Tag Archives: San Francisco

Chief Dabbler recruiting creatives in San Francisco

Jemal “Jay” Swoboda developed two critical skills growing up with a dozen brothers and sisters on a midwestern farm: how to learn to do new stuff and how to get along with people. Both serve him very well as the Chief Dabbler of Dabble.co, a Chicago-based city exploration and local adventure platform now launching in San Francisco.

“You had to learn how to fix stuff,” Swoboda says about his childhood. “A lot of skills my family shared with me were ones I didn’t think twice about. Our limited resources made being resourceful a daily requirement. We reused the bath water for three to four kids to save water and money and when the hot water heater broke – we boiled water on the stove until we fixed it. There is a confidence that comes with the knowledge that I can fix something broken or take care of an animal that is sick and not have to spend a bunch of money for someone else to do it for me. Gardening, welding, plumbing, word-working, you name it, these are useful skills I learned just because of my upbringing.”

Dabble is all about creating shared experiences with people learning new skills or talents. Users purchase tickets to learning-based events that redefine the meaning of “diverse.” Classes range from important skills like welding and cooking, to more intriguing offerings like knife throwing, archery and how to dance like Beyoncé.

“For the price of a round of drinks or your monthly cable subscription, you can learn new things, meet new people and have a great local experience. Anyone can dabble,” Swoboda says.

 

Born to Dabble

Like all of the Dabble staff, Swoboda started out as a consumer.

“We’re dabblers and travelers ourselves. The team is made up of people who share their skills and experiences already. They are creatives who are inspired by the work and time shared with others. We created a platform we wanted to use,” he says.

The freshly launched startup that began in 2011 made a splash in Chicago, quickly emerging as a go-to site for finding new things to do, new hot spots or new talented people willing to share their skill set with others.

Swoboda, then a St. Louis resident with an entrepreneurial bent, helped Dabble expand. Beyond the viability of the business, he connected with it on an emotional level, seeing people dabble in learning new things, making things and connecting with others. It reminded him of home.

“There is a very clear connection in that world between what your hands do and how you live. This is important life stuff that we could really lose touch with if we’re not careful,” he says.

Swoboda had spent more than a dozen years as the founder and editor of What’s Up Magazine, a nonprofit publication written & sold by the disadvantaged and homeless of St. Louis. If he were a football player, he’d be described as having a “high motor.” His relentless energy kept him busy with St. Louis startups, building LEED-certified homes, teaching as an adjunct professor and racing in ultra marathons. Despite his full dance card, he dove deep into Dabble when the opportunity arose, heading up the company’s St. Louis expansion before moving to Chicago.

When Dabble’s founders shifted focus to other opportunities, Swoboda was ready to up his involvement. As the new CEO–or Chief Dabbler as he calls himself– of the company, he won an Arch Grant for $50,000. He brought in new investment funding and continued the bootstrapping effort to bring the site to more people.

Fans of the site are thrilled.

“I love me some Dabble,” frequent user Elise Taylor said. “A friend introduced me to it a few years ago, and since then I’ve done a class every couple of months.  For couples it makes a great date night–our last Surprise Date Night was an archery lesson–for individuals it’s great to learn a new skill.”

 

Taking the next steps

The next steps will be the most challenging in the company’s five-year history.

In addition to its strong Chicago base, Dabble has grown in Denver and St. Louis with pockets in more than 10 cities. With the next round of investment funding looming, Swoboda knew growth would be imperative to the site’s success. He targeted San Francisco and spent a couple of weeks in September making the rounds in search of the best teachers, classes and experiences in a city full of them.

“We want to dip our toe in the water of this Bay, because we know that is an unending limit of people and experiences here that we want to help share,” he says.

Soon San Franciscans will experience what Chicago resident Sara Omary talks about to friends all the time.

“I already love flying solo at Dabble classes, making new friends, and telling new Dabblers about the other great experiences I have,” Omary said. “I am down to try literally anything and have a good time doing it. Dabble has been an amazing way to learn new things, meet new people, and discover more of Chicago since I moved here in January.”

This, to Swoboda, is the other thing that drew him to Dabble beyond just learning new things. The People. Especially in urban centers that can seem isolating when compared to his upbringing. Swoboda loves the urban life but knows human connections are critical.

“What’s this pull to cities?” he asks “Why do we live in the middle of the bustle? We live here because of the energy, because living in cities collides us with this unending list of experiences and people.

