The real mayors of Sacramento
Each day, millions ‘check in’ on smartphone apps like Foursquare, where the top users are dubbed ‘mayors.’ Some mayors are strong, others just want to booze. All offer a real-time peek at privacy, partying and modern Sacramento
At last week’s annual South by Southwest festival, the world’s pre-eminent social-networking experts converged on Austin, Texas, for a five-day interactive-technology conference. Gadgets such as the latest iPad and websites like Mashable were kings of the geeks. But a lesser-known smartphone app called Foursquare, popular with both teenagers and 30-somethings, was mayor of the party: Attendees used the app more than any other, including Facebook’s Places, to find out who was where and what the heck they were doing.
In fact, the number of digital “check-ins”—the term for when a user updates their current location on Foursquare—during the festival was so huge, according to founder Dennis Crowley, that the average worldwide “check-ins” those days jumped by more than half a million.
That’s right: Every day, millions of Americans reveal, even brag about their exact whereabouts on Foursquare. It’s an unprecedented rethinking of privacy, involving at once remarkable and alarming evolutions in GPS and smartphone technology.
Worried about your kid? Just head to www.foursquare.com and watch his or her every move. It’s so easy, you almost forget the risk—until websites like www.pleaserobme.com come around, using Foursquare’s data to list all the empty homes out there just waiting to get burgled.
Yet despite such indiscretions of the virtual kind, Foursquare—and knockoffs like Gowalla, SCVNGR and Whrrl, plus similar Yelp and Facebook apps—still attract tens of thousands of new users every day.
Especially here in Sacramento.
According to a recent and surprisingly well-researched study by Men’s Health magazine, Sacramento ranks 18 on the list of top 100 “most socially networked” cities in America. Washington, D.C., is tops; San Francisco sixth; Sacramento ranks higher than Los Angeles (33), New York City (55) and Anaheim (unranked).
This means we’re a Linked In city of Facebook freaks and Twitter tweakers, chat-room lurkers and blinkered bloggers. Tech-savvy movers and nerdy shakers. It’s at least something to be proud of, no?
Which is why a handful of SN&R writers—some even without smartphones in hand—hit up the virtual and tangible streets of Sacramento to find its real “mayors,” those Foursquare front-runners who never miss a check-in and offer a surprisingly real look at Sacramento’s hip new digital pulse.
Watch out, Roseville!
currently in a hotly contested mayor’s race at Arden Fair mall
Tasha Kelley is the hardest-working mayor on Foursquare. By day, she designs the window and table displays at Nordstrom inside Arden Fair mall. At night, she’s a bartender at R.J. Grin’s in the DoubleTree hotel across the street. And 24-seven, she’s the Foursquare mayor of every major establishment at the intersection of Arden Way and Business 80.
Elephant Bar? Mayor Kelley’s. Arden Fair mall? It’s Kelley’s. Red Lion Hotel? Totally hers. She’s even the mayor of the freeway offramp, a location she created called “I’m on Arden exit AGAIN!!!”
Given her all-consuming work schedule, it was a challenge to get Kelley to sit still long enough to ask about her mayorships—25 at press time. SN&R succeeded by visiting her night shift at R.J. Grin’s, lurking at the bar until her break, then peppering Kelley with questions in the DoubleTree lobby.
The 31-year-old looks all business—polished hairstyle, fitted leather jacket, artfully draped scarf—but exudes friendly openness. Her large gold-hoop earrings shine and twinkle when she shakes her head with laughter, which is often. She works constantly, but sneaks in fun when she can.
That’s why Kelley became addicted to Foursquare. Check-ins only take a second, but they bring joy amid relentless professional demands. “I like to earn points and get badges. It’s like a treat,” Kelley explains. “It’s fun to see them pop up.
“I was at a Starbucks a couple weeks back, checking in. All of the sudden: boop! A badge pops up. I guess I had checked in 30 times, so it called me Juan Valdez. It made me smile.”
Kelley’s been on Foursquare less than a year and has already accumulated nearly 2,300 check-ins. She checks in at least 12 times per day. When her Nordstrom co-workers take smoke breaks, she takes check-in breaks at two employee smoking spots, locations she’s labeled “The Office” and “The Office 2.”
“I check in every single place I go,” she says. “When I leave someplace and I don’t check in, I’m mad.”
