Heart of the City Archives
What becomes a San Franciscan most?
by Hank Donat

Sandra Derian, who lives with her cat in a flat on Franklin Street, will mark the tenth anniversary of her arrival in San Francisco on August 29. Sandra asks if she can throw a big party, announcing herself as a neo-native San Franciscan. It's a familiar scenario that actually poses two questions. Firstly, Sandra, you don't need any justification for throwing a party in San Francisco. 

Secondly, I've heard a lot of ideas about when it is legitimate to call oneself a San Franciscan. I use a formula based on the fact that Herb Caen published his book, "Baghdad by the Bay," the eternal memoir of a San Franciscan, in 1949, 13 years after he moved here from Sacramento. When you consider that Caen, an air force veteran, was stationed overseas during World War II from 1942-1945, that makes ten years. So, Sandra, you are indeed a San Franciscan. That's a moniker you earned a long time ago, the day you figured out that when you love this place, it doesn't belong to you - you belong to it.

A lively party at Mel Hollen's in North Beach last week celebrated the concierge community in a city with no shortage of communities and reminded us that the world belongs to the young and beautiful. These are the men and women who tell tourists where to go. I know a few people who do that with some frequency, but a concierge does it with maps and nice language. Besides, a lot of tourists have gone altogether lately, or they've stayed home and not gone anywhere. 

At the corner of Bush and Kearny Streets at three in the afternoon on a recent Thursday, the sidewalks were so quiet I expected a tumbleweed to roll past. This is the same intersection pedestrians normally attempt to cross with their lives taken firmly in their hands. Some have told me it's over for San Francisco, no more magic, no more buzz. "There used to be a sense that something really important was happening here and we were all a part of it," goes the lament.

I remind those who would say that the song of San Francisco has been sung that silence is music, too. Without some space between the notes, all you have is sound without melody. Here are a few more beats from a week in the life of the City, played prestissimo, very fast. 

At the Hotel Majestic's Perlot restaurant, former hungry i pianist Don Asher entertains with the Cole Porter classic, "You're the Top," in honor of Australian pharmacist Andrew Gray, who came to San Francisco for a conference and fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting locations from the Barbra Streisand comedy, "What's Up Doc." Peter Bagdonovich filmed here in 1970 and used "You're the Top" in the opening credits. 

Perlot chef Chris Steinbock continues to please the pallet with great French cuisine, "seasonally informed." The Majestic is a fine San Francisco building and a truly elegant Edwardian. Also something of a draw, the place is said to be haunted by the ghost of a century old suicide. The bathtub in Room 406 fills by itself, or so say some local ghost busters.

Marketwatch: I like celebrity sightings as much as the next person, especially when the celebs are San Franciscans. Bulk shopping comedian Will Durst contemplated a multi-pack of Kleenex for several minutes at the Costco warehouse on 10th Street before deciding to make the investment. At Molly Stone's on California Street, Ruth Dewson, our milliner to the stars, sampled Aidell's sausage from a tasting table but decided to hold off.

Hopping the California Street cable car at Van Ness Avenue, I find the grip operator is none other than Byron Cobb, the reigning bell ringing champ. Byron promises to write with news about his upcoming wedding in Spain. He thinks the new Union Square is too cold, as my informal poll continues. Bruce Bellingham say the square looks like a heliport. 

For my money, the real "new Union Square" is Yerba Buena Gardens. It's beautiful, very green and inviting. With loads of people around, there's lots of shopping, art, live performance, old and new architecture, and the original Playland carrousel. Given the shift in the City's geographical center since the rise of SoMa, it's fitting that Yerba Buena Gardens is the new center of downtown's mojo. Today it's hard to believe the development caused so much rancor for so many years before it was finally built.

Hopping off the cable car at the Fairmont, I caught the end of an event addressed by Vice President Dick Cheney. The VP emerged there after nearly three months of hiding to avoid answering questions about a foundering economy, corporate scandals, and a war with no objective. 

Outside the hotel, conservative commentator Mary Matalin shook hands and kissed babies like a candidate herself. "A good republican," a bystander observed, reminding me of someone Caesar Belli had referred to just moments earlier as "a fine, upstanding lawyer."

And how was your week?

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Copyright 2002 Hank Donat
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