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A Subterranean Night in San Francisco with the Pine Box Boys

A Subterranean Night in San Francisco with the Pine Box Boys

Striped hallways in the Sheraton Hotel. When you go with stripes, you are making a statement.

SF Hotel Stripes 20ESPN on the TV in the room and John Gruden is putting Jake Locker through drills on the field and peppering questions about films of his college play. Jake is taking it all in and Gruden seems to like him. Maybe he’ll go in the first round, maybe not…  Gabbert up next.

We had nothing to drink in the room so I went back through the crazy hallway and took the elevator down to the lobby where they sell beer, wine and drinks to go. I wanted some red wine and they didn’t have a great selection so I ended up with a bottle of Rutherford Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. We drank it while watching Gruden do his thing with Gabbert. The NFL draft would be in two weeks, and they’ve been talking about it and will be talking about it on ESPN right up until and after the draft is completed.

Wine gone. Getting hungry. This time we were smart enough to do some looking around on the web to see what good Italian restaurants were in the area. We wrote down the address of Albona Ristorante that was just a few blocks away. A short walk and we were there. The menu included food we like:  lamb, rabbit, fish, scallops, salads, soups, and more wine.  We put in an order for a bottle of Vietti Barolo, an excellent food wine. The soup of the day was a puree of asparagus and potato pureed soup. Next up seared scallops and then rabbit for me and lamb for Zippy. 20-year tawny port for dessert plus something creamy and delicious compliments of the house.

No camera for this leg ’cause I probably would have left it somewhere.

We checked with one of the restaurant staff outside about cable cars or buses to get to Market Street, and it was too confusing, so we hailed a cab. With guts full of red wine, raw seafood, and rabbit  (or lamb in Zippy’s case) we headed for Café du Nord to see The Pine Box Boys. I’d never heard of them before, but they were playing in a venue that Zippy went to last October while in The City to go to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. The description on the band’s website described their music as psychobilly murder ballads, which is right in our wheelhouse, so there we went.

The venue is in the basement of the Swedish American Hall so upon entry you descend a long flight of stairs into a Victorian style room with surprisingly high ceilings for a subterranean room and a magnificent mahogany bar. We ordered two pints – I don’t remember if we ordered Anchor Steam – and checked out the space.

Possum and Lester took the stage and played acoustic songs of murder around one microphone in the old bluegrass style. Zippy said they must be the same band as the headliner just not plugged in. Next up was a the Hubba Hubba Review, a horror themed burlesque show featuring comely looking ladies who danced to mostly blues based rock and stripped down to their tattoos and pasties. Hadn’t seen a show like that before…

The same guys that were playing as Possum and Lester came on stage and plugged in, just like Zippy predicted. Their lead singer is a great front man – an actor and a singer. They sang stuff from their new album, Tales from the Emancipated Head that I bought and have since played once in my car. Crazy good stuff.

At some point we had whisky and it was good. I declare Café du Nord a great place to go so if you are in The City looking for a show, go there.

As for us, we caught a cab back to North Beach where the rest is kind of a blur.  I think we may have gone back into Vesuvio, and I am pretty sure we got a slice at the pizza joint just up the block.

Lights out… morning would come too soon.

Flashback (while spacing out on the commute home two weeks later) update:  Friday night Vesuvio upstairs. Waitress says, “You know, we are known for our table service here.” Apparently we made the faux paux of buying at the bar and taking it upstairs ourselves.

Friday Afternoon in the Universe of San Francisco

Friday Afternoon in the Universe of San Francisco

By the time we left City Lights it was about noon.  Vesuvio is right next door so, you guessed it, we went inside, sat down at the bar and ordered some Anchor Steam.

SF Vesuvios bar 20

We were at the bar not ten or elven hours earlier, but it wasn’t recognizable to Zippy.  Could have been all the whisky he consumed the night before or it could have been the bar just looks way different in daylight.  “But I thought we went somewhere that started with ‘B'” says Zippy.  No that’s “V” not “B” thinking “V” as in “vowell” or “very” or “veer” or “vug.”  No wonder he was confused.

There were eight or ten regulars in the bar and all the bartender needed was a look and a “yeah sure” to know what to mix or tap for them.  A guy reading at a table… a guy that with an eye patch that looked like Rooster Cogburn (more John Wayne than Jeff Bridges)… and a guy in the corner seat paying much attention to his phone.  He must have had internet access.  We ordered more Anchor Steam and took in the whole scene – even managed to go upstairs to check out the John Wilkes booth and the fortune teller’s booth.

