Juli Boggs, no relation.

independent media updated on an irregular basis, largely uncategorized

Space Rock and Terrestrial Tripping: The Space Project

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This month I’ve been reading Andrew Chaikin’s phenomenal book A Man on The Moon, an ultra engaging account of the Apollo space program based on in-depth interviews with 23 of the first NASA astronauts. The stories are detail-laden and fascinating, conveying the immense amount of groundbreaking work that went into getting humans to the moon and, even more, what it took to get them back. What’s most interesting though is how floating in the vastness of space and looking back at the Earth so profoundly affected the souls and minds of those who saw it. The photo “earthrise” taken during the Apollo 8 mission was the world’s first glimpse at just how infinitesimal our planet really is, and how interconnected we all are on this pale blue dot.

But even as those in space look longingly back at Earth, we still look to the stars. I’m not sure what’s out there to explore, but just as some men are pulled to the sea as Ishmael recounts in the first pages of Moby Dick,

“Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land?”

so are many of us pulled towards the heavens. Maybe in both cases what we go great distances to discover is ourselves.

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April 12 has been marked as the International Day of Human Spaceflight. The United Nations General Assembly declared the observance in 2011 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961. In celebrating this year, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (Uh, what? New dream office!) will be releasing their third edition of a series of messages from astronauts to future generations. Together, the messages create a sort of autograph album with photos of the space explorers alongside scanned images of their handwritten notes to inspire future explorers.

the space project

April 19 marks the release date for a new compilation from Lefse Records entitled The Space Project. The release features artists using sounds collected from the Voyager I and II space probes, the crafts released in 1977 to photograph Jupiter, Saturn, and their moons, and which are now navigating the depths of space some 12 billion miles from home. With contributing artists including Beach House, Youth Lagoon, Spiritualized, and Jesu, the songs vary from thematic, atmospheric pop to long, meandering electronic bits where the Voyager sounds figure prominently. Of course, “sounds” is a little misleading. Within the vacuum of space the only sound is silence, so the audio was created by “translating” the space probes’ recordings of electromagnetic radiation fluctuations put out by the stellar objects into their magnetosphere. Just as each planet, moon, and asteroid is different in size, mass, and elemental makeup, so the “sound” they radiate is unique.

The 14-track compilation is being released on Record Store Day as seven separate 7-inches, one each for the celestial bodies of Jupiter, Miranda, Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Earth, and Io. The Space Project will be available for purchase individually on vinyl, CD, and digital download, and also as a limited run 7” box set that I am deeply coveting.

Stream the whole album now at NPR’s First Listen, giving special attention to Youth Lagoon’s “Worms” and Spiritualized’s “Always Together With You” performed under the moniker The Spiritualized Mississippi Space Program.

 

The Yisrael Family Farm with Edible Sacramento Magazine

As promised, here’s the full text to the Yisrael Family Farm piece as published in the Spring edition of Edible Sacramento magazine.

Yisreal Farm

It wasn’t about celebrity chefs, it was about home cooking. It wasn’t about sustainable caviar, it was about sun-ripened tomatoes. It wasn’t about “foodie,” it was about food. When the Yisrael’s learned this past summer that the Sacramento Farm-to-Fork week’s Tower Bridge dinner would be selling tickets with triple digit price tags, they took action to show that a celebration of good food did not require city permits or gilded pomp and ceremony.  Instead, they hosted a farm to fork dinner at their own Yisrael Family Farm, pre-empting the Tower Bridge dinner by a week. For only $20 a seat, they helped to serve a five course vegetarian dinner with their own produce to a garden-full of farmers, musicians, activists, and neighbors seeking to share the bounty of a grassroots movement right where it was planted.

Driving down 44th street to Roosevelt avenue in the Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento, the landscape is a familiar urban scene. Large trees tower over struggling yards with chain-link fences, liquor stores advertise lottery tickets and Marlboros, and the empty schoolyard of the newly closed Fruitridge Elementary sits eerily quiet on a weekday afternoon. It does not look like a neighborhood hiding a family farm, but behind a fence being slowly engulfed by a thriving hedge of yellow flowers, a canopy of citrus trees proves how looks can be deceiving.

