Download Laurie’s take on San Francisco Old and New.
The LRK Map and Tour of San Francisco
To celebrate Laurie’s status as BoucherCon 2010 Guest of Honor, we have created the Laurie R. King Map and Tour of San Francisco. The audio portion of the tour, downloadable below, was offered to attendees of BoucherCon as a motorized cable car tour. If you were lucky enough to take one and want to revisit your experience, or if this is your first time seeing San Francisco through Laurie’s eyes, this is your chance!
View LRK Guide to San Francisco in a larger map
To download each track of the audio tour in MP3 form, click on each link below and then import them into iTunes or your favorite MP3 player. Tracks are in the order that they appeared on the tour:
Alcatraz & Ft. Baker
Legion of Honor
Headlands & Fort Barry
Cliff House & Ocean Beach
Queen Wilhemena Tulip Garden
Golden Gate Park
LRK on San Francisco
From Mystery Readers Journal, 1995.
My people come from San Francisco.
In most of the world, the statement, My people come from here or there would be nothing unusual, but in California, in the latter end of the twentieth century, it is only short of extraordinary. People do not come from San Francisco; they come to it, to visit or to live. If they did actually have the good fortune to have entered the earth here, their parents were certainly born in Massachusetts or Cambodia. Even Herb Caen, the columnist known as Mr. San Francisco, was born in Sacramento.
I once met a fifth-generation northern Californian. I looked at her blonde hair and into blue eyes that had never known any genes but Caucasian, and did not ask what her great-great grandmother’s mother was doing in the wilds of gold-rush Northern California.
My mother, Mary, was born in The City, as all good natives call it. In the days before the war, she used to take the cable car to her job at the Emporium from her apartment at the foot of Russian Hill (on which knob her daughter, fifty years later, was to place a fictional detective and her lover). Her mother, Florence, was also born in the city of St. Francis, and remembered the 1906 quake as a time of vast adventure, when the family camped out in Golden Gate Park and waited for the fires to subside.
Eighty years later, “Flossie’s” grandaughter would describe fictional homeless men and women sleeping on those same grassy stretches, and without benefit of Army tents or servants to fire up the cast-iron stove. Of course, forty years before Florence’s family cowered there, other homeless men (most of them men) lived an open-air life on the same ground, waiting for their chances at the gold fields or biding their time, in boredom and alcohol, until they could find a ship to take them back to their homes. Before them, before 1849, most of the feet that walked the rocky soil of the San Francisco peninsula belonged to explorers, to missionaries, or to men, women, and children whose people had been here for centuries.
The men-folk of my family have been a flightier lot. My own father was born in Minnesota. My mother’s father too “came out” (a rather different connotation to the phrase then), in his case around the turn of the century, when with his 18 months of college education he found himself one of the more highly educated men in Northern California. As recognition of this, he was called “Doc”, and was actually pressed into service as a medical assistant during one of the influenza epidemics, driving the doctor’s buggy into the rural communities in a vain attempt to be of help.
We called him Dick, a name I assume he was given after his last name of Dickson, and I remember him as a large, slow-moving old man with heavy hands and a repertoire of funny songs such as “Yes, we have no bananas”. I was shocked, many years later, to find that they were not his alone, but a part of a 1920s youth (judging by later remarks, a fairly wild youth, even by ’20s standards), a period that his grandaughter would later research in an attempt to breathe life into another fictional character–but that is in another country, and besides, that woman is no wench.
Dick may not have been born in The City, but he was there during the quake. In fact, had he been a quiet, law-abiding citizen like his grandaughter (yes, really!) he would have been killed at 5 o’clock that morning with all the other good citizens who were home in their beds. Not Dick: he had yet to leave an all-night poker game. He got home with the early light to find his bed lying under the remains of the brick chimney. The Doc gathered his few possessions, put them in his pockets alongside his poker winnings, and went out to see what he could do to help the rest of The City dig itself out.
And yet, it is time to confess: I have never lived in San Francisco. I have stayed nights there (the most memorable being a daring stay one street over from the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets, in the summer of 1970, when fresh out of high school I went to visit a friend who had moved there, to find her living with a man, a black man, and working as a security guard at Macy’s, watching for shiplifters. I was deliciously shocked at the sheer romance of the thing, although I don’t believe I slept my whole time there, it was so damned noisy.), but I have never lived there, certainly not on Russian Hill with Kate Martinelli and her lover Lee Cooper.
It is familiar, a place where we were taken to shop for shoes (my mother wearing gloves and stockings) and to see the animals at the zoo, to visit family (although that is so early I can remember only the memory of it) and to accompany grandparents to events such as the Ice Capades. But it is also strange territory, in some ways more foreign to me than parts of London. That is the fun of it.
A writer is told, early and often, Write What You Know. Personally, I’ve always preferred to Write What I’d Like to Know, and I find that if I am interested in a thing–that is, if it’s fresh to me–I’m more apt to write about it as a fresh thing, rather than something so familiar as to be invisible. When I write about San Francisco, it isn’t a place with dreary jobs, diabolical one-way streets, and dirty beggars; it’s a place where the foggy July air blows straight from Alaska, where sand dunes lie beneath the De Young Museum, where every time you approach the place from the south there’s a new route on the quake-ravaged freeway (the ’89 quake, that is) to excite the nerves and a new building to jolt the eye.
I visit The City, but not too often. I need it to remain, at least partly, a fictional city, a place where the observant might still see Emperor Norton, the self-proclaimed ruler of the United States and protector of Mexico, or where, listening carefully, I can hear the drawl of Sam Spade coming from a dirty second-story window. A place where Kate Martinelli retrieves her battered car from the parking lot behind the Hall of Justice on 6th Avenue, and drives away to interview the elusive Brother Erasmus.