Haight Ashbury

Got to run around on Haight Ashbury today. Highlights: Amoeba Records, a dip into the Golden Gate Park (it’s huge, so we only saw a tiny bit), and tasty microbrews at Magnolia Pub & Brewery.

Magnolia was going well, until 2 older hippie gentlemen decided to stroll down Haight Street in the nude. Bit of a shock while you’re trying to eat!

Sharon, who is vegan, has been politely accompanying us to various carnivorous restaurants, so tonight her and I tried out Millennium, a vegan fine dining establishment. My review: it doesn’t matter if you like meat or not, Millennium is one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at.

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More images on flickr.

San Francisco with Ex Hex as the Soundtrack

Saturday morning, at 4:30am, Sharon and I grabbed our gear and jumped in a cab with my co-worker and his girlfriend and made it to the airport. The magic of the Ex Hex show was still running strong and I kept bouncing around to the show’s soundtrack in my head.

It was my intention to try and get to City Lights Bookstore that day so I could lose myself in a world of beat writing and other cool literature. After some food and a nap at the hotel, everyone decided they were into joining me. Awesome!

On my last SF trip I had spent a few hours in City Lights, deeply exploring each section of the store so this time I could head straight to the highlights and not bore everyone with a multi-hour bookstore experience. I did find a few books, most of which I had been meaning to pick up.

Some books from City Lights Bookstore

When we were done with City Lights, everyone was hungry again and across the street was E’Tutto Qua, a boisterous Italian restaurant with a small lineup so we slid over for what turned into a delicious meal of homemade pasta in one of the most fun restaurants I have ever been in. Waiters were running around, shouting at each other in Italian and gathering to sing Happy Birthday at nearly every table in the place. I have vowed to come back for my birthday one day.

Topless bar smorgesboard

After the Italian adventure we wandered back through chinatown and picked up a last beer at the Thirsty Bear, a brewpub I had been meaning to stop in to on my last trip. The beer was interesting, but I have to admit that none of us were wowed by it. The early morning and exciting day had caught up to us so we came back to the hotel and collapsed into bed.

Thirsty Bear

Salvation with Ex Hex

When I got home from work on Friday, the stress of the week and the next morning’s flight to San Francisco had built into a painful knot in my stomach. Not only had I not packed, but we were supposed to pack up Rufus and drop him off at Sharon’s friends house and then attend the Ex Hex concert at the Electric Owl before getting up at 4:30am to head to the airport.

Fortunately for us, the Ex Hex show was early and since I had already bought tickets, I reluctantly chose to stop in on the way home from dropping off Rufus and get the show over with.

I’ve always enjoyed seeing shows, especially in small venues like the Electric Owl. Once we entered I immediately felt the knot of stress start to loosen. When the three ladies from Ex Hex jumped on stage and began to play their upbeat, guitar heavy rock, the stress dropped right off and I wondered how I had managed to become so wound up in the first place.

Stress now gone, we lost ourselves in the high kicks and guitar riffs on stage. Definitely one of the best shows I’ve seen in the last couple of years.

Portland, by hook or by crook

When Sharon, Rufus, myself, and our friend Colleen left Vancouver for Portland at 10:30 in the morning on Saturday we had no idea that we would be arriving at 2:00 in the morning in a rental car after spending the day trying to get the Civic repaired.

In the border lineup, the engine temperature was climbing up more than it normally does and I heard a whine under the hood which I assumed was the radiator fan trying to start. My assumption: the rad fan had broken. No worries, at highway speeds you can get by without a fan and we could get it repaired in Portland.

About an hour past the border the engine heat began to climb dangerously high again so we pulled over to the side of the I5 rush and called BCAA. The towtruck arrived, a large flatdeck that could carry all 3 of us in the cab, and we drove to the garage that BCAA had recommended.

Towing the Civic

Unfortunately, the garage was closed! So we headed over to a Les Schwab up the road. “Oh, we don’t do radiator service here” the guy told me. Some more Googling around. There was a Meinike Auto in Lynnwood, about a 30 minute drive away that could help us if we could have the car in before they closed at 5pm. It’s now 3:30pm and we’re in danger of being stranded in small-town Washington for the weekend if we don’t get the car sorted.

