Shades Of San Francisco

Dorian and I moved home to San Francisco in early 2010.

Upon resuscitating this blog I’ve been digging through archives and found accounts I’d long forgotten about, so I’m posting them this week in reflection back on our move here and the ensuing adventures.


San Francisco skyline

We arrived a month ago and checked into our nice little room at the Hotel Mirabelle at 15th street in the Mission District. I booked it over the phone from a little town in California that you’ve never heard of, where we were stranded for too long. A planned stay of two weeks turned into two and a half months, which was collectively three months too long to be in that place.

The building that hosts this hotel was built in 1906 and, oddly enough, it’s at 1906 Mission Street which makes the address fairly easy to remember. It’s not the best neighborhood in San Francisco but it’s not the worst either. A few crazies wander up and down shouting at unseen tormentors but the police presence on that street gives one a feeling of security.

From my second floor window, I became familiar with the black and whites as they cruised up and down, keeping an eye on the nefarious characters that mix in with the ordinary folk. Car #1280 is my favorite. I’d see it night and day, with different cops behind the wheel which means that it’s a “pool car” out of SFPD Mission station. It was the busiest cop car I’d ever seen.


One night it was one of about five patrol cars that swooped in on a desperado on the corner. He’d been driving a shiny 2010 Ford pick-up truck, which he used to dash away from them when they pulled him over, but they took him down with guns drawn following a brief pursuit.

As detectives arrived and the scene was secured with yellow crime-scene tape, I commented to Dorian that this was no ordinary traffic stop.

Sure enough, I read the next day that SFPD had arrested a thug at 15th and Mission who was wanted in a home invasion robbery 24-hours earlier. He and some accomplices had beat an elderly couple, sending them to the hospital, and then stole their new truck.

The idiot was still driving it around in the city the following night and got pulled over across the street from us. Criminals are stupid. Either that or he wanted to get arrested and land in prison for the next 15-20 years. Moron.

The Hotel

I don’t know what the Hotel Mirabelle was called in 1906, and I don’t know the history of it, but it’s rather nice in the hands of its current owner, Sharon. It’s all shared bath and showers, which you’ll find down at the end of the hall, but they’re kept clean with the help of a few resident assistant managers who live in the building.

Sharon keeps it tidy, including the artwork and decor, which range from contemporary to Victorian and impressionist works. She seems to keep a small percentage of residents on hand, all of whom are cool people, and rents the rest to visitors. We loved the place and wanted to stay on but were told we’d have to look into that later in the year, as their bookings were pretty solid for the next few months.

The Visitor

While we were at Hotel Mirabelle, Drew paid us a visit. An old friend who currently lives in nearby Capitola, Drew had business in the city so he dropped by and we all went downtown to find something to do, ending up in the lounge on the 36th floor of the Grand Hyatt.

This is a hotel I can’t afford – I can barely afford drinks in that lounge because you basically pay for the view up there. We grabbed a window table overlooking downtown and San Francisco Bay, so I borrowed Drew’s camera phone and snapped a few pics. When you’re on the sidewalk looking up at the Grand Hyatt, it doesn’t look that tall. When you’re up in that lounge looking down, it looks like there’s almost nothing taller.

Transamerica Pyramid
The Transamerica Pyramid stands at Clay and Montgomery Streets and, at 856 feet, it’s taller than the Grand Hyatt

The Ghosts Of The Ferry Building.

Dorian and I dropped in on the 1896 Ferry Building one day. There’s a fascinating little film on YouTube that was made in 1906, where you can relive a ride on a streetcar down Market Street and arrive right at the front of the building, where it turns around to point up Market and make its journey back on the same track.

The building has been extensively renovated along with the area in front, so streetcars no longer pull right up to the entrance, but the opening archways at the main entrance have been replicated to look almost the same as they do in the 1906 film, and they’re in exactly the same place.

In the film, there’s an old man with the wind tugging at his wispy white beard and a cop standing in front as the tram pulls up. Call me crazy, and I know you will, but we’ve been to the Ferry Building several times and I always greet the old man and the cop as I walk in, then I toss them a cheerful goodbye as I’m leaving.

close-up of cop and old man from 1906 film
Still and close-up from 1906 film, “A Trip Down Market Street,” in front of San Francisco’s Ferry Building

I like to think that these ghosts of a century ago are still standing around in some other-worldly dimension; the cop watching the passers-by and making sure all is in order and the old man waiting for his son to pull up in the horseless carriage to whisk him off for a visit with his grandchildren.

The Baristas

Just inside the entrance of the Ferry Building, not too far from where the phantom cop and the old man stand guard over time, is a “Peet’s Coffee” which I’m pretty sure wasn’t there in 1906.

