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Sam Wo — 50 Years of Surly Service

It's a Chinese noodle restaurant on Washington Street in San Francisco. You walk in through the kitchen and go up the stairs to sit in a poorly-lit room that hasn't changed a bit since the '60s. The place is about 10 feet wide and has 3 floors above with tables. Food comes up on a dumbwaiter hand-pulled with a rope. Back then the waiter was Edsel and he was famously rude. When someone new would come in, he'd shout, "No egg foo yung, no sweet and sour..." I just looked it up on the web (http://www.fudcourt.com/samwo.html, and here's an excerpt from a fat guy who went there for the first time: "I had the bad idea of asking for sweet and sour pork and a coke. "You Retarded? No coke!! Tea Only!! No sweet and sour!! You see on menu?!! You get house special chow fun...No fork, chopstick only...What you want, fat man?" answered Edsel..."
Well Edsel died, I heard, and I hadn't been there in decades, but I started going again when I wanted to eat late at night. They stay open until 3:30 AM. Edsel isn't there, but his spirit still is. The waitress doesn't yell at you, but she mutters and manages to impart the feeling you're doing something wrong. Don't ask her any stinking questions. Europeans have found out about the place and I've heard French and other languages being spoken late at night. I wouldn't order any of the typical Chinese food (greasy), but the combination won-ton soup, for five bucks, is superb, delicately flavored, meaty, a meal in itself. I just love the city.

You Can Take the Boy Out of the City . . .

I haven't lived in the (a) city since I was 17. But I guess the roots are still there, as my pulse quickens and brain revs up when I'm out and around in San Francisco (or Manhattan, or Rome, for that matter). I've been in SF for 4 days now, and loving the variety of things to do, places to eat, intensity of contacts. We had a fantastic day yesterday at The Green Festival. Our brand-new book, The Barefoot Architect, is a huge hit. We sold over 50 copies yesterday. People love it. It's got the good vibes of its author, Dutch architect Johan van Lengen, who runs the TIBA school of building in the Brazilian jungle. It sold 200,000 copies in Spanish, is also in Portuguese, and this is the first English edition. It's now a sunny Sunday morning and I've ridden my Micro-Tek 3-wheeled push-scooter about 2 miles over to Ritual Roasters, my utter favorite coffee shop in SF with skillful baristas, great lattes, and fast wi-fi connection, getting my caffeine fix, an almond croissant, and checking the news.
I grew up here and thought the whole world was like San Francisco. Little did I know. There were 26 kids on my block, and we owned the city, traversing it on bikes, rollers skates (with metal wheels), and electric streetcars. In the '40s, the streetcars had cow catchers front and rear. The cow catchers were hinged and let down on the front end of the streetcar, and strapped up on the rear end. Our technique was to crouch down so the conducter wouldn't see us, run up and hop on the rear cowcatcher. We rode all over the city, including through the 2-mile tunnel from West Portal to Castro Street, sparks flying from the rollers on the electric wires overhead. A thrill! I still love San Francisco. No, it ain't what it used to be, but what is? It's no longer a working port (of any significance), it's expensive, the skyline is marred by the jerk-off ugly Transamerica Pyramid building, etc. But it's still got soul, and culture up the kazoo, and retains its spirit of freedom and tolerance.