Seattle in Autumn

Everyone needs to see Seattle in the Fall. I can see why the property values are so insane here. This may well be the most picturesque urban area I’ve ever seen. Trees are everywhere – uptown, downtown and all around. It almost makes you forget you’re in a major city. This town also seems to have the most book and music stores per capita of any major city. I bought David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day for $3, hardcover. I’ve had a hard time not buying bargain vinyl, just because I won’t have anywhere to put it. I did buy a DVD of the 1967 Stax/Volt Revue (Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Booker T. and the MGs, etc) live in Norway for $15, though.

The Science Fiction Museum and Experience Music Project are fantastic, and an absolute must for any fan of either. The SFM is mostly a display for Microsoft co-founder and world’s richest nerd Paul Allen to show off all the greatest nerd props and memorabilia he’s amassed (the actual Robby the Robot, Robot from Lost in Space, the captain’s chair from Star Trek, and hundreds of other original pieces of science fiction history. And next door is the Experience Music Project with dozens of historical guitars, including Clapton’s “Brownie” and some Jimi Hendrix strats. And at Emerald City guitars I saw a near mint 1955 strat on sale for $68,000.

And the coffee. Today I had not one but two of the greatest cups of coffee of my life. The first was at Bauhaus, the second at Verite Coffee/Royale Cupcakes. And great Irish pub food and tap Guinness at Fado (our waiter was originally from Little Rock! So weird).

The area of Fremont is where Heather and Ben live, and it’s appealing in a way similar to Bernal Heights in San Francisco – lots of great places to eat and shop, plus more cool little music stores and book stores. I really can’t decide how long to stay here.

Oregon = Arkansas + Ocean – Deciduous Trees

From Wednesday to Friday I drove north on 101 from San Francisco to Seattle. The majority of my time was spent in Oregon, which was impressive but frustrating. Driving through northern California spoiled me completely; four lanes and very little traffic made for a glorious driving experience. Once the border to Oregon was crossed, however, the quality declined sharply. The majestic redwoods and ocean vistas gradually gave way to small, depressing little towns, bumpy two-lane roads with log trucks and local traffic. The road veers inland, hiding the ocean behind walls of trees, hills and dunes. I stayed the night at a motel in the neat little town of Port Orford, and had a good fish and chips dinner at The Crazy Norwegian. After that, though, the trip was frustratingly blah[1] until I diverted off the 101 from Pacific City to Tillamook. The roads remained crappy but the scenery and seclusion were unparalleled.

I took my time on that last stretch of road. It led back to 101, which itself greatly improved after Tillamook, when the road stops being an important route to anywhere big like Portland. I made my way up to Astoria and stayed the night there at The Lamplighter Inn. Astoria is an interesting little town – it’s built into a large hill, so there’s little room for big box stores. I needed to buy socks, and the lady at the front desk said I’d have to cross the bay back to Warrenton to do that. So the town’s geography has helped it maintain its picturesque look and feel, something not lost on Hollywood, as the town was used for exteriors on both Short Circuit and The Goonies, two of my favorite movies as a kid.

I made my way leisurely up to Seattle on Friday, diverting off the highway in a failed effort to get a good shot of Mt. St. Helens. The town of Longview offered a fine opportunity to see both Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier, but the viewpoint was accessible only to the uphill lanes, and I didn’t want to drive back up the hill. I did get a nice shot of Mt. Rainier from Highway 7 outside of Morton, though. Eventually I made it to Seattle. I had precise directions to Heather and Ben’s place on my laptop, but the battery ran down right as I reached downtown. I had assumed that I could just find a coffee shop and plug in to get the info back, but I could not for the life of me find a coffee shop! Ordinarily one would assume that not being able to find a coffee shop in Seattle is a failure roughly akin to not being able to find a hooker in Amsterdam, but Heather pointed out to me that downtown Seattle really doesn’t have many coffee shops; it’s the little neighborhoods around the city where they thrive. We had some very tasty Thai food and watched Tideland, which they agreed was a supremely f*cked up and fantastic movie.

