Tag Archives: San Francisco

Women Who Kill: Comediennes of San Francisco

Words: Molly Sanchez

Loren Kraut, Mary-Alice McNab, and me: All women who know what it feels like to kill.

“It’s exhilarating,” Kraut says, her small face breaking into a large smile.

“It’s f***ing magical,” concurs McNab banging a fist on the table for emphasis.

Personally I feel like Mary Poppins after a good kill, like I could float all the way home.

These women and I aren’t murderers, we’re comedians and it’s the high of laugh lust we’re constantly chasing.

It’s a Tuesday night at a dark bar where people get onstage one by one and try to remember what to say. The bar is called “Amnesia”.

Amnesia is trendy. It’s illuminated by tiny red candles glowing on tables against the wall. The tentacles of what appears to be a paper mache sea creature reach out at patrons from the bar ceiling. It’s so dark one can barely read the names on the beer taps and is reduced to grunting vaguely at the bartender “I’ll have the one with the fish on it.”

Against the back wall of the bar is a stage. It’s lit by pink theatre lights from above and is cluttered with black microphone stands. None of these mics ever seem tall enough for any of the comics that ascend the small set of stairs to the stage so that the first few minutes of everyone’s set is spent adjusting it to fit their needs.

Tuesday nights at Amnesia are the brainchild of comedian and producer, Rajeev Dhar. I met Dhaj at the SF Comedy Burrito Festival earlier this year and he encouraged me to come check it out. “ I used to hate open mics ,” he confided “ I hated waiting around all night just to do 4-5 minutes.” “ Then I realized it’s part of the process, you know?”

I’ve never been to an open mic before, unless you count the times I barged into the music open mics on campus. I don’t really consider those days of doing penis jokes between acoustic guitar renditions of “Wonderwall” to have been very helpful in the way of developing my process. In my four years of doing standup I’ve mostly as an opener for my friend’s improv group. They did monthly shows at a bar downtown and every month they would dutifully smuggle my under 21 self in to do a 10 minute set. A long set, people who loved me and laughed at me, the occasional sneaked sip of beer? No wonder I loved this gig! When they stopped performing at the bar and my gig dried up it felt like a divorce to leave a comfortable loving space and venture out into the great unknown.

Amnesia is terrifying. It’s a bar filled with comedians that already know and like and talk to eachother. It only takes two sets for me to realize a crushing truth: Comedians rarely laugh at other comedieans. Some of them barely look up from squinting at their notebooks to even acknowlege at person is onstage . Some comics that go up at amnesia get flustered at the lack of response. “These are called jokes, folks,” one guy in a grey hoodie heckles into the void. He’s rewarded with at feeble chuckle from the back of the bar. “ I really wish I was white so I could say white things you people would laugh at,” barks a Native American comic. The crowd laughs uncomfortable. One guy at the door mutters “well he sure got us!” sarcastically into his beer.

McNab, sitting at the bar’s corner rolls her eyes at this. She hates when “ people think open mics are shows,”. “This is practice, this is training wheels,” she says to me later. “This is something you can only learn onstage,” she says “If you don’t get on stage you’re not a standup comedian.” She shrugs “ I don’t know what you are then.”

McNab has been on the comedy scene for 15 months now but she’s always been funny. Growing up she went to catholic schools and eventually made the move from Colorado to California when she was in her late twenties. At the encouragement of other comedian friends McNab enrolled in the Comedy College and started going to open mics. Some places she go to even let women do longer sets than men “ because there are so few of us in the industry.”

That’s how I’ve always felt, even in my limited experience, that I was a lone lady in a boys world. Yet at Amnesia some nights, women comics make up about a quarter of the performers.

“It’s an uphill climb,” says Loren Kraut a diminutive comic with glasses and brown hair. She shakes her head “ we’re not really wanted.” She adds “ I hate to be introduced as the ‘lady comedian’” she says scowling slightly “I want to punch someone in the face!”

Kraut has been doing comedy for 6 years. Before that she lived in new york trying to be an actress. Like McNab , Kraut is also a graduate of the Comedy College. “ I always wanted to do it,” she says of comedy “ but I didn’t have the nerve.”

And it takes nerve for Kraut to climb the stairs to the stage and do her set, especially considering what she talks about.

