Grab the Brass Ring!

 

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The carousel at Yerba Buena Gardens

Leaving downtown one exceptionally fine afternoon last week, I chose to walk home instead of take public transit. At 3rd and Howard, where the sidewalk remains closed due to one of San Francisco’s countless construction sites, I turned and headed over to 4th Street, and was about to turn onto 4th when I looked up to see the carousel at Yerba Buena Gardens.

There was no reason to hurry, so I lingered by the entrance, watching the children riding the ornate herd that galloped by in a grand, up and down rolling loop. The fairground sound of carousel music washed away the racket of rush hour outside.

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A row of four giraffes await their riders

This was the carousel where my future husband had taken me on a date the first year we dated. I reminisced fondly as I watched the hand-carved horses and camels, one with a monkey crouching on its rump, and the rams and giraffes circling in front of me. Then I recalled another carousel my mother used to take me to when I was a child.

I always chose a horse on the outside. I loved to reach way out on the wooden steed as we passed the dispenser that contained a hundred silver rings, and try to grab the brass ring. Sometimes I did catch it, and then I got to ride again for free.

I continued on my way by abandoning the sidewalk alongside 4th Street in favor of the footpath through Yerba Buena Gardens, which is really more a park than a garden. It was something I could do because I was on foot.

San Francisco is an increasingly congested city, its inhabitants stressing a little more each time they try to go somewhere.

What folly, to creep entangled in a snarl of other vehicles to each intersection, watching one change of the signal after another till you’re finally through, and then it’s a matter of yards to the next intersection. One BART conductor likes to announce over the public address system on his train leaving the Oakland station for San Francisco: “Like a herd of turtles we race to the next stop.” We are a herd of turtles in San Francisco nowadays. Why is the City not acknowledging that there are too many cars clogging up our streets?

People get around San Francisco in a number of ways. Many, like myself, opt to walk because we truly enjoy it. But there are also those who react with bewilderment when I tell them I prefer to walk to get places. Most of the time, I can get where I’m going faster on foot, I tell them. I find it to be less stressful than being on a bus or streetcar in this mess. And I get some exercise.

This is met with silent contemplation by some, who no doubt are replaying their most recent torturously slow ride in a car through San Francisco. Data from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority shows that traffic speeds on the City’s arterial roadways during peak travel periods are dropping precipitously. The latest staff memorandum tentatively suggests the slowdown is due to the ubiquitous construction sites that close traffic lanes (in addition to sidewalks), plus massive job growth, and a resulting influx of newcomers into the region. Though unacknowledged by the CTA in its biannual report, the tens of thousands of Uber and Lyft cars flooding our City streets, unchecked, are more likely the reason for the average traffic speed during the afternoon’s peak travel period slowing from 16 miles per hour in 2013, to 12.7 mph in 2015. That’s a 20 percent decrease in two years. The morning’s peak average traffic speed has also plummeted, by 14 percent, from 17.1 mph to 14.6 mph in the same two-year period.

(Data compiled from CTA biannual reports for the years 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015 demonstrate this peak travel slowdown on arterial roadways dramatically in graph and table format. To view, click on this link:  Average Automobile Travel Speed, SF 2007-15 as revised.)

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Due to construction of the Central Subway, traffic from I-280 North was detoured from King St. onto a side street on two occasions in 2015. Here, a Lyft passenger tired of waiting for the traffic signal at 3rd St. to change gets out to walk.CIMG2723

The nearly stopped traffic hasn’t stopped people from getting into cars — if not their own, someone else’s. On the contrary, if anything, the increased amount of time it takes to get anywhere in all that traffic seems to have convinced folks that it is more necessary than ever to get in a car. It is as if they believe the distance between points A and B is further than it actually is. Time stuck in traffic has warped their sense of distance.

Talk about riding the merry-go-round!

Pausing to watch children on a carousel was not in my plans when I chose to walk home that afternoon instead of take public transit. I would never have gotten that reward of sunshine and the breeze on my face had I been in a car or a bus or streetcar, getting stuck at every intersection for several changes of the light.

