Friday, November 30, 2007

Bucked Naked

Businesstime commenced in Rotterdam the day after Thanksgiving. A city of about 600k people located an hour away--by train--from Amsterdam.

Black Soil had promised a hotel room for the weekend at the five-star Westin downtown. Philip, one of the fest's two lead organizers--greeted me and promptly whisked me off to do a radio interview. The host of the show was very professional. Explained that the interview would be conducted mostly in Dutch and that Philip could translate for me. I nodded and cleared my throat just as the red "On-Air" light came alive.

I don't speak Dutch. So I have no idea what questions she initially floated out into the ether. Or how Philip responded. Suddenly, she made eye contact with me and started asking basic questions about the subject of my film and how it was made. In English, thankfully. I blathered on--as I usually do--struggling to spit out soundbytes laced minimally with American colloquialisms. No translation seemed to be necessary. She and Phillip then resumed their Dutch exchange. The red light died for a moment. And we all exhaled, reclining into the backs of our chairs.

The Dutch, by and large, speak both Dutch and English. The latter with a marvelous depth and nuance. Apart from the accent, communicating with them is extremely easy.

The Red Light (LINK IS NWS.) came alive again. More Dutch. Interrupted by my own crude English. Dutch again. Then a softball question about my first impressions of Rotterdam. I remarked that I really admired the graffiti art which decorated the otherwise unused canvases along the trainline. The host grimaced and started taking the piss outta me. We all had a good laugh. Philip and I made the last plugs for the fest and my screening. Said goodbye and set out for next.

Next included meeting Sasha from Black soil and the crew from South Coast—another film screening at the fest. It tells the story of the hip hop scene in Brighton, England. Next also included linking up with Kevin from Freestyle. The definitive emcee movie. And next included watching an 8-hour loop of hip hop films.

(BTW...Kevin and I had the most interesting introduction of ever. Each of us—lying in our own double bed—woke to a ringing phone and the faces of people we only previously knew via email. Each with a hangover and jetlag. Instant comrades in art were we.)

In between, the group told a lot of stories, traded jokes, bonded over our artistic successes and failures. More tribe building than network building. But, as you’ll see tomorrow, the tribe yields similar benefits.

Eventually, we arrived at the moment when my movie screened. Just prior to the lights going down, I felt a great jolt of nervous energy. As if I was about to be completely disrobed for my new tribe to examine all of my bits.

And, really, I was. I own a copy of Freestyle. Which I dig immensely. South Coast—which screened before the okaymentary—is an especially dope, likable and well-made film. So, I found myself among peers—who had become friends—awed and a bit concerned that I would be unable to call myself a creative equal.

I think that’s called performance anxiety.

After the lights did go down, my film began rolling. The audience laughed where they were supposed to laugh. Remained tensely still during the dramatic moments. And all had positive things to say about the film. Rather, the story.

Where I had been concerned with the production value of the movie, the story became the thing the audience was most concerned with. After the last credit rolled, questions focused on the people who appeared onscreen and the experience of using the internet as a social tool—which has been by far the most common reaction to the movie. It seems to make people think about a behaviour that is second nature to them, yet is rarely contemplated at any length by those who engage in it most actively and most matter-of-factly.

My new tribe all slapped their congratulations on my back. We sat in a café and I picked brains for how to improve the film, what ways it could be promoted and the most sound methods of distribution.

Then there was a party. An after party. And an after after party.

I stayed fully clothed the whole time.


Off to London for two days.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

They Eat Turkey, Don't They?

Late on the night before Thanksgiving, I found myself having a drink--just as any good young, patriotic American would be expected to do on one of the busiest party nights of the year.

Difference between me and everyone else: I tipped mine back on an airliner bound for Amsterdam.

For my first trip to Europe, I flew to the Netherlands to spend a week at the Black Soil International Film Festival trying to hustle this little movie I made. With the fest opening the day after Thanksgiving, I squished my favorite t-shirts and this indestructible laptop into a couple of bags, grabbed my passport and set out for the Old World--on Nov. 21.

