Category Archives: Bay Area

The 800 Bus

The 800 is my favorite bus in the Bay Area. This is the bus that goes back and forth from Downtown San Francisco to Berkeley and Oakland in the wee hours of the morning. You have your bar staff getting off work, one-night stands, forlorn lovers and, mostly, working-class partiers. This is the bus that runs only during the hours it is too late to catch the train. The evening is over and there are a lot of stories in those faces.

Most of the time I ride public transit I wrap myself in a book. But on the 800 I’m usually with a friend, and either too pooped or too pumped to read. Instead I find my plots in the desperation of the singles and the eavesdropped sarcasms of couples. I find my character in the swagger and slick coifs of the lovers and the heavy-lids of the night shift workers.
The first time I caught the 800 I sat behind the tall hair of a drag queen. The second time I sat surrounded by a tourist group from Eastern Europe. The whole ride home they sang Communist Party songs while a drunk hobo ingratiated himself into their clan. The most recent time I caught it was the worst. I caught it after a run-in with some bitches itching for a fight at the Denny’s, post-party (Twelves at the Mezz), post-breakfast, indeed so late it was almost early. It seemed at that hour things were a little less festive, a lot more tired and wolrd-weary. But the stories were still there.

Mission Buddhist temple

Architecturally, this is one of my favorite houses of worship in San Francisco. Not because it is the most beautiful, but because it is a Buddhist Temple occupying an old Victorian church. The brightly painted Victorians are tied to the city’s extravagant gold rush history. It also touches on the city’s long bohemianism, as the Hippies were the first to paint their Victorians in bold color schemes—the English stuck with somber monochromatic grey-white. But while the bold red paint fits in nicely on this Mission street, it is clearly chosen to mark the space for what it is today, a Buddhist temple. The influx of Chinese is also tied to the Gold Rush, since migrant workers from China built the railroads. Migration from across the Pacific is equally important in Modern San Francisco now it connected to the Brain Drain of Asia’s best and brightest to work in Silicone Valley tech jobs or prestigious Stanford and Berkeley universities. The neighborhood where this structure is planted is certainly bohemian but it is far from Chinatown and Japantown, making its neighbors mostly Central American.

I took the picture on this particular day because it was recently repainted. The building’s Buddhist remake has gilded lion-head knockers on the side doors. At the top of the steps the glass double doors are filled with a giant laughing Buddha.

The tendency to naturally blend eclectic cultural influences marks this temple not only a beautiful representation of San Francisco, but a great piece of Americana as well.

Posted via email from The Bay is Better

The XX Marks the Mezzanine

The xx play live at La Casa 139, Milan, Italy ...
Image via Wikipedia

While Destructo was finishing up his set at the Mezzanine, I wandered upstairs in search of a better view. I was surprised to see a DJ setting up in the back room. Hope alighted my belly. I asked the gent assembling what his name was and he said Jaime. Hope swelled. I asked him if he had a DJ name. He seemed a little taken aback, like the answer wasn’t ready at his fingertips.

The XX.”

I said, “Oh, great. Then you’re who I’m here to see.” Well that wasn’t exactly true—I’d only found out he was going to be there a few hours ago, but it immediately outshone my interest in the main act, Major Lazer. Major Lazer’s set was probably starting at that minute, I didn’t know or give a damn.

He seemed shy and not at all accustomed to the cult of celebrity. When I told him “I love your album” I almost thought he didn’t believe me. But truth be told, in that crowd he wasn’t a celebrity. I wanted to tell him that by the time he comes back to San Francisco The XX will be the name on everyone’s lips but that sort of praise always sounds like B.S., especially in a loud crowd, especially when that crowd is not dancing to your music.

I originally thought they were going to squeeze him in for a short set on the crowded, enormous, sweaty main stage. Instead I had a sweet spot directly in front of the DJ with all the room I needed to lay down whatever dance move struck my fancy. There was no stage, he had a DJ table on the floor sandwiched between some cordoned off VIP booths. Basically, my pal and I were the only ones dancing for a time. We didn’t mind. It was like seeing (a third of) The XX DJ at a private house party. Upstairs at the Mezzanine is small, intimate, even hidden. It was warm and oddly dry. We threw our limbs where we damned well pleased. Even when the crowd picked up, it seemed the other groovers were happy to make room for us. Territory: marked. We tore that dancefloor up so hard that a random woman in the crowd went out of her way to score a high-five with yours truly.

