Northern California

Well alright.. its been a week or so, and I thought I should update this blog a little bit.  I don’t remember where I left off, and I have no internet here, so I’m just going to start off with last weekend.  Last weekend I made the drive from Medford, OR to Crescent City in California so that I could play two shows at the Pizza King Bar.  I had arranged these shows months ago, and I knew there was no pay involved other than dinner, drinks, and a tip jar, but sometimes that can work out pretty well.  I was stretching pretty thin again and I had four dollars to my name when I left Medford.  I thought I had plenty of gas in the tank, but it turned out that I had just enough.  My gas light went on when I was sixty miles from Crescent City, and with only a couple bucks on me, I thought this would be a perfect chance to run the van to its limit and see just how far I can go once the light goes on.  The answer: sixty miles.  I made it there without any real trouble, other than the fact that I kept worrying my tank was gonna run dry, and gas stations were far and few between on the windy highway.  I actually put a crumpled up napkin on the dashboard to cover up the gas gauge so I wouldn’t keep glancing at it and getting more worried.  Nonetheless, I made it to my destination, and immediately put everything I had into the tank, which amounted to about a gallon.  I then continued to the Pizza King and had one hell of an awesome pizza.  I had been munching on fresh apples all during the drive, but it was nice to get something with a little more sustenance.  I played to a rather empty bar when the evening came, but it was still a blast.  There were only two people in the audience besides the bartender, but I guess you could say that it made for a really intimate environment.  Because I had gotten there early, I ended up hanging out with the bartender in the afternoon, and he offered me a place to stay for the weekend.  He was also the restaurant and property manager, and the woman who owns the Pizza King also owns the building next door, which is retail space on the bottom floor, but there are two apartments on the second floor.  The apartments were being renovated so there were no tenants living there, and I was able to stay in a fully furnished two-bedroom apartment with an ocean view for the weekend.  I had cable, electricity, a full kitchen and even my own key so I could come and go as I pleased.  At the end of the first show on Friday, Ralph sent me upstairs with a pitcher of beer and a bunch of leftover pizza.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  I watched too much cable and then played guitar for a while before crashing, and when I woke up I took a hot shower to kick off the day.  I went to a farmers market down the road, but there was already a guy set up there with a whole PA system on a generator, and he was loud.  I can only assume that he had a deal with the market coordinators, but whatever the case, I didn’t much feel like competing for sound space, especially when I had a fully furnished apartment where I could relax and work on some songs.  So I did just that, and after a couple hours of noodling around and a little more cable, I decided to take a walk down to the ocean.  When I walked outside, Ralph spotted me and said he was about to deliver a pizza to a house right by the beach, so if I wanted a ride one way, to jump in.  So I jumped in his van and asked the little dochound if I could borrow her seat for a few minutes, and then I got dropped off about a half a mile down the road.  I walked along the beach for a while until I came to big breaker wave blocks, and then I heard what I thought sounded like seals.  I just followed the sound until I came up over a ridge, and there were somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty sea lions lounging on a dock.  They were all napping together, no doubt to keep warm, but whenever one of them decided to move, he would crawl over the others that he was cuddled up with, and it would start an uproar of “barks.”  I say “barks” because they looked like giant puppy dogs, but the sound was really more akin to that of a seal bark, if you will.  And once one of them started to bark, it would start a loud chorus of barks from a handful of sea lions throughout the pack, and then it would die down after a couple of seconds.  This happened every thirty seconds or so.  There were a few kids out on the dock with the sea lions when I walked over the ridge , and they were less than ten feet away from the giant sea creatures.  I just sat on a big rock at the edge of the water and watched for a while as the sea creatures gathered on the dock in the late afternoon.  They must have weighed two or three hundred pounds each, and it was crazy how easily they jumped out of the water onto the dock, but they didn’t seem to mind the kids overall, as long as they didn’t get too close.  When the kids left, I decided to head out to that same place on the dock and sit with the sea lions for a while.  I sat down about five or six feet away, and at first they barked at me, but then we got used to one another’s presence.  There was one sea lion in particular who kept his eye on me.  He was on the end of a clump of five of them napping together, but every thirty or forty seconds he would open his eyes and check on me, and then go back to dozing, and if I stood up or started to move closer he would bark at me to let me know not to invade their space, and of course, a chorus would ensue.  They were big furry creatures, laying in clumps of four and five and soaking up what was left of the sun for the day.  I just sat there with them quietly for about forty minutes, and after a while the one on the end stopped checking on me so often.  Although when I stood up to leave, he started another barking chorus.  It was pretty cool though, I’ve never seen a sea lion outside of the zoo before, let alone shared a sunset with a whole group of them on an ocean dock.

