Archives for posts with tag: San Francisco

By Alexis Chavez

Living in San Francisco skews people’s perceptions of crazy. Before moving here, I grew up in a very small, very conservative, agriculture-based town. There was little culture, a seemingly nonexistent homeless population, and anyone who acted “different” was just that. I hated it.

When I moved to the city, I was a sponge. I absorbed everything I could, whether it was going to street fairs, parades, or merely sitting in a park and watching the crowds walk by. Very quickly I learned there are lots of quirky folks gallivanting around. From the eccentric Burning Man crowd, to the leather daddies, to the oh-so-hip-hipsters, the city is full of characters.

Immediately, I realized, what is “normal” in San Francisco is not true of what normalcy is regarded as in other places. For the first few months I lived here, the homeless population that can be found surviving in many neighborhoods saddened me. Everyone knows about San Francisco’s “bums,” yet I was distraught not only  by the idea of homelessness, but also by the nonchalance and disregard so many people expressed over the issue.

My breaking point came one night while driving down Market Street. A homeless man, with his shopping cart of belongings parked next to him, was sitting up against the Muni entrance on the corner of Church and Market. He appeared to be passed out, with a needle sticking out of his right arm. Right then, my normal-to-crazy-gauge broke. Since then, nothing I have seen or heard in this city has shocked me.

It did not take long before I realized, that I, too, in order to get about my business, would have to put aside my feelings, essentially ignore the existences of said homeless. As a broke college student, I did not have any change to spare, and the heartache was getting wretched. I finally understood why so many San Franciscans turn the cheek to those on the streets.

Living in the outer stretches of the city, where there is not as big of a homeless population, has sheltered me from seeing the roughly 6,000 to 12,000 homeless people who live on the streets on a given day. However, in the last year, I have been working in Hayes Valley, and have once again been forced to face my feelings about homelessness and the issues that surround it.


Storefronts line the redeveloped Hayes Street stretch, offering the trendiest, specialized boutiques, cafes, restaurants and wine bars. Patricia’s Green lies in the center, a park where parents, pet owners and people looking to escape the cold, concrete city streets flock to admire the art installations and the traffic, zipping all around. But at the end of a bustling day, when the shoppers carry their bags home, the street is inhabited by the people who live on them.

They can be found everywhere. In the alleys around Hayes Street, napping on the benches in the park, digging through dumpsters behind restaurants.

Underneath the black, pre-dawn sky, a man I know only as Michael sleeps nestled in the alcove of the Room Service storefront, a new custom furniture business. Covered in a blue blanket, he is surrounded by his belongings — a plastic bag full of clothes, a crate most likely used as a seat or storage, and an empty paper plate, stained with remnants of last night’s dinner.

At dawn, he rises before street cleaners and 9-to-5 folks take to the streets. He packs his stuff, which neatly fits in both hands, erasing his traces. Tomorrow, he will find somewhere else in the neighborhood to sleep.

Before Hayes Valley became the modish neighborhood it is today, the area was a much different place.  In 1951, a plan to build freeways throughout the city was approved, one of which was the Central Freeway, eventually running through Hayes Valley. The first phase of the Central Freeway construction began in 1959, which is the same year the freeway plans were cancelled, per a vote by the Board of Supervisors. The vote prevented more work on the Central Freeway, leaving only what had already been built—a raised double-deck structure that jutted out from Interstate 80, across Market Street, and into the Hayes Valley neighborhood, with connecting off-ramps on Fell and Oak streets.

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the Central Freeway beyond repair and the northern portion of the freeway was removed in 1992. That year, the Board of Supervisors voted against building new freeways north of Market Street, so the freeway was not replaced, yet the southern part, which connected to the Fell and Oak street off-ramps, remained.

In 1995, a city task force suggested a street-level boulevard replace the freeway, but it would be a few years before this would happen. Caltrans started demolition on the upper deck of the freeway in 1996, yet neighborhood locals wanted the entire freeway removed. Patricia Walkup, founder of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, voiced her opposition for the plans of a redeveloped freeway, along with activist Robin Levitt.

In 1997, Mayor Willie Brown placed an initiative, saying the freeway should be rebuilt, on the ballot, which won, allowing Caltrans to begin designing a new freeway, much to Walkup and Levitt’s dismay. The activists began gathering the appropriate signatures to once again get the issue on the ballot in 1998. This time the initiative to remove the freeway won; however, this was not the final word on the subject.

Finally, in 1999, two initiatives went on the ballot — one to remove the freeway and one to rebuild it. Voters ultimately decided to remove the freeway, a decision that  stuck. The Central Freeway would come up to a light on Market, where traffic would cross over north onto the new Octavia Boulevard.

Fourteen years after the damaging earthquake, the last remnants of the Central Freeway were demolished. In 2005, the newly designed Octavia Boulevard was completed, and a year later the rebuilt freeway leading up to Market Street was also finished.


Rain pours down on Hayes Street, so much that the gutters overflow with water due to leaf-clogged drains. People scurry underneath umbrellas, jumping from one store overhang to the next. Yet, it is so warm inside La Boulange Café and Bakery that the windows are fogging up with condensation from all the bodies, piping hot coffee, and heat pouring out of the ovens.

Dressed in all black, save for a red beanie, Darnell Easter, 49, cozies up to a table by the window. His warm brown skin, slightly moist with sweat, compliments his dark brown eyes. When I usually see him, he is relaxed and conversational, as he always has something to say; yet today he seems slightly nervous, on edge. Easter has been coming to the café since last year, which he credits with helping him reach a new place in his life.

Though he often gets stares from the customers inside, some of the employees have reached out to Easter, giving him free coffee and food, something he says he would have stolen in the past. Easter usually graciously takes the food, thanks the “goddesses” who work there, and walks across the street to Patricia’s Green, a park he has often called home.

But on rainy afternoons such as this, he sometimes sits inside, quietly, and alone, without making a scene, until the rain stops or becomes a sprinkle.

Here is the story he tells of his life: Easter grew up in the East Bay city of Pittsburgh, CA, about an hour northeast of San Francisco. He was the first-born between his parents, each had one child from previous relationships, and together they had three more. Growing up biracial, Easter always felt like he did not fit in.

“I never had anyone I could identify with,” he says. The son of an African American father from Little Rock, Arkansas,  and Mexican-born mother, he was never white enough, nor black enough to identify with other kids his age, and he was often called an Oreo.

Having parents of different ethnicities was also very trying because of the racial tensions of the 1960s and 1970s. The tensions were compounded by the fact his father and uncles were associated with the Black Panthers, an African American revolutionary organization.

The Panthers never approved of his parents’ relationship and for as long as Easter can remember, problems surrounded the marriage. His father, however, was not a militant soldier for the Panthers, like his uncle was. Rather he sold heroin for them. Drugs, violence and street mentality were an everyday occurrence, a lifestyle that Easter was raised in.

When he was five years old, Easter was molested for the first time by an uncle, one of his dad’s brothers. When he told his parents about what happened, they did not believe him. The molestation would go on for the next five years. Feeling guilty, confused and stripped of integrity, Easter struggled with what was happening to him.

Feeling that there was no place to run, 10-year-old Easter went to the St. Peter Martyr Catholic Church, where he cleansed himself with holy water and gave his confession about what had happened to him, in hopes he would relieve his guilt. Inside the confessional, as Easter confided about his abuse, he says the priest slid the partition aside and asked the young boy to step over.

The priest then asked Easter to explain in detail what his uncle had done to him, as he masturbated. Afterward, the priest warned Easter that, should he tell anyone what happened, he would never be an altar boy.

Feeling even more confused, Easter truly felt he had no place to be safe. Around the same time, he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder. As a young boy, he was prescribed Ritalin, and eventually Prozac. “They never gave me a chance to be who I am,” Easter says, tears streaming down his face. “No one believed in me. It really ruined me and made me depressed.”

He says the feelings of despair and depression only worsened when his parents divorced when he was 13. His dad left his mother for their babysitter, a white woman his mother had once told him to get along with. He blamed everyone for the divorce, and became angry, throwing stones to relieve stress.

Acting out in a fit of rebellion, he began to steal. He stole candy and other small things from the store, though he never got caught, and he also began to steal pot from his father. His parents were never the affectionate type, but Easter thought if his dad saw him smoking marijuana that perhaps he would love him more.

Despite his reckless behavior, Easter fell in love with acting, and the theatre provided him with a place to escape. He began acting in high school with the Willows Youth Theatre in Concord, CA. His first role was as Judas Iscariot in Godspell. To this day, he can still sing every line to his solo with his thunderous voice.

High school came and went, and when Easter was 18, he developed a drinking problem. Still angry over the divorce, he would drink to develop enough courage to confront his dad about leaving his mother. Disillusioned and drunk, Easter decided to get back at the priest who had molested him so many years before.

The priest, still active in the church, lived next door to St. Peter Martyr. Easter says he went to the church to see him one day and ordered him to the granny flat in the backyard of the house. Once inside, Easter ordered him to lie down, as he blindfolded the priest. He then proceeded to “get back” at the priest, he says as his eyes flicker between uncertainty and excitement, by performing oral sex and masturbating on him.

Once he was finished, he says he took a picture of the priest and threatened to reveal the picture if he did not give him $100.

The priest obliged and Easter took the money and bought more booze. On his way out of the yard, he stopped at the statue of the Virgin Mary, which stood in the front yard, and asked for forgiveness. He says he continued to blackmail the priest for the next two years.

In the 1980s, Easter spent a year in jail for embezzlement and fraud. He learned how to steal credit card information from carbon copy receipts from a pair of girls he met in the theatre. After his release, he went back home to find there was nothing there for him anymore.

Soon after, he met a retired Navy sergeant in Concord, who needed a crank connection. Easter, having drug connections in the ghetto, became the liaison the Navy sergeant needed. The relationship lasted for a few years, the pair grew close and Easter moved in with the sergeant and his family.

In  1992, Easter met his friend Lisa, who introduced him to the new and thriving rave scene in San Francisco. As a dancer and performer, Easter instantly loved going to raves. The scene was taking off, and as Easter remembers, there was a party going on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Going to raves allowed Easter to make money by selling drugs, and provided him with a roof over his head. When he was not partying, he couch-surfed with friends, but always had money to pay his way. In the middle of gang wars and violence, the rave scene offered Easter an escape—somewhere he could feel safe.

It was at one such rave where Easter first tried Ecstasy. The drug made him feel things he had tried to repress. The emotions from the molestations surfaced and he began to cry. His friends hugged him, telling him it was good to let his feelings out, and for the first time, Easter felt secure. The parties routinely involved Ecstasy usage, which would turn the parties into a big love fest. Hugs, happiness, music, and dance, Easter finally found his identity. The rave scene provided him with a place where he felt he belonged. After years of feeling like “the other,” Easter, and hundreds of kinds like him, found a home.

Raves were happening all over the city in the 90s — 1015 Folsom, DNA Lounge, Groove Kitchen, to name a few. Easter began taking part in throwing these parties, including one called A Family Affair, which went on for six years. His love for theatre was showcased at performance art parties, where he would perform on stage.

Around this time, Easter also began a relationship with a man named John Pauli. The two shared a love for raves, and the relationship was Easter’s first. Because of his issues with trust, Easter had never allowed himself to get close to anyone.

In 2000, after one of his performances at Dubtribe, a local party, Easter was catching his breath backstage, when drag queen Joan Jett Blakk took the stage. Blakk, a friend of Easter’s, called Pauli on stage. Before Easter’s eyes, the two professed their love for one another, and announced on stage that they were a couple. The proclamation stunned and bewildered Easter, who says he became depressed over the announcement.

“When you fall, people throw stones at you,” he says, tears welling up in his eyes, “It’s happened all my life.”

