Happy 100th birthday to Herb Caen, with a twist

Happy 100th birthday to Herb Caen, with a twist


On Guard wishes a happy 100th birthday to the Sackamenna Kid, the beloved ink stained wretch of (don’t call it) ’Frisco fame: Herb Caen.

He would’ve been 100 on Sunday.

Though he’s long gone, a more profound columnist San Francisco has never read. But why would the San Francisco Examiner honor a man so beloved for his work at our competition, the Chronicle?

Well, besides the plain fact that brilliance should be recognized simply for what it is, Caen actually did a tour of duty at the Examiner from 1950 to 1958.

His spat with the Chronicle was our gain, at least for eight years.

In his inaugural column for our eagle-headed pages, Caen wrote, “These, then, are some of the words without Music about San Francisco — the Queen City… For years, it has been fun to Chronicle her… it will be even more fun, I know, to Examiner again, and again.”

Bountiful Ess Eff smalltalk graced his first column: Socialite H. Ward Dawson Jr. the “bigamist” would lose “both wives in one fell swoop,” Billie Holiday was set to serenade a Post Street club (but watch out for dope charges!), and Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio toured the U.S. Mint in S.F. and made the money funny, for awhile.

Caen (WEB)

Click the image above to read Herb Caen’s first San Francisco Examiner column, in 1950.

You don’t see Caen’s kind of column nowadays in our city. We divide our Big Political Names from our daily living. Maybe that’s our collective loss.

Because politics and life intertwine, do they not?

Caen wrote about it all.

“A column,” he wrote, “is a lot of little things… The people, big and small… the rumors and chitchatter — floating, through the midnights and down the back alleys like fitful fog.”

In honor of Mr. San Francisco, here’s today’s chitchatter…

* * *

THE SF TWEET HEARD around the world is a photo of a hair-raising billboard on Ocean Avenue which reads, scintillatingly:

“New Homes in San Francisco, from the low $1,000,000’s,” by housing giant Summit 800.

San Franciscans and those beyond were equally aghast.

On Guard tweeted it this weekend, and by Monday evening at least 201,000 eyeballs gazed at our latest housing misery, according to Twitter statistics.

The ghastly photo has more than 400,000 views on Vanishing SF, according to its moderator, and even blew up the news sharing site Reddit.

Reactions ranged from the disappointed — “Marks SF off my list of cities to migrate to after graduation” tweeted “Mr. Meaner,” from Pueblo, Colo., to the resigned — “Having grown up in San Francisco, this makes me sad,” tweeted “The Baruuest,” from Chicago.

Adam Brinklow, a freelancer with Curbed and SF Weekly, tried to reach Summit 800… but they hung up on him. When he finally got them on the horn, they said, “We’re at the tail end of our stock, and the lowest price we offer right now is $1.089 million … we have them, and people buy them.”

And the rest of S.F., apparently, is packing for Oakland.

* * *

THE BATTLE IS BREWIN’ over San Francisco’s new head of the Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. “Snooze” you may think, but this job is muy importante — the head of that agency investigates complaints of local employers not paying minimum wage, or stiffing on sick leave, and any number of worker protections.

To “nab the bastards,” then, you need a hound dog as the top dog.

The current (highly respected) manager, Donna Levitt, retired Friday. Now, Mayor Ed Lee needs to appoint her replacement.

Tim Paulson of the SF Labor Council told On Guard that they and the building trades are in rare agreement:

“We absolutely want to have an independent person,” he told me, “someone who has the skills and no political baggage.”

Rumor from other sources on background is the pro-business Chamber of Commerce, Committee on Jobs and Golden Gate Restaurant Association are pushing their favored candidate, Pat Mulligan.

And a Chamber-friendly choice may be more inclined to let employers slide more often…which would lead workers to pay the price.

On the other hand, Lee may also be considering Levitt’s second in command, Seema Patel, the OLSE’s deputy director.

Our mustachioed mayor may make that fateful appointment today, we hear, when the ink is still drying on the column in your hands. How much flak will he get on either side? That’ll be a column for another day.

* * *

It wouldn’t be a tribute to Caen without some juicy gossip… and who’s got more “juice” than “Da Mayor,” Willie Brown?

In Brown’s Chronicle column two weeks ago (wherein he decried downtown traffic), Brown quoted SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose.

This got On Guard wondering — does Brown (a close pal of Caen’s) make phone calls like a beat reporter?

A public record request of Rose proved revealing. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Phil Matier emailed Rose on Brown’s behalf.

Matier (web)

Matier’s email on behalf of (circuitously) Willie Brown.

“Willie bowns [sic] editor asked me to ask why the ‘no left’ turns signs are up on 2nd street approaches to Bay Bridge from market direction,” Matier wrote to Rose.

We called around to find out if this was a one time favor for Matier’s frequent source, Brown, or if he regularly hits the phones, or email, on Brown’s request.

No way to know, except via Brown or Matier, and they ain’t talkin’.

It’s murkier than Caen’s fitful fog.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

For more of Herb Caen in the Examiner:

Herb Caen’s first weekday Examiner column here.
An open letter to Herb Caen when he left the Chronicle here.
The news story in the Examiner announcing Caen’s Baghdad-by-the-Bay column coming to the Examiner here.
Herb CaenMayor Ed LeePhil MatierWillie Brown

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Happy 100th birthday to Herb Caen, with a twist

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