Monday, December 12, 2005
Starving in America
Note: I've been sitting on this one for a week, mulling over it. A chat with Justin tonight got me to finish it up for you all.

Friday night, I had attended the Google holiday party in San Francisco. It was held near SBC park on Pier 48. I had brought Justin along as my "date," as I figured he'd enjoy the experience. I wasn't in the best of moods before the party, but Justin was a good date to have--he similarly had no intention of partying heavily. We spent our time at the party wondering around discussing a variety of topics political and philosophical, stopping occasionally so that I could greet a friend or coworker. At one point, I saw my manager from across and told Justin that we should break into the conversation to say hello. Walking up, I held Justin back.

"We should hold off for a little bit," I said.

"Why?" Justin asked.

"He's talking to Sergey."

Anyway, a large number of Googlers were meeting at Club Q afterwards. Justin and I, still in discussion, decided to walk rather than flag a cab. While I've spent a lot of time in San Francisco, I don't know it intimately enough to have had it occur to my that walking to Market and Sixth at 12:30 in the morning isn't the best of ideas. Sixth and Mission is referred to as San Francisco's "Skid Row" or, mockingly, as "Wine Country" (and not because of its vast vineyards, I assure you).

And I was arrogantly walking through wearing a tuxedo. In a dozen blocks, I'd gone from bumping into Forbes' list members to San Francisco's poorest and most down and out.

We ended up not even finding Club Q (for the record, it's at 62 Golden Gate, not 42, Nick), so we hopped in a cab and went back to the hotel and got to bed at a decent hour.

San Francisco is known for having a homeless problem. A big homeless problem. The generally mild climate and the city's past generosity have both contributed.

And it bothers the hell out of me. The Bay Area is home to Silicon Valley, one of the most rabidly competitive and cut-throat bastions of capitalism. Million- and billion-dollar deals are cut regularly. Startups grow from obscurity to empires, and twenty-something billionaires are made. San Francisco is one of the priciest places to live in one of the richest countries on Earth.

And there are people living on the streets in the middle of all of it.

On one hand, the last century has seen accomplishments that dwarf anything previously ever even conceived by man. We've put a man on the moon. The Internet. All sorts of fun stuff.

But what happened to those grandiose ideas of the Great Society and the War on Poverty? Seriously.

I don't blame the haves for the have-nots (and it's not like the haves are sitting on their hands--see or the Gates Foundation). The market is the engine that has produced amazing levels of prosperity--it makes the pie bigger. But that doesn't mean that we can forget about making sure everybody gets a fair slice.
actually, i started the "date" thing, nathan referred to me repeatedly as a "guest" until i wore him down (or maybe it was the booze...i do have a nice figure).

in any case, i would like to give a shout out to an organization that works in the tenderloin district of san francisco (the neighborhood with the largest population of homeless people -- also home to the city's civic buildings): the Faithful Fools. It's a fantastic organization that, while not naive enough to think itself able to singlhandedly produce the Great Society, it's nevertheless foolish enough to work to make a difference. (And, they do.)
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