All posts by Agnes Mogstad

Post-Fire Inferno

The aftermath of the fires

Since the devastating fires that started on a dry, windy night  in Northern California, more than forty people have lost their lives, over five thousand structures have been destroyed, and several hundred thousand acres of land have burned down, according to Cal Fire. The disaster will go into history as one of the worst fires in California’s history. Businesses both in San Francisco and up North have been seriously affected by the devastation, and unknown consequences might occur in the future.

Weed up in smoke

“The county felt like a war zone,” Sarah ElSayed says. She works for Legion of Bloom, which produces and distributes sun-grown marijuana in Sonoma.

“A thick haze of smoke was choking the air and we had nightly curfews. Our city was almost unrecognizable,” she continues.

 

Santa Rosa lost over fifteen hundred homes and structures within the first three hours of the fire. Many people made it safely out of their homes and neighborhoods just before the blazing inferno blew through the area. The entire county shut down for a week as everyone held their breath waiting to see how bad it would get. Entire neighborhoods were leveled to the ground, businesses were destroyed, and people lost everything.

As far as the Cannabis community is concerned, there are several farmers who shared the same fate as others. According to the Sonoma County Growers Association, thirty pot farms have suffered severe damage. Cannabis farmers are also dealing with the crippling effects of not having the adequate insurance necessary to safeguard their businesses.

SPARC, a San Francisco-based medical cannabis dispensary, was heavily affected. Founder Erich Pearson told the Green State that he went to bed on the first night of the fires thinking “at minimum the plants are going to be trashed and greenhouse plastic is going to be everywhere.”  In reality, sixty thousand square feet of barns filled with cannabis were destroyed, along with SPARC Farm’s drying room and processing room, and living space for ten people.

One of Legion of Bloom’s main farms has been severely affected by the Nuns Fire in the eastern side of the county. The fire destroyed much of their infrastructure and incinerated a good portion of their crop, leaving the rest with varying degrees of smoke damage.

“We are still trying to quantify our total losses, as we pick up the pieces and try to save what we can of our farm,” ElSayed explains.

ElSayed thinks the North Bay will see a slight decline in sun-grown flower because of the fires. However, she thinks it is too early to see the total scope of loss.

“I imagine that there will be a ripple effect in the market as we start to fully understand what this may have done to the overall supply chain,” she says.

Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, told KTLA that the road to recovery is going to be very long. However, he does not think the marijuana dispensaries will have a hard time getting supply because there are so many farms. In California there are more than fifty thousand marijuana farms, and fifteen thousand of these are located in Sonoma County.

“Although this has been devastating for Sonoma County,” ElSayed adds, “it has been beautiful and inspiring to see our community stand strong and rally together. We are very proud to call Sonoma County our home.”

Sweet Flames

Sift Dessert Bar is a dessert shop with stores in San Francisco, Napa, and Santa Rosa. Their main bakery in Santa Rosa was next door to a building that burnt to the ground.

“We were all on the edge of our seat to see if Sift was still standing at the end of that day,” Andrea Ballus, CEO and founder of Sift, says.

When they were finally able to assess the bakery, they needed a major cleaning inside because the building was so close to the fire. Sift had to close four of their five stores in the Napa/Sonoma-area for two weeks due to the damage. Over thirty percent of their sixty employees were mandatorily evacuated. Despite the damage the dessert chain still managed to keep their employees paid.

“I overheard one of our long-time employees say, ‘That was the worst paid vacation I’ve ever had’,” Ballus recalls.

Most of the Sift stores are located in heavy tourist-driven areas, which means that the customer flow has slowed down after the fires, but it is getting better with time.

“People are realizing that we’re still here,” Ballus exclaims.

“For the most part, you won’t even see the burned areas when coming to visit wine country!”

Though Sift has lost money, the CEO is more concerned about the personal losses than the material damage to their bakery.

“We all personally know someone who’s house burned down,” Ballus explains. “That has been the biggest tragedy – helping your friends put back their lives, after suffering so much at the hands of this fire.”

Wine Country

The wine industry definitely suffered damage due to the fires. According to the OC Register, twenty-seven wineries were destroyed or damaged. With that being said, Napa and Sonoma have roughly nineteen hundred licensed wineries and cellars.

“The image that the wine industry has been destroyed has been overblown,” says Dr. Joe LaVilla, restaurant management instructor and sommelier at San Francisco State University.

LaVilla explains how most of what burned were oak trees between vineyards. The vines themselves acted as a fire break for a few wineries. The smoke could have tainted much of the production, but most of harvest had already been completed.

“Only about fifteen percent of the harvest remained, so the damage from smoke will likely be minimal,” LaVilla adds.

Though only some wineries were seriously damaged, the consequences for those affected can be brutal. The wineries that were destroyed have to start from scratch. If they were fermenting at the time of the fire, had grapes ready to ferment, or had wine about to be put into barrels, that part of their production could be destroyed and will leave a gap in their inventory for a year. The fermentation process in winemaking is when juice from the pressed grapes, containing natural sugars, in combination with yeasts present on the skins of the grape are turned to alcohol. This process can take anywhere from ten days to months. While most of the harvest was completed before the fires started, as little as thirty minutes of exposure to smoke can cause a smoke-taint in the final product.

