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The Summer of Love: How San Francisco is Recognizing the Iconic Movement

Visitors peer in on colorful artifacts and psychedelic motifs, some stop to take selfies in a light show room where multi-colored waves splash against the walls, and some are dressed in their own throwback clothes, wearing colorful dresses and sky-high platforms. The “Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion and Rock & Roll” exhibit at the De Young museum brings the past to the present with its display of the era’s most memorable works of art, music, fashion, and everything else in between.

Fifty years ago hundreds of thousands of flower children gathered in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to listen to music, hang out, and spread the love, providing the rest of America with a glimpse into an alternative way of living. A half century later, American society is still dealing with the aftermath of the ideas, art forms, clothing, and music that emerged from that momentous 1967 summer in San Francisco. San Francisco is preparing to celebrate the anniversary of an event that shaped the city’s identity and left a lasting impact on pop culture.

“There was no one Summer of Love experience,” says Colleen Terry, curator of the non-textile pieces for the “Summer of Love Experience” exhibit on display through August 20. “I think that’s something I certainly experienced in my research is that people living a block apart from one another could have had very different experiences here in San Francisco in 1967.”

While the circumstances of the Summer of Love were the start of a new way of thinking for the rest of the country, the counterculture’s Summer of Love was actually the end of what had started as a movement in the mid 1960s.

The start of the countercultural movement began with Ken Kesey’s and the Merry Pranksters’ “Acid Tests”, or parties where guests were encouraged to use LSD and expore the drug’s psychedelic effects. Then in January 1967, the intellectual and radical political activists of Berkeley combined with the social and cultural experimenters of the Haight-Ashbury for the Human Be-In to join forces against the war in Vietnam and to experiment with drugs and new forms of philosophy, art, and music.

This occasion gained national media attention and young people to flocked to San Francisco, this migration culminated in the what we now know as the Summer of Love. Terry hopes that the DeYoung’s exhibit will highlight the extent of the counterculture movement in San Francisco during that time period.

“I think what a lot of people know is sex, drugs, and rock and roll and I think this show actually shows that there is a lot more to it especially in an aesthetic dimension that has really permeated our popular culture even today.”

One of these aesthetic elements was the explosion of color and bell bottoms in the clothing that accompanied the movement.

“There were certain things that just kept coming up,” says Jill D’alessandro, textile curator for the exhibit. “Victoriana, old timey dress, native american dress, the interest in the Pacific Rim, in Asian cultures. There’s also psychedelia and the swirling motifs in prints, handwork, and denim.”

Denim played a large part in many of the styles from this time period and that may have been due to Levis’ close relationship to the city and its residents mentions D’alessandro. “Levi’s had their finger on the pulse of the counterculture,” says D’alessandro, “and actually was like a nurturing parent to the counterculture, looking at what they wanted and providing it for them and making sure to keep their jeans at a low price.”

One person whose clothes are featured in the exhibit are Wavy Gravy’s, an entertainer, comedian, and official clown of the Grateful Dead. Gravy was a prominent figure in the counterculture, or as he calls it “the under the counter culture.” He joined the Merry Pranksters in the Acid Tests and later drove around the country in a painted school bus.

“The seats were all taken out and along the sides were benches that opened up at night into double beds with the storage under the bench so it was like just living in a sailboat,” Gravy remembers. “You had to knock down everything you had to a very minimal amount of stuff and it was very synchronicity building.”

They used the attention they began receiving to highlight issues important to the subculture like Animal and environmental rights.

“We traveled on a bus that was taken on a freighter to Sweden for the United Nations conference on human environment where we actually turned the bus into a whale and drove into downtown Stockholm during rush hour and got the UN to pass the resolution against the killing and hunting of the grey whale,” remarks Gravy.

The counterculture movement that spurred the Summer of Love was also known for it’s political activism and the birth of many social movements such as the environmental movement, the women’s movement, and the anti-war movement. One social issue that has a complex relationship with the counterculture movement is the gay rights movement.

“We think of the gay movement as a political movement, but really it was always a social and cultural movement,” says curator of the “Lavender Tinted Glasses: A Groovy Gay Look at the Summer of Love” exhibit Joey Cain.

The exhibit is a “look at the LGB folks who were significant in the summer of love in 1967 and I look at Allen Ginsberg, the poet, and the underground, avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger, Janis Joplin, and someone who most people don’t know astrologer, philosopher Gavin Arthur,” says Cain. “I give a little bit of history about their background and what their involvement was in 1967 and I look a little bit also at how what was happening then influenced the homophile community that existed at the time.”

While the summer of love is associated with “free love”, the movement wasn’t as accepting as it might seem at first glance.

“The Summer of Love stuff tended to have very old gender role ideas. The women were to make babies and take care of the home and be nurturing and the men were to be out there fighting on the barricades. While there were a lot of gay people around in it, it was not something that people really talked about,” Cain explains.

He does acknowledge, though, that the summer of love did have a significant impact on the LGBT community’s sense of self.

“Where it influenced the LGBT community heavily was there was a great emphasis placed on personal authenticity that instead of being who your parents want you to be, who your teachers want you to be, who the society in general wants you to be, you need to understand who you are and be that person,” Cain says. “That was a huge part of what was being promoted and talked about and encouraged in the summer of love. And that has always been the bottom line of coming out.”

Personal authenticity, sexual freedom, and drug use were factors that influenced the LGBT community as Cain mentions with a laugh, “It’s really hard to stay in the closet while you’re on LSD.”

Cain points out that what many remember as a summer of kindness and sharing also included many struggles with the police.

“If not every weekend, every other weekend, the police would come in and there would be mini riots here in the Haight with the police trying to clear people out and trying to control them,” Cain says. “Imagine a hundred thousand refugees flooding into a neighborhood, mostly made up of people between the ages of 13-23 who couldn’t take care of themselves. It was a disaster zone and part of the thing that destroyed it was media exploitation around what was going on in the neighborhood. It had this double edged effect in that it took the ideas that were being worked on here and sent them out across the country. But it also made everybody want to run away from home and come to San Francisco.”

At the time, much of the mainstream media framed the movement as a “cute” social movement, instead of examining the very real issues that young people were talking and protesting about.

“It wasn’t just peace and love. There were attempts to address really deep seated social issues like racism, poverty, class inequality. That gets glossed over in the tie dye and beads concept of the summer of love,” Cain explains.

One commemorative celebration this summer hoping to examine these issues is an Academic Conference on the Summer of Love that will take place this July from NorthWestern University. The conference will feature talks and panels from professors around the Bay Area, including Peter Richardson and Steve Savage from SF State, to present their research about the Summer of Love.

“I’m doing the conference for students today to figure out what the right kind of framework is to understand those events fifty years ago, so that the meaning of them is powerful to young people today,” says NorthWestern University Professor and head of the Summer of Love Academic Conference Planning Committee.

The conference is free for any grad students attending a university in the Bay Area. The conference will feature information about the role of cyberculture in the counterculture movement, women’s roles, the Black Panther Party, drugs, and “social theorists whose work on critiques of American Society provided young people with a framework for critiquing American society and looking for an alternative to it,” says Lewis.

While there were many counter cultural movements taking place around the world that year, “they especially converged in San Francisco because it was a more open kind of society and had a long tradition of welcoming offbeat people to it being a beautiful place to live for artists, musicians, and poets,” explains Lewis, who also mentions that San Francisco’s original founding was during the Gold Rush of 1849.

“San Francisco had this unique quality of lots of new people coming there, lots of people trying to find a way to live together, and lots of them pursuing a dream. That’s built into the DNA of the city,” Lewis says.

For Boots Hughston, his dream is to honor the original summer of love by throwing a commemoration festival this summer, featuring many of the same speakers and musicians that were present at the first one. Hughston attended the original summer of love as a teenager.

“It was like everybody woke up all at the same time,” he says of the celebration.

Hughston has put on other commemorative anniversaries for the Summer of Love, but has had trouble getting permits for this anniversary occasion.

“At fifty years, we’re passing it on, this is our last hurrah. We’re all in our 60s, 70s, 80s. There won’t be many of us around for the next 10 year anniversary. We’re passing it on whether we like it or not,” Hughston says.

He was denied a permit for his original plan of having the event in Golden Gate Park in June or July by the San Francisco Parks and Rec Department. Despite the negative response of the city, Hughston is continuing to apply for a September or October event.

“I hope it doesn’t go back to the same hassle we just had that’s what I’m worried about it. So I took myself out of it I didn’t apply for this permit I took myself out of the loop and I passed on to Sunshine Powers. She’s applying for the permits now. So we’re pretty much ready to rock,” he said.

Hughston has been frustrated by the amount of money required now to put on an event in the city. He mentions that when he was young, it was only $150 for a permit, but now to put on a large affair, costs will total around $450,000-$500,000.

“It’s almost impossible for a young person to go out there and try to do a large free event,” Hughston sighs, “The summer of love 50th anniversary is free. The reason why it’s free is because we want anybody to be able to come. Anybody who can come whoever wants to come.”

It was also very important for Hughston that the celebration take place where it all started: Golden Gate Park.

