Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Embarcadero Crash and Beautiful Young People

On Saturday morning, there was a crash in front of the Embarcadero Hyatt Regency where Steuart Street makes a left turn and becomes Market Street, San Francisco's perennially grubby version of the Champs Elysees.

An historic streetcar had run into the back of a doubledecker tour bus.

The mild crash blocked bus and car traffic in both directions, and a trio of Muni drivers were standing on a corner talking with each other. "Did somebody try to play chicken with a Muni vehicle?" I asked them, and they all laughed. "That's about right!" one of them replied.

Muni drivers may have the most heroic, difficult jobs in San Francisco, dealing on an hourly basis with crazy streets, passengers, drivers, bicyclists, and now electric scooter riders.

They also get no respect, which at heart reflects San Francisco's longtime institutional racism.

Walking along the Embarcadero waterfront, we tried not to get run over by bicycles, scooters and even a pack of young, nerdy characters on motorized skateboards.

Even dodging all the vehicular traffic, the Embarcadero still knocks me out with its beauty.

We saw a quintet of friends on surfboards at McCovey Cove next to the SF Giants ballpark and what was sublime was that there was no home game that day and they had the place to themselves.

It was amusing to watch them pulling cans of beer out of their swim trunks for an impromptu day drinking session.

After watching all the many people on vehicles staring at digital devices, this group looked paradisiacal in their analog languor.

Further down the Embarcadero we went to our secret cheap waterfront German beer burger joint, that was once fashionable and no longer is so I will not name it, and were soon swarmed by a bachelor/ette party. The bride to be is pictured above.

The woman above explained that the bride-and-groom-to-be shared all the same friends, so they decided to have a bachelor party where both genders were included. "Does this have a name?" I asked them, and they replied, "No." In other words, they were inventing it and I confidently predict there will be a New York Times trends article about bi-gender bachelor/ette parties within the next five years.

The group of about 20 friends were the sweetest, cutest group imaginable, and I asked who the central character might be. "The groom," another woman told me. "The bride to be is a nurse and the groom to be is a chef, and when he invites people to an event, everyone shows up."

As we made our way home dodging all the sidewalk distractions, I predicted that we would run into somebody on an electric scooter walking a pit bull while looking at a mobile device. Instead, we ran into a rollerblader staring at his mobile phone while exercising his pit bull.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Don't Be Trashy on Earth Day

An Earth Day celebration took place a day early in Civic Center plaza on Saturday because Sunday was reserved for the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade.

At 11AM, there was a lone yoga enthusiast posed in front of a low stage...

...where a percussionist played with amplified bowls...

...while his audience showed off her flexible form.

Nearby a woman was assembling what looked like a healing circle.

Various corporate entities had booths displaying their commitment to capitalism and the environment at the same time, including Capital One which had the best T-shirts of the entire event.

Happy Earth Day to all creatures large and small, including my Palm Springs critter dude explaining the power of windmills.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Scooter Scourge

A month ago, rentable electric scooters from three different "disruptor" startups began appearing on the sidewalks of San Francisco. There was no notification of city authorities, no parking infrastructure put in place, and no rules for where you could ride them.

This meant that oblivious characters of all ages, ethnicities, and physical coordination could now use an app on their mobile devices and hop on a balancing board while motoring down a crowded sidewalk at 15 MPH. What could possibly go wrong?

Last week, during a morning rush hour, three-block walk to Caltrain on 5th Street, I was just about hit by seven different riders and watched another one wipe out and crash into a wall after being diverted by a particularly large sidewalk crack.

A tsunami of citizen complaints has spurred some City Hall politicians into expressing alarm and proposing legislation. Last week the City Attorney sent a cease and desist letter to the three companies, which they have blatantly ignored.

Sections of downtown San Francisco are already at a Manhattan level of crowding, but at least in New York City they know how to walk on crowded sidewalks without slamming into each other.

San Francisco drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists are legendarily clueless as they hurtle along blithely, often with earbuds and mobile devices in full distraction mode. Throwing electric scooters into the mix without any restrictions will simply amp up the insanity.

The probable upcoming class action lawsuits will also be legendary. People are dropping off the scooters wherever they like, including at sidewalk bus stops where people are tripping over them trying to board and unboard. A very entertaining woman in her 70s was waiting for a Market Street bus with me and was yelling, "Yes, take a picture of that damned scooter, and send it to your Supervisor. I've already been hit twice now. This is crazy."

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Snuff Films at SFMOMA

There are two major installations at SFMOMA currently featuring film and digital video. On the third floor is The Train, an examination of Robert Kennedy's funeral train carrying his assassinated body from New York City for burial in Arlington, Virginia. The starting point is a series of blurry color photographs from Paul Fusco who was commissioned by Look Magazine. Fusco rode on the train and shot the onlookers along the tracks paying tribute. French artist Philippe Parreno was so taken by the photos that he recently rented a train and hired actors in late 1960s period clothing to reenact the event in a 7-minute, 70mm art film which you can watch in a small room while laying on the floor. In another room, Dutch artist Rein Jelle Terpstra assembled 8mm footage and photos that the mourners themselves had taken of the event. The overall effect can best be described as disembodied.

On the top floor is a three-screen work by the African-born Londoner John Akomfrah called Vertigo Sea, which combines stunningly beautiful nature imagery of the ocean juxtaposed with disturbing archival and contemporary imagery of whales and polar bears being slaughtered along with references to the 19th century Middle Passage slave trade and 21st century refugees drowning in leaking boats in the Mediterranean Sea.

The 50-minute work is set to a haunting score that mixes narrated poetry and snippets from novels with music, including reworked snatches of Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

There is a sign outside the screening room warning about the shocking footage, and it should be taken seriously. I have tried to watch the work twice, and both times lasted about ten minutes. Even the artist himself can't watch it again, according to a great interview by Jonathan Curiel in the SF Weekly. “I can’t watch it anymore, because in the course of trying to finish it, I think I crossed a line. There are one or two thinkers who basically told us over and over again that there’s this stage of being, and we have for a long time believed that [humans] were the only figures in that stage. And we know that’s not true. Deep down, everybody knows this is not true. Deep down. I happen to believe it passionately now. So I can’t watch it, because I know I’m watching fragments of a genocide. That’s basically what you’re watching."

On Saturday, April 28, there will be a free all-day screening of three of Akomfrah's other art films in the Wattis Theatre. In the description of the event, I also ran across a favorite typo, referring to "Stuart Hall, the Jamaican born pubic intellectual."