I felt like I’d grabbed the brass ring.

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The Feng Shui of a Displaced Artwork by a Displaced Artist Serendipitously Finding Its Right Home

Silver Dollar Eucalyptus by Flora Davis

 

The search for the perfect piece of art to cover the most visible wall space in my home – across from the dining table, at the end nearest to the kitchen as you come into our living room — ended serendipitously, as I knew it would, after my husband and I had been living in our new place and searching for the perfect piece for that spot for nearly five years. The builder who designed our unit decided for some unfathomable reason to put the circuit breaker box smack dab in a spot that can only be described as prime real estate for a china cabinet, off-center in the lower left of the dominant wall in the main living area. Supposedly, a building code requires circuit breaker boxes must be located anywhere but in a closet, and while I am certain the natural placement for an almost-certain-to-be-needed-only-once-in-20-years compartment of electrical switches would have been the hallway, the builder had other ideas and presented a decorating challenge.

I’d have preferred a buffet table with a hutch to store and display heirloom serving pieces right there, but the possibility of needing to open the circuit breaker box in a distant future prevents placement of anything like a hutch, since heavy furniture blocking the box would be difficult to move.

The right piece of art, which we could easily remove from its hooks, was what we needed to conceal what I consider to be a design blemish in our beautiful home.

Adding to the challenge, my husband and I were bent on finding something that would complement and tie together the other elements in the room. The right color palette and theme we had cultivated of California flora, ferns and redwoods, desert wildflowers and bamboo leaves and the landscape on the opposite wall of rocks and plants along a little stream in Joshua tree country down south.

The silver-dollar eucalyptus branch painting that arrived in my home last Sunday was all that my husband and I had wanted. The autumnal greens, gold and reds coordinate with the recliner, lamp, rug, and the seat cushions around the dining table. The expressionist study perfectly fits the room‘s leaf motif.

My husband had known the artist’s husband for years through work in the cab industry; well enough that I’d met the man on more than one occasion. Still, it came as a surprise one day last week when this friend asked if we’d be interested in acquiring an original artwork painted by his wife, Flora.

Charles and I still didn’t realize this was the piece we’d searched for these past few years, not even when Flora informed us that the acrylic on canvass, which we’d seen only a digital image of via email, measured 3½ by 5 feet. We were thinking it would go on the center of that wall. We hadn’t envisioned placing it off-center so that it would cover the intrusively placed circuit breaker box with its rectangular metal face.

Moments after arriving in our living room, Flora sized up the placement of the eyesore and offered her feng shui wisdom. We couldn’t believe we hadn’t thought of it ourselves. Here was the very solution we had sought. The recliner, lamp, rug, dining table with its leafy green tablecloth and the chairs with their arboreal seat cushions, the other framed pictures already hanging in the room, all seemed to whisper in agreement.

It isn’t every day that an artist comes over to deliver an original painting they are giving away, so I’d gone to Trader Joe’s the previous Friday and selected a festive spread of cheeses and crackers. I sliced an apple and a pear to place around the cheeses and scattered mixed nuts all over the tray. To boost the color palette and add crisp to the gooey softness of the runny cheeses, I put baby carrots, radishes, and sliced green and red bell peppers on a separate platter with homemade sour cream-Greek yogurt-onion dip served in a white French onion soup bowl. I set out four of the stunning red dessert plates with pretty pink and blue flowers that I’d inherited from my grandmother. We drank Pellegrino.

We sat down after hanging it to admire Flora’s work and its effect upon the room, and of course Charles and I asked how such a lovely painting came to be given to us.

The silver-dollar eucalyptus branch was one of her earlier works which had never sold, and which she had kept in inventory for more than 20 years.

She could no longer keep it in inventory.

She and 42 other longtime artists were being priced out of the studio where they had created for decades. The deadline was November 30.

Flora, a 26-year tenant of the SoMa Artists Studios, has found a new studio in the Mission District that she can afford, but it is a smaller space, and to move into it, she was giving up some of her inventory.

Of the 43 artists who had cohabitated and created in the SoMa Artists Studio, only 6 have found new studios.

