Tag Archives: SFSU

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

Words: Molly Sanchez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Santa Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids These Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Deal

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

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

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

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

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

Bah Humbug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a super white beard!

The Sound of Gender

 

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

Words: Ruby Perez
Photos: Andy Sweet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wet Burritos, Dry Humor

Self-described “person and stand-up comedian” Karl Hess performs at the Comedy & Burrito festival’s Kickoff Show at SUB-Mission. Photo by Babak Haghighi

Words: Babak Haghighi & Molly Sanchez
Photos: Babak Haghighi

Sharon Houston, a dark-haired comic from Los Angeles, stands in the oval of light cast on the dark stage of a Mission District venue. Behind her is a wall covered in murals from the gorgeous to the graphic.

Squinting out at the giggling crowd at SUB-Mission in the darkness, Houston makes this assessment, “there’s some crazy f–ks in San Francisco!” The crowd whoops appreciatively, and she smiles before asking, “What the f–k do you eat in the Mission?”

Burritos. The answer to many of life’s questions, let alone Houston’s. Lines of people queue up in front of the assembly line of Pancho Villa Taqueria, waiting to redeem their voucher for a free burrito, a perk only allotted to festival pass holders. The smell of cooking carne asada is thick and intoxicating in the air, and patrons can hardly scarf down an entire burrito full of it before scurrying off to the next show.

Many clubs usually enforce ‘no outside food or drink’ policies, but at the San Francisco Comedy & Burrito Festival, held this year from Oct 11 to 13, outside food is encouraged—as long as it’s Mexican.

According to Ameen Belbahri, co-founder and executive director of the San Francisco Comedy & Burrito Festival, the tortilla and its contents are an essential part of partying in the city.

“The Mission experience, which includes drunkenly gorging yourself on a giant burrito, is about as San Franciscan as you can get.”

He and co-founder Jeff Cleary decided to start the festival after seeing the popular Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland. “Having met and befriended comics from all over the world, I learned that it [San Francisco] is also a city that comics from everywhere else want to visit and perform in,” says Belbahri. “That mixture of amazing local talent and being a popular destination spot for comics is what made it a great city to have a festival.”

The three-day festival featured more than a hundred comedians in well over 40 shows at six venues in the Mission, as well as an ongoing open mic. Not one of these shows had a shortage of burrito-eaters in the audience.

But why burritos? For San Franciscan comedian Drennon Davis, it makes perfect sense.

“San Francisco is pretty snobby about food in general and very proud of the Mission burrito,” says Davis, who was featured in NBC’s Last Comic Standing. “The comedy scene is also like that. We tend to have a higher grade of comedy that’s also very unique in style. We’re proud of it, so it only makes sense to put the two together and celebrate them.”

Performers and their audiences alike scrambled across the Mission district for three straight nights, constantly moving from venue to venue and from taqueria to taqueria.

Jeff Cleary, a veteran of the San Francisco comedy scene, co-produced the festival alongside Belbahri. The two assumed the event would be somewhat low-key, so they figured they could handle running the event on their own. But with an unexpected sell-out of festival passes, things were much more hectic than they anticipated.

“It’s a huge cocaine party without the cocaine,” says Cleary.

As the event went on, seats filled up, and things gradually began to fall into place.

“Next year, it won’t be a two-man operation,” Belbahri says.

Cleary used to organize an open mic at Annie’s Social Club, a former venue in the South of Market (SoMa) area. The open mic became a weekly haven for a struggling group of up-and-coming San Francisco comics. At the Comedy & Burrito Festival, Cleary brought the gang back together, or as much of it as he could, in an Annie’s Social Club reunion show at The Dark Room.

“It’s a shame we couldn’t get any female comics from Annie’s to be here,” said Cleary. “They’re all busy with actual, successful careers. The rest of us are here.”

Successful or not, San Francisco comics take pride in making their city a funnier place. “I love the kind of comedy we produce,” says Davis. “We tend to cultivate the weirdos of the comedy world.”

Weirdos. And they perform in weird places. For example, Brainwash, part café, part laundromat, hosts a popular open mic comedy night every Thursday in SoMa. Lost Weekend Video holds comedy nights in their tiny, brick wall basement, also known as the Cinecave.

Photo by Babak Haghighi

Not only does San Francisco breed the weirdos of comedy, but it attracts them as well. Comics from all across the country come to San Francisco to showcase their comedic talents to the awesomeness that is the San Francisco comedy crowd. Louis C.K., a king among comics, sold out all four of his mid-November San Francisco shows almost instantaneously when tickets went on sale during the summer. Dozens of big-name acts in the comedy world come to the city, whether it’s to play a small club, record a popular podcast, film a DVD, or sell out a massive symphony hall. It may not be the show-business heavyweight that Los Angeles is, but when it comes to comedy, San Francisco puts up a knockout fight.

Guy Branum, one of the higher-billed performers at the Comedy & Burrito Festival, was glad to return to his hometown by the bay to perform. On stage at The Dark Room, Branum reminisces about going to college in the Bay Area.

“I lived in the affordable part of San Francisco,” says Branum. “It’s called Oakland. I lived in the part of Oakland with a lot of white people. It’s called Berkeley.”

Every up-and-coming San Francisco comic dreams of landing a headlining gig at Cobb’s Comedy Club or Punch Line, two of the top comedy venues in the city. But to get there, they have to hit the open mic circuit first.

“It’s great to see people do their amateur stuff and to see their process,” says Raj Dhar, a local comic who volunteered at the Comedy & Burrito festival. “When I first started, I hated doing open mics. I hated waiting around to only get three or five minutes. But now I realize that’s what you’ve got to do—try to get out as much as you can.”

There are many other open mic comedy nights held in virtually every corner of the city. San Francisco’s open mic scene gives amateur comics plenty of chances to test their material and make a name for themselves in the scene.

As far as comedy festivals in San Francisco go, SF Sketchfest wears the crown. The annual festival will celebrate its twelfth year in January. In 2012, the festival hosted hundreds of performers at more than a dozen venues throughout the city. Festival shows feature stand-up comedy, sketch comedy, improv troupes, live podcasts, film screenings, TV-show reunions, musical guests, and all things comedy. Simply put, during Sketchfest, San Francisco is the funniest place on the planet. In time, however, the Comedy & Burrito festival may end up giving Sketchfest a run for its money.

“It’s a little unfair to compare the two,” says Davis. “Sketchfest is absolutely amazing, but it took awhile for them to get where they are. If the Burrito Fest continues, which I imagine it will, I could see them with similar success without being in competition with Sketchfest. Burritos aren’t going anywhere, and neither is comedy. It’s a pretty safe bet to say that the festival will keep getting bigger.”

Despite almost-detrimental technical difficulties during his headlining Friday night set at The Dark Room, Davis says he enjoyed everything about the festival. He had only one complaint.

“I wish there was more free beer. But that’s just a general complaint in life.”

Ever since he found success in San Francisco, Davis has expanded his audience both throughout the country and even outside of it, most recently by performing for a month at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world. But for him, nothing beats the comedy scene of his hometown.

“It’s the best. Seriously. Great crowds and incredible comics—it’s a very symbiotic relationship.”

Turn of a Page, Click of a Button

Photo by Jamie Valaoro

Words: Emily Gadd
Photos: Jamie Valaoro

The smell of freshly bound books filling the air of a bookstore; the yellowed pages of old books in a library; the sound of fingers rubbing against two pages to separate them; the quick flipping between pages to get to a certain spot in the book. These are things that could all be gone someday — if the current eReader trend continues.

The trend shows no sign of slowing down. With the recent release of the iPad mini, more people are sure to begin using eReaders and tablets instead of books. According to the The Harris Poll, 13 percent of Americans say they will most likely purchase an eReader in the next six months. That leaves a significant chunk of people who aren’t but it’s a still a huge increase from years past. 10 percent were unsure if they would purchase one or not.

