Here is the gist of my donut movie. I read this narrative over footage from late night donut shops. My pal Fisher, who is editing it, says the last part about city planners is kinda weak and that maybe the Dunkin’ Donuts part could be cut. So here is your chance to chime in friends, about donuts. What could be better before we record?
Most Americans can remember a Sunday morning trip to the donut shop to pick up a warm dozen with Mom or Dad. With the pretty pink frosting, the rainbow sprinkles, the glistening honey dipped, it seemed like the happiest place in the world, that little donut shop. But come 12 hours later and a kid’ll see a whole different world. At night a donut shop is a warm place for a homeless women to wait out the dark hours. It’s a place for a guy on a bad trip to sit and come back down. Old guys with nothing left in life shuffle in just to be near humans. The working poor come here when they get off the second shift because they can’t afford much beyond an old fashioned and a coffee for a buck and a half.
San Francisco’s a rich city. You’ve got the biotech industry and Silicon Valley money here. One of the highest property values in the country. Part of a healthy capitalist economy is plenty of cheap labor. In other words, poor people. A city needs poor people to mop floors, take out the garbage, and do the laundry. And make the donuts. But no one ever stops to think about what service these simple little places provide.
Just about every donut story in San Francisco is another chapter in the American dream. The vast majority of them are owned and operated by Cambodian immigrants. People from one of the poorest nations in the world, fresh out of occupation and genocide.
Whole families are put to work, and who isn’t working is home sleeping. Then they switch. It only takes flour, sugar and hot grease to make one. People point at the donut they want, so you don’t have to know English to work the counter. All’s it takes is the ability to make change in a new currency. To not get ripped off.
I’ve hung around a lot of late night donut shops here in S.F. Seen people selling prescription pills, stolen sunglasses, and make big talk about other hustles. I’ve seen guys passed out in the corner for hours. No other business model allows for patrons to spend eighty cents and hang around as long as they want. Back in New England your only choice is Dunkin’ Donuts. A huge franchise. There’s no room for a mom and pop place. Dunk’s has it locked down. There’s a dunkin donuts inside the dunkin’ donuts. That’s the American nightmare – corporatization.
Out here in the west it’s still up for grabs – but for how long? The owners are immigrants and haven’t caught on to the American ideal of quick turnover. Of standardization. Of throwing the weird guy out. Maybe these small time business owners have some compassion for the down and outs, since they themselves are scraping their way along the bottom as well. You gotta drop a lotta donuts in grease before you get rich.
But donut shops aren’t on the mind of urban developers. City planners don’t make space for the poor. City leaders don’t give awards out to the folks who work 19 hour shifts to make a low class pastry. The rich eat cakes and go to bakeries. City planners are concerned about tax revenue. City leaders court voters, not transients, illegals, zoned out druggies. There’s a dark side to donuts, kids. There in the city. Maybe someday when you get old enough you’ll understand how important it is for some dark places to remain.