Monday, October 26, 2009


Lilac Alley
The Mission
Tuesday afternoon


The City that I Love
June 25, 2009

Man in cream colored suit, pedaling away
one hand carrying a bouquet of stargazers.

Ten-week old soft puppy
Hello, welcome to the world
You are so golden.

A song I, yes, have heard before
Drowning in the sea of love
Where everyone would love to drown.

Waiting in line at the Castro theater
someone behind me regretting
jalapeños in his sandwich.

A gray night in June.
I came here eleven summers ago.
My heart is now open
where two cable cars
can pass each other in opposite directions.
No, I don’t mind contradiction at all.

Journal Entry: September 23, 2008

I walk home from the Castro station; I take 17th street as usual. I appreciate the outside air – windless and calm. There is a young woman, a high school girl in uniform, who starts singing once she gets off the train. She starts singing like an opera singer and walks energetically. I follow behind her, to get a feel of her world – vibrating, loud, confident.


You can see the rest of Nani's photo shoot here.

Nani's blog:

And the website of where she works:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Municipal Pier
The Marina

Friday morning


San Francisco was the first American city my father landed in from China in the late 1970s. After swimming from mainland China to Hong Kong, he earned enough money to make it to the United States; he came here on a mission to provide a better life for his growing family. San Francisco was just one piece of the journey, but it was the first place where he was able to experience American life, albeit in Chinatown.

I could have been born in San Francisco, but I wasn’t. After my father left San Francisco, he traveled around the United States a little more until he found a place to call home: Virginia. I was born there in Virginia, but perhaps my pull to move to San Francisco had always been in my blood. When I initially decided to move to San Francisco, I was drawn more by a promised job than anything else—my father had a friend here who was willing to give me a job straight after university. Although that offer ended up falling through, I still felt determined to move to San Francisco after graduation. At that point in time, I thought of San Francisco as just a different place to wait out the years—but, as time has shown me, the city has definitely been more than that.

What I’ve discovered over the course of these past two years is a lot, including most importantly, my passion for writing. I guess you can say I had my own kind of “coming out” in the sense that I let my hidden passion for writing become part of my public, professional life. I had buried my love for writing over the years—throughout school, I thought that people would look down on me when I said I wanted to be an artist or a writer. So I covered up these thoughts of mine and went on studying other subjects in order to feel accepted by others.

I stopped writing creatively for a long time until I moved out to San Francisco. Here, somehow, I have found myself drawn to writing more than anywhere else I’ve been—in the past two years since living in San Francisco, I have written three novels and am currently working on my fourth. Some of these novels were completed during the month of November, for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which I have to thank for helping me find my passion once again.

Although I have yet to officially publish my novels, just being in San Francisco has helped me re-awaken that looming giant within me. The city, the area, screams of the artistic vibe that infuses into my soul and mind. Everywhere I turn, there’s something to appreciate, something to perhaps tack onto a future storyline.

Living in San Francisco has also heightened my sense of culture and diversity by enjoying the different foods and languages that surround me on a daily basis. I have met some amazing people here from all walks of life whom I would have never met if I hadn’t moved here. Perhaps my journey to San Francisco has been more or less similar to my father’s: trying to find a better life for myself and my future.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Outside Pirate Cat Radio Cafe
21st Street, The Mission
Saturday morning


Mills College in Oakland was the only college located outside the Midwest I applied to, so naturally I chose it above all others. I left my hometown of Minneapolis in 1996 at the age of seventeen, arriving to pursue my degree and the ultimate education: living in the Bay Area. During those four years I interned with the Harvey Milk Institute on Castro Street under the guidance of the organization’s executive director, Kevin Schaub.

One July afternoon while we were out for a smoke on the steps, Kevin pointed out a mural of Harvey Milk I hadn’t noticed before, though it was directly across the street from our office. The portrait (by Josef Norris, 1998) is partially shadowed by a luscious tree. It is as though Harvey is looking down on the shop, bemused, checking in on business. The mural also includes Milk’s message, You’ve gotta give ‘em hope! “That was Harvey’s camera shop right down there,” Kevin told me, pointing to the storefront below. Less than a week later I finished reading the biography of Harvey Milk in tears on the 22.

