Category Archives: Video


By CaptBrando, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

By CaptBrando, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

So, I’ve never really cared that much about football. Was I excited when Joe Montana visited my high school? Yes. But in that “Oh-a-famous-person-is-here-and-I-go-to-boarding-school-and-nothing-new-happens-ever” kind of way. It was way cooler when Tommie Smith came. (Interestingly, I am noticing on Wikipedia, he was a running back in the AFL.)

Was I also briefly into football when I was embroiled in “Friday Night Lights?” Also yes. But that was mostly Tim-Riggins-related. And for Coach and Tammy, the best couple on television (as my friend Max once said; he’s also bestowed this honor upon Jane and Brad from “Happy Endings.” I agree, by the way).

My feelings about football can be summed up by George Carlin’s monologue from the first-ever episode of “SNL.” (Sidenote: George Carlin in 1975 looked like a cross between Russell Crowe and Mel Gibson today.)

When I was in Ann Arbor a few weekends ago, my friends hunched around a web streaming version of the Ravens-49ers game. I was busy cooking dinner with another friend, Mel (not Gibson), and I had no idea that the outcome would lead the Niners to the Super Bowl. I was mildly excited when it did. I was more excited about the lasagna and chunky lola cookies.

Fast-forward to me returning to SF. Niners pride is on the rise. No one can stop talking about the team–not even hipstery/nerdy/non-athletic types (and websites). Everyone’s cracked out their red and gold gear. It’s hard not to get caught up in all of it, even though I have some concerns about the levels of domestic and gender-based violence, major head trauma, and other issues the NFL faces. To put it mildly.

All the same, a few days ago, I fell briefly in love with the Niners when I read The Rumpus‘ annual “A Superbowl Preview for People Who Don’t Know Football.” A team that made an “It Gets Better” video and an outspoken pro-marriage-equality professional athlete? An underdog backup quarterback (against another unconventional quarterback)? An artist and philanthropist tight end? Hey, this sounded pretty good.

Then, the Niners’ cornerback Chris Culliver made some anti-gay remarks. Then, two other players denied having been in a video supporting LGBT youth. Dan Savage, who started the “It Gets Better” project, was understandably displeased (I look forward to what he has to say on his podcast next week) and pulled the video.

If that wasn’t enough, I subsequently discovered that the Niners would be moving next year from Candlestick Park, located in a struggling neighborhood in SF, 40 miles away to Santa Clara. To be fair, apparently Niners games weren’t bringing the city or the surrounding neighborhoods much revenue. But a new stadium within the city–have you seen how much unused space we have on the drive to and from SFO?–would have been a welcome addition, much as the Giants’ stadium revitalized (some of) the SoMa area. Slate has a pretty good breakdown of that whole mess. Thanks, Gavin Newsom! 

And now, we come down to the final point. For some reason, like all humans, we like to riot when we win things. See: Muni bus fire after the Giants win. Despite The Rumpus‘ excellent guide for rioting, SF-style (“We riot in a manner inclusive of people with disabilities”), I don’t particularly understand how a city as laid back as SF finds the rage to do this kind of thing–maybe it’s all pent-up frustration from the hell that is riding Muni every day. And because we have to be so nice all the time. The mayor has asked bars to go easy on the hard liquor (don’t hold your breath, Ed!).

Will I watch on Sunday? Yes. Will I continue to have very mixed feelings about the Niners franchise, the NFL, and professional sports in general? Always. And I’m going to take The Bold Italic’s riot alternatives to heart. I’m opting for interpretive dance, personally. And a well-crafted tweet.

*I’m realizing now that “footieball” was a term used by Dustan Hoffman in “Meet the Fockers.” This, as a whole, makes me sad for Dustan Hoffman, Barbara Streisand, America, and myself. But not for Robert DeNiro. He’s had enough chances.



