Archive for the ‘California’ Category

The Bold Rooster

June 5th, 2012 No Comments


The most recent brood of chickens has  molted and become big enough to leave their indoor cage. When we got them a few months back, the person who sold them to us said they had been checked to ensure that all of them were hens, but there was no guarantee.

Around the time we set them loose, we discovered that one of them was a rooster. It’s illegal to have a rooster inside the city limits of San Francisco, and we were soon to find out why.

Around 4 in the morning, the rooster awakens, and wants everyone to know about it.

The cock’s crow was the talk of The Barn, at least among the people who live on the side of The Barn where the rooster and his hens reside.  Blissfully, on my side of The Barn the cock-a-doodle-do was not audible. It was audible to Michael, the owner of The Barn, who was getting pretty angry at the fact that his sleep was disturbed every morning much earlier than he liked. One morning at 4:30 a.m. he texted Mark who, with his wife Rose, brought the chickens to the barn,  saying, “Get rid of that @#$# rooster!”

Clearly the rooster had to go.

The chicken coop, an exact replica of The Barn

As Michael said, “You can’t have a bold rooster and an old rooster, because the farmer won’t let the bold rooster get old.”

Some of us thought the most efficient way to rid us of this noisy pest was just to leave him out over night.  Very few creatures, humans included, survive out alone overnight in this rough part of town.  Although two years ago one of the chickens didn’t return when it was time to secure them in the coop, and we were sure she had been snagged by a raccoon or a coyote or any of the many dogs who find the chickens so tasty.  Then three days later she strolled back into the yard, feathers rumpled, swaggering just a bit from whatever unnamed adventure she’d had.  We were all very impressed, as were the other hens.

The tenderer hearts here couldn’t stand the idea of releasing the rooster into the hands of fate.  Couldn’t we find someone to take the rooster?

Mark put an ad on Craigslist saying the rooster was free to anyone who wanted him.  Craisglist instantly took the ad down saying that it was illegal in the state of California to give a gift of livestock.

News to me, and definitely cause for me to re-think my Christmas gift list.

As this rooster, whom I had never seen or heard, was so much the talk of The Barn, I decided I needed to take a photograph of it.  I was standing in my room looking for my camera, when suddenly I heard a ferociously loud cock-a-doodle-do, so bone rattling that you would have thought he was standing in my room.  No wonder Michael was so upset! I grabbed my camera and opened the door to the staircase outside my room.  There he was, standing on the landing, two stories above solid ground, crowing contemptuously at me.

I raced toward him, trying to intimidate him into going back down the stairs, but he wouldn’t budge. When I planted a foot firmly in front of him, he hopped down two stairs, and stood there looking back at me with roosterly disdain.


“COCK-A-DOODLE-DO” he retorted, and left a little present for me on the stairs.

Michael chased him down  the stairs, where he joined his brood.

I heard that Mark had found someone to take the rooster to his farm, solving the problem of what to do about the illegal bird.  Later that day, I heard the kind of sqauwking and gobbling that sounds like feathers flying. I rushed to the landing outside my room to see that someone had the rooster cornered underneath a bench on the loading dock, grabbing frantically as he tried to get his hands on the rooster.

The rooster was nimble.  After a few minutes of thrust and parry, the rooster broke free. He stood victorious on the loading dock glaring at his foe and let out a proud, “Cock-a-doodle-do.”

The man rushed at him, “Damn rooster.”

The rooster hopped off the loading dock and onto the pavement, again turning to taunt his would-be captor.

The man rushed toward him, arms wide, and the rooster sprinted up the driveway to freedom.

I haven’t seen him since, yet the hens continue on wandering the grounds.  It seems that they don’t miss him either.




Is he to be an old rooster? Or a bold one?




The Golden Gate — The Bridge That Nearly Killed Me

May 27th, 2012 2 Comments



The 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge was the day I almost died, twice.

I’m thinking about it because today is the 75th Anniversary and I’m planning to go there, but not as a journalist, as I did the last time. This, I hope, is a safer way to celebrate.

