Volume 42 Number 32

The hardest time


Here are the few undisputed facts in the slaying of Roderick “Cooly” Shannon: in the quiet early-morning hours of Aug. 19, 1989, Shannon piloted his mother’s green sedan past the modest, boxy houses of their Visitacion Valley neighborhood. As Shannon coasted along, a posse of young men piled into four cars and gave chase, careening after him through the darkened streets. At the intersection of Delta Street and Visitacion Avenue, the hunted 18-year-old plowed up on the sidewalk, crashed into a chain-link fence, and fled on foot. He ran a couple of blocks, pounding into the parking lot of Super Fair, a graffiti- covered liquor- and- groceries joint. The mob – about 12 deep – grabbed him as he tried to scale the fence between the store and the house next door.

They pummeled Shannon. Then one of the thugs executed him with shotgun blasts to the shoulder and head.

Police linked Shannon’s murder to a raging war between hood-sters from Vis Valley and Hunters Point. Young people – mostly African American – in the two housing project-heavy districts were waging a bloody battle for control of the drug trade, a battle that had escalated into a string of life-for-life revenge killings.

Homicide cops figured Shannon’s execution was a retaliatory hit for the “Cheap Charlie” slayings six months earlier. “Cheap” Charlie Hughes was a player in the Hunters Point drug business who’d been gunned down on his home turf at the intersection of Newcomb Avenue and Mendell Street in a massive firefight. The attack, thought at the time to be the handiwork of gangsters from Sunnydale public housing, also took the life of Roshawn Johnson and sent nine others to the hospital with gunshot wounds. Shannon’s killers, the San Francisco Police Department contended, either thought he had a role in the Cheap Charlie shoot-up or simply wanted to take a Sunnydale homeboy out of the game.

In the fall of 1990 two young men were locked up for Shannon’s murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in the state penitentiary.

Both men had alibis, and 10 years later both maintain their innocence. There are a lot of reasons to believe them.

The prosecution’s case relied almost completely on the shaky, ever changing testimony of a pair of adolescent car thieves. A new eyewitness says the convicted men had no part in the killing. And in a plot twist straight out of Hollywood, another person has confessed to the crime.

Despite a pile of exonerating evidence, the prisoners remain caged. But one of them – a spiritual, soft- spoken man named John J. Tennison – has an unusually passionate, stubborn lawyer on his side. Jeff Adachi, a sharp-dressed idealist known for winning tough cases, has spent 11 long years fighting for Tennison’s freedom – and isn’t about to give up. This is the story of the lifer and the lawyer who wouldn’t quit.

The 12-gauge shotgun that took Shannon’s life was never found. Immediately after his death, homicide detectives Napoleon Hendrix and Prentice “Earl” Sanders spent three fruitless days scouring the city for clues. The killers left little meaningful evidence at the murder scene – no fingerprints, no footprints, no blood, no DNA.

Then a 12-year-old Samoan girl named Masina Fauolo called, offering eyewitness information. She said nothing about anybody named Tennison. But after months of talking to the inspectors, Fauolo, a pal of the victim who lived a few blocks from the crime scene in subsidized housing, identified Tennison as a key player in the murder. “Fat J.J.,” she said, held Shannon, while a man named Anton Goff blew him away. A few months later Fauolo’s friend Pauline Maluina, then 14, chimed in with a corroborating narrative.

Besides Fauolo and Maluina, no one would admit to having seen the killing.

During the autumn of 1989, propelled by the testimony of the two girls, police rounded up Tennison and Goff and hit them with first- degree murder charges.

Enter Adachi, a tough- talking young public defender. Scoping the prosecution’s evidence against Tennison, he found a case riddled with inconsistencies. He figured his client would walk. “The girls’ stories never made any sense,” Adachi says today. “I really thought this case was a winner.”

The attorney also found a young man who regarded him with deep suspicion. “I’m sure he had a certain stereotype coming in of public defender,” Adachi says. “A lot of it comes from popular media: you always hear that line, ‘Why was he convicted? He had a public defender.’ Within popular culture in the African American community there’s that distrust of anything related to the Hall of Justice.”

“It wasn’t just [Adachi]; it was the whole predicament,” Tennison explains. “I’d never been in that situation – charged with murder.”

Meanwhile, deputy district attorney George Butterworth was building an indictment of Tennison on the words of Fauolo and Maluina. As he did, their stories mutated.

Fauolo’s account of the August 1989 murder, laid out in trial transcripts, went like this: She’d taken the bus from Sunnydale to the corner of 24th and Mission Streets, where she picked up a stolen two-door gray car from her cousin. Fauolo and Maluina took off, cruising through the Financial District, down Mission Street, and north to Fisherman’s Wharf, before heading back to Vis Valley. The kids parked in the lovers lane up above McLaren Park, smoking cigarettes and looking down on the city.

Four cars, full of people Fauolo referred to as “HP [Hunters Point] niggers” – Tennison among them, she said – slid into the lane. After 10 to 15 minutes a green car drove by, speeding along Visitacion Avenue. It was Shannon in his mother’s car, a vehicle usually driven by his cousin, Patrick Barnett. “There go that nigger Pat!” one of the young men shouted. “He going to pay the price now.”

The Hunters Point posse jumped in their cars and tore off after Shannon, apparently thinking they were pursuing Barnett, a suspect in the slaying of Cheap Charlie.

Fauolo and Maluina peeled out, tailing the chase. When Shannon crashed, Fauolo ditched her car by Visitacion Valley Middle School and followed her friend on foot. From the corner of the Super Fair blacktop, standing beneath a Marlboro sign, she watched as the pack, laughing, beat her friend. Goff, whom Fauolo had never seen before, emerged from the crowd, yanked a “long gun” from the trunk of a car, and boasted, “I’m going to blow this motherfucker out!”

“Don’t shoot him!” Fauolo screamed. “Don’t shoot him.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Goff yelled.

Then, according to Faoulo, Tennison held the victim like a sacrificial offering while Goff popped off four or five shots. As the mob slowly slipped away, Fauolo ran to Shannon’s aid. He was lying face up on the asphalt. “Go get Pat,” he croaked. “Go get Pat.” Wearing a T-shirt memorializing a Sunnydale homeboy who’d been murdered a few months earlier, Shannon died.

When Fauolo first contacted the homicide unit on Aug. 22, she made no mention of J.J. Tennison. Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour call with detective Hendrix, the girl said she’d watched the crime go down, but she couldn’t – or wouldn’t – ID any of the participants.

Only after months of talking to the inspectors on a near daily basis would the girl pin the murder on Tennison and Goff.

Yet at the time of the killing, Fauolo knew exactly who Tennison was. He lived on the same Hunters Point street as her cousins. She saw him nearly every Sunday when she visited her relatives. She knew what kind of car Tennison drove. She knew his name.

So why did the girl wait so long to cough up that name, Adachi wondered. “You wanted to bring the people who were responsible for Cooly’s death to justice…. And still you never mentioned J.J.’s name during this [initial] conversation?” he asked Fauolo.

“Because I – I didn’t – I wasn’t ready to talk to him about anything,” Fauolo responded.

Adachi wasn’t buying it. “We thought that the cops had either convinced or at least influenced the girls to identify Goff and Tennison,” he says.

During that first phone call the girl was, however, ready to describe the vehicles that chased down Shannon. One of them, she said, was a yellow-and-white Buick Skylark. The description set off bells for Hendrix and Sanders. Tennison, a known gangbanger who’d been popped a couple of times for selling weed, owned a car matching that description. They poked around for him.

“I heard from a few people the rumor that the homicide detectives were looking for me,” Tennison recounted in a recent Bay Guardian interview. He stopped by the central cop shop at 850 Bryant. “I asked them what was going on. They basically said, ‘Your car and you were involved in a homicide.’ I basically told ’em we can cut this interview short, that my car was in the impound already.”

Towing-company records proved Tennison’s impounded car wasn’t at the scene of the crime, and he was set free.

Still, on Oct. 31, 1989, after repeated in-depth conversations with the police, Fauolo picked out Tennison from a photo lineup. Now, however, she offered new information. Straining the bounds of credibility, Fauolo insisted that Tennison owned two nearly identical, yellow-and-white Buicks: one with a white vinyl top, the other with a white- painted metal roof.

Prosecutor Butterworth never produced any evidence that this second car truly existed. While the SFPD keeps a photo registry of the vehicles of suspected gangsters, it had no snapshots of this mystery car – let alone the actual auto.

At the trial, medical examiner Boyd Stephens told the court that Shannon’s body bore no bruises: the boy hadn’t been beaten with anything but fists. Though Fauolo had sworn in pretrial depositions that the victim had been attacked with bats and sticks, she now said that she hadn’t seen the mob actually striking Shannon with the weapons.

Other aspects of Fauolo’s testimony are troubling. For one thing, she was standing more than 100 feet away from the crime, on a moonless night. Could she really make out the assassins?

Her recollection of the car chase never jibed with that of another witness who took in the pursuit – though not the actual shooting – from his Cora Street window. Shannon and his assailants, this witness said, had been driving in reverse at high speed for at least part of the chase. The victim backed his car into the ballpark fence at high speed, pursued by a black pickup truck “doing about 35 miles an hour backwards.”

Fauolo, who supposedly had a front-row seat to the incident, never mentioned anything about the vehicles reversing rapidly.

Maluina’s testimony – also documented in court records – was even more suspect. In November 1989 the girl was called into her school principal’s office. Hendrix had some questions for her. Yes, Maluina told the detective, she’d seen Shannon get “mobbed” and killed. How had she happened onto the crime scene? She’d been “walking around.” In Maluina’s version of the night’s events, there was no stolen car.

When Hendrix presented the girl with an array of mug shots, Maluina picked out Tennison but failed to ID Goff as the triggerman. She also selected a third man as a possible perpetrator but later retracted that accusation.

Four months later, at a preliminary court hearing, Maluina wasn’t sure Tennison had been among the mob. “I’m not sure,” she said when asked if the boy was one of the killers.

“And that’s your honest answer?” Adachi asked.

“Yes,” the girl replied.

Goff wasn’t there, Maluina told the court at another early pretrial hearing.

In April 1989 Maluina recanted her testimony completely.

She now told Hendrix and prosecutor Butterworth that she hadn’t seen the crime. In fact, she said, she’d fabricated her whole story at the urging of Fauolo. “I wasn’t there when the incident happened,” Maluina told Butterworth. The other girl, Maluina said, had filled her in on the details of the crime, instructing her to single out the “biggest guy” in the mug shot lineup. (Tennison at that point carried about 200 pounds on his roughly five-foot-nine frame.) “The only reason I picked out J.J.’s picture is because Masina told me to,” she pleaded.

His case crumbling rapidly, Hendrix phoned Fauolo – who had moved to Samoa – and put Maluina on the line. By the time the two friends were finished talking, the girl’s story had morphed once again: Actually, she was there, Maluina informed the men.

When the jury heard the case in October 1990, Maluina was steadfast: she’d seen the crime and could pinpoint Goff as the gunman and Tennison as an accomplice. Fear had driven her testimony through its chameleonic changes, she told the court. She hadn’t wanted to be busted for the stolen car, so she’d left it out of her story. She’d recanted her testimony and denied witnessing the crime because she’d feared violent retribution.

Like Tennison’s supposed second car, Fauolo and Maluina’s boosted sedan was never found; either police had failed to track down the hot car, or perhaps it never existed.

The jury, which took three days to arrive at a guilty verdict, believed Maluina and Fauolo.

I pass through many locked steel doors to reach the home of J.J. Tennison.

At the gates of Mule Creek State Prison, two and a half hours northeast of San Francisco in Amador County, I empty my pockets and stand in my socks. A female prison guard, a middle-aged white woman with a gravity- defying shock of bottle blond hair, scopes the insides of my shoes for contraband. “Bleep-bleep-bleep,” shrieks the metal detector as a Latino mom, grade-school kids in tow, passes through. It’s her underwire bra. The guards have her take it off.

I walk through the metal detector without incident. Ahead of me a 12-foot-tall chain-link door slides open. The moment I step through, it shuts behind me, locking me inside of a claustrophobic six-by-eight-foot cage equipped with two security cameras. The cage door pops open, and I walk out into a small courtyard hemmed in by razor wire. I stride across a heat-scorched lawn into another squat cinder-block building.

Here a stoic correctional officer in a green jumpsuit checks me over before unbolting the thick door to the cafeteria- like visiting room.

Tennison, a bulky black man with a freshly shaved head and a bright smile that seems out of place in this drab universe, greets me warmly. He speaks quietly but forcefully, as if this rare face-to-face encounter with the outside world could end at any moment, a soft drawl rounding off the edges of his words. Now 29, he is hefty but not overweight, childhood fat shed for muscle, his complexion coffee- colored, eyes penetrating.

I’ve journeyed here with Adachi, and a palpable tension hangs in the air when the lawyer relates recent developments in the case. The two men lock eyes; sweat beads on Tennison’s tall forehead. Adachi has little good news. “I know it doesn’t seem like we’re doing shit, ’cause you’re still in here,” he says.

The prisoner responds in a near whisper: “It just gets harder and harder every day.”

The youngest of four boys, Tennison grew up “on the hill,” as they say in Hunters Point, on Northridge Street, splitting time between his divorced parents, Dolly Tennison, a shoe salesperson, and John Tennison Sr., a sheet- metal worker at the shipyard. The tough, largely African American neighborhood in southeastern San Francisco comprised his entire childhood world.

At Sir Francis Drake elementary, Tennison recalls, “I was pretty much like any other kid going there: did the work, didn’t like it, played sports.” Physically chunky from an early age, Tennison loved athletics – “any kind of sports” – but football was his game; that is, when he could keep out of trouble. In his teenage years, between two stints in San Francisco’s youth lockups for selling weed, he played linebacker for the MacAteer High School football squad. Tennison the ghetto entrepreneur cliqued up with the Harbor Road “set,” a loose-knit band of teen and twentysomething males who claimed the area around that street’s subsidized apartments as their exclusive drug- slanging fiefdom.

Some days Tennison figures his decade in prison has been a blessing: it beats being dead, and many of his old running mates are six feet under – a half dozen Harbor Road heads were slain in 2000 alone.

To former friends dwelling “on the outs,” he is forgotten: over his 10 years of incarceration their stream of letters has dwindled, their visits have tapered off entirely. Like most lifers, Tennison has gradually become a ghost, a specter of the man his preprison companions once knew.

He doesn’t keep in touch with Goff; he says he scarcely even knew him before they were arrested.

Survival, family, and faith define the con’s existence. Survival in Mule Creek – host to a preponderance of lifers – means keeping your mouth shut and your head down; avoiding the vagaries of “prison politics” by staying in the good graces of the turnkeys and off the shit lists of other inmates; maintaining your sanity in the face of unending repetition. Tennison does not indulge this journalist’s urge to gather stomach- turning details about penitentiary life; he will only hint at the horrors that transpire behind the walls. “Some thangs you just mentally try to block out. I’ve seen a guy get shot. I’ve seen guys get stabbed. It’s a violent place. One minute it’s nice … the next minute somebody’s being carried away on a stretcher.”

In another 14 years Tennison will be a candidate for parole – in theory, at least. The state, from Gov. Gray Davis on down, is allergic to paroling convicted killers, even those legally eligible for early release. And unless that changes, he will never escape the grip of the California Department of Corrections.

What happens to the person buried – along with some of the ugliest, most brutal people on earth – under an avalanche of concrete and steel, alive with only the faintest prospect of rescue?

The weight of long-term incarceration is famous for creating stony- faced sociopaths, but Tennison seems a flat- emotioned husk of a man who – simply, quietly – endures. If truly innocent, he is living out the mother of all nightmares. Yet when I speak to him, I see only the tiniest hints of rage: no fury at the hand fate has dealt him, no profanities for the cops and prosecutors who put him here, no ill will toward the girls who testified against him. He gripes little about his locked- down environs and must be pressed to complain about the conditions of his confinement. “I live very well compared to a lot of other less fortunate people,” he tells me without the slightest touch of irony.

Home is a six-by-eight-foot cell he shares with another man. Amenities include a 13-inch TV, a CD player, and a Walkman. Work is an 18¢-an-hour job in the prison print shop. Recreation is shooting hoops in the exercise yard after work. Nighttime is reserved for prayer. The joys in the inmate’s life are meager: a familiar song on the radio, warm sunlight pouring through his cell window on a chilly day, a phone call to kin.

Family consists largely of mother Dolly and older brother Bruce. John Tennison Sr. died of cancer in 1993; brother Julius doesn’t keep in close contact; brother Mike was shot in the back and killed a few years back. “I lost my brother, I lost my father, I lost my grandfather since I’ve been in prison. Your [cell] door opens, and you know it’s not time for it to open. You know immediately something’s not right. All three times it’s been like that. I pray and pray and pray that nothing happens to my mother while I’m gone.” From his neck hangs a gold cross, jewelry that once belonged to Mike.

Four or five times a week Tennison’s mind flashes back to the moment he heard the guilty verdict. “I was in total shock, disbelief,” he recounts softly. “My whole body went numb. I couldn’t hear for maybe 30 seconds. Couldn’t speak for maybe another 30 seconds. Out-of-body experience – I just couldn’t believe it.

“As long as it’s been, I can remember that day right now as we speak. At times when I’m just sitting back thinking to myself, I remember just hearing ‘guilty.’ And sometimes I think, what if it was the other way around?”

Every single day of the past decade has “basically been the same. Each step ain’t getting no easier. It’s basically the same routine. First thang when I wake: damn I’m still here. I put it in my mind how I’m gonna deal with this day without interrupting anybody’s program, keep anybody from interrupting my program. Physically it’s the same thang. But mentally it’s getting tougher and tougher.”

