Category Archives: The San Francisco Seen

All posts devoted to San Francisco, including In Transit.

13.

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Good Evening:

Since I began this blog less than a year ago, I have saved two lives for a new total of thirteen. You can read about 12 here; Tonight I present 13.

The intersection of Masonic & Geary in San Francisco is a difficult one to figure out and not that safe for pedestrian or bicyclist. Traffic arrives at many different directions at excessive speeds, the lights change in a pattern that might exist (or might not), and sometimes I feel safer crossing against the light than with it. However, the nearest Trader Joe’s grocery store to my apartment has taken up residence near there, so I keep my head on a swivel whenever I visit.

On this particular Sunday I awaited the light to change in my favor when three bicyclists (male, early 20s, Caucasian, preppy) pulled up beside me on their expensive-looking 12-speeds. Two of them had brain cells and stopped in a safe location, heads on swivels like yours truly.

The third did not have brain cells; he had a cell phone.

He chatted away on his Very Important Phone Call (V.I.P.C.), oblivious to the fact that he had wandered 15 feet into one of the most dangerous intersections in San Francisco.

“BACK UP!!”

Mr. Cell Phone backed up six feet. A car traveling in excess of the speed limit zoomed over the spot he used to inhabit. Mr. Cell Phone had no idea what just happened; he still focused all of his attention upon his V.I.P.C.

“DON’T BIKE AND TALK!!”

Mr. Cell Phone backed up another six feet. A second car traveling in excess of the speed limit zoomed over the new spot he used to inhabit. Mr. Cell Phone had no idea that I had saved his life twice in 10 seconds; he still focused all of his attention upon his V.I.P.C.

His friends laughed; let’s fact it, “Don’t bike and talk!” is a rather funny line. I looked at the unprotected heads of the three preppies riding expensive 12-speeds.

“You know, guys, helmets might be a good idea.”

Mr. Cell Phone didn’t hear a word of this; still focused on his V.I.P.C. One of the others replied, “Yeah, well, we made a choice.”

I said, “I know.”

The light turned in our favor and the three bicyclists and went our separate ways. Mr. Cell Phone turned to one of his friends and I think I heard him ask, “What just happened?”

I probably did the right thing in saving Mr. Cell Phone. Didn’t I?

Vonn Scott Bair

Things on Walls, 21 October 2012

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Good Evening & Here Are Your Orders:

Listen to This Wall, Haight Street Across from Amoeba Records

Yes, the time has come for another edition of “Things on Walls,” in which I present examples of odd objects of usually mysterious purpose on walls. The above counts as an exception–it’s painted on a wall–but most of the rest fit the bill.

The above comes from a building on the southeast corner of Golden Gate Park. Look closely and you can see writing on whatever this is.

Theaters in San Francisco are a great source of mysterious objects. I saw the following on the wall of a theater on Natoma, in a rough part of town:

And this comes from the door to one of the dressing rooms of the Boxcar Theater, located in a different rough part of town. The inscription will seem puzzling until I tell you that the Boxcar building had once served as a butcher’s shop. In other words, the actors dress in what used to be meat lockers. Appropriate, quite appropriate: on film sets, when the grips, gaffers, electricians and painters have finished their work, they sometimes tell the director, “Bring on the ‘meat puppets!'”

Next, some sort of mounting for some sort of something in a Dubose laundromat. My guess: a pay telephone.

Miscellaneous oddities:

I hope all of you enjoy your weekend activities.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Martial Arts Master vs. The BMW at Guerrero & Market

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Good Evening:

The gentleman was walking about 100 feet ahead on the south side of Market Street, heading toward downtown and crossing the intersection with Guerrero. I’d say he stood slightly over six feet tall, with short curly hair, dark complexion, and slender build. He had the light in his favor and he stayed within the confines of the crosswalk. There’s a very long building on this side of Market that blocked my view of the oncoming traffic on Guerrero.

Therefore, I had no idea that he was about to die.

