Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Today I felt especially human. Normally a work day would be fairly routine. My perfunctory nine hours of time in the office and the gym on a good day. I'd maybe eke out another hour or so with Erin or else meet up with a friend to catch up over a beer. Today though, somehow more happened. All compressed into one day. I learned my friend's son came through eye surgery ok. I re-did some work I wasn't satisfied with and made it something to be proud of. At happy hour, I bonded with a guy I had always meant to hang out with more often. I think we're actually friends now. Despite the buzz, I still made it to the gym for a full work out. I heard two inspiring stories on The Moth podcast that filled me with emotion, both happy and sad. One man who realized his dreams and another man who's dreams were torn from him. I found out that a burger place I walk by every day, Meister Burger, is far better than the one I normally go to. And cheaper. Another friend, Sadie, called me up last minute and told me about a lovely acoustic music show at an old convent less than a block from my apartment. I used to walk by that building every day on the way to work and had no idea what was in there, nor any idea that I'd ever go inside. The space was beautiful as were the audience and the talent. The concert took place in a petite candle lit chapel the size of a very large dining room. I didn't realize that twenty-somethings had any interest in folk music. But maybe there is a resurgence. Who knows. Sadie's friend Adam performed. It was his first public appearance after having a near death car accident last year. His family and friends were clearly proud and relieved to see him back on stage again. It felt like life was swirling around me today.So much real life. What a full day.

Monday, July 06, 2009


Monica originally got me interested in the concept of fasting. A few years ago, I saw that she had a "Fasting for Dummies" book on her nightstand. My first instinct was to laugh for about five continuous minutes. How in the world could anyone need a big thick book to explain how to stop putting food in his or her mouth? It's simple. Just don't! Right?

With some encouragement, I cracked open the book and read some of it. As I read, I realized the book wasn't so much explaining how to stop eating. It was explaining the benefits and mechanisms of fasting, what to expect, and how to prepare.

Until then, I had always thought of fasts as usually performed in the context of spiritual practice, political statements, or dieting. It had never really occurred to me that a fast could be of any value to me.

One particular benefit of fasting rang especially true for me as I read further. The book tried to convey the substantial amount of energy our bodies use on a daily basis to digest food. During a fast, the left over energy not being used for digestion is available for the body to use for other purposes such as self-healing and improved mental function. Like most people who have experienced food coma, I was immediately able to relate to this energy rhetoric and take it seriously. Even though I already knew eating a meal used some energy, it never occurred to me that my body might do brand new magic things merely by quitting food for a few days. Maybe it was worth a try.

Back then, I initially tried a three day fast. I can't remember how far I actually got. Not far enough to realize any major benefits. But I did feel that I gained a measure of power over food. I knew that I could do it longer under the right circumstances. But somehow those circumstances never seemed to surface. Or maybe I just wasn't committed.

But now during my two months off of work, I have a comfort zone to worth within. No work meetings or deadlines to worry about being woozy for. No big eating or drinking occasions to get in the way. Erin initially brought up The Master Cleanse, a no-less-than ten day diet consisting of nothing but a drink made of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayanne pepper, and water. She had done it once before and said it felt great. I have heard of the cleanse from many people around town by now, all with stories of great benefits. She was looking forward to doing it again after running her marathon in May. It was a good opportunity for me to give fasting another try, and so I said I would do it with her after we got back from Mexico.

So now here we are - the first day of the fast. I didn't do a whole lot of research. I am relying mainly on Erin's experience with it. Also, from what I have read, there doesn't seem to be much to it. The hard part is - you guessed it - not eating.

Below I will chronicle the highlights of each day of the cleanse. I'll add more to this post as the days go on.

Day 1 - We went shopping for the ingredients of our magic drink. Ideally, the cleanse should be done with all organic ingredients, so we headed to Rainbow Grocery, the wholesomest of all wholesome stores in San Francisco. There we loaded up on organic lemons, organic maple syrup, and organic cayenne pepper. Our first batch of drink was a little bit clunky and awkward to build, but to my surprise it didn't taste too bad at all. I think I can survive on this for a few days. Sipping it the first few hours, it seemed like a piece of cake. I even took a bike ride since I was still feeling fairly energetic. I heard the first couple of days can be rough hungerwise. It wasn't until later that I realized I was going through the day's batch kind of fast. The notion of conserving it hadn't occurred to me. This could make my days hungrier than I first thought. I'll have to supplement the drink with water, but water just won't feel as satisfying.

