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goodnight, 2016

and so a notorious year ends. It hasn’t been all bad for me personally, and if anything, I’m grateful to have turned around what could have been a bad year, more or less starting with an injury, into something more adventurous and ultimately optimistic.

It’s been particularly nice to end the year back here in “The California Homeland” of Marin County for the third consecutive year. It’s a good example of how time changes – five years ago I wouldn’t have said this winter visit would become a tradition – and maybe it sets a goal for 2017 of the past becoming the present again.

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Marin County (still) relies on Golden Gate Transit

Coming to the end of a visit back to my “California homeland” of Marin County, my Yelp page has turned into a blog for this trip. I looked again at a Yelp review I wrote in 2011 of the local transit provider. It was quite wordy!

I’m coming to the end of 2 1/2 years of relying on GGT for a regular Marin to SF commute and returning home back over the bridge.

If you commute on a typical 9-5, Monday-Friday, schedule, GGT has your number. Very efficient and frequent service, especially on routes 4, 24, and 54, from various North Bay locations. As noted with the 4, they seem to have a soft spot for Mill Valley commuters, and I’m not exactly sure why that is. In the afternoons, I’ve often seen back to back 4s where one is very crowded and the next one not at all. Lack of information as to the next bus at SF stops can be irritating, although I have heard that they are working to update this in the near future. Last fall, they introduced a new fleet of ultra-modern larger buses that seem to be in service mostly on the Sonoma County routes.

They also offer service to the East Bay on routes 40 (express) and 42 (local). I have taken those buses a few times and find them to be mostly efficient. It’s nice to not have to pay the Richmond Bridge toll. A discount when going on to BART would be appreciated.

On the other hand, late night and weekend buses are another story. The 101 semi-express bus (which was surprisingly only introduced in 2009) stops running after 8pm, leaving the only options as the 70 to Novato or 80 to Santa Rosa, which alternate on the half hour up to 10pm and ONLY run once per hour following that time until 1am. Also after 10pm, the buses will make Every. Single. Stop. along Route 101, including an awkwardly long initial jaunt through Sausalito and awkward stop-over in Marin City, as they proceed north. (The buses do seem to have done away recently with the long layovers in Marin City, although the northbound 22 – a local route – still halts for no apparent reason in San Anselmo.) As you might imagine, this long journey home can be excruciating when you either just want to get home or don’t have anything to read or write on the bus. Those same “basic” routes (so named by GGT) are often populated by a considerably more diverse cast of characters than the typically business suited commute bus rider.

It’s no secret that Clipper (formerly TransLink) cards will give you a discounted fare on GGT, but I am surprised how many people seem to still not know that. GGT seems to be aware of where their income comes from, as they claim that Clipper can not be used for the popular AT&T Park ferry, when it most certainly could if you tag in and out at Larkspur.

On the ferry, the service is also reliable and comfortable. The early morning departures and 5:00 hour returns from/to Larkspur are filled with strong representation from the financial district. It’s always amusing to notice how the ferry becomes a tourist line between 10am and 3pm or so, and then thins out drastically for the last few runs back to Marin after 7pm. But why does it not run later than 9:30pm??? (More on that later…) Meanwhile, weekend ferries never run on time and seem to be populated with a large number of passengers who have either never been on the boat(s) before, treat it as a party boat complete with beers or other beverages, or are only there every few months.

As you can tell, GGT is well organized and mostly supportive of its riders and clientele. They even have “advisory committees” for bus and ferry passengers to participate in.

But as a frequent and loyal rider – admittedly with no other public transportation option – I have a few persistent questions:

1) Why continue with the constant raising of your fares? I moved to Marin in early 2009; San Rafael – San Francisco was $7.28 roundtrip on TransLink cards. Now it is $8.40. Not everyone can afford the constant rising in costs, and I don’t believe the haughty statement that it “keeps pace with inflation” – having some stability or consistency with these costs would be welcomed.

2) Don’t assume that everyone who is on GGT goes to SF for business. It’s clear that the schedulers may think that, based on the ratio of commute to general bus service.

