Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

Doctor Who on Frank Chu’s 12 Galaxies

October 15th, 2018


 

Tonight’s episode of Doctor Who features a race, of sorts. Minor spoilers follow for the second episode of the new Jodie Whittaker-era Doctor Who.

Last week’s episode ended with the Doctor and her three companions in a cliffhanger (space hanger?) situation. This week they’re all rescued by the two remaining participants in “the last ever rally of the 12 Galaxies.”

If you’re a Bay Area local and the name “12 galaxies” rings a bell, it’s for one of two reasons. You’re either thinking of local eccentric Frank Chu (pictured above) who coined the phrase “12 galaxies” on his protest signs, or the short-lived Mission District bar and music venue named in Mr. Chu’s honor.

Although the number of galaxies mentioned on Mr. Chu’s iconic sign would grow over the years, he’s widely known in the for the 12 galaxies era due to local media attention at the time.

Coincidence? Probably. But it’s enough to make a person ask if Mr. Chu knows anything about Time Lords from the planet Gallifrey.

Magritte exhibit at SFMOMA

October 12th, 2018

SFMOMA & Magritte
 

The Rene Magritte exhibit at SFMOMA, “The Fifth Season,” wraps up at the end of October. If you haven’t seen it yet now is the time. This isn’t the largest exhibit with only around 70 works, but what’s there is impressive.

I finally went to see it last weekend and strongly recommend it, with some minor caveats.

Not familiar with Magritte? You’ve seen his work before but may not know his name. He’s the artist behind “Son of Man,” aka the guy with the bowler hat and the apple floating in front of his face (see above) as well as other paintings including “The Treachery of Images,” aka “C’est ne pas une pipe.”

Instead of focusing on his life as an artist overall the exhibit focuses on a few key later points in Magritte’s life. This approach has its strengths and weaknesses, in particular it focuses on Magritte’s most well known periods while leaving out how he got his start.

 
SFMOMA & Magritte SFMOMA & Magritte
 

Magritte’s works tend to look simple at first glance, but on closer examination contain surprising visual contradictions. His paintings have themes between them, but the themes aren’t always clear unless they’re pointed out. Thankfully the exhibit’s arrangements and audio guide do an excellent job of explaining this.

The audio guides for the Magritte exhibit are worth checking out, available as a mobile app (bring earbuds and your phone.) There’s about half an hour of audio content including interviews with an artist who lived in Magritte’s attic.

Ultimately I would have stayed much longer listening to more tales of Magritte’s life and works if they’d been available. For an artist who has so many well known paintings, he also went through periods of different styles, particularly during World War II, that are difficult to contextualize against his most familiar style.

The trivia I found most interesting was how Magritte titled his paintings, or more accurately how he didn’t. He tended to bring out his latest works to friends over dinner and wine and let them come up with appropriate titles.

The entrance to the exhibit features floor to ceiling curtains, echoing many of Magritte’s works. Some reviewers felt this to be a little too on the nose but I thought it was amusing. The exit was more startling. By standing in certain places one could insert themselves into digital versions of Magritte’s works. To me these felt like they belonged at the Exploratorium, or worse at some Instagram-friendly “museum.”

And of course you have to exit the exhibit through a gift shop, with special Magritte-focused merchandise.
 

You have until October 28th to check out the Magritte Exhibit at SFMOMA. Tickets cost as much as $35 and include access to the entire museum. I highly recommend the SFMOMA app both for this exhibit and SFMOMA in general.

Tenderloin National Forest

September 24th, 2018

Tenderloin National Forest
Tenderloin National Forest Tenderloin National Forest
Tenderloin National Forest Tenderloin National Forest
 

Next door to 509 Ellis Street in the Tenderloin are a big pair of gates with a peaceful little garden behind them. This garden is known as the Tenderloin National Forest. A non-profit art gallery next door called Luggage Store Gallery operates this particular “National Forest.”

As with any volunteer driven art project it’s open when it’s open, so don’t believe anything you read on the internet about operating hours. Sometimes it’s open for special events, but most of the time it seems to be open on certain weekday afternoons.

That said it’s reliably open to visitors during Sunday Streets in the Tenderloin — like earlier today.

