Heart of the City Archives




Brides, barracudas, and the real new Milliennium
by Hank Donat

On the final morning of 2003, Mayor Willie Brown appeared to have the weight of nothing on his shoulders. Not a care in the world was revealed on the face of San Francisco's first African American mayor in the homestretch of his administration.

Even the airspace around Brown, tuned for so long to a frequency that picks up any opportunity to jeer Supervisor Chris Daly or District Attorney Terrence Hallinan, seemed light and clear.

Brown was presented with a "key to leisure" by Kristine Enea, one of the authors of the "Time Off!" guide to San Francisco. When congratulated, Brown quipped, "For what? I've been evicted!"

Enea's partner in Leisure Team Publishing, Dean LaTourrette, was not available for the ceremony. LaTourrette had left the night before for a vacation in Sun Valley. Ah, leisure!

Green Apple Books on Clement Street reports that "Time Off!" is selling like umbrellas in a storm.

Outside the mayor's office, no fewer than seven brides were running around the rotunda, participating in and posing for pictures of the year-end nuptials that will secure their tax deductions if not their future happiness.

On the great marble staircase, a bridesmaid in peach arranged the blonde curls of a bride in white while both demanded that their photographer "Photoshop out" a nearby group of Italian tourists.

Future generations may admire how generous we were with personal space in public places, unaware that we were all interlopers in someone else's golden moment before being plucked from the scene like so much lint and cat hair.

High above the stairs, cleverly arranged bundles of white balloons and long strands of silver tinsel were strung like storm clouds that rained on no one's parade. I was reminded of the old saw, "Happy is the bride upon whom the sun shines."

On the 5 Fulton line it's a straight shot from City Hall to Golden Gate Park and the California Academy of Sciences. This was the final day for the 150-year institution in its facility across the Music Concourse from the DeYoung Museum.

It takes little imagination to envision the world-class cultural center that will emerge when the new Academy of Sciences joins the new DeYoung at the concourse.

Crossing between the rising new DeYoung and the departing Academy of Sciences is like crossing Bush and Kearney at rush hour. It is best to cup your hands in order to remember that your life is in them. And run.

Neighbors of the park recently filed suit to stop the plan to move this traffic underground and out of the concourse. They haven't heard that preserving San Francisco doesn't mean not improving it.

The Academy's Steinhart Aquarium appears in many great San Francisco movies including Orson Welles' "The Lady from Shanghai" and the cop drama The Lineup.

Through to the last day, the Fish Roundabout, the Steinhart's 100,000-gallon circular tank, was a fantastic place to watch fast-swimming ocean fish. If you had seen them a dozen times, the mackerel and barracuda whirring past in gracefully futility would still invoke the carefree state-of-mind of a class field trip.

Appropriately, The Academy itself was packed like sardines. Hundreds of people, mostly children, came for the last day. It was fun, but no place for an assignation or clandestine meeting as it was for Orson Welles and others.

In April, the Academy of Sciences will reopen at 875 Howard Street, only a couple of blocks from its original location. The Academy occupied 819 Market Street from 1891-1916. The new $300 million dollar facility emerges in Golden Gate Park in mid-2008.

Later in the evening, I set out for the Embarcadero with the intrepid Jeff Halpern. From the safety of a complimentary Muni ride we observed a veritable conga line on Union Street from Fillmore to Buchanan. We made our way on foot from Stockton Street and Columbus Avenue in North Beach after the bus lost a power line.

North Beach remains one of the city's most vibrant neighborhoods. Many locals were not kept away by the New Year's crush. Between the journal writers and some neighborhood Casanovas, there was plenty of local color in the garlic and cappuccino-scented air along the sidewalks here.

A line of police officers stretched along Broadway from Columbus to Montgomery. Throughout downtown it seemed quite literally as though there were police officers every few feet.

Marauding bridge-and-tunnelers made up the majority of the crowds. This should be expected by any local who ventures away from the comfort of his rooftop to see a public fire works display in San Francisco.

What may take more getting used to is the police and security presence in our lives, our memories, and in our burgeoning history.

I was in the Dam Square in the center of Amsterdam on New Year's Eve in 1999, where police presence was not great. Millennium celebrations drew huge crowds all over the world in spite of fears about a Y2K computer disaster. That threat seems trivial today.

Like the Millennium party in Amsterdam, the fireworks event at the Embarcadero was a peaceful celebration and a beautiful one. But unlike 1999, the problems that exist in the world are front and center. They are not as obscure as a computer virus.

With the exception of members of the military and their families, we haven't had to sacrifice much for war in Iraq and the so-called war on terrorism. But starting now, the presence of war in our lives cannot be Photoshopped out

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Copyright 2004 Hank Donat
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