Urban Living


By Edward Moyer

Editors' Picks

ONE EVENING a friend and I were strolling in the Mission when we encountered a scattered puddle of uncooked rice in the middle of the sidewalk.

There were footprints in it, and scratches – as if shoe tips had been dragged this way and that.

When we stepped closer a motion-control floodlight popped on, revealing the church behind and throwing its beam on the rice.

With Sherlockian bravado I offered my deductions: (1) there had been a wedding at the church earlier in the day (the rice – I imagined a leaky bag), and (2) later, after nightfall, someone must have done what we just had – triggered the motion-control flood – and suddenly in the spotlight, with a convenient smattering of irresistible ball bearing-like antifriction aids, he or she had performed a spontaneous soft-shoe routine for no one but the night.

Unfortunately, the evidence of this delightful concurrence of circumstances and the little dance it inspired is long gone.

But our exuberant, mysterious city is filled with far less ephemeral traces of the humanity that calls it home. One need only look.

On Rose Street, between Octavia and Laguna, a rectangle of sidewalk has forever captured a similar moment of joyful impulsiveness.

On one end, two footprints sit side by side in the concrete. Their depth creates shadows and catches your eye. Then you notice the trail of paw prints running over to them. You can picture the scene: The solitary dog walker. Fido has gone on ahead (as Fidos always do). Dog walker encounters rectangle of newly poured and smoothed cement. Looks at feet. Looks at Fido. Pause. Looks up street; then down. Leaps. Here, boy! Fido obliges. The rest is ... history?

This nonchalant section of pavement is an example of what one might call a nonument. Not a monument. A nonument is not monumental.

A nonument is anti-epic. It celebrates the greatness of those who are not great. Of events that are not events. Of moments that are not momentous. No equestrians wielding sabers; no presidents wielding rolled-up proclamations, altering destiny with a swipe of the hand.

A nonument might be devoted to people who go unnoticed. To quiet achievements. Even unconscious ones. To flashes and flourishes of human creativity that – while fleeting, small, and spontaneous, inspired by nothing more than inspiration, with no reward promised, no recognition, no financial gain, no chance at immortality – are no less impressive in their way than the Transamerica Pyramid or the dome of City Hall.

"Why is there no epic of peace?" asks The Iliad's Homer in the Peter Handke and Wim Wenders-penned film Wings of Desire. There is – to counter those of war, those of industriousness and progress. It's all around us. If we look. Nonuments are everywhere – some even hide beneath the noses of monuments proper. And they're not necessarily carved in stone.

Enter the Van Ness lobby of our aforementioned City Hall at 2 p.m. on a sunny day and you'll discover one. Walk to the east end of the lobby, near the information desk and the bust of Major General Funston.

Look back at the doors, then down at the floor. Walk slowly this way and that. You're in for quite the visual surprise. The sunlight from the glass doors and the tungsten from the fixtures dances in the swirling, feathery patterns of wax laid down with a floor buffer by a nameless janitor. As you walk back and forth, the spirals fan out and vanish, snake, arc, draw and undraw themselves. The floor is marbled paper come to life. And you can see where this janitor walked, see where he or she stepped and turned, curved around a column, kicked out a foot, waltzed with the humming machine.

Bakewell and Brown's dome is glorious. So is this unknown janitor's glowing calligraphy.

A nonument might also be whatever you make it. Wherever you make it. Indeed, to discover a nonument is to create one, and vice versa. You've probably found several yourself. And these nonuments stand (or sit) as memorials to the inspiration, accident, or whimsy that created them.

Across Van Ness from City Hall are two tree-lined walks, in the plaza between the Veterans Building and the War Memorial Opera House. They're stubby trees, cut short and clipped year after year to create low-ceilinged tunnels. Enter the plaza from Franklin Street – again, mid-afternoon is best, in the summer. Choose the walk on the right. Obey the impulse that tells you to stop at the eighth tree down on the left. Step up on the curb next to it and tilt your head up into its branches. You're looking into a Fabergé egg of luminous sunlight and layered leafy green. And the Beaux Arts buildings have vanished. Or they've shrunk in size and grandeur outside this sphere of quietude and color. That tree and walk, your step onto the curb, the tilt of your head might also be a nonument.

And some nonuments, too, are deliberate, like silverware that hangs in a tree. At the easternmost end of Hickory Street, off Buchanan, between Oak and Fell, is someone's secret garden. You can peek in through the back gate at the intimate, shady space. And when you hear a bell ring, search the trees until you find that the bell is actually wind chimes, homemade of ingeniously twisted spoons and forks, tintinnabulating like a couple of busy diners. A nonument not only to the unconscious music of the eating place but to an afternoon spent with needle-nose pliers and inventiveness, and to a time when such afternoons won out over trips to Pottery Barn.

But nonuments are not always joyful. The small is easily crushed. Yet somehow it endures. In part through nonuments.

On Octavia Street, just around the corner from the dog walker's commemorative sidewalk scrap is another square of pavement. Someone scratched an elegy in the quickening cement:

God rest its soal [sic] On Oct 30 89 A beautiful Chinese elm was killed and covered with this slab of cement

Across the street, no longer screened from view by the beautiful Chinese elm, is the sullen Central Freeway. And above, in the telephone lines, is all that remains of this unknown person's beloved tree. A chunk of branch, the size of a fist, hangs from one of the wires, around which the full branch had grown. This is a nonument to something no longer there. To the nonexistence of the thing that once was, to the void it left behind.

Nonuments, then, involve sightseeing without the "sights." They require only sight, and seeing. Again, they're everywhere. And in a city besieged by commerce, by movers and shakers, by the mad plunge into "progress," it's important to seek out these traces of something different – of looseness, of stillness, of joy for joy's sake. Of what's been lost, and what we stand to lose. You'll no doubt find a nonument or two listed here. The others you'll need to discover yourself.

