Storied: San Francisco-logo

Storied: San Francisco

Storytelling Podcasts

A weekly podcast about the artists, activists, and small businesses that make San Francisco so special.


United States


A weekly podcast about the artists, activists, and small businesses that make San Francisco so special.




Denise Coleman, Doug Styles, and Huckleberry Youth, Part 1 (S6E10)

Huckleberry Youth, the non-profit providing care and housing for underserved youth, celebrated 50 years back in 2017. In Part 1 of this episode, we meet Huckleberry consultant/advisor Denise Coleman and the organization's CEO/executive director, Doug Styles. Denise was born at what is now Kaiser's French Campus on Geary. Denise, who is Black, shares the story of the hospital making her dad pay cash for their labor and delivery services, while it was obvious that white folks were allowed to make installment payments. Born and raised in the 1950s and Sixties, Denise and her family lived in the Haight/Ashbury neighborhood, as it was known then (now we call it Cole Valley) on Belvedere Street. She has three sisters and a brother, her dad worked two jobs usually, and her mom stayed home. She describes a childhood that was fun, filled with activities like roller skating, skateboarding, and homemade roller coasters. Denise was a teenager during the Vietnam War and took part in protests. She describes a history of friction with her mom. When Denise was 16, one of her sisters OD'd on drugs. Still, despite the trauma that came with that, she graduated high school from St. Mary's in 1973. At this point in the podcast, Denise rattles off the San Francisco schools she went to. After high school, she joined some of her cousins and attended the College of San Mateo. Denise never thought about or wanted to leave the Bay Area, she says. In an apartment on the Peninsula, she and her cousins had "the best time." After obtaining a two-year associate's degree, Denise says she wanted to go to SF State, but didn't connect with it, and so she started working instead. For two years, she flew as a flight attendant for the now-defunct Western Airlines. After that, she collected debt for a jewelry store, then worked as a credit authorizer for Levitz Furniture in South San Francisco. Denise says she got hung up in the crack epidemic in the Eighties. She started with cocaine, and that led to crack. She was an addict for eight years. She got herself into a rehabilitation program at Delancey Street and stayed in the program for seven years. Her time started in SF, then took her to Santa Monica, North Carolina, and New York state. In 1998, Denise decided to leave Delancey Street. She got a call from Mimi Silbert, the Delancey founder, with an offer to work at their new juvenile justice program in San Francisco. Denise said no at first, partly because she wanted to stay in North Carolina. But after some persistence from Silbert, in 1999, she said yes and came back to her hometown. After seven years away, The City had changed. And so Denise helped to establish Delancey Street's Community Assessment and Referral Center (CARC). After its first year, the organization realized that they didn't have the capacity to run the program. Delancey Street asked Huckleberry Youth to take it over, and this is how Denise ended up at Huckleberry. Doug Styles was born and raised in the Richmond District. He was too young to remember the 1960s and mostly grew up in the Seventies. Doug says he had a lot of fun as a kid, describing riding his bike to the beach and back by himself. He shares the story of going to a late movie in the Mission, so late that when he got out, there were no buses. And so he walked home through the Mission, through the Fillmore, to his home in the Richmond. He also rattles off San Francisco schools he went to, including Lowell. Doug was in school when the SLA kidnapped Patty Hearst. He was at Everett Middle School when Dan White assassinated George Moscone and Harvey Milk. He speaks to tensions in The City around this time, and Denise joins in to talk about the day of the assassinations. Doug graduated high school in 1983 and went to UC Santa Cruz, where he majored in theater. He moved to Massachusetts, where he found work in a theater. After a short time out east, he came back to San Francisco and tried unsuccessfully to get...


Lester Raww and Anita Beshirs, Part 2 (S6E9)

We begin Part 2 where we left off in Part 1. Anita had been away from their Arkansas college town and missed Lester. Upon her return, she went to see him and they soon shared their first kiss. Soon after that day, Anita had a pregnancy scare, and so Lester asked her, "Would you marry me if you are?" She said yes, but ended up not being pregnant. It didn't matter. They got married anyway. It was 1990 and they were both 22. Lester had a semester to go in college, which meant that the young couple couldn't live together or he'd get kicked out of the Christian school. He had started his first serious band—Cosmic Giggle Factory. Anita worked at Captain D's, a regional seafood chain fast-food joint, and then at a hotel. They moved to Little Rock a few years later. ​Eventually, she landed a job at Spectrum Weekly, an alternative paper in the Arkansas capital. Looking back, they say that they really loved their community there. After four years in Little Rock, and after Bill Clinton got elected, they decided to leave before they would begin to hate it. Spectrum Weekly closed and Lester's band broke up. They took these as signs to leave. Neither of them had ever been to San Francisco, but knew that they wanted to be in a city and many people they knew and trusted had good things to say about SF. Anita was working with an ESPN producer and through them met a person who lived here and offered them a place to live. So they packed up their Geo Prism, sold a lot of stuff, and maybe had $500 between them. It was November 1994. Upon arriving in the Bay, Lester worked at Tower Records and Anita found work at a temp agency. She had "toyed" with art while living in Little Rock and picked that up again in SF. But she says she didn't take it too seriously until around 2015. She worked several academic and corporate jobs that she didn't like until around that time, when Annie at Mini Bar gave her a show there. She ended up being in a show at Mini Bar every year for the next four years. One day in 2018 or so, Anita was at Fly Bar on Divisadero and learned that the owner needed someone to do art shows there. "I wanna do that!" she told them. Her first show at Fly was based on travel photography. Anita ended up curating shows at Fly until the pandemic, and had become involved in the Divisadero Art Walk. When COVID hit, the other Fly curator left town and Anita took over. She also did shows at Alamo Square Cafe, which stayed open during the pandemic. As other places started to open, she expanded her venues. When Annie left Mini Bar and Erin Kehoe took over, Anita reached out and they decided to alternate curating art shows at the bar (where we worked with Erin to do Hungry Ghosts in summer 2023). Anita has since added even more venues, including Bean Bag Cafe, and says she has moved around $50K of art in five years. This leads us to Anita's newest thing: KnownSF, which will officially launch later this year. For her shows, she likes to have one artist whose first show it is and one artist 50 or older. She says she wants to stick with the venues she's already showing at. Stay tuned and follow KnownSF on Instagram. Then we get to Lester's band, The Pine Box Boys, who recently celebrated 20 years of existence. When he first moved to The City, Lester had a hard time getting music going. He was dealing with confidence issues, which didn't make anything easier. He enrolled at SF State, got a degree, went into a teaching credential program, and started meeting people. Through some of these new teacher-to-be friends, he started playing with a band that was already established. He says he was stoked to play a show in San Francisco, but that band fizzled out and broke up. But Lester and another member kept playing together. It was a noisy, abstract band called Zag Men. As Lester tells us, the saying went, "If the Zagmen are playing, nobody's getting laid." He started creating soundtracks to silent films at ATA on...


