The Heyday Blog

Q & A with Obi Kaufmann, author and illustrator of “The California Field Atlas”

The California Field Atlas is the magnum opus of Oakland-based author, painter, and naturalist Obi Kaufmann. Growing up in the East Bay as the son of an astrophysicist and a psychologist, Kaufmann spent most of high school practicing calculus and breaking away on weekends to scramble around Mount Diablo and map its creeks, oak forests, and sage mazes. Into adulthood, he would regularly journey into the mountains, spending more summer nights without a roof than with one. This book is the result of those decades of exploration and research, a lavishly illustrated atlas that takes readers off the beaten path and outside normal conceptions of California, revealing its myriad ecologies, topographies, and histories in exquisite maps and trail paintings. Kaufmann depicts layer after layer of the natural world, delighting in the grand scale and details alike.

The California Field Atlas comes out this September 1, after which Obi Kaufmann will be embarking on a forty-city book tour across the state of California; check out his schedule here.

I recently spoke with Obi Kaufmann over the phone about the process of putting the book together, what readers will gain and learn from his writings and illustrations, and his vision for our respectful stewardship of nature in the twenty-first century.

The collection of paintings and illustrations in The California Field Atlas spans decades of your art, research, and exploration. Was it always your intention to eventually share all of that in a single cohesive collection? How did you decide to finally turn all that information and knowledge into a book?

This book does certainly reflect decades of research in that my research is doing what I do, and what I do, on a metabolic level, is enjoying and interacting with nature. Since I was a little boy roaming around Mount Diablo, where I would spend days mapping the sage mazes, naming the blue oak trees, I didn’t understand how one oak tree, so gnarled and individual as it was, is considered the same thing as the next. I didn’t understand why people wouldn’t name individual trees, I didn’t understand what a species was because I saw within them all these complex levels of individuality.

When I finally partnered with Heyday to construct this massive, unifying project designed to merge aesthetics and ecology, it proved to be a process, at least in my mind, as interesting as the product itself. For example, when you look at the organization of the CFIE, Chapter Two being called Of Earth and Mountains, Chapter Three being called Of Water and Rivers, Chapter Four is Forest and Fires, Chapter Five is Wind and Weather; that sort of simple pattern: earth, water, air, and fire didn’t manifest until the last months of the drafting of the manuscript. I needed to go through this whole process to find the basic structure, and when I did, there was a shining elegance that revealed itself.

Interestingly I was hiking with Malcolm Margolin a couple of weeks ago, and he told me in his trademark candid way that he doesn’t really care about books. He said that what he cares about is the zigging and the zagging from concept to product. That’s much more fascinating than the actual thing sitting on the table. And this book is replete with that raw and vulnerable process, you can almost smell the sunshine and taste the river water, you can see it across the whole thing. I’ve already drafted pieces of edition two and edition three to come out at some point over the next few years. It’s an ongoing process that I would be very challenged to find a beginning point, and I hope there is no end point.

Was it weird then, to try and put all of this information into a single contained product like a book?

It was incredibly weird, it was incredibly risky, and it was incredibly brave on Heyday’s part to take a chance with me on this. Even the idea of the Field Atlas itself, it’s an idea that does not exist as a thing in the universe. It’s two words I put together to describe a newly imagined format, the basis for a new type of discussion. This isn’t a field guide, like one of the books of the type my Heyday co-author John Muir Laws puts together, to carry along on a hike to identify a particular species or that.

This book is not going to help you if you’re lost in the woods. There are only a scant few roads depicted in the atlas, and they appear as thin ghostly red lines behind the paintings themselves. I’m interested in the long cycles, the character of California where nature has been, where it is, and where it will always persist. Being a Californian, being a resident and steward of this land, is a very unique experience, a process  that deserves an in-depth analysis of the cycles of nature that only exist as such in this corner of the beautiful globe.

I present California the way I understand it: a living natural system, an immortal cell with multitudinous organelles, constituent parts that define its anatomy. This urban veneer that we’ve imposed on the land is only a temporary jacket. Fast forward a thousand years, these roads will have turned to dust, but the river’s course will be largely unchanged. The quality of California’s natural character that abides our human imposition is the main character of California I’m trying to describe or beginning to explore.

So you’ve mentioned that these maps won’t help you if you’re lost in a forest, and can’t really tell you much about the roads and urban infrastructure we have in place today. What do you hope readers and viewers can gain from the book instead?

It’s really a different way of looking at the natural world, and I am using the object system that is California to illustrate that perspective in depth. That pairs nicely with how I think The California Field Atlas works very well as sort of a indispensable companion to the classic California road trip. The idea being that this book can offer simple answers to questions like what is that mountain over there, and what is the natural story behind that mountain, and who lives on that mountain? From this context, we can’t help but begin to treat these natural features with a certain amount of respect. I would say that the central assumption in the California Field Atlas is that all natural systems are living systems, so the radiant mountains, the rivers and their watersheds, the endlessly-giving forests, even the systems of fire and air, are worthy of respect and emancipation from endless extraction without remediation or reciprocation.

Ultimately, this is a political posture, an agenda for the people of California in the challenging decades to come which transcends the subject itself. If I wasn’t from California, if I didn’t know the place as well as I do, I would be doing this for whatever region of the world I was from. I believe that it is not just about California, it’s about a different way of looking at nature.

Going off of that idea that these systems are worthy of respect and emancipation, what would you change about the way that Californians currently interact with our surroundings?

I’m a land conservationist, pro wild-life, very committed to the idea of habitat protection and restoration. In order to provide for an estimated twenty million more people in as many years to come in the immediate future, we are going to need to protect from development and extraction as much land space and wilderness resources as we possibly can. California is fecund enough to to provide for all, if we are clever in our land management strategies and we are stalwart enough to protect the threads of connectivity that bridge wild habitat across the state.

What we’ve got with growingly outdated, twentieth-century policies of land conservation is a network of “islands of extinction”, where large tracts of protected lands stand completely segregated, not connected to any habitat bridge. We have wildlife population breakdowns because of the lack of territory.

What I emphasize in The California Field Atlas is a democratizing of the natural world across California. It isn’t only about Yosemite and Sequoia, it is about hiking in San Joaquin County or across the Modoc Plateau. By drawing attention to, by naming where the natural world remains intact, where nature maintains a foothold despite us, I hope to call attention to the need to protect these areas. By preserving and augmenting these wild-habitat bridges, the natural systems themselves can continue, and only by protecting those systems will we continue to have license for our continued residency in the Golden State.

