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Friday ---------

The last time I drove past the lake that separates San Francisco from the peninsula below it, I was heading out of town in the back of a cab at five in the morning. The sun hadn't come up yet, and a glowing red sign on the Unisys building beside the road was the last thing I saw before I spiraled up and away in a plane bound for New Jersey. When I looked out the plane window, I saw the huge building South of Market where I worked dwindling away to nothing, and I felt a door close behind me.

Now, I'm sitting in an airport shuttle with eight other travelers, heading north past the lake again. I look around for the Unisys building, but I can't find it. I imagine a lot of things will be different this time around.

Last time, it was the summer of 1996. Dot-com was a new-sounding term, and an undercurrent of excitement pervaded the city like a live wire. It seemed that any conversation you started, anywhere you happened to be, would eventually come round to technology. People really believed they could change the world -- and their world was changing all around them, so there was no reason to doubt it.

The mood is different now, even in the airport shuttle. When I climbed in, an old man was talking about Nokia stock, which has plunged precipitously from its peak. A young woman in a black shirt turned around and chimed in, "Everything's down."

We're driving straight toward the China Basin building, where I interned five years earlier in the heady startup days. For a moment, I feel like I am missing my stop. If I get off here, I think, I could take the elevator up and walk right into work. I notice the same old vacant lot on my left, and a new baseball stadium on the right. Then we turn left onto Third Street, and I see that my favorite lunch haunt has been replaced by a McDonald's, although the trendy Primo Patio Cafe still holds the fort across the street.

I get off the shuttle at Market Street and walk as directed to my old employer's new home. Inside the building, I wait for the security guard to stop me, an obvious impostor with my carry-on bag, but I go unchallenged past his desk to the elevators. My stomach twists. What the hell do I think I am doing? The elevator doors slide open, and I step out.

It looks different, of course. Much bigger, with many more employees and a vastly hipper vibe than the small, staid offices South of Market. I wander aimlessly, introducing myself awkwardly a few times, until I see someone I know. He returns my wave but doesn't recognize me. Somewhere between eager intern and in-progress adult, I've changed a lot.

I talk myself out of leaving -- but only just -- and decide to re-introduce myself. Once identified, I am warmly greeted. Eventually, I'm glad I didn't leave right away, though they've changed as much as I have. Still good, but different. Strange, unknown.

I get lost on my way to the MUNI stop. By the time I realize I've gone the wrong way, I'm five blocks east of Stockton Street and have to ask for directions. When I finally get on the bus, I'm relieved to collapse into a seat and stare out the window as Chinatown passes, and North Beach with its park that is a lot smaller than I remembered. I struggle to remember street names and sequences as we drive through the Marina. I pull out my map and decide to look like a tourist.

The hotel is right where the map and my fuzzy brain tell me it should be, on the corner of Lombard and Buchanan. I think it is the same hotel my mom stayed at when she flew out to San Francisco with me five years ago, but I can't say for sure, even though that's why I chose it. She wanted to help me get settled and make sure I wasn't living in a rathole.

I wasn't. I hike up Union Street toward Scott Street after checking in at the hotel. The buildings around here qualify as mansions, well kept and near a crowd of shops and restaurants. I walk up Scott Street, exhausted by the climb, and find the building after a moment of uncertainty. It's nicer than I remembered, with marble steps and wrought metal covering a glass door.

When I try the knob, it's locked. I peer through the grating and see it is just as I pictured it, but darkened, with no desk visible in the front room. In the back of the house, I can see the kitchen, where we would all eat breakfast and dinner together, Mondays through Fridays, included in the rent. The big marble staircase curves up to the right. It seems deserted. I am here at the wrong time, perhaps, and no one is passing through the lobby. Business hours may be over. I walk down the steps and back to Union Street. I had wanted to see my old room.

As I walk down Union, I see small changes. A for-rent sign here -- unheard-of in the days of jam-packed apartment showings -- a vacant shop there. When I reach my favorite dessert place, Bepples Pies, it isn't there. A friendly waiter at next-door Perry's tells me it closed about a year ago.

I can't go back to the hotel without finding something I remember, so I walk down to Chestnut Street, where my friend Kyle and I met up for a movie and ice cream. Like a one-two punch, there they are -- the movie theater and the Ben & Jerry's -- so I stop in for an ice cream and a limeade, and then I can go to sleep.

