Yep, I Missed It…

HerbSadly, this should have been posted on July 5th, 2013 but I missed it by a few days because I was out and about for the holiday weekend. 75 years ago Herb Caen started his legacy that formed the way a lot of us saw and remembered San Francisco through the eyes of a boy from Sacramento.

Before coming to San Francisco Herb was writing the sports column for the Sacramento Union, nowhere near as prestigious or as fun as his San Francisco columns which pulled no punches when he took on the humor of San Francisco politics, yet he never went too far in calling out the people who ran the City for the rich and stupid.

I wish Herb was alive today. I’d sit down with him at the Buena Vista over a couple of Irish Coffee’s [hold the coffee] to get his thoughts on San Francisco today. I had a dream over the weekend of what this might be like and it goes a little something like this.

Everyone in San Francisco is from somewhere else, but the problem is that nobody stays here any more. We’ve become an amusement park for the new monied elite who don’t mind sitting in front of an overpriced cafe run by a surly student drinking a $7 cup of coffee after being told that it’s so expensive because the growers were paid a fair wage oh and the beans were roasted on the thighs of a virgin in the free trade sunlight of the distant unheard of island of Tubanya.

The typical San Franciscan now hasn’t lived here for more than a year so they don’t know the weather patterns or were you can park a car or buy a beer for under $10 at a bar. San Francisco has become a long stay amusement park where people come for under a year until they’ve spent all their money on rent and food because  why cook when you can buy organic? None of them will change San Francisco or add to it, but those who have time and money invested here will change it for them.

Whoever said the best things in life are free never lived in San Francisco today. Then again, they probably never said that 100 years ago here either. People have always complained about the high rents and how expensive it is in San Francisco. They just never made the wages that they do today. The wages today are good for you and me because we have the time invested here so it’s easier for us than it is for someone who came here yesterday. Can you imagine if we made the wages of today back when we talk about a 25¢ cup of coffee? I wouldn’t have to invite myself to the Getty’s dinner parties for the free food.

Wow Herb, I don’t remember you being so grumpy…oh right, it’s my dream.

Regardless of what I think he might say today, what he said 75 years ago started something that turned San Francisco into what it has become. He weaved the history in and out of a story that he sometimes took a little bit of liberties with, but in the end he was a remarkable storyteller that brought his words to life. If you can’t find his archives through your searches at least pick up a copy of Baghdad by the Bay. It’s the book that gave these pages their name.

Juniper-Serra Or How To Talk Like A San Franciscan

How do real San Franciscan's talk?People have debated as to whether or not there is such a thing as a San Francisco accent and I wasn’t sure myself until I started announcing class in College. I was introduced to Henry Leff our teacher who showed us that there is definitely a San Francisco accent.

More so than the accent is what people talk about. If you’re from here or want to sound like you’re from here there are two questions you need to know:

1. Where are you from?

If you’re asked this it’s probably that you told a native you’re from San Francisco which comes with the follow up question, where are you from? It’s not that they didn’t hear you the first time, but that they want to know what district or area you live in. That used to tell people a lot about you, but things have changed over the years. It used to be when some one would find out my family is Italian they’d ask, are you from the Marina? Not so much anymore [yes, my family did live in the Marina before buying their house and after moving out of North Beach.] The Mission used to mean you were hispanic and not a hipster. The Sunset and Richmond meant you were a closet suburbanite with one foot in the city and one foot out. Sea Cliff, Nob Hill and Lake Street meant you had money. The next question you’ll get asked is:

2. What school did you go to?

This is important as it refers to your High School. Again, it used to mean more about who you were than it does today, but it’s still asked. It’s more important if you went to a Catholic school, but public schools told you a lot about the type of person you were. It also tells about the people you would hang out with.

3. Never call it Frisco.

This should have been first, but it’s pretty much a given. You can call it SF, you can call it the City, but you never call it Frisco. I don’t care who you are.

Now, how do San Franciscans speak? This was the tricky part. We kind of smash words together in an supercalifragilisticexpealidocious kind of way. It’s a bit of a lag and a slurring of words so that you’re not sure where one ends and the other starts. San Jose becomes san-osay and Santa Clara becomes sanna-clerah. Very little emphasis on the hyphen.

Then there is the mangling of words. You can tell how long someone has been in San Francisco by the lack of street identifiers in directions. While we have  streets and avenues that are numbered, most places you leave it out because there’s no what telling someone to go to 2nd and Howard would mean 2nd Avenue. Street number always comes before the name as well.

As for mangling names, Junipero Serra Boulevard wasn’t pronounced like it was two Spanish words until I met someone who was Hispanic that actually spoke Spanish [I’ve been here along time, can you tell?]. We always called it Juniper-serra like it was one word smashed together and no boulevard either. This comes from people who’ve been in San Francisco for many years just like the old military base is called the Persidio, not Presidio. In general Hispanic street names are fairly anglicized unless you’re Hispanic and speak Spanish on a regular basis. Taraval Street sounds Terror-vel and Quintara Street is Quin-terror not keen-tah-rah. I guess you could say we kind of talk like we’ve got marbles in our mouths a bit, but then people throw street names at us like Gough Street which is Goff, not Go.

You’ll have to find people who are at least second generation and then ask their parents to talk to experience it. Once you hear it you’ll realize that it is a kind of strange accent, but it’s just another way to tell who the true San Franciscans are.