Peeling out with Trans Am’s Phil Manley


Trans Am, dude. Powerful, proggy, electro, rockin’ – what don’t these guys do? Once based in DC, now living all over the place, all over your face, Trans Am rev up their tour tonight, April 21, at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., SF; (415) 621-4455. Zombi and Black Taj open the all-ages Green Apple Music Festival-sponsored show; the music starts at 10:00 p.m. Lay $14 down.


No doubt the venue is all-too-familiar sight for Trans Am-er Phil Manley, who might be found behind the mixing board on occasion. Manley moved to San Francisco a few years ago, and he took a little time out while tooling round South Carolina to chat recently. The friendly 33-year-old musician and audio engineer inquired about my recent car break-in, which scuttled our first attempt at an interview, and revealed that he too lives in the city’s Western Addition district. “I used to live in the Mission but there’s too many fixed gear bikes,” he said jokingly. “It actually doesn’t bug me, but I did see a funny bumper the other day – ‘One less fixie.’ Kinda hilarious and kinda harsh.”

Eco trip



SONIC REDUCER So you wanna live clean, go green, and leave a low-impact footprint on this embattled Earth — yet you also want to bring the noise, bust a move, and get the rock out? It’s worth wondering about on Earth Day, when everyone seems to be looking to what they can change while the powers-that-be hold their apocalyptic course. Some might argue that a decadent pop lifestyle clashes with the color green — and even those who want to tour consciously must pay a price.

"It is a lot of work," said Oakland musician John Benson, whose veggie oil–fueled bus and curbside shows are a model for ecopunks who want to burn less petroleum and more french fry grease. He has converted vehicles for about five bands so far and plans to attend the Version Festival in Chicago to demo veggie-run vehicles, but Benson and his converts are learning that culling free fuel from oil Dumpsters behind truck stops can be dirty and time-consuming work.

"Bands that are really glamour conscious get really bummed out," he explained. "There’s a time loss and a filth factor, and when you’re on a tour, you’re conscious of making the next show." Also with used oil, "you get dead rats, sweet and sour sauce, and the occasional ball of hair," he added. "You have to be prepared to pull over and pull it out. Be prepared to get your favorite suit covered with rat droppings. It’s a fashion hazard."

Still, creating a cleaner planet doesn’t have to be a filthy business, despite the fact that even green-minded musos such as Smog Veil Records honcho Frank Mauceri admit, "Traditionally, the music industry has not been a green industry. It’s not a business that’s been sensitive to the environment."

Nonetheless, Mauceri, who fought Chicago’s city hall to install an electricity-producing wind turbine and solar panel system atop his new headquarters, and others are trying to buck tradition. San Francisco singer-songwriter Kelley Stoltz’s recent Below the Branches (Sub Pop, 2006) sported a Green-e label, tagging the full-length as the first to be recorded with all-renewable energy purchased through offsets from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour similarly created a climate-neutral solo album, On an Island (Sony, 2006), through an arrangement with the CarbonNeutral Co., planting trees in response to the carbon emissions produced during the disc’s making.

But what can you, humble musicmaker and fan, do? I did a little chatting, Web searching, and non-ozone-depleting cogitating for just a few suggestions on how to green your music enjoyment.

THE TROUBLE WITH CDS Are digital downloads the real green deal for music consumers? Part of Smog Veil’s green initiatives involves eliminating jewel cases and using all-paper Digipaks, eventually moving to solely digital downloads. But the digital divide continues to be an issue — so the nonwired music lover might want to purchase music from bands such as Cloud Cult who have packaged their CDs in 100 percent postconsumer recycled paper with nontoxic soy ink. And those still attached to the shiny plastic discs can turn to Green Citizen (1-877-918-8900) for recycling. Meanwhile old-school DIY-ers such as Benson make a plea for analog: "People are finding bulk tapes in thrift stores and recording over them in the spirit of recycling."

DELIVERY SYSTEM BLUES You’ve proudly purchased that ecofriendly download, yet what to do when the trusty iPod breaks? Apple has a recycling program: any US Apple store will accept old iPods and offer a 10 percent discount on a new player. Nonetheless the highly toxic e-waste generated by all MP3 makes and models continues to worry environmentalists. Cart those busted players to the aforementioned Green Citizen or call pickup artists such as E-Recycling (1-800-795-0993).

LIVE WASTE "Music is a catalyst," Perry Farrell recently told me from London. "It can bring people together and make change fashionable. I’d love to see everyone buying recycled paper and buying hydrogen fuel cell cars." Farrell has done his part with Lollapalooza, which introduced solar-powered stages and came up with fun ways to encourage recycling (audience members gathering the most recyclables have scored backstage passes). Bonnaroo and the Vans Warped Tour have powered stages, generators, and buses with biodiesel. Still, efforts can be as simple as the Green Apple Music and Arts Festival (not to be confused with the SF bookstore). Founder Peter Shapiro is using the fest to promote Earth Day with shows in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City this year while providing city venues with environmentally friendly paper products, garbage bags, and cleaning materials and offsetting the carbon dioxide emissions produced by the festival, making it the largest carbon-neutral event in the country. He told me that he hopes "we’ll get people to think about it for 30 seconds, maybe go buy an energy-efficient lightbulb, maybe carpool or walk to the next show."

GET IN THE VAN Not all young bands can afford to buy carbon dioxide emission offsets and convert to biodiesel when they go on tour, like Barenaked Ladies, Pearl Jam, Gomez, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young — let alone slap their name on a biodiesel company the way Willie Nelson has with BioWillie. But that doesn’t mean musicians have to stop spreading the green love. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’s Philip Dickey says his Springfield, Mo., group is aiming to convert its touring van to veggie oil someday, but until they can afford it, they’re trying to do their part. "No one in the band has a car. We all ride bikes when we’re in town, and when we’re touring, there’s five of us in a van. Pollution sucks, and pollution coming out of our van sucks. But it’s not like one person in an SUV. We also have a new song called ‘Bigger Than Your Yard’ about how everyone has to have a car." *


With Bob Weir and Ratdog, Stephen Marley, the Greyboy Allstars, and others

Sun/22, 11:30 a.m., free

Golden Gate Park

Fulton and 36th Ave., SF

Other events run Thurs/19–Sat/21

For a schedule, go to


Tues/24, 8 p.m., $14–$15


333 11th St., SF

(415) 255-0333


The green issue



Climate change is a global problem. A lot of the solutions, at least in the United States, are going to be local.

And a lot of them are going to start and end with the way we use land.

That’s a critical theme for this year’s Earth Day: cities like San Francisco, which claims to be (and really ought to be) a world leader in environmental sustainability, have to rethink everything from housing and consumption to open space and energy use — and particularly transportation.

Cars — private-use automobiles, the center of so much of American life and public policy for the past 100 years — are also one of the greatest threats to the future of the planet. The byproducts of tens of millions of internal combustion engines on the roads every day are a major component of greenhouse gases (not to mention other environmental pollutants). And the oil that fuels them drives a foreign policy that leads, as we’ve seen, to tyranny, instability, and millions of deaths.

It’s not enough to raise gas taxes or promote hybrids or increase fuel-efficiency standards (although all of those should be on the national agenda). Cities and states have to profoundly change the way people get around and the way they use public and private space.

Some of this is just so simple you can’t believe it’s not already happening. As Steve Jones reports ("The Silver Bullet Train"), a high-speed rail connection from San Francisco to Los Angeles would get almost two millions cars off the road and cut down immensely on the use of airline fuel. It would also pay for itself in a few years. It’s a form of public transit that would work right away: nobody likes to drive to LA. If you could take a train, get there in less time than it takes to fly, and pay less than $50 for the trip, why would you travel any other way?

Some of it requires more political vision (and political guts). If San Francisco wants to fight sprawl and encourage less car use, it has to be willing to build housing for people who work here — and that means, by city estimates, ensuring that two-thirds of all new housing be affordable.

And if San Franciscans want to reconnect to urban land and encourage bikes and walking, we have to think seriously about open space — even if it means that roads and private developments have to be sacrificed. That’s what Deborah Giattina describes ("Open Water,").

Cities and states also have to think about energy policy, and that means reclaiming energy as a public good, not a private commodity. San Francisco’s private utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., is spending millions trying to tell us how green it is; as Amanda Witherell notes ("Green Isn’t PG&E,"), that’s a big lie.

On this Earth Day 2007, the time to mess around and debate has run out. Think globally, act locally — and push for a city and state environmental agenda that is more than hot air. *

Tempest in an urban teapot


OPINION Our local road-culture war has erupted again, this time thanks to some unsavory gossip columnists at the monopoly paper in town. Wildly distorted accounts of two confrontations at Critical Mass in March have been presented as evidence that bicyclists are antisocial, out of control, and generally immature scofflaws. Such accounts serve to frame a narrative that is in sharp contrast with the actual experience of tens of thousands of bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists on the last Friday of every month, not just in San Francisco but in hundreds of cities worldwide where Critical Mass rides take place regularly.

Suddenly, normal life is suspended as thousands of bicyclists — talking, singing, playing instruments and boom boxes, smiling and laughing — take to the streets. Bells tinkle, people wave, traffic stops, encouragement is shouted, and uncounted conversations of unknowable depth and breadth happen by serendipity and choice. This is much more characteristic of the Critical Mass experience than the relatively rare confrontation between an overheated, impatient motorist and a self-righteous, antagonistic cyclist.

Cheap journalism of the type practiced by the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Matier and Ross just obscures the truth that our transportation system is designed to promote mayhem, anger, and alienation. Every day motorists crash and die, confront one another angrily, and are left cowering in isolation. The fact that such events can also happen during Critical Mass should come as no surprise.

The sheer exuberant pleasure of a rolling mass occupation of city streets month after month is hard to understand unless you’ve been a part of it. For the dozens of online flamers who have ferociously denounced Critical Mass, it’s inconceivable that an event that doesn’t behave according to the staid norms of a placid democratic society can have any justification: "Critical Mass doesn’t make demands! No one is in charge! The participants don’t all behave like obedient schoolchildren! They are destroying the cause of bicycling for the law-abiding cyclists!" And so on.

In February and March, Critical Mass bicyclists rode for two to three hours through San Francisco streets, enjoying the city in ways unplanned by traffic engineers, police, and city bureaucrats. It’s a remarkable reinvention of urban life in an organized coincidence that is mostly spontaneous in spite of its predictability — surprising every time and inspiring most of the time.

Critical Massers are engaged in that most rare of activities: an act of collective imagination and invention that is considerably greater than the sum of its parts.

For those motorists or bicyclists who think Critical Mass is about a fight between cars and bikes, think again! We are all in this together, and a monthly demonstration of how much better life could be is an invitation to everyone to try something different. There is a well-defined etiquette among Critical Mass riders that encourages riders to thank stuck drivers for their patience, promotes an atmosphere of friendly camaraderie on all sides, and invites the curious to join us next month at the foot of Market Street (April 27, 6 p.m.) on a bicycle for an experience that just might change your life. *

The Committee for Full Enjoyment

The Committee for Full Enjoyment ( is an ad hoc group of San Franciscans dedicated to a richer life.

