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My 7-week stint with Phantom ended last night in Fort Lauderdale. I played the opening week here.

Although we’ve been here exactly a week, it has felt twice as long because the experience has been very unpleasant.

Way too much traffic…obnoxious tourists with a sense of entitlement…pushy snowbirds from the Northlands…hot and humid weather, very UN-Christmas-like.

Southern Florida is a very strange place.

The RV park where we are staying has about 250 lots, all crammed together. On our strolls up and down the narrow byways, bristling with speed-bumps and mobile homes and trailers nearly touching each other, we’ve noticed that more than 80 percent of the park’s vehicles’ license plates are from Quebec.

What’s up with THAT? It’s amazing. I feel like a foreigner in my own country. The Quebecois seem to be an extremely reserved group, almost dour. At least, this is my perception as someone from the United States. Perhaps they are very nice people and I just don’t understand the culture.

I’m just bowled over that the vast majority of the people staying here are from one particular province. In all our travels, I have never seen this phenomenon at an RV park until now.

We’re driving to Orlando today to visit some of James’ friends, since he lived there for most of his life. We’ll stay a couple of days.

Then on to James’ Aunt Pearl in south Georgia (his birthplace), where we will spend New Year’s Eve.

I’m looking forward to seeing all these folks.

On New Year’s Day, we will begin our nearly 3000-mile drive back across the country to the Left Coast, where we belong. It will be HEAVEN to be home, for the first time since September!

I’m still almost too tired to write about it! What a LONG drive.

James and Rupert picked me up in front of Gammage Auditorium after my final Phantom show in Tempe, AZ at 9:25 p.m., Sunday November 22, 2009.


It’s always exciting when James picks me up, Airstream in tow, bound for our next destination. We usually drive for a few hours before resting; it feels good to get some distance between the past and the future.

Through the desert darkness we drove up through Flagstaff and then stopped at a KOA campground (kampground with a “k”, actually — how kute!) for the night.


We woke up on a cool, bright morning on Monday the 23rd and continued our journey.

At the Arizona-New Mexico border, there were several places with Native American themes selling various schlocky items:


We entered New Mexico at about 1 p.m.


The countryside there is starkly, dramatically beautiful.


All went smoothly until we were stuck in a 3-hour traffic jam just outside of Albuquerque in mid-afternoon.


A semi-truck had run into a highway paint truck. The semi caught on fire and the paint truck overturned, spilling gallons of paint on the roadway. It took several hours to clean it all up.


The mail must get through! But it was certainly late that day.


We were amused by the sight of a pickup truck towing a real MONSTER truck, along with various motorcycles and even patio furniture!


The long delay put a kink into our travel schedule. We decided to pull over into a rest stop just over the Oklahoma border (at about 2 a.m. Tuesday) instead of staying at our usual RV park in Oklahoma City, a few hours further east.

We woke up a few hours later and continued our journey. We arrived in Oklahoma City just before noon, and stopped by our favorite Airstream mechanic’s shop on the western edge of town.


We bought a new water pump which James will install. The old one died after more than thirty years of service. I’d say we got our money’s worth!

We drove all day through the endless state of Oklahoma and arrived at the Arkansas border by late afternoon.


You can see part of our cat Rupert lounging on the dashboard in the foreground. He’s turned into quite the traveler! Here are a couple more shots of Rupert:


The first shot was at the beginning of our trip. Now look at how tired he is in the next shot, taken three days later:


I’ll let Rupert tell his own story in his blog; he should be posting by tomorrow:

There was a lot of traffic on I-40 as we crossed the state in the gathering darkness. We entered Tennessee at about 8 p.m.


We stopped at an Olive Garden restaurant east of Memphis for dinner.

The waiter was 6′ 5″, had a beard and ponytail, was overly jovial with a booming voice. “My name is Steven!” he announced to us several times in stentorian tones.

It was his first night on the job, and was waaay off the charts on the Perky Scale.

James asked if he sang and he said Yes. I imagine he plays the gittar too!

I wish that these people would be more sensitive to their customers; had he paid close attention to my adverse reactions to his forced joviality, he would have toned down his presentation a bit. But NO, he ploughed through the evening in his high-amperage fashion, totally insensitive to us weary travelers who just wanted a little peace and quiet with our dinner.

