Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Emmett Watson & The Columbarium

Infusing Life & Personality into a Cemetery
By: Andrew Noerr, Feature Writing Student

Emmett Watson couldn’t believe what he was holding in his hands. 27 years ago, the man who is now considered the heart and soul of the Columbarium in San Francisco was having a difficult time fathoming what lay inside the box given to him to store in the cemetery. In reality, it was the remains of a deceased person, but the reality just couldn’t sink in for him.
            “That’s a whole person?” Watson thinks to himself. “This (person) was 180 pounds, and now it’s five or six pounds?”
            He later realized the shocking truth, and it has been something that he has embraced ever since that life-changing day. Today, Watson is the caretaker of the grand Neptune Society Columbarium of San Francisco. Although it has thrived in the recent past due to the hard work from Watson, the Columbarium is a burial site that has a deep yet gloomy history.
            Back in 1910, San Francisco started barring cremations from occurring in San Francisco, and burials had already been prohibited from occurring in the city as well. Then in 1923, all the bodies from the cemeteries had to start being removed outside of San Francisco, and this put the future of the Columbarium in limbo. All of the headstones and crematoriums in the city were eliminated, and the Columbarium suddenly became a neglected building that had no purpose for existence, and it is the only cemetery remaining in San Francisco. The only reason it remained intact over the years was because it was considered a memorial site.
            From 1934-1979, the Columbarium stood without any activity occurring inside of it. However, in 1980, as the place started to become extremely dirty and worn down, it suddenly was purchased by the Neptune Society which is a company that specializes in cremation services. Right after the transaction, restoration immediately started taking place. Fast forward to 1987, and that’s when Emmitt Watson was hired. His job back then was to simply fix up the place by painting and cleaning it.
            Over the years though, Watson has fulfilled many duties that have helped revamp the Columbarium into the vibrant repository that it is now. He is officially the caretaker of the area, but he performs many tasks such as gardening, leading tours, and doing interments which are the placements of the ashes into the Columbarium in the presence of loved ones related to the deceased. What was once a corroding establishment that reeked of wild animals, flooding water, and growing fungus, the Columbarium has been revived by Watson’s hard labor during the past 27 years that has transformed the building into a place that now shines of life and personality.
Currently, the cemetery welcomes all people who wish to pay their respects, and Watson has noticed that the visitors of the Columbarium go through a sort of metamorphosis when they arrive at the site’s magnificent neoclassical architecture and are surrounded by the urns that contain the remains of the deceased.
“When people come here, they’re not into themselves. They’re thinking about a loved one, and that softens their hearts. It makes it easier to get to know them,” says Watson.
Every day, people flock into the Columbarium to witness an interment of ashes, take a tour of the place, or simply come to visit the remains of the dead. With that, the ashes themselves are not cremated at the Columbarium, as that has been a banned practice in San Francisco for over 100 years. Rather, the ashes are actually brought in books and placed in a closet that stays locked at the Columbarium most of the time. According to the brochure given out to visitors, there are cremated ashes of approximately 30,000 people. The ashes are placed in small alcoves in the walls of the Columbarium called “niches,” and it is believed that there are around 5,000 niches currently. However, Watson doesn’t like the term “niche.” He calls them something different.
“It’s just not what I’m trying to create. I’m trying to create life,” Watson explains. “The small (niches) are called apartments. The bigger ones are called condos. Anything bigger than that is called (a) village.”
Watson has therefore personalized the resting places for the ashes so that visitors and relatives can enjoy their experience visiting the Columbarium rather than seeing it as a time to be sad about the loss of a loved one.
“Most people when they come, they say “I’m coming to my mom’s apartment” or “I’m going to my father’s condo.” Most of them say that because they like (those terms) better,” Watson exclaims.
Going even further, a storage room on one of the upper floors of the Columbarium was renovated so that more ashes could be stored. It was initially called “The Dome Room,” but Watson now calls it a “The Penthouse.”
The day that Watson came up with this idea was when he was doing an interment of ashes with a lady related to the deceased person. Watson decided to tell her about the new name that he gave to the room. The woman smiled and told him, “My mom always wanted to live in a penthouse.” As a result, according to Watson, the lady felt much more at ease at the Columbarium and had a positive experience witnessing her mother’s ashes being stored for eternal resting.
It is these experiences and many others that not only portray Watson’s revitalization of the Columbarium, but they have also altered his perspective on death in general. Today, he embraces the future and death, but his upbringing was quite different.
“I used to be scared of it, but I didn’t know what I was scared of. Burying someone in the backyard (was something) that frightened me,” admits Watson.
Now, as the caretaker for a landmark that is seemingly defined by death, he thinks nothing of it. In fact, the Columbarium has completely modified his train of thought regarding life and death.
“When most people think of death, they think of a tombstone. On a tombstone, in reality, (it) says two things: You were born, and you died. This place says a lot more. It’s personality… it’s life and death combined. The life part is the jewelry, the watches, the rings, the pictures (inside the niches), and the death is the container with the people in them.”
It is then evident that Watson has converted a once neglected memorial site into a vibrant area that is full of energy. Regardless of the fact that it is a cemetery at heart, the Columbarium now lives in the safe hands of the lively caretaker Emmett Watson. The Columbarium is currently under construction with the purpose of creating more buildings so that there can be more spots to store ashes in the future. Until then, Watson is going to continue doing what he does best, and that is injecting life into San Francisco’s only cemetery. His time at the Columbarium has transformed him in numerous ways, and most of all he no longer fears death at all.