Anita Beshirs and Lester Raww, Part 1 (S6E9)

Anita Beshirs was born in Batesville, Mississippi, because the small Southern town her family lived in didn't have a hospital. Welcome to our Valentine's 2024 episode all about Anita and her husband, Lester Raww. In Part 1, we'll get to know Lester and Anita through the stories of their childhood and early adult years. Anita's dad was a Church of Christ minister who, along with her mom, never drank or even took medicinal drugs. Anita is the third child in her family (she has two older brothers) and when she just two years old, their parents moved them to the Cameroon jungle on missionary work. The family lived in Africa in a house made of concrete blocks and with a tin roof. Anita spent the first six years of her life with no TV or radio and so she was forced to make her own fun. She was home schooled by her mom because her dad was busy doing his church work. After four years, the family returned to Mississippi, now in the college town of Oxford, where Anita started grade school. She says she didn't want to go to college right away because she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life. But her parents insisted that she go to Christian college, which meant a school called Harding University in Arkansas. This is where Lester and Anita met, but more on that after we hear the story of Lester's early life. His mom grew up in Florence, Alabama, near the Tennessee River and not far from Muscle Shoals. She moved to Florida and met his dad, who was a fighter pilot in the Navy. Lester has one older brother, born not long before him. Their dad was in and out of Navy and the family moved around, first to San Diego, then back to Flordia, and finally to Virginia, where Lester finished high school. Because his family was also in the Church of Christ and his brother had gone to Harding, Lester chose the school, mostly as a way to escape life in Virginia. He had grown apart from the church when he was 13 and a friend introduced him to things like books by Robert Anton Wilson and William S. Burroughs, marijuana, and prog rock. Lester started playing guitar around this time, but we'll get more into that in Part 2. Anita and Lester remember first meeting in their first year at college in the campus quad. Anita's first impression was, Oh god, this guy is such a freak. They didn't date for another four years, but hung out with a lot of the same people. Then, in her sophomore year, Anita spent a semester abroad in Florence. She came back a changed person. At this point in the conversation, we hear them each describe was they were like as young adults. Anita says she was a bit of a prankster, but Lester's stories take pranks to another level. Because of their respective shenanigans, they were each "dormed" at Harding, which was the school's form of detention punishment. We all share a hearty laugh over this. Anita says that at Harding, it was the first time in her life that she was popular. She was recruited into a social club (their version of Greek sororities) and was a rising star in Christian leadership. She liked it enough, but again, Italy changed her. Slowly, she stopped believing in god and Jesus. Lester shares stories of how they and others would sneak in drinking and smoking cigarettes while at Harding. Slowly, Anita was finding a new identity and crowd of friends, including Lester. She left Harding for Ole Miss but went back because she figured out that she could graduate faster at Harding. The couple really started hanging out regularly in their fourth years of college. Both had dated others and in fact, Anita set Lester up with some of her friends. Lester had never got serious with anyone at Harding, though. It was Anita's goal to get out of Harding unmarried. Her future husband wanted to move to New York to pursue a music career, and she was just ready to live a little, wherever. She broke up with her boyfriend in early 1990 and soon after this, the two got together. Check back next week for...


Vandor Hill of Whack Donuts (S6 Bonus)

Something awesome happened near the Embarcadero. In Season 4 of this show, back in 2022, we featured SF born-and-raised vegan donut maker Vandor Hill. His pop-up (at the time), Whack Donuts, was gaining some new fans and new spots for him to sell his delicious sweet treats. But now .. Now Whack Donuts occupies a corner spot of EMB 4, just across the walkway from Osha Thai and near the padel courts and water fountain of recently renamed Embarcadero Plaza. How did this happen? Well, Vandor got himself into two city programs: Vacant to Vibrant and Ujamaa Kitchen. And it was his acceptance to Vacant to Vibrant that helped him to get and keep his nook in EMB 4. Vandor and I hung out one day in January to catch up on life since April 2022. This bonus episode comprises our conversation that day. Whack Donuts is open 8 a.m. - 2 p.m., Tues.-Sat. Vandor often does special drops and monthly flavors. But if you're looking for sweetness for your sweetie (or yourself, let's be real), he'll have a red velvet cake vegan donut for Valentine's as well as a special "Love in a Box" 3-pack or half-dozen. Follow Whack Donuts on Instagram. Photography by Jeff Hunt We recorded this podcast at Whack Donuts in the Embarcadero in January 2024.


