Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’


After Donald Trump won the presidency, many San Franciscans declared, “We should have seen this coming. But we live in a bubble. We didn’t know what people out there were thinking.” They were right. And they were wrong.

A bubble around San Francisco? Not all San Franciscans live in mansions and luxury condos, dine at expensive restaurants, drink fine wines and vacation overseas. San Francisco consists of many bubbles. The rich? We have them. The struggling middle and working class? The poor? They’re San Franciscans, too.

Yes, political and social attitudes in San Francisco are overwhelmingly liberal while many parts of the nation are equally conservative. As Robert Leonard wrote in the New York Times (1-5-16), people in rural areas have a different worldview than those who live in big cities and wealthy suburbs. He quotes Baptist minister and former U.S. congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, “The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good.”

Different ways of seeing the world, often formed by the Christian belief in original sin, can be found in what coastal Americans often term “flyover country.” Those of us who’ve gotten to know conservative parts of America—for me: Western New York, Georgia a bit and Texas a lot—understand that Americans live under a variety of conditions and hold a variety of views, often complex. California coastal “elites” tend not to relate to the desolation (and rays of hope) I’ve seen in Detroit and the desolation (without apparent hope) I’ve seen in Gary, Indiana and much of Baltimore. But here is where those beating themselves up for living in a bubble go wrong.

Out-of-work coal miners in West Virginia, struggling farmers in Iowa and low-paid service workers in Arizona all live in their own bubbles. They see life through the lenses of their upbringing, religion, cultural background, education and economic condition. Life is real there. Life is real here. How good or bad remains subject to individual interpretation.

In his farewell address, Barack Obama asked Americans to get out of their bubbles. If he meant that we should no longer live in communities with those whose backgrounds and interests we share, he got it wrong. People often feel most comfortable with others like themselves. But I don’t think that was Obama’s intention. I believe he asked Americans to expand our horizons, talk to each other across red and blue lines, and listen.

Despite our differences, our “civil religion”—the idea that every American should play by the rules and get a fair shake in return—can unite us. It has in the past when we’ve faced major challenges. Yes, religion and ethnicity often divide us. Only the naïve think that this nation is perfect. But we often find common ground in not just in the tenets of our Constitution but in ordinary things: sports teams, music, Mother’s Day flowers, July Fourth barbecues, Thanksgiving dinner, and visits to national parks and urban tourist attractions.

America is a nation of numerous bubbles. We’re not all the same. We never have been. We shouldn’t be. But if we can peer through our bubbles, respect legitimate differences and open ourselves to all that binds us, the United States will do just fine.

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Carolyn and I recently took our son Aaron’s dog Saffy for a walk near our house. In front of the Presidio Landmark apartments  (in the Presidio National Park), we spotted an interesting dog. Well, Carolyn thought it was a dog. I knew what it really was.

Coyotes started popping up in San Francisco a decade ago. At first, Animal Control came by where a coyote had been spotted, but that practice soon ended. Coyotes were everywhere—a new fact of urban life.

San Francisco isn’t alone as a home to animals once driven off by urbanization. Coyotes can be found from coast to coast—and on the coasts. Not just Chicago, Kansas City and Dallas but also Seattle and San Diego, New York and Boston.

As our human population keeps growing and our response is to build housing further into the countryside, traditional coyote habitats dwindle. So coyotes circle back to urban parks and suburban neighborhoods. They even stroll city streets. And they’re not alone. Mountain lions have returned to Los Angeles with Griffith Park as one major “new” habitat.

Don’t forget bears, either. As we build more hotels, motels and homes to bring people closer to nature, nature comes closer to people. Black bear sightings in the Florida panhandle and Alabama have increased markedly. People in Lake Tahoe and other mountain towns in the West know that bears think nothing of going through dumpsters and garbage cans. They poke through cars, too. And they break into homes. But this isn’t limited to the West. In 2014, a mama bear entered a house in West Milford, New Jersey, a town of 25,000 some 41 miles from Manhattan.

California and Western states face a related problem, and it’s far worse. As the climate grows warmer and drought conditions continue, fires have become more numerous and severe. Fire season once began in summer. Now it starts in spring. Moreover, our approach to fire goes against nature.

