Sunday, March 25, 2012

Saturday And A Step Back In Time...

I'm a member of a photography "collective" here in San Diego. Now, as much as that term might conjure up images of "comrades", the reality is that it's a pretty good networking tool. It's a great way to meet like-minded individuals, share information, etc.

Through this group I was asked to help photograph the San Diego CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) during their final drill before their certification and graduation. The event was taking place at the San Diego Fire-Rescue Training Facility, which is located at the former Naval Training Center in Pt. Loma.

Now, in another life (my Navy days), I found myself a resident of the Naval Training Center. I lived in building 492. I was actually stationed there twice. The first time was when I was attending Basic Electricity & Electronics, which was something seemingly everyone had to attend. The year was 1983. The second time was in 1990, when I was there for a digital electronics course. Since leaving NTC after that second time, I think I went back only two or three times in the following ten years, but I was never again stationed there.

NTC fell victim to something called "BRAC", or "base realignment and closure", in 1993. Having opened in 1923, NTC had a solid run. The base was closed down incrementally and the gates were locked for good in 1997.

I always thought the base should be turned into a college campus. Hell, all of the necessities were there. You had school buildings, barracks (call them "dorms" if you'd like), dining facilities (which could accommodate 5,000 at one time), sport complexes; it was set. Add to that a beautiful location; right on San Diego Bay, and you could make a strong case for a high-dollar institute of higher learning. The City of San Diego had dibs on the property, though, and the City had other plans. The area that most Navy vets would know as NTC is now known as Liberty Station. It's all civilian, very commercial and, well, it is what it is.

Unfortunately, in order to build up Liberty Station, many buildings needed to come down. All of the education building were razed, and some of the buildings were "re-purposed" (Goddamn, I love that word). Some building, though, suffered neither fate. To this day, 19 years after it was determined that NTC would close, many building sit, at best, dormant and, at worst, abandoned.

So, it was with the latter in mind that I took advantage of the fact that I would be shooting in and around some of these buildings. For the most part, the buildings that remain standing are old barracks; decrepit reminders to me of how much I really didn't like living on base. Most of the other buildings which were here in 1990 have been razed.

Those which haven't been razed, though, sit. They sit and wait for, well, for something, I suppose:























One of the things I noticed is that the was a pretty profound lack of anything remotely resembling security around this part of the base. It's fully open to the public, and there are plenty of photo ops I didn't manage to get yesterday.

Perhaps a return trip may be in order. Maybe at night... with a tripod.

Hmmmm...






Friday, March 16, 2012

Two Months In...

Well, I'm two months in.

At 10:53am on January 16, I put out what ended up being my last cigarette. I was motivated but, at the same time, I was absolutely sure I would fail. I'd smoked for 35 years, after all. Seriously, what were the odds I would actually be able to quit?

Well, apparently, the odds were pretty good. I haven't lit up in two months. Without going into details, I'll just say that there have been more than a few things which have occurred over the last two months for which I could've been forgiven a miss-step. I forced myself to wait out the craving, though, each and every time I got one. Hell, I'm craving a smoke right now.

Not gonna' do it, though.

In all honesty, this isn't anywhere near the hardest thing I've ever done. In fact, if I knew it was going to be this easy, I would've quit 20 years ago. I didn't want to quit back then, though, so it probably wouldn't have worked.

Between a prescription for Wellbutrin and six weeks worth of 21mg nicotine patches, I've stopped smoking. I'm supposed to wear 14mg patches for two weeks, and then 7mg patches for two weeks, and then I'm done with the patches. I still have one 21mg patch left, though. I may or may not use it. I may skip the 14mg patches and jump right to the 7mg patches. Maybe I'll go have a cigar.

Okay, no cigar.

People ask me if I feel better. Well, I suppose I do. I don't really think about it, though. I know I'm not coughing up any internal organs when I wake up anymore, so I gotta' count that as a plus. The other thing I notice is that, since I quit, I've been waking up earlier. A lot earlier. It's not unusual for me to roll out of bed at 5:00am now, even though I don't really have to.

