It’s hard to stay clean when you’re sleeping on the streets. A new San Francisco nonprofit, Lava Mae, has an ingenious remedy: transforming old Muni buses into mobile bathrooms, complete with stall showers and toilets, that travel to neighborhoods with the greatest need.
Lave Mae and its founder, former public-relations executive Doniece Sandoval, were featuredin the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this week on the occasion of the unveiling of Bus No. 2. Sandoval’s plans include expansion throughout California.
“Delivering dignity, one shower at a time.” For more on the “One X at a Time” sloganclone, seethis 2012 post(and follow the links for more).
According to the Chronicle story:
Lava Mae’s simple solution of providing homeless people with showers and toilets has captured the attention of people around the world, many of whom have asked Sandoval to help them create a similar program.
To deal with the huge interest, Sandoval is working with the International Centre for Social Franchising, which is based in London but also has an office in San Francisco. It seeks to help organizations with a social benefit replicate their work in other places around the world.
Sandoval has decided to focus on serving 30,000 homeless people around California by 2020 — and recently met with state Sen. Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles to discuss a Lava Mae-type program there.
There’s a feel-good story behind the Lava Mae name, too. Here’s how the organization’s website tells it (verbatim):
In Spanish, “lavame” means “wash me”
In our culture, we refer to vehicles in the feminine as in, “She’s a beauty, isn’t she?”
In the South, (where our founder grew up), it’s not uncommon for people to have two first names e.g Billy Bob, Peggy Sue. Putting it all together gave birth to the name Lava Mae
OK, the copy needs some, um, cleaning up. If you want to be picky about it – hey, it’s in my job description! – it’s “lávame,” with an acute accent to mark the stress on the first syllable. And I cringed a little at the bio that reads “Brett is the principle and founder of StudioTerpeluk.”
I’ll stop quibbling now and instead reaffirm that I like the Lava Mae name: it’s friendly, personal, down-home, clever, and bilingual. (The echoes of Fannie Mae and Sallie Mae, which also aim to help people in need, may be intentional.) And I applaud the work Lava Mae is doing. In a region dominated by whiz-kid techpreneurs whose idea of “making the world a better place” is selling an app that does stuff your mom used to do for you, this is a truly creative and, yes, disruptive initiative.
Pee wall: An exterior wall in a public place that has been treated with urine-repellent paint. Also called anti-pee wall and pee-proof wall.
In July, the city of San Francisco, where public urination is a rife and malodorous problem, coated nine walls with a special super-hydrophobic substance called Ultra-Ever Dry. “At a molecular level,” the San Francisco Chronicleinformedits readers, “the coating creates a surface texture with geometric shapes with peaks, or high points, that repel most water-based and some oil-based liquid. That means the painted surfaces will spray urine right back at the shoes and pants of unsuspecting relief-seekers.”
The concept was borrowed from Hamburg, Germany, where Ultra-Ever Dry was applied to walls in the St. Pauli district. The use of an informal/slang term for “urination” also appears to be an import.
“Hier nicht pinkeln! Wir pinkeln zurück”: “Don’t pee here! We pee back.” Image via Spiegel online.
According to the website of Ultratech International, makers of Ultra-Ever Dry:
Ultra-Ever Dry is a superhydrophobic (water) and oleophobic (hydrocarbons) coating that will repel most water-based and some oil-based liquids. Ultra-Ever Dry uses proprietary omniphobic technology to coat an object and create a surface chemistry and texture with patterns of geometric shapes that have “peaks” or “high points”. These high points repel water, some oils, wet concrete, and other liquids unlike any other coating.
San Francisco has also introduced “Pit Stop” stations to the city’s “most impacted neighborhoods,” according to the Department of Public Works website. The Pit Stop facilities operate on limited schedules, mostly weekday afternoons.
A December 5, 2009, story in SF Luxe about “the Pacific Heights dream house,” a seven-bedroom Victorian at 2311 Broadway, had this gushing comment about a pent room:
The bright and airy pent room on the top level features soaring cathedral ceilings, sparkling views sweeping across the City and Bay, a wet bar with refrigerator and an abundance of skylights and windows. It works beautifully as a combination media and family/game room –– and is a perfect spot to enjoy sunsets over the Golden Gate Bridge*.
