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“Yvonne Daley is the only writer in America who could have drawn such as illuminating portrait of San Francisco in the Awful Age of Bush. She is the sharp-eyed and patient listener who’s caught the soul of this remarkable city and its most resilient citizens. What Daley tracks in these pages is how and why America began dreaming of Obama long before it knew who he was. Octavia Boulevard may break your heart, but it also offers some street-smart hope.”
– David Huddle, The Story of a Million Years, La Tour dreams of the Wolf Girl,Tenorman and Glory Days

Octavia Boulevard a Cultural Crossroads for Author Yvonne Daley”
By Olivia Boler

In the garden

In a lot of ways, Yvonne Daley lives an enchanted life. A journalism professor for the past 13 years at San Francisco State University, she divides her time between a home in Noe Valley and one in Rutland, Vermont, where she directs the Green Mountain Writers Conference. Her adorable Maltese pooch, Daniel, is with her wherever she goes. At 63, she is a grandmother to six children, mother to five, and wife to Chuck Clarino, a sports writer who lives fulltime in their Vermont house. To top it all off, in February she published her third book, Octavia Boulevard (Northshire Books). What compelled her in part to write this memoir, however, was the not so enchanting mix of homelessness and gentrification in San Francisco, and the way it affected her while she lived on Octavia Boulevard from 2003 to 2007.

“It’s also about the way a multi-unit apartment building can be a functional family,” Daley says over coffee at Bernie’s on 24th Street, where she is “one of our favorite customers,” according to the barista behind the counter.

Daley, who grew up in a suburb of Boston, has lived on communes and worked as a freelance investigative journalist for prestigious publications like the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and Time magazine. Yet, she hadn’t really lived in a city before moving to San Francisco from the Peninsula, from which she commuted to her SFSU job. “I especially hadn’t lived in the inner city, and mid-Market Street is certainly that,” she says.

She moved into a 12-unit building on Octavia soon after the Central Freeway, damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, was dismantled, giving open air to the streetscape. She says she immediately found herself part of a community of “characters.” There was Mae West, a blind African-American woman who dressed to the nines and was swept away each week to her “temple” by her “Jewesses”; Ann, a generous and kind single mother to a little girl she had adopted from Vietnam, who also expected the tenants of her building to help her raise her daughter; and most memorable of all, Jul, Daley’s landlord, who chose her as a tenant after Googling her, liked to have “discussions” that felt like arguments, and claimed the author T. Coraghessan Boyle had based a character on him in the novel Budding Prospects.

Although they did not live in her building, Daley includes the neighborhood homeless as part of her functional family. Inquisitive, as a journalist should be, she would talk to the men who lined up for free meals at the First Baptist Church. She watched as they collected bottles and cans in their shopping carts to turn in at the redemption center next to the Market Street Safeway and visited the clean- needle exchange nearby.

“It disturbed me when I first got here, the way people would just walk by the home less or say, ‘Why can’t they get a job?’” says Daley. “Have they looked at these people? It would take a lot for them to get a job. In a prosperous society, we should be able to take care of people who need it.”

At the same time, Daley kept close watch over the progress on Octavia, as it was transformed from a place where prostitutes and drug dealers had done their business, to a Parisian-style thoroughfare. She took note as 261 trees were planted along four blocks, including mature palm trees, the cost of which ran into six digits.

“Just for fun, the city put in these permanent kaleidoscopes with haikus etched on them,” Daley shakes her head. “I began to see the development of the boulevard as a metaphor for what I truly love about the city and for what upsets me about it. Of course the boulevard is beautiful and a better solution than a double-decker freeway spewing pollution onto the homes next to it. But it cost gazillions of dollars. It certainly doesn’t solve San Francisco’s problems of homelessness and its expensive standard of living for the average person.”

In 2007, for reasons she does not want to reveal because they are part of the book’s conclusion, Daley moved to Elizabeth Street (and just last month, moved two blocks over to 25th Street).

“In a way, Noe Valley has allowed me to continue living in San Francisco,” she says. “People say this all the time, but it feels like a village in a city. For me, I need to know my neighbors. I want to be part of a community. I really feel accepted here. I’m known, I’m safe, and I’m happy.”

