Music, Mountains & Oceans

Time passes, things seem to move quickly, passing in a blur.  The last month has been so full, and I’m having a tough time keeping up.  Here’s a recap of some of my time since returning from tour.

7/13/18 through 7/23/18

For a number of years, I played drums in my friend Arann Harris’ band on a pretty regular basis.  A little over two years ago, he semi-retired from playing shows with the full band, and I kinda retired with him.  He calls me once or twice a year to play the select show, and this weekend I’d signed up to play with him at the Rivertown Revival in Petaluma. 

Rivertown Revival is held right on the waterfront near downtown Petaluma and is a kinda quasi-Steampunk thing with vendors and food and live music and people in weird costumes.  I hadn’t been in a while, and it was actually enjoyable  to be at a music festival as a performer and not as a photographer this time.  For a few reasons, I consciously decided to not bring my camera at all.  It was pretty nice to just wander and enjoy my surroundings in real time.  I ran into a number of people I love and got to have some quality – if sometimes brief – check-ins.  I even had a total stranger come up and tell me how much she appreciates my photography work and feels inspired by what I do.  I’m always amazed when stuff like that happens, and it’s heart-warming and fortifying. 

We performed as scheduled, and it’s always a treat to play music with these dudes.  Mike James, Jason Carr and Arann are some of my favorite people to play music with, and playing with them is like slipping on a comfortable pair of fur-lined slippers. 

 Pre-game

Pre-game

A couple days later I found myself driving to Reno to film my friend Tyler’s band, who were performing in an outdoor amphitheater outside of town.  I left early in the day so I could stop in Tahoe and soak it up for a minute. I’d been pining a Tahoe visit for a while but hadn’t been able to carve out the time just yet.  I stopped at my favorite swimming hole in the South Fork of the American River that runs along Hwy 50 and had a wonderfully refreshing dip.  Made some lunch and talked to my daughter Aurora, who’s been living in NYC for the last number of weeks.  She’s thinking of moving there when she graduates from UC Santa Cruz next year, and the idea of her doing that is exciting.  It means I’ll see her less often (probably), but I think New York has so much to offer her, and I love seeing her get excited about something big and potentially challenging. 

Filmed the gig that night, crashed in Reno, and the next day I woke early and headed back through Tahoe again, stopping for a walk at the top of the pass then taking a long and leisurely drive around the lake through Tahoe City and around the west side.  This is the area where my parents used to own a cabin, and I always enjoy taking the opportunity to say hello.  I’d spent many a summer and winter there all throughout my childhood and feel a super strong connection to it. 

I headed back to the heat miser that is Mendocino County to do a little bit of work, then went to Willits to pick Mickey up and take him out to the coast to escape the heat.  We had a lot of great conversation on the way (as we always do when we take road trips together), and arrived in Mendocino in the late afternoon as the temperature hit the perfect point.  We walked along the beach, enjoying the cold dousing our feet got when the water from the incoming tide gently slid over them.  We walked around town, got some books from the bookstore, then headed to Fort Bragg for some dinner.  Got back to Willits well after the heat of the day had transmuted into the cool of the evening.

But things didn’t stop there.  I headed down to Bodega the next day to film a music video for my friends the Rainbow Girls.  They’d arranged to throw a small party for about 50 close friends, with the event resembling their Bodega Day party that happened back in April.  They wanted to have the video feature their community of musicians/artists/weirdos doing what they love to do;  perform and create and celebrate.  I had lots of time in the afternoon to try and figure out what I was going to do (because I’m a noob filmmaker and had no real shot list or game plan or anything that would be something professional), and began capturing footage as soon as people began trickling in.  Around 6:00 or so, the musical performances started in their little barn, and I began the frantic running back and forth trying to capture that, as well as getting footage of people just hanging out and enjoying the party.  

We filmed the girls playing along with the song for the actual music video part of the thing.  Despite the awkwardness of lip-synching their song, they were troopers and ran through the song a few times and quickly resumed the partying.  There was another run-through or five of the song later in the night when we had a substantial crowd to act as audience for the band and the little courtyard outside the barn was beautifully lit and dreamy.   I was glad to get a little assistance from Bradley Cox, an amazing and talented photographer who lives on the property with the girls and offered to film some footage as well.  We wrapped that part of the evening up and the performances in the barn resumed until the wee hours of the morning

I spent all of the next day parked by the ocean just north of Bodega Bay where I sat in the van and worked on photos from the end of tour and started trying to edit video from the tour as well.  It was a pretty enjoyable way to spend the day, listening to the surf pound on the beach below and having some quiet time to focus and work without distraction. 

 

A few days later I headed back to Ukiah to do some work, not being stoked at all to be back in the stifling heat.  Luckily I’d arranged to connect with my friend Aviva, a talented musician and fellow Capoerista who’d booked time in a gorgeous house on the top of McNab Ranch to record her first record.  She’d hired me to come up and make some photos of the process and just hang out, which I was glad to do.  The road was rough and steep and I surprised myself by getting my van all the way to the top, but not without sustaining a little bit of discombobulation and disarray inside the van from all the jostling.

The time spent with Aviva and her band was magical.  They were recording in a small wooden outbuilding with full-size sliding doors open on two sides, giving the room a partial outdoor feel and letting in lots of natural light.  The property sits on top of the mountain adorned by huge oak and madrone trees and silent in the way that only places far removed from populated areas can be.  Spending time in places like this are what keeps me coming back to Mendocino County over and over again.  There are things about living out in the country that can get old and cumbersome, but relaxing in a hammock suspended between two huge oak trees, surrounded by acres of pristine woods and open meadows with only the sounds of insects and chirping birds never does.

They did some recording, then took a long break for dinner, then resumed recording back in the barn until almost midnight.  The music is sweet and somewhat whimsical, folky and intimate, unique and familiar.  Watching talented musicians work together to create and record a musical moment is something I always appreciate, and making photos of it is something special.

Tour Days - Pt 2

7/9/18 Monday

The first part of my drive today was pretty enjoyable, though after about 10 AM things started getting pretty hot out.  Also, a chunk of land on the California/Oregon border has been on fire for the last week or so and the smoke was thick.  Luckily the freeway was open and that part of the fire had been contained, but it was still pretty crazy to see the acres upon acres of blackened earth and charcoal skeletal trees. Made a bee-line down that doozy of a boring interstate 5, stopping only to gas up and make myself a sandwich.  Arrived in the baking oven that is Sacramento by 4:00 and found the dudes returning after a sweltering walk around the neighborhood.  I took advantage of the Wifi and air conditioning in the bar and worked on editing photos from yesterday, then walked down to a local taqueria for some chow. 

Tonight’s show was just Converge and Amenra, as Neurosis had scheduled this as a day off and the two other bands were in no mood to rest.  The club was pretty small and of course the show was sold out.  It also seemed like the upstairs dressing rooms were the only rooms in the whole building that had no A/C, which was a bummer.  The light in those rooms was gorgeous though, and I took some portraits of the dudes as well taking candid photos as the as the opportunities presented themselves. 

Since the stage was so small, there was barely any room for Amenra’s projected images on the wall behind them.  They opted to have no stage lights and just rely on the projector, which looks pretty great but made it nearly impossible to get any good photos.  I did my best, and enjoyed watching them play again regardless.

The temperature in the venue got swelter-y and gross, and I decided I just didn’t have it in me to get into the mass of sweaty dude bodies to make photos of Converge, even though they thrive in small, packed environments like this and crushed the shit out of it.  I just tried to find cool pockets of air wherever I could, and hung out till the end of the night.  Everyone crashed in the buses outside the venue after the show, so I followed suit.

7/10/18 Tuesday

I attempted to get up early enough to beat traffic into SF but failed.  No matter.  I wasn’t in a hurry anyway.  Joined up with everyone at the UC Theatre in Berkeley late in the morning, just in time to join a few of the Amenra guys to watch the Belgium/France World Cup game in a pizzeria a couple blocks from the venue.  We got there pretty early, which was great considering the place was filled to overflowing capacity within 30 minutes.  The entire place was filled with France fans, including two tables of preppy-looking college age kids right in front of us, all speaking French.  Seemed as though our table of nine or so were the only Belgium fans in the place.  It was OK though, because at our table were the biggest and meanest looking group of dudes, and when the French kids in front of us started yelling insults at the Belgian players on the TV they were quickly silenced by the snarling, mocking response of our Belgians. The kids looked genuinely scared, which I found entertaining.  The game ended with a French victory and we all rose and left immediately, as to prevent any resentful Belgians from starting fights with snotty French kids. 

Hurry-up-and-wait commenced back at the venue, and I took the opportunity to do some video interviews of a few band members in addition to editing photos and taking care of other business. 

