When you are from an area that is basically dull, you tend to latch on to any and all big personalities who spring from it. To his credit, Mark Twain seemed to make the Midwest sound beautiful, mysterious, and downright habitable -- enough that an entire tourism trade has been built around it. I remember visiting his boyhood home of Hannibal, Mo., which is now frozen in the mid-19th century for effect. There are also cave tours around those parts that are hyped up as being the same caves where Injun Joe hid out.
As for S.F., there are smatterings of Twain lore and locale strewn about, but my favorite is the bizarre Mark Twain Hotel in the Tenderloin. It is bizarre because when you walk in you see two paintings behind the check-in desk: one of Mark Twain and one of Billie Holiday. What do they have in common, you may ask, besides both adopting pseudonyms? Not much, really, except that Holiday was arrested for opiate possession at the hotel in 1949, and she is famous. Folks planning vacations to S.F. are drawn by the name of the hotel, its association with two great Americans, and its location (near Union Square, as it is hyped, though the reality is that it is smack-dab in the center of the Tenderloin). All that being said, I have a tender spot for this hotel, and warm fuzzy feelings for the tiny little bar that sits in the back of its lobby.
Boy howdy, it is indeed little and tiny. There are about six stools facing a short counter. The wood is rich and polished, and there is one TV screen. The menu board was hyping some drink made with artichoke liqueur (no thanks). The place has "nightcap" written all over it, because it is the perfect place to sit by yourself before you retire upstairs for the evening. It might also be a good place for a rendezvous with a fellow cheatee, because the bar is tucked away enough so as not to draw attention to its inhabitants. Lest you think that I am focusing on the negative, let me say that hotels always remind me of infidelity, prostitution, or opiate possession. That is why I love them so.
It was a quiet night at the bar, despite the fact that it was generally spring break week across the country, and from the looks of things, several hundred American tourists had invaded our fair town. But nope, it was just me and some people speaking Portuguese. I zoned out with some college basketball and thought about Twain. Nothing gets me more worked up than the people who want to remove the word "nigger" from Huckleberry Finn. I won't go into it here, but suffice it to say that I believe the book is one of the 10 best ever written, and that its use of the N word is an integral part of its theme and message.
That doesn't mean I like the N word. For now, I want to talk about the N word and its use in San Francisco, principally on Muni. On my way to the bar, I took the 38 Geary...