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Everyone onto the Google Bus

Over at The London Review of Books, there's another recent Rebecca Solnit piece, and this one is provoking a lot of discussion in my previous home, the San Francisco Bay Area. Titled "Google Invades," Solnit, a San Francisco resident who emphatically does not work in the tech industry, describes the migration that takes place every weekday:

The buses roll up to San Francisco’s bus stops in the morning and evening, but they are unmarked, or nearly so, and not for the public. They have no signs or have discreet acronyms on the front windshield, and because they also have no rear doors they ingest and disgorge their passengers slowly, while the brightly lit funky orange public buses wait behind them. The luxury coach passengers ride for free and many take out their laptops and begin their work day on board; there is of course wifi. Most of them are gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and some days I think of them as the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us.

She goes on to describe the unintended side-effects of this type of commuting, not the least being that rents are skyrocketing in a lot of previously working or middle class neighborhoods, making them essentially unaffordable for anyone who is not a part of this particular socioeconomic class. And that's when you can find and respond to a vacancy quickly enough to even be considered as a tenant.

Full disclosure here: while I do not work in tech, I used to live in San Francisco myself back in 2005-2007, and for a year's worth of time, I lived with my computer engineer boyfriend, now husband. And a large part of why we stopped living in the city and moved down to the South Bay was because the commute, which he did using his car, Caltrain, and a shuttle bus, was grueling. Solnit writes that "I overheard someone note recently that the buses shortened her daily commute to 3.5 hours from 4.5," and I believe both that the speaker wasn't exaggerating and that this statement was entirely free of sarcasm.

One of the things that we noticed immediately when we moved south--as in, the very day we arrived, while still sitting in the car after pulling up to a grocery store--was that there were kids around again. And not just babes in carriages or ergonomically-designed babyslings in Noe Valley, either, but honest-to-god elementary school students. People like to joke that there are more dogs in San Francisco these days than children, and while this may or may not be true, it captures one of the qualities of the city that is growing more accute: this influx of new tech money is, as Solnit makes painfully clear, starving the city of its celebrated diversity. It's not just that you can stand on a street corner in the Mission or the Marina and watch three versions of the same person walk by (plastic rimmed glasses/skinny jeans/flannel; polo with collar popped/sunglasses/unironic baseball cap); it's that there's an eerie sense that everyone in the neighborhood lives essentially the same life as everyone else. It's the kind of creepy uniformity that used to drive mid-century novels about suburbia. 

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