What I prescribe in The California Field Atlas is a geographic literacy of this beautiful corner of the globe. The history of map making itself is about power, it is about defining what is important and graphically depicting a hierarchy of perspective based on society’s needs and wants. It is direly important that we, in twenty-first century California understand where these precious places are and how they interact in a larger context; how they interact with the basic, shaping forces that will feed us for centuries to come. It is important to say the names aloud: Siskiyou, Mojave, Santa Ynez, Ventana Wilderness. By saying the names, by having even a basic knowledge of their function in California’s wild character, we begin to equip ourselves against the unwise forces who are willing to destroy them for whatever shortsighted profit they seek.


To hear more of Obi Kaufmann’s thoughts on the human relationship with nature, be sure to order a copy of The California Field Atlas today! In addition, Obi will be embarking on a forty-city tour giving talks and attending events throughout California, starting with a kick off event right here in Berkeley. Click here to see the full list of events.




Q & A with Gary Noy, author of “Gold Rush Stories”


Since our last interview with Gary Noy, he’s presented Sierra Stories: Tales of Dreamers, Schemers, Bigots, and Rogues to dozens of audiences and picked up the Gold Medal for Best Regional Nonfiction from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I recently spoke with Gary over email about his latest book, Gold Rush Stories: 49 Tales of Seekers, Scoundrels, Loss, and Luck.

Your last book came out in 2014, and it seems like you’ve been on the road doing book talks ever since. When did you find time to write Gold Rush Stories, and how much was this book informed by your experience writing Sierra Stories?

Fortunately, I am pretty good at compartmentalizing my time so that I can juggle work, writing, and play. When I started writing Gold Rush Stories I pledged to spend about one to two hours most days researching and writing. I stuck with that plan and, as a result, the process went remarkably smoothly and, as the days and weeks passed, I was able to accumulate a sizable amount of material fairly quickly. I was also greatly helped by the amazing staff of the California State Library where I did most of my research. It is astonishing what a little discipline can accomplish.

I was very influenced by my experience in writing Sierra Stories. As I travelled around doing book events, it was often suggested that I write another book with a similar set-up and focus exclusively on the California Gold Rush. Coming from a family of gold miners and given my interest in mid-nineteenth century American history, it seemed like a perfect fit. And then, once I got into the subject more, I became increasingly excited about producing what came to be Gold Rush Stories.

Since fake news is, well, so newsworthy these days, how easy or difficult was it for you to work with the primary sources from the era?

I find the most enjoyable part of writing to be the research. It is like a treasure hunt every time you delve into the archives. So, I never found it difficult. Since my main interest in historical scholarship is the mid-to-late nineteenth century, I have had considerable experience in working with primary sources from the era. It is a mixed bag as to the quality of the materials you encounter. Newspapers and journals of the time did not make any pretense of being objective, they always had an agenda, so you constantly have to take that into account. But, when you find private letters or personal journals of participants, writings that were never intended to see the public light of day, you find a wealth of insights that reflect a truer portrait of life in the Gold Rush. I find that stuff fascinating and I have tried to incorporate as much as possible into the book. Some excerpts I used come from letters or journals that not only have never been published, they have never been transcribed. I think some letters I used had not been looked at in decades.

It seems to me that the Gold Rush can be described with any concept and its polar opposite: striking it rich/going home empty-handed; debaucherous lawlessness/the entry of California into the Union; a land of camaraderie/devastating race- and ethnic-based discrimination. How did you deal with writing all these contradictions, both in terms of how much ink you dedicated to either “side,” and how you managed the tone of the writing?

You always have to keep in the mind when writing about the Gold Rush that this enormous event was complex and constantly shapeshifting. Everywhere you turn you see rapid change and fluctuating priorities. These variations applied to large-scale endeavors and to deeply personal conversions. And often these contradictions emerged seemingly overnight within groups or individuals. Consider the transformation of Alfred Doten, who changed from a pious, teetotaling youngster into perhaps the most raucous and debauched reveler of the age—all within a matter of months. This concept applied to government, social structures, and any and all forms of economic activity. One moment a mining camp might ban drinking and swearing and the next day they would abandon mining and have a massive drunken blowout, just to raise hell.

Alfred Doten, Gold Rush diarist and ne’er-do-well.

Alfred Doten, Gold Rush diarist and ne’er-do-well.

A key word in describing the Gold Rush is “impermanence”—in large part, the miners were not there to form a lasting society, they were there to plunder anything shiny and move on or go home. This transient quality also could apply to their attitudes and behaviors. Nothing ever stayed the same for long in Gold Rush California. Contradiction was part and parcel of what made the Gold Rush tick. In addressing the issue of the inconsistencies and paradoxes, I tried to be fair and report both sides, if possible. Sometimes I would express outrage or puzzlement or bemusement, depending upon the issue, but I would always try to do so without resorting to demonizing the participants. These were human beings, flawed and fallible, not devils.

How would you compare the Gold Rush’s multiculturalism and entrepreneurship with those of modern-day California—either in the “Gold Country” or in, say, Silicon Valley? Where is the present-day analog to the California Gold Rush?

I don’t believe the Gold Rush has ever ended. There was a moment when the “rush” aspect concluded, about seven or eight years in, but the attitudes that began during the era have never disappeared and are now venerated California traits, like entrepreneurial risk-taking. The California Gold Rush was a social earthquake and we still feel the tremors to this moment. The Gold Rush transformed into other “rushes” like an agriculture rush, oil rush, technology rush, population rush; but the viewpoints detonated by this extraordinary event remained constant. It is not surprising that Silicon Valley was born in California or the dream factory of Hollywood prospered here as the Gold Rush made enduring trademarks of social and economic experimentation, innovation, cultural and intellectual diversity, and risk-taking.

In the final analysis, the Gold Rush is the story of a journey, a search, and taking a risk. This is the human story as well—but the California Gold Rush concentrated and accentuated it. In many ways, those of us who live in California are products of that complicated and endlessly fascinating moment in time.

How has writing this book changed your perception of the Gold Rush? How do you think this will change readers’ perceptions of the Gold Rush?

I always suspected that the California Gold Rush was an enormous enterprise, but I did not realize how big until I started studying it more completely. Almost overnight, California became the most culturally diverse place on earth and with that came a tsunami of change. Societal changes that took decades or even centuries in other places occurred within months during the Gold Rush. And we still feel the impact.

