Music break: Your Sunday Night Oldies Show

First in a new series. I can’t promise I’ve got a voice as smooth as Big Daddy Victor Zaragosa — who shepherded many a San Francisco night to conclusion on the radio in my younger days — but I think I can select them just about as well as your standard lovesick Sunday night call-in. Here are some classics to start you off. Whether you have a nice ride to work on or just a window and a beer, turn it up!

On a Sunday Afternoon by A Lighter Shade of Brown

Night Owl by Tony Allen

NB: You gotta read Tony Allen’s bio. 

Samba Pa Ti by Carlos Santana

I’m sort of obsessed with this song by my fellow Bernal Heights original Carlos Santana. When I listen to it I see the view from Bernal Hill, the light through clouds on the Church Street steeples, pepper trees scattering their leaves all over Folsom Street, music festivals and street fairs and jam sessions, I smell herb smoke drifting through a day trying to decide whether it’s going to be foggy or not, burritos, I hear the neighbor’s Chevy Malibu engine revving, bad little kids shouting at each other on Moultrie Street,  and the rain falling through the leaves of avocado trees.

From Five Miles from Frisco

Slow Jam by Vieux Farka Toure

OK, so you probably won’t hear this song on KMEL’s dedication lines tonight, but I think it’s a logical follow-up to Santana — and conveniently named for Anglophone fans of the son of The Greatest Guitarist of All Time, Ali Farka Toure.

Frisco photos

I was looking through pictures trying to find examples of what “Frisco” means to me, a question I pondered near the end of my last post. This is what I came up with. (Apparently I take a disproportionate number of pictures of graffiti murals when I go home. I’ll be sure to get more of people next time. These are just scenes that caught my eye, before I knew I was making an album.)

Is it clear what I mean when I say Frisco is beautiful, but scratchy?

Frisco

Frisco

I just came back from a 10-day visit to my hometown, San Francisco. There’s a lot I want to write about San Francisco. And by a lot, I mean a book’s worth.

Sidewalk graffiti on San Bruno Avenue, San Francisco. "SFC" stands for "Sucka Free City."

But while I struggle to form my Grand Theory of San Francisco, I’ll settle for a collection of tidbits, which sometimes are the best way to describe an unquantifiable entity. Here’s one: an enduring discussion about whether or not “Frisco” is a legit nickname.

Common knowledge says that it’s off limits. Herb Caen, San Francisco’s most famous columnist, published a book called Don’t Call it Frisco in 1953, which Wikipedia says was taken from a 1918 San Francisco Examiner article. The subject has been on steady rotation in local media for years — especially since San Francisco street culture has resurrected the term. (Read more about the whole debate in this 2003 Chronicle article, whose author seems to have read this San Francisco State publication’s article from 1997.) Continue reading

New York City Mexican Food Challenge: Any Tips?

There’s a place on 16th Street between Valencia and Guerrero in San Francisco where you can get one, delicious soft-sided taco for $2.95. It comes with fresh salsa, grilled chicken, onions, radishes — and a heaping portion of homemade tortilla chips. Get two of those babies and an horchata, and you are good to go for the night.

Every hood in San Francisco has its own taqueria highlight, especially the Mission, Outer Mission, Excelsior and Bernal Heights. I grew up taking them for granted.

No more. After a year in New York, I have not been to a really good Mexican or Central American restaurant in the city that supposedly has everything.  (I have been to some pretty terrible ones. Think the Amsterdam Chevy’s, if that exists. I found a place like that on Flatbush.)

On Saturday night I made the mistake of getting hopeful. I was on Houston and went to a little joint named El Paso. The owners made an effort to have a nice classy feel, and the waiters wore ties tucked into their shirts above little aprons. Prices were commensurate with the location and ambiance. They were not, unfortunately, commensurate with the food: cheesy and lacking spice. The salsa looked like bean soup. The meal was preceded by a salad (?) of iceberg lettuce with “Italian” dressing.

Then I realized: There is a taqueria in a car wash in San Francisco that serves better Mexican food than the best Mexican restaurant I have been to in New York City. I’m talking about Bayshore and Army/César Chávez right there at the intersection of Bernal, Bayview, Mission and Potrero.