Like most of this town’s city-paid defense lawyers, Adachi, a Sacramento native, doesn’t conform to the popular, television- inspired conception of a public defender. He doesn’t show up for court in rumpled, coffee- stained suits; isn’t perpetually outgunned by sharp- witted prosecutors; hasn’t been ground down to a state of indifference.

The son of an auto mechanic and a medical lab technician, Adachi is a true nonbeliever, questioning whether a person of color can ever find justice in an American courtroom.

A handsome, slickly dressed man with greased-back hair and a sleek sable Mercedes, he possesses a genius for ripping apart prosecution testimony. Watching him at work – he’s a pit bull in the courtroom – I get the sense that there is nothing in the world Adachi likes more than practicing law.

These days he takes only the toughest cases. He recently represented Lam Choi, the man indicted for offing a Tenderloin mob boss in 1996 in a high- profile, Mafia- style rubout. He is the lawyer for Jehad Baqleh, the cabbie accused of raping and killing 24-year-old Julie Day. If a murder hits the front pages, chances are Adachi will work it, and much of the time his clients go free. Second in command in the office, he has already filed papers to run for the top slot when current chief Jeff Brown steps down in 2002, and many of his colleagues think he’s a natural choice for the job.

But back in 1989, Adachi was a relative newjack, with just three years under his belt as a city-paid defender. The Tennison- Goff trial was the first murder case he worked from start to finish.

Believing the prosecution had a flimsy case, the young attorney didn’t mount a major- league, call-up- every- witness-you-can-find defense. “That’s the only thing I regret: not putting on more of a case. We really didn’t think it was necessary because what the girls said made no sense. It was chock-full of contradictions.”

Goff’s trial attorney, Barry Melton agrees. “We never really believed they had enough of a case to convict these kids,” recounts Melton, now top public defender in Yolo County. “After all, they were trying to hang these guys on the words of a 14-year-old car thief.”

Both defendants had alibis, but both lawyers were loath to put the exonerating figures – black adolescent thugsters – on the stand, knowing they’d play badly to the jury. Tennison, for his part, contended that during the time in question he’d been picking up friends from the Broadmoor bowling alley. Adachi was scared to even admit to the jury that his client had left the house on the night of the killing.

“If they didn’t think these two kids were in a gang, when they saw all the alibi kids, they definitely would’ve,” Melton explains. “It’s been my experience that half the time people can’t remember what they were doing.”

The jury ruling struck the legal team like an industrial- strength electrical shock. “Oh … my … God,” Melton gasped as the verdict was announced; Adachi was speechless as his client wept openly.

Already tenuous, the bond between Adachi and Tennison crumbled. “I wanted to take the stand,” Tennison remembers. “I figured all [the prosecution] could do was say that I was a drug dealer. I felt that I should’ve testified on my own behalf and my witnesses should’ve testified for me. It would’ve eased the pain for me a little.

“After the trial we kind of pointed the finger at each other. When it was all said and done, I felt he didn’t give it his all. I figured I didn’t get off, so he didn’t do his job.”

Adachi, too, felt let down. “I was angry at him because I thought he didn’t help me. I thought he didn’t trust me because I was a public defender. I could’ve found out more about the case had I had more access to the community. If this had occurred in the Japanese community that I’ve been a part of for years, I could’ve gotten down there and found out everything I needed to know. I did all the regular investigation, talked to all the witnesses, talked to his family, all that. But there needed to be an extraordinary effort, not only to solve a murder but to untangle a web of deceit which had been woven by these two girls.”

Sitting in his Seventh Street office, Adachi holds his fingers a millimeter apart: “We had this much trust after the trial.”

Every defense lawyer has watched – sick in the gut – as a client he or she believes to be inculpable is sent to the pen. These are the trials that haunt; Tennison, his face shrouded in darkness, starred in Adachi’s nightmares for many years after the decision.

“The reason he wasn’t acquitted was because the jury was holding the defense to too high a standard,” contends Adachi, who argues that the town’s then- raging gang war “had the effect of really shifting the burden of proof. If I were to analyze it now, in a gang case where somebody’s dead, you’ve got to prove innocence” – rather than simply raising a reasonable doubt.

When a client is found guilty, the public defender nearly always washes his or her hands of the matter, leaving appeals to state-paid lawyers or private counsel. After all, there’s a steady stream of new clients and no funding for lost causes, which is what most appeals are. Adachi conferred with gumshoe Bob Stemi, the investigator who’d helped him craft Tennison’s failed defense. Both men were devastated. They decided to start over, to excavate fresh evidence and reconstruct the case as if they were headed back to trial.

Adachi began reaching out to Tennison, hoping to resurrect some sense of trust.

A month after the verdict came down, S.F. police officers Michael Lewis and Nevil Gittens picked up a man named Lovinsky “Lovinsta” Ricard Jr. on a routine drug warrant. Ricard had a surprise for them: it was he – not Goff and Tennison – who shot Shannon to death, he informed the cops.

According to police transcripts of that confession, Ricard had been cruising around with a bunch of friends in a convoy of three cars and a black pickup truck, looking to leave somebody from Sunnydale bleeding. The posse stopped to loiter in the parking lot of the 7-11 at Third and Newcomb Streets – just a few blocks from the spot where Shannon was killed. Ricard sat in the pickup swilling Old English malt liquor.

Shannon drove by, and Ricard and company lit out after him. When they got to the Visitacion Avenue ball field, Ricard told the cops, Shannon “ran up on the curb, and at the fence he jumped out. Then we started chasing him. I remember I got off the truck and … some people, they had already cornered him, OK…. And they, over there, they were beatin’ him up. They was beatin’ him up.”

Ricard pulled a 12-gauge from the truck and gunned down Shannon, “because we knew he was from Sunnydale.”

“Were any of two individuals, Antoine [sic] Goff or John Tinneson [sic], do you recall whether they were with you on the night this thing occurred?” one of the officers queried.

“No, they were not,” Ricard responded.

There were some flaws in the story. He was fuzzy on some details, like how many shells he’d put in the shotgun and what brand the gun was. He wouldn’t name any eyewitnesses to back up his claim. And he couldn’t provide the murder weapon.

Ricard’s confession was the kind of thing that happens all the time in the movies and almost never in real life – and despite the limits of his story, Adachi assumed Tennison and Goff could start planning their homecoming parties.

The confession turned out to be a bombshell … that never exploded. Judge Thomas Dandurand shot down a request for a fresh trial. Deeming Ricard’s confession unreliable, the police set him free. Legal documents indicate that Ricard now lives in St. Paul, Minn. (Our attempts to reach him through the mail and by phone were unsuccessful.)

On July 2, 1992, nearly three years after the murder, investigator Stemi convinced a witness to step forward. This person, whom we’ll refer to as Witness X for obvious security reasons, gave police, prosecutors, and the defense a detailed rundown of the slaying and the events that preceded it. The new account – which was taped and transcribed – corroborated Ricard’s confession and included the names of four alleged accomplices to the crime. Ricard was indeed the gunman, Witness X asserted. Tennison and Goff had no part in the crime.

Now, Adachi figured, Tennison and Goff would finally walk. Wrong again. Arlo Smith, district attorney at the time, didn’t feel the narrative was strong enough to reopen the case.

Stymied, Adachi kept probing and enlisted the help of private attorney Eric Multhaup in navigating the maze of court appeals.

Tennison and Goff “had nothing to do with it,” Witness X tells me in a recent interview. “Lovinsta even got up and told that he did it, and that neither J.J. nor [Goff] had anything to do with it. I do know what happened – I was there.”

Over the course of a two-hour conversation Witness X offers a convincing recounting of the crime. “Lovinsta went over there while they were beating him up,” shot Shannon, and “came back with his shirt and everything all bloody and said it felt good.

“Lovinsta asked us never to say nothing; everybody was to be quiet,” the informer tells me. Adachi hired an ex-FBI agent to run a polygraph test on X; according to the machine, the witness is telling the truth.

Witness X claims – as police had theorized – that Shannon was killed to avenge the deaths of Cheap Charlie Hughes and Roshawn Johnson. “It was just anybody at random, whoever it is from Sunnydale, you’re gonna die. Unfortunately, Roderick was right there, and he happened to be from Sunnydale.”

Anton (pronounced “Antoine”) Goff is among the 5,800 humans stuffed into the Corrections Department’s Solano County facility, a strip-mall McPrison built for just 2,100 inmates. It’s luxurious compared with his old digs: Goff spent his first five years on 22-hour-a-day lockdown at the infamous Pelican Bay state pen.

The detectives pegged Goff as a man with a clear motive to murder: he’d been wounded – allegedly by a Sunnydale head – in the Cheap Charlie shooting.

But Goff, now 31, claims he was hanging out with “four or five” buddies on the night of Aug. 29 and never even left Hunters Point. “All of ’em was ready to testify,” he says.

Ricard “was a friend we knew growing up in the neighborhood. He wasn’t nobody I hung around with all the time,” Goff relates, saying he’s positive of the man’s guilt. “He told me everything what happened. He told me personally before I was arrested.”

Tennison was a friend, but not a close comrade, Goff says.

He works out three, four hours a day, playing basketball, sometimes handball. There are no weights in the exercise yard, so Goff builds muscle by lifting other inmates. He studies business, planning for a career that may never come. “You have to be tough to get through the situation, ’cause it’s not easy up in here. You have to have your mind right, or you’ll go crazy.”

Constantly, he asks himself, “Why am I here? Why am I being punished?”

Inspectors Hendrix and Sanders spent better than two decades trying to staunch the city’s bleeding. Both African American, the men staffed the homicide unit throughout San Francisco’s goriest years – the crack- fueled murder binge that ran from 1985 to 1993 – digging into some 500 slayings and solving 85 percent of them. As a team they were the kind of hard-boiled, damn near inescapable cops dreamed up by TV scriptwriters.

These days, 63-year-old Sanders, now assistant chief, seems more grandpa than hard-ass. His mind, however, is anything but soft: talking about Shannon’s execution, he effortlessly calls up minute details from the decade- old incident.

Sanders is indignant at Adachi’s allegation that he and Hendrix might have somehow shaped the statements of Maluina and Fauolo. “That is absolutely untrue. It’s speculation on his part,” the veteran officer tells me. “At no time in my career did I intentionally or unintentionally influence a witness.”

Maluina and Fauolo, the ex- detective insists, “had no axe to grind. They were reluctant to come forward because they had families in the community,” but through many hours of dialogue the cops convinced the girls to take the stand.

“Eyewitnesses all the time have inconsistencies,” he says. “And those inconsistencies were pointed out by the defense counsel, very thoroughly. But those inconsistencies were not enough to shake the judgment of the jury as to the guilt of the two young men.”

Maluina’s flip-flop signified an instinct to protect herself, not dishonesty, Sanders argues. “She was afraid. Witnesses get killed. She was frightened, and rightfully so.”

For Sanders the testimony simply made sense – agreeing with the few clues discovered at the scene. He remains adamant about the girls’ integrity.

I ask about Tennison’s supposed second car, the one that never materialized. Irrelevant, according to Sanders. “I looked at the evidence carefully. We didn’t investigate this overnight. As far as I’m concerned, we laid out the evidence, gave it to the prosecution, which presented it to the jury – and the jury agreed that these two young men were guilty.”

So why would Ricard cop to an assassination he didn’t do? Would an innocent guy really volunteer for a permanent stay in the joint? “I have no idea what his motivation would be – except for pressure from some of his gang members. I don’t doubt that he may have been there, but the information he gave doesn’t fit the scenario.

“I initially thought [the confession] was just to confuse the issue, because he did not have the details of what happened. We know exactly the route of the chase. We know what corners – we know where the car was crashed. He didn’t know all that. I don’t know why he came forward. I have no idea.”

Tennison and Goff deserve the purgatory they now dwell in, the cop assures me.

(Hendrix, who retired in 1999 after 34 years on the force, declined to be interviewed for this story.)

Silence governs the urban underworld. Rule one is: you do not snitch. Rule two: Breaking rule one is a transgression punishable by death. Case in point: two witnesses in San Francisco murder cases were slain just in the last two months.

Witness X named three other supposed witnesses, and Adachi’s archaeology has focused on unearthing these characters. Scouring credit data, Department of Motor Vehicles info, court records, and prison rolls, Adachi, along with investigator Stemi, hunted up two of these people, only to run head-on into the code of the streets. Bringing along a tape of Ricard’s confession, Adachi and Stemi paid a visit to one of the alleged witnesses, a convicted dope dealer doing time in the San Quentin state pen. See, they said, your buddy turned himself in; he’s trying to take responsibility for his actions. No dice, the man replied. I don’t got shit to say to you.

Contacting another alleged witness (this one a small-time rapper) via a trusted intermediary, they again came up empty. It didn’t matter that Ricard had already incriminated himself: nobody wanted to talk. Besides, Shannon had been besieged by a mob, and flapping lips could conceivably lead to more arrests. There is no statute of limitations on murder.

“All of them are scared that they’ll go to jail,” Witness X figures.

Since the trial, Maluina and Fauolo have made themselves scarce – both have moved in and out of San Francisco on several occasions – eluding attempts by Adachi and Stemi to reach them. (The Bay Guardian was unable to contact either woman.)

Despite all of the dead ends, Adachi and Tennison have, if anything, grown closer, writing letters and speaking on the phone every couple of weeks.

Adachi keeps the Tennison- Goff trial transcripts next to his paper- covered desk. His notes on the case are jammed into a dozen overstuffed binders lining an office bookshelf. The trial exhibits are stacked in a corner. He and Stemi still discuss the case two or three times a week.

Adachi is amazed at Tennison’s resilience. “I’ve seen him mature into a very spiritual man. For him to be as strong as he’s been – that’s what hits home to me now. How could he stand up to that?”

“I not only think of him as my attorney,” Tennison says, “but I consider him a good friend who’s giving his all to get me out. I think of him as a damn good friend.”

Adachi tells me he “will never, ever give up” on his client. “I don’t care what it takes. I could be 80 years old. I’ll never give up.”

It’s a commitment that has won him praise from his peers. “You’re not going to find too many lawyers with the heart Jeff Adachi has,” ventures Scott Kauffman, a private defense lawyer who specializes in gang cases and death penalty appeals. “I definitely think he’s doing it for J.J., but at another level it’s personal. This case has caused him a lot of pain. I’ve seen him talk about the case – he’s almost in tears.”

Goff’s attorney, Melton, lauds his former cocounsel: “He’s been steadfast. Given the information about the case, you have to remain committed.”

But what if Adachi’s instincts are wrong, and Tennison did murder Shannon? If so, Adachi has wasted 11 years attempting to unchain an assassin.

To keep from obsessing over her son’s fate, Dolly Tennison works herself to exhaustion. Mornings, she clerks at a department store; nights, till 4 a.m., she attends to an ailing 83-year-old woman. Seven years back Dolly fled to a small, solitary apartment on the peninsula. Hunters Point was tainted with “too many damn memories.”

Dignified, her clothes and medium-length hair immaculate, Dolly looks like she’s working very hard to keep her chin up, to keep darkness from closing in. Given the age of her children, she must be approaching senior citizen-<\d>hood, but she looks trim and healthy.

“It hurt like hell for them to say 25 to life for my child,” she tells me, her words rushing out all at once, only to trail off just as quickly. Portraits blanket the walls of her home: chubby Buddha babies; a granddaughter in prep-school togs; son Bruce on his wedding day; J.J. in prison blues; murdered son Mike looking hard.

Dolly beckons me to take in the snapshots from her vantage point on the couch. “I think I’ve been glued to this spot since Mike died. I can sit here and see all my family. I’ll sit here all day long waiting for [J.J.] to call as long as I can hear his voice,” she tells me, pointing to the photo of her dead son, “<\!s>’cause there’s one over there I can’t touch.”

Like the parent of a long- disappeared child, she holds out an almost irrational hope that her son will one day emerge from exile. “My best day is when I go visit my kid. It’s hard knowing my child may not be coming home soon, but he’s gon’ come home.” Dolly is her son’s rock; prayer, she tells me, is her anchor.

Slowly shaking his head, 34-year-old Bruce, a San Francisco parking lot attendant, raises his voice. “I understand that it’s been 10 years outta his life, but it’s been 10 years outta my life, too, 10 years outta my momma’s life. Gone. Can never get back.” Enraged, he blames the legal system for his brother’s lot.

Bruce daydreams about the day his younger sibling is liberated: “He’d just call me and tell me what he’d wanna ride home in. Budget’ll rent anything – a limo, an R.V., whatever. I want just to ride and talk with him – free. No doors closing behind us. The wind blowing on our little bald heads. Seeing the sun rise and the sun set.”

On a mid- November morning, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the highest- ranking federal court in the western United States, will hear Tennison’s plea. The judiciary hasn’t smiled on Tennison’s appeals: four courts have vetoed his bid for a new trial. The last rejection – by a federal district judge – came in March, leaving Adachi “gutted” and Tennison dejected.

The 9th Circuit’s Mission Street courtrooms are housed in a stately $91 million granite edifice – the interior all marble and polished wood. Inside courtroom three, a pristine chamber worthy of a Tennessee Williams drama, hangs a tile mosaic depicting a freed slave, shackles snapped, approaching a white Lady Justice on bended knee. Beneath the image, on a walnut pew, sit Dolly and Bruce Tennison.