One of the beauties of San Francisco is that you can always escape.  More car friendly than New York, though nowhere near as ensconced in driving culture as Los Angeles, SF will always offer up a friend or two with a vehicle.  This will be required for Ikea runs, flea marketing, and those times when you absolutely, immediately, must get out.  Apart from quick hops across the Golden Gate Bridge–Sausalito, Muir Woods, or Mt. Tamalpais–and a few other choice locales, San Francisco is close enough to the Sierra Nevada for a sustained trip away from whatever it is about urban living that has you down.  Yosemite and Tahoe are two of my favorites, especially with half-day-plus driving times from Southern California now shortened to a manageable jaunt for the weekend.

I’ve been reading The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac and exploring Gary Snyder’s work over the past month, yearning, I think, for the wild.  One of the things that has most struck me was Kerouac’s struggle to remain a dedicated student of Buddhism while being a focal point of the Beat scene.  He describes sitting outside all night, meditating in nature, and then chugging wine, using drugs, and womanizing on the same page (1)*.  Throughout, he finds purity in nature and excitement in the city but is never able to commit to one or the other.  Reading the book today, it is an inescapable fact that Kerouac died of cirrhosis ten years after its publication.  For Kerouac, life was a search for balance that was anything but level.

I think most people who live in cities face a similar struggle: yearning for the calm that comes with a rural life but unable or unwilling to give up the things that make city living so spectacular.  3AM bacon wrapped hot dogs in the Mission.  Live music seven days a week.  Museums and their cultural ilk.  People everywhere, all the time, doing interesting things.  The solution?  Get out.  Just for a bit.  Just for a day.  I headed out to Truckee last weekend for just such a reason.  As well as a friend’s birthday.  Like Kerouac, I felt the pull between simplicity and decadence, slipping away for a walk in the snow or reading by the fire and then drinking beers all night, yelling and hooting.

Short historical detour: Truckee is near Donner Lake, the site of the infamous Donner Party tragedy.  This was one of my favorite stories as a child, as I was obsessed with the Oregon Trail, Western history and mythology, and anything even remotely morbid.  Setting out from Independence, Missouri, in April 1846, members of what would become the Donner Party made a fatal error when they decided to take a shortcut in Utah, called Hasting’s Cutoff, that actually added 125 miles to their route.  They lost two months, much of their livestock and supplies, and the cohesiveness of their group before reaching Truckee (now Donner) Lake on November 3, 1846 (2).

Donner Memorial, California

The Donner Memorial near Truckee. The pedestal is as high as the record snows of 1846-1847: 22 feet (see source #1). Photo by nicksarebi, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Winter snows thwarted the pioneers from crossing the high mountain passes, and they returned to a lone cabin at Donner Lake.  They settled in two groups, one next to the lake and the others a few miles away at Alder Creek, hoping their meager supplies would hold until the snow melted enough to make the climb.  This would not be the case.  As food dwindled, a group of fifteen on snowshoes calling themselves “Forlorn Hope” set out from the encampments on December 16 to try to reach help over the mountains (3).  Beset by snowstorms and low on food and clothes, they began “casting lots” to see who would give his or her life to sustain the others.  Men began dying before this was necessary–for a time (4).  After several pioneers died and were eaten, the two American Indian guides sent from Sacramento by John Sutter to help the group were most likely murdered for food.  On January 17, the seven Forlorn Hope survivors staggered into Johnson’s Ranch on the western side of the Sierra: five women and two men, all white.  They brought news of the trapped party in the mountains, galvanizing rescue efforts.  In all, it took four attempts to reach and rescue the members of the Donner Party.  With each foray into the mountains, rescue teams found the “grisly remains of cannibalism” at both sites near Donner Lake.  Only half of the 80-odd people who made it to Donner Lake survived the winter months in the Sierra (3).  The story of the Donner Party is one of the most famous of the pioneer period, and a horrifying account of what human beings can do to survive.  It is also the Truckee area’s claim to fame, and it seems that every other business or landmark is named for the hapless travelers.