She sidles up to the mic, takes it off the stand, blinks languidly at the crowd before saying “ Over the years I’ve written a small, and I think well written , pile of suicide notes.” The crowd giggles awkwardly, Kraut continues “ I’m always loath to throw out anything I might need someday.” She’s deadpan even about death. “It’s ok to laugh,” she coaxes gently “ I’m still here.” The rest of her set ranges from her time in an anorexia clinic, her title as “most pathetic lesbian” and her OCD. The  last one is evident by her stooping down in the middle of her set to pick a speck of glitter off the stage floor.

Her matieral, deep and uncomfortable though it may be, gets laughs. She smiles as she walks off stage and sits back down at her table. Later she tells me “it sounds corny but I do it for freedom of expression.” She says she talks about the kinds of things that she talks about because “if I make fun of it, I get to work out the kinks.”

McNab concurs “ You can work out your shit if it’s funny.”

She says it’s hard for women sometimes to access this method of catharsis and even get onstage. “ Women are trained to be pretty and smart and together,” she says . “Comedy is so much about self deprication that if you’re trying to maintain that façade, you’re fucked.”

Kate Willet is the next to go on stage. She’s the only comic I’ve ever seen in a dress. It’s mauve and she pairs it with brown boots. She could be any other girl, and the beginning of her set sounds about as incendiary as any girl slagging off her friends. “ All my friends are married, and they worry about ‘where should I buy a house’ and things like that,” she says. Then the façade drops and the comedian in her kicks in to full, filthy gear. “ I think about ‘how am I going to pay rent’ or ‘is this really the guy I want to get HPV from?” The crowd bursts into shocked laughter and she smiles innocently “Because you want it to be the right person, you know?”

The second comedian I’ve ever seen in a dress is also at Amnesia. Her name is Casey Grim and as she mounts the stairs to the stage one audience member says “ ooh look Katy Perry” under their breath. Grim looks the part with her dark black hair and bright doe eyes that peek out coquettishly from behind square eyeglasses. Her cuteness is why it’s so alarming to hear her say, in a fairy voice that is high and bubbly “ I’m like any other girl in that I’ve been sexually assaulted.” The crowd laughs, again somewhat uncomfortably and Grim continues to recount her story. She says she woke up in a strange dorm after a night of drinking to find a man with his hand down her pants. In the middle of this assault, she says campus police burst in and start to arrest the man. She says while he was being handcuffed “ I got to say the one thing that every girl who has ever been a victim has wanted to say.” “You suck at fingering!” she chirps gleefully. The crowd roars.

Talking openly about things not acceptable in “ polite discussion” is important for women Krout says. She has come to feel “ the need to express myself is greater than the fear, and it is fulfilling .”

I remember a time, a while before my night at Amnesia that I felt fulfilled. I was in the midst of a grand maul breakup, broken totally on the inside and constantly having to change direction every time I saw my ex in a crowd. I was onstage doing a set when I saw his sidle in the back and stand staring by the door. I took a deep breath and began .“ I want to tell you a story about my ex boyfriend,” I begin, my heart pounding furiously in my chest, “ and because some of you may know who he is I’m going to change his name slightly so that you’ll know who I’m talking about but you won’t know who I’m talking about.” I see him roll his eyes but I continue “ so shmasshole and I were dating..” The rest of the set killed and I had the crowd laughing uproariously at several other jokes that skewered my still present ex. “We’d have sex, snuggle, and I was obligated to like his friends but he said he wasn’t ready for a relationship,” I said at one point before grimacing and saying “ that’s like saying ‘I like marshmallows, I like chocolate, but I’m just not ready for a s’more”. I killed and with the audience’s laughter I sauntered off stage thinking “ this must be how it feels to be Taylor Swift.”

Back at Amnesia McNab is about to go up. As the previous comic finishes up their set she nurses her dark beer and squints down at her set list . She scribbles something on a coaster before getting up onstage. I look at the coaster as she goes  up. “Camel Toe/holiday/muffin top” is scrawled in black pen around the coaster’s border.

“Does my camel toe make these pants look weird?” she asks the audience, pelvic thrusting slightly. She goes on to elaborate that she’s concerned about her body, namely her “muffin top.” She rubs the small fold of skin above her waist affectionately and says “this is a specialty muffin made out of whiskey and ice cream.” She laughs slightly saying “ It’s my job as a comedian to share these awkward tidbits with you.” Later on in her 4 minute set, McNab forgets what she was going to say. “Think, think” she says doing deep squats onstage, scrabbling for the rest of her set. It’s painful, as a performer and as a person that likes her, to watch the struggle. She snaps up from the squat and grins “Fuck it, I’ll end it here,” she says walking off the stage. When she sits down she mutters “I can’t drink before I go up, that’s the problem,” before leaning her head back and trying to remember the part she’s forgotten. This set is a perfect example of something she told me earlier “ it’s better to do a short, good set than a long rambling one.”

