The Year in Review

Omigod is it over yet?

Twenty seventeen may go down as the Year of Venting Spleen (and not just because “spleen” rhymes with “seventeen”), but because of media events such as the Dec. 12 USA Today editorial which led with the observation that a president who would all but call New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is unfit to clean toilets in the Obama presidential library. You had to think: Whoa, is this USA Today or John Oliver?

USA Today, the American favorite in the hotel lobby newspaper box, was characteristically balanced in saying President Trump was equally unfit to shine George W. Bush’s shoes. The editorial wins the Bohemian and Pacific Sun‘s year-end award for most pungently spleen-clearing moment.

At the end of 2017, there are local blessings wherever you look and especially in the spirit of community that emerged in the aftermath of the catastrophic fire-borne losses in October. In life as in the partially burned Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa, the show must go on, and it has, as we all grapple with a nation divided, regions across the state burned to a crisp, a tax “reform” bill that just might kill the California economy dead and a beat-down media on the ropes with fake-news charges on the one hand and a never-ending shameful parade of groping media moguls on the other.

For the North Bay, the historically rainy winter was equal parts blessing and blight, and gave us plenty to write about, but the horrible local fires came with no actual silver lining. The flood-and-fire events framed a natural year for the books, as the bestial politics of our time unfold in the outer-outer sphere of Cocoon California, at a place known as Mar-a-Lago.

the Cocoon

But that USA Today editorial got me to thinking outside the cocoon and about how much of a pain in the neck it is having this maniac in the White House. The editorial’s arrival into the growing file on Trump-as-disaster had a historic irony in that nobody took the USA Today seriously when it was launched 35 years ago—the colorful, general-interest pretense signaled the death of serious journalism, said serious journalists.

Meanwhile, in 2017, a trove of serious journalists—Glenn Thrush at the New York Times, Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker, Charlie Rose, not to mention seriously funny Sen. Al Franken—found themselves out of work thanks to the #MeToo moment, which garnered Time‘s Person of the Year. The Bohemian‘s person (or people) of the year is, of course, the Santa Rosa Fire Department and any and all first responders who helped out in the fires.

The inferno brought some clarity to the role of local media in 2017. Since the 2008 economic crash, community newspapers have folded or been enfolded into larger media conglomerates. To be locally drawn and based, if not biased under this administration, is a more difficult enterprise given our at once media-hating and media-loving president. At the same time, the man has inspired some of the fiercest investigative reporting in the big national dailies since the days of Woodward, Bernstein and Hersh.

Locally, we can blame Trump for a lot of things, including our generally foul mood, but he’s not responsible for the quality of the roads in Petaluma or the fact that Marin County emerged in 2017 as one of the least pro-pot counties in the region, despite having birthed the 4/20 movement. We can, however, blame Trumpian politics for Walmart and the wealthiest family in the country selling T-shirts over the summer that called for the lynching of American journalists. The shirts have since been removed, but not the stain of violence directed at reporters in 2017, the same year that saw a senator from Montana take his seat despite beating up a reporter on the road to victory in 2016.

Election Day 2017 was a far more joyful occasion than 2016, with victories for progressives, LGBT candidates around the country and on turf previously targeted by the likes of the Christian Coalition—school boards, local councils and the election of transgendered Democrat Danica Roem to a North Carolina seat in the statehouse formerly occupied by the homophobe who freaked out over gender non-specific bathrooms.

The Bar Is Low, Head to the Bar

Notable deaths in 2017 included the death of satire, the death of consumer-financial protections, the death of net neutrality, the death of renewable-energy tax credits and the death of David Bowie.

Oh wait, Bowie died in 2016. I’m still not over it. It’s a soul-crushing time to reflect on a hard-bent year that has been kind of relentless with the stressors. So here’s to CBD oil and to legalization generally under Proposition 64, whose benefits kick in on Jan 1. And here’s to radio station KRSA, the
San Francisco–based K-Love,
aka 103.3 Relax FM on the FM dial—if only to hear that guy with the deep, rich voice jump on between songs and say: Relax.

The music on KRSA is indeed relaxing and I need all the help I can get, but I mostly tune in to hear that guy say it: Relax. Alas, the station switched to a Contemporary Christian format in October. Speaking of contemporary Christianity, at least it can be said that this country didn’t send a child molester to the U.S. Senate in 2017. This year, victories over the right-turned America came in small doses, and a Doug Jones victory in Alabama underscored just how low the bar is these days.

Did somebody just say, let’s head to the bar?

Dialing us back to the local scene, many would head to the bar in 2017 in the North Bay. In the aftermath of the fires, social media reported that drinking heavily and doing yoga were key North Bay healing strategies, along with screaming randomly at PG&E utility poles and scouring Coffey Park for burned-out cats and dogs.

After the fires, the good people of Marin County took in thousands of refugees, who decamped in far-flung locales including Lawson’s Landing at Dillon Beach to hidden glamping spots on the coyote-strewn mesas of West Marin. Less heart-warming to behold was how a robust if controversial anti-homelessness campaign in Santa Rosa started to look more anti-homeless than anything else after numerous and ongoing raids of sites around the city.

As 2017 draws to a close, the indicators call for a recession within two years and the pressure is growing in the North Bay to deal with its chronic absence of affordable housing. An already tight real estate market felt the hurt badly with the destruction of 6,000 homes around the region—and average home prices spiked by $100,000 on average a month after the fires. At the end of 2017, the median price for a home in Marin is closing in on $1.3 million; in Sonoma County, it’s half that at $680,000. Check in on those numbers this time next year.