“This is what makes a big city feel small,” Swoboda says. “We’re not just schelping classes.”

Calling all creatives, small business owners and artisans. Sign up your classes on Dabble now by clicking here. It’s fun, easy and doesn’t cost a thing.

 

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Bucket list check: Goodbye Vin

Several years ago, at the lowest point of my life, I was in rehab and far removed from everything familiar and comforting. Like so many do when life dead ends, I started the so-called Bucket List focused on things I hoped to do again once I put my life back on the rails. Almost every item involved an experience I wanted to share with another person.

One item on the list: listen to a Vin Scully broadcast one more time. I didn’t need to share it with anyone else, just legendary Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully.

The sweet, understated, folksy charm of Scully connected me back to my childhood. Night after night, I carried my radio down to the local market that had the game of Pac-Man. I’d put the radio above the game, break out a roll of quarters I saved from my various chores or entrepreneurial activities, and tune into Scully’s Dodger broadcasts.

These times said a lot about me. I didn’t need a lot of others around to find my happy place. I loved baseball and still, do. I loved mastering anything–in this case, Pac-Man, where eventually I could play three or four innings on a single quarter– and I tended to be both competitive and addictive even when the activity didn’t matter to anyone else.

But mostly, they reminded me of a marker in my life that felt uncluttered, uncomplicated and happy. These three things don’t often align in my life.

At the time I wrote the list, I knew I couldn’t get a Dodger broadcast until the next season. I told my brother during a visitation about my hope.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Scully is retiring this year.”

I couldn’t believe it, and yet, of course, it made sense. He had already broadcasted for more than 60 years–a staggering run of longevity and excellence. But still, like everything bad happening during that time it felt personal, like punishment. Fate needed to take my to the shed, again and again.

But fate showed some grace. Scully re-upped for quite a few more years bringing us to this day today, the last time he broadcasts in LA. I sit in my dream apartment, my dogs nearby, just passed my seven-year sobriety mark, and I can cross this off the bucket list. I’ve heard Scully a few times in the last few years, but this is special. I’m here at the end of his ride and again, in a better place in my life.

When I added Scully to my Bucket List, I optimistically hoped to listen to a Giants/Dodgers game. If I was going to have a memorable moment, why not go for one of the great rivalries of all time and one that marked my growth. I grew up a Dodger fan and yet long ago moved myself and all my allegiances to the North. I’m San Francisco through and through these days, even if an adopted not naturalized citizen.

Scully’s final broadcast will be later this week, on the road here in San Francisco, for a final Dodgers vs. Giants game. I’m not sure I can get that broadcast, but I’ll watch the game along with Vin for one last time.

In this world so full of grace, it’s nice to be reminded of how much I’ve been given.

“God is so good,” Scully reflected today on this special broadcast.

She is indeed.

 

What’s the secret to a great city?

I wish I knew.

(A real-life city) is a malleable and teeming landscape, where ever-changing populations put our buildings and spaces to their own desired use. Some sights are familiar; others come and go. The thing they all share is the ground beneath our feet.

–John King, San Francisco Chronicle

Some say this the Golden Era of the Golden city of San Francisco. Other says the soul of the city is in danger of being lost forever.

Most of us who live here, know both to be true. What we don’t know is exactly how to pull from the best of these tremendous forces of change to unlock the secret of a truly great city that embraces all of its inhabitants.  In the abstract we know what a great city looks like. But in the real life sweat and swings of San Francisco, few of us are ready to admit, we have know idea.

We wish we knew.

The slow crawl to suburbia that defined the 20th century now has swerved and turned and headed straight back into the pulse of urban life. Our cities are dramatically changing, as is the expectation of what life can be like within them. Our commitment to city life has never been greater and for all the best reasons.

So we all moved back, but to what? That remains the central issue.

We know every city has a pulse. Each evolves in its own way. Decisions and investments will chart that course for better or worse. Building a sustainable, vibrant city for the vast swath of diverse people who call it home takes intentional effort. A city’s change doesn’t just “happen” though, for many of us, it may seem that way. We have a role to play. It’s an inspiring role, one with a passionate call to help define the place we call home.

We believe in the priority of home, of putting our expertise to work in shaping cities that work for all. We all have a responsibility to the ground beneath our feet.

