Sanctuary City: Part One

Sanctuary City: Part One

I called this post Sanctuary City for two reasons. One, San Francisco has been a sanctuary city since 1989. We have felt the need for that status more than ever in the political turmoil and unrest that is settling itself around the country right now. The title is a nod to that, for sure, but I also wanted to remind myself that a sanctuary is by definition a safe space, a refuge. San Francisco isn’t just a sanctuary city for the nation, SF is also my actual home, where I come back to after I travel, where I feel safe, where I recharge my battery before I can go back out into the larger world again.

For Part One, I wanted to explore a little of this sanctuary city that I call home, a little corner of my world. For Part Two, I will showcase a little of my actual home and how I bring the world into it. Both posts will be based on my desire to get better at photography this year, so this is less about writing and more about visual storytelling.

I asked everyone for photography lesson books for Christmas and am saving up to get a new lens for my Canon Rebel. With the sun actually out for once, I decided to take a walk down Divisadero St. in San Francisco this week and take pictures of things that I gravitated towards. Here is a little taste of one little street in the great place that I call home.

 

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I wanted to practice using the Macro feature on my camera to explore odd details you wouldn’t necessarily notice. I live in what is considered Lower Pac Heights which is directly above Western Addition. I loved the cracked paint on these old murals and the way the two interplayed with the late morning light.

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My walk took me to the Sunday Farmer’s Market at Divisadero and Grove where I purchased some tasty citrus fruit.

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On the corner is 4505 Burgers and BBQ which is a great place to stop for some brisket and sit out on the picnic tables with a beer in your hand when Karl the Fog takes a break for the day and lets the sun shine.

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I was more interested in the kegs against the red wall then the people eating on the other side.

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Even the dogs are enjoying the nice day
On our way back up the street, we stopped in to two boutiques I’ve always wanted to peruse but stopped myself solely because of my desire to buy things and not being able to afford it. First stop Tanner Goods to find the man a nice leather backpack. The shop was well-manicured and had everything for the SF modern man from bar supplies to hygiene kits. Everything was immaculate and perfect and the price was, not shockingly, well above either of our pay grades so we left empty handed.

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Funky table in the store that draws using a system with weights
I wanted to look at some girly things too so we hopped across the street to The Perish Trust where I could imagine what having a millinery in my kitchen might feel like…and also wish I had a house to interior decorate.

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The Mad Hatter’s closet
It may have all been hipster-inspired madness but I loved the mixture of textured ribbons, wide brimmed hats and checkered floors. I’m still learning the features of my camera and had wanted to focus on the hat in the center, but because of its depth in the back of the room, my camera brought everything in the foreground into clear focus. While not my intention I do love that you can really see all the texture and colors at the front while almost feel like the back of the room is sucking you through a rabbit hole.

As any good San Franciscan will do on a free Sunday, we skipped the line out the door at the Mill (though I love their cinnamon toast) and headed over to Mojo for some equally good Ritual coffee without the wait (Fun Fact: Four Barrel was started by the guy who started Ritual, so same same.) and took that coffee on the road to stop in open houses that we will never be able to afford. Yay SF and being one of the most expensive cities in the world right now. Makes a teacher feel good. After looking at the small three bedroom apartment, we rode the squeaky elevator to the roof and checked out the views of the Victorians across the street.

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I liked the juxtaposition of the two chimneys with the beautiful houses behind them. The chimney stacks look like prison towers. 
Remember this is only a hop, skip and a jump from Alamo Square and the famous Painted Ladies but who says you can’t see equally pretty house fronts from your roof deck.

If you want to get better at photography too, here are the two books I’m working through:

Sidenote: I’m not being paid by DK or Canon, I just really like these products. *I wouldn’t mind being paid by someone to promote their product if I like it so hit me up (wink wink nudge nudge).

Madonna and the Whores

Madonna and the Whores

Disclaimer: All photos taken on my phone. I apologize for the static and blur.

The girls were all wearing cowboy hats and glitter spread across their cheeks. They had cropped halter tops and plastic pacifier necklaces straight out of a 90s rave, only this was 2016 and we were nowhere near a DJ. It was a Wednesday night at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo and the party girls were hitting the empty dance floor alongside two couples in their mid-late 60s doing intricate line dances in their high-waisted denim. I asked one of the girls if their outfits were for a party and she said, “Every day is a party and we’re ready to party,” while not discreetly rubbing her nose. I have never done coke and I had to wonder if this was one of those coded references to gage whether I was “cool” or not. Without a response from me on my level of partying, the girl followed her two friends to the bar to park herself on a pink vinyl seat and wait for five other skinny blonde girls in equally strange outfits to join them.