Edward Moyer (edword@sirius.com) is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, and urban archaeologist. He'd like to see the nonuments you've uncovered.
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Best Place to Find Moving Boxes
You've finally emerged victorious from a long, brutal apartment search – only to realize that the "packing" part of your move is going to be just as confounding. Chances are, you've only got a week or two to get your shit together, and after you've kicked down that massive deposit, you can't shell out for boxes to transport all your books, CDs, pots and pans, plastic monsters, and other essentials. Maruwa Foods is your salvation. At this Japantown supermarket, the boxes, which tend toward the small to medium, are clean, intact, plentiful, and helpfully stacked inside the windows at the front of the store. You may have to check back more than once to get the best selection, but if your timing's right (try midweek), your box search will be over. While you're there, check out Maruwa's superior selection of Pocky and Pretz – just the right snack after you've spent all day hauling your nicely packed belongings up and down a couple flights of stairs. 1737 Post, S.F. (415)563-1901
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Best New Internet Personals Addiction
Ah, craigslist. Sooner or later, you'll visit this for-the-people Web site to find a roommate, sell your bike, find a job, or ... meet your future wife? Yep, Craig's got personals now, and even if you're not really looking for love (or an "oral exchange," as one poster invites), click through 'em once and you'll be hooked. The headlines range from the cheesy ("Satyr Seeks Nymph") to the oogy ("20's Male looking for OLD RICH WOMAN"). Unlike most Web dating services, craigslist allows would-be Romeos and Juliets to ramble on at length, baring souls, stats (lots of SWM dot-commers), kinks (married folks seeking "discreet encounters"), dream-mate characteristics (skinny chicks are in high demand, natch), and an alarming avalanche of spelling and/or punctuation deficiencies. Skip around between categories (men for women is the biggest); some ads are endearing, some are intriguing, some are pathetic, and a few are obviously, amusingly fake. Before you know it you'll be clicking back to read the new posts whenever there's a dull moment around the office. www.craigslist.com
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Best Parking Lot for Mission Restaurant-Goers
Parking in the Mission? A horror show. Really, they should make a movie about it, with a script by Stephen King. The best possible parking place for Mission revelers is the garage, driveway, or street at your house. Leave the car home. Walk, take a cab, take BART or Muni. Of course these options aren't always available, since San Francisco is still part of California. So if you are driving, remember that there's a public parking lot on 21st Street just east of Valencia. It's big, cheap, and attended, and it's walking distance to most of the restaurants in the area. Enter from 21st St. near Valencia, S.F.
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Best Place for Blind People to Rent Videos for Free
This is not a joke, nor a slur against the visually impaired. The video collection of the Oakland Public Library contains a section of videos with descriptive narration for the blind and partially sighted. The narrations describe what viewers see on-screen, and are often so vividly and evocatively written that even if you watch with your eyes open, far from being distracting, they actually enhance the viewing experience. At their best, they're poetry. There's talk of expanding the selection and circulating it to the branches, something patrons should encourage. As with all its videos, the library lets you borrow two at a time for up to a week, and of course a library card is free. Oakland Public Library, Main Branch, 125 14th St., Oakl., (510) 238-3134.
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Best Daily Newspaper That Could
All the horse-trading and other scummy business as usual behind the sales of the Chronicle and Examiner have only amplified the long-held sense, among those who care about such things, that local daily journalism has never been in a sorrier state. We beg to differ. Berkeley may not be a big place, but it's got its own daily newspaper that, lo and behold, actually takes the city and its news seriously. Not even two years old, the scrappy little Berkeley Daily Planet finds space for both community support and hard-hitting journalism without breaking its arm trying to constantly pat itself on the back while turning out crap – unlike its big S.F. compatriots. 2076 University, Berk. (510) 841-5600.
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Best Use of Vintage Aprons as Decor Theme
Old-timey aprons, pinned to the walls like captured butterflies or colorful kites in flight, brighten the dining area at Mama's Royal Cafe. They're a perfect symbol for this hearty-breakfast restaurant, suggesting both home cooking and maternal care. Most of the aprons on display come from the personal collection of waitress Sherry Cooper, who rotates them every few months, often choosing them to illustrate some theme (fruit, Christmas, see-thru styles.) Aprons aren't the only eye candy here – while you dig into your restorative plate of eggs Benedict, look around at the old radios, Melmac cups, and the pagoda trim remaining from the place's earlier incarnation as a 1930s chop suey joint. And don't miss the display of the latest winners of Mama's highly competitive annual Napkin Art Contest. 4012 Broadway at 40th St., Oakl. (510) 547-7600.
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Best Urban Folk Art Environment
Wrought-iron signs proclaiming Shelter for the Learned and Welcome To Excelsior arch over a vacant lot filled with a rich but incomprehensible arrangement of discards. From the sidewalk, one can peek through the bars of the high iron fence-work and puzzle over an open space jam-packed with a maze of tables, stacked with birdcages, ceramic figurines, flowerpots, and broken toys, and accented here and there by large potted plants and concrete lawn ornaments. What does all this magpie clutter mean? A small sign offers a cryptic clue to the artist's intent: "Please be aware that compliments or flattering to this paradise is very unnecessary. Take notice that supportable donation is the only thing that counts." 4380 Mission, S.F.
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Best Site That Deserves a Historical Plaque
The khaki-ing of America began in an inconspicuous corner storefront in the less-than-trendy Ingleside neighborhood. The first of Gap Inc.'s 2000 stores opened here in 1969, offering the top fashion item of the moment – Levi's blue jeans – to folks on the youthful side of the "generation gap." (Only later, after growing into a powerhouse retail chain, did Gap switch to selling its own brands and designs exclusively.) No longer a store, this building now houses the Voice of Pentecost Academy, a private Christian school affiliated with an adjacent church. Whether you love or hate the Gap, you can't deny its huge impact on the national retail scene. For making casual jeans, khaki pants, simple T-shirts, and cargo pants the core of wardrobes all over the world, some kind of historical marker seems long overdue. 1950 Ocean, S.F.
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Best Public Phone Booth
It's probably too small a cubicle for Clark Kent to use when changing into his Superman duds. And to be honest, it doesn't even contain a working telephone at the moment. Still, this sweet wooden phone booth with its faceted glass doorknob, inside a '40s-time-warp ice cream parlor, is a reminder that not too long ago people retreated to a cozy private space to make their phone calls instead of braying into a handheld unit in public. Indeed, this booth could be the model for a grand civic improvement project: let's install phoneless booths like this inside every restaurant and "invite" cell phone users to conduct their business there instead of at the table. St. Francis Fountain and Candy Store, 2801 24th St., S.F. (415) 826-4200
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Best Unexpected 'Sculpture Garden'
Fortunes rise and fall in the art biz. The work of San Francisco sculptor Beniamino Bufano (1898-1970) was hugely popular during his lifetime. Twinkly eyed, silver-haired Bufano, playing the role of old-school bohemian artist to the hilt, was a beloved local "character" as symbolic of The City as Herb Caen or a loaf of sourdough bread. Today, he's almost forgotten, even though a number of his curvy, stylized, easy-to-like sculptures still grace public places like the shores of Lake Merced and the Academy of Sciences. (The Madonna that used to guard the entrance to SFO was evicted during the airport's current expansion and now resides in open space along Brotherhood Way.) Now that art critics have begun to take Norman Rockwell seriously, Bufano may be next in line for critical reassessment. If you want to jump on the Bufano bandwagon ahead of the crowd, you can view and touch a collection of his sculptures at a single location – a Peninsula shopping mall. Eight Bufano sculptures were installed at Hillsdale Shopping Center by its art-loving developers in 1956, when it was built as an open-air retail center. Today the center has been enclosed as a mall, so seven of these artworks are spaced throughout the indoor corridors, with the eighth placed in the outdoor plaza off the food court. Bufano's eminently huggable art seems right at home in this informal setting, where one can walk right up and throw one's arms around a granite cat or frog or penguin. El Camino Real at Hillsdale Blvd., San Mateo; (650) 345-8222.
