California Trip the Second

About two months ago Paul Simon’s new album came out. It is spectacular. One night, a few days after I got it from Amazon, I was listening to it at home and apparently appeared bummed out that Paul would not be coming anywhere local on his tour. Having already seen him in concert twice, I was in fact bummed but resigned that I wasn’t going to see him this time and that was that.

My wife, bless her, had other plans.

I was putting Oliver to bed a couple of nights later and he was giving me extra trouble and I was a bit crankier than usual. Once he was finally asleep, I went back upstairs, where I was greeted with a backpack and the question was it packed well enough for Leslie’s friend, our neighbor, to take with her to the hospital once she had her baby, which was due rather soon. Perplexed (read: annoyed), and thinking she’s had two kids already, she can pack her own bag, I’m certain of it, I attempted to brush the matter aside, but Leslie insisted I check the bag anyway. What was inside was not fit for a hospital trip at all, but rather a note that said, “Pack what you need to visit [your sister] in this bag.” My wife and her cohorts apparently love me far more than I deserve, and had arranged for me to fly to San Francisco the next week, stay with my sister, and see Paul Simon in concert there.

Because I wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t said, “arranged” means that I still paid for it, I just didn’t type in the purchase information for the airline or concert tickets.

So, here is an account of my trip.

Monday, April 25

I slept too little the previous night, and was tired most of the day.  The family dropped me off at the airport, and there was much tears-shedding by the children, who professed that they could not, at the last moment, let me go.  After several failed attempts to calm them, I was forced to walk away from the crying to get to the plane.  My consolation was that I wouldn’t actually have to hear any other crying for two more days, huzzah!

It had just shy of ten years since I had been on an airplane, a few months before 9/11, and thus all the new-fangled security was new to me.  I printed my boarding pass at the check-in counter and was off on my way to stand in the security line.  I navigated it without too much trouble, as I can read signs and follow directions.  I was one of the last passengers to board the plane, and got the last remaining overhead bin space and a seat in the very back row.  A few people came on after me and since there was no bin space a bag or two was stuffed behind my seat.

The initial flight was to Las Vegas, and I finally got around to reading I Shall Wear Midnight, which I borrowed from Ben too long ago.  I started on the first flight, and passed it and the other flights reading, accompanied by my box of Junior Mints.  Upon landing in Las Vegas, I was amused to be greeted by slot machines immediately upon deboarding the plane.  Nevada was not about to let me forget that I was, in fact, in Nevada.

My connecting flight to San Francisco was delayed, so I wandered the airport a bit, debated whether to pay for overpriced airport food (spoiler: I didn’t), and read some more.  Eventually I got on the next plane and landed in San Francisco, where I was picked up by my recently-wed sister Cherish.

She took me first to the tanning salon she owns, giving me the grand tour that I did not get the last (cursed) time I was in the city, then back to her apartment, where we met her husband Joey and unloaded my things.  We hung around the apartment for a bit, chatting and deciding where to eat dinner before the concert.  I (reluctantly?) handed over the money for my ticket, Cherish having paid for them up front.  We ended up at a fancy Asian place with fancy Asian food, which was yummy, and fancy.  I had a lemonade that at first I feared might be alcoholic, but it was not the case.

After dinner Joey dropped us off at the Davies Symphony Hall, where the San Francisco Symphony plays and the ushers are tuxedoed and stuffy (at least in view of a concert).  We laughed as we observed several people being told not to drape their jackets on the rails in front of their seats, for example, in case, I don’t know, the paint job couldn’t take it?  I decided to hand over too much money for a concert t-shirt, and then we settled in to enjoy the show, which was very nearly fantastic.

(I say very nearly because the show was cut short a couple of songs due to what Paul described as having only about two-thirds of a voice that night.  He sounded great to me.)

