The hyenas of Fell Street, our plastic pandemic, and Mission district gentrification in San Francisco, CA

Bearded and bespectacled (**generally that word annoys me, but I just couldn’t resist the alliteration here), Jim* exudes an instant air of sophistication when he gets into my car at 9th and Irving.

He’s just finished having sushi dinner with a female friend he hasn’t seen in over three years (“She’d been living in Berlin as an opera singer,” he says) and shares with me that both he and his dad are “Googlable” famous conductors.

Passing through the Mission district on our ride back to his home in Bernal Heights, Jim comments on how much the neighborhood has changed. 

“People are getting really mad at the hipsters,” he remarks. “Which I get. The Mission’s losing its flavor, and the people who call it home— not just a place to live and play around and have fun in but home—are being uprooted. By people who will probably just get bored of it and move on in a few years anyways.”

Like Jim, I too have witnessed the consequences that gentrification has had on this beloved neighborhood. The low-income housing site I worked at years ago was filled with residents who were living there because they could no longer afford their standard apartments.  

Businesses I used to frequent during my internship for Curve Magazine in 2010 have been shuttered. On my walk down 16th Street, for instance, I used to stop at this little soccer-themed cafe for their garlic bagels with sun-dried tomato cream cheese. With its fuse-ball table in the corner, dark green floors meant to recreate a soccer field, TVs with soccer games playing, and soccer ball cupcakes, I thought it was so creative, cute, and charming. Most of the staff spoke Spanish.  

That cafe is long gone, swallowed up by gentrification and increased rent prices. Jim is quick to not demonize the techies though, because they “aren’t coming specifically with the agenda of driving people out.” 

“They’re coming because the Mission’s a fun, desirable place to live. They have the money to live there so they do. And the driving out just happens as an unintended byproduct.”

I have mixed feelings about this statement, but anyways…

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Exploring San Francisco

What about the rest of the city? San Francisco as a whole has changed a lot in the past 15 to 20 years.

Will Durst writes, “Everybody talks about the change in San Francisco. This town is the petri dish of change. We throw the stuff up against the wall and see what sticks. We end up with messy walls. But this town, people who come here are forward thinking. You come here on purpose.”

A woman passenger I drove said of the stark contrasts present in SOMA (the neighborhood she lives in): “One corner away from my house you can buy crack; on another corner there’s a fancy bakery where you can purchase fresh pastries and a seven-dollar cup of coffee.”

Down at Ocean Beach, I spot a group of Pakistani adults dressed in traditional attire gathered around a live crab. Surfers. Footprints left behind by baby seagulls. So. Many. Happy. Dogs.

Back to the car; I click unlock on my keys. The alarm tweets; I hear a bird tweet from not too far away, echoing it. Awww, I think. Did you think a comrade was near, little cutie?

Haus Coffee in the Mission is modern and furnished with minimalist tables and chairs. Beams run from floor to ceiling, wooden like the tables. Patrons, the majority of whom appear overwhelmingly hipster, drink their coffee and eat their four-dollar pastries while writing on small square tables with knotted-wood surfaces, seated in the same kinds of chairs you might find inside an elementary school classroom. Abstract “swirls of color” paintings hipsterfy the otherwise white walls.

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#Road Thoughts: Simba on Fell Street

A recurring image comes to mind every time I’m trying to turn onto a street with heavy traffic (particularly on streets like San Francisco’s Fell, where four lanes of cars zoom by incessantly, making merging very difficult). 

That image is of little Simba in the Lion King, when he’s surrounded by hyenas and fears being crushed by the stampede of thundering hooves.

Traffic is to San Francisco streets as the Lion King hyenas are to sub saharran Africa. 

There just never seems to be a good moment for my car to join the pack; it always feels like I’ll be trampled by oncoming traffic.

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#Lyft Quote

“Guys what’s inside these houses?” a passenger asks his friends as we drive past the majestic homes of the Pacific Heights neighborhood.

“Furniture and snobby people,” his friend responds. 

“Furniture they don’t sit on,” the third friend adds. 

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Bigger passenger story: an environmentally conscious bartender on our plastic pandemic

Lisette* enters my car outside the bar she works at in Portrero Hill, hair the color of lilacs swept to the top of her head into a high ponytail. A pack of Red Vines pokes out from her large tan purse.

“We just started using these at the bar, to replace straws,” she says, gesturing to them. “It’s in accordance with a new city-wide ordenance. Helps address the waste problem but not so much our sugar epidemic.”

Smiling back at her, I notice felt honey bees sewn onto her short-sleeved black collared shirt, which she wears tucked into her black work pants.

