Keeping Food Cheap in SF

Most people here eat out. Why? Because single, or money, or money plus single. That said, those of us stuck spending 60% or more of our income on rent can still have  night out, or a lovely meal, if we very carefully navigate the holes-in-the-wall that often serve amazing food in huge portions.  Food is an incredibly controllable expense in San Francisco. Any day of the week, any time of the year, you can find food that is fresh, cheap, and delicious. There are of course limits to this – you still need some money to eat well or at all…

Farmer’s Markets

There is a farmer’s market somewhere in San Francisco 7 days a week. Prices will vary by market – the most expensive one is of course the one on the Embarcadero, and often fresh food there goes for boutique grocery store prices. Find the smaller ones, or go to the one at Alemany.

Ethnic Markets

Thanks to spiraling rents and little to no eviction protection for longtime businesses, these are disappearing. Even so, you can still generally find plenty of Chinese markets in the Richmond district, plenty of Latina grocery stores in the Mission, and a small smattering of other ethnicities sprinkled throughout the city – but you have to be willing to look.

Safeway Club

If you want to enjoy Safeway at affordable prices you pretty much have to join their club. It reduces pricing from a direct poke in the eye to bearable, at-market food pricing. That said, Safeway is often used as a sort of meet-market on Friday and Saturday nights, especially in the Marina district. Best in and out fast for most of us.

Google Shop, Safeway Delivery

This is a more expensive option that can, to some degree, save you time or at least limit your human contact. You can, with a little fishing, have just about all goods delivered to your doorstep any day of the week. While it’s not a money saver in terms of availability, if your budget is often thrown by impulse buys this can eliminate the environment that prompts that behavior.

16 Pointers on Visiting or Living in San Francisco

  1. Just go ahead and buy the Doctor Scholl’s gel inserts when you buy new shoes. Expect to replace those insoles often if you do any walking at all.
  2. Join a gym – you’ll need to lift weights to relax after your exertion getting from point A to point B.
  3. Carry cash. This may be Silicon Valley but a lot of the small business owners here don’t give a damn – many won’t even use Square. ATMs are every few feet, most easily spotted in bars, convenience stores, and coffee shops. The ATMS are not, however, well-maintained – part of the underlying technological resistance that is part of old-school San Francisco. If you can, sign up for a membership at one of the credit unions that forgives all out of network ATM fees. Otherwise paying those fees is well-nigh unavoidable.
  4. DON’T use Air B&B when you visit. It may look cheap and easy, but you are screwing someone out of a place to live and quite possibly contributing to your host’s inevitable eviction. Seriously, there are entire buildings of people that have been thrown out of their homes so the landlords can run de facto hotels.
  5. The tourist attractions have all the mediocre food. Go where locals live and work (everywhere else) and you’ll be hard pressed to find something that isn’t awesome. There is a health rating system that is especially helpful – a green card placed prominently shows the restaurants health rating. Anything above a 90 is generally OK, and just about  any hole in the wall has amazing food. Also, refer to #3.
  6. Fuck Yelp. No, really, when it’s as popular as it is in San Francisco, it’s actually useless because it’s the cacophony of the lowest common denominator. One chiropractor I visited due to the high praise on yelp a)had Scientology stuff on the walls b)had anti-vaccination pamphlets in the lobby c)had some really transphobic doctors in the practice and d)never actually treated me for what I came in for. This has not been my only Yelp-fueled error. At this point Trip Advisor is actually more useful for local life information. There is one exception; finding places that deliver. Then Yelp is awesome.
  7. There’s a Reddit for everything.
  8. Craig’s List was born here – and it’s used for just about everything if you’re over 35. The younger set, however, seems a trifle less engaged.
  9. When someone asks you how you find the city, all they really want to hear is how much you love it. If, like me, you find it troubling, just keep it to yourself and pick one or two more-or-less positive things, like the fantastic quality of the cheap food or the ridiculously affordable massages and manicures. Any response that suggests you are anything but madly, uncritically in love with this place is taken as a person affront or a reason to feign concern for your mental health.
  10. The cheap manicures and massages are all located in Outer Richmond
  11. There is always parking in the Presidio.
  12. Unless you’re under 35 or over 60, you’re going to have one hell of a time meeting people for stuff besides sex. Age segregation to unnecessary extremes is the cultural norm here. Most of it is because apparently sex is the most important of all social activities in San Francisco. This is closely followed by politics, most of which involves people under 35 an people over 60 screaming at each other and blaming one another for the appalling state of housing and the cost of living in San Francisco. Somehow the landlowners and exploitative landlords, who foment and encourage this divisive hatred, only remain a focus for nanoseconds. No one has commented that this is fishy.
  13. For some reason, it’s acceptable to advertise events in private homes on Apparently stranger danger is not a concept out here, because from the looks of it many people actually do go to these. San Francisco Parks and Rec does seem to offer plenty of affordable spaces, as do various dance studios, etc. but no one seems to be interested.
  14. There’s going to be a huge wave of anti-technology activism from the children born after 2002 and it will start in the Bay. Why? Because their parents don’t ever look up from their SmartPhones and it’s the ultimate in absentee parent. Around 2018 start short-stocking Silicon Valley.
  15. Cheap haircuts are a little harder to come by. There’s two on Geary that are under $20. Otherwise you need to go to Cinta Aveda or the SOMA beauty school – and it could still cost you.
  16. This is an allergy sufferer’s hell. MORE POLLEN YEAR ROUND.

