BODEGA: Because Gentrification Is A Hell Of A Drug
During the opening scenes of last Sunday’s season finale of Insecure, Issa is walking through her neighborhood which is located in the middle-class, and largely African-American section of Los Angeles known as Inglewood. She walks past a couple of White hipsters and while doing so, we see her go past an empty storefront with a FOR SALE sign on display. Then another empty storefront with a FOR SALE sign on display. And another. And another. (As Issa was told in an earlier episode: once you have a Pinkberry or a Starbucks open up in your neighborhood, that means you can expect your neighborhood to change and your rent to increase. Which is exactly what soon happens to Issa.)
This past Wednesday, Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan, two former employees of Google announced in an interview with FastCompany.com that they were going forward with a start-up company called Bodega, which apparently is intended to bring you all the things you need and want from your local bodega without actually having to set foot inside an actual bodega. Amazing, huh? From the interview with Fast Company:
Bodega sets up five-foot-wide pantry boxes filled with non-perishable items you might pick up at a convenience store. An app will allow you to unlock the box and cameras powered with computer vision will register what you’ve picked up, automatically charging your credit card. The entire process happens without a person actually manning the “store.”
Bodega’s logo is a cat, a nod to the popular bodega cat meme on social media-although if the duo gets their way, real felines won’t have brick-and-mortar shops to saunter around and take naps in much longer. “The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,” McDonald says. “Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you.”
For the past 10 months, the pair has been testing out the concept at 30 locations in the Bay Area ranging from apartment lobbies to dorms to offices to gyms. The idea is to preempt what people might need, then use machine learning to constantly reassess the 100 most-needed items in that community. In a sorority house, for instance, young women might regularly purchase pretzels, makeup remover, and tampons. Meanwhile, in an apartment block, residents might regularly buy toilet paper, pasta, and sugar. When an item is bought, Bodega gets a note to replace it, and regularly sends people out to restock the boxes.
“Each community tends to have relatively homogenous tastes, given that they live or work in the same place,” McDonald explains. “By studying their buying behavior, we’re hoping to eventually figure out how the needs of people in one apartment building differ from those in another. We could customize the items in one dorm versus the next.”
Today, McDonald unveils 50 new Bodega locations on the West Coast, and plans to quickly go national. By the end of 2018, he hopes to have more than a thousand.
So…Paul, Ashwath…I have a couple of questions which I’m sure you’ll be able to answer in the affirmative when it comes to Bodega and what it can do for its customers:
Can Bodega hold on to your cell phone in storage before you go to school because your school won’t allow you to have it on your person and will confiscate it if they see you with it?
Can Bodega develop enough of a trusting relationship with customers (teenage customers, mind you) who would actually be willing to do that?
Can Bodega hook you up with a chopped cheese sandwich or any type of hot and delicious sandwich on a hero or a roll for breakfast/lunch/dinner/late-night when you have friends over to watch John Wick on Blu-ray for the first time ever, and you need something to eat because the local Chinese restaurant with the bulletproof glass and the picture menus with the bright yellow lettering displayed on the walls above said bulletproof glass is already closed? (Sidenote: I’ve honestly lost count of how many people have been to my apartment that have never seen John Wick, and once they do, they end up leaving as proud and fully-devoted members of the Church Of Keanu Reeves. Man, I can’t wait for John Wick: Chapter 3 to drop. What a glorious day that will be. Wait, what the hell was I talking about? Oh, yes.)
Can Bodega hook you up with loosies when you can’t afford a full pack of cigarettes?
Can Bodega hook you up with a roll of toilet paper because it’s 2 AM and you just found out that there’s none left in the bathroom?
Can Bodega hook you up with Little Debbie Snack Cakes when you have very little money and you’re in the mood for something sweet to eat?
Can Bodega make it possible for you to purchase groceries for yourself and for your family because the local supermarket is a little too expensive and because the people who run the local supermarket won’t allow you to purchase your groceries on credit until you get paid in a couple of days and pay back what you owe?
