Category Archives: Places

A Downside to Living in San Francisco


This is what I had to Google when I got home today.

Update: The SF “Clean Patrol” was here within one hour of my call to 311. Although city services don’t always function effectively in S.F. (here’s looking at you, Muni), this was an amazing response time. Hats off to the brave soul whose job entails spraying shit off sidewalks. You’re a true American hero.


The Walk Home


Walking from Fillmore and Hayes, Alamo Square, 6:30 p.m.


Till Human Voices Wake Us


I live about four miles from the ocean. Sometimes when the weather is nice, I take my bike out there, to Ocean Beach, which is the end of the world. On certain days, there is nothing more perfect: a sky as blue as you can imagine, a sunset, a fire with friends.


Today, the wind started in earnest about a half-mile away, as I was headed downhill. When I reached the intersection at the Great Highway, pedaling hard to cross the street before the light turned, the sea, churned up with white caps, was a dull, sick green-gray. No soothing ocean smell, no soft crash of wave on shore, only a droning, persistent roar of wind and water.


Two crows picked through a trash pile left beside a blown-out illegal fire pit. Families hunkered down behind sand dunes, bicycles leaning against a sea wall covered in ugly graffiti—no street artists here. The cracked concrete exposed rusted metal rebar. An old man struggled with his Sunday constitutional, a gust plucking his cap from his head. Dirty weeds grew in the cracks between wall and sidewalk, ice plant on the divider covered in road-grime from the Great Highway. The asphalt and concrete had been torn up, orange netting surrounding them, no place for pedestrians to cross.


No shouts of joy, no seagull cries, no thing to love or marvel at. Even the lone kite down the beach was uninviting—a black, winged shark above the waste. I held my backpack against my stomach for warmth, face to the wind and the sea. No place to stop, and read my book, and eat the strawberries I  had brought in my pack.  Back, across the road, stark windmills, unmoving, stood sentinel.

Ocean Beach Windmills

Two men and a woman passed by, one of them pointing out the smoothness of the sand, the color of the sky. They did not see that the marine layer far across the water promised a windier, colder, foggier night, or that the sand, slippery and fine underfoot, treacherous, flowed across itself, a quiet whispering as the wind blew the grains back against the wall, piling up around corners, burying stairs, erasing my footprints.


Enter Spring


Vernal Diptych: the same plum tree on Grove Street, two Sundays apart.

On Proper Usages for Coffee Shops | The Mill


Maybe this used to happen in bookstores or record shops, before those became a thing of the past, but here’s something special about coffee shops: There will be a moment where you can look around and there will be people—strangers—all in sync. This generally can only happen when the right song comes on. You see light bulbs go off in five different heads, connecting that well-worn tune to a memory. If you don’t look up at the right time, you’ll miss it. And they may not even know that they’ve connected for this tiny instant.

This happened to me at The Mill yesterday. A brand-new coffee shop on Divisadero and Fulton, The Mill is a Four Barrel Coffee and Josey Baker Bread joint venture. It’s all white tile and (naturally, this is SF) exposed wood and poured cement floors. An asymmetrical shelving system spans one wall, wood of a deep blond housing beautiful coffee-related items: tea towels, French presses and Chemexes, olive-wood spoons, jars of honey, and, of course, coffee beans.

The façade is red brick with white trim and those great clerestory windows you see—and are often ill-used—on many San Francisco storefronts. There are round, marble-topped tables along one wall, with a big bench and individual seats that are a little reminiscent of classroom chairs. Two window seats flank each side of the door. A long, narrow wooden table runs along the left side. And cantilevered tables jut out along the wall towards the back, overlooking the bread-making and espresso machines.

A wire rack near the counter holds the bread—mountain rye, whole wheat, wonder, country, walnut and cranberry, seed feast. The bread is dark-crusted, with high ears (ridges on the crust caused by scoring the dough; yes, I had to look it up) and perfect dustings of flour or oat. A strong, chewy crust, a soft interior, a tang. I can’t stop eating it. The glass counter holds a few baked goods, but the star here is the toast. There is nothing quite so perfect as coffee and toast. Especially when accompanied by good music (others agree).