  • To help those in need.
  • To be a source of care for those around us, by being polite, by paying attention to others, by doing what we can to spread the energy of joy.
  • To advocate for what we believe in and push for solutions.
  • To pay it forward.

Once upon a time, people identified strongly with a sense of place. They represented their hometowns and they lived in a manner cognizant of their impact on others. Today, such things are out of step with an epidemic of focus on self.

But for a truly great city to be the type of place we take pride in calling home, it takes more than self-interest. It takes a renovation of a long-lost priority of community.

Whether this is San Francisco’s Golden Age or the season of loss remains to be seen. The answer will likely be found in a basic approach of how we live with one another.

 

A morning run finished, a milestone awaits

Several years ago, I ran my first half marathon on Easter Sunday, the last day of a long six-month slog through rehab. Next week, I’ll run my fourth half marathon but the first with The Bride. Back then we often dreamed of running together and celebrating health and happiness and sobriety. I ran endless loops around the track envisioning someday when we would run across the Golden Gate Bridge in celebration of God’s redemptive work in my life.

Next Sunday, I’ll realize that goal.

So this Easter Saturday, The Bride and I decided on a fun run as a final day of training.

We hit T minus 7 for the Rock N Roll Half Marathon in San Franciso. We needed a final run just to make sure we were ready for what will surely be a windy, hilly, challenging, trek over the Golden Gate Bridge and into city center next week.

For our final long training run, we wanted to get out early because the damn race starts at 6:30 a.m. The Bride and I run early most morning, but not that early. We need our first cup of coffee and general waking up time before we lace up the shoes. This practice became a key point of emphasis, much to my dismay.

We also wanted to keep moving past as much different terrain as possible. Coit Tower’s Filbert Steps, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf and back up into the center of town. In a word: challenging.

We also wanted it to be fun. So we set the finish line at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse in the Tenderloin, for its famous Cruffins.

A Cruffin at the end of miles through the beautiful city of San Francisco was meant to be a reward.  This might have been the only flaw in otherwise beautiful Saturday morning plan. I felt regret in my gut as we ran by Mama’s in North Beach early on. That should have been the finishing line.

At Mr. Holmes, the wait was long, the cruffin itself a poor proxy for the trend- and taste-setting expertise of the cronut and the unnecessary calories a week before a huge run combined to take the luster off the visit. But hey, at least we can say, “we’ve been there” for whatever that’s worth.

And next week, we will truly cross a landmark off the bucket list. I’ve been sober almost seven years. This run is a highlight of just how unexpectedly wonderful this second chapter of my life has been.

My beloved city has a brand problem

“When San Franciscans look back on 2015, we may decide that this was the year the city stopped having fun,” San Francisco Chronicle Columnist Caille Millner wrote.

I’m not sure about that. I think the roaring ’20s-like atmosphere in the beloved city of San Francisco isn’t quite ready for 1929 yet, but an ominous note has finally reached the level of consciousness.

The reality is many San Franciscans aren’t having much fun at all, but they haven’t been for a long time. Walking through the Powell Bart stop on a chilly winter night, sleeping bodies lined the corridors like a scene out of the depression.

Ours is a city of great disparity and that growing divide between those “having fun” and those desperately struggling to survive threatens the city like a fault line.

San Francisco has a serious brand problem. Folks come here and see the desperate homelessness, the trash and the potholed streets and wonder what all the love is about. In too many places, this great city does look like a dump.

Add to that the uber wealth that shoves the middle class and arts communities right out of the city. That’s the real issue. We’ve become a city for the silly rich and down and out and not much else. Far too many who work normal, well-paying jobs here, live in other communities and make the long commute because they can’t afford to live here. Yes, the $4,000 a month rent is awful and the million-dollar price tag for a fixer upper make home ownership a mirage for most of us.

All of this is cited by Millner and impossible to argue against. But arguing isn’t going to help. Wringing hands can’t solve the real problems the city faces. Solutions?

Maybe. Some are very committed to it, including the wealthy, many of whom are passionate defenders of liveability, as evidenced by a generosity theme sponsored by the philanthropic arm of The Battery, an elite social club in the city’s financial district.

The focus centered on solutions for a city of 1 million that works for all its residents.

The sheer size of the problem discourages creative solutions. Can an entire city collectively fight for its liveability? Can incentives for people of each class improve help keep balance? Is economic balance necessary or even American?

