Frank Calegari at 94 : “Something New To Learn Every Day”Frank Calegari

Lake Merced area resident Frank Calegari turned 94 this past April 18. Pacific Rod and Gun Club member Fred Tautenhahn thought the Westside Observer would appreciate a mention about Calegari’s life. “How often do you meet someone at his age that is so enthusiastic about technology and about life,” said Tautenhahn.

Calegari has a Samsung 4-G Smartphone and “it does everything,” he said. Calegari prides himself on the fact that he knows every one of his 100 or so contacts. “I know them all personally,” he told the Westside Observer. “It takes me a couple of hours each day to go through my emails.” But Calegari enjoys keeping in contact. Even though he takes life “day by day” in his ninth decade of life, he affirms that there is something new to learn every day.

He is fascinated by the technology that is available today. “People really don’t realize what a marvel it is. I like to ‘Google’—you just type in a subject or a question and up pops an answer—it’s amazing! Everything is in my pocket with a Smartphone.” While he likes using the technology, he is not much of fan of the social networking sites like Facebook. “That is really best for business—I have nothing against it,” he said. “I much rather people contact me directly.”

He is fascinated by the technology that is available today. “People really don’t realize what a marvel it is. I like to ‘Google’—you just type in a subject or a question and up pops an answer—it’s amazing! Everything is in my pocket with a Smartphone.”

Calegari lives within walking distance of the Olympic Club in the same house he and his wife Alice bought in 1954. “This house I purchased with the G.I. Bill,” said Calegari. “Alice passed on a few years ago—lots of happy memories as we were married for 68 years. This is why it is important to keep in contact with friends.” In addition to lunching and playing golf at the Olympic Club, Calegari likes to eat at Lakeside Cafe and stroll a bit at Lakeside Village on Ocean Ave between 19th Ave and Junipero Serra Blvd. “My wife liked the cakes at Ambrosia Bakery,” he said.

“I see Frank at the club every week,” said Attilio Mossi. He and his wife, McGuire Real Estate realtor Leanna Mossi, have lived in the Lake Merced/Lakeshore Acres area for decades. “When I see Frank I call him ‘Paladini’ and he calls me ‘Til’ (short for Attilio),” he said. “Paladini comes from the Latin, way back from ancient Roman days and it can be translated as ‘great one, or honored one’.”

Like the Mossi’s, Calegari is a native San Franciscan and together they are among the remaining few that recollect “the old neighborhood - North Beach and the Marina.” Not to say they don’t appreciate Lake Merced and West Portal, for they do very much. Yet those memories of days in North Beach and the Marina growing up and first married are cherished.

“I was born in North Beach,” said Calegari. “My grandfather and family survived the Earthquake and Fire of 1906.” He is proud to have been born on the April 18 anniversary. He credits some his longevity to that pioneer and survivor spirit of his grandparents and ancestors. “Many of the Italians who immigrated to San Francisco were from Genoa, like my grandfather,” said Calegari. Italians from Genoa at that time, according to Calegari, were tradesmen, shoemakers, and bakers, and many were farmers.

“Yes, that’s true many of the Italians were from Genoa or from Tuscany,” said Leanna Mossi. And, both she and Til said, Sicily was another place from which many immigrated. Calegari is proud of the fact that, even though his grandfather lost everything in ’06, “he restored his fortune by baking bread with one of the few working kitchens in the City.” It’s that persevering determination that Calegari admired about his grandparents.

While San Francisco attracted people from literally everywhere on the globe, neighborhoods like North Beach and the Marina were like little hometowns, and Calegari and the Mossi’s are thankful to have had the blessing to grow up there.

“It was a different time then,” said Calegari. “People today don’t know that just after World War II, prosperity did not happen right away, it took some time. I remember Union Street then as being an economically depressed area—there were lots of vacant shops, not much business,” said Calegari. After serving in WWII as a combat medic with the U.S. Army, Calegari worked at the Horseshoe Restaurant on Chestnut Street, working his way to manager. “But I quit because of the long hours and it was not fair to Alice,” he said.

Shortly after that, Calegari found work in his uncle’s meat market on Green Street near Fillmore. His uncle trained him as a butcher and, eager to open a shop of his own, he found a spot on Union Street near Steiner at the Modern Meat Mart. “The man who owned the little grocery store needed a butcher, because the butcher he had wanted to retire,” said Calegari. With only $600.00, Calegari set up his own butcher shop and eventually bought out the entire grocery store, owning it and operating it himself.

“Supermarkets had not been established like we know them today,” said Lynn King, a native San Franciscan who recalls those days. “Each neighborhood had their own market. They were the ‘mom and pop’ type places,” she said. Leanna Mossi explained, “everyone had their favorite butcher shop where people got all their meat and poultry.” Calegari sold the shop and the grocery store when he retired in 1978. “That is what afforded me to join the Olympic Club,” he said.

“I don’t think I would be here today if it were not for my friends at the Olympic Club,” said Calegari. He noted that he has lived an ordinary life that has been very blessed. When asked if he had any advice or words of wisdom to share, he said, “keep busy, make friends and play golf. As you get older, golf is one of the few sports you can play when you’re 94 years old.”