Final word


By Steven T. Jones
Why is the Chronicle having such a hard time understanding this Critical Mass incident? In my televised discussion with four Chron reporters last night (City Desk NewsHour, Comcast Ch. 11, replaying tonight at 8:30 and Saturday and Sunday nights as well…sorry, not Internet availability) and in today’s Chron story, they just can’t seem to grasp the meaning of one key fact or smell-test their original version of the story. Here’s the key fact, from today’s story: “After finding herself in the middle of the ride, she said, she nervously made her way through the bicyclists, carefully watching them.” Translation: she used her SUV to nudge her way through a group of bikes. That’s not legal, it’s not safe, and it’s why the bicyclists became upset. Hell, she even admits that her car made contact with a bike, and still she kept driving.
2nd Anniversary flyer illustration by Jim Swanson

FEAST: 6 green bars and bistros


The road to hell is paved with recycled soda cans. I know you mean well, turning off the water while you brush your teeth and sorting your trash, but don’t you know it takes more than that now? We’re saving the world, yo, and boy, does it need saving. So what else can you do besides buy your toilet paper at Trader Joe’s? How about support green businesses — and green restaurants in particular? Because with all the day-to-day hard work and heartache it takes to run such a place, it ain’t easy being … well, you know. Luckily, the world has people like Ritu Primlani, founder and executive director of Thimmakka’s Resources for Environmental Education. Thimmakka’s mission is to help restaurants conserve water and energy, prevent pollution, and minimize solid waste — and then reward them for their efforts by publicizing them as certified green businesses. And though some of the classic do-gooders are on the list — Chez Panisse and Café Gratitude among them — Thimmakka also makes a special effort to work with lesser-known, ethnic, and lower-brow venues. The following is a small set of Bay Area bars and clubs that have undergone Thimmakka’s greening program and come out a healthier shade of jade. For more, in the Bay and elsewhere, visit (Molly Freedenberg)


Far from being your typical dive, this Mission saloon is all about going above and beyond. It organizes charity bartender nights, hosts meetings of green-leaning politicos, and impressed Thimmakka with its myriad of earth-friendly measures: using rechargeable batteries, ultralow-flush toilets and double-sided printers, reusing recycled content in construction materials and tabletop covers, and letting dry waste sit for a day or so (to save trash bags). Plus, there’s nothing like a good pour of Stella to help you forget for a moment that global warming is going to kill us all.

3200 16th St., SF. (415) 552-1633,


Wonder what Nepalese food is like? It’s a lot like Indian food but lighter, fluffier, and, in the case of this Marina eatery, greener. Though stark and a bit lonely during the day, this is the kind of place that could be cozy and festive when packed on a weekend night. And there’s every reason for it to be — the greens are surprisingly spicy, the garbanzo bean stew both sweet and savory, the naan so airy it’s positively gravity defying, and the service as friendly as friendly could be. Plus, it’s Thimmakka approved.

2420 Lombard, SF. (415) 674-9898,


Not just a home of tiny plates of food and large pitchers of sangria, Ramblas is also an exemplar of green goodness. It has discarded grease and oil picked up to be reused as biodiesel or soap. It donates electronic equipment. It uses a special vent that keeps grease away from the roof so it doesn’t wash into storm water. And all its chard and spinach are organic. Feel that high? It’s not just the fruity wine-and-spirits concoction you had with dinner. It’s the buzz of environmental righteousness.

557 Valencia, SF. (415) 565-0207,


This Berkeley bistro stays true to the French tradition of well-portioned, perfectly seasoned, richly flavored delights. But it shucks the age-old restaurant convention of waste, waste, waste. Among its other envirofriendly accomplishments, Liaison manages to recycle and compost 80 percent of its solid waste. C’est responsable!

1849 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 849-2155,


The shabby exterior and faded sign aren’t doing San Miguel any favors, but inside this Mission eatery is a kitschy, cozy, Disneyland-does-Guatemala affair with maps under glass on the tables, rows of Latin American tchotchkes hanging from the corrugated tin ceiling, and a soundtrack of music that can only be described as south of the border polka. And in addition to doing good for your taste buds (try the sour and savory salpicon), this place is doing good for the planet. It uses potpourri and a special degreaser instead of Pine-Sol and aerosols, it’s outfitted its bathrooms with special aerated taps, and it’s learned how to identify and repair leaks. So go ahead: have your camarones asados with a side of environmentalism.

3263 Mission, SF. (415) 641-5866,


"Really? Blondie’s?" That’s the response I get when I tell people this Mission dance club is one of Thimmakka’s darlings — not because the walls are papered with Styrofoam and baby seal eyes or anything, but because the scene is so far from the hemp and hacky-sack culture usually associated with envirofriendliness. But it’s true. This bastion of ambivalence serves organic vodka, reduces paper waste by posting bulletins on a board rather than handing out individual letters or memos, conserves water with special dishwasher systems, and reduces chemical pollution by using a diluted pesticide that’s 200 times less toxic than Raid. Best of all, though, Blondie’s encourages people to get out of their cars by having parking for bikes — no big surprise if you know owner Nicole Dewald’s mother was a major player in getting bike lanes and one-lane streets in the city. "It’s their claim to fame," Primlani said.

540 Valencia, SF. (415) 864-2419, *

To Helltrack and back


FILM I had a lot of hope for Rad. Every month in BMX Action there’d be a new scrap of news about some top pro who was going to ride in the movie, including my personal favorite racer, “Hollywood” Mike Miranda. When photos of the Helltrack — site of the film’s climactic race — came out, you could lean your ear to the ground and hear the hearts of BMX groms beat just a little faster.

I watched the movie at Cinedome 7 East in Fremont with my buddy Dave. The opening footage of pro freestylers Eddie Fiola, Ron Wilkerson, and Brian Blyther killing it at Pipeline Skatepark seemed poised to fulfill the print hype, until we became aware of the backing tune, “Break the Ice,” by John Farnham: “Getting ready to break the ice / Feels like time is standing still / Aiming right for your heart / Getting ready to take another spill.” The Rad soundtrack was cheesy even in 1986, especially to a 15-year-old punk rock kid.

And the movie? Pure Hollywood schmaltz: local hero Cru Jones (Bill Allen) beats a corporate greed-meister at his own game. But more than two decades later, Rad wears a little better. For a movie directed by a stunt performer, it did hit the crucial themes of being a BMX kid: riding your bike all day, getting chased by the cops, jumping anything that crossed your path, and having big dreams about being one of the handful who could make a living at it. It’s no wonder old-timers on the chat boards at and are constantly making Rad references. Rad is the BMXers’ Rocky Horror Picture Show. It got no love in the theaters, and it hasn’t officially been released on DVD, but it’s achieved timelessness as a cult classic. (Duncan Scott Davidson)

Over the phone from SoCal, Rad star Bill Allen talks BMX, berms, and bicycle boogies.

SFBG You had stunt riders doubling for you in the film, but had you been into BMX at all before you made Rad?

BILL ALLEN I came at it from an actor’s standpoint and not a BMX background at all. The ugly truth of it is my mother wouldn’t let me have a bicycle growing up, but of course I always rode my friends’ bikes and got into trouble anyway.

SFBG How was it working with the professional riders on Rad?

BA There were a lot of actual BMX guys from the freestyle and the racing worlds and a lot of stunt guys, and they pretty much all had the same crazy blood pumping through their veins. And I tend to hang out with stunt guys anyway, so it was a great time.

SFBG Did any crazy, unscripted stuff happen while you were filming?

BA I remember fooling around on the bike and nearly cracking my skull open just before I had to go do a take. Use those helmets. They really can save you. Also, I don’t know if many people know this, but in [Rad director] Hal Needham’s style of filmmaking, he’d start off a situation like Helltrack with half a dozen cameras or more and just let the guys go at it. So a lot of the stunts that you see are not stunts — these guys really are going down hard.

SFBG What was Helltrack like in person?

BA It was unbelievable. That first drop-off would give you heart attacks just standing there looking at it. And these were teenagers having to do these things, like going into that Kix cereal bowl and off the spoon. There were a bunch of little berms where I know at least one guy broke his ankle — really incredibly dangerous stuff that had never been tried before.

SFBG I’m sure a lot of people ask you about the bicycle boogie scene.

BA Oh god. [Pause] It’s [like] being beaten over the head with an ’80s stick. It’s just very indicative of that time period, and that’s not always a great thing, if it’s the ’80s we’re talking about.

SFBG What about the ass-sliding? Another classic Rad moment …

BA It was really cold, and they gave us these wetsuits which did zero good if you’re just gonna be in and out of the water. It was one of the less glamorous parts about the job.

SFBG When was the last time you watched Rad?

BA Probably 10 years. It’s hard for me to watch anything as an actor. You just wish you could change everything. But the racing sequences are stellar, and I guess that’s why people watch the movie time and time again.

SFBG Is it true that they’re thinking of doing a Rad sequel?

BA I think that’s one of those rumors that refuses to die. They haven’t even put the movie out on DVD yet, but people ask about [a sequel] all the time.

SFBG The time is ripe for a Rad revival — did you know that, for the first time, BMX is going to be a sport in the 2008 Beijing Olympics?

BA I did not know that. That’s incredible. That’s so cool! (Cheryl Eddy)

For more on Bill Allen, visit; to sign the online petition for a Rad DVD release, visit


Ending the road-closure stalemate


EDITORIAL There’s really only one way to look at Mayor Gavin Newsom’s response to Saturday road closures in Golden Gate Park: the fix has been in from the start. The mayor is willing to discard his own evidence, break his word, ignore the obvious facts, and damage his environmental credentials — but he won’t risk offending the rich society swells who run the de Young museum.

It’s been 40 years since the city began shutting down a stretch of JFK Drive to cars on Sundays, and by any account it’s one of the most popular regular programs in the city. On nice days the park is packed with bikers, joggers, skaters, walkers, families. There are free swing dance lessons. It’s one of the few opportunities for young kids to learn to ride bikes in a safe environment.

But the trustees of the museum, such as socialite Dede Wilsey, are adamantly opposed to expanding the road closures to Saturday. Their arguments make little sense: since there’s now an underground parking garage, there really isn’t any problem finding a place to park or getting access to the museum.

Yet under pressure from the de Young folks, the mayor vetoed legislation last year to expand the road-closure program to Saturdays, saying he didn’t have enough information on how the program would impact traffic and parking in surrounding neighborhoods. He asked for a study; the study was done. As Steven T. Jones reported ("Unhealthy Politics," 3/7/07), the evidence clearly shows that road closures have minimal negative impacts on anyone.

Newsom’s response: nothing has changed. He’s still opposed to Saturday closures.

