Jazz In The City

Yesterday’s plan for our excursion to San Francisco originally included spending all day in the city and browsing City Lights bookstore, having a cappuccino in North Beach, strolling around the shops, drinking an afternoon cocktail, eating a nice dinner, and listening to the Brad Mehldau Trio at the Yerba Buena Performing Arts Center. Both of us needed to get away, and I thought it would be fun to put my little pink camera to use taking shots of the city.  The plan was altered as Steve had to go into work to complete some more of a proposal that he and his co-workers had been working on all week well into the week nights.

We didn’t leave until around 3:30.  The drive over prompted the type of discussions that only a road trip can bring about.  We talked about our frustrations with work, where we live, and where we are in our lives.  I imagine this conversation is happening among people all across the country as there are many people like us who are underwater on their mortgage (we bought our condo in 2005 literally the day before the housing market collapsed– at least that what it felt like), busting their butts at their jobs because they’re “lucky to have one in this economy,” and basically living a life that they didn’t quite imagine for themselves.  I, for instance, have taken pay cuts and have a 40 mile commute each way and do not want to get a teaching job closer to home in fear of giving up my seniority (I have already been pink-slipped three times, laid off once, but managed to get called back) and because my local school district lays off teachers every year.  I remind myself how lucky we are that we both have jobs, can afford our mortgage, have health care, and can go on trips.  It is still hard though to see homes for sale and not imagine myself parking my car in that garage, having a drink on the patio, and planting a garden in the front.  We could get a dog.  In the end, however, everything will work out and someday I will have that.

Our trip to San Francisco didn’t pan out as we expected, and we arrived with only enough time for dinner and the show.  We hadn’t preselected a restaurant and as we walked down Market Street we scoped around for places to eat.  I wasn’t in the mood for nouveau, New American, cute little stacks of delicacies on a large white plate cuisine.  I wanted FOOD.  Preferably with a drink.  I spotted the orange neon lights of John’s Grill.  It looked old school San Francisco and the lights also blinked the word “Steaks”, and I knew that would lure Steve in.  We decided to give it a go.

Good food. Good drinks. Good music.

The restaurant was crammed full of tables and the maitre d’s station was so close to the door, it was a challenge to get in.  We were lead to the second of three stories and given a table for two at the end of a long row of tables for two.  It was already doing brisk business and more people filed in.  This was a real restaurant without pretension.  As I scanned the menu and the walls, I learned that John’s Grill is one of the oldest establishments in the city and the building was used as the setting for Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.  All around us were pictures from the filming of the movie with Humphrey Bogart, and in the corner was the Maltese Falcon used in the film.  Leave it to me to randomly choose a place of literary significance.  To add to the ambience was a jazz guitarist who performed right in front of us as I sipped my Vesper (gin and lemon and something else).  Using his 35 year old Fender, he entertained us with “Take the ‘A’ Train”, “Wonderful World”, “New York, New York”, “Girl From Ipanema”, and some Kenny Burrell covers.  The diners, Steve especially, listened appreciatively.

The Maltese Falcon.
Meet Vesper, my new BFF.

If it was food I wanted, then it was food I got.  Steve got his steak and I ordered the red snapper with shrimp, crab, and mushrooms in a lemon cream sauce.  My fish covered half of my plate and was accompanied by fresh steamed zucchini, snap peas, and carrots and a baked potato.  It was all very good, but too much for my little stomach.  This, however, did not stop me from me from contemplating dessert.  As Steve said, “You want dessert.  You’re going to get a sweet tooth if you don’t.”  Hmm… yes, I should stop it before it starts.  Alas, we looked at the time and had to scoot over to the show.  Dessert would have to wait.

We walked over to the Yerba Buena Performing Arts Center and arrived a couple of minutes prior to the bell that alerts us to find our seats.  The auditorium was small, with a few rows of seats on the floor and about twenty row of stadium seating.  The decor was spare and modern and the stage was raised off the floor about four feet.  Blue and green lights shined on the instruments.   Our tickets had our seat numbers for the stadium seating, but they had oversold the show and it was a free for all and there were no seats left in that section.  Steve muttered how we should have arrived sooner and didn’t the SF Jazz Society KNOW who Brad Mehldau was?  Didn’t they know he’d be popular?  The problem was solved as the ushers ushered us and others into the seats on the floor. Inadvertently, we had been upgraded with seats facing the drummer.  This thrilled Steve to pieces as he is a drummer and loves watching other drummers’ techniques.

Waiting for the show to start.

The trio came out and began performing.  Mehldau’s body seemed to lack joints as he grooved to each piano note.  The same could be said for Larry Grenadier, the bassist, whose arm muscles strained as he plucked the strings.  Jeff Ballard, the drummer, dug his chin into his left shoulder as he bit his tongue and swept the brushes across the cymbals.  All three played with their eyes closed and all three looked like they were having a spiritual experience.  Being as musically inclined as a toothpick, I wondered how they heard the notes and processed the chords.  What did the world look and sound like from their perspective? Everyone in the audience gave them their rapt attention.  I, on the other hand, did what I normally do when made to sit still in a dark room around my bed-time with nothing to read or actively engage my mind (I’m a visual person and need words):  I dozed off.  I tried to shake off the sleepies and pay attention. Mehldau’s tunes have a bit of the lullaby to them, so it was a challenge.  It was a great show, and each of them gave great performances and were consummate professionals.

Steve and I.

As we made our way home we reflected on how much of a good time we had.  It wasn’t the day we had planned, but we made the most of the time we had and things had ended up working out for the better.  It all worked out in the end, especially once Steve stopped at a mini-mart and got some Peanut M&M’s to share and assuage my sweet tooth.


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