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Monday, January 12, 2009


  I love San Franciscans.

I *loved* it when the City was refurbishing some of the piers along the Embarcadero, and had a huge sign that said "an historic renovation," and someone, some wonderful person, found an enormous black marker and crossed out the n in an, since it violates American usage rules.

I loved riding on the streetcar recently, and hearing a girl explain to her girlfriend that she couldn't go out with some guy, because he didn't know the difference between a metaphor and a simile.

(Her own clarification to her girlfriend as to what the difference is, and why this is important in dating, I missed, but it couldn't have topped her original statement.)

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Halloween Redux, part one

  Halloween Critical Mass, San Francisco, 2008So many rainstorms! Waves of rain are rolling in even now, soaking the garden. You can nearly hear the plants sighing happily. The storms posed quite a threat for Halloween - they put quite a damper on people's plans (ha ha - ouch! Sorry!). But there was a big, strangely warm and still break between storms, and it lasted just long enough in San Francisco for Halloween revelers to enjoy the gorgeous night for a few, relatively dry hours.

Halloween group of Antarctic researchers with local penguinsI had been working on a very warm, soft costume for a while, and managed to come up with an extraordinarily simple design which I was able to hand-sew in just two evenings. To coincide with a silly story I'm telling in the office (about my new space being as isolated as Antarctica), I decorated my office to look, well, Antarctic, and encouraged my colleagues to wear appropriate parkas. I came as a gentoo penguin. (I'll post more about the costume design some other time, if only so I can use the same principles in future costumes.)

Yes, I did write BART as a penguin. (Playing the commute straight while in costume is one of the more subversive joys in life.) Yes, I did walk to BART as a penguin. Yes, the group of school children waiting for their school bus did let me know that my costume was easy to figure out, especially the little boy who followed me half way down the block on the other side of the street, singing a song I didn't recognize and shouting "ba da da da da da da - PENGUIN!!!" with his fist in the air.

I was also impressed with the costumed turnout at work - much higher than I had feared - and the overall excellence of holiday-themed desserts that were entered into our office competition. (Your office didn't have a Halloween dessert competition? Well, it sucks to be you, doesn't it?)

While my train ride to the east bay had been devoid of decorå†ed adults, the BART ride back into the City was filled with costumed adults, many of whom were heading toward Critical Mass. Which I was also heading for.
Steven Pitsenbarger as Robot, San Francisco, Halloween 2008, photo by A.E. GravesI had gone out of my way to design a costume that was bike-friendly so I could ride in Critical Mass. I did this because of the clarity of the design that came to me, and not merely in rejection of the 'couples costume' which had been proposed to me by my partner: namely, that I be a large, cartoony hammer with a mean face, and that he be a nail with a sad/frightened face. [Insert your interpretations of our relationship here.] Once I made it clear that I was not going to participate in his suggestion, he was maniacally inspired to come up with a remarkable, nearly all metal robot costume. It took many days of looking for parts, and many more of assembling and testing. But his robot costume is a wild success. A stellar photo of Steven's Robot is featured here on, and made it onto the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle today.

We had a lovely time milling around and seeing all of the Massers in costume (and yes, I longed to ride); went on a long, gorgeous walk around the Ferry Building and Embarcadero; met up with Peter for dinner; waited for Alex, flying in from Okinawa, to escape the airport and catch up with us; hung out at Peter's place; scoped out some of the costumes in Peter's neighborhood... May I say here that any costume that can be described as "Sexy __________" or "Slutty __________" is painfully, painfully conformist and boring? I'm not saying it's not hot; I'm just saying it is BORING. For those of us who are not 'into' women especially. DULL. Please.

San Francisco Ferry Building and Skyline at night, Halloween 2008It was an absolutely gorgeous evening - everything was wet, reflective and shiny; people were merry; the air was fresh; the City lights were gorgeous; and it was possible for me to be comfortable in my very plush costume, but also warm enough for the folks in skimpy wear to avoid goosebumps as they rolled through town with their blinkies on "fast."

