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November 30, 2008

The NJC Holiday Shopping Guide! UPDATED!

In the frenzy that is holiday shopping, we often don't realize how many wonderful things are available to us right in our own neighborhood as we set out to Buy Stuff, usually locked in a pattern based on years of experience. So this year, I thought I'd create an N Judah Holiday Shopping Guide for you to consider as you decide what to get everyone on your list. Just about all of them are locally owned and offer you, the consumer, a good value for the money.

It is by no means an all-inclusive list - mostly made up of places I tend to end up at during the holiday season, so if a store you like isn't mentioned it isn't meant as a slight - post something in the comments about places you enjoy as well!

Also, note that from December 7th through February 1st, you can get an all-day pass on MUNI on Sundays. For $1.50 you get a transfer that's good all day (until 6pm.) That's a great deal!

But first, the self-promotion of our two T shirts - the famous "N is Near" and our new "80th Anniversary" shirt which we offer for sale via Zazzle.com. The quality of these (and our items at sister site Adama For President are of dependable quality. I've bought a few for myself and so long as you hang them out to dry, they do not fade or "chap" like other shirts did in the past.

Likewise, if you have a local history or transit fan among your friends and family The Market Street Railway's online store (and their store/museum on Steuart Street downtown) offer some really fun items. My favorite is their calendar, which features some really nice photography.

Also, I wanted to give a special shout-out to my friend Z who has a new online blog+store at FoxyMonster. She was one of the people who encouraged me to start this site, and her jewelry and other items (offered through Etsy.com and Zazzle.com) are unique. If you have a friend who likes unique products, or likes zombies, go check it out!

Now let's start, first in the Irving/9th shopping zone. If you are looking for holiday cards that will stand out amongst the many your friends and relatives will be getting this year, I recommend Wishbone on Irving and 6th Avenue as well as Tutti Frutti just a few blocks away. Whenever I need to get a birthday card, it usually ends up coming from one of these places. Wishbone also had this really cool MUNI themed kids wear a while back.

Right in the same block of shops is another favorite of mine - the Amazing Fantasy comic book shop located next door to the Rain Tree Cafe on 8th. It is one of my favorites in town, the other being of course Comix Experience on Divisadero (which is a short walk via Duboce Park from the N). AF tends to lean more towards mainstream comics (superheroes, Star Wars, etc.) while Comix Epxierence has more alternative/independent titles, in addition to a good mix of Marvel/DC comics as well.

Now, after some shopping, and potential MUNI FAIL, you might need a drink, and of course you have to go to the Blackthorn for a Guinness. However, if you ever find yourself needing to bring a bottle of wine to a party, don't forget to check out 834 Irving Market's selection which is fairly good, and very reasonably priced.

They (as well as several other stores) are now selling 21st Amendment Brewery's beer. I like to get out-of-town friends a present that they might not get back home, and this will be one of 'em along with the obligatory sourdough bread.

Lucca's Deli on Irving and 20th has a nice selection of high end spirits, in a variety of sizes. Want to get a nice bottle of Maker's Mark, but can't spring for the full size? Well they have many sizes to choose from so you dont' have to sacrifice quality for price.

If you're planning a party of your own, I can't recommend enough two places that will give you high quality meats and cheeses for a good price - Cheese Boutique at 12th and Irving, and Europa Express at 15th and Irving.

Both offer a wide array of great food, often the exact same thing you'd find at Whole Paycheck, but for less money. There is no honor in blowing extra cash on the same exact item you can get at a locally owned shop, and you don't have to drive or take the bus to the Outer Rim Territories to pick it up, either.

Plus, both offer many things you can't get anywhere else. Europa Express has a great bakery, a huge deli counter, and an incredible selection of imported spirits and imported beer.

Most notable, of course is the Sniper Vodka, which comes in an AK-47 shaped bottle. If you're looking for a nice booze-related gift, Europa Express has some great finds you can't easily get elsewhere.

Once you pass 19th Avenue, more of the stores are grocery stores, banks and the like. However, if you haven't been to Hard Wear on Irving at 25th, you should check it out. They have a great selection of jeans and shirts and so on, and they have great hats as well. Since the accident I have been looking to buy a few, and they have a wide variety of sizes of baseball hats, Kangol caps, etc. They also have a complete line of work clothes as well - while I was in there the other day one of the owners told me how every so often someone will walk in off the job with a torn pair of pants and get a replacement at their lunch hour. They also stock those really cool "Avenues" and "Sunset" shirts (the ones that have a logo that looks like an SF Street Sign) so if you want to add to your local wardrobe, this is a great place to go.

