Archive for September, 2010


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

10:30 p.m.

A fatal car accident has shut down lanes in both directions of U.S. 101 between Sausalito and Marin City.

A police officer confirmed that the driver had been ejected from the vehicle. According to the officer, the victim’s body was “in about 10 pieces.” The driver was apparently struck by other vehicles after being ejected, but it could not initially be confirmed.

Police and firefighters on the scene appeared to be looking for body parts in the bushes near the roadway, as well as a small canal near the shoulder.

Another person at the scene claimed that he heard on a police radio scanner that rescue crews were still looking for the victim’s head.

The single car crash occurred when a southbound gold Lexus sport utility vehicle apparently lost control and flipped over the center divider, ending up on its side in the northbound lane.

A fire fighter searching for remains of the victim. Photo by Shaun Goo

The Lexus SUV came to rest in the northbound lanes of the 101 freeway. Photo by Shaun Goo

The Lexus sitting in the northbound lane after being righted by a tow truck. Photo by Shaun Goo.

Chili Cook-Off provides free booze and mediocre food.

It doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine that most of Sausalito’s 7000 or so residents probably didn’t attend San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair. But luckily for them, Sausalito provided it’s own, much tamer event.

The 32nd annual Sausalito Chili Cook-Off took place Sunday, and saw 16 different competitors each vying for the coveted first place. At least that was the theory. In reality, the Cook-Off was a mix of actual teams competing, and various community groups that, while still making chili, were really just there to promote their own agenda.

Smaller than expected, but the setting was beatiful

For example, three different candidates for Sausalito City Council were there, each competing with their own chili, but more importantly, each was also shaking hands and meeting potential voters. “You want the pin, you gotta shake the man’s hand,” the staffer and Councilman Herb Weiner’s booth told me.” Weiner’s pins, which cleverly read “I like Herb” were some of the most popular. His chili, on the other hand, was merely ok.

Not surprisingly, the "I like Herb" pins were popular

Merely ok, though, meant that his chili was actually better than a lot of the competition’s. For a chili-cookoff, the chili was the biggest disappointment.  Competitors were allowed to start cooking at 8:00 a.m., but even so, when the tasting started at 11:30, many chili’s seemed undercooked and under-flavored. Some had beans that were still raw, many other lacked the necessary spices and thickness that should separate chile from meat soup.

Ten dollars got you a wrist band good for unlimited chile, as well as a bag of beans used to vote for the chili you thought was best. But more importantly, the beans could be bartered for alcohol at several of the booths. Perhaps it was the team’s way of trying to win despite lousy chili, but whatever the reason, it worked. I was able to trade my beans for two shots and several small margaritas. Ethical? Perhaps not, but it made the festival a lot better.

These beans could be used to vote for your favorite chile. But more importantly, they could be bartered for alcohol

Those booths that didn’t barter beans for alcohol tried other methods. One booth, by Bay Cities Refuse, looked like the back of a garbage truck, complete with working tail lights and horn. Another, Rock Till You Drop, featured middle-aged women dancing along to songs from Grease. At least more people watched them than the band.

These woman chose to put their time into learning inane dance routines, rather than cooking chili.

In truth, without alcohol, there would have been little point to attending. For one, it was hot–which would normally be ideal for an outdoor festival–but eating hot and spicy chili in the hot and burning sun is not the funnest thing. Even worse, most of the tables set up didn’t have umbrellas, so shade was in short supply. Luckily, if you’d already voted with all your beans and still didn’t have enough alcohol, beer was a very-reasonable-for-sausalito $5.00.

For those poor people who needed to remain sober, sodas were only $1.00.

All in all, though the festival was smaller than the giant banner hanging over Bridgeway would lead you to believe. According to one competitor, two years ago, there were twice as many booths.

Still, though, $10 for unlimited chili, some free booze and decent music is not bad. In Sausalito, you could do a lot worse.

Go across the Golden Gate Bridge on any given day, and you’ll see the fleets of ferries shuttling tourists around San Francisco Bay. These boats take tourists to all the regular must-see bay attractions–Alcatraz, Angel Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, and of course, Sausalito.

The Sausalito ferry dock is a simple affair, shared by both ferry companies. The boat tied up in this picture is the San Francisco, the ferry we took is her sister ship, Marin.

The Sausalito waterfront is served by two different ferry lines. The first, Blue and Gold Fleet, is aimed squarely at tourtists. But I was interested in the other ferry service. The public one, that’s aimed at commuters, not tourists. I set out to see whether the Golden Gate Ferry is a practical way of getting to San Francisco, or if it was just another Marin County gimmick.

