John Cale’s secret

Among the strange things an insomniac can find on TV at 3:30 in the morning are tidbits such as the 1963 “I”ve Got a Secret” episode that features a very young (and pre-Velvet Underground) John Cale, whose secret was that he’d recently been part of a tag team 18-hour performance of Erik Satie’s “Vexations”. His co-contestant was the only audience member who’d sat through the entre performance.

It was interesting stuff, indeed, but I’ll have to admit I still would’ve preferred being asleep.

Rock and roll queer bars

The South of Market area was a pleasant enough place to drink (or debauch) for much of the 1990s, particularly if you were a Sodomite looking for a scene that was a little less antiseptic and generic than the Castro. Following ten years of AIDS paranoia in the 1980s, the final decade of the twentieth century brought a return to openness about sex and a renewed vigor to South of Market nightlife.

The really great thing about the 1990s, though, was that the universal soundtrack did not consist solely of the same stale old disco divas and other “high NRG” dance tracks that had defined (defamed?) the term “queer bar” seemingly since the dawn of time.

Starting with the Lone Star Saloon — which was, incidentally and accidentally, the first queer bar your humble host ever visited in San Francisco — there was actually music featuring guitars being played in South of Market nightspots.

There had been other rock and roll or “alternative” theme nights, of course, including Junk (one of my favorites) and Jesus at The Stud, and one whose name I can’t recall at some club in Upper Haight. And Michael Pandolfi had done some semi-regular sets at Detour in the Castro. But the Lone Star was the first queer bar in San Francisco to look at the genre as a regular everyday format.

And on 15 April 1994, the Lone Star’s stepchild opened its doors at Eighth and Harrison as the appropriately-named Hole in the Wall Saloon. This tiny bar, which had formerly been a nondescript joint called The Borderline, was soon to redefine nightlife south of the slot with live DJs spinning rock and roll, and an attitude to match. It started slow, and early on, it was possible to find yourself surrounded ny maybe no more than a dozen other patrons on a Friday night. But by 1996, there were lines out the door every weekend. Too many of those waiting in line, alas, were slumming yuppies of the “see and be seen” variety who just didn’t get the concept. All the same, I had a lot of very interesting and very intoxicated nights there. Of course, it helped that my roommate was a bartender.

Eventually, the owners of Hole in the Wall also took over the SF Eagle, finally ridding the famed leather bar of its dreary lineup of bad, muffled dance covers (did the world really need a disco remake of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”?). In the new space, they even hosted live bands on occasion, while both bars had live DJs most nights. My Place, which was more notorious for sex than rock and roll, also got into the act on certain nights when the right bartenders were working.

My Place is gone now, but as far as I know, the other three bars are still plugging along, although things never seemed quite the same after the gentrification of the late 1990s. The Lone Star moved more toward the whole generic bear bar thing, and was playing a disturbing amount of country music when I stopped caring about 2001. And I read of some controversy over a potential relocation of the Hole in the Wall Saloon last year, but I’m not sure if anything came of it or if the relocation ever happened. To be honest, I’m 3000 miles, and many years, away from all that now, and I don’t really care too much anymore. Heck, I don’t even drink anymore.

Videolog: Olvidarte Nunca

Los Golpes
Olvidarte Nunca, 1971.

I absolutely love this song, and I find myself walking around the house humming it. It’s got a great hook. Mark and I have been looking really hard to find this one particular version of it, since it’s apparently out of print. The YouTube video is the closest we’ve come so far.

At a crossroads

At certain points in life, one finds oneself at a crossroads. I found myself at this one over the past weekend. There’s no real significance here, and nothing that will explain my two week absence. I was just amused to have found myself midway between Pinetops and Conetoe.

My cool activity for the day was seeing this guy speak, which gave me a bigtime geek stiffy. I rememeber being really excited about this project when I read about it in the Chronicle several years ago and then, for some reason, forgetting all about it. I think I originally had trouble accessing the site and then sort of forgot to go back to it. Anyway, this is very sexy stuff, and it’s sort of the whole reason I got on this whole Library and Information Studies kick and entered graduate school at age 43.

So how was your spring break?

I-280 reopens

On 29 April 1993, Interstate 280 between Mariposa Street and US 101 reopened, if in a somewhat limited capacity, following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake:

From the San Francisco Chronicle (30 April 1993):

Part of I- 280 Shut by Quake Finally Opens – One lane each way in link to downtown S.F.

Author: Clarence Johnson, Chronicle Staff Writer

Three and half years after the Loma Prieta earthquake, a closed section of Interstate 280 partially reopened yesterday, allowing a trickle of traffic to reach a downtown flank of San Francisco and points south.

Believing that a little something is better than nothing, jubilant California Department of Transportation officials announced the opening of one lane in each direction on the two-tier viaduct that was closed after being rattled by the October 1989 temblor.

Cars can now travel I- 280 in both directions from Daly City to the Sixth Street off-ramp. But motorists will still have to exit I- 280 and use city streets to reach Highway 101 South from San Francisco.

Still, there were smiles, handshakes and sighs of relief from Mayor Frank Jordan and state Senator Quentin Kopp, independent- San Francisco, who put on hard hats and helped highway engineers pull aside orange-and-white-striped barriers to let the traffic roll again.