On Nov. 22 (Happy birthday to Cyd!), I drug the wheels of my bag across some Dutch cobblestone and wobbled into the Flying Pig.

It's a hostel. Which means that there were all manner of fellow travelers lying about, having a sit and doing what wanderers do. All day and all night. Though no one stays on the premesis for very long. Hell, they are wanderers. And wanderers tend not to sit still.

Anyway, I checked in and saw three icons of the road:

1) A sign with a picture of a mushroom wearing a giant X and text reading: "You can smoke your weed or your hash here, but please do not bring any other drugs into this hostel."

2) The luggage room. Otherwise known as the repository of backpacks small and large. Filled with God knows what. From God may not even know where. 'Cause there simply isn't space for everyone to house their things in a hallway lined with 16 bunk beds.

3) A balding English fellow wearing a towel around his waist and a shiny coat of body hair that would make a German Shepherd blush with envy.

I chuckled at the first. Shook an amazed head at the second. And tried to gouge my eyes out from the third. Then I grabbed a nap. Linked up with D+E, the homies from NYC, and Dennis, the Netherlands' Finest, to tour the city. Tried to take it easy the first night. But it was Amsterdam, so easy is constructed a little differently than it is elsewhere.

For the record, I found that the people most likely to be excited about the legality of weed were the young American kids making their predictable pilgrimages. The Europeans and older folks I ran into were nonplussed about the fact that you could blaze a fatty in virtually every corner cafe in the city. The Dutch were completely ambivalent about it. Apathetic even. Same goes for the attitudes about the sex workers. Who, BTW, have forever changed the way I will hear that song, "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?" Lesson learned: if you legalize vice, then you diminish its power to tantalize and therefore decrease the threat of it destroying your society. Oh, and you also get to regulate and tax it if you like. That argument is a horse that met Ike Turner, for certain. But it does bear mentioning. Again.

Almost forgot...during the course of the day, I cobbled together some worthy holiday fare. Cereal and raisin toast for breakfast. Later, a delicious caramel milkshake. And then some Chinese food. Which is pretty close to the standard American feast enjoyed on the third Thursday in November. Right?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Not Exactly Pre-Season NCAA Final Four Picks

There are two reasons that this entry is absurd:

1) The NCAA Basketball season is already approaching the end of its first month.

2) Any Final Four picks made before the actual brackets are drawn is fundamentally meaningless.

That being said, I'm writing this sumbitch anyway. And my picks are:

* Memphis
* Kansas State
* Michigan State

I've got good reasons for each. Mostly dealing with post-Fab Five precedents. As in the conventional wisdom derived from all the tournaments that have been played since 1992. And the precedents I'm applying would be:

Precedent: 2000 Michigan State Spartans
Common Formula: Veteran PG + Great team defense + Great team rebounding + Nasty schedule (in and out of conference)

Precedent: 1997 Arizona Wildcats
Common Formula: Superstar frosh PG + Iconic coach due for a title + Depth in front and backcourts + Better athletes than everyone else

Kansas State
Precedent: 2002 Indiana Hoosiers
Common Formula: Young beast in the front court + Replacement coach + Endless conference wars to toughen it up

Michigan State
Precedent: 1997 Minnesota Gophers
Common Formula: Gutsy senior guard as team leader + Hard-nosed style of team play + Anonymous-chip-on-its-shoulder-roster

If you're keeping score at home, three of those teams have freshmen starting in key positions. And none of my picks include the Tar Heels, Jayhawks, Hoyas or Blue Devils. I just can't drink the kool-aid on any of those teams. Not now. And probably not any time soon. Not where national championships are concerned, anyway.

I will, however, be very curious to see what types of seasons Pitt, 'SC, VCU and So Ill each have. Am intrigued by Louisville, Washington State, Nevada, Villanova and Austin Peay, too. I'd plug any of those schools into a pre-season Sweet 16 if I was writing one of those. But I'm not.

And now I'm not writing this one anymore either.