When the rave scene died out in 2008, Easter began hanging out in Hayes Valley. He had never been homeless before, even though Easter never had a steady place to live. In May 2010, Easter took up residence at the Oak Hotel on Fell Street.

Using vouchers he obtained from Project Homeless Connect, an organization that aims to help the homeless get off the street and into housing, Easter stayed at the Oak Hotel until January 2011. His vouchers were used up in November, but he made an agreement with the manager to clean the bathrooms and do work to earn his keep.

He says the manager began running him ragged with all of the hard work. Though he had a place to live, he had no time to dumpster dive to make extra money for food and drugs. After his housing fell through, Easter started sleeping on a bench in Patricia’s Green.

During the day, he would wander the streets, but always find himself back at the park. He made friends with some of the other homeless people, though some were unapproachable, their minds lost to crack.

In March, Easter went back to Project Homeless Connect’s event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. He got more housing vouchers, valid for the next six months. He hopes the new pair of dentures he is having made, thanks to Project Homeless Connect, will help him look more presentable when searching for jobs. “I haven’t done enough in life. I want to help children. I want to show these parents how to raise them. I could change things,” he says.


Easter was just one of hundreds, if not thousands, who waited in line for Project Homeless Connect’s services on Wednesday, March 16. Hordes gathered in front of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium where the event was held, waiting in line for hours; some even camped over night.

Project Homeless Connect was started in 2004 by the San Francisco Department of Public Health as a way to bring critical services to the homeless. About 250 non-profits, private businesses, and volunteers come together to help the citizens in need. Sprint, Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, Larkin Street Youth, and the Riley Center, among others, provided services such as free phone calls, veteran services, free haircuts, wheel chair repairs, needle exchanges, medical attention, and vision and dental services.

Outside, the line wrapped around Grove Street and onto Larkin Street as people waited in lines to gain entrance to the auditorium. Those with pets could drop them off at the pet sitter facility, which was located next to the pet veterinary service booth. Cats and dogs could be heard barking and meowing, longing to be returned to their owners.

A mix of chatter and traffic buzzed along the streets, as City Hall suits walked by our city’s most destitute population.

The inside of the auditorium was set up like a convention of sorts. Once inside the building, the line of people extended into Larkin Hall, where each attendee went through a check-in process. Volunteers, speaking multiple languages, acted as guides, intermediating between the line and available seats at the check in tables, calling out numbers as if it were an auction.

“I have two over here!” one volunteer yelled at another guide, who then escorted two more people to the appropriate locations. The attendees were asked a series of questions before being allowed to roam about the main room.

The main auditorium, where so many high profile musical acts perform, was transformed into a type of shopping center. Each service had setup of long tables, draped in cloths, some of which were decorated with pamphlets, candy and other freebies. The blue drapes were drawn over the stage and the upper level seating was empty, yet the room was loud with chatter. Despite all the bodies in the room, you could still feel the enormity of the space.

“Man, I ain’t ever been in here,” one man gasped in awe, as he sat filling out food stamp paperwork. “This is amazing.”

Attendees exited the building through a food line provided by the San Francisco Food Bank, which gave each person non-perishable foods to take with them. Back on the street, many lingered around the auditorium, their bags heavy with food, some waiting for their friends, some with no other place to go.


It is a Saturday evening in the Mission district, the weather mild after a warm, sunny day in the city. The sidewalks along 16th Street are filled with people walking, pouring out of bars and standing in front of restaurants, while the streets are backed up with traffic as drivers look for a place to park.

On the same street, right between Mission and Valencia, lies Julian Avenue. At the address 179, the Julian House is located. It’s a hotel that features 36 themed single occupancy rooms.

Darnell Easter has been living in room 10, thanks to housing vouchers, for the last month. The first floor of the three-story Edwardian building is a sandy brick, while the rest of the building is painted pale yellow with brown trim. Inside, the hallways have white wainscoting, the upper half of the walls painted taupe.

Despite the clean appearance, and fresh paint, the place still feels old and dark.

I am greeted by Easter at the front gate. Dressed in a cowboy hat, brown blazer and unbuttoned shirt, Easter is especially frenetic. He tells me his roommate is having relationship issues and that now might not be the best time to visit.

As I try to figure out a more appropriate time to visit, he asks me if I want to take a quick look around the building. He grabs me by the arm and escorts me inside the building, acting as a tour guide, and it is not long before he is knocking on his door, yelling to his friends inside to let us in.

Room 10 sits on the left side of the hall on the first floor. The room is tiny, no more than eight feet wide and 10 feet long, and shared with a roommate. The walls are painted a bright blue and are speckled with a few posters, including one of Albert Einstein.

There is one window covered with a white curtain, a small closet, a sink, a bunk bed and a wall of shelves filled with CDs, a microwave and lots of clutter. The floor is covered with clothing, plastic bags, shoes and lots of unidentifiable objects that have been taking up space for who knows how long.

Easter’s roommate sits alongside a friend and Easter’s boyfriend Poe. The four men sit around a 13-inch television screen watching the musical Cats. The room smells musty, with faint hints of smoke.

I step inside for a brief moment, before feeling slightly claustrophobic from all the stuff and people inside the small space. Easter and I continue on the tour of the building, heading upstairs. In another room, we run into Chris, a tenant who is painting a room across the hall from where she stays.

At the moment, she is working on a giant sun, yellow with gold streaks, and long rays bursting from the center. Her idea, she says, is to have a beach themed room. She says she hopes the room will be tranquil, and Easter adds that the purpose of the art in the rooms is to uplift the people who stay there and keep a positive vibe.

“Crack and heroin can be so ghetto,” Easter says, his voice full of attitude and distaste as he refers to old tenants, though I wonder how long it has been since he smoked crystal meth, his drug of choice.

Easter walks me back out to the front gate, where my ride awaits, and says he hopes to see me soon. He waves goodbye, throwing up a peace sign, smiling, before turning his around and walking back to room 10.


If there is anything I have learned about San Francisco that I did not know before, it would be that this is a city of complexities. From the detailed and dated architecture to a diverse population to progressive politics and social issues, there are often multiple sides to any given issue.

When it comes to homelessness, the issue is as complex as any. I have heard many people disregard the plight of the homeless, by either ignoring the issue, making light of it, or by blaming those with no place to live, calling them drug addicts or saying they chose the lifestyle for themselves.

Sometimes, this is the case, but such generalizations are often stereotypical. I say that because often times the people passing such judgments have never taken the time to get to know a homeless person, nor see things from his/her point of view.

Other times, some say the resources are available, but it is the homeless who are not reaching out, however many resources are diminishing, like everything else, in this crumbling economy.

Whatever the sentiments are, the facts speak for themselves. According to the Coalition on Homelessness, in January 2009, the homeless count in San Francisco was 6,514 people, though they suspect this is a low estimate, since families and youth are usually underrepresented. And, the number seems to be growing, as 45 percent of the respondents were said to be experiencing homelessness for the first time.

To me, I think a society can only function as well as its weakest link, and those with no place to call home are in one of the most desperate positions I can think of. Homelessness, along with the problem of hunger, seems to say as much about society as it does about the people experiencing it.

Solving the issue of homelessness is not cut and dry, and the only solution I can think of is offering more resources, beds and facilities to help get people off of the streets and into housing. Sadly, the current state of the economy is only making things worse for everyone, from government employees to state-funded programs to the everyday folks struggling to pay bills.

Homelessness seems to be a major crack in the foundation of our system, splintered into all different kinds of complex issues. While this plight might not be solved overnight, if ever, what we can change is our perceptions and attitudes about those less fortunate than ourselves. At the end of the day, we are all human beings, living on this earth, and no matter what choices we make or what has happened to us, we all deserve to be treated with a level of dignity and respect.




Adolph Sutro’s patent of the pneumatic drill catapulted him into the ranks of the great silver and rail barons that made up the roots of San Francisco’s wealthy elite.  He was mayor, business proprietor of the Cliff House, and thorn in the side of those condemning the rapidly spreading labor movements through the city.  At the time of his death, he was among the richest and well known figures in civic history, leaving a legacy of invention, metropolitan innovation, and substantial real estate and railroad holdings.  Not to mention a name that has become synonymous with the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sutro was born on April 29, 1830 in Aachen, Prussia, to a middle-class family living on the sanctified hunting grounds of past royalty.  The elder Sutro owned a textile plant in which his sons worked.  At 16, Adolph left school to take up a management position with his father, who shortly thereafter died, leaving the task of running the plant to Adolph and his brother.

It’s arguable if the decision to leave school to go to work was something regrettable for Adolph.  Later in life, he retained his fervent bibliophilic tendencies, building a massive library, which is today preserved in various forms along with much of his notes and letters, in libraries and universities scattered across the San Francisco Bay Area.

It’s likely that the Sutro children would have been forced from school anyway when the German revolutions of 1848 broke out.  While the Sutro family was by no means struggling, the war that would likely have taken the kids from school took the factory, and much of the family’s holdings.  The war was one of the most destructive conflicts since the French Revolution, and was among the last cavalry wars.  The first introductions of live ammunition and automation in warfare, and the brutality, destruction and medical advances that comes along with that, was also seen in the American Civil War less than two decades later.

It was thus that the Widow Sutro made the decision to relocate the family of eleven children to the United States.  In the fall of 1850, the Sutros arrived on the eastern seaboard.  At the time, Gold Fever had permeated eastward from California, and Adolph Sutro, by then a ripe 20 years old, hitched a ride to San Francisco on the first clipper ship to leave port.  During the months-long trip, Sutro kept detailed records of events, weather and sights, largely preserved in letters home.

One biographer casts November 21, 1851 as the date Adolph Sutro finally reached San Francisco.  By this time, the Gold Rush had ended, stranding many of those who flooded in expecting to strike it rich.  So many, in fact, that the City of San Francisco, feeling some growing pains, sank many of the derelict ships moored in the harbors and built over them, creating more space on ground that was fairly unstable.

Over the next several years, Sutro was married and had six children.  Busy with life as a father and husband, Sutro was jolted in 1859 when the discovery of the Comstock Lode was made in Nevada.  Adolph Sutro’s scientific mind was set into motion, and he began to tinker.

Sutro’s Drill

Miners were coming, and dying, in droves at the Lode.  Most suffocated in the dank, deep mine tunnel, some fell victim to their machines, others succumbed to disease.  The need to ventilate the thousands-of-feet deep and baking hot tunnels was readily apparent.  Sutro, who the San Francisco Alta saw imbued with the “audacity of a dreamer,” had the idea to develop not only a method of ventilation but a way of extending the shaft, which was decried as “an unfeasible plan.”  Regardless, Sutro continued to develop methods to dig deep into the rocky soils of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

The 6-mile Sutro Tunnel that connected, drained and ventilated the Comstock Lode was completed in October 1878, using Adolph Sutro’s newly patented pneumatic drill (or jackhammer) technology after 14 years of labor at a total cost of $6.5 million.  His primitive precursor to the modern jackhammer ultimately netted his mining organizations multiple millions.

With the problems at the Comstock Lode all but solved, Adoph Sutro took a modest $5 million stipend from his corporation in Nevada, and relinquished the rest.  With it, he returned to San Francisco, where progressive labor movements were just beginning to heat up as thousands of failed miners were returning to the port city in search of work.  There, he made large investments in real estate plots across the city.

Bridging the Bay

It was a few years before, in 1872, when the self-anointed Emperor Norton I, Guardian of Mexico, strolled through the clatter of streetcars down Market Street issuing a public decree that the San Francisco Bay was to be bridged west to east, at roughly the bay’s widest and deepest zone to connect the isolated peninsula to the rapidly expanding East Bay.

San Francisco was poised to grow, especially after the discovery of the silver contained within the Comstock Lode under what became Virginia City, Nevada sent thousands rushing for riches into California to set down roots and again attempt to strike it rich between 1859 and 1874, causing the population of San Francisco to skyrocket.  More miners were successful this time, as the Lode’s value was estimated at over twice that of the strikes found during the 1849 Gold Rush.

