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Archive for the tag “San Francisco”

Let Us Pause and Drink a Toast to San Francisco

San-Francisco-2“The Cool Gray City of Love”.  San Francisco, a place where the groove is easily found. Nothing like rollin’ into a hundred year old San Francisco bar with a stack of twenties and then rollin’ into a few more. A few touristy places to avoid, but I suppose it is the scent of burnished brass and smoked soaked, paneled walls that smell like so much history that is attractive to me. Let us not forget the possibility that in San Francisco one just might make a little history of their own. The night might be vigorous and savage or perhaps sanguine and solitary, but I’ve never had the feeling for San Francisco that one has for a plate of food after attempting to eat it’s less than noble contents.

Most of the physical sites in the “City” are cool (Alcatraz, Coit Tower, Lombard Street, etc), but it is the people who make up the complicated fabric that are so fascinating – their tolerance of the uneven, their embracing of the odd, and their joyful  understanding of the less fortunate and bizarre.  A couple of cases in point: Batkid  (please do not mistake for Bat Boy…long time fodder for the greasy tommyrot tabloids) and Emperor Norton .

Nov, 2013. A five-year old named Miles Scott was delivered the thrill of a lifetime thanks to the “Make -a-Wish Foundation” opvdr-bat-kid-1and the wonderfully empathetic City of San Francisco, which for a short time changed into Gotham City. Miles had suffered for the past 3 years from Leukemia which was now in remission. His greatest wish was to be Batman and the “City” and “Make-a-Wish” promised to make that come true. The effort included Miles’ own Batmobile ( a black Lamborghini), a Bat-kid-san-francisco-event-viralpersonal call from S.F. Police Chief Greg Suhr for help, the apprehension of the Riddler, and a flash mob involving hundreds of people in Union Square alerting Batkid to the fact that the PenguinMiles had kidnapped Lou Seal, The S.F. Giants mascot. Batkid then chased the Penguin around AT&T Park, rescued Lou Seal, thus earning a chocolate key to the city which was presented at City Hall before thousands of onlookers.  All of these exploits were covered on live television and written about in the “Gotham City Chronicle” with the top stories penned by Clark Kent and Lois Lane. I just can’t see all this happening in the City of Fallen Angels…

His-Imperial-Majesty-Emperor-Norton-I-portrait-cropJoshua Abraham Norton, came from England to San Francisco in 1849 with $40 grand – ready to make it big. He had early success playing the real estate game, but in an effort to try to corner the rice market he lost all his dough, his pad, and apparently his marbles. He fled San Francisco in a terrible state, but returned to the “City” in 1859 with a very different mind-set.  Josh Norton was no longer Josh Norton – he was now Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I, Emperor of the United States and emperor-nortonProtector of Mexico. Immediately the city of San Francisco opened its arms to the Emperor’s eccentric “Imperial” behavior which consisted of the issuance of various decrees (the firing of the United States Congress (I concur), making the use of the word ” Frisco” a crime, demanding that the “League of Nations” be started, construction of an underwater tunnel between Oakland and San Francisco begin, and the building of the San Francisco Bay Bridge……amazing how many of these ” Decrees” came to later fruition.)   Although penniless, he 8f40839dd4ce3a681c1dbc16f8c92258regularly ate at the finest of restaurants decked in an elaborate blue uniform with gold-plated epaulets given to him by the officers of the U.S. Army  post at the Presidio. Restauranteurs took it upon themselves to add brass plaques in their entrances which read “by Appointment to His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Norton ! of the United States.”  Such “Imperial Seals” were much sought after and were a substantial boost of groove to the restaurants. No play or musical performance would dare to open without IMG_6212reserving balcony seats for Norton. In 1867 , a policeman without a clue arrested Norton to commit him to involuntary treatment at a mental facility. The Emperor’s arrest outraged the citizens of the fair city and sparked scathing editorials. The Police chief Pat Crowley ordered Norton released and issued a formal apology.  Norton, with a bow and a sweep of the hand granted an “Imperial Pardon” to the errant policeman.  After this incident, all S.F. policemen saluted the Emperor as he strolled inspecting the condition of the sidewalks, cable cars, and the appearance of Police officers. The 1870 U.S. census lists Joshua Norton “as 50 years old and residing at 624 Commercial Street; occupation “Emperor.”

Norton-0021The Emperor called it a day January 8th, 1880 and by the good graces of the Pacific Club of San Francisco, Norton was laid to rest in a rosewood casket and buried at the Masonic Cemetery. The San Francisco Chronicle reported “…all classes from capitalists to pauper, the clergyman to the pickpocket, well dressed ladies and those whose drab grab and bearing hinted of a social outcast” lined the street to say goodbye to the Emperor. Some accounts say up to 30,000 were there to sayjoshua-emperor-norton-i-norton-1 adieu. Isobel Osbourne, in her book The Life I’ve Loved wrote “Norton was a gentle and kindly man, and fortunately found himself in the friendliest and most sentimental city in the world, the idea being let him be the emperor if he wants to. San Francisco played the game with him.”

