Sunday, March 20, 2011

New York City, October 2010, Part V

In an effort to try and confuse myself even more than life in general normally does, I will now shift gears completely and go back to telling the story of my most recent trip back to the town of my origin, New York City. It's now been 5 months since this journey, but it's still quite vivid and fresh in my mind, thanks to A) it being an absolutely terrific time, B) my previous entries about the trip here on my travelblog, and C) the literally hundreds of pictures I took while there that I refer to when I write these entries. Shall we continue?

When last we left our not-yet-weary travelers, it was Thursday afternoon, October 7, 2010. Having spent most of the morning and early afternoon getting to and exploring The American Museum Of Natural History, we were now slowly meandering south thru Central Park. After we (and the "we" in question would be my Long Island-dwelling Mom and myself), had spent some time enjoying the wonderful views that can be had in and around Bow Bridge, we continued on around the perimeter of The Lake. It was such an absolutely beautiful autumn day that plenty of people were taking the opportunity to rent boats and row out around The Lake, lazily enjoying the warm sun and the cool breeze. Following the path along, it turned west, and we eventually made our way out of Central Park back over by The Dakota, John Lennon's last place of residence. His 70th birthday was the following day, so there were already people in and around the area of the building and the Strawberry Fields area of Central Park celebrating the occasion, singing songs, buying and selling artifacts, exchanging stories, and just generally having a good time.

We made our way down Central Park West to Columbus Circle, the southwest corner of Central Park. We lingered there for a few minutes to take pictures, because it was a beautiful weekday afternoon in one of the busiest areas in one of the busiest cities in the world. Definitely a great time and place for people watching and picture taking. I have this little quirk where whenever I take photograph in New York City, I try to get at least one yellow cab in the picture. It really isn't that difficult to do, but I have found myself occasionally having to wait a couple of seconds for one to enter the shot. Not a problem at this locale at this time of day.

As we started to make our way south down Broadway, I saw something that I'd never seen before...which in NYC, is something that can occur on a daily basis. That's one of the things to love about New York. It's always full of surprises, and something new is a regular occurrence. In this particular instance, it was a woman carrying a small step-ladder. No big deal, you say. To which I would agree. Except that the reason for her carrying the 3-step ladder was simply to afford her different perspectives for taking pictures. This was not ascertained as the reason for her carrying the ladder until she stopped midway across 58th Street, set up her perch, climbed to the top, and proceeded to snap a few pictures of the area. I instantly thought that was a terrific idea. She wasn't an overly tall woman, but by no means was she short either. So it wasn't for height reasons that she was doing this, it was simply to get pictures at what must be a very unique angle. She's dead center in the picture at the beginning of this paragraph, just left of the pedestrian signal. I think it's such a great idea that the next time I go back to New York I'm seriously considering buying a similar ladder and wandering the streets of NYC with it, seeing what kind of interesting shots I can get standing atop it. Even things that I've taken pictures of before will probably look brand new; you'd be surprised at what a big difference a subtle shift in camera angles can make. I'm a big fan of kneeling down and placing the camera on the ground to take shots (an idea I cribbed from artist Dave McKean...again, see the picture accompanying this paragraph). While a difference of maybe only 5 to 6 feet, it makes for a completely different picture from the worm's eye view.

As it was approaching late afternoon in New York, the sun was coming in at more of an extreme angle. What with many of the buildings lining Broadway being encased in glass, the reflected light that rebounds around makes for some interesting effects. I particularly like the way the light has a "shimmering water" look on the brown building on the right in this photo, and I like the way The Dream Hotel has an extra set of "light windows" between its own actual windows in this shot.

Continuing south down Broadway (the only major thoroughfare in Manhattan which actually runs true north-south; all the main avenues run at a northeast to southwest angle, consistent with the way the island actually is), we then made our way past The Ed Sullivan Theater, home of The Late Show With David Letterman for nearly 20 years now. I attended at least 3 tapings there, including one in 1993 a month into his CBS show run...when I missed seeing Bill Hicks live by one day.

