Posts tagged ‘City Living’

September 13, 2013

Bike Party: A Pop-up Community

Four miles in and my calves burn like salt in an open wound.  The helmet strap chafes my left cheek, while around me others let out agitated grunts and moans.  From memory, I know the peak is near – but people are staggering, falling behind, as the San Francisco hills stack like dominoes.  A metallic clank slips my bike into its lowest gear, and I keep pedaling.  By the hundreds we funnel into a narrow, unpaved path, toward Sutro Heights Park.  With Richmond District behind us, our energy is buoyed by the cacophony of mobile stereos and the flashing lights coloring the trees enclosing everyone. Suddenly the branches flush back like the opening of a curtain, and the city lays lit like a torch below us. I lock my bike to a tree, crack open a Pabst Blue Ribbon, and head for the dancing crowd amassing around the stereos before me.

Bike Party is everything your Friday night needs. Its purpose, according to its website, is to “Build community through bicycling.”   Dance and drink, embrace the enduring ride and introduce yourself to every single person that strikes you as either attractive or interesting.  San Francisco celebrates the first Friday of every month, East Bay the second, and San Jose the third. For me, this means I already have my Friday night plans covered two weeks out of every month; I’m a San Francisco inhabitant and frequent visitor to the Easy Bay.  My first Bike Party was back in February in San Francisco, and it was also my first date with Spree.
SF Bike Party
Before it all began, I was skittish. Not just because of the date, but because I expected the usual rag-tag of stop-sign-skipping, grungy, hardcore bike enthusiasts that have come to embody much of the ever-controversial Critical Mass, and the reason I stopped going. But I wanted to do something memorable – I wanted Spree to remember it, remember me.  People told me Bike party was different.  They used words like “civilized”, “cooperative”, and “dance”.  And anyway, Spree said she had been before, so I figured she knew what I was getting us into.  After a quick slice of pizza at Blondie’s over a pint in North Beach, we picked up a flask of Jack Daniels and ran into three of my friends in the liquor aisle of Safeway.  Five of us now, we thought it best to divide a 12-pack of Tecate among our bags and make way toward Fort Mason’s Great Meadow for the 7:30 p.m. rendezvous time.

The Nitty-Gritty

Bike Part is a co-op run by different volunteers in each city.  The formula is simple: all parties meet at 7:30, ride out at 8(ish), and celebrate at each of three pre-determined party stops spread out over the evening, or until you are one of too tired or inebriated to carry on any longer (making sure to bus your bike home if you are above the 0.08% ABV limit, of course, as organizers will be keen to remind you). The routes, printed on half-sheets of paper and handed out minutes before rides, change each month, averaging about 13 miles during 4 hours. Designated volunteers direct the mass through intersections throughout the night, making way for passing traffic and keeping cyclists in the correct lanes per the civilized rules of the celebration.  Bike Party even features a different theme each month: last month was Robot Revolution, while the February ride featured all things red in honor of National Wear Red Day.

Celebrate Charismatically (and Responsibly)

You’re close to the initial meet-up point when you hear music spilling out into the air. As we rode in, Tecates clanking, flashing neon lights illuminated cyclists converging on the meadow from every direction around us.  Flushed with endorphins, people are already dancing to the pumping sound system that switches from Beastie Boys to bass-heavy electronica. Other riders mingle over the eclectic array of speakers, decorations and alterations that characterize the bikes scattered around us.  One participant asks me how I heard about Bike Party (friends), while the rest gawk at the BMXer doing a wheelie – his spokes are lit on fire.

At 8 p.m., an organizer brings the crowd together over a megaphone and the music is silenced.  “What do we do at red lights?” he yells.  “Stop!” the crowd cries back.  “How many lanes do we use!?”  “One!” Minutes later, we hear “Bike Party, Move Out!” The mob cheers and we’re off to destination #1: The Embarcadero Pier.

I am San Francisco Bike Party Pabstelated, and a little drunk.  Riding down Battery Street toward The Embarcadero, Spree is telling me about her Halloween-zombie-midnight ride with Bike Party last October, and then we’re bonding over our tendencies toward whiskey and a strong IPA when seeking inebriation.  By my account, the night is passing splendidly, and I’m hardly cognizant of the hundreds of other riders around me as we reach our first stop.  Bikes are haphazardly strewn next to every inch of available railing on Pier 14 – Spree locks her bike to mine, and we each take a swig of whiskey. Mobile stereos are amassing at the end of the peer facing the Bay Bridge, radiating with neon glare, and the dance party is underway.  Around us, flasks are passed among new and old friends alike.  Stories are told, and wide-eyed Instagrammers snap every photo worth taking. All around us, people are smiling.

A New Take

By utilizing the urban landscape of San Francisco against the grain of day-to-day practice, together we own it.  I am suddenly exposed to chance experiences and relationships in places where tourists snap photos of motionless boats and salary workers eat their lunches by midday’s sun.  In West Oakland, dilapidated parks are transformed into brimming festivals of celebration and light; Lake Merrit becomes one of the most happening spots in all of Oakland at 1 a.m.  Reclaiming the streets through civic participation does more than engage the community – it creates involved citizens.

