Pin It

Don't Call It "Frisco" -- If You're Old and White 

Wednesday, Jan 1 2014
Comments

One may think twice after receiving unsolicited advice from a laundromat.

And yet, the joint at Hayes and Laguna made a fair point. Locals toting sacks of soiled clothing or just out for a stroll while wondering what the neighborhood washeteria would demand of them were regaled by the Don't Call It Frisco Laundromat.

Obeying the pronouncements of a laundromat is a matter of personal choice. But it's less so when the identical dictum emanates from the mouth of a judge — which happened in San Francisco. A 1918 article in the Examiner recounts the opprobrium heaped upon a divorce petitioner following his fourth utterance of the term "Frisco" during testimony.

"No one refers to San Francisco by that title except people from Los Angeles," snapped the judge. "I am the chairman of the City Council of Defense and I warn you that you stand in danger of being interned as an alien enemy. Don't do it again."

The petitioner admitted wrongdoing and avoided incarceration. Incidentally, he was from Los Angeles.


The wisdom imparted by the Don't Call It Frisco Laundromat was, at one time, common knowledge far and wide. In 1872, illustrious San Francisco lunatic Emperor Norton deemed use of the term "a high misdemeanor" mandating a $25 forfeiture "into the Imperial Treasury." In 1916, a Los Angeles judge — yes, Los Angeles — upbraided a woman who mentioned "Frisco" in his presence: "Madam, when you come into this court, I want you to use California names properly."

That hearing was hundreds of miles from Hayes and Laguna. And yet, not even hundreds of yards away, generations of San Franciscans grew up with no knowledge that Frisco is a detested outsider's term and something to be shunned. Far from it.

The tunes wafting through the airwaves in the Western Addition and the Fillmore have included "Frisco Chillin'," "Frisco Is the Bay," "Frisco Fitted," "In a Frisco Minute," "Frisco Anthem," and, if you set the way-back machine to 1992, "Frisco Niggers Ain't No Punks."

"We love Frisco. We from Frisco," explains San Quinn, one of the small army of rappers who performed on that last number.

When queried if anyone had ever told him, "Don't call it Frisco," he replied, "Never. Nope. Never heard that. I'm from Frisco, man. It ain't a big deal; it's just something we say. You feel me?"

Try telling that to the judge.

Decades ago, saying "Frisco" was a big deal. In 2014, apparently, it ain't. That says a lot about San Francisco's future, but perhaps even more about its past.


In his delightful 1984 article "How to Talk Like a San Franciscan," Chronicle scribe Carl Nolte attests that "no book tells you how to act like a native San Franciscan, because it is widely assumed that the breed, if it ever existed, is extinct."

Thirty years down the road, we've graduated from extinct to mythical.

Descriptions of blue-collar enclaves where people spoke with hardscrabble accents harking to the hobos in Cannery Row — Whereya from? Whereja go t'school? — feel like accounts of the ancient Anasazis. But at least the Anasazis left artifacts; yesterday's San Franciscans passed down little of worth for today's ephemeral residents (other than their homes, of course). Their lives, traditions, vocabularies, accents, values — all are gone or, at best, ignored. So the primordial San Franciscans who queried "Whereya from?" would have had a visceral reaction to the term "Frisco."

But rose-tinted accounts of the city of yore neglect to note that not everyone talked, looked, or thought like this.

The city's black communities have different memories of a different San Francisco — and, it would seem, a different relationship to Frisco too.


Claude Carpenter mans the counter at the Dollar Store and More at Third and Palou in Bayview, the neighborhood where he has lived his entire life. He notes that "Frisco" is not a term you will hear him say and it will never appear on the apparel hawked in his store. But if you say it, he's not going to demand a $25 fee for the Imperial Treasury. He had no idea this was a loathed term.

His business partner, Marvin Robinson, chimed in. He knew this. Only outsiders don't know this. Outsiders and "the Pepsi Generation," with their videogames and hip-hop music.

It warrants mentioning that Robinson is 60. Carpenter, however, is 68 — not exactly a charter member of the Pepsi Generation. San Francisco Bay View editor Mary Ratcliff has published plenty of articles mentioning "Frisco" in her 23 years running the paper. People complain — "but never blacks," she says. Just as R. Crumb's intentionally edgy caricatures of black people solely drew criticism from white liberals, the only people driven to complain about "Frisco" appear to be aging Caucasians.

The criticism these folks heap upon outsiders using the language of the outsider doesn't match the reaction of black people — who, for so long, have been treated as outsiders in their own city.

That a lifelong San Franciscan like Carpenter could make it this far without learning how "San Franciscans" feel about this terminology — or that San Quinn and fellow Fillmore residents could do the same while, literally, living around the corner from the Don't Call It Frisco Laundromat — provides anecdotal evidence for a discomfiting accusation about our city.

In San Francisco, diversity is a concept people are most at ease with when it remains a concept.

"African-American and white communities don't really interact as much as you'd think they would, considering desegregation," said professor John Rickford, a Stanford University linguist. "That's why African-American vernacular remains relatively distinct." So it equates that "African-Americans would be shocked that white people feel differently about this."

For communities to truly influence each other's way of thinking and speaking, Rickford continues, "they have to meet and mingle and talk in a deep sense. In a sense that matters."

It's hard to claim that's happening. It's even harder to give a rudimentary glance at demographic trends and claim there's much time left to do it.


Don't look for the Don't Call It Frisco Laundromat. It's not there anymore. In a physical and metaphysical two-for, an establishment whose name represented a passé way of thinking and whose existence represented a passé use of valuable city real estate foundered. It was replaced by an upscale French bistro where, in all likelihood, they don't give a damn what you call the city so long as you can throw down $26 for the wood-grilled Berkshire pork chop with apples roasted in duck fat and grilled chicories.

San Quinn doesn't live all that far off. The 36-year-old professes his deep love for "Frisco," but disdains another term for our city that your humble narrator has found locals young and old and of every race seem to similarly despise: San Fran.

"I'm from Frisco, man," he says. "But I really don't like 'San Fran.' People say that and I can tell you're an outsider.

"You feel me?"

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Bio:
Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" is a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly, which he has written for since 2007. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers... more

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed