maintenance stresses on top of running a restaurant stresses,” says Hummer. “Even though it was a great experience, I wouldn’t want a truck again.”

So Fogcutter was a pop-up, but after having its residency in Dear Mom’s kitchen, they are now the primary staff. They are the Dear Mom kitchen.

Pop-Up Don’t Stop

As fast as pop-ups come and go, the food culture and trends progress in different directions.

Nakano says pop-ups are the trend as of now, but they a need cusp. “I would want to see pop-ups slowing down. It’s hard to see what’s actually special when there are tons of pop-ups starting,” says Nakano.

He says next year will see more of a transition to pop-ups and less to brick and mortar restaurants. He doesn’t see pop-ups as the future though. “There’s some other model that we haven’t seen yet,” says Nakano.

Hummer says the demand for brick and mortar restaurants won’t change.

“People want to eat and that’s never gonna change,” says Hummer.

“The culture will always be inventive and interesting since San Francisco provides access to fresh produce and ingredients.”

She does think that there’s a movement of underground dinners, like Hungry Bear and Snag Dining, that may be the next step in San Francisco food culture.

“It’ll keep getting weirder, inventive, and stay fresh for a long time,” says Hummer.

When the burners fade, the food is tapped. Foodies leave full on freshly made food served with the sense of it being the last of its kind. With a tweet or a like or a post, the dish won’t be alone in its rarity. The foodies will be waiting and watching with hungry eyes.

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Parks and Recreation: SF State Edition

By

RPT 520 students playing a series of games to test their team work at San Francisco State University. Photo by Alejandrina Hernandez / Xpress

Words: Babak Haghighi
Photos: Alejandrina Hernandez

Bob Flasher’s RPT 520 class is not your typical lecture. Flasher, or “Flash” as students call him, is not your typical lecturer. And SFSU’s Recreation, Parks, and Tourism department is not your typical academic program.

If you enjoy a tedious workload, cramming facts, and an overly stressful finals week, then this department is not for you. In one of the final class meetings of the semester, Flasher’s RPT 520 (Parks and Outdoor Recreation Resources) students are scrambling across the massive GYM 118 classroom, participating in various cooperative challenges and activities. Some solve puzzles in the front while others play a difficult game of “Bomb Squad,” in which a team must cooperate to place a ball, which is held up by a web of strings, into a small bucket. They scream, they laugh, and they smile. But this is no end-of-the-semester party. This is a typical class meeting for a required core class in the department.

No PowerPoints. No textbooks. No note-taking. No boring lectures.

“We see value in interactive teaching methods,” says Patrick Tierney, chair of the Recreation, Parks, and Tourism department at SFSU. “All classes use learning games to bring theory to life. Some classes are half lecture and discussion and half activities.”

Flasher promises students to limit his lectures to no more than 20 minutes at a time.

“This ensures that I will bring other types of engaging and more interactive learning experiences to the three-hour classes,” he explains. “We do raps, engage in cooperative physical challenges, have small group projects, have students lead lively discussions, and watch exciting videos.”

By using unique, interactive teaching methods, Flasher has successfully turned a large classroom of more than 50 students into an intimate and light-hearted learning environment.

“I look at teaching as sharing what I’m excited about, and it shows,” he says. Flasher finds that this encourages students to share what they are excited about as well, leading to engaging class discussions and an interactive atmosphere. Flasher doesn’t use textbooks. “Face it—they’re boring,” he says. “I focus on teaching the most essential concepts, not on imparting loads of soon-forgotten information that is easy to test for. I would rather students learn fewer, more important things well through first hand experience.”

Rob “Flash” Flasher speaks to his RPT 520 class at San Francisco State University. Photo by Alejandrina Hernandez / Xpress

“This’ll be an interesting debrief,” says Flasher as he prepares to get the class to retire from their activities and return to their seats. He blows a wacky-sounding whistle, and the students know that playtime is over.

As they discuss the activities they just engaged in, Flasher asks the class about one of the games. “What made the ball fall off?”

“J.R.,” jokes one student. The rest of them laugh.

After the break, Flasher puts on his grey snapback hat in style and prepares for the weekly rap. He raps about health, education, and recreation in the verses until students join in on the chorus.