To understand the space you have to look back almost 30 years ago.

The story of the “Forest” starts in 1989 when it was Cohen Alley, a short but especially filthy little dead end alley in the Tenderloin that housed a dumpster. When the neighboring gallery wanted to hold outdoor events they started using and maintaining the alley.

In 2000 the city let the nonprofit lease Cohen Alley for one dollar a year. A local artist built and installed the big metal gates. Over time volunteers planted numerous trees and shrubs, installed a cobblestone walkway, painted murals, and built a small pizza oven. Needless to say it no longer resembles any other alley in the Tenderloin.

A few years later a local student dreamt up the moniker “Tenderloin National Forest.”

Today I couldn’t help but to notice the plants and trees have grown significantly since my last visit a year or two ago. Especially on a sunny day, the foliage does give the place a little bit of a sense of a forest. It’s easy to see why the name stuck.

If nothing else the place is a respite from the Tenderloin’s gritty streets. On that note, today a tourist handed me her iPhone and asked me to take her photo as she stood in front of one of the murals. It’s difficult to imagine that interaction taking place in other outdoor Tenderloin locations, even during a relatively welcoming event like Sunday Streets.
 

For more on the Tenderloin National Forest:

Muni Metro updates its subway audio announcements

September 14th, 2018

Hear the new announcements for yourself in the above video I recorded at Church Station. Please forgive all the background noise, it’s a subway station after all.

 

Recently Muni Metro has been undergoing somewhat of a renaissance, from the new light rail trains to the colorful real time information signs to the upcoming Central Subway.

Another recent Muni Metro upgrade hasn’t made any headlines — the new automated voice announcements at the subway stations. Like the previous version of the announcements they begin with two piano notes representing inbound vs. outbound, but now the outbound voice is male. The inbound voice remains female.

Both voices sound significantly more natural and less choppy than what they replaced. The previous female voice spoke in a halting rhythm with uneven tonality, which gave the announcements a robotic quality. This video (not mine) has some good examples. That announcement voice replaced a different choppy female voice sometime in the mid 2000′s. Many of us jokingly referred to these voices as “Ms. Muni” back in the day, as in “hey grab your backpack, Ms. Muni says our train’s arriving.”

They’ve also added information about where the arriving train is headed. For whatever reason the previous announcements confusingly only included the destination for inbound trains, and only the route designation letter on outbound trains. Why make this change? To make a long story short, Sunnydale will presumably flip from the T-Third’s inbound destination to its outbound destination when the Central Subway opens. The new announcements ought to streamline this transition.

Additionally the new announcements dropped the practice of saying the route destination letter twice for a two car train. No more “two car, L. L. in five minutes.” The reason for these pecular announcements was largely historical, as Muniverse explains:

When both Muni Metro and the Market Street Subway openend, [sic] one and two-car trains were coupled into three and four-car trains as they entered the subway at West Portal and the Duboce & Church tunnel portal. It was a problematic workaround to deal with tunnel capacity problems before the Market Street Subway was completely computerized.

In other words Muni Metro’s audio announcements finally entered the 21st century. It’s about time.

Reflecting on fifteen years in San Francisco

August 16th, 2018

Palace of Fine Arts
Palace of Fine Arts as seen recently after dark
 

Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of when I moved to San Francisco. I originally came here for college and wound up staying to build my career. Not that I had any other plans.

This isn’t about me though — I wanted to look back and consider everything that changed in the past fifteen years. Spoiler alert: a lot has changed. In some cases, not fast enough.

 
Everything became more expensive

Let’s start with the obvious. I can’t compare the price of avocado toast because nobody was making avocado toast in 2003, so we’ll have to look at other prices.

Fifteen years ago an adult Muni transfer was one dollar, and a monthly pass was $35. You could save on transfers if you were downtown by purchasing a bag of tokens, which cost slightly less than the cash price of a transfer. Muni still used paper transfers back then, if you were lucky a driver might hand you an all-day transfer instead of the normal 90 minute one.

Housing prices also skyrocketed of course. In college I lived out in the Parkside neighborhood and paid $585 a month for a room in a shared house. It’s hardly the most exciting neighborhood, even by Outer Sunset standards, but now you’d pay around $1,000 a month for a room out there. No wonder adults making six figures live with roommates long after college in San Francisco these days.