I suppose that the Corporate Headquarters of Olive Garden insist upon this kind of overly-enthusiastic, in-your-face waiter style. I remember a similar perky waiter the last time we ate at one of their restaurants, several years ago.

I took over the wheel after we got gas a few miles later, and drove for about 250 miles before pulling over into a rest area at Crossville, between Nashville and Knoxville. Lots of VILLES in Tennessee!

James drove for the next couple of hours. The sun came up as we crossed the Virginia border. We were both so tired by then that we decided to pull over into a Cracker Barrel parking lot to catch a few z’s.

We set the alarm for two hours and actually felt a bit refreshed when we hit the road again, at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

We wended our way through the Appalachians of southwest Virginia and were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the Piedmont countryside spreading out far below us, towards the North Carolina border.


This still shot from the video footage I took of our trip (posted soon!) doesn’t do the view justice. It was truly stunning.

Traffic was extremely heavy on I-77 northbound. We were glad that we were heading south in the opposite direction, with relatively light traffic until we reached the cluster of larger cities in North Carolina.

Everyone must have been going to their various Thanksgiving celebrations. Apparently there have been 36 million people on the roads this weekend.

We went through Andy Griffith country in North Carolina, and I took a picture of Pilot Mountain:


Yes, we were definitely in Andy Griffith country!

Traffic was heavy through the maze of Winston-Salem, Greensboro, then on to Durham.

We found the RV park in the middle of the woods surrounding Duke University. We pulled up to the manager’s office but couldn’t find anyone around. A little Asian girl on a tiny bike came riding up and said “He’s not here” but assured us he would be soon. Just as James called him on the cell, the front door opened and it was the manager’s wife, on a walkie-talkie with her husband.

She wore a very colorful black silk blouse with big purple polka-dots.  We could barely understand her English but her beautiful smile was welcoming. She laughed when she couldn’t seem to communicate effectively with her husband on the walkie-talkie to answer her question which lot they were going to assign us.

She opened the door to a tiny general store. I was amazed at the messy clutter of the place — there were stacks of boxes of random spare parts on the floor, almost bare shelves with a lone tube of toothpaste here and a stick of deodorant there; yellowed large potted plants in front of very dusty, empty freezer cases.

We wrote her a check for our month-long stay, and she indicated on a map how to get to our lot.

We got back in the truck and drove down narrow streets with rusty mobile homes and old fifth-wheel trailers and motor homes which have seen better days. Everything was surrounded by tall pine trees.

I would call this a “down-home” trailer park; the neighborhood seems safe and quiet enough, but it’s definitely not upper class. We prefer this kind of basic place, actually. Not much snob appeal here. (We live in a shack in The Woods after all!)

Just before James pulled into the lot, the manager husband drove up to welcome us. His English was also very hard to understand, although it appeared that he understood the language well.

He seemed amazed that I was a musician with the Phantom of the Opera company playing at the brand-new Performing Arts Center in downtown Durham. He commended me on “having a job” and joked that my check probably wouldn’t bounce, hinting that this was rather uncommon with tenants at his RV park.

This is our next door neighbor’s car:


It is definitely a culture-shock to be in this part of the country!

This is our current spot:


I will (hopefully) post again soon to bring you completely up-to-date. But my mind refuses to work any more this afternoon; I am still fried from the very long drive. Now I need to warm up before tonight’s show (our first show was at the end of a lengthy workday on Thanksgiving).

I hope that you all had a nice Turkey Day!

There is a large homeless population in the city of San Francisco; the climate is temperate here and people can live on the streets without freezing to death.

I have always had mixed feelings about the homeless. My heart goes out to them; it is my belief that no-one in this country should be without a roof over their head or a meal in their belly.

Yet, I am unwilling to give them money when they beg for it, especially when they are aggressive.

They tend to be forward in San Francisco, on Market Street in particular. This street is amazingly diverse, containing everything from upscale shopping malls (Westfield, between 4th & 5th Sts.) to titty bars and Smoke shops selling drug paraphernalia only a few blocks away.

The sidewalks are full of homeless, usually propped up against the buildings, often with blankets over their heads like tents. When they hear someone approaching, their heads pop out like turtles from their shells.

