Monthly Archives: October 2010

Reflections on San Francisco

Let’s Go Giants, Let’s Go!

There has been talk in the news these days about how the quirkiness of San Francisco is actually shocking those who are either watching the Giants in the World Series or visiting our city in order to attend the games.  Part of me finds this amusing, yet part of it disturbs me a little.  It is true that San Francisco is a very liberal environment where freedom of expression is pretty much viewed as a God given right.  It is also true that you may see things here that disturb you at times.  You may have to think.  Isn’t it a good thing to get out of your comfort zone?  I have listed a few things you may find unsettling if you visit San Francisco:

1.  Homeless.  Yes, we do have a large number of homeless people.  It is part of the fabric of our city.    Many of them come from all over the United States because we have a milder climate and charitable people.  Some are down on their luck and can’t find employment in this economy, some have mental of physical disabilities that prevent them from keeping a job or even working through the piles of government paperwork required before they can get assistance, and some are addicted to drugs and alcohol.  Also, some are on the streets because of issues that I haven’t even listed here.  Please don’t judge our homeless; you could be there too someday with just a couple of bad business decisions or hard luck.  The homeless people are San Franciscans.  They live here, they eat here, and when they buy stuff they are also paying taxes here.  Many of the homeless have become expert recyclers.  They collect bags and bags of plastic and then sale them to recyclers driving pickups who take the bags to the centers.  The San Franciscans who are homeless are definitely doing their part in saving the environment. 

2.  Marijuana.  You may see people smoking marijuana out in the open.  If you don’t see it, you will probably smell it if you spend a few nights walking through the city.  The police will not do much about this, so don’t expect it. I’m just making you aware that it is very possible you might see or smell this drug being used if you visit San Francisco.

3.  Costumes.  It is not uncommon to see people in costume no matter what time of year.  They might be heading to a party, or they may just want to have a personal dress up day just for themselves.  It may be shocking to see Darth Vader walk down the sidewalk or a vampire, but just ask yourself why does it matter to you?  Are they really doing any harm?

4.  Nudity.  Honestly,  I saw a lot more nudity when I lived in Portland than I have ever seen in San Francisco.  For the most part, you won’t see naked people if you visit San Francisco.  These occurences are usually more limited to specific events like Folsom Street Fair, Gay Pride, or the Bay to Breakers race.

5.  Homosexuals.  Ok, yes, you will see a lot of gay people.  They may be holding hands, kissing, or sitting in a restaurant with their arms around each other.  This may shock you, but is it hurting anyone?  Whether you approve or not, this shouldn’t affect your visit to the city.  Please don’t glare or stare.  This is one of the few places in the United States where gay people can be themselves without worrying about being beat up, killed, having their house burned, or losing their job.  This may sound over dramatic, but if you read the newspapers all of these things are possible in other parts of the country.

6.  Drag Queens.  Some drag queens are transgendered and this is how they feel most comfortable presenting themselves to the world, and some do it for fun.  Some do it for charitable causes.  Whatever the reason, it can be a little shocking when you first come in contact with a cross-dresser, but please be respectful.  What does it prove to call someone names or glare?  Unless you like to chip away at other people’s self-esteem, I think demeaning anyone is fruitless.  Keep in mind that most cross-dressing men are actually heterosexuals.  How many male bosses have you had or even friends that may be wearing panties under those masculine jeans?

7.  High Real Estate Prices.  I admit, these are truly scary.  OMG!  When going on a camp out instead of reading ghost stories to scare your friends, just bring a copy of the San Francisco real estate guide.  They will wake up in a cold sweat screaming at the top of their lungs.  We are one of the most expensive markets, just behind Manhattan, N.Y.  Why are prices so high?  Because people want to live here.  It is a beautiful place to live and a nice way of life.

8.  Public Peeing.  The other day at two different times I saw people peeing against a building.  Why does this seem to happen so much?  There are very few public restrooms in the city, and some restaurants don’t have public bathrooms.  I’m still a little shocked when I see it, but I’m not going to judge them.  We could all be in that same position just because we drank that extra glass of tea at lunch.  As I said, there are very few public restrooms in this city.  

I’m not saying that it is always easy living or visiting here.  Parking is an Olympic event, cabs can be non-existent when you need them, wait time to get into a restaurant can be exhausting, and it may feel like there are people everywhere.  Sometimes this city can kick your butt and make you want to throw up your hands and run back to the Midwest with your tale between your leg.  It’s true.  It happens.  But it is at this point that you go to a cool play or join a quirky new group.  You experience a great evening with friends eating a phenomenal meal at one of the incredible restaurants in town.  You walk on the beach or stroll through Golden Gate Park.  You take a hike to Twin Peaks and look over the city toward the bay and turn around and look over the city to the beach.  You just take a deep breath and count your blessings.

This is a great city, and there is no place quite like it in America.  It is a liberal city where people can be themselves and do what they want to do without apologies to society as a whole.  It is a place of fun, frolic, imagination, and knowledge.

