Snatch of the Day

Saturday, January 1, 2011


WEDNESDAY, January 5

[PHOTO: Rainbow flag flies over Market Street]

A Brazilian tourist going back to the airport. I tell her that when Brazil plays in a World Cup match, it’s often hard to find a taxi in San Francisco because just about every Brazilian driver -- and there are a lot of them -- takes the day off.

There is only one thing that can stop Brah-zeel…Futbol. When there is a futbol game, ev-er-ee-thing stops. There are no people in the streets. No cars. No crime. But I think futbol was better in the past, before it became an een-duss-tree. Now there is so much riding on it -- millions and millions of dollars. So much pressure. But be-foreBe-fore, people used to dan-ts. The players. The fans. Ev-er-ee-bah-dee. People used to dan-ts

FRIDAY, January 7

After I’ve waited a full fifteen minutes, two hipster dudes and two glammed-up babes straggle out of a South of Market apartment building. They need to go to California and Franklin. I say, “Wild guess -- I’ll bet you’re not heading to the Christian Science church on that corner?”

They laugh and then lapse into their own conversation comparing last night’s escapades with previous wild nights they’ve known. My mind drifts away, but then I’m jerked back by this:

I couldn’t find my bra and my shirt for days afterward. I know that sounds really bad, but really, nothing happened...”

SUNDAY, January 9

[PHOTO: Rainbow flag flies over Market Street]

A veteran journalist here to cover a convention of biotech companies. Does she have any hot stock tips for her cab driver?

I really don’t. I’m not even allowed to invest in anything I cover. But I once dated a guy who noticed that a lot of the companies I write about immediately take off. He started buying their stocks -- and that made me really nervous.... He did okay, I guess, but not fantastic -- I was promised an iPod, but in the end I never did get one…

[BONUS STOCK TIP: A mutual fund manager from Manhattan, in town for the same convention: “Human Genome Services (HGSI)has a lupus drug I think is going to be approved. It’s trading about 23, 24 right now, but I think in a year, year and a half, it’ll be up around 40.” By the time I get to my computer, HGSI is selling for $25.69 per share. I buy 38 of them.]

WEDNESDAY, January 12

[PHOTO: Crosswalk, City Hall]

The manager of a club in the Castro, finally going home at 5:30 AM. The fingers of his right hand are curled around an open beer, plus -- if I might speculate -- he has recently stored several others in his belly:

Oh my god -- we had five hundred women come through the door last night... Not all at once, but during the night. These women come from San Jose and Oakland looking to fight… How long have you been a cab driver…? And you don’t know about this? You don’t know...? Tuesday night is Lesbian Night in the Castro, and these women come from San Jose and Oakland looking to fight. Yes, really! And the thing that triggers it all is sports gear, sports paraphernalia. Sharks, Raiders, Lakers, Warriors... All night long my bouncers are throwing them out. Last night I finally posted a sign: No Sports Gear -- Dress To Impress. It was a warning -- last night I let them all in, but next week no one gets in. No sports gear. I’ve been the general manager of a gay bar -- as a straight man -- for several years, and I tell you, the gay men, NO problem. But these gay women are the worst at starting fights… Oh my God. I can’t believe you’ve never heard about this…

FRIDAY, January 14

[PHOTO: During the dawn, I laid on my back in the redwood grove at the base of the Transamerica Pyramid]
We wash the windows of the Pyramid Building... Hell no, I don’t go up! Every now and then I do have to go up to check out the rig and make sure it’s functioning properly, but you would never catch me hanging out of a basket outside a window on the forty-eighty floor. Hell no!

SUNDAY, January 16

Passenger number one: “…she’s been with him through his lowest point.”

What was his lowest point?

Passenger number one: “Lowest point -- I misspoke! His low point was more than epic. First he made ten million dollars managing a fund, then he had a string of affairs, wound up with a kid out of wedlock, then he got drunk at the airport, got on a plane and told the stewardess, ‘If you don’t give me more vodka, I’m going to kill you! They landed the plane to have him arrested but he bolted through the airport trying to get away, blind drunk, pulling his little wheelie bag behind him, suit bag over his shoulder… Before he went to prison he wrote a million-dollar check to settle his divorce, the last of his money. He’s been out for a while now, is making six-figures again, seems to be pretty much all the way back… But I think that qualifies as maybe something more than just a low point…
[PHOTO: Cab stand, Sheraton Palace, New Montgomery St.]