“Spare CHANGE?!” they whisper or bark or in loud, accusatory tones.

The more aggressive people block your way on the sidewalk to ask for money. Mostly they step aside readily when they are ignored or refused. But some follow you down the street for a few steps.

After being refused, they often end their spiel with “God Bless You!” or “Have a nice day!”, but somehow the angry tone of their voices belie the kind sentiments.

Being confronted with the homeless issue constantly on the streets of San Francisco is difficult for me; it brings up all sorts of feelings — guilt, compassion, anger, annoyance. I am ashamed to say that I do not want to deal with this issue.

I had a particularly intense encounter with a homeless man on Saturday night, at the Civic Center BART station.

It was after work and I was writing in my journal, as usual. I like to recount the day’s happenings; how the show went that night and any notable interactions with musician colleagues I had.

I sat in my customary spot on the round concrete bench towards the far end of the station, situated in the area between the inbound and outbound tracks.

In the back of my consciousness I heard a commotion to my immediate left. At first I paid no attention to it, having become somewhat inured to the crazy eruptions from the more “out there” citizenry of this City.

But then the babbling became louder, and I looked up from my journal page to see a man sitting on the ground, leaning against a pillar next to the concrete bench. He appeared to be somewhere between his late 40s and death.

His ranting and raving suddenly escalated in both intensity and vitriol. The people crammed around the concrete bench left abruptly, leaving me more space.

I turned back to my writing and shut out the man’s self-dialogue. Then suddenly there was a movement out of the corner of my eye; the man had gotten off the ground and was approaching me.

“Excuse me, sir……sir……SIR!” He stood over me, swaying. I looked up into his faded, unfocused blue eyes, the whites streaked with red — lost-soul eyes, a burned-out, hopeless life flickering from their depths. A crazy, tortured look.

“I hate to disturb your writing, but I need eight dollars and forty cents!” the man screamed at me.

“I don’t carry cash, sorry”, I replied.

“Yeah right….” he said sarcastically, and stumbled away, mumbling, “fuckfuckfuckfuck you….” and then he approached an elderly couple standing next to the bench.

They were very well-dressed, he in suit and she in furs, obviously just having seen “Wicked” at the nearby Orpheum Theatre, programs clutched in their gnarled hands which trembled slightly upon the man’s approach.

The man mumbled something and the lady practically screamed, “What do you WANT?!” The crazy man said, “I’d like thirty dollars but you’re not going to give that to me, are ya?” He stumbled towards the woman, who shrank back against her husband, who brandished his cane at the man.

He suddenly veered off in another direction as though he had been struck by The Force, a scene out of Star Wars. He vanished.

I turned my attention back to my journal. The elderly couple continued to stand in front of me, whispering now. “What is he writing?” the woman murmured. “Probably about what just happened”, her husband ventured.


Tuesday through Sunday, I ride BART to the Civic Center station in the heart of downtown San Francisco from the Colma station, a few miles south of the City. It is only a seven-minute drive from our RV park in Pacifica.

The train ride usually takes sixteen minutes. You can practically count on it.

This lulls me into a false sense of complacency; the train schedule is regular enough to make me assume that it will always get me to work punctually.

But of course this is not true 100% of the time. There are occasional problems on the tracks: obstructions, fires or malfunctions, or problems with the brakes on the cars — or more rarely, “situations” with disruptive citizenry in the train stations.

It is amazing, actually, that BART provides as consistent service as it does.

Last night’s ride into work was a different experience, as though I was living in a subtly altered reality. It was not a dramatic departure from the usual routine, but just “off” enough for me to notice.

I arrived at the Colma station to the sound of a train pulling in. I didn’t know which direction it was coming from but I wanted to make sure to catch the train if it was going into the City.

I started to jog towards the escalator leading down to the tracks, but a station manager was standing nearby to wave me apologetically down the stairs, as the escalator was out-of-service.

Difference #1.

The train turned out to be coming from the City, disgorging a huge number of commuters after their long day at work. There were so many of them that they completely took over the stairs on their ascent, leaving me little space to walk down. I squeezed along the extreme righthand side of the stairwell, hugging the bannister as I inched my way through the surge of humanity coming up.

