Noe Valley Voice May 1997

Editor Not As Shy As She Used to Be

By Sally Smith

Even though I was in on the inaugural Voice -- and have been a member of the Gang of Two since 1978 -- I was a shy contributor to the May '77 issue. But you'd never know it from my first story.

I had moved to San Francisco less than a year before, and was sort of like Mary Ann Singleton in Tales of the City -- excited and naive and easily intimidated by the coolness of San Francisco. I was sure I'd never get a real journalism job here. I'd just work temp and see what happened.

I was living on Fair Oaks Street with Lindy Brown, an old friend from high school in Virginia. Lindy and I would walk down to BART or to Mission Street to catch a bus to our various temp jobs downtown. We almost never ventured up to Dolores. I remember the first time I saw Noe Valley, after hiking up the hill. "This is Noe Valley?" I said to Lindy. "It can't be NoeValley. We just went up a mountain!" Then I saw Twin Peaks and our quaint little yellow brick road. "Wow, 24th Street is so cu-u-ute, like a Main Street in a small town."

If Lindy hadn't had a boyfriend named Bill Hill ("Willie" to us), I never would have met Corrie Anders. Corrie was Willie's best friend, and he and Willie hung out at Finnegan's Wake, where the Rat and Raven is now.

Not long after we were introduced, Corrie told me that a bunch of his cronies at the bar had come up with the idea of publishing a neighborhood newspaper. Since he knew I'd dabbled in journalism in graduate school in Arizona, he talked me into coming to a Voice organizational meeting at his house on 22nd Street. At the meeting, I nodded politely and agreed to take on an assignment: a feature on the San Francisco Women's Health Center, the feminist health service on 24th Street.

When I went for the interview, I was invited to witness and then administer my own gynecological exam. About six of us watched as a woman from the collective pulled off her jeans and sat down on the rug to perform the demonstration. ("You just put the speculum in like this, then open it up and use the mirror to see your cervix. See, look at mine.") I hardly remember anything from the rest of the "interview," other than that I chickened out and left without doing my own self-exam. "Maybe I'll try at home," I sputtered.

Therefore when I wrote my story, I was feeling a tad anxious. Not only did I have to be a gonzo journalist. I had to be a banner-carrier for the women's movement. Hence the strident tone and racy language of my piece. (See excerpt, next page.)

Now I cringe with embarrassment every time I read it. But at least the incident gave me an appreciation of how tough it is to be a good reporter and writer. I kicked myself upstairs to editor just as fast as I could.

Founder Recalls Birth of the Voice

By Corrie M. Anders

All successful newspapers are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. -- H. L. Mencken

No one knew the Noe Valley Voice would last this long. Not that longevity was on our minds as a small group of us lounged around a neighborhood bar 20 years ago. Our focus on that lazy Sunday afternoon in April 1977 was to gauge whether we had the will to create a community newspaper to fill the journalistic and literary void in what was becoming San Francisco's most progressive neighborhood.

Great ideas conceived in saloon euphoria are usually stillborn the morning after. Not this time. Within a month, the group was able to put the first edition on the streets -- an eight-page broadside typed on an IBM Selectric.

From that fledgling effort, the Voice has matured into one of the best monthly community newspapers in the country. In hindsight, all the ingredients for success were in place. The birth of the Noe Valley Voice paralleled the birth of the new Noe Valley -- a shift from an aging Irish-Italian-German working-class neighborhood into an enclave of Baby Boomers arriving with Cuisinarts and toddlers.

My daughter Erica was born the very month the core group of Voice staffers gathered at Finnegan's Wake to discuss starting the paper. We were an eclectic group: a waitress, a carpenter, an artist, a musician, a used car salesman, an office receptionist. Only two of us at the first meeting had journalism backgrounds -- Deborah Phelan, a former stringer for the AP, and me, a writer for the San Francisco Examiner who used the Voice nom de plume Corey Michaels. Current co-publisher Sally Smith, who'd edited the Tombstone Epitaph -- wasn't corralled into the group until a few days later.

"I don't remember what I was supposed to do -- write or take pictures," said Hans Wangel, a Dane who worked in the neighborhood as a carpenter. "I do remember that the first article I submitted was a disaster -- and the only one."

