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Christopher Caen Headshot

Friday Fettle

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December 23 - Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the town... well, actually it's the night before the night before Christmas, and all through the town people are probably rushing to their local REI store to make sure they buy tents for Occupy. Because, that is what they want in their stockings... things people give then for free so they can complain about capitalism. I think they are missing the point.

Also missing the point are people who for some reason seem to be tearing their ugly Santa sweater to shreds over the neon Yahoo sign coming down next to highway 80 downtown. Really? Has our historical perspective in this town become so truncated that this dilapidated reminder of those glorious days is being revered? Sorry, but locals hated the bloody thing when it appeared, and trust me, we will not be mourning its passing. It's about as "San Francisco" as Rice-A-Roni.

However, it did start my brain thinking (yes, it happens occasionally), and I fired up that creaky nostalgia machine and remembered signs that did resonate with the locals. For instance, the Hamm's beer sign over 101. Many a night my parents would be driving me up or down the peninsula for some yuletide visit, and I always knew we were close to home when I saw that crazy sign overflowing every few seconds. And of course a Hamm's sign also overlooked old Seal Stadium, the home of San Francisco's real home baseball team.

Another neon sign that used to dot our town was Zimm's, the fabulous local burger chain. The one that anchored the middle of Laurel shopping center sucked up more of my allowance than I will ever admit. The last Zimm's was one on 19th Avenue, and every time I drove out of the city that way I would smile as I passed it. Until the one day the place was shuttered. The sign was dark, and a little part of my childhood was put away, never to be seen again.

Wait, wait, I got another one! Speaking of hamburger joints, the best neon sign was one that spelled out an animal! Everyone puzzled? Ok locals, put on those thinking caps, you can get it. Yes, you in the back with your hand up? That's right, I am talking about The Hippopotamus, on the corner of Pacific and Van Ness. Ah man, I can taste that burger already... betcha Warren Hellman is getting Jack Falvey to make him one right now.

Speaking of that particular corner, the other day I am asked where someone should take their boss for dinner. He's from out of town, kind of a meat and potatoes person, so I text back, "How about Grison's?" Argh, that's the problem walking around with these rose colored glasses; you are prone to seeing what is no longer there. Grison's was the predecessor to Harris' Restaurant today. Which is why we locals called it Carnivore's Corner, with Grison's on one side and The Hippo on the other... ok, I'm hungry now.

But I can at least bore the Irregulars with my nostalgic nonsense. They seem to have the same love of this town. For instance, Mako Sano has decided to take my Dad's name and turn it into an action noun. As in "A Herbcaenian." This is a take-off of my Dad's famous shortcut from the Chronicle to his table at Le Central when it was raining. Mako has updated this as follows:

Then out the door heading to the Mechanics', which opens at 9am most days. Took a herbcaenian passage through one of the Macy's buildings, its ladies' cosmetics department, extensive...then out the door, crossed Stockton, did the herbcaenian again through the mens' Macy's...out the door again, paused at sign for the Pissarro show at the Legion of Honor. Don't have a sense of what his work was/is about - maybe depictions of rural folk? Heading east - tiny woman monologuing to herself in shredded pants...into the Mechanics', elevator up to the 3rd.

Yes, another Herbcaenian through our holiday town, where some things never change, and some things do. For instance, it's hard to believe that in a town where a madame, Sally Stanford, was once one of our most famous denizens, a group of "performing" ladies can raise over $20,000 for the San Francisco Firefighter's annual toy drive and then not be able to give the money to them. Well, certainly not in a fire station, and apparently not even in front. SFPD spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge saidthis was "just because of the nature of it... not that we don't appreciate the check." Bah, Humbug I say!

But maybe not as grinchy as the following sign espied by Patrick Anderson at a holiday buffet at a recent luncheon: "Gluten-free, and glutton-free too, please." Oh lordy, the more things change, the more they don't stay the same. So have a happy, jolly politically correct Christmas all of you... I hope Santa brings you what you want. And maybe you can sneak in seconds when no one is looking.