Seems strange to be the first one to reply to one's own posting: not unlike being OK to talk to yourself, so long as you don't start answering. Well...Civic duty demands that I report on what was, without a doubt, one of the best tours I have ever taken. Don Herron's Dashiell Hammett Tour http://www.donherron.com/tour.html
Shortcake and I took the BART to Civic Center, strolled through the Farmers Market and met up with the tour at the new Public Library at noon. It was amazing to see how many folks were lined up to get into the place on a Sunday afternoon. Granted, a few of them, like us, went in just for clean plumbing; however, most were eager to get their hands, eyes and minds on books. Considering what you can glean off the internet, this seemed like a major defeat for the ghost of Savonarola and a victory for the spirit of freedom of thought. Personally, I enjoy the feel of a library and the smell of old books.
Don was easy to find, dressed in trench coat, fedora and gum-soled shoes, surrounded by a surprisingly small but intimate crowd. He introduced us to Dashiell Hammett using the correct pronunciation and gave us a brief biography of his early family life in Baltimore. Seems he had a bit in common with an earlier mystery writer from there who also recalled the tale of a black bird with great heart and horror.
We moved through the Tenderloin while Don created a Jazz-Age vision of San Francisco and life with the Hammetts that covered child's play to hard-core boozing, sometimes cloaked in choking clouds of consumption or bathed in the clear vision of a self-taught literary pioneer. The skies were bright; the warmed smell of urine permeated the back alley off O’Farrell where we strolled with the most polite of street characters on our way to the residence where Hammett and Sam Spade both resided. Don's friend who rents the apartment allows his tours entry and here is where the ghosts come out of the walls and from behind the Murphy bed as if to say "abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Because now there is no turning back...now you are on the trail of the Falcon.
I will leave you here to pick up this trail and hope all of you will individually or collectively as a WNP gathering, take Don's tour. Places we have walked a hundred times will never again look or feel the same. Best to see them now before, like the Maltese Falcon, they disappear under the cover of mystery, layered over by a coating of lead.