I’m back…

I know, I know…it’s been over a year since I’ve posted. What do I have to say for myself? Well, I wish it was just that life got busy or that the obligation of keeping up a blog was just too great. Sure, maybe that was part of it…but sadly, I think there was more.

I think I was growing (shudder) a bit accustomed to this bizarro “city.” The quirkiness of the public transportation system, the boldness of the homeless people and the freakish weather systems  had all slowly worn away at my resolve.

New York had slipped back into my memory as a distant place where “people were always in a rush” or “didn’t understand the quality of life we have here”.

I had foolishly convinced myself that fleece everyday wasn’t really that bad a fashion statement and that it was totally normal for a California town to drop down to 50-degrees for the entire summer. Yes, the entire summer.

And if it wasn’t for a recent experience I may have remained trapped in my Matrix-like brainwashed cloud forever…

I needed to take a taxi today.

I even used a fancy app on my iPhone to summon the taxi (everyone in San Francisco is now required to carry an iPhone).  The taxi didn’t show. No big deal I thought in my cheerfully brainwashed San Francisco state-of-mind, I’ll just head outside and flag one down

As I stood on the corner for 45-minutes trying in vain to have a taxi stop for me – alternating between futile attempts to wave down a empty cab and trying to raise a taxi service on the phone, I coincidently found this in my pocket:

I post on my BLOG!

I post on my BLOG!

A card from months ago. Evidently a relic from my last successful ride in a San Francisco taxicab. Here, staring me in the face, was the answer. The pledge that a taxi company would “answer the phone.”

That’s their motto.  This company dedicated 25% of the real estate on their business card to proudly pronounce their major competitive advantage, their distinct differentiation between all other taxi companies in the San Francisco Bay Area…

They “answer the PHONE!”

That’s like a baker pronouncing “We bake our BREAD!” Or a car wash announcing “We’ll clean your CAR!”

Those things shouldn’t be CAPITALIZED. They shouldn’t need to be called out at all. They should just be done! It’s not normal for a taxi company to need to promote that they “answer the phone.”

And with that, I once again saw this “city” with clear eyes. Like suddenly remembering a strange dream it all rushed back to me. This place is not normal at all. No my friends, San Francisco is Weird.

Sorry that I was gone for a bit. But I’m back now…

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We Got a Mutha’ F**king Blimp, Yo!

If you subscribe to the theory that a city’s coolness is directly proportional to the sheer variety of vehicular transportation options, then San Francisco is the baddest town of them all! In addition to a mind numbing variety of public transportation options (ranging from the confusing to the infuriating to the downright adorable), enterprising San Franciscans have demonstrated capitalistic genius shuttling tourons around this fair “city”.

Let’s start with the relatively cool column:

1) You can take a blimp tour in San Francisco.

Zeppelin

Our Zeppelin is Bigger than Yours

Actually, it’s a Zeppelin (metal frame), not a blimp (giant balloon) and Airship Ventures has the only one in the country. It ostensibly filled with non-flammable helium so chances of a mid-flight explosion are dramatically reduced. While it ain’t cheap (prices start at $495 per person), it’s a bargain when you consider Goodyear doesn’t even offer private citizens aerial tours of the Brooklyn Bridge.

OK, now that we’ve exhausted to the cool column, let’s look at the lame transportation offerings:
Seriously, if you have any self esteem whatsoever do not sign-up for these “city” tours:

1) Lame car-like things with obnoxiously loud GPS-guided tour

Loud and lame

Loud and lame

2) The 1990’s called and it wants its Segway back

Seglame

Seglame

3) What the quack?

Lame on land AND sea!

Lame on land AND sea!

4) Celebrating San Francisco’s… fire engine heritage?

Put on the lame siren!

Put on the lame siren!

Weird.

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Aw Shucks.

Everyone from New York knows where oysters come from: Blue Ribbon, Jacks Oyster Bar, Aqua Grill or one of another dozen-or-so delicious (and well lit) Manhattan restaurants.

Imagine my surprise then when I discovered incredibly delicious, creamy and succulent oysters in the San Francisco Bay Area! Last week friends suggested we head out of “the city” about an hour for some of the “best oysters in the world.” An hour seemed like a bit of a journey for an oyster, but “the best in world” sounded compelling and San Franciscans think nothing of jumping in their cars and heading off on an adventure.

