Monthly Archives: March 2013

Weekly Photo Challenge: Future Tense – Constructing San Francisco, Part IV

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Good Evening:

All photos taken of the same construction site at 8th and Mission, tracking the progress of yet another one of San Francisco’s future apartment buildings. Aside from the rainbow shot, all taken from various floors at SFPUC HQ.

In 1999, I had the enormous pleasure and privilege of performing with the Thunderbird Theatre Company (possibly the only theater company in history named after a motel in Chico, California) in a cowboy comedy called Lariats of Fire. I played the virtuous Marshall Stewart, who drank a potent brown liquid “…called lat-tays, and a lat-tay is a kinda coffee made from an Italian coffee called ee-spresso. Don’t be surprised if you taste something strange to you. It’s called hazelnut, and I think it’s dee-licious.” That remains one of my greatest experiences in acting.

5 September 2012: Double Rainbow

5 September 2012: Double Rainbow

A curious feature of the excellent cast consisted of this: aside from myself, and an actress who moved to Hollywood and failed to make it there, everyone else in the 15-strong cast worked in various dot-coms in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco. All of them worked ridiculous hours for a rediculous number of days per week, for a rediculous (as in rediculously low) salary–and rediculous amounts of stock options in the companies for which they worked. In a few years, their companies would go public. Following the model of companies such as Pets.com, they would cash in their options for millions of dollars, and they would quit their jobs en masse and devote the rest of their lives to acting in movies and films.

In simple English, they were this close to paradise before the age of 30.

19 September 2012

19 September 2012

Yours truly, the low-paid temp at the time, did not envy his fellow actors. Envy is The Pointless Emotion–it does nothing to make your life better and everything to make your life worse. I felt nothing but happiness for them. I could not partake of the same great fortune as did they. Silicon Valley and the San Francisco dot-coms would not have the likes of me for one simple reason.

Age discrimination.

A now-defunct but then a must-read weekly called Tech Week or TechWeek (whichever) published exactly one Anonymous article during its short history, written by an HR specialist in the Valley whose company blatantly practiced age discrimination. His or her article explained that they discriminated, how they got away with it, and why they felt that they had to commit age discimination. I don’t know if anyone else remembers the story, but at the time it whipped up a huge storm in the tech world.

15 October 2012

15 October 2012

Well, Tech Week or TechWeek (whichever) is long gone, a casualty of the dot-bomb. So is every single one of the companies where my friends worked. So is every single one of their stock options. Some of them were only a few months away from wealth. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only cast member out of 15 who still lives in San Francisco.

30 November 2012

30 November 2012

San Francisco, the world’s ultimate boom-or-bust city, has attracted the attention and fascination of the world again. The New York Times recently published an article going to great lengths to describe how our legendary Exploratorium moved all of their exhibits from their old home in the Marina to the new one on Pier 15. Everyone seems to want to weigh in on the new San Francisco constructing itself before our very astonished eyes.

19 December 2012

19 December 2012

Salon has become the latest to chime in, with a sometimes brilliant, usually witty,  and always snarky article (How the Internet ruined San Francisco, again) on the changes in my hometown. The author makes some superb points worth keeping in mind the next time some major media outlet publishes some major media article about Baghdad by the Bay. The funny thing is that some of the commenters disagreeing with him also make some superb points in reply. The best comment: “It’s not like the displaced artists and minorities and other longtime residents ever moved back. So, you know, the fact that it’s happening again does, in fact, suck.”

26 March 2013

26 March 2013

And that is the best and worst of San Francisco’s latest boom, summed up in one sentence, and the commenter probably doesn’t even know it. We don’t know what comes next. The Salon writer is absolutely correct to skewer the moaners and whiners who moan and whine about how things are changing and therefore they are changing for the worst (sic). However, it is every bit as correct to wonder what happens when the artists who make San Francisco well, uh, you know, San Francisco move out–which frankly looks inevitable. No one, but no one, has any idea of what will move in, and the people who assert that life will be fine and dandy because life has always been fine and dandy are no less ignorant of the future.

The San Francisco Future could prove amazing, glorious and wonderful, as new art forms spring up, created by the tech workers moving into the city during their days off from work. And I would truly be a total and hopeless moron to lament changes that have not yet arrived–for cryin’ out loud, a WordPress blogger complaining about the tech boom?? Our gracious hosts are those very same tech workers, and I’ve visited the WP HQ on Mission Street! Heck, I want to know when they plan to go public.

However, San Francisco historically has proven a city of busts as big–and as inevitable–as the booms. When the next bust comes down upon like an earthquake from above, and the city empties out again, who will move in?