Yvonne Daley will be reading from Octavia Boulevard and signing copies at Bird & Beckett Books in Glen Park on Sunday, May 8, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Phoenix Books on 24th Street will also have copies. For more information, go to

Excerpt from Octavia Boulevard by Yvonne Daley

An apartment building is a microcosm, a small village. Our noises, smells or bad habits had ramifications that identified us as considerate or not, reliable or not. There on Octavia, this is how we functioned: We had Gordon, whether official or not, as our building manager. Several afternoons a week, he unwound the long orange power cord and sucked up the city debris we’d all hauled in, wiped down the washing machines and dryers, emptied the mail trash by the door. Gordon knew our dirt. Better yet, if my gas heater wouldn’t turn on and Jul wasn’t around to fix it, Gordon would figure out the problem and have it working in no time. As he was leaving, he might notice the music I was listening to or the book I was reading and the next day I might find outside my door a different CD by the musician I had on the CD player or another book by the author I’d been reading.

There were the predictable sounds of the comings and goings of Ann and Alexandra. In the morning, there was the struggle to get to work and daycare. And in the evening, when the two arrived home, they stopped at the mailboxes in the hall not far from my door. Alexandra loved junk mail. She loved envelopes. Her voice and Ann’s filled the hall, the mother patient or not, the child happy or not as the ritual unfolded. Ann would attempt to limit the amount of junk mail that would make it upstairs to their apartment while Alexandra didn’t want a bit of it thrown away. She loved the flyers from Bed Bath & Beyond or Safeway. She loved the Walgreen’s advertisements. Each provided opportunities for cutting and pasting, for pretend shopping, for working at her “office.” Ann was the kind of mother who liked to reason with a child, even when the child was tired and hungry and beyond reason. It was often at that moment, the moment of meltdown I remembered so well from raising my own brood, that I’d lend a hand with the hauling. Later, Alexandra would sit for hours with crayons and glitter sticks, “writing letters” that would appear under one of our doors, a gift from our building’s only child.

Mother Mae, as the Jewesses called her, ruled the house. We took our turns bringing her raspberry turnovers and chocolates, running errands, taking her trash down to the basement. She was our fashion statement, stepping out on her Sabbath in winter white, a gold broach perfectly situated upon her fuchsia scarf one week, or in an old-fashioned black suit and pearls another.

Noel was our rock. His steadiness grounded us with the smallest of actions: the tip of his hat in the hallway; the warmth of his smile; the stories he told of life in the city when jazz ruled; the salsa clubs in the Mission where, week after week, he promised to take me dancing.

Robin was our reprobate. His life unfolded in one drama after another. Like nearly everyone else in the building, Robin was generous to a fault, only what he had to give away, his affection, for example, came encumbered with things you might regret in the morning. Everyone loved him but, when we gathered in Ann’s apartment for potluck, or in my apartment for pie, we didn’t invite him.

We invited Glenn for the lovely acid of his wit and the joy of watching a toddler climb over Zipper. Zipper was our mascot. If one of our doors were open, he’d wander in. He might even clear the table. We didn’t take offense. Glenn was our aristocrat. He raised our cachet.

There were others in the building who were peripherally part of our little family. Brendan, our resident queen, sang at The Mint Karaoke Lounge a block away on Market Street; Patrick and his wife lived with an Italian greyhound upstairs, next to Lance. Lance had once been a successful computer programmer. Now, he loomed over the banister. He stumbled in the door. You didn’t see him for weeks, then heard him on the stairs, traipsing up and down, dragging garbage bags of clanking Jack Daniels bottles and stacks of pizza boxes to the basement. Mary told us there was a brilliant man in there, a sweet man who had been broken by love. I wished I had known him when he was whole, but when I tried to talk to him, his pale eyes turned watery and he drifted away.

Published with author’s permission from Octavia Boulevard by Yvonne Daley, ©2011 (Northshire Books, Manchester, VT).

Book examines life along Octavia Boulevard
By Ambika Kandasamy
SF Public Press
— Mar 28 2011 – 3:19pm
For San Francisco writer Yvonne Daley, the birth of the city’s Octavia Boulevard signified more than a swanky refurbishment of the streets to replace the neighborhood’s dilapidated Central Freeway. The thoroughfare that was created following the ruin of the freeway in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and its impact on the people who resided there, serves as the backdrop for her latest book.

