Category Archives: SF Flavor

Blue Moon

Originally posted April 8, 2015

I am a professional fundraising auctioneer. This means that I work with non-profit organizations to help plan and implement their fundraising auctions. Then the night of their event I get to get onstage and encourage people to spend-more-than-they-should-on-stuff-they-don’t-need-in-support-of-a-great-cause.

It is the best job in the world. I love my work, in no small part because each and every day I go to work I am using my powers for good – helping to make the world a better place.

Fundraising auctions are fun, but they are a challenge, too. Every event I do, there are four or five little things that go wrong. And once in a great while, there is a catastrophe that tests the limits of my experience.

A few years back I was doing the auction for a local organization that benefits the homeless. And this particular event, the auction was transcending. Things were selling for double what they’d sold in the past.

We’re right in the heart of the auction, and an auction lot takes off.

$2,000 – 22 – 24 – 26 – 28, now three! Three thousand, 32, a board member named Nick is in at 35-hundred, woman in the back is in at 38-hundred, back to Nick at four thousand? Yes, no, maybe so? Sold, three-thousand-eight-hundred and the place goes nuts.

I flip the page on my script, eager to get on to the next item when a volunteer comes running up to me: we need a doctor in the back of the room. I’ve had things like this happen before. Eight months before this at a different auction, a bidder almost choked to death on her dinner, and Dr Angel – no kidding – saved her life with the Heimlich. So I know that the most important thing is to get someone who is CPR certified to respond, quickly.

But when I look in the back of the room, I see the second place bidder from the last lot, Nick, flat on his back on the floor, and the event chair giving him chest compressions. And I realize we’re all headed into uncharted territory.

I tell everyone that we’re going to take a break from the stage while we wait for the EMTs, and I meet with the staff to figure out what to do next.

As the time slowly ticks by while we wait for the EMTs, it becomes evident that Nick has died. I’m thinking, but not feeling as we discuss what to do. I know that the crowd needs some closure, something to help make sense of the evening. And the Development Director tells me her program really needs the money we were going to raise.

We agree that doing the rest of the auction would be crass, so we decide to just do the fund-a-need: where people simply pledge money to the cause. Done right, a fund-a-need can bring a crowd together.

After the EMTs take Nick out, we get back on stage, and I tell the crowd that Nick was a big supporter of the cause (he was a board member), and he would have wanted us to make something positive happen. I tell the crowd that it is up to us to come together to save many lives where we couldn’t save one. And with an up swell of emotion, we go on to have the most successful fund-a-need they’ve ever had.

After the event, alone for the first time in my car about to call my wife, it finally hits me; the emotions finally arrive. Hard. I’ve killed a bidder. Instead of good, my powers did bad. It was one of those subjects so serious, everyone played it down. “Of course you didn’t kill him!” my friends would say.

But I felt like I did.

And it haunted me. I’d get going in an auction, start to ramp up the emotions, and suddenly get worried that I might be pushing someone too far. I’d flinch internally whenever a volunteer came running up mid-auction with a question.

It wasn’t until that same event, a year later, chatting with one of Nick’s friends who had been at his table the year before. “I want you to know,” he said, “That Nick died having the time of his life. His heart attack was massive, his death instantaneous. And if he wasn’t at this event, he would have been at home, eating dinner alone.

“Instead, he died surrounded by friends, having a great time.” He could tell I was touched, so he put his hand on my shoulder, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You know what his last words were? His last words were: ‘Can you believe that lot just sold for $3,800?!?”

And in that moment, he released that yoke of guilt from my shoulders. In that moment, he restored my confidence in our powers. Because in that moment, he reminded me that we’re all here for the short term. And anything we can do to make each other’s lives more enjoyable, more meaningful, in any of these small little moments is using our powers for good.

Star Wars Day at AT&T Park, 2012

Originally Posted September 13, 2012

Best. Family portrait. Ever.

onday, September 3rd 2012 was Star Wars Day at AT&T Park. After showing up in only Star Wars t-shirts the year before, in 2012 we were well prepared. We opted to ride MUNI to the ballpark, since it would eliminate parking and be totally fun to be out and about in costume.