“Are you down widdit?” asks Flasher.
“I be down widdit!” the students respond.
“Ya’ll be down widdit?”
“We be down widdit!”

And this is just a core lecture course for the major. Other classes in the department take things to the next level.

“Many of the classes engage in activities that take students outside of their comfort zones,” says Flasher. These classes include Small Boat Sailing, Beginning Rock Climbing, Introduction to Back Country Skiing, and more. Even the classes that don’t focus on a specific activity take students on various field trips that involve challenging and exciting activities.

“We whitewater raft, snow camp, rock climb, camp out, sail, kayak, do ropes courses, and many other unique activities that help students realize that they are way more competent at many facets of life than they ever imagined,” says Flasher. “[Students] learn to take reasonable risks that greatly enhance their quality of life instead of just going home every night to go on Facebook or play video games.”

This semester, Flasher has taken his RPT 520 students on a handful of field trips, usually to local parks and playgrounds and meeting the people that keep those parks and playground existent.

Despite its unconventional academic characteristics, the Recreation, Parks, and Tourism department isn’t all fun and games.

“Our majors take away skills and knowledge that will help them get a professional career started or enhanced,” says Tierney. “For non-majors, RPT classes push students to expand their world view, question assumption, look at balance in their lives, and encourage them to become change agents.”

RPT majors are required to complete 800 hours of volunteer work in the fields of recreation, parks, or tourism. Their senior year is spent planning and working at a full-time internship. Flasher says that 60% of the students are usually hired permanently by the organizations they intern at.

“This department focuses on developing practical skills, based on research and real-world experience,” says Flasher. “That’s why so many of us are lecturers—people hired to teach who have other 9-5 jobs in the field. We can share personal real-world experiences, not just teach to the test.”

As with most departments at the university, funding has not been ideal.

“Funding is always a challenge,” says Tierney. “But we’ve got to move forward and make the best of what we have. We need to look at non-traditional funding sources.”

This semester alone, the department had to apply for special funding just to run seven of its regular classes.

“It would be great to regain the funding we had just three years ago,” says Flasher.

There’s no denying the sheer educational value of RPT classes at SFSU. They are among the most interactive academic options at the university. Whether for an easy elective or for a serious pursuit of academics, a leisurely taste of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism is worthwhile.

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What Makes Big Ben Tick

By


Words: Ben Pack
Photos: Virginia Tieman

When I woke up on October 10th I wondered two things. If the Giants had avoided elimination against the Reds, and why my room was so damn hot. A nurse walked in and I slowly realized I wasn’t in my converted half-living-room in Park Merced on my lumpy mattress, but instead in a bed at Kaiser’s main hospital. I then thought back to the last thing I could remember, a young male nurse named Javier who had shaved me from neck to toe. This was not elective, but rather in preparation for my surgery. My open heart surgery.

Let me start at the beginning, which isn’t all that long ago. Since December of 2011 I had been on a strict diet and exercise routine, which resulted in me losing a lot of weight. Being a healthy young 22-year-old I figured it had been a while since I had had a physical so I scheduled one to talk about this crazy new body I had. After waiting a month for the appointment, as well as an additional two hours in the hospital waiting room, I was ready for the doctor to give me a clean bill of health and a lollipop when he took one last listen to my chest. Except that wasn’t meant to be.

With a semi worried look, Dr. Farrow told me he had detected a heart murmur. One thing lead to another, and before I knew it, a very nice mom-like cardiologist was telling me I was a walking heart attack, and I needed surgery as soon as possible. I was shocked. My mom wept and my dad was confused. It was just like one of the Pack family road trips.

The cardiologist told me I probably have Marfan Syndrome. It is a disease of the connective tissue that mostly affects the unusually tall, and according to my geneticist, “the most serious complications are defects of the heart valves and aorta,” of which I found out that day, I had both. This disorder put me in the company of a very mixed crowd, as the two other men famous for having Marfans are Abraham Lincoln and Osama Bin Laden.