Artist Melan Allen, Part 2 (S6E8)

Part 2 begins with how Melan thinks of herself as an artist. "Art is therapy," she says. It's how she knows herself. "If I cannot create, I cannot be myself." She's been creative her whole life. She wanted to be a tap dancer early on, pointing to Shirley Temple as inspiration (by the way, Temple was originally from Santa Monica, but died in Woodside). Melan even did drag for a while. But she found painting around four years ago and decided then that she's not doing anything else after that. She cites her mom's love of cooking and baking shows as another inspiration. Back in the day, before Food Network and competitive cooking shows, it was just PBS. Melan watched a lot of Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, and Martin Yan. She says that she watched these shows more than the Saturday morning cartoons most kids her age were glued to. She also loved cookbook illustrations and says they've been a big inspiration for her. Melan talks about the "Muni Raised Me" show at SomArts last year, which she was part of. In the podcast, she describes her Muni paintings that were part of the SomArts show ... they involved dim sum, burritos, and Irish coffees. Then our conversation evolves into a discussion of Muni and what it can mean to life in The City. Plans for 2024 include hibernating. She says she needs to paint, that travel in 2023 pulled her away from that. She's looking for new things to paint, so if you've got ideas, drop her a line. We end the podcast with Melan riffing on our theme: "We're All in It." Follow Melan on social media: Instagram/TikTok We recorded this podcast in Patricia's Green in Hayes Valley in December 2023. Photography by Jeff Hunt


Artist Melan Allen, Part 1 (S6E8)

Melan Allen is a third-generation San Franciscan. In this episode, we get to know this born-and-raised food artist whom I met last summer at Fillmore Jazz Festival. Melan's grandparents moved here in the Sixties and lived in San Francisco until the 2000s. Her mom's mom came to SF from Texas and was part of a mass migration west, when her mom was very young. In our conversation, Melan says that she sometimes wonders what it would have been like if she had grown up in Texas instead of The City. Her dad was born here and raised in Western Addition/Hayes Valley. Her mom also grew up in that part of town. Perhaps naturally, when the two met and started to raise a family, they stayed in the area. Her family was there until Melan was 16, in fact. Even though she no longer lives there, Melan says that this hood is home, even though it has changed. "It's like your first love," Melan says of her hometown. "It feels like growing up in Oz." She left The City when she found herself complaining about changes. Rewinding a bit, Melan shares the story of her family getting evicted from her grandma's house in Ingleside when she was 19. She had wanted to move out on her own anyway, but wasn't sure how. And so, as it turns out, this unfortunate event forced her to become an adult. She's the middle kid of three, with one older sister and one younger brother. Melan says that she and her siblings are all different, that they did their own things, and that she is the only artist among them. Her dad is a playwright and her mom's a hard-core crafter. Melan says that she has always been creative, that creativity and expression were fostered in their home. Her mom collected/hoarded things, and Melan thinks that's where she got her own propensity to pick things up off the street. She feels like she can "McGuyver" anything. We end Part 1 with Melan explaining that she's consistently cookie-decorating at her home in the East Bay. At the time of our recording last December, she was also making fake cookies out of clay. She rattles off some of the other projects she's currently working on, and ends by proclaiming, "I have to have a lot of space." Follow Melan on Instagram @melanmadethat. Visit her website here. Photography by Jeff Hunt We recorded this podcast in Patricia's Green in Hayes Valley in December 2023.


Katie Conry and the Tenderloin Museum, Part 2 (S6E7)

Part 2 is a deep-dive into the history of the Tenderloin, which we began toward the end of Part 1. Katie digs into the infamous Compton's Cafeteria Riot and shares the background and what lead to that fateful event. After the moral crusaders successfully passed new laws essentially controlling the lives of women, the Tenderloin bounced right back thanks to Prohibition, when the neighborhood's nightlife effectively went underground. Katie says that in the 1920s and Thirties, the TL was the glitzy, seedy nightlife capital of the Bay Area, replete with bars and restaurants, some of which doubled as gambling halls and brothels. Then came the 1940s, and World War II impacted all of San Francisco, especially the Tenderloin. Many servicemen were housed in SROs in the TL before leaving for the Pacific. This situation allowed gay members to explore their sexuality. And it was this that established SF as a Gay Mecca. Interestingly, the Army gave servicemembers a list of places not to go in the Tenderloin, and the smarter ones took that as a map of where to go. Then-Mayor George Christopher had it out for the TL. His brother had gotten into some trouble in the hood, and the mayor blamed the Tenderloin itself, calling it a blight and generally scapegoating the area. He led a crack-down on gambling, removed the cable cars, and created one-way streets. By the time the Fifties rolled around, many came to see the TL as a hood to get away from. But just a short decade or so later, in the 1960s, a significant migration of young people to The City began. Many queer folks landed in the TL and soon found that churches in the neighborhood were a safe haven, especially Glide Memorial Church. From this point in the story, Katie shifts briefly to discuss the museum's work with Susan Stryker, a trans historian and director of Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria (2005). Stryker rediscovered and wrote a history of the riot. She described Glide as a "midwife" to LGBTQ history in San Francisco. In the early Sixties, sex workers didn't have legal means of employment. Many of them frequented Compton's because it was one of the few places in town that served them. The joint was frequented by trans women, sex workers, and activists on most days. Then, in 1966, SF cops raided the place. The story goes that a trans woman poured hot coffee in a cop's face, and all hell broke loose. It came to be seen as a militant response to police harassment. Screaming Queens was the first public program at TLM. In 2018, the museum produced an immersive play about the riot called Aunt Charlie's: San Francisco's Working Class Drag Bar. Katie takes us on a sidebar about Aunt Charlie's, the last gay bar in left in the Tenderloin. TLM's plan was to produce play again in 2020, and they've been hard at work since the pandemic to bring it back. They now have a space on Larkin to produce play year-round, so, stay tuned. We end the podcast with a discussion about the new neon sign outside the museum. Katie explains that TLM is a fiscal sponsor of SF Neon, a non-profit doing neon sign restoration, walking tours, and other events. We recorded this podcast at the Tenderloin Museum in November 2023 and January 2024. Photography by Jeff Hunt


Katie Conry and the Tenderloin Museum, Part 1 (S6E7)

