Sunday December 17, 2006

Early in the day, Amanda and I went to the Golden Gate. Later was the reason we flew out here - for the marriage of Marty and Grace! Congrats!


Contrary to what Lionel Richie says, Sunday morning wasn't so easy for us! We were determined to see some more of San Francisco on our last day. Perhaps we pushed it too far. Amanda was feeling some pain around her foot and ankle. Still, she really wanted to see the hollow redwood log that she'd been seeing since childhood and her sister wanted to hit Golden Gate Park for the Japanese Tea Garden.

Before we left, I checked up on Grandma. She was still improving. Her family had even been checking up on her. To be honest, I was surprised but I'm glad on the rare occasions when they decide to the right thing.

Then the same trio as yesterday got out on a cold, windy Sunday morning in San Francisco, grabbed a bus and we headed for the coast (no paraphrasing of "American Pie" intended).

When we got to the bridge, we looked around everywhere for that log. I had remembered it as being on the Sausolito side but we certainly didn't have time to walk across today. She finally asked about it at the gift shop. The guy remembered it and said it was just where she thought it was. Then they moved it to the Sausolito side before getting rid of it! So while we were both right about its location, the bottom line is that it was gone. That's another piece of childhood tossed aside. I can't even find any record of it ever having existed when I looked on the interweb for it. At least we have pics of her in it on a couple of occasions so we know it was there. Oh, hollow log. We hardly knew ye.

We spent a little time on the bridge. We didn't walk out far but we did wanna go on it a little bit. Last time we walked across it. On one side it was in the '60s and it was in the '90s on the far side. It was like the top and the bottom of the Grand Canyon or something. Today, with Amanda beginning to hurt and the lack of time, we couldn't try. Instead, we walked under the bridge (which yes, started Amanda singing a certain Chili Peppers song). It was weird to see that side of such a historic location. It's painted International Orange, too. The strange thing is that every now and then a bicycle (or several) would come racing by. It's a bike trail down there. We moved on to the ocean side. I took some pictures of the sisters looking out over the Pacific. It was glorious. The Pacific is so much different than the Atlantic. Being here made me want to go back to Monterey, Carmel and Point Lobos which are all completely stunning. California's a weird place for me. I always feel so at home here. It's almost like some kind of a pull. I've a feeling that if I wasn't needed close to South Carolina, we'd have been out here a long time ago. Of course, that whole lack of sweet tea, gravy and the other redneck boy staples would be a problem for me but I definitely feel a sense of freedom out west that I don't think I've ever felt in the east.

Before we left, I swung by the bathroom which was full of Japanese tourists. I wouldn't mention it except for the fact that there was about a dozen of 'em in there and they kept walking all around and then shoving the previous one aside. It was very strange. They were smart enough not to mess with the big (relatively speaking), dumb American but it was indeed odd.

If we wanted to go by the park, we needed to get out of here. It sounds like Golden Gate Park would be right at the bridge but it's not. It's several miles away. We hopped another bus. At one point we were going the wrong way. Then we missed our stop. We were not making good time. Eventually, we wound up in the vicinity of the Japanese Tea Garden. Unfortunately, it wasn't as peaceful as it should've been because we were becoming so pressed for time. We tried to properly contemplate Buddha, the dome bridge, the pagodas and zen gardens. I don't know that we did it justice this time. We tried, though.

Then we had to get out there. We tried to grab lunch. I wanted to go on somewhere else and get food. I was outvoted so I wound up getting an entirely inappropriate lunch for a big day like this. It was never gonna get me through. But I didn't have any say in the matter. By now, Amanda was hurting worse. It was getting bad for her.

Still, we had to race back and get ready. Today was the day. Little Marty was marrying Grace. This is when I feel much older than my actual age. He was so young when I met him. How can he be getting married? He's now a teacher in San Francisco. He plays (and builds his own) stand up basses in an amazing jazz band. He has become himself. I'm proud of him and I know all of the rest of us are, too. I felt terrible that I couldn't go to his sister's wedding last year but I'm glad I'm able to be here today to celebrate this union with the whole family.