So either he was lying last year when he said he wanted more data or he’s ducking today when he says the study hasn’t changed his mind — or he’s just afraid that going against the will of the almighty de Young board will tarnish his political star with the movers and shakers in town. In the end, it doesn’t matter: the mayor apparently can’t be moved on this, and the only way Saturday road closures will happen is if eight supervisors — enough to override a mayoral veto — support Sup. Jake McGoldrick’s road-closure bill, which has been reintroduced and will be heard in committee soon.

The measure got seven votes last time, and since it’s highly unlikely Sups. Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, or Ed Jew will defy the mayor, the swing vote is Sup. Bevan Dufty.

Last time around he voted to uphold Newsom’s veto, but now he says he’s keeping an open mind. Dufty has a strong tendency to support neighborhood programs and services, and it’s clear that most of the neighborhood people are behind road closures — and now that the city’s own study shows there are no associated parking or traffic problems, this ought to be an obvious one for him. Dufty should announce that he’ll support McGoldrick’s bill — and end this stalemate for good. *

Chasing my stolen bicycle



I stalked across the parking lot of the Mission District’s Best Buy. Like the hordes of people that streamed into the store, I was there to do a little shopping, but it wasn’t for a flat-screen TV or an iPod. I was in the market for a stolen bike.

I bypassed the aisles of buzzing electronics and headed around the back of the store to a trash-strewn alley. It was empty except for a beat-up white van with its side door ajar. I took a nervous breath and knocked on the side.

A blond man in a sweat-stained undershirt threw open the door to reveal what looked like an upended Tour de France chase car: piles of tire rims, gears, and bike frames were scattered everywhere. The powerful stink of unwashed bodies stung my nostrils. A man in a tracksuit slumbered on a seat. The blond man looked sleepy and annoyed but waited for me to speak.

My $600 bike was stolen — the third in five years — from my Mission garage the night before, and it’s here I was told by a bike messenger that I might find it. These guys were rumored to be bike thieves operating in the Mission.

"Hey man, have you seen a black and gray Fuji Touring?" I asked, employing a euphemism.

"No, we don’t steal bikes," the man said, catching my drift. "We collect bikes off the street, repair them, and then sell them. We’re like independent businessmen."

Interesting way of putting it, I thought, as I glanced at the "businessman" slumbering on a van seat. I glanced around the van half expecting to see my Fuji, but it wasn’t there, so I left.

As I trudged home I stewed. I had lost more than $1,000 worth of bikes in San Francisco. Bike theft is a virtual right of passage for most cyclists in the city, and the city’s thieves seem to operate with ninjalike stealth and efficiency. One cyclist told me how a thief stole his locked ride while he picked up a burrito from a taquería. He wasn’t away from the bike for more than five minutes.

The city’s thieves have even won a silver medal for their efforts: in 2006 the lockmaker Kryptonite ranked San Francisco as the nation’s second worst city for bike theft, behind New York.

Gradually, my anger hardened into resolve, or more precisely, a mission. It would be virtually impossible, but I would set out to find my bike. The thought that my life would mirror the plot of a Pee-wee Herman movie was more than a little amusing, but I had a job to do.

In my months-long quest I crisscrossed the city, chasing down Dickensian thieves, exploring the city’s largest open-air market for stolen goods, and finally landing in the surprising place where hundreds of stolen bikes — perhaps yours — end up. Unwittingly, I pedaled right into San Francisco’s underworld.


Bike theft may seem like petty street crime, but it’s actually a humming illegal industry. Consider this: thieves steal nearly $50 million worth of bikes each year in the United States, far outstripping the take of bank robbers, according to the FBI. And in San Francisco’s rich bicycling culture, thieves have found a gold mine. About 1,000 bikes are reported stolen in the city each year, but the police say the actual number is probably closer to 2,000 or 3,000, since most people don’t file reports.

"It’s rampant," Sgt. Joe McCloskey of the San Francisco Police Department told the Guardian.

I sought out McCloskey, the SFPD’s resident expert on bike theft, and another man, Victor Veysey, to give me a wider view of San Francisco’s world of bike thieves and possibly a lead on where I might find my bike. Several cyclists had recommended Veysey, saying he could provide a "street level" view of bike theft.

Veysey is the Yoda of San Francisco’s bike world. For more than a decade, the 39-year-old has worked on and off as a bike messenger, mechanic, and member of the city’s Bike Advisory Committee. He also ran the Bike Hut, which teaches at-risk youth how to repair bikes. And he’s in a band that plays a tune called "Schwinn Cruiser."

Despite their different perspectives (the city’s police and biking communities are not the best of friends), McCloskey and Veysey painted remarkably similar pictures of San Francisco’s black market for bikes.

In the wide world of illegal activity, bike thievery seems to occupy a criminal sweet spot. It is a relatively painless crime to commit, and city officials do little to stop it. As McCloskey readily admitted, bike theft is not a priority for law enforcement, which he said has its hands full with more serious crimes.

"We make it easy for them," McCloskey said of bike thieves. "The DA doesn’t do tough prosecutions. All the thieves we’ve busted have got probation. They treat it like a petty crime."

Debbie Mesloh, a spokesperson for District Attorney Kamala Harris, said most bike thieves are not prosecuted, but that’s because they are juveniles or they qualify for the city’s pretrial diversion program. The diversion program offers counseling in lieu of prosecution for first-time nonviolent offenders. Bike thieves qualify for it if they steal a bike worth $400 or less. Mesloh said the District Attorney’s Office prosecutes felony bike thefts, but it doesn’t get very many of those cases.

"The DA takes all cases of theft seriously," Mesloh wrote in an e-mail.

As for the police, McCloskey was equally blunt. "You can’t take six people off a murder to investigate a bike theft. [Bike theft investigations] are not an everyday thing. No one is full-time on bike theft. As far as going out on stings and operations, I haven’t heard of one in the last year. Bike theft has gone to the bottom of the list."

McCloskey’s comments were particularly interesting in light of the conversation I had with Veysey, whom I met at the Bike Hut, an off-kilter wood shack near AT&T Park that appears as if it might collapse under the weight of the bicycle parts hanging on its walls. Veysey has a loose blond ponytail and greasy hands. He wields a wrench and apocalyptic environmental rhetoric equally well.

"Bikes are one of the four commodities of the street — cash, drugs, sex, and bikes," Veysey told me. "You can virtually exchange one for another."

Veysey believes bike thefts are helping prop up the local drug market. It sounds far-fetched, but it’s a notion McCloskey and other bike theft experts echoed. The National Bike Registry, a company that runs the nation’s largest database for stolen bikes, says on its Web site, "Within the drug trade, stolen bicycles are so common they can almost be used as currency." Veysey believes the police could actually take a bite out of crime in general by making bike theft a bigger priority in the city.

Perhaps bikes are so ubiquitous in the drug trade because they are so easy to steal. McCloskey and Veysey said thieves often employ bolt cutters to snap cable locks or a certain brand of foreign car jack to defeat some U-locks. The jack slips between the arms of the U-lock and, as it is cranked open, pushes the arms apart until the lock breaks. A bike-lock maker later showed me a video demonstrating the technique. It took a man posing as a thief less than six seconds to do in the U-lock.

As with any other trade, McCloskey and Veysey said there is a hierarchy in the world of San Francisco bike thieves. At the bottom, drug addicts (like the one Veysey believes stole my bike) engage in crimes of opportunity: snatching single bikes. At a more sophisticated level, McCloskey said, a small number of thieves target high-end bikes, which can top $5,000 apiece. In 2005 police busted a bike thief who was specifically targeting Pacific Heights because of its expensive bikes. The thief said he wore natty golf shirts and khaki pants to blend into the neighborhood.

The Internet has revolutionized bike theft, just as it has done for dating, porn, and cat videos. McCloskey said thieves regularly fence bikes on eBay and Craigslist. In August 2004 police busted a thief after a Richmond District man discovered his bike for sale on eBay. Police discovered more than 20 auctions for stolen bikes in the man’s eBay account and an additional 20 stolen bikes in a storage space and at his residence.

When bikes aren’t sold outright, they are stripped, or in street vernacular, chopped, and sold piece by piece or combined with the parts of other bikes, Veysey said. He said people occasionally showed up at the Bike Hut trying to sell him these Frankenstein bikes. But by and large, McCloskey and Veysey said, bike stores are not involved in fencing stolen bikes. However, McCloskey said bikes stolen in the city often are recovered at flea markets around the Bay Area. He believes thieves ship them out of the city to decrease the chance of being caught. The National Bike Registry reports bikes are often moved to other cities or even other states for sale.

The idea of Frankenstein bikes was intriguing, so I told Veysey I was going to look into it. He suggested I make a stop first: Carl’s Jr. near the Civic Center. I was slightly perplexed by his suggestion, but I agreed to check it out.


"Welcome to the San Francisco Zoo — the human version," said Dalibor Lawrence, a homeless man whose last two teeth acted as goalposts for his flitting tongue. His description of the place was brutally apt: a homeless man banged on one of those green public toilets, shouting obscenities; a woman washed her clothes in a fountain; and several crackheads lounged on a wall with vacant stares.

I was at the corner of Seventh and Market streets. City Hall’s stately gold dome rose a short distance away, but here a whole different San Francisco thrived. Men slowly circulated around the stretch of concrete that abuts UN Plaza. Every so often one would furtively pull out a laptop, a brand new pair of sneakers, or even — improbably enough — bagged collard greens to try to sell to someone hustling by.

Seventh and Market is where the city’s underground economy bubbles to the surface. It’s a Wal-Mart of stolen goods — nearly anything can be bought or, as I would soon find out, stolen to order. McCloskey estimated as many as three in seven bikes stolen in San Francisco end up here. The police periodically conduct stings in the area, but the scene seemed to continue unabated.

I made my way to the front of the Carl’s Jr. that overlooks an entrance to the Civic Center BART station. I didn’t know what to expect or do, so I apprehensively approached three men who were lounging against the side of the restaurant — they clearly weren’t there for lunch. I asked them if they knew where I could get a bike. To my surprise, the man in the center rattled off a menu.

"I’ve got a really nice $5,300 road bike I will sell you for $1,000. I’ve got another for $500 and two Bianchis for $150 each," he said.

I told him the prices he listed seemed too good to be true and asked him if the bikes were stolen. People gave them to him, he explained dubiously, because they owed him money. I asked him about my Fuji, but he said he didn’t have it.

I walked around until I bumped into a woman who called herself Marina. She had a hollow look in her eyes, but I told her my story, and she seemed sympathetic. She sealed a hand-rolled cigarette with a lick, lit it, and made the following proposition: "I have a couple of friends that will steal to order — bicycles, cosmetics, whatever — give me a couple of days, and I will set something up."

I politely declined. McCloskey said steal-to-order rings are a common criminal racket in the city. Police have busted thieves with shopping lists for everything from Victoria’s Secret underwear to the antiallergy drug Claritin. In one case, McCloskey said, police traced a ring smuggling goods to Mexico.

A short time later a man rode through the plaza on a beat-up yellow Schwinn. He tried to sell the 12-speed to another man, so I approached him and asked how much he wanted for it. He told me $20. With a modest amount of bargaining, I got him down to $5 before telling him I wasn’t interested.

