Here I am, almost a decade removed from this dance having any kind of national relevance, and I’m still putting on a just-smelled-piss face and popping mine and others’ collars at the club.
It’s actually become a calling card of mine whenever there’s loud music and enough space to dance, which should tell you a little about the company I keep. If I was hanging out in the remaining inner-city communities across the Bay, the thizzle dance is just another dance. It’s something that’s within expectation when someone rolls by in a six-nine Impala, 15″ kickers in the trunk, blasting The Jacka (R.I.P.) for the whole block to hear. But no, I mostly hang out with upwardly-mobile professionals, many of whom have moved on from the phase when the thizzle dance was relevant, when Keak da Sneak was getting national airplay, and when hyphy was a movement.
To do the thizz dance, you just scrunch up your face into the stankest frown you can fathom (called the thizz face), and you wave your limbs and body with abandon and without concern for those around you. It’s an aggressive dance, borne from Vallejo by one of our heroes in Mac Dre (R.I.P.).
Of course, I could try to keep up with the times and dance whatever new dance is being made up in Memphis or Atlanta. Or, I could embrace my adulthood and abandon all kinds of dance for the good ol’ reliable two-step. To keep making the thizz face at the club belies a different kind of immaturity. Too old to keep up with the times, too immature to throw away something that’s so obviously uncouth.
I’m the kind of person who holds onto the past. Not in the Uncle Rico way, mostly because my high school’s football team would’ve gotten killed if Coach put me in at State1. I just draw a lot of my identity from my upbringing. My parents were relatively laid-back as Korean parents go, so I’m pretty laid-back relative to most Korean-American males. My friends and I were wannabe thugs and drank 40s in the parking lot, so I talk like I’m from the streets when I drink2. My values were mostly drawn from the Catholic Church and hip-hop music, so I subscribe to the golden rule, I believe everyone deserves to be treated equally and with respect, and any sort of disrespect should be returned with violence or a diss track.
Another thing that provides a tentpole for my identity is my upbringing in the Bay Area. I’ve spent my entire childhood and teenage years in San Jose, and now most of my 20s in San Francisco. I became a man at college house parties in Berkeley and Davis, and the various Korean sool-jjibs that wouldn’t bother carding before serving. The person I am is very closely tied to how the Bay Area was in the 90s and early 2000s. And the best way for me to express that is the thizzle dance. It’s the most tangible artifact to carry with me as I drunkenly navigate this newfangled thing called being a grown-up. Most people hold onto childhood diaries or old photos. I break into an archaic dance whenever something with remotely heavy bass comes on.
And man, the Bay Area was different back then. I came of age as the first tech boom burst into waves of ruined fortunes. Apple just rehired Steve Jobs after floundering around and letting Microsoft eat up most of the market. Google was just a search engine. Facebook was only available to college students. Friendster and MySpace were still things. But perhaps most importantly, the communities weren’t changing. The Mission was still a place where arts and Latino culture lived in relative harmony. Berkeley was still a hub for progressive movements so far to the left that it would have knocked out anyone taking an orthodox stance. Histories were maintained. Culture was maintained. Identity was easier to mold, even in the suburban sleepiness of the South Bay.
I’m not used to the Bay Area being this economic powerhouse, this mecca of technology and dreams of a better future. To me, the Bay has always been about the community, which is underpinned by a bitterness of being overlooked. The Warriors weren’t the juggernauts that they are now, and the Giants were being held up by a well-known cheater. Silicon Valley was known for being the hub of the tech industry, but working in tech wasn’t the gold rush that it is now. E-40’s slang was being cribbed relentlessly by other rappers. San Francisco was in the shadow of L.A. and New York. The Bay was just known as a pleasant place to visit, with amazing weather and a big fucking red bridge. To most outsiders, Oakland was where the Raiders played and where you might get stabbed. San Francisco was where you eat sourdough bread and see a lot of gay people. And what the fuck is a San Jose?
That’s the Bay I remember. Truly an amazing place that hadn’t been discovered yet, a place that produced underdogs, something that I took to heart when I was living in L.A. for school. Fuck yeah I’m from the Bay. I dance like I smell piss on the floor and I talk like a turfie speaking in ghetto Clockwork Orange. I rep the same Warriors who picked Todd Fuller over Kobe Bryant. The best burritos in America are in the Mission District, the best tacos in America are on International, and the best pho in America is in the fuckin’ East Side of San Jo-fucking-zay3. Oakland has the most swagger of any city in Cali. San Francisco is the favorite city of your favorite city’s residents. San Jo is responsible for your iPods and Google and shit. I grew up in the best place in the fuckin’ world. Y’all just don’t fuckin’ know what I know.
