Volume 46 Number 29

3 spring cocktail trends

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Spring imparts new life and lush green after winter rains. It also ushers in a glut of new cocktail menus, emphasizing the best produce of the season and exciting new trends.

BOTTLED COCKTAILS

These are sprouting up everywhere, including at the newest addition to the Bourbon & Branch family, the 1950s-styled Local Edition (691 Market, SF. www.localeditionsf.com), which opened April 12. There is no carbonation in these blends, just sophisticated, straightforward bottlings that utilize house syrups to drive flavor profile. Instead of individual-sized bottles, bar manager Ian Scalzo opts for 750-milliliter bottles that he corks and seals in-house. Order a large bottle of rum infused with house made yerba maté syrup — some come with a shot of sparkling wine, or soda — or avail yourself to tableside decanter service as you enjoy live music in this spacious, underground bar.

At Harry Denton’s Starlight Room (450 Powell, SF. (415) 395-8595, www.harrydenton.com) bar manager Joel Teitelbaum created a carbonated line-up at $12 per bottle, with even more in the works. Clear spirits dominate this bottled cocktail menu, which just launched April 10, but don’t be surprised if brown liqueur shows up too. Teitelbaum is already working on a Bulleit Rye cocktail for bottling. Try a carbonated Negroni made lively with Campari, Plymouth gin, and sweet vermouth, or a Phizzed Phosphate daiquiri of white rum perked up with cane sugar, phosphate, citric acid, and distilled lime juice.

You read that right, distilled juice. Citrus can easily turn bitter and pungent during distillation, but with lots of experimentation (and failed batches) using various juices, Teitelbaum has cornered a subtle lime aroma that blends seamlessly into his bottled daiquiri, mojito, and Brokers gin-based gin and tonic — my favorite of the bunch. His homemade tonic is a light brown, a natural result from leaving in the cinchona bark filtered out of most tonics. The drink gives off a floral, cardamom aroma, and the distilled lime juice tastes here of kaffir lime. Cutting-edge bars like The Aviary in Chicago are also experimenting with high concept bottled cocktails, but Teitelbaum is going for approachable, crowd-pleasing classics — with a twist.

PIMM’S CUP REVIVAL

Pimm’s Cups are on the rise. For those unfamiliar, the English brand Pimm’s has a full lineup of spirits, but its most-popular Pimm’s No. 1 is a gin-based, rosy red liqueur with notes of citrus and spice. In addition to Pimm’s, the famous cocktail made from the spirit can include lemon and cucumber, even gin, ginger ale, 7-Up, soda water, or mint. It’s a boozy cucumber lemonade for grown-ups that typically comes generously garnished — a drink that is as visually pleasing as it is to taste.

Pimm’s Cups are staples in London, even offered as a morning imbibement at farmers markets. In New Orleans, the drink is a tradition at 1700s bar Napoleon House (even if the version served is less than exemplary), a welcome treat in muggy Nola heat.

I wouldn’t mind seeing more Pimm’s traditions in our own city, but it seems we’re on our way. I’ve long gotten my Pimm’s Cup fix at 15 Romolo (15 Romolo, SF. (415) 398-1359, www.15romolo.com), which makes a lovely version with your choice of liquor (“anything but scotch,” reads the menu), plus Pimm’s, cucumber, mint, lemon, house ginger syrup, bitters, and soda water. Get the from-scratch treatment at Heaven’s Dog (1148 Mission, SF. (415) 863-6008, www.heavensdog.com) next month when new bar manager Trevor Easter makes a fresh batch of gin-based, housemade Pimm’s liqueur from bar director Erik Adkins’ recipe. With this base, the two craft a gorgeous drink, lively with cucumber and lemon.

Jasper’s Corner Tap (401 Taylor, SF. (415) 775-7979, www.jasperscornertap.com) bar manager Kevin Diedrich just started bottling his own Pimm’s Cup. A vivid orange, it goes down bright and bold with cucumber, ginger, lemon, Pimm’s, soda, and the no-longer-secret ingredient: a hint of fresh strawberry. Diedrich’s little bottled beauties border on addictive. I wish I could stock them at home.

WINE COCKTAILS

Sampling through spring menus I’ve noticed this old trend getting fresh life. At Wo Hing (584 Valencia, SF. (415) 552-2510, www.wohinggeneralstore.com), bar manager Brooke Arthur’s new spring cocktails include a Cynar spritzer made from the Italian artichoke liqueur and Plymouth Gin, alongside Punt e Mes vermouth, cava, orange bitters, lemon peel, and a pinch of salt. This dark, earthy, red refresher is blissfully bitter, bright, and invigorating. The salt enhances flavors, the bubbles impart texture.

Kevin Diedrich at Jasper’s Corner Tap created a St. Helena fizz served tall in a Collins glass. This wine-based cocktail is blessedly light on the alcohol — perfect for a mid-day imbibing. It uses Newton Chardonnay, St. Germain elderflower, Benedictine, Peychaud’s bitters, Bitter Truth grapefruit bitters, and soda. It’s like a mini-escape to wine country.

Kate Bolton of Maven (598 Haight, SF. (415) 829-7982, www.maven-sf.com) created a unique wine aperitif in Global Warming. Dry riesling features, but also sake, even a splash of Ransom’s Old Tom gin. Tart with lemon, a little scoop of absinthe sorbet permeates the drink as it melts. Who says vino and hard alcohol don’t mix?

7 vegan and gluten-free indulgences

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True, at first glance a vegan and gluten-free lifestyle sounds like a joke from Portlandia‘s Allergy Pride Parade. Wave those flags high, besmirched friends. But here’s a non-snarky thought: for some people, it’s just life. They have actual allergies to gluten and/or dairy.

Or, there are those who simply eat delectable vegan meals for personal reasons and have best friends, family, or partners with high risks of Celiac disease. Either way, any way, whatever way, with all the delicious, forward-thinking offerings in the Bay Area, it ain’t so bad. In fact, it’s really, really good. Don’t hate, just taste. 

QUESADILLAS DE CALABAZA AT GRACIAS MADRE

This quesadilla is the antitheses of the greasy pocket you’re used to. It’s a folded upright pillow, weighted lightly in the base with mouth-watering folds of whipped butternut squash and carmelized onions. While the presentation — which reimagines the quesadilla with a classic samosa shape — is worth it alone, the dish comes slathered in Gracias Madre’s signature spicy cashew cheese and a nutty pumpkin seed salsa. It defies logic, and sets gentle fire to the tongue.

2211 Mission, SF (415) 683-1346, www.gracias-madre.com

FRESH SPINACH LEAVES APPETIZER AT ANGKOR BOREI

When you listen close enough, people in bars are having conversations about food all over San Francisco. Angkor Borei Cambodian Cuisine is a word of mouth restaurant, passed from vegan to vegan, bar patron to bar patron. While there are other yummy choices here (try the pumpkin curry with tofu, served in half a pumpkin piece), perhaps the most surprising, most exemplary idea of what you can do without wheat and dairy is the deceptively simple vegetarian fresh spinach leaves app. It’s a circle of little glass bowls, each with one ingredient: ginger cubes, peanuts, coconut, lime wedges, and the titular fresh spinach leaves. Scoop up a leaf, pile on the accoutrement with tiny spoons then spread the dipping sauce atop; the combined pop of zesty flavor is a delicious experiment.

3471 Mission, SF (415) 550-8417, www.cambodiankitchen.com

VEGAN CHARCUTERIE AT GATHER

It’s an elegant, inspired dish, there’s no debate. Loved by both vegans and omnivores alike. It won Best of the Bay in 2010, made Food & Wine’s 10 Best Dishes of 2010, and earned countless, breathless reviews on local and visiting vegan blogs. But it also should be noted that the vegan charcuterie at Gather — a sturdy board dotted with the most imaginative vegan offerings imaginable, from smoky watermelon to unrecognizable trios of mushrooms — is also gluten-free (save for the hunk of unnecessary Acme bread on the side). Dip your fork tenderly into the offerings, for each is a piece of tasty art.

2200 Oxford, Berk. (510) 809-0400, www.gatherrestaurant.com

PISTACHIO AND CORNMEAL-CRUSTED TEMPEH QUINOA AT THE PLANT CAFE

This tempeh provides a mouthful of dancing flavors. The large pistachio and cornmeal-crusted triangles meet rich, fluffy quinoa covered in a spicy cucumber sauce. Pow. The zing. The Plant is another spot that has many delicious vegan options, and some wheat-free choices, but this is one of few meals that encompass both. Make sure to check the menu — true to its cause, the Plant’s dishes are seasonal, though the crusted tempeh itself seems to be a frequent option (previous incarnations have come dressed up with pumpkin seeds and served over coconut mashed yams).

Pier 3, Ste 103, SF (415) 984-1973, www.theplantcafe.com

GREEN PAPAYA SALAD AT HERBIVORE

Let’s get to the most salient question: yes, this salad is big enough to fill you up on its own. Its tangy shreds cover the whole plate and rises in a crunchy mound in the center. Next, let’s discuss the unfairness of most green papaya salad itself: yes, the Thai custom is to make dish with dried shrimp, and we’re not trying to change tradition here, however, it’s a shame such a tantalizing dish isn’t more often served vegan, when it’s just one ingredient that offends. Herbivore’s version has crispy shreds of tomato, green beans, red cabbage, carrots, onions, tofu, peanut, and mint, all with a spot-on ginger-tamarind dressing. No shrimp needed.

531 Divisadero, SF (415) 885-7133, www.herbivorerestaurant.com

FRIED OKRA AT SOULEY VEGAN

Just thinking about these tiny fried balls of perfection makes me long for a warm afternoon perched on the outdoor benches next door at Beer Revolution, chomping okra and scarfing vegan mashed potatoes. Everything at Souley Vegan is rich and delicious. But there’s something about that spicy fried okra that makes the meal super-special. Twist the lemon slice offered atop, pop one in, then share among friends on the benches. Or keep them all to yourself. No one will judge you.