Dolly, dressed for business in a black pantsuit, clutches a form letter from the court: Adachi’s ally, attorney Multhaup, will have 10 minutes to argue before the bench. Bruce throws an arm around his mother’s shoulders. Eleven years in prison, and J.J. Tennison’s fate – whether he will spend the rest of his days behind bars – rests on a 10-minute conversation and a legal brief. Multhaup’s argument today is simple: the lower federal court has abandoned its constitutional duty by refusing to review new evidence in the case.

“We have a claim here that the petitioner is presenting new evidence of factual innocence,” Multhaup tells the panel somewhat nervously.

“But the state courts reviewed this evidence,” one judge replies.

“We had a preemptive strike by the [federal] District Court. The [S.F.] Superior Court that dismissed the case was in no way reasonable, in my opinion. And how many times does this happen in the criminal justice system? We have a person who’s come forward and confessed to the crime.”

The judges launch a fusillade of questions at Multhaup, at one point rattling him a bit. In 10 minutes the hearing is history.

Outside the courtroom the Tennisons, solemn faced, huddle with Multhaup. The attorney plays the optimist, while Diana Samuelson, the lawyer handling Goff’s appeals, is less sanguine, telling me she thinks the circuit will kill the petition.

Prosecutor Butterworth would not speak to the Bay Guardian for this piece. He did, however, fax a one-page rebuttal to Tennison’s charges, which reads in part: “This matter has been reviewed several times by the office of the District Attorney and the San Francisco Police Department based upon the allegations raised [in Tennison’s ongoing appeal]. Nothing has been presented to date that would justify ‘re-opening’ the investigation.”

Grilling Tennison, I look for cracks in his story, telling slipups that might point to his guilt. His account of the night in question – that he was sleeping at a friend’s house, then picking up pals from the bowling alley – corresponds to what he told detectives 11 years ago as they ran the good cop-<\d>bad cop routine.

Why would Fauolo and Maluina lie and put away an innocent man, I ask.

“Over the years I’ve asked myself the same question and still haven’t come up with an answer,” he tells me. But “right out the gate it was no doubt in my mind that the homicide inspectors, the D.A., or somebody put ’em up to this, because I knew they were pointing out the wrong person. As for [Goff], at the time I wasn’t sure, but I was definitely sure that they had the wrong person when they pointed out me.

“I’ve said it from day one: I’m not a murderer. I was a drug dealer at the time. It wasn’t nothing to be proud of, or ashamed of. I was locked up for it twice. I did my time.

“In a time when you want people to believe in the justice system and that the system works, I’m a perfect example that the system is screwed up – from the top to the bottom. And as of right now I can’t see it no other way. Everything is in black and white.”

Tennison is relaxed, coming off like a man who can’t be bothered to front, as I put him on trial all over again. Maybe he’s guilty as hell; maybe he snuffed out Shannon’s young life. But if so, his body language and speech patterns offer no subtle indications of that. When Tennison was picked up by the SFPD, Hendrix and Sanders interrogated him for hours, without a lawyer, and his explanation of the crucial hours never wavered. I wonder if something in his 17-year-old demeanor spelled out “executioner” to the homicide detectives.

I put the question to Sanders. “I worked over 500 murder cases,” the veteran lawman responds. “I’ve talked to a lot of killers in my day, and if I had any indication that he was innocent, I would’ve let him go.”

Uncomfortable playing Solomon, I run Tennison’s story by an old ex-con who spent 25 years in some of the state’s most notorious lockups. “Every guy inside will tell you he’s innocent,” I tell him. “And every bleeding-heart journo wants to believe him.”

“Yeah, but you know, after 10 years or so inside, it becomes really hard to lie,” the former prisoner responds. “You just get so tired, so worn down, it’s impossible to keep up a lie.”

Never mind the fact that Tennison passed a polygraph test.

The 9th Circuit’s ruling arrives in Adachi’s mailbox Dec. 15. He reads through the five-page decision with his heart in his throat. The key information comes in the last two paragraphs: “Tennison’s conviction appears to rest largely on the testimony [of two little girls]. Tennison’s new evidence, taken together, calls into question the reliability of these eyewitness identifications.”

And then, two sentences later: victory. The judges are overturning the ruling of the lower court, instructing federal judge Claudia Wilken to mount a “thorough review” of Tennison’s situation.

It doesn’t mean the inmate is going home tomorrow, nor even that he’ll necessarily get a new trial, but the decision does require Wilken to examine the sworn statements of Ricard and Witness X and to determine whether a retrial should be ordered.

Adachi is elated. Dolly Tennison seems relieved, as if she can finally start breathing again. Bruce Tennison feels like “Christmas came early.”

An upbeat John J. Tennison phones me. “I finally had three judges look over the case and see what should’ve been saw a long time ago.”

Grinning today, the prisoner has already begun steeling himself for rejection at the next round. “I play a lot of basketball to take my mind off it. The [courts] are playing God. My life is in other people’s hands, and there’s nothing I can physically do. Nothing.”

Go Daddy-o


CULT FILM STAR Veteran actor Robert Viharo apparently doesn’t like talking about the shlockier stuff in his résumé. Of which there is a lot — although maybe no more than typical for any long-term Hollywood player who didn’t reach that plateau where one can be picky.

For each prestigious film he was involved in — Romero (1989) with Raul Julia, television’s Evita Perón (1981) with Faye Dunaway, even 1967’s endlessly campy but hugely popular (even before gay people were invented) Valley of the Dolls — there were gigs of lesser repute. He guest-starred in network series from good (Hill Street Blues, The Fugitive, Kojak) to iconically beyond-good-and-evil (Dark Shadows, The Mod Squad, Starsky and Hutch, The A-Team). He appeared in independent features both cool — notably Over-Under, Sideways-Down, SF collective CineManifest’s forgotten agitprop 1977 feature — and crappy. The following year in The Evil, he got electrocuted by Victor Buono as a cackling Satan.

Ironically, the very private Los Angeles resident’s son is East Bay "Thrillville" impresario Will Viharo, a man who looooves his retro shlock. Expressing filial affection — if perhaps not exactly as dad might prefer — Will "The Thrill" presents two of pop’s prime ’70s big-screen vehicles in a Thrillville "Papa-Palooza" at Oakland’s Parkway. Neither assignment likely thrilled a Lee Strasberg–trained Actor’s Studio protégé who had hoped his career would turn out more Brando and less CHiPs. But they’re both fun throwbacks that he brings considerable presence to.

Return to Macon County (1975) has him as a Georgia cop in pursuit of hot-rodders who royally ticked him off: then-unknowns Nick Nolte (Bo) and Don Johnson (Harley). This quasi-sequel to the 1974 hicksville hit Macon County Line (which featured Max "Jethro" Baer Jr. as Viharo’s equivalent) is a larkier affair, all ’50s nostalgia, wacky car chases, homoerotic undercurrents (when Bo gets a girlfriend, Harley bridles), and dialogue like so: "Arright, skin ‘er on back, Jack, and don’t talk back!"

Viharo got the too-rare chance to carry a movie in 1977’s Bare Knuckles. Los Angeles bounty hunter Zachary Kane, clad in shiny leather and tight denim throughout, is friendly-to-flirty with every street denizen, including tranny hookers — yet he kicks snarling leatherman ass in a gay bar scene. Message: sure he’s hep, but still a man, muthablowahs! (Even if in private moments he assumes the lotus position to play the flute.) Kane rescues a mistress (Sherry Jackson) from her abusive sugar daddy … in a Pizza Hut parking lot, no less. Naturally she ends up menaced by the ladykiller (Michael Heidt) Kane is hunting down, psycho son of a Hollywood socialite mother ("Bring me another double Bloody!") resented both for commencing and ceasing incestuous relations.

Thespian (Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Green Acres) turned occasional director (1975’s Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS) Don Edmonds here combines blaxploitation-style action with proto-slasher horror. But the centerpiece is Viharo Sr. With frizzy ‘do, thick ‘stache, and middling fitness (despite a training montage), he’s like a more realistic Looking for Mr. Goodbar take on Burt Reynolds, then riding high on big-budget versions of Bare Knuckles and Macon County. Kane is hardboiled sexy ("I’m in a rough business! I don’t need a woman tellin’ me how to do it!"), but you’d best get an STD check after sharing that hot tub.

Robert Viharo ditched commercial gigs by the early ’90s, eventually finding worthy screen work again in Rob Nilsson’s improv-based "9@Night" series, which premiered in recent years at the Mill Valley Film Festival. With tenderness and rage, he plays the homeless Malafide, who as much as any character connects all nine films together. The whole cycle is expected to play Bay Area theatres this fall, an occasion the actor might even be willing to comment on.

But don’t expect him to show up for "Papa-Palooza," where his vintage visage shares the bill with the live Twilight Vixen Revue.


Thurs/8, 7:30 p.m., $10


1834 Park Blvd, Oakl

(510) 814-2400, www.thrillville.net



› a&eletters@sfbg.com

It’s 1792 and the Terror reigns in Paris, the euphoric overthrow of the old regime in the name of universal brotherhood having given way to a fiesta of bloodletting and fear. Hiding out from the revolutionary mob, just a stone’s throw from the Bastille, a weathered aristocrat, Count Almaviva (Dominique Serrand), and his reluctantly loyal and much put-upon servant Fig (Steven Epp) carp and cavil and niggle at each other, poking old wounds and replaying the past. In Theatre de la Jeune Lune’s West Coast premiere of Figaro (adapted by Serrand and Epp), this adds up to an extremely agile blending of Mozart, Pierre Beaumarchais’ three Figaro plays, a bit of real-life biography (that old aristo holed up in a half-empty mansion resembling Beaumarchais himself), and something more besides that verges on poignant modernist doubt.

Berkeley Repertory’s massive Roda stage, left largely bare, provides ample scope for Jeune Lune’s audacious production, which includes operatic performances by a talented 10-member cast, the 7th Avenue String Quartet in the pit (conducted by pianist Jason Sherbundy), and actor-director Serrand’s wall-size video designs, which alternately cast the impression of once-lavish, now destitute surroundings and channel a live feed for some extreme and affecting closeups. The Minneapolis-based company (last here in 2006 with a memorable production of The Miser) proves adept at keeping several theatrical balls in the air, not least the music (Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro being well served), commedia dell’arte–inflected physical comedy (a representative gesture of Serrand’s Almaviva is a half-squat, with hands jutting back directing an unseen servant and chair assward), and several narrative lines looping through a series of flashbacks.

The central relationship between master and servant carries the most charge, as well as humor — Epp’s Fig is a hilariously affronted and rather naïve exponent of newfound democratic values. (Boasting of the newborn United States, he says: "They have a president, not a king who sits on the throne just because his daddy did. His name is George, um … something with a W.") Serrand’s marvelous Almaviva, meanwhile, is as astute in his political cynicism as he is childish in his pampered sense of entitlement. But the ingenious text soon loses the thread of their rich relationship among the several narrative strands that necessarily enter from the wistfully, painfully recollected past. For all the success of Figaro‘s ambitious and expert mix — and the transporting music, dynamic staging, and expert performances — something is sacrificed in not pursuing the crucial relationship between the Count and Fig more rigorously.

Clearly something more than Beaumarchais or Mozart is at stake. Epp’s multifaceted text seems to include, among other things, a sidelong glance at Samuel Beckett. Fig (a Beckett-like moniker for sure) and the Count, despite the weight of their shared history, sound thoroughly modern. Locked in a terrible if comical reciprocal bind, master and servant here lend the play an enticingly far-reaching metaphor. Just behind the obligatory if piquant jabs at Bush and Iraq, a larger theme looms, suggesting the limits and contradictions of modern liberal democracy itself. Those great booming flashes of cannon fire that finally punctuate the action seem to simultaneously signal a new order and an apocalypse, as if, there at the inception of the modern, the Revolution has revealed itself as both a cradle and grave in one.


Through June 8

Tues and Fri–Sat, 8 p.m. (also Thurs and Sat, 2 p.m.)

Wed and Sun, 7 p.m. (also Sun, 2 p.m.), $13.50–$69

Berkeley Repertory, Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison, Berk

(510) 647-2917, www.berkeleyrep.org


The playful title of PUS’s ("Performers Under Stress") program of Samuel Beckett shorts denotes the sequel to last season’s Beckett program, Sam I Am. But the mingling here of Dr. Seuss’s nursery school rhymes with serial killer élan seems nothing if not apt. The formerly Chicago-based PUS continues to offer worthwhile if uneven stagings of otherwise rarely seen pieces. The selection this time is another uneven affair, but concludes with the essential monologue Krapp’s Last Tape, featuring a sure and absorbing performance by Skip Emerson as the aging Krapp reviewing the reel-to-reel recordings of his impossibly distant younger self. Emerson conveys the despairing character’s many colors: the clown, the buffoon, the baboon with his banana, the poet, the pretentious "I" of the tapes, all impossibly disconnected somehow from the man onstage. (Avila)

Rhyme and reason


› kimberly@sfbg.com

SONIC REDUCER "All rap is, like, ‘I’m rapping like a brain-damaged grandpa.’ All this ‘I’m so rich and ate so much. I’m not running on this beat, even if I have to.’ It’s arrogance — that’s the style these days. Y’know, savvy and wit still show up once in a while in this modern rap, but, uh, style, discipline, such things, are fucking gone."

Best to just jump out of the way of the barreling train o’ thought when the engineer is Adam Drucker, a.k.a. Doseone, a formidable, motor-mouthed MC in his own right — Subtle semiotician, Anticon collective co-padre, and a legendary freestyle battle rapper who went up against the then-raw Eminem at Cincinnati, Ohio’s Scribble Jam all of a decade ago. Add more descriptors to that ‘shrooming list of credentials: teacher, mentor, succorer of aspiring word-slingers.

When I called Drucker last week, he was thwack in the middle of evaluating the freestyle rap class of Oakland kids at Youth Movement Records. Drucker went in a couple months ago to talk about rap. "I didn’t really have an idea if I was gonna be, like, a white man coming in with a lot of unusable knowledge, because if they weren’t even in touch with recording equipment there wasn’t a lot I could tell them except funny stories about rappers they don’t know because they’re too young," he told me. Instead he walked in, and, he says, "I’m like, ‘Uhhh,’ while the guys who run this thing are trying to talk to me, and the whole time I’m looking at the cipher and I’m like, ‘Oh, shit, I wanna go rap!’<0x2009>"

All right, then. As Drucker confessed, "freestyling is a zen thing — you can’t really teach it," but he’s quick to add that "it will take these kids from rap writers to vocal personalities." YMR, at the very least, teaches the kids Reason software, how to make beats, and even better, records them. And in addition to his critiques, Drucker handed each student a "pivotal rap record to take home and memorize for the summer."

He was particularly psyched when one of the kids, a promising rapper and vocalist, started singing "5 O’Clock Follies," word for word, from the Freestyle Fellowship LP he gave him: "I was like, ‘Wow, there you go.’ I did one good thing, that’s for sure."

Even as Drucker is effecting change, his main project Subtle has been going through switch-ups of its own: take, for instance, the group’s new album, Exiting Arm (Lex), the latest installment in the mythical adventures of Drucker’s alter ego, Hour Hero Yes, which displays a softer, gentler, dare I say, even cunningly subtle side of Subtle, with Drucker doing more singing than slanging.

"It likes you, this record," he said happily, before quickly qualifying that thought. "Actually this isn’t a pop record. I’m not singing out about making out with three girls in one night on this motherfucker. There’s more doors and windows to a song. Things seem simpler. The tempos are more accepting — you’re not behind all the time."

Even Subtle survivor and onetime Amoeba Music hip-hop buyer Dax Pierson has weighed in positively on the new recording, reported Drucker, saying that it’s the happiest Pierson’s been with a Subtle record since the accident that left him a quadriplegic. Drucker said Pierson took control of "Gonebones," playing autoharp, creating basslines, singing, beatboxing, and programming drums.

Still, with Vanilla Ice back in the news and Mariah Carey at the top of Billboard‘s R&B/hip-hop charts, it’s hard not to follow Drucker’s choo-choo concerning the dubious state of hip-hop — just ask the Oaklander about Nas ("He talked about the streets and being gangsta, and he was on the verge of becoming a rapping man’s rapper, five mics, rap incarnate, and then he had to choose and he became the lesser of the two. He became the guy in the Versace pants."). But his disillusionment hasn’t stopped Drucker from continuing to apply the core hip-hop tenets — contrived or no — that he forged as a young fan to his music.

In case you were wondering, those beliefs include: (1) the thing where "you were always in the dark in a park and you hafta be ready to fucking fight for the meat on the hide — this battle mind," (2) "You can’t do the same thing twice — that’s for old people and studio gangstas," and (3) "Steal, steal, steal. But you do it with fucking respect — you want to be accountable for that shit, and you want to be able to see those people and somehow possibly say, without feeling like a douche-bag, ‘You inspire me. I made music out of your music.’<0x2009>"

Hell, Drucker added merrily, "It’s just a large-form steal. There are no boundaries. Unfortunately it’s a little annoying sometimes, but mostly all’s fair in love and hanging out with me."


