on Thursday (not SFEMF)

I was hurrying home to San Francisco after 7PM yesterday to catch the first night of SFEMF. The radio programming was interrupted with an news update of a large fire in San Bruno, a town just south of San Francisco, near the airport. Specifically, it was near Skyline Blvd (CA 35) and not far from I-280, the highway on which I was traveling. Instantly, I thought it was wildfire out of control on a hillside. It is California, after all. The report then said that there were “several blocks in flames” and people hearing a large explosion and injured people being brought to local hospitals. This was something different. And I was on 280 heading north directly towards it. The smoke was visible above the ridge from miles away. As I approached the ramp from 280 to highway 35, it was closed off and covered with emergency vehicles. Beyond it was the column of smoke and the fire itself in the hills off to the left. The smell of the smoke and burning was intense, even inside the mostly enclosed car. A steady stream of cars jamming the streets down from the hills.

I know the area along Skyline Blvd moderately well. It is a high ridge between the Pacific Ocean and the suburban towns south of San Francisco, dotted with wooded hillsides, ocean views and surprisingly dense suburban developments, many of which had that iconic 1950s and 1960s look. I had explored the area when looking for a new home 2007 and I would sometimes escape into the hills along highways 35 and 1 as breaks when I worked in the area. I wondered if the houses and neighborhoods I had seen were among those now in flames.

After the concert, I came back online to get more information. I checked both our local newspaper online, where I found out it was caused by a huge gas line explosion, saw a map of the neighborhood affected, and saw horrific photos and videos. I simultaneously checked #sanbruno on Twitter. The location not a neighborhood I knew, but it could have been. 40 homes and 4 deaths officially. My thoughts are with those who lost their homes or loved ones.

And in the aftermath some attention turns to lost and missing pets as well. I read both about animals being rescued and about people who knew their pets were lost. In the immediate aftermath, a local PetCo accepted pets that were found during the emergency phase. The Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA have been involved, helping residents find lost pets, taking in animals that survived and were found. You can visit their site to find out more, and also how you can contribute. I did see one of their trucks when dropping off emergency donations on the way to work on Friday…once again driving on 280.

Finally, a few small bits of good news, including a man who able to go back and rescue his cat.

Sonja Navin and Mike Kimball

I recently visited two openings for artists I met at Open Studios last fall and whose work reflects my interests in highways, architectural images and the urban landscape. The artists take very different approaches, and the shows were in very different parts of the city – but having both openings on the same night was a great opportunity to see them together and simultaneously reflect upon the city itself.

First, I stopped in the relatively quiet West Portal neighborhood for a show at the Greenhouse Cafe featuring Sonja Navin. Navin draws on her architectural background to capture familiar images of the city in her paintings. Perhaps the most “familiar” image was the King Street off-ramp from I-280 in her large painting entitled 280.

[Sonja Navin. 280. Photo courtesy of the artist. (click to enlarge)]

Navin experienced this interchange the way many of us do, i.e., being stuck in traffic, and thus had the opportunity to visualize it in detail. She also had a painting East on N which featured a familiar view along the N-Judah metro line in the Sunset district.

Although her subject matter is often architectural in nature, her painting style features large brush strokes and irregular areas of color rather than the straight lines and precision of architectural drawings. She also had several figurative paintings, and some such as In The Haight combine both character and street elements.

Navin’s exhibition, which also features artist Kacie Erin Smith, will be on display at The Greenhouse Cafe, 329 West Portal Avenue in San Francisco through April 30.


After brief ride over Twin Peaks, I found myself descending into the Mission district for an opening at City Art Gallery, where I was particularly interested to see new works by Mike Kimball.

Like Navin, Kimball’s interpretation of the urban landscape distills it down to basic elements, but his prints and paintings feature very clean lines and simple geometric shapes. One example is his Maritime Plaza, which I immediately recognized (it is a favorite out lunch spot of mine).

[Mike Kimball.  Maritime Plaza.  Image courtesy of the artist.  (click to enlarge.)]

Like the building it represents, the image is framed by the triangules and X-shapes of the seismic bracing. This was one of the first buildings to use this technique, which is now a familiar site on buildings in the Bay Area.

In Division Street, Kimball represents another familiar sight from daily life, the interchange of I-80 and US 101 that sits above Division Street in SOMA. The image is composed of very simple curves and lines and solid colors, from which one can distinguish the elevated structures of the highway and the shadows they cast, as well as details such as the markings (and probably graffiti) on the sides of the trailers.

[Mike Kimball.  Division Street.  Image courtesy of the artist.  (click to enlarge.)]

Trucks and trailers also feature prominently in Kimball’s work. His “Truckograph” series features a similar graphic quality to Division Street. His larger work Meditations on a port looks at the stacks of trailers at the port as an abstract collection of boxes. Kimball bridges the industrial and abstract in this work – close up, one can see the writing and metal texture, but from a distance one simply sees the colored squares.