Finally, I have found some really fun finds just a few doors down from Hard Wear at Sunset Supermarket, on Irving St. It's not all canned meat and live fish - they have a lot of unique items that you can use to dress up a present with something the recipient might not have seen otherwise.

One thing in particular I found this year were these really nice bottles of sake from Japan - they only cost about 6 dollars and the bottles themselves would make a nice bud vase. They have an array of these little painted bottles of sake and other Asian spirits, and none of them are super pricey.

They also have a heck of a lot of candy from all across Asia so if you're looking for something unique to put in the stocking this year, you might want to see what they have.

These are just a few places I like - if you have other suggestions, please email me or post in the comments! Times may not be spectacular, economics-wise these days but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice quality for value. Many times there's a great place right in your neighborhood you may have missed in your day to day routine

UPDATE (again, yes I know): I forgot to mention Mobile Fix on Irving and 12th. Not only will these guys fix pretty much any cell phone you can toss at 'em, they also have some cool phones and accessories. I got a great iPhone case I've not been able to find ANYWHERE in town (and usually would have to pay more online). It's unique because it not only encases the iPhone, it also covers the glass screen with a plastic shield that STILL allows you to access the touch features. It has some sort of thin film of fluid in between the screen and your finger.

Anyway, my phone is safely kept away from dirt, grime, finger smudges, drinks and whatnot, and this is the place to find such a great case at a great price!

November 29, 2008

Don't Forget! MUNI Town Hall Meeting December 3rd!

I'm busy working on the N Judah Chronicles Holiday Shopping Guide this weekend, but in the meantime, I wanted to do some promo for the MUNI Town Hall Meeting on December 3rd at the SF County Fair Building at 9th and Lincoln.

There is the cynic's line that these things are showboaty silliness, but if you attend and ask good questions, you can put some folks on the spot and at least get their remarks "on the record" so we can measure future developments against current promises.

To his credit, Sup. Mirkarimi's past efforts with events like these haven't been BS, and it was because of promises made at one of these we were able to push for the signal improvements at 9th / Irving and 9th / Judah.

These things only work if we all take them seriously. It is easy for us all to complain, but here's at chance to at least force the Powers That Be to pay attention, and if nothing else, politely remind them that MUNI is not an abstract of statistics, budgets and bureaucracy, it's something that affects everyone in the City, even if they don't use it themselves every day.

November 21, 2008

Assorted Friday Updates: N Judah Weekend Closures, Reader Mail, and Twitter Reports

There's quite a bit of assorted updates for today. The biggest news for Our N, of course is the closure of the N Judah line between Duboce/Church and Cole Valley due to construction work. Because the detour will need to bypass the tunnel and ride down Haight Street, you can expect your trip in and out of the Sunset to take a little longer, so plan accordingly. You can find a map of the route at the MUNI website.

Next, we have an email from Reader Thomas, who asks about an issue we've talked about a little bit before and makes a modest proposal of his own to speed things up on the N:

I just wanted to see if you had any thoughts on adding a Muni ticket machine to the UCSF stop at Irving and Arguello.

Everyday during rush hour, the mighty N comes to a stand still for 6 or 8 minutes while the good people of UCSF load into the first car, each diligent in their fare payment at the drivers door.

If the folks at Muni just put in one of those ticket machines (similar to what they have by ATT Park and CalTrain) they could make that stop so much easier.

I wrote the SFMTA a few times with the suggestion, but they never responded.

This is a fairly common sight on inbound Ns - so many people need to buy a ticket, the long line keeps the N waiting while people board. Then, the front car gets packed full of people, and gets even more so at Carl and Cole, all the while the back car is half-empty. There has been loose talk in the past from MUNI to at least put in the same machines they have at 4th/King elsewhere to speed up boarding and collect more money, but we all know where that went.

Finally, thanks to Twitter, I got an alert about what sounds to be a serious accident involving a MUNI Bus and a bike rider courtesy of Luba at the Avenues Blog involving the 16 Noriega. It sounds pretty serious. Let's hope the bike rider and his dog are OK.