If any wine was stored on site for aging, and that was lost, then the gap in production could be longer. If they lost the whole production of 2017, the consequences are in the future because wine is not usually sold immediately after it is made.

“Visitors who are staying away because they believe the area is devastated, are doing more damage than the fire did,” LaVilla points out.

LaVilla thinks restaurants and wine shops in San Francisco might see a depletion in inventory for some wines.

“There may be a lack of the 2017 vintage in the future, but it remains to be seen how large it will be,” he adds.

Frank Melis, wine expert and owner of Golden Gate Wine Cellars in San Francisco, says that supply was an issue the first two to three weeks, because some of the wineries he works with burned down. However, he is not worried about the wine supply in San Francisco in general.

“I don’t believe it will be an issue,” Melis explains. “Ninety nine percent of the vineyards were not damaged. It could have been much worse.”

If you are worried about the wine prices, you can most likely relax. The 2017 vintage may be higher priced because of its scarcity, but for the most part, there should not be a sudden surge in pricing, according to LaVilla.

The consumers play an important role in helping damaged wineries get back on their feet.

“Take a day trip and go to restaurants, shops, and wineries for tastings,” LaVilla explains.

“Spending money in the local economy will get people back on their feet faster, because they are earning an income and can then work to rebuild their lives.”

The community remains hopeful

Though local businesses in Napa and Sonoma have suffered severe damage, the people behind remain hopeful. The fire inferno has gotten people closer than ever and showed us how important it is to stand together through a disaster. It might take a while for them to get back on their feet, but they will stand again.

 

Photos by Legion of Bloom

Buggin’ Out

Craving Crickets

The bar is dimly lit and the music is loud. The ceiling is decorated with hundreds of empty beer glasses placed vertically next to each other to show the labels. The shelves behind the counter carry bottle after bottle of tequila and mezcal.

Mosto Bar doesn’t have many tables, but the ones they have are occupied by men and women imbibing in colorful drinks. At first glance, it looks like just another tequila bar with an assortment Mexican dishes on the menu. But upon taking a closer look, some see-through plastic boxes in the kitchen reveal the unusual ingredients of two of their dishes – insects.

Mosto Bar serves spicy mealworms and cricket tostadas – one of the only places in San Francisco to do so.

 

Insect farms

As the population of the world increases every year, so does the necessity of more food, which will put more pressure on the environment. However, eating insects can be part of the solution.

Edible insects contain a lot of protein, vitamins, and amino acids. Crickets contain sixty percent protein compared to steak, which contains about thirty percent.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and two times less than pigs and chickens to produce the same amount of protein.

Andrew Brentano, founder and CEO of Tiny Farms breeds and distributes crickets in Oakland. His small, modern type of farm can currently produce hundreds of pounds of crickets per week. It all started five years ago when he and his wife decided to try insects for the first time. They basically went out in their garden, caught a few grasshoppers and in their kitchen, wrapped them in bacon and fried them up.

“They tasted delicious. Almost like bacon-wrapped shrimp!” Brentano explains enthusiastically.

Since that day they have developed their successful cricket farm. Today, they sell their crickets to restaurants and companies that use them in their cooking and products.

However, it is fully possible to breed crickets in your own home.

Brentano explains how you can buy live crickets in a pet store and keep them in a box with egg cartons. The insects will eat just about anything – some vegetables or chicken feed will do. When they are grown you simply put them in the freezer and they can be used for cooking.

Bugs Mexican style

Back in Mosto Bar, 35-year-old culinary director Quinten Frye opens the plastic boxes containing the dead insects. He pours the mealworms in a small ceramic bowl. The fried crickets are lined up on three small corn tortillas with guacamole, cilantro, and sour cream. They look like a miniature version of regular tostadas. Since the crickets are both fried and seasoned, it is hard to tell what they really look like. But if you look close you can see their tiny legs sticking out from their bodies.

Frye first started cooking with insects eight years ago when he visited Oaxaca in Mexico. Since then he’s been experimenting with them in different dishes and salsas.

“The insects are becoming more popular on the menu. I think people are excited to learn more about them and try something out of the ordinary,” he says.

On the high-top chairs by the window, two students from San Francisco State University are waiting to try edible insects for the first time. Marike Duckstein a, 21-year-old psychology major, and 20-year-old BECA major Sabrina Mora are a little nervous, but mostly excited.

“I think the crickets are gonna be crunchy,” Mora says.

“I don’t know what it will taste like. Maybe chicken?”

The girls go for the bowl of spicy mealworms first. You can hear the crunching as Mora and Duckstein put their teeth in the crispy cricket bodies.

“Interesting,” Duckstein says frowning a little. “I don’t know, not my favorite. It’s ok.”

“They’re good, kind of salty,” Mora exclaims while grabbing a second one.

“Yes, almost like roasted sunflower seeds,” Duckstein agrees.

Next up are the tostadas. The brownish crickets are almost hidden under the sour cream and guacamole. The students admire the small, delicate dish before digging in.

“The mealworms were way scarier than the tostadas. They’re so small and cute,” Mora laughs.

“If you stop thinking about what you’re eating it tastes good,” Duckstein says.

