Retrograde Amnesia in the City by the Bay

SAN FRANCISCO!

Jesus christ. What can I say?

You’re probably all wondering why I’m still here when I was supposed to be traveling. Somehow within a week of my “visit” I had been offered a job, a band, and a place to stay. In a city where people struggle to establish themselves and quite often fail, how could I resist such a sweet deal? The 2nd most expensive city in the United States had offered itself to me on a silver platter, and while my intention was to continue rambling, it seemed foolish to disregard such an opportunity. After all, I could leave whenever I want. Here I am, months and months later, struggling to recount the whirlwind which has swept me up by force.

You know when somebody takes their baby and throws them up in the air and catches them over and over, the baby laughingly uncontrollably – bewildered but undeniably delighted? That’s what the San Francisco Bay Area has been doing to me for the better part of a year, without cease. I’m super behind on writing about this because I feel like I have literally not had time. I honestly cannot recall the last time I was sitting around, wondering what to do. In fact, the only reason I am writing this now, is because I’m sick and incapable of going out and doing stuff. I don’t remember what boredom feels like. The number one problem for me since I got here is what not to do. That probably doesn’t make sense, so let me explain: there is literally ALWAYS something cool going on. In order to eat, sleep, and worse, work, I have to consciously decide to pass up activities. Whether it’s a sacrilegious nuns-in-drag easter party in the park, a once in a lifetime one-off reunion show of an obscure noise-rock band, or a free Burning Man block party, there is always something too fun to miss. In fact, even when I am totally free from the need to sleep, eat, or work for a time period, I have to decide between which of these simultaneous happenings I will go to. For example: one night recently, I had to choose between 5 different bands that I liked, playing on the same night. And I am a man of peculiar taste in music. In fact, I hate most music. And of the few bands that I do like, even fewer are still around to play shows. This in mind, there were 5 different bands on a single night that a really wanted to see! That, to me, is mindblowing. It takes an enormous amount of willpower just to get a night’s sleep, much less buy groceries, or sit around and write about my life. Watching TV is an absolute crime against humanity at this point, as it would require me to actively pass up actual real-life entertainment in order to sit on my ass in front of a dull glowing screen.

I’m going to eschew my usual “Day 1, Day 2, etc…” format (I’ve been totally fudging it for the last couple entries anyway) because frankly, I have lost all concept of time. When people ask me how long I’ve been around the Bay area, I have to really stop and think about it. I’m just going to do my best to highlight the awesome stuff that I have remembered to take pictures of. This will probably take several entries, but I’m going to do my best to share the madness that continues to transpire on a daily basis here.

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Driving into the city was maddening. Traffic of course was ridiculous, drivers honking and weaving like drunken 16 year olds. To add to the challenge there were taxis speeding thru bike lanes, cyclists running red lights in front of me, delivery trucks stopping and unloading stuff in the middle of the street, pedestrians materializing in front of  me with seemingly no regard for their own safety, bums wandering through the middle of the street begging passing cars for change, perpetual construction around every corner, streetcars, buses, cable cars, metro railway………..the list could go on forever. Compounding the insanity are streets themselves, designed in such a way that intersections can be ludicrously complex. I snapped picture of this turn sign at Mission and Van Ness.
Its kind of far away so I found a closeup on google.

My friend and former bandmate Jessie directed me to a trusted ally and fellow traveler, Analise, who is a San Francisco resident and native. I met with her, and she proved to be so awesome that her couch would be my home for almost 2 weeks. Here she is in the center:

a slightly more flattering shot of analise.

With Analise’s pad in the Mission district as my home base, I set to work exploring the city. After my traumatic first experience with the futility of driving in San Francisco, I parked my car in a good spot and returned to it only for supplies. For the next 2 weeks, I wandered the city each day on foot, with my guitar strapped to my back, playing in the streets and taking in the dense urban wonderland.

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of myself busking, but it was very well received here. I was showered in gifts ranging from money to food to bus passes, and even weed (I don’t smoke anymore, so I passed it on to Analise as a thank you). It proved to be the most immersive way to see the city, and as a plus, I got paid to do it (and pretty well, might I add).