Neither was the young Barista, who is all of twenty-something years old. I admired the work-in-progress tattoos showing on her arms as she frothed up some steamed milk, so I commented on her choice of artwork. She thanked me and then I asked her if she’d ever heard of an actress named Vanessa Marcil.

No, she hadn’t. So I went on to explain that Vanessa Marcil also had tattoos, and one night she was on Letterman. When asked about them, she told David Letterman how the tat on her left forearm is the Chinese symbol for love and prosperity, or something like that, and the one on the right shoulder is about the universe, or something like that, and then she went on to show the tattoo on her back, explaining that it was her very first one and it just meant “eighteen and drunk.”

Young Barista girl laughed at that story, the end of which coincided with the completion of the making of our drinks, so I took the drinks back to our table where Dorian and I sat for the next hour and talked about nothing and everything at the same time.

About a week later we went into the Borders Bookstore in Union Square. She wanted to look around, so I told her I’d be in the cafe. It’s a “Seattle’s Best” and wouldn’t you know it, there was a different twenty-something-year-old Barista at the espresso machine whipping up my drink and she had awesome tats, so I had to go and compliment her on them.

She thanked me and I asked her if she’d ever heard of an actress named Vanessa Marcil. No, she hadn’t. Honestly, I don’t go telling this story to every young woman who has a few tattoos on her arms but it just came to me again, so I told her about the Letterman interview and finished off with the punchline about the tattoo on Vanessa Marcil’s back that means, “eighteen and drunk.”

Seattle’s Best Barista girl laughed and gave me my freshly made drink, so I thanked her and spun around to find… guess who? Peet’s Coffee Barista standing behind me, listening with amusement as I told the Vanessa Marcil story yet again.

“Hi, uh.. you work over at Peet’s in the Ferry Building.” I said to her, trying not to be too totally flustered.

“Yeah I do,” she said, seeming to notice how flustered I was.

“Okay, so it probably seems like I go telling that story to every girl making a cappuccino in San Francisco, but seriously that’s only the second time I’ve told it and, wow.. you happen to be standing right behind me… and, uh…”

“That’s okay.” She smiled and we ended up sitting together at the only available table where we talked while waiting for Dorian, who came along a bit later and was more than a bit surprised to find me having coffee with the Pete’s Coffee Barista, whose name, rather coincidentally, is Vanessa.

San Franciscan locals and visitors are welcome to stop by Pete’s in the Ferry Building during the day and look up Vanessa, then compliment her on her tats. Tell her Rhodester sent you. Just don’t tell her the Vanessa Marcil story, she’s heard it twice now.

The Muni

That’s what they call the city bus system here. THE MUNI. It’s a vast web of routes that intertwine and network through the streets with most of them passing down in front of the Ferry Building while a few others start over at the Transbay Terminal where you can catch a Greyhound out of town if you’ve had enough of the madness.

All of the routes shoot up Market Street and then fan out diagonally through the city, weaving, and crossing so that it’s pretty easy to get from one place to another with only one transfer. We managed to secure monthly passes for March, which put us in a financial hole but at least we can get anywhere in the city now on the Muni, night or day. I didn’t say we can get there quickly, but at least we can get there.

On the day we got our passes, gravity relieved Dorian of hers and it ended up on the floor of a Muni #33 bus encased in her wallet with other important items that we’d be kind of screwed if we didn’t have.

She didn’t know the wallet was gone until we were trying to transfer to a #5 bus about twenty minutes later. Kudos to #33 driver George Flores, #5 driver Bernetta Perry and a Muni dispatcher on the phone who all worked together to recover the wallet and pass it on within an hour. We were directed to catch up with George, the original driver, as he came back around on his route and smilingly handed the wayward wallet over to Dorian. Disaster averted.

Rex, The One-Eyed Dog.

We’ve since moved into a flat with a one-eyed dog named Rex. We’re no longer in a hotel so I need to honor the privacy of Rex’s mom and her human kids by only telling you that we’re in the area of 25th and Fulton near Golden Gate Park and not telling you their names. I don’t think Rex minds if I tell you his.

He’s a little brown guy with a pushed in nose because he’s a pug, so my new joke is, “Yeah, Rex says, ‘Sure I got my nose bashed in and my eye poked out but you oughta see the other guy!”

No word on whether or not Rex thinks the joke is funny.

Lots more to do including getting gainful employment and the overwhelming task of settling in.

One day at a time.

NOTE: CBS’ “60 Minutes” did a fascinating story segment on the old film, “A Trip Down Market Street,” hosted by the late Morley Safer.

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