301 Broadway, Oakl. (510) 922-1615, www.souleyvegan.com

SAHA SAMPLER AT SAHA

Saha has the goods: creamy hummus, smokey baba ganoush perfection, fire-roasted eggplant and tomato spread, and a colorful mix of Mediterranean olives. All of these come in one dish, naturally, the Saha sampler. The cherry on the sampler is the offering of gluten-free pita wedges, every bit as hearty as the kind with wheat, and just as perfect for scooping all that good Middle East-inspired spread.

1075 Sutter, SF (415) 345-9547, www.sahasf.com

The private bus problem

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If you’re used to riding to work on a crowded, lurching Muni bus that arrives late and costs too much, consider this: Some San Franciscans commute on 50-foot luxury coaches with cushioned seats, wifi, air conditioning and mini television screens. The state-of-the-art vehicles arrive on time — and the service is free.

The buses aren’t regulated by the city and pay nothing for the use of public streets. But these giant private beasts freely and without penalty stop in the Muni zones, clogging traffic, and sometimes preventing the city’s buses from loading and discharging passengers. They barely fit through narrow corridors in neighborhoods like Noe Valley and Glen Park.

City officials agree the fleets of private commuter buses have created a problem — but so far, they’ve done nothing about it.

And most people don’t realize that some of these luxury bus lines are, in effect, open to the public.

The buses primarily serve the city’s growing status as a Silicon Valley bedroom community, carrying commuters to and from the corporate campuses of places like Genentech and Google.

Private shuttle buses have been booming in San Francisco. Genentech has more than 6,000 employees registered in commute programs on 56 routes. Google’s Gbus service transports more than 3,500 daily riders on more than 25 routes, with about 300 scheduled departures. Then there’s Zynga, Gap, California College of Arts, Apple, Google, Yahoo!, and Academy of Art. And the University of California, San Francisco has its own fleet of 50 shuttles.

The good news is that the buses take cars off the road, giving tech workers a much less environmentally damaging way to get to work. Google’s transportation manager, Kevin Mathy, noted in the GoogleBlog that “The Google shuttles have the cleanest diesel engines ever built and run on 5 percent bio-diesel, so they’re partly powered by renewable resources that help reduce our carbon footprint.” He continued, “In fact, we’re the first and largest company with a corporate transportation fleet using engines that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 emission standards.”

But nobody at City Hall has any idea how many total buses are running on the San Francisco streets.

Jesse Koehler, a planner at the city’s transportation authority, conducted a study on shuttles that identified a number of problems, most linked to a lack of local regulation.

Requested by then-Supervisor Bevan Dufty, the study, completed in 2011, found that, while shuttles play a valuable role in the overall San Francisco transportation system, there’s little policy guidance or management. In fact, there’s no local oversight, the study found: Shuttle operators are licensed by the state, but the California Public Utilities Commission is mostly concerned with the safety of the equipment and the licensing of the drivers. Local concerns aren’t under the agency’s purview.

And there are plenty of reasons for local concern. Under city law, only Muni buses are allowed to pull over and use the designated bus stops — but Koehler reported, “Shuttles are generally also using these Muni bus spots. Some cases prevent Muni buses from entering the Muni bus zone and having the passengers board late.”

The study notes that “the large majority (approximately 90 percent) of shuttle stops occur at Muni bus zones.” The shuttles take much longer to load and unload than Muni buses (because of their size and the lack of a rear door) and often force the public buses to wait, delaying routes, or to pick up and discharge passengers outside of the bus zone, creating a safety problem.

Shuttle carnage

Local residents surveyed had their own complaints. The study quotes critics saying that “the shuttles can be noisy, especially at night when there isn’t much other traffic or when they are the kind with diesel engines” and “large coach shuttles are noisy on small neighborhood streets.”

Muni routes are designed with the city’s neighborhoods in mind; you don’t see the extra-long articulated coaches that ply Mission Street and Geary Boulevard cramming themselves into the much-tighter and more residential streets of Potrero Hill, Noe Valley, Glen Park and the Castro. That’s not a concern for the giant corporate shuttles; they go where they want.

That can cause problems for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers who aren’t used to seeing these long, tall buses, which at times take up both lanes, squeezing through turns with barely an inch to spare.

And while Muni drivers are far from perfect, the shuttle safety records are even more of a concern. In November of 2010, a UCSF shuttle bus struck and killed 65-year-old Nu Ha Dam as she was crossing Geary Street at Leavenworth Street. Not even a year later, another UCSF shuttle was involved in a collision, killing Dr. Kevin Allen Mack and injuring four other passengers. A witness confirmed that the shuttle ran a red light.

On February 14, a pedestrian crossing Eddy Street at Leavenworth in the Tenderloin was run over by a paratransit van. The victim was pinned under the shuttle for 20 minutes until he was finally rescued. The victim lived, but suffered several broken bones.

Carli Paine, transportation demand management project manager of the SFMTA, told us that shuttles are a growing component of the San Francisco transportation network and overall, support San Francisco’s greenhouse gas emission goals.

But, she noted, “Because they are relatively new, and a growing one at that, there is really a need to work together between the city and shuttle providers to make sure that our policy framework is supporting shuttles and also working to avoid conflict with shuttles and transit, pedestrians, and bikes.”

Paine noted: “What we’ve heard is that there are places where shuttles do have conflict with other uses and then there are places that work really well, so one of the things we want to find out in those areas where spaces are being shared successfully, is what’s happening.”

Elizabeth Fernandez, press officer at UCSF, said the city doesn’t have any specific rules regarding transit systems like UCSF’s. “With the proliferation of corporate services throughout the city, there are several studies that are ongoing,” she said. “These studies are an attempt to manage the growth of these kinds of shuttle services in regards to volume as well as routing, staging, and parking.”

Tony Kelly, a Potrero Hill community activist, said the root of the problem is the consistent cut in Muni service over the past 20 years. “Potrero Hill is going to double population in the next 15 years,” he said. “People and new housing units are doubling.

“When all the shuttles are in our bus stops, everyone is wondering why we can’t ride these things,” he said. “Why can’t they take it when there is so much unused capacity?”

Hitching a ride

Actually, I rode several UCSF shuttles around the city, and nobody ever asked for identification.

I was picked up at the Muni stop on Sutter St. at the UCSF Mt. Zion Campus (yes, the shuttle pulled — illegally — into the Muni stop to pick up passengers). Fernandez told me the school’s official policy states that “Riding UCSF shuttles is restricted for use by Campus faculty, staff, students, patients and patient family members, and formal guests.” But when I boarded, the driver made no attempt to verify if I was associated with UCSF. I did a full trip, passing through the UCSF Laurel Heights Campus, and then back to Mt Zion. There were no more than seven people on the shuttle, and about 20 seats available for riders. There are also handrails for standing if the bus ever gets too crowded.

I also hopped a Genebus at Glen Park BART and rode to company headquarters in South San Francisco. Again, nobody asked for ID; in fact, Genentech spokesperson Nadine O’Campo said the company is happy to let others who work in the area hitch a ride on the cush coaches.

For information on the Genenbus routes and schedules for the Millbrae bus line, go to www.caltrain.com and look under “schedules.” UCSF also provides shuttle schedules and route maps at www.campuslifeservices.ucsf.edu under transportation. For general information on shuttle providers that provide service from and to BART, visit www.transit.511.org and go to Transit Provider Info.

Riding on these shuttles is an entirely different experience than riding on the Muni. People are friendlier, the buses are clean, the seats were nicer, and the transportation is a lot faster.
A UCSF student on the shuttle, commutes using the BART from South San Francisco to 16th and Mission to take a shuttle to UCSF. She said it’s far better (and cheaper) than driving — and while Muni costs $2, the shuttles are free.

The downside of that, of course, is that some of the shuttles are bleeding off Muni patrons, and riders of other public systems, in effect stealing customers, and thus robbing the transit system of fares. They’re also another example of the privatization of what were once public services. Instead of working with the city and the region to improve transit for everyone, these tech firms have decided to create a private system of their own..

And that may be the most disturbing trend of all.

Volume 46 Number 29 Flip-through Edition

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Gourmet fresh (and cheap)

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virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE Trekking around the Bay for what is not at all elusive — excellent food — is ever a pleasure. Finding it on the cheap? Options are endless. Sandwiches stand as one of the easiest ways to fill up for less, making the continued glut of sandwich openings unsurprising. (Check out the Richmond’s new Chomp n’ Swig — hard to top the Bacon Butter Crunch sandwich: white cheddar, tomato, bits of bacon, guacamole. Or in the Mission, the Galley inside Clooney’s Pub at 1401 Valencia serves a meaty French Onion sandwich, yes, like the soup and oh so good.) Beyond mere sandwiches, here are some other affordable delights.

 

MARKET AND RYE

 

West Portal is lucky to claim new Market and Rye, from Top Chef alum Ryan Scott. What could be just another sandwich shop is instead an airy, high-ceilinged cafe in yellows and whites under skylights. Salted rye bread is made specifically for the spot by North Beach’s classic Italian French Baking Company (IFBC’s sourdough and wheat bread choices are also available).

Sandwiches ($8.50–9) offer enough playful touches to keep them unique, like Funyuns on roast beef or Cool Ranch Doritos adding crunch to chicken salad layered with avocado spread and pepper jack. I took to the Reuben chicken meatball sandwich on salted rye, its generous contents falling out all over the place, overflowing with 1000 Island dressing, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, red cabbage caraway slaw, and house chicken meatballs. I almost didn’t miss the corned beef.

Build-your-own-salads offer healthy alternatives, while above average sides ($4 per scoop, $7.50 2 scoops, $10.50 3 scoops) are generous helpings of the likes of roasted zucchini tossed with cherry tomatoes and boccaccini (mini mozzarella balls), enlivened by mint vinaigrette. The side that didn’t work for me was grilled broccoli. It appeared green and verdant, dotted with ricotta and walnuts in red wine dressing, but was so cold, its flavor was stunted.

Housemade root beer float “Twinkies” ($3.50) are a fun finish, though Twinkie-lovers be aware: these are dense, dark cakes filled with a dreamy root beer float cream, neither fluffy nor spongy.

68 West Portal Ave., SF. (415) 564-5950

 

ALL GOOD PIZZA

A jaunt to Jerrold and Third Street leads to a food truck parked in a Bayview oasis: a parking lot filled with picnic tables, potted cacti, and herbs used for cooking. All Good Pizza — open weekdays only: 10am-2pm — just launched this month from neighborhood locals desiring healthy food and “good, sincere pizza,” with a real commitment to the area (check out the site’s community page).

