Nov 4 2012

Car One


This is Car One—the very first streetcar operated by a municipal transit authority in America. It’s exactly a hundred years old. (There were streetcars in America before 1912, but they were owned and operated by private transit companies: San Francisco’s MUNI system was the first to put public streetcars in operation.)

MUNI celebrated its centennial today, and to mark the occasion they brought out Car One. We got to ride it down Market Street:


It’s beautiful inside, with lots of wood, shiny brass fittings, and rattan seats. It was gorgeously restored several years ago, and is now generally reserved for mayors to ride in during city parades. It was pretty awesome.

Also awesome: Robin got to hang out with a real life conductor, who even let him try on the hat:



This has been a banner week for Robin’s career aspirations: last weekend we went up to visit Nonna and Pappy in Carson City, and they took him to hang out with some firemen in the local firehouse. He even got to ride in the fire truck, which thoroughly blew his mind. Ever since then I’ve been hearing an awful lot about how he’s a grown up boy who can be anything he wants to be, and what he wants to be is a fireman, because firemen save people, and even more importantly they ride in the fire trucks.

Davy, on the other hand, was intimidated both by the fire truck and by the conductor in his uniform, and hid his face in Sam’s shoulder when the hat was offered. But he liked the streetcar ride just the same!

Sep 26 2011

Local Politics

I really feel like anyone named “Wiener” should have more sense than to thrust himself into (expose himself to? begin blindly groping around in?) legislation relating to nudity.

Perhaps it should not be a surprise that San Francisco does not have a law against being naked in public, nor that a small, unselfconscious segment of the city’s residents regularly exercise that right. A proposed law would put some restrictions on public nudity in San Francisco, and a “Nude-In” on Saturday became a tourist attraction. “This is about body acceptance, not politics,” the organizer said.

That tiny minority was joined this weekend in the autumn fog and cold by unclothed sympathizers at a “Nude-In.” One of their objectives was to draw attention to a proposed law — introduced by Scott Wiener, a city supervisor — that would prohibit nudity in restaurants and require unclad people to put a towel or other material down before sitting bare-bottomed on benches or other public seats.

Unless there’s been a marked engorgement in the public nudity rates since we left San Francisco, this isn’t a real problem and it doesn’t require legislation. Wiener should withdraw this bill from the body politic.

Apr 12 2010


This article is ridiculous.

“We offer a kind of grittiness you can’t find much anymore,” said Randy Shaw, a longtime San Francisco housing advocate and a driving force behind the idea of Tenderloin tourism. “And what is grittier than the Tenderloin?”

Uh, try Hunter’s Point.

I live in the upper Tenderloin. It is in no way the “domain of the city’s most down and out.” It’s a normal middle-class neighborhood with nice apartment buildings, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, bookstores, ethnic groceries, clothing boutiques, hair salons, etc. Oh, and bunches of hotels—there’s three hotels on my block alone—meaning that we get scads of tourists already. We’re adjacent to the theater district and all the art galleries: for crying out loud, most of the youth hostels are in the upper Tenderloin. There’s nothing the least bit “unlikely,” let alone “highly unlikely,” about tourism in the upper Tenderloin.

The lower Tenderloin, by contrast, which is apparently what this guy means when he writes about the “Uptown Tenderloin” (“uptown” being a word that I have never once heard applied to the Tenderloin in my eleven years of living here: who knows where Mr. McKinley pulled that one from) houses most of the city’s methadone clinics, shelters, and soup kitchens, and is as a result clogged with homeless addicts, the drug dealers who sell to them, the low-end prostitutes who are hoping to get enough cash together to buy something off the drug dealers, the pimps who collect the prostitutes, etc. It’s a pretty depressing place to stroll through, but it’s actually not dangerous: it’s right next to City Hall, it’s well-policed, and there’s lots of clubs, bars, and inexpensive ethnic restaurants, leading to lots of foot traffic. Some of the bigger musical venues are in the lower Tenderloin. It also includes the quite-charming stretch of “Little Saigon” or whatever they decided to call those two blocks that have been claimed by Vietnamese immigrants, and are now full of bánh mì sandwich shops and phở joints. The lower Tenderloin sees less tourism, but still gets its share of budget-minded travelers looking for a cheap lunch or a night trawling through dive bars. For Jesse McKinley to write about this neighborhood as if he’d just made some kind of daring discovery is patently absurd. Where did they find this guy?

In the interests of absolute fairness I just went back and gave the article a second, closer read, and I have to admit that it’s not so much any specific factual inaccuracy that pisses me off so much as the general tone of pearl-clutching fear and astonishment. The Tenderloin! It exists! And people might actually go there on purpose!

Lines like “Deranged residents are a constant presence,” may be true, but could equally well describe pretty much anywhere in San Francisco, especially the places where tourists—and hence panhandlers—congregate. As for “after dark the neighborhood can seem downright sinister”: a prime example of the pearl-clutching I find so annoying. The Tenderloin streets are plenty safe, at least until 2am, when the bars close: if you’re wandering around dark alleys at three or four in the morning, I guess you may be taking your chances. This would be just as true in Chinatown, by the way, which McKinley describes as “decidedly less seedy.” A description which leads me to suspect that McKinley has never been to Chinatown, but nevermind that.

There are genuinely bad areas of San Francisco—places where tourists truly don’t go—but they are apparently invisible to New York Times travel writers. Next time I look forward to Mr. McKinley’s breathless article detailing the undiscovered “reality tourism” opportunities of the Bayview.

Mar 12 2010

Whoa! Fwee!

