One of the first special activities I took part in after moving to the Bay Area was last year's Power to the Peaceful, an annual peace/love/music type of gathering in Golden Gate Park. It was really wonderful, an incredible experience that totally drove home for me what kind of place I was living in and what things I had access to.
So the question came: would I go again this year? I found myself oddly conflicted. On the one hand, the previous experience had been wonderful, and it would give me an excuse to visit my favorite city again, and as a general policy I'm always up for special events. On the other hand, I had already, like, DONE it before; besides, I would be flying out for a business trip the next day and wasn't sure if I really wanted to spend four hours riding on trains the day before a flight to Chicago.
When I woke up, I basically went, "Ehhh... why not!" Ignoring the ominous music that suddenly started to play, I calmly ate breakfast and scooted over to the Caltrain station.
Just like last time, my train pulled out of the station with me still worrying if my car would be towed by the time I came back. Then, it would have been entirely justified, as I did not have exact change for the parking machine and was loathe to overpay for my vehicle. This time, I pulled into the lot, and as I was walking inside I passed a sign which had JUST been erected saying that parking was $10 for the day. Needless to say, I did not run back to pay ten dollars, and calmly (but with great worry) I proceeded to the train.
I have been up to San Francisco... over a dozen times, I don't know exactly how many. This was the first time, in over a year of coming, that I made the classic tourist error and underdressed. I ALWAYS remember to bring a long-sleeve shirt, even in July and August, just because sooner or later I'll need it. This time, I was cheerfully riding all the way up with just my normal San Jose-appropriate short sleeves. It wasn't until after I crossed the city lines and saw the impenetrable wall of clouds that I realized what an error I had made.
By now I'm comfortable enough getting around the city that I don't even bother looking up map and transit information before I go; I either know how to get there, or know enough that I can find it with a minimum of wandering. I could almost get to Golden Gate Park in my sleep now: Caltrain, N line, walk north.
One of the cool things about Power to the Peaceful is finding it. The roads get all twisty and weird once you're in the park, and there are few signs, so you don't really know exactly where it is; instead, you just head in the general direction until start to hear the music. Then you just walk whatever direction you need to make it louder, until it becomes overpowering and you're at the festival. This year, the first thing I heard was a house remix of "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2". It was a good omen.
Or so I thought. There are plenty of reasons why this year wasn't as much fun for me as last year. Topping the list would be the completely cloudy skies, me feeling too chilly in short sleeves, and just being in a general bad mood. Last year, I remember being utterly delighted at the amazing range of activist organizations set up there, and marvelling how you probably wouldn't find a single one of them at a similar event in Kansas City. This time around, I found myself avoiding those same tables and signs, telling myself that it was because I had come for the music, but really because I just didn't feel like I had the energy to interact with people.
The music was phenomenal, and worth the trip by itself. I arrived early enough to catch the entirety of the first act, "Sila and the Afrofunk Experience." I love funk music, but am supremely ignorant, so I just sort of do my white boy bob and groove when I have the chance. The set seemed kind of short, but was very solid. The crowd was still on the smallish side, but they brought tons of enthusiasm to the show with lots of dancing, cheering, singing, generally being right with the world. As with last year, I was impressed by the diversity of the crowd. There were plenty of white-haired ladies and gents that one does not typically associate with such an event, and there were enough there that they did not look out of place. Alongside them were plenty of young children, couples, singles, groups, all manner and variety of people.
Like I said, the set was kind of short. It was followed by some poetry, including a really funny and oddly poignant piece on the virtues of stealing from one's employer, in which the poet talked about his late-90s experience working for Kinko's. There was also an impressive rap by two local youths talking about the conflict between virtue and desire.
After a while they broke up the poetry and went back to pre-recorded music, so I resumed wandering. I walked past the DJ tent, which last year was just an amazing place with phenomenal music and a nearly solid mass of dancers. This year it was just sad, one very lonely DJ spinning some good tunes while people stood around and stared. I remain unsure why there was such a radical difference. Part could very well be the temperature again; though if you ask me, dancing is a great way to keep warm. I also remember, though, that last year there was a sort of makeshift floor erected. People were dancing on the grass, but there was... rubber tubing or something which marked out a rectangle in front of the tent. I think that might have sent a message of some sort that people responded to, something like "dancing is acceptable here." And, of course, these things tend to snowball; it's very hard to get people to start dancing, but once a certain mass is achieved, it becomes self-sustaining.