The most recent federal statistics show that 1,000 bookstores closed between 2000-2007 leaving only 10,600 open. Although it is difficult to credit eReaders with these changes, it is undeniable that both markets are changing; negatively for bookstores, and positively for eReaders.

Electronic books and electronic readers have a longer history than many might imagine. Michael Hart is the creator of the eBook and Project Gutenberg, the movement to put more free-use text on the Internet. Hart wanted to make books more accessible. He began the effort in 1971 when he typed up the Declaration of Independence and posted it online. Hart expanded the project by typing in other bodies of text like the Bible. By the eighties Hart’s online public library contained thousands of titles. Project Gutenberg still exists today, allowing readers to download thousands of eBooks for free on their computers or eReaders.

There have been several models of eReaders, but one of the first well-known devices was released in 1998 by Nuvo Media (now owned by Gemstar) called “The Rocket.” It didn’t really catch on as later models would. The release of Amazon’s Kindle device about a decade later would make eReaders much more visible to consumers.

The first generation Kindle launched in November of 2007 at a retail value of $399. It was only available in the United States through Amazon.com and sold out in five and a half hours, although it is unknown how many of the devices were made available to customers the Kindle remained out of stock until April 2008.

Barnes and Noble released the first generation Nook in November 2009 and it came equipped with a few qualities that the Kindle device didn’t have. While both devices had 3G capabilities, Nook was the first to give its users Wi-Fi access and had memory extension abilities. By comparison, the Kindle was lighter, possessed four more days of battery life and had a text-to-speech feature. A 2011 survey by pewresearch.org asked American adults if they had read an e-book in the past year, or purchased an eReader. It found that 17 percent of American adults had read an eBook in the past year and 10 percent owned an eReader. After Christmas time the survey was given out again and eReader ownership jumped from 10 percent to 19 percent, and 21 percent of adults had read an e-book compared to the 17 percent just a few months before.

Does this mean that smooth computer screens and shiny buttons will replace old-fashioned books? Barnes and Noble Digital Sales Lead and San Francisco State University alum Daniel DeFord doesn’t think so.

“Readers who own a tablet or a reading device of any brand, about 76 percent of them still buy real books. That’s huge,” says DeFord.

What could explain why people still choose to buy hard copies of text? DeFord says, it’s simply a case of nostalgia.

“Despite the fact that they have a better device, they’re going out and making a hugely unwise economic choice to buy something. Why? For sentimental value… We sell products that have a sentimental value to our customers and they will buy them even when it’s a bad idea to do so.”

DeFord is in charge of helping customers of San Bruno’s Barnes and Noble with any Nook questions, in a similar fashion to Apple’s Genius bar. Deford believes that Barnes and Noble’s possession of actual stores and flesh and blood people to sell you their eReader is what gives them an edge on Amazon.

“That’s one of the most amazing things in marketing, right? Actually selling something that is in no way different, but you’re buying the brand,” DeFord says. “That’s exactly how Barnes and Noble can survive and thrive because you see that brand value just going into the store. You want to have a store to go to, so that funds the brand.”

Trisha Paule, a senior at SF State, is a Kindle user but still relies on traditional books, especially for school. “I use [Kindle] mostly when I read for pleasure, [I] hardly ever [use it] academically, so [I use it] anywhere between eight to twelve hours a week.” Paule explained. “I chose it because I assumed it would have a wider selection of books than the Nook.”

SF State creative writing major Cheyanne Cooper noticed when she started taking upper division classes she felt like she was getting buried under books. She wanted an eReader to help her carry around all of her books for school, and decided to purchase the Nook for what she describes as simple reasons.

“When you compare the two, they’re nearly identical in function,” Cooper says. “I chose the Nook because I wanted to support a bookstore and because I liked the look and the ability to add a micro SD [secure digital] card to give me more storage space.”

Both devices give readers the ability to consolidate their libraries into small devices and save them the hassle of going to the bookstore every time they want a new book.

“I have a huge library at my disposal,” Cooper adds. “All I have to do is click ‘buy’ instead of trekking to the store.”

Cooper sees what DeFord emphasizes is the Nook’s greatest function: the ability to keep Barnes and Noble stores open.

“I call it the ‘book amusement park,’ you know, where that’s what’s making it run is the concessions,” Deford insists. “It’s the food you buy in the amusement park that keeps it open. Likewise, it’s the Nook product that you buy that keeps Barnes and Noble open. But that’s not the only thing you get at an amusement park. You get rides, you get fun, you get memories. That’s what Barnes and Noble is! It’s a book amusement park held up by Nook.”

Although eReaders are a more convenient way to buy and store books, some readers will never be able to give up actual books.

“Yeah, it may be more convenient if you’re going on vacation and want to pack like 18 books,” SF State sophomore Audrey Marra says. “But what’s wrong with old fashioned books? I love the way they smell and sound when I buy a new one. It’s something I can basically keep forever and give to my kids.”

Marra is obstinate in her commitment to literature that you can hold in your hand. She is also wary of books becoming digital and experiencing the problems that come with technology, like shorting out when getting wet or contracting viruses. “A real book will never be lost in cyberspace.”

San Francisco’s Oldest Residents

 

Words: Ruby Perez
Photos: Alejandrina Hernandez, Andy Sweet & Ruby Perez

The below information is a personal commentary by Ruby Perez on each location. She sat down with SF State’s Chair of the Department of Geological Sciences Karen Grove to discuss the city’s rich topography.

San Francisco defies the odds — one of the most culturally and economically influential cities in the world is spread on a topography that was created a billion years ago on the ocean floor. The hills, just as much as the Transamerica building or the Golden Gate Bridge, are a defining characteristic of the Foggy City. Urban dwellers scale the hills with ease and leave the tourists huffing and puffing in the dust. It brings us a certain kind of pride and a mild fear as we think about our city’s wildly steep and descending hills and predisposition toward earthquakes. Long ago our city was in constant motion, being bent and tilted, while others shifted and rose. Although the forces that were doing the work are now gone, the artwork that is our city’s topography remains.

The birth of our city began when the seafloor (made up of serpentinite and basalt) was created at a mid-ocean ridge and moved toward the continent. Micro-organisms (radiolaria) and mud fell through the water and collected at the seafloor, while at the same time, sand eroded from the continent and flowed down to greet the organisms and mud. The ocean crust with overlying sediments slid beneath the continent, and lifted up to become the rocks we see today in San Francisco. Corona Heights, Twin peaks, Tank Hill, Bernal Heights, Grand View, and Mount Davidson all share the same creation process.

It certainly is a geological masterpiece, and it’s time to appreciate them for all that they are. The following locations are very special in their own ways, and after a little sweating, they become the perfect place to enjoy how visually stunning our city is. Some are lush, cool, and covered with foliage, while others are mostly defined by harsh bedrock. However they all serve as the defining characteristic of the place many of us call home.

1. Tank Hill
Tank Hill was first named after the Clarendon Heights Water Tank which was built in 1894 by the Spring Valley Water Company. However after its discontinuation, the area became open to the public. Underlain by Franciscan chert bedrock, the hill features rock outcroppings that, like the hill itself, was formed on the ocean floor around 130 million years ago. Visitors will notice how smooth and shiny the outcropping are, and realize that they can serve as perfect seating to view the city. Tank Hill is San Francisco’s oldest natural feature and is the most stunning location to catch a view of the Golden Gate Bridge as well as the Bay Bridge. At night, the area is a glowing orb in which the rainbow colored lights of the Castro can be seen as well as the electrifying colors of the signature Coke sign that sits along Highway 101 — this place would give Twin Peaks a run for its money.