In Part 1, we get to know Tenderloin Museum's executive director, Katie Conry. She's originally from Oceanside, California, just outside of LA, where her parents are from. They were both teachers but were priced out of the big city, a situation all too familiar around here. Katie left home as soon as she could—when she was 18 and it was time to go to college. She had felt lonely and alienated in her hometown. But almost from the moment she arrived in Berkeley, she loved it and felt connected. In the 20-plus years since, she hasn't left the Bay Area. She moved across the Bay to San Francisco after graduation in the mid-2000s, settling in the Mission, the neighborhood she's lived in ever since. Katie and Jeff reminisce about several Mission spots they both frequented around that time. In the early 2010s, Katie got a job at Adobe Books, helping the bookstore raise money to make the move from 16th Street to its current spot on 24th Street. In that fundraising process, the store was turned into a co-op and its art gallery a non-profit. This experience is how Katie started in events and working with artists. She later worked part-time at museums like the California Academy of Sciences, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and The Exploratorium, working on private events for those institutions. Katie was originally hired at the Tenderloin Museum as their program manager when the museum opened in 2015. The next year, she became its executive director (Alex Spoto does a lot of public programming now). From here, we dive into the history of TLM. It was the brainchild of journalist and activist Randy Shaw, who was inspired by what he saw at New York City's Tenement Museum. The non-profit that runs TLM was formed in 2009 and they opened their museum doors to the public in 2015. The permanent collection in their gallery spotlights stories of working-class resistance movements and marginalized communities. The museum was successful early, largely because of its public programming. They sponsored showings of the film Drugs in the Tenderloin (1967), which turned out to be very popular. From here, our discussion pivots to the history of the Tenderloin itself. Katie shares that it (not the Castro) was the first gay hood in San Francisco. It was a high-density neighborhood filled with affordable housing, a liminal space in an urban setting. Then we hear the story of the neighborhood after the 1906 earthquake, which destroyed just about everything except the Hibernia Bank building. The Tenderloin was rebuilt quickly, though. The Cadillac Hotel, where the museum is located today, opened in 1908 and was meant to house folks who were working to rebuild The City. The single room occupancies (SROs) left people hungry for entertainment, of which there was soon plenty. Women were living on their own in the Tenderloin, and in response, moral crusaders came after them. These high-and-mighty types had successfully shut down the sex-worker presence in San Francisco's Barbary Coast in 1913, forcing members of that industry to the Tenderloin. And so, perhaps naturally, those same crusaders came after sex-industry women in the Tenderloin. The first sex-worker protest in the US happened in the TL after Reggie Gamble stormed a church and gave an impromptu speech. But it wasn't enough. Those same self-righteous white men effectively shut down the Tenderloin in 1917, an occasion for which TLM did a centennial celebration in 2017. Check back next week for more Tenderloin History in Part 2 of this episode. We recorded this podcast at the Tenderloin Museum in November 2023. Photography by Jeff Hunt


Singer/Songwriter Meredith Edgar, Part 2 (S6E6)

We begin Part 2 with my asking the question everyone wants to know: Is "Meredith Edgar" her real name or a stage name? You'll have to listen in to find out. Then she shares the various day jobs she's had over the years, some worse than others. She worked a little retail, then got an esthetician's license and worked in dermatology. Meredith says that she's always wanted to help people. That work eventually drove her to go back to college, which she did at St. Edward's in Austin, where she earned a degree in psychology. While in Austin, she worked at the SIMS Foundation, a mental-health non-profit for musicians in the area. An internship there led to a job, one she describes as one of her favorites to this day. Then, thanks to my propensity for chatter, we dive into a sidebar on Austin and whether folks in that city do a good job of taking care of their own. Meredith is quick and correct in pointing out that, like here, Austin artists and musicians often get priced out of a city that's always becoming more expensive to live in. After that, Meredith tells us about her time in Italy for a stint, which inevitably leads to another sidebar, this time on Spain and Italy. And finally, after all that set up, I get to share my story of discovering Meredith. Meredith was married, but then divorced. She had lived in Venice, but after Italy, she moved back to The City she was born in ... just before COVID hit. She managed to find a job and an apartment just in time, though. When the pandemic did take hold, she started doing live streams on Instagram. She had really wanted to give her music a push, and like many musicians, took to streaming as a way to continue connecting with audiences. Once it was safe, Meredith started playing masked shows in outdoor places, something she says "really saved" her, both socially and creatively. She had been living alone and feeling that isolation that the pandemic exacerbated for so many of us. Now she says that she's got herself to a good point. She's summoning patience and has managed to find community here. Meredith recorded an album at Women's Audio Mission in 2021 and hopes to record again this year. She says that among writing, rehearsing, recording, and playing out, the latter is her favorite. We end Part 2 with Meredith's response to our theme this season: "We're all in it." The songs you hear after our conversation ends are: "Louisiana Rain" and "Blue." Catch Meredith at any of the following upcoming shows: Jan. 11 at Rite Spot (I'll be there!) Jan. 21 at Spec's Jan. 25 again at Rite Spot We recorded this episode at Royal Cuckoo Organ Lounge in the Mission in November 2023. Photography by Jeff Hunt


Singer/Songwriter Meredith Edgar, Part 1 (S6E6)

