Monday, January 11, 2016

A night in 1990 with David Bowie

May 28, 1990. My best friend at the time Ron and I made the 40-mile drive to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California. We were there to see the one and only David Bowie.

20160111_222455It was the Sound + Vision tour, where he famously said he was retiring his old catalogue. It would be the last tour where people would see him perform his classic hits.

We didn’t have tickets. Just cash in our pockets. As was common at the time, we bought two tickets from people who had extras to sell. Lawn seats. $15 a piece. The price probably seemed a lot at the time for 21-year-old James. Today it sounds like the bargain of the century.

We made our way to the lawn area, spying for empty seats in the more expensive seating areas. We walked by legendary music promoter Bill Graham who was talking with someone.

A short while later, the lights went down and Bowie appeared. He was small, illuminated on a dark stage, behind a transparent screen, upon which they were projecting imagery. He was wearing a simple black suit, white shirt and was playing an acoustic guitar. The song was Space Oddity.

That was our chance. We slipped into two empty box seats off to the side. Miraculously, the people who were supposed to sit there never showed up. At one point I felt a tap on my shoulder. Fearing it was an usher ready to send us back to the lawn, I turned around. It was a cocktail waitress asking if we wanted a drink.

As I commonly did at the time, I had a small notebook and pen with me so I can jot down the set list. From Space Oddity, he went right into another classic guitar song: Changes. It was spectacular.

He put down the guitar and then broke into the high-energy TVC 15. From there he went through an amazing string of songs, each one a gem. Rebel Rebel. Ashes to Ashes. Fashion. Life on Mars.

Next up: One of the ‘80s hits I was quite familiar with: Blue Jean. Then he surprisingly jumped right in to one of his top 2 1980s hits: Let’s Dance.

Now, I know there are many David Bowie fans who discount his ‘80s period. I don’t because that’s what opened the door for me to David Bowie. Yes, it was Let’s Dance, Modern Love and China Girl that got me hooked initially. But once I was hooked, I began to explore more of his earlier music and grew to love it too.

He closed the set with Pretty Pink Rose and Stay, before the show stopped for a surprising intermission.

When Bowie came out again, he was wearing the same pants, no jacket, a frillier white shirt and more make-up. I loved watching him. In fact, twice during the show, during some extended guitar solos, I was able to see him sitting off to the side. He smoked a cigarette, drank something and swayed to the music before rejoining the band.

He opened the second set with Sound + Vision, then went right into a string of even more seminal hits: Ziggy Stardust, China Girl, Station to Station, Young Americans and Suffragette City.

By the time he started singing Fame, the audience had gone crazy. He closed his second set with Heroes. I have no words for what I felt at that moment. Just so lucky to be there.

At that point he disappeared. The audience simply wasn’t having it. There would be more. MUST be more.

He didn’t disappoint, coming out for an extended encore that consisted of Panic in Detroit, Jean Genie, and finally, Modern Love. The night was magical.

It wouldn’t be the last time I saw Bowie. It would happen again October 28, 1995 at the Great Western Forum in L.A. — a double billing with Nine Inch Nails. But it was that night in 1990 at the Shoreline Amphitheatre that I’ll remember most.

Rest in peace David Bowie. I won’t forget you.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

James' New Mazda CX-5

So, I bought a new car! A 2014 Mazda CX-5 — only the second new car I've purchased in my life (the last time was almost nine years ago when I bought my 2005 Saab 9-3). After 140,000+ miles, my poor 9-3 (named Birgitta) had seen her share of life, and she was starting to cost too much to maintain. And hence began the new car search.

Why a Mazda CX-5? Well, earlier this year, when Tim traded in his 2002 GMC Envoy SUV for his much smaller 2013 Mercedes E350 coupe, we realized we needed more storage capacity than our two small cars could handle. I wasn't really looking for a big SUV, so I ended up looking into something smaller: crossovers.

I considered many crossover models. In addition to the Mazda CX-5, I test drove the Chevy Equinox, Nissan Rogue, Buick Encore, Honda CRV, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and Ford Escape (and boy, we met quite a few horrible sales people in the process ... go figure). I picked my top three (Equinox, Escape, CX-5), considered the price and features on all of them, and after my analysis, the road seemed to point directly to the CX-5. It was my Christmas gift to myself!