This is what i have gathered in roughly a year of observation. Perhaps next year I will have a more nuanced view.

Rajchel-Gonzo Frisco Night 1

San Francisco, night 1.  Actually, staying in a suburb. Millbrae is to San Francisco as Bloomington is to Minneapolis. It won’t be the only parallel, I’m sure.

Impression 1: litter. Litter on the roadside. Litter in the brush. Litter used to obviously make someone’s home on a patch of busy highway. The litter stops abruptly when we come to the hotel – literally, at the gates, as though some mysterious repellent fends off windblown bits of paper and tubes of random hardware adhesives. They need to share this spray.

I suspect this spray is paying someone to clean that shit up.

Mike took me to Mission District for dinner; for some reason I thought he’d already been on one of his trips out here in early spring. The BART line seemed OK, a little old, but well-kept, but on the walk to the station again with the garbage everywhere. The sun had just started to set when we boarded the train; we passed through a tunnel still in twilight and came out the other side with the sky dead black. It startled me – and also answered my eternal question about Buffy the Vampire Slayer of why California?

I realize that landfills are a lousy solution and incinerators the worst possible idea for this state. But jeez, there was a lot of compostable stuff I saw lying along the roadways. I began to look around a little desperately for an Adopt-a-Highway sign. Roads in California are all orphans in need of care. There must be some urban spirit, some mother Theresa of roadways, to invoke in these situations.

My first impression of Mission District was to turn around and get back on the train. Garbage everywhere. Restaurants opened sporadically – it looks like many people in San Francisco, like the people of Paris, eat only after the sun sets. Mike brought me into one café that is supposedly “very Mission.” It paralleled the Hard Times Café, with the Hard Times coming out superior – truly an unexpected win.  It was entirely too small. It was only white people there, in various phases of hippie and hipster.  People peered into my face, looking for something – perhaps because I was definitely not a regular, perhaps something else. There’s always a certain amount of staring when I travel and I ignore it but something about this combined with jet lag set me off.

I told Mike harshly on the way out that based on the impression I had of San Francisco so far there is no way in hell I would waste my energy living in such a place. We then turned a corner and lo – barely a single piece of garbage touched the ground. We started across the street to a tapas bar, went into a French restaurant instead and I got to enjoy service from a French Waiter who did not argue with me about the order in which I received my coffee. I just had a three cheese platter with fruit and pistachios – light and refreshing. Mike had a burger and got embroiled in a text discussion where all sorts of interesting things were said about me based on my being white, female and of “lesser” education than the men discussing me. I drew from my “lesser education” to make my opinions known and there was a backdown. But the underlying attitude is there – and my memory is long.

Mike took me on a way out of the Mission District that was less littered. I counted 7 churches very close to the severely littered streets, and noticed a K-12 school. All that church and education – and a supposedly dense environmentally focused population – and no one thought to clean things up?  Bored kids in need of an Earth Day project? Churches, seeking to teach their congregants through practice the art of true service to the community? I saw none of that and could only pose one question to the universe before me: What the ever loving hell?

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a Walgreen’s as I forgot to pack my very depleted rescue inhaler. Alas, I will almost certainly need it here. There is both pollen AND not enough oxygen produced by plants to filter it here. We will have to call in the morning – the pharmacist did his best but could not fix the problem. A friendly chat with the store clerk revealed that alcohol may be sold until 2 am in California; that sales taxes are obscene on a Chicagoan level and that he seemed quite versed in the features of our hotel.

Mike decided to try out the Lyft service; it was quick, the driver was friendly and amused in a detached way at my jet-lagged insistence I was going to find a way to get San Francisco and the California highway department on this whole litter situation. Gangs, whatever, there’s no great solution yet. But c’mon, litter is a controllable issue.  So now Mike and I are confirmed mustache riders.