“It started here, it needs to be represented here. It’s a humanity movement too. It’s not a money movement or about egos or anything, it’s basically a spiritual movement that started right here in San Francisco,” Hughston says.

Parks and Rec official Joey Kahn worries that the event’s big scale might be a danger to all those attending, “As the agency responsible for stewarding and permitting San Francisco’s parks, it is our responsibility to ensure that events are safe for the public to attend. That means making sure there is an adequate emergency/medical plan, proper infrastructure to support the number of people expected, adequate transportation and public safety staff, including Police and Park Rangers on-site to respond to an emergency. While it is not sexy, it is incredibly important that all these elements be in place. Without them, the results can be catastrophic.The multiple city agencies involved in signing off on this permit agree that, as a result of Mr. Hughston’s repeated misrepresentations, he could not be entrusted to ensure public safety and limit damage to the park. Despite our many attempts to work collaboratively with Mr. Hughston, and the multiple chances he was given to rectify the situation, he continued to falsify his responses.”

Hughston continues to claim that he completed everything required of him and in a timely manner. Though Hughston’s dreamt up event might not come true, some San Francisco organizations are already helping to commemorate the anniversary with the combination of Sunday Streets and It’s Your District to create a themed Summer of Love for Sunday Street events this summer.

“We want to celebrate what is special in each neighborhood and remind people why they love San Francisco,” says Liz De Nola, the director of operations for It’s Your District, which promotes non profits in San Francisco. “We want to highlight the values that emerged from the summer of love. To us, that means community building and creativity and so at each event we have lots of music, we have art, we we have giant puppets and stilt walking, and lots of entertainment for the whole family.”

Executive director for It’s Your District, Yves-Langston Barthaurd, wants to showcase the great organizations and groups working in various San Francisco neighborhoods, “A lot of these organizations that we feature are in the neighborhood and a lot of people don’t realize that they’re there,” she says.

Barthaurd also thinks that this nod back to the original summer of love couldn’t be more timely.

“This year, we’re seeing more people out on the streets and protesting and wanting their rights and their voices to be heard than in years past, basically since 1967,” Barthaurd says. “We’re in another era where people feel like their voices aren’t being heard and that they need to get out on the streets and really push the narrative into the direction that they want to see.”

Michele Rebelle, sixty-three, was a teenager back when she attended the original summer of love.

“Back then, we were all politically motivated. I have burned my bra marching down Market Street pushing a fucking baby carriage to make sure that my daughters and my grand daughters have reproductive rights,” she says passionately with tears streaming down her eyes. “Everything that we fought for then we have to re-fight for again and we’re fucking old. We need our kids and our kid’s kids and all these little motherfuckers out here to step up, not by violence, but by words and thoughts and action.”

Free, 25, is homeless by choice and made the journey to San Francisco from Illinois in hopes of reaching the acceptance he heard was prevalent here.

“I came here from a small farm town that was super racist and bigoted,” he says. “I’m part of the LGBT community and it’s way more accepting out here. When I became homeless I found my way to the Haight and the hippie guys really took care of me and showed me the ways.”

The legacy of Haight Street as a gathering of hippies, still attracts many people, including the homeless.

“I think that the homeless situation and the drug situation that we’re seeing in San Francisco is worse than I’ve ever seen it for the decade that I’ve lived here,” says Malaika Clarke, the art director and sales rep for the costume store P-Kok on Haight Street. “Something that I think the city really needs to do before they summer comes is have more public restrooms for the general public and for the homeless population that lives here,” she says.

Clarke has always felt connected to the counterculture movement that took place here in 1967, even though she was not part of it.

“I feel like 1967 really laid a stamp on Haight Street and kind of set this ripple out through the universe of what the hippie movement was,” she says. “I kind of feel the ghosts of Haight Street a lot.”

For Clarke, keeping the spirit of community alive is a great way to honor the movement, “Here at P-kok we’re trying to support local artists I have a lot of my paintings in here and I’m going to be doing a series for the Summer of Love. We’re going to be throwing different events, hopefully making some music videos, we have different street artists who are going to be painting on the front of our window display and our shop and we’re also going to be involved with some of the other vendors on the block just doing street parties and stuff,” she says.

Right before the interview with Clarke, a large fight between two men broke out in front of the store. The men appeared to be on drugs or mentally unstable. Many people stood watching and filming on their phones, until it eventually ended and the men went their separate ways. This instance only solidified Clarke’s passion for protecting her community.

“We just heard a huge fight happening out on the street and I found myself starting to videotape it and I then I said well what am I doing, I’m going to go try to break it up,” Clarke says. “And I didn’t even have anybody to watch the store, I just asked a stranger to watch the store for me. I mean we all have to take initiative and responsibility each and every one of us to be a part of the community. I think that what happens when you get so many people who are coming through the city and not staying or a techie who maybe will be here for like a year and doesn’t really get invested, you don’t get that community. So I would say wherever you go, be invested and help out. It’s up to each and every one of us to deeply look inside ourselves and ask how can we be the love.”

Everybody Must Get Stoned

Jimi Woodliff, known as “Jimi McMenace,” (right) and Joel “Joe Killmeister” Pacheco (left) are put into a headlock by Dustin “Rick Scott Stoner” Mehl during a practice wrestling match at the Victory Warehouse in Oakland. Photographs by Ryan McNulty

Story by Zak Cowan

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was the first Friday of the month and metal was blaring from the speakers of the Oakland Metro Operahouse. Hoodslam occupied the space for the night, bringing with it everything you’d expect from professional wrestling: choreographed bodyslams, acrobatic combat and, perhaps an expectation held for this particular event, plenty of pot smoking.

The performers gathered backstage as the start of the event neared. The members of Stoner University, a faction within Hoodslam that also runs a training school for up-and-coming wrestlers, stood in the center. They continued to go through the feats planned for the night, cramming in every strategy and marijuana hit they could until the venue’s doors opened for the public.

This is Stoner University’s main event, and they’ve been preparing for it all week.

The Stoner Brothers from Ryan McNulty on Vimeo.

Away from the Metro, Stoner University, named after founders Derek and Dustin Mehl’s on-stage moniker, the “Stoner Brothers,” helps conceptualize the characters its dozen-or-so students hope to step into when they’re ready to take the stage. In addition to coaching beginners, the university’s senior members use the week to continue to develop their Hoodslam act.

For Derek and Dustin, training wrestlers at their school is not just a hobby they do in their spare time; this is their career.

“We eat and breathe and sleep and shit and smoke wrestling,” Derek said. “A lot of smoke,” Dustin interjected, pausing, “and wrestling.”

Each brother measures in at 6 feet, 300 pounds, and sports straggly dark hair which has grown past their shoulders and beards which are completely unkempt. The massive brothers own the stage at Hoodslam.

They literally do. They brought it from home.

For the majority of the month, the stage sits in the middle of Victory Warehouse, just a mile from the Metro. Graffiti similar to that found in downtown Oakland covers the walls, and, along with the stage itself, supplies for the show – musical instruments, discoballs and a Hoodslam banner which looms above the stage – are stored in the space where Derek and Dustin have held their lessons for two years.

“It all started because we wanted to train all the time and to better ourselves,” Dustin said. “People have seen that and want to jump in the mix.”

“Stoner U,” he stated intensely, as if on queue. “Home of higher learning.”

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  • Dustin Mehl, known as “Rick Scott Stoner,” pins down Joel Pacheco, known as "Joe Killmeister."
  • Derek Mehl, known as “Scott Rick Stoner,” gets passed a joint during a break from wrestling practice.
  • Dustin Mehl (center) flips Aaron Mitchell, known as "Big B," (left).
  • Dustin Mehl, known as “Rick Scott Stoner,” smokes a blunt before a wrestling practice at Stoner University’s Victory Warehouse in Oakland
  • Students of Stoner U practice taking a kick to the head.
  • From left: Joel Pacheco, Dustin Mehl and Derek Mehl discuss the wrestling routine they are going to do together.
  • Brittany “Ultragirl” Wonder (left) and Christina “The Patron Saint of Filth” von Eerie (right) clothesline each other during their match at Hoodslam.
  • A.J. "Broseph Joe Brody," Kirsch, the announcer of Hoodlam, pours alcohol into the cup of an attendee at the Oakland Metro Operahouse. The wrestling show is a 21 and up event where one of the mottos is "Don't bring you F'n kids."
  • The crowd surrounds the ring while wrestlers perform at Hoodslam.

Throughout the week, Derek, Dustin and the rest of the university host sessions at the warehouse. Tuesday is beginners day, Wednesday is for more intermediate wrestlers and Thursday is match night. Match night is the time when wrestlers experience the most growth as performers.

“You can’t really prepare for wrestling by doing anything but wrestle,” said Aaron Mitchell, a student under the Stoner tutelage for over a year.

Mitchell, 32, has been training to be a professional wrestler since mid-2012 and has bounced around the Bay Area’s different wrestling schools.

“If you want to get into wrestling at all, you have to go through a school,” Mitchell said.

The learning trajectory at Stoner University fits into this philosophy: wrestle, then wrestle some more.