The following spring on Easter Sunday morning, my interning duties led me to a street fair hosted by HMI and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I arrived thinking I’d be manning the HMI booth, but first Kevin tasked me with providing general support to the Sisters in their dressing room. All morning I mixed cocktails, zipped dresses, pinned hats, buckled shoes, and fetched accessories. I was harshly, and quite fairly, admonished by several Sisters after I mistakenly referred to one as a “he” – even though the Sister in question was dressed as the Pope. “We’re all ‘she’ when we’re in drag, honey.” They were gossipy and bossy, and I was becoming increasingly cranky from the task of perpetually indulging the Sisters rather than the other way around. But after all the fuss was over, each Sister emerged quite suddenly, full of grace, into the sunshine, beautiful with their painted faces, hats adorned with butterflies and silk roses, and delighted the gathering crowds the way they do.

I returned to Minneapolis in 2000 and stayed for years. I visited the Bay Area a couple of times a year, and missed it dearly. But there in Minneapolis, a wintry city of fortitude, I fell in love, got married, went back to school, learned how to cook, sang in a band, gardened, made lifelong friends, loved my work.

And still, after all that, when the opportunity arose to move back to the Bay Area, the answer was yes.

Rediscovering the city now is resonating. One can never be nineteen again, so it must be the city itself, ringing.

Today I pursue the education in experience that is doing research with ISKME, and living here in the deep of the Mission.


You can see the rest of Clare's photo shoot here.

Clare is a Research Associate at the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME):

Follow Clare at

Friday, October 16, 2009


Alta Plaza Park
Pacific Heights
Tuesday afternoon


When I twelve I made a plan. I was going to be a writer and I was going to live in San Francisco. As far as plans for twelve year old girls who love books go, it was not an especially original sort of plan. I didn’t really know much about San Francisco literary culture or history, but I had a sense and I made the plan and, in theory, this plan has sort of worked out. I live in San Francisco, now, and I study creative writing and when I go home and my best friend reminds me, hey, you’re doing what you always said you were doing! I go with it. It feels good to have that sense of accomplishment, that sense that twelve year old me was really onto something, despite her poofy hair and leggings.

Only, it turns out that living in San Francisco and trying to be a writer is not nearly as romantic as it sounds. First of all, the muse doesn’t automatically show up just because I settle myself into a chair at a coffee shop with my laptop, even though I’m pretty sure that before I came, I secretly believed this would happen. Also, it turns out that even when you are living the life your youthful self imagined, you still have bad hair days, you still miss your family and you don’t great a break on the crazy rent your youthful self conveniently never factored into the equation.

Which is all to say, sometimes I don't feel as though I live in San Francisco. Even in quintessential San Francisco moments I can be caught off guard, wondering suddenly if it is really me there on Muni, if this really is San Francisco or if I will, at some point, wake up and walk out of my apartment and find the city I imagined I knew before I got here.

And the cool thing about all of this? I don't think I'm alone in this experience, or that any two people really know the same San Francisco. In a city of transplants, almost everyone has this story. It becomes a ritual, a familiar moment in every introduction. We trade our San Francisco origin stories along with our names and neighborhoods. We draw out the paths that led us here. Even the ones who have been here all along, the ones born near the bay, can tell a story about leaving and returning, or the moment they knew they couldn't go.


You can see the rest of Margaret's photo shoot here.

Margaret's website is here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


The Marina
Thursday morning


Living on an edge is a must for me. Something to do with my Viking ancestry, no doubt. I was born and raised in Florida, lucky to have a warm beach to walk every day after school or work. When I moved to San Francisco 20 years ago, I fell in love with the Marina at first sight. A lot of people live in The Marina; I live IN the marina.

My piece of San Francisco is 39’ long by 15’ wide. In this slip lies my sailboat, a 1968 Islander 37, designed by renowned yacht designer and naval architect Bruce King. Though she’s a fiberglass sloop, her classic exterior lines, swoopy stern, ample beam and teak bits give her the air of a more traditional wooden boat. Down below, her salon is warm and cozy. I sleep here, lulled by the foghorn and the rhythmic thrumming of the halyards against the masts. It’s best when raindrops join these to create a hypnotic symphony. The salon also serves as a reading room, home office, and when friends come to visit, an intimate wine bar.

On sunny days, the view from the boat’s cockpit rivals that of any of my land-loving neighbors. Look left, there’s the Golden Gate Bridge. Swivel right and the sky is filled with kites above Marina Green. Gaze across Marina Boulevard at the barrel tile roofs against the sharp blue sky, it’s easy to imagine being in my beloved south of France.

