Three Dot Journalism

Herb Caen BustA friend of mine asked me about the term three dot journalism the over the weekend realizing that I now had something else to explain to people besides Baghdad by the Bay. It was a term coined by Herb Caen to describe his style of writing and it stuck with him to the point that Herb Caen Way… in San Francisco even had the three dots after the name.

Asking my wife, the writer, for a bit of background information, she mentioned that the three dots [called an ellipsis to English teachers just to make you feel stupid, but had no other use] was a technique used by writers to separate the end of one thought they had written before starting the next thought. It was a sort of sledgehammer way of saying I’m done and now I’m moving on. I’m not sure if it’s used much anymore, but it was not long ago because on a Macintosh computer if you hold down the option and his the semi colon you’ll get … .

Herb’s columns had a lot of information on a lot of topics so it seemed fitting to separate them so people reading the column wouldn’t get lost. If you want to see an example of three dot journalism today you’ll have to ready Willie Brown’s Sunday column in the Chronicle. He’s taken to the topic like a pro. Say what you will about Willie, but he’s the closest thing we have to Herb Caen today. Yes, there is Carl Nolte who also writes for the Chronicle, but Carl is focused on the old times of San Francisco that Herb Caen wrote about when they were new. Willie is continuing on to write about current news and his somewhat opinionated take on it. I look forward to reading Willie’s column every week. Sometimes I even agree with him.

Herb Caen would talk about politics, then … then a trip to the symphony … then a guy who he ran into at lunch that asked him a question he had to think about until he got back to the office and wrote about it then … then something else entirely. Everything was different, every day was different, but the three dots held it all together. It was the glue that made it a newsworthy column and not just the ramblings of boy from Sacramento who was enthralled with the city of San Francisco.

Defenestration To Be Demolished?

Defenestration HouseI’ve always loved the word defenestration. My fourth grade teacher Ms. Hallacker used to say it when kids in the class didn’t behave the way she wanted them to but since we were fourth graders we didn’t know that defenestration meant being thrown out of a window. Since it was only boys she would yell, I’m going to defenestrate you! and the word rhymed with castration we all assumed the worst. Every boy understands castration for some reason.

This memory leads me to a building at 6th and Howard that has been an art project since 1997. This date surprised me since I felt like it had been there much longer than that. Brian Goggin created the work and now the city is having talks about demolishing the abandon building with furniture and appliances stuck all over the outside. It’s a sparse minimalistic work that unfortunately [in my mind] doesn’t live up to it’s potential. The best way to see it is from the street which means that you have to drive by it or get hit by cars and that only gives you a few seconds to take in the bizarreness of the place.

Your other option is to stand across the street or right underneath some of hangings, but then you can’t really take it all in at it’s best. The objects stuck onto the side of the large building are rather small and appear at times to get lost in the wash of despair of the emptiness of the abandon building. Geez, I’m beginning to sound like an art critic now. I suppose college did pay off for me.

The city is debating whether or not to demolish the building possibly to replace it with mid-market condos. No one’s saying what might go there yet, but the sad story is that to many destroying public artwork will bring the area up. Not so much for the artwork, but the fact that it’s art on a decaying building that could get more use than being an empty shell. If you think about it, it’s probably one of the most expensive artwork installations in the world given what San Francisco real estate goes for even in the bad parts of town.

I tried to do some digging to get more information on the piece, but other than a sparse website, like the artwork itself it’s tough to find anything. I was hoping that Herb Caen had something to say about it, but he died just before the piece was finished, though I won’t make any correlations between the two events. Overall I think it is a piece of art that has outlived its time in San Francisco and if it were to reappear then I think they should find a smaller place where you could add more stuff falling out of windows and better viewing angles to encourage people to be able to appreciate it more.

Buena Vista Cafe: The San Francisco Treat

The Buena Vista and Irish Coffee have become an icon of San Francisco history. While Irish Coffee originated in Ireland, it was refined to perfection at the Buena Vista on the Wharf which is still the best place to sit and enjoy a glass looking out over the bay.

The trick in making a proper Irish Coffee starts with the glass. It is a 6 oz glass as you see in the picture. 6 oz being the optimal amount to perfectly mix all of the ingredients and the Buena Vista seems to have a lock on these glasses. I luckily have a few from the 50’s that my parents picked up when they were all the rage.

You start by pouring hot water into the glass to heat it up to a proper temperature then pour the water out and fill the glass with coffee to about 3/4’s full. Add two cubes of sugar and a shot of Jameson’s Irish whiskey, no other whiskey will do. The secret technique which took a few years for Jack Koeppler and Stanton Delaplane to figure out was how to keep the cream from sinking to the bottom. It turns out that aging the cream for about 48 hours and briskly frothing it made it float. You would then pour it over the back of a spoon to neatly let it float on top creating a drink of Ireland that was inherently native to San Francisco.

