Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

There is now official BART merchandise, for some reason

November 28th, 2021

 

Although BART ridership decreased significantly due to the pandemic, at some point in 2020 official BART merchandise became available.

Online store Rail Goods launched sometime last year with a wide selection of official BART merchandise as well as a somewhat smaller selection of official Capitol Corridor merch. 

Now don’t get me wrong. The BART “Brio-style” trains look fun enough, and some of the more stylized t-shirt designs wouldn’t look out of place at Oaklandish.

The problem is this: I wouldn’t want to wear a shirt, hat, etc. with a BART logo on it, because it would be a terrible idea to wear that while riding BART. Or even around a BART station. Why would I want anyone to mistake me for a BART employee?

This goes beyond the annoyance of people coming up to you and asking for directions. People will obviously assume you work for BART, and some of them will get indignant when you say you don’t. There’s an entire subreddit called I Don’t Work Here Lady where this type of interaction happens on a very regular basis.

If you think about it, wearing a BART shirt or hat on BART without being an employee would be a slightly worse social faux pas than accidentally wearing a blue polo shirt to Best Buy. It’s just asking for trouble.

Personally I think it’s fine for BART to offer merchandise, my only quibble is with the available selection. More toys and stylized t-shirts, ditch the official looking clothes and hats. It’s best for everyone.

USS Hornet Museum

November 14th, 2021
USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum

 

On Friday I not only had the chance to visit the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, but also to take the engineering tour which descends deep into the ship’s underbelly with one of the tour guides.

Oh and the best part? This was all for a work event so I was technically getting paid to be there.

What is it?

For those unfamiliar, the USS Hornet (CV-12) is a World War 2 era aircraft carrier that was mothballed in the 1970’s and was opened as a museum in 1998. In a lot of ways it’s similar to the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, another mothballed WWII aircraft carrier.

If you’ve been to the Midway, the Hornet is a little underwhelming — particularly the flight deck which currently only has two aircraft. That said it is worth climbing up to the flight deck for the great view of the San Francisco skyline and the Bay Bridge, weather permitting.

The main exhibits in the Hornet are largely based around various airplanes, helicopters, and NASA projects the ship was tasked with, from fighting Japan in WWII all the way up to picking up Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts.

What was the Hornet crew tasked with for the astronauts? They have that in their collection — the first moon astronauts were placed in quarantine in a modified Airstream trailer parked inside the Hornet. At the time there was a concern they might have picked up “moon germs” and started a pandemic. As ridiculous as moon germs may sound today, when it comes to pandemics I’m totally on board with a better safe than sorry approach.

 

USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum

 

The Engineering Tour

As a heads up all of the ship tours require an able body. I was a little apprehensive about some of the extremely steep stairs (they’re almost ladders) and low ceilings. The thing is the tour guides all served on either the Hornet or one of its sister ships and most are old enough to be my grandfather, and they’re all still nimble enough to go up and down the steep steps. So I had to figure if they can do it, so can I — even though I had to admit they’re faster at it than I am.

The engineering tour takes you down below water level to explore the ship’s massive steam engines. Some of the tour highlights include:

  • Daily life on the ship, from the mess hall to the Marines running security to the limited fresh water available.
  • The hydraulic mechanism that yanked the giant cables to “slingshot” airplanes off the flight deck.
  • The absolutely massive steam engines and the primary control interface deep in the belly of the ship.

Our guide was great, happy to answer questions and even extended the tour a little when asked about the section where he worked.

Getting there

The ferry is by far the easiest way to get to the USS Hornet Museum from San Francisco. SF Bay Ferry takes you from The Ferry Building to within a ten minute walk of the museum.

After exiting the ferry, turn right as soon as you hit the sidewalk and follow the signs. Not that you’ll need them, it’s pretty hard to miss a giant aircraft carrier.

There are plenty of dining and drinking options nearby. Although Alameda isn’t very pedestrian friendly it’s also almost entirely flat and the car traffic is light.

My recommendation: Anyone interested in US military history and NASA history will be interested in the main exhibits. You must be able to climb stairs to visit at all. Tours and the flight deck both require climbing extremely steep stairs.

Review: Nocturne X

November 2nd, 2021
Nocturne X Nocturne X Nocturne X

 

Okay so before I review this one, let me just say this isn’t worth checking out. This is bad, I’d even go so far to say it’s an embarrassment.