I needed my heart’s aortic valve replaced with one made out of synthetic materials and my aortic root repaired. My aortic valve had a “mild aneurysm,” which also let me know there is something called a “mild” aneurysm. My aortic root was three times too big. I was the Grinch at the end of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

The doctors were going to cool my body temperature to 53 degrees, manually stopping my heart and lungs from functioning and hooking me up to the “heart lung machine.” Then they would crack open my ribcage, and start carving up my heart like a butcher getting a prime cut of meat, making me some sort of cow. That’s actually not too far from the truth, as they would then use part of a cow’s heart to repair my aortic root. They would then replace my old valve with one made of hard plastics, which they said would last 250 years, but produce an audible tick every time my heart beats, not unlike one you would hear in a watch. As if people didn’t already have enough ammunition to compare me to a certain clock tower in London.

The gravity of the situation never really set in, even until the surgery. I think it was one part shock, but I also like to think that I was able to accept that this was just another stage in my life that I had no control over. I was honestly more upset that I had to cancel my plans to get wasted that weekend in Reno.

Nine days after the appointment, I was ready. After spending the previous night with my family, I made my way to the hospital. They asked me dozens of questions, but I had all the answers already. Like someone who was certain they already knew what they wanted on their sandwich at Subway.

“Do you know what you’re here for?” Yes.

“Do you need spiritual guidance?” No.

“Do you have someone who can make decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself?” Yes.

“Are you ready?”

After the pre surgery preparations, I was apparently visited by my parents one more time. This was after some anesthesia was administered to me. I don’t remember the conversation I had with them, but apparently I told my parents I was “hydrodynamic” (probably due to the shaving). Then I was off to the operating table.

The hospital room was too nice. It was too white, too clean, and smelled too good. Hospitals always smell too good for what is going on in them. They’re also always too bright. Everything from blinding ceiling lights to the piercing glow of the monitors in the middle of the night make sure you always see where you are. It becomes in a way a prison, complete with three awful meals served to you every day.

I had three roommates and and a 13 inch tv to keep me company. One of them was another twenty-something, which is unusual for the heart clinic and all the nurses made sure to tell us that every day. The nurses were great for the most part. The better ones included motherly and fatherly Gretchen and Paul in the daytime, who like my real parents, gave me a lot of advice that I never listened to which would come back to bite me in the ass. There was also Darren at night, who couldn’t have been five years older than me. Our conversations varied from talking about getting drunk at 49er games, to hot nurses. It was a helpful distraction.

After spending eight days in the hospital I was sent home to my parent’s place. The hardest thing to deal with were the mood swings. I would be feeling the best I’ve ever felt to the worst in a matter of seconds. I was told that the Oxy I was on would do that. I wasn’t told about the super surreal and terrifying dreams, or the intense feelings of deja-vu that would shock me to my core and convince me that I was going insane. I remember one time in specific where I had an especially stirring case of deja-vu. I decided to Google “deja-vu after surgery,” only to find that the first four links on my computer had already been clicked.

In this college lifestyle of drugs, binge drinking and general YOLO attitude, it’s uncommon to really face one’s own mortality. And even though I “only” had a 5% chance of dying (and a “much higher” chance of a major complication), I had the pleasure of having the constant nagging presence in the back of my mind that I might not live to see 23.

But, not to ruin the end of the story, I did. Now my future is uncertain and I have new things to worry about. My days of heavy drinking are over thanks to Coumadin (a form of rat poison that doubles as a blood thinner). I can’t skydive or lift tremendously heavy objects, and, maybe worst of all I can’t ever over indulge in salad because leafy greens contain vitamin K, a blood coagulant.

As I sit here writing I realize that I notice almost no trace of the surgery. Aside from the 20 inch scar on my chest, the container full of rat poison that I have to take every night and the constant audible tick of my new heart, it almost seems like it never happened.

Except it totally did. I survived heart surgery, you guys.


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Miracle on 19th St: The Secret Life of a Mall Santa

By

Words: Molly Sanchez

Santa Claus is not supposed to take interviews. The official “Guide to Santa MEDIA Questions and Answers” put out by GGP Corporate Communications stipulates in screaming capital letters: “DO NOT RESPOND IN ANY MANNER TO ANY QUESTIONS THAT ATTEMPT TO MAKE YOU OUT OF CHARACTER.”

