"It's like living in a war zone," Scott Rick said on the phone. "It's like I live in Baghdad!"
The war zone in question was Park Merced, and I couldn't have been more psyched: I've always wanted to be a war correspondent, but flying makes me nervous and I'd hate to ruin the sandblasting on my Humanity jeans with, like, actual blasted sand. But a real combat zone, right at the end of the M line? I pictured my lip gloss glowing eerily in the smudgy green of a night vision lens oh wait, this is a newspaper. Well, then maybe I'd meet a grizzled but randy British photojournalist and we'd make desperate love at the hotel as daisy cutters exploded in the night.
I MapQuested the address, ironed my favorite Kevlar hoodie, and took off. On the long, picturesque walk down John Muir Drive, I could hear the gunpowder pop of sectarian violence in the distance. As the shots rang louder, I reached my destination: the Pacific Rod and Gun Club, San Francisco's oldest skeet shooting range. No Green Zone, no exploding buses, no Geraldo just a bunch of sweet-looking old dudes obliterating airborne clay disks with shotguns and 22s.
The inside of the club's, um, clubhouse smelled like years of sweet old dudes: cigarettes, dust, and good manly times. A giant set of antlers hung on one wood-paneled wall. I met Ed Figone, the club's secretary, an older man with shop-teacher glasses and a dry sense of humor. He pulled out a huge, ancient scrapbook full of clippings and photos from the late '30s, when the club was formed so that the city's burgeoning population of sport-shooting buffs could shoot stuff in fellowship and solidarity.
Though skeet shooting is no longer a sport of choice for S.F.'s outdoor enthusiasts, camaraderie is still a big draw. "It's a gathering place for the seniors," Figone explained, a cozy place to "play cards and watch the game." And to shoot stuff. "That fellow in the red hat," he said, pointing outside at a hale old guy aiming a shotgun out over the lake, "it's his 88th birthday today. That's why we have the cake."
I brought up Scott Rick, the club neighbor who believes he lives in a war zone. Figone said that Rick calls frequently to complain, and has tried to get the club in trouble with the Department of Park and Recreation. Turns out the organization adheres to a strict schedule just 18 hours a week of shooting and strives to maintain good community relations. Figone claims he hasn't heard complaints from any other neighbors, and Rose Dennis, spokeswoman for Park and Rec, said that while the department doesn't keep a complaints log, she believes a "small but vocal" pair of residents does most of the complaining. I told Figone that Rick had intimated to me that he'd soon be leaving the area for good. "That's the best thing I've heard all day," Figone replied, delighted. "I might fall in love with you for that." Ed wasn't quite the British journo I'd had in mind when I set out, but still, there's something a little foxy about a crack shot.