I felt like a salmon fighting my way against an inexorable current which was in danger of sweeping me along in its wake.

I probably should have turned around and gone back UP the stairs and waited for this rush of humanity to pass before trying to go down, but I was in the middle of the staircase when they had suddenly appeared. Besides that, I am stubborn. Committed!

Most of the commuters didn’t even LOOK up to see if anyone might be trying to descend the stairs. Perhaps they assumed that no-one would be going into the City during rush hour; what are you, crazy? What do you mean, you work a night job? This is not normal!

One man in particular was on a collision course with me. He kept his gaze studiously down on the steps he was climbing up, one by one, and I was being pulled into the middle of the current of humanity directly in front of him. He finally saw my feet appearing on the step just above him and he changed course at the last possible moment before disaster struck.

Difference #2.

I waited a few moments for the inbound train, which arrived on schedule. Everything ran smoothly until just after the 24th St./Mission station. The train was moving more slowly than usual and then it came to a full stop in the middle of the tunnel. Not once, not twice, but three times. I heard a faint click of the intercom in our car, then a brief rasping crackle of static on the speaker indicating that the train operator was making some sort of announcement — but the audio system wasn’t working in this particular car.

I briefly considered going to another car where the intercom worked — the knowledge of what was going on would somehow be reassuring, even if it didn’t make my arrival any faster — but in a few seconds the train slowly crawled into Civic Center station.

After a series of jerky stops and starts, it finally positioned itself along the tracks to let out the masses.

I was so anxious to get OUT of there that I didn’t notice the train had stopped in a completely different place than usual. The escalators weren’t working at this station, either. I saw what I thought was the staircase I usually used and went up it (I don’t ride the escalators most of the time, anyway), only to find that it was a different staircase which put me onto Market St. farther away from the theatre, and ten minutes later than usual.

Differences #3, #4 and #5.

This commute felt like one of those dreams when everything is a bit off, an altered atmosphere, almost like being in a parallel universe. Do any of you ever feel like that?

It seems that the “Creatures of Habit” theme is continuing in my life, with the reminder to maintain flexibility if at all possible!

Last night immediately after the show, I was struck by how it is human nature to have certain habits and routines.

The pit musicians have a space downstairs in the Golden Gate Theatre to store instruments and change clothes. We call it “The Bandroom”.

There are three separate spaces: the smallest room has cubbyholes and shelves to store the instruments. The middle space is the largest, where people usually congregate, eat or relax. This is where the main entrance to the bandroom is located. The third space on the opposite also has its own entrance, and is midway in size between the other two rooms.

As this run of South Pacific has progressed, each musician has designated his or her own “territory”, so to speak. I always put my knapsack, hat and coat in the same spot, on a high bass stool nearest the clothes rack in the largest, middle room.

Then I put my horn case in the smallest room with the cubbyholes, and have taken over a certain one which is big enough to store my particular instrument.

The third space is currently being used as the women’s dressing room, as the 25 musicians are evently divided between the sexes. The other two spaces have been taken over by the men.

Last night after the show, I was packing up my horn in the instrument storage room as usual, and was just about to store the case in the cubbyhole I’ve always used — when the flute player quickly shoved her case in it!

She must have sensed my faint annoyance because she asked, “Oh, did I take your spot?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“I’m sorry,” she said, on her way out of the room.

“No you’re NOT,” I rejoined, and we both laughed — as she continued to walk away.

So we tend to be creatures of habit, but can be adaptable when routines are disrupted.

I was in this frame of mind when I arrived at the BART station a few moments later.

I always catch the same train, so I have come to recognize a few of the regular riders who have a similar work schedule to mine.

One man always stands at the same black tile strip where the train doors open; there is a series of them along the track. I always stand at the adjacent strip next to him, because this particular door of the train opens immediately opposite the staircase at my destination.

Another man always waits for his train (a later one than mine; he never gets on when I do) at the foot of the nearby stairway which has a bannister made of stainless steel, which is wide enough to serve as a counter. He reads or plays with his PDA there.

