This must be the Place
by Hank Donat
What might seem like an ordinary Tuesday at its outset could be your lucky day by dusk. The charms of San Francisco dance like lottery balls waiting to be plucked from the air. An attentive city dweller may be tempted to look for order in the randomness with which moments arise to affirm maudlin civic pride.
If you hadn't stopped along your way through Chinatown to laugh at the kids taking turns raising and lowering each other in a barber chair would you have run in to that old friend at the Victoria Pastry Company? It's doubtful. Everything happens for a reason, even if the reasons bunch together like the dots of a French pointillist painting. Seen from a distance the dots spell out, "I love this town."
The Red Devil Lounge on Polk Street courts controversy with a statement on its new marquee. What's got the Red Devil so riled up? Is it the winds of war? Unemployment? Housing costs? No. The Red Devil wants you to know, "Robin Williams hasn't been funny since 'Mork & Mindy'."
When director Philip Kaufman's thriller "Blackout," hits movie screens next September, Ashley Judd's detective character will stumble upon a wedding party at the Palace of Fine Arts while pursuing a suspect. Better not blink or you'll miss the bride, however, since there's no face time for the extra in the long white dress. An old saying goes, "Happy is the bride upon whom the sun shines." Let the sun shine on Sandy Chang, the local who plays the role. As actors know, there are no small parts - only small paychecks.
Derek Yee of the Richmond is also in the Blackout wedding party. Derek lives near the Cinderella Bakery on Balboa and remembers when a piroshki cost just fifty cents.
Ducking in to Fior d'Italia in North Beach, TV bombshell Loni Anderson is cautioned to watch her step on the curb outside. Loni is well acquainted with the streets of San Francisco. "When Lynda Carter and I did our series here," Loni tells me, "they had us running around in the highest high heels and shortest short skirts, chasing the bad guys up and down all these hills. We always said the city was the third star." Partners in Crime ran for 13 episodes in 1984.
Loni rode in this year's Italian Heritage Parade to promote awareness of lung disease in women. Both her parents died prematurely as a result of smoking. No one in North Beach seemed to mind that Loni's own heritage is Scandinavian. In an orange leather number and matching shades, she looked perfectly fiero - that's Italian for proud.
Kathryn Pelligrini of the Marina is a past queen of the parade. The Pelligrini's have been involved with the Columbus Day celebration since the family built its first parade float in 1950. "Italian men love Loni Anderson," Kathryn says of the star whose picture adorns wallspace both at Caffe Trieste and Fior d'Italia. Fior appears in a Partners in Crime episode, "The Setup."
Not to be outshone by the appearance of a '70s TV icon, this year's parade queen was Mary Elizabeth Leveroni, a junior at St. Ignatious Preparatory. The Pelligrinis were represented by Barbara Pellegrini Rodriguez, parade princess and a senior at Convent of the Sacred Heart High School. I guess the queen gets to tell the princess what to do. The pageant titles would appear anachronistic in a celebration that was renamed out of political correctness - Columbus was cruel to native Americans - but the teens in tiaras went over big with the crowd. The annual North Beach event is a great hometown parade - and the oldest in the country at that!
The fun continues over hill and dale. On Nob Hill, Martita Timisarieff attempts to keep her bougainvillea from being strangled by the relentless morning glory that plagues her garden. Martita's wrestling match with the tangle of vines evokes the image of special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen's six-legged B-movie octopus that destroyed the Ferry Building in the 1955 classic "It Came from Beneath the Sea." That film was screened for an outdoor audience at the Presidio last week. It was a great evening, somewhat reminiscent of another anachronism, the drive-in movie.
In closing: I was with a friend the other day, both of us about to climb into a Toyota perched on a steep section of Lombard Street, when a large contingent from the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill came screeching overhead.
A couple of tourists, with maps and backpacks, stopped in their tracks on the sidewalk. "What's that?" they asked. My friend answered, "They're parrots. They're one of our legends."
"What are they?" the query continued. "Actually, they're cherry-headed conures," I said. My pal added, "It's believed they started as escapees from a pet shop. Now the flock numbers more than a hundred birds."
"Cool," said the rightly impressed out-of-towners. My friend and I jumped in the car and indulged in a robust round of laughter. It was one of those San Francisco moments in a San Francisco day that only laughter can properly punctuate - a celebration of fleeting miracles, like parrots and friendship.
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Copyright 2002 Hank Donat