We made it to Meinike by 4 and their team went through the entire cooling system. The verdict? No problems except it was low on coolant. Odd, because the car had recently been serviced and I’d had my trusted garage in Vancouver give it a full inspection so I would avoid issues like this.

But you can’t argue with the data. So we pulled out of Meinike and headed into Seattle for dinner. After some much-needed food (we hadn’t eaten since breakfast), we continued down the highway but after a half an hour the check engine light flicked on and I saw that the engine heat was dangerously high! So we found ourselves on the side of the I5 again waiting for a towtruck.

Rufus waiting for the towtruck
Rufus waiting for the towtruck

As we headed for the closest garage to the Seatac Airport (which had 24-hour car rental) we began to worry that we wouldn’t make it when our towtruck driver ran through a red light and then proceeded to tell us about the 18-car accident he thought he might have caused on the I5 that morning!

At 8pm we dumped the car at a garage in the small town of Burien’s roughest neighbourhood and I headed to Seatac to pick up a rental. By 11pm we had transferred our gear to the rental, dropped the Civic’s keys in the garage’s drop box, and were finally able to tackle the final stretch to Portland.

Exhausted, we pulled in to The Pocket House at 2am and tumbled into bed.

Rufus at the Pocket House
Rufus at the Pocket House

Top Albums of 2013

Inspired by Shanman’s top albums of 2013 post I’m posting the albums I got into this year. I haven’t been terribly inspired by music for the last couple of years. Most of what’s popular is soft, slow, and boring. Carrie Brownstein, writing about Quasi, said, “They are anti-slipper in a sonic age that has drifted further and further towards leisure-wear.”

Fortunately there are a few bands that are anti-slipper this year:

Justice – Access All Arenas

Ever since I heard Justice’s first album on Australia’s Triple J radio years ago I’ve been a big fan. I enjoyed their second album too, but the new live album pulled all their music together into a tight set that I cannot stop playing. Access All Arenas is my most-listened to album this year.

Quasi – Mole City

I didn’t like this album at first and thought it was the first misstep in Quasi’s catalog since they began an unbroken string of outstanding albums with 2001’s Sword of God. Knowing that their records usually take a while for me to “get it” I jumped at the chance to see them at the Biltmore in November. Their wild, energetic show opened up the album for me and now it’s on heavy rotation.

Mudhoney – Vanishing Point

Years ago I used to be bummed out that I never got to see Nirvana play live. Once I saw my first Mudhoney show in 2000 at the Starfish Room, I decided that Nirvana was the second-best grunge band and Mudhoney, although they never got the same recognition, were tops. Mudhoney is also a rare band that can continue putting out albums long after most bands would have passed their best-before date.

Melt Banana – Fetch

Japanese noise band who recently became one of my favorite bands. Finally got to see them this year at the Biltmore and the new album rocks!

Ash Grunwald – Gargantua

I’ve never been much for solo bands. Ash, however, came into the Media Club as a one-man blues show earlier this year and proved that everyone else is doing it wrong. His new album, Gargantua, pulls together a selection of new and previously-recorded cuts. For someone like me who doesn’t know much about his past work, this is a perfect introduction to his thundering blues songs.

Marnie Stern – The Chronicles of Marnia

I stumbled across Marnie on Rdio when I saw a bio of an artist who named Sleater-Kinney as an influence. She was on the verge of releasing her new album and was playing at the Media Club a week later. Went and saw her and discovered that her new album is her best.

Paper Lions – My Friends

The recent Media Club show was, by a high margin, the best show this year. The band traveled for 13 hours through a snowstorm from Edmonton, arriving at midnight for an “early show.” John MacPhee, the singer, had flown ahead to do an interview with The Peak radio station. To hold us over while the band continued to slog through snow and ice, he did an impromptu solo set which was memorable not only because of how good the songs are without a band behind them, but because he introduced each song with the song’s story. For me, the stories made the songs more tangible and interesting.

When the band scrambled through the door and onto the stage they expressed how thankful they were that everyone stuck around and promised to rock the house. Which they did. Best show of the year.