I don't think we'll be seeing any more of that amazing 75 degree weather for a while, but it's still that nice, cool sunny SF weather that makes living here so nice. Go out and see the city while you still can, and check out the new holiday exhibit at the SF Conservatory of Flowers as well!

November 14, 2008

Epic MUNI FAIL in Progress...Along With Major Traffic Jams...Twitteratti Come Through Even If MUNI Won't!

No rest for the wicked, it seems....this evening's commute, on the heels of Bad News About MUNI today, there have been multiple reports of a hellish commute home tonight.

First, thanks to the road construction on Irving Street, there have been delays. But thanks to the Friends of the NJC on Twitter, we've heard about a whole lotta bad going on.

First, @rowenoftc reported a fire incident that was causing traffic mayhem. Then, of course, there's the epic delays on Lincoln due to road construction as well...

THEN...thanks to Loyal Twitteratti @meganallilson we heard about another MUNI FAIL at Cole Street which @RoyalPineapple corroborated as well..

This is not good, folks. MUNI FAIL is not just an option, it seems to be the preferred option.

And where, oh where is our esteemed Green Supervisor, Ross Mirkarimi? Where, oh where, are the "progressives" who emptily promised a "better MUNI" and "encourage mass transit" during the election?

And where, oh where is our Green Gavin?

Oh he's off in Shanghai.

Thanks Gavin. Thanks Nate Ford. Thanks Board of Superivsors and MTA. Thanks everyone for heaping a big dose of FAIL on what should have been a nice night with unseasonably warm weather.

I'm just glad I got home early and am enjoying a cocktail far, far away from the madness. Still, I get no joy out of seeing my brothers and sisters in commuting hell. Not a bit.

UPDATE: Last night, Cormac Brown caught on camera the case of the Moron Driver Who Parked In Front of an N Judah, thus frakking up the commute even more. Good catch!

There Will Be Blood: More MUNI Budget Cuts = Even Worse Service, While SF Politicians Commute in Hybrid SUVs...

Normally I like Friday posts to be funny or interesting little items of note for you, the Loyal Readers to enjoy. Sadly, this week some very bad things are about to happen to our hapless MUNI, so bad it warrants a good old fashioned, double-barrelled WTF post, aimed squarely at City Hall, Sacramento, MUNI, and well, ourselves.

Anyway, what sparked this post was a conversation with Mike Aldax over at the Examiner last night, who was curious to hear my reaction to the news that MUNI will be taking another $40 million in cuts this year, in addition to the $37 million it's already taken.

The Big Kids at City Hall (i.e. the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the MTA) and their pals in Sacramento are going to need to put aside their penchant for shell games and politics, and put the city first if we're going to survive this and still have a MUNI worth using. A tall order, especially after a bitter, nasty election season.

But rather than just rant on the latest injustice, instead I want to rehash some recent history as it related to MUNI funding. Too often, we all talk about the latest hit, and forget how we got here in the first place.

It's rather distressing to see the State cut more from transit around the state after our so-called liberal legislators from San Francisco voted in lock-step with the governor for millions more in cuts earlier this year, as they do pretty much every year. Then they plead poverty, want to raise your taxes even more, and then cut transit (and everthing else) a lot more too. That's fair (not).

"Progressive" Board members have shown a slavish devotion to kill MUNI funding in the past as well - remember the silly "youth fare" idea that got played with? Even better, remember how they arbitrarily threw a good portion of their aggreived people under the bus, and of course refused to listen to any other ideas that might have been a win win (i.e. help MUNI and help the Youth of The City).

Neither side comes off as particularly brilliant when one of the few options local governments have to raise money (crummy as they are) are vetoed based on political pressure.

Moderate Mayor hasn't been a fan of MUNI funding either. Remember the candyland "free MUNI" proposal tossed around during the election last year? This is the same mayor that has endorsed moving MUNI money away from actual transit and over to large salary increases for management and his staff.

If we could fund MUNI exclusively on the non stop political drama the Board and Mayor engage in, we'd of course, have no problems. We certainly wouldn't wind up with political fights masquerading as policy on the ballot.

Meanwhile, as all of this goes on you're trying to get to work, go to school, live your life in an era of high gas prices and in the end, all the hot air means nothing. In the end, you're stranded at 19th Avenue and have to walk 30 blocks home.

