Monday, April 30, 2007
Traffic hell
I am feeling glum today. I have about a zillion things to do so I can't really afford to sit around feeling glum, but there you go.

What has me in a funk? Just the fact that the entire transportation infrastructure in the East Bay is going to be royally screwed up for months to come. In case you haven't heard, check out this article from the Associated Press, charmingly titled "Bay Area Commuters Face Nightmare." Very early Sunday morning, a speeding gasoline tanker crashed into a section of guardrail, demolishing a section of the highway known as the MacArthur Maze. As you might surmise from the name, the Maze, located near the westbound approach to the Bay Bridge, was pretty messed-up before, the location of frequent traffic jams. Now a big chunk of it is missing.

Apparently, traffic has been pretty light today, the result of saturation news coverage of the event and free public transit for all. But in a few days, folks are going to get back in their cars and it's going to be ugly indeed.

Since I work at home and am also a regular user of public transit, I can avoid the affected location as much as possible, but it will still affect my life. Eastbound trips that used to take 15-20 minutes will be subject to huge delays and detours; even trips that don't go through the Maze, like westbound I-80 to the Bay Bridge, will likely take much longer due to the inevitable traffic jams sure to result from this incident. I have an appointment in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood tomorrow that requires driving, so I used Mapquest to find a non-highway route.

It's amazing that one guy can do this much damage by accident. Imagine if someone wanted to wreak havoc on our fragile infrastructure. It's scary to contemplate.
posted by 125records @ 12:29 PM   1 comments
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Beware of Swedes bearing guns
posted by 125records @ 10:06 PM   2 comments
Monday, April 23, 2007
Fortunately, I have a very hard head
Regular readers of this blog -- how many are there now, 12? -- are all too familiar with my flying phobia, so this is an extra-spectacular edition of "The Conical Glass" being written at 30,000 feet! It's turbulent and the "fasten seat belt" sign is on! You can almost smell the excitement, can't you? (If you were sitting next to me, you might be able to smell something, since I'm sweating like a pig.)

All dozen of you also know that I try not to let my discomfort stop me from traveling. I fly an average of three times a year. It's only April and this is already my second trip of the year; I went to Florida in January. I love to visit new locales and often the only way I can do so is by getting onto a plane. A few weeks ago, my parents offered me the chance to visit Minneapolis, a city I'd never had the opportunity to see, so a couple weeks ago, I decided to go. My mom was going to be attending a conference there, and a ton of special activities were planned -- sightseeing expeditions, banquets, interesting programs. Plus, one of my oldest friends moved to Minneapolis a year ago and I was eager to visit her.

So on Wednesday, I was scheduled to fly nonstop from San Francisco to Minneapolis at the rather civilized hour of 10 AM. I usually wake up pretty early when I'm going to be traveling so I was already checking my email at 7 when my phone rang. It was my dad. For some reason, when he was checking on his flight from Michigan to Minnesota, he also checked on my flight, and -- guess what -- it had been canceled! Unspecified "mechanical difficulties" were the reason. For about a minute, it seemed like a perfect excuse to just bag the whole thing, but no, I decided to press on. After about 15 minutes on the phone with a Northwest representative, I was able to rebook, flying out of Oakland instead of SFO and changing planes in Salt Lake City. My new flight was scheduled to arrive just over 2 hours after the original one. It was a bit of a hassle; I was randomly flagged for the extra security screening at Oakland (lucky me!), so not only did I get to take my shoes off, but a TSA employee wiped a little cloth all over them to make sure there was no explosive residue on them! They also checked out my backpack, somehow missing the potentially-deadly bottle of contact lens solution that lurked therein. But I finally got into MSP without any major difficulties.

I had a fabulous time in Minneapolis. I visited the amazing Institute of Art, toured the brand-new Guthrie Theater, had a wonderful visit to the American Swedish Institute, walked around the Lake of the Isles, and attended a fascinating presentation about the history of Swedish immigration to the Twin Cities. Minnesota people also lived up to their "nice" reputation -- one of my hobbies is touring state capitols, and someone pointed out a young lady at one of our banquets who worked there, suggesting that she might be able to tell me how to get there via bus. This woman, who had never met me before, instantly volunteered to spend her Saturday morning driving me there and taking me on a personal tour of the capitol building! I took her up on it and had a really fun time. She dropped me off at the local mystery bookstore, where I had a pleasant chat with the proprietor, who gave me a free paperback (I bought three) because, since I was an out-of-towner, I wasn't going to be able to participate in the store's buy-10, get-one-free program. See what I mean? NICE! As was the case when I visited Albuquerque last fall, I instantly began fantasizing about moving there. I tried to remind myself that while it was 70 degrees during my visit, there had been a snowstorm just a couple weeks earlier.