One aspect of the event that I found surprising and intriguing was the contradiction between racial stereotypes and personal interaction between races. For instance, there were the awful, stereotypical representations of the Chinese as a group and too many associated acts of violence, but, in many, many cases, the relationship between a single white person and a single Chinese person was friendly and even respectful. When these individuals came to know one another, or work together, they saw each other not as stereotypes, but as neighbors, friends, and partners.

I want the reader to be entertained and informed, but I also hope that there will be a realization of the complexity and enormity of the Gold Rush experience. The standard image of the Gold Rush being about an independent miner with a red flannel shirt, a mule and a gold pan is romantic but does not do justice to the remarkable diversity and intricacy of the era. My hope is that Gold Rush Stories presents that point well.

In terms of Gold Rush lore, what’s the one that got away for you?

Based upon the lyric from the famous Gold Rush song “Oh! Susanna!” I searched high and low to find a primary source reference to “I came from Alabama with a banjo on my knee.” Never found one. That is the Holy Grail I seek.

Heyday on Page 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

This holiday weekend, a feature on Heyday and Steve Wasserman ran on page A1 of the San Francisco Chronicle. If you missed it the first time around, or just want to reread, please click over to the Chronicle’s website to read it now! Here’s a snippet of the article with a link to the full piece.

Photo: James Tensuan, Special To The Chronicle

Photo: James Tensuan, Special To The Chronicle

By Steven Winn

November 24, 2016

Books weigh heavily in the life of Steve Wasserman, the new publisher and executive director of Berkeley’s Heyday Books. So much so that when he moved from Connecticut to take the job, he shipped his 14,000-pound personal library and installed it on pristine white shelves that fill most of the wall space in the company’s warren-like offices on University Avenue.

But books, as Wasserman clearly exudes, walking a visitor through his carefully devised shelving system of some 15,000 volumes, aren’t just objects of pride and possession. They mean things, signify things in a culture that can seem indifferent if not hostile to what they embody.

“Ideas matter,” he says. “Writing well is the best revenge.”

Read more at SFGate

Narda Zacchino Named Executive Editor of Heyday

Berkeley, CA. (October 4) – Heyday is pleased to announce that Narda Zacchino, former top editor at the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, has been appointed executive editor by Steve Wasserman, Heyday’s publisher and executive director. She will be based in Los Angeles and will work with both Wasserman and Gayle Wattawa, Heyday’s editorial director.

Wasserman said: “I’m thrilled that Narda Zacchino has agreed to join Heyday’s merry band. She is an extraordinary editor and gifted journalist with a keen sense of California’s delights and dilemmas. She will anchor Heyday in Southern California and deepen our statewide presence.”

Zacchino commented: “As a longtime admirer of Heyday and its founder Malcolm Margolin, I am excited about playing a role in Steve’s plans for its future, particularly in helping Heyday mine the literary gold of Southern California.”california_comeback

Narda Zacchino has been a professional journalist, writer, and editor since graduating from UCLA in 1970. Her most recent book, California Comeback: How a “Failed State” Became a Model for the Nation (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2016), was praised by historian Kevin Starr as “a fast-moving and informed tour de force of contemporary history.” She also is coauthor with Mary Tillman of Boots on the Ground, about the death of Pat Tillman by friendly fire in Afghanistan. During her 31 years at the Los Angeles Times, Zacchino worked as reporter, government and politics editor, Sacramento bureau chief, Orange County edition editor, and associate editor and vice president. She was a cocreator of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. After leaving the Times, she worked at the San Francisco Chronicle as deputy editor, as an editor for the Center for Investigative Reporting, and for The Real News Network as a consultant. She cofounded Time Capsule Press and served as its publisher and editor. She was a four-time Pulitzer Prize judge. Zacchino has helped women break barriers in the journalism world and served as a member of the Board of Directors for the International Women’s Media Foundation and Journalism and Women’s Symposium. She is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Communication Leadership and Policy.

Zacchino lives with her husband, Robert Scheer, in Los Angeles.

Q & A with John Muir Laws

LGNJcover_web800pxThe Washington Post called John Muir (Jack) Laws “a modern Audubon” for his astonishing and inspiring work as a naturalist and artist. He’s responsible for The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, and now The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling. His newest book is a magnificent, accessible, and thorough resource for new and seasoned artists—or for anyone who wishes to develop a deeper relationship with the outdoors. I spoke with Jack over the phone about his work as an educator, the process of putting together The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, and his inspired television-watching habits.

What inspired the book? Was there a specific moment you decided to embark on this project?

I’ve spent most of my life in environmental education, trying to help people connect with and fall in love with the world, and there is no activity that connects me more with the world than pulling out my journal and just dropping into that flow state next to a flower as [I] observe it and explore it on a piece of paper. Externalizing your thinking like that helps you notice so, so much more. So if, as an environmental educator, I’m trying to connect people with the world, why not try to make accessible what for me is the most effective way to go there? And that’s keeping a journal. I also have been teaching workshops all over the Bay Area for years, teaching free nature journaling workshops, and so the challenge of how to take a complex thing and explain it in a way that’s accessible is really fun for me.

In your experience, what skills are especially challenging for drawing instructors to teach? How have you approached developing a method for teaching them?

There is something that’s really challenging, and that is helping people get past and through this “I can’t do it” stage. That’s the really tough thing. Once you start doing it on a regular basis, what happens is your brain physically changes its structure around this new activity that you’re doing regularly. And you build up parts of your brain specifically for this sort of visual documentation and thinking.

But at the start, you haven’t done that for a while. It’s really intimidating. It’s threatening because, as adults, we don’t want to do something that we’re not already good at. We’re used to the idea that the reason that you draw is because you’re supposed to make a pretty picture. And if the picture doesn’t come out pretty, then the person is really frustrated and they think, “I can’t do this and it’s not fun. It must be some gift or trait I don’t have.” As opposed to approaching it with a growth mindset, where this is a skill that I don’t have right now but I can learn. And what can I do to make that happen?


Heyday seeks a Director of Development

heyday logo with tagline "into california"Heyday is an independent, nonprofit publisher and unique cultural institution whose mission is to promote awareness and celebrate California’s many cultures, landscapes, and ideas. Through beautifully crafted books, public events, and innovative outreach programs we are building a vibrant community of readers, writers, and thinkers. Heyday publishes twenty-five to thirty books a year exploring subjects related to California’s cultural and natural resources. Heyday has played a leading role in California’s cultural and literary landscape since 1974.