1.) Although I did have the pleasure of eating at an honest-to-gosh A&W drive-in in Florence, with the whole hang-the-tray-on-your- window and drink-a-big-glass-mug-of-root-beer experience that I haven’t had since I was a very young child.

Shin Splints in San Francisco

I’m sitting in Golden Gate Park[1], having consumed a fine smoothie and cookie from down the Haight. I’ve been trying to figure out how best to convey San Francisco, and I really can’t do it. There are too many angles. I may as well just make a list of things that have shaded my perceptions of this town:

Multitudes of mentally ill homeless folk
“Chronic inebriates” (as the newspaper so eloquently described them)
Panhandlers and their vast ranges of age, dress and cleverness
An apparently unsuccessful hooker at 7AM, yelling at her pimp (“I don’t have your money”)
The food and drink
The grandeur of the Golden Gate
Fisherman’s Wharf and its tourists (worst fish and chips ever!)
Leg pain from walking all over town
Demanding parking meters
I just saw a burrowing varmint of some kind
Brave skateboarders

My experience in Tenderloin stood in stark contrast with my evening in Bernal Heights with Amy. The neighborhood has a quaint, small-town feel to it. There’s a nice little bookstore[2] around the corner from Amy’s place, and lots of great places to eat. Plus, the scenic vistas of Bernal Hill. I stayed with Amy for a night because Erika had to travel to LA on Tuesday for work. I’m so glad I had that opportunity. That whole neighborhood really made me wonder if SF is a place where I could live. Very tempting.

1.) Actually I’m sitting at Ben and Heather‘s in Seattle now, but this blog entry was begun in Golden Gate Park, and then I procrastinated for several days before its completion.
2.) I picked up a copy of This Is Your Brain on Music which is thus far excessively enlightening.

LA to San Fran

On Wednesday Meredith and I ran errands. When she moved from Little Rock back to California in July, she left behind a few things, paintings mostly, that wouldn’t fit comfortably in her U-Haul truck, so I brought them to her. After dropping all that off at her new place (she moves in on Sunday), we mostly wandered aimlessly. Having seen LA a few times I was kind of at a loss for what to do. We walked up the Sunset Strip for a bit, had a beer at the Rainbow Bar & Grill, and dinner at an Irish pub in Santa Monica before heading back to the downtown loft apartment she’s been sharing with her friend and co-worker at Tiffany’s, Tracy.

Thursday I went to guitar stores and Amoeba Records. I met up with my cousin David at the Apple Store in the Westfield mall in Century City. He hooked me up with a 160 gig iPod at a fine discount. Yes, my first iPod. I’m finally joining the revolution. After that we had dinner at a nice little Italian place in Culver City run by South Americans.

Friday I went to the LACMA’s big Dali exhibit, which was amazing. I was surprised how small “Persistence of Memory” is in real life. After that I went back to the Apple store for a car adapter. David and I hung out at his place a bit and grabbed a snack at Baja Fresh. After that I met up with Meredith for the best-kept secret in bargain dining in Beverly Hills: the $2 Happy Hour menu at at McCormick and Schmick’s. Between 6 and 8 you can get a variety of items super-cheap, including a big burger and fries for just $1.97. This is at the corner of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard, mind you, in the same shopping plaza as Tiffany’s.

Saturday I had lunch with Mary and Nikki in Sherman Oaks. After that I set out on the 101 for San Francisco. This 7-hour drive went considerably faster than the previous miles, or at least seemed to, thanks to the iPod and its shuffle feature, which essentially gave me my own radio station.

Arriving in San Francisco’s rough-and-tumble Tenderloin district, I was forced by necessity to perform the same procedure that staying in downtown Dallas required of me: cleaning out my car in its entirety, in anticipation of homeless and/or crackheads looking for anything worth breaking a window to get. My first lesson in big city living. Erika and I grabbed some dinner at a deliciously spartan Pakistani joint and found a hospitable dive bar at which to drink.

Pictures updated at Flickr.

Days Three through Seven

Austin was the usual hoot. I got in around 2:30 and Tara and I grabbed some really good Mexican food before goofing off at Waterloo Records where I bought the new (already!) Nellie McKay CD featuring a big band. It’s fantastic. I also got the most recent Boom Boom Satellites (Japanese electronica, hard to find anywhere else), and Thought for Food by The Books. We also went to a big sale at South Austin Music[1] where I am proud to say I bought absolutely nothing!

