Category Archives: Public Transit

City Vehicle Yard, South Van Ness & 13th Street, San Francisco, CA 19 December 2015.

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Good Evening:

One of my big influences as a photographer is Photo-Realism, a painting movement prominent about 40-50 years ago. Ironic. One of the subjects the Photorealists loved to portray consisted of automobiles, either singly or in gatherings. So here is a photograph in the Photorealistic painting style of a Photorealistic painting subject.

City Vehicle Yard, San Francisco, CA 19 December 2015, 1:26 p.m.

City Vehicle Yard, San Francisco, CA 19 December 2015, 1:26 p.m.

It’s OK, I don’t understand me, either.

Vonn Scott Bair

World Music and the World of Music in San Francisco: YOUR New Puzzle of the Week!

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Good Evening:

One of these days, maybe just maybe your correspondent will finally break down and subscribe to Songlines Magazine, a very fine periodical devoted to the world of music, the world in music, and world music in particular. Each issue includes one or two sampler CDs (remember those?) containing sample songs featuring that issue’s featured artists–and one of these days I will learn how to write coherent English sentences.

Ukulele Player Busking Before the Last SF Giants Game of the Season.

Ukulele Player Busking Before the Last SF Giants Game of the Season.

The current issue (#111) puts Seckou Keita on the cover–and if you are also a hard-core lover of kora music you will immediately start looking for this issue. The issue includes two CDs. The first is the usual Songlines sampler.

The second–well, that is your official Puzzle of the Week!

Schooled in Massachusetts, Performed in Austin TX, Loves Dogs.

Schooled in Massachusetts, Performed in Austin TX, Loves Dogs.

The second CD includes the following: a song by a band called Jaffa Road (Jaffa is a place in Israel); another song by a band called Delhi 2 Dublin (referencing India and Ireland); and a song by Ayrad entitled “Moroccan Gospel.”

And here is YOUR Puzzle of the Week! What is the title of the CD?

Musician Performing East Asian Music in Front of a Starbucks Ad, Powell Street Station, San Francisco, CA, 7 October 2015, 9:10 p.m.

Musician Performing East Asian Music on a Japanese Koto  in Front of a Starbucks Ad, Powell Street Station, San Francisco, CA, 7 October 2015, 9:10 p.m. Note how the ad complements the dress and vice versa.

You probably did not guess correctly. Not unless you own the issue.

The title of this CD is–believe it or not–Canada Now (Canada Maintenant).

It consists entirely of Canadian music. Or at the very least, music by Canadian musicians.

No one can deny that almost all recent developments in the music industry have caused a lot of pain for the artists, as fewer and fewer superstars grab more and more of the attention and money, except that they suffer as much from illegal downloading as anyone else (in terms of actual dollars lost, perhaps more, but I don’t have the numbers). Musicians share the very reasonable hope that they can support themselves with work they love, but their fans have developed the expectation that music should be free, possibly as an offshoot of the original idea that information wants to be free (sometimes attributed to Stewart Brand, late 1960s).

The one positive development? Music itself.

How on earth does a balding, late middle aged, pot-bellied, government bureaucrat white boy like yours truly even know that the kora exists?! Have you seen one of those things?! The kora is The Elephant Man of the guitar family, the horribly misshapen, deformed and monstrous mutant offspring of the unholy dalliance between an oud and a diddley-bow that the family keeps locked up in the basement out of shame–and yet the kora produces gloriously ethereal and beautiful music equal to anything else in the world.

How did I first hear of this West African instrument?!

The truth is that I don’t remember. Somewhere in the past decade, I blundered into In The Heart of The Moon, a collaboration between the late Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate and became madly enraptured with the performance of Toumani on one of his own koras–but even that doesn’t count as my first encounter with that strange-looking instrument. Nonetheless, we all know where I first encountered the kora. On the Internet.

We have entered an extraordinary era, one in which it has become more difficult than ever for musicians to make a living, and yet more easy than ever to discover each other, learn from each other, and experiment with each other, drawing inspiration from music and musical instruments that we might never have encountered even a decade ago.

Making Napster, the iPod, YouTube et alia very bad news for the musician–and very good news for the musician’s music.

