Sunday, April 30, 2006

I think I know this girl

Was it the amaretto and coke?
Was it the poor lighting in the Latin American Club bar?
I was standing tonight at the aforementioned Latin American Club at 3286 22nd St. in San Francisco's Mission District with my sister Inger and friends Mark and Laura and I thought I recognized a girl hanging out with her friends in the bar.
How could that be possible? I have never lived in San Francisco, only in the Bay Area suburbs.
There's no way I could know...
Emboldened by the amaretto and coke (probably), I excused myself from my sister and friends and walked over to the girl.
I had to know for sure.
"Are you Ann Friedman?"
Sure enough.
There are thousands of bars in San Francisco and 744,230 residents and I was in a bar with a Dubuque native who had served as a reporter intern at the Telegraph Herald, my newspaper employer.
It turns out Ann is working as an intern at Mother Jones magazine and was hanging out with some friends at the Latin American Club, an atmospheric bar with an eclectic (eccentric?) decor that ranges from large painted portraits of chihuahuas and a large-headed baby doll with its pants fallen down around its ankles.
Ann and I were both shocked to find each other at the same bar.
There is an old saying, however, that San Francisco is really just a small town.
After tonight, I think the saying might be right.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Greetings from San Francisco

I am still stuffed.
I arrived in San Francisco yesterday via cramped and crowded United Flight 149 from Chicago.
Not long after depositing my things in my sister Inger's apartment, we walked a couple blocks into her outer Richmond neighborhood to kick off my latest San Francisco adventure.
We arrived at India Clay Oven, 2436 Clement St. I was starving after the journey west.
At India Clay Oven, I ate:
Aloo Tikki -- mashed potato patties served with mango chutney.
Nan -- the fresh-from-the-oven, soft leavened bread that is a staple of Indian cuisine.
Lamb Saag -- Lamb with a spicy, creamed spinach sauce. (Also served with rice with peas.)
King Fisher -- The Indian beer, served on tap.
It was delicious. It's about 7 in the morning the next day and I am still stuffed.
We have more adventures on tap for today. I hope to find the Bay Area Funk 2 CD from Luv 'N Haight records.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Heading out today

It's hard to believe I will be in the Bay Area later today.
My birthday is coming up, and my sister got me tickets to fly out and visit her in San Francisco.
My excitement has been building slowly. I had plenty to accomplish at work before I could leave, so any excitement in recent days was tempered by workload.
Now that my stories are filed (and in two cases, published in today's newspaper), I can feel free to unleash my excitement about returning -- albeit temporarily -- to my Bay Area roots.
I celebrated a bit yesterday by listening to Darondo's "Let My People Go" album.
In case you haven't heard, the fine folks at Luv 'N Haight records helped funksters rediscover the smooth soul sounds of Darondo, an East Bay legend who had not been heard from in 30 years.
His music makes the perfect accompaniment for brilliant blue skies and warm temperatures.
I am not sure how active I can keep Route 1 when I am gone. My sister and I will be in search of the perfect San Francisco burrito, a Japanese baseball cap and other necessary items.
I am sure I will have updates a-plenty when I return!

Monday, April 24, 2006

I'm a lonely frog

I'm sitting here sipping red wine after a long day at work and an hour of playing catch with the girls.
I love old R&B music. I just heard Clarence "Frogman" Henry's 1956 classic "Ain't Got No Home," in which he shows off his unbelievable vocal range -- from highest falsetto to deepest frog facsimile. Wonderful stuff.
Now I am listening to The Treniers' fabulous ode to the greatest baseball player ever -- "Say Hey (the Willie Mays song)." It debuted in 1954, four years before the Giants would leave New York for San Francisco.
What a great way to relax!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Life and death and life again

