For 21 years, a small group of San Franciscans have gathered on Ocean Beach to symbolically expurgate the previous year's woe by collecting discarded Christmas trees from around the city and setting them on fire. As rituals go, the Post-Yule Pyre isn't too far from various pagan ceremonies. People of all ages gather for the event, which is brief by necessity and by science. Christmas trees are dried husks, and they burn fast. Also: throw several dozen dead trees in a pile and ignite them, and good luck not attracting the police - even if you are at the southwestern corner of town, on a dark beach. There were young children that parents kept a respectful distance from the flames, and there were heads of gray hair a good deal closer. I didn't know anybody there, but when we met up at the Java Beach Cafe - the latest resting place of the last of the Doggie Diner heads - it became apparent that this would have more than a couple dozen folks. As a group, we dragged the gathered trees to the beach, and invited the curious onlookers to leave their living rooms and join us. The waning moon had not yet risen, and the tide was on its way in, so we were bereft of both light and the heady smell of outgoing salt water. This wouldn't last long. The trees were piled up and people fell into a circle around them, and the light waft of pine needles was soon replaced with smoke and the roar of the flames. We could see the steam evaporating from the wet sand beneath the pyre, adding a slightly ethereal quality to the event. I didn't notice the police presence until they gruffly asked us all to leave, but apparently they'd been watching us for some time. This blog post summarizes the event nicely, and why it's a carbon-neutral event. As quickly as we had gathered the trees and built the pyre, we dispersed. Some went for drinks at the Riptide, and the majority of us went home. My 2009 wasn't the horrible-no-good year that others have had, but it wasn't great. Maybe a little ritualistic fire is all the spark that 2010 needs to get going. Oh, and for what it's worth, the second photo above was picked as SFist's Photo du Jour, and featured by Laughing Squid, too.
Car 798 of Duboce Yard first came to my attention during the holiday season of 2008. I bike past the yard every day on my way home from work, as many San Franciscans do. If you're heading west, on the left is a mural marking the sights you see transversing the City. The Duboce Yard is one end of The Wiggle bike path, a series of right-angled turns that minimize the incline between Church Street, the Castro, and the Mission with the Panhandle, the Sunset, and the Richmond. Car 798 is usually an nondescript railcar, and if it's due for the road there's a lot of work to be done. The railway car depot is off of Market, just as Buchanan begins its climbs up and down the city's hills as it heads north. Trapped behind a black fence, Car 798 is only visible if you head straight at it, and although a few people walk the path between the head of Buchanan and the foot of Church Street, most of those who transverse it are commuting bicyclists. What brought it to my attention a year ago was the destination board, listing the North Pole, and the wreath. I missed my chance to take a photo of it last year, and was pleased to find that it had returned this year. It took a week of mental reminders, but I eventually brought my camera on a ride. The small irony of Car 798 is that, even though S.F. does experience colder winters than other large West Coast cities that shall go unnamed, it's nothing less than a bit of holiday humor to imply that our slightly-below 50 degrees Fahrenheit winters have anything to do with the frigid cold of the North Pole. Nevertheless, it's hard not to appreciate that the Muni mechanics at Duboce take a bit of extra time to spruce up a car that doesn't seem to have any intention of leaving the yard. However, its colors are red and white, which must give public transit fans from Tokyo to Amsterdam a thrill to think that Santa rides a standard gauge, and not a reindeer-pulled sleigh.