*Logs off to watch second half of UCLA and Maryland*

Sunday, November 18, 2007

West Up: The Epilogue

Believe it or not, I could write a whole lot more about what I saw, did and thought during my Oct trip to Cali+. I could tell you about:

The chick from Milwaukee who looked just like Parker Posey (only hotter)...The Speakeasy...The Amoeba haul...Lunch with my old boss...Catching up with Cap...My first time behind the wheel of a BMW...So much delicious Mexican food...The Halloween Party with the 'SC kids...Hanging out with Uncle Paul...And some other stuff I can't think of right now.

Truth is, there's only one parting thought I find to be appropriate. That would be: California is no longer my home.

I lusted for that place when I was a kid who was stuck in Ohio. To the point that I set the clock in my bedroom to Pacific Standard Time for months at a time. Moving west was more of an inevitability for me than it was a dream.

And I really loved living there. I mean, I hated a lot of things about it with equal fervor. But that's the kind of paradox that makes sense when you live in the Golden State. And, Cali truly was my shit. My spot. My home. I felt comfortable there in a way that I have never felt about any other place on earth. (Possible long-shot exception: Brooklyn.)

When I left in '05, I fully expected to return. Presumably with family in tow. (Which, of course, is another story altogether.) Upon landing temporarily in No Va, I fought viciously against the notion that it could be considered my "home."

(I still do. 'Cause I really don't fit there. But that is where I live. Currently. Alas...)

Going back to Cali this fall showed me that I can still be comfortable there. But not the kind of comfortable that I used to be. That I always wanted to be. The kind that mixes the mortar used to construct the notion of home in a person's heart and mind.

Perhaps I have left behind that time of my life as much as I've vacated my 9-1-something-something-something address. Perhaps those people and those experiences are as much a part of how I defined home as was the zip code. Perhaps I miss them as much as I miss the sun disappearing behind the Pacific.

Anyway you slice it, I'm not in Cali anymore, Toto. And I'm not sure when I will be again.

(Enough melancholy, son, I'm goin' to effin' Amsterdam. I'll get at you later. Peace.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

West Up: Act III: Rage

There are LA bands and then there are LA bands. The Doors. War. Black Flag. Motley Crue. NWA. Guns N Roses. Red Hot Chili Peppers. Ozomatli. Sublime.

And then, there is Rage Against the Machine.

You can make a lot of different arguments for why one band or the other more profoundly articulates the rhythms of the City of Angels. Or which is the better collection of musicians. Or which has been more successful. Or...whatever.

But the only thing you need to do in your life in order to know that you have lived is to elbow your way into a mosh pit at a Rage Against the Machine show.

I did that for the very first time last month. In, of all places, Las Vegas.

I missed Rage during their original run. Wasn't really into any form of rock at that time. I dug their politics, though. And nearly saw them live in 2000. That was the same night I got lost in 1968. Maybe I'll tell you about that sometime.

Anyway...I picked up a Rage record on a trip to Amoeba circa 2002. Mostly 'cause I thought I was supposed to. I'm sure it stayed cased in plastic for a year or so. Then I went through a rough break-up. And every piece of music I knew well sounded like teardrops. So, I dug through my CDs looking for something that sounded like something else. Like the unfamiliar.

Back then, Rage was unfamiliar.

Within a day of listening to the self-titled debut, I purchased Evil Empire. The Battle of Los Angeles, too. And proceeded to D'Oh myself through each album. 'specially since it appeared that I would probably never see them live.

Imagine, if you will, how I felt this past Labor Day when I discovered that Rage would be performing near the same place I'd be at close to the same time I'd be there.

Me in San Francisco and LA from Oct. 14 through Oct. 28.

Rage in Las Vegas on Oct. 28.

Say it with me: "No-brainer."

I bought my Rage concert ticket before I ever bought a plane ticket. Or rented a car. I did eventually book reservations for both, though.

So, on the morning of the 28th, I picked up a different cherry red 2008 Grand Prix (What'rtheodds?) at LAX and zoomed up the 15 toward the Vegoose Music Fest. I made good time to Sin City and had enough time to inhale one last double-double from In'N'Out before I needed to find my way to the concert. What I didn't have was a room for the night or any idea where Sam Boyd Stadium was.