Day 3 - This was the hardest day so far. I was having a hard time keeping my mind off of food. It became clear just how much time each day is spent thinking about, acquiring, preparing, or enjoying food. In addition, my social life tends to revolve around occasions when people are eating or drinking. I regularly visit my good friend Shannon during her lunch break at her restaurant to share a bite. I have two regular pub nights during the week where I meet up with separate sets of friends. I like to go out dancing frequently and usually have a cocktail or two in the process. San Francisco is an eating and drinking city. It's what we do here. Luckily I have a hobby project I have been meaning to spend more time on so at least I have something to focus on during my idle time. Erin and I took a drive out to Bolinas as a non-food activity. While sitting on the beach together, all we could talk about was what we plan to eat when we're off the fast. Later we went to see a movie. That was a good low energy, no food activity, but by the end of the night both of us had substantial headaches. Day 4 has to get better.

Day 4 - The laxative portion of the diet is kind of messing with my stomach and my sleep. Tea at night and salt water flush in the morning. I'm not too sure about this salt water thing. Critics of the fast point out it flushes out needed digestive bacteria. It also tastes terrible. It is basically drinking two full pint glasses of sea water. It just feels wrong. Besides that, I'm kind of tethered to my house for at least an hour or two afterward. Now that my gut seems to be fairly clear of all solid food, I may not continue it. We'll see. Besides all that, I feel pretty good. I feel less hungry today, and even do a light workout at the gym. I'm not super obsessed with food, but still feel quite nostalgic about it. Even though I feel better, I have a nagging concern about my nutrition. Primarily I am concerned about my calorie intake. I calculated my diet to be about 1000 calories per day. Mainly I just don't want to lose much more weight. I'm already down three pounds in four days. All I can think is that by tomorrow I'll be about half way done. Although now I'm starting to read about potential health dangers of this thing. Am I just looking for an out so I can have a hamburger? Not sure, but I'm definitely keeping an open mind about finishing or continuing. We'll see how I feel tomorrow.

Day 6
- Tired of nothing but food-related life all around us, Erin and I drove up to Harbin Hot Springs to soak in the soothing spring water and enjoy nature in a relaxing setting. The water was just what the doctor ordered. We fit right in with our bottles of drink. There is relatively little food around there unless you go looking for it, so we had a break from temptation even if only for a day or two.

Day 7
- After getting home from the mountains, I was starting to feel kind of loopy. Not in any sort of physically uncomfortable way. But I just felt kind of, well, dumb. I lost my keys, and after searching the house and garage for an hour, I finally found them stuffed into my shoe on my shoe rack with a piece of paper stuffed in behind them. Ugh. When I went to leave the house, I pulled my keys out of my pocket to unlock the door - even though, after four years of living here, I am well aware I don't need a key to exit. Double ugh. That sort of thing. My mind felt foggy and it was frustrating. At this point I started to have some concern about my physical state. Am I hurting myself? Erin had a terribly rough day at work feeling hungry and tired. We had tickets to see a show, but she just felt terrible and couldn't go. We discussed seriously quitting the next day. We decided to sleep on it and see how we felt in the morning.

Day 8
- We push forward. I think both of us are determined to finish what we started. Neither of us feels as bad as the day before. Although I am still concerned about my weight loss, I decide it is nothing that I cannot replace. Even though I am thinner than I'd like to be, I decide losing my gut and mini spare tire is nothing to lament. That night I hung out with my other friend Erin who is studying nutrition. She told me that we are definitely not drinking enough of the potion. We should be taking in at least 1200 calories per day, and we are really only getting about 1000. This is probably the reason that we are dragging. I personally find it tough to drink enough as it is. I could chug more. I guess I'll have to. At this point I am still considering making day 10 an ease out day since the first ease out day is nothing but orange juice anyway. But my other voice says that is still quitting the cleanse too soon. Again, we'll sleep on it.