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Best Christmas Tree
This roughly spherical evergreen doesn't have the perfect cone shape of a cartoon Christmas tree. Its holiday decorations are the simplest imaginable: just strings of multicolored big-bulb lights running top to bottom like a globe's lines of longitude. But when you spot the big Monterey cypress in front of McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park all lit up on a frosty winter night, it evokes a heartfelt sense of awe and wonder that no froufrou-tinseled indoor tree can match. By the way, this noble arboreal specimen is also the official City Tree – bet you didn't know the city even had one. In front of McLaren Lodge, Golden Gate Park, John F. Kennedy Dr. and Stanyan, S.F.
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Best Bowling Alley with an Ocean View
Technically, you can't bowl here while looking out at the mighty Pacific: the lanes face away from the ocean, not toward it. But while taking a break between games, you can sit at the snack bar's counter or at one of its window tables and watch the foaming, restless waves through plate-glass windows, incongruously accompanied by the crash of falling bowling pins. The newly remodeled and well-maintained Sea Bowl is as pleasant a place for bowling as it is for wave-watching, with 32 lanes for the sport of kings as well as billiards tables and a video game arcade. For nonpurists, there's Astro Bowling (with strobes and lasers and Day-Glo nonsense) on Friday nights. Sea Bowl, 4625 Coast Highway (Route 1), Pacifica. (650) 738-8190.
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Best Doggie Treat
In Noe Valley the "nothing but the best for my baby" philosophy applies not just to pampered newborns and trophy toddlers, but to the dogs that are often treated as full members of the family. As the neighborhood's new source for superpremium Double Rainbow ice cream, Fountain of Youth appeals to both walkers of dogs and amblers with tots. Its ice cream parlor offerings include cones, floats, shakes, sodas, and sundaes, as well as espresso drinks and a goodly selection of cookies and brownies and such. But the high point on this menu is a concoction especially for dog owners who've always felt guilty about eating ice cream in front of their pleading, panting pooch. It's the Pup Cup – a scoop of dog-safe vanilla ice cream (no chocolate) surrounded by doggie treat biscuits. ($1.75) Awwwww.... 1484 Church, S.F. (415) 206-9411.
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Best Ironic McDonald's
The decor of this tiny Financial District McDonald's outlet, on the ground floor of one of Chevron's office buildings, salutes these two corporations' contribution to American car culture. Black-and-white photos on the walls show early McDonald's drive-ins, complete with happy diners in giant-tail-finned '50s convertibles. An old sign from Chevron's precursor, Standard Oil, hangs from the ceiling, and red-and-white ceramic tiles and truncated segments of neon-rimmed Golden Arches pay tribute to the look of this restaurant chain's first stores. The irony? Despite its celebration of an autopia based on in-car dining and cheap gasoline, this Mickey D's is located in the middle of one of the busiest, most skyscrapered blocks on Market Street, and thus has no drive-through facilities, only a walk-up counter. 575 Market, S.F. (415)546-7595
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Best Way to Be Certain You Really Can't Afford a House in S.F.
Suddenly you're making more money than you've ever seen. You get cocky. "There must be something in this tulip housing market I can afford ... some little old lady with a two-bedroom house in the Richmond for a cool 200K ..." A smack across the head with a rolled up newspaper is your wake-up call, especially if the paper is the Real Estate section of the Sunday Chronicle. This weekend morning reality check is enough to make you choke on your bagels and coffee. The ads for crud-infested foreclosures for 400K and tiny bungalows for 800K and other more suitable homes trailing upwards of seven digits will have you using the remainder of the paper to catch the drool from your gaping, wide-eyed face. Especially when you realize how many more years you'll have to work to own an apartment crappier than the one where you already live. Sunday Chronicle-Examiner Real Estate Section
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Best New Idea to Eliminate Cars
What do you mean you've never heard of it? Well, you're not alone. Lots of people don't know about the proposed S.F. City Carshare Initiative, but if it ever gets off the ground it will be a great way to stop owning a car and reduce the tragedy that is parking and driving in the city. Here's the deal: for a monthly fee, you have access to a car whenever, and you pay only for the mileage and number of hours of use. That's it. All the other hassles, such as maintenance, smog checks, fuel costs, etc., are covered in the cost of your membership. However, don't sell the Vanagon just yet. The group is trying to be admirably green about the organization and make it a nonprofit, thus some seed funding and political hurdles keep pushing back the launch date. www.sfcarshare.org
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Best Civic Building in Which to Hold a Party
A wedding, a dot-com launch, a vacuum cleaner sales force convention ... whatever the event, it will indeed glitter with an instant touch of class when set against the backdrop of the stunning City Hall Rotunda. Two stories of opulence, carved marble, massive domed ceiling, and a sweeping staircase that would put any classic Hollywood film set to shame. Visitors know they're here for more than just government business. The new building is steeped in the history and preservation that makes S.F. sparkle, and for just $1,000 an hour or $12,500 a night (hey, somebody had to pay for that 24-karat gold renovation) you, too, can be part of history. City Hall, S.F. For rentals call (415) 554-6137 or (415) 554-6068.
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Best Place to Learn a Foreign Language
Summer is a great time for traveling, but if you don't want to get caught eating at the McDonalds in Borneo because you can't read any other menu, you might want to begin beefing up your foreign language skills before you leave the Bay. Berlitz is the perfect place to unrust your verb conjugations this summer since the school offers a free trial lesson through August and four levels of instruction in every spoken language around the globe. It provides private lessons at varying prices in all of the exotic tongues, from Swedish to Swahili to Cantonese, and group classes in more common languages, such as French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and German. Group classes cost $299 per eight week session. 180 Montgomery, S.F. (415)986-6464.
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Best Intersection to Cycle Through for Near-Death Euphoria
The confluence of Otis, Mission, 13th Street, and Duboce and its attending crush of 101 ramp-bound drivers can be a real heart-stopper for the city cyclist. There are dissolving lanes, multidirectional traffic vectors, and the nearly there antagonism of car commuters. A left turn from Otis onto 13th is the best test of a cyclist's mettle. A straight-shot from 13th to Duboce is no picnic either. Successful navigation carries with it the fist-pumping exhilaration of a hard battle fought and won. On defeatist days the best offense might be a good defense: i.e., keep to the crosswalks.
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Best Bushman
Just when you may think you've heard of every conceivable moneymaking idea, you're bound to come across the "Bushman," David Johnson, who hides behind a makeshift bundle of leafy branches, lying in wait for unsuspecting tourists at Fisherman's Wharf to walk by and scaring them for money. It might be even more difficult to believe that such a man could have made his livelihood for two decades out of such a pastime. But it's true: the passing of 1999 marked the 20-year anniversary of his illustrious career. Since his humble beginnings in 1979, he has been featured in several Bay Area publications and acquired a certain notoriety among the locals. What did Johnson do to celebrate the milestone? "I came to work." Jefferson Street sidewalk, north side, just west of Pier 41, S.F.
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Best Place to Beat Drums, Swallow Fire, and Howl at the Moon
The organizers of Burning Man, an annual event dedicated entirely to hedonism and the pursuit of creativity, are not content to rest on their laurels during the rest of the year. One of their better-known parties is the Burning Man Beach Burn, which takes place on the last Saturday of every month as a pre-Burning Man event. Participants gather around a bonfire, playing drums and dancing. They are also encouraged to bring a work of art as an offering for the fire. Bring your own food and drinks; glass containers are prohibited. Last Saturday of the month, 8 p.m. Ocean Beach, Great Highway between Fulton and Lincoln, Stairway 28, S.F.
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Best Place to Spot Robin Williams
