Signs of the COVID-19 times

April 24, 2020

With the COVID-19 coronavirus spreading so quickly, everyone’s had to adapt at a rapid pace. Some of the changes are clearly sad and less than ideal, yet safety has to be prioritized or more people will wind up dead. It’s worrisome that some don’t seem to mind the latter part of that equation.

Like most of us I’ve been doing my part to shelter in place as much as possible, though sometimes one does need to get out whether it’s buying groceries or just stretching one’s legs a little.

On the occasions I’ve ventured around the neighborhood, here’s some of the changes I’ve noticed.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

The notoriously cramped Bi-Rite Market on 18th Street rapidly rolled out changes including limiting the number of shoppers inside the store. To that end they painted icons on the sidewalk outside showing people where to stand six feet apart. It would help more if the sidewalk weren’t so narrow but it’s a start.

The “stand here” icon seems to be somewhat universal as it’s quite similar to the one used in those TSA scanners at the airport. At least you don’t have to take your shoes off in this case.

 

COVID-19 changes COVID-19 changes

 

The Valencia corridor is eerily quiet, with many retail and restaurant businesses closed — and many boarded up. Ostensibly this is to prevent vandals from breaking the windows and/or looting the place.

It’s especially jarring to see upscale retail stores boarded up, though with the way the retail economy has been going these past few years I suspect boarded up storefronts are here to stay for some time.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

Elixir bills itself as the second oldest bar in San Francisco, dating back to at least 1858. (The oldest bar is the Old Ship Saloon, which once operated out of — you probably guessed this — an old ship.)

Like many bars and restaurants Elixir is focusing on delivery and has also put up a GoFundMe to help support their staff. This is all advertised in spray paint on the side of the building.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

Signs all over Dolores Park tell people to stay six feet apart, and in four languages no less. Park goers largely seem to be following the rules at least in spirit. The park isn’t really designed for social distancing with benches right next to narrow sidewalks.

While there I noticed a couple unexpected things. One is the tennis courts were locked. Of all sports tennis seems like one that’s almost ideal for social distancing. The other is that even though Muni Metro is not operating they were performing some kind of testing on a new train on the tracks in the park.

 

COVID-19 changes

 

Unsurprisingly tattoo and piercing shops are not an essential business. But I was surprised Body Manipulations on 16th Street felt it necessary to tell people in a “driver does not carry cash” fashion that they have no toilet paper on the premises.

Are they serious about this? They’re one of the most respected places in the Bay Area to get unusual piercings (think nipple rings, etc.) so who knows! All I can say for certain is it’s definitely a sign of the times.

Review: Marion’s Wish

April 12, 2020
 

Earlier this week the three comedians behind On Cinema released a free short story as an e-book titled Marion’s Wish. According to the forward this book is the result of a text message conversation between Tim Heidecker, Mark Proksch, and Gregg Turkington while they’re all self isolating for COVID-19.

Although it’s not officially part of the On Cinema universe in any way, it has certain similarities. Specifically Tim is the instigator, Mark is the fall guy (who is obsessed with the Three Stooges for some reason) and Gregg is the unreliable expert with strange ideas.

The story starts out with Tim asking Mark to have a video chat over breakfast with Marion, allegedly the granddaughter of Moe from the Three Stooges. Mark reluctantly accepts, and Gregg quickly chimes in with a request for Mark to get Marion to verify a friend’s stash of nude photos of Moe.

In typical comedy fashion everything spirals out of control from there, with a typo-laden and buggy auto-correct version of “Who’s On First” muddying the waters. New characters with similar names are introduced including another guy named Tim and a man named Mario (not to be confused with Marion.)

Although the presentation is a tad sloppy at times, it’s a quick read — maybe 20 minutes or so — and I was laughing so hard I had to take a quick break to wipe the tears from my eyes before the end.

My recommendation: Humor is extremely subjective, though if dark, classic comedy tickles you in the right way, give this short story a read. You can download it for free here.

Tim and Eric’s Mandatory Attendance World Tour show notes

March 8, 2020
Tim & Eric Mandatory Attendance Tour Tim & Eric Mandatory Attendance Tour Tim & Eric Mandatory Attendance Tour

 

I went to the San Francisco stop on Tim and Eric‘s Mandatory Attendance World Tour on March 4th at The Warfield. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have been staples of late night cable TV fringe comedy for almost two decades at this point. Although they’re best known for Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and Check it Out! with Dr. Steve Brule, they’ve also produced other shows including Nathan For You and the bizarre talk show The Eric Andre Show.