God, I hope so. Diversity is one of the most important reasons I love urban life. San Francisco is at its core, diverse. Economic diversity is part of it. Genuine solutions for those on the margins can be sought, and the margins include those sleeping in BART and those middle-class families moving out or away altogether.

What’s laudable about The Battery’s philanthropic effort is that it doesn’t accept limited ideas that the city’s stubborn problems of gentrification, ridiculous housing costs and oppressive homeless can’t be solved.

This little seed of belief within me and others who love this city, a belief that San Francisco can work for ALL, has grown to become among the most important issues and causes I support. I don’t know the solutions. I just know they exist.

San Francisco has a brand problem. But if any city can truly create a city that works for all, it’s this one. We may not have as much fun, but we will have a city that lives up to its highest calling.

Climate change now means migration on a massive scale

The Youngest One read about the horror facing Syria families trying to flee their worn-torn nation. Her eyes glistened in compassion. We talked about it through dinner. We talked about how hard it is to help. An hour later she set up her first crowdsource campaign, giving her Christmas to help others.

This campaign remained on my mind last week when I listened to a presentation by a global environmental expert, Konrad Steffen. I could go on and on about the stunning news I learned during just a 30-minute presentation, but let’s jump to the real headline.

In the aftermath of COP21 and political rhetoric that insists there is still a question about the widespread impact of climate change, consider this little separation of the wheat and the chaff:

Regardless of what we do now to change the course of global warming, ocean levels will rise about 3 1/2 yards on average over the next fifty years. In places like the northern coast of California, seas will rise more than six yards.

“Don’t invest in sea level property on the coast,” Steffen said. “You’ll be under water… Right now in San Francisco buildings are being built that will be under water before the next century.”

This is going to happen.

It may be far worse–like the-whole-Earth-underwater worse–but Steffen’s presentation focused on what is assured. Fact. Beyond a doubt and can’t be changed. There is no release valve on oceans. The water now melting in Greenland is filling the oceans and make them rise.

As significant as this news is, it’s still not THE headline. The real headline came in a comment Steffen made next when he said Europe and America are better off because they will simply lose shoreline. Nations that have no elevation will simply disappear. My mind first went to where Gilligan and The Skipper hung out. But that’s not what he meant. He wasn’t concerned about little-deserted islands, he was talking about the homelands to hundreds of millions of people all underwater within 50 years. A specific example he offered: “Bangladesh.”

I sat next to a coworker who hailed from Bangladesh. As my gut clenched, I heard him shift in his seat. At the first opportunity, he asked for clarification. “Did you say Bangladesh will be underwater?”

Yes. Can’t be helped. Sure, maybe if we get our shit together we will construct significant sea walls that keep the home to 8th most populous country in the world dry, but that’s a stretch. Steffen pulled no punches about the impact and the issue that this single environmental reality meant:

“A very large migration is coming that will start in the next forty to fifty years,” he said. “A wave of immigrants 50 to 100 times larger than what we see today. It will happen, unfortunately, no matter what. This sea level rise is on the books.”

Which brings me back to The Youngest One and her gripping sadness over Syrian refugees. We simply can’t imagine the widescale disruption that is coming our way.

Countries like Greece and Italy are already overrun with desperate refugees. Yet, xenophobic American leaders call for closing our borders. These are the same leaders who deny the impact and urgency of climate change. They mocked COP 21 compared to the threat of terrorism.

Really? When hundreds of millions lose their country, except some anger toward developed nations that did nothing despite knowing all along it was coming.

Steffen made one other point, almost as an aside that hit me like a right cross to the jaw. The American military, he said, is already building its coastal bases in preparation of 1-2-meter rise in sea level. Nothing shows what we believe more than how our military reacts. Since the political party most in opposition to climate change is also the most ardent supporters of the American military, it’s safe to say they don’t believe their rhetoric, not when they approve such a landmark shift in military policy. I wonder if we can track every pro vote for the Keystone pipeline to every pro vote for a military budget that is planning for sea level rise?I don’t know if such a trail exists, but such leadership is unconscionable.

Bangladesh has nearly 160 million residents. Will we welcome them even as our shorelines are displacing coastal residents everywhere? Think about that.

Sometimes, I think America has become the parody of “The Capital” during The Hunger Games. Then I remember The Youngest One and her Syrian campaign and so many other bright lights of hope just like her.

