Tonight I tried to go to my favorite happy hour in San Francisco, at a sushi restaurant in the Marina District. I pride myself on finding good deals in a city where going out to eat at a mid…
After the layoffs at KGO radio, I started a new adventure in life. I moved onto my boyfriend’s sailboat with plans to live in the Bay area on a shoestring budget.
I’ve started a new blog to chronicle these life changes, including my trip to Thailand, my hike on the John Muir Trail this summer, and many sailing adventures to come.
Please follow my new website: www.kristinhanes.com
Almost one week ago, I handed over my iPhone to KGO management when I was laid off from my job. I’ve been smartphone-less ever since, and have experienced almost every emotion associated with losing a prized and valuable object. An object that’s gotten me from here to there, pointed me toward food when I’m hungry, coffee when I’m tired, and displayed the temperature when I didn’t know what to wear. Our smartphones are intertwined with the fabric of our lives, facilitating the advanced web of communication between us. Texts! Calls! Emails! Facebook! Twitter! Instagram! Without the iPhone, I felt lost and alone.
Then, I discovered my brain.
In the days since I’ve no longer had a smartphone, I’ve felt my brain growing and learning in ways it hasn’t since school. I have to look at landmarks to find my way around, create maps in my brain of the spaces around me, and drive without Siri’s comforting voice. I’ve even gotten lost a couple of times, and had to use my own wiles to find my way to my destination. I was getting there, old school style.
At first, this felt awful. I had a constant bloom of anxiety in my chest, wondering if I’d get lost, if anyone was trying to reach me, if I was missing some sort if immediate and urgent news. I wanted to check my phone at traffic lights, make calls when I drove, see what was happening on Facebook. I felt shaken inside, and wondered if this is how it feels to be an addict.
But luckily, I didn’t have to completely cold turkey, because I have an iPod touch that works in wifi. I delightfully discovered that I can make phone calls through Google, text to other iPhones, and look up important map information before I leave my house. The only thing different is that I no longer have a little friend that’s hooked up to the world wide web, constantly bothering me to pay it some mind.
A recent New York Times article discussed how much we rely on GPS. That the part of our brains responsible for mapping out our surroundings are actually shrinking. That even cab drivers, who had very advanced internal maps, are now losing this part of themselves as they rely more and more on GPS. So the more we use smartphones, the smaller our brains become. Scary.
I have learned a lot about myself during this week without a smartphone. That I am able. That I don’t have to be in constantcommunictionwitheveryoneatalltimesconstantlyeveryminuteeverysecondeveryday. That I can drive around and use the time to think, or listen to the radio. That coming home, then checking my email is a treat to look forward to. That smartphones are not really a necessary evil.
But despite all this learning and hopefully brain growing, I have ordered another smartphone. I hope my relationship with this one is different. I am choosing a service called Project Fi from Google, where you pay as you go for data, $10 per gig. But if you don’t use data, the phone is only $20 per month for unlimited texts and calls. I’m hoping the fact that I have to pay to surf convinces me to use my own brain, to figure things out, before immediately going to my phone.
The smartphone culture we now have saddens me. It’s like we’re a bunch of cyborgs looking down, constantly hooked up to the outside world, doing something else. Forget about eye contact or hellos on the street, or even in a bar. We are a society of addicts.
I hope at some point, everyone learns to look up, to grow, to change.
When I was a fresh-faced journalism graduate at 22-years-old, I used to attend Associated Press conferences in Portland, Oregon. I was completely in love with radio, and took classes on writing and editing, listening enraptured with wide-eyes as the teachers played clips from KGO Radio. KGO as an example of creativity and excellence, impeccable writing, witty leads. I still remember one story about saving water in San Francisco, and how the writer creatively played the sound of a shower and himself singing. I was enthralled, and told myself: ” One day, I will work at KGO Radio.”
Eight years later, that day came, and I was nervous the first time I did a liveshot with Bret Burkhart and Chris Bretcher, practically shaking inside with the knowledge that my voice, my voice, was going out over the powerful airwaves of a Bay area powerhouse. I couldn’t be prouder to work with the people I considered the Greats of Radio News.