So we packed-up and headed north on a windy and picturesque road (i.e. painfully slow with no place to stop for coffee) towards Tomales Bay. At first I was quite taken with the bay’s beautiful views, fresh air, sailboats and kayaks lazily floating on the clear water – until I learned how the bay was formed.

Spice by the Water

Spice by the Water

Funny story, but it seems that the bay is actually right above (this is my favorite part…) The San Andreas Fault! As a visual reference, imagine the bay as the space between your thumb and the rest of your hand on a right-handed mitten, except that your thumb is being steadily sheared off due to constant seismic activity!!!

And my new friends, all brain-washed San Franciscans, find nothing troubling about this! Luckily, it was about this time that we arrived at our destination, the Tomales Bay Oyster Company, and my attention was quickly diverted. I was expecting some sort of quaint restaurant. Sure, the decoration would be trite and the service obscenely friendly, but at least it would resemble a restaurant.

Oh no my friend…

You see, the Tomales Bay Oyster Company is really no more than a parking lot on the side of the road peppered with picnic tables and barbecue grills. Instead of waitresses, white wine and linen table cloths – they yank a giant bag of oysters out of the ocean (50 for $41) and hand them to you with a mimeographed pamphlet.

Ow, damn!

Ow, damn!

This place is evidently self service!?!?  And searing your own Kobe beef at a Japanese barbecue restaurant just doesn’t prepare you adequately for six-hours of oyster shucking. Note: for those of you new to the craft “shucking” evidently means “banging futilely”).

But if you’re in that “self service” kind of mood and aren’t afraid of being swept out to sea with the next tremor, the Tomales Bay Oyster Company is admittedly a lovely (and delicious) way to spend an afternoon. As long as it’s not too foggy of course.

Tomales Bay Oyster Company. 15479 Highway One, Marshall, CA 94940, Phone: (415) 663-1242. Open 8am – 6pm daily.

Posted in Things to do/see, Things to eat / drink | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Introducing: SFIW “Fog View”!

OK, I’ll occasionally talk about the fog here in San Francisco, but you’re probably wondering is it really foggy…is it really foggy today?

To address the nagging question that’s on everyone’s mind, San Francisco is Weird is thrilled to announce our newest feature: Fog View. A new toolbar option displaying daily(ish) photos from our deck looking north towards Sutro Tower (a really big radio tower on a hill near the center of the “city”).

As long as I’m here / remember, I’ll snap a photo up the hill so our readers throughout the world can get a sense of the current(ish) fog conditions. And remember, even if it doesn’t look foggy at the moment the photo was taken, just like California’s governor…it will be back.

September 24, 2009 - 9:03am

September 24, 2009 - 9:03am

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It Ain’t Sesame Street

Bisecting the (relatively) busy Northeast corner of San Francisco is one of the oddest streets in the world. While its turn-of-the-century name evokes an quaint, commerce-oriented, crafty vibe – the reality is a large, peculiar thoroughfare that illogically rips diagonally through an otherwise sensible urban-planned grid. Virtually impossible to avoid and even more difficult to navigate, San Francisco’s busiest road takes travelers on a bewildering journey from opulence, to fabulousness, to squalor and ultimately to a happy tourist wonderland.

Allow me to introduce:

One Street to Rule Them All

One Street to Rule Them All

At the actual and symbolic beginning of Market Street, resting comfortably on the North-East corner of the peninsula, is San Francisco’s much loved Ferry Building, a large, nicely renovated, well…ferry building. The Ferry Building is home to a variety of high-end shops, restaurants and fall-over-yourself famous Farmer’s Market (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday). Notable tenants include super-fancy Vietnamese restaurant Slanted Door, super-fancy oyster farmers Hog Island Oysters amd super fancy coffee brewers Blue Bottle Coffee.

Warning: often overrun with tourons, I suggest not going between the hours of when-they-open and when-they-close.

Following Market Street south-by-south-west-ish, leads you to on a fantastical journey: The first neighborhood you’ll come to is the Financial District. This is where a handful of professionals gather very early every morning so they can be on the same time zone as the rest of the world.

