Author: Varner, Mark

The next best thing to getting there...
Dear friends,

What a weekend for music! Andersons at the Karfluki festival, Mighty Chiplings and OMGG at Windsor, Frank Ray and Cedar Hill in Folsom, and a host of Sandy Cruz area at the NCBS’s Bluegrass Faire, to name a few options. The weather was fine and folks everywhere were willing to be entertained by our wonderful bluegrass music.

We had a blast at Windsor and it was a really cool event. Quite large, too. Folks of all ages plunked down on lawn chairs and blankets on Windsor’s Town Green to watch bluegrass and jug band music. It was great seeing Mark Hogan, Sharon and Steve Elliott, and Steve and Esther House, Dave Gooding and others. Our traveling pal, Angelica Grim was there. She’s getting married! We wish her all the best and all happiness in the future.

Speaking of big announcements, Phil and Ivona Cornish are having a baby. Woo hoo! What fun parents they will be!

I’m going to pass along Chuck and Jeanie’s San Francisco jam info for this coming Wednesday. Have a great day everyone!

From the Polings:
Take a plane, hop a train, hitch a ride or cruise in on your Harley Electroglide. Motor over in your ’66 Dodge Dart, go underground on BART or hitch the horses to your cart. Ride your bike, take a hike, come as you like. By any conveyance possible, please make your way to

The Bluegrass Country Jam
Hosted by Jeanie & Chuck
Wednesday, May 7th
at The Plough and Stars
116 Clement Street
8:30 to 11
Free/21 and over

You’ll be glad you did. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about hosting this jam, it’s to expect the unexpected. Someone recently asked us if we ever get tired of running the Bluegrass Country Jam – now in it’s 7th year – and our reply was, “No, because we never know who’s going to show up and what’s going to happen.” It’s true! Keeps it real.

Now for a very special little scoop that you’ll get only right here from Jeanie and Chuck. American music legend Ramblin’ Jack Elliot is playing a house concert in Novato on Saturday, May 10th. This show is double-cool-righteous-exclusive because not only is it an intimate gathering of around 100 souls in a large, beautiful back yard, but it’s also a super-duper-swear-to-God-you-won’t-tell-the-teacher underground show. For purposes beyond mere mortals’ control, this show can’t be publicized or promoted in any major way, so we’re telling our friends about it – that means you. Interested? Contact and say Jeanie and Chuck sent you. It won’t save you any money, but at least the host will know how people heard about the show.

Ramblin Jack is a one-man Smithsonian collection of music and storytelling. For those of us not old enough to have ever seen Woody Guthrie, Jack is the next best thing, and then some. A singer, a poet, a raconteur, a chronicler and one of the most fascinating vagabonds from a nation of vagabonds, Jack is walking, talking history. Check him out.

Chuck has always had a special place in his heart for Ramblin’ Jack, based on their shared love of the open road, their restless, wanderin’ ways, their days spent riding the rails from shore to shore…wait, are we talking about Chuck Poling? Mr. San Francisco? The guy whose home is two blocks from the hospital where he was born? The guy who gets nervous when the street signs change from white to blue in Daly City? The only person you know who somehow earns negative flyer miles, just by staying put?

Riding the rails? Oh, puh—leeze! L & N doesn’t stand for Louisville and Nashville, it stands for L-Taraval and N-Judah, about the only trains he’s ever hopped – if boarding through the back door of a streetcar counts as “hopping.” Shore to shore? Yeah, right, like Ocean Beach to Mission Rock counts as a transcontinental journey.

But then again, he has racked up a lot of Muni miles over the years. Riding buses, streetcars and, yes, even cable cars hither and thither. Of course, if Muni awarded frequent rider miles, his prize would be, mmm, more Muni. Like many city natives, Chuck was well past 21 when he got a driver’s license and didn’t own a car until he was 25. So, Muni it was.

“Muni, the next best thing to getting there,” was a slogan proposed by the late Chronicle cartoonist Phil Frank. And it’s true that the system is plagued by budget cuts, deferred maintenance, unreliability, outmoded labor agreements and a host of other problems. But where else can you spend a piddling $1.50 and get such a show. Performance art at its finest. Theater al fresco, as it were – though the odor is anything but fresco. Behold the tableaux of city life being lived right before your eyes, and if you’re lucky enough, right in the seat next to you!

Riding Muni is both a physical journey of time and space (like when you spend a lot of time in the same space waiting for the @#%*&@#! 24 Divisadero) and a journey into the very zeitgeist of San Francisco. It involves all the senses. SEE the scary wino and pray he doesn’t hurl his bellyful of Thunderbird. HEAR the obnoxious sounds of some ditzy Marina girl blabbing on her cell phone. “Get out! Shut up! Oh my gaawd! No way!” SMELL the essence of life, along with that bag of Funyuns that seems to be the unofficial scent of Muni vehicles. FEEL the sticky, you-really-don’t-want-to-know-what-it-is on the handrail. TASTE…oh, gross!

Yes, you can witness breakups, makeups, shakeups, shakedowns, shakeouts, stakeouts and flake outs, the entire spectrum of human behavior – in transit. Plus the operators are part of the show – ranging from the polite professional to the seething sociopath. And such a diversity of riding experiences! Let’s look at two bus routes: the 38 Geary and the 1 California, parallel east-west routes that run only two blocks apart. A trip on either line at morning rush hour tells you much about life in our fair town.

The 1 is a quiet, clean, efficient electric trolley bus that glides smoothly down California, picking up freshly groomed and scented systems analysts and merchandising planners as they start their day oiling the wheels of commerce. The cheerful driver greets them by their first names. Soft, bossa nova music wafts through the air. The hostess pours them steaming cups of Jamaican Blue coffee and offers an assortment of fresh baked whole-grain pastries and organic fruits. The soft, padded leather seats envelop the riders in comfort, as strolling manicurists and masseuses see to the passengers’ needs.

There’s a lending library of books and board games. Backgammon and Battleship are the two favorites – unfortunately even the Muni isn’t slow enough to allow time for a proper chess game – and beginning in the fall, private DVD screens will be installed, along with new carpeting (the current being considered “just too 2007”) and shoe buffers located beneath the seats. Meanwhile…

Two blocks south on Geary the wretched 38 groans and shudders as it spews angry clouds of black diesel smoke and roars like a rutting hippo. Joined by a hinge in the middle, the two halves of the “articulated” or “accordion” buses pitch, yaw and roll as much as any Gloucesterman in a Nor’easter. Hard to starboard! If the 1 California represents a first class ticket, then the 38 is steerage on the voyage of the damned.

Hordes of blue, white and no-collar workers compete with students and retirees for the few precious seats aboard the heaving wreck, heads down and elbows out. You’ll hear any number of loud cell phone conversations in any number of languages. But the universal language is VOLUME. They’ve got be loud to compete with the livestock. Chickens cluck and goats bleat and then, as a woman shrieks, a snake slithers down the aisle. “Don’t worry about him,” the driver shouts, “He won’t hurt you. He’s here to catch the rats.” Suddenly there’s a commotion in the back of the bus. Loud voices – no, not Russian, it’s some other Slavic tongue. It s
Posted:  5/5/2008

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