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Back To Work: The Commute

IMG_7784Having been encapsulated in my car for the past three years and not really having to walk the streets of the mid-market area it was a bit of a shock at first.While there are tech companies galore in the area, most are within a few feet of the metro station and the people who work there have little interaction with the locals.

I have a two block walk from Van Ness Station down to 11th and Howard and it’s an interesting walk depending on which side of the street you’re on. But before I digress, let’s start from the beginning. I consider myself rather lucky in that I live in the fifth house from the corner of a stop by the 48 Quintara. I can use the app Routesy to check the arrival time of the bus and thankfully it is very accurate. I can hop on and be driven up to West Portal station where I grab whatever shows up and take that four stops to Van Ness where I can get to work in 35 minutes. Considering most techies consider the Sunset District to be too far away I think that’s a pretty short commute compared to living in say, Oakland.

That being said, when I get off it’s a whole different story. There is a noticeable difference between the left side and the right side of the street as I walk to work. Both are dirty, but the right side is definitely more on the smelly side. On the left side I start off walking by Uber, Square and a couple of other companies and while I don’t have proof I can’t help but think they’re part of the reason it’s not as smelly. There are security guards stationed at the entrance of all the buildings and garages and they’re all big and stern looking gentlemen, but when I walk by they sort of lose that street face probably because they know I’ve got better things to do than mess with them. There’s still a ton of old dried up gum on the sidewalk as I get to 11th and Mission, but it’s missing from the block were Uber and Square reside.

Once I hit Mission things begin to change. There’s a taco truck that I mentioned previously that was chasing away a homeless person who was trying to hide behind it to take a dump. The amount of trash increases here as well as people who obviously look much older than they really are. I have to walk past people having arguments with no one else in side who’s faces show that while they look old and haggard they aren’t as old as they look. Meth comes to mind, but it could easily be years of alcohol abuse as well. If I’m not asked by something slurring their words hunched over for a cigarette even though I’m not smoking it’s considered a good day. As I reach Howard street there’s a bus stop which looks like it kind of doubles as a rest room. In the mornings there are lots of young people who go to a couple of places for mentally disabled people that I feel sorry for because they have to see the ugly soft white underbelly of the city. Most of the people on the streets look angry. If I had to live there I’d probably look angry too. It’s not a very inviting place, yet all the of the tech and tech related companies I pass by have these unadorned fronts with large glass windows showing off their beautiful insides. I can totally relate to people who have to walk by these places daily on the outside looking in. It just feels a bit grim to me.

I mentioned before that there are lots of car repair shops, but what I didn’t mention is that they’re all high end car repair shops. You walk by garages that are dingy on the outside, but when you walk by the opening they’re immaculate Mercedes, BMW, Audi and even higher end repair shops. All the cars look like they just came out of a car wash even if they’ve been in a wreak.

When it’s time for me to go home it’s been a bit warm lately in the evenings and so I walk up the right side of the street to stay out of the sun. This is a whole different area even though it’s just across the street. There are lots of support buildings for those in need and unfortunately it tends to show the downside of those who are less fortunate. There are makeshift tents, people passed out against buildings and smell of sewer plant is highly evident. Why it doesn’t cross the street is beyond me.

There’s a Salvation Army store that takes up a sizable chunk between Mission and Market that I assume is attracting people who go through the stuff the SA can’t use. Having to walk past old dried out gum on the other side of the street isn’t so bad in comparison to having to step over puddles of urine and feces on the other side of the street. I was walking up to Market the other day behind a couple of kids who might have been in their early 20’s chugging a 40oz of MGD when the guy says, I gotta piss hella bad, so he just stopped in a corner and started to relieve himself. His girlfriend noted that she had to too and dropped her pants in the bus stop and took care of business both of them ignoring that I was walking by or that there was an elderly woman sitting waiting for the bus.

Once I make it back to Van Ness Station things seem safe again, not that I’ve been harassed by anyone on the walk back, but still, it’s been an eye opening experience.