While the Buena Vista sell’s Irish Coffee glasses to the public for $5.95 each, those aren’t the real Irish Coffee glasses of legend. There is no handle on them and they appear more goblet-like than the originals. Apparently what makes this drink taste so good is the glass. At least that’s what people have been saying recently. I’m not sure if that’s true or not which means I’ll have have to pull out a bottle of Jameson’s and brew up some coffee and do a taste test.

Probably the two people who helped make the Buena Vista and Irish Coffee well known as the “San Francisco Drink” were Stanton Delaplane and Herb Caen, though Herb often ordered, “Irish Coffee, hold the coffee”. For those who don’t recognize the name Stanton Delaplane, he was one of Herb Caen’s co-horts at the S.F. Chronicle and if I remember correctly Herb’s column was on one side and Stanton’s was on the other.

As a kid I looked up to these two because they made San Francisco more than it was. They were old school, kind of like Sean Connery was old school Bond compared to Timothy Dalton who’s now old without the school. That’s probably why I liked things like scotch and vodka martini’s before I was old enough for people to think I should be drinking them. Irish Coffee is one of those old school drinks that I think needs to make a comeback with the vodka and redbull crowd. Irish Coffee was the vodka and redbull of the old days. It turned you into a wide awake drunk so that maybe you’d remember how stupid you acted the night before.

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Why is it called Baghdad by the Bay?

I was asked by a friend working in Kuwait the other day why I chose the name “Baghdad by the Bay” for my site. I realized that while almost everyone in the Bay Area knows about Herb Caen who dubbed San Francisco with that name, there might be people outside of the San Francisco Bay Area who don’t know or understand why he came up with that name for San Francisco. Well, I figured it would only be fitting to let Herb explain it for himself so Herb will be our guest blogger for today. I’m sure he’d hate being called that since he never in the 60+ years that he was a news reporter ever used a computer and was proud of his “loyal royal” typewriter that he used from the beginning.

Herb was also known for making the statement, “One day if I do go to heaven, I’m going to do what every San Franciscan does who goes to heaven. I’ll look around and say, ‘it ain’t bad. but it ain’t San Francisco.'”

Please note that Herb died in 1997 so some of the references are a little out of date, but cut him some slack. Herb you may now take over the blog:

Hello, Visitors!

By Herb Caen

Greetings and welcome to San Francisco, city of the world, worlds within a city, forty-nine square miles of ups and downs, ins and outs, and going around in circles, most of them dizzy. A small “d” democratic city run by big-buck conservatives, a place where the winds of freedom will blow your mind and your hat off, where eccentricity is the norm and sentimentality the ultimate cynicism. Cable cars and conventions, boosterism living uncomfortably with sophistication, a built-in smugness announcing simply that we are simply the best. The only city better than San Francisco today was San Francisco yesterday–maybe. Remember, visitors, that you are lucky to be here. Have fun. Spend money. Marvel at our giddy combination of Kookville and High Kultur, busyness and booziness, millionaires stepping daintily over passed-out winos, hot-pantzed ladies of the night throwing themselves at your passing car. Enjoy yourselves, but don’t stay too long. Parking is such street sorrow.

Years ago, this wide-eyed kid from Sacramento dubbed it Baghdad-by-the-Bay, a storybook city of spires and minarets, gay banners fluttering in the breeze. A viewtiful city, he called it, a Saroyanesque pastiche of lovable gamblers and boozy bohemians spouting half-aphorisms in saloons run by patrician publicans. The most beautiful bay in the world–only superlatives were accepted–was breasted by ferries that looked like Victorian mansions with sidewheels. Then came the greatest bridges in the world–“the car-strangled spanner” of the bay and Joe Strauss’s suspenseful “bridge that couldn’t be built.” We looked around at the wonderful, funderful city and we were proud to be San Franciscans, the envy of all.

San Francisco, Queen City of the Pacific (the title was once non-ironic), gleaming jewel of the West Coast, surrounded on three sides by water and on the fourth by Republican reality. Occasionally a Republican mayor sneaks in, but it is essentially a city that votes the straight Demo ticket. I don’t even know how they get people to run for mayor: who wants to be Chief Kook of Kookville? We have a city father who is an unmarried mother of two and a gay seat on the Board of Supes, as befits the new demographics. San Francisco has a large gay population, and it keeps increasing, although exactly how gays multiply has not been explained. Nothing is ever explained in San Francisco.

“The city that was never a town.” There’s a thought that appeals to San Franciscans. Will Rogers may or may not have said it, but the phrase does conjure up a flash of the crazed and crazy place that was born in a Gold Rush and grew up overnight to become a fabled city. Tip to visiting journalists: “The coldest winter I ever spent was one summer in San Francisco” was one of the best lines Mark Twain never wrote, but who cares. Whoever said it was accurate enough.