I was diggin’ Crescent City, and when the sun went over the horizon I walked back to the apartment, stopping to look at all the huge twenty foot tall anchors that had been thrown up onto the land by a giant tsunami in 1964, and then were left standing where they fell as a memorials of the disaster.  When I got back to the apartment, I did what most people do when they get home; I threw down my keys on the coffee table and then went straight to the bathroom to take a piss.  I washed my hands, dried them with my own towel that was still hanging from the morning, and then walked back out to the living room and sat down on the couch.  It was crazy though, because I don’t think I’ve gone through that sequence since I stayed with Dan in Chicago back in May.  I guess its something I sort of took for granted until I didn’t do it for a while.  Anyway, that thought struck me when I sat down on the couch, and I thought I’d share it with the world.  I watched a little cable and then went down into the restaurant to grab some dinner and ended up just chillin’ with Ralph at the bar.  I had a dark beer, a salad and a roast beef and swiss sandwich.  I started playin’ around 8:30 to a crowd of six, and it was actually a lot of fun; we were just having conversations between songs, and drinking copious amounts of beer.  I played until a little after ten, and then everybody rolled out and Ralph set me up with another pizza and a pitcher of beer.  I talked to him for a while, and it was decided that I would spend a couple hours working the next day, painting or cleaning out the garage or something for ten bucks and hour to gather up a little more gas money for the drive.  As you can imagine, the tips didn’t amount to much with only a handful of people.  He said I could play again on Sunday night if I stuck around, and I told him I’d work all day and then play music if there was anybody there, but otherwise I’d just call it an early night and hit the road to Eureka in the morning.  I had a show at 11am in Eureka, or at least I had made a phone call a couple months back, but I hadn’t talked to the owner in months, so I wasn’t positive that it was confirmed.  Nonetheless, it was on my calendar in blue, so that means I show up to play, and so my plan was to leave early on Monday morning, stop at the Redwood National Park for a while and then play some music at the Downtown Express in Eureka, CA.  All of these I did, but not before spending a couple hours on Sunday weighing out pizza dough, cleaning out a garage, and cleaning the apartment I was staying in so that it was ready to be rented as soon as the painting was finished.  It was kind of nice because at the end of the night I came back to a sparkling apartment, with six pack of Coors this time, and a glass of V8.  You see, I’d learned something from Ralph over the past couple days about taking a glass of Coors Light and mixing a couple tablespoons of V8 into the mix, and then you have a beer that has a slight taste of a Bloody Mary, is a little healthier and you don’t get drunk as fast, I guess because of all the nutrients or something.  Anyway, we drank these reddish concoctions all day long as we cleared out the garage and cleaned the apartment, and by the time sunset came I had a pretty good buzz going.  Ralph decided to make ribs that night, so I ate like a king once again, and somehow or another ended up with another pizza for the road.  We just hung out for a while to see if anybody would show up, but it looked like another dead night in Crescent City, so we decided to close up shop and I figured I’d hit the road in the morning and leave the key on the kitchen table.  We had done a little car switch when we picked up the ribs earlier, so I got a ride back to Ralph’s place to get the van back.  I talked to him there for a little while and then went back to the apartment for one final night.  Damn cable.  I shouldn’t have turned on the TV, but it was Sunday night and you never know if you can find a brand new Simpsons or Family Guy.  All I found was an American Dad, but that turned out to be pretty good after all.  Anyway, I shouldn’t have turned on the TV in the first place because I get glued, and when I came back from the shower I curled up on the couch with a blanket to get warm before I got fully dressed, and the next thing I knew I was asleep.  I woke up around three thirty, and realized I had already taken most of my blankets to the van, and the on that I left was not sufficient on its own.  In fact, I had taken almost everything to the van because my half-hashed plan had been to sleep in my own bed and set the alarm for seven so I could get a jump on the drive.  I groggily got up and gathered up the last of my things, and then at 4am I left the key on the table and made one more trip to the van before I closed the door.  I was still going to follow through with the plans for the morning, so I set the alarm and slept in the van for a couple more hours.  When the morning came, I drove.  It was a pretty drive too, but really foggy, which I always think is cool, and to make things cooler, I hit giant redwoods within a half an hour.  I had to get out and walk through the forest for a while, and all I gots to say is “Damn, they’s is some big damn trees!”  After an hour or so I got back on the highway, I when I got out of the park things began to open up and I realized that it had become sunny, and before I knew it I was in Eureka, and it was beautiful outside.

