When I was 6 years old my parents loaded my sister and I into an RV. We disembarked Los Angeles and headed eastward, clinging to Joshua Tree’s lower half along the Interstate 10. Six hours later, we had arrived at Lake Havasu: retirement home for American humans and English bridges since 1971. Two decades and change later, my memory could use a digital remastering. But I do remember this: there was a boat, I boarded the boat, and at some point, that boat crossed an imaginary line that bifurcates the good lake down the middle, California to one side, Arizona on the other. That moment would become the first and last time that I would leave California until college.
This past year, in particular, I’ve tried to make good on seeing more of my country. In addition to Oregon, Washington state (and a respectable number of countries), I’ve added New York City on New Year’s Eve, New Orleans on Mardi Gras, and Yosemite in the early Fall to the list. I’ll be adding Utah in January. The first week of this past October, I added Washington, DC.
I was there for work and had precious few moments to myself, but precious none the less.
My favorite culture on earth is drinking culture. To this end, I can always rely (and you can too!) on a enlightening new town experience by visiting one of the given city’s FODDs (Fanciest-Oldest-Diviest-and-Douchiest bars).
(A brief digression on FODDs, San Francisco: Fanciest: Bourbon and Branch; Oldest: The Saloon; Diviest: Tough call…I’ll go with The Hockey Haven; Douchiest: Medjool).
Everybody in DC seems to readily know the oldest bar in town. It’s called Old Ebbitt Grill, conveniently located two blocks from my hotel, and across the street from the Obama crib. Forget that the food was bland (and priced accordingly), while looking over a flyer on the bar’s history, I noticed that the suspiciously beautiful place was built in…1983! Turns out Old Ebbitt is the oldest brand in town. Nobody seemed to know where the actual oldest continuous drinking establishment actually was. Defeat.
I took a stab at the FODD douchiest, making my way to Circa on Connecticut Ave NW, as recommended by a coworker who spent time in DC as a Senate aide. Circa delivered on the basics: bronzed sugar daddy’s with and women inflicted with the plastic-surgery’s inevitable cat-face. But after one whole Maker’s–rocks–Manhattan, I didn’t see one cougar attack! I’m sorry, but even at Americano, San Francisco’s runner-up douchiest, the hunting grounds are littered with wounded young men by 7:00pm on a Monday night.
After Circa I stopped at a total gem: Kramerbooks. At this small bookstore I picked up Arguably, the latest compendium of essays by Christopher Hitchens (who, as it happens, lives only blocks away).
Like all great bookstores, Kramerbooks features a pub. Unlike a great bookstore pub, they served only one “local” beer…from Baltimore. Unlike even the greatest bookstore, Kramerbooks serves fantastic food. After first catching my nose, I saw several plates whiz past, seemingly out of nowhere: filet mignon with horseradish sour cream, BBQ ribs with mac ‘n cheese, seared scallops with organic maitakes. The scallops were unreal.
For the fanciest place the bartender recommended the Gibson, a Whiskey bar on 14th street. The Gibson, like Kramerbooks, brought with it total victory: hundreds of whiskies from around the world, and a bartender who delivered my rocks Blood and Sand with flamed orange zest.
A backstory to my evening was that, for each place I went and bartender I spoke with where I could go dancing on a Monday night. Each time I asked, I received different versions of the same opinion: “This is a government town. There’s barely dancing on Saturday nights.”
Interesting. After leaving the Gibson, I walked about four blocks before honing in, like a sperm whale echo-locating her distant calf, on a place somehow unlikely called Marvin. Hearing music from the side walk, I creeped up the stairs to find an old Edwardian-style bar packed, wall-to-wall, with dancing. Government town indeed.
Pressed for time, I didn’t make it to one establishment that could qualify as a dive. Next time. I did, however, make several other observations about our nation’s capitol. The store fronts have stoops, and the sidewalks are clean, narrow, and many are brick. The marble steps of the rotunda staircase have been sharpened like to dagger-like-points just to the left and right of center, under the ceaseless plodding of the congress.
To be an American living in the Capitol City is to have a voice in neither the Congress nor the Presidency. The US Constitution predates the District of Columbia by three years, and sadly, the founding fathers neglected to ask how residents of the future capitol would vote. Thus the best license plate motto in the republic was born, “Washington DC: Taxation without Representation”.
Although I was there for work, I was lucky in that work took me to the White House and the deeper halls of the Capitol. Good times.
Despite nearly a month’s worth of headlines under their belts, the now-global Occupy Wall Street movement had somehow shown an impressive knack at avoiding my path. It wasn’t until last night that I got my first chance at poking around the protester’s camp in front of San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza.