With Facing New York and Clue to Kalo

Wed/7, 9 p.m., $15

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF




Hell Bent for Letters (Alternative Tentacles), indeed. The combo issues short, sharp metal bons mots to their beloved sci-fi and fantasy writers. Fri/9, 9:30 p.m., $8. Eli’s Mile High Club, 3629 MLK Jr. Way, Oakl. www.oaklandmilehigh.com. Sat/10, call for time, free. Dark Carnival Books, 3086 Claremont, Berk. (510) 595-7637. Sat/10, 9 p.m., $10. Annie’s Social Club, 917 Folsom, SF. www.anniessocialclub.com


With a new album in paw, the Hawaii-Chicago transplants puzzle over the folk-rock good times once again. Sat/10, 9 p.m., $21. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com


No, there is no Fern. Philly combo Fern Knight nurtures Margaret Wienk’s acoustic-electronic musings. Having transitioned from death metal to elfin folk, Ex Reverie’s Gillian Chadwick turns in a gorgeous The Door into Summer, released on Greg Weeks’ Language of Stone imprint. With Mariee Sioux. Sun/11, 9 p.m., $8. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com

A tale of two burgers


The road goes ever on and on, often past fast-food stands. A two-hour toddle from LAX to the Coachella Valley took us across the belly of the beast, South Central Los Angeles, where traffic is as horrible as rumor has it despite the $4-per-gallon gasoline prices thoughtfully delivered by Bush & Co. When gas is $40 a gallon, I wondered (by Labor Day?), will it make a difference? The consensus view in the cabin of Zippy, our Wonder Dodge, was No. When I gunned Zippy’s brave little four-cylinder engine, I heard the sound of someone with a hand mixer whipping egg whites into a meringue under the hood.

Fast food may be a distinctively American evil, but I retain an affection for the southland’s Del Taco chain nonetheless, mostly because of the fish tacos, which are excellent. Why, then, did I order a cheeseburger when we pulled over for a spell to let a surge of road fatigue (perhaps tending toward rage) subside? Was the 99-cent price a factor? Even in fast-food places, you get what you pay for; the Del Taco burger is about 95 percent bun — the Bun Burger! — with a layer of grim gray beef, about the thickness of bresaolo, tucked deep inside, cowering under a slice of pickle.

You get what you pay for, I should say, except if you are eating at Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne in midtown Manhattan, as we were a few weeks ago. There, the burger costs $32 — that’s dollars, not cents — and is made from ground sirloin and presented on a parmesan bun with some foie gras. Notwithstanding all this splendor, the burger was dry. We consoled ourselves with an ice cream sundae, which turned out to be $16. New York has plainly identified dollar-bearers as losers and is casting its lot with visitors from euro-land. To people whose currency is actually worth something, Manhattan prices wouldn’t seem too out of the ordinary.

If the Boulud-burger was a bust, the restaurant’s choucroute was marvelous. (DB Bistro Moderne’s chef is Alsatian and gets to put on a small show Monday evenings.) Choucroute — let alone good choucroute — is a dish you rarely see on restaurant menus, and at $34 it gives incomparably better value than the burger. I am not, however, hoping that a 99-cent version shows up at Del Taco.

Paul Reidinger

› paulr@sfbg.com

A beginner’s — and teacher’s — mind


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Ask Toshio Hirano how he discovered honky-tonk music and he replies with the question: "How much time do you have"? It’s not a simple answer and he explains his transformation from fanatic to performing artist the same way a musicologist might discuss the development of recording techniques from the Edison cylinder to digital audiotape. Hirano is part teacher, anyway — and part student — still discovering his roots at age 57.

His audiences can be divided into two camps: faithful veterans and incredulous newbies. No doubt the newbies are brought to gigs with reassurances akin to "No, really, it’s good." They enter the bar together, and Hirano is onstage doing one from the repertoire: maybe it’s Hank Thompson’s "Humpty Dumpty Heart." Hirano’s vocal twang, inflected with his Japanese accent, wraps around the hillbilly syllables of the song as if his native Tokyo were an Appalachian homestead. Meanwhile his acoustic guitar, with its jangling hammer-ons, rattles over the chord changes like a train passing over railroad ties, convincing the audience that this is no novelty, but an authentic piece of Americana. The believer looks eager: "Are you feeling this?" Hirano has already charmed the first-timer, who inevitably wonders, "This is crazy. What’s his deal?"

Japan was awash with American records during the early 1960s, and although Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley held sway in the schoolyards, it was Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, and the Kingston Trio who captured Hirano’s imagination. From there it wasn’t a far leap to his first bluegrass record — by the Country Gentlemen — which he could only acquire from a specialty shop. "It was a funny feeling [to be] listening to music that not a lot of people knew," he confessed on a recent Saturday afternoon, flanked by a wall of used books at the Mission Creek Café. "I felt cool."

The galvanizing moment in his early education came in 1972 when a friend lent him a Jimmie Rodgers record. "On the cover he was leaning over a Cadillac with a cowboy hat, looking so good," Hirano remembered. "It was recorded in 1928, before Hank Williams and before Bill Monroe." Rodgers’ reading of "Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia" was the Big Bang for Hirano, an event that still roars 35 years later. "When I play any songs the sound of Jimmie Rodgers is in there," he explained. "I would not be singing Hank Williams without Jimmie Rodgers. Every song fits on the foundation of his sound."

In 1975, on his 24th birthday, Hirano arrived in Atlanta, Ga., an employee in a Japanese mushroom enterprise. "I don’t believe in God in the religious sense but I do believe in fate," he offered as a way to sum up his American life, a pilgrimage of sorts cast with fortuitous acquaintances and serendipity. It wasn’t long before his mushroom interest went south, and facing an expiring work visa, Hirano chanced into a job as the maître d’ in Music City’s first Japanese restaurant, where he routinely catered to Nashville’s biggest country stars.

Three years later Hirano was enrolled in a guitar course in Red Wing, Minn. — a town bisected by Highway 61, he notes. At the end of the term, the class held a party where everyone had to play a song. "There was a punk rock guy from San Antonio in the class and he said, ‘Toshio, did you just play Hank Sr.? You have to come to Texas.’ "

Once installed in Austin, Hirano busked on the streets and played gigs his friend arranged. "I never thought about performing until he encouraged me," Hirano said. But an Asian man playing old-time country standards in Texas attracts a kind of attention that is not altogether genuine. "I was overly welcomed. I was only playing Jimmie Rodgers in cafes, and they treated me like a big star." He simply wanted to share the music he loved, but the novelty of his act became a burden.

San Francisco promised freedom from celebrity, and from audiences for whom country music is a birthright. "I started feeling, wow, I’m reintroducing old American music to Americans." Ultimately this role evolved into a neat byproduct of his act. "My original pleasure is still the same," he continued. "Every time I sing an old country tune, I just feel so good." Now his satisfaction is in part due to the torch he bears for America’s musical heritage, "If [the audience] likes the songs, I tell them, ‘Buy Jimmie Rodgers.’ "

The exchange goes both ways. Hirano, a self-confessed guitar amateur, learns songs based on suggestions from audience members. On any given night, he and his band — bassist Kenan O’Brien and violinist Mayumi Urgino — play 25 songs, less than half by the Blue Yodeler. Hirano has yet to perform the one original song he has written in the 40 years since he first picked up a guitar.

There’s something utterly refreshing about an artist with nothing to sell. Hirano’s only ambition is to keep his once-a-month gigs at Amnesia and the Rite Spot, where the pass-the-hat informality is infectious and the singing is as authentic as an early Victrola recording. A performer for whom authorship is foreign and attention is baneful, Hirano finds his fulfillment in participating. "I am fortunate to have run into this old music," he told me, grinning.


Second Mondays, 8:30 p.m., free


853 Valencia, SF

(415) 970-0012


Also last Saturdays, 9 p.m., free

Rite Spot

2099 Folsom, SF

(415) 552-6066


Elbow on the table


"Darling, is this love?" asks Elbow’s Guy Garvey quietly in the middle of "Starlings." He is answered by a deafening blast of horns, an apocalyptic brass rejoinder meant to warn the world of an oncoming storm of romantic uncertainty. What kind of universe renders the joys of love as equal parts worry and wonder? One that has fallen in and out of obsession — a planet of newly born babies, lost lovers, and fallen friends. Elbow brings this cast of characters and plots to life with Seldom Seen Kid (Polydor), its first album in three years, a study in carefully crafted atmospherics that intrigue without descending into melodrama.

Elbow began 17 years ago when the members met in college at Bury, England. They moved to Manchester and proceeded to release a series of critically lauded EPs before offering up 2001’s Asleep in the Back (V2) followed by Cast of Thousands (V2, 2004) and Leaders of the Free World (Fiction/Geffen) in 2005. Along the way, the group became famous for clever, multilayered orchestral pop music and the evocative storytelling of Garvey’s lyrics. For Seldom Seen Kid — a tribute to late singer-songwriter and friend of the band Brian Glancy — Elbow created the album on its own in a Salford, England, studio, giving production credits to keyboard player Craig Potter.

While the so-called concept album can easily be construed as pretentious endeavor, nowhere is it more appropriate than with Elbow. Using ambient noise between sweet lulls and stark melodic layers, Seldom Seen Kid invites listeners to poke around its aural library and browse for stories until they find one that suits them. On songs like "Grounds for Divorce," heavy, churning riffs buoy Garvey’s wary summation of the dangers embedded in a typical day of British life. "There’s a hole in my neighborhood down which of late I cannot help but fall," Garvey explains in the track, making pointed reference to a local pub and the lure of drowning daily concerns in a pint glass.

Not that Elbow’s world is a completely dark land: for every glum reminder, there are moments of bliss, domestic and otherwise. "Audience with the Pope" is a tongue-in-cheek litany of overstatement, during which Garvey attests that he’s "saving the world at eight / But if she says she needs me / Everybody’s gonna have to wait." Whether examining the victories and failures of life or swooning under the charms of love, Seldom Seen Kid spins a smartly crafted series of vignettes that keep Elbow in the upper eschelon of thinking-person’s rock.


With Air Traffic

Thurs/8, 8 p.m., $20

Bimbo’s 365 Club

1025 Columbus, SF

(415) 474-0365

Singing the cyber blues


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

Afrofuturism began in earnest with those "20 odd Negroes" brought to Jamestown. Truly, long-ago Africans brought to New World shores invented modernity on the fly, animating poet John Masefield’s "The Passing Strange": "Out of the earth to rest or range / Perpetual in perpetual change / The unknown passing through the strange." It’s an Afrofuturist manifesto, along with Paul Laurence Dunbar’s oft-quoted "We wear the masks …" and misanthropic Afrohippie Arthur Lee’s newly reissued, twisted, beautiful suicide note Forever Changes (Rhino, 1967). The sons of Arthurly, black and white, have been legion, but now, as Lee’s masterpiece celebrates its 40th anniversary, a potent daughter steps forth in jitterbug pompadour and saddle shoes to reflect his jet rock sighs back across pop light years: Janelle Monaé.

Atlanta’s Monaé — by way of Wyandotte County, Kan. — seems like the freak of every week. She seems beyond space oddity, a quirkiness that has had her dubbed the "black Björk" — although not the new heir of Labelle or David Bowie protégé Ava and her space-glam Astronettes. Monaé restores the sacred feminine to the techno bush, wailing on viral single "Violet Stars Happy Hunting": "I-I-I-I I’m an alien from outer space / I’m a cyber girl without a face, a heart or mind / … see I’m a slave girl without a race / On the run cause they’re here to erase and chase out my kind … " Her EP, Metropolis Suite, arrives in June, and her debut, Metropolis (both on P Diddy’s Bad Boy/Atlantic imprint), co-executive produced by OutKast’s Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, drops in September, both primed to serve as the latest essential texts for all youngblood black rockers/rockettes who hope that Arthur Lee dying for their sins was enough to pay the original African, psychedelic Pied Piper: Dionysus.

Metropolis is powered by Monaé as faceless, limbless, cyber-blues mama: a sepia version of the golden droid Hel from Fritz Lang’s 1927 dystopic Weimar classic Metropolis mashed up with self-willed modern savage Josephine Baker. Those calling Monaé a "black Björk" are missing the boat — and that boat would be the Amistad — and forgetting her less likely foremamas beyond the self-evident Baker, Nona Hendryx, and Grace Jones — such as Stevie Wonder’s late first wife, Syreeta Wright. Yet my recent retreat with Lady Syreeta’s first two Wonder-produced solo long-players has been something of a revelation: the limited edition reissue of Syreeta/Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta (Hip-O Select/Motown, 2006) shows Monaé’s preternatural shade dancing through Syreeta’s highly romantic, space-rock take on "She’s Leaving Home" with Wonder as deus ex Moog, and such strange gems as "Your Kiss Is Sweet," and its reprise, "Universal Sound of the World." Lovely ‘Reeta deserves reinvestigation as the Afro-baroque yin to Grace Jones’ Afro-punkette yang.

Speaking of vital ancestry, Maurice White’s crucial Afrofuturist black rock outfit received tribute with 2007’s Interpretations — Celebrating the Music of Earth, Wind & Fire (Stax). Par excellence, the current space-rock revivalists’ badass Matrix and musical version of MLK-meets-Malcolm 2.0, Me’Shell NdegeOcello, shows Monaé the way to love on "Fantasy," a cover surely approved by Cee-Lo. Opening with a fiery guitar lick fit to rival Lee’s "Alone Again Or" in menace and dread as well as a shout-out of love and understanding (in sound) to the brothers and sisters in Iraq’s killing fields, "Fantasy," NdegeOcello’s radical reconstruction, is a single-song masterpiece delivered in stentorian cyber-affect.

As Monaé’s Metropolis aspires, it builds an almost unscalable mountain for black rock artists to leap in a single bound. The She-droid summons black Atlantis, expressing the very crux of the "20 odd Negroes" and their American descendants’ existential crisis — the very reason why we all perpetually want to take a ride on that ship Fantasii — intoning in deadened tones, "Every man has a place," while fading to black. Even though Sahelian falsetto Phillip Bailey appears nowhere to hit That Note, an exhilarating soprano channeling Syreeta Wright steps into the breach for Hendrix’s sacrificed Stratocaster. Hi-ho niggaz! Now, that’s passing strange into the stratosphere, "where other kind that has been in search of you" await with healing alien embraces. Here be Dragons of Zynth and ATLien rock replicants from outta ouro-boroughs like the vainglorious Monaé in the relentlessly hybridizing black Atlantic, breaking microchips off the old block to highlight yet another way to blue — and effect a funky space reincarnation.

Time travel ticket


TRAINS Mostly True (Microcosm Publishing, 144 pages, $8) is the book companion to my 2005 movie, Who Is Bozo Texino? Styled like a 1930s pulp magazine, it’s an enigmatic compilation of railroad ephemera — a ticket for time travel back to the roots of American rail folklore.

The book was created as a by-product of making the film and as a direct product of 25 years of asystematically collecting any scrap of material related to the ideas of tramping, trains, Depression-era culture and graffiti (with a small g).

The relationship between the 100-year-old form of traditional rail graffiti and contemporary aerosol graffiti is much closer than their radically different styles and scales would indicate. There is also a curious parallel between particular social patterns in the long-gone networks of hobos and the secret society of contemporary urban graffiti writers. The book doesn’t address aerosol graffiti directly, but the historical similarities can be deduced from the odd evidence. By using the format of a 1930s adventure pulp serial mag, I figured I could relate these cultural practices without explicitly having to state the underlying connections.

The book is also a celebration of the popular written language of the day. I’ve excerpted 1930s railworker union newsletters by workers whose way of writing is so beautiful and so far removed from how we write now. This now-nostalgic style of letter-writing is another folk form I’m playing with in the book, both in presenting vintage material and in styling my own contributions to blend with the things I’ve found.

Bones and balls


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Bones are supposed to decompose, right? But sometimes, for the sake of archaeology, they don’t. They pile up behind you in the cave until, if you eat as much meat as I do, you eventually have to live outside.

It’s like naming a band. The old ones don’t go away, so it just keeps getting harder, which is why many musicians my age either give up or rejoin their old groups and go on reunion tours. Or they switch genres, simply so they can recycle the old names but with z‘s for s‘s. A short-lived solution (if it has any life at all), as evidenced by the almost immediate fizzle of The Bee Geez, Harry Nilzzon, and the Mamaz & the Papaz — heavy metallic flops all.

Soon we will begin to see (and hear, and feel) the effects of a generation of rising rockers whose parents announced their births via e-mail. Brace yourselves. Here comes U2000, Prince2009, and, my personal favorite, AbbaLoL.

Recycling is good. It’s decided, right? Without it we all die and have no music to listen to on our deathbeds. I save the bones. So do lots of people, Mountain Sam to name just one. He makes sculptures out of them. I make soup, then I scrape and dry them, wrap one end with rubber and/or felt, and re-reuse them as steel drum mallets. So that’s food, food again, then music. Then they just pile up in my cave and stay there, waiting for future archaeologists to wonder about a chicken-like creature that wore socks.

I was babysitting the baby I babysit (I’m not allowed to say her name) and the TV was on because the mama and the papa hadn’t left yet. This is what distinguishes me as a babysitter: no TV. None. Absolutely not. TV is not harmful enough, in my opinion. Instead, we do truly dangerous things together, like tasting mysterious plants, staring into mirrors, and rock climbing, me and this one-year-old.

But the parents hadn’t left yet. The TV was on. Food Channel, so I was interested. Mesmerized. Appalled … because what they were talking about was barbecued spaghetti, some joint in Tennessee, and I have to say it looked delicious. I was appalled because here I’ve been trying to invent a thing that has already been invented.

Hey, there oughta be a saying about this, something like, I don’t know, reinventing the … uh …

Never mind.

You people who live your whole life without ever changing gender — not even once. Frankly, I don’t know how you do it. I mean, it takes all kinds, I suppose, but I personally would have died of boredom by now.

In the coed soccer league I play in, I’m an average-size girl with average speed and average skills. I’m slightly above-average agewise, and slightly below-average butchwise. No matter what, though, there is always one thing that distinguishes me from the other girls on the field and it is this: as far as I know, I’m the only one out there with balls.

