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Why the War in Vietnam?

Click on the title above, and it will take you to a PDF of an old anti-Vietnam War leaflet.

Spent Sunday night at my mother’s and she had found it in her storage. Simple black and white thing – no graphics. My parents believe it may have been the first anti-Vietnam war leaflet in San Francisco. It was their creation.

They first pulled it out when I was in high school. Having read some of the SWP stuff I was bringing home – triggering bad memories of their own run-ins with the SWP and similar groups back in the 60s and early 70s, they took it out to show me how political literature ought to be written.

But first a little history. Note that the group members all put their names, addresses, and phone numbers on the back. Naivete. They learned quickly that it was a bad idea. Note that there are four Kirks on the list. Evelyn, my aunt, died a few years back.

At least one other person on the list, Gayle Figueroa, was a family friend who died just a couple of years after this leaflet was printed.  Joseph (now goes by Jose) is still alive and kicking.

My parents don’t remember much about the others on the list, except that they were all in their late 20s or older – some of them from radical families and others Civil Rights Movement veterans (with plenty of overlap between the two). Ace Delosada was a bit older, and was active in the CIO before it merged with the AFL – I know this from an old library archived newspaper article I found online.

There was plenty of political activity in Berkeley at the time, largely the Free Speech Movement on campus, as follow-up to the CORE activities against job discrimination in grocery stores and the anti-HUAC demonstration which radicalized so many of them at City Hall. There was not much outside of labor happening in San Francisco. The North Beach scene was never really political in anything other than a cultural way, and the Haight Ashbury was just starting to percolate. I did not know until I saw this leaflet again (and didn’t notice it 30 years ago) that my parents had moved us from Mill Valley to Castro Street. By the time I was two, we lived on Cole Street in the Haight (and left for Moss Beach and the Blue Lady well before the Summer of Love when I was three). So this leaflet was printed in 1965 or perhaps early 1966.

And it generated an enormous response.

These were older activists – some of them seasoned. Grounded. And they understood the Socratic approach to rhetoric. I think it is one of the best written leaflets I’ve seen. It doesn’t tell you how to think. It’s primarily a series of questions. Designed to simply make you think. It avoids words like “imperialism.” And it avoids slogans like “Say No to the War in Vietnam!” It invites the reader to find his/her own voice. It respects the reader.

And the activists who understand this concept are far and few. Part of the reason I was drawn into the Christian left movements, even before I seriously considered religion itself, was the approach of humility and respect sometimes lacking in the secular movements, particularly in the hard old and new left milieus.

Still, the leaflet resulted in threatening phone calls, and other harassment. But the group grew rather quickly.

The group that formed would evolve into the San Francisco contingent of what would become known as The Peace and Freedom Party. My parents didn’t stay involved. They thought that Eldritch Cleaver was a bad choice to run for President in 1968, but supported him anyway. By 1972, they were supporting McGovern even though they liked the P&F candidate – Dr. Benjamin Spock. When I want to cast a protest vote because the Democrat is too conservative or otherwise undesirable, I opt for the P&F Party candidate more often than the Green, and I wish they would merge. We don’t need our fringe groups splintered at the ballot.

Anyway, just thought I would share.

A few weeks ago I posted a positive review of Ritual Coffee, which has it’s flagship coffehouse on Valencia Street in San Francisco.  I was there again today to try their $5.00 cup of coffee (Yes, it’s worth it, but obviously I wouldn’t spend that every day).  My wife tried the capuchinno, but still does not like coffee.  Ah well.

Lilith is pictured here over her well-poured cup of chocolate. 

Lilith's ChocolateI also bought two bags of their beans.  Their Bolivian Illimani blend is in the red bag – they boast flavors which include red grape, brown sugar, and wildberry.  In the black bag is their standard-bearing Columbian brand – for which they boast flavors which include banana, Meyers Lemon, and orange push-up popsickle. 

Needless to say, they enjoy their craft.


We walked the rest of the neighborhood.  Maybe it’s because it was President’s Holiday Weekend or something, but Valencia Street isn’t what I left in the 90s, when my law school classmate and friend would study in the coffeehouses (almost all of which have been replaced) moving through the neighborhood in the course of a day for changes of scenery.  There were a few trendy restaurants in the area, but today we walked by line after line waiting for meals – seriously, they looked like yuppie soup lines.  I don’t get the appeal, no matter how good the food is.  I have to wonder if part of the desired experience is being seen in the lines.  And I really don’t get the appeal of eating on one of the tables the restaurants put out onto the sidewalk, with the people in line hovering over the seated guests as they eat.

