Heart of the City Archives
Baghdad 2002
by Hank Donat

The essence of San Francisco cannot be explained in a single snapshot or with a single article, item, artifact, memory, or anecdote. Because the essence of the City is the sum of so many parts, San Francisco is America's diamond. 

San Francisco, rich with its stories stacked like a baby's brightly colored blocks, impossibly balanced on the sides of hills too steep to climb by the last century's horses or the next century's Segway scooters. The startling stories tell of kindness, drama, mystery, absurdity, and friendship among her inhabitants, the San Franciscans who live their lives as though a great adventure is unfolding. Because it is. Surrounded by the grace of San Francisco's hills and the beauty of its vistas, an adventure unfolds inside the smallest details for us, as it does for the supporting players in all eternal places.

Stepping onto the 45 bus at Columbus Avenue, a San Franciscan's head is filled with the aroma of garlic, quickly followed by an eau de reefer chaser, which proves that North Beach beats on in many directions...

On Broderick Street, a DPW employee paints the curb a kind of red that's brighter than a candy apple and richer than a fire engine. A lot of folks know the Golden Gate Bridge is painted a patented hue, International Orange, but what's the formal name of the dreaded red that says "keep looking"? They tell me it's called Traffic Red. Now you know. 

At Rose's on Union a gaggle of laid off lonelyhearts from the ad world continue their long lament that no man pleases them. Yes, ladies, everyone understands. We men are unruly beasts known to leave the seat up and open our Lifesavers from the "S" end once in a while. Until Superman comes along, Wonder Woman looks for love in another cobb salad...

A few doors down, at the 1887 Dance Shop, shopkeeper Martita Timiriasieff combs the racks for the perfect leotard. Searching by proxy for a customer on the phone, our heroine realizes the shopper is calling from the white Lexus that's idling in front of the store. Seems there are just too many gleaming Traffic Red curbs in this tony shopping district...

When I'm in this neighborhood at a certain hour of the afternoon, it's just me and the nannies waiting for a bus, along with the guy with bloodshot eyes who wants to sell us the Street Sheet. As our ominpresent homeless population reminds us, the stories of San Franciscans are often sad ones. It's sad that people in these beautiful and enlightened parts go on suffering, often addicted, hungry, mentally ill. Sadder still that the homeless situation is our endlessly political game of kick the can, and the homeless are the can  - our filthy, stinky, angry, unwanted can.

It's my first Muni junket of 2002, and an uneventful one. Two days earlier, my final Muni of 2001 broke down, up two hills and down one from home. Just when I had walked ten feet from my front door - say it with me - three buses came by. 

Seen from the Municipal Pier at sunset, a fishing boat returns to the wharf. Countless hungry gulls swarm the small craft like locusts, but the Nautical Lady pays no mind. She continues on over the bay, oblivious to the orbiting frenzy that stalks her...

At a cocktail party in Pacific Heights, a couple of monks nosh on chicken sate while a socialite whose visage has been pulled too tight reminisces with a tipsy Assembly candidate about the first time Mrs. Plastic Fantastic saw the mermaid at Bimbo's. "When I actually saw this live girl swimming in the fish tank I thought, 'I'm going home and pouring out all my vodka,'" says Mrs. P.F., dissolving into gravel-voiced laughter over her martini...

In Cow Hollow, a beautiful TV cook and her writer boyfriend sit down to a feast, impeccably prepared from Arugula to Ziti. A choir of foghorns serenades them. On Russian Hill, an aging department store clerk living in a rent controlled apartment he'd like never to leave makes himself a dinner of Ham, Cheddar, and Potato Gratin from a recipe by same said TV cook. Foghorns serenade him.

San Francisco, sometimes known as Baghdad by the Bay, would seem in need of a new handle (that would be "user name" for those born after 1975.) Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, was once renowned as a mysterious place where color and international character whirled like a dervish around a center teaming with exotic details. Today, Baghdad is a cave. It's a sign of the times that's lost on few. Fortunately, you can still call us the City on Golden Hills, the City that Knows How, or even the Paris of the Pacific, unless or until those appellations become sullied by the bad guys of the brave new world. 

Yes, it's been said that these are uncertain times, but don't tell that to Gavin Newsom. Word on the street is that the Supervisor from District 2 is the next mayor and that it's already a fait accompli, even though current mayor Willie Brown still has two years to go. Find out what San Francisco's favorite daughter, Angela Alioto, has to say about both of these guys in this space next week. 

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