It's All About Family: A Countercultural Proposal

For many, the month of January represents rejuvenation and an opportunity to get back to the wholesome pursuits of self-improvement.


Published: January, 2018


For many, the month of January represents rejuvenation and an opportunity to get back to the wholesome pursuits of self-improvement. But for those of us who have grown tired of taking the pledge, there are the exotic cults of chance. Here are few alternatives to consider.


Waterfront dive bars featuring coin-operated pool tables remain attractive destinations for some ferry passengers waiting to pass the time. We recommend caution, however, before engaging in a betting game with the habitues. The game may look easy, but preparation is key. A few hours at an old-fashioned pool hall may be just the ticket.


In San Francisco that means Family Billiards, where adults 18 and older may hang until the wee morning hours every day of the year, including our nation’s most cherished holidays. “It’s all about family,” as they say.


This place is the oldest, continuously running pool room in San Francisco, featuring 18 regulation Brunswick Gold Crown tables that are regularly maintained to provide optimum shooting conditions. Enter this Holiest of Holies and you may recall the profound observations Paul Newman makes about a similar joint in The Hustler: “It’s quiet…like a church.”


Besides featuring regular league tournaments, this venue also hosts international competitions for touring professionals. We have on occasion overheard some of them declare that once they retire, they’ll spend more time with “the family.”



Mechanics’ Institute Keeps Chess Traditions Alive


World class competition can also be viewed at another San Francisco institution that dates to Gold Rush days, when chess hustlers victimized hapless rubes at bayside bars and diners. The Mechanics’ Institute building houses the oldest chess club in the United States. According to John Donaldson, the MI Chess Director and world-renowned chess expert, the club has a rich and storied history.


The Mechanics’ Tuesday Night Marathon (TNM) has a rich tradition that dates back at least 30 years. The idea of playing serious chess one night a week has appealed to a broad range of players from senior masters to beginners, who find the time commitment fits their schedule quite comfortably.


Donaldson said that today, eight rounds is the normal duration for a TNM, but that has not always been the case. In 1975, the group played 12 rounds per tournament. Recently the marathon switched to having sudden death for the second time control.


“It was probably the last tournament in the world to still feature adjourned games, the rest of the chess community having given up the practice years ago due to the rise in playing strength of computers,” he said. “The Mechanics’ Institute still has several hundred adjourned move envelopes, which will no doubt become collector’s items.”


The TNM not only provides strong competition for players ranging in strength from master to beginner, it’s also very affordable with an entry fee of $50 for eight/nine United States Chess Federation (USCF) rated games. The marathon is a perfect fit for those who can’t commit an entire weekend to chess.


Keep a keen eye out for the young men and women who wear horn-rimmed glasses and appear to be the most socially awkward. They can play as well as any dockside grifter looking for any easy mark. For more information, visit


Golden Gate Fields Offers Fine Sporting Pleasures


Finally, when you need a break from the dark parlors of esoteric gaming, there’s always the great outdoors pastime of thoroughbred horse racing. While not directly accessible by ferry, it’s no great stretch to reach Golden Gate Fields once you disembark in the East Bay.


For nearly a century GGF has been entertaining the San Francisco Bay Area with live music, varied luncheon options and the “sport of kings.”


The venue has also been the stage for several film noir classics, and has the curious distinction of having a punk rock song named in its honor by Rancid.


This is not Churchill Downs, this is not Hollywood Park

When the field is wide open

I’ll pick the horse that’s got the biggest heart

Let em run let em ride let em roll down the track

Let em win place and show…


Track management advises those who plan on wagering to bring cash. Both live tellers and voucher machines require this archaic form of currency. And while ATMs abound, why waste your time dealing with these contrivances?


Meanwhile, make plans to explore the entire locale, which offers stunning views of both the Bay and the Oakland hills. Unlike stadium sports, horse racing is all about leisure. Walk around the paddock to watch the horses saddle up. Enjoy a cocktail at the Turf Club. Stroll down to the rail and wait for the bugler’s call summoning brave jockeys and steeds to the gates.


And if you are a good uncle, you can bring your sister’s children. You will soon become a family legend.  For more information, visit


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