One thing I’ve found pretty consistent about DJ sets is that most have a preferred BPM. Jamie was no different, most of his songs were, like the XX’s album, simple, chill beats. He mixed them beautifully, showing off a variety of techniques but never actually “showing off.” He played a mix of vinyl and CDs; most were songs I’ve never heard before. He chose only one hip-hop song and I wanted to ask him who it was but I was too busy getting busy. I would have liked for him to have played more songs with vocals but, unlike Diplo & Switch’s set, there was plenty of melody to please my ears.

My pal had a chat with a guy whose pupils were the size of silver dollars while they watched Major Lazer from the stairwell. In the throes of some ecstatic experience he tried to convince that we were missing out on the action. But watching Switch shout and hype frenetically over Diplo’s BASS BASS BASS and no melody, our peeks onto the main floor convinced us otherwise. The bass-hungry crowd only seemed to wander upstairs for respite (perhaps they were intimidated by our awesome dancing? I like to think so).

As the hour approached for Miike Snow’s upstairs set, girls crowded in next to me, snapping photos. I had forgotten I could take photos and almost didn’t want to. It seemed like snapping photos in his face would ruin the illusion in my head of a personal experience now (weren’t we single-serving friends now that he was on a first-name basis? Hmm, probably not). But then I got kind of annoyed that these bitches didn’t even want a picture of Jamie. By the time I had my camera out, he had already crept off the stage. I had just enough time to wonder if these girls newly crowding the floor thought he was some local DJ, how many didn’t know The XX was going to be their new favorite CD, how many were going to repeat “Crystalized” over and over on their trendy mp3 players. Then, like a secret whispered in the night, he was gone.

Glasser – Tremel (Jamie XX Remix)
Florence and the Machine – You’ve Got the Love (XX Remix)

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Treasure Island Music Festival: Saturday Evening

Brazilian Girls greet the San Francisco sunset
Brazilian Girls greet the San Francisco sunset

As a Floridian, most bands arouse the crowd by saying how surprised they are to see a lively crowd in the netherworld of suburban hell. All day at Treasure Island the bands were raving about how much they loved our city. While every band wants to sweet talk their audience, it’s easy to believe. Treasure Island has one of the best views of the skyline and I can only imagine, as a performer, what it must have been like to be standing on that stage with water all around you and San Francisco leaping up across the bay bridge. The weather was perfect when the sunset greeted the Brazilian Girls on Saturday night. They raved quite a bit about what a joy it was to come and perform at this festival. With the clouds turning yellow and gold and a warm breeze blowing through the autumn eve, I think most of us were happy to be there.

Sabina Sciubba of Brazilian Girls
Sabina Sciubba of Brazilian Girls
Look at that outfit!
Look at that outfit!
Brazilian Girls keyboardist Didi Gutman does not disappoint
Brazilian Girls keyboardist Didi Gutman does not disappoint

Even though they’re not actually Brazilian, I kept comparing the Brazilian Girls to the Brazilian act Cansei de ser Sexy. Both rely on a wordly, outrageous front woman that wears ridiculous outfits. Both have fantastic keyboardists. Both have a sense of humor and a touch of sexy. Where they differ is in their experience as musicians. Brazilian Girls have that been-around-the-block quality while CSS is still drunk on their own fame.  For this reason CSS puts on a better show—there’s a ton of energy and excitement that it’s a thrill to be a part of. But Brazilian Girls were satisfying, even if their audience was mostly drawing blanks when it came to their multi-lingual songs. I’d like to see them again when they are the main act and have an audience that truly appreciates them.

Really shitty bootleg photo of MSTRKRFT
Really shitty bootleg photo of MSTRKRFT

Once Treasure Island was fully cloaked by the dark of night, MSTRKRFT took the stage. Seeing a live DJ-set is always like ordering the mystery meat, and MSTRKRFT was no exception. Simply because someone is a good producer doesn’t mean they are any good at throwing down tracks on the fly or anticipating what the audience is feeling. I had hoped that since half of  MSTRKRFT was once in a rock band (Death From Above 1979) that they would be more committed to playing entire melodies unlike some other DJs I won’t mention *here. And they were slightly better. But I won’t say they picked the freshest dance tracks. More importantly, they did a lot of egotistical showing off of skillful song transitions that completely abandoned playing the best part of the song. A *lot of DJ’s do this and it drives me crazy. It wasn’t terrible but I would say the DJ that wasn’t even listed on the schedule was playing more songs that made me want to wiggle and jiggle than this all-star DJ.