Next you’ll come to Union Square (no relationship to New York’s real Union Square), a shopper’s mecca where you can momentarily feel like you’re in a miniature version of a normal American city. There’s super-cute versions of pretty much every store your heart desires, including a little Apple Store, a tiny Barneys, a teacup Bloomingdale’s and many more!

After a brief respite into the depths of micro-consumerism, Market Street plunges into the Tenderloin, a neighborhood (if it deserves that distinction) that both frightens and fascinates. Drug addicts shoot heroin, smoke crack with impunity and relieve themselves on the streets while San Franciscans and visitors alike traipse through the beleaguered alleys in search of the  theaters and live music venues peppering the area.

After you escape from the Tenderloin you’ll find yourself in the Civic Center - basically an extension of the Tenderloin but with large civic buildings, opera and ballet houses replacing the tenements, theaters and music venues. A bit further on leads you through a nondescript no-mans-land before Market Street joyously enters the Castro: a 24-hours-a-day / 7-days-a-week / 365-days per year gay pride celebration! The Castro makes Chelsea look like the upper-west-side and the Christoper Street shops seem like a conservative Pottery Barn.

The Castro is also the Nepal of Market Street, the last bastion of civilization and decent weather before the street simultaneously rockets skyward and abandons all linear characteristics. At the corners of 17th and Castro, Market Street meanders up into the foothills of Twin Peaks before it disappears completely into the fog…

A fitting end to one of the world’s weirdest streets.

Next week I’ll be posting about attempting to navigate on and around Market Street. Until then, please…be careful.

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Outsized Lands

Coinciding with the hottest day of the year decade um, ever, Outside Lands rolled back into San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park today for a long weekend of music, tie-dye shirts, fancy sponsor installations, and more.
Welcome to the Windmills

Welcome to the Windmills

Festival organizers did their homework and added a number of authentic San Francisco-friendly touches to keep the good natured, eco-sensitive and dietary restricted citizens here feeling right at home…and us New Yorkers just terribly bewildered:

To get started, San Francisco’s ever-present pro-pedal group the SF Bike Collation is on-site providing free valet bike parking. (By the way, doesn’t “valet bike parking” feel a wee bit oxymoronic? Like “Pabst Blue Ribbon bottle service”. Or “professional hacky sack”. Or “clean hippie”?)

Of course there’s a human-powered-puppet-show-wagony-thingy:

Human-powered-puppet-show-wagony-thingy

Human-powered-puppet-show-wagony-thingy

And certainly all sorts of recycling:

Yay Recycling!

Yay Recycling!

I’m fine with all that (except maybe the Human-powered-puppet-show-wagony-thing), but I just couldn’t get over the healthy food-only options!* There are farmer’s market-esque stalls next to fruit smoothies and gluten-free, organic-vegan-mash and even Whole Foods has a booth!

Oh, and there’s a wine shed – a wine shed??? Come on, Pearl Jam and Tenacious D are headlining!!! Oh wait, the Dave Mathews Band is playing too? OK, I guess a wine shed make sense, but still…

Farm Stands???

Farm Stands???

Gluten-Free, blah blah

Gluten-Free, blah blah

Smoovee

Smoovee

Whole Wha?

Whole Wha?

Fancy-Pantsy

Fancy-Pantsy

Outside Lands runs through Sunday evening. Bring your own funnel cakes and a jacket (because one of these nights, mark my words, the fog will roll in and it will get cold!)

-

*Note to my fantastically literal San Francisco fact-checking fans…yes, there are also some other normalish festival foods. But there sure are a lot of healthy options, and that’s just weird.

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Bridge to Nowhere

The Other Bridge

The Other (White) Bridge

Similar to the international celebrity status of New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge gets all the press around here. And while the famous red bridge is certainly good looking (at least for the six days a year it’s not completely shrouded in fog), there’s another span that deserves some recognition of its own: The Bay Bridge.

Equally tall and eight times longer than the Golden Gate Bridge, The Bay Bridge connects the “city” of San Francisco to the hamlets of Oakland and Berkeley (imagine the illegitimate love-child of Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey).

I’m fascinated by the Bay Bridge for a few reasons:

1) It makes a pit-stop in a half-natural / half-man-made island called either Yerba Buena and/or Treasure Island. People may or may not live on this island, but there’s a marina, a few barracks of some sort and often a music and arts festival destination. Its  Governors, Randall’s and Roosevelt Islands all rolled into one, with a cyborg T-101-esque archipelago tossed-in for good measure. Loves it.

