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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Steam Bath: Downtown S.F. Denizens Duck Boiling Water as Workers Pump Pipes

Posted By on Wed, Feb 18, 2009 at 1:54 PM

click to enlarge Boiling water, steam, and Scientology. Just another morning downtown.
  • Boiling water, steam, and Scientology. Just another morning downtown.
Downtown shoppers, commuters, and the ubiquitous statuesque blonde Scientology pamphleteers enjoyed the odors of a YMCA steam room and hopped over puddles of near-boiling water as steam workers pumped out flooded pipes today.

A pair of jumpsuited employees dodging traffic on Fourth and Market fired up a fire engine red electric pump roughly the size of a breadbox and a hose immediately responded with a persistant spurt of extremely hot water (trust us). The moist, super-heated atmosphere down below the manhole covers resulted in large clouds of steam billowing up from underground and enveloping the intersection.

The workers were simultaneously evasive and entertaining; when asked if they were pumping out flooded pipes one responded in a long, falsetto sing-song: "yeeeeeee-eeeeeessss!" The two wouldn't say who they worked for, but directed queries to the writing on the side of their truck: NRG Steam.

It may not be common knowledge, but a private company (not called PG&E) provides steam power to a two-square-mile section of downtown San Francisco -- that's roughly 170 buildings taking up 37 million square feet of space. Incidentally, this has been the case since the mid 1990s.

The flooded pipes are part of a 12-mile network weaving beneath San Franciscans' feet. See? Tom Waits was right. There really is a world going on underground.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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