Even a city as boisterous, colourful and marvellous as San Francisco, where I just was, is not immune from the forces ravaging daily newspapers. When one thinks of the classic circulation tussles of the past between the storied Examiner and Chronicle, it’s enough to make one bleed a sorrowful tube of printer’s ink to see them now.

ImageThe San Francisco Examiner, one-time employer of Ambrose Bierce and Jack London and lynchpin of William Randolph Hearst’s ‘yellow journalism’ empire, is now a free, incredibly-shrinking tab that on Monday could muster no more than 20 pages.

The Chronicle, where the legendary Herb Caen held sway for nearly 60 years, has had the largest circulation drop of any major paper in the United States over the last few years.

Still, as I do in any city I’m in, I read the local papers. You feel part of the community, rather than a mere tourist. You also notice events outside the guidebook.

During one SF visit in 1989, I spied a reference to a memorial service for a longtime activist and union organizer, Jack Olsen. I decided to go. Lucky me. His partner turned out to be none other than well-known feminist author, Tillie Olsen, who spoke movingly of their life together. Another speaker was Spanish Civil War vet Bill Bailey, one of those old leftists who talk about their political past at the beginning of Warren Beatty’s movie, Reds.

This time, thumbing through the papers brought me to a revival of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Buried Child, at the same, intimate Magic Theatre where it received its world premiere in 1978. The production, though harrowing, was terrific.

So, my advice to anyone on a trip: read the newspaper. You just never know. Here are some other things I found out.

1. Headline: “Motorist stabbed in Tenderloin”. Ouch! A terrible place to be stabbed.

2. I missed the America’s Cup by a day, but not the public fallout as to whether putting up millions to host the jib joust was a good idea for the city. Local politician John Avalos was one of those wary about a repeat. “We were promised a regatta of 15 boats, but ended up with three billionaires in a tub.”

3. Even more than Vancouver, San Francisco is becoming a city of the rich, where money talks. Long-time tenants, many of them seniors, are being evicted from their rent-controlled apartments, so developers can renovate and turn their buildings into expensive co-op units. Real estate prices, meanwhile, are zooming into the stratosphere. The Chronicle’s “what you can buy” feature covered condos in “the $1.38 million range”. Non-controlled rents for new, one bedroom apartments are averaging close to $4,000 a month. Here’s a great column on the problem by Carl Nolte, who says the influx of high-tech companies is partially to blame.


4. Oakland, across the bay, is now the robbery capital of the United States. Police say criminals have cottoned on to the fact they can make more money robbing people than selling drugs. Unclear if this is progress.

5. As a connoisseur of fine names, I enjoyed those of winning America’s Cup skipper Jimmy Spithill, and Mark Baldassare, head of a public policy institute. There was also news about Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk and Bang Ding Ow, the infamous false names attributed by a local TV station to four pilots on board the Asiana aircraft that crashed at SF Airport last year. After lengthy negotiations, fired producer Roland De Wolk got a nice severance package, his lawyer reported. Shirley Knot…

6. Forget it, Mitt, it’s San Francisco. So of course the Mormon-owned Marriott Hotel chain, with Mr. Romney on its board of directors, was a corporate sponsor of Sunday’s Folsom Street Fair celebrating sexually-explicit kinkiness involving bondage, leather, and, yes, even nudity. Event organizers had promised “more eye candy than you can shake your cock at, public play stations, and mobs of leather-clad kink lovers, fetish gear and toys”, spread out over 13 blocks of adult entertainment. “Anyone who’s interested in people, and watching people – it doesn’t get any better than that,” explained Marriott sales and marketing director Frank Manchen.

7. Too many tour buses are annoying residents of the famous row of painted Victorian houses seen in a zillion posters and postcards. One posted a sign saying: “Get off your big fat tour bus and experience San Francisco”.  Now the sign, itself, is a tourist attraction. “We used to wake up listening to birds,” sighed resident Christi Every. “Ever since the increase in tour buses, we wake up to exhaust.”

8. In anticipation of next year’s 75th anniversary of the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck’s seminal tale of dust, Depression and the displaced, a group of artists and admirers are re-tracing the Joad family’s journey along what’s left of Route 66, from Sallisaw, Oklahoma to California. Great idea. Their experiences can be followed here: http://www.grapesofwrath75.org


5 thoughts on ““I SEE FROM THE PAPERS…”

  1. Reading a newspaper while on vacation, seeing a reference to a labour-related memorial service and deciding to go — what a very Mickle thing to do! Great post, friend. Looking forward to San Fran myself next month. You’ll have to tell me about the beat museum

    • Thanks, Andrea.i must say, i was pretty pleased that day.i just thought i’d hear some good anecdotes from the radical 30’s or something, but then Tillie Olsen, speaking of the tough adjustment Jack had to feminism, and their days of activism together, etc, and Bill Bailey, too.at the old union hall on the waterfront, I thinkBeat Museum not great, but worth going to, for sure

  2. Good advice. I even pick up papers when I pass through a town sometimes. And I hate it, when I am someplace where I don’t know the language, when I walk into the middle of protesters, police and soldiers because I did not all about it.

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