Kelley applies the same intense work ethic to Foursquare that she uses in her 9-to-5 (to 2 a.m.) workday. “I really enjoy when I take a mayorship,” she admits. “Even if it’s just the Shell station, I’m like, ‘Yes!’ I’m a little bit competitive, if you can’t tell.”
She asks if I’ve “seen the battle,” referring to the continuing fight between Nordstrom employees over mayorship of their lunchroom.
“There used to be four competitors,” Kelley says, “but we knocked out this one girl. She just quit. Now there are three of us going back and forth.” Kelley’s comments on Foursquare include stern warnings: “U change the lunchroom name, Berry?!! I’m gettin’ my mayorship back!”
Sadly, Kelley’s reign likely will be ending soon. “I’m transferring to the Roseville store starting Sunday,” she says, “so I probably won’t be the mayor of the mall much longer.” But Kelley is keeping her bartending position at R.J. Grin’s, so she’ll maintain her status over half the Arden intersection.
Attention Roseville Nordstrom employees: Keep your smartphones charged. There’s a new mayor checking in.
Becca’s phone is not smart enough to handle Foursquare, so her exact location remains a mystery.
Blood sport and bartenders
in a tough mayoral re-election battle at one of the city’s trendiest bars
Rebecca Adler used to be mayor here. Today, she’s just another customer at Shady Lady Saloon, a popular R Street hangout known for craft cocktails, fried green tomatoes and more suspenders than Larry King’s closet. Here, bartenders and owners still greet Adler by her nickname, Becca, and even remember her cocktail of choice, a White Linen (gin, elderflower liqueur, simple syrup, lemon juice, cucumber). Still, she’s no longer boss.
And she’s not giving up without a fight.
“He cheats,” says Adler, sipping said cocktail. The “he” in reference is (was?) a close friend. His coup went down like this: Adler oversaw Shady “for a long, long time,” nine months. Her friend discovered just how important being mayor was to her and started checking in to the bar every day until he took the seat. Or bar stool.
“He stole the mayorship because he knows how much I covet it,” she sums up.
These days, however, some “other dude,” Adler says, took the mayorship away and no one has been able to overtake Shady going on two months. She has no idea who the new guy is.
“Every time I come,” she says, “I look around the room for him. ‘Where are you!?’ I want to know who he is!” Then she gives the room a once-over and grabs her iPhone to check in on Foursquare.
She does this because Adler, a marathon runner who’s also into world travel and climbing, understands that winning a Foursquare mayorship is a fight for the long haul. And that things change: A year ago, for instance, she herself lived in Istanbul.
She’s resided in Sacramento for 15 years, has moved away three times, “and every single time, I end up back in Sacramento,” she says of the proverbial “you can never really leave” syndrome. “And every time I come back, it’s different. It’s really growing up,” especially when it comes to the night life and food scene, she says.
And if she were the real mayor of Sacramento? “I’m all about public transportation,” she says. “I would try some way to fix the light rail,” including finally extending it to the airport, where’s she’s jockeying to be come Foursquare mayor as well.
But with all this traveling and sharing, is she worried about privacy? Do lurkers or stalkers ever show up on her adventures?
“Yeah, it’s happened a couple times,” she admits. A young brunette with nice teeth (she’s mayor of her dentist!), Adler explains that every so often a guy will just so happen to appear where she’s checked in on Foursquare. “Because I know they would never just show up at certain places,” she reasons.
To this end, she never checks in to her own home and doesn’t always share her check-ins on Facebook or Twitter.
If she did, you’d see that she’s one of Midtown’s busiest mayors, hop-skipping from popular yoga dens, Zuda Yoga, to trendy new restaurants, such as The Press.
“It’s like a little game,” she downplays.
Maybe. But it’s also blood sport.
Nick is mayor of Beto’s, where the lone Foursquare tip is, “Get some of the white sauce. I don’t know what it is, but it is good.”
Sacto’s first gay mayor
mayoral candidate at the Mercantile Saloon
If Josh Klein were actually Sacramento’s mayor, he would force Sacramentans to stop what they’re doing midday, like a Spanish siesta. Then he’d shower everyone with Jägermeister and dry martinis from his royal throne at Midtown gay bar the Mercantile Saloon, a mayorship he covets more than any other. For now, though, Klein will have to be satisfied with being mayor at Bombay Bar & Grill and Ernesto’s Mexican Food. And Kaiser Permanente, where he works. There’s no real incentive to be mayor of these spots. But there are bragging rights.