2. Billy Goat Hill
There is nothing quite like experiencing the rush of doing something very dangerous. Adrenaline fills the veins as we contemplate something that is possibly very stupid, like swinging from a rope swing at the edge of a very steep hill. Covered in green grass, Billy Goat Hill is the place to visit when you want the view of San Francisco and a dose of danger. A eucalyptus tree sits atop the hill toward the very edge with a rope attached. Sometimes the more cautious civilian will cut down the rope in order to guarantee safety, however the rope is always replaced by those who want to feel the rush of soaring midair over the city.

3. Mount Davidson
Mount Davidson is the highest natural peak in San Francisco, standing at an impressively high elevation of 928 feet. The view from Mount Davidson portrays the southeastern part of the city, stretching along downtown to Portola Drive. The hike up is a little more strenuous than the others, but worth the journey regardless, because hidden behind the tall green grass and array of thick trees is a massive white cross. The cross may look familiar, because it was notoriously featured in the 1971 classic Dirty Harry.

4. Grand View
The raving and praising about neighborhoods such as the Mission or the Haight are nothing new. But often times other San Franciscan neighborhoods are left out, leaving them to be forgotten or written off as unexciting. Although the Sunset hardly sees any sun, and some argue fun, it is the home to one of the most magnificent of views: Grand View. Situated at the tippy-top of 16th Avenue, Grand View features a long and winding staircase that is covered in a colorful mosaic that runs to the top. The view is stunning, with Ocean Beach stretching far and expansively into our city’s signature fog.

5. Bernal Heights Hill
Are you a fan of the Sound of Music? Have you ever wanted to burst out running Julie Andrews style belting out ‘The hills are alive, with the sound of music’ while dancing like that star you’ve always desired to be? An expansive, green, mossy hill, Bernal Heights Hill is the kind of place that would be the perfect location to do just that. The view stretches from the Bernal Heights neighborhood, downtown, to Sutro Towers.

A Sweeter Look at San Francisco

 Words and Photos: Jennifer Sandoval

San Francisco is a city for foodies. More than any other American city, San Francisco has the highest per capita of restaurants, putting even New York to shame. The city-dwellers take pride in their abundance of small “mom-and-pop” shops and specialty food purveyors unique only to this amazingly diverse city. Among these stores are sweet shops, which make some of the best cookies, macarons, and other treats. Whether you’re in San Francisco for the weekend or have been living here for years, these shops are not to be skipped out on.

Hot Cookie
Location: 407 Castro Street

Dan Glazer, 54, stands near the window of his snug shop in San Francisco’s notorious Castro District. His smile doesn’t falter for a second, until the moment he spots a rack of cookies two inches too close to the display window.

“Can you push the tray away from the window?” Glazer asks the woman behind the counter as he points to the imperfection. She fixes the rack and goes back to work.

“See how I’m so picky,” he laughs as he reflects on what his favorite thing about owning Hot Cookie is (which he ultimately decides is the people whom he works with). Glazer opened Hot Cookie nearly twenty years ago. He decided to give the business a try after moving to the city. He had no idea how popular the store would become.

“As a business owner, you don’t know how successful it’s going to be. I put everything on the line for this store.”

The shop sells a variety of cookies, from traditional items like white chocolate macadamia, to cookies packed with more wild ingredients. One of the more unique items is the mocha-cayenne cookie, a holy matrimony of chocolate and spice. The one notorious item the store is known for selling is the ever-popular penis-shaped cookie. Not only can Hot Cookie satisfy your sweet cravings, it also gives you the option of buying underwear. Placed on the shop’s walls are countless photographs of customers flashing their branded rears in support of the store and its delicious treats.

Chantal Guillon
Location: 437 Hayes Street

Nestled along one of the quaint sidewalks of Hayes Valley, (otherwise unofficially known as “Little France” because of the four different shops within its modest perimeter that sell macarons) stands Chantal Guillon, named after the owner of the store who opened up the petite shop in 2009.

The shop has a total of sixteen different flavors of macarons. The ingredients for these gluten-free macarons are imported from France and Italy, but made locally in a more “traditional” French style way.

“We decided to have one product in order to give all my energy and knowledge in order to reach excellence in that product,” says Guillon. “First is quality.”

Guillon has seasonal options to her menu, too. For Halloween, she created the pumpkin spice macaron, and for the holiday season, she will be coming out with other flavors including nougat and påte de fruit. After a few seconds of flipping through a French-English dictionary, a staff member informs her that the English translation is “crystallized fruit.”

Guillon offers a flavor for all kinds of people. “Each of us have different tastes, someone may think ‘too sugary’ or ‘too sweet’, others may think ‘too sour’. You have to follow your own taste. That’s why we have sixteen different flavors, because everyone is different.”

The shop itself is a treat. “When you make a shop, you want it to be a reflection of yourself,” says Guillon. “When you are in a good place, that looks pretty and nice, you feel comfortable, and we can share with the [customers] and the people who come around, [so that they feel welcomed in a better environment].”

Miette
Location: 449 Octavia Boulevard

A couple blocks down from Chantal Guillon stands one of San Francisco’s cutest confiseries. The store carries a variety of sweets, including chocolates, marshmallows, hard candies, and other treats. In their front display case are jars filled with large macarons of several flavors of unconventional ingredients.
The staff favorite, according to Jeremy Suzio, who works at the Hayes Valley Miette confiserie, may be the rose geranium macaron, which he says tastes like a rose smells. Suzio started his career at Miette a year and a half ago and has since achieved a managerial position (or as he refers to it, “Senior Shop Boy”). Among their choices of macarons is a new seasonal option, the coffee macaron. Suzio says that the flavors of the macarons are subtle but wonderful.

Miette may look like an adorable candy shop, but their cupcakes pack a powerful punch. Their gingerbread cake (laced with a secret ingredient: purportedly Guinness beer!) with cream cheese frosting was voted number four in the top sweets in the nation by Food Network’s Alton Brown. Another favorite among the younger crowd is the oh-so-gooey old-fashioned cupcake with Italian meringue, which tastes like a s’more minus the graham cracker.

Dianda’s Italian American Pastry
Location: 2883 Mission Street

Among the bustling pedestrians and taqueria shops along Mission street is Dianda’s Bakery, which opened up in San Francisco in 1962. The bakery sells everything from cannolis to trés leche cakes.

Dianda’s is currently celebrating their fiftieth-year anniversary, and to promote their products, the bakery places a sticker on the box commemorating their achievement. The bakery also promotes their products by claiming that all products are baked fresh daily on their premises, using the finest ingredients.

Although the shop may not have the best appearance, their bakery is visible to customers who are curious to see the items being made on the other side of the counter. The treats appeal to all kinds of customers by offering a mix of Italian and Mexican baked goods. The shop also offers birthday cakes, which the workers will personalize quickly with lettering before packaging it into a simple white box and branding it with a “Dianda’s” sticker.

Anthony’s Cookies
Location: 1417
Valencia Street

Anthony’s Cookies doesn’t look like an average cookie store. The store is lined with large bottles of milk, and a long wooden table sits on one half of the room. Chalkboards are hung up on the wall, informing customers of the array of cookies that are being made by staff members behind the counter. The rustic appearance of the shop doesn’t stop a line from quickly forming inside the store to try these delicious mini-cookies.

Anthony Lucas, a former student at San Francisco State University, started out by baking cookies for money while in school with no culinary training, and expanded into his very own shop on Valencia. Anthony’s Cookie is now the number one gourmet producer in the Bay Area.

Some of the flavors of cookies are cookies and cream, oatmeal cranberry, and peanut butter.
In an interview with Google, Lucas expressed that he was never a baker and never intended to be a baker, but strived to do something he loved in the field of mathematics.

“I never in my life was good at baking, I know my mother, she was good at baking, but the most I ever came to baking was licking the spoon after she got done whipping whatever she made.”