MGMT at Treasure Island Music Festival
MGMT at Treasure Island Music Festival

MGMT was the headliner for Saturday night. MGMT started their set by announcing that this would be the last time they would be able to play these songs for a long time so they were going to play the entire album from start to finish. Holy smokes, right?! This implied that they are ready to hop into the studio to start working on new material, which is great news because we’ve all overplayed their first album and all it’s subsequent remixes till the phrase “Shock me like electric eel” leads me to **violent twitching.

It also meant that we of the mp3 generation were going to hear how the album was intended to be listened to.  Hearing the whole thing played through really did give it more of a narrative quality that was more cohesive than, say, the entire ***Green Day’s American Idiot musical.  I have often described MGMT to the uninitiated as a disco-folk band. But now that I’ve seen them I’d have to say they’re a psychedelic-disco-folk band. I caught some happy folks gazing at their shoes from time to time, including members of the band. They’re not a roof-raising show but they were skilled musicians and a good time was had by all.

The overwhelming sentiment
The overwhelming sentiment

*I lied: Bloody Beetroots, Crookers: shame shame shame

** not literally. It’s just overplayed, I’m saying.

***which was terrible. Just so you know.

Treasure Island Music Festival 2009: Sat morning

Perfect weather introduced the first and most promising act of the Treasure Island Music Festival: The Limousines. I’ve caught the end of their show once before and they were good enough that I got up early on a Saturday just to see them again. Unfortunately traffic around the Berkeley Bowl caused me to miss half their show again. Their songs are cute and funny and both the lyrics and the beat make me want to dance from even the first time hearing them. In my mind, The Limousines are the band of 2009 to get excited about.

The next act we caught was Murs. He had nice beats though his rapping voice wasn’t particularly special. We got up and danced for “To Protect and Entertain,” which is a Busy P track that he has a segment in. Surprisingly, he chose to use the Crookers beat live. Can’t be blamed, as that is one sick remix. That’s maybe the second time I’ve heard a live version of a remix (not counting Smash-up Derby). I wonder if, and how quickly, that will become commonplace—and if DJs will be given proper credit for their reworkings.

Passion Pit at the Treasure Island Music Festival 2009
Passion Pit at the Treasure Island Music Festival 2009
Taking pics with video screens is fun

After that came Passion Pit. I don’t know why these guys don’t stir me more live. Their songs are all lovely and quirky and danceable. Maybe it’s because none of them have an inner-diva that craves the audience to stay riveted on their every move. Though I’ve read that their breakout album was actually a love-letter from the lead singer to his girlfriend, no insight is given as to where the songs come from. Not that I am discouraging anyone from seeing Passion Pit. The audience was enthralled, singing along like true fans. Replaying the shit bootleg I recorded there stirs joy  in my heart. And they are still top of the heap among the bands putting out albums this year.

The Streets were the second biggest surprise of the festival. I’ve always felt that some of their songs were a bit slow or too repetitive but live the Brit-rapper’s charm and wit had me hooked. The Streets is a naughty but reasonable rake. The singer that accompanies him really adds to the show and the new guitarist did the kind of intensive shredding you don’t expect to see in a rap show. Blame all the photo editing I did prior to writing this, but Wayne Vibes made a cameo in my dreams last night. Anyone could plainly see that the penis of a man who can play guitar like that would have no trouble making new friends so it was no surprise when impish Streets informed Wayne that he’d be “getting laid tonight.”

Wayne Vibes: Sure to get laid.
Wayne Vibes: Sure to get laid.

A naughty boy
A naughty boy

At one point The Streets told a girl astride someone’s shoulders that she was blocking the view of all the people behind her. The penalty would be to remove her shirt. The chiding didn’t work on this girl but I can imagine that many titties are unleashed at Streets shows. As the show neared its end The Streets continually teased the audience that he had a favor to ask of us, just one favor, and that it was coming up. He finally had everyone in the audience “go low” so that you could look out and see the thousand behind you, crouching. Audience participation like this may ultimately be little more than silliness but it is a big part of *why I go to shows in the first place. I ate it up.

This man is not lacking in awesome either
This man is not lacking in awesome either

The Streets
The Streets

*Oh! Seed for future blog!

I Appreciate the Tori Amos Song More and More

At 4:47 this morning we had a 4.2 earthquake very close to my apartment. I was dreaming of Tarot Cards when it pulled me from sleep.

Earthquakes are so strange. Mostly because they’re loud. It is hard to tell: is that my furniture moving, or is it the sound of the earth? Maybe we Californians are a little more in touch with the earth. It makes a fuss every now and then, gets a hankering for attention.