I’ve also figured out that the Staircase Man is an usher for one of the theatres. He always wears black slacks, white shirt with a long black tie. The other night, he had two narrow, tall empty cardboard boxes marked “PLAYBILL” (the name of the show programs used in all the theatres around the country). So this made me realize that he’s an usher.

One night, my train was about to emerge from the tunnel at the end of the station. There is always a high wind which the trains push ahead of them, marking their imminent arrival. This wind is so strong that I have to hang onto my hat. It was also strong enough to blow those empty cardboard boxes marked “PLAYBILL” away from Staircase Man and rapidly towards me, standing right by the tracks.

I had to react quickly to save the boxes from tumbling down onto the tracks, recessed nearly five feet below me. I grabbed them and handed them back to Staircase Man, who smiled and thanked me. I didn’t have time to ask him which theatre he ushers — it’s either the Orpheum where a long-running production of “Wicked” is playing, or at the Golden Gate where “South Pacific” has a six-week run — because I had to get on my train.

It was interesting that the theme of “creatures of habit” came to me so vividly last night. But there are always variations, such as the flute player taking my cubbyhole and Staircase Man’s boxes blowing away.

“You must WRITE more”, a little but persistent voice whispered to me over and over as I tossed and turned in bed last night.

Little Voice added, “You must also curtail playing games on Facebook — it’s a huge waste of time!”

My husband James reiterated this last sentiment to me only a few moments ago. So I know that I need to pay attention.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve felt so blocked writing in this blog, for months now. What’s going on with me?

Well…part of me wants to avoid the tendency to become mundane, which can happen in blogs. But people seem to like the day-to-day musings and ramblings of Life, even if they seem trite at times. Bloggers often refer to their posts being mundane, yet their readers always assure them that the posts are interesting.

Hmmm. So maybe I should just GO for it, and run the risk of being mundane.

The definition of “mundane” is indeed illuminating:

mun⋅dane [muhn-deyn, muhn-deyn]
of or pertaining to this world or earth as contrasted with heaven; worldly; earthly: mundane affairs.
common; ordinary; banal; unimaginative.
of or pertaining to the world, universe, or earth.

So in other words, people are interested in feelings and events having to do with the world in which we live. And that’s exactly what a blog is.

(Lightbulb turns on.)

Perhaps what is ‘common; ordinary; banal; unimaginative’ to some people is not to others.

I was thinking the other day — always a dangerous enterprise — that blog-writing seems to be an all-or-nothing thing. Either post every day (or at least every other day) or don’t do it at all!

I believe that my many three faithful readers enjoy reading my very occasional postings. But there could be much more of a sense of continuity in my blog, a consistency, a regular “checking in” which has been absent thus far.

Well, we shall see.

So what am I thinking about, today?

Yesterday, I discovered a new place to hang out near the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco. Occasionally I am able to catch an earlier train to work than I had planned to, which gives me enough time to sit down with a cup of coffee and write in my journal before heading to the theatre. I’ve done this at Starbuck’s on a few occasions, but it’s in the opposite direction from the theatre and I usually don’t have enough time to go there.

Yesterday I had an extra service-call which involved videotaping the entire cast in costume and orchestra in tuxes. We taped the most popular numbers from “South Pacific” for advertisement purposes. The call was from 1:30 to 5, followed by our usual show at 8. Busy day!

I emerged from BART onto Market St. and walked the two blocks towards the theatre. I took a slightly different route this time; usually I take a short-cut on Jones St., wending my way around the homeless lying on the sidewalk. But I stayed on Market St. in order to look for some place nearby to have a cup of coffee, since I had an extra half-hour.

There was a “donut”/coffee shop on the corner of Market and Golden Gate which I had never noticed before. It had about fifteen tables and picture windows giving out onto both streets, affording an excellent view of the colorful passerby.

For the life of me I don’t know why I hadn’t see this place before. It was as though it suddenly materialized out of thin air just when I needed it. I suppose that’s the way it is with many things; we tend not to see them until we look for them.

I went into the bright and airy room and walked up to the large glass counter containing many different kinds of doughnuts and pastries. I was reassured to see an espresso machine, so I could have a “specialized” coffee rather than just a cup of regular joe.

I ordered a capuccino and a butter croissant. The coffee was better than average and the croissant was pretty much just a big roll with a slight butter glaze, not at all like what I envision a croissant to be — flaky and buttery — but it was passable and accompanied the coffee nicely.

