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Bar Columns

Hiding Out at Dalva

By December 1, 2015No Comments

(This article originally appeared in the SF Weekly)

distillationsI’d been inside Dalva, in the Mission, for a couple of hours with Jimmy and Arnold. We’d walked through the long dark dive bar that makes up the front of the place and gone into the “Hideout” in the back, where a whole different bar in a differently designed space serves superb mixed drinks.

We’d climbed up to the little second floor alcove and been joined by some people we vaguely knew. I sipped a delicious black Manhattan as we played “two truths and a lie.” No one believed I’d taken communion at Mother Teresa’s hospice. My friends were buying my drinks, in payment for all the times they’ve come over and raided my carefully assembled Wall of Booze. I declared that one of the people I’d never met was my new sworn enemy — and then I stood up and told the bar in a booming voice that a new dawn of blood and beauty was descending upon us and that only my loyal minions would survive.

The former pro-domme at our table clapped and said she was in if my minions got to wear really great costumes. “Oh absolutely,” I said, sitting back down. “That’s the most important thing.”

“Then I’m in.”

“Text me your measurements.” Which is a thing I’d never said before.

Eventually we left, walking out of the oddly civilized upstairs section back down to the hideout, and through the dive bar’s noise and hustle, onto 16th Street. Outside, Jimmy met a Frenchman who was in town for his work with a robotics company, and who was very excited about the day that robots will kill us all. “So much more efficient than the humans at the murder!” he exclaimed.

Arnold got pulled into a conversation by a guy who works for Google, or told us he did. He was pretty insistent about it.

“Come on,” he said. “What do you think of Google? Come on, be honest.”

Here we were, nicely tipsy, on a busy street in the Mission at 11:30 at night, smoking Jimmy’s cigarettes, and he goes and asks a thing like that. If he’d been a talented troublemaker, just looking to start something, I could respect that. But he was too obviously looking to impress us, even the genocidal Frenchman.

“Well,” Arnold said, “I believe that programmers have the skills to change the world. And I think that the first people who realized this bought up all the talent, kind of got a monopoly hold on these really important skills — which anyone can do, but not everyone can do in a way that changes the world. And now that these conglomerates of programmers have the power to change the world like no one before them, what do they actually do? They sell really small ads. And terrible games. Which is a way to go.

“But I always wonder: What other ways could you go? Because if you ask people ‘if you had magic powers, how would you change the world?’ most people don’t say ‘I’d make lots of money selling tiny crap, and then invest it in improving the crap-selling process.’ They think about ways to fundamentally change the word, not just score points in it. So what do we think about Google? About the whole industry? I think you score a lot of points. Which is neat. I personally have a 10th level half-dragon magic user, which is also neat. But scoring points is the opposite of creativity.”

Arnold shrugged. “I founded a nonprofit to help teach kids how to build things with their hands, which is how I try to change the world, and my coding skills are weak. So that’s what I think: With all that magic power, all of those resources … what other ways could you go? What would an organization with real imagination do?”

My cigarette fell out of my mouth.

And … and …

“Well, what else is there?” (alleged) Google guy asked. “I mean, what other options are you talking about?”

He didn’t understand. He hadn’t gotten it.

A glance passed between Jimmy and Arnold and me. We said we had to go. Google guy and the genocidal Frenchman wanted us to join them inside for a drink. Wasn’t happening. We said goodbye and they walked in, talking about how their companies would bring us a new era of blood and analytics.

Dalva deserves better, but it will take care of them.