Just before I left, two police officers on a beat patrol walked through the plaza. Sales stopped briefly. As soon as the officers passed out of earshot, a man came up to me. "Flashlights," he said, "real cheap."


After striking out at Seventh and Market, I figured it was time to investigate the chop shops Veysey mentioned. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) reports bicycle chop shops operate all over the city. Thieves strip bikes because the parts (unlike the frames) don’t have serial numbers and can’t be traced as stolen once they are removed from a bike. The parts can be sold individually or put on another stolen bike to disguise it, hence the Frankenstein bikes that show up at the Bike Hut.

When Veysey told me about bicycle chop shops, I pictured something from a ’70s cop movie — a warehouse in an industrial district populated with burly men wielding blowtorches. But the trail led me somewhere else entirely: Golden Gate Park.

SFBC officials said they had received reports from a gardener about chop shops in the park. When I called Maggie Cleveland, a Recreation and Park Department employee responsible for cleaning up the park, she said they do exist and would show me what she thought was one if I threw on a pair of gloves, grabbed a trash bag, and joined one of her cleanup crews. I agreed.

Shortly before 8 a.m. on a foggy, chilly morning, the crew and I picked up mechanical grabbers and industrial-size trash bags and then climbed a steep hill near 25th Avenue and Fulton Street on the Richmond District side of the park. We plunged into a large camp in the middle of a hollowed-out grove of acacia bushes.

The camp looked like a sidewalk after an eviction. Books and papers vomited from the mouth of a tent. Rain-soaked junk littered the camp, including a golf bag filled with oars, an algebra textbook, a telescope, and a portable toilet. A hypodermic needle stuck in a stump like a dart and a gaudy brass chandelier swung from a branch. Amid the clutter was one constant: bicycles and their parts.

A half dozen bikes leaned against bushes in various states of repair. There were piles of tires and gears scattered around. The noise of the crew had awoken the residents of the camp. A man and two women sprung up and immediately tried to grab things as the crew stuffed the contents of the camp into trash bags. They grew more and more agitated as two dozen bags were filled.

Cleveland said the group may have been operating a chop shop, but she didn’t have definitive proof, so they were let go with camping citations. I asked one of the campers if their bikes were stolen.

"We find this stuff in the trash. There’s an economy here. We exchange stuff for other stuff," he said.

Cleveland said the camp was typical of what the crews find around the park. One of the most notorious campers goes by the name Bicycle Robert. Cleveland said park officials have found a handful of his camps over the past couple years. One contained more than two dozen bikes, but Robert himself has never turned up.

Occasionally, cyclists will get lucky and find their bikes at a chop shop. Max Chen was eating dinner in North Beach one night when his Xtracycle, a bicycle with an elongated back for supporting saddlebags, was stolen. Chen didn’t hold out much hope of getting it back, but he put up flyers around the neighborhood anyway.

The next day Chen got a call from a friend who said he saw a portion of the distinctive bike behind the Safeway at Potrero and 16th streets. Chen went down to the spot and found a group of guys with an RV, a handful of bicycles, and a pile of bike parts. His bike was there — sort of.

"The frame was in one place, and the pedals were on another bike. Other parts were on other bikes. I pointed to all the stuff that was mine and had them strip it. My frame had already been painted silver," Chen told me.

Not surprisingly, one of the men said he had bought Chen’s bike from someone in the Civic Center. Chen just wanted his bike back, so he forked over $60. The guys handed him a pile of parts in return.


A few days after the trip to Golden Gate Park, I finally got around to doing what I should have done when my bike was stolen: file a police report. Frankly, I waited because I held out little hope the police would be of any help.

It’s true few people get their bikes back through the police, but that’s in part because most people don’t try. In fact, the police are sitting on a cache of stolen bikes so big that it dwarfs the stock of any bike store in the city.

SFPD Lt. Tom Feney agreed to show it to me, so I trekked out to Hunters Point. The police stolen property room is located in an anonymous-looking warehouse in the Naval Shipyard. Feney ushered me through a metal door to the warehouse and then swept his hand through the air as if pointing out a beautiful panorama.

"There it is," he said.

Behind a 10-foot chain-link fence topped with razor wire, row upon row of bikes stretched along the floor of the warehouse. There were children’s bikes with hot pink paint, $2,000 road bikes, and everything in between. In all, the police had about 500 stolen bikes in the warehouse. The bikes are found abandoned on the street, recovered from stings on drug houses, and removed from bike thieves when they are busted. Many of the bikes aren’t stolen — they’ve been confiscated during arrests or are evidence in various cases. The department can’t return the stolen bikes because the owners haven’t reported them stolen. After holding them for 18 months, the police donate the bikes to charity.

I intently scanned up and down the rows looking for my bike. I didn’t see it. My last, best chance for finding it had disappeared. My heart dropped knowing my Fuji Touring was gone. Feney ushered me out the door, and I began the long, slow walk back to the bus stop.

The most frustrating part is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Police and bicycle groups said there are some simple steps city officials could take to cut down on bike theft, but the issue has long slipped through the cracks.

Officer Romeo de la Vega, who works the SFPD’s Fencing Unit, said he proposed a bike registration system a few months ago, but it was shot down by the police brass. De la Vega said he was told there simply weren’t enough officers available to staff the system. Under his plan cyclists would register their bike serial numbers with police. In return the cyclists would get a permanent decal to place on their bikes. De la Vega said this would discourage thieves from stealing bikes since it would be clear they were registered, and it would speed bike returns.

With police officials claiming there are few resources to combat bike theft, it seems logical they might reach out to the community for help. But officials with the SFBC report just the opposite.

"In the past we’ve tried to connect with the police to jointly tackle the problem, but we haven’t had much luck. We don’t even know who is handling bike thefts," Andy Thornley, the SFBC program director, said.

Thornley said the coalition is willing to use its membership to help police identify chop shops and fencing rings around the city. He said the police need to do a better job of going after the larger players in the bike theft world and the District Attorney’s Office needs to take a tougher stance on prosecution.

Ultimately, Thornley said, enforcement is not the key to reducing bike theft. He said the city must make it easier for cyclists to park their bikes safely. The coalition is crafting legislation that would require all commercial buildings to allow cyclists to bring their bikes inside — something many currently prohibit. The coalition would also like to see bike parking lots spring up around the city, with attendants to monitor them.

Supervisor Chris Daly, who is an avid cyclist and has had six bikes stolen, said he is willing to help.

"It’s clear we are not doing very much," Daly said. "I think if there were a push from bicyclists to do a better job, I would certainly work toward making theft more of a priority." *

Sex on wheels


FIXED-GEAR FIX Mr. July, bare chested, coyly toys with a Rubik’s Cube, the waistband of his Champion boxer-briefs just visible above his brown leather belt with a "Philadelphia Freedom" buckle. Mr. November, sandwiched between two Muni cars, has his T-shirt pulled up to just above his nipples, revealing washboard abs and a plethora of tattoos. Mr. February gazes longingly over the Mission rooftops, one slippered foot swinging like a come-on over the edge.

What do they have in common besides month-based nomenclature? They’re all local bike messengers who were lustily photographed by Svet, Laura Downey, Peter Taylor, and Kevin White for the 2007 "At Your Service" bike messenger calendar.

If you’re a big gay like me, you spent most of the post–Chili Peppers, pre–Warped Tour ’90s playing not fantasy football but fantasy bike squad, dreaming of scruffy, rough-and-tumble boys like the ones pictured in the calendar streaking over hill and dale on their FrankenTreks to deliver their special package to you (insert back-door delivery joke here). A few years and several actual messenger scores later (yep, that was me on Craigslist) brought the reality that fantasy is best savored virtually — but that doesn’t mean I had to quit looking.

The calendar, shot by Bay Area photogs and laid out by local gear-queen designer Downey, brings a breath of sweaty, last night’s beer–scented air to any cubicle or bathroom. Indulge yearlong in the grungy goodness! (Marke B.)

Calendar available ($10) at Box Dog Bikes, 494 14th St., SF. (415) 431-9627,; and Refried Cycles, 440 Haight, SF. (415) 621-2911,; or by e-mailing Laura Downey at


Sex on wheels


I promised this blog wouldn’t turn into a cornucopia of hot-boy postings, but hey, they asked for it! The new 2007 San Francisco Bike Messenger Calendar is here …


All local SF models — the designers and printers too. You can get a copy (or several if you’re prone to sticky fingers) at Box Dog Bikes and Refried Cycles. No word yet on whether the proceeds go to the Home for Wayward Messengers aka my light well …..

PS I totally get points for not making any “package delivery in the rear” jokes. I do!