Yes, much of the food smelled very good as we passed, but sorry, no meal is worth that.  I’d rather just stay home and cook something good myself.

But then, I don’t live in the city anymore.


And other than the playground and “inclusion center,” (what’s an “inclusion center?”) located at about 20th Street, you won’t see many non-white faces anymore – not on Valencia Street.  Years ago, activists complained that New College would gentrify the neighborhood.  They were right.  And New College isn’t even there anymore.  Nor are the more seedy bohemian institutions – The Club Coffeehouse, the Leather Tongue Video Shop, and Modern Times Bookstore – all gone (I was mistaken in my previous post, it’s a different bookstore now – though Modern Times survives elsewhere in the Mission). 

One exception.  The Community Thrift Store, and it’s just as funky as ever.  The trend set won’t be seen in there.  It was bohemians and working class folk, and in fact once we were inside, it felt like the neighborhood of old.  Jimmy Clif’s Sitting Here in Limbo over the loudspeaker.  And I located my shelf of used Zyzzyva’s, no longer 50 cents a copy, but now a dollar. 

And my daughter went into the kitchenware section and located a Woodrose Cafe mug, one of the old ones.  It’s there for 50 cents.  I almost bought it, but then, I thought about the mug’s journey.  Somehow, a story it will never be able to tell, it made its way 200 miles to the thrift store.  I thought back to the classroom movie of my childhood, Paddle to the Sea.  Did I have the right to drag the poor mug all the way back to Humboldt County? 

I decided not.


We made it back to the car.  We had been lucky to find a spot right in front of Ritual.  I had poured all my quarters into it – it’s $4.00 per hour.  You can even use your credit card!  I had put in enough for an hour and a half, and later decided I would need more time.  But when I used my credit card it erased my previously paid for time.  I didn’t realize it until I completed the transaction, so I had only an hour and a half instead of the over two hours I rightfully paid for.  I didn’t want to do it again, lest my hour and a half be lost.  We didn’t get back quite in time, and the meter was blinking bright red as we were there.  No ticket on my windshield, but maybe even that’s outdated.  Maybe I’ll get one in the mail.  Maybe they don’t even need meter maids anymore.  Maybe the meter communicated with some big computer and I get ticketed automatically.


Remember this documentary I raved about a few months ago?  It’s a low budget thing this young woman did.

Well, it’s much more than an anti-Starbucks rant.  It also documents the emergence of the “third wave coffee movement.”  The first wave was Folgers and the like.  The second wave was coffee houses and Starbucks capitalizing on the idea to spread it well beyond the borders of bohemianism.  The third wave is represented by efforts like Blue Bottle Coffee, and Ritual Coffee Roasters, the latter of which was started by former Blue Bottle employees who may have pushed the standard even higher.

They have several coffee houses.  I got to visit the one on Valencia Street in SF this morning.  After their owners’ interview in the movie, and a subsequent interview on NPR, I thought there was no way that the product could match the hype.

As I drove through my old neighborhood on Valencia, noticing a plethora of coffee houses, each with a few customers, I could see as I approached Liberty Street a line coming out onto the sidwalk half a block up.  I figured that I’d found the place, and I was right.  By some miracle, I found a parking spot just around the corner of 21st Street – right up the block from the place.  I walked back around and got into line.

The first thing I noticed was the smell wafting out through the door – the richest coffee smell I’ve encountered.  They have a brewing operation in place, with funnels right up by the cash register, and the barristas hard at work constantly refilling the espresso machines – one drink at a time – although with the line in place I think they just keep loading them up rather than wait for orders.

I noticed something when I was waiting.  It’s still very much a bohemian neighborhood – all the same artists and politicos taking in their java with deep conversations and all.  But unlike the early 90s, some of them have reproduced.  There was one couple, and two mothers each with kids.  Smart kids too – infant to toddler, all expressing themselves with accute awareness of everything around them.  Maybe it’s the coffee.

It was only a few minutes I had to wait in line, and there were actually open tables in the back section.  I took my cappuchinno to the table and sat down.  Yes, it was the best cappuchinno I’ve ever taken in.  Actually, that doesn’t quite cut it.  It was the only true cappuchinno I’ve taken in.  Two years shy of 50 and I”ve just had my first cappuchinno.

It made me happy!

Seriously, next time you’re down there – give it a try!  And then come back up here and demand from our local coffee houses that they contact this business and learn!  The first one to do so will probably make a fortune.


On to food.  Let me say that I do not post negative restaurant reviews online.  Not here.  Not on Yelp.  Nowhere.

