Thursday, April 8, 2010

San Francisco Diary--Journal Of An Exile

One of the interesting sights for tourists in San Francisco is the regular Muni bus crash. The Golden Gate Bridge, the Transamerica Tower, Golden Gate Park, Fisherman's Wharf and other myriad tourist spots are always in place. But Muni collisions are a movable feast. It often seems they're more reliable than Muni buses showing up on schedule.

The picture was a recent incident in which a Muni bus rammed into the back of a utility truck (ignore the graffiti, that's not regulation City decoration). This week, the excitement level was raised on San Francisco's most traveled thoroughfare--Market Street. It was a triple-bagger. First a Muni street car rammed into a Muni bus, which then rammed into a civilian vehicle. Only twelve people were injured this time, but it was quite a show. Traffic was snarled for hours, and the streetcar and bus passengers who weren't hauled off to the hospital were taken to their destinations by shuttle buses (which were rather slow in arriving).

It is important to note that nothing in life is free. Providing more exciting crashes of public transportation than any city of comparable size is not cheap. So as the buses and streetcars deteriorate and accidents become more spectacular, Muni has fare increases and service cuts hanging over the heads of locals and tourists alike. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

NOTE: The Calfornia gubernatorial race has gotten a bit more interesting. It had appeared since the withdrawal of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom that Democratic Attorney General Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown was going to run unopposed on the Democratic primary ticket. But this is California, after all, and there is a substantial minority of Democrats who, unbelievably, think that Brown isn't far enough to the left. Enter the candidate, Peter Schurman.

The Republicans have Meg Whitman (the apparent opposition leader) who has already spent $46 million of her own money in her campaign for the Republican nomination (and just pledged another $20 million). That's a lot of money, even for Brown to overcome. Schurman has a modestly wealthy supporter of his own--one George Soros, a co-founder of I first heard about this new developing circus from Andrew Price, but I just figured he had been drinking or maybe just working too hard. But about six hours later, the San Francisco Chronicle (SF Gate) confirmed it. Nice scoop, Andrew, and I apologize for my doubts about your sanity.

Until now, Whitman has been largely indistinguishable from Brown on many issues (particularly illegal immigration and gay rights), except for her relatively conservative budget proposals and union-bashing. This could change everything. Until this announcement, leftists in the Democratic Party had no viable alternative to Brown. Now, Brown is likely to have to tack to the left to avoid losing his "moonbeam" base. So far, Brown had done little campaigning, and needs his leftist base to punch up his estimated $14 million campaign war chest. This can't be a good thing for Brown.

Schurman, who lives in San Francisco (where else?), advocates all the usual left-wing nostrums. Says Schurman: "The Democratic nominee must take bold stands, such as forcing corporations and the rich to pay their fair share." He supports raising taxes and ending the two-thirds vote requirement to pass budgets. "Hiding in the back room and working the insider party connections is not the path to victory. It might've worked 20 years ago, but the landscape has changed," says Schurman. He seems to be unsure of just how ancient he wants to paint Brown as being, since he also said: "He is working from a playbook that's 30 years out of date."

Whitman has not even begun to attack Brown, and now she will have a target-rich environment. Her "take-no-prisoners" attacks on her closest Republican rival, Steve Poizner, are now just practice for her. A lefty and a far lefty Democratic opposition is like manna from heaven. If she doesn't turn her Republican base off by continuing to pile on Poizner much longer, she has a real chance of taking the big prize. Most polls show Whitman tied or slightly ahead of Brown. Without this big bump in the road, Brown could concentrate on his base of support--big unions and big corporations without having to fret too much about his left flank. This could very well change everything.

Ominously, Schurman says where his support will come from. "With the arrival of the Internet, the path is to take bold stands." has a wide following on the left, and it would be a very large surprise if the DailyKos and HuffPo didn't chime right in with their support for Schurman. Brown has been very lackadaisical in his pursuit of the state house, unlike his energetic pursuit of the governorship in his youth. Now that Brown is reaching age 72, some in the Democratic Party are questioning just how good a fight he might put up. Brown worried the party stalwarts by waiting until the last minute to announce that he would not run again for Attorney General. Brown's "in your face" debating style, which served him so well in the past, might not be nearly as effective against an internet blogging expert with huge support on the blogging left and an almost bottomless source of campaign funds.

NOTE: Bicycling Magazine recently ranked San Francisco the number six best cycling city in the nation. Number six is not exactly number one, but I can't even figure out how we got that high. On the last Friday of each month, the somewhat belligerent group "Critical Mass" terrorizes citizens and tourists alike then they all hop on their bikes, and form a wall of bicycles that stretches over many city blocks. It's not as innocent as it might sound. The group brooks no opposition, and there have been near-riots as the militant cyclists kick automobiles, block major intersections, and generally run amok.