We were going to go out that night to see Holly Golightly, but we succumbed to laziness and ended up watching Pushing Tin. Jamie eventually demanded we meet her up the street for some music and drinking, and we rallied enough energy to make it.

Sunday we dive-bar crawled. The primary rule for defining a “dive bar” was that it should not serve liquor. Beer only. Also, a jukebox must be present. And the fewer windows the better. We found four, and one of these featured chicken sh*t bingo. Tara wagered on a square, and we all waited for what seemed like an hour for the chicken to do its business. It never did, and we had more itinerant drinking to do, so we left without the satisfaction of knowing who won. After all the drinking was done, Tara and I retired her place with a pizza and a rented VHS copy of Beetlejuice[2].

I left Monday morning, and drove 621 desolate miles to Las Cruces, New Mexico. Some facts in brief about this stretch of road:

Number of dead armadillos: 0
Number of dead raccoons: several
Number of dead bugs on my windshield: countless
% of which where butterflies: an unfortunately high number
Ratio of goat farms to cattle farms: 20 to 1

I had dinner at a sports bar in El Paso[3] to wait out rush hour traffic, and made my way to Las Cruces, where I checked in to a Motel 6. I fell asleep to the comforting sounds of highway traffic and people yelling in Spanish outside my door.

Tuesday I drove the 760 miles from Las Cruces to Los Angeles. I don’t remember much beyond the undifferentiated, yet oddly beautiful desolation (pictures here, as usual). I also drove through a massive sandstorm from Coachella to Palm Springs the likes of which I have never experienced nor do I ever want to again. My fingers were tired from gripping the wheel so tightly. And the final stretch into LA was interminable. I felt like an asymptote – a line that keeps getting ever closer to its destination, but never arrives.

But of course I finally did, and Meredith took me to Ralph’s grocery store, where she bought me a sandwich and chocolate cake and beer. A happy ending to a very long day.

1.) Where I bought this thing last March.
2.) Because she had never seen it and her orchestra was working on playing the theme music for an upcoming performance.
3.) I’ve made a rule that I will not eat in any nationwide restaurant chains during this trip, and I wanted to see how the Red Sox were doing. The bartender gave me chicken strips on special, which was super nice, assuming that wasn’t a synonym for “wow these are old, let’s get rid of them.” They were tasty enough, though.

Days One and Two

I’ve made it past the departure threshold. My house is squared away. Kathy is taking care of the cats and bills. When I return next month the house will no longer be “mine” in a certain sense; Trey will have taken over and installed himself. In fact I’m not even sure where I’ll stay that week, as the extra bedroom will belong to my niece, at least on weekends.

Currently I’m sitting in Torrey and Liz’s loft in Deep Ellum, in downtown Dallas, drinking Pinot Noir and listening to ambient radio station on iTunes. A bunch of us have just come back from eating the most consciousness-altering desserts at Rush Patisserie. I had a transcendent Ă©clair myself. I had dinner with Tim and Mona over in Arlington, and lunch up in Lewisville with Allison and Rodney and the new baby. So far everything has gone exceedingly well. I’ve uploaded a few pictures to Flickr, but they’re all from Torrey’s camera. More to come later.

Tomorrow I head to Austin.

Important Lesson Learned

If you ever use Freecycle for getting rid of large things like, say, a couch or mattresses, allow for at least a week for people to come and get your stuff. I made a huge mistake by offering my couch, two mattresses and two box springs, and expecting people to take them away in just a day or two. Now I’m stuck in a grueling limbo where people won’t even email me back! To paraphrase Jean-Paul Sartre, hell is waiting for other people. I’m dying to hit the road and stupid little errors have me pinned down like so many Lilliputians.

I’m also waiting to hear from DeLaine about whether or not she can get off work to join me on my trip.

