I Found My Heart In San Francisco

29 03 2011

There are perceptions beyond experience, which indeed experiences may contribute to or help unearth, that marry you to a place. On an inhalation, the quality of the air dances with our quality of breath. When we step, our toes, heels, ankles, knees and hips take note, of the texture, of what the land gives back. Each moment spills with these metaphysical notes, and our bodies are supremely skilled at writing them down. (If only we had wireless printing for that!) The recitals are saved for when we are far away, when we are most open to relive the sensations, when the emotions have hibernated, the memories richly fermented amidst fresh and constant stimuli, but safely distinct, until their affect will be most potent. And we return to that place to drink for the first time.


If ever there was a place I have experienced a collective consciousness, it would be San Francisco. All at once I feel like a brilliant doctor, computer wizard, inspired musician, visionary architect, gifted chef, champion athlete, erudite environmentalist, witty winemaker, and (not least of all) working writer.

My ties began very early, with conception. An arbitrary bond by itself, but strengthened by skinned knees on sidewalks and afternoon drives over bridges, mud from the hillsides caked to tennis shoes and daydreams beneath eucalyptus trees, train trips to ball games and Sunday morning dim sum.

All four seasons repeated. A reality accepted, but never fully explored. All these years later and I am still learning the neighborhoods. A city is not known once and forever, but every time you introduce yourself to it. And I have had the privilege many times. Each time it wakes me with all five senses: this is yours, you have been missing, you are finally here this time. It’s the cold plunge after a sauna, your skin tight and aware, your mind alive in the looking and the object looked at…be it a building, the bay, the fresh crab on your plate, the bubbles in your beer, a toothless man in blue flannel pajamas, a tight trio of healthy urbanistas walking towards you on the sidewalk. The best part of me comes alive, and it is the best I can do to savor every sip, and to bring to every moment the shock-joy of someone just emancipated from a prison.

The clarity of the air has something to do with it, or the mist that floats in it. The color of perennials when the sun strikes them, or brick buildings, t-shirts, cars, or long hair caught by the breeze. Or maybe it’s just the angle with which the earth turns to face that sun. The way clouds floating by change its strength, its color, shape, and focus. We are moved by this more than we can consciously recognize. We bend like the grass, and wave in the wind when we say goodbye.


Sausalito Ferry

28 03 2011

Our hotel room has a view of the city’s southern skyline. We also get half of the last span of the Bay Bridge, and you can see the traffic coming in from the east bay. There’s a cathedral just below, its bells ring only once a day, so far as I can tell, at 5 in the afternoon. The MOMA is just beyond that, as is Yerba Buena park and the Contemporary Jewish Museum. I could write a novel with this view, and I could write another one about this view alone.

Romantic. We went to a crêpe place for breakfast. The real Normandy style (painstakingly made by a Latino). One savory, one sweet. Because that’s the way to do it. We ordered the savory first, with our coffee. Mushroom, cheese, and sausage on the hearty, chestnut brown buckwheat crêpe. We must have been hungry, because it didn’t last long. Halfway through it, we ordered our sweet crêpe (butter, banana, and honey) because that’s the way to do it. To ensure you enjoy it piping hot.

There is a ferry. It runs from the Ferry Building to Sausalito and back multiple times a day, even on the weekends. After our crêpes, we rushed to the 16th Street BART station so we could meet my mom and sister at the hotel, collect our bags, and rush off to catch the ferry. Apparently the overcast and darkening skies did not inspire maritime travel for them, so we decided to just drive, which worked out fine because Julia had never walked the Golden Gate Bridge, which we pulled off the 101 to do.

Sausalito is the kind of town that loves to have terrible parking on a sunday. Though I think we managed to find the last public spot in town. Our destination, Wellington’s Wine Bar, didn’t open until 3, so we stepped next door to Bar Bocce. They serve fine, modern Italian (shaved artichoke salad with fennel and pecorino, eggplant parmigiana with panko crust) and thin-crust pizza, and the patio is right on the water, looking out over the baylet to Tiburon. The wine was reasonably priced: I had a proper, earthy Napa Zinfandel that would have cost twice as much in LA, had it been offered at all. And yeah, they have a Bocce court just off the patio, in case you were wondering.

By the time we paid the bill, the mist in the air had escalated to a drizzle. Wellington’s had opened, and we were happy to grab a cozy couch by the window to watch the rain instead of be out in it. We enjoyed a 2001 Cabernet Franc from Diamond Mountain in Napa with the house charcuterie plate. As the wind picked up and the rain fell heavier, we couldn’t imagine a better activity to while the storm away.