Making our way further down Broadway, we eventually stumbled across Times Square. Even in the late afternoon, it's a hub of activity. Currently, if you stand in front of the New York Marriott Marquis (between 45th and 46th Streets), you can look up across the way and see a giant video board showing live pictures of the area of Times Square you are standing in. If you look closely, you can see both my Mom and I taking pictures of ourselves on the board. We're the ones just to the left of the giant woman's top 2 knuckles.

Now that we'd gotten our self-portraits, we then finished making our way back to Penn Station, underneath Madison Square Garden, to take our Long Island RailRoad train back out towards my parent's house. And meeting us at the train station near my folks' house would be a friend that I've known for around 20 years, who would be driving me and Mom the mile back to the house. Upon arriving at the house, I did a quick change, and then hopped back in my buddy's car so we could go hang out for the evening. This man was/is the host of Video Game Night, a weekly occurrence back when I was in my early 20's and the main group of idiots all lived in Queens, one of New York City's 5 boroughs. At one point he had practically every video game system known to man under one roof, and we would gather together at least once a week to play games, watch stupid TV, eat, laugh, joke, have fun, and just enjoy being a group of friends. Obviously, since I moved from New York to Las Vegas (11 years ago this month as of this writing), I don't get to see him very much anymore. So, upon leaving my folks' house, my friend and I started the drive out towards his neighborhood, and talked. And talked. And talked. And then went to a nice little Italian restaurant by his house. And talked. And talked. And talked. And then we made the drive back to my parent's house, and as we did so, we talked. And talked. And talked.

It isn't very often that him and I get a chance to hang out, just the 2 of us, and actually talk. There's always at least one other friend around, usually a whole group, and they've all got families, wives, kids, etc. So it's really nice on the rare occasions when I get to just be with one of my old friends for an extended period of time and actually find out what's really going on in their lives, delve into how they're feeling about things, discuss some of the other mutual friends we have, and just chat about life in general.

All of which finally got me to bed at around 2 in the morning, after starting at about 6AM, with another early wake-up fast approaching, as I had another big day in the city ahead of me...

Blog Post Soundtrack; Pearl Jam (live), The Doors (live), The White Stripes (live), The Misfits (live), The Who, Monty Python (live), Tool, Corrosion Of Conformity, The Black Keys, Blondie, Slayer, Grandmaster Flash (live), Les Claypool Frog Brigade (live, covering a King Crimson song), Howlin' Wolf (live), Bob Dylan, Mozart, The Specials, The Ramones, Björk (live), The Minutemen, Lily Allen, Henry Rollins, Refused, The Strokes, Rage Against The Machine, Nirvana (live), Anthony Jeselnik, System Of A Down, Public Enemy, Alice Cooper, S.O.D. (live), and the New York Rangers going in and defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins

Monday, March 14, 2011

Do You Know The Way To San Jose?

As a matter of fact, yes, I do, thank you very little. Having spent the previous weekend in Seattle (and yes, I know I haven't finished writing up the details of that journey), I then drove to San Jose and back this past weekend. Unlike my recent Los Angeles trips, however, yes, I stayed over in San Jose. Actually, I stayed 2 nights, because it is a long drive (about 540 miles one way), and I'd never been there before, so I thought I'd check it out a bit.

The drive is one I have done before, but never in this direction. Since you can't get there from here, you have to actually travel a little south from Las Vegas first in order to get to San Jose, which is actually quite a bit north. Welcome to America.

It's a lot of desert from here to Barstow, with not a hell of a lot of interesting landscape to look at along the way, outside of some nice hills and mountains that you climb thru almost immediately upon entering California. Once you get to the other side of Barstow, you now have to leave I-15, the main freeway (the same road you take from Las Vegas nearly all the way to Los Angeles), and go to CA 58, which initially resembles I-15 quite a lot, but eventually morphs into something quite different. By the time you're leaving CA 58, you've driven thru lush, green, rolling hillsides that seem as though someone severely misplaced parts of the Scottish Highlands. It's a beautiful section of country, made even more so by the fact that it comes as such a juxtaposition to the countless thousands of acres of desert that surround it.