“Now, I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of life,” Watson acknowledges boldly. “Death can’t do anything to you, but life can.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fisherman's Wharf Travel Story

San Francisco’s Playground by the Sea
By: Andrew Noerr, Feature Writing Student
            As the arcane street performer surrounded by a crowed of captivated observers near Pier 39 began his final mind-bending trick, I took a moment to scan the sights and sounds throughout the rest of Fisherman’s Wharf, and I was astounded by what I saw. While I expected to see the Wharf as a spot that has become modified simply for the enjoyment of an endless trove of tourists, in actual fact that is not what I witnessed. Instead, I noticed that even though the Wharf has transformed into a much more appealing location for non-San Franciscans to visit, it still has not lost the essence that has made it famous. Today, Fisherman’s Wharf is still a wonderful blend of breath-taking views, rich seafood, historical landmarks, and boundless sources of entertainment that anyone can enjoy, as there seemed to be an even mix of outsiders and city dwellers enjoying the beautiful sunny day by the sea. While one cannot go wrong with wherever they choose to explore in the Wharf, there are some specific locations that one can browse if they want to gain the most out of a day spent by what could be deemed as San Francisco’s playground by the sea.
            After I got off the 47 bus that had taken me from Van Ness Avenue to Fisherman’s Wharf, the first site of apparent significance that I found was the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building (also known as the Maritime Museum). It is open daily from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., and it was surprisingly one of the spots at Fisherman’s Wharf that wasn’t bombarded by tourists. Upon walking into the museum, I was greeted by a cool breeze and a quiet atmosphere that somehow gave me the immediate impression that I was visiting a legendary shrine commemorating life out at sea in San Francisco in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
            After giving the museum a good walk-through, I found that the place is flush with historical artifacts and remnants of old model boats, schooners, and sloops which are sailboats with only one mast apparently. I was already satisfied from all the history I was absorbing, but then what topped this whole experience off was the old radio operator operation center that is located on the top floor of the museum. One can actually listen to an old radio telegram machine up there, and it gives off a truly authentic sense that one is out at sea communicating with people miles away. The old-fashioned vibe that the entire museum portrays is not only fascinating, but it is also significant for those who are young or live outside of San Francisco. The museum should be seen as a portal to the age in San Francisco when Fisherman’s Wharf was simply a vital fishing district, as many people who visit the Wharf today are not aware of such important history. Therefore, it is highly recommended that people who come to visit Fisherman’s Wharf actually start at the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building so that they can learn about the Wharf’s history before enjoying what it is today.
            After one is finished with a tour of the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building, a simple stroll outside can lead to the next great destination at Fisherman’s Wharf, and that is the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. All one needs to do is walk along the waterfront to get to the park, and then he or she would be treated to the widespread beauty coming from the gorgeous sights of the Golden Gate Bridge, the hills outlining Sausalito, the island harboring Alcatraz, and a conglomerate of ferry boats and large vessels that recall the times of when the Wharf was an important fishing district in San Francisco. Walking through the park on a comfortable sunny afternoon can be a very nice transition to the next thing to do at Fisherman’s Wharf, and that is to enjoy the great food that the Wharf provides.
