Almost two years ago I wrote a blog post called “Achieving Home” about the decision to move to Buenos Aires–at least for a while. At the time, I was asking myself, What am I devoted to? What matters most?
The answer: I wanted to focus on my memoir, and I didn’t find it possible to focus in the Bay Area because I was consulting to Silicon Valley CEOs while serving clients in my burgeoning coaching business and working on my book. It was too much to do at once.
I never really thought I would live in Buenos Aires forever, and so, over the last couple months I have been spending time in various places in the U.S. to consider whether I would want to move back.
For me decisions have become about feelings as much as thought. The pros and cons list can only take me so far–the feeling of “yes” at a certain point has to take over. So I was going to “feel” San Francisco and every place.
When I came back to the San Francisco Bay Area after spending 20 months away, I wasn’t surprised to see that new cafes had sprung up while other longtime businesses had disappeared. But wow, there was so much change! It’s a dizzying experience to come back to San Francisco because the area changes so quickly.
San Francisco is a very unique U.S. city. Republicans demonize San Francisco for being liberal. San Francisco is very progressive but actually people in the San Francisco Bay Area do many things are differently: sex, relationships, gender, food, work, drugs, and therapy. Trends start in California, then some go come nationwide–or worldwide.
San Francisco is a safe place to incubate new ideas because people are so open-minded and entrepreneurial. They’re willing to give new things a shot. Most big tech companies have their HQ there or nearby too: Google, Facebook, Apple. For better or worse, tech has changed the world. It’s no surprise to me that I birthed the quirkyalone concept in San Francisco, and that idea found an audience globally.
In the last 20 months, San Francisco seems even more intensely San Francisco. Maybe this is part of the polarization of the country as a whole post-Trump, each place becomes more intensely itself in reaction. The right gets righter, the left gets lefter.
In this post, I want to tell you about the trends that popped out to me with my new outsider eye: in San Francisco and other liberal enclaves around the U.S. When you’ve been away for a place you see it differently when you return.
Since many people say trends start in California these trends could be a preview of what comes next wherever you live.
Before talking about more fun and light-hearted trends, I can’t help but note the biggest trend in San Francisco: the absurdly high cost of housing in the wake of the ongoing tech and biotech boom. Which has led to a rather unfortunate urban dystopia.
The average cost for a 2-bedroom apartment in San Francisco in 2018 is $4,423, per rentjungle.com. In Oakland too the rents are nuts: an average rent for a 2-bedroom is $2,922. There are very few places to go if you lose your housing in Oakland or San Francisco.
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated $75 million to SF General Hospital to make it the Zuckerberg Hospital now but his company and all the other big tech companies have contributed to rent increases that have displaced so many people who made the city unique and great.
Before I left for the last 20 months, I was going on dates with engineer men who made the money to afford luxurious hotel-like apartments on destitute streets in San Francisco surrounded by homeless encampments. San Francisco has turned into a dystopia with too much luxury and destitute poverty right by its side.
Can the city wrest its soul back? The Bay Area always attracts dreamers who find a way through their social networks to survive but at the same time many people have left as a result of the tech boom. I assumed the prospects for a sustainable San Francisco were bleak—that the entire Bay Area would one day become like Manhattan, totally unlivable unless you are wealthy or working 70 hours a week for a tech company.
On this recent visit I was surprised to see that people are still fighting in San Francisco for affordable housing. A mayoral election is coming up after the sudden death of Ed Lee, a man many thought was too friendly to tech interests at the city’s expense. Can a new mayor take the city back to make it more humane? Is there still a sliver of hope for the Bay Area to remain a place with a diverse citizenry beyond the techies and their families?
Many of my friends hang on and the Bay Area will always have a big piece of my heart. Here’s to hoping for some real civic action on creating affordable housing and policies that work for the whole.
Here are just a few of my impressions on the changes that popped out at me after 20 months away.
— Kombucha is taking over the beverage section. Still don’t know what kombucha is? Have you visited the beverage section of your convenience store lately? Kombucha is a fermented beverage that many people love and many people think is gross. It’s a polarizing beverage, if you will. Kombucha is made by brewing cold tea, sugar with a slimy big mushroom called a “scoby.” With its probiotic content kombucha is good for the intestines. I love the effervescent kick of it.
Since I started drinking kombucha I’ve noticed the trend has gone mainstream. Pepsi Co. bought KeVita, “the leader in fermented probiotic beverages” and so now we have corporate kombucha.
There are also lots of regional, artisanal local kombucha makers. In Beacon New York, an artsy town in the Hudson Valley I visited after San Francisco, I tried out this Calmbucha that looks just like beer in a mug. Yum.
All over the healthy cities of the U.S. you’ve got your local kombucha brands but on San Francisco Kombucha seems to really have taken over. Kombucha used to be a fringe thing but now there are just sooooooo many brands and flavors. You had mystic mango, tantric tumeric and gingerade for a long time but now you have watermelon basil. That somehow says it all for me: watermelon basil flavor kombucha is a crossover moment.