Discovering Meredith Edgar is one of my best memories of 2023. In Part 1 of this episode, get to know this singer/songwriter who was born in San Francisco. Her parents had been here a while, but soon after giving birth to Meredith, the family moved around a bit, first to the South, then to the Northeast, and finally, back to the South Bay. "Silicon Valley" was vastly different than the other places Meredith spent her early life in. When her family moved there, she was in third grade and happy to be in a more diverse place. She ended up spending her middle and high school years in the South Bay, eventually spending more and more time in The City. Music was always an integral part of Meredith's life. As she puts it, her parents have "eclectic taste in music." She says that there was always music playing—at home, in the car. Her dad also played guitar. Meredith started playing violin at 4. Later, she joined her junior high choir. And by the time high school rolled around, she had started playing guitar, writing songs, and playing out. "Out" at that time meant open mics at Red Rock Coffee in Mountain View, and Meredith shares the story of her first time doing that. She says that she's deeply grateful to have found music, fast-forwarding to tell the story of her dog's passing away in late September of this year and how playing helped her grieve. Then we go back again to her late-teen years. Meredith was ready to not be in the suburbs anymore. She and her friends came to SF to go to shows or go dancing at spots like Pop Scene (330 Ritch) and 1984 (Cat Club). When she made the leap north to live in The City, she didn't play out right away. But the South Bay band she was still a part of fizzled out. When she first got here, she was in a bad relationship that also eventually ended. After that, Meredith's music picked back up. She worked at Macy's in cosmetics and shares a fun sidebar about kittens and puppies up for adoption over the holidays at the department store. Around 2007 or so, she picked up music yet again, writing, playing out, doing solo shows, playing originals and covers. She preferred to be solo because of her desire to be self-sufficient. We end Part 1 with a chat about her siblings. Meredith's brother is six years younger than she is and is an artist here in The City. Her sister is a year older than her, but didn't grow up with the family. In fact, they didn't know about her until Meredith was 18. She says that they're good friends now. Check back next week for Part 2 and a bonus episode of Meredith playing a few songs just for you. Meredith's website Follow Meredith Edgar on Instagram We recorded this episode at Royal Cuckoo Organ Lounge in November 2023.


Wrapping Up 2023

Join in as Jeff talks about ... Our brand-new-ass Storied: SF hoodies! For a limited time, grab a hoodie at pre-sale prices (a $40 donation'll do it). Let us know your size (we have XS through XXL unisex) and address, and we'll send back our fleece-lined love and appreciation! Venmo/PayPalUpdates on Michelle and her involvement in the projectA look back at some of the more memorable, impactful episodes of the year (not to take anything away from those I didn't mention)A quick rundown of some of the exciting things coming up in the first few months of 2024! Happy New Year, y'all!


Bill English, Susi Damilano, and San Francisco Playhouse, Part 2 (S6E5)

We begin Part 2 with talk of how Bill and Susi’s love of the work needed to get SF Playhouse started really helped them overcome any fear that might’ve hindered them. Their first brick-and-mortar spot on Sutter Street was meant to be retrofitted. The landlords wouldn’t lease it to the new acting company, but they’d rent it cheaply one month at a time. To get themselves up and running, they staged a play they’d done before, one that was good for the holidays that were coming up. The play was It Had to Be You by Joe Bologna and Renée Taylor. To drum up ticket sales, Bill and Susi would walk down to Union Square, where there used to be a spot folks could line up for discount theater tickets. They handed out SF Playhouse flyers and it taught them that they had sales acumen and hustle. That original space had a hole in the ceiling, which made it cold. But Bill’s day job in these days was carpentry, which he learned doing set building. Susi came in with her business background, which we learned a little about in Part 1. She set up the books, but also acted in plays. Both of them directed and acted, in fact. Susi still worked her day job as a CPA, but became an indie contractor, and then an HR professional. She did all this to support her theater work at night. Fast-forward four years and Bill had phased out of carpentry. Susi had so many ideas of what they could do with their space—she wanted real seats, not fold-ups. They painted, hung Christmas lights for ambience, and handed out blankets to theater-goers. Their first “season,” which they now admit wasn’t a true season at all, ended with a staging of The Glory of Living by Rebecca Gilman, a popular play at the time. Bill describes it as a dark, difficult play, which he liked. He felt it challenged the audience. He says that the nature of the play required critics to come because no one in the Bay Area was staging it. Artistic directors came, probably wondering why SF Playhouse dared to do it. As luck would have it, this all helped to put them on the map. The Chronicle called it an intriguing play and young theater company. Susi had wanted to do Thrill of the Kill, a play about a group of suburban housewives whose husbands had locked themselves into a meat locker in the basement. The dilemma: To let the men out or not? This time, the Chronicle said: It’s good, better in fact than the New York production of the same play. Bill had wanted to play El Gallo in The Fantasticks, so they got another director and did it. They got some bigger Bay Area names to act in it, and it ran all summer. They remained in that first location for three years, until the retrofit work finally happened. They were bummed to leave and were told they could come back once the work was completed. But when that day came, the landlords informed them that to move back in, they’d need to pay five times their previous rent and fork over $1 million up-front. They balked at such a ridiculous sum. But as luck would have it, a spot became available across Sutter, and they moved in in 2006. They stayed on Sutter from then until 2012, when the space inside the Elks Lodge building on Post opened. They pounced and have been there ever since. SF Playhouse was established as a non-profit theater from Day 1. Susi thought it was the way to go. Doing so meant that could get donors and subscribers and at least aim to break even. The spot on Post opened as they were doing Fair Lady at their old location on Sutter. It was so popular that they were turning folks away. Time for a bigger theater, they decided. The space on Post had been empty for years. It was originally an Elk’s Lodge meeting hall, but had been converted to a 700-seat theater toward the end of the 20th century. Bill had always imagined 200-250 seats as the ideal capacity. He’d learned about non-profit theaters from various trips to New York. Susi shares the story of what they encountered when they took over. The Elks had created it,...