The book, “Octavia Boulevard,” is designed as a memoir, and Daley moves between stories of her life and the people she befriends in the neighborhood, and intertwines snippets about some of the economic and political issues in the city at large — homelessness, drug abuse, housing woes, same-sex marriage — as it relates to those people.

Drawing from correspondences with her family in Rutland, Vermont, journal entries and in-person interviews, she writes of her internal conflicts that stemmed from observing the co-existence of decadence and abject poverty in her surroundings.

“Once the boulevard was built, I could see that it was a metaphor for all of these contrasts that I felt in the city,” said Daley. “It was beautiful, and certainly an improvement over that skanky double-decker freeway. Many of the building owners improved their buildings and they put the kaleidoscopes on the corners for the pedestrians’ entertainment and they put in the full-grown, mature palm trees, but there was still poverty everywhere.”

While such inequalities are inherent to many metropolitan areas around the world, Daley’s book emphasizes the irony and intensity of such disparities existing in San Francisco because of its lineage of progressive cultural and political movements.

She unfurls the narratives of the characters in Octavia Boulevard one by one, starting with the building owner, Jul, a verbose war veteran who recruits her to his building based on his fervent interest in discussing her past news articles on Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, rather than her credit history.

Soon after she moves into her new apartment in 2003, she delves into narratives of her neighbors, Ann, Mae West, Noel, Glenn, Gordon and others. She tells the stories of the people who sleep on the sidewalk and in the crevices of the First Baptist Church on Waller Street in her neighborhood; and the men who sip coffee with her in the now-defunct Laguna Sidewalk Café on Page Street.

Daley, who spent 32 years as a journalist working for newspapers like the Rutland Herald and the Boston Globe, and who now teaches journalism at San Francisco State University, said that writing “Octavia Boulevard” was a means for her to circumvent the limitations of space and objectivity imposed by traditional journalistic writing.

“If you have been a journalist for a long period of time, you are always telling the story as it fits into this chunk of space, the story as your editor envisions it, the story that your publication will let you write. There’s always the story behind the story which is the real story,” said Daley.

As a result, her account of Octavia Boulevard and the characters of the neighborhood is told with undiluted passion.

In her book, she talks to Dennis Paul Jones, also called Stretch, a man whose life journey took him from a large house in Holland, Ohio, to basketball scholarships to drug addictions to jail sentences to sleeping in Octavia Boulevard and in single resident occupancy units.

“I wanted people also to see the invisible people around them, to make Stretch a human being,” said Daley.

Her life in Octavia Boulevard, however, abruptly ends in 2007 because of a residential conversion plan called tenancy-in-common. When she learns that her building owner, Jul, has plans to convert the apartment complex to a tenancy-in-common, she tries to convince him that the model will not benefit him or his tenants. She leaves for another apartment, also owned by Jul, in Noe Valley. He ultimately retracts his conversion plan a few months after her move because of the economic downturn.

In her book, Daley writes, “An apartment building is a microcosm, a small village. Our noises, smells or bad habits had ramifications that identified us as considerate or not, reliable or not.”

In many ways, Daley’s book is a story of relationships; relationships formed between people who come from backgrounds of staggering fortunes and misfortunes, and are united by occupying common spaces on Octavia Boulevard. It is the story of bonds formed between her and men who sit in cafes discussing Gnosticism, a cab driver who runs into a burning building to save lives and a single mother who works three jobs to raise an adopted child.

In the process of seeking these stories, she unearths their hidden quirks and talents.

In the book, Daley shares a poem that one of her Laguna Sidewalk Café companions, Guy, who she refers to as “Silent Guy,” wrote in his tattered notebook: “Sitting on a corner/ Cars go by/ People too/ Time moves in coffee cups, in cigarette ashes.”