Fires are normal in the West. Yes, arsonists and careless campers contribute to the devastation, but lightning sets numerous fires every year. Nature lets them consume dry underbrush and thin out forests. New life grows while forests and hillsides become less prone to major burning for a long time. Humans put fires out and leave other areas untouched to serve as tinder, awaiting the next match or lightning strike. We do it to save buildings and their occupants, including animals, erected by people seeking the beauty and solace of nature but risking its unpredictability.

Something of the same situation exists with people who live in flood plains, tornado areas and those like me in earthquake zones. Human footprints are heavy, so we have a lot to lose. We prepare as best we can then lurch from one costly disaster to the next.

As to those coyotes living nearby, I don’t blame them. Or fear them. Their attitude is pretty much, “You go your way, and I’ll go mine—unless you leave your small dog off its leash.” We can co-exist. But will San Francisco soon see bears? If so, risk will grow exponentially.

It’s critical that we assume responsibility for where and how we live. That means not complaining when nature displays its greater power and persistence. Which our neighborhood coyotes constantly remind us.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out Post something on Facebook, too. And if you see a coyote, stop and appreciate nature’s handiwork. But please don’t try to pet it.

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I was walking on Fillmore Street when I saw a middle-aged man in a crimson ball cap bent over, his hands on his knees. A woman was comforting him. “You okay?” I asked. The man turned towards me. His cheeks were as crimson as his University of Alabama cap. “Never should’ve come to San Francisco,” he said. “Damn liberals want to take away our religious freedom.”

“What happened?” I asked. He straightened. I saw a plain gold cross dangling from a chain around his neck. His wife, a pale blonde, wore a similar cross but smaller. The man pointed at the entry to a clothing store. “They say they don’t do business with Christians.”

I was puzzled. San Franciscans are pretty good about leaving people to their particular religious inclinations. In fact, we were only blocks from a Catholic church and a Presbyterian one, as well as my synagogue.

The woman explained that she’d seen a blouse she liked in the window, so they went in. She found one in her size and knew it would fit. “When we go up to the cash register, the owner tells us we aren’t welcome in his store. He doesn’t want our money. Well, our money’s as good as anyone’s, isn’t it?”

“How crazy is that?” asked the man. “I’m a businessman myself. Own a chain of bakeries from Mobile up to Huntsville. Best wedding cakes in the state. We’re only here ‘cause there’s a convention. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be caught dead in San Francisco. This is the capital of gay marriage, you know.” The woman frowned.

“That fella,” the man continued. “He asks if we keep the Sabbath.” He rolled his eyes. “Jesus is our savior, right? We’re in church every Sunday.” The man’s chest rose and fell. “Then he asks if I work Saturdays. Like I said, I’m just like him. I own a business. Of course, I work Saturdays. ‘Cept football season. Roll Tide!” Apparently, the storeowner told the couple he was Jewish. Working on Saturday violated his religious beliefs. The Fourth Commandment and all. The man shook his head. “Everyone knows the Lord’s Day is Sunday.”

The woman rested her hand on her husband’s shoulder. “That man hasn’t heard the last from us. There are laws you know. You can’t just refuse to sell your goods to law-abiding citizens ‘cause they’re not just like you. What does he expect? That we stop being Christians?”

The man wiped the back of his hand across his face. “It’s not like we want to be friends with that fella. It’s only business. All we ask is to be treated with a little common courtesy like any other customer.” He pulled down on the bill of his cap. “Christians are under attack in this country,” he said. The woman nodded. “I bet that fella’s gay is what,” she said. “And now the Supreme Court says two men or two women can get married. According to my Bible, that’s a sin. And un-American.”

I wondered if they’d ever had a bad experience. “Have gays caused trouble in any of your bakeries?” I asked. The man looked at me with a mix of incredulity and contempt. “Hell, no,” he answered. “We don’t serve ‘em.”

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at You can get a signed copy from me—July sale priced at $15 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at

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I recently met two women I can associate with my favorite color, blue. The very different experiences pointed out the fragility of human nature and the ways in which our society struggles to achieve the ideal of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Last Friday night, I took the bus home after Shabbat services at Congregation Sherith Israel. While I was reading on my iPhone, the voice of a young woman assaulted my ears—and everyone else’s. I tried not to listen to what she was loudly declaring to her friends, but I did make out something about pictures or photos and “I can be that bitch, I can be that ho.”