We skipped one party, failed to reach the host of another to be buzzed in, and headed home to be met by enthusiastic rainclouds. They had held off just long enough!

Special thanks to Peter, who provided us with refreshments, his restroom, a chance to freshen up, and space to engage in minor robot repair.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)5:50 PM

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Leaving the house now and then.

I have been out eating and drinking entirely too much lately, and it is beginning to show in the way my pants (fail to) fit. I would whine and carry on about how cruel life is... but good food is not exactly a curse, so it's not like I will earn your sympathy.


My efforts to reclaim my nightlife have been reasonably successful, especially with regard to live music. The first week of July I was able to enjoy the Charlie Hunter Trio ( at the Great American Music Hall ( It has been a few years since I've been able to see CH, and his show was excellent. I was wary at the beginning of the first set for no particular reason, but as the set became more intense, I remembered how fabulous a musician he is...

The first set, strangely enough, featured an arrangement of Blondie's Heart of Glass, which was done so cleverly that it took a while to identify itself, since it came through as pure jazz... And the second set was even better than the first.


The following week was the stellar Black Francis show, which I wrote about previously.


The Definite Articles at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, July 17, 2008This past week brought me back to the Rickshaw Stop for The Definite Articles (who have a new song!), the Brass Liberation Orchestra (who gave themselves a longer-than-scheduled set, from what I understand), and Mucca Pazza (, who were fun fun fun fun fun.

Mucca Pazza at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, July 17, 2008Who can I compare Mucca Pazza to? ("Your band is like a summer's day...")

They are like... The Extra Action Marching Band, except they all keep their clothes on!

They are like... The Infernal Noise Brigade, except they are still together and they wear mismatched costumes!

They are like... people I might have hung out with in school, if I had actually signed up for band/orchestra, which I did not, but those of you who were in band/orchestra who I do hang out with could have turned out to be these people if you had been... significantly less sedate and more inclined to grow facial hair?? Maybe?

MP is extremely fun. Talented musicians! Energetic peformers! They dominated the Rickshaw Stop. The show was enthralling, and audience bounced out merrily into the streets at the end of the encore.

Mucca Pazza at the Tour de Fat, San Francisco, July 19, 2008Little did I know that I would be able to enjoy Mucca Pazza live TWICE in the same week, for they were also the headliners at the Tour de Fat ( The Tour de Fat is New Belgium Brewing's fabulous summer festival series dedicated to raising money for biking and open-space causes in the localities where they put up their tents. Which means that people can come out for a day of free entertainment, show off their fancy custom bikes, and buy delicious, 16 ounce New Beligum beers with all of the proceeds going to organizations I love dearly, especially the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

The weather was terrible for an outdoor festival, but the festival was a blast, and I was there from 8:30 until it shut down.

Have I mentioned that I love bike people? I love bike people.

Visit the bands' websites to hear their great stuff.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:37 PM

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Bicycle Film Festival in San Francisco This Week!!! I am so excited!!

poster for the Bicycle Film Festival 2008

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:03 PM

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Me and lemongrass makin' friends (or, I talk to strangers, but then again, so does my Mom).

I took the streetcar home after my market and coffee trips, and wound up on the L, beside an older Asian woman. Lemongrass, garlic greens, and carrot tops were all protruding from my tote bag, and caught the interest of the lady next to me. I could tell right away, rocking out to Ladytron on my iPhone, that it was the lemongrass that caught her eye. Lemongrass is one of those things that seems to be in season for short periods of time, and when you find really pretty, fresh-smelling lemongrass, you MUST buy it and plan your meals around it. Because it will be a long time before that happens again.