Heyday’s Director of Development is responsible for a program that raises approximately $1 million a year from all donated sources, including: foundation and government grants; individual and major gifts; partnerships; letter appeals; and events. This is a full-time position and reports to the Executive Director/Publisher.


The Director is responsible for identifying and securing new and ongoing sources of funding; cultivating donors and prospects; and briefing the Executive Director/Publisher and board members in preparation for meetings with donors.

The Director works closely with Heyday’s creative team of editors, writers, and artists to develop programmatic themes, identify sources of funding, and build partnerships. The focus of these projects may be: nature and the environment; Native California; art and architecture; children’s books; literature and essays; or California history. To this end, the Director attends Heyday acquisition and schedule meetings, providing expertise on funding for book projects.

The Director oversees the preparation of appeal letters, proposals, reports, and strategic planning documents, and tracks donated income to ensure the organization meets its goals. The Director also oversees gift processing and donor management, and in that role will be trained to use Heyday’s donor-management database.

The Director serves on the Heyday management committee, helping to set direction for major initiatives and reviewing annual spending plans and income projections. The Director staffs multiple board committees, including development, finance, board development, and strategic planning.

The Director reports to Heyday’s Executive Director/Publisher, supervises a Development Manager, and works closely with the Chair of the Board of Directors and the board development committee, as well as with special consultants.


The ideal candidate will have:

  • Exceptional writing and verbal communication skills
  • Five or more years’ experience in development for a cultural nonprofit, including experience with individual, foundation, and project-based funding
  • Thorough knowledge of California’s philanthropic and cultural landscapes
  • Demonstrated ability to think strategically about framing projects in ways that are attractive to a variety of donors
  • Event-planning experience

This is a full-time, salaried position, and the salary is commensurate with experience. Heyday benefits include health, dental, and vision insurance, and a savings 401K plan.

Please send a resume and cover letter to David Isaacson at

Heyday is an equal opportunity employer. We will not discriminate and we will take affirmative action against discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, gender expression, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status in any of our activities or operations.

Q & A with “The Flavors of Home” author Margit Roos-Collins

FOH2cover_web800pxThe Flavors of Home is more than a forager’s guidebook. It’s a call to adventure, a lyrical case for getting to know your home landscapes better, and a celebration of savor. As author Margit Roos-Collins puts it in her introduction: “My job is to partner with your own curious and lively spirit…and encourage you to get out there and start tasting.” First published in 1990 and now updated, her book does exactly that, laying out clear and incisive advice for both new and seasoned foragers, as well as presenting the foraging experience through an captivatingly poetic lens. I talked to Margit Roos-Collins via email about the process of writing the book, the evolution of Bay Area foraging culture, and practical tips for any beginning forager.

The first edition of The Flavors of Home came out nine years after you began working on it. What led you to begin writing the book?

I’d been working as a paralegal on a sex and race discrimination suit, and one of the plaintiffs told me she’d given herself two years to write a book about the case. She was only a few years older than me and it was like a light turning on, to know someone my age and gender who planned to just up and start writing after doing an office job. Like, “Oh, that’s an option?”

I’d taken an evening extension course on California marine biology and had learned that the fish species present in San Francisco Bay vary seasonally in response to day length and rainfall changes, even though we don’t have big temperature changes the way most of the country does. That intrigued me, coming from a strong four-season state like Tennessee. It made me curious about other peak seasonal events in the Bay Area like the winter herring run. So I decided to research and write a book about seasonal natural history here. This included writing about edible wild plants and their seasons.

Seasonal patterns in my adopted region felt like a necessary thing to learn about. Thoreau’s quote was much on my mind: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Somehow that translated in my mind to needing to know how the seasons in the sky and plant and animal life around me fit together, and to be sure that I experienced the best of them: the meteor showers, the dramatic animal migrations and courtships and childrearing displays, the spring wildflowers and the tastes of the local plants. And though I feel fairly sure now that that wasn’t what he was focused on, the quest gave me several of the great years of my life, hiking, experiencing, tasting, reading, finding experts to question, and writing it all down.

Where did you start, and what took the most time along the way?

As to plants, I began by going to every docent-talk and ranger-walk I could find to learn what the local edible plants were. I made lists of them by comparing local floras (published lists of the plants in an area) to the plants discussed in foraging books from all over the country. And then I went in search of them and tried different ways to prepare them. It all took time but the main delay was a seven-year intermission between finishing the book and seeing it published, while my husband and I went east for law school and jobs in D.C.

I was living in San Francisco during the years of writing the book. After three years of work, I had a contract for the book to be published and went off to law school, which kept calling to me and was an itch I needed to scratch. But a year later, the publisher pulled out of all natural history publishing because the market was drying up. It was the mid 80s and the zeitgeist ran more to investment banking, “Material Girl,” and Reaganism. My husband and I were in Boston then. Between finishing law school and spending a couple of years in Washington afterwards, I wasn’t back in the Bay Area full-time until 1989. At that point, I asked Malcolm to reconsider the book because Heyday had always seemed like such a good fit to me. He said the edible plant chapter was a book in its own right and Flavors was born.

This book is most immediately about the beauty of tasting, but as your prose and the drawings indicate, it seems just as equally about the beauty of seeing and touching wild plants. What’s it like for you to see people forage for the first time, people who aren’t necessarily used to interacting with wildlife in such a tangible way?

It’s very satisfying if they like what they taste. If they don’t like their first taste, then I try hard to find something else they can try on the same outing. It’s like sharing any other enthusiasm; you hope to make a match between experience and person, and when it works it’s a great feeling. I’m always grateful and honored that the ones who are new to tasting are willing to try something on my say so. When someone steps outside his or her comfort zone, you always want it to be a success, since that’s how we grow and make life rich.

Margit Roos-Collins

There’s so much relish and wit in your prose, and the book is just as much a literary pleasure as it is a gustatory one. I can open to any page and, in the midst of a description of huckleberries, find passages like: “An hour or two of picking is all we need to recapture what we came for. Which is what? Basically, it is time spent outdoors without an agenda—who cares how many berries we pick? Without deep conversation, or small talk, or any real interaction with another human bundle of desires or demands.” Which books and authors particularly influenced your writing style?

