SAN FRANCISCO — Punks and yuppies. Are they really so different? Al Cummings wants to know.
He wants to know what would happen if two of this city's most entrenched cultural archetypes--young bohemians and young capitalists--were to spend an afternoon together. And get drunk together. And maybe mix it up in, oh, a lighthearted little yuppie-punk smackdown--"dyed blond versus dyed black, Prada versus Ben Davis," as Cummings describes the most current incarnations. He wants to know: Would it improve civic relations? Would it build bridges?
Also, crucially, would hotties from both sides hook up with you if you won?
In some cities, such questions might stop where they started--in the 25-year-old mind of a T-shirted, unemployed temp/electrician/stand-up comedian who lives over the Taqueria Can-Cun with his sister, a musician and a computer guy. It would be noted that every city with an uptown crowd has an equal-but-opposite downtown crowd, and no more would be said about it.
But this isn't just any city. This is a city whose young singles have spent several years now disparaging each other as antisocial "punks" and shallow "yuppies," thanks to a dot-com boom that hurled them by the tribal thousands into a vicious battle for apartments, parking, restaurant food, cabs, barstools and just about every other urban amenity, including space on the sidewalk. Long after the boom's end, the rage of the displaced has lingered.
Thus on July 13 in Golden Gate Park, Cummings plans to emcee an event that has generated more interest among 20-somethings than a citywide happy hour with free food: an "Olympics" in which the punk-filled Mission District, in the heart of the city, and the trendy Marina, four miles away on its yuppified north side, compete in a series of tongue-in-cheek contests.
The aim: to end the post-dot-com war of the stereotypes.
"I'm just tired of all this tension," said Cummings, lounging one recent workday in his Mission District apartment, a decrepit, four-bedroom affair whose living room features a futon, a barber chair, a bong, a wall full of electronic equipment, numerous keyboards and a concrete duck. "If either group goes into the other group's scene at all, you get this cold shoulder, this vibe. What I want to say is that this isn't just a city for Marina-type people or for Mission-type people. This should be a city for everyone."
Internecine rivalries are nothing new in San Francisco, a city of fierce neighborhood identification from North Beach to Nob Hill. Beatniks and bankers have scoffed at each other almost from the moment the city was founded. But matters became openly hostile in the late 1990s as housing costs were driven up by the high-tech gold rush. The hardest-hit sections of the city were those that were most popular with the young dot-commers--the clean, well-lighted, apartment-filled Marina and the cheap, colorful, apartment-filled Mission.
Always on the pricey side, the Marina saw rents in its half-mile-square sector rise to the size of middle-class mortgages--$2,500 a month and more for an ordinary two-bedroom apartment. Meanwhile, creative types in the more sprawling Mission found themselves driven from their old haunts as Marina refugees outbid them for even the humblest flats. Locals blamed techies and "bourgeois bohemians," who, when confronted, said they had just wanted to be around the "cool" people. Tensions deepened, however, with every new sign of growth and gentrification. Humvees and four-star restaurants began sprouting on blocks that formerly had been known for local characters and good burritos. Galleries, studios and rehearsal spaces began to disappear.
The city split badly. When one Mission Street dance troupe left in 2000 following the sale of its building, demonstrators occupied the place and the story made national headlines. For more than a year on Market Street, the words "Yuppie Go Home" reappeared like a chronic rash on a street-level Gap billboard. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the city's poet laureate and Beat Generation celebrity, wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that his town had become "an artistic theme park, without artists." Slow-growth measures were put on the ballot, and when they failed, city politicians who were perceived to be pro-dot-com were voted out.
Some hoped that the bruises would heal when the economy softened. And they did, a little, as the tech bust proved to be an equal-opportunity font of joblessness. But one of the city's better social barometers, the Internet bulletin board Craigslist, still is riddled with Mission-Marina trash talk, and one of the longer-running chain e-mails is an ever-evolving joke list of Mission and Marina disses. ("You know you're a Marina chick when you know that red is the 'new black,' " reads one. "You know you're a disgusting Alterna-chick when black is ALWAYS the new black," retorts the version aimed at Mission dwellers. Moreover, people on both sides of town say, there remains little personal interaction.