A SENIOR TICKET to see the Terracotta Warriors at the Asian Art Museum costs $16 bucks; once you're inside you're informed they are five life-size facsimiles, but what the hey, what's one more little swindle in the Land of Swindles. Or, as George Carlin famously put it, "This country runs on bullshit. Take away the bullshit and everything collapses."
And on a Thursday morning I was surprised to have to wait in a long line, surrounded by wheelchairs and walkers and barely ambulatory decrepitude, aware that I was only a stutter step away from the wreckage myself. I might have been the youngest person on the premises and I'm in my seventh decade. I'd seen the upstairs exhibits, and was mentally kicking myself about paying $16 to see five concrete statues when a kid in an usher's blazer walked up and said, "I'm sorry, sir. You'll have to check your backpack." I went immediately to senile mode: "You can't have my checkbook, and if you ask me for it again I'll call the police." He walked off, presumably to consult with his supervisor, but no one reappeared to make an issue out of it. Back out on the street I was pleased to see a street preacher on the steps of the appellate court shouting through a bullhorn about sin. At least he was yelling at the right people. I've seen the same guy on Market Street with his aurally weaponized bullhorn. He's a tough-looking old bird even in his suit, and so loud-angry that you have to listen carefully to understand that he's not looking for a fight but urging passersby to give up their wicked ways and follow Him, which isn't a message that finds much receptivity in San Francisco even when it's delivered by a man who doesn't look like he'd rather slug you than pray with you.
SATURDAY, there was only one crazy guy on the 1 California, one of the most sedate Muni line at all hours. Youngish, maybe 35, conventionally dressed in shirt and slacks except for a hole punch he wore like a bolo tie. "Are we there yet?" he asked no one in particular several times. Suddenly, opposite the hospital at Laurel he screamed, "Off! Let me off!" The driver let him off in the middle of the block.
I STOPPED at the Ferry Building to pick up a sandwich for the ballgame, Giants vs. Colorado, which started down the street at 1:05. For $5.70 you can get a la di da "rustic baguette with Mt. Tamalpais triple creme cheese, fruit jam, arugula, and black pepper." Even if I have a few extra bucks I don't buy ballpark food, not out of hostility for negative food value viands but out of hostility for Giants ownership and the South Carolina concessionaire that pays the concession workers about one dollar out of the ten dollars they charge for a beer. And you'd think at least a couple of the ballplayers would step up to the plate for the people who make the game go, people making an average of $11,000 a season. From a couple of blocks away the concession workers were picketing the ballpark. I'd bought a $20 ticket from this scalper-dude I kinda know and was chagrined that now I'd have to turn around and go home, never having crossed a picket line and reluctant to start at an advanced age. But a picketing lady said it was fine to "go on in and enjoy the ball game — just don't buy anything." No prob for me. I always bring the cheese sandwich from the Ferry Building. Inside, most of the concessions were closed. 70 years ago the whole city would have been on the picket line, but 70 years ago anymore might as well be 700 years ago. No one remembers, no one cares, it's every pre-schooler for himself.
SEATED BEHIND six women of my vintage, one of them sporting a gray mohawk, the tanned woman's back directly in front of me featuring a butterfly tattoo with a bumble bee forever hovering over a flower, the girls of many summers were talking about the concession strike. "I don't care," the tattooed babe said, "I bought a beer and I'm going to buy another goddam beer, strike or no strike." The old lady next to her commented, "Gawd. What are they trying to do, starve us?" Later in the game, which ended in mass ecstasy with Angel Pagan's inside-the-park homerun, Zito hit the Rockies centerfielder on the hand with a Zito fastball. "The tattooed lady exclaimed, "Eighty miles an hour fastball? Big goddam deal. He's not hurt. Play ball!" They were a ruthless bunch, commenting knowledgeably on both the game — "Belt got under the tag. He was safe" — and the sartorial deficiencies of female passersby, "Why not let it all hang out, honey?" And, "I wonder how she got her tits up that high?" one wondered. "Maybe with a forklift," answered another. That kind of thing, always to the chuckling agreement of the other ladies.
IT WAS A WONDERFUL day high up in View with these long gone Golden Girls, the wind whipping the stadium flags, the sun and the sailboats all afternoon on the water, the delirious game-ending heroics of Pagan.
TWO IMPORTANT BYPASS ISSUES arose at the May 22 Willits City Council meeting. According to the Council’s agenda for May 22 under a cryptic item under “City Council and Committee Reports” and “Ad Hoc Committees — Caltrans” we later discover, we think, an account by Linda Williams of the Willits News that tells us what it was apparently all about: “The Willits City Council listened to more than three hours of testimony by a series of local citizens objecting to the way the city was dealing with ongoing violations of the city's highway relinquishment agreement with CalTrans. The issue was placed on the agenda by Councilwoman Madge Strong and in the end her motion to change the timeframe for negotiations died due to lack of a second.”