The students finish all three of the tostadas and seem pleased with their meal. They both prefer the cricket tostadas over the crunchy mealworms.

Cultural differences

Two billion people in the world eat insects. Mosto Bar is trying to show Americans that it’s possible to make delicious dishes with bugs. However, many Americans still think it’s creepy.

“I think people have an idea in their head that bugs are gross or creepy but most of the time people try them, they are pleasantly surprised,” Frye explains.

He hopes bugs can be more normalized as food in the future.

Cricket distributor Andrew Brentano also thinks education is key. People don’t know how to cook with bugs and that’s what has to change.

“Most people warm up to the idea once they have tried it,” Brentano says.

Even though more and more people, and restaurants, are welcoming insects into their lives, it will probably take some time before we include them in our regular diets, like in other parts of the world.

Eating insects, or entomophagy, is an old tradition. The ancient Romans and Greeks ate them. People in Africa, Asia and Latin America still do, but in Europe and North America it is not as usual. According to The National Geographic, one reason for that is that after Europe became agrarian, insects were seen as destroyers of crops rather than a source of food.

Changing culture can’t happen overnight, but saying yes to bugs would pay off in the long run. After all, bugs just might be the food of the future.

Tinder – The Social Currency for International Students

We live in a time where most services are just a click away, and love is no exception. Well, that depends on how you define love. Over the years several dating apps have hit the market, and amongst the most popular ones is Tinder.

Since 2012 Tinders’ users, now over 50 million in more than 190 countries according to The New York Times, have been swiping left or right with the goal of a so-called ‘match’, or a mutual like. You basically go shopping for a potential partner, friend, or hook-up based on their looks and a short description known as a bio.

Tinder as a City Guide

Students at San Francisco State University, where over 1500 international students call home, use apps like Tinder to meet people even if just for a casual hook-up, but that’s not the only reason students are drawn to Tinder. Surprisingly, a lot of international students use the app for more than just a quick way to get laid.

25-year-old Hanna Grimsborn, a marketing major from Sweden, has found Tinder helpful but not in the way you think.

“I actually never meet someone from Tinder for a date, and I think it’s mostly boring to chat with people I don’t know,” she explains.  “Recently I realized I could use the men I matched with to get recommendations on good bars, night clubs, restaurants etc.”

 

 

While Grimsborn’s method has resulted in various tips on stuff to do in the city, a lot of men still want to get something more out of a match.

“They usually respond friendly to my questions about recommendations and suggest me to go there with them. I never do, I just take away our match instead.”

Apps like Tinder can be somewhat of a meat market, and Grimsborn is very clear on why she has issues with this modern form of dating. In her experience men write stuff they would never have the guts to say in real life, which has led to both compliments and sexist comments. Men she has been matched with also seem a lot more interested in talking about themselves rather than getting to know new people.

“I’ll avoid those guys,” she says.

Fallon Salomon, a 23-year-old history major from SF State, went out to explore the world with Tinder as her companion. During her semester abroad in Amsterdam, she was introduced to the notion that dating apps can indeed improve the quality of her social life. Even though Salomon only lived in the Netherlands for six months, she had a four month-long relationship thanks to Tinder. She also got to learn more about the Dutch culture through people she met on the app.

While the relationship didn’t last, Salomon says she has had great experiences through Tinder, meeting people she wouldn’t have met otherwise.

When you move to a different country there are so many new impressions. The language is different, the culture is different, the food is different, even the traffic is different. Typically you will use every opportunity to get to know people so you don’t have to be alone. According to Salomon, it’s easier to make friends on Tinder abroad than at home.

“I think people are much more outgoing abroad. There’s a certain kind of curiosity there, that I just have not experienced here at home. I’m not sure why that is!”

 

The Culture Shock

Social culture variates throughout the world, and therefore people from different parts of the world will use Tinder in different ways. Today, the app has users in more than 190 countries, so using Tinder as a traveling tool can actually serve as a cultural journey.

“Some of my most important memories from studying abroad were born from the people I met on Tinder. I talked politics with all of them, and appreciated, and gained from their perspective,” Rebecca explains.

Rebecca, a 26-year-old international relations major from SF State, reminisces of her semester abroad in Israel, and the friends she made through Tinder.

“They were never really tour guides, but spending time with their friends and participating in their traditions was an invaluable experience of cultural immersion.”

For Rebecca, the dating app served as both a way to improve her language skills and to meet potential hook-ups. However, she says that American and Israeli women were treated very differently. For example, men would assume that American women are easier to get than Israeli women, and would experience more sexual comments, while Israeli women who were considered harder to get, were treated with more respect.

“They think because we are on a date, hooking up is expected or guaranteed, regardless of if there is chemistry.”

 

A New Dating Era

By now you might think that women are the only ones using Tinder for things other than sex. While research shows that men use Tinder more as a hook-up app, there are still some using it to make friends.

When Fabi Rausch, a 22-year-old electrical engineering major from Germany, traveled through Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, he found Tinder helpful for getting in touch with locals. However, he wouldn’t want to get a girlfriend through the app.

“Apps like Tinder can be very objectifying because you judge people based on their looks. I made some friends when I was traveling, but I prefer meeting people in real life” Rausch explains.