The lot invites lingering over cracker-thin pizzas (a steal at $7), from a basic Margherita to a spicy pie dotted with peppers, fennel, mozzarella, and Louisiana hot links smoked on site. The trailer houses a 650 degree gas-fired oven. These aren’t game-changing pies but there’s nothing like it in the ‘hood — nor are there many healthy salads, like a kale, radicchio, sweet potato crisps, Parmesan, balsamic reserva combo. There are also panini sandwiches ($7) such as a pig-heavy, super salty Nola Muffaletta: Genoa salami, smoked ham, olive salad, fior di latte mozzarella, and provolone cheese.

Italian sodas ($2.50) are all made on premises, like a candy sweet coconut soda evoking coconut oil, beaches and vacation. All this in a Bayview parking lot.

1605 Jerrold Ave., SF. (415) 846-6960, www.allgoodpizza.com

 

ANDA PIROSHKI

A close childhood pal is Russian and her mother and grandmother often home-baked us unforgettable treats as kids, from blintzes to piroshkis, those little baked buns stuffed with goodness. I still dream of them — a rarity in this town. Not even in Chicago or NY have I tasted any piroshkis as fresh as those at Anda Piroshki, a stall in the tiny but idyllic 331 Cortland marketplace housing a few take-out food purveyors. I’ve eaten Anda at SF Street Food Fest, but the ideal is to arrive at 331 soon after it opens when piroshkis are pulled from the oven piping hot.

The dough is airy yet dense, ever-so-subtly sweet, like a glorified Hawaiian roll. No skimping on fillings — one piroshki ($3.75–4.50) fills me up. Sustainable meats and local ingredients make them relatively guilt-free. Try a button mushroom piroshki overflowing with fresh spinach, or one of ground beef, rice and Swiss, oozing comfort. My favorite is Atlantic smoked salmon and cream cheese accented by black pepper and dill. It makes a savory, creamy breakfast.

The one downside has been a straight-faced, disinterested server who could not be bothered as I asked a question about Russian sodas (like Kvass, a fermented rye soda — pleasing rye notes if too saccharine) and acted the same when I returned a second time… a stark contrast to the friendliness I encounter at every other 331 business. But momentary coldness is still worth those warm piroshkis.

331 Cortland Ave., SF. (415) 271-9055, www.andapiroshki.com

Subscribe to Virgina’s twice-monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot, www.theperfectspotsf.com

 

Playing Joe Cool

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS Last Straw Sullenger and me were walking. Just strolling around the corner, to Community Thrift, to see if they had some things. My list was long. But I was telling her, as we walked, about my football team — the “here” one — and how, after just three seasons, it was starting to come together for us. Two straight wins…

How a lot of our players who had never played football before are starting to really get it and kick ass, especially our quarterback.

“Great. That’s great. Great,” she was saying, and I looked up and saw Joe Montana walking toward us.

Now, I’m not one to generally even notice the presence of celebrity, let alone be moved by it; but in this case, I peed my pants.

Joe Montana, for you young, sports historyless ‘uns, is not celebrity. He’s Joe Montana. In the Mission, on the phone, jeans and a T-shirt, less balding and yes taller than I’d have figured, the oceanic eyes and that dimpled chin. In other words: swoon.

And .. . boom, he was past us, just like that, except Last Straw had to practically carry me the rest of the way to the thrift store.

Which isn’t to say I shopped.

I mean, I did. I bought a strainer. But my needs were so much more. So much more than that.

Seeing Joe Montana in the Mission is addictive, turns out. All I could think about while we were looking at desks was getting back outside and possibly — who knows — seeing him again.

We did!! Joe Montana! Again! Ten minutes later, still talking on the phone, just standing there next to a telephone poll outside the barber shop on 18th and Valencia, where Circus McGirkus used to work. Iss.

And we walked on by, trying to act casual while fainting and peeing our pants and shit. Anyway, I was. I’m not sure Last Straw is quite the historical (to say nothing of hysterical) 49ers fan that I am. I was in high school when Joe Montana started his career, changing everything. Seriously: seeing him, seeing us going from last place to first in two seasons, it changed the way I played football. And it changed the way I lived life.

As for him, he just wanted a haircut, probably. Anyway, as we were passing, he got off the phone and walked into the barber shop.

“You should get his autograph,” Last Straw said.

“On what? On my strainer?” I said.

I hate to bother people, let alone celebrities, let alone Joe Montana. But no one else was! Maybe no one else in the Mission is old enough or sporty enough to even know what Joe Montana looks like.

“Probably he’d get a kick out of it,” Last Straw said. “His age.”

I doubted this. But I said goodbye to her at her car, then ran to my apartment, changed my pants, swapped my strainer for a football and a Sharpie, and ran back out.

I had a better idea, I thought. I wouldn’t ask for his autograph. I would ask him to throw me a pass. I would tell him I play wide receiver for a women’s football team, imply that I had six months (or less) to live, and show him on my hand what I was going to do: Past the bus stop, fake left, and cut right toward the building. I’d look over my right shoulder as I made my turn, and the ball would be waiting for me.

I knew it would be there, having seen him play, many times, on TV and in person. It would be waiting for me. I would pull it in, and then, maybe, he would offer to sign it. Either way, I would live the rest of my life with a sense of having caught a pass from Joe Montana.

And, yeah, that would be enough.

Problem: He was gone. If it was a haircut he was after, his was the fastest one ever.

Ever since, I’m saying, I’ve been spending more time than usual on Valencia, with a football and a Sharpie in my bag. Did you notice that New Yorker Buffalo Wings is closed, and that signs on the windows point you toward Pizzeria, a few doors down? Earl Butter and I tried them. Meh.

But next week I’ve got a great wings place to tell you about, don’t worry.

PIZZERIA

Tue.-Thu., Sun. 3:30-10:30pm; Wed.-Thu., Sun: 11am-10pm; Fri.-Sat.: 3:30-11:30pm.

659 Valencia St., SF.

(415) 701-7492

MC,V

No alcohol 

 

Items

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marke@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO So many things I want to write about this week, if only my delicate, exquisite hands could stop doing these fluttery bird-like motions in front of my gorgeous face. Girls, I’ve got a serious case of the Vogues, which along with Perma-Nod, Fist Pump, “Woo!”-itis, Twirlfoot, Strobe-eye, and Record Bag Shoulder will soon flood hospital wards and special care facilities nationwide with my rapidly aging (mid-20s) club generation.

That’s why universal healthcare is so very important! Have we learned nothing from disco’s untreated polyester scars, the shaken sacroiliacs of funk, Rave Damage, Swing Elbow, Goth Pout, the horrible social stigma of Breakdancer’s Breath? Shit staaank. Don’t laugh, teenage Post-Millennials, it’s coming for you. One day you’ll be holding your phone up to record that underground light show, when you’ll realized with horror that no one uses phones as cameras anymore, not even you. You’ll only be holding your phone up in your mind. And then you’ll catch Skrillexatosis.

What am I even talking about? The things I most want to tell you are these. 1) Mimosas and house dancing on Sunday mornings 6am-2pm at Monroe in North Beach are rad, especially the second and third Sundays of each month, hosted by the Pressure! and Forward crews respectively. 2) The Entertainment Commission is actually considering the use of mimes to help control rowdy nighttime crowds, for realz. (Read more on SFBG.com’s Noise blog.) 3) Flaunting its global fan base, amazing weekly Honey Soundsystem is now simulcasting its Sunday night parties at www.mixlr.com /hnysndsystm — so you can kiki out while doing your dishes at home. 4) I just about died when rap prodigy Azaelia Banks broke into the Prodigy’s “Firestarter” at Coachella, did you see it? More please.

 

THE TUBESTEAK CONNECTION 8-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

Have you noticed we may be going through another heavy period of gentrification? DJ Bus Station John started his weekly Thursday night club in reaction to the last tech boom’s more blanding effects, drawing upon underground queer ’70s culture to keep the gay ’00s freaky, slutty, and disco-lickingly funky (also cell-phone free: don’t Tweet in this room, love, keep it between us.) “A reliable source of good music and fresh meat delivered w/love (& refreshingly w/o irony) by a 50-something bear qween,” is how BSJ himself describes it. “You won’t believe what you just 8!” is how I do.

Thu/19 and every Thursday, 10pm, $5-7. Aunt Charlie’s, 133 Turk, SF.

 

ROCK IT SCIENCE LABORATORIES DOUBLE ANNIVERSARY

Seven years of parties, two years as a record label, and always keepin’ it ravey-styley — local player Eric Sharp started off throwing Afterglow undergrounds at the storied Infinite Kaos venue and has become a bedrock of the Bay Area dance music (and an early handlebar mustache pioneer), now celebrating with DJ Fame, Eric Reilly, and his RISL (www.rislabs.com) family, which is us, of course. Expect craziness.

Fri/20, 10pm-late, $5 before 11pm. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

JEFF MILLS

As “The Wizard” on Detroit’s WJLB FM in the ’80s, the genius Mills cut ‘n scratched electro, hip-hop, house, and techno into breathtaking, highly influential conflagrations of party-starting awe. Now he not only beams genius slices of intelligent techno down from the Mothership — he basically is the Mothership, often on multiple turntables, and will deliciously demolish Public Works, along with beloved Detroit house legend Terrance Parker, LA heavy technoist Drumcell, our own Icee Hot DJs, Mossmoss, and more. Sat/21, $15–25. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

Summer camp on wheels

1

emilysavage@sfbg.com

MUSIC While Rupa Marya of Rupa & the April Fishes and Gabe Dominguez of Shake Your Peace are crossing their fingers for cloudless, sunny days ahead during their joint week-long bicycle trek around the Bay Area, in some ways, they were brought together by a storm.

It was a storm both physical and figurative: the scattered downpours during their first encounter at the now-dispersed Occupy SF campsite at Justin Herman Plaza last November (11.11.11) during the Occupy Music Festival — where both bands played — and, the subsequent storm of ideas that lead to the bike tour agreement.

