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Walking Tours
Social, historical, and critical tours through San Francisco.

March-July 2024
$25-40 sliding scale donation requested to benefit Shaping San Francisco

Along the Yardarm: Maritime History and Resources

  • Thursday, March 21, 1–3:30 pm
  • Get a look inside the spaces holding our San Francisco water-based stories, interpretations, and archives. Starting with a visit to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Visitor Center with its excellent “Waterfront Exhibit,” wander with us past the evolving Hyde Street Pier to the Maritime Museum inside the historic Aquatic Park Bathhouse Building. There we are introduced to the WPA murals and maritime era artifacts by a National Park Service Ranger, including a special visit to the 3rd floor restored murals. The newly opened Black Point Terrace Gardens lead us up to Fort Mason, through the Great Meadow, and to the Maritime Research Center where librarians host and introduce us to the resources they steward. Stay with us afterwards for no host refreshments at the Interval Bar at Long Now. Presented with the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and Research Center.

    ...And Some of That Started Here! Glen Park

  • Saturday, April 20, noon–2:30 pm
  • The San Francisco civic pride campaign, It All Starts Here SF, highlights the foundational tenets of our city and how "San Francisco has a deep history of inclusion, innovation, tragedy and resilience and we always come back." Join Evelyn Rose, Glen Park historian and founder of the Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project, to rediscover our connections with some historic San Francisco “firsts” throughout the district and adjacent open space. From the first dynamite factory in America personally licensed by inventor Alfred Nobel to the first high-altitude flight in a fixed-wing flying machine, a resident who led the first official march for women's suffrage in the United States, plus other interesting revelations along the way. You'll be surprised at the remarkable histories Glen Park harbors!

    RSVP required to shaping@foundsf.org.

    What's That Smell? NE Mission Industrial History

  • Saturday May 11, 2024, 1-3 pm
  • Chris Carlsson, long-time grassroots historian and guide to San Francisco's lost, forgotten and overlooked histories, takes participants on a walk around the old industrial sites of the North Mission. Pungent odors such as ammonia, baking bread, and roasting hops, once common, are now only memories
    Get tickets from SFIAFF

    Notorious San Francisco: True Tales of Crime, Passion, and Murder

  • Saturday, June 8, noon–2 pm
  • A walking tour through the history of the Barbary Coast, “The Wickedest Place in the West,” from its gold rush beginning to its end in 1917. Learn about famous serial killers of San Francisco, “Shanghai” Kelly and Miss Piggott, Billy Goat Saloon, the legendary Bella Union, the whisky warehouse that saved the Barbary Coast during the 1906 Earthquake.


    Bicycle Tours
    “Cycles of History,” our social, historical, and critical tours through San Francisco by bicycle.

    Shaping San Francisco co-director Chris Carlsson conducts historical tours of San Francisco by bicycle. Bring a snack and water — we don't stop for food! Please email us to RSVP, less than five people cancels!

    (Please include your phone number so we can call you if rain washes out the tour!)

    Spring 2024 Tours

    RSVP required: shaping@foundsf.org

    We request a $25-50 sliding scale donation for our bike tours (but are flexible and you can pay less—or more!—as you see fit), benefiting Shaping San Francisco

  • Beholding SF's Birds Pedal by Pedal: Saturday March 30, 10-3pm
  • Repair Shops of Eastern SF Thursday, April 18, 1-4 pm THIS TOUR IS FULL!
  • Labor History: Saturday July 6, 12–4 pm 

  • More info: 415.608.9035
    Need to Rent a Bike? Go to Pier 40 to the Bike Hut!


  • Shorelines: Past, Present, Future:
    TBA, 12-3 pm
  • Bicycle Messenger Crackdown Commemoration Ride: TBA
  • San Francisco's Natural Areas: TBA
  • Haunting Tour of Colma Cemeteries!: Sunday, November 3, 2024, 12–3 pm  
  • Ecological History South: TBA, 12-3 pm
  • Ghosts of Transit Past:TBA, 12-3pm
  • Ecological History North: TBD, 12-4 pm
  • Food Politics History: TBD, 12–3 pm  
  • West Portal's Residential Parks: TBA 12-3 pm


  • BY APPOINTMENT • GROUPS • UNSCHEDULED

    All of our tours by bicycle and on foot are available by appointment, provided you have a group of at least 5 and you are willing to pay a minimum of $200. (We are negotiable of course, but that's our starting point. The price goes up for groups over 10.)