Vegas is the opposite of cheap. The wrong place for a broke artist to be trying to find a place to rest his head. I asked the folks at an Embassy Suite located way off the Strip what it'd cost for a night. It cost more than FREE, so I opted against booking a room thinking maybe I'd locate an available couch from an about-to-be-new-concert-friend. I did ask to use the hotel's free internet and figured out how to catch the Vegoose shuttle.

The hungover buffet of humanity assembled outside of the make-shift bus stop at the Tropicana looked just like you'd think it would. A couple painted to look like Papa Smurf and Smurfette. Four widow-peaked 35-ish guys wearing Battle of Mexico City shirts. A gaggle of backpack-wearing kids dressed in black. Three stringy-haired girls wearing mini-skirts and Uggs. In short, a little bit of everything.

On board the bus, you could hear conversations about the first day of Vegoose. Daft Punk. Iggy Pop. Public Enemy. M.I.A. Queens of the Stone Age. Enough to make me really regret not buying the full concert package and cutting my LA stay short.

You could also hear people trading war stories from Rage shows past. Somehow, I was not the only virgin on the bus. And, somehow, the other virgin was seated right next to me.

This dude from Canada. Don't recall his name. But I remember him saying that he tagged along to Vegas with his girlfriend and brother who were attending a conference. That Rage was his favorite band of ever. And that he was 10 kinds of ready to pop his concert cherry.

After he told me he was a serious whisky drinker, I figured I'd found a good ally. The bus rumbled to a stop, opened its doors in front of the stadium and we all poured out into the still falling darkness. Half of that day's show was already over, but we could still see Moe, Muse and this little band from Los Angeles.

The Canadian and I went straight to the bar. I hadn't had a good night's sleep in at least 3 weeks, so I ordered double shots of Patron and some vodkaredbulls. The Canadian joined me for a couple rounds. We wandered the festival grounds a bit. I bookmarked both Moe and Muse as bands I should get better acquainted with. And, about half an hour before Rage was scheduled to go on, we posted up near the edge of the pit.

You realize, nearly as soon as you arrive, that a Rage show will be the definition of a tribal experience. It unfolds in three phases:

1) Communion
2) Competition
3) Re-Communion

During the first phase, everyone trades stories about the experiences they've had at other Rage shows. Some are educational. Some are funny. All are violent. The veterans eye the first-timers like a mother lioness not sure whether she should suckle or suck the meat from the bones of her young cubs. By the advice they share, most clearly choose the former. When the second phase kicks in, it seems as if all of them want to act on the latter.

"Good evening, we are Rage Against the Machine from Los Angeles, California."

With those words, the crowd compresses itself and surges toward the stage as if being commanded by some high holy man. And, really, we were. I started the show 120ish feet from the stage. 90 seconds after that opening statement, after I had been slammed into the mass of bodies, I landed about 20 feet from the stage. I could hear the opening chords of Testify and, like the somethingthousand people squished against me, I began to jump, flail, yell and sweat.

I don't remember what song Rage played next. Or next next. Or next next next. I do remember thinking that I probably shouldn't be jumping around for two hours 'cause the odds of my twisting an ankle or blowing a knee out would increase exponentially by the minute. So, I planted my feet, bent my knees into a sturdy crouch, extended my elbows and tried to box out 492 people at once. The Canadian was no where to be found.

Maybe it was during Bulls on Parade. Or Freedom. Possibly during Sleep Now in the Fire. At some point, I stepped on a cell phone, swiped a paw at the ground to scoop it up and slid it into my pocket. While making that motion, I also noticed these three girls behind me struggling to stay on their feet and off of a stretcher. During a break between songs, I asked if they wanted to stay or exit.


I widened my stance, extended my elbows and built a one-man wall for them. Periodically, I'd feel a familiar hand, cheek, breast, knee or elbow being pressed into me. Mostly, they hung onto my shoulders and arms and avoided harm--as much as it could be avoided under those circumstances--for an hour or so while drunken bodies surfed above us, possessed bodies crashed into us and Zach De La Rocha's musical manifesto exploded through the wall of speakers six arms' lengths from our outmatched little ears.

