Heart of the City Archives
Question: When is a Hulk not a Hulk?
by Hank Donat

In the city of St. Francis, things are often not as they appear. It's always a sunny day in the postcards, with the obvious exception of those that celebrate the dramatic moods of our incoming fog. The fact that it's cold here in the summer always seems to take tourists by surprise. They're famous for their Bermuda shorts and goose bumps. People from rectangular states come here looking for Knots Landing, but they won't find it in the Marina in the middle of July.

You won't find any cigars at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store cafe in North Beach, either, but you can buy one across the street at Coit Liquors. If you're looking for an Italian coffee house with great character it's Mario's. A mark of an authentic Italian-style coffee house is heated milk. They don't do this in coffee houses south of Broadway. Mario's heats the milk - excellent coffee, too. But you won't find a cigar. You'll find a lovely view of Washington Square, which has a statue of Benjamin Franklin, not George Washington. But there are no cigars at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store cafe.

Caution Turn Ahead: If you leave North Beach Pizza bound for Coit Tower it might not occur to you to cross the street and take the No. 39 bus going down the hill to get to your destination, which looms high above you. If you do get on the 39 going in the wrong direction, stay to the end of the line. There, you can visit the sea lions of Seal Rocks, which have long since moved to Pier 39. That's another puzzle, and I'm not even talking about the difference between seals and sea lions. And while I'm on the animal kingdom; our charming flock of fowl known as the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill actually spends an awful lot of time in Cow Hollow. Mark Bittner, who feeds the parrots, confirms it's the same flock. He's writing a book about the birds.

When San Francisco appears in director Ang Lee's The Hulk, currently filming in the City and elsewhere in the Bay Area for release in 2003, the Hulk will burst through the ground and topple a cable car at Vallejo and Sansome Streets. There's no cable car line at Vallejo and Sansome, but that's Hollywood. Besides, there's no Hulk, either. He's CGI - a rage metaphor who's virtual! Perhaps that makes for an appropriately postmodern Hulk, but one question lingers. If he bursts through the ground and topples a cable car, where's the cable? There was no sign of one on the set of the cable car sequence last week. Along with a rigged-up three-quarter scale cable car, there were lots of extras dressed as army soldiers and a couple of S.W.A.T. vehicles. Leah Lentini, a vacationing Boston probation officer, points out that S.W.A.T. is not a function of the military.

Celia Sack and Paula Harris last week celebrated three years in business with their pet shop, Noe Valley Pet Company on Church Street, but that's not what it seems either. Three years in recent economies are 21 in dog years for our independent businesses. Hats off. Sunny Celia says she's learned to tolerate economic flux just as she's learned to be patient with dog owners' unanswerable questions such as, "Will my dog like this?" and "How long will it take my dog to eat this?" For the record, Sack says it all depends on whether you have a Chihuahua or great Dane and even then you might have a hungry Chihuahua or a great Dane who's full.

From the outside, Muni car #5148 looks just like any other, a run-of-the-mill, white-and-orange 45-Union. A closer look reveals a dubious distinction. Coach #5148 is the only bus in the entire fleet with carpeted seats! If you're not at all phobic about germs it's fun to see the coach. Driver Winston Chang says the carpeting is a source of discomfort for riders in warm weather but is fine when it's cold - you know, in the summertime.

Others are writing and many more are commiserating that San Francisco has fumbled and fallen, lost its luster, its spirit, its magic. The city of St. Francis was chewed up by dot comers and spit out I'm told. Local author Rachel Pepper writes San Francisco magazine to say the city has lost its soul. Bruce Bellingham, one of my favorite San Franciscans, likens the city to a disheveled dame with a hangover. For the disenchanted it's difficult to see beyond the wrinkles and bags under her eyes. They ask, "Where's the city I fell in love with?" 

Those who remain enchanted by her, optimists, and even those who just say, "yeah, but it's still the best place," agree they can find that city without trying very hard. They find it in neighborhoods and in neighbors. They find the heart of the city where they least expect it. But they won't find a cigar at Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store cafe. 

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Copyright 2002 Hank Donat
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