Currently, there is an injunction against The City preventing it from imposing any additional bike lanes in an already automobile-congested town. But neither of these factoids is enough to dampen the enthusiasm for the two-wheeled horse-riders. Now I like bicycles as much as the next guy. But come on, this is San Francisco. You have to be slightly nuts to use a bike as your sole means of transportation. First, there's the weather. We don't have 360 days of sun every year like some of our competitors. In fact it rains a lot, and showing up for most jobs dripping-wet and mud-splattered tends to be frowned on even here. We have hills that would strain the hearts of the best-trained athletes. Our streets are mostly narrow, barely allowing automobiles to pass easily. If one automobile runs into another, you usually get a couple of bent bumpers and fenders. If an automobile runs into a cyclist, the results are usually quite different. And as for the sunny days, just how good does a cyclist smell after riding up and down multiple steep hills on the way to work? Are those sweat-stains, or are you just happy to see me?

San Francisco is bike-friendly, but is also becoming increasingly automobile-hostile. What started out as a good idea for occasional movement around town without adding to air pollution and gasoline consumption has become a near-religion for the eco-freaks. The automobile and the bicycle simply can't exist peacefully side-by-side in the eyes of the bicycle zealots. And it's not as if you have the clear and easy choice of your bike or public transportation (see "Muni," above). Isn't this why God invented the hybrid automobile?

NOTE: Well, the Board of Supervisors continues to keep its priorities straight. As the crime rate continues, the infrastructure collapses, and Muni continues to play bumper cars, the Board was once again busy passing resolutions about much more important matters. On Tuesday, the Board unanimously passed a resolution offered by Supe Sophie Maxwell declaring meatless Mondays. Not to be confused with that obsolete religious observance of meatless Fridays, the resolution "encourages" restaurants to offer more vegetarian fare each Monday. Like most of these invaluable and seemingly-endless resolutions, this one has no legal force and accomplishes nothing. But damn, they feel good down there at City Hall. Naturally, the Board based its resolution on the dubious relationship between diet and climate-change. They cite one "scientific study" which purports to prove that 51% of all greenhouse gases are produced by farm animals and their byproducts.

Also on the agenda: Punishing scofflaws who defy the plastic bag ban at grocery stores by calling their bags reusable. The Supes left a loophole for "thick" plastic bags which can be re-used by the customers for future shopping trips without defining exactly what "thick" means. Since taking a grocery bag to the grocery store seems like carrying coals to Newcastle to me, I use the bags for their intended purpose--dumping the contents of the cat's litter box. Maxwell also introduced a resolution commending grocery stores and restaurants that sell only cage-free eggs (they put eggs in cages?).

And then there's the proposed ordinance to ban advertising on Muni bus windows. The ads are done so that there is the illusion of a solid sign visible from outside the bus, but acts largely as a shade for the riders. Supervisor Eric Mar says the ads are "a real health hazard because they make some riders feel claustrophobic and nauseous." I'm guessing Mar meant "nauseated," but nobody ever claimed the Supes were literate. Still, if that is the test of a health hazard, the Board itself must be one since it makes a great many of us San Franciscans nauseated. For one thing, those ads bring in a lot of much-needed revenue to the cash-strapped Muni. Of course they could make up for that shortfall by raising fares for the eleventy-eleventh time while cutting service even more drastically. Or maybe they could just start charging admission to anyone who wants to view one of the Muni's many wrecks.


Joel Farnham said...


Too bad you don't have a photo of Muni and bicycle collision. That would be interesting as well. ;-)

How's your police chief faring?

StanH said...

Was the bus driver texting?

It sounds like Meg Whitman is in a take no prisoners mode. I’ve seen her on Cavuto a few times has she debated Brown, he’s is a decent debator.

We have bicycling bastards here in Atlanta as well. The way these nuts tool around a major city approaches lunacy.

It sounds like the SF BoS would make a better comedy routine, as opposed too a governing body for a major American city…wow!

Writer X said...

And I would bet none of the Supervisors have ever been to a farm that has cage-free chickens. After visiting one, they might feel differently. But the "health hazard" according to Eric Mar takes the cake. That guy seriously needs a hobby.

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! It does sound like Muni bus crashes are staged as entertainment, doesn't it?!

In DC, one of the problems with bus crashes was that various bad elements would sneak onto buses after they had crashed so that they could participate in the injury settlements. They usually caught these people on tape getting on the bus as it waited for the cops to arrive.

I heard the same was true in Philly. In fact, a few years ago, I recall they staged a bus crash to do a first responder drill, and they caught people trying to sneak onto that one!!


And I LOVE the fact that Schurman is running against Gov. Moonbeam because he's not liberal enough. California truly is a place of wonder. . . and insanity!

