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Rolling Stoned: I Wish We Were All There Right Now

By Zack Ruskin
Oct 1, 2020
Photo: Gabrielle Lurie (San Francisco Chronicle)

I was going to write you a long, thoughtful letter about the Musée Mecanique. I saw it as a way to frame the publication of my profile on the San Francisco institution, which first started nearly a century ago when Edward Zelinsky sold some motor oil he’d won at a school bingo game and bought himself his first penny arcade machine.

I was going to tell you about how my mother first took me there as a tiny child, when it was still below the Cliff House, and how Laffing Sal scared the shit out of me then and now.

I was going to detail how much this place, where antique arcade games are lovingly refurbished and made available to any who have a quarter to spare, has meant to me: as a refuge, as the first place I show visitors, as an extension of what I love about San Francisco and the people who inhabit it.

I was going to tell you to give them money (if you were so able) and to apologize for asking you to do that when so many people and places and things need more than everything we have to offer right now.

I was going to do all that but then I realized I’d already written that love letter. It’s the story itself.

A few weeks ago, I was honored to have my first Sunday Pink cover story for Datebook. It was all about the Musée and its owner, Dan Zelinsky. I was proud of it, and I hear it has helped them quite a bit in terms of new donations. That’s really nice, though I still worry over how and when they’ll be able to re-open in any capacity.

In any event, sometimes I fail to realize that I’ve already used my best words and that I should quit while I’m (arguably) ahead. I think that might be the case this time, so here’s that story, as well as a sidebar that features Dan talking about Julie Andrews getting super angry one time!

Musée Mécanique owner working to keep the fun alive despite pandemic, fire

Musée Mécanique owner shares stories behind 3 of his favorite attractions


Another thing I meant to do was tell you how much I enjoyed interviewing author Simon Stephenson. He’s written an incredible novel about a robot who decides to save the world by writing a screenplay. It has a hint of Vonnegut about it (including the occasional symbol, chart, etc. on the page) but more than that, it’s a wonderfully original work that rewards cinephiles and Bay Area residents alike.

Though Stephenson now lives in L.A., his affinity for San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area is evident both on and off the page. A native of Scotland, Stephenson was actually a pediatrician before moving to San Francisco to work at Pixar on an as-yet-unannounced screenplay. He was also just a truly lovely person who offered a warm conversation at a moment when I really needed one.

Below is a link to my profile on Simon and his novel, Set My Heart to Five, which also ran in San Francisco Chronicle’s Datebook section recently. Please buy his book (and not from Amazon).

Pixar screenwriter’s debut novel will make you feel for a robot dentist



What’s happening in the world of cannabis? Here’s what I’ve got for you:

  • I visited Sunset Connect, Ali Jamalian’s new, equity-owned San Francisco cannabis brand. The pre-roll tubes look like Muni tickets! More importantly, Ali cares about all the right stuff and supporting his product (which is also fire) is a no-brainer. More in my latest column for SF Weekly: Local Love Powers Sunset Connect.

  • Speaking of my column, a rare bit of good news on the job front! California has kindly decided there is no reason for me to only write 35 stories a year for one publication, so my column is now weekly again. It will also, at long last, soon have a new name. Farewell, Chem Tales. Hello, ??? [My first idea, the Emerald City — a nod to San Francisco’s unique role in relation to the titular triangle of cannabis repute — is, I’ve learned, Seattle’s nickname already. Alas!]

  • Look for the October issue of California Leaf Magazine to hit shelves soon! This month, I have a feature with Kaneh Co. founder Rachel King as well as a review of a new hemp crumble from Goodekind.

Lastly, as a note to readers more specifically interested in my cannabis content, you can expect a sharp uptick in the cannabis-to-culture ratio in future issues. I love both beats with reckless abandon, so I’ll always be offering you some of each, but cyclically, it’s weed time. That said, prepare to be haunted by the awesomeness of Sad13 in my next issue too.

Thanks for reading! Not a subscriber? It’s free! Want to get in touch? You can reach me at zruskin [at] gmail. I’m sorry that everything is awful all the time now. I still like you.