Monday, January 30, 2023

OUT NOW: Training is Bitter: Reflections on Life, Effort, and Acrobatics With Master Trainer Lu Yi

Hailed as everything from “the father of modern acrobatics” to the “rabble-rouser of Chinese circus,” Master Trainer Lu Yi brings his trademark humor and acrobatic philosophy to his own life story in Training is Bitter.

In Training is Bitter, famed acrobatic performer Lu Yi recalls a nearly seven-decade career of incredible feats and bitter challenges. At just eleven years old, Lu Yi faced cruel methods and harsh beatings from the coach of his first acrobatic troupe. He went on to become a celebrated performer known for acrobatic creativity who invented a number of tricks—including one that, as far as he knows, has never been replicated. He toured the world as a star acrobat, served as artistic director of both the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe and the San Francisco Circus Center, and established the first Chinese Acrobatics training program in the United States.

Through engaging first-hand accounts and detailed historical essays, Training is Bitter, written with former student Devin Holt, offers a picture of a man who inspired generations of students to endure the hard, bitter training necessary to perform on the world’s biggest circus stages.

“If you’ve watched a circus in the last twenty years, you’ve seen Master Lu Yi’s work. He changed circus in North America and Australia in profound and beautiful ways. He was also my teacher and a dear friend. Training is Bitter gives you a taste of Lu Yi’s philosophy and why he is beloved by performers around the world.” 

—JEFF RAZ, former Cirque du Soleil star and author of The Secret Life of Clowns

Contortionist and hand balancer Zhou Yue trains with Lu Yi. 1990 Photo: Terry Lorant

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Welcome to Periodgraph

Thank you for stopping by. This former blog now serves as the landing page for Periodgraph Press, an independent publishing company in San Francisco. Hopefully, we will have a better website soon. But for now, all of our effort is going into the finishing touches on the company’s first book: Training is Bitter: Reflections on Life, Effort, and Acrobatics With Master Trainer Lu Yi. Stay tuned for a release within the next few weeks.

In the meantime, you can check out the flap copy below, or enjoy this fun-fact about our name: Periodgraph comes from a phrase spoken over magazine edits. Two people working on Etc. Magazine at City College in 2012 were discussing an article — reading possible combinations aloud while including punctuation. One of them said a sentence, followed by “period, graph,” meaning the end of the sentence and the start of a new paragraph. The phrase stuck.

—Devin Holt, founder of Periodgraph Press

About Training is Bitter:

Hailed as everything from “the father of modern acrobatics” to the “rabble-rouser of Chinese circus,” Master Trainer Lu Yi brings his trademark humor and acrobatic philosophy to his own life story in Training is Bitter.

He recalls a nearly seven-decade career of incredible feats and bitter challenges. At just eleven years old, Lu Yi faced cruel methods and harsh beatings from the coach of his first acrobatic troupe. He went on to become a celebrated performer known for acrobatic creativity who invented a number of tricks—including one that, as far as he knows, has never been replicated. He toured the world as a star acrobat, served as artistic director of both the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe and the San Francisco Circus Center, and established the first Chinese Acrobatics training program in the United States. Through engaging first-hand accounts and detailed historical essays, Training is Bitter, written with former student Devin Holt, offers a picture of a man who inspired generations of students to endure the hard, bitter training necessary to perform on the world’s biggest circus stages.

“If you’ve watched a circus in the last twenty years, you’ve seen Master Lu Yi’s work. He changed circus in North America and Australia in profound and beautiful ways. He was also my teacher and a dear friend. Training is Bitter gives you a taste of Lu Yi’s philosophy and why he is beloved by performers around the world.”

—JEFF RAZ, former Cirque du Soleil star and author of The Secret Life of Clowns

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

An Obituary for CELLspace

CELLspace, community arts center, closed its doors at the end of 2012.

During the late '90s and early aughts, there was no better place to see the Mission District’s artistic, multicultural vibe than CELLspace.  San Francisco prankster Chicken John was known to decorate the 10,000 square foot warehouse as a Las Vegas casino; the Flaming Lotus Girls created their first large scale fire installations in the CELLspace metal shop, and during Carnaval, the space would burst at the seams from the ritual drumming, colorful rattling costumes and sheer number of teenagers involved in groups like Loco Bloco and Danza Azteca.

Michael Sturtz was so impressed by CELLspace that he named his industrial arts school, The Crucible, after their art gallery.  

“The name was inspired by the Crucible Steel Gallery, which was the CELLspace gallery at the time,” he said.  

Burning Man’s Arts Advocate and Community Events Producer Steven Raspa held his first interactive art exhibit in that gallery.  "Cell has played a vital and significant role in the underground creative community in the Bay Area for many years,” he said, adding that he could recall, “numerous mad-capped happenings that defied explanation.”

Most people who went there, went to those mad-capped happenings: all-night dance parties that began with a yoga lesson and ended with the Extra Action Marching Band, literary events with David Byrne, beats from Bassnectar when he was DJ Lorin, breakdancing competitions, mechanical bull riding, hip hop theater, live chainsaw massacres, puppet circus suppers, blindfolded transcendental meditation workshops, and youth hip hop nights where gang members from the Nortenos, Surenos, Westmob and Big Block all danced together.

And it all began with a window in the bathroom.