Rising rents are hurting many people in San Francisco these days. It isn’t only people affected by the rental housing market’s stratospheric rents; businesses and nonprofits also are being priced out. Many more have been evicted, or are facing an eviction. Some have been evicted multiple times. Like a scourge, creative types of all varieties are being driven out of the City by the affordability crisis.

Everybody agrees it’s a crisis. Displacement has become a word you hear every day in San Francisco.

Flora told us while we tasted the cheeses that she has become active in the movement to preserve the local artists’ community through the Cultural Action Network. CAN is a group of artists and activists taking actions to protect artists and preserve diverse cultural organizations and spaces in San Francisco through public awareness campaigns and actions, community organizing, and legislative solution.

It was serendipity, meeting Flora under such circumstances. Earlier that month, San Francisco’s municipal election saw several measures placed on the ballot by citizens fighting back against the rising rents and corporate takeover of our government at every level, but nowhere more greedily than the local level.

Our guests, the artist and her cab-driving husband, were thankful to hear that our household too had campaigned for the same values – preserving homes and businesses for working families and creative types — in the months leading to the election. Our candidate had won, unseating an opponent who’d been appointed by the Mayor early in the year, and against the odds of big-money interests who invested heavily in an aggressive character assassination campaign against a progressive running entirely on the Affordable City platform.

On the other hand, the two most hard-fought ballot measures – Prop F and Prop I — had lost. Astronomical sums had been lobbed against them by corporate opponents. Voter turnout had been low.

But much good has come out of the recent election’s campaigns, and for that matter, there is good coming out of the pain of the widespread evictions and displacements. Across the City, communities have been united. A progressive movement has been reignited. We see only the start of the next round before us.

In the fading light of a November Sunday, after a walk around the nearby creek that was followed by pumpkin pie topped by freshly whipped cream and a piping hot pot of spicy chai tea, Flora looked at her silver-dollar eucalyptus branch hanging on our living room wall before turning to go, and said she was pleased with how this had turned out. There was something very feng shui in how her early expressionist artwork, which she’d kept in inventory in her studio for more than 20 years, had finally found its right home.

For more on the story, see http://abc7news.com/1096934/

For more on Cultural Action Network, visit http://www.culturalactionnetwork.org

SBD6 Dem Club Takes a Leadership Role in the Effort to Preserve the City’s Existing Affordable Rental Stock

Busy with so many things these days. This blog post tells the story of Wednesday, Sept. 1, at high noon.

A public rally along San Francisco's Embarcadero on a sunny September day turns peaceful -- but will the good folks of South Beach Marina Apartments get to stay in their homes?
A public rally along San Francisco’s Embarcadero on a sunny September day turns peaceful — but will the good people of South Beach Marina Apartments get to stay in their homes?

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Listen to the Mockingbird

TKAMI’d just re-read To Kill a Mockingbird for a January 2015 book discussion when the news broke, two weeks later, that Harper Lee would publish a long-awaited second novel.

An astonishing development and the timing was a true coincidence, for To Kill a Mockingbird and the group’s animated discussion of it were still fresh in my mind.

After delving into Lee’s narrative of Depression-era, small town Maycomb, Alabama from the point-of-view of young Scout Finch, the nine of us around the long wooden table in the boardroom where the book group meets inevitably got around to discussing Harper Lee. Or to be more precise, we discussed the Harper Lee mystique. Essentially, we pondered why Lee never wrote another book. She’d achieved the greatest heights of literary accomplishment with her debut novel, and any new work would be measured against it. It must have seemed a formidable task.

Or perhaps she didn’t have anything else to say.

Everyone who has read and loved To Kill a Mockingbird has looked up from it in dazed admiration and asked, “This is a first novel? This is an only novel?”

Now, 55 years since Lee published her masterpiece which won the Pulitzer Prize and the hearts of millions of readers, it turns out that a first draft had survived in a safe place near Lee’s home. Assumed irretrievably lost, it was found in late 2014.