Fortunately, he did not. He shouted “HEY!!!” at the top of his lungs and leaped about six feet backwards, spinning in the air. A BMW four-door ran over the spot where he had been walking, screeching to a halt about ten feet later. In other words, if he hadn’t jumped, he would have been killed before my eyes. He grew just a tad upset, so as he leaped to safety, he simultaneously spun in the air and kicked the BMW.

I need to define “kicked.” In this context, the word means that with one flick of his right foot, he connected with the left front corner of the car. His kick smashed all of the lights on that part of the car, stove in the bumper, stove in the grille, and literally cratered the left front corner. I mean, he put a two-foot wide, 8-12 inch deep crater into a BMW. This guy was not a martial arts student; he was not a martial arts expert; he was a martial arts master. I saw what he did, and yet he struck so fast that I did not see what he did.

Then he resumed walking down the south side of Market Street, hands in pockets, as if nothing had happened.

The driver (and only occupant) of the BMW got out of the car. She was a skinny young blonde woman no more than five feet tall, still holding her cell phone in her left hand (the reason she had nearly killed the man). She left the driver’s door open, the car key in the ignition, and the motor running–I kid thee not–and ran after the martial arts master, screaming at the top of her lungs. “You damaged my car! You damaged my car! You have to pay for that! What’s you name?! Tell me your name!” I was still 100 feet behind him, but I’m pretty sure he said nothing in reply, because she kept screaming “What’s your name?!” over and over and over. She started pounding on his left shoulder with her fists (still holding the cell phone in her left hand), but she was so short that she had to jump to reach high enough to “pound” his shoulder. I put quotation marks around pound because it was the sort of ineffectual pounding that neither you nor I would feel. The “pounding” certainly didn’t affect him; he didn’t even take his hands from his pockets.

Still, she kept pounding and screaming. Finally, he paid attention. Sort of. Still looking straight ahead, still not saying anything, he pointed backwards with his right hand over his left shoulder. She stopped and watched him walk for a few seconds, still pointing over his shoulder. Then she screamed, “My car!” She ran back to her car that she had left unattended in the middle of the crosswalk with the motor running (I had resisted the temptation of borrowing it to park it in a safer location–she probably would have misinterpreted my gesture). The light had turned green for the cars on Guerrero, but she didn’t seem to notice that cars whizzed past her diminutive frame at 30+ miles per hour as she ran into oncoming traffic before I realized what she was doing. Her turn to get lucky; she wasn’t even seriously threatened with injury, and she hopped back into her wounded BMW.

She recovered her car, but not her sense. She swerved onto Market Street heading toward downtown until she caught up with the martial artist who had inflicted about $2,000 worth of damage on her BMW with a single kick, set the emergency brake, turned off the engine, and took the keys with her as she ran up to the gentleman again, resumed screaming “What’s your name?!” over and over, and resumed her ineffectual pounding, resumed committing assault and battery against a man who could nearly cripple a very expensive sports car with a single kick. Technically, she was committing multiple felonies. This continued for about 50 feet until she exhausted herself, stopping and bending over, hands on knees, gasping for air.

The martial arts master walked a few more feet. Then he stopped.

He turned around and faced her.  He did not say a word to her, but he removed his hands from his pockets, formed fists, and let them hang at his side. The driver of the BMW stared at his fists; even so, she still needed a few more seconds to regain her senses. When she had, she backed up very quickly, almost but not quite falling on her skinny butt, and then turned around and fled back to her car, gunned the engine and broke the speed limit as she sped away.

The martial arts master resumed walking down the south side of Market Street, hands back in pockets, as if nothing had happened.

He never said a word.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–I must stress that his behavior was %100 correct and justified. He acted in self-defense against the car, but he never touched the woman. She, on the other hand, committed roughly thirty felonies and misdemeanors; one felony for nearly killing an innocent man, a few dozen more for assault, plus misdemeanors for little things like speeding.

Not a Dog on the Muni Metro

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Good Evening:

Several months ago, I had to go downtown to the Stockton street Apple Store (one of three in San Francisco) to ask about a computer problem during my lunch break. Now Muni does not allow dogs on its cars except for service dogs. However a man embarked the Civic Center station with an absolute beast. Four feet tall at the shoulder, six feet long, not counting the tail.