Manning the Project

San Francisco has a history as California’s haven for the laborer and bastion of radicalized politics since its inception, partially around a Catholic mission that among other things, spread a very powerful idea.  By 1933 or 35, when final planning for major bridge construction was getting underway, the city was jam-packed with the statically unemployed and frustrated longshoremen.  What better place than this city—whose people and structure were still reeling from the quake and conflagration of 1906—to initiate some of the world’s most historically ambitious feats of engineering?

They were on a roll by the Depression, too.  San Francisco had conquered its own natural barriers to expansion after Andrew Hallidie figured out in 1879 how to hoist rail cars bound to underground chains up some of the city’s steepest hills, allowing for the development of homes for the silver and rail barons that had made the port their home after making it rich in Nevada.  The city had expanded into its new territories created by landfill in the bay, and new homes were beginning to spring up, even past the old western border of Divisadero Street.

Prior to that, similar methods of dredging up shipping lanes in the sea were employed to make a more navigable Golden Gate.  These same methods would again be employed, to some degree, in the dredging of the sea to create foundations into which to drive the bridges.

San Francisco’s legion of unemployed, plus a proportionately small contingent of laborers that could be contracted below minimum wage, were ripe to be put to work constructing these bridges and thoroughfares that not only connect regions of the city, but also the city to the greater peninsula and Bay Area.

They went to work creating the Golden Gate Bridge, which as representative of the pinnacle of the two-tower suspension bridge seems of the perfect construct and color for the space it spans.  It seems to fit perfectly at the mouth of the bay.

At the time, a two-tower suspension bridge was the only possibility, as any more or less would greatly affect the structural integrity.  The length of the Golden Gate Bridge happens to be just about the maximum length that it could be constructed at the time without having to add a third tower.  Hence, the bridge wasn’t built past the steep hills through which the Waldo Tunnel was drilled.  It was also because of this two-tower stipulation that the Western Span of the Bay Bridge had to be comprised of two joined suspension spans.

Opposite that, eastward, was the considerably more ambitious Bay Bridge project.  The battleship grey World War I throwback shined so brightly in its early years that pilots learning to fly the newest Boeing 247 model—which was to become the first plane that could actually ferry multiple passengers over a distance—had to be warned about the new bridge’s argent reflection.

The Bay Bridge’s construction was delayed for over a decade from when plans were first devised, and for all kinds of reasons.  It’s no easy task figuring out how to join two suspension bridges to one of the world’s longest, and curved, cantilever bridges at a junction that is comprised of two roads that bore through rock as the worlds widest-bore tunnel at such a long length.  Despite the seemingly insurmountable task of bridging the San Francisco Bay in these two main locations, plus a handful of fringe locations, the task was set in motion.

Among other engineering marvels of the era, Sutro’s mechanized deep-drilling technology was imperative in the construction of both bridges, and numerous tunnels boring through many of the region’s numerous steep hills, including the Yerba Buena Tunnel at Treasure Island, which connects the three portions of the Bay Bridge, and is to date the largest diameter transportation tunnel in the world.

The U.S. Navy stonewalled the project until it was settled that there would be a suspension portion so that their battleships could still squeeze through and get to the Alameda Shipyards.  Hence, the double-suspension design of the Western Span, which crosses the San Francisco Bay at one of its deepest points.

Labor’s Representation

The majority of the legion of laborers on the bridge project, finding themselves in need of a voice, helped to start San Francisco’s massive labor movements during the late nineteenth century.

One such organizer, Denis Kearney, who quartered substantial support for his cause by denouncing Chinese, or “coolie” labor, alleging that it took jobs from whites and persisting as a perpetual thorn in the side of big railroads around the turn of the twentieth century.  He became a local leader, and with eccentricity characteristic to some of the others thrust into the public sphere in San Francisco.

Kearny’s popular rhetoric was enflamed as thousands of Chinese immigrated to San Francisco after the Boxer Rebellion erupted in China in 1899.  He was representative of just one of the many opinions of labor advocates of the era, many of whom, like Kearney, acted against those in need of as much labor as possible to engage the building projects that were almost constantly being initiated around the turn of the twentieth century in San Francisco.

There is a Kearny Street that runs directly through the center of today’s Old Chinatown, but it isn’t named for Denis Kearney, but rather for Stephen W. Kearny, who served as an officer during the Mexican-American War.

After his tenure in leadership with the Workingman’s Party (not to be confused with the Socialist Workingmen’s Party), Kearney opened up a coffee and doughnut shop at Ocean Beach, a figurative stone’s throw from Adolph Sutro’s personal residence and the Cliff House.  His café was catapulted onto the map after it was underscored as a hotbed of fiery political rhetoric characteristic to Kearney’s street corner rallies.

Eventually, the property was seized by federal authorities and demolished by officers of the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department who came over to the impromptu marketplace at the foot of Balboa Street with hacksaws and crowbars at the ready.

There, in the shadow of Sutro’s estate, Kearny made his final speech, decrying the capitalist establishment as his was torn apart—ironically, standing on one of the many sand dunes, which at the time, was under the ownership of the Sutro family’s big railroad holdings.  The region had been zoned for more residential zones following 1906, not commerce.

The Cliff House and Barbary Coast 

Decades after the idea was first floated, the bridges and highways were completed, just as the gold and silver had exhausted itself years before.  The work had dried up, but the workers remained.  The Barbary Coast had long held the reputation of a locale of ill repute, and it continued to fill well though the Prohibition era.

Merchants and longshoremen, artists, writers, apprentices, masters, prostitutes, foreigners, locals, tourists, hiders, seekers, lawmen, bankers, lawyers, educators (not teachers), pirates, bums, alcoholics and drug addicts all wandered the Barbary Coast, in and out of the pubs and alleys.  Port cities have a way of attracting such bulldozed characters; those who aren’t planning a long stay and maybe have some coin to blow.

Adolph Sutro’s rail line, which ran along Land’s End between his estate at the Cliff House out to the ports and Marina was just another way for the Barbary Coast crowd to come out for a coastside retreat.  These, mostly blue-collar folks, were coincidentally the prime audience for the hot fresh rhetoric being served up at Denis Kearney’s doughnut shop.

Adolph Sutro purchased the Cliff House in 1883, and was largely unsuccessful in its management.  He then leased it to a local liquor company, then independent investor J.M. Wilkins, who Sutro hoped could drive-out the Barbary ruffians and bring back families local to the burgeoning Park Presidio District.

Despite the best efforts of Wilkins, the Cliff House was severely damaged when the schooner Parallel, loaded to bear with high-yield explosives, was run aground in the rocks below and closed for repairs.  Then, just as the beleaguered retreat was repaired and reopened, it was completely destroyed by a chimney fire on Christmas Day, 1894.

In 1896, two years before his death, Adolph Sutro rebuilt the Cliff House.  His elegant chateau-style design with eight floors and multiple venues for dining, dancing and entertaining cost $75 thousand to build and became an icon of San Francisco.  Though it barely survived the 1906 earthquake and fires, the Cliff House again burned to its foundation in 1907, in less than two hours.

The Mayor & His Legacy


As he was rebuilding his Cliff House, Adolph Sutro was also simultaneously trying to figure out how to shield his bathhouse from the waves of the Pacific and man the helm of the City of San Francisco as the city’s 24th, and first Jewish, mayor.  His commitment to his city by funneling his vast fortune into centers of leisure and open space such as the Cliff House and Land’s End, Playland at the Beach and Golden Gate Park made him a natural candidate for mayor.

For a while, the Outside Lands to the far west of Divisadero Street was their land.  The rail magnates, silver barons and other shining representatives of San Francisco’s upper class could hide away among the dunes.  As time went on, America became involved in two world wars, again bringing San Francisco into the national spotlight as the central naval port on the western seaboard.  It was a minor staging ground during the First World War, and a major Allied port during the second.

In the 1940s, the spread of population into the Outside Lands increased dramatically.  With people returning from war or internment, and military personnel seeking lodging after the closure of the Presidio as a base of operation after World War II, new neighborhoods and thoroughfares were rapidly congealing across the western dunes.

His name is nearly synonymous with San Francisco.  If the man who figured out how to ventilate one of the biggest natural resource strikes in American history, making it accessible to miners, then there might not be any City of San Francisco. Instead, perhaps a sleepy port town that never quite recovered from its characteristic, physical isolation.

His property nestled in Clarendon Heights at Mount Parnassus, renamed Mount Sutro, is now closed to the public and home to the largest structure in the San Francisco Bay Area, the 981-ft. broadcast antenna that carries the late mayor’s name.  Sutro Tower has been drilled into the mountain such that roughly two-thirds of its structure is buried within the mountain, so that the tower would be stable, even in an earthquake.  With the tower in place, broadcast signals of all types are no longer hindered by San Francisco’s discursive geography.  It also serves a dual purpose in that residents and visitors can navigate the city just by locating the tower presiding somewhere on the city’s skyline and using it like a compass.

The mayor’s main residence overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Point Lobos is today a popular respite location for residents.  The trees that Sutro planted at Land’s End to block the region’s often unforgiving gales still remain, as does a giant concrete slab that was once the foundation of his home.  The standpipes are still there, as is the residence’s lower shed.  Children ride their bikes around the property’s forward driveway, and their parents lounge on shady benches overlooking the Pacific.  The city of San Francisco still maintains the various species of flora planted by Sutro, many of which are not native to the region.


The property’s lower gardens serve as lodging for a few of San Francisco’s legion of homeless, with garbage and chunks of building material often scattered across the ground and cigarette butts, beer bottles and Burger King wrappers in the still-filled pond.

Regardless, these dunes are Sutro’s dunes.  In 2009-10, volunteers worked to restore a 3.3 acre parcel on Balboa Street at the Great Highway, directly below Adolph Sutro’s main residential plot, dubbing it Sutro Dunes.

See a timeline of Sutro’s San Francisco

This is a story about life and death and love. Peter Hass and Bill Goggins both had generous and loving hearts that stopped beating way too early. And it is about running, the thrill, the addiction, the risk. And, in a way, it is about me, because I am a runner.


Peter Hass. Photo from buest book on

Peter Hass died on February 6, 2011, 36 year old, in Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon. Photo from guest book on

Bill Goggins.

Bill Goggins died in San Francisco Marathon July 2006, 43 years old. Photo from

I was sitting in my kitchen. Sunbeams pierced the windows and were absorbed in the oak table in front of me. It was unusually hot for the beginning of February. A headline in The San Francisco Chronicle caught my eye. The story was about a 36-year old father from Orinda who had dropped dead on the finish line in a half marathon the day before. I am a runner myself, and the story stuck. It started to form questions. Why do apparently healthy runners drop dead just like that? I would later learn that this story repeats itself a thousand times every year in the US.

Three weeks later I meet 34-year old D’Andre Lopez at Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Fremont near San Francisco. A white bear is printed on his shirt. His body is strong and short, shaped in his youth as a wrestler. Now the wrestler is running instead. Three weeks ago he saw a man die.

The wrestler woke up at 4.30 a.m. February 6 2011 and had breakfast. The sun was starting to come up a little, and the sky was purple, as he climbed out of the car. The air was mild and he took off one layer of clothes.

Kickstart My Heart was the first song on the wrestler’s playlist. The guitar of the Modley Crüe song went wrooooooommmmm.

One thousand american runners drop dead every year - during exercise or races. Photo from US Half Marathon 2011, San Francisco, by: Per Skovkjær Sand

One thousand american runners drop dead every year in the US - during exercise or races. Photo from US Half Marathon 2011, San Francisco, by: Per Skovkjær Sand

The crowd looked like a parade of running shoes and hats. Somewhere 36-year old Peter Hass was preparing for the race, too. His wife, Eden, and their two year old son, Gavin, were at home. Peter Hass’ favorite phrase was “today is the best day of my life”. And indeed Peter Hass’ had good reasons to be happy. In Eden’s belly the little heart of his unborn child was beating.

