Tuesday, May 24, 2016

This Dolores Park fee thing smells like some bullshit, even if it's somehow not

What are we outraged about today?  Why, the Rec and Parks Department renting chunks of Dolores Park, the beloved humanity hive in Mission Park.  Patient Zero for Today's Rage appears to be SFist:

This should end well. A two-month pilot program from the Recreation and Parks Department now allows people to reserve sections of Dolores Park for periods of at least seven hours. And no, not the picnic table areas (which you've always been able to reserve), but just straight up sections of grass near Hipster Hill/Fixie Flats. What's more, on weekends Rec and Parks plans on having staff on site to enforce the reservations — so you better not sit in someone's spot.
Yes, it costs money. And yes, the primary way to book the spots is online. The new practice of course calls to mind the infamous Soccer Field War of 2014 in which longtime, Mission-born players ran up against a new reservation system being used by recent transplants and tech employees, ultimately causing neighborhood kids to get kicked off what they saw as their own fields.
According to the Rec and Parks website, in order to reserve your own little piece of Dolores heaven, now all you have to do is apply and pay the fee of $33 to $260 (depending on group size, and not including the $200 security deposit). "All requests for Mission Dolores must complete an online Picnic Application," the site explains.

The predictable Blinding Rage Kabuki followed: (1) Rage Trigger; (2) Angry Twitter; (3) Wait, this isn't a big deal; (4) My dumb opinion.

Number three took the form of tweets like this:

Well, sure. Everyone knows you can rent picnic areas (which is basically a picnic table or two and a grill that has been used so much it looks like it was dipped in molten iron and then hastily left to dry, or maybe Forged in the Fires of the Ur-Griller Carbo.  I was at such an event last Saturday in Golden Gate Park, even!  Some people even know you can rent the picnic areas in Dolores Park.

But this seems different.  We're not talking about a clearly delineated area like a picnic table.  No, this is just an imaginary square in the middle of the grass.

See that "NW-A"?  Unfortunately, it's not a set-aside area for performances by the legendary Compton ensemble.  It's picnic area A, and I guess if you rent it you have the right to control who shall enter and stay upon your private grasstangle.  You better get some velvet ropes and a big fucking bouncer, because based on how crowded Dolores Park gets on weekends, keeping the Undesirable and the Uninvited out of your Rented Piece of Paradise is going to be a Grade A Bitch.

So Rec & Parks' position is basically "Nothing new here, it's always been this way, we have always been at war with Eastasia," but I've been going to parks for a long time and I have never seen any square of grass that someone was claiming squatters rights on and telling me not to sit there because they had a fucking permit.

The problem OF COURSE like everything else in Our Garbage City is bigger than just this latest flap.  It's about the Public Good being sold off for Private Use and it's just another chapter in the Dropbox Soccer Bros tale of the newly arrived wealthy and entitled kicking the rest of us off of public facilities that we've been paying for a lot longer than they have.  RESENTMENT SELLS and gets clicks to boot.

So I don't know, maybe Rec and Parks really has been selling imaginary sections of the park off for daily use since Time Immemorial and we've just never noticed because we've never accidentally trod onto someone's private square of park, but the whole thing seems fishy as hell.

(All that being said, I still don't get why people shove themselves into every square inch of Dolores Park whil,e acres of other parks sit empty.  Convenience, I guess.  Still.)

UPDATE!!!!!!: It's over.  They're not doing it.  You can reserve the picnic tables, but the Grasstangles 2016 is dead.  RIP grasstangles.

(POSTSCRIPT: I know my assignment today was Day 2 of Computer Generated Week of Blogging, specifically "14 Common Misconceptions About Booze," so just repeat to yourself "alcohol is universally good or bad" 14 times.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Computer-Generated Week of Blogging, Day 1: Take This Inane Quiz!

Thanks to this tweet by Twitterer Julie Polito:

I learned there is something called "Hubspot" and that it can generate Great Blogging Ideas presumably designed to Engage My Core Audience and Develop Quality Content that will Drive Marketing Success and Engagement.  I haven't been blogging as much lately what with the Kid and also being a regular person taking up so much of my time so WHAT THE HELL I figured, Hubspot, give me some Fresh and Dynamic Content ideas.