Day 9
- Erin feels pretty good today. I am not. I don't feel physically bad. I'm not even really that hungry. Today I just feel an emotional weight. I don't really know why. I can only assume it is from malnutrition. I also seem tongue tied and have lost my normally fairly sharp wit. I really can't believe that people do this for 30 or even 40 days. I really think people who do that must have a lot of extra weight and fat to burn off. I just don't have much to burn. I am really considering quitting again. But Erin gives me a massage with peppermint oil and that really improves my mood. I am determined to finish the cleanse! I decide to buy the ingredients for the 10th day plus some extra maple syrup that I will just sip by itself to boost my calories. On our ease out day, we decide to combine day one and two so we'll get to start eating vegetables sooner. At this point, it is a mental challenge to finish. If I were to quit today, then I would wonder what the other days days were for. I know that the number 10 doesn't by itself provide any inherent benefit. Maybe ten days isn't any more beneficial than nine. But I'll be disappointed nonetheless if I quit this close to the finish line.

Day 10 - Maybe it was just the fact that I knew I was so close to being done. But I felt pretty good today. As soon as I woke up, I knew the plan. I'd make one more batch of drink. When I finished that I'd start the ease out process. First orange juice, then vegetable broth, the whole fruits and veggies, then freedom. I am very anxious to get some other nutrients into me besides sugar and acid. But I am also resigned to complete what everyone says is the minimum time period to get benefit from the cleanse. Does the 10th day matter? Well I will say, without being too graphic, that I do believe there is more room for cleansing my gut. If this experience wasn't enough to scrub me out completely, however, then I just may never be completely cleansed.

After finishing the cleanse, both my mind and my body are different. I can't say whether I'm healthier physically. Over the past few days, I have developed a sore in my throat and a nagging cough has gotten worse instead of better. The corners of my mouth are sensitive because of all the lemon juice and red pepper, so even salad dressing hurts my lips. I neither have increased energy nor better mental focus. In fact, quite the opposite.

I have, however, taken on a different view of my weight loss. Even though I'd rather not be as light as I am, the slight gut and mini spare tire were really not doing me any good. It feels good to reset... and to know that I can reset.

As far as what food I'll start eating when set free - I will say that the food I'm craving now has changed for the healthier. So that could be a positive outcome. I have been craving fish more than any other food. Today I have been keeping to an all veggie diet, but tomorrow (what would be day 12) I'm going to buy some sashimi salmon from Najiya Market and wolf it down like a grizzly. I can't wait. I had some Pepperidge Farm cookies in my cupboard that have been calling to me over the past days, but tonight when I went to eat one, I saw the ingredients list, and just put it back. I put all this effort into putting good stuff in my body. It just seems too soon to toss that aside, especially with a fridge full of sweet tasty fruit.

Will I ever do this cleanse again? I'm not sure. Maybe if I'm overweight someday and have more fat to burn. That doesn't mean I regret the experience though. I always wanted to try it and it was a tough mental challenge. I'm glad I persevered and finished what I started. Lots of people say they could never do it - that they're just not strong enough.

But I'm proud to say that I am.

Friday, April 24, 2009


For the past five months, I have been contracting for a large national bank in downtown San Francisco. The reason why I don't use the name is that they seem a little bit sketched out about people blogging anything that might affect their company. They don't forbid it, but I figure this way neither of them nor I have to worry about it.

I have basically had three jobs since I moved to San Francisco in May 2000. All three have been in the traditional business corridor along Market Street between Van Ness and The Embarcadero.

I have never really been the type to prepare and pack my lunch for work. Partly because I just don't make the time to do it, and partly because I just can't stand being indoors for eight straight hours. I need to get some fresh air and sunshine. I like to be in the hustle and bustle.. people-watch.. stretch my legs. My lunch hour contributes to my daily dose of these things, and it's painful to go without it.

I struggle each day to maintain that age-old balance between hitting those spots that I know I'll enjoy, and seeking out new good spots I can add to my lunchtime arsenal.

There are several factors at play in evaluating a lunch spot.

  • Time - It depends on the day. Some days I have more time than others. I don't mind traveling for lunch. Sometimes it's worth it, but watching the clock can take away from a relaxing dining experience. So can slow service and long lines.
  • Food - Obviously no one wants a crummy meal, but I like to stay healthy, so besides taste, I also try to pay attention to nutrition. Greasy paper bag specials abound, as do the fast, tasty, and cheap national chain stores. I can do those now and then, but bad habits are hard to break. Why create a new one?
  • Price - If you do the math on lunch, it's a really big expense if you dine out every day. ($10 x 5 days x 50 weeks = $2500/year, $20 lunch = $5000!). I try to keep my lunches around $6. It's a challenge and I don't always make it, but I know those meals are out there! Tip: One thing you can do to keep it healthy and cheap - ask for tap water - they always have it.
  • Environment - If I am short on time, I might eat my lunch at my desk, but if I have time, I'd prefer to have a nice comfy relaxing atmosphere. Outside in the sun is best, weather permitting.