Twenty-one year old Carly Bliss was preparing for the race too. Unlike the wrestler, she had no music in her ears. She did not want Rihanna to distance her from the experience of running a half marathon for the first time. She looked at the other runners chatting at the starting line. Some were running in groups. Adrenalin burst through her veins when the race started. Her anxiousness had become excitement.

The 10,000 runners shuffled their feet. The wrestler was in the back and had thousands of people in front of him. On one of the first hills he caught a glimpse of them. They looked like an army of ants.

Peter Hass most likely was one of the ants running in front of the wrestler. He had been a runner for a long time, and he had trained at least six weeks for this race. He met his wife, Eden, at the University of California Berkeley, where he studied Environmental Science. A friend from the youth recalls how much of a team Peter Hass and Eden were as a couple. They both appeared to be very much in love. Peter Hass loved dogs, and before graduating he and Eden had started their own business. They sold pet toys, and it turned into a big company. You would often find Peter Hass in the kitchen preparing a meal, and he would greet his friends with a smile and a pat on the back.

Carly Bliss had the feeling of mentally blacking out. She would run for miles not thinking of anything. It was just like fishing, standing on the river for hours, not producing anything, not hearing anything. She had a mysterious and cool feeling of being connected to all the people around her.

A refreshing breeze from the Pacific Ocean ran through the wrestler’s hair. At mile eight he started thinking of his legs. He had forgotten the salt packages that should prevent him from cramping. Around mile 11 he felt twitches in his leg.

Carly Bliss could not believe that it was so hot in the beginning of February. She felt like she was in the warm Santa Ana winds of Southern California. She ran faster and faster. Maybe Peter Hass was behind her all the time, or maybe she passed him by somewhere.  Actually their finishing times are so close that it is hard to determine whether Peter Hass finished right before Carly Bliss, without her noticing it, or right after her.

Carly Bliss at the place in Golden Gate Park where Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon ended. Photo: Per Skovkjær Sand

Carly Bliss at the place in Golden Gate Park where Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon ended and Peter Hass collapsed at the finish line. Photo: Per Skovkjær Sand

She turned around the corner to the finish line. 1 hour 59 minutes and 30 seconds the clock said. “Gogogogogo” yelled the man on the microphone. Another girl was running next to her. They started sprinting, and at 1 hour 59 minutes and 59 seconds she finished. She threw her hands in the air and entered a scene, where the happiness of the unknowing was about to encounter the horror of a man dying. She felt happy and lonely at the same time. Everybody was embracing, runners were tackled by friends and family, saying “Im so proud of you” and “You did so good.” Some were crying. She had no one there to embrace.

Peter Hass crossed the finish line and collapsed face down. Someone rolled him over, and he had gashes on his forehead and was foaming at the mouth. Other runners gave him CPR.

Hobbling, the wrestler saw a man in front of him. The man was 60, maybe 70 years old. A competitive fire started to burn deep inside the wrestler, where there has been a defiant flame since that day in high school when he lost a wrestling match by two points to a guy whom he should have beaten. His coach was yelling at him in the bus, and he wanted to quit wrestling. But the next morning he put his wrestling clothes in the backpack and went to practice, where he was met by the trainer saying: “Don’t put your foot here until you’ve got something to prove.”

At the next tournament the wrestler was beating everybody. The trainer’s words are still printed deep inside the wrestler’s mind, and on the last mile of the half marathon they gave him that extra fuel to the fire he needed in order to beat the old guy. His calf cramped right at the moment he hit the finish line. But the cramps stopped immediately when he saw a pair of white running shoes pointing to the air.

“I’ve got the defibrillator, I’ve got the defibrillator,” a man in a yellow jacket yelled. “Get out of the way.” Other runners were kneeling on the asphalt beneath Peter Hass. The man on the microphone urged people to keep on moving on the narrow road. A woman ran so close by Peter Hass that she saw the blood in his face. Maybe he had a head injury, she thought, wondering why he was not moved away from the finish line.

As Carly Bliss walked slowly home on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, she saw firetrucks and ambulances coming in the opposite direction. Across the street from where she lives, there is a pastel yellow house with white frames around the windows and around the carport. In the carport there is a pastel yellow car. And next to that car, Carly Bliss’ neighbor usually sits watching the world passing bye on 25th Avenue.

There he sat this morning waving to her. She pointed to the beeper that had measured her time at the race. The neighbor gave her a thumbs up. Finally somebody knew what she had done. She wanted the whole world to know. She did not know that one of her fellow runners was dying until she talked to a friend that night. She pictured everyone around him going “ohhh” as they saw him fall. She thought about who was taking care of him.

The wrestler looked at the faces of the spectators at the finish line. Some people where covering their mouths with their hands. They had seen what he just saw. He felt that something was wrong. The scary thing was that it was almost as if nothing had happened. You would only know if you looked at that exact spot where two runners kneeled over Peter Hass and two white running shoes pointed hopelessly to the air. Peter Hass’ heart had stopped beating.

The coroner’s report has not come out yet, but he probably died from cardiac arrest, R. J. Waldsmith tells me two months later.

Waldsmith is the attorney for Peter Hass’ family. Friends and family to Peter Hass have forwarded my emails to the attorney. His job is to find some answers.

A story told a thousand times

Dr. Paul D. Thomson. Photo from Heartford Hospital.

Dr. Paul D. Thomson. Photo from Heartford Hospital.

For several decades Dr. Paul D. Thompson has tried to find the answers to why runners drop dead. Thompson has completed the last 11 Boston Marathons. In 1976 he finished 16th in it. He is also a professor and director of the Division of Cardiology at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. He has researched hearts since he ran the Bay To Breakers in San Francisco in the end of the 1970s. A runner died in this run, which is a 12K. At that time, Thompson was a fellow at Stanford University and together with one of his colleagues he started to gather information about sudden death during exercise.

Since then, he has published more than 200 scientific articles on topics that include effects of exercise, heart diseases and sudden death during exercise. In 1992 and 1993, he commented on the NYC Marathon while running it himself. He knows running from high above and from inside the very heart of it.

Thompson’s studies show that one in 15,000 previously healthy runners drop dead per year. Sixteen million americans went for a run 100 times or more in 2009, according to the most recent statistics from Running USA, a non-profit organization for the running industry. When you divide 16 million American runners by 15,000, you realize that more than 1000 U.S. runners drop dead each year.

Sudden Cardiac Death or SCD is the definition for what we usually just know as people dying from heart attacks. The phenomenon is also referred to as a “cardiac event.”

“In any race in any distance there are people who drop dead. Most of them are cardiac events,” Thompson says.

More and more women run half marathons. In 58 percent of the half marathon finishers in 2010 were women. In 2004 the number was 49 percent.

Women are taking over half marathons. 58 percent of the american half marathon finishers in 2010 were women. In 2004 the number was 49 percent. Source: Running USA. Photo: Per Skovkjær Sand

Cardiac Arrest is another term to describe what is going on in the heart when it is not able to pump blood around the body anymore. Sudden Cardiac Arrest can cause Sudden Cardiac Death.

Different things lead to cardiac arrest. When it happens to young people under 30 it is usually because of an inherited problem in the heart. But when we grow older cholesterol builds up in the arteries, Thompson explains.

“You can have cholesterol in the arteries in a very young age. Each case is different, but I have seen people at 35 drop dead from cholesterol in their arteries,” he says.

Thompson describes the arteries as rubber hoses. If a rubber hose lays in the sun, it becomes hard. The same thing happens to arteries if there is cholesterol in them. If you try to bend that rubber hose, it will crack and start leaking. That will form a blood clot, which gives you a blockage and causes a heart attack.

The problem is that it happens very quickly. There is no sign of danger until the rubber hose cracks, and then it might be too late. Thompson uses another picture to illustrate, what happens: Imagine that the blood cells are cars driving along a highway. If they knew that there was going to be construction ahead, they would take a detour in to the city. They would use what is called a collateral artery to get to the heart. But the blood cells do not know because the rubber hose cracks suddenly.

“It happens very quickly before the heart can adapt and make bypasses,” Thompson says.

That somehow explains how runners are able to run perfectly fine for the whole race, without feeling that anything should be wrong, and then suddenly drop dead at the finish line. Actually that is often the case.

“There seem to be an inappropriate high number of (cardiac) events at the finish lines. If you look at deaths during marathons a lot of them occur at the finish line,” Thompson says. ” That may be because people push themselves especially hard in the last period of the race.”

This last power output might cause the rubber hose to crack. Another reason for the many deaths at the finish line could be the fact that you stop running. Then the big leg muscles stop squeezing blood back toward the heart, and all the blood pools in the legs. But the exact answer is yet to be found.

Thompson says, “There is an increased risk of cardiac arrest at the finish line, but nobody knows why.”

Cynical in Sweden

I am a runner myself, and I remember last year climbing the hills of Gothenburg in Sweden in a half marathon. It was the second largest half marathon in the world in 2010. The Swedish online newspaper Epoch Times reported that it was the warmest day of the year so far. 80,4 Fahrenheit.

We were running at the harbor. I was in one of the last groups of the 38,459 runners who finished the race. When I left the starting gate runners were finishing at the same time. We were one sweaty snake of muscles and hearts contracting and pumping to push us forward, forward, forward. I felt good, I had music in my ears, and I got into the rhythm. I tried to run as smooth and easy as possible, not pushing the fibers too much. I followed a white line on the pavement, I crossed other runners, I enjoyed the music. But then my iPod froze. I tried to restart it, but it was impossible, I slowed down pushing all the buttons. It was dead. Pixels no longer responding to my command. All I had was my breath, the sound of hundreds of people moving, and the rhythm of my heart beating. Tack-tack, tack-tack.

There was water every half kilometer, and every time I took some and poured it over my head and my shirt, and it kept me cool for some time. I ran zig-zag between people pushing myself. Forward, forward.

The longer I run the more cynical I become. The instincts are taking over I guess. I recklessly overtake people on the inside or wherever there is a free space.

I looked desperately for the kilometer signs all the time, looked at my watch, tried to follow a very athletic looking man in front of me. On the pavement there were sponges that people had thrown away after using them to get water in their faces. I turned left. Now the road went up. I looked for the kilometer signs again. There were so many people – almost claustrophobic. Suddenly my family was there cheering at the side of the road among the sounds of others cheering. I speeded up for some meters but had to slow down again. My thoughts were hunting me. Why am I doing this? I tried to convince my legs to move on step by step. Now I knew the area. Just one kilometer to go.

I ran up the last hill in the burning sun and got in to the last part before the stadium, where I had seen a guy from Kenya finishing in 1 hour 1 minute and 10 seconds hours ago as the winner. I had been out there for little more than one and a half hours.

Finally I crossed the finish line, I got a medal, a banana and a chocolate cookie. It stuck in my dry throat, and it was worth four months of training in the coldest winter in years.

Sixty-three runners were hospitalized that day, the Swedish online newspaper reported. Two of them were in a critical condition. They were both men between 35 and 40 years old – just like Peter Hass. They stayed at the hospital for a day before they went home.

But why do we push ourselves so badly that we might loose everything? Why do we provoke our weaknesses so much that it might cause a blood clot and leave our heart like a frozen pixel on an iPod?

“Running for life”

It is Sunday morning 10 a.m. in San Francisco. Exactly three weeks after Peter Hass died in Golden Gate Park just a few miles away. Twenty-something runners from the Golden Gate Running Club are gathered at the water’s edge near Golden Gate Bridge.

Tracy Warner is running the six mile today toward Fort Mason and back again. Last year she ran her first and only half marathon – the same in which Peter Hass died this year.