I typed in three nouns that interested me and Hubspot gave me a veritable cornucopia of potential content:

Just for me!  OK, Hubspot, your wish is my command.  Let's start today with #1!


Please answer "True" or "False" to the following 14 questions!!!

1. I spent junior year abroad in Spain so let me tell you how inauthentic these tapas are.

2. Things were better in another time that isn't now.

3. There is a stick that protrudes perpendicularly from the right side of my steering column. I have no idea why it's there or what it does.

4. I sometimes takes quizzes with titles like "Think You're Cut Out for Doing San Francisco? Take This Quiz"

5. I think it's a pretty good idea to open a ping pong bar that cost 5 million dollars.

6. I like dogs.


8. I'm special too.

9. I could pay $4,000 for a one-bedroom apartment but a $15 cab fare halfway across town is ridiculous.

10. I moved here from Different City. It's different here. Let me tell you about it, based on my barely informed perceptions after being here for 6 months and some commonly held if not necessarily true beliefs.

11. I wear hoodies all the time, unlike in other cities.

12. I believe that all these new people are destroying the city so I sold my house for $3,000,000 and moved to Denver.

13. I have seen people less fortunate than myself and was able to come to terms with the fact that they are human beings too.

14. There aren't enough bubble tea shops anywhere.

If you answered TRUE to even one of these questions, CONGRATULATIONS!!  You are cut out for doing San Francisco.

Monday, May 9, 2016

You should have brunch at La Urbana

When La Urbana, the sleek and expensive-looking fancy Mexican restaurant was going in on Divisadero, I have to confess I was predisposed not to like it.  A, I'm kind of an asshole and not above judging places without knowing anything about them and B, it seemed like the most conspicuous symbol of the Divis Corridor's transformation from a regular SF neighborhood with a 5-and-10 store, a pretty good Thai restaurant, an agreeable neighborhood bar, an auto repair shop, and so on, into Valencia II: Son of Fleece Vest, and that kinda bummed me out. But then it was Mother's Day and that's the hardest day of the year to score a brunch res for and they had availability and one thing led to another and we brunched at La Urbana yesterday.

I am so sorry I thought those mean things about you, La Urbana.  That brunch was fucking great.

FIRST OF ALL it was Mother's Day and they were handing out free champagne.  Maybe just to Moms?  I had a Mom with me - not mine, God forbid, but the mom of my child - and she didn't want hers and they seemed cool with just giving it to me instead.  I'm not 100% sure if they'll be giving out free champagne next weekend but I guess you can ask.

One of the things on the brunch menu is tortillas and avocado.  It's an appetizer I guess and it costs $4.  ORDER THIS.  These tortillas are dreamy and tasty and soft and melt in your mouth and why have I been eating those corn-flavored discs all these years.

L-R: Kid's plate, mid-avocado destruction, Strawberry Drink, aforementioned avocado, the Ur-tortillas, few strands of Wife's hair.

Also in this picture: a shot glass with some kind of strawberry liquid that you get as an amuse bouche.  My kid held it up to me and said "THIS IS STRAWBERRY DRINK!"  She then ate an entire half of an avocado.  (She pronounces it "abogado" which means "lawyer" in Spanish and will no doubt lead to a hilarious Three's Company-style misunderstanding if she's in Mexico in the next year or so and asks for an attorney.)

I got the Frijoles Puercos - pork & beans, essentially - with a big house-made chorizo link that was fantastic and some volcanically spicy refried beans and excellent scrambled eggs sprinkled with cotija,  Also some chipotle salsa that mostly avoided because I was burning up from the beans.  Delicious.  Wife got chilaquiles but she wasn't feeling 100% and so wasn't totally into them.  They looked great, though.

One of the problems brunch enthusiasts such as myself face is that most places have the same things.  There's a benedict, that's an omelet, here's a scramble.  That's wonderful and I love all that stuff but just finding something that feels DIFFERENT is nice.

I want to go back and get the carne asada hash next time.  Jesus that sounds good.

Total bill before tip was like $46 which is pretty good for 3 people for brunch in this town.  Of course, the booze was free and so if you're normal let's say $100.