The story, such as there is one, starts out when you check in and they hand you a pamphlet. Strike one. A second barrage of text strikes as you enter the main stage. Strike two.

Strike three is uncovering the main story in the “hidden” backstage area where a series of letters are inexplicably glued to poorly lit walls. 

For better or worse San Francisco is forever linked to immersive storytelling but that doesn’t mean everything that comes along is interesting. This is nothing more than a homework assignment with tacky decor.

My recommendation: Hard pass.

teamLab: Continuity at the Asian Art Museum

October 4th, 2021
 

Recently I went to see teamLab: Continuity, the new special exhibit at the Asian Art Museum.

The basics

Haven’t been to the Asian Art Museum before? It’s a museum across from City Hall filled with ancient art and artifacts from Eastern religions. Also some stuff from the Middle East, which is only “Asian” if we largely ignore religion.

The collection isn’t the biggest but tickets are relatively cheap and you can easily spend an hour or so there if you do the audio tours — which are free if you download the app and bring your own headphones.

So what’s up with this special exhibit at the Asian Art Museum? Why is this here? The studio behind this exhibit, teamLab, is based in Tokyo. So in the most basic sense of the word it is “Asian art.” But it’s Asian Art in the contemporary sense, which isn’t the same definition as the rest of the museum. It’s an awkward fit but this is typical of special exhibits in smaller museums.

The exhibit

Let’s get into what Continuity actually is. At this point you’ve almost certainly watched the above video but let me put it into words.

Continuity is a series of rooms with a series of bright and pulsating organic computer generated scenery projected all over the walls and floor. A continuous soundtrack accompanies the visuals. Once in a while the scenes respond to visitors touching the wall.

The overall effect of the moving images and the high-end projection system creates an impression somewhere between dizzying and hypnotic. At times it was difficult to judge spatial distance. To some extent other people help because the size of other people is easy to intuit, but the fact that everyone is covered in projection effects can at times effectively camouflage them.

Allegedly there’s an element of scents involved but I don’t know, maybe it’s the mask requirement but I didn’t notice this at all.

The most intense room in the exhibit — and the one I spent the most time in — is located in the back. This room is by far the most dizzying with effects spinning all around you, especially when you first walk in. No worries though, there’s a staff member at the entrance who acts as a spotter for those having trouble.

After sitting down on the carpet for a while and laying against a slanted wall, I not only gained my bearings but realized I enjoyed feeling wrapped in this light show and the score that went along with it. As I started tuning in more to the music than the visuals the experience went from overwhelming to calming in the span of a few minutes. 

That’s the key duality to Continuity: a funny line between relaxing and unnerving. The artists behind this exhibit describe the visual effects as “Ultrasubjective Space,” an intentional blending of two dimensional and three dimensional planes. I think they’ve largely succeeded; at times the illusion is enough to make you feel like you’re in an otherworldly place despite the largely typical interior structure.

The only thing that worried me about this exhibit was a couple of children running around. While I think some of this falls on the parents there are also measures the museum could take like more active security or family hours. I’m definitely not saying kids should be banned, I probably would have loved it as a kid. But I also don’t want to accidentally trip (or trip over) anyone.

So… what is it?

Personally I think Continuity is primarily a light and sound show. I’ve never seen anything quite like it; teamLab has similar types of installations at other museums but I haven’t been to any of them.

One word I see getting tossed around to describe Continuity and similar exhibits is “immersive.” I don’t think that applies here for one simple reason: there’s no story. Nothing to really hook you in and make you want to uncover more.

While I don’t mean to gatekeep what the word immersive means when it comes to art, I think it’s important for terminology to have consistent meanings. Imagine a tour guide at a museum pointing at a Van Gogh and claiming it’s a classic example of Cubism. If that misuse of terms doesn’t make you frustrated, it should.

I also don’t want to use any terms that might back memories of planetarium laser shows with hippie music synced to boring visuals. For those too young to remember those, let me tell you a secret: you didn’t miss anything.

teamLab themselves describe their works as “digital art,” which is both technically true and kind of meaningless. But at least it’s good to know that even the creators can’t easily categorize their own works.

Maybe I’m asking the wrong question. I clearly don’t have a concise description, but if I had to come up with one it would be “an in person walkthrough audio/video experience.” Did I mention I don’t work in marketing?