Of course by the time to leave for the ceremony, I was already starving and Amanda was hurting worse. It wasn't the best of circumstances. Just in time, we got dressed and grabbed a cab to the cathedral. When we told the driver where we were going, he launched into an accusatory diatribe about religion, how he was raised Catholic but doesn't believe in the silliness of Christianity any more. In fact, he doesn't believe in God so why were we going to a cathedral to celebrate a marriage? He didn't seem to get it. He was getting worked up about it. It was kind of funny. He let us know that he put some faith in Eastern religions but none in the Western variations. He got a little too into it as at that point, he proceeded to pull out in front of about 5 cars. What did he say as he slammed on the brakes? He yelled "Oh God!" I couldn't help but laugh. I said, "You know, you may wanna rethink your position on religion a bit." He smirked and said, "It's something people say. It doesn't mean anything." Yeah. Whatever.

The worst part is that when he slammed on the brakes, he proceeded to hit Amanda's leg and make it much, much worse. So by the time we got to the cathedral, we were freezing, hungry and she was in severe pain.

What can I say about the ceremony? It really was beautiful. With that stained-glass filtered light pouring in, everything looked like a painting. I took some pics from my prime family seat. I got some great shots. I can't wait to share them with Marty, Grace and their families.

Unfortunately, there was a long, long wait between the wedding and the reception dinner which took place at a pretty but drafty castle-like place. I was still slightly jet lagged and on top of everything else, it was so cold. Amanda was hurting more and more. It was rough for us. We tried to put our best face on but it was hard.

Once everything finally got in gear, it was much better for me. Food did the trick. But that didn't help Amanda. She was really hurting. Her slight limp had gotten to the point where she could barely walk. When all the dancing began, I felt so bad for her. She really wanted to get up and dance. She hardly ever gets the chance except at weddings and now this has happened.

Despite the problems, at some point it dawned on me just how much I care about all of these people and how long they've been my family. I'm humbled that they treat me as such. I'm incredibly lucky. Despite the occasional problems and grumbling, these people make me feel relaxed and at home...even if it's 3,000 miles away.

Meanwhile, most of the people who share my last name and are from my locality are more like rude strangers who can only dwell in the negative. Of course, they have chosen their fates and at this point, I'm thankful to not have them around. I don't want or need them as family. I have mine in the form of Amanda, Grandma, Mom, a sister, a brother, nieces, nephews and my maternal relatives. That is the cake. Knowing that Amanda's family is mine also is the icing.

We stuck around long enough to see Marty sit in with the jazz band. I was quite impressed. The other guys were technically great but they missed out on some of the enthusiasm (as many jazz guys do). Marty felt it and sent it back out through the bass. That's the way it should be done.

By this point, we had to get Amanda out of there. We got back to the hotel and grabbed a little more to eat before bed.

Our trip is for all intents and purposes done. Now our only goal is to somehow get Amanda back to the South without injuring her further. The trip home wouldn't be easy!




Saturday December 16, 2006

Everything's slanted in SF! Note that the picture of me with the Chinatown frog is straight. It had to be fixed to look right. The reality of life in SF is seen by the way the bottom of the store joins the road in the same pic. It's pretty much that crooked everywhere!









Finally, I'm rested and ready to go. I may be a little worse for the wear and slightly jet lagged but over all, I'm feeling great compared to yesterday. I called Grandma again first thing. Nothing's changed. Again, I asked her to go to the hospital and again she refused. I don't know how long this can go on. I'm worried but reachable on my cell phone at a moment's notice. That's my only bit of comfort regarding this situation. I'm in constant touch. Besides, you'd be surprised what I can pull off even from 3,000 miles away.

It's a good thing I'm feeling better as Amanda's Mom, Dad and sister are now in the hotel and they're all wanting to do things.