After Pier 14, we doubled back North to Portsmouth Square in Chinatown.  Then we followed the coast along the Marina, past Crissy field and into the Presidio to end at Fort Point, just below Golden Gate. By then it’s 1 a.m., and our empty stomachs spelled the end of the night for Spree and me.  We’d cycled approximately 15 miles, emptied our backpacks of whiskey and Tecates, and befriended a small living room worth of people.  The night celebrated essential values: cooperation, a little manual labor, and socializing, all performed with a smile and killer views of the city.  Bike Party is an unforgettable experience – despite the booze, my memories of Bike Party remain strong, if not exact.

Do it Yourself

Bike Party is a powerful reminder of what is lost in everyday use of a city: an honest sense of wonder and a true openness to impulse. Nobody checks their phones every seven minutes, or asks about plans for the night.  Participants are busy riding, smiling, and engaging one another.  So grab your bike and head out to your local Bike Party next Friday.  If you don’t have a bike, find one on Craigslist, or borrow your friend’s (bring your friend’s lock, too).  Visit a Bike Party website, like http://www.sfbikeparty.wordpress.com. Familiarize yourself with the rules, bring some warm clothes and a libation or three, and there’s a good chance I will see you there.Bike Party East Bay Lake Meritt


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May 21, 2013

5-Step Guide to a San Francisco Apartment

I live in San Francisco. In San Francisco:

  • Paying $500 a month for a closet that can uncomfortably fit a twin bed is a “steal”.
  • Moving in to a shared 400 square-foot studio with someone you have met once – for 17 minutes – is not unusual.
  • Securing a decent place to live can often be more trying than securing a job.
  • Living with your ex for a year after the breakup is not infrequent.

So what can you, the desperate apartment-seeker, do to avoid the afore-mentioned hitches? Let me be clear: never settle if you can afford to wait. I came to San Francisco with a job secured. I had two jobs, in fact, but no place to live. I was squatting in the empty room at the grace of an old ex for the month who owed me a favor, while she was away in Europe. Less to my fortune, I shared this apartment with her current boyfriend – and he was not fond of me, at all.

The numbing stress associated with simply coming home each night was nearly enough to send me back to the little city I moved from. Their home, on the other hand, was an immaculate 19th-century Victorian that could house 10 comfortably. What is the moral here? Housemates can ruin the perfect home. And for the record, the boyfriend never knew we dated. So, to reiterate, the lesson learned?

The right housemates are just as important as amenities and neighborhood.

Apartment desperation coupled with city-living is a noxious undertaking; it will decimate your schedule, eviscerate your objectives, make you re-evaluate your priorities and bring out a type of foggy stress of which the only consolidation is knowing that thousands of other people are in the exact same boat as you. But with a little (lot) of patience, you will find that almost-perfect spot. If you want to make the agony of the search better, know what you want. The time will come when you are forced to make a choice, and fast. I really mean this: know what you want. If you don’t like the situation you’ve moved in to, the cycle continues. You’re practically back at square one. So here are a few tips to help you identify what you want, and make sure you’re getting in to a living situation that will be good for you.

1. Identify your priorities

What are you looking for? Write it down. Really – make a checklist. Is it that lived-in, cozy flat where you can have the friends over for the occasional dinner night? Maybe the iconic bay windows that succinctly capture the character of San Francisco? Write these things down. Then consider: are these goals realistic with the amount of money you can spend? Now, prioritize.

2. Get organized: be a competitive renter

Nothing boosts confidence and relieves stress like being organized in your search. You walk in to the open-house, where you find 35 other well-dressed and affluent looking individuals that all seem like people you could both enjoy and imbibe a cocktail with. Many of them are carrying a folder, though – and you realize, shoot, I didn’t even think to bring a blank check, a credit report, references and an already-completed standard lease agreement.

Better yet, try and avoid the open house altogether and secure a one-on-one meeting. But be sure to bring the folder.

3. Don’t settle

It’s hard to even fathom when you’re mid-hunt, but suddenly you might find yourself with one, two – even three offers. In the same 24 hours, I was offered two rooms, each in a big house with four housemates in a desirable neighborhood. One offer was $165 cheaper than the other. I went for the more expensive. Why, you might wonder? Well, when the master tenant for the cheaper room informed me that each housemate ate together, and not just ate…but the exact same thing, every day, always, with no room for divulgence – I knew something was very, very off in this household.

On that note…

4. Meet every housemate before you move in

Every housemate. Not only because you want to make a good impression and get them talking about you. Just as importantly: you want to be absolutely sure that living with these people is something you cannot only manage, but most preferably, enjoy. “Is there anything you else you think I should know about the place?” That’s my go-to closing question. Little did I know that the one housemate I missed – and would share a wall with – had a penchant for relentlessly loud and uncompromising 5am sex with her live-in girlfriend.

So ask questions, show interest, and engage with the people you may be spending the next few months or years of your life with. They don’t have to be perfect – but you had better at least appreciate them. You have every right to ask your questions, too, and it shows them that you are serious about the room. Just be sure you say what they want to hear, too.

5. Follow up, just like after the job interview

First of all, tell them you want the room before you leave (even if you’re only mildly honest).

Now you’ve had time to reflect. Did you find the drop arches in the backyard moving, the outdoor patio the perfect place for your morning coffee, or the collaborative environment perfect for your latest themed-costume party idea? Tell them. Tell them all, immediately, with an email and text message. And if you don’t hear anything back from them in two days, tell them again. And kindly ask them to inform you of their decision, because you simply cannot wait to hear back from them, and you think you would all get along famously, and you can already see all the potlucks you will do together…

Good luck. The near-perfect place will come, and all the sooner, if you follow these steps.