“If they want to go do cardio and run miles, go to the gym,” Derek said. “When you’re here, you go to the ring. We’ll teach you how to wrestle, and that’s it.”

Focusing on wrestling allows the performers to learn at their own pace and grow in the areas most beneficial to their prospective career paths.

“They gear the training to each individual,” said Chris Crotte, 35, a military veteran who travels to the university from Sacramento. “It’s all wrestling.”

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Dustin Mehl, known as “Rick Scott Stoner,” (left) and Derek Mehl, known as “Scott Rick Stoner,” (bottom) work together to slam “Cereal Man.”

Along with being one’s best route to success, being a part of a wrestling school has given this group unity and a sense of inclusion they haven’t found elsewhere. For Crotte, who went through two tours of duty in Afghanistan, “it’s therapeutic. It’s a good outlet: slam things around and get slammed yourself.”

“I never had that acceptance in life,” Crotte said of the camaraderie at Stoner University. “Everyone wants to be a part of something and feel like they’ve earned it.”

Hoodslam’s wrestlers are the main attraction, but there are other characters of the show that are vital to its continued success. The Stoner Brothers and their team hope to contribute to all of it and are providing training for individuals interested in any part of the show, including referees.

During a wrestling match at Hoodslam, the referee plays the part of a semi-involved mediator, but behind the scenes they prepare just like the other performers. They learn the same stunts as their counterparts, such as flying kicks, leg drops, knee drops, moonsaults and shooting stars. A referee knowing all of this, and being able to perform it, is a vital part in the show as it allows them to know when something goes wrong and react accordingly.

For aspiring performers, learning the art of professional wrestling from those that have extensive experience can be the difference in a bad situation. Shane “Wiggles” Wignall, 24, has been training to be a referee at Stoner University since February.

“If you try to train yourself or if you’re working with people who are untrained, you take the chance of hurting someone,” Wignall said.

In addition to finding an outlet and space for camaraderie, the dozen or so students have found mentors in the Stoner Brothers.

“It’s a family atmosphere,” Crotte said. “It’s like being in a room with brothers; it’s my new brotherhood.”

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Brothers Dustin (left) and Derek (right) Mehl celebrate together after slamming one of their opponents during Hoodslam.

This inclusive, inspirational atmosphere creates the sort of learning environment the Stoner Brothers hope will elevate their students to where they strive to be.

“We are highly motivated to make pro wrestlers out of our students,” Dustin said, but the brother’s students are getting so much more out of their experience than that.

“When I’m there in the ring, nothing else matters,” Wignall said. “It doesn’t matter that I missed my deadline at work. It doesn’t matter that I’m late on my rent payment. The only thing that matters right then is what’s happening right in front of me.”

A Family That Grows Together

With her son’s hand on her arm, Leah, owner of a Trinity County farm, presents her family’s crop.

A Rockwellian portrait of the new American farm.

Photography and story by David Henry

Editor’s Note: To protect the identities of the sources interviewed for this story, last names have been omitted and pseudonyms have been used.

Before sunrise, the house stirred. Two young boys sat at the dining room table as farm fresh eggs and sausage patties cooked on a cast iron skillet. Mason-jarred, raw milk from a neighboring farm was poured into glasses for the boys and coffee for the parents. By the time a rooster called out in the distance, the five-year-old and Jerry, his father, were off on their daily school and work-week commute down the mountain.

Leah, the mother, made her morning rounds, feeding the pigs, dogs, kittens, turkeys and chickens. As Leah headed back inside, she stopped to greet the international crew of trimmers as they rounded the orchard toward the driveway.

Onboard the trucks were two Australians, three Brazilians, one Spaniard and a Parisian. It was early autumn, harvest time was just a few weeks away and the crew of young men and women was set to spend the daylight hours pruning the story-high, story-wide marijuana plants rooted in the garden just up the road.

In the emerald triangle, which consists of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties, family-style marijuana farms are not uncommon. This is a contradiction to what most may envision, vagabond-hippie-based operations, for example. However, life on these family farms mirrors that of small, traditional farms in the U.S. The cash crop is unorthodox. But factor out the crop and the lifestyles adequately resemble one another.

  • Jerry crouches in his medical marijuana garden in Trinity County, California.
    Jerry crouches in his medical marijuana garden in Trinity County, California.
  • Jerry walks with Leah's dog through his medical marijuana garden in Trinity County, California.
    Jerry walks with Leah's dog through his medical marijuana garden in Trinity County, California.
  • Young marijuana plants fill a room at Emerald Family Farms in Humboldt County, California.
    Young marijuana plants fill a room at Emerald Family Farms in Humboldt County.
  • Bryan, a grower with Emerald Family Farms, checks his indoor garden with a green LED headlamp as the plants "sleep" in Humboldt County.
    Bryan, a grower with Emerald Family Farms, checks his indoor garden with a green LED headlamp as the plants "sleep" in Humboldt County.
  • Elliot assembles a machine used to extract Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in Humboldt County, California. Elliot: “I am motivated by the healing potential of the plant. Personally, I am following through on a passion that was sparked by my mothers battle with cancer and my desire to find a way to heal oneself outside of western medicine.”
    Elliot assembles a machine used to extract Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in Humboldt County, California. Elliot: “I am motivated by the healing potential of the plant. Personally, I am following through on a passion that was sparked by my mothers battle with cancer and my desire to find a way to heal oneself outside of western medicine.”
  • Leah smokes a joint in her dining room in Trinity County, California. Leah is a medical marijuana patient. She has rods in her back and suffers chronic pain, the result of a life-changing injury.  She uses marijuana to alleviate her discomfort and finds that there are less side effects than prescription drugs.
    Leah smokes a joint in her dining room in Trinity County, California. Leah is a medical marijuana patient. She has rods in her back and suffers chronic pain, the result of a life-changing injury. She uses marijuana to alleviate her discomfort and finds that there are less side effects than prescription drugs.
  • Bryan and Jerry talk inside of an Emerald Family Farms greenhouse in Humboldt County, California.
    Bryan and Jerry talk inside of an Emerald Family Farms greenhouse in Humboldt County, California.
  • Bryan shows Jerry one of his signature strains in his greenhouse at Emerald Family Farms in Humboldt County, California.
    Bryan shows Jerry one of his signature strains in his greenhouse at Emerald Family Farms in Humboldt County, California.
  • Mike plucks leaves from a mature medical marijuana plant in Trinity County, California.
    Mike plucks leaves from a mature medical marijuana plant in Trinity County, California.
  • A beer and an American flag rest on a stool in the middle of a medical marijuana garden in Trinity County, California.
    A beer and an American flag rest on a stool in the middle of a medical marijuana garden in Trinity County, California.
  • The top colas of a large marijuana plant soak in the late afternoon sun in Trinity County, California.
    The top colas of a large marijuana plant soak in the late afternoon sun in Trinity County, California.

Many newcomers in the trade start as trimmers. During harvest season, trimmers looking for work line many of the public squares and main streets in the emerald triangle. According to Leah, they come from all over. The Midwest, the South, Europe, Australia and Vietnam are common locations of origin.

“We call them trimmigrants,” Leah said. “Many come here to work, fall in love and never leave.”

Other trimmers, like Mike, a Bay Area-based musician, traveled north for the harvest in order to make extra money and catch up with old friends. During Mike’s visit, he, Jerry and Leah spent evenings socializing, smoking, drinking local rum and eating meals comprised of fresh-picked ingredients from the garden.

One evening, Mike took it upon himself to subject Leah to the popular tastes of the outside world. He screened a number of popular music videos for her. Trap music, such as Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” and Sophia Grace’s “Best Friends” blared out of Mike’s smart phone. At the conclusion of Mike’s presentation, all Leah had to say was, “I am so happy I’m not raising a daughter.”

Will, a native of Australia, heads operations in Leah and Jerry’s medical marijuana garden. After starting out as a trimmer, he worked his way up through the ranks. He now handpicks the strains, fertilizers and workers for the farm.

Two of the trimmers working under Will, an Australian man and a Parisian woman, spoke of their dream of starting a farm in the south of France. The couple met in Barcelona and immigrated to Humboldt in search of work. While working, the trimmers occasionally passed the time by poking fun at their host country and imitating American accents.

“Why Bessie, it’s as American as apple pie,” the Parisian women drawled in a Southern-belle accent, while the men held up their Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and called out, “‘Murica! Fuck yeah!”

Their sarcastic patriotism could have easily sounded anti-American to an untrained ear, but there was no denying that they appreciated the opportunity that America provided.

“There’s no other place I’d rather be right now,” Will said.

The future for these farms is unclear. Growers in the emerald triangle have been preparing for the day that recreational use is legalized. The prospect of increased competition, supply, lower prices and demand makes legalization a serious economic matter for growers. Marijuana legalization initiatives are gaining momentum in California. In fact, Governor Brown recently signed three bills into California state law, that have been seen as stage setters for legalization. The reality that one of the initiatives will be on the November 2016 ballot has growers considering at least partial overhauls of their operations.

Jerry and Leah are taking steps to create a bed and breakfast, as well as a recording studio and mountain biking trails throughout their square mile of land. According to Jerry, hospitality would take priority in the family business but weed would still have a presence.

