photography, San Francisco

Maiden Lane

A lot of text, lately, on this blog, so I’ll keep this brief. This is a picture I took after some rain in downtown San Francisco. This is Maiden Lane, near Union Square, a stretch of high-end boutiques and shops. A pair of opera singers used to set up at one end and sing, but I haven’t seen them for some time.

Once called Morton Lane, the street housed brothels back when San Francisco was wilder. They were destroyed in 1906, but the pursuit of lucre remains.


journalism, money, San Francisco

A Note on the Bloomberg San Francisco Office

On Monday morning, I got to see a glimmer of Bloomberg’s San Francisco office. The office, on the second floor of a converted pier on the Embarcadero, was highlighted in August 2007 as the largest leasing deal to come along in San Francisco since the dot-com boom eight years earlier.

At the time, the media company rented 30,000 square feet at $100 per square foot (triple-net), while most office real estate at the time was about $50 per square foot. The deal nearly doubled Bloomberg’s footprint in the city as reporters and salespeople moved into a sleek waterfront place. Again, the Times:

The offices have floor-to-ceiling glass walls, natural lighting, operable windows, historic trusses and views of the bay, Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge. The development’s bayside history walk wraps around the building and boats will be able to pull up to the dock.

And, true, it’s all there–ferries docked below the desks, stunning bay views, and the lavatory is positively space-aged. One analyst suggested they got a great deal, saying:

“I feel anyone who has not locked up their space for the next couple of years should do so because rents are going higher,” she said. “In recent years, there has been a move to get away from fancy offices, particularly among the law firms. We seem to have passed that.”

What a long, strange trip it’s been. Eighteen months later, San Francisco, while not lacking for lawyers, might have fewer than expected after the collapse of Heller Ehrman and Thelen; and a casual glance at rental rates shows even for Class A office space as low as $25, suggesting that now might be the time to lock up space for the next couple of years.


I wish I had a photo of the Bloomberg office to show you. Scores of twinned screen Bloomberg terminals in long rows, all facing Treasure Island; a glass-walled conference room, full of more twin-screened terminals facing a pair of large screens embedded into the wall; a full, free cafe with coffee, juice, and cappuccino machines, fresh fruit, and rotating silver snack stands full of Kettle Chips and Swedish fish. This is the life, no? Still, during the hours I was there, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in a supervillain’s lair, the control room from which a plot for global domination is hatched and executed. All that was missing was the classic Mercator projection map of the planet, outsized letters spelling SPECTRE, and, of course, Ernst Stavro Blofeld in one of his various guises, along with his fluffy cat.

anticipation, irony, journalism, San Francisco

Chronicle of a Death Foretold?

This little news piece from 1981 is making the rounds. As the reporter notes, “this is only the first step in newspapers by computer”:

So many things to love here:

  • the “estimated two to three thousand home computer owners in the Bay Area”
  • the newspaper guy saying “and we’re not in it to make money. We’re probably not going to lose a lot, but we’re not going to make much either.”
  • that the newspaper vendor is safe in his job, “for the moment”
  • that the reporter could be seen as believing it’s just the vendor who has to be worried
  • or maybe just that these two minutes of reportage, seen from a contemporary perspective, are shot through with a dreadful kind of irony.

Welcome to the future.

San Francisco

Back to San Francisco

ocean beach

In San Francisco this week, and back for a while, I think. I spent a chunk of November traveling: the Upper Valley in New Hampshire, Boston, and New York City. In the process, I accumulated a good amount of material, some of which will appear here.

It’s easy to get frustrated with San Francisco, particularly its tendency to be costly (in many respects). But the food is good, the air is clean, and the weather—today it was nearly 70 degrees, and we caught a nice sunset at Ocean Beach, a few minutes before five o’clock. Here, sometimes, there is a kind of quality of living that shouldn’t be overlooked.

San Francisco

The Martial, Ubiquitous

Last week was Fleet Week in San Francisco. The most obvious element is the weekend air show, featuring the Blue Angels.

I grew up among martial displays–air shows, uniforms, decommissioned jets and other combat vehicles sprinkled around military installations like garden statues. But I still get a kind of thrill seeing the Blue Angels and other military aircraft buzz the city. No doubt they do, too. Granted, there is also the creepy realization, tugging from the inner spaces of the mind, that remind me that in many places over the last century, a plane flying low overhead was reason for fear.


