City Lights Run

On Memorial Day, we decided to run into “the city,” although I hate sounding like one of those bridge and tunnel types that refer to San Francisco as “the city,” because I happen to actually live in A city, but not THE city.  (More annoying than this: the show So You Think You Can Dance recently held auditions at the Paramount Theater here in Oakland, this big, old-timey, restored grand theater, and in every narrative and establishing shot, they went on about “The San Francisco Auditions,” and showed b-roll footage of the Golden Gate and trolley cars and whatnot.  It would not have killed them to actually say they were in Oakland, especially when you’re a bunch of white-bread TV execs trying to look “urban.”  Anyway.)

So the goal of the trip was to go to City Lights, which I have not been back to in a long time.  And in thinking back, it turns out it was 15 years ago, to the month, since my first visit to San Francisco, and my trip there.  I wrote about this elsewhere, in an old issue of AITPL, and the basic rundown is that I was in San Jose for this trade show, working at my first job in Seattle, and I had pretty much an entire day off , and no plans whatsoever.  I loved being in California, loved the weather and the smell of the air and the sunshine, but schlepping around a convention center in a stupid logo-ed polo shirt, handing out CD-ROMs (remember those?) and software to people during the not-yet-burst internet bubble wasn’t exactly the way to see the Bay Area.  Walking back to my hotel, I realized they had a little rent-a-car desk off the main lobby.  Then I realized I was now 25 and had an Amex gold card in my wallet, which meant I could, for the first time, rent a car.  20 minutes later, I’m jetting north on the 101, headed for this city I barely knew, only a rental car map in hand, no GPS, no addresses, no plans, no google on a phone, just a vague idea that the center of the Beat universe was somewhere on Columbus street.

I have no idea how I found the place back then, but I did, and I was in the very same building where Ginsberg read Howl, where Bukowski’s short story collections were published, where every Beat poet wannabe aspired to be shelved.  It’s not a huge store, and back then, it wasn’t that overwhelming.  I mean, you’ve got this Kerouac street outside of it, and So I Married an Axe Murderer, a movie me and Simms and gang memorized in the mid-90s starts and ends in that alley.  But in 1996, there were plenty of great book stores around; I think there were a half-dozen great stores the same size or bigger within five miles of my old Seattle apartment.  I did buy an issue of Cometbus, the first I’d ever read, and wished I had the cash and luggage space to buy a dozen other things.

I figured the city would be jam-packed with tourist types, but after we crossed the perpetually-under-construction Bay Bridge and its doppelganger 21st-century twin, traffic was spectacularly light.  After cutting through a completely vacant financial district, we found a street parking space on a hilly part of Columbus, something I’d only expect to see after a total nuclear holocaust.  Of course, there was no indication as to the meter situation on the holiday, so we risked it, and of course got a ticket.  But still, it’s the thought of a street parking space for free that counts.

I remember eating at some eclectic fusion-y diner restaurant with toys spray-painted gold and glued to the walls, maybe called Icon back in 1996, and I’m sure that’s long gone.  We ended up at some odd 70-year-old sandwich shop for lunch, a place covered with Pittsburgh Steelers stuff.  The sandwiches were made with both fries and coleslaw on the sandwich, which I did not really like, but they did have some awesome onion rings.  This was, unfortunately, one of those carb-heavy meals I can’t really deal with anymore, and within an hour, I was pretty much ready for sleep.

We went to City Lights, and it looked remarkably like it did back in 1996, and probably like 1966, except for maybe the computer registers, and swap out all of the purple-type mimeographed zines for photocopied ones.  It looked smaller than I remembered, but the selection was still astounding, and I instantly found a few dozen things I wanted to buy. There is the issue, however, that I’m running out of storage room, and I’ve got a queue of at least a dozen books on the to-read pile already.  But who cares.  When they film my episode of Intervention, I’m going to have a couch full of family members and that bitchy old lady counselor yelling at me about my private library hoarding, and I’m fine with that.

But my general attitude on the beats is somewhat varied now.  In 1996, I was just recovering from the near-terminal case of student poverty, and dropping every spare dollar I could find on building my book collection.  I still didn’t have the complete collection of any of my favorites: Bukowski, Kerouac, Henry Miller, Burroughs.  Now, I’ve got most of their bibliographies on the shelves.  Some of them have estates that are still trickling out the occasional volume pieced together from scraps, or re-re-releases of “complete” works that would require me to re-buy yet another copy of a favorite book.  On the other hand, there are a lot of biographies and scholarly deconstruction books coming out as more generations find out about and study these original tomes.

