Heart of the City Archives
Mirth and Memories in Hard Times
by Hank Donat

Today's San Francisco is a study in contradictions, like a depressive in perpetual Mardis Gras. While reports of declining population and a weak economy drone on, the city remains a center of vitality - if a rush of activity from Ocean Beach and the Palace of Fine Arts, to the waterfront and the Excelsior, is any indication. 

At the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, the Broadway-themed "Help is on the Way" benefit for the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation was rife with San Francisco lore. 

Literary legend Rod McKuen performed September Song in the second act of what has become an annual "Night of a Hundred Stars" by the bay. McKuen strikes cords of warmth that no other entertainer can reach. 

Music of the Night: At a pre-show soiree I was approached by a ghoulishly costumed character who dead-panned, "Your tie was a good choice in 1952." I said, "That's okay, I didn't give you a very good review either." 

Elaine Stritch stopped the show with her famous rendition of Steven Sondeim's "Ladies Who Lunch" from Company. 

Hearing that Stritch had performed at the benefit, Jay Blotcher, the New York publicist who worked with Sharon Stone for the American Foundation for AIDS Research said, "Anyone who saw this show has bragging rights equal to someone who saw Enrico Caruso perform in their lifetime." Such is Stritch's prominence in American culture.

Knots Landing star Michelle Lee and Hart to Hart's Stefanie Powers were also on the bill. Both women made films in San Francisco. Powers played a Washington High School student in Blake Edward's 1967 thriller "Experiment in Terror." Lee was in Herbie the Love Bug in 1968.

Also up from TV land recently was Chip Arndt, the 36 year-old SoCal entrepreneur currently running The Amazing Race on Thursday nights on CBS. Arndt watched an episode of the taped series from a friend's place in SoMa.

As debate over gay marriage continues throughout the country, sources from the south tell me the network was derided by conservatives for referring to Arndt and his Amazing teammate, 28 year-old pilot Reichen Lehmkuhl, as "married" week after week on the show's credits. 

Nancy Reagan attended the couple's commitment ceremony. Can you can get more married than that? 

Now that the couple is ten famous minutes into its 15, word is slowly leaking out of L.A. that since their race around the world Chip and Reichen have taken a trip to Splitsville.

My own feelings about same-sex marriage are mixed. I was against Michael Jackson and Bubbles from the start.

On a similar topic, Supervisor Tom Ammiano had this to say on his always-cheeky outgoing voice mail announcement, "Episcopal chess game: Queen to Bishop. Check."

After wearing a pillow case in public for decades, Herb Caen's favorite corespondent, Strange de Jim, was introduced in the lobby of the Marines Memorial on Sutter Street sans sac. It seems de Jim, one of the city's sharpest wits, is openly strange

A frequent contributor to other writers, de Jim's own upcoming publishing projects include a memoir, True Love, and a photographic history of the Castro.

Step down! No, it's not a message to Gov. Gray Davis, though it could be. Anyone who rides Muni ought to know by now that the way to open the rear doors on newer busses is to step down. So why do so many riders stand there shouting "Back door!" and looking panicked?

Rear doors have signs that say "Step down to open door." Unfortunately, those are posted over riders' heads. Other signs, at eye level, warn, "Do not stand in stepwell." Pick up your own punchline at the Common Sense Dept. 

Good news: The Zaricor Collection, an unprecedented exhibit of historic American flags, has been extended through September 30 at the Presidio Officer's Club.

Looking south over the city from the 11th floor of St. Francis Memorial Hospital on Bush Street, Lou Spadia observed the Missouri Street home in which he grew up. Lou said, "I made it from Potrero Hill to Nob Hill in one generation without stealing."

Spadia, 82, retires this month as president of the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame (BASHOF), which he founded nearly 25 years ago. Before that he was president of the 49ers for 15 years.

BASHOF, known as the "hall without a hall" has awarded $2 million to more than 400 Bay Area youth groups over the years. 

America True, an organization that teaches life lessons to kids through sailing, was among recipients of $1,500 grants at the St. Francis event. America True CEO Dawn Riley announced that she had already used the grant to buy 150 life jackets for the program. Love that! americatrue.org

Next week's column features former Chief of Police Tony Ribera teaching me to hit a baseball. The Ribera article is the latest in my series of unique outings with the candidates for mayor. 

During this series I've climbed to the top of the dome at City Hall with Gavin Newsom, learned to drive from Susan Leal, visited the belfry of the St. Francis Shrine with Angela Alioto, and much more.

Run, Tony, Run: Supervisor Tony Hall declined to enter the mayoral fray, presumably because he was afraid to do karaoke with me.

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Copyright 2003 Hank Donat
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