Which is why, when first asked his name, Larry Dahm answers “Santa Claus.”

The media guide goes on to give examples of the company approved responses he, or any Santa is allowed to give. The proper response to “What did you do before you were Santa?” is a jolly “Before I was Santa? Well I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t Santa!”

Dahm, who is in his ninth season of being a mall santa says, “I’ve done a little bit of everything.”

He says some of his early jobs included picking strawberries, bucking hay, and participating in a junior rodeo. Later in life, Dahm worked in the lumber industry, at gas stations, grocery stores, and says he even owned his own cab business for ten plus years.

Dahm’s attitude towards his work these days has changed drastically.

“I had an attitude, like most sailors when they’re half intoxicated,” he says with his trademark twinkle in his eyes. “As I got older, I found my way with the lord,” he says “and that’s why I do what I do [now].”

General Growth Properties (GGP) is the corporation that works with malls to employ Dahm and other mall Santas.

Santa Schools

Every Santa is interviewed by GGP and has to undergo a full drug test and background screening before they can get the job. Dahm says he passed his test with flying colors.

“They said I probably had a cleaner record than the President of the United States,” he says.

The GGP guide also has a mandated answer to having a background check. The “in character” answer is: “of course I’ve been background checked! I slip into millions of homes every year!”

“Not just anyone can be Santa,” says Larry Wells, the district mentor for the Stonestown Mall. “Theres an actual Santa school that they go to in June and July. As soon as Easter’s said and done, we have about a month break and then it starts all over again.”

At Santa school, potential performers have to roleplay in worst-case-scenario situations, like crying children, and also watch online tutorials and take written tests.

“They have to get a 90% on everything or they don’t get to be Santa,” says Wells.

When the season starts, Wells is in charge of mentoring Santas at over eight malls all around the Bay Area. Some problems he solves are little ones. When a child is crying on Santa’s lap, Wells immediately stops his conversation to help. He stands just off camera brandishing a feather on a stick. The prop is so simple it could be a feather duster, but with Well’s skillful wielding, the child is transfixed and even gives the camera a shy smile.

Other problems are, if you’ll excuse the pun, hairier. Last weekend, for example, he says he had to pick Dahm up and drive him to get his beard bleached because a mall official claimed it was “white, but not white enough.”

“We never use fake beards,” he says shrugging, a fact that adds to the realness of the company’s commitment to the idea of Santa. “We’re working for Santa and if he’s unhappy it shows. It’s a big production.”

Kids These Days

A big production is taking place in the heart of the Stonestown Mall. Larry Dahm sits in a comically oversized armchair flanked on either side by gargantuan sparkly toy soldiers in the middle of the Stonestown Mall. Corporate refers to this as “on set”. For Dahm it’s his nine-to-five.

A small boy wearing green rain boots bedecked with frog’s eyes toddles shyly up to Dahm, taking in his fluffy red and white robe.

As the boy moves closer, he absentmindedly starts to pull his shirt up and display his baby portliness to the seated Dahm.

“Oh no skin here, young man,” Dahm chuckles waggling a finger at the boy whose parents are scrambling to cover their precocious child. “I know it’s San Francisco but you can’t do that!”

Eventually, the boy sits on Dahm’s lap, looking in awe at his full, white beard. With some prompting from his parents the boy asks for “drums” with one hand in his open mouth, fiddling with a loose front tooth. Dahm nods knowingly and answers, “Lucky for you I have a lot of drums!”

To his left, at a counter bedecked with Christmas knick knacks stands Maygen Michota, his manager. She smiles as she watches the aftermath of the flashing, and bops her head slightly to the holiday music piped at ear splitting volume via the mall’s speakers.

The reactions of the kids is her favorite part of the job.

“It’s just pure and innocent,” Michota says. “It’s so sweet, even when they cry.”

Santa’s next interaction is with a crier; a tiny baby girl swathed in pink footy pajamas. She starts to fuss almost as soon as her parents lift her out to Dahm. He looks the baby in the eye and starts speaking softly to her. He waves a small set of handbells and they jingle softly in front of her face. She is transfixed either by the noise or by the kind words of the huge man in red. Either way, she sits quietly in Dahm’s arms and takes a precious, if a bit stoic, picture.