Although I’d never been to a live Tim and Eric show before, I’ve attended two On Cinema live shows in the past year (also produced by and co-staring Tim Heidecker) so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect — a lively show geared toward an audience of fans who are all totally into it.

I waited until today to post show notes as not to spoil the show for the remaining tour dates. Now that it’s over, here’s everything that happened.

Before the show

After passing through security and the ticket check, I was handed a small playbill (see above) about the size of a business card. I had a balcony ticket so I headed upstairs and bought the world’s most expensive whiskey and Coke at the bar.

Before the show began a video played on an almost comically tiny screen in which a man performed songs from Awesome Show on a guitar while wearing various costumes. This includes memorable songs from Casey and his Brother, the Beaver Boys theme, etc.

Speaking of costumes, many members of the audience were wearing outfits to match their favorite Tim and Eric characters. Two guys seated near me were dressed up as the Beaver Boys, and I saw a couple people wearing On Cinema t-shirts.

As stagehands wheeled the tiny screen away, the lights went down and the show opened. A video played on the big screen explaining how Tim has a large vacation home where he hangs out with his old pals, mostly to get away from his family — but also to avoid Eric. When Eric showed up and suggested they do a live show together we learn that Tim slammed the door in his face, only to later conceive of doing a family friendly tour that everyone can smile at (but not actually laugh) in order to attract corporate sponsors.

The audience was instructed to clap with their wrists instead of their hands, and to moan while doing so.

It’s mandatory

Tim and Eric arrived on stage dressed in flamboyant cowboy outfits performing a song about how attendance is mandatory, and also claiming they enjoy various drugs. At some point it was mentioned that anyone who did not attend would be fined $750.

Interrupting a pointless sketch about a cowboy who tickles people, Eric decided this isn’t right, they should abandon the family friendly concept and do their usual comedy — even if it’s not for everyone. Tim reluctantly agreed to change the format. They also agreed to waive the “exit fee.”

As they left the stage, a new video played of the duo eating and “vomiting” various foods. This was genuinely disgusting and a number of people near me covered their eyes.

Pitzman’s Mustard

Tim and Eric return to the stage wearing dressed in normal clothing for a reprise of the YouTube series Tim’s Kitchen Tips. A table was placed on stage with a large bowl and a small camera mounted on a tripod. Eric moved the camera around throughout the sketch so the audience could see close ups.

Tim used an audience participation bit to explain how he intends to make yummy, wet, and spicy lasagna — using a recipe from the Lasagna region of Italy, naturally.

Tim started with a frozen lasagna he purchased from his favorite store, a nearby Safeway. He opened the package and squeezed the existing wet juice out of it with his hand, sending the sauces down his elbow and all over the table.

As it turned out, Eric is also familiar with Safeway, though a different location. After a messy divorce Eric moved to a new home in Vallejo, a city he admittedly does not like. This minor localization gag got bigger laughs than I expected (perhaps there were people from Vallejo in the audience?)

To add wetness to the lasagna, Tim poured a giant can of tomato sauce into his bowl, most of which spilled on the table and floor.

For spices they recruited ten “Spice Cadets” from the audience to the stage. Each of them was assigned a spice to wear on their helmets as well as an apron featuring the name of the spice. During this process Tim angrily confiscated the phone of an audience member who was taking a video, tossing the “phone” into the tomato sauce.

The first spice, cinnamon, had a lengthy song and dance routine. Then Tim told the woman who represented cinnamon to “get the fuck out of here” as cinnamon clearly does not belong in lasagna. Tim then pared down the nine other Spice Cadets to a final five. Those who remained dumped their spices into the bowl by bowing their heads into it, pouring out the spices. One of them had a helmet malfunction that caused their entire helmet to fall into the bowl.

When Tim realized a key ingredient was missing, Mr. Peter Pitzman appeared wearing a yellow mask that clearly disturbed Tim. Mr. Pitzman proceeded to “pee” mustard all over the five remaining Spice Cadets as well as into the sauce.

