Journal: 2020

Mrs. Morgenthaler

What this country needs now is the sense of working together for the common good that prevailed during and after WWII.

I apologize for not having uttered a post this year until now, worrying some kind readers. All I can do is bark, “No excuse, Sir!” And then, after a decent interval, start whining. But hey, I’m still alive, I can still walk short distances and ride the Segway for longer ones, I’m still cranking out the preserves albeit at a slower pace, I still have friends who are kind to me, and I now have appointments with two new health care folks who are going to wave their magic stethoscopes or more invasive instruments and fix some problems.

And speaking of kindness there was an aha moment about 1984 that has had a profound effect on me.

Some background: In 1984 I was a minor partner in a small limousine company and chauffeured clients from all over the world, some of whom were ogres and others, secular saints. In the latter category was Mrs. Morgenthaler, a fairly frequent client since she was often in town. She and her husband were old money from Cleveland who had raised four kids. The youngest, a daughter, was about to matriculate at San Francisco State and join the rest of her siblings in the Bay Area.

And for Mr. and Mrs. Morgenthaler, that tore it. Since every damn one of the kids wanted to be in the Bay Area, they should really just get a pied-à-terre in San Francisco rather than spending all that time in hotels during their frequent visits.

So instead of just driving Mrs. Morgenthaler around for shopping and to spend time with kids, the majority of my job became driving her around the city while she examined real estate at the tops of buildings. It was then that it finally sank in just how rich they were since she wasn’t looking at anything but penthouses.

I saw Mr. Morgenthaler only once. One time I delivered her to a restaurant and he was waiting for us out front. After I’d let her out, he came up to me and bestowed upon me some of the highest praise I’d ever received. “You’re my wife’s favorite chauffeur…and she’s got a lot of ’em.”

While searching for a San Francisco home, Mrs. Morgenthaler was also furnishing the apartment her daughter had selected, not with fine antiques but substantial stuff. She’d picked out a handsome dining-room/kitchen table the previous day, and it was to be delivered not all that long before her flight back to Cleveland departed. Cutting it rather thin, I worried. There we were, waiting patiently (her) and impatiently (me) as the agreed-upon delivery time came and went. She called the store and was reassured that the truck was on its way. And thankfully, fairly soon I saw it. Over there. In the wrong lot for this building. I ran across and shouted to them that they had to go back around and follow the signs for the address. It seemed like forever, but they finally managed to find the right entrance and rolled up.

I was drawing a breath the better to fully express my opinion of how this delivery was going so far when, thankfully, she came outside. The thumb-fingered louts opened the back of the truck so they could proudly display to her that they’d put her table at the very back to be delivered first. I was still seething, but managed to stifle any comment.

And then Mrs. Morgenthaler stepped to the back of the truck and looked closely at the table. “Oh dear. Oh dear. I’m so sorry, but this is not my table.” While steam shot out my ears, the louts protested that that’s the one they were given. She rejoined that she was sure the fault wasn’t theirs, but in any case it wasn’t her table.

So I put her into the car. (Not a showy limousine but rather an innocuous late model Cadillac sedan that she’d chosen the moment we let her know that we could provide less conspicuous transportation than a limousine.) I got her to the airport with several minutes to spare, and that was the last time I saw her since my friend Al got me a job as a technical writer and I had left the company before her next visit.

But even as I drove her to the airport, I was replaying our encounter with the delivery louts, saying over and over to myself, “I must model my behavior on hers.”

So she left me with an important lesson, one that I try with increasing success to follow because I’m so embarrassed when I fail: when people make mistakes, it’s no more difficult to be gracious than it is to be harsh. The immediate benefit is that being gracious leaves happy people behind you who are eager to make right any error.

Although in her case, she was so damn gracious that I’m sure she’d never even thought about any benefit to herself. I’m thinking that her parents would have taught her at an early age noblesse oblige.

Meanwhile, because for technical reasons I needed to go back and pick an old pic today, here’s one I probably used in 2016. It’s entitled “We’re hungry now!”


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The Plague

Who’d have thought that a nasty little Chinese bat could have wrought such havoc!

It was only a week and a half ago that Mayor Breed’s shutdown order took effect; and, I suppose like many others, I’m still in a state of shock as I adjust to it and fret over coming events.

When I do go out, it’s like dystopian fiction with mostly empty streets. I saw a stunning photo the other day taken from a point high above the Golden Gate Bridge looking directly down at the entire roadbed….with one car visible on the whole span.

And then there’s continually gentrifying, throbbingly popular Valencia Street whose crowded bike lanes are my conduit to many of my merchants that are now closed unlike my main grocery store and my second-favorite farmers’ market that aren’t.

The effect of the shutdown is dramatic. On lower Valencia increasing numbers of businesses have boarded up their windows. The street and sidewalks are largely deserted since the only places still open are the restaurants clinging desperately to life by doing takeout.

Well, except for Clooney’s bar at 25th Street that’s of course like all bars closed in accordance with the edict, but it turns out that the owner is resourceful and has managed to keep some revenue flowing in while simultaneously delighting passers-by and providing work and a paycheck for some employees. His painted-over window onto Valencia? He’s reworked it so that it opens, and through it he’s selling food items and non-alcoholic beverages. Alas, lasted only one day before the humorless, jackbooted, ABC thugs nailed the window shut.