Can Bodega indulge in friendly and near-inappropriate banter with Peter Parker about his incredibly gorgeous Aunt May before making him a huge and delicious sandwich that he can get nowhere else in Queens?
Can Bodega make it possible for the men and women interviewed in these articles to find work and make a life for themselves and for their families, and make it absolutely clear how much they love their country while doing so?
How 6 Bodega Owners Make An Honest Living In NYC - The FADER https://t.co/no1jQmrEkU— New York City NY (@NYNewYorkCity) June 28, 2016
Inside The All-American Yemeni Bodega Strike - The FADER https://t.co/IHT4zcBXxs— The World Crisis (@CrisisDigest) February 3, 2017
The answer to all of these questions is obviously NO!
It’s clear that the two of you are attempting to put actual bodegas out of business with these glorified vending machines, and not only do you use the term ‘bodega’ to name your product (which according to you is perfectly fine because you did market research and according to Paul: “I’m not particularly concerned about it. We did surveys in the Latin American community to understand if they felt the name was a misappropriation of that term or had negative connotations, and 97% said ‘no’. It’s a simple name and I think it works.”), but you’re also using the bodega cat as the logo for your business. Like…what kind of fuckery is this?!
It’s bad enough that people move to New York from the Midwest and complain about their presence and try to have them banned (only to get embarrassed and insulted as a result because cats>>>>>>>>>>>>>>people), but now you’re also going to ignore all of their contributions to actual brick-and-mortar bodegas? Yes, bodega cats are absolutely adorable (they do have their own Instagram page, after all) but they’re present in bodegas for a reason, and that’s to hunt and kill any and all mice who might be present in the bodegas. Which makes them a hell of a lot more useful and productive than most of the people who complain about them.
I won’t sit here and pretend as if this is the first, second, or third time that White people and non-White people who don’t give a shit have made attempts at gentrifying neighborhoods that don’t need, want, or require gentrification to take place in ways great and small, and I also know that it won’t be the last. From making complaints about ice-cream trucks and their jingles to complaining about barbershops and other local establishments, and the people who sit outside in front of them supposedly making too much with their music and conversation, to raising the rents on bars, bowling alleys, and other local businesses so that they can be torn down and replaced with office buildings and apartment complexes that will still be too expensive for many people to rent and will end up losing money, to the very existence of Urban Outfitters and their monumentally shitty and offensive merchandise, people going to cities and their neighborhoods and complaining about the people and culture that is present and has long been present in these cities and neighborhoods so that they will eventually disappear and be regurgitated by people who care little to nothing about the cultures that they’re replicating is not a practice that is going to stop anytime soon. But what can be done, thanks to the Internet and social media, is speaking out against such acts of gentrification and giving pause for thought to the people carrying them out.
It also doesn’t help when The New York Times occasionally writes articles in which they shine a spotlight on something new that they’re discovered, like Jamaican beef patties, even though Jamaican beef patties (with coco bread, if you so choose) have been around for years and are far more popular than they really think. (I don’t want to live in whatever universe New York Times reporters do in which beef patties aren’t as popular and beloved as pizza and tacos. I really don’t. Then again, if beef patties supposedly not being popular means that no one will fuck with them and add kale or artisanal mayonnaise to make them healthier and more delicious, I can live with that.)
Which would definitely explain why the founders of Bodega caught wind of the backlash against them and their start-up and did what they could to calm everyone down and show that they had seen the error of their ways with this non-apology they soon released.
From CNN Tech:
“Despite our best intentions and our admiration for traditional bodegas, we clearly hit a nerve this morning. “And we apologize to anyone we’ve offended. Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores — or worse yet, a threat — we intended only admiration.”
So to the founders of Bodega: if you and others like you don’t want to be around people of color and simply want them to disappear and take their homes and businesses elsewhere so that you can live and flourish in places like I-Wood (actually known as Inglewood), North Manhattan (Harlem), Clinton (Hell’s Kitchen), and DOWISETREPLA (Google is your friend, just look it up), then you may as well be upfront and say so.
You won’t like what many of the residents will say to you in response, and many of them have no intention or desire to go anywhere no matter how much you try to push them out, but you can still say so.