    2024 Bay Cruises!
    Shoreline history
    boat tours with

    Chris Carlsson

    Bicycle Tours

    "Best cruise through the past!" — SF Bay Guardian "Best of the Bay" 2007 & 2014!

    Repair Shops of Eastern San Francisco

    Thursday, April 18, 1-4 pm THIS TOUR IS FULL!

    with Kathryn Hide and Nikki Collister of reThinkRepair In this new bicycle tour through SOMA and the Bayview District, we’ll visit 7 historic businesses dedicated to the craft of repair. These unique shops will open their doors for the tour, revealing some of the city’s most fascinating, under-the-radar workspaces. Peek into an antiquated building filled with vats for silver restoration, view a 90-year-old sewing machine for hemming jeans, learn how SFFD’s handcrafted wooden ladders are refurbished, admire a studio of artful lamp creations - and more! We’ll hear stories from the shop owners themselves, interspersed with local history and conversation about Right to Repair legislation, our throwaway culture, and fast fashion. Be ready for a scenic 9-mile ride with some minor hills and not well-paved roadways. Along the way, we’ll point out additional repair shops and hidden gems filled with recycled treasures. You are invited to stay with us after the tour for drinks at Hop Oast Pub & Brewery.

    San Francisco's Natural Areas II

    TBA, 1:30-4 pm

    Led by Peter Brastow and Bob Hall, “ride the dunes” with us down to Ocean Beach and learn about what’s happening naturally at the western edge of the continent. Then we ascend the Great Highway up to Lands End to explore lands the National Park Service restored over the last decade or so. Finally, we plot a course for the Presidio, where we’ll discover little known gems that embody the city’s status as a biodiversity hotspot within a hotspot within a hotspot! This ride builds on our Spring Natural Areas Bike Tour, but participation in our spring ride is not a prerequisite!

    RSVP required 

    or donate now!

    Shorelines, Past, Present, and Future

    TBA, 12 noon-3 pm

    Join us to ride along San Francisco's current shoreline, original shoreline, and what is very likely to become our future shoreline! Chock full of stories about landfills, hill carving, earthquakes, garbage, and the century-long process to "reclaim" the "stinking mudflats" of San Francisco's bayshore.

    Tour ends at Warm Water Cove (24th and bayshore).

    RSVP required 

    or donate now!

    Bicycle Messenger Crackdown Commemoration Ride

    TBA

    Join longtime bike messengers along with cycling advocates for this journey through the lost history of city crackdowns, bike messenger hangouts, worker revolts, reclaiming of public space, and a reappraisal of the underground working-class subculture that provided a unique path to a type of autonomy and independence. Police crackdowns, especially in 1984 and 1989 helped forge a new unity among messengers of that era, and left a legacy of cultural cohesion and resistance that survives out of sight and recorded history… until now!

    Tour ends in Western Addition.

    RSVP required 

    or donate now!

    Beholding SF's Birds Pedal by Pedal

    Saturday, March 30, 10 am-3 pm

    Meet at 10 AM at McLaren Lodge, Stanyan and JFK Drive, Golden Gate Park.

    RSVP required: shaping@foundsf.org.

    Tour ends at Cliff House

    A special bicycling field trip with Habitat Potential's Josiah Clark covering Golden Gate Park and the northern shoreline. Expect to see 80-100 bird species, overlooked habitats, trees where they never were, water where there was no water… Explore challenges and opportunities for sustainable urban ecology in SF.

    RSVP  or donate now!

    Labor history

    Saturday, July 6, 12-4 pm, (Part of Laborfest)

    From the pre-urban history of Indian Slavery to the earliest 8-hour day movement in the U.S., the ebb and flow of class war is traced. SF's radical working class organizations are shaped in part by racist complicity in genocide and slavery, but from the 1870s to the 1940s there are dozens of epic battles between owners and workers, culminating in the 1934 General Strike and its aftermath. This is an entirely different look, during a four hour bike tour, at San Francisco labor history.

