Thursday, June 30, 2016

Lyft, Airbnb, and Unintended Consequences

Because I drive and live in San Francisco, I come face to face with Lyft and Airbnb every single day of my life.  Lyft (and Uber, too) because their ubiquitous cars are constantly stopping in the middle of the street and blocking traffic and turning without signaling and generally driving like they don't give a shit about anyone else.  Airbnb because the sight of a bunch of Europeans with wheeled suitcases and track jackets going into what appears to be private homes instead of hotels is now commonplace.  And there's a full-time Airbnb hotel on my block, as I've mentioned.

It occurs to me that both of these companies have similar origin stories and similar trajectories from high-minded idealism into rank Monolpoly-man-style capitalism.  According to its origin myth (recounted at some length in this excellent TechCrunch piece "Lyft-Off: Zimride’s Long Road To Overnight Success," Lyft (then Zimride) began as a way, basically, to coordinate carpools.
If the Santa Barbara MTD gave Logan reason to question the future of transportation, it was a trip to Africa after graduation with his friend Matt Van Horn that gave him hope: Locals in Zimbabwe used carpooling to get around more efficiently.
“The streets were quiet because nobody was driving, and the government was too busy ruining the country to think about providing services like public transportation,” Logan says. So instead, people piled into shared minivans as a way to get around.
“There was this crowdsourced transportation network where anyone could be a driver and they could set their own routes,” he tells me. It impressed Logan that a country like Zimbabwe, which he says “had close to zero resources,” in many ways had a better transportation network than an affluent city like Santa Barbara. When he returned from his trip, he set out to change that.
Great stuff.  Who could be against a service that puts people going the same direction into the same car, reducing the number of single occupancy cars on the road?

Fast forward to today.  The current business model of Lyft, at least in San Francisco, appears to be: Dump as many untrained drivers, unfamiliar with San Francisco[*], onto city streets as possible, and encourage them to pick up and drop off as many people as possible.  It's gone from Casual Carpooling to a Vast Unlicensed Unregulated Off the Books Taxi Service.

[*] I say this because in my limited experience taking Lyft rides, I have yet to meet a single driver who lived in the city.  Many - if not most - had only a vague idea or none at all about where my destination was.

Airbnb has a similar story.  In the begining it was just a couple of guys renting out air mattresses on their floor for $80 so they could afford their rent.  Aw, that's sweet!  Now it's a global behemoth that pushes city governments around and encourages people to evict their tenants to operate off-the-books full-time hotels.  (Not everyone, of course.  There are still people who occasionally rent out a spare bedroom to help pay the bills.  To those people, Godspeed and have fun.  That's not who I'm talking about.)

What does it all mean?  I guess that people want to make money, and if your beautiful idea to improve humanity doesn't make money, either (1) it will stop being a thing, unless it's a charity, and no one thinks transporting drunk millennials around town is charitable, or (2) someone will monetize the fuck out of it.

Who cares?  We'll be under water or living in a Mad Max style dystopia in 30 years anyway.  Release the hounds.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

This conversation I had kinda bummed me out

I had to take our car into the shop last week and I had a conversation with the owner I've been thinking about ever since.  Because cars are mysterious and temperamental creatures, I had to take it to a different place than we usually go to.  Anyway, the owner - super nice guy BTW - was taking my info and when I told him my address he said "Oh, I grew up like two blocks from there."

"No kidding," I said.  "Where do you live now?"

"Over by Lake Merced," he said.  Then he said the interesting slash depressing thing I've been thinking about ever since.

"But we're looking to move," he said.  "This city's getting crazy."  I nodded like I knew what he meant, although he could have meant any number of things.  Then he said, "Amd we've got a kid now and we can't send him to San Francisco schools."

I didn't really ask for clarification because, hey, he's a guy working on my car and we're not here to debate the merits of San Francisco schools but MAN IS THAT DEPRESSING.  I have a kid who's going to be going to school in a couple of years and it never occurred to me to just dismiss SF public schools out of hand like that.  I mean, we fully intend to do the whole lottery thing and whatever and see what happens.  (I assume he meant "San Francisco public schools" when he said "San Francisco schools" but who knows, maybe he just can't conceive of his kid attending any school in the city limits in which case never mind.)

