Fröliche Walpurgisnacht!

Many of you are not aware of today’s festival so I will share it with you. The night before May Day was the evening of a sacred festival often portrayed as coming from the old country which usually means the under civilized parts of eastern Europe long ago, but is usually to celebrate the darkness before the light of spring.

Walt Disney took it upon himself to create a bit of a spin by associating Walpurgisnacht [also known as Hexennacht] with halloween to create a night where Satan runs amok and parties with those above ground in his symphonic masterpiece Fantasia. Walt even put a soundtrack to this evening by using Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Moussorsky to help emotionally build upon the notion of how evil tonight is supposed to be. Walt is to Walpurgisnacht as Cecil B. DeMille is to the Old Testament. More people know the story of Moses as Cecil made it than who have read about it in the bible. Of course Walt had to end it with Ave Maria so keep from turning all the kids watching into evil incarnate, but I digress. Another fun fact was that Moussorsky wrote Night on Bald Mountain originally as a celebration of the Summer Solstice.

While I don’t have definitive proof I’m fairly certain Anton LaVey was influenced by the last segment of Fantasia and it’s imagery to claim today as the starting date for his Church of Satan in 1965. So maybe even old Anton was more influenced by Walt Disney than the true folk festival that tonight is where the locals would celebrate until sun up for the first day of May so they could work off their hangovers by participating in fertility rites that they probably had done the night before, where I doubt Satan was in attendance.

The festival was accompanied by night time bonfires. If you’d like to participate I suggest you light a few torches after dark [I personally recommend Home Depot’s] and look out into the night sky and realize that tomorrow is the awakening of spring and better days are ahead.

Or if you don’t you can watch Walt’s version below 🙂

Golden Gate Park: Part Two

Now that we’ve talked about the eastern half of Golden Gate Park we can move to the west end which for me started when you cross over Transverse Drive. First stop is Lloyd Lake which also is home to the portico of a home built by Alban N. Towne that was all remained of the $80,000 mansion after the 1906 earthquake. It’s a nice peaceful place to walk without much traffic.

Across from Lloyd lake you’ll encounter Speedway Meadows which has been home to many free concerts over the years and is now home to the Outsidelands and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. For me my fondest memory was being a kid and my Mom letting me and a friend go to a free concert there. It was 1969 and the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and the Jefferson Airplane were playing there. Oddly enough that was the last show for the Jefferson Airplane to play until they came back to play there once again as the Jefferson Starship. Oh, I was seven at the time. Can you imagine a parent letting a seven year old kid go to a free concert alone in the park today?

Across from Speedway Meadows you have the Golden Gate Park Disc Golf Park which I have to say I have never been there, but now I have to check it out because playing golf with frisbees sounds like my kind of game. It looks like it takes up the wooded area to the right of Marx Meadows.

Head west and on your left you’ll find the smaller Lindley Meadow which mostly used by large groups of picnickers. I used to love that meadow until we all discovered that there are tons of wasps nests in the ground and they will inundate you once you get the BBQ going.

As you get to the end of Lindley Meadow you come to Spreckels lake and the model yacht club. When you don’t see model yachtsmen sailing their boats on the lake you’ll usually find a tow truck pulling a car out of the lake that’s been dumped there for fun by some joy riding kids on a weekend bender.

Next to the west are the buffalo. Yes, we have buffalo in the park. We used to have a pen of elk in the park next to them, but apparently during mating season the elk got a bit too frisky and would jump out of the pen. Across from the Bison Paddock while you won’t see it from JFK Drive is the Angler’s Lodge where people with fishing poles can cast their lines into empty pool to catch nothing. Beer drinking is optional.

Past that to the south are the Polo fields where the game of polo hasn’t be played since I can remember, but it has been home to the occasional concert or two. You’ll mostly find joggers running around the field doing pretty much nothing else. This was usually a good place to find teenagers drinking beer which is perfect for the police because their equestrian headquarters is right next door.