            Once one has worked up an appetite, he or she should definitely explore the endless cesspool of eateries at Fisherman’s Wharf that specialize mainly in tasty seafood. On Jefferson Street, Taylor Street, and along the water, there exists a bountiful collection of seafood restaurants that can sate anyone’s desire for delicious dining. There are almost too many choices, but many include Scoma’s, Tarantino’s, Sabella & La Torre, Guardino’s, Fisherman’s Grotto #9, and Alioto’s. These restaurants are specifically for those who wish to enjoy a full meal and are willing to spend an hour or more eating. For those who want to grab a quick meal and enjoy the rest of what the Wharf has to offer, there are numerous seafood and crab stands where one can acquire a quick crab sandwich and head out towards the pier. The crab sandwich was my choice for the day, and it only solidified the strong reputation that the Fisherman’s Wharf has for creating quality seafood, as the meal was beyond delectable.
            Although Fisherman’s Wharf is a site of historical significance, amazing beauty, and hunger-quenching eateries, the one thing that it provides today that truly separates itself from other famous sites in San Francisco is its many sources of entertainment. There are many well-known spots at the Wharf such as the Aquarium of the Bay and the Wax Museum, but one aspect of the Wharf that seems to get overlooked is its wide group of obscure street performers. One entertainer attracted my attention enough for me to watch his set, and I came away shocked and giddy from what I had just witnessed. The performer’s name was Akron McKenzie who is a veteran of the street performance scene in San Francisco. Originally from the city of Victoria in Canada, McKenzie has been doing his stunts for nearly his whole life. His strange tricks amazed the entire crowd, and some examples of his performance include riding a nine foot unicycle, juggling knives, and balancing ten bricks on his face. This only further portrayed to me that while the Wharf has become a popular tourist attraction in San Francisco, it is still a place that anyone can enjoy, as it has not become fully gentrified like some seem to think it has.
            Overall, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is a mainstay in the collection of incredible sites in which to spend time in San Francisco. It contains wonder and amazement at pretty much every corner if people are willing to explore. Sure, there are plenty of stores, gift shops, and mainstream restaurants that may reek of the desire to bring in tourists, but that is not all that makes up the identity of Fisherman’s Wharf today. If one takes time to weave through the numerous nooks and crannies of the Wharf, then it is guaranteed that one will come away with a smile on his or her face and the satisfaction of getting to experience one of the best hybrids of awe-inspiring views and unorthodox entertainment that not only exists in San Francisco but in the entire world.
HOW TO GET THERE (via Muni from USF):
·        Take 5 or 5L Muni from USF downtown
·        Stop at Van Ness Avenue & McAllister Street
·        Take 47 Muni towards Fisherman’s Wharf
·        Stop on North Point Street & Jones Street

            There is an almost endless list of things that people can do at Fisherman’s Wharf. For eating, check out the restaurants and crab stands along the pier, Jefferson Street, and Taylor Street. For entertainment, check out the street performers, or go to the Aquarium of the Bay, Pier 39, the Wax Museum, or the numerous comedy clubs that exist at the Wharf. For touring, one can check out the Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building, Alcatraz, and Angel Island. Taking a cable car ride is another highly recommended activity as well.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Celebrity Crowdfunding Trend Story

Kickstarter & The Contentious Trend of Celebrity Crowdfunding

By: Andrew Noerr, Feature Writing Student (3/19/14)

            When Kickstarter was founded in 2009, it seemed that independent filmmakers and other creators had finally gained accessibility to funds that are necessary for creating works of art. However, a recent trend that has gained momentum in the past year has independent filmmakers and many other community members in an uproar over who specifically should be allowed to attempt to raise funds on crowdsourcing platforms. This trend is celebrity crowdfunding, and its most controversial examples are all tied to filmmaking endeavors pioneered by well-known icons in the film industry.