In conclusion

In my opinion teamLab has kicked the… “digital art” (?) genre up a notch here. The original music and wild visuals with interactive elements, the incredible projection system that somehow prevents large shadows, and that room so dizzying they need a spotter to keep it safe are all elements I was on board with.

I know teamLab has many other installations and I’m curious as to how they compare. It’s probably not something I’d go far out of my way to see but I’d definitely check them out if I were in the area.

My recommendation: If you’re in San Francisco and this sounds interesting to you, the adult tickets fluctuate in price but I think are about $20 on average and the special exhibit tickets include general admission to the museum. It’s a totally reasonable price, particularly if you’ve never visited the Asian Art Museum before and need an excuse to go.

826 Valencia’s Pirate Supply Store

August 16th, 2021
Pirate Supply Store

 

The other day I was walking down the 800 block of Valencia Street and something clicked — while on vacation I’d written on this very blog about the Time Travel Mart in Los Angeles and the Secret Agent Supply Co. in Chicago, but I’d never written anything about this nonprofit group’s original location: 826 Valencia here in San Francisco.

The quick version of the story behind why there’s a store for pirates at 826 Valencia Street is this: author Dave Eggers opened a youth writing workshop in the space, but to comply with zoning regulations they were required to have a retail storefront. So a very small part of the footprint of the building is dedicated to a whimsical gift shop.

While all of 826’s other writing workshops follow this same model, they all have different themes for the storefronts. But I think it’s safe to say the original has the most work put into the theme.

The Pirate Supply store sells everything a pirate could need: wooden legs, eye patches, even treasure! And something called “Unicorn Horn Polish.” Of course you’ll also find books, this is a writing workshop after all.

There’s no sales pressure whatsoever and I doubt they make many sales. But then again they’re very open about the fact that this store is a front for something else.

 

Pirate Supply Store Pirate Supply Store

 

The store’s theme doesn’t end with the merchandise. One example is a wall with cabinets and drawers you can open up. Many of them have cryptic labels like “repairs” on them, and inside you’ll find it’s items to repair clothing like buttons and buckles.

Unfortunately some of the drawers are stuck. Pirates have better things to do than repairing furniture.

 

Pirate Supply Store

 

Various information is framed on the walls, including the above and one labeled “USES FOR LARD (partial list).” My only question here is what kind of pirate has access to a printing press?

The dry sense of humor on display both here and in some of the mini-books sold in the store should seem familiar to readers of McSweeney’s, which is edited by Eggers.

 

Pirate Supply Store

 

In one corner of the store there’s a periscope, which is strange because I don’t recall going below deck…

The Pirate Supply Store at 826 Valencia is only open on weekends. If you’re interested in visiting, here are some questions I’ll leave you with:

  • What do you see when you look into that periscope?
  • There’s a place in the store where you can dig for treasure. What can you find?
  • Next to the cash register there’s a curtain with some theater seats behind it. What’s playing on the screen?

If you do visit the Pirate Supply Store I’d also recommend checking out their next door neighbor, upscale curiosity shop Paxton Gate for all your crystal, succulent, and taxidermy needs.

The many resurrections of Valencia Street’s restaurants

June 21st, 2021
Freekeh (Pork Store Cafe) on 16th Street

 

As documented on this very blog many businesses in San Francisco were boarded up during the beginning of the pandemic, with many if not most gradually returning. But what’s more surprising are the places that officially went out of business only to reopen — some of which closed long before the pandemic. Here are the restaurants along the Valencia Street corridor that went through this unlikely chain of events.

 

Pica Pica

The original and last location of the Pica Pica chain known for its Venezuelan food closed its doors for good in August 2020, only to quietly return in March with new investors.

The closure of Pica Pica felt like a blow simply because Venezuelan restaurants are hard to come by in the Bay Area. However it turned out to be a sign of things to come when they reopened their doors.

 

Valencia Pizza & Pasta

Despite closing forever at the start of 2020, Valencia Pizza & Pasta returned with a fresh coat of paint and a renovated interior.

Of all the restaurants on this small list, this one has to be the most surprising as it was a fairly unassuming restaurant that certainly never made anyone’s top ten lists. Though there is something to be said for reasonably priced wine and carbs.

 

Pork Store Cafe’s Mediterranean offshoot

Those with longer memories might remember the 2009-era “Morak Lounge,” the hookah bar on 16th Street just off Valencia which was the nighttime moniker of Pork Store Cafe. To sell the vibe customers would enter Pork Store through a Moroccan-themed side entrance, which later became Stanza Coffee.