Now as you start to head west towards the beach you’ll notice things get a bit more peaceful and calm. This part of the park is mostly open space with the largest part being taken up by the Golden Gate Park Golf Course. This is the “poor people’s” golf course in that it won’t cost you an arm and a leg or a membership fee to play a round if you’re into that. I have friends who have been trying to get me to go with them to play golf there, but I haven’t been tempted yet. Now that I know about the Ironwood BBQ that’s on the course, I might change my mind.

Lastly there are the Soccer Fields that I have yet to see a game there and the Queen Willhelmina Tulip Garden which is undergoing some much needed redevelopment. It was a nice place back in the day, but it definitely needs some work now.

If you’ve come this far you can stop at the Beach Chalet and eat up before catching a few waves and heading back home.

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Golden Gate Park: Part One

I’m not sure how Golden Gate Park slipped off my radar in the past because it’s the largest attraction in San Francisco and houses some of the best places to visit in San Francisco, so today, we’re taking a trip to the park.

Built in 1893 as the home base for the 1894 Mid Winter Fair [San Francisco’s first world’s fair] the park was a masterpiece of architectural engineering because after all, it was built on the drifting sands of the outside lands. Golden Gate park is not only the largest park in San Francisco, but in comparison is three times the size of New York’s Central Park.

When it was built the contractors had the idea of putting in easy to care for trees that grew quickly and could be used for lumber. So they chose the eucalyptus tree because of its history. Unfortunately they chose the wrong species and planted lots of blue gum eucalyptus that are of no use to the lumber industry because of their high resin content, but they do give the park a distinct odor in the springtime through fall somewhere between urinal cake and mouthwash.

The park’s main gathering place is the Music Concourse which is flanked by the California Academy of Sciences and DeYoung Museum and Japanese Tea Garden. The stage which is the centerpiece is called the Spreckels Temple of Music, which has been home to thousands of bands in the 60’s-80’s as well as the centerpiece for the stand up comedy competition that drew thousands of people from all over the world and turn the park into more of a roadblock on some weekends.

East of the Concourse is the Conservatory of Flowers which is a pleasant trip, but you can enjoy the flowers and plants outside as well as the adjacent Dalhia Garden for free. Across the street from there and a short jog are the tennis courts, DeLavega Memorial Garden and the Koret Children’s playground. The Playground is an interesting stop as it is huge and hold’s a merry go round and miniature train kids can ride as well as two marble slides that park and rec workers used to keep in shape by sliding down on waxed paper to keep them smooth and give your kids a fast ride down into the sand pile. There is also across from the playground a lawn bowling area which is similar to bocce ball, but apparently with an attitude as there are signs that remind you that bocce ball is not allowed. That’s a bit of a shame since I haven’t seen a single person lawn bowling there for years on the well kept lawns.

Tomorrow I’ll continue on with the western park of the park that has places known to many, but other places that make up the quieter end of the park a special getaway.

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Things you need to know about unemployment.

I really like to devote this space to San Francisco, but there are a few things that come up that make me have to turn away for a moment. Today that’s unemployment. There’s a dirty little secret that the unemployment office doesn’t want you to know and today I’m going to tell you what that is.

As the regulars around here know I’ve been unemployed for quite some time. I was working for a company last year that hired me through the jobsnow program that repaid my employer for my salary because I was an unemployed Dad. The program ended on September 30th, 2010 and wasn’t set for renewal so I once again became unemployed along with a quarter of million other people. I reapplied for unemployment not sure what would happen and it turned out they reopened my previous claim.

I continued looking for work, but I was only able to find 3-4 jobs a week to send my resumes to. I received a letter from EDD shortly after January 1st 2011 telling me that a new claim had been opened for me because I had new wages to base the claim on. It turns out that I started to get about $40 more a week that I was getting before so we were in a bit of a better place.

I continue looking for work and suddenly find that the 3-4 jobs a week had turned in to 5-6 jobs a day. Now I’m starting to get calls back and even an interview or two. Then at the beginning of this month I received a letter from EDD telling me that my benefits have run out. Well that’s happened to lots of people. That’s what all the benefit extensions we’ve been hearing about mean right? WRONG. In my case because I did indeed work last year and became unemployed and the EDD automatically filed a new claim for me based on my new earnings that gave me more money I still didn’t have enough money banked to cover my first 26 weeks of unemployment therefore I have been cut off for the rest of the year from receiving unemployment insurance.

