Noe Valley Voice December-January 2003

Family Adventures Close to Home:
Positively 24th Street

By Rosie Ruley Atkins

"Down there," I say, "Where the line of trees end."

Cars thump overhead on Market Street as Jane, 7, searches for the distant spot where 24th Street intersects with Potrero. Miles, 8, wanders among the tangle of fennel, pampas grass, and gigantic prickly plants that grow wild under the overpass at 24th Street and Grand View Avenue.

"What are we doing again?" he asks, waving a stalk of pampas like a sword.

"We're exploring 24th Street, end to end," I say.

"Do we have to go over that hill?" Jane asks. Potrero Hill looms large in the distance.

"Okay, not all the way to the end," I admit. "Just to the foot of that hill."

"I already know every interesting thing about 24th Street," Miles claims.

We amble downhill, looking for "interesting" things in the quiet residential blocks. Graffiti stating "Stevie Fufu is a boo" is the best we find in the steep first block. A grumpy cat in a dusty, curio-lined window at Homestead Street entertains us only slightly. As we reach Noe Courts, Miles' father reminds him of how much he loved the park's tire swing when he was little. Miles ignores him. He's heard the sweet stories about "Baby Park" too many times.

My husband and I stop to check out the menu at Firefly and agree to return while pumpkin steak is still on the menu. Miles asks if he can join us.

"Do you like pumpkin steak?" I ask.

"Nope," he says, poking his head through Firefly's door. "I like the ceiling in there. It looks like a mattress, and if gravity suddenly went away, you wouldn't bump your head."

We admire the sign featuring flaming letters and revolver in the place of the "r" at the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore. From there it's a straight shot to Noe Valley Bakery, where we pick up our first snacks of the day. We munch on our chocolate chip cookies outside of Ocean Front Walkers, choosing our favorite boxer shorts.

"Jane, which ones would you pick if you were a boy?" Miles asks between bites.

"I'm a girl!" Jane yells and then points to the flannel sock monkey pajamas in the "girly side" of the window.

Just for Fun draws the kids in like a magnet, and I have to remind them that we're trying to find new things along our familiar street. "They always have new stuff in here," Miles says.

We have the same discussion at Phoenix Books, where Miles peruses the Simpsons and Ranma comics while Jane listens to a mom read Grizzwold, by Syd Hoff, to her two young sons.

We swing into the Ark for a quick visit and then head downhill. I tell the kids how disappointed I am that Gypsy Moon at Guerrero Street is closed.

"It's just a bunch of old stuff," Jane says, peering through the window.

"I bought a glass eyeball there once," I say. Both kids beg to come back later when the shop is open.

At Valencia, Miles and Jane notice that the gates are open at the Bethel Christian Church.

"Let's go in there!" they say. "We've never been in there."

Reminding them to be quiet and respectful, I take them inside where the usher welcomes us into the soaring, sun-filled atrium. He leads us downstairs to the children's ministry, where, for 10 minutes, the kids watch an animated movie about Moses until Miles asks, "Do they have snacks in here?"

We sneak out and cross the street for thick milk shakes from Big Mouth.

A trio of artists is creating a chalk mural on the bricks at the BART station at 24th and Mission. Their theme isn't entirely clear, but their enthusiasm and the hip-hop blasting from their CD player entertain us until our shakes are drained.

We dissect the meaning of the mural along the wall of the McDonald's while I explain to the kids why snacks from McDonald's don't count for today's adventure.

At South Van Ness, Jane decides that we need to share a strawberry tapioca drink from CLQ. Inside, we explore the exotic Asian sculptures decorating the restaurant's tranquil dining room. A mahogany statue of a praying woman prompts Miles to imitate her prayerful stance until the drink is ready. His serenity vanishes as he tries his first sip.

"Yuck!" he screams and speeds into El Toyanense down the block for a lime agua fresca to cleanse his delicate palate.

At the California Food Company at Shotwell, we crane our necks to take in the dozens of piñatas hanging from the ceiling, picking out all three PowerPuff Girls, a few Pokemons, and many unidentifiable characters.

At Lucky Alley, we stop into Fruitlandia for more fortification. Jane and I declare that the chiles rellenos are the best we've ever had, but picky Miles limits his sampling to tiny bites of super-sweet plantains and alcapurria (a delicious deep-fried meat pie).

"Balmy Alley!" Jane exclaims, and both kids dash down the narrow passageway. Jane finds a particularly vivid portrait of the Virgin Mary, suggesting that the Virgin will start moving if we stare long enough. After a few seconds, she and Miles start screaming and run away. Miles points to his favorite cartoon images in the Psycho City mural and makes up a song to go with it.

"Psycho City! Psycho City! It'll bring you up! It'll drop you down! It'll drive you crazy all over town!" the kids chant until we get to La Victoria bakery, where we share a coconut-covered fruit pastry and examine the shelves of votive candles. Miles decides that San Martin Caballero (St. Martin the Cowboy) is his favorite.

At Florida Street, we dance to the mariachi music pouring out of a social club. I'm guessing that I am the only one hoping this activity is enough to burn off the calories that we've ingested so far.

"I can't believe we're still on 24th Street!" Miles exclaims as we swing into the Precita Eyes mural project. The kids score some leftover Halloween candy and check out the early studies for many of the murals we've passed on our stroll. "Someone actually draws them?" Miles marvels. I don't ask him how he thought they got on the walls.

At Galeria de la Raza, we admire the papel picados and hand-painted luchadores. Miles manages to find the sole comic book in the place. "Cool!" he says, flipping through the pages of Sandra Chang's Akemi.

We get a takeout order from the Roosevelt Tamale Parlor, but we have to admit that we're too full to even step foot inside the St. Francis Soda Fountain. "We should have planned our eating better!" Miles says, staring into the gleaming chrome institution.

We sneak through a matinee crowd spilling out of the Brava theater to use the bathrooms and to marvel at the beautiful lobby. Jane tells us that she'll be "performing here during the holiday season." She extracts promises from a handful of theatergoers to return for her engagement.

Finally, we reach the whizzing traffic of Potrero Avenue. "Maybe we should keep going," I suggest.

"The bus!" Miles calls as the 48-Quintara pulls up, rescuing him from more adventure.

"You know what I'd do if I was the writer?" Jane says, resting her tired legs across my lap. "I'd take us to Houston, Texas, where my grandpa lives. They have a fake beach there."

I contemplate the cultural and culinary diversity that 24th Street has to offer and I decide that Houston's fake beach has nothing on our real-life urban corridor.