The ferry is operated by the Golden Gate Transportation District, which also operates buses all over the North Bay.

The first thing that struck me was just how expensive the ferry is. An adult one-way fare is $8.25, and there’s no discount for purchasing a round trip ticket. Regular commuters will want a clipper card, the Bay Area’s “All in one transit card,” according the its Web site. With a clipper card, the fare is reduced to $4.40 each way. Complete fare prices are available here.

But of course, this being Sausalito, there are hidden costs as well, namely parking. Although there is a large parking lot right by the ferry dock in downtown Sausalito, it’s costs a staggering $3.00 per hour. Not too bad if you’re just shopping for the day, but over the course of an 8-hour workday, that’s over $25 a day, once the transit time of the ferry is taken into account.

Finally, it was time to get on the ferry. Except that it wasn’t. As we were walking down the dock, we all had to wait again, because apparently the boat hadn’t been “cleared” yet. After standing in limbo on the dock for a few minutes, “All clear” crackled over the unfriendly dock guy’s radio, and he let us continue.

The first step once on the boat was to buy a ticket, which would have been easier if the ticket lady had been more friendly. As passengers came aboard and went to the ticket counter, the woman would simply reply “I’ll be open in 10 minutes,” without even looking up. She said it over and over again to anyone who would listen. One passenger even asked if he was on the right boat. The answer he got? “I’ll be open in 10 minutes.”

Finally, with tickets purchased, we were underway. The boat itself was very nice on the inside, there’s even a small snack counter that sells alcoholic drinks as well, should you be inclined to booze it up en route to the office.

But the passengers on my boat we’re not en route the the office. Granted, it was 2:00 p.m. on a Monday. Overwhelmingly, they were tourists. Outside on the bow, everyone snapped pictures of pretty much anything they could aim their cameras at. Our captain even slowed down as the boat passed Alcatraz–a nice touch for tourists, but probably annoying if I was trying to commute to work.

But the sights are definitely worth seeing. The short ride gives great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the Bay Bridge, not to mention all the yachts and working boats the constantly crowd the bay.

The San Francisco skyline. When you see this view, you've made it.

Alcatraz Island. Our captain slowed down for the photo op.

Alcatraz island. Our captain slowed the boat down for the photo op.

The Golden Gate Bridge, looking West toward the Pacific.

A short 20 minutes later and we were disembarking at the Ferry Building in downtown San Francisco. And in my case, getting right back on the boat.

The return trip was very different. For one, there was actually a commuter this time! While he wouldn’t speak on the record due to his large company’s media policy, he said that he appreciates not having to drive. It’s more about being able to relax with his cup of coffee on the boat then fight it out in traffic, he said.

The other big difference was that on the return trip, we were heading more-or-less upwind, and the ride was wet, windy, and cold if you stood outside. A few tourists braved the outdoors at first, but eventually moved to the warm comfort of the cabin. As someone who’s sailed boats since I was a kid, I didn’t get seasick, but I would imagine that it’s a real possibility for those with weaker stomachs.

This man, a visiting tourist, braved the winds and spray to get his photo. His kids, right, headed for the warmth of the cabin shortly after this picture was taken.

The verdict? For a few people, the ferry is probably an efficient way to get to work. If you work in downtown San Francisco and live in Sausalito–within walking distance of the ferry–then it really could be cheaper and faster than driving to (and parking in) San Francisco.

But for everyone else, it’s just not practical. The parking in Sausalito is too expensive, and unless you’re going to downtown San Francisco, you’ll have to link up with Muni in the city to finish your journey.

In short, then, ride the ferry with your friends when they’re in town, and take the bus or your car if you’re trying to get something done. But, if you’re an avid biker, by all means take the ferry–there’s a bike parking area inside the boat, and bikes ride for free.

The aft area of the lower deck is reserved for bicycles. It's just was well--the ships engines are right behind it, and it's loud.

Note: There weren’t any big events in Sausalito last weekend, but stay tuned. Sunday September 26th is the Chili Cook Off, and Sunday October 3rd is the Sausalito Classic Car Show. We’ll be there, just in case you can’t make it.

Life aboard a live aboard

Sausalito is well-known for its famous houseboats—you know, the ones that look like eccentric regular homes, but floating on a concrete barge. But there are other ways to live, literally, on the water in Sausalito as well. One of the more common options is to “live aboard.” More specifically, it means to live on a yacht or boat—usually tied up at a marina, but occasionally “anchored out” offshore. Unlike the posh houseboats, these live aboards are just regular boats that serve not only as a vehicle, but a home as well. Sometimes these boats can move under their own power, others haven’t moved in years and are exclusively used as dwellings.