She is fit with thin but strong muscles in the legs and the arms. Her hair is golden. She is 36 years old, and for the last 10 years she has been working as a teacher. She talks over her breath while running. She heard about Peter Hass, but she did not know his age.

“Was he young? 36, oh my God that’s awful. His family… So this has happened before,” she asks.

“Yeah, it happened in San Jose two years ago,” I respond.

Brandon Whitehurst, 35, from Antioch and 34-year old Rose Lo from South San Francisco died in Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in San Jose in 2009, reported. They both collapsed near the end of the 13.1 mile race.

Tracy Warner knows what it is like to push herself to the limit. She did that last year while running the half marathon. She had had a cold, so she was not able to prepare properly for the race. She started training two weeks before. The difficult point came after 10 miles with three to go.

“I felt like I could not go on. I felt like shit,” she says and laughs.

The sun lights up the green grass on Crissy Field to our right. Small waves move on the surface of San Francisco Bay to our left like a calm breath.

“I was exhausted and ready to throw myself on the road. My friend kept me going. I don’t like to fail. I would not start to walk while she was there. It was my desire to do well,” she says.

Before the finish line a thought echoed in her head: I can’t make it, I can’t make it. But I have to!

At the finish line everything changed.

“I felt so great after it, psychologically. I felt happy.”

The death of Peter Hass does not make her think twice about running.

“I think that it can’t happen to me, so it doesn’t scare me. It’s not gonna stop me from racing,” she says.

Thirty-one year old Alex Strehl is part of our group too. We have turned around after three miles and are now on the way back. He is a tall guy. He is very calm and runs like a strong machine. He likes to race up the hills. He has always been an athlete, and a couple of years ago he started to run.

One day he was bored at the office and he asked his colleagues if they wanted to run the stairs with him.

“No. Ask Dan,” they said.

And so Alex Strehl did. Dan beat  the hell out of him. But then Dan told Alex Strehl that he was an amateur stair climber and invited Alex Strehl to a stair climbing competition in Chicago.

“You just walk up the fastest you can. On the 80’th floor, I could not breathe anymore. It is very hard on the lungs, especially when you have asthma like I do. My lungs were burning and I was coughing for 30 minutes after I finished.”

We are back at Crissy Field.

“I’m gonna speed up for the end,” Alex Strehl says and increases the pace.

“Do you understand how people can push themselves so much that they die,” I ask him.

“Well they don’t know they are going to die. You have to go against what your body tells you. It’s important to be careful not over stressing the body. Some people do it, but it’s fairly rare. It’s not something I’m worried about,”  he says as we turn a little to the right and set in the final kick towards the meeting point. We are both coughing and breathing heavily.

“Hundred meters,” I say.

” Yeah, I’m beginning to slow down. I don’t want to stress my heart too much,” Alex Strehl says with a little smile.

“The good thing is that in the long run it is good for your heart to run,” I reply. “Runners actually have a lower mortality rate than others. I’m not gonna stop.”

“Me neither. Running is for life.”

” Yeah.”

You are seven times more likely to get a heart attack while running than at rest, the running expert, Thompson, tells me on the phone from Connecticut.

“While you are actually running it is seven times more dangerous. But that is just one piece of the puzzle. You have to look at the whole picture to understand it. We think that exercise overall reduces your chances of having a cardiac event, but while you are actually doing it your risk goes up,” he says.

I ask him if we should be afraid of running.

It depends on whether you like to do it or not, Thompson says. “I have always been running marathons, not for my health, but because I like running marathons. If you want to do things for your health there are a lot of other things that are just as helpful. But if you want to race marathons, you don’t have much choice but to race marathons.”


I am writing this sentence with exuding blisters on my feet, blisters that made me scream in the shower. The coffee rippled in my stomach as I stumbled through the Presidio with a heartburn. At Golden Gate Bridge I felt the blisters. But I had to cross it, that was my goal for the day. Like all great constructions, the dimensions of Golden Gate Bridge are hard to measure with the human eye. Red wires continuously entered the right side of my vision and left behind me. But the pylon did not seem to come any closer. The inner side of my shoe had started to eat my skin under the soccer socks. Like a little piranha it was digging into my flesh. Finally I reached the other side of the bridge. I was half way through. 

My feet hurt, but I realized that if I stopped, I would never make it back home. I had to keep on going. I thought of love. I considered if I should run that half marathon in 14 days. At one point the blisters stung so badly that I had to stop. I felt like running on pillows of liquid pain. But at this time I guess the pillows had been cut open. The skin had started to peel, leaving my raw flesh naked and vulnerable in front of the hungry piranha. So I started running again. Back home I rolled down my soccer socks. The skin curled in small heaps. I think I am going to run that half marathon.

Attorney investigates death of Peter Hass

The death of Peter Hass was controversial. Mindy Talmadge, a spokeswoman for the Fire Department, told the San Francisco Chronicle that, the firefighters were “appalled” that the event had no medical staff or basic equipment available near the finish line.

“Everybody who assisted on the resuscitation effort identified themselves. Not one person identified themselves as being part of the event medical team at any point. Our members were left reeling from the experience,” Talmadge said.

This statement was contradicted by Dave Rhody, founder and president of RhodyCo Productions, who produced the race. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Rhody said that emergency medical technicians based at two tents near the finish line were on the scene trying to help Hass within five minutes.

Spectators tell another version of the story. Many people commented on news articles on the internet the following days and on Facebook. A large number of people say that it took more than 20 minutes for the help to arrive. The day after the race Bill Smart wrote this on Facebook: “I stood there with my father in law watching in horror. This was (in my estimation) the most egregious, negligent thing I have ever witnessed. This poor gentlemen may have been dead the minute he hit the ground but I can tell you he was not given a fighting chance. He laid their for 31 minutes (I counted) without true medical support.”

Late response affects the chances of surviving, Thompson, the heart and running expert, says:

“If it takes half an hour the chances of survival are very poor, but you can keep someone going for half an hour with good CPR,” Thompson says.

In the days after Peter Hass died his friends and family searched for answers among the people who witnessed him die at the finish line. Peter Hass’ brother, Michael, responded publicly to a person who had commented on a news story about Peter Hass: “I am Peter Hass’s brother can you please contact me and tell me what you saw at the half marathon on Sunday. No family members or close friends were at this event with my little brother when he died. We just do not understand how this horrible thing happened. Please contact me.”

Friends and family have forwarded my emails to their attorney, Waldsmith, who contacted me. Waldsmith is now the one searching for answers. He is investigating what happened that sunny Sunday when Peter Hass died. He can not discuss details in the case until he knows if there is going to be a trial.

“Now I am just investigating. Once I find out what happened, we will decide what to do. The statistics tell me, that this case is going to be settled, but I prepare for trial,” he says.

Waldsmith is getting information from public records that he has requested from the City and County of San Francisco.

“I am trying to find out what the plan was for medical service at the race,” he says.


The cherries were blooming, a ship was gliding in on the bay deep down below, and the nerve neurons in the arch of my foot felt like angry electricity in a power line just longing to become sparks, make fire and destroy everything. Thats how I felt running on the stairs today. Before I went running I was reading Born To Run by Christopher McDougall. I learned that the foot contains a bunch of nerves. Actually the foot is just as sensitive as the tongue, he says. Three days ago I just ripped the skin of my foot exposing the flesh and all the nerves. No wonder it hurt. I feel stupid. How can you train for a half marathon in two weeks?

Department investigates itself

The controversy surrounding the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon and the death of Peter Hass leads back to two different institutions in San Francisco. The Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation (ISCOTT) gives the permit whenever there is a big event in San Francisco such as the Chinese New Years parade or a race. ISCOTT issued a permit to Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon. Private organizers of races are required to provide their own medical staff, and part of ISCOTT’s job is to approve the medical plan. (You can see the medical plan here: 2011 Kaiser SF HM EMS Plan.) This is where another institution comes in to the picture: The Department of Emergency Management. Department of Emergency Management helps ISCOTT review the medical plan.

Laura Adleman is the press spokesperson with Department of Emergency Management. She explains the role of Department of Emergency Management, when medical plans are approved:

“The medical plan generally goes through us. We review the medical plan. You could say that we advise the committee,” Adleman says.

The day after the race deputy director with the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management Rob Dudgeon was quoted on He told that an investigation had been started to find out whether the emergency plan was fully implemented by the organizers of the race.

“We had a death at a race, and we had the city’s 911 system pulled in to provide medical assistance,” Dudgeon said. “So I’d say that the assets dedicated to the race were insufficient. We are investigating.”

The Department of Emergency Management, who advised ISCOTT approving the plan in the first place, is now investigating the very same plan.

A little more than two months after Peter Hass died I called Laura Adleman the first time. Department of Emergency Management was still working on the report, she said.

“I don’t have an exact date. It is still in progress, but I think it will come within the next couple of weeks,” Adleman said.

The investigation, that officers from Department of Emergency Management are doing, is called an after action report. Usually Department of Emergency Management do after action reports after big events that involve the whole city. After New Years evening and after the World Series Parade last fall the department decided to do after action reports as well.

“This is a slightly different situation, because it was a race. The reason we do the report is that the race had to draw upon 911. These types of events are required to provide their own medical resources. 911 is a fallback,” Adleman explained.

“Did your department have any comments to the emergency plan for the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon, when you reviewed it for ISCOTT?”

“I can’t really go in to specifics before the report comes.”

“Did the race organizers follow the plan?”

“I can’t answer that now.”

Although 911 is a fallback it is still supposed to come when people are in need. Different sources report that it took the fire department more than 20 minutes to arrive to Peter Hass after he collapsed.

“Will the report include the fire departments role in this event?”

“Yes, I think it will look at all aspects of the plan,” Adleman said.

I call Adleman back in the beginning of May – a little more than two weeks later.

“No, it’s unfortunately not completed yet. It is still in progress. Maybe if you call me back in a week or so,” she says.

I ask her who is working on the report.

“It goes through a couple of people in the office who come with their inputs.”

After talking to Adleman the first time I checked the after action reports on the Department of Emergency Service’s website. One of the links does not work. The three links, which actually do work, lead to the after action reports of Cosco Butan oil spill November 7th 2007, New Years storm January 3-6th 2008 and Dubai Star oil spill October 30th-31st 2009. By looking at the release dates of the after action reports you can determine, that it took the Department of Emergency Services 4 moths and 5 days to do the after action report on Cosco Butan, 2 moths and 8 days for the New Years storm and 3 months and 5 days to do the report on Dubai Star.

The World Series Parade was on November 3rd 2010. It has now been 6 months. New Years evening was a little more than 4 months ago.

“I just looked at your home page, and I could not find the after action report from the New Years Parade,” I say to Laura Adleman talking to her the second time.

“That one is also not completed yet. We are still working on it,” Adleman says.

“And the World Series Parade.”

“It’s also not there. They are coming, but they are still in progress. Once they are completed they will be there. It’s just a matter of work load. We don’t have any specific deadline. Unfortunately I am not able to give you any more specific information.”

“But if I call you back in a week?”

“I can’t say for sure it will be done by then. I probably won’t have any more specific information for you,” Adleman says.

Laura Adleman later specified in an email, that the department was not being evasive: “These reports take considerable time to research, compile, and properly vet. The report on the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon is in the final stages and will be available soon, based on current workload estimates.”

Eric Mar is the supervisor of Richmond District, which includes Golden Gate Park. On February 18 the SF Examiner reported that Mar had called for a hearing for the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee in order to find out why the Department of Emergency Management approved the medical plan in the first place, if it thought the response was insufficient and if the San Francisco Fire Department should have acted differently during the race.

I have written several emails to Eric Mar and his staff and talked on the phone to people working for him. I would have liked to hear, if he has discussed these issues with the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee and if not, when he is planning to do so.