SO WE CAREFULLY RE-READ the agenda. No such “issue” was on it. But it must have been in there somewhere because “a series of local citizens” certainly did object to the way the City of Willits is handling the “relinquishment agreement with CalTrans.”
MADGE STRONG is the only outspoken Bypass opponent on the City Council. We’re pretty sure she wanted to do more than simply change the timeframe for negotiations with Caltrans. (Hopefully she will provide more on that later.)
PARTICULARLY INTERESTING for example, was this item: “Strong and several of the speakers expressed concern about whether CalTrans was actually going to complete the scheduled reconfiguration of the Sherwood Road interchange as stated in the city's agreement with CalTrans.”
“CALTRANS is fully committed to improving the Sherwood Road intersection. The funds have been programmed ($200,000 for right of way, $3.5 million for construction, and $2.5 million for development and support), geotechnical studies have been completed, and the design is being finalized,” said CalTrans spokesman Phil Frisbie.
REALLY? An earlier piece by Ms. Williams reported, “When the bypass was approved by the California Transportation Commission in March 2012, a series of ‘child’ projects were also approved as part of the main project. These projects were the Sherwood Road interchange for $6.25 million, the Ryan Creek fish passage, the City of Willits relinquishment, and the environmental mitigation. The money was ‘programmed’ to be spent in future years. This means the projects have money reserved for them and will move forward unless there is a significant change in the project or estimate.” (Our emphasis.)
THAT WOULD APPEAR TO MEAN that when the Bypass project over-runs, as it inevitably will, there will be no Sherwood Road interchange, no Ryan Creek fish passage, no relinquishment and no mitigation. The money will be “reprogrammed” to cover the overrun and Willits will have to settle for leftovers, if any.
AND THE CALTRANS BAIT & SWITCH will be complete.
THE OTHER MAJOR ISSUE that locals complained about was “why the contractor is not installing a haul road along the bypass corridor and is instead using city streets.”
CALTRANS SPOKESMAN Phil Frisbie responded, “The haul road clearance is part of our permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board. At this point the issue is not that we are experiencing difficulties with obtaining clearance for the haul road [which they obviously are, but Frisbie chooses to ignore it because they’re using city streets], but that the contractor believes [our emphasis] using city streets to deliver materials will be much more efficient, and could [our emphasis] shorten the construction time by as much as [our emphasis] a full year. This would be beneficial for everyone [if it happened — it would be especially “beneficial” for Caltrans and their contractor if no one else]. The city provided Caltrans with a 90 day grace period for the contractor to use city streets.”
THIS “grace period,” by the way, was interpreted differently by the Willits people who were complaining, saying it applied to negotiations, not actual use of the road.
THIS TRANSLATES AGAIN to the Bypass Budget and the inevitable overrun. If it means that using Willits’s over-burdened city streets will save Caltrans and the Contractor some money — never mind how much costly damage is done to those streets by Caltrans and the contractor’s heavy equipment — Willits will just have to suck it up.
THE HIGH-HANDEDNESS of Frisbie and Caltrans in their dealings with Willits is breathtaking. The City Council (with the obvious exception of Ms. Strong) has no idea how one-sided this all will end up, with the City of Willits holding a very big, very expensive bag.
JEFF COSTELLO, DRIVING THROUGH UTAH, NOTES: “Road notes in progress. After driving across Utah, it makes perfect sense to me that the loudest, most violent and intrusive aspect of the Willits bypass project is being done by a Utah company).”
STATEMENT OF THE DAY: “The Flowery May, who from her green lap throws the yellow Cowslip and the pale Primrose…” — John Milton
COLLEGE OF THE REDWOODS: ANYBODY OUT THERE KNOW ABOUT THE EARLY YEARS?
A READER WRITES: “It would be nice to hear a full-blown history on the beginnings of the ‘college.’ I worked there as a student during the nursing program days, dabbled in classes prior, as many citizens ridiculed the ‘basketweaving’ classes, I took law, real estate and drawing. I think how it happened and who made it happen is important. I do know the vote to affiliate with C/R (in Eureka) was the animosity coastal residents felt towards the city of Ukiah where Mendocino College is located. When I worked on the coast campus during the Kavanaugh days, Joan Penrods' nursing program graduates were testing consistently highest in California for their state exams. People were commuting from the city to take the two year RN course and internationally for the woodworking classes. An offer was made during that time to build dorms for students, by a private individual. He was excited about his offer, as I remember. Davis made a bid to put a satellite campus on the coast (Point Arena) many years ago and its offer being rejected seemed to me a sign of something denser than the Washington rain forest in the fog. How did the college start, before the affiliation vote? Who were the players and what was their vision? Regardless, what little we have is a lot to lose. Even if it is to socialize and open windows in our own world. Thanks for listening.”