Saturday ----------

I feel less like a stranger today, more in balance, when I board the bus from my hotel to North Beach. When I get off at my stop, there's an art show going on in the park, so I meander past some paintings on my way to Grant Street, where I expect to find a great breakfast and maybe even an early-morning gelato.

But Grant Street is depressing. Homeless men sit on steps, and vacant storefronts are plentiful. I step into a vintage clothing store to browse but am accosted by the Russian proprietress as I pull a shirt out of a tightly bunched rack. "Let me do that for you," she says. I assure her I am being careful, but she pulls the hanger out of my hand as I try to replace the shirt. "Is too tight, you will never get it in," she says. "Can I help you find something?" I tell her I'm just browsing. "Browsing here is quite impossible," she says. I wish her a pleasant day and leave before I am kicked out.

Hoping for better luck on Columbus, I head west. Almost immediately, I find Caffe Greco, where I ate once before, and have the great breakfast I was looking for. For the first time, I feel like I am home.

Afterward, I visit City Lights bookstore and find that I like it even more than I used to. I buy "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- how could anyone *not* buy a book called "Love in the Time of Cholera"? -- and wonder if I will run into any old acquaintances, but most of them are gone, too.

I walk back to Grant and pass Chinatown shops selling tourist junk and others selling unidentified objects. I stop in an art store and buy a wedding card for two friends. It's cheap until the cashier gives me too much change. I hold out the four dollars she gave me and tell her to take one; she grabs three and refuses to return any. I give up and leave the store, laughing. She tells me I am very nice.

Down Grant beyond Market to the SFMoMA, a place I always intended to visit but never actually did. I spend a few good hours wandering around the museum, then buy an Ansel Adams print without thinking about how I will get it on the plane.

I walk toward Nob Hill, planning to catch the bus, but I feel great, so I keep walking all the way back to the hotel, stopping along the way for Swensen's ice cream (Swiss Orange Chip) and Jamba Juice (strawberry tsunami with protein boost). Once I get there, my feet hurt and I'm tired, but I feel an urge not to waste time, to keep moving.

I decide to try my old apartment again. I go up the hill, and this time there's a car parked in the driveway. No one answers the doorbell, though, and the front room is dark and quiet, although two newspapers lie on the table just inside the door.

I turn toward the Presidio and then down to the Marina. Two weddings are in progress at the Palace of Fine Arts -- the only remnants of San Francisco's World's Fair -- but other tourists are streaming past, so I join the flow of people and remember when I was new here. Then I'm hungry, so I grab dinner and head back to my hotel.

Sunday ---------

When my wake-up call comes, I've actually gotten enough sleep. I get dressed and walk toward the church that's a block away from where I used to live. The streets are almost deserted. A few cars, flowers, a light breeze, and the occasional pedestrian walking past closed shops.

When I get to the church, I can't seem to find the door, and when I do find one that looks promising, it's locked. Maybe I am just here at the wrong time. I see a couple of black-clad clergymen, old as always, in the parking lot as I turn the corner and leave.

I'm passing Rose's Cafe for the umpteenth time when I decide to stop. I order french toast with strawberries and cream, and silver needles tea, and watch the city wake up at an outdoor table. I realize this is an easy city to sink into. It would be very easy to stay.

I go back to the hotel. I call a cab and sit in the lobby, watching people check in and out. When the car arrives, I climb in and leave the city behind. I still don't know if I really have.

Stephanie Losi




San Francisco's mayor Willie Brown is one of the strangest dichotomies in the liberal capital of the U.S. Okay, technically the über-liberal distinction goes to Berkeley, but it definitely rubs off on the whole Bay Area. While most San Franciscans consider themselves progressive, somewhat socialist-minded reformers, Willie Brown stands as a testament to old-school political cronyism and fat-cat politics.

Living in a world-renowned city that suffers serious infrastructure problems (public transit, for example, which continues to suffer unexpected shutdowns) and a shocking homelessness rate can be unsettling, especially when, like me, you run a walking tour of the city and are constantly asked difficult questions on these topics. So seeing the mayor chauffeured around in his limousine and beam as he describes the city's "glorious opera house" and the $293 million dollar renovation to his office in City Hall rankles just a bit.

He's been accused of all sorts of wrongdoing, especially along the lines of paying back campaign contributors with lucrative government contracts, and these accusations have lead to calls for his impeachment from time to time.