But Eric Mar never called or emailed me back.


When my foot hit the ground I could feel the swung being pushed toward the pavement by the weight of my whole body, deforming and stretching the skin. The center of the wound does not seem to heal. It is like these small holes, that the ducks keep open, when the lakes freeze at winter. When I take my shoes of at night, I can see how the little piranhas in my sock have been feeding on the wound.

The music was blending together with the silent bay and the lights on the other shore. I was aiming for Fillmore to get back home. But in an intersection I turned left instead of right. The pain remained constant. Maybe it was even a little less now, because the wound was getting soaked in sweat and its own liquids and had easier to stretch with the bouncing swung. I ran to the crooked part of Lombart Street. Running is also about adventure. Exploring. I always have a craving to run, when I move to a new place. I ran up Lombart. Knowing that I was running on this beautiful scene with San Francisco’s skyline in my back made me go faster. Running is also about aesthetics. Restless winds blew on the stairs on Fillmore Street. They were chill and dragged my hair. I pushed my body through them. At Jackson I turned right. Alta Plaza Park smelled like newly cut grass and dew.

The man behind the numbers

Ryan Lamppa has worked on a database of runners in the US for nearly 20 years now. He studied history at college and worked as a teacher for four years. Then, in the beginning of the 1990’s, one of his friends was about to leave town. “I think you should take my job,” the friend said. The job was for the USA Track & Field, which controlled the database at that time. Running USA emerged from USA Track & Field in 1999, and Ryan Lamppa continued to control the database. He is now researcher and media director for Running USA, which is a non-profit organization representing the running industry. Ryan Lamppa is a runner, he loves numbers, and he loves teaching. So the job is ideal for him. He always has an answer or knows how to find it. He only recalls being stump twice for the last two decades. One of the times was when he got an obscure question about the mile. After talking to two different experts on the mile, he had to give up. He cares for the numbers in his database.

“I am not aware of any other database like this, and I have connections in almost every part of the world,” Lamppa says.

On March 16th 2011 he published the latest numbers. They show that the running sport is booming. The number of runners finishing a half marathon race increased by 24 percent from 1.1 to nearly 1.4 million Americans in 2010. Since 2000 the number of half marathon finishers has nearly tripled.

Ryan Lamppa says that his database gets numbers from around 90 percent of all half marathons in the US and more than 95 percent of the full marathons.

“Our numbers come from timing companies and events. The numbers are almost spot on because our universe is nearly complete,” Lamppa says.

507,000 runners finished a full marathon in the US in 2010, which was new record too.

Running USA has other companies doing surveys that estimate the total number of runners in the US. You have to be much more carefull with these numbers, Lamppa says.

“You have to take them with a lick of salt.”

These numbers have not come out for 2010 yet, so the most recent ones are from 2009. They show that 16.4 million americans ran 100 times or more that year. Even with a lick of salt this number can be a guide line to understanding how many people drop dead from running every year. This is the number that, combined with the knowledge from the running expert, Thompson, leads to a total of 1000 runners dying from heart attacks in the US every year.

I have not been able to talk to any of Peter Hass’ close friends or family. But I wonder how these thousands of families deal with such a tragedy. How do you make sense out of something that seems to make no sense at all? How do you keep on breathing when someone you loved has been taken away from you? I search the internet and find a new page describing the death of Peter Hass. It also mentions another runner. Bill Goggins. He died, 43-years old, in the San Francisco Marathon July 2006.

Five manhattans

Evan Ratliff had fallen a sleep on the couch, when a car key landed on his stomach. He woke up and walked to the open window. His friend Bill Goggins was standing down below with a huge grin on his face. Bill could not believe, that he had made the perfect shot.

This huge grin is one of the images that comes to mind when Evan thinks of his friend Bill. Later that year Bill got a heart attack and dropped dead two miles before finishing the San Francisco Marathon.

Bill was a journalist and worked at Wired Magazine, when Evan met him. Evan was applying for an internship at the magazine.

Bill was busy. Incredibly busy. That was the first impression Evan got. He did not get any response on his application for the internship. But after several phone calls where Bill would say “I call you back next week” Bill one day said “why don’t we meet up for drinks?”.

“My interview was over five manhattans in North Beach,” 36-year old Evan Ratliff says on the phone from New York where he lives and works as a journalist.


The breaks where uneasy spaces in which I could not find a place to fit in, so I just tried to blend in with the wall paper. I felt there was something that all the other kids had in common, that I was missing. So I had to show them. And so I did. I became an 11-year old running maniac. There was another guy from the school, who was running too. We teamed up. My stomach was hurting from anxiety when I knew I had to run after class. And we did not run for fun. We raced the same 4 kilometers, every time a couple of seconds faster than the last time. I also stopped eating. I only brought a tiny piece of bread to school. I was always hungry. I remember my mother coming home. She had bought chocolate. She just wanted me to eat something. I could tell that she was worried. But I could not afford to gain weight. I wanted to become the world champion one day and beat everybody. I won the national championship on my birthday, but I was not really happy. And then it slowly worn out. I was tired of running and a year later I quitted. But now I knew my boundaries. Once in a while I push myself a little towards them.

The mayor of North Beach

A pregnant woman and a man steps in to a bar on Market Street in San Francisco. Blackbird is like a perfectly edited magazine. Straight lines and figures form the room. A red sofa stretches along the wall opposite to the bar. Lights hang over the bar in cables in different lengths. The floor is formed by squared stones in black and discrete red. A pleasant smell of food blends with the mild air. People are laughing. It is a cool place. I meet the woman’s eyes and say “hi”. She seems kind and mild, and we exchange a couple of words before she asks me:

“Are you the journalist?”

“Yes, I am.”

On the phone Paul Donald had told me that his wife Janeen was pregnant, so I was pretty sure those where the people, I was supposed to meet, when I saw them entering.

I say hi to Paul. He has the same kindness to him. Bright grey hairs are taking over his beard. He is 41, but he looks like a young man when he smiles. There is something innocent and authentic about his face.

Paul met Bill in 1995 – a couple of years before Evan did. Paul worked as a designer on Wired Magazine. He was at the race with Bill’s sister and her boyfriend, when Bill died. They cheered him on a few miles before he collapsed.

We go to the bar. Janeen and Paul tell me, that they are having their child in two months. Paul orders a beer and pulls up some money. I take my card and say that I will get it. But it is cash only, so I rush to the ATM in the back of the room a bit embarrassed. Paul and Janeen are already at the red sofa when I come back.

“We got it,” Paul say.

On the phone from New York Evan tells me that Bill was called “the mayor of North Beach”. He loved this part of San Francisco where he lived for many years. North Beach is the neighborhood where Little Italy is, where red lights blink over Broadway, where Washington Square breaths like a green lung of joy, and where you can still smell the excitement of the beat generation and their howling writings and hearts.

“It was almost like he had a romantic view of San Francisco,” Evan says.

A woman that Bill lived with in North Beach describes it like this: “We would slipper around the apartment with our ratty old newspapers and candy bars, reading or watching television, laughing at ourselves all the way. We created our own melodious language that no one else appreciated.”

Paul sit at the edge of the red sofa leaning towards me. I move the chair closer to him. Janeen sits to Paul’s right. She is looking at him while he talks. Their hands are folded on her thigh. They met three years ago.

“We made things happen fast,” Paul says.

“I never met him,” Janeen says.

“Janeen never met Bill, but she knows his family, and she knows a lot about Bill because I talk about him all the time,” Paul says.

I ask Janeen what her impression of Bill is, based on the things she has heard from Paul.

“My first impression of Paul and Bill was that Paul loved Bill very, very much, Janeen says. “Even three years ago – it had already been two years since Bill died – the loss still felt very acute. I get the sense that Bill was so warm and magnanimous as a person. Enormous heart, enormous mind, included everybody …”

“… generous,” Paul continues. “Yeah magnanimous it’s a great word. It accomplishes a lot of things, but I think it is probably one of the best words to describe Bill.”

“Bill seemed to be tremendously cool in all the ways you wanna be cool,” Janeen says.

Bill grew up in Mill Valley near San Francisco. His mother was an art teacher. Bill’s father has got some of the same rare energy, that characterized Bill. Bill had two sisters, and he was very close to his family.

Paul is from the Midwest. He had just moved to San Francisco when he met Bill at Wired Magazine. When Paul was not able to go back home to his family for holidays he was always invited to the family celebration in Mill Valley. So Paul came close to everybody in Bill’s family.

Bill payed sincere attention to everything and everybody around him. Most of the other employees at Wired Magazine didn’t notice the guy working in the mail room. But the mayor of North Beach walked in and talked to him. When Bill found out that a friend or relative to the mail room employee had his art opening, he drove 20 minutes with the buss (Bill did not have a car) across San Francisco to be there at the opening, Paul recalls:

“And he shows up to support this person that he has never even met who is like some friend or the cousin or whatever of the mail room employee. Like that! That makes you feel good, when someone is as amazing as Bill and does that.”

Paul was with Bill the day before the marathon. They walked through the Golden Gate Park, and Paul realized that the marathon was a really big deal for Bill. Bill had gone through some tough times. He had been separated from his wife for around six years but they had not gotten the divorce yet. Bill had finally decided to finalize the divorce, which was something that he did not like but really needed to do. He was moving on from another relationship to a woman that he loved, but did not feel he was being met by. Paul had connected Bill with a new woman and Bill and her had just been on a first date. Bill had left Wired Magazine the year before. He was on the merge of making a big decision about what he wanted to do next. Running a marathon was part of this process.

“It was like turning a corner in his life,” Paul says. His voice slows down and he swallows a lump in his throat. Janeen’s right hand holds his hand tight on her thigh, her left hand strokes his back. Paul continues: “Because I realized how important it was to him, I really wanted to be there and support him as he was doing his thing.”

Evan had left Wired Magazine to work freelance, but he still hung out with Bill all the time. They where both bachelors, and they were part of a group of people who had worked or still worked at the magazine. Bill was the center of the social circle. “I’ll rattle your case”. Bill would say that all the time, and he would do it all the time. He would stop by his friends’ houses, bother them a little, have a chat. Like the day he made the perfect shot and hit Evan on the stomach. Often they would hang out at Mad Dog in Lower Haight watching English soccer. It was a big circle, some people joined it, others left. But Bill was always around.

“There was a time when I would call Bill at least every other night and ask what was going on tonight. He always knew,” Evan says.

Paul woke up at seven in the morning on July 30th 2006. The day of the race. He met up with Bill’s sister Aimee and her boyfriend at the corner of Guerrero and 14th Street. This was around mile 21 out of the 26,2 miles that make a marathon. Bill looked great when he passed them by. He didn’t seem to be sweating, and he was happy as can be with a big smile. He looked strong. He was ahead of the time he was aiming for, which would qualify him for the Boston Marathon. He looked like a million bucks, Paul recalls:

“Obviously little did I know, that was the last time I would see him alive.”

After Bill had passed them by on his way down Guerrero Paul, Aimee and her boyfriend considered if they should go home and take a nap. But they decided to go and meet Bill at the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero where the race ended. It was kind of mayhem there. There was so many people everywhere, and they could not find him. It seemed a little odd, because Bill was always very organized, and he would have a way of finding people. But at the same time it was just kind of crazy with all those people around. So they looked for half an hour, did not find him and decided that they would call him later.

Paul went home and took a nap. He was awakened by the phone. It was Bill’s sister Aimee saying: “You know why we didn’t see Bill after the race?”. “No, why?”. “Because he’s dead”. The next week was just a fog.

The second Evan heard Paul’s voice, he knew that something had happened. It was nighttime in Brooklyn. He had moved there a couple of months before. He knew that Bill was running the marathon. Bill had told Evan about his training and how he was gearing up for it. Evan do not remember Paul’s exact words. It was surreal to learn that his friend had died and then being so far away. If he had been in San Francisco, he was sure that he would have been there at the race. Evan was sitting alone in his apartment. He did not know what to do. He was numb.

