Heart of the City Archives

Whether hopping on a moving cable car (which the city attorney would rather you not do) or surfing the wind with a turned-out umbrella, the San Franciscan isn't afraid to look like the tourist he is at heart. Evidence Mister SF on a recent visit to the Hell's Angels HQ in Dogpatch.
San Francisco 101
by Hank Donat

Randy Shilts, the journalist of record on gay rights and AIDS in San Francisco in the '80s forecasted today's disparity in the availability of AIDS drugs in the U.S. versus that in Africa. In a 1991 interview for Genre magazine, Shilts told me that he believed there would be medical treatments for HIV by 2000, "for white people, like me, who can afford them." Shilts, who died of AIDS in 1994, did not live to see today's drugs that help manage HIV at great physical as well as financial cost. He also did not live to see this week's new studies which show that HIV exposure rates in young gay guys have rocketed to levels greater than those at the epidemic's '80s peak. 

In the same interview Shilts said, "In the next ten years we're going to have incredible depth of character. Pain is the touchstone of evolution. I think even though we'll have a sort of post traumatic stress syndrome... AIDS has gotten people involved in gay politics who might never have gotten involved. These people are forever energized." 

Shilts, who authored "The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk," "And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic," and "Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military," might wonder what's become of the City's once great gay community. Those who lived here in the '80s or before that will wonder, too. Is this community prepared to care for each other as all the friends, neighbors, and ad hoc families did when gray skinned men with canes lined the Castro and everyone was unspeakably afraid? Or does that even matter now that there are pills and communities that exist on the Internet? This week marks the 20th anniversary of the first reported AIDS case in San Francisco and those are my thoughts on the occasion. Now, in the words of the great Italian political filmmaker Lina Wertmuller, "I abhor political discussions."

San Francisco 101 refers not to the latest course offering at City College, rather to a TV weather graphic indicating the temperature here this week. We notched two more of those unforgettable days when you can sleep with the window open and deign to complain about the heat in a City that averages 54 degrees. Two more of those days when you look up at the sky from a courtyard or rooftop at twilight and grin at a passing plane because you know so very well from the ground what they can see up there - the whole sparkling spectacle of San Francisco. By day, who hasn't noticed the roses of all colors blooming in neighborhoods of all varieties, or is it the other way around?

Sonny Vukic was in the Different Light Bookstore in the aforementioned Castro on the eve of the final episode broadcast of Armistead Maupin's "Further Tales of the City" on Showtime last weekend. Browsing the new arrivals within inches of a shelf load of Maupin's books, Vukic felt a presence. He looked up and there was Armistead, looking in the window over the new Margaret Cho memoir, "I'm the One That I Want."

Anyone searching for the magic of Maupin's City or for any of the other elusive San Franciscos that so many have attempted to describe need look no further than the neighborhoods and their inhabitants. Noe Valley has a nine year old, Sam Backer, who collects videos for kids in area hospitals. The Marina has a retired barber, Ralph Martin, who left the business a few weeks ago after cutting hair in the neighborhood of Chestnut Street for 61 years. Nob Hill has Vivian and Marion Brown, the City's sweethearts who contacted KGO's consumer advocates, "7 on Your Side," after the twins were stiffed for a modeling gig.

In other neighborhood headlines, Sprint PCS has revived its application to install powerful antennas that would beam microwave radiation into a school, a senior residence, and a college dormitory in the neighborhood of  Broadway and Van Ness Avenue in order to provide cellular phone service to a 64-block radius. Sprint thinks it stands a better shot at approval now that the school year is nearly finished and parents will be less likely to participate in the kind of opposition that short-circuited an earlier application to the City's Planning Commission. These are the stories that don't always make the Chronicle!

"Good show!" to the Hang Gallery at The Canvas and to artist and Sunset District resident Anna Conti. This week's exhibit and sale of Doggie Diner artwork to support the conservation of San Francisco's favorite would-be landmark was big fun. Supervisor Leland Yee was present to honor Conti and to take credit with neighborhood preservationists for the landmarking of Balboa High School. Other supporters at the 9th Avenue and Lincoln gallery included Ocean Beach activist Diana Scott and pop art curator John Law who owns three, yes three, Doggie Diner heads. As for the art sale, Tina Fields, who arrived too late to snag one of Conti's original works said it best, "They went like hot dogs!"

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