We can do better. But we have run out of time for talk. It’s time to do shit. And shut up with all the nonsense debate while we do. Humanity depends on it.

 

 

 

Lunch meetings build connections to those unconnected

I like to spend time with the homeless and struggling in my neighborhood. They are appreciative and interesting, and often teetering on the sharp edge of reality. I’ll make some peanut butter and banana sandwiches and go out to the park. I find out a bit more of what they need and try to round it up for the next time. It doesn’t do much, but for a minute it helps them stay aloft on the edge a bit better.

The more I get to know some of these folks, the more two things become unmistakable:

  1. They are fully human with deep feelings, conflicted thoughts and even some faint mixture of hope amid the sorrow and regret. In other words, just like us. The titles they wear–homeless, crazy, bums, nuisances, etc.–don’t help. They share the one that is important to all of us: Human.
  2. They are fully traumatized. They suffer a lack of nutrition, sleep, security, comfort and any measure of peace. They are on their last nerve, or more accurately, far beyond it. I heard a homeless advocate once asked why the homeless seem so, well, crazy. She responded that crazy is the most normal state in those conditions. If you were kicked awake any number of times a night, if you were frigid cold and hungry and scared without respite, how long would you hold onto your sanity? Ever snapped at someone because you didn’t sleep well the night before? Imagine that times 100. Those that aren’t crazy are the miracle. I’ve met these miracles. Happily so.

Disclaimer time: I have no interest in the political scrum. I’m not one any side. I’ve walked down Market Street and see the deterioration. I know the city suffers and residents have grown weary of trash, urine, panhandling and misery at their doorstep. I get it. I take no sides. I just want to know my neighbors.

One of my favorite folks to run into is named Papa Smurf. He’s sort of the leader of the band in our neighborhood. He says he has a spiritual intuition and could tell the moment I first walked up that we shared a spiritual bond. Over lunch in a park with about five others, I overheard him call me a guardian angel. I felt like I won an Oscar, well aware I couldn’t live up that in a million years or with a million peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

I’ve been asked a lot about “what can be done” about “the homeless.” I’ve never once ventured an answer. There is no membership club. “The homeless” is not a thing. It’s a condition with a wide revolving door, a complex group of people suffering from any number of causes: financial calamity, addiction, past mistakes, mental illness and trauma to name a few. I don’t spend lunch with my neighbors because I have any answers; I spend lunch with them because they are my neighbors. When my family walks through these places, I want the residents to know us and for us to know them. I want to feel safe, and I want to contribute to their feeling of safety in some small measure. If they know one neighbor, they are likely to feel a bit more like the belong.

The sad part is, they won’t belong for very long. San Francisco is the host for this year’s Super Bowl 50. Even though the game itself will be played in the 49ers billion-dollar albatross of a stadium far south of here, the village for the eight days preceding will be at Justin Herman Plaza and Market Street, which is where these people I share my lunch with now live.

Mayor Ed Lee has not been shy about displacing those who make their home in the plaza or along one of the city’s signature streets.

“We are always going to be supportive,” Lee told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But you are going to have to leave the street. Not just because it’s illegal, but because it is dangerous.”

Well, the reason my neighbors live here is because it’s less dangerous. I’ve gone out at night in the city’s notorious Tenderloin district, home to all the vices in the world and a vast number of the city’s more than 6,000 homeless residents. For homeless folks trying to sleep there, well that’s dangerous. As Papa Smurf explained, the folks who come down to Justin Herman Plaza are seeking the outskirts. They want away from homeless politics and fear. They want to rest. On Sunday afternoons, there is even a church service, for the homeless, by the homeless. It’s their community church. It’s part of the neighborhood.

But the mayor is clear. The Super Bowl is coming. They got to go. Lee made that clear: “They are going to have to leave,” he said after the city announced its Super Bowl Village plans.

There goes the neighborhood.

Sustainable surf: Sharks warn of warming threat

What many call an Indian Summer, we call October.

San Franciscans know, summer comes late. In May and June you will be bundled in a parka at a Giants game and whipped by wind that seems to have come from the Arctic. But come October the sun’s warmth, relatively windless days and perfect skies greet you day in a day out.

But even for us, this year has been different. Never mind the drought and snowpack that is considered the worst in 500 years. Never mind the unseasonably warm winter.  Global warming can be seen in the Bay in too many ways to count, be it mosquito bites from the night before (I’ve never once closed my windows here, but recently I wish I had) to the sharks out on the bay.

