By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
Uber and its various copycats — among them Lyft and SideCar — tout themselves as referral services out to modernize an old, crumbling taxi system. Without fleets of their own, they've managed to corner a market that someone else has capitalized, enlisting armies of journeyman drivers to squire customers around town. Offering an easy dispatch system that could summon a car with one button on a smartphone, they appealed to riders who'd long complained about San Francisco's sub-par transit options. To taxi interests, though, the app-based start-ups weren't great innovators. They were parasites.
Earlier this year, the California Public Utilities Commission launched a series of regulatory proceedings to figure out what to do with the new start-ups, which it rechristened "Transportation Network Companies." Lax oversight and lean operational costs had helped enrich the start-ups, to a point that San Francisco transit had become increasingly privatized. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency suddenly faced a bedeviling labor shortage as drivers defected to Lyft and Uber. Taxi companies watched their businesses devolve and their political influence slip away.
For a while, the future looked bright for Uber and its ilk, even as regulators kept haggling in the CPUC. Then. in early December, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen greenlit a class-action suit that challenged a core tenet of the transit start-up model — the practice of treating drivers as independent contractors rather than a labor force. Uber is the defendant, but if it loses, Lyft and SideCar could unravel shortly thereafter. The future of transportation may have been upon us, but it just hit a pothole. RS
2013, Our Year of the Cronut, was the year the culinary mashup exploded onto the scene like so many Pop Rocks. Most of the unholy concoctions cooked up by enterprising chefs were devoured by the Internet with relentless enthusiasm: ramen burgers, cheeseburger ramen, burgers with grilled-cheese-sandwich buns, burgers with mac-and-cheese buns, ramen wings, Cronut burgers, on and on it went. It didn't matter that many of these items weren't especially practical or even good. Novelty trumped substance, at least when pageviews and social-media followers were involved.
Not that there's anything wrong with novelty; without it, the culinary scene would never move forward. But novelty for its own sake is meaningless. Six a.m. Cronut lines continued at Manhattan mothership Dominique Ansel Bakery not because the Cronut was supposed to be too delicious to miss — many New York food writers decried the doughnut/croissant hybrid as too sweet — but because trying the Cronut had become a form of social currency, measured in likes. The Cronut's trickle-down effects were seen in the Bay Area knockoffs (the Fauxnut, the CroNot) that San Franciscans dutifully lined up for, even though many of them were sorry approximations of the real thing.
Then there was the frenzy over the ramen burger at Nombe, which drew a block-long line at August's San Francisco Street Food Festival, fed by hype from a similar burger at Brooklyn's hip food gathering Smorgasburg. The ramen burger turned out to be merely okay, its greasy, crunchy "bun" of deep-fried ramen noodles no substitute for a fluffy bread roll. A few weeks later, the ramen burger beget the cheeseburger ramen at a Hapa Ramen pop-up. Its complex, meaty broth tasted good, but the whole thing was so rich that even though I shared a $15 bowl with a friend, we only got through half of it.
But it didn't matter, because I went to eat cheeseburger ramen that night not to review it, but to tweet about it. I posted a photo of the menu on Twitter and Instagram, a menu that included a ridiculous litany of add-ins like bacon, uni, crispy pig's ear, chorizo gravy, kimchi, and whipped lardo that I'd gleefully ordered. And I was rewarded for my performance when I was retweeted by Pete Wells, restaurant critic for The New York Times. "For the time capsule," he wrote to his 60,000 followers. Come to think of it, burial is probably the best outcome we can hope for. Anna Roth
Halfway through the year, while editing this paper's music section, I began to notice that we were using an awful lot of apostrophes. They usually appeared in a reference to some decade — "'70s," "'80s," or "'90s" — and those decades were being used not as actual dates, but adjectives. Time periods were serving as shorthand for particular qualities of new music — qualities we apparently found reason to invoke again and again, usually approvingly.
It's not just us doing this. An obsession with the musical past has been in full swing for years now. The British critic Simon Reynolds argued in a 2011 book that our pop culture, music especially, now looks backward more than forward. That felt truer than ever this year, whether looking at the vast spectrum of music represented by the Bay Area's disparate scenes, or the national pop landscape. Acts, whether they play rock, dance, or increasingly hip-hop, are now defined by the particular slice of the past they evoke. Staying relevant means finding new corners of the past to steal from: This fall, Arcade Fire reinvented itself as a product of downtown Manhattan in the early '80s. San Franciscans Thee Oh Sees once owed a heavy debt to '60s psychedelic garage, but their new stuff looks back to the German Komische bands of the mid-'70s. Countless dance acts we covered sought to evoke the vibes of '80s Chicago, a time and place that saw a huge resurgence in popularity, even as contemporary Berlin and L.A. (and S.F.) host some of the most fertile dance-music scenes in history.