Over the Hill

We’re not just in North Beach anymore, Toto

This month, the column formerly known as “North Beach Beat” is reborn as “Over the Hill.” I can hear you snickering, damn you, but the reason for the name change has nothing (or little) to do with the miles on my personal odometer. This merely reflects the reality of Northside San Francisco being combined with the Marina Times.

The name change also reflects my new brief: Where before I kept my scribbling strictly to the cozy confines of North Beach, the editors have now laid the entire city at my feet. So “Over the Hill” refers to over any hill, I suppose. The idea is for me to snoop around and bring anything your way that tickles my fancy. It’s kind of like handing a four-year-old a loaded pistol and telling him to go out and have a good time.

It’s an interesting assignment for a stay-at-home North Beacher. I am, however, a lifelong San Franciscan with friends scattered all over town (real friends, not Facebook ones), so I’m well acquainted with our far-flung provinces. Yep, even the Marina. In fact, I have some fond memories of the Marina.

I grew up in Cow Hollow, on Laguna just off Union. Everybody called it the Marina, even though, strictly speaking, it wasn’t (and isn’t). It was a different Union Street back then, that’s for sure. I can’t recall a single boutique, but I do remember the Palace Pet Store, Dominic’s barber shop, Lewis’ Five ‘n’ Ten, O’Conner’s Market, and the little toy store where I bought all my comic books, baseball cards and army men. There was, of course, the Metro Theatre, which, if any justice still exists in this miserable world, will be reborn as a movie house and not some god-awful gym.

And then there was the Drinking Gourd, the beatnik bar with bongo drums and sawdust on the floor, a mere half block from our place. I was too young to hang out there, but I like to think of its proximity as foreshadowing for a misspent adulthood.

As for the park where I learned to play baseball, even years later I still call it Funston Playground. We also played baseball in the street. Try doing that now.

Haven’t thought about this stuff in a while: I remember slipping off the fire hydrant in front of the still-extant Bus Stop bar and splitting my lower lip on one of the nozzles. Still have a small scar to this day. I remember taking a few sips from a can of Ronson’s lighter fluid that I found on the street and getting my stomach pumped at the emergency room. Probably explains my fondness for scotch.

Then there was the vacant lot on Filbert Street, near the long-gone Marina Bowl, where a bamboo jungle flourished. (It’s an undistinguished apartment house now.) We’d play war in there. One day, one of my brighter playmates broke off a piece of bamboo and fashioned himself a spear, which he then threw at me as I sneaked down one of the jungle paths. As the doctor told my mother later that day, had it struck me a fraction of an inch higher, I would have lost an eye.

Great Marina memories. Halcyon days.

Onward: OK, I’ve dipped a toe in the waters outside of North Beach; now for tackling the City at large. But, hey, whoa there … what’s going on? I remember the Fillmore, the Haight, Dogpatch, the Richmond, the Mission, Bernal Heights, the Excelsior, and a dozen other neighborhoods. But what’s all this other stuff?

SOMA? NOPA? Tender Knob? Transmission? Lake District? What gives?

SOMA gets something of a pass because it’s been around for a while now, even though it lacks the historical color and bite of South of Market (which is what it stands for anyway) or, better, South o’ the Slot. At least that idiotic Multimedia Gulch is gone, having died the death it richly deserved.

Some of these new neighborhoods, or “micro neighborhoods,” are no doubt the brainchildren of real estate agents, trying to give a little extra panache to houses situated in marginal or less-than-sexy areas; hence, the Lake District and Baja Pacific Heights (my personal favorite). Last time I consulted my atlas, the Lake District was in England. Those are indeed fine homes running west out Lake Street, but they’re in the Richmond District. Period.

Besides, the Richmond is a swell neighborhood. Why would you want to distance yourself from it? I’m sure the phrase “more money” will be found somewhere in the answer.

NOPA? Stupid and derivative. Tender Knob? Clever, but misleading. Baja Pacific Heights? This howler is a real estate coinage, pure and simple, and absolutely hysterical. What was the guy smoking who dreamed that one up? Speaking of which: Pot Hill. A nickname, actually, and an apt one at that, judging by my friends who call Potrero Hill home.

You realize, of course, that “the Castro” is really Eureka Valley. E-mail this chowderhead at [email protected] and set him straight. And toss him a news tip while you’re at it.

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