I’m coping just fine with the shutdown since all the food and meds I need are readily available, at least so far. More importantly, all my friends are in this fabulous frenzy of communication and well wishing, so I’m spending half my day typing responses and initiating queries.

The only downside is that I’m now so occupied with reading/listening to all these new things that I’m not preserving produce that is sitting in the refrigerator waiting, some of it more patiently than the rest.

I look into the future and foresee an accessory that many of us will be wearing for our own protection – a thermometer on a chain around our neck so that we can, on demand, prove that we don’t have a temperature.

Meanwhile, one of my more interesting doorways, this one formerly nondescript but now vibrant off Valencia on 18th Street.

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The Carrier

One of the more interesting episodes in our current political whirlpool is that of the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s infection with the COVID-19 virus in late March, 2020.

My plan was to gather the facts here until I discovered that people had already done so, on a site called Defense One that I like so much I’ve subscribed to it. I’ve extracted the great majority of facts I talk about here from this site and sprinkled in a few from elsewhere. And then I worked in some of my own questions and comments.

February 26 – President Trump declares that the number of US cases of the coronovirus “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.”

Later in the day, in what appears to be an effort to keep combat commanders from contradicting Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper directs them to inform him before they make decisions about protecting their troops from COVID-19 if doing so might “run afoul of President Trump’s messaging”. Ahhhh, so now we see what considerations are driving our military.

February 28 – Acting Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly orders 7th Fleet ships to spend at least 14 days between port visits as a prophylactic measure against COVID-19. This means that he’s fully aware that the virus is spreading and presents a great danger. A danger to the sailors, of course, but more importantly to his career if he’s unable to keep a lid on news coverage.

March 5 – The USS Theodore Roosevelt, under the command of Captain Brett Crozier, arrives in Danang from Guam for a port visit. At the time there were no known active cases of COVID-19 in Vietnam.

March 8 – New cases of COVID-19 are reported in Vietnam, including two British tourists in Danang.

March 9 – The Theodore Roosevelt departs Danang.

March 22: The first TR sailor is diagnosed with COVID-19. The thirteen-day lapse suggests that his infection might not have come from Vietnam but rather from one of the many people who were flown on and off the carrier after it left Vietnam.

March 24: Two more TR sailors are diagnosed with COVID-19 and medevaced off the ship. Also on this day Secretary Modly says they had been removed from the ship as soon as possible after the positive diagnosis, and any sailors who had been in contact with them recently were being put in quarantine.

“This is an example of our ability to keep our ships deployed at sea underway even with active COVID-19 cases,” Modly said. Ahhh, let’s look underneath this line. Modly’s focus here is not letting the virus impact the naval exercise by delaying redeployment of the TR to sea.

At some point later in the day Modly says that despite the appearance of the virus on the TR and other ships, “our ships are sailing, our planes are flying, and training is still happening to safeguard our U.S. national interests and those of all our allies and partners around the world.” Yes, everything is running along smoothly and we’re keeping you safe as always. Note here that Modly is very clear that even though the TR is involved in a training exercise, a facade of normalcy must be maintained and no virus can be allowed to contradict our President.

March 25: Five more TR sailors are diagnosed with COVID-19 and medevaced off the ship.

March 26: TR begins testing entire crew for COVID-19.

March 27 – The TR returns to Guam.

March 28 – Eight more sailors are moved from the TR to the naval hospital in Guam.

March 29 – Captain Crozier has extended discussions with the two men next above him in the chain of command, Rear Admiral Stuart Baker and Admiral John Aquilino, but is unable to convince them to evacuate his crew, both of them refusing to do so on the grounds that it would jeopardize the mission. Note: In combat, the mission is paramount and takes precedence over everything else. You go into combat knowing that you will likely lose some of your men, but you do your best to minimize your losses while still accomplishing the mission. Crozier will point out later that this is not combat but rather a peacetime training mission. At some point in the evening, Crozier consults his chief medical officer, who tells him that if the ship is not evacuated, fifty sailors will likely die.

March 30 – Modly’s chief of staff talks with Crozier and tells him that if he feels that he is not getting the proper response from his chain of command, he has a direct line into Modly’s office. So here Crozier is being advised that he’s free to jump the chain of command all the way up to the Secretary of the Navy. Has this ever before in history happened? I sincerely doubt it.

Later, Crozier writes an eloquent letter arguing his case for evacuating the ship and quarantining the crew, pointing out that if this were wartime, they’d of course fight sick; but since it’s a peacetime exercise, there is no reason to let his sailors die unnecessarily. He attaches the letter to an email addressed to his three immediate superiors, Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino, and Naval Air Forces commander Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller. He copies seven other captains.

Modly will later describe the email as being sent to “20-30 people”, which I see as evidence that he’s at this point already unhinged since the whole damn world can look at the email and see that there are only ten addressees. Not, of course, that persons at high levels making patently false claims is without precedent.

Someone leaks Crozier’s letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, which immediately prints it.

March 31 – By noon, Modly has learned of the publication of Crozier’s letter and has told CNN that the Navy is responding to the letter and working to evacuate the ship. However, later in the afternoon, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper tells CBS that he doesn’t think evacuation is necessary and that the situation should be studied.

April 1 – The evacuation of the ship begins.

In the middle of the day Modly calls Crozier and says (quoting Modly) “I said, ‘How are you feeling? Do you feel like you have enough ventilators? Clearly, if [50] people are going to die, that means you need enough ventilators.’ He said, ‘Oh, sir, I feel comfortable we have enough ventilators here.’ How many do you have? ‘Six.’ I said, ‘That’s going to be enough?’ That does not comport with a death statistic that says 50 people are going to die.”