My final speech as the virtuous Marshall Stewart of Lariats of Fire, to the equally virtuous Sheriff Betty: “And I would be honored to have a warrior woman like you by my side. A woman true to herself, and in touch with both the feminine, and masculine, aspects of her spirituality.” I want to say lines as bizarre and inspired as that for decades and decades to come. I want to say those lines in San Francisco, as part of a cast of wild and crazy artists who can somehow afford to live in this magnificent City by the Bay.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–I forgot to mention something in Part III of this series. All those people who obtained real estate licenses in 2004-2005? Today, I read their job applications.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Future Tense – Constructing San Francisco, Part III

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Good Evening:

Once  upon a time, I saw a list of America’s Most Expensive Big Cities to Live In (might have come from Fortune’s website). I felt a great shock to discover that San Francisco had dropped to #18 on the list; traditionally, we rank in the top 3, and sometimes we even give New York City a hard fight.

The reason, believe it or not: rents had fallen drastically.

Gutting an Old Movie Palace to Replace with Apartments on Mission Street

Gutting an Old Movie Palace to Replace with Apartments on Mission Street

This “once upon a time” year was 2004. Thanks to the blessings of the Adjustable Rate Mortgage, people all across America gave up their rentals and moved into their first condos or homes, shoddily built in instant suburbs in the warmer states. San Francisco emptied out for the second time in half a decade; after the “dot-bomb” circa 2000, the suddenly unemployed tech workers in their 20s had to leave their first condos or homes, shoddily built in instant suburbs in the warmer states, and move back home to their parents’ basements.

Half-Inch Steel Rods at Construction Site at Stockton and Market

Half-Inch Steel Rods at Construction Site at Stockton and Market

For the first time in memory, rental prices crashed. For the first time in memory, San Francisco housing costs became comparatively reasonable.

Of course, I mean “crashed” and “reasonable” in a very relative sense of the words. $1,000 in most parts of America will pay the mortgage on a decent sized house, with enough left over for some of the other bills as well. In the San Francisco of 2004, $1,000 paid the rent on an acceptable one bedroom in many of the city’s neighborhoods (but by no means all of them).

Two-Foot Pipe at the Market and Stockton Construction Site

Two-Foot Pipe at the Market and Stockton Construction Site

I decided that the time for an upgrade in my living conditions had come. I had established a zero-debt lifestyle (still have zero debt, even today), I did not live in the greatest of places, I could afford an upgrade. My goal: a decent one-bedroom in a decent neighborhood with decent public transportatoin. Maximum rent: $1,000. All of my friends and co-workers told me that I could buy a condo, or even a house, heck, maybe I could make good money “flipping” houses. Millions of Americans were moving into their first homes that they owned; why not me?

This is a good time for me to state that I know nothing about real estate, and to restate that I am not an expert on economics, but I shunned everyone’s well-intentioned advice. Three things bothered me:

  1. Reality shows about real estate had become cable television’s latest vogue;
  2. Many friends had gotten real estate licenses, and while they are good people, they had no business getting into that business;
  3. Flipping real estate looked like tulip mania to my ignorant eyes and I didn’t want to end up holding the bulb, as it were.

So I looked for rentals in my home town. I used many sources of rental listings, including the Sunday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. As I searched over the weeks and months, the number of column inches devoted to sub-$1,000 housing kept growing.

The Mating Rituals of Backhoes, as Witnesses at the Sutro Baths, February 2013

The Mating Rituals of Backhoes, as Witnessed at the Sutro Baths, February 2013

I’m still happy with the result. Whenever I host a dinner, someone who has not seen my home before will ask, “Vonn, I don’t mean to be rude, but what do you pay in rent?” and will be surprised by the answer. The Sunday after I moved into my new apartment, I checked the want ads in the Chronicle for column inches devoted to sub-$1,000 rentals; a glutton for punishment, I wanted to see how much better I could have done by waiting. To my surprise, they had shrunk from the Sunday before. In fact, they kept on shrinking. I had rented my apartment at the exact bottom of the crash in rental prices in San Francisco.

You see, the real estate bust came a little early to the American West.

Thanks to the curse of the Adjustable Rate Mortgage, millions of Americans discovered that they could no longer afford to afford their new homes, lost their homes, and had to move back into rentals. In simple English, demand went back up, and so did the rents. Today, with the second dot-com boom (oh, but things are different this time!), a new generation of young tech workers have swarmed into San Francisco, driving up rents to an average of over $2,700 for a two-bedroom, a new San Francisco record, I think. I could be wrong.