Another thunderous, epic show on the part of Amenra tonight, and again I got to shoot/film from the stage and the photo pit both.  They sounded unbelievably good tonight. I have to admit, when I first came across videos of Amenra playing live, I was a little put off by the fact that Colin doesn’t face the audience while he performs.  I later learned it’s his way of communicating that his truth doesn’t have to be your truth, and his performance isn’t as much a performance as it is his own process of experiencing the music. Getting a vantage point that the rest of the audience doesn’t allowed me to see how much this is true, that he’s not interacting with the audience at all but submerging himself in the expression of the music and becoming one with it. 

Converge and Neurosis both crushed tonight too, but I absconded before the show was over to head into SF and spend the night with Megan, who I hadn’t seen in a couple weeks.  It was nice to have such a short drive for a change.

7/11/18 Wednesday

I met up with everyone at a coffee shop in the upper Haight district of San Francisco late this morning, and we spent a couple hours wandering the area, doing some shopping and enjoying the unbelievably gorgeous weather.  At one point as we stood outside a shop waiting for Amenra guitarist Mathieu Vandekerckhove to finish buying an amazing Hawaiian shirt, Colin commented that it “doesn’t get much better than this… spending time with friends, enjoying beautiful weather in a beautiful city in a foreign country, without a care in the world”.  I appreciate a person who can appreciate a moment like that.

Back at the venue I managed to find a place to park nearby that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.  Went to the dressing room to spend some time editing photos and found Amenra’s bass player Levy looking a bit rough around the edges after staying up having drinks with the venue's owner last night. This legendary and (reportedly) haunted music venue in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district has a vibe to it that is really one-of-a-kind and it's one of my favorite spots to shoot bands. 

Megan decided to come to the show tonight, and it was delightful to introduce her to everyone.  As with me, they were very kind to her and even gave her some free merch.  Sadly there was no photo pit for tonight’s show, and now that I’m apparently spoiled enough to not want to stand amongst the riff-raff, I opted to shoot primarily video from the side of the stage tonight as well as getting some shots from the back of the ornate and picturesque venue.

It was another epic set by a magnificent group of performers, and I was, again, moved to watch them play.  It was Megan’s first time seeing them, and she was quite impressed as well. It was a little bittersweet to know this was my last night to enjoy this show from this particular vantage point, but that’s how it goes.

Since today was my last show with the tour, it gave me an opportunity to reflect and appreciate the experience I’d had.  I’d been anticipating this day for the last week, anticipating some sadness and FOMO knowing I was going to head back to Ukiah and resume “normal” life again.  by the end of the night I found I was ready to do just that.  It had been a busy, enriching and fulfilling experience, and sometimes those experiences just aren’t meant to last. Also, I was kinda worn out, and needed to rest and regroup after two weeks on the road. 

I made my rounds giving hugs and saying goodbye to all the wonderful people who’d brought me into their world and made me feel so welcome, then hoisted my bags onto my shoulder and walked alone out into the cold San Francisco night.

Tour Days - Pt 1

It’s been almost two weeks since my last blog post, and the last post only covered up to the beginning of July. I’ve become accustomed to chunks of inactivity and quiet between work excursions which is when I usually take the time to write.  The last two-plus weeks have been so full I haven’t had the brain space or time to write and reflect.  Things are finally slowing down, so I’m going to do my best to pull from my often faulty memory and recount my time spent on the road with some of the most respected names in heavy music; Neurosis, Converge and Amenra.

7/6/18

After spending the better part of a week ambling through the beautiful mountains of Wyoming and Montana I made my way west through the baking plains of Idaho and Eastern Washington to Seattle, where I’d arranged to join up with the tour as a guest of Amenra.  Seattle was experiencing its own heat wave, but nothing like what I’d just driven through in Idaho and eastern Washington so I was happy to get a little relief. 

I’d been messaging with Colin, Amenra’s singer and primary creative architect for the last week or two, discussing logistics and some creative collaboration as well.  He was warm, gracious and engaging in a way I hadn’t expected, and it was gratifying to know that he/they appreciated my photography work as well as my willingness to spend time with them making art.  

 Colin

Colin

I picked Colin up outside the venue as previously arranged so we could grab some boxes of merch that had been mailed to a nearby UPS store.   After warm hellos and handshakes, we set off across downtown talking about our families and history, diving into real talk right away.  I deeply appreciate a person who tends towards talking about real shit rather than merely engaging in small talk. 

Back at the venue Colin worked on setting up the band’s merch table and we talked about art, photography, and many of the things involved in making Amenra’s visual component work for them.  He presented a number of ideas and perspectives that totally shook my creative world and immediately pulled me into new ways of looking at what I do as a photographer.  Knowing they work with a number of amazing and talented photographers on a regular basis made me feel some pressure (the good kind) to step up my game while I have the opportunity to do so. 

Colin is a deep thinker, connected to his emotional reality and how it relates to his creative process, and very open about what makes him tick, creatively speaking.  His authenticity is refreshing and unique among artists and people in general.  Also, being invited into Amenra’s little world for a while feels like a unique privilege and some kind of validation of my own work. 

 The quiet before the storm

The quiet before the storm

Amenra only have 35 minutes to play, which is challenging logistically (they tend to have fairly long songs) and frustrating for those of us who want to hear them play for much longer.  I was fortunate to be the only photographer in the little photo pit for the first night (still not sure why), so I was able to film and photograph them for their whole set.  Their sheer intensity and raw power are almost distracting in a way… I had to remember to keep shooting and not just stand and stare. 

Converge are a different kind of animal… born from the Boston hardcore scene in the early/mid-90’s, they’re one of the seminal heavy music bands that straddle the lines of metal and punk, though they do it in a way that’s uniquely their own and free from the ugly musical pitfalls many of their successors fall into.  They seem to be getting heavier and more compelling with each album as well, and their reputation as a live juggernaut is still well deserved.

Whereas Amenra’s delivery and performance is solemn, sonically monolithic and visually ritualistic, Converge are the raging animal brain, prowling the stage and provoking the writhing, shoving mass of rabid minions below.  These guys know what they’re doing, and they do it well.

Neurosis are the granddaddies of them all, having established themselves back in the late 80’s and pretty much inventing a genre of metal that countless bands have emulated (and sometimes straight-up imitated).  Their live shows are more subdued now than they were 20 years ago, but the energy that was previously devoted to overwhelming people with volume and visuals and hurling bodies is now concentrated on performing intricate and extensive pieces of music with precision and perfection.  They’re still just as fucking heavy too.

 

7/7/18 Saturday

Today was a “day off” for me in Seattle while the band went to Vancouver BC, so I spent the better part of the day parked in a café editing photos and catching up on some other work.  I ended up over-caffeinating myself and thus feeling super shitty all afternoon, which sucked. It was a bummer to feel like I’d spent most of a gorgeous afternoon in Seattle just sitting in the van, but that’s how it goes sometimes.  I spent the evening hanging out with a friend, enjoying tacos and deep conversations.  Since the bands were going to be in Portland by early morning tomorrow, I decided to split my drive and head south tonight, stopping about an hour north of Portland and parking in an empty lot to crash. 

7/8/18 Sunday

Woke as planned and got myself down to Portland by 10 AM.  After spending the morning with my bestie Jeanette, I joined the dudes in taking a walk around the neighborhood of the venue.  We managed to find a Hawaiian-style shave ice shop, where Colin waited in line for almost 30 min to get himself a towering hulk of fruity goodness.  Back at the venue, soundchecks were done, merch was hung, phones were stared at, and the familiar hurry-up-and-wait scenario unfolded. I managed to spend some time talking with a few folks from the crew and other bands, edited some photos from the last few days, and appreciated the fact there was next to the tour buses for me to pull my van in and park for the evening. 

Tonight’s show was another one for the books.  I was able to shoot Amenra from onstage as well as the photo pit in front of the stage, which is my favorite place to shoot from.  I love getting shots of the audience watching the show, and I also love getting shots of Colin performing with his back to the audience (which he does for 85% of their shows) but facing me.  The entire band is magnetic and a joy to photograph, and I love trying to figure out new ways to shoot them every night. 

The next show is Sacramento and those bus-riding boys were gonna be driven down there after the show.  It’s a nine-hour drive, so I opted to split it up and leave the show a bit early to drive part way again.  Driving that long, straight stretch of the 5 through southern Oregon isn’t quite as bad at night as it is during the day.  With some good music and snacks, I drove till 1 AM and parked myself near a gas station in some anonymous little town.

Heading East

Shoved off from Ukiah early, driving through a part of Lake County that’s on fire, and thinking this is how it’s gonna be from now on.  Fires all summer long.