In the vicinity of the town of Tehachapi (yes, that's spelled right), is the Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm, a collection of giant fans/windmills used to harness the power of naturally flowing winds and convert them into energy used to power parts of Southern California. It also makes for a uniquely stunning visual sight, seeing row upon row of spinning propellers perched high upon mountaintops. Not the sort of thing you see on a daily basis...unless, of course, you happen to live in Tehachapi.

The day I drove to San Jose (Friday the 11th of March) was a beautiful sunny day, so I was a little surprised to see a sign warning of heavy dense fog ahead. There were clouds around, especially one seemingly low-lying patch that looked as if it ended not much after it began, but they were outnumbered by the vast blue sky. Once I'd driven thru that, I forgot about it, and continued the ascent up CA 58. Upon beginning the descent, however, is when I realized the warning that had been posted earlier had been accurate.

The bright sunny day very rapidly disappeared as I, and the other drivers in my vicinity, went into a near solid wall of fog. Whereas we'd all been travelling close to 80MPH for the duration of the trip, with plenty of gaps between us, everyone now became bunched up in an effort to find the road at about half the velocity. Since visibility had been reduced to nil, it forced us to bunch together, as everyone was relying on the vehicle in front of them to help find the road. Cars were no more than 2 or 3 lengths apart, and even then the brake lights and a hazy outline were barely visible. This was made all the more interesting by being a downhill, twisty section of mountain road. Great fun! Which, for me, is the truth. I enjoy driving in those kind of situations where you're forced to sit up and REALLY pay attention. Something about that is really enjoyable to me.

Finally emerging from the cloud a while later, it was smooth, fogless sailing the rest of the jaunt to San Jose. CA 58 runs into I-5, which is then pretty much a straight shot northwest up to the Silicon Valley area, so named for the vast number of high-tech corporations which are based there. Getting to my hotel in the mid-afternoon, I checked the iPhone and paperwork provided by the hotel for nearby restaurants, of which there were an immense number within walking distance. Settling on a safe bet of an Italian restaurant, I sat down to a terrific meal of chicken parmigiana and vegetables coated with garlic butter at a nice place called Bella Mia. Gilroy, a town about 30 miles to the south, is apparently built around the garlic industry. The vegetables were fantastic, an excellent compliment to the chicken, which had a good amount of cheese and a nice marinara sauce on it.

Saturday morning I spent wandering around the downtown area, just exploring and admiring the monuments to computer technology that had been constructed. Many of the bigger technology firms in the world have their large corporate headquarters located within a few blocks of each other, along with quite a number of large financial institutions...and each with a uniquely designed building. I'm a fan of interesting architecture, and there was definitely some of that on display in downtown San Jose. Made for an interesting morning's stroll and picture taking.

I then headed over to the San Jose Museum Of Art in the early afternoon, which was located pretty much around the block from my hotel. While it was a nice place, and had some interesting displays (a display of Robert Mapplethorpe celebrity portraits, recent photographic pieces from other artists, and my personal favorite, a display of recent paintings by artists from India), having grown up in New York City, this museum paled in comparison. It's kinda tough to go visit museums in other places, unless they are MAJOR cities, when you've grown up with The Metropolitan Museum Of Art as your local museum. Again, I don't mean to knock the San Jose one; I liked what they had, but even taking my time, I wasn't there for much more than an hour. At The Met, an hour would get you thru maybe 2 rooms, leaving about 150 more to go. Still, I enjoyed what was in the San Jose Museum, and I'm glad I did it.

This was all a preamble though, as the main reason for my trip was Saturday night's National Hockey League game with the San Jose Sharks hosting the visiting New York Rangers. When I looked at the schedule many months earlier and saw that this was the week after the comic convention in Seattle, I figured taking a week off for the 2 events would be a great idea. Again, my hotel was within walking distance of the Shark Tank, which is what the locals have dubbed the arena with the ever-changing corporate branding that the Sharks play in. Seems that everything there is right on top of everything else, which is good if your visiting. There doesn't seem to be much living space right in downtown, as it's mostly corporate castles, upscale hotels, eateries, shopping, and spaces for the arts (theater, comedy clubs, etc.). Yet there were literally hundreds of people walking right along with me to the game, and I was going early, because I wanted to take in warm-ups, as well as have some extra time to explore and soak in a new-to-me hockey arena. It's possible many of them had taken either buses or trains that run with amazing frequency thru the downtown area that would have left them in the vicinity of my hotel, which was about a 15 or 20 minute walk away.