It’s here that you’ll find the Yisrael’s tidy homestead, a half-acre lot where a small house, some 30 fruit trees and 100 square feet of bio-intensive raised beds are nestled efficiently away. Behind a group of towering palms, an enormous pecan tree whose bare branches arch out like a firework is loaded with clusters of nuts that will be gathered as they fall to the ground in the coming week. Farther back, the family’s chickens scratch around the now-dormant fruit trees, a neighborhood cat eyeing them hungrily from the 12’ clapboard fence set against the property line. Near the vibrant orange trees facing the street, they’ve even carved out room for a future food forest, a form of promiscuous agriculture where plants such as berry vines, nut trees, and edible plants are allowed to grow and intermingle as they would in nature. It’s on this piece of land that Chanowk and his wife Judith have sown their livelihood. It’s where their three children are homeschooled, taught to raise food and cook everything from Ethiopian to Italian; where seeds are saved and replanted in the spring. Just as importantly, it’s where an example is set. It’s here that a community can see that health and fresh produce are not exclusionary luxuries, but the rights of every person, beginning in their own backyard.

Mr. Yisrael, born and raised in Oak Park, was working in the tech sector when the economic recession hit home in 2008. Struggling to stay afloat in a realm that seemed more disconnected from reality than ever, he realized that his survival could be buoyed by a single thing: his ability to lead a self-sustaining life. Starting out with no knowledge of farming he applied himself to community courses and agricultural books, learning to grow food and failing, he says good-humoredly. Over time though, his gardens flourished and today he alongside his wife, children, and a revolving group of community volunteers are busy cultivating compost, clearing a space for vermiculture worm-bins, and working towards a bio-dynamic certification.

With many of their garden beds fallow for the winter, Chanowk and Judith are taking their message to city hall, working with community groups like Sacramentans For Sustainable Community Agriculture on legislation to change city ordinances that would allow for “urban” gardens in residential or commercial zones to vend their produce, a practice that is currently prohibited. They also open the farm up for workshops like canning and soap making, as well as anything else an interested community member proposes to host or teach.

For those people marooned in a sidewalk-locked apartment or longing to put their backyard to more use than the wilding of weeds, the Yisrael’s empowering example is showing Sacramento that anyone, regardless of space or experience, can take an active role in their food, be it learning how to glean local fruit, preserving tomatoes from the farmers market, or growing their produce themselves. Knowledge, just like farming, begins with a single seed, and the time to learn and grow yourself is fertile.

 

For more info on the Yisrael Family Urban Farm, or to check their upcoming workshops and volunteer dates, check out their website here.

James Beard Eat Your Heart Out: Forays into Food Writing with Edible Sacramento

Good news! A couple of articles I was working on over Christmas have finally come out in the Spring issue of Edible Sacramento magazine and they look great. I worked with an awesome photographer Debbie Cunningham and received helpful feedback from the editors at Edible, making this one of the most enjoyable publishing experiences I’ve had from beginning to end. The magazine can be picked up at Corti Brothers for a couple of bucks in Sacramento (and probably other places around the Sacramento/Napa Valley area though I don’t have a definite distribution list yet). In the MEANTIME however, you can view all the articles online in a handy flip-through edition that gives you a good feeling for how it all fits together page to page, though it can be a little cumbersome if your computer isn’t quite up to date. I’ll post some easier read-through links to the Olive Oil and Yisrael Farm pieces below along with some page shots for your complete viewing pleasure. Also, I just made up the term “page shots.”

See the flip-through edition of Edible Sacramento’s Spring issue here or read on for text-based links to the articles.

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The first piece I worked on was a feature about an old Italian family up in the foothills of Amador County who have had an actively-harvested olive orchard for about 100 years. Recently my family began to help with the harvest which inspired a lot of research into the world of olive oil and thus the feature was born! This was one of the longest pieces I’ve worked on and it felt great to devote so much time to researching and rewriting and reshaping- all the re’s. Magazine writing gives me the liberty to be a little more “literary” with my pieces which was a real treat compared to my usual weekly news bits for the SN&R. The photographer Debbie did a really wonderful job with all the shots for the Olive piece, and the layout looks pretty fresh too. You can read the article in full here, or scroll down to see page shots of the layout.