3) Give us more options to get home to Marin at night. As stated above, the 70 or 80 can be excruciatingly long or an unappealing prospect. What about one or two buses around 11pm that go direct to San Rafael? Or Santa Rosa? Marin residents deserve more options. Not everyone here has a car or the luxury of being able to drive across the bridge as they please. I read somewhere that there was once a late night Friday and Saturday ferry to Larkspur. Why not bring that back?

4) You’ve bought two brand new ferries to add to the fleet within the past two years. Why not use them on the weekends and permanently retire the older Spaulding vessels?

5) Be more transparent about yourself, GGT.

6) WHY DO YOU NOT OFFER A MONTHLY PASS??? YOU SHOULD.

I’ve enjoyed my time with you, GGT. I know you can be better. I look forward to seeing you mature.

And if you read this far, here is a throwback video to one of my many Golden Gate Bus rides across the bridge…

Revisiting Into the Wild

In anticipation of my upcoming return to the West Coast, I decided to take a look, for the first time in several years, at a seminal “West Coast” film for me – Into the Wild, originally released in the fall of 2007. Hard to believe that is almost a decade ago at this point in time!

ABQ Movies

Revisiting the same cinema in Albuquerque, February, 2014

The circumstances of when and where I first saw the film likely contributed to its lasting impact. I was spending a few days in Albuquerque, New Mexico, accompanying my mom to a conference, but with an open-ended personal schedule, just like the main character in the film, to some extent. The New Mexico crisp quality of light, color and air was in full abundance in the late October time of year, and it was my first time ever seeing the state. I’d just had a phone interview, while on that trip, that led to my first job in California, and the prospect of that transition and opportunity was even more eye-opening, again in a more structured way to what the main character of the film anticipates with his journey to Alaska.

I saw the film again 4 or 5 months later at The Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo, California, still one of the friendliest movie theatres I’ve ever spent time in. By that time I had settled in to the California lifestyle and the film took on more of a “reinforcing” of the open road feeling, as opposed to the potential of the earlier screening in New Mexico. Still, there was a yearning there, and many possibilities existed for where my path could go at that time, in a way that I see now is characteristic of one’s early 20’s, and I was right in the same age bracket that the main character of the film was during the narrative.

For some reason I was less familiar with the original story and circumstances of Chris McCandless’ life at the time, probably because the main events took place when I was much younger. However, I was aware the author Jon Krakauer was a highly-regarded fellow Hampshire College alum – yet another personal connection to the story. And the director Sean Penn would later briefly be a down the street neighbor in Marin County.

So, in 2007 and 2008 the film made a lasting impact on me, with its wide vistas of Alaskan scenery and intense story of abandoning one’s personal possessions and family members for a back to the land life. Eddie Vedder’s original songs continue to be on my personal playlist from time to time, including one particular track (that I’d forgotten is not actually featured in the film) which feels emblematic of just driving around on the West Coast, and the sense of sky and open space that is so unique to the region.

In 2015 the film feels like a time capsule to me. First on the level of its featured actors professional trajectory, such as lead Emile Hirsch perhaps finding it difficult to top the performance he gives in this film, and running into some personal troubles with law enforcement earlier this year. Of the supporting actors in that age bracket, Kristen Stewart appears in a small role and looks noticeably younger, while Jena Malone has since branched out further into a mix of popular and independent fare. The older actors in the group soldier on  in the industry, but their fortunes have also varied, with Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughan and Marcia Gay Harden among the group. And IMDB tells me director Penn is preparing his first directed film since this one for release in 2016.

I guess I wasn’t expecting to feel the distance from the narrative that I felt on this re-viewing. I’ll still continue to regard it as a key film in my West Coast life, but … I also feel how time has passed.

Throwback Thursday: Reflecting on the Scream Series

Four years ago I was very excited that there was a new “Scream” film. I didn’t note at the time that it had coincidentally been filmed right here in Michigan. I wasn’t living here at the time but had learned of the filming from local friends.

I’m having some giddy enthusiasm over the prospect of seeing SCREAM 4 today at the movies. I’m sure this is due to the memory of the SCREAM series being a big deal “back in the day” and the curiosity of seeing if this film lives up to its predecessors. I’m deliberately holding off reading any reviews of the film and will do so after seeing it. In a few other recent film-going experiences (BLACK SWAN comes to mind) I regretted taking a close look at the publicity before seeing the film.

