Thursday, July 30, 2009

San Francisco Diary--Journal Of An Exile

News Item: Floating Island Destroys San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. City Faces Worst Disaster Since The Great Earthquake And Fire! Just kidding. I thought maybe I would occasionally start my Diary with a picture of some landmark other than our iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Of course now that means I need to give you a little background on this bridge.

Completed in 1936, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge never got the respect that her sister the Golden Gate garners. The Golden Gate was built to link two extremely scenic contrasts--the City of San Francisco on the south, and the beautiful Marin headlands to the north. In the process, it spanned one of the most spectacular harbor entrances in the world, with two towers and a roadway reaching dizzying heights. Its more practical purpose was to close the gap on U.S. Highway 101 for automobiles without the necessity of a ferry trip across entrance to the Bay, know itself as "the Golden Gate."

The Bay Bridge (as most San Franciscans call it) was actually started and finished before the Golden Gate, but took longer to build because it covered the longest stretch of water in an urban setting in bridge-building history. The bridge is actually two bridges, anchored near the center on Yerba Buena Island (the "floating island" in my picture). The western span (San Francisco side) is structurally similar to the Golden Gate, with two towers sunk deep into the Bay and one soaring suspension span. It's even a rare San Franciscan who knows that the bridge is legally named and registered as the "James 'Sunny Jim' Rolph" Bridge, after San Francisco's version of New York's Jimmy Walker, both known for their flamboyant mayoral style and questionable politics.

The eastern span (to Oakland) is a mishmash of double cantilever spans, short traditional cantilever bridges, and a raised causeway. Very utilitarian, but it was never as beautiful as the western span, and is fortunately aimed southeast from The City so that we really don't have to look at it much. The eastern section is the one that partially collapsed during the Loma Prieta quake of 1989, and is currently being replaced in large part by a much more attractive section of cable-stayed towers. It is the major artery between San Francisco and Oakland and about a quarter million vehicles pass over it each business day. The two segments of the bridge are connected by the tallest transit tunnel in the world (because it's a double-decker bridge), bored through the rock of Yerba Buena Island. And now you know.

Note: San Francisco has always fancied itself the Paris of the West, so it now has a new regular event--setting cars on fire. Automobile arsons are springing up all over town, just like in gay Paree. There wasn't much of a fuss so long as the vehicles were delivery trucks and clunkers in the seedy parts of the Mission District and the urban nightmare of the Bayview District. But now the vandals have moved up to tourist spots near The Wharf and the more sedate areas of the Outer Richmond District. The final blow was the burning of a Porsche at Powell Street near Pier 39 (also a tourist area).

The underlying cause has yet to be determined (like the fact that arsonists enjoy burning things). Police and Fire Department arson officials are not yet ready to link the latest series of fires to an earlier spate of burnings The City went through a short while back. That might be because they're hoping nobody outside San Francisco will notice we had an epidemic of portable toilet arsons. Not nearly as glamorous as automobiles. But one officer did note that the toilet fires were started by setting fire to a newspaper to ignite the blazes (the San Francisco Chronicle is finally good for something other than lining birdcages). A burning newspaper was found recently under an automobile, but nobody is sure if there is any connection. Investigators say that their best guess is that the fires are being set by "those who are on the youthful side, in their late teens or early twenties." Now if The City wants to be even more like Paris, it can import a few of those "disaffected Asian [middle eastern] youths [of a certain religious persuasion]" who set cars on fire in the Parisian banlieues.

NOTE: The Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) strike deadline is looming over The City and the entire Bay Area. It's been looming now for about 119 days. Most riders are reaching the point of saying "Get it over with, already. Either go on strike or accept the contract, but quit threatening." It boils down to the biggest holdout being the train drivers, who insist on a raise and extra benefits as the state and The City sink into bankruptcy. The drivers are already the highest-paid transit employees in the nation outside the boardrooms and executive offices. And here's the beauty part--the trains are actually designed to run electronically from a central control station, with no need for drivers at all. But BART decided at the time of its original opening that it might scare riders off when they saw a train with no visible person driving. So they set it up with a driver (who is essentially unnecessary) with operating controls which can be overriden from the central operating station.

NOTE: SF Gate contributor Rich "Big Vinny" Lieberman may find himself in trouble with his fellow "progressives" at the Gate and on the street. While taking a potshot at conservative pundits, he accidentally took a stand on free speech which required him to defend Michael Savage of Savage Nation radio fame. Even many of us conservatives find Savage a bit strong for our tastes (his appeal is to an audience which likes its political discourse angry and contentious, which is not a bad thing unless like many of us you already agree with much of what he says, and don't need to have it shouted at you). Conservative television and radio personalities simply seem to ignore him (Hannity, Limbaugh), and TV's Bill O'Reilly has made only casual favorable mention of him.