I wish I were a sufficiently conscious reader to answer this question, but I have no idea who has influenced my style. I have loved so many books on such a wide variety of subjects and in so many different voices, and I’ve had my share of those moments of being staggered by the insight and grace in an author’s prose. But I don’t recall ever thinking, “Ah. This is how a book should sound. I choose this to be my guide.”

At the beginning of the book, you cover the ethical responsibilities of foraging. For anyone reading this interview who has no previous foraging experience but wants to try: what makes a responsible forager?

Boiling down a complex and essential topic to a paragraph means I’ll leave things out, but here are the main requirements as I see them:

  • Choose species that are abundant and resilient enough to support foraging without diminishment.
  • Spread out from other foragers and other trail users so that impacts don’t get concentrated in a few spots.
  • Harvest with enough care that there’s no visible impact afterwards.
  • Choose foraging locations that are either sanctioned or tacitly accepted by the owner or land managers. When in doubt, ask about harvesting the specific species you have in mind.
  • Focus on the many edible greens and blossoms of introduced, invasive plants and on berry, nut, and mushroom picking. Leave native plant bulbs and blossoms in peace unless you have permission to try them on privately owned land.
  • Be responsible to yourself, by only tasting plants that you can identify positively and know to be edible!
  • Don’t harvest more than you will eat.

The book goes into this in more detail. Doubtless this list would look different in another couple of decades and I cringe to think about what advice I’m giving now that will seem barbaric or ignorant or woefully incomplete later. The main thing is to think about what you are doing and do it, always, in a way that seems sustainable, satisfying, and least likely to have a harmful impact. The guidance will evolve but those goals should hold up pretty well.

How have Bay Area foraging communities evolved since you first published the book? What changes have you been happiest to see? What concerns you the most?

The Internet and social networking have made it easier to find other foraging enthusiasts and create those communities, though in olden times we did eventually find each other at foraging lectures or guided hikes. I regret that some of the institutions that sponsored foraging events back then shy away from them now; I assume that the burden of liability lawyers’ warnings is what brought that loveliness to an end. What concerns me most is that recreational foraging, which tends to have a very light impact on the land and bonds people with nature, is threatened by illegal commercial foraging on the same wild lands. There seems to be more commercial-scale plant removal now that wild foods are hot menu items. That leads to land managers feeling like they have to bear down and be more restrictive with everyone, and the recreational foraging community takes the impact both in terms of reputation and in terms of reduced access to land.

Throughout the book are recipes for dishes like radish pie and elderberry syrup. What’s the next dish you want to try with wild plants? What’s been a hit with friends and family most recently?

Honestly, right now my culinary life is focused on incorporating more legumes rather than thinking about wild food recipes. But curly dock is volunteering in good quantity in the garden this year, and as soon as it’s a little bigger I plan to try it in a bean dish; as greens go, dock is tender and citrusy. Today I found shepherd’s purse in the yard for the first time and enjoyed chewing the hot seeds even as I was weeding it out; most of my foraging these days is opportunistic like that. The most recent hit was definitely the blackberry cobbler last summer.

Any special foraging advice for the 2016 warm season?

No. I’m writing this in mid-February, seeing my garden soil cracking with dryness in what’s supposed to be a big El Niño year, following four years of what I read was the biggest California drought in 1,200 years. And ours is even worse than the drought back then because the climate is hotter now. So you’d think that the berries would be all dried up and dreadful, wouldn’t you? And yet, last year, I had a great afternoon picking ripe, juicy, wild blackberries with my daughter in late summer from abundantly loaded bushes.

Clearly, the foraging experience seems to be a bit unpredictable. Maybe that unpredictability does translate into this advice: go out there and see what you find, regardless. If plants are dry and uninspiring, they are entitled to be and you need to try again in a wetter year. But no matter how much or little rain falls between now and summer, there will be species that are thriving and you will find patches that can spare a few leaves or nuts or berries to connect you with your animal inheritance.

Steve Wasserman Named Publisher/Executive Director of Heyday

SteveWassermanThe board of directors of Heyday, after an extensive search, is pleased to announce that Steve Wasserman has been named publisher and executive director of Heyday. He will succeed Malcolm Margolin, Heyday’s founder, who is retiring after 41 years of visionary leadership. Wasserman, currently executive editor-at-large for trade books at Yale University Press, will assume his new post on July 1. Until that time Heyday’s editorial director, Gayle Wattawa, will act as interim publisher, and Lindsie M. Bear, Heyday’s director of nature and environmental publishing, will serve as interim executive director.

Wasserman said: “I met Malcolm twenty years ago when I was editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review. I greatly admired his vision for Heyday and his knack for inviting nearly everyone he encountered to join him on his journey of celebration and joy and beauty. Malcolm’s passion for good books, his instinct for finding fresh voices, and his ability to inspire others in this quest have been exemplary. His shoes will be hard to fill. I’m honored to have the chance to try. I look forward to becoming Heyday’s chief cartographer as it maps the still-to-be-discovered riches of California in the years ahead.”

Wasserman, raised in Berkeley, is a graduate of University of California at Berkeley. Prior to joining Yale University Press in 2012, Wasserman was a partner at the Kneerim & Williams Literary Agency, where he represented numerous authors, including the late Christopher Hitchens, Robert Scheer, David Thomson, Linda Ronstadt, Placido Domingo, and James Fenton; editor for nine years of the Los Angeles Times Book Review and a principal architect of the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, now the largest book festival in the country; editorial director of Times Books at Random House where he helped to publish Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father; and publisher and editorial director of Hill & Wang and the Noonday Press at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Wasserman has served on both fiction and nonfiction nominating committees for the Pulitzer Prize, was a board member of the National Book Critics Circle, and a member for five years of the jury for the annual literary prizes awarded by the Commonwealth Club of California. He is a cofounder of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities at the University of Southern California and a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities. He has taught cultural criticism at the New School for Social Research, New York University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Southern California. He has also written for a wide variety of publications, including The NationThe New RepublicThe Economist, the Los Angeles Times, the Columbia Journalism Review, and the (London) Times Literary Supplement.

John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, commented: “Steve brought luster and allure to the Yale list, acquiring important books by such figures as Greil Marcus, Michael Roth, Martha Hodes, David Thomson, and David Rieff, publishing them with flair and gusto. He will continue to consult with YUP, particularly editing several key authors still to be published.”