Bill ran approximately three more miles after passing by Paul, Aimee and her boyfriend. Then he collapsed and died from a heart attack. Another friend of Bill, Joshua Davis, who is also a journalist, wrote a story about Bill. Davis got access to the autopsy report. It determinates that Bill died from a thickened muscle in the heart, which made it difficult for the blood to flow in to his arteries. The condition is called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). Davis’ research discovered that one in 500 people have HCM, and that the first symptom often is death.

Paul went for a long walk after talking to Aimee. He walked through Dolores Park, up to Liberty Street and ended up on a tea shop in the Castro. He sat down and started to write everything he remembered of the last 24 hours. He knew he would not remember otherwise. Then he went home. That night he had to call some people. It was a lot of strange conversations. He called Evan in New York. He called the woman that Bill had been dating but was ending the relationship to. She was in New York with her father who was dying. Paul also talked to the girl that Bill had been on a first date with only a few days before.

“I did not know her very well and I had to call her. She came over and we just hung out and drank tea and talked. I saw her a couple of times that week. She was freaked out, and I was freaked out. I remember we shared a ride to the funeral, which was on Friday …,” Paul says adding more to the sentence as the memories come streaming by. His eyes seems to be out of focus while he relives that day in the beginning of August 2006. “… I think she drove.”

Paul went to Mill Valley to visit Bill’s family the day before the funeral. He saw Bill for the last time. He didn’t look like himself. He looked like an old man. Paul felt that the funeral director had done a really bad job with Bill.

“But I also felt that Bill had lived so much in his life, and he finally showed it after he died. He putted on like 15 years.”

Paul was stressed out at the end of that week. He arranged a gathering for Bill’s friends, and the family had asked him to say something at the reception after the funeral. He was nervous about what to say in order to honor Bill.

“I felt I was in charge of a lot of things. I was probably not processing it as much as I should have.”

Paul looks at Janeen and says:

“Janeen actually witnessed, I think, a big moment for me. It was not long after we met.”

The San Francisco Marathon continues to run on the same route. Paul and Janeen where walking by the spot where Paul had cheered Bill on two or three years before. The streets where closed of, runners sucked on sports gel and threw their water cups everywhere, cops guided the traffic, and the city felt unique in the same way it did that morning in 2006 when Bill died. Paul was overwhelmed, and suddenly it all came flooding back. Bill should be here! It’s not … it’s not right. Damn it. Bill should be here, and he is not. He grabbed Janeen and cried at her neck.

“It made a difference that Janeen was there. I felt comfortable sharing that side of myself with her. It was really nice to have somebody there who I cared about.”

Janeen says:

“We were happy. We were actually having a really lovely morning. I remember that.”

Paul takes over:

“I think that was a part of it: This is such a great time, Bill would so enjoy this. God damn it, he is not here. And I really… I told you this a million times,” Paul says and looks directly at Janeen. “But I so wish Bill could have met you.”

The absence of Bill makes Paul’s thoughts become existential.

“Something is wrong in the universe. Bill should have been here to enjoy these moments, and he is not here. It is not right, damn it. It’s just a big fucking shame, that Bill isn’t still with us. It’s wrong. It’s just tremendously sad for everybody involved. We all would benefit from him being here still with us.”

“Do you feel angry,” Janeen asks Paul.

“Ehm, only a little, if at all. He was doing what he truly wanted to be doing. There was nothing that he wanted more in that moment than to be running that race, and he was doing that. So what is there to be angry at? His body? Well we all have, you know… no I don’t think I’m angry. I’m sad. It’s a tragedy.”

Bill had trained hard for the marathon with a professional trainer.

“I don’t see how he could have been better prepared except from having this random test, that would have proven that he had this condition. And even then, Bill was such a stubborn sun of a gun, the race was really important to him, I don’t know if he would have said: ‘Well you know something bad could happen, I’m not gonna run this race’. I bed he would have said: ‘No, fuck it!’.”

Evan does not run marathons because he is to lazy, he says and laughs on the phone. But he thinks that it is a great thing.

“There are many ways do die, and some are completely accidental. If people wants to run a marathon they should not sit around not doing something that could change their life,” he says.

Bill’s sudden death made his friends think about their own lives. Especially the fact, that Bill was in the middle of a transition, made Evan think:

“He wanted to start over and he died in the middle of that. That made me think about what I wanted to do with my life,” Evan says.

Evan often think of Bill. Bill learned him a lot about journalism, and he showed him San Francisco. He was a mentor and a friend. Evan often wants to call Bill, talk to him and get his advise or just hang out.

“The pain is not there as much as before. It’s more like an absence,” Evan says.

In the aftermath of Bill’s death Paul felt that Bill gave him a tremendous gift:

“Not in dying itself, but sort of in the wake of his death I realized that he continued to give. And the gift that he gave was this reminder that life is short and you really need to live it fully.”

It is around 9 p.m., and the sound cloud on Blackbird grows as more people enter. It smells like food. Paul looks at Janeen.

“Are you hungry?”


“Okay, I think we need to get the baby fed,” Paul says and prepares to stand up. “Well Evan is coming to town in a few weeks. We’ll definitely be going out and have some drinks so I will let you know. It would be good for you to meet him. He is a good guy.”

“I would love to do that,” I say.

“We’ll rattle your case,” Paul says.

I think to myself: That is Bill speaking.

The half marathon

A woman in her 20’s sits on the asphalt stretching. She is surrounded by a wall of impatient muscles. The gun goes of. I run over the mat, that registers my starting time. 

We form a snake as we run along Crissy Field. Cautious sunbeams makes their way from the horizon and split into magic light when they hit a drop of mist in the morning air. We cross the bridge and go back. A man loose his balance down a hill and falls on the asphalt. He gets up again. We come back to the water. I am getting really worried, because my left knee is starting to tighten up and hurt. There is more than three miles to go. I am running with my camera and a recorder, and I want to record the sound of waves splashing on the stones under Golden Gate Bridge. I squat over a chain and steps down on the edge before the big stones. And then I fall. The edge is slippery from algae, and my foot just disappears underneath me. The rest of the race is painful. I have to stop and stretch the knee. I hear a man’s deep voice behind me: “Run”. I think he is talking to someone else. Then it comes again. “Run”. He says it while breathing out, and the shock of his body landing on the feet reverberates through the body and pushes the air out of his lungs. It makes his outburst very sudden. Hwrun! He is talking to himself. I wish I had been training more for this race. I force my legs to keep on going, breath wild and loudly. And then i finish. 1 hour and 55 minutes. That is far from my time last year, which was 1 hour and 34 minutes. But I am just happy that I made it.

After the race I stand on the pier at the end of Van Ness Avenue, which fences Aquatic Park, and look at the water. The color is a mix between green and brown without looking dirty. Sunlight creates small mosaics that constantly change as the water flows. I look at the white foam on the little waves reshaping into new figures on the surface. And I realize that I have been standing their for several minutes not thinking of anything but this water. 


I sit at my computer. I scroll down a guest book on the internet, where people who knew Peter Hass have written about him. Peter Hass and his family have been in my mind almost every day since I saw that headline in the San Francisco Chronicle and learned about his death. The last month he has been accompanied by Bill Goggins, who died in 2006. They both seem to have been such wonderful persons. The more I learned about them the more I would have liked to meet them alive. Their deaths seem meaningless. I have tried to find a meaning by talking to experts on hearts, looking in research papers and statistics and interviewing friends. But it doesn’t make sense. Thompson pretty much sums it up:

“You exercise for the long term gain but it is just like the stock market: You could loose everything.”

This is not the stock market. This is about life and death and love. Peter Hass and Bill Goggins both had generous and loving hearts that stopped beating way to early. I was deeply touched when I read about Bill Goggins on, and when I talked to his friends Evan and Paul. I have not talked to any close friends or family of Peter Hass – only the attorney. But I get the same heavy feeling now sitting at my desk the day before I will finish the story.

Forty-nine people have posted words about Peter Hass on I slowly read every entry. At the bottom of page six I read this: “My dear friend Eden – we have been friends for so long we are really family. I love you, Gavin and Peter so much. My heart is aching and my faith rattled. Peter was truly one of a kind, so caring, so giving, so loving and could hold court in any room he entered. The grief and loss I am feeling is devastating so Nenen I can only imagine what you must be going through, but please know I am here for you now tomorrow and always. I will see to it that you are always surrounded by friends and family and that Gavin and baby number two know all about their amazing daddy. I love you Nenen and will be here for you always. Please know that you can count on me for anything. I love you.” The screen in front of me has become blurry and my chest is heavy. I am crying.

The street is crowded. Clad in olive green army suits, men line the side of the brick wall. Their shiny medals are adorned with color, different flags meaning different ranks, different fights, different countries, and different experiences. The women giggle loudly around them. Excited to see their brothers, boyfriends, or potential ones. Short stacked heels, red lips and freshly dyed hair, it’s hard to differentiate between them. Cigarette smokes swirls, and wing-tipped glasses are foggy. A musician begins to unload for the second time that night on the corner of Webster and Post streets.

Before there was the infamous Fillmore, before the Great American Music Hall, before the Warfield, there was “Bop City,” located at 1690 Post Street.

Jimbos Bop City. photo from Carol Chamberlain

Developed in the back of Jimbo’s Waffle house, “Bop City” became the Fillmore District’s main attraction for local and traveling musicians. Often called just “Jimbo’s,” the back of the restaurant was given the nickname “Bop City” after the New York club with the namesake closed a few years previous. Between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. the club opened after all the other restaurants and clubs had closed around San Francisco. On any given night, Duke Ellington, Chet Baker, Miles Davis or Billie Holiday might be found performing at Bop.

“Oh yeah I remember the Bop,” recalls bassist Terry Hilliard, “I remember it well.”

Despite its thriving music scene and emerging restaurants and shops, by the late 1950s the Fillmore was being called a “slum.”

During the late 1890s, Japanese immigrants began to move into the Fillmore District, joining the already established white and European community and began to establish what is now Japantown. After the 1906 earthquake, the Fillmore became San Francisco’s financial center, as downtown was being rebuilt and restored.

Because of this, more people moved into the area and created somewhat of a “melting pot” of cultures.  While there had been African American and Mexican families in the area before the earthquake, racism and segregation made it difficult for more families to move from neighboring cities like Oakland who were more populated with people of color.

the Japanese community, which totaled well over 5,000 people, was forcibly removed during WWII and replaced with thousands of African Americans looking for wartime jobs. Between 1940 and 1950 the African American population grew tenfold and began to shine as the largest condensed African American population in the West.

Within five years, the Japanese community had returned to the area, and as many describe it, had to “start over” again. Things had changed dramatically during the war, and now the Western Addition was heavily populated and store fronts where predominantly geared at the African American population in the neighborhood. The area became known as the “Harlem of the West,” with jazz clubs like the Blackhawk, the Primalon Ballroom, and the Ellis Theatre bustling any night of the week.

Attracting large acts like Sammie Davis Jr., Louis Armstrong and Dave Brubeck San Francisco was becoming a premiere destination for live acts on the West Coast.

Geary Street, 1960. Photo from KQED

The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency sought to “improve” the area in the late 1940s, which ended up displacing many African American families and encouraged many to the suburbs in the East Bay where homes are typically larger and rent cheaper.


The dark doors are heavy, shiny black and the steel handle is freezing cold. With one push of the door a blast of air, hot from the fifty or so bodies crowded at the bar and eager diners dripping in pearls and handsome suits, hits the new customers as the enter the restaurant.  Waiters in white crisp jackets buzz by with plates of Kobe and sautéed Rainbow Trout weaving in and out of the crowds. An occasional broken glass or stumble breaks the seamlessly hectic rhythm.