About half a year ago, Robin Williams started making intermittent appearances at The Marsh's Mock Cafe. No doubt seduced by the Mock Cafe's spare, intimate setting and warm, unassuming atmosphere, he does improvisational stand-up comedy for the benefit of a small, appreciative audience. The Pre-Show Comedy Showcase with Colin Mahan takes place every Friday night at 9 p.m., followed by a series of stand-up comedians, both amateur and professional, at 10. When he is in town, Williams is reputed to make more than one appearance a month. Take a chance ... for a mere five dollars, you can afford to. 1074 Valencia at 22nd St., S.F. (415) 826-5750.
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Best at Eating Giant Polluters for Lunch
Fed up with drinking MTBE-contaminated water, eating dioxin-laced fish, and holding your breath while the local refinery blows up? Join thousands of moms, dads, kids, and working folks with Communities for a Better Environment to organize for the power to make decisions about our lives. CBE puts organizing, science, and legal tools into the hands of regular people who are fighting the chemical invasion of our bodies. In the overwhelmingly white environmental movement, CBE is one of the few organizations to integrate its own staff and work with low-income communities of color who suffer the most from pollution. While big polluters push government officials around, CBE wins real health protections. The independent nonprofit stood up to the combined firepower of the oil industry and EPA to ban MTBE, the fuel additive that failed to clear the air while it tainted drinking water, and came out against taxpayer giveaways to PG&E by supporting Proposition 9. CBE battled Unocal 76 all the way to the Supreme Court and won a 95 percent cut in the biggest selenium discharge in San Francisco Bay. Because of the group's work, millions of pounds less of pollution enter Bay Area air and water from 150 factories that invested in cleaner, job-saving production methods. This March, CBE negotiated a commitment by Evergreen Oil to virtually eliminate dioxin at its Hayward refinery within two years, even while Evergreen plans to expand. Tosco Corp., the oil refiner that threatened to lay off workers July 1 if it didn't get to dump more dioxin in our Bay, should think again. Call for CBE's latest newsletter: (510) 302-0430 x215.
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Best Local Living Saloon Singer
Sinatra may be dead, but the spirit of lounge lives on with Mr. Lucky. Before there was the Gap ad, even before there was a swing scene, Mr. Lucky was a San Francisco icon in a Panama hat, cruising from club to club in his 1961 Chrysler New Yorker to croon the Sinatra songbook to taped instrumental tracks. He's since graduated to not one, but several backing bands, each in a different loungy style. Whether he's at the Deluxe, swinging his way through "A Foggy Day" to the jazzy strains of the Cocktail Party for the swing set or doing more exotic '60s material with Phantasmix 2000 at the Hush Hush for the post-gallery cocktail crowd, you're guaranteed the best cocktail-sipping music this side of Vegas. Gig info at www.mrlucky.org.
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Best (Manual) Typewriter Museum
Much as we love our computers, there will always be a special spot in our hearts for manual typewriters. And when we take our personal hulking beast down to MTC Office Machine Repair and Museum of Typewriters for a tune-up, we always peruse the typewriter museum. MTC keeps more than 30 prewar models on display, ranging from a monstrous 1911 Royal to odd-looking machines from long forgotten firms like Woodstock and L.C. Smith. (Have you ever seen a typewriter with a right-hand carriage return?) They have an especially nice selection of the highly collectible Remington portables – the supersleek folding models were the superskinny laptops of the depression. But our favorite is the Frolio, a bizarre, lever-activated German machine that looks more like a label-maker than a typewriter. And, just to prove prewar typewriters weren't always black, they have a nice red Royal portable and a purple (!) Remington. Not only are these machines cooler than your Thinkpad, they're darn near indestructible. 1888A Union, S.F. (415) 775-9250.
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Best Looking Modern Hotel
Yes, we are familiar with the charges. It looks like a pile of junk. It looks like a giant jukebox. It's an architectural abomination, a blot on the San Francisco skyline. We beg to differ. The San Francisco Marriott may not be God's gift to modern architecture, but junk and jukeboxes are two of our favorite things. Any building that combines the two can't be that bad. And with all that puce stone and those mirror windows and the postmodern mishmash of design elements, the Marriott just looks so '80s. It really is kind of cool. We're willing to bet that when the trendy ironists of 2020 are furnishing their houses with vintage Z Gallerie chairs and expensive Nagel prints, the Marriott will be revered as the coolest retro hotel in San Francisco. Stranger things have happened – remember when you said the '70s would never, ever come back? 55 Fourth Street, S.F. (415) 896-1600
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Best Fictional Murder Site
One fictional foggy night in the late '20s, a woman lured a man into this humble Nob Hill alley and shot him to death. Today, a plaque informs passersby that "On Approximately This Spot, Miles Archer, Partner Of Sam Spade, Was Done In By Brigid O'Shaughnessy." Yes, this is the starting point for the action in Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, arguably the Great American Detective Novel, and the basis for the classic Humphrey Bogart movie. Save for an apartment house that went up at the end of the alley in the '30s, Burritt Street remains little changed from the days when Hammett himself was skulking around the neighborhood. It's the city's premiere Hammett site and a prime photo op for all fans of film noir and hard-boiled detective fiction. Trench coat optional. Burritt Alley, off Bush between Powell and Stockton, S.F.
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Best Place to Fight a Duel
There are insults so grievous that the only honorable response involves a can't-say-no invitation for resolution on the nearest field of honor. In San Francisco, that would be the Broderick-Terry Dueling Site, State Landmark #19, site of San Francisco's last duel, in 1851. Combatants were California Chief Supreme Court Justice David Terry and U.S. Senator Daniel Broderick (as in the street). Terry won, but his political career died along with Broderick. These days the dueling ground is a quiet, grassy little park tucked away on the southern end of Lake Merced just over the county line. There is a plaque and obelisk commemorating the Broderick-Terry affair and a few picnic tables for seconds and spectators to lounge at as duelists pace to their positions. Please be advised that the local constabulary and the neighbors frown upon firearms; you may wish to consider settling your affair of honor with paint guns, water pistols, or perhaps plastic lightsabers. Near Lake Merced Club, 1100 Lake Merced Blvd., Daly City
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Best Enigmatic Cautionary Road Sign
For some reason the Presidio is San Francisco's designated area for signs advising motorists of such unusual hazards as "Quail in Area – Drive Carefully" and "Slow Children at Play" (the smart kids are obviously safely ensconced in the library). But our favorite is the mysterious "Caution Deaf Child in Area" sign on Washington Boulevard. It's been up at least 15 years – long enough, we think, to at least merit being updated to "Deaf Teenager in Area." Further compounding the mystery is the fact that it dates back to the days when the Presidio was an army base, and the surrounding housing was reserved strictly for military personnel and their dependents. When the army left, did they leave the kid behind – or just the sign? At bus stop on Washington Blvd. 0.2 miles north of Park Blvd., S.F.
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Best Camera Obscura
Not only is the Giant Camera the only surviving structure from the late, lamented Playland-at-the-Beach and a marvelous example of American "signature architecture," (i.e., it looks like a giant camera!) it's also the only freestanding operational camera obscura in the country which sits in its original location and that is open to the public. Inside, you see a slowly revolving 360-degree panoramic view of Ocean Beach, Seal Rock, the Cliff House, the condos that replaced Playland (sob!), and the inevitable shivering tourists projected on a curved six-foot screen in the beautiful, ethereal clarity camera obscuras are known for. It's very cool and restful. It's easy to see why old masters like Vermeer often painted, not from life, but from camera obscura images. It's better than the real thing. 1096 Point Lobos, S.F. (415) 750-0415.
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Best Roller Derby Venue
Back in the '60s and early '70s, Roller Derby was one of the most popular spectator sports in the country. Kezar Pavilion was its Madison Square Garden. It was here that Charlie O'Connell led the Bay Bombers in endless clashes against the Jolters, Devils, Chiefs, and Pioneers that were seen by millions via videotapes syndicated to independent TV stations across the country. Sadly, the original Roller Derby closed shop in 1973, done in by lagging attendance. But the classic banked-track game is back! Two rival outfits are trying to bring back "real" roller derby (as opposed to some of the recent cable TV abominations), and both book dates at the old gym. Once more, fans can thrill to the sport the way God and Jerry Seltzer intended. Golden Gate Park near Stanyan and Beulah, S.F. (415) 753-7032.