The setlist was as follows:

  1. Crazy Love, Vol. II
  2. Dazzling Blue
  3. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
  4. So Beautiful or So What
  5. Slip Sliding Away
  6. That Was Your Mother
  7. Hearts and Bones
  8. Mystery Train (a Little Junior’s Blue Flames cover)
  9. Wheels (a Chet Atkins cover)
  10. The Afterlife
  11. Rewrite
  12. Peace Like a River
  13. The Obvious Child
  14. The Only Living Boy in New York
  15. The Boy in the Bubble
  16. Father and Daughter
  17. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
  18. Gumboots
  19. The Sound of Silence
  20. Kodachrome
  21. Gone at Last
  22. Here Comes the Sun (a Beatles cover)
  23. Late in the Evening

It’s very hard to pick stand-out moments, because everything was made of awesome, but my personal favorites were Crazy Love, Vol. II; Hearts and Bones; Rewrite; Peace Like a River; The Obvious Child; The Only Living Boy in New York; Father and Daughter; Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes; and The Sound of Silence.

I had never heard Crazy Love live before, and it was a treat.  It’s long been one of the songs that I just like for some reason, and the subtle changes in the live performance compared to the album recording were great.  I love how Paul changes the way his songs are performed every now and again, e.g. the wildly varying live renditions of Kodachrome.

Hearts and Bones is among my top favorite Simon songs ever, and so I was very glad to hear it live.

Rewrite, along with Dazzling Blue, are my two favorite songs off the new album, and I was very much looking forward to hearing especially the former.

Peace Like a River is another song that has long been one of my favorites (of course, realistically I could say that about many, many Simon songs), and the piano part toward the end was nice.

The Obvious Child is another one that I enjoy.  I include it in my list here because of the drums at the end.  The audience would start to clap at the end of each set of drumming, thinking the song was over, only to be greeted by more drumming.  Having heard a live version from The Concert in the Park a million or so times, I was prepared for this, and so knew it wasn’t over, and I giggled at the audience.  Because I giggle.

The Only Living Boy in New York is a strong contender for my absolute favorite Paul Simon song, and as it began to be played I felt a ridiculously big grin spread across my face.

Father and Daughter is a special song because it sums up how I feel about my own daughter (except for the part about a golden retriever).  I love to sing this one to my daughter and (I think) she loves when I do.

Diamonds is another song I really love, and it’s one that my kids are very familiar with, as it’s one I’ve sung to them often while rocking them to sleep as infants (they’ve got to start life out right, right?).  During the first verse Paul messed up the lyrics and then stopped the song.  He then proceeded to say, amusedly, how the spotlights flashing across the audience were making him laugh and he was having trouble concentrating on the song.  He asked that they be turned off and then said, “Okay, from the top,” and immediately the band perfectly restarted the opening.  It was one of those moments, you know?  It was also during this song that everyone on the floor decided to stand up and dance, converging on the stage as best they could.

The Sound of Silence was the first song of the first encore, and it was just Paul and his guitar, and simply beautiful to hear.  It seemed like he played each verse in a slightly different style, and of course gave the whole song a little change-up to make it unlike any version I had heard before.  To think that the song was written 47 years ago and is still so wonderful is amazing.

After the concert the we stepped into the hallways to hang out for all of three minutes before the snooty ushers scooted us out of the building.  Joey came to pick us up and we headed back to their apartment for some late-night snacking and Netflix viewing.  We ended up watching a Grown-Ups, which I had not seen based upon my general loss-of-interest for Adam Sandler films post-50 First Dates, but which I was assured was hilarious.  While not as hilarious as I was led to believe, it was also not terrible, and I did laugh, but was also sad to think that Chris Farley would have been in the Kevin James role had he still been alive today.

My sister kept mentioning that the Kinnect being constantly on creeped her out, which I thought was funny, because I’m a jerk.  After the movie it was bed time.