I ended up selecting the color meteor gray (perfect for a space geek like me). I decided to name my new car Eydie, after the late great Eydie Gorme, an amazing vocalist who we lost earlier this year. So the next time you see a meteor gray CX-5 zipping by, take a look at the driver. It may be me! :)

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Andy Warhol-Inspired Pop Art and Lunch, $3

Call me crazy, but I'm a sucker for limited-edition marketing promos. There was Pepsi Ice Cucumber soda. The IHOP Horton Hears a Who breakfasts. The 7-11 Simpsons-inspired Kwik-E-Mart rebranding. So when I heard the Campbell Soup Company was releasing four Andy Warhol-inspired tomato soup cans, I was ready to spoon it up! (Literally).

I finally got the Andy Warhol-inspired Campbell's Soup cans.(09/05/2012)
I finally got the Andy Warhol-inspired Campbell's Soup cans.(09/05/2012)

These cans celebrate the 50th anniversary of Andy Warhol's seminal pop art display, 32 Campbell's Soup Cans. The can designs are licensed by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and are sold exclusively at Target for 75 cents each. So for a whopping investment of $3, you can get cool Andy Warhol art (and lunch).

I had to canvas three local Target stores to find them, but I finally did. And that's M'm! M'm! Good!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

I love Washington DC. Being a history nut, I always enjoy visiting historical sites and monuments. But on my last trip, there was one memorial I wish wasn't needed at all: The Pentagon Memorial honoring the 184 people who lost their lives on 9/11.

We finally got to see it last October. It was our last day of our trip and it was raining pretty heavily. But I didn't even consider skipping it. It's something we needed to see.

It's surprisingly tranquil there considering that it's set against the epicenter of our nation's military. And even though there are roads and freeways nearby, you don't seem to hear anything else other than your feet walking on the gravel.

Each bench represents one of the victims. If the bench is facing towards the Pentagon, it represents one of the victims on the plane. If the bench faces outward from the Pentagon, it represents one of the victims on the ground.

I think the saddest benches were those dedicated to Zoe and Dana Falkenberg, ages 9 and 3 respectively. The Falkenberg sisters were among the youngest of the victims, having been on the plane with their mom and dad.

May all the victims rest in peace.

Remembering 9/11/01

I'll never forget that morning. Like any other work day, my alarm went off to news radio. I quickly realized it was no ordinary work day when I heard the somber announcement that one of the World Trade Center towers had collapsed after a terrorist attack. It couldn't be true, so we dashed off to the living room to see the horrifying reality before our very eyes. A few moments later, tower #2 went down.

Like everyone else that day, I was shocked. I was horrified. I was scared. Hearing that the attackers also crashed a plane into the Pentagon, it made me wonder, what targets on the west coast were going to be hit? Was L.A. to be targeted as well? Surely we wouldn't escape this tragedy. In the end, we all felt the loss.

James near the World Trade Center. (1996)
James near the World Trade Center. (1996)

More than anything, the biggest loss that day was the nearly 3,000 people that died in the World Trade Center, the four planes and the Pentagon. But when I came across these old slides of a visit to New Jersey in 1996, it made me realize how much I miss seeing the World Trade Center. May it always be remembered.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

I Finally Reached Six Digits

I finally reached six digits! No, I'm not talking about the six-figure number most working stiffs hope to reach. In this case, I'm talking about my car's odometer. Yes, after six-and-a-half years of dedicated service, my 2005 Saab 9-3 ("Birgitta") has officially reached 100,000 miles.

Of course it's not as exciting as it was in the old days of analog odometers, when you would see all five of the wheels turn over at once. But still, it's something worth taking a picture of and blogging about (and yes, I stopped the car to take the pictures).

It's only the second time I've personally witnessed a six-figure arrival on my car. The first car I've had that reached that milestone was my first car, the 1981 Honda Civic. But as luck would have it, I inadvertently loaned it to a friend the day it crossed over. I was heartbroken. When my 1989 Plymouth Reliant crossed over, however, I made sure I saw it.