I have filed an appeal, but even in talking to someone at the EDD office they told me that if you run out of money before your initial 26 weeks has finished that you are cut from receiving any more unemployment benefits for that year. I am not someone who is trying to cheat the system. I have been looking for work and there is no where on the EDD website where it says you need to cover your first 26 weeks or you will be dropped for the rest of your benefit year from receiving benefits.

This is the dirty little lie that no one wants you to know. I see the 99ers screaming about how they’ve been collecting benefits for 99 weeks and are now being cut because they’ve run out of extensions. I was 12 weeks into my claim and now I’m cut off for the rest of the year. Luckily things for me are looking up in the economy, but if I get a job that lasts only a few weeks or months I still can’t get unemployment again because what I earn won’t go on record until next year.

Luckily I have a good chance coming up with a very stable company that should work in my favor if I can get it. Keep your fingers crossed for me.


Mobile Foods/Mobile Phones

I stopped working downtown too soon. It wasn’t my choice, but I missed the first rush of the new sensation that’s sweeping San Francisco and everyone’s smartphone — food trucks. I’m not talking the old beat up taco trucks that you used to see in Oakland, but these are upscale trucks serving upscale food and the best way to find out about where they are in on you smartphone.

Here’s how it works. You pull out your mobile phone and download a Twitter app. Then you find and follow all the trucks around San Francisco. They really are more SF and the peninsula than just SF, but they seem to be focused around San Francisco at least a couple of days a week.

If you want to be an über-cool techie hipster geek you’ll get Eat Street which gives you a map that’s based on their GPS so you can see where they are when you want to get food. I use both because I like to talk back to the people to try and get them out to the Sunset and Richmond on sunny weekends [WHICH WE DO HAVE!!!!]

You can find more than just tacos and burritos now. We’ve got BBQ places that are cooking up some smoky goodness. Curry Up Now that  does burritos with an Indian twist [aweeesome!], Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches left and right. Pretty much if you can think of a food there’s someone out there in a truck that will sell it to you.

One of the best places to try and fill your food truck craving is Off The Grid that’s held in many places around San Francisco, but Fort Mason [5pm-10pm Fridays] seems to be what everyone is talking about because that hosts the most trucks [up to 30] and tents. I was down at Fort Mason one night and happened to see a huge amount of trucks out there with an even huger amount of people wandering around. The smell of all the different trucks wafting up through the open window just pulled me towards the trucks during a break. I think I ended up spending a little over $20 getting the small sampler plates as I call them from several of the trucks.

This was definitely some good food and I wish that we could get more of them to try coming out to Ocean Beach because on a sunny day there isn’t anything going on there to feed people. The biggest problem is that we usually know about a sunny day out here with about 15 minutes in advance. Most of the trucks have websites where you can check where they’re going to be that week if you don’t have a smartphone.

Food trucks are gaining more ground in San Francisco now that the city has made it easier for them to do business. Because they don’t have to pay rent it’s cheaper for them to operate which is bad for brick and mortar businesses, but good for you and me because they can produce the food cheaper. Check them out NOW!

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Gardening in San Francisco

San Francisco is composed of four separate microclimates. I as you all know live in the fog belt. For a short six years I lived in the banana belt which the hipsters call the mission. Herein lies a problem if you own a house or rent one and want your backyard to look pretty.

My father used to get up on weekends, eat breakfast and go out into the yard about 10am and he wouldn’t come back until 4pm. I am not like my Dad. I am what you’d call the lazy man’s gardener. I don’t like going out every day and pulling weeds. Getting a hose down to the bottom of our 100′ backyard is a pain in the ass because of all the stuff that my Dad added in to our terraced backyard.