While the boat herself gives me as much pleasure as I can stand, my little marina ’neighborhood’ has its own tempo, which changes depending on the day of the week. Weekdays are special to me since they are typically quiet—there are boat owners who go out during the week, but they are few. Most Monday-through-Friday action comes from the intrepid guys who don a wet suit and tank and brave the murky harbor waters to scrub boat bottoms, or the occasional marine electrician or refinisher out to fix bad wiring or refinish someone’s teak.

Weekends, though, the marina is a Happening. Boats wander in and out all day. Friends bring their friends to share an afternoon on the bay, a trip to Angel Island or maybe sail over to Sausalito to dock at Sam’s for lunch. Kids learning to sail brave the distinct possibility of capsizing to work on their mastery of this most enthralling sport. We have periodic festivals or exhibitions or film crews on Marina Green-and those ubiquitous kites. Volleyball games here, regattas there, those funny little yellow rent-a-scooters navigating the traffic—it’s an extravaganza starring all of us who love being by the Bay.

Marina Boulevard, our very own parade route, draws tourists and locals looking for views, views and views. And maybe a flat place to run, walk or bike. The runners run, from sun up long into the evening, weather be damned.. The wide sidewalk that extends all along the waterfront lures locals to pedal and tourists to rent bikes—Blazing Saddles must be doing box office, since every rental bike in the Marina sports its signature Blazing Saddles handlebar bag, complete with a trusty map. Segway tours pass often-I shouldn’t but I have to giggle every time I see these clots of peoplemovers, since they do look kind of silly and the mandatory helmets and vests are so matchy-matchy, and I still don’t understand how those things stay up anyway, so I watch and wait, expecting a brutal Segway pile up at any time.

Park, who works in the Harbor Master’s office, pops out every few hours to check on the boats, or to get some fresh air—he has worked in the office at least as long as I have. Park is a wealth of local knowledge. He told me about the weekly emergency alert signal one day when I was passing by him, it blared, and I shot several feet straight up. He gives me the skinny on the jumper situation when there are emergency rescue personnel at the marina. Most importantly, he knows who belongs in the marina and who does not: our one-man security force and guardian angel.

I love to walk to Greens for a cup of soup or a cookie, up to Chestnut for coffee, down to Crissy Field, along the beach and the warming hut at the end of the path. I belong to a boating club that is close by also; I’ve made so many good friends here. There’s something special about people joined by a mutual passion. Walking from the boat, I can be alone or with friends, in the middle of urban or at the end of the world within minutes. Where else can you do that?

What I notice most is how kind everyone is here. I attribute it to the gestalt of the marina: the soothing feeling inherent in being on the edge, knowing there’s an exit just there, within spitting distance, if you should need one. Add to that the views worth crossing the globe to see, the scent of the sea, the wail of the seagulls, the gentle to gale force breeze, and the warm kiss of the sweet sun—or as we learn to love in San Francisco, the caress of the kitten-gray fog—and I can’t help but smile and be grateful.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Near MacLaren Park
Thursday afternoon


My Life in Motorcycling

I had my first ride on the back of a motorcycle at age 15. I was immediately hooked, but it wasn’t till I’d been living in San Francisco for almost a year that a friend of mine at work happened to mention the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) class. Until then, I had no idea there was a class one could take to learn how to ride; I assumed I’d have to find a patient biker friend. I cut the conversation short, RAN upstairs to my desk, and phoned to reserve a spot in the class.

A few months later, I had a license and a bike of my own, and it was then that I began to really love San Francisco. The freedom and mobility opened up the city, the Bay Area, and the whole state to me—I saw a lot of gorgeous places in my pursuit of curvy roads. I was so excited about riding that I would get up earlier on the weekends to hit the twisties than I did during the week to go to work. I explored the coast north and south of the city, the East Bay hills, the Santa Cruz mountains, and the back roads of Marin and Sonoma, including many places I would never have thought to visit in a car.

Often riding alone, I met a lot of people in my travels, including some who are good friends at least a decade later.

I can’t omit mention of my awful accident; I was hit by a reckless driver on November 26th, 1999, suffering a compound fracture of my right tibia, and breaking both bones in both my wrists. That happened on 14th Street and South Van Ness. I was taken to SF General, which fortunately has the best trauma unit in the city, though it’s not the best place to recuperate. I was subsequently transferred to Saint Mary’s—by two incredibly hot, butch, tattooed, lesbian EMTs. Only in SF!