Ahhh, let’s look at that. Modly has obviously learned of Crozier’s chief medical officer’s estimate that if nothing were done, probably 50 would die, so he asks what looks like a trick question. However, it just shows his mindset since if the evacuation goes as Crozier had begged for, then six ventilators would be plenty, especially since those needing one would be the first evacuated.

That afternoon, Modly holds a joint press conference with a pack of high naval officials including CNO Adm. Michael Gilday, who says, regarding punishing Crozier, “We’re not looking to shoot the messenger here.” To which Modly responds, “The fact that he wrote the letter up to his chain of command to express his concerns would absolutely not result in any type of retaliation. This is what we want our commanding officers to be able to do. [They] should not be inhibited from telling us and being transparent about the issues that they see. But they need to do it through their chains – their chains of command. And if they’re not getting the proper responses from their chains of command, then they need to maybe go outside of it.”

By evening, however, Modly has changed his mind and tells Secretary of Defense Esper that “the direction I was headed” was to relieve Crozier. “And he told me that he would support my decision, whatever that might be.”


April 2 – Crozier sends a second letter to describe the ongoing evacuation.

Around 4:30 p.m., Modly calls a short-notice Pentagon press conference to announce Crozier’s relief, charging him with, among other things, “undermining the chain of command”. Ummm, just the previous day Modly had been encouraging Crozier to ignore the chain of command and phone him directly.

Modly also tells reporters that he has lost confidence in the CO’s judgment, in part because his memo “creates the perception that the Navy’s not on the job, the government’s not on the job.” So if Crozier gives the impression that the government is not on the job, upon whom does that negatively reflect?

My question here is why was it necessary for the Secretary of the Navy to intervene on short notice and relieve the captain himself? After all, captains are normally relieved through the chain of command and then only after an investigation. In recent years, Captains involved in collisions that cost the lives of double-digit numbers of sailors were not relieved until after weeks-long investigations. What makes this case different? Surely not a different commander-in-chief.

About an hour after Modly’s press conference, Captain Crozier appears on the hangar deck to walk to the aluminum gangplank off the ship. He is flanked by rows of sailors silently saluting and falling in behind him as he progresses. When he reaches the ramp, hundreds of sailors start chanting, “Cap-tain Cro-zier, Cap-tain Cro-zier” until he’s stepped into a waiting car. I cannot imagine this show of support not bringing tears to his eyes.

3 April – Before dawn Modly, continuing to break new ground, posts a 400 word message to the TR’s Facebook page justifying his relieving of Crozier. No Secretary of the Navy in history has lowered himself to making posts on a ship’s Facebook page.

In the early morning many videos are posted of the sailors cheering Crozier off the ship, and many retired naval officers have registered their support of Crozier. Modly gives an interview with Trump sycophant Hugh Hewitt, who quoted him as saying Crozier “knew full well at the time that everything he had been asking for was flowing into theater as fast as possible.” Ummmm, wait a minute. That’s not even close to true, Crozier’s letter was sparked by his superior’s dragging their feet and refusing to go along with an evacuation.

4 April – A storm blows up of Democratic politicians and sympathizers clamoring to support Crozier. One, Max Boot, notes in the Washington Post that Crozier is the only person to be punished for an act involving the pandemic. Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson, Tweed, writes a letter saying that his grandfather had written a memo similar to Crozier’s breaking the chain of command in order to get help for his Rough Riders in Cuba.

In the evening, Trump endorses Modly’s relief of Captain Crozier.

Meanwhile, Modly, in a growing rage over the public affront to him presented by the sailors cheering Crozier off the ship, decides that he must immediately fly to Guam, address the sailors onboard the TR, and point out the error of their ways. Since he’s a very important and busy man, he needs to get there ASAP, address the troops, and return immediately to Washington. Alas, this is not easy to do since the Gulfstream flight crew is required have 24 hours rest before flying back. But where there’s a will, there’s a quick flight back. See, Captain Sardiello, the new captain of the TR had already been scheduled to fly to Guam, so instead of Modly just getting on the same plane, he sets up two flights, one to carry himself there, the other to carry Captain Sardiello plus an extra crew so that the extra crew, having slept all the way over as passengers, could then turn around and fly Modly back to Andrews so he wouldn’t have to wait 24 hours to return home. This means the taxpayers were out $389,000 so that Modly could make a visit to the TR in order to harangue the sailors. I have no head for numbers, and the cost of Modly’s flight is often set at $243,000, but that was before it was revealed that two flights were involved. Sharper pencils than mine need to resolve this, but in any case at very least the taxpayers were out a great deal of money to fund Modly’s thirty-minute visit to Guam. Also in any case, Modly is violating rules forbidding doublecrewing flights, but for reasons we might be able to figure out, his doing so is not blocked, nor is he reprimanded for it. How strange, when the previous Secretary of the Navy, following the rules, once took a commercial flight back to the states when he needed to get back without waiting 24 hours.

5 April – In the afternoon, Paul Ignatius writes, “Navy sources had said Modly told a colleague that Trump ‘wants him [Crozier] fired,’ and though Modly denied getting any direct message to that effect, he clearly understood that Trump was unhappy with the uproar surrounding the Roosevelt.”