I don't like to let these entries get too long, so I'm shutting this one down here, with obviously more to come...

Blog Post Soundtrack; Björk (live), Tom Paxton, Tricky, Unida, TV On The Radio, Monster Magnet, The Chemical Brothers, Faith No More, Soundgarden, John Lee Hooker, Corrosion Of Conformity, Fu Manchu (live), Hermano, Tomoyasu Hotei, Misfits, The Lively Ones, Les Claypool, Ozzy Osbourne, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, John Frusciante, Galactic, The Doors (live, covering Van Morrison)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Travelogue Stops In Seattle

This weekend was a quick in-and-out jaunt up to a favorite city of mine, Seattle, Washington. This marked my 5th visit to the area, my first being in the summer of 2001. It's a great place to walk around, and I've managed to have excellent weather nearly every time. Even when I have been there during some rain, it's never been more than a drizzle or light showers. I'm fairly certain I wouldn't want to live there, however. Not because of the rain, but because it can be kinda cloudy and grey there...a much so that it would be rather depressing on a daily basis. It makes for vibrant, lush countryside; the Pacific Northwest area of the country has some amazing forests, and the rain is vital for that. But to be in a city day-in and day-out with grey skies over grey buildings, um, no, thanks. I'm too much a creature of sunlight. I'm not a tanning person at all; I actually cover up as much as possible when I'm working, because skin cancer is a definite hazard of my job, especially out here in the deserts of the American Southwest. But I just love natural light. When I'm home during the day, I've got blinds wide open to let as much light in as possible. I only keep the ones covered that would let the sun stream in directly...the electric bill is high enough trying to keep the house cool in the summer.

So this visit to Seattle was strictly about attending the Emerald City Comicon. Last year my visit to the show was incorporated as part of a 10 day Pacific Northwest driving vacation which went on as far north as Vancouver, British Columbia. I spent 3 or 4 days in Seattle, wandering around, doing touristy things with my Mom, and only went to the convention 1 day. This year, I wasn't even originally planning on attending the event, until they announced Frank Quitely as one of the guests. Quitely is an artist who has worked often with Grant Morrison, one of my absolute favorite writers. Quitely is from, and lives in, Scotland, so his appearances in this country are quite rare. In talking with him at the show, he said he hadn't been to the United States since 2002. So when I had seen a while ago that he would be in Seattle, I looked into it, saw that it would be convenient enough for me to go, and the rest just became history.

Flying out of Las Vegas Friday morning, I landed in Sea-Tac airport a little before noon. I hadn't flown into Seattle since 2008, so this was the first time I was able to take Seattle's Light Rail train system from the airport straight into downtown. The cab ride I used to take for the same trip would run around 50 bucks or so with a tip. Light Rail? $2.50. Roughly the same amount of time, nice smooth ride, good views, and let me off about a block away from my hotel. Fantastic.

Through the convention website, I was able to get a nice hotel literally across the street from the convention center, so I really wasn't going to be doing much other than going back and forth from my room to the show. By the time I'd checked in and settled my stuff into my room, it was just after 2PM, which was when the show was to open on Friday, so I just threw a few of the books I'd brought with me into my backpack and headed downstairs. By the time I got over there the show was open for business and already humming with activity. I made a beeline for Quitely's table, only to discover that his line for signing had already been cut off. I realized this when I stumbled across the person wearing the "I Am The Last Person In Line" placard that convention staff gives out to certain people in line for particularly popular guests. I was a little stunned, as it was only about 2:30, but then I saw the sign at Quitely's table that said he'd only be signing from 2-3 and 7-8 on Friday, with the rest of the time allowing for him to be on panels and do sketches which were being commissioned from him at the show. Okay, change in plans...