Minneapolis is a really exciting, cosmopolitan city with a vibrant cultural scene. I don't think even the most jaded urbanite would feel deprived there. At some point, I'd love to go back and see some of the more rural parts of the state. On my last day, my parents and I took the light rail (just $1.50 from downtown, and it's on the honor system -- Minnesotans are too nice not to pay the fare!) to the airport and checked our luggage, then got back on the light rail (your ticket is good for 2 1/2 hours!) and rode two more stops to the Mall of America, which for some reason I felt compelled to visit. True to form, the only thing my mom and I bought were two postcards, which we sent to my aunt & uncle in Sweden. We did eat lunch there, at the Wolfgang Puck Express, so all in all, we managed to spend around $30 on our expedition.

Afterwards, we headed back to the airport to get on our respective flights. As is the case with EVERY SINGLE FLIGHT I take nowadays, the plane from MSP-SFO was completely full. Since no one wants to check their enormous suitcases, they all lug them on and roam up and down the aisle of the plane looking for space in the overhead bin. The one above me was totally full, so someone had closed it. However, that didn't stop one guy from opening it to see if there was room for his enormo-case. The next thing I knew, I felt the most horrible pain. I started screaming. What the hell just happened? A suitcase -- not just any suitcase, but a METAL SUITCASE -- had fallen right on my head, because someone had shoved it up there rather precariously, and someone else had opened the overhead compartment. It came tumbling down, right on my skull.

Funnily enough, at the airport, my mom and I had just been talking about the daughter of a friend of hers who had suffered a head injury after falling off a bike, and whether or not she had a concussion. A couple flight attendants came rushing over to make sure I was OK. A few minutes later, a Northwest representative came aboard the plane to ask me if I wanted to see a paramedic. No, I did NOT want to see a paramedic. I just wanted to go home. I had been reading the New York Times Magazine and the print wasn't blurry or anything, so I figured I could proceed. It hurt like hell, though. One of the flight attendants brought me some aspirin and a glass of water before the plane took off. When the beverage service came through later, I got a free gin and tonic. Injuring your head on an aircraft = a savings of $5!

Last fall, Joe and I drove our little car from the Bay Area to Albuquerque, which took almost two full days and was occasionally boring as all get-out, but I think there's something to be said for road trips. I realize driving is a far more dangerous form of transportation than flying, and an hour in the air is the equivalent of 9-10 hours of driving. But I enjoyed seeing the passing scenery and not being in such a rush. We were able to change our plans at the drop of a hat. It was one of the best vacations I ever took.

This morning at breakfast, my dad was talking about how when he was a kid, his family would sail from New York to Europe on an ocean liner. Like me, my farfar (grandfather) was self-employed, and there were no computers in those days allowing him to keep in constant touch with his office. I'm sure transatlantic phone calls were extremely expensive too, so it's not like he was able to check in all the time. Going on a trip to Europe meant taking off at least a couple of months. The last several trips I've made to Europe have all been shorter than two weeks. I suspect there aren't many ocean crossings these days; who wants to take the time, when you can just get on a plane in San Francisco and disembark in London 11 hours later? Similarly, why would I want to spend 3 days driving to Minnesota when I can fly there in just over 3 hours?

As my plane flies over the West, though, I can't help but reflect on everything I'm missing down below. Some of it's dull -- I've driven across Wyoming; I know from dull -- but a lot of it is beautiful and memorable and fun. The scenery may not have been particularly dynamic, but I remember how excited I was to find a great NPR station in Wyoming, and how good it felt to listen to the familiar tones of All Things Considered as mile after mile whizzed by, Joe sound asleep in the passenger seat. It was peaceful in a way that air travel, with its falling metal suitcases and its screaming children and its constantly illuminated fasten-seat-belt signs, never is. Our leisurely drive last fall was a spectacular rarity that came about because of Joe's once-every-five-years sabbatical (something few American workers enjoy; believe me, I appreciate it). It saddens me to think that we may have to wait another four years to travel the same way my grandparents did 60 years ago -- slowly, deliberately, enjoying the scenery along the way.
posted by 125records @ 12:00 AM   3 comments
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Out in the 'burbs
There are two different theatrical worlds out here: City Theater World and Suburban Theater World. In Suburban World, patrons primarily enjoy the tried-and-true; "Damn Yankees" is always playing somewhere. Theatergoers in City World, on the other hand, want edgier, more challenging fare. In this area, at least, urban theatergoers also have their own warhorses. One of the reasons ACT can afford to try something like next month's "Blackbird" (a "tense and controversial play... that explores the outer limits of morality," according to the web site) is because they produce work by Tom Stoppard or David Mamet every single season. Nobody gets butts in the seats in San Francisco like Stoppard and Mamet. This season, they did Stoppard's "Travesties," so I was completely unsurprised to see Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" on the list of offerings for next year.