It occurs to me that this attitude might be more prevalent among SF natives like this guy than with people who have moved here in the last, say, 26 years like me?  From what I understand, SF public schools used to be worse and have been improving greatly over the past few years, so maybe that's it?

This picture has nothing to do with this story except it's a cool picture of San Francisco. From some astronaut's Twitter, I think. 

The second depressing aspect of this brief exchange - and yes, I can manage to extract two depressing points out of a 20-second conversation - is that this is the kind of guy San Francisco desperately needs and can no longer keep.  A regular, middle-class guy who runs a local business and is raising a family in the city and isn't trying to commodify parking spaces or figure out yet another way to get food from a restaurant to your door.  I feel like we're losing the Normal Guy demographic and that's a vital part of this city or any city.

(Again, I'm making some assumptions here based on the fact that it's a guy who owns an auto repair shop and lives out by Lake Merced.  Maybe he's actually a billionaire who created the auto repair app but I didn't get that vibe.)

That's about it.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Music Friday: Work

This seems apropos today:

Baby Britain feels the best
Floating over a sea of vodka
Separated from the rest
Fights problems with bigger problems

Did Elliott Smith predict Brexit? PROBABLY!  There's no way he could have predicted Music Friday, though, because nobody could have predicted Music Friday.

You know how people who are older than the target demo for whatever kind of music is most poplular always say "Bahhhh all those songs sound exactly the same"?  Do they say that?  They say something like that.  I was taking one of my occasional spins through the Top 20 and you know what?  THIS TIME THEY'RE RIGHT.  In fact, two of the Top 20 songs in the US are almost exactly the same song.

Here's Rihanna's "Work," which has seeped into your consciousness one way or another even if you studiously avoid popular music:

And here's "Work From Home" by Fifth Harmony, a video that makes softcore porn look like The Godfather:

What the fuck. I guess "Repeating the Word Work Between 4 and 28 Times" is the hot new genre.

The rest of the Top 20 is Drake songs and "Panda" by Desiigner or "Desiigner" by Panda, I'm not sure.  As far as I can tell, there isn't a song that could reasonably be called "rock music" in the Top 20, or maybe even the Top 50 or Top 100.  In fact, the first rock song might be "The Sound of Silence" by Disturbed at #66 which, amazingly enough, is really and truly a cover of the Simon & Garfunkel song.  I was all set to write that it "disappointingly is not a cover of the Simon & Garfunkel song" and then I went to watch the video and now I can't stop laughing.  Here is a picture of a man singing "Sound of Silence":

That was fun, Disturbed!  Do "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" next PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!!! Then cover "Work Work Work Work Work."

In summation, the Billboard Top 100 is not really for me.

We should all collabo on a Worst Covers of All Time list.  I'll get you started:

Sorry!  I'm sorry.  I had to do that.  I want you to hurt like I hurt.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

I posted a snarky response to an Airbnb ad on Twitter. You won't believe what happened next. Or you probably will totally believe it, I don't know.

Last night "Airbnb Action," which I assume is some political lobbying arm/whitewashing patrol of Airbnb, caused a tweet to appear in my timeline, proving conclusively that Twitter has no idea how to target ads.  Me being me (i.e., a snarky asshole), I felt moved to respond.

Har har. Obviously (if you've been following the issue), the reason that the Board of Supres is "pushing new rules" (that is, "enacting legislation according to their City-afforded capabilities") is that the current enforcement mechanisms are comically ineffectual.  Current law requires everyone who rents their place out on Airbnb to register with the city.  So far, "roughly 1,400 of the estimated 7,000 or more residents who rent their homes and rooms have done so, the city estimates." SO, first of all, no one is trying "2 prevent homse sharing;" we were told we didn't need Prop F because the current system works and now the current system definitely doesn't work.  Even the fucking CEO OF AIRBNB didn't bother to piddle with the little city registration system.  Why would anyone else be a sucker and follow the law?