So what's the beef? Well, unlike the others, Savage has been banned in the UK. A secret set of memos coming out of the government offices in London (they have leaks just like us) described Savage as a Jew who changed his last name (born Michael Weiner). His virulent attacks on radical Muslim terrorists weren't enough to get him banned by themselves. But since Savage is Jewish, it would "upset the balance of Jews and Muslims reporting on British Radio (shades of the "fairness doctrine"). This gave Lieberman the opportunity to attack conservatives for failure to rally to Savage's support. He lets us know that O'Reilly did make a couple of grudging remarks about the ban, but overall, the "conservatives are silent about this intrusion on free speech." Do I need to point out that the UK has no First Amendment, and we've all been down this road before?

So how could Lieberman be in trouble with his fellows? Simple, in order to attack conservatives and appear to be a champion of free speech, he had to say something favorable about Savage. So Lieberman wrote: "He is the third most listened-to radio host in the country. And yes, I enjoy listening to his monologues quite a bit even though most of the time we disagree." Having gotten the obligatory homage-to-the-enemy out of the way, Lieberman goes on to say: "But [as] I listen I find it puzzling that, with the exception of a few, his conservative contemporaries have decided to go down the silence road. Until it happens to one of them, Hypocrites, plain and simple." Lieberman could find absolutely no motivation for the conservative silence other than professional jealousy and right-wing hypocrisy.

Now Lieberman can explain it to his friends who seem to believe that Savage should be banned here, First Amendment or not. Thanks, Mr. Lieberman, but most of us conservatives are busy here in America where we are actually watching a constitutionally guaranteed right being put in jeopardy. We're just not too concerned right now with what they're hearing on the BBC.

NOTE: As is nearly unavoidable these days, I close today's Diary with another article from the noisome Mark Morford. His headline today: "Obama birthers ate my love child! The president is an alien! The Republican nutball fringe wants you! Apply now!" I assume that this was directed at Bay Area residents who are not already busy writing screeds for the 9/11 Truthers.

I can never resist including at least one sentence from Morford's stream-of-consciousness babbling. Most people would consider them paragraphs, if they considered them at all. So, here's today's: "These are the kinds of things that ooze into your mind and infect your consciousness like some sort of unwelcome but fascinating worm, a cute little parasite you didn't notice for the longest time because you were busy doing something far more interesting and engaging--like, say, reading a book, sipping a glass of wine, having sex, breathing, clipping your toenails, picking lint off your couch, or, well, pretty much anything at all because really, who wants to think about oozing, unwelcome worms."

Apparently, Republicans are all worm-infested, ignorant, beer-swilling, sexless, non-breathing, clawed beasts with lint-bedecked couches. But lest you think that all Republicans are simply that loathsome, consider that some are even worse. "Do you know about 'The birthers'? Have you been reading about this adorable little screamin rantin kookaburra ultra-right wing mini-movement that is right now hell-bent and heck-happy on hijacking the entire GOP agenda by questioning the veracity of President Obama's birth certificate?" Well yes, Mr. Morford, we have heard, even if your readers haven't.

The vast majority of Republicans are very concerned with Obama's tendency to lie, obfuscate, dodge and weave, manipulate, manufacture facts, and generally look like the sneakiest President since Richard Nixon, but we don't start frothing at the mouth about the birth certificate issue. Most of us believe that if there really were anything to the allegation about Obama's foreign birth, even this Chicago con artist would not be able to hide it this long. It's just part of his pattern of hiding the truth solely for the sake of seeing if he can get away with it.

In fact, Republicans really do have better things to do. That's the answer to your question "Who knew? Who knew, in the wake of all those madcap Christian fundamentalists who ruled like drunken virgins over the Dark Days of Bush, the right still had such a cavalcade of intellectual toddlers waiting in the wings to come out and play in the fields of Infantile Fantasyland, and further guarantee the party's merciful irrelevance for years to come?"

We have our "birthers" and you have your "troofers," but at least our fringe can point to a complete lack of any genuine documentation which could easily be provided by the President, while your fringe has nothing but Rosie O'Donnell, a large group of leftists, and a complete lack of logic, evidence and scientific proof. Our fringe points out a lack of easy production of proof to spin their theory. Yours ignores facts entirely and denies what millions of Americans saw with their own eyes. Frankly, I'll take my fringe over yours any day.


StanH said...

Good read! SF Bay area is truly a beautiful sight, but to your point of the, “Paris of the west.” My wife always asks when I reference South Park …are you fifteen or fifty? But, …I love how the South Park boys handled that exact point, does everyone SF drive a Prius, and do you have daily smug alerts? HA! The car arsons that’s wild indeed, sounds like kids or perhaps ELF wannabes. The pay for your BART “train riders” is a prime example for the insolvency of CA, and how CA got there, and like most major cities, make work, or a jobs program sponsored by the tax payers lucky us ...jeez : ( Like you said I agree with what Savage has to say, but don’t enjoy being hollered at. Barry’s birth certificate is IMO a dry hole, but as Bernie Goldberg pointed out last evening on O’Reilly …to paraphrase, “why doesn’t the White House simply produce the document? Because, it’s useful propaganda making some on the right look like troofers.” Perhaps a tad Machiavellian, but wouldn’t put it past them.

Writer X said...

Thank you for explaining the term "birther." Someone called someone else that on an enlightening comment (insert sarcasm) on BH yesterday and I thought it was a misspelling or something. I didn't know what it meant. Till now.