Jonathan Youtt, Justin Bondi and Tryntje Rapalje were living in a dusty, illegal unit attached to a warehouse screen printing business, in what was then called the North East Mission Industrial Zone.  It was a lively apartment, with live music, puppet shows and independent film nights.  In the quieter moments, they would gaze out the bathroom window and watch the T-shirts dry.  They would imagine a better world.  A world with art.  A world with community.  

It was 1996 in San Francisco.  A time when you could still find a room in the Mission for $300, and the dotcom boom hadn’t turned empty warehouses into prime real estate.  When the screen printing business moved out, the dreamers moved in.  They signed the papers on the Spring Equinox.  

The early years at Cell were marked by chaos and construction.  Dave X was known to test his flamethrowers behind the building on Florida St., Jojo La Plume created an open craft loft in the homemade mezzanine, and the Sisterz of the Underground offered free breakdancing lessons for aspiring b-girls on the main space floor.  On some days, you might have seen all three happening at the same time.

This writer first walked through the doors in the fall of 2000, looking for a place to practice juggling.  Tamara Li, one of only three employees — in a space open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. — said, “for something like that, you could just pick a couple of chores off the chore board.”

Jonathan Youtt pointed out that CELLspace was never just about Burners.  When some local youth were discovered painting graffiti on the outside of the building, they were encouraged.  Those walls later hosted many great street artists, like Swoon, Spie, and Joel Bergner.  Joel Bergner painted his first outdoor mural, “De Frontera a Frontera,” on 2050 Bryant, for which he won Best Public Mural from Precita Eyes in 2004. 

“We were the only community space for a while that would even touch youth [programming], and youth hip hop shows,” Youtt said.  “We provided a place for the Third Eye Movement, United Playaz, and other groups to organize against Prop 21,” a 2000 ballot initiative that made it easier to try juveniles as adults.    

But it wasn’t all playa dust and b-boys.

The caretaker system — where members traded “20 hours” of work in exchange for cheap rent upstairs — led to burnout, and monetary theft.  The space was run by collective consensus, which involved painfully long meetings.  One irate member could freeze decision making, and some meetings ended in screaming matches and tears.  And there were constant problems with the city.  The building at 2050 Bryant St. was never meant to be a public space; bringing it up to code proved to be a nightmare.  CELLspace was temporarily closed by the police or fire departments so many times that some members lost count.  

During these shutdowns, CELLspace had to look outside of its doors to bring in money, and that led to an expansion.  Jonathan Youtt convinced the owner of an empty warehouse and parking lot out back to let Cell have fundraisers there.  A group of members envisioned a flea market for the Mission, run with the CELLspace ethos in mind. This writer insisted it would never work.

The Mission Village Market grew to be Cell’s biggest moneymaker, and rivaled the Alemany Flea Market as a destination for vendors.  Mission Urban Arts — a Cell-founded after school program — used the extra building to teach breakdancing, DJing and other skills to Mission youth, and the bike-education group The Bike Kitchen taught their first free workshops at the Mission Village Market. 

With two buildings, in-house youth programming, official 501c3 non-profit status, and an eventual Place of Entertainment permit in 2005, the once kooky warehouse space had grown up.  But as CELLspace became more established, the culture changed.  The space relied less on volunteers, artists and live-in caretakers, and more on paid staff.  Collective consensus gave way to weekly staff meetings, and monthly board meetings, as nonprofit status required by law.  

During this transition, most of the original members left.

“In the '90s it was, live there for nothing, work your ass off,” said Russell Howze, a longtime CELLspace member.  But by the time Howze quit volunteering in 2005 he said, “the culture of making art for participation’s sake was pretty much gone.”

Despite changing the guard, the space appeared to be thriving.  

Cell’s 10th birthday party in 2006 was attended by a who’s who of Mission nonprofit workers, and politicians like Tom Ammiano and Chris Daly.  But later that year, CELLspace lost its second building to make way for a housing development, and was forced to close the Mission Village Market.  Cell had to move all of it’s programs into one building, and the needs of the competing programs clashed.  Tension grew between the events department and the staff who ran the youth program, leading to subtle accusations of racism on both sides.    

Grants helped to cover the loss of income from the market, but a lot of the money was wasted.  After one of the larger grants was received, the staff were given cell phones (no pun intended) for conducting CELLspace business.  Within one year, they would have no business to conduct.

“Essentially, large amounts of money were mismanaged, one grant in particular from DCYF (Department of Children Youth and Families). Money was spent on things it shouldn’t have been, there were gang dynamics in place — it became a high risk situation in some of the decisions that were made, programmatically and financially,” said one former employee who preferred to remain anonymous.  

In early 2007, employees who argued about the direction the space was going were let go, beginning with this writer.  Later that year, paychecks for employees of Def-Ed, the Adult Art Education Program and Mission Urban Arts started bouncing.  After months of assurances, waiting and mystery from the admin, everyone was laid off.  Classes were cancelled, events business fell off, and a locked door at 2050 Bryant St. became the norm.  

Helen McGrath, the former Programs Director, was heartbroken to tell the 200 kids in Mission Urban Arts that the program would end, and didn’t want to let CELLspace close.  McGrath, Lizbett Calleros, and former Board President Dorian Johnson reached out to older members and formed a small coalition of volunteers to save CELLspace.  

