Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

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!

Carnaval Parade: Stoic Cop

May 29th, 2018


 

Yesterday at San Francisco’s 2018 Carnaval Parade a number of dancers for whatever reason decided to target a particular SFPD officer with their dance moves, crowding him and grinding against him. He barely reacted — a truly stoic cop if there ever was one.

As you can see in the video I was hardly the only one in the crowd to notice this happening, let alone take photos or videos. I overheard one man in the crowd suggest the cop would make a good Buckingham Palace guard.

This police officer is the same one who can be seen in the thumbnail image in the video I posted yesterday, something I planned meticulously of a weird coincidence since I filmed from various points along the parade route.

Carnaval San Francisco 2018 parade

May 28th, 2018

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For a bunch more photos check out my Carnaval 2018 album here.
 

Today was the grand parade of Carnaval San Francisco, the Mission District’s biggest parade and cultural event. It was billed as the 40th Anniversary, which isn’t exactly true… but forget it. Sometimes you just have to put down your calculator, pick up a Modelo tallboy in a paper bag, and enjoy Carnaval.

Unlike the 2016 parade I didn’t see Elvis this time, but overall the parade seemed longer? Around three hours. All the staples you’d expect like BART, Shriners, low riders, Recology and many different dance groups. Muni seems to have taken upon themselves to hand out bead necklaces, including throwing them at people watching from apartment windows and fire escapes.

Check out the video below for some highlights.

One man’s trash is another man’s toilet

May 27th, 2018

One man's trash is another man's toilet
 

While on my way to run an errand after the Carnaval Parade wrapped up — more on that later — I spotted a humorously placed toilet seat on a public garbage can at 16th Street and Guerrero. The juxtaposition is so perfect, I’d come up with the title of this blog post before I even finished taking the photo.

Well played, anonymous person with an ugly blue toilet seat.

Salesforce Tower light show allegedly launched

May 23rd, 2018

Salesforce Tower, opening day
 

Today was the grand opening of Salesforce Tower, and with it the alleged launch of a massive 11,000 LED light show on the top of the building.

As you can see in my photo above taken from Dolores Park, it was so foggy I’m not even sure which building is which. None of them seem to be capped with a light show. The downtown skyline almost looks like a mirage somewhere in the distance, as it always does when it’s covered in a thick layer of fog.

So did the lights even get turned on? Was it too foggy to find the switch? Neither would surprise me. Here’s a video from earlier in the evening from the much closer vantage point of Second and Howard. Even from there the top of the building was obscured by the fog.

Salesforce Tower, opening day

Manny’s, coming to 16th and Valencia

May 17th, 2018

Welcome To Manny’s
 

There’s a space at the corner of 16th and Valencia I walk past almost every day. For many years it was a sushi restaurant, which was eventually replaced by a different sushi restaurant and an ice cream bar.

Since the end of 2017 it’s been vacant with no signs of activity — until the other day, when a poster appeared in the window. I went to check it out, and it turned out to be a letter with a “Manny’s” logo stamped on it. The text of the letter appears almost verbatim on the website for Manny’s.

Reading the letter left me with more questions than answers; would this be an event space? A neighborhood bar? I wanted to know more. Thankfully the poster included an email address, so I reached out to Manny himself with a few questions on behalf of my little blogging operation.

Here’s full text of my email interview:
 

Eric: Tell us a little about yourself and what made you decide to focus on civic engagement in San Francisco?

Manny: I came to San Francisco after working on President Obama’s re-elect as an organizer in New Hampshire. San Francisco was the promised land for me – a California boy looking for a City with a thriving gay culture and healthy civic life. When I first arrived here I had no money, no place to live, and very few contacts but I had the most amazing first 6 months exploring the City, working as a temp, and meeting people who worked in SF politics. I fell in love with the City again. I had spent a summer here raising money for same-sex marriage as a street canvasser in 2010 and first fell in love with the City then. I found a job working with an immigration reform advocacy group right as comprehensive immigration reform was making it’s way through the U.S. Senate. Fast forward to after working on the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016 I found myself kind of lost. The result of the election shocked and saddened me but also gave me a new sense of drive and purpose. What was I going to do?