Susi Damilano, Bill English, and San Francisco Playhouse, Part 1 (S6E5)

Susi Damilano was born in Germany and raised in the South Bay. Many of her German aunts married US servicemen, but Susi's mom married a German man and the family soon moved to Silicon Valley. Susi shares a history of that area, noting thatnot too long ago, it was primarily orchards. Growing up, Susi would cut through those orchards to get to school. Now that area is housing. She grew up in the 1970s and graduated high school then. As a young adult in the '70s and '80s, Susi visited SF often and says she always dreamed of living in "the big city." She would listen to her parents’ stories of racing down hills and being escorted home by cops, and got excited. Susi and her friend who had a car would drive up to The City and up and down Polk Street, cruising and people-watching. Despite the allure of San Francisco, she ended up going to college in San Diego at SD State. She liked it there enough—the weather, the people. An accounting major, she says that the job market wasn't great in that area, and so she returned home to the South Bay and got a job at CPA firm in San Jose, where she worked a handful of years with clients like the fledgling Apple Computer. Still, she couldn't shake wanting to live in SF. She found a job at another CPA firm, this time in The City. She lived in the Marina on Chestnut and was there during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Susi loved being here and got her taste for theater from reading Herb Caen columns. She started going to live theater and loved it. Around this same time, she was getting burnt out on her accounting job. A friend dared her to dream what else she could do. She decided that she wanted an Oscar, even though she didn’t act (yet). To get started, Susi took an acting class in Sunnyvale. Then we meet Bill English, Susi's husband and cofounder of SF Playhouse. Originally from Evanston, Illinois, Bill spent his high school and college years in Tempe, Arizona. Then it was back to Illinois for grad school at Northwestern in Evanston. Bill says that he was an instrumentalist earlier in his life and never thought much about theater. He played in orchestra his freshman year at ASU for a theater production, and it was here that he was “hit by lightning.” From the orchestra pit, he looked up and decided that he wanted to be on stage. He tried out for and got some roles, first backing and then eventually, lead parts. He had always been a singer. Bill says that both his parents are musicians—his dad was a band director, in fact. He decided right away that he preferred the stage to playing music. As a kid, Bill came to San Francisco from time to time with his family and loved it. He says that he always associated SF with theater. He didn’t end up pursuing theater after college, but instead played piano in rock and country bands. He moved around a bit, from Chicago and Phoenix to LA and eventually The City. This was the early 1980s and he had just had a daughter, which meant he couldn’t do music anymore. In his limited spare time, Bill tried out for some plays. And he's been in it ever since. At this point in Part 1, Bill and Susi share the story of their meeting. It was the late '90s, and Susi was taking an acting class at the Jean Shelton school here. Bill had studied there, too, and they had some friends in common. Their first meeting was on a street outside a theater. She was starstruck but figured he had no idea who she was. Susi volunteered to work concessions to get a theater ticket, which is where she first crossed paths with the young performer. She thought: That guy’s cute! Over the next couple of years, she started seeing him at parties. Bill came to a show, and Susi was there with one of his friends. The friend asked if Susi wanted to join them (after the show) for a drink at a spot across the street from the Clift Hotel. At the bar, Bill was bemoaning the lack of new scripts, but a friend of Susi’s had one that needed producing. And so Susi told him as...


Rudy Corpuz and United Playaz, Part 2 (S6E4)

In Part 2, Rudy picks up where he left off in Part 1, talking about the origin of United Playaz and a race riot at Balboa High School back in 1994. Rudy gathered those students who'd been involved in the violence to talk and determine their own solutions. And that's exactly what they did. They told Rudy and other adults that there was nothing to do at the school, and out of that discovery, the school implemented many programs to better engage kids. In 2005, Mauricio Vela gave Rudy the blessing to bring United Playaz to Rudy's home hood of South of Market. Rudy shares that story of first getting funding, then getting their building on Howard Street. They moved in around 2008/2009. And in 2015, UP bought the building. We talk about the origin of UP's motto: “It takes the hood to save the hood …” That story starts in New Orleans post-Katrina, where Rudy saw what the people were doing for themselves to recover when officials at every level failed them. The phrase was inspired by what he saw there, including drug dealers, drug users, and "thugs" helping out in the community against unimaginable tragedy and stiff odds. Today, UP has chapters all over the country, but their scope has evolved over time. Rudy shares a story of having talked with Stanley "Tookie" Williams, who was in San Quentin at the time. Tookie told Rudy to "work with the little kids," not just those at the high school level. Nowadays, as Rudy puts it, they work with every age group, “from the elementary to the penitentiary (their prison re-entry program).” Some in UP programs had been locked up for 30, 40, and 50 years. Some of them work with young kids today. We end this podcast with talk of changes in the South of Market, the massive gentrification in that neighborhood that's occurred over the last several decades, and the relationships Rudy has built to counteract that. We recorded this episode at the United Playaz Clubhouse in South of Market in November 2023. Photography by Jeff Hunt


Rudy Corpuz and United Playaz, Part 1 (S6E4)

In Part 1, we meet Rudy Corpuz, a born-and-raised San Franciscan who grew up in the South of Market. Rudy's parents came to the US from the Philippines before he was born. His dad was in the army, which was his ticket to this country. And he brought his wife and some of Rudy's older siblings with him. They went first to Boston, then to Seattle, folllowed by San Pedro, California, and finally, to San Francisco. The family's first landing spot in The City was Hunters-Point. The family then moved a little north to the South of Market. Rudy is the youngest of nine siblings. His early days in SOMA took place in the 1970s and ‘80s. He recalls many other ethnicities and lots and lots of families living in SOMA back in those days, and says that he learned a lot from his neighborhood. He ran with a crew of kids that spent a lot of time on Market Street going to shops, arcades, and theaters. He fondly recalls a South of Market community center called Canon Kip, where he'd go as a kid to play basketball, attend study halls, engage in other forms of recreation, and go on field trips. Rudy cites his time at Canon Kip as playing a role in his current work with United Playaz. At this point in the recording, I asked Rudy to rattle off San Francisco schools he's attended. The list includes: Buena Vista and Patrick Henry elementary schools, Potrero Middle School, and Mission High School. In addition to his native SOMA neighborhood, Rudy spent a lot of time in Potrero Hill, getting around mostly on Muni busses. This was the mid-'80s/early '90s, i.e., the crack era. Rudy shares that he both sold and used the drug. His usage got bad, to the point that he crashed. He points to the death of his dad in 1987 as a major contributor to his behavior. He didn’t know what to do with the pain of losing his dad, and so he turned to drugs. Rudy got busted in 1988 and was sent to adult jail. For the next several years, he was In and out of trouble (and jail). It took him a while, but eventually, he figured out that he was broken. Around this time, an adult at the Canon Kip community center offered to get Rudy into City College. He was still in a low period, but when he got to CCSF, he was blown away by the abundance of "pretty women" he saw there. He and I had a hearty laugh about that. He got a part-time job convincing other teenagers to go to CCSF, and discovered that he liked helping people. In 1994, while waiting for a job assignment, he spotted a posting on a job board. "Gang Prevention Counselor (Filipino)." A light bulb when off. He got the job, which was based in Bernal Heights. In his new gig, Rudy was tasked with finding Filipino gangs in Bernal/District 11. This brought him to Balboa High School, where h saw plenty of fights and sideshows. The school's principal told him that she needed his help. After a big riot between Filipinos and Blacks on Oct. 8, 1994, Rudy got the kids who had been involved to sit down together at a table. And they were the ones who came up with their own solutions. They called it United Playaz. Check back next week for Part 2 and the history of the non-profit. Photography by Jeff Hunt We recorded this episode at the United Playaz Clubhouse in the South of Market in November 2023.