Just your everyday commute to the ballpark. I love how the Boba SFett comm link happens to point at the ballpark on the MUNI map

The train ride was as fun as you’d expect, on the way to a Giants’ day game on Labor Day. As more people got on the train our son became a bigger and bigger celebrity. Of course, we never took the masks off, either.

Our son managed to get in on every photo, all day long.

Possibly best of all, our son was chosen to be the Junior Announcer for the first three SF batters to come to the plate in the bottom of the 3rd inning. Too bad he couldn’t do it with his Darth SFader helmet on…

Ryder rocking as the Junior Giants Announcer. Too bad he couldn’t be heard through the Vader mask…

Of course it came down to Buster Posey hitting the game-tying double in the bottom of the 9th. And we had just the sign ready to go…

This year’s Star Wars day was unbelievable! We had a blast in our costumes. Ryder got to be the Jr Announcer, and the Giants came back in the bottom of the 9th to send the game to extras where Scutaro won it in the 10th.

We’re already looking forward to Star Wars Day at AT&T Park in 2013. It will be hard to top this year’s amazing experience, but then again the force will be with us. Always.

Preparing for Star Wars Day at AT&T Park

Originally published September 13, 2012

When we attended the debut of Star Wars Day at AT&T Park in 2011 we thought we were being so clever by wearing hard-to-find Star Wars T-shirts with our Giants gear. We hadn’t thought through just how far one could run with the whole Giants/Star Wars theme, and were blown away by the people who converted full-blown Star Wars costumes into Giants gear.

Especially this guy. Oh, and this couple who did the whole AT-AT Walker thing together. We swore that in 2012 we would have our revenge. Or at least try a little harder to creatively honor the theme.

I knew from the onset that I wanted to be a Giants Boba Fett. So I found this Jango Fett helmet on Amazon for $26. My 7-year old son wanted to be Darth SFader, so I got him one of these Darth Vader voice changer helmets on eBay. Finally, my wife decided that since he and I were going to a) be in lots of pictures, and b) have our faces covered she better abandon her PrincesSF Leia idea and get with the masked side. A quick trip to Target did the trick.

Preparation for spray paint essentially required loads of painter’s tape, news paper, and patience.

I find your lack of paint… disturbing

My son insisted that he wanted his helmet to be orange with a black stripe down the middle, which seemed easy enough to mask off.

Glossy black spray paint was easy to find. But a glossy orange that would bond well with plastic was more challenging. Eventually I found the perfect orange at Franciscan Hobbies on Ocean Ave.

It came in tiny little cans, and after the first can of paint ran out I was freaked that it simply might not work. As you can see from the below photo, the orange looks like crap after just one or two coats.

After just one pass, the orange looked horrible.

On the next trip to Franciscan Hobbies I picked up a couple of spare cans of paint, and resumed spraying and huffing with vigor. It wound up taking 3 cans of paint (and who knows how many brain cells) to get our helmets all well-coated.

If I had more time for the project, I would have experimented with a lacquer or sealant to protect the orange. As it was, my son’s SFader helmet chipped in a couple of places in just one day of wearing it.

As it was, I put the final layer of orange on the night before the game. And that night, while the helmets dried atop the sports page, I knew we were in business.

A few coats of orange later and the Darth SFader helmet is popping. The clone trooper mask only took a couple of coats, since it was white.

My son needed a cape, so we went to Beverly’s and scored some awesome SF Giants micro-fleece that my wife quickly converted into a cape.

And with that, we knew we were ready to storm Jabba’s stronghold…follow to my next post for photos of us out and about on our way to Star Wars Day!

The Business of Breaking Hearts

Originally posted July 31st, 2012

Word just came out that the San Francisco Giants traded outfielder Nate Schierholtz to the Philadelphia Phillies. That statement means nothing to you if you do not follow baseball, a little more if you do. The vast majority of Giants fans will simply see the potential for upside in the addition of Hunter Pence to the lineup.

