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A Gentleman’s Guide to Lavish Poverty in San Francisco

Updated: Jul 31, 2017 10:01
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This guest post is by artist Chris Vialpando

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Do you remember a time when San Francisco was relatively affordable, rich with culture and community, and thriving local business? ­Neither do I. I am a “transplant”, and there’s a decent chance, you are too. The San Francisco housing crisis and being “priced out” seem to be two indicative buzzwords on a lot of people’s daily vernacular. ​The price tag of the city, along with the approximate 2% vacancy rate, and the declining citywide morale, are undoubtedly major factors, and also a predominant factor in my recent SF departure, but there is much more to this tragic story. Please, have a seat…

Ex.1 ​Have a purpose.

Stay on purpose. Everyone comes here for different reasons, and everyone comes here for the same reason: To thrive. Sadly, “thriving” is not the typical scenario for most of us, even in a magical little town such as ours. I was well aware of the “tech boom” before I moved to the city over a year ago. I am a industrial artist, photographer, and all around creative vigilante, and in talking with friends who lived here before me, who foreshadowed the declining art scene, I knew I was in for a good fight. I knew that it was going to be a challenge, but I came here to help restore and retain the creative arts and culture within San Francisco. In my time here, I have grown to love the city, good and bad. I have been deeply involved in the public art scene; volunteering for public art installations, galleries, murals, festivals, and have been actively involved with the Hayes Valley Arts Coalition and Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association ever since. Cool huh?

chris 4

It’s not always bloody marys and brunch, my friend. I moved here with nothing more than a suitcase and a smile. After 3 months of desperate, relentless searching for a decent housing situation, I was fruitless in my harvest. I was running out of money, energy, and time. I was doing everything in my realm of knowledge to find relatively stable housing, and when I did, the “new car smell” of my new room quickly wore off, as I was the subleasee to a hyper­sensitive, passive aggressive vegan master tenant, who eventually kicked me out for not being “compassionate enough” for his vegan lifestyle… which by the way, was a complete cop­out since, well, ­I don’t even cook.

Steady work was also a challenge. I spent almost 4 months back and forth, bouncing between jobs at a shipping company, ­packing and delivering giant furniture crates, building custom furniture­commuting from Outer Richmond, to East Oakland as early as BART would operate, bartending on the off hours, and taking any random job I could just to make ends meet and keep me away from my depressing and constrictive living situation.

When faced with adversity, your purpose ​will be the cognitive force behind the momentum it takes to survive here. I have experienced the true magic of this city. It’s unexplainable, but this city truly does provide for those who are aligned with their purpose. But that magic seems to only flow between those that have a deep love for the city for what it is or once was, ­not what it’s trying to become. San Francisco is suffering a very real, and severe identity crisis, unflinchingly ejecting “middle”­(if that even exists anymore) and lower class residents and rapidly transforming into some type of hybrid Victorian­industrial­modern­futuristic­hipster­techie Frankenstein. But what is even more frightening is the rate at which it is being ripped apart at the seams between the exclusive and affluent, and the modest and struggling. Of course, San Francisco has never really been cheap, but I don’t think it’s ever been unlivable.

Ex 2. ​Humans are people too

Blah blah blah, poor me, right? Hardly. It’s not about me.

It’s about the problem. It’s a problem that we have unconsciously accepted the homeless as just another element of our landscape. Many of them are SF natives, our neighbors, and simply good people that were dealt a bad hand. Let it be understood that I am an advocate of accountability, and that I believe every individual has the ability to change their lives for the better, regardless of their current situation. However, in a city as overpopulated and underdeveloped as this, it is sometimes not at the fault of those afflicted, but the system as an entity.

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Truth is, you probably don’t spend hours a day contemplating ways to solve the homeless crisis. That’s okay. You’re probably busy swiping left, or planning your Burning Man outfits. I get it. But there’s a big difference between being aware and actually doing something about it. Complacency swiftly transforms into apathy. If you are among those fortunate enough to not have to sacrifice anything more than the occasional entree substitution at Nopa, then this article may not have the same effect on you. But I know first­hand, when you have experienced sleeping in a cardboard box on the streets of San Francisco because you had nowhere else to go, you tend to put things in perspective. Suddenly, my desire for a soft pillow far exceeded my desire for those designer shoes in the window.

