As the DC area decides this morning whether or not to delay or cancel the various events and happenings that will impact my LFG chauffeuring duties today, I’ve found a moment to finish a story—one that I began almost one year ago. While I’m pleased to pick up the ball on this blog story, I hope that things won’t be delayed or cancelled today. I’d really like to see my child.
I began a story last year about my very last minute speaking engagement in San Francisco and for some reason, it just fell aside. As I now gather enough fodder to reflect on last week’s slightly less impromptu but still last minute San Francisco reprieve, it’s easy to dovetail the year-old draft story herein. The year-old stuff and the Tadich Ethic meaning will appear tomorrow.
I think it was Longwing who commented or asked over at my tumblr about how could/would I be at the Mirage in Las Vegas the first of last week…then San Francisco mid-week and back at the Las Vegas MGM last Friday. Well here’s the deal. I did a session last Tuesday at the Mirage. Another business unit within the same company asked me to do a session to close out their week-long meeting on Friday. The client company is so large that they essentially filled three different hotels in Las Vegas. It made no sense to return home Tuesday evening and return to Las Vegas on Thursday for my Friday MGM gig.
My Las Vegas loathing is well documented. There exists no place on earth I’ve experienced thus far that elicits in me the same level of revulsion. Las Vegas renders me repulsed to the point of physical and psychological discombobulation. Wayne Newton rather sums it up for me. And I rolled in there Monday before last amidst a wobbly recovery from a 36 hour tummy bug to boot. I decided that there was no way I could survive the Wednesday and Thursday downtime between talks by just hanging out in Las Vegas and I was in no mood to rent a car and do some kinda Hoover damn Dam sortie or similar.
So I contacted clients in Los Angeles and the Bay Area and decided I’d decamp to one or the other, based on what client; first come-first served, responded. I’d simply create a business but mostly recreational reason to be in another city. And I was delighted that the first ping-back originated in Baghdad by the Bay. Feeling mildly knocked around after my full-on session in Las Vegas, I was still more than ready to knock around San Francisco.
And the Fairmont atop Nob Hill along with The Mark offered me rooms at a buck-fifty a night. So the Fairmont it would be. I don’t think I can describe the efficacy…the cleansing salve of San Francisco’s crisp-blue skied winter air as I walked out front of the Fairmont on Wednesday morning. My two days in San Francisco were bliss. Cable cars may be touristy but I rode ‘em with glee.
And I liked standing at the corner of California street on Wednesday evening after dinner at the University Club…when things were quieter…and you could hear the hiss of the cables running just under the street's surface.
The sartorial rounds were brief. There isn’t much to see in San Francisco clothing wise, that a clotheshorse like me hasn’t or doesn’t see in other cities. I will make it a point to get over to Union Made the next time I’m there. Tasty, eclectic, high quality goods for a younger crowd perhaps. But their website alone is enticing enough for me to wanna have a look-see in situ. Alas, I did go to Cable Car Clothiers' new, smaller digs. Let me just say that unless there’s a dramatic reimagining of what CCC was…is…aspires to be—they won’t be—for much longer.
Certainly my bucket hat and wool challis bowtie purchase won’t keep ‘em afloat.
I held no hope that these framed Vanity Fair prints of Bret Harte and Rider Haggard, along with their personal letters, would remain available at Brick Row Booksellers in that building on Geary Street where art dealers and rare booksellers have long since been ensconced. I’m generally not so lucky but alas they were there and I decided to not pass on them again. Rare book dealers and antiquarian print purveyors are a quirky lot. And trust me—I know quirk when I’m amidst it…having learned to embrace my own idiosyncrasies. Or as one of my dinner mates from the University Club on Wednesday evening declared regarding the proclivities of his high end, persnickety clientele… “I’ve made peace with crazy.” Now don’t get me wrong. None of the dealers in the 49 Geary Street building are crazy—just a bit—and delightfully so—quirky. And quirky played to my favor in that for some juju-esque reason, both of the framed images cost me less than what one of them was quoted to me a year ago. And God knows I need some framed caricatures.
With a bit of unexpected extra time on Thursday I ventured over to North Beach and traipsed the mild underbelly of a part of San Francisco that gives me more reason to love the entire city. Unlike the frenetically loud, neonelectrified smarm of Las Vegas, San Francisco’s smarm is patinated. I just wish that I’d a been there when the El Matador was still serving hooch and jazz and hosting the smart set from all over the world when they rolled in to San Francisco. The thirty something year old Barnaby Conrad was told to “do something with the money” that came pouring in after his novel Matador took off…so “I opened a bar.”
And boy did he “open a bar”. The El Matador hosted not only the smart set but also some pretty good jazz musicians during its heyday. It seems that North Beach was a jazz destination “…in 1963 the jazz scene moved on. North Beach, with its reputation as a louche entertainment enclave, emerged as the San Francisco jazz epicenter and reigned as such in the fifties, sixties and even into the seventies…”
Here with Conrad at the El Matador is Tyrone Power who starred in Blood and Sand…as a Matador. And I suppose that Power’s role in The Sun Also Rises gave these two imbibers a bit more conversational fodder.
Caen and Conrad. Good clean fun fronting the El Matador.
I tracked down the old El Matador location. It’s vacant and man-oh-man if the walls therein could talk. Wanna re-open it or something similar? “Maxminimus” Yep. That’s what we’ll call it. And I’ll open it—from the proceeds of my first novel.
Look at the abandoned El Matador and ponder what once rounded that corner… “Part saloon, part salon, Barnaby Conrad's El Matador was nestled in the heart of San Francisco's cabaret and nightlife district. There, within the space of a few blocks of North Beach's Barbary Coast, one could catch Johnny Mathis singing at Ann's 440 Club, cross the street to the Swiss American Hotel where Lenny Bruce once thought he was a bird and attempted to fly out of a second-story window, and walk a couple of blocks to the Hungry i to check out newcomers like Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Barbra Streisand, and the Smothers Brothers. Still, despite the accumulation of dozens of bars, restaurants, and night spots, the area lacked "a truly chic and comfortable (club), a place where attractive and interesting people could congregate over a martini". Conrad's El Matador stylishly filled the void. On any given night, one might find Noel Coward, Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, or Tyrone Power in the club, or hear Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Eva Gabor, George Shearing, or Andre Previn take over the piano.”
What will be longed for in another fifty years? Large Escalades pulling up in front of some loud-ass club…Cristal drenched bling-blingers and an upskirt shot courtesy of an iPhone? Where are the El Matadors today?
Barnaby Conrad Jr. has lived one hell of a life and I’m gonna delve into it a bit more when his two memoirs arrive.
Here’s a little glimpse… “At nineteen Barnaby Conrad vaulted into a Mexican arena and waved his Brooks Brothers raincoat at an enraged bull. At twenty-one he escalated from code clerk to vice-consul in twenty-four hours and was sent to Spain where he became El Nino de California (The California Kid) of the bull fights. At twenty-five he was selling books on the subject.”
And of course there’s Carol Doda and the Condor amidst City Lights book store and the Beats. I’ve yet to stand at the corner of Haight and Ashbury and haven’t made erudite my Hippie studies but is there truth that the Beats felt like their call to action was more worthy than the Hippies?
And was Doda’s topless-bottomlessness plaque worthy?
I can tell you unequivocally that my plein air solo dining before heading to the airport and back to the Las Vegas smarm was plaque worthy. Stay tuned for round two of my San Francisco sortie.
Onward. Having just learned that all is open for business in DC…now I’m gonna go fetch my young’un.