Monday, January 21, 2008

From Madrid to Munich, Moscow and Milk

So it's been three months now since we made the move from Madrid to Munich, four blocks towards Geneva and six blocks towards McLaren Park. We're on the 500 block of Munich Street. It runs down a gradual hill and dead ends at Crocker Amazon Park. Living on a dead end street offers lots of advantages. It's pretty easy to get to know all your neighbors. After all, no one but the locals use the block. On our block it's quite likely that if you start a home improvement job on the outside of your house, one of your neighbors is going to come out to lend a hand. Last month, Karen, Rene, Emiliano and I spent our first holiday season here. It was about as neighborly as you can get. Cookies, pies, candies, wrapped and unwrapped presents and wrapped tamales crossed willy nilly along the street. The 200 block of Madrid was never so lively. While we made friends with our Madrid neighbors we never stood with them in the middle of street getting to know them or bantering away about nothing in particular.

This part of San Francisco -- District 11 -- is pretty much overlooked by the rest of the city. Many people spend their entire existence in San Francisco never quite getting any further south than Bernal Heights, let alone Cesar Chavez. District 11 is not known as a destination spot. You won't see adds in the Bay Guardian for trendy restaurants; no active theaters, only converted ones now packed with faithful evangelical congregations; few bookstores. But we do have our share of parks, some in better states of repair than others and some like the Oceanview Rec Center in seemingly perpetual states of repair. We have some nice homey spots, like Mama Art Cafe where you can get a coffee, listen to live music and chop it up with friends. City College's main campus is right on our border.

We've got our own form of diversity here too. Since most everyone here is either working class or middle class, we don't have the huge disparities you might find in other neighborhoods like in the SoMa where the jet setters might sleep 25 stories above homeless people on the street. On my block alone quite of bit of San Francisco's diversity represented. We have elder Italian immigrants whose numbers have dwindled rapidly over the past couple of decades, Chinese, Filipinos, Latinos, European American, queer folk, African American, etc. Most of us are homeowners. A good part of us are struggling just to keep up with the house payments.

Like a small town in the USA, District 11 has few notables well-known to people outside San Francisco. There's DJ Qbert of the Invisbl Skratch Piklz fame; Joe Cronin, a hall fame shortstop who played for the Boston Red Sox back in the 20s and 30s (you can see him referenced on the Excelsior Playground wall of fame); and most famous of all we got Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. According to one online encyclopedic reference, "a movie was once filmed there with Julie Andrews."

Now, director Gus Van Sant with his Harvey "Milk" biopic is putting Dan White, the District's most infamous native son back on the map. This morning, the Milk trucks and trailers were lined up ten strong down Moscow Street where they're filming in the firehouse just blocks away from White's former London Street home. Josh Brolin, who acted the lead in the Coen Bros' "No Country for Old Men" is playing Dan White.

Let the world know.

I'm hoping that "Milk" can show us how the attitudes that led to Harvey Milk's assassination have changed despite Danny boy's efforts to keep them all the same. Even though it's been 30 years since the times of Harvey Milk, I expect Dan White would find San Francisco and his Excelsior District stomping grounds unrecognizable.