Tuesday, 17 January 2012

San Francisco Final Trip - days 107 - 114

SAN FRANCISCO 28th Dec – 4th Jan

When I was originally thinking about booking my trip, way back in Jan 2011, one of the things I wanted to do was end 2011 in SF, seeing my fave band X (as they always play between Xmas and New Year), and hopefully catching at least one of my friend Suzannes birthdays. The plan changed when the trip planning got too expensive, but I’m pleased to say when I cancelled Bangkok I checked prices again, and got a wicked deal for a week in SF for New Year. So I went for it.

Flew BA, and I must say after two weeks of being home, I’m now basically over long flights. Two hours in I was totally over it, and had at least 8 more hours to go. Add to that the fact I was sitting next to a GIANT GERMAN DUDE that spoke no English. Yeah it was a pretty excruciating 10 hours!

Arrived at SFO around 2pm, and got grilled at Immigration – guy wasn’t happy that I had already been here in Sept, and had obviously been round the world since. Got the usual “don’t understand what a holiday is” questioning for this grumpy old sod, but he didn’t keep me too long and eventually let me in. Man, what is wrong with these retards? Especially when they ask you how long are staying, want to check your return flight details, then still give you three months to leave the country!

My hotel was slap bang in Fishermans Wharf, and once I was in the cab I turned my phone on and had a message from Mary at Tattoo City. As it was walking distance to the hotel from the shop, I got dropped off at Tattoo City first rather than checking in at the hotel. Met Mary and the other shop guys, and had a brief chat with everyone (I love this shop), then checked out the stunning tattoo design Mary had sorted for me. I was gobsmacked to say the least.

Checked in to the hotel, then set about having a quiet evening and an early night before my tattoo marathon on Thursday and Friday. I already knew what I wanted to do, so was UTTERLY DESTROYED when I walked round to Hooters and found the place had closed down a week earlier! ARGH! I didn’t know what else to do, but knew I didn’t want to head out to one of my usual haunts south of the city, so plumped for a pulled chicken sandwich and an anchor steam at Teirnans, the shite tourist bar I’d been to in Sept when I had half shaved my head. Was pleasant enough, and the evening was made better when I left the pub and crossed the road to the Buena Vista Café and grabbed another Steam and chatted to the happiest barman ever. Was pleased to get back in here as it was always packed in September (has free wi-fi too!).

The bulk of the holiday was pretty much as expected, and as it was my last time in San Francisco for a while, I was gonna go back to all my favourite places, and hopefully get to see all my SF friends. The weather was also fantastic for the 7 days, warm and sunny throughout, which made a change from what I’d left behind in the UK.

So most of these places are mentioned in previous blogs. Managed to get into Buena Vista Café a few times on this trip, which is always worth a visit. Also managed to get a lunch in there one day – which sometimes is a mission to get a table as it’s so busy in here. Visited Burgermeister and 901 Columbus in North Beach for lunch a couple of days – both great places, and 901 has free wi-fi. Got to Vesuvio a few times (with my mate Tom). Ate in North Beach at a couple of great Italian restaurants – Calzones and Mona Lisa. Spent New Years Eve afternoon in Hobsons Choice on the Haight drinking bloody marys, having a great time chatting to random people. Everyone was in a party mood (as it was NYE AND a Saturday), so the atmosphere was great, even though it meant usually happy barman Chris was moody and stressed as it seemed he’d been left to cope with the bar all by himself. As I was at Hobsons, it meant I had to go next door to Asqew Grill for lunch, another of my favourite places to eat. And as i was in the Upper Haight, i just HAD to go to Amoeba Music, as per usual! Tom took me to a place I’d never been to called Rogue (in North Beach), which is a Portland based micro brewery. Did amazing beer and even more amazing burgers. At the end of the week, another of my friends Erin (who I haven’t seen for years) took me for a drive out to the west coast of SF to the Cliff House. Which is what it says on the tin really – it’s a restaurant on the cliff. Great food and even better views – if it isn’t foggy!

The main events of the holiday were my new tattoo, Suzannes birthday and getting to see X on NYE.

The day after I arrived, I was off to Tattoo City for sitting #1. Mary was tattooing a medusa pin up girl on my left thigh, and she’d worked out a vague system that would allow her to work on me for two days in a row and hopefully make it easier on me. It half worked. She did an amazing job, above and beyond anything I’d expected, especially considering the state I was in at the end of the second day. On Day #1, he shop was empty like last time, we were treated to some awesome doomy music from Aleph the reception guy (Joy Division, The Effigies, The Cure, The Damned), and Mary got to work on my leg. This session was relatively bearable for three hours. The last two hours weren’t great, but the numbing spray worked a treat. 5 hours later, part 1 of the tattoo was completed, and I limped off happily in agony. As usual, as much as it had hurt, we’d had such a giggle during the session it didn’t really matter. And the design was looking incredible already, even at this half-finished stage.