I feel so glad I don’t work in music. Feels much better that I just enjoy the sound.

Especially since I never steal music.

Vonn Scott Bair

Dancing Real Good For Free.

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Good Evening:

At first, I thought she had fallen in the middle of a group of UC Berkeley students at the Downtown Berkeley BART station as she thrashed on one bench. Then I thought she was tripping on bad drugs when she sprang to her feet and ran all the down to the east end of the platform. Then I thought she was just plain bat-bleep crazy when she sat on another concrete bench and tied herself into one odd contortion after another.

Then she stood, lifted one foot over her head in a stretch, and practiced some soft shoe steps.

So I was wrong three times. This young woman was an aspiring dancer, practicing and performing, and to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, “dancing real good for free.”

No editing at all–BART stations have weird light that makes pictures hard without expensive equipment or time to prepare or experience in bad lighting conditions.

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And when she finished her performance-slash-practice, she ran all the way to the other end of the platform to catch the Fremont train home.

Vonn Scott Bair

Orange, Yellow & White. (Weekly Photo Challenge: Monochromatic)

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Good Evening:

Saw this new item in the Market & Van Ness station:

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…and had another idea for this week’s Challenge–using transit as an inspiration.

So here is a closeup of the door.

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This is a doohickey on the side of the vintage Los Angeles street car that runs up and down Market.

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Vintage street cars have lots of strange doohickeys on their sides. Here’s a yellow one.

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Finishing with something in white, a car door handle.

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I think I’m having too much fun.

Vonn Scott Bair

I Hope He Tinders Because He Fails Reality.

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Good Afternoon:

If you don’t time it right, waiting for the 24-Divisadero at Geary can take quite a bit of time. I had not, and had to wait. After luckily securing a bench seat and checking the college football scores (Northwestern defeated Stanford in a mild upset), I put the iPhone away to study the scene.

Two seats to my left sat a Caucasian male in his early 20s with tasteless camouflage cargo shorts and a short-sleeved Henley shirt of a sickly beige color. I did not recognize that hair style but then again, I am old. He buried his face into his Samsung cell phone, no doubt unaware that he was giving himself a future case of “phone neck,” and yes, this is true–that is a brand-new physical ailment (sometimes called text neck).

He had no idea that she even existed.

She was an Asian woman with long hair who stood about five feet tall (much too short for me), and seemed less than 25 years old (much too young for me). However, if you prefer very short women with long black hair, you would have felt very much interested in her.

And she was interested in him.

When she arrived at the bus stop, she just happened to stop four feet in front of the young man with bad taste in clothes and hair. After a moment, she just happened to look over her shoulder and spotted him, did a double-take, then turned around and faced him directly.

He kept giving himself a future case of phone neck.

She looked to see if the bus was coming (nope, not even close), then took another step toward the young man. She now stood three feet from him, facing him directly.

He kept giving himself a future case of phone neck.

She looked to see if the bus was coming (nope, not even close), then took another step toward the young man. She now stood two feet from him, facing him directly.

He kept giving himself a future case of phone neck.

One more chance. She looked to see if the bus was coming (nope, not even close), then took another step toward the young man. She now stood one foot from him, perhaps only ten inches away from him. She and faced him directly, toe to toe, focusing on his eyelids because she could not see his eyes..

He kept–oh heck, you know what he kept doing.

She stepped back to her original spot, four feet in front of the young man of dubious clothing and hair, turned her back to him, and fixed her eyes upon Divisadero, looking for and awaiting the 24 bus.

He looked up from his cell phone. He looked at her oblivious back.

She fixed her eyes upon Divisadero, looking for and awaiting the 24 bus.

He leaned way over to his left, perhaps trying to see her face, perhaps trying to catch her eye.

She fixed her eyes upon Divisadero, looking for and awaiting the 24 bus.

He returned to his phone, giving himself a future–oh heck, you know what he was giving himself.

I thought, I hope he Tinders, because he fails IRL. I might be old, but even I know that IRL stands for In Real Life.

Vonn Scott Bair

A Serendip of San Franciscans, 3 April 2015: Commuters.