LAX to SFO Part II

27 03 2011

We made it to Zuni first thing in the late morning. Oysters for breakfast! Finished by lentil soup and a burger. I had a glass of Cabernet Franc, and Julia enjoyed one of Zuni’s famous bloody Mary’s. Our cappuccinos we took from Cafe Trieste across the street. Strong, rich espresso. You can really taste the roasting. This is coffee that tastes as good as it smells. And it’s strong! As strong as it smells like it should be. The froth, more like whipped milk, lasted far longer than the coffee, and it was a treat to eat it with a spoon at the end.

We met a friend in the Mission, and he took us to some great vintage and curio shops where we fell deeper in love with mid-century modern furniture. A couple hours of walking and browsing got us primed for lunch. We stopped by Pancho Villa for a pollo asada burrito with guacamole and pinto beans (not black, very important). Add four kinds of salsa into the bag, and we jumped on BART at 16th and came back to the hotel to chow down. How does LA not have a burrito this good?!

Tonight was spent sharing stories and laughs with old friends, half Julia’s half mine, over clams, pickled onions and rosemary almonds at a local mission eatery. The atmosphere was par, with the ubiquitous, deeply stained wood (which I happen to love) and polished steel. The restaurant also had incorporated two living walls, which I haven’t seen too much of yet in LA but are growing in great popularity up here.

Drinks at Dirty Thieves after dinner were jovial, but everyone was noticeably pooped. A really campy movie played on Syfy on the TV in the corner. It seemed very similar in ways to a horror movie of mine coming out this Friday, and I began to wonder just how successful it would be.

We took another cab home, parting with Calvin and Jeannie, and dropped the Godors at their loft, ending our day of many accomplishments in the Mission.


27 03 2011

First of all, I just love the airport codes. They feel modern and techie and cool. These are my associations. So many innovations happen between these two cities that affects global culture, Los Angeles has entertainment while the bay area has tech. Living in the middle of it in LA, a gear in the content machine, you start to feel the fungus on you. Between wrap and call, there are few precious hours for yourself and your family. San Francisco, while only 350 miles away, can feel further in the mind, exotic, a youthful energy awakens inside you. The inspiration to live on the cusp of life takes hold of you, to eat the freshest food, to dance on the incoming tide of lights and aromas, to plug in to the motherboard of lured all around you.

Before we take off, we’re ready to be there. That’s the treasure of this passage: within an hour, we will be. And from there, I am excited and energized to use only public transportation. BART will take us from the airport to a stop a block from the hotel, walking distance from fine, amusing food and drink at the Ferry Building. That’s where we will lunch after our check-in.

We have a view of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island. The sky is overcast, sealed by clouds, and the ferries go in and out. I demand that we order a bowl of the clam chowder, half red half white. No other food has so aptly suited a place and time. The sourdough baguette is fresh, crunchy and chewy, delivered by foot and hand from the bakery a few doors down. The Cesar comes topped with a mound of fresh crab, and it is as close to the best salad as I have ever come: full, crisp leaves of romaine, the anchovies have been blended into the hand-whisked, house-made dressing. We both ordered pints of Anchor Steam, and it has never tasted so fresh, having come all of ten blocks from the brewery.

I’ll spare most of of the evening’s details. We did attend a Jeopardy party, not just a dork-fan gathering, but a celebration for an actual contestant, and a friend of ours. Yeah, she won. They have a great loft on Harrison and 11th. While dark & stormy was the drink of the evening, a personal favorite, I drank mostly wine (red and white), beer, champagne and yes, a zesty, spicy rum treat (or two). Two AM came all too fast, so salvation came in the form of a cab.

Ideas Aren’t Always What They Scream

24 03 2011

There is nothing like when your passion takes hold. The flame spreads, it gets higher and higher. The heat is palpable. In fact, I have to write this blog just to let off some steam. What began as a spark and grew to a flush of inspiration is on the verge of exploding up into a full-blown practice.

I know everyday won’t be this productive. Believe me. Any writer who is still writing has dealt with drought. But since they are still writing, they have learned how to turn that to their advantage, to find some creative opportunity be it just a sentence a day, a word, or even just staring at the screen or a notebook for fifteen minutes a day (which can be akin to something meditative). Something in that ritual pulled them through; they pulled themselves through. Because they had to. Those no longer writing? I guess they didn’t need it bad enough.