She looked at the lemongrass. She looked at me. She looked at the lemongrass. She looked at me. I continued to listen to music, while observing her casually with my peripheral vision, but with the volume down low. Finally, she reached over and gestured as if to touch me on the arm, and asked me what, precisely, I planned to do with the lemongrass.

I told her that I wash it, slit it, and simmer it in soups so it will impart its wonderful, fresh flavor. She told me she is originally from Burma, that she uses it in curries, and as she started to volunteer other curry ingredients I suggested fresh ginger - and she knew she could talk to me.

We talked about the complexities of finding good lemongrass; of how she averts her eyes at the naked people running the Bay to Breakers (due to her culture, which trained her not to look at such things, though she is not really offended per se); about the situation in Burma which breaks her heart (and leaves her with less attention to spend on the earthquake in China, which she feels a little bad about, but the images she's seen of her homeland have a stronger hold on her); of the political situation and the disrespect the current regime has shown to monks, which we had both read about; about the complexity of organizing alternative direct relief programs in the aftermath of the cyclone to circumvent theft by the the thoroughly corrupt military government; and about the complexities of unarmed people overthrowing an entrenched military regime in a repressive environment that leaves them few opportunities to organize.

It's the sort of wide-ranging conversation you can have with strangers on public transit in San Francisco: uses for lemongrass, public nudity, and the overthrow of repressive regimes all discussed in one conversation over a ten minute period.

Oh, how I love this town!!


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:58 PM

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Another Fabulous Bike To Work Day!

Bike To Work Day 2008 logo from the San Francisco Bicycle CoalitionThis year, Bike To Work Day fell on May 15th, the anniversary of my spectacular bike wreck and emergency room visit. Last year, I had been rather humiliated to break my arm so very thoroughly during Bike To Work Week (of all weeks!), and had to have Steven call the coalition up to explain that I wouldn't be able to staff my shift at City College because, um, well, I was in the hospital. Man, that was embarrassing. But now, on the exact anniversary of my harsh encounter with streetcar tracks and pavement, I finally got to staff a gloriously sunny and fun BTWD Energizer Station on the City College Campus.

Bike people are awesome. And the weather was... exotically hot.

According to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's website (
There were twice as many bicycles as cars headed downtown on Market Street for Thursday's Bike to Work Day morning. City counts showed that bicyclists made up 64% of the eastbound traffic, while motorists comprised 32% — a nearly 31% increase in bikes over last year's Bike to Work Day counts.
green fixie with white rims at City College[Inset image: The Most Attractive Bike award goes to this fixie, which was brought by the City College Energizer Station. Yes, the chain does have white face plates on it, and the bike is immaculate, but its proud owner really did ride it there.]

Added bonus: the Bike Away From Work party at the Rickshaw Stop. I spoke with so many other volunteers that I know (about the things weekday SF cyclists have in common; how the cycling community has so many friendly, familiar, like-minded faces in it (Jared said it's like a big family, and he meant that in the best possible way); environmentalism, paradigm shifts, veganism, and other relevant topics; etc.) had a few good drinks, watched the sometimes painful scenes of Mash SF, and made my cousin think that I was working a reception line. (The secret to making your cousin think you're popular: volunteer at an organization for more than a decade, and then call your cousin somewhere between the club and the valet bike parking lot.)

I chatted with a fellow Green, and we considered going up to the Castro to join in any celebrations in honor of the California Supreme Court issuing a decision in favor of marriage for everyone equally, but I got tired and went home to bed. It was just too hot to remain upright.

Summary: it was fun, and bike people rock.

[This entry is actually being posted on May 18th. My apologies if this messes up your newsfeeds.]

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:21 PM

Thursday, December 20, 2007

  Day. The notary law seminar was in San Francisco, at a hotel on Van Ness near Pine. I left the office, took the Emery Go Round, boarded BART at MacArthur, rode to Embarcadero station. I exited and surprised myself by using the 'wrong' exit, coming up a block away from where I thought I was. It was bright, breezy, and cold. I walked a short block to the California Street cable car stop at the end of the line, boarded, and sat on one of the outdoor benches at the east end. I flashed my pass. We noisily lurched off.