“We feel we have made major inroads by now having at least two (lanes) open ,” Jordan said. He said the restored freeway may help merchants in Chinatown and North Beach who claim business has lagged since the quake. “This is a major artery. It’s a relief for me because I have literally gotten thousands of phone calls from people wanting to know what is the time line for reopening this,” the mayor said.

The partial opening represents completion of about one-third of the reconstruction job along the 1.6-mile stretch of freeway. The opening comes after numerous delays that put the $140 million project more than 16 months behind schedule.

Total reconstruction will require replacing 125 support columns, shoring up an unsteady foundation and rebuilding cracked joints.

Yesterday’s opening actually came a month ahead of the last scheduled deadline.

The hurried work pace was also attributed in part to Kopp, who pushed Caltrans for results.

“This is testimony to patience and courage and, I suppose, some political persistence,” said Kopp, who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “This is an enormous engineering accomplishment. But I have to say after I lost my patience, the director of Caltrans stepped in and personally made this one of his projects.”

Caltrans officials, smarting from criticism that they underestimated the damage and then set unrealistic timetables for the completion of work, were cautious yesterday when asked when the rest of the job will be done.

“We’re getting there,” said Caltrans district director Preston Kelley. “By the end of the year I hope to tell you when we’ll have additional traffic on this road. And when we give that date, we certainly hope we will be able to keep it.”

When fully functioning, the freeway runs three lanes in each direction, allowing about 95,000 cars daily into and out of the city. The two lanes opened yesterday will probably carry about 25,000 cars a day, transportation officials said.

“It’s definitely not the final solution but it’s a start,” said Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones. “The whole idea is not just to fix it but to strengthen it.”

Jones said the rebuilt portion would now endure an earthquake measuring up to 8.3 on the Richter scale. The 1989 quake measured 7.1.

Some damage along the double-deck I- 280 roadway resembles the Embarcadero Freeway, which was so badly damaged in the earthquake that it was torn down. Another look-alike freeway, the Cypress structure in Oakland, collapsed during the quake, killing 47 people.

I- 280 reportedly rocked so viciously during the quake that sections of the viaduct slammed into each other, cracking off pieces.

“Some columns actually fractured so you could see the reinforcing steel in places where the concrete had just disintegrated,” said project engineer Ken Bunker. “The damage was impressive.”

Initially, Caltrans engineers thought the freeway could be reopened within a few months after temporary repairs were made. The least-damaged section, between 25th and Sixth streets, reopened after a brief closure.

But a special review panel of engineers from the University of California at Berkeley and at San Diego recommended extensive repairs to guarantee that the freeway would survive a 8.3-magnitude earthquake, Jones said.

The reopening can come none too soon for Rob Rossi, owner of the Flower Market Restaurant at the foot of the freeway on Sixth Street. He said his and other businesses in the area have been flat since the freeway closed.

“Business has been steady, not growing by 10 to 15 percent like it should have been,” said Rossi. “This used to be my own private driveway. Coming from Daly City it took seven or eight minutes to get here. Now, if you miss-time it, it can take you an hour.

“It’s inadequate,” said Rossi referring to the two new open lanes. “It’s not what it should be. But I guess they want to get something rolling. There’s been a lot of lost trade.”

At the time, I was living South of Market and driving to work near Stonestown Galleria in the Sunset. I was ecstatic.

Goodbye, old friend

I’ve been holding off on writing about this because it makes me sad.

About a week ago, I was driving home from work, and I noticed that my car was making sort of a clicking noise, and it wasn’t accelerating very well. It was also idling really badly. Mark and I were leaving town that night, so I didn’t think much about it until Monday morning, when I took it into the mechanic. He told me the engine was “just about shot” and didn’t really elaborate, but charged my ninety bucks for the diagnosis. So I then took it to the good mechanic (the one I should have taken it to first), who took only a few minutes to tell me (at no charge) that I had a burned out valve, and that replacing it would cost eight or nine hundred dollars.

My car is a 1991 Toyota Corolla, with 175,000 miles on the odometer, peeling paint on the exterior, a broken key stuck in one of the doors, and bad shocks. Some of you may remember when I bought it, over eleven years ago, following its predecessor’s disturbing death by arson. I love this car. It’s taken me on two round trip cross-country journeys (one in 1997 and one in 1998) and another one-way crossing as well. It survived numerous break-ins in San Francisco, and took me to Fresno and back many weekends in 2001 and 2002, before Mark and I cohabited. We’ve been everywhere together, and it’s given me almost no trouble at all, aside from a big scare which turned out to be a minor thing in central Texas in 2005. I thought it was indesctructable. But it’s not. And I can’t justify spending so much money (probably more than its current book value) on this repair.

Which means that my Corolla is about to go to car heaven. Its tags and insurance (conveniently coming due on the next month or so) will not be renewed. I’m going to run out its last tank of gas (I filled up the day before the calamity) driving back and forth to work, since I’m comfortable walking home from there should it die on the road. And then, I’ll either scrap it or donate its carcass to a worthy cause and take a tax deduction.

I drive my cars until they die. I’m glad this one didn’t die a slow, lingering death like my Firebird and my Duster, nor a violent death like my Scamp, my Tempo, and my Cavalier. I’d like to go that way myself when my time comes.

I’m really going to miss this car. I’ll probably never have another one that will compare.