Wednesday, 15 June 2011

San Francisco part 5

I have a theory people go through three stages when they spend time in the Tenderloin. The first stage is one of shock mixed with fear; the sheer number of crack-addled and/or crazy down and outs as you wander a block or two beyond Union Square is quite unsettling if you're not familiar with American cities. I've spent time brief spells in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle and I was still fairly anxious to get from Union Square to our temporary place of residence/refuge deep in the Tenderloin as quickly as possible.

The second stage of the TL is an uneasy melancholy as you navigate your way through the intimidating dealers, dog-rough hookers and the mentally unstable folk to the corner store for a beer and some crisps. Witness Annie getting her drink on.

The third stage is absolute indifference to the point of barely noticing as you pass an old guy squatting on the street grumbling his way through a crap whilst simultaneously attempting to beg from you.

I went through all three stages in about forty eight hours. It's really sad but you build up a mental force field after no time at all and quickly forget about all the shit (often literally) going on around you. And I have to say after that period of time I didn't feel particularly threatened or uneasy at all but I was also aware of not getting to complacent about the TL.

On the flip-side you can piss anywhere there. I quickly got used to seeing people pissing up the side of parked SUVs and goodness knows finding a place to have a wee in SF is a challenge so that's a bonus. Incidentally I didn't take this picture but it was one of the first images that came up when I googled Tenderloin, SF...

As mentioned in the previous [and fascinating] installment we were cat/flat-sitting in the TL for a few days which was an ideal way to spend some time in the city without the hassle of BART. The best way to get a feel for somewhere is to walk around it and the TL is ideally located, central to a lot of the most interesting places in SF. North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf/Haight and the Divisadero/Japantown and Fillmore/Downtown and Market Street/the Castro and Noe Valley are all within reasonable walking distance for your run-of-the-mill Englishman.

The first night there we managed to blag tickets on to the guest-list for a Gruff Rhys show at the Rickshaw Stop. I've seen him a few times over the years and he's always great but it was especially good seeing him in such a small venue - there looked to be no more than two hundred in the audience. He's currently touring with Welsh surf-rockers Y Niwl who act as support band and backing band to Gruff. Typically I'm not into bands doing something so obviously derivative but Y Niwl are fucking aces very nearly giving Gruff a run for his money performance wise. Loud fuzz-drenched surf guitaring. What more could you want?

As for Gruff he played a stonking hour and a half set featuring a mix of the new Hotel Shampoo stuff and plenty of older favourites too much to the annoyance of Annie who struggles when bands play for more than twenty minutes due to her hardcore/punk yoof. He even managed to do live looping off of a turntable with the Cyrkle record Andy Votel sampled on 'Shark Ridden Waters' which I was [probably overly] impressed with. I was less impressed when a drunken Brit managed to sit on the same turntable later on during the set. It's such a relief not to be the drunken Brit for once.

The following day I set out of the flat reasonably early to find some pizza for breakfast. I got a little distracted in the process and walked to North Beach via some stunning views of the city and less stunning gradients. I've watched the car-chases in Bullitt but you really have to walk up a few SF hills before you can grasp quite how steep some of them are. I ended up in an art store in the process of moving buildings and managed to buy some cheap gouache paints. In retrospect they may have been a little too cheap - they're not as opaque as I was hoping for.