Now, I have no intention of being that militant ex-smoker that we all seem to know. Actually, I don't mind the smell of someone having a cigarette. I won't run away screaming, and I won't demean them for being a smoker. Instead, I'll probably walk through the trail of smoke emanating from their cigarette and take a whiff.

Will I never smoke again? I'm going to say "Yes, I will never smoke again", even though I'm well aware that the recidivism rate for smokers is ridiculously high. But I have no intention of ever firing up again.

I've been told that the most difficult times are the 30 day, 60 day, and 90 days marks. Well, I've got two of those down with one to go.

And I think I'm gonna' make it...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

San Francisco - The Weekend...

Friday morning came way too early, and there was simply no way to avoid it. Not being able to counteract the effects of the rising sun, I got out of bed, walked into the kitchen and, once again, came face to face with my nemesis, that modern scourge of coffeedom, the Impressa coffee maker:
It mocks me no more...
During past visits, this coffee maker all but laughed at me. It sensed the trepidation which can only be the result of dealing with a Bunn coffee maker for so long; pour the water, press one button, and you're golden. The Impressa, however, starts out with a "maintenance" step, and then the selection of "product" and "size". It does brew a good cup of coffee, though. I just wish it wasn't so involved. I've gotten to the point where I've got it figured out, though, so life was good.

Not only does the deck as Casa de la Chris have an amazing view, you're also likely to see more than a few deer in a day, or even wild turkey:

The view from the deck at Chris' house...

Deer along the hillside, within view of the house...

A wild turkey along the road up to the house...

As nice as the views and wildlife are, breakfast was the name of the game this morning. Lafayette has this little place called "Millie's" and it is, by every measure, a great breakfast joint. I thought we'd be headed that way (they've got some crazy pancakes), but Chris wanted to head over to Berkeley, to Bette's Ocean View Diner:

One of only two pictures I took at Bette's...
Now, I don't mean to split hairs, but this really does need to be mentioned: If your goal is to enjoy your late Friday morning breakfast while taking in a wonderful ocean view, it may surprise you to learn that Bette's Ocean View Diner is not the place for you. I'm not entirely sure where the diner got its name, but a quick scan of your surroundings will tell you it didn't come from the ocean. And I am, of course, assuming that there is, or has been, someone name Bette involved.

I'm normally a big fan of taking pictures of huge breakfasts (hey, it is the most important meal of the day). Somehow, though, I only managed to get the shot above, and a photo of an old Seeburg jukebox near the cash register:



Truth be told, when breakfast showed up, it was pretty overwhelming. I was a little misty-eyed over the whole affair. It was a lot of food. I know Chris took a picture of, at least, part of his breakfast; some banana pancake souffle monstrosity that sat a full four or five inches off his plate, and I don't recall if Kandice finished her breakfast, although I suspect not.

We decided to walk off breakfast a bit, and head over to a pasta and cheese shop not far from Bette's.  Now, I like a nice cheese as much as the next guy, and this store certainly didn't disappoint. Well, maybe it did a little. Chris brought me a sample of some goat's milk & coconut nut milk cheese that was, frankly, one of the most vile things I've ever tasted. I countered the lingering aftertaste with a smoked-gouda-something that was really nice.

These people really like their cheese:

Some of the selection of cheeses we found in Berkeley...

Some of the selection of cheeses we found in Berkeley...

Chris and Kandice cheese shopping...

We made our way back to Lafayette, as the Friday night gig started a bit early. Again, the gig was at a wine-only establishment but, thankfully, this one had chairs to sit on:

The set-up at Auburn James in Danville, California. I played the Martin, Chris played the Taylor...

The gig ended early; 8:30pm. We packed up the gear but left it there, as Friday night was the celebration for Chris' birthday. I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any photos from Friday night, but I know I didn't take any.

Saturday promised to be a low-key, relaxing weekend day. the gigs for this trip were over ( at least for me), and we just wanted to decompress a little from the birthday revelry of the night before. Kandice whipped up some pretty wicked omelets and, paired with some hash browns and some coffee, it was a good start to the day.