A LETTER TO THE EDITOR in this morning's SF Chronicle:
Sculptures at Crissy Field ("DiSuvero sculptures work on a grand scale," May 23).
The emperor's new clothes? How is it that SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra can foist this litter on San Francisco? The pleasant, wide-open space of Crissy Field is marred by this visual assault.
Apparently these sculptures speak to art reviewer Kenneth Baker but in some arcane language known only to himself. As to seeing them for what they are, I see that they are not unlike the barriers the German army placed on the beaches of Normandy to prevent the Allies from landing in France.
Diana Knight, Fairfax
Sign the petition to remove the Crissy Field sculpture.
JUST THE FACTS
by Eric Bergeson
During the aftermath of the recent tornado in Oklahoma, at least two reporters made fools of themselves as they worked to turn tragedy into entertainment for the masses.
Wolf Blitzer of CNN interviewed a young woman holding a baby amidst the rubble of her home. Blitzer apparently thought the way for an educated eastern snob like himself to relate to a hick from the Bible Belt would be to condescendingly ask her if she "thanked the Lord" for her survival.
"Actually, I'm an athiest," the young woman replied, as she struggled to hang on to her wiggly toddler.
An atheist in Oklahoma? Who’d've thunk?
Later, a truly ditzy CBS reporter interviewed a delightful old woman who stubbornly refused to get emotional as she described what happened.
The old woman was the better journalist of the two: She told how she hid, she told how the tornado came, she told how she dug herself out, and she said matter-of-fact that her dear dog was somewhere in the rubble, presumably dead.
Just the facts, ma'am.
Yet the reporter continued to attempt to get the woman to cry.
"I mean, have you even began to comprehend what happened here?" she said, in a question which should be banned for its sheer stupidity.
"No, I know exactly what happened here! Exactly!" the woman said, still being polite despite the obnoxiousness of the reporter.
Once again, the reporter probed, trying to get tears.
"I mean, I can't imagine...this is your neighborhood!"
"That's life in the big city!" the old woman shrugged.
Just then, the woman's dog, until now presumed dead, stirred in the rubble. The poor woman moved to help the dog. As she did, a brutal gash on the back of her arm flashed past the camera.
Yes, the woman was physically hurt. But did the reporter ever ask about her physical condition? Did the ditzy, dastardly reporter put down her microphone and help the poor old woman dig in the rubble for the dog?
Of course not. For now the reporter and her cameraperson had possible irresistible footage of a woman digging out her dog. You don't want to interfere with that. And maybe, just maybe the woman would finally display some emotion!
Wolf Blitzer should have been there. After the dog struggled loose the woman said the Lord had answered both her prayers: first, the prayer that she would be okay and second, the prayer that her beloved schnauzer would live.
"He answered both of 'em!" the woman said in a touching way, still refusing to break down in a manner that would make for an irresistible lead to the evening news segment.
Back in the early 1980s, Dave Kingman of the New York Mets hit three home runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers. After the game, a reporter asked Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda if he had "any thoughts" on Kingman's performance.
Lasorda lost it. "Any thoughts?" he said. "You're asking me if I had any thoughts? We just got trounced and you're asking me if I have any thoughts?"
Lasorda then let loose with a delightful and appropriate tirade that cannot be reproduced here.
The crusty but saintly old woman in the rubble in Oklahoma would have been justified if she had pulled a Tommy Lasorda. Instead, she kept her manners and refused to do what the reporter so badly desired: Lose her composure, and her dignity, for a national audience.
In the old days, reporters probed for facts, not emotions. Today, television news has become utterly unbearable in part because the reporters don't report, they titillate.
The sports interview, which always was a worthless endeavor, has become an exploration of feelings by amateur counselors posing as reporters.
"What were your emotions as that 97-mile-per-hour pitch sailed towards your temple?"
With reporters determined to uncover emotions rather than matters of fact, is it any wonder that the appearance of the grief counselors merits just as much coverage as the tragedy itself?
Who are these grief counselors whose arrival brings such instant relief?
Lacking photos of an actual death, is it any wonder that the focus becomes the sobbing teenage girls on the scene?
"An angry London grieves," blared a headline after last week's beheading on a London street.
Somewhere, I hope some old cranky journalism professor holds that headline up in front of Journalism 101 class and gives a Lasorda-like rant.
"A city can't get angry! A city cannot grieve! A city is buildings, rivers and churches! They do not get angry! People get angry!"
Just the facts, ma'am. They're bad enough by themselves.