Local knowledge

The last column I wrote (and yes, I’m going to call these things columns, because everybody does, and also because “blog post” is ungainly) got a lot of readers, ten times the usual number and still climbing. I am glad it’s getting read, because that way Dunn is remembered by even more people.

And thanks to John Schwartz for the lovely mention in the New York Times. It would of course seem like log-rolling if I were to mention his very fine book “Oddly Normal,” so I will just make do with a simple wave of the hand.

It does feel weird that the death of a friend should be a good career move. It’s the sort of vampirism that’s common in my line of work (I have sunk my fangs into all variety of family joys and sorrows), but it’s particularly creepy in an obit. Nevertheless, I shall continue clawing out a career on the backs of dead people.

I realized I wouldn’t write a column that good for a while, so I decided to do something ordinary before I froze up. So this is it, ordinary as all fuck. Hey, new readers! Love ya!

You look gorgeous


You may have heard about the Millennium Tower, the tallest (at the moment) of the high-rises looming over downtown San Francisco. I hate them all, because I remember the past, and the funky down-at-the-heels charm the old neighborhood had. Now it’s just another plutocrats’ playground.  It’s happening in New York and Paris and London too, rich people turning old and valued neighborhoods into amusement parks for the jaded.

On the other hand,  don’t listen to me. I didn’t like the Transamerica Pyramid when it was built either, and now it’s an iconic symbol.

Now here’s the thing: The building, which opened in 2009, has sunk 16 inches and tilted two inches off vertical. There is no indication that it will stop there. Naturally, this concerned Mayor Ed Lee, who last week asked for a thorough examination of the foundation.

Last week! Check the foundation! What?

I am a Californian. If I lived in  coastal North Carolina, I would know a lot about houses on stilts and evacuation routes. But I live here, so I know about earthquakes. I am a homeowner, so I ask questions about foundations. I ask questions about cross-bracing.  That’s why I live in a wooden house, because wood is flexible and able to roll with the shock waves better.

The Millennium Tower is not built of wood. That’s OK, provided certain other measures are taken.

I know about liquefaction. That’s what happens to landfill during a earthquake; it turns from apparently solid dirt into oatmeal. I’ve seen geological maps, and the areas around the bay, where humans turned a lot of water into land by pouring dirt into it. And those areas are clearly marked “Danger Will Robinson.” Really, that’s what they say. I’ve seen them.

So Lee is inquiring just now about the foundation.

And what did he find out? Millennium Tower is built on piles sunk 60 to 90 feet into bay mud. No bedrock! No wonder it’s bloody sinking; it’s built on mud. I believe there’s something in the Bible that mentions the foolishness of that plan. Naturally the residents are upset, but they apparently didn’t ask the question either. In Oakland, we ask that question, right after the one about raccoon-related cat deaths.

But we really are overdue for a big earthquake; 99 per cent chance in the next 30 years, say people who know.  You’d think that people raising a very tall building in San Francisco (a city already destroyed once by an earthquake and fire) would pay attention to the issue.

But no! The folks at the Planning Commission looked at the plans and said, “Cool. You guys rock.” (They haven’t released the engineer’s report yet, but the builders went ahead and built the tower, so we assume everything was hunky-dory on their end). And why did they approve such a flawed design? We’ll never know, but let us guess. The Millennium Tower has made a lot of rich people even richer. Stopping the building until the developers agreed to go down 20o feet to bedrock would negatively impact expected cash flow. They tried to keep the sinking quiet too, but there were complaints, as in: “My possessions are all in one corner of the room and little Bobo can’t make it uphill to the front door.” I am absolutely making that up.

And finally Lee inquires about details. He doesn’t condemn the builders as sleazy quick-buck artists, because that would be rude. Meanwhile, is anyone fixing the problem? Why no. They’re blaming each other. Dueling corporate press releases! The excitement never stops!