I really didn’t think I’d keep riding after that, but at the end of a 6-month convalescence, I found that my passion for riding was still with me, and I bought another bike.

Almost exactly a year after my accident, a friend of mine invited me to head to the annual motorcycle expo with a group of her friends. We met at Seal Rock Inn at Point Lobos. My friend brought a passenger—a friend of a friend who’d just moved to town and wanted to learn to ride. He sat next to me at breakfast, and we engaged in polite chit chat. At the time, I had no inkling whatsoever that I would be married to him a few years later, living in a house in the Excelsior with a garage full of motorcycles.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Wentworth Alley
Thursday afternoon


Too Blessed To Be Stressed

I met Lee in 1997. He squatted at the bus stop shelter by my house in San Francisco’s Lower Haight.

Lee was a tall, exceptionally fit brother, mid-to-late forties, with natty shoulder-length dreads and a long, scraggly beard to match. He was missing most of his top and bottom front teeth.

I was 18 and living in a sectioned off hallway of an old Victorian. The hallway was nicknamed “The Taco” because the walls were so narrow that my hand-me-down futon mattress folded up on both sides resembling a taco shell. The space cost me $150 a month, utilities included.

The living situation was suitable for me back then. I worked only part-time at a bagel shop downtown, making just enough to get by. I was broke, but content. I had ample time to skate with my friends, plenty of bagels to keep my stomach full and a running tab at the corner store.

Lee was without question one of the hardest working recyclers in town. He had Upper and Lower Haight, Hayes Valley and the Upper Market/Castro area on lockdown, scavenging the recycling from these neighborhoods hours before the garbage men arrived. Afterwards, he cashed his collection in at the buy-back center on Market and Church streets. He then spent his evenings lounging at the bus stop shelter by my house, smoking rollie cigs and weed and listening to the classic soul and R&B station on his portable radio.

One evening, while waiting for the bus to Upper Haight, Lee told me that he’d been living on the streets of S.F. for over fifteen years. I know he made decent money recycling, probably as much or more than I was making at the bagel shop, so why he remained homeless, I don’t know. I guess he preferred it. During this same conversation, Lee said the only three things he ever spent money on were tobacco, weed and batteries for his radio. That’s it. Everything else, including food, he scavenged out of the trash.

In the summer of 2000, my landlord sold the old Victorian to a real-estate developer who wasted no time giving me, my roommates and the other tenants the boot.

I ended up couch surfing for a month before finding an affordable room in a skate house in The City’s Richmond District.

Close to four months went by before I saw Lee again. It was a Thursday afternoon. I had just finished eating lunch by myself in Upper Haight. Lee was posted up on the corner of Haight and Masonic. He had five large, heavy-duty garbage bags overflowing with recycling tied down to his cart.

I was feeling down this particular day because I had just received word two days earlier that my old friend, Rubin “Peanuts” Grimes, died of a heroin overdose. The news didn’t come as much of a surprise. It was only a matter of time, really. He overdosed twice before. I was scheduled to leave town early the following morning to attend his funeral on Sunday.

Rubin and I were the same age. We actually started skating together in the sixth grade. His nickname was “Peanuts” because he was obsessed with the Charles Schulz Peanuts comics. He even had a tattoo on his right-shoulder of Snoopy (as “Joe Cool”) doing a wheelie on a skateboard. The tattoo was corny as hell, yet fitting.

Rubin was a natural on the skateboard, definitely good enough in the mid-90s be sponsored, but quit senior year of high school to shoot junk fulltime. He started dabbling with the drug junior year, snorting a little here, smoking a little there. By mid-senior year, he was shooting it. It was all down hill from there. He never did graduate.

Pretty much everyone had long since given up on Rubin, his family included.

Although Rubin and I lived in different states, we talked on the phone every so often. We’d reminisce about the old days, and he would always tell me that he was going to start skating again, maybe even come visit me in S.F. That obviously never happened.

Given the circumstances, I wasn’t in the mood to socialize with anyone, but decided I would at least say Hi to Lee before heading home to pack for my trip.

“What up, Lee?” I said as I approached.

An immense smile came over Lee’s face, revealing his missing front teeth. “How the hell are you, my man?” he replied.

We shook hands.