Too much to ask for a financial district lunch? Well it takes some searching, but it feels like a real accomplishment when I find something good.

Today I found a new spot, and I felt so accomplished I had to write about it:

  1. Toaster Oven - 3 Embarcadero Center, 2nd floor concourse. They have a small selection of good sandwiches, all of which they run through a slow conveyor toaster before putting on your choice of fixins. Don't forget to pick up a free cup of pickled peppers from the counter! They taste just like the hot peppers on the famous Rosamunde sausages. $4.99 + tax. I got tempted by the bag of chips, but really the sandwich is enough. This is a double bonus because it is directly next to a great spot to eat in the sun I'll call the Davis Bridge.
  2. The Davis Bridge - between 2 and 3 Embarcadero Center on the bridge crossing Davis street. It's not a restaurant, but a nice place to eat. I just can't believe how pleasant this spot is. In the concrete jungle that is downtown, it's tough to find a nice sunny spot not overshadowed by a skyscraper (and that doesn't smell like pee). Somehow this spot is uncrowded, bathed in sun, clean, quiet, nicely landscaped, with comfortable tables and chairs. When I'm there, I cannot stop quietly thanking the architect.
  3. Ichiban Japanese - Stevenson alley off 1st Street. I go to this place a lot and always get their Teriaki Chicken Bowl. There are a few teriaki dishes. The bowl is the smallest and cheapest, but really is plenty of food for me. Rice, chicken, and some tempura vegetables. $6 including tax. It's a mom and pop type of place. They have the lunch rush down to a science. Service is curt, but solid.
  4. Mastrelli's Delicatessen - The Ferry Building - Like any good deli, just take a number and wait. Grab the bread you want from the box and hand it to your sandwich artisano when they're ready for you. Great ingredients, hard workers. Yum. Italian Combo Sandwich $6.25. Trivia: Owner used work at the famous Molinari in North Beach.
  5. Prather Ranch Meat Company - The Ferry Building - I have only tried their BBQ pork sandwich. Tender, sauce-soaked meat on a nice sourdough roll. Simple, tasty, and filling - $5.95
  6. Rubio's - 4 Embarcadero Center - Ok, it's a national chain. But the ingredients seem pretty good. I'll get a taco plate with corn tortillas and beans. The salsa bar is great and plentiful and the service at this particular store is especially good - fast, smart, and friendly. Two taco plate with chips and beans - about $7.

I think when I am fully evolved as a human, I will prepare my own lunch. That would be cheaper and healthier. I'll have more time to enjoy my break and more cash in my pocket at the end of the week.

But for now, I'll keep seeking out the bang for the buck.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


This morning I walked to work along a new route. My girlfriend Erin is subletting my friend Heather Rae's studio apartment in a neighborhood I would like to go ahead and nickname "The China Nob". It's two blocks from the top of Nob Hill and one block above Stockton street in Chinatown. San Francisco neighborhoods are amazing the way they morph into one another in a single block. Her block is the no man's land in between.

Last night I helped her settle into her new surroundings. I brought over a bottle of champagne after work to toast the new digs, and then we set out to explore for the evening.

It really is quite remarkable how Chinatown is shoehorned into a few square blocks between two extremely sought-after pieces of real estate: The Financial District and its gajillion dollar high rises, and Nob Hill, the historic home of the wealthiest of tycoons and their mansions.

As we walked, I recalled a story I had heard about how some political interests had made an attempt to eliminate Chinatown just after the 1906 earthquake. I was impressed to learn that the Chinese government itself had stepped in and used its leverage to preserve the neighborhood and rebuild it as a Chinese community.

As we descended a few more blocks into North Beach, we got a taste for what that area is like on a weekday evening. Living on the other side of the city in The Lower Haight neighborhood, I rarely make the trip out this far, especially on a quiet weekday, and I avoid it altogether on the weekends. In my experience, North Beach fills up on weekend evenings with drunken Bridge and Tunnelers. It gets crowded and I often find the nightspots rather obnoxious.