You miss your appointment because the bus driver had to talk on their cell phone. You don't get to school on time because deferred maintenance means your train is leaving a trail of parts. And all the chatter in those stupid mail pieces the politicians belched out last month are worth less than the dead trees they're printed on.

Despite the history of FAIL, all is not hopeless. We are going to have to ask that everyone involved start coming up with honest solutions to this perpetual screwing of MUNI by the state. Maybe that means finding permanent local sources of money independent of Sacramento (and no not another sales tax, GOD no!), since it's clear no matter what, the State of California will always raise your taxes and then refuse to spend them on transit.

At the very least, it means that everyone is going to have to focus on boring things, like a sensible transit funding plan, instead of pie in the sky "break the budget" ideas people put on the ballot, or plans to run for higher office. There's no easy or painless way to fix this without making some Big Decisions, none of which are going to be mega-popular.

However, giving in to cynicism and failure isn't an option either. We're the ones that use the system, so it's up to us to drag our "leaders" along to make the changes. IF we give in to a cynical "MUNI sucks" attitude, we're just as guilty as the politicos that helped get us here in the first place.

PS: You'll have a chance to talk directly to Nathaniel Ford, the head of MUNI and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi about MUNI's follies on December 3rd at the San Francisco County Fair Building at 9th and Lincoln. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7pm. You can contact the office of Sup. Mirkarimi for details at 554 7630.

PS 2: Commenting is still sort of messed up. You can blame people from a certain political campaign this fall who tried to spam the comments and crash all my blogs, which led to the spam filter pretty much marking all comments as "spam" even when they're not. So if you don't see your comment, don't freak out, just email it and I'll post it. Lame, I know but until I figure out this &*@*! upgrade it's going to be a bit spotty. Sigh.

November 13, 2008

A Pretty Picture Before the Storm

We've got a couple of double-barreled OMGWTF posts coming up, so before all of that, here's a nice picture of a bird eating take out food on Irving Street.

Oh and a PSA - Starting 11/14 and lasting 2 weeks, there's going to be construction on Irving betwen 9th and 10th, so be aware of that when you do your shopping, etc.

Happy Evening!

November 11, 2008

Are We In The Midst of A Slow Meltdown Of the N? Maybe!

Nothing is perfect, but as of late our Mighty N has become the Mighty FAIL, more often that usual. Obviously there are many reasons for many failures, but the frequency, and timing is becoming an issue.

Most recently, Reader Joseph (who writes the awesome MUNI Grouch Blog) had a rather disastrous night on the way home, when the N Judah operator decided, without warning to stop at Arguello Street and unceremoniously dump everyone off without a word, late at night.

You can read his entire email to the SF Chronicle and MUNI here at his blog but I thought I'd post an excerpt, since he notes (as we have) that it was not long ago we were promised by Many Important People that operators who did this would face The Consequences:

Dear Ms. Gordon,

If you recall your article of August 6:

Muni operators who shorten runs given warning

I was on an outbound N Judah last night (Nov 10) that made a short turn at Arguello, and it was *25 MINUTES* before another train arrived to pick up my fellow passengers on me. We were left IN THE DARK LATE AT NIGHT ON THE SIDEWALK FOR A HALF HOUR by the operator who said he was "ordered to" do this by control. This is probably complete bullshit; if it isn't then someone in control is equally responsible for this inexcusable action - and the operator should have ignored the instruction anyway. The train was labeled "Ocean Beach" when I boarded it at 4th & King and the roller did not change to Arguello until the operator exited the Market St. subway.

There were plenty of trains returning inbound (no shortage, in fact one passed us while the operator was switching back), and few outbound trains, so this train was needed outbound. Ahead of us some outbound passengers would have been waiting over 30 minutes for a train.

This is totally, spectacularly inexcusable and is the kind of unnecessary stupidity and callousness that creates such a negative perception of Muni customer service - when in reality it is only a small percentage of operators and managers who are responsible.

Now, sure, things happen and all, but it is a bit much when the operator can't use that magic microphone to TELL PEOPLE THIS before dumping them off. Is it so hard to use ancient technology to simply communicate? Anyone who's been on a train with a mumbled announcement can answer that one.

