Posts Tagged ‘california’

At 6 a.m. New Year’s Day I was at Harborside in Oakland, a marijuana dispensary industry leader now with a renovated lobby, display cases and added budtender registers guiding purchases. I had a complimentary coffee and donut, non-medicated. A new era was starting in California, and I was there to shoot video of the first legal sales to anyone 21 years old or over.

California voters joined other states in approving recreational use in 2016, and on New Year’s Day 2018 government licenses needed for legal sales started. Before that, in 1996, California voters approved marijuana use for medical reasons. Benefits for cancer and HIV/AIDS patients were what you heard about initially, but later, for about $50 anyone could go to a doctor specializing in giving marijuana prescriptions, have a less serious reason like pain or not sleeping, and get a one-year recommendation to buy marijuana at dispensaries. Before that possession could be a misdemeanor, though in cities like San Francisco most likely a cop would grind it into the ground with their foot and admonish you for being a stoner.

It made me think of other ways marijuana has changed.

Like how there were marijuana dealers, who didn’t have brand names or fancy packaging with logos, but a clear sandwich bag or even “baggie.” These were people from school, work, other friends, or their connections. Buyers could also take chances on the street, like Haight-Ashbury, listening for someone passing by to quietly whisper “buds,” or going to the guys with “mota” hanging out in the shadows of Dolores Park. The latter had the cheaper “Mexican weed,” often with seeds, dried brown and flattened supposedly from transport over the border. Amounts ranged from a half-gram to an eighth of an ounce, far from the one ounce Californians can now have. Of course concentrates, vape pens and other processed product utilizing all usable parts of the plant didn’t exist. Edibles were limited to brownies or other sweet baked goods, usually sold by a hippie at a music festival or made by a friend with access to cheaply sold or even discarded harvest trim. 

Sounds like progress for users who, even after paying the new government taxes, are still relatively paying less without the risk of legal trouble or logistics of a dealer. In the 1990s, an eighth of top grade bud in California would be $50 to $60, with minimum wage about $5 an hour. Now dispensary specials can be $150 an ounce, and nothing is dry or with seeds. 

I also thought of today’s marijuana icons. Like will there be another Cheech and Chong, or Snoop Dogg? Or movies such as the “Harold and Kumar” and “Friday” series. A common theme is that they are outlaws. Endearing outlaws usually on a goofy adventure. Imagine if they were getting high from today’s high-end boutique dispensaries touting organics and culinary experiments from infused wine to chocolate espresso bites. Jay and Silent Bob being in the drug dealers’ union is now a reality, with organized labor part of the cannabis business. 

Of course, marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, and in some states it can be jail time for small amounts. But whether there’s ever a shift to a nationwide legalization, a total ban, or somewhere in between, the normalization of marijuana has already changed its culture forever.

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Today I woke up with less than a year before I’m 40, and decided to take the advice of a writer I chauffeur and get back into writing by…writing. More than I have been, anyway. So here’s a short story that ties in the day I turned 21, played a show with my band, and the changing technologies since then that reinforces why we need to live life for moments that will never happen again. There’s even video of the show, and for an added bonus, there’s videos of the Human Beans on San Francisco cable access and one I made of Nick’s band Secret Secretaries included in this posting.

I spent my 21st birthday playing with my band 3 Hunglo at San Francisco State University. It wasn’t the largest show, coming in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. But it was everything I could ask for both as an aspiring punk rock bassist, and now later in life, especially as we dissolved after a few years after only “releasing” a home-dubbed cassette tape with a handful of songs. Thinking about those times and lost technologies 18 years later makes me realize how important it is to follow those dreams, because they can never be had again.

My buddy Nick and I were both from San Francisco’s Sunset District, having downhill skateboard races as kids through Noriega Street traffic to the beach. After getting hooked up with friends’ drummer friends, we upped our professionalism and found Lonnie’s ad on the bulletin board at the Lookout Records store in Berkeley. As in he wrote his phone number on a card tacked on a wall at a store where people got music on record, CD or tapes. Not craigslist or another online listing post. Nick and I had our first serious band.

