When people think of Merle Haggard, they might think of old-school country, outlaw honkytonk, Bakersfield, Willie and Waylon, whiskey-soaked grizzled old country dude. They also might think of the song he’s most famous for, Okie from Muskogee, a paean to traditional conservative values and a sort of anti-anti-war anthem that small town country fans rallied around, and still do.
He also references San Francisco by name, derisively so, in a stanza that goes thus:
We don’t make a party out of lovin’;
We like holdin’ hands and pitchin’ woo;
We don’t let our hair grow long and shaggy,
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do.
I’m not sure what “pitchin’ woo” is, but you get the idea. The song became popular because of this critique of the hippie, leftwing, anti-war movement sweeping across the US at the time of its release in 1969, of which San Francisco was the cultural capital. But to imagine Merle as some reactionary, proto-Bill O’Reilly type is off the mark. He was a complicated man. I mean, the reefer-loving Haggard (he and Willie were buds after all) also included the line “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,” in the same song.
But more than anything, Merle Haggard was a Californian, as in the entirety of the state. Brian Wilson was a Southern coastal middle-class suburban Californian, and Jerry Garcia was a Bay Area working-folk Californian. Merle Haggard was the rest of California, and all of it, born and bred by Okie transplants in hard-toiling central valley Bakersfield, and spending time in the rest of the state throughout his life, from Lake Shasta to his stint in San Quentin, his circle including the big cities as well. He knew San Francisco and SoCal more than people like Wilson and Garcia knew places like Bakersfield.
Which is why it shouldn’t be all that surprising that he penned one of the loveliest songs ever about San Francisco (this side of that Tony Bennett song). It’s such a sweet, heartfelt, wistful tune, made all the more poignant by the man behind the mic, and it even includes a mariachi-esque instrumental in the middle.
Here are the words:
Return To San Francisco
Should we ever lose each other somewhere along the way
Return to San Francisco, I’ll be somewhere by the bay
Climb the bridge, just comb beaches, ride the trolley cars again
Roam the hillsides of the city, count the seagulls in the wind
But return to San Francisco, always keep this vow to me
Return to San Francisco, we’ll make one more memory
But return to San Francisco, always keep this vow to me
Return to San Francisco, we’ll make one more memory
If this isn’t the best coffeehouse in the city, as defined by the classic third-place mix of work and social gathering place, it’s definitely the most European. And I should add, it’s European-ish without any obvious effort to be so. First off, it’s a coffeehouse in all those ways you want – good coffee, counter service and laptop friendly. But it’s also a café, with a full bar and full kitchen offering decent breakfast and lunch type fare, but without it being about ‘Our Food’ or anything else in particular. It also has sunlight galore, with a glassed-in interior and ample patio and sidewalk table space. You can work freely without pressure, and the setting is great for a casual meetup with friends. Though if you need heavy work concentration, the scene here veers more to the social. There’s also a row of chairs facing the street for the sole purpose of people watching, just like those cafes in Paris. There’s nothing shiny or hip about Café Flore – it’s been around forever (1973) – but it hits all those coffeehouse café notes pitch perfectly. Bonus points for being a neighborhood and SF institution.
Jumpin’ Java Coffee House
The coffeehouse that Craig Newmark (of Craigslist) was purported to frequent, is one of only a couple options in this small, mostly residential neighborhood. But it’s a good one for working, basically a big comfy room of wood-floors and benches where everyone else is also working. It’s sometimes crowded and hard to find a seat, or plug, but otherwise is perfect for setting up office and getting lots work done. It’s also a nice setting on a tree-lined residential street, with a small seating area out front. The other best option in the neighborhood is Duboce Park Café, which is better for socializing, across from the park and with tables outside under several large trees.
Despite the classic play-on-words name, this is my go-to place for the lower Haight. It’s off the main street so a bit quieter, and it’s corner location and wall of large windows lets in lots of light. The residential setting is pleasant, with some seats on the sidewalk under large trees. People come to mostly work, or work together, with socializers gravitating to the outdoor tables. Though the food and drink is mostly standard, it seems to be a notch above the average. My second vote goes to Café International, an old-school coffeehouse you could imagine fitting well in Berkeley. It’s a big open room with threadbare chairs and couches, and likes to wear its ‘international’ on its sleeve; the café where you’re mostly to hear ‘70s era Highlife or Ethiopian jazz.
Cole Valley Café
When I lived in the neighborhood and had work to get done, I’d usually head here. On the corner of Waller and Cole, it’s away from the craziness of Haight; a pleasant residential spot with big trees outside. There’s also lots of windows and workability, though the hard benches make for a sore butt after a few hours. Another option is Coffee To The People on Masonic, a somewhat ironic name since the owners seem to be dedicated capitalists without much patience for the neighborhood riffraff. But the room is sectioned off in alcoves with comfortable couches, and attractive old skylights overhead. If they extended the hours, I’d come here more.