Then some dog got all up in my business.

I guess this means that since Prop F was defeated, Airbnb is now free to do anything they want.  BASED ON OUR NEW POLICY, AIRBNB CAN NOW RAID YOUR FRIDGE ONCE PER WEEK.  PLEASE LEAVE YOUR DOOR UNLOCKED.  THE VOTERS HAVE SPOKEN.

It went downhill from here.

BAD DOG!  First of all, he or she didn't answer my question.  I asked what we should do when the vast majority of Airbnb hosts are not in compliance.  The response was "No the STR office. #duh They are the police."  I suppose that means we should just let the STR (Short Term Rental, btw) office handle it?  That actually makes sense if you're an Airbnb host and you don't want to bother following the law. #duh.  By the time the STR cops catch up to you, the Earth will have been consumed by the Sun and Airbnb hosts on Titan will be advertising "STUNNING RING VIEWS!!!!"

As if it couldn't devolve any lower, the sad denoument:

Of course. My opinion that Airbnb hosts follow the fucking law necessarily means that I support vandalism.  Also, that is some shitty lettering.  Maybe something like this instead?

The real stupidity about the whole thing is that, based on the link to the Airbnb advertised on Dog's Twitter page, it appears that Dog rents out a room in Dog's house.  I basically have no problem with that (within some limits).  What I have a problem with is someone taking an entire home or apartment off the market and converting it into an illegal, full-time hotel.  Like the one on my block - a 3-bedroom apartment that used to be occupied by 3 tenants and which is now occupied, at $300 a night, by a rotating cast of jackoffs smoking on the stoop.  Or with building owners evicting tenants so they can rent out the rooms on Airbnb.

Is Airbnb solely responsible for the housing crisis in SF? Of course not.  Partially responsible?  Of course. Are rhetorical questions the best mode of making an argument? Not even close.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Music Friday: Old people like festivals too

The Treasure Island Music festival lineup was announced this week (or, "dropped," I guess. The lineup "dropped" on Tuesday.) and it is EVEN MORE DISAPPOINTING THAN USUAL.

Sigur Ros, really?  I mean, even if you like Sigur Ros, they don't jump to mind when you think "festival headliners."  Maybe the Kill Yourself Festival, with Nine Inch Nails, Mark Eitzel and a hologram of Joy Division.  I remember seeing Spiritualized at TI one year - during the daytime, no less - and thinking about how incongruous it seemed.  Spiritualized should only be experienced in a dark and smoky club with ample whiskey, not on a beautiful sunny day from the top of a ferris wheel.  Sigur Ros should only be experienced in a teenage cutter's room with lizards in formaldehyde in jars and an unopened bottle of Wellbutrin.

I guess Ice Cube could be fun.

But honestly, there isn't another band on there I would pay money to see.  What the fuck happened, Treasure Island Music Festival?  There used to be some good lineups.  I mean, in 2008 (the aforementioned Spiritualized year) you had TV on the Radio, Vampire Weekend, Okkervil River, Fleet Foxes, Hot Chip.  That's a good lineup!  Now we get "Glass Animals," whatever the fuck that is. I know a lot of people like Car Seat Headrest, but it just doesn't do anything for me.

Don't tell me it's because I'm getting old.  I'M NOT OLD, YOU'RE OLD. I LEARNED IT FROM WATCHING YOU.

Speaking of festivals, I recently learned that there is such a thing as the Animal Collective Camping Weekend in Big Sur and that sounds like it might be like taking acid inside a mescaline factory.  Nothing I'd rather do than sleep on the ground with 333 Animal Collective fans talking to each other in Bjork lyrics and whatever else people who would camp out to watch Animal Collective do.

Then on the other end of the spectrum you've got Desert Trip, popularly known as "Oldchella," because FINALLY someone is catering to Baby Boomers.  Haven't they labored in resolute silence long enough?  The lineup includes the Stones, Bob Dylan, The Who, Neil Young, and other proto-Mesozoic acts.  I have no idea how whatever the remaining members of the Dead are calling themselves today escaped this bill.  Apparently the olds are going to camp out, just like the kids!