Jonathan Farrell is a San Francisco free lance reporter. jonathan@westsideobserver.com

May 2012

Two Tough Little Dogs Survive Attack of Two Hungry Coyotes Simone and Xena

Two small dogs were attacked by coyotes in Glen Park at around 10 am on Thursday, October 20. The dogs ran away in two different directions, pursued by the coyotes, which also split up. One of the dogs, Simone, a wiry-haired 20 pound girl was recovered several hours later at a friend's house, but the other, Xena, an all-black, 25 pound girl with pointy ears wearing a bright red collar seems to have taken a tour of the City and finally was recovered two and a half days later.

Jean Butler was walking her dogs in Glen Canyon Park, a few blocks from her house. "Out of nowhere my two dogs were ambushed by the coyotes," she said. "One ran down the hill after Xena," a very shy rescued Formosan Mountain dog from Taiwan." The other chased Simone, who is smaller than Xena, up the hill. Simone and the other coyote disappeared.

Jean chased the coyote pursuing Xena down the hill, yelling loudly and successfully chased it away. Assuming Xena was safe, she turned her attention to Simone. "Against my better jugement I turned and went in the other direction. This proved to be fruitless, not least because I was exhausted from racing after Xena's attacker, but I had heavy hiking boots on, and we're talking about a very steep hill." Simone, who is as fast as a greyhound, ran for her life that day and escaped, but Xena ran too and they both took off out of the park and were lost.

"I missed finding Xena several times despite sightings of neighbors and passers-by." Simone was found up at the top of another hill above their house after three or four hours. But Xena was gone. "Simone and I hiked inside and outside the park for hours. We went up to Diamond Heights and searched some more. I must have hiked easily 20 miles that day and 20 miles the next. My friends helped look. We put notices in neighborhood listserves, put something on craigslist, posters everywhere she'd been spotted and called Animal Care and Control." Animal Care and Control was helpful, "the guy helping me must have called me four times in one day with tips he got," she said. "I spent a very sleepless night worrying about where she could be and whether she was anywhere the coyotes could get her, never mind get hit by a car."

But all those things helped, especially the fact that she was wearing a bright red harness that was unmistakable. "A woman called me on Friday morning to say she'd just seen Xena walking down the middle of Market Street —two lanes of fast traffic— going against traffic towards Clayton possibly towards the Haight Ashbury. I raced over there with Simone and spent many hours walking, driving, calling. Nothing. Then in the afternoon a dog walker called to say she had just talked to another dog walker who saw her in the parking lot of the Randall Museum—she had turned east away from the Haight—naturally I had gone west looking for her. I went over there and searched and searched, but Xena had clearly gone. I drove down the street and in despair realized that she could only have headed for the Castro and the busiest section of Market Street. I could not possibly imagine her making it across the street, or not freaking out being around all those people, all of whom scared her.

But somehow Xena did make it back across Market Street. She headed up Church and went to Dolores Park. "I got a call from the ACC officer that she'd been spotted there in the park. I got there—nothing." By this time it was 6:00 PM and Jean and Brian were worried that it would soon be dark. At least she seemed to be heading in the right direction towards home.

"Then at 3:30 in the morning we got a call from a woman that had—minutes before —seen Xena walking down the middle of Dolores Street. We raced down there in two cars." Simone, was by now very depressed and walking in circles in the back yard. "Brian drove up and down every street calling her and Simone and I walked two miles to the park at 4 in the morning, putting down a scent trail that she might be able to use."

Then it happened. "Just as I reached the park, Brian called. He had found her. Xena had moved steadily in the right direction towards home. "He was hysterical, crying, and Xena was so happy to see him," she did not walk, but crawled on her belly over to him.

"It was an amazing community response," said Brian, "calls came in every few hours. We were touched by how many people were concerned, San Francisco never fails. Everybody watches out for everyone, it doesn't matter who you are, black or white, gay, Asian, it doesn't matter, people care. It's why we love this City."

Doug Comstock, feedback: editor@westsideobserver.com

November 2011

 

Life on the Line

A Muni driver talks about driving and politics

Muni bus driver Howard Nelson has hazy memories of the drivers’ strike in 1976. He remembers riding his bike past crowds of people walking to their jobs, desperately trying to hail already-packed cabs, and venerable little-old-ladies discreetly holding a thumb up to catch a ride. “We may see that again,” he said.

It’s hard to talk to Nelson as he drives his bus. There is not a lot of conversation between the bus driver, and the 350-500 people he transports through treacherous traffic each day. At most, riders get a nod as they present their various passes, transfers or occasionally pay in cash.

At “40 plus,” Nelson handles the 14 Mission Express, with a calm certainty. He keeps one eye on the traffic behind him as he stares straight ahead and hands a transfer to one passenger, assuring another, an anxious lady who speaks little English, that he will make sure she knows when the bus gets to Cortland. He jabs himself then points to his mouth as he says “Cortland” loudly. She smiles confidently and takes a seat behind him. Mostly, he keeps both hands on the steering wheel. Signs directing passengers to “avoid unnecessary conversation with the driver” are prominently displayed and discourage friendly chatter.