My son, however, is going to cry. Just the thought of breaking the news to him is making me sadder than I already am. We love Nate Schierholtz in our household, and as badly as we want the Giants to succeed, seeing him go hurts in a way that surprises me.

Sports in America have become such a mega-business that it is easy to forget why they are able to exist. As a collective whole, we fans will sporting teams to exist. It is our passion for the game, our love of our teams and our willingness to pay top dollar to support them that enables the most talented athletes to become rich and the already-rich owners to reap even more profits.

Most professional ball players will give lip service to “not forgetting their roots” and “giving back to the fans”. But as their careers skyrocket and seasons progress it becomes easier and easier for them to insulate themselves from the yearning masses who enable their lifestyle.

My son, Ryder, just turned 7. We started taking him to games 4 years ago, and it was 2 years ago that he started to become interested in the actual game and the individual men who play it. His rising interest coincided with the Giants’ “August of destiny” that saw them erase a 10 game deficit in the NL West and go on to win the World Series, turning him into a die-hard fan. He can recall with amazing accuracy plays, statistics and moments from games he heard on the radio.

You think you know Giants baseball? I dare you to put your knowledge of the game up against Ryder’s knowledge in his lifetime. How many men were on base when Renteria hit the home run to give the Giants the lead in game 5 of the world series? Who were they? What bases were they on? How many Giants pitchers have hit home runs in past 2 seasons? What was the count when Cain hit his last home run? How many men were on base? These are just a few of the random stats he has recalled on his own recently.

Ryder loves baseball and the players he follows on a regular basis. L-O-V-E-S. He can’t separate his passion from “the business of sports”, can’t temper his love for his favorite players with the ever-lurking threat of a trade.  In August of 2010, Ryder announced that he wanted “to meet Buster, or Timmy, or Panda.” So in 2011 we started trying to give him the chance to get autographs.

We managed to meet a few of the Giants, even one of his faves (Romo!) but it was the day that he met Nate Schierholtz that changed his life. Mr. Schierholtz was kind enough to come over to the fence that separates the players’ parking lot from the public after the last game of 2011 and sign autographs for the few kids who were hanging around out there. Not Timmy. Not Wilson. Not Buster. Not Cain. Not even the rookies, Belt or Crawford. We watched them all get in their cars and drive off.

Nate Schierholtz heard the plaintive cries of a young fan who wanted nothing more than a few seconds of his time, and responded by showing a generosity that illustrated his humanity and his connection to his own baseball roots. The business of baseball has treated Nate pretty well, even if he has to uproot and move to Philadelphia. Try explaining that to a 7-year old who is going to be heartbroken when he learns that one of his favorite players left town on 24-hours notice.

No, seriously: you tell my son that Nate Schierholtz just got sent packing. Because I don’t know if I can tell him why the business of baseball just broke his heart.

An Open Letter to Cirque du Soleil re: TOTEM San Francisco

Dear Cirque du Soleil,

My wife and I have been attending Cirque shows for years – going back to before we met 10 years ago. When our son was 3 we started taking him to shows every year as well. He’s now 6, and our annual trip to Cirque has become the way we kick off the holidays. It has always been filled with wonder and magic, an experience well worth the price of admission. Until TOTEM.

TOTEM marked the first time we felt disappointed in a Cirque show. We attended the matinee SF performance this past Sunday (11/13/11), and once our son had gone to bed we said, for the first time, “Do you want to go back next year?” I’m sure you’re aware that your prices are expensive, and we wanted you to know that the product you’ve put out there this time around has us questioning to come back next time.

Some specifics: TOTEM was extremely focused on the center section of seats. Huge portions of the show played directly to the middle third. We were in section 104, Row B, seats 3 – 5, and we felt like 2nd class citizens through much of the show. The finale of the unicycles & bowls, for example, was completely blocked by the backs of the unicyclists.

The acts felt less engaging this year, as a whole. There were some amazing acts, as always, but there were real “filler” acts too; acts which felt beneath a Cirque du Soleil show, acts which felt like a rip off. Specifically: the Hoops Dancer act was cute once, but too much a 2nd time (and I’ll get into how often they dropped hoops later). The androgynous couple doing strength moves played directly to the center of the house, and never engaged our side of the tent.