Behind the counter, the centerpiece kitchen. Open-plan, with a stunning skylight (you have to go see it; I can’t do it justice), you can sit at one of the cantilevered tables and watch Josey Baker and assistants expertly shape loaves and load them into baskets and buttered tins for rising and baking. Baristas bustle back and forth between the two espresso machines, grinding beans, steaming milk, tamping down the grinds. At the toast station, one or two cooks man the toaster, spreading spreads, sprinkling sugar. It’s fascinating. And it makes me jealous because it seems like they’re always having a ball back there.

I’ve been here (almost) every weekend since The Mill opened in mid-February. Often crowded, it’s still a soothing—and yet energizing—space. And they play the best old-school music. Led Zeppelin, Otis Redding, The Doors. Today, they hit a lot of Tom Petty.

In keeping with the Four Barrel philosophy, there are no outlets and no Wi-Fi. This is shared space to interact. Hence the communal table, the open kitchen, and the music just loud enough to make it difficult to drown out with headphones but not so loud that you can’t talk. Even if you’re there on your own, reading—as I often am—you can’t help but look up, see what’s going on around you, appreciate the music for a moment, watch the bustle in the kitchen.

Yesterday, as I read a back issue of Lucky Peach and nursed a cappuccino, Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” came on. I looked over at Baker, shaping a boule with a dough scraper. His lips subtly mouthed the lyrics. A barista moved his head to the beat as he made a latte. A tattooed toast-cook rocked out, kitchen cloth over his shoulder. And a customer in the burgeoning line paused, listening, eyes skyward. I looked back over at Baker, and our eyes met. We exchanged huge grins, nodding, as he started to sing. It’s those perfect, synchronous moments. That’s what a coffee shop is for.

Want some good photos of The Mill? Here.

Love The Mill too? Get them a parklet.

Haight Street

I’m trying to get back on the blogging wagon, but I picked a terrible month for it. More soon. ish.


Enter Spring

Last Saturday was San Francisco’s first day of spring.  Although it reached the mid-seventies more than a few times during our (so-called) winter, we endured a bit of a cold, wet spell throughout March and April–I know, Californians suffer so much on account of the weather–so that when a perfectly clear, perfectly warm weekend day came along, everyone put on dresses or shorts, grabbed beers and lawn games, and headed out to the park.  I spent much of Saturday writing in my apartment, which meant that I couldn’t get to my favorite outdoor people watching spot, Dolores Park, with enough time to enjoy the sunshine.  Instead, I headed to Fort Mason: the playground of the Marina set.  It doesn’t quite hold a candle to DoPa, but Fort Mason has its own brand of unbridled ridiculousness.  With views of the Golden Gate, Alcatraz, and the downtown area, as well as old military buildings and a community garden, it’s unbelievably picturesque.

I’d planned to spend some time getting my daily allowance of vitamin D and reading some Gary Snyder, which meant that I didn’t tote my camera along. When I got distracted by the surrounding scenes, I had to resort to my iPhone.  All of the photos in this post were taken with my iPhone 4, Hipstamatic, Adler 9009 Lens, Ina’s 1969 film.  The overexposed, bleached finish of the lens-film combination captured, for me, how the afternoon felt.

Update, 4/27/12: I saw today that Fox ran a story charging that “green activists” “trashed” Fort Mason on “Earth Day.”  SFist has already made the points I’m about to make.  However, since I happened to spend several hours at the park on the 21st and went to the farmer’s market down there on the 22nd, I’d like to set the record straight: The photos Fox took were from April 21st (it was foggy on the 22nd, so no one was out), there was nary an activist to be seen in Fort Mason on April 21st, and Earth Day is April 22nd.  So, A+, Fox, for fact checking.  Keeping it fair and balanced, people.