Monthly Archives: January 2013

Reason #8425 to Love San Francisco, 30 January 2013

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Good Evening:

So I was walking up Van Ness, returning to PUC HQ after running an errand to the City’s Department of Human Resources, when I noticed a bike messenger about 50 yards away, sitting in front of City Hall’s SW corner with his left leg stretched out in front of him. A man with a suit and a briefcase stood in front of him and spoke to him. The bike messenger lowered and shook his head and waved Mr. Suit N. Briefcase away. A second man with a suit and a briefcase stopped in front the bike messenger and spoke to him. The bike messenger lowered and shook his head and waved Mr. Suit N. Briefcase II away. A third man with a suit and a briefcase stopped in front the bike messenger and spoke to him. The bike messenger lowered and shook his head and waved Mr. Suit N. Briefcase III away. A fourth man with a suit and a briefcase stopped in front the bike messenger and spoke to him.

This time I could hear part of the conversation.

Sunset over San Francisco City Hall; View from 12th Floor, SFPUC Headquarters, 29 January 2013Still awaiting the perfect sunset for this picture, will have to settle for this one, for now.

Sunset over San Francisco City Hall; View from 12th Floor, SFPUC Headquarters, 29 January 2013
Still awaiting the perfect sunset for this picture, will have to settle for this one, for now.

“No, man, I have a first aid kit, I’m fine, thank you.”

The bike messenger waved Mr. Suit N. Briefcase IV away.

At this point I had come within 20 feet close enough to see the left leg–and the four-inch wide patch of red blood where the skin covering the left knee used to be. I could also hear the bike messenger muttering to himself.

“All the f—— Good Samaritans in this d— town.”

And I consider that Reason #8425 to love San Francisco: all the f—— Good Samaritans in this d— town.

Vonn Scott Bair

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White & Blue Series, 29 January 2013

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Good Evening:

A pair of recent photographs from my ever-growing collection of pictures featuring one of my favorite themes (if you conduct a search for “White & Blue” you will see what I mean). I took the first picture at Market & 8th late Friday afternoon.

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This next comes from San Leandro Boulevard in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, taken last Sunday around noon.

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Vonn Scott Bair

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Good Morning:

So there I stood on Saturday morning at the intersection of Geary & Masonic (where I had saved my 13th life), with both a shopping list for the grocery store and a grouchy grousing gut grumbling for grub (ah, poesy!). I chose brunch. A new restaurant/bar called The Corner Store had opened, so I gave it a try. I ordered biscuits & gravy, two scrambled eggs and roasted potatoes, washing them down with one cup of coffee.

My bill, including tip, came to $20.

Wow.

First publicity still from the new play Just One More Game. I'm the overacting chap in the bottom right. http://tripleshotproductions.org/

First publicity still from the new play Just One More Game. I’m the overacting chap in the bottom right. http://tripleshotproductions.org/

I know San Francisco restaurants have to add a 4% surcharge (some sort of Health & Wellness fee), but still. And I tipped the server 17%. I can only wonder about the bills of the patrons who had ordered second rounds of Mimosas and Bloody Marys. Actually, I don’t have to wonder at all; the computer screen over the cash register displayed the totals owed in bright blue letters (Helvetica font) about 96 points tall (1.25″), so I could read the numbers easily from 12 feet away. 30, 35, 40 dollars per person; no one seemed to mind paying that much; no one seemed to mind that everyone knew that they paid that much. Literally, conspicuous consumption.

Wow.

And a twenty-dollar breakfast like this makes me wonder about the future of the arts in San Francisco.

Serious Artistic Theater Types Being, Well, You Know, Serious Artistic Theater Types.

Serious Artistic Theater Types Being, Well, You Know, Serious Artistic Theater Types.

About a quarter century ago, I frequently visited the Café Picaro, a grungy ramshackle bohemian café open for breakfast, lunch and dinner located on 16th Street between Valencia and Guerrero which served as Ground Central (coffee-ground central) for impoverished Mission District painters, poets, musicians, aspiring actors and chess hustlers. For $1.75 (plus tax and tip) you could get a bowl piled high with diced roasted potatoes in olive oil, rosemary and garlic–roasted potatoes, olive oil, rosemary, garlic; wonderful!–that could sustain a starving artist from breakfast until dinner. During the dot-com boom of the 1990s, the owner retired and sold the place to a restaurateur who transformed the Picaro into an excellent tapas place where the still-excellent but very different roasted potatoes come with aioli and they cost five bucks for a portion about 1/8th the size of the bohemian days.