I kept walking, and waaaaaay on the other side of the field was the emergency backup stage. It was a smaller, seemingly more kid-friendly venue, with just two staff people protecting the stage instead of six. I arrived for the last song or two from an excellent band with killer instruments, including stuff like an accordian, upright bass, cello, guitar. I thought the music sounded kind of Spanish, but I later learned that it is actually more French-influenced. Anyways, it was a great high-energy performance that didn't fit too neatly into any genre, and was the sort of thing I appreciated hearing.
As they left the stage, they were talked off by Radioactive, a man who I'm almost certain had a set on the main stage last year (and might have this time as well). He did an amazing beatbox while the stage was being rearranged, then introduced the next act, a set of kids from Youth Speaks, doing a hip hop message rap. They seemed fine; it's really not my scene, but I'm always impressed when people that young can own a sound like that. Still, I'm more about funk than rap, so I did an about face and went west again.
I took my time on the way back to the main stage, soaking in the great music... not as great as Sila and the Afrofunk Experience, these people had more of a harsh edge, but it was still good music. Nonetheless, my thoughts were dark. I was cold and becoming miserable; all the great music around me couldn't stop my steadily advancing crankiness, and I reasoned I should probably make an exit before I violated the spirit of Power to the Peaceful. I checked the sky to make sure - any sign of a break in the coulds and I would have stayed - but the grey haze seemed permanent. I hated the thought of missing Spearhead, but I wasn't sure I could make it that long, and away I went.
The trip back was uneventful. Oh, except that for once I made all my connections: got to the Muni just as a car was pulling up, got to Caltrain about twenty minutes before departure. I also saw that there was a Giants game that day, and walked through the hundreds of pedestrians and dozens of scalpers who were milling around the stadium. I'm guessing that game is why Caltrain was charging more for parking this day.
I felt oddly defeated riding home. It seemed to be a big bummer that I'd spent so much time on transit during my last day of freedom, and with just a few hours of admittedly great music to show for it. I didn't want to end on a down note, though, so when I got home I treated myself to a Mexican place that I have driven by dozens of times but haven't actually been to yet.
It's just a block or two from my house, and looks like a supremely unlikely place to find good food; it's called "TACOS MEXICOS" and occupies the corner of a strip mall, near by an auto repair shop. Still, I've learned that appearences can be deceiving, so I parked and went in. Even before I set foot inside, I had a good feeling about this trip, one that unlike the previously mentioned good feeling would actually bear fruit: a small sign invited people to visit their new location at Rico's in downtown Campbell. Rico's is the other Mexican place I've been meaning to check out; it recently opened, and has been very favorably reviewed in the local papers. An affiliation between the two joints seemed like it must be a good sign.
I always freeze up when I order food for the first time from a place, no matter how simple the menu was. And the menu here was quite simple: tacos, burritos, flautas and quesadillas. The prices were dirt-cheap; I ended up getting four tacos*, but could froze on the toppings. I really wanted al pastor, but that was not on the list; on the other hand, they did offer lengua, and I spent valuable decision time wondering if i was brave enough to eat cow tongue. I tend to really like carne asada, but was trying to be good about watching the source of my beef. I ultimately went with carnitas, and was fully pleased with the result (once I brought it home and popped open a Mexican soda). So fresh, such distinct flavors, so warm and yummy. I don't eat out that often, but will be tempted to hit them up again in the future.
The rest of the day just sort of unwinded. I finished packing for the big business trip, got in a chunk of reading and cleared a few errands off my plate. It seems like an odd way to celebrate California before leaving, but still... as the saying goes, "It's been an experience. Pity there had to be so much of it, though."
* This is going to sound sort of West-coast snobby, but "true" Mexican tacos are quite a bit smaller than the size you find at places like Taco Bell. They aren't stuffed with meat and lots of toppings like a burrito is, but are meant to provide a few basic complementary flavors that can be enjoyed in a few bites. So four tacos is actually still sort of on the light side for a meal.