It’s hard to see a comic stop short like that but bombing is a right of passage we all need to pay at some point. Kraut recalls her worst time onstage, “ I was heckled by a dog!” she says. According to her a woman went to the bathroom during her set and the dog barked  the entire time. Bombing, Kraut says, “ feels like all the terrible things.”

All the terrible things are in my head as I too ascend the stage. After McNab’s set I’ve taken only tentative half sips of my own beer so my mouth tastes sickly of IPA and fear. The applause is lukewarm and as I start my set the room becomes so quiet I can hear almost perfectly the conversation of the smokers just outside the door. During my set, which garners only a few laughs even on material I know works, it occurs to me that doing standup comedy is like trying to play fetch with cats. Once in a while you’ll meet a great cat willing to lob something back to you. More often than not you get a cat that stares blankly at your attempt with a look that clearly says “ what do you a take me for, a fucking dog?”

Still even those who bomb are given a warm reception after their set at Amnesia and everyone is receptive to praise. Grim grasps both my hands in both of hers when I say I like her set and thanks me fervently. Willet comes over and places an affectionate hand on the small of my back saying she’s so glad I could make it out. McNab acts as a sort of one woman Little League receiving line, offering a high five to everyone as they walk past her offstage. She envelops me in a bear hug and says she can’t wait to see me again.

Even on days when I don’t do my best I am so glad to have comedy as a release and as a way to meet other women brave enough to do it too. They inspire me to get back up again.

All of us are chasers of the same feeling. The feeling Kraut describes as “being in the exact right spot.”

Quinn Corey: Found Objects to Pop Culture Action Figures

Words & Photos: Melissa Burman

Like any young boy who grew up watching television, toy advertisements made a big impact on Quinn Corey. Corey moved to San Francisco from the East Coast with his girlfriend, both artists now live in the Sunset district. Corey builds action figures using found object and used children’s toys. He finds most of his materials at SCRAP, a nonprofit donation based creative reuse center located in San Francisco’s Bayview district. SCRAP offers an ever changing selection of artist materials from glitter and toys to paper goods and fabric.

Corey uses his garage at home as his workshop where he mix and matches old toy parts and scraps of fabric to create his own action figures. Each character, like real toys on the market, has a complete dramatic back story be it villain or superhero. One action figure currently in Corey’s workshop is a buff ecstasy raver, originally a wrestler figurine, sporting blue leggings, yellow boots, neon shorts (hand sewn by Corey) and a child’s bracelet as a belt. The raver wears a blue crystal pointed hat and holds a water bottle in his jewel cuffed hand. Clearly Corey’s toy creations are pop culture commentary that take an aspect of modern life he finds funny and packages it in a playful art piece.

Once an action figure is complete, Corey sets his toy sculpture up in front of a backdrop that suits it’s story and takes promo photos mimicking those of exaggerated children’s toy commercials of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Corey recalls that he was inspired as a child by the toy cabinet in Pee-wee’s Playhouse that held all the odd franken-toys that would come alive. He hopes to be able to recreate Pee-wee Herman’s toy cabinet someday.

 

 

Iris Butler

Words & Photos: Virginia Tieman

Over eight years ago, Iris Butler brought her oldest son to Glide Memorial Church for the first time. Today, she works there helping community members in need of assistance.

“I’m a people person and I know how to talk to the people,” said Butler. “First thing I say to them is good morning. If you don’t say good morning, they don’t feel like they are welcomed. It’s important and I have to remind my co-workers of that.”

As Butler patrolled the lunch line preparing for the rush, she was constantly stopped with hugs and compliments. “She’s one of the best staff members here,” said one man. Glide’s efforts don’t go unnoticed and Butler has been on the receiving end of the support provided by the Glide community.

Glide Memorial Church is a staple in San Francisco for helping those in need. It is not uncommon that many employees of this facility once came to Glide to seek assistance and now are the ones providing the help.