Alan Doyle Trio – St. James Hall – Wed Feb 6, 2013

Sharon and I were in Halifax last summer and we were able to catch Alan Doyle’s show on our first night. He’s the lead singer from Great Big Sea and had just released a solo album. He was joined by Kendel Carson and Cory Tetford for the show. Since then, they’ve toured extensively and now call themselves the Alan Doyle Trio. On Wednesday they came back to Vancouver to play at St. James Hall.

Cory Tetford has become one of my favorite guitarists ever since we saw him in Halifax. We were lucky enough to see him at the Lower Deck doing covers with Paul Lamb one night and managed to chat with him for a bit in between sets. Super nice dude. Incredibly talented guitar player from Newfoundland.

Kendel Carson is a young, upcoming fiddle player from BC who we last saw when she joined the Deep Dark Woods for a couple songs at the Biltmore about a year back. Like Cory, she’s very, very talented. She plays in Dustin Bentall’s band andused to play with a band called Outlaw Social.

The venue, St. James Hall in Kitsilano, is an old church and was the perfect setting for an east coast music show. Alan Doyle came out dressed in black, “my most priestly outfit”, he said and continued making comments about playing in a church for the rest of the show. The church talk reached it’s peak when he introduced the song Straight to Hell and worried that he might be struck  by a bolt of lightning.

My favorite memory was of the dirtbag handlebar mustache he had grown since we last saw him. After his first few songs he finally told us the story, since he knew we were all wondering about it. He was cast in a film that required him to grow the mustache and there was one scene he had to finish shooting when he returned from this tour and he wouldn’t be able to shave until the scene was complete. This led to many jokes about adult film in the 70’s, during which Cory threw in a skanky guitar solo to set the mood.

My favorite song — a cover of John Cougar Mellencamp’s Paper in Fire where Kendel’s fiddling really took it over the top. It was my best memory from the Halifax show too and I was excited to hear it again.

I’m hoping he comes back with the same band again. I know I’ll be there.

Vernon Again

There were a number of things we left undone when we returned from Vernon on Thanksgiving weekend so I went back on Thursday. In between shopping for furniture, meeting lawyers, and other errands, I was able to do some driving around the area.

Back when I lived in Vernon I was so busy with work, school, and friends that I didn’t take much time to explore the backroads. During my recent visits, I’ve made an effort to go on some exploratory drives and learn where the roads in Vernon take you.

On the way home I decided to stop by Gray Monk and pick up some wine for Sharon. Rather than take the highway I tried Mission Road out of Vernon which ambles along some lovely farmland before passing Predator Ridge golf course and becoming a dirt road.

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Cow hanging out on Commonage Road

The dirt road doesn’t last long and I eventually joined Carrs Landing Road where I drove alongside the shore of Okanagan Lake. I stopped at a couple of beaches to enjoy the views and get some photos, something I’d hadn’t done much of on this trip.

Kopje Park Beach
Beach at Kopje Regional Park
Gibson Heritage House
Gibson Heritage House at Kopje Regional Park

After over an hour of driving and exploring I pulled in to Gray Monk and demanded fine wine for the people in Vancouver. Sharon now has a tasty Merlot and the next time we run into our friend Patrick he can expect a bottle of Gray Monk’s fancy-pants Pinot Noir.

View From Gray Monk Winery
View from Gray Monk winery
Squeaky Cheese
In hindsight, I should have stopped to see what “squeaky cheese” is all about

After Gray Monk it was time get moving so I rejoined the highway and made the run to Vancouver. I had heard it was raining on the coast so I did take the opportunity to have lunch in Merritt and enjoy the last bit of sun I was likely to see for a while.

Thanksgiving in Vernon

Last Thursday my Mom signed the paperwork to move into a suite at Carrington Place Retirement Residence in Vernon. Sharon and I came down to the Okanagan for what will likely be one of the last visits to the house that I grew up in. The weekend was spent cooking, eating, and helping my Mom prepare for her upcoming move.