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Best New Bowling Alley
The closing of the Park Bowl a few years back left San Francisco keglers with but two alleys to choose from – Japan Town and Presidio. (By contrast, bowlers in 1960 had their pick of a dozen alleys.) Thankfully, the new Yerba Buena Bowling Center has increased options for local bowlers by 50 percent. It may be the smallest bowling center in the city, but 12 more lanes are 12 more lanes. And frankly, we like the intimate, vest-pocket feeling at Yerba Buena. You may be bowling, but you never forget you're still in San Francisco. Thanks to the "Lunch and Bowl" special (Wed.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., two games, shoes, a dog and a soda for only $10), even the gainfully employed can brag about their soaring averages. 750 Folsom, S.F. (415) 777-3727.
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Best Place to Witness Euro-Style Soccer Madness
As anyone who's been to any of the bars around town that show European soccer can attest, followers of the "beautiful game" are a breed far more passionate than American sport fans. And nowhere do these passions run higher than at the Abbey Tavern when the crowd's favorite team, Glasgow Celtic, takes the pitch against its hated crosstown rival, the Rangers, in what is perhaps the most intense club match in the world. Back in Glasgow, as one local columnist notes, "Everyone remembers the day their father/uncle/brother/son was hospitalized" after a Celtic/Rangers match. It's not quite like that in San Francisco, but the electricity that fills the Abbey when Celtic is locked in a tight struggle with its hereditary enemy (or, even better, is stomping the Rangers into the pitch) is unlike any stateside sporting scene. A 5-to-1 regular-season victory over the Rangers makes "The Giants win the pennant!!" look like tee ball. 4100 Geary Blvd., S.F. (415) 221-7767.
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Best Reason to Wish You Lived in San Francisco in 1965
Sure, we'd be happy about the cheap rent, easy parking, and the sight of a pre-heroin Haight Street. But the thing that would really turn our cranks would be heading down to the hungry i to see Tom Lehrer recording what would prove to be his last album, That Was the Year That Was. For this gig the man Dr. Demento calls "the most brilliant song satirist ever recorded" eschewed his '50s classics like "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" for incisive topical songs savaging the sacred cows of the day. Nothing was safe, from phony liberalism ("National Brotherhood Week") to the Catholic Church ("Vatican Rag"). At one point, Lehrer sends the audience into hysterics by introducing a song about a controversial nuclear weapons pact by noting, "Much of this discussion took place during the baseball season, so the Chronicle may not have covered it." It's nice to know that as much as San Francisco's changed since 1965, some things are still the same. That Was the Year That Was is available in the Rhino box set The Remains of Tom Lehrer. www.rhino.com.
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Best Doggie Diner Head
To some it's just an ugly, bedraggled hunk of fiberglass taking up a few square feet of very valuable San Francisco real estate. To others, it's a valuable cultural artifact, a brilliant, if somewhat decrepit, example of '60s American commercial kitsch. And to longtime locals, it's the last survivor of a beloved, dozens-strong tribe of dachshund heads that once gazed down on happy diners throughout the central Bay Area. Yes, it's the Carousel's embattled Doggie Diner head. Only time will tell if the forces of culture or greed will emerge triumphant. But for now, you can still munch on a hot dog or hamburger as you revel in the beauty that is the Doggie. As Zippie the Pinhead says, "Wake up, America, and smell your cultural heritage!" 2750 Sloat Blvd. (415) 564-6052.
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Best Picture, Pub, and Pizza Theater
Eating pizza, drinking beer, and watching movies are three of the finest things in life. But there's only one theater in California where you can openly indulge in all three simultaneously: Oakland's Parkway Theater. The Parkway has good pizza, real wine, great beer (tap beers include Sierra and Full Sail), and second-run movies booked with an eye toward attracting the discerning film buff. But the best is Thursday's "Thrillsville Theater," when the Parkway goes repertory. Hosted by Will the Thrill, the series features adventurous programs of hip favorites, cult classics, and cool obscurities, with Monica the Tiki Goddess spinning the Big Wheel of Fortune as an added attraction. And for new parents, the first shows on Monday are set aside for the "Baby Brigade," with babes in arms admitted free and wailing as an expected addition to the soundtrack. 1834 Park Blvd., Oakl. (510) 814-2400.
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Best San Francisco Treat
Sad but true. You've been fed a diet of lies. The ads may call Rice-a-Roni the San Francisco treat, but it's really made in the East Bay. It's Its, the delightful ice cream concoctions that defined the late Playland-at-the-Beach for generations of San Franciscans, are now churned out down at a plant on the Peninsula. Even the Ghirardelli Chocolates factory deserted the city for San Leandro way back in 1962, leaving a void to be filled by a tourist-trap mall. But even as San Francisco flag-waving food makers flee the city for the suburbs, one humble snack manufacturer has stayed the course. Hostess doesn't swath its cupcakes, HoHos, and Ding Dongs with images of cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge (nor does it advertise the Twinkie's greatest claim to fame: as the homicidal treat that supposedly prompted Dan White's murder of Sup. Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone). But the company is still making your favorite Hostess goodies at its Bryant Street plant. No tours, but you can enjoy the aroma (intermingled with that of building mate, Wonder Bread) for free in the northeast Mission on any bake day. Hostess/Continental Baking Company plant, 850 Bryant, S.F.
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Best Literary Reason to Visit Oakland
Despite all of San Francisco's metropolitan and literary pretensions, you'll have to cross the bay for a really great newsstand. De Lauer's Super Newsstand in Oakland stocks some 4,000 mainstream, offbeat, highbrow, lowbrow, and just plain obscure magazines – everything from Time and Art Forum to the Fortean Times and True Police Cases. De Lauer's not only has your favorite magazine, it has every magazine that even remotely resembles it. We counted 11 different True Confessions-type magazines alone – and we may have missed a few. De Lauer's carries more newspapers than anyone, and it has a surprisingly broad selection of paperbacks. And it's open 24 hours a day! We bet even Gertrude Stein would make the BART trip to browse the racks. 1310 Broadway, Oakl. (510) 451-6157.
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Best Relic from the Golden Age of Tiki
At one time, San Francisco was filled with wonderful tiki bars featuring elegant rum concoctions served in umbrella-festooned coconut shells and ornate tiki mugs. Sadly, only three of the originals (the Tonga Room, Trad'r Sams, and Hawaii West) remain. The rest have been obliterated without a trace, victims of greed, neglect, and poorly conceived "progress." Fortunately for the growing (and increasingly rabid) legions of tiki-mug collectors, one sacred relic remains of San Francisco's most iconic tiki bar, Tiki Bob's. The bar itself is long gone, its space now occupied by (sigh) a car rental agency. But the Tiki Bob pole remains, a grinning 12-foot high embodiment of the highly prized Tiki Bob mug, still propping up the corner of the building 40 years later. It's a can't-miss photo op for all connoisseurs of exotica culture. Corner of Post and Taylor, S.F.
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Best Place to Take a Dump Downtown Without Having to Buy Anything
We all know the feeling. You're strolling through Union Square, marveling at those clever cats in their metallic suits ("Look, Honey! He hasn't moved in twenty minutes. Maybe he's dead! Let's poke him with a stick.") when suddenly the Rear Guard announces that it's staging a bowel coup. You don't feel like buying a sandwich or some overpriced water just to use the bathroom, but what's a girl to do when she's downtown and nature calls? Simple. Go to the Sheraton Palace Hotel. Walk in like you know what you're doing, and you'll find a gleaming row of spotless crappers anxiously awaiting your gastrointestinal emergencies. Take comfort in knowing that you're relieving yourself in what was once the finest hotel in the Western hemisphere. Come in through the door on Market Street, and walk about 10 yards down the hall. In an alcove to the left you'll see the bathrooms. Stroll right in, but watch out, this is probably illegal (and now that this issue has come out, security will probably be watching for your loutish behavior). Oh yeah, and the toilet paper is ever-so-soft. It's crap-a-licious. Market and New Montgomery, S.F. 512-1111.