I thoroughly loved my job. I accepted every assignment with the giddiness of a puppy, wanting to do my best and impress my fellow coworkers. When anyone gave me a compliment, I glowed. I still couldn’t believe I was working here, that this was my job, and asked the sound masters Bret Burkhart and Scott Lettieri for tips on how I could improve. I studied their stories with the glee of a college student, wanting to be a master like them.
The KGO glow lasted until the talk show hosts were fired 6 months after I began. I still remember their distressed faces as they packed up boxes, and wondered what KGO radio was trying to do. When they announced we were going wall-to-wall news, I scoffed. Why in the world was such a world-class product trying to compete with a station that already knows how to do wall-to-wall news? Why were we going head-to-head with KCBS, a station that’s cornered the marketplace on 24/7 commercial newsradio? I had worked at the all-news station KOMO in Seattle, and knew it wasn’t going to work at KGO.
But still, I adored my job. I got to crawl around and inspect both Bay Bridges more times than you can count.
I practiced my “radio face” while interviewing politicians.
And I kept my desk and newscar as neat and clean as possible.
I got to cover the President, the Vice President, and Orlando Bloom, and do human interest and science stories. I felt lucky to work at a radio station that didn’t only value blood and guts, and the “if it bleed it leads” mentality. I felt KGO radio worked hard to truly appeal to and connect with the listener.
Over the years, KGO radio faltered, and eventually failed. Ratings dropped to precariously low levels. News people walked around the fear of format changes and firings. Cumulus took a chisel and slowly cut away at our news team, getting rid of the South Bay Bureau first. Our world was rocked. KGO radio was dying. With the conglomeration of radio stations, the industry was killing the news.
And on March 31st, 2016, at the end of the quarter and the end of the pay period, Cumulus took us one-by-one into a back room, and killed us off completely. Thursday was a bloodbath, a carnage of news talent, a ripping apart at the seams. In a few hours, the once powerful and mighty KGO radio was nothing but a shell of its former self, computers and editing bays sitting like tombstones in a deathly quiet newsroom.
I wasn’t all that sad for myself, I’ll be okay, but was sad for the state of radio. I was sad about my coworkers, for our rapport in the newsroom was one of a kind. I truly loved the staff. Our banter, the bull-headed voice of our assignment editor, George Ramirez, the laughter over some dirty joke. My coworkers were a class act, and its hard to believe we’ll no longer see each other every day.
One my way home last night, I turned on KGO radio. I heard tinny music and a bad promo, reminiscent of a small town radio station somewhere in South Dakota. Had the Bay area’s flagship station really turned into this? Had the magnificent, powerful, ever-present KGO level truly sunk down to new lows? I thought of my 22-year-old self, the magic and joy that KGO radio evoked in me, and felt a lump rise in my throat for the end of era.
Even though I lost my job, I have not lost my passion. I will always be a radio news person. I love radio to my core. I will always love radio. The way it creates images, invokes emotions, inspires connection. Radio is a special and storied medium, one that’s survived the decades, where voices have emanated from massive living room sets to alarm clocks to car radios. We must keep radio alive.
Whenever radio people talk about being on air, we say, “Let’s play radio.” To us, radio is fun, a joy, a passion. KGO radio might be dead, but our voices are not.
So let’s play.
Finding a place to backpack in the redwoods north of San Francisco, within an easy few hours drive, is no easy feat. I googled and read and bought books, and finally, picked a place called Humboldt Redwoods Park.
“Just come on up,” the visitor’s center assured me. “You can go next door and get a backcountry permit, and you’ll be on your way.”
We drove north, for what seemed like hours and hours, stopping to sleep along 101. I knew this area was ravaged by pot grows and shady activity, so felt a little nervous each time a pickup truck roared past.
The next morning, we headed to Garberville for breakfast. I’d always imagined this town would be quaint, nestled in with the gentle giants and alive with art shops, coffee houses, and brewpubs. But no, Garberville looked like a prison yard and a homeless camp in one.
I went into a grocery store to stock up for our backpacking adventure, and all I saw were creepy men. Men wearing NRA shirts. Men with tattoos on their knuckles. Men with tattoos on their necks and faces. And you know what they say about men with tattoos on their faces: Prison Break. I bought my food and did a prison break right out of that store.