Still, the jets aren’t a constant presence, though it sounds like it as they practice their runs. This can be contrasted with a short video inspired by San Francisco’s Fleet Week that made its way around the internet last August. An exercise in motion-tracking in the service of some kind of geek fantasy, we find a montage of vérité-style clips from a San Francisco occupied by the Galactic Empire.

journalism, San Francisco

Matthews calls it.

Not the primary. Chris Matthews on why San Francisco isn’t a newspaper town:

“It looks like an Eastern city,” he says. “But it’s pretty hard for people to read newspapers when they’re riding a bike.”

From last Sunday’s Times Magazine profile of Matthews. One of the funnier pieces of reporting I’ve read in any magazine. Mark Leibovich does great work. 

ridiculousness, San Francisco

Everybody wins.

So I missed the big event in San Francisco today due to other commitments. But I’ve been hearing things over the ether. I’ve heard that the protest groups say they succeeded by creating such a ruckus that Mayor Newsom and the Chinese organizers had to sneak the torch onto a completely new route (supposedly at the last minute). Fair enough. But then again, the Chinese government has a great photo-op courtesy, it seems, of Newsom and Co.: a pleasant jaunt through beautiful San Francisco, ending up at the Golden Gate Bridge. Everybody wins.

Except, maybe, for those people who wanted to see the torch, no matter what their political inclinations. The papers found a few of them, all disappointed.

Good hustle, everybody.

development, dissipation, lost, San Francisco

The crashing down.

There are several interesting stories coming out of the crane accident in New York City. One was Susan Dominus’s portrait of the typical scene at Fubar, which occupied the ground floor of the destroyed townhouse on East 50th. Although the occupations of the regulars comes as a surprise (advertising, television cameraman, programmer) and doesn’t exactly square with the vision of a neighborhood bar, remember, this is Manhattan, not Boston circa 1982. Not too many house—painters or mailmen in that crowd, anymore.

But what I found particularly resonant were points like these:

And yet for the people who live there, it’s an unusually tight-knit neighborhood, filled with longtime residents who experience the city as a place to live, not a stage set designed to highlight Manhattan’s millennial glamour. . .

It’s hard to miss the symbolism: Old-time neighborhood hangout literally crushed by the force of development run amok.

These sentiments are so resonant because they are so relevant. This is San Francisco, too.

San Francisco is my first city. I moved here about six years ago (six years, one month, six days), and though I arrived at a relatively more affordable time, post dot-com burst, I still felt ten years too late. No doubt I engage in some idealization—San Francisco as a working city, where dock-workers actually live and work, same for skilled tradesmen and artisans; where commercial fisherman tie up at Fisherman’s Wharf (see the opening of Gay Talese’s “Silent Season of a Hero”). Even that exercise in anomie and post-modernism The Crying of Lot 49 made San Francisco seem more real, less posed. But that’s all gone. The smithy on Rincon Hill, if it exists anymore, is nothing but an anachronism, shorthand for lazy Chron reporters and lazy so-called-blog writers. I have friends moving into the goliath tower, nearly complete, at the top of Rincon Hill, the one that hulks over the approach to the Bay Bridge and interrupts the San Francisco skyline like an obnoxious interlocutor making his most onerous demand first—and getting it. “In five years, it’s going to look like New York,” one new resident of that tower told the Chronicle. He also said:

“Some people want to live in a funky Victorian until they see this,” he said. “I think San Francisco has changed and it’s changing faster.”

“I represent the new guard.”

The new guard.

And it was about six years ago—when I got to know parts of the city by walking through it each weekend—six years ago when I stepped into Vesuvio, the bar with the famously literary pedigree. And, sure, it trades on that reputation, the Kerouac and red wine mystique next door to City Lights. And, yes, that tends to attract the tourist crowd and those who, in Ms. Dominus’s words, want the city to be a stage set. But not always.