In the morning, the whole group of us (including Marty's family) hooked up for a "brunch" at a little greasy spoon around the corner. Then Amanda, her sister, her parents and I took off together via cable car for some sightseeing. We wound up wandering around Chinatown. I remember the realization the last time I was here that authentic Chinese food is the closest to real Southern food that I've ever found outside of the South. After wandering around for a while, Amanda's parents decided to go to church while the other 3 of us kept meandering. It was nice. I took a few pics of the old culture juxtaposed against the modern.

Before we left that side of town, I dashed down to get a few shots of the Oakland Bay Bridge. I never did go over to that side before. The Golden Gate gets all the glory 'cause it's bright orange and on the ocean side. It deserves what it gets. Yes, it is stunning but the truth is that the Oakland Bay Bridge (with its homelier name) is older, bigger and fairly amazing in its own right. I was glad to get a few shots of it.

After that, we hopped on a trolley to take us down to Fisherman's Wharf. When we were watching the sea lions, I got a phone call. It was Missy telling me that my Grandmother had been admitted into the hospital with pneumonia. I knew it was more serious than bronchitis. I actually felt some relief since I knew she was being taken care of now. I'd be lying, though, if I said my worry didn't darken my day somewhat. I refused to let it stop me. I had an amazing pasta and sauce lunch at Fisherman's Wharf. It really hit the spot. It was just what I needed.

While walking up a staircase after lunch, I tripped. I had my camera around my neck so I caught myself with my fingertips which then bent the other direction. Man, it hurt. I thought I'd broken it for a little while.

After lunch, Amanda's parents went on back to the hotel. The girls and I spent some more time at Fisherman's Wharf then hopped back on another cable car. We wound up at Lombard Street (The Crookedest Street In The World). Here, I got another call from Missy. She seemed a bit frustrated and overwhelmed and I can't say that I blame her. I wound up sitting down on the side of the street and talking about the whole situation with her. Apparently, Grandma's usually MIA family had shown up. I'm glad to hear that they care enough about her when she's hospitalized. In my opinion, though, if they cared anything about her when she was okay, she might never have gotten into this shape. Still, I'm honestly glad that they're there for her now. Missy let me know that they're keeping Grandma in the hospital for a while. She'll be there at least until I get back to Georgia. So at least I know she's taken care of. I still feel bad that no one even took her to the hospital. She eventually had to call 911 on her own (finally taking my advice and apparently Missy's too). At least she got the care she needs. It was so strange to sit here so far away and be connected by this little mobile phone. I don't know how I could've taken it if I knew I couldn't be reached. That phone made it possible for me to keep going.

Amanda notified me when I got off the phone that she had found her dream house. You can see it in this picture. It's the blue one on the right side. There's no way I could live on this street. It's beautiful and all (pics don't do it justice) but I couldn't live around so many tourists 24 hours a day!

It was getting late and we had a rehearsal dinner coming up in a few hours so we dashed back to the hotel and tidied up. I also called to talk to Grandma at the hospital. She already sounded a little better. Now she was getting some food and care. I felt better about that even though I was still very worried.

When we headed back out, the cabbie couldn't find the unmarked, hipster location that the party was at but together, we all deduced it and eventually found it at its only logical location. I was still feeling okay and noticed that they had no photog so I offered my services. I wound up taking candid portraits of every single person there. It was kind of nice as it gave me something to do and I felt like I was doing a service for them. In addition to meeting and chatting with a lot of cool people, I also had a great (real) pizza dinner!

About 10pm, we headed back to the hotel. Before she went her separate way, I even took some candids of Amanda's sister. She's always been camera shy so it's good to have a few. I hope she likes 'em okay.

Today was a full day. I can't believe that there's only one full day left in San Francisco and most of the day is taken up by the wedding. I'm sure that'll be great but we're just getting started. How can it be ending so soon?





Friday December 15, 2006

A typical San Francisco street...and some girl in front of the hotel room window.