Gidion Butler is a 20-year-old community college student who lives on an old Japanese trawler tied up in Sausalito. He was kind enough to share some of the down-and-dirty realities of living on a moored boat. Click below for his thoughts

No affordable taquerias in Sausalito

Sausalito has a reputation for great restaurants and fine dining, which is all well and good—if you’re loaded and can afford it. But as a student on a budget, I much prefer the quick, easy, and relatively healthy option of a good taqueria. So I was justifiably disappointed when I moved to Sausalito from San Rafael and had to give up my old favorites. But, in the spirit of optimism, I’ve decided to give a chance to every Mexican food joint nearby—some with better results than others.

Sausalito Taco Shop is the only Mexican food option in the town of Sausalito, and as you would expect, it’s on the pricy side. Their menu optimistically states “No need for a plane ticket—Mexico is right here…” But after eating there only a few times, you’d probably spend enough money to have gone to Mexico several times over. A big burrito costs nearly $12, well above the typical college student’s budget. Even worse, the quantities aren’t terribly big. “When I go to a taqueria, I want lots of food for not much money,” my housemate complained. “So this place fails on two fronts.”

Sausalito Taco Shop

Sausalito Taco Shop--as pricy as expected

So with the only option in Sausalito a no-go, it was time to move on to the neighboring town of Mill Valley. The first stop was High Tech Burrito, a Ronhert Park, Calif. based chain with 14 restaurants around the Bay Area. While it may be a chain, the stores do live up to their “Fast, Fresh, Made Your Way” slogan. They also offer a number of vegetarian and vegan options. While it’s hard to find fault with the local Mill Valley restaurant, like all chain restaurants, it’s missing some of the charm that individually owned taquerias have. But the food was excellent, and reasonably priced.

High Tech Burrito

High Tech Burrito was the ultimate winner, despite being a chain restaurant

If chain restaurants aren’t your thing, then check out Lucinda’s Mexican Food To Go, only a stone’s throw from High Tech Burrito. This is probably the closest thing to an authentic feeling taqueria anywhere near Sausalito–and even so, it had a distinct upper-class feeling. While the burritos appear cheap on the menu, it’s really an illusion–a basic burrito is just that: Basic. By the time all the goodies have been added, the price is nearing the dreaded $10 cut-off. And the burrito was just ok, not brilliant.

Lucinda's Mexican Food to Go

Lucinda's Mexican Food to Go was solidly middle-of-the-road, but on the pricier side

Things were getting desperate now. I’d yet to find a suitable taqueria that was cheap, filling, and tasty. Heading up the road into Mill Valley, the last real option was Joe’s Taco Lounge. Joe’s is similar to Sausalito Taco Shop: classier than your typical Mission-style taqueria, but not a sit-down restaurant either. But at least the burritos were reasonably priced, although again, be careful with what you add-on, as you can run the price up quickly with the usual extras like sour cream and guacamole.

Joe's Taco Lounge

Joe's Taco Lounge was definitely the runner-up

So, without an adequate replacement for my old favorite—Taqueria Mi Familia in San Rafael—I headed home, passing one last tempting option on the way. Good old Taco Bell. While this does fulfill the “cheap” and “filling” part of the test, it also fails the “tasty” section. In fact, it would be better described as “gross.”

Taco Bell

Taco Bell is always there and always open--but it's a new level of desperation

After all the searching, I was back at home where I’d started. In short, none of the places are bad, but none stood out as a regular spot for a grabbing a quick meal on the way home either. San Rafael definitely has Sausalito beat in that respect.

But if I had to pick a winner, it would have to be High Tech Burrito, despite being a chain, it offered the best combination of taste, price, and quantity.

Test Criteria: From each taqueria, I sampled a chicken burrito. The results are my opinion, not a conclusive test. If you know of a taqueria near Sausalito that I missed, by all means, leave a comment and I’ll check it out.

Sausalito Art Festival is an expensive labor day tradition

Sausalito’s 58th annual art festival took place over Labor Day weekend, bringing together artists from as far away as Wisconsin, Seattle and Los Angeles. It was, in a word, expensive.

Just to get into the festival cost 20 dollars a day—although if for some reason you wanted to be there all weekend, 30 dollar, three day passes were also available. But the entry fee wasn’t even the worst part. On top of that, if you drove to the festival, you’d have the to pay five dollars to park far away and take a less-than-lovely stroll through the industrial waterfront. If you wanted to impress your date, you could opt to pay a whopping ten dollars to park closer to the festival.