“Sometimes I want to go into places and be like, ‘I’m the mayor of this place! Gimme a parking spot!” Klein admits. Instead, he mostly just gets badges, which can be lucrative in the Foursquare world. For example, he once checked in at a salon after getting his brows waxed and was overjoyed upon receiving a “RuPaul’s Drag Race” badge. At the moment, he has 24 badges.
Everywhere Josh goes, he checks in using his smartphone. He says the app has become “incredibly” competitive lately. “Foursquare users want to dominate this city,” he says.
Lately, he’s been in an intense Foursquare battle with an unknown woman at his work, Kaiser. It’s an emotional roller coaster for Klein, because one day he’s mayor, the next day it slips through his fingers like sand from the beach of defeat. “Every time she one-ups me, I can’t help but mutter nasty words under my breath,” he shares.
Klein has some odd mayorships; he says nothing is off-limits. For example, he’s currently mayor of “the B-train’s ass,” a name someone gave to a street corner near his favorite cupcake shop. “Can’t beat a cupcake break,” he jokes.
In about six months’ time, Klein has raked in more than 1,500 check-ins, mostly at the gym, local bars and exotic-food restaurants. Only once has a business given him an award for his Foursquare activities: a free training session at 24 Hour Fitness. “I ran over there to collect ASAP, because I knew my fellow gays were fighting for it.”
If you’re worried about privacy, Klein says, “You shouldn’t be Internet friends with people who creep you out.
“When it comes down to it, Foursquare is a tool to connect you to your closest friends.”
Someday, Klein is confident he will become the Foursquare mayor of the Mercantile. He wouldn’t change much about his beautiful, grimy “Merc.” He would just add a Jäger fountain and a special mayor throne.
“It’s a pretty big effin’ deal,” he says. “You gotta walk in there like you own the place.”
Alia says the couch on her front porch is her official Queen Mayor throne.
Her boyfriend hates it
mayor of the Sacred City Derby Girls team
Amanda Ramirez’s Foursquare habit is not shared—or appreciated—by her boyfriend.
“He hates it,” she admits. “I’ll go the mall and want to get a bunch of check-ins while I’m there. I’ll stop wherever we are and make the effort to bring up the app, find the location and then check in.
“It drives him nuts.”
It’s only been six months since Ramirez joined Foursquare after downloading the app to her new smartphone last October. She started using the social-networking site on a trip to Los Angeles and quickly found herself taken with the task of “checking in” and sharing her adventures online.
Returning home, it didn’t take long for the Sac State art history major to begin laying claim to mayorships throughout Sacramento.
“I think my first one was Kadema Hall, the art department building at Sac State,” says Ramirez, 27.
Since, she’s also snapped up proprietary titles at myriad locations, including the Thrift Town in Carmichael, the post office on El Camino Boulevard, the Sac State parking garage and Sunrise Rollerland.
“I’m in [roller derby] training, so I’ve gone there several times for practice,” says Ramirez, who although still a derby novice, has already been crowned mayor of the Sacred City Derby Girls team.
Ramirez checks in everywhere she goes—“unless I forget or I’m too busy”—and there’s no destination she’s afraid to share with the rest of the world.
“I’m not ashamed of checking in anywhere. If I was ashamed I wouldn’t go there to begin with.”
In addition to her slew of mayor titles, Ramirez has also scooped up numerous badges, including the “Bender” (earned for going out at least four nights in a row) and, perhaps even more noteworthy, the “Crunked” badge (procured for checking into at least four spots in one night). She’s also nabbed, not surprisingly, the “Overshare” badge, acquired after sharing more that 10 visits during a 12-hour period.
(But, lest you think Ramirez is just a relentless roller-skating party girl, she’s also collected the “Bookworm,” “Barista” and “Gym Rat” badges.)
On her Foursquare to-do list: earning a museum badge (“It has a cool Andy Warhol image”) and the “I’m on a boat!” badge, which, as the name implies, is secured by checking in on watercraft.
She also intends to hold on, tightly, to her treasured Kadema Hall mayor title.