Dating apps like Tinder are being used for much more than one-night-stands. Instead modern technology can, and is, helping young people connect with new cultures and languages, especially while being abroad. Imagine being placed on the other side of the world without your main form of communication. It can be nerve wrecking to not know anything or anyone, and for a lot of young people dating apps take some of this pressure away. It’s an informal platform that helps you enter a new society. Bottom line here is that dating apps can be used for so much more than dating. Perhaps your new perspective on life is just a swipe away.

Deck The Malls

Edward Dahl stands in the center of the forty-foot-tall Barrango Christmas tree he and his team set up in Stonestown Galleria for the holiday. Photo by Kate O'Neal / Xpress
Edward Dahl stands in the center of the forty-foot-tall Barrango Christmas tree he and his team set up in Stonestown Galleria for the holiday. Photo by Kate O’Neal / Xpress

Written by Macy Williams
Photos by Kate O’Neal

Late at night, hours after shoppers have swiped their credit cards at Stonestown Galleria, a man and his team are hard at work transforming the mall into one of the most festive locations in San Francisco.

The story usually goes, “Twas the night before Christmas.” What most city dwellers do not realize is, most of the magic happens long before that night—just ask Edward Dahl, owner of visual communications company, After Science.

“I pride myself on the details,” says Dahl, who has set up the towering forty-foot-tall Barrango tree in Stonestown fifteen times now. He has also decked the halls of Ghirardelli Square, Capitola, Carmel and Serrano shopping centers.

Opening the secret trap door to the massive tree and entering the hollow center filled with efficient LED lights, Dahl looks over his work with pride.

“These branches are twenty years old,” he says. “We are different from other companies. Instead of just yanking the branches out of the packaging and throwing them up there, we touch up and fluff each and every piece.”

The process of decorating shopping centers is not an easy one. Dahl and his team work through the night over the course of five days. What makes the process all the more enjoyable for Dahl?  After Science is a family affair.

“Our kids have worked with us since they were little,” says Dahl’s wife, Rebecca Womble. “It is amazing that we can work together and get along so well.”

Womble couldn’t be more proud of how well her children Taylor, Morgan, and Gabe, work in their father’s environment.

“We all know what we are good at, we all have our own thing,” she says. “We never have to micromanage.”

When he’s not dressing San Francisco in Christmas charm, Dahl is also a teacher at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, where he gives opportunities to newly graduated students to participate in the decorating.

“When I started teaching, I was scared as shit,” he says. “The head of the department asked me if I could teach a visual communications class and I was terrified.”

Once Dahl began, he realized that teaching was his calling. As he is speaking of his students, a pupil texts him at ten ‘o’ clock regarding a homework question. Dahl gives his students 24/7 access to ask him anything pertaining to their studies.

“Teaching is my spark of life,” he says. “I trust my students and I treat them like equals. I just know more things because I have been doing this for longer. Most of those kids have more talent than me.”

There’s a reason why Dahl’s students continue to work with him after graduation. Joanna Andreoni, a FIDM visual communications graduate, has the utmost respect for Dahl.

“Ed doesn’t do anything by the book,” she says. “He’s an incredible mentor…and he’s really crazy, in a good way.”

Dahl has been working in visual communications and merchandising for over twenty years now, creating everything from holiday installations for Emporium Capwell to runway shows for local fashion designer Ilanio. Dahl’s talent comes from experience; he never attended any formal design school.

When asked what he does in his spare time, Dahl laughs. “I’m doing this,” he says as he gestures to the hustle and bustle of the holiday installation behind him. “I have to be constantly creating or I will combust.”

The Room With A View

BECA major Brendan Page heads into the monthly midnight showing of The Room.
BECA major Brendan Page heads into the monthly midnight showing of The Room.

Written by Jake Montero
Photos by Virginia Tieman

When I arrive early he is already there.

I’m no longer struck by his unique appearance, probably because we’ve met before, but mostly because of the many hours I’ve spent watching him; incapable of averting my eyes, focused on his every move.

Yet there’s something different about him this time.  As I look closer, the inconsistency becomes apparent.  Last time he was wearing three belts.

Tonight he is wearing four.

The he in question, is Tommy Wiseau.  A decade ago, Wiseau wrote, directed, produced and starred in The Room, a film considered by many to be the worst of all time.

The Room is screened monthly at San Francisco’s Clay Theater to raucous crowds, and with Wiseau in attendance for the films tenth anniversary, this evening is no different.  The Room’s all-encompassing terribleness has generated a dedicated cult following all across the country, with nearly every major city holding semi-regular screenings of the legendary disasterpiece.

By traditional film standards, The Room breaks every rule with regards to good acting, storytelling, camerawork, dialogue, set decoration and general coherence.  Some characters disappear halfway through the film, while others appear out of nowhere.

The Room’s only consistent storyline deals with the “future wife” (the word fiance is never used) of main character Johnny (played by Wiseau) engaging in an affair with his best friend, a younger and more handsome man named Mark, played by Greg Sestero.  This relatively

straightforward plot is accented by a myriad of unexplained subplots, including a strange neighbor, Denny, who wants to watch Wiseau have sex, and multiple scenes where the characters all go outside to toss around a football like a hot potato.