But I always knew North Beach to be a vibrant local community also, rich in history and colorful inhabitants. I look forward to the opportunity to sink into that a little bit.

After dinner at the always tasty (and busy) Tommaso's, we walked back up the hill to investigate a spot named Le Club. The name was so cheesy and intriguing, we just had to see what went on in there.

It turns out, it is indeed a bar/social club. Apparently it used to be a super fancy restaurant, and now, although it is still upscale, caters to a somewhat lower crust crowd with its pool table, poker/chess room, and chatty bartender. It's ok. But not the white leather 70's disco (le) chic I was hoping for.

This morning, I headed down the hill to the high rise I currently work at only ten blocks away from Erin's. It's funny how different a neighborhood feels in the morning. I've been in Chinatown on the weekends and a few choice evenings, but never in the morning. As I walked down Clay street with the Transamerica Pyramid facing me at eye level, I felt like I had moved to a completely new city. It reminded me of what it felt like when the taxi cab dropped me off my first morning in Buenos Aires last year. Everything was comfortably urban and serene, but nothing was familiar.

My same old home town, but from a new angle.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Sunday night I was at The Buccaneer. It was a dual occasion. It's my regular Sunday night bar, which is an occasion all its own. But it was also the Za Christmas party. Za is a pizza restaurant down the street from The Buc where a couple of my friends work. Za and The Buc are sort of sister businesses. The Za staff often comes to the bar to socialize, and it made sense for them to have their informal little Christmas party there.

My friend Jamie, who I know as a regular from the bar, works at Za and so was in attendance as expected. Jamie is an avid skier, and we have always talked about hitting the slopes together over the years, but somehow it had never actually happened.

Jamie announced that a snow storm was afoot and that he was heading up to to Kirkwood on Tuesday with one of his Za compatriots. He strongly suggested that I come along.

"Do we have anywhere to stay up there?" I asked.

"Mark might know someone. I'm not sure. We'll figure something out."

I'm at the point now, where I seriously consider any opportunity to follow good snow conditions up to the mountains. I have become a bit of a powder snob. That is, for me to make the several hour trip up to the Sierras, I would prefer that the snow conditions will be excellent. This doesn't always mesh exactly with the rest of my schedule. I'm back to a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday job, once again and, in my previous life, would consider myself relegated to weekend trips only. In addition, I don't have a car anymore. I used to have the luxury of hopping in my Jeep at a moments notice to make the trip, accompanied or not. No more.

So this one sounded nice. I have been eagerly awaiting the snow season to begin. I only had one snowboarding day last season because I was travelling during most of it. On Monday, I texted Jamie to double check his seriousness about it.

Somewhere around 2pm he called me while I was at work. He was somewhat hungover from a big night of Christmas partying, and sounded somewhat pessimistic about making the trip. He was planning on spending Christmas day at his mom's house up near the Sierra's, and didn't want to make the trip twice. It probably wouldn't work.

I sighed and said I understood. "We'll try again next time."

Less than five minutes later he called me back. He apologized for being negative about the trip. He really wanted to help me get up there and, if I really wanted to go, he would make it happen for me. "I want to be your oak tree," he said. I think he meant that he wants me to think of him as a reliable friend who I can count on to keep a promise and provide support. In the past, something has always seemed to fall apart with these proposed trips. He decided to hold strong to his commitment even though it was less than convenient for him.

Energized by his show of friendship and our shared enthusiasm about hitting the slopes, I cancelled my meeting for the next day, and announced at around 3pm that "sorry for the late notice," but that I wouldn't be at work the next couple of days. See ya.

We planned to head up early Tuesday morning. 5am. Jamie had to stop in Davis to pick up some equipment for his friend Mark to use so it would add almost an extra hour to the trip up. I went straight home after work and dug out all my snowboarding gear, packed a bag, and did my best to get to sleep as early as I could.

Sure enough, Jamie was ready for me just after 5, and the three of us headed east.

The trip was long. The mountains were drivable but somewhat snowy and slow. A highway patrolman stopped us at the chain control on Highway 88 to strongly remind us that the speed limit was 25 MPH and that they didn't have many resources to help us if we had problems on the road. Poor Jamie kept us going while Mark and I alternately nodded out, sleepy from a still-too-short night in bed.

At Kirkwood, I did my best to remain patient while Mark rented some boots and Jamie waited in a crazy long line for his season pass. It was after 11 by the time we got on our first chair lift, but I knew we probably weren't in good enough physical condition to last more than five hours anyway, especially on our first day up.