I found a tiny round table by the plate-glass window overlooking Market St. I could see the Golden Gate Theatre a half block beyond. I took a sip of cappuccino and a bite of the croissant and brought out my journal and pen from my knapsack.

Several working-class black men were talking in loud voices at the adjoining tables. They really didn’t have to speak at such a high volume; there wasn’t much ambient noise and the tables were close together, but this is the nature of people everywhere. I am often amazed at how unncessarily loudly most folks speak.

It’s as though they want an audience. But these men were in the middle of a conversation about one of their cronies, which I wouldn’t have been able to follow or relate to anyway.

One of the men left and the remaining two immediately started talking about him. “He’s juss like his biological father,” one of the guys stated. The other one responded emphatically, “Sho’ is!” Then the first one went into great detail about the father’s physical characteristics and tendencies to womanize, a bit more sotto voce. But I got the gist in spite of myself.

I wrote a few lines in my journal, took more sips of cappuccino and bites from the doughy roll. I looked out onto the Market St. sidewalk, where a parade of interesting characters ambled by. One middle-aged man, with greased-back dirty blond hair and attired in plaid shorts and clashing print shirt open to expose his fish-white Buddha belly, staggered up to a trash can and dug for treasure. Then he approached the plate-glass window with me on the other side and gestured at me…for something…maybe money? I contemplated giving him the rest of my croissant, but then the man abruptly staggered away from the window and ran across the street.

A group of German tourists arrived and sat down at a table, not realizing that they needed to go to the counter first to order. They sat there for the longest time before realization set in, whereupon one woman, serving as spokesperson and interpreter, got up and placed their order in a thick Teutonic accent. The man behind the counter responded in an equally thick Asian accent.

That’s what I love about San Francisco — the rich variety of people from all over the world. It’s truly a melting-pot; quite different from the almost exclusively white (and American) population of Nevada County where I usually call home.

As I got up from the table to go to the theatre, the more verbose of the black men nearby said with a smile, “Have a good day” and I responded, “And the same to you, sir”.

Yesterday was one of those days in which it was easy to embrace the City life and not feel overwhelmed by it, as I sometimes am. On its best days, I am wonderfully stimulated. I think it has something to do with being able to go with the often intense flow, instead of resisting it.

Every morning, James and I take Ringo for a walk through the neighborhood near our little brick 1922 house, in a residential section only two blocks south of the main street which eventually reaches downtown. Further south, the neighborhood abruptly ends with the Interstate highway.

Having been truncated by two major thoroughfares, the neighborhood has definitely seen better days. But perhaps it may have seen worse and is now on its way up. One can dream, anyway.

The oldest houses appear to have been built in the late 1800s, with the majority having been constructed in the 1920s and 1930s. There is a sprinkling of post-war houses as well, and less common, new construction usually consisting of “project”-type housing.

If I had a LOT of cash, this neighborhood would be a good investment, buying up cheap houses, fixing them up and selling at reasonable prices. But who knows what direction this neighborhood will really take, especially during these tough times?

It is rather sad to walk through this neighborhood. Echoes of a bygone era whisper as we walk through the narrow alleys choked with weeds and discarded furniture and appliances.

One can tell that the houses were grand at one time, with detached garages lining these rutted little byways. It is a sad testimony of neglect and careless dumping.

Alleys and fields are perfect places for Ringo to “do his business”. There are more vacant lots close to the Interstate. The juxtaposition of wide-open weedy spaces and the roar of the cars on the freeway offer a clashing contradiction for the senses.

Walk #1:  10/19/08

Yesterday morning was sunny and clear — cool but not brisk — as James, Ringo and I started our walk. There were more people up and about on a Sunday than we see during the week.

The first person we encountered was a man of indeterminate age shuffling aimlessly along the cracked sidewalk in our direction on the opposite side of the street. He stepped into the intersection and veered left, weaving into the middle of the street.

Ringo perked up his nose and sniffed the air, his attention immediately drawn to a flock of large, black crows picking at an object in this intersection.  As humans and dog approached, the birds rose up in a clattering flurry of wings and caws.