We made it back to our rooms, Mike to do whatever it is he does so much of on his computer and I to take a shower, try to stretch out my sciatica issues and to layer on as much lotion as the desert will allow.

Too tired for now and will need room to think.


This is the core conflict of this trip: it’s not for pleasure. People keep asking me for the pleasures I plant to partake in and the truth is none. None of this trip will please me and I am not obligated to be pleased, though Mike is hoping being here will persuade me. Our calendar has already filled with acquaintances of Michael’s; I am hoping to find time to meditate, separate my ego and set it down somewhere so I can deal with what comes my way from the best place possible. There are just too many pressures this time.

No, this is a fact finding trip, the facts organized according to what I consider important. Mike has done his fact-finding. To his credit, he has brought me here to do my own. But how I go about this is intrinsic to me and utterly foreign to just about everyone who has attempted to talk to me about this.

The popular vote is that we move here. I had not set out a ballot.  I have had many an unsolicited opinion. I have not said to anyone “What do you think?” or “Where should we go?” If I’m going to live here, I alone should be asking myself those questions.

I have learned that when something is popular, it is probably wrong. Everyone has a context for what they’re saying to me; perhaps this is payback for the many times I have waxed rhapsodic and pushy about hidden features of Minneapolis.

And here I pause to allow the one piece of genuine bitterness I have in me to flow out – I am forever the person designated to make hard decisions between right and popular. While I know yelling “it’s not fair!” is a useless act, sometimes a little fist shaking loosens some knots in the back.

We’ll see if I can get conversant with the land that is California and the city spirits of the Bay area tomorrow evening. That, and I’ll see if I can get some fucking time to work.

Also, I am still recovering from US Air keeping us on a plane for two hours while they fixed a broken chair. Those of us in front seats were just kind of stuck there.

Cure a Traffic Jam, all by yourself

Traffic congestion at Kosmodamianskaya embankm...
Traffic congestion at Kosmodamianskaya embankment in Moscow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From my Delicious Links writeoffs: I’m going through various pieces of my Delicious bookmarks and using some as writing prompts. Also, I have thus relayed/boosted a signal that I wanted to in the first place.

OK, it actually does take some cooperation. But when you’re stuck in traffic hell, there is one thing you can do:

Slow down, and leave as much space as you can between you and the cars in front of you. Other cars will fail to get what you’re doing, and pull in front of you. All you can do is count to yourself, allow more room, and try again.


Because some motion is better than a standstill. You’ll get home faster in crawling traffic than in a bumper-to-bumper standstill.

I don’t drive as much as I used to – between telecommuting and mass transit I don’t experience traffic jams like I did. But on those occasions where I must be in rush hour traffic… it works. Rather than hurrying up to get to that inch between yourself and the next bumper, just slow down but don’t stop and maintain some room. It helps that moving is preferable to not moving – so just refusing to contribute to a standstill has value.

Note: this probably won’t work in Chicago.

#ghoststories UFO Guest Post

I’ve always been interested in Diana’s paranormal encounters, and while I’ve never experienced anything like what she’s seen, heard, or felt involving that “other side,” I do have a little tale of my own. After emailing her to share my odd story, she suggested I share it with her readers. Why not?

I’ve only told this to a select bunch: my family, my husband, my best friend, Diana — and the author of Green Mountain Ghosts, Ghouls, and Unsolved Mysteries, Joseph Citro, who mentioned Vermont UFOs in his book. Here’s my tale:

I grew up in rural Vermont, and the whole area near my house is kind of spooky, but I never saw anything until I was 17. Then I saw something in the crazy-making territory. An honest-to-goodness UFO!

I was driving home from a friend’s house one night because the electricity went off, and this was before we all had cell phones — I had to get home to set my battery-powered alarm clock. I was driving on a flat stretch when I saw two big door-sized red lights down the road, with some white lights on the top. I figured it was the repair truck and kept driving. I ended up driving right up to the thing and realized that the lights weren’t in front of me…I had just driven under them! I saw the lights from the thing illuminating the trees, and then it slowly went across the corn field (stereotypical) and into the woods.

I’ll never see that thing again, but I won’t even be able to erase it from my memory. If you want to go UFO hunting, maybe you should try Vermont. 

Image: Shoothead

Photos from Paris: shots from the plane

[stextbox id=”info”]My partner Mike and I went to Paris last month. These are shots captured. Also reference the Analog Tweets from Paris series, as this may give you some context. The shots/slides are available to view on Flickr, and are hidden behind a cut so as not to make Livejournal explode.[/stextbox]

This is really more Paris and Iceland, coming in. I didn’t do shots on the way from Iceland to the US, because I wanted to try to sleep.