I woke up early this morning to watch Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Monogatari (Tokyo Story)."
Considered among the greatest films in history, this 1953 classic tells the simple story of an elderly couple's trip from Onomichi, Japan to visit their adult children in Tokyo. The children are too busy to properly attend to their parents, who then decide to cut short their visit. The elderly mother takes ill en route back to Onomichi.
The children return to Onomichi for their mother's funeral, at which point the film becomes the most accurate portrayal of grief and family dynamics during mourning that I have ever seen.
It is a powerful film.
I was reminded of its themes later today, as we reviewed the contents of totes we had been storing in our basement. Several items belonged or came from my late father. Although they painfully reminded me of the void produced by his absence, these items also recalled the wonderful life I shared with him.
In one of those rare cases, film and life seemed eerily suited to each other today.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Tigers, Hawks and Hirose

Ah. Baseball. Hot dogs. Cold beer. Battered octopus dumplings. Battered octopus dumplings?!
I have been reading Sayonara Home Run, an illustrated history of Japanese baseball cards, and stoking my current Japanphile obsession by immersing myself in baseball history from the Land of the Rising Sun.
I have been a baseball fan since toddler days, but only had a vague idea of Japanese baseball.
I knew they had a team called the Giants -- just like my favorite team.
I knew they called their championship the Japan Series.

I knew Sadaharu Oh hit a lot of home runs.
I knew teams could play to extra-inning ties.

That is about all I knew until college, when I read Robert Whiting's excellent "You Gotta Have Wa."
Now, I am learning even more about Japanese baseball:
* The V-9 years when the Giants won nine consecutive titles.

* The three-year dominance of Kazuhisa Inao, star pitcher for the Nishitetsu Lions (1956-58).

* The epic clash of the Osaka titans in 1964.

The latter interests me most.
On the eve of the Giants' unstoppable string of wins, Osaka's Nankai Hawks edged Osaka's Hanshin Tigers, four games to three, in the Japan Series.

The Tigers were loaded, capturing the Central League crown for the second time in three years thanks to a staff ERA of 2.75.

The Hawks were even better.
Future Hall-of-Famer Yoshinori Hirose (pictured) won the batting title with a .366 average. He also belted 12 home runs (that's a good total in bunt-oriented Japanese baseball) and swiped 72 bases. I would have loved to see the 1964 Japan Series.
It must have been a real classic.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Swingin' back toward the Sixties

Route 1 travels to San Francisco next week. The trip marks the date in 1966 when we came into this world. Before the FRIDAY QUESTION takes a two-week hiatus, it poses this query: What song always makes you think of the SWINGIN' SIXTIES?
Ellen B. -- I was born in the early 70s, so I had to Google for a song and this is what I came up with... John Fred & His Playboy Band... "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)."
Brian C. -- Probably "Fun Fun Fun" by the Beach Boys.
Dave B. -- "What's New Pussycat?" by Tom Jones.
Mike D. -- Nothing says the Swinging 60s like Nancy Sinatra's fashionable "These Boots Were Made for Walking." I believe it topped the charts in 1966, the same year our blog host appeared on the scene.
Diane H. -- For some reason, "One Mint Julep" by Ray Charles seems like the epitome of a swinging 60s song to me. Is it even a 60s song? I'm not sure. But it just makes me think of cocktail lounges and drinking... well, mint juleps.
Rick T. -- I like the song "Are You Going to San Francisco?" "Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair."
Erik H. -- Sir Douglas Quintet's "She's About a Mover" has an appealing, swinging quality to it. There is an organ riff that just makes me do the swim every time I hear it. I also love how boys from Texas were trying to rock like lads from London -- with a singer trying to sound like Ray Charles! -- back in 1965.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Dazzling new favorite