As I got deeper into Shasta County, then Modoc County, I drove through tiny hamlets that for all intents and purposes, look like ghost towns.  There are the little farm towns, and the little towns that must be there for a reason but that reason was probably forgotten long ago, and the sporadic homesteads.

I passed from California into Oregon, winding down a long stretch of highway that looked eerily like Nevada… places where the highway pointed arrow-straight across long valleys, nothing but scrub brush, dust and hills off in the hazy distance, hot.

I pulled off the highway on a little dirt road that wound alongside a river (the Ogden?), took a walk around trying to find a place where the river was accessible through the weeds and rocks that lined the bank.  Finally did and gave myself a good splash-off to get rid of the sweat and grime from the day.  Did I mention it’s hot here?  It’s probably in the mid 80’s at 9 PM.  Luckily Wyoming will be cooler. 

I realized there are some hot springs nearby.  Do I want to sit in hot springs?  Nope.  There are some people there too, and I’m not in the mood. I’ve had a couple cars drive by and stare into my open door which makes me feel oddly exposed.  But I imagine there won’t be many more, so I’m probably OK.

I fell asleep with no covers and the fan blasting me and woke in fetal position with the covers pulled tight due to the temp dropping by 20˚ overnight. Got up and took a few photos of the dramatic sunrise, then ate and collected my stuff and got on the road.  Had an issue with the van that required attending to, which meant spending the day in Boise waiting. It all checked out, so I ran a couple errands then got myself on the freeway towards Wyoming.

I took the main highway for a bit, then jumped on the 20 in order to drive through the Craters of the Moon National Monument as well as to avoid driving on the interstate.  The northeast section of Idaho was gorgeous… long, broad valleys surrounded by buttes and rolling hills with periodic pine forests and sprawling farmland.

The land here is beautiful.  It’s also been irrevocably violated and partially destroyed by 200+ years of white European civilization.  I can’t help but feel contempt for the sons of the pioneers who think their claim to this land is the only valid claim, or that their way of life is some kind of God-given right that should never be questioned.  Their tradition is white supremacy, resource extraction, and religious intolerance.  Some of them might be nice people and good stewards of the land, but their tradition has blood on its hands.

Anyway… As I drove through the giant basins of irrigated land and expanse of wild prairie, the air was the perfect temperature, the breeze was refreshing and sweet, and there were barely any cars on the road.  A deep sense of satisfaction came over me, contentment at driving down this road at this time, seeing the stunning landscapes and spending time alone with my thoughts. 

As I moved north and east towards Jackson, a curtain of darkness obfuscated the distant mountains and giant sheets of rain swept over the lower hills and valleys.  As I got closer and closer, the setting sun and wild storm clouds coalesced into some of the most gorgeous textures and colors I’d seen in a long while.  I love driving into storms sometimes. 

The rain poured down and darkness fell just as I began ascending a mountain range. I had a harrowing journey on rain-slicked roads that wound steeply up and up into the darkness, then dropped down into more steep hairpin turns.  I’d almost stopped to find a spot to camp an hour or so before, because I wanted to see the mountains and surrounding areas instead of passing them in the night, but decided getting to Jackson was the goal and I was gonna stick to it. 

I finally made it to town and connected with the two organizers of Fire In The Mountains at a local bar.  We chatted for a little while and they recommended a place I could drive and camp not too far from there.  Justin encouraged me to drive all the way to the top of this mountain road, where I’d wake to a majestic view of the Tetons on one side and a different mountain range on the other. I said my goodbyes and jumped back in the van, following directions to the road.  It was rough and steep and lumpy, and many of the lower camping spots were already occupied by scores of other campers.  I charged on higher and higher, watching it get later and later.  Finally, after 30 minutes crawling up this dirt road, I decided to abandon the top of the mountain & found my spot.  Leveled out the van and put myself to bed.

 

Finding Myself

6/18/18    

It’s interesting where I find myself sometimes.  I mean, I’m consciously involved in deciding where I go and when, but there are so many moments when I look around and think how awesome/weird/random it is that I end up where I do.  Take, for instance, the weekend before last.  I attended a wedding ceremony of a queer couple whom I’d photographed back in April when they did their legal ceremony in SF.  Megan was there too, as were a number of people I hadn’t seen in many years and many more I’d never met before.  The cross-section of humans in their endlessly varying gender and fashion expressions was a delight and a marvel to behold.  The ceremony itself was moving, heartfelt and sincere.  The celebration afterwards was joyous.  I’d ended up spending the whole weekend on the farm where the ceremony was held and got to give a tour of my van to a few curious guests.  Beautiful sunsets were enjoyed, much food & drink consumed, and love was in the air. 

Then, I find myself packed inside the Great American Music Hall in SF, strobe lights flashing and fog machines billowing and amplifiers crushing eardrums as I photograph New York noise merchants A Place To Bury Strangers. 

A day or two later I find myself on top of a hill overlooking the Ukiah Valley, walking through a picturesque vineyard taking photographs as the sun slowly sinks below the opposing hills.  Silent but for the birdsong and the leaves of nearby oak trees rustling in the breeze. I wanted to stay there all night, but it wasn’t my vineyard and I didn’t have permission to stay.

Then a day or two after that, I’m in the van with Megan as we drive down the empty, curving roads of Siskyou County watching the Trinity River appear and disappear over and over again through the trees. This was her first overnight van trip with me and I wanted to show her all the beautiful places I’d driven through on my visit there last month.  We did a little hiking, a little river swimming (yep, it was cold), and a lot of driving. Quite a delightful little trip.

And a day or so after that, I’m in Santa Cruz loading my van full of Aurora’s belongings, since her school year just ended and she’s got to move out of her on-campus housing.  We take them all to my parents’ house to be stored for the summer while she travels to New York, then Cuba, then Mexico. My sister and her husband are visiting my parents, so the whole gang is there.  Her husband insists on washing my van for me (which is nice of him but a little strange), and I’m happy to let him do it.  I spend a little time doing some projects in the van myself, but don’t end up staying down there for long.

The next place I find myself is on a beach on the Sonoma Coast with Megan and two dear friends, Dan and Sherry.  My birthday is the next day and we’re doing a pre-game hike & impromptu photo session with the ocean and the ladies as subjects.  It’s a gorgeous day and we spend time walking together or wandering off on our own to think or look for stones or watch the waves roll in.  We meet up with Travis and Lauren later in downtown Guerneville and have a birthday dinner at the taco truck in the Safeway parking lot.  The food is amazing and we’re starving. 

_20A5618-Edit.jpg

We make our way back to Dan & Sherry’s house for cocktails and a little fire in the back yard where we tell stories of the past and make each other laugh as we always seem to do. The night closes with a smoke on the porch above the redwood-lined canyon and soft conversation.

My 46th birthday arrives slowly and softly, me raising my head to peer out the window at the morning fog, then rising to make breakfast and join Dan on the porch for coffee and more conversation.  Eventually Megan and I leave to take a walk near the Pomo Trail, just a mile or two from the coast.  We find a snake sunning itself on the road, find the large campground all closed up and abandoned, and walk through the trees and meadows in near solitude.  It feels good to breathe the coastal air and walk with each other.

We check into a sweet little Inn at the edge of Guerneville and spend some time lounging by the pool, lounging in our room, then spending a little more time with Dan & Sherry.  Birthday dinner at the taco truck again (because it’s THAT good), and an early bedtime.  Glad to be alive another year.

Terror in the Northwest - Pt. 1

6/6/18 Wednesday

One of the highlights of my year last year was attending the Northwest Terror Fest, a three-day gathering of underground metal bands, performing back to back sets at two adjacent clubs in the Capitol Hill District of Seattle. Not only did I get to photograph a ton of great bands, but I also met some only-on-the-internet friends in person and make some new ones, establishing a connection with the scene up there that continues on.  So now that I’m mobile-living, of course I wasn’t gonna pass up an opportunity to head back to Seattle for another NWTF and make larger trip of it as well. 

I spent the beginning of the week cramming in as much work as I could in order to leave town free and clear of responsibilities, which wasn’t easy but doable.  I was able to break away midday Wednesday and point my nose north, following the route I’d taken a couple months back when I went out with Marty O’Reilly and his band.  I grit my teeth and slogged over Hwy 20 to the I5, barreling (if I could use such a term) towards Shasta, then cutting off northeast at Weed and heading up the 97.  I was met by a major downpour on that first stretch of highway, forcing me to  reduce my speed and keep both hands on the wheel at all times.  I loved it.  The weather eventually cleared allowing me to enjoy the high desert forests and wide open plains, which, in those moments when the clouds parted to allow scant rays of the sun through, turned gorgeous hues of orange and red and blue.

 dinner spot

dinner spot

I stopped outside Chiloquin to make myself some dinner and was treated to an amazing view from my perch on the side of the mountain.  It’s a simple thing, but when I find a gorgeous spot to park and eat, it gives me great satisfaction.  Now properly nourished, I continued down the 97 for another couple hours til it started getting dark and I needed to find a place to stop for the night.  There were dirt roads leading off the highway every quarter mile or so, and it was time to play the game of slow down/crane your neck/peep the dirt road for camp-ability without causing an accident.  I rolled the dice and headed off one of these random dirt roads leading out into the state forest, which did end up providing me with a spot. The air was clear and crisp, the traffic lowly rumbling a short distance away and I decided to treat myself to a little stroll down the abandoned road to soak up the smells and stretch my legs after a long day in the van.