I walked into the Downtown Express at 10:30 with a guitar and a backpack full of harmonicas, and talked to the guy that was working the café.  I told him I had talked to someone there about playing for tips on this morning and he said the owner was in the back.  So I put down my stuff and walked to the back where two women were getting food prepped for the day; the owner asked me what I wanted to do, and I explained that I wanted to put out a tip jar and play for her lunch crowd.  She gave me the go ahead, and I set up my stuff in a corner of the shop.  It was an almost square shop with really high ceilings, so the acoustics were awesome, and they made everything very loud, perhaps even a little too loud at times.   Whatever the case, I had a blast and played for about two hours while the computer charged up, and they gave me an awesome chicken curry sandwich for lunch, as well as twenty dollars to add to the tip jar.  I was stoked, and not only was I invited to play again the next time I come through, but I now had enough gas money to get to San Francisco for a show the following night.  After lunch I thanked the owner and hit the road again, heading further south, and found myself going through another giant redwood forest.  I pulled into a park off of the highway and ended up taking another hike through the forest.  It was awesome.  I must have just wandered around aimlessly for about two hours, stumbling onto giant trees that were hollowed out in the middle to the point you could stand in them, like caves.  It was insane.  It reminded me of a book that I read in the fifth or sixth grade called My Side of the Mountain, where a kid basically finds himself lost in the middle of a remote section of the redwood forest and learns to live off the land; makes his home in a hollow tree, hunts, and hangs a deerskin as an entrance to his home.  It was one of my favorite books when I was younger, so seeing these trees and that the whole idea is more than feasible is kind of awesome.  I found one tree that was really made up of about seven trunks, but the whole thing was about twenty-five feet wide, and on one side it was hollow and created something of a cave.  The upside-down V shape that made up the two edges of the cave came together at about thirty-five feet up.  It was huge, and the main tree itself must have been over 200 feet tall, with the other spring-offs approaching that height as well.  At the bottom and in the middle there was a campfire pit, but the stones surrounding the fire pit were all strangely cubic, and a grayish brown chalky color, like they were limestone blocks you’d get at a garden center or something.  But then I looked closer and saw a ditch in the ground a little closer to the inside trunk of the massive tree, where dirt was compacting like concrete and then cracking in perfect seven by seven inch cubes as it dried up.  and there was a stick next to the ditch where people had broken out the dirt cubes and moved them a couple feet to create the fire pit.  It was pretty cool, and I found another hollow tree that had dirt cubes a little later.  Anyway, when the sun went down I meandered my way back to the van and drove for another two hours before it got totally dark, and then I pulled off and slept in a twenty-four hour grocery store parking lot.  When I woke up, I went the rest of the way to San Francisco, but stopped at a McDonald’s to charge up and get more specific directions to the bar, and found that there was a six-dollar toll for the Golden Gate Bridge.  You know a city is expensive when there is an entrance fee for vehicles.  I was glas I checked though, because after putting enough gas in the tank to make the drive, I was back down to four dollars and some change.  I made a stop at a viewpoint before crossing the bridge; one, to see the sunset, and two, because it would give me time to gather up the last two dollars in change before I got to the toll booth.  I knew this would take me down to basically nothing, but I figured I had a show in a couple hours and I’d probably make something from the tip jar.  Anyway, it turned out to be a good stop because I checked out the Spencer Battery, which was basically built to protect the San Francisco Bay in the 1840’s, and was in use until 1945.  I got to see the bridge, watch the sunset, and check out some soldier’s quarters from over 150 years ago.  It was a pretty good introduction to the city.  After walking around for a while, I got back in the van, gathered my shekels and got back on the highway to cross the bridge.  My gas light went on again while I was on the bridge.  I figured that meant I had sixty miles to make some money, and probably less because it’s not highway driving.  Things are real again.