Subscription services for dogs

Next up Tim and Eric came out wearing colorful lounge-y outfits, explaining they were a morning zoo show on 105.3 here in San Francisco before being fired when Tim’s character made an insensitive comment in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Fortunately they’ve been brought back by a tech billionaire named Werm to promote a streaming music service for dogs, which costs $99 per month. Tim picked up a guitar and Eric strapped on a child sized wearable drum set. They played a singalong song about different types of dogs and how they behave.

Eric’s character wanted to demonstrate Werm’s son’s software that just shows photos of dogs. Unfortunately he didn’t have the password for the software, and entering the wrong one caused the Windows XP desktop they had on stage to blue screen.

After several tries they guessed the password. The software turned out to be a slideshow with several photos of dogs, followed by a lot of photos of Moby. Tim and Eric fled the stage when smoke started coming out of the old desktop computer.

A Medical Play

In the final main act, they had a medical play allegedly sponsored by Aetna, a health insurance company. Tim said he was inspired by America where everyone has the right to buy private health insurance through a corporation.

The play involved Eric as a doctor similar to his Dr. Wareheim series on YouTube. Eric asked Tim a series of questions about his recent bowel movements such as their shape, thickness, tips, and tails. Neither of them could get through this portion with a straight face.

During an anal exam seemingly modeled after the Blue Man Group’s throat camera routine, we learn Tim has the highly contagious “Pork’s Disease,” and the entire audience is at risk. The CDC arrived via helicopter with a suitcase full of pills to cure the disease. The cure is HOGalaxin from Cinco Pharmaceuticals, which were available in suspicious baggies at the merch table.

Unfortunately the supply of pills was one short. Tim offhandedly mentioned that the CDC had other priorities. Their consultant at AEG “randomly” selected a member of the audience, a man who brought his wife on stage as well. He agreed to skip the medication and die for not only his wife but the greater good.

Tim and Eric performed their final song wearing lighted wings with a video tribute to the poor man. A flower-lined casket was wheeled out onto the stage behind him. As the song ended, stagehands escorted the man into the casket, closed it, and wheeled him backstage.

Beef House preview

Ostensibly this was the end of the show, but Tim and Eric introduced the first episode of their new show Beef House, a lowbrow parody of Full House or any one of countless forgettable 90’s family sitcoms.

The first episode involves Tim going on a date with a neighbor despite suffering from extreme constipation. This collides with a subplot about Eric’s girlfriend (played by Jamie-Lynn Sigler, aka Meadow from The Sopranos) demanding he clean up the place. The conclusion is hilariously disgusting, if somewhat predictable.

At the very end Tim and Eric came back out on stage to thank everyone for coming and to give a shout out to everyone else who worked on the show.

Conclusion

This was pretty much everything I would have expected from a live Tim and Eric show. Somehow I missed their last tour a couple years ago and I feel like I can stop kicking myself for that now.

From what I’ve read online a few stops on the tour had special guests. None of them were at the San Francisco show, but I would have loved to see John C. Reilly as Dr. Steve Brule. Someone please tell Reilly to come to San Francisco next time. I’ll even pay extra. For your health!

Former Macy’s Men’s Store slims down for a new look

March 1, 2020
Former Macy's Men's Store, Union Square Former Macy's Men's Store, Union Square Former Macy's Men's Store, Union Square

 

The former Union Square Macy’s Men’s Store at 120 Stockton Street is sporting a new look at the moment. The down-to-the-bones renovation is transforming the almost windowless stone box into one with floor to ceiling windows. SocketSite has a before photo with a rendering of what’s to come.

Although I shopped there when it was still open I can’t say I really miss it. It always felt like a jail that happened to sell clothes.

The revamped building is intended to mix retail, offices, and a rooftop patio restaurant. Time will tell if this combination works out — though I can’t imagine downtown office space so close to a BART station remaining vacant for long.

Two other department stores in the area are exploring similar transformations, with part of the Macy’s across the street (the former I. Magnin building) potentially converting to offices and condos, and the nearby Nordstrom in the Westfield SF Centre mall switching its top two floors into offices as well.

Jason Segel explains “Dispatches From Elsewhere” on The Late Show

February 28, 2020

 

In the above clip from The Late Show, Jason Segel explains his upcoming TV show Dispatches From Elsewhere to host Stephen Colbert.