            According to Juliet Lapidos of the New York Times, there have specifically been many Kickstarter campaigns started by idolized figures that have illuminated the trend of celebrity crowdfunding. First, in March 2013, Rob Thomas and Veronica Bell of the TV series “Veronica Mars” started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a “Veronica Mars” movie, and the final tally of funds at the end of the campaign resulted in a gain of $5.7 million when the goal had been set for $2 million. After that, Zach Braff of the former highly acclaimed medical-comedy show “Scrubs” began a Kickstarter campaign to fund a film called “Wish I Was Here” that turned out to be a sequel to his 2004 film titled “Garden State.” His campaign was also successful, and there are even more examples of polarizing Kickstarter campaigns by celebrities. Even Spike Lee has gone down the crowdsourcing route, as he attempted to use Kickstarter to raise enough money to create a movie called “The Newest Hottest Spike Lee Joint.” Lee sought $1.25 million, and he eventually ended up with north of $1.4 million. Those are just the most contentious examples of celebrity crowdfunding that has been successful on Kickstarter in the past. (More examples of celebrity crowdfunding can be found here and here.)

            With all this in mind, there has been some serious debating occurring on the Internet concerning if celebrities should really be using crowdsourcing platforms to fund their own projects. Lots of community members and indie artists have argued against celebrity crowdfunding. Lapidos noted in her article for the New York Times that there are two primary arguments made against celebrities using Kickstarter. First, it doesn’t seem fair that wealthy figures in the film industry can ask for money from the public when they most likely have numerous other means of acquiring funds for any future projects. In fact, highly-acclaimed director Kevin Smith said on his Reddit page in reaction to celebrities using Kickstarter that he’d never “suck any loot out of the crowdfunding marketplace that might otherwise go to a first-timer who can really use it.” The second main argument against it is that if celebrities gain lots of attention from using Kickstarter, then independent and first-time filmmakers are not going to feel that it is the best platform for them to gain the financial and promotional support they need to get a “kick start” for their careers.

However, there have been many people affiliated with independent filmmaking who actually think that celebrity crowdfunding may not be a bad trend. It certainly has its critics and doubters. However, some have argued that at the end of the day, this all may just be an example of people asking for money in an unobtrusive manner.

“I don’t think it’s a negative trend necessarily,” says Daniel Plotnick, Director of Film Studies at USF. “At times I do feel inundated by Kickstarter requests, but… I like supporting the arts… so I’m not put off by being asked. Plus, I can say no.”

In addition to the innocence that celebrities have while using Kickstarter, some have also mentioned how crowdsourcing and self-financing could lead to well-known figures producing films that could be out of the ordinary.

“I do know that even well-accomplished independent filmmakers have trouble raising funds for their films, and some of those folks have used Kickstarter… if that allows a creatively courageous filmmaker to make something that is an alternative to the standard Hollywood worldview, I’m not going to be too dismissive of that person using Kickstarter as a fundraising tool,” Plotnick states.

Kickstarter and other well-known figures have also attempted to justify celebrity crowdfunding. First, Zach Braff addressed this by admitting that he had other means of funding his own project, as he simply could have asked for money from big production companies in which he is affiliated. However, Braff argued that by asking for money from a big production company, he would risk losing creative control over his film, as he would only receive money from a production company if the film satisfies how the company wants it to be made. As a result, Braff went to Kickstarter to fund his movie. In addition to this, Spike Lee addressed the criticism thrown at celebrity crowdfunding by stating that his and other celebrity campaigns have brought further exposure to Kickstarter. Therefore, Kickstarter has an even bigger audience as a result of celebrities attempting to fund their projects with it.

Kickstarter itself has addressed the backlash towards celebrities using it other crowdsourcing platforms to gain funds for their projects. Kickstarter runs its own blog, and some of the writers for it reinforced Lee’s sentiments. Writers Perry Chan, Yancey Strickler, and Charles Adler noted that thousands of the financial supporters for the Veronica Mars and Zach Braff films went on to support other projects as well. Adding on to that, the writers for the Kickstarter blog noted that lots of that money went to other film projects specifically. Considering the info given on the blog, one can safely assume that celebrity crowdfunding has proven to be beneficial to some degree.