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Best Place to Close Your Eyes and Pretend You're in North Carolina
Take a stroll down Divisadero, and you'll smell Brother In Law's Bar-B-Q long before you can see it. Beef brisket, ribs, chicken, baked beans, corn bread, cobblers – Brother In Law's has it all. It's enough to make any former Southerner's mouth water just thinking about it. Slow-cooked meats with heavenly, tangy barbecue sauce make this the real deal, Holyfield. You couldn't find more authentic barbecue (or a more authentic barbecue joint for that matter) if you were to travel the length and breadth of the Southern states (and we know because we have). Even if you don't have time to eat, you can close your eyes as far away as Alamo Square and smell the South's greatest culinary contribution. One tip: get your order to go. 705 Divisadero, S.F. (415) 931-7427.
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Best Internet Café
Thanks to the recent proliferation of high-tech coffee spots, you don't need a lot of dough to surf the world of dot-com. At Café.Com, for example, you can work at 1 of 10 high-speed DSL connections while noshing on a falafel and enjoying a low-key family atmosphere. Other fare includes bagels, pastries, beer, wine, and smoothies at reasonable prices that complement the modest workstation fee: $7 an hour (first hour), $5 an hour (additional). 970 Market, S.F. (415) 922-5322.
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Best Place to Volunteer If You Love Kids
This is the place to go if ever you've had a bad day at the office or at school. Spending a mere hour with your mentee is the near equivalent of taking four capsules of sunshine. The children at Patterson Elementary are smart, cute, and very distinct in personality. And punk-ass kids? Forget about it. Patterson students are some of the most well-behaved, respectful, and polite kids in the Bay Area. The mentor program itself is not only a great opportunity for community service but it also requires very little time out of your week. Many times you'll have the opportunity to develop a relationship with these kids outside of the classroom. You can attend their baseball games, buy them ice cream, and go to arcades together. The infinitesimal amount of time that Patterson asks for makes such a difference in these kids' lives and gives you that warm feeling inside. 35521 Cabrillo Drive, Fremont. (510) 793-3010.
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Most Generous Fast-Growing Business
Give Something Back, which sells office supplies and is based in Oakland, is a doubly remarkable business. First, it is remarkably generous. It was formed in 1991 with the intention of giving away its profits. Since then it has given away $1 million and was recently named one of the 10 most generous businesses in this country by George magazine. Second, it is a remarkably fast-growing business. It was named to the prestigious Inc. 500 list as one of the 500 fastest-growing businesses in the country in both 1998 and 1999. With sales of $13 million in '98, $19 million in '99, and on track for a goal of $25 million this year, GSB is doubling in size every two years. It's now the largest independent office supply distributor in the Western United States. In 1999 GSB gave away $250,000 to 120 organizations in the areas of environment, public health, art and culture, human services, and education. Customers vote on allocating 40 percent of the money, employees 30 percent, and the owners, Sean Marx and Mike Hannigan, the final 30 percent. Some recipients include the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund, Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers and Sisters, the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, and the Sacramento Zoo. Give Something Back sells almost exclusively to other businesses. In addition to general office supplies it also sells office furniture, paper, toner, and printing. Unlike most other office-supply businesses, GSB actively encourages customers to buy recycled paper and sells paper that's 75 percent recycled as opposed to the 25 percent recycled throughout the rest of the industry. Because its primary wholesaler is nationwide in scope, any business in the United States can buy from GSB. And any nonprofit in the Bay Area can apply for a grant. 7303 Edgewater Drive, Suite D, Oakl. (510) 635-5500.
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Best Place to Take a Break from Waiting in Traffic
The next time you're driving down Highway 80 toward San Francisco and see only miles and miles of cars manned by angry, rambunctious motorists, try this ... take an immediate right to the University exit. Don't bother turning right at University itself – there's lots of traffic in Berkeley, too. Make an immediate left, and go straight into the Berkeley Marina. Now stop your car, turn off your ignition, and get out. Walk along the beach, and take a gander at the San Francisco Bay. Ahh, isn't it beautiful? OK, get back in your car. You've got places to go. University exit off Hwy 80, Berk.
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Best Place to Park Downtown
Forget about the sleazoid parking lots popping up everywhere – there are plenty of affordable spaces just south of Market Street. Funny thing is, people are so frazzled when they drive along Mission that they forget to look around them, where there's usually plenty of prime parking to be had for a few coins, and for free if it's after 6 p.m. It's an option, at least, if you don't mind walking a block or two. Mission, S.F.
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Best Distraction While Stuck in SoMa Gridlock
The southwest corner of Sixth and Howard is home to Defenestration, one of the most fetching pieces of public art in San Francisco. At first glance, it's nothing to write home about: it's a typical old, downtown building with its boarded-up first floor covered with "portraits" that look like they were painted by the same guys who decorated the walls of the Flying Bobs at the carnival. But one quickly gets the sense of something looming above. From the building's upper floors, various pieces of antique furniture leap out of windows and tip off the roof. Coffee tables and leather easy chairs cling to the sides of the walls. A marble bathtub, an open refrigerator, and a warped grandfather clock hang out of the windows. A couch threatens to fall off the roof. By the way, the building and lot are now for sale – go check it out before someone turns it into a live-work loft. Corner of Sixth and Howard, S.F.
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Best Place to Get a Quick, Needle-Free HIV Test
The counselors at the Castro/Mission Health Center are friendly and efficient, not to mention easy on the eye. They give better relationship advice than any fashion-mag columnist and make that list of potentially embarrassing questions as painless as making your bed. Speaking of painless, the HIV test itself takes just a swipe of a swap between your cheek and lower gums – no pricking involved. It's a relatively new technique but is supposedly as accurate as the blood test. Test results come back in one week. The center appreciates, but does not require, a donation for its services. 3850 17th. (at Noe), San Francisco. (415) 502-8378.
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Best Up-and-Coming Neighborhood
Greedy landlords run you out of the Mission? Can't imagine renting, let alone buying, anywhere in the city ever again? Don't despair. There's hope across the bay in the nether regions of the 'historic' Temescal district. In this North Oakland hub near where Telegraph Avenue bisects MacArthur Boulevard, duplexes and two- to three-bedroom houses with a garage and a yard go for a mere $350K – a millennium-style bargain if ever there was one. The region's greatest draw is its adamant refusal to let gentrification wipe out its urban charm. A working-class zone for folks of all races and ages, people here take care of their own. Neighbors know each other. You don't have to worry if the sound of gunfire wakes you in the middle of the night; it's probably just little Billy down the road letting off steam. If you're being mugged in front of your place, it's OK to cry out; Big Joe next door will be at your side in no time. And if the culprit turns out to be his second cousin's best friend, he'll kick his ass on the spot. That's just how they do it in Temescal. The residents around this way take pride in the solidarity and diversity of their essentially self-contained community. Case in point, within a few-block radius you'll find scattered rehab clinics, a half-dozen liquor outlets, twice as many motels, a WalMart-size firearms shop, a trio of churches, several mortuaries, and a thriving Lucky Florist. The restaurant scene flourishes as well with a McDonald's, a Jack in the Box, and a Carl's Jr all vying to sate your deep-fry cravings. That means 99¢ all-you-can-eat pancakes, baby! And everyone's so friendly. If you're ever feeling down, the ladies on 38th Street know exactly how to get you up. That's one love – what Temescal's all about.
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Best Free Internet Stock Advice