SF Vesuvio upstairs 20

Art on the walls and of course a photo of Jack Kerouac.

SF Jack 20

We walked out of the bar into the sunlight and stood on the sidewalk dazed and confused about where to go next.  Walk down to the financial district in search of a fancy business bar that serves oysters?  What was the name of the place the cabbie recommended last night?  The Raw Bar?  We hailed a cab and asked the driver to take us to The Raw Bar.  He said he didn’t know of it but he’d try looking it up on his phone.  No luck.  We told him we wanted some oyster on the half shell, and he said he knew a great place to take us:  Swan Oyster Depot in Pacific Heights or Russian Hill or Nob Hill or whatever they call the area, and he said it’s the best place in the city for oysters, so off we went.  On the way he said that the place is always packed and people stand in line for over an hour to get in because it’s worth it! We were getting hungry and we wondered about the hour-long wait.

The cabbie dropped us off at Swan shorty after noon and, just as he said there would be, there were people lined up waiting to get in.  SF Swans 18There must have been around 15 to 20 people in line – that’s about how many seats there are at this tiny bar, so the whole place would have to turn for us to get seated.  We waited ten minutes and  took maybe one step forward.  Another ten and no steps forward, but we did get to watch two lesbians make out in front of us.  I took a walk up the block to see what other eateries there were in the neighborhood – some diner named Toast that would be a good place for a real breakfast.  Back to Swan’s – not much movement.  Another ten minutes and we saw people in line just outside the door getting served beer and wine.  Our situation was improving.  Ten minutes later we were holding pints of Anchor Steam, and in another ten or so we could actually see inside the bar.

One of the guys working there came back to the line with a bottle of wine and topped off a glass of wine for a woman a few spots ahead of us.  She said “Thanks, you didn’t have to do that,” and the guy says, “I know I didn’t have to.  That’s just the way we do it here.”  It was then we knew we’d been wise to stay in line.  He was back in a few minutes with two more pints  for us.  As we drank we watched the show inside – not just the girls in line in front of us, but the patrons and the guys that work there. SF Swan scene -22They were shucking dozens of oysters and clams at the far end of the bar, and up front they were cutting pieces of smoked fish and making shrimp and crab salads.  All the customers were very happy, and all payments were made in cash that  flowed through a very old mechanical cash register.

Seated.  What do you guys want?

Oysters!  What do you have?

We get the lowdown on the oysters and clams available and we ordered a dozen mixed oysters and clams.

SF Swans raw plate 20

We got some small briny ones and some medium buttery ones, and some big-ass clams.  We then ordered some lox, smoked salmon, and smoked trout.  Ate the lox on some bread with onions and capers.  The smoked fish was done to perfection according to Zippy – ace smoker of meats that he is, and I had to agree.  Swan makes a really tasty ginger based oyster sauce that added just the right amount of zing to the oysters. Delicious.

More oysters!  No clams this time.  More Anchor Steam.

We finished that off and the guy who said “that’s just the way we do it here” came over to see if we needed anything else – we didn’t, so he asks us what we had and began writing it down on a napkin.  He does some math in his head and says, “how’s $98 sound?”  About right.  Zippy paid in cash, ’cause that’s the only way we could, and we wondered how anybody could audit Swan’s business.  No bills, no receipts, no checks, no credit cards.  Must work okay for them – they’ve been doing it since 1912.

SF Swan History 18

We left Swan quite satisfied and started walking down Polk Street towards the bay.  Sun was shining…

“Swan swan humming bird, Hurrah we are all free now, What noisy cats are we, mumble mumble murmur…” going through our heads, feeling fine.  We get down to the waterfront and walk towards The Cannery.  There’a a bar there called Jack’s that has outdoor seating, so we picked a sunny table and ordered some (I bet you are thinking Anchor Steam) Ninkasi Tricerahops.

I texted Gorby to tell him we were in San Francisco drinking beer from his home town of Eugene, but he did not respond.  Still hasn’t.

From there we strolled back to the hotel and walked through the striped hallways to our room.

What a great day in The City.

Friday Morning in San Francisco: Destination City Lights

Friday Morning in San Francisco: Destination City Lights

The cab driver told us on Saturday night when he dropped us off at the hotel that there weren’t any really good places to get breakfast around the wharf.  He was right.  After walking around the waterfront  with the a low morning sun warming up our cold Seattle bodies for about an hour  we found that the restaurants didn’t open until lunchtime.