Around mid-afternoon, I got a call from another friend in the Bay Area. Peter is is a native Aussie, but gained his US citizenship last year. Pete is the embodiment of the "American dream". He came here with little, and is now wildly successful. And, if the opportunity presents itself, we like to get together and catch up over a Guinness or two at O'Reilly's in North Beach:

O'Reilly's Irish Pub in North Beach...
Peter enjoying his Guinness at O'Reilly's...

Chris and Peter at O'Reilly's...

After the obligatory catching up, Peter had to excuse himself and get to another commitment. Chris and I decided to cruise around the city a bit, primarily up to the Palace Of Fine Arts. In movies, or even from a distance, the immensity can't be appreciated. You have to get right up on it; in it, to really understand how big this is:

San Francisco's Palace Of Fine Arts...

Chris had an early gig the next day, so we didn't want to stay out late. We found our way back across the Bay Bridge, stopped by the grocery store, and picked up some rather stupidly thick New York Strips:

Oh. My. God.

Chris had his way with these steaks on the grille, cooked up some rice and carrots, and we had dinner. This was yet another meal of which I didn't get any pictures. I didn't want to waste time taking pictures while the steak you see on the right, above, was perfectly cooked and sitting on a plate in front of me.

Sunday was a relaxing day all around. Chris had an early gig for a birthday party so, before that, we meandered down to The Peasant And The Pear in Danville for brunch. The P&P's Bloody Mary was simply too damn tempting to pass up:

This was a REALLY good Bloody Mary...

As much as I like breakfast, I couldn't pass up something called "The Rodzilla". It's a burger named for the owner, Rodney Worth, and it was simply one of the finest burgers I've ever had:

The Rodzilla...

After brunch, and after the gig, it was nothing more than a nice, lazy day lounging around the house. We'd be leaving for the airport by 7:00pm for my 9:30pm flight back to San Diego. I figure, if I play my cards right, it won't be another year before I get back here...




San Francisco - Days 1 & 2...

It seems like I'd made a habit of travelling up to the San Francisco Bay Area about once every six months. I'd go up, sit in on some gigs with my buddy Chris, have a cocktail or three, and come home. Somehow, though, I'd managed to let more than a year go by without a trip north. The last gig I'd played was December 31, 2010.

Yeah. I was due.

I booked my flight (thankyouverymuch, Mileage Plus) and, on Wednesday, February 29, flew up to San Francisco. At almost 50 years old, this was the first time I'd ever flown on February 29. I gotta' think it won't happen too often.

Chris and Kandice picked me up at the airport and whisked me north to Lafayette, where Chris lives. The weather was only mildly crappy, and traffic wasn't bad at all (I landed at just after noon), and we made it to Chris' in about a half hour.

One of the things I like about visiting the Bay Area is that Chris is a ridiculously good cook. He always fires up something in the kitchen. In fact, the prevailing joke is that it's just not dinner unless Chris is tryin' to burn the joint down. In this case, the dish in question would be Veal Marsala:





Veal Marsala, pasta, mushrooms. Crazy...

Day two included something which has become a bit of a tradition when I come up here: A trip to St. George Spirits and Hangar 1 Distillery. Hangar 1 is located on the now "re-purposed" Naval Air Station Alameda and, as the name might imply, is housed in an old airplane hangar.

Before we would head over to the base to meet our friend Sascha Wen, though, we would have to stop for coffee. Now, I like coffee. I'm a coffee fan. I like to believe that I know a good cup of coffee when I have one. So, when Chris and Kandice proclaimed Blue Bottle Coffee as "the best you'll ever have", I was more than a bit intrigued.

From what I understand, Blue Bottle Coffee Company has nine locations, with seven of them in the Bay Area (the other two are in New York City). We decided to stop at the location on Webster Street in Oakland.

Now, I have to admit, I've never been much of a coffee snob. After drinking Navy coffee for 20 years, 7-11 is pretty much "gourmet" for me and, if it's been brewed within an hour of me buying it, well, that's just perfect. That notwithstanding, though, I can still tell a decent cup of coffee from a cup of raspberry-mocha-mint-creme-girlie-boy-foo-foo-bullshit-coffee.