Morning greeted me with overcast skies and temps in the upper 30’s. Not what I was expecting, but the van was still cozy enough to where I didn’t need to fire up my heater.  I made breakfast and coffee and got my ass on the road, continuing up the 97 through Bend and into the Mount Hood National Forest again, which was much greener and lush than the last time I came through in April.  Took the winding roads down past the ski resort, then into the outer Portland bergs and past Portland proper, then back on the I5 the few more hours to Seattle.  I got into town a few hours before the show was supposed to start, so I searched out a pay lot near the venue and walked the neighborhood looking for a place to eat.  Went back to the spot that saved my ass many times during last year’s Fest, a little cantina called Bimbo’s where I was welcomed by awesome 80’s goth and industrial music on the PA and a couple delicious tacos on a plate.

 Ford

Ford

Eventually it was showtime, and arriving at the venue I realized the first band had already played and I missed them.  Felt kinda stupid.  Ran into my photobro Teddie Taylor, who’d undertaken her own substantial road trip out here from New Orleans, passing through a number of picturesque places and making some great photographs of her trip along the way.  I also ran into Josh Ford, an amazing veteran photographer I’d met in Las Vegas last year.  I’ve long admired his photography work, and he’s a delightful human being to boot.  Our little photographer gang ranged back and forth between the larger upstairs venue (Neumo’s) and the smaller basement venue (Barboza), shooting the first few songs of one band before heading to the other club to save a spot near the front of the stage and wait for the next band to start.  This went on for five or more hours, for three days straight.

 My hood

My hood

Fortunately, though, the shows were over by 10:30 (though a couple bands played “afterparties” at another club a few blocks away), which allowed me to get to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour. Last year I’d scoped out some spots to park and sleep in a pretty upscale neighborhood only 6 or 8 blocks from the club, so that’s where I headed again.  I quickly found the perfect spot on a tree-lined, dark and quiet street and settled in for the night.

I spent more than half the next day in a nearby café, working on photos from last night and catching up on a bit more work. As I sat at my little table, I watched people walk by and come in and out of the café, and realized how much I appreciate being in a city that still has a great collection of freaks and weirdos, (unlike San Francisco, sadly).  Elderly people with tattoos, punks and metalheads and artsy queerdos, people who are definitely living life on their own terms.  Refreshing.  I bailed from the café in the early afternoon back to my van still parked on the quiet and tree-lined street and relaxed for the afternoon.  I was feeling pretty spent and needed to nap and recharge the batteries for a bit.  Eventually I went back to town to get myself a substantial dinner that would keep me powered through the night. 

Back at the club I did a couple video band interviews, ran into a few other people I knew, then dove back into the subterranean caverns for another five-hour metal marathon.  There were a couple of highlights for me tonight, band-wise, including seeing Full Of Hell (YouTube them if you haven’t heard of them) and Primitive Man, who are the absolutely heaviest, loudest, darkest band you’ve ever heard.  They were loud even with my earplugs in.  There were a couple times I chuckled to myself that this band was almost too much.  Almost.  Unlike last night there were a few mosh pits upstairs, especially for Gatecreeper and Full of Hell, and of course for the night’s headliner Integrity.  Those guys are an old-school hardcore band, and though I’m not familiar with their music or background, it was clear that most everyone else in that room was.  At one point during their set, I turned to look at the seething mass of sweaty bodies and saw nothing but smiles on nearly every single person’s face.  Watching people get their release by throwing themselves violently against/over/on top of each other is pretty awesome. 

And yes, once again I ended up in my van, parked on a quiet, tree-lined street, getting ready for bed at the wonderfully middle-aged hour of 11:30 (which is an hour past my bedtime, btw).

 

 Seattle

Seattle

The Incessant Sound of Traffic

5/31/18

 A beautiful spot in Potter Valley, 40 yards away from the sound of traffic.

A beautiful spot in Potter Valley, 40 yards away from the sound of traffic.

Here's something I've noticed:  No matter where I go to stop and make dinner, sleep, or just settle in and hang out, I'm almost never out of earshot of the sound of cars.  Granted some places have very little traffic (Montgomery Woods), or less traffic but the sound of ventilation fans from nearby grow rooms (Redwood Valley), but otherwise I can't seem to get away from it.  I'm realizing I need to regularly spend time in places with no traffic noise or I think I'm gonna go a little crazy.

The past week or two hasn’t had an excessive amount of adventure in it, but I’ve been working on the van with my dad, (built new cabinets, installed a faucet with running water (!!), putting some finish on the interior…), spending a little time with Aurora before she heads off to her next adventure, working, and enjoying a bit of city life with Megan.  After one such SF visit, I drove all the way up to Ft. Bragg for a photo shoot, enjoying my first drive up the length of Hwy 128 for the first time in forever.  I have some poignant memories of that drive, which goes from Cloverdale up through Yorkville, Boonville, Philo and Navarro before connecting with Hwy 1 on the Mendocino Coast.  Memories from the time I still lived in the Bay Area but my life was taking big turns that eventually led me northward.  I’ll save the story of that particular time for later (or for that memoir I’m gonna write when I’m old), but some of my first memories of Mendocino County were made along that highway as well as the little towns of Albion and Mendocino.  The road and surrounding acreage is picture-perfect gorgeous, and never ceases to impress me even after all these years. 

After my photo shoot I headed down to Big River Beach to cook some dinner and take a walk along the river and out to the ocean to watch the sunset.  That, too, is a very special place, for many many reasons that stretch back over 23 years.  Lots of memories there. 

I decided to spend the night at Montgomery Woods again, and drove out Comptche/Ukiah road to my little spot in the redwoods, which waited for me like a faithful lover. I was pretty tired from the full day of driving, so I turned in early. Woke before dawn and took a walk along the road, taking in the rich aromas of the rainforest and appreciating the quiet solitude and the chance to enjoy the beauty of this place once again before heading eastward feeling good I’d gotten an early start to my day considering how much I had to do in town.  I was only 10 minutes from Ukiah, but lo and behold, I’d forgotten that Orr Springs Road was closed for construction.  A chunk of the road collapsed in a mudslide the winter before last, and the county is finally getting around to fixing it.  Slapping my forehead and cursing my bad memory, I turned around and headed back up the road.  I stopped at the Greenfield Ranch gate praying I remembered the gate code (I did), and cut through the ranch out to Redwood Valley and then down to Ukiah.  Took me an hour out of my way, but I got to see one of my favorite places in all the world and didn’t have to drive all the way back around through Boonville.

The following week I found myself back out in Fort Bragg again for another photo shoot, and after finishing up I drove out to Pudding Creek beach to park and have some dinner.  The sun was going down over the ocean and it shone through the trestle in such a sublime way, I had to get out my camera and make some photos. 

It began getting dark, and I drove around town looking for a place to park, eventually settling in a tiny corner of an industrial area on the north edge of town.  It was quiet enough that night, but I was awakened by garbage trucks tossing cans and revving engines just before 5 AM and never fell back to sleep.  Hashtag vanlife.

_20A1443-Edit.jpg

I spent a lot of time this week driving around the Ukiah valley making photos for Visit Ukiah, the city’s tourism board who’ve hired me to run their social media and create content for it.  It’s a pretty cool job, providing me with the opportunity to visit wineries, parks, lakes, rivers, campgrounds, restaurants, and tons of other places I might not otherwise go.  And especially now that the weather is getting warm, being outside taking photos is a delight.  I’m pretty fortunate to be able to do this for work.

_20A0363.jpg

The Stoke Chicken, Scars, and Rainbow Videos

5/20/18 Sunday

I’m sitting in my van, enjoying my morning cup of coffee and watching cars & trucks stacked high and wide with mountain bikes slowly queue past me.  I’m at California High School Mountain bike Championships in the East Petaluma Hills, which takes place on a sprawling 250-acre ranch owned by a generous family who’ve donated the ranch to the event so kids from all over the state can come and race.  I don’t know if this is actually true or just my admittedly limited observation, but the racers and their families seem to be overwhelmingly Caucasian and appear to rest pretty comfortably in the upper registers of the income scale.  I imagine bicycle racing in general is something that the moneyed class is more apt to participate in, considering quality mountain bikes (and road bikes for that matter) cost upwards of $2k or more, not to mention the other gear and vehicles to tote them around. Perhaps there are other parts of the state or country where mountain bike racing has more racial and socio-economic diversity.  I’d be interested to find out.