There were lots of mistakes. I get it, the performers are human. But there were a *lot* of mistakes for one 2-hour show. The hoops act dropped a lot of hoops; a disheartening number of hoops. Devil Sticks dropped his stick at least once. One of the Russian Bars acrobats fell off of his bar on a landing early in the routine, and from there on out he seemed timid and played it safe.

The “story” of TOTEM was one of the weakest you’ve floated yet. It all seemed designed to set up the “evolution of man” bit – which was funny, but hardly the basis of a show.

For years we have loved your shows and blindly bought tickets knowing that our minds would be blown for the 2+ hours we were under that tent. We’ve never felt like we had a bad seat in the house, until Sunday.

This year we were constantly reminded that we hadn’t bought the best tickets, that we were watching flawed humans perform, and that you’ve been rolling out new shows every year for so long now that it’s taken its toll on your ability to put forth something new, fresh and amazing.

Next year we will read the reviews of your show before it comes to town, and we’ll take any negative reviews more seriously than we would have before we saw TOTEM. We know that your cast and crew work hard, but this seemed like a product beneath what we expect from you.



The One Candy Bar to Rule Them All

Originally posted November 1, 2011

In the 16 years I’ve lived in San Francisco I’ve never been in a “destination neighborhood” for Halloween trick or treating. Until now. Last night we ran out of candy not once, but twice. It was awesome.

Leading up to Halloween,  our neighbors warned us of “tons of kids” and “bags of candy gone in minutes.” We ignored their warnings like a diabetic with a plastic pumpkin full of booty, and settled for just a few pounds of candy.

My son’s Halloween Haul. Note the huge bar; every other kid in town did.

We were overrun. Swamped. Slammed. It was awesome. We ran out of candy in under 30 minutes, got some candy from a generous neighbor who understands actual planning versus the pathetic excuse for planning that passes in our household, and ran out of that. It got so bad at one point that I resorted to holding up a piece of candy for kids to see, shoving it into their bag and shouting “Happy Halloween!” while I palmed the candy back out so I could “give” it to another kid.

Part of me wants to believe that our neighborhood is so popular with trick-or-treaters because there are so many families in the ‘hood. Part of me wants to believe that it is because we are close to a school, and lots of families want to be close to school on such an awesome night of fun.

The rest of me knows that our street is really popular because of Uncle Ceasar, our neighbor who lives at the end of our cul de sac. Ceasar and his partner are great neighbors. They always say hi to the kids, and are always giving all of the kids on our block gifts for the major holidays. Three days after Easter Ceasar tracked down our son to give him the foot-tall chocolate Easter Bunny he’d been holding on to for him.

On Halloween, Ceasar and his partner give out Hershey’s Giant Bar candy bars. Nearly a half-pound of hallelujah! for hungry little ninjas, princesses and pirates. Kids who had been here before would rush through all of the houses on our block, just itching to get down the street to Ceasar’s. Screams of, “He’s back! He’s doing it again! He’s giving out the big bars!” echoed up and down the block until he ran out candy (long after we did, I might add).

Ceasar isn’t just Legendary in San Francisco, he’s become Mythological. Urban Mythological, even. When we tell people where we live, those who know say, “Oh, you live by the guy who gives out the huge candy bars!” and then they launch into some story that has nothing to do with reality, but is extremely entertaining. Some of my favorites:

“I heard he wasn’t going to hand out candy bars this year because he moved.”

“I heard he wasn’t going to hand out candy bars this year because he and his partner broke up.”

“I heard he wasn’t going to hand out candy bars this year because he went bankrupt.”

I plan to collect these in greater detail leading up to next year. Until then, I hail Ceasar for making our little neck of the woods that much more awesome each and every Halloween.

Sutro Tower Pumpkin Stencil for Halloween

Originally posted October 31, 2011

In our house, we loves us the Sutro Tower. So much so that this year my wife decided to create a stencil to use for one of our Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns.