Whether you're an aspiring bohemian with a measly grand in a coffee can, a wide-eyed college kid with student loans to speculate, or a darling dot-commer with vested options busting the seams of your snakeskin wallet, you know when it comes to stock trading that the Internet is the only game in town. But with hundreds of companies to choose from and anyone with HTML basics throwing up a Web site to proffer "expert" investment opinion, where can you go for informed analysis, education, and advice? e-harmon.com – the online presence of pioneering e-commerce analyst and Zero Gravity Internet Group CEO Steve Harmon. His concept is simple, yet profound: "The world has a new clock, the Web. Think of Salvador Dalí images merged with Stephen Hawking's boundless universe, and that is the Webscape. In this surreal, yet very real place, one natural law has emerged: Zero Gravity." Simply put, Zero Gravity refers to forward-pushing companies poised to maximize profits via business plans almost entirely executed in the digital universe. No factories to maintain, no inventory to move, means weightlessness. No weight means better flexibility to take advantage of emerging opportunities and higher margins to bank megacash. For the adventurous investor or aggressive stock trader along for the ride, this can translate into triple-digit returns in no time. Of course, the speculative frenzy around these companies is what drives the technology-heavy NASDAQ way up – and way down – in the short term. So, to help newbie investors hang on to their shirts, the San Francisco-based Steve Harmon provides long-term guidance through a free e-mail newsletter, a research-friendly Web site that archives analysis, and a recently launched mutual fund. The sagacious Harmon stresses knowledge first, then wise investment decisions based on the big picture. Is this the smart way to grow your savings? Time will tell. www.e-harmon.com.
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Best Place to Dig the Power of Youth
The five-block stretch of Berkeley's merchant-heavy Telegraph Avenue, from Dwight Way till it dead ends at UC's Sproul Plaza, has long been a power center of youth activism. In the '60s, it was a dynamic hub for suburban pacifists and hippies who didn't want to get their heads blown off in an unjust war in Southeast Asia. A national symbol of youthful disgust and disaffection with the way things were, college-age kids from across the country came to the Avenue to speak their minds, to be part of a movement, to make a difference. That legacy continues today. Telegraph is littered with teenaged punks and homeless hipsters determined to defy the status quo and defend their American rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They've abandoned contemporary society's constrictive mores – to live at home, go to school, get a job, shop at the Gap – for a do-it-yourself ethos embodied by the hardcore groups whose names fire up their spiked leather jackets: Misfits, Neurosis, Corrosion of Conformity. In solidarity they sit proudly together on the pavement, sharing burritos and Fat Slice pizzas donated by sympathetic passersby. These peaceful protestors with self-produced tattoos and multiple face piercings boldly solicit "change for beer" or "a dime for pot," so they too can turn on, tune in, and drop out. It's activism by dissociation, making a difference today for a better world tomorrow. Telegraph Ave., Berk.
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Best Place to Contact Your Dead Mother
Say your mother has passed on, but there remain some unresolved issues that need to be addressed before either of you can rest in peace. Chapel of the Chimes Mortuary is the place for you. This sanctuary for the dead, and the living, evokes both serenity and dignity with its one-of-a-kind architectural design. Laid out not unlike a library of rare distinction, many of its resident urns are fashioned like great bronze tomes, symbolic of the life stories that were played out before the final chapter at the crematorium next door. Like an eminent reading room, the atmosphere of the place is sober yet inviting. It's also strikingly beautiful. Enormous skylights let the sun shine in on exotic hibiscus, roses, and cycad trees. A garden worthy of the great beyond, fountains flow over richly hued mosaics while sculptures of angels and saints look on. Roaming the endless corridors, you'll find modest prayer rooms, resplendent altars, and the occasional stained glass. Lots of cozy seating makes this an ideal environment for private communion with your dearly departed. Open to the public free of charge every day of the week, Chapel of the Chimes Mortuary is more intimate than Sunday mass and far less of a strain on the checkbook than therapy. 4499 Piedmont, Oakl.
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Best Pet Cemetery in the City
Pets die. It's true. They inevitably run out of lives, or their unique aging system fizzles out. How you dispose of your now collarless critter is up to you, but more than six decades ago, and until recently, Presidio military personnel and the public at large created the city's best pet cemetery, in the Presidio. Located on Crissy Field Avenue at the south end of Mason Street, the cemetery is framed by a white picket fence and No Trespassing signs – the Golden Gate Bridge roars overhead like a growling stairway to heaven as dozens of tombstones with heartfelt inscriptions speak kindly about days of "fetch" and unconditional love. The tombstones in this cemetery could make Edgar Allan Poe smile: grinning canines and coy felines pose in granite images as if they're still chasing their tails and coughing up fur balls in animal heaven. Crissy Field at south end of Mason, S.F.
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Best Lesbian Soak
This women's bathhouse is so subtly placed in a Valencia Street Victorian that many Missionites don't even know it's there. But women who do find their way into Osento will find a girlie oasis of serene soaking. Let the boys have their arguments over public vs. private sex in the bathhouses; in Osento cruising is replaced by muted conversation, the smell of aromatic oils, the sighs of naked women relaxing into the giant tiled hot tub. Maybe it's the same-sex-only rules or maybe it's the location, but it's frequented by an uncommon number of dykes who drop $9 to $13 for a soak or a turn in the saunas. The lack of privacy, however, ensures that Osento is a great place to pick up a number but a lousy place to score. Head over to the Lexington Club (just a few blocks away at the corner of 19th and Lexington) for a cocktail and a free pass to the bad-girl bathroom there instead. 955 Valencia, S.F. (415) 282-6333.
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Best Muni Feature to Show Out of Towners
Shuttling tourists around on Muni can be a total embarrassment – instead of showing off our city's gorgeous views or picturesque architecture you're stuck explaining about the late buses or shooing away disreputable strangers with spare-change cups outstretched. But if you want to take your visitors on a stylish ride that doesn't involve joining the endless queue on Powell for the cable cars, take a ride on the F line. Almost half the cars on the Market Street line are gorgeous vintage streetcars culled from outmoded transit lines from all over the world. The plump, beautifully painted cars are maintained in part by the Market Street Railway, the volunteer nonprofit arm of Muni that kicked off the vintage car acquisition with a Hamburg, Germany import in the '70s. Market Street Railway is hoping to convince Muni and city officials to extend the F Market line to the ballpark and the unused railway line still under Fort Mason in the future. But for now riders will have to content themselves with cruising the long strip of Market from the Castro to the Embarcadero instead. If you're lucky and it's a sunny day, you may even get to ride on the open-roofed car, a ride finer than any double-decker bus, and just $1 a pop. Muni information, (415) 673-6864.
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Best Art Museum Amid a Pile of Rotting Garbage
The gig is an urban-dwelling artist's dream come true – four months to wade in the discarded detritus of the Bay Area with a free pass to turn what he or she finds into art. That's just what's offered by San Francisco's dump, or, as we locals like to call it, the Sanitary Fill Company Transfer Station and Recycling Center. Whatever you call it, the dump is coveted studio space. Local artists – those who haven't been www.evicted.com from the Bay Area, that is – line up for the chance to pull on their hip-waders and look through fabulous piles of trash (almost as colorful as the art projects that emerge) for just the right tossed-away hunk of glass, swatch of fabric, or bit of packaging to work into a masterpiece. At the end of each residency the artists put on a show of the dump-created masterpieces before departing, but their legacy lives on in the dump's three-acre sculpture garden. The public can check them out via the city dump's artist in residence tour, free each month. Think about it – at what other time will you get to see a bra fashioned from industrial scraps, or a Fat Albert-style dump-employee band that plays on junkyard instruments? 501 Tunnel, Brisbane. (415) 330-1414.
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Best Place to Sweat toward Enlightenment
When the more traditional forms of yoga like Hatha and Iyvengar get mundane, there's a dynamic alternative at the It's Yoga Ashtanga yoga studio. Through an energetic series of standing poses (Suryanamaskara A and B) and rhythmic breathing (Ujjayi), Ashtanga offers a powerful mind, body, and spirit aerobic workout that would put running a few miles on a treadmill to shame. And, with an introductory offer of 90 days of unlimited classes for $90, you'll have enough cash left over to get your own yoga mat. 848 Folsom, S.F. (415) 543-1970. www.itsyoga.com.