     

    Haunting Tour of Colma Cemeteries

    Sunday, November 3, 2024 12–3 pm

    We take a spirited tour of several massive cemeteries where famous San Franciscans are buried. We'll visit Woodlawn, Home of Peace and Hills of Eternity, Cypress Lawn, and Holy Cross.

    We return to Colma or South SF BART together at end of tour.

    RSVP required 

    and click here to donate in advance!

    Photo by Marcin Wichary

    Food Politics History

    TBD, 12-3 pm, Limited capacity,

    Explore the many ethnic threads that, knit together, have produced our amazing local cuisine. From the old Italian food industries to Chinese shrimping villages, to the prodigious Bay Area fresh fruit and vegetable trade, get ready for an illuminating tour that will change how you think about what you eat. 

    Tour ends at the "Farm by the Freeway".

    Ecological History (North)

    TBD, 12-3pm

    This trip through San Francisco's lost sand dunes, ponds, creeks and coastline will focus on the city from downtown north, covering the heart of the city, the waterfront and Yerba Buena cove, Telegraph Hill, Black Point, and Crissy Field in the Presidio... It's a social, historical and critical tour through the city's ecological past and present.

    Tour ends at Aquatic Park or Fort Mason Great Meadow.

    Dissent

    TBD

    Covering everything from literary dissenters to urban riots and protests, this tour examines sites of conflict and unrest, the social movements and upheavals, that have shaped San Francisco since its origins. It's a social, historical and critical tour through the city's contrarian past and present. Tour ends at Dolores Park.

    RSVP shaping@foundsf.org

    Photo: Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman

    Ecological History (South)

    TBA, 12-3pm

    This trip through San Francisco's lost sand dunes, ponds, creeks and coastline will focus on the city from the center southward, covering the Mission before heading to Heron's Head Park and then making our way northward along the bayshore. Heron's Head Park, The Farm, water and sewage, geology, community gardens, San Bruno Mountain, and more! It's a social, historical and critical tour through the city's ecological past and present.

    Tour ends at Warm Water Cove (24th and bayshore).

    RSVP required 

    and click here to donate in advance!

    Ghosts of Transit Past

    TBD, or by appointment

    Discover lost freeways, ghosts of train routes, and a vivid account of how San Franciscans moved around this peninsula through time. Hear about the violent strikes that shaped public transit, the graft and corruption that conquered the Outside Lands. It's a social, historical and critical tour through the city's transportation past and present.

    Tour ends near Embarcadero and Market.

    Commemorating 50th anniversary of Los Siete de la Raza

    by appointment

    Explore the sites where a creative and militant social movement response took hold after police arrested six young Latino men for the May 1, 1969 murder of an undercover cop on Alvarado Street. Trace the history of the mobilization, the sites where newspapers, health clinics, and more were produced.

    India Basin

    by appointment

    We'll take a close tour around the India Basin rim, from Heron's Head to the edge of Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard. This tour will bring us to the exciting new shoreline parks around India Basin.

    Panama-Pacific International Exposition—Then and Now

    by appointment

    This mild bicycle journey covers key locations of the Panama Pacific International Exposition from Civic Center's Civic Auditorium, built as the Exposition Auditorium, to the Palace of Fine Arts. Ride with us and travel through the past 100 years of the influence of this and other world’s fairs.

    Photo: Building the Exposition Auditorium in 1914, courtesy San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco History Center

    West Portal's Residential Parks

    by appointment, 12 noon-3 pm

    You may be living in a residence park and not know it. Between 1905 and 1924, 36 “residence parks” were planned or launched in San Francisco, with picturesque streets, landscaping, detached houses, and setbacks to convey the feeling of living in a park. Only a few are well known such as St Francis Wood, Forest Hill, and Seacliff. The developers were colorful characters who left a legacy of attractive, landscaped neighborhoods that have lasted more than 100 years.

    Author and West Portal resident Richard Brandi will lead a bike tour based on his new book, Garden Neighborhoods of San Francisco, the Development of Residence Parks 1905-1924, by McFarland Publishing.

    We will see upwards of 10 residence parks in the greater West Portal and Ocean Avenue areas. The 2-hour bike ride will have multiple stops so Richard can point out the unique figures of each neighborhood. The route is on city street and is not too steep. There are no restrooms on the route.

    RSVP required 

    and click here to donate in advance!