By the way, kombucha has not made its way to Buenos Aires. Instead, water-based kefir is taking off in the Paris of the South.
—Avocado toast is the hot new trend. I didn’t actually witness any avocado toast but my friends told me it’s the hot trend at many cafes.
—More 100% gluten-free restaurants. I have celiac disease so eating gluten-free isn’t negotiable. I was always surprised by how few 100% gluten-free restaurants there were in the San Francisco Bay Area–there seemed to be more in Buenos Aires (where no one eats gluten-free as a trend). This time I noticed far more totally gluten-free eating establishments, which is fantastic because that means we celiacs can let down our guard and not have to cross-examine the wait staff about cross-contamination. Relief! Here’s a list of 17 SF GF spots. I tried Kitava and As Quoted, and especially adored Kitava. Here’s hoping the 100% GF trend spreads nationwide to more restaurants.
—Recreational cannabis is very available. When I left Oakland, there was already a lot of pot in the Bay Area–the whiff of it could often be smelled from my apartment. If you had a medical card, you could order a delivery service (Uber for pot) to bring all varieties of “flower” to your door.
Last year California voters legalized recreational cannabis and made it even more seamless to get pot. Now anyone can walk in off the street without a medical marijuana card to buy cannabis.
During my visit I took BART downtown to see a fortysomething Silicon Valley friend who now works at LinkedIn where the average age of employees is 27 (that’s another thing, SF feels so young!). On my walk from downtown BART to LinkedIn I noticed the Flower Power dispensary on the way.
Flower Power serves a daily menu of edibles such as cannabis chocolate, gummy bears, chocolate covered blueberries, flowers (of many indica and sativa varieties) as well as “extracts” and “pods” of cannabis. Don’t know what the extracts and pods are? I don’t either.
The location of Flower Power is wild: just steps from the BART train and in the middle of all the hot tech startups. It’s so convenient to get pot on the way to work or home. The woman working the counter told me she served employees from Lyft and Uber that morning.
When Trump was elected I wondered if more people would smoke more pot to check out of the pain of reading such horrible headlines. Maybe that’s happening.
—Microdosing LSD as the new coffee. OK, wait, what? So not only does everyone have easy access to cannabis gummy bears, a lot of tech types are microdosing LSD! I was having coffee with a techie friend he told me about the latest Silicon Valley trend for productivity and creativity.
Microdosing LSD means taking very small doses of the psychedelic. Back in the 60s, Timothy Leary days, people took 250-500 micrograms. Microdosing people now take 10 milligrams to be more effective at work. My friend described these users as quite square tech types: their goal is less mind expansion, more success.
Some people think microdosing also can help mood. In her memoir A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life Berkeley author Ayelet Waldman wrote about how taking daily LSD microdoses helped her recover from severe depression.
There is no research on the long-term effects or whether LSD is addictive at a microdose. Are they also microdosing LSD in New York on Wall Street?
-Trans-pronoun awareness. There are a lot of linguistic trends that I’m not exposed to because I’m faraway in Buenos Aires. One of them is this new convention of using pronouns to identify your gender, or your refusal to identify with the gender binary of men and women.
While I was visiting I went with a friend to pick up her son at a San Francisco school. I was shocked to see all the teachers had their little pictures posted with their names and preferred pronoun: “she,” “he” or “they.” I thought if you look like a woman or a man it was assumed we call you “she” or “he” but it seems like the trans awareness is all about destabilizing assumptions about everyone’s gender.
Later I talked with two friends who are in law school and a PhD programs at CUNY (City University of New York). For them, it had become not-so-unusual in the classroom setting for people to announce their desired pronoun.
Is this level of trans sensitivity in schools a trend of just New York and San Francisco? I’m not quite seeing it in Texas or Montana.
–Feminist desk signs and other gift products. I was shopping for a friend’s birthday gift and couldn’t help but notice how many feminist products there were in gift shops: everything from memorial books from the Women’s March to “Boss Lady” signs to put on your desk.
Just five years ago it still seemed edgy to call yourself a feminist. Post-Trump and Harvey Weinstein, all of a sudden feminism seems downright trendy.
I bought a Boss Lady desk sign for myself and a friend because I thought, hey, that’s fun and inspiring. I wanna be a Boss Lady.
Later when I traveled on the East Coast in Beacon and Brooklyn, New York, I noticed even more feminist products now that my eye was attuned to them: a tote bag, a craft product for kids, and even more desk signs!
Commercializing feminism could result in watering down the movement — that’s what Jessa Crispin warns against in Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto but I have a hard time getting worked up over feminist tote bags. If girls are learning to make craft products to smash the patriarchy instead of playing with Barbie that’s probably a good thing.
Now that we have a pussy-grabber in the White House and the #metoo movement it’s not surprising that we have more Lady Boss signs for sale.
Here’s to hoping those lady boss signs take off as a trend everywhere. In Congress. In big companies, in auto plants, in academia. I fully support that lady boss trend.
What trends are you spotting? Let me know what you see in the comments.