I might not have paid attention to whatever idiocy the young woman was disclaiming if she’d kept her voice down. She didn’t. Since no one attempted to talk to her—including the driver—I got up and approached her. She appeared to be a high-school student. She might have been a bit older. Her hair was electric blue. Three or four metal rings pierced her lower lip. But her appearance wasn’t an issue. I told her that none of us was interested in what she was saying. I wish I’d been cleverer, but I’m still developing my skills for these situations.

She declared her indignation. Quiet down? “This,” she screamed, “is MUNI!” The young woman apparently believed that anyone has the right to disturb the peace on San Francisco buses. Understanding that an argument would be meaningless and wanting to give her a way to save face, I went to the front of the bus and sat. I noticed that the back of the bus had grown quiet.

By the time I reached my stop, the young woman was talking to her friends but moderately. Did I feel victorious? No. I felt concerned. This young woman might need better parenting. I also reflected that it often does take a village, although my fellow passengers didn’t want any part of that. Was I angry? Again, no. I wondered if the young woman had problems at home, if her rudeness and self-directed ugly comments indicated abuse.

Sunday—Mother’s Day—offered something different. Carolyn wanted to go the drag brunch at the Starlite Room at the Sir Francis Drake hotel. I took her, along with my son Aaron and son-in-law Jeremy. The food was good, and the show was great with enough energy to light Union Square. The emcee, Donna Sachet, changed dresses three times. Her second dress was blue. And she sang a very moving song, “Be Kind.”

Sexual identity covers a broad spectrum. San Francisco enables people, drag queens included, to live their lives as they choose as long as they don’t harm others. Other parts of the nation often fail to let their sons and daughters express who they really are. Leviticus 19:18 instructs us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Too often, the Bible’s calls for love receive only lip service.

So there you have it. Two women in blue. I wish I’d found a way to be kind to the high school girl. I hope that the world will be kind to Donna Sachet. Kindness costs so little. It does so much.

The blog will take Memorial Day weekend off and return on May 29.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at


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Life often seems routine. We wonder, isn’t there more? Yet we find comfort in life’s everyday rhythms. The problem isn’t that we surrender to the mundane. It’s that so much in our ordinary lives is extraordinary—and we’re blind to it.

Attending Shabbat services last Friday night at Congregation Sherith Israel then Torah Study on Saturday morning unveiled a continuing miracle. Many people still find fulfillment in tradition and community. Saturday with friends reminded me how extraordinary it is that people enjoy being together, laughing together, sharing experiences.

Sunday, Carolyn and I visited Alcatraz. San Franciscans often take the Rock for granted. But we returned to see the Ai Wei Wei exhibit. Waiting for the ferry gave us the opportunity to speak with two advertising executives from Perth, Australia. I’m a retired ad creative, so we had a lot in common. The routine ferry ride was anything but. The water is a magical place if only for ten minutes.

The prison looked the same but not. Entering the New Industries Building, we came face to face with a colorful Chinese dragon at least 150 feet long. Further on, we saw portraits of political prisoners from around the world created with LEGOs. We also encountered a huge sculpture based on birds’ wings—metal panels above which teapots perched. Tibetans long have used solar power to cook.

The visit to Alcatraz brought into focus the daily marvels of living in a city surrounded by the Pacific, the Golden Gate and the Bay. I walk a lot, and the vistas from the Coastal Trail off Land’s End and any number of other trails and streets offer blue water, white sales, massive tankers and the green (for now) Marin Headlands. Views of the Golden Gate Bridge—which I can walk to—always delight. And while I live in an urban place, Mountain Lake is only two blocks away.

As to the workweek, mine is hardly ordinary. I write fiction. I just brought out a new novel, Flight of the Spumonis. I’ve started another and very different book. Yes, there’s a routine to writing. It is work. But the experience of creating a story with characters reflecting the human condition is very special.

I often wonder how we can read a novel or watch a movie or TV show (we just finished Bosch and started House of Cards), get caught up in a story then forget that “they” are us. Each of us is a character in our own story. Every day brings new plot twists—challenges to our social relationships, work efforts and attempts to give order to a world that often seems random at best, senseless at worst. Our lives contain real texture—drama if you will—because they’re filled with joy and sorrow.