Will said growing high-quality, pure strains is key to the industry’s future. He welcomes legalization and believes it will wipe out the amateur operations as well as the Mexican cartel grows. Will believes the triangle’s climate, reputation and quality of product is unparalleled, making way for what he calls the “Napa Valley” of weed.

An Uncertain Move for San Francisco’s Sex Workers

Marion Pellegrini, core staff member at St. James Infirmary, poses for a portrait in the lab where he draws blood for various tests for patients. The clinic provides healthcare and social services for current and former sex workers of all genders and sexual orientations. Photo by Emma Chiang

 

By Sean McGrier

There’s no sign on the door. One has to be told about the place to know it’s there and, even then, they’d probably walk past it a few times before realizing they had reached their destination. The clinic is discrete; its whereabouts spread mostly through word of mouth. Its modest front door leaves little hint to what goes on beyond it. The work St. James Infirmary does for the community it serves is shielded to ensure that work can continue, which is partly due to the taboo nature of St. James’ clients’ jobs.

St. James is a peer-based health clinic for sex workers located on Mission Street in the South of Market neighborhood. Pretty much all of its staff and all of its patrons are either current or former sex workers – that is, they have either stripped, prostituted or done some job that falls under the “sex work” umbrella, if not a number of jobs involving erotica. The clinic also services the immediate families and primary sexual partners of sex workers. St. James is the only for-sex workers, by-sex workers free health clinic in the country.

But the clinic is moving, and its staff is not sure where. The SoMa building it has been in for the past 13 years of its 16-year-history is up for sale, and a new lease will not be granted. Moving an operation like St. James is a sensitive undertaking, one that poses big problems for the clinic, according to executive director Stephany Ashley.

“Across the city right now, private landlords are not too motivated to rent to non-profits,” Ashley said. “The real estate market right now is money, and most property owners that own commercial spaces in San Francisco are trying to see how much money they can make. Renting to a peer-based clinic that provides social support services for a community in poverty is not gonna make them a lot of money.”

The move also has St. James’ staff worried about client trepidation. Ashley said that’s because some of the clinic’s current visitors might not go to St. James if it moves to a different neighborhood.

“Here, we are right equidistant from Sixth Street and 16th Street,” Ashley said. “If you think about those two corridors, there’s a lot of folks that would access our services there. And this is a space that is accessible from those places. It’s close enough that you could walk here in 10 minutes, but also kind of far enough to where you could get a bit of distance from some of that.”

Dr. Pratima Gupta is St. James’ medical director. She started volunteering at the clinic while doing a fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco in 2005. Two years later, she stepped into the clinic’s medical director role, which is also a volunteer position. Dr. Gupta echoed Ashley’s unease about the move.

“In terms of our clients and the participants who receive our services, we’re seeing concern about the safety of some of the places we’re looking at,” Gupta said.

Proposed locations include spaces in the Tenderloin and Mid-Market neighborhoods, both of which have reputations, earned or unearned, for being dangerous. Neighborhood safety concerns could mean increased police presence around the clinic, which is bad news for many sex workers. According to Gupta, overinvolvement with police could jeopardize the safe-space atmosphere St. James wants for its patients.

“We strive to provide non-judgmental healthcare for sex workers and their families,” Gupta said.  “For somebody to fear coming to our clinic because they fear persecution due to our proximity to law enforcement would really be a detriment and completely go against our mission.”

Law enforcement’s interest in St. James’ operations may seem like a given. After all, prostitution is illegal in San Francisco. It’s also one of a number of jobs that can qualify a man or woman for St. James’ services.

Tony Flores is an inspector sergeant with the San Francisco Police Department. The 33-year SFPD veteran is currently assigned to the human trafficking division of the department’s Special Victims Unit, where he mostly focuses on commercial sex and forced labor. Flores said having institutions like St. James actually makes his job easier, but not necessarily in making arrests.

“We focus on victims and victimologies and having victims taken care of,” Flores said. “The only way we can do this is by understanding the victim’s needs. This is where (St. James) and all the other NGOS and non-governmental agencies or victims services will actually assist us in getting those victims their wants and needs.”

Both Ashley and Flores said they have recently sat on community panels together, discussing ways to better serve the sex worker community. Flores said he isn’t a stranger to working with sex worker advocacy groups in an effort to better the lives of what he views as an exploited demographic. The Standing Against Global Exploitation Project was a San Francisco nonprofit the department worked with closely. The organization has since folded, and Flores said losing SAGE meant the department had lost “some really good advocates,”  and he doesn’t want to see the same fate for St. James.

As for its medical offerings, Gupta said St. James is no different than any other health clinic. According to her, St. James’ peer-based approach to serving sex workers is really the only thing that makes it unique.

“We do offer HIV and STI testing like any other clinic,” Gupta said. “But the rate of STIs that we are picking up are equivalent to other (demographics). They’re not any higher”

They treat people for coughs, colds, rashes and high blood pressure. St James offers free therapy and case management on Monday mornings, and hosts needle exchanges every Tuesday afternoon. These scheduled events appear on St. James’ online schedule well through the clinic’s projected early January move-out date, underlining an intent to being on call for a community in need.

The clinic is both publicly and privately funded. St. James gets over $250,000 annually through various contracts it has with the City of San Francisco, according to Ashley. Private donors also help fund the clinic’s operations. Ashley said those private donations have increased since news of St. James’ displacement became public in October.

“We hit our $25,000 mark in three days,” Ashley said, referring to a recently-launched GoFundMe campaign. “I was surprised by how quickly it happened. But I was also surprised by the reach of it.”

Ashley said a lot donations came in from people who she had never heard of before, people who don’t have any direct connection to St. James or the sex industry that she knows of. Other names, she said, were more familiar.

“We got a lot of messages saying, ‘Oh my gosh, one time St. James really saved my ass. Thank you so much, and here’s $100. Hope you land on your feet,’” Ashley said. “I think there are a lot of people who are just tired of hearing that things are closing and were like, ‘Alright. Let’s rally. Let’s keep something here. These services are important.’”

When Preparation Becomes Risk

Michael Slater, 27, presents his Truvada pill – a medication that prevents HIV by 99 percent. Photos by Martin Bustamante

By Carlos Mendoza

Two and a half years ago Michael Slater, a 26-year-old homosexual, received the worst news of his life. While supporting a friend who was afraid that he was exposed to human immunodeficiency virus, Slater decided to get tested too. When he received the results Slater had tested positive for HIV. Living with the results for an agonizing week before hearing word that it was a false positive left him speechless.

Shortly after, Slater’s father introduced him to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, otherwise known as PrEP. PrEP is a new HIV prevention medication, that, if taken daily, can have a 99 percent protection rate. After being sexually active for 13 years with men, and occasionally engaging in condomless, “bareback” sex, Slater took initiative and asked a doctor about PrEP.

In the handful of times Slater has participated in unprotected sex since he started taking PrEP his mind was more at ease.

[pullquote]”People finally feel safe when having sex for the first time in their life.” – Dr. Robert Grant [/pullquote]

“The few times that I’ve had bareback sex and said ‘fuck it’ this is something that I want to do right now, yeah there is a lot of comfort, it is like I am wearing a condom already,” Slater said.

The active drug in PrEP, Truvada, has stirred a cultural shift on the gay community on both sexual protection methods and condomless sex, according to Slater.

Knowing that a social stigma of promiscuity is attached to being on PrEP is apparent to Slater, but HIV is something that people don’t want to talk about whether you are practicing safe sex or not.

“Is it worth some people thinking that maybe you’re a little irresponsible about it, or very irresponsible about it, fine,” Slater said. “But if it means you are protecting yourself and making good choices so be it.”

Michael Slater, 27, in his bedroom Tuesday Nov. 17, 2015. Photo by Martin Bustamante
Michael Slater sits on his bed for a portrait.

This medication could not have been possible without the efforts made by Dr. Robert Grant, a UCSF professor of medicine and senior investigator at the Gladstone Institutes.

Dubbed the “father of PrEP,” Grant used Truvada very early on when it was just used for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP, a pill in which you take after exposure to HIV. This led to a large study on Truvada for pre-exposure usage.

From 2007 to 2009 Grant conducted a large study on Truvada, which included 2,499 high risk men throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America and North America taking either a placebo drug or Truvada.

After four stressful years of observation, Grant and his team at Bridge HIV, a clinical trials unit, discovered that Truvada showed a 44 percent reduction in risk of HIV, according to operations director Aliza Norwood. This was a groundbreaking discovery for HIV awareness prevention, according to Grant.

“People finally feel safe when having sex for the first time in their life,” he said.

In 2012 Truvada was approved for PrEP and places like Bridge HIV, along with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, are responsible for furthering knowledge on prevention care.

“It is so important to do this research because it is providing an avenue to provide the drug to people,” Norwood said. “That’s what gets it approved, that’s what gets insurances to pay for it and that’s what gets people access to it.”

Approved for all genders and sexual orientations, but it is highly encouraged for high risk males (men who have sex with men) and transgendered women, according to Norwood. Anyone who has had condomless anal intercourse once in the last six months, exposed to erectile STI’s in the last year or has had sex with two partners in the last six months is strongly encouraged to begin PrEP.

