I have a tendency, maybe overly, to associate years with events and time. Sort of a mini Rainman; don't hold that against me but I do miss a lot of the past events in my life, which for me began in the 70's, my formulative years.
As a kid, I grew up in Oakland--Sequoia grammar school; Bret Harte Middle School and Skyline High, class of 1980. Skyline was way up in the hills overlooking the entire bay. It had an aura mostly due to its star-studded alum--Tom Hanks, class of '74. The buildings were cool and we had a beautiful football and baseball field too. And damn, one hilarious "Gong Show" which I helped direct and emcee as a junior in '79. I miss those days.
Even as an Oakland kid, I was fascinated with the city across the bay. "Media" in the Bay Area back in the 70's consisted of Herb Caen's column in the Chronicle. Back then, the old Chron was big and Caen was even bigger. A mention in Caen's column was the equivalent of a comic being invited to sit on the couch with Johnny Carson after their set. Sure, Caen had a lot of help; took way too many shots at Oakland, (having been born the Sacramenta kid, please Herb!), greasing Willie Brown and Wilkes Bashford umpteen times, but hey, we still read the column. It was the quintessential morning ritual, especially on Sunday over breakfast. Scrambled eggs, burnt rye toast, and black coffee, the Sporting Green, Caen and bam, you were set!
Everybody watched Channel 7; "NewsScene" was local TV News nirvana; Van Amburg was KING. Pete Giddings was appointment viewing for the weather report even if you didn't give a shit about the weather because Pete was Pete, just like Jerry Jensen was Jerry Jensen. KGO was the birthplace of "Happy Talk" and the newsroom phrase, "If it bleeds, it leads." If you wanted blood and guts, Oakland homicide stories, Tenderloin gloom, Channel 7 News was the TV nerve center.
The 70's in the City--Happiness, joy, bedlam with my beloved Oakland A's, and the dreariness around the Giants. I never took joy over the Giants gloom and doom contrary to my bleacher buddies out in right field at the Oakland Coliseum bowing to Reggie Jackson and giving the thumbs up to Joe Rudi, Campy, and Captain Sal Bando. The A's, the Swingin' A's as they were known, didn't have a lot of fans, but had the best fans. Three straight World Series, 1972, '73, and '74. Charlie Finley, the cheap owner from Chicago who was despised in Oakland by not only the fans, but the players too.
Big Bad Al Davis and Da Raiduhs! Talk about a football team that mirrored its city image. Oakland was kinda weird, but its quirkiness was amusing. A beautiful lake in downtown. A fantastic Chinatown where the streets were packed, the food great and cheap and better yet, a place to park without hassle. We even had our own home-grown murky mystique; the Hells Angels and the Black Panthers with a respected, if slightly out-of-place newspaper, The Tribune, curiously enough run by a highly-powerful Republican family, the Knowlands, in one of the most liberal cities in the Bay Area, go figure.
Even as an Oakland kid, I made many treks to The City. That's what it was known as--still today. It was charming as ever; the hills, the fog, the restaurants, even back then it possessed essential coolness. 1977. I waited in line, like everyone else on the corner of Geary and Arguello at the old Coronet to see "Star Wars", the second official line movie, ("Jaws" being the first.) Must have seen it 20 times and loved it.
SF and the Bay Area in the 70's. The cool radio station was KFRC! Dr. Don. King. San Ra-QUEL! Bill Graham and Days on the Green. The Rolling Stones. The Grateful Dead. I wasn't a deadhead but respected their loyal fans and was present at one of their most famous concerts: NYE, 1977 at the old, dilapidated Winterland --on the bill: The Dead, The Blues Brothers, Elvin Bishop and Eddie Money. What a show. At the stroke of midnight, Graham descended from the ceiling stage and his blue jackets served breakfast to the throng of people 7 hours later.