*On fog-free days.
Listed at $6,950,000, this house sold in 2010 for $6,500,000. A current Zillow estimate places its value at more than $10.5 million.
“For the adults, Jeff Schlarb of Green Couch Interior Design created the ‘Pent Room,’ a space for gathering, gaming, entertaining and relaxing.”
A pent room is the smaller cousin of a penthouse (first documented use: 1921), now defined as a luxury apartment on the top floor(s) of a skyscraper. According to a Wikipedia entry:
One of the earliest penthouse apartments in [New York] was publisher Conde Nast’s duplex penthouse at 1040 Park Avenue. The original 1923 plan for the building provided three units on each floor with additional maids’ rooms on the roof, but in 1924 the building’s upper spaces were constructed to provide a grand duplex for Nast. Connected by a staircase to the rooftop entertaining salons, the corner unit at the top floor was redesigned to be private family quarters.
But penthouse wasn’t coined in the 20th century. It first appeared in the early 14th century, when it was spelled pendize and referred to any attached building, often a simple structure. (According to Online Etymology Dictionary, in some Middle English homilies Jesus’ birthplace was called not a manger but a penthouse.)
The pent- of penthouse and pent room is unrelated to the pent in pent-up (confined), which is a past participle of pen. In fact, penthouse is an example of a false etymology’s influence on spelling. Here’s Daily Etymology:
The Middle English word “pendize” was changed over time to a combination of the more familiar English word “house” (a natural assumption since the original word indicated a somewhat house-like structure) and the Middle French “pente” meaning “slope.” In other words, the penthouse was originally an attached building with a sloping roof.
So a pent room is actually an appendage room – what might, in a less frenzied market, have simply been called a bonus room, attic, or garret.
There’s evidence of even further pent- drift in a 2011 listing for a Telegraph Hill (San Francisco) house with a “view pent level family room & spacious deck.” “View” is intended here as an adjective, and “pent” may be a shortening of “penthouse.” In Brooklyn, “pent level” can refer to something far more modest, as in a recent Craigslist listing for a “large pent level studio flat!!” with “modern flare [sic].” Rent: $1,925 a month. In San Francisco, that would be considered a bargain.
I enjoy a little word puzzle as much as, or maybe more than, the next public-transit user. But two Bay Area bus-shelter signs, both for worthy nonprofit organizations, go beyond puzzling to confounding.
“Do You Really Want the City 7 x 7 x 7?” asks this poster. I stood in front of it for a couple of minutes, trying to stitch together “Do you really want the city” and “7 x 7 x 7.” What could it possibly mean?
One side of a sandwich board in front of the John Fluevog store on Grant Avenue, San Francisco:
“Know You’re Weird!”
The other side:
“No, You’re Weird!”
The resemblance to the “Keep Calm and Carry On” oeuvre is probably not coincidental, but the weirdness and wordplay are pure Fluevog. The Canadian shoe company is weird and proud of it, starting with its name—John Fluevog is the founder and chief designer—and carrying on, as it were, through the merchandise.
Take, for example, this current boot, the Angelina.
The Escarpinhas a ball-and-claw heel inspired by the cabriole legs of Louis XV furniture.
The men’s styles are equally striking.
The Alexander. (A metallic cap-toe oxford? Brilliant.)
Sometimes the weirdness overlaps with pure design genius.
The Neptune, perfect for a gala at the natural history museum or a stroll through the Everglades.
Lots of companies pay lip service to customer service and community, but Fluevog is the rare business that follows through. Its community (or “Flummunity”) includes a marketplace (“Fluemarket”) for secondhand Fluevog shoes and an invitation to submit a shoe design. Quite a few submissions have made the cut. (It’s “open source,” so no one gets paid, but the citizen-designer gets a free pair and the honor of having the design named after her or him.)
I’m a Vogger myself: I own two pairs of Fluevog sandals (these and these), whose styling skews toward the less-weird end of the Fluevog spectrum but is still distinctive enough to elicit admiring comments. (I think they’re admiring.) The shoes are beautifully made and very, very comfortable.
