Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Feast or Famine for Local Longshoreman

Alma Bishop pointed to her rubber safety shoes. She got them through the union, and they can’t be bought at any ladies boutique.
A Giants fan and multi-generational San Franciscan, Bishop held a job as a union carpenter with the Local 22 before becoming a Longshoreman. A hard drinker who swears like a sailor and enjoys dainty jewelry, she embodies the often-forgotten, old-school working class of San Francisco.
 Bishop is in her early 50s, tanned from the sun and relatively petite. For work, she wears a navy utility jumpsuit with reflective patches, zipped on the right- traditionally, the man’s side.
Once, a Longshoreman’s work was done by hand. Today, workers operate machines to unload cargo.
“We took the Oracle off at Pier 80, little by little,” Bishop said, referring to the America’s Cup boat. She also helped unload pieces of San Francisco’s incoming Central Subway.
                Everything is gigantic in scale- the cruise liners docking and reloading at Pier 80, the cranes and forklifts used to pick containers off the vast ships and the ocean itself.
                And everything is dangerous, from the huge paths the machines cut across the land, air and sea, to the heavy loads of cargo.
                “When you go to work, you’re never promised tomorrow,” Bishop said. “A friend of mine just passed away, fell off the upside of a ship and was knocked with a pole.”
She tore her arm when a piece of machinery dragged her dozens of feet across the docks. She said the machine’s operator was too busy on his cell phone to notice.
“People are very selfish there,” she said of the waterfront, where the competition is fierce and distractions can take a life.
Six months after Bishop’s operation, the arm tore again. Since the accident, she has not been able to operate heavy machinery, forcing her out of the most lucrative jobs.
                In a union, jobs are received by rotation. Only the highest-level workers, the A books, have their pick. The rest, including the B books like Bishop, the IDs and the casual workers, must go to the boards at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Hall on North Point and Mason streets, near San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.
                A dock worker becomes a Longshoreman with a capital L if they’ve been accepted into the union. People sometimes spend decades as a casual worker before graduating to even an ID level. It took Bishop ten years to make B book.
                “It’s almost like the horse races,” Bishop said of the scene at the boards, rattling off the different categories- whole board, dock board, crane board, “non-skill-can’t-drive anything board.”
The hall, a large, geometric building, looks like a retro spaceship from the outside and a bus depot within.  Among other things, it’s known as a concert hall, where the legendary Trips Festival introduced the Grateful Dead to the masses in 1966.
The flex shift begins in the dark, at 6 a.m. Before heading to the boards, workers call the dispatchers for the day’s availability.
                “Hello, brothers and sisters,” a smooth male voice began before launching into a list of vacant positions.  “It’s feast or famine. Get it while you can.”
At the hiring hall, dockworkers receive numbers from the dispatcher on pieces of paper, and nothing is computerized. For the union, resisting technology means preserving dispatcher’s jobs.
Supposedly, Bishop said, if anything happens to her on duty, her children will receive her book, guaranteeing a lifetime’s work.  The union harkens back to not just the socialist 1930s, but to a more ancient age of guilds and fraternal orders.
But union dues don’t come cheap. Members pay $250 a month, and are fined $50 for every missed meeting. For workers struggling to get consistent, well-paying work, the fees are high.
“But,” Bishop repeats. “They pay for your shoes.”

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Vogue's Horrible Guide to San Francisco

Vogue India's special guest blogger has written a truly astounding guide to San Francisco.  Since it kind of reads like gibberish, please- let me translate it for you. First will come the quotes in bold, then the translation. Okay?

"Living in San Francisco is an enviable lifestyle." 

Yes, the lifestyle of living here in SF is so enviable. Well said. 

...Wait, what lifestyle, you ask? Why, the lifestyle of the well-to-do tech professional who grew up somewhere suburban and has a ton of $$$ but needs to feel, like, real you know? Burning Man real. This guy don't wear no suit, carry no briefcase, man. He's got a messenger bag.  And those gross shoes that have separate toes that should only be worn for sort of physical activity but people wear on the street. This guy buys organic, ok? Sure, he goes into a taqueria and doesn't have his order ready on time and asks if they have whole wheat tortillas, but he is San Francisco.