For the most part, today sucked. I felt like such a dud from being so out of it. I wanted to get out and explore. I love this city. Sometime around lunch time, I got up. We wandered around the block to a pizza place called The Front Room. It was overpriced and only okay. Of course when the waitress asked what I WANTED to drink, I asked if there was any chance for sweet tea. I was kidding. Then she offered. I interjected, "No, I don't mean hot, bitter tea with ice cubes and a ton of sugar packets mixed in. I mean sweet tea - not sweetened tea." She smiled and said that she thought she had something for me. I was shocked and happy. Then she brought it. It was hot, bitter tea with ice cubes and a ton of sugar packets mixed in. ACK! I tried to drink it. I couldn't. I wound up drinking water. Before long, I'd used up whatever energy I had. I had to go right back to the hotel where I collapsed again. Amanda took a nap too but then she went on upstairs to spend time with her long distance relatives. I wish I could go but no - I've gotta sleep some of this misery off.

I called Grandma before I went back to sleep. Honestly, she sounded as bad as yesterday. She wasn't okay. Again, I begged her to call an ambulance and go to the hospital. She refused again. All I could do was hope that she knew what she was doing. Then I crashed.

I made a good choice. I felt much better after the nap. I even went up and visited in the late afternoon. We were going to all hook up with Amanda's parents and go out to dinner but it was getting too late and we weren't going to have a repeat of last night. For dinner, Amanda and I instead went to a great little inexpensive Chinese place called Bamboo that was on the back block of the hotel.'Twas amazing for the price. It had great ambience and the whole area had such a strong sense of neighborhood. It was wonderful. I really felt at home. Now I was starting to remember why I love this place so much.

I was invited to go to Marty's bachelor party tonight but I decided against it. If I was out late again, I'd be a mess for the whole trip. So I went back to the room and relaxed for a decent night's sleep for a change!



Thursday December 14, 2006

San Francisco by night...our neighborhood for the next few days...



Well, today's the big day. We've got to fly out to San Francisco. I hate flying. I know it's crazy but it scares me. I can't seem to help it. I've been dreading this for a while. In fact, "An Uncertain Flight" was written partially as I saw this trip impending. Oh well - I've gotta do what I've gotta do.

Before I headed off, I took care of whatever work I could and tried to call my Mom and Grandma. I had a nice talk with Mom but never could get Grandma. Then we took off for Atlanta. When we got to the airport, I was as nervous as ever. I made sure to get some Southern food before heading out to the Land Of No Sweet Tea. After picking up some mags and snacks for the late flight, I tried to call Grandma again. This time I got her. She sounded absolutely terrible. She said she thought she had bronchitis but she sounded worse than that to me. She said she tried to go to the doctor today and the ever-kind people turned her away due to a billing problem. Unbelievable! She was clearly in bad shape. I begged her to go the emergency room and she refused. So I hung up with Grandma, called Mom again and she got Missy on the line. Missy then grabbed Benji and they went to check up on her.

She's clearly in bad shape and now I've got to head 3000 miles away. It's tough. But I need to be there for Amanda and her family too. I just told myself that I'll have to do what I can long distance and hope the team back home can save the day. I had to turn off the phone when I got on the plane. I was way too nervous for my own good. Surprisingly, I calmed down pretty quickly. It was after dark (9 pm EST) by the time we left. Because I couldn't see, I felt slightly airsick but not enough to really be a factor. I looked down from the window seat at what looked like gold spread across black velvet and thought about all of the people I care about. I wasn't nervous at all after awhile. In fact, I sat back and enjoyed the in-flight movie, Little Miss Sunshine. It was also nice to have a few minutes to spend with Amanda. We get so little time together these days. She made the flight not scary at all. In fact, it was a pleasure to be able to catch up and spend some time together. Granted, I was still out of it by the time the lights of SF showed up down below but it was the best flight ever.

