I’m in Niles, a quiet, peaceful, and little-known neighborhood of the East Bay city of Fremont. Fremonts’ overall population is 238,000, while 7,500 reside in Niles.
Antique shops pepper the buildings of the district’s main road, while yellow hills running parallel to train tracks mimic the parched humps of a giant camel. Outside one store, two insouciant skeletons chill in lawn chairs, nonchalant and (I would even say) man-spreading.
Inside the The Nile Cafe a giant mural of three Egyptian pharaohs vivifies the entirety of one wall, while multi-colored tiles cut into the shapes of triangles, parallelograms, and rectangles pattern the table-tops, boasting colors that vary from purple to salmon to lime-green to aqua.
Just off the main road on a residential street, nestled between the branches of two trees rests a wooden treehouse carved into the shape of a small ship. And down at nearby Quarry Lake, a tree with skinny branches reaches out in “there there now” consolatory posture . Its branches extend like arms, each cloaked in dark green foliage resembling baggy but cozy sweater material.
Passengers here include a motherly Indian woman on crutches; a young woman who’d been auditing a senior citizen center (mainly for former masons) heading to the Union City BART station to embark on her two-hour commute back to her apartment in the outer Richmond district of SF; and a group of four Asian-American college kids slurping Ramen and trying sips from each other’s bowls (all had ordered different flavors).
One woman who gets in outside the Dirty Bird Lounge in downtown Hayward knows right away that I’m Greek.
“I can tell from your name,” she says. “My boyfriend is too.”
As we drive down the lengthy Mission Boulevard from Hayward to Fremont, past arid yellow hills resembling camel humps to our left, she talks about a ‘hangover store’ that her boyfriend plans to open on the island of Mykonos.
“He’s a nurse so it’ll have a lot of herbal remedies for all the partiers to benefit from the day after,” she explains.
Her boyfriend’s brother, who lives in Mykonos full-time, will run it.
We talk briefly about Petros the pelican (a bird who once wandered freely around the island, surprising tourists dining at outdoor tavernas) then magical realism, before arriving at the topic of languages.
“I’m Portuguese but my parents came at a time where it was trendy to just assimilate. So I never learned Portuguese growing up. Now it’s considered so cool to be bilingual though!” the passenger laments.
In # Passengers Speak Spanish this week:
Little boy to his mom, in response to the sight of a dog walking next to its owner with a blanket in its mouth: “Why is she making the dog carry it? Won’t he get his spit all over it?”
(“Porqué hace que el perro la lleve? No la dejará llena de saliva?“)
In #Lyft Line, two women discuss breastfeeding while a man with an ostrich tattoo and silver sunglasses slurps from a can of Pepsi through a red licorice straw.
Bigger Passenger Story: Carving out a Niche in the Torrent of Artistic Content
20-something Lin* has just gotten out of a film festival, where they say many of the movies took on a slower pace. These are the kinds of movies that Lin–who identifies as genderqueer– says they would like to make some day.
Though they want to be a film-maker, they admit to worrying about finding an audience with whom their work will resonate. Our modern environment feels to them at times inconducive and inhospitable to the “messily meandering thinkers.”
“The un-polished people who have more questions than answers–well we struggle more,” they say.
Lin feels many of us want the opposite— masking tape for the brimming boxes of unanswered questions, as opposed to more loose ends to further convolute their already complicated lives.
This passenger’s thoughts resonate with me. As a writer in the rapid-fire times of social media–wherein attention is an ever-dwindling and highly coveted resource–when I was first getting started I often felt the pressure to package my thoughts and get to the point as quickly as possible so as not to lose people. Readers want a rapid delivery. Stray too far from the marked road, and you’ll lose them. Attention and interest can click off as instantly as they were won.
The late David Foster Wallace once expressed the following view:
“Quality television cannot stand the gaze of millions, somehow,” he writes. There’s some complex high-dose psychic transaction between TV and Audience whereby audience gets trained to respond to and then like and then expect trite, hackneyed, numbing television shows, and to expect them to such an extent that when networks do occasionally abandon time-tested formulas we usually punish them for it by not watching novel forms in sufficient numbers to let them get off the ground. “
(**I do wonder though if he’d feel this way about modern-day streaming platforms, which in my opinion have produced some exemplary television that is enjoyed by masses, and not at the expense of substance or quality).
San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle has made similar observations. In his 2017 article about the Academy Awards he wrote, “These days, fewer people go to see the best movies. Instead, they’re slouched in the packed theater next door, spilling popcorn and watching over-amplified, CGI-saturated fare.”
I don’t mean to criticize these viewers at all. After all, I’m one of them (I may or may not have binged season 1 of Love Is Blind in two days). There’s nothing wrong with looking to TV, films, or entertainment in general as forms of escapism. God knows outlets are important—especially for people who already channel their brains and hearts exhaustively throughout the day. More importantly, we’re all entitled to use these vital organs in the ways that we want to.
Understandable as this may be, it still creates apprehension for Lin as an aspiring filmmaker about the likelihood of connecting with an audience.
“Another part of it is I don’t see representation of myself out there, and I worry it’s because people aren’t interested in seeing these stories,” they say. “Or that they don’t find them relatable.”
While I don’t have any experience with film-making specifically, I do try to convey to Lin a general message I’ve sought to internalize over the years– that you absolutely can find your niche, the ones who will value what you put out. Trust that they are enough to sustain you, and that your connection with this more limited audience will be harder to shake– rooted as it is in sturdier material.
I’d like to think that this reminder can keep artists producing work that’s truly representative of their authentic and innermost cores. Work that aligns with their values and speaks to whomever might think or feel a similar way (however small that group may be).
As Mick Lasalle said: “Films that are the product of thought, not just impulse, of balanced reflection and philosophical understanding, will never have the mass impact of films that exploit blind, unthinking fear. But it’s the former kind of movie that the academy steadfastly continues to honor.”
As for Lin’s worry that people won’t watch her movie because no stories like theirs are out there: all the more reason to tell it.
Shadowy film makers— https://www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/how-to-hone-your-individual-style-as-a-filmmaker/.
Gender queer film-maker Jordan Byron–https://www.uts.edu.au/about/faculty-arts-and-social-sciences/news/q-and-genderqueer-filmmaker-uts-alumni-jordan-bryon