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Good Evening:

For those of you new to The San Francisco Scene–Seen!, I recently made the arbitrary decision to use “Serendip” as the collective noun for a group of San Franciscans, and begun a series of photo essays of my fellow citizens engaged in a common activity. Today’s theme: Commuters.

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The above is only the fifth photograph taken with my new point-and-shoot, a Nikon CoolPix S9900, and the previous four were random test shots. So far, the results have please me, but perhaps not as much as this unusual mode of transit pleased its very young passenger:

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San Francisco’s public transit system does one thing very well: catering to severely disabled individuals. Recently I took a 19-Polk bus that at one stop disembarked two passengers in wheelchairs and then added a third, all in less than two minutes.These two awaited a bus at 8th & Market.

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Skateboarders can commute anywhere.

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Bicycling keeps growing in popularity: as bike lanes expand, so too do the number of riders.

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But some people and critters still prefer an old school mode of transportation.

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Vonn Scott Bair

P***ing at the Bus Stop.

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Good Evening:

Having lived in San Francisco 33 years–at least 4 times as long as I’ve lived anywhere else–you may safely conclude that I love this place, and normally, The San Francisco Scene–Seen! tries to stay positive and focus on the interesting, the amusing, the beautiful. Ideally, all three.

But no one can deny that sometimes, San Francisco fails. And I feel that I would lie to you if I didn’t say so.

The bus stop for the 21-Hayes and 19-Polk buses in front of the Orpheum Theater at 8th and Market has become a popular social gathering spot, for lack of a better term, for the homeless who spend their days at the Civic Center. Most of the time, they don’t do anything worse than public inebriation and denying seats to the elderly.

This guy went a little too far.

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I took this first shot because of the conjunction and contrast of the very young schoolgirl standing with a backpack and the passed-out drunk lying on the sidewalk. A contrast of red and pink vs. blue, young vs. old, a girl with a future vs. a man whose best days had passed. Then some sort of commotion began and I thought that maybe I would need to escort the girl from trouble.

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The man had awakened and stuck his left hand down his pants. Obviously the two sitting people looked uncomfortable and I feared that he intended to do something perverse–indecent exposure, perhaps–to the girl. But before I could intervene on her behalf…

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…false alarm. All he wanted to do was urinate. The dark line on the bricks extending from his crotch is a stream of urine.

The African-American person had decamped quickly. I had not seen the gentleman with the hat before (the girl blocks him from view in the previous two pictures).

“What are you doing, man?! Not here, not in front of my little girl! Find a bathroom, man, find an alley, find a tree, whatever, just don’t p*** like that in front of my daughter, man! Come on, sweetie, we’re going to walk down the street a bit. Man, you are disgusting!”

So no need for me to intervene. The father escorted his daughter to a safer location about ten yards away.

I once got in trouble back in Sunday School for asking the nun teaching class something like, “If you say God made us in His image, don’t you hurt His feelings?” So completely forgot about that until now that I didn’t even remember I had forgotten it. Guess I remembered because I can’t even hope to count how many ways this scene represents how many failures on the part of the species known as Homo Sapiens. I apologize if this blog post has upset you, but I respect my readers enough that I have to write the entire story of San Francisco, not just the fun parts.

Vonn Scott Bair

Ordinary Everyday Extraordinary Courage on the 71 Haight-Noriega.

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Good Evening:

Tom is a big guy. Big and muscular, mid-twenties, quick and agile, and very fast. He’s Caucasian, black hair, over six feet tall, over two hundred pounds, broad shoulders, top-heavy in build, very powerful arms

He also has absolutely no control over his body.

Tom is severely developmentally disabled–probably autistic–and when I boarded the 71 bus at 8th and Market after shopping at the Civic Center Farmers Market on Sunday afternoon, he was screaming at the top of his lungs at the floor of the bus and stomping that same floor with both feet simultaneously.

“Tom? Tom. Sit down.”

This was his caretaker. She was a plump Asian woman about 60 years old and sixteen inches shorter than Tom. She said, “Please sit down, Tom,” but instead he ran at the front doors of the bus, pounded them with both of his fists, and ran out when the driver opened them.