“So it was kind of like the perfect storm,” says Dominguez, sitting next to Marya in the Nervous Dog Coffee cafe on Mission Street in early April. “It was an auspicious day,” Marya later adds. “Oh my god, what a day.”

The fruit of that brainstorm, the Bay Rising Tour, will kick off tomorrow at Stanford University, with the ragtag bicycle caravan of around 15 core riders heading counterclockwise around the Bay, stopping in nine cities over 10 days, playing both conventional music venues and guerillas art spaces. The musicians on bikes piled high with gear will turn their final corner on to Divisadero to play the Independent April 28.

Marya and Dominguez had walked into the Nervous Dog that afternoon smiling, bubbling with expectations of the impending tour. The two are clearly platonically smitten with another other’s passion for social justice, global music, and good old-fashioned bike fun.

As Marya nibbles an empanada from the cafe, Dominguez continues their story. “We made the connection that both of our bands make multicultural dance rebel music, rock music for the ecotopian revolution. Bicycles, bioregionalism, now being the time — it all just coalesced.”

One key difference that’s soon to evaporate: Shake Your Peace has done many bike tours, but this will be Rupa & the April Fishes’ first (though they’ve done some trial runs in preparation).

Along with leading Shake Your Peace, and playing in Tiny Home with his girlfriend, Sonya Cotton, Dominguez is a co-founder of the yearly Bicycle Music Festival (since 2007) with Paul Freedman, who too plays a role in the Bay Rising Tour.

Freedman’s company is Rock the Bike, which built the pedal-powered audio system the groups will use in the open space and outdoor venues — San Jose Bike Party, Fremont Earth Day Grounds, Keller Beach Park.

Along with those mentioned, the tour will roll to A Place for Sustainable Living in Oakland for an Earth Day party (with food cooked by Marya’s urban farmer brother), a Beaver Liberation show in Martinez, and a Glen Cove ceremony by Ohlone Leaders in Vallejo.

Out on the road between venues, the caravan has three transportation strategies: people carrying their own instruments on bicycles, those packing larger instruments like guitars on Xtracycles — an Oakland company that sells an extension for the back of the bike — and lastly, a few riders on electric-hybrid bikes carrying six-to-eight foot trailers.

They also are encouraging other cyclists and Bay Area residents to come along for the day rides between shows — to help map out the flattest routes. There’s a real community effort feel to the plan.

“In the wake of where we find ourselves right now, economically, sociopolitically, we can’t wait for someone to hand us the reality we want. We have to build it, we have to create it. And that’s what’s so exciting about this way of touring,” Marya says.

She adds, “it’s not asking for permission, it’s just doing what you do as a musician, which is to mobilize yourselves…bring people on your journey, have a chance to interact with them in another way, which is so different than get on the tour bus, be isolated, be backstage. We’re going to create the stage, we’re going to create the experience.”

Both bands make the kind of music that invites interaction and discussion, so an interactive tour, flipping the tradition of a clear separation between artist and audience, seems the right direction.

Rupa & the April Fishes — now wrapping up their third studio album, Build — have long been fixtures on the global music scene, a Bossa nova bumping mix of Brazilian, Indian, Latin, and French influences, sung in three languages. While based out of San Francisco, they’re often out exploring the world, most recently Chiapas, Mexico; Amsterdam; and Athens, Greece.

Shake Your Peace started out in New York as folk trio, but now “Shake Your Peace 2.0” makes a style of music that Dominguez has dubbed “whup” — a melding of Afro-Latin beats with bluegrass instruments such as fiddle, and gospel harmonies.

“W-H-U-P, it’s a celebratory spirit with a philosophy, a political approach,” Dominguez explains excitedly. “We’re not just fighting for better wages, we’re fighting for life. It’s the spirit of your heart kicking. The scream when you come out of the womb. Life, yaow!”

He appears equally amped on the Bay Rising tour itself, adding again that others should join the rides with the bands — “they’re welcome to experience this rolling summer camp with us.” And they’ll both be Tweeting their locations along the way for the day rides.

As the effusive conversation in Nervous Dog comes to a close, Dominguez and Marya are still talking about the logistics of the trip, including where they’ll crash at night, and the importance of gathering tarps to cover all their gear, just in case of bad weather. 

BAY RISING TOUR

With Rupa & the April Fishes, Shake Your Peace

Thu/19-Sat/28

Various venues, Bay Area

www.theaprilfishes.com

 

Alter egos

13

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC At first blush the music of St. Vincent, the alter-ego of accomplished guitar hero Annie Clark, and that of live looping sensation tUnE-yArDs, born Merrill Garbus, don’t appear to have a lot in common.

Sure, they share a gender, a label, and an impulse for quirky alias and chimerical shape-shifting, but Clark’s complex guitar-and-synth driven compositions and Garbus’ polyrhythmic ukulele and percussion spree emerge from completely different musical impulses and backgrounds.

Even so, their upcoming double-header at the Fox Theater promises to be a thrilling combination, as both ladies share a reputation for explosive stagecraft and are currently creating some of the most uniquely stylized pop music in the country.

Annie Clark aka St. Vincent, may have hit the cover of Spin‘s “Style” issue, but in interviews Clark is more likely to refer to herself not as fashionista but as a “nerd”. As in, a prog-rock-loving, guitar-shredding, architecture of music kind of nerd.

Her third solo album Strange Mercy (4AD, 2011), an oblique reflection on old traumas and fresh starts is characterized by contrast. Bell-clear vocals edging towards the ethereal, meaty guitar riffs ricocheting in from unexpected directions, and soaring organ and mini-Moog fills contributed by acclaimed gospel musician, Bobby Sparks, (easily the second most striking musician on the album).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eOt1GWD7gU

A study in contraposition both as a musician and as a media personality,Clark admits to a fondness for playing with character — further evidenced by her stage alias and deceptively delicate off-stage physicality, which belies the raw power of her live performances — but is equally quick to assert ownership of all of her public faces.

“Whenever you walk onto a stage you are fundamentally yourself,” she explains over email. “It’s just that you hold a mixing board to your personality and turn up some aspects and turn down others.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sB3dBiD5Bj4

It’s almost impossible to speak of Oakland-dwelling Merrill Garbus, or tUnE-yArDs, without referencing the time she spent studying Taarab music in Kenya. The frenetic, border-blending polyrhythms on w ho k i l l (4AD, 2011) transport the listener into an experiential space in which music and body are inextricably enmeshed.

In the current ranks of American pop-makers it’s difficult to find an act to compare her to, though TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe does occasionally rise to mind, particularly in the context of vocal phrasing and politicized lyrical content.

No less of an onstage powerhouse than labelmate Clark, Garbus’ personal aesthetic skews more towards that of performance artist than rock star. With a fondness for facepaint, explosive vocalization techniques, and the rubber-mask facial tics of Lily Tomlin, Garbus’ previous training in the theater arts still serve as a springboard for her approach to performance, as well as composition.

“The music stems from how I can envision myself performing it,” she explains. “I like to think of the music in terms of…altering space, and transformation, and the experience of the group.”

Whether onstage or in the studio, Garbus flows smoothly between laying her own rhythm tracks, pounding fiercely on her uke, and charging into the musical fray with her battle cry vocals, but her personal fascination is with uncomfortable moments — highlighting them as absurdities and working thorough them with her audiences. Her other proclivity — that of an almost exaggerated playfulness — is less a spontaneous expression of id than an intentional construction of a persona who unifies the many strands of Garbus’ transcontinental influences and obsessions into one cohesive force.

“There is power in the facepaint, and in the performance, and of a warrior stance of sorts,” she opines. “I’m not using ‘tribal fashion’ in an ironic, disconnected and aloof way. I’m a freaking badass. And I wear face paint.” *

 

Can’t get enough of that tUnE-yArDs character? Look for extended interview highlights with Merrill Garbus online at sfbg.com

 

MERRILL GARBUS OF TUNE-YARDS WITH BUSTER KEATON SHORTS

Mon/23, 8pm, $20–<\d>$25

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120

www.sffs.org

 

ST. VINCENT/TUNE-YARDS

With Kapowski Tue/24, 7:30pm, $29.50

Fox Theater

1807 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 548-3010 www.thefoxoakland.com

7 pretty tea parties

0

caitlin@sfbg.com

Unbeknownst to those whose primary haunt is dingy dive bars and the bottom of a margarita glass, there are as many kinds of tea houses in San Francisco as one-night stands.

There are the futsy Anglo types: all frill, pastel snack-treats, and delicate china. The hippie tea shacks, where you can order “half of an avocado” without going off the menu. There are borscht-and-herring Russian places, like Katia’s in the Richmond (600 Fifth Ave., SF. (415) 668-9292, www.katias.com). Of course, the real-deal knowledgeable Chinatown shops with blends to spare and free tastings like Red Blossom Tea Company (831 Grant, SF. (415) 395-0868, www.redblossomtea.com).

But none will leave you with a hangover, or linger awkwardly as you get ready for work — and most provide a slow-paced, table service setting perfect for making sober-eyes at the hottie you may be lugging home afterwards. 

OM SHAN TEA

This cozy Mission room may just have the healthiest meal options in the neighborhood — salads to rice bowls and the aforementioned avo half. If you come on Mondays from 7 to 10pm you’ll find yourself in the womb of Open Heart Poetry night, a soul-searching open mic with featured poets that draws a packed house (there’s also weekly temple dancer and live music evenings.) Like the other shops on in this roundup, the menu of teas here can be a little intimidating to a newbie, but in this hand-holding environment an ask for guidance to your server will go a long way.

233 14th St., SF. (415) 747-8327, www.omshantea.com

LOVEJOY’S

Nuzzled into the bosom of Noe Valley, Lovejoy’s can at first be overwhelming — my god, the doilies! Just embrace the chintz, you’ll be glad you did. This is the most perfect pinky-up spot in town, and it stocks the traditional menu of sweets and scones in addition to heartier fare like shepard’s pies and the Ploughman’s Lunch — a platter of artichoke hummus, fruit, greens, and vinegar crisps. Suggestion: go for afternoon tea and order the tallest multi-tier tray of petit fours you can manage. And don’t mind the flocks of MILFs.