On day #2, the shop was busier and the atmosphere was totally different. As nice as it is having the shop to ourselves, theres a real family vibe in this place when it’s busy. The guys here really are the nicest tattooers on the planet! It’s also a nice distraction having different people wandering into the tattoo room for a little chat, taking the attention away from the torture happening on my thigh! Was cool getting to chat lots to Doug Hardy (who I always seem to miss when I’ve been here before), and Trev the reception dude was very helpful with his runs to the deli to pick up food and drinks throughout the session.

As for the session, brutal doesn’t even cover it. I knew it was gonna be hard going, but not this hard. I think I managed to grit my teeth through it and sat ok for Mary, even though I was thoroughly uncomfortable. Whatever the case, she did a sterling job on the tattoo. The work she produced literally blew my mind. The final hour however was the worst, and I can’t believe I sat through it. I don’t think I was approaching shock or anything, but my body was definitely calling time on the session. I was hot, I was cold, I had the shakes, I was hungry. So I got a mars bar thinking the sugar would help, but it just made me feel worse. It was as though my body was saying “I can’t deal with two things at once!”

After 2 days and 10 hours it was all over. Me and Mary took lots of photos of the work, then she wrapped me up good and proper. Then I limped off into North Beach for a pizza at Calzones – which was packed. In fact everywhere was heaving. I guess cos it was the Friday before NYE. Then I grabbed a cab and headed down to Thee Parkside to meet up with Suzanne for her birthday bash, and to see her band, Girl-illa Biscuits.

I’d missed coming here on my last trip, so was cool to get back to this groovy little bar in the middle of nowhere. The place was empty when I limped in – apart from Nikki the guitarist sitting at the bar. I’d met Nikki on my last trip, and was great to catch up with her (luckily she recognised me immediately). Suzanne wasn’t far behind, and was pleased to see my mate again. We had a beer and a chat, then they went off to soundcheck – and I must say I was dead impressed. They were tight as anything and Suzanne definitely pulls off being the perfect frontwoman. Who knew ay? It was like she was born to do it!

The hour before showtime was spent chatting to Suzanne and Nikki and meeting up with various other people I’d met through Suzanne. They’d got a huge crowd down at Thee Parkside which was pretty impressive. They were the first band on, and it was packed when they started. They played hard and were absolutely kicking. I must say I loved it – I even preferred them to the real Gorilla Biscuits! Suzanne spent most of the show shouting “Fucking mosh, its my birthday!” at the crowd, and as we expected, ended up in the audience for the last song. They only managed to play 5 songs, but they’d pulled off an ace first gig. I was pleased to hear later on that they are taking it seriously and are gonna be carrying on. Was so glad I’d got to see them!

Next up were Cunt Sparrer, an all girl Cock Sparrer tribute. I was intrigued to see these ladies as I’m a big Cock Sparrer fan, but was totally gobsmacked when they started. They are like a living room version – one drum, acoustic guitar and bontempi organ! The first song “Because You’re Young” was weird, trying to work out what they were doing – but by the time they’d played all the hits (and they do them all – “We’re Coming Back”, “Take Em All”, “England Belongs To Me” etc) and a Misfits cover, I was blown away. It was still like a full blown Cock Sparrer gig – everyone down the front shouting along at the top of their voices, almost drowing out the band. Frontlady Jen seemed happy with the performance the front row was putting on.

My leg was beginning to give me jip however, and thought I’d better get back to the hotel and sort myself out. Had a brief chat with the Biscuits girls, then caught a cab back to the hotel and sorted my tattoo out. I couldn’t stop grinning – it had been an awesome couple of days.

New Years Eve main event was the X show at Slims. SF had been particularly busy today, and everywhere was mental. The queues for the cable cars in The Wharf and Union Square had been among the longest I’d even seen. Good luck getting a ride on one of those! Caught a cab down to Slims in the evening, not knowing how I was gonna get back to the hotel later in the evening. Luckily the door guys confirmed that the buses were running late this evening, which was a weight off my mind. Meant I could get on with enjoying the show.