Anyway, I will admit to being a wee bit snobby about the 'burbs, but I was still happy to take some friends up on an offer to go to the Willows Theater in Concord to see a play there. The Willows is best known in these parts for its enormous success with the "Nunsense" series of musical revues; the singing & dancing nuns have proved so popular that the Willows is opening an all-nuns, all-the-time cabaret theater in the nearby suburb of Martinez. (Its initial offerings will include the country-western "Nunsense Jamboree" and, for the holidays, "Nuncrackers.")

The Willows is located in a large shopping center, next to the REI and CompUSA superstores. (Advantage over city theaters: acres of free parking!) It was opening night for the comedy "Dearly Beloved," written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. "Beloved" takes place in small-town Texas, where Tina Jo is about to marry Parker in a "Gone With the Wind"-themed wedding. Frankie, the frantic mother of the bride, has to deal with one catastrophe after another, from the return of her prodigal sister Honey Raye to the disastrous catering by Clovis Sanford's House of Meat (arranged by her other sister, Twink) to the disappearance of the bride & groom themselves. It's pure farce, and I must admit I laughed a lot and had a great time. Sometimes it's fun to just kick back with a crowd-pleaser.

Meanwhile, about 45 minutes west of the Willows (depending on traffic, of course -- you have to cross a bridge and go through a tunnel to get to San Francisco from Concord), Philip Kan Gotanda's "After the War" is having its world premiere at ACT. It's always a bit of a drag to have tickets to something that garners critical brickbats, and "After the War" has gotten quite a few pans ("unsatisfying... a major disappointment" -Sacramento Bee; "wall-to-wall contrivance" -Variety; "disappointingly underdeveloped" -Chronicle; "monotonous... the thematic and narrative lines fail to make an impact" -SF Weekly). Perhaps the litany of negative reviews quashed my expectations because I didn't think it was all that bad. The main problem, I think, is that it would like to be an August Wilson-type exploration of life in a San Francisco boardinghouse post-WWII, and it never quite reaches those lofty heights. Most of the characters are Japanese-Americans who spent time in the internment camps. The boardinghouse is also populated by an unemployed black man and his sister-in-law; a Southern belle and her mentally challenged brother; and a Russian-Jewish woman.

The show is fairly entertaining, but it's also pure soap opera. For instance, one of the Japanese-Americans is a mild-mannered accountant who falls in love with the Russian... but then it turns out she's a prostitute who is "working off" her debt. The black guy is having a secret affair with the Southern woman. And on and on. Everyone has a secret!

The most annoying thing about "After the War" is its set -- the multi-story boardinghouse is built on a giant turntable, and when there's a change of scene (which is often), the entire thing rotates slowly, going creak-creak-creak! Near the end, the entire thing makes a couple continuous rotations. It made me dizzy, and the creaking was like fingernails on a chalkboard.

I'll say one thing about "Dearly Beloved," at least it doesn't have any pretensions, except to entertain. "After the War," positioned as an Important World Premiere by a Tony-winning regional theater company, tries to be something more than a melodramatic potboiler, and fails. Score one for the 'burbs.
posted by 125records @ 2:12 PM   1 comments
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Long before I became permanently self-employed, I worked for a man in Baltimore who always bought two pairs of Orioles season tickets. One pair was for himself and his wife; the other, for friends they invited. The amazing thing was that they had so many friends & acquaintances, they could ask along different people to practically every game. Among their friends were reclusive author Anne Tyler (no, I don't know if she ever went to an O's game), a score of famous Washington journalists, and Bill Clinton. I often marveled at the vast array of people he knew. I was very young at the time and wondered if I would have that many friends when I was his age.

Fast-forward many years and now I know the answer: no. And that's OK. One of the advantages to growing older is that you accept certain truths about yourself, and I accept the fact that I am not gregarious by nature. Looking back on my life, I realize that I always had a strong need to spend a lot of time alone. As a college freshman, when other kids were scouting out the next party, I was roaming the university's massive underground library, looking for a remote study carrel where I could be as solitary as possible.