Ten seconds later, his caretaker had exited after him, calmed him down, and led him back on the bus, leading him to a seat by pulling on the hem of his coat, and then sitting next to him.

“Tom, we’re almost home. It will be all right.”

And it was all right until the 71 stopped at the Van Ness and Market bus stop. At which point, Tom jumped up again, screaming at the top of his lungs at the floor of the bus and stomping the floor of the bus with both feet simultaneously. His caretaker tried to pull him back in his seat by holding onto the hem of his jacket again, but instead Tom ran at the front doors of the bus, pounded them with both of his fists, and ran out when the driver opened them.

Once again, within ten seconds the diminutive Asian woman had disembarked, calmed Tom down and led him back onboard to another seat on the bus.

“Tom, calm down, calm down. We’re almost home, Tom.”

At the next stop, Market & Haight, Tom jumped up again, screaming louder than ever, covering his ears with his hands and stomping the floor of the bus once again. Still seated, his caretaker took hold of the hem of his coat again, but this time–and I cannot believe how quickly this happened–Tom kicked her in the stomach three times, ran to the side doors screaming, pounded them until they opened, and ran out.

Surprisingly, she seemed unhurt. Astoundingly, she seemed unmoved, unsurprised and unafraid.

The caretaker sighed, disembarked from the bus, and calmed Tom down again. This time, however, the bus driver refused to let them rebound the bus, telling her, “Lady, he is a menace.”

Tom cowered against the wall of the Cardio Barre studio at the street corner and screamed again, covering his ears with his hands again and wrapping his elbows in front of his face. His screaming turned into a sort of really loud mournful moaning. The 60 year old Asian woman held the hem of his coat again and said, “We were almost home, Tom. Almost home. It will be better. Just calm down and we can get home quickly. The police can take us home. Would you like me to call the police?”

The driver pulled away quickly, and one of the passengers, a young blond man, called out, “You should have let them back on. He’s only autistic.”

Another passenger, in his seventies with grey hair, said, “No, that young man belongs in an institution. He is a menace to himself and to others. And I am an other.”

They proceeded to debate the proper means of caring for the severely developmentally disabled.

Me? I kept thinking about her.

I know she’s paid a pitiful sum for her social worker job, and her hours are Sunday through Sunday, 7:00 a.m. through 7:00 a.m. She gets hit so often that no emotions register when the next kicks strike. Tom is a big, strong, young man who can not moderate or soften his movements when he lashes out at the world.

And she keeps doing her job.

I don’t have the guts to do her job. How many people do?

And she does that every day.

Ordinary everyday extraordinary courage.

Every single day.

Vonn Scott Bair

“Trying to Breathe:” The Free Muni Protest @ San Francisco City Hall, 20 January 2015.

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Good Evening:

The City & County of San Francisco currently enjoys one of its frequent booms, and the estimates that the next bust will hit at the end of 2015 have been revised to “sometime in the future,” so the city currently enjoys full coffers. The problem many other cities and states would like to have: what to do with all that dough?

These folks had an idea, and shared it on Tuesday.

Free Muni Protest, San Francisco, 20 January 2015.

Free Muni Protest, San Francisco, 20 January 2015.

San Francisco’s prosperity has come with a serious cost; namely the cost of living in “the city of $4 toast” has famously soared. I keep running into one online article after another directly or indirectly related to the theme of “San Francisco income inequality as proxy for America’s.” For the elderly and disabled, the city has become almost unlivable, and one possible part of the solution consists of free public transit (“Free Muni”).

Protest Organizer Speaking to the Media

Protest Organizers Speaking to the Media

Latecomers to the Protest

Latecomers to the Protest

I don’t know how this will end. I do know that a lot of poor people are getting desperate in this fabulously wealthy city. The next day, no trace of the protest remained, as if it never happened–except for this one graffito I spotted on a nearby trash bin.

Trying to Breathe Stop the Evictions

Trying to Breathe Stop the Evictions

Everything comes back to the evictions. Getting desperate in San Francisco, indeed.