Despite being an American style diner, Pork Store never completely abandoned Mediterranean cuisine (though they did drop the hookahs.) However as seen in the image at the top of the post, Pork Store’s side hustle as a full on Mediterranean restaurant is back, now under the name “Freekeh.” It remains to be seen if Stanza Coffee fully reopens.

 

Luna (Park)

The team behind Wayfare Tavern have been quietly working to reboot Luna Park as just “Luna,” and while it’s not open just yet they’ve renovated the interior of the place and put “now hiring” signs in the window.

This effort is seemingly unrelated to several previous efforts to reopen Luna Park, including one from the owner of Mission Beach Cafe which crashed and burned long before Mission Beach itself went under, and by governor Gavin Newsom’s Plumpjack Group. Indeed, the efforts to bring back Luna Park are more storied at this point than the original restaurant. Fingers crossed, this time is the charm.

 

Update: Luna has now opened.

What is SYGNYL?

February 3rd, 2021

 

Today is Groundhog’s Day, and aside from using a groundhog-based weather prediction to determine if we’ll get more winter or spring (spoiler: it’s more winter) we also have our first taste of SYGNYL, a new project from Nonchalance.

Taking a step back, Nonchalance is an ongoing immersive art project from Jeff Hull (also known as Bobby Peru) that was previously responsible for The Jejune Institute, The Latitude, as well as their associated semi-documentary films The Institute and In Bright Axiom, respectively.  Recently a fictional television series loosely based on The Jejune Institute called Dispatches from Elsewhere was released on AMC.

Back to the subject at hand SYGNYL is a podcast which you can find on nearly any podcast platform. Though the trailer (see the video above) and prologue were already available, the first episode was released today.

Of course it’s also more than a podcast, and without giving too much away there’s also a puzzle of sorts for you to solve to compliment the first episode.

Is it some sort of sequel to The Latitude? Some signs point to this including the vocabulary (Signal, Kith, Mantis, etc.) and the website has a similarly all-gray color palette. Oh and if you poke around enough you’ll find that a certain “villain” of the Latitude has also returned.

The relationship to The Latitude raises some questions, but after seeing In Bright Axiom, the aforementioned documentary about The Latitude, I think it’s safe to say there won’t be any secret society elements. As to whether any real life adventures are in store we’ll just have to wait and see. But obviously with the pandemic it would be a poor time to send people down slides and crawling through tiny rooms. It’s also unclear if this will be limited to the Bay Area.

This season of the podcast is named “A General Mystification Vol. 1” so they clearly intend to make more than one season of SYGNYL. Not that we even know how many episodes are in a season just yet.

To check out SYGNYL for yourself you can find links to the podcast here and the official website here.

Signs of the COVID-19 times part 5

January 1st, 2021

The summer is long over since my last post in this series, and tomorrow marks a whole new year.

A lot changed since that last post we’ve had a presidential election and the first vaccines are (slowly) rolling out to hopefully put an end to this pandemic before next summer.

Though in the more immediate term, things seemed to get better before getting worse.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

The first big changes is just how fancy the outdoor dining parklets became. And yes, I know they’re not the same thing as parklets legally but the difference is negligible for most practical perspectives.

Many of the newer ones took on a more patio-like appearance with patio umbrellas, flooring level with the sidewalk, and even plants and grass.

If nothing else this at least gave people with design and light construction skills some work during the pandemic.

 

COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes

 

Another big change to outdoor dining was trying to bring the outside in. Above we see whiskey-focused bar Elixir trying to entice patrons with an outdoor TV showing a football game, despite not having a reputation as a sports bar.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

One of the more alarming changes were the outdoor dining spaces that seemed to all but forget what “outdoor” means, complete with roofs. When the whole point is to maximize airflow to reduce the rate of transmission these types of parklets seem ill-advised.

Then again, this whole program was put together with unclear guidelines and it’s not reasonable to expect restaurant owners to be infections disease experts.

 

COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes

 

Eventually other businesses clamored to restart operations outdoors, sometimes to unusual looking results like the gym in the photos above that was able to move some of their equipment out to the sidewalk.

Some of these seemed a little questionable from a legal perspective. For example at a gym if I’m just walking by and someone drops a dumbbell on my toes, is that their fault or the gym’s fault?