Saturday night Sharon made up Scott Jurek’s, the ultra-marathon runner, “Minnesota Winter Chili” recipe which is a favorite of ours. Scott Jurek claims that, “The night I tasted this chili is the night I decided I could be a happy, athletic vegetarian.” I agree, it’s pretty damn good! In fact, I prefer it to any meat-based chilies I’ve had.

For Thanksgiving Sharon whipped up a vegetable stuffing (using vegetable stock instead of turkey drippings) and a number of sweet potato dishes. Again, an excellent meal.

I’m enjoying eating at home more often. My Mom isn’t fond of cooking so whenever I would visit we would usually go out for dinner most nights. It’s nicer to be inside, cooking like a traditional family would. We also eat healthier food too.

Sharon’s sister lives in Kelowna, as does a friend of mine, Tamara, so we all met at Tonics Pub downtown for lunch today. Was great to see everybody and catch up. I haven’t run into Tamara for over a year since she’s busy with her boot camp and personal training business.

After lunch, Sharon and I went up to Quails’ Gate winery where we took in some spectacular views of Okanagan Lake. Tamara lives just up the road so she gets the same view off her deck (yes, we’re jealous!). We made a second stop at Volcanic Hills where Sharon picked up a couple of bottles of red before we made the Coquihalla run back to Vancouver.

Leaves

Sidewalk

Grapes

Father John Misty – Venue Nightclub – Saturday, September 22, 2012

In 2008 I attended the Sub Pop Records 20th Anniversary music festival which included my third time seeing the Fleet Foxes perform. I had become a big fan of the band over that summer and it was at this show that I became impressed by their drummer who had started an impromptu drumming competition with the band that was soundchecking on the neighboring stage. That drummer, Joshua Tillman, subsequently left the Fleet Foxes to pursue his own music career under the name Father John Misty.

I started hearing his new single, I’m Writing a Novel, on CBC and was immediately hooked. Sharon mentioned he was coming to town so we picked up some tickets and arrived at Venue on Saturday night to check the man out in person.

The show was short (about an hour) but entertaining. Now that J Tillman is up front and not stuck behind a drum kit, his playful, goofy personality is on full display. “An orgy of rainbows” was how he described his encore. This became my favorite quote from the evening.

Even funnier than all the ridiculous things coming out of Tillman’s mouth was his rubbery, Gumby-like dancing. After a couple of mellow songs to warm up, the band played I’m Writing a Novel and this spurred the rubbery singer into a full routine of hand waving and hip shaking.

The set flew by and when the band came out and Tillman proclaimed an “orgy of rainbows” for the encore, they performed two covers: John Lennon’s Mind Games and Do You Realize by The Flaming Lips. I was impressed by the Lips cover since I am a huge fan of that band. It was also a surprise for a folk and country style singer to pick a psychedelic rock band’s song to cover.

I’ve been slowing down on the number of concerts I’m attending but I’m glad we got to see this one. If his next album does well then it’s certain that he’ll be playing much bigger rooms and we’ll have been lucky to see him in a club like Venue. With shows as good as this I have no doubt that Father John Misty will be a bigger deal in the next few years.

Why Am I Taking an English Class?

Last week I attended the first class of UBC’s Write 098 -Preparation for University Writing and the LPI. Why on earth am I taking a writing class? There are a few reasons:

1. My writing is stale.
I’ve barely been updating this thing over the past year and that’s mostly because I felt like I was writing the same string of adjectives over and over and over. “I saw this band! They were so awesome! Fantastic show! They rocked!” or “I went camping/hiking/bear wrestling. It was awesome! So much fun!”

This made writing incredibly boring and thus I stopped doing it. Fortunately this class is already looking like the cure since I’ve learned not to use vague generic words like “that’s a good thing” and will be turning my attention to using properly descriptive words.

2. I want to write more professional articles.
As Joel Spolsky says, “Being able to write clearly on technical topics is the difference between being a grunt individual contributor programmer and being a leader.”

3. I enjoy writing.
This is the most important. I’ve always liked writing about different topics. Now it’s time to get good at it!

The class runs until the end of November, so there’ll be loads of writing to do until then. Hopefully it makes this blog more interesting to read!