And then, at about 11:00 PM, Modly walks onto the TR and delivers a fifteen-minute harangue to the sailors, alternating between criticizing Crozier and criticizing the sailors for supporting him. Needless to say, many of the sailors recorded the speech. Modly leaves the ship within thirty minutes and boards his plane back to Washington.

6 April – By 9:00 AM while Modly is still high over the Pacific, the Daily Caller posts a story about Modly’s speech, including a rough transcript, and by noon both an audio recording and a full transcript are online.

Furor ensues, and throughout the morning assorted Democrats and Independents condemn Modly’s speech. Around noon, the New York Times publishes Modly’s response to Tweed Roosevelt’s letter, saying Roosevelt has it all wrong. Modly’s letter is also posted to the Navy’s official site but removed hours later. Hmmmm. Who had it removed?

About 1:15 Modly issues a statement saying that he “stands by every word” of his speech.

In the early afternoon, the TR public affairs officer, unaware that the audio and transcript of the speech are already online, tells crew leaders to pass the word that sailors need “the person’s permission to record them and post it online. If they posted SECNAV’s 1MC [PA system] remarks on social media, they need to take it down immediately.” I just love coverups that fail this way.

At a press conference about 6:00 PM, Trump begins to backpedal on Crozier, saying, “…his career prior to that was very good, so I’m going to get involved and see exactly what’s going on there, because I don’t want to destroy somebody for having a bad day.”

A bit later, Esper tells Modly to apologize, which Modly does about 9:00 PM in the least apologetic fashion imaginable.

7 April – Modly gets the day off to a good start by tendering his resignation, but this is kept secret until mid-afternoon.

About 4:00 PM, Esper announces Modly’s resignation and says that any action taken against Crozier will wait until a separate investigation is complete.

About 6:00 PM, when asked about Modly’s resignation, Trump says, “I had no role in it. I don’t know him. I’ve heard he was a very good man.”

By Tuesday, April 14th, 82% of TR’s crew have been moved to isolation ashore.

As of the 24th, the top officers in the Navy want to restore Crozier to his command, but some in the Department of Defense are demanding more investigation. What I’m not seeing now is any talk about the importance of the mission overriding concerns for the health of the sailors, talk that was rampant as a reason for relieving Crozier way back at the first of the month and which I can only speculate was sparked by a feeling in the highest naval officers that everything has to look good for Trump. But wait, wouldn’t the sailors dying like flies on the TR have looked even worse than an evacuation? Many unanswered questions here.

Footnote: One thing that will help explain Modly’s bizarre behavior is that Trump appointed him Acting Secretary of the Navy after sacking the previous Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, over his fighting against Trump’s reversal and continual interference with the naval courtmartial for war crimes of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher. Modly knew very well that he needed to keep Trump happy in order to keep his job. Alas, his best was not good enough.

Late addition: In July the site Defense One published an analysis of Crozier’s actions that made a good case supporting Crozier’s being relieved of his command.

Meanwhile, some color at the end of the tunnel.

Oh, and as usual, I welcome comments, most especially those that correct something I’ve got wrong. Scroll down to submit one.

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Cacophony Comes to Bernal Heights

Trump is right. Bleach most definitely “does a tremendous number on the lungs.”

There I was, on my Segway waiting for the light at Mission and Virginia to turn when my reverie was rent by the sound of a full-throated Harley coming up behind me. How obnoxious, I thought, even though I couldn’t see him in my rear-view mirror.

He came closer and closer and louder and louder until finally he was beside me and I could see that the noise was not coming from a motorcycle but rather a fellow Prius, modified so that the driver had the option of sounding like a Harley or returning to stealth mode so he could sneak up on people. Horrible but still funny, and I laughed about it while thinking that getting a similar modification for my Prius would be the last step before getting the full “coal-roller” option.

I got great pleasure out of that encounter and worked it into conversations for weeks until finally everything got quiet while we all hunkered down at home in stunned oblivion unaware even of what day it was.

But then, joy of joys, something different. We normally have street sweeping every two weeks; but Muni announced that, owing to the shutdown, tickets would not be given. Well thank goodness for that, because Friday before last I was already so dulled by the shutdown that I neglected to go out and move my car. I realized with a start what day it was about thirty minutes past street sweeping time, ran out against the contingency that the sweeper might be late, and saw the entire block completely full of cars. Nobody had moved, the center of the street was swept, and nobody was ticketed.

A comfort on one level, but then a source of anxiety nearly two weeks later when I realized that the next time I use my car, there will be no place to park it upon my return. Oh well, let’s not start worrying too much in advance. No no, better to fret about more immediate perils, like that tomorrow is street sweeping again; and this time I want to move my car so that the little piece of the street under it can get cleaned.

No worry about getting my place back because my favorite is immediately to the right of the driveway down into our lot, and I can just back up into the edge of the driveway, wait until the street sweeper has passed, and then grab “my” spot before anyone else can get it. Then it struck me that the car hadn’t been used in a month and might not start. (This has happened before.)

So I just stopped the Segway beside it and jumped in it to test. Looked like everything was OK since the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree, but just to make sure I pressed Start. Of course since it’s a Prius, it had to sit there for a bit after I’d touched the accelerator before it grudgingly turned the engine on.

Bam! Bam! Bam! Oh wow, there was this incredible racket and belch of smoke. What was going on? I raced the engine a bit in hopes that this was all a passing aberration, but when I let go of the accelerator I got this VAROOM, ba ba ba ba ba ba sound like a Harley.