I never saw the original SCREAM in the cinemas …. in fact, I don’t think it was originally released to the North Shore. This was before the Danvers 20 screen megaplex opened, and screening options were limited. I do remember the runaway success of the film, and watching with interest as it continued to be shown well into mid 1997. I do miss those days of long running movie hits, as the screen to DVD window is so tight now, it’s almost better to wait for the video. I did find out recently that the original film was shot in my area of California. A friend of a friend had a small supporting role. The climax of the film was shot at a house which I have driven by a few times, without realizing its so-called historical significance.

SCREAM 2 was another story. This time, it was a big deal to see the film as soon as it came out, and I eagerly compared impressions with my classmates. My dad and I were regular visitors to the Solomon Pond Mall cinema in Marlborough, MA. This complex had achieved local acclaim as “New England’s first stadium seating megaplex” and was virtually unique for the first 6 months to 1 year of operations. Hoyts quickly opened similar complexes in nearby Westborough and Bellingham, but there was something special about the first space. Or it could have been “never as good as the first time” for film goers. I think I actually saw the film again a few weeks later in Vermont, either sneaking in to the R-rated movie or going with an accompanying adult. The “live” nature of seeing it on opening weekend, with a full sold out audience also looking at it for the first time, stands out very clearly in my memory. It also helped that it was on an enormous cinema screen with stadium seating and perfect presentation.

SCREAM 3 was also a unique experience. This time, we traveled to the Showcase Cinemas in Randolph for my first (and still only) visit to that South Shore megaplex. I could tell from the start that the enthusiasm wasn’t there for the production team in this installment. Neve Campbell’s virtual absence from the story, and the overly tongue in cheek Hollywood nature of the script, suggested to me that there was not a lot of excitement in the tale.

What will SCREAM 4 bring? I’m looking forward to going over to the Larkspur Landing Cinema this afternoon to find out.

Throwback Thursday: Life in West Marin County

California has been on my mind since yesterday’s announcement of mandatory water rationing in the state. I wrote this post on Blogspot just under four years ago… and can’t believe that much time has passed!

I’m highly enjoying my current (temporary) routine of making a visit toWest Marin County at least once per week. This mini-region of Marin (it does feel like a character of its own) has been my favorite part of the County since I began to get to know it better in early 2009. (Hmm, that is a very long sentence.)

I am going to West Marin regularly to ride at Halleck Creek Ranch in Nicasio, a local stable specializing in offering opportunities for individuals with varying physical abilities. The farm is at the end of a 2.5 mile long dirt/gravel road, so getting there is an adventure in itself. Last week I got a flat tire soon after my visit there. This week I was more cautious about staying under the speed limit. The hills of Halleck Creek were an addictive shade of green that day, as you can see in the image on the right side of the text.

I’ve been extending each visit to West Marin with a stop in Point Reyes Station, an artsy one-horse, yet character filled town that is the center of the region. It’s also home to the Bovine Bakery, the best bakery in all of Marin County, where I am often tempted by a cookie or other treat they will offer.

Yesterday I took the trip one step further and headed south to Bolinas, a remote town that is so far out, it’s on another geologic plate. (No, really – the San Andreas Fault separates Bolinas and the Point Reyes Peninsula from the rest of California.) As Wikipedia says, “The community is perhaps best known for its reclusive residents. Historically, it is only accessible via unmarked roads; any road sign along nearby Highway One that points the way into town has been torn down by residents.” The town is very difficult to access, with just one road in and out, and two curvaceous roads giving connections to that aforementioned one road.

I’ve found the place to be highly intriguing ever since my first visit there in March of 2009. In fact, I have toyed with the idea of spending some time as a resident there, even going so far (last fall) as to apply for a live-in childcare position. But nothing came of that job, and I ultimately decided that the town is a little too far out for it to work for me. Not to mention that with the current high gas prices, I would be spending a lot of time and money at the pump.

It’s clear when I am in Bolinas that the people who are there WANT to be there, and value their local privacy. The town is so distinct that it stands out from anywhere else, with the ocean surrounding it on three sides and a high area (“The Mesa”) just a short distance away. It would be interesting to stay out there… just for a night … sometime, so I hope to get that opportunity.