“The people here have been so active and asking for it, asking for research, asking for treatment and asking for PrEP,” Norwood said.

This fairly new medication is on the rise within the local gay community, but the number of people taking action and using this drug is low, according to Norwood.

“In San Francisco, where PrEP knowledge is way higher than most places, most people or a lot more people, are on PrEP than other places,” Norwood said. “Still we are only meeting a third who are on PrEP, so about two-thirds of people who should be on PrEP are not.”

To qualify for a prescription people have to go through quarterly HIV/STI screening tests, urine tests and blood level checks for blood count and kidney function, according to Norwood.

Side effects begin fairly early in what Norwood calls the “startup syndrome.” Nausea, vomiting and kidney problems may occur, but fades within the first month according to Norwood. Kidney monitoring is important for everyone who is on the medication, and if problems arise the medication has to be stopped.

The graph shows the numbers of people in San Francisco who have contracted HIV from the years 2006 to 2014. The number of men who have sex with men, transfemale and females with HIV have lowered due to advancements made with HIV prevention medication.
The graph shows the numbers of people in San Francisco who have contracted HIV from the years 2006 to 2014. The number of men who have sex with men, transfemale and females with HIV have lowered due to advancements made with HIV prevention medication.

Taking PrEP has proven effective, and if taken every day it has a 99 percent reduction in risk according to Norwood. If days are missed taking four to five pills a week would provide 96 percent reduction in risk. Despite the drug’s effectiveness, taking PrEP should not be the only means of protection when people are engaging in sexual intercourse, according to Norwood.

“PrEP should not take the place of condoms,” Norwood said. “Look at this as a tool box, you have all of these different ways of protecting yourself from HIV and this is an additional way, it can be extra prevention.”

For Matt Bradley, a 28-year-old homosexual, safe sex is important, and using both the medication and condoms is the number one method for preventing HIV and other STI’s.

“It’s not worth just doing PrEP, and then waking up and all of a sudden you have something awful going on down there,” Bradley said.

Bradley believes that the naysayers discouraging condoms and engaging in condomless sex in an effort to preserve the romance are wrong.

“If you need to fuck bareback in order to have romantic or passionate sex, then you don’t know what you are doing. You are not doing it right,” Bradley said.

The social stigma from being on PrEP does not affect Bradley, but it does have an effect on his sexual partners.

“I feel more pressure that declaring my status on PrEP from other guys means that they expect that I am going to have unprotected sex with them,” Bradley said. “I feel like that is a bigger problem.”

Overall, Bradley acknowledges the good that PrEP has provided to the gay community in San Francisco regardless of stigmas, and encourages others to get medicated too.

“I feel like every man who is physically able to take it, should be taking it,” Bradley said. “Because we have a chance of eradicating HIV.”

Instead of looking at the downside to PrEP, Norwood is looking at the positive aspect and is hopeful for the future.

“This is an epidemic and we need to treat this epidemic,” Norwood said.

Between the Old and New School

Photographs and story by Alex Kofman

Coffee shops, bars and restaurants are typically places people have in mind when considering where to meet their friends. They want a place where they can all come together to catch up, share a few stories, and spill the latest gossip. The barbershop, just like these other institutions has served as a communal gathering spot for decades, especially for ethnic communities who historically turned to the barbershop as a place to collectively converse.Two barbershops in particular, Chicago’s and Sperow Hair Gallery, have maintained their own unique styles over the years and continue to be popular amongst barbershop enthusiasts.

Chicago’s barbershop, originally a sister of a three-shop franchise that began in the 40’s, is located in the Western Addition. Although Chicago’s has been around much longer than a majority of San Francisco barbershops, the barbers working there take a more new school approach to cutting hair and keep up with the trends that are constantly changing. 26-year-old Eshawn Scranton, a barber from Chicago’s, has been cutting hair for four years and has witnessed a huge transformation in not only haircut styles but barbershop culture.

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“When I was in Barber College, shorter hairstyles were in style,” Scranton said. “It was really cool to have a dark Caesar, or a taper or a bald fade and then the longer hairstyles came into effect so I had to learn a lot about the different textures of hair and how to do a lot of styling like comb overs and switchbacks and pompadours so there was a lot that had changed from when I first got into the barber game. I would also say there was a change in the industry. It’s a lot trendier now.”

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In the Outer Sunset District is Sperow Hair Gallery, first opened in 1973 by owner and barber of 45 years, Anthony “Tony” James Sperow. When walking through the front door of Sperow Hair Gallery, your eyes are greeted by a mishmash of vintage collectibles. Walls of posters, photos of Sperow and his clients, stacks of marvel comic books from the 60’s and a large wooden cabinet full of odds and ends collected over the years fill the space. Although his barbershop only has one chair, it is almost always filled by a client from the time he opens shop until closing. Sperow is not your average barber. At 84 years old, he has seen the evolution of the barbershop and barbershop culture over the years, but continues to cut hair the same way he did back in 1951. Tony’s “old school” approach to cutting hair differs greatly from the styles of more “up to date” shops. He likes to keep his hair cuts simple, but appreciates the trends that other barbers are implementing.

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“There’s a lot of different barbers, there’s a lot of classic barbers. These new barbers today, they cut beautiful hair, they cut a lot of lines in your hair, they put X’s and O’s, they put their names in it, and I just give a good old fashion hair cut.,” Sperow said.

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Although Sperow and Scranton’s styles of cutting hair differ from each other, they both view the barbershop in the same light; as a community and haven for people to gather and enjoy each other’s conversation and presence without the disturbance of the outside world.

“Being a barber means salvation to me,” Sperow said. “Meeting and talking to people is the most satisfying thing about being a barber.”

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A Slice of Sports with Liz Carranza: I Got Love for Woodson

liz_1Photo by Martin Bustamante

 

By Liz Caranza

As I walked up the ramp, the smell of steak and bacon wrapped hot dogs filled the air as a sea of silver and black cheered “Raiders!” I couldn’t stop smiling because, after a year, I was finally reunited with my Raider Nation family. I was finally home.

I could not wait to get inside the stadium to watch my team play against our AFC West division rival the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, and, most importantly, watch my favorite Oakland Raiders player of all-time dominate the field.

It was a second-and-tenth play and the Chiefs had the ball on the Raiders’ 42-yard line. The game was tied 7-7 with only 1:09 left in the second quarter. The coliseum was packed and the “Raiders!” chant filled the coliseum.

The Chiefs’ quarterback, Alex Smith, threw a quick pass to Travis Kelce. Kelce spun his way through defenders, and, at this point, I clasped my hands together because I knew he had the ability to reach our end zone. Then, Kelce was brought down by Raiders’ safety Nate Allen at the Raiders’ 25-yard line. It is here where everyone in the coliseum went wild.

Running down the sideline with the football is a black jersey with the number 24 in silver and the name WOODSON on the back. Raiders’ safety Charles Woodson made history once again, and I witnessed it.

The 39-year-old veteran, for the first time in his 18-year NFL career, recovered two defensive fumbles in one game. Woodson also appeared in his 250th career regular season game, which is the most of any active defensive player and is tied with former Raiders’ kicker Shane Lechler for the fourth among all active players in the league.

As the game came to an end with us blowing our lead for a 34-20 loss, I sat in my seat and waited for the line to exit the coliseum to shorten. At that moment I recalled a date that is forever stuck in my memory: April 18, 1998. I was 4-years-old. I remember sitting down on the couch with my fingers wrapped around the handles of my pink sippy cup next to my dad and older brother. I was a tad bit confused of why they were cheering so loudly and high fiving each other.

There’s three reasons why I remember this day so clearly. One, my mom took a picture of the three of us sitting on the couch geared up in Raiders’ attire. Two, my mom loves to pull out the picture from the family photo albums to laugh at how I had an “annoyed-with-the-world” facial expression. Three, and the most important reason why, it was the day of the 1998 NFL Draft where Woodson was drafted as the fourth overall pick by the Raiders.

So why is all of this relevant? This is pretty much when I started to follow Woodson’s career.

I’ve seen him improve over the years, and seen him become a leader for our defense. It’s football plays such as Woodson’s two interceptions off Manning in week five of this season where he made NFL history that make me love football and Woodson even more. I witnessed, for the first time in NFL history, a 39-year-old defensive back intercept a 39-year-old quarterback. If you sit down and think about it, it’s pretty insane that it took Woodson 18 years to read Manning’s moves to finally pick him off.

Even though Sunday’s loss left a bitter taste in my mouth because we completely blew any chance we had of making a playoff run, I witnessed Woodson add another accomplishment to his Hall of Fame career.

Woodson has truly committed to one of the Raiders’ slogans, “Commitment to Excellence,” that not many players who have worn the Silver and Black uniform have done. His passion and commitment to the Raiders’ organization is a big reason why I respect and love him so much. Thanks Mr. Charles Woodson for everything you have done for the Raiders’ organization. You will always be a part of the Raider Nation until you decide to leave the game, and you will always remain one of my favorite players of all-time.