Places like Truckee are imbued with their frontier past, which is as romanticized as you might expect.  Western-style false facades line the main street, with covered promenades that feel on the verge of a High Noon confrontation.  Nearby locales include Soda Springs and Lake of the Pines, names that feel pulled from a folk song or tall tale: the places where Paul Bunyan had an egg cream the size of a swimming pool and took a bath, using a whole conifer for a hairbrush.  Truckee is also stunningly beautiful, especially in several feet of fresh snow.  The wind really does sigh or sough through the trees.  Everything smells a bit like woodsmoke, with that clean, alpine sharpness that can’t be properly described.  There is nothing quite like starlight on snowy pines.  Although it is not rugged, Truckee is place to come find tranquility and a little equilibrium.

Which is why I retreated from group activities here and there: to take a moment and breathe.  On one such occasion, I took a walk out among the cabins and trees in our neighborhood.  Almost everyone was holed up or out skiing, and it was dead quiet, apart from a few children sledding, a chattering squirrel or two, and the creak of snow falling from the pines.  I kept hearing a rhythmic cry or rusty creak.  I wasn’t sure if it was an animal or some unknown snow or skiing machinery–maybe a lift.  After all, I’m fairly ignorant of what happens in places where snow falls.  On the way up, I nervously Googled how to drive in ice or snow, which was not on the driving test in Southern California.  Casting about, I finally found the source: vees of geese, migrating.  With the weather so warm this winter, it was unclear whether they were headed north or south.  It was one of the most beautiful and tranquil things I’ve ever seen.

Truckee Geese from Julia Robinson on Vimeo.



(1) Kerouac, Jack.  The Dharma Bums.  New York: Penguin Books, 1991. The book was first published by Viking Press in 1958. *As his accounts of “yabyum” allege, other Buddhist peers may have had a different opinion about what is or is not “pure” or acceptable in one’s practice.  At the same time, many religious leaders and scholars criticized Kerouac’s ignorance of Zen and other Buddhist tenets after the book was published–which should be a surprise to no one who has read The Dharma Bums.

(2) McCurdy, Stephen A.  “Epidemiology of Disaster: The Donner Party (1846-1847).”  Western Journal of Medicine, April 1994: Vol. 160, No. 4, 338-342. Web PDF.  9 March 2012.  This is a fascinating short article about the demographics of who survived (and died) in the Donner Party.  For example, women, who have lower daily calorie needs and higher fat stores, had a higher survival rate.  Obviously (which is not discussed in this article), not being of Caucasian descent carried the extra risk of dying from unnatural causes.

(3) Johnson, Kristin.  “Donner Party Chronology.”  New Light on the Donner Party, 2006.  Web.  9 March 2012.  Despite some much-publicized, sketchy scholarship in 2010 alleging that the Donner party did not engage in cannibalism, it seems pretty clear that it did happen.

(4) “Distressing News.”  The California Star, 13 February 1847.  Via the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.  9 March 2012.


The Bold Italic published a piece this week debunking (or confirming) several well-known San Francisco stories.  For example, there’s no documentary evidence that Mark Twain actually said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”  That doesn’t mean he didn’t say it, only that it can’t be proved.  There really are more dogs than children in the city, 120,000 to 108,000, as of 2010.  I’ve known this for a while, but Coit Tower, built with funds from Fire Department enthusiast Lillie Hitchcock Coit, was not meant to look like a fire hose nozzle.  In weirder Coit Tower mythology, my dad told me that he had thought for a long time that the tower was built to dry fire hoses (I guess you hang them out the upper windows?).  I’m not sure where he picked that one up.  Finally, my favorite so far, was that a woman was barred from boarding a bus because she had a live chicken, and animals are not allowed on Muni.  So she snapped the chicken’s neck and climbed on.  The author could not find any evidence to corroborate this urban legend, which may have spawned the “Dirty 30” moniker for the Muni line of that name (though, honestly, the 30 doesn’t need chicken killers to be termed dirty) and that the author called “rife with racist undertones” (the woman was Chinese).  Two commenters insisted that they were firsthand witnesses to the chicken killing.  Since we all know that Internet commenters are the most reliable of sources, this must be the truth.  I’ve seen some pretty messed up stuff on Muni, including a girl fight that resulted in hair extensions all over the floor.  My sister saw someone light a Muni seat on fire.  So in my own opinion, I would be in no way surprised if someone had killed a chicken to board the bus.  It’s actually pretty radass.

