6 Miles of Surprises or Where is Chewbacca?

I’m continuing the tradition of super long walks across San Francisco and have been discovering the bold and the beautiful things along the way.

I started my walk in SOMA,  navigating between homeless people and tourists  and right about Chinatown I stumbled upon two young women who were jumping around an intersection with “Honk if you want to save the baby seals” signs. On these signs they drew baby seals in different bright colors. All I could think about was with that with all the troubles in the world how did they end up choosing this one? and what was the logic behind determining that doing what they were doing was useful?  Oh, well. Not all brains are born equal.

Then I went off to find the famous Caffe Trieste, where apparently Francis Ford Coppola wrote the Godfather. I haven’t even seen the movie (shame on me) but I like to give myself destination to discover. The discovery was not so impressive but now I can say that I had been there.

I continued up the hill to Coit Tower, another destination on my todo list. The views on  way up were simply breathtaking. I was too cheap to pay the $7 fee to take the elevator up but did take pictures of the frescos inside, which reminded me a lot of Ayn Rand for some reason.

I got a super secret lead from a colleague about the Greenwich steps. This was a secret passage to the left of the tower, going through something that felt like a tropical jungle in the middle of the city. I saw numerous beautiful flowers, butterflies, humming birds and even a blue parrot. I guess it was not so secret because I bumped into many huffing and puffing tourists that were going UP the stairs. Suckers.

After descending to the pavement I headed over to the marina district and on the way ran into Darth Vader and Chewbacca (Star Wars is another movie I haven’t seen, by the way) who were having a huge fight with the silver statue man (you know, those guys that paint themselves and sit without moving?) Everyone was having a great time taking pictures of the fight. Until the cops started zooming in..

Star Wars at Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Mason, San Francisco walk, Maritime National Historic Park

After what seemed like a very long walk on the equivalent of New York’s horrible time square, San Francisco style, I escaped the dreadful crowds and cheesy tourists traps when I arrived at the Aquatic Park / Fort Mason.  Right about the time I stopped feeling my arms from the cold, I finally decided to head home. I then hopped into my new favorite mode of transportation and spent the $7 I saved at Coit to pay for my Uber ride.

Sausalito is not a name of a Mexican spicy sauce

This weekend I took the ferry boat to Sausalito (only $5  with the Clipper card!) and 30 minutes later I found myself at a little piece of heaven. It used to be an artist colony but now it’s a kind of a yuppies-who-sell-artsy-stuff-to-tourists, type of colony. As always, I started walking in the wrong direction and ended up discovering many interesting things.  I also discovered my dream house for retirement (hopefully, by next year), well actually maybe 10 of them.  This place is so damn cute.

Later, I googled “cool things to do in Sausalito” and found out that I have been doing the right main thing: roaming around. I ended up walking 2- 3 miles until I reached Fred’s Place, where food took ages to be served and the waiters were extremely concerned with offering you coffee every 2 mins. When I finally got my Eggs Benedict, the couple in front of me, was screaming at the waiters to take away their coffee cups and stop asking them about refills. The food was quite good so I’d recommend the place. Especially if you like coffee refills.

Fred's Place in Sausalito
My brunch at Fred
Fred's Place in Sausalito
Fred’s Place

Afterwards, I took the less scenic route and visited art galleries and quirky shops. My current read, a Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, recommends eavesdropping people as a tool to improve one’s empathy (he claims that even Scott Fitzgerald used to have a notebook to take down all the conversation he had been eavesdropping on). I tried to do the same, but then I overheard a man telling a client that his testosterone levels are low and then saw another looking at phallic pictures on his mobile phone. This was too much information so I am quitting on eavesdropping.

What has brought me to San Francisco?

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On my flight to San Francisco, I was reading Isabel Allende’s novel, Daughter of Fortune. It started in Valparaiso, Chile and finished in San Francisco, at the time it was starting to form during the California gold rush days. I didn’t know what the book was about when I started reading it so the coincidence was a strange,  but not entirely uncommon. Funny how these things happen.

The gold is long gone but I did come to the Golden Gate city in search of an adventure.

It all started when one day I got an SMS (apparently people still use this outdated technology) from a Business School mate:” Stuck in Dallas due to snow storm, thinking of coming to Austin and flying from there, are you around?”. Luckily, I was indeed in Austin and of course, I invited him to stay with us, looking forward to catching up. We were just moving to a new house, so it was great to recruit an extra body to help us carry everything. Plus, I was kind of curious to learn more about the Russia – Ukraine conflict (NPR is kind of useless on this topic) from someone who had many contacts in the region.

Well, one thing led to another, and once I found out about some of the challenges my mate’s San Francisco-based tech start-up was working on, I couldn’t let go of my fixer-upper nature and offered my help with solving them. We talked this through in the following weeks and Voila! It was decided that I will relocate for a couple of months to help on some projects.

Some of the other deep considerations that went into this decision:

1. I couldn’t do yoga anymore due to some orthopedic issues with my neck, so I had now much more free time on my schedule

2. My next trip was not planned at least until May

3. I never lived in San Francisco but on my visits there it seemed that it had way cooler coffee shops than Austin so I really wanted to explore all of them

4. I figured that San Francisco will be kind of a nice weather place to be in. I now know that cold is relative and my tolerance quickly adjusts to feel cold anywhere where it’s not extremely hot.  I am really not sure why I thought that my San Francisco wardrobe should consist of light summer dresses. Maybe I was thinking about LA? Mom – please bring sweaters and boots when you visit.