The Manhattanization of San Francisco Package

Photograph by photoeverywhere / stockarch.com via Creative Commons

 

By Xpress Magazine Staff

This news package explores the many faucets in which the City of San Francisco is growing due to an economic boom and population increase.

 

BUILDING UPWARD

The main bar story for this package explores how San Francisco is growing taller, while possibly neglecting its neighborhood charm.

TRANSPORTATION

San Francisco is expanding its transportation options in the upcoming years.

THE MUSUEM OF MODERN ART

With the opening of the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco will house the largest collection of Modern Art in North America

INFRASTRUCTURE

This story explores how San Francisco’s infrastructure is growing due to the population increase.

SF TO NYC COMPARISON

Is San Francisco really becoming like its older sibling? This story compares the growth of New York City in the 1920’s to the San Francisco of today.

Hotel of a Different Feather

Birgit Soyka, owner of the San Francisco Bird Hotel, kisses Amy, one of the hotel’s guests. Photographs by James Chan

 

By Jenna Van De Ryt

When entering the San Francisco Bird Hotel, the first thing to hit you is an unexpected wave of madness-like volume palpitating your eardrums. The echoing of calls, mixed with the repetitive off-keyed songs of exotic birds, colored the hotel. The constant beating of wings against each bird’s chest produced a low pitched thunder that served as a bass note within the chaotic tune the birds created. Cages of different sizes and colors, named after prominent wonders of the world, lined the walls of the bird hotel.

The San Francisco Bird Hotel was established in 2006 out of the home of bird owner, Birgit Soyka, in San Francisco’s Sunset District. Soyka, a tall, gentle spoken, middle aged woman holds two passions in her heart: birds and motorcycles. Her blue eyes continually flickered when she spoke about her love for birds and her journey of building the bird hotel.

“I went for it,” Soyka said.

The bird-lover attests that she had a very adventurous life before opening the hotel. Soyka said she could have never fathomed ending up in a business where she had to live permanently, but her love of birds convinced her to give up the nomad lifestyle.

“This is kind of like settling down,” Soyka said. “I cannot go on vacation right now, that’s for sure.”

Soyka, a native of Germany, found herself transferred to San Francisco from Miami for work in 2004 and quickly needed to find a permanent home for her three beloved Amazon birds. At the time, The Caged Inn was San Francisco’s only bird-friendly boarding service. The Inn was run out of a woman’s home in Noe Valley. Between 2004 and 2006, Soyka’s feathered companions comfortably resided in the Noe Valley shelter until the inn’s owner fell ill and needed to close down her bird hotel. Soyka informed the inn owner that she would like to take her business over.

Kelsey Placek stands aside Diamond, a Blue and Gold Macaw, at the San Francisco Bird hotel. (James Chan/Xpress)
Kelsey Placek stands aside Diamond, a Blue and Gold Macaw.

The Caged Inn’s owner immediately gave Soyka 10 of her customers, along with her extra bird cages. Soyka began constructing the early stages of her soon-to-be bird hotel. She began posting flyers throughout the city, advertising that she would take in birds.

In October of 2009 Soyka, a full-time director of global accounts in San Francisco, was laid off. She later decided to quit completely.

“That was the happiest day of my life,” Soyka said. “The bird hotel was at the cusp of either being a hobby or a business.”

By 2013, Soyka got rid of all of her home furniture and added more cages to furnish the space.
“By the end, there was only a bedroom and a bathroom that were bird-free,” Soyka said. “Even the kitchen had birds. I had a breakfast area that was filled with only birds.”

Throughout the year, Soyka watched her hotel flock grow to be larger than her home allowed.

“It was a neighborhood,” Soyka said. “You cannot do that sort of thing here.”

After eight years of her personal home serving as a temporary bird hotel, Soyka could not believe how many bird owners came to drop off their beloved, exotic pets. She soon realized that the size and location of her transformed home-to-hotel space was no longer fitting. She found herself at a crossroads of either closing the hotel completely, keeping the guest occupancy at a smaller number or putting everything she had into the business.

Soyka flew her old coup in January of last year and signed the papers on a new unit on the corner of Utah Street in South San Francisco that would serve as a more comfortable nest for the San Francisco Bird Hotel. Birds flocked from throughout the Bay Area to stay at the new 5,400 square foot location and, in December alone, the hotel housed 95 birds.

The San Francisco Bird Hotel now serves customers from Marin County to Gilroy, with more than 780 bookings in 2015 so far.

San Francisco resident Lindsey O’Connor has brought her cockatiel, Pearl, to the bird hotel several times.

“They treat their guests as individuals and really cater to their needs and personalities,” O’Connor said.

Lily, a cockatoo, sits on Birgit Soyka's hand in the San Francisco Bird hotel Wed November 4. (James Chan/Xpress)
Brigit Soyka presents Lily, a cockatoo and guest of the hotel.

Soyka said the cage amenities are not the only perks of booking at the San Francisco Bird Hotel. Guests are able to customize their daily meal plans and enjoy the hotel’s entertainment program.

The hotel’s entertainment program includes listening to music, dancing and participating in “flight hour” for guests to stretch their wings.

“We let the birds out in the play area to hangout and listen to music,” Soyka said. “They all have rhythm and a feeling for music.”

As soon as the radio settled on a clear station, Green Day’s “American Idiot” blared through the hotel speakers, and the dance party was on. Birds were shimmying, bouncing, poorly twerking and squawking along to the catchy lyrics of the 2004 punk rock single.

A white cockatoo named Triton wowed the crowd of other bird guests when his yellow mohawk flared up as he headbanged to the high-energy song.

Dancing isn’t the only party trick Triton can impress on fellow bird hotel guests. As an avid talker, the cockatoo repeatedly shouts, “go get me a beer, go get me a beer,” to anyone who walks or flies by.

Cheryl Tamburri brought Lelilani, her Umbrella Cockatoo, to the San Francisco Bird Hotel for a week-long stay in May. She said the search for a safe, bird-friendly care service while she vacationed was “traumatizing” until she found the bird hotel. The vacation seemed to be more nerve wracking for the owner rather than the animal.

“Like sending my kid off to camp for this first time, I probably called too much,” Tamburri said. “But I received daily 411’s plus pictures of my Cockatoo.”

This year has brought the bird hotel 788 bird bookings.

Soyka said her main business goals are to create a clean, roomy, beautiful space for birds, accompanied by trustworthy and reliable service. She believes she has been successful thus far in creating a bird paradise.

“Some birds don’t want to go home after their stay, they won’t get out of their cage,” Soyka said.

Cafe serves up Lifelong Lessons

Jeremiah Rushing, bartender at Old Skool Cafe, a violence prevention program that provides employment and restaurant skills to youth ages 16-22, pours beer for customers. Photographs by Emma Chiang

 

By Ashley Goldsmith

Auzhanne Starks was one of the last remaining passengers on the 24-Divisadero bus as it pulled up to its final stop in the Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood. When she stepped off of the vehicle, the cacophony of the neighborhood was a change from the solitude of the nearly empty bus. Starks zig-zagged through the groups of shouting people like a pinball. A group of men tossed quarters against a bright blue wall and the coins let out a ding every time they hit the cement.  Once she reached the iron gate at the entrance of Old Skool Cafe, Starks pressed a gold fingernail against the doorbell. She entered the building, closed the door behind her and stopped for a moment. She let out a sigh as she wrapped her neon green earbuds around her phone. Starks has been working on finding a balance between the chaotic world outside of this cafe and the calm and focus she has found inside.

Over the past year, Starks, 17, has been redirecting the course of her life. She explained that in the past she “lived a troubled lifestyle.” She was known for fighting, having a bad attitude and, what she shyly described as, “getting involved with gang violence.” She said her behavior made for long days, making it difficult to go to school in the morning, so she would skip class. She said getting to school wasn’t a priority when she was thinking about money and survival, because her family wasn’t helping.

Starks now lives with her mother but was previously in foster care. She is working toward graduating high school and has plans of opening a hospice care center. This process has been possible through job training and therapeutic services at Old Skool Cafe, located near the corner of Third Street and Palou Avenue in the Bayview, where she works as a hostess and busser.

“I’m tired of looking for my next meal, not knowing where I’m going next and always thinking of survival,” Starks said. “I want to get to the next level, plan my life and get away from bad people. I’m trying to be the little engine that could.”

