Through Vegas and Home Again

I got home the other day…. kind of.

Blasted out of Long Beach at an early two pm and headed east. It took until the last couple days of the trip to realize that I could set the tripod up on the front passenger seat and get footage of the highway and scenery. Some neat footage was captured but I missed L.A. with its interwoven multiple clover leafs and double and triple layer highway systems. We’ll see how it all turns out in the final edit.

I pulled into Las Vegas and parked a block from the all naked cabaret club called Pussycat’s and checked on the open mic that was to happen at The Bikini Bar. “Yes,” the bikini clad bartender told me, “there is an open mic tonight. You gonna hang out or come back?” I decided to come back.

In the city of sin, sinning is still encouraged. For the ten people in the bar I am pretty sure there were twelve cigarettes burning. Smoking is still permitted indoors and it felt as if everyone there was aware that a large percentage of the country doesn’t allow that anymore. “Smokin'” Joe set up the mics and cables, stools and ashtray table on the stage and played a couple tunes. Then it was my turn. I figured since this was the last one I would go all out and sang four songs! I hit them with my new intro, “I’m a farmer from western Colorado and I’ve got some a cappella farmer music for you” then “we’ve WON!”, I followed that with “Ask Them to Leave” and went straight into “Grey Haze” just as the smoke machine punched out a huge billow over the flashing lights behind me. I left them with “Stand”, sat back down and listened to Wayne sing a couple Neil Young songs before I headed out the door and continued north and east.

Looking at the map I missed the fact that I would cut the corner off Arizona on my way to Utah. It’s amazing how much extra work thirty miles is when you were expecting to stop. I safely pulled into a rest area so full of trucks that I had to reverse back through the parking lot to take one of the only accessible car parking slips before snuggling into the cramped sleeping quarters of the back of the car.

The next morning I made some homemade instant refried beans and rice to go in a tortilla with cheese and California (also bought in California) greens. It was not long after the intersection with I-70 that I picked up K hitchhiking with his dog Karma and we drove together all the way home. They stayed the night in the cold room, then, first thing my first morning home we all packed into the car and headed to Montrose to rally in front of the BLM office to ask them not to lease away clean air and water to the natural gas companies. K continued hitching south and we were off to soak in the natural hot springs of Ouray for the night… now here I am, finally home. Tomorrow, back to work at the restaurant.

L.A.

L.A. What a town. Massive, sprawling, littered with highways and roads. Sister S and I took a walk on the Long Beach sand. I could feel the chaos of the battle through traffic sinking into the moist grains under my bare feet. I had decided earlier that taking the day off would be a good idea. So we relaxed and ate and drank and walked and laughed.

Sunday afternoon in Bixby Park, Long Beach was a fun time. The air was soft, the lawn offering a diversity in flora to give the sensation that it might not be sprayed with herbicides. I shared the grassy knoll of a stage with a duet of singing guitar players who were prepared to play for an hour or more so I went first. I offered the songs “Purge”, “Grey Haze” and “we’ve WON!” while S ran the camera. After a quick snack back at the apartment we headed north to West Hollywood to Canter’s Kibbitz room. The place where most of the songs from Appetite for Destruction, the first album released by Guns ‘n Roses, were performed. It was a two song venue (unless you were local, then all your friends would encourage you to play more and you could) so I shared “Purge” and “we’ve WON!” and felt good about it. People listened and one man told me he liked my music. Another couple stood to leave during my performance, but the lady stopped the man in the doorway and listened to me finishing the last song. I took that as a compliment.

On Monday we braved the highways and headed north again to Santa Monica to knock on the door of Serjical Strike Studios. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a door. I called the phone numbers that the internet had given me for the manager George Tonikian, one was disconnected and the other wasn’t accepting calls at that time. We enjoyed a nice walk on the beach, a meal in a Caribbean style restaurant and did a little thrift shopping. Seeing how hard it is to get around and since there weren’t any open mics in Long Beach on Monday, I took the night off again.

Now it is time to hug my sweet sister and head out to Las Vegas. I think I may sing at the Bikini Bar tonight and be home mid afternoon tomorrow.

South of the Bay Area

A quick packing and out the door.  Thank you so much sister L for letting me crash your pad!

Down to Modesto. A sweet church campus is the home of the Occupy Modesto movement. I relaxed in the fresh air under a tree and read more pages in “Navigating the Collapse of Time”. As the temperature started to drop I moved back into the car and sat in silence with my eyes closed. I took a moment to envision an attentive audience. Listening, appreciating, enjoying. People started showing up and we went into the fellowship hall.

The Modesto Occupy meeting of ten to fifteen people I had the privilege of performing for had an average age eligible to collect social security. They were there on purpose. This wasn’t a fad or a passing “thing to do”. These people understood what was going on and were actively making a change to help their children and grand children and the rest of humanity. The action that was in discussion was raising awareness at what they called the “vulture auctions”. They were acquiring a story of a specific house and the family who lived in it. They were taking the story of this family and their hardship to the foreclosure auction and sharing to the people bidding on the house the personal details of this home, making it more than just an investment. More than just a good deal on another property.