Traci Ramos and Boozenation Podcast, Part 2 (S6E3)

In Part 2, Traci tells us that, after six months in Australia, during which she had put her things in storage here in The City, she came back and got those things right back out. She got a place to live and a job, both of which were relative easy back then. But, she says, SF was getting weird and crowded. It was the late-‘90s, so the dotcom boom was well under way. She started working at different restaurants as a server. Then, after some shorter travels abroad and a cross-country road trip, she got an office job. That lasted four-and-a-half years. She wanted a house in San Francisco and was trying to save up for that. Then, another economic bottom fell out and she was out of work. This was followed by a low period in her life, one that involved a lot of drinking and amassing debt. When she became too broke to travel, Traci got a job serving at Cha Cha Cha in the Mission and climbed her way out of debt. At this point in the recording, Traci rattles off a handful SF bars she’s worked or filled in at. Then I briefly share my own story of finding Boozenation, and Traci shares how she found us (how she found Bitch Talk, to be perfectly honest). Her story involved seeing us at The Saloon days before the shutdown in 2020. And it was the pandemic that inspired Traci to start her own podcast about bartenders and service industry workers. Two years later, Boozenation is going strong. When I asked her what’s next, she told me that in 2024, she wants to dive into some of the darker issues around the service industry, things like wage theft, sexual harassment, sexual assaults that anyone who works in the industry is all too familiar with. Traci says that she wants to take her time in the New Year and do it right. We end the podcast with Traci rattling off some of her favorite spots around town. They include, but are not limited to: Mission BarSpec’sRiptideLittle ShamrockTrad’r Sam’s (which has reopened since we recorded)Thee Parkside Find Boozenation Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Photography by Michelle Kilfeather


Traci Ramos of Boozenation Podcast, Part 1 (S6E3)

In Part 1, we meet and get to know a bit about Traci's past. She grew up in Modesto. Her dad’s family is Puerto Rican and they arrived in the Central Valley from the East Bay. Traci's mom’s mom came to California via Mexico and Spain, while her mom’s dad is Native American, Cherokee to be exact. That man, Traci's grandpa, his mom had three sets of kids from three men, but grandpa didn’t talk about that. Traci is an only child. She and her family visited the East Bay when she was a kid, but they didn’t really come to San Francisco. Traci says her impression of the East Bay is that it was like Modesto, but more crowded and noisier. Sometime after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Traci came to The City to go to SF State, where she graduated from the school's BECA program around 4.5 years later. She says that the decision where to go to college ultimately came down to SF State or Sac State. But in the end, she wanted to be in SF. She and friends had been coming to The City to see shows and concerts. Here, she rattles off quite an impressive list of bands she saw back then, including Duran Duran at The Fillmore. At State, Traci lived in the dorms, which, after the quake, were showing obvious signs of damage. To her young mind, it didn't matter. She was where she wanted to be. She had always loved the fog, most likely owing to the intense summer heat in Modesto. While in school, she worked around town in cafes and restaurants. After graduation, she had saved up enough money to buy a one-way ticket to Madrid. She travelled around Europe a bit for a year, then came back to SF and worked various jobs. Then, a year later, Traci picked up again and went to Australia, this time on a round-trip ticket. We end Part 1 with some of Traci's fondest memories of New Zealand and the ways that that island nation compare to California. Photography by Michelle Kilfeather


Joanna Lioce and Vesuvio Café, Part 4 (S6E2)