    Take Part San Francisco 1938-2019

    Four free bike rides in 2019, sponsored by the new San Francisco Department of Memory, conducted by Shaping San Francisco's LisaRuth Elliott and Chris Carlsson, visited 7 branch libraries each to see the pieces of the 1938 scale model map of San Francisco and compare them, while riding, to the city around us.

    In collaboration with the San Francisco Public Library and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and their ongoing Public Knowledge program.

  • South by Southeast: Saturday, January 26, 2019, 11-3 (Start at Bayview Branch Library, 5075 Third Street)
  • Northward: Saturday, February 9, 2019 (rescheduled from Feb 2), 11-3 (Start at Potrero Branch Library, 1616 20th Street)
  • Go West! Over Hill and Dale: Saturday, February 16, 2019, 11-3 (Start at Eureka Branch Library, 16th St. near Market),
  • From "Inside" to Outside Lands: Saturday, February 23, 2019, (Start at Main Library, Larkin and Grove)
  • Other Walking Tours we offer:

    Cutting Corners: Rincon Hill, South Park, and Beyond

    • TBA, 12-2pm

      Explore the mid- to late-19th century processes of the making of a new urban and industrial center on the West Coast, as well as the social, economic, and cultural forces influencing the transformation of the South of Market and Mission Bay landscapes. Uncover buried knowledge of language, water, marshes, shorelines, bays, sand dunes, rocky mounds, and landfull. Learn the names of disappeared hills, points, creeks, valleys, and waterways that still exist under the surface. Hosted by LisaRuth Elliott.

      Tour ends at 4th and Berry.

      RSVP  or donate now!

    Through the Fog: Cow Hollow/Polk Gulch/Tenderloin

    • TBA, 12-3 pm

      A custom Noir-ish wander inspired by the ACT production of “The Headlands”. Starting in Cow Hollow, we start with a look across the water at the fascinating history of the Marin Headlands. Our route will depart from there to pass through the old lagoon in Cow Hollow and the 19th century Chinese vegetable gardens. Crossing over to Polk Street, we will visit literary ghosts and the site of a jazz palace as we enter the Tenderloin.

      Tour ends at ACT on Geary. 

      RSVP  or donate now!

    New Deal Murals, Italian SF, and Trash!

    • TBA, 12–3 pm

      Starting with a guided tour of Refregier's Rincon Annex murals, this tour will cross the old Italian Produce Market zone through food, sailors, trash, buried ships, and more before climbing the Filbert Steps to end with a tour of the Coit Tower murals. Tour ends at Coit Tower.

      RSVP  or donate now!

    Market Street: The Contested Boulevard

    • TBA, 12-3 pm

      Stroll through the center of San Francisco along its main thoroughfare, discovering the social movements and events that shaped the City's history, and explore the ecology still evident under the pavement. The "roar of the four", the 8-hour day movement and the rise of Labor parties, women's suffrage and independence, newspaper wars, urban design, and more!
      Tour ends at UN Plaza, 7th and Market.
      RSVP  or donate now!

    Scandalous South of Market

  • TBD, 12-2 pm
  • Join a walk starting at the Palace Hotel with its surprising tales of 19th century wealth and vice, traverse the buried histories of Redevelopment and Yerba Buena, the Philippines-US War, and much more!
    Tour ends at King and 3rd Streets.

    Comix, Underground Press, and Poetry: The Mission You Don't Know

  • tbd, 12–2 pm
  • Enjoy a half dozen stops of the "Ten Years..." audio tour, focusing in part on literary histories
    Tour ends on Mission Street, between 18th and 19th.

    Rancho San Miguel Hilltopper

    • TBA, 12–3 pm
    • Meet at Glen Park BART

      A hillclimbing, semi-rugged walk across the hills at the center of the old pre-urban Rancho San Miguel. We'll walk up Glen Canyon to the Islais Creek headwaters, then via stairs and paths to the top of Twin Peaks, Tank Hill, Mt. Olympus, and Corona Heights. Tour ends at 17th and Castro MUNI station.

      RSVP  and click here to donate in advance!

