Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nathan Frankel Parks Bike and Much, Much More

Free bike parking and a big smile.

Making bike parking easier and safer.

Bike parking space soon to be full at Tour de Fat.

Central Avenue neighbor Nathan Frankel has found a way to live comfortably in San Francisco while doing what he loves. Make that the several things he pursues with passion. If you catch Nathan at any one of his part-time endeavors, his glowing smile confirms how much pleasure he takes from being right there in the moment.

When Nathan first moved to the city in 1996 at age 23, he worked with an engineering firm. With his degree in industrial engineering he went from a temporary to a permanent position and was able to pay off debts accumulated during school. That gave him the freedom to take a job in the music industry, first in a record store and then at an internet radio station in the lower Haight.

"That was a dream job," Nathan recalled outside Central Coffee and Tea at Central and Hayes Streets. The station, Groovetech.com, was based in Seattle with satellite offices in San Francisco and London. "We were very cutting edge. We provided streaming audio and video live to people's worksites." Nathan was a DJ for ten years, worked in clubs around town, and ran a small label with 500-1000 vinyl. "We sold to stores for DJs playing in clubs to use."

Next he returned to office work and designed layouts of office furniture, a job that held little interest for him and left him wanting to make more of a contribution. "I'd rather be doing a lot of things that I love rather than one I was indifferent to at best," he explained for why he left the job more than a year ago. "Now it's difficult for me to answer when someone asks what work I do. I can't give a simple answer -- like an accountant, lawyer, electrician, or teacher -- it's more complex for me since I'm always working at multiple endeavors."

Bicycling has been a major part of Nathan's life ever since he moved to San Francisco. He got involved with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition in the late 90s. "The staff was so pleasant and professional and good to be around," he said. "I was excited to be involved with so many other cyclists in a common cause." He started with SFBC's streetside outreach program, and showed up for volunteer nights, and then took on valet parking. "Now I like to think I've become one of the core of 100 or so volunteers who help regularly. I like being one of the go-to volunteers that the office contacts when help is needed." He added, "SFBC is a major nucleus of my social life; it's a way many of us find our community."

Nathan landed a contractor position with SFBC as a manager of the bike valet program, and now coordinates the service for events during the spring, summer, and fall seasons. With so many bicyclists in San Francisco -- and a 53% increase over the last three years -- providing free valet parking at events is a huge service that SFBC provides. Last year SFBC valets parked more than 2,500 bikes at the Outside Lands festival. As a valet manager, Nathan supervises volunteers, coordinates with the organizers, deals with outreach supplies and equipment and stays for the full period of the event. (Most volunteers work for 3-6 hour periods and then get free access to the event).

"I love being part of the parking solution, and I love it when I leave my bike with the valets and don't have to worry about security. The parking gives SFBC recognition, and it makes biking a real transportation alternative." Nathan hopes to see improvements with the parking for some special events like the recent Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. "At that event we can only park a fraction of the bikes that are brought to us. The organizers gave us only one-third of the space we requested for parking, and it was uncomfortable having to turn away so many cyclists."

"It's not a glamorous job," Nathan added, "but I'm really happy to be part of it." He especially likes the gratitude that people express. "Someone suggested to me that if you could buy a house with gratitude, all bike valets would live in mansions." A different kind of benefit came to Nathan in the course of his valet stints. At the Outer Lands festival this year he met a woman who was volunteering as a bike valet. They've been dating for the last several months.

Yes, there's more: Nathan, the photographer!

When he's not parking bikes, Nathan is often behind a smoked salmon stand. "I'm a farmers' market groupie," he remarked. "I began going to markets as soon as I moved here, two to three times a week. I really like the community aspect of it." Nathan now works two locations, one at the UCSF campus on 3rd Street and one at the Crocker Galleria in the financial district. "I've met a lot of really good people at the market, hardworking, stand-up people."

Nathan adds a few more pursuits to the mix. He works a few hours a week as a consultant and provides assistance with autoCAD, the software that engineers and architects use to create blue prints. He fits in political organizing for socialist and left-wing groups on both local and big picture issues. Somehow he finds time for classes in website development which he hopes to use in helping non-profits and small businesses.

"When I left my job, I thought I'd have more time off, but now I'm busier than before and my schedule is packed." Nathan remarked, "I'm still looking for the pause button on life." After three semesters at school, he's taking just such a pause in January with an extended trip in Central America.

Not everyone wants to manage several jobs at once, although today's economy often gives them little choice. Nathan explained how he makes it work for him financially. "The key is to minimize consumption. I've learned I don't have to make money if I don't spend it. I can do this especially since I don't own a car. It's amazing that I can live in this expensive city and be happy without making a lot of money."

For Nathan, the money aspect is the practical concern. The larger picture is what sustains him. "My philosophy is to appreciate the little things. Sometimes everyday interactions are so important."

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