Summer of Dud

On the cultural front, the Bay Area ran the meta-event table in 2017, which was billed and marketed as the Summer of Love Redux. In 2017, there were some moments of love, love was in the air and love rose from the ashes. Love continued to do its thing in 2017, despite the challenges and temptations of, well, hate.

The 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love was celebrated locally, but it all felt flat and defeated, counter-nostalgic and out of place in the currently harsh times. Activists appeared to be more focused on the #MeToo moment, the Trump onslaughts on civil rights for immigrants and on national monuments such as the Bears Ears in Utah, and in taking back the House and Senate in 2018. Still, the Summer of Love Redux was filled with endless stories told by unreconstructed hippies sitting around doing nothing in particular. Relax.

In 2017, the summer was too hot, again, and for seekers of relief along the coast, it’s getting to be more of a pain to get there and stay there if you do not possess unlimited patience or a helicopter, and most of us will come up short.

In Marin County, Highway 1 south of Stinson Beach was closed all year because of the spring rains which washed out the road and made it impassable in both directions. As a result, the traffic in West Marin was epic all summer and the snarls were unbearable, as was the parking in Bolinas—which only got worse when a poor blue whale washed ashore in the summer after getting hit by a ship and drew thousands of gawking tourists.

At the same time along Highway 101, the congestion-beating emergence of the SMART train provided commuters with an alternative to road-raging along the Narrows, even if the train’s impact on traffic was barely a blip, but that could change. The endless delays in getting SMART off the ground were immediately met with immense popularity for the new ride, and plans afoot in 2018 will perhaps add a car to the train to accommodate the demand.

There were cultural offerings everywhere to escape the onslaught of a world gone bad and Kim Jong-un’s ridiculous haircut. Long may Netflix run with documentaries such as 2017’s The Center Will Not Hold, about Joan Didion, which reminded us that hippie culture had a dark side that slouched toward disgrace and murder at times—children fed acid in the Haight, the Manson murders. Blech. And then Charles Manson died, almost on cue, on Nov. 19, just in time for the holidays.

Across the Border

A rolling storyline along the Marin-Sonoma border could not have been more poignant for what it might signal for the new year: the emergence of people shutting up about how they just had to vote for Trump because Hillary was such a nightmare.

There’s been a running battle along the retaining walls astride the Avenue D extension out of Petaluma which has gone on since Trump started to run away with the GOP nomination last year. Anti-Trump graffiti has popped up across from a Trump campaign sign hung way up a tree that declared the silent majority was back in town.

Over the past several months, the war of competing images and sentiments escalated, and the anti-Trump stuff was met with an American flag with the cross sticking out of it. The image is pretty alt-right folksy and featured olive drab electrical tape shaped to a crucifix.

It was there for quite a while, and the image was straight out of the Roy Moore campaign via his ever-present crucifix-meets-flag lapel pendant. All the graffiti and imaging was taken down and painted over around Thanksgiving. The “Silent Majority Stands for Trump” sign is gone, too. Perhaps among us there are those whose conscience has been shocked into the realization that This Was a Very Bad Idea.

The generally held existential pain of 2017 was eclipsed by a life-altering local catastrophe. In 2017, we witnessed the startling right-wing violence against Charlottesville protesters on our devices and on CNN, and we witnessed—or lived through—the soul-crushing Coffey Park inferno. And yet there was also an amazing solar eclipse to reflect upon, not to mention that infectiously catchy radio-ready hit from Portugal: The Man where we can all be a rebel just for kicks and think back on our own year.

The bar was low, but at least I did not wreck my car this year or go to jail or bury a relative. I fell in love, and I fell out of love. I saw lightning in a place where they say lightning never strikes, let alone twice, so that was something.

Good News,
Bad News

Burying relatives reminds me that the year 2017 was not without its moments of “the bad news is . . . , but the good news is . . .” For example, democracy is on the ropes, that’s the bad news. The good news is nobody will ever think someone is too weird to get elected president. In lowering the bar, Trump has also raised the possibility that, indeed, anyone can be president some day.

We’re media folks over here, so the the bad news for us is that The Village Voice, the venerable New York City weekly, went out of business in 2017, one of a handful of media properties to go belly-up in one way or another this year. Those other papers include the Houston Press, which folded soon after economy-killing Hurricane Harvey hit, and the LA Weekly which has apparently been bought by a cabal of Republicans who want to run a newspaper where nobody gets paid for writing. The good news is that Henry Rollins’ column in the LA Weekly was even worse than Alice Cooper’s unbearable syndicated radio station, but I’m biased. Relax.

But the really good news is that with the death of The Village Voice, the Pacific Sun is now the oldest continuously published alternative newspaper in the United States. It hasn’t been bought out by Republicans, king tides have not, and will not, flood us out, and our team at the Bohemian and Pacific Sun have just published our first edition of Explore North Bay, a lifestyle magazine about food, drink, outdoor adventure and the arts—all the great things we have to be thankful for in our neck of the woods.

Long live print and in particular USA Today—especially now that my internet service has inexplicably slowed to a crawl and I can’t stand listening to the FCC’s Ajit Pai being interviewed on KSRO for another second. Relax . . .