What kind of people can afford $35 brunches?

The new beneficiaries of the new dot-com boom.

I have written before that if San Francisco is not change, then San Francisco is not at all (and given that I am boring and redundant, I will probably write that again–many times). “Change,” like “quality” and “innovative,” is a value-neutral word frequently misused to imply “good.” Our latest gold rush is our second dot-com boom (the previous dot-com boom went dot-bomb bust during the first recession of the first decade of the millennium). In keeping with the San Francisco tradition of boom and bust, people from all over the world have poured into the city in the pursuit of wealth. Happened in 1849, happened during the 1990s, happening again. However, San Francisco is also America’s second-smallest metropolis in square miles (roughly 49; only Boston is smaller), and water surrounds it on three sides. In simple English, there just ain’t much space here. Limited supply, huge and growing demand for housing; rents have soared.

How much? Try $500 per month for a 7×5 converted laundry room.

Just like 1849, adjusted for inflation.

Dressing Room at the Dark Room Theater, Mission Street, San Francisco

Dressing Room at the Dark Room Theater, Mission Street, San Francisco

Construction sites for future apartment buildings have sprung up all over the city; offhand, I can think of six that I can see from the 10th floor lunch room at SFPUC headquarters. This should have some positive effect upon the supply of housing, but at best rents will stabilize at their current extreme levels.

All of which makes the City & County of San Francisco unaffordable for the musicians, actors, writers, painters and other artists who make the City & County of San Francisco, well, um, uh, for lack of a better term, San Francisco.

Photographing the Rehearsal of My Play Le Bistro de la Verite, 2012.

Photographing the Rehearsal of My Play Le Bistro de la Verite, 2012.

So many of my artist friends have moved to the East Bay (notably Oakland) that I sometimes serve as the sole member of the Board of Directors of the Playwrights Center of San Francisco who actually (gasp!) lives in San Francisco. Which leads to an interesting situation; the theater spaces remain here in the city, but the actors, playwrights and directors live there, across the bay. I will appear in Dan Wilson’s world premiere play Just One More Game in March at the Exit Theatre near the Powell Street cable car turnaround, but during the next month our rehearsals will take place in a former bar that’s being converted into an artists’ space about a mile from the Fruitvale BART station (incidentally, the indie feature Fruitvale just scored a stunning upset victory at Sundance; film is starting to do well in the East Bay).

Now I strongly recommend that everyone come see the play; Dan (who also lives in the East Bay) has written one heck of a romantic comedy about love and Zork and aging gamers. However, I also wonder how much longer San Francisco can remain a major artistic center on the West Coast if the artists can’t live here. Don’t tell any of my East Bay buddies, but sooner or later someone will ask someone else, “Hey, why should we pay expensive BART fares to travel into San Francisco to pay the ultra-expensive theater rentals just to put on a show that can’t possibly break even? We have some really cool abandoned spaces here in Oakland that could become really cool 49-99 seat theaters that won’t cost as much to rent! Why don’t we put on our own show right here! It’ll be the biggest and best show in the entire Bay Area!”

Please don’t misunderstand; I get it. Cities need to evolve and keep evolving. People get misplaced or displaced all the time. I want to write a value-neutral post. I also want to point out a curious paradox of San Francisco life, namely, the very act of moving to San Francisco has displaced thousands of the people who made San Francisco San Francisco, thus making San Francisco into a San Francisco different from the San Francisco to which people have moved so they can live in San Francisco. I hope you memorized that. That will appear on your final exam.

The newcomers to San Francisco probably have no idea how their new home has changed. A recent article at Yahoo! cited the three biggest challenges facing San Francisco in 2013. Incredibly, our impending ban on public nudity (excuse me, our impending loss of “body freedom rights”) was not one of them, but the displacement of lower-income city residents was. Guess where artists reside on the income scale. However, one commenter on the article mentioned that he/she did not know a single person in SF making less than $100,000 per year. He/she has never met an employee of the City and County of San Francisco (my salary is published online and it is much less than 100K), and probably never met one of our non-developer creative types.

(Optional reading: I cannot hope to give you an adequate description of how complex housing issues have become in this city thanks to issues like tenancies-in-common, rent control, and the Ellis Act; please consider this only an incomplete story.)

