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Google Bus Hate: Give It a Rest

San Franciscans protest the Google bus. They need to give it a rest
Google Bus Hate: Give It a Rest
Illustration by Tane Williams

Some San Franciscans define themselves by what they oppose. In recent years, these no-it-alls have waged mini-jihads against junk food, chain stores, anti-nudity laws, and the America’s Cup races. This spring they found a new focus for their outrage: the Google bus. Since 2007 the company has been using big, Wi-Fi-equipped, white-and-black coaches to collect employees around the Bay Area and bring them to the Mountain View Googleplex, 45 minutes south of the city. In early May there was a public protest against them at a Mission District transit stop. More than 20 cops were on hand—roughly a 1:1 ratio with protesters. The high point? Two slackers smashing a Google bus piñata.

The event followed recent screeds by journalists and social critics determined to cast the Google bus as a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the high-tech economy. These are not just buses, but “yachts on wheels,” a form of “invasive species.” As for the passengers, Sven Eberlein, writing on liberal blog Daily Kos, described them as oblivious, “headset-clad twentysomethings staring into their gadgets.” Rebecca Solnit, in the London Review of Books, called the buses “spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us.” Economic booms have victims, Solnit reminds us. That rents and home prices in the San Francisco area have risen dramatically—notably near where the Google bus and similar private coaches pick up employees—isn’t troubling enough. She points out that other booms in California’s history, such as the Gold Rush, led to massacres of native populations. Google declined to comment on the bus service; whether its employees have any genocidal inclinations is unclear.