“Dave X and Dorian Johnson really gave it a go,” said Howze, who also came back to volunteer after the crash.  But in 2009, the fire department told CELLspace that even though they had a Place of Entertainment permit, they would now need a separate Place of Assembly permit.  That meant construction, and Cell didn’t have the money, or the volunteer base to get it done.

The space limped along for years, but by the end of 2012, the landlord was fed up with Cell’s inability to pay the rent on time.  2050 Bryant St. was given to new management and officially became Inner Mission on January 1st 2013.  Inner Mission is the first ever Bcorp entertainment business.  A Bcorp is a new type of corporation that places a higher emphasis on sustainability, ethical sourcing and equitable treatment of employees, but still operates on a profit model.  

Russell Howze and Jonathan Youtt saw the transfer of CELLspace from a non-profit community center to a for profit entertainment business, as another symbol of the Mission district’s gentrification, and the decline of the arts culture in San Francisco.

“In the long run, the spirit had moved to Oakland,” Youtt said.

Dave X was less forgiving.  He felt that the space could, and would have survived, if more people had pulled together to finish the final construction project for the POA — an enclosed exit in the back.

“In the end it went down not because it was getting shut down by the cops or whatever, but it closed because of our own incompetence,” he said.  

CELLspace is survived by a warehouse arts culture that moved to Oakland, and a crew of former volunteers and employees, who, despite being spit on, shot at, bankrupted and worked until they couldn’t see straight, will miss it dearly.

CELLspace will be remembered with a private memorial service on March 21st — which would have been Cell's 17th birthday — at Inner Mission, 2050 Bryant St.  7 p.m. until whenever.

Post your corrections, remembrances, rants, raves, diatribes and essays in the comments.

Thanks for reading,
—Devin Holt

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sneaking into Outside Lands

“Most of them flicks I can’t recommend, but back then half the fun was sneaking in”
--Boots Riley


"Are you a construction worker or something?"  The guy was asking too many questions, and I was eyeballing a sharp pair of pliers and yellow reflector jacket.  I pass on the pliers but take the jacket.
"No, I'm a writer.  I need this stuff for a project."
"I need to ask you one question."
Oh boy.
"Should I keep taking Creative Writing classes?"
Should I come clean?  Explain that I’m not a “real” writer, but a chronically underemployed circus performer with a blog?  No, that will only lead to more questions.  I’ll have to tell him about the SF Circus Center, why I don’t do acrobatics anymore, and will fail to explain the difference between juggling and object manipulation.  If it goes on long enough he’ll ask if I've ever done it with any "hot contortionist girls."  I hate that conversation--sometimes I stay home just to avoid it.

Still, his Creative Writing aspirations lingered in the air--like a piece of dust waiting to clog up my hard drive.  He looked like a younger me, wondering if I should really go to Circus School.
“Yes, of course,” I tell him. “Why not?”

                                  __________          __________          __________

The idea of sneaking into Outside Lands came--like so many bad ideas--from shooting the bull in a coffeeshop.  I often toss out writing ideas to my friend Russell, and if his ears perk up, I elaborate.  I didn’t want to go all Commando over the fence, so I started staking out the park when the signs went up, thinking of an old Escapologist motto, "You're not going to escape by being stronger than the ropes, you're going to escape by knowing more about what's going on than they do."  

I would go on foot, or take late night drives through the park-- assessing entrances, exits, and weak spots.  Security was out on my first trip, almost a week before the show.  They were friendly guys, wearing yellow, orange, or red windbreakers.
“We’re here so people know we’re not stealing their park, we’re just borrowing it for a while,” one of them told me.  
“Are you guys hiring?”
“The company, -------- is always hiring, and they’ll take just about anybody.”  Hmm.

On Thursday, I set some rules for myself:  No property damage, no wrestling if I got caught, and definitely no resisting arrest.  I would sneak in on wit, brains, and shadows--or not at all.  I left the house around 6:30pm for a recon mission, but  I packed a bag with the essentials--just in case.  I took my yellow reflector jacket, my red security-ish windbreaker, 2 bottles of water, a blanket, a sandwich, and a pen and paper.  I forgot my toothbrush.


I walked into the park alone with my bag feeling like a secret agent.  I was Chuck Norris rescuing POW’s, Denzel taking on kidnappers, or Mark Whalberg bringing down a government conspiracy.  I walked slowly around the fence, surveying each entrance.  The show wouldn’t start until Friday at noon, but the gates were already regulated by people wearing purple Event Staff shirts.  There were 3-4 fences in some places.  At the VIP entrance I crossed the street and watched from a bench.  Everyone going into the park was flagged down by a guy with long blond hair.  He looked friendly, so I went to check it out, was flagged down, and told the park was closed.  He was less friendly up close.

The VIP entrance was the last of three, and on the Fulton side of the park.  Walking away, I felt dejected.  Who am I kidding? I thought, this is never going to work.  I continued along the road by the fence, moving away from the festival, towards the Lincoln side, and home.

On the way back I found an opening in the fence at Anglers Lodge and walked in.  There was a small parking lot with some trucks and a few trailers, but no one was around.  I found a stairway that led up to a cabin, and behind the cabin was a fly fishing pond.  I recognized the pond immediately from my walks inside.  I was directly behind the main stage, on the other side of the fence.