 
Museums

In Golden Gate Park the Conservatory of Flowers reopened after a long restoration, the new DeYoung opened its doors, followed by the Academy of Sciences. The latter two had to be rebuilt due to heavy damage in the 1989 earthquake (this will be a common theme here.)

Due to a large donation SFMOMA significantly expanded. The Exploratorium found a new location along the Embarcadero, and the outdoor plaza at its old location — the Palace of Fine Arts — underwent a lengthy restoration followed by landscaping work.

The quirky Musee Mecanique decided not to return to the Cliff House once restoration work wrapped up there, opting to stay at their Fisherman’s Wharf location instead.

 
Some big projects wrapped up…

The first phase of Muni Metro’s T-Third line opened down Third Street along the bay. Aside from everything else along that corridor, it would go on to serve the brand new UCSF Mission Bay campus.

The first skyscrapers in SOMA began popping up with Salesforce Tower recently taking the crown as the tallest in the city. Its neighboring Millennium Tower opened a few years earlier, promptly sinking and leaning over.

The replacements for Doyle Drive and the eastern section of the Bay Bridge were completed after decades of planning. The Bay Bridge was infamously damaged in the ’89 quake, and Doyle Drive wasn’t predicted to survive the next big earthquake.

Westfield took over the SF Centre mall, expanding it to the old flagship Emporium building next door. Despite a strong opening day this was a mixed success in retrospect, with retail stores dying out in favor of online shopping. At least it actually opened, unlike the nearby 6×6 mall which is still completely empty.

Just last weekend the new Salesforce/Transbay Transit Center finally opened (sort of) and we got a fancy new park out of it to boot. This complex replaced the old Transbay Terminal, which had been damaged by the ’89 quake too.

The last vestige of elevated freeway north of Market Street finally got the axe due to a combination of earthquake damage and long-running unpopularity, leading to a new Octavia Boulevard and the revitalization of the Hayes Valley neighborhood.

 
…and some didn’t

The old freeway over Octavia Boulevard was supposed to make room for low income housing. Construction still hasn’t even begun on it yet!

The Central Subway — phase two of the T-Third project — is still under construction. At least there’s visible progress. Same with the near-constant work on the Twin Peaks Tunnel; will this be the final time it’s closed off for months? Somehow I doubt it.

And then there’s the train tunnel to the new Salesforce Transit Center. Not an inch of dirt has moved yet, even if the alignment plans have been finalized.

Don’t even get me started on the plans to fix Geary Street’s awful transit. That’s been a third wheel of SF’s politics long before I moved here — or was even born if you want to go back that far.

The most shameful things that didn’t change were the somehow still undeveloped Hunter’s Point shipyard site as well as Treasure Island. Both have their own challenges of course, and the nuclear waste contamination doesn’t help. All the foot dragging there is just dragging rents up.

The city’s homeless situation improved a little in recent years with new tactics including Navigation Centers. Yet the success rate is at least two orders of magnitude below what’s needed — hundreds helped vs. tens of thousands in need of help — to declare any kind of success would be beyond premature. There’s still a long road ahead, we must do better here.

 
The cult of venture capital

Venture capitalists had begun funding tech companies in San Francisco back in the 90′s, but over the past fifteen years they became willing to fund anything and everything in SF — modern taxi companies, food delivery, questionable juicing products, even restaurants.

Food and transit aren’t generally high margin businesses, so it’s hard to see why investors would look at these industries and see a cash cow. Would VCs have invested in these businesses if they were headquartered in, say, Nebraska? It’s something to think about next time you’re using a money losing service backed by VCs like Uber.

 
Food, drinks, and dining

Where to start on this one? While the Bay Area has a long history of high end dining, the Ferry Building reopened as a food hall shortly before I moved here; a sign of what was to come.

The city became a lightning rod of trends from food to cocktails to coffee. “Fine dining” with its waiter service and starched tablecloths somehow made way for experimental fast casual, chaotic dining.

Fifteen years ago a good coffee establishment wasn’t easy to find. Making the trek to Blue Bottle or Ritual was a time commitment for many of us. Fortunately the “third wave” coffee trend made its way across the city after a while.