The last several months have been a study in uncertain departures. I never knew when I was going to be able to leave work, so I had to impose a deadline on my boss. Now I don’t know when I’m leaving on my trip and I don’t have anyone onto whom I can impose a deadline. This is insanely frustrating, especially given the fact that I have nothing to do for an unforeseeable amount of time.

Excerpts from a Conversation

Here is an outtake from a discussion I had recently that a friend said was helpful to him, and it’s one of those things that I’ve felt but never verbalized, so here goes. His comments are indicated with a >, and mine are the replies.

>Britney Spears serves a purpose other than the enjoyment of music.

Yes, entertainment. In fact the same could be said of all rock and roll – it is by definition a package of music, theatrics, and often dance. Elvis’s hip shaking performances were what separated him from Carl Perkins (arguably the better musician) and made him so revolutionary. Musicians like us tend to miss the fact that the fashion, ideology, and socio-politics of rock and roll are more important to most people than pure music. And that’s fine. It’s tricky for music being an art form and an entertainment form, but insisting that all music should be art is like insisting that all speech should be poetry.

>why shouldn’t a person who has developed musical talent over the years be paid as well?

Because life isn’t fair. Getting paid for something involves things like luck, connections, and responsibility. It involves a lot more luck than most people realize. Just because you build it, that doesn’t guarantee people will come. And getting paid for making music? You’re at the mercy of an audience (the ultimate employer) who have their own interests which probably don’t match yours. To expect payment, you often have to make phone calls, get in front of club owners, sell yourself, promote, bargain, negotiate, compromise, and these are just more things that great artists are not often good at. But entertainers more often are.

>For some strange reason, I really like that song and can’t hear it enough!

I came up with a theory recently after sitting through the top 40 crap they play at the movie theater before the previews start. I actually liked one of the tunes, and that’s when it hit me…

Songs are like children: They can be conceived under the worst circumstances by horrible people whose motives are less than honorable, and yet they can still turn out to be absolutely magical. A great song can be born of complete insincerity and crass commercialism and, despite all of that, authentically move you. Occasionally works of art transcend the limitations of their maker.

Man of Leisure

It’s already Friday. An entire week of joblessness has passed. I went to Harrison on Monday to drop off guitars at mom’s for storage. I took the scenic route home on Tuesday through Mountain View – a great little town in the middle of nowhere. It’s a bluegrass music destination, though. Nice place to escape or retire to[1], if you don’t mind the homogeneity.

I’ve packed up most everything that I know Trey won’t need in the house, which doesn’t look like much, actually. I need to Freecycle the couch[2] and the mattresses, move the dining table into the garage, and a few other small items and figure out what stays and what goes kitchen-wise. Hopefully I can get everything squared away by Wednesday, my intended departure date.

I was taking down the posters from my music room yesterday and was briefly overcome by the sensation that this is all so much sooner than I had intended. I always knew this house wasn’t permanent, but I had assumed that I would leave it only when I had a family to outgrow it (i.e. a second child). The death of that small unconscious dream bummed me out for some time, before I shook myself out with the realization that it could still happen, and if not there are plenty more little dreams yet to be born.

1.) Or escape from, if you were born there.
2.) I’ve had this couch since senior year of college. It’s gone through several couch covers and remains the most comfortable, if moderately gross, couch ever.

Why Facebook Sucks

Sure, MySpace allows people to put up crummy animated gifs and otherwise design their profiles to look like a circa 1997 GeoCities webpage, but Facebook gives people a zillion little plug-ins that don’t really do anything. I don’t log in to Facebook often, but when I do I get besieged with things I don’t understand:

1 music invitation
1 pandora invitation
3 likeness quiz requests
2 compare requests
1 tv trivia invitation
1 tv show trivia invitation
1 werewolves invitation
1 booze mail request
1 pirate invitation
1 hi five friend request
1 super wall post request
3 my questions requests
1 get superlatives invitation
1 live it up invitation
1 top friends friend request

I guess I’m just not taking advantage of the website, but the few things I’ve clicked on turned out to be utterly pointless, so I’m never sure what I’m getting into when I click on something.

Also weird is that on Facebook you can buy “gifts” for people for a dollar, and apparently all that you get is an icon to display on your page. $1 for a gif image. What a great racket they’re running.