I walked to the other side of the pond and went into the woods.  The trails took me in a few circles, but eventually, I found a weak spot.  The fence was at the top of a very steep 20 ft. hill, and it wasn’t fastened to the ground.  With a little effort, I could probably squeeze under it.  The plan was to hide in the woods until 3 or 4 in the morning, wait for a good moment to climb under the fence, and walk not run to the port-o-potty that was 20 to 40 ft. away.  I would pray that it was unlocked (and clean), lock myself inside, and wait for the music to start.  8 hours in a port-o-potty will make a great a facebook status, I thought with a chuckle.

With 2 hours of daylight left, I decided to look around some more; you never know what you’ll find in a park with 1,017 acres.  I was trying to follow the fence towards 19th ave. when I found a small paved road--too small for a car, but just right for a bike, golf cart, or pedestrian.  I followed the road uphill on a hunch.  A woman in a red windbreaker came walking down towards me and said hello with a smile as we passed each other.  At the end of the road was an open gate, and beyond the gate, was the backstage section of Outside Lands.  

I forced myself not to stop, stare, or look guilty.  Security and staff were everywhere, but no one was watching the gate.  I walked in with my bag slung over my shoulder and my heart pounding in my chest.  On my left was the fence, and beyond it, I could see the pond.  On my right was the back of the main stage and the polo fields.  In between were several trailers and a thin row of small trees.  Each trailer was outfitted with three cans with colorful labels that read: Trash, Recycling, Compost--even rock stars recycle in San Francisco.

The trees gave me a little shelter from the hubbub, but soon I had to choose between walking directly through the festival grounds, or the delivery area.  I chose the delivery area, hoping it would be mostly vendors.  Any time I passed someone I would give them “the nod.”  The “what’s up / I know where I’m going” nod.  At the end of the delivery area I found a new fence.  Shit.  The path I was expecting was blocked.

I turned right, and went into a food vendors tent which, mercifully, was empty.  To get to the woods, and the hiding place I had scoped out, I was going to have to walk to the other side of the festival.  But at the moment, there were several staff with walkie talkies and a golf cart outside of the tent.  If I went back to the delivery area I would look lost, but if I stayed in the tent and the vendor showed up, I was busted for sure.  There was nothing to do but wait.

Thankfully, after a couple of minutes, the golf cart drove away.  I stepped out of the tent and turned left, walking out in the open, and then passing through the VIP area.  It was nice, with a soft padded floor, lots of tables, and a long bar in an enclosed space.  This is probably as close as I’ll ever get to VIP, I thought.  At the end of the VIP area there was a man in a red windbreaker hanging something up.  I gave him the nod, but I did it too fast.  It was a nervous nod, a nod from someone who isn’t supposed to be here.  Would he notice?  I would have noticed.  I kept walking, passing back into the open, and towards the woods at Choco Lands.

Just before I reached the entrance to Choco Lands, a man in a bright orange shirt on a 4-wheeler drove in front of me, turned the 4-wheeler around, and stared right at me.  A giant yellow arrow came down from the sky and pointed at my head, illuminating a sign on my chest that read “This guy snuck in you need to kick him out!”  I could feel the man’s eyes behind his sunglasses.  He knew what I was up to.  He was coming for me, he... turned right again on the 4-wheeler.  He was making a u-turn.

I walked up the path between the trees into Choco Lands.  When I saw a good spot, I darted off into the woods.  I crawled on all fours, and then on my stomach, into a small opening under the trees; the foliage was so thick I could barely sit up.  I opened my bag, unrolled my blanket, and ate my sandwich.  This would be my home for the next 14 hours.

The stillness of my enclave amplified the sounds around me.  I could hear hammers clanging, voices laughing, and trucks beeping.  Several times my head popped up, convinced a truck was about to run me over in the dark.  Later, in the distance, I could hear someone sound checking on a harmonica--Amazing Grace. Surprisingly, I slept well.

In the morning I hid in the woods until I knew the doors were open and bands were playing.  This was the moment of truth--if I get caught now I spent the night in the park for nothing, I thought.  I crawled on my stomach again and came out covered in brush; just another concert goer at Outside Lands.   

                                    __________          __________          __________

The Festival

The first thing I did was look for coffee--at $4.50 a cup, even sneaking in wasn’t going to be cheap.  After coffee and some lost ipod drama, I was ready to survey my new digs.  I was also starving.  I walked from McLaren Pass towards the Barbary, bought a $10 burrito, and sat down at an empty picnic table to enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  A group of teenage girls joined me at the table.  They were excited to be at Outside Lands, with tickets for the whole weekend.

The kids were friendly, offering to share dried mangos, almonds, and rum hidden in shampoo bottles.  I declined all three, too focused on my burrito.  We were debating the question of the day--Justice or Neil Young?--when a police officer walked up and gave me the stare.  My heart stopped beating.  How did he know?
“Are you hiding any booze over here?” he asked me.
“I don’t drink.”
“You don’t drink?  Can I look in your jacket?  We got some information that you guys were hiding some liquor over here.”
It occurred to me that I was, sans wristband, at a table with three 19 year old girls who are hiding booze.  After a quick glance through my hoodie he turned to face the girls.
“Do you have any liquor in shampoo bottles or anything?”