    Valencia Street: Funerals, South Asian Radicals, Lesbians, and Punks

    • TBA, 5 pm
    • Revisit the multi-faceted history of Valencia Street. From the decades when it was home to dozens of mostly Irish-owned funeral homes, and a streetcar line—dominated by Irish car men—ran up the street, to the radical anti-British Empire activists from South Asia who founded the Ghadar Party in the early 20th century, to the overlapping histories of Lesbian and punk culture in the 1970s and 1980s, you will see through the glossy gentrification of Valencia Street into a very different history. With the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Tour

      RSVP  and click here to donate in advance!

    Summer of Peace, Love & Anti-War

  • TBD, 12–3 pm
  • A meandering journey through the Haight-Ashbury and environs, revisiting highlights of the 1966-68 period, focused on the Anti-war movement and the various cultural eruptions that the media labeled "Summer of Love" but for those who lived it, was a more complicated intersection of cultural and political revolutionary aspirations.
    Tour ends around 3 pm at Kezar Stadium (GG park)

    Poets and Writers: A Literary Exploration

    Uncovering literary heroes from the North Mission all the way to the Corona Heights and the lower Haight: poets, novelists, essayists, horror writers, and more. Tour ends at Page and Buchanan.

    Fort Mason & Black Point

  • TBD, 12–1:30 pm
  • We begin in the shadow of the Fontana Towers at Van Ness and Bay and will conclude at the Fort Mason gates. During our excursion we’ll traverse the grounds of the old military base and discover histories of farms, soldiers, waterways, and World’s Fairs. A lost lagoon, a misaligned alley, a slain hero, and an apparent suicide highlight a stroll through the old World’s Fairgrounds and today’s landfilled multi-million dollar neighborhoods… Chris Carlsson will regale you with overlooked stories that still shape the San Francisco of today.
    Tour ends at 1:30 pm at Fort Mason.

    Ten Years That Shook the City: Mission District History

    • TBD, 12-2 pm

    • We take you through a familiar part of the Mission—from around 24th Street, down Mission and Valencia, to 18th Street—to give you some unfamiliar histories. We focus on literary histories, public visual expression, resistance through print media, and the sites of poetry readings. You'll hear of the neighborhood's proximity to the mountains of Nicaragua, to the art of los tres grandes, and to the aircraft carriers involved in the bombardment of Vietnam. Enjoy a half dozen stops of the "Ten Years That Shook the City" audio tour, hosted by Chris Carlsson and LisaRuth Elliott. Tour ends at Mission and 18th.

      King Tide/Sea Level Rise Mission Bay

      • tbd, 11 am-1 pm

      • This tour will look at the transformation of Mission Bay from a body of water and center of commerce and industry, to the current day configuration of businesses, residential neighborhood, and open space. We will look at the long effort over San Francisco's history to fill the bay as well as at current restoration projects, and the future of Mission Bay as climate change and sea level rise continue to impact shorelines and weather patterns. We will look at the City's considerations for the future and neighborhood-proposed solutions. We go through quite a bit of history of industry and related labor, global influences, and transportation. Hosted by Chris Carlsson and LisaRuth Elliott

        Tour ends at Crane Cove Park.
        RSVP  and click here to donate in advance!

        Bound To Fall: Hub Neighborhood Walk

      • TBD, 12-2 pm
      • Join Arthur O’Donnell for a walking tour of two major spokes of "The Hub" transit center along Market Street and South Van Ness Ave. We'll investigate the current and expected changes along these corridors. Tour begins with coffee and calories at All-Star Donuts, moves south to Otis St./Mission Street, then explores the Brick & Masonry Historic District along Market St. to Valencia St., where we'll end at Lucky 13 for drinks and discussion. Bring your cameras!

        Beer, Dunes, and Trains

        • TBA, 12–3 pm

        • Join a redesigned walk through the lost industrial landscape in the North Mission and South of Market, passing the ghosts of old train lines, former and current breweries, and learn about the remarkable landscape that was buried under the urbanized pavement—not quite a beach, but lots of dunes!

          RSVP  and click here to donate in advance!

        Jackson Square Historic District Architectural tour

        • TBA, 12-2pm

          The Jackson Square Historic District harbors dozens of San Francisco’s oldest structures built originally over the old Yerba Buena Cove landfill. Most of them have been repurposed into design showrooms, law and architectural offices, and other uses. On our tour we learn about their past and present, and looking to the future we also discuss a number of newer buildings in and adjacent to the historic district that exemplify efforts to build more housing in the area; some more successful than others! Hosted by Shaping San Francisco with special guest archictectural historian Katherine Petrin. Tour ends at Front and Vallejo.