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Paparazzi of the paparazzi

 

I became obsessed with finding out how they had come to be at this roadside attraction dressed the way they were. Was it a bachelorette party? A reality tv show with hidden cameras? I let my friend Instagram while I leaned in closer to the bar and eavesdropped with all of my hearing capacity. One of the girls told the bartender that they had been their for a modeling shoot. Was it legit or was it porn? They had that special brand of seediness that was either girls on drunken holiday or sex worker.

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One thing was certain though, the Madonna Inn was the perfect place to find them. It had a mixture of nostalgia, kitsch and a special brand of loneliness that can only be found in dive bars in cities that have no real industry. People huddled in dark corners or whispered over their shoulders, the customers were all slightly large like images one conjures of Middle America. But all of this was surrounded by bright pink leather, fake grapes hanging from ceilings, large rock fireplaces, and hidden gum ball machines. It was like the hotel was one large 90s rave, taking itself a little too seriously but only to those on psychedelic drugs.

 

We had found out there would be dancing in the bar when we checked in for our one night stay at the Madonna. My friend once tried out for So You Think You Can Dance and teaches salsa classes and I am an ex-cheerleader so we had a certain type of club level dancing in mind that was instantly shattered when we entered the Dionysian bar that night. The music was from a live band and it was of the swing and blues covers variety. One of the couples dancing was celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary and had met in the pink dining hall of the Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steakhouse on that very dance floor. I tried to imagine what it must have been like 40 years before, at its height of popularity. Was this a destination? Did young men and women come here to mingle, to meet their future mate? Was this still the case? Did the party girls know something I didn’t know?

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My friend and I did our own twirl or two around the parquet floor then headed back to our Sweepstakes room for the night. I found myself slightly disappointed. I had come for kitsch and wanted kitsch to the max. There were a few paintings of racing thoroughbreds and curtains with horses on them. Part of the wall looked slightly like a stable and there were old lanterns surrounding our bed, but that was it.  I was hoping for a faux-horse hair sofa or a chair made out of a saddle. There should have been trophies lining the walls and images of jockeys. The walls should have been large stripes of bubble gum pink or lime green. The sheets should have been satin. I was paying for the experience to be overwhelmed by the over-the-top. This was underwhelming at best. The brochure tells us that the Madonna Inn has “whimsical decor and a timeless elegance.” The timeless quality is apparent but without a visit to the more expensive suites, I had yet to see the whimsy my heart desired.

 

Alex and Phyllis Madonna dreamed, designed and opened the inn in 1958. The Inn is still family-owned and operated and it has the feel of a legacy that you can’t touch, that you aren’t allowed to touch.

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Keeping tradition alive seems to be important at the Madonna, and it should be. The Madonna wouldn’t be the Madonna without it’s strange little quirks and it’s unprofessional aesthetic. That being said, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want more. Keep the spirit of the original but add something that goes even further to each of the themed rooms. Go big or go home, right?

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My friend had childhood memories of the place so when we soaked in the hot tub with a family that makes a special trip every summer, trying out different rooms, the enjoyment of the hotel made that much more sense. A bed housed in a boat would be the coolest thing you experience that summer or sneaking into the boys’ bathroom to pee in the waterfall urinal would be a thrill you would remember the rest of your life. In a 1982 New York Times article, Aljean Harmetz shared “Some guests come for a week and change rooms every night. The first woman to sleep in all 110 rooms took seven years and finally made it in 1977. Several others have done it since then.” There’s something reassuring in that what made the hotel so odd during the year of my birth hasn’t changed since then. 

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The Men’s Room, infamous for the waterfall urinal designed by Hollywood set designer Harvey Allen Warren

Personally, I loved the cakes.

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The Madonna is also famous for it’s pink champagne cake, a monstrosity the size of your head that looked like the skirt of a Barbie doll on it’s way to a Gone with the Wind themed ball. It was covered with shavings of white chocolate, half of it dyed pink. Apparently there was a pink chocolate shortage (who knew such a thing existed) and the pink cake was temporarily on hiatus. Behind the glass case in the Copper Cafe there were other giant confections from yesteryear. A german chocolate cake. A toffee cake covered with broken pieces of something that looked like a Butterfinger bar. Lemon and cherry cake with perfect Maraschino cherries resting on top. This was my cocaine and I was happy to dive in. We bought four slices, each in a different flavor.

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When our checkout time arrived, we packed up my car, parked right outside our door like the true motor lodge that the Inn really is. In the morning sunshine, there was no sign of a troop of girls in iridescent bell bottoms and cowboy hats. The sun washed away the strobe light vibe of the hotel and left a patina of barnyard and pink gables instead. This was a family affair and you could see that in the daylight. Maybe one of the girls met their man of 40 years on the dance floor that night or maybe one or two just met a John. Either way, we were all embraced by the loving arms of the Madonna family that night, welcoming us into their 110 room home.