The kindness of strangers
I dreamed of Francis Ford Coppola. All night
we wrangled, discussing not the merits of The Godfather, not
the subtleties of The Conversation, but the reason for a
generally overlooked failure.
In the mid-1970s Coppola started up a little
San Francisco publication called, appropriately, City
Magazine. It was a splendid little weekly, employing Warren
Hinckle in what was perhaps his finest hour. The news stories
were not only timely; they were as snappily written as a good
movie script. The art was innovative and well reproduced.
History and fiction stood on a par with current events, all
presented with panache — on newsprint, not slick city-mag
And it flopped.
Coppola blamed its demise on our
parochialism, suggesting that we just weren’t up to the kind
of fare he was offering. Maybe we weren’t. Or maybe he just
looked in the wrong direction for support.
It was, oddly, Our Mayor’s State of the
City address that triggered my apocalyptic dreams, with its
call for a revival of regional tourism to stimulate San
Francisco faltering economy. Play tourist at home? There’s
something contradictory about the concept. Home is where you
know your neighbors, where you enjoy the comforts of
familiarity. Tourists thrive on the strange. And they only
stay a few days before moving on.
If we are really interested in rebuilding
the economy of San Francisco — and self-interest, if nothing
else, says we must be — it seems far more sensible to start
with what is still strong and build on that. And San Francisco’s
strengths still lie in its neighborhoods. As a starter, we
might visit local shops instead of traveling across town to a
department store. Walk down to the restaurant on the corner
instead of fighting traffic. Over the weekend, hang out for an
hour or two at a nearby park, just to see who and what’s
It’s tiny steps like these, millions of
them, that weave together a network of social security, a
solace we desperately need at a time when our leaders are
sending out messages of disturbing confusion. But be warned:
Steps like these not only contrast with the grandiose gestures
of national and international events; they may even undermine
During World War II, one of Japan’s
leading novelists wrote a book that might have come from the
pen of Jane Austen, introducing readers to the a middle-class
family trying to find suitable husbands for its daughters. The
military government banned “The Makioka Sisters,” arguing
that soldiers would be reluctant to leave for the front with
such an inviting image of home in their heads.
It’s an interesting puzzle, how to foster
the subversions of home. The process may involve turning an
old adage on its head: thinking locally and acting globally.
Instead of giving the forest precedence over the trees, it may
make more sense to emulate the wise forester who understands
the ecology of his surroundings because he knows every single
poplar and maple. It may mean abandoning traditions of
competition for new patterns of collaboration.
To this end, the Call has decided to offer
free advertising space to local businesses and organizations.
And in the weeks to come, our coverage will expand to include
more local items, not simply for their own delightful details
but because of what they reveal about the city as a whole.
This city has a great many wonderful trees.
The Call will travel, for example, to Bernal Heights, where
residents propose to lay out butterfly garden at the southeast
end of Precita Park, essentially setting up opposing turf to
the hotly contested area where the dogs hang out. We will
share the hopes — and the apprehension — of Excelsiorites
at the sale of the long-vacant Apollo Theater.
In return, we will ask a favor of you, the
Think about it for a minute: The Call is a
free paper. And it should be. But free papers generally derive
their revenue from advertisements.
We will, in a variety of ways, approach you
for financial support. And if you think that this is a
worthwhile venture, we hope that you will be generous with
your checks or cash.
But even more important, we seek ideas. How
can we build a true city newspaper that fosters local
businesses rather than straining their resources, that is
available to everyone — and that can pay its bills?
Thank you kindly.
Betsey Culp (firstname.lastname@example.org)