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Chicken Shit Bingo among Austin’s brilliant ideas

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Austin, Texas, touts some impressive innovations when it comes to ride-hail vehicles and government transparency, but Chicken Shit Bingo is what most folks will remember. (Courtesy photo)

http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/broke-ass-city/

Chicken Shit Bingo is exactly what it sounds like: A chicken walks around a cage that has a bunch of numbers lining the bottom of it. If your ticket corresponds with the number the chicken drops her load on, you win. But in Austin, Texas, it gets even better.

Local country music legend Dale Watson and his band play honky-tonk music during the entire game. The winner of each round can either take the $114 winnings or the contents of one of Watson’s pockets, which could hold either more or less than $114.

Fate is as fickle as chicken shit.

As far as introductions go, this was pretty fantastic. But Austin is a fantastic city. You probably know it’s a rabidly blue oasis in one of the most conservative states. You probably also know it hosts South by Southwest every year, and that Austin is considered the “Live Music Capital of the World” because there are oodles of venues. But did you know it’s going through many of the same issues that San Francisco is? In fact, Austin is inheriting some of San Francisco’s problems.

People have been leaving San Francisco in droves over the past few years, either being pushed out or fleeing from exasperation, and Austin is one of the places they’ve landed. Tech companies there have been flourishing, and there’s also been a boom in housing. Austin seems to have a lot more room to build housing than San Francisco, but the city has still seen a spike in living costs. Gentrification is on the tongue of anyone who’s been here for more than a couple years, and cranes fill the skies like unavoidable harbingers of change.

In some ways, Austin is handling this much better than San Francisco. Take Ride Austin, for example.

Years ago, Uber and Lyft left Austin because they didn’t like the regulations city government placed on them, including mandatory third-party fingerprinting for all drivers. In typical Evil Big Tech fashion, Uber and Lyft successfully lobbied for a statewide bill that governed them, and which superseded the local law. As a result, Uber and Lyft moved back last summer —but in the time they were gone, Ride Austin emerged.

Ride Austin, which is notably nonprofit, employs the same concept as Uber and Lyft: People drive strangers around in their personal cars. They take 99 cents from the driver for each ride and offer passengers the option to round up the fare to the nearest dollar and donate the extra change one of a few dozen local charities. If your ride was $8.60, it would round up to $9 and the extra 40 cents would be donated to the charity of your choice. So far Ride Austin has donated more than $250,000!

Why can’t we do something heroic like this in San Francisco? Why do we only create monsters?

Another thing San Francisco should copy from Austin is its open data portal. Austin has taken all the data city government has collected and made it open and searchable. This allows advocacy groups to utilize the data, turn it into maps, graphs or other digestible materials and then use it to help lawmakers govern better.

If data shows that kids who are suspended are more likely to drop out of school and land in jail, measures can be taken to fix the causes of why kids are being suspended in the first place. Information like this can help lead to laws like the recently implemented House Bill 674, which prohibits discretionary out-of-school suspensions for students who are in pre-kindergarten through second grade.

In San Francisco, we’ve got the best minds of a generation focusing on creating apps to do the stuff your mom won’t do for you anymore. Instead, they should be taking a cue from Austin. I’d rather see tech used to make the world a better place instead of just making a handful of people extremely rich.

In the meantime, I’ll be trying to bring Chicken Shit Bingo back to the Bay.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.

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