This is the third instalment of reporter Colin Harper’s “Living on Bitcoin” experience in San Francisco. Find out what happened to him earlier on Day 1 and on Day 2.
I woke up on day 3 and made a pact with myself: I had resolved to not rely on Uber Eats that day.
I still think that buying this credit from an exchange like Bitrefill or Paxful is in line with the experiment, but I haven’t made a PoS purchase yet and I want to make today about going out and actually using bitcoin with merchants.
Only once I ventured out to actually try this did I realize that the trend I unearthed yesterday would become an insurmountable obstacle.
I woke up in a bed this time (one had been freed up after Christian’s roommate and friends left to move to LA). Like the day before, I immediately hit the coffee and continued to work on the write-up of the previous day. Little of note happened. Christian left to go back to Nashville to then go to Miami for a conference. Riggins, who had slept on the couch the night before, went with him.
To prep for a day of no Uber Eats, I looked up some of the places that I hadn’t checked with yet to see if they still took bitcoin. The preliminary results were disheartening. Bamboo Asian and Ramen Underground are closed on Sundays. Three Babes Bakery no longer accepts crypto and neither does Elixart, even though their Nevada location does. So my prospects here in San Francisco were looking grim.
Surely somewhere, I thought.
Resolved to make something of the day, I decide that I should just throw myself out there and see if I could stumble upon a place that would take BTC. If all the online bitcoin-as-payment finders had it wrong, maybe there were a few stores that did accept it but weren’t listed.
Clinging to this hope, I ordered an Uber for Haight-Ashbury, starting off my search with a toy shop called Woot Bear that supposedly accepted bitcoin. I wasn’t holding my breath.
An Uber pool took me a block away from Woot Bear and Haight street. Walking that way, I took out a sign I had prepped for my promenade in San Francisco’s hippie district.
“If you buy me food or coffee, I’ll send you bitcoin. I’ll help you set up a wallet and be your friend!”
I figured the absurd gesture would be in character for Haight-Ashbury’s rabble of itinerants, tourists, burnouts and homeless population. People probably thought the sign was asking for handouts. It wouldn’t be the first time I would be mistaken for homeless (happened earlier this year while passing out Thanksgiving meals around Nashville).
Woot Bear’s caretaker was out for lunch, so I walked around, sign in front, and went searching for food (I hadn’t eaten yet) or any place that would take my coins. I didn’t expect to waltz into a place and find that they take bitcoin, no more than I expected someone to take my sign seriously. Still worth the attempt. The reactions themselves when I asked were worth it.
Finding a thrift store I visited last time I was in San Francisco, I went in and glanced at a few shirts. A tall woman with jet black hair was preoccupied with her phone behind the cashier’s desk.
After browsing some flannels, I walked up to ask a question I already knew the answer to.
“Yes?” she asked, a little annoyed, looking up from the phone after I had loomed over the desk for a few seconds.
“What are the chances you could be swayed to accept bitcoin?”
Lips pursed on a to-go drink straw, she slowly shook a lowered head.
“Yeah, I expected as much,” I said resignedly.
A little farther down the strip, I walked into a run-of-the-mill smoke shop. I asked the dude working it if they accept bitcoin.
He just shook his head.
“Know of any places around Haight that do,” I asked, grasping at anything I could get.
“Nope. Cash is king here.”
Cash is king, I thought. Yeah, no kidding, bucko. What’d you expect?
I slipped into probably half a dozen more shops, receiving the same result and a mixture of reactions. One young, nose-studded barista looked like I had offended her with my question, another was simply amused and gave me a free coffee. Most young dudes that I asked would just laugh at the question, answering, “No, sorry!” with a grin. The majority of people were simply confused. Some probably didn’t know what it was, but they knew that they didn’t accept it.
A bit defeated, I went back to Woot Bear. Now that it was open, I asked the shopkeeper if they still accept bitcoin.
“Bitcoin?” she asked, pausing her phone conversation for a moment. “Oh, no, I’m sorry we don’t anymore.”
I expected as much — past results were becoming indicative of future ones.
I asked her why they’d stopped. She told me that, apparently, the payment processor they used was no longer operational.
Still, she went on to sing bitcoin’s praises emphatically to the fellow who was still on the other end of her phone call.
“Bitcoin was great!” she told him. “It was fee-less and it would automatically convert to money in your bank account.”
She was treating it like some arcane truth, stammering while explaining how they used to use it and the value it carried.
“I don’t know what it is,” she ultimately confessed.
Phone calls, store visits, solicitations, holding that sign like a lunatic. Nothing would bring me the opportunity to spend bitcoin.
I left Woot Bear — the coincidental significance of its name including “bear” only now starting to register — with my confidence in disrepair. Still, I tried a few more shops to no avail and had an encounter that I won’t recount here for fear of being put on an FBI watch list.
Stopping to record what just happened (and clueing my buddies in — we have a running tally on surreal encounters), I was interrupted by an older, flustered, Indian man.
“Is that you?” he asked, pointing to my sign as it rested on the shop’s sandwich-board sign.
Thinking he was interested in my sign (he was the first person to stop to read it), I enthusiastically replied in the affirmative.
“Well, stop it. This is my sign, my shop.” The man gestured at the storefront.
“Oh, sorry, I was just typing something up — just using your sign for a second.”
“Okay, I don’t care if you need it for a minute,” he said as he stepped farther out on the sidewalk, seemingly to monitor my loitering.
Walking to the panhandle of Golden Gate Park, I was resigned to not finding anywhere on Haight that would take bitcoin, but not to finding nowhere that would take it.
Posted up on a bench outside a public basketball court, I called up a few places I had left to check with.
They’d all stopped taking bitcoin some time ago. A tone of brisk agitation usually followed my questions.
Frustrated, I gave up. The constant Google queries, calls and typing — all my activity had been eating into my phone’s battery — with hunger eating at my concentration: I’d had enough. My phone was at 5 percent, so I called an Uber and retreated to the apartment.
I’m typing this in the Uber and it’s honestly hard to focus with this empty burning in my gut.
San Francisco’s roller coaster landscape didn’t help. Most of what I wrote in the Uber was crap.
Back at the apartment, I ordered Curry Up Now again. The deconstructed samosas and sexy fries were very much a transcendent experience, probably both because they were undeniably delicious and because my stomach was ready to turn in on itself.
I was fed, but I wasn’t satisfied. My pact was broken: I couldn’t use bitcoin in any stores or restaurants, and the reality was becoming very clear that I likely wouldn’t get the chance.
I wasn’t thriving like I would have hoped — or really expected. Sure, saying I’ve been surviving wouldn’t be quite right, because it’s been unequivocally easy to use Bitrefill to get more Uber credit. But there’s no diversity in purchases, just travel and food. Not only have I not been able to spend it in the city, but I haven’t been able to experience the different ways that I could spend it.
Frustrated and disappointed, I watched the Saints play (and beat) the Eagles in the NFC division round and wrote a little more. Another night of being fed by a friend, as Michelle cooked risotto and had her folks over.
Before dinner was served, I heard Michelle talk about the experiment with them. Her mother took to the topic with quick fascination but diagnosed the potential difficulties with it.
“Oh, that’s going to be tough, but if he can do it anywhere, it would be here,” her mom said.
Let me tell ya, lady — you have no idea.
As Kashmir Hill did in her original journey, Colin is accepting BTC tips to help him along the way.
Tip jar: 3CnLhqitCjUN4HPYf6Qa2MmvCpSoBiFfBN