One thing that hasn’t changed are the tough, hard-working, and often heavily tattooed folks behind the counter rushing out top quality drinks and dishes at a breakneck pace. Please tip them well.

 
Fun and entertainment

The Outside Lands concert series started in Golden Gate Park, proving that San Franciscans love shivering in the cold while listening to music — and paying for it too, unlike the long-running free Hardly Strictly and Stern Grove Festival series.

Dolores Park went from an odd scruffy park to the victim of its own popularity. I still miss Dolores Park Movie Night. The recent refurbishment of the park didn’t change much in terms of the crowds, but at least the bathroom lines are shorter.

A number of long running music venues shut down, but others came to fill their place — some not publicly, and often not legally either. One of my first SF music venue memories was The Pound over at Hunter’s Point, a punk club that didn’t last long.

New forms of art and theater emerged seemingly out of nowhere. From Nonchalance we got some weird interactive stories, including (my personal favorite) The Jejune Institute. Local immersive theater show The Speakeasy became a mainstay, bucking the trend of temporary immersive shows. A bunch of pop-up selfie-friendly “museums” appeared like the Color Factory and the Museum of Ice Cream.

Sunday Streets became a thing ten years ago, but it still feels like it was yesterday. It became wildly popular in the Mission, with varying degrees of success in other neighborhoods. From kids learning to ride bikes to adults working off their brunches, there’s a little of something for everyone there.

For some reason the cultural phenomenon known as the “Burning Man rapture” seems to have subsided. Fifteen years ago when it was Burning Man the city emptied out. Now, it doesn’t seem like the lines are any shorter or BART is any less crowded.

 
Final thoughts on my “San Franciscoversary”

In fifteen years you can expect a lot of things to change in the ebb and flow.

What makes San Francisco a little different than many places is it’s succumbed to many natural disasters. Not everything built after the 1906 earthquake was strong enough to survive the 1989 earthquake. It’s also rather embarrassing how slow construction projects tend to move these days. When I moved here in 2003 it was already fourteen years after the ’89 earthquake. You’d think that would have been enough time to rebuild, retrofit, and replace everything — and you’d be wrong. Worse, structures damaged in 1989 are still being replaced today (I’m looking at you, Salesforce Transit Center.)

Yet this is still a city that remains artistic, innovative, and kinda quirky. For such a small city I’m often surprised to hear about something new to me that isn’t new to anyone else. Keep on surprising me, San Francisco.

Salesforce Transit Center, opening day

August 12th, 2018

Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day
 

After years of construction it seemed like the new Transbay Salesforce Transit Terminal Center would never open; and yet today, it finally did… sort of. It’s clearly unfinished, and construction workers were still there today (a Saturday) working on the gondola. The underground train platforms weren’t open, and no physical work has been done to even build the tunnel to the station.

So perhaps it’s best to think of this as opening day, with a few major caveats. For now only a few local transit agencies serve Salesforce Transit Center via bus, with bus operations to and from the East Bay to start tomorrow. Permanent restaurant and retail space is also still also on the to do list.

But enough about the future for the moment; let’s start with what’s there now.

 
Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day
 

The building itself is hard to miss; it’s a wavy undulating mesh hovering over several streets, with trees popping out from above. Heading in just past Salesforce Tower is an enormous lobby, with monolithic signs everywhere pointing to different transit agencies. Filled with natural light, the lobby is bright, clean, and frankly looks like a transit station. Not all the displays showing departure times were hooked up yet.

I kind of expected just to walk in and check the place out, but little did I know many others had the same idea. Turns out I’m not the only one who likes to see new things. Despite getting there early I had to wait in a long line for the escalator. SFPD acted as crowd control, only letting groups up at a time.

It seems the crowds weren’t expected; the lines leading up to the escalators and elevators were ad-hoc, taking up so much space that a group of dancers gave up on dancing and began posing for photos instead.

 
Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day
 

When I finally got on the escalator I looked straight up and saw a skylight… with shadows of people standing on it. Normally standing on a skylight is a bad idea, but this one is intended to act as a floor.

