Monday, March 30, 2009

SF: Move Over, Anita Madden

In the spring it’s great fun to be a San Francisco or anywhere. First there’s March Madness, with Kentucky basketball teams crawling through the brackets. If that’s not enough, just hang around for the first of May, when Kentucky Derby rolls around.

Last year, along with several other transplanted Kentuckians, we gave our first San Francisco Derby Party. It was an amazing success, beginning with 110 % turnout from our guest list (no neighs whatsoever and several crashers) and ending with calls for an encore next year.

Well, next year has arrived, and we’ve learned a few things from our past experience. Now (more than ever) The Derby will be Done Right in San Francisco. Here’s the checklist for a new and improved event.

1) No dress code. “Come Casual” was my first instinct but last year guests jumped ship on that one and came wearing hats and pearls. Sundresses. The women looked great, too. And then there was me, casual, jeans and sneakers. This year, I too will look-- oh so fine.

2) Mint juleps at the front door. This was the plan at Derby One and it can’t be improved upon. Our friend Jane contributed her silver cups and simple syrup. Sims and I had bourbon, sugar, and crushed ice. Every party—all year long—should start with mint juleps at the front door; it’s de rigueur, however you pronounce that word.

3) Got money? Last year we failed here. Time for the draw pot! Bring on the pick pot! Half our guests came with no cash whatsoever so we financed ALL the pots. It was a bailout plan like you’ve never seen….best not to repeat that in this economic climate.

4) Study up. With a guest list that includes non-Kentuckians, as well as Irish, Asian, and Russian friends, even “win, place, and show” came up as questions. Trifecta, Perfecta, Exacta, this was all Greek to some. So this year we’ll be prepared to field questions about geldings and standing at stud. We'll have our flip charts ready.

5) Lift every voice and sing. When the strains of “My Old Kentucky Home” resound through Churchill Downs, the group at home must rise and sing at the top of their lungs. No excuses, no Millie Vanillie. Not last year, not this year.

6) Abandon the calorie count. Cheese grits, country ham and beaten biscuits, corn pudding, bourbon pie. Chocolate. Bread pudding. Asparagus and strawberries. Last year we had ample samples of the Basic Southern Food Groups: sugar, lard, salt, and whiskey. This year, more of the same—with red roses on the table and the Bluegrass State’s best, if not healthiest, dishes all around.

So yes, Anita…with a little tweaking we too can do it right.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Over on Fillmore Street preening
behind plate glass, the sepia-toned
photos in designer lofts,
a brides' bouquet.

They take on airs.

Callas are all created equal,
but thrive in stratified society.
Those in the park: slumdogs
bunched in drainage ditches
or sweet as white birds
in hills of tangled eucalyptus.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

No Parking. Anywhere.

Never am I more homesick as when I try to find a parking place in San Francisco. A bad parking day in Clinton is when you can’t park at the door of Greg’s market and have to settle for a space closer to the ice machine. Or when a log truck is making a left at the stop light and the prime spot at the courthouse steps is blocked. There are no parking meters in Clinton, just happy, welcoming parking opportunities.

It’s not quite the same in SF. In the first six months of living in the city, I got four parking tickets. OK, maybe five. The first was for parking on the street in front of our house on a street-cleaning day. Our garage was full of boxes and the logical answer was to slide into the space in front of the house. I forgot to read–-or should we say–-interpret the “when you can park here” sign.
Parking tickets in San Francisco are $50.00 across the board, even if you run toward the Despised Meter Person with a fist full of quarters. So next time I needed to park on the street I remembered vividly: Thursday is street cleaning day on 21st Avenue. I had learned my lesson. It was a Friday, so I confidently pulled into a space across the street from our house.

When I came out, I was greeted by a slender white envelope neatly tucked under the windshield wiper. Street cleaning day on 21st is on Thursday on our side of the street, but Friday is Cleaning Morn on the other side.

We have a new rule of thumb on parking. If there is a space available, it is likely illegal to park there. A quarter buys you 12 minutes of parking time most places. If the parking meter is yellow, it’s a loading zone, not for you. If the meter is green, there is a 30 minute limit on parking. This means that no matter how many times you feed the meter, if your car stays parked in that space more than 30 minutes, you will probably be ticketed. The Meter Readers have their ways of knowing.

Our neighborhood is crawling with these little gendarmes. They drive golf-cart sized Meter Mobiles, and peer from their open windows in all directions, hoping to catch someone double parked in front of Viet Nam Cleaner, or with an empty meter at Royal Coffee Ground.

While taking Cleo on a dog-therapy visit to the VA Hospital on Clement I found a space walking distance from the hospital entrance. Magically there were no meters in sight. Returning from my stay, I was all aglow from Dog Based Ministry. This time I had parked in a permit-only space. There were no signs informing me of this, only a “white” mark on the curb. This stripe hadn’t been repainted in my lifetime, and furthermore it was obscured by moss and trash.

Our garage is at sidewalk level so there’s no parking in our own driveway unless you leave adequate space for a walker to pass between garage door and car. Everybody in our hood is aware of this San Francisco quirk, and we leave space accordingly. One morning each resident on our street who parked this way got a wake-up call in the form of a ticket. While we were sleeping the city changed the parking at all in driveways.

After so many tickets I confided to my husband that I was afraid, as a repeat offender, I might be arrested and hauled into traffic court. I might have to wear an orange suit, not my best color. Have no fear, he said. Bad parking means good things for QuakeVille. I was helping keep Fog City in the black. If that’s the case, then I am San Francisco's new best friend.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

SF: American Spoken Here

It's like shopping in an elevator. The Richmond Market is so tight, so crowded, there's no option but to squeeze through single file. Yellow and red peppers are heaped in crates on the sidewalk. Edge inside the garage-like door for apples and oranges, mangoes and grapes. You’ll be swept with the tide past pita bread and couscous. Make a u-turn at the back of the store to reach for sweet onions, potatoes, and broccoli. Once on your way, there's no turning back.

This is our neighborhood shopping hub. Walking distance from home and cheaper than the chain stores, the Richmond Market on Geary offers fresh but second-class vegetables: deformed bell peppers; apples that have a scuff or two. It's a happy market, full of B-Team produce and no marketing gimmicks whatsoever. Need a Japanese eggplant? Over there.

Shoppers reflect the diversity of our neighborhood. The swish-swish sound of Mandarin is muted by the more tonal Cantonese. A crying Chinese toddler may be comforted by a stranger who is speaking a Hindi dialect. The stock boys are all Hispanic and not available for any questions. Yet they are unflappable, going on with their squash arranging while being jostled by basket-carrying shoppers.

Russian is the language of choice at the check-out counter. As shoppers place turnips on the scale, the checkers chat with each other in the language of their childhood, same as in every store in America. Sometimes terms don't translate well, such as "traffic school" and this interjection gives the non-Russian shopper a window into just what was so interesting.

Most everybody speaks a second language, enthusiastically and badly, and understanding your own language spoken with a heavy accent is an art form all its own. I’ve had some rewarding “A-ha!” moments along the line, like when I heard a woman saying she was making sense of something by putting together the “poozle-pisses.” That one took me a minute.

I am learning to make my Southern-accented English intelligible, although it must be humorous to hear me speak even more slowly and (perhaps with more twang) than usual. I like it—the multilingual banana banter and cilantro chatter of the Richmond Market. American is spoken here.