However, it is these very eccentricities that make screenings of The Room an interactive audience experience second-to-none.  You don’t go to the theater to quietly watch and analyze, you go to collectively make fun of some of the most inexplicable footage ever compiled by man.

The evening begins with a meet and greet in the lobby of the Clay, with the aforementioned Wiseau accompanied by Sestero.  Wiseau looks like an aging rock star, with curly long black hair and terminator sunglasses that he insists on wearing indoors.

Pictures are taken and memorabilia is sold and signed; including Wiseau’s new line of boxer brief underwear, for anybody who desires to have “WISEAU” scrawled across their ass.

Because Wiseau and his film often seem too unbelievable to be real, meeting the man behind the madness is an experience that all true Room fans must have.

“He’s like a cartoon character,” says Brenden Page, a Broadcasting major at San Francisco State, who attended his first Room screening.

As the productions sole creative force, it’s impossible to talk about The Room without mentioning Wiseau.  Before the film is shown, both Wiseau and Sestero get on stage, flanked by half naked fans in Wiseau undies, to engage in a Q&A with the audience.  Wiseau is known for his often indecipherable answers to questions.  When asked about the character Denny, Wiseau claims that he is “a little bit retarded.”  Shortly after this however, he claims that Pacific Heights is also retarded, making it unclear as to whether or not he knows what that word means.

Once the film begins, it doesn’t take long for the audience to get involved.  The opening credits feature random establishing shots of San Francisco, the film’s setting, nearly all of which include the Pacific Ocean. Everybody simultaneously yells “water!” when the ocean is shown, only to erupt in applause when Wiseau appears for the first time, riding a cable car as the lone passenger.

There are many established audience traditions, such as tossing footballs around when the characters do and slow clapping during the

films four extended sex scenes.  The audience is required to be silent only once, during the infamous nineteen second flower shop scene, considered by most Room aficionados to be the finest the film has to offer (YouTube “the room flower shop”, you won’t be disappointed).

The throwing of plastic spoons is The Room’s most famous tradition.  In Johnny’s house there are a handful of framed pictures of spoons.  The pictures are never explained, nor are spoons present anywhere else in the film.  Whenever a spoon picture is visible on the screen everybody in the audience is encouraged to throw as many plastic spoons in the air as possible while yelling “spoons”!

By the time the film is over, the theater floor is covered with hundreds of the plastic utensils.

“Tommy was trying to say something profound with The Room,” says co-star Greg Sestero.  “I believe it is his most profound attempt at creative expression. The Room is Tommy and that’s what makes the movie such a unique experience, because no one sees the world the way Tommy does.”

Sestero recently released The Disaster Artist, a book detailing the production of The Room and how he came to know and work with Wiseau.

“From the moment I showed the rough cut of The Room to my family, I knew it was something special and it could captivate audiences in the strangest of ways if given the chance,” Sestero continues.  “That being said, I never thought it would amass the international following it has now.”

The book sheds light on Tommy’s obsession with wearing multiple belts: “It keeps my ass up.  Plus it feels good.”  Fair enough.

The film concludes to riotous applause.  Outside, Room first timers are in awe of what they’ve just experienced.  Whether it’s your first or twentieth viewing, nobody ever leaves disappointed.

“It was a good experience and and it seemed like even the staff really enjoyed it.” says Page.  “The guy at the concession stand left the door opened and was laughing his ass off.  Its a really cool communal thing.”

The Room’s over the top absurdity, has led some to believe that the film is bad on purpose, and that Wiseau is pulling a fast one on all of us.  Greg

Sestero claims this is not the case.

“Tommy believes The Room is the greatest movie ever made. He always has and always will believe that.”

With the amount of joy this so called terrible movie has brought, he might just be right. The Room is screened once a month at the Clay
Theater on Fillmore Street. X

Paved With Nickels

Rosi Rivera, a mother from South San Francisco, brings four bags of recyclables to Zinc Recycling center with her son in South San Francisco on Friday Nov 20. Photo by Kate O'Neal / Xpress
Rosi Rivera, a mother from South San Francisco, brings four bags of recyclables to Zinc Recycling center with her son in South San Francisco on Friday Nov 20. Photo by Kate O’Neal / Xpress

Written by Maggie Ortins
Photo by Kate O’Neal

His hands are raw. The stale smell of old yeast from empty beer bottles marries with the San Francisco fog as a symphony of cascading glass interrupts the quiet night. Elmer Rodriguez takes a deep breath and dives shoulder deep into the recycling bin that would pay for his next meal.

Rodriguez is 45 years old. He’s been living in San Francisco after immigrating here from Mexico ten years ago. When he lost his job cooking in a restaurant, he decided to take up a new full time job: collecting.

For about a year, he has been staking out Valencia Street with his shopping cart to collect the merchants’ recyclables. “It is a lot better than going into a residential area,” Rodriguez says. “The cans go out more times a week instead of once a week and the owners, they don’t care, so I just take it.”

At five cents a bottle, recycling has become a new form of employment for people who have fallen victim to our collapsing economy.

The amount of money he makes fluctuates. “It depends on how long I wait—sometimes I’ll just get one or two bins full and call it a night,” he says. But the money is always guaranteed.