Actually, the conversation went more like this:

Me: I’ll happily carve a Sutro Tower pumpkin for you, just go download a stencil and print it out.

She: Ok, is your computer on?…Jesus Christ, there are NO Sutro Tower stencils out there. C’mon people, you’d think that some Mission Hipster would have spray-painted this image somewhere in the past 20 years.

And so she set out to creating her own stencil, which turned out to be pretty cool, if I do say so myself. All you’ll need to create your own iconic pumpkin is a printer, exacto knife, pen that draws on pumpkins, and a fine-toothed pumpkin carving tool.

Or, in other words, one of those pumpkin carving kits they sell at Walgreen’s for $4.95. 

Once we printed out the stencil we fine-tuned it a little by drawing it bigger on the pumpkin. That should be easy enough for you to figure out and run with. Start by clicking on the image at right, printing, and getting rolling.

And if you do create a Sutro Tower Pumpkin, do me a favor and post a link to it below or email me a photo of it. I’d love to see it.

Tips for Families Attending Sunday SF Giants Games at AT&T Park

Originally posted April 14, 2011

Sunday is a great day to take your kid to see a San Francisco Giants game! The game times are almost always at 1:05pm, and there are a ton of events and activities for families on Sundays.

In the three years that we’ve been taking our son to games, we’ve learned a few things about seeing Giants games with a kid, especially on a Sunday afternoon. After last week’s game, I felt compelled to compile my own little list of tips and tricks for AT&T Park. Even though you can find almost all of this information on your own on the Giants’ website, you need to dig and  – more importantly – you need to know what you’re digging for.

Food: You can bring your own food in to AT&T Park. Repeat: You don’t have to spend $70 to feed a family of 3 a bunch of junk food (sorry, Gilroy Garlic Fries) every time you go to the ballpark. You can pack in your own picnic, as long as you don’t bring in any glass containers or alcoholic beverages. We pack a backpack full of Tupperware laden with sandwiches, sliced fruit, pretzels, cookies and anything else we can fit. That way, when we do wind up buying a $6.25 Lemonade it’s refreshing, not budget-breaking.

Seating: Where you sit is entirely dependent upon your personal preference and budget, obviously. If you can afford to sit right behind home plate, that’s where you should always be. If you have to make a choice between View Reserve and the Bleachers, I recommend the bleachers. You’ll run the risk of your kid learning a new profanity or two, but you’ll also have a better chance of watching more of the game. Something about being up so high and so removed from the game that doesn’t work with young children’s minds. Or at least our young child’s mind.

The bleachers also have the best access to the Coca Cola Fan lot (see below).

Ryder, trying to score some signatures on his 2010 World Series pennant

Autographs and batting practice: The Giants have a policy that you can try to get autographs during/after batting practice – as long as you’re not intrusive. On Sundays the Giants don’t always take batting practice, but they do designate it as official autograph day.

This means that the first 120 kids ages 14 & under who line up in the aisle for sections 104/105 and the first 120 kids who line up in the aisle for sections 126/127 get to stand in line and get an autograph from that day’s designated Giant. This past Sunday we accidentally discovered this fact, and had to scramble to get a ticket for Ryder. In turn, he got to meet/get an autograph from Will “The Thrill” Clark, who is currently working in the Giants’ front office. Next Sunday game we’ll try to do it again, and update this with the player who was signing.

They have sharpies for the player, but don’t provide anything for you to get signed. Think ahead: bring a ball or a pennant. Your own Sharpie wouldn’t hurt either, in case you get lucky and catch one of the other players in the right place at the right time.

Elevators: There are elevators that will take you up or down to every level in the ballpark. They have security positioned outside the glass doors to them, and the stickers on the doors make it seem like the elevators are reserved for the disabled or people going to the suites. Whenever we’ve approached the elevators at the Northeast corner of the park, however, they’ve been more than kind in taking us where we wanted to go.