I received a pair of DVDs from Amazon yesterday -- "Tokyo Nagaremono (Tokyo Drifter)" and "Koroshi No Rakuin (Branded to Kill)" -- both 1960s yakuza-eiga (gangster films) by Seijun Suzuki.
I watched "Tokyo Nagaremono" when I returned home from work last night.
What a spectacle!
Suzuki uses colors so masterfully. Protagonist Tetsu strolls through a snowy landscape in his bright, sky-blue suit... His girlfriend Chiharu sings in a nightclub completely cast in canary yellow... Villainous Otsuka wears a bright-red suit and barks murderous orders into a similarly bright-red telephone.
Then, there are the gunfights.
Staged, obviously, and stylish to the point of unreality. But who cares?
When Tetsu tosses a gun on the ground, causing his attackers to momentarily relax, only for Tetsu to leap for it and fire off three deadly rounds almost simultaneously, the viewer is too caught up in the excitement to worry about reality versus unreality.
Suzuki's film company famously fired him for making "incomprehensible" films.
In his defense, the auteur claimed he only bended the rules of the yakuza-eiga genre because he wanted to keep his audience from becoming bored.
After last night, I side with Seijun Suzuki.
Oh, and did I mention Tetsu strolls through the film singing his own theme song? That's the type of uber-cool thing I would like to do!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

April 18, 1906

The girls and I are listening to live radio coverage of the ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake on KGO-AM online.
Mayor Gavin Newsom is interviewing centenarian survivors of the great disaster, that killed more people than 9-11.
Growing up in the Bay Area, the significance of the quake took on almost mythic proportions. We learned about it every year in school. We all learned the song "San Francisco" in school. The message: The glory of San Francisco is great enough to shrug off any limitations, including a devastating earthquake. It became more of a mantra than a song, especially for a little kid.
"San Francisco, open your golden gate, you'll let nobody wait, outside your door."
I will be back there myself in nine days.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Seems so... Japanese...

In "Travelers Tales: Japan" I just read about the SSAWS (Spring Summer Autumn and Winter Snow) facility -- also known as the Ski Dome -- near Tokyo.
Although the idea of an indoor ski facility might seem OH SO JAPANESE, in reality the first such facility debuted in Adelaide, Australia in the 1980s and a quite famous indoor ski hill can be found in Dubai.
No, what struck me as OH SO JAPANESE about Ski Dome is that Japanese chose to visit in winter... when they could enjoy OUTDOOR SKIING on Japan's snow-covered slopes. Perhaps not surprisingly, more Japanese also visit the indoor beach in summer.
Sadly, Ski Dome closed in 2002 and apparently there are plans to demolish it in favor of a commercial and residential development. Whoah... That actually sounds OH SO AMERICAN.

Easter in Japan... sort of

Actually, it was Easter in Colfax, Iowa.
It only felt like Japan because I immersed myself in "Travelers Tales: Japan," a collection of essays covering all aspects of Japanese life.
My mini-obsession with Japan comes from a couple sources.
First, I have been enjoying the yakuza-eiga (gangster films) of Japanese auteur Seijun Suzuki.
Second, I am preparing for my trip to San Francisco, where the Asian influence always seems so pronounced. I plan on purchasing some Japanese toys and candy for the girls while I am in San Francisco. I also plan on purchasing a Japanese baseball hat for myself. Although a Yomiuri Giants cap seems the logical choice (I am a lifelong San Francisco Giants fan), I am actually leaning toward purchasing a Hanshin Tigers cap. I have always been intrigued by their "H" and "T" interlocking logo. The club's Japanese-language Web site is located here.
The films and the baseball combine to heighten my interest in all things Japanese. The result? I kept my nose in "Travelers Tales: Japan" often during this Easter weekend. So much so that I almost requested ramen with my ham. Almost.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Happy Good Friday!