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The second piece I worked on was in a section on edible gardens and local agriculture in Sacramento. My bit focused on the excellent Yisrael Family Urban Farm in Oak Park whose tagline is “changing the hood for good.” Though their space is small, they’re ultra engaged in community building and education and they’re doing great things for Sacramento urban ag and food education. I look forward to getting back out there to help whenever I’m in town! Here’s one page from that spread, but because the read-through link to the article cuts off the end (some technical issue) I’ll go ahead and post the contents of that piece in a separate post to follow.

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Thanks to The Cuneo family, the Yisrael family, D. Cunningham, and the Edible team for working with me. I hope to have more pieces out for your reading enjoyment soon!

Zen, snot-rockets, and ibuprofen: a journey of yoga in Sacramento

I’ll admit it, I’m a weekend warrior when it comes to enlightenment. Usually I seek this redemption at the end of a particularly long weekend, one that requires some sort of atonement for too much alcohol and not enough sleep. This is all too apparent as I stand flop sweating in the midst of a Zuda Yoga Power Vinyasa class one Sunday, detoxing “craft cocktail” out of every pore as I struggle to still my quaking quads; my knees are bent deep in a position I call “the punisher” but the world calls “Warrior II.” The instructor walks between similarly grimacing students and poses a question to the hot and desperate room. “It’s easy to breath deeply in a restful position, but can we take a few deep breaths when things get tough? How do you react,” he asks with a dramatic pause, “under pressure?” Taking the cue, an assistant hits play on the stereo and the opening notes to David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” pulse through the room, the mass of students collectively collapsing from tense poses to relieved laughter.

At Zuda Yoga, the Power Vinyasa classes held in their heated studios are so popular that instructions to extend your right arm to the right, “which is going to mean resting it on the person to the right’s shoulder, and extend your left leg to the left, resting it on that person to the left’s hip” are pretty standard in a room holding upwards of 60 students. “If you’re wondering what’s going to happen next, there’s going to be a lot of this,” instructor Matt Tucker says, but he isn’t joking, and while it’s hard to feel confident in a room full of women wearing brand-name stretch pants and un-ironic sweat bands, a class at Zuda means getting comfortable because there’s no room not to be.

This is yoga, American style, where even the most ancient of soul-seeking traditions becomes clothed in spandex and promises a tighter, lifted ass. Even Abercrombie & Fitch jumped on the bandwagon with their “perfect butt” yoga pant collection, though the only real connection to Hinduism is that their products are made on the Indian subcontinent, as ruefully noted by an October 2013 Elle article sub-titled “Nirvana Is The New Black.” Many of those devotees who have seen yoga through its various incarnations since it really took hold in the U.S. in the 1970′s bemoan the recent commercialization of what has become a $10.3 billion a year industry according to the most recent Yoga In America study, though the fact is, the commercialism isn’t all hype. In today’s high-tech, overdrive environment, droves of people are discovering yoga as a soul detoxing panacea to lives rife with tweets, traffic, and social anxieties.

Last year, Forbes named the SF Bay Area the top yoga “city” in the U.S. with residents there 59% more likely to practice than the national population, a trend that seems to be naturally expanding to Sacramento. Take a ride through the grid and it seems pretty obvious. The city blocks are inescapably punctuated by yoga studios offering classes, workshops, and lifestyle accouterments, but what are they really selling, I often wondered. How can there be so many studios in town, and can they really be that different from one another? Unable to tell my Vinyasa from my Bikram, I decided to investigate, perusing issues of Yoga Journal and dropping in on classes throughout the city to see if I could tap in to what’s captivated Sacramento and simultaneously making good on my new year’s resolution to be able to wrap my legs behind my head- a killer party trick if there ever was one.

Unfortunately the process takes a little more time than I’d initially been led to believe, a couple classes being insufficient for meeting my Gumby goals. But how was I to know? Do an image search and it’s clear that the “yoga body” is misleadingly marketed as aggressively as any other beauty form these days. The yoga woman we strive to be is slender, strong, financially successful while shunning material possessions, and may be actually glowing. It’s an ideal that many women long for without the critical eye we reserve for the air-brushed images of fashion magazines because it claims to be based in discipline rather than brand names or beauty creams, though it certainly has those things to sell.  In a way, downward-dog has replaced the Nike swoop and namaste is the new term for “just do it.” Distinguishing between the inspirational and unrealistic is a battle all its own.