The Noe Valley Voice had a mobile newsroom. Sometimes it was Finnegan's Wake, with blue-penciled copy spread on table tops alongside pints of brew and butt-filled glass ashtrays. Sometimes it was my Victorian house on 22nd Street, where my wife Carla would join in the editing process. Occasionally, it was at Debbie's flat on Diamond, where her mon- strously wonderful sheep dog destroyed copy as fast as we could produce it.

Collective decision-making caused a few rumblings among staff. Can we -- should we -- use the words "Down There" and "beaver" in a story about women's self-examination? (We did.)

Novice writers who considered themselves on a par with Tom Wolfe ordered editors not to touch a single word of their offering. One writer withdrew his article -- at the 11th hour -- because the story was scheduled to run inside the newspaper instead of on page 1.

We had lots of laughs and late-night marathons. But eventually most of the "collective" turned to other pursuits. Today, only Sally Smith remains with the Voice from the group whose names appeared in the original editorial staffbox.

I moved to Oakland. Claudia Hyslop is now a psychotherapist in San Francisco. Deborah Phelan retreated to the quietude of Stinson Beach to write. Bill Hill lives in Seattle, where he is an account executive for a major book publisher. Hans Wangel returned to his native Denmark in 1987. David Snyder was killed in a traffic accident in June 1982, when his motorcycle flipped over at Army Street and Highway 101. And Finnegan's Wake died in a rent skirmish in August 1984; it was resurrected five years later in Cole Valley.

Over the past 20 years, the Voice has been a newspaper that's more balanced than bellicose, more explanatory than provocatively querulous. But it has been ceaselessly successful. I'm proud to be associated with its founding.

And, Sally, promise you'll never take me off the mailing list.

Writer Commits to Second 12 Years

By Denise Minor

The first time I saw the Noe Valley Voice was in a bar on 24th Street 12 years ago. I'd gone there to celebrate an acquaintance's birthday. Two months earlier I'd arrived from living in Spain, and was trying to make a life for myself in what I considered the most beautiful and sophisticated city in the country.

Finding myself without a conversation partner, I bought a beer and slipped behind a table in the corner next to a small stack of newspapers.

"Must be an advertising rag," I thought, then glanced at the lead sentences on the first page. I was amazed -- they were good. I went back and read the stories and closed the Voice with great satisfaction. Here was further proof that I had chosen the best city in the country to put down roots. Where else could a newspaper that served only one neighborhood be so damn good?

I called the next day and told editor Sally Smith that I wanted to work as a freelancer. I had had two years of experience working as a reporter in Massachusetts before moving to Spain.

She gave me my first assignment -- to accompany a group from the Noe Valley Ministry to then-Senator Pete Wilson's office to express the Ministry's outrage at the politics the U.S. was playing in Central America.

Little did I know that for the next 12 years, the Voice would be my main writing outlet. I've written for numerous publications, but they fell by the wayside during my years in graduate school, followed by the last four years of raising my sons.

I've stuck with the Voice for a number of reasons. I feel that I belong to a community of writers, photographers, and newspeople who are creative but not too competitive. And Sally and co-publisher Jack Tipple set a great tone by treating our work with respect. They also create ideal circumstances for us to get to know one another. They hold monthly story meetings, with coffee and bagels; they pick up the tab for summer parties (with a band even!); and they throw Christmas dinners at excellent neighborhood restaurants.

On top of it all, they dole out some very interesting assignments, because interesting things happen in Noe Valley. I interviewed politician Roberta Achtenberg and writers Ruthanne Lum McCunn and Patricia Holt. I interviewed former mayor Art Agnos (he sat so close our knees touched!). I've written about witches, swamis, electromagnetic fields, the sale of Comerford Alley, Hispanic merchants on 24th Street, Nancy Reagan's astrologer, the handicapped ramps along the J-line, and the abundance of coffee shops in the neighborhood. I've covered murders and robberies, and some tense disputes between neighbors over zoning issues. I even got to write about a man who accidentally cut off his hand, then had it reattached by a specialist at S.F. General.

But most importantly, when I pick up the Noe Valley Voice, I still have that same feeling I had in the bar on 24th Street 12 years ago -- damn, this is a good paper!

Ten years ago, when Sally gave me the assignment of writing about the Voice's 10th anniversary, I thought, My God, these people have been doing this so long. Don't they ever feel like moving on?

Well, here it is 10 years after that, and I'm still with the Voice. Now I understand.