I quickly realized that I was living in a once in a generation moment of civic purpose, with so many people, especially young people, feeling called to get involved. Taking part in the first Women’s March and seeing the hundreds of thousands of people in the streets around the world inspired me. The decision to focus on civic engagement in San Francisco came out of the problem that was being presented to me by friends and colleagues in the City who wanted to know where they could go to get more involved and informed. There are some amazing organizations in the City that put on excellent programming in great spaces for folks to become more civically active and have been doing so for decades but I thought the idea of taking that programming and adding in a more neutral social component would help bring in all of the people who might be intimidated at first or not really consider themselves “political”.

Around that time a good friend of mine died tragically. He was 32. After Nico’s death I promised myself that I would not let the fear of failing at something stop me from trying because he would never get a chance to try again. With that guiding me I decided to really research what would be involved in building my own space. That was around February/March of last year and here I am!
 

Eric: The description on your website is a little overwhelming. What’s your plan for the space on the average day?

Manny: Noted. The space is divided into 2 sections – the social space and the programming space with a small civil rights themed bookstand/newstand in between. The social space will have continuous operation from 6:30 AM – 10:00 PM with breakfast, lunch, and dinner served. It’ll be a coffee shop during the day and offer good beer and wine at night with dinner. That space will be connected to but separate from the programming space.

During the day the programming space will feel like a lounge where folks can eat/drink, watch the news (TVs with the news will be playing continuously) and potentially there will be some programming during the day for kids and young adults. For the evening the idea is that every weeknight there will be some offering that is civic in nature, where it’s a talk, documentary screening, open-mic, organizing action night, or discussion. Most of the programming will be put on by other organizations who need good space to do their work or have their speakers speak. About a quarter of the programming will be organized by my staff. There is meant to be wide variety in the programming, just like movie theaters play lots of different kinds of movies, sports bars will have a few different kinds of games on, gyms will have different kinds of classes and machines, I want to built a center of gravity around civic engagement that will have something for everyone. There will likely be themed nights around the different ways folks might want to engage where it’s direct action, learning from speakers, consuming media + art, etc…
 

Eric: The space you’re moving into has had a lot of turnover in the past few years; do you have a secret plan to thrive in that location?

Manny: I think one of the main reasons that the space has had a lot of turnover is that the commercial space has an unsuccessful relationship with the street. It’s hard to know where the entrance is and it’s dark inside. I will be opening up the windows, making the entrances a lot clearer, brightening up the interior, and more directly engaging with the street traffic to welcome people in.

Also – commercial rents are at an all time high in San Francisco so staying alive is hard unless you drive up prices so high that only a certain class of people can participate in what you’re doing. I refuse to create a place like that. In addition to the revenue from the food and beverage my goal is to have a large community of individual sponsors from the City and beyond providing the grassroots funding needed to keep a space like this open and thriving. They will be sponsors and being a sponsor will come with a large set of benefits. I’ve been developing a community around the space for the past six months and will continue to do so for the next six months. I believe that this community will be the secret to the success of the space.
 

Eric: On your website you mention the need to move our discourse from the digital world to in person. Do you have any thoughts as to why personal interaction is important?

Manny: In my lifetime I have seen the move from in person to online civic discourse and I am in shock at how nasty people get online in ways I do not believe would occur in the course of an in person conversation. Because tone is not apparent in an online conversation sometime the worst or most accusatory tone is implied which can lead to defensive angry responses. We do not need the internet to have deep meaningful conversations with people who either agree or disagree with us.

When you interact with someone in person you are able to give many cues including body language and posture, eye contact, tone, speed and deliberateness of language, clear listening, deference, and respect. There are all very important in the course of a complex or even sensitive conversation and are all absent from a conversation online and so, more often than not, the conversation devolves.

This is sad because we desperately need these conversation to learn and grow. None of us has all the answers so we need to bounce questions and ideas of others to get closer to truth.