The reason?  I don’t want to be a mechanism that costs someone his/her livelihood.  Period.  If the food is bad, the market will deal with it.  I don’t want to take a chance that my taste is merely different.  I don’t want to take the chance that I was there on a bad day.

And today, I’m especially grateful for my policy.

After the coffee experience, I walked back to 17th and Valencia.  El Toro’s is there on the corner.  It’s one of the few good notions I kept from my high school days’ membership of the Socialist Workers Party, when I was introduced to the restaraunt.  It’s a burrito bar, and they used to make them the size of footballs, almost literally.  And it was delicious.

Most people don’t realize that the burrito as we know it is actually not from Mexico.  It first appeared in the Mission District – marketed as a meal in a single tortilla.  When you order them in Mexico you get something smaller and different.  There are about four or five establishments which argue that they made the first big burrito, and perhaps there was some synchronicity involved (Kind of like Newton and Leibniz coming up with the calculus theorem simultaneously).

This place was my favorite for a couple of decades.  Lots of filling options, and just good, with a line all day so that everything is fresh.

Now, I haven’t been to El Toro’s (or either of its sister establishments) for a few years now, because the last time I was there I was disappointed.  The burrito I bought was very thin, and the flavor just wasn’t what I had remembered.  It seemed like they had made all the ingredients early on, and the asada chicken seemed dried out like it had been sitting.  The magic seemed gone.

So with great trepidation I walked there for another try.  I was still giddy from my coffee experience, and didn’t want to experience a downer.  But El Toro’s had been faithful to me for so many years.  I had to give her another chance.

I wasn’t disappointed.  The burrito wasn’t quite football sized, but bigger than the last time – and I only ate half of it as I’m into portion control these days.  The food was cooking fresh, the lines were back, and they’ve upgraded with a salsa bar that includes about 8 different salsas both cooked and raw-chopped, and some fresh vegetables including radishes and peppers.  Limes.  And flame-roasted jalapenos!

And it was delicious.  El Toro’s and I are an item once again!

Addendum:  Eileen Hassi, owner of Ritual Coffee Roasters, contacted me by email to thank me for the compliments, but also to correct me.  She nor the others on her team were ever Blue Bottle employees.  I had bad information.

Also, Lucca’s is still open at 22nd.  Sorry Robie.

And also, someone else informed me that El Toro is spelled with one “r” not two.

I only got to visit Playland at the Breakers in SF a few times before it was closed (as I remember, a developer purchased the land, nixed the park, and then went bankrupt so that all we could see was the Playland ruins for years afterward before someone put condos up).  My memories are fond, but this woman had a much different experience.  I loved the disk of death!

It was also the first place It’s Its were sold.  Remember them?  I haven’t seen them in years.

I haven’t made it to the Bay Area often over the past year.  Now that I’m running my own practice, the time has been extremely limited, and it seems that the cases taking me out of town are taking me more into the valley lately than further south.  But I had a couple of days to try to catch up with friends and family a little bit.


Notwithstanding all of the bad economic news, there are some indications of some semblance of a recovery underway.  Friends tell me that the traffic, which had been way down over the past couple of years, is picking up again.  For awhile they could actually use 101 on the peninsula during rush hour.  And I noticed that the bottleneck north of Novato is back to pre-Depression levels.

Also of note, lots of large ships have come and left the Bay, with goods both ways.  I was on Ocean Beach yesterday and saw four very large cargo ships at one time.  Friends confirm that this has been the norm all year, whereas that traffic had been slower.

I wouldn’t go to the market with that, but, for what it’s worth, consumption-based economics is far from dead.


On a personal sad note, I visited what used to be my favorite dim sum restaurant in Chinatown and was disappointed.  It was the Asia Gardens, later the New Asia Gardens, and now under new ownership the New Asia Chinese Restaurant.  It’s a huge place, with a big ballroom filled with Chinese patrons at any given moment.  It was the location of my first dim sum experience as a child and even in later years it was worth a trek into the belly of the beast to park in the Kearny Garage under the playground and hustle over to Pacific Avenue to take a number and wait for a table to open.  Then the women would come around with their exotically fragrant pots and steamers filled with savory magic.

Alas, the new ownership has changed the recipes.  I suspected I was in for disappointment when I noted that the hot oil was that chili paste rather than the clear oil with the chili pepper flakes lining the bottom.  And instead of the trademark green tea they served a rather standard black tea.  My first bite of a su mi confirmed the worst of my fears.  It’s good, but the greatness is gone.  And nary a stewed chicken foot in the place!  No longer will it serve as my culinary Mecca, what my taste buds would long for in months or years of separation.  I must find another love.  Probably in the Richmond District somewhere.