“He’s convinced more kids than any other Santa I’ve seen,” Michota says. “He’s really good at making them feel comfortable and that’s important.”

“That is the part I hate,” Dahmn says, referring to the crying. “It used to make me so upset when I started, I almost quit.” Dahm says he got over it by talking to veteran Santas who reminded him that it was just “another part of the job”.

Issues like this could be a reason corporate provides post season counseling for some Santas.

“They really get into the part. Some santas have a hard time getting back to reality,” Dahm says.

The Real Deal

There’s something special about this Santa in particular. I’m not the only person that feels it. A complete stranger walks up to me as I stand a few feet from the throne taking notes. She’s a middle aged woman, laden with shopping bags.

“That’s the real deal,” she says gesturing a long nailed finger at Dahm, “I always think he’s the real deal. He’s the one who does all the commercials.” I counter that I don’t think Dahm has ever done any television work. She ignores that and launches into a story about how she remembers waiting to sit with Santa as a child. She talks for a good ten minutes about her past, her present, and her future as it related to Santa and when she leaves she squeezes my shoulder and wishes me a Merry Christmas.

“It’s a corporate game, it’s money generated,” Wells confides. “But in the same breath it’s such a tradition.” He then launches into his own story of meeting Santa. He even admits to being a beard puller.

The official guide says that Santas must answer the question of yearly income with a glib “I get paid all the candy canes and snowballs I can eat, as well as plenty of carrots for the reindeer.”

Again, Dahm has his own approach. “Some of your Santas out there, all they’re after is the money,” Dahm says with, of course, a twinkle in his eye. “I want the money, but I still believe I’m doing a faithful thing.”

Bah Humbug

The cynic will point out the “faithful” thing Dahm is doing is placating children while their parents shop. They’ll point to corporate with their lists of appropriate answers and employees who run around protecting their precious image. The cynics will say that, Dahm, Wells, Michoto, and all Santas are just playing into the commerciality of the season, a season that was silly to begin with.

What these humbuggers fail to realize is the driving force behind all of this. It’s a feeling rather than a product.

“With all the troubles that’s going on in the world, it’s a time to stop and reflect. It’s about family, kids, relationships,” Wells says. “For a short period of time [Christmas] it gets your mind off other things, that’s what I’m using this job for. I just put my other issues aside and do this.”

With a job that is seven days a week, for two months Dahm has had to put parts of his life on hold. He has five grandchildren “that I know of,” he quips.

A few years back, Wells’ youngest grandchild was turning six and he was going to have to miss her birthday because of his shift at the mall. “She put me through a guilt trip,” Wells recalls. “But I told her, ‘I’ll be there on Christmas eve.” And he was.

“I have an ability,” Dahm says, waving to the people on the upper tier of the mall before turning to me and finishing. “I’m trying to bring pleasure to the children, to give them hope that things will be better.”

Yes S.F. State, there is a Santa Claus and though we are old and cranky and full of cheap beer, we can still feel it. It’s the sense of community in the season. It’s the faith that things will get better, beyond finals, beyond college, beyond everything that hurts us now. All that’s needed is the willingness to believe in a little magic.

And a super white beard!

The Sound of Gender

By

 

Hannah Lew of Grass Widow played at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Thursday, December 6.

Hannah Lew of Grass Widow played at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Thursday, December 6.

Words: Ruby Perez
Photos: Andy Sweet

A thick layer of cigarette smoke hangs above the outdoor area of San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill as concertgoers cluster tightly next to one another and drunkenly converse. Here and there beer is spilled, as someone snakes their way through the crowd to get to this friend or that friend. Everyone seems more than content to be spending this chilly Thursday night catching tonight’s performance.

Inside the venue, the same air of excitement and anticipation as outside persists, with the jittery chatter growing louder as the fans wait patiently for the band to take the stage.

Tonight’s performers, known as Grass Widow and composed of Lillian Maring, Raven Mahon, and Hannah Lew, are a San Franciscan trio who generate hooking and often haunting layered melodies that are reminiscent to the genre post-punk.