It’s all about how you see life. We can dismiss ourselves as specs in a vast universe—which we are. Yet we’re thinking creatures capable of contemplating that universe. Nature and science lead us to wonder at it all. Questions abound. Why do we love? Why do we hope? Why do we sacrifice? Why do we mourn? Why do we write blogs? It’s extraordinary.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at

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Construction cranes abound in San Francisco. Is growth good? I asked Lynn Sedway, head of Sedway Consulting. Her San Francisco firm provides real-estate research to developers, nonprofits and government agencies. You may think Lynn has an agenda to push. Not so. She just offers expertise, including assembling facts and providing analysis. For some San Franciscans—both conservatives and progressives—facts can be unpleasant.

For example, Lynn says you can’t add businesses and jobs without building workplaces. And you can’t house more people without building more housing. We need better schools, too. And better care for the poor and the aged. Lynn and I spoke for an hour. Here are some highlights.

— Technology and urban excitement have made San Francisco the country’s hottest real estate market despite City fees and policies that delay projects and increase costs. San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties also are strong. Other hot cities include New York, Chicago to some extent, Houston and Dallas. Los Angeles is coming back but not there yet. And San Francisco’s techies are not villains. Mid-Market long was known for drugs, panhandling and crime. Now it’s booming.

— The boom could bust. Extraneous events, such as a stock-market stumble, can impact business and consumer confidence, disrupting a real-estate boom. Still, San Francisco can survive thanks to great Bay Area universities, top research facilities, biotech and high-tech growth and major employers.

— A Manhattan-like lifestyle is taking root. True, young techies will get older. Many will marry, have children and seek homes in suburbs with good schools. But young families increasingly find living in an apartment workable given San Francisco’s many attractions. This puts an emphasis on building quality apartments and condos.

— Stopping the flight of young families depends most on good schools. We’re not there yet. Moms and dads will forego backyards and even cars. Weak schools put them off and keep the City’s percentage of children the lowest in the nation.

— South of Market and other urban neighborhoods have grown wildly. Three “suburban” areas offer much potential: Bayview/Hunter’s Point, Treasure Island and Parkmerced. The latter, developed in the 1930s, is slated for major expansion. What’s more, smaller housing developments can fit on unused “infill” properties scattered around town. Still, leafier neighborhoods have the political clout to keep sizable projects off their turf.

— “Affordable” and “low-cost” are misleading terms. Land prices, high City fees and a long, complicated approval process help price middle-income earners out of the market. Even middle managers and young doctors find it difficult to live in SF. So do many college graduates in necessary fields outside tech and finance.

— Big problem: Public safety and health care personnel can’t afford to live here. Many seek jobs closer to their suburban homes to stop commuting. What happens after the next great quake if they can’t get over the bridges or come in via BART?

The genie is out of the bottle. San Francisco is becoming a more urban city as well-to-do young people and retirees come in. They trade private outdoor space for transit, public parks, playgrounds, museums, music, dance, theater, the Giants and of course, great restaurants. “People who adapt,” says Lynn, “will love it.” Oh, and have you seen what’s happening in Oakland lately?

Footnote: I was in London last week—almost an annual trip. London is San Francisco on steroids. And as in San Francisco, new housing doesn’t come cheap.

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Lots of people complain about changes in San Francisco. They see technology workers as threats to the city they love. I get it, but I don’t agree. Witness my recent post “Deported from San Francisco: A Fable.” Why? Many complainers conveniently define themselves as real San Franciscans and anyone who arrived in town a day later as pretenders.

We’re all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. I’m both. People always have moved to find better opportunities. San Francisco didn’t exist as a major city—and an instant one at that—until the 1850s when the Gold Rush drew newcomers from around the world. They built a “hella” city. Their efforts, not their birth records, made them San Franciscans.

So what am I? Could be I’m a real New Yorker. I was born in the Bronx and raised in Queens. But I’ve basically been away since I went off to college at eighteen. I lived in Texas for a while (San Antonio) and settled in San Francisco forty years ago. Would people who’ve moved to Manhattan or Brooklyn in the last decade consider me a real New Yorker now?