Just how real is global warming? Too real. Case in point: Friday a friend of mine decided to go surf on Ocean Beach (a place known for terrifying big wave winter surf). The waves were big and pretty, more like the Southern California waves I’ve surfed than the Bay Area waves that scare me silly.

Only at the last minute did she tell me her plans were cancelled. As it turned out, it might have been for the best. That very day the Coast Guard spotted a school–no, make that a literal graduating class–of Great White sharks a football field’s length off Ocean Beach.

“This is the first I’d heard of near-shore aggregating in such an urban area,” Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, told SFGate.

Nobody, including my friend who avoided the surf that day, turned into dinner for wandering sharks looking for food farther north than normal. But one sea lion a few days earlier wasn’t so lucky. Captured on video (that I won’t show here) a great white devoured its prey near Alcatraz in front of many onlookers. A bay known for its brutal cold and myths about sharks is now inverted. The water is warm enough, and the sharks are not only real but hungry.

I spoke to a guy today who surfed nearby Stinson Beach Saturday and said it was beautiful. He hadn’t heard about the sharks but was glad he didn’t. A great surf day. Personally, I’ll wait until the sharks move on, just to be safe.

The sharks are just doing what they do. This is not to sound the alarm to go to war on sharks. Nor do sightings and threats create the need for silly politics to appease the worried humans as was the case a decade ago in Virginia when sharks started eating tourists. Then Republican Gov. James Gilmore responded with a multi-million dollar task force to figure out why the shark attacks were occurring. I wrote a column with the answer: They are hungry. I included a bill for $1 million for my services, huge savings on his committee. He didn’t pay.

Sharks create silliness and overreaction and all sorts of stuff that isn’t our finest moment. But in reality they are telling us something: Global warming is real, and our lifestyles are unsustainable.

So no, we don’t need a committee, and yes, we can probably still surf. What we do need is to recognize and support those doing things to make our planet better for both us and the sharks and all of us coinhabitants who depend on the health of this spinning blue, green miracle we call Earth. One such organization: Sustainable Surf.

Sustainable Surf is a California-based non-profit charity organization founded by social entrepreneurs Michael Stewart and Kevin Whilden.  Their mission is to “be the catalyst that transforms surf culture into a powerful force for protecting the ocean playground.”

The organization uses the best practices of systems approaches to leverage interest in the ocean toward sustaining it. It is a perfect example of those who love the ocean (or for that matter anyone who depends on it, which would be… hmmm…. everyone? right?) to best care for it and promote its health. Global warming is at the top of the list of concerns.

“Surfing is now seen as one of the leading ways to help society get stoked on solving major problems like climate change, sea level rise, and ocean acidification,” of the group’s blog stated.

It’s an organization I am yes, totally stoked about. October summer in San Francisco is the best, but sometimes too much of a great thing should get our attention. Do more than gawk at videos of killer sharks. Get involved in sustaining the oceans that sustain our life.

Hardly strictly the power of art displayed

Nearly a million people came for the #HSB15 music this weekend. They came for the celebration of art, for community, for friendship, for simply a place to go that doesn’t cost a damn thing. They jammed the open spaces of Golden Gate park so full you simply couldn’t find an open space anymore.

They came for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2015, a free weekend music festival that very well could be the best of its kind anywhere.

“This is the great gift of Warren Hellman, the one and only, to not only the City of San Francisco, but the world of music.” ~SF Chronicle

For starters, let’s state the obvious: it’s free. Nothing is free these days. You can’t cross a bridge without a toll. Bus fares are rising. Libraries are still free (mostly) but they are forever threatened with government funding cuts (ironically, nobody threatens to shutter a jail for lack of funds, but just try keeping libraries, historical societies, parks and campgrounds open). Virtually everything costs these days, but not this incredible festival with the likes of Joe Jackson, Boz Scaggs, The Indigo Girls, Los Lobos, and Flogging Molly to name just a few of the more than 100 musicians who performed.

This is a rare gift of musicianship. And it’s free. Effin Amazing.

But more than the price tag drew people. Hardly Strickly is an event. It’s where people from all walks of life want to be. Sure, music is the draw. But look around. It is far more than that. It’s magic, most of which starts with people. Folks wanted to be with someone else, even if just near others who enjoy the same music.