What’s the deal, people? New Yorkers say I’m hating. There’s a taco truck in Queens that does it right, they say. I don’t know, but I think a taco that takes an hour to get to doesn’t count. Does that mean there’s nothing in the island of Manhattan?

I invite my ten regular readers to submit some suggestions, because I’m at a loss. And please don’t recommend the spot on Amsterdam and 108th. It’s close, but I’m looking for the real thing. I’ll privilege suggestions from Californians living in NYC.

You’re Way Too Beautiful, Girl

“You know how I feel about San Francisco?” I said to my friend as we cruised out of Golden Gate Park toward Ocean Beach on our bikes about two weeks ago. It was a warm day, and a cool ocean breeze was settling on Beach Chalet.

“You’re way too beautiful, girl, that’s why it’ll never work. You’ll have me suicidal, suicidal, when you say it’s ov-er.”

He laughed and let out a “Whooo!”

We grabbed a cup of coffee and a brownie from nearby Java Beach Cafe at Judah and the Great Highway, and settled into the dunes to enjoy the view pictured above — on that day and about six others in the last couple of weeks.

It’s true. The City is just too damn nice — it’ll have you damn near suicidal when your visit is ov-er.

I spent the last weeks there savoring every moment in its mild air and soft light. It is beautiful yet unpretentious, full of street fairs and book stores. Not too much noise or too much consumption. People are united in some sort of unspoken agreement about a general set of priorities: community, outdoors, good times, good food, good music, liberal values. (Any side of the debates we have about the City’s future share these, but have different ideas of what they look like.)

I had to leave before I got too attached. Even so, wrenching myself away was painful. Here are some of the highlights of my stay in my city:

Biking across the city, over and over again
If you are in moderately good shape, you can get from almost any point in San Francisco to any other within an hour. I took advantage of this as much as possible. Avoid hills wherever possible if you need to move fast. (Search them out if you went to see less-traveled corners.) My preferred cross-city route (Bernal Heights to Golden Gate Park, for example) is Mission-Valencia-Duboce-Fell. You feel the different vibe of every street and empty out into towering Monterey Cypress in the Panhandle, amidst basketball games and weed aroma.

Sunset at Ocean Beach
If I live long-term in SF again, I’m doing this at least twice a week (on vacation I tried to do it everyday). There is nothing like the wind in the dunes and the wild Pacific to put everything in perspective. Doesn’t cost a thing.

Take the 14 Mission
I take this bus to hear the stories of the people in my neighborhood.
Common said it best in Black Star’s Respiration (minute 3:42):
“So some days I take the bus home, just to touch home
From the crib I spend months gone
Sat by the window with a clutched dome
Listenin to shorties cuss long
Young girls with weak minds, but they butt strong”

You could spend two weeks on the 14 and write a novel with the material you observe and hear on the extra-long bus.

Nightlife: Guerrero, Valencia and Mission between 16th and 24th
The most unpretentious place is Skylark. I have the best time at Baobab and Elixir. You will not find the glitz of L.A. But you will find a lot of down-to-earth people who are beautiful in a totally different way. This is only a small sample of what San Francisco has to offer, and I recommend it all. (Although I usually don’t venture to the Marina. Yuck.)

Day-trip to the East Bay
I always felt like the East Bay — especially Oakland and Berkeley — and San Francisco are equal partners in the Bay family. I try to go at least once every time I am around. You can’t go wrong with Ethiopian food on Telly, ribs on San Pablo, Indian on Shattuck, or a walk around Lake Merritt with someone cool.

Dwelling in the Southeast
Bernal Heights, Portola Heights, McLaren Park, Outer Mission, Cayuga Park, Lakeview and Ingleside, Bayview and Hunters Point: Take your bike throughout the neighborhoods, turn down side streets. Every corner has its own character.

Anyway, don’t worry for me. My visit is over, but I’m not suicidal, just in pain. Turning over San Francisco memories in my mind is kind of like reading old love letters stumbled upon while cleaning your closet. They might bring you a tear or two, but you can’t help reading them one more time…