In 2009, Xavier Gilette, Butler’s oldest son and Glide Church member, was shot and killed in San Francisco’s Fillmore district.

“Glide came to the funeral, the wake and even had a fundraiser for me,” said Butler.

Glide also gave her three weeks off, but Butler decided to come back after two. Never seen without a smile, Butler is a refreshing face and a reminder that one group can make a big impact on a community in need.

Tree Rivera Taking on the Earth One ‘CUUP’ at a Time

Words and Photos: Alejandrina Hernandez

Veronica Rivera a.k.a Tree is an aspiring artist who has been made it her mission to spread environmental awareness through her art.

“My interest in environmental arts started when I was growing up as a child artist ;collecting materials like disposables, found objects and trash to use it in creating textures for my artwork,” says Rivera.

Rivera is currently working on the Clean Up Urban Pollution (CUUP) Project where she creates a variety of small to large sized paint boxes made out of acrylic plastics and disposable materials. Her goal is to bring attention to the amount of resources that society uses on a daily basis. Rivera states, “I’m looking to basically create public landfills where people could visually see the amounts of trash we generate but see it in a way where it’s a huge body of art.”

Part of the early process of the CUUP Project involved children from the Precita Valley Center in San Francisco to paint disposable cups that would later be incorporated into Rivera’s art installations.  “I feel very close to nature, really drawn to children because I feel like they aren’t really getting the awareness they deserve,” Rivera says. Rivera wants to give the children an opportunity to send environmental messages through their work.

Rivera boxes represent society’s consumption problem as it is “breeding” future generations to consume more than what the planet produces.

Vintage Stores for Charities

High-end labels like Oscar de la Renta and Chanel are in abundance at the Helpers store near Golden Gate Park.
High-end labels like Oscar de la Renta and Chanel are in abundance at the Helpers store near Golden Gate Park.

 

Words and Photos: Kayla McIntosh

It’s a crisp winter afternoon in the Inner Richmond neighborhood and a small house on the corner of Fulton Street is reaching full capacity. The doorbell rings and the door is opened to a tall gentleman wearing black-rimmed frames and a warm smile.

His greeting is just as genuine as his grin, and he ushers guests into the main hallway. Three gorgeous gowns are draped on mannequins directly in front of the door. Each one is from a different designer. A backless, beaded John Galiano is the stand out garment amongst the three. Once inside, guests are offered water or white wine and told to dilly-dally into whatever they so choose. A small party is in full swing and several high profile clients are wandering around the apartment looking for anything that catches their eyes. Volunteers, some standing behind the glass classes that house one of a kind jewels and others wandering around the other rooms, engage in small talk with clients. Many of the exchanges express complete disbelief that a place like this exists.

At first glance, the place is shocking. Shoppers are immersed in a world of well-kept vintage and designer pieces. Several rooms in the home are sectioned off to particular areas: one for items priced $10-99; another for accessories and impressive jewelry; one for menswear; one for home goods; and finally, one full of high-end designers.

Joy Bianchi, a savvy lady, runs the whole joint. Wearing a metallic gold Chanel jacket with a matching head wrap, she walks around the place and encourages clients to buy whatever they love. Clients are spillng into each room fawning over the rare jewels and garments.

Helpers House of Couture is just one of the charity-based vintage stores in San Francisco. Bianchi, a veteran volunteer, has been with the charity since she was 14 years old. Now, 74, she is still finding ways to give her all to a charity so dear to her heart. Through donations from “grand dames” she has been able to create an exclusive boutique that is appointment-only for shoppers who love high-end vintage clothing. From Oscar de la Renta embellished boots, to floor length red gowns by Monique Lhuillier, all sales from each item sold goes directly back to the Helpers of the Mentally Retarded Charity.

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Bianchi converted a spacious home into an impressive vintage boutique with numerous rooms overflowing with vintage duds in impeccable condition.

These fabulously dressed women usually donate their clothes because they have bigger and better options in their closets. “These are ladies who shop for lunch,” Bianchi says.

Helpers also has a sister store located at Ghirardelli Square that sells items with smaller price tags. Juicy Couture and Polo by Ralph Lauren are just a couple of the labels that can be found.

Charity-driven vintage stores are a hot commodity in the San Francisco area. Another store, Seconds to Go, operates the same. Tucked away in Pacific Heights rests this do-good boutique. Labels like American Eagle and Banana Republic line the racks of the store. The general manager, Laura Lorton, says the stores sales all go to the Schools of the Sacred Heart.