He sat for a chat at an outdoor table of a coffeeshop near the Bus terminal at 15th and Harrison, a rare industrial patch that has escaped gentrification. Ignoring the September chill, he warmed both hands on his paper cup. He was happy to talk about his job.

“I’ve been driving a bus now for over 11 years, not counting the part-time driving,” he said with a proud smile. He has a perfect driving record. It’s one of the reasons he chose to become a driver when his previous full-time job at Schlage Lock moved to Denver. “If they were still here, I’d still be there,” he said. “San Francisco is where my roots are, but that old job had better wages and benefits than I get from the City.”

…reneging on that piece of the charter—the part that promises drivers the second-highest wage of any transit workers in the country in exchange for promising not to strike—that sounds like a deal-breaker.

He first stepped foot in San Francisco when he was 4 years old, moving here with his mother, his sole provider. She found work more plentiful than it had been in New Orleans. Driving a bus provides for his wife and two children. Mentioning his “kids,” a broad smile brightens his face, revealing a father’s pride and a beautiful set of white teeth below a wispy moustache with more than a few gray hairs.

“It is a long, hard day for Muni drivers,” he said, the smile disappearing. The typical day starts before most people are awake. His bus must be at the first stop at 6:25 AM for the beginning of the commute. “Sometimes, between runs, we get 10 or 15 minutes for coffee,” but drivers have to be cautious about liquids, as rest stops are not allowed. “You can’t just park the bus and walk away. Sometimes there are facilities at the end of a trip, sometimes there are none,” he said, turning both hands up. Then there’s the down time from 11:17 to 1:27, unpaid ‘dead time.’ It takes 12 hours to work the commute but you only get paid for 10.” By the end of Nelson’s commute, it’s 6:30.

The danger worries him too. “There were 2,500 incidents reported on coaches last year,” he said. “We’re vulnerable—we have to do cops work, social work, hospital work—with no weapons and no authority. All we can do is ask people to behave and threaten to call the police, but by the time they get there it’s usually too late. Most incidents don’t get reported, because of the downtime and paperwork. Night shift is even tougher.”

Tonight the union meeting is on Nelson’s mind. “All the drivers are worried about Proposition G,” he said, frowning impatiently as the discussion turned to Supervisor Sean Elsbernd’s November ballot proposition. “Drivers are feeling scapegoated. There will be a lot of unhappy folks tonight.” Union meetings are members only, and a strike is likely to be discussed even though it is forbidden by Sec. A8.346 of the City’s charter. It requires that drivers be terminated and lose their seniority—they would be hired back as rookies—if they resort to a strike. However, the City’s Municipal Code also forbids hiring strikebreakers, which paints the City into a lose-lose corner.

Nelson points to the Prop G literature he brought with him; “Elsbernd says he wants to change the charter to ‘let Muni operators be treated like every other city worker,’ but he doesn’t mention his own salary,” he said. It’s a similar charter stipulated mechanism; Elsbernd’s salary is based on salaries in other cities as well, but he makes twice as much as drivers. At $29.16 an hour, drivers are not among the highest-paid City workers.

“I don’t know why the voters are picking on us,” he said “reneging on that piece of the charter—the part that promises drivers the second-highest wage of any transit workers in the country in exchange for promising not to strike—that sounds like deal-breaker. Contra Costa’s SamTrans drivers are the third highest paid drivers in the country,” he adds.

“The last bus strike lasted 37 days,” Nelson said. According to an SF Chronicle editorial written May 7, the day after the strike ended, it was “one of the longest strikes of public employees in United States history.” It cited the costs to the economy, to business and the City as well as to people “who are being inconvenienced by the shutdown of buses and cable cars, by littered streets, by a deteriorating Golden Gate Park, by cascading waters from broken water mains, by unusable toilets…”

Bus drivers joined that strike in sympathy for City crafts workers. If the drivers strike now, other unions would likely follow suit. But the word “strike” is curiously absent from discourse as voters proceed to a ballot that may just trigger another one.

“If the voters defeat Prop B, we won’t have to worry about whether drivers will still honor the ‘no strike’ clause,” Nelson said, “being illegal didn’t prevent a strike before,” referring to the strike of ‘76 that ignored Judge Clayton Horn’s Injunction. “It’s up to the voters, if they choose to break the contract we’ll find out.”

Coincidentally, the ‘76 strike revolved around two anti-union measures that were on the ballot: Prop E, which would fire City workers who strike and Prop K, a two year pay freeze. Both were put on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors, but were withdrawn in the settlement brokered by Mayor Moscone.

Bus driver Stanford Johns, driving a packed 5 McAllister, agrees with Nelson, “drivers are not the problem. The public is mad about the scheduling, so are we. It’s not the drivers who control the scheduling,” he said, wincing as he passed a stop without picking up waiting passengers. “We can’t make a bus suddenly appear. We can only work with what they give us,” he said to the passengers crammed into the isle and in the well of his bus.

“I might need to start looking for that old bike again,” Nelson said.

October 2010