A passenger said, “Man you can’t bring that Siberian Husky on the train.”

“Don’t worry, it’s OK, no problem. This is not a dog. He’s a Timber Wolf.”

That is a really, really good way to get everyone’s attention. Especially mine, since wolves have very large heads, even larger jaws, and these even larger jaws were very close to a pair of very special parts of me.

His human told us all that his wolf was “completely tame.” No. Tractable like cheetahs, maybe, but not tame. It did let us pet its head and it did sit on command, but make no mistake, a wolf is not a dog. Wolves do not enjoy humans. This wolf did not enjoy us, not with its massive head lowered and looking at the floor of the Muni car, not with its body absolutely still. I know that anthropomorphism is a dangerous thing, but in my eyes his body language screamed sullenness. If I read his mind correctly, the wolf was thinking, “Anywhere but here. Anywhere but here.”

But it was not a dog. So it was OK to bring it on Muni.

Hearing the call of the wild (new episode of “Being Human” in a few minutes), I remain,

Yours Truly,

Vonn Scott Bair

Lovers Behind the Grocery Store

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Picture taken behind the Safeway on Church & Market Street, San Francisco, CA on 11 August 2007 at 3:18 p.m. with a Nikon Coolpix 4300.

How Love Begins on the 71-Limited (I Think)

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Good Afternoon:

The 25-ish young woman sitting in the back row with long brown hair and sunglasses that looked like ski goggles stared for a long time at the 25-ish young man standing about four feet away in pants, shirt, vest and necktie (but no coat), all in varying shades of grey and silver. His hair was even longer, even if bound in a pony tail, but tightly bound by a dozen rubber bands, roughly one for every inch or so of hair.

“Hey,” she said, “Do I know you?”

“Um, I don’t know. Let me look at you a sec.”

He squinted at her for a few seconds.

“You do look familiar.”

“You garden much?”

“Love gardening,”

“Were you gardening in Golden Gate Park last Saturday?”

He squinted at her again.

“Were you the bicyclist who nearly killed me?”

“Yeah, that was me.”

“Oh. Well, um. Nice to meet you.”

“But you know, you stepped in front of me.”

“Didn’t seem that way to me.”

“At least I missed.”

“That was cool.”

“I’m Rachel.”

“Nick.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“You, too.”

“Yeah. Come on, have a seat.”

“Thanks.”

“So, like, are you a professional gardener?”

“Volunteer. I work for the City’s Environment Department. I create brochures, PowerPoint presentations, write reports, stuff like that.”

“Cool.”

“Thanks.”

I probably should have stayed on the bus longer to be certain, but this is how people fall in love, right? When one of them nearly accidentally kills the other? I learned that at the movies. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

Vonn Scott Bair

San Francisco City Hall in the Late Afternoon Light 8/31/2005

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Good Evening:

San Francisco’s City Hall is one of the country’s most photogenic buildings; almost every time I walk by, something about the building calls out for attention. This time, the sun happened to be directly behind the center of the dome, producing a rather decent effect. Nikon Coolpix 4300, unedited.

Vonn Scott Bair

12

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Good Evening:

The setting–8:00 a.m., 2 February 2012, San Francisco, California, at the intersection of Market Street and Eighth.

So the self-centered and self-absorbed male yuppie driver thought that he didn’t have to wait at the flashing yellow light, he could cross Market Street onto 8th Street and keep going. But he was wrong. The traffic was as heavy as it was unmoving. So he was stuck blocking the crosswalk on the south side of the intersection, inconveniencing the pedestrians, including yours truly, who had to walk around him.

But that did not matter to him. What mattered was that none of the cars in front of him were moving at all, let alone moving fast enough to satisfy him. Unlike these other drivers, he was going places and had places to go! Disgusted with the cars in front of him who dared not to move out of his way, he threw his car into reverse, spun his wheels at full speed, and almost released his brake when-

“CAREFUL!!!”