SF Wharf 20

We ended up at Boudin’s on the wharf where we ordered espresso drinks and some kind of scramble plate.  The cafe has an odd way of distributing food:  You go over there to pick up your coffee and then somewhere over there to pick up  your food.  It was pretty standard scrambled eggs and bacon served on recyclable materials.  They have four disposal bins with photos of what’ supposed to  go in each one.  We stared for a while and did the best we could.

From there it was up Powell towards North Beach in search of City Lights Books.  I was leading the way pretty much by feel because we were too stupid to look up the address and right it down before we left the hotel.  (Yes, it’s true.  Neither Zippy nor I have web access on our phones.)  We walked by a school on the other side of the street from us that I remembered walking by the last time I was in the area, so I knew we were heading in the right direction.  On our side of the street there was another school:  The Cheese School.  SF Cheese school 20

Zippy wondered if the kids in the middle school wished they were going to The Cheese School instead – ’cause they’d get lots of cheese sandwiches.

We came to a major intersection at Columbus Avenue where there was a park I remembered.  Hundreds of mostly Asian people were there doing some kind of slow motion exercises.  We headed up Columbus and I recognized the strip clubs that I remembered seeing when we walked out of Vesuvio thursday night.  We were close.  We crossed the street to a cash machine and continued on.  I started to cross the street again and Zippy stopped me.  I turned around and there was City LIghts.

SF City Lights 20

We must have spent at least an hour wandering around the store.  It’s changed since the last time I was there.

SF City Lights Corp 20

The beat poets section used to be in the basement, but now it’s in a new upstairs loft area.  The most spacious, naturally lit part of the store.

SF City Lights Loft 20

They feature all the beat writers and dozens of their own publications of poetry, memoirs, and political writings.  I was looking for the new collaboration of photos by Michael O’Brien and poetry by Tom Waits titled Hard Ground.  I couldn’t find it so I asked the guy behind the counter, who seemed unreasonably overstressed, if they had it.  He searched his computer and said they did not.  I ended up buying a paperback book by Joan Mellon about the film, Seven Samurai and a little book filled with Jack Kerouac’s musings about writing titled You’re a Genius All the Time. Zippy picked up the new Sarah Vowell book, Unfamiliar Fishes.

We both vowed to not let the other leave his books behind at whatever places we end up next.

San Francisco visit to see PJ Harvey

San Francisco visit to see PJ Harvey

Zippy and I boarded a plane from Seattle bound for San Francisco on Thursday afternoon so we could see P.J. Harvey at the Warfield Theater.  We made it from the airport to the hotel at the wharf in good time, drank some Anchor Steam from bottles, and then caught a cab to Lefty O’Douls for some draught Anchor Steam.  From there we walked to Showdogs for a quick bite and a pint from the local 21st Amendment Brewery before heading into the theater around 8:00.

They frisked us at the entryway.  I have been to thousands of concerts, and I can’t recall ever being frisked before entering.  I guess they were looking for bottles of booze and cameras larger than cell phones.  Good choice not to bring mine along.

We stood in the second tier ring of the main floor of the theater a little to the right while we drank some more beer.  Eventually a server came by and we ordered two double whiskies from her, for $20 each. (At that price, I can see why people might want to try smuggling some in, although  the drinks were more like quadruples than doubles.)

P.J. kept the house waiting for over an hour.  She walked onstage wearing a Victorian style white dress featuring what looked like shark gills on the sides (to me anyway) and some crazy black-feather hair extensions.  There are some pretty decent color photos over on this Flickr page and a well-written review by Jim Harrington of the Oakland Tribune here – with three small, dark photos.  And a professional photographer took some great black-and-white photos that you can see right here.

PJ played an eighteen song set made up mostly of songs off her new album, Let England Shake!.  She opened with the title track from the new album followed by the second track, “The Words that Maketh Murder.”  She played a few older songs including “Down by the Water” and “C’mon Billy” from 1995’s To Bring You My Love and she opened the three-song encore with “Big Exit” from 2000’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

There’s a setlist with links to songs over on this website.

And if you want to read a longer, more detailed review and look at some blurry camera-phone photos, go here.  There’s much said in that post about the chattering audience, but I don’t remember it being a big problem where we were standing.

So PJ, when are you coming back to Seattle?

Off to Vesuvio for more Anchor Steam.