Kimball’s current exhibition will be on display at City Art Gallery, 828 Valencia Street, through March 28.

Fun with Highways: The Alemany Maze

We return to a favorite topic here at CatSynth with a highway interchange that we know quite well.

The Alemany Maze is the large interchange in southern San Francisco between US 101 and Interstate 280. It derives it’s name from Alemany Boulevard, which runs parallel to 280.

In the upper-left corner of the interchange is a large lot that is home to the Alemany Farmers Market, which has been operating at this location since 1947. I wish it wasn’t only on Saturdays (indeed, it would be great if it operated on a weekday evening to pick up fresh ingredients for dinner on the way home from work). Beyond the lot is 5lowershop (pronounced “flower shop”), where I performed two years ago at the headphone festival. I will be performing there again in October.

The section of the I-280 north of the interchange is the last double-decker freeway in the Bay Area.


[photo by /\/\ichael Patric|{] on flickr]

In the years since the infamous collapse of the I-880 Cypress Freeway in the 1989 earthquake, the other double-decker freeways have been torn down, leaving only this far less controversial section of I-280. You can read more in this article.

Whenever I drive to work (sometimes I take BART), I pass through this interchange on I-280. Besides it’s largeness and the annoyance of having to change lanes just to up against the freeways and the ramps.

Indeed, the houses along Boutwell St lie in between 101 and the ramp to 280, which seems like a somewhat surreal place to live. Similarly, I see these and other houses on the top of the hill on Charter Oak Avenue (north of 280) when driving south:

The houses on Charter Oak are actually on a steep hillside, so are somewhat sheltered from the freeway, though they also have a rather direct view of the double-decker section.

All these houses are part of the Bayview District of San Francisco (also known as the Bayview-Hunters Point District), which extends east from 101 to the bay. I can only imagine that these house all pre-dated the construction of I-280, which was built in the late 1960s. More information on the history of I-280 can be found at California Highways.


Bay Area travel madness

Living in Santa Cruz can be a challenge at times. One of the major challenges is getting to and from places in the Bay Area, where most of my musical, job-search, and social activities located.

For San Francisco trips, one takes Highways 17, 85 and 280 (or 101 as suggested below) into the city:

If I am not in a rush, highway 1 along the coast is always a rewarding experience.

For the east bay (Berkeley, Oakland, etc.), one instead follows highway 17, which becomes I-880, along the east side of the bay:

The trick is avoid the bridges. Sometimes this is unavoidable, and one ends up making a “grand circuit” to and from Santa Cruz around the bay.

The trip is about 70 miles each direction (slightly longer on the east bay side), and about 90 minutes unless one hits bad traffic. Really, it's not so bad, and I have been doing trips like this for years for music and art events, or to see friends, family, and such.

But when it becomes several times a week, and nearing every day, it starts to wear on you. Almost all of my job interviews are in the bay area. Then there is the upcoming performance schedule, back-to-back shows in SF and Oakland followed by the tour.

And this weekend will top them all:

Saturday. Rehearsal for Polly Moller and Company. Then br'er performs in San Francisco that night. It's quite a coincidence that br'er is touring the west coast right now, just as I am about to go on tour. Indeed we will also be crossing paths again in Seattle when we both play on October 20th.

Sunday. Rehearsal again. Then the :plug3: headphone festival in San Francisco. I have a solo set at 7:30PM.

Monday. The tour's kickoff show at 1510 8th Street in Oakland. I have a solo set in addition to our group show.

Tuesday. I need to stay overnight so that…

Wednesday. We leave on tour from SF and Oakland bright and early.

This is out of control. Not because of the activities themselves, which are manageable, but the fact that it is far from CatSynth HQ every day. I have options to stay overnight to make things easier (and will likely do so some of the nights), but that means being away from home, away from everything that needs to be done here, away from Luna (which also means setting up more cat sitting arrangements).

Living in Santa Cruz is becoming one huge liability. It was fine when I was working every day here and going up to the city once a week or so, but now my life and all the action in it seems to be back in the bay area. How long can I keep this up?

Fun with highways: San Jose

Because I am too tired to write about tonight's performance, I'll simply leave you with the impressive interchange between highway 87 and I-280 near downtown San Jose:

The Works/San Jose Gallery, this evening's venue, is on S 1st Street, in the upper right corner of the image. It's a funky neighborhood south of downtown, filled with galleries and performances spaces, many of which were still going at night – real city nightlife is one of those things you miss living someplace like Santa Cruz, which shuts down pretty early and tends to drive its live-music venues out of town.

