Of course, we hadn't really thought about it till now, but North Beach is an obvious neighborhood in which to conduct an anti-gentrification campaign -- damn, bars and restaurants are opening there! And the sudden influx of nightlife-seekers has, quite naturally, come as a shock to what historically was the sleepy residential area around Columbus and Broadway. In fact, as reported last week by Side Dish columnist Harry Coverte, 15 Romolo recently posted signs warning its patrons to keep the noise level down after one highly disgruntled resident complained repeatedly to the police.
Dog Bites couldn't be more sympathetic: It's really disgusting the way people think they can just show up somewhere and start spending money and having a good time. In fact, it's too bad the as-yet-to-be-formed-as-far-as-we-know NBYEP wasn't around during the Gold Rush, when things really started to go downhill. All those miners with their pokes, ordering imported whiskies in Barbary Coast saloons -- any San Franciscan has to admit, shamefacedly, that the sheer pretentiousness of their behavior is awfully, and uncannily, familiar. Given the current appalling situation, in which the North Beach Now's Best of North Beach insert in the Sunday New York Times actually glorifies various drinking establishments -- even praising a restaurant for its bourbon selection -- we should hardly be surprised that a well-deserved backlash is finally developing.
Much as we're hoping for some Carrie Nation keg-smashing-type action in the middle of Broadway (fabulous visuals!), Dog Bites fears it may be too little, too late for North Beach. Even Kevin Keating notes that the putative movement "would be a great idea, if they had a time machine and could go back 30 years."
Not that the beatniks were much better -- after all, they did introduce the loathsomely ostentatious cappuccino-drinking trend to the masses, thereby becoming responsible for the colonization of the country by evil, $2.70-latte-selling, Third-World-labor-exploiting, pesticide-use-encouraging chains like Starbucks.
On a brighter note, however, back in the Mission things are looking up: After a hearing last week, police returned everything they seized from Keating's apartment, with the exception of a tape recorder and his mountaineering ax. "They probably sent it to the FBI lab in D.C. to test for chips of Ford Explorer paint on the blade," the indefatigable agitator tells Dog Bites.
Fish! Plankton! Protein From the Sea!
Of course, all this means it may be time for us to go public with a little theory we've been mulling for a while now. Humor us while we recall a time before the city was festooned with billboards for www.buystuff.com -- a time even before starry-eyed youngsters had to explain to suspicious potential landlords that they were employed by companies that did work on the World Wide Web -- the graphical portion of the Internet -- a time when people heard the word "gentrification" and thought "progress," or maybe, "Cool! Affordable housing!"
Yes, we mean the '70s, when the problems faced by most major North American cities were felt to be the result of decaying urban cores -- city centers empty after 6 p.m., workers fleeing to their televisions in the antiseptic suburbs, leaving the streets of the metropolises to criminals and the poor. (Actually, remember when people left work by 6 p.m.? Anyway.)
Urban planners of the time wrung their hands: People were spending half their lives commuting, isolated in their cars and creating pollution! Retail businesses were abandoning their street-level city locations and moving to vast, soulless malls by the sides of interstates! Perfectly good buildings in the civic centers were falling into ruin! The cities' once-great communal spaces, which had since the time of ancient Greece been the loci of interaction and debate, were insufficiently vibrant! Pretty soon we were all going to be living in climate-controlled domes, ignorant of the principles of democracy, while kudzu claimed the Lincoln Monument!
Oh, wait. That was Logan's Run. But, um, the basic point is the same.
Gas! Bikes! Prada!
The cure for these ills was to encourage, through government policy or colorful mural-painting projects or something -- like we said, this was the '70s -- people and businesses to move back into the cities. Once urban flight could be reversed, new tenants would restore the aging buildings, the very presence of large numbers of hard-working middle-class people would drive out the criminal element, retail businesses would return to serve their new customers, and property values would go up, increasing the tax base and allowing the cities to restore their crumbling infrastructures.
But now that all this has happened here -- now that many people who would once have chosen to commute to single-family homes with in-ground pools in, say, Pleasanton, are electing, instead, to buy lofts in the city -- a whole new set of problems has emerged. Dog Bites, though opinionated, is not an urban planner, and hence is not qualified to offer a grand scheme by way of a solution. We just think some of the more disgruntled residents of San Francisco may find it useful to bear in mind that popular consensus about what makes a city a good place to live is liable to occasional and significant change.
The above columnizing at an end, Dog Bites feels it is necessary to conclude on a lighter note, something usually best accomplished by quoting reader mail at length. But first, a special aside to Mallory Keaton: Please send us another copy of your recent letter, because someone accidentally threw it out, which meant we had to write pretty much this entire column ourselves, so we could use next week off.
And yes, we do know the whole car rental purchase-a-tank-of-gas thing is a scam. A number of people have written in to describe how this works, and for anyone who doesn't know we'll let Kari Sagen explain:
I was in Canada last week, and rented a car in Toronto (from Thrifty). They offered me the same deal: buy gas from them instead of at a gas station. Their deal was $.58/litre (Canadian), instead of the whopping $.61/litre at "outside" stations. Sheesh. Needless to say, sucker that I am, I bought it. And returned the car half full. Oh well. At least I got to drive around a place where everyone obeys the road rules, like they were actually the law. Imagine!
On a further fuel-consumption note, reader Kevin McFarren corrects our blithe assertion that the new Cadillac SUV gets 14 miles to the gallon:
Dog Bites, ever the optimist, even in sarcasm! No wonder the Bay Area adores you (at least those of us who count)! The vast Cadillac Escalade SUV gets a mere twelve miles to the gallon in city driving, and it is city driving that counts in one of those beauties, isn't it?
Meanwhile, the pseudonymous Jack Russell writes in with several concerns (one about the "scabby knee-jerk reactions" of bicycle activists), to ask:
Is your memory dog-bitten? I distinctly remember you prattling on about Prada possibilities from one of your desperate suitors in a previous issue. Unfortunately, all of my old Weeklies are being consumed by my Terilyn Joe pinata project ....
I think Dog Bites is, perhaps, more like a maturing kitten: playful, cute, sophisticated, and ready to scratch if not taken seriously. I hope the inherent, if not implicit, sexism of the dog/cat, male/female dichotomy is duly noted.
Uh, sure. But the Prada stuff? We deny it completely.
Reader Jane Vancantfort has, perhaps, better recall -- and more commentary on the whole male/female dichotomy thing:
I was shocked to find that you don't like Prada! Don't you remember when you went to the fake anti-yuppie (or was it the fake anti-Nestor -- I can't remember) rally/demonstration and they were chanting "Prada" and you said it was the first chant you could get behind in a lifetime of demonstrations? Which reminds me -- do you want old copies of W -- they're better than the stuff Bruce sends you, and you seem to have a genuine interest. And, please forgive me, but aren't you too old to be a girl? Or is it a post-feminist rebellion thing? Don't you like the sound of, "Dog Bites is a woman" -- especially if you say it in a really sultry voice? Think how many geeks would ask you out then!
As told to Laurel Wellman
Tip Dog Bites -- especially if you're disgruntled. Phone 536-8139; fax 777-1839; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.