View photos and link to The Public Press

Writer Yvonne Daley’s new memoir is “Octavia Boulevard,” which is set from 2003 to 2009, when the street became a boulevard. Daley, who lives half time in Vermont, where she directs the Green Mountain Writers Conference, and here, where she teaches journalism at San Francisco State, was living in one of the Victorian apartment houses just south of Market Street at the time. The memoir (published by Verdant Books, a writers cooperative) is personal, but it’s also about the people that turn a neighborhood into a community.
Talking with Daley for Vermont Public Radio, an interviewer called San Francisco a “city known for far-left political climate and vibrant hippie culture.”
“I lived on a street that went through a major gentrification,” Daley told him. “I saw people go through misery as the street got refashioned into this really fancy boulevard.” The main differences between Vermont and San Francisco, said the author, are money (its distribution is uneven hereabouts) and diversity (which does not exist in Vermont).
“Sometimes I found it entertaining,” she said of the city’s colorful excess. “Sometimes I found it so self-indulgent that I couldn’t stand it.”
-Leah Garchik, San Francisco Chronicle.

Read more:

“Yvonne Daley’s Octavia Boulevard, for my money, ranks right up there with Angela’s Ashes and Eat, Pray, Love. From Chinatown to Haight-Ashbury, Daley brings San Francisco to life in literture as no one has since the Beat Poets. Best of all is the marvelous apartment house on Octavia Boulevard, the “microcosm” and “small village” where Daley lived for several years with Wisdom Man, Stretch, Noel, Robin, Ann, Alexandra and a host of other unforgettable friends and neighbors, all of whom poured out their good hearts to this splendid writer. In the end, Octavia Boulevard is a story about community, family, friendship, and, in all its wondrous forms, love.”
– Howard Frank Mosher, Disappearances, Walking to Gatlinburg, North Country

“Octavia Boulevard is a microcosm of San Francisco, San Francisco a paradigm of cities. Octavia Boulevard offers a reader experience of the plenitude and disorder that is humanity’s creation (ex nihilo,in its own image) of the urban planet with its joyous and disturbing interpenetration of pains and pleasures trying to fill the endlessly unfulfillable gut of human hungers.”

– Tom Smith, Spending the Light, Jack’s Beans: A Five-Year Diary, A Very Good Boy

Streets of San Francisco: Yvonne Daley, a longtime Rutland resident, watched as her new neighborhood in San Francisco was transformed by the installation of a grand boulevard (to replace an earthquake-damaged freeway) complete with kaleidoscopes on the street corners for the amusement of pedestrians. Yet, she notes, homeless people still slept along that boulevard.

As she puts it, Octavia Boulevard is “a showplace of the city’s ingenuity. … But Octavia Boulevard also exemplifies the city’s failure to use its wealth and creativity to solve ingrained social problems, to help the disenfranchised and unfortunate.”

Her new book, “Octavia Boulevard,” tells the story of some of the people left behind in the great push for progress, and of the friends (she likens them to family) she found in one apartment building along that street.

Daley, a former reporter for the Rutland Herald whose work often appeared in this newspaper’s Vermont Sunday Magazine, teaches journalism at San Francisco State University and divides her time between that city and Rutland.

Daley writes that her new neighbors in San Francisco include an 80-something Mae West; Noel, an aged Guatemalan who loves to tell stories about the city’s raucous past; Robin, who once owned one of the city’s hottest nightclubs; and the landlord, Jul, “who could be our hero one day and our nemesis the next.” — Rutland Herald, 2/13/2011

Yvonne Daley has written a ”memoir about the city, the disparity between the haves and the have-nots, and the challenges of falling in love with two places separated by 3,000 miles.”– Peter Biello, Vermont Public Radio. Listen to the interview at

If you have lived in San Francisco, this book will make you want to drop everything and move back to the city by the bay. No punches are pulled. San Francisco is one of the greatest cultural cities in the world, but behind every whoa and wonder, one must avert their eyes from weep-worthy ugliness. Yvonne Daley eases us into our tour of SF one step at a time. We see SF in close perspective, from the sidewalk outside her door. It leads us through her neighborhood and it makes us weep with sweet sentimentality one minute, and sympathy the next. She will take you by the hand and introduce you to the characters she shared her life with. Octavia Boulevard is a beautiful and nuanced work drawn from the experiences of a journalist who learned early on how to observe and then carry the tale to her readers. For those who were never lucky enough to live in SF, here is your chance to know what it is like.” By Dane Jessie, San Francisco journalist.

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