I am grateful for the friends I do have, and miss the ones I've lost throughout the years. The reason I've been musing about this subject lately is because of a certain person who has been in the news lately -- she is an author with a New York Times bestselling book and large & growing fan base. She was in my book group years before she started writing novels and inking six-figure book deals, and I thought she was one of the coolest, most interesting people I'd ever met. I desperately wanted to be friends with her. That particular group only met once a month so it's not like we hung out all the time. I asked her out to lunch a couple times, and dutifully read all of her favorite authors. But it was doomed to be an unrequited friendship -- it was all one-way. Even then, she was popular and charismatic; I was, well, not.

Friendship can be as elusive as love, and sometimes even harder to find. I may not have a zillion friends, the way my ex-boss and that bestselling writer do, but those I have are precious. To those of you whom I call "friend" -- you know who you are -- thanks for sticking by me.
posted by 125records @ 11:35 AM   2 comments
Monday, April 09, 2007
The states I've been in
There's a TV show called something like "1,000 Places To See Before You Die" -- I haven't seen it, but the title makes me imagine somebody running around frantically, checking destinations off a list: "Dammit, just one more day in Paris -- I've got to make it to the Louvre before it closes! I could drop dead at any moment!"

My personal travel goal is to visit all 50 states. I have visited just over half of them, though I haven't quite made up my mind what constitutes a "visit." One thing's for certain: changing planes in a state's airport does not count. I thought perhaps I had to spend a night in a state for it to count, although that would disqualify Wyoming and West Virginia, states I have driven through. I did stop and eat a meal in both states, though. The jury's out. Maybe I'll count them, but with an asterisk.

Next week I am going to visit Minnesota for the first time, not counting the many times I've stopped over at MSP Airport. Last year I was able to cross three states off my list (Arizona, New Mexico and North Carolina). What's left?

The non-continental states: Alaska and Hawaii. I do have a trip to Hawaii planned for 2009, and I'm excited about that.

The upper midwest: Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, North & South Dakota, Nebraska. Sorry, Idahoans, but for some reason only two things come to mind when I hear the name of your state: potatoes and white supremacists. I'd love to see Mt. Rushmore, but is there anything to do in North Dakota? Some friends of mine have a running joke that the state actually doesn't exist.

The south: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina. Lots worth seeing here: Nashville, Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans, Graceland... though I'd be hard-pressed to come up with any tourist-worthy attractions in Arkansas. Bill Clinton's presidential museum, maybe. Sorry, conservatives, but the Counter-Clinton Library never panned out, though it was the subject of one of my all time favorite "Daily Show" segments.

New England: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut. I have taken Amtrak through Rhode Island & Connecticut, but I should really make a proper visit to both states. Vermont is high on my list because I feel a strong need to make a pilgrimage to the Ben & Jerry's factory. I'd also like to stay at the "Newhart" inn.
posted by 125records @ 12:59 PM   3 comments
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Running up that hill
I haven't done any book posts in a while because in both February and March, I read a couple truly crummy books, and I didn't feel like mentioning them. One of them was for my book group -- the reason it was on our reading list was because it had been nominated for a prestigious literary award. To say the book, which had been translated from the Italian, was extremely unpleasant would be an understatement; as an example, at one point, the protagonist (cough cough) anally rapes a stripper. At least everyone in our group was united in wondering what qualities the panel of judges had seen in it. The only good thing about the book was that it was only 150 pages long, which is how I was able to finish it.

Anyway, I did read one book in March that I'd like to recommend; I suspect a lot of folks who read this blog regularly will be intrigued by the title alone: Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield. If the first thing you do after meeting an intriguing guy/girl is start thinking which songs you'd put on a mix tape for them, this book is for you. (OK, so these days it's mix CDs, but we all look back fondly on that beloved old analog format, right?) I knew I was going to love this book because the favorite band of Rob and his wife, Renee, was none other than Pavement, who are my favorite band! Writes Rob:
Our friend Joe in New York sent us a tape, a third-generation dub of the Pavement album Slanted and Enchanted. Renee and I decided this was our favorite tape of all time. The guitars were all boyish ache and shiver. The vocals were funny bad poetry sung through a Burger World drive-through mike. The melodies were full of surfer-boy serenity, dreaming through a haze of tape hiss and mysterious amp noise. This was the greatest band ever, obviously. And they didn't live twenty years ago, or ten years ago, or five years ago. They were right now. They were ours.
Renee was a funny, free-spirited, charismatic girl who perfectly complemented the shyer and more introverted Rob. Unfortunately, she dropped dead of an aneurysm in her early 30s (I'm not giving anything away; Rob tells us about it in the first chapter), so much of the book is very, very sad. But it's not a depressing book. It celebrates Renee's life, which she obviously lived to the fullest. Joe and I both enjoyed the book a lot.

