Arrrrrrgh, Mendozer! It Be Yer Special Day!

Categories: Media

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While S.F. is lean on pirate history, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy International Talk Like a Pirate Day – today!

By Joe Eskenazi (Pirate name: No-Eyes Ron)

In June of 1995, the two rapscallions on the right decided to begin shouting pirate gibberish at one another for no particularly logical reason. The world has never been the same.

Those trailblazers – who reside in Oregon and go by "Cap’n Slappy" and "Ol’ Chumbucket," incidentally – founded “International Talk Like a Pirate Day.” One of the fellas chose Sept. 19 because it was his ex-wife’s birthday (which says a lot for her) and one of the nation’s most joyous – and stupid – traditions was born.

So, if you notice seemingly normal folks on the bus casually bobbing their three-cornered hat-adorned heads while listening to iPods or lifting their eye-patches to read the Wall Street Journal, now you know why.

And yet for a city that has witnessed a naval conquest, a Gold Rush boom, a killer earthquake and Carol Channing, San Francisco’s storied history is painfully thin on pirate lore.

“The maritime history of San Francisco didn’t really begin until 1850 – though there was some hide and tallow trading before that. But pirates were pretty much gone by the middle of the 19th century,” explains Ted Miles, a reference librarian at the city’s Maritime Library.

"A little town with a few hundred people ain’t got nothing to pirate.”

Well, what of Sir Francis Drake? Didn’t he sail into San Francisco Bay -- and wasn’t he a pirate?

Oh, Ted. Don’t be a killjoy.

First off, says the librarian, it’s unlikely Drake ever entered the Golden Gate – it gets foggy here, which explains why the city wasn’t discovered until the land-based Portola expedition of 1769. And besides, depending upon who was robbing whom, Drake wasn’t officially a pirate.

“He had a letter of marque from the British monarch establishing him as a privateer on behalf of the crown against a hostile power. The Spanish might call him a pirate,” said Miles.

Well, San Francisco has something of a Spanish sound to it, so perhaps Drake can be considered a pirate after all (at least on Sept. 19).

Absent historical pirates, San Francisco is forced to look to Hollywood to pad its pirate resume. The Balclutha, a 121-year-old former British merchant ship housed at San Francisco’s Hyde Pier was actually featured in the Charles Laughton and Clark Gable version of “Mutiny on the Bounty” and subsequently sailed up and down the West Coast as a “pirate ship.” (Miles, doing the sales job of a lifetime, stresses that the Balclutha was only one of several ships utilized in the film and was solely used for non-seafaring scenes).

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It seems perhaps the only real pirates to grace San Francisco (other than those selling hot copies of “The Passion of the Christ” or “Spiderman 3”) were “oyster pirates” of the late 19th and very early 20th century. In fact, Jack London himself put in time protecting the Bay’s now-vanished oyster beds from buccaneers, immortalizing his exploits in “Tales of the Fish Patrol” (read it here).

That’s not exactly a title that reaches out and grabs you like “The Call of the Wild,” is it?

“It’s not one of his pre-eminent subjects,” says Miles sheepishly.

While the Maritime Library and National Park may not be doing business like gangbusters today, you’d think the year-round Pirate Shop operated by McSweeney’s on Valencia would. Well, if you know, tell us – they won’t.

When I called the shop and asked if Talk Like a Pirate Day was like Christmas, the attendant laughed and half-heartedly said that every day is like Christmas before telling me that she was not allowed to speak to the press and I’d have to contact her supervisor.

Shiver me timbers! How less like a pirate can you get? Seriously, can you imagine any proper buccaneer bellowing “Arrrgh! I’m not parrr-mitted to answerrr yer querrrry. You’ll have to contact me supervisarrrh. Just call back and dial extension two-oh-farrrrrrrh”?

Seriously, that’s weak – oyster pirate weak.


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