The main escalator skips the second floor, heading straight to the bus stops on the third floor. Here you’ll be able to take a bus to the East Bay and beyond. For opening day it was a sort of museum exhibit with presentations from local transit agencies.

 
Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day
 

AC Transit showed off their new double decker bus. Various transit agencies had well-preserved antique buses on display. Someone had brought in an old car from Hupmobile, a semi-obscure defunct car manufacturer. I confess I thought it was a Ford Model T at first glance.

I was a little thirsty after waiting so long to get up to there. The vending machines were largely not operational yet. Fortunately SFMTA had a table with free Hetch Hetchy water and cups to match.

 
Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day
 

The real star of the show on the third level is the suspension bridge. This is a bus-only bridge over Howard Street that can be easily spotted from Second and Howard. They were letting people walk onto the base of the bridge to get a peek at it, but no further.

It’s too bad they didn’t incorporate a sidewalk with space for people to take photos, I could imagine this funny little bridge being a popular selfie spot for travelers.

 
Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day
 

The entire third level was open to let people walk around. Normally you won’t be able to get up close to the metal lattice “skin” of the building on the bus level, but for opening day there was no risk of getting run over by a Greyhound.

I’ve watched the lattice go up in sections for what felt like ages, so it was neat to finally get a peek outside from within.

 
Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day
 

Obviously people hadn’t flocked here to see a bunch of buses. The real draw was to see Salesforce Park, the city’s first elevated park.

Despite crowd controls this was wall-to-wall people, gawking at the scenery. It’s a bit of a head trip — you look one way and there’s a green park with trees and grass, you look the other way and it’s office towers and skyscrapers. Unless you look over the ledge there’s not much visual indication that you’re above ground at all. This dissonance may grow with the trees and shrubs themselves.

Plaques throughout the park explain what you’re looking at — a fountain (it was off), seismic joints in the building, plants in the garden, etc. There’s a playground for kids, a couple of plazas, and a few grassy areas for lunches and picnics.

The park connects directly to both Salesforce Tower and 181 Fremont. The sky lobby for Salesforce Tower hasn’t been completed yet; I could see construction workers and unpainted drywall behind glass windows.

I’ve heard this park was inspired by New York City’s High Line Park, but I’ve yet to visit NYC so I’m not able to make any comparisons.

 
Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day
 

For opening day there were a few vendors in one plaza, selling food, coffee, beer, and oddly enough cookie dough. Stands with free to borrow books and board games were available as well. There were a few tables to sit at, though not nearly enough to meet demand. When the novelty wears off I could see this park as a place for nearby workers to take a lunch break.

Bands and DJs played at two stages in the park. Due to all the buildings around it, some parts of the park were shady whereas others were sunny on an unusually warm San Francisco afternoon.

One big question that kept lingering in my mind was how this new station would outlast the one it replaced. Although the old Transbay Terminal was once touted as the “Grand Central Station of the West,” by the time I was around to see it the place was kind of a mess. The “terminal” aspect of it largely referred to the trains that once arrived at the station coming over the Bay Bridge. The building’s restaurant and bar had closed ages ago, and the waiting area was essentially used as a homeless shelter.

Until train tunnels are built — this time from the Peninsula side, and eventually perhaps a second Transbay Tube — it’s hard to see how the Salesforce Transit Center will be much more than a fancy elevated park. The bus level is nice and all, but you don’t need much space for a bus stop. It’s also worth pointing out that the new low-cost bus operators like Megabus and Flixbus haven’t announced plans to stop at the Transit Center.

Perhaps the most odd omission is the lack of connection between the Transit Center and Montgomery Station. It’s a very short walk, hopefully some signs will appear soon directing travelers between the two. Should be easy enough to fix.

If the new Transit Center has one thing going for it, it’s the neighborhood. Between when the original Transbay Terminal was built and today, the surrounding area has grown tremendously. Factories and shipping businesses were replaced by offices filled with knowledge workers. Moscone Center opened, expanded — and is being expanded again, right now. New hotels sprung up, new subways, a new baseball stadium… the list goes on. This version of the Transit Center seems more likely to succeed; at least if its underground train platforms ever see service, that is.

 
Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day
 

Of course, all of this will have been for nothing if the Millennium Tower — currently sinking and leaning towards Salesforce Tower — comes crashing down.