So I decided to make my way over to go and see Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy. I've mentioned Mignola here before, as he is one of my favorite comic creators. I was such a big fan of his work a long time ago that I wound up interviewing him for Amazing Heroes back in 1991. I've followed his career for nearly a quarter century now, which makes us both older than we'd really care to admit (he just recently turned 50...he's got me beat by a little over a decade). He had a line, but I wasn't in any hurry, so I just got on to the end of that, with the trusty iPod and iPhone to occupy my time. Turns out, they really weren't all that necessary, as most folks just want to get things signed, and don't bother talking to the people whose work they enjoy. Except me, of course...

I cued my iPhone to a picture of me from my first driver's license way back in 1989, and was about to place that on the table in front of Mignola and his wife Christine to spark their memories of me, when Mike looked up, and without any prompting, recognized me on his own. No, it hasn't been since the interview that I've seen him. I've run into him at maybe a half-dozen shows across the country in the intervening years, and he still manages to remember me every time...but it still takes me by pleasant surprise every time when he does remember me. I showed them both the picture anyway, as I felt I owed it to Mike to show him an "embarrassing" picture of me, since one of the last times I'd seen him, I'd presented his wife with a bunch of pictures of him from around the time of the interview. We both were of the long-haired-hippie variety in 1991...and we both are of the smooth, shiny, chrome-dome now. Yeah, we all got a chuckle out of it, and talked for a couple minutes, but I don't wanna monopolize time when there's other people waiting to get stuff signed, so I headed off, knowing I'd see them again over the weekend.

Wandering around the show floor, I made my way over to the Image Comics booth, where Erik Larsen was going to be set-up. I'm not a big fan of Larsen's work, but I respect his work ethic, and thru his Twitter account, I respect his opinions. He has been the writer and artist of his creation, Savage Dragon, for about 20 years now, managing to put out an issue practically without fail every month in that time span. In addition to that, he also works on other Image projects, as well as being one of the chief officers of the company. I just wanted to let him know I was one of his Twitter followers, thank him for having and expressing opinions, and to pick up a copy of his new Herculian book, which was a collection of non-Savage Dragon odds and ends he'd recently put together. He'd mentioned how much fun he'd had putting this together on Twitter, so I figured the least I could do to thank him for his Twitter entertainment was to get a copy of this for myself. Read it in the hotel that night, and the fun definitely shines thru, even in the main story, which had some serious overtones to it.

The main story is of particular note as it was originally produced as a "24 Hour Comic", which means that the entire 24 page story was written and drawn over a single 24 hour period. This was started back in 1990 by Scott McCloud and Steve Bissette, and has grown to have it's own annual day. Larsen took a recent 24 hour comic of his, had it colored, and made it the first half of his Herculian book, with some other shorts and strips filling the second half. A 24 hour comic is a tremendous achievement, and if you don't think so, try coming even close to doing one yourself. It normally takes 2 artists a full month to render a 22 page comic that a third creator has written. There is quite an amount of work that goes into creating a single page of a comic, let alone entire books, and further on month after month. There is definitely a real strong and admirable work ethic involved in consistently producing a monthly comic book.

Around this time I made my way over to where Kevin MaGuire was seated. MaGuire is another favorite artist of mine, having rendered many issues of Justice League from the late 1980's and early 1990's that struck a chord with me. His speciality was, and is, his remarkable ability to capture a tremendous array of expressions on faces. He has always been able to draw characters with a smirk, or a frown, or a raised eyebrow, or a come-hither look, or whatever emotion or expression you could think of, better than just about anyone in the business, and do the full gamut of emotions equally well. Again, something that you would think would be easy to do, but believe me, it isn't.

After speaking with Maguire and Rosemary Cheetham, the colorist on his current book Tanga, I started to wander back to the hotel...only to suddenly realize it was about 4:30, and the panel focusing on Quitely was due to start at 5. I'd been thinking about getting some food, but now knew I was actually a little pressed for time, so I made a quick trip back to the hotel, grabbed only the books I had for Quitely, and headed back over to the convention center. As I was entering the building, I sensed someone was approaching behind me, so I stopped and held the door open as I normally would...