When my parents bought the house the backyard was pretty much flat and sand. My dad used to talk about how he’d take the dog and toss it over the back fence and let it run wild in the sand dunes that were behind us. San Francisco dirt is pretty much sand unless you bring it in from somewhere else, which is what my parents would do.

I think they spent the better part of a year driving to Muir Woods and digging up dirt and bringing it home in bags so that the water would stay in the soil for more than a couple of minutes. Still, while my Dad was a great gardner, he really sucked at landscaping. He was one of those, here’s dirt let’s stick a plant in it. That didn’t always work for him.  Well, most of the time it didn’t work for him unless you’re talking about the raised beds he built around the perimeter.

What he left us was basically a weed strewn sandy mess. We tried all kinds of plants. Foxgloves looked pretty good, but they died every year and you had to pull the remains out and replant. Annuals were not for us. We got an idea one day when we were looking at this tiny abused succulent called an Aeonium. We bought it in a tiny pot when we lived closer to the beach and stuck it in our window and forgot about it. It never grew because we hardly ever remembered to water it, but it wouldn’t die so decided to send it off to the graveyard for plants or what you would call, the backyard.

Oddly enough, the fog belt agreed with the aeonium. We didn’t have to water it because of the fog and rains so it started to grow. It moved up to 5″ pot, then a 10″ then finally to an 18″. During this time the winds had blown the pots over several times and broken off pieces. We just stuck those in the dirt of the bulkhead and they started to grow too.

Then my wife got the idea of taking the remains of the jade plants my Dad had in the front and putting them out in back. The brick bulkhead my Dad had built suddenly changed and became alive. The succulents started to grow and multiply filling in the entire bulkhead. We started to move them off to the sides and added landscape ground cover and blue river rocks to keep the weeds out.

Now our work is finished for the most part. We do have to go out a couple of times a year and spray some Round up to kill the weeds that sprout up on top of the landscape fabric, but we now have healthy plants that take little care. I kind of miss the citrus trees that we used to have out in the mission, but Meyer’s Lemon trees do hold up out here in the fog belt if you pay some attention to them. For now we’re happy with our succulents that don’t take much care. I may be a lazy gardener, but that at least looks better than our neighbors who hang their granny panties to dry on the clothesline in their sandy weed infested backyard.


Exploratorium: Hippy Cool

OK, I’m sure you’re asking what I mean by that headline. It’s not Hip & Cool, but Hippy Cool. That was a snobbish term I used as a kid to describe this museum because at the time the Hippies didn’t have a lot of money, but had some cool ideas so as a kid the Exploratorium had the look of an unfinished museum that was run by people who were at the time, well, hippie-ish.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing I soon discovered. Finished proper upscale museums that attracted the type of people who wore $2000 suits to drink champagne and say how much they loved science while getting their pictures taken and then went home to their Pacific Heights mansions never to be seen among the unwashed masses didn’t used to come here. That’s a good thing because science is a dirty thing. Just watch an episode of Bones or CSI and real scientists deal with some very gnarly stuff on a daily basis.

I think I learned this at a young age when I went to the Exploratorium and got to meet up with a Scatologist who was showing off some animal poop and then tearing it apart to tell us all what the animal had eaten. Gee, you can actually make money doing this? Then there was the Ornithologist who actually got me to help him pull apart owl pellets [that’s what owls barf up after they’ve eaten] to see if I could guess what the owl had eaten [I was right, it was a gopher.]

This was science that you could touch and were encouraged to touch. The floor back then was unfinished concrete and the place looked like a warehouse, but each exhibit was something you were encouraged to interact with and for a kid I liked that. I didn’t like the lectures where a scientist would hold up bottles of enbalmed dead things and then talk for an hour or two. I liked it when the scientists invited me to come closer and touch the junk they were playing with.

In the early days a lot of the things were donated from people such as their audio section that had an old theremin that had been donated along with xylophones and harps. They weren’t always up to snuff, but when you’re a kid you don’t really care if it’s in tune or if one of the keys is chipped. You got to bang on it and that for a kid was fun.

