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Adam Keller & Beate Zilversmidt, Protests at Orient House bring despair & hope

VOLUME 2, NUMBER 29    <>     MONDAY, AUGUST 20, 2001

that ole highway

I ain’t got no home, can’t find my way
And I’m all alone, out on that ole highway


I ain’t got no shoes, but my feet still stray
All I got is the blues, and that ole highway


Ain’t got a dime I can call my own
Ain’t got no place I can call my own
Got no piece of ground in which I can lay
So I’ll keep on a’walkin just like yesterday


Don’t pay no rent, I eat the fruit I pick
All my money's spent, better get some quick


Can’t find no job, there’s none here they say
Get out now you slob, hit that ole highway


No one’s around to hear my cry
Or bury my bones when I lay down to die
Or say a few kind words over my grave
Got only the birds to sing my praise


So throw me in that hole, I’ll still have my soul
Take my cares away, down that ole highway


Xander Robb


dirty politics

trash.jpg (42536 bytes)“Ignore them and they’ll go away.” Isn’t that what your mother used to tell you about schoolyard bullies?

But we haven’t ignored the bullies at the Examiner, and they haven’t gone away. Instead, they’ve built on every nod and look we’ve given them, manufacturing an urban crisis first downtown and now citywide.

When will they learn that we’re tired of their Mess on Market, their Turtle Supes, their PLUGs (every one a plug for the Ex-paper), and most recently, their Hooker Heaven (yeah, sure; tell that to your average sex worker)?

San Francisco is — they tell us in front page “news” stories and 14-point editorials — “in tough shape.” What’s the solution? Literary mush: the city must “get real about literal crime, and about the figurative crime of our politics.”

Take a look at the San Francisco you know. How closely does it jibe with the picture the Examiner has been painting?

Start with “dirty streets.” Yes, there are some. But not necessarily where you’d expect to find them. A walk through the Tenderloin, for example, turns up nearly immaculate sidewalks, thanks to the neighborhood’s investment in a new sweeper. On the other hand, piles of litter litter intersections in the Lower Haight and Inner Mission, particularly in areas where young people congregate and take-out food is plentiful.

Stroll down Market, near Old Navy. A young man, dressed in the height of teen style, walks by, about to dig into the hamburger he’s just bought. He whips off the wrapper and drops it behind him. Next the pickle goes, then the lettuce, and finally the tomato, all in a neat little trail of garbage marking his progress. No one says a word.

In the same block, a woman hands out flyers that advertise a nearby sale. Passersby politely take her offerings, glance at them, and walk on, dropping the bright pieces of paper on the sidewalk a few feet away. No one says a word.

These miscreants are not homeless; they’re not prostitutes or drug dealers. But yes, they’re making a mess. And no one says a word.

Move away from the red herring of litter and look at a couple of other examples.

A middle-aged, well-salaried professional tells friends that he likes to spend his days off at a multiplex, buying one ticket and seeing how many free movies he can squeeze into an afternoon. No one says a word.

A father and his teenaged son stumble upon a backpack containing a stack of credit cards, acollection of Italian passports, and $110 in cash. He tells the son to send the bundle off to the Italian consulate but to keep the cash as a finder’s fee. When he mentions the incident to acquaintances later, no one says a word.

No one says a word because, somewhere in the upheavals of the past several decades, we have managed to dull our sense of collective responsibility. Reports from other parts of the country suggest that this is a national condition, like a flu epidemic that leaves no city or hamlet untouched. But the recent dot.com tornado that whirled through San Francisco was particularly virulent, tossing out tenants like trash at a ballpark. In the process, collective — civic — responsibility became pretty thoroughly numbed.

garbage.jpg (460081 bytes)But not for long. One sign of local recovery was the election of a group of anti–status quo supervisors last November. No matter whether it’s Chris Daly we’re talking about, or Tony Hall, or someone ideologically in between, they all have taken it as their mandate to stop corruption and return city government to the people who elected it.

The Examiner talks about garbage in the streets. But the government of San Francisco is littered with unsightly rocks, which the supervisors are turning over and peering under, one by one. There are rocks labeled Planning and Elections, some called the Airport and the Port, and a whole heap known as Special Assistants. By golly, there’s a big ugly toad under every one, grown fat on personal privilege and a lack of accountability. Don’t simply take the supes’ word for it. Ask HUD; ask our own grand jury; ask the citizens of this city.

One by one, the supes are taking these toads, swatting them on their fat behinds, and sending them packing. In their place, they’re instituting some of the most public-responsive measures ever seen in a large city. Just ask the denizens of Soma and Mid-Market, who are presently wrestling with real-life redevelopment plans, hammering out each building proposal in countless community meetings.

Into the midst of this civic bustle has come the Ex-paper, riding an antiquated hobbyhorse. Why? Simply to attract attention, boost sales, and ensure its place as San Francisco’s second newspaper? To boost real estate values, just in case things don’t work out and it has to put its Mid-Market headquarters up for sale?

Or is a deeper political motivation at work?

Here’s a thought: At the beginning of its campaign the Examiner played no favorites, equally indicting supes, D.A., and mayor for the mess on its doorstep — an odd about-face for a publisher who once paraded his admiration for Our Mayor, but perhaps a necessary one to establish the new paper’s bona fides.

And since the advent of the new Board of Supervisors, Our Mayor has lain mighty low, an odd activity for one who loves the spotlight. But prudence perhaps dictated his withdrawal, to avoid the crossfire of accusations sweeping City Hall.

No longer, however, on either count. The Ex-paper’s sites seem to have settled on the supes, and Brown’s customarily ebullient presence has once again begun to grace our public venues, with pointed comments in response to the very crisis that the newspaper has stirred up.

But not pointed toward the paper that did the stirring. When Our Mayor proclaimed that San Francisco is “not a dirty city,” he added, “if the San Francisco Chronicle would do something about its own news racks on the streets,” it would be a lot cleaner one. The Chronicle, with some of the spiffiest racks in the city, not the Examiner, with its defaced, trashed eyesores. Not the Examiner, which is campaigning relentlessly against the new Board of Supes.

There’s an old saying — the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Just a thought.

Here’s another one — caveat lector. Let the reader beware.

Betsey Culp