The big problem is, I’m trying to avoid writing like these guys, and that generally means avoiding reading them.  I always love to go back and re-read On the Road, but within 50 pages, I’m either thinking about some grand road trip, or trying to re-spin pieces of my own past into some epic novel, and I eventually hit a wall there, thinking that either my own life is too boring, or I don’t find it within my wheelhouse to do something like that.  It’s not entirely my style, and I’d rather be writing something more bizarre.  But I do like to dip back into the stuff every now and again.

I ended up buying a copy of Raymond Federman’s last book, and two newer issues of Cometbus, which are now sitting on the pile.  We ambled out and drove around the city a bit more, and I still don’t entirely feel like I live here, but I feel an urgent need to consume as much of this as I can, because every time I leave a city, I realize how much I didn’t do there.

And even though City Lights was one of many book stores back in 1996, now it’s one of few.  There are zero book stores in West Oakland, and exactly one within a five-mile radius of my house, a Barnes and Noble which will probably shutter in the next two years.  There’s a healthy number out in San Francisco, but they’ve become rare.  I buy a lot of stuff online, so I’m responsible for their death, but I do miss the energy given off by large rooms of new books, and love a place that’s more than just clip-on book lights and mass numbers of covers-out Twilight and Eat Pray Davinci Girl in the Dragon Tattoo books.


Phillies @ A’s

Hello, still from San Francisco. Things are going well here, although I am still thrown for a loop by the cold. But last night, A met up with us and we went to dinner at some freaky Pan-Asian place. It’s always good to see A, and the food was pretty decent, although I had great paranoia that I would ruin my diet for the rest of the century. When I got home and added it up, I actually should have stacked on another satay or two.

Today, I went to see Oakland host Philly, and as always, you get a nice bulleted list.