“Every dollar that we take in goes directly to financial aid at all four schools,” Lorton mentions. “So they’re able to offer a wide variety of financial aid options.”

The store opened in 1974 and has been serving the Sacred Heart schools which include four different private Catholic schools. The store’s location is based on the fact that the school is located just up the street on Broadway.

Located on Fillmore’s charming street, Seconds to Go is surrounded by high-end stores like Marc by Marc Jacobs and Alice + Olivia. Once inside, variety of designer garments can compete with the likes of Helpers. Her store is full of threads with labels like Prada, Manolo Blahnik and Dior Homme.

“People are willing to buy something that’s been gently used if it’s quality merchandise,” she explains.

Which is quite true. The beauty of shopping at high-end vintage boutiques is that a shopper will stumble upon a rare piece of clothing at a decent price and in impeccable condition.

“There’s obviously a lot of options for second hand shopping in San Francisco,” Lorton goes on to say, but she wants to make sure that her store is held to certain standards in comparison to other stores like ThriftTown in the Mission or Held Over on Haight.

Price points are a huge thing for stores like these. Making sure that the pieces are priced at appropriate levels is critical to attracting the right buyers.

What makes these stores so great is that they are both volunteer run. At Bianchi’s brownstone-turned-boutique, each volunteer has joined on board because they saw how impactful of an organization that Helpers was and continues to be. Each have their own unique story with Bianchi and how they became affiliated. One met her while he was working at Saks Fifth Avenue and was asked to do her makeup for an event. While another was working at his vintage shop in Union Square and sold her a one of a kind haute couture Carden dress.

Volunteering and fashion are two unlikely pairings. Many can argue that fashion screams superficiality while volunteer work is the complete opposite. Either way both stores are promoting heartwarming agendas that seek to better the word one garment at a time.

Find Your Flow

flow
Brian Pollett, a local artist, is flowing and glowing using flow lights at Ritual Cafe in San Francisco. Photo by Julie Hannah

Words: Hassina Obaidy

Vibrant colors of light flow in the air as it dances to the rhythm of the music. Illuminating in the free air, the lights go through different modes from ambient lighting, to lighting that leaves trails while it’s moving. The spinner moves to the rhythm and uses the leash to spin around these bright, colorful lights in every direction.

This form of expressive art has caught the eyes and minds of many intrigued beings and has become a new form of expression, meditation, and movement. Flowtoys, an internet based company, specializes in illuminating toys that encourage the exploration of movement. Founded in 2005, Sean von Stade and Prisna Nuengsigkaplan combined their technical, engineering, design, and administrative skills to build this eco-friendly company, which is rapidly growing in the Bay Area.

“The constant challenge and satisfaction of finding my flow in movement has made me feel in tune and in flow with the people and the world around,” says Stade on his company website.

From flowlights to poi’s to flow wands and martial flow, there are a number of unique and durable designs created for amateur spinners and professionals. The Berkeley based company also sells accessories, gear, learning tools, and flow kits for the full flow experience.

The flowlight is the heart of the Modular System- an interchangeable pixel of light that fits in a wide variety of flowtoys, according to Flowtoys. The flowlight is a versatile, incandescent, rechargeable LED glowstick that runs on one AAA battery. Attached to a leash and sold in pairs, poi’s range from weight preference, styles, and light application. Their newest innovation, the podpoi, which has been recently sold out, are made of silicone and are indestructible.

Their current designs are inspired by martial arts, dance, fire spinning, and other forms of expressive movement. Despite the fun and entertaining aspect of lights illuminating and naturally flowing in the air, flow toys are used to challenge oneself with concentration, to help connect the mind and body through increased brain power, and self-improvement and meditation. According to the Flowtoys website, “by engaging in any new practice, you add networks to your brain, which increases your processing power.” In fact, flowtoys, also called flow arts, are also used to relax and clear one’s mind. Spinners put all their energy and focus on movement.

“The flow arts in general has been emerging since the late 90s and the Bay Area has been an important crucible for innovation and evolution,” says Nuengsigkaplan. “Several entities and events in the Bay have been responsible for that evolution: Burning Man brought fire dancing and spinning to the attention of many.”

