Being the best in SF

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the bestIt’s a Saturday morning in San Francisco and I have an hour to kill while my potato cooks. I am making myself a brunch because tonight my friend and I are having dinner at a place participating in the Restaurant Week series here in SF. My friend told me about it (for some reason I am never clued into stuff like this) and I strong armed my friend into coming with me because I wanted to see what this was all about.

Truthfully though, I feel like there is this need while living in SF these days to– how shall I put it?– validate living here. A “keeping up with the Joneses, the hipster edition.” I don’t think this sentiment existed 10 years ago, when my peers and I were graduating from college and settling into our careers and lives in Northern California. And maybe because I’ve seen SF life pre- and post the startup buzz of the past 8 or so years that I’m particularly sensitive to it. Or maybe it’s just me as a person, especially as I’m getting older and valuing different things in my life compared to a 20 something just starting out today. So this post is my reflection on this.

So I don’t know that I would definitively call it a competition versus the more innocuous act of relating, but what I sense when I am a part of conversations here in SF (not so much in the South Bay) is this sense of: me too, me too. I did that. Yeah, I’ve been there. Yeah, I ate there. I feel like there is this competition to prove that you are just as much of a {insert the descriptor, be it foodie/hipster/ tech maven/etc} as the next guy. It’s a life by checklist. It’s the “don’t be THAT guy who has nothing to add to the conversation.”

And I think the idea of competition and checklist exists by proxy here in SF. Every year, 7×7, a magazine dedicated to life in SF, puts out a list of food places you MUST GO TO. And digital life is all about curation, be it Buzzfeed or any other half-assed content provider. There is value in curation, so I’m not knocking it (half my life as a marketer is about curation). At any rate, I just feel like sometimes life is based on a some kind of a hipster deus ex machina who decrees with force and confidence, “Though Shalt Get a Reservation at State Bird Provisions and Then Share Across All Thy Social Media.”

Same goes with competition. Eating at some places is literally a competition. Many years back, I remember visiting a friend in SF and going to Mama’s in North Beach for brunch. We literally picked up coffee and a pastry as sustenance while we stood in a queue that wrapped around the building. This was probably back in 2006 or 2007 so I have no idea what the experience is like these days. On another occasion, my friend and I tried to visit, at his suggestion, Outerlands and were told it would be a 2 hour wait. TWO HOURS. I said no. No. NO. And then we ate some delicious pork sliders at another place and it was perfectly fine.

I think a lot of factors go into this new way of life here in SF. Yelp launched in 2004 telling everybody where they should go based on user generated content. I don’t have anything scientific to back this up though I think if I wasn’t being lazy, I maybe could find information that confirms my theory. But yelp to me is a self fulfilling prophecy. I think there is a high barrier to entry for new establishments to “win” but once that happens it is a crazy upward trajectory. Here’s how it works: people go to a place. They write a review. New people read the reviews, obviously go to the place with a lot of good reviews, they go to those places too. And I think bias plays into it. Once you’ve used a good review to go to an establishment, it would have to be a miserable experience for you to leave a bad review. And the engine goes and on– popularity of some places growing exponentially because of yelp’s existence. What you end up with is a few places that EVERYONE and their Mama (do you like how I worked that in there?) is trying to go to therefore resulting in a 2 hour wait.

And of course then in conversation everyone talks about these places, as a badge of “LOOK– I DID IT TOO!” further creating the demand for the experience. Social media bumps this up manifold. Seeing what our cohorts are doing adds pressure that we should be doing it too. And vice versa, we need to uphold our persona so we do things, I suspect, at times solely to put it on social media and add to the flair vest that is our digital lives. This is partially why I hate when people take pictures of food and post them to social media. I mean I don’t want to knock it but its value has always eluded me. When I encounter delicious food, I quickly put it in my belly and I am happy. I’ve never really felt the need to showcase my gastronomical experiences personally.

Competition implies exclusivity: by definition there has to be the haves and the have-nots. Nobody likes living the First Place for Participation award version of life. I find it interesting that so many people complain about other people doing the same things that they are doing. The traffic is so bad because all those people are living in SF and commuting down to jobs in Silicon Valley. It’s so hard to find parking because everyone insists on bringing cars to SF. Back in the day circa 2001, a lot of people who I went to school with at Cal (who didn’t have cars themselves) moved to SF without cars. It just wasn’t a big thing. Now I very rarely meet a transplant who doesn’t insist on bringing a car with them to SF despite its infrequent use and the congestion caused by cars in the city. I went to volunteer with a group of people who lived in the East Bay and there was a lot of complaint of people moving from SF to Oakland and changing how life is there. Though, the irony is that the minute that yuppies/hipsters started moving to the East Bay, life started changing there immediately (admittedly in some ways for the better). There is just this sense of I want this great thing but only for me, I need to find a way to get other people not to want to do this great thing that I have. I’m not necessarily knocking it but observing its existence.

So yeah, I guess that’s it for this blog. I’m not trying to say that I’m immune to the competition of life that is San Francisco. After all, I have taken a taste of the Kool-Aid and am headed out for what I consider a pricey meal tonight. But I think part of me waxes nostalgic for the SF that used to be. When you did a fun thing, with a good friend, only because you wanted to do it, and then kept that happy memory to yourself.

Happy weekend, everybody!

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