Nanita and Marqueño are in town, and Robin couldn’t be more thrilled. It breaks my heart a little bit every time we’re able to visit any of the grandparents, to see how strongly and eagerly Robin responds to their presence and attention: he’s a lucky little boy to have three sets of adoring grandparents, all of whom he loves to the very limits of his little heart: but as I’ve written before, it’s one of my enduring regrets that we haven’t been able to settle closer to any of our far-flung extended family. Robin gets very upset every time we say goodnight to my mom and Mark, obviously because he knows very well that the day will come when they say good-bye and don’t come back again for months.

Anyway, despite my apparent ability to inject mom-guilt into even the nicest of situations, Robin has been having a wonderful time. Yesterday we all (all except for Sam, who has this thing called “work” that sounds like a real bummer, man) went to the California Academy of Sciences for the day. I took my camera and then forgot to take any pictures at all, except for this one of Robin walking along sweetly hand-in-hand with Mark:

For the Buffy fans, I think of this outfit as Robin’s Riley Finn costume.

Anyway, we’ve been to the Academy of Sciences before, but Robin was too young to take much in then. He didn’t respond very strongly to many of the exhibits. This time—was different.

We walk in the door and Robin (after initially getting a bit scared of the big T-Rex mold by the entrance) spots a fish tank. “Fwee!” he cries happily (fwee means fishie), and runs up to get a better look. “Oh, kiddo,” we tell him, “this is nothing, let’s go show you the aquarium.”

We made very slow progress, as to get to the downstairs aquarium you pass by several tide pools and swamp-habitats with fish in them, and each time Robin wanted to stop and gaze at them for apparently indefinite lengths of time. It struck me, as we cajoled and dragged him forward, as pretty funny that his attention span was apparently so much longer than ours. Anyway, eventually, we got downstairs to the “Water Planet” exhibits.

“Fwee! Fwee!”

There were a lot of fishies. So many glass tanks for Robin to run up and press his nose against. So many fishes to be counted and catalogued (“yewwow [yellow] fwee!”). Again, we had to chivvy him along, because we knew what was waiting:

The Philippine Coral Reef. This is a sunken auditorium with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall holding back 212,000 gallons of water and literally thousands of tropical fish.

Robin took this in and rendered his verdict: “Whoa.”

He said that again and again over the next twenty minutes: “Fwee! Whoa!” It was pretty hilarious, because he so badly wanted to talk about the fishies, but his vocabulary is so limited that he was basically just exclaiming the same few words over and over and over again. “Whoa! Fwee! Fwee, Nana!” (Fishies, Nanita!)

He would have stayed there for hours. It’s possible that he would still be there if he had his way. I thought, of course, of Robin’s uncle Jesse the marine biologist—he sent Robin a pop-up book of ocean life, which has apparently taken deep root in the kid’s little brain.

Eventually we dragged him off to see the penguins, and those were a delight as well: Robin loved running back and forth as the penguins swam by, trying to give them kisses through the glass. It was very cute.

Today he’s wearing his penguin shirt that his Pappy and Nonna bought him the last time we went to the Academy of Sciences. He doesn’t have a word for penguin but he did point to the picture and smile. We’ll definitely have to go back soon.

Jan 10 2010

Our Sunday: A Photo Essay

Today we took Robin to see the Golden Gate Express Garden Railway exhibit at the Conservatory of Flowers. He loooooved it. He stared at the train, entranced, for about twenty minutes.

Since there’s lots of photos, I’m putting the rest after a jump. Click here to see everything.

Mar 27 2009

On Foraging

SFWeekly ran a really interesting story last week on ForageSF, the new service that offers CSA-like boxes filled with foods gathered from the wild. I think it’s a fascinating idea, but I won’t be signing up.

It’s not that I think foraging is too weird. As an ethnobotanist’s daughter, I grew up grazing on weeds. When my mom was here for a visit she reminded me of something I’d forgotten: the time I got in trouble at daycare for encouraging the other kids to eat Oxalis stricta, which I called sweet-and-sour, because it is. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible and tasty. I also remember going mushroom-hunting after rains with my mom, looking for white puffballs, and I remember her encouraging me to eat the ripe persimmons that had fallen to the sidewalk. She taught me which common berries are safe to eat (like sumac) and which are poisonous (like pokeberries), and which are okay to eat but simply don’t taste very good (like mulberries or false strawberries). I remember picking wild blackberries and wild strawberries for cobblers. Foraging is immensely fun.

But I wouldn’t eat something wild picked by someone I don’t personally know. Iso Rabins may really know his stuff. But I don’t know that he does, so I’m not going to eat the things he picks. Especially not mushrooms. You don’t fuck around with mushrooms.

And anyway, most of this stuff is immensely perishable. The point of foraging is to go out, scavenge, bring home your haul and eat it immediately, while the flavors are still strong and vibrant. Having a whole box of these greens at once would necessarily mean there was some stuff I couldn’t get to for days, and I’m pretty skeptical about how well it would last.
And on top of all that, I don’t see the point in paying premium prices to get someone else to do the foraging for me. Part of the delight of making a dandelion salad out of weeds from the driveway is that you feel like Sacajawea, wise and expert in the ways of the land, a real woods-woman. If I paid forty bucks for a box of weeds I’d only feel like a sucker.

But in spite of that, I kind of hope ForageSF is a success. I think it’s good for us all to realize how many common and overlooked plants are actually totally edible, to be aware of the possibilities all around us. It’s certainly a nudge to me to dust off my old copy of The Dandelion Celebration, and a reminder that when Robin gets a little bit older, foraging is something I really want to share with him.

Jan 22 2009

Sign of the Times

On Inauguration Day I was going to the store when I noticed that somebody had gotten clever with stickers on the street signs, creating a new Obama St. It took me a minute to remember what that street was usually called, and I laughed out loud when I realized I was on Bush Street.

I didn’t have my camera with me and when I went back yesterday the street signs were restored to their normal state, but the Chronicle has lots of pictures here.