The quick version: While searching for inspiration for a new TV show to create, Segel learns about The Jejune Institute and manages to contact the man behind it all, who Segel likens to Willy Wonka. This quickly leads to a story far more interesting than your average talk show anecdote as Segel travels to San Francisco, finding a trailhead laid out just for him.

Obviously I can’t speak to Segel’s experience, though what he described sounds more like The Latitude to me. I’d be interested to hear more about it.

Colbert is a great interviewer as always, and I really like Segel’s description of Nonchalance’s guerilla art installations as “magic as an act of defiance.”

Dispatches From Elsewhere debuts March 1st on AMC. Looking forward to confused people stumbling on my blog posts while trying to understand this TV show.

Rest in pieces at Buena Vista Park

February 24, 2020
Buena Vista Park Buena Vista Park Buena Vista Park

 

Buena Vista Park on Haight Street is one of San Francisco’s oldest public parks. Built on the side of a hill, on a clear day one can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and downtown between the trees at the top of the park.

Today you’ll find everyone from wanna-be hippie kids to dog walkers to young couples having picnics in the park.

But if you look closely you’ll also find something else: pieces of old headstones.

When San Francisco started evicting graveyards in the early 20th century to make more room for the living, many headstones were scrapped for material — recycled rock, basically.

In the 1930’s a WPA project was tasked with updating Buena Vist Park’s pathways and addressing flooding issues. Many of these new pathways were lined with gutters paved from rocks; including old headstones.

For the most part the headstones aren’t noticeable, aside from the unusual decision to pave gutters with white stone. However in a dozen or so places around the park, parts of the original engravings are easily to spot. Three of these are in the photos above.

More information can be found on Wikipedia and on Atlas Obscura.

How to cross the street

February 22, 2020
How to cross the street

 

Spotted outside the Victoria Theater at 16th and Capp, this guerilla installation alters the pedestrian signal instructions to promote friendly behavior.

16th Street changes: Goodbye Katz, hello cat

February 19, 2020
Katz Bagels closing

 

As Eater SF reported today, Katz Bagels on 16th Street is preparing to close next month after 27 years in business. Once a local chain, this was their last outpost.

This comes about seven years after the death of the founder, not to mention numerous attempts to rebrand as bagels waned in popularity over the years.

 

Kit-Kat on 16th St

 

Meanwhile, an actual cat appeared a few months ago a block down 16th at the Randa’s Market liquor store.

The aptly named “Kit-Kat” supervises as beer is delivered and guards the store from dogs being walked down the street. Though not the friendliest feline, Kit-Kat is not easily spooked either; she’s a good fit for life on 16th Street.

Sacramento wrap up and stray observations

February 18, 2020
Sacramento train station

 

My entire reason for visiting Sacramento was to make up for skipping it on my “Ameritrip” last year in which I traveled by rail from Chicago back home to San Francisco, stopping in a few cities along the way — Omaha, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Reno.

Originally I’d planned to make Sacramento a stop on the trip, but when I started planning it all out there was no way to squeeze another stop into the time I’d allocated.

To get to Sacramento and back I booked tickets on the Capitol Corridor, a train service run by a local joint powers authority, CalTrans, and operated by Amtrak. It’s part of the “Amtrak California” umbrella which also includes the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner routes.

 

Amtrak California trip to Sacramento

 

From San Francisco there’s the option of taking an Amtrak bus to Emeryville and boarding the train from there, but I decided to take BART to Lake Merritt and walk a few blocks to Jack London Square instead, repeating this process on the way back. Unfortunately the only true transfer point between Amtrak and BART is at Richmond, which is a very long BART ride away for many of us.

On the return trip the conductor announced Richmond as “your transfer point to BART, Bay Area we wish we were Rapid Transit.” Harsh but true.

 

Sacramento train station

 

The train station in Sacramento is a beautiful building from the 1920’s. It serves Amtrak as well as the local light rail and bus lines. Thankfully the station features modern bathrooms, and there’s a Starbucks next door if you need it.

As usual the boarding procedure varies wildly from one Amtrak station to another. Amtrak service is always polite but confusing, and their trains tend to be comfortable but worn out. I guess that’s just modern day America in a nutshell though.

 

Temple Coffee

 

My very first stop after leaving the train station was Temple Coffee Roasters, a chain local to Sacramento though their beans can be found elsewhere.