 

The answer to that question and many others would never be put to the test though as far as I know, as with all this new outdoor activity — as well as a very short-lived experiment in “limited capacity” indoor dining — infection rates went up again, hospitals were running out of capacity, and it was time to go back into lockdown mode.

 

COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes

 

In early December the state began rolling out stay at home orders again, just like at the beginning of the pandemic. A whole bunch of new signs appeared out on the streets telling us to stay home and warning of airborne transmission. This is an about-face from the focus on washing your hands that public health officials first suggested about nine months ago.

The last of the three posters above initially looks like it’s from the Health Department, but if you look closely it’s not: it’s an anti-racism poster from the Human Rights Commission telling people to stop attacking Asians. Perhaps even sadder than the pandemic is that something like this even needs to be said at all.

New fnnch mural at The Valencia Room

November 24th, 2020
Fnnch mural at the Valencia Room

 

While heading to pick up lunch the other day I happened to notice a new mural from fnnch on the side of The Valencia Room.

I should take a step back here and point out a couple of things. If you haven’t been to the Mission recently, The Valencia Room is the bar and entertainment venue that took over the Elbo Room after they were somehow forced out in a confusing series of events where the former owners and current (?) landlords planned to replace the building with condos, then somehow never got around to it. (A second and newer location of the Elbo Room lives on in Oakland near Jack London Square.)

I’ll admit I still haven’t had a chance to check out The Valencia Room before the pandemic kicked in, though their live shows hadn’t really appealed to me to be honest.

Getting back to the above photo, it’s clear that the martini glass is the work of fnnch. Even if it wasn’t signed the toothpick featuring an (almost) discrete honey bear makes the authorship perfectly clear.

This new mural puts the building in line with the rest of Sycamore Street, an alley lined with a number of large and interesting murals. It’s often overshadowed by Clarion Alley, which is a stone’s throw away on the same block. I think that’s a shame as the murals on Sycamore tend to be larger and less same-y than the ones on Clarion, yet it gets fewer visitors. Definitely give the murals on Sycamore a look if and when you can.

Why I have reservations about the Measure RR Caltrain tax (but I’m voting for it anyway)

October 14th, 2020

Recently the three main counties that serve CalTrain were asked to add an additional sales tax to fund CalTrain service. This was initially rejected by San Francisco leading to some finger wagging, before ultimately landing on the ballot.

Many transit advocates decried San Francisco’s decision, but let me point something out: of all the counties asked to add an additional tax for CalTrain, San Francisco is the only one within an existing transit tax district — the BART sales tax district. In other words San Francisco is being asked to join a second public transit tax district.

Meanwhile, while BART does go into San Mateo County and recently into Santa Clara County as well, both of those counties opted to pay for BART service separately instead of joining the BART tax district.

To put it simply, CalTrain should be part of BART. If the two entities were folded into one and were part of the same tax district, what’s to lose? Think about it: CalTrain serves San Mateo and Santa Clara counties much the same way BART does, and with the upcoming electrification project should have a BART-like more frequent schedule in the future.

Let’s call this BART/CalTrain merger “BARTrain” for the purpose of this conjecture.

Before anyone complains with “hey I don’t like the way BART is governed” well BART is a democracy. You can get involved with the BART board if you live in the district, from emailing them with your dissatisfaction all the way up to running for a board seat.

There’s many more obvious gains here as well. The worst part of public transit is transferring between lines with unpredictable schedules. BART does timed transfers within its own system, which is convenient when transferring between lines in the East Bay. Imagine if BARTrain had timed transfers at the existing Millbrae station and the upcoming San Jose Diridon BART extension?

On a longer timeline the planned BART extension into San Jose could simply terminate at the new BARTrain Diridon Station as it would make the plans to extend BART to Santa Clara redundant. That money could be used for other projects like the long-planned CalTrain Dumbarton project which would provide a second bay crossing for BARTrain, or even something else entirely — BARTrain to Half Moon Bay? — just spitballing here.

For now anyway the existing San Jose/Gilroy CalTrain corridor could be operated as a special commuter extension, very similar to the recent Antioch BART extension which uses diesel trains and extends into less populated counties outside the core operating area.

Should you vote yes on the 2020 Measure RR? Yes, it will help upgrade CalTrain and get cars off the road in the post-pandemic era. But it’s not ideal at all — let’s have one transit tax district that covers the entire Bay Area to provide simple, equitable, convenient transit for everyone.