And I’m not speaking figuratively. If anything having balls, in this case, makes you chickenshit. You know how when guys line up in front of a free kick, they place their hands over their crotch? I can’t do that! So I run away. Nobody knows I’m trans. At least that I know of, nobody knows. I’m not sure about league policy on this.

I’ve always wondered what would happen … what I would do, what my body would do, if and when I took a ball to the balls in one of these games. It was a matter of time, and in the first half of the second game of my third season as a girl, there it was. A guy unloaded and I jumped but didn’t twist, and, oof!

Guys know what this feels like. Now I know what it feels like to feel that feeling and not be able to go down, not even to one knee. To have to turn and run like nothing much happened, without even a look on your face, breathless, hating life but just generally playing on.


My new favorite restaurant is Mary’s Place in Novato, where I’ve been camping out a lot on account of car problems. Mary’s Place is a way to kill time over delicious crepes, hash browns, and coffee, coffee, coffee. It has a counter. It’s kind of a diner-ish feel, but with way better food. And, oh yeah, a bar.


819 Grant, Novato

(415) 897-9761

Tue.–Sat., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.

Sun.–Mon., 7 a.m.–3 p.m.

Full bar


Take another letter


› andrea@altsexcolumn.com

Dear Readers:

I’ve had a seemingly endless stream of these beginner S–M questions lately. So while I’m on break, I thought I’d run this one (originally printed 6/13/07), which could have been written in response to several of them. Carry on!

Love, Andrea

Dear Andrea:

I just saw Secretary yesterday, then read your column that mentions the same movie and similar sentiment ["Thwang," 5/30/07]. My situation is a bit different because I’ve known how I feel for a while but have never seen or experienced it. Also, I’m a stripper and rarely have sex, although I am extremely sexual. I’ve got a serious lust affair with the eroscillator, but I think I may have given up on a love that will be feminist but dominating and aggressive. In the movie, Maggie Gyllenhaal is looking through classifieds for a partner, and that is way too dangerous for me. How do I quiet the arguments between feminism and being truly submissive? Also, having to be seriously up-front about wanting some serious kink might kill the whole deal for me. Do these relationships actually happen in real life? How?

Love, Sub Grrrl

Dear Grrrl:


There was a moment when every other conversation, magazine article, and academic conference was devoted to exploring the conflicts and connections between radical feminism and radical sexuality. It was called "the ’80s." You probably missed it since you probably weren’t born yet, but that stuff is still in print, so whatever is or isn’t gathering dust in the sorts of used bookstores heavily populated by overweight cats should be easy to find. Most of the best-known pro-kink feminists of the time were very, very lesbian (see Gayle Rubin on the academic side and Pat Califia for "literotica"). But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have anything to say to straight women.

Of all the possible permutations, male dominant–female submissive is likely the most discomfiting to you. Happily, the flip side of the "this weird sex thing goes against every political, ethical, or religious principle I consider right and true" coin is frequently the Big Hot. Go to any upscale S-M party (yes, these really do exist) in San Francisco or Seattle, and at least half the women crawling around their master’s boots begging to be punished ’cause they’ve been very bad are in real life junior partners at onetime all-male law firms, or teach gender theory at small but prestigious liberal arts schools. In other words, they are quite fully "empowered," thank you very much, which doesn’t keep them from voluntarily surrendering said power come Saturday night. And that may in fact add to the appeal. The classic, even clichéd, old-style S-M enthusiast, after all, is a member of Parliament who reports like clockwork to the bawdy house every Thursday afternoon for a brisk caning …

Um, yes. Where were we? I’m not sure where you, who perform naked for sexually aroused strangers for a living, got the idea that playing the personals is particularly dangerous. Perhaps from the same episodes of Law and Order in which a few pieces of S-M gear stashed under a suspect’s bed signal that a severed head in a shoe box cannot be far off? I would never suggest that you meet someone for coffee and immediately go home with him to check out his cool dungeon. Far from it. But the meeting-for-coffee part is perfectly safe. After that you proceed as normal, which includes sharing your interests and aspirations … which is the next place we’re going to have some trouble, I see.

If being up-front about your weirditude is a potential deal-breaker for you, then I suspect you are a spontaneity freak. They are common, but many or most can have the need to proceed by whim or fancy beaten out of them by a stern application of reality. Spontaneity is fun and sexy, but it’s also responsible for most of your unwanted pregnancies, a vast number of STD transmissions, and who-all knows what other havoc.

It’s also inconsistent with S-M at any level more technically advanced than the (admittedly often completely satisfactory) bend-over-and-spank variety. If you do go ahead with this, and you do find someone worthy of your submission, you are going to have to talk about it, whether you want to or not. Not only is it unsafe to do S-M with people you know nothing about, it isn’t even fun. What if you want to wear a neat little skirt and heels while bending prettily over nearby furniture, while he wants you to be a bad puppy and sleep in a kennel in the kitchen? What if your idea of submission is saying, "Yes, sir" a lot, while his idea of domination includes branding irons and cattle prods? Can you see how this could get ugly?

In romantic fantasy, the heroine meets the rough but passionate and shirtless master of the manor when she fetches up at his door as a penniless et cetera. In real life, I’m sorry to tell you, she meets him online or at an S-M "munch" or through kinky friends or at a party. Then they talk. I’m sure you’d rather toss your hair tempestuously while a dark and stormy stranger bends you over his knee and yanks down your pantaloons — but you’ll get over it.



Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.

The end of the line


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

"The film is called RR, but I like to call it ‘Railroad,’ because RR sounds like a pirate movie."

— James Benning

TRAINS A short stretch of celluloid is a representation of a train, one image following the other in rapid succession, connected by essential blocks of black, moving forward in time and space, and, when projected, rotating on a wheel. Cinema began with a train entering a station, shot with a fixed camera, chugging toward the screen. Barring a change of mind or circumstance, the masterful RR will be the last of James Benning’s works shot on 16mm, and how fitting that this 37-year phase closes with the image of a locomotive, pointedly stopped in front of a wind farm outside of Palm Springs, scrapped tires lying in the foreground, the end in a line of 43 trains shot across the United States (and the final frame of 34 extant films).

After a prolific three-year period that has seen Benning produce five crucial works — likely exhausting his stock of 16mm film — while teaching, driving across America, and building a full-scale replica of Thoreau’s Walden Pond cabin, technology has vanquished this last of the old-time filmmakers.

Those familiar with Benning’s landscape films will be comforted by RR‘s fixed camera and continental scope, but the film marks something of a crucial advance. As opposed to the awesome 13 Lakes (2006) — 13 individual lakes, each shot lasting the full 10 minutes of the 16mm cartridge — RR finds Benning adopting another structural principle: the signified (the train) takes over from the signifier (the camera).

Every shot is mesmerizing, yet the film builds, acquiring a cumulative power, as the simplicity of structure gives way to infinite experiences. To some, trains invoke nostalgia; to younger viewers, classical antiquity. To trainspotters, well, RR is Valhalla. And just as Benning’s California Trilogy (2000–01) concerns work and water, RR becomes a film "about" American overconsumption. Benning lets what’s on screen tell the story, with the tumultuous history of railroads and western development only alluded to by songs and words on the soundtrack. Filmed and recorded, as always, by a one-man band, all of its shots captured without permissions or permits, maybe RR is a pirate movie.

SFBG How far back does RR‘s genesis go? Were you into railroads as a kid?

JAMES BENNING Yeah, I like trains a lot. When I was a kid I had a little model train, an American Flyer. When I was a teenager we used to play in the train yards in Milwaukee, and that was fun, because we weren’t supposed to go there. We’d hop on slow freight trains and ride them for like a mile, and then jump off.

SFBG When you started making RR, was there a specific plan? Did you know the exact locations where you wanted to shoot?

JB I was pretty familiar with the major US lines. When I drive from Wisconsin to California, I pass by the lines that run through the Midwest. I know the lines that go up and down the [east] coast from New York to Washington. Other lines I knew through research, by getting a good railroad atlas. I wanted to film according to landscapes, too. I knew I wanted to do a shot across Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana, and a shot in Mississippi of a train going through the kudzu growth, and [a shot of] this famous park called the Rat Hole in Kentucky. I also used a Web site [www.railpictures.net] that says it has "the best railroad pictures on the Net." It has thousands of still photos by railroad fans.

SFBG Is it accurate to call RR a landscape film?

JB The initial idea was to use railroads to define landscape because they can only go up a 2 percent grade. But as it became apparent to me that the film was going to be about trains more than landscapes, I learned more about different kinds of engines. The second shot is of the only piggyback train — where you take semi trucks and load them onto cars — in the film. Later there’s a RoadRailer, the train that looks like a long white snake. I shot that in the Rat Hole, an area that used to be all tunnels. I was shooting from above, which was the best vantage point [from which] to film it.

For me, the film came to be about consumerism and overconsumption — I could feel the weight of the goods going by me. Especially the oil and automobiles, as I saw a lot of tanker cars and auto trains. They pass each other constantly.

SFBG The mathematical nature of RR is impressive. One comes to realize the number of variables at play — the size and expanse of the train, the number of cars, the colors, the speed, the landscape, the angle where the train comes into the frame and where it leaves. All of these factors pile up.

JB It’s the way I always work: I’ll set up a problem for myself. I basically collaborate with the train in that it’s going to suggest the length of the shot. I thought I could vary the distance the camera was from the train, vary the angle that the train approaches from, and change these angles from shot to shot to build rhythms. The variables make it possible to take this idea that is confining and make it grow. The same thing happens with earlier films like 13 Lakes, where I set up an idea — to shoot a lake with the same amount of sky and water — and the problem is how to show the uniqueness of the lake.

SFBG RR must have been a very different experience from shooting 13 Lakes.

JB That’s true, because in shooting 13 Lakes, I was waiting for the best moment to turn the camera on. In RR, I’m waiting for the train, and hopefully it will correspond with the best moment to turn on the camera.

SFBG One is more your choice, and the other is the train’s choice.

JB Yeah, I enter into this collaboration with the train. It’s going to choose the moment. Of course if I am on a line that has five trains an hour, then I can choose the time of the day. But if I’m at a line that has one train a week, then I’m at the mercy of the train. The one place I shot like that was at the causeway that crosses the spillway outside of Lake Pontchartrain — the Kansas Line. That train comes by once a week. I waited all day, and that train came by at 4 in the afternoon, on a day [when] it was 110 degrees with 100 percent humidity.

SFBG Is everything in RR there as you found it? That last shot with the tires strewn by the tracks seems too good to be true.

JB Yeah, it’s outside of Palm Springs. In the film that Reinhard Wulf made about me [James Benning: Circling the Image (2003)], we stop at the same wind farm. On the soundtrack I talk about going back to places I’ve filmed and seeing how the places change. That area is just littered with stuff, so it wasn’t hard to find a good frame with tires.

SFBG When I saw RR, the audience gasped at that final shot, like they do at the mirrored image of Crater Lake in Oregon in 13 Lakes. It isn’t comparable in beauty. But there is perfection to the composition: the colors of the train match up with the landscape, the blue of the sky and the white of the windmills.

JB The other thing is that as the train gets slower and eventually stops, the sound of the train gives way to the sound of the windmills. There is this slow dissolve between train noise and wind energy that somewhat suggests an alternative way of living, a cleaner energy. After [one] screening, an interviewer said that he found it to be hopeful, but I find it kind of ironic, as it seems too late. The tires lying there like the death of the automobile — the death of our culture, really — and the use of oil, all of that is in play.

SFBG The general perception of RR is that the film’s structure is precisely a function of the length of each train — the shot begins when the train enters the frame and ends when it leaves. But that’s not exactly the case.

JB Most of the time there’s an empty frame, the train enters, it leaves, and then there’s a cut. I would like to have drawn that out. For me the film is very much about time and about waiting, but I didn’t want waiting to become part of the film. I wanted you to realize through the absence of waiting that I had to wait.

SFBG Something else happens within RR. At least twice, maybe three times, there is an optical illusion. After the train leaves the frame what’s left behind seems to vibrate.

JB It happens a lot.

SFBG Were you aware that this would occur?

JB I wasn’t when I made the film, but when I started to project the work print, I was shocked. You don’t need a film to get that optical illusion — you can stand in front of a waterfall, follow the water down, then turn your head. [Likewise,] your eyes will follow the train so that when it’s gone, the effect remains and even kind of warps.

SFBG Most of the trains in the film are freight trains, there are maybe only one or two passenger trains.

JB There are two: one was a commuter train, one was a passenger train. The amount of commuter travel, at least on the West Coast, is minimal — you hardly ever see a train with people in it. Amtrak leases the right to use rails from the companies that operate the freight trains. I’ve taken most of the Amtrak train routes. They’re fun … and slow.

SFBG How long did you shoot?

JB I shot for two and a half years, probably. I had so much fun that I didn’t really want to stop. I still miss it. Sometimes I go back to those same sites and wait for trains, just to have that feeling again.

Obligatory video game outrage


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION At this point, the outraged response to the latest installment in the Grand Theft Auto series of video games, GTA4, is pretty much obligatory. Mothers Against Drunk Driving is lobbying to get the video game rated "adults only" (effectively killing it in the US market, where major console manufacturers won’t support AO games) because there’s one scene in the game where you have the option to drive drunk. Apparently none of the good ladies of MADD have ever played GTA, since if they had they might have discovered that when you try to drive drunk, the video game informs you that you should take a cab. If you do drive, the cops immediately chase you down. Which is exactly the sort of move you’d expect from this sly, fun game, which hit stores last week.

GTA, made by edgy Rockstar Games, is basically a driving game franchise packed inside an intriguing, disturbing, elaborate urban world where you become a character whose life options are all connected to the ability to drive around in various cities. Usually you’re some kind of bad guy or shady character. Think of it as the video game equivalent of a TV show like The Wire or an urban gangster flick. What has made GTA so popular among gamers is the way it combines the fun of a driving game with the sprawling possibilities of gamer choice. And I think that’s what nongamers find so confusing — and therefore threatening — about it.

When you jump into a car in GTA, you aren’t rated on your driving skill. You don’t have to stay on a predetermined track. Sure, you have to complete a mission, but you can choose to just drive around insanely, exploring the big worlds of the GTA games, beating up cops and murdering people at random if you want. You can take drugs and get superspeedy or ram a truck into a building.

GTA4 is set inside an alternate version of New York City and takes the player even further into a world of narrative choices. You play a character named Niko, a Serbian war vet who comes to Liberty City to get revenge — or to make peace with his past. Along with several other characters, he’s just trying to get by in a huge city, but gets sucked into a world of crime and murder along the way. As you get deeper into the game, you realize that your interactions with characters are just as important as running your car missions. You can’t get anywhere without making friends, connections, and plunging deeper into Niko’s troubled past.

If GTA4 were a movie, it would have been directed by Martin Scorsese or David O. Russell, and we’d all be ooohing and aaahhing over its dark, ironic vision of immigrant life in a world at war with itself. But because GTA4 is a video game, where players are in the driver’s seat, so to speak, it freaks people out. Earlier installments of GTA-inspired feminist and cultural-conservative outrage (you have the option to kill prostitutes!), and concern over moral turpitude from Hillary Clinton (you can beat cops to death! Or anybody!).

And yet there are other video games out there, like the family-friendly role-playing game The Sims, where players can torture people to death in ways far more disturbing than those in GTA. I was just talking to a friend who told me gleefully how he’d taken one of his Sims characters, stuck him in a VR headset, and walled him into a room that only contained an espresso machine. The character kept drinking coffee and playing the headset, pissing in the corners of the room and crying until he died. Other players have reported that you can stick a bunch of characters in the swimming pool, remove the ladder, and drown them. Then you can decorate your yard with their tombstones. That’s not the point of the game, but people can do it.

The reason these horrible things can happen in The Sims is exactly the same reason they happen in GTA: these are cutting-edge video games defined by player freedom rather than locking the player into a prescribed narrative loop where veering off the racetrack means "lose" rather than "find a new adventure." When you give players the option to explore their fantasies, you’re going to get some dark stuff. Yes, it’s disturbing. But it’s also the foundation of great art.

Annalee Newitz (annalee@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who has just started playing GTA4 but has already read all the spoilers for it.

We stand with Carole Migden


OPINION As longtime fans of the Guardian and as allies in almost every fight, including the struggles for public power, affordable housing, people-focused land use policy, and clean and open government, we do not like finding ourselves on the opposite side of an issue as important as this year’s state Senate race. Respectfully, we must say that we believe the Guardian‘s failure to endorse Carole Migden in that race was a colossal mistake — not unlike the decision to endorse Angela Alioto over Tom Ammiano and Matt Gonzalez for mayor in 2003.

Both Leno and Migden are good votes in Sacramento. But the simple reality is that Carole Migden has been there for the local left in ways that make her the only choice for progressives willing to take on the establishment. Certainly Migden has made herself vulnerable to political attacks. Her failure to retain a professional treasurer for her campaign finance filings was clearly an error of judgment. But for us, none of this outweighs her incredible record of achievement in Sacramento or her far more reliable support of progressive candidates and causes in San Francisco.

Guardian readers should by now be familiar with Migden’s long record in Sacramento: the California Clean Water Act, saving the Headwaters Forest, community choice aggregation (CCA), a series of domestic partnership laws that have established a viable alternative to marriage in California while setting the stage for extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, a remarkable package of foster care reforms, and cosmetics safety legislation.

But it is Migden’s role locally that makes her so important to San Francisco progressives. Migden is the only candidate in the race who has been there for progressives in difficult political battles. As candidates for the Democratic County Central Committee, we are grateful that the Guardian endorsed our entire slate. But we wonder if the Guardian considered the fact that the vast majority (indeed, almost unanimous) of Hope Slate candidates are Migden supporters, because they are the leading progressive candidates to retain a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors in November. It is not coincidental.

