Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Line'em Up for the Last Round in San Francisco

Line‘em Up for the Last Round in San Francisco

86 bars are closing in San Francisco. 86 classic bars and dives; 86 purveyors of alcohol. We are supposed to mourn the cultural loss of San Francisco. It’s made national news.


Why are we sad about the closing of drinking establishments that contribute to alcoholism, heart and circulatory problems, cirrhosis of the liver, drunk driving, fetal alcohol syndrome, corruption, fights, public urination, and sexual assaults?

Why do we go to bars in the first instance? How many of these reasons are socially redeeming? And how many apply to us?

Peer pressure;


To be seen at the new “in place”

To pick up; to seduce; to be seduced (not to be confused with romance)

To celebrate

To escape; to drown our sorrows

To escape;

To escape from reality

To get drunk

To find courage;

To watch athletic events on TV with our friends or on the road

To relax, to relieve stress

To cool one’s heels

To soothe one’s nerves

To relieve stress and rapid emotional ups and downs (Check out trial lawyers and bars next to the courthouse)

To take a break between meetings

To be with one’s kind (ethnicity, gender, LGBT)

To stand by my man, woman

To relive our youthful memories (Memories! We could always tell our parents that we were going to the library since the “Old Library” was a popular bar on Clement Street, with quite a few more in just a three block radius.)

The singing bartender

The food (restaurants make most of their profit off beverages)

You can’t drink on an empty stomach, but you shouldn’t eat on a dry throat.

To carve initials and post graffiti

To drink around the world without leaving home

To meet up

To play pool, pinball, video games

The jukebox

The ambience

The motif (Robin Williams’ recently deceased brother, Robert Todd Williams, once had a delightful bar in the Marina called Toads. Toads was overwhelmed with a collection of fake toads.)

To seek counseling from that great amateur psychotherapist - the bar tender

As I checked the list of closing bars, I was looking for the well known classic establishments, but more so the dives which did not check our ID’s as under aged college students in the mid’60’s. Where is the classic K Club, the lovely Laurel Lodge, the aptly named Dirty Bird and the others whose names have become a fog over the years?

I had a high school teacher who said either (I can’t totally remember because that too is a fog) that San Francisco had one bar per block or one bar per thousand residents. Either way that is a lot of beer and booze.

The explanation though is not that San Franciscans were drunks in the ‘60’s, but that the tourists consumed gallons of booze in the tourist areas. And yet the neighborhoods, the Castro, the Excelsior, the Fillmore, the Haight, the Marina, the Mission, the Potrero, the Richmond, the Sunset, China Town, Hunters Point, Nob Hill, Noe Valley, North Beach, South of the Slot (South of Market) have more than their share of bars.

Even now, San Francisco will have more than its share of drinking establishments based on the number of liquor licenses. The closing bars will simply transfer their licenses to other establishments.

The reasons for the closures parallel those of small businesses closing throughout America: retirements and death of proprietors, rent increases, loss of leases, sale of the property to capture substantial rise in real estate values, rising costs and declining business.

I do not mourn the loss of bars in San Francisco. However, if the BVC (the home of the Irish Coffee) were to close, then that will be a national catastrophe.

Taco (Trucks) To Go

Taco (Trucks) To Go

Los Angeles is entering a cultural war, right up there with the sheepherders and cattle ranchers in the lore of the Olde West. The Great Taco Truck Battle may some day earn a spot in the Autry Museum of the West: The Turf Battle Between Vendors and Merchants. The City (actually the County in this case) built on the automobile is trying to shut down mobile purveyors of food.

Once upon a time there was the Good Humor Man/Truck and its kin - the trucks that cruised neighborhoods and recreational areas selling ice cream novelties to happy children. Today we have the Taco Truck, or as Los Angeles bureaucrats call it, a Mobile Food Preparation Unit (MFPU). That’s an unappetizing mouthful!

Taco trucks are a piece of our culture. Diverse cities such as Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, and now New Orleans (not yet though to the point of the Lucky Dog) love them.

But not the Councilors of Los Angeles County.

Thousands of these trucks provide meals daily to the population, and not just to Latinos. Patrons pull up plastic chairs, soak up the sun, eat slowly, drink sangrias, converse, and relax. It’s a multi-cultural experience. Bloggers rate the taco trucks in many communities.

The food can be very good as well as inexpensive.

The current regulations require them to move after 30 minutes at a location or face a fine of $60. The current ordinance is unenforced and the trucks often stay all day in one spot. The new ordinance, effective May 15, requires then to move after an hour or face a potential misdemeanor fine of $1000 and up to six months in jail.

What’s the problem?

