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Davisite’s new book offers a peek behind the scenes of The City

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From page A3 | December 09, 2011 | Leave Comment

Elizabeth Boardman was a Davis resident for many years before moving to San Francisco. She's back, and has written a book about The City she loves. Courtesy photo

Check it out

Who: Author Elizabeth Boardman presenting her new book on San Francisco, “I’m not a Tourist, I Live Here!”

When: 1 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Avid Reader, 617 Second St.

Elizabeth Boardman, author and executive director of a nonprofit organization, has recently returned to her home in East Davis after a long hiatus.

“Doc” is a homeless man, who plays the dulcimer in the Civic Center BART station in San Francisco. He has been panhandling for 16 years, ever since his stint in the Army. He is a devotee of Meher Baba and Urantia and says his brother makes 80 grand a year, but has sold his soul to do it.

How these two got together to work to promote Boardman’s new book, “I’m not a Tourist, I Live Here!” is as interesting as the book itself.

Boardman moved to Davis with her then-husband Eric Gustafson in 1965. They originally rented a house owned by Bruce and Ellie Glassburner, whom they met in Pakistan, where Bruce convinced Gustafson to teach economics at UCD.

They discovered they liked living in East Davis, and when the opportunity presented itself they purchased a house, in which they lived for some 16 years while raising four children. But in time the marriage ended. Boardman took her chance to fulfill a longtime dream and get to know San Francisco.

“I had always said I wanted to go there with my daughter when she got to be college-age,” Boardman said. “I’d take a sabbatical for six months and that would be long enough to get to know the city, but at the end of my first six months in San Francisco I had barely gotten my big toe wet and I was thinking ‘How did I ever think I could do San Francisco in six months?’

“I absolutely loved that town and I stayed for 20 years.”

She lived in Noe Valley, in the central part of the city, for 13 years and then moved to nearby Glen Park for the remainder of her time in San Francisco.

Boardman worked with a nonprofit company that established adult day health services.

“I started a new center every five years, even though I was with the same company,” she explained.

At some point during her years in the city, Boardman met Doc.

“He was in the Civic Center BART station. He was always just there. I went past him almost every day,” she said. “I always gave a few coins to people who play music in the BART station. I love to have music there.

“He then was likely to want to talk. He always had little things that he gave to people. Also, he was a terrible flirt. I’m sure if you gave him half an inch he’d take a mile. He wanted to leap up and kiss me and throw his arms around me.

“But he’s clearly has some kind of education behind him and was able to talk a coherent sentence and, like I said, he was clean and he was very regular.”

The two became casual friends, and when Boardman left San Francisco, Doc continued to write her, long letters with photos and illustrations. As she was leaving San Francisco she decided she would write a book.

“I had already put together a couple of books before this one, so I knew I could do it,” she said. “I did very explicitly think of it as a sort of little swan song and love story to a San Francisco that I was leaving.”

She had help from her friend Fran Peavy, who has since died.

“Fran was this wonderful, wonderful friend of mine. I didn’t know her way ahead of time, but I met her through a Friends meeting. (Boardman is a Quaker.)

“Fran had written and published some books herself and she was extremely disabled physically by the time I met her, but she was very sharp in her head. It was hard for her to write anything and she would critique my manuscript. She was really good at it, because she managed to critique without making me want to give up.”

Boardman worked on the book for a year, and self-published it earlier this year. Her hope is that she can distribute it to tourists who want to delve deeper into the world of San Francisco and its residents.

With chapters such as “Making friends: Beggars,” “Weirdos of all kinds,” “Scare Stories: Earthquake, wind and fire” and “Skunks and Nasturtiums,” this is not your typical tourist guide, but it does introduce the reader to the world beyond Fisherman’s Wharf, the bridges and Chinatown.

“I’ve checked online and I couldn’t find anything like this book,” Boardman said. “Even if I had, I wouldn’t have been deterred. People like to read about San Francisco.”

She has written the kind of book that she herself would like to read, not only about San Francisco, but about other cities across the country.

“I’ve looked for books like this about other cities, too, and there is one that almost sounds like it’s going to be like this about New York, but it wasn’t exactly this kind of thing.”

She writes a lot about the beggars who became her friends, though she changes their names. Doc (she isn’t sure that is his real name either) is known as Charlie in the book and she goes into great detail about the information she knows about him.

She dedicates a chapter to BART and Muni, but discovered she had to edit out some of the good parts.

“I wrote some segments about raunchy, sexy things that happened or that I learned about and I took them out because it’s a family-oriented book,” Boardman said. But she did include a chapter on city prostitutes.

The book is ready for distribution, with a new cover designed in collaboration with Joan Callaway. Boardman will do a meet-and-greet from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday at The Avid Reader, 617 Second St. in downtown Davis.

As for Doc? Boardman gave him copies of the book, since he is such a big part of it. He now sells copies at the BART station and keeps all the money he receives from the sales.

Boardman says her goal is just to get her words read, to get this tribute to her beloved San Francisco into the hands of people who might be interested in seeing the behind-the-scenes of the city.

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