December 25, 2017

Go Tell It on the Mountain

I was having trouble summoning any holiday spirit in the Bay Area this year. No desire to hear the music. No interest in baking cookies. I even felt half-hearted about pulling out my treasured decorations.

My good friend and chief biking buddy, Ms. C, suggested a stroll through Christmas in the Park, which features many traditional Christmas trees decorated by groups large and small. As well as some non-traditional trees, California-style.

The last concert in the Season of Giving series at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph featured the Harpers Hall Celtic Harpists. The program ranged from the local to the traditional, with selections from around the world—almost as diverse as the faces in the audience. Children enthusiastically embellished Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (“Like a flashlight!”). I chimed in for Silent Night; luckily there were plenty of voices to carry Feliz Navidad (note to self: learn the words). We both felt drowsy at the same time, and agreed that the Carol of the Bells was the piece most suited to the instruments.

The past two years have seen us exploring the coast in Half Moon Bay on Christmas Day; this year, Ms. C suggested we try something new: Montara Mountain. We followed the Gray Whale Cove trail first, for the coastal view. Although it didn't seem that we'd climbed all that much, we were soon looking down—way down—at the parking lot where we'd started. We saw lots of gray clouds, but no whales.

And while this would seem to be an unlikely way to spend Christmas, the parking lot filled up and many fellow hikers (and mountain bikers) greeted us sincerely with “Merry Christmas!”

The mountain lies within the expanse of McNee Ranch State Park, which (despite its size) is treated like a footnote to Montara State Beach.

There are no facilities. No posted trail maps. No pamphlets. A few signposts at some junctions, that's all. We asked some descending hikers how much farther to the top of the mountain, and were surprised when they said a few more miles. Having foregone a recommended short-cut, I wasn't entirely surprised; Google Maps confirmed our fellow hiker's estimate, so we soon chose to turn and follow a different route back to the car. The trail was steep, and sandy; challenging enough with our hiking boots and walking sticks. A trio including an older woman outfitted with ordinary running shoes hiked past us; we couldn't imagine how she'd fare on the way down. In the distance, the Farallons were just barely visible.

We were satisfied with our 5.2 mile hike. The mountaintop will wait.

December 11, 2017

Memories, Indelible

I'd walked through that tunnel on Saturday, transferring from the R line to the C. Like thousands of other people, that day and every day. (Except today.)

So many hotel dining areas have televisions running the non-stop news cycle. Honestly, I don't know why. At breakfast, or really at any other meal, the images are all-too-often disturbing.

I was the early riser this morning, the only guest in the room. Having scanned the news online while waking up, I was stunned to find the screen filled with flashing red and blue lights, the NYPD bomb squad, live coverage of an explosion in the tunnel connecting the Times Square subway station to the Port Authority station. Yet another disaffected, brainwashed young man. Fortunately, he killed no one—not even himself.

Within two hours, the hum of the city was already being restored. The bomber identified, surveillance footage of the blast on air, officials holding a press conference about the resilience of New Yorkers. Within two hours. Astonishing.

Crane hoisting concrete to the upper floors of a building under construction, 30th Street, New York, New York
Construction is a constant in the city. If I had thought about how concrete floors are poured two dozen stories above street level, I would have assumed the material was mixed there. I would not have expected to see it poured from a truck into a bin that was then hoisted into the sky by a giant crane.

The friend who planned to meet me in the city confirmed that NJ Transit was running normally and our lunch date was on.

Animated display featuring yellow taxis and New York landmarks, Lord & Taylor, Fifth Avenue, New York, New York
I strolled up Fifth Avenue, not wanting to miss the the animated displays in the windows at Lord & Taylor. I assured two visitors that they were on the right track and could not miss Rockefeller Center. This being a weekday, the crowds were a bit thinner than Friday night's crush.

Lion statue decorated with a wreath, New York Public Library, New York, New York
How many times have I seen the Christmas Show at Radio City? I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure it was an annual treat when I was a child. Back in the day when some of the seats were actually general admission. How my mom loved it! After we moved farther away, she'd take a bus tour each year.

Radio City Music Hall Marquee, 6th Avenue, New York, New York
Fifth row, virtually in the center, today. I wish you were here, Mom. (Though the 3D segment would make you nauseous!) They fully use this glorious space these days, projecting trains and dancing Santas on the arches high above our heads to complement the action on stage.

Red curtain on the main stage with giant snowflakes projected on the arches, Radio City Music Hall, New York, New York
Confetti rained down on the audience, like snowflakes, in the finale. Even after walking 20+ blocks back downtown, stray bits fluttered off at dinner and in my hotel room.

High-kicking Rockettes in a line, Radio City Music Hall, New York, New York
I love NYC at Christmastime.