All in all, the debate over celebrity crowdfunding features strong arguments from advocates and critics. Up-and-coming filmmakers and other independent artists may be repelled by the rising amount of celebrity crowdfunding campaigns that can be found on Kickstarter and other similar sites. Still, indie creators may want to consider the arguments proposed by the supporters of well-known figures using Kickstarter, as the unintended side effect of increased exposure could actually lead to increased funds for projects pioneered by truly independent artists. This is certainly not the newest trend out there, but this is still a phenomenon that exists today and will continue to linger in the minds of new independent artists as they mull whether to utilize Kickstarter for financial and promotional support or not.                       

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mother Jones Publication Analysis

Andrew Noerr
Feature Writing
3 March 2014
                                                Mother Jones Publication Analysis
            There are many quality magazines that exist to serve the public by covering important social issues and influential people, but for my specific profile, it seems that Mother Jones is a magazine that could be willing to publish a story like the one I am hoping to write if certain criteria are met. Specifically, I am looking to profile an individual who works for the San Francisco Tenants Union, and this woman has certainly been dealing with the numerous housing issues that exist in San Francisco currently. For a potential profile like this, it seems that Mother Jones could be a worthy pick because it is an internationally-known magazine that does plenty of stories covering topics such as politics, human rights, and others. Upon further analysis though, there are factors that show that Mother Jones could prove not to be a magazine that would be willing to cover my specific profile idea unless I spun the story in a certain way. Overall, Mother Jones has guidelines and aspects that favor a potential publication of my profile and do not support my profile idea as well.
            The first thing worth studying in regards to Mother Jones is the magazine’s guidelines for its writers. Upon first glance, the guidelines brought me optimism that this magazine could publish my potential profile because it is stated that a lot of emphasis is put towards publishing stories concerning human rights and political issues. However, further reading showed that Mother Jones may also not be willing to publish my story at all. It is clearly stated later in the guidelines that Mother Jones has zero interest in publishing stories about local issues unless it has national implications. This is mentioned because the magazine is known for having a nationwide audience. Therefore, a profile that highlights an important community member that helps people who cope with housing issues in San Francisco would not qualify for publication in Mother Jones at all unless I make a connection between the housing issues in San Francisco to the overall economy of the United States perhaps. Therefore, after reading the writer’s guidelines, it is clear that a straight-up profile of a woman that works for the San Francisco Tenants Union would not be published by Mother Jones unless I make a connection to the national economy or national housing issues in general.
            After studying the writer’s guidelines for Mother Jones, the next stage of analysis was to see if any stories had been published recently in Mother Jones that are related to my potential profile. After careful examination, I was glad to find a photo essay* that highlighted the essence of the SoMa neighborhood before Silicon Valley companies came in and turned the area into a center for rampant technology development. The small story was well-written, and it contained many photos of an older San Francisco that differs tremendously from the San Francisco that we all know today. The story made me want to live in that San Francisco instead. In addition to all that, the story highlighted the current housing issues that exist in the city, and that is exactly what my profile would address. Interestingly, this article also made me realize that Mother Jones may have contradicted itself in its writer’s guidelines. While the magazine strives to publish stories that would have a nationwide impact, the photo essay I read seemed to have more of a local vibe that would only appeal to citizens of San Francisco. In the end, the articles that I have read including the photo essay have made me more optimistic that Mother Jones could hypothetically publish my profile in the future.
            Going even further, it seems that my profile would fit very well into the Mother Jones editorial calendar too. For each month or pair of months, Mother Jones has a theme that its stories strive to reflect. My potential profile would be most related to politics and human rights, and these are two of the main themes that Mother Jones has in its editorial calendar. Now, my profile is expected to be finished in May, and it turns out that the theme for May and June in this year’s Mother Jones editorial calendar is politics. Therefore, my profile may fit in very well in this magazine for the months of May and June. Therefore, the editorial calendar has provided even more proof that my profile could be published by Mother Jones.
            The last key aspect that is important to the analysis of Mother Jones is its demographic breakdown. According to the breakdowns provided on the Mother Jones website and Mother Jones Media Kit, the readers of Mother Jones are highly educated, as 97% of readers attended college and 77% of readers earned a bachelor’s degree or better. Also, approximately 45% of readers consider themselves progressive, while 32% of readers consider themselves liberal. Even more interestingly, 91% of readers believe that corporations have the responsibility of gauging the impact of their actions on the public, and 23% of readers took action in a local issue. Lastly, 65% of readers contacted elected officials concerning matters that impact the public. With all of this information in mind, it seems that the demographic breakdown favors potential publication of my story because the profile would highlight a person who is associated with a complex social issue, and the audience of Mother Jones seems to be highly educated and caring about issues that matter to the public. Therefore, the demographic breakdown has me even more hopeful, as my profile would hypothetically be published to an audience that wants to make a difference in this world.
            Overall, it is a tough call whether Mother Jones would publish my potential profile or not. There are many factors such as the demographic breakdown and the editorial calendar that support potential publication of my story, and there are also factors that seemingly don’t help or hinder my chances of publication such as the advertising partners and letters to the editor. However, it is the portion of the writer’s guidelines about avoiding the publication of local stories to a nationwide audience that has kept me reluctant to commit to the idea of Mother Jones being a perfect magazine for my story. However, I know that if I make a connection between housing issues in San Francisco to the nationwide economy as a whole, then my profile could appeal to a much larger audience. Therefore, Mother Jones could support publication of the story, even though I’d rather let my profile subject stay in the spotlight throughout the entire story. Nevertheless, if that’s what it takes, then I am willing to make the adjustments necessary in order to increase the chances of my profile being published in Mother Jones.