I was right. After our first warm up run down the hill, we all moaned and groaned about our legs. That said though, we all marvelled at the snow condition. One or two feet of new snow had fallen the previous day and night, and it was still only about 25 degrees out, cold enough to keep the snow light and dry. This was going to be a great day. Let's keep the moaning to a minimum.

Jamie is a big fan of Kirkwood and knows the mountain much better than I do. He told Mark and I to watch one of the chair lifts off in the distance. That side of the mountain was closed, but he suspected they might open it up. He said if that chair lift starts moving, we'd head over that direction.

The mountain was busy but not crowded and there was plenty of nice fluffy snow for everyone. After a gleeful several hours of great conditions, we took a break for some food and drink. We plopped at the bar and had some snacks along with coffee spiked with whiskey and Kahlua. The break didn't last long though. We were eager to finish the day strong.

Jamie ran into a friend from school at the bar and, since he was an intermediate rider, we all decided to head up the lift and take an easy run down to get warmed back up.

But while Mark and I were on the lift together, we noticed that the lift off yonder seemed to be moving. Jamie who was ahead of us would surely spot that and be excited.

At the top, Mark and I gestured wildly toward that direction. Jamie hadn't noticed and when we told him the lift was turning, he said a quick "Sorry but we'll see you later" to his school friend, turned to Mark and I, and said "Let's go!"

We rode down to the lift where the operator told us "Ya, sorry that side of the mountain isn't open, just this little hill." Ah, ok well it's not the backside, but it's still a lot of nice fresh snow that no one has hit yet. This could still be quite fun.

But then at the top, just as I was about to head back down to the bottom of the same lift, Jamie yelled to me. "No! This way. They just opened it!"

An hour or so earlier, I had actually made a bet with Jamie that they wouldn't open this side of the mountain so late in the afternoon. By this time it was 3 o'clock, only an hour left in the day before closing time. Why would the resort send employees out to run the lifts, set up the little rope fences and signs around the lifts, just for a single hour of operation?

But they did it.

They did it knowing very well what kind of Christmas gift they were giving us, the lucky few who made the trip over. The lucky few who cancelled their meetings. The lucky few who got up at 4:30 in the morning. The lucky few who kept their commitments to their friends. The lucky few who didn't have any guarantee of a place to sleep, but went anyway.

This was our reward.

The backside of the mountain hadn't been opened for the season yet. The two feet of fresh snow, and everything under it was completely virgin. As we rode the lift up to the peak, we didn't see any tracks at all. No skiers. No people. Nothing. Jamie and I just looked at each other in amazement and disbelief. We were shouting and laughing and high fiving like little kids.

It was about 2/3 of the way up the lift before we saw the first skiers and riders coming down the hill. They were the lucky first. But we were just as lucky. The entire mountain was fresh. In every direction, all anyone could do was to cut a beautiful powdery highlight-film-style line down the side of the pristine mountain.

This type of scenario is what skiers and snowboarders dream about. They get up super early to try and catch the first chair of the day. They pay thousands of dollars to take helicopters deep into the mountains to get at snow that has never been touched.

And we had it. For one hour. Enough for three runs down the hill. Each lift operator got an ear full of "Thank you! Thank you!". Some gave a little thumbs up and nod.

Then they sent us home. Packed up the little rope fences and signs. And that was it. One hour of heaven.

Back in the parking lot, the few folks that were left were grinning ear to ear and woo'ing and pumping their fists in the air. Everyone was high from excitement.

Mark got a hold of his friend in South Lake who invited us to stay the night. We were weary and completely exhausted, but managed to socialize for awhile, then headed back to the city in the morning.

Jamie dropped Mark and I off back in the city, then promptly turned around the same night to head up to his mother's house in Arnold. Until then, I hadn't realized just how brutal Jamie's day in the car would be, all in the name of giving Mark and I the opportunity that turned out so great.

Thanks Jamie. You're an oak tree. I owe you one. Oh and a shot of Van Gogh for being right about the lift.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Buc

It's funny. I find myself telling this story a lot. When you're a regular at a small local pub in San Francisco, it's sort of assumed that you live in the neighborhood. When people are used to seeing your face around the place, and then you tell them you live fairly far away, they generally cock their head and squint their eyes, trying to think of a decent reason someone would travel any substantial distance to sit on a worn out stool and listen to the same jukebox tunes over and over again.