According to the Aluminum Association Inc., in 2012, eighty billion aluminum cans were produced in the United States. If every one of those cans were recycled, forty million dollars will potentially be up for grabs. Yet, only a select amount of the population is capitalizing on this.

Noel Cruz, who works at the recycling center outside of the Safeway in the Mission, says usually people will bring in two to three garbage bags at a time to a recycling center and receive anywhere from $10-40.

Most of these facilities close at 5:00 p.m., and according to Rodriguez, many homeless people are left with carts full of cans and empty stomachs because the prime time for collecting is at night after residents and merchants put their cans on the curb. But for someone who has no car or residence to store their own belongings, hauling bags and bags of recyclables is not always convenient when you’re preparing for a night on the street.

It is this that leads to the recycling middlemen. They are the people who drive around in trucks offering fast money to desperate can collectors for a fraction of the redemption pay out. Rodriguez says that many will take the money even though they are making less. “It’s so they can have money for the night,” he says.

While many San Franciscans are use to the image of people rummaging through their bins the day before collection, this practice is actually illegal. Technically, everything that is inside of the bins is the property of SF Recology once it is put outside.

However, residents don’t seem to mind. Maurice Valencia of the Excelsior district says that the same Chinese couple comes by and collects his aluminum every week. “They also bring my cans out to the curb for me,” he says.

In California the garbage companies are even going as far as changing the laws in order to reduce the amount of money individuals can receive from recycling. The new law makes it so recycling centers will no longer give refunds for milk jugs, wine bottles and food containers. It also limits the amount that one individual can receive from a single pay out.

Sociologist Teresa Gowan who spent time living among homeless people in the bay area said in a press conference for her book “Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco”, that we should allow can collectors to receive payment for their work.

“You have all this stuff being thrown out all the time, and it seems like a way for folks on the street to make a bit of money without actually taking anything from other people” she says.

“They feel they have some kind of honor from doing this, and when I see someone with a big ole load of recycling, I feel happy for them that they have worked hard and can make money and do something that is pro-social as homeless people.”

Recycling has hit an all time high in the United States according to a study done by the Wall Street Journal $67 million out of the $97 million cans that were produced in 2012 were recycled.

But with this buy back policy- who is really making the money here? According to the Aluminum Association Inc., it costs about 95 percent less to recycle aluminum than it is to remake it. While the buyback method was started to encourage people to recycle their garbage correctly, beverage companies are the ones cashing in on fast labor. These can collectors have become a freelance workforce that are not receiving benefits, yet they are doing all to benefit the companies, who buy back the scrap metal as well as reducing the amount of waste in landfills.

The unfortunate truth is that our city is not putting money into programs such as affordable housing and doing all but tearing apart the social safety nets that used to exist to aid the impoverished and the homeless. Much like the amount of recycled goods- the number of these types of individuals collecting them is only going up. The recession has turned most of Middle America into a more frugal society. It is not uncommon for a family with two working parents to also capitalize on the amount of money their kid’s soda cans can bring in. Money is money, and in San Francisco the streets are paved with nickels.

Get Your Greens

An example CSA subscription box, put together by Blue House Farms, sits on the back of their truck during a farmers market event in the Mission District. Photo by Kate O'Neal / Xpress.
An example CSA subscription box, put together by Blue House Farms, sits on the back of their truck during a farmers market event in the Mission District. Photo by Kate O’Neal / Xpress.

It’s an expensive lunch in San Francisco. There’s that seven dollar sandwich, that six dollar salad- convenient but hardly satisfying. Fast food has taken away our desire to cook. Many blame it on high produce prices- or simply not having time to shop. With the new trend of “going local” when it comes to food, students of San Francisco State are turning to affordable Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions for their daily dose of vegetables.

A CSA subscription is the equivalent of buying stock in a farm. Subscribers help the farmers to speculate how much to grow for the season. When subscribing to a CSA, customers receive an affordable box of produce anywhere from 7-20 lbs. of seasonal fruits and vegetables to be delivered to their house. “Our weekly rate of $22 gets you between 8 and 10 items from the farm, at prices slightly below what we charge at the farmer’s market,” says Mia Riddle, The CSA coordinator of Blue House Farm.

Inside these produce boxes is a random grab bag of pesticide free, seasonal produce. Although customers won’t know what’s inside their subscriptions until they receive it, they are assured with something even better: fresh produce. “I like it because it is a surprise, you don’t get to pick or choose what you are getting,” says Cat Collins, a SFSU student who receives her CSA box from a farm in Watsonville called Ground Stew. “If you get a bell pepper that is a little bit shriveled that you would never pick up at a farmers market and you cut it open and you see that it is completely fine you really understand there is no reason to be wasting produce.”

Supermarkets provide a colossal amount of produces that shoppers, at times, never anticipated needing.  The USDA estimated in 2012 that collectively supermarkets threw away $15 billion in unwanted fruits and vegetables. CSA subscriptions help lessen this wasteful act. “You get access to much fresher produce than what you’d see at a grocery store, and a chance to help out a small organic farm directly and be part of the movement for a better food system,” says Mia Riddle, the CSA coordinator at Blue House Farm outside Pescadero. Subscribers not only get fresh produce; they help unsold produce find a happy home and a hungry stomach.