Margolin commented: “I’m genuinely thrilled and honored that Steve Wasserman has agreed to take over as executive director and publisher of Heyday. I can’t imagine anyone with better professional skills, more depth and variety of experience, and a more impressive record of accomplishment and public service. He knows California and its many cultures with intimacy, associates easily with the best writers and deepest thinkers everywhere, and his ample playfulness and wit have always been at the service of a humane social vision. More than that, he’s great fun to be around; the world always seems so lively and full of possibility with Steve in the room. I expect that while continuing and perhaps even expanding the publishing programs Heyday has created, he will also lead us into areas more in line with his unique interests. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Q & A with “Game Changers” authors Steve Swatt, Susie Swatt, Jeff Raimundo, and Rebecca LaVally

Game Changers cover

“Californians like to walk on the political wild side.” That’s how Bruce Cain introduces Game Changers in his foreword to the 2014 California Historical Society Book Award winner, and his observation paves the way for a rollicking, epic history of more than a dozen California state elections. Full of engrossing personalities and dramatic government battles, Game Changers is equally for fans of thoroughly researched local history, insider’s political baseball, and page-turning stories. Over email, I talked with the book’s four authors–Steve Swatt, Susie Swatt, Jeff Raimundo, and Rebecca LaVally–about California’s vibrant elections and their implications for the present day.

Which political characters did you enjoy writing about most? With people like Upton Sinclair and Howard Jarvis in the story, there’s no shortage of larger-than-life figures.

Steve: While it was interesting to find nuggets about those individuals I covered – such as Ronald Reagan, Howard Jarvis and Willie Brown – I most enjoyed researching and writing about characters who pre-dated my journalism career. I learned so much about Leland Stanford’s manipulation of the state legislature and the federal government in accumulating funds for his railroad; I achieved a greater understanding of Hiram Johnson’s determined resolve to stamp out the Southern Pacific’s vise-like grip on California; and I was fascinated to learn that we can trace our modern scorched earth election strategies to a pair of innovative communicators who had been hired in 1934 to derail at all costs the gubernatorial candidacy of Upton Sinclair.

Susie: One of my favorite characters is a man that few Californians know anything about – legendary lobbyist Artie Samish. He represented the major industries – such as liquor companies, racetracks, and chemical companies – and had tremendous sway over legislators. And he spent his clients’ money to elect lawmakers who would be loyal to him. In 1934, he got even with a veteran Assemblyman who angered one of his clients. He plucked a man off of LA’s skid row, cleaned him up, bought him two new suits, ran him against the incumbent, and won!

Rebecca: Described by a Sacramento Bee reporter as an imposing, charismatic man, Earl Warren offers an intriguing paradox that still makes him endlessly fascinating. Although his Warren Court became known for its rulings on behalf of society’s most vulnerable, he actively supported interning citizens and immigrants of Japanese ancestry in 1942, the year he won his first election as governor. Warren was state attorney general then, in charge of civil defense, and thus was the state’s leading civilian advocate for the popular notion. We’ll never know whether political expediency played into his thinking. What we do know is that, within months of leaving the governor’s office to accept President Eisenhower’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, Warren wrote the momentous Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 that desegregated public schools. He had insisted it be unanimous. Warren never publicly apologized for his role in the internment, but expressed his regrets in his memoirs, published after his death.

Jeff: The Los Angeles Times and its owners clearly stand as seminal players in California’s political story. We constantly were amazed at the power the paper and the family that controlled it were able to wield over politicians and voters alike. Whether it was profiting copiously from creation of the aqueduct that drained the Owens Valley to feed SoCal’s growth or contriving facts to help defeat Socialist Upton Sinclair’s campaign for governor in 1934, the Times has had an outsized influence on California for more than a century.

The book begins by talking about the immense political power the railroads had during California’s first fifty years. Have any industries wielded a remotely comparable influence at the State Capitol since then? How do the railroad years continue to influence California politics?

Steve: We’ve certainly seen some special interests wield significant power at the Capitol, but nothing has come close to the railroad’s earlier dominance of just about every facet of commerce and politics in California. In the 1930s and 1940s, lobbyist Artie Samish represented a number of major industries (liquor, racetracks, banks, chemical companies, railroads). Spreading around his clients’ money liberally, Samish had his way with a pliant legislature. Even Governor Earl Warren conceded that on matters that affected his clients, Samish had more power than the governor. More recently, the oil industry – a major contributor to political campaigns – has flexed its muscles to defeat environmental legislation it believed would adversely affect its members. But the legacy of the Southern Pacific lives on in the direct democracy tools that Hiram Johnson and the Progressives gave us in response to SP’s domination.

Susie: Since the late 1990s, we’ve seen California’s gambling tribes become one of the most potent campaign contributors in the state – spending roughly $400 million on the political process.

Jeff: I don’t think any corporation has matched the controlling power over so many years – virtually a half century – that the railroad enjoyed. Other industries have shown great power in the Legislature since then, although not as consummately or over so long a period. Agriculture, horse racing, banking, insurance and medical industries all have been able to dominate their issues with large political donations and powerful lobbyists during particular extended periods. The railroad’s impact is felt even now, a century later, in the Progressive reforms of the initiative, referendum and recall, the stronger role of the Public Utilities Commission as well as the public’s innate distrust of large corporations. All are legacies of Stanford and the railroads.

When did the research for this book surprise you, even after a long career in California politics?

Steve: We tend to learn history by placing names and dates with particular events without understanding the political, cultural or social forces that led to those events. From the beginning of our research, I was fascinated with the fact that throughout California’s history, major political revolutions didn’t occur in a vacuum. For example, few Californians realize that the seeds of the Proposition 13 tax revolt in 1978 were actually planted in 1965 when a scandal among county assessors led the legislature to tie property tax assessments to inflation.

Rebecca: It was stunning how devoid of scruples Governor Leland Stanford and his Southern Pacific Railroad were in pursuing a Transcontinental Railroad that profited both enormously. Voters didn’t seem to mind that Stanford was simultaneously chief executive of California and president of the railroad – and used his office to advance his business interests accordingly. Southern Pacific’s grip over commerce and governance, dating directly from Stanford’s tenure, was insidious into the 20th century.

