So there I was in Berkeley for the first time in a few years without access to a car. True, I never drove all that much when I did have a car, but there were certain destinations - and especially certain times of night - when using public transportation was a miserable and/or impossible prospect.
Remind me, while I'm on the subject, never ever to complain about the New York City subway again. After a couple days of depending on the Bay Area Toonerville Trolley, misleadingly known as Bay Area "Rapid Transit," it was easy to see why the streets of Berkeley and Frisco are largely deserted at night. It's just not worth the hassle of going out.
It used to be that while you had to wait a long time between trains (but hey, what's your hurry, there's nowhere to go anyway, so you might as well just kick back, smoke another joint and munch on some sautéed bean sprouts), but at least BART kept to a schedule, which, if you weren't too stoned to figure it out, meant you could generally show up at the station just in time for a train. No longer, though; in its ongoing crusade to punish the people of the Bay Area for being such gullible dupes, BART has now taken to canceling trains without notice and leaving people hanging out on the station platform for up to half an hour, by which time many of them could have walked where they were going. Except of course that they've already paid to get in the station and there are no refunds.
It used to be that you could take a train straight to San Francisco Airport, just like many real cities, but that made too much sense and was too easy. Now you've got to take three trains, including an 11 minute wait on the platform while other trains that are going almost but not quite to SFO pass you by. Brilliant transit planning, BART guys. Let me guess: you never actually ride the thing, do you?
At least I could get to my mom's and brother's houses in El Cerrito pretty easily. Six minutes on the train and a 10 minute walk at either end made it almost as quick as driving. But even that got a little tedious, so I decided to follow my other brother's example and ride a bike there. The last time - years ago, I must admit - I tried riding to El Cerrito I followed the same route I'd normally use if driving a car, and it was harsh: up and down some very stroppy hills. I was completely exhausted by the time I got there and ended up bringing my bike back on the BART.
But this time I thought things out a little more carefully and on doing so realized that the bicycle freeway - aka the bike path or the Ohlone Greenway - that passed near my mom's house was the same one that passed very near my Berkeley HQ, and that it was pretty much a level run all the way there.
I'd ridden the path many times before, but only as far as Gilman Street, which is what, for old times' sake, I'd done on Friday night. I was hoping to run into Jesse Luscious there, being that he'd posted on the PPMB that he might be stopping in to see Social Unrest. He didn't show up, as it turned out, but quite a few other old-timers did, including, of course, SU guitarist James Brogan, who I also knew from his days with Samiam.
Then there was Gary Gutfeld, formerly of the Hi-Fives, who seemed a semi-unlikely candidate to be playing drums for such a proto/über-punk outfit like Social Unrest, but who acquitted himself masterfully (I shouldn't be surprised, really; Luis Illades, best known for his efforts on behalf of the poppier Pansy Division and Plus ones, turned out to be a totally solid punk rock drummer when he linked up with SF's re-united Avengers).
I was thinking it must have been nearly 20 years since I'd last seen Social Unrest, and if it wasn't quite that long, it's got to have been at least 15 or 18. And while I was remarking to someone on how remarkable it was that a band could still have so much youthful punk rock energy after 25 years, it suddenly occurred to me that they've been around even longer than that, more like 27-28 years. Wow.
I was especially impressed by singer Creetin K-os, who looked and carried himself like the kind of half-glam/half-gritty rock stars who used to front punk bands back in the glory days, and of whom Operation Ivy singer Jesse Michaels once said, "Basically, I ripped off his vocal style to a major degree. If people hear Creetin K-os sing, they'll be like, 'Oh, I see where he got all his shit.'" The guy's obviously a few years older than he was when he first fronted SU, but without getting right up front and examining him closely, you'd be hard pressed to tell.
It being "punk" night at Gilman, the troglodyte element was a little more evident among the audience. Actually, there was no more than a handful of serious old-fashioned moshers trying their best to make a circle pit while simultaneously trying to slam into and knock down as many innocent bystanders as possible. One particular goombah, who couldn't have been more than 5'4" but was built like the proverbial brick shithouse, especially delighted in blindsiding and sending sprawling anyone unwise enough to let his or her eyes stray toward the stage instead of the pit.
Forgetting momentarily how old and comparatively scrawny I am, I briefly mulled over stepping into the pit and sorting him out, but fortunately sanity returned before I took any such action. Back in 1987 or 88, when I was skinnier and crazier, but also 20 years younger, I single-handedly muscled a large obstreperous skinhead out of the pit and out the front door before he or anyone else realized what was happening. I've never understood how I got away with that, unless it was simply a matter of the guy simply being in shock that he was being manhandled by a guy half his size.
Gilman being Gilman, nobody did anything about the homicidal slam dancers except grumble to themselves or surreptitiously shove back when no one was looking. It kind of reminded me of the club's attitude toward smoking: it's one of the last public places in California where people are allowed to smoke indoors, even though smokers are now a tiny minority.
It wasn't always that way: a few years back, the joint reeked with great clouds of cigarette smoke as mobs of teenagers declared their freedom from mom and dad by puffing up a storm. But for some reason, that's no longer the case, which makes it all the more obvious how one single smoker can stink up the air for a couple dozen other people nearby.
But no one would dream of telling Mr. Smoker to take it outdoors, because that wouldn't be "punk." Ah well. I had to move a few times because some clueless dink parked himself right next to me with a slow-burning and especially stinky cigarette which he then used to strike elaborate poses meant apparently to illustrate just how cool he was but, um, failed miserably. Hey, that's Gilman. You take the tacky with the ultra-cool.
Anyway, the bike ride there and back was so pleasant and easy that the next day I high-tailed it over to El Cerrito over an as yet unexplored (except on foot) stretch of the Greenway. I thought it was especially cute how at Eureka Street in EC they even had an on ramp just like car freeways, complete with a mini-sized Yield sign. Again, the ride took me about the same amount of time it would have taken if I'd traveled by BART or automobile.
Had a nice time walking around EC with my mom, but when it came time to zip back to Berkeley and then on to BART for the trip to the airport, a great foul and chilly wind had sprung up, one of those winds Frisco and the near East Bay often get this time of year that makes it feel almost worse than midwinter. It was also blowing straight in my face all the way to Berkeley, and tearing right through my flimsy little jacket that by all normal logic should have been more than adequate for the last days of May. It didn't help, either, that I'd just checked the weather back home in New York and learned that it was a sunny 88 degrees there.
I wish I could have figured out a way to pack my bike up and ship it out to NYC for something less than the $75 it originally cost me back in 1993. An amazing bike it is, too: I've done virtually nothing to maintain it, it's sat outside through over a dozen Bay Area winters, and yet with little more than some air in the tires and a smattering of oil for the gears, it ran like a charm. I can't imagine what sort of additional comfort people who spend a couple grand on a bike are getting for their money.
Unfortunately, I probably won't be able to figure out any economical way of getting the bike here to NY short of hiring a big truck to drive it and all my remaining California possessions across the country, so in the interim I guess I'll have to look for its $75 equivalent on this side of the country, because after braving the wintry gales of a Frisco "spring," the idea of cruising the hot summer streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan suddenly seems a lot more appealing.
Oh yeah, while I've always enjoyed arriving in New York after a lengthy airplane ride, it's about a hundred times better when you know you're coming home and not just for a visit. It being sunny, warm and the start of what looks to be a long and lovely summer is that much more icing on the cake.