All the music, of course, was familiar. Most of the standout songs from the first three albums. One, maybe two, from Renegades. When they played War Within a Breath, I tried to keep an eye focused on the stage. Zach and Tom Morello both seemed to be consumed by the energy pouring out of the controlled riot over which they proudly presided. I'd noticed that same thing at other points during the show. During that song, though, I had to wonder how much the band chemistry had deteriorated at the turn of the century for them to "No mas" their otherwise ideal sonic union and give up that high.

Maybe I didn't understand the bigger picture. I mean, what else can you say after you've synthesized 400 years of world history into a 3-minute mission statement for a new people's movement? I always thought that song was the perfect way for a band to conclude its original catalogue. At that moment, I thought perhaps I was wrong. After the show, I understood why I had been right all along.

Rage exited the stage for the first time. Without performing Killing in the Name. Most in the crowd recognized this cue to demand an encore. Hoarse voices suddenly hit the red again, barking "Rage! Rage! Rage! Rage! Rage!" After minutes, the band obliged.

The encore gave all of us who had chosen to remain in the pit another 15 minutes to beat the crap out of each other. And, then, came the signature call of a generation:


Without a hint of irony, the sentence that closed the show sounded just as sacred as the one that opened it. That, dear reader, is a revelation.

The four members of the band clasped hands and took a bow before exiting stage left. The somethingthousand people around me pounded palms, whistled and screeched their gratitude for another Rage experience.

As the applause died down, other voices piped up. "Did anyone find a red Moto-RAZR?" "Hey, I found a shoe." "Brian Dupre, meet me at the beer tent." Other hands shot up with wallets, phones, car keys and other things that are supposed to live in a person's pocket. I whipped out the phone I had found and handed it to its surprised, and thankful, owner.

Even the girls I guarded for most of the show re-appeared to give me a sweaty hug. The happy ending to this story should have featured me sandwiched between the two cute ones in a room at the Luxor. Alas, they were roadtripping back to LA (Naturally) as soon as they retrieved their car from the parking lot.

An appropriately disappointed me then joined the rest of the tribe that had warred against itself for an hour and a half as it slowly began to re-commune. We asked if the passed out girl we raised over our heads and floated to security was okay. We apologized for the accidental elbow that caused a stranger's nose to bleed a bit. We shared what little water we had left in our bottles. We bought t-shirts to declare that we had survived each other.

Then we all shot out into the night in our own different directions.

I found my way to the Strip and located some free internet so I could write the weekly e-newsletter my dayjob expects me to produce each Monday morning. After I hit the send button a few hours later, I was still pretty wired so I bought myself a drink and took a walk up Las Vegas Blvd.

Adrenaline pulsed through me like I remained trapped in the pit at Sam Boyd Stadium. Song lyrics continued to pound against my ear drums. Rage had left the stage a quarter of a day earlier, but I was, somehow, still at the show.

I stopped for another glass of Brazilian rum. The kind infused with a neutral clarity. And I started thinking.

The actual act of raging against a machine is a passionate one. Passion, by its nature, is fleeting. While Zach De La Rocha may have a brilliant command of how to state a problem and convey his own proposal for a solution, the passion his band's music inspires needs only a slogan to feed it.

As that passion wanes, desire invariably takes over. And the generation(s) to whom Rage speaks is/are no different than their mothers and fathers. Each cohort can be seduced by the idea of changing the world, but ultimately is satisfied with simply getting themselves off and going to sleep. We rage together, swell with energy and release it, screaming, "FUCK YOU! I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!" as if that's the goal. That rebellious ejaculation from the comfortable and the bored who are easily possessed by a sexy righteousness, yet never separated from the urge to sate their own palettes.

I suppose that's part of why Rage broke up years ago. And I s'pose the intoxicating energy their music produces is part of why they've booked a few new gigs this year. Why they'll book another handful here. Or there. In the years to come.

But really, what else is there for them to say?