Lucas believes that the main building block to success of any scale of business is not losing sight of the customers. “We’re very strict on the hiring process. Because if somebody comes into your shop, you don’t want to disappoint them.”

“If you can open up a food establishment in San Francisco, and be successful, you can pretty much be successful anywhere.”

Simple Do It Yourself Gift Ideas

Words & Photos: Charlene Ng

It’s that time of year again. One of the most anticipated and, simultaneously, dreaded times of the year: the holidays. It’s a time for family, friends, and of course, gifts.

No matter which holiday is celebrated, holiday shopping can be a stressful experience. Not only is it just time-consuming, but it can definitely burn holes in the wallet without some careful planning. And as a college student, holiday shopping can be even more of a nightmare with the lack of time and money.

So as a holiday gift to you from Xpress Magazine, here are a few do-it-yourself gift ideas to save you the time, money, and torture of holiday shopping.

DIY Calendar Journal

As the year comes to end, it’s time to throw away those old calendars and bring in the new. This DIY calendar journal is a great gift for jotting down daily appointments!

Materials

  •  A small container of some sort. Preferably square or rectangular to fit the index cards (For this tutorial, a origami box was used)
  • 12 Postcards, cards, or photos These will be used to divide the months.
  • 183 4 x 6” lined index cards These will be cut in half, thus resulting 366 cards (One card for every day of the year! Including February 29!)
  • A date stamp (optional) Dates can be written out too!
  • A paper cutter or scissors
  • Twine or ribbon (For gift wrapping)

Instructions

Step 1: Cut the index cards in half. 183 cut index cards will yield 366 smaller cards.
Step 2: Using the date stamp, stamp the month and date on the top of the index card. The dates can also be written out. By leaving out the date, this calendar journal can be reused every year!
Step 3: Trim the postcards, photos, or cards down so they will be the same width of the cut index cards. Be sure to keep the length a little longer than the cut index card.
Step 4: Organize the cut index cards by date and separate them by month using the dividers.
Step 5: Tie some twine or ribbon around the box and you’re done!

DIY Chalk Mugs

Mugs are great gifts for all ages and customized ones are even better. And what’s best about this chalk mug is that you can customize it all the time!

Materials

  • Porcelain mug
  • Pebeo Porcelaine Chalkboard Paint Do not use regular chalk paint (Porcelain paint can be found on Amazon)
  • Painter’s tape
  • Paint brush
  • Chalk

Instructions
Step 1: Before beginning, make sure the mug is clean and dry.
Step 2: Using the tape, tape off the designated region you don’t want to paint. It’s best not to paint the rim of the mug or where you’ll be drinking from.
Step 3: With the brush, apply a layer of paint on the mug. Go over white spots if needed.
Step 4: Before the paint fully dries, remove the tape to avoid peeling the edges of the paint.
Step 5: Leave mug out to dry for 24 hours.
Step 6: Bake mug at 300 degrees F for 40 minutes. It is best to avoid preheating. Rather place the mug in the oven as it heats up to prevent the mug from cracking.
Step 7: After the allotted time, turn off the oven and leave the mug in until it cools down to room temperature.
Step 8: Decorate the mug with chalk and it’s ready to hold your favorite beverage!

DIY Tea Bags

What goes better with a mug than some handmade tea bags? These DIY tea bags are a great gift for tea lovers, especially for those who enjoy loose leaf tea.

Materials

  • Coffee Filters
  • Loose tea leaves
  • Scissors
  • A needle and thread
  • Twine
  • Stapler and tape
  • Construction paper

Instructions
Step 1: First take two coffee filters and align them. Cut a rectangle out of the center.
Step 2: Using the needle and thread, stitch the two filters together. Only stitch three sides together for now. Leave an opening to put tea leaves in.
Step 3: Fill the tea bag with loose tea leaves. The amount of tea leaves varies depending on the size of the tea bag. The tea bags are filled half way in this tutorial.
Step 4: Stitch up the opening of the tea bag.
Step 5: Folding over two corners of the bag, insert a 3 – 4 inch piece of twine under one of the corners. Then fold over the top and secure the string and bag with a staple.
Step 6: Cut the construction paper into a desired shape (rectangle, heart, etc.) and tape it to the other end of the twine. This will act as a tag for the tea bag.

Lemon Cookies

Somebody really smart once said, the way to someone’s heart is through his or her stomach. So why not give the gift of food this holiday season? These lemon cookies are an easy and delicious gift.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup of butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 cup of granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon extract
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • parchment paper or wax paper
  • ½ cup of sugar for rolling cookies

Instructions
Step 1: In a bowl, mix butter and a cup of sugar together until the mixture is a creamy consistency.
Step 2: Mix in the egg, honey, and lemon extract
Step 3: Next add the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir until dough forms.
Step 4: Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Step 5: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Form chilled dough into small sized balls and roll the rounded dough in the remaining sugar.
Step 6: Place the sugar covered dough onto a parchment paper covered cookie sheet.
Step 7: Bake the cookies for 12 minutes or until they achieve a golden brown color.
Step 8: Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Mixed Tapes and CDs

And if you don’t have any time or money for gifts, then a mixed tape or CD is the way to go! Mixed CDs are a great personalized gift for friends and family.

Materials

  • Blank CDs
  • Sharpies or markers
  • Awesome jams that say how you really feel!

Instructions
Step 1: Compile a list of desired songs.
Step 2: Burn playlist onto a blank disc.
Step 3: Decorate the CD!

 

Instagrammers of SFSU

Words by: Erin Browner

Maybe it’s San Francisco’s love for the fusion of technology and photography, but Instagram is becoming a favored sharing platform. Users don’t have to be photographers, techies, or smart phone geniuses to appreciate the zillions of photos to explore on Instagram. There’s nothing like riding Muni to school and scrolling through images of the Transamerica building or Golden Gate Bridge complemented with the Hudson filter in our palm.

Problem is, most Instagrammers are doing it wrong. We’ve wasted too much data loading those damn self-portraits to our Instagram feed, it’s time to broaden our Instagram horizon. Check out these expert ‘grammers of SFSU for a little inspiration.

Beth Sohn, 18
Undeclared with an interest in Child and Adolescent Development

Handle: @saturatedlaughter
Followers: 615
User since December 2011

What does your handle mean?
My definition of saturated is when something is completely soaked-in and at its maximum capacity. I have a rather boisterous laugh, and I thought by describing it as saturated, it made sense and also doubled as describing my style of pictures, as I am always drawn towards saturated colors. It just clicked and I knew it fit.

Describe your Instagram style.
The words that pop into my head when looking through my pictures are energetic, organic, unique and most importantly — colorful.

Most inspiring subjects:
Fruit, farmer’s markets, and nature.

What’s your favorite spot on campus to snap an Instagram?
My dorm. There are always people walking around on campus, and I get embarrassed when people see me crouching down or stopping in the middle of a walkway to take an Instagram picture. In my dorm, I can spend as much time as I want setting up or thinking about a picture without feeling judged.

What’s your favorite Instagram?
I really love the picture I took of myself holding up a pineapple against the sky. The sky is such a gorgeous color blue, the clouds are pure white — I just really love how bright and wonderful everything looks together! It was also a challenge to get the right balance of focusing on the pineapple without the sky being too dark, or vice versa, and I spent a lot of time deciding what angle I liked the pineapple to be.

Who’s your favorite user to follow?
@tarantula_tamer is probably my favorite Instagram user to follow. I have always had a fascination of reptiles and insects, and he posts the most incredible pictures of such a huge variety of species!

What hashtags do you use?
When I choose hashtags, I try to not be very specific and use ones I know people look at a lot, like #iphonesia and #bestoftheday. I do not really know what they mean, but I have seen others use them and when I use them, it makes it easy for people to stumble upon my picture. I also like making up random re-makes of the word Instagram, like if it was a picture of hair, I might say #hairstagram or #instahair. I do that because I think I am being funny.