After pursuing in live digital art painting, which is the creation of live art in a virtual space using modern media such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter, or other traditional mediums such as oils, or acrylic paints, Brian Pollet and girlfriend Jessalyn Dean began incorporating flowtoys into their art.

“Utilizing flowtoys is a movement art and dance that can bring a theatrical, ritualistic feeling to any space or event,” says Pollet. “We use flowtoys to bring a joyous expression of dance and celebration to our live painting, we add more of our spirit to a painting this way.”

During their “glow-ventures,” Pollet and Dean travels within the city after hours from one zone to the next and spins their flowtoys to a set musical playlist. They perform at events and small venues like Ritual where they collaborate on a single live painting. While one is painting, the other is dancing and glowing to the music.

Pollet’s choice of flowtoy is poi, which can be purchased from a small herb shop in Berkeley called Happy High Herbs and the Flowtoys Headquarters.

Pollet says anyone can begin spinning and flowing “whether you want to be a performer or you just like being surrounded by brilliant, fractalicious, colors, flow arts is a long process of infinite learning, possibilities, and fun,” he says. “People of all skill levels are more than happy to teach and share, which can make ones entire exploration in flow arts all the more encouraging.”

Drag Queens on Ice

 

Mutha Chucka poses back stage before her performance to "Santa Baby" in the Drag Queens on Ice show.
Mutha Chucka poses back stage before her performance to “Santa Baby” in the Drag Queens on Ice show.

Words: Kelly Leslie
Photos: Melissa Burman

Kim Chichi dazzles hundreds of people in Union Square, with her A-line cut, fire engine-red hair, and matching painted lips. Dressed in an all-black, glimmering gown, she confidently moves her slim body to the beat of 2009’s hit song by Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance”. Always on point, and never missing a mark, it is obvious that she has performed a time or two in her life. This is only the beginning of the show, and the crowd is already going wild.

Big hair, perfect manicures and twinkling, flashy outfits from head to toe set the scene… the drag queens, and kings of San Francisco hit the stage once again, but this time they’ve traded in their heels for skates. Families from all over the city have come to see them perform at this year’s show, making it the most memorable, annual “Drag Queens on Ice”, since the event started three years ago.
“Every city has drag queens, and every city has ice skating rinks,” says Donna Sachet, who narrated the event as this year’s MC. “Only in San Francisco will you see them put together.”

Naughty Lee Portman elegantly skates to a Black Swan number as part of Drag Queens on Ice in San Francisco's Union Square, Dec. 6, 2012.
Naughty Lee Portman elegantly skates to a Black Swan number as part of Drag Queens on Ice in San Francisco’s Union Square, Dec. 6, 2012.

The event, sponsored by Alaska Airlines and hosted by the Safeway ice rink in Union Square, was originally started for fun, but has become a great opportunity for the LGBTQ community to be visible within the community, according to Mutha Chucka, who performed as “Mrs. Santa Clause” at the show.  She wore a red dress and carried a black fur coat behind her as she lip-synced a version of “Santa Baby” to the crowd. “We’ve got the professional hockey team skating with drag queens,” she says. “Where else does that happen but in SF?”

It is true that the San Francisco Bulls professional hockey team also made an appearance at the event, and joined the drag queens and kings for a meet and greet on the ice.  Dressed in their signature colors, black and orange, they skated with people of all ages from the city.
“It’s a little more of a liberal atmosphere than my home [in Canada], but we want to help and support different cultures,” says Kris Belan, who plays for the bulls.

“Everyone here is very supportive,” says Ian Catindig, also known as miss Kim Chichi, who only had five days to prepare his routine.  “Everyone [here] just wants to watch and have a good time.  As a performer you want to give that to them.”

Catindig has been singing and dancing for fifteen years and ice skating for eleven, but this is the first time he has ever participated in a drag show, but it may not be his last.  “The energy of the crowd… ahh oh my god, I want to do it again!” he says.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence visited the VIP tent at Drag Queens on Ice.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence visited the VIP tent at Drag Queens on Ice.

Filled with holiday treats and top hits music, it was a night to be remembered by all, but perhaps the most memorable part about it was seeing all of the families engaging with the drag queens and kings, according to Mary Chirichella, who performed to a Justin Bieber mashup as Mary Minajet Trois.  “It’s great visibility for the LGBTQIQ community to be out in the middle of Union Square with a bunch of families,” says Chirichella.  “It’s important to get out and support.”

Collaborative Consumption

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.