Sunday, November 18, 2007

My Herb Caen Story

When Murray visited me in the Bay Area in the summer of 1975, our first plan of action was to take a trip to the beach at Pacifica. That was not such a good idea. It was a typical summer day, and while it was sunny where we started out in Berkeley, the California coast was following its usual foggy and chilly pattern. We got to Pacifica, took one look around and said, “Oops.”

So we bailed, or rather, we drove back to San Francisco. I didn’t want to go all the way back to Berkeley for reasons that I do not care to divulge at this time. However, a hint may be found on the Congress of Wonders second album Sophomoric, in the routine Opheelthis Unchained.

We parked out past Van Ness, because anything closer to downtown was ridiculous. It wasn’t that long a walk to the Civic Center, however, so we lay on the lawn across from the CC and watched the secretaries having lunch, while the last of the morning low clouds burned off overhead. Then we caught a cable car and headed downtown. Thirty years ago, cable cars were actually a cheap (like 50 cents, if I remember correctly), practical means of transportation rather than a theme park ride for tourists. We visited the Krell Empire (the Hyatt Regency), took another cable car ride to Ghirardelli Square, then got into a matinee of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” partly because Murray had been in a college production. We both agreed that Jim Nagy had made a better McMurphy than the guy playing it in SF, but the rest of the SF cast was better. It wasn’t really a fair comparison of McMurphy’s, because Nagy had been typecast for life, even to the final point of dying young from too much speed in all of its forms.

After the play, we ambled over to City Lights Bookstore and had dinner at the Cherry Blossom Restaurant, my favorite Vietnamese place. By then it was dark, and time to head for home.

The cable car going out seemed to take forever to come. After too long a wait, a big limousine pulled up and its occupant called out to the five or six of us waiting there, “Any of you folks need a lift?” We all looked at each other and then all piled into the back of the limo.

The guy in the back was garrulous, chatting up everybody, asked them where they were from, etc. etc. Murray and I were the last out of the limo, since we’d parked out past the end of the cable car line. As the limo drove off, Murray said to me, “Well, that was strange.”

“You have no idea,” I told him. “That was Joe Alioto. He’s the Mayor of San Francisco.”

Winterland was on our way back. The Jefferson Starship was playing that night. We didn’t go in, but as we were passing by, Marty Balin was singing “Caroline.” As the saying goes, it doesn’t get any better than a day like that.

Note: Herb Caen was a San Francisco columnist who often wrote “Only in San Francisco” stories. He died in 1997.

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