They still pack them in though!


On Friday night I took Asher to his first-ever Giants game.  It was my first-ever visit to ATT Park.  Now as you know, I’m probably more nostalgic than average, and yes I do miss the Candlestick Park of my childhood.  But as baseball parks go, ATT doesn’t disappoint.

I had always thought the baseball standard was for right field to be longer than left, but ATT is the opposite – probably to facilitate the home runs reaching the water.  We were at the third base line on the upper deck (the ticket prices are ridiculously high – and since my son has no interest in the A’s, I’m actually kind of hoping the Giants don’t go all the way this year so that tickets might be a little more reasonable next year.  I enjoyed a great view of the Bay and what’s left of San Francisco’s port industry.

My son did have some questions.  How come all of the ticket scalpers are black?  Why was there only one white person (who we saw) selling food in the stands?  And why are so many people panhandling?  It’s time for a new phase of parenthood.

The Giants were clobbered of course, but that did not diminish Asher’s enjoyment of the game.  When the brawl broke out though, he did look at me and ask what was happening.  He had never seen grown men fight for real and he thought it was silly, and even sillier that all of the cell phones in the stands started flashing.

But he got to see Brian Wilson pitch, which was the only thing he had said he was hoping for ahead of time.

I had some trouble getting out of the South of Market, and it was kind of a surreal experience being lost in San Francisco.  When I was a kid, I rarely ventured to that part of town which was mostly warehouses and heavy industry.  With the park, it’s been developed into simply an extension of downtown.  Not recognizing any of the street names once I made the mistake of ditching Third Street, it took and extra 20 minutes to get to the north side of Market (once I found Third Street again).  But don’t believe their signs which say “freeway.”  I suspect that just like the signs at Great America in the south bay, they are not intended to take you the shortest route, but to distribute traffic so that it dissipates the most quickly.  But no way will I submit to their collectivist agenda!  On the road, just call me “Fred.”

Oh, and don’t buy hot dogs in the stands anymore.   They used to be freshly steamed, and the vendor would put the dog in the bun and apply the mustard right there.  Now they hand you a microwaved dog in plastic, with little packs of mustard.  They have “Doggie Diner” out in the hallway, but no sign of the big red dog heads to link them to the God-awful chain that went under back in the 1970s.


No disappointment at the Legion of Honor.  It remains one of my favorite art museums, mostly classic.  Easy to park.  I had to drag my son, but he admitted afterwards that he “kind of enjoyed it.”  Probably part of the appeal is that it’s near the beach and with plenty of parking.  Also, unlike some of the other museums, they’ve managed to make the earthquake upgrades without turning it into some ugly “modern” box.  No, I’m not a fan of the changes to the Golden Gate Park museums really.


Before picking up my wife and daughter at the airport, my son and I had some time to kill.  We drove down to my childhood town of Pacifica and I introduced him to Camelot Fish & Chips – authentically British except that the chips are now cut more like steak fries than real chips.  But the fish is as good as ever, and my son wasn’t disappointed.  Everything’s fried there, so I’m grateful for the distance.


I then took him to the Serramonte Mall (we had several hours to kill, and the beach was too cold) and explained that it was the first indoor mall on the west coast.  There’s a Target at the south entrance.  My son often wants me to take him to Target in Eureka and is already rolling his eyes at my lectures about consumption, big boxes, corporate evil, etc.  But my lectures about homogenization and how each of the Targets are practically identical and sell the same crap rang true for him as we approached the entrance, when he said, “Oh my God!  It does look the same!”

Indoctrination underway!  Bwahahahaha!


Lastly, despite the advent of the megatheaters with all  the bells and whistles which have put many of the neighborhood theaters out of business, the Balboa Theater remains affordable, with new releases, and with good parking and the Zephyr Cafe for a post-film espresso – just like I left it.  Ignore the parking meters.  You can find parking a block or two away for free.

While the Castro is still up and running, it has mainstreamed its film selection from what I could gather from the schedule.  However, the Roxie is as artsy as ever.  Couldn’t recognize a single title.  Is the Red Vic still open?  Those were the last three repertoire houses left in the city, where there had been about a dozen when I was in college.  But the VCR killed them before DVDs could deliver the final blow.  I’ve already written about this.


Maybe more later.  It was a nice visit, but I’m looking forward to getting back to where there aren’t so many crowds and so much traffic.  I don’t know how I lived it this way before.