Lucky for me, these were good kids, or rather, bad kids that knew to play it cool.  The girls handed over their purses with innocent eyes, adding for good measure, “we have some actual shampoo and stuff, if you wanna look.”  The cop opened a purse, pulled out a melted ice tray looking thing and stared at me.
“What is this?”
“Um, I’m not actually associated with these people.”
“Yeah, we don’t know him, we just sat down here to eat.”
The policeman decided we were ok, and apologized for the disturbance.  “I understand.  You’re just doing your job,” the leader said to a chorus of yeahs.
“We better go,” she told her friends.  I decided to avoid cops and teenagers for the rest of the day.  Maybe the rest of my life.

                              __________          __________          __________

It was time for some music.  I went to the Land’s End stage and caught the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.  These guys were amazing--fun, funky, and excellent performers. Unfortunately, no one told them that SF crowds are too cool to sing along, and the audience participation stuff did not go well. Regardless, I left their set ready to grab my bag, ditch Outside Lands, and hitchhike to New Orleans.  Who dat say dey gonna beat dem saints?

Next I went to the Twin Peaks stage, where Wallpaper was playing.  I had never heard of them, but this is a group to watch.  Clearly channeling early Beastie Boys, they borrow from pop, 70’s funk, and Oakland swag.  Singer Ricky Reed was thrilled to be at Outside Lands proclaiming, “I’ve been sneaking copious amounts of psychedelics into this bitch for years--but this is our first time playing here,” before launching into a crowd favorite.  As if on cue, someone offered me “doses” during their set.

Wallpaper was sneaking in music if I’ve ever heard it, and sure enough, I saw 4 or 5 guys run down the hill and jump over the last fence into the crowd.  Hot on their heels came another group of baseball capped, T-shirt wearing youngsters, who were thwarted by the orange shirted Event Staff and SFPD.  The Event Staff were outside of the fence, SFPD was inside, and big mean looking guys drove golf carts back and forth on both sides.  It was like a game of Whack-a-Mole in reverse.

According to Josio--an orange shirter from Pittsburg--“as soon as they get over this fence, it’s over.”  He said if the Event Staff catches you trying to climb over they’ll just walk you out, but if SFPD catches you on the inside, then you’re in trouble.  I asked how many people he thought make it over per night. “Probably at least 50.”  Josio gets paid $10.24 an hour (SF minimum wage) to patrol the fence--he likes the job.

                                  __________          __________          __________

My Stepmom used to say, “If you would spend half as much time doing what you’re supposed to do, instead of trying to get out of it, you would be a lot better off.”  As usual, she was right.  Between reconnaissance, shopping trips, and execution, it took 35 hours to sneak in.  Even at $10.24 an hour, I could have earned enough for a ticket with those hours, and at $15 an hour, I could have bought a VIP ticket.  So my advice to fellow sneakers?  Get a job.

Another Planet fares better than most promoters, but I’m not a big fan of these mega-festivals.  Setting up even one band is a lot of work, so a hundred of them on temporary stages is bound to be messy.  And, you can never control the weather, which was awful--even for the Sunset; I could see my breath by 6pm.   Freezing winds, rancid port-o-potties, and an hour long wait for coffee (single cup brew at an event with 65,000 people?), had me ready to go home before Neil Young and Crazy Horse began their headline set.  I stayed out of pure stubbornness, determined to get my money’s worth.  I’m glad I did, so I could hear these immortal words in person:

“hey hey, my my,
Rock and Roll will never die,
hey, hey, my my”

Let’s hope so, Mr. Young.  Let’s hope so.
Thanks for reading,

p.s. Did you like this?  Then please, re-blog it, re-tweet it, facebook it, give it to a carrier pigeon, or do whatever you like to do with stuff that you like.  Thizzanx!  

Friday, June 22, 2012

24 Hours on Muni Part 2

If you haven't done so already, you may wish to read 24 Hours on Muni Part 1 first.  The link can be found in the box to your right.  Or, if you just want to know what happens on Muni in the wee hours, read on.  When we left off, I was making my way towards the Cable Car.

7:03pm T Platform 3rd/Paul  13 lines ridden, 14 rides.  “Whoa, no brakes!”...
A raspy voices echoes around the platform, a woman--40ish--with a limp and a lean, discusses the joys of being stoned with a couple of teenagers.  When the train comes it reeks like weed.  I wonder who that could be?  At each stop, more orange and black jackets appear--gameday at AT&T Park.  Tonight the City will be full of drunk sports fans.

The T pulls in to Powell at 7:45 pm--halfway. I toss the Turfers a dollar and take my place in line at the Cable Car turnaround. The Cable Car is a blast! I hang on the outside, clinging for dear life when we go up and down the hills, yucking it up like a tourist. The conductors enjoy themselves, often yelling "Whoa, no brakes!" Occasionally, they're jovial moods turn serious. “Do not lean out, I said DO NOT LEAN OUT!”  When 2 Cable Cars pass each other, we’re so close you could reach out and touch someone.  If you want to steal an Iphone, this is the spot.