It really is up to the eater to decide how much they want to consider their meals before injesting them. Supermarkets will always be available and needed. CSA subscriptions cannot replace them. However as these produce boxes become affordable and available many, shoppers can feel good about supporting a local cause. The risk is really in the surprise – if you’re afraid to try new things, a CSA probably isn’t for you. Many of our subscribers tell me ‘I never tried that before! I loved it!’ and that always makes my day. A CSA has the power to change the way you eat, forever.”

The Batkid Rises

Bat Boy, Miles Scott a 5-year-old boy battling Leukemia came to save the city when the little hero becomes Batman for a day through Make A Wish Foundation, Miles wished to become Batman and his wish came true Friday, November 15, 2013 in San Francisco his last stop here at Civic Center in San Francisco, Calif. Photo by Amanda Peterson / Xpress
Bat Boy, Miles Scott a 5-year-old boy battling Leukemia came to save the city when the little hero becomes Batman for a day through Make A Wish Foundation, Miles wished to become Batman and his wish came true Friday, November 15, 2013 in San Francisco his last stop here at Civic Center in San Francisco, Calif. Photo by Amanda Peterson / Xpress

Written by Justice Boles
Photos by Amanda Peterson

“Because he’s the hero that Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now… and so we’ll hunt him… because he can take it… because he’s not a hero… he’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector… a Dark Knight…” — Commissioner Jim Gordon

San Francisco is not Gotham, especially not on a day like Friday. Gotham City, home of World’s Greatest Detective, Batman, is a dark and dreary place. It’s full of corrupt cops, super criminals and a seemingly endless blanket of midnight that envelops the entire town. It’s a city where an 8-year-old watched as his parents were gunned down right in front of him. It’s a city whose only prison appears to also be its only insane asylum. It’s a city where its heroes have to be more terrifying than its villains.

Ironically, the day where the City by the Bay tries to emulate the City of the Bat is when it is most apparent the two are nothing alike.

“Five year old Miles from Tulelake in Siskiyou County loves superheroes, and is rarely seen not wearing a costume of one of his idols,” says the official Make-A-Wish press release. “Chief among his heroes is Batman. After fighting his own battle with leukemia since he was a year old, Miles has emerged triumphant and is now in remission.”For Miles, Make-A-Wish crafted parts of San Francisco into Gotham City.

The day began at Union Square as Batkid rushed to rescue a damsel in distress tied to cable car tracks. Following the clues, the black Lamborghini meant to serve as the Batmobile raced to stop the Riddler’s bank robbery. Hundreds of people crowded the sidewalks and streets trying to catch a glimpse of the World’s Greatest Li’l Detective. The Riddler was no match and swiftly acquainted with the back of a police paddy wagon. Lunch time. Batkid stopped at the Burger Bar. Reportedly, there were more than 7,000 attempted reservations to eat with the Batkid. But crime waits for no man, and certainly no kid. A flash mob alerted the Kid Caped Crusader to the Penguin kidnapping Giant’s mascot Lou Seal.A chase through AT&T park ended with the Penguin in cuffs and a Seal unbroken. With the City safe once again, it was time for the Batkid to accept his key to the city from the Mayor. At City Hall, thousands showed up bearing signs of love and support and admiration. A city of people chanted “Batkid” as he made his way to the stage. The excitement was palpable.

Make-A-Wish organized the event. It was the people of San Francisco that brought it to life. Patricia Wilson – the executive director of Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area – said that in 15 years with her organization she’d never seen anything like it, and she grants some 350 wishes per year. She took to the stage and explained the initial idea to have Miles be Batkid for a day. However, things took a turn for the uncontrollable when someone on Facebook got a hold of the day’s itinerary. It was reposted and reposted and reposted. Batkid went viral. She explained this to the crowd of thousands while news helicopters floated in the air. But this isn’t the first time they made a kid a superhero too.

In 2010, the Seattle regional Make-A-Wish granted 13-year-old Erik Martin’s wish to be a superhero. For the day, Erik was Electron Boy, a hero of his own invention. He was driven around Seattle in a Delorean, fighting criminals named Dr. Dark and Blackout Boy, played by Edgar Hansen, and Jake Anderson, both of Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch.” He freed the captured Seattle Sounders and climatically fought his nemeses beneath the Space Needle. Hundreds lent a hand to help make the day the best of Erik’s life. It was an amazing expression of caring for all involved.

But Batkid blew up so much more than that, and it’s easy to see why: An adorable 5-year-old who just conquered leukemia. The city that built social media, as

Kids cheering on Batkids
Kids cheering on Batkids. Photo by Amanda Peterson / Xpress

we know it, with a healthy dose of “let your freak flag fly” ingrained into our San Franciscan psyche was possibility the best city to host this wish. Batman. The story has everything. Even now, days after the event, #Batkid is still on fire, getting more than a tweet a minute. Wilson expressed that she hoped for 200 participants to sign up for the flash mob at Union Square, 12,000 rsvp’d. Batkid is easily the most publicized Make-A-Wish granted, so much so that even Barack Obama threw in his support through a Vine video. The Batkid Photo Project Facebook page has more than 21,000 likes and an endless scroll of supportive words, videos and pictures. Social media was so overwhelming that even the old media partook; the San Francisco Chronicle became the Gotham City Chronicle with a front page devoted to the Batkid. The world celebrated Miles like no other.