WEDNESDAY, January 19

(Photo: City Hall)

An attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission:

We can’t talk about anything we’re working on, of course, but here’s one that’s already public…

A guy in Las Vegas, working from his dining room table, gets control of a public company that’s almost worthless. It has just four hundred dollars in assets, but hundreds of thousands of legitimate shares of stock worth one one-hundredth of a penny each… There are lots of these shell companies around, and an unscrupulous operator can get control of one by doing a reverse merger. The guy at the dining room table forms his own brand new company, does all the paperwork, registers it legally, and then works out a deal with the guy who owns the shell company -- a reverse merger. Now he’s got one legitimate company with hundreds of thousands of legitimate shares of almost worthless stock, but if he can get people believing the stock might go up, might become worth even a penny, well….

So he gets some video of a Canadian drilling company doing some drilling up in the Canadian Rockies and he posts that on the internet and gets the blogs to start spreading rumors about the company having claims to some diamond mines that might just hit it big… DeBeers does have some operations in Canada, so there’s some vague plausibility. Dining Room Table never actually has any claims, hasn’t filed any, hasn’t tried to buy any -- he just made that part up. But he goes to Nascar races with a free hot dog truck and he... yes, free hot dogs… and he starts spreading rumors about his company’s prospects. In the end -- get ready, you’re not going to believe this -- he gets forty thousand people to invest seventy million dollars…

In 2008 we indicted ten people. Dining Room Table fled back to Canada -- went back to being a crack addict and was living under a bridge the last I heard. Every once in a while some penny stock company actually does strike it rich, and that’s what keeps all the scammers in business… I’d hate to say a number, but it’s safe to say there are lots and lots of them out there
[PHOTO: Green Cab lot, Sixteenth and South Van Ness]

FRIDAY, January 21

A thirty-two-year-old Filipina-American, a genetic scientist, just back from a grueling two-week trip to Japan packed with sixteen-hour workdays:

The first human genome was mapped back in the 1990s, and cost many billions of dollars. Now the price is down to between $50,000 and $100,000 per person. The Holy Grail for our industry is to get it down to $1,000… It would tell you what kind of diseases you’re susceptible to, and could steer you toward early treatment, even prevention... And when a big enough data base is established, it can tell you the migration patterns of all your ancestors…even all the way back to Africa…
[PHOTO: Crosswalk, Sixteen and Mission]

SUNDAY, January 23 (expected high today, 65 degrees)

[Photo: Ocean Beach]

A twenty-two-year-old man in his sixth month as a bartender in the Haight and his third year studying acting at the Academy of Art University:

The school ‘guarantees’ that ninety-nine percent of the graphic design majors will get a job paying fifty thousand dollars a year, or more, upon graduation. And it works that way -- it’s true… There’re about ten thousand students, and most major in graphic design. Only about five percent study acting, but most of us won’t make it to the end. Lots switch to graphic design. Some can’t take the work load -- often we have to memorize forty pages of script -- and some can’t take the criticism. I’ve seen kids cry over the criticism. Twice I’ve heard a teacher tell someone, “That was complete shit. You need to reconsider your major, and I want you to get up and leave my class right now…” Yeah, warranted. Both times. The students had disrespected the teacher and the work. The teachers are all professionals from the industry, and they fly here from LA and New York to teach, and if kids come into class unprepared it can be brutal.

WEDNESDAY, January 26

(Photo: Google’s campus, Mountain View)

During last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama received a standing ovation from Congress when he said that even with all of America’s considerable problems there’s not one country on earth that tempts him to swap places. This morning my first ride goes from the W Hotel to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View ($152.90, including a $24 tip). My passenger looks like she’s about thirty. Three years ago her old company was bought by Google, where she now works as an account manager:

Google is just ten years old and YouTube is not quite five. It’s hard to remember how we lived without all this technology, but we did, we certainly did… They do take good care of us...the benefits are great. You’re going to have nonsense wherever you are, but it seems like Google tries to make it fun… At a smaller company you can get stuck in one slot, but here there’s lots of room to move around, lots of opportunity for advancement. I can’t think of another place, another company, where I would want to work...

[BONUS STOCK TIP (from an analyst): “Polyone Corporation. There used to be several independent chemical distribution networks, but they’ve all been wrapped up by bigger companies. Poly has the last one, and it’s just a matter of time... I’m guessing it goes from thirteen to low twenties. I don’t know if that happens today or this year, but my read is today.” Today, after work I buy 75 POL at $13.20/share.]

FRIDAY, January 28

...over at the docks by Egbert Street loading shipping containers. Manual labor. Not union. It’s that contractor thing. No health care, no benefits. If we work more than eight hours they sometimes pay our overtime in cash -- so that’s good. That’s like a benefit. Sometimes we work fourteen, sixteen, eighteen hours. They made cuts during that crunch last year and I was wondering if I’d have to go find some other line of work but then I got called in again. Now volume’s back up to normal…

I think it’s a thousand dollars over to Asia. Or Europe. One can... Containers, cans -- we call ‘em cans… All sorts of stuff… Paintings get delivered to us in crates and then we pack hay between the crates and load ‘em in a can… One guy filled a can with thirteen Harley-Davidsons. He bought ‘em just before they started letting ‘em make parts in Asia -- now Harleys’re all half-and-half, but those thirteen, all USA… Hogs, choppers, sportsters -- even some of those big banana bars like Easy Rider -- you remember that movie…? He was shipping ‘em to Hollland to sell ‘em for big bucks…

[His fare is $12.10. When I unfold his bills, I discover three ones and a twenty. I pull up alongside him half a block down the street: “Sir, you gave me too much money!” He: “No, that’s all you. You gotta eat, right?”]