I was going to SF State at the time, working on campus doing phone surveys, which was a very welcome job. It paid $8 an hour, then $11 as a supervisor, while my job at the Hallmark card store was the minimum wage $5. Comparatively, I shared a studio apartment with my girlfriend for $655 a month, not the $1,500 or $2,000 it would be now. Another perk was making long distance calls. Phone calls were generally made from landlines back then, and paid for by distance, not cell phone minutes. In fact, cell phones were only for those with money, and would have been too costly and bourgeois anyway.

It was through that job that a co-worker was looking for acts to fill her St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the university. Having band members available during the day was probably a big part, so we did it. I let the student newspaper know for their event listings, which back then was a bigger deal in advertising shows than in today’s must-have Web presence. I heard about most local bands from The List, a basic-type, photocopied weekly listing passed out at record stores and shows in the Bay Area. No bands had Web pages, and if your music came out on CD it was because a label put it out or you had the money to have them done professionally. Burning a CD was not the DIY undertaking it is today.

Apparently, being listed with us upset some of the Irish folk dancers organizing the event, and along with Lonnie being late due to parking and traffic, we got in a rough six minutes. But it was one of the most memorable six minutes of my life. Peet, another neighborhood buddy who played in the Human Beans and later joined 3 Hunglo when Lonnie left to play for Subincision, even made an appearance on the boombox. Peet would play various tapes, sometimes instructional or commercial recordings, with different speeds and other manipulations as background noise. It used to annoy me, but with Peet later passing away and tapes virtually non-existent, I’d do anything to see that happen again. It’s hard to think it was barely a generation ago.

 

This week the family of Alex Nieto started their federal civil lawsuit in his police shooting death, one of a handful of cases in the Bay Area that have drawn significant protests in recent years over police brutality. It has also brought in discussion of San Francisco’s gentrification, with Nieto a Latino born and raised in the Mission and Bernal Heights. On the trial’s first day a couple hundred people gathered in his family’s support outside the courthouse. Here’s a video I put together.

Nieto, 28, was killed March 21, 2014. He was at Bernal Heights Park on a Friday having a burrito before work as a nightclub security guard when passers-by called police and reported a man with a gun. Police responding said he pulled a Taser at them, causing them to fire, including reloading their handguns and shooting him more until he was no longer a threat. There is no video, as has become the standard in the current outrage over police shootings, but a witness said he was not a threat. There’s debate over whether his hands were in his jacket pockets when he was shot, and many other specifics that are being followed by multiple local media outlets daily.

The officers involved were long cleared of criminal wrongdoing, with some promoted, without any big visible change to police or window smashing protests in reaction. But with the Black Lives Matter movement continuing, with Beyonce’s dancers giving a nod to the Mario Woods shooting with an off-stage video at the Super Bowl, the outcome will have an impact on both the movement locally and community at large. The fact that it is getting daily media coverage, while many lawsuits against police reported at their conclusion, if at all, shows how closely this discussion has become one of the nation’s top issues.

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By Eric Louie

Yesterday I was at the 12th Annual Walk For Life West Coast, which brought thousands to downtown San Francisco to rally against abortion.

It also brought pro-choice counter protesters. The event started in front of City Hall, and when pro-life activist David Daleiden started to speak, activists with FEMEN USA rushed the stage. More active in Europe, where they started in 2008, the women activists’ tactic is to take off their tops for a variety of causes. Their messages are painted on their bodies, with flowers in their hair, and the aim is to use their bodies against a system run by men. Security quickly grabbed them and got them off the stage. As police took them away they shouted “Fraud, fake, liar!” 