The cable pulled us through streets I once walked daily, past buildings I attended meetings in, or had friends in, or reviewed litigation records in, or worked in for a few days or weeks in the early 90s. Past lunch places I tried out once or twice seeking good food (first) and novelty (second). Past schools of office workers, frowns on their faces, swimming toward their destinations (their next meeting, a deli, a card shop, their daily trip to Walgreens) with steely (steelhead) determination.

The cable pulled us up the hill, and the financial district's flats dropped away as we clanked up to the top of the deep canyon of glass bluffs. The rivers of pedestrians at each intersection at the floor of the canyon became smaller, more ant-like, while the view of the Bay Bridge Tower that rests dead straight at the end of California street, in a composition so remarkable that either the bridge or the street must have been intentionally aligned with the other, became grander as it was revealed.

Before we crested the hill, my chest felt warm as a ripple of giddiness went through me, staring at that view, and my internal narrator said, "WOW. I am in San Francisco!" I really appreciated it - the view, the people, the buildings... All of those things I miss commuting to the east bay, and seeing only my own SF neighborhood and uninteresting segments of west Oakland and Emeryville. I hadn't really known that a cable car trip to a dry seminar could thrill me, but it thrilled me. Part of me is thrilled just remembering that feeling...


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Indian Summer in San Francisco.

I love this time of year: the closest thing that San Francisco gets to conventional "summer." The days are sunny and warm; the nights are warm and clear. The heat makes the City's lights seem to twinkle even more than usual.

Oh, how I love San Francisco.

Monday night, after a full day of working in Eville (still pronounced like "evil"), I decided to bike around the northern shore of the City. I hopped off BART at Embarcadero Station and headed for the Ferry Building. (Within two or three minutes, I encountered more cyclists in that one block walk than I had in all of Eville and Oakland on my way out.) I rolled onto the Embarcadero, our shoreline road, and cycled north and west, along the edge of town with small packs of other bicyclists.

The air smelled clean; the sky was still bright; and everything about the City seemed relentlessly gorgeous.

Past the many odd-numbered historic pier buildings,
past the waterfront restaurants,
past the historic ships at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park (, bobbing historically,
past the Dolphin Club's swimmers at Aquatic Park (brave souls!),
      looking at the sun's last rays of the day shining along the edges of the Bay
over the steep hill of Fort Mason
      that forces so many tourists to walk their rental bikes up the grooved slope,
past the Marina and alongside the Marina Green,
into the Presidio to Fort Point...
      where I watched the moon reflecting on the Bay, and the last rays of the sun shining on the East Bay hills before the sun set
      (and where I sat, eating a peanut butter Clif Bar, which was just the right thing to have)...
up, up, up the hill
out the Arguello gate, down into the Richmond District and onto Lake Street,
      lined with large trees
left on 8th Avenue (past the wonderful Village Market and my favorite Thai restaurant, Thai Time)
all the way into Golden Gate Park
past the tennis courts, Children's Playground, bocce courts
and out into the inner Sunset
    turning here and there to avoid traffic
    my little blinky lights blinking for all they are worth
up 7th Avenue, around Forest Hill
past West Portal
    with all of its restaurant smells
through St. Francis Wood (which always seems unpeopled)
and into the Ingleside where I live on my big, steep hill.

Which, after a 15+ mile ride (and 22+ miles for the day), I elected to walk up as my "cool down," since that last half block didn't seem all that appealing. :-)

There were bicyclists like me everywhere, cruising along the shore, rolling along the dark Presidio roads with their LED headlights glowing, gliding along through the streets of the Richmond... It was too beautiful to stay indoors, too beautiful to sit in a noisy car, too beautiful not to get out and FEEL it.

This is what I have been missing, and it is mine again.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

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