“Every time I become mayor there, this girl steals it away from me—but I always steal it back,” says Ramirez, adding that she doesn’t actually know her Foursquare nemesis.
“I don’t have a personal grudge against her … but whenever I see that she’s stolen the title from me, I’m like, “Damn you.
“I’m going to get it back!”
Rachel is still battling it out for the title of mayor of SN&R.
mayor of 100 places
It all started when Myron Jefferson got an iPhone.
“I’ve been using Foursquare since last summer,” he explains while sitting on a couch at Naked Lounge in Midtown, one of the 100 locations where he’s Foursquare mayor. That’s right, the century mark. More mayorships than almost any other Sacramentan.
When he goes to Downtown Plaza or Arden Fair mall, he checks into every store he visits. If a building or nearby parking garage pops up on his iPhone, he’s there checking in. It’s a bit compulsive. “Sometimes, if I know I’m close to becoming mayor, I’ll go [to a place] just so I can check in,” he admits.
Jefferson says he even scouts locations to see how easy it will be to take over a mayorship. He knows that grocery stores and college campuses are hotly contested spots, so he doesn’t expect to easily become mayor at Sac State, where he attends class. He does, however, hold down several impressive mayorships, among them bar R15, M.V.P. Sports Grill and “Downtown Sacramento” itself.
He is most proud of snagging the R15 mayorship. “I was battling the guy for a long time and I finally got it. I had to go twice a week,” he says. Friends on Facebook noticed his numerous check-ins at R15 and started asking him tips about the bar.
Lately, however, someone’s fighting him for the coveted R15 crown.
Some Facebook friends ask if he’s worried about stalkers. Jefferson shares his Foursquare check-ins with not only his 200 Foursquare friends, but also followers on Twitter and Facebook. “I’m not really sure why anyone would want to follow me to any of these places,” he says. “Sometimes I’m just out getting a beer.”
Plus, he likes letting his friends “follow his trail,” though he does acknowledge that there’s some risk involved. The one place Jefferson refuses to become mayor of? His own home.
Lately, he has become obsessed with not losing mayorships. During the race to 100, he started keeping track of what venues were getting taken over by other users. For instance, he complained that “some high-school kid jacked this ice-cream shop from me.”
But this didn’t stop him: Foursquare is a game, and Jefferson is definitely winning.
Katie would like to acquire more mayorships, but she keeps getting distracted by Angry Birds.
Governor of gridlock
mayor of Sacramento’s worst commute
Cassandra Ramos, 24-year-old reigning “mayor” of the Yolo Causeway, relaxes on the patio of a Midtown coffeehouse, holding a tea and giggling about the previous day’s St. Patrick’s Day pub-crawl adventures—and her resulting headache. She explains how she had no idea that using Foursquare to check in during her mundane daily commute to UC Davis, where she works as a research technician in the plant biology lab, would land her an interview with SN&R.
Ramos drives to Davis every day, along with tens of thousands of commuters, and started using Foursquare because she thought she’d “might as well get something out of” the back-and-forth.
“It’s embarrassing,” she confesses, blushing, “because I had to check in every day for a really long time and then I finally got the mayorship.” She says she’s checked in during her Causeway commute more than 300 times.
Ramos first discovered that the Causeway was a Foursquare spot because of people on Twitter, which she uses to network Morning on Fire, her hair-accessory and jewelry business. She points to the peacock feather in her hair, an example of the many items she sells at places like the Midtown Bazaar and Second Saturday. She even boasts a “Handmade Hero” badge in her Foursquare arsenal because of her work.
“I’m pretty big on Twitter,” she laughs. “Checking in at a lot of cool places makes you seem like a cool person.”
She admits, however, that people put strange things on Foursquare. Once, her boyfriend created and checked in to at a crime scene in downtown Sacramento—and other random people also checked in.
“It’s purely entertainment,” she argues. “The friends thing, connecting with people and finding out where they are, I think that’s secondary. It’s like a game.
“You know how sometimes you’re at the grocery store and you run into someone you haven’t seen for a while? It’s like that.”
She mentions the day before at the pub crawl, when Foursquare made it possible for her to meet up with a friend. “They were next door. I wouldn’t have seen them otherwise. It’s pretty cool.”
And while many commuters might challenge her right to the crown, Ramos isn’t about to give it up—even if a cop pulls her over using a cellphone.