And this guy and his wife, who is fashionable in a "paid full price for J. Crew ballet flats" kind of way, and their bilingual child Caleb recently moved to Guerrero Street from Boston or something and this is their reality. And the reality of everyone else not like him in the entire city does not exist. OK? Let's move on, shall we?

"Everyone with an idea and a smartphone wants to be strolling along the hilly sidewalks of this tiny glimmering city with perfect weather on the westernmost tip of Americana. " 

The westernmost tip of Americana.....wha? Is that a metaphor or something? And perfect weather? That's certainly debatable.

"San Francisco is a liberal haven where your body is your temple and there are no limits to where your mind can take you: two dazzling bridges leading into the peninsula * light the way." 

Statements like this are so powerful because they make so much sense.  Two bridges....and also no limits to where your mind can take you. On those bridges. Or, you know, guided by them. Not like other places, where they don't even have dazzling bridges to free their minds.

"...spend the afternoon browsing the casually curated boutiques in Hayes Valley."

I love curated things, but things that are casually curated...well, that's the wave of the future. I'd pay $95 for a casually curated t-shirt, wouldn't you?

" Jack Dorsey walks into a bar in North Beach, heads turn and tweets go out. 

But a sighting of Anne Hathaway at Flour + Water is just passé, you’re more busy recommending the 2006 Brunello to fellow superusers on Foursquare." 

Okay, I don't know who Jack Dorsey is, gonna guess he works in the tech industry. But yeah, Anne Hathaway in Flour + Water (most unnappetizing name for a restaurant ever...), it's true. I am "more busy" recommending the Brunello. On my phone. I don't need this Hollywood bullshit. I just need some really expensive wine, and my fellow superusers, and my brand new smartphone to use while I'm eating, and a $30 personal pizza. Cause I'm real. Now why the FUCK does this water glass have a mark on it time to write a negative Yelp review straight from the restaurant!

"The home of the New American cuisine movement, the Bay Area is a haven for the foodie; where words like organic and locavore should be dropped from menus and grocery stores as they can completely be taken for granted."

I can't argue with this statement. We all shop at Bi-Rite and Rainbow Grocery and coincidentally that $3 apple we all collectively buy there is organic. 

"The thickest of caramel ice cream and the darkest artisanal chocolate must always be sprinkled with the lightest grey sea salt; and toddlers happily chow down on quinoa, kale, truffle-drenched burrata, chorizo and kumquats."
I don't even know what burrata is. These toddlers sound like real yuppie jerks. 
"Echoes of the Beat poets resonate in the restlessness of a generation that has found its way to the tremulous edge of a continent that will always be physically isolated"
What isolated continent? North America? It's actually attached to South America, you know, through Central America. But, you know, tremulously. 
"San Francisco is a city of ideas. Where the power of a thought could change the way we travel, see, hear, learn, think, even love." 
The ideas are ideas for apps.
"People don’t go to work here; they follow their passions in offices parading as super-slick warehouse lofts stocked with art, colour, music, inspiration."
People here have really magical jobs. Working at a computer for ten hours in a loft building in the Tenderloin, ordering food online cause they're afraid to go outside. I mean, swirling around in a day-go mask and a feather boa in the fucking desert, man!

"The beat goes on." 

Yes, the very beat Sonny and Cher once sang about. 
Also, there's a photo of the blogger posing in the ethnically "hipster Mission" district.

On a more sober note, it saddens me to read about the city through this woman's eyes, and I can't help but wonder if this is truly her, and others, reality, at least to some extent.  In this version of SF, the locals, the diversity, the history, the gays, the unique neighborhoods, the working class, the sleaze and scum and grime, even the fog, have been effectively erased.

*Misuse of term "peninsula,", which typically refers to the South Bay, not Marin or Oakland (where the dazzling bridges go...okay, the bridges are dazzling, though. That is true.)

Twee Ass sign on the Bus

Every time I see this, I think "Go back to Portland, bitch!"

I can safely say trying to hold hands and skip with others on MUNI has never crossed my mind.

Sunday, April 21, 2013