Earl Warren turned out to be a surprisingly pivotal figure in guiding California’s remarkable World War II-era boom at a time when at least the potential for graft and greed fueled by massive infusions of defense dollars could have taken the state in another direction. A lesser governor surely would have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of newcomers – at 10,000 a week, Warren likened them to starting up a small city every Monday morning. His years as U.S. chief justice have overtaken history’s memory of Warren as an especially visionary governor who embraced the anti-corruption reforms of Hiram Johnson while laying the policy groundwork for Pat Brown’s epic achievements.

Jeff: I was surprised at how constant the public’s concerns about government have remained over more than a century. Complaints about high taxes driving businesses from the state, corrupting power of money on government, the wanton political power of some corporations, the failure of local governments to adequately manage schools and crime and roads, the battle for water between haves and have-nots – all of those things motivated the 1878-1879 Constitutional Convention. All remain concerns today.

From left to right: Steve Swatt, Susie Swatt, Jeff Raimundo, Rebecca LaVally. (Photo credit: Game Changers Facebook page.)

From left to right: Steve Swatt, Susie Swatt, Jeff Raimundo, Rebecca LaVally. (Photo credit: Game Changers Facebook page.)

1934, 1980, and 2003–all of those years featured outbursts of sensationalism and excess in California election campaigns. When I read your coverage of those years, I felt like the book was hinting at something cyclical in the election system: every now and then, some unexpected upping of the ante leads to new kinds of campaign wars. When you compare election years that seem particularly crazy in hindsight, what similarities do you see?

Steve: It’s fascinating to look at how election campaigns have changed over the years – primarily by taking advantage of innovations in communications and research. Leland Stanford’s low-key campaign for governor in 1861 was still in the horse and buggy era (literally). In the final 34 days of the campaign, he traveled to 31 out-of-the-way burgs giving speeches and hoping to get some coverage in small newspapers. In the early twentieth century, newspapers still dominated political communication but had figured out that bellowing headlines in large type would attract more readers. The 1934 governor’s contest introduced all sorts of innovations – a propaganda blitzkrieg of newspaper coverage and ads, radio spots, pamphlets, posters, flyers, billboards, and newsreels in movie theaters (the anti-Sinclair campaign created phony, one-sided newsreels using actors purported to be average citizens). A generation later, television came to dominate statewide campaigns, while early computers gave rise to voter-targeted direct mail. Interestingly, it was a bit of “Back to the Future” in the Gray Davis recall campaign in 2003, as bellicose, conservative talk radio played a key role in the governor’s ouster.

Susie: Another trend is the rise in campaign costs as more expensive technology was created. California set two national records in 1998. The governor’s race (primary and general elections) was the most expensive governor’s contest in U.S. history at that time. In addition, Proposition 5 – to allow Indian tribes to engage in Nevada-style gambling – was the most expensive ballot measure in U.S. history. That year, California set all sorts of records for campaign spending – a half billion dollars on ballot measures, the legislature and statewide elections.

Jeff: You can add the constitutional election of 1879, the Progressive reforms of 1910-11, Proposition 13 in 1978 and Proposition 187 in 1994 to that list. I think the link is that advocates were able to tap into underlying voter anger or frustration. Each of those elections was laced with demagoguery and populism, whether for good or bad. All were the result of pent-up public wrath over perceived ills.

When you look back to your early careers in California politics, do you miss anything about the political process from that time? What don’t you miss?

Steve: At the Capitol, I don’t miss watching lawmakers’ time-tested practice of gutting, amending and voting on bills with little public notice or input at the end of the session. It’s a bad habit that demeans the process. From time to time, legislative leaders promise to end the practice, but it never happens. I miss the days when television stations actually covered the Capitol. At one time, major stations in Sacramento, Los Angeles and the Bay Area had reporters dedicated to Capitol coverage. Today, not a single TV reporter covers the Capitol full-time, despite the fact that people continue to rely heavily on television for their news and information. Without a vibrant press corps – including television – the public is short changed.

Susie: When I worked in legislature, we had what I considered to be some of California’s best and brightest working on public policy – both lawmakers and key staff. We were at the center of some of the state’s most interesting and important political discussions, and I relished the role I had in making public policy – whether it was helping to create a new state park or cleaning up a toxic landfill. Now in retirement, I miss the vitality of working at the Capitol. However, I don’t miss watching the politics of public policy. I’m concerned that too many policy decisions are being made for political purposes.

Rebecca: What I miss is that things used to get done in the Legislature because most legislators had lots of experience – and it takes plenty of time and experience to learn California’s complex policy issues. They knew each other, they knew the process and they had the luxury of time. State Senator Bob Presley, a Democrat from Riverside, spent years getting California’s smog-check law passed, for instance. Term limits have changed much of that. What I don’t miss is the good old boys’ network that used to pervade the building. On one hand, it was unfair that even do-nothing legislators could be reelected for decades on end. On the other, although the Legislature has become a more diverse body, more representative of the people it serves because of its steady turnover, the political skills of a Maxine Waters or Willie Brown are long gone. So, too, is the bipartisan camaraderie of those days.

Jeff: I miss the collegiality among legislators of opposing parties that could overcome partisan differences to actually get things done. Today’s rigid ideology, particularly from the right, is again leading to voter frustration. How it manifests in the near future is uncertain, but on the national stage you can see it in the support being shown to Donald Trump’ and Bernie Sanders’ renegade campaigns.

If you could go back in time to the beginning of your career and give yourself advice about California’s political system, what would you say?

Steve: Follow the money. Who is paying for the TV commercials? Who is financing the direct mail and the public relations campaigns? We can’t keep big money out of the system, but we could do a better job of disclosing in a timely fashion where the contributions are coming from.

Susie: We should remember that there are good people in public service who want to get things done for their constituents, and there are bad people who want to use the system for their own benefit. We shouldn’t paint everyone with the same broad brush.

Now that we’re approaching the 2016 election, which California ballot issues are you paying close attention to?

Steve: The one measure I am most interested in watching is the attempt to extend the temporary taxes on high wage earners that voters approved in 2012. With an influx of unanticipated revenue into the state treasury – but the recession still fresh in our minds – how will voters react?

Susie: Other hot-button issues are the referendum on the plastic bag ban, and we could see ballot measures on mandatory prison sentences, marijuana legalization, minimum wage, and gun control, where proponents are trying to qualify an initiative that would ban military-style magazines and require background checks for ammunition sales.

