A recent Friday at 1:48 p.m.:
Shawn Patrick slipped a furry silver suit over his body. A silver monkey mask concealed his face. Suddenly, he was no longer the laid-back, homeless Southerner with a raspy laugh and a shy grin. Now he was Marzipan the Classical Guitar Jukebox Monkey, ambling with ape-like movements toward Union Square. A banana rested in the tip basket that swung from one of his arms. Passers-by seemed confused. Few made eye contact.
It wasn't until he climbed a stone pillar at the corner of Post and Powell streets that people began to understand his motivation. A sense of calmness filled the air as he strummed Bach and Mozart. His fingers moved deftly over the guitar stings as people stopped in wonder. They left tips under his banana.
Patrick, a former New Orleans resident, has been struggling to put his life back together since Hurricane Katrina tore it apart. A year ago he inherited a small sum of money, so he bought a bike and a new guitar and headed west. He arrived in San Francisco in October, his inheritance almost depleted, intending to stay a few days.
"I had just enough money to catch a train back to New Orleans or buy a monkey suit. I chose the latter," he said.
During the day he wears the $149 suit to perform; at night he wears it inside out to defend against the cold sidewalk he uses as a bed. He avoids shelters and food lines for fear that his amplifier and guitar make him a target for theft "or worse." He tries to keep his real identity separate from his monkey persona.
"I don't want people to pity me," said Patrick, who intends to stay in San Francisco until he's no longer welcome. "It turned out that I fell in love with this city."
The hear the album Marizpan go to marzipan.bandcamp.com/# vimeo.com/41624731 Uploaded 2,351 Plays 1 Like 0 Comments
A recent Monday 11:19 a.m.:
For 16 years, Bryant Bolling, a.k.a. "Mr. B," has walked the streets of San Francisco between the Powell Street cable car turnaround and Fisherman's Wharf, singing songs for paying customers. Mr. B, 57, calls himself a bard and troubadour, and like a professional salesman, he knows willing customers when he sees them.
On this day, those customers included a tourist couple in Chinatown trying to decipher a map, relaxed patrons outside a North Beach cafe and a youth group by the wharf. Wearing his signature three-piece suit, bow tie and brightly colored hat, he approached each of them in a faux British accent that he says puts people as ease.
"Good day, family. I'm Mr. B, the singing busker," he said, promising to sing anything they desire. Often he resorts to the classics like "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" or "Fly Me to the Moon," but he brags that he can do songs in Hebrew and Spanish if that should that suit your tastes. Mr. B keeps a smile on his face whether the answer is yea or nay.
The street-singing idea started as a part-time distraction from the challenges of a career in social work. Then he retired last year after 27 years of service and turned singing into his primary source of income. "It's now or never. I decided I should work full-time as a professional singer. This is all part of the dream," he said.# vimeo.com/41185875 Uploaded 2,592 Plays 8 Likes 1 Comment
A recent Thursday at 11:52 a.m.:
Inside his Tenderloin shop, Allied Engine Auto Repair, Paul Grech, 68, methodically worked to repair a leaky oil line on his beloved 1936 Ford pickup as his 86-year-old father, Frank Grech, watched.
"It's the light of my life. I can't wait to get up in the morning to drive it," Paul Grech said.
He remembers going with his dad to buy the truck when he was just 12 years old in 1955. After only four years, the father gave the truck to his son, who had just received his driver's license. It was the gift of a lifetime - whether or not Paul Grech knew it at the time was a different story.
He spent countless hours tinkering with the vehicle. He learned to repair it and even put in a new engine.
"I was a lonely teenager, but that truck was my buddy," Grech said.
Eventually his interests moved on to other cars, and he sold the truck to his sister. He married, had a family of his own and opened Allied. Then a few years ago, with a little nudging from his wife when a penny stock hit big, Grech bought the car back from his sister. She had barely driven it, keeping it in her garage for 40 years. After 13 months of labor and love, and more money than expected, Grech ended up with a hot rod that he says makes BMW drivers cry as he passes them on the highway.
"It's just fun to drive. It's like being on a surfboard on a 150-foot wave." Paul said he's lucky to have been given so much in life and credits much of his success to lessons learned from his dad.
"Thanks for the truck," said the son to his father.
To see a multimedia production of this piece, go to blog.sfgate.com/cityexposed. If you have ideas for the City Exposed, e-mail Mike Kepka at firstname.lastname@example.org.# vimeo.com/39512997 Uploaded 2,318 Plays 15 Likes 4 Comments
A recent Thursday at 10:23 a.m.: In the basement of Arion Press, ?where they still print books the old-fashioned way, Lewis Mitchell slid open a box of parts used to change the font size on the Monotype ?casting machines he has maintained for 62 years. “I thoroughly enjoy the sound of the machines turning, and seeing the type come out is a joy,” Mitchell said. He can tell by the sound of the moving springs and levers if something is awry with his machines — a skill he said all good technicians should have. Four different owners have run the business since Mitchell walked through the doors at age 18, and he has had several opportunities to leave, including a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that he declined. Now 80, Mitchell can’t imagine retiring from the job he loves so much. When Mitchell started making this kind of type, it was really the only way to print things, and now he doesn’t know how many books he’s helped print over the decades. There were once type-casting operations in most major U.S. cities, but now the practice is almost extinct. There are only two companies left in the world that cast type for printing presses, and Arion is by far the largest. Mitchell has four grown children and nine grandchildren, but he calls the 20 type-casting machines his “babies.” “I treat them with kindness. I don’t use a hammer on them or an oversized screwdriver.” The first machine, which started the company during 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, ?is still its best machine — proof that Mitchell’s methods work. “My dad taught me from square one if you going to do something, you’re going to do it right or you don’t do it.”# vimeo.com/39920031 Uploaded 15.7K Plays 342 Likes 16 Comments
A recent Friday at 10:21 a.m.: On a Mission District block that's surrounded taquerias and colorful murals, Rabbi Noa Kushner kissed her own hand and touched the mezuzah she had just installed on the door frame of the Mission's first Jewish deli. The owners of Wise Sons Delicatessen, Leo Beckerman and Evan Bloom, invited Kushner to hang the mezuzah at the opening of their restaurant because they were excited to tell the neighborhood who they are. "It's important for everyone to know it's a Jewish home. It's a Jewish restaurant," Bloom said. The mezuzah, which holds a small, handwritten scroll of quotes from the Torah, could fit in the palm of your hand, but its meaning is much larger. "The custom is to kiss your hand and touch the mezuzah as a way of reminding yourself: When I walk into this room, I want to bring holiness," the rabbi said. "This is before iPhone alarms. This is before Post-its. It's literally this teeny, tiny reminder." After the brief ceremony, the line spilled onto the sidewalk with customers anxious to get their hands on a loaf of challah before it sold out. It soon did. "I don't think the actual box is going to bring anything. It's more of a reflection of who are. ... It's a community, a family, a place where we hope everybody comes and feels comfortable and enjoys good food," Beckerman said.
To see a multimedia production of this piece, go to sfgate.com/cityexposed. If you have ideas for the City Exposed, e-mail Mike Kepka at email@example.com.# vimeo.com/37835031 Uploaded 314 Plays 3 Likes 2 Comments
The City Exposed by Mike Kepka
In a true one-man-band style of reporting and production, Mike Kepka creates a weekly photo/multimedia column for the San Francisco Chronicle which celebrates quirky San Francisco.
Browse This Channel
More stuff from “The City Exposed by Mike Kepka”
Heads up: the shoutbox will be retiring soon. It’s tired of working, and can’t wait to relax. You can still send a message to the channel owner, though!