Third Street Bridge During the Giants 2013 Fan Fest

Third Street Bridge During the Giants 2013 Fan Fest

That is why you can look in almost any direction from almost any point in the city today and see construction cranes, even when you don’t look for them. I don’t know for certain if the city planners know how many apartments are going up in San Francisco; I’m sure more units were approved today, and more will be approved tomorrow. With such a massive influx of housing, you might think that prices will fall, but demand remains so great that we shall consider ourselves lucky if we reach a state of equilibrium. They say things are different today, just as they always have. I hope my hometown will retain its oddball character, allowing me to live in a city where I don’t stand out, and I hope that we reach a point where long-time residents of San Franciso aren’t forced to move out to make way for people with more money.

And I sure hope it doesn’t require another economic fiasco to bring the rents back down to earth.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: Future Tense – Constructing San Francisco, Part II

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Good Evening:

The weird thing about the future is that sometimes it gets tangled up in the past or with the past. The 900 block of Mission Street will become the home of still another apartment complex, but first the developers had to tear down a decrepit building. Teardown accomplished, and a brick wall that had not seen daylight for decades becomes visible from street level:

DSCN4689

I took the shot with a Nikon S9100 and edited it in iPhoto, converting it to black-and-white and making other adjustments to make the words more visible. Sign painters covered the old lettering, then more sign painters covered the newer lettering, and finally some tagger managed to spraypaint something below the “Ric” in “Richardson.” He must have stood on the roof of the older building; notice how the bricks suddenly turn dark on the top third of the wall.

I love the language; “beer drawing apparatus,” “vacuum heating systems.” I have no idea what the latter item might mean. I think the second line from the top reads “Furnished Rooms For Rent 2.00 <illegible>.”

By this time next year, a new building will cover this wall. Paradoxically, the only reason we can glimpse the past today is because of the future.

Over on Market Street, I passed a building that has housed different businesses over the years. First, a shot from 2006 when the place housed an art gallery:

DSCN0023

Now, the same storefront today:

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The final shot is from the collection, another one of my beloved construction cranes. But here we see the future, represented by the crane, the present, represented by the highrise, and finally the past, represented by the church.

DSCN0008

I hope you liked looking through these.

Vonn Scott Bair

Leeks, Fennel, and Celery Sauteed in Butter and White Wine

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Good Afternoon:

I receieved the inspiration for this recipe from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle. I wanted a corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day, but boiled cabbage just didn’t interest me. This substitution worked pretty well, if I do say so.

  • 1-2 Shallots
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2 Leeks
  • 1 bulb of Fennel
  • 5-6 Celery stalks
  • 1/2 to 1 cup White Wine
  • Optional: Fresh Fennel fronds, Thyme, Dill, Chervil and/or Parsley to taste, chopped
  1. Finely mince the Shallots. Trim the roots and green leaves from the Leeks (saving the leaves for stock), split each leek down the middle like a log, slice very thinly, and then wash thoroughly. Slice the Fennel bulb very thinly into roughly one-inch lengths, using whatever technique you prefer (fennel can prove a puzzling veggie to chop). Slice the stalks of Celery very thinly across the grain. Wash the leeks, fennel and celery thoroughly, then leave to drain.
  2. Melt the butter (vegans can substitute margarine) over medium-low heat, then add the shallots and saute for 3-4 minutes until translucent.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add the white wine, stir, turn up the heat until the liquid bubbles, then let it reduce for 3 minutes.
  5. Add the remaining vegetables, stir, turn the heat back down to medium-low, and saute gently for 10-15 minutes.
  6. Stir in the optional herbs. If the vegetables have absorbed all of the liquid, you may serve them as is. If they have not, serve over rice or mashed potatoes.

Notes:

  • Slicing thinly is the critical detail; try for 16 slices per inch, but at minimum 8.
  • This probably works best as a side dish for lamb, roast beef, corned beef or ham.
  • Powdered fennel seed is a nice option.
  • Next time, I intend to add 1 1/2 cups of peeled and diced apples. Should complement the fennel very well.

Vonn Scott Bair

Weekly Photo Challenge: Future Tense – Constructing San Francisco, Part I

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Good Afternoon:

“If San Francisco is not change, then San Francisco is not at all.”

That’s a phrasing my own invention, althought most likely someone has already expressed the same sentiments with different words. San Francisco is busily constructing its own future right now; building sites abound throughout the city, and crews everywhere earn overtime working six days a week. From where I work at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, I sometimes see as many as eight construction cranes from one of our lunchrooms.

One of the biggest projects consists of digging a tunnel under Stockton Street (one of San Francisco’s busiest) to expand our Muni Metro system (the equivalent of London’s Underground). My first two pictures show the site at Stockton and Market. Somewhere behind all that lies one of SF’s Apple Stores.