However, this is not the only tale of woe I've received. Reader Karolyn wrote in the other day:

Monday, November 10th I truly wonder what it takes to get good service on the N line? All last week it was the same no trains at 7am going in bound and the next train crowed #1412B with the driver who continually thinks every thought she has must be shared with a crowed in train. You must stand 150 feet away from my window. Ummm your going forwarded what are your worried about. And she will give this unsolicted information for the whole sweaty ride.

BUT this morning a Monday morning the sign at 7th and Irving said train in 4 minutes, then 5 then 3 then arriving. One minute later the train turns off 9th to Irving stops at 8th (there is no stop sign) then continues past the 10 or so people who need to be in their office by 7:30! Then waiting another 7 minutes for Chatty Cathy to pack us into already crowed cars. I know we voted for chickens and pigs to have moving room, but no one thought to put that issue on the ballot for muni. Well I guess it better to know what Muni really thinks of it's passengers.


When "Mason Powell" and I were returning from downtown on Election Night, we too were trapped in the vortex that is the Downtown Tunnel. Countless half empty Ks, Ls and Ms whisked by, while we waited forever for an N. Once we realized this was a fool's errand at Powell Station (since any N coming in would be packed to the rafters), we gave up, after waiting for 45 minutes, and took the next KLM to Forest Hill and LUCKILY caught at 43 going to 9th and Judah. Now, an N Judah is not a car service and I don't expect one the moment I walk in the station. But is it too much for them to run just a few more , and not run 1 car Ns?

Perhaps so!

Share your tales of woe by email or in the comments and let's hope things get better soon now that it is Holiday Season.

November 6, 2008

Tonight on EPIC MUNI FAIL....

Tonight in EPIC MUNI FAIL, we have a doozy...it seems the brakes locked up on an outbound N, thus getting stuck on Irving Street, outbound from 9th. I posted some updates on Twitter and uploaded a few pics here for your enjoyment.

This was a particularly annoying FAIL because I was going to meet up with some folks and was counting on the N to take me to Church, to then pick up the 22. But by the time the extent of the FAIL was realized, I missed the 71, and of course, the one time you REALLY need a 71, there was a delay. Realizing I wouldn't get to my destination anytime soon, I walked home instead.

But our ever vigilant readers, either on Twitter or via email, were on the scene. Reader Warren wrote in as I got home this report:

Hi Greg,

It seems that the same clusterfrack that happened on the morning of Oct. 24 happened again at the exact same place in the exact same inbound direction on this evening's commute. It appeared to be the exact same scenario...the 2nd car of the train is stuck on the turn at 9th and Irving. Go look! You must not be home otherwise you certainly would have blogged about it by now. I came across tonight's clusterfrack by way of an outbound N passing by the scene at about 7:20pm tonight. The backup looked to be about three sets of N's that extended all the way to 9th and Judah.

I'm a first time contributor and look forward to reporting more incidents in the future. I commute daily on the N starting from the beach into downtown. I was also on the clusterfracked train on Oct. 24. What a nightmare of a commute that was!

I hope you have a good night!


November 4, 2008

Random Updates on Election Day...

Random notes on Election Day:

1. The weather is amazing. Sunny but not warm.

2. Starbuck's on Irving is a polling location. I never noticed this before...of all the places one could have a polling place, this seems a bit odd.

3. Not having cable TV for once is a bit annoying...but for the other 364 days a year it's fine.

4. It really is amazing to see so many people vote, when in the past, getting people to vote was like getting people to go get a root canal without laughing gas.

5. Voting by mail is easy. But it isn't much fun!

6. MUNI had only one FAIL today. Hooray!

It's A Sunny Election Day! Don't Forget to Vote!

The rain has left us, and today is a bright, sunny Election Day! If you haven't already done so, be sure to go vote. And don't let MUNI follies prevent you from voting - if you need to, take some time off work to get to the polls (it's your right AND it's the law!) and make sure you vote for the candidates and causes of your choice.

If you need help finding a voting place, you can contact the Department of Elections, and you can check out this Google Map Mashup as well.

No matter what, go vote. I already voted weeks ago by mail, which, while convenient, isn't as much fun as being there at the polls, part of a nationwide 1-day event. Still, I'm glad I voted and encourage you to do so as well!

PS: And, in case you've not yet voted, here's a reason not to vote for Prop. P, the Pointless Political Posturing initiative...


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