This time it's different though. Why? Because this was the first car I bought brand new — I drove it off the lot myself. So these 100,000 miles were mostly driven by me. Which is why I've not let anyone else drive my car these past couple of days. So here's to you Birgitta for 100,000 great miles, with many more to come!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour to Retire in Southern California

Today NASA announced the museums that were selected as recipients of the three operating space shuttles in its fleet. And I'm happy to report that the Space Shuttle Endeavour is slated to have a permanent home right here in Southern California.

The announcement was made on the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle program's first flight (the Columbia, which was destroyed during re-entry in 2003) and the 50th anniversary of the first manned spaceflight (Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's famous 1961 mission). More than 20 locations around the country submitted bids to give a home to one of the retired shuttles.

The Endeavour, which was awarded to Los Angeles' California Science Center, has been used on 24 missions. It has orbited the earth 4,429 times and traveled 103,149,636 miles. It will take its final flight on April 29 (when it will be flown by Mark Kelly, husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot and critically wounded outside of a grocery store last January).

Endeavour's return to Southern California is a homecoming, since all five space shuttle orbiters were fabricated in Downey, and assembled in Palmdale. And all shuttles were tested at Edwards Air Force Base just outside Palmdale, where 53 of NASA's 133 shuttle missions landed. I'm just glad there's one close enough to visit easily.

As for the others, the Atlantis, which will fly the last planned shuttle mission in June, will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. And the Discovery, which flew its final mission last month, will be displayed at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantily, Virginia, which Tim and I visited when we were in Washington last October.

While there, we saw the Space Shuttle Enterprise, a full-scale test vehicle used for flights in the atmosphere (it was not equipped with a propulsion system, and therefore not ready for spaceflight). Although Enterprise never flew in space, it introduced a new era in space transportation and was the flagship for a fleet of reusable shuttles.

To make room for the Discovery, NASA will be moving the Enterprise test vehicle to the Intrepid museum in New York. But I'm glad I got to see it at the Smithsonian last year before it makes its move to its final home. Yay for California for getting a shuttle!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Got a Wartime Nickel from a Vending Machine

I got a 1944 wartime nickel as change from the soda machine today. You can tell by the tarnished color and the large D over Monticello.
Unlike other Jefferson nickels, which are made up of 75% copper and 25% nickel, these nickels don't actually have any nickel in them. Wartime nickels were instead made up of 56% copper, 9 % manganese, and 35% silver.

At today's silver price of $37.02 an ounce, I calculated this nickel's value to be worth $2.09 on silver value alone. It's like I got paid to drink a Diet Dr. Pepper! :)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Sassy New Headshots

As some of you know, I've been expressing interest in auditioning for some local musical theater productions after a 20-year hiatus from the stage. And to really be taken seriously, you need to bring a headshot to the audition — even for the tiny local theater productions I'm aiming for. So I am happy to debut my sassy new headshots.

I researched some headshot photographers, but ended up approaching my photographer friend Ryan Romero. Although shooting actor headshots are not his usual thing — his work consists of gritty portraiture and moody landscapes — he offered to help me out.

We set up a shoot last weekend, and although I'm not usually comfortable in front of the camera, Ryan totally put me at ease. Plus he kept making me laugh with his stories. The lighting Ryan set up was amazing. It kind of makes we wish I had a personal lighting team with me any time I was photographed, like Michael Jackson did.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to handing directors these headshots as I audition. You should have seen the ghetto headshot I crafted myself for my first audition. I think that alone was why I didn't make callbacks (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). :)

If you get a chance, check out Ryan's awesome work at

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Brush With Greatness: Elizabeth Taylor

I was saddened to hear about the passing of the great Elizabeth Taylor. She was the last of a generation of movie stars, and a stalwart supporter in the fight against AIDS, even when it wasn't popular. But I most remember her from an encounter I had with her almost 20 years ago.

It was October 11, 1991. I was a student at San Francisco State University, and I had heard Elizabeth Taylor was coming to Macy's in San Francisco's Union Square to promote her new fragrance, White Diamonds. Wild horses couldn't keep me away from this event.

She was appearing at 1:00pm, and I had to skip a class to be there (how often does one get the opportunity to see one of the grand dames of the screen, after all?). Making it an even bigger event was the fact that she had just gotten married with great fanfare. Remember the widely televised celebrity-studded wedding to Larry Fortensky at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch? That was just five days before this.