The line was almost out the door. It’s not the fastest place, though the employees are very friendly. I had an oat milk cappuccino. On a warmer afternoon I went to a different location for an iced latte. Both were excellent. That said, good coffee is not at all hard to find in Sacramento.

 

DoCo

 

Right in the middle of downtown Sacramento near the capitol building is the brand new Downtown Commons, or “DoCo” complex. This fuses an existing shopping center with the new Sacramento Kings coliseum as well as a fancy hotel.

There’s quite a few places to eat and drink in the DoCo complex, presumably aimed at attendees of the basketball games and concerts held there.

 

Neil Hamburger at the Sacramento Comedy Spot

 

The entire reason I chose this particular weekend to visit Sacramento was to see Neil Hamburger perform again, this time at the Sacramento Comedy Spot. It’s not a big venue but it was packed; I was lucky to get in early enough to grab a seat.

Neil’s opening act was Major Entertainer, a musical comedian who sang songs about his wife’s former best friend as well as a song asking the audience to buy his t-shirts.

Neil Hamburger somehow got all the green dye out of his hair a few days after playing the Joker as his alter ego. He went through about an hour of material focused mostly on Aerosmith and KISS, the latter of which he claims is a band everyone has heard of, yet nobody knows their music (I think he might be on to something there.)

His longest and most rambling joke detailed how he was forced to spend 13 hours in LAX Terminal One when Southwest cancelled flights due to the 737 MAX disaster. He blamed it on the planes relying on defective computers that were returned to Best Buy. But the worst indignity was that he had to eat at the only restaurant open in the airport terminal, Rock & Brews, which is owned by KISS front-man Gene Simmons.

He ended the show singing his original song Little Love Cup.

 

There were a few things I didn’t get to do on this trip. Perhaps next time? In no particular order:

  • Tower Cafe: This oddball cafe is best known for brunch, and I’m told the wait list can get pretty long.
  • California State Railroad Museum: I vaguely remember visiting here as a kid, and would have definitely returned if I’d had the time on this trip.
  • Dive Bar: I’m told this isn’t a great bar, the only reason to go is to see the hourly mermaid performances in the giant fish tank above the bar. Performers dress up as mermaids and swim around with actual fish.
  • Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament: A beautiful old cathedral located across from the capitol building that offers tours, but was somehow never open when I was in the area.
  • The Bank: A modern food hall, but located inside of a classic old bank building.

Sacramento street art

Like a lot of cities with abandoned buildings and big blank walls facing unused lots, in recent years Sacramento has turned to street art to make the city more inviting and these walls less prone to graffiti.

The difference between Sacramento and most cities however is that it has a much larger hole to climb out of. At the end of World War 2 there was a migration out of cities to nearby suburbs all around the country, but Sacramento also had to deal with the aftermath of its large Japanese population being sent to internment camps and the decline of the railroad industry.

 

Downtown/Midtown

Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art

 

The downtown and midtown areas are a hotbed of all types of street art murals, in part because there’s just so many blank walls and abandoned buildings to choose from. Like most of the street art throughout Sacramento it’s a mix of pieces commissioned by building owners, murals painted as part of the Wide Open Walls festival, and completely guerrilla installations.

There’s so much street art in downtown in particular that I found a sign opposing it entirely, claiming that the murals were responsible for increasing local rents. I have no idea if that’s true, though it’s a complete 180 degree pivot from the way most people thought about street art just a couple decades ago.

 

Sacramento street art

 

You can’t talk about the downtown Sacramento street art without mentioning the Johnny Cash mural from Shepard Fairey. I’m not sure exactly where the mural is best seen from but you can get glimpses of it from all over downtown.

Fairey’s intention with this one was to honor Cash’s own cause of prison reform. I’m told the mural is fifteen stories tall and took about a week to complete.

 

R Street Historic District

Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art Sacramento street art

 

While wandering over to the food tour of the R Street historic district I snapped photos of a number of murals. The tour guide pointed out a few others to us between food stops.

What makes this part of the city a little different is it was a hot spot for the local art scene due to the sheer number of abandoned warehouse spaces. Despite a recent wave of gentrification, artists have remained in the area. Some of the new construction intentionally includes blank walls used as canvases for commissioned murals.

I personally really enjoyed the mural with the girl trying to fit in with a bear family; it’s ostensibly about how people are treated in a society, though it could just as easily be a metaphor for a neighborhood of misfits.