As any truly grassroots assembly will demonstrate, stupidity will follow even the best-informed contrarians like a snail trail. For example, I was treated to a fascinating conversation on the working-class literature of Emile Zola and George Orwell from the camp’s “librarian”, while next to him a man taped a picture of Jeb Bush (yes: Jeb) adorned with devil horns to a tree. This commingling of the sharp with the dull is the singular reason why I could never dismiss the Tea Party, as many commentators did at the time, as an “astroturf” movement. Their public face may be that of the paranoid and feeble minded spouse, but the always-clever corporate-America is the brains behind Pa on that farm.
In all honesty, however, I was prepared for worse. The uncleaned anti-semitic fringe-left which mirrors the ugly nativism of the Tea Party-fringe with such freakish perfection was in short supply. Rather than bull-horned blowhards, I was met by a refreshing delegation of passionate listeners.
Here I was, fresh from work, suited from head to toe, strolling through a month-old communal encampment. I had five o’clock shadow. They looked like they landed by raft.
As I examined the camp, I saw a group of four or five young people, probably all between 20-24. I overheard them reading over drafts of something. Having some experience in political communication, I took a seat and offered to help them out.
They we’re working on a press release, which, honestly, sounded like something mad-libbed from a wall in a Berkeley toilet. I told them that this cry-wolf digression on “police brutality”, following what appeared (to me) to be a standard-issue-cop-stuff removal of the camp the previous night, was precisely the type of distraction that always kills progressive movements. Occupy Wall Street won’t be killed by police, it’ll be killed by Attention Deficit PR.
They were very receptive, and eager to hear what wisdom the suited-man came to share. What’s needed is an explicit endorsement from the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor, and a commitment to leave them be while they exercise their First Amendment rights.
It was fun, and they all told me how the past month had been, and their hopes for the movement.
A little rabble rousing is good for the heart and good for the mind…but it’s probably better for the heart.
So far I’ve shipped about 70 Hitchens posters to 6 countries around the world. I’ve received several photos of Happy Customers‘ Hitchens posters hanging proudly in their homes and offices. Some of you decked him out in some classy frames and matting. To you patrons of the arts, thank you so much for buying my prints. Here’s a sample of some of the pictures, to view them all click here. To order a Hitchens poster, click here.
WHAT’s funny about the memorable phrase “all politics is local”, is that it’s so easy to forget about local politics. I was given a good refresher tonight at Public Works, where 5 candidates (Supervisors Beavan Dufty, John Avalos, and David Chiu; City Attorney Dennis Herrera; and State Senator Leland Yee) to become the next Mayor of San Francisco talked MUNI, parks, and how much they loved their opponents. Matthew Troy, co-owner of Faye’s Video & Espresso Bar, was on hand to moderate, and to transmit wisdom.
Up to this point, all that I had heard about the race to fill the Mayoral vacancy left in the wake of Gavin Newsom’s election to the most pointless office ever invented, was that it was going to be boring. Ranked choice voting has opened up an electoral path to victory whereby a candidate can win by racking up “second-choice” votes, meaning that no candidate wants to say anything that might turn-off any potential voter who might consider him for their number two pick. In short, boring.
The debate revealed the following: All the candidates support Healthy SF, ranked-choice voting, and public schools. With the exception of Avalos, they are all in support of the Park Merced development project, although they were all made visibly uncomfortable saying why. They are all opposed to privatizing parks, and in support of marriage equality. When asked to say which city department was the biggest disappointment, each of them answered “MUNI”. They all agreed that the 14 Mission bus is “Jacked”. Which it is.
Being in the Mission, they were sure to mention their support for tenants rights. They all refused to answer my question, which was who were they casting their “second-choice” vote for, even though I specifically admonished them not to duck the question. Beavan Dufty thinks bars should be allowed to stay open until 4am.
When each of the candidates were given a chance to ask their opponents a question, they served them up on platters of the purest gold. Beavan Dufty asked David Chiu to reflect on his memories of growing up in the Mission. Dennis Herrera asked John Avalos about his feelings toward the immigrant community. Avalos asked Yee if he supports privatizing parks (he doesn’t!). Only Chiu’s question to Herrera, whether, as mayor, he would have signed onto the Park Merced deal (Herrera replied “yes”), had any sort of english on it. The night’s only disagreement came between Herrera and Yee, over the former’s support for gang injunctions.
Here’s what I learned: Beavan Dufty wants you to know he likes to party, Leland Yee really wants you to know that he really likes schools, John Avalos is quite handsome, and David Chiu, with his abuse of the Clinton thumb-point, probably wants to be mayor more than all of them. That, and that ranked-choice voting, while probably still a good idea, makes for some boring politics.
As election day nears, I’m hoping we get just a smidge more fist shaking, and a touch less back slapping.