The reason I’m here at all is because I played my first gig since October with my good buddy Arann Harris last night, who I drummed for regularly for three or four years until he retired from the music biz two years ago.  Last night’s event was the cap-off of a long day of racing and it turned out to be super fun to play some music with the boys again.  Fast and loose… fast and loose.  I’d been nervous I’d play terribly due to many months of barely even touching a drum, but it was pretty much like I’d never left.  It’s a relief to know that ability won’t leave me, even if I ignore it. 

The last couple of days have been an interesting array of activities. Thursday afternoon I had a chance to hang with my son Mickey for the first time since he’d come home from surgery a few weeks back.  We enjoyed some burgers at Buster’s in Willits, then went to see the new Avengers movie at the charming (and kinda janky) Noyo Theater. When the kids were small, we’d periodically take them to see movies in the theater they were excited to see, and I would unfailingly fall asleep in the middle of it.  Every time.  No matter how hard I tried not to.  I felt pretty confident that wouldn’t happen again since this was supposed to be an action-packed, explosion-filled film, and not a kids cartoon kinda thing.  And goddammit if I didn’t fall asleep.  It was only for a minute or two, but it happened. 

When I dropped Mickey off at home, I asked to see his scars and make a few photos of them, and they’re looking great.  I’m super stoked for him, and he’s super stoked on his body for the first time in a long time.

On Friday I spent some time making photographs of food at Oco Time, the best sushi restaurant in Ukiah.  It was fun watching them make those delicious rolls and specialty plates, and they were all so gracious and kind to me. I made my way down the 101 to Bodega so I could meet up with my friends the Rainbow Girls to discuss collaborating on a music video.  As you might remember from my earlier post, they hosted Bodega Day and live on a gorgeous property of rolling hills lined with eucalyptus and aspen trees.  Their house is warm and homey, and I enjoyed spending a couple hours with them hashing out ideas and making plans, then just hanging out enjoying each other’s company. 

As the sun went down, we parted ways and I headed to the Shire to park and crash for the night.  Travis and his family had grandparents in town visiting so they were otherwise occupied, which was totally OK.  I snuggled into bed and watched a movie till I fell asleep.

Yesterday morning I woke early and fixed myself some breakfast, enjoying the bright and clear west county morning. Travis was also up early, and came out to say hi just as I was about to walk “the loop” through and around the property he lives on.  He decided to join, and we enjoyed a brisk tromp and the opportunity to catch up.  He went on to attend family stuff and retired to the van, parking my chair by the open van door and enjoying the morning as it warmed.  Around 10 or so I decided to head out to the coast, driving to Salmon Creek again and parking on the bluffs above the ocean.  It was super windy and a bit cold on the coast, so I opted to keep the van closed up.  Kinda disappointing, but that’s how it goes.  I spent the entire day on that bluff, alternately working on photos, writing, reading, and just staring out the window at the roiling sea below. Pretty great way to spend the day.    

And now I’m here at the end of the day, tired but feeling good, laying in my old bedroom of my parents’ house.  Gonna spend a day or two here working on the van again.  My day consisted of parking my butt in the middle of the race course and playing some rally music with Arann for the racers as they speed past.  I did this with him last year, and it was pretty fun.  We just sit there until racers come thundering into the turns and dips near us and we fire up the drums and guitar to provide them with as much encouragement as we can.  Arann dressed in a chicken costume too, which everyone appreciated. 

Adventures in the State of Jefferson

5/16/18

The last week has been a full one, thus the long span of time between posts.  More progress is being made on the interior of the van, which is deeply satisfying and makes it more like home every day.  I had a realization this past weekend while having breakfast with my parents, which I’m still pondering and feeling into the ramifications.  As I’d mentioned in an earlier post, I left the safety and stability of the Bay Area when I was 23 and moved onto Greenfield Ranch, living on a parcel that belonged to my now-ex-wife’s family.  No one had lived there for more than a decade, and other than the roof over our heads, we had no real amenities to speak of.  Over time, we were able (with the help of generous friends) to get ourselves hot running water, solar electricity, refrigeration, and a primitive cell phone that could only get reception when we drove up to the top of the hill.  Going from living in the modern suburban world where everything was taken for granted, I got to experience starting over.  Appreciating every single time we manifested an amenity that made life a little easier.  I also had to adapt to the slow, quiet pace of life on the hill after living a life of suburban hustle and bustle.  That’s a story unto itself, but let’s just say it took some serious adjustment and wasn’t always easy.

 Greenfield Ranch House

Greenfield Ranch House

Even though the circumstances are quite different, I’m undertaking the same sort of journey.  Leaving the support and comfort of an established home with its modern ease and jumping into something harder, weirder, and only happening because of my drive to make it so (and again, the gracious help of many friends).  Every time I get something done with the van, life gets a little bit easier.  And that makes me appreciate everything I have, way more than I did when I was living in a house. 

A buddy and I had planned a little excursion to Tahoe when the weather got nice, but due to some unforeseen work issues, he had to bow out.  I had the time blocked off, so I decided to take a trip on my own, not to Tahoe but northward into Humboldt, Trinity, Del Norte and Siskyu Counties.  I wanted to see places I’d never been before, plus I’d always been curious about and fascinated by the pockets all over California that contain tiny little forgotten towns, ones that had their heyday back when mining or timber or ranching was at peak production in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but are now languishing, or at the very best transforming themselves into something more appealing to 21st century interests. 

My first stop was Scotia, the town owned by the Pacific Lumber Company and at one time the largest employer in Humbodt County.  When I first moved to the northlands, the battle over Headwaters Forest was in full swing, and PalCo’s corporate owner Maxxam was the chief villain in the fight to save the last of the old growth redwood trees.  My then-wife and I attended the giant rally that took place in Stafford in the summer of ‘96, and driving up the freeway passing that spot brought back many memories.  I pulled off the freeway and wound my way slowly through town.  The giant lumber mills and warehouses are in a significant state of disrepair, and many of the facilities are falling apart due to disuse.  There are some bright and shiny track homes lining the main street, and the market, hotel, theater and civic buildings look relatively new and well taken care of.  I walked around and made some photos of some old buildings, but really wanted to wander the streets of the residential areas and take pictures of the houses.  I figured that sort of activity wouldn’t be appreciated, so I stuck to the public spaces. 

I kept north on the 101 through Eureka, then headed east on the 299 before jutting north on the 96 with a little town called Happy Camp as my first destination.  I ambled alongside the Trinity River through the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation and the town of Hoopa, which, from the outside, looks as though it’s managed to escape the desolation and poverty so many other reservations suffer from.  The land is beautiful and verdant, the houses modest and timeworn, but the school and community centers were spacious and new and full of activity. I did some research on the reservation when I got back to Ukiah and found that it’s definitely still experiencing the poverty that many reservations suffer under.  I also know that a cursory drive-through won’t even begin to give me a real understanding of the place, but from what I saw this reservation has a lot going for it that others don’t.   

I followed the 96 northeast through Weitchpec, Orleans and Somes Bar, where I found sporadic pockets of houses and settlements and an abundance of amazing scenery.  I took my time, enjoying the beauty and solitude (I went for long stretches of time without passing a single car), and scoping all the possible spots I could come back to if I wanted to spend the night.  I got to Happy Camp in the late afternoon, parked and took a walk around the old downtown.  The place was busy with people, but many of the buildings in old town were vacant and falling into disrepair, though the surrounding houses were in pretty good shape. Happy Camp has many characteristics of a small town in the middle of nowhere, but it feels like a town that’s happy being in the middle of nowhere, as opposed to some places that appear to be sickly and dying of neglect.  I could have stopped here for the day, but my urge to see more places pushed me on. 

 Happy Camp, CA

Happy Camp, CA

I drove through the Seiad Valley, still paralleling the Klamath River (as Hwy 96 does for most of its length) and looking for my cutoff to Scott River Road, which would take me off the highway and deeper into the wilderness.  One thing I began to notice after getting through the Seiad Valley was the prevalence of a yellow flag with two X’s on it that hung from scores of doorways, fences and shop fronts.  Later when I got back into cell range, I looked it up and found it to be the official flag of the State of Jefferson, the imaginary 51st state that hopes to break away from California and southern Oregon and become its own thing.  I read up on it when I got back to Ukiah and it’s an interesting story.