The other home of Bay hip-hop


› a&
If you don’t know about the Filthy ’Moe
It’s time I let real game unfold….
Messy Marv, “True to the Game”
I meet Big Rich on the corner of Laguna and Grove streets, near the heart of the Fillmore District according to its traditional boundaries of Van Ness and Fillmore, although the hood actually extends as far west as Divisadero. “Me personally,” the 24-year-old rapper and lifelong ’Moe resident confesses, “I don’t be sticking my head out too much. But I make sure I bring every photo session or interview right here.”
At the moment he’s taping a segment for an upcoming DVD by the Demolition Men, who released his mixtape Block Tested Hood Approved in April. Since then, the former member of the San Quinn–affiliated group Fully Loaded has created a major buzz thanks in part to the snazzy video for “That’s the Business,” his E-A-Ski- and CMT-produced single, which was the Jam of the Week in August on MTV2 and added to straight-up MTV in time for the Oct. 3 release of the Koch full-length Block Tested Hood Approved. (Originally titled Fillmore Rich, the album was renamed to capitalize on the mixtape-generated hype.)
Presented by E-40 and featuring Rich’s dope in-house producer Mal Amazin in addition to heavyweights such as Sean-T, Rick Rock, and Droop-E, BTHA is a deep contribution to the rising tide of Bay Area hip-hop. While Big Rich’s gruff baritone delivery and gritty street tales make his music more mobster than hyphy, the album is not unaffected by the latter style’s up-tempo bounce, helping the movement hold national attention during this season of anticipation before Mistah FAB’s major-label debut on Atlantic. “I don’t necessarily make hyphy music,” Rich says. “But I definitely condone it. As long as the spotlight is on the Bay, I’m cool with it.” Coming near the end of a year that has seen landmark albums from San Quinn, Messy Marv, Will Hen, and fellow Fully Loaded member Bailey — not to mention JT the Bigga Figga’s high-profile tour with Snoop Dogg, which has taken hyphy all the way to Africa — Rich’s solo debut is one more indication of the historic district’s importance to the vitality of local hip-hop and Bay Area culture in general.
The Fillmore is a community under siege, facing external and internal pressures. On the one hand, gentrification — in the form of high-end shops and restaurants serving tourists, Pacific Heights residents, and an increasingly affluent demographic creeping into the area — continues to erode the neighborhood’s edges. “If you grew up in the Fillmore, you can see Pacific Heights has crept down the hill, closer to the ghetto,” says Hen, who as a member of multiregional group the Product (assembled by Houston legend Scarface) moved more than 60,000 copies of its recent “thug conscious” debut, One Hunid (Koch). “Ten years ago there were more boundaries. But the Fillmore’s prime location, and I’m not asleep to this fact. We’re five minutes away from everything in the city. That has to play a role in the way the district is represented in a city that makes so much off tourism. You might not want your city portrayed as gangsta, even though it is.”
Hen has a point. The notion of San Francisco as gangsta is somewhat at odds with the way the city perceives itself. As an Oakland writer, I can attest to this, for even in San Francisco’s progressive artistic and intellectual circles, Oakland is usually understood to be beyond the pale in terms of danger and violence. Yet none of the Oakland rappers I’ve met talk about their hoods in quite the same way Fillmore rappers do, at least when it comes to their personal safety. As Big Rich films his section of the DVD, for example, he remarks on the continual stream of police cruisers circling the block.
“They slowed it down,” he says. “Now they only come every 90 seconds. Right around here is murder central — people be shooting each other every night. By 7 o’clock, we all gotta disperse, unless you want to get caught in the cross fire.” He waves his hands in mock terror. “I ain’t trying to die tonight!”
Though Rich is clowning, his statement is perfectly serious — indiscriminate gunfire among gang members, often in their early teens, makes nocturnal loitering a risky proposition at best. As of September, according to the San Francisco Police Department’s Web site, the Northern Police District, which includes the Fillmore, had the city’s second highest number of murders this year, 11, ceding first place only to the much larger Bayview’s 22. For overall criminal incidents, the Northern District led the city, at more than 10,000 so far.
Though Fillmore rappers might be given to stressing the danger of their hood, insofar as such themes constitute much of hip-hop’s subject matter and they feel the need to refute the city’s nongangsta image, no one I spoke to seemed to be boasting. They sounded sad. Hen, for example, reported that he’d been to three funerals in October, saying, “You hardly have time to mourn for one person before you have to mourn for the next person.” While the SFPD’s Public Affairs Office didn’t return phone calls seeking corroboration, both Rich and Hen indicate the neighborhood is suffering from an alarming amount of black-on-black violence.
“Basically, it’s genocide. We’re going to destroy each other,” Hen says. “It used to be crosstown rivalries rather than in your backyard. Now there’s more of that going on. If you get into it at age 15, the funk is already there. Whoever your crew is funking with, you’re in on it.” The ongoing cycle of drug-related violence — the Fillmore’s chief internal pressure — has only ramped up under the Bush administration’s regressive economic policies. It’s a fact not lost on these rappers: as Rich puts it succinctly on BTHA, “Bush don’t give a fuck about a nigga from the hood.”
“Everybody’s broke. That’s why everybody’s busting each other’s heads,” explains Rich, who lost his older brother to gun violence several years ago. “If you don’t know where your next dollar’s coming from …”
To be sure, the rappers give back to the Fillmore. They support large crews of often otherwise unemployable youth, and Messy Marv, for example, has been known to hand out turkeys for Thanksgiving and bikes for Christmas. But Bay Area rap is only just getting back on its feet, and while the rappers can ameliorate life in the Fillmore’s housing projects, they don’t have the means to dispel the climate of desperation in a hood surrounded by one of the most expensive cities on earth. Moreover, they are acutely aware of the disconnect between their community and the rest of the city, which trades on its cultural cachet.
“It’s like two different worlds,” Hen muses. “You have people sitting outside drinking coffee right in the middle of the killing fields. They’re totally safe, but if I walk over there, I might get shot at. But the neighborhood is too proud for us to be dying at the hands of each other.”
The neighborhood pride Will Hen invokes is palpable among Fillmore rappers. “I get a warm feeling when I’m here,” Messy Marv says. “The killing, you can’t just say that’s Fillmore. That’s everywhere. When you talk about Fillmore, you got to go back to the roots. Fillmore was a warm, jazzy African American place where you could come and dance, drink, have fun, and be you.”
Mess is right on all counts. Lest anyone think I misrepresent Oaktown: the citywide number of murders in Oakland has already topped 120 this year. But my concern here is with the perceived lack of continuity Mess suggests between the culture of the Fillmore then and now. By the early 1940s, the Fillmore had developed into a multicultural neighborhood including the then-largest Japanese population in the United States. In 1942, when FDR sent West Coast citizens of Japanese origin to internment camps, their vacated homes were largely filled by African Americans from the South, attracted by work in the shipyards. While the district had its first black nightclub by 1933, the wartime boom transformed the Fillmore into a major music center.
“In less than a decade, San Francisco’s African American population went from under 5,000 to almost 50,000,” according to Elizabeth Pepin, coauthor of the recent history of Fillmore jazz Harlem of the West (Chronicle). “The sheer increase in number of African Americans in the neighborhood made the music scene explode.”
Though known as a black neighborhood, Pepin says, the Fillmore “was still pretty diverse” and even now retains vestiges of its multicultural history. Japantown persists, though much diminished, and Big Rich himself is half Chinese, making him the second Chinese American rapper of note. “My mother’s parents couldn’t speak a lick of English,” he says. “But she was real urban, real street. I wasn’t brought up in a traditional Chinese family, but I embrace it and I get along with my other side.” Nonetheless, Pepin notes, the massive urban renewal project that destroyed the Fillmore’s iconic jazz scene by the late ’60s effectively curtailed its diversity, as did the introduction of barrackslike public housing projects.
The postwar jazz scene, of course, is the main source of nostalgia tapped by the Fillmore Merchants Association (FMA). Talk of a musical revival refers solely to the establishment of upscale clubs — Yoshi’s, for example, is scheduled to open next year at Fillmore and Eddy — offering music that arguably is no longer organically connected to the neighborhood. In a brief phone interview, Gus Harput, president of the FMA’s Jazz Preservation District, insisted the organization would “love” to open a hip-hop venue, although he sidestepped further inquiries. (Known for its hip-hop shows, Justice League at 628 Divisadero closed around 2003 following a 2001 shooting death at a San Quinn performance and was later replaced by the Independent, which occasionally books rap.) The hood’s hip-hop activity might be too recent and fall outside the bounds of jazz, yet nowhere in the organization’s online Fillmore history ( is there an acknowledgement of the MTV-level rap scene down the street.
Yet the raucous 1949 Fillmore that Jack Kerouac depicts in his 1957 book, On the Road — replete with protohyphy blues shouters like Lampshade bellowing such advice as “Don’t die to go to heaven, start in on Doctor Pepper and end up on whisky!” — sounds less like the area’s simulated jazz revival and more like the community’s present-day hip-hop descendants.
How could it be otherwise? The aesthetics have changed, but the Fillmore’s musical genius has clearly resided in rap since Rappin’ 4Tay debuted on Too $hort’s Life Is … Too $hort (Jive, 1989), producer-MC JT the Bigga Figga brought out the Get Low Playaz, and a teenage San Quinn dropped his classic debut, Don’t Cross Me (Get Low, 1993). While there may not be one definitive Fillmore hip-hop style, given that successful rappers tend to work with successful producers across the Bay regardless of hood, Messy Marv asserts the ’Moe was crucial to the development of the hyphy movement: “JT the Bigga Figga was the first dude who came with the high-energy sound. He was ahead of his time. I’m not taking nothing away from Oakland, Vallejo, or Richmond. I’m just letting you know what I know.”
In many ways the don of the ’Moe, San Quinn — reaffirming his status earlier this year with The Rock (SMC), featuring his own Ski- and CMT-produced smash, “Hell Ya” — could be said to typify a specifically Fillmore rap style, in which the flow is disguised as a strident holler reminiscent of blues shouting. While both Messy Marv and Big Rich share affinities with this delivery, Will Hen, for instance, and Quinn’s brother Bailey — whose Champ Bailey (City Boyz, 2006) yielded the MTV and radio success “U C It” — favor a smoother, more rapid-fire patter.
What is most striking here is that, with the exception of fellow traveler Messy Marv (see sidebar), all of these artists, as well as recent signee to the Game’s Black Wall Street label, Ya Boy, came up in the ’90s on San Quinn’s influential Done Deal Entertainment. Until roughly two years ago, they were all one crew. While working on his upcoming eighth solo album, From a Boy to a Man, for his revamped imprint, Deal Done, Quinn paused for a moment to take justifiable pride in his protégés, who now constitute the Fillmore’s hottest acts.
“I create monsters, know what I’m saying?” Quinn says. “Done Deal feeds off each other; that’s why I’m so proud of Bailey and Rich. We all come out the same house. There’s a real level of excellence, and the world has yet to see it. Right now it seems like we’re separate, but we’re not. We’re just pulling from different angles for the same common goal.”
“We all one,” Quinn concludes, in a statement that could serve as a motto for neighborhood unity. “Fillmoe business is Fillmoe business.” SFBG



Our controversial bike-fiend Duncan Davidson on VeloSwap (this Saturday 11/18 at the Concourse)

The VeloSwap PR folks chase the opening zinger “the largest consumer cycling show in the world,” with this dubious enticement: “It is the place to feel the pulse of the cycling community and rub elbows with like minded cyclists.” No doubt said elbows are clad in those weird spandex arm-socks that turn a short sleeve jersey into a long-sleeve. I’m dubious, or maybe just disinterested, because I don’t consider myself a “cyclist.” Don’t get me wrong–I’ve got nine bicycles–everything from BMX race bikes to downhill mountain bikes. I race in four disciplines and ride skateparks and street, plus collect vintage BMX bikes.


But I’m not a cyclist: I’m a biker.



By G.W. Schulz

Sure, street sports have become a cluster fuck for corporate sponsorships, but in some cases, that just means more money for punks with BMX bikes and less money for sleaze ball marketing execs who’d prefer spending it on tasteless furniture and bad hair.

If you haven’t been following the Mountain Dew Action Sports Tour, the final stop yesterday in Orlando proved to be a gruesome death march for nearly all of the competing riders in the BMX street finals. Almost no one managed to escape without at least a mild injury, but mostly the competition proved to be nothing less than brutal.

Online bonanza


Fixed gear fracas

Duncan Scott Davidson’s rant about fixed-gear bikes is causing a ruckus.

“Your article is based on ignorance, stereotypes, and one bad experience shared by your friend. You are not qualified to have written this article.”

–Jake Guy

“Dude! I couldn’t agree more! I’m glad to see someone else is finally taking up the cause against these damn hipsters! I myself have started a campaign against the entire Mission district, since most hipsters live there. I mean, respect to the old-school heads, but it’s just not all that impressive.”


“‘The fixed-gear is to 2006 what the Razor scooter was to 1996: a wheeled freak show for wannabes.’ — a lot of other morons probably said the same thing about skateboards. Yeah, that was just a fad, you don’t see anyone riding a board anymore.”