...and turned to see that it was Quitely himself I was holding the door open for. To quote John Cusack's Martin Blank character from Grosse Pointe Blank, "Dumb fuckin' luck!" I instantly told him that he was the reason I was heading into the building at that moment, and since we were obviously heading for the same place, hoped he wouldn't mind if I tagged along. He was fine with that, so we started chatting. I got the chance to tell him he was the reason for my attending the show at all this year, to which he was flattered. He talked about how he sits in his house working on this stuff, and since he doesn't do many conventions at all, let alone in the US, he's never really quite sure how well received the work is. Then he'll sit at his table at this Seattle show and see his line cut-off because so many people want to meet him, and he's a little taken aback.

As we made our way up the escalators, we exchanged introductions. Frank Quitely is just a pen name, but he's used it for so long that he answers to it as well as his real name. Amongst his friends, he's Vin, but I'll keep referring to him as Quitely for the sake of this piece. We talked about various subjects, including his most well-known creative partner, Morrison, and about drugs, since Morrison makes no secret of being a taker of many mind-expanding substances. That then led to the subject of Bill Hicks and George Carlin, and to my surprise, Quitely had never heard of Carlin. Thinking about it later, I realized that Hicks, while being huge in the UK and relatively unknown here in the the US, was exactly the opposite of Carlin, who was huge here and never really toured, or caught on, outside of the States. He was interested to learn more about him however, since I'd mentioned him in the same breath with Hicks.

We then made our way to the room where he was supposed to be fronting his panel, and as it was still occupied with the current talk, we stood in the hallway and continued chatting. I asked him about the recent animated adaptation of the wonderful All-Star Superman book that he and Morrison had put together, and he responded by sheepishly telling me he hadn't seen it yet. He hadn't been invited to the premiere, and hadn't even been given a copy of it (which DC staff at the show were trying to rectify immediately). I had just gotten the Blu-Ray the day before, put a digital copy of it on my iPod, and watched it earlier that morning on the flight up to Seattle. So I cued it up, and had Quitely watching some of it on my iPod there in the hallway, which I found somewhat surreal.

Around this time someone else finally recognized him, and asked him if he would't mind signing a book. He obliged, and I said to him I hadn't done that for fear of bringing a crowd around him (which is true...I had things I wanted him to sign, but if I brought them out there in the hallway, the moths would have all been attracted to the flame, and I was much more enjoying just talking with the man). He said he didn't mind, so I opened up my portfolio and showed him the 3 original pages of his that I own. Upon looking at the page of his I have from Batman & Robin (again written by Morrison), I asked him about the change they made to the piece. The published version has a very different graveyard to the one on the original piece, and even he wasn't really sure as to why they had him do a re-worked version, but they did. He also told me that he made the changes digitally, which explained why there was no patch that came with the original penciled page that I'd bought.

He also signed the 2 pages that I have from the All-Star Superman series, and I told him that the unfortunate thing about that was they were both from a scene that was cut from the animated movie. Since the film only ran 76 minutes, a lot of things had to be cut from the 12 issues that Morrison and Quitely had produced. He commented that he didn't know why they just didn't make it a series, and do the whole thing, but oh well.

As usual, this entry is taking on a life of it's own, and with plenty more to tell, I'll save that for another time...

Blog Post Soundtrack; The Police, Pennywise, Pantera, Desert Sessions, The Strokes (live), Kool & The Gang, Soundgarden, Muddy Waters, Metallica (live), The Mars Volta, ZZ Top, Deep Purple (live), Björk, Pearl Jam (live), Lily Allen, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Queens Of The Stone Age (live), King Missile, Hater, The Blues Brothers (live), The Clash, Oysterhead, Slayer, Social Distortion, Scatterbrain, Eagles Of Death Metal (live), Judas Priest (live), Jimi Hendrix, Monty Python, Santana, Infectious Grooves, Lenny White, Fugazi, The Marx Brothers