You better have an "on-site locksmith," because there is no way Peepaw goes 3 days without locking his keys in the Seville.

Finally, the #1 "viral track" in the land, according to Spotify, is "Fuck Steph Curry," a nuanced and incisive analysis of Stephen Curry's faults as a basketball player and citizen.  Not really, it's actually just a guy saying "Fuck Steph Curry" over a backing track.  There are some other lyrics too. It's not very nice.

Here's "You Can't Hide" by Maktub.  It sounds like drinking beer in the sun.  Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

San Francisco needs 200,000 new units of housing. No problem.

A couple of weeks ago everyone was talking about Eric Fischer's amazing blog post "Employment, construction, and the cost of San Francisco apartments," in which he aggregated historical rent data for the city going back decades and found out there's no big mystery, rents go up when there are more people here making more money.  GEE I NEVER.

How do we fix it?  Eric knows:

Well, we certainly don't want to have a 51% drop in employment or a 44% drop in salaries (not my salary, anyway, although I wouldn't mind a 44% drop in the salaries of the shitstorms on Valencia every weekend night), and nobody liked my idea to offer 100,000 people $20K to leave, so all we need is 200,000 more housing units!


1190 Mission, part of the Trinity Place development, has 418 units in a 24-story building.

To get our 200,000 units, then, we'll need about 478 of those mothers.  NOT A PROBLEM.  We can wedge 478 of those in here.

Let's start in the same neighborhood.  Hmmm, that Best Buy on Harrison is pretty big for a store that sells a bunch of shit you're going to get on Amazon anyway.  And look at that parking lot!

Looks like we can get at least 6 1190's in there.  (That's what we're calling our Standard Housing Units, BTW, "1190's," after their original ancestor at 1190 Mission.


That was easy.  Poof, I just put 2,508 new units of housing where a bunch of flat screen TVs and parked cars used to be.  We're over 1% done and we've barely even started!  I CAN FEEL RENTS FALLING ALREADY.

A common refrain when talking about new housing in SF is that new building is always concentrated in SOMA and Mission Bay and never on the west side of town.  That has to end.  SUNSET RESERVOIR, MEET YOUR NEW NEIGHBORS!!!

I know, I know, we could probably fit like 16 1190's here, but the people across the street are already going to a series of massive coronaries and strokes followed by more heart attacks as soon as this is proposed.

We can even use 1190's to improve society!  BEFORE:


Ahhhh, that's better.

OK, now just have to find room for 468 more.  Don't piss me off or your block is next.

This one is called the Burrito Justice Arms, for obvious reasons, and it's actually very very expensive.  You can't live here.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Music Friday: The blood-dimmed tide is loosed

 Why do I hate Train so much?  Is it their blandly calculated Mom-rock, which sounds engineered in a lab and specifically designed by a team of specialists to appeal to suburban white women, 29-54, who still think of themselves as edgy because they have half a joint left over from a party a few years ago and enjoy the occasional shot of Mezcal and softcore porn?  It should come as no surprise, on that front, that some of their biggest "hits," like "Hey, Soul Sister" and "Drive By" were cowritten with Norwegian production team Espionage, who generally make their scratch writing for American Idol lower-tier finishers, which are about comparable to Train's level of competence and/or enjoyability.

Or is it the utterly insipid and often laughably inane lyrics, which sometimes, for example, feature singer Pat Monahan portraying himself as a "shy guy looking for a two ply / Hefty bag to hold my love," which would make him eligible for sex offender registration in several states?  Or their continued and desperate-seeming need to connect themselves to San Francisco, where they got their start, despite the fact that they have long since decamped to Seattle or whatever?

I don't know.  All of it, I guess.  But just in case you need a little more, Train has gone and released a song-by-song cover of Led Zeppelin II.  Even if you're not a huge Led Zeppelin fan - and I'm not really, although of course I was once a 16-year-old pot smoking youth and thus have done more than enough Led Zeppelin listening - this news should frighten and confuse you.  Why?, you might ask.  Why would you do such a thing?  Led Zeppelin never did anything to you.