Vonn Scott Bair

Happy Hour, Friday Afternoon. (Weekly Photo Challenge: Twinkle)

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Good Evening:

Twinkling lights at a cafe at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.

Happy Hour, Friday Afternoon, San Francisco, California

Happy Hour, Friday Afternoon, San Francisco, California

Vonn Scott Bair

Overhead Trolley Wires on Haight Street, 28 November 2014.

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Good Afternoon:

When electric bus lines converge at intersections such as Haight and Divisadero and at Haight and Fillmore, so do the overhead power lines, and the resultant geometry produces all sorts of shapes and angles.

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Vonn Scott Bair

Short-Short Stories of San Francisco, 21 September 2014.

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Good Evening:

All true stories, all conversations reconstructed as best as I can remember them. No photos; unfortunately, I’m erratic at best as a photographer and unlike the day when I created a photo essay of San Francisco’s homeless, this time none even reached the level of “weak but usable.”

One-Fifty of Methadone on the 47 Van Ness.

The aging heroin addict (50s-60s, beard and coat equally old and shabby) in the back of the 47 did most of the talking, while his young mentor or acolyte (the same but about 30 years younger) listened or asked questions.

“Oh, I’m good, I’m good, got my one-fifty of methadone an’ all I need is two bottles a’ beer an’ my life is complete. Oh, yeah, feelin’ real good, just wish I had those beers, go great with a one-fifty.”

“Yeah?”

“Hell, yeah, methadone is the thing, kid, you gotta get into a program and get cleaned up ’til they put you on methadone. Then all you need is two bottles a’ beer and bleeve me, life is so much f—— better than heroin.”

“Hey, is it true what they say, you shot Jack?” (not the actual name)

“Shot Jack?!”

“They say you shot him up.”

“No, no, f— no, he shot himself up.”

“Where’d he get a gun?”

“Gun?! F— you talkin’ ’bout?! He-shot-himself-up. Needle. He blew up his own heart, taking heroin ‘long with some other stuff, maybe speed-”

“-speedball?”

“Zat whuh they call it? Whatev’ it was, Jack took some big f—— dose and his heart just exploded like he had planted a bomb in his chest. Just boom. Know he was 34 years old? Yeah, just 34. Family lives up north a’ here, Sacramento I think, they claimed the body and they gave him a good Christian burial. No burning him up, they gave him a good Christian burial, buried him in the earth good and proper.”

At which point my stop arrived.

So They Can Get Him Incinerated Proper.

I think that he thought that he looked like a professional fundraiser. African-American, about my age, hair shaved close, with a badge holder that was supposed to hold a picture ID but instead held a torn piece of white paper covered with illegible scribbles. He stood in front of the main entrance to City Hall following anyone who walked past. Instead of a clipboard with an ID, newspaper articles, pamphlets, and the like, he clutched a thin 8.5×11 notepad so tightly that it had crumpled in his strong grip. More illegible scribbles there.

“Hey, man, wait up for me, I’m collecting money for Joe Trainor (also not his real name), who got killed on Paul Avenue the other day and I’m collecting money so they can get him incinerated, Joe got killed on Paul Avenue last night and his family needs money so they can burn him up right, so please give me some money for Joe Trainor, he got murdered on Paul Avenue two days ago, and I want your address and phone number so we can send you a proper thank you, or email if you want, so can you give some money for Joe so his family can incinerate him? I’ll need your phone and address, too.” And so on and so on and so on.

I finally shook him off at about the same time an African-American woman about half his age approached him with a scowl bigger than her face, and I did not know that was possible.

“What the f— are you doing?! Do you have any idea what you sound like?!”

Bravery Unseen. Literally.

And I mean I literally could not see her. She stood surrounded by five people, the shortest of whom was a full head taller. I could only see a shock of blond hair. This group stood in front of the main entrance to the Superior Court building at Polk and Fulton. The five crowded her so tightly as if that would silence her, but her voice stood at least three taller than them.