I ducked in there on a Sunday afternoon, seeking escape, profoundly self-conscious from walking alone through North Beach’s jazz festival. There was a guy named Bruce at the bar, who kind of looked like Dave Barry, talking to his friend Jack (Jack the Hat), who was tending the bar. We talked about how expensive it was anymore. And I bought Bruce a beer, and asked how the city had changed in the 30 years he and Jack had lived here, and Bruce said there was all kind of change but these days the thing is that everywhere you go there are frat guys. Just everywhere. They ruin every cool bar, every event. We talked a little more before Bruce left. I ordered another drink and talked to Jack. And wouldn’t you know, a few minutes later the festival let out and in poured a bunch of guys wearing board shorts and pink polo shirts with upturned collars and visors and flip-flops with beautiful bouncing girlfriends clamoring for attention. The frat guys were upon us. So I let Jack get to work and finished my beer and made to settle up and Jack said, forget it, no charge.

beach, energy, environment, journalism, San Francisco, unfortunate

Bunker Fuel? What?

In my last post, I mentioned that the spill isn’t just oil, but bunker fuel. What’s bunker fuel?

It’s the stuff that runs big engines, like in an oil tanker or cargo ship. And it’s cheap, which is why these high volume users use it.

Last year, I interviewed Dave Culp, an engineer who designs ship sails (he started Kiteship), and we talked a little about bunker fuel. According to him, this is residual fuel–stuff that’s “left over after everything’s distilled out of crude. So sulfur, palladium, iron, even sand stays in the stuff that gets sold and burned in these ships. There’s 900 times as much sulfur in a gallon of residual fuel than in gasoline.”

“But ships don’t really have a choice because the industry is built around this cheap, plentiful fuel source,” he added.

It’s highly viscous. Imagine this thick, black, grainy shit. That’s what’s out there, in addition to the lighter gas or oil that’s slicking on the surface and covering the birds. Sfist is doing a good job of updating what’s happening on the beaches, where I’ve not made it yet. But I figure that’s what has washed up on shore, as seen in this photo from Sfist:

clump of oil

consumption, energy, environment, San Francisco

Lights Out, San Francisco

Lights Out San FranciscoKeep your eyes open for an hour of voluntary darkness in San Francisco Saturday night. A “citywide conservation event” is scheduled from 8 to 9 p.m.; organizers from Lights Out San Francisco ask that all unessential lights be turned off during this time. Restaurants will serve by candlelight. They are getting a lot of attention.

In 1962, the people of Perth, Australia, turned on all their lights at the same time to say hello to John Glenn floating by in his Mercury.

crime, dissipation, journalism, life, San Francisco, talent, unfortunate


In June, the Chronicle ran a good story about a woman who discovered—and pursued—the person who had stolen her identity. It is engaging to read and a lucky score for the Chronicle, a story like that, one that unfolds cinematically and neatly. There are advantages to being the only show in town, as far as full-fledged newspapers are concerned. Where else might we have heard this story, if not the Chronicle? The Examiner wouldn’t set aside the column space to do the story justice; local television wouldn’t have the minutes to spare; the blogs have to deal with the dumb rule that everything has to be short; and, frankly, there are no magazines in town that would have managed to fit the story into their pages–it’s not “big” enough to warrant a feature, but too long to cram into a short front-of-the-book piece (although, if following the trail of the identity thief meant you stopped at The City’s 10 Best Places to Eat/Shop/Fall in Love, things might be different).

Maybe there’s room for some other kind of publication that could produce stories like this.

It was written by Mike Weiss. Three months earlier, Weiss wrote about a waitress and bartender who stopped a man from drugging his date. But Weiss doesn’t only write about regular people outwitting the criminal element. He’s one of the best features writers at the Chronicle, possibly the best. He certainly seemed to have free reign for a reporter. His beat covered a little of everything in the Bay Area: San Francisco General Hospital, Gavin Newsom, passion, unsolved crime, solved crime, ash scattering, casualty notification officers, intelligent design, and Duarte’s olallieberry pies, among other things.  In short, he wrote what we vaguely call human interest stories, what editors even more vaguely call enterprise reporting, but what anyone who wants to be a reporter and actually likes to write dreams of getting paid to do–the closest thing around to the old Joseph Mitchell kind of reporting, the closest to the full-steam-ahead Talk of the Town piece.