And no, it isn’t a football rivalry.  Sometime back I posted about the expansion of KDFC throughout northern California (includiing 89.7 in and around Eureka).  They provide classical music around the clock, with no commercials.  But there is a controversy over USC’s purchase of radio stations around the state, particularly the frequencies being used by college and community radio stations since the 1950s, and of course KUSF fans are very upset about the loss of their station.  They are being accused of building an “empire” at the expense of community radio, and it seems that the issue is going to be brought to the FCC.

KDFC’s old frequency is now being dedicated to classic rock, so I’m concerned that the last exclusively classical station in the country will be lost if KUSF loses.  These videos summarize the issue from the KUSF crowd point of view.

My mother forwarded a link to this video, a mini-documentary in which Nate Thornton reminisced about the 1934 General Strike.


One of the more well-orchestrated (literally) flash demos I’ve seen – this one in the San Francisco Westin St. Francis Hotel, which is one among many facing a labor boycott.  The group comes together for an adaptation of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance.

Yes, sometimes I do miss SF.

An aside on Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Back in the early 90s I worked my way through law school by substitute teaching in the SF School District.  One of the more troubled schools was actually located in an affluent part of the city just to the south of Mount Davidson north of Ocean Street.  Aptos Middle School gave me some of my worst memories (ironically, the schools in more troubled neighborhoods like Woodrow Wilson High and Horace Man Middle were very well run and presented very easy and enjoyable sub experiences).

Anyway, this kid in the sixth grade named Rashad was one of those very bright students who could do much better, but clearly undermotivated.  When engaged he produced very good work, but if there were problems in the classroom he was often right in the thick of it.  But we actually had a pretty good relationship and he genuinely seemed happy whenever he walked into the classroom to find me there in place of his teacher.

On this particular morning he wasn’t actually in any of my classes, but just before lunch he paid me a visit.  After the preliminary greetings he puffed up his chest and said, “you know Kirk, I’m going to leave the school grounds.”

“Is that so?” I responded without looking up from my papers, trying to avoid whatever bait he was setting up for me.  I think he just wanted to tell me that he was going to break rules by leaving campus and daring me to do something about it.

“Yep.  He said.  I’m going over to KFC and I’m gonna get me some hot wings.”

Now, at the time I didn’t know what hot wings were and I had no idea that Kentucky Fried Chicken had gone to the trendy initials to de-emphasize the word “fried” during the oat bran wave of health trends.  So I responded, “Rashad, that’s nice.  But what is KFC, and what are hot wings?”

It was probably only five seconds, but it seemed like about 30 seconds of an extremely demonstrative expression of incredulity.  Sort of like people around here get when a tourist from the midwest tells them that the best stuff isn’t really grown here, but can be found in the fields of Indiana.  And then he came out with the kicker.

“Man, you’re so caught up in the sixties, you don’t know what’s happening around you!”

Of course, I completely missed the sixties.  When some of you reading were attending Woodstock and the various marches on Washington, I was pretty much in class reading Janet and Mark, There and Back Again, and watching Paddle to the Sea or The Red Balloon on a shaky old projector just blocks away from our conversation at what was then West Portal Elementary School.  And my hair was short.  Had more of it then I have now.  But it’s been short since high school.  Still, the comment reflected a unique perceptiveness on the part of the kid.  Never figured out exactly where the comment came from.


The memory was triggered by a story on the latest offering from KFC, and if they want to de-emphasized “fried” in their marketing, they’re sure not doing it for the food no matter how many roasted alternatives they offer.  The last time I think I ate at KFC was about a decade ago right in Eureka on Broadway.  I bit into a thigh and the grease squirted across the table.  Killed the mood even for the perpetually melted butter with biscuit and cole slaw.  I’ve many weaknesses for food, but that just doesn’t appeal to me.  Neither does the latest offering – the Double Down sandwich which puts bacon, cheese, and some kind of sauce in between two fried chicken breasts as in the promotional photo to your right.  I’m often tempted by food which is horrible for me, and I even have a weakness for fried foods.  But this photo grosses me out.

Nate Silver says that the sandwich might not be as bad for you as it looks.  It only has the amount of calories of a Big Mac, which is like a celery stick on today’s scale apparently.  Silver explains that by some measures it may be one of the worst sandwiches (sodium, every kind of bad fat, and cholesterol).  At least it wouldn’t be too high in carbs.

Has anybody with an iron stomach reading this tried it?

Rashad would be about 30 now, and probably has to start thinking about what he’s eating.  I wonder how many of these things he’s already downed.

In the SF Bay Guardian’s tradition of “best of” lists, they’ve added pot club reviews to the mix.


July 2020