Wild SF Tours: Interview

 

Artists, Activists Lead Edgy Wild SF ToursJ. Jo leading a Wild SF Tour. Tours are artist and activist-led and often include performance.

 

 

Wild SF Tours is no ordinary tour company. It is artist and activist-led, culturally informed, fun, fascinating, always interactive and sometimes even musical. Of course no San Francisco tour operation would be complete without a tour of the Castro, which is offered on its own or paired with a tour of the Mission. Whether you have visitors in town for the holidays or just want to learn more about the city you live in, Wild SF Tours is a superb way to spend an afternoon or even an entire day. Jordon Jo, also known as J. Jo, co-founded Wild SF Tours with his friend Wes Leslie, aka Wild Wes, in 2012.

 

Wendy:

How are your tours different from other San Francisco tours? They’re a lot more interactive, right?

 

J. Jo:

Certainly, yeah. Not only do we talk the talk but we walk the walk. We are queer activists, sex-positive activists, educators ourselves. We live here. We are part of the underbelly of the city and a part of the mainstream too. We invite it all. Our main goal as people, activists and artists is to keep pushing the legacy of that. That’s shaped us and inspired us so we’re just a continuation of that. A lot of tour guides are just talking about history; we’re a part of the new generation, so that’s what really separates us as a team. What do we talk about on the tours? We’re a lot more edgy than most tours. We’ll talk about things that are comical, like big penis shaped macaroons at Hot Cookie. We’ll talk about trans rights, people of color, how that intersects with the whole movement and how it has not been sufficiently represented in the movement. We get real and a lot of times our guides tear up—the people on the tours tear up. It’s different every time. It’s moving. It’s fluid. It’s a performance and a real experience.

 

Wendy:

You’ve been something of a local celebrity in the Castro too.

 

J. Jo:

Yeah, I was a little naked and naughty at one point but it was for a good cause. It was called Project Nunway [put on by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence]. That was about a year ago. I was in my mother’s costume and we were paired with Sister Jezebel—shout out: hey Sister Jezebel! I think it was Sister Roma who donned my mother and Jezebel as the winners of Project Nunway, the best costume and performance last year at Project Nunway 2014. That was my mom and that was me. I was the naked guy.

 

Wendy:

You were completely naked?

 

J. Jo:

Almost.

 

Wendy:

Is your Castro tour offered weekly?

 

J. Jo:

Yeah. At the moment we’re going into slow season so we’re only offering it three times a week now.

 

Wendy:

You offer a tour called the Radical SF Route that combines the Castro and the Mission. Can the two be combined at all three weekly tours?

 

J. Jo:

Not weekends, but weekdays yes, so two of the three.

 

Wendy:

When the Mission is included, without giving too much away, what do you introduce about the Mission’s culture?

 

J. Jo:

The Mission is, to us, the most crucial tour we give that really touches us. We’re talking about history but how it is intersecting [with] a movement that is happening today, and we’re walking through a cultural and social battlefield while we’re doing the tour, so it’s heavy. It’s just civil rights in your face, stop to stop to stop. Over the years we’ve tailored the branding of the tour so that you know, yes, we’re going to be talking about a lot of people’s rights here: women’s rights, immigrant rights, Latino rights, artist rights, lesbian rights, housing issues, tech colonization. We’re talking about it all. Like the gritty air of the Mission, the tour follows suit and it’s uncompromising, but we sing songs and we make jokes and we connect people where no one’s demonized, not even if you’re a tech worker. There are a lot of tech workers that come on the tour and we want them to feel like they’re in a safe place. That’s the spirit of the city—to include everybody in order to transform, to make a place for people to feel safe to be there.

 

Wendy:

What you just said was really moving and that’s exactly what it’s all about. Aside from the Castro and the Mission you do lots of tours around this city, all with unique takes on those particular neighborhoods. You go to Chinatown. What are some of the other ones?

 

J. Jo:

The Haight and the Barbary Coast and downtown. Union Square is an incredibly important place in U.S. history. It was kind of just this big mountain of sand turned into the second major plaza of the city. It was there that the St. Francis [Hotel] was built, putting San Francisco on the map, it being a destination for global celebrities and presidents. It was there that Starr King, a very famous preacher, made a speech. It’s why we call it Union Square—during the Civil War days convincing California to go pro-union as opposed to separating. Abraham Lincoln himself announced that it was that speech in Union Square that saved the United States. Without California we would have been in a very difficult position as a country to reconcile what was going on. We touch on a lot of different areas of the downtown that have been transformed into commerce, hustle-bustle, tourism, but we talk about what really happened back in the founding days, that’s another take on that too. I forgot to mention one other tour. We just came out with the spooky Night Tour. We’re talking about murder, suicide in Union Square and the Tenderloin area. It gets spooky.

 

Wendy:

You’re wearing your guitar. Are musical instruments part of most of the tours or some of the tours?

 

J. Jo:

Some of the tours. Unfortunately, we can’t ask our guides to be everything. First and foremost they’ve gotta be passionate about people, create humor and engender feelings and imagination from their words—that’s the most important thing. It’s really hard to find somebody who can enjoy themselves around anybody no matter where they’re from or who they are, what their creed is. For them to be professional, to be active in social movements, and to play music and to be an artist in general is maybe a little too much to ask. What tours are musical? The Castro, the Mission, and the Haight.

 

Wendy:

How long have Wild SF Tours been going on?

 

J. Jo:

I started it with my best friend three years ago. His name is Wild Wes. We were both in college. We had been traveling the world—he was in Spain, I was in Mexico for a whole year. When we came back we said those people are here in this city. Let’s talk to them and show them what our city’s about and show them how we live. We didn’t want to work nine-to-fives; we hated that stuff because we’re multi-faceted human beings. I was studying astrophysics and jazz, and he studied Spanish, marketing, and creative writing, so we come from way different backgrounds. We just wanted to be able to be working outside, eating well, meeting new people, inspiring them, and using our powers for good.

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Jordon Jo

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