“You! You’re his father! When was the last time you saw your son?! When?! Do you ever see him? No! You don’t! You don’t have the time, because you’re always shooting up! And you two! You two call yourselves grandparents! Do you really care about your grandson? Your so-called grandson?! Do you ever visit? Do you ever send money? Do you ever send food or care packages?? No! You don’t! I’m the one who loves him! I’m the one who puts a roof over his head! I’m the one who feeds him, clothes him, sends him to school, and does her d— best to keep him outta trouble so he doesn’t grow up to be like his so-called father, or you, or you, or you, or you! I’m the only one who loves him! Me!”

Nothing could intimidate her.

The sheriffs had their eyes on this group, and I had to return to work from my lunch hour, so I kept on moving.

I wish I knew the whole story.

I don’t know their side of the story–she didn’t give them space to speak. We can’t assume that she told the truth about what sounded like an ugly custody battle. We don’t know the others are not better providers. Or perhaps worst of all, she might have had the right on her side, but they might have had the law on theirs.

My Therapist Says My Anger Doesn’t Propel Me.

He stood next to me on the 43 Masonic and hung onto one of the overhead straps for standing passengers as he vented into his cell phone. Brown crewcut, about four inches shorter than me, I’d guess late twenties, small mustache, pseudo-camoflage pattern cargo pants, white sleeveless muscle shirt, complete with the muscles to justify wearing one of those, and Doc Martens boots.

And my oh my, did he ever vent.

“You won’t believe this s— that she tells me. My therapist says my anger doesn’t propel me, doesn’t move my life forward, yeah, s— like that, my anger doesn’t move my life forward it holds me back, and it takes me everything I have to keep from saying listen, b—-, I got good f—— reasons for anger, I mean do you ever listen to anything I say, anything, don’t you get it by now, I mean, f— man, I don’t get the point of this court-ordered s— if all I get is this therapist who uses words like ‘propel,’ I mean, come on, ‘propel?!'”

A second for a deep breath.

“I mean like the last session, you know what the last thing she says to me is? She says, ‘Remember. Propel!’ Yeah, f—— propel again, sometimes I just want to say something that will scare and I mean scare that b—- just to see how she reacts, maybe I can make her pee in her panties, you know?

Another deep breath.

“Nah, I’m just kidding, I don’t want to scare her at all, you know what I really want to do? Do you know? I know I’m her last appointment of the day. I want to say to her someday that I want to comeback that afternoon, three o’clock, for a massage. No, no, no! I don’t her to give me a massage, I want to give her a foot massage, nah she doesn’t look so hot, but she always wears skirts and open-toed shoes, and she crosses her legs right over left during the sessions, and for the entire fifty minutes she will bounce her right foot at me and I just stare at that foot while she uses words like ‘propel’ and all I can think about is how much I want to massage her feet, h— no, I don’t want to f— her, she is totally not hot, but those toes, man, someday I will ask her if I can give her a foot massage just to see how she reacts, I just want her feet, that’s all I want, her feet are-so-fine.”

“And no more of this ‘propel’ s—.”

My stop arrived and I disembarked, thinking that perhaps his court-ordered therapist should be a man.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Accidental Cupid on the 21-Hayes

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Good Evening:

It happens sometimes.

I become your Accidental Cupid.

In 1999, a friend of mine was directing a play and asked me if I knew any stage managers. At the time, I had a strong interest in an impeccably cute Italian-American young lady who was looking to start a career in the theater, and I wanted to impress her by getting her a job, so I recommended her to him.

They’re still happily married, complete with the house, two kids, and most important, the dog.

In 2000 or 2001, I needed a rough, tough, macho looking guy to play a rough, tough, macho looking guy role in a stage reading of a one-act play in development. Since I had performed in a cowboy comedy called Lariats of Fire with a bunch of rough, tough macho looking guys, I cast one of them in my one-act. One of the playwrights in the audience, a mousey-looking woman all of five feet tall with a pointed nose and eyeglasses with almost half-inch thick lenses, stared and I mean STARED at him during the entire reading, and when it ended, cornered and I mean CORNERED him, placing her right palm on the wall next to his left shoulder and her left palm on the wall next to his right.

She basically told him that he was her next boyfriend, and that relationship lasted over three years.