Go Set a Watchman will be published in July as a sequel, though it was completed a few years ahead of Mockingbird. Apparently, the story is distinct enough from Mockingbird that it stands alone as a separate account. How it will stack up against Mockingbird in terms of the author’s writing prowess is anybody’s guess. Lee rewrote her first draft at the request of an editor who liked the childhood flashbacks of an adult Scout returning to her hometown 20 years after the trial of Tom Robinson, and asked the first-time novelist to present the story in the point-of-view of the child Scout.

There might have been additional reasons the editor asked the aspiring author to rewrite the manuscript. Reportedly patchy and awkwardly structured, the process of revising it eventually took three drafts and two and a half years.

The true value of Go Set a Watchman might ultimately be to writers and editors who read it together with Mockingbird as a study in revision. It’s with that expectation that I will read Go Set a Watchman.

If it should turn out to be a treasured book in its own right, a long-awaited second novel worthy of its author’s duly lauded debut, then that will just be gravy.

“From now on it’ll be everybody less one–” Atticus teaches his young daughter Scout to do what’s right even if it means not following the crowd.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

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The reception desk I was covering that week was in an office building that was crowded into a tightly-bunched block with another six-story office building, a mental health clinic, an organic supermarket, a trendy café, a high-rise of upscale condominiums with a private parking garage, and two senior housing apartment buildings.

Cars and trucks thundered by along the street out front. Most were roaring past to make it onto a highway on-ramp before the light turned red and held them there, suspended in time, for 60 seconds. Others were coming into the city and had just exited the highway a block back, adrenaline still coursing too fast to slow down.

What a pleasant surprise it was to discover the community garden behind the building during my lunch break on my first day there.

I saw it first from a break room on the fifth floor that overlooked the peaceful garden. No one in the office had told me it was there. I bring a brown-bag lunch wherever the agency sends me on assignment, and when lunchtime came I asked where the break area was. Even before I got to the end of the hall, the promise of something agreeably unexpected beckoned, for there was light coming through the fifth floor window at the end of the hall from an open space outside. Upon reaching the window and looking down, I was greeted by geometrical rows of raised beds in which green things were growing.

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That first day I was content to settle into a comfy swivel chair and eat my homemade sandwich while I observed a few of the gardeners tending their plots. I saw a table with benches and over on one side a very inviting curving bench.

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On my second day there I went out on my lunch break and found a seat on the curving bench to eat and watch the hummingbirds sip nectar from the blooms, while the sparrows and pigeons foraged in the dirt. A young father was pushing his toddler in a stroller up and down the paths between the raised beds. A grandfatherly looking man strolled alone. Here and there were other people having lunch in the garden, like me. It was an urban farm and a city park in one, tucked neatly out of sight from passersby on the busy streets beyond the buildings that surrounded it. The ornamentals were lovely, but outnumbered by the crops these urban farmers were growing for their tables. Various lettuces and other leafy greens, yellow peppers, culinary herbs and other edible plants predominated.

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Even from the fifth-floor window that first day, I realized that the caramel-complexioned gardeners I was seeing in their floppy hats were likely residents of the predominantly Filipino senior housing buildings across the narrow alley from the garden. The fancy organic produce in the nearby supermarket is probably a bit out of reach for these folks on fixed incomes.

All around the city, growth of a different kind is everywhere. Clusters of construction cranes are a common site and luxury high-rises are pushing up on every available lot.

A miracle, these tillers of the soil growing their food while providing a retreat for their neighbors; for how much longer is hard to know that this undeveloped plot will remain the green oasis it is.

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The World Revolves Around Moi

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It was a lovely afternoon and I was thinking of the dinner I’d cook with the food I’d just bought when I got home in a few minutes. I was pulling my groceries in my rolling backpack along the tree-lined sidewalk. My building was next after the one I was then passing.

A car had pulled into the driveway of the building next to mine and was partially blocking the sidewalk ahead of me. The garage door remained closed, and the occupants of the car, two women, appeared to be looking for something in a purse; perhaps the fob that opened the garage door, or directions to the building they intended to find, if it was not this one.