And then it hit me.

Yep, an evil-doer had ripped off my catalytic converter and, worse yet, had failed to install a piece of pipe the correct length so that my exhaust would be sent straight to the muffler. That would have been the least he could have done, and I’d have been none the wiser, but these are difficult times and the quality of thieves has deteriorated.

And that was doubtless what was going on with that loud Prius I saw the other day rather than an installed option.

So anyhow, I filed a police report, set up an inspection with my insurance company, and booked an appointment with Luscious Garage for later that morning.

And since they were already under there anyhow, I went ahead and opted for the theft-deterrent attachment, which gives me sort of an advance Schadenfreude feeling as I picture the next would-be thief getting under there, seeing that prying the converter out is going to be too much trouble to be worth it, and skulking away. Either that or to vent his frustration, smashing all the windows in reprisal. Surely not, but at least I’ll still have my converter.

A neighbor asked how the theft deterrent worked, and I said, “Poison gas.” Blew it, though, because I couldn’t help snickering. It’s a clever cage called a “Cat Clamp”.

I went online trying to figure out how much a stolen catalytic converter is worth and ran into a lot of variables. In round figures the platinum and other precious metals are worth about a hundred dollars, but of course the purchaser needs his cut. So the bottom line is that stealing converters would not be an easy way to make a living. Well, unless you were just trying to supplement your income from Pacific Heights burglaries.

Meanwhile, since they seem to be going over well, here’s another San Francisco doorway.


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Pinus palustris

When the quarantine is lifted, I’ll take off the mask and reveal my clandestine mustache and goatee.

It sure is interesting, getting old, because I keep learning of ways in which I’m connected to others. A case in point is my discovery that my dear old friend Spike, whom I met when we’d both matriculated at Texas Tech in 1959 and were residing in Sneed Hall, was now living near Plano and had developed a passion for the longleaf pine, Pinus palustris. I also have an interest, if not a passion, for this handsome tree.

My interest goes back to my childhood when, in the late forties or early fifties, my mother took me with her from her mother’s home in Garrison, north of Nacogdoches, to visit friends fifty miles south in Lufkin who had a specimen in their yard. My mother couldn’t keep her hands off it, running her fingers through the foot-long needles as if she were stroking a cat.

This made a profound impression on me, and she went on to deplore the fact that these trees would not grow in Garrison. People there had tried, only to have the tree grow vigorously for several years until there came a once-in-ten-or-twenty-years hard freeze sufficient to kill it. I didn’t think about those trees for seventy years until Spike emailed me he’d planted some.

What! Doesn’t he know they won’t survive that far north? I delicately inquired and was reassured that yes, he knew he was out of their traditional range but figured he’d take a chance. Here they are, freshly planted.

Never willing to leave good enough alone, I couldn’t resist digging around on the Internet, and what I found caused me to question what Mother had told me. It was an article about Greg Grant, a most extraordinary gentleman who now lives in Arcadia, TX, pop. 20 and has, among many other things, planted a stand of longleaf pines. Click on that link and scroll down to see early and late photos of some he planted a number of years ago.

What this tells us is that my mother must have got it wrong about their not surviving because Arcadia is on Texas Farm to Market Road 1645 immediately above its intersection with FTM 138 halfway between Garrison and Center. During the years when I was spending a lot of time in the area helping Mother in her decline, I traveled on FTM 138 between Garrison and Center on numerous occasions and thus passed a stone’s throw from Arcadia. Not that I could have seen Mr. Grant’s longleafs since my last visit to the area was in 2001, when the trees would have been mere seedlings at most. But still, since they survived this long it’s clear they’re not being frozen.

Oh, but wait. Maybe Mother wasn’t wrong about their being frozen. After all, it was sixty years ago that she was telling me this; and the deaths she reported would have taken place decades earlier when winter temperatures in the area might have been considerably colder. Moreover, a close examination of maps depicting their range puts the northern extent of it in the county just to the south of my mother’s, which is where that tree she fondled was.

Not, of course, that freezing is the only peril they face. Spike is perhaps the most cautious man I know. He’d done his homework, and one of the things he found was that longleaf pine seedlings are considered a great delicacy by the feral pigs that abound in his area. You can’t see it in his photo, but before he planted them he surrounded the area with an electric fence. I suggested 240 AC so he could hear ’em sizzle, but he’s going with lower voltages for now.

Somehow I take great delight in discovering that the range of the longleaf pine has been extended considerably northwards by an old friend from west Texas even though he shot down my suggestion that he go with 240AC and also that he trade in his battered pickup for a Tesla Cybertruck, which would also serve to run down the pigs.

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Good Neighbors

I fear the Cybertruck won’t catch on because there’s no place for a headache rack.

I’m sure an enhanced neighborliness is now being found in other cities in this country just as it is in Italy with folks singing off their balconies. But I certainly see a lot of it in San Francisco, where the great majority of citizens are willingly cooperating with the shutdown and, moreover, are doing things in their neighborhoods to lighten the austerity. This is happening all over the city, but I’ll mention a few instances.

Let’s start with the Page Street professional cellist who puts on a two-hour concert on Tuesday afternoons for folks in the area. Yes, he puts out a tip jar because his income has plummeted, but still, it’s neighborly.

