I write to you from a ridiculously warm California – their September is quite different from the one in the UK. It’s been great to be finally be here anyway and this seemed a good moment to give you a bit of a tour diary thus far.
So this was quite an experience. I’m not quite sure I can go into the pain of the US visa crisis again so I will simply say see previous blogs for details on that one. Anyway the upshot of it all was my flight itinerary involved arriving into Los Angeles at 2pm and flying from there to San Francisco at 3.35pm. You will see how difficult that is to achieve shortly (I might add not my choice, it was the only option I had left…). Before that though there was the small matter of Heathrow airport and all that and thankfully no big speech about the personal and monetary value of my banjo was needed as I was allowed to carry the banjo on board with no problems. One over priced fried breakfast and an 11 hour flight later I arrived in LA. A shout out here to the cabin crew on the United Airlines flight who were extremely kind in advising me the best way to change terminals quickly when I got there as well as moving me to first class for the last half hour of the flight to enable me to get off the plane first.
So arrive I did and came to the baggage carousel and as ever when one is in a bit of a hurry my bag was practically the last to arrive. It was then on to the dreaded customs who thankfully were extremely nice and no problem (not that they had reason to be in case anyone important is reading). They even said ‘you did well getting a work visa, we get so many musicians who come without one and we send them home’ – some comfort that all that agony was worth it eh? Anyway I next headed for a help desk and encountered a phenomenally unhelpful woman whom I asked ‘could you tell me the quickest way to this gate’ and showed her my boarding pass. She studied it for some time before declaring my flight didn’t exist…which it did. She then noticed it was a different airline, said to head to terminal 1 but told me, and this was the killer, that there was no way I’d make it.
Challenge accepted, I ran across the parking lot to terminal 1 from terminal 6 as advised by the United cabin crew. I then charged up the stairs and encountered the most unhelpful of unhelpful check in people. Actually first I encountered very nice people in the queue who let me go ahead as I was in a hurry (an English accent helps here plus the obvious signs that it went against every fibre of my English being to queue jump). Then the check in woman who spent what seemed like an hour trying to close a drawer and then gave her colleague a good fondle which I could have done without. Finally my bag was checked in and it was up to the gates…via security. So again I did the polite English thing to queue jump and did what you have to do with those scans and things which in the US includes taking your shoes off. Now I’ve known how to tie my laces for years but could I get the ruddy things undone? Could I heck as like so I simply pulled them straight off and when I’d got through put them back on with laces flying everywhere, belt in my hand and wearing a jacket which in England had been appropriate. In this state I made it to the gate three minutes after boarding time was supposed to start which I thought was pretty impressive. The lady behind the counter said the flight had been delayed til 4.15. Great.
Thankfully I got to San Francisco and my bag was first off the carousel and the wonderful Cindy came to get me and take me to my first gig in Sebastopol which I made with half an hour to spare. Quite a day.
And so the gigs began. Jon Berger’s is a lovely place to do a gig and the audience were simply lovely. Clearly I wasn’t at my most coherent after my travels, jetlag and a little stress but it seemed to go off rather well and people bought CDs, always a good sign. It was great to finally be off the mark in California.
Next up was Modesto where Mark and Cindy Lemaire hosted my second gig – the Great Valley Songwriter Series. These two are, aside from being an excellent duo themselves, the nicest people and have been just wonderful in helping me first put together the tour then overcoming all the visa nonsense and both did large amounts of driving just to help me out. The gig was mighty fine too with a lovely crowd and we had a good bit of craic (not sure if there’s an American word for that?).
From there I headed to get my car and do my first bit of American driving. I was rather daunted by this but it was actually pretty fine and very like English driving aside from the obvious other side of the road thing. Other differences are lane discipline is not so prominent here other than don’t drive in the left lane unless going very fast, four way junctions are confusing as hell and the whole speed limit thing is not so important it seems. This led to a radio appearance in San Francisco and then a gig in Mountain View at Red Rock Coffee House. This was a great gig too and nice to meet Don, a bit of a fan who was very pleased I was playing in his home state. I have to also mention Palo Alto where I visited on the way which looked like a city I’d love to see more of, if nothing else to try all the exciting looking places to eat!
Finally up to now was Berkeley at Sally Greenberg’s. Sally, like Mark and Cindy, has been so helpful right from the very start of this process and she puts on a fine concert too. She also gave me a little tour of Berkeley in the afternoon before I was left to wander round it and Berkeley is such a cool place! People there have very cool clothes, accents and manners and the shops and food outlets are equally enviably cool. Obviously I fitted right in…it was like 1967 hadn’t quite finished in some areas right down to the extremely strong smelling cannabis I walked past. I’ve never taken drugs myself but I think I must have been passively high for at least a while!
I’m staying in Berkeley tonight with a gig at the Freight and Salvage so spending today having a look round San Francisco. I may even wear flowers in my hair…but probably not.