Lisette’s feelings about the ordinance are mixed. On the one hand, she appreciates its intent; on the other, she’s cognizant of the harm it may cause to certain communities.

“I think people with disabilities who need regular straws to drink should be an exception. Or what if they’re diabetic? What if they just don’t like licorice?” she laughs.

From there we get to talking about waste, recycling, and our planet in general. 

“There are way more things than just straws contributing to environmental degradation. That we could all be more aware of and cut down on,” she says with conviction in her voice. “Paper coffee cups. Plastic take-out containers. Plastic bags.

I agree with her, and recall out loud my experiences living in Uruguay a few years back, where the plastic bag problem seemed even more out of hand.

“At a lot of places even a single cookie was wrapped in all this paper, then placed in an entire large plastic bag,” I say to her.

Incredulous, she comments that this would drive her insane.

“I know. It bothered me enough that I even wrote a letter to their paper El Pais about it, and—ironically I guess, now that I look back on it— handed out small slips of paper to pastry shops around the neighborhood, encouraging them to cut back,” I say.

“Even here in the U.S. though, we have a long ways to go,” Lisette remarks.

After I drop her off, I find myself reflecting on some of my own habits.

I think about all the times, after forgetting my reusable bags during a trip to the grocery store, I simply shrugged it off and made a noncommittal mental note to “remember next time.” I think about the mountains of takeaway coffee cups I’ve witnessed stacked up in my recycling bin at the end of the week, residue from my cafe-dwelling ritual.

Being on the go so often as a Lyft driver, it was common for me to get takeout. I’d often eat dinner in my car during a break from driving. Chicken tika masala, Thai green curry chicken, and caterpillar sushi rolls were among my indulgences. I now cringe slightly, thinking about all the take-out boxes I threw into the earth during that time in my life.

How many chopsticks, extra napkins, plastic forks and styrofoam containers has the Earth absorbed for my benefit?

When I wasn’t getting takeout, I’d sometimes bring sandwiches or pack my meal in zip-locks or foil. 

Ideally we should never do things out of guilt. We should do them because we genuinely want to do. We should do them because they feel inherently rewarding. One thing I did take from my conversation with Lisette though is that a little bit of guilt isn’t bad.

Guilt can be productive and motivating. It can guide and regulate action. When I allow myself to envision a decaying Earth next to mountains of trash piling up, I stop before I’m about to do something like throw an un-recyclable item into the recycling. I pause, then intervene and stop myself.

 Not from fear of punishment—but because thinking about these outcomes makes me sad. And that sadness punctures through my inertia. In a way, the sadness itself is the “punishment” (issued prematurely rather than retroactively) that motivates a change in behavior.

Colored trash bins used to recycle paper, plastic and glass. Digital illustration.

I’m reminded that environmentally conscious living doesn’t even have to mean enormous sacrifice. It might just mean a little bit of planning, making some small changes, and renouncement of certain conveniences.

Eventually those minor inconveniences don’t even feel like sacrifices anymore, because you’ve habituated.

It’s easy to let perfectionistic thoughts deter you. All or nothing mentality prevents many people from sticking to positive changes.

As Molly de Vries writes though, “Moving toward a non-disposable life is less about perfection and more about deep awareness and lots of tiny actions. Life happens! And with a job and a family and so many things to juggle, we have to be gentle with ourselves.”

De Vries runs Ambatalia, a store that sells goods meant to store foods and other items in environmentally sustainable ways. She lives with her husband in a small cottage in the redwoods of Mill Valley.

If you’re interested in living differently as well, remind yourself that even small positive changes can add up.  Even if only half the people in our world adopted these changes, I believe on a global scale it would still make a considerable difference.

Thanks for reading! Check back soon for more Lyft stories and follow our IG @lyft_tales

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Photo credits

Licorice cocktail– “using a piece of licorice as a straw” Facebook page

Chicken tikka masala — https://www.kitchensanctuary.com/chicken-tikka-masala/

Recycling — https://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Recycling.html

Published by esteph42190

A 30-year-old queer bilingual writer born and raised in the Bay Area, I’ve been writing since before I knew how to spell. Balancing my generative energy with a desire to inform, as a child I printed and distributed to classmates publications that included The News Newsletter and Health Digest (ironic considering I also ran an illicit candy business that landed me in the principal’s office several times). As a student at UC Davis I wrote for The California Aggie, with pieces ranging from an exploration of gender roles in the movie Tangled to my own weekly psychology column. After graduating I kept a bilingual blog of my 14 months living in Montevideo, Uruguay, and upon returning continued to blog about social issues and human psychology.

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