Jean Pauline poured more than a quarter of a century of her life into a little leftist bookstore in San Francisco called Modern Times, full of ideas she feels the world still needs.
But the bookstore, a neighborhood institution since 1971 in the city’s increasingly less proletarian Mission district, may soon become a thing of the past. It faces an increasingly common threat for many counterculture institutions that once helped define San Francisco but now face being priced out of a city where a flood of wealthy newcomers — often in the tech industry — is blamed for rising rents.
“We need a critical, political bookstore in the community,” said Pauline, 94, as she lamented the problems of the world — from warfare and environmental degradation to her store’s uncertain future.
Outside the bookshop, the Brass Liberation Orchestra, San Francisco’s big ragtag brass band of the left, struck up a tune of support for the business. A scruffy, rotund man in a beanie — who called himself Pierre — played a whimsical sousaphone. A saxophonist, who goes only by the name Breakfast, played in a pink fedora with punk studs and a matching pink opera scarf.
Since 2003 the BLO — a band with a loose network of international counterparts like Titubanda in Rome — has set a soundtrack to the Bay Area’s social justice actions, essentially bearing witness to a decade of American history and radical protest. As the issue of gentrification once again becomes paramount for many San Franciscans, some protesters have chosen to block the buses taking tech industry professionals from the city to Silicon Valley. But where others get angry, the BLO gets ambient.