Tuesday, April 26

The next morning I was greeted by sounds of across-the-street construction at what was probably far-too-early an hour, but I was helped in small fashion by way of being one time zone behind, causing my body to rebel slightly less at being accosted by the sun at such an hour.  After a breakfast of weird organic yogurt, granola, and berries, Cherish and I got a latish start toward our destination of the day: Six Flags something-or-other.  First we drove a little farther to the Jelly Belly Factory for to acquire many bags of Belly Flops to take back home to the family.

After the JBF, we headed across the freeway to the mall, where there was a Chick-Fil-A, which serves the most delicious chicken nuggets in existence, so of course we had to eat them.  Chick-Fil-A is also the home of the most awesome ketchup packet/dipping containers known to man, so there’s that.

We enjoyed our satisfying lunch on the short drive back to the Six Flags SOO, where the walk from the parking spot to the front gate was quite longer than it looked.  The day was about as perfect as any I could have asked for–sunny, but not too hot, and very few people at the park, so the lines were very short.  The longest we waited in line for any ride was about five minutes, and that was in the line for the front seat.  (The one exception was for a ride whose line was strangely long, as the ride itself was fun, but not as good as any of the others.)  We spent the day riding roller coasters and other rides, with me screaming delightedly like a little girl.  We also watched part of the killer whale show, saw some dolphins and tigers, ate kettle corn and cotton candy (mmmm…. cotton candy).  One of the rides was too intense for Cherish to go on more than once, so of course I rode it a few more times, ultimately in the front seat, which is the only way to ride a roller coaster, really.

During the prep for that final ride, the operator asked over the microphone if we were excited.  I shouted back, “Yes!” and then he asked me my name.  I told him and he went off into this spiel about the prophecy of Steve riding the ride in the year of 2011 and it was very amusing and weird and then suddenly the ride started and we shot into the sky and fell back down again and it was blurry and crazy and awesome.

A few weeks before my trip, some of my family had gone out to visit Cherish and had procured season passes to the park, because buying some certain number ended up being the same price as a single day’s admission.  My dad let me use his pass, so I got in free, but I made up for it by spending moneys at the gift shops.  I also took pictures with the life-size Batman and Superman statues, as well as some with Daffy Duck and Marvin the Martian.

After the park closed, we walked the long walk back to the car, and then headed to The Cheesecake Factory for dinner.  Apparently we have one here in Utah, up in Salt Lake, but I had never been, and was excited at the prospect of yummy food and cheesecake.  I had delicious pork chops sided with rice and yummy, but entirely too much, spinach.  After dinner I had trouble selecting a cheesecake flavor, and finally settled on Mango Lime.  It was quite good.

After dinner we headed back to Cherish’s place and, upon discovering she had never seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, I insisted with much insistence that we watch it immediately.  Its profound wonderousness was, thankfully, not lost on Cherish, and another convert was made.  Nathan Fillion and cheesecake is also a good combination.

Wednesday, April 27

My final morning of being away arrived, and I took several pictures of the city from the roof of the apartment building, which afforded spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay, and other parts of the city.  We went down to Pier 39 to see the sea lions, take more pictures, and walk through some touristy stuff.  Then we drove up nearer the Golden Gate Bridge to take some more pictures, and then ventured off to the Presidio Park to find the Star Wars statues that apparently litter the Lucasfilm campus.  We only found the Yoda fountain before it was time to head to the airport, and took some pictures of and with it.

Cherish dropped me at the airport where I boarded a plane which landed in Las Vegas, sat for a while, and then continued on to Salt Lake.  My family greeted me at the airport and then we headed to Carl’s Jr. for the kids, while Leslie and I got some Cafe Rio from across the parking lot.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a real trip without some sort of child-poop-thing, so of course Oliver filled his diaper rather fully with us somehow not having any wipes.  We found a nearby grocery store, bought a small pack of Huggies wipes (because yes, we are brand snobs, even in these situations) and then I had to run across the parking lot to an Arctic circle to find bathroom to wash my hands so I could eat my burrito.

Overall, I no longer despise the city of San Francisco, and would even visit there again, assuming that Paul Simon and Six Flags were involved.

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