Because I love and respect you and would never want you to be hurt, I went and listened to some of it.  It's not terrible.  It's extraordinarily faithful to the original.  Which means, what was the fucking point?  Last year, Ryan Adams released a song by song cover of Taylor Swift's 1989, which I enjoyed quite a bit, largely because he Ryan Adams-ized the songs so completely that it sounded like a decent new Ryan Adams album.  This sounds like when a TV show can't get the rights to the original recording of something and hire studio musicians to cover it as closely as possible.

They're playing it at the Great American Music Hall on Tuesday.  It's sold out, of course.

If you wanna go, here's a guy on Craigslist selling tix for $250 each.  Your funeral.  Here's a great article in the New York papers about the pointlessness and ennui of the whole project.

Speaking of existing in a hellscape of heat and pain, Bonnaroo is this weekend! I was just in Middle Tennessee and I could only be outside for 25 minutes at a time under the blinding sun and searing 90 degree heat and 50 percent humidity but if you want to stand in that to watch Jason Mraz, go for it.  Actually, there are some bright spots in the lineup - Waxahatchee, Tame Impala (playing from 1 am to 3 am! They don't make enough cocaine), the always fun LCD Soundsystem, Vince Staples, Father John Misty - but what with the heat and the hippies and the camping, I can't even.  I'm stuck with urban festivals only from here on out.

Finally, have you ever discovered a band that you've never heard mentioned by anyone before and you can't figure out why they're a big secret and man, this album is pretty good!  That just happened with me and the band is Ultimate Painting and the album is Ultimate Painting.  Predictably, there's also a song on the album called Ultimate Painting, but here's a different song.

The Velvet Underground is strong in this one. I like it. It says on their Internet web site that they're playing the Chapel on July 25, but nobody told the Chapel apparently.  Hopefully they sort that out.

And with that, go blessedly into your weekend.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

How to disrupt the car rental industry, which needs some disrupting

We've been traveling a fair amount lately and that means renting cars and there may be, what, I don't know, 10 different car rental #brands like Avis and Budget and Hertz and Dollar and whatever else but it's always the same thing.  

1. Get to counter.
2. Give ID and credit card
3. Clerk tries to upsell you.  "How about a BMW 550?  Perfect for this weather!" This actually just happened to me.  No thanks, I can look like a dickhead just fine by myself, I don't need a BMW 550 to help!
4. Clerk warns you darkly of your financial ruin should you pass on the rental insurance.  "Sure, your insurance might cover it, but until their coverage kicks in, you will be forced to squat in a mud hole, covered in ants!  That could be very unpleasant!!!!"
5. Finally get your Mitsubishi Galant or similar.  Have you ever seen a Chevy Malibu other than as a rental car?  Does Chevrolet even make Malibus for sale to the general public?

Well, all that is about to change.  Meet, the new car rental agency that will change the way you look at car rentals.

Here are the features of the disruptive rental car agency I just made up:

- We have normal cars.  Like you can get a VW Passat or a Subaru Outback or even a Prius if that's your Life Path.  Your funeral.  No "Buick Verano," whatever the fuck that is.

- All the insurance is rolled into the cost of the rental.  Sure, we cost a couple bucks more, but you're totally covered if you back into the Gateway Arch or whatever.  (Does not include windows being broken if you leave a laptop bag on the seat, you fucking moron.)

- Bring it back with however much gas is left, we don't care.  We'll fill it up and bill your credit card at whatever price the closest gas station to the airport is charging.  Don't worry about it, we cool.

- Our website will have a cool interface like Tinder or something but without the pain of constant rejection and disappointment.

- Is it going to cost a little more?  Of course it's going to cost a little more!  OK, a lot more.  But paying more just means you're important and cool!  

- Why  Chinchillas are known as the car rentals of animals.  No, I just made that up.  It's because was available as of this morning.  Go innovate with us!