The Cable Car drops me off outside of Kennedy’s Irish Pub/Indian Curry House in North Beach.  I know this place well--an old after work hang out.  I used to rule the air hockey table with an iron fist.  The drunker the challengers got, the easier I could depose them.  Eventually, my boss got tired of my boasting and crushed me--in front of the whole office.  I peruse the menu and order Palak Paneer.  Kennedy’s has the type of service where the waiter stomps away as the last syllable slips out of your mouth.

After 12 hours of Muni, I’m starting to look rough.  The bar patrons cast nervous glances in my direction, and the servers bring me the bill quickly.  On my way out the door, I notice the Giants are losing, 0-4.  Make that angry drunk sports fans.  I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I need coffee.  One cool thing about staying up all night--you can have as much coffee as you want.

9pm  Stockton/Columbus  14 lines ridden, 16 rides.  whothehellknows thirty...
I see the 30 in front of Bimbo’s.  It’s a long shot, but I make a break for it--success--and a seat in the back.  Next to me, Alfonso and an ex-wrestler discuss prison self defense strategies.  In prison, they had a method called G.U.N.  Grab, Undo, Neutralize.  So, if someone tries to stab you, grab the wrist, make them release the knife, and then, um, neutralize their arm.  When I tell them about my project, a man from Queens in the back raises his eyebrows and joins our conversation.  We ride through Chinatown, debating SF vs. NY, Wrestling vs. Jiujitsu, and why on earth someone would ride Muni for 24 hours. “Once that blog drops, you’re gonna get a million hits,” Queens tells me.  Let’s hope so, Queens.  Let’s hope so.

In between phone calls, Alfonso regales us with tales of prison gangs, breaking his hand in a brawl, and fights over table space in the prison cafeteria.  Our party splits up at 5th/Market.  Queens stays on the 30 towards Caltrain, the Wrestler goes into the Bart station, Alfonso towards San Jose, and I walk to Starbucks.  Four new friends, who feel like old friends, shaking hands and scattering into the night.

After my coffee fix, I take the 38 to the new Temporary Transbay Terminal--which is pretty light on the terminal.  It’s only here until the California High Speed Rail project is done; currently scheduled for whothehellknows thirty.  I miss the old bus depot, with its ratty Greyhound station and seedy characters milling around.  It reminded me of all those times I got fed up with SF, buying a ticket out of town, only to come crawling back to that grimey bus station.

I break one of my rules, and pass on a 71.  I’m holding out for the Treasure Island bus.  I break another rule and look at the digital GPS board--Treasure Island: 36 minutes.  Great.  I watch five 38’s, two or three 5’s, and another 71 pass.  The GPS board spits out a new arrival time every few minutes: 9min, 2min, 36 again.  I’m ready to give up, when the 108 rounds the corner, and soon I’m on the Bay Bridge, riding towards Treasure Island.  I’ve always found Treasure Island creepy.  It’s just too quiet, too dark, and too spacious to be in the City.  The gated military-style checkpoint at the entrance doesn’t help.  The outpost doubling as a corner store/coffee shop--the only business I see on Treasure Island.

Riding the 108 feels like hunting for ghosts in an abandoned suburb.  Scattered streetlights give a dim glow to the foggy gloom.  The dark obscuring my memory of empty buildings and KEEP OUT TOXIC WASTE signs.  Like many ex-military bases, Treasure Island is a Superfund site.  The bus travels in a circle around the island, eventually passing through residential sections--some people will live anywhere for easy parking.  

Tonight, I find the spookiness intoxicating.  On our way back towards the bridge the entire SF skyline is an easy glance; the lights are still on at AT&T Park.  When the bus pulls back in, I think about staying on and riding around Treasure Island all night, like a needle stuck in the groove.

11:05pm  Temporary Transbay Terminal  16 lines ridden, 19 rides.  An addendum to the Golden Rule...  
I find the 71 driver on the bus and ask him, “Are you going out?”
He shakes his head No.  So, I say “Are you done?”
He shakes his head Yes. Then, he turns on the lights, starts the bus, and drives away, along the bus route.  I chase the bus to the next stop and enter through the back door.  It’s tempting to give him a piece of my mind--but why argue when you have no place to go?

When we get to Market st., the bus fills up with Friday night.  Outside, the Bucket Man drums on his buckets, and inside, hot girls and ugly dudes mingle with the homeless, the drunk, and the simply confused.  Close to Fillmore some idiots shake and kick the back door, yelling to be let out when we’re not at a stop.  They laugh amongst themselves and pound on the door until it finally opens; a crew of “bros” convinced of their own hilarity.

The 71 continues its climb up Haight st., passing Buena Vista Park into Upper Haight, of Haight Ashbury fame.  This the Haight st. of the Grateful Dead and the Summer of Love, the Haight st. of tapped payphones where “have you seen the ghost out?” means are there undercover cops around?  The Haight st. where I learned an addendum to the Golden Rule.

Way back when, I knew this hippie kid named Mooky.  Skinny, long dreadlocks, and what we used to call a wingnut: crazy.  I was grubbing some Chinese takeout on the sidewalk, and down the way, this fratboy type was picking a fight with Mooky.  He shoved him over, and was kicking him on the ground, while Mooky was yelling and trying to cover his face.  I looked away for a second, and heard a smash.  When I looked back, Mooky had a broken bottle, and was on top of Fratboy, beating him with it--I thought he was going to kill him.  Then, a guy in sweats and a t-shirt pulled out a gun and yelled “Police!” pointing the gun at Mooky.  Soon, Mooky was in handcuffs, Fratboy was on a stretcher, and I had an addendum to the Golden Rule: Don’t pick fights with crazy people.