Of course San Francisco remains as much fun as ever, but the nature of that fun changes just as much as San Francisco itself. We’ve gone hardcore foodie. You could spend a week’s vacation here on Valencia Street alone gorging on Peruvian, American Southwest, Indian, Spanish and a host of other cuisines, and you will enjoy your visit as much as you ever have enjoyed your visits to the city. Incidentally, as a long-time resident, I’m supposed to write “The City.” But I refuse. I just plain refuse. Too snobby for my taste. I do feel a little concerned that after you enjoy yet another incredible meal at yet another incredible new restaurant where the cash register shows the incredible amount of money you spent in big bright blue Helvetica letters, well, you just might not have much to do in the way of entertainment after the meal…

Unless and until the next bust arrives, again, and my city empties out, again, and the rents crash in those brand new apartment buildings, and San Francisco creatives can return to San Francisco. If San Francisco is not change, then San Francisco is not at all (and given that I am boring and redundant, I will probably write that again–many times).

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Incidentally, a few days ago I ate breakfast at Eddie’s Cafe, an old diner on Divisadero near Fulton run by an Asian-American family that has owned the place for a quarter-century. Scrambled eggs, pancakes, hash brown, toast and two pan sausages–$11 including tax and tip. On the wall, someone had mounted a coffee mug that looked as if it had been split in half. The message on the mug? “San Francisco was so expensive I could only afford half a cup.”

$20 Breakfasts and the Future of the Artist in San Francisco, 27 January 2013

San Francisco Says So Long to Another Work Week, 25 January 2013

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Good Afternoon:

One picture is worth a hundred thousand of my poor words:

Sunset in San Francisco Viewed from the Dog Park in Alamo Square, 25 January 2013

Sunset in San Francisco Viewed from the Dog Park in Alamo Square, 25 January 2013

Have fun this weekend.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beyond – More from the Sutro Baths

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Good Evening:

A very kind and encouraging individual asked for more photographs of my Sutro Baths sojourns. I will try to stick to the “Beyond” theme for this set, but will probably deviate in later posts, should I add more.

This first came from the sunrise visit on 12 January. I don’t know why, but many of the pictures, such as this, remind me of scenes from the old games Myst, Riven and especially Myst 3: Exile.

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During my Monday, 21 January, sunset visit (“The Age of Wonder“), I took this second shot with my Nikon Coolpix S9100 point & shoot on the Dusk setting for the effect. Frankly, the colors are by no means real, hardly resembling what I saw. However, there’s something to be said for aritificial intensity.

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Finally, a pair of shots of the same scene, a photography teacher and her young student. I’ll leave it to you to judge which composition is better. The first fits the “Beyond” theme, in that it gives the context of the event by showing all of the scenery “beyond” the people.

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The next is a much closer composition made possible with the aid of my friend, the zoom.

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I can say something positive about each shot, but I think the zoom-in picture is a little better. But I don’t know why. If you agree, I’d appreciate an explanation of my picture.

Vonn Scott Bair

The 49er Fan on the 22-Fillmore, 21 January 2013

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Good Evening:

The lanky, 50-ish African-American with eight inch long dreadlocks boarded the back of the 22-Fillmore bus without paying his fare, but he stood about six foot four and was drunk and in a very good mood, so no one seemed to mind.

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“Are there some San Francisco 49er fans on this bus? I said, are there some 49er fans on this bus?!  You sir! You sir, can I ask you something?”

He addressed a 50-ish Caucasian man with a grey beard and two earbuds stuck firmly into his ears. Unable to ignore our loud 49er fan who literally stood over him, he removed one.

“Are you a 49er fan?!”

The man with the grey beard nodded and put the earbud back in.

“That’s what I thought! We are all 49er fans on this bus! See! You’re all smiling now!”

Not that I noticed.

“We’re all happy the 49ers are going back to the Super Bowl! And we’re going to win, baby! Yessirree Bob! The 49ers never lose the Super Bowl! We have won every time and we’re going to win again! What do you folks drink?  You sir! You sir, can I ask you something?”

He addressed Mr. Grey Beard again, who had two earbuds re-stuck firmly into his ears. Unable once again to ignore our loud 49er fan who literally stood over him, he removed one.

“What do you drink, sir?”

The man with the grey beard said something and put the earbud back in.