How many photos do you upload?
I aim to upload about once a day, quality over quantity.

Adam Zollar, 21
Stylist

Handle: @zollyw00d
Followers: 1007
User since November 2011

Describe your Instagram style.
Mostly everyday activities/items approached as “artsy” as I can. I try not to stick to one certain type of photo.

Most inspiring subjects:
Myself, nature, and alcoholic beverages.

What’s your favorite Instagram?
Anything when I’m in drag because I look fab.

Who’s your favorite user to follow?
@jeffreycampbell because they’ve given me some love and who doesn’t love looking at shoes all day?

What kind of photo will you always “like”?
HOT MALE BODS.

What hashtags do you use?
The only hashtag that I’ve used is for my drag persona. People take hashtags #way #too #far. #ew.

How many photos do you upload?
I don’t upload daily. I would say about once or twice a week depending on how exciting my life is.

Christina Rose Hanlon, 22
Criminal Justice

Handle: @xxtinarose
Followers: 835
User since October 2011

Describe your Instagram style.
I take pictures of almost anything. I’m an open book so what better way to take pictures of my day. I am also into photography so from time to time I will post pictures of things I have taken while on photo adventures.

Most inspiring subjects:
I seem to take a lot of pictures of my cat Louie. I also like taking pictures of super colorful things like sunsets or art on the side of a building. And just pictures of my everyday life.

What’s your favorite spot on campus to snap an Instagram?
I usually sit in front of the Cesar Chavez building so I actually have taken a few pictures there in between studying.

What kind of photo will you always “like”?
It can be anything, from fashion to food to pets to the sunset. Anything I like, I “like.”

How has your life changed since using Instagram?
I think I have become more inspired to actually take pictures. I recently saved up and bought myself a Canon and since that day, I have been using my camera to take pictures of almost anything.

Kristina Kerley, 22
Journalism Major and Server at American Cupcake

Handle: @allbingeandnopurge
Followers: 1065
User since December 2011

What does your handle mean?
It’s the name of my food blog. On a larger scale though, I regard it as how I try to live my life. I want to take in all the world has to offer (binge on it) and never forget even the tiniest moments (no purge).

Most inspiring subjects:
1. Fresh ingredients – like a cut up fruit, fanned out around a wheel of cheese.
2. Desserts – because they really require perfection, frosting has to be swirled just right atop a cupcake, or a berry compote has to be falling ever so gently down the side of a tart.
3. Visible herbs/seasoning – such as a Caprese salad where you can see the ground pepper against the white mozzarella or the grains of salt still sitting on top of the tomato.

Who’s your favorite user to follow?
I really don’t think I could pick just one, I probably have a Top 5 list, and all but one is food related. My favorites include: @thaoism @ilanafreddye @kazuxxx @lobese @trotterpup

What hashtags do you use?
#food #foodie #foodporn #foodgasm #foodphotography #igfood #sharefood #instagood #instafood #tastespotting #foodstyling #healthy #homemade #cooking #baking

How has your life changed since using Instagram?
I definitely style my home cooked food more, since now I pretty much photograph it all. And it’s the running joke with my friends and family that whenever we go out I have to photograph every dish before anyone touches it. I would also say that Instagram has been the best platform for me to connect with other chefs/foodies around the world. There is a community of food lovers who I have gotten to know and learn from, I definitely draw inspiration from the people I follow.

Brandon Tran, 20
Business

Handle: @dopensteez
Followers: 3,055
User since October 2011

What does your handle mean?
@dopensteez is a reflection of my own take on fashion. It is a description of my unique style and personality.

Most inspiring subjects:
My numerous amount of accessories, bright socks, and distinctive settings.

Who’s your favorite Instagram user to follow?
@Princepelayo. I am inspired by his photos because he dresses very bold. He is not afraid to take risks. He has a very simple and sophisticated look which makes him stand out from other fashion stylists/bloggers.

What hashtags do you use?
#OOTD, which stands for ‘Outfit of the Day.’

How many photos do you upload?
It depends on how busy my schedule is. Most of the time, I try to squeeze in about two to three photos a day.

How has your life changed since using Instagram?
Not only has it given me a whole new perception of what fashion is, but it has also helped me boost up my confidence. It has taught me to be myself and to not be afraid of being different. It has pushed me to become more comfortable within my skin. I was able to bring out my true personality. Instagram was the tool to help surface my passion for fashion.

Chanel Phengdy, 20
International Relations major; Chinese Language minor

Handle: @ahappyphace
Followers: 364
User since August 2011

What does your handle mean?
Keep a happy ‘ph’ace on, even if you truly don’t have a happy face.

Describe your style.
Insignificant things that may not matter to others a whole lot, but I find to be quite significant.

Most inspiring subjects:
I always love to shoot delicious food, amazing scenery, and random quirky things I find along search for good food and scenery.

What’s your favorite spot on campus to snap an Instagram?
The famous “No Name” Lake at my study abroad campus, Peking University.

What’s your favorite Instagram?
A sepia-toned photo of me at the Great Tangshan Earthquake memorial site in Northern China. The train tracks I’m standing on are remnants of the actual earthquake, and I believe the photo captures the ambiance of the real scenery quite well.

Who’s your favorite user to follow?
@_YEONG, a Korean with a cute and quirky style for Instagramming. Her life seems pretty sweet and “picturesque.”

What kind of photo will you always “like” when it shows up in your feed?
Anything food-related. I’m a bit tired of eating mainly noodles and dumplings (standard Northern Chinese cuisine) in Beijing.

What hashtags do you use?
#iphonesia, before Android users used Instagram. #joking

How has your life changed since using Instagram?
Instagram has definitely made interacting with people easy and entertaining. For example, it’s pretty neat being able to follow a total stranger somewhere else on the globe and discover how similar we all are.

Jon-Pierre Kelani, 32
Sociology alumni 2012

Handle: @EsqueJon
Followers: 691
User since August 2011

What does your handle mean?
It means in the manner or style of Jon. It’s about how I carry myself.

Describe your Instagram style.
My style generally reflect where I’m at and what I’m doing. It also reflects what I see. I’m always looking for a combination of high and low light contrast and from there I let the light guide me as I compose my subjects.

Most inspiring subjects:
My style generally is all capturing light on the street, people, and portraits of friends.

Who’s your favorite Instagram user to follow?
@Koci is a IGer that has inspired me because I try to mimic him after I dissect his images.

How many photos do you upload?
I try to upload one maybe two per day. I feel it’s an obligation to myself to take photos as much as possible.

How has your life changed since using Instagram?
Instagram has inspired me so much because it’s a mobile platform that allows me to share snapshots instantly.

Instafame: Bex Finch

Words: Barbara Szabo
Instagram photos: Bex Finch

On February 12, 2012, Bex Finch, watched as Justin Vernon (the frontman of critically-acclaimed indie outfit Bon Iver) won a Grammy award for Best New Artist. She had been a fan of his for a long time. Little did she know, he had her eye on her as well—through the digital lens of Instagram.

Justin discovered Bex’s work through a mutual friend. They exchanged quirky tweets and messages back and forth on Twitter, and before long Justin invited Bex to his compound called April Base in Wisconsin to take photos, document his life, and hang out for a week.

“I really admire his ability to maintain a fairly normal life living in his hometown with family and friends close by, while being a Grammy-winning musician who sells out stadiums around the world and gets recognized everywhere he goes,” notes Bex, still bewildered by the experience and in awe that a phone app could lead her to such an opportunity.