I think the biggest thing that kept me coming back was the tactile dome where you’re put into a large dark room with stuff in it. You don’t know what the stuff is, but because you can’t see it you have to use your hands to figure out what it is and if you can’t you have to use your imagination to try and figure out what your hands are touching.

The Exploratorium gave kids examples of science that they could go home and try for themselves, much to the chagrin of their parents. I remember filling soda bottles with sugar, yeast and water and sticking a balloon on top to watch it inflate and that was cool. I remember using potatoes to make a battery. I also learned that if you mix hydrochloric acid and lye together that you would end up with salt water, though my mom wouldn’t let me try that at home. I think that the Exploratorium brought the sciences to the masses better than any other museum because it handed them to you in a way you could relate to.

While it isn’t cheap any more it’s still half the price of the California Academy of Sciences and you’ll get more for your money there and you might get to ride a bicycle until you can light up a bulb or at the very least learn why people fart.

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Work is Coming Back to San Francisco!

I have to say that the past couple of years have been rough. Jobs have been disappearing left and right and it’s hard for me to name a time when I can remember working a 40 hour week. Most of the jobs I’ve had in the last 4 years have been 40 hours a week when I started, but quickly moved down to 20-30 sometimes 15 hours a week.

The bosses at those jobs used to use the trick of telling me I sucked at what I was doing in order to fire me so they wouldn’t have to pay into unemployment, but I won out every time and those companies have all gone out of business.

In the last couple of years I would search for jobs daily and if I was lucky I would find three, maybe four jobs a week. Over the last month though I am beginning to find 30-40 jobs a week and I’m actually getting calls for interviews. I’ve got three interviews scheduled this week plus freelance work that’s come out of nowhere to add more change in my pocket.

I even had an interview today and they actually said that if I was hired they would include health benefits. Now how weird is that for a company in San Francisco? This wasn’t a health insurance plan that was a company of five doctors that you got to choose from, but an actually real big overpriced health insurance company that my prospective employers actually pays part of the premium like they’re supposed to, not tell the government they are, but charge it all to the employee like many have done to me in the past.

Now that fact that I’ve sent out my resume to 120-160 jobs in the last month and I’m still not employed may seem like something wrong with me, but there are lots of people who don’t have jobs and as my wife said to me today, Well, if you don’t get it, that at least means there will be less people in the pool for other jobs you find. I hadn’t thought about that, but I think she’s right.

There are lots of people who have been down and out in San Francisco over the lack of jobs, but now that our new Mayor Ed Lee is extending local tax breaks to businesses [which there are hardly any cities that charge a payroll tax on businesses] it looks like things are turning up for us. San Francisco is a damn expensive place to live in not just with housing, but also with the fact that a trip to the store revealed Oscar Mayer bacon is selling for $8.99 a pound. I don’t want to sound like an old curmudgeon, but I remember 15 years ago when that was $1.99 a pound. Of course back then I was eating rib eye steaks and filet mignon for around $4.99 and I didn’t have to go to Costco to get it.

Good times are ahead for us and don’t let them get you down.

Andronico’s: The Foodie’s Grocery Store

I’ve always said that some day I want to have a job where I can make enough money that I could shop only at Andronico’s. That doesn’t mean I would only shop there, but this is the store that has the biggest selection of foods that you won’t find at your local Safeway or Lucky’s and to top it off the quality of their foods are much higher than at regular chain grocers.

The outside is fairly plain and unassuming, but when you walk in from the street you get this kind of heaven’s opening, angel’s singing kind of feeling and you’re just looking at the produce, but the way it looks even a die hard carnivore would want to dive into it.

Make a right turn and you get to see their serve it yourself take out area where they have the usually comfort foods of fried chicken and mashed potatoes mixed in with ribs, thai curries, indian curries, soup and more. Whoever planned this layout deserves a medal because the smell of food that surrounds you just makes you salivate and want to eat.

They have a special cheese section across from the wonderful deli where a cheese specialist can match you up with the right cheese for any occasion. The deli is no slouch either. They’ve to top shelf deli meats, handmade sandwiches on ciabatta rolls and caviar out on display. Yep, this will cost you. Not in a Whole Foods kind of way, but it’s still a couple of bucks more than the major chains.