1351 Church, SF. (415) 648-5895, www.lovejoystearoom.com

TASTE

Had a rough weekend? Taste awaits to aide in your detoxification and mental clarification. A serene spot in Hayes Valley where one orders at the counter, Taste prides itself on serving tea the traditional Chinese way. That means a tableside lesson on how to drink your brew, pouring out the first cup onto the slotted platform provided before decanting and then tipping the hot liquid into your teeny-tiny cup. Side dishes to all the Zen-like ceremony include dim sum-style buns filled with red bean paste and vegetable curry. Like many tea rooms, you’re also welcome to buy your favorite blend to take home.

535 Octavia, SF. (415) 552-5668, www.tasteteasf.com

TAL Y TARA

It is testament to the misty wonder of the Richmond District that such a place as Tal Y Tara is not overrun with fashionistas seeking authentic British ridingwear and a picturesque place to Instagram themselves drinking a cup of PG Tips. Actually a clothing store hawking everything from longer-in-the-back pastel polo shirts to horse bridles, the back of Tal Y Tara houses a handful of tables with polo-patterned coverings. Snack on a Picadilly (a toasted crumpet with a slice of tomato and Dubliner cheese) while you sip your cuppa and stare at the vintage show pony photos on the walls.

6430 California, SF. (415) 751-9275, www.talytara.com

SECRET GARDEN TEA HOUSE

There are so many bric-a-brac shelves in Secret Garden that some of them are brac-less: they exist only to be shelves. Such is the décor reasoning at this parkside parlor, where pastel-colored church hats hang from the walls for insta in-house cred. Upon my visit to Secret Garden I sipped lemon chiffon tea and consumed the Sweet Surrender plate: an ungodly amount of lady fingers, French macaroons, petit fours, and powdered sugar-dusted fruit slices. I also heard the next table over in raptures over glimpsing the royal family on a recent London vacation. Bring your grandma, or a small royal-watcher: there is an ample kid’s menu here.

721 Lincoln, SF. (415) 702-0398, www.secretgardenteahouse.com

DARTEALING

You will undoubtedly be distracted by the fetching jars of pink malt balls and rooster-decorated Sriracha truffles that greet you upon entry into this hideout from the bustling tech world of SoMa. But push on past the retail space: rewards await in the form of comfy sofas be-pillowed with intricately embroidered soft things. Once settled in the space, choose a tea service (blends include cheekily named flavors like “Cabana Boy,” with a sweet tropical fruit taste) that includes options from the sandwich menu: Dartealing has a vast array of crustless wonders, the tofu-and-citrus ginger-soy glazed option being a favorite. Just make sure you leave room for dessert — the lavender-dusted scones that arrive with a ramekin of clotted cream are the dreamiest.

470 Third St., SF. (415) 644-0142, www.dartealing.com

4 Spanish treats

0

A year ago, Hunky Beau and I were tootling wantonly around the Iberian peninsula, from San Sebastiàn and Vitoria-Gasteiz in the Basque north to Sevilla and Tarifa in the Andalucian south, leaving a trail of licked little plates in our wake. We dove into exquisitely stacked two-bite prawn pintxos in Bilbao, leafy salads piled high with tiny, transparent angulas (eels) in Barcelona, rabbit paella in Valencia …

Claro, you don’t need me waggling my delectable Spanish gustation in your face. So let me offer you instead a quartet of recos in SF. There’s been a diverse boom of Spanish spots lately, from gypsy-flavored Gitane to meaty Basque outpost Txoko — both raved about in recent Guardian reviews. Here are four perhaps lesser-known Spanish gems that have tugged at my tongue. 

BOCADILLOS

Don’t let the sandwich-y name fool you, this well-appointed Financial District spot is on the classier end. Absolutely lovely tuna-ventresca salad with miso-lemon vinaigrette and grilled prawns a la plancha provide flavor thrills; the palatial Scientology HQ across the street takes care of the people-watching. Another glass of rich, plummy Arretxia Irouleguy, please. Be warned: Bubble Lounge next door sometimes uncorks a wave of the over-giggly into Bocadillo’s loud space.

710 Montgomery, SF. (415) 982-2622, www.bocasf.com

CANELA

The Castro has suffered its lion’s share of culinary misfortune of late, so how awesome is it that there’s suddenly a tasty, homestyle Spanish joint in that legendary foodie-uninspiring hood? “Bring joy” is the motto: amazing coca flatbreads with farmer’s cheese; hearty, tomato-y albondigas (meatballs) and lamb guisado (stew), and a super-friendly atmosphere make it happen. Bacalao (salt cod) salad with orange, spicy gambas (shrimp) and a tangy chilled gazpacho soup will get me through the summer, I’m guessing.

2272 Market, SF. (415) 552-3000, www.canelasf.com

LALOLA

In my opinion the most authentic bar-style Spanish tapas experience I’ve found in SF — albeit without my cherished vermouth, but with plenty of wine choices to suffice. (Full disclosure: one of the owners has become my real estate agent.) Sidle up to the no-reservation bar or grab a table in the bright, window-laden space with almost-secret flamenco performance room below, and order some perfectly familiar boquerones (anchovies in vinegar), espinacas (spinach sauteed with pine nuts and raisins, croquetas (bechamel croquettes) or that famous heavy Madrid bar-snack mainstay, patatas bravas — potatoes topped with zesty romanesco sauce.

1358 Mason, SF. (415) 981-5652, www.lalolasf.com

THIRSTY BEAR

Come for the wonderful array of local microbrews (Valencia Wheat = light bliss) — treated with wine-like reverence here in terms of kicky pairings with piquant escabeche (pickled vegetables), pollo al vino tinto (chicken in red wine) and bright octopus terrine. But do stay for the fabulous flamenco performances on Sunday evening, when a crowd of the city’s more adventurous culinary explorers watch expertly dramatic dancers kick up their heels.

661 Howard, SF. (415) 974-0905, www.thirstybear.com

Truth or consequences

0

arts@sfbg.com

SFIFF It’s possible to have an almost perfect Sundance Film Festival viewing experience if you hew to one simple rule: only go to the documentaries. Sure, see some of the dramatic entries too, after the 40th person has told you such-and-such title is great. But you can rarely go far wrong with the documentaries. Sundance has its pick of the annual crème de la crème in that genre (among U.S. if not necessarily international films).

As pretty much a “best of other festivals” festival taking place in late spring — thus perfectly situated to grab the best docs not just from Sundance, but also Berlin, Rotterdam, South by Southwest and elsewhere — the San Francisco International Film Festival can potentially offer the crème de la crème de la crème. Thank god documentaries, unlike that imaginary dairy substance, are not high in saturated fat or cholesterol. You can consume them for SFIFF’s entire span and remain your slim, lovely self, mentally refreshed by enormous quantities of new information ingested the fun and easy way.

Actually, a portrait of conspicuous consumption in its most corpulent form was among Sundance’s opening night films this January, and will duly boggle your mind at SFIFF. Lauren Greenfield’s obscenely entertaining The Queen of Versailles takes a long, turbulent look at the lifestyles lived by David and Jackie Siegel. He is the 70-something undisputed king of timeshares; she is his 40-something (third) wife, a former beauty queen with the requisite blonde locks and major rack, both probably not entirely Mother Nature-made. He’s so compulsive that he’s never saved, instead plowing every buck back into the business.

When the recession hits, that means this billionaire is — in ready-cash as opposed to paper terms — suddenly sorta kinda broke, just as an enormous Las Vegas project is opening and the family’s stupefyingly large new “home” (yep, modeled after Versailles) is mid-construction. Plugs must be pulled, corners cut. Never having had to, the Siegels discover (once most of the servants have been let go) they have no idea how to run a household. Worse, they discover that in adversity they have a very hard time pulling together — in particular, David is revealed as a remote, cold, obsessively all-business person who has no use for getting or giving “emotional support;” not even for being a husband or father, much.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DM43Wyulc7w

What ultimately makes Queen poignantly more than a reality-TV style peek at the garishly wealthy is that Jackie, despite her incredibly vulgar veneer (she’s like a Jennifer Coolidge character, forever squeezed into loud animal prints), is at heart just a nice girl from hicksville who really, really wants to make this family work.

Other docs pipelined from Sundance to SF include acclaimed ones about dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry), Ethel (as in Kennedy), pervasive rape in the U.S. military (The Invisible War), and the Israeli military legal system that governs civilian Palestinians under occupation (The Law in These Parts). Of particular local interest is David France’s excellent How to Survive a Plague, about how ACT UP virtually forced the medical and pharmacological establishments into speeded-up drug trials and development that drastically reduced the AIDS epidemic’s U.S. fatalities within a decade. Don’t expect much about SF activism, though — like so many gay docs on national issues, this one barely sets foot outside Manhattan.

Of actual local origin are several SFIFF nonfiction highlights, not least festival closing nighter Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, Ramona Diaz’s film about the incredible journey of Filipino superfan Arnel Pineda, from fronting a Journey cover band to fronting the actual Bay Area outfit itself as its latest lead vocalist. There’s also Micha X. Peled’s last globalization trilogy entry Bitter Seeds, focusing on hitherto self-sufficient farmers in India increasingly driven toward bankrupting debt (and widespread suicides) by costly biotech “advances;” Peter Nicks’ The Waiting Room, which sits us right there at Highland Hospital in Oakland, illustrating the heroically coping status quo and desperate need for improvement in a microcosm of U.S. healthcare; and Jamie Meltzer’s world premiere Informant. The latter’s subject is activist-turned-FBI snitch Brandon Darby, whose testimony got two anarchists imprisoned — and who fully participated in this portrait, even its re-enactments of his protest-group infiltration. Darby is expected to attend the festival; given this town’s political leanings, he might want to wear a raincoat.

Speaking of audiences hurling things — abuse, at the least — Caveh Zahedi (plus his lawyer) was evidently met with a shitstorm after the SXSW premiere of The Sheik and I. You, too, may feel the spasmodic urge to throttle him during this latest naughty-boy’s own adventure, in which he accepts a commission to make work for a biennial perversely themed around “art as subversive act” in the far-from-liberal United Arab Emirates. Professed fans, the curators had duly seen his prior work; surely they knew they were inviting trouble in these circumstances?