5. I wanted to catch up with my bay area peeps because I never get to see them unless we bump into each other in class reunions or breakfasts in Rio de Janeiro (you know who you are).

6. I wanted a break from driving. Whatever you say San Franciscans, complicated public transportation is better than no public transportation!

7. Fake consideration to be used in professional settings with people I am trying to impress with my super powerful business woman persona: Having worked in more traditional industries, I wanted to benefit from the Bay area’s abundant innovative/hi-tech resources plus the lean start-up operational experience in order to apply those lessons in my future endeavors.

First days in San Francisco

My first day of exploration of San Francisco was full of adventures. I picked up UberPool (shared ride service, $7 anywhere in San Francisco) for the first time ever and ended up riding it with a fashion professor from New York, who informed me that the upcoming trends to NOT look forward to are stylized pijama wear (i.e. wear your pijama to work) and gothic style (black from top down, metal, bondage). I shall be preparing my wardrobe for the next season..

We both went to visit an incredible exhibition called High Style at the Legion of Honor Museum by the Golden Gate. It featured costumes that inspired designers in the past 100 years or so. It was truly special and I even managed to save $25 by just showing my Bank of America card (totally unplanned pricing and even more unplanned savings).

After the exhibition I decided to roam around the bay, discovering one amazing view after another. I stopped for lunch at the Cliff House, which was a very nice place with gorgeous views of the ocean and finished my trip at the Golden Gate park, which was much more of a forest than a park. I think I am going to really like this city.

On the way back in my UberPool, I rode with a student from Monterrey, Mexico who told me that lately the government has been cracking down on drug cartels so instead of ganging on each other, they started to kidnap innocent people in order to make up for the lost revenues. #fail. The things you learn using shared cars..

SXSW Days 4 and 5 – Oscillating between Changing the World and Narcissism

Days 4 and 5 of SXSW are a bit of a blur because my brain was starting to overload and my digestive system was getting clogged from running on peanuts and chips for three days.

One thing that really started to bother me was the amount of time spent on twitting versus actually listening to panels or discussing new ideas.  I would sit at a panel or a talk and realize that every single person around me was on his or her mobile,  trying to catch buzz phrases from the speakers, while the speakers themselves were throwing statements such as “flexibility is the new stability” or “xyz is the uber of industry abc”. I can’t say I could completely stay away from this herd mentality but I guess that encouraging narcissists to use social media is the same as providing free drinks to MBA students: Total destruction of any intellectual pursuits.

The second thing that bothered me was the amount of venture capitalists that were there to give friendly advice, which actually seemed more like some narcissistic need to show how important and cool they are. But maybe that was just me..

Interesting things I got to see:

Liam Black, a very funny sarcastic social entrepreneur from the UK,  who started various businesses which have social purpose but  are also profitable. He talked about how this is the only viable model instead of philanthropy.  He started initiatives such as a furniture cooperative that trains makers from the community to build affordable furniture FOR the community or a program with Jamie Oliver, called Fifteen, which puts youth from tough neighborhoods in chef schools and places them later in high end restaurants. He was also making fun of do-gooder MBAs who want to start social businesses in Africa or India without ever spending time in those places.

His organization, Wavelength, now works with companies and innovation leaders to create more profitable social businesses and overall stimulate this way of thinking in corporate environments.

ecar, thesamewavelength, social entrepreneurship
E-Car: Providing car sharing service for underprivileged / rural population
Ignite, Centrica, social impact investment fund
Ignite – Centriaca impact fund that came to replace their CSR program
Impact ventures, social impact investing, the same wavelength
Impact Ventures – UKs version of Grameen Bank

BuzzFeed CEO, Jonah Peretti, gave a brilliant talk on what they do beyond sharing Cat videos or developing #theDress story. His big point was that since they produce content very quickly and get so much feedback, they can learn a lot from every interaction and use it to produce even more impactful / engaging content. He also mentioned that this model is very new way of thinking for example, about movie production that takes a very long time, requires tons of resources, and you never know how the movie will do once released. BuzzFeed approach is sort of the agile design applied to media production : try and fail quickly and learn from your mistakes to create a better product. I also learned that there is apparently a tinder for pets app, Cute or Not, that’s has been a great success, and now can be used as a platform for advertising for pet products from them.

BuzzFeed talk, sxsw, idea cloud
BuzzFeed talk idea cloud
breast exam, buzzfeed
Funny way BuzzFeed found to increase health awareness

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Buzzfeed New, Russian soldier in ukraine, instagram
BuzzFeed news proving presence of Russian soldiers in Ukraine through their Instagram geotagging. Duh!

The CEO of Mashable, Pete Cashmore gave a really dull keynote about his view of media; he was too busy with being in love with himself to leave time to talk to the audience. This was very surprising from someone whose job is actually connecting with audiences. He did share that Meerkat (Streaming video sharing) is the new hot thing of social media. I guess I will check it out in 5 years or so.

There are so many more things to share, but I am afraid that no one wants to read more than 140 characters anymore. I have exceeded those so if you want to hear more, we might have to have a real conversation or something.

Check out the previous articles in the series on South by Southwest

Day 1 – What do cupcakes, tech and Schrodinger’s cat have in common?

Day 2 – It’s all about the ladies

Day 3 – VC’s are A-Holes and Lets Change Society