All this parking drama would make sense in San Francisco, where parking is at a premium. But parking in Sausalito is usually not a problem. But in order to pump up revenue from the event (or maybe to appease the natives who don’t want cars in their neighborhoods) signs like this were posted everywhere you’d normally be able to park:

NO PARKING!

These were all over Sausalito

If you were smart enough to ride your bike there, rest assured that you wouldn’t have to park it yourself—such hard labor is not fit for the posh attendees. Instead, the Marin Bicycle Coalition operated a bicycle valet parking service, which is basically a fancy way of saying that they’d take your bike and line it up next to a bunch of other ones behind a fence. But still, it seemed to be a popular service.

Valet bicycle parking was provided by the Marin County Bicycle Coalition

Once inside the festival, one thing stood out: The uniformity of the crowd. Without getting offensive, let’s just say that this was not the most diverse crowd I’ve encountered. Overwhelmingly middle-aged or older, dressed in collared shirts and expensive looking summer dresses, they typified the Sausalito you’d imagine.

There was one standout, however. The art was excellent. Amazing, in fact. And it had better be, given how much it cost. Pieces selling for 10,000 dollars were commonplace. And it was expensive for the artists too. Metal sculptor Holly Rodes Smithey had made the trip to Sausalito from Bend, Oregon. She wouldn’t say how much her booth cost, but “it’s expensive,” she said. “It’s always a gamble, but we’ve sold a few pieces.” Still, she wasn’t sure she’d be back next year.

The art ranged from the typical paintings and blown-up photographs on canvas to the more creative, like artist Marc Sjan’s unnervingly realistic statues, and Scott and Naomi Schoenherr’s cute and original, hand painted ceramic hot rods. I asked Scott Schoenherr how often he was able to sell a 1,200 dollar ceramic car. “Uh…yeah…” he replied. “Not much of a market, but you know…” At that price, you don’t need to sell many to make it worth your while.

Marc Sijan's sculptures are sometimes more realistic then you'd like.

There were other things to do too, just in case the art got to be too much: You could eat. And drink. But you’d better have a fat wallet. Fish and chips was nine dollars, and a glass of champagne was 8 dollars. There was also a selection of beers and other food, but none of it was cheap.

Simply put, the Sausalito Art Festival is aimed at a different demographic: Rich. My roommate literally overheard one man commenting on the price of the tickets. “It keeps the rabble out,” he allegedly said. To this demographic, the show was a roaring success. The art was beautiful, and I’m sure the food and wine was delicious. And you could always bid on an Aston Martin in the silent auction.

If you didn't feel like buying art, you could always bid on this Aston Martin Rapide instead.

But for the younger and poorer residents of Sausalito? Well, on Monday, there was a concert and picnic in Marin City, right across the freeway from Sausalito. It was free.

Who Covers Sausalito?

Let’s get one thing straight: Sausalito is hardly a place that generates hard-hitting, action-packed news. Just one look at the police report is enough to show the serious dangers of the Sausalito streets. The report is compiled by the Sausalito Marin Scope, Sausalito’s weekly neighborhood newspaper.

For example, (this is real) “Suspicious Circumstance: Bridgeway. Initially thought to be domestic violence — male subject was holding a woman in a vehicle — but it was determined to have no merit. Subjects were praying inside the vehicle, causing the windows to fog up.”

The Sausalito Marin Scope is a good source of news for Sausalito, despite the fact that it’s published only once a week. While it’s far from the New York Times, it is a good neighborhood paper. For more regular news, the Marin Independent Journal is published daily, but covers all of Marin County. It does have stories from Sausalito though, like this profile of a new boatyard on the waterfront.

There is one radio station broadcasting from Sausalito. Radio Sausalito 1610 AM plays “foot stompin’ jazz,” but also has segments of neighborhood news. The news segments are also available online.

The blogoshpere seems to largely ignore Sausalito. There is Our Sausalito, a blog that seems to be aimed mostly at visitors. Although it’s not updated regularly, it includes almost all the information you need to know about Sausalito, everything from places to eat and stay to ATM locations. There is also the blog Sausalito Loves You, which is appears to be one woman’s thoughts on Sausalito–it almost looks like a twitter feed.

Even though Sausalito is lacking the hyper-local blogs typical of many San Francisco neighborhoods, it is nonetheless the kind of neighborhood that lends itself to local blog coverage. There is a strong sense of pride from many Sausalito residents, both those who have grown up in the town, and the fresh-from-San-Francisco immigrants. Either way, the curious, affluent-artsy community needs more coverage. No matter how rich the residents are, they still need their news.