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New Yorker West / Tad Friend, part-time Californian
Sam Whiting
Updated: Jan. 18, 2012 3:40 a.m.
Tad Friend, who writes the "Letter from California" feature for the New Yorker magazine. in San Francisco 8/1/05 Chris Hardy / San Francisco ChronicleChris Hardy
Tad Friend's field office is an upstairs bedroom in his sister's flat on Russian Hill. But mostly he's in an Avis mid-size, up and down the state. After a few weeks of research, Friend, 42, jets back to his home office in Times Square. There he distills mood and notion into his Letter from California, which appears irregularly in The New Yorker.
Why a Letter from California?
There are more readers of the New Yorker in California now than there are in New York state.
What is it?
It's a series of focused reports on different subcultures.
Where did you grow up?
Buffalo, the Philippines briefly, then Swarthmore, Pa. My dad was the president of Swarthmore College.
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Where do you live?
In Brooklyn Heights.
Then why are you the California correspondent?
Just purely by happenstance. I'd written a story for the New Yorker, prior to being hired, about a lawsuit between Brad Grey and Garry Shandling. Tina Brown was under the mistaken impression that I actually knew a lot about Hollywood.
What's your creative process?
I become very unpleasant to live with.
How long does the unpleasantness last?
Five, 10 days. I write a very, very rough draft, then I spend a lot of time trying to make that into something that resembles prose.
Why don't you just turn in the rough draft, the way Tom Wolfe used to do?
I guess embarrassment.
How many stories will you bring home?
This trip is just spadework. I'll talk to 30 or 40 people, then sit down and start thinking, "Is there a story here?"
This job still exists in journalism?
I don't know. No one told me how to do this so I'm just making it up as I go along.
Is there someone in your office you have to answer to?
You mean, like, am I on parole? (laughs).
Well, you hear about people at the New Yorker working 30 years on a story?
You hear about one person, Joseph Mitchell, taking 26.
Is it true that you're here because you couldn't face Stanford Law School?
It is true that I kept deferring admission.
What was your impression of Stanford?
A lot of volleyball.
You play volleyball?
No. I pictured reading heavily in various tort books and then occasionally just spiking the ball out on the sand.
Where did you go to college?
Harvard [stated low and almost inaudibly].
Did everybody who works at the New Yorker go to Harvard?
It's a myth. A number of people went to Princeton. There are some Yalies.
What is your routine?
I get out of bed very slowly. I make big cups of coffee. My wife [Amanda Hesser] and I take the subway in together because she works for the New York Times, which is 50 yards away from the Conde Nast Building. We come out of the subway at Times Square, smooch, separate, hang our heads.
How did you meet?
A blind date. A friend called me at 5 a.m. in California to say, "Wake up, it's your lucky day."
Did you know who she was?
I didn't. I wasn't reading the food pages in those days. She googled me. I wasn't aware that was something you could do.
What was the first date?
We went to a restaurant. She wrote about it later.
In what form?
She wrote a column called Food Diary. Then she wrote a book about it called "Cooking for Mr. Latte."
How do the lattes compare?
There are 11 Starbucks within three blocks of where I work. The only Peet's is at the airport. You have to fly somewhere to get good coffee.
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Written By
Sam Whiting
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Sam Whiting has been a staff writer at The San Francisco Chronicle since 1988. He started as a feature writer in the People section, which was anchored by Herb Caen's column, and has written about people ever since. He is a general assignment reporter with a focus on writing feature-length obituaries. He lives in San Francisco and walks three miles a day on the steep city streets.

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