For some reason, Sunday nights at The Buccaneer Pub in Russian Hill pull at least a few of us regulars in from relatively far and wide. Each of us has our own story about why we do so. Here's mine:

Sometime around 2001, a friend of a friend named Mike Griffen, who fancied himself as an up and coming comedian, was putting on a low budget public access TV show. The concept behind public access television is that, in the interest of maintaining a voice for local interests, the airwaves should be open to anyone who wants to broadcast any content whatsoever. So local television and radio networks are required to provide airtime to virtually whoever asks for it. The Griff Show was your run of the mill funny-guy-at-the-desk with sidekick-on-the-couch show. Mike taped the show at his sidekick's apartment who lived down the hall from him in a building near Polk and Union streets. The apartment could only be described as swinger-cheesy. It had a red and white leather couch with a matching red and white leather mini cocktail bar. A bookshelf behind the couch held martini glasses and a picture of Frank Sinatra. As hard as it was to believe that anyone would choose this decor for his own apartment, it made a perfect setting for the show.

His tapings had become essentially theme parties that were fun for friends to attend. We would bring some beer, sit on the floor and watch the tapings, acting as the studio audience, oohing and awing, groaning and laughing at the appropriate moments. It was fun.

Griff, as he liked to be called, enjoyed hitting the local bars and chatting up attractive young women whenever possible. He was the funny self-effacing guy who seemed to enjoy being entertaining more so than actually realizing any success with the women he spoke to. But talking about the show was a great opening for him, and he would regularly invite pretty girls to be guests on the show. It was a good racket.

At some point Griff announced that he wanted a band for the show. Someone to play a theme song, and play music to introduce guests, and have witty banter with during the show. He asked for volunteers. I said I would be in the band if I could play the bass. I had never really played the bass before, but I always wanted to. It was a good excuse.

Some friends and I rehearsed a few songs at my house in Glen Park and also donned some grubby rock musician alter egos to go along with the new group. We named the band Ass Pocket, and taped a few shows, crammed into the corner of the apartment during the tapings.
The show was broadcast on San Francisco channel 29. Time slots for programs were determined by a lottery at random. The time slot given to the Griff Show was 10pm Sunday nights. Griff's favorite pub was The Buccaneer, a couple blocks from his apartment on Polk street, and he got the bar to agree to tune their TVs to Channel 29 every Sunday night so we could watch ourselves.

That was always super fun. It was kind of a train wreck of a show. Poorly produced, poorly edited, sometimes funny, sometimes not so funny, sometimes more or less unintelligible. But it was ours and we loved it.

The show didn't really air for that long, but while attending those regular Sunday nights, I got to know some of the staff and regulars at the bar. It became an especially comfortable place for me to just show up any time and feel welcome. I usually knew someone who was there. After awhile it just felt like home.

People come and go, but the regulars and staff are all very friendly and socialize with one another all the time.

One day while the show was still on the air, a young new bartender named Marty was on duty. When we rolled in to watch the show, we were concerned he wouldn't tune the TV to 29 for us. "No no! They told me about it! Don't worry!", he said.

Seven years later, Marty still works at the bar on Sunday nights, and I still make semi regular appearances.

It's a family.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Blue World

On this terribly unscientific but interesting website called, the author attempts to poll the entire world on which US presidential candidate they would vote for if they had the opportunity.

Rather than look at the US as a grid of red (McCain) and blue (Obama) states, why not look at the world as a grid of red and blue countries? If you vote on the website and look at the results, you'll see that the entire globe is mostly bright blue, with only a couple of countries approaching a purplish, not-nearly red color.

While I was traveling this year, it struck me how interested and knowledgeable international people were when it comes to US politics. I knew that we were influential in terms of culture (music and movies), products and branding (Nike, McDonald's, etc), and foreign policy with our over sized military. But I didn't know the extent to which the world seems to look at the US as an omnipotent force. They feel they have a real stake in how our country operates, and the next president is foremost on their radar at the moment. Isn't it a shame they can't vote too.

We saw first hand this summer how deep the US influence can be economically. When the US credit markets started to freeze and stock markets started to plummet, the effect was felt immediately all over the world. Would the US have been as affected if Great Britain were to slide a bit?

I don't really know.