When we landed in San Francisco, I checked my messages. I had one from Mom that came in about the time I had turn off my phone. Missy and Benji checked on Grandma and got some food in her. Mom told me not to worry but I can't help it. I heard what she sounds like. I know it's bad. Here's hoping she'll go to the hospital when she needs to and that Missy and Benji will check up on her.

I was so exhausted by the time we landed that I could hardly keep my eyes open. It was too cramped to get any sleep on the plane. I was feeling out of it by now. We got a 38 dollar ride to the hotel where we ran into the man of honor, Marty and Steven (the new brother-in-law). How strange it was to accidentally run into them! Then Big Marty came down and we all exchanged our warm greetings. It was about 4 am to us when we got there so as much as we loved seeing them we had to turn down their invitation to go out.

I will say this about them. This is how family SHOULD be. I'm so happy these people accept me as family. I know they care and would look out for us in any way. The feeling's mutual. It's good to have people like that on your side.

We got up to the room and I tried to get to sleep at about 1:30 PST. To me, it was 4:30. My body was in the mode to keep itself awake so I just laid there feeling worse and worse. When the clock hit 4:30 PST, I started to freak out a bit.

How was I gonna do everything I needed to do? Tonight shot tomorrow. We should've never had such a late flight. At least it wasn't a traumatic one. Of course, this feeling's making up for it! Blech!

Still, it can't be all bad. We're in San Francisco!



Wednesday December 13, 2006




I'm exhausted today. I mean really torn down. I'm much more tired than I should be from one night. If it was from last night, it was still worth it. If not, I don't know what to say. It just seems like everything's catching up with me while I fall further and further behind. I hope it's my imagination.

The big news today is not good. I got word that my brother's wife April is going through what Benji, Missy and I went through a little more than 3 years ago...the death of a father. I'm very sorry to hear it. I hope it doesn't mess her up any worse than it has to. I sent her a card telling her that my personal advice is to whatever she needed to do for awhile. "Do what you can and fall when you need to fall" or something like that.

I'm thinking of you, April. Take care but don't let it take control.

If you wanna check out the cool shots from last night's Zappa show, you know what to do!



Tuesday December 12, 2006

Dweezil Zappa, Terry Bozzio, Napoleon Murphy Brock and Steve Vai bringing Frank's music back to life in Atlanta!






I can't believe I didn't put in for the Zappa Plays Zappa show until the other day. I wasn't going to go. I was going to rest up for our big trip to San Francisco. At the last minute, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to do it. I cannot possibly tell you how glad I am that I did. This was phenomenal. It may have been the best show of the year. From a musical standpoint it certainly was. Overall, I'll have to think about it some more. Still - it was unbelievable!

I was a Zappa fan since childhood. When he died, I felt crushed. I never thought I'd get to hear these songs live. When I heard about Zappa Plays Zappa, I had mixed feelings. First off, there's no way that Dweezil can take the place of his father or even do the legacy justice, right? Well, I was wrong...very, VERY wrong.

It only took the first couple of bars of the opening song "Andy" to know it. It was perfect, gorgeous and everything I ever could've wanted (Oh, that glorious guitar sound!). That segued into (yep!) "Call Any Vegetable"! I was giddy with excitement by this point. I stood on the back of the floor at a nearly packed Tabernacle to watch this show. "Idiot Bastard Son" was cool enough but I lost it when "Florentine Pogen" started. Now THIS IS MUSIC! I'd actually forgotten how awe-inspiring, melodic and incredible much of this music is. Vocalist / sax player Napoleon Murphy Brock was perfect and Dweezil was better than perfect (a little edge on him). The other guys (and girl) were exactly what was needed. Audience favorites "I'm The Slime" and "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow" (minus the "Nanook Rubs It" bit) kept me going but it was an inexplicably unreal "Inca Roads" that made me feel overloaded. The marimba, the guitar, the bass, the drums...everything was there and perfect! I felt joy and happiness. I felt humbleness from a musical standpoint. I felt exhilarated. Then it got even better!