Zach gave all of us the outline for updating the Port Huron Statement and tried to inspire us to channel the wisdom of history's greatest recalcitrants to take the world and order it as it could be. Yet, we never got past our favorite line from our first favorite Rage song:


That anarchic "you" simply doesn't lend itself to any further guidance from anyone. It just frees us to pursue our own whims. And our whims are simple. They trace the same paths as those who came before us. And those who will follow us. They take on different forms as the seasons evolve and our resources change. But they're generally timeless.

We hunt. We gather. We provide. We protect. And, then, when all of those things are settled, we pursue pleasure. With as much vigor as our circumstances will afford us.

Which explains why this middle class son of America's Golden age crawled along the Las Vegas Strip hours after Rage destroyed Sam Boyd Stadium that night. Drinking Brazilian rum. Until the sun reappeared. Signaling the opening of Del Taco. Where the breakfast burritos taste a special kind of delicious. And the only thing to rage about is the occasional absence of bar-b-que sauce.

Or, maybe, why the next Rage show isn't scheduled for tomorrow night.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

West Up: Act II: Highway 1

I lived in LA for five years. While I did, I traveled frequently to the Bay. Sometimes by plane. Sometimes by car. When by car, I always took the 5. Up. Then down. It's an efficient drive. Boring for the three hours that separate Bakersfield from the Pleasanton area. Generally unremarkable. Nothing, I suspected, like cruising along California's Highway 1. can guess where this story is going.

When I found out that my office would be closed for a couple days following the conclusion of the conference our whole staff was working in San Francisco during the third week of October, I immediately made plans to kick it in LA for the last week of the tenth month.

Since I didn't have any particular agenda or schedule, I figured I'd do what I never did while I had an 818 number for my landline: drive the coast.

Saturday, Oct. 20 was the glorious end of my conference. I celebrated pretty late that night. I remember some Jack Daniels Manhattans. A really pretty Thai girl. A bus where skinny people skated through the aisles handing out cans of Tecate. A statuesque Swedish chick. A handful of drink tickets that I showered on friends and strangers alike. Somewhere in there, I think I ate a whole pizza. Maybe.

Consequently, I was in fantastic shape the next morning when I showed up at the rental spot to scoop my cherry red '08 Grand Prix.

After I said peace to the homie Dom and the lady Mariam following a healthy breakfast surrounded by upright and fully clothed people, I jumped on the freeway and skated toward Highway 1. No traffic on a Sunday afternoon. Clear blue skies around me. Herbie Hancock in the CD player. And a rather mild headache to keep my company. I hit the 1 just shy of 4 pm.

Turns out that was less than a good look.

Highway 1 is not the 5. At all. It curves around on itself as if it wants to swallow its own tail. There are perilously low-lying stretches. And climbs along cliffs that don't know when to peak. Some places measure out at just barely two car widths. And it takes forever to drive it. Especially when you're hung over and extra-sleepy.

It also has some of the most spectacular scenery you'll ever see in your rear view mirror.

There's a place in Carmel where, if the sun hits it just right, the ocean reads denim. Like it's a big pile of blue jeans waiting to be folded. I've never seen anything like it.

I am not entirely sure how I survived the first six hours of the drive. I do know that Marlena Shaw will never sound so sweet again. And I know that I owe the homie Mike at least three beers for driving the last leg of the trip while I was knocked out in the passenger seat.

Mike and I had made arrangements earlier in the week for me to scoop him up near Cambria. Which is about four hours north of LA. And very close to the Hearst Castle.

He gave me directions which seemed easy enough to follow. In the sleepy darkness, though, I ended up getting lost. Fortunately, there was Highway 1, two different roads trailing off the 1 and the Pacific Ocean. Since I sorta knew better than to drive into the sea, I got unlost pretty quickly.

Just as soon as I did, I heard this strange pop while trying to turn onto the correct road. Stopped the car. Jumped out. A hissing sound from the right front of the car cracked the silence.

No sooner did "Sonofabitch" come off my lips than a random truck wearing a surfboard screeched up beside me.