Forming in 2007, the group are staples in the San Francisco music scene.

However, despite the obvious success of Grass Widow, the band still faces troubles of gender that come with being a woman in a successful band.

Raven Mahon of Grass Widow played at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Thursday, December 6.

Raven Mahon of Grass Widow played at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Thursday, December 6.

It has been over 30 years since punk rock was born, and around 20 years since the movement called Riot Grrl drastically shaped the way this subculture views gender, yet a dark and looming figure still clouds the music.

Unfortunately, not even the Do-It-Yourself roots of punk have gone without the influence of sexism that continues to prevail in its own subtle ways.

Victoria Guzman, a bassist who attends SF State University, shares the implications of sexism in rock music.

“It’s kind of like when people ask me when I play instruments, and I say that I’m learning to play the bass, it feels like aw that’s cute,” says Guzman. “Rather than cool, let’s collaborate, let’s make music, it feels more patronizing you know?”

This is most prevalent in the clumping of the work of female musicians as though “female” were a genre in itself. The idea is that every female drummer is the next Meg White of The White Stripes, and that all bassists are a Kim Gordan of Sonic Youth or a Kim Deal of the Pixies. Yet the reality is that there is no “female” sound, rather the ignorant categorization of female musicians as being all but the same.

Women are either the radical riot girls of the ‘90s spouting politics in their songs, or they are the syrupy summer sound of Best Coast — there is no middle ground.

“People have the need to identify something that is new with something that is old; a lot of people have influences but it doesn’t necessarily mean that their music is going to sound like that because everyones music is unique,” says Guzman. “Just because it’s a similar genre doesn’t mean its the same, and that’s especially true with girls because they either get placed into one category or the other and if they don’t fit, then it’s no good, they don’t understand it.”

As Grass Widow sits on a couch in the back room of the venue, it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to the one that Guzman just shared. Topics of gender, the idea of feminism, and the clumping and generalization of female musicians become the center of conversation.

Lew recalls a past conversation she had about feminism with a girl who claims she is not a feminist and that feminism is no longer necessary in modern days.

“Maybe in San Francisco it isn’t as male dominated as other places, you know like the middle of the country, where it really is prevalent… but it’s obvious that when you begin talking to people everyone has this experience, and it’s real,” says Mahon. “I do think that some people here you know, may live in a bubble and may not acknowledge all these nuances. But you can just look at statistics of what women are making and the income disparity or any other factual evidence to show that women are still unequal.”

Maring continues this ideology by adding, “maybe if you have that job where everyone respects you, and you have a car so you never walk alone down the street, and you have friends who also pretend it’s not happening you can pretty much avoid it all the time and allow it to continue.”

Lillian Maring (left) and Hannah Lew of Grass Widow played at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Thursday, December 6.

Lillian Maring (left) and Hannah Lew of Grass Widow played at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Thursday, December 6.

The equality they strive for, and the unprecedented sound they have created is something they have worked for in order to create a positive space for everyone. Grass Widow is challenging the current status of sexism.

“If you don’t put yourself out there you’re never going to have to challenge that dynamic,” says Lew. “But we put ourselves out there. We’re in a position where we are trying to make space for ourselves, and the audience, and make space for everybody and that’s why we deal with it. And I think it’s working, just very slowly.”

As they take on these topics, they speak with the kind of confidence and comfort of friends who have known one another for a very long time, and interject with jokes and picking up comfortably where the other left off without missing a step.

Gender and feminism isn’t something they shy away from, and have no problem addressing the inequalities of being a girl in the music industry.

Maring explains that when the group first began, they often received comparisons from music reviewers about the sound of their music — with the only similar defining characteristics of these said bands being that they all share the same sex.

“There used to be a lot more comparisons before with other women musicians, like it used to be like, it sounds like the Vivian Girls, it sounds like the Dum Dum girls, or it sounds like the Raincoats and the Shangri-Las,” says Maring. “Just stuff that doesn’t make sense at all.”

The group is disheartened by these comparisons but break into a laugh as Lew interjects that their band must simply “sounds like boobs.”