San Francisco in the 70s. North Beach. Carol Doda. The Condor. The mad dasher, Davey Rosenberg, a numbers runner and character straight out of central casting. He was Caen's prime fodder. If you knew Davey well, you could get a seat right away at Vannessi's. I didn't know him, only read about him. Davey hung out at the Playboy Club and supposedly dated one of the cocktail waitresses. What a life.
The city was run back then by Mayor Joe Alioto, one of the best mayors ever. Alioto was a visionary. Nobody screwed with him. They didn't have to. He made sure the cops got paid and he greased the unions. The city was safe, cool, the neighborhoods happy and the restaurants packed like they are today.
George Moscone followed Alioto. A good man, a very good mayor. When he was murdered along with Harvey Milk, I was a junior at Skyline. I'll never forget--it was the Monday after Thanksgiving. How cruel. And OMG!, Dan White was the killer! This was a particularly tough time in the Bay Area, less than a week following the horror of Jim Jones and Guyana, and now, THIS. Somehow, the city made it through all the anguish, the dreariness of 1978 into '79. Thank God for Caen. He had a knack to writing serious pieces that allowed the citizens of the Bay Area to vent, to react, to commiserate.
I think of symbols back then. The International Hotel incident. Dick Hongisto, the stubborn sheriff and instigator. Chief Charlie Gain and his infamous visit to the old Hookers Ball at the Cow Palace in '75. The cops didn't care for Gain's goofiness and overt liberalism--they took proudly to placing small American flags on their motor bikes. Top cops were a big deal in the city. Con Murphy, Al Nelder, big newsmakers, sometimes for the wrong reasons. (Wink.)
I remember a city of pictures: Coit Tower. Alfred's. The Iron Horse. Alioto's on the Wharf. Taverns galore: My very favorite and cool place? Paoli's, thee place to meet and greet with some of the most beautifully-dressed women in SF. First place I had a drink in the city was at Paoli's. It was right there on Washington Street, a stone's throw from KFRC. The place was legit. Everybody dressed up. It was classic old-school. I don't know if a place like Paoli's could exist in today's SF, but if it could, I sure wish someone could build the place.
SF in the 70's. The people. The characters. The persona. Harry Denton. Henry Africa's. Auto Row. The Balboa. Pierce St. Annex. Perry's on Union Street. The venerable Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel where I was lucky enough to see and interview Joel Grey at a later time, (1986); (Dear Mr. Grey: your daughter is still beautiful). I can't forget the old Boarding House where I saw Kenny Rankin and a young Steve Martin, we'll EXCUUUUUUSE ME!
All of this brings back many memories. My late dad used to play the clarinet at a place called Earthquake Magoon's. I wasn't old enough to get in, but I heard the joint was jumpin.' San Francisco had that magical touch. I miss the old SF. I know this is still a great city; its geography, its history, its flavor and the like, I just miss the old-school basic and essentials. I miss the mystique, the old restaurants; the authentic Bill's Place on Clement; the Hippo on Van Ness; (Ice cream on a burger subtracted); the Carnelian Room atop the BofA building even. Yeah, I know the prices were absurd and the food was blasé, but damn, that view!
The 70's. Joel Selvin's reviews in the Pink Section. Gerry Nachman's singles column in the Chron. John Wasserman movie reviews. The old KGO Radio with Owen Spann, Jim Eason, Ronn Owens, and Jim Dunbar. Russ Coughlin too. Art Hoppe. Charles McCabe's brilliant rants on "Governor Moonbeam". I think Jerry Brown kind of liked it. Speaking of Jerry, there was the notorious trip to Africa with Linda Ronstadt. Who could forget that image? I think Caen got a year's worth of columns out of that tour DE force.
This is not in the handbook. We're all about the future now. We're not supposed to reminisce about the good old days. Baloney. It's a time many of us will never forget, for better or worse. I say we all gather one day at Tadich and go into detail. Bring out the bread, Jack, and, extra butter please.
Oh, one other thing: Just play Journey's "Lights" only once. It was a classic. But we didn't have to play it a million times back in '79 to figure that out.
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