“The implication that rippling abs can be yours with a couple of yoga classes a week…[is the creation] of corporations who want you to buy all the necessary yoga accouterments your yoga body needs,” says Danielle Olson on her health and lifestyle blog Body Divine Yoga. While yoga can offer these benefits, Olson asserts that it takes time and dedication to attain them, achievements that the manufacture of a false ideal ultimately undermines while sweeping away the greatest merits yoga has to offer.

Heeding these words I decide to give the zen approach a try, slipping into the cozy but comfortable Yoga Shala through its inauspicious entrance at the side. Here yoga men and women radiate a “born again” enthusiasm. They were once as I was, dropping in on the occasional 30 Days for $30 challenge at various studios through town, only to quit sore and exhausted two weeks later, and then they found Shala. Or Yoga Shala found them, enfolding all into that promising haven of flexibility and strength that turns the dabblers into the disciplined. Wednesday evenings at Yoga Shala are for the growing group of Kundalini lovers, a branch of yoga focused on energy balancing and meditation where mouth-breathers are spurned. Kundalini, the tentative yogi should know, is not for the allergenic, as attempting to breath through a single nostril while stuffed up may actually kill you, if not from lack of oxygen then by humiliation when you blow an unintended snot-rocket at your instructor’s yoga mat. Their Vinyasa offering, while excellent, isn’t much easier. Throughout the week, classes are filled by advanced and dedicated students where the standard pose is complicated and the variation is proof that yoga may actually take a lifetime to perfect. As we take the final savasana, or corpse position, the lights go down and the teacher prompts us to clear our mind, but I don’t like being told what to do and I’ve got a lot to think about. Yoga Shala leads its students in the kind of yoga I long to do, the kind of yoga I would love other people to see me doing, the problem is it’s some next level shit and I haven’t got that game, but more obstructing is it’s really expensive.

At most studios, paying a drop-in class fee from $15 to $20 can feel a little un-zen, but in Sacramento, high-minded community organizations are helping to strike a balance. Sacramento-based operation Yoga Across America (YAA) is one of many groups that’s made delivering yoga’s benefits to students and in-need communities their primary goal. Under an umbrella of organizations, YAA offers free and donation-based classes on military bases for veterans and service personnel, as well as in high schools, food banks, shelters, and public parks, granting access to health and fitness to those who have typically had the least access of all. Every Saturday, YAA’s arm of Yoga In The Park holds free community classes in McKinley Park at 9AM, by summer in the open field and by winter in the park’s heated Clunie Center. On Wednesdays you’ll find their similar offering in Oak Park’s Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services at 6:30PM.

Elsewhere in Sacramento, the future of yoga is still unfolding. Practice Yoga located alongside a busy stretch of 16th Street, is busy bridging the old and new, offering traditional Hatha classes that help to reinforce students’ knowledge of fundamentals and then, when students feel they’ve hit a wall, letting them strap a harness to it and keep practicing.

Practice Yoga’s paradigm-changing Yoga Wall is a comfortable and modern version of a slightly older system that connects harnesses to recessed hooks in the wall, suspending students in cushioned slings that look like playground swings. Imagine playing on a swing set: Sitting on a swing, you hold onto the chains, leaning back so far that you could wrap your legs around the chains and hang upside-down hands free, the swing seat holding you firmly around the butt and your head, presuming the swing were high enough that you wouldn’t hit it on anything, dangling freely toward the ground, the playground now upside-down in your vision and your hair standing on end as you scream, “Look at me! Look at me!” Imagine this and you can very well visualize what happens to me at my first Practice Yoga session.

Half acrobatics and half Vinyasa, the mid-week Yoga Wall Masala class has myself and a large group of first-timers calling on our inner possums, hanging in deeply relaxing inversions before rolling around in our slings to perform variations of previously innocuous yoga poses. For much of the 90-minute session I work on gaining confidence in the harness, my watery vision focused on the instructor hanging calmly upside-down on the opposite wall, his legs crossed in a comfortable position as he demonstrates the upcoming set of moves while promising that I will not fall.