*Link to photo essay: http://www.motherjones.com/media/2013/12/photos-san-francisco-janet-delaney-south-market

Thursday, February 27, 2014

An Enjoyable Profile



     One morning last September, the red carpet was laid in Raleigh, N.C., for the 2013 International Bluegrass Music Awards, which had moved there from Nashville to escape country music’s shadow. The city’s bronze statue of Sir Walter Raleigh was newly adorned with a banjo. A few miles from the convention center, I was on my phone, trying to find out if Tony Rice, the legendary flatpick guitarist, would show up for his induction into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. “Tony has canceled a lot of dates over the last decade,”his longtime agent, Keith Case, had told me, “but nobody plays like him, either.” Rice was still asleep at his home in Reidsville, 85 miles away. Pamela, his wife of almost 25 years, was debating whether to give him a B-12 shot to provide strength for the drive.
       Rice’s warm, slightly nasal baritone has been silenced for nearly two decades by muscle-tension dysphonia, a disorder that contracts muscles around the vocal cords, interrupting speech and strangling pitch. Rice attributes the throat spasms partly to the strain of singing for years above his natural range — though he does not deny that the stress of life on the road has played its part as well. The last time he recalls singing in public was the 1994 Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival. “Guys, this is it,” he said midset. “I have to shut it down.” His most recent recorded vocal is an elegant but hoarse 1999 cover of Tom Waits’s “Pony.”


      Rice believes his dysphonia can be defeated. His doctor tells him the voice box is uninjured, though trapped. Freedom comes with relearning muscle postures lost for 20 years. He starts each day by humming whatever tune comes into his head, because “the only way you can hum is in your natural voice.” Once he has summoned his voice, he uses it for his daily prayer. Eventually he hopes to sing again in his instinctive baritone.
     “It’s getting a little easier every day,” he told me, “if I think about it” — he focused and his tone shifted, resonated — “yeah, if I think about it, I can do it.” But it’s tiring work. When it gets to be too much, he takes his pick to the strings of the D-28, the one instrument that has never let him down.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Grove Restaurant Review