Few politicians who have risen as high in the establishment food chain as Carole Migden have done so retaining a willingness to fight for the underdog. Guardian readers should be familiar with the litany: she supported Aaron Peskin and Jake McGoldrick in 2000; reached out to Chris Daly soon thereafter and stood strongly with him against subsequent challenges; never, ever supported Gavin Newsom; attended the Progressive Convention; and financed progressive campaigns from the Affordable Housing Bond to Muni reform.

Migden is a scrappy street fighter who helps other scrappy street fighters. As one of the very first queers and one of the first women to take political power at these levels, she had to be. Someday progressive politics may not need scrappy street fighters (and someday maybe women will be better represented in public office) — but not yet.

We are proud to stand with Carole Migden, as she has stood with us. She is the candidate in this race who we can count on to fight when it really counts.

Bill Barnes, Chris Daly, Michael Goldstein, Robert Haaland, Joe Julian, Eric Mar, Rafael Mandelman, Eric Quezada, and Debra Walker

The writers are Hope Slate candidates for the DCCC.

No peace, no work


› news@sfbg.com

Workers, students, immigrants, and antiwar activists came together in historic fashion on May Day in San Francisco, but it was hard to tell from the next day’s mainstream media coverage, which adopted its usual cynical view of the growing movement to end the war in Iraq.

Sure, there were articles in newspapers from the San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times about how the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down all 29 West Coast ports for the day, with far more than 10,000 workers defying both their employers and the national union leadership to skip work.

But each article missed the main point: this was the first time in American history that such a massive job action was called to protest a war.

“In this country, dock workers have never stopped work to stop a war,” Jack Heyman, the ILWU executive board member and Oakland Port worker who spearheaded the effort, told the Guardian.

The ILWU’s “No Peace, No Work” campaign and simultaneous worker-led shutdowns of the Iraqi ports of Umm Qasr and Khor Al Zubair are part of a broader effort, called US Labor Against the War, that labor scholars agree is something new to the political landscape of this country.

Steven Pitts, labor policy specialist at UC Berkeley’s Labor Center, told the Guardian the effort was significant: “It wasn’t simply a little crew of San Francisco radicals. It has a breadth that has spread out across the country.”

In fact, USLAW has about 200 union locals and affiliates with a detailed policy platform that calls for ending war funding, redirecting resources from the military to domestic needs, and boosting workers’ rights — including those of immigrants, who staged an afternoon march in San Francisco following the ILWU’s morning event.

Traditionally labor unions have been big supporters of US wars. But Pitts said the feelings of rank-and-file workers have always been more complex than the old “hard hats vs. hippies” stories from the Vietnam era might indicate.

Blue-collar workers have always been skeptical of war, Howard Zinn, a history professor and author of the seminal book A People’s History of the United States (HarperCollins, 1980), told the Guardian.

“Working people were against the [Vietnam] War in greater percentages than professionals,” Zinn told us, referring to polling data from the time. “There is always a tendency of organizations to be more conservative than their rank and file.”

This time, union members and the public as a whole have more aggressively pushed their opposition to the Iraq War, winning antiwar resolutions among the biggest unions in the country and in hundreds of US cities and counties.

“I think it’s a reflection of how far the nation as a whole has come in our anger at the continuation of this war,” Zinn told us.

The media coverage of the May Day event belittled its significance, noting that missing one day of work had little practical impact to the economy or war machine, while playing up comments by spokespeople for the Pacific Maritime Association and National Retail Federation that the strike was insignificant and perhaps more aimed at upcoming contract talks than the war.

Heyman wasn’t happy about that bias.

The strike “was totally for moral, political, and social reasons. It had nothing to do with the contract,” Heyman told us.

A big factor for the ILWU was the newfound solidarity between dock workers in the United States and those in Iraq, who were prohibited from organizing in 1987 by the Baathist regime, an edict that the US has continued to enforce.

The Iraqi dock workers issued a May Day statement that detailed the horrors of their situation: “Five years of invasion, war, and occupation have brought nothing but death, destruction, misery, and suffering to our people.”

In fact, the banner leading the ILWU procession down the Embarcadero and into Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco read, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” That theme of solidarity — among all workers, American and Iraqi, legal and illegal — was laced through all the speeches of the day.

Joining labor leaders on the podium were antiwar movement stalwarts such as Cindy Sheehan, who is running an independent campaign to unseat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, now a target of the movement for continuing to fund the war.

“Nancy Pelosi wants to give George [W.] Bush more money [for the Iraq War] than he even asked for,” Sheehan said, drawing a loud, sustained “boo!” from the crowd. At the afternoon rallies at Dolores Park and Civic Center Plaza, which focused on immigration issues, the war was also a big target, with signs such as “Stop the ICE raids, Stop the War,” and “Si se puede, the workers struggle has no borders.”

Even for protest-happy San Francisco, it was an unusually spirited May Day, with more than 1,000 people appearing at each of the four main rallies and two big marches. There were lots of smaller actions as well, including demonstrations at the ICE offices and Marine recruiting center, and activists from the Freedom From Oil Campaign disrupting a Commonwealth Club speech by General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner.

But it was the port shutdown that was unique. Annually the 29 West Coast ports process 368 million tons of goods, averaging more than 1 million tons a day moved by 15,000 registered ILWU workers and a number of other “casuals.” Eight percent of that comes in and out of Oakland, but West Coast trade affects business throughout the country — as many as 8 million other workers come in contact with some aspect of that trade.

Mike Zampa, spokesperson for APL — the eighth-largest container shipping company in the world, with ports in Oakland, Los Angeles, and Seattle — told us, “Over a long period of time a shutdown like this does have an impact on the US economy.”

More port shutdowns are possible, Heyman said. But he hopes the action inspires other workers and activists to increase the pressure for an end to the war.

“We are taking action to swing the pendulum back the other way,” Heyman told us during the march. “We are stopping work to stop the war.”

Growing up


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Arguments about urban sprawl and the need to drastically improve transit services at the Transbay Terminal are driving plans for massive new skyscrapers in the SoMa District. Although the project is still in its initial phase, as many as seven towers — some higher than the Transamerica Pyramid — would surround the centerpiece Transbay Tower.

At an April 30 public hearing on the project at Golden Gate University, about 150 people, mostly developers and architects, voiced their opinions as they listened to the city’s updates on the proposal. For the most part, the business community audience wanted buildings as high as possible and felt that even the city’s most ambitious proposal, to build a Transbay Tower more than 1,200 feet high — almost twice the height of One Rincon Hill — was insufficient.

"I support raising the heights. By increasing density, we’re taking better care of our environment," Rincon Hill resident Jamie Whitaker told the room.

The original plan called for a 550-foot Transbay Tower, but the city wants to double its height to ensure sufficient funds for the Transit Center, the Caltrain extension, and other infrastructure improvements. The project’s environmental impact report will study three height options: 850, 1,000, and 1,200 feet. The addition of a couple of hundred feet would raise revenue from about $150 million to between $310 million and $410 million, according to the San Francisco Planning Department.

Although increasing the height of the planned office buildings will bring in more money for other improvements, the increased density comes with transit and quality of life costs. Some worry that the higher population will create an unlivable space.

"Mission Street is turning into a canyon," Jennifer Clary, president of the urban environmental group SF Tomorrow, told the Guardian. "Already there are virtually no parks in this side of the city. They’re creating a demand for more open space, but they’re not fulfilling it."

Although a new park will extend about 11 acres on the roof of the Transbay Terminal, some existing open spaces may be in jeopardy. If the Transbay Tower is higher than 1,000 feet, it will cast a shadow for part of the day over Justin Herman Plaza and possibly Portsmouth Square.

Even though Proposition K, which passed in 1984, states that new buildings cannot cast shadows on public parks, the city’s planning department has the ability to waive that rule. "The law says no new ‘significant’ shadows, so it’s really a judgment call and can be interpreted in a variety of ways," Joshua Switzky, project manager for the San Francisco Planning Department told the Guardian.

For example, the city allowed the Asian Art Museum, remodeled in 2003, to cast a small shadow over Civic Center Plaza. "Shadow impacts can be precisely calculated, and we’re working to mitigate the impact on parks," Switzky said.

In addition to thoughts on how to keep parks sunny, several ideas to ease congestion were introduced at the meeting, including changing one-way streets, restricting terminal access to public vehicles, installing more bike lanes, and increasing curb width.

According to a 2004 Planning Department study, 70 percent of downtown workers commute using public transit, 17 percent drive, and the rest walk or bike. Sufficient funding has yet to be secured to connect Caltrain tracks to the Transbay Terminal, instead of its present end at 4th and King streets. Either way, the planning department hopes to increase commuters using transit by 6 percent, according to the April 2008 Transit Center District Plan.

"Right now all we have is a huge skyscraper for a bus terminal, and it’s not clear if the city will invest the extra money from taller buildings to improve transit," Clary told us.

The planning department estimates it will need an additional $1.9 billion to connect Caltrain, and if it doesn’t reach that goal, SoMa may be inundated by even more cars since there will be no direct commute route from the Peninsula to the new Transbay Terminal offices. In November, California voters will decide on a $10 billion bond measure to create a high-speed rail line linking Los Angeles to San Francisco at the new Transbay Terminal, the centerpiece of the planned project.

The next public meeting will be held at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Thursday, May 8 at 5:30 p.m.

Newsom axes sunshine


EDITORIAL Shortly before he left on a trip to Israel last week, Mayor Gavin Newsom quietly vetoed a bill that would have greatly expanded public access to the workings of San Francisco government. The supervisors need to override that veto as quickly as possible.

The measure, by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, seems so simple that it’s hard to imagine why it would be controversial. Mirkarimi wants the city to audiotape or videotape any meeting of any public agency at City Hall, and post that tape on the Web within 72 hours.

That would make it much easier for people following local government actions to see or hear the actual testimony and discussion at board and commission meetings, most of which take place during the day when people with jobs can’t attend. The Board of Supervisors meetings are televised, as are most board committee meetings, but dozens of other agencies meet regularly with few people attending and virtually no press coverage. And there’s no easy way to find out exactly what went on at those meetings.

Posting the recordings on the Web is part of a larger agenda promoted by sunshine advocates who want to see the city use easily available and inexpensive modern technology to promote open government (see Sunshine in the digital age, 3/12/08). Among their proposals: at the very least, post and stream the audio portion of all meetings on the Internet. Most meetings are already recorded anyway, and all the meeting rooms are equipped with recording gear. But those recordings aren’t easy to access. The only way to get a copy of the proceedings is to send $10 for a DVD and $1 for an audiotape to the city, then wait a week for your media to arrive in the mail. How hard could it be to put that material on the Web?

Sunshine activists want to go a lot further. They suggest, for example, that every document and e-mail created by a city employee be sent automatically to a public server where it can be viewed over the Internet. And if there was adequate wi-fi service at City Hall (there isn’t), bloggers could post video of the meetings themselves.

Mirkarimi’s bill didn’t go anywhere near that far. All he asked was that the meetings that take place in rooms equipped for audio or video taping be recorded and that the files be placed on the Web. The total cost was pegged at $131,000 per year, but the city’s cable-TV franchise deal would require Comcast to pay $55,000 for the necessary new equipment. So the final tab would be only $72,000 a year. That’s such a minuscule percentage of the city’s $5 billion budget that it fits into the category of what Mirkarimi calls "decimal dust."

And yet in an April 30 veto message, Newsom said he found the cost too high. "I would urge the Board of Supervisors to hold off on new spending initiatives" until the next budget cycle, he said.

That’s crazy. We recognize that money is tight, but Newsom has pushed all sorts of new programs and initiatives that cost more than $72,000. In fact, he spent almost twice that much ($139,700) gussying up his office back in January.

Four supervisors voted against Mirkarimi’s bill: Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd, Jake McGoldrick, and Michela Alioto-Pier, so Mirkarimi appears to have seven votes to override the veto. It will take one more — one more supervisor willing to stand up for open government — to make this program happen. It’s embarrassing to see neighborhood supervisors voting against sunshine. Call the four and demand they vote to override. Chu: 554-7460. Elsbernd: 554-6516. McGoldrick: 554-7410. Alioto-Pier: 554-7752.

The feds raid San Francisco


EDITORIAL On May 2, the day after thousands demonstrated for immigrant rights — exactly one month after Mayor Gavin Newsom and Sup. Tom Ammiano stood in front of the cameras and announced a new initiative to promote the city’s sanctuary policy for undocumented residents — federal agents swept into the city and arrested workers at El Balazo restaurant as part of an immigration enforcement raid.

It was bitterly ironic: much of the excitement of the large May Day rallies in San Francisco came from the diversity of the crowds and the connections among labor, antiwar activists, and immigrant-rights groups. The raid reflects the ongoing disaster that is US immigration policy under President George W. Bush — arresting and deporting restaurant workers tears up families and communities, is a colossal waste of money, does nothing about the economic issues driving immigration, and damages the San Francisco and California economies. But it’s tough to get leading Democrats to take a strong stand on the issue: both Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have ducked tough immigration questions during the presidential campaign.

And while San Francisco’s Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, was against the fence and called it a "terrible idea," she hasn’t said a word in public about last week’s immigration raid in her home city. Neither has Sen. Dianne Feinstein or Sen. Barbara Boxer.

There’s only so much San Francisco can do to block the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. The local sanctuary law bars city officials from in any way assisting ICE in apprehending undocumented immigrants, and Newsom and the Police Commission should direct Police Chief Heather Fong to investigate and ensure that there were no San Francisco law enforcement resources used, directly or indirectly, in the raid.

But local activists can do a lot to stop this insanity, using the sorts of political alliances we were encouraged to see forming at the May Day events. For starters, the antiwar, labor, and immigrant rights groups should call on Pelosi, Feinstein, and Boxer to denounce the raids and demand that ICE stop terrorizing California workers.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Early in January 1992, with Bill Clinton poised to win the crucial New Hampshire primary, a woman named Gennifer Flowers came forward with a sordid tale of a 12-year affair with the young Arkansas governor.

Pundits proclaimed that the allegation by Flowers, a former TV reporter who later posed nude for Penthouse, would sink the Clinton campaign. Instead, Bill and Hillary appeared on 60 Minutes right after the Jan. 26 Super Bowl and, in a stunning performance, the candidate diffused the damage and went on to win the primary and the White House.

Years later, a political operative I know offered a bizarre story: Clinton’s senior advisors not only knew that Flowers would go public; they were happy she did it.

See, back then, my source said, polling showed that Bill Clinton was popular among women and educated liberals. His only problem was with the so-called working class white-ethnic men, the blue-collar guys who were Democrats but voted for Ronald Reagan. Those voters thought Clinton was weak, and that his wife was pushing him around.

The Flowers affair was bound to come out eventually, the operative told me. So the strategists figured that sooner was better. Of course, the morality voters and the sanctity-of-marriage crew would be aghast, but they weren’t going to vote for Clinton anyway. The blue-collar guys wouldn’t be offended at all; in fact, some would think a guy who had a Penthouse centerfold on the side wasn’t such a chump after all. And the women had nowhere else to go.

So why not control the release, let Bill and Hillary deal with it, put it behind them, and defuse its potential as an October surprise?

If that account is true, the strategy worked brilliantly.

I thought about Flowers when I saw the video of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright speaking to the National Press Club.

The news media and a lot of Obama supporters say Wright, after talking about the oppression of African Americans, derailed the campaign of the only African American ever to get close to the presidency.

But let me offer a strange but plausible thesis here: what if the Obama campaign not only knew what Wright was going to do, but quietly approved of it?

Think about it: Obama is about two whiskers from being the most powerful person on Earth. If he really wanted Wright to shut up, he could have made a few calls, and I suspect the guy would be cloistered behind closed doors for months. But no: the fiery minister went and attacked America and insulted Obama in a way sure to make huge headlines.

The result: Obama gets to denounce and distance himself from a guy who was going to be a problem in the fall. The damage was done early enough that it will be old news by October. Obama will still win North Carolina, be close in Indiana — and Clinton simply won’t have the numbers to win the nomination.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the story I was told all those years ago was a total fabrication. Maybe Gennifer Flowers and Rev. Wright acted alone. But I’ve watched enough presidential campaigns to know it’s entirely possible they didn’t.

Small Business Awards 2008


When Jean Dibble and I founded the Guardian in 1966, we came with the values of the Midwestern small business, the family farm, and the small-town community. We like to say that the Brugmann and Dibble families have been continuously in small business for more than l00 years.

My grandfather was the eighth child of a German immigrant farmer who homesteaded on 160 acres of prairie grass in northwest Iowa, near Spencer. He picked nearby Rock Rapids as the place to set up a general store-type drugstore, and he and my father spent their entire lives in the store, which was known throughout the territory as "Brugmann’s Drugs, where drugs and gold are fairly sold, since l902." I started in the store at age l2, selling peanuts and stamps.

My wife Jean’s family members were small-business people. Her father had lumberyards in Nebraska, and later a hardware store in Iowa.

Jean and I were delighted to find that San Francisco was a city rich in small, locally owned, independent businesses, and rich in a wide swath of neighborhoods bristling with distinctive small businesses, backed up by vigorous neighborhood small business associations.

Small business, we found, was the leading job generator in the city and the key player in building a sustainable local economy. After the l906 earthquake, it was the entrepreneurs and small businesses who lifted the city from the ashes. After the dot-com bust, it was the small-business community and vibrant neighborhoods that cushioned the blow. Today, it’s up to small business again.