Ex. 3 Your integrity is all you got, bud

Working in some type of service industry should be a prerequisite for living in San Francisco. Being a bartender for over a decade has taught me how to quickly read people, situational awareness, and a precise comprehension of non­verbal/ body language. But most importantly, it taught me fucking respect. I have had my very generous share of Black Card flashing, boisterous, arrogant douchebags who clearly think respect is that little blank gratuity line at the bottom of their receipt, and therefore, have no respect for themselves, the city, or others.

Respect is earned, not purchased. Pretty sure we’ve all been somewhere and have witnessed a grade­A, textbook douche in his natural habitat. Don’t be that guy. If you have not been in the presence of a grade­A douche, then there’s a good chance that it’s YOU.

Ex. 4 Leave the rat race to the rats

We all want the dream. We all want to thrive. The question then, is how much are you willing to endure to make your San Francisco experience the best it can be? Admittedly, I came here with the tunnel vision of achieving status, wealth, and fine accoutrement. I grew up with very little, so it’s only natural that I would desire to acquire, right? Well, what I have found in my SF struggle, is that even though I have tasted the “finer things in life”, ­what does it matter? Really. Of course, who wouldn’t love a nice pair of wingtips, ­and yes, an 18 year aged scotch is not quite the same as ‘well’ scotch, but at what cost to your soul and purpose must you maintain this facade before you realize that in the event of sudden misfortune, that it’s all just ‘stuff’? Yes, I said it… Let that sink in, bro…

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You owe it to yourself and your community to do everything in your power to make the city better. I love San Francisco, but I have reluctantly succumbed to the realization that this battle is seismic, and one that I currently do not have the resources, time, or desire to fight at this stage in my life. My purpose has called me elsewhere for the time being. Hopefully, my actions and love for the city have helped to change the life of at least one person in need, or at the very least, some minds.

Fortunately, there are still many people like Stuart Schuffman, fighting for the city and those who cannot fight for themselves. I commend and support them, although I fear this gigantic bubble will burst before anyone can grab a mop.


Ex. 4 A Gentleman Always Leaves A Dignified Mark

I’d like to think I am leaving the city a little better, even if only a fractional amount. I have shown and been shown compassion, understanding, gratitude, servitude, empathy, and respect. I cherish those things more than any event, item, or dish I have enjoyed. Thus, I urge you to be more conscientious about how you spend your time and energy. Make constant assessments and improvements about your community, volunteer, continually strive to thrive, and be ever­mindful. Ultimately, it will not only change your life, but will change the lives of others and maybe even help maintain the soul of the city, which is being watered down like ice in a fine cocktail.

San Francisco has blessed me with accomplishment, failure, and accumulating wealth of knowledge. I will return when I have compiled the trifecta of strategic arsenal it takes to make a big difference in this city, as this is no place for the unprepared. I have learned a lot here, but none as paramount as this: This city pays no mind to your failure or success, but it will surely test you until you ​do.

This is for the young, broke, and beautiful.­­

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  1. December 1, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Did I, misunderstand the article and topic, Property not poverty why ratio of affluent. Laugh as “Blu male”
    prevailing defiance, among L.A and San Francisco “LGBTQ” society where not impoverished. Only, gentrified admittedly, truth class system is imposed by income and networking many not finding entrance
    governmental polices.

    • Joe Guelph
      July 31, 2017 at 4:56 pm

      Was this written by a human being, or an algorithm?

  2. Luna Malbroux
    December 1, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    This is a beautiful, thoughtful piece. Thanks for your words, man. And thanks for urging folks to do something within their power to make the city better. The soul of the city may have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, but it’s still kicking and we won’t let it go without a fight.

    • Chris Vialpando
      December 1, 2015 at 8:36 pm

      I like your style, Luna… I have faith the city will find herself again. Thanks for reading.