What follows is a modified excerpt from Bunch of Amateurs: A Search for the American Character, out now.
On Fillmore Street in San Francisco, in that stretch that’s still mostly boho coffee joints with a head shop and an art gallery or two, I met Meredith Patterson. She didn’t exactly stand out among the denizens of the Lower Haight. In her 30s and pushing 5ʼ10ʼʼ in her combat boots, she had on a tough-looking leather jacket and cat’s-eye glasses that finished off her look with a nice hint of 1950s girl nerd. Patterson is classic self-invented obsessive. A computer programmer and language theorist by day, she’s somebody who’s loved anything do-it-yourself since she was a little girl, working beside her dad fixing the family car or rewiring the house. Not long ago, she found herself in the grip of a new enthusiasm: homebrew bioengineering.