As a side note to anyone who plays an instrument: I would like to say that busking is truly a beautiful thing and everyone should try it. Here’s the way I see it: I play my guitar, for my own enjoyment, every day, regardless of who is watching. But if I go and do it in a public place, strangers will give me money for it! You don’t even have to put out your guitar case. Several times I’ve just been jamming out and people have come up to me with money in their hand looking for somewhere to put it. I’ve had to throw my hat down a few times. To me it’s such a win-win. Strangers on the street get to hear some music, the city gets some ‘flavor,’ and I just do what I would’ve been doing regardless. What’s more is that it can turn into a super awesome way to meet and interact with folks. I’ve had all sorts of fun, bizarre, enlightening, and downright ludicrous things happen when I just play my guitar and sing a little. One time in Seattle, I had a full blown foot-stompin freestyle hoedown chorus of ten people form around me at 1AM. Another time here in San Francisco I had a guy stand around and listen for a while, then proceed to whip out a fiddle and completely rip on it along with me! This guy was awesome and we jammed for a good while together. Some people in the subway even clapped. Then another time in Portland, somehow my performance turned into a shirtless mock gospel testimony including, amongst other bystanders, another eccentric traveler, a homeless guy who ripped at the guitar, and a rabid crackhead who threw his bike down and ran around us screaming as soon as he heard the word “Jesus.” (More on this in the Pacific Northwest edition later.) Really friends, if you are reading this, and play an instrument, I beseech you to try it out. Its an amazing experience that everyone should have.

Back on topic…Wandering the city proved to be a surreal and breathtaking affair for a lone newcomer like myself. Streets wound up hills at ridiculous inclines. Streetcars ran on tracks in the street as taxis swerved around them. People strolling casually past cops smoking blunts in broad daylight. I even got crack smoke accidentally blown in my face (don’t ask me how I know what crack smoke smells like). Colorful personalities were in high supply, and every race, style, creed, nationality, and type of person strolled past me in the street. I even met a few races of folks that I didn’t know existed; Tongans for example.

I was expecting a large and distasteful hipster community, but I have been blown away by the lack thereof, even at “indie” shows. There absolutely are some awkwardly dressed, meticulously styled wannabe weirdos lurking around. But there are just as many genuine weirdos that don’t know or care how weird they look, and that is key. Overall, the crowd of people you will find on the street is so wildly varied, that I honestly haven’t really been able to visibly discern a single “scene” within San Francisco proper.

Another thing that stuck out to me immediately upon entering the city was the abundance and quality of street art. These are only a few of thousands:

underneath the blanket is a bum.
this one was being demolished at the time, which actually kind of adds a cool aspect to it.
one of my personal favorites.  found on the Albany Bulb, a post-apocalyptic wonderland which will be covered in full in a later entry.
San Francisco quickly made good on its ultra-green environmentally-oriented reputation, as I noticed fully electric buses running on wires above the streets. The overhead wires are a sight to see, especially at the more complicated intersections.

Another breathtaking thing about SF is its hills. It’s allegedly the hilliest metropolitan area in the US, and the hills are the key to the beauty of the city. They provide amazing aerial views of an already beautiful area, and the rapid and various elevation changes break up the claustrophobia of a heavily developed urban metropolis. It’s the most densely populated place in the country outside of NYC, but it doesn’t feel like it at all when you can poke your head out above the skyline from any of the city’s hilltops.

Also, PARKS! There are a ton of them here. And they’re all really nice, too. Sometimes you get a hill and a park at the same time, like here in Dolores Park:

In addition to being one of the most scenic spots in the city, Dolores Park provides a wacked-out cross section of the SF population. My first visit included a man in a transparent G-string sunbathing, couples speaking every foreign language imaginable, a myriad of amateur photographers, exotic lapdog owners, a huddle of yuppies discussing their new electric cars, the obligatory dudes playing acoustic guitars (I was admittedly one), party people getting high/screaming/drinking champagne at 10AM, and an old guy on a Segway blasting Barry White as he repetitively circled the park at high speed. In the middle of all this is a children’s playground, where mothers and children romp about on a fully padded, almost injury-proof obstacle course. Despite the children’s playground in the center, the park is often host to a myriad of bizarre activities and events. Recently, during “National Topless Day,” I was amazed to be in an area where young women were taking their shirts off and children were playing simultaneously. No one seemed to mind either. I’ve always known that tits are great for everyone, but it’s wonderful to see a city on the same page. What a great place!

