It's a good life. But there's a downside. Occasionally overseers in the main office get the notion that bureau coverage might contradict their 1950s National Geographic view of the world. The main-office bosses lose interest. They consider shuttering a bureau or two.
By the fall of 2002 my bosses seemed to be losing interest in San Francisco. One sent a notice, couched as a matter of philosophical disagreement. Yet I cleverly divined its true meaning: They'd recently closed the Los Angeles office; I feared I might not be too far behind.
Unless I proved how relevant, vital, indispensable San Francisco is, it seemed apparent, I, too, would be packing for Phoenix. Oh mortal terror, oh grievous sea of asphalt; would that I never, ever, ever be condemned to Phoenix, desert of sprawl.
The fragility of my San Francisco perch made me very, very, dreadfully nervous. But you could never say I'd become mad.1 My newfound sense of peril sharpened my senses, not dulled them. Anxiety focused my ideas; it distilled them, synthesized them, and infused them until they were so acute they penetrated stone.
With cleverness fueled by the fires of preoccupation, I vowed to keep my dreary bosses at bay. With sophistry worthy of Gorgias I argued they should retain me in my bureau post. Observe how healthily, how calmly I can relate the whole story. Like a good reporter, and a great bureau correspondent, I'll show you, dear reader, documents, original sources, and scintillating quotes. This is how I foiled my Phoenix bosses, then continued breakfasting with poets, lunching with shahs, and hosting marquesas for tea.
It began with a letter I received from one of the desert lords, regarding the governor's race ...
I understand, from word-of-mouth around town, that you expect to advocate the re-election of Gray Davis, chief fiscal whore and policy hey-boy of California, in the pages of SF Weekly. Therefore, I have to wonder if you have taken ill, or simply need a vacation.
Please, take the vacation, and let California be rid of Gov. Davis.
His "policy-making" seems, to us, to be no more than a balancing of the interests of his $100,000-plus campaign contributors. No one who is unrich in California can afford to buy a house. No one but an ogre would send his child to the charnel houses known as California public schools. You can't get anywhere because the traffic is horrible and the public transit inadequate and getting worse.
These ills spring from the long-term rule in Sacramento of the Northern California Democratic Party. Gray Davis is one who could and should be sent to history's dustbin right now. We are not insisting on a pro-Simon column; but a Davis endorsement is unacceptable, especially given the contract you've signed eschewing all endorsement rights.
SF Weekly Enterprises, a division of NT Worldwide
The missive's San Francisco origin didn't fool me; clearly the ground was shifting under our Phoenix home office. My desert lords wished to send me indirect messages, and they pressed an unknown functionary named Mecklin into corporate service. Gray Davis was the only California news they knew to comment upon.
Immediately, my mind jumped. I realized the desert lords needed to know, to truly understand, that events of great importance were unfolding in San Francisco, and that I was uniquely equipped to convey them.
First, though, I needed to change the subject.
Dear Chief Mecklin,
Word-of-mouth? Gray Davis??
No, no, no, no! I didn't say "advocate the re-election of Davis." What I said (and your informant must have overheard) was, "Egad: $212,426,928 on drapes for Davies?"
Proposition C on next month's ballot is a mammoth bond measure purportedly aimed at repairing earthquake damage at the city's War Memorial Veterans Building. It creates a massive and largely unconstrained slush fund to be administered by the city's War Memorial Department, which runs the Opera House, the Veterans Building, and Davies Symphony Hall. Can you imagine -- a quarter-billion in drape-hanging debt, in the middle of a city budget crisis?
The measure's a perfect poster child for this fall's government-train-wreck-cum-city-election, which documents in detail this fact: Every S.F. citizen, every S.F. branch of government, and every wheedling S.F. interest group has abandoned all belief in civil society. They have discarded all faith in social institutions and decided to go it alone, grabbing whatever they can from the public trough.
As you suggest in your generous letter of insightful advice, this amoral grasping is going on at a state level as well. But just as San Francisco has led California and the nation in other trends, this city is also pioneering a return to man's brutish natural state.
You say people here can't afford a house? Both the state government and the Association of Bay Area Governments are chockablock with laws, rules, and programs that would seem to require Bay Area cities, including San Francisco, to build, or allow the building of, the thousands of homes that would bring prices into the range of middle-class incomes. Every year, though, our city fathers, egged on by solitary, nasty neighborhood groups, skirt these laws, refusing to build the thousands of housing units necessary to alleviate the current shortage. Instead of allowing private developers to erect sufficient housing for the populace, our local government and the local 2002 ballot focus on bread-and-circus non-solutions: a largely meaningless condo-conversion measure and half a billion dollars of affordable housing bonds that, if history is any guide, will produce a tiny number of homes at huge public expense.