Bellingham by the Bay
By Bruce Bellingham
I was on my way to Ron Fimrite’s memorial service at the Washington Square Bar & Grill on Saturday, May 24 when I decided to walk over the hill, down to Chinatown, to North Beach. All places that Ron loved. I passed the U-Lee Chinese restaurant on Russian Hill.
It’s a funky bit of a shack on Hyde and Jackson, has about five tables, the family does the cooking in an open kitchen, and they make the very best – kneaded hands down – pot stickers in San Francisco. I was tempted to go inside and order a couple of pot stickers for both Ron and me. But the hour was late. I guess the time has passed for a number of things right now, all of them irretrievably lost.
“In the real world, obituaries really mean something,” Ron used to say.
U-Lee was Ron’s kind of place. Close proximity with strangers. He could strike up a conversation with anyone in any hemisphere in the world. A shame we couldn’t stop and stay for a while. Rod hated to miss anything. But we had an engagement and had to press on to North Beach.
The friends of Ron Fimrite had already jammed into The Square on Powell Street. They took their glasses of wine, spilled out onto the sidewalk, and listened to the speeches on a speaker. Ron died on April 30 from pancreatic cancer at the age of 79. You’d swear he didn’t appear the least bit sick.
Ron wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle before joining Sports Illustrated for 34 years as a columnist. Those were halcyon days for Sports Illustrated with Frank Deford, Dan Jenkins and William Nash on staff. Sports writers have to be the most inventive, the most creative, the most poetic of all journalists. Most of what they witness is an amorphous, evanescent collision of players and flying debris often decided by a Rashomon-style tribunal. Ron had a combination of style, élan and insouciance. He reveled in the company of both the regal and the ragamuffin. He told Defore, “Hey, it’s sports, it’s fun and games. Let’s not get carried away with it.”
Ron covered 16 World Series, two Olympics, and several Super Bowls. He wrote a book about his dear Washington Square Bar & Grill, The Square: The Story of a Saloon. His last book, published before his death, is Golden Bears.
What made Ron’s writing a standout was his wit. He once described a miscreant who had wandered into the playing field as being quickly dispatched by officers off to “durance vile.” Ron was as Old World as he was New.
Ron’s son, Peter Fimrite, who is a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, was the master of the wake. He provided a few “Fimrite-isms.” Peter had printed out some of Ron’s gems from over the years. Joining Peter as speakers were his sister, Debbie Fimrite … Ron’s ex-wife Joan Von Briesen … David Bush … John Dalton … Lefty Stern … and Michael McCourt. Now that The Square has closed for lunches, Michael’s rollicking raconteurship will be missed for now. … Two former owners of The Square were in attendance, Ed Moose and Peter Lomax, as were Lynn Kennedy … Hadley Roff … Carole Vernier … Diane Weissmuller … Herb Gold … and publisher Pat Walsh and his talented wife, Jeanne.
On the death of legendary columnist Lucius Beebe, Ron remarked all those years ago in the paper, “There is in a man’s lifetime that precious moment when he knows he’s got it made … he’s usually wrong, of course, but what matter?”
In a pensive mood in 1970, Ron mused: “Much of my life has been expended in a vain search for what it is that pleases woman.” … In 1968: “Any sensible person would agree there are few experiences more rewarding than sitting about listening to a bunch of middle-age men talk about sports.” … In 1969: “There are, quite obviously, many disadvantages in being married.”
In 1968, Ron beheld the epiphany: “The most depressing people in the world are the ones who are not only younger than you, but are more successful. As a matter of principle, of course, I never trust anyone under 30 – except off-duty airline stewardesses – it’s the young successes that really gnaw at the innards.”
“The weekend ended with a tie,” Ron wrote in 1969. “Which is all to the good, for if you can finish in a dead heat with Monday, you’re ahead of the game. The best we can hope for out of life, after all, is a tie.”
Ron never tied nor broke even, despite his inherent sense of fairness. He always came out on top of the game. At the end, all those friends in attendance were there to prove it, and to acknowledge his many victories.
Bruce Bellingham is author of Bellingham by the Bay. Talk to him at firstname.lastname@example.org