There are good times in San Francisco and you don’t have to look too hard to find them. The waiters are not plastic actors in waiting, but actual waiters and there is decent value in their cocktails. Dress and act like Batkid or Emperor Norton and no one will bother you. It fact, they will probably smile and buy you multiple drinks. Just don’t call it “Frisco” or you will pay dearly for your egregious crime. Groove.

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Go to Heaven for the Climate. Go to Hell for the Company

It was 1861 and the Civil War was beginning it’s bloody boil.  Because of the conflict, Samuel L. Clemens (aka Mark Twain) was forced to give up his life as a steamboat Captain seeing how the Mississippi was closed to peace time traffic.  In New Orleans, when Louisiana seceded Sam returned to Hannibal, Missouri where he joined a local group of Confederate militia.  Two weeks of running around the woods of Missouri were more than enough for Second Lieutenant Clemens, whose commitment to the cause was less than noble, but honest to himself.  “I was incapacitated by fatigue through persistent retreating” he later joked. For the rest of the war he was far away from any fighting which suited Sam just fine.

Hangovers are rough stuff and we all have different methods for their demise.  Some prefer saunas or

Montgomery Block steam bath

Montgomery Block

steam baths, some choose rigorous labor or exercise, while I prefer to consume deep fried foods, more alcohol and to move as little as possible for fear of upsetting my delicate composition and balance.  On a rainy San Francisco day in June 1863 halfway through a 2 month stay in San Francisco that stretched into 3 years, Sam chose to battle his heavy hangover at  the steam rooms of the fashionable Montgomery Block, also known as the Monkey Block. When built in 1853 the four story structure was the tallest building west of the Mississippi and was the home and work place for hundreds of writers, lawyers and painters for over 100 years.  Those who spent time there include Jack London, George Sterling, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling,  Ambrose Bierce, Bret Harte, Dorothea Lange, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo. The building bested the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, but couldn’t stop the bulldozers which toppled it in 1959 and is now home to the Transamerica Pyramid.

So anyway, there is Mark Twain with a mountainous hangover in the steam room, overhearing a conversation from a gentleman covered in soot.  Turns out that the  stout round faced gent was a customs inspector, volunteer The Real Tom Sawyerfireman, special policeman and bona fide hero by the name of Tom Sawyer.  Tom and Mark soon became great friends and patrolled the bars and gambling joints of San Francisco acquiring the best of hangovers and losing copious amounts of money, but having the time of their lives.  Sawyer remembered  “He beat the record for lyin’ — nobody was in a race with him there.  He never had a cent.  His clothes were always ragged and he never had his hair cut or a shave since ’60. I used to give him half my wages and then he borrow from the other half, but a jollier companion and a better mate I would never want. He was a prince among men, you can bet, though I allow he was the homeliest man I ever set eyes on, Sam was.”  Throughout 1863 and into 1864 Mark Twain published unsigned stories in the “Call” newspaper. ”  They’d send him out down at the paper to write something up, Sawyer remembers, ” and he’d go up to the Blue Wing Saloon and sit around telling stories and drink

Tom Sawyer (left) at the Gotham saloon

Tom Sawyer (left) at the Gotham saloon

all day then go back to the office and write something up. Most of the times he’d get it all wrong, but it was mighty entertaining.”   Twain used to loathe working at the “Call”.   “It was awful drudgery for a lazy man and I was born lazy.  I raked the town from end to end and if there weren’t no fires to report I’d start one.” Twain said.

Tom Sawyer earned his hero status not only for being an excellent fireman but for gallantry when a steamer “The Independence” blew it’s boilers off the Baja coast and Tom was credited with saving 90 lives at sea, 26 singlehandedly.

On September 28th, Sawyer and Twain hit the town hard.  “Mark was as sprung as I was and in a short time we owned the City,

cobblestones and all.”  Sawyer recalled. “Toward the morning Mark sobered up a bit and we got to telling yarns. The next day Mark walks up to me and puts both hands on my shoulders.  Tom, he says, I’m gonna write a book about a boy and the kind I have in mind was just about the toughest boy in the world. Tom, he was just such a boy as you must of been….How many copies will you take, Tom, half up front? ”

San Francisco

San Francisco

Mark Twain started a lecture tour which was a big deal back then, just telling stories and make people laugh. Tom sat in the front row at one of the lectures in San Francisco and his hearty laugh could be heard at all the bars on Montgomery Street.  Afterwards, Twain decided to take his leave of San Francisco and at the age of 31 he leapt into a most glorious writing and lecturing career that arguably made him the most famous American of the late 19th and early 20th century.  Tom Sawyer hugged his friend and said goodbye and despite Tom Sawyer’s wishes that his friend would come join him at his own saloon ” The Gotham,” which he owned for 21 years, they would never see each other again.

The non fictional Tom Sawyer died in 1906 – 3 1/2 years before Twain.  “Tom Sawyer, Whose Name Inspired Twain Dies at Great Age,” read the headlines of the local paper.  Sawyer’s saloon was destroyed by fire that same year.

So just think about all the authors, painters, and song writers who at this moment article-2211439-154BC992000005DC-720_306x482are creating something beautiful, sad, dangerous, ridiculous, and deeply moving about the times they have spent drinking massive amounts of alcohol with you.  Perhaps it is time for a steam bath.  Groove.

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