Before a product called Rice-a-Roni started gracing supermarket shelves in 1958, a little old Armenian lady, Pailadzo Captanian, was cooking up her special rice pilaf for family, friends and Lois DeDomenico. Lois, who briefly rented a room from Captanian, was the wife of Tom DeDomenico, one of the founders of the family-owned Golden Grain Macaroni Co. originally located in San Francisco’s Mission District. Continue reading The original San Francisco treat→
You may have read the article a few weeks ago on KQED.org, on the minimum annual income a family of four in San Francisco needs for a “secure yet modest living standard.” It’s $84,000. Assuming Suzy and Billy (or rather, Emma and Ethan) get their own bedroom, a quick unscientific survey of craigslist shows that if you want a 3bdrm for less than $4k per month, you’re gonna have to live in the outer edges of the city, you know, in the fog: Bayview, the Outer Sunset, the Outer Richmond, Visitacion Valley. Even then, it’s a lot of dough. Continue reading $84k to live in San Francisco? So that’s why there’s no kids→
We’ve all heard the quote a hundred times, and no doubt caught ourselves saying it to visiting friends who forgot to bring a jacket, along with a withering look. ‘You know what Mark Twain said, the coldest winter blah blah… har har’. The fact that Twain was never quoted as saying it doesn’t matter. He could have, and he should have. Which got me wondering about what other quotable people have had to say about the city. Unfortunately, a lot of them are of the same bland variety on how beautiful the city is, the same thing everyone says, just uttered from a famous person. So I tried to dig up quotes a little more unique or insightful, following:
San Francisco is 49 square miles surrounded by reality. (Paul Kantner) A bit of heaviosity from the pilot of the Jefferson Airplane.
I prefer a wet San Francisco to a dry Manhattan. (Larry Geraldi) I don’t know who this is, but it’s a clever zing/play on words.
When you get tired of walking around in San Francisco, you can always lean against it. (unknown) I’ve never heard this, but it seems like one you’d hear locals telling sore-footed visitors all the time.
It is a good thing the early settlers landed on the East Coast; if they’d landed in San Francisco first, the rest of the country would still be uninhabited. (Herbert Mye) Another zing to you East Coast.
What fetched me instantly (and thousands of other newcomers with me) was the subtle but unmistakable sense of escape from the United States. (H.L. Mencken) Pedantic but true.
I always see about six scuffles a night when I come to San Francisco. That’s one of the town’s charms. (Errol Flynn) Where was Errol hanging out?
There is more grace per square foot in San Francisco than any place on earth. (Bishop Fulton J. Sheen) I’m not sure he actually crunched the numbers on this, but I’ll give him the benefit of being a bishop.
Now there’s a grown-up swinging town. (Frank Sinatra) Yeah, baby!
Two days in this city is worth two months in New York. (Robert Menzies) Another zing, from an Aussie this time.
I’m just mad for San Francisco. It is like London and Paris stacked on top of each other. (Twiggy) I bet she says that to all the cities.
I love this city. If I am elected, I’ll move the White House to San Francisco. (Robert Kennedy) Oh, what could have been.
We’re crazy about this city. First time we came here, we walked the streets all day – all over town – and nobody hassled us. People smiled, friendly-like, and we knew we could live here… Los Angeles? That’s just a big parking lot where you buy a hamburger for a trip to San Francisco… And the beautiful old houses and the strange light. We’ve never been in a city with light like this. We sit in our hotel room for hours, watching the fog come in, the light change. (John Lennon and Yoko Ono) Long and winding quote from Lennon, sounding like your average tourist.
To a traveler paying his first visit, it has the interest of a new planet. It ignores the meteorological laws which govern the rest of the world. (Fitz Hugh Ludlow) A 19th century writer.
San Francisco is a city where people are never more abroad than when they are at home. (Benjamin F. Taylor) Another 19th century writer, and yes, it’s still like that.
Careful now. We’re dealing here with a myth. This city is a point upon a map of fog; Lemuria in a city unknown. Like us, It doesn’t quite exist. (Ambrose Bierce) A sort of poem/limerick from a sometime resident… I’m not sure Ambrose existed either.
The Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I’m here. (Billy Graham) A little awesome from Billy.
You are fortunate to live here. If I were your President, I would levy a tax on you for living in San Francisco. (Mikhail Gorbachev) A little Russian humor, I think.
I’m proud to have been a Yankee. But I have found more happiness and contentment since I came back home to San Francisco than any man has a right to deserve. (Joe DiMaggio) Touching quote from a hometown hero.
East is East, and West is San Francisco. (O. Henry) I don’t quite get it, but it’s O. Henry.
I have always been rather better treated in San Francisco than I actually deserved. (Mark Twain) This could be another of Twain’s many apocryphal quotes, but it’s better than the overused one about winter in summer.
Money lives in New York. Power sits in Washington. Freedom sips Cappuccino in a sidewalk cafe in San Francisco. (Joe Flower) I don’t know who this is either, but I like it.
What I like best about San Francisco is San Francisco. (Frank Lloyd Wright) Say what?
Even though it’s a national holiday, the Fourth of July is really all about community. Small towns especially seem to shine with civic pride on this day. And what better way to celebrate than with a tiny-flag-flying, marching-band-playing, politician-waving, candy-tossing, drunk-shriner-fez-wearing parade. There’s lots to choose from in whatever part of the Bay Area you happen to live. Continue reading 5 things to do this July 4th→