I can get really pack on the decibels–I once lost a role at an audition because the director said I was too loud for a 500-seat house. So “CAREFUL!!” was enough to make the driver freeze for a moment. Then, just as the yuppie was about to give me the finger, I pointed to the rear of his car. Finally, and for the first time, he looked into the rearview mirror.

A shrunken and very elderly bald Asian man with a large sack on his back was staring at the driver, pale, wide-eyed and trembling.

The driver turned back to me and turned pale, wide-eyed and trembling. He did not give me the finger.

The elderly Asian gentleman crossed the street safely.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the 12th time I have ever saved a human life.

Vonn Scott Bair

Valencia Street, 21 August 2004

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Nikon Coolpix 4300

Good Evening:

Sometimes the picture is already there, complete with the striking color combination, and all you have to do is haul out your point-and-shoot, point, and shoot.

Vonn Scott Bair

Egret Catching Fish, 3 Sept 2007

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Chrissy Field, San Francisco Presidio, San Francisco, CA. Nikon D40, Landscape Mode

Good Evening:

Mother Nature can prove quite uncooperative with amateur photographers. During one foggy morning in 2007, I explored the restored habitat near Chrissy Field in the Presidio on San Francisco’s north shore between Fort Point and the Marina District when I espied this egret on the prowl for breakfast. Now here was a challenge; photographing an egret in the act of catching a fish. I don’t know what musculature one might find in the necks of these birds, but you can stare at them, never take your eyes off them, never blink, and still not see them when they strike: they move that fast.

San Francisco’s Presidio used to be a polluted mess dating back to its military days. I’m proud to write that I briefly temped at International Technology, the company that restored the habitat. To give you an idea of how good that firm is, if you planted a multi-vitamin with zinc anywhere in the 1,480 acres of land, they had the device that would find it. Then they would have to remove the vitamin because technically a multi-vitamin with zinc is a pollutant. Ironic, isn’t it?

So the fact that birds find enough food to live there is astonishing; the restoration succeeded that well. I wanted to photograph an example of that success, as represented by the egret. However, I took over a hundred pictures in the effort to record a successful strike and failed every time. They are–just–that–fast. Fortunately, digital cameras and their blessed delete buttons will reward pure dumb stubbornness sooner of later, and I nailed a strike with the above picture. If you look closely, you can see a small silvery fish struggling in the egret’s beak. Sometimes Luck = Persistence plus, well, plus nothing. Sometimes luck is nothing but persistence.

Vonn Scott Bair

Civil War, Family Style

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Good Evening:

My father has been a fan of the New York Giants since the 1950s. I’ve been a fan of the San Francisco 49ers since I moved to my city 8 days before the Red & Gold won their first Super Bowl. You know what that means–civil war, family style.

Way back in the 1980s, the 49ers and Giants frequently engaged in brutal low-scoring defensive masterpieces on Monday Night Football. During the 1988 defensive masterpiece, the Giants finally cracked the Niner defense and scored a touchdown to take a 17-13 lead with less than two minutes to go. During commercials, I received a phone call from Dad. “This is the Giants’ year, they are going back to the Super Bowl, San Francisco fought a good game, but they just can’t beat the Giants this year,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I played the role of the good sport in defeat (perhaps my greatest acting job ever, and this was 8 years before I even discovered acting), agreed with everything Dad said, but then the commercials ended and we hung up so we could both watch the (for me, bitter) end.

The second I sat down, on 4th and 10 from the 22, Joe Montana threw a 78 touchdown pass to Jerry Rice. And San Francisco won 20-17.

And the phone rang. I thought, “That can’t be Dad.” And it wasn’t.

It was Mom.

But I could hear Dad in the background, shouting, “I don’t want to talk to him! I don’t want to talk to him! I don’t want to talk to him!”