In one park, I found this sign, which could have been the single most vindicating moment of my childhood:

I also found this monolithic and terrifying facade on a church:

HE IS RISEN

Analise’s roommate, Josh, had apparently taken some time to draw and label various items found throughout life on the whiteboard in their kitchen:

“CARL SAGAN” is my favorite.

At some point, Analise brought me across the bay to Berkeley, where we visited a pot-growing, slow-talking madman named Andrew for amateur tattoos. He was one of the more interesting scoundrels I’ve come across, and did a great job on Analise’s finger and ankle.

the plant material in the background is exactly what it looks like
Analise’s look of flabbergasted resignation after a misunderstanding and supposed error on her finger tat. It all worked out in the end and it looks great to this day, months later.

While in Berkeley, I got a call from an old friend that I went to school with at LSU. I hadn’t seen Brandon in something like 7 years, and by some stroke of serendipity he now lived in Oakland, just a few minutes south of Berkeley. After a few minutes of surprised conversation and disbelief, he picked me up, and after a few days I had taken up residence in a hammock in his backyard in East Oakland, where I have slept under the stars for the past, uh, 7(?) months.

Brandon in his natural element

At some unknown point in time, Brandon and I came upon this inexplicable and hilarious business. I really couldn’t believe my eyes, so we pulled over.

There is truly no explanation for this. As far as I can tell, the “face slapping” is some kind of age-defying beauty treatment, but that only raises more questions. I challenge you to google it.

the pixelation you’re seeing isn’t from my camera. it’s because they blew up a shitty jpeg and used it on their awning. a shitty quality picture of a guy holding another picture of what appears to the pope of Thailand... I mean really, what the fuck. That’s what you’ve chosen to represent your business? What the hell is going on here?
Whatever it is, this is good stuff.

Brandon and I also did some exploration in Oakland. High in the hills in Joaquin Miller park, we found a disused amphitheater. A quick climb over some tall chain link and a brief roof hop got us into the facility:

View of Oakland from the park:

Here’s a bazaar at the SF Civic Center:

Not sure what I was thinking when I took this picture, but whatever. I’ll leave it in. Must’ve been something important.

Super cheap and excellent Chinatown bakery:

One day in Oakland, I took up longboarding on the steep hills. It was dangerous and fun.

Whilst longboarding we found this distasteful statue in someone’s yard:

Brandon’s roommate Andres immediately took the only appropriate action:

By afternoon, Brandon was impressed and placed a strong faith in my skill as a longboarder. This would prove a catastrophic mistake in short order. He brought us high into the hills near the Mormon temple. You can see how high (and beautiful) it is in this picture I found on google:

And here’s a majestic one I took myself:

He scoped out a crazy run that snaked all the way down the hills to the flatlands. I didn’t know any better so I just said OK and went for it. Brandon and Andres went first, and I went after them. After a couple of consecutive hills, we were going really fast, and both Brandon and Andres bailed going around a sharp turn. Amazingly, I was the only one who made it through the curve, and jubilantly flew by them. I smugly contemplated my prodigy as a longboarder as I headed down the next hill squatting low to the ground and feeling super stylish, hair blowing majestically in the wind. My pride would soon be crushed and pulverized into a fine powder of humility; about halfway down the hill I realized I was going WAY too fast. I estimate I was going about 35mph, based on my speed relative to cars, and I started to get the death wobbles. I squatted as low as I could but to no avail. I realized I was going down and there was nothing I could do. For an agonizing 5 seconds or so, I contemplated my impending doom before I was thrown off the board and slid across the asphalt. Thank god I was wearing my indestructible Carhartt pants, otherwise I would’ve lost a lot more skin. The crash was so forceful that it deformed and destroyed my 75 lb. rated carabiner keychain, and so loud that people came out of their homes to see what was going on. I didn’t scream either. The sound of my body hitting and rolling down the asphalt was loud enough for people to hear through their doors. I was pretty dazed and maybe concussed so I don’t remember the details, but eventually Brandon found me in the street and drove me back home.

It may not look bad, but I hurt all over. My foot was busted pretty bad and possibly broken. I couldn’t walk right for at least a month. It still isn’t quite right to this day, 7 months later.

All things considered, I made out pretty lucky from the whole ordeal and walked away grateful to still have my teeth, and with a new respect for longboarding and hills in general.