Support act was Sean Wheeler (from Throwrag) and Zander Schloss (from Circle Jerks and many more other bands). They kinda played acoustic soulful folk music and were brilliant – Seans voice was absolutely amazing, and Zanders guitar playing was incredible. I was hooked from the first song. Sean Wheeler is a bit of a character too, and had everyone laughing with his crackpot stories between songs. Loved them.
X were the main reason I was here, and they were flippin brilliant. They don’t worry about doing anything different than the last time I saw them – they just played a straight up awesome set of old classics that you’d expect (except they left out “Nausea” for some reason). They timed the set perfectly to fit in “Happy New Year” at midnight, let off balloons, I clinked glasses with Exene and DJ (while Billy stood at the back of the stage, looking unusually grumpy and drinking water). Then they kicked off with “Year One” and carried on the rest of the set. They may be old, but they have more energy and kick more arse than bands half their age. Long may they continue playing – and hope they come back to the UK one day!

One of the funnest things about the eve was that as it was an all-ages show, the place was full of these groovy punk rock families. Old punk moms and dads with their punk rock offspring, ranging from grown up kids, down to teenagers and even a couple of little kids. The atmosphere was brilliant.

I did notice that my left leg was starting to hurt again – not surprising really considering the tattoo session. However, I realised my knee had swollen right up and was becoming painful to stand on. Ended the set sitting on a chair like an old man. Was very lucky that on exiting the gig, I only had 5 mins to wait for a bus, which dropped me off right by the hotel! Handy!

New Years Day I figured was gonna be a quiet, but was totally wrong. The weather was fantastic today, so decided to go for an ill advised walk, considering my swollen leg. Walked up to Coit Tower to take some photos of the view, then wandered into North Beach – and found every bar packed an kicking at lunchtime with party-goers! Decided I wasn’t gonna be left out, so jumped in a cab and headed to the Mission and to Pops Bar on 24th Street. They were having a pyjama party and showing movies, so figured it would be a cool thing to do. When I got there, the place was busy with tattooed punks in their dressing gowns, and Nikki was running the place by herself. Grabbed a place at the bar, stuffed myself with free food, watched Bridesmaids on the big screen and got served free beer by Nikki all afternoon. Awesome!

Managed to meet up with Suzanne on my penultimate day for one of our pub crawls – which we thought was gonna be a quiet night as we were both knackered after the festivities. Met up at Benders, then headed to 500 Club and Claires Deli, where we hung out for a few hours, having awesome sandwiches and chatting to various friends of Suzannes. We ended up at Hemlock for their Monday night Punk Rock Sideshow, and once again got to hang out with Nikki (and get some cheeky beers), as she works here as well. It was pop punk night tonight, and the music was kicking – the DJ played Fucked Up, Off With Their Heads, Dear Landlord, Teenage Bottlerocket and Ramones among others. Was a brilliant night, hanging out with brilliant people. That turned into a bit of a booze fest and definitely wasn’t a quiet night, getting back to the hotel at 2am. It had been a blast catching up with Suzanne and Nikki again – probably won’t be seeing either of them for a while now.

My final day had a touch of déjà vu about it. Once I’d packed and checked out of the hotel, I was back to Tattoo City to get tattooed by Mary again. This time she was tattooing some more mini skulls on my right arm to finish it off. Luckily it was a slightly easier tattoo session and only took an hour. Was great to get to the shop and see everyone on my last day. I’m feeling like I’m done with tattooing for a while, as I’m now symmetrical. Although if Mary comes to the London Tattoo Convention this year, I’m already booked up for session.

Final stop of the holiday was a quick trip to Alamo Square to be a tourist. I’ve never been here before, but was bought up in a conversation with Mary earlier in the week, as its one of the locations that appears in “So I Married An Axe Murderer”. So I was dropped off, looked at the houses, took some photos, and headed to Asqew Grill for my final burger of the holiday.

(Speaking of "So I Married An Axe Murderer", next time i go back to SF i'm taking the tour of locations - I thought i'd done them all, but seems i may have missed a few!)

And that’s about it. Grabbed a cab back to the hotel (taxi driver was another of these “drive you round the houses” rip-off dudes), grabbed my stuff then headed to the airport. Flight was ok as I had a space next to me and slept the whole way home – luckily was only annoyed by the Tourettes ridden hyperactive teen wearing a bobble hat sitting in front of me for an hour as he fell asleep too.

Holiday is now over and I’m back to reality. Getting to SF for a second time was a real bonus, and was so pleased to finish my mega trip here. I really love this place and feel so comfortable here. OK, it helps that I have friends here – but I’ve made those friends by being here so many times. I wouldn’t have come back so often if I hadn’t absolutely loved the place. Can’t see myself heading this way for a while (not until I sort out what I’m doing with my life anyway!), and I’m glad my last two trips were so brilliant.

Btw - just realised i never made it to Zeitgeist on this trip. Weird, and pretty unheard of for me!

I still need to write one more blog about the trip – then I’ll carry it on with whatever I get up to next.

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