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The San Francisco Years
Chapter 1 – What's Happening to Me?


The Alcazar Theater in San Francisco is cursed. At least that is the the myth. Anyone who has walked up Geary from, let's say from the St. Francis or the Clift, will see some very eerie and strange people. Scary. If they aren't actually haunting the Alcazar, they may be haunting Geary street west of Jones. Step lightly around the vomit and the urine. Don't look in the corners and crevices of the buildings you pass. Ignore the lost souls living in doorways. Keep your eyes on the prize. The theatrical jewel that is, The Alcazar Theater. Not. Well, sort of not. Seldom does anything play the Alcazar. Most of the time it is dark. Empty. The ticket office piled with junk. The sign outside frequently advertises a show, long ago performed, or inexplicably, never opened. The building must be on some register of 'significant' buildings because by all normal criteria, it should have been razed decades ago. Wait. It has a reason to exist. It serves as a warning to the two fine theaters two blocks east and to all the houses in San Francisco. Behave. Have successful productions. Or THIS will happen to you.

I actually did a show there. Successfully. At the time, I was working on radio in the Central Valley and the late night ride from San Francisco to Modesto was getting dangerous. I am alive to write this because of a wonderful man named Bott. I don't know his first name, so on this page he will be - Mr. Bott. This genius. This Stephen Hawking of highways. This Einstein. Mr Bott invented Bott's Dots. These are the reflectors they literally glued to the pavement. I hope they have a Bott's Dots crew and don't expect Mr. Bott himself to do it. He should be lounging in Margauritaville clipping coupons and drinking rum, enjoying the fruits of his labors. But wait! Not only do his dots reflect. They bump. At night they glow in your headlights serving the same function as painted lines. Much more efficiently, if you ask me. And when your tires run over a series of Mr. Bott's dots, the distinctive rumble startles you from your slumber. They saved my life. Many times. Thank you Mr. Bott wherever you are.

Driving in a total state of exhaustion, I would start to slumber and drift to the right or the left. My Chevy Caprice tires on Bott's Dots would jolt me back to consciousness and I would live another day.

The realization that I was putting my life into the hands of some rum-soaked beach bum caused me to pause and think about those dangerous midnight drives. My conclusion took the form of a wish. “Oh, Fairy Godmother. If I had a place in the city, I could sleep and drive in the morning refreshed.”

I wasn't getting any help from the Fairies or the godmothers, so I wandered about the Alcazar area looking at places. I didn't want a full-fledged apartment. I didn't have the money. With the taxes I was paying to the state of California to keep Mr. Bott in flip-flops, I was looking for cheap. I just needed it for about three or four nights each week and not forever.

On one of my excursions and not far from the theater, I walked by the Hotel Andre. I knew it was the Hotel Andre because the pink and gold on the awning across the sidewalk said so. It said Hotel Andre. It did not say Ritz-Carlton. The Hotel Andre had style. I could tell. Looking down the street from Geary, I could see it. Another little jewel on the edge of the Tenderloin. The closer I got the less style it had. Style changed to pretension. Then to shabby. Then to weird. I looked through the window next to the door and it was like looking into a jungle. When a windstorm destroyed the thousands of windows in the Golden Gate Park Arboretum they had to take the plants somewhere. Now I knew where they took them. The Hotel Andre and Arboretum. If you walked across the lobby you might get to the zoo. Obviously, they left the exotic species to wither and die somewhere else. Here they concentrated on Boston Ferns, English Ivy and rubber plants. (Contrary to San Francisco belief, condoms do NOT grow on rubber trees)

The plants were everywhere. Huge and flourishing. Whomever was in charge of the lobby foliage didn't have a green thumb...they had two green thumbs and a couple of green fingers too. They should send this person to the starving areas of Africa to work on the wheat. Behind the foliage were walls covered with elaborate molding and the elegance of flocked red wallpaper. And multiplying the jungle were the mirrors. Dozens of mirrors. Big ones and little ones. Gilt frames and no frames. Mirror tiles with fake antique gold were randomly hanging on any available surface. There were even floor mirrors tilted rakishly, some up and some down. On the floor were two huge oriental carpets. Where there was no carpet, a marble floor was just visible. If you looked up, a balcony with wrought iron filigree formed a mezzanine. More plants there, the greenery tumbling down to hang like some jungle vine, waiting for a local Tarzan to swing on by. From the center of the two story ceiling hung a crystal chandelier sparkling like thousand diamonds. Overwhelmed by all the lushness, was an eclectic collection of furniture. Furniture that ran the gamut from classic over-sized pieces to strange 70's kitsch.

The Hotel Andre shrieked whorehouse. That's unfair. More class than a brothel. It had the look of an old woman who can't get her lipstick on straight. There were little circles of rouge on those cheeks.

Little did I know then, that the Hotel Andre and I had a future.

Now we bring down the curtain. It stays down for a dozen years to denote the passage of a dozen years. Not all theater is good.

I was living a minimalist life-style. Whether it was forced on me or I chose it that was it. All my worldly possessions, all my stuff was in storage in Modesto. The few items I needed for day-to-day life I could fit in a suitcase and carry-all. When I first moved back to California, I mooched a place to sleep and eat for a couple of months. When your friends start changing the locks, you should get the hint and either find your own place or someone new to mooch. My current moochee was helping his son move to an apartment in the city and I figured it was time to move along. I was actually working a bit in San Francisco, so it seemed like I was staying. The thought of being rid of me encouraged my friend to spend a few hours driving me about the city looking for a 'temporary' place to live. I had the newspaper with several potentials circled and the first place I called was actually encouraging. The whole process reminded me of once, looking for a house in Tacoma, Washington, I got tired of the negative reaction to my personal menagerie. I had a cat, Harve Tooky and a sheepdog, Bozo. After the third or fourth person turned me down flat on finding I had pets I was frustrated. When the next person asked me in a rather snide tone, “What kind of pets?” and I answered, “A chicken and a giraffe.” I sealed the deal by losing that house too.

But here I was in San Francisco, with a suitcase, a carry-all, an impatient friend and a find-someplace-to-live deadline, and the person on the line was friendly and encouraging, things were looking good. I will skip the fact that my friend was a bit put off by the 'area' and also skip the half a dozen other places we looked at. It was all a waste of time because my karma, my kismet, my horoscope, my destiny was going to be fulfilled in spite of anything. Before dinner time, I was checked into the HOTEL ANDRE.

I was home.

Coming in the Next Part of the Hotel Years – You Can Check In But You Can't Check Out



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