Haight st. runs into Stanyan, and the 71 turns on to Frederick.  Soon, we’ll pass my stop at 23rd and Judah.  I’m running out of water, my hand is cramping from writing, and this whole thing seems silly.  If I hadn’t told so many people about it, I would just go home.  At 23rd ave., no one pulls the string, and visions of my bed recede through the back window.

Midnight at the beach.  17 lines ridden, 20 rides.  lost at home...
I walk down La Playa towards Taraval.  It’s a long walk, but I know the L runs all night, and it starts somewhere by the SF Zoo.  This is the same zoo where, a few years ago, a tiger escaped and ate someone at a coffee shop.  Imagine that, you’re just chilling outside, drinking coffee by the beach, and a tiger comes up and chomps your arm off.  Maybe I’ll walk a few blocks up, instead of waiting by the zoo.

It’s cold and windy, so when the L comes, I’m happy to see Muni again.  I ride downtown, through West Portal, Forest Hill, and the Castro, in what feels like a holding pattern.  I’m getting sleepy, and the lines are running together into a mishmash of directions, route maps, and irate passengers.  I spend the next few hours this way, somewhere between conscious and asleep.  I go into downtown, I come out of downtown, the lines and the people run together; they go up, they go down, from east to west and north to south, from rich to poor and beginning to end.

I slip in and out of conversations about weed, hicks, and pornographic Santa Claus parties in Northern California. A man on a cellphone searches desperately for a cellphone, “It’s only because it’s the second one,” he yells before getting off.
“The next L will be the last service of the evening. The J is next,” comes over the speakers in a downtown subway station--the man’s voice clipped and practiced, like a human imitating a computer.  I slump in my seat and nod off.  Out here, floating around in the corners of the City, too tired to care--there is no loneliness, no anxiety, no where to go or to be.  I run out of water, and energy.  Finally, I am lost at home.

At 19th and Taraval I wait thirty minutes for the 91 Owl.  The wind wakes me up.  I pace back and forth on the corner, shivering and seething.  Staring at the fancy new “wave” bus shelters, I decide they’re tyranny by experts.  They were probably designed by consultants--people with six figure salaries that don’t ride the bus.  How did I guess?  Because no one who has to wait in the rain for half an hour would design a bus shelter with a giant hole in the back!  The Tyranny of Experts--coming to a town near you.
When the 91 finally arrives the driver is auditioning for Go Speed Racer; I can only steal a glance at the Golden Gates and the Palace of Fine Arts, before we’re on Lombard where the stoplights slow us down.  Mel’s Diner and IHOP call out to me, they’re insides bursting with the young and the wasted.

Soon the bus fills up, a local has latched on to a group of young foreigners.  “You know what gave ya’ll away?  You wearin’ shorts nigga!  So I know you can’t be from Frisco.”  
His logic is undeniable, they’re small t-shirts and knee high shorts are hopelessly out of tune. One of them knows how to beatbox, so the man busts a freestyle for the late night crowd on Muni.  He neezys and beezys, shizzles and thizzles--a red ballcap worn sideways and a cigarette under one ear--his raps peppered with “West Coast” and “bitches,” finishing up with  “Stop the tape, cause I’m fixin’ to make this grape!”

The foreigners look like runaway prep school boys, thrilled to be hanging with Snoop Dog in the big city--the rapper just seems glad to have an audience.  He causes a huge commotion when they leave, yelling “hold up, hold up, stop the bus!” so everyone can exchange numbers.  5 new friends scatter into the night.  I transfer to the 38.

The 38 is bumping too--women in short skirts that can’t walk in heels cling on to each other.  Every stop brings a conglomeration of stumbles, missteps, and curses.  Two rows in front of me a tall, lanky, blond haired boy with a thick Irish accent sways back and forth yelling “Are you from America?  Is anyone from America?”
When he finds a friendly face, he leans down “Do you know where I can get any,” and here he tries to drop his voice to a whisper, but fails, “Asian pussy?”
His new friends snicker and laugh.  Instead of helping, they ask about Ireland.  
“I’m from a little village, when I come here, I’m like--look at all the tall buildings, ohmygosh.  In Ireland, when you see a drink for 99 cents, that’s all you pay, 99 cents.  It’s a simpler nation.”
“How are the Ireland girls?”
He pauses, “They’re not nice.”

At the beach the driver pulls up to a small outpost, walks off the bus, opens a locked door, and goes inside.  Quiet slips over the cabin, broken only by one man’s snoring in the back.  After a minute, a man in a black leather jacket, red baseball cap and blue jeans walks to the door, which is still open.
“I’m watching out in case somebody tries to come in here,” he explains, standing upright.
“I’m not trying to get my ass shot, I’m watching out that door in case somebody trying to come in here with a gun to kill someone.”
When the driver comes back, they slip into an impromptu conversation that feels like a jazz riff.
“I just got back from Atlanta man, man they killin’ people left and right in that city!”
“They doin’ that here too.”
“Yah well, I’m gonna do what I gotta do, ‘cause if they gotta gun, I will run.”
“The one who runs fast, is the one whose life lasts,” calls back the driver.

