Monthly Archives: May 2012

I Do Not Understand Reality, Special Flavoured Pepsi in Japan Edition!


Good Evening:

Because you can never add too much salt to your watermelon:

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Teresa Burritt also publishes Frog Applause, one of the most imaginative comic trips (sic) on the fringes of the Internet ether:

Three Days of Celebrations in San Francisco


Good Afternoon:

We can’t just settle for one holiday during a three-day weekend. No, not in San Francisco. Saturday, as you know, saw the departure of the USS Iowa from the Bay Area. Today of course is Memorial Day. Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, you know, that bright orange hunk of steel that is so uninteresting when the weather is perfect (see here) and so beautiful when the weather is cold and grey (see here). I think I’ve walked a total of nine miles with 20 pounds of camera equipment over the past 2 days. You already know that I’m not complaining; I’m a photographer.

First up: I took another look at my photo library, and found this, possibly the best picture of the Iowa I captured yesterday.

Incidentally, I haven’t edited these Iowa pictures; not enough time; this one might be a little tilted. Fortunately, battleships tend to possess highly photogenic qualities that tend to obviate the need to tend to resort to much processing.

Another picture from the pier; amazing how plants will grow in anything, isn’t it?

The fireworks show on Saturday night presented my first opportunity to test my cameras on a very difficult subject. I brought a Nikon Coolpix S9100, and my five or six years old D40 DSLR. One interesting lesson is that even a six year old DSLR with “only” 6 megapixels can still take better shots than a 12 megapixel point-and-shoot; surprisingly, the Fireworks setting on the Coolpix proved almost completely useless–the first time any Nikon has ever failed me. I fared much better with using Shutter (or speed) Priority on the DSLR and setting exporsure time for 1, 1.3, 1.6 or 2 seconds, with 1 second working best overall.

Nikon Coolpix S9100, “Beach” Setting

In fairness, the S9100 fared well for sunset shots using the “Beach,” “Snow,” “Sunset” and “Dusk/Dawn” settings. With the “Beach” setting, the blues came out looking especially rich.

The fireworks show seemed plagued with technical problems (the North Tower was accounted for almost all of the action, whilst the South remained dark–very strange), but started well:

“Waterfall” Fireworks, 27 May 2012

Beautiful use of the span between the towers.

I call this next one “Megamind” because it reminded me of the cartoon character:

This was a pure luck shot; every time the camera indicated that it had focued on something, I snapped a picture without even seeing what was in the frame.

Nikon D40 DSLR, 1 Second Exporsure, Shutter Priority

The most dramatic shot of the night; I like how the South Tower glows in the night.

Today is a day for rest, writing and baked ribs and fried chicken. Oh, and for remembering our soldiers; Dad served in the Navy during the Fifties and Sixties, his brother was in the 2nd Marines from Saipan onward in World War II, one of Mom’s uncles just barely survived Gaudalcanal, and another uncle of hers might have been one of the first Americans to see the inside of a death camp before V-E Day (he never talked about it). They all came back, but I have never believed that Memorial Day was only about remembering the ones who did not.

Vonn Scott Bair

The USS Iowa Departing the Bay Area, 26 May 2012


Good Afternoon:

Yet another picture-perfect picture of the picture-perfect Golden Gate Bridge on a picture-perfect day. Oh, look, it even has seabirds and a sailboat.

Or in simple English, booooorrrrrrring.

The same Golden Gate Bridge, with the addition of BB-61, the battleship USS Iowa:

Much better.

The Iowa left the San Francisco Bay Area for the last time on Saturday, a fitting beginning to the Memorial Day weekend here in San Francisco, a city that has alway madly loved the US Navy (you should see our tribute to the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco, one of the most decorated warships in American history). The lead boat, San Francisco’s fireboat the USS Phoenix, kicked up a lot of spray as it escorted the battleship through the San Francisco Bay, creating a fine mist which posed a few problems for the hundreds of photographers and retired sailors who wanted one last look at the ship; as the mist evaporated, it rendered a sort of hazy watercolor look to the scene (and watercolors don’t come to mind when thinking of a ship that fired 16-inch shells during World War II).

As a rule, most photographers brought serious photographic firepower (unlike me, who only had a Nikon Coolpix 9100 and iPhone). The retired sailors brought much less expensive equipment, but they also must have brought their memories, because many of them pressed their lips tightly together as they turned misty- and teary-eyed.

Some more pictures of the afternoon’s activity, including snaps of some old sailboats participating in a regatta.

Me at My Artsy-Fartsy Best

So what do you think is easiest to photograph, babies, kittens, or puppies? Well, what about sailboats?

Of course, not everything in or by the Bay is concerned with the (literal) passing of an era:

Sea Lion Begging for Scraps from the Local Fishermen

I know that the unchecked growth of jellyfish populations around the world are posing a threat to fisheries, but I don’t know if their presence in the Bay is cause for concern.

