Saturday, October 09, 2004

A Brisk Constitutional

San Francisco

Plunged into despair this morning by the twin evils of a hangover and Scotland's abject capitulation at home to Norway, I decided to get out into the fresh air as soon as I could. It's great to be back at the seaside although the Fisherman's Wharf area where I walked first is a major tourist trap. Lots of already fat Americans tucking in to overpriced plates of clam chowder while admiring their new "I Escaped From Alcatraz" XXXL t-shirts.

Much better is the grassy area on the front towards the Golden Gate bridge. As I walked through the park a parade of military boats began in the bay. One of them was enormous, and the flotilla was followed by a fine air display. Apparently it's Fleet Week which means less than nothing to me although it does lead to lots of guys in sailor suits loitering outside the strip clubs that are dotted around the city.

The bridge is stunning. The orangey-red colour reminded me of the Forth rail bridge, although the bright sunshine makes this version look more appealing. As you walk along there are a series of phones which I imagined were for use in case your car breaks down, until I read the signs which say they're for contacting a counselling helpline, just in case you feel like jumping to your death. I decided I'd rather walk back to ground level.

Round Two

San Francisco

So I suppose I'd better give my thoughts on tonight's debate. I watched it in the international ballroom at the hostel, apparently the largest common room at any hostel in the world. Given that the crowd were surely all pro-Kerry or Nader I was surprised at the fair hearing everyone gave Bush. The whole group of people just sat and quietly listened to everything both candidates had to say,

My immediate opinion is the debate was fairly even. Kerry dominated much of the early exchanges and I felt when he was talking about America's poor standing in the world he left Bush with no answer. But then inexplicably he allowed Bush to come back on domestic issues. Honestly - domestic issues! Just imagine it, even I could out argue that Texan fool on his astonishingly rubbish healthcare policy, yet Kerry was too busy banging on about tort reform or somesuch to make his advantage tell. In the end it was a score draw, but only because Kerry was incompetent and Bush a bit on the lucky side. The polls say it's even but that only means Bush is still just in the driving seat. The third debate will be solely on domestic policy which ought to be Kerry's strong suit but, it seems, will merely play into the hands of Bush. Had he been more impressive tonight I was ready to say Kerry was at long, long last in a position to take the election. But as I see it unless something changes there's still only going to be one winner.

Friday, October 08, 2004

City Streets, City Lights

San Francisco

Spent the day walking around the town. Unlike most American cities it's actually possible to do that here, although the hills are a bitch. Went down to the Haight area this morning and sat in Golden Gate Park. The 1967 Summer Of Love had its genesis here and you can still detect a glimmer of the old hippie dream in the right-on organic cafes and studenty shops. Indeed, I half expected to see Scott McKenzie, or maybe some former members of the Grateful Dead going by in a drug-induced haze.

The best reason to visit these days is to check out Ameoba Records. There are three of these shops on the West Coast (I also spent ages in the one in Hollywood) and they are easily the best music stores I've ever been to. I was strong enough to resist burning money on frivolous CD purchases and instead spent a very long time on the remarkable listening posts. You can take in thousands of different albums on them although I doubt too many locals will follow my example of calling up JJ72 and Roddy Frame from the vast database.

This afternoon I went to a great San Francisco institution, the City Lights bookstore. Back in the 50s it was where Kerouac and his beat friends held court and although they're all long gone it's still a great place to find a quiet corner and read some books you have no intention of buying. I'm sure it's what Jack would have wanted.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Late Shift

Los Angeles

I had a pretty decent seat for Jay Leno once I finally made it through the extra security, right on the edge next to the band. It's a very slick operation all round. He comes out about fifteen minutes before the recording starts and says a few words, then a warm up guy whips the already overexcited crowd up by throwing some t-shirts about and organising various other audience activities. Before long the music starts and the most famous quiff in world television appears again to start the show.

Leno's opening monologue is still consistently pretty good and it was interesting to watch him do it up close. His script isn't on an autocue like most TV stand up comics, instead he reads from big idiot boards with his material written largely verbatim in black felt tip pen. The crowd don't need much persuading to cheer but they do have some of those 'applause' signs dotted around the set that light up at appropriate moments to encourage the slow on the uptake.

Laura Bush was fairly dull, she had one or two good lines but they'd clearly been drummed into her by some campaign lackey. Leno's often criticised for his sycophantic interviewing style and, when his second question was "is that a new hairstyle?" it seemed unlikely Iraq was going to get much of an airing during the discussion. Indeed, neither of them mentioned it at all. Just about every Republican in the state had been shoehorned into the audience too, surely no coincidence it's the first and only time I've seen any "Bush/Cheney" t-shirts so far. Making up for this was the undoubted highlight of the interview, when a spotlight focused on a seat a few across from me to reveal none other than the lovely Jenna Bush. I had some difficulty focusing on the rest of the show (the other guests were those guys who flew that plane into space last week) for sneaking glances at her magnificent breasts. It was hard being in the same row as the President's daughter. Yes, it really was.

On the way back to the hostel I stopped by a nearby theatre to take in ABC's rival chat show, Jimmy Kimmel Live. The network still puts Nightline up against Leno and Letterman so poor old Jimmy doesn't go out until midnight and his show is consequently third best in terms of guests. If Leno is the Rolls Royce of talk shows, Kimmel may well be the cheap and slightly battered Ford Escort. Having said that, his monologue had some very funny stuff although he tended to mumble a bit which cost him a couple of big laughs. I had no idea who any of the guests were, although the announcer on the show is, randomly enough, the guy from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Kimmel wasn't a bad hour's entertainment but, especially given his network's recent attempt to woo Letterman, his career may well have peaked. For sheer professionalism, Leno still gets my vote.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

On The Strip

Los Angeles

Did the quintessential American night out yesterday. On Rowan's recommendation I broke my self-imposed fast food ban and checked out an In-N-Out Burger joint. Their slogan is "Quality you can taste" and they're not wrong, their gimmick of never freezing or microwaving anything makes for a fine tasting burger. Their chips are even fried with the skins on. The curse of the free refill struck me down, I just had to go for that second cup of Coke even though I was truly forcing it in by the end. At least I had plenty of time to drink it, because everything's cooked to order even a burger and chips takes more than five minutes.