It makes me wonder what it is that we need. There can be no more pretentious thing to say than, “I am writing a novel.” Perhaps that is why many young writers are so glib about telling people. They either want people to know, or they realize how ridiculous it sounds but they still want people to know because it is such a large task.

At thirty four, I am not sure I am still considered a young writer. But I know that I don’t want to tell anybody I am writing novel. Of course, I just told you. It’s like walking around with a giant egg. People are not sure whether it’s real or not, let alone whether it will actually hatch.

One thing I want to remember, is how I feel right now. Because the exhilaration won’t last forever, especially when the work really piles on.

A Greater Responsibility

23 03 2011

For the last few years, music writers (myself included) have spun yarns about the availability and affordability of music recording equipment. Anyone with a computer and a bedroom can crank out something that someone will listen to. Look at the Black Keys’ first albums.

While making a record is easier in theory for bands more than ever, making a great record it just as difficult as it has always been, if not even more difficult. The tools and technology add to the temptation for laziness. And new skills must be developed to manipulate the digital medium, to avoid the tell-tale signs of DAWs and plug-ins.

Add to this a proliferation of appreciation for the “raw” aesthetic, which is supposed to reward honest expression and composition rather than production sheen. Some of my favorite albums of the last decade fall into this category. But for every good record (let alone GREAT record), there are a whole crop of lazy musicians out there who take advantage of this, and instead of perfecting anything whatsoever about their music, they just let it come out sloppy. Maybe this is cool, but it’s not lasting.

I don’t like to look at things as being better or worse than they used to be. The situation is different; I’m different, you’re different. Music evolves, as it should, as any art form is supposed to do by nature. New technology has always given the previously disenfranchised an opportunity to outshine the former leaders by jumping headfirst into the learning process, embracing the change rather than ignoring it. A new generation of master will rise out of the change, and in turn change the growth of the art forever.

But the cream will always rise to the top. Those who continue to be the best performers and write the best songs will stand out because their skills transcend any of the technologies that may come, go, or stay. And engineers who equally embrace the old, current, and burgeoning technologies will always find work because of their mastery and flexibility.

As paradoxical as it may seem, it is nonetheless true: the more technology attempts to make things easier, the harder you must work to maintain, no, exec the standards previously set. And there will a whole lot more people trying to get there first.

Twitter Trumps Telephone

23 03 2011

This is not about me. But someone I live with. She owns a small business in Venice, CA. Her name is Julia. This post more about conveying information than creating art, but I find the information to be important and the revelation to be relatively stunning.

Julia recently had a very serious problem with her phone service. Verizon, the leader in terrible customer service, shut her phone service off unexpectedly. Give or take an hour or two here and there, her business was without phone service for almost two weeks. For a business that relies on its phone for customers to call and make appointments for which they pay money, this was an affliction not unlike the Black Plague. It literally could have killed her.

So she took to the web, increased her Twitter specials, and encouraged clients to make appointments via email or through Twitter itself. But that is not the point. Verizon has always had a reputation for terrible service, and they no doubt showed their true colors through this ordeal. Julia estimates that she spent somewhere between 10 and 12 hours on hold for representatives, each one who when finally they appeared on the other end told her a different story about why the service had been cut off and when it would be turned back on. Ultimately, someone over there got the story straight and they unanimously told her it would be 10 days before the phone would be back on. 10 days had already passed.

Enter Twitter. I remembered reading a blog by a guy who was skiing at Vail and had a problem with the experience, so he tweeted the CEO and almost immediately received an answer. So I suggested she find someone at Verizon on Twitter and send them a message. Who she found was @VerizonSupport. Whether they are trying to validate their existence against the traditional phone service I am not sure. But after a few messages back and forth to diagnose Julia’s issue, they provided a direct line to a supervisor they promised would solve the issue. This may not seem like a big deal, but this came after anonymous drone representatives who refuse to tell you their last names and who insist that they cannot refer your situation to a supervisor, only to a “technical specialist” or whatever.

Of course, we were doubtful at first, because of the terrible service so far. But after some tense words regarding the urgency of the situation, this supervisor was able to get the phone working again within an hour.

In this case, Twitter gave Julia an alternative to the apathy usually encountered on the phone. I dig it. Barriers are falling. We do have access. And as the old ways resist, it will only push us further into the new generation.