As soon as we make it back from L.A. – having stopped in the desert to clean vomit off a car-seat, never the ideal one should be chasing on a holiday – I’m so elated that I photograph a busted-up chair on the side of the road in Oakland. I’m so pleased to be back in Oakland that a photo of anything will suffice; will serve to trigger a memory of a new time…
We had an afternoon in Oakland a week ago, and I liked the feel of the place. Now we’re back with our own apartment to live in for a few days and we’re in the Lake Merritt district/area and it’s a really nice spot.
You get up and stroll downtown, well, you’re sorta really in town, and get a breakfast cocktail and some eggs. That’s a pretty good start to any day.
I take Oscar to the playground for some hide and seek, we seek out the outlet stores for cheap clothes and basically take it easy.
We had a whirlwind week rushing through three different airports and it’s time to kick back and relax. Just a bit.
Oh, we have a Jonathan Richman concert to go to – and that’s a helluva treat. Jonathan has these kind/sad eyes that beckon and wink, that plead and blink, that act as backing singers and go-go dancers to his songs; more often than not Richman’s own virtuoso instrument is himself – his dancing. He’s lead dancer and lead percussionist and part-time guitarist and occasional yelp-singer and semi-permanent monologist and it’s all just such a joy. Always. There’s heart and spirit and warmth. And we rip through some cocktails and beers and are elated to be at a show – particularly this one. It was $20 to get in, we’ve got a free babysitter for the night, it’s the first time Katy and I have been to a gig together in nearly six months.
Scanning the concert itineraries ahead of this trip I couldn’t believe my luck that I’d maybe get to see Jonathan Richman. And to see him in a room with just a couple of hundred people…what a treat. A heart-warmingly good gig.
There’s this great book shop in Oakland – well I’m sure there is more than one – but there’s this great one I go to that has a small record selection too, one of the very best small record selections I’ve seen. I pick up the soundtrack to Midnight Cowboy and this Tony Williams album I’d always wanted, and never seen before. I’ll be back…
Get a tip for a good barber and go for a stroll – turn up five minutes early and greeted with, “Would you like a drink, we have water, and beer, and bourbon…” Nice to see things quickly and correctly escalated here in the city of Oakland.
“You have less fur now,” Oscar confirms when I arrive back at the apartment for an Eye of The Hawk (one of the highlights of this trip has been finding the “whiskey-beer” that lit up our last stateside sojourn).
Home-cooked paella is the huge highlight of the night, some beers, new records – including my brother-in-law’s wise Steely Dan purchases – and one hell of a nice view round out the evening.
Saturday morning starts off very well – you see there’s a place on the corner that does a buffet breakfast and bottomless mimosas. The breakfast is the fucking pits. So awful I even fill a second plate just to check – nup, just as appalling. But the breakfast gets you the bottomless mimosas and someone has to pretend to like the food in order to keep us all entitled to be ordering the carafes…
It’s all going so well. Our Saturday morning is orange and fizzy. Second and third carafes speed by, as do the fourth and fifth.
Another spill. And maybe one more.
And then we’re cut off.
A quick argument over whether we asked for the bill or in fact a refill sees one final carafe – well, we’ve ma-made the ma-most of these mimosas. In the end coordination caught us out.
Still – being cut off allows us the best line under such circumstances: “Bottomless – my arse!”
Oscar checks out Fairyland – a Disneyland pre-cursor of sorts; one of the parks that was on Walt’s list to check out when he did his national tour looking for inspirations, apparently. It’s more like what’s left of Hastings’ Fantasyland than anything at the big Disney park but it’s good enough for a quick flick through.
And after a wee afternoon nap we’re off to check out some more of Oakland’s delights.
A cool book shop called BOOK/SHOP sells tiny curated collections; poetry and classic novels, prints, designer bookmarks, bookcases – it is essentially a gallery with books and writing as the theme for the exhibition.
We find a great pizza joint and enjoy classic Margheritas and one or two other flavours too. And Oscar makes friends with the woman at the table next to us, heads over and takes his book for her to read to him. Not sure quite how that happened – but it did. When her husband went to the loo he came back to find Oscar had taken his seat…so he joined us for a yarn…
Oakland is about the size of Wellington, population-wise, and though we’re warned about “areas” not to see or go near I never spot anything even approaching that. We fall asleep each night to the smell of weed wafting up from the street, we wake up to the sounds of squirrels part-barking/part-meowing and scratching up and down trees as they sound-off.
Sunday starts off slow and there’s a mild internet panic as Monday morning NZ time fast-approaches and assignments need to be ticked and signed off…but when we do get out of the house it’s off in the car to see Berkley and check out some sights. To have In and Out Burger and to park up at a great wee craft-beer spot.
We get a second shot at the same great breakfast – the actual great one, not the mimosa one (barely fit for dogs) and a second shot at the record store on our last day in Oakland, in The Bay Area, in America. It’s been a wind-down after the non-stop pace of the first two weeks…
I find some great records for dirt-cheap. Things I’ve never found in New Zealand and maybe never could – Tuck & Patti, Michel Petrucciani, Rosanne Cash, and a Buddy Rich album that I had on CD and knew under another name, so stoked to find that one – one of my all-time favourites…
Head back to the digs to listen to some of the records, to send out final dispatches, to squeeze things into bags and get ready to say goodbye to this mad and wonderful place. Just on three weeks in America.
I’ll miss this place – even as I gather up as much of it in my heart as I can. I sat finishing reading a book about twee culture that mentioned a particular SNL episode and then, three minutes later turned on the TV to a channel that was showing that exact episode, I overheard so many fascinating conversations, heard people yelling out things like “sheet, now you makin’ me spend all my damn money!” Made funnier when you saw the guy in a queue with a six-pack of beer and a selfie-stick. We caught buses and read maps and assimilated – or is it acclimated…
We saw friends and family and made new friends too – I caught five pretty fucking amazing live shows – things I’d never see at (or near) home, recorded a podcast, saw a fucking giant dud-turkey film (and for some reason I could never really articulate it seemed appropriate to see it here in America where it – and so many duds of its kind – originated). I saw some amazing art, some incredible exhibitions. We visited a pretty cool zoo – and then another one where the only animals are (apparently) humans – it’s called Las Vegas.
So much of what I saw and felt and heard and overheard was amazing to me because I was in the space of being on holiday – it just happened to be in this place: these parts of America, a country that is laid out on a massive grid and doesn’t feel all that unified or united. But some of what I read and saw and heard and experienced seemed – in particular – to just fit, just seemed spot on to have happened in this version of here, could have only happened there.
I wish I’d taken a snap of this café in The Mission in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. Everyone in it had their Apple Mac out, their headphones on. Lined up as if at – actual – work. I was just walking past laughing mildly at that. Then next door was an old laundrette. Empty. Everyone next door airing their dirty laundry online, obviously…obliviously…
We have a plane to catch. One more leg of the journey. We’ve had a blast.
To read Tour Diary # 1 – The Streets of San Francisco click here
To read Tour Diary # 2 – A Great Day To Turn 40, No Poo at The Zoo…click here
To read Tour Diary # 3 – Past The Mission – I Don’t Believe I Went Too Far…click here
To read Tour Diary # 4 – We Hardly Even Seattle But I Like It click here
To read Tour Diary # 5 – Vegas Baby Vegas click here
To read Tour Diary # 6 – L.A. For Just A Day or Two and Disneyland For Life click here