  • Youth employed at Old Skool Cafe, a faith-based violence prevention program that provides employment and restaurant skills to youth ages 16-22, say a blessing over their dinner service Thursday Nov. 5, 2015. Old Skool Cafe is located in the Bayview Hunter's Point neighborhood of San Francisco. Photo by Emma Chiang
    Youth employed at Old Skool Cafe say a blessing over their dinner service.
  • Youth employed at Old Skool Cafe, a faith-based violence prevention program that provides employment and restaurant skills to youth ages 16-22, serve dinner Thursday Nov. 5, 2015. Old Skool Cafe is located in the Bayview Hunter's Point neighborhood of San Francisco. Photo by Emma Chiang
    The exterior of Old Skool Cafe
  • Keyoma Baker, line cook at Old Skool Cafe, a faith-based violence prevention program that provides employment and restaurant skills to youth ages 16-22, torches three macaroni and cheese dishes with the help of the head chef, Nicholas Li, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. Photo by Emma Chiang
    Keyoma Baker, line cook at Old Skool Cafe, torches three macaroni and cheese dishes with the help of the head chef, Nicholas Li.
  • Chief Kevin Tucker and a youth prepare the kale salad, a popular dish at Old Skool Cafe, a faith-based, violence prevention program that provides employment and restaurant skills to youth ages 16-22, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. Photo by Emma Chiang
    Chief Kevin Tucker (left) helps prepare a kale salad, a popular dish at Old Skool Cafe.
  • Richard Springfield, a former youth staff at Old Skool Cafe, a faith-based, violence prevention program that provides employment and restaurant skills to youth ages 16-22, poses for a portrait in a booth Wednesday Nov. 11, 2015.  Photo by Emma Chiang
    Richard Springfield, a former youth staff at Old Skool Cafe poses for a portrait in a booth.
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    Youth staff at Old Skool Cafe eat dinner together as part of their training each week.
  • Youth staff at Old Skool Cafe, a faith-based, violence prevention program that provides employment and restaurant skills to youth ages 16-22, prepare dishes for a private event Saturday Nov. 14, 2015. Photo by Emma Chiang
    Danny Armenta, line cook, prepares dishes for a private event Saturday Nov. 14, 2015. Photo by Emma Chiang
  • Fried chicken at Old Skool Cafe, a faith-based, violence prevention program that provides employment and restaurant skills to youth ages 16-22. Old Skool Cafe is located in the Bayview Hunter's Point neighborhood of San Francisco, open Thursday-Saturday. Photo by Emma Chiang
    An arranged plate of fried chicken sits on a table at Old Skool Cafe.

Starks’ case worker at Seneca, a juvenile justice and probation program in Oakland, suggested she apply to the program at Old Skool. Once she was accepted, she started going to school more. During a career class at her high school, she met people who worked in hospice care. After learning what they did, she thought “I could do that.” That was when she started to set goals for herself.

Old Skool Cafe doubles as a youth-run supper club and violence prevention program for at-risk young people between the ages of 16 and 22. Students who enroll in the program at Old Skool partake in a 10-week training program where they learn all of the positions in a restaurant as a way to develop employable skills. At the same time, they work with life coaches, adult staff and community members to help guide them through obstacles they have faced in their lives.

The non profit organization was started by Teresa Goines, a former corrections officer, in 2004. Goines said that while working with incarcerated young men in jails she was tough during the day but on the drive home from work she would cry.

“I was always so affected by how many young people didn’t expect to live past their 18th birthday,” said Goines, who is called “Mamma T” by many of the students at Old Skool. “These kids should be playing baseball and going to the prom.”

She found many young men would be released from prison only to find themselves back a few months later. Determined to help break the cycle, Goines asked the young men she worked with what they needed and how she could find a lifelong solution that would compete with what the streets had to offer, but in a positive way. She learned that gangs offer a sense of family and a job, the two things that these young men considered important for survival and she set out to create that for them.

Students who join the program at Old Skool face a variety of struggles. Some are on probation or are in and out of foster care. Others may have a parent on drugs or in jail, or experience abuse at home.

Old Skool Cafe’s operation started small. It was initially a catering company and pop-up restaurant out of Goines’ apartment in Potrero Hill. It later expanded into a permanent space in the Bayview in 2012. At the time, Goines was living there and working with many kids who lived in the neighborhood. When the space was offered to her, she thought it would be the perfect location.

“The Bayview is a diamond in the rough,” said Romayn Williams, a manager leader at Old Skool. Williams’ family has been in the neighborhood for several generations. “It’s hard to see that when you see gangs and drugs around you and it’s always loud, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. This is my home.”

Over the weekend, Old Skool Cafe exists as a supper club with live music, comfort food and decor inspired by the Harlem Renaissance. During the week, it is more than just a job to the youth who are part of the program there. It’s a home, a classroom and most importantly, it provides hope.

The students, current and former, were reluctant to share details of their past but were eager to talk about their plans for the future.

Jeremiah Rushing is one of the students who is excited about what’s to come. Rushing, 22, is the restaurant’s bartender. He has been part of the program at Old Skool for three years and is now studying sociology at  City College of San Francisco.

Rushing wore the standard uniform for male front-of-house staff at Old Skool: a red button-down shirt and a pair of black slacks. An undone bowtie hung around his neck. He said he hopes studying sociology will help him aid underprivileged kids in the same way that Old Skool helped him.

“It’s pretty rough being alone with no guidance,” Rushing said. “I want to try to give back what wasn’t given to me. It feels good when you see someone else do good.”

Rushing said school has never been easy for him. As a kid, he was in and out of foster care because of abuse at home and was bullied at school. He’d often go to class but sneak out shortly after arriving. Rushing said the abuse was too much for him to handle at such a young age. He was arrested six times between the ages of 14 and 19.

Keyoma Baker, line cook at Old Skool Cafe, a prevention program that provides employment and restaurant skills to youth ages 16-22, marinates raw chicken for a main dish in the kitchen Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. Photo by Emma Chiang
Keyoma Baker, line cook marinates raw chicken for a main dish.

After seeing the disappointment in his father’s face at a probation hearing, Rushing decided he wanted to change. His probation officer recommended he apply to the program at Old Skool.

Initially, Rushing struggled with the tests given during training but eventually passed them. He then received his food handler’s certification, graduated from the program and is now someone who many of the young staff members look up to.

Starks described Rushing as someone who is like a “goofy big brother” to her. She explained that Old Skool is like a family and that going to work there is like going home. Her face lit up, a big smile highlighted the full cheeks of her young face when she talked about her new family.

“We help one another,” Starks said. “Then there’s moments where you can’t stand them but then you love them at the same time because at the end of the day you know that you have this connection with them. That connection feels strong and it won’t go away because you’re family.”

According to Goines, Old Skool’s main goal is to teach kids their self-worth through encouragement and positive reinforcement, while maintaining a strict set of rules.

A laminated sheet of paper that states the cafe’s code of conduct hangs in the server station. The page lists behavior that could terminate employment such as using profanity, being violent or promoting any gang affiliations. Outside of work, the students who are in high school are required to attend classes every day. The program is designed around their school schedules so they have a balance between work and school, which keeps the students busy enough to stay out of trouble.

“I’m proud that I’m actually doing something positive in my life because at first, I wasn’t even going to school,” Starks said. “In order to be at this job, you have to go to school. So now, I’m doing two positive things instead of just one.”

Richard Springfield, 23, is enrolled at San Francisco State University as a business major with entrepreneurial dreams. He was a cook at Old Skool for over two years thanks to the recommendation of a friend.

“I left here with a new persona. The way I approach people and my attitude is completely different,” Springfield said. “I learned that we’re all equal and to love everyone and to respect people more. I learned how to be more understanding of other people instead of always being mad at everyone.”

Once at Old Skool, many of the students begin to filter out the bad influences in their lives and learn how to choose their friends more wisely, Goines said.  By doing that, a new set of challenges presents itself. Starks finds it difficult to live amongst her old friends, who she feels are not interested in changing like she has, but is unsure how she can find good friends.

“At first my old friends asked me to put them on with a job here and I told them that I would, but I didn’t,” Starks said. “At the end of the day, I’m trying to get away from you so why would I bring you somewhere that I work? I know that people change, but you know when somebody wants to change. I want to be around people who have the same goals as me, but it seems like it’s really hard to find.”

Others said that it can be difficult to maintain their progress when they don’t see big results happening quickly enough.

“The biggest challenge for me is not going backward,” said Cherelle Lavender, a 21-year-old lead cook at the cafe. “Sometimes it feels like everytime I take five steps forward, I take two steps back. I save my money and hope that I’ll be able to go to college soon, but I’m proud that I’ve made it this far. ”

Lavender has become well-known at Old Skool for her signature lavender cheesecake. Lately she has been focused on saving her money so she can potentially pursue a culinary degree. She started at Old Skool when it was a catering company in Goines’ home, and helped renovate the current space into what it is today. She splits time between San Francisco and Antioch where she cares for her younger brother who has Down syndrome.

There have been a few students who struggled in the program according to Lisa Litsey, managing director at Old Skool. She said one young woman got fired for her attitude and for not following the rules. After she was fired at another job for the same reasons, she returned to Old Skool with a different mindset.

“She came back and said, ‘Thank you, I really understand now and I see what the problem was before,’” Litsey said. “It may not look like traditional success, but the fact that the kids stay in relationship with us is one of our biggest goals. We want them to learn what it means to have a second chance. They need to know that it’s possible.”

Rushing chalked up much of his success to the support he’s received at Old Skool. He said that when you constantly hear you’re worthy of a better life, you start to believe it.

“I’m so inspired, just so inspired by everyone and everything,” said Rushing, smiling and pumping his fists as though he’d won the lottery. “Everyone here is just so nice. I didn’t get it at first, I just kept wondering why everyone was being so nice to me for no reason.”