Half Island / Half Machine

Half Island / Half Machine

2) The upper deck COLLAPSED in the 1989 earthquake. Coming from the east coast, earthquakes terrify me. The roadway was subsequently fixed and re-opened a few years later, but engineers realized that it really needed a massive seismic upgrade. However, the “city” could only afford half the work, so they’re now in the process of rebuilding only the eastern span. The western span should be fine though, right? Right???

My terror about this fact is compounded because:

3) It’s hella long! Including the spans, the bridge is 8.5 miles long! Once you get on it you drive, and drive, and drive…just waiting for the shaking and swaying to start at anytime! Not cool.

4) It’s free (no toll) if you cross in a car pool of three or more people…adorable!

5) Probably due to its lack of international notoriety and difficulty reaching the center span (there’s currently no pedestrian walkway) there are only a fraction of suicides on the Bay Bridge compared to its industry leading Golden sister around the bend. However, with the planned addition of a pedestrian pathway on the newly constructed eastern span fans are hoping the Bay Bridge can someday make the big leagues!

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Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Streetcars

While most of the civilized world may have abandoned streetcars about 100 years ago, trolleys are still proudly clanking away on the roadways of Ye Olde San Francisco! Sure there are plenty of other “more convenient,” “easier,” and “faster” ways to get around the “city” (see SFIW’s Public Transportation Tutorial), but nothing quite as quaint as a good-ol fashion streetcar!

And not only has San Francisco tenaciously held onto its own fleet, but it has also seriously embraced its recycling program by acquiring and refurbishing streetcars from around the world and setting them back into public service.

So head on over to Market Street and enjoy the show! It’s like your very own daily parade of the obsolete!

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Don’t Cross (Inappropriately)!

Wait for it...

Wait for it...

Every foreign village has it’s own strange and incomprehensible customs, and San Francisco is no exception. One of the oddest, and most troubling for visiting New Yorkers are the rituals surrounding crossing the streets. Notably, that everyone here:

A) Waits for the light

B) Uses the crosswalks*

It’s truly a fascinating behavior to witness: A group of San Franciscans approach an intersection. They can see clearly for miles in both directions, and there’s not a car in sight. Hell, it may even be a part of town where there are no cars! But if the little man on the sign is red they WILL NOT CROSS THE STREET! They won’t even take a couple of steps into the road in preparation of crossing!?!?!

And when they do cross, they’ll always use the crosswalk! If you’re in the middle of a San Franciscan block and are in need of visiting a store directly across the street from you, you can’t just launch yourself into the street like a real-world game of Frogger. Oh, no…you are expected to walk to the corner, cross the street (with the light, of course) and then trek all the way back down the block. And yes, it could add minutes to your shopping day!

A Note for Drivers

The odd pedestrian customs effect your life too. Cars are expected to yield (AKA give the right-of-way) to pedestrians. San Francisco has turned the New York driving rule on its head, instead of pedestrians mustering the agility of ninjas to deftly avoid careening taxis, busses and perpetually agressive commuters, here drivers must avoid hitting pedestrians! It’s even a law!

Like intentionally bowling gutter balls or dining at a brightly lit restaurant, it just doesn’t make any sense and takes a while to get used to.

Good luck.

*Note for New Yorkers: “Crosswalks” are lines (typically white) painted on the streets near intersections.

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Bad Little Piggies

Getting Piggy Wit it!

Gettin' Piggy Wit it!

Berkeley’s Shotgun Players dares you to cross the impossibly long Bay Bridge and navigate through a maze of windy streets until you randomly stumble upon North Berkeley’s John Hinkel Park. If you survive the journey you’ll find some of the best theater I’ve seen in the Bay Area.

There, starting at 4pm every Saturday and Sunday (through September 13th), a talented and energetic cast performs a gritty interpretation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (titled simply The Farm). Indicative of New York’s Gorilla Rep (who for years has performed raw, sexy and sweaty renditions of Shakespeare in various city parks), the Shotgun Players roll, stomp and swing around a perfectly imagined deconstructed set built cleverly around the back of a box truck.