Earthquakes are the only natural disaster I can think of that aren’t exacerbated by global warming. I take some strange comfort in that. Its also the only natural disaster where the more you have them, the safer you are from them. It is such a relief to have a small earthquake, it prevents “the big one.” But just imagine someone saying, “I sure am glad we had that little tornado. Now we’re set all season.”

Perfect Moments

I leave the dusty, dark recesses of my apartment to drop off a big box for the charity-thrift up the street. I love to go there and leave a huge donation and walk out empty-handed. It makes me feel freer, lighter.
Outside my door, the neighbors are throwing a birthday party, with chips and cheese and Mexican music and a giant sponge-bob bouncy castle. One of the boys offers to open the gate for me, though my box is surprisingly light.
Looking out at the mountains and feeling the ocean breeze I am suddenly caught up in a perfect moment. There are a smorgosborg of joyous beings all around: bicyclists, cute dogs and their beaming owners, hip sisters towing sassy siblings, and lesbians kissing.
I am thinking of Sartre, how he had a character who deystroyed her relationships by trying to force all moments to become perfect moments and being disappointed with anything less. This is an exaggeration but to some extent we all do this, try to force our expectations on a wedding or a prom night. In the same postmodern way that there are as many ways to look as an object as their are people to look at it, the future moment will never quite have the texture that you expect of it. But that’s okay.
Because these perfect experiences that can you hit you when you are solitary and doing the most mundane chore, these simple, blissful moments, are what make life worth living.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a date with the bouncy castle.

I Left My Heart in North Beach

According to my sweetie, the best hostel in San Francisco is the Green Tortoise, so that’s where my best friend Ray and I stayed for the second day of our vacation. It is in the North Beach district, which is S.F.’s version of Little Italy. The Hostel is in the most famous part of North Beach, Columbus Ave., where it borders and blends with Chinatown. From a block away you can see the majesty of the Sentinel building and the Transamerica Pyramid. You can also see the Citylights Bookstore and the Vesuvio. The Sentinel building is a green flat-iron that was constructed in 1907. The frame was actually built in 1906 and survived the great earthquake to be finished the following year. Supposedly you can sometimes see Francis Ford Coppola upstairs in his office, he also owns the cafe on the bottom floor.

Citylights is about as famous as a bookstore can get. It is where Lawrence Ferlinghetti first published Ginsberg’s “Howl” though it had been declared obscene. Ferlinghetti went to jail and it started the court case that is still the precedent for whether a document is considered obscene (whether or not it has artisitc merit). Aside from all that, it is a damn good bookstore. On the same block are the Vesuvio bar and the Stinking Rose, (named because all the recipes are made with garlic) both well-known beatnik hang-outs.

Ray and I spent the morning at the Beat Museum. The museum is not glamorous. It occupies an office space, old doors are used as makeshift dividers to define the space. There was plenty of info but they could use more artifacts. It seemed like the kind of place that exists not as a tourist trap but because a small group of dedicated folks think it should be there.

Rather than eating at the typical North Beach hang-outs, we brunched at Juicy Lucy’s, a mostly vegan, organic juice bar. The atmosphere is just my style: vaguely (Eastern) Indian and very brightly colored. Instead of benches, I sat on a bale of hay. They serve juice in bowls. The owner commented that the strawberries were particularly fresh and tasty that day, I love that the ingredients list is seasonal. Everything is made right there from scratch so it took a long time for our food to come.

After brunch, Ray and I walked to Chinatown. In my mind, Chinatown is the best place in the city for shopping. You can’t beat the prices or the atmosphere. I bought a girlie hair pin in the shape of a spider. I had regretted not getting it the last time I was in Chinatown and I was determined to find the shop that sold it. I love spiders and there is something delightful about wearing a pretty ornament made to look like something that most think of as ugly. I also fell in love with these bracelet/necklaces that are held together with magnets. Ray was shopping for a digital camera and I was very happy to buy a memory card from one of the little shops (rather than a corporate chain).
That night Ray and I went to the famous Castro theater in the Castro district. In the tradition of guady, early theaters it is not the prettiest I have seen but it won big points for the organ player. Before the show, a pipe organ rolls up from a trap door, played by a formally-dressed gentleman. The sound fills the entire auditorium in a way that no paltry speakers can. The sound is so full it is like hearing an entire orchestra. Truthfully, I enjoyed the pipe organ more than the movie. The movie was a Japanese film entitled Vengeance is Mine. After the movie, Ray and I went home, vowing to continue our celebration at Booty later in the week.