I'm currently about 3/4 of the way into No Shortcuts to the Top by Ed Viesturs, a renowned mountain climber who is perhaps best known for his work on the IMAX documentary "Everest." I have a fascination with mountain climbing and absolutely no desire to ever, ever do it; my idea of a good trek is going up 338-foot-high Albany Hill (just 28,697 feet shorter than Everest!). There's nothing like sprawling on the couch with a box of Girl Scout cookies while reading about a team of he-men trying to scale Annapurna.
posted by 125records @ 1:41 PM   2 comments
Monday, April 02, 2007
Part of my birthright as a woman is supposed to be purchasing and wearing cute shoes. Occasionally (usually while watching "What Not To Wear") I think to myself that I've really got to buy some cute shoes. I look at shoe web sites or in the window of the Designer Shoe Warehouse. And somehow I always wind up with another pair of walking shoes that are screamingly dull.

The "problem" is that I walk an awful lot. I recently noted that I was expecting to have lunch and shop in downtown San Francisco, and instead I wound up hiking around the Sutro Baths. Luckily, since all of my shoes are insanely practical, I was wearing a pair of clunky black sandals and this presented absolutely no problem. I was even able to scamper through the damp sand on the floor of the man-made cave there. That was Thursday. On Friday, I walked about three miles to return a library book and run a couple errands. Saturday night, I trekked all the way up California Street. Wearing uncomfortable shoes would make me a slave to cabs or close-by parking spaces (a rarity around here).

I know there are cute flats -- I've bought some, but they never have the proper support and cushioning required for walking. Many times I've wound up with blisters as a result, and had to go back to my Eccos. (It looks like they have come out with a few styles that are actually verging on being fashionable -- these, for instance.) All the while, I dream of wearing these instead.

One of my weekend highlights was seeing the Brown Twins. A Twins sighting is always cause for excitement. I had no idea until I read their Wikipedia entry that the Twins are originally from West Michigan (Kalamazoo, no less) -- we have something in common! The Twins were making their way up Powell St. carrying Walgreen's bags. When you live on Nob Hill as the Twins do, you've gotta wear sensible shoes. Seriously, in every photo of the San Francisco Twins, they may be wearing fancy fur coats, but that footwear is made for hill climbin'.
posted by 125records @ 3:17 PM   0 comments
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Do you know who I am?
One of the frustrating things about owning a record label is the constant feeling that the artists we deal with should be way more famous than they are. This is particularly true when we release something by a musician who has been on the scene for decades; I want to go up to people and shake them and say, "Don't you know this person is A LEGEND?" But the music biz, and the folks who write about it and buy CDs and go to shows, always seem to be chasing after the new hot thing.

On Wednesday, however, I had an experience that made me feel a little better. Mitch Easter -- who is without question A LEGEND, someone who has both produced classic albums (R.E.M.'s Murmur being the best-known) and released several of his own -- was doing an in-store at Amoeba Records in support of his (fabulous!) new album, Dynamico. Mitch's wife Shalini (who also plays bass in his band) is one of my best friends and that's how 125 came to distribute Dynamico. After the gig, I had recommended we head over to Cha Cha Cha, which is one of my favorite restaurants. The only disadvantage of Cha Cha Cha is that it's a small restaurant that doesn't take reservations and it's insanely popular, so there's always a lengthy wait for a table. Nevertheless, they have a bar area in back where you can relax with a glass of sangria while you bide your time. Since there were a bunch of us -- nine total, I think -- I knew it would be a while. Shalini was quoted a wait time of 40 minutes, so we headed to the bar.

We had barely settled down when a member of the staff rushed over and told us that our table was ready. Get this -- he had recognized Mitch and didn't want him to have to wait. Somehow, they had managed to squeeze two tables together for us. Really, they couldn't have been any nicer. Now I know what it's like to travel in celebrity circles!

Unfortunately, Mitch's Thursday night show at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco was sort of sparsely attended (it was an OK crowd, but there was plenty of room for more people), although he put on a heck of a show. I spent the day hanging out with Mitch, Shalini and their extremely cool drummer, Chris Garges. A photographer from Magnet magazine was trying to hook up with Mitch so we all trekked out to the Sutro Baths so he could take some glamour shots. All in all, it was probably the most hanging-out-with-rock-stars type experience I've had since we started the label, and if anyone deserves to be treated like a celeb, it's Mitch.
posted by 125records @ 1:30 PM   4 comments
About Me
Name: Sue
Home: San Francisco Bay Area, California, United States
About Me: Email me: talk at interbridge dot com
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