With a morale boosting bowl of chocolate candies near the door and a view of the gleaming and cake-like Governor’s Mansion right outside the floor to ceiling windows, the studio’s still been slow to catch on in town according to Jim Cahill, the owner and instructor. Despite the classes’ ready accessibility to any skill level, they have remained the territory of the athletic thrill seekers and fringe fitness lovers, though “anyone can do this,” he assures. “I’m 55 and I have never felt better.”

Cahill’s not too concerned. When the yogis inevitably grow tired of the repetitive Bikram and Power Flow classes so ubiquitous in Sacramento, his studio will be waiting, offering the next variation in a 5,000-year-old practice that never gets old.

Sitting at home with a bottle of anti- inflammatory three weeks into my yoga foray, I’m still searching for an easy definition of the experience. Is this a consumer trend, is it a lifestyle, is it the sort of thing you can pick up and put down at different stages in your life, like an old friend you only call for kind words during breakups and moments of bleak, personal turmoil? Maybe yoga is simply whatever you need it to be, and what it means to a devoted and mystical yogini is quite different from, but equally valid to, the infrequent student dropping in on a class out of the blue.  Maybe the greatest flexibility yoga provides is its ability to be all of these things to all of us, or maybe I’m just validating my own selfish ends. Human pretzel, you are a harsh mistress.

*A version of this article ran in the SN&R on Feb. 13, 2014 entitled “Yoga, Sacramento Style.

The year end list

This year my top 25 albums list was shortened to top 5, which soon turned into a series of top 5 music-related lists, the following of which I feel most strongly. It is my hope that by January 1st 2014, all of the following concerns will be totally irrelevant because they will not exist in the realm of popular culture, at all.

Top 5 trends that 2013 should put to bed

  1. Dubstep and trip-hop tracks: if it’s made to sound good while you’re high on cocaine and half naked in a club, it’s probably not good “cleaning the kitchen” or “hosting some friends for some beer and snacks” music.
  2. Alternative spelling for already bad band names: This isn’t twitter, you can use as many characters as you want. You don’t need reduce your band name to Ths-MSKSXXX.
  3. Witch-core, dark wave, chill-mambo: Whatever it is that used to be “goth rock,” just call it “goth rock.” If you’re wearing black lipstick your “ambient ghost folk” label isn’t fooling anyone.
  4. Nicki Minaj: Any song featuring Nicki Minaj just got that much worse. I know she looks like she’s made of sex and sugar, but she sounds like a revving lawn mower motor and she must be stopped.
  5. Mega summer festivals: When did seeing all 500 of your favorite bands play 22 minute sets to 100,000 people for the price of a $400 weekend pass become more ideal than catching them one at a time at a mid-level club where you can see and hear, and the only $15 beer is a 500ml import?

Music for Foodies

pizza underground

There are only two things that I cherish in a total and untouchable way. One of those things is The Velvet Underground. The other thing is pizza. I always imagined that the closest I would ever come to combining these loves was listening to one while eating the other, until today.

The Pizza Underground.

I don’t have to explain it to you, but I will. The Velvet Underground tribute band writes parody versions all about pizza, and is lead by now cult-hero-in-my-own-mind Macaulay Culkin. No more mystery as to what he sits around and does with his Home Alone fortune.

They also actually play shows, their twitter @cheesedayz mentioning a guest appearance with anti-folk legend Jeffrey Lewis at the Comic Arts Festival after party in NYC last month.

Their 8 minute demo is available as a name your price download on their Bandcamp and includes such genuinely ingenious hits as “I’m Beginning to Eat the Slice,” “I’m Waiting for Delivery Man,” and “All the Pizza Parties.”

They also have a Tumblr that’s Loaded with original pizza underground content.

I am so hungry.

If you like your men as you like your wine…

This is a little game I like to call Erotica or Wine Spectator Reviews. Spoiler alert: they’re the same thing.