One small complaint: I know you're a sleekly modern and grown-up City Restaurant, but you could throw together a kid's menu of some kind for brunch.  We ended up ordering kid an order of scrambled eggs and it was fine but there were a LOT of kids there and it's always nice to see 3 or 4 things that are kid-sized.  Just a thought.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Who the fuck is Emirates' target demo?

If you live anywhere or have a TV or exist in the world you've seen Emirates Airlines' ubiquitous advertising, which usually features deeply contented youngish people casually enjoying a glass of probably scotch and a plate of probably lobster while seated in a plush beige airplane seat.  The ads are plastered all over the Powell BART station even as we speak.

Photo courtesy: Me. For once, I didn't steal someone else's picture.
Many, if not most, of these ads feature some kind of unimaginable Ultimate Premium First Class.  Like check out that chick on the right.  She's just getting OUT OF THE FUCKING SHOWER on the airplane.  I can't even stand up straight in an airplane bathroom and this lady's at a fucking air spa.

That's not all you get in First Class!  You get to "savor gourmet meals whenever you please" and "join the conversation in our A380 Onboard Lounge," which looks like the douchiest bar this side of Eastside West.

"You ladies come here often? WANT TO?"
LOOKS GREAT.  Who doesn't want to savor some gourmet meals and then shower off the scent of Axe body spray you'll get from standing in the same room as Chas up there?  Let's go to, say, Singapore!

Yikes!  That's a lot of money.  Singapore's a long way away, though, and you can take lots of showers.

Point is, I've never seen another airline use as their primary marketing focus a class of service that 99% of its customers will ever see.  Isn't it just setting up all us Coach Cattle for disappointment?  "Wait, where's my shower?  Can I go to the Onboard Lounge?"  "SILENCE, DONKEY PERSON.  RETAKE YOUR SEAT AND EAT YOUR FOOD PELLET QUIETLY!!!"  Seems weird.

Anyway, we're off to the less exotic destination of San Diego via a United Flying Person Crate, so see ya later.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Bars That Time Forgot, an occasional series, vol. V: The Embers

I lived on Frederick Street in the early 90's, not far from the now-trendy Inner Sunset, which back then just Just a Neighborhood and not a thing real estate agents put on flyers.  It was just regular stuff.  Still a great neighborhood, just relatively undiscovered, I guess.

One place that didn't want to be discovered was The Embers, a depressing and frightening dive bar at 627 Irving, between 7th and 8th.  The Embers was a small dark room with the usual dive bar accoutrements, like old guys chainsmoking in front of Bud bottles and a surly (at least that's how I remember him) bartender.  You can still get all that stuff today if you know where to look.  But the Embers had one terrifying feature that other dive bars lacked: the walls were covered in pictures of CLOWNS. AAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

It's surprisingly difficult to find pictures of this haunting decor online.  Of course I was young and stupid and it never occurred to me to take pictures.  Back then, taking pictures required carrying a camera around with you, so it wasn't as convenient.  Also, parking was easier.  Anyway.  Luckily, I found some pics on Snapcity.com, and hopefully the owner of Snapcity.com doesn't get mad at me for using them here.

You can get kind of a sense of what was going on from these pictures, but it doesn't really convey the full horror of walls covered in clown pictures.  It was really something.

Jack Boulware wrote a great piece on the bar for SF Weekly:
Neither clowns nor smokes have ruined business for the Embers, which Jack has operated since 1969 at its present Irving Street location, and run in other Geary Boulevard incarnations since 1955. The clown motif began with Jack's wife, who installed four clown pictures originally to fill up a blank wall of the joint. Customers latched onto the idea and kept bringing in more and more clown artifacts, many from all over the world, until today the bar is literally packed with clown images.
"Some girl brought me in one last week," says Jack, a spry 70-year-old in blue striped sport shirt and khakis.

The Embers sadly passed in 1996.  Now it's Pluto's, some kind of faux health food place I think?  I went there once and couldn't figure it out.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Is Mission Park Over?

It's a different Mission Park these days, and Olu knows it.

"Yeah, it's different," says the medium-term neighborhood resident. "These kids moving in.  With the skateboards.  And their apps."  His eyes narrow.  "And all the laundry services."