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I had expected the other counter protesters, who waited along the march route and were separated by a row of police on bicycles. But the FEMEN activists, who undoubtedly create a media spectacle, obviously do not publicize their actions. Luckily I had found a spot past the crowd near the front of stage right to get shots of the speakers. But I was also able to break away to behind the stage when the commotion started. While the basic rule of camera work is to get as close as you can, it also reminded me of an early lesson in journalism, which was to sit in the back of a courtroom, city council meeting or other gathering. You get to see more, and get out in case something happens.

Here’s some video I got.

By Eric Louie

Last night I covered another community outrage after police killed a black man. Police say he was a stabbing suspect with a knife that left them no choice but to shoot when confronted. Protesters say witness cell phone video shows otherwise.

It’s a story seen many times and in many cities, especially with technologies that let us record images and distribute them through the Web. But this goes further than what happened when five officers fired on Mario Woods that Wednesday afternoon, or even the wider talk of police brutality. 

Last night’s demonstration was during a police commission meeting at City Hall. The largest banner, being used to frame the speakers rallying the crowd outside, read “We are the Last 3% of Black SF.” With the current tech boom others are not just left out, but in some cases physically moved out from rising housing costs with gentrification. During the meeting many speakers identified themselves as native San Franciscans who felt alienated.

Coincidentally, I saw this change first-hand recently. The night after police shot Woods, I was in the same neighborhood working coat check for a welcome party for buyers of newly-built homes. The bus went through the same dilapidated, plywood-covered-window, low-rise apartment housing projects I remember passing through on some occasional journey when young. I had before never taken the 19 Polk to the end of the line before this night, or seen the city from the shipyards my grandfather worked. Though I grew up in San Francisco, there was never a reason to go to Bayview-Hunters Point, with more reasons to avoid it. Once, during a high school journalism camp, I helped navigate us by bus to see a Giants game at Candlestick Park. Many wondered why I took them through a sketchy neighborhood to go there.   

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The most heated point last night didn’t come from someone asking police to stay away, but Sala Chandler, whose son Yalani Chinyamurindi was 19 when he was killed with three others in a car earlier this year. She said the fact that her son’s shooting remains unsolved is an example of a low priority for black lives.

Chandler went over her allotted two-minute public speaker time and wouldn’t stop. The audience stood for her support, police walked towards her, and there was some yelling that led to an emergency recess. Commissioners left the room before resuming shortly after. 

“We ain’t going nowhere,” Chandler said into the mic during the chaos.  “We’re gonna shut the streets down.”

 

 

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As a kid, I remember hearing the stories of Jack London and oyster pirating in the San Francisco Bay. This weekend I got to add oyster shucking-at the foot of the Golden Gate Bride during the best day of another couple’s life-to the list of jobs I’ve done.

It was a casual wedding for about 60, organized by the groom who made the chili and bride who made macaroni and cheese. There was also gluten-free mac and cheese. Chinese roast duck came from a restaurant, and one of the three of us hired to work barbecued tri-tip.

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Before dinner we shucked live oysters. The only other time I remember shucking oysters was with my girlfriend a couple years ago. I was trying to impress her and took her to Tomales Bay. But this job is always different, and instead of putting on my black shirt and tie to serve, I spent the night in the kitchen shucking barbecued oysters as they came hot off the grill for the buffet line. After dinner it was time for the help to eat. A mound of barbecued oysters were left over.

Holidays don’t mean much when you don’t have a regular job. But on this Labor Day, I am reminded that I’ve been fortunate in finding rich experiences in whatever I’ve done.

“I wanted to be where the winds of adventure blew.”

-Jack London, “John Barleycorn”

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Flogging is demonstrated at the Folsom Street Fair on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. By Eric Louie

Flogging is demonstrated at the Folsom Street Fair on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. By Eric Louie

Each year, college started with started multiple San Francisco State University photojournalism students taking this assignment. Yesterday, nearly twice a lifetime later, I got to shoot it.

This is one of those uniquely San Francisco experiences that words can’t describe. So check out this video I did.