The roar of the highway increased in volume as we neared Ringo’s favorite vacant lot.

At the far end of this lot are two abandoned houses. I finally remembered to bring my camera in an attempt to capture some impressions of this neighborhood for the blog. I snapped this shot of the first “foreclosed” house, where new plywood has been tacked onto the windows just over the past couple of days:

…and the house next to it, in similar condition:

We walked up a couple of blocks back towards our house, away from the highway, and were treated with the sight of this yard full of “collectables”:

Then we turned down the alley which eventually leads to our house, and I took a picture of this garage and back yard which had caught my eye over the past few walks:

A few doors down, this house shot from the alley:

Further down the alley, on the other side, was this structure which looks older than the others:

Another sad house, with a larger weedy lot, taken from the alley:

And now for something more cheerful — a couple shots of the Fall colors:

James asked me to take a picture of this place with the tall pine and the tiny smudge of the moon to the left:

Walk #2 (today)

I took a break from writing the above to go on this morning’s walk. It’s one of the few overcast days we’ve had since we arrived on Oct. 6th. It looks like it’s going to rain soon, so we were glad to do the walk beforehand.

I suggested to James that we walk in the opposite direction from our house than we did yesterday, so I could take a picture of this colorful assemblage at “The Kings”:

An informal playground for the kiddies:

Lots of local residents park their cars and boats in their yards:

Here’s a sad little house. For some reason I could actually see myself living in this, if it were spruced up.

…and the house directly across the street:

Many yards have wood ready to be split:

I trust that the string of lights in this front yard make this place look better at night (with passing shot of Ringo):

A typical alley in the ‘hood:

A bit o’ this and a bit o’ that, including Halloween decor:

Another temporary change-of-scene with more Fall colors:

More creative Halloweening:

Combining “car in the hood” with Fall color:

As we approached the following house a few doors down from the car, the dog in the front yard started barking furiously. I snapped the shot without realizing that I caught the owner, who emerged to see what all the barking was about:

I don’t think he saw me taking the picture. I noticed him standing in front of his door afterwards, when we had already passed by, and he didn’t even look in our direction as he was so focused on his barking dog.

I just got back on Wednesday from playing Youth concerts with Symphony Silicon Valley, an excellent orchestra based in San Jose, CA. It’s considered to be one of the best orchestras in the San Francisco Bay area, after the San Francisco Symphony, Ballet and Opera ensembles.

Here’s a link about the orchestra: SYMPHONY SILICON VALLEY

The first rehearsal was last Sunday night. I left early that morning for Lafayette, where I stay with my dear violinist friend R.A. whenever I play in the San Jose orchestra. It’s about an hour’s commute each way. She plays there on a regular basis, so we often ride together.

I first met R.A. when she joined the Sacramento Symphony in 1984, and we’ve been “best friends” ever since.

She was carpooling with a couple of other musicians to the concert that afternoon; it was the orchestra’s final performance of that “set” which had begun with rehearsals earlier in the week. I decided to ride down with her and catch the concert. Our one rehearsal for the Youth concert program would take place a few hours later.

The Operations Manager, who’s also a horn-playing colleague, reserved me an excellent seat in the top balcony. Here’s a link with the history and pictures of the wonderful California Theater in downtown San Jose, where the Symphony Silicon Valley performs:


This is an almost-perfect concert space for the orchestra; intimate, beautifully decorated and with decent acoustics. Its only minor drawback are some “dead spots” for a few musicians onstage, which is the case with many concert venues. But overall the players like this performance space very much.

It certainly sounded great from the top balcony, often the best place to hear an orchestra; the sound has a chance to blend together.

Violinist/conductor Joseph Silverstein performed Vaughan-Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” and Mozart’s Violin Concerto #5 while conducting the orchestra at the same time. The second half consisted of Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” with Silverstein on the podium, sans violin.

You can read about him at the following link. Silverstein has some interesting perspectives about the state of classical music these days:


Symphony Silicon Valley does not have a regular conductor; they hire different ones for each concert set. The musicians generally like this arrangement, because they are exposed to many different conducting styles which keeps them on their toes. It is a very stimulating musical environment.

The musicians responded well to Silverstein and the orchestra sounded particularly glorious on the “Enigma Variations”, one of his favorite pieces to conduct.