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Best Free Art on the Internet
Sometimes it seems that the only things on the Internet are huge corporate sites and browser-crashing banner ads. Advertising is seeping down into every corner of this technology supposedly driven by information. That's why the philosophy of the Superhuge Network is so refreshing. No ads, no admission. Just free art. The Superhuge Network is a collective of graphic artists, musicians, songwriters, poets, and photographers all displaying their arts and ideas for the good of the planet. This site, which describes itself as an "infectious art space," contains some amazing installations of mixed-media art, interactive writing, a dream catcher, and some unique pieces of "Web art." This is a site where people can view new art, talk back to artists, and contribute to the collective. Inspire and be inspired. You can get something for nothing. superhuge.net
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Best Protester
Dressed like a secret service agent after a night on E and carrying a new and improved, professionally printed sign, Frank Chiu (a.k.a. The "Impeach Clinton. 12 galaxies" guy) is San Francisco's most persistent and enigmatic protestor. Whether it's a WTO rally, Janitors for Justice, or just plain old Tuesday, you can bet Chiu will be there in shades. But what's his beef? Why is he out there every day? According to Chiu, he wants Clinton impeached (along with several former presidents) because they are guilty of treason against a "hextronic" society 25 galaxies away from our solar system. Oh yeah, and neither he nor his family were paid for their appearances as movie stars during the Clinton administration. Various locations throughout San Francisco
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Best Place to Develop an Attitude
In a city where nothing is exclusive, wanna-be New Yorkers have to steal their snooty moments when they can. Thank god for Yerba Buena openings, a chance for the city's young and fashionable to don those runway outfits and impractical shoes. For a mere $12, you too can mix and mingle and pretend to look at art. The exhibitions are generally light, interactive (the last one focused on surf culture), and sure to prompt witty chitchat. Be sure to make use of two architectural bonuses for watching and being watched: the main staircase promenade and the sneaky balcony overlook. 701 Mission, S.F. (415) 978-2787.
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Best Way to Disguise Your Loft
If you've been considering bringing your old Victorian back to its former glory, or even if your guilty conscience has made you want to invest the money you saved not paying taxes in dressing up your live-work loft, head over to Victorian Interiors for a full assortment of Anaglypta and Lincrusta. Located at 575 Hayes, this cute little shop offers everything from greeting cards to authentic Victorian wallpaper, moldings, and carpets. The staff even does installation and in-home consultations. 575 Hayes, S.F. (415) 431-7191.
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Best Way to Pose as a Techie
Get Palm Computing to donate handheld devices to your nonprofit organization. I know, I know. Handheld devices are a symbol of all the techie evil sweeping our fair city, second only to the cell phone in generating sneers and angry mutterings. But admit it, some of those grumblings are pure jealousy: you kinda really want one (that color one is especially cool). Well, if you are affiliated with a nonprofit, you may be in luck. Palm Computing has a generous donations committee and accepts applications from worthy community groups looking to get "connected." For more information, see its Web site. www.palm.com.
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Best Non-Fourth of July Fireworks Celebration
So what if it's not on the Fourth of July? At least you can see this fireworks show before the fog rolls in for the summer. KFOG's Kaboom is every second Saturday in May, and consistently delivers the most awesome display of pyrotechnics this side of a Kiss concert: exploding stars, smiley faces, and cascading white lights, all choreographed to a rocking beat. We suggest a SoMa-Potrero Hill-Mission view for the best results.
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Best Trivia Competition in the City
For more than a year the Bitter End has been offering drink specials and mystery prizes to those folks willing to try their luck and rack their brains to identify Elizabeth Hurley's smile. Pascal Smith gathers celebrity photos, while Kurt Wolff samples oldies and newies to stump the players on title and vocalist. Whether you're good with anagrams, world capitals, or current events, there's a question for you. Free cactus piss to the team composing the most amusing limerick. Jim Beam shots to the team with the funniest name related to current events. Cash prizes to first, second, and third places, and Elgy Gillespie is one hell of an MC. Don't miss it. Tues., 9 p.m., 441 Clement, S.F. (415) 221-9538.
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Best Place to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at 4:30 a.m.
Monday night rolls around and you wonder why your partner sets the alarm for the middle of the night? S/he's probably in the know. Joseph Schmidt Confections "places" its remainders from the week's chocolate making in gray Dumpsters on the corner of 16th and Folsom Streets on Monday nights. Come on. You too have woken up with a jones for chocolate that couldn't be fixed. From buckets of chocolate to individual wrapper rejects, there's candy just for the taking. You might have to unload a few hundred empty milk cartons first but think of it as Dumpster diving of the highest order. Just how bad do you want it? 3489 16th St., S.F. (415) 861-8682.
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Best Laundry from Heaven
Let Lolita Wash and Fold is a heaven-sent business designed expressly for today's over-the-top, way-too-busy world. Who has room in an apartment for a washer and drier? How much do you hate dragging your dirty laundry to the Laundromat? Are they really clean? How well do you fold a shirt? Don't you have something better to do with your time? Next time just head over to Lolita's place – a block off Lakeshore Avenue near Oakland's Lake Merritt – and she'll do the work for you. You bring your laundry in, she weighs it, tells you how much you'll owe, and you leave. Later on (she generally turns it around the same day) you return and pick up clothes folded so perfectly that you'll feel focused and organized just looking at them. Excellent. 500 Wesley, Oakl. (510) 663-6931.
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Best Hair Colorist
To become board certified in hair coloring requires, among an exhaustive list of tasks, passing an exam in the "chemical, psychology, and sociology aspects of hair coloring." Laura Wright passed last year with flying color(s). After a few sessions with her, not only will you have richly colored hair you'll feel like she knows you better than your doctor. Each "patient" has his or her own note card in her recipe holder so she knows where your hair has been as well as where it should go. One of only a few hundred colorists in the country who bear the pedigree of certification, Laura Wright remains the Bay Area's best at altering the hue of hair. "Life is for living. Hair is for dyeing," is her mantra. As for cutting, Wright is great at giving flat hair structure and bounce and out-of-control hair a sense of direction. She uses only the best products and talks to you about what you want and what, from the realm of possibility, is realistically achievable for you. The service comes with a smile and, she promises, in her new place in Sausalito, with tea, espresso, or wine. (We're also told the salon, called One-to-One and opening Aug. 1, features tilting shampoo "bowls" for your ultimate comfort and electric, adjustable chairs). We know the treatment will be as classy as your new look, but her prices are reasonable, especially given her credentials. 1207 Bridgeway, Sausalito. (415) 339-8888.
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Best Place to Imagine That an Old-World Cathedral has Plummeted from the Sky and Landed on a New-World Office Building
You see it constantly here, classic structures marred by cheap maintenance solutions: Edwardians with aluminum-framed windows salvaged from a Daly City apartment complex. You'd think some buildings would be immune. Especially landmarks. But Grace Cathedral certainly wasn't when it was overhauled several years back. The architects added insult to injury. Their one nod to the existing Gothic design? Incorporating the classic pointed-arch motif into the metal screens adorning the very un-Gothic parking garage. In all fairness, though, the god-awful steps they chose as their supreme edifice-marring device are not without some charm. They play crushed Wicked Witch to the cathedral's Kansas farmhouse (think Wizard of Oz). And if you dizzy yourself up by walking the labyrinth, the effect intensifies: you can see Notre Dame ripped from its moorings and spinning through the sky. Ka-blam! It lands smack on a B. of A. skyscraper – only the steps, with their beautiful faux-brass railings remain. What does it mean? We could speculate, but it'd be more fun if you took a few more turns in the labyrinth and pondered the question on your own. 1100 California, S.F.

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