The Real Port-a-Johns of San Francisco

San Francisco is a pretty weird place: its possible to find a gluten-free vegan organic free trade version of anything, we have a  yoga studio in the airport, the entire city (until recently) is clothing optional, and everyone knows someone who is roommates with an underground DJ.

Living in a city this fabulous doesn’t come cheap. According to recent data ( a one bedroom apartment will set you back $2800 a month or $33,600 per year. The median household income in the US was about $50,000 in 2012, which means that such a household would have a mere $16,400 to do things like cloth your body in cheap burlap, make ramen and ketchup soup, and pay taxes.  And we’re only talking about renting. Don’t even think about purchasing property. The only way I could ever afford to buy a home in San Francisco is only if an earthquake ripped apart the earth’s crust at the very moment the entire tech industry collapsed. The earthquake would probably need to be violent enough to cause both a tsunami and apocalyptic amounts of lava.  Like Mark Zuckerburg would need to die in a lava pit.  And honestly I’m just not that lucky.

How all the underground DJs afford it, I’ll never know.

Despite all these fascinating details about my hometown, there are basically no reality shows set here. No one cares about the realness of our housewives, the topness of our chefs, or the american-ness of our idols. We had one season of the Real World back in ’94. The show really hit its stride by pairing an “confrontational bike messenger and an openly gay AIDS activist” together on TV for the first time.  By googling “Real World San Francisco” I discovered that they are actually filming another season here RIGHT NOW. Which would be great except that now the show’s casting formula is less “diverse/interesting strangers” and more “hot people with drinking problems, one of whom is an overt racist.”

Without more reality TV I have no way to accurately put my fingers on the pulse of this city from the comfort of my living room. So I did what other intrepid explorers before me have done. I phoned the King and Queen of Spain and asked them to bankroll my voyage. So far my calls have gone unreturned.

With my budget much lower than originally than I planned, I nevertheless set out to learn a thing or two about this city. And I noticed something very peculiar.


This is a house that is undergoing some renovation and next to is is a blue port-a-potty. I guess this alone isn’t all that interesting except that once I started looking around I noticed that they kept getting nicer, at least on the outside.


From across the street you can barely notice this one. Its been wrapped in a wood-net thing. This is what it looks like close up:

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Clever readers will notice that this isn’t exactly the same one as above. The wooden waffle-iron on this one is slightly different. But that’s only further evidence! Two fancily camouflaged port-a-johns in the same ‘hood! But these two were only the beginning. Brace yourselves kids its about to get weird.

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Not to be outdone, this enterprising builder at another house is going through his blue period.  While the previous builders clearly wanted their facilities to be less noticeable, this builder is saying something entirely different. By taking a blueish port-a-pottie and covering it in wood panels that are slightly more blue, he’s saying “The person inside this house is so rich that they’re paying me enough money to make noticeable but ultimately useless and superficial cosmetic changes to the place where I will poop temporarily.”

These port-a-potties are about status. Nothing says “I’m pretty friggin’ rich” like a port-a-pottie with architectural details. As if the fancy multi-million dollar mansions these johns sit beside weren’t enough.

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But these encasings aren’t necessarily entirely without utility. Take the one above, for example. San Francisco is a hilly place and a slanted port-a-pottie is a dangerous thing. This builder has used this as opportunity to get his to stand up right and I’m sure the people that live down hill are very glad he did.

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Mr. Caruso really wants you to know that he’s the one who will be pooping here. He also wants you to know that he’s the one doing the renovations on the glorious house right before you. He also wants us to know that as a construction person he uses saw saw blades and protractors. But mostly he just wants you to be so impressed with his panache that you’ll hire him. He’s emblazoned his name across his port-a-john to tell us this mini-biography of himself.

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This port-a-pottie is so nice you could almost forget that this is where construction workers poop on the sidewalk, probably without washing  their hands. This thing may have a false window, painted wood paneling, faux-iron hinges, and an arched doorway, but a sink it does not.

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When you look at this monstrosity, I want you to try really hard not to think about all the third-world children that died of starvation because this person decided to electrify a port-a-pottie instead of using that money to feed them. TRY REALLY HARD. I can’t imagine what kind of life a person must lead to say to their builder, ” NO, no, no a a false window, painted wood paneling, faux-iron hinges, and an arched doorway simply won’t do! I must have a Greco-Roman-inspired palace of glass and light!” I can only imagine that once inside there would be a candelabra or chandelier of some sort and that you would be greeted by a butler who can play the harpsichord. If I were the ghost of Liberace, I would haunt this port-a-john.

Like Alexis de Tocqueville, I set out that morning to document a small slice of American life. So from now on when you think of San Francisco, you shouldn’t just think of free love, gays, and beat poetry. You should also remember the billionaires, whose consumption is so conspicuous even Marie Antoinette would be like “Guys, c’mon enough already.”


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