Ignoring my increasingly unhappy stomach I walked back through Chinatown to the Downtown district where I found a slightly lost Rasputin's record store. The neighbouring shops in the area are predominantly huge businesses like Nike and Macys so it's a refreshing to see an independent record shop holding it's own in amongst them. After a cursory glance through the main shelves of records I started to root through all of the boxes of marked down vinyl waiting to be rehoused. Aside from paying full price for the new Fleet Foxes album I managed to pick up a few cheapies like Leo Kottke's 'Mudlark' lp (featuring the brilliant 'Hear the Wind Howl') which I'd always ignored due to the fact the cover is more 1981 than 1971, Tim Hardin's near-perfect '2' lp, I took a two dollar gamble on Traffic's 'Mr Fantasy' lp and got some newer albums heavily marked down as well (Julie Doiron, Peter Broderick, Risil) all for about $30. All well and good until I nearly fainted from lack of food - it was near enough 4.00pm by the time I left Rasputin's and I still hadn't eaten. I seem to have developed the ability to totally forget to eat of late which is slightly unsettling. I made my way back to the flat and grabbed a slice of pizza en-route which turned out to be a bit of a crap slice. Even so a crap slice in the US is still an ace slice by UK standards.

Still feeling like I wanted to see more of the city I left the flat again and headed up Polk Street to Russian Hill Bookstore where I resisted the urge to buy this incredible looking trashy pulp sci-fi 'The Escape Orbit'. The cover may be a thing of illustrative wonder but $10 is a little rich for a beaten up and almost certainly crap read no matter how good the cover.

That said, $10 is more than agreeable for a delicious Indian meal which is exactly what we did for dinner at a restaurant called 'Chutney' deep in the TL. America may do the best pizza but in my experience the curries are pretty bland compared to any UK curry house, however, Chutney's is great. $10 - $15 will buy you a delicious lamb curry with a side of rice, a kebab and a naan. As if that wasn't enough to tempt you, you can bring your own huge can of Mexican future beer to accompany your meal and perhaps the best part of the experience [at least for me]; the manager looks the spitting image of Spiral Stairs from Pavement. Well an Indian version of Spiral Stairs anyway.

After all the Beat inspired touring around SF it seemed a fitting end to the day watching 'Howl'. Unfortunately it's a bit of a mess let down by some terrible, over-egged animation sequences.

The following day we headed up to Haight on Muni where I forced Annie to eat more pizza at Escape From New York's and then forced her to come to Amoeba Records with me. I've probably mentioned the former already - best pizza in SF. The latter is a huge record shop established in a former bowling alley and is equally aces. And fucking huge.

We then fought our way through the throngs of crusty punk-kids and hippie carnage that is Haight down to the more agreeable Lower Haight taking in the beautiful houses as we went until we reached Rooky Records.

Rooky's is a joyous record shop crammed full of 45's most of which are funk and soul so not especially my bag but given it was a Saturday the place was rammed. There's three or four listening turntables in there and each one was being used by vinyl fanatics sifting through piles of the wonderful black stuff. Inconceivably most of the people in the shop looked like normal people - I'm used to sharing record shops with the unholy funk of unkempt and often socially retarded freaks so Rooky's nearly made me cry with happiness. Unfortunately I left open-handed as Annie wasn't keen on waiting around but I will return and soon.

We left Lower Haight and walked over to Japantown via the Fillmore district inadvertently gate-crashing so informal Manga convention where assorted boys and girls spent the afternoon copying Manga characters in their sketchbooks. Annie wanted me to fight them by way of some kind of elaborate draw off but I was too scared plus I felt a bit of a creepy paedo trying to oogle at their illustrations.

After we were run out of Japantown by a gang of twelve year old girls dressed as Manga characters we got the bus to Inner Richmond where we returned to Green Apple Books which is fast becoming my favourite book shop in SF. After a delicious Thai dinner recommended by some random bro with the immortal lines 'dude - you can eat your face off there for ten dollars' we chanced upon Park Life a art/design book shop come gallery with some incredible original Margaret Kilgallen and Barry McGee prints. I eventually managed to roll my tongue back in my mouth but not before we were informed that there's going to be a Margaret Kilgallen exhibition in SF in July. RAD. A dozen or so happy hour beers later we headed home armed with a rucksack full of Hello Panda snacks feeling all kinds of awesomez.


Anonymous said...

Minus the crack heads, all in all it seemed like a lovely time.

Mat Pringle said...

The crack heads are okay - it's all part of the rich TL experience!