A Cozy Atmosphere for Delicious Dining
By: Andrew Noerr, Feature Writing Student
            When I took my first bite out of the voluptuous Grove French Toast, it seemed as if everything around me disappeared. I completely forgot about the pouring rain outside, the noise of the crowd in the restaurant murmuring away, the sound of food being grilled and fried in the background, and the clattering of dishes being stacked upon each other. No, the only sensation I felt was the taste of the delectable French Toast in its soft and chewy glory. There was no place I’d rather have been at that moment, and I was pleased to have chosen The Grove in Hayes Valley as my destination for breakfast on a gloomy and rainy Saturday morning.
            Even though San Francisco was being drenched in rain at the time, the people who attended The Grove that morning didn’t seem to notice or care. The restaurant was semi-filled with people chatting away happily while eating the quality breakfast and brunch items that The Grove has to offer. While the food certainly deserves the majority of the credit, it is not the only factor that contributed to the joyful ambience that filled the venue. The employees of The Grove also put in a great effort to make their customers feel very comfortable as they enjoy their early meals.
            Dubbed “San Francisco’s Living Room,” The Grove is a medium-sized communal dining café tucked on the corner of Hayes and Franklin streets. The restaurant has a cozy atmosphere that is created by numerous factors. First, numerous tables surround the interior of the café, and customers have a choice of seating themselves in a tall, comfy chair or sitting next to the large windows on pillows laying on long wooden platforms. However, this is not the only choice for people wishing to eat inside, as they can also veer left of the entrance of the café towards a fireplace where consumers can eat on unorthodox and fancy chairs that look as if they were transported from the Victorian age to San Francisco. Once seated, people are able to enjoy the soft sounds of indie rock and other music that plays through the speakers on the ceiling, as the café never seems to get too loud no matter how many people are occupying the place. The Grove truly makes customers feel that they are eating in a “grove” not of trees but of warmth and comfort.
            However, with all that has been said about the cozy atmosphere of the café, it is the delicious food that sticks out the most during dining experiences at The Grove. The menu consists of numerous great breakfast and lunch options that can sate anyone’s food tastes. For breakfast, consumers can’t go wrong with any choice, but my recommendation is The Grove French Toast priced at $8.75. This meal is simply superb, as it is made on Sweet Batard bread, and it is oven roasted to make it deliciously soft and easy to consume. Lathering it in maple syrup only increased the amount of incredible flavor that I experienced in my mouth. Customers can add caramel bananas to their order of The Grove French Toast for an extra $.95 too if they wish to go all out. Still, The Grove French Toast is a superb choice upon many great times to select on The Grove menu for breakfast.
            For those who seek to eat lunch at The Grove, there are also many appealing options for a mid-day meal as well. Upon a second visit to the restaurant, I made myself familiar with their lunch options, and it was The Grove Turkey Club priced at $10.95 that won the affection of my taste buds. It is a sandwich consisting of many different elements, and each ingredient never dominates over any of the others during each mouth-watering bite. The Grove Turkey Club is made up of house-roasted turkey with lettuce, bacon, and tomatoes on crunchy Sweet Batard bread. If customers are willing to fork over another $1.25 though, they will be treated to the addition of avocado to the already addictive sandwich. Overall, this is an excellent sandwich that can send any consumer into a satisfying food coma.
            In addition to the delicious food items on the menu at The Grove, there are also some intriguing drinks that act as good supplements to the numerous breakfast and lunch options. The specific drinks that stood out to me the most were the apple juice and lemonade. The Grove offers something a bit different when it comes to those basic menu items. It offers Ratzlaff Ranch Apple Juice and Lavender Lemonade. The apple juice comes from an apple farm in Sebastopol where all of the products are organic and freshly made. The Lavender Lemonade is unique in its own right as well, as the mixture of different flavors really blend well to help make one’s meal an overall pleasurable experience.
            Lastly, the service at The Grove was very helpful, and the employees really made me feel like I was in my own living room when I went there. When I first arrived at the restaurant, I was greeted by an African American man who smiled and greeted me immediately. He then offered me a menu which I accepted. Since The Grove is unlike a normal restaurant in the sense that customers get in line to order meals and sit wherever they like, there is undoubtedly more interaction between employees and consumers. Therefore, the quality of the service is important, and The Grove did not disappoint. The most surprising aspect of the service was that the manager talks to the customers more than the waiters/waitresses do. Manager Steve Ring spends his days not locked up in some office in the back of the restaurant, but rather he travels to every table to make sure that all of the customers are satisfied with their experience at The Grove. I was truly impressed with the kindness and thoughtfulness of everyone working at the café.
            Overall, The Grove is definitely an above-average restaurant with many intriguing meals, interesting drinks, a cozy and relaxing atmosphere, and thoughtful service. The goal stated by Ring is to have a quality “scratch kitchen with fresh food” that can appeal to anyone. It certainly seems like he is achieving his goal, and the restaurant deserves the crowds that it has received day in and day out. This is a dining experience that everyone should try, and it is recommended to not just college students but anyone trying to grab a quick meal and relax during a stressful day.
The Grove, 301 Hayes Street, San Francisco, CA, (415) 624-3953. Open Mon. – Fri. 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sat. – Sun. 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Takeout. Street Parking. Cash and credit cards accepted. Good for groups ranging from 2-6 people. Recommended dish: The Grove French Toast.
Alternate Locations: 2016 Fillmore Street (415) 474-1419, 690 Mission Street (415) 957 – 0558
Rating: ★★★★
★★★★★ = Legendary, one-of-a-kind eatery
★★★★ = Excellent venue that appeals to everyone
★★★ = Above-Average, perhaps not worth the price though
★★ = Average food w/ issues regarding service or prices
★ = Not worth your money or your time


