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March 18 2003


Flyering, Part 2

By Larry-bob

I continue my rounds, hopping buses and trudging down blocks.

I'm on Mission Street. The streetlamps are the ornate kind that it's not legal to post on. But people have, and I know I'm where I am because the slasher has been here - the person who uses a blade to vertically cut flyers, but does not rip them down. In the past when one of my flyers has been slashed, I've taped it back together in situ.

I stop in Mission Records. This stinky punk rock record shop has a poster wall and a broken-glass-topped case where smaller handbills can be left. I'll put up my spoken word flyers here, but I figure the comedy shows are too bourgeois for the customers of this shop. It's a little ironic I think that these people who would never go see an arena rock show, who only attend the most underground of music performances are fans of major comedians with HBO specials, but never go to support struggling local comedians.

Window of a vacant storefront on Valencia Street has been taken over by flyers. The adhesive from old tape flakes off. I consider adding my propaganda to the mess, but I wonder if anyone would bother scanning this stubbly field of shredded pulp for information. I decide against it.

At a coffee shop on Valencia, pieces of tape hold flyers to the wall. There are more pieces of tape holding only torn corners of flyers up. There is a piece of paper less than two inches square held on by a piece of tape. I recognize it as something I myself designed for an event which happened over a year ago. Somehow it's survived until now. I remember when I was in Boston and saw graffiti for a band that had broken up a decade earlier.

I take a snack break at a table at Rainbow Grocery. Papers cover the wall behind me. I scan the wall and there is almost nothing of interest to me here. Therapy and new age enemas, yoga, Rolfing. I would find my sort at a record store, book store, or on the streets of the North Mission.

One ad is for a company that puts up other people's flyers for money. I feel that they are my unfair competition. People who can afford to pay should seek other sources of publicity than flyers.

I leave my propaganda in the lobbies of the South of Market gay bars. There are stacks of propaganda in the form of gay bar rags, those little booklets that would never consider listing the sort of live performance events I'm involved with, only the most vapid of dance clubs with deep pockets for glossy ads. But these stacks always seem mainly undisturbed, as though the circulation numbers are inflated and only bored tourists pick them up. I hope that's the case.

Polk Street and the Tenderloin seem like one of the only sections of San Francisco that was largely untouched by the overdevelopment boom, like some sort of peak that was never flooded by rising waters and now is even more parched than it once was. As I flyer the donut shops and bars I wonder if the habituates of these haunts can even scrape together the funds for my low-budget events. That's why my flyers say "No One Turned Away For Lack of Funds," or abbreviated, NOTAFLOF.

I walk through a neighborhood towards Potrero that I haven't been in for three months. Not many flyers are up. The streets are deserted now, but perhaps at lunch some of the last of the dot-commers would be here on their way to a rock-climbing session. I see a comedy flyer I posted myself last time I was here, information now out of date. I replace it with a fresh one.

Noe Valley is an area which has a couple of outdoor bulletin boards, but does not tolerate posting on telephone poles. Not quite suburban yet, the stroller-pushers still tolerate a bit of the urban vertical litter. I wonder if they ever go out anymore, or if they just harbor a little nostalgia for the days when they didn't have to pay a babysitter in order to participate in nightlife.

I don't bother with the Marina or other parts of San Francisco that are too boring or too far from my events. People tend to attend events close to where they live. There's diminishing returns from publicizing farther away. Especially when you're promoting weeknight events like I am. There are no performance venues in these outlying areas, and no flyers.

Haight Street is flyer paradise. Or hell. Every pole blanketed with flyers. They're staying up, but there's no place to put a new one. There are a few exceptions - the pole outside the shoe store is kept flyer-free. Amoeba's wall is a riot of multicolored flyers. I have to study the wall for minutes to locate an expired flyer to replace with my own. I scowl at the record company flats posted by some underpaid "street team" member. It seems unfair that a multinational corporation is competing for space with people who can afford no other form of publicity.

Once when flyering on Haight Street, I noticed that nearly all the streetlamps were devoid of posters. Oh well, it just made it easier to find a place for my sign. It was a Saturday afternoon. As I finished my task, a policeman stopped to ask me what I was doing. He requested to search my backpack. I let him, and he found nothing but flyers and tape. He let the flyer stay up, but instructed me to just put flyers up inside stores where I had permission. I was a little shaken by the experience. At the time, I didn't know the laws. Fortunately, this crackdown didn't last long and the Haight has returned to looking like some strange form of rock poster butterfly migration is taking place.

The Castro is so notorious for the destruction of flyers that Pansy Division wrote a song about it. There was at one point an anti-litter group known as the Golden Broom which took it upon itself to clear the place of flyers. Many people have experienced the phenomenon of having their flyers ripped down within minutes of posting them. There are now two outdoor bulletinboards in the Castro, which have a tendency to get layered with flyers advertising massage, pet adoption, and language instruction, sometimes sporting the same phone number. I contemplate an ordinance limiting a posting space to one flyer from the same sponsor, but I realize that could affect me. For a while, the bulletin board inside A Different Light was one of my primary stops, but a recent remodel eliminated it, supplanted by a table where small flyers can be left.

I stop by a store which sells corny t-shirts to gay tourists. There are racks where a mess of glossy rave cards compete for attention. These cards have to be printed in large numbers, and a run goes for more than the black toner Xerox on colored paper that I use. I think that because of the homogeneity of these cards, my cards actually stand out among them, like a duck among a field of peacocks. I've tried the four-color card approach, and while it's fun to have those colors to play around with as a designer, I haven't noticed any corresponding rise in attendance. Sometimes I try to do the computations about costs of flyering versus box office proceeds. Imagine if every flyer resulted in an audience member what a return on investment!

  I think Bernal Heights must have been settled by a lesbian who fell asleep on the 24 bus going through the Castro and woke up on the other side of Mission Street and decided to settle there. The Wild Side West is one of those bars that is nice enough to allow flyers to be put up. There are a few sparse postings on poles near the bus stops. I think that it's best to post near bus stops where people wait for buses going downtown. People cluster at those stops in the mornings impatiently waiting for their ride while sipping to-go cup coffee. That's the time when they're a captive audience for looking at advertisements for events. In the evenings, it's dark and they walk right past the stop, so there's less point to posting at the homeward-bound stops.

I stop by a coffeeshop in the Lower Haight which hosts open mike performances. The bulletin board is crowded, but I've managed to locate a spot where I can thumbtack my publicity and only partially obstruct the other signs. I dig through my pack and manage to locate one last dog-eared flyer. I propagandize and head home.

I am a scourge. I promote litter in addition to my events. But I am also a free speech broadsider in the American tradition. Advertising is speech. The Supreme Court's got my back on that. Some may scowl and rip my posters down whenever they see them but I will be back soon to replace them. There is no constitutional right to paper-free utility poles.


Larry-bob lives in San Francisco and holds forth on the website www.holytitclamps.com