I gave the lady my six bucks and followed my directions, but somehow I got lost anyway and had to stop outside of a Starbucks to look up new ones.  I made it to the El Rio at 6:30, and I was set to play at seven.  Miraculously I got what they call “rockstar parking,” and I was right outside the front door.  I played for about 45 minutes and made six dollars, plus the two drinks they gave me for playing.  I hung around and watched the guy play who played after me, who also used an acoustic guitar and a harmonica strap, but he had a very different style of playing the bluesharp.  It was awesome; a lot more straight harp, like Bob Dylan style, as opposed to old muddy blues harmonica like Howlin’ Wolf; a lot more breathing inward and bending notes.   Anyway, I was really enjoying his set, and then afterwards I wandered into the big room where there was a stage with lights and everything.   Two really pretty girls in aluminum foil dresses were setting up instruments and microphones on the stage.  My curiosity was peaked, so I had to stay to find out what this was all about.  It turned out that it was a band called the Lost Lockets, and they do sort of an art rock thing where its part performance piece and part concert, and they played some really neat stuff.  They had a violin, a keyboard, a kick drum turned on its side, tambourines and shakers, and a satchel full of machetes.  On their second to last song, the girls sat across from one another at the kick drum and played a beat with machetes, beating the drum and scraping the blades together while singing a song with lovely harmonies.  I enjoyed it a lot, and I didn’t turn around until the end, but the crowd had grown to more than sixty or seventy people.

When I left the bar I had six dollars to my name, and I blew $2.50 right away on some food from Safeway.  I needed to eat though, and that was helpful.  But that put me at $3.50, and I knew my computer was going to need charging the next day.  I had talked to a couple people about busking at the bar, and I was told by another musician to check out Sausalito, right across the bridge.  You have to pay six bucks to get back across, but he said he usually does pretty well there because there’s very little competition, and the people aren’t used to seeing street performers.  He said you can play at Fisherman’s Wharf, but the people there see musicians every day, so it’s a lot tougher to do well.  When I woke up in the morning I went to a coffee shop to charge up the computer and get directions to the next spot, and I spent two dollars even.  I looked up Sausalito to see how to get there, and it turned out that there was a park and ride right there by the highway, so figured I might as well go there anyway; parking in San Francisco is a nightmare.  My plan was to do basically what I had done in Seattle; park the van at a Park & Ride, and then take public transit into the city every day.  But I wanted to try my hand busking across from the city by the bay, so I drove to Sausalito, and took a whole bunch of curvy steep roads all the way down to the edge of the water.  I parked in a two hour parking zone and took a walk down the street with the guitar, and then set up next to a small park by the bay.  I played for about an hour and a half, had a good conversation with a pretty girl, but only made $1.50 and a flower.  I walked back to the van moved it to a safe place for the night, and then took a walk along the bay.  It was getting dark and I figured I’d make a fresh start at it in the morning.  I hung out by the water for a couple hours and then went to bed early.

When I woke up, I walked back down to the main strip and set up to play outside of an art gallery.  I played for somewhere around an hour and made two or three bucks before a police officer pulled up and stopped across the street.  We made eye contact before getting out of the car, and I knew she was here to tell me to stop.  Sure enough, she came over and said that it was illegal to solicit in Sausalito, and I had to move somewhere else.  She suggested Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, but as I told her, I needed to make at least six bucks to cross the bridge, let alone pay for parking.  I asked about playing in the park across the way, and she said “well I can’t tell you not to play your guitar, but I can tell you not to sell your CD’s here, but do what you gotta do to make your six bucks.”  So I went over to the park for a little bit, but I didn’t even open the case, I just played for a while with my feet hanging over the edge.  I had to move the van soon anyway, so after playing for a while I started walking the seven or eight blocks back to the van, and on the way I passed a very busy restaurant with the big front windows wide open to the street.  I thought it couldn’t hurt to walk in and ask if they needed some live entertainment for the lunch crowd, and offered to play for just tips.  The gorgeous blonde behind the counter smiled and said, “lemme go check with the manager.”  She came back and said that I had caught him on a good day, and to go ahead and set up.  So I walked the last block and moved the van, and then came back in to play some music, and ended up making a little over twenty bucks in tips, but then afterwards they also gave me a sandwich and salad for playing.  I was pretty stoked; I needed the money and the food was fantastic.  I also found that they had electricity and free WiFi, so I hung around and talked to a couple locals for the rest of the afternoon.  When I was all charged up, I headed back to move the van one final time for the day, and although I planned on taking another walk along the bay, I ended up laying in the back instead, mostly just working on this blog entry.  I played a little piano, and then I made another early night of it.  Today is Friday and it’s pretty nasty and rainy out, so I’m sitting in a coffee shop doing some research.  I have a show tomorrow morning in San Francisco, so I’m making sure I know how to get there by bus; I don’t need to pay the toll again.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Northern California

  1. I love how after a long post like that, my comment is “My Side of the Mountain” rocks.

    Also, paragraphs man…use paragraphs.

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