This week's FRIDAY QUESTION celebrates Easter Weekend by asking: What is your favorite gospel or religious-themed song?
Kerstin H. -- That Christmas song I like listening to in July.
Lisa Y. -- "Your Love is Amazing." Upbeat, fun to sing.
Gary D. -- Nothing says religious-themed music more than the Rolling Stones. Two songs in particular, "Shine a Light" and "Just Want to See His Face."
Dave B. -- "Losing my Religion" by REM
Mike D. -- "O Holy Night" is one of my favorite Christmas songs. In the non-holiday genre of church music, I really like "You are Mine."
Rick T. -- "How Great Thou Art." Nothing says it like that song. Elvis does the best rendition of it.
Ken B. -- "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Erik H. -- Even if it's cloudy, the sun seems to break through and shine when I hear "Oh Happy Day" by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, featuring lead singer Dorothy Combs Morrison.
Happy Easter everyone!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

El Enmascarado de Plata

You never know what gems you might find on the Internet.
This week I was looking for yakuza-eiga posters -- Japanese gangster movies are my new obsession -- on various vintage-film-image Web sites when I discovered a treasure trove of movie images from Mexico.
The Hollywood Animation Archive Project has several galleries of Mexican lobby cards, located here.
I love the Santo poster shown here: Masked Mexican wrestlers with guns... what more could you ask for?
Actually, a vibrant cult surrounds the Santo films, which featured the exploits of Rodolfo Guzman Huerta. A review of Santo's films can be found here, while an essay on his life and death can be found here.
After I exhaust my obsessional fixation on yakuza-eiga (info here), I might have to turn my fickle attention to Santo.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What it is

I listened to a recent acquisition as I walked on the treadmill this morning.
Luv N Haight -- my current favorite record label -- released a storming compilation called Bay Area Funk.
It sounds like a cliché to say something was "lovingly compiled," but how else do you describe the efforts in gathering such forgotten acts as Eugene Blacknell & The New Breed, Little Denice, PI-R-Square and the unintentionally ironically named Unforgettables?
Track No. 2 is one of my all-time favorite songs -- Rodger Collins' stone-cold classic "Foxy Girls in Oakland." Apart from that track, all of the other songs were new to me.
Good news!
Luv N Haight plans to release Bay Area Funk 2 on April 25. I will hunt it down during an upcoming visit to San Francisco. I am sure that will sound great on the treadmill, too.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

San Francisco's original

There is an old story -- probably false -- that a 15-year-old Jerry Garcia played on Josie 835.
The record with that label, "Do You Wanna Dance?" from 1958, generates that sort of myth-making because it is both an early R&B/rock-n-roll classic and because the artist is a true San Francisco original. Bobby Freeman.
I will be heading to "The City by the Bay" later this month, a return to my roots provided by my sister and timed to mark my 40th birthday.
Excitement about the trip has triggered a wave of "hometown pride" manifested in my current musical choices.
I have been listening to loads of Oakland's Tower of Power and Edwin Hawkins, Vallejo's Con Funk Shun and San Francisco's Sly and the Family Stone.
Sly Stone, aka Sylvester Stewart (born in Texas but raised in Vallejo), worked with Freeman. Stone served as songwriter and producer at Autumn records and penned Freeman's 1964 hit "C'Mon and Swim."
I have to work a relatively rare Sunday shift today. Be assured I will be listening to plenty of Bobby Freeman as I drive around in the sparkling sunshine. My mind might be elsewhere... on the Bay Area? Probably!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Perfect day for Sly

Five reasons why today is a PERFECT day for listening to Sly and the Family Stone:
1) The skies are brilliantly blue.
2) I am mere weeks away from a trip back to the Bay Area. I am becoming more prideful in Bay Area sights and sounds as the trip nears and my excitement builds.
4) I work tomorrow, so today is my only day this weekend to let off a little steam.
5) Sly and the Family Stone forged a new path for music by combining rock and soul. The result was a timeless collection of songs that sound as fresh today as they did during the late 60s and early 70s peak era for the band. This towering collection of majestic songs makes ANY DAY a perfect day for Sly and the Family Stone!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Lazy daze

