Heart of the City Archives
In Search of the City
by Hank Donat

Here in San Francisco we move beyond linear time - especially in the Haight, but that's another story. The San Franciscan offers a tour over the City's history into that of its eccentric inhabitants, past a world imagined in the arts, and through a fog of past personal scandals, often all on the same block. M. Anatole Quelque Chose (an alias for Mister SF) can show you the alley street where Bridget O'Shaughnessy killed Sam Spade's partner in "The Maltese Falcon" (Burritt), the saloon where Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal hid from the bad guys in "What's Up Doc," (The Chelsea Place), an apartment where the writer Robert Louis Stevenson lived (608 Bush), a restaurant whose chef was assassinated in a mistaken identity hit (Masa's), and the fire escape he climbed at three o'clock in the morning because his boyfriend wouldn't answer the phone - all within a few yards. The tour begins and ends at the corner of Bush and Stockton Streets.

Forgotten but not gone...  A temperature check on the dot com phenomenot shows a sharp decline in sidewalk scooter rage and an increase in discarded furniture... There's no better economic barometer than the Bargain Bank, a fun liquidator on Polk at California. Recent shipments include entire inventories from defunct e-tailers such as Eve dot com and Healthshop. Mister SF is relieved to know he's selling only the sunsets here! A Macintosh SE complete with peripherals, neatly abandoned on a municipal garbage can, is a sign of the times. This icon of Northern California, the Apple computer, was a revolution when it was introduced four U.S. Presidents ago, five if you count Al Gore... Getting a restaurant reservation is easier according to Channel 7. The likelihood of being killed by a red light runner is shrinking according to the Chronicle. Mayor Willie Brown is on the decline according to the Bay Guardian. No he's not, also according to the Bay Guardian... Garbage collection rates are going up. Utility rates are on the rise... Nightline on ABC is right to title its San Francisco economy coverage this week, "Goldrushdotcom." The next great leader in San Francisco will study what happened after the Gold Rush in the 1800s and will apply well learned lessons. Just don't ask me what any of them are. I only live here... United Airlines customers are fed up. "Fill in the bay!" they cry, "Build that runway!" The mayor says hey, "They said we'd ruin the bay if we built BART. It didn't happen. They said we'd ruin the bay when we built the bridges. It didn't happen." So it turns out we didn't ruin the bay after all, but don't eat shellfish more than once a month unless you like mercury poisoning. I prefer mad cow. 

If preservationists, and I am one, mobilize against the runway expansion, how will we answer the call to provide transportation for the business community that we need in order to survive? We have tourists in space but you can't get to Los Angeles. My answer is always to simply stay in San Francisco, but that doesn't cut it with Business in the age of globalization. The runway is inevitable. I say to the San Franciscan, either learn to like it or get out there. But for a few, activists on every level are poor at getting out and showing up in person these days. The San Franciscan is famous for waiting until the plan is approved then expressing outrage. Sure, you'll probably be ignored anyway, but maybe not. I suppose if you learned to live with Pac Bell Park you can learn to live without birds and fish. If you can't eat it what good is it anyway, right? The great free speech leader Mario Savio would surely be appalled by today's inactivism. Tommy Avicoli Mecca, who advocates for affordable housing and other issues, is an activist in the great San Francisco tradition. 

In gentler corners under the bright sun near Stowe Lake, a buck-toothed birthday clown dressed ala Chaplin teaches a tyke how to spin a ball on the tip of his finger as the kid's friends wait for their try at the old Harlem Globe Trotter's chestnut... At the Palace of the Legion of Honor, August Rodin's Thinker brings new meaning to the word "rapt" after the pensive sculpture is tightly bound and cloaked by workers renovating the courtyard where the bronze holds center stage... The sight of a hundred kites in a technicolor swarm above the Crissy Field celebration on Sunday was an unforgettable one. This National Park on the site of the former Crissy Army Airfield is now a truly beautiful recreation area and wetland... So long to the falling furniture being removed from the Defenestration Building at 6th and Harrrison. The amusing building with tubs, chairs, clocks, tables, and lamps discretely bolted in precarious place is always worth a double, triple, quadruple take. Workers were spotted removing some of the gravity-devying objects this week. The building is for sale, lowering the aforementioned trend in discarded household items to new heights... The sound of someone singing a Tom Petty song over the dishwater, the sight of a neighbor's cat risking lives and limb on the third story ledge, the smell of breakfast cooking... details that keep the glass always five-quarters full in the heart of the City. 

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Copyright 2001 Hank Donat
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