          RSVP  or donate now!

    Awards and Testimonials

    “WONDERFUL WALK THROUGH BERNAL HEIGHTS”

    "Most recently, I took the walking tour of Bernal Heights, but I’ve also done walks covering South of Market and Telegraph Hill. All were excellent. LisaRuth and Chris are knowledgeable and personable guides with deep historical knowledge of San Francisco. The Bernal Heights walk was a vigorous one that began at the Bernal Cut and headed up and down Bernal Hill, covering all sides. I’ve been there dozens of times, but had never used the path that Lisa used to get us to the top. Throughout the tour, I was prompted to notice things I might otherwise have walked past, with special attention to former earthquake shacks. It was an entertaining and educational afternoon, and I look forward to more walks and boat rides with LisaRuth and Chris."
    CitygalSF on TripAdvisor

    “BEST CRUISE THROUGH THE PAST”

    “While in principle we'd be the first to advocate sitting at home with a good history book on weekends, we'd also be the first to admit that such studious discipline can be hard to maintain on those rare summer afternoons when the sun is shining. Thanks to local activist Chris Carlsson's Bicycle History Tours, which depart regularly from CounterPULSE in SoMa, you can get your fun in the sun while simultaneously learning loads about San Francisco's various social, political, and ecological histories. As director and curator of the ambitiously far-reaching Shaping San Francisco history preservation project, Carlsson has amassed a wealth of local archival information regarding such absorbing topics as the subterranean waterways flowing beneath our streets and the Bay Area's long-standing penchant for protest. Usually the bike ride turns out to be the least strenuous activity of the day, but the great gray muscle that is your brain will definitely get a workout.”
    San Francisco Bay Guardian Best of the Bay 2007

    “UNRIVALED” 

    “The bike tours are unrivaled for their information to minute ratio. Chris Carlsson = top 5 people in SF.”
    Yelp Review 

    “A GREAT BIKE RIDE / SAN FRANCISCO”

    “Explore the colorful history of the labor movement here in San Francisco with CounterPULSE and Shaping San Francisco director Chris Carlsson on this four-hour bicycle tour. You will visit Pier 38 where the 1877 riots almost burned the Pacific Mail docks (and led to the Workingmen’s Party) and the foot of Market Street where many labor marches began. Get off at the Civic Center BART/Muni Station — remember you can bring your bike on BART —and meet up with new friends at Mission and 9th streets. Do not forget your high-energy snack and some H2O. $15-50 sliding scale.” 
    San Francisco Examiner

    “TREMENDOUS NARRATIVE SKILL”

    “I recently rode on the Shaping San Francisco 'Labor History' bike tour led by Chris Carlsson, a cycling encyclopedia of the many layers of SF history. With tremendous narrative skill, Chris point out visible urban features and architecture I'd passed by countless times without a notice, to bring the lived experience of the past into perspective. Upcoming tours include Ecological History, Dissent, and Food Politics. I hope to go on more these and suggest both visitors and long-time residents check them out as well. There's pretty much no better way of spending a beautiful day and getting a deeper look at the city we live in.”

    —Ben Furstenberg, April 30, 2012

    “A REAL CHARACTER AND A HILARIOUS GUY”

    Last weekend I had the fortune to spend four hours in the company of Chris Carlsson, maybe the most knowledgeable man around when it comes to all things San Francisco. Seriously. He offers six more tours this year, ranging in subject from food history (the one I opted for) to dissent to ecological history. Best of all, the tours are in no way obnoxious. Carlsson is a real character and a hilarious guy. You can tell he cares about his city as much as he cares about the people who live in it. And his tours are punctuated with tasty snacks. I was joined by about fifteen other folks (including two friends on an obscenely large tandem bicycle with whom I got lost afterwards in a pretty bad neighborhood…needless to say, heads were turning). Carlsson steered us around the sites of factories I didn’t even know had existed in San Francisco – mayonnaise, Twinkie, coffee – and way beyond.

    —Lucy Schiller, Broke-Ass Stuart Destitute Dispatcher, Oct. 19, 2011