  • For the record, I have not previously been to Oakland’s coliseum, and I had never seen the A’s. I saw the Phillies last year at Coors Field twice; once for the infamous tarp incident, and once at Coors for the final game of a 3-game sweep in which the Rockies won the pennant.
  • This is the first game I’ve been to where I’ve used public transportation since a Yankees game I went to in 2006 when I still lived there. I walked down a few blocks to the Powell Street BART, then walked from the train to the stadium on the other end.
  • After riding the NYC subways, the BART is hilarious to the point of absurdity. There’s carpet on the floors, the seats are padded and upholstered and nicer than most plane seats, and nothing smelled of piss. Nobody asked me for money (within the train), and they have digital message boards telling you when the next train is arriving. And cell phones work in the trains. If you magically transported a BART line to New York, it would be destroyed in 17 seconds. I don’t understand how it works here, but it was nice.
  • I wrote in my journal and then read a book, and couldn’t remember the last time I did that on a subway. It was a real throwback.
  • A lot of Oakland reminded me of some Chicagoland stretched-out urban sprawl, but with water and shipping cranes, and that’s not so bad. I always imagined it would have entire city blocks on fire and bodies hanging from lampposts and laying in gutters, but maybe that’s just because of the Raiders.
  • After I got out of the train, I had this weird jog where I had to go down the stairs to the main level, and then go up a set of stairs and over to a huge half-mile long ramp that led to the stadium. I got there at 11:00 for a 12:30 game, so there weren’t any people on the walkway.
  • The McAfee Coliesum is used for both the Raiders and the A’s, so as I walked in, I got all of the usual propaganda for both teams.
  • The will call window is set up so that if you ignore all of the signs and walk about a hundred feet to the right, you are there. If you follow the signs and go left, you have to walk all the way around the entire stadium complex, which is about 47 miles in circumference. Guess which one I did.
  • This was another geriatrics and pediatrics game, and a fleet of buses showed up with summer camp kids, all dressed in identical-colored shirts. And of course, the Taliban could cause as much terror as ten school buses of fourth graders, even if you spotted the jihadders a dozen crates of stinger missiles. As far as the geriatric part, there were more Rascals than an Our Gang marathon. But I mind the old folks a lot more because it’s easier to beat a kid until they shut the fuck up than it is to beat a parapalegic until they can miraculously walk again.
  • There were a lot of Phillies fans. A LOT of Phillies fans.
  • Complaint one about the mixed-use stadium: the concourse looks like a maximum-security prison built to riot-proof specifications in the 1960s. After seeing AT&T Park yesterday and then seeing this, it was a lot like touring Frank Lloyd Wright houses, and then taking a tour of a high-security mental institution built by a county government where a board member had a brother-in-law that owned a concrete plant.
  • My seat was not bad; I was 15 rows up and in the middle of the section immediately to the first base side of the backstop net. These would be seats only available to dugout club members at a lot of parks, but I bought mine for $50 online. I had a pretty excellent view of the game, and if I walked up to the front of the section, I was directly on top of the visitor’s dugout.
  • Complaint two about the mixed-use stadium: the seating is really fucked up. First, things are a lot steeper than they are deep, which is standard for football, but it made things weird. Also, the outfield has two little clips of section at the club level on either side, but no ground seats, and this huge blank spot of no club seats. Then there are two levels of suites above that. The whole thing makes it look like they started with a 14,000-seat minor league field, and then added layer after layer of decks above that to pump it up for football.
  • The only A’s I know are either retired, traded, or dead. If I was playing a video game where I could pick Jason Giambi and Catfish Hunter and Cory Lidle, I would know what was going on, but I didn’t.
  • The national anthem had a flyover with a Coast Guard helicopter, which was weird.
  • There were far more hipster doofuses at the game than I’ve seen anywhere before. I guess if you’re going to be stylishly ironic and get all tatted up and wear an undershirt only and thick glasses, Oakland’s a good place to do that, and the A’s are a good team for you.
  • The game started, and this was very much an AL game, where everything was either a strikeout or a homerun, and the term “manufactured run” draws a blank stare.
  • Complaint three about the mixed-use stadium: as this is a football stadium, they added a shit-ton of seats to make it gigantic, including a giant deck of seats across the outfield at high altitude that increased the capacity to 60,000. The attendance at this game: 17,000. To “alleviate” this, the upper deck seats are all covered with huge vinyl banners with various logos and years of championships in giant letters. But still, when you look across at this gigantic section of 20,000 wall-to-wall seats, it’s pretty depressing.
  • There was an inning when I almost thought they would have a grand slam, but it didn’t happen. Someone did have two home runs. There were a lot of strikeouts. Are there other things that can happen? Maybe they can just flip coins from now on.
  • I do have to say the weather was pretty decent. It touched the 70s, and I was in the uncovered area, so I got some sun. The wildfires have been kicking up a lot of wind and soot, which has been on-and-off screwing up pitching at both parks, but it didn’t bother my eyes or anything.
  • The big screens and scoreboards were football-type, so there was one small video screen, and one Dodgers-style amber monochrome screen, and another set of two on the other side. They weren’t as good as Coors field, but they weren’t as bad as Dodger Stadium. There wasn’t any walkup music, and the announcing was at a minimum. I listened to the game on the local AM, and the announcers were not that colorful, but they did have a lot of stats and history, and talked a lot about the historic Phillies-A’s rivalry when they were both out in PA.
  • The game was FAST – just over two hours. Oakland shut out the Phillies, and scored five.
  • One more complaint about the mixed-use stadium – it was NOT designed for egress. It took forever for the mass of people to slowly leak out of there. I don’t know what would happen if 60,000 drunken Raiders fan were leaving at the same time

So they game was eh, the stadium was not great, but I did have a pretty good time of it anyway. And I’m glad I went, because allegedly the As are getting a new home in four or five years, and I’m still pissed that I never went to Shea Stadium, and now I never will.

Gotta go wash off suntan lotion now.


Hello from San Francisco

Hello from San Francisco. I’m on the 18th floor of the Sir Francis Drake hotel, and I’m not sure what neighborhood that puts me in, except maybe “middle neighborhood”. But from a quick walk around last night, it’s an interesting place. There are hills, cable cars, buses with overhead power wires, and stores with old-timey signs and awnings out front that I really need to get a few shots of when I get a chance. The hotel itself is old and strange, with giant windows and a bellhop out front that looks like he’s dressed for a gig at Medieval Times.

I have a conference call in an hour, then I will set out to go to AT&T park and take a tour of what’s supposed to be an incredible ballpark. I won’t be able to see a game this trip, but tomorrow I will see one in Oakland. I don’t believe I will be wearing Rockies gear to either destination. And I probably won’t be buying any Giants wear, unless they have a psychedelic day-glo shirt with a picture of Barry Bonds’ gigantic head on it, with enough room at the bottom for me to sharpie in a “kids! winners do drugs! Bud Selig is a punk!” caption at the bottom.

OK, off to it…