What happened to Garberville? The pot industry up here has reached the billions, so a lot of weirdos dubbed “trimmigrants” travel to this heavenly slice of earth to make money picking bud. I know this town has a problem; I’ve heard it from the people who live here, and have even done a story. People inject drugs on street corners, set up encampments, and cause trouble. Some townspeople carry tasers. Others have set up neighborhood patrols. It’s sad that the locals have to deal with such a mess, all from an unregulated pot industry nestled within these beautiful forests.
After our depressing visit to Garberville, we drove north, to Humboldt. Ancient redwoods lined the road, and I breathed in deeply, finally feeling at peace. The redwoods at Humboldt State Park are some of the oldest remaining groves in the world. These magnificent trees used to span the globe, but only a few remain now in California. They were nearly logged from existence, now an endangered species.
We walked into the visitor’s center to see about getting a permit, and an older woman of about 80 smiled at us.
“Permit? You don’t need any permit. Everything here is free!”
I didn’t believe her, so headed to find a ranger at the campground next door.
“Actually, all the backcountry camps are closed this time of year. It’s too wet. You can do a day hike, though.”
I was bummed. We’d driven all the way up here to escape the roads and humans and to get into the depths of nature. Apparently, the visitor’s center at Humboldt doesn’t know what it’s talking about, and I fear its due to budget cuts that have hit all the state parks over recent years and have yet to be restored.
We cut our loses and drove to a short hike among the oldest stand of remaining redwoods in the world. It felt magical within these groves, with the earth soft beneath our feet, and these ancient beings stretching high into the sky. I loved being back amidst the ferns and moss and streams, reminiscent of the temperate rainforests in Oregon.
On our way back to the car, light was fading from the sky, so we opted for the road. Diesel truck after diesel truck spewed exhaust into the air, fishing poles affixed to the front. It felt like odd to be in such a beautiful place with such strange people all around.
At 5pm, we were ready to find a beer, but the only local bar had a bunch of pickup trucks parked out front with a sign in the window that said something about the tea party. We felt a little unsafe in this part of the world, in our hiking gear and Prius. We looked at each other, and decided to drive the four hours home.
I think heading up to the redwoods would be perfect if one had several days to go north of Humboldt State Park, to explore the National Park, Del Norte State Park and Jedediah Smith State Park. But all these are way too far north for a simple weekend trip from the Bay area.
We stopped in Garberville again for gas and snacks, and I refused to get out of the car. Weird men with backpacks and low-slung pants walked past, and I felt a sense of danger and urgency to escape the drug-infested Humboldt County.
I wonder if it will ever get better up there. All I do know, is that I am thankful the ancient redwoods still stand, those pillars of beauty, strength and longevity.
Fruit is making a comeback. No, not in smoothies or green drinks or freshly picked from the tree, but in beer.
Yes, BEER. Are you gagging yet?
Mango. Pineapple. California prickly pear (are you serious?), strawberry juice, pear juice (what?!), grapefruit. Mango. Papaya. Hibiscus. Hibiscus??
Those are some of the flavors I heard described in brews that are hitting the market just in time for the iconic San Francisco beer week, which kicks off this Friday, then features over 700 beer events all over the bay area.
I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. The newest beers feature FRUIT? There must be something wrong here. Fruit in beer is wrong. Just wrong. Or is it?
Even product manager Terrance Sullivan with Sierra Nevada Brewery can’t believe he just described which fruits you can taste in their new Tropical IPA. “I never dreamed you’d put fruit in a beer, or make it intentionally sour,” he told me at a recent media preview of beer week, “But that’s what the kids want these days.” The kids have no taste, I retorted in my mind, because news reporters aren’t supposed to make retorts.
But then I tasted the Tropical IPA. Loved it. It had enough hops to make it bold and crisp, but the citrus added a nice depth of flavor. I was hooked. Just like I’d been hooked the first time I’d tried the Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin. A fact that was very hard for me to admit.
You see, I’d become a beer snob. And you just DON’T PUT FRUIT IN BEER. Or do you?
