Thursday, January 09, 2014

Photo: Sarah McClure

Reporting in the Mission District

When I first arrived in the Mission that Monday morning in September, it was still Indian summer, I was still wearing leather sandals I bought in Rome (you know, the kind you shouldn't wear as a pedestrian commuter), and I had not yet experienced many things you must know while living and working in the Mission. 

I indulged in dreamy expectations about chasing stories and morning commutes into the citysomething along the lines of Vogue editor Catherine McManus, who embarked on a daily train commute while coolly reading The New York Times on her way into the office. Catherine was the wife of JC co-founder, William McManus.

All of that was dashed in the fluorescent light and madness of the BART station on my first morning commute. You don't truly appreciate personal space until you've found yourself riding eye to eye with a stranger's groin. Or, have felt a middle-aged man's breath on you as he performs a calisthenics routine of pull-ups and leg stretches using the cabin's bars and straps. Nor had I ever inhaled MUNI exhaust, street urine, and San Franciscans' favorite brewed Four Barrel coffee—all in the same breath.

Where I once fantasized about charging up and down the city dutifully searching for "the truth," I now cursed under my breath for having to schlep 15 pounds of camera and sound equipment across the Bay Area's hilly streets.

I was a long way from Los Angeles where only this summer I had found myself sitting across from an interviewee at Buzz Coffee on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles—across the street from CBS studios where American Idol tapes. It felt a million miles away from interviewing a graffiti artist-turned-activist while you blink through marijuana smoke at Revolution CafĂ© on 22nd street.

The Mission stands uniquely on its own as a cultural nucleus of San Francisco. It is a candy store for stories—with its techie transplants, high-rises and high rents, politics and public demonstrations, and generations of working-class Latinos resisting urban eradication.

Only four months and incalculable BART rides later, would I appreciate how much the Mission has knocked me around, with good intentions, and shaped me into a better journalist.

If I left City Hall empty-handed on a quest for public records, I would return the next day for the same request, undeterred.

I no longer grow panicked at the thought of shooting alone with a DSLR, Tascam and shotgun. I still get butterflies before a shoot but now look forward to producing my own news segment. I am even building an internal checklist: double-check your ISO, replace your LAV batteries, remember to shoot an opening and closing scene, do I have that XLR connector? However, much as I've sharpened these skills, it's quite possible another part of my brain has compensated by my developing an absent-mindedness for non-reporting tasks. 

I still bemoan the day I bought a fresh cup of coffee and then promptly left it in the ladies room at Cafe La Boheme, or the afternoon I left my beloved reusable water bottle at the Vital Records office.

Interviewing people in the Mission has taught me to be bolder and try harder to get strangers to open up. It was only after spending two afternoons hanging out with eight ex-convicts at a Christmas tree lot, that they finally allowed me film an interview with them on the third day.

While my experience in the city may not be as romantic as that of Ms. McManus' reporting days, the Mission has its own beauty and romance: when someone chokes up mid-interview while sharing their meth-addicted past, or seeing every shade of orange in a downtown skyline after trudging along Dolores Park for hours hunting for pavement graffiti.

It can be romantic, but reporting on the ground is also tiring, makes you sweat, gets you grumpy, wakes you up early and keeps you out late. It’s also a place where you learn fast that the Italian sandals must go. Sensible flat boots, it turns out, are perfect for those hills.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Markets in the Mission District

Street Fashion in the Mission District, San Francisco

Photos: Sarah McClure

Japanese knife sharpening at Bernal Cutlery 

Photo: Sarah McClure

Friday, November 02, 2012

Etiquette in Echo Park

The phrase "etiquette in Los Angeles" might seem like an oxymoron ... until you got to know the locals in a friendly L.A. town, called Echo Park. 

Read the story here.