I slowed to be sure the driver saw me. She looked up, made eye contact, and waved to let me know it was safe to pass in front of her vehicle. I nodded and was proceeding to step in front, when…

BLAAAA-AAA-AST!

I jumped out of my skin and stopped. The heads of both women in the car swiveled around.

BLAAA-AA-AAST!

In the street behind us, another car had appeared. It hadn’t been there a second earlier. The driver of that car had already given two angry blasts with her horn. She was indicating with those blasts and her gestures and facial expressions that she wanted the other car to get out of her way. NOW!

This wasn’t a polite little beep meant to say, “Someone’s behind you who wants to get in.” Not a short tap followed by a chance to turn around and then a friendly smile and polite gesture to the driver of the car blocking the way to indicate she needed to get by. A beep like that would have been okay.

The woman behind the wheel of the car in the driveway maneuvered into the street and along the curb, below the sign that clearly spells out, No Parking. I crossed the garage entrance, and after a few steps looked back to see the impatient driver in her car on the sidewalk, waiting for the garage door to open. The whole thing must have happened within 30 seconds.

There’s no law against impatience or rudeness. Still, are people thinking when they behave in such a manner?

Maybe people do that with a car around them because they perceive the car as a kind of armor that conceals their identity. (They’ve forgotten the license plates.) Still, that was so close to home; shouldn’t she have been conscious of the possibility that she might one day find herself personally interacting with these fellow humans?

Didn’t she consider that the occupants of the other car might be people who live in her building, or the person on the sidewalk might live in the building next to hers? Is she that sure she won’t be recognized later as the itch on wheels who blasts other drivers even when there’s a pedestrian crossing the other driver’s path? Does a person who does that simply not care if they are known as an itch?

Aren’t we supposed to be neighborly?

A rhetorical exercise, except for the first question, the answer to which, I’m convinced, is yes.

Specifically what they’re thinking can be answered by the title.

I Like to Think

Nina on Silver, cropped

Shadows were lengthening as the sun began to dip in the winter sky. The visit back home was nearly over, too quickly, after so much time away. Tomorrow I’d be on a plane winging across the continent to where I’ve made my own nest, and who knew how long it’d be till the next time I saw Mom.

I turned a page in an album and a soft-cheeked little girl in a red velvet dress with a white collar and short-cropped, dirty blonde waves peered contentedly at me from astride an amply dappled, shiny gray rocking horse.

“Silver!” I cried, excited as a three-year-old. In an instant I’m warmer than chamomile in a cozy-covered teapot.

“You used to rock on that rocking horse for hours,” Mom said.

(“Hi Ho Silver! Away! Giddy up giddy up giddy up up up! Giddy up giddy up giddy up up up!” I’d sing in time to the William Tell Overture, rocking till I lapsed into meditative contentment, rocking to the squeak-squeak of the springs.)

Over the left shoulder of my childhood self in the picture I gazed at the jalousie windows from which the sunny family room that led out to the patio and backyard derived the name my parents had given it: the jalousie room.

It’s tender, achy, magic, seeing that old photo again.

What evoked the barrage of emotion? The memory of that room? It was the lively center of the first house I lived in.

Knowing that my father, long since deceased, took that picture, proudly, of his only daughter and youngest child?

The photo itself? Developed from real film into a 2 x 3 print with a white border people carefully touched using only their fingertips when it was pulled from a wallet and handed to an acquaintance, as no doubt my father had done with this photo before it had been retired to a page in an album. Something you could touch, not just an image on a screen.

Or was it simply the memory of the cherished rocking horse?

“What became of Silver, Mom?”

My vague recollection is of the metal springs rusting after being left outside on the patio. But I wanted to hear her tell me something different.

“That was so long ago, how can I possibly remember,” Mom sighed. She added, after the faintest pause, “Maybe after you outgrew it, we gave it to another family who had a child.”

Before I turned the page in the album, I looked again at the rocking horse. I was sure it’d had a less kind fate. But maybe I remembered wrong about it being left out in the rain. Maybe another child after me had rocked for hours at a time on it, singing Giddy up giddy up giddy up up up! in time to the William Tell Overture.

At least, I like to think.