I introduced myself as a farmer and talked about seeds, seed saving and how in the UK selling seed without proper, expensive documentation for each seed variety is illegal. Then sang to them “Purge”. Then “Grey Haze” followed by the story of natural gas development and our home. “Ask Them to Leave” and some facts about cosmetics, body care, food, electricity, farming and natural gas. As a finale I shared “we’ve WON!”. When I finished, they honored me by standing in their applause, then passed the metaphorical hat raising enough cash to nearly fill the fuel tank in the car. I accepted the offered pieces of carrot cake, thanked them again and made to two hour bee line to Los Gatos.

As I came over the ridge and saw the lights sprawling out around me I had a momentary flash of “this is what Silicone Valley looks like.” It was Silicone Valley. I arrived at the yoga studio in Los Gatos moments before the scheduled start of the Conscious Community Club Open Mic. Once again I took a moment to close my eyes and envision acceptance, appreciation and respect. What a group! From pre-teen Calvin’s vocal performance to Kevin’s sharing of Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train and impromptu rhyming to many other amazing performances, this open mic ties as best open mic so far with the Mission and 16th venue in San Francisco. I told them a little of my story, of my travels, the farm, natural gas production then sang “Ask Them to Leave”. In an effort to keep the evening from going into the morning we all kept it to two songs, so I then shared “we’ve WON!” The music I had to share was well received. There was a crystal bowl closing ceremony followed by a round of requesting anything that might be needed to receive or get rid of. During this work was asked for, apartments requested, tires for a friend, and I asked for help getting in touch with my L.A. contact. It was recommended that the angels be asked directly. The angels want to do things for us, they just need to be asked.

I helped clean up for a few moments then folded myself back into the driver seat to make some time towards the big town. I started the car at 12:34 am and put in at least an hour before finding a truck stop to spend a few hours resting in.

The next morning saw me flying down the highway. Through the desert agriculture and up over the dry mountain range. As I was rising the sign warned to turn off the AC to keep engine from overheating and as I neared the top of the pass I saw a strange dust cloud. Or was it industry? Is that smoke? Had I known, I would have turned off the directions on the phone and been ready to take a picture. I came around a corner, and there, on the shoulder was a car fully engulfed in flames. A fire department Suburban was parked with it’s lights on a hundred yards before it, watching it burn. As I passed at sixty-five miles per hour with two empty lanes between us and the window up I could feel the heat on my face. A half hour later traffic began to slow. We were almost off the mountain and into more level ground. Was it six, seven lanes one way? There, in the center lane, a car with it’s flashers on. In the front seat, two people, faces contorted in anger, yelling at each other as one hundred cars per minute inched around them and went on their way.

Please Jetta, thank you for staying in good health. Hello L.A.

San Francisco Part 2

Thursday morning I went to meet friend SM for coffee in Oakland proper. What a nice visit! But….. as I was still a couple blocks away from the coffee house I stopped at an intersection and watched in slow motion as a drunken biker (9 am mind you) swerved down the side walk and casually broad sided the passenger side of the car. She put her face close to the window and slurred in a high pitched, raspy voice, “What up, cowboy!” then off she veered down the road. The scratches were minor, thankfully she didn’t come through the window.

So I went back to the city. I got a call from someone I met at the General Assembly of Occupy SF saying that he would like to hear more songs and stories and that I should come back to the meeting on Thursday and share. So I did. Before I sang my song I listened to Beth recount to the digital recorder her experience being arrested in Oakland. I heard her tell of being held over thirty six hours without being charged or booked. I heard her tell of the seventeen year old high school girl suffering the same fate in the cell next to hers. Of the mid seventies lady also held and denied access to her medications. I heard her talk about how, with the new rules that were passed in the Defense Appropriations Bill at the end of ’11, it was easy to see how they could have just disappeared off to Guantanamo and not be heard from again for a really long time. She was shaken by the experience.

I sang “we’ve WON!” then went for a walk back to where I had parked the car. I could feel the strain on my voice to sing at full volume over the traffic and conversations. The most relaxing time in the city for me was sitting in my car reading “Navigating the Collapse of Time” by David Ian Cowan. After a nice break with snacking and beverages I saddled up the old smart phone and headed off the the corner of 16th and Mission to the BART station for the second show of the evening.