Although the humor behind their statement is obvious, the message it hold is anything but. Grass Widow is more influenced by the Velvet Underground, The Kinks, or The Urinals, than say, the Raincoats, although reviewers are quick to compare the two. They firmly believe that gender is not a sound, so to give it one is to devalue a musicians work.

“Gender is just not a sound, it’s just not,” says Lew. “The vocals I think is why people do that comparison, but I think that when women are doing anything then it’s like people are going to measure you on your sexual worth and hopefully that’s going to stop happening soon.”

Mahon continues with this belief, explaining that what Grass Widow has created is an individual and independent voice — not one that can be easily categorized with any female musician.

“We really have made an effort to describe what the music is and what it means to us,” says Mahon. “We wanna make music for ourselves, and the music that we make comes from us so that it’s the dynamic that we have, and that we have is not modeled after anything else.”

Grass Widow began at an early age, although the formation of the band was a long time coming.

“I just came out singing,” jokes Maring. “No but really, as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to play music and sing and dance and be a little show off.”

The band began performing while the women were in their early twenties, however they’ve always held a love of music.

“I was obsessed with the Beatles and just really into music, but I didn’t think I could play music until a lot later which was a whole other thing for me at least, in my early twenties I started playing instruments for real,” says Lew.

Mahon and Lew first began playing music seriously in 2003 with one another, in which they used to have a band with a third party. However soon they joined with Maring and created Grass Widow, and now the trio now participating in national tours and carry multiple releases under their belt.

Grass Widow, loosely involved with the Bay Area Girls Rock Camp, became involved with the camp when used to share a room with the founding member Carey Fay-Horowitz.

The Bay Area Girls Rock Camp, a program that is meant to empower young girls and women through the participation of music, encourages girls to pick an instrument and start a band. Grass Widow explains it’s about what it means to be a woman on stage collaborating with other women, as well as the relationship between a girl and her instrument, and the different genres of music that are available.

“This was our chance to be empowering to young girls that I know I never had,” says Lew. “When I was a kid, I had to really go against the grain to be like, I can play an instrument even though you wouldn’t think that. It was harder that it needs to be a lot of the time so to think that there’s a girl rock camp, that’s amazing.”

Grass Widow supports the movement behind the Girls Rock Camp, often recalling their own personal experiences with music as young girls was not as easy and motivating as it could have been.

“You know I didn’t have that kind of nurturing with music, I didn’t feel like I can do this as a kid, but I’m also glad that I had the experiences that I had because I wouldn’t have it any other way. I made my own tools for what kind of women I was going to be and I was too stubborn to take bass lessons, so I made my own way to play bass, I think that one of the things about our band is that the values of all three of us are very different and we’re like a microcosm of just three different people.”

The difficulties of being a musician are something that follow girls past young age, and even into professionalism. Lew is happy for the girl who believes feminism is no longer needed, but says that sexism is something that is still prevalent.

“I’ve actually had a sound guy come up to me and actually turn the knobs on my bass. Those are the inputs for my bass, you don’t turn my knobs,” says Lew. “You would never do that to a guy and walk up to him and touch him. It was just so inappropriate and just one of the many things that happen all the time.”

Although much of this may seem overwhelming, Grass Widow filters these experiences out and stays positive for sanity’s sake.

“It just happens all the time, but I think to survive and not be totally angry all the time you gotta just filter it out,” says Maring

As far as role models for girls, Grass Widow is hoping that a new generation of role models can be paved that doesn’t include such an emphasis on femininity.

“That’s the thing about when we toured with the Raincoats, they didn’t make us want to be like them, they made us want to be more like ourselves,” says Lew. “So in that way they were really inspiration and that’s what I hope we could be for other women.”

Grass Widow continues with this idea of new feminism, in which women can draw inspiration from others that encourages themselves to be, well, themselves.

“There’s a lot of female icons in pop culture and, at any given point, girls are usually trying to fit their body and their face into like the clothes and the look of what is the ‘It girl’ is at the moment, and that’s been a thing for awhile,” says Lew. “I hope that we’re changing that and that femininity isn’t the defining characteristic of anything a woman does.”


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