Empire State building lit with green and white lights, New York, New York

December 10, 2017

Down the Shore

I'd reserved Sunday for a family visit. Perhaps, I suggested, we could take a walk on the boardwalk and enjoy an early dinner.

View of the beach and snowy boardwalk in late afternoon, Asbury Park, New Jersey
Yes, it does snow at the beach. Evidently the sand held enough heat to fend off any accumulation from this early storm.

Carousel House, Asbury Park boardwalk, Asbury Park, New Jersey
It was uplifting to see Asbury Park in its revitalizing state. I'm sure I rode the merry-go-round as a child; the building remains, though the carousel is long gone.

When the city slid into its deep decline, we'd stroll the boards through the neighboring town of Ocean Grove and turn back at the border. The line in the sand wasn't hard to miss; sketchy characters loitered on the Asbury side. It was no longer the town that Bruce romanticized.

Nautical motif and ship atop the south entrance to the arcade, Asbury Park, New Jersey
Things are turning around, these days. A jazz band played as we strolled through a fair inside Convention Hall, where artisans were selling their wares.

I never had the chance to notice the architectural details, before.

Carved banner with pair of fish atop a doorway inside the arcade, Asbury Park, New Jersey
The interior could use some more work, but somehow the building and its ornamental flourishes survived those sad decades of neglect.

Breaking waves at the beach under gray clouds as the late afternoon sky turns pink, Asbury Park, New Jersey
And the wintry waves of the steely gray Atlantic roll on.

December 9, 2017

Musical, Magical, Manhattan

Luckily I'd re-checked the forecast when I was packing on Thursday night. Snow! On Saturday! (Not Tuesday, per earlier forecasts.)

I broke out the insulated winter boots for slushy sidewalks and my ski jacket to stay warm and shed the flakes.

Snow-dusted bare trees outside the American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York
Big, wet snowflakes drifted down from the sky and melted on my tongue. The first snowfall of the season was just enough to make the city pretty, and not enough to wreak havoc or summon the plows.

To make the most of my short trip, I headed for a quick morning visit to the American Museum of Natural History—via the subway.

I'd read about the deteriorating state of the subway system, but from afar I didn't follow the details.

What a mess. I walked over to 34th to catch the D train, only to discover it's skipping that station (repairs). I re-routed, and found some holiday cheer in a car where a three-piece ensemble (accordion, guitar, and bass) played and sang Feliz Navidad. They appreciated the applause (and donations).

Embedded reproduction dinosaur fossils adorn the walls of the subway station for the Museum of Natural History, 81st Street, New York, New York
I focused my abbreviated visit on something new: geology. It's sobering to cast your eyes on a sample of a rock that includes zircon crystals dated to be the oldest material on earth (over 4.276 billion years old).

Quartz pebble conglomerate from Australia containing 4.276-billion-year-old zircon crystals, American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York
I studied a cross-section of folded rock from the Sequoia National Forest (Kings Canyon), and a slice from the familiar San Andreas Fault.

A spectacular 12-foot geode was popular.

Purple amethyst crystals exposed in a 12-foot tall geode, cut open, American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York
I hustled back to the subway to head downtown for my matinee. Having just missed one train, I listened to ambiguous announcements about a stalled train near Columbus Circle. The next train arrived, and was held in place by a red light.

Time for a taxi. Chivalry is officially dead: standing there in the snowstorm, a “gentleman” positioned himself upstream to intercept the cab that should have been mine.

Front of the theatre playing Dear Evan Hansen, 239 45th Street, New York, New York
I made it to the theatre in time. (Just.) Another bittersweet musical, Dear Evan Hansen. The staging included panels onto which images and words streamed; social media plays a big role. It can be hard to laugh when you know the story must spiral out of control, that it can't end well. Ben Platt (Evan) was brilliant.

So much to see and do ... I was already regretting how short this trip would be.

Snow-dusted bare trees, lit up at night, Lincoln Center, New York, New York
For the evening, I necessarily had Plans A and B—both at Lincoln Center. Plan B would be to see NYC Ballet's Nutcracker. Plan A relied on someone freeing up a ticket to a sold-out performance of the NY Philharmonic, the last in a short concert series commemorating their 175th anniversary.

Metropolitan Opera House and fountain lit up on a snowy night, Lincoln Center, New York, New York
The box office window for “this performance” was shuttered. I figured I'd plead ignorance at the “future sales” window, but there was no need. “What's your price range?” he asked. The weather had scared people away, and I wound up with a lovely aisle seat in the orchestra section!

Interior of David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, New York
For the occasion, they were repeating the same works performed at their very first concert. Which made this performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony one that assuredly I will never forget: the first one I've seen live.

Snow covered bicycles, NYPD SUV, and bare trees, New York, New York
I opted for a subway ride back downtown. No cycling for me ...