“The smooth texture is underlined by a firm backbone… focused through the long finish.” MOCCAGATTA Barbaresco Bric Balin 2010

“Combines solid structure with a rich, supple texture. Good length.” PETER FRANUS Merlot Napa Valley 2010

“Dense and firm, yet also elegant, with a long, lingering aftertaste.” LOUIS LATOUR Beaune Premier Cru Domaine Latour 2010

“A tangy iron accent echoes through the fleshy finish.” LES VINS DE VIENNE St.-Joseph L’Arzelle 2011

“Displays grip and energy, showing balance and fine length.” VINCENT GIRARDIN Volnay Les Santenots 2010

“Notably rich and intense, with a tight, firm core.” GRASSI Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2010

No no, Wine Spectator, thank you. 

Ocean Spray cranberry sauce and other historical misappropriations

Our mouths stuffed with pumpkin pie and both hands possessively gripping dripping chunks of turkey meat, rarely is the question asked, “How did this come to be?” Not the gripping of the turkey meat thing, because that’s pretty obvious, but rather Thanksgiving in the first place. Did the pilgrims sit down to watch football with cans of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce? Probably not, but our knowledge, save historical misappropriations, mostly ends there.

The story of Thanksgiving began like many tales of cooperation- with a treaty. Upon their arrival in New England, our ancestral intruders hereafter referred to as pilgrims sent an emissary to shore to strike an “I’ll watch your back, you watch mine” deal with the Wampanoag locals, a necessity in a time when native-colonial relations were, to use a euphemism, rocky. After a brutal winter of near-total obliteration, the surviving settlers were generously instructed in the ways of corn, resulting in a high-yield crop the following autumn and cause for celebration. Overjoyed with their change in fortune, the settlers caroused in the age-old tradition of shooting their guns needlessly into the air. Hearing the turmoil, the Wampanoag with whom they’d struck an agreement sent 90 warriors on a scouting mission, ready to uphold their end of the deal. On their arrival however, the Wampanoag found the pilgrims in a curious state of revelry and decided to set up camp nearby to see what would unfold.

“[O]ur governor sent four men on [a hunt]…At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us…whom for three days we entertained and feasted-” This quotation comes from a journal of the settler Edward Winslow and is one of the few primary documents detailing the pilgrims’ lives at that time. It is also one of the only remaining first-hand accounts of what happened those strange three days of 1621.

Americans continued to celebrate Thanksgiving intermittently for hundreds of years, and by the mid 1800s an influential magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale embarked on what would be a 17-year petition to instate Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Hale succeeded in 1863 under President Lincoln, establishing Thanksgiving as a way to conciliate a civil war-torn nation with the, by then, largely allegorical example of peace prevailing between disparate people.

It would be another 78 years before an official day would be set for the celebration. Traditionally it was held per presidential decree on the last Thursday of November, but in 1941 President FDR forever after saved the date as the penultimate Thursday of the month. Black Friday, unfortunately, was not far behind.

Harking back to a letter written by Edward Winslow, the settler penned a poetic reminder of what Thanksgiving meant then as much as now nearly 400 years later, “And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us…we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

Now, pass me that gravy.

Sweaty pilgrims and other uncomfortable truths

What did nearly 28,000 runners have in common as they gathered along an East Sacramento street early on Thanksgiving morning? A sadistic idea of a good time bolstered by the karmic bonus of helping out the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

The 19th annual Run to Feed the Hungry took form as a sprawling, giggling mob of eager, bleary-eyed joggers prepared to display their physical prowess for the KCRA helicopters circling above. And while some may balk at the notion that 9 a.m. is early or chide that 5 kilometers is not that far, it was an epic scene to behold, and, for nonrunners who rarely rise before noon (and I speak mainly for myself here), a physical challenge paramount to any we had ever faced before 10 a.m. on a Thanksgiving Thursday.

What they don’t tell you about a 5k race with 28,000 participants is that it takes a little while to get going. It’s the Los Angeles rush hour of joggers. The pace is halting or nonexistent for the first several hundred meters before the crowd begins to spread apart, the walkers falling back after their initial spirited burst and the high-school track stars pulling forward with pure, aerobic concentration. By the end of kilometer one, an elaborate ballet of running, dodging and ducking ensues, the participants motivated by a combined excitement of finishing first and the very real fear of being trampled by others. Grown men cut through yards in the Fabulous 40s neighborhood, leaping over hedges and carefully manicured lawns, as children look around wild-eyed for a safe place to bend down and tie their shoe.