All cities are corrupt; I understand that. All nations are corrupt. But the developers and their allies could still have made a shit-ton of money even with the added expense of reaching bedrock. But no. They’re stupid avarice junkies, and now they’ll be fighting lawsuits for the next 30 years. In fact, they be should be put in stocks in the public square and pelted with fruits and vegetables. Fruits like cantaloupe, watermelon and green papayas, the big kind.

See what happens?


The Giants’ dismal season is sputtering to an end.  I do not know at this writing whether they, against all odds, made it to the playoffs — let us hope they do not court further embarrassment by actually winning.  (If that sentence turns out to be utterly wrong, I will be the happiest lad in the universe. Nevertheless, I stand by my pessimism.)

We shall let bygones be bygones, however. We shall move on. No blame. Next up, as nicely summarized by Henry Schulman (from whom I stole many facts) in the Chronicle: Saying goodbye to old friends. The contracts of six key players are up, and it’s doubtful that any of them will return. They’re old and failing, and baseball is cruel to those who try to hang on too long.

Two of the players were responsible for most memorable moments of my Giants fandom. The first is Sergio Romo, a teeny little pitcher of great guile. I remember where I was exactly. It was in 2012. I was in Boulder, Utah (not Colorado), hiking in the badlands of Capitol Reef by day and watching the World Series by night. Deciding game, bottom of ninth, two out, Romo pitching. He had been getting people out with his slider, a wicked breaking pitch that started out over the plate and then dove down and away to right-hand hitters, causing pathetic swings from confused batters.

Up at the plate was Miguel Cabrera, at that moment the most feared hitter (44 home runs, 139 RBIs, OPS .999) in the game. Two strikes. Everyone in the park knew that Romo would throw another slider. Cabrera would try to get it, maybe even reaching out the strike zone. Who would win this epic battle?

And Romo threw a fast ball right down the center to the plate. Extremely hitable, except Cabrera was not expecting it. He stared at it. His bat didn’t move. He stood there looking like a man who’d just seen a vanishing elephant. The pitch was insanely gutsy, and Romo strutted in a fury of machismo. I had trouble breathing just for a moment. Strike three! The Giants win the series!

Romo is 34 years old. He’s had injuries. He’s been a Giant his entire career. He’s a beloved figure. Maybe they’ll keep him (says Schulman), but even then, statistics say he’s going to be forced to retire pretty soon.

Also slated for abandonment: Angel Pagan, the source of my guiltiest baseball pleasure ever. The date was April 25, 2013. I was in the ballpark that day. I usually only go to one game a year, and I enjoy myself whatever the score. The Rockies were in town, ho hum.

Again, bottom of the tenth. Giants behind by a run. Man on base. Pagan hits a screamer to the far corners of the ballpark. Runner scores easily; tie game. But what’s this? I started screaming, “he’s going to go for it! He’s going to go for it!” Pagan did not slow down. He kept churning around second, around third, hair flying, mouth clenched. The throw came in, but too late: Walk-off inside-the-park home run. How many times has that happened? (Not that often, but a guy named Tyler Naquin had one just last month).

There was an astonishing explosion of joy in the stands. We were cheering and hugging and high-fiveing each other. It’s the most fun you can have in baseball, screaming with strangers over an improbable and victorious turn of events. I talked about it for days.

Guilty part: Pagan hurt his hamstring on the miraculous play. He was never quite the same again. The joy went out of his game. We rarely saw his poker-faced pleasure at his own skills, the dugout salutes when he reached base.  He’s still playing; still hitting. He’s 35 years old. He’ll catch on somewhere, but probably not here. Damn.

Of course, it is unnatural for someone to feel personal shame because an entertainer who is making $10 million a year injures himself while seeking to be more entertaining. But being a fan requires signing on to an alternate reality, where enthusiastic young men bounce around a playing field while coping with injury, heartbreak, triumph and, of course, a bald kid with cancer who gets to throw out the first ball — all for the love of the game.

