The Napa Valley Wine Train is an invention of snobbish San Francisco residents, mostly startup industry employees and assorted other nouveau riche. It allows them to get drunk in California’s wine country but spare themselves the expense of an Uber all the way home, while pretending that the odious yellow piss they’re guzzling is actually, you know, totally superior in quality to anything the French are producing these days.
In other words, it’s hardly newsworthy, just another hellish invention of California’s horrendous white middle class. I say white because the Napa Wine Train is probably the lightest-skinned public transport route anywhere in the continental United States, made all the worse by how many passengers are drawn from the tech elite which professes achingly progressive politics in public but recoils in horror when presented with anyone poor or black in real life. Basically this train is Vermont, but with iPhones.
As if to prove my point, this week some black women from a book club had the temerity to crash this genteel lily-white liberal locomotive and – shock, horror – have a few drinks and a laugh. They were thrown off the train. Now, normally I wouldn’t be one to automatically impugn the motives of the train staff, but I was struck by the level of humilation these women were forced to endure and how it compares to the friendly, multiethnic harmony I’ve always experienced in the supposedly racist southern states.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the group was escorted through six train cars “on display in front of the other guests to waiting police like we were criminals,” according to Lisa Renee Johnson, one of the offending book clubbers. “One word. UNACCEPTABLE! This can NEVER happen to anyone else ever again.” The hashtag #laughingwhileblack and a wine train boycott duly took off on social media.
Of course the train was met at the station by police. White northern Californians call the police on blacks faster than they agree with one another how breathtakingly good Sideways was. Like typical terrified liberals, the train company published a defence of their actions on their website that was quickly deleted and replaced with an apology.
This presents a difficult situation, to put it mildly, for the panicky left-wing passengers and train staff. You see, the thing is, while racism in the United States does exist, even though it looks nothing like what hysterical Black Lives Matter campaigners would have you believe, San Francisco and Silicon Valley more generally does have a race problem, because genteel rich white liberals don’t actually like hanging out with any real people (that is to say, their customers) and are secretly really quite petrified by them.
I don’t know if the book club is up to picks from me, but I’d suggest they start on Ann Coulter and Ayn Rand if they want to understand white liberals and train disasters, respectively, and leave Terry McMillan behind.
The snobbery and horror at venture capital drinks parties at any mention of the Tenderloin district, for instance, with its real life actual homeless people, is palpable. (Sometimes, even worse, you get a patronising tilt of the head and some cooing noises.) Of course, the startup industry’s finest say they are on a mission to make the world a nicer and more compassionate and better place. But just look what happens any time a Google employee actually encounters a poor person.
In short, this is a class thing, and because blacks and Latinos are disproportionately represented in lower socioeconomic groups, invariably conflicts are going to appear racially tinged. What makes it especially delicious in this case is firstly that it’s precisely those liberals who buy into the “racism is privilege plus power” (or whatever) and Black Lives Matter narratives, which excuse wrongdoing on the basis of skin colour, who keep getting stung by their own daft, guilt-driven political positions.
Secondly, disintermediating technologies coming out of the coworking spaces in SoMa and Mountain View are putting minorities – disproportionately ethnic, of course – out of work by replacing their jobs with lines of code. It’s all just so horribly awkward for these tech workers, who just want to be left in peace to check Tumblr from their overpriced gated communities and wine trains.
So perhaps there is, in this case, some justification for a bit of middle-class discomfort, particularly when you consider how bizarre and inconsistent and dysfunctional the city of San Francisco is: it’s a place that turns a blind eye to illegal immigrants, proudly admitting its “sanctuary city” status, while effectively evicting poor hard-working families and allowing large sections of its own downtown to become lawless, homeless hellholes.
It’s enough to drive anxious techies to drink the terrible, acidic baby spew that passes for wine in northern California. By the way, here’s a laugh-out-loud detail from Johnson’s account: the passengers who made complaints about her and her friends apparently hissed: “This is not a bar!” Johnson has since posted a series of good-natured remarks on her Facebook page, including a link that reveals the Wine Train threw off a group it didn’t like once before. That time, it was Latinos.
To hear terrified wine train patrons tell it, you’d think this sorry episode was a real-world remake of Zulu with ululating African warriors raining down terror on a valiant regiment of white heroes. But let me just remind you what all those ejected ladies had in common: they were members of a book club. A book club. The LA Times says that the ejected black patrons were forced off the train and shoved onto a bus. Were they asked to sit at the back, I wonder?