Nonetheless, they play perfectly into his hands, expressing dismay and barely masked fear as Zahedi faux-naively proceeds to do everything he shouldn’t. That includes ridiculing Islam and the host sheik, stereotyping Arabs in general, putting everyone (including himself and his two-year-old son) in potential danger, all the while claiming his aim is “a critique of imperialism.” Is he really the very model of the privileged Western artist, railing about artistic freedom while ignorant that sometimes, some places, some things (like blasphemy, and prison) must take precedent? Or is the whole act just a deliberate provocation (hardly his first), albeit one with disturbingly dire potential consequences? Alternately very funny and completely infuriating, The Sheik and I is one movie you might want to attend just for the Q&A afterward. Odds are, it’s gonna get ugly. 

www.sffs.org

 

A hundred visions and revisions

0

arts@sfbg.com

SFIFF R. Buckminster Fuller was born before the turn of the last century, and died before the start of this one. But place his philosophical and practical output next to any contemporary thinker, and something seems a bit off.

“He was totally out of sync with his time,” says SF-based documentarian Sam Green (2004’s The Weather Underground). “He was talking about green building in the 1930s or ’40s.”

You might know Fuller as the designer of the geodesic dome or the namesake of buckyball molecules, but Green, in conjunction with a new exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is working to establish his reputation as a precursor to modern progressive-tech culture. On May 1, as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, Green will regale audiences at the SFMOMA with a “live documentary” presentation, The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, featuring a live score by Yo La Tengo.

The exhibit, “The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area,” is already open, and features an installation called Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area: A Relationship in 12 Fragments (inspired by the Dymaxion Chronofile), a collaboration between Green and SF projection-design firm Obscura Digital. The installation is a collage-like film projected on a sculpture inspired by Fuller’s “Dymaxion Map” of the world; the film is an exploration of Fuller’s maddeningly comprehensive personal archive, acquired by Stanford University in 1999.

“Fuller never built anything in the Bay Area, although he proposed a couple projects, and he never lived in the Bay Area, but his influence actually is pretty profound,” notes Green. “Especially on the counterculture, and specifically on the part of the counterculture that eventually morphed into early computer and Silicon Valley culture.” His drive to create efficient, waste-free systems through design and architecture inspired information technology as much as it foreshadowed the green movement.

So what makes Fuller anything more than just a fascinating mad scientist? “We’re not driving the [Dymaxion Car], and most of us are not living in domes or the Dymaxion House. So in some sense you could say he didn’t succeed,” admits Green. “But to me, what’s most relevant and most valuable about him really is that he was inspired to do everything he did by a belief that, through [better design], one could solve the problems of the world.”

“At the heart of all of his activities was a really simple idea, and he was saying this since the ’20s: there’s more than enough resources in the world so that everybody on the planet could have a very comfortable life,” Green muses. “And he really passionately believed that was possible. In some ways, to me, that’s the love song of R. Buckminster Fuller — love of humanity — which sounds a little corny but I really do feel like that was what drove him. He was a person of incredible energy and was on a mission for 50 years, and at the heart of it, I think, was that.”

This is Green’s second foray into the format he innovated with Utopia in Four Movements for SFIFF in 2010, which featured music by Brooklyn band the Quavers and is still touring around the world. “I’m charmed by the format and feel like there’s a lot of potential, a lot more I want to try with it,” Green says of this return to live documentary. “It also seems very appropriate for Fuller; he was somebody who was just a phenomenal speaker. So there seemed to be something about him that fit with this idea of a live documentary, the performative aspects of who he was.”

“It’s only through doing a live piece that you learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s almost like a comedy routine,” Green observes. “You do it and you feel that people respond to certain parts, they don’t respond to other parts, and you grow it and edit it and shape it based on that.”

As to whether or not he thinks there’s more to explore in the world of Bucky Fuller, he says, “With this I’m doing a live piece and an installation, and I may at some point do just a regular documentary about Fuller. I’m open. I’m certainly not done with him yet.”

www.sffs.org

 

Into new territory

2

arts@sfbg.com

SFIFF How to account for the desire for difficult terrain that runs through so much contemporary art cinema? Exploring the margins and crevices of what’s readily visible is just what good filmmakers do, but extremes have become commonplace. The irony that these far-flung films live on in the cosmopolitan vapors of the festival circuit cannot be lost on the filmmakers themselves. Remoteness may be a relative matter, with patience revealing islands everywhere, but inaccessible landscapes nonetheless guide a handful of interesting features showing at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival.

>> Read our complete coverage of the San Francisco International Film Festival here.

The bourgeois couple stripped bare by vacation is a standby of modernist cinema, with Roberto Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia (1954) still the gold standard and Maren Ade’s Everyone Else (2009) the best in recent memory. Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet is an almost classical work in this mode. An engaged couple (Gael García Bernal and Hani Furstenberg) hire a local guide (Bidzina Gujabidze) to lead them through the magnificent Georgian steppe, and so the psychological roundelay begins. Fraught staging, language difficulties, Gerry-rigged tracking shots, and significant pocks in the Caucasus landscape are all worked out with great expertise but little verve.

Where The Loneliest Planet draws on landscape to reveal repressed instincts, Ulrich Köhler’s Sleeping Sickness drifts towards further occlusion. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is the obvious reference point, though here it’s a black European who pursues a white man gone native. In the film’s first half we watch as rueful Dr. Ebbo Velten (Pierre Bokma) prepares to leave Cameroon’s lush danger with his wife and daughter. The imminent departure emboldens him to accuse the local authorities of bilking international aid donors for a nonexistent sleeping sickness crisis. Then Alex Nzila (Jean-Cristophe Folly) arrives in Cameroon to evaluate the medical program and finds Velten changed: he’s in a business partnership with a man he openly despised in the first half of the film, and we hardly hear any mention of his European family. Berlin School director Köhler works displacement as a figure of psychology, politics, and narrative and smartly uses the international aid question as a frame to plunge deeper mysteries of identity.

Conrad is a significant presence in The Rings of Saturn, the peripatetic novel by W.G Sebald that’s also the focus of Grant Gee’s suitably oblique documentary portrait. Patience (After Sebald) offers astute commentary on the moods of Sebald’s prose from thinkers like Adam Phillips, Robert Macfarlane, and Tacita Dean, though Gee succumbs to the spectacle of Google Earth mapping of the novel and some decidedly sub-Sebaldian spiritualism. Still, hearing the author speak his own mind on Virginia Woolf’s moth and the phenomenology of walking is worth the price of admission for fans.

Gonçalo Tocha eschews the Google’s eye view in It’s the Earth Not the Moon, his resplendent study of Corvo (the tiny northernmost island of the Azores, close enough to being in the middle of the ocean and a far outlier of European Union). Tocha and his sound man Dídio Pestana dropped anchor there to capture every face, bird, and rock on the island — a self-consciously grandiose goal with something of the 19th century about it. The film first approaches Corvo with statistical lyricism: dimensions, number of residents, number of roads, and so on. The notion that you could hold the entire island in your head at once is an illusion, of course, but a sustaining one. Corvo is an island such as you might have imagined as a child, which is not to say that It’s the Earth is innocent of the world. As economic math and electoral politics sweep the second part of the film, Tocha proves himself an inheritor of the French essay-film tradition of Chris Marker and Agnès Varda. The film’s three hours pass easily in the intimacy of encounter, but one still admires the desire to give the film experience some qualitative measure of being marooned.

Corvo’s aging population might well feel at home in the timeless Brazilian village of Found Memories, the fable of a young woman born in the wrong time coming to a community of people who have forgotten to die. Along with It’s the Earth and other SFIFF selections Palaces of Pity and Neighboring Sounds, Júlia Murat’s first narrative feature seals a particularly strong year of Portuguese-language films. She delineates time and space through routine, patiently unfolding characterization in the adjoining repetitions. Lucio Bonelli’s cinematography is beautiful work in itself, fearlessly embracing darkness and shadow (the rural village must have seemed like easy street after lensing Lisandro Alonso’s formidable landscapes). Found Memories doesn’t break the mold of slow cinema — its melancholy mingling of photography and myth is especially reminiscent of Manoel de Oliveira’s The Strange Case of Angelica (2010) — but a late passage of clipped post-punk demonstrates that Murat can handle a sudden swerve.

That leaves little space for Davy Chou’s assured debut, Golden Slumbers, and it deserves an article of its own. The remoteness we experience here is that of phantoms: Chou’s film excavates the thriving Cambodian cinema that was rubbed out by the Khmer Rouge. All that remains are fugitive traces of printed ephemera and soundtracks of curling orchestral ballads and psychedelic nuggets — and the memories of those people who made or relished the films and survived Pol Pot. Most of the films discussed in this article use offscreen sound to develop a sense of place beyond the frame, but Golden Slumbers is a special case, with the poverty of archival materials turned to an advantage as elegy. Chou’s gliding Phnom Penh interludes and spaciously staged interviews reflect the influence of Jia Zhangke and Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003), but these cinephilic touchstones never overwhelm the personal, defiant accounts of moviemaking at the heart of the film. Ever after is the tragic refrain of Chou’s film, but the once upon a time is as golden as he says. 

 

www.sffs.org

The hunt for authentic Bay BBQ

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virginia@sfbg.com

For a child of East, West, and Middle America, I have an unexpected and profound affinity for the music and food of the South. Traveling in the region, my love grows. Florida conch and stone crab, Tex-Mex and Texas brisket. But when I dream of the South, I think Deep South. Start talking low country and Gullah cuisine, or Cajun and Creole cooking, and I become brutally homesick for a home I never had.

Then there is the barbecue. And by barbecue, I mean pulled pork, those words being synonymous in the Deep South. Texas brisket? Naturally. Memphis ribs? Hell yeah. But pulled pork, that tender, shredded, fatty mound of piggy goodness, for me, is the pinnacle of BBQ. Don’t even get me started on sauces. South Carolina mustard or thick, sweet Kansas City sauce? I’ll take it all, thank you. A proper sauce turns impeccable meat into ecstasy.