Perhaps that should be addressed before the next earthquake, let alone before any new tunnels are built in the area.

 
Salesforce Transit Center, Opening Day
 

By the time I made my way back to the escalators to leave, the crowds had grown immensely — I was glad I’d arrived early. It also seemed unintuitive to me that so many folks wanted to check out the new Transit Center when the city was also hosting Outside Lands, the Filipino Parade, and a Giants game all on the same day.

With all of those activities going on, who knew the opening of a new Transit Center and park would attract such a large crowd? Not me, that’s for certain.

Sailing in the bay

July 30th, 2018

Sailing in the bay Sailing in the bay Sailing in the bay
 

On Saturday I went sailing with some coworkers, or to put it more accurately a pair of coworkers sailed a ship while instructing the rest of us on what to do. For my part I barely know port from Starburst starbird starboard, but if you need someone who can pull on whichever rope you tell me to, I’m your guy.

We began sailing from a boat rented at Club Nautique in Alameda. After strapping on life jackets our captain (one of my coworkers) gave us the safety rundown, we stepped on the boat, and I started the engine so we could motor our way out into the bay.

Once we were headed straight into the wind we deployed the sails, killed the engine, and were under wind power.

There’s something strangely relaxing about sailing on the bay’s calm southern waters; perhaps too relaxing. We were all jolted awake when an enormous cargo ship snuck up behind us and honked.

Unlike on land, in the water right of way is apparently kind of complicated but the basics are simple enough: smaller vessels need to stay out of the way of bigger ones. We only got a single honk, which I’m told is a warning. Five honks would have been the signal to move immediately and/or expect a visit from the Coast Guard.

 
Sailing in the bay Sailing in the bay Sailing in the bay
 

I’d never approached San Francisco from Alameda on a boat before. In some ways it’s a little disorienting. For example I kept thinking “what’s that big green thing?” before suddenly realizing I was looking at the stands of AT&T Park. Likewise Sutro Tower not only looked further south than I’d expected but seemed very surreal, poking up out of the foggy skyline like a pitchfork.

As we went under the Bay Bridge the second in command wondered what the deal was with the “bow and arrow.” I explained that it’s called Cupid’s Span and it evokes the romantic idea of Cupid and Tony Bennett’s song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Not exactly what the artists intended though it’s close enough.

 
Sailing in the bay
 

Maneuvering around some ferries we docked at pier 1 and 1/2. This is just north of the Ferry Building, right behind the restaurant La Mar. It’s one of the few public places boats can dock in San Francisco. We all brought our own food and snacks and ate at a nearby public table. Despite many restaurants in the area, we had no way of knowing if there’d be an open place to dock so we came prepared.

Protip: There are two single occupancy public restrooms at the pier. Just go inside the front door facing The Embarcadero; they’re both in the lobby.

 
Sailing in the bay
 

The return voyage was a calm one, with the wind in our favor. There were few other boats to contend with aside from other sailboats and the RocketBoat.

At a certain point I looked back at the city skyline and noticed it had begun to look almost like a mirage. The features on the buildings disappeared and it took on a gray shadowy appearance, back lit by a mountain of clouds. After docking the boat back at Club Nautique we all went our separate ways for the day.

Having lived in San Francisco for the past fifteen years I’ve never visited the city via sailboat — all this time I didn’t even know it was possible to step off a sailboat and walk right over to the Embarcadero waterfront. Who knew?

Doctor Who sidewalk graffiti in Hayes Valley

June 17th, 2018

Bad Wolf
 

At the corner of Rose and Octavia, someone painted “Bad Wolf…” underneath the street imprint in the sidewalk. I thought that was pretty funny and snapped the above photo.

Spoilers for old Doctor Who episodes follow.

“Bad Wolf” was a storyline from the first season of the rebooted Doctor Who back in 2005. Throughout the season the ninth Doctor and his companion Rose Tyler keep seeing references to Bad Wolf, but are unable to identify the significance of the phrase. Toward the end of the season, Rose Tyler looks into the heart of the Doctor’s TARDIS and becomes temporarily inhabited by it or something. Look, this is all pretty convoluted even by Doctor Who standards so just roll with it.