In 2005, another one-act play of mine received a world premiere in a major San Francisco Bay Area theater festival. I had in mind a young woman for the lead role of a blind aspiring cellist, not a woman in whom I had any particular romantic interest, but a woman whom I knew could beautifully deliver my extremely long “arias” (monologues for women over three minutes long) and who could perform with aplomb a role that kept her onstage for virtually the entire play. After a bit of a dispute, the director finally relented and cast her in the play, but he chose to give her the other female role. She did so well in that play that the director soon cast her in another play.

They’re still happily married.

I’m a rare Accidental Cupid, but I’m a good one.

So there I stood in a hopelessly overcrowded 21-Hayes bus at 5:05 p.m. last Friday afternoon, with a foreign couple, tourists, screaming at the bus driver because they were convinced he had no idea where he was going, while the bus driver screamed back at them that he lived in San Francisco all his life and knew d— well where he was going, while an elderly woman screamed at a 20-ish woman sitting on one of the seats reserved for the elderly and handicapped to stand up and let her sit, while the 20-ish woman screamed back at her that she had an injury, while a tall man in his seventies with silver hair and a walker screamed at everyone to get out of his way so he could get off the bus, when a very short young woman wearing a backpack thicker than herself boarded the bus, squeezed through a few people, and got twisted around in such a way that her backpack molested my butt.

I mean really molested my butt. I thought someone was grabbing me.

I turned around to confront the “person” grabbing my derriere, but to do that, a short young man with dark hair had to squeeze out of my way, causing him to stumble against a tall young man with dark hair fumbling with his sunglasses. The squeezing and stumbling caused him to drop his shades.

“Oh, f—, there goes $200.”

“I see them,” said the short young man, who bent over to pick them up, literally butting me into the backpack that had been butting into me. The short young woman who belonged to the backpack and I apologized to each other, and she miraculously found a seat that had become available. This gave me enough room to give the short young man enough room to fetch the tall young man’s sunglasses and return them to him, and yes, San Francisco bus riding is the only sport that combines ballet, hockey, mixed martial arts, and that puzzle where you have to manipulate fifteen square tiles on a sixteen square grid.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

The tall young man’s hand rested upon the short young man’s hand holding his shades.

“Hello.”

“Hello.”

The tall young man placed his sunglasses in his shirt pocket.

“Riding the bus is always so dramatic, isn’t it?”

“Oh, yes,” replied the short young man. “Who needs theater?”

They laughed, and I thought, well, I need theater, but never mind.

“You never know who you’ll run into.”

“More like bump into.”

“Or butt into.”

They laughed again.

The tall young man said, “So what’s your name?”

And I thought, I’ve done it again. Should have given them my card. You know, so they could invite me to the wedding.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Photograph I Did Not Take (Weekly Photo Challenge: Split Second Story)

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Good Evening:

As soon as she boarded the 22-Fillmore at 16th & Guerrero, I wanted her picture. I wanted dozens of them.

Though perhaps five foot six inches tall, this Hispanic woman, about 45 years old, might have weighed more than I do (six foot two, 225). I mean seriously, dangerously, morbidly obese. She wore a black leather jacket several sizes too small, very tight black yoga pants, black leather ballet slippers, and a white top that was also a few sizes too small. This same top stretched so much and was made of such thin material that one could clearly see the push-up bra printed with a leopard-skin pattern except the bra was black and white like a zebra.

The finishing touch? The tiny pink Victoria’s Secret paper bag she clutched between her knees (each almost as wide around as a soccer ball).

In other words, a perfect picture that captures in a single frame the stories of obesity and bad taste in America.

Here is that perfect photograph:

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I didn’t take any pictures of her.

The issue consists partly of the aesthetics of street photography and partly of the morality of street photography. I remain torn and undecided on both subjects.

I still can’t figure out what constitutes good street photography versus unsuccessful random snapshots, but I have some ideas. Actually, no ideas–more like hypotheses. Actually, no hypotheses–more like wild guesses. About 1 of every 100 street photographs will turn out well because it will capture the character of the person(s) portrayed. About 1 of every 100 street photographs will turn out well because it will capture the situation, action or story portrayed. About 1 of every 10,000 street photographs will turn out well because it will capture the situation, action or story and the character of the person(s) portrayed. Consider Dorothea Lange’s best work during the Depression.