Then there’s the Sanchez Street bagpiper who plays one song every day at sundown from the roof of his apartment building. He has a considerable following enhanced by his natural amphitheater location at the bottom of Eureka Valley that lets the sound carry for quite some distance.

How about the Russian Hill neighbors singing Happy Birthday to a four-year-old, maintaining social distancing, of course.

Or the opera singer who performs around 5:00 most weeknights from his balcony on Ripley, between Folsom and Alabama.

And just this afternoon I was taking a scenic route to Folio’s window to pick up some books they’d ordered for me and discovered that Muni had closed Sanchez Street to through traffic from 30th to 23rd. What a pleasure it was to glide along on my Segway maintaining a safe distance from the kids playing on bicycles and scooters as I swerved from side to side on the street to cover up the bottom line truth that I was, in fact, through traffic.

There are of course countless other examples of neighborhood joy, but I’ll end with Josh and Joe on Coleridge Street every Thursday at 5:00 playing covers of (mostly) Beatles and Simon and Garfield songs. Josh on accordion, Joe on guitar, both on vocals. These guys are not only good musicians but also delightful and generous neighbors who have a karaoke mike for anyone who can sing with them. A surprising number of my neighbors have turned out to be quite competent singers. As a token of my appreciation, I give Josh and Joe a jar of my preserves whenever I attend. By now for the folks gathered on the sidewalks, the handing over of the jam has become an integral part of the concert, so they applaud it. Oh wow.

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The Vault Garden

Yes, that sounds like an oxymoron since there’s little sunshine in the typical vault, but no, it’s a brand new restaurant, a spinoff from The Vault, a popular underground restaurant under the Bank of America building at 555 California. It’s now closed owing to the pandemic.

Anticipating the opening of restaurants for outdoor dining, they changed their name to The Vault Garden and vaulted up to ground level at the near end of the plaza containing “The Banker’s Heart“, that iconic sculpture renamed by Herb Caen.

They opened last Thursday, and I got a reservation for Sunday, making it my first foray into pandemic era al fresco dining. No parking place was visible as we drove around the block, so we parked in the ridiculously expensive but very convenient garage beneath the building and soared to the plaza in the elevator. You’re at the edge of the plaza there, and as you walk onto it, The Banker’s Heart is straight ahead and The Vault Garden is on your right, a handsome setting with striking outdoor heaters.

In recognition of the pandemic, the tables are spaced well apart, and you keep wearing your mask until your drink arrives and put it back on before you ask for your bill.

We arrived a full thirty minutes early, but they seated us immediately, perhaps because the day was totally socked in and some people might have cancelled their reservations. When the city first allowed restaurants to open outdoor dining, I fretted over the blunt fact that we are often so windy, so foggy, or so both that dining outside wouldn’t be enjoyable. And yes, while the breeze was tolerable, our meal would have been even better without it.

The menu is carried over from the underground restaurant and is not long. The beverage menu offered a good range, and I settled on the Goat Rock Dry cider, which was delicious.

For an appetizer, I had the Lemon Pepper Fried Calamari. Oh my goodness on a couple of levels. First, the portion size was enormous, appropriate for an entree. Second, it was superb. The batter was delicious and the squid was cooked so that it was crispy, seriously crispy, so crispy that I can’t imagine how they did it without turning the squid rubbery. This was the best calamari I’ve ever eaten. By itself, it was a bit too salty, but the stingy little bit of JunJu Chili Dipping Sauce somehow cut the saltiness. I’d order this over and over but as an entree.

I went in with the idea that I’d have the hamburger because it was praised in the reviews and I hadn’t had one in ages. I shouldn’t have because even though it was a very good burger and came with a mountain of good fries, there were other entrees vastly more interesting.

Oh, and even though both of us ordered the hamburger, I threw in an order of the Parker House rolls because, like the burger, they got a good review. This goes to show that we must never completely trust the reviews because the rolls were just OK, much inferior to my mother’s owing to neither being yeasty nor soft. Would not order again.

Unfortunately, we both chose the calamari as an appetizer, so we were way too stuffed to even consider a dessert.

So the bottom line is that the service was pleasant and attentive but unobtrusive, 9 out of 10. Ummm, 9.9 since I could not find a single flaw. The ambience was quite good at about 8, and the food ranged from barely 5 on the rolls to 8 on the burger to 9.9 for the calamari.

This was a very good dining experience that I recommend with one caveat: look at the weather forecast and make your reservation for a day when the wind is projected to be low. I would not want to eat there on a windy day.

Meanwhile, speaking of restaurants, here’s the back door to the Zuni Cafe.


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My Vendors

If I’d been a better student, I’d have got a better education.

Cornucopias from north, east, and south open at San Francisco. In the 21st century we are replete with farmers’ markets, so it would be a challenging project to record a visit to them all. What I’ll do here is describe the vendors I patronize, with a mention of the markets they’re in.

There is no better way to list my vendors than in the order I discovered them, which means I can’t start until 1993 at the San Mateo Farmers’ Market which was then located just off SR 92 where it crosses US 101. I shopped there on Wednesdays during my lunch hour when I worked at Oracle. I’d shopped at the Alemany Farmers’ Market and the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market in San Francisco years before that; but, damn me, it was not until I started going regularly to the San Mateo market and buying repeatedly from the same vendors that I started to pay attention to them. That led me to introducing myself and chatting them up, which led to their remembering me and making the whole transaction more enjoyable.