The store was packed, and even though I got there 1.5 hours early, I was still at least 100 feet away. But I was still electrified the moment she walked into the room. She spoke about White Diamonds for a while, and afterward she answered questions from the audience.

My favorite moment was when someone asked her what she and her new husband did on their wedding night. Liz responded not with any words, but instead with one of the biggest, loudest laughs ever. Seriously, this cackle would put Hillary Clinton to shame.

I too asked her a question (albeit a much less memorable one). I asked her which stars of today she liked the most. Her answer: Michelle Phillips (strangely) and Julia Roberts, who had just dazzled everyone in Pretty Woman the year prior.

After her much-too-short appearance, she left, and so did the crowds. I, on the other hand, beelined to the stage, where I took pictures of her chair and the table she was standing next to during her appearance. That's when I noticed that she had left her drinking straw in her glass of water.

Needless to say I swiped the straw as a souvenir. (Who wouldn't have?!) It even had her lipstick marks on it. In fact, the story of this lucky souvenir hunter made it into the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, in the column of legendary San Francisco newsman Herb Caen, no less.

I kept the straw for many years until I eventually donated it to my friend Tom, who I believe still has it somewhere. Makes me kind of wish I kept it. Oh well. I'll always have the memories. So here's to you Liz, your amazing career, your life well lived, and your drinking straw.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Early Mexico Slides Gaining Fans

When I started scanning my dad's old slides from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, at first it was an effort to digitally preserve them for our family to see again. I don't think my dad has had a functioning slide projector for decades and was worried the slides would deteriorate. But I've been surprised about some of the attention other people have paid to his photography (like when some of his slides were published in a book).
Most recently, his photos were highlighted in The Mexile, a blog written by Gary Denness, a Brit living in Mexico City who has a passion for photography. In his post, Mexico's Golden Age, Dennis writes of how old color photos from this era offer a detail that black and white doesn't bring out, and thought they were too good not to share.

Check out the sets from my dad's 1957 trip to Mexico and 1960 visits to Mexico City, Totatiche and Acapulco.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

38 Years of Disney's Main Street Electrical Parade

It was 38 years ago this month that Disneyland debuted the Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade, the famous summertime classic featuring floats and performers covered in "thousands of sparkling lights." The parade is also known for its infectious song, which is nearly impossible to get out of your head after hearing it.

Disney's Electrical Parade. (04/17/2010)
Disney's Electrical Parade. (04/17/2010)

Doing a little research, I discovered that the parade did not have a constant presence at the park. It disappeared after the 1974 season only to be brought back again in 1977. The parade also disappeared after the 1982 season, only to be brought back in 1985.

Alice in Wonderland in Disney's Electrical Parade. (04/17/2010)
Alice in Wonderland in Disney's Electrical Parade. (04/17/2010)

In 1996 it was announced that after a 24-year run, the parade would leave Disneyland forever and move to the Florida park. Its last Disneyland season drew crowds like it never had before. Disneyland even extended the final season a month to meet the demand to see it. At the end of the run Disneyland sold all the individual light bulbs that were used on the floats. I still have one.

Big Ben in Disney's Electrical Parade. (04/17/2010)
Big Ben in Disney's Electrical Parade. (04/17/2010)

The claim that the parade would leave Disneyland forever turned out to be almost true. To boost attendance at Disneyland's sister park, the fledgling Disney's California Adventure, Disney brought it back in 2001. Only this time, since it wasn't on Main Street in Disneyland, they renamed it Disney's Electrical Parade.

Pinocchio float in Disney's Electrical Parade. (04/17/2010)
Pinocchio float in Disney's Electrical Parade. (04/17/2010)

But it didn't matter that the Disney corporation used a loophole in their 1996 claim that the parade was leaving the park forever. People were just glad to have it back. It kept going until just this year, when Disneyland announced it would leave Disney's California Adventure to make room for the epic World of Color show that started earlier this month.

Pete's Dragon in Disney's Electrical Parade. (04/17/2010)
Pete's Dragon in Disney's Electrical Parade. (04/17/2010)

I can't tell you the first time I saw the parade, but I can tell you the last. It was just over two months ago, and I was fortunate enough to be able to see it on its final weekend. Disneyland claims it won't return, but they've said that before, so you never know for sure.