If you like to see sweaty people wearing costumes and running shoes, boy are you in luck: here’s my second batch of photos from San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers race. There’s even more photos in this batch.
Here we have Towely, Elvis, Carmen Sandiego, Tellytubbies, Ghostbusters, (more) Marios (and carts, actually saw a much better set of Mario Carts but didn’t get a picture), three Divo heads (the fourth was crossing the street), bathroom boy and girl,a boyscout, Jesus Christ and his two wenches, and a magic lamp that wins any contest for “most phallic costume.” And some other stuff…you can look at the pictures faster than I can list them.
Which ones are running to raise money for charity and which ones are just looking for an excuse to get very drunk early on a Sunday morning? I’ll leave that to you.
Every city has their big charity race; in San Francisco it’s Bay to Breakers. Folks run from the beautiful Bay, through the city and all the way through Golden Gate Park. Unlike most cities, San Franciscans like to do it in costumes. And unlike other cities that get dressed up, these gold rush kids take their costumes seriously.
My first experience with Bay to Breakers was being handed a paper cup while running, the typical side-of-the-road refresher offered to runners, only to find out the cup was filled with beer. This year I decided to be lazy and wait at the finish line to get photos of some of the fantastic outfits. Nostalgia was in full force this year, with more Mario and Luigis than you can squeeze into a hidden green pipe and so many red-striped Waldos that the irony of finding so many of them was completely lost. There were also a ton of Smurfs, muppets and Angry Birds.
My mom awoke me at seven this morning. The first thing she said was, “I just want to hear your voice before you die.” She was a theater major in college so she has a flair for drama. She explained about the terrible earthquake in Japan and that CNN said a tsunami was likely to hit the West Coast in the next fifteen minutes.
What to do? At that point I was thoroughly awake, so I said, “fuck it.” We got in @Mirrorshade’s car and we drove to Lawrence Berkeley Lab, high in the Berkeley hills. There wasn’t a wave in site, but the vista made me realize something: even if there’s a hundred aftershocks and I die under the crash of a terrible wave, I will never regret moving to California.
I wish this photo taken with my camera could capture the beauty.
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.
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.
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 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.
*I lied: Bloody Beetroots, Crookers: shame shame shame
** not literally. It’s just overplayed, I’m saying.
***which was terrible. Just so you know.
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.
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.”
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.
*Oh! Seed for future blog!
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.”
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.
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 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.