In the summer of 1993, a handsome high school farm boy from Sanger named Eric Schletewitz threw a few sacks of his father’s oranges into the back of his pickup and drove to San Mateo to see if he could hawk them. Since they were delicious, he could; and I’ve been a customer of his ever since as I’ve watched him marry, have kids, and eat way too much of his wife’s good cooking. His workers still bring his fruit to the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays and Sundays.

My second vendor was Lou Iacopi, who in the winter of ’93 brought to the San Mateo market mainly beans and peas but also artichokes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale, all of it the finest quality I’d ever seen. And pricey, but hey, by then I was making enough money to afford him and I deserved it. I’ve been a steady customer of Lou’s since then. He’s now at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market and the Mission Community Market.

Also back along that time at the San Mateo market, the Rodriquez guys were selling really fine berries, including excellent blackberries and raspberries of different varieties. They were one of the early vendors at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market and I bought from them on Saturdays after I left Oracle until one Saturday they weren’t present. Turned out they’d been caught selling an unauthorized green herb and were replaced by Poli Yerena, who’s been my berry vendor since then. He’s at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, the Mission Community Market, and the Alemany Farmers’ Market.

My market guru from near the beginning at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market was a delightful woman named Sybil Conn who was then writing a market report that listed every week what all the vendors had brought to market. This was an invaluable tool for serious marketers, and I so loved it at first sight that I wrote her with an offer to provide some editorial assistance with the report. We met, clicked, and I for followed her through the market every Saturday while she introduced me to vendors. We’ve been good friends ever since.

Next up is Hidden Star Orchards. I met Johann Smit in 2003 when he premiered at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. At that time he sold only apples, but I’d buy his seconds to use in my preserves for their pectin. Since then he’s added cherries and other fresh fruit to his offerings and, more recently, six varieties of hard cider from his apples. I was hooked at first sip. The Goldrush variety comes in at 8.4% alcohol, so one bottle gets me quite pleasantly buzzed. He’s also at the Heart of the City market and the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market.

Right after I met Johann Smit, I discovered the Olsens. Ken Olsen grew the best mandarins I ever ate, and I eagerly awaited his return to the Ferry Plaza market every winter. Neither of Ken’s sons was the least bit interested in farming, but his grandson Erik was. He started working on the farm as a youngster; and by the time he was in high school in about 2015, he was accompanying Ken to the market. Now he runs the show for Ken, and I’ve got him to pick blood oranges for me before they were fully ripe and still sour so that I could make a marmalade of them. This winter he’ll be bringing me some green mandarins for the same purpose.

Tierra Vegetables. I found Lee James at the Ferry Plaza market right after Ken Olsen. She grows a large variety of heirloom beans that she sells dried; and she introduced me to the Chantenay variety carrot, the carrotiest carrot I’ve ever tasted. She also sells a great many dried chiles; however, the most exciting thing she grows is the poha (Physalis peruviana), a close relative of the tomatillo, husk and all but golden, sweet, and delicious. Best of all, she sells little packets of what she calls “Mole Crumble”, which you can use to make a mole sauce every bit as good as one made from scratch after a whole day in the kitchen.

In that time frame I found Twin Girls. They’re also at the Alemany market and the Mission Community Market, and their great distinction is that they grow the best nectarine variety I ever tasted. It runs a little smaller than average, but it’s freestone, which makes everything easier. The real reason to buy them during their short season is for their superb taste.

Then came Nash at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. Alas, the booth fees at the Ferry Plaza are so high that he had to move to the Alemany market. He sells his gourmet olive oils there as well as olives he’s cured in various tasty ways. He lets chickens run loose in his olive grove and sells their delicious eggs. I once wondered if he might bring to market chickens that were no longer productive; and he told me that, hey, they worked hard for him so he just let them live out their lives. I felt about an inch high. Oh, and he’s a practicing Muslim, so maybe he gets this attitude toward his hens from the Koran. Didn’t ask him about the gays.

Another favorite vendor from the early aughts is Gary Alfieri at the Ferry Plaza and Heart of the City markets. When I first met him, he was selling only nuts; and I was an avid buyer of his almond butter. Over the years, he expanded into cherries and now sells a wide variety of them and is my go-to guy for them. He’s also a really nice guy and just radiates it, but it’s also quantifiable. The same people work his stands for years and years, which speaks eloquently for his management practices.

Somewhat later I blundered onto the Happy Quail Farms stand at the Ferry Plaza market. David Winsberg has heirloom chiles, Bell peppers, and eggplant; but what I love him for are the exotics. You want ume plums? He’s got ’em.

I went to the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market very shortly after it opened in December ’04 because the market manager is Liz Crane, an old friend from her days at the Ferry Plaza market. My favorite vendor there is the Herrs, and it’s pronounced Hurr rather than Herr because they’re Hmong rather than German. For a number of years they brought snow peas to market, and I just love pickling them. No more, alas, but they still have fine sugar snaps that I pickle avidly and fresh green garlic in its season. Not to mention a wide variety of other vegetables. When I’ve made an extra-hot preserve, I take a jar in for his mother, who just loves them.