Welcome visitors, to a city as confusing as the Democratic party. If you drive, don’t drink, but the driving will drive you to drink. We are casual about street signs, but you might find one if you look hard enough. Directions? Forget it, and don’t ask whatever looks like a resident. He won’t know either. If you keep going on a one-way street, you will soon come to another one-way street with traffic coming right at you. That’s what makes us colorful and our insurance rates the highest. Don’t worry about traffic lights. Green and red both mean go like hell; in fact you cross on the green at your own risk. Another tip: No Parking Any Time means park any time, usually on the sidewalk and sometimes on a pedestrian. There are a lot of tow-away zones, so check the signs. It is maddening to pay $60 to ransom your car from a towing company whose slogan is “Discover San Francisco”.

San Francisco, a city for all seasons (sometimes four in one day) and various reasons. A city that thinks nothing of spending $60 million to rebuild a cable car system that was obsolete a century ago and even less of letting drunks lie on the street as long as they aren’t in the way of the cables; “a sociological, not a police problem,” unquote. A city of soup kitchens and two thousand restaurants, some of them excellent and most of them crowded. A place where whites are a minority and “the largest Chinatown outside of the Orient” is no longer large enough. The mayor and both congressmen are Jewish women; do we need a Yenta Control Board?

So welcome, dear visitors, to Crazytown USA. You will either be crazy about it or become as crazy as the rest of us. Either way, may you all return safely to your funny country, that large land mass slightly to the right of Baghdad-by-the-Bay.

Thanks Herb, see you over at the Washbag later.

End of the Year post

In a lot of ways this year has been fun and not fun. While I haven’t been employed much and lost my last close relative this year, it’s also given me a sense of freedom. Our costs are down, we own our home and I’ve been able to share the things I like and dislike about San Francisco with all of you.

I’ll be continuing my work on the blog and finding new and inventive ways to make money in the coming year. I don’t expect to be the Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs of 2011, but I know it’s going to get better for me, you, all of us. I love all the comments I’ve been getting on Facebook from my friends who enjoy my writing. I just ask that maybe once in awhile, you post the comment here too [thanks Steve Lai and Mike Gunn who’ve taken that to heart!]

In the coming year you’ll see some changes such as the look and feel of the site will change a bit, I’ll get [hopefully] an Owle Bubo to better hold my iPhone camera for better pics and video and I’m hoping to get outside the Sunset District a little bit more. I want to bring more of the city to all of you and I like the feedback you’ve been giving me.

If you are a local business and would like to help me out by being a sponsor, contact me. You’ll get more than just what is seen under “Our Sponsors”. I’ll make you a professional banner ad for the sidebar free of charge, so if you’re interested, let’s talk.

Also keep in mind if you’re one of the smartphone types that I do have a mobile web app available if you just shoot a picture of the QR code [those funny pixels over to the right for those who don’t know about QR codes] with your phone you won’t have to type all those letters to get to the site and you can save it on your phone so that you can instantly access the latest news I have to offer.

Lastly, if you own a company that needs help with marketing, social networking, graphic design, website design or have some audio/video needs then contact me. My family would really like to see me have a job again.

Cheers! Don’t get too drunk tonight!

Edsel Ford Fong: The World’s Rudest Waiter

I had to go back a couple of decades to remember this, but it was in the early 80’s when I was out with some college friends looking for something cheap to eat. Some one suggested we go to Sam Wo’s. Sam Wo’s is in the heart of Chinatown right around the corner from Ed Jew’s Flower shop. It’s a kind of dodgy looking place since when you walk inside you’re in the kitchen and have to make a sharp right to go up the stairs to get a seat.

The people working there give you kind of strange looks except for Edsel. If you weren’t Chinese he saw you as fresh meat. This was my first time there around 1981 and I remember ordering sweet and sour pork. “You boring, why white people always order the only chinese dish they know. At least you didn’t order chow mein!” That was my response. I then made the mistake of asking for a coke. “No coke, only water. You want coke you go across street and buy it.” Little did I know, Edsel wasn’t kidding.

Two of us walked across the street to a little liquor store and got sodas for all of us and we came back in 5 minutes and the food was on the table. About every 5 minutes Edsel would come by and ask if we were finished. Finally I guess we were finished as Edsel began to take our plates. One of my friends Dan tried to take his plate back. Bad move. Edsel smacked his hand and walked off in a huff with his plate. Part of me wonders if when Edsel wasn’t working if he lost his broken English Chinese accent, but I’ll never know now.

Now some of you are thinking, why would I possibly want to write about a guy so rude. After awhile I kind of got it. Sam Wo’s isn’t much to speak of and Edsel was more putting on a show for non-Chinese people who would venture into Chinatown. Herb Caen used to eat there and he’d always post whatever insult Edsel had offered the night before and Edsel would hold up the column and proudly display it to the customers. It was his schtick and it worked. I was visiting a friend at work around the corner one day and walked past Sam Wo’s and thought of going in and having lunch. But without Edsel being there it’s just Chinese food and no entertainment.