I have to say though that it’s worth it. I’ve been to Molly Stone’s and Whole Foods and while they’re nice, they’re small and usually crowded with hipsters. Andronico’s is big so they get to carry a lot of stuff and when you’re walking around the aisles it’s kind of like a treasure hunt to see what new you’ll find there. They have what seems like hundreds of different types of olive oil as well as other oils I never knew existed [cold pressed organic avocado oil anyone?] Expect to see labels with words like organic, artisinal, free range all over the place.

The spices and sauces aisles are mind boggling. I didn’t know there were that many different types of salt. I knew about french grey salt, hawaiian salt, but I stopped counting after finding salts from over 15 different countries. If you like hot sauces you’ve got a huge selection with Ass in Space being an interesting name for a hot sauce.

So what do you get for this higher price? Space. No one’s pushing you around or the people at my local store who I want to scream WALK DON’T BLOCK at who need ten minutes to decide which can of condensed milk they want to buy. You get top quality meats and produce [which the produce lately at the major chains has been severely lacking.] You get clerks and checkers that remember you and that English is a first language. Every time I go in there Bobby in the meat department still remembers me when I had hair down to my waist and he always asks how Becca is doing. The people are friendly who work there without the smugness that they work in a gourmet food center like two other places I’ve mentioned.

Andronico’s is one of the few markets where I can casually walk around at ease without feeling like I’m in a Soviet era store where people are fighting over the food. Check them out please and be sure to tell them I sent you.

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Ghirardelli Square: Chocolaty Goodness

While most people who come to Ghirardelli Square see a collection of shops and restaurants it was originally the home to the Pioneer Woolen Mills before Domenico Ghirardelli purchased it and set up his chocolate making shop. The main focus of the square is the Ghirardelli Chocolate shop that gave the shopping center its name. While the date isn’t properly known, it was sometime in the late 1800’s that Domenico bought and opened up shop in this place.

In the early 1960’s the chocolate making operation moved to San Leandro and there was a chance that the GSQ as they refer to it now would be demolished. Thanks to the hard work of San Francisco Citizens the place was given a makeover adding shops and restaurants and reopened in 1964 with the chocolate shop still intact even if the chocolate wasn’t made there anymore.

For me, I have a fond remembrance of the chocolate shop as a kid because my family started a tradition around Christmas time of driving around the city to see all the big houses that were lit up for Christmas ending the evening with a trip to Ghirardelli’s chocolate shop for a sundae. My favorite was always the Tin Roof which was a basic hot fudge sundae with Spanish peanuts on top.

The businesses have come and gone over the years, but the chocolate shop still remains with the vaguely medieval stone chocolate conche device in the back grinding the warmed roasted cocoa beans, sugar and cocoa butter releasing the volatiles and acids of the chocolate that gives the room its distinct scent that you’ll never forget.

Chocolate snobs connoisseurs will argue over what type of chocolate is the best. Most prefer hand made artisanal chocolate that’s made by impoverished South American’s that are paid a fair trade price for their organic beans. I honestly have no idea where this not quite hand made but not quite fully mass produced chocolate comes from, but it definitely has it’s own taste unlike other chocolates such as Neuhaus or Perugina. It’s not of the chocolate truffle variety. It’s just plain old chocolate. Not much fancy added to it, just milk, dark and now they’ve started adding nuts and a few other things to expand their line up. They don’t tell you the percentage of cacao in each bar it’s just dark or milk and it’s damn good chocolate.

I suppose I should talk about a few things there other than the chocolate shop, but that should really be the main reason for going. More recently the shops have become more food oriented to attract the foodie crowd which in my opinion is a good thing. They have a downstairs indoor shopping mart so to speak that is flanked on the sides by snack places serving upscale versions of common fare such as Pomme Frites and Yap’s Wraps. It’s a good place to stop buy for a nosh, but you have to make a stop by the chocolate shop.

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