BevfromNYC said...

I love San Francisco! It makes NY seem so...I was going to say "sane", but it actually just means that the insanity is more wide spread than I thought.

We have Critical Mass too, but one of our wise judges just upheld a 2007 City Ordinance that required a parade permit for groups with over 50 people.

Unknown said...

Joel: There have been a few of those, believe me.

The chief survived the "ethnic slur" nonsense with flying colors, and continues to rankle the Board of Stupidvisors.

Unknown said...

StanH: Bus drivers don't text--they can't read. Whitman hasn't debated Brown yet--mostly sparring in alternate news soundbites. It will be interesting when it happens. She handles hostile reporters well, but Brown is the master of the stiletto. Our bicyclists are very aggressive, particularly since they don't think traffic lights apply to them. If SNL did a parody of the Supes, the routine wouldn't be nearly as funny as the real thing.

Unknown said...

WriterX: After I wrote the article, one of the local "meatless Monday" advocates showed up on a Fox News segment. Not only are they going to save us from disease and global warming, but she actually cited the figure of 173,000 annual gallons of gasoline that would be saved just by not having to deliver meat products one day a week. I guess vegetables get to market by magic carpet.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I had one great ride home from work one night. The driver was juggling his sack lunch and a cell phone while steering with his knees. Each time we got to a bus stop, he managed to hit the curb, going over it a couple of times.

I have heard of a couple of instances where our locals figured out the "injury in a bus crash" scam.

There's never a dull moment in California politics. Unfortunately, Cindy Sheehan isn't actively running against Pelosi this time, so all the entertainment and lefty theater will be in the gubernatorial race.

Unknown said...

Bev: Our judges don't rule against Critical Mass. It takes them too long to get back to the courthouse on their bikes. I was amazed they could even take time to issue an injunction to halt further expansion of bike lanes. I figured they'd be putting them on the freeways next.

AndrewPrice said...

"I guess vegetables get to market by magic carpet." -- LOL!

Sounds like a fun bus ride indeed!

I have to admit that California politics are easily the most coloful.

HamiltonsGhost said...

Lawhawk. They really build those buses well, don't they? The pickup and its makeshift shell look perfectly OK, but the whole front of the bus, including the passenger door, is collapsed.

Unknown said...

HamiltonsGhost: With our drivers, the only safe bus would be an M1-A1 Abrams tank. And it would still arrive late at the bus stops.

Unknown said...

Andrew: Maybe they should get the veggies to market by Muni bus. That way you'd already have the tossed salad and mashed potatoes before they ever got to the grocery stores.

Anonymous said...

LawHawk, you really crack me up. Your posts about SF living really make me glad I live in Coastal NC. All we really have to deal with is hurricanes and tourists that haven't a clue about where they are going. Keep up the good work! TJ

Unknown said...

TJ: Thanks. The only place I've ever been to in North Carolina is Chapel Hill for a conference. It was drop-dead beautiful. When I started considering genuine retirement, your part of the world was definitely near the top of the list. But my kids and grandkids are all in California, so I guess I'm stuck here (or nearby Nevada or Arizona).

Two things are often said about San Francisco, and both are true: "Only in San Francisco . . . ," and "you can't make this stuff up." LOL

Anonymous said...

LawHawk, I was in CA back in 1980 (I was all of 17 years old and had never flown before). I went to Vegas with my parents and we took a side trip to LA. After a pretty harrowing drive on the freeway (we were in a little Chevette going 70 with all the other cars flying by), we arrived downtown just in time for the premiere of Popeye with Robin Williams. My mom suggested parking and getting out in hopes that maybe we'd see some movie stars. Well my 17-year old eyes were really opened, let me tell you. I did not want to get out of that car. I had never seen such a strange collection of humanity (which by today's standards would probably be pretty tame). Needless to say, I was really glad to get back home!

My home state really does have some beautiful places, including the coastal area, not that I'm partial or anything . . . TJ

Unknown said...

TJ: The freaks in Hollywood/LA and the SF Bay Area are members of two different subspecies: Californicus Dementis. The showbiz freaks congregate in the south, and the political freaks gather in the north.

Anonymous said...

You truly have my sympathy! TJ

Unknown said...

TJ: Thanks for warm sympathy on a cold San Francisco day.

Unknown said...

DIARY UPDATE: Iran's frothing-at-the-mouth leader, Imadinnerjacket, has decided that the three UC Berkeley grad hikers caught crossing the Iranian border have backgrounds as spies. Two things occur to me: First, how good a spy could someone who taught a course entitled Liberation and reality: moving toward a collective autonomy be? And second, if they are spies, how rare is it for a UC Berkeley grad (present company excepted) to spy for our side.

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