Revisiting China Basin

In 1969, a friend convinced this writer to put aside dreams of aspiring to be the new/next Herb Caen and, instead, go to work at a large company of the public utilities type, and concentrate on earning big bucks which could be used to live out the “on the road” fantasies at vacation time.  The evasive maneuver was known, at the time, as “selling out to the establishment.”  On the lunch hour break, while undergoing training to become an ad salesman, we would walk on the nearby drawbridge and talk with our classmates about our hopes and aspirations.  Little did we realize that forty one years later we’d still be on that very same bridge and that the boats coming and going would be populated by folks living out their dream of experiencing a World Series game in McCovey Cove.

Have things changed since then?  Somewhere nearby there used to be a world class dive bar built cantilever style out over the bay and on their jukebox there was a copy of Dooley Wilson’s “As Time Goes By.”  Well, time has gone by and that bar is gone and ATT Park is the repository for a goodly number of hopes and aspirations for the folks living in that neighborhood.  The name of the war has changed.  We finally got out of Vietnam and into Afghanistan.  I learned, in the interim, that a fellow who was on the staff of our college newspaper and yearbook back in the day, was in San Francisco, at that very same time, working as the ME (managing editor) of a rock’n’roll fanzine called “The Rollilng Stone” (The writer O. Henry had published a magazine with the same name).  Woulds/coulda/shoulda.  We never did bump into him at that time.  Pity. 

Hunter S. Thompson was a founding father of the Gonzo branch of journalism and he was the type of guy who would fly to Africa to cover a fight and then not go to the event to get his story, so we figured that going to McCovey Cove and getting the details about what goes on in China Basin (AKA McCovey Cove) while the clock does the countdown to the start of Game One in the 2010 World Series was a good idea which would win Thompson’s seal of approval.

Folks were holding up signs indicating that they still had not purchased tickets for the game.  Didn’t they realize that tickets to the event were a valuable commodity and that it would take a large fistful of dollars to buy such a sought after item? 

Hope springs eternal.  Just in case, we scribbled out the words “Need Spare Media Pass,” which caused a mirthful reaction but was a futile existentialist’s errand. 

We had a diet cola drink at nearby Jelly’s bar, but it just wasn’t the same as slugging down a beer while listening to something from the Casablanca soundtrack album.  BTW Casablanca was (when I was there in 1965) not as exotic and alluring as Americans were led to believe.  It was rather intimidating to be a tourist there and have the locals start up a conversation by asking:  “Hey, American, how much money you got?”  Casablanca was, in fact, one of only two places in the world where I’ve been asked for a tip.  We went into a bar in Casablanca and, after ordering a beer (which we drank straight from the bottle rather than use the glass provided), was told by the bartender who put an empty plate down in front of us:  “That is where you put de tip!”  I had let the guy take the money for the brew from a collection of coins in my hand and so I selected one or two of the biggest and put them on the plate.  The other place where I have been asked for a tip was a restaurant in Oklahoma.  After serving my meal the waitress asked if I was going to leave a tip.  (Times were difficult in the Sixties.)

While we wandered toward Jelly’s bar, we noticed a fellow who seemed to be preparing for a day at the beach and we queried him about his attire and he informed us that he and his three lady companions were going to don wetsuits and take to their surfboards and one inflatable kayak and experience McCovey Cove in McCovey Cove.  He had, we were informed, experience one of the playoff games in the baseball stadium and he had (in the past) done the surfing McCovey Cove thing and the latter was more enjoyable, so he and his companions were going to experience the first game “in the drink” (as it were) rather than with drinks.

One fellow, who seemed to be <a href =>a reporter in a kayak</a>, was seen interviewing these folks.  Why didn’t we think of that?

Jelly’s bar had a rustic quality to it and we figured that if we were forty one years younger, maybe it would have been just as good, if not better, than the other one from the past. 

The scoreboard didn’t feature the TV feed all the time and it seemed like taking a portable radio would have been a good idea. 

Seeing the fighter jets flyover during the National Anthem was a thrill.  We know that President St. Reagan espoused the philosophy “Once you’ve seen one; you’ve seen them all” about redwood trees, but that point of view doesn’t seem to apply to being buzzed by a quartet of jets. 

As we walked away from the China Basin area, we overheard a newsman talking to a fellow who had traveled many miles to attend the World Series, but the ticket he had bought on the street turned out to be bogus and his money was gone, he was outside the stadium, and (allegedly) all the police could do was listen sympathetically. 

When, in 1969, this columnist was called into the office at the aforementioned public utilities firm and informed that the “selling out to the establishment” experiment was, in their eyes, an abject failure, we hightailed it out to the previously mentioned gravity defying bar and contemplated a life devoted to becoming: a digital beatnik (we’d never heard that term at that time), a gonzo wannabe, and/or a columnist roaming around San Francisco looking for material to be used in a column.

As we peered into our glass, on that fateful day in 1969, and contemplated the future, little did we know that it would all come down to betting everything on the results of the 2010 midterm elections.  The war has changed.  The music has changed.  But can a hippie seriously assert that the times, they are a chaingin’ or is it more like the French say:  “The more things change; the more they remain the same!”?

It seemed, back then, like things weren’t working out as we planned.  Would we ever get to Harry’s New York bar in Paris, Skimpy’s in Kalgorlie, or the Sandbar in Venice?  Nobody bats a thousand and two outta three ain’t bad.  The bikers’ bar in Venice was just too intimidating and so we never did have a diet soda there.  It’s too late now.  That place has changed into a fancy restaurant.  As they used to say in the Sixties:  “Maybe in another lifetime!”

Yogi Berra once (famously) advised:  “When you come to a fork in the road; take it!”

Now the disk jockey (if he likes having a regular gig) will play Dooley Wilson’s version of “As Time Goes By,”  Otis Readding’s “Dock of the Bay,” and Willy Nelson’s “On the Road Again.”  We have to go find out if there will be a “watch the results” party at Jerry Brown’s Campaign Headquarters (or someplace else?) next Tuesday.  Have a “watchin’ the tide roll in” type week.


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