I found my intended turnoff and headed towards Scotts Bar, which was a lonely and winding one-lane road cut into a steep hillside that wound along the Scott River.  I get a surge of excitement (and a little bit of nervousness) when I veer off the known roadways into more isolated areas, and also find that my body relaxes and my senses open a bit more as well.  Since the sun was already behind the mountains, I figured it was time to find somewhere to park for the night.  Eventually I came across a “campground” that was really just a glorified pull-out with a couple of crude fire pits alongside a split log fence.  But it was flat and no one else was there, so I pulled in and shut the engine off.  I took a walk down the road, past a bridge that spanned the river and up a dirt road, feeling glad to stretch my legs a bit.  Came back to my van to make some dinner, enjoy the solitude, then turned in early.

 Campsite along the Scott River

Campsite along the Scott River

The next morning I was up early, getting myself fed and caffeinated before jumping into the van and heading up Scott River Road to join up with Hwy 3 running southwest through the cattle ranches and sprawling farms of Fort Jones and Greenview (where the snowy cap of Mount Shasta was visible in the distance), into the little town of Etna.  This spot warranted a stop and walk around, and had a strange energetic draw for me.  Not really sure why.  Did my ambulation and resolved to come back here again at some point to spend a little more time. 

Back in the van, I continued down the 3 heading towards Weaverville, where I planned to stop for a bit to do some laundry and have lunch.  This was a town that seemed a bit depressed and forgotten about, though being an interloper I’m in no real position to say.  Did my laundry and ate, then debated on my trajectory.  Part of me wanted to spend more time exploring the little towns, maybe heading back north again instead of west back towards the coast as I’d been planning to do.  Responsibilities back in Ukiah on Friday pulled me towards heading west though, and I made a slow mosey down the 3 towards the 36.  I was surprised at how many campgrounds were still closed in the middle of May, especially since the weather was amazingly gorgeous.  I stopped at one campground and parked the van at the top of the driveway before walking down to the Trinity River and jumping in for a quick (and cold) rinse-off. 

 Farms and Mount Shasta

Farms and Mount Shasta

 Etna, CA

Etna, CA

 Trinity River

Trinity River

Reinvigorated, I climbed back in the van and continued the drive, connecting with the 36 and veering west again towards the ocean.  I passed a ton of little teeny tiny towns that seem to stay alive due to the proximity of fishing and river rafting industries.  Oh, maybe people grow pot up there too.  As the sun fell, I wound through the redwoods past Carlotta and Hydesville into Scotia, where I connected with the 101 heading south.  I decided to pull off the freeway onto the Avenue of the Giants, hoping to find a secluded place to stop for the night.  I found the perfect place, so after parking and making myself some dinner, I took a walk up the road making pictures of the huge trees and enjoying the cool coastal breeze and quiet.  Around 9:30 or so, I was relaxing in my bed watching a movie when there was a loud pounding on my sliding door and a voice yelling “park ranger!”.  It scared the shit out of me.  I opened the door and was told by the awkward and nervous ranger that “camping” isn’t allowed alongside the road, so I had to move along.  This was my first ever rousting by the powers-that-be, and wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. Just a few miles down the road just outside the town of Myers Flat I found a pull-out that was plenty suitable, so there I stayed.

 Avenue of the You-Can't-Sleep-Here

Avenue of the You-Can't-Sleep-Here

Even though I’d planned to get back to Ukiah, I found myself not wanting to do that at all.  I wanted to keep exploring, maybe head out towards Covelo and drive out to the Mendocino National Forest or something.  But responsibility beckoned, and I had to heed the call.  I took care of my tasks, then headed down to my parents’ place for the weekend to work on the van.  We had a pretty unproductive Saturday, but an exceedingly productive Sunday where we finished another cupboard, hung some bug nets over the sliding door, built some protection for the batteries, but failed at attempting to connect the propane to my new tabletop stove.  The weekend ended and I came back up to SF to spend some time with Megan.  She had some significant life stuff going on it felt good to be there for her.  We had a pretty enjoyable couple of days together, then back to Ukiah I came, which is where I find myself now.  Not a bad place to be, I suppose.

 Poison Oak shroud

Poison Oak shroud

 Sneaky little van

Sneaky little van

 Eel River

Eel River

Concerns, Upgrades, Ruminations & Plans

5/7/18 Monday

Privacy.  Something that many of us take for granted, living in homes with doors to lock and windows to curtain, resting easy that the people around us won’t be sticking their noses in our business.  I have a certain amount of privacy in the van, when the doors are shut and my curtains drawn across the cab.  But then I’m shut into a metal box, roughly 20 square feet with no windows except for the skylight and ceiling fan above.  I debated putting in a window near the back, but it was expensive and I feared it would compromise my stealthy profile when parked in populated areas.  I’ve given myself plenty of time to decide if having a view to the outside world is more important than looking anonymous, maybe waiting out the full turn of seasons to see how often I wish I had one.  Once you do it, there’s no going back.  But in the mean time, I find myself scouting for places to park where I can have my sliding door open (now that the weather is nicer) without anyone peering into my home.  I also, due to said nice weather, have to scout for places that are shady as well.  Level, shady, private.  The golden combination. 

This past week saw some major upgrades in the van, which have made things quite a bit more enjoyable.  Alex finally carved out some time to finish the electrical system, giving up an entire Sunday working outside in periodic rain showers and cold to provide me with continual and renewable electricity.  For this, I am eternally grateful.  After finishing that project, I jetted down to my parents’ house and installed my new refrigerator, which is providing me with fresh, cold food 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Previously I’d used a fridge that plugged into the van’s electrical system, which would only work when the key was turned on.  Throwing away food became a regular and frustrating occurrence.  No longer!  I also have electric lights connected to switches on the wall, plus AC power to connect my computer and other gear as well as a ceiling fan that pulls air out when I’m cooking and pulls air in when the van gets stuffy.  Golden.

With spring in full swing and summer just around the corner, I’m looking to plot a few trips.  Maybe a few summer music festivals, and hopefully a jaunt northeast through Eastern Oregon Idaho, Montana, and maybe further.  In the mean time, I’m doing what I can to get away for little jaunts here and there.  Like last weekend, when I was able to spend a night parked on the Sonoma Coast before joining up with Megan for a day and night in Guerneville the next day. I drove out River Road to Jenner just as the sun was going down, scouting for a place to park that would give me a little bit of solitude and a nice view to wake up to.  I eventually parked just north of Jenner in a pull-out overlooking the ocean.  It was calm and beautiful and not too cold, and the sun setting behind the emerging curtains of fog was a delight to witness.

The next morning, I took a walk down to the beach below where harbor seals lounged on the shoreline and a lone photographer sat motionless on a stump staring out to sea.  I walked around snapping a few photos and was making my way back to the car when the photographer whistled at me and motioned to hurry over.  He said a whale had just surfaced less than 200 feet offshore and he was so excited he’d barely had the presence of mind to snap a photo.  Of course, the beautiful and elusive sea creature never showed itself again, so I said my goodbyes to the ocean and the apologetic photographer and made my way back to the van.

I drove into Guerneville to work at Coffee Bazaar, a place I’d spent many a day back in ’96 when I’d escaped from the Bay Area and was staying with friends in Rio Nido while looking for work and trying to figure out what to do with my life.  The café looks different now than I remember it, though I can't exactly remember what it looked like back then.  As I sat drinking my coffee, I reflected on that time in my life and all the monumental changes that occurred.  I’ll have to save the details for another time, but I’ve always thought of that time as the demarcation between my “old” life and the “new” one.  And I still kinda think of myself as living that “new” life, even though it’s been 22 years.

I met up with Megan midday, and we spent the day together just relaxing and enjoying each others company.  We checked into a hotel, and I have to say there’s nothing like staying in a clean and spacious room with a big soft bed, a bathroom with a large shower and a hot tub on the deck to put van living in perspective.  I love both, and appreciate fully the opportunity and fortune to do both.

 Cazadero

Cazadero

The evening brought an opportunity to spend time with some friends I haven’t seen in a very long time and wish I could see more frequently.  Dan and Sherry have been friends for almost 20 years, and we’ve shared many memorable times and spiritual journeys together.  The four of us spent Friday evening deep in drinks and conversation at a downtown Guerneville watering hole, catching up and talking shop (Dan is also a talented photographer and works for a well known photo gear company), then chowed down on tacos from a truck parked outside Safeway, where the guy who took my order periodically called out “Bobby my friend!!” throughout our brief stay outside his establishment.  Funny guy.  We eventually said our goodbyes and Megan and I finished off the night with a delightful hot tub soak before falling into bed exhausted but content.