I Left My Heart In the Mission District

I ended up with an extra two days off from work so my best buddy Ray and I decided to take a much coveted vacation in my favorite city in the world, San Francisco. Never mind that S.F. is less than an hour from my doorstep. I saved the money on a plane ticket so I felt free to spend carelessly all week.

My vacation started off slow, as we went to three places that were closed. Our first stop would have been the South Park Cafe. But being closed, I enjoyed watching artists work their easels in the park. Leaving South Park, we happened upon a fantastic gallery that runs there own printing press. I watched the machinery print rather unspectacular cards and realized that I am in love with every part of the book-making process. This gallery had, in addition to standard art, many hand-made books.

Failed destination #2 was the Arkansas Friendship Garden. We climbed high on Potrero Hill to not get there. On the steepest streets, instead of sidewalks there are stairs. No wonder the people of this city are more friendly and tolerant. I would have been impatient at all the false starts if the views weren’t so spectacular. The sun glinting off rows of cars on distant city streets looked like mercury floating in rivulets down the side of the hills. And this isn’t Nob Hill; this is standing next to project housing. Already tired and hungry, we trek to the Mission to sign up for a mural tour, which only runs on the weekends (It was Thursday).

Backtrack a bit, the Mission and North Beach have been in competition for my favorite ghettos of the city. The former is Mexican and the latter is Italian, though also known for being the site of the Beat Rennaissance in the sixties. I had been to some mediocre bars in the Mission, primarily around 16th and 17th St., but I had never spent a day walking through the neigbhoorhood’s South side. Every other building is brightened by colorful murals, most of which honor revolutionaries, activists and their ideals. 24th St. is mostly restaurants and small groceries, with the ocassional shop or gallery.
We got a banana for a quarter at a local bodega and some fantastic pastries for a dollar each. Then we caught lunch at La Nueva Fruitlandia. I haven’t had Cuban food so good since eating my Cuban bisabuela’s recipes as a child. We tried to stop at a gallery for local hispanic radical artists but, keeping with the theme, they were closed to prepare for a big opening night. So instead we happily browsed the shops. One shop sold mostly carnival accessories for Day of the Dead and little Mexican dresses for girls to wear to church. But they also carried a lot of Zapatista products and we walked out of there with Zapatista (light roast!) coffee and coffee flavored honey. I also acquired a wrist warmer with Che’s visage for only $2.50. That’s something you won’t find in North Beach.

We turned North onto Valencia, which is more of a commercial main drag. Valencia St. is low-key bars, vintage and kitsch shops, shamelessly radical bookstores and vegetarian chow.

Ray and I happened upon a small side street, more like an alley that goes through, that was entirely covered in graffiti art. I should say, murals, because most of the work was not stylized in the typical graffiti style and you could tell they were all by different artists. Stepping into the alley, we could hear a woman wailing but this did not deter us from taking in the artful walls. I thought the woman was in the thin walls of one of these muraled studio apartments but about half way we found her sitting indian-style with her head in her hands. She appeared to be holding some sort of pipe. Her face was ragged and wrinkled and dirty. She was likely homeless. Her suffering moved me. I asked her if she wanted a hug. She said “sure.” Then she stood up and I held this her in my arms while she sobbed and sobbed. I held her tightly and didn’t let go until she did first. She asked if I had a cigarette and of course I didn’t. We left her still tearful, but no longer filling the corrider with her anguished sobs.
Then a strange coincidence happened. I have hugged a tattered old San Franciscan once before, when I was drunk at the Bar in the Castro. This was after a conversation about her manic depression, as I recall. The first place we went after the alley of art was a small boutique. As I was entering the shop, that same woman I hugged in the Castro was leaving. She didn’t recognize me.

We stopped in 426 Valencia, which is Dave Eggar’s program that teaches creative writing to kids. The project is partly funded by the pirate shop at the entrance. The pirate motif is also a ruse to entrance the kids into getting excited about writing (426 Valencia has been very successful, so you might have heard of other centers around the country). I was hastily filling out a volunteer application when I heard the guy behind the counter telling people it was closing time. I didn’t look up, but I overheard a dejected couple responding. In coindidence #2, the dejeced couple was Lawrence and Cecily; they were staying at my house for a few nights before they move to L.A.
Later we meet up with Lawrence, Cecily, Jeremy and my sweetie at Delirium to have drinks. We barhop to Zeitgeist, a biker bar with fantastic bloody marys and terrible music. Day two of my vacation continues with a youth hostel, North Beach and the search for the perfect San Francisco bar.