But now, y’all do. The Bay has been discovered. It’s a destination for young professionals to spark their careers, to hopefully get on the ground-floor of the next big startup to blow up. And while SF rents were always expensive, it was never this pants-on-head ridiculous. Even Oakland is becoming a staggeringly expensive place to live, which would have confused the shit out of everyone a decade ago. Wide swaths of San Francisco have been painted over, with the dark corners of Western Addition and Vis Valley being illuminated by the latest Cajun-Chinese fusion restaurant from some alum of The French Laundry. The many-colored faces you see on the Muni are being replaced by the White and Asian army of young tech workers being used as kindling to incite hockey stick growth. The Mission has become a completely different neighborhood almost overnight. Where there once was pupuserias, there are now speakeasies.
All those communities that were here before, the ones that gifted us Hieroglyphics, the thizzle dance, the Mission-style burrito, the Black Panthers, the counter-culture of the 60s, Dirty Harry, Beast Mode, the City Lights bookstore, the best Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam, they’re all being irrevocably changed.
And here’s the thing, everyone is complaining about the loss of culture and the takeover of our cities by tech transplants who don’t respect what was here before. I’m part of that camp, but I can’t ignore the other side of gentrification. The Western Addition used to be the Wild West, and certain parts still are. Oakland was once the murder capital of the U.S., not the neon light that attracts hipsters from all over the country. The Mission, beyond being a traditional haven for Latinos and starving artists, was also a gang neighborhood that cultivated a lot of Nortenos and crime. There is tangible improvement here, and I’m in a unique position to benefit from this improvement instead of being pushed out by it. But as a native son of the Bay, it’s hard for me to accept the costs of it.
A couple of days ago, I was taking an Uberpool back home from REI4. I was sharing the car with a white guy and an Asian girl. They were talking loudly about whatever closed-off personal things that only matter them. But then I caught a snippet from the white guy that made me want to turn around and punch him in the face.
“Nobody in San Francisco is even from California anymore.”
I wanted to punch him in his bearded face. I wanted to represent, yell out “I’m from the Bay, bitch!” before punching him in his bearded face. I wanted E-40 and Mac Dre to join me in stomping the arrogance and entitlement from this fucking transplant with the bearded face for ruining my home.
But he was right. Unless you hang out with the few native communities that are clinging onto this city, you probably won’t meet a native San Franciscan, native Bay Arean, or even a native Californian. We’re a destination now, and we have to deal with sharing our home with outsiders.
There’s what’s idealized and what I want, and there’s the reality. What I want is a more egalitarian Bay, one that maintained the rich culture and swagger that informed so much of my own spirit. I want a working class that can live in comfort here, because it’s usually the working class that provides much of the flavor of any city. I want my home to stay the way it was when I was 15, when people didn’t have to work at the Salesforce Tower to afford living in the same city they work in. I want these transplants to understand and respect the place they’re living in, instead of remaking it in their own image.
But the reality is that our tech economy doesn’t account for the people who were here before, it only accounts for the people that can keep it going. And the people that keep it going are willing to pay higher for housing stock that’s getting smaller. These people are the consumers that define the economy here, an economy that’s driven by unicorn startups and shiny new bars that push out long-standing dives and mom and pop stores. It doesn’t matter if it’s some tone-deaf tech CEO complaining about the homeless problem, that tone-deaf CEO is part of the new economy here. And economy is what drives decisions these days.
And my own reality, one that’s been coldly splashed on me time and time again, is that I have to be able to make a living here. I have to provide for my family here. I have to play by these new rules. It doesn’t matter if I’m a native, nobody gets a pass for being a native these days. I’m the one that has to adapt. I’m the one that has to sell out.
So I go to work. I try to get the best paycheck I can. I punch in. I pay 12 dollars for a salad. I try to hit on recent transplants from Ohio and teach them what the Bay used to be like. I go down to the Tenderloin and hope my favorite places don’t get evicted soon. I visit Oakland and wonder where MC Zumbi lives now that he’s been priced out of his home. I feign interest in the latest multi-billion dollar acquisition. I dress the way my contemporaries dress. I grow with more maturity without trying to grow more jaded. I’m sad about what’s disappearing. I accept what’s here now.
But god damn it, do I put on the stankest of thizz faces whenever I find a dance floor.
1Which would’ve also required for our football team to go to State, or for me to even be on the football team. ^
2Funny story, a few years back I was hitting on one of my friend’s friend at 330 Ritch (R.I.P.). The conversation was going well until I asked her for her number, to which she responded “I can’t,” and walked away. It wasn’t until recently that I figured out where I went wrong. My friend told me: “She said you looked kind of cute, then you opened your mouth and talked all ghetto.” ^
3Which is objectively untrue, San Diego has the best burritos and tacos in America, but nobody said representing had to be rational. San Jo still got that pho game on lock though. ^
4Bitching about tech gentrification and all these damn transplants reinventing the city, and here I am taking an Uberpool from a hiking goods store. The irony of this is not lost on me. ^