Next: Back To Work: Tech Bros, The Real Story.




Dealing With Old Houses

No this is not my home.Pretty much everyone here is from somewhere else. Especially today. I think I’m one of the few people left over 40 who was born in San Francisco and one of the even fewer who is living in the house he grew up in now. My family inherited the house after my Mom died [well not really, my name was on the house since I was 18]. There’s a difference though when you live in a house that your parents bought in 1954 and have been the only family to live there.

Before my wife and I moved back into the house my Mom was the only one left and didn’t get around much so there were lots of areas that she never looked at. When we moved in we realized that the double paned windows upstairs caused about a 15° difference when you went downstairs where we only had single paned [old single paned] windows. In the winter like now. It gets cold downstairs and nothing short of a space heater will warm the place up even though we have central heating. This is something we’re working on figuring out how to fix at the moment because we can’t afford to replace the downstairs windows.

The shower in the downstairs bathroom leaks to the point that when you take a shower water soaks through the wall and runs out into the basement. This is going to be fixed today. You have to re-caulk old caulking every couple of years because with the old tiles and worn marble floor [which I’m also in the process of refinishing] doesn’t always seal up completely.

Dust, OMG DUST! This is an old house by San Francisco standards which means we have wall to wall carpeting. You can vacuum the floor for a half hour and then go over it with a small hepa filter vac and notice you get more dust out of the carpet. Our dryer downstairs is in the back of the basement so it doesn’t vent outside so you get lint everywhere. It must have been about 1″ of 30 years of lint that I had to work with my hand before being able to vacuum it off the cabinets next to the dryer because my Mother never used the lint trap. Lint gets everywhere and you have to move stuff and get behind it to suck it all out.

Walls, I have no idea what made the marks and stains, but the walls have gotten rather dirty so I’ve been trying a few things to clean the walls which are working somewhat well. The Magic Eraser pad works, but we have to go over the walls a couple of times to get all the spots off. This gives you a good work out if you’re doing it right. Your arms should be tired after you’re finished.

Carpeting in general get dirty and we’ve had carpet cleaning companies come by that have still left the stains after the carpet dries. I actually used some oxy-clean on one particularly dark spot going into the kitchen and now it just shows how much dirt has collected over the years because we have a nice clean bright patch of carpet surrounded by dark beat up carpet. In reality, the carpet is close to 30 years old and should be replaced because there are areas which haven’t been walked on that stand up more than others. When we can afford it we’ll do that.

Bannisters. These are fun because you don’t realize that when people grab onto them the oils and dirt from their hands sticks to them. I tried three days of goo gone and that wasn’t enough so I finally stripped the lacquer off and refinished them and they look brand new.I’ve learned in the past to  start with rough sandpaper and work down to the finest you can to get it smooth and have a good tack cloth ready.

The kitchen. Nope we don’t have granite counter tops we have the old tiles everyone used to have. The tiles have held up quite well, but the grout has worn or gotten stained from coffee spills to the point that I had to re-grout most of the tiles. This isn’t that hard and we had at one point the the mortar in front of the sink wear out so I had to hammer out the old mortar and glue the tiles back in place and then grout when they were set. In some places the grout has worn out to the point that it’s not grout anymore, but  dirt and grease that’s collected that you can gouge out with a screwdriver. If you have one of those hand held steamers that will sanitize the area before you grout and get some more dirt out of the cracks. Eventually we’ve get new countertops when we can have the cabinets refinished. I happen to like the Zodiaq quartz counter tops because they’re easier to deal with and they’re cultured quartz. We’ll definitely need someone to put those in along with a new sink to replace the 1954 porcelain sink that’s been worked over with comet a little too much.