Bex (@BexFinch) is what is referred to as “Instafamous,” having over 190,000 followers on the photo sharing application that serves as a visual diary, a window into someone’s life through images and accompanying short captions. Instagram has several built-in filters with which to adjust images, as well as other editing tools, but users can also use other editing programs such as Color Splash (isolates color in a specific area of the photo), Diptick (crop several shots into a collage), and Photoshop Express.

Business Insider named her one of the top nine “Incredible Instagram users that advertisers are dying to work with.” She created the hashtag #FromWhereIStand, which is an image captured from above, as the user looks down at their feet. A hashtag is the “#” symbol followed a keyword or phrase as a way to categorize images and captions so that users can dig through the Instagram world through specific topics.

#FromWhereIStand has become one of the most popular hashtags, and now has more than 150,000 subscribers. The series of photos has a literal meaning (“here is where I’m standing, what shoes I’m wearing, what’s around my feet,” explains Bex), but it can also represent the stand a user takes on an issue. Bex is planning to post a picture of herself standing in front of an Obama 2012 sign to encourage her followers to vote — and to vote for him, she hopes.

“Taking photos of your feet wasn’t exactly a revolutionary idea, but I put words to the idea and started taking photos of my feet almost compulsively to get the series started, which is why it’s credited as mine,” she said.

Bex started using Instagram December 2010, only two months after the app launched. By March 2011, she was placed on the “suggested users” list, composed of celebrities, photographers and companies that catch the attention of Instagram employees. She remained on the list for over a year.

When compiling the “suggested users” list, the Instagram team looks for original photos with a unique perspective, businesses that use the app for branding, and people who represent their own community in a way that reflects the Instagram community as a whole.

“I think Bex’s popularity on Instagram can be attributed to her unique and talented photography skills, timing of joining Instagram and duration she was featured as a suggested user,” says Jared Chambers (@jaredchambers), an Instagram user who started following Bex’s work before actually meeting her.

Tyler McPherron (@tylerturtle), Bex’s boyfriend, also became Instafamous when she recommended him for the list, and within a few months he reached 118,000 followers. They soon became an Instagram couple and started to get noticed all around the city. They recall the time they were spotted at a Lomography photo store opening. The young man approached them, starstruck to meet people who he had known so much about but never actually met before. He had followed their digital lives and this was the moment where a virtual existence transformed into reality. Another time, a young lady dashed down the hill to Tyler and Bex while they were sunbathing at Dolores Park in the Mission District of San Francisco. She was excitedly asking about their work, referring to specific images with vivid hand gestures, light brown eyes gleaming with admiration.

“It’s strange to be recognized, by appearance only, as a photographer, though I guess I do take enough self-portraits and have bright enough hair to stand out,” said Bex.

Indeed, Bex does stand out. Although she is merely five feet three inches tall on a good day, her bright reddish strawberry blonde hair that falls just below her shoulders, accented with bluntly chopped bangs to the middle of her forehead, makes her noticeable from wherever she stands.

While on a cross-country road trip from San Francisco to New York City February 2012, Ed Droste, singer of the band Grizzly Bear, started following Bex’s Instagram photograph feed. He invited her to Cape Cod where the band was cooped up for weeks, writing the music for their new album Shields. They explored the island together and took Instagram photos of one another. She is traveling with the band on a leg of their European tour at the end of October through the beginning of November to document the tour through a photo essay.

“I like that idea of people following my work and can come up to me to talk to me about it,” said Tyler. “Sometimes I think, I have this many followers, I wonder how many of them are in this room.”

Last September, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism invited Bex to Israel for ten days with nine other Instagrammers to take pictures of the country. On the trip, she met President Shimon Peres who invited her into his home and showed the photographers around.

“He even took an iPhone photo of me taking a photo of him,” she says excitedly.

For Bex, using the app worked in her favor, but some people frown upon Instagram users as amateur photographers.

“There are definitely times when people take it way too seriously,” says Tyler. “People get really bent on that gratification of getting likes and comments, and that’s not the real world in many ways.”

Interaction between Instagram users works in the form of commenting on or “liking” images. These actions welcome a communal environment, a place where Instagrammers offer feedback, whether constructive or at times flat out radiating criticism, on images taken thousands of miles away. Bex and Tyler are no strangers to compulsively checking other users’ reactions, in the form of words and symbols, only minutes, even seconds after they post a photo; they switch back and forth between doing that and swiftly scrolling through the feed of images compiled from the work of every user they follow, pausing on certain ones for more than two seconds to “like” it with two quick thumb taps.

“Without Instagram, I would have never been introduced to several of the photographers that have helped shape my creative style and for that reason I see the app as a worthwhile use of my time,” says Jared.

 

Can I Get a LYFT?

Words: Barbara Szabo

Chad Heimann is standing on the right side of the checkout counter at Guitar Center in the Nob Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, placing a stack of coupons and flyers into a plastic bin, and gently sealing it shut with the accompanying blue lid. He looks up just in time to see a store employee wheeling a large black case containing a DJ controller toward him. He reaches for his iPhone, immediately realizing that given the heavy rush-hour traffic, the chances of arriving on-time to set up the equipment for his event are slim to none, but after one minute and four gentle thumb-taps of the screen, he knows that a reliable ride to Emeryville is no longer on the list of this afternoon’s concerns. Six minutes later, he dashes out the front door as a black Prius, adorned with a large, fuzzy bright-pink mustache above the front license plate, rounds the corner and pulls up directly in front of him.

The driver stops the car, jumps out, and runs over to Chad. They bump fists, exchange a few greeting words, and grab both ends of the case to carefully place in in the back seat. Chad and the driver are roughly the same age: early 20s. En route, they chat about the similarities and differences between the first and second Beach House albums and Chad talks about the event he is hosting that night; the driver mentions that hopefully he can stop by later when his shift is done.

The driver and Chad are not friends, and in fact they have never met; the driver works for Lyft, a donation-based ridesharing phone app that San Francisco residents can use to summon a ride anywhere in the city, and Chad is his passenger.

“It’s like you’re getting a ride from your friend. That’s the philosophy,” explains Alex Pulisci, who has been driving for Lyft for just over three months and is a cinema major at San Francisco State University.

Introduced by rideshare outfit Zimride in May 2012, Lyft has been slowly but steadily gaining momentum and recognition, partly by word of mouth, and partly due to the mystery of the pink mustaches. Alex sees the mustaches as an inside joke: there is the member of the inner circle, who casually walks out of a bar and is swooped up by a seemingly random car, led into the night by a mustache; there is the want-to-be member, who has seen the mustaches parked or cruising around the city, and decides to look into what it is, and at that point decides whether or not to join the club; and then there is the member of the outer circle, who shoots a confused look in the direction of someone who says, ‘I’m going to catch a Lyft,’ wondering if that’s a new phrase from England he didn’t get the memo about.

So although the pink ornament holds no symbolic, distinctive meaning, it gets the job of calling attention to the service done.

“We wanted to design happiness into the experience… the mustache just presents a good first impression,” said co-founder John Zimmer.

Zimmer and Logan Green founded Zimride in 2007. Since then, it has become the largest rideshare program in the United States, creating a carpool web among 125 university campuses.

“When I learned that 80 percent of seats are empty on highways, I thought this would be a good way to solve that while saving people money and bringing people together,” said Zimmer.

Aside from the high seat vacancy on highways, Lyft aims to address the issue of transportation being the second highest household expense in the United States. So far, Zimride claims it has saved its users $100 million in vehicle expenses. But above everything, the company is excited about the relationships that have formed among people in the community.

“It’s good for networking, because being a cinema major, I’m definitely interested in talking to people who are in that industry,” explains Alex. “I’ve had at least three or four people get in the car who need film work done or are in that industry. A couple of them have let me take down their number to pick their brain later on.”