Although close to the interchange, S 1st Street is not easily accessible from either I-280 or highway 87. The easiest way to get there from the south is to take 87 and immediately get off downtown. San Jose's streets are generally slow-moving and confusing, and even more so because of the San Jose Grand Prix, which sounds more like a live-action video game than a civic event. Needless to see, I did eventually get there, with the 280 elevated tantalizingly visible.

The performance went well and will be discussed in another article.

Attempting to exit was just as difficult. I ended up on a series of detours taking me onto highway 87 south of the interchange with no way back to 280. Instead of attempting to backtrack, I just kept going on 87, but eventually made my way home and probably lost very little in time or distance. Plus, it was different. That can be good now and then.

San Francisco May 13 Part 1: Highways, Mothers Day, Music and Art

I definitely needed to get out of town today. A change of scenery and activity was in order, plus Santa Cruz becomes a complete tourist trap on sunny weekends like this. So north to the city we rode…Of course, before leaving, I called my mom in New York, and got the change to wish both her and my grandmother a Happy Mothers Day. I hope you all had an opportunity to do the same.

Our main routes into San Francisco are highways 1 and 280, which together form the Junipero Serra Freeway upon entry into the city. This is an amazingly scenic freeway, traversing the largely undeveloped valleys along the San Andreas fault south of San Francisco. 280 splits off to the right to become the Southern Freeway, as illustrated in the map below (pay no attention to the “official” names that no one actually uses).

Usually we take the 280/Southern Freeway route, which crosses highway 101 and empties out in downtown. This time, we stuck with highway 1, which continues north as the Junipero Serra for a few meters before becoming 19th Avenue in the Sunset distrcit. Big mistake. We got stuck in traffic all the way to Golden Gate park. Interestingly, the highway 1 freeway was originally supposed to continue all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. The stub of the highway 1 freeway and US 101 / Golden Gate Freeway (Doyle Drive) does in fact exist, but is disconnected from the highways in the south of the city:

But they have nothing to do with today’s story. Instead we left highway 1 at Golden Gate Park and headed to the Haight district, home of the Haight/Ashbury neighborhood of 1960s fame, and more recently of Amoeba Music, San Francisco. Amoeba is one of the best brick-and-mortar music retailers left, at least here in California, and they do carry and extensive experimental-music selection. I was there to make sure that my CD Aquatic was part of it. Such is the life of the independent recording musician, I have to physically bring my CD to the stores and get them to take a copy or two. Amboeba did accept it, though there terms are, well, the are what they are.

We also paid a visit to Streetlight Records in the Castro district. I have sold a few CDs at Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz, so why not in San Francisco as well? They took a couple of CDs on the same consignment terms as the Santa Cruz store, which unfortunately reminds me I need to check in with the local shop and see how things are going. While in general these things work out OK, it is the sort of chore that makes me think about signing up with a small indie a label (or a small indie label bigger than my own). Of course, that has its drawbacks as well, not the least of which is being able to do things like the current CD benefit for TeaCup’s family.

In addition to trying to peddle my own music, I always take the opportunity in SF to see other people’s art. Galleries are mostly closed on Sunday, but I did have a few exhibitions I wanted to see at the SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art[/url]. The two main exhibitions were a juxtaposition of works by Pablo Picasso with those of American artists inspired by his work – I had actually seen this exhibition in New York last year – and a retrospective of American artist Brice Marden (who is still very much alive). My critiques the exhibitions there deserve a separate article, which I will probably post tomorrow. The other galleries will probably have to wait until June for another visit…


Again, we usually exit the city at the Sixth Street terminus of 280, but because we were coming from Streetlight in the Castro, we ended up using the 101 / Central Freeway ramp at Market Street and Octavia Blvd. This stub of a freeway used to continue north of Market as the Central Freeway until Oak and Fell Streets heading towards Golden Gate Park. Indeed, all the freeways, except for I-80 to the Bay Bridge all seem to empty out onto city streets.

The tiny bit that remains of the Central Freeway (the section north of Market was recently demolished and converted into Octavia Blvd, see this article at SFGate) was originally designed to connect up to the Golden Gate Freeway (also highway 101) shown in a previous illustration. This, along with the highway 1 freeway (Juniperro Serra extension / Park Presidio Freeway) and the now defunct highway 480 (Embarcadero Freeway) were all supposed to connect to the Golden Gate bridge, but all were cancelled in the 1950s/1960s due to opposition. You can see some of the early plans for San Francisco’s freeway system at California Highways and kurumi. At least one connection between the south, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate would have been good, but there really isn’t any way to do that without a nasty tearing apart of neighborhoods along the lines of the Cross Bronx Expressway in New York (one of the freeways in the previously blogged Bruckner Interchange, it just keeps coming back). To bring things back to Mothers Day, my mother grew up in one of the neighborhoods in the central Bronx that was rent asunder by the construction of the Cross Bronx.