It is ok to be a little shocked by us.  Sometimes I’m still a little shocked too.  But don’t judge us harshly, instead just relax and enjoy this quirky little city that so many call home.




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Historical Saturday: Donaldina Cameron (1869 – 1968)

Donaldina Cameron waged a crusade against slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown during a time when most were turning a blind eye to such tings.   She dedicated herself to this cause and worked for 40 as the director of the Presbyterian Mission house.  Most of the over 2,00 women and young girls that she saved were being held as prostitutes against their will in brothels throughout Chinatown.   

Often she would charge forth with “a couple of policemen armed with axes and sledgehammers and an interpreter to locations in Chinatown where she had been tipped that a girl was being held against her will.  Employing the element of surprise, the group would break down doors if necessary to claim a usually frightened young woman, who likely as not had been hastily hidden away in a closet or under floor boards by her master.  If the girl’s keeper could not prove a filial relationship, the rescued girl would be taken back to the Mission’s home at 920 Sacramento Street.” –  Historic Walks in San Francisco

She was known as “Lo Mo or “The Mother.”  She cared and reached out a helping hand when many others just turned a blind eye.

It is easy to focus on the movers and shakers in history that created big buildings or built up huge businesses, but it is important to also remember those who worked in the trenches to relieve human suffering.  Donaldina Cameron did not make a lot of money in her lifetime, and she doesn’t have streets named after her, but her impact on San Francisco’s past and present is immeasurable.  

It may be a little cheesy, but Donaldina Cameron reminded me of one of my favorite poem which I added below:

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.

– Martin Niemoller

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Historical Saturday – The Ferry Building

San Francisco’s Ferry Building
The Giralda Bell Tower – Seville, Spain

The Ferry Building, built in 1989, was designed by A. Page Brown, a young architect who was tragically thrown from a horse just a few weeks after being contracted to design the Ferry Building.  He soon passed away, but his vision of the Ferry Building lives on because most of the plans were complete before his youthful demise.  He was only 34.

A. Page Brown was a well traveled young man who designed the Ferry Building with classical features that mirror the roman aqueduct or the Corinthian columns.  His inspiration was the Giralda Bell Tower at a cathedral in Spain.   I have included pictures of both above.  Can you see the similarities?

Amazingly, even though the Fairy Building is built on “made land,” it survived the 1906 earthquake and fire.  The main reason for it’s miraculous escape from destruction was that the U.S. Navy and city fireboats maintained a spray of saltwater on the building which was pumped from the bay.  Well, there is another question of mine answered.  Is the bay saltwater or freshwater?  Now I know.  They did this so that people could escape the burning city by ferry, and rescue workers could also bring in supplies and coordinate relief efforts from the building.

Today it is a mixed use building with offices and retail space.  On Saturday mornings it is surrounded by a large farmer’s market where you can get everything from fresh lavender to home grown beef.  It is a city landmark that can be seen from the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island.  As you stroll along Market Street, it looms ahead as a promise to the preservation of the past.  It is one of the things that says you are home.  You are in San Francisco.



Note:  Information for this post came form the book Historic Walks in San Francisco, by Rand    Richard.  It is a great read.

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You Don’t Say…..

  • Did you know that Meg Whitman has spent a total of $142 million of her own money on her campaign to become California’s next governor and is still trailing behind Jerry Brown?  (SF Gate)  
  •  After 31 years, the annual San Francisco Erotic Ball was canceled due to low ticket sales. (SF Gate)
  •  The official Vatican newspaper has declared that Homer Simpson and his family are Catholic. (CNN)

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Historical Saturdays: S.F. Cliff House History


The history of the Cliff House is both incredible and tragic. As I watch this video, I am reminded of what I heard a speaker say one time. He said, “There are no material things in your life that can’t be taken from you in a matter of minutes by a match or a natural disaster.” I think it puts everything into perspective.  

One thing I love about this video is the fashion of the time.  The Victorians sure knew how to cover everything up with layers and layers of fabric.

I hope you enjoy this post.  I think I will make Saturday’s posts historical in nature, and particularly focused on San Francisco history.  



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Smuggler’s Cove

Three nights ago I visited a great little bar in the Hayes Valley Neighborhood called Smuggler’s Cove; it looks and feels like a pirate ship inside.  We worked our way down the winding staircase to the basement where we felt like we were in the hull of a ship as we drank and socialized the night away with friends.  The drinks are “Traditional Drinks of the Caribbean Islands, classic libations of Prohibition era Havana, and exotic cocktails from legendary Tiki bars.”  Be careful though, these drinks are strong.  I only had two drinks, but I was very glad that I lived around the corner and had walked to the bar.  The drinks are good, fruity, and strong.

If you find yourself in the Hayes Valley Neighborhood, this bar is worth looking up.  Take the address with you because you won’t find it otherwise.  It is one of those places that if you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t notice it. 




Filed under San Francisco Entertainment, Smuggler's Cove