“I’d be honest. I’d say, ‘I’m checking in on Foursquare. Sorry.’”
By the power vested in the Internet, Cat was dubbed Foursquare mayor of her house without ever owning a smartphone.
Queen of saltwater taffy
fake (and real) mayor of Old Sac
A typical day for Melissa Martinez involves walking around Old Sacramento, talking to merchants and making sure their needs are met. Professionally, Old Sac store and restaurant owners know her as the director of the Old Sacramento Business Association. It’s part of her job to offer services to businesses in the historic district.
But very few people know that Martinez is also the mayor of Old Sac. On Foursquare. The honorary title doesn’t shoulder any mayoral responsibilities. But her day job does.
She’s basically the real mayor.
Martinez has been director of the Old Sacramento Business Association for a little more than two-and-a-half years. She’s been the Foursquare mayor for less than two months. She signed in to Foursquare for the first time in mid-January and took the title over the course of several weeks. She regularly checks in on Foursquare using her iPhone.
So what’s she going to do about the crummy parking in Old Sac and the wealth of citations?
“There has been a decline,” she says of the parking-ticket problem. “And [meters] only go until 8 p.m. now.” She also stressed that the best way to ensure a parking space is to park in one of the two garages adjacent to Old Sac. Though patrons have to pay, most stores offer validation for garage parking. “You won’t get ticketed and there are more than 2,000 spaces,” she adds.
Most Old Sac folk know Martinez, it seems. “She’s great,” says Janet Green, owner of home, garden and gift shop Gabby Girl, which opened only five weeks ago.
Ned Makarevic, who works with his wife, Aida, at the jewelry boutique Mea Vita, says that in his brief interactions with Martinez, she came across as a “nice woman.”
A handful of other store employees, however, had never seen or heard of her. And one employee was critical of Martinez because she wouldn’t renew licenses for Old Sac street performers, such as the balloon man and a saxophone player.
But the newly “crowned” mayor of Old Sac says she’s striving to accomplish more. And she’s also after more mayorships, including a commitment to oust her friend Megan Emmerling as the mayor of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, as well as “increasing the vibrancy of Old Sacramento.”
With Foursquare. “I need to expand,” she says. “I’m going to put the challenge out there for others to become the mayor [of Old Sacramento].”
Jonathan thinks Foursquare is a great opportunity to hide in the bushes and scare people outside their favorite restaurants.
What’s for dinner?
mayor of Midtown’s dining hotspots
Vy Nguyen can’t remember how she first heard about Foursquare, but she’s glad she did.
“I like to eat out a lot,” she says. “Foursquare.com helps me decide where I’m going to go, and it lets my friends know where I am, in case they want to join me.”
Foursquare’s website describes itself as “a location-based mobile platform that makes cities easier to use and more interesting to explore.” Some businesses, such as restaurants, offer users prizes and perks.
“More and more of our customers are joining Foursquare and checking in when the come in,” explains Joe Anthony Savala, beverage manager at Zócalo in Midtown. “When a customer checks in with us, it’s recorded and we give each person who checks in a free appetizer. The person who checks in the most during the previous month becomes a ‘mayor.’ We are very much into social media here.”
Sacramento’s Midtown Business Association even sponsors a Foursquare Pub Crawl to promote the neighborhood’s establishments. The event features teams from the participating restaurants, and the restaurant’s mayor is the team leader.
“There are three reasons I do it,” says Nguyen, who’s mayor of such eateries as Zócalo and Hot Italian. “First, it’s a lot of fun. Second, it helps me in my business, which is event coordinating. And third, it helps the businesses I like to frequent.”
Foursquare’s website says it was launched in March 2009 by two New Yorkers, Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai, who met in 2007 and began developing the idea a year later. The company, headquartered in New York, claims to have more than 6.5 million users worldwide, with tens of thousands of business venues participating. Including, locally, the Sacramento Zoo.
So if you visit the zoo and check in on Foursquare, you earn a free carousel ticket. And if you are the zoo’s mayor, you receive a little gift.
Nguyen, 29, says she doesn’t take Foursquare too seriously. “There [aren’t always] perks from being the mayor,” she said. “It’s just one more part of the fun.”
Bob is a veteran journalist that is not on Facebook and doesn’t own a cellphone.