Photos from Paris: Montparnasse Tower

[stextbox id=”info”]My partner Mike and I went to Paris last month. These are shots captured. Also reference the Analog Tweets from Paris series, as this may give you some context. The shots/slides are available to view on Flickr, and are hidden behind a cut so as not to make Livejournal explode.[/stextbox]
Montparnasse Tower actually extends higher than the Eiffel tower, giving the most complete aerial view of Paris. Yet two more Parisians decided to lay down for a nap in the middle of the observation deck. I let them keep their shoes.

The female security guard searched the bags of anyone she thought was American – I was not one of them, and I wisely kept my mouth shut. A tour group there at the same time as Mike and I (we did not join any formal tour groups on this trip) consisted of people from Poland and Germany, and one man, in an attempt to chat me up, began speaking at me rapidly in German. I vaguely kept up, since at least my first year of high school German was not the tragic waste that my second year was, and I managed to suss out he wanted to know which window gave a view to the Eiffel tower.

The view, gotten on our last full day in Paris, gave me an idea for future travels. I now have a strategy:
Day 1: get to the high ground. Go to the highest point. See the area. (In Hawaii, that was easy as it was the first thing you saw leaving the apartment. Not so easy in Paris, as there’s a lot of ways to accomplish that, most sans elevators, and most of that sans elevator stuff involves climbs that makes the most ardent of my gym buddies cringe.) It gives you at least some context for the area you’re exploring.
Day 2: Take a seated tour that takes you through the streets. We had planned to take a bus or boat tour and just never did, which was just as well. Even so, in the next place we go, I’ll probably do exactly that after I see the area from the highest point. Again, it builds context – you get to see more landmarks, become more familiar with the territory and establish a stronger sense of place and boundaries.

Photos from Paris: the Eiffel Tower

[stextbox id=”info”]My partner Mike and I went to Paris last month. These are shots captured. Also reference the Analog Tweets from Paris series, as this may give you some context. The shots/slides are available to view on Flickr, and are hidden behind a cut so as not to make Livejournal explode.[/stextbox]
I had expected the Eiffel Tower to be a letdown, and maybe it’s good that I went in with that attitude, because truth be told … it’s pretty darned cool. We didn’t go up the tower – the queue was absurdly long, even on a Monday, and I had just enjoyed a walk along the river with the complete absence of a crowd. Given that everything in Europe is smaller, tighter, more efficient and more closely packed to deal with population density in a way North Americans south of Mexico never ever deal with, the enormous amounts of empty space shocked me. This was when I also began to puzzle at the tendency of Parisians to sleep in public spaces. I appreciate a good siesta, but in my part of the world, you sleep in public and someone takes your shoes.

Photos from Paris: Crypt de Archeologique

[stextbox id=”info”]My partner Mike and I went to Paris last month. These are shots captured. Also reference the Analog Tweets from Paris series, as this may give you some context. The shots/slides are available to view on Flickr, and are hidden behind a cut so as not to make Livejournal explode.[/stextbox]

Crypt de Archeologique stores the oldest stones in Paris. Ancient Romans and Gaulic warriors trod them, and now they lie preserved in one of the earliest examples of urban archeology. I consider them the most powerful things I encountered in Paris – but then, I never did make it to the catacombs where you could see all the bones. They vibrated with something ancient in them, all that living history. What’s curious is that the United States ostensibly has less human history than Europe, and yet I’ve found many, many places that have that kind of energy or memory stored in them – there are days where I can barely walk down the street without finding something with so much vibrance! I have to admit that the inherent energy of Notre Dame paled in comparison, but I also think that the cathedral has its energy diluted just from the masses of people walking through.

Photos from Paris: the Louvre

[stextbox id=”info”]My partner Mike and I went to Paris last month. These are shots captured. Also reference the Analog Tweets from Paris series, as this may give you some context. The shots/slides are available to view on Flickr, and are hidden behind a cut so as not to make Livejournal explode.[/stextbox]

To get the most out of your visit to the Louvre:

  1. Always look up.
  2. Always look down.
  3. Cameras are OK, flash is not.
  4. The water closets are extra gross. Someone found a way to pee on the far back of the toilet in one of the loos, making me wonder if it was an in-transition person that did it.
  5. The antiquities wing has so much stuff that answers so many questions if you have any interest in ancient civilizations.
  6. I’m probably going to be using a good chunk of my Louvre photos spread out in future blog posts. If I ever get an opportunity to go back to Paris, I will definitely plan on spending more time in the Louvre. I didn’t even come close to cracking the surface, and I loved it so much. I want to have a sleepover there … as long as I’m nowhere near the giant Sumerian lions. That’s just total Cthulhoid shit waiting to happen.