For those of you who may not remember the story, Animal Farm is a lighthearted romp through Stalin era Russia portrayed by a variety of farm animals. After a pig representing Karl Marx plants the seeds of revolution (and is subsequently carted off to the slaughter house – ouch!), three of his disciples pick up the axe and lead the farm to quasi-independence. What starts as an idyllic one-for-all-and-all-for-one society quickly denigrates into something far darker, and horribly interesting to watch.

Director Jon Tracy has done a fantastic job re-envisioning the tale and nice touches abound (one of my favorite, tattoo-like stencils on each character that simultaneously remind the audience of their role, breed and/or disposition – including “Boar,” “Swine,” “Bitch,” “Stud,” etc). The staging is inventive, and except for one too many songs (this is still San Francisco-area theater – they just can’t help themselves), I wholeheartedly recommend the show.

If you go, bring $15, a few blankets and at least one down jacket per person: They ask for a $10 donation, sell hot dogs and wine during intermission and while it’s a bit chilly in August at 4pm, it’s downright frigid by the time the show ends!

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Barneys, I Thought I Knew Ya.

It’s an time-honored New York tradition.

Once a year, well dressed New Yorkers (AKA everyone) line up (im)patiently in front of Barneys New York. When the doors are finally flung open each morning, the well-heeled crowd is instantly transformed into a mob starving fashion cannibals. Women clad in $1,200 8″ pumps desperately claw their way through unmarked cardboard boxes filled to the brim with impossibly discounted Puci scarfs. They sharply elbow their friends and strangers alike as they yank hungrily at the arms of cashmere sweaters (prices slashed to $200). Small groups of immaculately groomed men will periodically explode into Fight Club-esque brawls, the victor bloodily limping to the checkout with the lone 40R Armani Purple Label Suit tucked triumphantly under his arm.

These scenes, and many more considerably more desperate, transpire for days-on-end in the sub-basement of Barneys’ Chelsea store. Ugly florescent lights barely illuminate the racks of designer clothes, haphazardly strewn about the basement floor. A few hastily drawn cardboard signs provide little help navigating the dark, cramped space.

It’s the annual Barneys New York Warehouse Sale, transpiring just like God intended.

Which is why the inaugural visit to San Francisco is so unsettling! Following is a play-by-play about what the SF organizers did wrong:

1. Let’s start with the location: A pier in the Fort Mason Center, on the water, with the sound of sea gulls gently cawing. I mean COME ON! That’s not going to help stir people into a manic frenzy!

Way too nice

Way too nice

2. The size: Just way too big! Too much open space!

Too big

Too big

3. There’s too much light!

4. WAY too much organization!!! Not only are the racks arranged neatly by designer, but they’re also sub-divided by size!?!?!

Too big, too bright, too organized

Too big, too bright, too organized

5. And, because it’s San Francisco, people are nice, it’s not very crowded and no fights have broken out. Is nothing sacred!?!?!

Barneys New York Warehouse Sale runs through August 9th.

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The Fog.

Ye Fogge

Ye Fogge!

The third day of August, two-thousand-and-nine in the year of our lord.

Five-hundred-and-forty-six-days since I have been deposited on this strange land. While I have been documenting my encounters with the local inhabitants and their odd customs since my arrival, I have shamefully, and consciously, avoided mentioning one particular unsettling detail. Night after sleepless night I have attempted to put quill to parchment to warn ye, faithful reader, about the darkest and most treacherous symptom of this far flung “city,” but fear, confusion and a bitter chill hath kept my hand frustratingly at bay.

That is until this morn, when I could no longer bear yet another potential summer day callously plunged into darkness and cold! I have closed the shutters, latched the doors and hardened my resolve to share with you San Francisco’s darkest episode: The Fog.

Most days, The Fog creeps over hillsides and descends over the town, blanketing the “city” in thick, cold and windy haze. It inexplicably comes from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Children may be joyously playing outside. Birds might be singing their joyous songs. But then the shrieks of maidens silence all as our eyes turn upward and spy the first wisps wafting over the surrounding peaks.  After a few minutes, a massive, 100 foot tall, impenetrable wall steadily gallops on, trampling warmth and joy in its path.

Be warned! It’s often very foggy here, especially in the mornings. It may burn off in the afternoon (as the locals claim), but it may not. And even if it does. It will be back…

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