Regarding the igniting of cars, guess we can look forward to that in Phoenix one of these days. Everything from your state seems to trickle over to ours. Eventually.

As an aside, the train drivers used as props struck me funny and reminded me of a hilarious episode of THE OFFICE where Michael takes the team on a team-building aboard a boat. The captain lets Dwight "steer" the boat, just to get rid of him. Unbeknowns to Dwight, he's steering a wheel that's not attached to anything. I saw it the other night and couldn't stop laughing.

Tennessee Jed said...

Always enlightening, Hawk. I couldn't help think of the much more well known J. Carmichael Greer Bridge near where I live. Named for a local politician, I think, it actually sits across a T.V.A. dam where the "Little Tennessee" emptys into the Tennessee River and forms Fort Loudon Lake. I couldn't find a single picture to attach, let alone one rivaling The Bay Bridge. I did crossit once while at a management conference in Berkley when we drove over to meet friends for a drink at the Sir Francis Drake.

AndrewPrice said...

I think from now on, I will think about flaming toilets when I think of San Francisco. They should put that in the tourism brochures!

Unknown said...

StanH: We of a less liberal persuasion here in town were calling each other on the phone yelling "Ya gotta watch South Park right now!" when the "smug" episode came on. And of course, the dread Prius was one of the centerpieces. Something about that car just ticks me off. And everyone around me knew it. One week I house-sat for my son and his wife while they were on vacation, and it's easier to drive from his place in the Berkeley hills to my place in The City than to take BART (neither of us lives anywhere near a station). So I always drive his car (I don't need a car in SF). He had bought a Prius, and his BMW was in the shop. So there I was, right in front of God and everyone, driving a Prius! I've never been razzed so much by my friends. Funny thing, though. It's a pretty cool car.

Unknown said...

WriterX: California has a long history of perpetuating jobs which actually serve no purpose. Back in the late 50s the railroad unions were extremely powerful. Each time a new contract was written with the railroads, the unions would include the requirement that every train have an engineer and a fireman in the engine cab. It was a well-known and wasteful practice called "featherbedding." The railroads just couldn't seem to negotiate out of this silly arrangement (firemen, who stoked the boilers with coal, hadn't been a necessity in over fifty years). So they did the next best thing. They went to the voters in a ballot initiative. It took an act of the voters to get rid of an entrenched, and totally unnecessary job.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: I've been through a lot with that bridge, but we all love it. When I was at school in Berkeley, all us young 'uns would drive over to San Francisco for our hijinx. During that time, they decided to change the patterns so that all traffic traveled on the top deck going into SF and on the lower deck coming out. Large trucks and buses had only been allowed on the lower deck previously, causing bad transportation tie-ups for them since it cut their lane space by half. So they did some major construction in the Yerba Buena tunnel that utilized a huge construction platform in the tunnel that everybody called "the hump" during the revamp. Nobody was quite sure what the hump was for, and for years the big scandal was "was the hump really necessary?" During the construction, wet plaster falling on the roof of your car was commonplace. PS: Locals still gather for cocktails in the Starlight Room at the top of the Drake Hotel.

Andrew: I really wanted to run up to the owner of one of the porta-potties and yell "Sir, get help quick, your head's on fire!"

StanH said...

Obvious Karma Lawhawk, that’s to funny! Did you ride around to familiar haunts beeping your roadrunner horn, giving all your buds a smug thumbs up : ) Toyota, does make a good product, and I’m sure the Prius is a fine car.

Unknown said...

StanH: I was amazed how roomy it is inside, and it's a little scary to be sitting at a light and wondering if your engine died. The instrument panel is so fascinating that it's hard to pay attention to the road, but you do get used to it. It's ugly as sin, but I think if I were going to own a car in San Francisco, it's one I would consider, unless I could find something as good that doesn't look anything like it. A guy can only take just so much kidding, you know.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I can see why you would want to do that.

P.S. You'd never get me into a Prius. LOL! I'd run over one, but I'd never get into one.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I think you know that I would drive the biggest Hummer I could find just to rub the locals' noses in it. But I was looking at the other side. On a long trip, a Prius (and most hybrids) are not the least bit fuel-efficient. And there's plenty of distance from one part of California to another. What's nice about a hybrid in this town is the way they work. Uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill, stop, start, stop, start, cook until done. That eats gas likes it's going out of date. And it plays hell with the engines and brakes. But every time you go down that hill and hit the brakes, the battery charges. Sitting at those interminable traffic lights is low-drain, no gas. So what I'm thinking of is getting a hybrid, then having them put a fiberglass Hummer body on it just to tick off the neighbors!

AndrewPrice said...

That would do it Lawhawk. They would flip once they saw the Prius/Hummer roll up the street. LOL!

Of course, I'm not sure the Prius could handle the weight.

Unknown said...

Andrew: We're big on appearances here. The Hummer only appears to be big, and it's very lightweight since it's made out of fiberglass. Now my only problem is worrying about whether fiberglass is ecologically correct enough for Smug City.

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