Terry Hilliard unpacks his large stand-up bass case by the coat-check closet. Always clad in a tan trench coat and black fedora, his glasses are a bit foggy from the rain. Calm, collected and impeccably polite, he hands over his jacket to the host, “How are you tonight?”

Customers at the bar at Bix Restaurant. Bix is located at 56 Gold Alley, San Francisco

Hilliard was born in Illinois in 1936 and shortly thereafter his family moved to the West Coast eventually settling in Berkeley. Hilliard played the trumpet and guitar during high school, but while attending San Francisco State University he began to play the bass. Participating in music workshops in the East Bay, Hilliard had the opportunity to study with the likes of Ray Brown, Papa Gene Wright and Skippy Warren. Hilliard went on to transfer to Monterey Peninsula College so that he could study with Jerry Coker.

In the fall of 1958, Hilliard played the famous Monterey Jazz Festival and later that year was hired to play in the house band at Bop City. “We used to run those other guys off the stage,” Hilliard says with a luscious chuckle. “I mean, I am not kidding. We would start playing in all these crazy times and those guys wouldn’t be able to handle it.”

Like many of the young musicians of the time, Hilliard was drafted into the Korean War at the end of 1958. However, a friend got him transferred to the Special Services so he could play instead of fight.

“I was lucky, I missed training camp and everything,” he remembers. “I just went straight to Washington and started touring.” He returned home in 1960 to play at the Worlds Fair in Seattle with Johnny Bassett, a staple in the music industry who would then become a producer for late night television programs and the creative director of the Edinburgh International Festival.

“I missed an entire world tour because of an impacted wisdom tooth,” Hilliard sighs. “I mean, that’s life. You just can’t win them all I guess.”

Even while he sighs, his smile reaches through the phone.

He then recorded on Cal Tjader’s songs “Soul Sauce” and “Soul Bird,” which would make Hilliard a household name. This would allow Hilliard to be booked “80 percent of the year,” he remembers, “It was a really exciting time for me.” And while Hilliard was touring cities like Chicago, Detroit or New York, back at home, San Francisco’s music scene was beginning to dissipate.

Terry Hilliard has played all over the world

During the 1960s Jazz was becoming more mainstream and with places like Bop City, who had a no tolerance policy on violence and segregation in the club, more people of all colors were listening and attending shows. “I never felt any type of racism playing,” Hilliard, with assurance, says. “I always played in integrated bands and while there were some places I couldn’t play at, the ones I did were just fine, just fine. Nobody ever treated me badly.”

Dixieland and Bebop style was now being considered “traditional” as acid jazz and free jazz artists dismissed the styles and starting experimenting with new sounds and instruments. Thelonis Monk and Miles Davis were emerging with new attitudes and clothing and clubs like Bop City and San Francisco’s other famous club “Blackhawk” were not only being less frequented but also plans of their removal were already underway.

Justin Herman was the infamous director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency between 1959 until 1971. A proponent of the “redevelopment” of over 60 blocks in the area, Herman, who now has a plaza dedicated to him, was instrumental in the demolishment of thousands of homes in the Western Addition neighborhood, including the building that once housed Bop City. The building was at first relocated a few blocks away for historical preservation but is no longer in existence. “We were part of this little moment in time that I don’t think could happen now,” says Hilliard of Bop City. “It just isn’t the same anymore.”

Justin Herman Plaza is in one of the most desirable areas of San Francisco

The Redevelopment Agency named the plan, “Phase A-1,” and important neighborhood fixtures like “The Chicago Barber Shop,” were given slips that would allow them precedence to move back into the neighborhood once the redevelopment was completed. Unfortunately the redevelopment wouldn’t conclude until the year 2000, long after many shop owners were already dead or had moved on to other cities.

After Phase A-1 was completed, ten years later Herman would begin what was deemed “Phase A-2” in 1963. Hiring a Western Addition minister, the Reverend Wilbur Hamilton, as Director of A-2, Herman felt the pressure to create alliances after the newly formed Western Addition Community Organization (WACO) filed a major lawsuit as well as started picketing the projects. But by 1970 most of the Western Addition has been cleared out, inundated with empty lots and unusable fields. Herman would eventually suffer a major heart attack and pass away in 1971, leaving the neighborhood unfinished and in some cases, inhabitable.

“Have you ever heard of a place called ‘Aspen,’” Hilliard asks excited, just remembering his days in the integrated Playboy Band that played all over Hollywood in the mid sixties. “It’s really nice, we would play banquets there, that’s when Lillian, my wife at the time, when she was with us.”

It was a waiter named Mike who gave a bunch of musicians an idea in the middle of a Italian restaurant in Aspen that made Aspen a success for Hilliard and his cohorts. The waiter’s suggestion: make up a rumor to get you in the big hotels.

The men had a perfect co-conspirator for their ruse. She was beautiful, exotic and foreign. Her long hair was perfectly pinned and her wing-tipped glasses shaded a soft black. Against the large cascading mountains and small creeks, the Princess of Ragune seemed out of place but in her beauty there was a calmness that overshadowed her royal lineage.

“Have you heard this Princess is in town for the Summer Rodeo?” a local shop boy said to his boss. “Really? Here? Are you sure,” the boss couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t the season anyway. All the celebrities came during the winter and, while most of the tourists were wealthy, he for sure would have heard if there was royalty in the little skiing town. A woman, dressed in a light green gingham dress with a tan straw hat looks up from her basket, “I actually saw her the other day, and she is here.”

The Princess of Ragune did indeed help the band play at the banquet hall and it was also the Princess, or as Hilliard fondly called her “Lillian,” who brought Hilliard home. Leaving touring and eventually starting a new life as a computer engineer, Hilliard never left his musical life behind either. “I just have to play,” he says.

“I have known Terry for a long time, since the mid 50s probably,” Stan Popper, the legendary drummer from Oakland, says. “We go way back.”

Born in Oakland to a Hungarian mother and a San Francisco native father, Popper started his musical career at Oakland High School. “I wasn’t very good,” he says. “I got way better when I returned back from the Air Force.” His voice dim but strong, Popper struggles to remember some of the clubs he played at during his young years. The house drummer at Jimbos for just a few months, Popper left to tour with the famous guitarist Barney Kessel. Kessel is popular for his Dixieland style and most famous album “Workin’ Out,” which Popper is featured on. Kessel also appeared on the Beach Boys song “Wouldn’t it be Nice,” integrating him in newer generations. Kessel died in San Diego in 2004 from heart complications.

“That was amazing to play with him. We played all the major cities, New York, Chicago, Detroit, you name it, it was such an amazing time for me,” Popper smiles. Popper also played weekly with the likes of Pony Poindexter. Poindexter was the inspiration for Neal Hefti’s song, “Little Pony,” which he wrote for the Count Basie Orchestra. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, Popper would play with Poindexter at the Coffee Gallery in San Francisco’s North Beach District on Green Street.

Now almost 80 years old and living in Hayward, Popper plays on occasion and speaks fondly of his choice to eventually only play music part time. “I had to get a day job, you know how that is,” he continues. “I met my wife while I was working for the Crocker bank. We hit it off immediately and we had two children, two boys.” Neither of his sons plays music but still live in the area.

“I wouldn’t change a thing, not a minute of it,” he says as he wraps up his memories. “Because musically speaking, I was a part of something so big, so amazing. It was truly the best of times, the best.”

Fillmore Street, around 1960. Public Library of San Francisco

Not only were steel workers, nurses and other government workers seeking to organize. Located right in Western Addition, the Musicians Local 6 Union began to set standards for jazz musicians during the late 50s.The Local 6 was created in the late 1890s, helped to form the San Francisco Opera, Symphony and Ballet, but it wasn’t until the Fillmore Jazz “Renaissance” did the union really come together.

“There was actually two ‘Locals’ at that time, unfortunately,” Rudi Salvini, trumpet player and another long-time friend of Hilliard says. “There was a white Local, and then there was a black Local.”

Mr. Salvini is another Oakland native, born in 1925 and began playing the trumpet at 10 years old while he was in elementary school. After high school, Salvini enrolled in the music program at San Francisco State University, but was quickly drafted to the war.

Rudy Salvini Courtesy of the Local 6 website

“I was stationed in Germany and played with the 761st Army Air Force band,” he says of his time away. After a recommendation from a friend, he joined the 314th General Arm Forces Band, which included the best musicians stationed in Europe at the time. “We were broadcasted every Sunday from the Wiesbaden Opera House for the Army Air Force Radio Network,” Salvini said. A famous singer was also in that band, Tony “Bennett” Benedetto.

Two years later, Salvini was back at San Francisco State joined by other Bay Area Jazz musicians Allen Smith, Paul Desmond and Cal Tjader. Continuing his education and receiving his teachers credentials in 1953, Salvini would eventually teach music in Pacifica for over 25 years. Salvini has had much success with his 17-piece band that he still plays with today. “I am still playing with about three or four of my original members. We have been playing for over 60 years together,” Salvini said.

Rudy Salvini orginal flyer courtesy of the Local 6 website

“We had meetings every month, we would meet for like 20 minutes then just have a jam session, it was great,” Hilliard says of the union meetings. The union still represents musicians in the area. Hilliard, Salvini and Popper were members. Setting ethical standards and encouraging diversity among bands and policy, the Local 6 was instrumental in ensuring that musicians during the 50s were paid properly and treated with “dignity and respect.”

“Basically black’s couldn’t play at the Fairmont, or the big hotels, but at the Blackhawk and Bop they could,” Salvini says. “It is a really unfortunate part of our history.”

“I never felt any type of violence or hatred,” Popper said when asked if he saw any racism during his touring days. “I never saw a thing.” Though Popper presumably wouldn’t have directly felt any violence being Caucasian, he, like many other musicians at the time, did their due diligence in joining organizations like the Local 6 so that they could avoid harmful situations.

Nowadays Hilliard’s calendar is only slightly less full than it was over fifty years ago, with a standing gig on Friday nights at Bix Restaurant. He just finished recording an album with Junius Courtney Big Band and received San Francisco Jazz Heritage Center’s Heritage Pioneer Award, presented to Hilliard by San Francisco Mayors Gavin Newsom and Willie Brown in 2005.

Plucking slow and deep Hilliard closes his eyes and tilts his head up. Renditions of “They Can’t Take That Away,” and “Lazy Bird” linger in the loud gilded room but Hilliard looks quiet, he looks calm and he is playing as if the breaking glasses and women who have had too much chardonnay are cackling.

Slowly walking off the stage for a well-deserved twenty- minute break, Hilliard returns to the host, asking for his jacket so he can enjoy the fresh chill air in the small alley outside. The dressed-up commuters from the Peninsula and socialites from Nob Hill have no idea who they are in the presence of when they ask their waiter who the band “is.” Walking by Hilliard, they give regards and praise.  Always polite, Hilliard replies, “Oh I have been playing around for a while now,” when the bland patrons ask how long he has been playing bass. It seems ridiculous, in a way, that Hilliard, Popper, Salvini and the rest of the musicians that are still alive aren’t as easily recognized as some of the strung out twenty-somethings of today are.

Rudy Salvini played with Dave Brubeck at the Blackhawk

The same brick wall is cold now, fifty-five years later. An occasional band of teenagers yell loudly, holding iPhones blaring T-Pain. They lean on the wall of the Boom Boom Room, located on the corner of Fillmore and Geary, waiting for the 38 Geary Bus to take them to the cold, foggy, grey Richmond District where they live. Little do they know, as they glance up at the empty and faded Fillmore West, that Duke Ellington strolled down the street. They don’t know that restaurants were packed all day long along the street that is now barren and empty.

“I thought people only hung out at night on the block,” Devin,  14 years old, says. “Nobody is ever around. “