Part 4 starts off with me and Joanna doing the math trying to figure out how long she's worked at Vesuvio. Turns out it's right around 20 years. She started out as a waitress. The woman who was supposed to train her ended up not showing up that day, and Joanna really didn’t know what she was doing. But she winged it. A customer saw her inexperience and helped her out with some sage advice. The conversation moves on to cover many of the ins and outs of serving vs. bartending. She says that, back in the day, yelling matches happened at Vesuvio sometimes, but that it's much mellower these days. Then we get to the pandemic and their eventual closure. Vesuvio was Joanna’s only job at the time, one that had her working five days a week. She says that many regulars, folks who live alone, weren’t sure what to do when the bar had to shut down. Like many of us, they thought it would be only a week. So Joanna borrowed her parents’ car and drove up to Cloverdale to spend what she figured would be a short time with friends. She ended up staying there for four months. Vesuvio reopened in late 2020, but closed again in December after a positive case from one of its staff. In January 2021, they opened for good. And when they did, Joanna says it was like starting over. Now we get around to chatting about Wacky Wednesdays, the music shows in Kerouac Alley which effectively (and finally) prompted us to do an episode on one of our favorite spots in The City. Joanna gives context to the situation that inspired her to create the music events. Bars weren’t busy. Things were weird. Everyone felt anxious. “Let’s do something fun,” she thought. She had run an art fair in the alley pre-pandemic, for which she scheduled bands and vendors. She used that idea as a base for what became Wacky Wednesdays. She asked friends's bands to play. They said yes. She approached the bar about paying bands. They said yes. (These days, Vesuvio has sponsors for the events.) In 2023, there were 13 shows and 29 bands. They're currently on hiatus for the winter, but will start up again next June. It turns out that Chad, a bartender at Vesuvio, as well as some others she knows, knew how to do sound. The shows would be free—no tickets—and bands are OK to cancel if need be. The shows were a hit right away. In fact, someone is making a zine about them and they've gotten good press. Joanna assures us that Wacky Wednesdays are coming back in the summer of 2024 and says she already has a wishlist of bands she'll try to book for the alley. For more info, follow Joanna or Vesuvio on Instagram. Or just do yourself a favor and go meet a buddy for drink at the coolest bar in The City. Once they start again, calendars will appear at Vesuvio. Photography by Michelle Kilfeather


Joanna Lioce and Vesuvio Café, Part 3 (S6E2)

In Part 3, we meet Vesuvio bartender Joanna Lioce. Originally from Newport, RI, where her dad was a rock critic, the family moved to LA when he got a job with the Times down there. They landed in Orange County, in fact, a place Joanna left as soon as she could. In fact, the day after she graduated high school, Joanna went to Europe. While she was away, her dad got a job at the San Jose Mercury News and her mom, a pediatric nurse, worked as a public-health official in Berkeley. Joanna was in Europe shortly before Sept. 11, and though she had planned to stay overseas longer, the event made her wonder … but mom said “don’t come home.” On a family trip to Ireland when Joanna was 8, she had decided that she wanted to be a bartender. Now it was 2002, and she dropped her bag at a hostel and got a bartending job at O’Shay’s Merchant, a pub across the street from the Brazen Head in Dublin. She stayed in Dublin until Christmas, then returned to SoCal, where she had fronted a Riot Grrrrl band called Julia Warhola. But by now, several band members had started doing heroin, so she quit the band and moved to the Bay Area where her family was. Joanna first went to school in the Peralta System in the East Bay, then she got into SF State, where she eventually got her degree. She also finished college at Cambridge in England to study Shakespeare. While going to SF State, she moved to the Mission, specifically 18th and Linda near the Women’s Building. She found the place through a Craigslist ad and ending up with six roommates, none of whom she knew previously. Her room set her back only $400, but she wasn’t feeling it. From the Mission, Joanna moved to Lower Haight. And 13 years ago, she settled in to her place on Nob Hill, where she lives today. She had a job, hosting then bartending, at Stinking Rose in North Beach. She liked it all right, but when her boss gave credit for a makeover of the bar that she had done to a male co-worker, she knew she had to leave. She gave her two weeks’ notice and went for a drink at Vesuvio. While there, a bartender she had befriended offered her the job. She was 21. It was 2003. She’s been working at Vesuvio ever since. Photography by Michelle Kilfeather


Janet Clyde and Vesuvio Café, Part 2 (S6E2)

In Part 2, we hear how Janet got a job cocktail waitressing at The Mab, that infamous old punk club on Broadway near Vesuvio. Mab owner Ness Aquino hired her for that and she dug it. She had been to many shows in LA when she lived there and loved the scene. She lived in the Basque Hotel at 15 Romolo, made good money, and stuff was cheap back in the late '70s. Janet describes herself as a lightweight, which meant she couldn’t really hang out as late as most people around her. Eventually, she wanted to do more than cocktail, so she got a job bartending at Coffee Gallery on Grant … on the 6 a.m. shift, no less. The manager of Vesuvio saw her opening Coffee Gallery one day and asked her to open for them instead. This was 1979. In addition to her 6 a.m. shift at Vesuvio, Janet worked a few other jobs. Then she started working more at Vesuvio and liking it more and more. Early morning patrons, many of them merchant seamen, often comprised the “Dawn Patrol,” guys coming in from nearby SROs that didn’t have heat. Cocktailing was hard, and it got old fast, so she switched back to bartending. As we learned in Part 1, the Feins had taken over at Vesuvio around 1967 or 1968, and they brought in Shawn O’Shaughnessy around that time to establish the aesthetic of the place. Janet tells us that the place feels mostly the same today, though they’ve added stuff here and there over the years. At this point in the conversation, we take a sidebar to talk about Ron Fein’s aesthetic and discipline. His intention was always to keep the joint looking and feeling more or less consistent, employing a discipline not to chase trends to that end. Ron’s son and daughter eventually became more involved. But seeing an opportunity and acting on it, Janet and her family have co-owned Vesuvio with Fein family since 1997. She invokes the saying, “Sweep the floor to own the store.” Janet has also been Vesuvio’s principal manager since ’97. The conversation shifts to talk of the pandemic, which she says was “almost an extinction event” for the bar. But Janet believes that Vesuvio was small enough to get control over the situation. She’s quick to point to federal, state, and even local help, describing it as “invaluable.” It was The City’s government that came through in letting them operate outside in the alley. And that leads us to Whacky Wednesdays (a bit of a tease of next week’s episodes … stay tuned). Janet says the shows have been so much fun, but she of course wishes they had more space in Jack Kerouac Alley. They really helped to raise spirits during early days of the pandemic. In 2021, not much else was going on by way of live events. But more of that in Part 3 next week. We end Part 2 with my asking Janet what it means to her to be part of a San Francisco institution like Vesuvio. Listen in for her answer, which I loved. And check back Tuesday for Part 3, when we’ll meet longtime Vesuvio bartender and Whacky Wednesdays creator Joanna Lioce. Photography by Jeff Hunt