Lyft is available for iPhones and Droid smart phones, and downloads in a few minutes. The sign-up process includes connecting a credit or debit card to the account, which becomes the form of payment each time the service is used. When someone summons a Lyft, it alerts a driver nearby, who then has to confirm the request. The user’s Facebook profile picture pops up as a tool of recognition for the driver, and as for the passenger, well, the pink mustache is pretty easy to spot. The user then is able to see a map of where the driver is, as well as an estimated time of arrival. The driver is able to take a passenger anywhere within sixty miles of San Francisco. After the ride is over, the suggested amount of payment pops up on the passenger’s phone screen. They have the option of accepting the total, changing it, and adding a tip; the driver never sees the total.

As of now, there are just over 200 Lyft drivers in the city, while the demand for the service is steadily growing. Usually getting a Lyft is easy but occasionally users are out of luck. Thomas Shaddox found this out the hard way, when he decided to use Lyft for the first time on the busiest weekend of the year — the weekend of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Castro Street Fair, Fleet Week, and Burning Man Decompression.

He requested a driver to pick him up, who quickly accepted. A map displayed the location of the driver on his phone, predicting the time of arrival twenty minutes later. Once the driver got close, the app started to freeze and crash, showing the driver’s location on a different part of the map with each minute that passed. Finally, the symbols on the map seemed to all make sense, alerting Thomas that the driver had indeed arrived. But he was nowhere to be seen. This went on for five minutes, when suddenly the request was cancelled, stating the driver could not find Thomas. But he was there, standing in the same place, alternating between staring at his iPhone and fervently scanning the street. Alas, he saw a pink mustache approaching, and, overcome with relief, inched toward the curb, just as the Lyft zoomed by and continued on its way, without him.

“It was not a good experience. However, I believed this was caused by technical issues with their iPhone application or their servers, ” says one-time Lyft user Thomas Shaddox.

Since it’s a new service, Zimmer and Green are working toward improving the app one day at a time as issues arise. They are thoroughly, almost obsessively, active on Twitter, responding to nearly every complaint (of which there have been quite a few over the past few months, mostly having to do with technical difficulties and an inadequate number of drivers rather than customer service) and showing gratitude and excitement in the digital face of praise. Customers share funny anecdotes via social media, noting the friendliness of drivers. But then again, a positive, affable attitude is one of the few prerequisites for becoming a Lyft driver.

The application process is relatively simple, especially compared to that of a cab driver. There is an application to fill out online, followed by a phone interview. Lyft then runs a background check and looks over the applicant’s driving record for the last three years, and sometimes even as far back as ten years. The applicant has to have a clean, four-door car in good, safely drivable condition.

There are, however, several other conditions to be a Lyft driver: the strength to fist bump; the courage to drive passengers (who are, at times, somewhat intoxicated) to the Tenderloin or Hunter’s Point; and the wisdom to navigate through the streets of San Francisco, or use Waze to guide the way.

Waze, a GPS navigation system app, allows users to reporting traffic problems as they encounter them on the street. The app re-routes the driver as conditions change. Alex uses Waze most of the time, even when he knows the route, to make sure he is as efficient as possible.

The process of becoming a taxi driver, on the other hand, is a bit more complex and lengthy.
An applicant has to complete taxi training at an approved Taxi School, and earn a Taxi Training Certificate as well as a Sensitivity Training Certificate. They must then pass a background check, show a ten year driving record from the Department of Motor Vehicles, obtain a letter of intent to hire from a San Francisco Taxi Company, fill out an application that takes up to an hour and costs $149.50, and attend a four-hour bike safety class. After eight weeks, the applicant has to check in with the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency to find out if the background check has cleared. If so, and if every other step is completed, they are given a permanent driver permit, or A-Card, and a badge.

Cab drivers are less than enthusiastic about Lyft, for these differences in the application process, and also for competition they claim it creates. Green and Zimmer don’t see it that way: their goal is to supplement the 1500 licensed cabs in San Francisco for a population of 812,826.

“In some ways, it is direct competition with cabs, there is an argument there, but that’s not that’s not the way the people at Lyft, the drivers and specifically the people that run it, try to view the company,” Alex says, noting that there is never a shortage of passengers. “We’re not really concerned with competing with the cab companies, we’re not attacking them or anything, and we’re just filling a void that is left in the city.”

Beyond filling a void, Lyft considers hiring exceptionally friendly employees a priority, which is not the case with taxi companies. It is not unusual to hear stories about humorous, outrageous, bizarre, scary, and sometimes even scarier taxi stories.

Photographer Diana Bradbury has lived in San Francisco for just a little over a year, and she has already learned that taking a taxi entails a lot more than simply catching a ride. Sometimes it can even end in a screaming match with the driver.

One night, Bradbury and two of her friends hailed a cab, immediately asking the driver to make three stops, the last two of them only six blocks from one another. A few minutes into the ride, the driver announced that since the last two stops were so close, he wouldn’t make the third stop. At this point, Bradbury asked him to pull over so that she could get out of the car and call another cab, but the driver refused. A fifteen-minute a battle of words ensued, amplified through the slightly cracked left rear window, into the night. After she threatened to call the police, he pulled over and loudly called her rude as she stepped onto the curb and slammed the door with the maximum might of her petite, 100-pound frame.

“I know it was only a few blocks, but I’m not going to walk that late at night by myself, and he had already agreed to drive me anyway,” explains Bradbury, still livid.

The California Public Utilities Commission isn’t too thrilled about the service either. In August, they issued Lyft a cease-and-desist letter, claiming that the service lacks the proper permits and was never authorized by the commission.

Green and Zimmer responded to these claims in a public letter October 8.

“We took the letter as an opportunity to open a conversation with the CPUC and explain what we’re all about,” the letter states. “Since receiving the letter, we’ve had productive conversations with CPUC staff about how these services greatly benefit the local community and complement existing alternatives.”

Since being presented with the letter, Lyft has only continued to grow. Zimmer feels that this is a perfect opportunity to re-evaluate the transportation system in the city and welcome new alternatives. They also hope that the inner-circle of people who are familiar with Lyft will grow as the mystery of the pink mustache fades. But the bright pink color and fuzzy texture never will.

Kombucha Me Crazy!

Words: Hassina Obaidy
Photos: John Ornelas

The strong aroma of vinegar filters the air of 26-year-old Lewis Scaife’s San Francisco flat. He’s well accomplished in the hobbies department, dabbling in hip-hop instrumentalism and whips up homemade ginger beer. His latest quest: brewing kombucha tea.

Kombucha is a fermented sweetened black or green tea with a carbonated, tangy vinegar flavor that was first brewed in Asia and consumed for thousands of years. While not endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration, kombucha is purported to have a variety of positive health effects. As it is a raw food with live bacteria and active cultures, Kombucha bottles claim that their probiotic nature help to maintain healthy levels of bacteria within the body, and the lactic and gluconic acids aid in liver detoxification.

In the kitchens of many San Franciscans, brewing kombucha is a widely popular hobby and is considerably cheaper than buying the bottles in stores. Prior to home brewing, Kristina Kerley, senior at San Francisco State University, would spend about $25 per week on ready made tea like GT Kombucha, or Healing Springs. She began brewing just a couple of months ago after taking a quarter of the mother culture from a friend. What looks like a round-shaped, raw chicken cutlet, the “SCOBY” (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) also known as the “mushroom,” or “mother” is the culture that forms in the tea jar and rises to the top when fermented after a week. After brewing a couple of batches, Kerley’s mother culture reproduced five kombucha “babies.” These “babies” grow bigger and turn into mothers, and are then stacked in an unflavored kombucha jar called the “SCOBY hotel.”

More than a year ago, Scaife began brewing in his own small kitchen in his Mission District apartment. Large jars of already prepared tea litter his flat, as well as a 409 bottle filled with vinegar, a drawer full of various kinds of tea bags, and a large, round “SCOBY.”

