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Forgive Me, for I Live in the Marina 

Oh, the shame of being young and wealthy and casually well-dressed

Wednesday, Jan 24 2001
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"When I tell people, it's always the same thing," says Jeff Cohn. "They half look up at me, then quickly look down." Peter Rosenthal echoes Cohn's sentiment: "There's always a pause in my voice right before I say it." Jeff Davis also sometimes feels shame. "Typically, there's a roll of the eyes, and then an "Oh, really?'"

No, these men do not have communicable diseases, but they might as well. They live in the Marina -- ground zero for the yuppie materialism that is supposedly L.A.-ifying our city. Even as San Francisco's diversity has gone the way of affordable rents, the Marina has retained its stigma as the granddaddy of homogeneity. "Marina Girls all wear scrunchy ponytail holders," scoffs one Mission resident. "They're cookie-cutter, frat boy/sorority girl types," says another from the Haight. "They make a ton of money and wear khakis," says a Western Addition dweller.

Even for those who don't fit the stereotype, living in the Marina means constantly being reminded that you're somebody's worst nightmare. A resident will justify his address -- safety, rent control, running paths -- while protesting he is not a "Marina Person." Some try to hide their true addresses. But underneath feigned ambivalence lies the real truth: People in the Marina like living in the Marina. Many times, for the very reasons the neighborhood is ridiculed.

"I always say I live in Cow Hollow," says Darla Spiers, a 30-year-old public relations executive, who loves her graffiti- and trash-free streets. "But then I have to explain where that is, and it blows my cover." One former Marina resident fudged and told people he lived "near Fort Mason."

"I didn't want to move here at first," says Trip Reisen, a corporate lawyer who moved to the neighborhood with his girlfriend two years ago. "I thought, "We're going to get the stereotype as a bunch of yuppies.'" (Reisen doesn't consider himself a "Marina Guy," though he was in a frat, plays many sports, and names the Dave Matthews Band as his favorite group.) But now Reisen loves it, despite its stereotype. "People don't smoke crack on my porch like they did in the Lower Haight." Other residents cite fewer car break-ins or bums peeing in public, and less trash, as reasons why they love the Marina, despite its bad rap.

One resident, who asked that he go by the name Mike, is quick to distance himself. "I always tell people, "I live here, but I don't go out here,'" he says. Indeed, last December, he ventured into divey biker bar the Zeitgeist on Valencia and Duboce. "I heard a guy say, "This is like fucking St. Elmo's Fire,'" says Mike. "He was looking right at me -- I was wearing a sports coat."

It wasn't always this way. At one time, "Marina Person" didn't exist in San Francisco's lexicon as a dis. In fact, at one time, the Marina itself didn't exist. It was built on landfill from the rubble of the 1906 earthquake, to house the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition (of which the Palace of the Fine Arts is all that remains), and became a white, middle-class neighborhood. Evidence of Marina People's ancestors can be found in Armistead Maupin's 1976 Tales of the City, which describes them scamming in the Marina Safeway. The '80s saw the heyday of the Triangle -- a triad of bars at Greenwich and Fillmore that was the hot spot for drunk preppies. When the '89 earthquake devastated the Marina, older residents fled in droves, and landlords slashed rents. Preppies who had partied at the Triangle moved in, and Marina People as we know them were born.

When did Marina People become aware of the stigma? It's hard to pinpoint. Sean Garrett, PR director for a San Francisco Internet music company, remembers walking down Chestnut in 1992 and being screamed at: "Fucking frat boys go home!"

"I remember being really pissed off," says Garrett. "I'm white, from Orinda, and was in a frat in college, but I felt like, "Hey, I'm not a label!' But at the same time I felt like, "Oh, no, maybe I am kind of.'" (Soon after, Garrett stopped partying in the Triangle and discovered the Haight.)

In the dot-com boom of the late '90s, more upwardly mobile white people came to the Marina, not to mention the Mission, Noe Valley, and the rest of San Francisco. But the Marina continues to bear the brunt of yuppie bashing. And though it's debatable, the concentration does seem higher: On a recent Thursday evening in the Marina, impossibly thin, expensively dressed women stroll down Union Street, all talking on cell phones. A young woman in a black Jetta is forced to stop for a female pedestrian, and mouths the word "bitch!" At the Balboa, a bar in the Triangle, every head turns when the door opens. Sex is in the air.

Jeff Cohn and his friend, who asked that she go by Lindsay, engage in aprés-workout cocktails and reflect on the stereotype "Marina Person" -- which they admit they fit. They suffer from Peter Pan Syndrome, they joke, because at 31 and 34, respectively, they're still living in a kind of collegiate Never- Never Land. Jeff and Lindsay describe a world full of gorgeous, fun-loving people who party from Thursday to Saturday at Marina bars, dating each other, fearing, as Cohn puts it, the "opportunity cost" of commitment. Though they wonder about people in other parts of the city, they say, it's more comfortable to stay in the Marina most of the time. (They're hardly unique -- one San Francisco woman describes having to give her Marina friend directions to Golden Gate Park.)

"Sometimes I drive in my car, and I feel like, "Wow! This is so different from San Francisco!'" marvels Cohn. "Then I realize this is San Francisco! I realize I'm not living in San Francisco."

Aside from not feeling lost and disoriented, staying in the Marina has other pluses for Cohn and Lindsay -- you don't have to be embarrassed about where you live.

"I'm happy where I am, being around people who are like me," says Lindsay.

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Lessley Anderson

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