"Are you a friend of Mike's?"

"Yeah. You got a flat?"

Shook my head yes. Watched the goateed stranger grab a flat tire repair kit from his car and go to work. Phone rang.

"Mike? What's up man? I got a flat, but your dude is johnnyonthespot gettin' it fixed."

"My dude?"


"Uh, my friend Phil is supposed to be in LA right now."


"Let me call you back, Mike."

I asked the Samaritan surfer which Mike he knew. Turns out there are several people on earth who share that name. Thankfully, he had already fixed the tire on my rental when we figured out that we shared nothing in common but serendipity and facial hair.

I shook his hand firmly. Asked if I could make some gesture of gratitude. He smiled. Pointed me in the direction that I needed to travel. Climbed back into his truck. And disappeared.

I shook my head in disbelief and wondered if this little sidebar could get any stranger.

Mike was staying at a ranch house tucked behind an avocado grove on his friend's 400-acres of farm land. The one road that wound through it looked like someone was still trying to learn cursive. It was dark. Country dark. Where the only lights to guide me were the stars in the sky and my own headlights.

As I crawled along, I noticed some creatures standing in the road ahead of me. I slowed. Squinted my eyes. Double-taked at what appeared to be four striped, little horses. I stopped inches away from them. Headlights yelling on my behalf.

Those aren't striped, little horses. Those are f--kin' zebras!

Zebras, dude. Seriously.

It wasn't the hungover. It wasn't the fatigue. It wasn't any part of my mind playing tricks on me. There were f--kin' zebras in the middle of the road. In California.

I got out the car. They trotted away. Phone rang again.

"Mike, where in the hell are you staying, man?"

He laughed a big, knowing laugh.

30 minutes later, he was behind the wheel of the rental explaining that the there used to be a zoo on the Hearst Estate and that they had set a lot of the animals free some time ago to roam the ample farmland neighboring it.

I shook my head again in disbelief.

"Dude, zebras?"

"Yep. Zebras."

Monday, November 12, 2007

West Up: Act I: The Castro

After I landed at SFO nearly a month ago to start a two-week working trip on the West Coast, the homie Dom scooped me up and took me to a dope Indian restaurant in the East Bay. A rare unbooked afternoon for both of us meant that we could do one of several things:

a) dig for records
b) watch some college football
c) have an adventure
d) all of the above

I always vote for "have an adventure," so that's pretty much what happened.

A pretty little Asian birdie told me about href="">this chess tournament. With the Wu Tang Clan as the top seeds in the competition, it made for a gen-yoo-wine curiosity. Which, of course was something Dom and I had to check out. The tournament was actually organized and hosted by Joel Waitzkin. OKA the kid from Searching for Bobby Fischer. Apparently, that dude had befriended the RZA, tutored him in the ways of the chess master and asked the beatmaker to do him a solid and headline this touring chess tourney. Which was actually a slick promotional crusade to sell this self-help book.

Dom figured all of that out shortly after I watched RZA withstand a vicious series of attacks--both knights to get RZA's queen, then both bishops, then both rooks before such an offense left a gaping hole RZA checkmated his opponent through--from one of those obnoxiously anonymous fourth generation members of the Wu. Youknow. The ones who no one knows who they are, don't actually have any records to their names, but still claim the Clan like it's a government check.

Anyway, that should have been the surreal start to the West Coast trip. But it wasn't. Not even close.

It was all merely a prelude to Sunday. So, let's talk about Sunday.

Dom and I started the day at the Gold's Gym nestled on the shores of Lake Merritt. Chest and back. Some ab work, too. About an hour afterwards, he said he hated me. And repeated that mantra for the next four days. But I digress.

We drove into the City, scooped up my dude Joe and headed for the Haight for an afternoon of records, t-shirts and bar-b-que. Well after the moon digested the sun, we found ourselves in the basement of a record store in North Beach when the homie Nick bounded down the stairs.

I've always known Nick to be a rather outsize personality. And I stopped being surprised by him years ago. 'Round about the time that I figured out it was best to limit questions, follow him and see what happens. For better or worse.