DSCN4645 DSCN4643

I can’t even guess how many apartment buildings are going up around town. 10th and Market will become the home of a fairly interesting looking one. The construction workers had draped canvas sheets over the facade during the winter to keep the dust of construction from bothering pedestrians and keep the rains out at the same time. Recently, they pulled up some of the sheets and one can now watch the workers at work.

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San Francisco’s rental market has gotten so insane that even if every new apartment complex finished tomorrow (Sunday), the thousands of units of new housing will sell or rent out by next Saturday. No, I’m wrong; Wednesday at the latest. Superficially, we seem to defy much of the theory of free markets in this town; such a drastic increase in the supply of housing will likely not cause the prices to come down, just as rent control, Byzantine zoning laws and NIMBYism (Not In My BackYard) seems to have had no detrimental effect on attracting developers. I suspect that at a deeper level, what has and will happen in San Francisco actually confirms conventional wisdom. This seems a good time to remind everyone that I have no training in economics or urban planning, and to caution you that you should not accept my words at face value.

I also stink at predictions so badly that you will never see me fill out a March Madness bracket for the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. I have written about the challenges facing artists trying to afford life in this city. Even the international press has taken an interest in our ongoing evolution. All San Franciscans know that San Francisco has embroiled itself in an as-yet undefined future that is already here. We have no idea how our hometown will appear in 20 years, yet it appears that we want that future right now.

Consequences to be determined and dealt with later.

If at all.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Incidentally, Wikipedia’s “Today’s featured picture” for today (23 March 2013) um, uh, features a great shot of the Cliff House.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime – A Week of Box Lunches

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Good Evening:

I decided to save the pictures for one big post. I like to cook a variety of dishes on Sunday, then put them together in various combinations for lunch and dinner throughout the week. This week’s batches featured a few new experiments in culinary glory (or the lack thereof). All photos taken in various lunchrooms at work with my iPhone 4 using only natural light, all unedited.

Monday:

Corned Beef and Carrots Braised in Sherry and Rosemary, with Baked Potato

Corned Beef and Carrots Braised in Sherry and Rosemary, with Baked Potato

Tuesday:

Pan-Roasted Chicken Thighs with Cumin, Potatoes Roasted with Rosemary and Sage, Carrots

Pan-Roasted Chicken Thighs with Cumin, Potatoes Roasted with Rosemary and Sage, Carrots

Wednesday:

Chicken Thigh, Roast Potatoes, Carrots

Chicken Thigh, Roast Potatoes, Carrots

At this point I realized that I had only brought carrots to lunch. Thursday:

Corned Beef; Baked Potato; Mushrooms in Red Wine, Mustard and Rosemary Sauce; Fennel, Leeks and Celery Sauteed in White Wine and Butter

Corned Beef; Baked Potato; Mushrooms in Red Wine, Mustard and Rosemary Sauce; Fennel, Leeks and Celery Sauteed in White Wine and Butter

Both of the vegetable dishes were experiments. The green vegetables were a total success, the red wine sauce was a little tart. But I think I know how to fix that. Friday:

Corned Beef; Fennel, Leeks and Celery; White Rice

Corned Beef; Fennel, Leeks and Celery; White Rice

Bonus picture! Friday evening, before going to act in Just One More Game:

Corned Beef, Mushrooms, White Rice

Corned Beef, Mushrooms, White Rice

It ain’t flattery if it’s true: a lot of people at work compliment me on how good my food smells. Funny thing is that I’m by no means the only good amateur cook. Must be the heavy use of herbs and spices.

Vonn Scott Bair

A Man and His Dog at the Civic Center, Late Afternoon, 21 March 2013

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Good Evening:

‘Twas a great subject, but not a great shot.

As I ate dinner on the 8th floor of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s headquarters this evening, I espied a wheelchair-bound man walking a small dog in the Civic Center grass in front of San Francisco’s City Hall. The tiny dog was a coppery-brown bolt of energy, darting in a variety of oval patterns at full speed around his favorite human, who stopped his electric wheelchair in the middle of the grass and watched his dog wheel about the grass, veering left and right like an inebriated tornado.

The trouble is that I sat over one hundred yarda away on the ground and another 50 yards straight up. Let’s see: aa + bb = cc, or in simple English, approximately 111.8033 yards away. And me with nothing but my Nikon S9100 point-and-shoot. Well, I gave it my best try:

Wheelchair-Bound Man with Small Dog in the Civic Center, 21 March 2013

Wheelchair-Bound Man with Small Dog in the Civic Center, 21 March 2013

Best of the bunch. I tried my best, but the man and his dog deserved better. Fortunately, they did not need me to love each other’s company.

Vonn Scott Bair