Jellyfish by Pier, 26 May 2012

A few more more-or-less random shots:

Iowa Passing Angel Island, Extreme Zoom View

The Citadel and Forward 16-Inch Guns of the USS Iowa

USS Iowa, with the North Bay in the Background

A Closer View of the Iowa Passing Under the Golden Gate Bridge

Iowa, with Tour Boat and a Surfer Using Sails for Propulsion

The Golden Gate Bridge, USS Iowa, and Fort Point, 26 May 2012

Note that Fort Point and the Iowa both represent obsolete military technology, but the Bridge, which turns 75 this weekend, is still one of the (peacetime) engineering marvels of the world. Funny how that works.

I hope you have a memorable Memorial Day.

Vonn Scott Bair

Dueling Differences Outside the Double Dutch


Good Evening:

The Double Dutch is a bar in San Francisco’s Mission, on 16th near Guerrero, and as I awaited the 22-Fillmore I happened to stand next to two gentlemen on their cell phones talking at the same time, and they remained unaware of each other during their conversations.

The first gentleman was clean shaven and wore a black silk shirt and black wool pants and black patent leather shoes: “No, no, forget it, don’t even bother coming, there is no one here to impress.”

The second gentleman wore a shabby beard, well worn T shirt, old sneakers and blue jeans with fraying cuffs: “Yeah, come on down, bring Holly, too, there is no one you have to impress.”

I’ll bet that everyone reading this can describe the Double Dutch.

Vonn Scott Bair

In Line at the Post Office, with Hollywood Behind Me


Good Evening:

So I had to wait in line at the post office because the package I wanted to mail (two copies of a play) was too heavy, too airmail and too overseas for the do-it-yourself mail machine. Unfortunately, the post office at 9th & Market in San Francisco is notorious for extremely long lines and long waits. This time, I had to wait 47 minutes to mail my package because they only had two clerks working (out of four possible stations). It wasn’t too bad; I had my iPhone with me to surf the web, check audition listings, kick my butt at chess, et cetera.

I also had Hollywood.

Hollywood is one of San Francisco’s Official Characters, a street musician and performer who always wears a top hat and tails, plus large costume jewelry that manages to be both glitzy and tasteful. He stood behind me. I didn’t understand why he chose to wait in line; he had two thin 9×12 envelopes which each contained his head shot and resume–I didn’t need to sneak a peek inside, trust me on this, I’m an actor, I know these things. He could have used the do-it-yourself machine and been gone in 5 minutes.

So why didn’t he use the machine?

The manager of the station, to his credit, came out of his office to apologize to the customers for the long wait, explain the lack of staff (you guessed it, budget cuts), and assist in any way he could. He even advised Hollywood that he could use the machine, but Hollywood politely declined. It wasn’t until I was 2nd from the front that Hollywood (3rd from the front) revealed his reason for waiting in line.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! Ten dollars gets you my place in line! No waiting! Only ten dollars gets you your lunch hour back! Look! The gentleman in front of me is now at the front of the line! You can have my second place in line for TEN DOLLARS!”

He had no takers, so he reduced his price to five dollars, and then found a customer, a man of about thirty whose scraggly beard was stylish back in 1998. Hollywood tried to get the guy to pay his original price of ten dollars, but his customer was a tough customer, and purchased The Sacred Second Place In Line for five bucks.

But the story doesn’t end there. After I forked over my $22.12 to mail the scripts to England, I walked past Hollywood as he stood quietly with a loud smile at the end of an extremely long line, waiting to mail his envelopes again. And that’s when it hit me. Hollywood was going to sell The Sacred Second Place In Line again. And again. And again…

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–When I first sent my friends this story, one of them wrote back to tell me about a friend of his who did the exact same thing but in a very different context. The context was Honolulu during World War II, which during those years experienced a severe shortage of bordellos to service the servicemen. This produced lines originating at the entrances to these houses of ill-repute and going around the block, and my friend’s friend made more money selling his place in line than he would have spent if he ever actually went inside.

A Few Decades Within a Few Hours in the Mission on a Friday Night


Good Afternoon:

If San Francisco is not constantly changing, then it is not San Francisco at all.

The temptation to arrive very early to an appointment in San Francisco’s Mission District will frequently prove irresistible. As a member of the Playwrights Center of San Francisco, I volunteered to work at Valencia Street’s Stage Werx on Friday night in support of our annual production of ten minute plays called Scheherezade (it’s a good show; you should check it out). But this is the Mission District (or “da Mish”); it’s hard not to have an early burrito dinner at Pancho Villa Tacqueria and then take a camera and explore the neighborhood.

Sparrow Lane is about 100 feet of brown nondescript sidestreet that you can access from Valencia between 15th and 16th. Except that nothing is nondescript in this town (all pictures taken with my iPhone):

Something in this scene caught my eye, and it wasn’t the colorful mural at the end of the drab brown alley. Take another look and try to spot the oddity.

A step without a door? As you can from the outline, there used to be a door here, but when someone filled in the door, they did not take the logical next step and remove the step. Another example of how change can come so quickly to my hometown that the process becomes a bit haphazard and slapdash. On the other hand, if they had removed the step, I would not have had something to photograph. Here is another scene from the alley, perhaps of no interest to anyone but me, but it did interest me.