Nick works for the Drake. So he took us to his hotel for some drinks. He introduced us to Pazzo. Possibly the best red bottled in Northern California. In 2003. And 2004, too. Then he made sure our foursome put the "d," the "r," the "u," and the "n" in "drunk." Then he lead us to Club Six where the Beat Junkies were celebrating DJ ShortuKut's birthday. If you're not sure what that means, let me translate: five of the dopest DJs in the world went to the same club on the same night in the same city to take turns spinning the best selection of party music anyone could ask for. That should mean the club was packed and all sorts of good-natured debauchery ensued.

I wish I could tell you that's what this story was about. Of course, it is not.

The club was quite sausage-like. 70-30. Dudes-Chicks. At best. Never a good look. Thankfully, they have this drink called the San Francsico Tea. A concoction rated above the Long Island Ice Tea and even the Tokyo Tea in its effyouupability. After a couple of rounds of the City's finest beverage, the four of us added a "k" and several other mismatched letters to the "drunk" we began earlier in the evening.

After last call, Nick said we had to try this breakfast spot in the Castro. 3 am equals breakfast time. So that made perfect sense. And the food beared that out. A turkey bacon, spinach and swiss omelette tastes good under any circumstances. Especially delicious when you're buzzed and starting an adventure.

Just before the -itis could fully kick in, we paid our check and headed for the door. I recalled that the place happened to be named The Squat and Gobble. Clever. Seasonally appropriate. And terribly, terribly prescient.

Yousee, when we walked through the door of the breakfast spot, we found ourselves on 16th. A major surface street in San Francisco. Much closer to dawn than midnight. Very little car traffic. Virtually no people traffic. Less than 50 feet from our parked car.

I looked to my right. Oh so casually. To see a dude. Seated on the ground. His back against the wall of a building that kept normal business hours. Another dude stood over him. Pants around his ankles. Ass to the wind. Head tilted back. Moaning like he worked for Vivid Video. Enjoying some fine sidewalk dome.


I think each of my foursome took turns exclaiming the obvious. Sounding notes of disbelief, outrage and desperation. We didn't trust our eyes at first. Then we didn't believe the brazenness of the fellater and the fellatee. Hell, they were no more than 25 feet from a discreet alley. And then we all wanted to acidwash our memories to unsee that whole scene. Alas, there was not a Haitian among us.

So we did the only thing that was left to do: laugh boisterously, speed off to our homes and pass out.

We laughed some more the next day. And the day after that. Shared the story with a couple people. And pledged never to speak of it again.

Obviously, I knew this this trip was going to be a memorable one. For some much better reasons than the inspiration for this entry. I hoped.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

West Up: The Prologue

There's a big gap between here and here when I wasn't paying any attention to this thing. With good reason.

I spent the second half of October bouncing around the West Coast (the Bay, LA and Vegas). Primarily 'cause my dayjob required that I work this little design conference.

Well, actually, it was anything but little. 2,000+ industrial designers from all over the world. Running up and down Nob Hill. Exploring every nook and cranny of San Francisco.

As a staff member, I was one of the lucky few who got to work the show. Five straight days of 6am to 2am. Work hard. Play harder. Survive hardest. Do it all over again the next day.

That was the first week. Second week involved chilling at the beach in LA. Before the trip ended in Sin City.

There are dozens of little stories that comprise the full tale of my trip. But there are three entertaining poles that prop up the tent of my West Coast sojourn.

Those are forthcoming. C...A...

Monday, November 05, 2007

If I Was Justin Timberlake... next album would consist of 14 duets and it'd be called:

Dreams of Effin' an R&B Chick

It'd include one song each with:

Faith Evans
Alicia Keys
Keri Hilson
Maria Carey
Chante Moore
Anita Baker

I'd gather all those women for a 3-night run at the Apollo. I'd have my people put together a documentary about the making of the record and the concert itself. I'd release the whole package at the very end of March.

And I'd make at least 40 kadrillion dollars from all of it.

I mean, isn't that really what the Until the End of Time remix is a teaser for?