3:35am  Pinecrest Diner  19 lines ridden, 23 rides.  happy birthday...
Coffee.  Bad coffee.  Putrid, foul tasting coffee--but it’s warm, and doesn’t move.  The Bucket Drummer is outside on the corner.  The Rapper from the 91 is too--his arm around tonight’s prize.  I can’t come to Pinecrest without getting philosophical.  Before I moved here, I spent a night in the Pinecrest; coffee filling in for a hotel.  Then, I ended up living a few blocks away and would come here to clear my head.  Later, Dian--my girlfriend--worked at Ruby Skye across the street, and I would meet her here every weekend, around 3am.  We would take the N Owl to her place in the Sunset--it was like a mental asylum on wheels.  

After Pinecrest, I trace our old root back to Market st.  I miss the N Owl by 45 seconds.  I wanted to ride it for old times sake--instead, I’m reminded of our 30 minute waits in the cold.  Of how we would stand there and shiver, huddling like penguins.  I’m reminded of her birthday, when we gave up and took the L, traipsing across the Sunset instead--happy birthday.

A guy with blond dreadlocks, holding his pants up with one hand, and a small object in the other, waddles up to me.  “Hey bro, can I give you a piece of hash for a phone call so I can find my car?”  I just shake my head.  He leaves without a word, taking a cloud of stink with him.  Across the street a man sleeps on the curb, his head 2 inches from the street.  Two departing passengers step over him, and the bus goes by without a glance.  I take the K Owl up to Church and Market, where I wait for the 22.

I ride the 22 past Fillmore, Japantown, and into the Marina.  I can never take the 22 without thinking of a quote I read in the SF Bay Guardian: “If you can’t get laid on the 22, then you have a problem.”   Do people actually get laid ON the 22?  Or do they meet on the 22, and then get laid?  Either way, it’s never happened to me.  The driver calls “last stop” at Fillmore and Chestnut.  I climb off, pee in the bushes, and cross the street to wait for the 22 to come back.  It takes half an hour.

In the cold quiet of daybreak, I stop caring.  I don’t care about getting stories from drivers, how many lines I ride, or if anyone ever reads this.  I just want to go home.  When the 22 comes back, the driver says nothing; he doesn’t recognize me.  I step up and tag my Clipper card--beep.  The 22 ends where 3rd st., and 20th st., intersect. (How is that possible?)  I catch the 48, and meet the nicest bus driver so far.

Juyanni explains to me that bus drivers, especially at night, avoid talking to passengers.  If they get too friendly, “they could put themselves at risk.”  Her voice has an easy tone, which she uses to coax our struggling 48 up Potrero Hill.  This bus is acting like it’s not gonna go up this hill” she says, so calm that I don’t stop to wonder what happens if it doesn’t.  We pass through the views--and the projects--from yesterday, then down to the Mission, taking 24th st. all the way through Noe Valley.  In some places, the hills are so steep and cramped, that if another bus is coming, one of them has to wait.  Juyanni never breaks a sweat, or looks the least bit nervous, steering an exhausted Muni bus through an obstacle course at 5am.

The 48 ends at West Portal on the weekends, where I take the K Outbound.  I’m checking out the huge houses and exclusive subdivision look of Ingleside, when I hear a familiar voice, talking about airplanes, and Atlanta, to the driver.  For some reason, this excites me.  I mean, here we are, two guys riding the bus around all night.  How can we not be friends?  When he gets up to walk around the car, I tell him I saw him on the 38, but he gives me a suspicious glare, and walks back towards the driver--who is clearly ignoring him.

The K ends at Balboa Park, where the J begins.  I get off the train, walk a few steps, and wait.  One last ride from start to finish.  The J is a nice ride to go out with.  It passes through neighborhoods that are cute, without being pretentious, and up hills that have good views, but aren’t too steep.  It’s like a Disney ride for old people.  After 2 or 3 stops, who should pop in, but our pal Atlanta?
“I thought my cousin was in here,” he states matter of factly, with a “Hey Padna!” to the driver, taking a seat up front.  Atlanta only seems to like Muni drivers.

Close to downtown, Atlanta gets antsy.  He stands up, and starts dancing in the aisle--no music, no headphones.  Then he walks towards me and says “You following me?” I shake my head No. “I’ve seen you 3 or 4 times,” he tells me.  “That’s too many times.  I’m gonna have to have my people check you out.  Make sure you ain’t five-O.”  This worries me.  He doesn’t look tough, but he does look crazy.

Atlanta goes to the front of the car and yells at the driver “I need to get to BART!”  At Van Ness, he gets off and gives me an I know you’re following me stare.  It’s tempting to yell “There is no BART here!” but it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie, and walking wingnuts walk.

7:45am  Embarcadero station  24 lines ridden, 29 rides.  24 hours on Muni...
The J pulls into Embarcadero station at 7:43am.  I walk across the platform to wait for the N; after 24 hours on Muni, I still have to take Muni home.  I ride to 9th and Irving, where I stop for breakfast, at Howard’s Cafe. When I'm done with my pancakes, I pull out my Iphone, hit the Nextmuni icon, and survey my options.  Best bet: the 71.  I hustle down to 9th and Lincoln just in time, but I get off before my stop.  I think I feel like walking.

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