The Route 1 research staff, shown here, long for those lazy days when there is nothing better to do than shut your eyes while the world melts away.
The rest of us rarely enjoy those types of days, so this week's FRIDAY QUESTION wonders what song you would want to accompany the laziest of days.
Ellen B. -- Anything from Matchbox 20.
Mary N.-P. -- Need you even ask? The perfect lazy day song is titled just that, "Lazy Day," by Spanky and Our Gang.
"Lazy day just right for lovin' away/Lazy day made for a stroll in the lane."
Rick T. -- Merle Haggard's "I Think I'll Just Sit Here and Drink." 'Nuff said!
Dave B. -- A long Willie Nelson album. That right there would make you so depressed that you would not want to get off the couch for the rest of the day.
Rob K. -- "Lazy Day" by Spanky and Our Gang, "Rain Drops Keep Fallin' on My Head" by B.J. Thomas and of course "Helter Skelter" by The Beatles. The last because lazy days can be such a mess.
Erik H. -- The Kimberley Rew song "Going Down to Liverpool," originally by his band Katrina and the Waves and notably covered by the Bangles is my top song for lazy days. The protagonist is too lazy to even fill out a UB40 -- the British unemployment benefit form. Instead, the singer plans on "going down to Liverpool to do nothing, all the days of my life."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

We'll have no trouble here!

I have been watching the first series of "The League of Gentlemen" on DVD this morning.
It is one of the most memorable British comedy show in ages.
I love its unique mix of comedy and horror.
The strange residents of Royston Vasey ("Welcome to Royston Vasey: You'll Never Leave!") would fit quite comfortably in a "Twilight Zone" or "Outer Limits" episode, reminiscent of horror films such as "The Wicker Man."
Instead, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith played it for laughs. It was a brilliant combination -- one that has me cackling and cowering.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

From Orthodontics to Aoteoroa

Here is an example of how music, reading and the weather weaves together in my life:
Today's sunny skies prompted me to listen to my Kiwi playlist on the iPod as I drove Kerstin to an orthodontist appointment this morning.
The playlist features bands such as the Swingers (pictured), Split Enz, The Chills, The Clean, Tall Dwarfs, Shona Laing, Straitjacket Fits and loads more.
As we were grooving to the music, Kerstin thumbed through an NZ guide book I brought to read while waiting for her at the orthodontist's office.
Suitably intrigued, she read about New Zealand food and Pakeha slang before she had to have her appliances adjusted.
Kerstin must have been thinking of Auckland, Wellington and the rest while in the exam room, because she came out later and asked to borrow the book. She planned to read more of it during two free-reading periods at school.
So, that's how music, reading and the weather fits into our daily lives.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Mock... yeah! ing... yeah! bird...

I have just been listening to the Inez and Charlie Foxx 1963 classic
"Mockingbird" while reading the Sunday Times Illustrated History of Football -- two endeavors guaranteed to bring a smile to my face and a warm glow in my heart.
I was inspired to pick up my favorite book by this weekend's exploits of tiny Gretna F.C.
The small club from the Scottish Borders region entered the Scottish Football League in 2002 and have already won the Second Division title to secure their second successve promotion.
On Saturday, April Fool's Day of all days, Gretna shocked Dundee, 3-0, to become the first Second Division club to reach the Scottish Cup Final since Scotland introduced a third tier of clubs in 1975/76.
This afternoon, I read about Scottish football in the 1960s -- when the Borderers were still languishing in obscurity of non-league Scottish football.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Oakland Week concludes

ROUTE 1's OAKLAND WEEK concludes with a startling admission:
Although I was born in Oakland, I have never actually lived there. Our home was in nearby Alameda, Calif.
My mom and dad both lived in Oakland in the early 1960s, and my sister lived in Oakland for years before moving across the Bay to San Francisco.
I have lived in Alameda, Concord and Sebastopol, Calif. -- just never Oakland. Perhaps some day. Perhaps some day I will buy a big expensive house in the Oakland Hills. Until then, I will listen to the Pointer Sisters, Tower of Power and Rodger Collins and keep Oakland fresh in my mind, if no where else.