Is it because restaurateurs, with their high overall and fixed investments, complain that these vendors can undercut them in price? That’s competition! Denver reconciled the two interests by barring the trucks from opening up within 100 yards of a restaurant. LA simply wants to indirectly shut most of them down in a Machiavellian way.

Is it because many of the operators lack a permit? So do many tag sales!

Is it because many of the operators are undocumented immigrants? If that’s the case, we need to shut down the parking lots of Home Depot, most gardeners, roofers, contractors, cleaning services, and nanny’s, and check the ID’s of day laborers.

Is it because they constitute an aesthetic nuisance? Several are works of art, right up there with low riders. They don’t cruise Beverly Hills, Bel Air or Brentwood because that’s not their market.

Check out Facebook and Slogans include “The revolution will be served on a paper plate,” and “Viva los taco trucks!” (not quite up there with Viva Zapata) LA currently celebrates Cinco de Mayo. Soon there will be taco truck night.

4,000 of these trucks are registered with the County, but estimates of up to 28,000 more are unregistered. The sheer numbers demonstrate a need in the community for these purveyors.

Incidentally, they’ve retained a lawyer at $400/hour.

Five decades ago Southern California gave birth to MacDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Carl’s, Jr., and In and Out Burgers, not to mention Fatburgers. The Taco Trucks are today’s fast food restaurants: quick, tasty, inexpensive food appealing to a diverse, mobile population.

The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!

The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!

The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming! So are the French and Italians. They’ve kicked out liberals in favor of conservatives, as did the Germans a few years ago.

November will therefore see a Democratic sweep of the Senate, House, governorships, state legislatures, and probably the White House.

The British have no control over our elections as they tossed out Labor candidates throughout England in the recent midterm elections. The voters in England, French, Germany and Italy have not become conservative. They simply don’t like the incumbents.

Sully voters cast out the incumbents as they are likely to do in the upcoming American elections.

The world’s economy is undergoing a seismic change, and no government has yet found a way to handle it. Americans are unhappy. Soaring food and energy prices, inflation, housing failures – the attitude is not one of happiness.

Yet, the American economy has held up extremely well. Most Americans are leading meaningful lives, gainfully employed, and secure in their housing, although college grads this year, especially in finance and construction, may have trouble finding employment..

Most Americans, indeed, most peoples are not political, much less bitter partisans. Food, water, shelter, clothing, health and safety, energy are the basic needs of a civilized society. Satisfy them, and a politician is golden. Fail, and a politician is out of office even if the fault is not his.

The war on terror, and the war in Iraq (They’re really the same) may be critical to the long term survival of the Republic, but gas at $4/gallon is a political killer. We measure the President’s popularity not by success in Iraq but by the price of gas.

Voters are angry with President Bush, and thus the Republicans. Bush has not helped by becoming a distant President. People need a President who empathizes with them in times of crisis. Bush was there on 9/11. He fell short on Katrina, which was more the failure of the state and city governments (which were both Democratic), but he took the fall.

President Clinton always felt our pain, or at least he let us think he did. President Bush undoubtedly feels our pain, but he doesn’t express it. He is acting like a distant chairman of the board, as reflects his Harvard MBA, rather then a hands-on manager in a time of crisis. The vacuum is not being filled by any of his Cabinet.

Voters also have short memories. They are just as likely to turn on the new political leaders if they fail to solve the problems.

Youth may be served this election. Young voters have no political memory, so they act based upon their short experience. Decades ago they became disillusioned with the Democrats and turned to Reagan and the Republicans. The young tend to be idealistic and optimistic, often not yet experiencing the realities of life. Our young voters do not remember that the previously inexperienced Democratic President, Jimmy Carter, in a time of 21.5% prime interest rate and our citizens being held hostage by radical Islamists in Iran, referred to the American people as suffering from malaise. He lost reelection.

Governor Gray Davis of California was clueless in California’s electrical crisis, followed by an inability to get a handle on the state budget crisis Voters recalled him from office.

The incoming politicians, as with the Republican Congressional sweep in 1994, may misread the election as a mandate for radical change, forgetting that in a relatively evenly divided populace, House elections are often settled by 20,000 voters and Senate seats by 100,000 votes. These slim margins of victory are not mandates.

Republicans, like the Laborites in England, just lost three safe Republican House seats in Illinois (former Speaker Dennis Hastert’s seat), Louisiana, and Mississippi.

No matter how the GOP spins it, the voters are taking their unhappiness out on the incumbent Republicans.

In such a situation, the challengers do not need to offer anything specific to the voters except that they are not the incumbents. Of course, even in an otherwise Democratic election, the Democrats can still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and deliver the Presidency to McCain.