“I’m good,” I said, trying hard not to look sad. “How ‘bout you?”

“I’m blessed,” he replied, pointing towards the bags of recycling tied down to his cart. “Too blessed to be stressed. Business is good.”

“I see that.”

“Where’ve you been hiding?” Lee asked.

“I moved. The landlord sold the building and the new owner gave us the boot. I’m living out in the Avenues now, Richmond side. It’s much quieter, you know.”

“I’m glad I finally ran into you,” he said. “I got something for ya’. Been holding onto it for a while now.”


Lee dug deep into the bottom of his cart and pulled out an old beat-up skateboard.

“I found it in the trash over on McAllister Street,” he said handing me the board.

All at once, I felt extremely emotional. The skateboard was a Peanuts-themed Nash from the mid-80s. The faded, scratched and peeling graphics were of Snoopy (as “Joe Cool”) sporting shades, a Hawaiian shirt, jam shorts and full pads, busting an ollie off the side of his doghouse. The die-cut griptape read “Joe Cool” in bubble letters. The trucks, bearing and bolts were rusty; the yellow and green swirled wheels coned.

“What do ya’ think?” Lee asked. “I don’t know nothin’ about boards, but it looks like a good one to me.”

So much was going through my mind that I could barely speak, but somehow, in a shaky voice, managed to murmur, “I love it.”

Lee smiled and said, “Can you believe someone would throw a good board like that out?”

I shook my head.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rachael and Lili Bean

Noe Valley
Wednesday afternoon


Growing up in Tennessee in the 70s with a single mom, we had an “npr/food co-op/flea market life”. I used to go up and visit Frieda our attic neighbor. All sorts of Technicolor groovy posters hung in her tiny wood paneled apartment. She wore cool bellbottoms and fed me peanut butter sandwiches on homemade whole wheat bread. We had a lot of neighbors like Frieda back in those days. When the 80s happened, big hair and bad fashions grabbed me by the bolo tie and didn’t let go until about 1987. My young heart pined for the typical suburban life like that of most people I knew in the catholic school I was sent to due to my ‘assimilation troubles’. Somewhere along the way something snapped in me. I began to see my childhood days of warm wood paneling, friends living in communal houses, flea markets and swimming in creeks as the best times of my life. I vowed to never, ever live in a suburb after all.

After putting myself through college working a series of lowly positions in sometimes humiliating menial jobs, in 1997 I was invited in the form of an employment offer to be part of the dotcom boom in San Francisco. I decided pretty quickly to do it, and said goodbye to my family and the fireflies of Tennessee. I became part of the reviled wave of newcomers to the bay area known as ‘dotcommers’. Sadly, I was never one of the overpaid ones that typified the cliché. Those dotcom days were grand, filled with lavish parties and a general running wild about my new city. Even the dotcom bust of 2000, while stressful, was mostly a barrel of fun. Everyone was laid off and we all suffered through it together. I was quite happy with my creative projects, stock options and severance packages. I mostly thought about design and art and what I might be doing after work. Sometime around my 35th birthday I started to sing ‘is that all there is’ irony free and most likely out of key. One day, I was in my doorway on Bush street just about to go out for a wander. "Since my friend the internet had given me so much already in life, why not see if it can find a special someone for me?", I questioned myself. In those days there was still a stigma attached [there might be still, I don’t know] to using ‘dating sites’ so I had no interest in doing that. What I did was pull up a profile on Friendster. I kept it open and told myself that if, post-exercise session, I still felt like it, I would send a message.

I came back and wrote a witty [I thought] little intro to the guy who was smiling up at the coffeemaker as if it was a Buddha on a mountain. A day or so later, I got a reply. We traded banter back and forth for a couple of months. I went to a party at his office/warehouse and later he invited me to his birthday party at Zeitgeist, and this is when we hit it off. He proposed to me on my birthday in May of 2005 on Telegraph Hill with parrots swooping and squawking all around us. We got married at the Log Cabin in the Presidio in December.

On my birthday in 2008, Lili Bean was born. This seemingly conventional life that I’ve found in San Francisco is one that I never expected after a lifetime pretty close to unconventionality. I never pictured myself settling down like this and being happy with it. But I did and I am. We hope to raise our little native San Franciscan in the city of her birth, with generous visits to Tennessee thrown in. She must see fireflies and swim in a few creeks. She'll definitely be going to flea markets and having pbj’s on homemade bread, too.