Topless Taco Clubs to hit the Mission

Casa_sanchez In 1970, a SF activist newspaper published a story anticipating the dystopian impact that the soon-to-be-build BART system would have on the Mission District. In classic trying-predicting-the-future fashion, some of the predictions are spot-on and others are a bit… not so spot-on:

Is Senor Taco the type of urban renewal we want? BART will bring tourists from downtown to 16th and Mission in three minutes. Our homes will become hotel rooms and restaurants and serape stores, and Topless Taco Clubs that do not serve Mexicans.

Lurid! Then again, the article continues…

The increased sales will not only come from the tourists but also from the higher income single people and childless couples that will find the Mission more desirable to live in because BART will take them to work quickly and because Blacks, Indians, Chinese, Samoans and La Raza will have been removed by an economic squeeze-out.

… so I guess they’re weren’t off-base on the key issues.

Selective focus

Last week, I had a talented fellow named Ryan Cole do a guest lecture for my Ideas Generation class at Prague College. He talked about the difference between vertical thinking (hierarchical, problem-solving, precludes creative thinking) versus horizontal thinking (associative, lateral, creative but unable to accomplish anything on its own). This is basically something that designers like to talk about a lot, just phrased in nice concise terms.

Two days earlier, I was reading a New Yorker article about the neuro-enhancer revolution- i.e. the fact that lots of people take drugs like Ritalin simply to make themselves function at a higher cognitive level, not because they need it for any corrective reason. One of the concerns about this ‘revolution’  in the medical community (in addition to more obvious worries about health and so on) is the question about what part of people exactly is being made smarter by neuro-enhancers. Is there only one kind of intelligence, or are there some that are made smarter at the expense of others? Studies have shown that concentration (which is enhanced by drugs like Ritalin) actually works to the detriment of creative thinking. One researcher expressed the idea that we might be raising a generation of super-skilled accountants through over-prescription of neuro-enhancers.

Armed with these ideas, it occurred to me that perhaps the primary skill that graphic designers seek to cultivate cant best be described as selective focus: learning to expand and contract the locus of attention, rather than aiming for any kind of ‘genius thinking’ per se. I think this term can also be used to explain the intent of the writing on this blog and its peculiar idiom.

Dept of Lost Urban Features: Inside (and Above) the Mission Armory

Anyone who has lived in SF’s Mission District knows the big, round brick armory building on 14th St. A few years ago, I had the chance to go inside thanks to a friend of mine who got access through volunteering for a movie shoot that was going on inside. We also found our way to the roof, but apparently weren’t supposed to do that and got yelled at. Here’s what I found out:

1. There are dozens (or maybe hundreds) of manger-sized subdivisions inside that presumably used to house horses. You could probably allocate studio space to half the serious artists in San Francisco here if you wanted to. But, apparently, it’s not seismically sound.

2. The Mission Creek still runs through the basement of the armory. Not in a roaring, uncontrolled torrent, but in a sort of highly-custodialized trickle. The Mission Creek is a water source that used to supply a now-extinct lake  by Dolores and 14th, to my undying fascination.

3. At the time I gained access, the entire building was being maintained by one guy who lived with this young daughter in van parked inside the building and- one can only presume- maintained a kind of creepy Shining-like relationship withe the place. (See first photo).

I’m told that the building was later sold to some sort of porn mogul, who now has parties there. Why it’s seismically fit for porn but not for artists is a mystery to me.



The expression ‘kudos’ has always made my hair stand on end. But, nothing else conveys the same idea of ‘I tip my cap to you’ with such grammatical efficiency.  So, much like the can’t-live-with-it/can’t-live-without-it emoticon smiley-face, I guess we’re stuck with it.

Anyway, kudos to Krafty for implicitly introducing a sorely-needed category to this blog, “Lost Urban Features”, via his first post.

The High Line

When I was living in New York City in the mid-90s, I’d occasionally go dancing in clubs on the West Side of Manhattan.  One morning as I exited one such club in the dawn light, I noticed something strange: an abandoned elevated railway line, with rusted and ornate ironwork and little patches of grass and shrubbery peeking out from beneath its tracks.

High Line 1

High Line 2

As I walked downtown on 12th Avenue, I realized that I was following its path.  It actually ran through buildings that were in its way, and some sleuthing helped me determine that although it appeared to end at 14th Street, there was evidence (mostly in the form of remnants of its entrance and exit from buildings) of it well into the Meat Packing District.

I learned that it connected to rail yards around Penn Station, and that ships carrying railcars used to dock and slide them right onto the rail line, where the cars would ride downtown (and into the buidlings in its path) to deliver cattle or other 19 Century style deliveries.

I also learned that, predictably, the city had been trying to demolish it for years, but that it was hung up in various legal battles.  Imagine my surprise to learn, a few years later, that there was a viable public movement to refurbish it and turn it into a park (the obvious thing to do with it, from my perspective at least).

And now, lo and behold, it’s opened to the public.



I ran into the same friend two days in a row on the street. It’s interesting how you have a physiological reaction to seeing someone familiar – the ‘flashbulb of recognition’- a split-second before you even realize what you’re reacting to. It’s a bit like the way birds seem to move in an absolutely instantaneous way without any time for forethought or conscious processing.

What’s amazing is how good the brain is at remembering faces. Someone whom we haven’t seen for years is instantly recognized (before we even realize we’ve recognized them) on account of millimeter distinctions in facial structure. Imagine if it were not this way and we had to fumble around in order to recognize somebody we hadn’t seen for an hour or so. I suppose it would be socially acceptable to peer confusedly at, or even grope with our fingers, the facial features of people we know well, depending on the situation.

Tomato, to-mah-to

Mark’s inaugural post underscores a weird point: pretty much any caucasian American family can creditably pass for a Czech family.  There’s really no particular Czech ‘look’. Sure, there are a few Slavic archetypes that recur over and over again, but there are more than enough exceptions and outliers to muddy the waters.

Any time I meet a friend or family member at the airport who is getting off a connecting European flight, I like to look at each person coming out of the gate and guess whether they are a Czech traveller returning home, or visiting from somewhere else and visiting. Then, I crane towards them and try to make out an identifying language, to confirm whether I’ve guessed right or wrong. Generally, I’m wrong. And most often, it’s the phyiscal posture of ‘Boy, I’m glad to be home’ or ‘Whee, I’m visiting Czech Republic’ tells me whatever I’m able to figure out.

Priorities, and birds with ears

Bob Dylan, on money, 1962:

If I had a lot of money what would I do?” he asked himself, closed his eyes, shifted the hat on his head and smiled:

“I would buy a couple of motorcycles, a few air-conditioners and four or five couches.”

Asked to list his likes and dislikes for a British teenybopper magazine around the same time:

Miscellaneous Dislikes: “Hairy firemen, toe-nails, glass Mober forks, birds with ears.”

Earl 'Ska' Campbell


Jamaican music has the strangest stories of any genre I’m aware of.


Ska was a genre of music that predated reggae by several years and was basically the Jamaican equivalent of big-band jazz. The aural calling card of ska was an insistent ‘oom-pah’ upbeat played by horns. Apparently, the ska sound was largely indebted to one Earl ‘Ska’ Campbell, who did the oom-bah upbeat thing better than anyone else. His epigram:


“It’s said that his style was so taxing to his structure that the first time Ska Campbell got a solo, he died shortly thereafter.


‘I think he really did die a few months after the Skatellites fell through. What he did just became obsolete and no one needed it anymore. He had to try something different, but what he did just about killed him.'”




Ska sample here.