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

One Opportunity (Immigrant Story)

One Opportunity
Salvadoran refugee escapes gang wars to seek peace and security in US

By: Andrew Noerr, Feature Writing student (2/3/14)

Disclaimer: The subject of this story was given an alias to protect his identity.

            Javier Sandoval is a refugee from El Salvador who escaped to the United States when he was 18 years old. A medium-sized young man with black hair who is not afraid to share a laugh at any moment, Sandoval opened up about his life inside the living room of a comfortable home in Marin County. When he first arrived in the US, his mindset was simple: All that is needed for success is one opportunity, and then hard work and dedication will reward you from there.
“Down there (in El Salvador), we say that the United States…. has thousands of opportunities. If you get one opportunity, then you are the cool one,” Sandoval says while laughing. “That’s all you need.”
            For Sandoval, he got that one opportunity while living with some of his uncles illegally. After looking for work, he finally got a job at a solar distribution company in Sacramento. He has worked there ever since, and it has built a foundation for him to pursue even more success. Sandoval revealed that he will soon work towards getting a GED in order to pursue a better job.
During his childhood though, Sandoval was prone to many hardships that plagued him and his family. He dealt with many issues that were mostly associated to gang wars occurring in El Salvador. However, one of the biggest challenges in his life had already been presented to him the day he was born.
            “I never met my father,” Sandoval admits. “When my mom met my dad, he got… killed. My mom was three months pregnant when that happened.”
            Even without a father, Sandoval still lived with his mother and worked hard at a young age. He attended elementary school in his hometown Santana, and then he went to San Jose High School in San Salvador. In El Salvador though, doing well in school was not the only focus for kids seeking to survive on a daily basis. Sandoval says that walking in the streets alone was extremely dangerous.
            “Down there (in El Salvador), we have a lot of fighting… and war,” Sandoval states. “(There are) gangs. Every month, they ask you… to make a payment to them. (It’s) just to be safe… (or) they’ll do something to your family.”
            Sandoval later revealed that there are two gangs in particular that are wreaking havoc in the streets of El Salvador. These gangs are called Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18. These gangs are prominent in many countries in Central America, but according to InSight Crime, Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18 actually sprung out of neighborhoods in Los Angeles, California. Once the US started to deport gang members back to El Salvador in the ‘90s, they simply continued their life of crime in their home countries where violence and chaos were already present.
            Even worse, the police in El Salvador are often paid by gangs to neglect crimes that occur in many cities. It was this and the allure of peace and security in the United States that prompted Sandoval to escape the country with members from his dad’s side of the family. He only found a place to live because his grandma had already come to the US illegally and found a home for herself years before he came.
            Now for the past three and a half years, Sandoval has worked hard to keep himself afloat in American society. Asked where he would like to be ten years from now, Sandoval let it be known that for him, it’s not just about achieving the American Dream. While he has a desire to visit his family in El Salvador more often, he really just wants to feel what it’s like to achieve success in the United States.
            “I just want to be proud of myself,” he says with a smile on his face.