Later that night we had a fire on the beach in San Francisco:

I’d like to introduce Mark, Brandon’s other roommate, and his dog, Jamie.

Here’s Mark in his favorite article of clothing, a huge blue onesy complete with buttflap.

One day, Mark brought me to Ikea to go desk shopping. (This is another, completely separate day from the other picture. Notice this time he’s not wearing a shirt underneath and his shoes are different.)

Mark and I wandered about the sprawling and confusing store. It might be the single biggest store I’ve ever been in. Think of a multi-story Costco but with a bajillion themed rooms in a circuitous labyrinthine configuration. During this time I discovered that the Google Maps app on my phone had taken the time to MAP OUT THE FLOOR PLAN OF THE STORE. I’m not sure if this is a testament to the monstrous size of the store, or the attention to detail in Google Maps, or the notoriously tech-centric Bay Area. Maybe all of the above? Try it on your smartphone, if you have one – “Ikea Emeryville”.

Mark soon was taken under the advisement of staff for his purchase. They didn’t seem to notice that he was dressed like a life sized man-baby, and immediately began to help him find a desk. He was deliberating heavily, so I wandered off into the maze of superfluous material. I couldn’t help but notice this bookshelf display, where Ikea shows off their prized collection of “JAG, ROBOT” with Will Smith. I’m sure it’s just as riveting in Swedish.  

SOME OTHER MISCELLANEOUS HIGHLIGHTS:

I walked by a hospital and saw this confounding sign: “FREEZING GASES AND SMALL OBJECTS MAY BE DISCHARGED WITHOUT NOTICE. STAY BACK 20 FEET.” I waited around for a while, but was disappointed.

A quick shot of a typical deteriorating Oakland townhouse.

Poignant and prophetic graffiti that proved itself true to me:

A strange and hilarious flyer aimed at a demographic I didn’t know existed:

YOU HAVE RIGHTS!

Beatiful Lake Merritt, the nicer part of Oakland:

This one requires no explanation.

good thing it’s pure.

Oh, I forgot to mention, I also got recruited into a band during this time. We’re called Abstracter, super heavy stuff. Here’s a link to the album: http://abstracter.bandcamp.com/

Found this billboard in gang-ridden East Oakland. As if the billboard itself isn’t terrifying enough, someone has splattered red paint across it to really bring out the Fear that lingers behind those eyes.

Here’s me all cleaned up like a square on my first day of work as a legal courier (document messenger).

Here’s a quick shot of a jazz competition at a high class joint in the city:

At some point I made some friends who had a sailboat. Scott and Gordon invited me out on the bay with them, and I happily obliged. I thought sailing would be a relaxing endeavor, gliding smoothly over the ocean, propelled only by mother nature’s whim. I was wrong. Sailing is FUCKING INTENSE. I had naively perched myself at the front tip of the boat, hanging off the end, lazing in the sun. As soon as they unfurled the sail, I was nearly thrown from the boat. It violently tilted to the side at a 45 degree angle under the pressure from the wind. It stayed this way for the duration of the trip. I really thought we were about to sink. They assured me that everything was normal. The boat continued to rock and tilt so violently that Gordon’s dog was thrown from the deck and we had to rescue him from the freezing water. It took 2 guys to even operate the sailboat, and they were constantly shouting commands to one another peppered with indecipherable sailing slang. I heard many words I had never heard before. Any time the sailboat had to change directions, they would yell something that I came to realize meant “DUCK” after the the sail arm swung overhead and nearly knocked me out. It was absolutely stressful and maddening, but eventually I got used to it and started to get swept up in the beauty of San Francisco’s Bay. We sailed all the way from Sausalito to San Francisco, then out under the bridge into the ocean, and back. I nearly lost my phone trying to take these pictures:

As we cruised back towards the port, I realized I had become completely smitten with the area. Across the bay, the windows of houses were glowing like bright orange mirrors, reflecting the sunset back at me. No matter what I told myself about my intentions, I knew right then I would be here for a while.

COMING SOON…………….

-abandoned buildings
-atomic bomb shelters
-a forsaken post-apocalyptic wasteland peninsula
-forbidden military installations
-a million shows I went to
-one that I participated in
-all the crazy people I met in between, including:
-a 19 year old dominatrix at the Residents show
-some other stuff I can’t remember right now

SEEYA SOON!

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