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'The Real World' Has Changed, But Has San Francisco?

Jenna Polito | September 6, 2013 | Story

For its 29th season, The Real World has returned to San Francisco. For those who recall the social impact of its 1994 predecessor also filmed here, that's prompted fond memories of a simpler, pre-Honey Boo Boo time of reality TV. In the spirit of ’90s nostalgia, we reviewed episodes of the original The Real World San Francisco to see what hasn't changed in the intervening years.

A Serious Coffee Culture: Early in the ’94 season, bright-eyed girl-next-door Cory gets a primer in San Francisco’s coffee obsession. Her search for employment as a barista turns up no leads: She's dismissed for her lack of experience. “The problem about hiring you here,” says a manager of one café, “is that you really have to know a lot about coffee: how it’s grown, how it’s cultivated, how it’s roasted”. Cory’s eyes widen as she admits that she mistakenly thought the café and roasting company was just a coffee shop. “No, no, it’s not just a coffee shop,” says the manager, sounding like he runs an early Four Barrel, “I hate when people say that.”

Great Grungy Nightlife: While we mourn the passing of some of the favorite haunts of the ’94 Real World cast—the Armadillo, the Chameleon, the Kennel Club—we’ve still got plenty of dives that harness the spirit of those mid-nineties cultural oases. Here we’re thinking of a few personal favorites, like Tempest, Elbo Room, and El Rio.

Mixing up the Airports: Some famous last words uttered in episode 6: “Are you sure it’s not at SFO?” So begins a wacky adventure to pick up housemate Rachel’s friends from the airport—the wrong airport. Like so many before and after her, she's gone to Oakland International. Says Housemate Mohammed with classic ’90s nonchalance: “[The experience] was, like, from hell.”

Pedal Power: Back in the day, the infamous, hygienically-challenged Puck took pride in his job, saying: “Bike messengers are pretty revered as a high thing here in San Francisco.” Twenty years later, he’s fully vi. Bikes are still booming in San Francisco, and they’ve diversified to include coffee and flower arrangement delivery services. What’s more, one of the cycling events that the housemates partake in is still very much around: Critical Mass.

San Francisco Acceptance: Cast member and HIV-positive AIDS activist Pedro Zamora (who died in November of '94) and his then-fiancé Sean Sasser (who died this month) discuss their evolving relationship at a local restaurant. They touch on the unprecedented level of security the city affords them in being openly gay. Yet Pedro still fears for their safety: in his hometown of Miami, holding Sean’s hand publicly could elicit a potentially violent response. Sean replies that hate crimes happen everywhere, even in as liberal a city as San Francisco, but that he won’t let that stop him from being himself and advocating for what he believes in. It’s an important scene for many reasons, and demonstrates some of the ways issues related to homosexuality and AIDS have evolved. The scene also shows that San Francisco, while far from a utopian ideal, was—and remains—a place at the forefront of the conversation around and progress toward equal rights for LGBT people.

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