Sunday, January 31, 2010

NOPA VELO Launches with Patty Hearst/Presidio Ride

33 meet at Central Coffee, Tea & Spice for NOPA VELO's First Ride

NOPA VELO Ride Leaders: Rick Boardman & Lenore McDonald

More than 30 North Panhandle cyclists and their friends gathered around a popular local cafe Sunday morning for the inaugural NOPA VELO ride through the neighborhood, into Golden Gate Park and through the Presidio. "We're excited so many riders turned out," said Patty McDonald, one of the organizers who was in full Patty/Tania Hearst attire for the special themed ride. The NOPA area cycling group will offer special "NOPA Lore" for each of its monthly rides. Sunday's outing commemorated the 1974 kidnapping of San Francisco heiress Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a radical organization that held her captive in a NOPA area apartment for several months.

Each NOPA VELO ride will also introduce cyclists to the neighborhood's fine eating and drinking spots with power-up starts at one location and cool-down drinks and lunches at another. Sunday morning riders met at Central Coffee, Tea, and Spice at Central and Hayes Streets. Riders kept gathering for a full half-hour before the ride began. One neighbor, Michael Varner, changed his leisurely Sunday morning coffee ritual at the cafe and instead dashed home to get his gear and join the ride. Long-time Central Coffee owner -- known to all simply as "Alli" -- beamed at the number of riders. "I didn't think so many would show up!"

First stop for NOPA VELO was the site of Patty Hearst's captivity, 1827 Golden Gate Avenue near Baker Street where Lenore McDonald recounted highlights of Hearst's life. The 19 year old Patty was the daughter of the wealthy editor of the San Francisco Examiner* and grand-daughter of the legendary publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst. (His story was the inspiration for Citizen Kane, the classic 1941 film by Orson Welles). Patty was kidnapped from her Berkeley apartment on February 4, 1974.

The SLA demanded, and received, more than $2 million from the Hearst family to buy food for the poor. But, during her captivity, Patty was either brainwashed, as she later stated, or radicalized and adopted the name Tania after a protege of Che Guevara, the South American revolutionary. Tania joined SLA members in an armed robberty of a Hibernia Bank branch at 1450 Noriega. She later posed wielding the rifle she used in the hold-up. (Thus the infamous poster of Tania which NOPA VELO's expert designer Rick Helf re-imagined as Tania wielding a threating ... bicycle).

The FBI placed Patty Hearst on its "Ten Most Wanted" list, and the search for her became a national fixation. FBI agents captured her at a Mission District house and charged her with armed robbery and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Famed attorney F. Lee Bailey represented Hearst -- none too well she later claimed -- and a jury found her guilty. Hearst was sentenced to seven years in prison. President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence in 1979 after she had served two years. President Bill Clinton pardoned Patty Hearst at the end of his terms in office. Two months out of prison, Hearst married her bodyguard and they settled in Connecticut where they raised two daughters.

Patty Hearst wasn't out of the limelight yet. Filmmaker John Waters was impressed with Hearst's story after seeing the film of her life, Patty Hearst, with the late Natasha Richardson playing the part of the heiress. He cast Patty herself in his film Cry Baby in 1990, followed by appearances in three more of his movies: Serial Mom, Pecker, and Cecil B. Demented. Patty later reflected on her life, "There's always been this fascination with what happened to me."

That's this month's NOPA lore; now back to the ride. The skies cleared, the sun appeared, and Patty/Tania/Lenore led the riders into the Panhandle and onto JFK Drive bound for the Great Highway. Co-organizer Rick Boardman assumed the sweeper role at the back of the pack. Everyone handled the moderate climb up the Great Highway to the Cliff House, including 6 year old Benjamin Stevens who accompanied his father, Peter. Afterwards Benjamin said going up that hill was his favorite part of the ride. Benjamin has been bicycling for three years, and tomorrow is his birthday.

The Presidio was chilly with morning fog, and a stop at the Warming Hut at Crissy Field came just at the right time. After the uphill ride to Inspiration Point, National Park Service volunteer Dale Danley, aka Ranger Dale, provided an update on the removal of Army-era landfills in the Tennessee Hollow. The group left the park via the Arguello Gate with half the riders stopping for drinks and lunch at Jannah restaurant in NOPA where owner Yahya Slih greeted them with special seating, great Middle Eastern/Californian food, and complimentary desserts with puffs on a hookah. He was thrilled to see many new faces. "Now people are getting used to us in the neighborhood," Salih said. "We're no longer the strangers here."

Look for news of upcoming NOPA VELO rides here on BIKE NOPA. Cyclists can also encouraged to join the NOPA VELO Google group for email updates on the rides: .

* A touch of irony, perhaps, that Friday's edition of the San Francisco Examiner featured the NOPA VELO ride with the poster of Patty/Tania Hearst wielding a bicycle. What might William Randolph Hearst think of that?


  1. I missed out FUN since i am on my way to India. Hope to join future ones.
    NOPNA Board

  2. ah so awesome!! sorry i missed it - i got the case of the sundayAM hybernationititissss...
    next time :D this is great dale & mike!
    im so happy so many people attended - yayyy!