As for furniture, we’ve got such a mixed group of items that you just have to shake your head. We have side tables and a dinner table from the late 1800’s. A chair that was purchased from a Charles Lutwidge Dodgson [i.e. Lewis Carroll] in 1850 which fix well together [if it’s your grandma’s house], but then there’s this horrible faux-asian bamboo printed couch that’s gotten stains from over the years and the springs need replacing, a high back faux Victorian chair which while I love it because it’s comfortable and if I fall asleep in it I’ve got those side thingies so my neck doesn’t get crunched. It’s kind of like a car seat for lazy adults, there’s another chair that I don’t know the time period, but it looks like around the 30’s and a lazy boy recliner that’s electric and I’m willing to sell it to get it out of here.

Other general things that we’ll need to call in outside help for is the dry rot that we’ve developed in the corners of the living room windows. I could sand a lot out, but that won’t fix it. I think we could handle the painting ourselves, but we have a guy down the street who painted the outside of the house who would do the inside better than us. There are also cracks and holes that have developed over the years that I’ve been spackling over and I’ve gotten pretty good at dry wall work. Thank you youtube.com for all the helpful videos.

It’s a lot of work, but I’ve never been one to buy a house and flip it in a few years for a profit, especially now with prices going up or down in six months. I like the place because I grew up here. Now it’s just time for us to make it ours. And that is why you haven’t heard from me in awhile. I’ve been so busy fixing up the house instead of other New Year’s resolutions that people break that I’m doing pretty good.

Damn Gophers!

I thought I was over it a year ago. Gophers destroyed our lawn as well as our neighbors with tunnels moving 4 houses away. How did I know this? My first line of defense was the gopher bomb which is basically a large smoke bomb that you light and stick down the hole. Smoke started coming out of the grown four houses away in both directions.

We tried to be nice and use all the other ethical humane ways to get rid of them, but the holes kept coming back and back again. They even started to show up in our backyard that a smoke bomb verified that they were so intrenched that they had actually dug under the houses foundation to our back yard over 40 feet away.

None of it worked. So it was time to go all medieval on them because we had lost half our lawn to them.  Most of the pellets never worked and I finally had to resort to seeds that had a cyanide coating on them. These would suggested by one of the several hardware stores who felt my pain and warned me to make sure that they went into the hole and nothing was left out because you didn’t want to start poisoning cats and dogs in the neighborhood. I even asked my dog owning friends if they had any gopher chasers, but that was to no effect.

After a couple of weeks of watching the gophers poke their heads at me from the holes they finally disappeared. I don’t know if it worked or not, but now we had what was our lawn back. We had some extra money and decided to try and reseed the lawn with some patch restoring stuff from Home Depot. I was skeptical because I had used it before and nothing worked. This time it did and what grew back was wonderful. It looked better than the sod that we had installed many years ago that’s gone over to mostly more weeds than grass due to our neighbor who rents his house out and doesn’t give a damn about his lawn and maybe come once every six months to trim the weeds down.

Now the gophers are back or at least one gopher because the damage is not as bad as before as you can see from the picture. Just to give you a little bit of history to go with this, when these homes were built there were two strips of green either side of the walkway into the house. By law you were required to have these areas planted and keep up in a nice neat fashion. This was why Dads would be out mowing the lawns on Sundays and then drinking themselves silly after they finished. That was how the old boys club worked in the Sunset district.

With the water shortage in the 70’s the city lifted several laws to conserve water and several people ripped out their lawns and put in concrete or the even more hideous white dolomite rock. Our neighbor on the corner, Mr. John Mass had the lawn on the block that he was the proudest of. He would manicure that like a golf course and never was a gopher seen on his lawn. Dogs would not even pee or poop on his lawn there was just something magical about how perfect it was. I always wanted a lawn like that.

Now I have the gophers again and I’m thinking of starting to douse the lawn with lots of weed and feed and just kill off as many weeds as possible and hopefully the gophers will go away before I have to get medieval on my end again. Then I’ll find a way to get an even larger bag of that seed mix and start all over again. If any of you out there have some sure fire remedies for getting rid of the gophers let me know [no I will not stand out there and pee down the hole as someone once suggested to me.] I’m willing to try ethical treatments as well as long as you can find one that works.