Closing Day at Grover’s Corners

Meanwhile back in Berkeley, California, today is the closing performance for the Shotgun Players production of Our Town. I was very pleased to be in the audience for this show on New Year’s Eve, and had meant to write about it here sooner… but it feels appropriate to give it a tip of the hat at the end of its run. Bay Area audiences were receptive to this particular version, as it extended two weeks from its original engagement and reportedly packed the houses throughout the run.

I knew going in to the show that director Susannah Martin (a past colleague) would probably bring her characteristically spare yet precise staging quality to the text. Surprisingly, as a native New Englander, this was my first time seeing the play live onstage. And the “once something comes into your life it reappears very soon” rule seems to be in full effect, as I will see it again in about a month in a high school production that a family member is directing, and am looking forward to comparing the similarities and differences.

with cast member and close friend Molly

with cast member and close friend Molly

This was a perfect play to close out the old year and bring in the new, with its themes of life and death and life events and the simple things that may or may not give way to big impact. It was the centerpiece of my short yet memorable visit back to the Bay Area itself, and I found myself appreciating the chance to take a moment and intellectually engage, in the midst of racing from place to place and attempting to cram as much as possible into a two day span.

The cast offered impressive ensemble work, led by Madeline H.D. Brown as the stage manager. I was initially drawn to seeing the piece after learning that theatre friends Molly, Don and Tim had central roles in the play, and they were supported by a skilled group of fellow performers, with El Beh a particular standout as Emily Webb. Again, like life itself, the play offered little snippets of events coming together (and in some cases falling apart), changes in families, questioning choices, regrets, delights, marriages, births, deaths, new beginnings and a sense of resiliency. Martin’s staging heightened the sense of everyday life, with the actors performing on a mostly bare set and occasionally sitting in or amongst the audience if they were not part of an onstage scene.

I deliberately chose a first row seat when I booked my ticket for the show, but I did not expect the side effect of intense and visceral engagement with the piece, and the art of telling a theatrical story, to come as a result of being right there with the action and the actors. As it was I found the play and the whole theatregoing experience that night to be a potent, inspiring and motivating reminder of what it is that we do as theatre/arts makers and why we do it. I’ll be continuing to remember that as 2015 unfolds.

Theatrical Throwback: the enchantment of Cinnabar and the charms of modern technology

In the fall of 2010 I had one of my most spontaneous theatre experiences ever. This memorable evening took place in the bucolic setting of the Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, CA.

Cinnabar is just like that warm and cozy family member’s house that you wish you could stay longer at. Set high on a hill, with a very narrow driveway and sweeping views down to the Petaluma and greater Sonoma countryside, it invites guests to enjoy a wide array of theatre, opera, musical, dance, and other types of performances.

On this particular evening, the theatre offered a double – bill of one act performances. The first production, “We *Heart* U, Nosferatu!”, stood out more for me in the audience. The elaborate stage set – a husky interior with a random large screen for the benefit of the audience – felt like stepping in to someone’s home.

The uniqueness of the staging, where the primary actor (Keith Baker) was the only one seen onstage, while Allison Baker and Mary Gannon Graham appeared via an offstage and live Skype feed, certainly contributed to the memorable experience. As a backstage theatre person, I was excited by the risk taking and unknown of the production – what would they do if the feed failed? were the two actresses going to appear in the flesh? how did they manage to connect all of that technology?

The show was revived the following year at Main Stage West, using the same cast. I would have liked to have seen that production and am sure it maintained the same commitment to comedy on an even more intimate scale.

Two Ann(e)s stay onstage

I keep tabs on news and events in my former homeland of Marin County, California (never far from my heart though that’s for another post) and was pleased to see two theatre friends with the same name (sort of) spotlighted in the local news during August.

On August 7th, Anne Darragh was interviewed about her theatre work, which most notably includes originating a role in Angels in America, in the Marin Independent Journal as advance publicity for Marin Theatre Company’s current production of Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire.

Later on August 17th, Ann Brebner’s 90th birthday celebration received coverage also in the Marin Independent Journal. The party sounded like a had to be there event held in the storied surroundings of Skywalker Ranch – I certainly would have liked to be there. But no transporter beams yet.