And finally, when the Castro Farmer’s Market opened in about 2010, it leaped to the top of my list because it was just right down the hill from me. There I found Shelly and her son Kelly, who sell excellent eggs from their pasture-raised hens. When they’re at the market, I buy their eggs. My other main vendor at the market is Rodin Farms. For the first few years, Marie Rodin came to the market, and she was absolutely delightful. That helped, but it was the quality and variety of her produce that cinched the deal. Her worker Chuy now brings apricots, peaches, nectarines, and several kinds of plums, including the rare and treasured Greengages. Not to mention several varieties of pluots. Oh wow.

Those are my main vendors now, and I keep them happy by plying them with jams made from other vendor’s fruit. I take my nectarine man strawberry jam and vice versa.”

Meanwhile, another of our COVID doors.

COVID door on Valencia



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Yank Sing

I’ll get the vaccine before a haircut.

The first time I ate dim sum was at Yank Sing in the summer of 1974. I was staying in San Francisco while taking UC Berkley’s intensive summer Spanish course; and even though it was definitely intensive, I managed to cram in some recreation. This led to my befriending a Cantonese man, and I got to go along when he took a small group of us to Yank Sing. In those days, Yank Sing was located on Broadway; and the tables were so crammed together that instead of women pushing carts loaded with selections, muscular young Chinese men carried over their heads large platters. They lowered the platters to allow you to choose what you wanted, and you could ask them for items you’d not seen.

It was love at first bite, and the level of love increased throughout the meal; so I started taking groups of friends there immediately afterward. Over the years I discovered other dim sum places, particularly after Yank Sing dropped from their menu my favorite dish, a rich pastry crust molded around a center of minced barbecued pork. The transliteration is Char Siu Sou, the Chinese characters are 叉燒酥, and an English translation would be Barbecued Pork Pastry or something like that. My favorite place to get that treat before the shutdown was the Riverside Seafood Restaurant, but when dear ones were visiting I usually took them to Yank Sing’s spectacular Spear Street location.

Recently, as indicated in my The Vault Garden post, our mayor has OK’d outdoor dining; and when I heard that it would be available at Yank Sing’s Stevenson Street location, I quickly worked a visit into my schedule.

Fearing there would be a queue, I arrived at 49 Stevenson Street forty minutes early, but there was nobody there! A Chinese woman got there right after me and started banging on the door, at first to no avail; but she was relentless and eventually a woman appeared inside and motioned us to the left. There is an alleyway alongside the the patio area at north end of the restaurant, and I waited at the patio entrance.

As opening time approached, a server came out with a placard displaying a QR code and said that we could use it to look at the menu and make our selections. What!!!! I’d seen those things all over and had seen people using them for various purposes, but I’d never been forced to use one. To my great relief, when I browsed through the stuff on my phone, I saw an app that looked right. Clicked on it and sure enough, when I held my phone up to the placard, pop! there was the menu. Wow, might use this function again.

Then an employee came around and took my order, after which I was seated. It felt at first like we were going inside; but no, the whole northwest corner of the building is a covered patio open on two sides to the outdoors. The tables there were placed at a minimum of ten feet from each other, and the air circulated owing to the two open sides. The waiters and staff were all masked, and I noticed that the patrons I could see kept their masks on as they sat down and didn’t remove them until a drink arrived.

There were no young women pushing carts around. You get what you ordered at the door. Part of the charm of dim sum for me is nabbing interesting things off a passing cart, but many dim sum places nowadays have you ordering from menus once you’re seated, and the only difference here is that you order before being seated.

Even though the menu was cruelly truncated, there were enough choices for me to get a variety of dishes; and the quality was fully up to the high Yank Sing standard. As were the prices.

It was a lovely dining experience, and I’m putting out feelers to friends I think might join me there. Among the things that the shutdown has taught me is that for anything other than burritos, a rather large part of my enjoyment is my companion and I being served good food that we can eat right there at a table. Voilá, the outdoor restaurant.

Meanwhile, here’s a pic of the patio dining area.

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Willkommen

Now that San Francisco is permitting outdoor dining, I’ve been trying some of the places offering it.

My friend Mark has made the transition to working online from home, but he still gets a lunch hour. So today he took me to Willkommen. It’s a relatively new indoor beer garden on Market at 15th that has put a row of tables along the sidewalk for outdoor dining. There’s no sense of being crowded because the tables are well spaced and the sidewalk is downright spacious. It also helps that there is very little foot traffic on this block, so you don’t have folks walking past and breathing down at your plate.

We kept our masks on until the masked waitress had brought our beers, so the whole experience felt quite safe. Hell, even the few passers-by were masked.

Don’t get your hopes up for an extensive menu because Willkommen is no fine restaurant but rather a beer garden that serves some food to eat along with the beer. They have a connection to Black Hammer Brewing and serve a good variety of beers. The food choices are quite limited, mainly ten sausages from Rosamunde, warm potato salad, lentil salad, cheese spaetzle, fries, pretzels, and some green salads. There is also a vegetarian Reuben sandwich that substitutes beets for the corned beef, an intriguing flavor possibility that I’d be willing to try.

This time I had the Nuremberger Bratwurst with the red cabbage and warm potato salad. The brats were quite good, as was the red cabbage. The great surprise was the warm potato salad which was unlike any other of its ilk I’d ever eaten. The potatoes were thin sliced, sprinkled with bacon bits, and lightly dressed in a Dijon vinaigrette. Maybe it was because nowadays I’m starved for potatoes, but it was so delicious that I chased down every last molecule.

It was a pleasant experience, and I’ll go back on a sunny day. For the warm potato salad.

Meanwhile, here’s Mark at our table.

Willkomen


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