Anyway, those are wild guesses, and they probably aren’t very good ones.

But the woman on the 22-Fillmore would have constituted a perfect subject for this week’s Challenge, and I chose not to photograph her. And that’s where the morality of street photography comes in.

First of all, the legality of street photography is not an issue in the United States. I had every legal right to photograph her.

But did she deserve that?

I mean, we’re not discussing something like Daumier’s Gargantua or Les Gens de Justice (which inspired an inspired animated short film called Daumier’s Law, well worth the search), in which he savaged public figures who had worked rather hard to earn his abuse. For all I know, this woman could be a perfectly decent human being who has a man who calls himself the luckiest guy on the planet. Does she deserve exposure to mockery?

And that’s why I didn’t touch my camera.

Mockery.

Some art repulses me because it doesn’t explore, study or portray everyday people, it mocks them. Ever hear of a photorealistic sculptor named Duane Hanson? I first discovered his sculptures at a major retrospective held at the Wadsworth Atheneum, where my dad worked during the Seventies. I met Mr. Hanson at a reception; he treated everyone kindly, even this teenage kid. But about half of his work seems to exist solely to mock people who might not deserve it. His best work? Brilliant and profound, like the construction worker eating lunch who has paused for a moment because he just realized that he hates his life. But Mr. Hanson also seemed to enjoy making fun of obese people, like the sleeping sunbather at the beach working on a cherry red sunburn, surrounded by empty junk food wrappers and bags, plus one empty can of diet soda.

Hey, don’t let me stop you; if you like this kind of photography, go for it. I won’t impose my prudery on your work, and I’m probably wrong to condemn mockery: you probably take brilliant pictures exposing the foibles and follies of ordinary people. I only want to describe my own evolving and ever-changing aesthetics, my own set of rules of what photographs I should take–aesthetics and rules that will likely change with time. I have simply grown leery of taking pictures of private individuals if it risks exposing them to mockery they don’t deserve.

Daumier attacked the powerful, even serving six months in jail for ridiculing the King of France (a man who deserved the ridicule more than Daumier deserved the jail cell). A woman wearing a black-and-white leopard skin push-up bra might not deserve the same attacks.

Vonn Scott Bair

Freewheeling Two-Wheeling in San Francisco (Weekly Photo Challenge: On the Move)

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Good Morning:

Has the rest of America’s major cities committed so strongly to two-wheeled transportation as San Francisco? Personally, I don’t know; over the past few years, acting and writing projects have kept me tethered to the Bay Area, so I have not had the chance to see for myself.

But San Francisco has invested heavily in making over itself into a green city, and two-wheeling has become a part of that. I look forward to seeing how/if this will continue and perhaps grow in both San Francisco in particular and America as a whole. Ten, twenty years from now, how might our cities appear? What might the car/bicycle ratio become?

I have my own very crazy idea for how we might make human-powered transportation more palatable & popular: the tricycle. An grown-up adult version, of course. The greater width of the tricycle vs. the bicycle will make it possible to add at least a little bit of storage, something the bicycle sorely lacks:

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I did say it was a crazy idea, didn’t I?

Those green squares (middle, right edge of picture) plus green stripes indicating bicycle-only lanes, appear everywhere in the city, and I hope they have proven helpful in making commuting safer. However, you don’t necessarily have to ride a bicycle to take advantage of them.

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While bicyclists enjoy (and deserve) new-found influence in setting City policy, I think some of them might be pushing things a bit far in terms of their road etiquette. While car-slapping has not yet become a favorite pasttime, I saw another example on Friday at the intersection of Grove and Polk. Only two bicyclists this time, navigating their green lane, which might explain why the driver of the white car didn’t see them before he attempted to turn right from Grove onto Polk, nearly hitting the first rider. He shouted, “Not cool, man!” and continued on his way, but the second biker added, “Yeah, man, totally not cool!” and slapped the car.

I still don’t approve of this; a driver doesn’t need a gun to act out road rage on a biker.

One more, then it’s off to the Civic Center Farmers Market for yours truly.

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Vonn Scott Bair