It’s the very first form of reality television, except there’s an almost unimaginable level of skill involved. I get off on it. Wait til 2017!

We shall be triumphant



Photography by Tracy Johnston

Assistance from Michelle Mizera



33 thoughts on “Local knowledge

  1. And another thing…

    I love that you’re totally nailing this “alte kacke preaching to the alte kackes” thing by using huge bold typeface (or at least so it appears on my viewing machines).

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I could look it up but would rather guess: literally “old shitters”, more commonly (in English) “old farts”. PLEASE correct me if I guessed wrong.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Still, it would be fun to see the Giants win three straight against the Dodgers this weekend…a boy can dream.

    And that’s a great shot of Bochy Tracy took at the bottom of your “column.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you, Jon, for continuing to write your “columns”. Definitely missed you when you retired from the Chronicle (which I also no longer have a subscription to). Was so happy to find your blog through John Schwartz’ mention in the New York Times.

    Now I’ve signed up for your blog. Lovely😉


    On Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 2:32 PM, Jon Carroll Prose wrote:

    > joncarrollprose posted: “The last column I wrote (and yes, I’m going to > call these things columns, because everybody does, and also because “blog > post” is ungainly) got a lot of readers, ten times the usual number and > still climbing. I am glad it’s getting read, because that way ” >


  4. I think Gregor Blanco was on thal Henry Schulman list also. I think his catch rates up with Romo and Pagan, also. You know which catch; THAT catch.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jon, you can write about the Giants any time you want. I loved being reminded of those great moments from the (relatively recent) past. Oh, I bet the beat the Dodgers just enough to make the Wild Card slot. But like you, I am doubtful they will get very far,.


  6. I guess you and I have reached a dry spot: I didn’t know Dunn, I hate high rises and think people who live in them have lost their minds ,and I don’t know baseball unless the Giants or As get into a series. C’mon Jon, write one for the common folk. Love you anyway


  7. Regarding the tall building in SF built on mud, it is my understanding that among the many lawsuits currently floating or about to be floated is one by the builders against the new TransBay Terminal, because the building of that somehow made the tall building list and founder worser. A bus depot!


  8. In addition to not going down to bedrock, i was told by an architect that they used cement not steel making it ever so much heavier. In the mud in earthquake country. Go figure. Love getting the columns. How’s the cat?


  9. I work in a building in the shadow of the Millennium Tower, and in the direction, I believe, it is leaning, and I less than eagerly await “the big one.” Your two Giants baseball moments are two of mine, as well. Shoehorned into a watering hole in 2012 that erupted as Miggy stared in disbelief, our server popped a bottle of champagne and sprayed us all. And the Pagan inside-the-parker. I was there too. It was impossible not to be “in the moment” as the tension built as he rounded third and exploded as he bounced up from his slide at home. Every fiber of every being in the park was vibrating at the same frequency. The noise was celestial. I’ve been going to MLB games since Yankees v. Red Sox in August 1958. I’ve never felt anything like that.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Your writing always leaves me better for having read it. Not a Giants or A’s or sports fan, except when my kid (or someone I know) is playing but your description takes me there and the thrill of it all!

    Can we start compiling a list for the stocks and do you have a petition from bring them back into vogue????

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Romo threw Cabrera five consecutive sliders before freezing him with the surprise fastball. Plus, he shook off Posey’s slider sign to do it.
    Then in the parade he wore a T-shirt saying “I just look illegal.”
    Two great Giants’ moments. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I loved Romo even when he was number 2 behind Wilson, because he carried his stuff to and from the ballpark in a “Hello Kitty” backpack. God, what a bunch of freaks. Miss them all.


  12. OMG I love you Jon Carroll! Ann Krebs Barry

    807 Crystal Springs Road Hillsborough, CA 94010 home: 650 344-5785 cell: 415-609-6631



  13. Once again, absolutely delicious writing. Your sentiments on the tower and on baseball are spot-on. Keep on keeping on.