NPR has put up a short reveiw, setlist, and the whole concert online for you to listen to on your computer!

Listening now, and it’s great stuff, but I knew that…

If only they did this for all the shows I go to.

You cannot contract Swine Flu by eating pork products

You cannot contract Swine Flu by eating pork products

The amazingly ignorant response to Swine Flu by some middle-eastern nations is a prime example of the type of response to a possible pandemic that is going to end up either making us so complacent in the face of future threats that we’ll all die in complete denial, or killing us all with future, uninformed, emergency responses by politicians. From the Huffington Post:

A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt calls swine flu “more serious than a hydrogen bomb” during a symposium on the health scare. Egypt’s parliament votes to “cull pigs immediately and one parliamentarian proposes criminalizing hog farming. The United Arab Emirates bans the import of pork products as a precautionary measure and several supermarkets in the sheikhdom yank them off the shelves.

If you want induce in yourself a panicked response with a criminally bad misunderstanding of the situation, you can just google it. Here’s what I found when I entered my symptoms – headache, general discomfort, and muscle aches (I spent the weekend in a Mexican spirit…):

You have Swine Flu

How you get it: Inhalation of airborne virus, contact with an infected person’s body fluids, intense and prolonged contact with swine. Try stocking up on Tamiflu.
Incubation period: 2 to 10 days
Early symptoms: Chills, fever, sore throat, general discomfort
Symptoms at full disease onset: Muscle pains, vomiting, diarrhea, severe headache, coughing, weakness
Final outcome of this horrible disease: Back from your Mexican Paradise vacation, you find yourself sluggish and achy. Writing it off as an extended hangover from all that cheap tequila and spit-roasted pork, you decide to stay home an extra day and sleep it off. Over the next few days, as you slip in and out of consciousness, you notice your headache and muscle pains are worsening, your cough is almost unbearable, and just prior to slipping into one last, fever induced seizure, a final, lucid thought forces its way into your mind: Why did I eat all that chorizo?

There is nothing you can do now but wait for death to arrive and hope it comes quickly. Make your peace.

get your own internet diagnosis

The Race to Robie Creek

The Race to Robie Creek

I just completed the 2008 Race to Robie Creek, the Northwest’s Toughest Half Marathon. My time was 02:03:32. Not bad, 613th out of 2,431 and 114th out of 230 in my age group. You can view my photos on MySpace in my Race to Robie Creek Album.

There are several things which make this race difficult. The course is a 13.1 mile half marathon which gains more than 2,000 feet in elevation to Aldape Summit in 8.4 miles. From there the course plummets more than 1,700 feet in the final 4.7 miles.

Mile 8 was perhaps the most brutal. An incredibly steep climb to the summit, punctuated by a rowdy group of fans/detractors offering, among other things, cupcakes, donuts, jell-o shots, beer, champagne, Crown Royal, and cigars. A sucker for temptation, I gave into the first 4, all without stopping. The donut was the hardest to get down, it dried up my mouth even more than it already was.

After 8.4 miles up, it is time to go down the backside… My fastest mile was the first down the backside, estimated at about 5 minutes, mostly because I could not slow down. Miles 11 – 13.1 were particularly brutal, mainly because they started to level out and my legs started screaming at me.

But by the time I made it to the finish, it was all worth while. A picnic area on Robie Creek filled with fellow runners, live music, beer, shepherd’s pie, baked potatoes, cookies, brownies, and more beer.

I am already planning on 2009. Next year I will be sub 2 hours!

Additional coverage over at the Idaho Statesman, including a Robie Creek photo gallery.

My Race to the Race for the Cure

My Race to the Race for the Cure

I found myself in Portland this weekend visiting with family. While reading the Saturday paper I discovered that the Susan G. Komen Portland Race for the Cure was on Sunday. Having never run a 5k before, I decided to sign up.

The race was scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m. Last night I got prepared. I pinned my number to my t-shirt, set my alarm for 6:00 a.m., and reviewed the schedules for Max. I planned to walk to the station and ride Max to the starting line, but things never go as planned.

I awoke at 4:30 a.m. full of anticipation for the race. since I was planning on getting up in 90 minutes, I decided to go back to sleep. Unfortunately I awoke to morning light forcing its way into my room. Crap… I checked my clock and found it was 7:00 a.m.

How in the world was I going to make it to a 7:30 a.m. race?