You’re cruising along at 25 mph in Oakland when you glimpse a billboard across the street. You see it for about two seconds, across three lanes of traffic, before you drive by. What registers? What’s being advertised?
“Siri, find me a place above 50°.” Broadway near 51st Street.
I’ll tell you what I saw: an ad for Siri, the iPhone voice app. Or maybe, on second thought, an ad for kayaks. In, I dunno, Alaska.
It wasn’t until a third and slower drive-by that I caught the much smaller type in the lower right-hand corner: “Real summer. Real close.” And beneath that line, in even smaller type—at last—the name of the advertiser: GoTahoeNorth.com.
In other words, this is the 2014 edition of the you-poor-suffering-San-Franciscans campaign that GoTahoeNorth introduced last year. The first time around, I said I liked the catchy slogan (“Winter, Spring, Winter, Fall”). What went wrong this year? Simple: the agency led us astray by name-checking an unrelated brand. After we see the “Siri” billboard we aren’t thinking about Lake Tahoe, we’re thinking about iPhones.
Moral: It’s not enough to come up with what you think is a clever line. You have to remember the context as well. What works in a static medium like print may not work in the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t environment of outdoor advertising. When you’re pitching to a moving target, you need to make sure they see your name, not some other brand’s, writ large.
Tangent: The Tahoe North folks have a harder sell this year, because here in the San Francisco Bay Area we’re enjoying an exceptionally warm summer. Last week daytime temperatures climbed into the 80s in San Francisco, and one overnight low in the middle of the week was the warmest on record for that date—a near-tropical 63°. (It’s more July-typical for San Francisco’s daytime high temperatures to be in the low 60s.)
Here’s an even weirder tidbit. Where I swim in San Francisco Bay, we’ve been recording water temperatures of 66° and 67°, about four degrees above normal. Some veteran bay swimmers have been overheard grumbling that the water’s too damn warm. Not I: after two weeks of 49° water in January, I’m happy to revel in this quasi-Hawaiian treat.
So, Siri, I’m happily staying put. See you next year, when I hope you’ve counseled GoTahoeNorth on a better way to sell its summer weather to us flatlanders.
My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus looks at the names of sweet, cold summertime treats, from generics like “ice cream,” “sherbet,” and “sundae” to brands like Good Humor, Eskimo Pie, and Häagen-Dazs. Access is limited to subscribersfor three months; here’s a taste:
Popsicle: The Popsicle website claims this frozen treat was invented by accident in 1905 by 11-year-old Frank Epperson when he left a mixture of powdered soda, water, and a stirring stick on his porch overnight. (The site doesn’t specify where this took place; Epperson’s 1983 obituary said San Francisco, but temperatures there never dropped below freezing in 1905. Epperson in fact grew up across the bay, in Oakland, and that’s where he was living when he patented his “frozen confectionery” in 1923.) Epperson originally dubbed his creation the Epsicle, a blend of Epperson and icicle, but eventually renamed it Popsicle, allegedly because his children called it “Pop’s ’icle.” That too seems a stretch: as an early ad makes clear, the pop more likely came from “lollypop” (or lollipop), a word that first appeared in English in the late 18th century. In England, ice pops are called ice lollies.
And speaking of Bay Area ice cream novelties, here’s a blog bonus: the official story—OK, stories—of how the It’s-It, invented in San Francisco in 1928, got its name:
Although nobody knows for sure, there are two stories that have been told. The first story recalls how the inventor, George Whitney, yelled “IT’S-IT” when he tasted the oatmeal cookie, vanilla ice cream and chocolate combination. The second story goes back to the old cow races that were held near Playland-at-the-Beach. One day, a cow named “It” won the race. Someone asked who came first, and the answer was “IT’S-IT”. George Whitney liked that.
Image via MisterSF. Note It's-It sculpture aloft, top right.
Whitney was more than an ice cream maker: he owned the Playland-at-the-Beach amusement park, the neighboring Cliff House, and the Sutro Baths and Museum; he was known as “the Barnum of the Golden Gate.” Until 1972, when Playland was torn down, It’s-It was available only at Whitney’s stand in the park. It’s now sold in supermarkets in California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii—and can be shipped elsewhere, safely packed in dry ice.