One of the more memorable journeys the Renaissance Man and I ever took was a two-week road trip through four Southern states for BBQ, music, and food. Though I’ve been a California girl for the larger part of my life, in this glorious state of endless riches I rarely find barbecue comparable to that of my Southern exploits — even coming from those who claim to be Southern natives. There are whispers of true BBQ here, but often something indefinable is lacking. The problem commonly lies in sauces, smoking techniques and woods used, or the meat’s tenderness (I’m sorry: it ain’t real BBQ if it’s not fatty). Even delicious ‘que is missing a certain raw, gut-level sense of place outside the South.

Regardless, some worthy Bay Area spots have emerged to satisfy ‘que cravings. Uncle Frank’s was the best BBQ I’ve had in California, until it tragically closed last fall. Frank’s brisket was thick with fat, served in the back of a dodgy dive bar in suburban, staid Mountain View.

Bo’s Barbecue (3422 Mount Diablo Boulevard, Lafayette. (925) 283-7133, www.bosbarbecue-catering.com) specializes in solid brisket. Golden Gate Park golf course houses an unexpected gem, Ironwood BBQ (around 47th Ave., SF. (415) 751-8987, www.ironwoodbbq.com) which is strong on pulled pork. Years ago, Brother-in-Law’s BBQ morphed to Lilly’s and became Da Pitt (705 Divisadero, SF. (415) 440-7427, www.dapittbbq.com). Though past its glory days, it’s still a worthy detour, wafting glorious smoke aromas down the street. What of ever-popular Memphis Minnie’s (576 Haight, SF. (415) 864-7675, www.memphisminnies.com)? I must admit that despite a love for their rowdy Southern tunes and spirit, I can’t get behind the lackluster meats and watery sauces.

We go through waves of ‘que openings and we’re in the midst of another now. Here are five recent BBQ openings.

SNEAKY’S BBQ

From Wednesday to Sunday, this pop-up kitchen in Rebel steps outside tradition with items like Kurobuta pork belly. But more than any of the other newer ‘que joints on this list, it gets Carolina-style pulled pork right — Sneaky’s is among the best in town. Only downside is the price — a single platter of meat and two sides is $17, a two meat combo $26, compared to $12 and $18 for the same options at CatHead’s BBQ.

Sauces: Vinegar BBQ, spicy jalapeno-habanero, South Carolina mustard, Rooster (a creamy version of spicy sauce)

Stand-outs: Aforementioned pulled pork is tops here, as is South Carolina mustard sauce (and they’re perfection together). Sneaky’s brings it with Creekstone Farms brisket and baby-back ribs. The outfit is to be commended for using all natural, hormone-free meats, smoked with locally-cut almond wood. Sides ($4) include a classic coleslaw, and fresh — not soggy or overcooked — collard greens. Cheeky points for Rebel’s fancified gay biker bar setting, and the majestic motorcycle that serves as the room’s centerpiece.

1760 Market, SF. (415) 431-4200, sneakysbbq.blogspot.com

CATHEAD’S BBQ

Nate’s BBQ had quite a following — not to mention coveted home delivery. It recently morphed into CatHead’s BBQ under the direction of Tennessee native Richard Park and Pamela Schafer, and has become one of the city’s best BBQ options. Thankfully, it still offers delivery. Vegetarians get a nod with cornmeal-crusted BBQ tofu. Mains are wonderfully priced at $7 with a mini-biscuit and pickles, while a platter with two sides is $12. Of note: large biscuits are aptly described as having the size of a cat’s head

Sauces: Mustard, ketchup-based BBQ sauce, North Carolina finishing sauce, habanero, CatHead’s catsup, pepper vinegar

Stand-outs: They had me with Coca Cola-smoked brisket. A subtle sweetness permeates the über-smoky beef. Ribs are also strong, the best of any place listed. The secret is extra fat, rendering the meat fall-apart tender. All sides ($4 each) are vegetarian, including mustard or spicy habanero slaw. Collard greens taste healthy, a fresh change of pace from traditional collards. Though I miss the ham hocks.

1665 Folsom, SF. (415) 861-4242, www.catheadsbbq.com

B SIDE BBQ

Tanya Holland of West Oakland’s beloved Brown Sugar Kitchen opened B Side Barbeque a few months ago, a hip, comfortable space lined with photos of African American cowboys. Look closely through the smoky, rich air and you’ll see Tanya and her husband in one of the old-timey shots on the walls.

Sauces: Hot vinegar, Carolina mustard, or traditional

Stand-outs: Pulled pork is tender and lush in Carolina mustard sauce, but they shine with smoked brown sugar-rubbed brisket ($9 half order; $16 full order). Fatty beef sings with sugary crust. Ribs are succulent. A side of fresh, spicy coleslaw ($4), light on the mayo, is a happy companion. Food is prepared with care, a step above many East Bay ‘que joints.

3303 San Pablo, Oakl. (510) 595-0227, www.bsidebbq.com

CEDAR HILL

The Marina has itself a BBQ restaurant. Small, welcoming, and lined with rustic artwork and paraphernalia from Texas to the Carolinas, Cedar Hill is a big win for the neighborhood to the north. The ‘que is not as soul-satisfying as it is in the South, but has plenty to offer with dishes like Cajun shrimp on Anson Mills grits topped with andouille sausage and piquillo peppers ($17), or sweet tea-fried chicken ($7.50–$19 for a quarter to whole chicken).

Sauces: Texas red, KC BBQ, South Carolina mustard, North Carolina vinegar

Stand-outs: Tender smoked pork ($4.50-16) wins out over Texas beef brisket ($4.50-16), while Memphis baby back ribs ($5-25) are a little dry. Worthy sides ($3.50–$11.50, portion to quart) include a fresh, bright coleslaw, or pit beans glorified with burnt tips. Ruth’s buttermilk pie ($5) with graham cracker crust is a creamy delight. Extra points: Cedar Hill serves bottles of North Carolina’s classic wild cherry soda, Cheerwine.

3242 Scott, SF. (415) 934-5403, www.cedarhillsf.com

SOUTHPAW BBQ

Southpaw BBQ has the most welcoming, festive atmosphere of any of the new ‘que joints, with beer brewed right in the dining room, additional beers on draft (like Bruery Mischief, Brother Thelonious, and Deschutes Green Lakes), and a playful cocktail menu offering sazeracs made with Germain-Robin craft brandy and tea syrup.

Sauces: Alabama white sauce, Eastern North Carolina, South Carolina mustard, sweet potato habanero, sweet chili vinegar, Memphis

Stand-outs: Slightly smoky Honey Bunny cocktail (blanco tequila, red pepper, orange and carrot juice, agave) is lively and fun. Platters ($14-19) come with cornbread and two sides. As much as I wanted to love the ribs, brisket and pulled pork, they bordered on being either dry or not as flavorful as other ‘que joints. Though not barbecue, fresh, flaky catfish ($14) from Louisiana is my favorite here: comfortingly fried and not at all fishy.

2170 Mission, SF. (415) 934-9300, www.southpawbbqsf.com

In city workers’ shoes

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We both work under City Hall’s iconic dome as civil servants. While I often work late into the evening hours as a supervisor, Robert’s back-breaking work as a janitor is often done past the midnight hour, five nights a week.

I had the opportunity to meet Robert last week, as part of the “Walk A Day In Our Shoes” program of Service Employees International Union, Local 1021.

Robert is 52 years old. He’s worked for the city since 1999. Before that, he worked for San Francisco Unified School District. He sweeps and mops the floors and stairs of the famous rotunda and cleans 150 cubicles.

Last week, Robert had me take off my jacket and tie, roll up my sleeves and do his job for a while. I swept the marble floors, which are truly unending. I mopped the grand marble staircase behind happy couples exchanging wedding vows. He let me attempt to push a gigantic whirring machine that felt more like a Zamboni than a vacuum.

When I was younger, I had a summer job as a janitor at a public high school, so I know how truly strenuous Robert’s job is.

Robert injured his spine as a result of pushing that heavy vacuum for years. When he was in the hospital treating his spinal injury, the doctors discovered cancer. While in chemotherapy, he didn’t miss a day of work. He lives cancer-free today.

Robert is also a green pioneer at City Hall — he started a recycling program here before it was popular to do so. After that, the rest of the city caught on. He has photos of himself and the past four mayors in his home. He offers directions to visitors. He has a son, and they both live in his sister’s home. He speaks lovingly of his wife, who he lost to diabetes several years ago.

As our economy evolves, we can’t leave people like Robert — those who support our world-class city —behind. While we court businesses who create new jobs in our city, we also need to reinvest in the people who do the important work that often goes unnoticed.

Hospital workers are up at 4am, preparing meals for patients. Library technicians provide bilingual translation for our children. Others, like Robert, are up until 1am, making sure we have a clean and safe environment to work every day.

After years of concessions to balance deep budget deficits, city workers experienced ongoing cuts to their wages and benefits. In current contract negotiations, they are being asked to give hundreds more each month in healthcare costs to insure their children.

We appreciate all they have done to help our city in times of need. As our city recovers economically, it’s time to thank them, to ask others to help shoulder the costs for affordable housing, parks and recreation facilities and schools, and to reform our local business tax — which is paid by only 10% of our city’s companies.

Last week, I got to know a fellow civil servant whose work we need to remember to value. Which is why I will stand alongside Robert, labor unions, nonprofits, community members and neighbors on Wednesday, April 18, in front of City Hall from 4pm to 7pm. Please join us in supporting the workforce that supports us all, 24 hours a day. 

David Chiu is president of the Board of Supervisors.Thousands of community allies, elected officials, and SEIU 1021 members will rally on Wednesday, April 18 to close tax loopholes on mega banks and corporations from 4pm to 7pm at City Hall.

Pushing back

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Dexter Cato has no right to be here.

He’s standing on the corner outside the house he bought in 1990. His four kids, still teenagers, grew up here. He was living here when his wife, Christina, passed away following a car accident in 2009. Next door is the house he grew up in, having spent all his life on Quesada Avenue, in the wide streets and residential friendliness of the Bayview.

Still, the bank says Cato doesn’t belong here anymore, evicting him when his home went into foreclosure in August 2010. Yet Cato and his community not only fought back and reoccupied the home last month, they have turned it into a community center and base of operations from which to fight other foreclosures in the area.

