Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Park

Ladies and gentlemen, my backyard.

Less than six blocks from me lie two fantastical museums, facing each other like a pair of Birkenstocked queens, arms crossed and tricks on the table. The Music Concourse sinks between them like a reflecting pool, empty and drifted with dry autumn leaves.

So they filled the pool with music and guidance and set us loose in it.

On Saturday morning I dropped off my laundry and thought I would saunter down to the opening of the Academy, aka The California Academy of Sciences, thinking that there was no way in hell that there could be as many nerds in the City as to fill it first thing in the a.m. But as I rounded the corner at Kirkham and 9th and looked down the hill and saw the mass exodus from the concrete to the green (with the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background looking very much the part of the Gray Horse from the Velveteen Rabbit), I started the process of resetting my sights. So maybe a wait to get in.

A wait was an understatement. By the time I rounded the corner to the Concourse with the rest of the herd, I knew I wasn't going in. I was pleasantly surprised, though, that there was a Music Concourse full of tents and food vendors and musicians, with plenty of room there. The Academy would be there from now on (or, at least until we get an 8.5 shaker), but the tents would be gone on Monday, so I turned my focus from the new cute boy in the class to the foreign exchange student in front of me. The cute boy'll keep.

A quick tour of the tents yielded a wealth of information--from a bicycle that charges up its own motor (no more calf-breaking trips up the San Francisco hills!) to solar exhibits to tales of the Farallon Islands (going someday now, DEFINITELY) to my very favorite tent, the Rana Creek exhibit.

For those of you who haven't seen a picture of the Academy, here's the biggest signature of it: it has a plant roof. Rana Creek is an architectual firm that specializes in making buildings and parts of buildings out of plants. Think of Laura Ingalls Wilder and "On the Banks of Plum Creek" if you will, but it speaks to me when there is A FREAKIN' MEADOW ON THE ROOF OF A MUSEUM OR OFFICE BUILDING. The Bay Area is full of The Box--a mindset of architecture that looks like Port of Oakland container stacking (I've heard of that done as thanks), and when the lawn is on the top of the building it seems to soften all of the square, sharp points.

After picking up packs of information and free goodies, I wondered to the circular spaces in the middle of the concourse and picked a free bench in the shade. In the center circle was a four-man jazz band, kickin' it. These guys could play so many instruments I started to wonder if there was an extra hand in it from God, like the memorial in Washington, D.C. The kids absolutely loved it, and the grown-ups applauded enthusiastically after the two numbers we got to hear before they packed it up to make room for sound from SF Jazz at nearly 10 am. We all begged for one more, but the program was running a tight ship.

I checked out the deYoung after tear-down for the band, just to see if I could get in and chill away from the swarm for a moment. No dice--this was closing weekend for Chilhuly, glass master, and everyone was getting in there too. So I moved to the arch at the west end of the concourse to hear SF Jazz and relax a little longer. On my way I passed the western circle in the concourse with Junkestra set up in the middle. If you want to hear what Junkestra does, go to YouTube and type in "Junkestra." It's serious music, but it was so fantastical that I couldn't help bursting out laughing when I did the YouTube search. I didn't get to hear them Saturday because I left before they fired up.

SF Jazz looks like a typical Glen Miller set-up, until you realize all of the musicians are pretty young--like, high school young. AND they can bring it. I listened to three numbers before moving on, and their execution was college level, or, more by the fun they seemed to be having, a band in somebody's parents' garage, with suits. The riffs were so relaxed and enjoyed by the musicians, it was like the audience walked in on a big secret.

I left the dusty benches of the arch and walked back to the east to see what was for brunch. (It was 10:30. Cut me some slack.) I decided on a Hibiscus Flower Limeade in a biodegradable cup (which looked an awful lot like promogranate juice but tasted just sweet enough not to be tart and just tart enough not to be sugary) and a grass-fed (not that kind of grass, dear reader) all beef hot dog. I crawled up the side of the bowl that is the concourse wall and sat in cool, damp grass in the shade of the palm tree, eating my treasure (no ketchup on the treasure though...Chicago style). In front of me at the sidewalk was a short woman resting in a folding chair about four feet to the right of the recycling receptacles. I don't think she was there to monitor them, but I think in the course of her resting there I think she found her calling in telling people which container to put their waste paper and containers into. For those not familiar with the selection, there was a black box marked "Landfill," a blue box marked "Recycle," and a green box marked "Compost." I was raised on a farm with a compost pile and still this selection confuses me. What's even more confusing is that the container I was drinking from looked like a plastic cup but on one side stated that it was made from plant material. This development drove the recreational recycling monitor into a frenzy. "Not there!" I heard her say more than once, and I started thinking she was right, until a worker from the food vendor in front of the receptacles stepped up to assist and read the cup to her and said, in a voice loud and plain, "It's made of CORN!" He wasn't intending harm to her, just getting it through her head. The statement was so short and delivered so succinctly that I burst in silent, shaking giggles and had to think of something depressing to behave myself. I could hear my father telling me to straighten up and fly right and not make fun.

I wasn't, Dad.

The phrase was funny, is all, Dad. Perfect line perfectly performed.


I moved to San Francisco from the South Bay two years ago, and still my knowledge of The Park is limited. To me this crime is roughly on par with living in Manhattan and hanging out in Washington Square Park, or living in the Richmond Heights district of Saint Louis and journeying to Fort Leonard Wood for fresh air. I've committed this crime for two years, all the time only seeing The Park when there's an event. I can tell you where Stow Lake is and the Music Concourse and the Conservatory and where they keep the buffalo and the police horses, but living here and not living them seems a bit of "standing knee deep in a river and dying of thirst." So I'm on a new quest to explore the park and follow Gawande's mantra in all of it so that I know my own backyard.

Henry would be proud.

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