— McBomb

Firing off at fixed-gears: Read the article with comments

Lusty Lady lowdown

Sarah Phelan’s piece about the Lusty Lady’s union vs. co-op status caught some fire.

“This story is a one-sided piece of rubbish, suitable for lining of the bottom of bird cages and nothing else.”

— 7654321

“When I was in Seattle, I used to go to the Lusty Lady there and end up spending quite a bit, because the girls were hot and the shows were hot (both stage and Private Pleasures). At the SF Lusty Lady, I only rarely see a girl I find attractive, so I go there only rarely, really just to check on whether anything has changed or not.”

— anon_voyeur

“Maybe support staff needs to spend more time mopping and cleaning, i.e. doing their job, and less time cruising the internet.”


Lusty Lady loses its innocence: Read the article with comments

In the blogs

Pixel Vision
Johhny Ray Huston at the Vancouver Film Festival
Our virgin intern goes to Folsom Street Fair

Girl Talk talks
Junior Boys interview

Rob Black cash kerfuffle
Arnold torpedoes transparency

Firing off at fixed-gears


RANT/FILM I’m all for the current bicycle renaissance in San Francisco. As the Indian summer heats up, you’ll notice the bike lanes will be nose to tail with bikers — like a line of baby elephants. This is a good thing. Maybe the notoriously free-form, Tijuana driving style of SF residents will ease up a notch and they’ll return to mowing down pedestrians exclusively. There’s safety in numbers.
Of course, every revolution has its drawbacks. There’s always going to be that crew that wants to convince the world they’re that much more revolutionary, devoted, and pure than everyone else. And as the rubber hits the roads in San Francisco, a clan of tight-trousered, mullet-headed, vintage-T-shirt-clad Robespierres has coalesced around the fixed-gear bicycle, or as it’s called in its proponents’ cutesy parlance, the “fixie.”
What’s a fixed-gear? Imagine yourself cruising down the street on your bike. You get tired and so you stop pedaling and coast. The freewheel mechanism in your hub disengages the drive train and lets the back wheel continue to spin while the cranks and pedals are still. On a fixed-gear the rear cog is bolted directly to the hub. There is no freewheel or cassette mechanism, so if the hub is moving, the cog is moving. Which means if the chain is moving, the pedals are moving, and if the bike is moving, you’re pedaling. There is no coasting.
Sounds like a pain in the ass. If you’re like me, the first question that comes to mind is “why?” Well, the modern SF two-wheeled steel, aluminum, and rubber hipster fashion accessory has its roots in racing, like other wheeled vehicles that don’t really translate to street usage. They were — and still are — used on banked, velodrome-style tracks during races that employ all manner of strategies, including slowing down to a stop or near stop and doing a “track stand” — balancing at a standstill without putting your feet down — so your opponent can pass you and you can ride in the draft.
Since you’re not likely to be drafting anyone on city streets, a track bike is a highly impractical choice of wheels. What’s more impractical is that fixed-gears often appear to lack brakes. The bike’s speed is controlled by the rider’s pedaling cadence — slow the pedaling, you slow the bike. Stop pedaling, stop the bike. This effect can be augmented by adding a front caliper brake, but that’s frowned upon by fixie fashionistas who do things like cut their handlebars down to a foot and don’t run bar tape or grips. The problem with using pedal cadence as a braking mechanism is that stopping is dependent on rider skill.
Now there’s the rub. Like trucker hats and PBR, what started as a bike messenger thing has become a fashion statement and status symbol. You’ve got kids in the Mission with the left leg of their jeans rolled up, a little biker hat on crooked, slip-on Vans, and a brand-new fixed-gear Bianchi; and they don’t know their ass from a light socket. Cadence? You may as well be talking astrophysics. They just know that it looks cool. It looks less cool, however, when one of these lemmings comes screaming down the Haight Street hill unable to keep up with the speed of the pedals and wrecks in the middle of Divisadero. A friend was riding down Stanyan with a box in his hand when some goon on a fixed-gear, unable to slow down, ran into his back wheel and crashed him in the middle of the street. He didn’t even stop to see if my friend was OK.
So what was the original draw that caused the person I’ll call “Biker Zero” — to crib epidemiological lingo — to ride a track bike on the street? The people I know who ride them talk about being at one with the bike, feeling part of it, in the bike instead of on the bike. I’ll go with that. But this human-bike-cyborg crap has reached the level of “I like the East Coast because I like to see the seasons change” tripe. Respect to the old-school heads who’ve been riding them since way back, but as someone who’s done way gnarlier things on wheels, it’s just not all that impressive. The Bicycle Film Festival had scheduled a screening of M.A.S.H., an unfinished fixed-gear documentary by Mike Martin and Gabe Morford, until it got pulled at the last minute. It was shot here in San Francisco and showcased the “skills and beauty of these riders.” Beauty, no doubt — as in perfect hair. So you can ride down a hill and lift up your back wheel and do little skids to slow down. So what?
Riding a fixed-gear is like handicapping yourself. The bikes are so awkward to ride that not looking like an idiot while riding one is an accomplishment. It’s like riding a three-legged horse in the Kentucky Derby. To do that well, you’d have to be an excellent jockey. At the same time, why not be in it to win it and ride a horse with four legs? To me, it takes the choices — and therefore some creativity — out of riding. I don’t ride a fixed-gear for the same reason I won’t drive an automatic: no car is telling me when to shift, and no bike is going to tell me when I can pedal. If you’ve got bike skills, why not take them to a higher level? Go home and search for “Steven Hamilton” or “World Cup Downhill” on YouTube and see what can really be done on a bike that has the capabilities to be pushed. (There is a whole European tradition of flatland tricks on fixed-gears that takes serious skills, but it doesn’t seem to be a part of the current SF scenester fixie explosion.)
Not everyone is riding a bike to push limits. Still, the fixie cabal sticks in my craw, and it’s not because I’m unimpressed with the virtuosity. It’s not the misuse of a track-racing bike on city streets that bugs me. BMX bikes came about through the misuse of Schwinn Stingrays in dirt lots, and mountain bikes were the result of chopped-up road bikes on dirt. Misuse can mean progress. What kills me is the sinking feeling I get when I ride down Valencia and think, “Does anyone in this town ever do anything original?”
Now there’s even fixed-gear graffiti, Krylon line art of single-speed bikes with bullhorn handlebars, and the dubious slogan of “gears are for queers.” The fact of the matter is, the popularity of these bikes has nothing to do with the bikes themselves or the few people who actually have the chops to ride them with style. The fixed-gear is to 2006 what the Razor scooter was to 1996: a wheeled freak show for wannabes. Test it: send the right guy with the right clothes and the right haircut out around town on one of those old-timey bikes with the enormous front wheel with the cranks mounted directly to it like a tricycle. You know, the ones you need a ladder to get on and off of. Just see how many giant-wheeled ladder bikes are locked up in front of Ritual Coffee Roasters next week.
Do what makes you happy, but also do some soul-searching, champ: does riding a fixed-gear make you happy or does fitting in make you happy? Ask yourself, what bike was I riding last year? Was I riding one at all?

Victoria Theatre
2961 16th St., SF

Prop. A reality check


The greatest irony of Proposition A’s failure last month seemed to be what took place just a few short weeks after the June 6 election.
Prop. A would have budgeted $30 million over the next three years to fund violence prevention services for at-risk populations, such as anxious teens looking for a break from order during the warm summer months. It was a clear response to the city’s headline-grabbing homicide rate, which has continued its stubborn ascent this year, making life politically difficult for Mayor Gavin Newsom, District Attorney Kamala Harris, and the Police Department.
But with the mayor and the cops in opposition, the measure lost by less than a single percentage point. And just two weeks later, 22-year-old Andrew Ele — known among his friends as DJ Domino — was shot and killed at a bus stop near 24th Street and Folsom. Ele was a regular teen-outreach volunteer at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, a San Francisco nonprofit that helped run the Prop. A campaign with Sup. Chris Daly.
On June 20, as Ele waited for a bus with his brother André, a gunman walked to the middle of 24th Street and fired several shots at each of them before escaping in a waiting white Mazda MPV, the Police Department told the Guardian. André survived with non-life-threatening injuries, but Andrew was pronounced dead at the hospital.
The police still don’t know who killed Andrew, but as we’ve reported previously, the department hasn’t had the best luck with recent homicide investigations. As of January 2006 police had made arrests in fewer than 20 percent of the homicide cases that were opened the previous year, and the district attorney’s office has managed to file charges in only a fraction of those cases.
The day after the election, the San Francisco Chronicle framed Prop. A’s failure as a big political win for Newsom rather than what it really was: an enormous letdown for groups such as Coleman Advocates that are offering something other than increased law enforcement. The $30 million may not have immediately improved DJ Domino’s chances of remaining alive, but neither did $18 million the city paid police overtime last year prevent a Mission bus stop from being filled with bullet holes.
The issue of violence prevention is still alive, though, and it surfaced again during the recent budget negotiations.
The press release accompanying the mayor’s late-May budget proposal for the next fiscal year boasts that Newsom set aside $2.7 million for violence prevention and intervention, which he combines with $7 million the board supplemented for the current fiscal year. Featured more prominently in the press release is his bid for 250 new cops — and yet more money to pay them overtime.
However, the board’s budget committee, chaired by Daly, found $4 million more for violence prevention, including $1 million to save the Trauma Recovery Center, which assists victims of violent crime and was close to shutting down in November for lack of funds. Not to be outdone, the mayor unveiled “SF Safe Summer 2006” last week, just as the Guardian was putting together this story, which includes an expansion of the Community Response Network, a Police Department program.
The budgetary give-and-take reflects the city’s growing frustration over a homicide rate that has at times resulted in tense Police Commission meetings. Last month a meeting at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center — held the day after Prop. A failed — was commandeered by Western Addition and Bayview–Hunters Point residents angry over a perceived failure by the city to respond to chronic gang and street violence. (Police Chief Heather Fong and Sup. Sophie Maxwell were literally shouted down at the meeting.)
The campaign for Prop. A forced the city to address its ongoing philosophical divide on how to face off against violence. More cops or more outreach? More patrols or more job training? More overtime or more murals?
“Their approach is suppression,” Coleman Advocates youth coordinator José Luis said of law enforcement. “They get rats; they send in informants. They don’t want to use prevention.”
Luis knew Ele for eight years and said the latter used to help provide security at drug- and alcohol-free hip-hop shows that cops in the Mission eventually stopped.
“[Ele] on countless occasions jumped into a brawl and stuck his neck out to stop it,” Luis said of the events.
Ele, who often performed at clubs in the city with the DJ troupe Urban Royalties, had big plans for his life. He was going to record an album at CELLspace in the Mission once construction of a recording studio was completed there. Then he’d planned to teach young people how to spin and record hip-hop themselves.
CELLspace is a 10,000 square foot warehouse on Bryant Street that has for the last several years served mostly as an outpost for industrial artists. Locals know it best for the acrylic bombs that cover its exterior honoring fallen graf heads and Mexican revolutionaries. The building hosted dance parties for teens in the ’90s, but they were eventually shut down by the city.
By 2003, however, CELLspace had recharged its outreach efforts, slowly building an administrative staff, acquiring grant money, and implementing new after-school programs. Staffers are working with ex–gang members and specifically targeting recent Latino immigrants, who are often recruited by gangs.
“Those of us who sort of grew up in street culture, we have more experience with what could work now,” said CELLspace’s 25-year-old executive director, Zoe Garvin, who was born and raised in the Mission.
The place is brimming with ideas. There’s talk of outfitting a low-rider car with a biofuel engine and solar-powered hydraulic suspension. Staffers are building low-rider bikes and collaborating with other Mission-based groups to teach kids screen printing and break dancing. They even have a class for skaters, but the ramps that quietly appeared a couple of months ago at the Mission Flea Market, across Florida Street on the west side of the warehouse, will soon have to make way for a moderate-income housing complex, Garvin said.
CELLspace, she said, would have applied for Prop. A funding, but is looking elsewhere now. The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in early July passed over their $600,000 grant application, which would have funded a street outreach and case management program for 18- to 24-year-olds.
“I think we’ve done a really good job creating a sanctuary in here,” she said. “You have to be careful how you do it. You can’t just hire anyone.”
While the city eventually found money for community-based organizations through the budget process, it’s doubtful the debate over how to take on street violence issues will cease.
“Something like Prop. A,” Luis of Coleman Advocates says, “was long overdue.” SFBG