While awaiting the arrival of the producers of the show, I spotted something that me wonder if I was imagining things:

Let’s move in for a closer look:

No, that is not my imagination running a little too wild; that is a bagel on a stick.

After a successful night with most of the seats sold, I couldn’t help but keep wandering about the area of Valencia & 16th Streets. I had lived here during the Eighties. In retrospect, it seems like the Mission of the Eighties was another universe. I finally left the neighborhood after I had been awakened in the middle of the night by a gunfight at an X-rated video store on Mission near 17th. Some of the traditional fixtures of the neighborhood remain, stronger than ever, such as the Roxie movie house, Pancho Villa, El Toro and the legendary La Cumbre tacquerias; but the changes say as much about San Francisco as the traditions.

The Rainbow Grocery, San Francisco’s best radical left-wing cooperatively-owned politically-active vegetarian grocery story and perhaps the finest tourist attraction in this city that tourists have never heard of, used to occupy a hole in the wall on 16th near Guerrero; it moved to 14th & Mission, thence to the current superstore on Folsom and was replaced by many businesses, including a coffeehouse, but today a bar. The Breton creperie acroos the street from the Roxie is now Giordano’s Bros. restaurant and bar. The Roxie itself remains, still one of the best tiny movie houses with uncomfortable seats in the world. I don’t know how the Roxie folks do it, but on the day The Godfather Part III was released, it was the only movie theater on the planet that had permission to show both of the previous Godfather movies on that same day. They also helped make Nicholas Cage’s make the leap from interesting character actor to star when a week-long showing of Red Rock West became nearly a six-month run.

Not bad for an iPhone camera.

Toward the end of his career the late great Herb Caen (actually, I should probably write “Herb Caen…” a typical example of a typical San Francisco in-joke) wrote a lot about how San Francisco had changed since he arrived in town as the “Sackamenna Kid.” He was prone both to complain about the long-lost bars, restaurants and nightclubs he used to frequent, and to complain about people who would complain about the long-lost bars, restaurants and nightclubs they used to frequent. He had a good sense of humor.

I don’t complain. It’s San Francisco, and change is San Francisco, and San Francisco is change; if you appreciate one then you must appreciate the other. It’s better to remember the old days fondly and not to lament them; in the words of Carly Simon, “These are the good old days.”

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–If you’re into newspaper trivia, here’s one you might like: the subject of the last item in the last paragraph of the last column of “Herb Caen’s…” career was a friend of mine from Ireland named Blagh (“blaw”). She was an avid member of the local Polar Bears Club, humans who prefer to swim in frigid waters, and a waitress at a seafood and pasta restaurant in North Beach (Irish waitress in an Italian restaurant?! Welcome to San Francisco). After one early morning swim in the San Francisco Bay, she was getting undressed to shower with some other women swimmers when a six-inch long fish jumped out of her swimsuit. She shrugged and said, “I told you our fish was fresh!”

Strange Combinations at the Civic Center Farmers’ Market


Good Evening:

The Civic Center’s farmers’ market (Wednesdays and Sundays) is the Peoples’ Farmers’ Market. Unlike the touristas’ farmers’ market at the Embarcadero (I’ve seen zucchini there for $6.99/pound, and I am not making this up), the Civic Center’s market has become the grocery of San Francisco’s less-than-rich. At seven a.m., elderly Asians from our poorest neighborhoods line up to purchase live chickens. During the morning, students from the nearby culinary schools load up on their homework. At noon, the middle-class white, pink and blue collar workers add fresh fruit to their lunches, purchase the ingredients for their families’ next few dinners (zucchini is $0.75/pound), or even buy their lunches from the food trucks and listen to live music.

Among my co-workers, the noon trip to the market marks the halfway point to the week, where they can start to anticipate and plan for the weekend. We also have pretty decent morale in the office, which means that we come back from the market with strawberries from Central Coast farmers, dried fruits and/or almonds from Cipponeri Family Farms (very, very popular), or other goodies (NEWSFLASH: It’s CHERRY SEASON!).

The Civic Center farmers’ market is also the home of unusual combinations. Until I saw this duo on Sunday, I never realized that I had never realized that I would ever see this:

Digeridoo Player and Cellist, Sunday Farmers’ Market, Civic Center, San Francisco

It looks bizarre until you listen to them–then it sounds inevitable. The instruments fit together beautifully.

Today’s market was loaded with CHERRIES! (I get a little over-excited this time of year), strawberries, and snow peas; the apricots, nectarines and peaches made their first appearance. One of the citrus farms introduced a fruit I had never heard of before: the “blood lime.” As in blood orange, except it’s a lime. I bought one (inexpensive risk) and took it home for experimentation. The flesh was even redder than a blood orange’s. The taste was a huge surprise; absolutely the least bitter lime I have ever tasted, with strong hints of blood orange as well. I combined the juice with just a little bit of extra virgin olive oil and drizzled the vinaigrette over sliced strawberries (also from the market, of course. Excellent! I like blood limes much better than Key limes and recommend them for the same uses; might also be great with sparkling wine or other cocktails.

That’s San Francisco; a place where even the local farmers’ market has the power to astound with new and strange combinations.

Vonn Scott Bair