Heart of the City Archives

Governor-eject Gray Davis and wife Sharon Davis at Union Square in San Francisco shortly before his re-election in November 2002.

San Francisco dreams to outlast recall nightmare
by Hank Donat

In case you thought you had fallen asleep at the movies, I also woke up this morning in a country where George W. Bush is president, in a state where Arnold Shwarzenegger is the governor-elect.

The day after the election, Shwarzenegger said in an afternoon press conference that he won't be making any movies for a while. Finally, there was a silver lining.

The other bright side to the day was the day itself. San Francisco is as always a vision in the clear October light. That's just one of the things they can't take away from you, even if the nuts have taken over the tree.

Likewise, and at least for now, no matter what else happens in Sacramento or Washington you can still get free pancakes with breakfast at Tappe's Sutter Street Bar & Grill.

In San Francisco you can still run into your ex-roommate's ex or one of your own if you're minding your own business at Frederickson's Hardware on Fillmore Street or on BART.

You can still get the world's best Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe. Celebrity bartender Frank Siletti recently demonstrated his winning entry in the 2003 World Irish Coffee Championship. Frank's brew, which is actually ten Irish Coffees, is mixed and poured in glasses made into a model of the Golden Gate Bridge. The demonstration is a difficult-to-describe piece of performance art that had more than a few locals holding back tears.

Tony Bennett will always leave his heart in San Francisco. That's another thing you can count on.

Three 30s will come before a 45 at the Stockton Tunnel, especially if you're late but not if you're waiting for a 30.

"Quintronic Embezzelments" protestor Frank Chu and the shouter sometimes called Danny the Reagan hater in front of the Hyatt Regency are two people I like to take for granted in a city with enough characters for a dozen cities twice its size.

Tom Ammiano will tell his "Dianne Feinstein Planet of the Apes hairdo" joke the next time he gets on a comedy stage, and the time after that, too. You can count on that.

Just when you think you can't be outraged any further by bad driving, someone will cut in turn at the intersection at Noe and 24th, just like that tiny person in that big SUV did last weekend.

You can still conjure the timeless atmosphere of Florence, Italy with an Illy Caffe cappuccino at Powell and O'Farrell if you take it next door to the Via Florence Hotel and sit in front of the fantastic mural of the Palazzo Vecchio and Duomo.

Kids coming out of the zoo on Sloat Blvd. will still squeal over the sight of the Doggie Diner head, especially if it's sticking out of the fog.

Political message boards are still going to be angry.

San Francisco is still going to be a haven for the loners and hucksters and passive-aggressives that show up in our lives.

We'll continue to welcome every new San Franciscan with a dream of something wonderful that's just about to happen to them. You know they're here to stay.

They'll keep coming for their own slice of what Armistead Maupin, Dashiell Hammett, Jack Kerouac, Jerry Garcia, or Maragret Cho promised them. After just one bite of this pie you can be mighty real, lost in the fog, a whole new woman or man, man.

San Francisco is the kind of city that makes you feel like the star of a fabulous party. It is a cinema city, where people from all walks of life walk the same sidewalks.

Each city block is a tile in a vast mosaic. We meet along the grout, in the intersections that hold the mosaic together. Here, there are fewer degrees of separation between Matt Gonzalez and Danielle Steel than meet the eye. (She has 28 parking spaces; he has no car.)

In the 1960s, former madam Sally Stanford ran for Sausalito city council by telling voters she would "Keep Sausalito Sausalito." Sally, who also said, "Sinners never give up," was one of the people who made San Francisco San Francisco.

Walter Jebe is also one of those who make San Francisco San Francisco. He ran Jebe's Camera Shop on Mission Street in the Excelsior for 48 years.

Excelsior neighbor Rebecca Silverberg tells me there was once a soft drink business, the Excelsior Bottling Company, on Edinburgh Street. The company label was an 18th Century woman stepping gingerly out of the basket of a hot air balloon while showing only the appropriate amount of ankle.

Memories are San Francisco's most venerable institution. They are older than Swenson's Ice Cream and Levi's combined.

My own memories of San Francisco are written along a straight line that connects every gaffe or accident that led me here twenty years ago and has kept me here in spite of all my faults.

This line connects all of these disparate things I've mentioned. It's what connects a San Franciscan to a neighbor across town.

It's what will keep the city the city in a state where Arnold Swarzenegger is the governor.

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Copyright 2003 Hank Donat
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