Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Public Apology: Dear Riders of The Powell-Mason Cable Car Line in San Francisco, Late Summer 1991

apology iconDear riders of the Powell-Mason cable car line in San Francisco, late summer 1991,

Sorry for flashing you.

I was living at 1612 Mason Street that summer, in an apartment on the bottom floor of a grey-and-purple building by the corner of Green Street in North Beach. A particularly picturesque San Francisco spot. View from the roof out over Fisherman's Wharf to Alcatraz in the Bay. The trolley tracks ran right past.

The only way I was able to afford such a nice place was to share its two bedrooms with four friends from college. I'd been asked to take what a kindly dean referred to as an "academic hiatus" after my sophomore year. I thought I'd get a job and start a new life. But that was a recession summer. Jobs were not to be found, even for someone with my credentials. I ate tuna fish sandwiches and potato salad every day, saving every spare bit of cash for rent and the amazing pot a friend of a friend brought us down from Humboldt County. The only furniture in the apartment was a kitchen table and chairs. We slept on futon cushions and didn't much decorate.

Or hang curtains on the windows in my bedroom. Those that looked out onto the sidewalk, and the street, down the middle of which, every half-hour or so, a red-and-yellow cable car full of tourists would slowly clatter and chug its way towards the intersection. My roommates and I joked about living in a fish bowl and carried our clothes into the bathroom to change after showering. But as the months passed and I got more comfortable in the apartment, I started walking back into the room in a towel and changing there. You could hear the trolley approaching from a block away, so there was always time to cover up. Eventually, though, probably due in part to the listlessness of unemployment, I stopped making the effort.

What did I care if a couple tourists saw me naked? Consider it a free perk or a hidden tax that accompanies the price of a ticket. A new kind of San Francisco treat.

This was early in the handheld video camera era. I remember being struck by the number of people who rode the cable cars with the things fixed to one eye, held steady, filming the façade of every building on the route. I always thought they were missing a lot that way, sacrificing 360 degree scenery for dull documentation. Didn't they want to look around? It didn't seem like a fun way to spend a vacation day. Perhaps for this reason, and perhaps also because of the potency of the Humboldt pot, I got a real kick out of it the first time I saw a guy's face pop out from behind his camera, eyes and mouth open wide, having spotted the whole of me through his lens. It'd give him a story to tell. Spice things up a bit.

Soon I took to air-drying after a shower, staying naked on purpose, waiting to hear the trolley come and standing right up in the window, hands on my hips, stoned and giggling to myself as it passed. It was rare that anyone noticed-only two or three gawkers and pointers over a month or so of this-but I very much enjoyed the thought of the people who might have caught me on camera without noticing in real time. That would be a fun home movie screening. Greetings from San Francisco!

But if you didn't find it fun, well, sorry. Also, please keep in mind what Mark Twain said about how cold it is in San Francisco during the summer.


27 Comments / Post A Comment

HiredGoons (#603)

See… those are the kinds of openings where you don't really need a 'read on' – it's a given.

Oh man. I am big fan of the peen flashing genre. I never knew it until now!

Moff (#28)

This requires no apology, but I'm glad as hell you wrote it.

kneetoe (#1,881)

Didn't someone in Maine just go to jail for this. Better check the statute of limitations.

Dave Bry (#422)

Oh god. Yes. Virginia, actually. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34483145/ I'd forgotten that. Yikes.

NicFit (#616)

Um, you could have done just about anything in 1991 except murder and the statute of limitations voids it. I used to shoplift back then (I think). Whatever.

kneetoe (#1,881)

God, where did I get Maine from? But don't worry, the judge ruled he was doing it on purpose. Oh, um, then, what NicFit said.

spostaby (#1,081)

"No one deserves to see it"

Sakurambobomb (#1,722)

It may not be illegal to flash in San Francisco, but it is illegal to call anything having to do with the cable cars "trolley."

So, it would be "The cable car tracks ran right past," not "trolley tracks" !

Dave Bry (#422)

whoops. apologies to all real cisco kids. i didn't last past that summer, money ran out. so i can't claim any street cred. i did go back to visit a lot, too. still one of my very favorite places.

SquarePeg (#1,098)

Great piece, thanks for the (in my opinion unnecessary) apology, but. Use of "cisco"? Did not help your case.

Dave Bry (#422)

Man, I can't win! (Who's square-pegging who?) "The Cisco Kid" is a song by the great San Francisco funk band War. I figured I was in good hands. But that song is from like 1973, I think. So I suppose the expression might be a little dated?

Dave Bry (#422)

War are from L.A. I should stop digging.

jolie (#16)

I'm curious how many of us this could be used to describe at any given moment: "standing right up in the window, hands on my hips, stoned and giggling to myself"

Show of hands…

myfanwy (#1,124)

The only thing you have to apologize for is doing it before the advent of Street View. Subsequent tenants have put curtains up.

ejcsanfran (#489)

Drat! I was just about to hop on board the cable car for a gander…

sippey (#2,879)

Shoot, I thought this blog was about New York stuff.

Dear Choire and Alex–

Sorry for phoning it in.

I used to apologize for serious transgressions, like being a dick to women I'd just slept with or ruining a Bob Mould concert. They were great apologies, yes, because the offenses were both inexcusable and exactly the sort of cringeworthy shit that our readers might have pulled. These things needed apologizing for. They needed to be public.

But now I'm apologizing for something that may or may not have offended anyone, I can't even be sure. It's hardly different from apologizing to God for impure thoughts. Mea Culpa, I guess.


MollyBloomberg (#1,169)

But that's how this feature is evolving. The nuance.

Certainly, this wasn't anything to for which to apologize. But it had weed. And nudity.


(I friggin' love all things DB.)

Dave probably needs to provide a photo of his nude 19 year old self for us to judge how offensive this was to the late summer of 1991 cable car riders.

HiredGoons (#603)

Hey Dave:

*call me

FeyBoohoozer (#410)

I so want to suck your cock after reading this.

Bittersweet (#765)

Great piece as usual, Dave.

Scotty Porno (#2,897)


ok (#3,052)

I think is a totally appropriate experience to provide tourists when visiting San Francisco, or to those of us born and bred there, "The City". Mots of us ran around mooning tour buses for most of our youth or strolling around beaches with few items of clothing on. You fit right in.

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