Muffins or a sharpened toothbrush?

January 19, 2010

I had a great time at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco Jan. 18.  The highlight of the show for me was a hilarious bit of cognitive dissonance when I found a particularly cute — I would even call it “precious” — booth.

This booth apparently belonged to a Florida-based maker of food, um, stuff. I don’t know how to describe what they do, because I could look at a pantry full of their products and not see a single thing to eat. Lots of dips and mixes and things that probably end up being passed off in charity raffle baskets or something. But whatever. If they make money, then good for them.

What got me was that the company at this booth with cheery colors and charming little displays shares a name with a maximum-security California state prison notorious for housing inmates too violent and depraved to be allowed to mix with the gentler souls filling the bunks at other state prisons.

I don’t think anyone had told them about the prison, but when I saw the booth I laughed out loud.

So if someone mentions Pelican Bay, be sure to ask if they mean the outfit specializing in charming gingerbread cookie mixes, or the place where you go if you shank a prison guard in the neck.

By the by, I looked for my favorite captain’s cap-wearing company rep from last year’s show to no avail.

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Can Critical Mass be saved?

December 22, 2009

San Francisco’s Critical Mass, the rolling gathering of bicyclists that has become a familiar enigma of the last Friday of every month, is in a fight for its soul.

Critical Mass riders fill the intersection of Market and Castro streets in 2005.

Critical Mass riders fill the intersection of Market and Castro streets in 2005. Photo by Flickr user Charles Haynes used under Creative Commons license.

Chris Carlsson, a thinking man’s bicycle activist who is a Critical Mass participant from way back, has a thought-provoking article on StreetsblogSF about what’s happened to San Francisco’s incarnation of this international form of transportation protest.

My own opinion of Critical Mass is no secret. I think it has long outlived its utility as a means of changing either private minds or public policy. It doesn’t even seem like very much fun anymore, with the promise of pointless confrontation with random motorists apparently the major attraction to some riders.

But Carlsson and his colleagues at the newish San Francisco Critical Mass web site aim to change all that, giving context to Critical Mass and offering advice on how to ride in it without being a big jerkface.

Cyclists will have a great chance to put these ideas into action in the Critical Mass ride this Friday, Dec. 25 — Christmas Day.

Read more about the efforts to revitalize Critical Mass on StreetsblogSF, and visit the San Francisco Critical Mass web site.

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‘Footloose’ on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach

December 21, 2009

San Francisco has a worldwide reputation as a wild, anything-goes town in which no form of debauchery or unbridled rumpus would be shocking. It is that, sometimes, but at other times the city has favored a prudish, conformist side that fastens its buttons a bit too tight. Would it surprise you to find that mere months before the Summer of Love, dozens of people trekked to City Hall to testify against allowing teenagers to dance at an Ocean Beach concert hall?

Poster advertising The Turtles in concert at Donovan's Reef, March 3 and 4, 1967.

Poster advertising The Turtles in concert at Donovan's Reef, March 3 and 4, 1967. Image from Rock Prosopography 101.

The Rock Prosopography 101 blog has a story of San Francisco when listening to music and dancing to it were two very different (and, in the view of some residents, dangerous) moral issues. Some of it, no doubt, will seem familiar to people concerned about the recent state crackdown on San Francisco nightclubs.

History is written by the winners, but sometimes the story of the losers can be more revealing. Most scholars of San Francisco rock music are at least generally aware of how the Fillmore battled with the City of San Francisco over various permits. San Francisco had a peculiar law left over from prohibition that required separate permits for presenting music and allowing dancing. In most cities, it was assumed that the right to present music implies the right for patrons to dance, but in San Francisco that was not the case. Apparently the original purpose was to discourage Speakeasies, but by the 1960s it had become a form of de facto bureaucratic control over San Francisco nightlife. …

It is informative to actually read the San Francisco Chronicle in 1967 and see how much pressure there was from younger people for the City to join the post-Prohibition era. One saga that received extensive play in the paper for months on end was an establishment called Donovan’s Reef, located at 2200 Great Highway (at Rivera), on the very Western edge of both San Francisco and North America. The venue had originally been called The Sea Breeze in the late 19th century, and then Roberts-At-The-Beach, after its proprietor, Shorty Roberts. It had not survived Prohibition very well, but had continued on as a sort of destination amusement palace and carnival. …

The Board Of Permit Appeals shot down every effort to allow a Dance Hall Permit for Donovan’s Reef. The club already had a Concert Permit, but patrons would be arrested if they danced. The strange tone of the article above, from the February 7, 1967 edition of the Chronicle, only makes sense if you understand that it is a sort of Ocean Beach replay of Footloose, arguing over the right to dance in public without police interference. After months of struggle, Donovan’s Reef had already opened, presenting rock bands but preventing patrons from dancing. Needless to say, it did not make for an ideal teenage experience.

