Every fortnight, the San Francisco Chronicle publishes something it deceptively brands a “magazine.” Before they achieved their monopoly, said pamphlet was a weekly — go figure.
Overall, we’re talking sorry product, particularly in a city with a (literal) embarrassment of journalistic talent. Travel-book excerpts, bridal-gown fashion-spreads, wine-country get-away advertorials.
Delivering the final insult, editors opted to devote four to six pages each edition to “The Circuit,” comprising captioned photos of well-tailored, moneyed, libation-lifting Pacific Heights swells, having a grand time — and assisting the less-fortunate — at charitable events.
One quixotic pro still single-handedly strives to save this rag from becoming unopened fish-wrap: Sam Whiting, slick yet down-home scribe who produces a regular feature, “Neighborhoods.”
Whiting hooks up with genuine locals and takes tours of their turf. The result is genially entertaining, proving again the value of Herb Caen’s journalistic approach.
Step away from your desk, pound a little pavement, shoot shit and chew rag among real folks.
Whiting’s Financial District piece, running mid-December, remained dependably engaging, sneaking in some historical trivia as a bonus.
What it overlooked — and, hey, no criticism intended, Sam, you’re valiantly bailing out one woeful book — was the eccentrics who make that small piece of real estate their lifelong home.
Montgomery isn’t Wall Street, but where it meets Market, and heading north toward California, you’ve got some significant pedestrian traffic on work-days.
Population density always attracts loons, buffoons, goons, and zealots with an axe to grind.
For years, a mad evangelist hunkered above the main entrance to the Montgomery BART station, robotically reciting a fresh, lunatic phrase each day (he’s since relocated to the California Street cable-car terminus). “CIA kidnapped Eisenhower’s golf-clubs,” was one of my favorites, among his mantras.
He’d stare blankly, repeating the current thesis urgently, maniacally, incessantly.
Lately, anyone who works in the area will nod if you ask whether they’ve spotted “Impeach Guy.” An Asian-American with thick glasses, even thicker shoe-soles, and synthetic navy blazer several sizes too small, Impeach Guy hauls ass back and forth along downtown sidewalks, toting a protest sign.
Initially, he simply promoted impeachment of Presidents; not those in power, but those retired or dead.
Truman endured the wrath of Impeach Guy, as did Hoover, Grant, and even Hayes.
Impeach Guy’s desire to unseat didn’t end there, though. Soon, he sought recalls of streets: IMPEACH VAN NESS, for example. About that time, he earned the status of “local character,” like those elegantly-turned-out, elderly identical twins. Confirmation arrived when Impeach Guy costumes appeared on impostors come Halloween.
When last seen, our man had gone inter-galactic, warning his fellow citizens about extraterrestrial wrongdoing. The true San Fran punch-line, however, is that Impeach Guy lured sponsors. Ads for such enterprises as Rasputin Records have shown up on the non-hortatory side of his placard (a throwback to days of “Eat at Joe’s” sandwich-boards).
Virtually all blocks, corners of each intersection, have been staked out by career panhandlers. There’s the platinum-coifed, patchouli-saturated woman on Sansome; Camouflage-Suit Dude, who paints his dachshund’s paw-nails, on Bush; the hunched, allegedly disabled “veteran” on Fremont.
Let’s not forget Professor Profanity, near Citicorp at the foot of Sutter. He sprawls full-length, one desiccated palm extended and cupped. If you don’t grease it, he unleashes a blast of obscene rant and demonically insulting recommendations.
I passed him up one evening, and he rasped, “You cock-sucking, mother-fucking pissant, try tugging twin dicks in hell.”
That captured my attention, and I walked back. “You know, that might not be great for repeat business,” I told him.
“Like I give a rats ass,” he elaborated “Why don’t you blow me and eat shit in your ex-wife’s back-yard?”
He received a dollar for that performance, not that I got thanked.
Of all the whacked-out personages who haunt the Financial District, I find two especially confounding.
First is an entrepreneur who without fail has a carton of folding umbrellas for sale on bright, clear afternoons (“It will rain again,” he assures passersby). He did a 180 once, featuring sunglasses during a downpour.
The other is a slender septuagenarian, invariably draped in khaki trenchcoat, sporting matching stingy-brim. He conceals a tiny pad in his left hand, and, gazing fixedly at office-tower facades opposite, squints, scrawling minuscule notations.
I’ve tried to glance over his shoulder. I’ve spied on him from down the block. Not once has he surrendered a clue regarding his research or motivation. Certainly, he could have catalogued and counted those bricks many times over by now, yet his assignment is not complete.
For me, and many others, that’s what downtown S.F. is all about. We often exchange directions in code. Turn left at patchouli lady. When you see the pedicured dachshund, next door’s the place with good espresso.