The house, at the corner of Quesada and Jenning, is draped with banners, such as “Banks: no foreclosures!” and “keep families in our homes!” In the rain on March 16, when they were unfurled on the property that has remained vacant for nearly two years, surrounded by neighbors and friends, Cato moved back in. It was a gamble and an act of civil disobedience. Now they feel festive; it’s been a month, and no one has shown up to tell Cato he has to leave.

It has become a home base for a who’s who list of “foreclosure fighters,” the name taken on by Cato and others who have, in recent months, gone to extreme means to prevent banks from foreclosing on their homes. There’s Vivian Richardson, who got her foreclosure rescinded after 1,400 emails to her loan servicer. There’s Alberto Del Rio, who was ignored and told that his paperwork was lost during a Kafka-esque two-year loan modification attempt, only to win a meeting with top Wells Fargo executives last month after Occupy Bernal got behind his cause. There’s Carolyn Gage, who took a cue from protesters downtown and occupied her Bayview home in November.

Those taking on the foreclosure crisis certainly have a big task ahead of them. Since the market collapsed in 2008, there have been 12,410 foreclosures in San Francisco, according to data from RealtyTrac as compiled by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). The neighborhoods with the most foreclosures are Ingleside-Excelsior/Crocker Amazon, Visitacion Valley/Sunnydale, and Bayview-Hunters Point, with more than 1,000 in each neighborhood. But the number of home foreclosures are in the hundreds in every neighborhood in San Francisco.

Despite the pandemic, many San Francisco residents say they felt distinctly alone in the events surrounding receiving notice of default.

“I’ve lived in Noe Valley since 1972,” said Kathy Galvess, an activist we spoke to Cato’s basement. “I didn’t know anybody who had been foreclosed on.”

When she got her eviction notice and, hooking up with ACCE and Occupy Bernal, faced her situation and the extent of the crisis, she wondered if her neighbors knew something she didn’t.

“I asked around the neighborhood, no one had any idea,” she said. “That’s how the banks get away with it. We suffer in silence.”

Carolyn Gage echoed that sentiment. “A while ago, foreclosure was shameful. But now it shouldn’t be. It’s happening in a systemic way, so people are getting over that shame,” she told me and several neighbors March 24 during a barbecue at Cato’s house.

This shame came in part from the illusion that the onslaught of seemingly affordable home loans from the housing bubble’s height were, in fact, affordable.

“The easy money fueled the ability for people to refinance every one or two years. A lot of people did that and just lived on it. Certain people used it, some abused it, others got caught up in it,” said CJ Holmes, a real estate broker in Santa Rosa who became interested in understanding the meanings of the crisis when the value of property she owned plummeted in 2008.

While President Bush signed on to Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2008, and bailouts to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac continued to roll out well into the Obama presidency, foreclosures were steadily clearing San Francisco of longtime residents, not to mention property tax and home values on foreclosure-stricken blocks.

There were advocates working on the behalf of those getting evicted. The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment looked into cases and worked to discern the complex chain of entitlement, talk to the right people, and try to get loans modified. HUD-certified organizations like the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) and the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation (SFHDC) counseled homeowners and waded through paperwork.

“The modification process takes an average of 12 months to complete,” said Jose Luis Rodriguez, a foreclosure counselor with MEDA, in an email. The loan modification process can make or break a homeowners chances of keeping their home, leaving them in what he called “purgatory.”

Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting later concluded that in 84 percent of foreclosure cases, there was some kind of faulty paperwork.

“We’d fax documents to banks and they would habitually lose documents. We’d have to fax them sometimes up to 10 times,” said Jonathan Segarra, director of communications for MEDA.

Alberto Del Rio had the same issue. During his loan modification struggle, “we kept having to sign up for a new case,” Del Rio told me. “About every three months. Generally because they lost paperwork, or paperwork wasn’t properly transmitted.”

“There was no callback on their part,” he said. “We would have to call to get updates and they would say: oh, it’s closed, you have to start over with the paperwork now.”

But this lost paperwork epidemic, an emblem of the carelessness that ran rampant through the mad expansion of the subprime mortgage industry, has more than one face. It is likely due to lost paperwork, for example, that Cato has been living in the home that is, technically, no longer his.

No one seems to have the title.

At the time of sale, it was owned by Wells Fargo. According to transaction records, the foreclosure is being serviced by American Home Mortgage Servicers; they get a portion of the money, but do not own it. According to Wells Fargo representatives, that bank is now the trustee of the mortgage, also known as the beneficiary.

ACCE has claimed that Wells Fargo “sold the house back to itself,” and that American Home Mortgage Services, the company currently servicing the loan, is a subsidiary of Wells Fargo. Ruben Pulido, a Wells Fargo spokesperson, denies this.

“That’s incorrect. American Home mortgage services is completely different and separate from Wells Fargo,” Pulido told us.

But Martinez believes that “they’re different entities in that they work separately, but they’re the main servicer for Wells Fargo, they only service for Wells Fargo.”

Calls and emails to American Home Mortgage Services went unanswered.

Last fall, as an angry mass suddenly emerged from the American public, cries of “banks got bailed out, we got sold out” rang through the streets. Occupy Bernal and ACCE have had success in the city government, gaining support from Sups David Campos and John Avalos, who represent some of the hardest hit districts, helping facilitate meetings between Wells Fargo representatives and homeowners with foreclosure horror stories, with some success.

Activists also went for more civil disobedience-style tactics. These were on display Feb. 22, when dozens of supporters showed up at Monica Kenney’s Excelsior home. Kenney was in the midst of dealing with a foreclosure that didn’t seem right. She had received a forbearance agreement and made the first payment on it June 27, then was surprised to learn that, June 28, her house had been sold at auction.

“At this point I wrote Wells Fargo and I said, I have this paperwork, and I want you to honor it and rescind the foreclosure,” Kenney explained when she came to speak with us at the Guardian offices. She gave us copies of the forbearance agreement.

“Their response was, we did nothing wrong and the foreclosure will stand,” she said. “So at that point I decided I would fight to retain my home.”

After dishing out most of her savings in a lawsuit and eviction stays, the fight looked grim, and her house was slated for eviction. The plan — the last line of defense — was to simply bring as many people as possible to Kenney’s home and hope they could fend off eviction. Kenney remembers her nerves, huddled up that cold morning with veteran foreclosure fighter Vivian Richardson, worried that no one would show up.

“Then, at six in the morning, I had foreclosure fighters, neighbors, friends, Occupy Bernal, Occupy folks period, they just started showing up at the house, and just sat down, hunkered down with me and said, we’ll do whatever we can to at least dissuade the sheriff,” she recalls

It worked. And it hasn’t stopped working. Many people who have joined with Occupy Bernal and ACCE are still in their homes thanks to everything from lobbying politicians to civil disobedience. Some were evicted despite the protest movement’s best efforts but, thanks to newfound community, they avoided homelessness.

Kathy Galvess wasn’t able to keep her home, but her experience was made much more pleasant by Occupy Bernal. “Stardust got the moving truck and helped me move, out of the goodness of his heart,” she told me. “And if it wasn’t for Vivian, me and my sister would be wandering the streets in these storms we’ve been having.”

It’s that community, it’s that tireless work, it’s that victory in the midst of a sea of ongoing challenges that was celebrated at the barbecue at Cato’s house. It’s hard to know the future of the occupied home. The goal of the coalition supporting it was to keep it until April 24, the day of a Wells Fargo shareholders meeting that a large coalition of advocates are determined to shut down.

But for now, the place has become a community center and a symbol of hope and defiance. Politicians have certainly taken note. The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution last week urging banks to suspend foreclosures in San Francisco.

“It’s great,” Cato said. “That’s what the house is useful for right now. Everyone’s coming in and asking, how can we be a part of this, how can we help.”

Free Muni for kids makes sense

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EDITORIAL San Francisco is a transit-first city that has spent millions of dollars over the years trying to convince people to ride Muni. And yet, one of the best and most effective ways to get people out of their cars is facing surprising opposition.

Sup. David Campos has been pushing for months to get Muni to allow young people to ride free. It makes immediate sense: The school district, perpetually short on funds, is cutting back bus service (which is preferable to cutting back classroom instruction). For low-income families, the disappearance of a yellow school bus, which offered transportation free of charge, is a financial obstacle — and the last thing anyone needs is another obstacle to keep kids out from coming to school.

Reduced-fare youth passes are already available — but they aren’t easy to get. Parents need to show up in person, during the day, with a birth certificate, passport or other government ID; that’s hard for a lot of working parents. The school district ought to be able to sell the passes, but right now nobody has the resources to make that happen.

It’s possible to create a system to identify and offer free service to low-income families, but again, unless it’s done through the schools, where that data is already kept (for reduced-price lunches), we’re talking about creating a complicated bureaucracy that isn’t remotely necessary.

According to Campos, the cost of providing free service for all youth is only $8 million a year — and he’s identified regional transit funds to pay for much of it. Muni has a deep budget deficit already, and anything that costs more money has to be carefully evaluated, but there are so many ways to cover the price tag. (Why is Muni still paying the Police Department tens of millions of dollars to get cops on the buses when that’s part of the department’s job already?)

And this goes beyond Ethe very clear needs of low-income families. Getting young people onto the buses is an excellent way to convince the next generation of San Franciscans that it’s not necessary to own and operate a motor vehicle in the city. The message is already getting out — according to an April 5, 2012 study by the Frontier Group, the number of car miles driven by people between 16 and 34 dropped 23 percent between 2001 and 2009. That trend crosses class lines — in fact, among young people who earned more than $70,000 a year, public transit use rose 100 percent over the decade and biking by 122 percent.

In other words, it’s proving to be a massive challenge to get older people out of their cars, but the kids are already moving in that direction. With a little help and push, San Francisco could make giant strides in the next few years.

And a significant reduction in car use would more than pay for the cost of free Muni for youth. Every car off the road means less road maintenance, less air pollution — and perhaps more important, less congestion to slow down the buses. Faster buses means more riders and more fares (and less money spent paying drivers to sit in traffic).

So it’s a great idea that pays for itself and helps the environment. And yet some city officials (led by Sup. Scott Wiener) still resist. They should back off; the city should move to approve this plan immediately.