The important thing is, Rose Tyler with the TARDIS’ time traveling power becomes a new entity known as Bad Wolf. Together as one, they defeat a small army of Daleks and bring “Captain” Jack Harness back to life via time manipulation.

A thirteen year old story from a BBC show isn’t what one would normally expect to see on the streets of San Francisco. Kudos to those keeping our streets humorous and geeky.

First impressions of the new Muni Metro trains

June 14th, 2018

New Muni Metro train in service
New Muni Metro train in service New Muni Metro train in service
 

This evening I’d planned to take Muni Metro home from work as I often do, but there was an unexpected twist: as I got to the platform level, one of the new trains was pulling in. Finally I’d get to ride one! Unfortunately for me it was going in the opposite direction I was headed, so I only took it one stop just for fun.

Some background: The new trains cars are Siemens S200 light rail vehicles (LRVs) which are slowly replacing the 90′s era Breda LRVs. The Breda’s weren’t always the most reliable, especially their door mechanisms. With the new subway line opening (maybe) next year Muni thought it would be a good idea to start ordering new train cars sooner rather than later, and to have narrowly-defined reliability requirements in the contract. So that’s how we wound up with these new Siemens S200 train cars. Muni calls this new fleet “LRV 4″ for some reason they haven’t explained as far as I know.

In my brief ride today, here’s a few things that immediately stood out:

  • The exterior is a little boxier looking than the current Breda LRVs but otherwise looks pretty similar. The color scheme is nearly identical.
  • These are very quiet trains, which has been par for the course in major European cities for a while but is new to SF.
  • The seating arrangement is more like a typical subway with benches along the walls rather than two-across bus-style seating. This should leave more standing room during rush hour.
  • Onboard audio cues sound different and may take some getting used to.
  • The Clipper card readers have a new design.

But the biggest difference? This one’s impossible to ignore:

New Muni Metro train in service
 

In the middle of the train is a live display with the destination, the next couple of stops, and the transfer points for the next stop. Hopefully they keep this up to date as bus routes change. There’s also an argument to be made that “Cable Car” should be more specific since there are multiple lines. But that’s all nitpicking, overall the new display is a massive improvement.

That’s all I have for now. In the future I may have some deeper impressions to share, particularly on street level stops when the stairs come down.

If you’d like to try the new Muni Metro trains SF Transit Riders has a live map of their locations here.

Review: Wonderland from Epic Immersive

June 5th, 2018


 

This is the final month for an immersive theater show in San Francisco titled Wonderland. It’s a story based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. As the audience is sworn to secrecy and forbidden (wisely, I think) from taking photos, this will be a tight-lipped review. I’m not going to discuss details about the story or expose the secret location.

Let me start by stating that I’ve only been to one previous production that would qualify as “immersive theater,” so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. But the basic rules on the ticketing website and the safety presentation before the show seemed pretty clear. Arrive sober, don’t attack the actors, and if you’re unclear or uncomfortable just say so — simple enough.

The audience went through in small groups, with the actors either drawing out or speeding up scenes to give everyone time to find their way through the dark “rabbit holes” of the space. This seemed to affect pacing in unexpected ways. My companion in our group later confessed she felt rushed at times and would have liked more time to explore.

I should point out here that this production is fairly linear. Unlike some immersive theater productions where you can stay in one spot the whole time if you wish, in Wonderland you’re ushered from one scene to the next.

The interactions between the actors and audience varied between scenes, as did the seriousness of the actors themselves. Some seemed content to chew scenery while others played their roles with more subtle humor. The only character played completely straight is Alice, which is sensible considering her story arch.

Aside from one unclear plot point near the end I found the story easy to follow and enjoyable. Perhaps the real standout star of the show is the venue itself. That said I’m biased as this particular place is one of my favorites in San Francisco — perhaps it will become one of yours as well.

Wonderland extends through the end of June 2018, you can purchase tickets here. If you go with someone else try to get tickets in the same “wave” so you won’t be split up.
 

My recommendation: If you’re the kind of person who reads this blog, I’d give it a qualified yes — as long as you meet the mobility requirements (some crawling is involved), have an interest in immersive theater, and can afford the ticket price it’s a fun and unique show. See it while you still have the chance!