Mission Park is a vibrant, free-spirited neighborhood we created as a joke on Twitter.  It encompasses some of San Francisco's most sought-after territory, from the J-Church stop at Dolores and 20th to that bougie coffee place around the corner from Duc Loi.

"Fucking seven dollars for a fucking waffle," Olu notes.

He can remember when Mission Park was a different place.  "There was a different guy who sat at the corner at the 500, I think," he recalls.  "Don't know what happened to him.  Maybe he died."

Map courtesy of Burrito Justice, who whips these things out like you wouldn't believe

Like it has in the rest of this churning, pulsing city caught up in a new gold rush where the gold is Internet things and not gold, change has found Mission Park.  And not all residents think it's for the better.

"Look, I know that change is inevitable," said Stephen, a medium-term Mission Park local. "But I would appreciate it if the neighborhood would be more the way I like it and less the way other people like it."  He's got no time for dog-walking apps.  "I walk my dog eight times a day just fine on my own, and I don't need any app for that."

Others, like TK, who doesn't live in Mission Park but likes to visit there, take a more measured view.  "The fuck do I care?" he said on a recent sunny afternoon.  "I don't live there.  Not my fucking problem."

Still, there are parts of Mission Park that will never change, new faces or not.  "There are still a lot of human feces on this street," says Stephen.  The heart of Mission Park beats on.


Since this post was originally written, Mission Park has changed once again.  It's growing, and not everyone is happy about it.

"I'm not happy about it," said Olu.

The new new Mission Park. Coming to your block soon.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Why was the second season of Serial such a dud?

Remember how the first season of Serial took everyone by storm? (Well, by "everyone" I mean the kind of everyone who downloads podcasts and reads blogs like this and probably talks about going to New York a lot.)  Remember when all we could talk about was the Nisha call and Mail Kimp?  Heady days.  Even Adnan got in on the action and got himself a new hearing!  Man, if Season 1 was so good, imagine how good Season 2 was gonna be!

WRONG.  Season 2 flopped.  It was the story of Bowe Bergdahl, a US Army soldier who left his base in Afghanistan and was captured by the Taliban and then exchanged for some Guantanamo guys and that made everyone so mad.  Seems like an interesting story, right?  How come it was a big fail when Season 1 was such a hit?  I have some ideas.

1. No mystery

Season 1 was basically a true crime show, and everybody loves Dateline.  There's a murder, and then you think you have it figured out, and then there's a twist, and then there's a payphone at Best Buy or maybe there's not, and now maybe the wrong guy is in jail.  OR IS HE.

In Season 2, on the other hand, a guy walks off a base and gets captured by the Taliban and grievously abused for years and then freed.  It's a compelling story, but there's no mystery.  One of the Taliban doesn't whip off his mask at the end and OH MY GOD IT'S JEFF THAT GUY HE BULLIED IN HIGH SCHOOL!!!!  There are still questions about why Bowe did what he did but it's just fundamentally not as interesting.  We want to know if Colonel Mustard used the lead pipe in the conservatory, not whether Colonel Mustard was internally conflicted about killing Mr. Boddy .

2. Format too unpredictable

Season 1 was released one episode at a time, once a week.  It was nice and predictable, like TV shows or happy hour.  Season 2 started off the same - one episode, roughly the same time every week.  Then suddenly one week here's Sarah Koenig telling us "Oh, whoops, never mind, it's only going to be every other week."  Then one week, "Surprise!  Here's two episodes."  Then none the next week.  Or something.  It killed whatever momentum the show had.  Remember when "Lost" would disappear for a few weeks, then come back for one episode, then vanish for a month, then three more episodes?  Not a model you want to emulate.

3. Too far removed from general experience

Season 1 was relatable because basically everyone's been to high school and everyone's had a high school love and everyone knew some weirdos in high school who might could kill someone.  But in Todays' America, and ESPECIALLY amongst the target demo of Serial, almost no one has been in the Army or been to Afghanistan.  So it's much harder to put yourself in the main character's shoes.

Hopefully they bounce back and get their footing back next season because it can be pretty good when it's done right.