09 February 2014

Only a Day and Two Nights in San Francisco

When we were informed our Common Assignment Research Study would be having a meeting for all the partners in San Francisco, I was immediately excited at the possibility of finally seeing City Lights Bookellers in person. I, like many other twenty-one year old students, was inspired by the Beat Generation while I was in college.  Specifically, I remember writing a paper on the San Francisco Renaissance poets (and I had never been to San Francisco).  Jack Kerouac's traveling experiences were alive in my head as I made my travel reservations.

It was a relatively short work meeting, with just one evening dinner meeting (II Fornaio) and then a full day meeting on Friday. I purposefully scheduled the earliest flight I could get out of snowy Lexington on Thursday, even though our dinner wasn't until 6pm PST.  With the time change heading west, I landed in SFO by 10:30 am, and after a short stop at a popular food truck Bacon Bacon on the San Francisco State campus, my colleague (who just moved to Kentucky  from San Francisco) drove me to City Lights and left me to explore while she lunched with friends.  Two glorious hours in this historical bookstore were an English teacher's dream.  I sat upstairs in the poetry room and read for about 30 minutes, and I browsed the vast assortment of poetry collections from every generation, and naturally with a special section dedicated to the Beat Generation.

I also browsed fiction and nonfiction on the other floors of the bookstore, and each time I moved from section to section, I thought about the great authors of an earlier generation who shook up the city and the country with their counterculture movement.  The history of this generation was well represented, not only with their great works of literature, but also with the posters, pictures, and postcards that adorned the walls.

Leaving the bookstore, I walked again by Jack Kerouac Alley before making my way across the Broadway/Columbia inersection to The Beat Museum.  Here I found artifacts and memorabilia like a shirt Kerouac wore, Ginsberg's typewriter and organ and loads of photographs and books from the era.

Since I live on the eastern side of the USA, traveling home Friday night would have required me to take the red eye, and I just wasn't up for that experience.  With only a few free hours on this work trip, my only big goal personally was so see City Lights,  so when I also was able to hear live jazz on Friday night, I felt my San Francisco trip was complete. It was serendipitous because I was stuck at the hotel on my own since others in the group had planned better than I did for a Friday evening out and about  (or they lived locally--our Stanford partners) and went home to their families.  

Determined to make the best of the situation, I went to the hotel restaurant for dinner (Brussels sprouts with bacon crumbles & an Ahi burger). While I was dining, several musicians came in to setup equipment.  I didn't have high hopes for what I would hear, given that I was at a hotel restaurant near the airport.  However, when I asked my waiter what he knew about the music to come, I wasn't disappointed when he told me old school jazz.  Indeed it was old school jazz with three local musicians and all improvisation since they did even know one another before they played together. Three hours of lively jazz music and conversations with locals.  On their break, the musicians talked to me and asked if I had any requests, but they laughed when I asked for Coltrane's Giant Steps or Gillespie's Salt Peanuts. Bebop was clearly not high on their list of usual requests.  Not long later, though, they looked at me and said..."you asked for bebop, so we're going to play some for you," and they played KoKo.

A woman from the San Francisco Bay Area came over to talk to me and to share that she was there at the airport hotel to hear jazz and celebrate her 89th (!) birthday. What a joy she was! The band even played a jazzed up happy birthday in her honor, and she stood up to dance in her sparkly pants and leopard print top.  She was there with her daughters who looked to be my mom's age, and I loved that they brought their mom to hear jazz on her birthday.

All told my day and two nights in San Francisco was the perfect work trip with a splash of personal fun thrown into the mix.  We accomplished our work goals, and I saw City Lights and heard live jazz. Can't get much better than that.