In San Francisco 1997, a Latina indie rocker from Texas and a hippie-born cherub woman from Marin became my housemates and best friends. They’d roomed together at Santa Cruz before this and spoke Spanglish in the house. They were more confident, more worldly, and ate much better than I. Our flat’s rent was too low to mention.
One of my first nights out with my new housemates took us to the always exciting corner of 24th and Mission Streets. The Balazo / Mission Badlands Gallery had curated an art show dedicated to the luchadores of Lucha Libre, or Mexican wrestling. Twenty years later, I still recall this event as cinematically cool enough to make me question my own coolness and feel like a huge dork just for being there.
No more drudgery for me in tiny-indie-hamlet Chapel Hill, NC pretending not to see people, or small-town talkin’ to each other in service to the hunt for a mate and/or artistic beauty. Chapel Hill had limits. In a city as big and as weird as San Francisco, you could avoid old lovers almost entirely, and seek duende unmolested.
There were no limits. Somewhere was always open in San Francisco. Somebody was always up and out and doing something interesting.
These girls I lived with liked to search for spectacle too. We went about the underground together, and in those days, the night was always ripe.
The Mission was a real neighborhood, or rather, three neighborhoods atop itself chronologically: Irish fishing families to Latinx working families to mostly-white young freaks. The latest phase had come in the ’80s with the Deaf Club and The Farm and Survival Research Labs and other unafraid punk rockers and industrialists who needed open spaces and/or cop-free environments in order to be very loud.
The relative lawlessness of Mission nights taught us to be quiet, afraid, respectful, or aloof at the right times (hopefully). There, you learned how to be streetwise, and to crush your own sense of entitlement. Don’t be brittle, but don’t be dangerously polite either.
We could all hear the storm coming: Gentrification. To be a vanguard of this generation meant harboring a certain nagging guilt for the rest of one’s life that you were in the crowd that crushed a thing you love. We all watched capitalists come in after us and power-wash the Mission and pave it over with boutiques.
We wondered even then, a lot, if we would smother the neighborhood we adored in the process of seeking out and uplifting other cultures. The main, unspoken reason for gentrification, though, is this: Generation X would rather die than live in suburbia.
But on the good foot, before developers exploited a building-code loophole for artists and created the “live-work loft” yuppie-kennel craze, there were nights like Arte Libre 3 at the Badlands.
These Latinx punk rockers hosting the show had grown up in the Mission and we were their guests, almost like observers to a sacred experience. (Of the artistic canonization of Mexican wrestling.) The Deaf Club might’ve closed down in the 80s, but punk music, weed, and beer still constituted the Mission’s subcultural framework.
This is the second entry in my “twenty years ago this week” project from when I was a nightlife columnist at the Bay Guardian, once the country’s largest family-owned weekly newspaper. These “Dilettante” clips, compiled on my portfolio page, create a serial portrait of San Francisco culture at the turn of the century (1997-2001).
Follow Summer Burkes on Twitter[Cameras were still mostly film, not digital, so if anyone took some great pictures that night, holler at me in the contact box below.]