December 8, 2017

New York, New York

I miss NYC at Christmastime. I miss NYC at other times, too. But especially at Christmastime.

Deer figures of blue lights, bare trees wrapped in red or white lights, near Rockefeller Center, New York, New York
When I was a child, it was a regular treat to make a trip to the city, admire the wondrous tree and the skaters at Rockefeller Center, the elaborate animated window displays, and all the colorful decorations.

Strand of giant colored Christmas lights along the sidewalk, bare trees wrapped in white lights in the background, near Rockefeller Center, New York, New York
It's a longer trip now, but I'm a grown-up. I bought a plane ticket.

I made a list, and checked it twice. My flight landed early enough to take in a Friday night Broadway show.

Giant red Christmas ball ornaments stacked above a fountain, trees wrapped in white lights, near Rockefeller Center, New York, New York
My first choice was The Band's Visit, a stage adaptation of an Israeli film (though I didn't know that when I chose it). It was well-reviewed and perhaps not likely to play elsewhere. Plus, it presented an opportunity to see Tony Shalhoub (live!) in one of the leading roles.

Marquee signs for the Broadway musical "The Band's Visit," 243 W 47th Street, New York, New York
I scored a ticket, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and headed for the box office of the next show on my list—securing a ticket for tomorrow's matinee.

Theatres sometimes (always?) hold back a few good seats “just in case” they need to accommodate someone special, or to recover from some mishap—a patron unhappy with his or her seat, a botched ticket. At some point, they might decide to release the hold. I believe this is how I ended up with a Broadway producer (Pamela Cooper) on my right, and a guy affiliated with the show on my left, jotting down notes that he would later take backstage.

Pamela (and the random theatre-goer to her right, who positively gushed about Pamela's Come From Away) convinced me that I should add that one to my list. It should have won the Tony for Best Musical, of that they were sure. The 9/11 theme had given me pause. (It will tour, if I don't make it back to Broadway soon enough.)

Pamela had brought Ben Vereen (seated elsewhere) to the show. From the deep recesses of my memory, I recalled the day my mom took me to my first Broadway show (Pippin). Starring ... Ben Vereen.

Tonight's musical comedy was bittersweet, and evidently starting a theme for the works I'd chosen: ordinary people, leading ordinarily complicated lives, learning about themselves and each other as they make their way in our complicated world.

After the show, I found my way to Rockefeller Center, merging into the Friday-night crowd taking selfies with the famous tree

Christmas tree above the Prometheus fountain, Rockefeller Center, New York, New York
 and the angels

Angels made of white lights with long golden trumpets along the promenade leading to the Christmas tree, Rockefeller Center, New York, New York
and the elaborate light show on the front of Saks Fifth Avenue).

Multi-colored castle light display, Saks Fifth Avenue, near Rockefeller Center, New York, New York
I love NYC at Christmastime!

December 2, 2017

Parade Route

A short ride with a holiday theme was the ticket today. And of course there were hills to climb.

pep's bike in the sunshine, viewed from above, El Sereno Open Space Preserve, near Los Gatos, California
The rider who joined me assured me that a particular “short-cut” was legit, and after completing our final climb we passed through an open-space gate to clamber up some rocks, enjoying our snacks with a view.

Los Gatos Recreation Department balloon with marchers, W. Main Street, Los Gatos, California
Our holiday reward was the 61st annual Los Gatos Children's Christmas Parade. The Recreation Department even had a balloon!

Cucuzza Squash Drill Team, S. Santa Cruz Avenue, Los Gatos, California
A crowd (and personal) favorite is the irreverent Cucuzza Squash Drill Team. Tottering out-of-step down the street, wielding their vegetables with Italian music blaring, they are nothing short of hilarious.

Los Gatos Rowing Club float, S. Santa Cruz Avenue, Los Gatos, California
There were marching bands and dance troups, Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts and Indian Princesses. Rowers rowed (on machines) under the canopy of a racing shell.

Service Dogs of America group, S. Santa Cruz Avenue, Los Gatos, California
Canine Companions for Independence walked alongside their humans. Crowds filled the sidewalks to view more than 200 floats and groups parade through downtown.

Airborne BMX rider executing a twist above the Jiffy Market ramp, S. Santa Cruz Avenue, Los Gatos, California
The perennial highlight is Jiffy Market's float, which features a pair of daredevil ramps (along with a crew of certified daredevils). The first rider raced down the street, launched into the air, landed and pedaled on. [Child's play, comparatively speaking.] His compatriots launched higher, one spinning a twist and the other flipping a full 360ยบ in the air before touching down.

As for me, I strive to keep both wheels, upright, in contact with the pavement. I was more than content to cover 17 miles and climb 1,825 feet.

But who doesn't love a parade?