And so the Guardian is pleased to salute the small-business community with our fourth annual Small Business Awards. We proudly announce our seven winners, who are each in their own way working to transform the city into a green, sustainable, local economy and pulling the city out of the recession.

They struggle valiantly against daunting odds to keep their business going, their neighborhoods lively, and San Francisco an incomparably great city. Let us salute them. (Bruce B. Brugmann)

Click below to read more about this year’s winners:

>>Small Green Business Award
Luscious Garage

>>Die-Hard Independent Award
Hazel’s Kitchen

>>Small Business Activist Award
Scott Hauge

>>Community Business Award
El Rio

>>Big Box Alternative Award
Cole Hardware

>>Chain Alternative Award
Books and Bookshelves

>Arthur Jackson Diversity in Business Award




Summer 2008 fairs and festivals


Grab your calendars, then get outside and celebrate summer in the Bay.

>Click here for a full-text version of this article.


United States of Asian America Arts Festival Various locations, SF; (415) 864-4120, www.apiculturalcenter.org. Through May 25. This festival, presented by the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center, showcases Asian Pacific Islander dance, music, visual art, theater, and multidisciplinary performance ensembles at many San Francisco venues.

Yerba Buena Gardens Festival Yerba Buena Gardens, Third St at Mission, SF; (415) 543-1718, www.ybgf.org. Through Oct, free. Nearly 100 artistic and cultural events for all ages take place at the Gardens, including the Latin Jazz series and a performance by Rupa & the April Fishes.

MAY 10–31

Asian Pacific Heritage Festival Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 388 Ninth St, Oakl; (510) 637-0462, www.oacc.cc. Times vary, free. The OACC presents hands-on activities for families, film screenings, cooking classes, and performances throughout the month of May.

MAY 15–18

Carmel Art Festival Devendorf Park, Carmel; (831) 642-2503, www.carmelartfestival.org. Call for times, free. Enjoy viewing works by more than 60 visual artists at this four-day festival. In addition to the Plein Air and Sculpture-in-the-Park events, the CAF is host to the Carmel Youth Art Show, Quick Draw, and Kids Art Day.

MAY 16–18

Oakland Greek Festival 4700 Lincoln, Oakl; (510) 531-3400, www.oaklandgreekfestival.com. Fri-Sat, 10am-11pm; Sun, 11am-9pm, $6. Let’s hear an "opa!" for Greek music, dance, food, and a stunning view at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension’s three-day festival.

MAY 17

Asian Heritage Street Celebration Japantown; www.asianfairsf.com. 11am-6pm, free. The largest gathering of Asian Pacific Americans in the nation features artists, DJs, martial arts, Asian pop culture, karaoke, and much more.

Saints Kiril and Methody Bulgarian Festival Croatian American Cultural Center, 60 Onondaga; (510) 649-0941, www.slavonicweb.org. 4pm, $15. Enjoy live music, dance, and traditional food and wine in celebration of Bulgarian culture. A concert features special guests Radostina Koneva and Orchestra Ludi Maldi.

Taiwanese American Cultural Festival Union Square, SF; (408) 268-5637, www.tafnc.org. 11am-5pm, free. Explore Taiwan by tasting delicious Taiwanese delicacies, viewing a puppet show and other performances, and browsing arts and crafts exhibits.

Uncorked! Ghirardelli Square; 775-5500, www.ghirardellisq.com. 1-6pm, $40-45. Ghirardelli Square and nonprofit COPIA present their third annual wine festival, showcasing more than 40 local wineries and an array of gourmet food offerings.


Cupertino Special Festival in the Park Cupertino Civic Center, 10300 Torre, Cupertino; (408) 996-0850, www.osfamilies.org. 10am-6pm, free. The Organization of Special Needs Families hosts its fourth annual festival for people of all walks or wheels of life. Featuring live music, food and beer, a petting zoo, arts and crafts, and other activities.

Enchanted Village Fair 1870 Salvador, Napa; (707) 252-5522. 11am-4pm, $1. Stone Bridge School creates a magical land of wonder and imagination, featuring games, crafts, a crystal room, and food.

Immigrants Day Festival Courthouse Square, 2200 Broadway, Redwood City; (650) 299-0104, www.historysmc.org. 12-4pm, free. Sample traditional Mexican food, make papel picado decorations, and watch Aztec dancing group Casa de la Cultura Quetzalcoatl at the San Mateo County History Museum.

MAY 17–18

A La Carte and Art Castro St, Mountain View; (650) 964-3395, www.miramarevents.com. 10am-6pm, free. The official kick-off to festival season, A La Carte is a moveable feast of people and colorful tents offering two days of attractions, music, art, a farmers’ market, and street performers.

Bay Area Storytelling Festival Kennedy Grove Regional Recreation Area, El Sobrante; (510) 869-4946, www.bayareastorytelling.org. Gather around and listen to stories told by storytellers from around the world at this outdoor festival. Carol Birch, Derek Burrows, Baba Jamal Koram, and Olga Loya are featured.

Castroville Artichoke Festival 10100 Merritt, Castroville; (831) 633-2465, www.artichoke-festival.org. Sat, 10am-6pm; Sun, 10am-5pm, $3-6. "Going Green and Global" is the theme of this year’s festival, which cooks up the vegetable in every way imaginable and features activities for kids, music, a parade, a farmers’ market, and much more.

French Flea Market Chateau Sonoma, 153 West Napa, Sonoma; (707) 935-8553, www.chateausonoma.com. Call for times and cost. Attention, Francophiles: this flea market is for you! Shop for antiques, garden furniture, and accessories from French importers.

Hats Off America Car Show Bollinger Canyon Rd and Camino Ramon, San Ramon; (925) 855-1950, www.hatsoffamerica.us. 10am-5pm, free. Hats Off America presents its fifth annual family event featuring muscle cars, classics and hot rods, art exhibits, children’s activities, live entertainment, a 10K run, and beer and wine.

Himalayan Fair Live Oak Park, 1300 Shattuck, Berk; (510) 869-3995, www.himalayanfair.net. Sat, 10am-7pm; Sun, 10am-5:30pm, $8.This benefit for humanitarian grassroots projects in the Himalayas features award-winning dancers and musicians representing Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Mongolia. Check out the art and taste the delicious food.

Pixie Park Spring Fair Marin Art and Garden Center, Ross; www.pixiepark.org. 9am-4pm, free. The kids will love the bouncy houses, giant slide, petting zoo, pony rides, puppet shows, and more at this cooperative park designed for children under 6. Bring a book to donate to Homeward Bound of Marin.

Supercon San Jose Convention Center, San Jose; www.super-con.com. Sat., 10am-6pm; Sun., 10am-5pm, $20-30. The biggest stars of comics, sci-fi, and pop culture — including Lost’s Jorge Garcia and Groo writer Sergio Aragonés — descend on downtown San Jose for panels, discussions, displays, and presentations.

MAY 18

Bay to Breakers Begins at Howard and Spear, ends at the Great Highway along Ocean Beach, SF; www.baytobreakers.com. 8am, $39-59. See a gang of Elvis impersonators in running shorts and a gigantic balloon shaped like a tube of Crest floating above a crowd of scantily clad, and unclad, joggers at this annual "race" from the Embarcadero to the Pacific Ocean.

Carnival in the Xcelsior 125 Excelsior; 469-4739, my-sfcs.org/8.html. 11am-4pm, free. This benefit for the SF Community School features game booths, international food selections, prizes, music, and entertainment for all ages.


Russian-American Fair Terman Middle School, 655 Arastradero, Palo Alto; (650) 852-3509, paloaltojcc.org. 10am-5pm, $3-5. The Palo Alto Jewish Community Center puts on this huge, colorful cultural extravaganza featuring ethnic food, entertainment, crafts and gift items, art exhibits, carnival games, and vodka tasting for adults.


San Francisco International Arts Festival Various venues, SF; (415) 399-9554, www.sfiaf.org. The theme for the fifth year of this multidisciplinary festival is "The Truth in Knowing/Threads in Time, Place, Culture."

MAY 22–25

Sonoma Jazz Plus Festival Field of Dreams, 179 First St W, Sonoma; (866) 527-8499, www.sonomajazz.org. Thurs-Sat, 6:30 and 9pm; Sun, 8:30pm, $40+. Head on up to California’s wine country to soak in the sounds of Al Green, Herbie Hancock, Diana Krall, and Bonnie Raitt.

MAY 24–25

Carnaval Mission District, SF; (415) 920-0125, www.carnavalsf.com. 9:30am-6pm, free. California’s largest annual multicultural parade and festival celebrates its 30th anniversary with food, crafts, activities, performances by artists like deSoL, and "Zona Verde," an outdoor eco-green village at 17th and Harrison.

MAY 25–26

San Ramon Art and Wind Festival Central Park, San Ramon; (925) 973-3200, www.artandwind.com. 10am-5pm, free. For its 18th year, the City of San Ramon Parks and Community Services Department presents over 200 arts and crafts booths, entertainment on three stages, kite-flying demos, and activities for kids.


Healdsburg Jazz Festival Check Web site for ticket prices and venues in and around Healdsburg; (707) 433-4644, www.healdsburgjazzfestival.com. This 10th annual, week-and-a-half-long jazz festival will feature a range of artists from Fred Hersch and Bobby Hutcherson to the Cedar Walton Trio.

MAY 31

Chocolate and Chalk Art Festival North Shattuck, Berk; (510) 548-5335, www.northshattuck.org. 10am-6pm, free. Create chalk drawings and sample chocolate delights while vendors, musicians, and clowns entertain the family.

Napa Valley Art Festival 500 Main, Napa; www.napavalleyartfestival.com. 10am-4pm, free. Napa Valley celebrates representational art on Copia’s beautiful garden promenade with art sales, ice cream, and live music. Net proceeds benefit The Land Trust of Napa County’s Connolly Ranch Education Center.


Union Street Festival Union, between Gough and Steiner, SF; 1-800-310-6563, www.unionstreetfestival.com. 10am-6pm, free. For its 32nd anniversary, one of SF’s largest free art festivals is going green, featuring an organic farmer’s market, arts and crafts made with sustainable materials, eco-friendly exhibits, food, live entertainment, and bistro-style cafés.

JUNE 4–8

01SJ: Global Festival of Art on the Edge Various venues, San Jose; (408) 277-3111, ww.01sj.org. Various times. The nonprofit ZERO1 plans to host 20,000 visitors at this festival featuring 100 exhibiting artists exploring the digital age and novel creative expression.

JUNE 5–8

Harmony Festival Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa; www.harmonyfestival.com. $30-99. One of the largest progressive-lifestyle festivals of its kind, Harmony brings art, education, and cultural awareness together with world-class performers like George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Jefferson Starship, Damian Marley, Cheb I Sabbah, and Vau de Vire Society.

JUNE 7–8

Crystal Fair Fort Mason Center; 383-7837, www.crystalfair.com. Sat, 10am-6pm; Sun, 10am-5pm, $6. The Pacific Crystal Guild presents two days in celebration of crystals, minerals, jewelry, and metaphysical healing tools from an international selection of vendors.


Sunset Celebration Weekend Sunset headquarters, 80 Willow Road, Menlo Park; 1-800-786-7375, www.sunset.com. 10am-5pm, $12, kids free. Sunset magazine presents a two-day outdoor festival featuring beer, wine, and food tasting; test-kitchen tours, celebrity chef demonstrations, live music, seminars, and more.


Haight Ashbury Street Fair Haight and Ashbury; www.haightashburystreetfair.org. 11am-5:30pm, free. Celebrate the cultural contributions this historical district has made to SF with a one-day street fair featuring artisans, musicians, artists, and performers.


Rock Art by the Bay Fort Mason, SF; www.trps.org. 10am-5pm, free. The Rock Poster Society hosts this event celebrating poster art from its origins to its most recent incarnations.


City of Oakland Housing Fair Frank Ogawa Plaza; Oakl; (510) 238-3909, www.oaklandnet.com/housingfair. 10am-2pm, free. The City of Oakland presents this seventh annual event featuring workshops and resources for first-time homebuyers, renters, landlords, and homeowners.

JUNE 14–15

North Beach Festival Washington Square Park, 1200-1500 blocks of Grant and adjacent streets; 989-2220, www.sfnorthbeach.org. 10am-6pm, free. Touted as the country’s original outdoor arts and crafts festival, the North Beach Festival celebrates its 54th anniversary with juried arts and crafts exhibitions and sales, a celebrity pizza toss, live entertainment stages, a cooking stage with celebrity chefs, Assisi animal blessings, Arte di Gesso (Italian street chalk art competition, 1500 block Stockton), indoor Classical Concerts (4 pm, National Shrine of St. Francis), a poetry stage, and more.


Sonoma Lavender Festival 8537 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood; (707) 523-4411, www.sonomalavender.com. 10am-4pm, free. Sonoma Lavender opens its private farm to the public for craftmaking, lavender-infused culinary delights by Chef Richard Harper, tea time, and a chance to shop for one of Sonoma’s 300 fragrant products.


Stern Grove Music Festival Stern Grove, 19th Ave and Sloat, SF; www.sterngrove.org. Sundays 2pm, free. This beloved San Francisco festival celebrates community, nature, and the arts is in its with its 71st year of admission-free concerts.

JUNE 17–20

Mission Creek Music Festival Venues and times vary; www.mcmf.org.The Mission Creek Music Festival celebrates twelve years of featuring the best and brightest local independent musicians and artists with this year’s events in venues big and small.

JUNE 20–22

Jewish Vintners Celebration Various locations, Napa Valley; (707) 968-9944, www.jewishvintners.org. Various times, $650. The third annual L’Chaim Napa Valley Jewish Vintners Celebration celebrates the theme "Connecting with Our Roots" with a weekend of wine, cuisine, camaraderie, and history featuring Jewish winemakers from Napa, Sonoma, and Israel.

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival Mendocino County Fairgrounds, 14480 Hwy 128, Boonville; (917) 777-5550, www.snwmf.com.Three-day pass, $135; camping, $50-100. Camp for three days and listen to the international sounds of Michael Franti & Spearhead, the English Beat, Yami Bolo, and many more.

JUNE 28–29

San Francisco Pride 2008 Civic Center, Larkin between Grove and McAllister; 864-FREE, www.sfpride.org. Celebration Sat-Sun, noon-6pm; parade Sun, 10:30am, free. A month of queer-empowering events culminates in this weekend celebration: a massive party with two days of music, food, and dancing that continues to boost San Francisco’s rep as a gay mecca. This year’s theme is "Bound for Equality."

JULY 3–6

High Sierra Music Festival Plumas-Sierra Fairgrounds, Quincy; (510) 547-1992, www.highsierramusic.com. Ticket prices vary. Enjoy four days of camping, stellar live music, yoga, shopping, and more at the 18th iteration of this beloved festival. This year’s highlights include ALO, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Built to Spill, Bob Weir & RatDog, Gov’t Mule, and Railroad Earth.


City of San Francisco Fourth of July Waterfront Celebration Pier 39, Embarcadero at Beach; 705-5500, www.pier39.com. 1-9:30pm, free. SF’s waterfront Independence Day celebration features live music by Big Bang Beat and Tainted Love, kids’ activities, and an exciting fireworks show.

JULY 5–6

Fillmore Jazz Festival Fillmore between Jackson and Eddy; www.fillmorejazzfestival.com.10am-6pm, free. More than 90,000 people will gather to celebrate Fillmore Street’s prosperous tradition of jazz, culture, and cuisine.


Midsummer Mozart Festival Various Bay Area venues; (415) 392-4400, www.midsummermozart.org. $20-60. This Mozart-only music concert series in its 34th season features talented musicians from SF and beyond.


Music@Menlo Chamber Music Festival Menlo School, 50 Valparaiso, Atherton; www.musicatmenlo.org. In its sixth season, this festival explores a musical journey through time, from Bach to Jennifer Higdon.

JULY 21–27

North Beach Jazz Fest Various locations; www.nbjazzfest.com. Various times and ticket prices. Sunset Productions presents the 15th annual gathering celebrating indoor and outdoor jazz by over 100 local and international artists. Special programs include free jazz in Washington Square Park.

JULY 26, AUG 16

FLAX Creative Arts Festival 1699 Market; 552-2355, www.flaxart.com. 11am-2pm, free. Flax Art and Design hosts an afternoon of hands-on demonstrations, free samples, and prizes for kids.


Up Your Alley Dore Alley between Folsom and Howard, Folsom between Ninth and 10th Sts; www.folsomstreetfair.com. 11am-6pm, free. Hundreds of naughty and nice leather-lovers sport their stuff in SoMa at this precursor to the Folsom Street Fair.

AUG 2–3

Aloha Festival San Francisco Presidio Parade Grounds, near Lincoln at Graham; www.pica-org.org/AlohaFest/index.html. 10am-5pm, free. The Pacific Islanders’ Cultural Association presents its annual Polynesian cultural festival featuring music, dance, arts, crafts, island cuisine, exhibits, and more.

AUG 9–10

Nihonmachi Street Fair Japantown Center, Post and Webster; www.nihonmachistreetfair.org. 11am-6pm, free. Japantown’s 35th annual celebration of the Bay Area’s Asian and Pacific Islander communities continues this year with educational booths and programs, local musicians and entertainers, exhibits, and artisans.

AUG 22–24

Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival Golden Gate Park; www.outsidelands.com. View Web site for times and price. Don’t miss the inaugural multifaceted festival of top-notch music, including Tom Petty, Jack Johnson, Manu Chao, Widespread Panic, Wilco, and Primus.


Burning Man Black Rock City, NV; www.burningman.com. $295. Celebrate the theme "American Dream" at this weeklong participatory campout that started in the Bay Area. No tickets will be sold at the gate this year.


