San Francisco Needs More Than A Lyft. It Needs The Mission Bears.
Guest post by Nate Mezmer
Some of the best conversations I have each week (face to face with humans) are with Lyft drivers. Not all of them are talkative and inspired. Sometimes I’m the dick who is glued to my phone. But at least 2-3x a week these drivers end up blessing me with really good conversation. They are usually surprised and even shocked to hear that I’m from the Bay and not in tech. One driver said, “Oh wow! We should put you in a museum.” But I don’t want to be in a museum. I wouldn’t mind going to one (with somebody interesting) although I’d rather walk around the Mission and look at graffiti. Just the other day I saw a new Twister THR in Potrero. That was a pleasant surprise. I questioned if it were real and mentally pinched myself.
After the icebreakers, many of these Lyft drivers open up and start sharing. One guy recently gave me some insider knowledge about the inner-workings at a large tech company he used to work for. He then proceeded to hip me to some very enlightening Bruce Lee knowledge. This life gem arrived right on time and literally changed the focus of the rest of my day. I regretted not giving him my card.
The entire city is not technified and soulless. The Mission High boys team just won the State title in basketball. A public school! The first San Francisco public school to ever win the California title. This is a team comprised of Black youth in a city that has done everything possible to displace them. What an improbable journey led by senior standout Niamey Harris and head coach Arnold Zelaya, a Frisco native. Despite winning league player of the year two years in a row in both basketball and football, Harris and his Bears squad went mostly unnoticed by media and college recruiters until their historic victory. Anonymity has been a familiar position for these young men who’ve dubbed themselves “the Grimy Bears.” An undersized and underfunded roster with larger than life heart. They weren’t supposed to make it this far but here they are.
Immediately after the game Harris said in an interview that the win was “for the city.” The irony is that this city is often an unforgivable place where kids like Niamey spend their teenage years navigating the realities of gentrification and the pitfalls of the streets. Yet this is the same city that bends over backwards for ‘Dreamforce’ and World Series parades but has little to no money for public schools. Something to keep in mind the next time a local ballot initiative asks us to support students and teachers, because, despite how it might feel sometimes, there are, indeed, more important personal choices to make than our selections on Bumble and Postmates.
Look. I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed some of the new cocktail spots and swank jazz joints that keep landing upon our shores. But I miss the parts of “the Sco” that once smelled like Krylon and incense. I miss living in the San Francisco where one used to have enlightening conversations with Taxi drivers who showed up late and drove like shit. Back then the phones weren’t smart but people knew each other. No. I’m not foolish enough to think that those days are coming back. But I do believe that if we are going to live here then we’ve gotta try to create community.
Not every tech giant is the evil empire. Google is the #1 investor in affordable housing here in the Bay Area and just recently committed to building a satellite campus for Howard University. The effort is a joint project with the HBCU to try to solve the lack of diversity within the engineering and computer science field. It would be great if more Tech companies started to look at connecting with local kids like the ones from the Mission Bears. It would also be great if more of us began to look up from the phone and at each other again. Maybe take a walk and look at the graffiti too. I know work is busy, rent is high, and the smartphone is quite charming, but I’m willing to bet that even some of the “techies” have more interesting layers than phones have apps.
P.S. If someone has Mayor Ed Lee’s ear, tell him the Mission Bears deserve a parade!