So, yeah, the claim of "the best coffee you'll ever have" was, indeed, noteworthy.

I must say, it was very, very good. Flavor-wise it was, in fact, probably #3 in the best-tasting cups of coffee I've ever had (the top two were in Kuwait City and New York City, respectively).

It could've been a bit hotter, I suppose, but I think  that's a product of how they brew it. It's drip-brewed, but the water is poured into the grounds by hand, a little at a time. Also, and this really is something they may want to address, there's only one size, being "NOT QUITE BIG ENOUGH":

The Blue Bottle Coffee Co. in Oakland, California...
Various varieties of stupidly good coffee...
A bigger cup, and they'd really be on to something here...

After getting our coffee, we got back in the car to head over to Hangar 1. You know, it's funny how you see things as a passenger that you don't see when you're driving. I mean, if I was driving, I probably never would've noticed that the esteemed College of Alameda has a playground:



The drive onto the confines of the old base brought back some memories for me. When I was stationed on USS Chandler (DDG 996) back in the early 1980's, we would sail up here from San Diego. We were sitting pierside in April of 1983 and watched as the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) ran aground in San Francisco Bay. While I never spent a lot of time here, I did spend enough time here to see how different the base looks now as opposed to 30 years ago:

The old Thunderbirds Squadron hangar, which is now the home of Hangar 1 and St. George Spirits...

The commissary, that served NAS Alameda for decades, sits boarded up and fenced off...

An old, fenced off hangar on the old NAS Alameda...

The entrance to the offices of the long-gone VAK-208...

As I said, this has become a regular stop for us when I visit the Bay Area. Hangar 1 has a tasting room, and Sascha always makes sure that we're taken care of. They call the tasting tour "Basic Training" (Get it? The military reference? It's an old Navy base? Get it?). Anyway, I thought it was pretty clever.


Chris, Kandice and me outside Hangar 1 in Alameda...

Sascha Wen and I in the tasting room at Hangar 1...

Joey of Hangar 1. He loves his job...
  
Now, the last time Chris and I were here, there was talk of a bourbon. Well, while the bourbon has been distilled, it's nowhere near ready to drink. We had a taste of it last time, and it was very, well, "non-bourbony". But, much to our delight, Hangar 1 is producing what's called "B&E Bourbon". The "B&E" stands for "breaking and entering". I won't pretend to be able to convey the idea behind it here, but I will tell you that it's ridiculous. I enjoy a good bourbon, and this is probably the best I've had.

Hangar 1's B&E Bourbon...
Sascha knows that Chris and I are bourbon fans, so she graciously gave us each a bottle. She gave Chris a bottle for his birthday, and she gave me a bottle because, I suspect, I was a traveller from afar, and I always visit. She even had my bottle shipped to my home so I wouldn't have to pack it in my carry-on bag on the trip home. The bourbon arrived at my home by lunchtime Friday. I still haven't cracked it open. I think it needs to be the right occasion for a bourbon so special.

Thursday night was "gig night" and, although I had planned to sit in, the truth is that there was no "sitting" at all which, for me, is a bit of a deal breaker. When I play acoustic guitar, I have to sit down. It's just the only way I'm comfortable. Conversely, I can't play electric unless I'm standing up. I know, I'm weird; an oddity in the six-string community. But, hey, there it is.

So, instead of playing, I sat back and enjoyed the show.

The gig was at a wine bar and, if you know me at all, you know I'm not a big "wine guy". For the most part, I only enjoy a Merlot and, for the life of me, I can't tell you why. I really like this, though:

A glass of Merlot at The Vine in Danville, California...
So, the second day of the trip was pretty much a wrap. We got back to Chris' after the gig around midnight, and I couldn't keep my eyes open. I said my goodnight's with the full knowledge that I wouldn't get enough sleep to deal with the weekend...

Let's Talk Apps...

From time to time, I'll be talking about cell phone apps as I find good ones. Let's face it, it's almost impossible to get thro...