The next day Megan and I decided to take a walk in Armstrong Woods before we had to part ways, which sounded like a wonderfully relaxing way to spend the morning.  As we drove down the road that led to the woods, we found it lined with car after car after car, stretching more than a quarter mile from the entrance.  Apparently there was a trail race going on, and the place was packed with people.  We managed to have a nice walk anyway, but the sound of cheering and dodging the sweaty, huffing runners on the trail definitely altered the meditative silence that one usually enjoys in the redwood forests.  

We parted ways and I headed to Rich’s house so we could put some more time into the van.  We put the finished ceiling panels up and mounted one of the cabinets my dad and I made.  This means my clothing no longer needs to be stuffed into a crate and can be organized and put away (!!).  I love when things get organized.

 better than TV

better than TV

I ventured over to west county where Travis and Lauren were hosting Taco Night with none other than Dan and Sherry attending (yay!).  The delicious food abounded and the raucous laughs were plenty, and I had many moments of appreciation for the opportunity to spend time with these people that I love so much.  We met as wild youths and now find ourselves definitively middle-aged, though none of us really feel middle aged.  The drinks flowed as night fell, and Dan busted out his camera and tripod so we could run ourselves silly doing long-exposure light painting in the front yard.  We were goofy, boisterous and sometimes quite immature in our light-painting subject matter, and in our exuberant reverence, the fact that we’re all middle aged was just about the furthest thing from our minds.

 

 Travis

Travis

 The Shire

The Shire

A Week on the Road - Pt. 2

Wednesday 4/11/18

Woke at dawn to the rumblings of diesel engines and the sound of the docks opening for business.  Did my morning routine then walked a few blocks to a café where I spent a couple hours going through photos from the night before and waiting for the crew to wake up. I eventually met up with them and listened to mumbled stories of heavy champagne consumption and conga lines on the roof until the wee hours, so I knew everyone was getting off to a slow start.  We headed out to have breakfast (lunch for me) with the band’s manager for a planning meeting, then got on the road to Portland.  The sunshine and warmth of yesterday unsurprisingly mutated back into the rain and cold we come to expect from the Pacific Northwest, so cautiously we drove southward. 

 

Arrived at Mississippi Studios in a downpour and the band unloaded and soundchecked.  I got to have dinner with my dear friend Jeanette and do some catching up, then met up with the band again to do some video interviews and film some backstage footage (I’m planning to create a little mini-doc of my time on tour with them).  Their show tonight topped last night’s show for sure, and last night’s show was pretty fucking good.  With a house full of exuberant fans and more than a month of playing every night under their belts, they brought the musical magic once again. 

After the show we headed across town to their friend Austin’s house, where I was graciously allowed a parking spot on their flat driveway right next to the house.  Sleep came late, but that was all right by me.

 

Thursday 4/12/18

Again I found myself awake a couple of hours before everyone else, so I took a walk around the neighborhood then spent some time going through photos from the night before.  People slowly rose and plans were hatched by Matt the drummer and Natasha the tour manager to head to Revival Drum Shop, one of the most amazing percussion storehouses and retail outlets in the world.  First we stopped at a food truck hub and had the most amazing Oaxacan food, then scooted across town to the shop.  Spent almost an hour there, Matt getting a few things fixed on his kit, but mostly just playing the drums and looking at the artifacts and rare kits and feeling overwhelmed by the vast assortment of auditory rhythmic devices.

Joined back up with everyone and caravanned down to Bend, which required driving back through the Mount Hood Natnl Forest.  This time it was snowing heavily on the peak, and I found myself getting a little nervous driving a large, wobbly  2wd vehicle instead of my nimble 4wd vehicle.  But it turned out fine, and we made a bee-line for Bend.  I had some errands to run (groceries, gas, etc…), so I met up with them at the venue.  Unfortunately, I only had an hour or so to spend with them before I had to hit the road on my own and head south, due to having scheduled a wedding shoot in SF for tomorrow morning that required splitting the 8+ hour drive into two parts.  Sad to miss the show, but that’s how it goes.  Shot some video of them during sound check, said my goodbyes, and headed out into the flurrying snow and darkening evening.  I was pretty bummed to do the central Oregon drive in the dark since the scenery was pretty awesome, but the fact that there’s nearly no traffic on the road was a reasonable consolation.  Got down to Dunsmuir (just south of Mount Shasta) and decided it was a good time to stop, so I snuck down a side road and found a place to park where I wouldn’t be bothered and the sound of the river rushing just downhill could be faintly heard through the van walls.

 

Friday 4/13/18

Since I parked when it was pitch dark out, I had no way of knowing I’d parked literally 30 feet from a railroad track.  I sure figured it out when the lumbering, obnoxiously loud machine made its way past me just as I was falling asleep and I wished I’d made a different choice.  Luckily that was the only train of the evening, so I managed to get some rest.  Woke at 5 and got myself fed and took off south with just enough time to get to SF for the wedding.  Unfortunately I had two very frustrating experiences with attempting to get gas (not worth explaining here) which set me back about 25 minutes, so the rush was on and I had to push it.  I haaaaate that feeling.  Charged down the featureless and soul-crushing Interstate 5 for four hours, rushed across the Bay Bridge, then parked the van in a nice neighborhood and got a ride to City Hall, where I arrived just barely on time.  The couple I photographed are a wonderful queer couple, and they wanted to get married next to the bust of Harvey Milk that sits atop the grand staircase in the middle of City Hall.  There was a point during the brief ceremony where I was attempting to frame a shot with Harvey between the two of them as though he was looking down upon them, and I got hit with an unexpected jolt of emotion.  This sweet couple, so clearly in love, were being legally married in this venerated building only because of what that man fought and died for.  He would have been proud.

Afterwards I met up with Megan for lunch and a quick walk through Hayes Valley to find her some macaroons, then back to her place for a relaxing afternoon of doing nothing.  A perfect way to decompress after a busy week.

Last night I drove through snow and freezing temperatures.  Today I was sitting in a curbside café with short sleeves on, feeling the sun beat down on my pale flesh.  It still seems slightly unnatural that we can travel such distances in a short amount of time.  Was I sad to miss the last couple of shows of the band’s tour?  Definitely.  Was I glad to be back in a familiar place with a soft bed and clean bathroom, spending time with one of the people I care about most?  Absolutely.

A Week on the Road - Pt. 1

Monday, 4/9/18

Picking up where we last left off… turns out the problem with the van wasn’t actually anything to worry about.  Better safe than sorry, so I’m glad I stuck around till Monday to see my mechanic and got the go-ahead to leave town.  I left in a hurry with a rough idea that I’d connect with my friends Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra in Hood River OR, where they were staying on a day off from tour.  I wasn’t sure I would make the entire drive in one day, but figured I’d drive until I didn’t want to drive anymore and see where I ended up.

The day was bright and warm, spring-like and invigorating. I took Hwy 20 to the mind-numbing banality of the 5, then broke off when I got north of Mount Shasta and headed up the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway through central Oregon.  I passed through a dozen small towns, including Klamath Falls and a fascinating little town called Dorris.  I say fascinating because it’s a town out in the middle of nowhere, seemingly a million miles from anything substantial, fairly run-down and somewhat deserted, but populated by some number of people who see fit to live there for whatever reason.  The buildings are old and decrepit, the houses squat and square (also run down) but there are those few buildings that attempt to draw in the stray tourist looking for a bed or a meal, or at least to stop for a minute and appreciate their little corner of the prairie.  Stopping wasn’t in the schedule for me today, but I’m absolutely going to go back and take a walk around and get a feel for the place.  I’m fascinated by abandoned places, but more fascinated by not-yet-abandoned places, well on their way to ghost town status but not quite there yet.  Why do people live there? What do they do with their time?  Where do they work?  How did they end up there? 

Pushing on northward, I passed through a another dozen small towns (and one big town – Bend), some more populated than others, and some clearly connected to the ranching and farming taking place on the large swaths of land that rolled by my window. I was treated to a brilliant sunset over the buttes outside of Madras on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation as I watched storm clouds roil over the distant mountains. I was on a mission though, so stopping for photos wasn’t in the cards (though it pained me not to). Slowly the scenery changed from rolling golden foothills and craggy buttes to arid Pine forests, the scent of evergreens and wet earth filling my nostrils as I put on my jacket, turned up the heater and rolled the window a little further down. This was the Mount Hood National Forest area, and I decided I’d find a place to park and sleep here.  The mountains were what I needed.  I wound down the darkening forest roads until I found the perfect place, flat and wide, right above the Hood River.  I was only about 45 minutes from where my friends were staying, but I opted for a night alone with the river’s song and the chilled air keeping me company.  Made myself dinner, walked around taking some photos before evening turned to night, then holed up in the cozy van to read until I fell asleep.

 the Hood River

the Hood River

Tuesday, 4/10/18

Gloriously solid night of sleep, waking to the sound of rain tapping against my metal roof and the sky still nighttime dark outside.  Did my morning routine including a little walk down the side of the highway to stretch my legs, then piled in the van and headed out of the stately and splendid forest into the town of Hood River.  I knew my friends wouldn’t be awake yet so I found a coffee shop and sat down to do some work for a bit.  Took a walk around town and passed a little restaurant that used to be a bar where my old band played a fateful gig a number of years ago involving heavy drinking, near fisticuffs and a near implosion of the band.  Not so, after all.  Took a photo of the spot and sent it to my old bandmates for funsies. 