After that I headed down to Sunset Strip to take a look around. The billboards are huge and the lights are bright. Feeling like another gig I tried the Roxy although Cake had sadly sold the place out. I settled for the Whisky A Go Go instead. This once important venue has sold out a bit I think, or at least that's the impression I got from the "If you stage dive you go home" sign beside the stage. The music was a lot more stately than at the Troubador as well, the first band on looked and sounded like Counting Crows' older brothers.

Things picked up with the Bloody Lovelies, a piano based three piece. I was going to write them off as only mediocre, but after they'd finished their set and I was at the bar about to get a drink a girl walked up beside me and asked if I wanted a beer. When I gave the obvious answer, she led me over to where a group of people were standing and handed me a Miller. Turns out they were all "with the band" and they were trying to dish out what remained of the rider. She had one more beer left and after I hinted I'd like that one too, she said she'd go and put it on the bar for me, assuring me it'd still be there when I'd finished my current one. It's obviously a British/American thing, but a pint standing untouched on a bar in the UK would be there for about 6 and a half seconds before some scally came along and swiped it. So, insisting I was more than capable of holding two beers at the same time, I went and claimed it. Because they were so nice in giving me free booze, I agreed to go on their mailing list and I can now heartily recommend the Bloody Lovelies as an excellent band, surely set for huge international success.

Jetlag meant I didn't get much sleep after getting back, waking up in the early hours I couldn't drop back off so I got up at dawn and bussed it up to NBC to get a ticket for this afternoon's taping of The Tonight Show. The First Lady is among the guests, so keep an eye out for me gurning away in the audience during her interview.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

I'm With The Band

Los Angeles

I went to a gig at the Troubador last night. It was local band night at the famous old place which meant not only was it easy enough to turn up and get in but happily there wasn't a cover charge. It's a great little venue, like a scaled down version of the old Leeds T&C but with a decent sized stage so there was plenty opportunity for the bands to indulge in various crowd pleasing antics. The place was full of young looking guys wearing black hoodies and my Doves t-shirt attracted a fair bit of attention although no smart comments. Perhaps they all clocked me for being genuinely British and decided to let me off being a bed-wetting indie nerd, seeing as I wasn't pretending to be British like most American indie fans.

The crowd had all come to see Saosin who were actually on third out of five bands, possibly so their fans could be home in time for bed. They were in the vein of Taking Back Sunday and played pretty loud, although I decided to have a beer instead of buying a pair of earplugs. From where I was loitering at the back I got a good view of all the crowd surfing and stage diving. The done thing was to surf your way to the front, dance around on stage for a bit, then run and dive back onto the rest of the crowd. Dozens of people did this, and the very chilled out security guys didn't seem to mind, which certainly gave a bit of atmosphere to the show.

Almost everyone buggered off after their set, much to the annoyance of the next band Supermodel Suicide. The singer had some issues about this, and between every song launched into tirades of abuse against everyone who had left, everyone who was still there and emo music in general. They were a pretty generic sub-Hives kind of rock and roll act and, although their playing was as tight as their t-shirts, they weren't much to write home about. Before the last song he looked me in the eye then implored everyone to "get the fuck on stage and fucking dance, you fuckers" so I decided it would only be polite to join in and clambered up round the back of the band. To say my performance was half-hearted would be overestimating it somewhat, but then I've never been much of a dancer. Just as well that by then there were more people on stage than in the crowd.

Monday, October 04, 2004


Los Angeles

I've finally arrived here after the reddest of red-eye flights across the Pacific. I didn't sleep much, possibly due to the shock of seeing on the in-flight Chinese entertainment news the new girl group Sirens described as being from "Britain's fashionable Newcastle." Someone from the North East tourist board has been earning their money.

I'm staying on Hollywood Boulevard and yes that's on the Walk of Fame. The star outside the front door of the hostel belongs to John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival which I suppose is surprisingly trendy. Off to take a look around despite being pretty tired. I'm planning to break on through the night in a gallant battle against jetlag.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Are You Being Served?


I've been using my last day here to blow all my Chinese cash and stock up with stuff I'm going to need in the weeks ahead. Shopping can be a baffling experience. I was wandering around a big sports shop earlier trying to buy some socks. Eventually I found some, although whether they get anywhere near to fitting me given the stature of most of the locals is another matter. I was looking for the place to pay without much success when a woman ran up and grabbed me by the shoulder. She shouted something in Chinese, wrote something on a form that she then gave to me, took the socks and pointed to a woman behind a desk. I went over to the desk, waited around politely for the woman to look vaguely in my direction, then handed her the bit of paper and my money. She in turn handed me some other bits of coloured paper that I took back to the first woman who still had my socks. She tore some of the paper the second woman had given me and finally gave me the socks along with a receipt. Such a simple purchase dragged out to ten minutes for no apparent reason. Talk about Communist job creation. And I only wanted to buy some socks.

Having come all the way from London overland I'm finally giving in and taking a plane to LA tomorrow morning. And get this - it'll still be tomorrow morning when I arrive! How thoughtful of the world to stop just for me.