I’m usually performing on stage, so this was a rare opportunity to hear my favorite orchestra from the concert hall audience. Listening to this music expertly and emotionally played by my old friends and colleagues makes me proud to work with this ensemble whenever I can.

Unfortunately this doesn’t happen often, as I am a substitute musician with the orchestra. I played with them in late September for their first set of the season, then again in December for a few Nutcracker performances, and most recently last week for these Youth concerts.

Staying with R.A. makes it possible for me to play in San Jose, which is nearly four hours’ drive from my home In The Woods. Otherwise it would be too much of a hassle.

Many musicians who play in the San Jose orchestra also perform in other orchestras scattered around the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the Central Valley.

This freelance scene is nicknamed “The Freeway Philharmonic” because Northern California musicians need to fill their calendars playing with a lot of different small symphonies to make ends meet; none of these orchestras provide a full-time wage. So these freelance musicians drive hundreds of miles each week to various gigs.

During my most recent time in this freelance world, I heard people talking about a special documentary about the Freeway Philharmonic which is now showing in selected Bay Area theaters, and will be broadcast on KQED Channel 9 on this coming Sunday and Tuesday.

You can read about it here and even see a short trailer:


I know most of the musicians featured in this documentary, and have heard of the rest. In fact, I will be working with horn player Meredith Brown in the Symphony Silicon Valley in mid-March for their next concert set.

It is quite a challenging life for classical musicians. I feel very fortunate that I don’t have to depend upon the Freeway Philharmonic as much as many others do (at the moment, at least), but it WOULD be nice to have a couple of gigs a month.

So far, I have not quite achieved this goal, but am approaching it as word is getting around that I am back in the area. Fortunately I am known as a solid, dependable horn player who is easy to get along with. So I hope to get more work this year.

I have just been hired to play with the Modesto Symphony in a couple of weeks. This will be my first time performing with that orchestra. I have relatives on my mother’s side there, so I may just “pop out of the woodwork” to say hello while I’m in town! It’s been many years since I’ve seen them.

While I’m working with the Modesto Symphony, James and I (and cat Rupert) will stay at my brother’s house in Sacramento, 80 miles away — which is much better than 160 miles from our place out In The Woods!

I wrote the following as part of a “thank you” email to R.A. for letting me stay at her house Sunday through Tuesday:

“As I wended my way down the tiny, switch-backed road amidst the beautiful snowy woods, I thought to myself how VERY LUCKY I am to have such a rich variety in my life these days — a combination of rustic serenity on one hand and musical stimulation amongst my excellent friends and associates on the other.

I am truly blessed.”


Hundreds of them have accumulated on my computer over the past couple of years.

Tonight I am finally grabbing the Firefox browser monkey by the neck — ripping it off my back — and starting to go through each and every bookmark to see if:

1.) …the links still work. (A surprising number of them don’t!)
2.) …I want to keep them?

For example, I have bookmarked many blogs on people’s blogrolls that I have ended up being bored with, or they haven’t posted in forever. But I keep checking!

Okay, it’s time to throw in the towel on some blogs…you haven’t posted anything since June!

Cyberspace calling Cameron! Why in the #%@^ did you bookmark this link???

I am totally amazed at the variety of, the utter mystery of, the totally inexplicable reasons why I’ve saved most of these bookmarks.

I have not revisited the majority of them since the moment I bookmarked the sites. (Except for the blog ones.)

My personal limit seems to have settled into a couple dozen blogs. How many blogs do YOU check in with each day?

Okay. Deep breath.

I’m LONG overdue for a major bookmark purge!

This is going to take a while. A long while.

The computer is just an electronic update on the file cabinet — those myriad junk drawers that we ALL have — admit it! — those piles of crap hiding in the corners of the room. Or brazenly making their presence known right at your elbow.

Surely I am not the only one to “bookmark too much”. (Is this a 21st Century version of “LOVING too much”?)

I’ve spent several hours tonight getting rid of bookmarks and have barely scratched the surface. Cyber Powers That Be, please give me the strength to continue to the bitter end!

I am very curious to know if your experience with bookmarks is similar.

I can use some moral support right now. 😉