I’ve never asked the exact policy on this, but it seems like they allow those in need on. When my wife, Michele, had just had foot surgery back in 2002 they let her use the elevators each direction as much as she wanted during both of the World Series games we attended. And every time we’ve brought Ryder to the park, they’ve let us use the elevators to get from the View Reserve level down to the slides/Coca Cola Fan Lot. At the end of the day, or even in the 3rd inning, avoiding that winding, 7-story ramp down from View Reserve to the fan lot can be a day-saver.

Coca Cola Fan Lot: Inside of the giant Coke bottle out beyond the left field bleachers are three slides, and just to the North of the slides is the Little Giants Park. Kids must be at least 36″ to ride the lower slides, and over 42″ tall to ride the big slide. Unless there is no line, the slides aren’t worth the wait.

Worth the wait, however, is the Little Giants Park. This is the miniature replica of AT&T Park, where kids 42″ and shorter can smack a Whiffle ball and run the bases. The line for this is huge in the early innings, but usually dies out by about the 6th or 7th inning. They let in 15 – 20 kids at a time, and each kid gets a chance to hit a ball/run the mini-bases and then exit. Once every kid in that “rotation” has had a shot, they let in a new batch of kids from the line.

If you can keep your kid engaged in the game until the later innings, you’ll do right to have them smack a homer in the Little Giants Park. Because from there it is pretty easy to ride it out until the end of the game so they can run the real bases after the game (see below).

Kids Run the Bases: At the conclusion of games on Sundays, kids can run the actual bases in AT&T Park! The line forms along McCovey Cove, outside of the ballpark. Make your way out of the ballpark – preferably by exiting the stairs at the Southeast corner of the park, beyond the Coca Cola fan lot. This puts you on the promenade leading right to the knothole gang free viewing area. You’ll enter through the knothole gang gate in right field.

Running the bases after the game.

The line starts to form early (I’m guessing 8th inning) and gets long. Don’t let that dissuade you: it moves quickly, and there really is nothing like the joy on a kid’s face when they get to run around the bases of a major league park.

The staff who run this operation for the Giants can be a bit gruff, but don’t let that slow you down either. They just have a lot of people to get through in a short period of time. This is sponsored by See’s Candy, so every kid who does it gets a free See’s Lollipop on the way up and out. And on Mother’s day, moms get to run the bases too!

Final note on concessions: the best deals on any Giants merchandise are always to be found in the big Giants Dugout Store. Panda hats were selling for $20 on the upper levels, but were $16 at the dugout store. I bought a fitted hat for $40 at the end of last season, only to find that hats were 2-for-1 in the dugout store.

Enjoy your Sundays in the park, and Go Giants!

Moscone Who?

Originally posted April 13, 2011

Today at the bank I found myself explaining my job to the personal banking representative who was helping re-establish the free checking I originally signed up for that had somehow changed in the last few months. They teach feigned interest very well at personal banking representative school, because I found myself sharing more and more information as the conversation went on.

Jonathan and Q, having a great time at the 2011 Cal Shakes gala

I became increasingly cognizant of the fact that I was dressed like a slacker while arguing for a whole lot of free banking. This compelled me to explain that I dress down when I work from home, but at events I dress up. Wear a tux. Wear a tux 50+ times a year. Hell, I’m on my 3rd tux. No, not that they go out of style, I wear them out. I felt even more compelled to try and find a good picture that would back my whole story up.

So I flipped through my phone, looking for the perfect picture, and found a self-portrait of me and Jonathan Moscone, taken at Cal Shakes’ event this past March. “Here, check it out: here’s a shot of me with Jonathan Moscone,” I said, figuring that would get a good response.

“Who? I don’t know who that is…” said the kind, but truly unawares personal banking rep.

“Ever hear of Moscone Center?” I asked. “Yeah, that Moscone. His dad? The Mayor? In the movie Milk? Riiiight.”

Seriously, shouldn’t you have to pass some sort of San Francisco History exam if you’re going to call this place your home? Civic pride, people, civic pride. Sadly, I think I left more depressed by the fact that she didn’t know who Jon was than she was impressed by his family’s impact on this city.

Thank God it wasn’t a shot of me and Art Agnos.