So should it have come as a surprise that he’s part of the Chronicle‘s Summertime 2007 housecleaning?  Maybe not, but it’s too bad for those who bother to read what’s left of the Chronicle.

Frances Dinkelspiel posted a list of what appears to be all the staff who are leaving the Chronicle this summer. Besides Weiss, some of the others who I’m disappointed to see go include Anna Badkhen (now at the Globe), David Lazarus (going to the LA Times), Keay Davidson, Edward Epstein, Glen Martin, and what looks to be a significant chunk of the photo staff.

Only Catherine Bigelow and David Lazarus really got to say goodbye to their readers, through their columns. Mike Weiss used to have a column, too. And for that, he wrote his own farewell, six years ago. But there was an earlier column, on the 10th anniversary of the 1989 earthquake. He was in Candlestick Park when it struck. He wrote that all in attendance cheered when it was over. It was about close calls and survival.

“We had an opportunity to show what we were made of,” he wrote, “and we did. San Francisco survived to bicker another day. You and I are alive. It doesn’t get any better.”

The whole list after the jump. Continue reading

crime, money, really?, San Francisco, unfortunate

The Car, Broken Into

The Chronicle‘s Matier and Ross reported this morning that California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s official car was broken into recently. It was parked in San Francisco’s Civic Center, “Right across from City Hall, in plain view of the mayor’s office,” he told the Chronicle.

Nearly everyone I know who owns a car in San Francisco has a story about a break-in. At an Easter dinner a few years ago, one of the guests was a customs officer who had been robbed several times. Once his car had been broken into, the hits kept coming. Anecdotally, that seems to be a common story: the same car is often targeted repeatedly. And shabbier cars may be more commonly robbed because they are an easier mark, compared to a more expensive and better protected Mercedes–at least, only the shabby cars have signs asking would-be robbers not to choose them and announcing that there is nothing of value inside. But the customs officer’s favorite detail was that the thieves took everything–bad CDs, even family photos–except for the books. In every instance, there was the same box of books and it was always passed over by the robbers.

A college classmate visiting from out of town was at that dinner. He was driving through California. Of course we discovered that his SUV had been broken into during our dinner. Whoever broke in took a sleeping pad, the kind you roll out while camping, but not the rather expensive-looking skis that were in the vehicle.  The customs officer noted that it would look too suspicious if a junkie were seen carrying skis around the city.

And so it was that a couple of weeks ago, the week before I left for China, somebody broke into Alisa’s car. It was parked on our street, just two doors down from our house. We would not have realized it so soon, but a neighbor knocked on our door and asked if the afflicted car was ours.

We cleaned up the car by about 1 a.m. and drove down to the SFPD’s Mission Station, where the desk officer was profoundly unmoved by the situation. He tried to dissuade us from making any report. But Alisa insisted on at least producing some record of the break-in.

After hearing so many stories of car break-ins, I wondered if there were any statistics available for San Francisco. But I didn’t bother to investigate as my China trip loomed.

But now Matier and Ross have done the investigating for me. They write:

According to police statistics, so far this year, thieves have broken into cars in San Francisco an average of 32 times a day.

“That’s unacceptable,” said mayoral spokesman Nathan Ballard, “but it does show a 28 percent drop from last year,” when cars were being busted into 43 times a day.

“That said, we are sorry about what happened to the attorney general,” Ballard said.

So 32 by 365 (assuming the average does not change for the rest of this year) predicts 11,680 break-ins for 2007 (compared to 15,695 last year).


The next morning I called three places to get an estimate for repairing the broken window (front passenger side window). The first, A-1 Glass in the Bayview, estimated about $145, including installation. The second, Glass Pro, across from the Hall of Justice, said it would be $215, but I could get a discount to $178. The woman on the other end then asked me if I’d checked anywhere else. A-1 quoted me at $145, I said. We’ll do it for $140, she replied, immediately. This is exactly what the reviewers at Yelp said would happen at Glass Pro. I then called Karry’s Auto Body. He didn’t have the price on hand because he has to check with the supplier. He called me back after about three minutes and said it would be $146, including installation. He seemed trustworthy enough, without having to resort to fake discounts; plus his place was more convenient for me, so that’s where we went.