Do four decades in the Richmond District make me a real San Franciscan? I worked here, started a business, bought a home, brought up three children and became involved in public schools and my synagogue. I remember Mayor Joe Alioto, Giants shortstop Johnny LeMaster, the Omelette Parlor at SFO (best pancakes around), Blum’s at Macys, Bernstein’s Fish Grotto and Muni’s green-and-cream buses and streetcars (fare: 25¢). Do I count? Would I count with thirty years residency? Twenty?

What about my kids? They’re native San Franciscans. But my oldest son lives in Los Angeles. My middle son lives an hour east of Nashville, Tennessee. My youngest son lives here, but he spent three years at Humboldt State, a year in New York and another in Detroit before returning. Was it wrong for him to come back? Are my other two kids welcome?

Yes, San Francisco is changing. That’s only natural. Cities are akin to living organisms. They constantly evolve. That also goes for neighborhoods. Irish and Italians lived in the Mission before Latinos. Jews filled the Western Addition before African Americans—and my own Richmond District before an exodus from Chinatown thanks to the old 55 Sutter bus. Even New York’s fabled Lower East Side was German and Irish before it was Jewish. As the Jews moved out, other ethnics moved in. Today, the Lower East Side is hip.

Maybe it’s natural to think that those who come to a place after us lack bona fides. But what makes someone a San Franciscan or New Yorker or Chicagoan or whatever is the commitment they make to their city. It takes time to sink roots. But no law says people can’t pass through as they seek the place that’s right for them.

San Francisco’s challenges, marked by high rents and home prices, are very real. Placing the blame on people who make a good living is bogus. Turf wars hurt, not help. We can and should treat each other with more respect—and find genuine solutions while we’re at it.

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ROBIN: “I’m Robin Goldberg-Jimenez, and this is a KNUZ Radio special report on legislation regarding illegal residents recently passed by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. It seems that the board and the mayor are wasting no time in implementing the new law. Blake Wong-Shabazz reports from South of Market Street.”

BLAKE: “It’s chaos here, Robin. Or should I say one big happy celebration? It all depends on which side of the issue you stand. Police and sheriff’s deputies have fanned out over more than one square mile to roust what some San Franciscans call ‘undesirables.’ Many long-time neighborhood residents hail the move as setting things back to the way they used to be.”

ROBIN: “Blake, are the people being arrested putting up a struggle?”

BLAKE: “No signs of violence, but that’s to be expected, Robin. The illegal residents being handcuffed and placed in Muni buses for mass deportation beyond the city’s borders are young and energetic, but nearly all are college graduates. Many have graduate degrees. They’re not prone to violence. One young man I talked to while he was being cuffed said he’d rather not risk getting his expensive black-frame glasses broken.”

ROBIN: “And police and sheriff’s deputies are sure these people are illegals?”

BLAKE: “Robin, they say they’re absolutely sure. As you know, residents of San Francisco are required to submit their federal income tax returns to the city. Anyone under twenty-five earning more than forty-two thousand dollars must leave. Anyone from twenty-six to thirty can’t live in San Francisco if they make more than fifty-five thousand dollars. And there’s a whole grid of income qualifications for San Francisco residency to keep big earners under forty out, although the elimination age may be raised to forty-five for people without children.”

ROBIN: “Blake, I want to ask… wait… Our Jordan Matapang-O’Hara is coming in with big news from the Mid-Market area. Jordan?”

JORDAN: “I don’t know if you can hear all the commotion behind me, Robin, but that’s the sound of moving vans removing desks, sofas and espresso bars from all the social-media companies evacuating the area. They’re moving their offices out of town, they say, because their employees are being deported and don’t want to commute into San Francisco. Many companies are heading down to San Jose and some to the East Bay. A few are relocating to Nevada. The CEO of one up-and-coming tech company said she’s moving her operation to Waco, Texas.”

ROBIN: “Jordan, what have you heard from people who live nearby?”

JORDAN: “Well, no one really lives on Mid-Market… yet. They’ll wait for the moving vans to leave before they start occupying doorways and curbs. But one couple who lives in Bernal Heights did say that drugs, alcohol and prostitution on this stretch of Market Street are no problem for them, and that San Francisco is much better off when it promotes diversity.”

ROBIN: “That’s your KNUZ update on San Francisco’s purging of illegal residents. But wait. Our Sandy Brown-Krishna is at City Hall with an update on the mayor’s plan to trim San Francisco’s budget by thirty-five percent to meet this year’s projected drop in tax revenue. Sandy…”

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