Sausalito Art Festival 2400 Bridgeway, Sausalito; (415) 331-3757, www.sausalitoartfestival.org. Various times, $10. Spend Labor Day weekend enjoying the best local, national, and international artists as they display paintings, sculpture, ceramics, and more in this seaside village.

AUG 30–31

Millbrae Art and Wine Festival Broadway between Victoria and Meadow Glen, Millbrae; (650) 697-7324, www.miramarevents.com. 10am-5pm, free. The "Big Easy" comes to Millbrae for this huge Mardi Gras–style celebration featuring R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, and soul music, as well as arts and crafts, food and beverages, live performance, and activities for kids.


Art and Soul Festival Various venues, Oakl; (510) 444-CITY, www.artandsouloakland.com. 11am-6pm, $5-$10. Enjoy three days of culturally diverse music, food, and art at the eighth annual Comcast Art and Soul Festival, which features a Family Fun Zone and an expo highlighting local food and wine producers.

SEPT 1–5

San Francisco Shakespeare Festival Various Bay Area locations; www.sfshakes.org. This nonprofit organization presents free Shakespeare in the Park, brings performances to schools, hosts theater camps, and more.

SEPT 6–7

Mountain View Art and Wine Festival Castro between El Camino Real and Evelyn, Mountain View; (650) 968-8378, www.miramarevents.com. 10am-6pm, free. Known as one of America’s finest art festivals, more than 200,000 arts lovers gather in Silicon Valley’s epicenter for this vibrant celebration featuring art, music, and a Kids’ Park.

SEPT 20–21

Treasure Island Music Festival Treasure Island; treasureislandfestival.com. The second year of this two-day celebration, organized by the creators of Noise Pop, promises an impressive selection of indie, rock, and hip-hop artists.


Folsom Street Fair Folsom Street; www.folsomstreetfair.com. Eight days of Leather Pride Week finishes up with the 25th anniversary of this famous and fun fair.

Listings compiled by Molly Freedenberg.

Pizza Place on Noriega


› paulr@sfbg.com

Surfer dudes are people too, and they get hungry just like the rest of us. Surprisingly, San Francisco has such dudes; unsurprisingly, they tend to cluster at the city’s western edge, a land whose great highway is the Great Highway. Just beyond the Great Highway is the beach, pounded by surf, and surfer dudes (of any and all sexes) love the surf. Fog? This is irrelevant. Surfers have other issues to contend with, such as great whites.

The far Sunset District has its mild and fogless days, anyway — a blessing for those of us who sometimes bumble in from more sheltered corners of town, expecting the worst and swaddled in woolens — and the prosaically named Pizza Place on Noriega has been laid out with such beatific weather in mind. Although the restaurant’s glassy face peers north, its huge windows (including transoms) are filled with the light of the westering sun on spring evenings, and the woody interior (rather ski-lodgey, I thought) glows at this golden hour. Of course it rains in the Sunset too, and is foggy, and in these abysmal conditions we would have to trust to the warmth and perfume of the pizza oven, which dominates the unconcealed kitchen in its far corner of the double-width storefront space.

In my increasingly remote youth, pizza meant a visit to Shakey’s, whose amusements included a player piano. PPoN doesn’t have a player piano, but it does seem to attract small children — evidence that the city’s baby belt now extends well beyond Noe Valley. Despite the abundance of little ones, the restaurant doesn’t offer a kiddie menu; the tone throughout, in fact, seems pitched for young adults, from the jokey sign (courtesy of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer) just inside the front door — "I only eat pizza on days that end in ‘Y’" — to the huge cardboard profile of a Chevy Caprice mounted on the rear wall, with spinning tires that happen to be pepperoni pizzas.

Pabst is available on tap, which isn’t something you see too often out here, as opposed to in Milwaukee. And while the menu doesn’t offer pepperoni pizza per se, such a pie can be created from the list of DIY toppings. Pepperoni does turn up as a member of the ensemble in several of the house specialty pies, among them the Dimitri (with sausage, garlic, and mushrooms) and the Meathead (with sausage, salami, ham, and red onion).

We, however, could not resist the Spicoli ($15.99 for a 14-incher), topped with sausage and double cheese and named for — no, not an obscure pasta shape or a type of cured pork, but Jeff Spicoli, king of the surfer dudes and high priest of stoned slackerdom, as brilliantly depicted by Sean Penn in the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The Spicoli is the simple declarative sentence of pizzadom: a nicely crisp crust that’s a bit thicker than vogue, plenty of fennel-scented sausage chunks, and a lava flow of melted cheese. I love cheese as a birthright and hesitate to say that there can be such a thing as too much of it. But, post-Spicoli, I wonder.

The kitchen also turns out some interesting side dishes, including cauliflower florets ($5) roasted with black olives, orange zest, chili flakes, and parsley for a real Mediterranean, even Sicilian, flair. Then there are the sweet potato steak fries ($7), their faint sweetness resembling the fried yucca root you sometimes find in Brazilian restaurants. To broaden their appeal, PPoN presents the fries with little cups of blue cheese dressing and buffalo sauce (tomato-based and sweet-hot, though more hot than sweet), along with piles of baby carrots and celery stalks. A family of dunkables.

And since even pizzas less cheesy than the mighty Spicoli can be overwhelming, the midday snacker can find an attractive array of sandwiches to choose from. These are called grinders and are available from noon until four in the afternoon. Perhaps their best characteristic is the bread they’re served on: torpedo-shaped, wonderfully soft rolls from Amoroso Bakery in Philadelphia.

The rolls are like focaccia rolls except not olive-oily. They’re also discreetly absorbent, an important consideration if one’s grinder is the housemade meatball version ($6.50). The meatballs themselves are veal-inflected, to judge by their subtle texture, and they’re bathed in plenty of tomato sauce, which could easily get all over everything but doesn’t because most of it settles into the bread. Some melted provolone provides an additional seal.

More complex is the uncomplex-sounding roast turkey grinder ($6.25). Plenty of meat here, along with mayo, mustard, and provolone — but also a puckery zing provided by slivers of red onion and chunks of pepperoncini. We’re a long way from sandwiches made from Thanksgiving leftovers.

As for the crowd: surfer-dudish, though a little older than Jeff Spicoli, and no sign of Sean Penn, but plenty of the aforementioned kids, dangling like chimps from chairs and the edges of tables. The surfer-dude community has discovered family values, apparently.

The pizzeria is just about a year old: a whippersnapper with sharp new wood flooring and, over the roof, a tell-tale curvy exhaust flue, in a faded part of town. It’s not yet the equal of the Richmond’s Pizzetta 211 and maybe it doesn’t mean to be. But friends and acquaintances of mine who live in the western Sunset (some surfer dudes, some regular dudes) are certainly eager for renewal in the restaurant scene — if not fast times, at least ambulatory ones.


Wed.–Thurs., Sun.–Mon., noon–10 p.m.

Fri.–Sat., noon–10:30 p.m.

3901 Noriega, SF

(415) 759-5752, www.pizzaplacesf.com

Beer and wine


Cheerfully noisy

Wheelchair accessible

The yard sticks


› a&eletters@sfbg.com
I hopped my first freight train in the spring of 1993, outside a small central Florida town. My first train sat behind a drive-in theater along old Highway 301, among the pines sometimes seen in old photos of turpentine camps and prison work crews. Under a Southern moon, I battled mosquitoes and listened to a chorus of swamp frogs that must have been heard by the very men who built the railroad. I waited impatiently on the porch of a grainer car, as if it were the threshold of adulthood, for the train to carry me somewhere else.

As the ’90s ushered in a new era of gentrified, cookie-cutter, chain-store cities, I crisscrossed the country several times on freight trains. Today, I still think about that place in Florida outside of time, and when I’m sick of computers and phones and NPR news, I find myself heading to the train yard. In recent works that seem eerily timed to headlines announcing an impending US financial collapse, the writer William T. Vollmann and the photographer Mike Brodie have headed there too. This resurgence of interest in train-hopping stories might be a barometer of public dissatisfaction.

The somewhere else I thought I wanted to go on that first train ride probably looked a lot like the romantic universe encapsulated in the Polaroid photos of train-hopping friends taken by Mike Brodie, a.k.a. the Polaroid Kidd. Brodie’s photos, posted on his Web site, Ridin’ Dirty Face (www.ridindirtyface.com), depict a hobotopia where packs of grubby kids (and dogs!) play music, share food, and forage in the ruins of postindustrial America, traveling from town to town on freight trains and homemade river rafts. Everyone’s good looking and no one appears to be over 25.

As my first train left the yard that long-ago day, I sang some words by Johnny Cash because at 19 I wished my life were an epic country song. Similarly, the subjects of Brodie’s pictures wear suspenders and fedoras and patched-up oversize suit coats, as if they’ve walked out of newsreels from the Great Depression. In Brodie’s version of somewhere else, though, the Depression is glamorous. One of the most charming — and possibly most emblematic — photos in his current show at SF Camerawork depicts a young woman standing in the doorway of a rickety shack, a yard full of chickens pecking at her feet. At first glance, the image seems lifted straight from Walker Evans’ classic photos of 1930s austerity in his 1941 collaboration with James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. But in Brodie’s photo, the light is sensual, the mood somehow humid — it’s summertime — and the woman is, incongruously, wearing a beaded ballroom gown.

Brodie’s photos might depict a wish for a world uncomplicated by money or its absence — an aesthetic nostalgia for a time when no one had any money, and everyone had, perhaps, more integrity without it. Yet these images of romanticized destitution have, quite ironically, become high-priced art objects. Frankly, I find it creepy that art collectors will pay top dollar for highly aesthetic portraits of cute — and apparently penniless — teenage punk waifs staring guilelessly from dirt-smudged faces into the camera. Brodie’s photos have become valuable just as the country stands on the edge of the kind of Great Depression they romanticize. The winner at age 22 of the 2008 Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers, Brodie is highly talented. But the buzz about his subjects suggests that the weary art world is willing to go to as great lengths as the train-hopping kids in a search for authenticity. The Great Depression to come is on some level longed for.

Brodie seems motivated by a sincere desire to celebrate his community. "I just want to spend the next couple of years traveling around, following the warm weather, and documenting the train-hopping youth of America," he said in one recent interview. The joy of young friendship and the camaraderie of the road come through in his work. One soon-to-be-classic photo captures three train-hoppers from the waist down on a moving train: three sets of rolled-up trousers exposing dirty legs hang off the train, with the gravel rail bed and tracks below a blur. Near the center of the image, a can of beans with a spoon sticking out of it is being passed to someone whose hand reaches down from the upper right. It’s sort of a tramp reenactment of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, and the meeting of the hands on the can gives the photo an emotional punch. Though the young legs look straight out of The Little Rascals, the image is timeless, as poignant and enduring as summer itself.

When Brodie photos like this one escape from the self-consciousness of staged portraiture, they effortlessly capture the exhilaration of being young and on a freight train with your whole life seemingly ahead of you. The picture in this show of the kid hanging off the back of a moving train by one tattooed arm may be bought, but the middle-finger salute he triumphantly gives to the camera says the joke is on the collector who pays for it.

That the kid giving the finger will likely one day resemble William T. Vollmann in the new train-hopping memoir Riding Toward Everywhere (Ecco Press, 288 pages, $26.95) is a joke — played by time — on all of us. As the book begins, Vollmann finds himself nearing 50, recovering from a broken pelvis, and too hobbled to catch moving freights. Without even a fedora, he humbly cowers around the perimeter of a train yard carrying his only fashion accessory, a trusty orange bucket ("One could sit on it, carry things in it, and piss into it"), while contemputf8g his life’s narrowing options: "I hope that as what I get diminishes thanks to old age, erotic rejection, financial loss, or authority’s love taps, I will continue to receive it gratefully."

Like a veteran pitcher who has lost some zip on his fastball, Vollmann gets by on guts, his vitality flowing from an ornery and uncompromising hatred of authority that isn’t matched by young Brodie. "The activities described in this book are criminally American," he states in a disclaimer. In an increasingly controlled and uptight America, where "year by year the Good Germans march deeper into (your) life," Vollmann holds onto the hope that a freight train can still help him find a hole in the net.

Riding Toward Everywhere includes 20 or so pages of photos by Vollmann. In sharp contrast to Brodie’s, none feature anything you could really call pretty — except perhaps a snapshot of a friendly waitress in Wyoming, whose inclusion here only underscores the loneliness and desperation he finds on the rails. Vollmann’s camera finds cardboard camps in the weeds, toothless tramps, stern rail cops, and racist graffiti under rail bridges. For him, the train yard represents a collection of failed possibilities. In a boxcar heading from Salinas to Oakland, he finds an old hobo moniker from La Grande, Ore., written on the wall and spends the long boxcar night contemputf8g a woman from there whom he’d loved — and what might have been if they’d stayed together. In the morning light through the boxcar doors, looking out over "cornfields and the half-constructed houses of our ever-swarming California," he mourns "not merely my past but the vanished American West itself, where I would have homesteaded with my pioneer bride."

Well versed in the lore of rail-hopping, Vollmann goes to such places as Spokane, Wash., and Laramie, Wyo., in search of the hobo jungles of today’s American West. However, where proud Wobblies and tramps once cooked up a mulligan stew and waited to catch out, he finds a police lineup of blown-out drunks and SSI recipients. Though free to roam the rails under that big Western sky, they seem as herded and docile as those last few sad bison living out their days at the end of Golden Gate Park.

As in his last book, Poor People (Harper Perennial, 464 pages, $16.95), Vollmann records somewhat incoherent interviews with these subjects, an approach that stands in for sociology. While the elliptical conversations do give a somewhat impressionistic take on what life on the rails is like, Riding Toward Everywhere‘s subjects are hardly representative. Like Brodie, Vollmann is in thrall to a particular aesthetic. He’s committed to sensationalizing the ugliest aspects of the rails, to obsessing over swastika tags and crude drawings of women’s genitalia scrawled by bums on boxcar walls.

While spending much of Riding Toward Everywhere looking for the Freight Train Riders of America, a half-mythical hobo gang whose members supposedly will "kill you for $5 in food stamps," Vollmann fails to mention possibly the largest population on the West Coast train lines — undocumented Latino farmworkers. In my own experience hopping trains, I’ve shared food, water, and a sweet sense of humanity beyond language with such laborers. (Just last October, when I got off a train that stopped at the bridge over the American River in Vollmann’s hometown, Sacramento, I looked back to see five Latino guys carrying their belongings in Safeway plastic bags, scurrying up the embankment to get on the train before it started moving again toward Stockton.) Their presence on the rails is so great that I’d venture to say that if train cops actually tried to stop them from riding, an apple would cost five bucks, because there’d be no one left to pick them.

Still, despite self-consciously labeling himself a "fauxbeau," the 2005 National Book Award winner gets most details of train hopping right. Insider safety tips — don’t forget to put a rail spike in the boxcar door so it can’t slam shut on you! — are well represented, and Vollmann is especially good on the sights, sounds, and feelings of actually being on a train. He captures perfectly that indescribably victorious moment when your train is finally leaving the yard and it starts to accelerate just as you pass the cursed patch of weeds and litter where you’ve been hiding from the yard bull for 24 hours. Riding Toward Everywhere is most enlivening when this old pro simply lies back and describes what he sees out of his boxcar door.

Unfortunately, it turns out Vollmann doesn’t have even a relatively short book’s worth of train-hopping stories. After the excitement of a handful of train rides described early in the book, he pads the page count by dusting off other writers from the past and their takes on the road. Jack Kerouac, Jack London, and Ernest Hemingway are, predictably, quoted at length. Mark Twain’s raft on the Mississippi makes a guest appearance. Riding Toward Everywhere, it turns out, is a lot like a freight-train ride itself: in the beginning it’s really exciting and feels like it could lead anywhere, but after a while it starts moving so slowly that you can’t wait to get off!

Yet Vollmann’s book still has something to say about the search for real freedom — about its elusiveness and the price of trying to find it. "And we flee in search of last summer or next summer," he writes, "but there’s no harm in it if we know all the time it’s only a shadow show." Somewhere between the eternal search for next summer and the eternal search for last summer is the real ache Vollmann feels in his bones as he struggles to climb aboard a boxcar. In the years between the kid that Brodie photographs hanging off the back of a speeding freight train and the incoherent drunk living by the tracks that Vollmann interviews, there are cherished bits of freedom. They’re snatched from razor-wired train yards and robot train cops: a view through a boxcar door of elk at sunrise, or the taste of cold water from a trackside creek in the middle of nowhere Montana. These experiences are so rare and true that mere images of them are worth thousands in galleries.

The holes in the net are rare these days. I think often of my first train ride from that place out of time. It is a place seen in my favorite photo from Brodie’s exhibition at SF Camerawork. Through a rear window, it catches seven kids in the back of a pickup truck rolling down a flat Middle American prairie road at dusk. Hair is blowing all around in the wind, but one guy on the left is bent over in cool concentration, rolling a smoke, as warm yellow sunlight the very color of nostalgia floods the image. Whether you’re Mike Brodie, 22, or William Vollmann, 48, or myself, just now 35, you can’t help it; you want to live in this photo forever.


Through May 24

SF Camerawork

657 Mission, second floor, SF

(415) 512-2020

www.ridindirtyface.com, www.sfcamerawork.org

More train hoppin’ in this issue:

>>The end of the line
Trainspotting America with James Benning’s RR

>>Time travel ticket
Excerpts from a book that is Mostly True

>>What is Who is Bozo Texino?
“I hear you callin’, baby, but you ain’t gettin’ me. Not today, anyhow.”