Archive for May, 2018

Manny’s, coming to 16th and Valencia

May 17th, 2018

Welcome To Manny’s
 

There’s a space at the corner of 16th and Valencia I walk past almost every day. For many years it was a sushi restaurant, which was eventually replaced by a different sushi restaurant and an ice cream bar.

Since the end of 2017 it’s been vacant with no signs of activity — until the other day, when a poster appeared in the window. I went to check it out, and it turned out to be a letter with a “Manny’s” logo stamped on it. The text of the letter appears almost verbatim on the website for Manny’s.

Reading the letter left me with more questions than answers; would this be an event space? A neighborhood bar? I wanted to know more. Thankfully the poster included an email address, so I reached out to Manny himself with a few questions on behalf of my little blogging operation.

Here’s full text of my email interview:
 

Eric: Tell us a little about yourself and what made you decide to focus on civic engagement in San Francisco?

Manny: I came to San Francisco after working on President Obama’s re-elect as an organizer in New Hampshire. San Francisco was the promised land for me – a California boy looking for a City with a thriving gay culture and healthy civic life. When I first arrived here I had no money, no place to live, and very few contacts but I had the most amazing first 6 months exploring the City, working as a temp, and meeting people who worked in SF politics. I fell in love with the City again. I had spent a summer here raising money for same-sex marriage as a street canvasser in 2010 and first fell in love with the City then. I found a job working with an immigration reform advocacy group right as comprehensive immigration reform was making it’s way through the U.S. Senate. Fast forward to after working on the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016 I found myself kind of lost. The result of the election shocked and saddened me but also gave me a new sense of drive and purpose. What was I going to do?

I quickly realized that I was living in a once in a generation moment of civic purpose, with so many people, especially young people, feeling called to get involved. Taking part in the first Women’s March and seeing the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets around the world inspired me. The decision to focus on civic engagement in San Francisco came out of the problem that was being presented to me by friends and colleagues in the City who wanted to know where they could go to get more involved and informed. There are some amazing organizations in the City that put on excellent programming in great spaces for folks to become more civically active and have been doing so for decades but I thought the idea of taking that programming and adding in a more neutral social component would help bring in all of the people who might be intimidated at first or not really consider themselves “political”.

Around that time a good friend of mine died tragically. He was 32. After Nico’s death I promised myself that I would not let the fear of failing at something stop me from trying because he would never get a chance to try again. With that guiding me I decided to really research what would be involved in building my own space. That was around February/March of last year and here I am!
 

Eric: The description on your website is a little overwhelming. What’s your plan for the space on the average day?

Manny: Noted. The space is divided into 2 sections – the social space and the programming space with a small civil rights themed bookstand/newstand in between. The social space will have continuous operation from 6:30 AM – 10:00 PM with breakfast, lunch, and dinner served. It’ll be a coffee shop during the day and offer good beer and wine at night with dinner. That space will be connected to but separate from the programming space.

During the day the programming space will feel like a lounge where folks can eat/drink, watch the news (TVs with the news will be playing continuously) and potentially there will be some programming during the day for kids and young adults. For the evening the idea is that every weeknight there will be some offering that is civic in nature, where it’s a talk, documentary screening, open-mic, organizing action night, or discussion. Most of the programming will be put on by other organizations who need good space to do their work or have their speakers speak. About a quarter of the programming will be organized by my staff. There is meant to be wide variety in the programming, just like movie theaters play lots of different kinds of movies, sports bars will have a few different kinds of games on, gyms will have different kinds of classes and machines, I want to built a center of gravity around civic engagement that will have something for everyone. There will likely be themed nights around the different ways folks might want to engage where it’s direct action, learning from speakers, consuming media + art, etc…
 

Eric: The space you’re moving into has had a lot of turnover in the past few years; do you have a secret plan to thrive in that location?

Manny: I think one of the main reasons that the space has had a lot of turnover is that the commercial space has an unsuccessful relationship with the street. It’s hard to know where the entrance is and it’s dark inside. I will be opening up the windows, making the entrances a lot clearer, brightening up the interior, and more directly engaging with the street traffic to welcome people in.