“Water? You drink water? You know what kind of water you drink? You drink 49er water! Yeah, you drink 49er water! The 49ers are going to be Super Bowl champions again! Yessiree Bob, we are going to the Super Bowl! New Orleans, are you ready? You better be because we are coming to win our sixth Super Bowl, baby! Look at all these big smiles around here.”

Not that I noticed, but never mind me.

The Minimally Artistic Art of Instant Minimalist Art, Blue Series

The Minimally Artistic Art of Instant Minimalist Art, Blue Series

“There better be big smiles because this is the 22-Fillmore! Know what that is? This is the 49er bus! Hey where are we? Where are we?!You sir! You sir, can I ask you something?”

He addressed Mr. Grey Beard again, who had two earbuds re-stuck firmly into his ears. Unable once again to ignore our loud 49er fan who literally stood over him, he removed one.

“What street did we just cross, sir?”

“Fell Street,” said the man, and he put the earbud back in.

“Fell Street?! No, this isn’t Fell Street, this is Fell-ty Niner Street! Heh, heh! Hear what I just did there? This is my stop, my stop, Mr. Bus Driver.  Go 49ers!”

The fan disembarked. At which point, for the first time, everyone on the bus finally smiled and told each other that yes, they were 49er fans. It’s funny–no one told the 49er fan.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beyond – The Age of Wonder

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Good Evening:

Times past, I never cared much for long-form non-fiction. I always preferred novels. However, two years ago on the recommendation of a few people I read Richard Holmes’ 2008 book The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science and got hooked on the genre. The Age of Wonder has the most beautiful book cover I’ve seen and feels like a great adventure novel in many places, particularly the chapters about Tahiti.

Freighter on the Horizon at Sunset, Sutro Baths, San Francisco, California 21 January 2013

Freighter on the Horizon at Sunset, Sutro Baths, San Francisco, California 21 January 2013

I returned to Sutro Baths today with my zoom lens in the hope of catching closeup photographs of Sutro Sam, but San Franciscans (plus a handful of tourists) had swarmed the ruins because we are absolute suckers for a Pacific sunset. Perhaps Sam didn’t like the vast numbers of two-legged interlopers infringing upon his territory. As I snapped shots of the freighter above, I recalled the stories told within The Age of Wonder about the Romantic age of exploration, the age when almost all of the remaining blank spots on the world map got filled in. The navigator on board that freighter can pinpoint the exact square meter on the globe the bow of that ship sails through at any instant. Only a mere 200-250 years ago, a navigator would have had no idea where he was and no idea where he was going, beyond knowing that he sailed west from the New World.

Photography Students at Sutro Baths, 21 January 2013

Photography Students at Sutro Baths, 21 January 2013

Beyond Sutro Baths, the surf. Beyond the surf, Seal Rocks. Beyond Seal Rocks, the sea. Beyond that, the sunset. Beyond that–well, beyond that, what? What could possibly exist beyond the known world? If you went there, would you find anything at all? If you found nothing, what would you do when the fresh water ran out? In those days, sailors and explorers ventured into the world knowing perfectly well that there existed a very good chance that they would never come back.

Sunset, Sutro Baths, San Francisco, 21 January 2013. Nikon Coolpix S9100, Sunset Mode

Sunset, Sutro Baths, San Francisco, 21 January 2013. Nikon Coolpix S9100, Sunset Mode

We don’t wonder about any of that anymore. We don’t need to wonder about anything.

Our plane will touch down in Honolulu’s airport. We’ll step into the terminal while the plane refuels or we transfer to another jet, and there’s plenty of bottled water in the airport shops to drink whilst we await the connecting flight to “Otaheite” (Tahiti).

Darkness Falls, San Francisco, California 21 January 2013

Darkness Falls, San Francisco, California 21 January 2013

The greatest strength of The Age of Wonder is that the book engenders within the reader the sense of wonder and amazement people felt when Banks explored Tahiti, Mungo Park explored Africa, and Herschel turned his giant telescope to the heavens. These days, we need to look harder for the places where no one has ever ventured. Sometimes I wonder if one can find a single acre anywhere within the continental United States where no human being has ever stood.

Keep the wonder alive. Turn your eyes to the heavens or to the depths of the oceans, but keep the wonder alive. Wonder what the heck is out there.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Except for the one picture, all shots taken with a Nikon D40 with a polarizing filter; none edited.