Certain runners dressed up for the event, which is difficult when it comes to such a conceptual holiday. You don’t necessarily decorate for Thanksgiving, just as you don’t dress up in commemoration of it. Regardless, runners in headdresses and moccasins pushed full-bore ahead followed closely by a group of solemn, sweaty pilgrims. It was a scene that reminded the contemplative jogger of the distasteful historical atrocities associated with the holiday in question. Uncomfortable truths we choose to forget in lieu of pie and family and the dull throbbing behind your left knee after only a few kilometers.

Turning onto the final straightaway, the amateur jogger’s true colors emerged. There were side cramps, expressions of concern and a palpable shared sense of desperation. The finish-line banner glimmered in the morning sun like a white flag of athletic surrender, a promise of immediate respite lingering just there in the middle distance. I pushed myself to finish strong, my feet pounding the pavement across the finish line as I raised my fists to the sky in triumph and immediately wanted to puke. I did not puke. Instead, I was a champion, one of 28,000 other individuals who woke up early to prove themselves to the world as capable and strong and worthy of all the glories that come with completing an optional 5k or 10k race before 10 a.m. on an American holiday morning otherwise known for gluttony and repose. And, of course, it was for a good cause.

*As appeared in the Sacramento News & Review on 11-29-12

Hail Satan!

Front Porch Festival in Livermore, Calif.? I’d never heard of it either, but $20 got you in the gate this past Saturday for the seven-band afternoon at Wente Vineyards where middle aged locals flocked to $5 wine frappes, $10 bottles, and a few hours of Americana easy-listening. A grip of festival-hopping, woven sunhat, crocheted bra top young adults had also bussed in for the only two readily identifiable bands on the bill, The Dodos and The Mountain Goats.

I took to the concession stand for a couple of pinot grigio slushies and a hand-full of mozzarella sticks, the less sophisticated festival take on the popular wine and cheese pairing. With the sun and the booze and the band on stage performing only just well enough to ignore, I curled up on the ground blanket we’d brought and easily fell asleep. When I awoke The Dodos had come and gone and John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats was preparing to close out the night. We navigated the short lawn strewn with folding chairs and portable picnic tables where sun-burned winos had been camped out all afternoon. As we took our attentive places at the foot of the stage we realized our bodies as a human barrier of fandom between the casual observers behind and the artist up in front, who had emerged to a din of persistent applause.

Standing alone on the small stage, Darnielle was not so much playing a show as leading a conversation with everyone attendant, which occasionally reminded him of a song. Listening to his quick acoustic strums and crisply annunciated lyrics became an engrossing exploration of dark and often poignant human emotions as he lead the audience continually deeper into his narrative. The crowd stood attentively as he variously recounted in song the mournful drive through a forsaken desert, watching a woman give birth in a San Bernadino hotel room, careening down highways young and angry late at night, harvesting organs in a secret colony on the moon… Between songs there was an entire cohesive dialog where he responded to almost every comment and question shouted out. The crowd would give him advice on what to play next and at times when he forgot the verses to what he was singing and politely addressed the audience for help, someone would just as politely feed him the line and the show went on.

At the end of the night when the plug had been pulled and curfew hung heavy but an encore was still in order, everyone sat with their legs crossed on the grass as John hopped down and walked around, giving high fives, mussing up hair, and holding a fallen water bottle in place of a microphone as everyone belted out the ever-therapeutic lyrics of the song that ends every Mountain Goats show, “I am drowning/ There is no sign of land/ You are coming down with me/ Hand in unlovable hand!”

Turning to make our way back through the lawn maze, it’s discovered that everyone who was not standing at the front had long since gone. The trashcans had been emptied and the lawn picked up, the concession stands packed away and the lights turned off. A handful of winery employees stood in the walkway, gesturing towards the front gate and emptied parking lot beyond towards which we descend, like nothing ever happened.

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