A college friend, Merrell, has been traveling the West Coast for the last couple of weeks and documenting her experiences here.  She has lovely photos of SF and around and discovered some cool things–like the fly fishing ponds at Golden Gate Park (who knew?) and the “casual house in Pacific Heights” that is almost directly across from my apartment (no, I do not live in a mansion).

We take our locavore foodstuffs pretty seriously around here.  In the (in)famous Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan details wandering through “acrid and trash-strewn wetlands” under the San Mateo Bridge to gather local, Bay Area salt for his hunted and gathered meal at the end of the book.  He came home with plastic soda bottles full of gray water from the salt ponds and attempted to harvest the salt on his own through boiling, which resulted in brown crystals “a bit greasy to the touch [that] tasted so metallic and so much like chemicals that it actually made me gag.”  What he acknowledges and what I learned this week is that salt harvesting is much more involved process, and it happens right here in the Bay.  The Kitchn took a trip out to see the Diamond Crystal Salt’s harvesting ponds, the only solar salt producer in the US.  It takes about five years for salt to go from sea water to the table, including removing all of the tag-along chemicals that Pollan found (rightly) nauseating.  Via Scoutmob.

Did you know that there’s a cabin in downtown San Francisco?  It’s hanging on the side of a building at 447 Bush Street and was built by Californian artists Jenny Chapman  and Mark A. Reigelman II (commissioned by Southern Exposure, which is also the name of a delicious drink at the Alembic).  SoEx calls it “both homage to the romantic spirit of the Western Myth and a commentary on the arrogance of Westward expansion.”  I wonder how long til some realtor is charging $2,000/month for a “charming, rustic studio in a prime downtown location.”  That’d be true SF-style Manifest Destiny.

This has been making the rounds for a while, but it makes me so proud to live in a city where the police department created an “It Gets Better” video.  There is so much hate in this country right now.  Thank you to the SFPD for their leadership in supporting universal equal rights and tolerance.



The header photo is of my friend Grace walking the labyrinth at Land’s End.  She blogs here sometimes.

Field Notes: The Outdoor Music Festival

The crowd pre-Gillian Welch & David Rawlings at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, 2011

San Franciscans love their music.  And despite the unpredictable weather–our fog, Karl, even tweets about it–we like to listen to it outside.  Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is the prime example of a free, outdoor music festival in SF.  Held every year since 2001 in Golden Gate Park, HSB draws over 750,000 concertgoers over a weekend each fall.  The line-up is always impressive, with Gillian Welch & David Rawlings and Emmy Lou Harris (among other bluegrass royalty) performing regularly, as well as less-bluegrassy acts–hence the “hardly.”  I went to HSB last October, and it was well worth the crush of people.

Outside Lands brings a mostly indie line-up to Golden Gate Park at the end of summer; last year, it hauled in an estimated $60 million in revenue for the city, with 180,000 tickets purchased.  And the Treasure Island Music Festival (held, unsurprisingly, on Treasure Island), another indie-ish fest, entices a slightly younger crowd–at least, that’s what a source, who ended up on the wrong side of a puking underage spectator, told me.  The free Stern Grove concert series, which has been running for 75 seasons, brings a slightly older, more staid crowd–with acts ranging from the SF Symphony to Neko Case.

Jerry Garcia street art in the Haight, by grahamc99, CC BY 2.0

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Summer of Love and Sixties rock-n-roll (but only a mention because I want to write about this in depth later).  The Grateful Dead performed numerous outdoor concerts in SF throughout the years, including in Golden Gate Park in 1967 and on Haight Street in 1968.  If you’re ever in Magnolia Brewery on Haight and Masonic, you can see an incredible photo in the bathroom depicting the latter.  Of course, the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and the infamous Altamont Speedway Free Festival in 1969 (sorry, Wikipedia is the best option) owed their size to the Counterculture’s epicenter in San Francisco.  And the punk scene thrived in the 1980s in an outdoor venue or two:

Stage diver at Rock Against Reagan at the DNC, 1984, in the empty lot between Mission, Howard, 3rd, and 4th Streets. Photo by Keith Holmes, courtesy of Found SF, CC BY NC SA 3.0.