I was dressed and out the door at 7:10 a.m. The left no time for a walk to Max. I could drive and be there in 10 minutes, but what about parking? The crowd was expected to be 40,000. No time to chance it. So I did what came naturally, I ran.

I ran to the starting line and as I approached the starting area I heard the countdown “10, 9, 8,7…”. I could not figure out how to get around the barriers so I jumped a barrier and ended up in the middle of the pack at the starting line. I peeled off my long sleeve shirt revealing my “Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure” t-shirt and number ‘10355’.

I don’t know how far back I was, probably less than a minute back. I made pretty good time, finishing at 27:02. Not bad for my first 5k. At least now I have a benchmark.

I decided to map my crazy journey to the race. Turns out I ran 4.31k before my 5k run. If I ever run another 9.31k, my unofficial time for 9.31k is 47:02.

Volvo “Immobilizer See Manual” Fix

Volvo “Immobilizer See Manual” Fix

At the worst time immaginable, totally paralized

I had my 2001 Volvo XC70 parked in the hospital’s garage while my son was being born. On one of my many trips to the car over those 3 days I found a set of keys I had lost and replaced long ago. Since it cost me $300 to replace them, I was happy to have a spare. I wondered if the remote would still work and tried it out. Doors locked just fine! Immobilizer doesn’t warn you when you’ve tripped it; it waits till you try to start your car.

The day we were sent home I went to the car so I could pull up front and load my wife and son. Car would not start. “Immobilizer. See Manual,” read the message board. I didn’t have a 2001 Volvo XC70 manual with me. I jumped to the conclusion that I had triggered some sort of anti-theft device by using the long lost, disabled remote, so I called my dealer. (I’ve since found a trustworthy Volvo mechanic!)

Immobilizer. See Manual.

“Have it towed to us. We’ll have you back up and running in a couple of days.” This was not an option, so I searched the internet. Lots of questions, lots of “try this” responses about this, but no answers and I needed to get my family home. So I’m posting my answer here in hopes that it will get good Google placement and inform the next poor guy who doesn’t have time to have his car towed to the dealership.

I ended up calling a friend for a ride and had the car towed. At the dealership the guy took my keys and locked/unlocked the door 5 times in a row with the remote. This reset the immobilizer and I was on my way. Obviously they couldn’t just tell me that over the phone, but good god. I hope this info can help someone else.

Volvo: Imobiliser. See Manual.

A slight difference in spelling between the American Volvo XC70 dashboard and the rest of the world, including Europeans. It is pronounced the same way, so I’m sure this post might find a few European Volvo owners who are looking to get their newborn son and his mommy home from the hospital.

Are all Doctors this Retarded?

Are all Doctors this Retarded?

A Tennessee doctor was arrested in Seattle on July 25, 2007 for calling 911 from a pay phone at the Sea-Tac Airport to say “Flight 980 Memphis. There may be a bomb on board”.

After his arrest, Kou Wei Chiu, 31, of Bellevue, Tenn., admitted to calling 911 3 times in an attempt to stop his flight from leaving without him. Apparently, he was not seeing results from his calls so he kept calling 911.

From the AP article on

“After his first phone call, he looked outside at the plane and saw that his call had had ‘no effect,'” FBI agent Gary France wrote. “He made a second phone call and noticed that this call too had no effect. This led to the third call.

“Chiu stated that he made the calls thinking that the airline ‘would ground the plane for a couple of hours,’ because bomb threats are taken seriously. When asked how he thought other passengers might react when they overheard his calls, he conceded that he thought ‘they would be traumatized,'” the affidavit said.

I have missed several flights do to poor timing, but for some reason the thought of calling in a bomb threat has never crossed my mind.

So, what the hell was this guy thinking?

Blow up JFK, Sniper Attack on Ft Dix, Liquid Explosives on Jetliners, etc.

Blow up JFK, Sniper Attack on Ft Dix, Liquid Explosives on Jetliners, etc.

When will it stop? The Huffington Post has a great article on the government’s use of terror threats to keep us all afraid (wouldn’t that make them terrorists by definition?). It’s very well written and concise as it points out the lack of feasibility in each of these alert-level-enhancing events and the government’s careful concoction of fact and surmise that gets picked up by the media and blown completely out of proportion in exact concordance with the War President’s ultimate desire: a citizenry frozen by fright, so completely dependent on the government for the simple ability to drive their car on the public streets that they’ll cede their constitutional rights and entrust the executive branch with more and more power.

Tell me again, what is a terrorist?