But soon, I graduated to Widmer Hefeweizen, enjoying the unfiltered, wheaty texture. When that became too bland, and as my beerbuds became more refined, I swore off fruity beers forever and started drinking the true nectar of the gods: IPAs.
I’ve been an IPA lover even since, enjoying the crisp, hoppy beers, some with the sharp bite of pine, or juniper. I learned I love certain hops, namely, simcoe, Citra, and centennial, which are in brews such as the venerable Pliny the Elder, or Ballast Point Sculpin, or Racer 5. I learned at one beer event that these hops are very closely related to marijuana buds. Go figure.
But when I tried that Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin in 2015, after years of scoffing at beers that had fruits like watermelon, or raspberries, I knew I’d found something special. The one beer where fruit actually worked. The IPA taste was strong, the grapefruit a mild, yet potent afterthought. It made me feel healthy, adventurous, bold. I could drink this with breakfast! Wait, Kristin, that’s going way too far. But it was very, very good.
Now, everyone is riding Ballast’s wave, and adding fruit to beer.
Then, you have brewers like Jim Woods of the Woods Beer Company, who are creating beers that aren’t even like beers at all. He described one beer, with hibiscus, bay leaf and mate, as the rosé of beer.
“We really like being inclusive and showing people there are many different ways to make a beer rather than just making it hoppy and bitter,” he told me. He’s known for creative brews, another is a porter brewed with peppers and chocolate.
I wondered if beers like these, which in my mind aren’t really beers at all, would help attract a new clientele. Like the people I know who don’t like the typical taste of an IPA, or pale, or lager, or hefeweizen. Maybe these beers would entice wine or cocktail drinkers to taste something new.
What I did know was this: My beer Snobbitude was being challenged by these fruit-infused beers. Maybe the “kids” knew something I didn’t when they clamored for pineapple and mango IPAs.
A long time ago, one bartender told me, “There’s a beer out there for everyone.”
Now, it seems that’s closer and closer to being true.
Last night I ate out at this “trendy” San Francisco sushi restaurant called Umami in the Marina. I’ve been there several times before, and love pairing Scotch and nigiri. The atmosphere is fun and lively, the lighting perfect, the waiters attentive. Last night was packed. People 35-and-under standing around the bar holding cocktails and whiskey and beer.
I had a lot of fun and the food was great, even though I had to shout above the din of the crowd. About halfway through my meal was when I had the Super Snobbified Experience.
I was buzzed from drinking Scotch and headed to the women’s bathroom. Once inside, I heard funny voices coming from the ceiling, so looked around up there to hear where it was coming from. A Japanese word, an English word. I smiled, thinking it was interesting while a couple of women washed their hands.
Then, one of them spoke: “Were you rolling your eyes?” She said it abruptly, eyes hardened, pulling me out of my pleasant Scotch-zone. I saw a pretty, made-up woman about 30-years-old, her brown hair in a ponytail, her designer jeans cuffed at the ankle. “Um, no,” I said, “I heard Japanese and was trying to figure out where it was coming from.” She looked like she wanted to pounce on me, start pulling my hair in a vicious catfight. “Yeah. Right,” she scoffed, sneering at me as she harshly pulled the door open and stalked out.
I stood there a moment, stunned, then started to laugh. Like that pretentious little snob is of ANY interest to me!? Like I’d be rolling my eyes at HER? Like I even CARED about her? I hadn’t even noticed her! It was ludicrous and laughable. When I got back to my table and told my story, my friend said, “That’s the Marina for you.”
And that’s not all of the San Francisco Snobbery. Recently, at Nihon, I was charged $6 per bottle for sparkling water, of which my friend and I drank three bottles. $18,….for WATER?? When I got the bill I was shocked, and told the manager I thought that was too much for water. He said, “People come in here all the time and spend $5,000 on dinner. We think it’s tacky to mention the price of the sparkling water.” Umm…..thanks. Like I could ever come in here and spend that much on a meal. Really? That was your excuse? I will not be visiting Nihon again.
What is happening to the bohemian, hippie City by the Bay? Sure, there are still lots of restaurants and people who are not snobby, but two experiences like this within a couple of weeks is just too much. Is San Francisco getting more and more snobby?