Zappa band vocalist / drummer Terry Bozzio joined the band on a positively obscene "ginormous" drum kit to sing lead on "I'm So Cute" and "Trying To Grow A Chin". I never expected I'd hear these live...much less with the original singer. Oh, it rocked! Then they called up another special guest. For the first time, Denny Whalley showed up on this tour to join in on Bongo Fury's "Advance Romance". His slide work sounded exactly like 1975 all over again. Terry then took back over the spotlight for "Punky's Whips" and a jaw dropping "Black Page". The drum solo section was crazy enough. Then Steve Vai himself wandered onstage to join in for "The Black Page" part 2. The highs kept getting higher. "Peaches En Regalia", "Montana" and especially "Zomby Woof" gave Vai the chance to be Vai. Just like every other time I've seen him, I couldn't help but wonder how he got those sounds out of his guitar. The main set ended with Dweezil leading the band (minus guests) through a perfect rendition of Zoot Allures' "Black Napkins."

During the encore, "Oh No" (one of my favorite Zappa melodies) devolved into "Son Of Orange County" which wound in a drum solo that become a duet. Joe Traverz (the regular drummer) started out. Apparently, he decided to play a joke on Terry Bozzio and play his Baby Snakes solo note for note. Terry came out laughing hysterically, then JOINED IN and hit every beat and mannerism perfectly with Joe. It didn't even sound like 2 drummers. That may sound pointless but from a musician's standpoint, it's all the more mind boggling. I was a bit surprised by "Trouble Every Day" but it was a good kind of surprised. It sucks that the song is still so appropriate 40 years later but it speaks both to Frank Zappa and the human condition. They closed out with the introductions as Vai vamped on "Token Of My Extreme". I was blown away. I can't wait for the promised upcoming DVD from this tour. Amanda thought some of the jams went on a bit too long but even she was duly impressed. At 3 straight hours with no intermission, Zappa Plays Zappa threw down the gauntlet. And when Napoleon Murphy Brock introduced Dweezil as "the new captain of the ship", no one disagreed. Who'd a thunk it?

If you like Zappa, you MUST see Zappa Plays Zappa.

Check out this set list!

1. Andy
2. Call Any Vegetable
3. Tell Me You Love Me
4. Pygmy Twylyte
5. Idiot Bastard Son
6. Cheepnis
7. Florentine Pogen
8. I'm The Slime
9. Pound For A Brown
10. Don't Eat The Yellow Snow
11. St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast
12. Father Oblivion
13. Inca Roads
14. I'm So Cute (With Terry Bozzio)
15. Tryin' To Grow a Chin (With Terry Bozzio)
16. Advance Romance (featuring Denny Whalley and Terry Bozzio)
17. Punky's Whips (With Terry Bozzio)
18. The Black Page Part 1(With Terry Bozzio)
19. The Black Page Part 2 (With Terry Bozzio and Steve Vai)
20. Peaches En Regalia (With Steve Vai)
21. Montana (With Steve Vai)
22. Village of the Sun (With Steve Vai)
23. Echidna's Arf (Of You) (With Steve Vai)
24. Zomby Woof (With Steve Vai)
25. Black Napkins


26. Oh No / Son Of Orange County (With Steve Vai and Terry Bozzio)
27. Trouble Every Day (With Steve Vai and Terry Bozzio)
28. Introductions / Token Of My Extreme (Instrumental) (With Steve Vai and Terry Bozzio)



Monday December 11, 2006




I spent all day today trying to catch up all the little things that I've allowed to get so far out of hand. I didn't do a good job at it either. Certainly I've earned some time for myself, right? Wasn't last week enough to make up for not getting much finished today despite working?

Click here for last week with seriously Jon Bon Jovi, Neil Hamburger, Tenacious D, OK Go, Plain White T's, A.F.I., JET, Bob Seger, KT Tunstall, Hinder, The Fray and The Goo Goo Dolls.