I bought this book six years ago when I was living on Mission @ 6th and wanted to slurp up some local flavor—tales from the old SOMA, the Slot, Three Street (not 3rd St.). The book jacket tells me that author Will Stevens was a “prize-winning newspaper reporter for the San Francisco Examiner who has long observed the antics of Skid Row and its inhabitants with a bemused but sympathetic eye. He has won many national newspaper awards, and now lives in Vallejo, California, with his wife and son.” Well well. What we have here is a poor man’s Joseph Mitchell, a newspaper man who takes a turn at lightly fictionalized memorializing of his neighborhood (the Examiner offices were nearby). It’s a brutally hard book to wade through, dialog-heavy and stilted phrased. Occasionally there are whiffs of freshness, but not many.
It’s a work filled with names that try too hard to be clever, like Windmill Willie, Megaton Mike, Johnny from Outer Space, Flower Pot Nellie, Friendless Alice, the Countess. Most of the action takes place at a bar on 3rd, Breens’ Cafe and Bar, where Schultz the Bartender held sway, or at Elite Hotel, a SRO some of the characters lived in. I do like Friendless Alice’s tourist taunt: “Well well well! Another tourist! How are all the other yokels back home?”