Eventually I got a text that the fellas were waking up and getting themselves together, so I met up with them at the house where they’d spent the night. We enjoyed a home-cooked breakfast (my second of the morning) and coffee provided by their gracious hosts, who it turns out were complete strangers that had opened their home to the band.  After eating, the band needed to record a few videos of them performing some songs as gifts to contributors to their crowdfunding campaign, so we all settled in the living room and let the tape roll.  There’s nothing quite like sitting in a small room (a home, a cabin, a dressing room) and listening to an amazing band perform songs on acoustic instruments.  I’ve been fortunate enough to experience this a number of times, and it’s a treat I never tire of.  It’s an intimacy like nothing else.  It’s how music was played for millennia, come to think of it.  No wonder people respond to it.

We bid farewell to our hosts, packed up vehicles and caravanned northward to Seattle for tonight’s gig at the Tractor Tavern.  Seattle was warm and sunny (!!), so it was a special little treat to lay in the sunshine while waiting for the club to open.  The band loaded in and did their soundcheck thing while I stole away and had dinner with a friend who lives across town.  Got back and joined the band and a handful of friends at a local Pho noodle shop before trekking back to the venue and readying for the show. The band were on fire tonight and I continuously struggled with whether I should be shooting video or photos or both.  I keep telling myself to commit to one or the other, at least for an entire song, but I found it almost impossible. I don’t want to miss a good photo or miss a dramatic moment that needs to be filmed, though that’s inevitable.  Did my best.  On this tour, Marty and the boys have been finishing their sets by pulling instruments onto the floor and playing a few songs acoustically in the middle of the crowd.  It’s a special way to end the night, again accessing that intimacy that only acoustic music can. 

The band had a plan to crash in a friend’s apartment in a different part of town, and since I didn’t know what the parking situation would be over there, I opted to park behind the club, next to the docks and piers that line the waterfront.  The presence of other parked RVs gave me the impression that this was an OK place to be, so I pulled up behind a clunker and put my ass in bed.

 

 Home for the night, Seattle

Home for the night, Seattle

Patience

4/8/18 Sunday

Patience.  The constant practice.  A trait celebrated and revered, difficult to obtain for many of us.  I think I do OK with it, but it doesn’t always feel good.  Like right now, when I’m supposed to be hitting the road to join a band I love for a few days on the road in the Pacific Northwest.  Instead, I’m killing time in Ukiah until Monday morning when I can take the van to my mechanic.  A worrisome dash light came on Friday night, one that’s come up before and if you believe what you read on the internet, could result in complete engine destruction if not addressed immediately. There’s still a chance that I can make my planned trip, but I’ll be gunning it up Interstate 5 instead of taking a leisurely and enjoyable excursion on back roads and highways as planned.  First world problems, I know.  But this would be my first extended trip since living in the van full time and I’m itching to go.  Tired of being stuck in Ukiah.

So what does it mean when your mobile home stops being mobile?  It’s still a home, but the prime directive is thwarted, rendering it mostly just a metal box with a bed and a bunch of my belongings in it.  I'm lucky the light came on when I was in Ukiah and only a few blocks from my mechanic.  I’m also very fortunate to have friends in town who will let me park the van in front of their house while I whittle the weekend hours away. I managed to have an entertaining evening watching MMA fights and hanging out with said friends, enjoying many laughs and getting to eat dinner on my old dinner table (oh, the nostalgia!).  Today I might try to get out into the hills for a bit (driving my car instead of the van), just to keep from going stir crazy.  We’ll see.

This past week saw me & my dad finish the frame of the galley, which is a much needed step forward in the build-out process that seems to have ground to a halt.  I (patiently) await the availability of my electrician so we can finish installing the solar stuff & wire up the lights and outlets.  Once that’s done, the ceiling panels can be put on, then the cabinets my dad made can be installed.  But until that electrical stuff gets put in, there isn’t much that can be done. 

Patience.

City Mouse, Country Mouse

4/2/18 Monday

The beginning of last week was barely noteworthy, mostly just working and running errands around Ukiah, spending my nights parked out in Redwood Valley on Joe’s property (thanks Joe!!).  I took a brief excursion down to my parents’ place in the south bay area to do a little work on the van with my Dad, where we enjoyed a surprise visit from Aurora just beginning her spring break, which I always appreciate. Spent a day and a night there, then headed back in Ukiah and ventured out to new favorite pull-out spot next to Lake Mendocino, where I can enjoy a bit of pseudo-privacy.  There's also the sound of the highway only 30 feet away, but with a little music playing the noise is negligible.  With the weather having warmed significantly, I slid my door all the way open and faced the little valley containing the Russian River as it flows into the lake, enjoying a beautiful sunset while eating my dinner.  Headed to Redwood Valley to sleep, as I needed the silence.

Thursday took me back down to SF to photograph two of my favorite bands, King Woman and Russian Circles.  King Woman have become friends over the last year or two, and I’ve seen/photographed them many times.  Since I’d arrived in the city a bit earlier than expected, I headed over to the Great American Music Hall to say hey to them and catch up.  They’re on a steady upward trajectory, having signed with new management and thus getting to spend a month touring the country with Russian Circles, playing sold out shows in large venues.  It gives me a vicarious excitement to watch their ascension, and I appreciate their humility and gratitude for the opportunities they’re given.

I watched them soundcheck, snapping a few photos in the meantime and keeping out of the way as much as possible.  It was interesting that I found myself totally content to just sit and watch something that most people would find boring.  Maybe it’s my previous life as a musician finding ease in a familiar environment, maybe its a little ego boost feeling like I get to be somewhere that others don’t.  But it did get me thinking…  why am I totally uninterested in playing/writing music myself, but so totally interested in hanging out with other musicians photographing them?  Where did my life-long, all consuming drive to play/write/record music go?  I sometimes find myself missing the magical experience of playing onstage, finding those moments of synergy with other musicians, feeling the reciprocal energy exchange with the audience. But I certainly don’t miss hauling my drums around, playing to empty rooms, battling through creative differences with other people, and making no money.  I now find great satisfaction showing up to a gig with my little bag, engaging with the music and the performances intimately, and then leaving whenever I want without all the excess drudgery that comes along with being a performing musician.  I suppose in a way I am making music with them, but just in a visual form and somewhat removed (more as an audience member than a performer). 

Stayed in the city that night, then spent the Friday morning editing photos before heading back to Ukiah to spend the rest of the day working on the computer.  Megan was up in Willits on a personal errand, and we’d made a plan to spend the night together in town.  This was the first time she’d come to Ukiah since I’ve moved out of my house and in light of the fact that my van is far from ready to host two people for an overnight, we opted for a hotel.  Not that I minded a big cushy bed and a shower and the ease in knowing Megan would be comfortable in her accommodations as well, but I think we both missed my house a bit. In the morning we took a walk on a closed road on the east side of Lake Mendocino where we talked, enjoyed the sunshine, and ran into a miniature horse.  Megan and I are both going through highly transitional & transformative phases of our lives, and it gives me great comfort to know we have each other to lean on.

She and I parted ways and I went to Willits to pick up my son Mickey, who I haven’t seen in weeks.  It’s been strange and somewhat uncomfortable to spend so little time with both of my kids, but that’s just where things are right now.  It was good to see him, and we headed down to my parents’ house to for a visit with them and my sister and her husband, who were up from southern California.  Spending time with my family hasn’t always been comfortable for me, but as we all get older it gets easier, and can often be quite pleasant.  There are still some idiosyncrasies of our family dynamic that leave me scratching my head, but it is what it is.  We shared a lot of laughs, had a nice dinner together, and all went to bed early.

Spent the next morning doing laundry and cleaning out the van while waiting for Aurora to stop by on her way back to Santa Cruz to resume her spring semester at UCSC.  Unfortunately, my sister had to hit the road before Aurora arrived, but that’s how it goes.  I eventually hit the road with Mickey back to Willits to drop him off, then back to my pull-out spot next to the lake where I sit and write this, enjoying the cool breeze while watching the sun go down, listening to the traffic whizzing by a short distance away.