Also – commercial rents are at an all time high in San Francisco so staying alive is hard unless you drive up prices so high that only a certain class of people can participate in what you’re doing. I refuse to create a place like that. In addition to the revenue from the food and beverage my goal is to have a large community of individual sponsors from the City and beyond providing the grassroots funding needed to keep a space like this open and thriving. They will be sponsors and being a sponsor will come with a large set of benefits. I’ve been developing a community around the space for the past six months and will continue to do so for the next six months. I believe that this community will be the secret to the success of the space.
 

Eric: On your website you mention the need to move our discourse from the digital world to in person. Do you have any thoughts as to why personal interaction is important?

Manny: In my lifetime I have seen the move from in person to online civic discourse and I am in shock at how nasty people get online in ways I do not believe would occur in the course of an in person conversation. Because tone is not apparent in an online conversation sometime the worst or most accusatory tone is implied which can lead to defensive angry responses. We do not need the internet to have deep meaningful conversations with people who either agree or disagree with us.

When you interact with someone in person you are able to give many cues including body language and posture, eye contact, tone, speed and deliberateness of language, clear listening, deference, and respect. There are all very important in the course of a complex or even sensitive conversation and are all absent from a conversation online and so, more often than not, the conversation devolves.

This is sad because we desperately need these conversation to learn and grow. None of us has all the answers so we need to bounce questions and ideas of others to get closer to truth.

Stow Lake

May 14th, 2018

Stow Lake
 

Despite living in San Francisco for nearly fifteen years, somehow I never got around to renting a boat at Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake… until now.

Yesterday I rented a rowboat with a friend and we took it for a ride around the lake. Peddle boats of various sizes are also available, depending on the boat rental fees are around $20 to $40. The sign at the boathouse said these were “hourly” fees, but in practice nobody seemed to be keeping track of time, let alone looking too closely at tickets. It’s a pretty low-key operation.

The lake itself forms a ring around Strawberry Hill with a couple bridges going over the lake to the hill. The Huntington Falls waterfall built into the side of the hill feeds into the lake. A number of birds including ducks, geese, and herons have made this part of the park their home.

If you want to find the lake, from the Music Concourse it’s just up the hill from the Japanese Tea Garden. While it’s unintuitive to go uphill to reach a lake, according to SF Recs and Park the lake was built in 1893 “…for leisure boating, as a promenade for horse-drawn carriages, and as a reservoir for park irrigation.” (Emphasis mine.) In other words the lake acts as a water tower for the plants in the park.

 
Stow Lake is associated with an infamous local ghost story. Here’s the haunted tale as I understand it.

In Stow Lake’s early years a mother brought her baby to the lake in a stroller. She met another woman and they chatted at a bench. At some point when the mother wasn’t looking the stroller slid into the lake, sinking with the baby. Horrified after realizing her baby was missing, the mother ran around the lake asking if anyone had seen her baby. Failing in her search the mother drowned herself in the lake.

To this day the mother is supposedly spotted in a white dress in the dark of night near the lake.
 

While I’ve never seen any ghosts in Golden Gate Park, it can definitely feel unsettling at night. Most of the park isn’t well lit and the canopy of trees and thick fog make it difficult to find your way around.

Regardless as to whether you believe Stow Lake is haunted or not, it’s a fun story to tell while you’re rowing or peddling your way around the lake.

There’s now a Bitcoin ATM at the Metreon, because of course there is

May 9th, 2018

Bitcoin exchange machine
 

Recently a tipster informed me a Bitcoin ATM had appeared at the Metreon. Needless to say I had to check this out.

If you’re looking for the machine it’s near Cafe-X, the robot espresso machine, as well as a vending machine that somehow makes “gourmet” ramen. So in theory you could trade in your Bitcoin and use it to have a meal and coffee prepared entirely by robots!

Well okay, the above scenario isn’t entirely true since the Bitcoin ATM only converts Bitcoin to and from cash, which isn’t accepted by Cafe-X.

I thought I’d give the machine a spin but was immediately turned off by it. To identify yourself you need to insert a state ID or driver’s license, so this isn’t anonymous at all. What’s the point of buying a stolen yacht on the dark web if the transaction can be easily traced back to me?

But when I got home and looked at the ATM company’s website I found a second reason not to use it: transaction fees. To quote from the very last item on their help page:

We charge a 10% service fee for both buying and selling Bitcoin at our Kiosks.

In comparison online Bitcoin trading platforms only charge around 2%, so that’s a steep markup. Think about it: depositing $200 means you’re losing $20 — almost enough for a movie ticket in the Metreon’s IMAX theater.