Read the rest of the story at Rock Prosopography 101.

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My visit to San Francisco State University’s corpse flower

June 30, 2009

I took the kids to see San Francisco State University’s corpse flower — also know as a titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum — on Monday afternoon. It wasn’t fully open, but the fellow who cares for it said he thought it might be open by Wednesday morning.

If you go, you should keep in mind that the greenhouse is small, and crowded with plants. No more than six or eight people can get a good look at the flower (actually an inflorescence) at any one time. The aisles of the greenhouse don’t look wheelchair-accessible, but the corpse flower itself is near a door and it should be easy to get a wheelchair in the door and up close to the flower.

While we were there I took a look around SFSU’s greenhouse complex, which is pretty nifty. They have one room dedicated to California native plants, and even though it wasn’t open it was cool to see they had several varieties of manzanita to demonstrate adaptations to various water, soil and fire regimes.

Corpse flower, also known as titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum, at San Francisco State Universitys greenhouse, Monday, June 29, 2009.

Corpse flower, also known as titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum, at San Francisco State University's greenhouse, Monday, June 29, 2009.

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Reason 927 why my missus is awesome

March 30, 2009

From my wife’s blog, Dancing Hula in the Sunset:

OK, so 927th place out of 1086 is pretty close to coming in last but I still did it. I climbed 1197 steps in 27 minutes, 10 seconds.
I was super sweaty and stank a little but I did something I was only “pretty sure” I could do.

Read more here.


Collected tweets about San Francisco’s Central Subway

March 18, 2009

On March 17 I tweeted from a forum about San Francisco’s Central Subway at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. But all my tweets about the meeting subsequently disappeared from Twitter. A couple of people (including the excellent Transbay Blog) have asked me to repost the tweets, so here they are, with the misspellings and fat-thumb typing cleaned up. Thank goodness for the fact that I tweeted by text message, since my phone retains sent messages.

12:34 p.m. At SPUR forum on San Francisco’s Central Subway: John Funghi of SFMTA and SPUR’s Steve Tabor.

12:37 50 people not counting staff at SPUR’s Central Subway talk.

12:53 Funghi sez Central Subway designed so it could accommodate surface travel to Fisherman’s Wharf.

12:56 The proposed temp traffic realignment to extract Central Subway boring machine looks like it will be a puzzler for area near WashBag …

12:58 … But Funghi sez disruption at that triangular park across from WashBag will be only about 18 weeks.

1:08 SPUR’s Steve Tabor: “I have grave doubts” the Geary rapid buses could ever go farther downtown than Laguna.

1:10 Tabor sez SF is the densest population and destination center in the nation not already served by a Metro-style system.

1:13 Tabor explaining possible expansion of Central Subway all the way to Doyle Drive. Pie in the sky?

1:14 Wait, that pie is higher in the sky: Central Subway to Golden Gate Bridge?

1:17 Another Central Subway option could send line toward Presidio but route a spur line off to Fisherman’s Wharf.

1:18 Tabor: Success of Central Subway hinges on ability to accommodate three-car trains.

1:23 Funghi: $1bln / mile is as cheap as Central Subway can get.

1:30 Though Tabor sez three-car trains needed, Funghi says two cars are where Muni is headed. In part because stations planned for two cars only.

Regarding the 1:23 and 1:30 tweets, I think they bear some clarification.

When Funghi said that $1 billion per mile is as cheap as the Central Subway can get, he meant that’s as cheap as the city can do it by bore tunneling instead of cut-and-cover tunnel construction. He explained that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency went with bore tunneling because of concerns about the potential social and economic disruption that might be caused by a lengthy process of tearing up city streets.

About the disparity between Tabor’s three-car statement and Funghi’s caution that that isn’t what Muni’s going to do, Funghi said that Muni thinks it can make up for the reduced capacity by running trains more frequently. Besides, he said, it costs more time and money to have two drivers couple and uncouple three-car trains than to just run more trains. Make up your own mind about whether you buy that explanation.

To view a PDF of Funghi’s slide presentation at the SPUR forum, click here.

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Broken window theory vs. urban art

February 28, 2009

Good rant today by  Greg Dewar over at The N-Judah Chronicles about how the apparent sloppy execution of city anti-graffiti laws led to the elimination of a mural on a produce market in San Francisco’s inner Sunset District.

I’m no fan of vandalism or gang graffiti, but sometimes rules intended to address gang issues or pure vandalism can go too far and suppress or eliminate something new and creative.

Read more at The N-Judah Chronicles.