by Stephen R.
Truly a child of the 1010 Valencia Fellowship, I went to my first A.A. meeting just a week after 1364 Valencia relocated there. There was a four-day around-the-clock Alcothon. I served on the relocation committee to move to 2900 24th Street in 1999, following a midweek 10 p.m. meeting. It continues there today as the Mission Fellowship, where I still call Valencia Smokefree my home group (Fridays, 6 p.m.).
Book-based recovery was the only common thread
The complete history of 1010 deserves a series of articles remembering all the vibrant, fascinating details in depth. Dramatic divorces, suicides and unusual medical diagnoses played out over time. We held raucous business meetings over childcare, personality clashes, misspent prudent reserves, stained carpets, rodents in recovery. The pall of smoke reached down to seating level and the monstrous suspended ionizer would slowly build up a charge and release it without warning with a few ear-splitting, spine-tingling “Zzzzaaapppps!” Sleeping people would jolt awake.
All these circumstances fell away in the face of the rugged recovery found in each of the more than 40 groups which called 1010 home. Surprisingly enough, our individual groups maintained their special character. Book-based recovery was the only common thread. Personally, I think the autonomy of the groups and their individual relationships to the Management Committee (MCom) made this possible. The groups came together to put on the Alcothons four times per year.
We fitfully participated in an advisory-only steering committee which rose and fell every couple of years. Even though there was great sadness at the time for the loss of the Grant Street Alano Club and the local Industrial Club, there was never a sentiment to convert 1010 into a clubhouse, formal group or fellowship. The term as applied to 1010 meant simply a single location with a common landlord where groups shared members and a sense of identity.
Raucous business meetings over childcare, personality clashes and rodents in recovery
The groups paid rent to 1010 Inc., also known as The MCom, a never-incorporated non-profit. We individually agreed to abide by a few common-sense rules. The MCom never governed. It collected rent and carried concerns to and from the landlord, which became very great for both parties late in our tenancy. This loose-knit arrangement meant that at critical times no group felt pressured to conform to a larger picture. In hindsight I think it twice saved 1010 from a split large enough to threaten its survival.
The first of these was the transition to a smoke-free environment around 1995. We were slightly ahead of the municipal regulations. Tensions had been building over this for years. Our room had inadequate ventilation even without the smoking. There were militants on both sides of this issue. Some people would blow smoke rings across the aisle; others would defiantly puff in the three smokeless meetings right up until the secretary rang the bell. Some non-smokers would fan smoke back across the aisle. Others would turn up the thermostat so the ceiling furnace would blow right at the smokers, roasting them out of their wing.
We set a date to end smoking and I dutifully removed all the ash trays at 6 a.m., fully expecting an outcry by midday. To my astonishment, not a single complaint was lodged by any group! Only a few accidental light-ups occurred and were not repeated. We had expected a schism but found only unity. I don’t know if any group actually took a group conscience on this, but not a single group challenged the change. Had there been a larger entity debating this issue, the process would have gone on much longer.
The final, critical challenge came in 1999 when we were given notice to move. The MCom had just spent two-thirds of our prudent reserve on new carpet, paint and countertops the month before. Both the Treasurer and the long-time bookkeeper had taken unannounced sabbaticals. All the groups were brought into the discussion about how to raise money for a move and a lease. The neighborhood was shifting toward gentrification.
Some groups decided they could support the MCom with outside fundraising by donating goods for a two-week garage sale (outside support for a non-A.A. entity, the MCom, as landlord). With autonomy, the supportive groups could choose to act independently. Long discussions continued over the Traditions. It got worse before it got better.
Some members voted with their feet
We had money for a lease but were faced with a harsh reality. We had to build in order to acquire an appropriate space. The relocation committee brought the groups into it. For groups which agreed, it would mean private contributions from individual A.A.s, suspending the usual disbursements to general service, and passing a second basket for a building fund. Six months of bi-weekly business meetings followed, and a $22,000 debt took a year and a half to retire. Had the Fellowship as a whole debated this move as a body, we may not have reached substantial unanimity. Certainly not in time for a move.
Some members voted with their feet. But each group was able to act autonomously for its survival. One chose to move elsewhere. The City’s first dot-com boom put an end to it all with our amicable eviction.
I remember a girl who came to Smokefree in the cluster of souls who lived nearby in a half-way house. They were free to roam during the day and tended to make their way home around dinner time and would wander in at any time. We only chased one man away when he threatened someone.
I had seen Jan several times in the meetings. I saw her again one night in the H&I Psych Ward meeting at St. Mary’s Hospital. I’d never heard her speak until that night, and then only briefly. She recognized me and thanked me for coming up to the ward.
Weeks later, she wandered in mid-meeting at Smokefree and spotted me at my regular place at the end of the enormous table which jutted into the aisle. As she passed she put her hand on my shoulder very gently, leaned down and softly kissed my cheek. A few minutes later, standing (seats were full) with an unsteady cup of coffee, she said completely out of context: “I’m Jan and I’m an alcoholic.” Her greeting and her identification in the group became a fairly regular occurrence for a couple of years. And then she was gone.
I can still feel the joy of recognition as our eyes met in meetings. It was a beautiful little dance. I really identified with Jan. It can be something of an ordeal to write because it’s overwhelming to open a door to the universe behind the stories. But the Valencia corridor was a recovery oasis. An important point to make is that 39 of 40 groups — all but one — made the move to 2900 24th Street. Today, at 2900, the Fellowship is thriving.