SUNDAY, January 30

[PHOTO: Fire hydrant, drink, Endup]

A subdued-seeming fellow, thirty-something, going from the club Endup over to the Mission District:

My wife and I’ve had an art gallery at Sixteenth and Guerrero for seven years, but we’re finally letting it go. The lease expires in two days…

It is sad. My wife is a jewelry designer, and it was a passion for both of us… Best part...? We were able to showcase over five hundred local artists… Ceramics, painting, jewelry, photography, sculpture -- everything… Some of them did go on to bigger and better things -- not just because of us -- there are so many really talented people around here -- but it felt good to know that we helped give them some exposure…

About three years ago we were seeing some pretty good numbers, and then all the banks started to fail… This neighborhood is really vibrant, and we felt like we added a little something good. This is not the way we wanted it, but…
[PHOTO: Passerby reads gallery closure notice]


WEDNESDAY, February 2

At the airport cab lot I ask another driver (he and I have noted each other over the years, but have never really conversed) if he is Egyptian:

Twenty-three Arab countries, twenty-three dictators...

I am Arabian, but not Egyptian. I am from Jordan, many, many years now… Yes, there really are twenty-three Arab countries, and with a dictator for each one… This is a verry good thing happening in Egypt, in the Arab world. I am happy to see my people standing up. Nobody has the right to be king forever. Nobody has the right to murder people -- this is what has started happening in the last twenty-four hours… I talk to my family in Jordan almost every day. Now everyone can see what is happening -- it has been happening forever, but nobody can see. Now the whole world is seeing.

We are all human beings. There is this thing called pressure. If you don't let people talk, if you don’t let people express themselves no matter what beliefs they have -- like we do here -- sooner or later, this pressure… There will be an explosion…

My name is Fee-dell… Yes, Fidel. What is your name?
[PHOTO: Civic Center Plaza, Egyptian solidarity rally, 2/5/11]

FRIDAY, February 4

A woman who runs a clinic where lasers “erase” old scars:
People with acne scarring or scars from an injury or from cancer are left with these constant reminders of, “Oh, that’s what I went through…” With the lasers, we mimic an injury underneath the scarred areas, and this triggers the natural healing response of your body. Basically we create hundreds of tiny pinpoint injuries, which create hundreds of micro-scabs -- I say it’s like having braille on your face, but it’s the same color as your face.... This time around, the skin heals from the inside out -- it’s controlled -- and when it heals, it actually resurfaces that top layer… Not really painful -- I’ve had it done twice… I guess I should have it done on my hand so I could show you…

You get three treatments in one month and it’s done, and after three months it’s virtually undetectable... It doesn’t break the bank -- usually it’s between fifteen hundred and thirty-five hundred dollars altogether, and I think that’s pretty reasonable for something that’s going to make a permanent difference in your life.

I am pretty passionate about it... I’ve been here about six months… I hope it sounds like I know what I’m talking about...


5 a.m. My first passenger is standing in front of a Potrero Hill apartment building in the pre-dawn darkness. I ask him, “Are you up early, or out late?”

“Out all night… I met this girl, went back to her place, spent the night. But she didn’t want me to leave just now and she wouldn’t tell me her address. On her desk I found a bunch of mail addressed to 244 Church Street, so I gave that address to the other dispatcher, but when I came out here to wait I realized I’m not on Church... Two miles...? No wonder. When I called back, the dude’s like pissed, says his driver woke up some guy over on Church Street and there’s no way he’s gonna send me another cab… So I called you guys.”
[PHOTO: From Hwy 101, at 50 mph, one hand, no-look, click -- townhouse windows on 26th Street catch the dawn]

WENDESDAY, February 9

[PHOTO: Through front passenger window, Third and Howard]

A flag at Third and Harrison -- a distributor from Las Vegas pulling a cart full of samples. Every few months for twenty-five years he’s come to San Francisco to sell a line of products to the hospitality industry. Me: “Have you developed any particular sales strategies or wisdom you might share?”

Oh, I like this question… Here’s one: When you make a big sale, don’t relax. There’s a temptation to go down to Fisherman’s Wharf and sit in the sun, but don’t let up. Make that next call. When I make a sale, I hit the accelerator, not the brake.