Catch some rays


> a&
Damn, it’s been hard to stay focused since the rain stopped. So many beers in the park to enjoy and so many great shows to see. Here are a few you should catch in between bike rides and slosh ball games.
Gregory Euclid’s work must be seen in person, because no photos can do it justice. He’s showing at White Walls through June, with Anthony Yankovic III and Teodor Dumitrescu, who are also amazing. Next door, the Shooting Gallery just opened its annual erotic show, where one can ogle boobies and butts in painted and photo forms. If you’re in the Lower Haight area, be sure to stop into Upper Playground’s gallery, Fifty24sf, where Japanese artists Kami and Sasu are showing. So good! Weston Teruya is one of my favorite artists in the city. He’s part of a group show at Patricia Sweetow that’s running through July 15. Combine your love of bikes, art, and booze with an evening ride down to 111 Minna Gallery for a cocktail and the group show that’s up now. Henry Lewis and Tara Foley rule it so good now! Smile time. SFBG
Through June 30
White Walls
835 Larkin, SF
(415) 931-1500
Through July 3
Shooting Gallery
839 Larkin, SF
(415) 931-8035
Through July 2
248 Fillmore, SF
(415) 252-0144, ext. 4
With Michele Carlson, Susan Chen, Katie Lewis, Weston Teruya, and Jamie Vasta
Through July 15
Patricia Sweetow Gallery
49 Geary, fourth floor, SF
(415) 788-5126
With Tom Allen, Jamie Dorfman, Tara Lisa Foley, Wednesday Kirwan, Henry Lewis, Jack Long, Yosuke Ueno, and Amanda Wachob
Through July 1
111 Minna Gallery
111 Minna, SF
(415) 974-1719
John Trippe publishes the online zine Fecal Face at

…And some bad


Bicycle projects in San Francisco — from the ambitious Blue Greenway initiative to new bike lanes to the simple shared-lane arrows, or “sharrows,” that have been painted on some roadways — have been shut down by a preliminary injunction that Judge James Warren signed as one of his final actions before retiring.
The ruling is part of a lawsuit brought by Rob Anderson, a 63-year-old dishwasher, blogger (whose District 5 Diary regularly blasts the “bike nuts” and “anticar activists”), and failed District 5 supervisorial candidate. Anderson and two groups he formed — Ninety-Nine Percent (referring to those who he believes don’t ride bicycles) and Coalition for Adequate Review — last year sued the city over its Bicycle Plan, arguing that it should have received more rigorous environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Unless the injunction is overturned, city officials are prohibited from making any physical changes contemplated by the plan until completion of a trial that’s set to begin Sept. 13. The Bicycle Plan, which California cities must update every five years to qualify for certain public funds, was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors and signed by the mayor last year.
City officials and bicycle advocates were shocked by the scope of Warren’s ruling. “This is big. It’s means nothing new for bikes for probably the next year,” said Andy Thornley, program director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “It’s pretty strict, even worse than we feared.”
Beyond the prohibition of “installing bicycle lanes on any street in San Francisco named or described in any part of the plan and its maps” and a range of other physical changes, the ruling says the city can’t pursue plans to allow more bikes on public transit. Anderson and attorney Mary Miles didn’t get everything they wanted, such as an end to the city’s “educational or training programs, enforcement activities, or promotional activities,” but that was small consolation to city officials.
“We’re disappointed with the injunction and we disagree with Judge Warren’s conclusions,” said Matt Dorsey, spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office. Dorsey said the lawsuit and injunction defy the spirit of CEQA, as well as its specific exemptions for bike lanes on public streets. “Bikes are already allowed the use of all the streets in San Francisco.”
But Anderson said the Bike Plan should have been subjected to a full-blown environmental impact report before being approved, rather than a finding of exemption from such review, as the board ruled.
“This is not about the contents of the plan itself. It is about the process,” Anderson told the Guardian.
But Anderson’s arguments go well beyond process and bureaucratic details — instead they are driven by what appears to be deep animosity toward the bicycle community, which he has expressed on his blog and in public comments during city meetings.
“I think cycling in the city is dangerous and foolish,” Anderson told us. “It’s irresponsible for the city to encourage an inherently dangerous activity.”
Despite that danger Anderson said he doesn’t believe the city should be building bike lanes or pursuing other safety measures because only a very small percentage of city residents will ever ride bikes. He said that bicyclists are nothing but “an elitist special interest.”
Anderson refused to identify who’s helping to fund his suit or other members of his organization, except to say it’s a “small group” that mostly drives cars. (Anderson said he relies mostly on public transit and walking.) Although he said he believes in global warming and decries traffic congestion, he doesn’t believe bikes are a reasonable form of alternative transportation.
“It’s a progressive fantasy. Bicycles are not the answer to any problem. This is America, not Amsterdam. There are big cars and lots of them,” Anderson told us.
Yet city officials remain uniformly committed to promoting bicycling.
On June 23, Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a public statement saying, in part, “Despite Judge Warren’s preliminary injunction, I remain committed to making San Francisco a national leader for bicycle transportation. Our goal is to increase the number of bike trips in the city to reach 10 percent of all trips by 2010. My administration will do everything within our power to reach that goal.” SFBG

Bike safety chic



Lately, I’ve been feeling too spooked to ride my bike. Chalk it up to too many near misses, some of which occurred when I was just walking my bike home in the rain. I often think of the shoulder injury my friend has yet to fully recover from or be compensated for (damn those uninsured motorists who skip town) after being doored two years ago. It doesn’t help matters that I spent the weekend at an East Bay music festival held annually in memory of Matthew Sperry, a bassist, composer, husband, and dad, whose very special life ended while he was cycling to work at LeapFrog in Emeryville on June 5, 2003. And let’s not forget Sarah Tucker (hit and run accident, 1/12/06) and Spider Davila (deliberate hit and run, 12/17/05).

Looks like I’m not alone in my fretting. According to a "report card" issued by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, 13 percent of us are reluctant to pedal around town because we’re too scared. Overall, our city got a C-minus in bike friendliness from the 1,151 respondents who filled out the SFBC’s online and hand-distributed survey, mostly owing to scary motorists, bumpy streets, and not enough bike lanes (all issues the bicycle coalition works very hard on to make for a better biking city).

Even though I’m afraid of eating pavement while riding, I don’t wear a helmet. I used to, but those things never look good with my outfit. Besides, if two tons of car slams into me while I’m rolling down Gough, a little piece of plastic and foam wrapped around my Gulliver won’t save my life. Some of you fixies reading this article might be nodding in agreement. Well, that’s because your heads are still attached to your bodies.

Fixed-gear bikes do look beautiful, unfettered as they are by brakes, cheap plastic reflectors, and clunky beam lights, but I’m here to say that you don’t always have to sacrifice aesthetics in favor of living to a ripe old age.

Here’s a handful of ways for you, whether you’re a fixie, a chopper rider, a hybrid commuter, a BMX daredevil, or just really vain (like me), to avoid wearing a neck brace as a fashion accessory. Trust me, you and your bike will still look cool.

1. Get a light How many times has a passing motorist screamed that at you? You bitch about it, because every time you buy one, someone steals it, so finally you got one that slides on and off. But it was too big to fit in your pocket, and then some moron decided to strip the light’s pedestal still screwed to your handlebars. I solved this problem by getting a Topeak front beam light ($20). It’s small enough to fit in your mouth, and it straps on kind of like a wristwatch. No screwdriver necessary, no tacky plastic pedestal marring the sleek looks of your untaped handlebars. I got mine at San Francisco Cyclery on Stanyan across from Golden Gate Park.

2. Don’t be a sucker Jerks are also always stealing back lights and reflectors off bikes. Valencia Cyclery sells lots of "lollipop" lights, which are made by Cat Eye and attach with elastic cords to your backpack, seat, helmet, belt loop. They cost $13 for a red and $17 for a more-expensive-to-make white LED light.

3. Cop skater style It’s hard to say how these things get decided, but among the tragically hip, lightweight and aerodynamic helmets specifically made for biking are as out as fanny packs. Case in point: Only hybrid riders wear them. But for some reason, wearing a skateboarding helmet while biking is dope. Whatever, they protect equally well. Giro and Bell make bicycle helmets that look like skater (or BMX) helmets, which are more rounded and human headshaped than the amphibious-looking bike helmets of the ’90s. They come in an array of colors in matte and sparkling finishes. Freewheel and American Cyclery sell them for between 20 and 40 bucks. Skates on Haight sells actual skate helmets online for $20.

4. Just don’t commit suicide Road bikes are more the rage these days, but it’s hard to look out for wayward traffic while leaning over those drop handlebars. Cyclocross interrupter break levers ($20$40) install at the top of the bars, near the stem, allowing road bike riders to sit upright. Since these levers connect to the housing instead of to your lower brakes, they are a much better alternative to the old-school versions often referred to as suicide brakes. Valencia Cyclery will retrofit your vintage road bike with these for $30. SFBG

Freewheel Bike Shop

1920 Hayes and 914 Valencia, SF

(415) 752-9195, (415) 643-9213

San Francisco Bike Coalition’s Report Card

San Francisco Cyclery

672 Stanyan, SF

(415) 379-3870

Valencia Cyclery

1065 Valencia, SF

(415) 550-6601

Bright knight of the analog soul


John Vanderslice goes straight for the guy with the bouzouki. He’s taking me on a tour of his recording studio, analog haven Tiny Telephone, located in an industrial space at the base of Potrero Hill, directly across from a giant, rusted rocket engine belonging to Survival Research Laboratories.