For the 50th, my friend and colleague Janet Wells and I were assigned to cover the event by our employer, The San Jose Mercury News. The bridge authority had predicted there would be 50,000 people on the bridge. After all, when the bridge opened in the 1930s, only 30,000 people showed up, as this archive photo shows. 

We wanted to get there early. I agreed to meet her at her house in the Haight at 4 a.m. to catch one of the buses the city had provided to ferry people to the site as there was no parking.

Bleary-eyed and clutching cups of coffee, we staggered toward a bus stop at edge of the Golden Gate Park panhandle to find hundreds of people jostling in the dark trying to muscle their way onto the packed buses.

We approached a police officer at the front of the queue, press passes in hand, and tried to board the bus citing media privilege. “I’ve got a crowd control issue here,” the officer said. “You’re on your own ladies.”

I don’t remember how we got to the entrance to the bridge, but as the crowd surged forward, Janet and I lost each other. That probably only took 30 seconds, but in an era before cell phones, I never saw Janet again until we filed our story.

I’d never been in a mob before, nor experienced mob mentality.  As we walked onto bridge, the mood was joyful.  People wore costumes and furry hats, rode decorated bikes, all of us swept along in good feeling.

Then suddenly I realized (probably along with many others) that I had no choice but to walk forward. If I stopped to tie my shoe, I might get trampled.  Panic rose in me, a feeling that I had no free will and that there were terrible consequences if I stumbled.

Just then, the crowd dissipated.  At the center point of the bridge, there was open space.

As the sun rose, I saw the army of revelers advancing on us from the North, the Marin contingent.

My first thought, “We’re from San Francisco, and we’re going to kick your asses.”

Much as I wanted it, this was not a scene from West Side Story.

No fist fights broke out between warring factions.  We danced at the center of the bridge with all of the Bay Area gleaming in the beautiful spring sunlight.

Much later, I met Janet at the press room, where we found out that we had been in another kind of danger at the center of the bridge.  The bridge authority had woefully underestimated the crowd, off by a factor of 16 The weight of 800,000 people on the bridge had caused it to sag.  People said the cables supporting the bridge were stretched as tight as harp strings. Engineers feared that the strain these bodies caused on the steel cables might damage the bridge, and also feared the panic that would ensue if they tried to clear it.

Some later said that if we had been marching forward in unison, the heavy, coordinated footfalls hitting the bridge deck at the same time, it might have given way.  Fortunately, it’s difficult to get any one group of San Franciscans to do anything in unison.

After we filed our story around 6 p.m., we hailed a cab heading to a party at the top of Russian Hill. I was exhausted.  I rested my head on Janet’s shoulder and nodded off.

At the edge of my consciousness, I head a rhythmic tapping that accelerated into a frantic pounding.

“This damn cab!” the taxi driver said. “It’s got no damn brakes.”

I sat up straight. Janet and I looked at each other wild-eyed as the cab crested Taylor street, propelled off the road and into the air.

“We’re gonna die,” Janet said quietly as I grabbed her hand.

“We survived the bridge sag, and we’re going to eat it on a San Francisco hill,” I whispered under my breath.

With some adept use of the emergency brake, the cabbie brought us safely to our destination.  We tipped him heavily, and drank heavily at the party.  The day that began at 4 a.m. ended the next day at 1 a.m.

The bridge is closed to pedestrian traffic for today’s celebration.  I guess they learned their lesson at the bridge authority.

Herb Caen’s Beautiful Words on the 75th Anniversary Birthday of the Golden Gate Bridge

May 27th, 2012 No Comments

Herb Caen’s tributes to the Golden Gate Bridge were many in the sentimental columns he wrote every Sunday in The SF Chronicle.  I thank The Chronicle for stitching together this moving tribute of snippets from his observations  about “this mystical structure with it’s perfect amalgan of delicacy and power . . . the car-strangled spanner.” And perhaps his most insightful observation in this piece, ” That there is no stupidity great enough to ruin the majesty of the Golden Gate Bridge. It has been the subject of terrible poetry and worst paintings. But it rises easily and grandly above the mundane, it’s towers poking through  the fogs, natural and man-made. Don’t worry about the party, the bridge is it’s own celebration today and every day.”