But he eventually did, and I played the role of the good sport in victory (no wait, perhaps that was my greatest acting job ever). Since then, whenever the Niners and Giants play, the Bair whose team loses has to call the winner and take the punishment. There’ve been a few exceptions. After that berserk 39-38 playoff win, I called Dad and told him the refs robbed the Giants–which even the NFL admits was the truth. Also, during a NY-SF regular season game at Candlestick several years ago, I bought Dad tickets for his birthday. The Giants won 24-6 (Brandon Jacobs: 5 carries, 3 yards, 2 touchdowns), and I didn’t need to call him; he was sitting next to me.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–One of the two teams did win the Super Bowl that season: San Francisco beat the Cincinnati Bengals for the second time with the aid of The Drive II.

PPS–Dad was very gracious when I called today, legitimately gracious; he prefers to see his team win by virtue of their inherent superiority rather than watch their opponents blunder and lose.

A Question of, and a Contrast of, Perspectives

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Good Evening:

My first digital camera was a Nikon Coolpix 4300 that I bought in 2003 for $339, at a time when people would say, “You got a 4.3. megapixel camera for only $339?!” On one of my earliest photographic expeditions, I walked down to San Francisco’s Marina District for a few shots of the Bay. Here is one, guest-starring our very iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

It’s not a bad picture of not a bad San Francisco sunset. I used the Landscape mode, which Nikon has always done well and has become my default setting on any camera. Frankly, I’ve never really mastered the manual controls on any of my cameras, because I’ve never really had the time. But what do you think of the mood of the picture? Seems very quiet and peaceful, doesn’t it? Calm, serene. Now look at this picture:

Rather a different feeling, isn’t it? Turbulent, even violent, as if there’s a fire or explosion beyond the hills. Actually, what’s really behind the hills is several thousand miles of Pacific Ocean. What has always interested me about this picture is that it is the exact same scene as the first picture, just a few seconds later. Check out the lower left-hand corner of the top photo. The only difference between the two pictures is that the first one zooms all the way out, and the second one zooms all the way in. And yet, the result, and the effect upon the viewer, is very different. ‘Tis indeed instructive how two faithful, unedited, gimmick-free pictures of a scene can lead to results so different, and this pair of pictures never fails to make me reflect upon perspective, accuracy and truth in photography.

Vonn Scott Bair

Can You Identify the Celebrity?

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Photo Taken 6/29/2007 at 6:15:45 p.m. with a Nikon Coolpix 4300

Good Evening:

Quite the large crowd, isn’t it? Doesn’t it make you wonder exactly who the superstar, the big-time celebrity, might be? Is it San Francisco 49ers legend Joe Montana? Giants legend Willie Mays? A surviving member of the Grateful Dead? A Hollywood megastar? Former President of the United States Bill Clinton? The reincarnation of legendary 19th Century icon Norton I, Emperor of these United States of America and Protector of Mexico? Take a moment to study the picture to see if you can locate and identify the celebrity in question, and then scroll down for clues and the answer. I hope you will find the puzzle amusing.

Vonn Scott Bair

First clue: you already know that it must take place in San Francisco; after all, this is The San Francisco Seen. You also know the date and time.

Second clue: look at the reflections in the glass. Among other things, you will see the words Stockton, Ross Dress for Less, and Megastore. San Franciscans will recognize at once that the location is Stockton and Market Street, across from the shuttered Virgin Megastore and the Ross discount clothing store.

Third clue: look at the point at which all of the cameras and heads are pointed. It is below the second vertical line from the left at the top of the picture.

Final clue: the vertical lines at the top of the photograph can mean only thing–this is the front of the Stockton Street Apple Store.

Therefore, this huge crowd has not gathered for a glimpse and/or photograph of a human being. See the small black box with the white front in the background above the blonde woman’s head? That is the first Apple iPhone that was ever sold in San Francisco.

San Francisco Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at Dusk, 8 January 2012, 6:34 p.m.

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Nikon S9100

Good Evening:

Believe it or not, this is an unedited photograph capturing the actual lighting conditions at dusk. The YBCA likes to train colored lights on its buildings and sculptures at night, and the biggest challenges consisted of finding a stable base for my camera and the right settings. Oddly enough, the standard Landscape setting produced this shot.

Vonn Scott Bair