Rebecca: I’m interested in the proposals circulating to extend the Proposition 30 tax that Brown successfully promoted in 2012 to help balance the books for four years; that would tell us much about how voters are thinking these days. If one or more proposals to raise the minimum wage can qualify and win, despite the opposition they’re sure to receive, that will be huge, too. The fact that all qualified statewide initiatives will be going on one ballot – in November – rather than spread across the primary and general election ballots is interesting in itself. The idea behind this new law is that general elections draw a larger turnout, traditionally helping Democrat-backed proposals such as the two above. Given that the action will be in November, it’s still a bit early to judge.

Jeff: I’m watching those measures that reflect at least some frustration with the Legislature’s or the governor’s choices. The minimum wage, the renewal of the “temporary” Proposition 30 tax increase and Dino Cortopassi’s proposal to require statewide voter approval of revenue bonds in excess of $2 billion (his effort to block Gov. Brown’s tunnels to siphon Delta water to Southern California).

Q & A with “High Spirits” author J. K. Dineen

HSPIcover_web800pxWhen author/San Francisco aficionado Gary Kamiya describes a book as “a righteous pour from the top shelf,” that’s a very good sign you should add it to your bookshelf. High Spirits: The Legacy Bars of San Francisco invites readers into twenty-six joints that serve as anchors of cultural identity, offering up human connection and deep sense of place—even as the city changes before our eyes. Written by San Francisco Chronicle reporter J. K. Dineen, each profile weaves atmospheric descriptions together with the history of the site and personal stories of owners, staff, and longtime patrons. J. K. and I recently talked via email about San Francisco Heritage’s Legacy Bar program, good craic, and the research that went into crafting High Spirits.
What is a San Francisco Legacy Bar?
We started with a list of places that had been around for at least forty years and demonstrated a continuity of culture or community. It’s not just about architecture or pictures of Herb Caen or Neal Cassady framed on the wall. That stuff is cool but can be bought on eBay. We were looking for places with deep San Francisco identities, bars that have a story to tell about the city.
How do these establishments play into the larger conversation about the city’s rapidly changing neighborhoods?
Bars are just very public places—obviously even the word “pub” is derived from public house—so when a bar loses its lease, or gets priced out because of rising rents, people notice. The neon sign goes dark. The music stops. And it becomes brick-and-mortar manifestation of the unsettling change a lot of people are privately experiencing throughout the city. Maybe an example of this is the recent news that two downtown places, Dave’s and Zeke’s, are both closing. Neither is particularly historic or even especially charming. They are just ordinary bars. But in today’s San Francisco, especially downtown, there are only a few regular, unfussy, affordable drinking establishments left. So there’s a collective sense [of,] “Okay, obviously ordinary bars are vanishing. What about ordinary people? What about me?”
I was intrigued by your descriptions of your childhood experiences in country pubs in western Ireland. What does craic translate to—and can it translate into something that can be found in San Francisco’s barrooms?
I always thought the craic was a Gaelic word, but turns out it’s more like pseudo-Gaelic.  To me it’s a freewheeling sociability that elevates a room and breaks down barriers. It’s gossip, yarns, banter, music, the clicking of bottles, the tapping of toes, a healthy disregard and distain for title, professional status, or worldly responsibility. Definitely it’s found in San Francisco all over the place—Hotel Utah, La Rocca’s Corner, Specs, Mr. Bing’s, to name a few places.
Photo by Spencer Brown

Photo of Specs’ Twelve Adler Museum Café by Spencer Brown. (Click to enlarge.)

Some of the bars in book, like Vesuvio and Specs, are pretty famous and well-documented, while others like the Silver Crest Donut Shop and the Gangway are much more obscure. Was it harder to chronicle the obscure places? What were the biggest challenges you faced?
The hardest ones to write were the places I had the strongest sentiments about. Specs was challenging—as a person and a bar there is just so much material. Someone should write a book just on that place. Same with Hotel Utah and the Zam Zam. Other places, like Sam Jordan’s and La Rocca’s Corner, were tough because the regulars were justifiably suspicious of my motives. I mean [when] you work hard all day and head to your local bar for a cocktail, pretty much the last guy you want sitting next to you is a writer with a notebook and a bunch of stupid questions like “What makes this bar special?” So for some of them you have to hang out, catch a rap with some of the barroom constituents, watch a couple of innings of a Giants game, buy people a few drinks, soak up the vibe, and then kind of tip-toe into the information pool.
Photo by Spencer Brown

Photo of Sam Jordan’s Bar and Grill by Spencer Brown. Click to enlarge.


Were there places you wished you had included?
Definitely Gino and Carlo’s in North Beach. I went in there a bunch of times and talked to some of owners—Frank Rossi Jr., a few other guys—but they were always like, “The guy you need to talk to is not here…come back on a such-and-such a day.” It seemed very secretive—like trying to crack the Catholic Church. Plus Warren Hinckle wrote some columns about that place that would be impossible to beat. Also, maybe Little Shamrock in the Sunset. The 3300 Club, the 500 Club. I researched the 21 Club at Turk and Taylor in the Tenderloin, but it closed. It was sad, but not too sad because Frankie wanted to retire and he got a little money out of it. He worked seven days a week and had a bad knee. So you had to be happy for him even though the 21 is being replaced by a artisanal ice hipster joint.
What research did you do in addition to interviewing people at the bars?
I dug into city history, neighborhood history. I tried to imagine what these places were like when they opened. Who drank there? What did Haight Street feel like in the 1950s when Bruno was a kid and his family had a greasy spoon called the Pell Mell with bookies in the basement? What was going on in Butchertown in 1960 when Sam Jordan was making a name for himself as a boxer and civil rights leader? The San Francisco Library has great oral histories—listened to a lot of stuff about the Irish community in the Mission in the 30s, about runaway gays on Polk Street before the AIDS epidemic. That kind of stuff. I did dig up a lot of ephemera—menus and postcards and matches—but photographers Cindy Chew and Spencer Brown took such amazing photos we didn’t really have room in the book for other artwork.
What lesson did you learn from all of this research?
San Francisco is still the best. There is a lot of handwringing going on these days. It’s easy to be cynical. Sometimes you just have to get your nose out of your phone and go talk to some people. Go to West Portal and sit in the Philly [i.e. the Philosophers Club]. Walk up Haight Street and take a stool at the Zam Zam. Even if you don’t drink I think you will come away with a refreshed feeling that the city is still alive. Still full of characters and stories and dreamers and strivers and oddballs.
Photo by Spencer Brown

Photo of Aub Zam Zam by Spencer Brown. (Click to enlarge.)