  14. I totally enjoyed this column ! As a young RN working @ the old St Luke’s , I remember we had the contract for the Giants healthcare & I remember seeing & talking to the old greats-McCovey,Will Clark, Bobby Bonds, can’t remember most if them now but got a few tickets & got my young boy to live baseball!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Jon, I’ve been feeling exactly the same about these ugly monstrosities that we fought to prevent in the 1970s, when we voted to limit the height size of buildings by the Bay. We won, too, though it seems that was forgotten.

    When I read that the Millennium Tower was sinking, I begged the Goddess that the filth who built it, and those who bought it, would all be in the elevator on the zillionth floor when the Big One hit. Unfortunately, I fear that they won’t be, and the only victims will be innocent wage slaves in the various other downtown megamonstrosities that this city has been spewing up because a lot of people want us to be NYC.


  16. I remember San Francisco.

    Now, you can’t see San Francisco because of all the buildings.

    We also have an $8 billion decoration which feeds 5 lanes of traffic into a city which has no way to deal with cars.

    Is the pile of earth on Treasure Island for people to climb when sea level rises?

    What have “we” done?

    And baseball…

    For one brief moment a few years ago we had curling!

    Man, that was great!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. For me, the amazing 2010 season will forever stay with me–my Giants, for whom I so slavishly rooted in my youth only to be disappointed year after year, unspeakably denied a championship in 2002 by the Angels, finally came through to win it all against the Texas Rangers–the team formerly owned by one George W. Bush. Tim “The Freak” Lincecum ruled the baseball world, along with a young catcher named Buster Posey.

    Flash forward to 2012. Unbelievably, the Giants were on their way to another championship. This time, they went up against the fearsome Detroit Tigers led by Cabrera, as you describe.

    Near the start of the series my dad experienced atrial fibrillation and had to go to the emergency room. He came home from the hospital the same day the Giants played Game 4. He had discovered that his prostate cancer had metastisized and spread uncontrollably into his bones. It was his death warrant, and he was frantic with pain and anxiety. That evening, while the final game of the World Series was being played on TV, I had to go out driving in search of an open pharmacy that had the kind of pain patch he needed, because he’d run out. I finally found the patch and drove back to his apartment.

    Yes, I got back in time to see Romo strike out Cabrera to set off another wild celebration in San Francisco. My father, who was a big Giants fan at the time, had no idea what had happened. It was a bittersweet moment for me.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I was at that Pagan game too! Actually was the 10th inning; my best friend was visiting from Iowa and really needed to hit the road but happily we couldn’t tear ourselves away and stayed for that magical win (As I recall she still made her flight)


  19. Re Millenium Tower, good for you for telling it exactly right. The foundation rests on landfill plus greed. No good ending for this.


  20. I too have suffered and exulted by the radio and in front of the Toob for the past 40 years (do not speak to me of 2002), and especially as the Giants fought their way through those three recent miraculous even-year post-seasons… but my personal-best baseball moment was sitting up in the Bob Eucher seats at Candlestick in late September of 1997 when Brian Johnson etched his name in Giant’s history — and this fans heart — by hitting that spectacular walk-off homer in the bottom of the 12th against our nemesis, the Dodgers. I’ve never experienced anything like that moment before or since — 56,000 people delirious with joy… and several Dodger fans who looked like somebody had stolen their lunch.

    As for the Millennium Tower — San Francisco used to be known as “the city that knows how,” but with a six billion dollar bridge just waiting to fall down in the next big earthquake, and the ludicrous excess of this idiotic and apparently doomed tower, it seems SF can’t do much of anything right these days.

    The lawsuits will never end…

    But hey, our boys have beaten the hated Dodgers twice in a row now, setting up the drama for tomorrow’s season finale. October can be such a wonderful month.

    Liked by 2 people

Comments are closed.