SF Neighborhood looks to provide youth services

Monique Hosein speaks at the community town hall meeting at John O’connell High School. Photography by Angelica Williams

By Jasmine Williams

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos paced the auditorium of the Mission District’s John O’Connell High School on a chilly mid-November evening.  He looked pleased at the turnout for that night’s town hall meeting. A crowd of about 100 people consisted of teachers, parents, students, volunteers and nonprofit representatives amongst other community members gathered that night to discuss a new initiative called Roadmap to Peace.

The deaths of six Latino youth in a five-week period in 2012 sparked a combination of vigils, marches and town hall meetings led by community members that birthed the idea for the initiative. Roadmap to Peace, commonly referred to as RTP, was created to  help protect local youth from violence in the area.

“The community just grew tired of burying our kids,” said Angela Castillo, RTP’s community builder. “They figured that we need to figure out a more effective solution to keeping our kids safe.”

RTP plans to offer on-demand services such as tattoo removal, drug and alcohol support,  job training, vocational training, tutoring and emotional support services for youth in need across the city. Through a referral system, RTP will take in qualified youth and direct them to partners best suited to help each individual’s situation. Qualifications for the program include being a Latino between the ages of 13 and 24, having ties to San Francisco, and violence having some sort of effect on the quality of their life.

Justice Castaneda, who was a member of the steering committee for the initiative for two years, said Latino youth face unfair persecution by police, disproportionate punishment in the education system and unequal access to resources. He believes RTP is a necessary step toward addressing these very real issues affecting Latino youth in San Francisco and across the country.

“Essentially, we are wrapping around individuals who are enveloped in excruciating pain,” Castaneda said. “Everything we do will be responding to real situations.”

Alfonso Nevarez, speaks at the community city hall meeting at John O’connell High School on Thursday, November 12, 2015. (Angelica Williams/Xpress)
Alfonso Nevarez speaks at the community city hall meeting.

The experimental initiative stems from Instituto Familiar De La Raza Inc., a social service agency with an emphasis on serving the Latino community in San Francisco, particularly in the Mission District.

Campos hopes that through community involvement the initiative will thrive.

“When it comes to educating a child, it’s just like raising a child — it takes a village,” Campos said at the town hall meeting. “Just as it takes all of us to keep our community safe like we have, and now more than keeping it safe but actually bringing peace to our community.”

According to Campos, the civic action and community input over the last three years encouraged the city of San Francisco to pledge $3.2 million in September to support RTP.

Castillo believes that with the city’s money behind it, the program can really take advantage of what it is trying to achieve.

In the meantime, local nonprofits and other partners have made their services available to RTP. These partners include CARECEN, H.O.M.E.Y.,  Five Keys Charter School, Mission Peace Collaborative and Horizons Inc.

During the first year, RTP’s goal is to aid about 80 young people throughout the city, Castillo said, and eventually grow to help 500 young people a year.

Ultimately, Castillo hopes the initiative will be a pathway to resources that are either under maintained or don’t exist at all in the community.

“Sometimes we find that there is a lack of knowledge of what services are available in the community,” Castillo said. “So at the very least we want to spread awareness to the people of the community.”

To ensure the program provides “holistic healing,”  RTP is structurally based on spirituality, down-to-earth conversations as well as government-supported agencies to encapsulate youth with aid that speaks to them on a personal level.

To establish this approach, the initiative has placed culture and community at its core in order to saturate youth with resources.

“Culture has a way of building trust between people,” Castaneda said. “You need trust. And when you’re acknowledging differences in culture between people I think it’s necessary to acknowledge and use culture.”

A Yawn Worth Yelling make noise in local scene

Brayden Deskins (right) and Tyler Boyd (left), singers of the band A Yawn Worth Yelling, perform during their Play Pretend EP Party at Bottom of the Hill. Photos by Qing Huang

 

Story by Lupita Uribe

Infectious basslines thumped below warm vocal and guitar melodies, while drum beats begged for you to tap along to their off rhythms. The sound of Bay Area alternative rock band, A Yawn Worth Yelling, swiveled into the indie pop realm and brought a spot of sunshine into the oncoming winter with the release of their new EP, Play Pretend.

The four-piece group, sometimes six-piece when performing, features Brayden Deskins on guitar and backing vocals, Johanness Heine on bass, Tyler Boyd on lead vocals and guitar, and Taylor stover on drums in studio, but during live performances the band recruits Rober Tanali and Ryan Powell. Although the latter don’t take part in any of the writing or recording process, the band still considers them important components of A Yawn Worth Yelling. The core four have known each other since high school, having grown up in the San Jose area, and have released five records – two full lengths and three extended plays.

Their latest piece, Play Pretend, was a developmental process. A year in writing, and approximately 20 songs later, the band was able to produce a five-track record that contains what the band considers their best work yet.

“The era of the bad stuff was everything you’ve heard until now,” Boyd said half-jokingly as his band mates giggled in the background.

Boyd describes their first LP’s, Hieme Bellum, recording process as a phase where the band would write songs and record them as is. There was minimal refinement, according to Boyd.

“There were songs in there that I, as the drummer, had only practiced a couple of times, and we went into the studio,” Stover said. “There were songs I didn’t really remember my parts on, when I was in the studio. I sort of made the parts up.”

Brayden Deskins, singer of the band "A Yawn Worth Yelling," performs during "Play Pretend EP Party" at Bottom of the Hill, a club at 17th Street in San Francisco Sunday, Nov.15. (Qing Huang/Photo)
Brayden Deskins, singer of the band “A Yawn Worth Yelling,” performs during “Play Pretend EP Party” at Bottom of the Hill.

This process was hit or miss for the band. “Sometimes it turned out great,” Stover said, as he explained they’d done something similar on their first EP 1,000.  It turned out better than they expected, although he admits it wasn’t the best approach for their first LP.

“I would agree that was the ‘bad’ stage we needed to get out of our system, and thank god we did it early on,” Stover said.

Their previous work was all self-recorded, and not always planned, but Play Pretend was the result of a new approach. They had a set plan: to have five songs that worked well together, and bring in a producer to get an outsider perspective on their music.

The band had to ameliorate their sound a little more this time around. Since they were not self-recording, they no longer had the leisure of going through endless revisions and re-recording. Having a limited budget and only specific days allotted, four to be exact, in a studio demands a quicker process of polishing the sound, according to Stover.

“You have to refine quickly,” Stover said. “You have to be really smart about what you’re putting in the music and how much time you’re putting into everything.”

Having a producer this time around also made a difference in the creative process as well.

“You think you know what’s best, and you think you know what’s awesome just because you’re the one who did it, or you’re the one who came up with it, but then the producer will be the one to tell you, ‘no, that’s a shitty idea, don’t do that,’” Boyd said with a laugh.

Although there were times the producer blocked some ideas that the band was keen for, his expertise and instruments were overall beneficial and essential to the Play Pretend production process, according to the band.

“(His input) made a huge difference on the impact of the song,” Stover said. “Not to mention the gear, and his ability to record stuff really quick just saved us a lot of time and money, and made us sound better than we’ve been able to ever make ourselves sound.”

From left: Brayden Deskins, singer of the band " A Yawn Worth Yelling," Tyler Boyd, singer, and Taylor Stover, drummer, present their latest EP, "Play Pretend," at Bottom of the Hill, a club at 17th Street in San Francisco Sunday, Nov.15. (Qing Huang/Photo)
From left: Brayden Deskins, singer of the band A Yawn Worth Yelling, Tyler Boyd, singer, and Taylor Stover, drummer, present their latest EP, Play Pretend, at Bottom of the Hill.

Along with its release of Play Pretend, the band’s other big move this year was a literal one, to Los Angeles. They hope this move will help them break through in the industry a little more.

“We figure: it’s the jugular of the music industry, and we want to get our foot more in the door,” Deskins said.

Although they admit LA has a lot of opportunities, they don’t think the Bay Area is a bad scene to be in, just different. They also like the appeal that a lot of their favorite bands have broken through from LA.

“We figured if we got involved in the scene there, then we’ve got a good start, and we can probably forge a name for ourselves,” Deskins said. “If we can make a name for ourselves in LA, we can make a name for ourselves anywhere.”

Stover adds that the band was part of a publishing company that had all of their bands, including A Yawn Worth Yelling, play in LA for executives this past summer. Since then, the band has had many opportunities pop up, such as acquiring a manager with MIH Entertainment who is based out of LA.

After signing to MIH, they began to receive more opportunities, according to Deskins. Trips to Los Angeles became routine, and to avoid the constant commute, the band decided to give the city a chance.

“(There is) nothing wrong with the Bay Area at all,” Stover said. “We want that to still be our hometown, and we want to still have kick ass shows and all that.”

As for their plans for the future: schmoozing with the Kardashians. The band lives 5.4 miles away from the famous tv-family. “We can see it from where we live, and we are hoping to get an in with Kanye,” they said jokingly.

But in reality, they are set to play a few shows in the Bay Area and Southern California, as well as plans for videos and other social media content. They also hope to continue “campaigning” their latest release and becoming more established in music scene — in both Northern and Southern California.

“But mostly the Kanye thing,” Deskins said.