Note: All my posts on the ’60s are gathered under “The ’60s,” above. Being a blog, these posts are in reverse order. If you want to read them from the beginning, scroll down. Chapter 1 is at the bottom, chapter 2 above that, etc.

Egret in Garden Pond

The two large fish-eating/wading birds in our area are egrets and great blue herons. Both are super wary and spooky, especially the herons. They will fly to the top of the tower, about 30′ above the ground, and check out the pond before descending. They are after the little fish in our pond. When this happens, I sneak into the house and shoot photos through the window that looks out on the pond.

Look at those black legs.

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Growing Up in San Francisco, Part Two

When I start a project, I’m never quite sure where it will go. I started working on a book on the ’60s last year, and found myself laying a lot of groundwork on my earlier years (1935-1960), so that the reader would know my background. I ended up with a sort of autobiography for almost half the book.

So when you click on “The ’60s” button in the blog header, there’ll be a lot of autobiographical stuff until I get to the ’60s.

Hitching Streetcar Rides

The “L,” “M.” and “K” (my initials) streetcars ran through the Twin Peaks Tunnel, which went from the West Portal district to the Castro district. The mid-tunnel stop was about a mile walk from our house.

This rare photo shows one of the old-style streetcars from the ’40s. The cowcatcher is being lowered here. When the direction of the car was reversed at the end of the line, the cowcatcher would be tied up on the back end via a cable through that round fitting in the center. Throughout the city, us kids would creep up behind a slowly moving car (crouching so the conductor, who was in the back, wouldn’t see us), then run up and jump on the cowcatcher.

We rode all over the city. The big deal was to ride through the 2-mile long tunnel — sparks flying overhead from the electric trolleys — whoo! Lots of alcoves where someone who somehow ended up on foot in the tunnel could jump when trains came by. The trains probably went 20-30 mph, rocking through the darkness, to emerge into the dazzling daylight at Market and Castro.

San Francisco Was a Port

San Francisco Beltline Railroad. In this photo taken July 6, 1938, the E-Embarcadero streetcar line is running alongside the state-owned freight line. Photo: San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Until the ’60s, the city, surrounded on three sides by water, was a shipping center. The waterfront was a deep water port, dating back to the clipper ships, with a series of piers. It was (is) called The Embarcadero, and when we were kids, it was a city within the city, with its own hotels, bars, and restaurants. Loading and unloading of ships was controlled by the Longshoreman’s Union. The streets were filled with cargo and busy with forklifts.

Fisherman’s Wharf, now a tourist mecca, was at one time the fishing center of the west coast, with its 16′ Monterey Clipper fishing boats modeled on the felluca sailing fishing boats of Genoa.

I mention this because this was the city of our childhood and one would never guess this by looking at the tourist-oriented, sanitized, palm-tree-lined waterfront of today.

Fishing in the City

Around the turn of the century, my grandfather had a bait and tackle shop at the foot of Hyde Street (in later years, it became Muni Bait), and that’s how my dad got started fishing; he and his friends went fishing in the ocean and also fished for trout in lakes in the Sierras.

My grandfather used to import hexagonal bamboo rods from China and tie on the casting guides with red and gold silk thread. It’s a craft he taught my dad, and my dad taught me.

My brother and I had our city version of fishing, which didn’t require any parental transportation or guidance. We would walk down to the tunnel, carrying fishing rods and a crab trap, and take a streetcar to Van Ness, where we’d take the H streetcar down to Muni Pier.

We’d catch crabs and use the orange part of the innards as bait to catch perch. We’d go back home on public transit and our mom would cook a fish dinner.
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Shelter on Sale — 30% Discount

45 years ago, Bob Easton and I spent the summer of 1973 putting together this book in Bolinas. We had gathered a lot of material, but had no idea how it would fit together for a book. So we just started, two pages at a time.

We both loved Life magazine, and wanted the book to be visual. (It ended up with 1,000 photos and 250,000 words.) I had a geodesic dome at the time, and Bob did layout in the dome while I worked on my Adler portable typewriter in the second story of the tower, practicing real cut and paste: scissors and Scotch tape.

Joe Bacon, from New Orleans, set the type on an IBM Composer (an $8000 Selectric typewriter) in a little room we built him on the side of the tower (a couple of decades before the Mac).

I had a mission in starting this book: I had published a popular book on dome building, only to find out that domes didn’t work. By the time Domebook 2 sold 160,000 copies, I took it out of print.

I then thought that I should show people all the other ways to build: different materials, different techniques, different ideas on design. I set out with 2 Nikons, one loaded with Tri-X, the other with color slide film, and traveled around the USA, Canada, and Europe studying building techniques. We also did a poster announcing the book and people sent us material.

The book came together on its own, with our assistance, and we printed 50,000 copies on a newspaper press in San Francisco, shipped it to Random House, and it sold like crazy. (It’s now sold over 250,000 copies in English, and has been translated into French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese.)

I can’t tell you how many people have said, over the years, that they were inspired by this book. One guy came up to us at a solar energy festival, picked up Shelter, and said “I remember when I first saw this book at a party. I took it into a corner of the room and read it all night. The next day I quit my job and went to work as the builder and now I’m a contractor.”

It’s not us, it’s the people and the buildings in the book that are inspiring.

It’s a book dedicated to doing things with your own hands.

We want to get it out there more widely, so are selling it for a 30% discount* through the end of September, with free shipping.

*making it $20, $6 cheaper than Amazon

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Nursery in Petaluma

Succulents at Cottage Gardens nursery in Petaluma, California. They have beautifully tended plants, as well as metal sculptures, garden art, old buckets and bathtubs, enamel pots, and wooden barrels. It’s fun just walking around in this fascinating place. 3995 Emerald Drive.

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