San Francisco is not a city with cowardly criminals and crazy chaotic killer clowns on every corner. San Francisco is a city that came together rallied around a child to cheer him on and make his wish come true. Thousands of people came out in support at City Hall, donning Batman costumes and Batkid banners. They bought Batkid shirts and threw up signs emblazoned with words of hope and praise, of love and support. It was unforgettable.

Batkid reminded the world that there are real heroes.

 

 

Cool Ghouls: They Are Scary Good

Cool Ghouls perform at the record release for Magic Trick at The Chapel on Valencia Street on Saturay, September 14th, 2013 (left to right Ryang Wong, Pat Thomas and Patrick McDonald). Photo by Benjamin Kamps / Xpress
Cool Ghouls perform at the record release for Magic Trick at The Chapel on Valencia Street on Saturay, September 14th, 2013 (left to right Ryang Wong, Pat Thomas and Patrick McDonald). Photo by Benjamin Kamps / Xpress

Written by Macy Williams
Photos by Benjamin Kamps

If the Rolling Stones had a baby with Motown, and the babysitter was the Beatles, Cool Ghouls would be the epitome of that offspring’s sound.

Well, according to the band’s guitarist and singer Ryan Wong, that is.

Since the Cool Ghouls landed on the San Francisco music scene in early 2011, they have become local favorites to students and city dwellers alike. The boys give new meaning to indie retro rock, adding their own twist to music reminiscent of the past.

Their musical influences aren’t the only part of the Ghouls that go way back. Band members Pat Thomas and Pat McDonald—yes, two Pats—have known each other since the fourth grade. They later met Wong while he was in his freshman year of high school.

When McDonald went on to SF State, he met the fourth member of the Cool Ghouls. “I went to visit Pat in San Francisco and that’s when I met Alex Fleshman, who was apart of this really cool group of friends who all hung out in the DSA,” says Thomas, who attended UC Santa Barbara. “These kids were all really smart but they also liked to party.”

Soon enough, the four guys were making music. Just months before coming together, McDonald had discovered a band name with a lasting impression. “I was hanging out at a friend’s apartment watching a DVD of a Parliament Funkadelic live concert and in between songs George Clinton said to the crowd, ‘How y’all cool ghouls doing?’” McDonald says. “I thought that was a really cool name and I kept it in mind even before the band started.”

Friends wanted to hear more of the band, asking when they could see upcoming shows. “It didn’t feel like we were getting popular at any particular point,” Thomas says. “It was the positive feedback that we were getting that made us feel really good about we were doing.”

Creating the songs that put the Ghouls on the map is always a collaborative effort. “We start to write songs by ourselves on our own time,” says Thomas. “When we bring them to each other, they aren’t done yet, which I like because the other guys may have other ideas. I don’t necessarily want to answer all the questions I have myself.”

The band has noticed that the more they progress, the more equally everyone puts input into the music.

Ryan Wong singing and playing guitar as Cool Ghouls perform at the record release for Magic Trick at The Chapel on Valencia Street on Saturay, September 14th, 2013. Photo by Benjamin Kamps / Xpress
Ryan Wong singing and playing guitar as Cool Ghouls perform at the record release for Magic Trick at The Chapel on Valencia Street on Saturay, September 14th, 2013. Photo by Benjamin Kamps / Xpress

“After the phase of writing the lyrics, everything else is created organically,” Wong says. Sometimes listeners say that they can’t tell the difference between songs that Thomas and Wong write. “That just shows that we are on the same page,” Thomas says.

The Ghouls are also on the same page when it comes to their proudest accomplishment as a band thus far: It was when Empty Cellar Records released the Cool Ghouls’ first self-titled album.  “Just seeing the album that we created engraved into this thing, this vinyl, it was amazing,” says Wong.

Thomas feels that the first album will leave a lasting impression. “It’s cool how permanent it is,” he says. “If I get hit by a bus, and the rest of the band gets hit by a bus, this record is still going to be here.”

The Ghouls wasted no time celebrating after their first release. “When the test pressing of the record came in, we had an awesome time barbecuing and getting drunk and basically just celebrating ourselves,” Fleshman says. “The shipment of the records was a defining moment in my life. It was proof of what I have been trying to do for the past decade, for most of my life.”

Listeners are not the only people giving the Ghouls the positive feedback they love. The likes of Nylon.com and 7×7.com, amongst many other publications, have taken notice of the group.

After the first flood of positive reviews and feedback, the Cool Ghouls are now recording their second album, expected to be released in 2014. Although they are in the midst of making their sophomore record, they promise a few surprises. “For the first album, we recorded all the tracks and instruments individually,” says Thomas. “This time around, we are all playing live together at the same time.”

When asked what their fondest memory as a band is so far, the Cool Ghouls are hesitant to answer. “This is still happening, we are still in the moment,” says McDonald. “It’s not time to reminisce yet.”

So what can listeners look forward to in the future of this supernatural phenomenon? “More shows, more albums, we are just going to keep doing what we’re doing,” says Thomas, “Its only going to get way cooler. It’s going to get more vibrant.”

For future show dates and more information check out the Cool Ghouls at coolghouls.tumblr.com.