HSB models how something so simple as art and community can pull people together more than most any other thing, which is basically the entire vibe behind Effin Artistry. We are most human when we are creative and positive and together.

Perhaps the entire Chi of the festival was best summed up Sunday morning by the lead singer of a local band, The Stone Foxes, who said:

“We live here in San Francisco where the rents are fucking high and the music venues are going away, but we’re here to say, the music still matters in San Francisco!”

A lot is wrong with our Golden City. But this is what’s right. No matter what this brutally hard life doles out, often a guitar and song, or a poem read aloud or a mural on wall can make us feel that much better than we did before.

That is what this festival is all about.

Let’s not pretend for a minute that alcohol and drugs don’t play a major factor in the gathering. The entire festival is by default viewed through the hazy, perma-stink of the stinky lettuce emissions.  Black-market booze sellers stacked cash like mobsters. What would this festival be like if it was also a drugs- and alcohol-free festival? That’s the interesting question for another time. Maybe an Effin Artist type of time.

Today, it’s enough to celebrate the power of the arts to bring us together. In being together, we are often far more human than we are apart.

Seriously, what is wrong with us? Bully no more

Bullies suck.

Bullies are over-compensating kids who express hurt, sadness, fear, need for control or some combination of all of the above by punishing those they don’t like or who are physically inferior to them. They pick on unsuspecting and undeserving victims to make themselves feel better about their Effed up life. And while I’d like to feel compassion for them, they make it really, really hard. Mostly, I want to give them a taste of their own medicine.

Bullies start out as children, but they rarely evolve. They trample their way through life. Few things are as sad as an adult bully. God forbid their children. Something about bullying stunts that better part of us that values other humans and pets and places and in the latest news, robots.

Some bullies happened across a defenseless robot who did nothing but hitchhike and spread cheer. They promptly beat it into disrepair, according to various news reports. The robot was the size of a child. It’s creators could track where it went. The robot sent back photos every 20 minutes. It moved only by the kindness of strangers, who’d then leave it for the next Good Samaritan to give it a ride.

The robot had crossed Canada and parts of Europe when it set out from the East Coast with a sign on it reading “San Francisco or Bust.” Can you imagine how this city would have greeted that little dudess? Bat shit. Just nutty insane.

Instead, it didn’t make it past some bullies in Philly, who beat the robot into oblivion and then sent a picture of its demise. The tracking device was broken so the robot’s owners can’t even go pick it up.

Like I said, bullies suck.

hitchbot.0

I was nearly a bully. For some reason in the second or third grade I had it out for a guy named Keith Klump, who, as I recall, did absolutely nothing to nobody. But I decided I was going to beat him up. I let it be known around the school yard, just as bullies do, that I was going to beat him up. Keith responded as most innocent victims do. He ran.

Turns out he was fast. Day after day, he’d bolt from the classroom at the end of th day and sprint home. The class bell was like a starter’s pistol. Day after day, I vowed to get him until one day I did. I think I made an excuse of needing to go the bathroom so I could be outside, waiting to pounce. I caught him in some bushes near the school and a small crowd gathered to watch the attack. I sat on his chest and waved a fist and noticed something strange. Keith never once fought back. He just laid there, limp as a dog, waiting. I yelled at him to fight back, and he ignored me. I cursed at him, and he ignored me. I fake punched him, and he ignored me.

In the end I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t hit someone that defenseless. Furious, I climbed off him and had a slew of choice words for him, but inside I was a dark knot of ugliness that I couldn’t tolerate. It took me awhile, but I realized I would never be a bully. I never forgot the courage of Keith Klump. It changed me. I’ve never apologized to Keith, but I have fought my inner bully ever since.

I have also fought bullies. I tend to seek them out. Most conflicts in my life circle back to this theme. When a bully does his thing, I bully right back. At times this may have seemed noble, but in the end it was just a continuation of the bully creed: violence, ugliness and hurt. At times I didn’t notice when the tables turned and I slipped into the bully role.

Peace is the greatest power in the world. It takes the real courage and makes the more lasting impact.

The robot may have met its demise, but the story has spread even further today because of it. For every American bully that gives us yet another black eye for our violent nature, our love of guns, our hate of those difference than us, our culture of bullying, a dozen Good Samaritans will rise up.

Somehow, I think a hitchhiking robot will ride again and this time when it makes it to San Francisco they bullies will know they never, ever, win.