You are currently browsing the daily archive for March 3, 2008.

It’s always a surprise to drive on the hectic, congested highways after spending days on end in the peace and solitude of The Woods.

People are nuts. Why is everyone in such a hurry?

It takes three hours to get to R.A.’s house in Lafayette from our place. Traffic wasn’t horrible, but it’s always stressful on some level. We arrived at R.A.’s in good time on Saturday afternoon.

We had a lovely visit with R.A. and her dad, who is 84 years young. He and I share the same birthday (along with R.A.’s brother, amazing!) and I’ve always felt a wonderful connection with this warm, intelligent man who is so full of interesting stories.

It was especially nice for James to see him for the first time in a couple of years. They share a cooking connection because both are excellent chefs.

Morrie had just baked soft cinammon spice cookies, and also oatmeal fruit bars, which were cooling on racks in the kitchen. Delicious!

After visiting for a couple hours, James, R.A. and I drove to the BART station to catch the train to downtown San Francisco, a 35-minute ride.

In all these years I had never taken BART, and of course it was James’ first experience too.

The Lafayette station is right next to the highway. We ascended the escalator to the upper deck and were greeted by the whoosh of cars whizzing by, only a few feet away.

The train arrived a few moments later with a screech and expulsion of air. Bing-bong went the bell as we passed through the sliding doors and found seats.

I’d never been on a train with carpeting and upholstered seats before. That’s where the musty, rather dirty smell came from! It seems that with fabric on a train, more regular cleaning and maintenance would be required. Ah, but this was not the case here.

I was also surprised at how NOISY the train was, especially going through the tunnel under the Bay. It was positively ear-splitting! I’d have to wear earplugs if I took the train regularly.

The BART stations looked like something out of a futuristic science-fiction movie in which the world is about to come to an end. The walls were stark and dingy, and the faint flourescent lighting flickered uncertainly with a buzzing sound.

I’ve been in the subways of New York City, Boston, Chicago and Washington D.C. (and Mexico City) which were all more interesting than BART. Some were not terribly clean, but at least they were “atmospheric”!

We emerged above-ground at San Francisco’s Civic Center. I had not been in the City since Memorial Day 2001, when James met L. & D. to see a concert, just as we were doing now.

(On that occasion, I didn’t attend the concert, because I was playing one with the San Jose Symphony at the time. I met the others in the City afterwards.)

San Francisco is almost always cool and damp, but at least we were greeted by clear blue skies on this late Saturday afternoon. The silver-white sunlight angled low through the corridors of buildings as we walked towards Davies Hall where the concert would take place. We were to meet L. & D. at a nearby coffee shop to share a long visit beforehand.

As we approached the square in front of City Hall, James suddenly stopped in his tracks. “Look at that!” he said to R.A. and me, pointing towards the line of cars parked at an angle along the street bordering the grass.

At first I didn’t notice anything unusual, but suddenly we realized that all of these cars were at least thirty years old! There was an orange Gremlin, a ’76 Lincoln Mark IV, an early ’60s Mercury Parklane station-wagon, a ’64 Ford station-wagon, a Pontiac Bonneville and many others parked in an unbroken row along the street. There were NO newer cars in the area.

The most amazing thing is that none of these vehicles were in mint condition; they looked like “regular” cars that ordinary people would drive. There were dents and peeling, faded paint on some of them. That’s why I didn’t notice anything special at first.

When James initially set eyes on this row of vintage cars with period license plates, he thought to himself, “San Francisco is even trippier than I remembered!”

As it turned out, the old cars were part of a movie. James recalled that Sean Penn is currently filming “Milk” — the story of the San Francisco supervisor and his assassination (along with recently resigned mayor George Moscone) at City Hall in November 1978.

We crossed the street to look at the relics more closely. There were placards inside the windshields with dates and times for filming over the weekend.

What a trip.

It was one of those moments when you’re looking at something from a bygone era but in the back of your mind you assume it’s the present — then suddenly the realization dawns that it’s NOT!

We met L. & D. at the coffee-shop and had a nice visit with them for well over an hour; then we strolled over to the concert hall.

I hadn’t seen the San Francisco Symphony in many years, since they played a concert in Sacramento in the mid-1990s. And I had never heard them in their own Davies Hall.

They performed a couple of compositions by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, one of which featured flute soloist Paula Robison, followed by the Sibelius Seventh and Shostakovich Ninth symphonies.

As professional musicians ourselves, R.A. and I could easily see that this orchestra is one of the best in the country, definitely in the Top 10.

It was a treat to be in the audience to hear an orchestra for a change; usually we’re on stage playing in one!

After the performance, we parted company with L. & D. and enjoyed a late dinner at the Hayes St. Grill. R.A. and James had a green salad with goat-cheese while I had greens without the cheese. R.A. and I both had the sole with yellow mushrooms and fingerling potatoes, and James ordered a dish of big homemade sausage links.

We took the BART back to R.A.’s house in Lafayette and arrived at midnight. We had just enough energy to watch the the documentary “Freeway Philharmonic” that I’ve described in a previous post. R.A. had taped the 50-minute program and I looked forward to seeing it.

I know many of the musicians featured in this film, along with many more former colleagues playing in the various orchestras in the footage. Following each musician’s story was fascinating, but it tired me out to watch them schlepping up and down the highways for their various gigs. I am very glad that I don’t have to depend upon the Freeway Philharmonic circuit for a full-time living. It would be extremely challenging, especially coming from such a distance.

But as I mentioned before, it would be nice to have about two gigs a month. Little by little I am approaching that quota more consistently. There have been a handful of months with two gigs, and then other months with nothing. It takes time to work into the freelance scene.

I’ve got two gigs coming up this month; the first in San Jose beginning a week from Wednesday, then one with the Sacramento Philharmonic, where I haven’t played since their first concert set of the season in October.

James and I left R.A.’s house late Sunday morning, and drove to Sacramento where my brother and sister-in-law hosted a brunch for some of her relatives. It was great to meet one of S.’s sisters (from Boston) and a cousin from San Francisco and his family. Then Middle Bro’s good friends Dave & Elaine were there, along with Oldest Bro’ and my nephew Ben.

The food was good and the company excellent. I must admit that I got a bit carried away with visiting and didn’t pay attention to James’ subtle requests to leave. But he politely “went with the flow” and we finally did depart two hours later.

We discussed the situation on the drive back up to The Woods and I apologized for not being more attentive to James’ signals. Our life up here does require certain adjustments, such as allowing time to do grocery shopping in Nevada City on the way up, and hopefully arriving home before dark. Then there’s usually wood to split and then building a fire, and later on, dinner to be cooked. We got home well after sunset and were tired, but had to do these things before we could relax.

Lesson learned.

As always, we treasure our time at home, especially after being in “civilization”. We’re basking in it today, and don’t have to be anywhere until Wednesday evening for our weekly rehearsal with the recorder group.

I practiced horn this afternoon after not having played for two days, and luckily my lip is not the worst for the unusually long break. Sometimes I can take a couple days off without getting weak, and other times even one day off wreaks havoc. Luckily now, I have more than a week to get into tip-top playing shape for the next gig.

Today we took our lunch out on the Sky Deck in the brilliant, warm sunshine. The bluejays made their raucous calls in the meadow pines while monarch butterflies flitted here and there. The smell of pine needles is gradually getting stronger as the weather warms up.

Ahhhh…life is good.