Which brings us to last Sunday.  Financier and philanthropist Warren Hellman, the founder of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, passed away in December 2011.  HSB held a free tribute concert for him out at Ocean Beach, closing down the Great Highway so that a number of incredible musicians could perform in his honor.  After a decadent brunch at Magnolia, I found myself wandering the Haight aimlessly, until a quick Twitter scan reminded me of the event and sent me, rushing and scatter-brained, to Fulton Street for the number 5 Muni.  I disembarked at the Pacific Ocean to a huge crowd swaying to Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.  I stayed for the rest of their set, Boz Scaggs, and Old Crow Medicine Show before heading home (I had more bluegrass to see that evening at Cafe du Nord).  It could hardly have been a better day, with a few wisps of cloud, enough sunshine to keep the wind chill bearable, and a calm, respectful crowd celebrating Mr. Hellman through the music he loved best.

Besides the music, the best part of big concerts is the people watching.  I jotted down a few field notes while sitting on the double yellow line in the middle of the Great Highway.  Based on these observations and others from around the city, here’s what you’ll find at a typical San Francisco music festival:

  • Hippies – the old and new kind.  There’s a difference, and it’s not always based on age.
  • Ex-hippies.  You just know when you see them.
  • Homeless people.
  • People who dress like they’re homeless.
  • Surfers, skaters, and their ilk.
  • Girls who dress like Penny Lane (guilty as charged).
  • Girls who think they dress like Penny Lane (ditto).
  • SWPL white people, and, goes without saying for this demographic, Patagonia apparel (guilty verdict continues).
  • People from the 1990s.
  • People from the 1890s.
  • Bicycles and dogs and strollers and coolers (oh my!).
  • Red-cheeked, blue-eyed children who are cuter than your current/future kids will ever be.
  • People who are taller than me.
  • Drugs and alcohol, cleverly concealed or not at all.
  • Piercings, obscure tattoos, and carefully sculpted facial hair (Bonus: dreadlocks).
  • Everyone else.  While traveling to an outdoor music venue, you can always pick out certain concertgoers based on their attire.  Upon arrival, however,  you’ll find that those regular-looking people you saw on Muni, the ones who look like they’d never be caught dead in whatever scene the concert line-up represents, were headed in the same direction, and now they’re passing a joint and rocking out with the weirdos.  They’re my favorite, hands down.

The place was jammed on Sunday.  It wasn’t until 7×7 released photos yesterday that I could even see what the artists had looked like–after Gillian Welch kept mentioning her rhinestones, I knew I was missing something.  But really, it’s about the music anyway, and I wasn’t disappointed to have skipped elbowing my way through thousands of people for a glimpse.   I’d’ve had to show up at 8AM to have a good vantage point; even a few rows back at general admission shows, all I can see are shoulder blades.  I opted instead to sit towards the back and let the music drift over me, where things were the calmest and least crowded.  The highlight for me was Old Crow Medicine Show, who put on a hell of a set.  One standout song?  A beautiful cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”


Video via SFist.

The Neverending Meme

I am so sick of the “shit xxx say” meme.  It’s beyond overplayed.  But then…they made one about SF.  Which, of course, had to be shared.

This represents a subset of San Francisco.  Or a subset’s vision of another subset.  It’s guaranteed that everyone here will be offended by this in some way; it’s our style.  Secretly, we’ll know that there are universal truths in there somewhere.

Parking tickets and a fistful of change.  Following the Indian-Korean-Dim-Sum Truck on Twitter, waiting in line for an hour, and then spending double digits on two bites’ worth of food.  Only to realize, once you’ve housed it, the full extent of your foodie illness.  Continual conversations about Burning Man.  Probably, most representative: “So, I just found this great cleanse…but you can drink on it.”  That pause and sniff.  All the latest on everything Silicon because you always know someone who works at Google.  There are thousands of them, after all.  Finally, lost afternoons on a blanket, signifying nothing.