One day last April, as I was jogging along the edge of a cliff in Australia, I chanced to overtake someone who was wearing an "Impeach Willie Brown" tee shirt. In my breathless state, I managed to blurt out "Nice tee shirt!" in such a sudden and ill-volumed manner that I nearly scared the shirt-wearer right over the side of the cliff.

At any rate, it can truly be said that Willie Brown's misdeeds are known all over the world. He's stolen so much from San Francisco - and last week he tried to steal my walking tour.

I routinely take my walking tour into the City Hall building because it is architecturally ludicrous and makes for good photos. This time, as my group was standing in the foyer below the building's huge dome, Willie Brown happened to be loitering nearby. I paid him no mind. But he approached a few members of my tour group and chummed it up with them. To my great amusement, they merely glanced at him, then went back to staring at the ceiling.

They totally dis'd the mayor. Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Bwah ha ha ha ha! Ha.

Ken Vollmer




Fishing by Tom Peck

The lateness of the afternoon is growing fast upon the day. Everyone is frantic to flee the city, but me and a select number of others. We are fishing, and I, like the others around me are fishing for deep poolers and long runners in the financial district. Drifting down one canyon or another, we are always on the alert for that special fish, careful not to cast too soon and catch a juvenile that will only play out in some quite backwater neighborhood. The fish that we're hoping to catch will play for miles before we release him back to the stream, or to the big bird that will feast on him further. An ethical fisherman will land any fish that makes its way to their boat, where others will not, but I personally heed to the law that says "Failure to Convey" is just too steep of a price to pay. Unless I'm waiting for a particular fish that has called specifically for my boat, I will land him, and play him out to wherever he may wish to go. Sometimes I've had to batten down the hatches and lock the doors to keep unwanted fish out of my boat while anchored stationary and waiting patiently for my fish to emerge. Occasionally the fish that I desire may in fact be a juvenile, sparring with an old resident deep pooler, wanting to strike out at me as much as I want to cast to him. Or it could be a deep pooler himself, down from his lair looking for a boat that is worthy of him. At times such as these, you must give pause, instill worthiness, look them both in the eye, and wait for one of them to take you as the bait.

Tom Peck: San Francisco Taxi Driver

Tom Peck




Current events - part I

In an attempt to throw some variety into my routine of GapInc IT project management and weekend sailing, I recently flipped my educational resume at the San Francisco City College's fall semester. I was unceremoniously accepted but immediately launched a three-day party with close friends and strangers to celebrate the occasion.

The subsequent online registration process gave me weeks of pleasure...at work. I imagined myself in an Acting class, an Intro to Aircraft Maintenance, Zoology (harder to spell than I thought), Gay Lesbian and Bisexual studies...in short, all the fringe classes I had hoped to attend in my first go round with a voluntary, formal, education process.

Forced to meet a deadline, I settled on "Conceptual Physics" (too wonderful a title to reasonably pass up) and "Fencing 101" (You never know when you'll need to brandish a weapon...if only figuratively and if only against imaginary demons.) They both began this week and even though I feel I've always been very easily entertained, I am excited to say that I think I made some awesome choices...as fringe classes go.

ChrisM.




Physics - Mission Style

I left work early to drive to the Mission area building of the City College campus. Parking being a premium practically everywhere in San Francisco, I gave myself a little extra time. As it happened I found a spot on my first pass, in front of a boarded up theatre that was plastered with adverts and paint. I threw a quick glance at the decayed 3 story marquee and, while finding a pad and pen lost under my trucks passenger-side seat, thought how it must have looked 20 or 30 years ago. On the street directly opposite was another, slightly smaller theatre, a silent rival that looked to be from the same time past and now suffering with the same neglect.

Having secured parking, I wound my way through the closing markets and opening cocktail bars, taquerias and money lenders. The gray, nondescript building sat almost invisibly between Mission and Valencia streets...I had walked or stumbled past this spot dozens of times going from one bar to another having never realized it was a school. Now, as I worked my way past throngs of ESL students, the broken Spanish chatter of a hundred motivated immigrants announced my arrival to what was to be I was still not sure.

At 11$ per credit hour, I wasn't expecting padded leather chairs, v-neck sweaters or school mascots. In fact, as I squeezed past a middle-aged woman and young kid to an open hard plastic chair, I almost smiled as I saw that our "room" appeared to have been shoehorned into what had probably once been a closet...of some sorts. The reality of low-cost, urban public education smacked me hard and I liked it.

Current Events Part II



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{ 15 April 2005: Posting has been discontinued. }