Not long after arriving a man started a chalk maMandallandala on the concrete to act as the stage for the evenings poetry slam. This was by far the coolest open mic that I have been to yet. There were probably fifty people there listening and performing and enjoying the cool evening. I sang “Purge” and could feel it in my throat. Once again the loud atmosphere of being in the open air and the traffic made me push harder than I should have. That song went well and was well received. Later when I got back up to sing “Stand” I could tell at the first note that I needed to take it easy. Instead of singing both halves I focused on combining the two and being as genPerformingtle on my voice as possible while still having enough volume to be heard. What a neat place to listen and perform. There were poems about personal, about America, about the fallacy of the war on drugs about life. Thank you 16th and Mission for letting me join you for the evening!!

Vallejo

The morning and early afternoon on Tuesday were spent in an exhausting search of the internet for contacts, open mics and locations. After nearly five hours I prepared to collapse into a fitful nap for an hour or so. As I turned off the computer the screen saver came on. A rectangle with the words “No Signal” that bounced around the screen in a rhythmic fashion. As the bouncing started a car with it’s bass booming pulled up on the street in front of the house and idled there for nearly a minute. I watched fascinated as the bass and the bouncing rectangle keep perfect beat until the car drove away.

After resting and eating the second to last piece of lasagne I climbed in the car and even at seven in the evening was able to enjoy a bit of twenty mile per hour stop and go on the interstate for ten or more miles. Do people really do this every day?

In an effort to save my voice I decided that I should listen to music instead of practicing. All of the cd’s were carefully selected to fill a book before I left so my method of music choosing is to reach in and blindly (with out looking) pull a cd from the case and install it in the player. It took many attempts to find one that would play. I think that our cd player in the car is starting to tell us what music it wants to listen to. Finally, “Steal This Album” by System of a Down played. Good choice, I said to the player. I took the exit for Vallejo, the town where Tuesday night’s open mic was held, and as I pulled up to the intersection the traffic lights were flashing in a strange fashion, as if they didn’t have long to function properly. Then I noticed the light that was flashing slowly was matching the bass drum of the song and the light that was stuttering at high speed matched the guitar lick. Cool! Kind of like multiples of 11, a sign that things are going the way they are supposed to.

The other day I commented to my sweet wife that it was fun singing at these shows but I was focusing on my hardest hitting songs for each one, that meant a lot of repeats. I told her it would be nice to sing a longer set and share some of the other pieces. Tonight would be just that night. The MC and I waited a full half hour past start time to begin. We alternated sets for the three people at the bar in the other room. I got my request. Maybe I should be a little more clear in what it is that I want next time.

Set list: Grey Haze, we’ve WON!, Day of the Warrior, Ask Them to Leave, Purge, Stand

San Fran

One way to look at entering a city like San Francisco is that there is an entrance fee. I have always joked that when you go to Aspen there is a toll booth where they check your credit limit to see if you can enter the town. In SF it wasn’t as much of a joke. You pay to come over the bridge and then of course to park. Between sixteen and eighteen dollars just to get the car in. It is free to leave the city. I would have taken the train but it stops running at midnight and that would have left me stranded according to my experience at other performances.

So I found the open mic venue, Martinu’s, then began the two and a half mile walk to the Occupy general assembly. It felt good to finally get some real exercise again after so many days of sitting. It is really shocking to this farm kid to experience the city. It is so loud, so hurried, so crowded and, it seemed, it would be really easy to be lonely.

The group assembled in front of the Federal Reserve building. A police barricade was in place to keep anyone from coming closer than the sidewalk. Two officers lounged under an outdoor propane heater smoking cigarettes and playing with their phones. The meeting lasted nearly three hours. There was talk of the action they organized on January 20 where many people got arrested. Someone said that City Hall’s doors had been left unlocked under the hopes that something would go wrong. They said that while the Occupy people were being arrested for their protest some “punks that showed up” started breaking things, thus giving them a bad rap.

The primary focus for the evening was a round robin of all attendees stating the two most pressing issues they thought Occupy SF should be working on. Ending capitalism, education, inclusion to name a few. There was a proposal submitted to request that OSF recognize the general strike that is to occur on May Day. Some arguing about something that seemed personal. Then the meeting was over. I requested that I share a song before every one disbanded.

I said, “In my opinion there is something tangible that people can do to end capitalism, restore the power to the people and bring hope. It is a slow action. Find a piece of dirt. Plant a seed. Water it. Then save the seeds that grow there.” Then I sang “Purge”. I offered free house concerts and to show the movie “Thrive”, gave out a couple business cards and went on my way.

By now the open mic sign up was fifteen minutes under way and I had well over a half hour jog/walk ahead of me. I rushed in, found a seat and started realizing this wasn’t going to be my best venue. Open mic in a piano bar means that you need to look through the book, find your favorite show tune, jazz standard or 80’s pop hit, then belt it out while all your friends golf clap. They let me get up for one song. I shared “Definition”, then listened to Little Mermaid and Paula Abdul covers for the next forty-five minutes until I decided they weren’t going to let me back on.

Snack in the car and back to sister L’s. Thank you smart phone, this would have been impossible without you!