He’s about to pick the melon-shaped instrument up from its stand out of sheer exuberance, but he checks himself and asks its owner, "Do you mind?" It has four sets of strings, paired in octaves like a 12-string guitar, and some fancy inlay work. He gives it a tentative strum, trying to suss out the tuning, before gingerly replacing it. "Anything but an electric guitar excites me."

It’s a strange statement coming from a guitar player. But Vanderslice isn’t simply a guitar player he’s a complex commodity. He looks calm enough in his tattered, holey sweater and wide-wale corduroys. But it’s like the surface tension on a water droplet. It can only briefly hold back an inexorable motion, and the seeming stillness on the outside belies the seething, wild Brownian motion beneath.

Tapestry of the unknown

Google "’John Vanderslice’ + ‘analog’" and you’ll get around 100,000 hits. This shouldn’t be shocking. For one, there are five "official" solo albums on Barsuk, as well as three with his previous band, mk Ultra; for another, there’s his studio, boasting a 30-channel Neve mixing board that once belonged to the BBC, and dozens of vintage amps, preamps, and effects, some of them fairly wacky, like the huge anodized metal "plate in a box" reverb. One can comfortably call him an analog purist. He even calls himself that. Sometimes.

Like most purists, there’s a persnicketiness to his passion. I’m reminded of the older guys at the BMX track who refuse to ride aluminum bikes: "Steel is real," they’re always saying. For Vanderslice too, steel is real as are the glass tubes and the magnetic tape that runs from reel to reel to capture it all. When it comes to his own records, he has "these militant rules about what we can and can’t do as far as using effects. If we want an effect on an instrument, we have to record it that way. My thing is, if you want it to be some way, make it that way and commit to it. Don’t be half-assed. If you want it to sound fucked-up or modulated or distorted or delayed, let’s go for it. Record it that way, print it on tape, and then it’s part of the tapestry. It’s done."

"It is done" were that last words of Jesus Christ, and when Vanderslice is up in arms, hunched over his cup of tea, the ardent analog guru preaching the tube gospel, they’re murmured with similar prophetic urgency. But that’s just the molecular lockdown on the surface of the drop. Underneath: movement. His records especially as they move away from being "guitar records" are all about that tapestry. The song, lyrics, chorus, melody, and bridge these are the structural elements that build the house. But you have to peek in the windows to see what’s really going on: the art on the walls, that tapestry he’s talking about and how intricately it’s woven. "Exodus Damage" on his most recent album, last year’s Pixel Revolt, has got mellotron "synthesizing" (sans computer), a choir, pipe organ, strings, and a flute. Instrumentally, the album’s all over the place it’s like a warehouse with cello, Hammond B3, Wurlitzer, glockenspiel, vibraphone, steel drums, trumpet, moog, tape loops, and a "space station," among other things. There’s a lot going on, on different levels, and you’ve got to do more than peek through the windows to really get Pixel Revolt; you’ve got to come inside and sit down.

Vanderslice constructs his music in that honest, brick-by-brick way of the analog stickler, but it’s not as if he just mics it up, tapes it down, and it’s ready to go. He manipulates his songs using techniques that might be more readily associated with the digital side of things. He builds them, then deconstructs them and builds something else. I’m reminded of Bob Geldof in The Wall, where he smashes everything in the hotel room and builds something that, at first glance, is obtuse and impenetrable but is clearly imbued with deeper meaning for having been recontextualized. Vanderslice takes digital techniques and analog-izes them. He uses Tiny Telephone like a punch card machine, a steam-driven computer.

"I like using the analog instruments of the studio, meaning compressors and mic pres and effects as instruments," he explains. "When you start combining all these things the keyboard into some mic pre you found in a pawn shop into some weird compressor into delay you get some unknowable results. Chasing down that kind of shit is fascinating for me."

Covert ops

"I’d harbored hope that the intelligence that once inhabited novels or films would ingest rock," Lou Reed once said. "I was, perhaps, wrong." Like most Lou Reed quotes or songs or looks, he’s both right and wrong. Most rock has ceased to even aspire to the literary. Traditional rock lyrics are the domain of the first-person diarist.

Vanderslice’s songs, however, are sonic novellas, small, encapsulated narratives whose meaning sometimes bleeds into the silence between tracks to form the greater novel of the album. Not surprisingly for an artist with so much happening musically on that other level, stories of the covert permeate JV’s records. Mass Suicide Occult Figurines (2000) takes us behind the scenes of a drug operation on "Speed Lab." Life and Death of an American Fourtracker (2002) follows the semi-institutionalized ruination of its lead character’s life and love. Of late, 2004’s Cellar Door features the shaky ruminations of a special ops type, musing on shady dealings from Columbia to Guant?

The veto question



There are bigger issues facing San Francisco than whether to close off part of Golden Gate Park to cars on Saturdays. But as political dilemmas go, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s impending choice of whether to sign or veto the Healthy Saturdays initiative presents him with a difficult call on a matter of great symbolic importance.

Newsom hasn’t taken a position yet, and City Hall sources say he’s actively trying to find a compromise position something that will most likely involve strict and quantifiable monitoring standards during the six-month study period, or perhaps a request that the closure be moved to the west side of the park, which supporters of the measure have resisted.

If possible, Newsom would like to avoid vetoing a measure beloved by environmentalists, bicyclists, and recreational park users. Newsom’s only other four vetoes have also shot down legislation prized by progressives: three rejected measures aimed at helping renters and preserving apartments, and one killed an ordinance limiting how much parking can be built along with downtown housing units.

But the clock is running on a JFK Drive closure slated to begin May 25, and Newsom is unlikely to please everyone, given the polarization and strong visceral reactions to the issue. The debate has so far played out as a class conflict, albeit one that has both sides flinging the epithet of "elitism" at each other.

The opposition campaign waged by representatives of the park’s cultural institutions (including many prominent and wealthy political donors) and some park neighbors say closure supporters are trying to shut others out from the park, hurt the museums, and deny the will of voters. Supporters say this about making a portion of the city’s premier park safe and inviting on weekends, rather than allowing it to be used as a busy thoroughfare and parking lot.

The rhetoric on both sides has often been heated, but supporters have for the most part stuck to the facts, while the opposition campaign has been marred by misrepresentations (see "Dede Wilsey’s Whoppers," 4/19/06).

Some of the inaccurate statements most notably that voters have repeatedly rejected closure have taken on the air of truth as they were repeated by mayoral staffers, Sups. Fiona Ma and Bevan Dufty, and in two overheated columns by the San Francisco Examiner‘s Ken Garcia that were riddled with inaccuracies and unsupported statements. (Garcia did not answer an e-mail from the Guardian seeking comment on his distortions.)

During the Board of Supervisors’ April 25 hearing on the matter, the main question was whether a measure that already had six cosponsors would garner the eight votes that would be needed to override a mayoral veto.

"On two different occasions, voters rejected Saturday closure," was how Supervisor Ma explained her opposition, reading from a prepared statement. Supervisor Dufty, who voted no, also said he was swayed by the election argument: "This has come before the voters, and that’s what I’d like to see happen [again]."

Actually, the question was put before voters just once, in November 2000. Just over 45 percent of voters wanted immediate Saturday closure (Measure F), while about 37 percent of voters approved of a rival measure sponsored by museum patrons (Measure G) that would have postponed closure until after the garage was completed.

Several supervisors assailed the election argument that Garcia had circulated so vociferously, including one Healthy Saturdays opponent, Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who said neither the voter argument nor the argument that the de Young Museum would be hurt were valid.

Instead, Elsbernd said he was swayed by the concerns of park neighbors that the existing Sunday closure creates traffic problems in their neighborhoods. So he proposes that the Saturday closure happen on the west side of the park, rather than the east.

"Why can’t we spread out these impacts?" Elsbernd said. "It’s a simple compromise that will alleviate a lot of concerns."

Supporters of the closure have resisted that proposal, arguing that the eastern portion has most of the commercial vendors, the flattest and best-quality roads for kids just learning to ride bikes, the warmest weather, and is best served by the new 800-spot parking garage, which hasn’t ever been full since it opened earlier this year.

And at this point, starting over with an alternative proposal would greatly delay the closure and ensure that the trial period doesn’t generate a full summer’s worth of data.

"The time is right. We have the garage open, and it’s accessible," said Sup. Jake McGoldrick, who sponsored Healthy Saturdays after opposing it two years ago on the grounds that the garage wasn’t yet open. He and other supporters later told us that they’re open to considering any monitoring standards that Newsom may propose.

In the end, the measure was approved on a 74 vote, with Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier (who didn’t speak about her reasons) joining Ma, Dufty, and Elsbernd in opposition.

"The table is set for the possibility that the mayor will veto this legislation," Sup. Gerardo Sandoval said at the hearing.

Afterward, Newsom spokesperson Peter Ragone said the mayor would make a decision on whether to veto in the next week or so. In the meantime, Ragone told reporters: "The mayor is going to continue to work with both sides on the issue to maintain a dialogue with the hope that we can reach a place where the right thing can be done."  SFBG

Creative Manufacturer: Fat Dog’s World Famous Subway Guitars


1800 Cedar, Berk.

(510) 841-4106

For 38 years, a man named Fat Dog has been serving as Berkeley’s own musical Dr. Frankenstein.

As the owner of Fat Dog’s World Famous Subway Guitars, Fat Dog, along with his crew of Igor-like technicians, has been saving dismembered guitar parts from shuttered factories, cobbling them into weird custom instruments, and passing the savings along to you.

The results are "proletarian guitars," as Fat Dog likes to say, favored by first-time players and well-known musicians alike. Over the years the shop has catered to untold numbers of artists, from Les Claypool to Green Day to that fifth grader on the way to her first guitar lesson.

Aside from looking pretty sweet, the critical benefit of playing one of Fat Dog’s custom creations is that even if you’re a broke, struggling, or maybe even terrible musician, you can still get a totally unique instrument at a budget price.

Offering these customized wacky wonders at an average price of about $400, Fat Dog says, "We sort of were more aimed at the working musicians and people that didn’t have that privileged budget to buy those more expensive instruments."

The original intent of Subway Guitars was to operate as a repair shop. In keeping with that tradition, the repair end of the business still operates as a technician’s co-op, in which the people doing the work actually get to keep 100 percent of the cost of labor.

The business’s keen interest in reusability, fair pricing, and fair labor practices resonates in another of the shop’s unexpected retail endeavors: promoting alternative transportation.

Those not in need of gussied-up vintage guitars might nevertheless be interested in a gussied-up vintage bicycle. The shop has recently reinstated its $50 bike sale, garnering inventory from an old barn where Fat Dog has been storing road bikes and cruisers for years.

However long the business stays in its original location in North Berkeley, and however many bicycles are put back on the road, Fat Dog says his focus will always be on guitars.

"We’ll keep going on with the same mission," he says, "which is providing people with good, really high-quality guitars without subscribing to collectors’ absurd prices." (Ivy McNally)