Scaife says the current culture he is using in his SCOBY hotel is hundreds of years old.

“It’s like when you take a trimming off of a plant and you plant it, then you take a trimming off of that plant and so on,” he says. “The plant itself is very, very old, it’s a composition that’s kind of like a clone.”

Scaife, a support technician at Sacred Heart Preparatory School in the Mission has been obsessed with different home fermentations. He began fermenting pickles prior to kombucha tea and became more and more interested in how preserved foods work without necessarily being chemically preserved. He read about kombucha, ginger beer, and a variety of other fermented drinks.

The kombucha vinegar is a valuable ingredient for cooking as well. Along with salt, it can be used as a marinade for tofu, or meat and adds a whole new depth of flavor. Scaife says that it’s also good for breaking down some of the proteins in meat, or tofu and making their nutrients more absorbable by the body.

“The drink itself is very delicious and it’s just a fun little thing to have at a party,” he says.

Kerley says she feels energized after drinking the fermented tea, although this side effect is not scientifically proven. She began drinking kombucha at the age of 18 when she caught the swine flu and her co-worker at the time urged her to drink kombucha. “It will knock the shit out of you,” she said to Kerley.

She had no idea what it was, but decided to buy a bottle anyway. By the end of the day, she says her temperature went from 101 degrees to normal temperature.

“It definitely knocked the shit out of me,” Kerley says. “I feel so much better when I drink it. It’s just one of those natural things that helps.”

SIDEBAR
The Do’s:

  • Avoid older, neglected, dried out cultures.
  • Cover the SCOBY hotel with a cloth.
  • Ideal temperature for brewing is 74 to 89 degrees.
  • Kombucha should not be disturbed during the seven-day initial brewing process.
  • Make sure to refresh the culture with unflavored kombucha.
  • Sanitize hands with vinegar, NOT SOAP- it kills the culture.

The Don’ts:

  • Brew under direct sunlight.
  • Leave the culture under the sink (too damp), in tightly enclosed space (no airflow), or next to a window (sunlight, hot or cold temperature).
  • Add lemon or pineapple juice because it has a flavor agent & prevents the culture from doing its job.

As living organisms, SCOBY’s need rest too! The SCOBY hotel [PHOTO]

Purported Health Benefits:

  • Contains probiotics- healthy bacteria
  • Improves digestion and increases metabolism
  • Alleviates constipation
  • Detoxifies the liver
  • High in antioxidants and polyphenols
  • Gives you a boost of energy
  • Relieves headaches and migraines
  • Helps lower glucose levels
  • Heal eczema – can be applied topically to soften the skin
  • Improves eyesight
  • Prevents atherosclerosis

For more health benefits visit KombuchaKamp.com.

Transforming into a Drag Queen

Edgar Lepe’s transformation.

Words: Kayla McIntosh & Hassina Obaidy
Photos: Deborah Svoboda

Edgar Lepe takes a tube of red lipstick and begins to dab the bottom half of his freshly shaven face. Using a white cosmetic sponge, he blends in the red marks to cover up his subtle dark chin hair. Like an artist, Edgar paints his face as if it were a canvas. After blending concealer and both cream and powder foundation on his face and neck, he waves a black, floral-printed Chinese plastic fan to air dry the makeup after each application. This is just the beginning of a long transformation from man to drag.

The makeup process alone takes Edgar about an hour and fifteen minutes, with the whole process lasting a total three to four hours to transform into full drag mode. This includes showering, shaving nearly his entire body, styling his hair, applying makeup, and putting on his often elaborate outfits.

Edgar transforms from a tall, Hispanic man with a five-o’clock shadow wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and black Converse tennis sneakers to a classy, feminine drag queen with fake red and black roses clipped in his dark black hair, chandelier earrings, and an extravagant dress for a performance. He’s not like the stereotype with his more understated take on drag.

Then, there are the over the top, va-va voom, super glamorous drag queens that take it to the next level with big hair, crazy vibrant makeup and bedazzled dresses.

The epicenter of the city’s drag scene is arguably the infamous Divas in the Tenderloin District. On a Saturday afternoon just as the bar opens, an outcry of drag queens erupts inside the small, dimly lit bar. The patrons outside pay the quarrel no mind as if this is something they are far too used to.
About five women, some in drag, gather around the bar’s counter as one drag queen screams at the bartender. Cursing and continuously barking, the drag queen’s attitude is cutting and harsh.

A unidentified and highly intoxicated young woman claims that there’s a “tranny fight” going on and it isn’t a good time for anyone to talk to them.

“They’re feminine, but not really,” she says as she begins to laugh.

To equate all folks dressed in drag with all those who identify as “trans” is to show a lack of understanding toward the two radically different communities. Drag queens and transgender people have two different identities. A drag queen is one who changes their physical appearance, usually for a performance, and is often characterized by an over the top costume and makeup. As this young woman alludes, many think that being a transwoman means to be unclassy and involved in lurid activities like prostitution. However, to be transgender simply means to have chosen to live your life as a different sex than the one you were biologically assigned. This can occur simply through dress or more drastic approaches like hormone therapy or surgery.

The classic drag queens like Donna Sachet are the opposite of what one may experience at Divas bar. Tall, blonde, and elegant Donna, dressed in a long, sequined red gown is well aware of her celebratory fame. As mentioned in the Winter 2011 issue of Xpress Magazine, Donna is the lead performer at Sunday’s A Drag show at Harry Denton’s Starlight Room at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. After a decadent brunch and a magnificent show with four talented drag queen performers, Donna and the girls happily take photos with the guests. Once that is over, she is seated to the couch near the bar by Michael Pagan, the producer, and presented with a glass of champagne before the next performance.

“I don’t put drag on, I let it out,” she says.

Donna says her drag queen identity is a character she created and maintained for 20 years. During the day when she’s running errands, no one recognizes her.

“There’s this female character inside me and I always knew it was there,” she says. “I’d put a towel on my hair and lip sync to a hair brush.”

Similar to Donna, Edgar is unrecognizable to those who know his drag identity. A UCSF cancer researcher by day, Edgar also dances for the Peninsula Ballet Theatre on the side. Although his physical appearance drastically changes, his personality remains the same.

“I don’t feel like anybody else, I feel like myself,” he says. “I don’t go out faking my voice. I really don’t even try to fake it. The more you try to fake it, the more fake you look. I like to just keep it as natural as possible.”

Confident, humble, and sociable, Lepe began his drag queen life at the age of 18 with the help of his “drag mom”, Bianca Cruz.

According to Lepe, a “drag mom” is someone who helps an individual transform into a drag queen and they must take her last name.

“It’s like they’re giving birth to you,” he says.

Lepe goes by Paloma Cruz when he performs. He believes that one can’t be a drag queen if they can’t make people laugh.

“Out of many categories of drag queens, I think the successful ones are the pretty ones, but the pretty ones that don’t open their mouth,” he says. “And the ugly ones they can actually make people laugh because you’re either ugly and funny, or pretty and stupid.”

Lepe recounts a time when he was supposed to be a part of his his friend’s wedding in Sacramento, his hometown. When he went to get ready for the event at his aunt’s house, he walked in the door only to find his 91-year-old grandmother there as well. She had no idea that her grandson had two separate identities, and he had no intention of letting her find out.

“I said ‘Tia, why didn’t you tell me grandma was here?’” He eventually had to explain to his grandmother why he came back home from San Francisco with a bag full of makeup and an assortment of ladies’ clothing.

And to his surprise, she did not judge him. She even helped iron his dress for the event.

Before he erupted with the news to his grandmother his cousin took him to the side and asked him, “How do you want everybody else to accept you..if you’re not ready to show your face to the people who care for you?”

And from that moment on, he’s never let anyone stop him from being exactly who he wanted to be.