2020 has been a terrible year. I wrote a few posts in the beginning of the year wondering if “anything else could go wrong,” and I really shouldn’t have said that. Things can always get worse and they certainly have, so much so, I’m afraid to say that phrase anymore.
Yesterday was a first in my life in that the sun was completely blotted out by smoke and fog. There is always sun here in California unless there is fog but even then it is still bright out. I remember terrible thunderstorms in Ohio and not seeing the sun for quite some time but those are natural events. Yesterday was unnatural in that it was day, yet very dark with nothing but an eerie, ominous orange glow.
The picture doesn’t do it justice. The camera automatically tries to brighten the image and even if I manually reduce the brightness it still doesn’t show how dark it really was. As I write this at 6:55 AM on September 10th, I can see the fog and smoke but the day still slowly brightens unlike yesterday. The air quality has shifted from yellow to orange and back to the yellow zone again and I’m hoping that an onshore wind will kick up.
It is very odd to experience the weather here in Pacifica these past few weeks. This is normally a cold, decently windy place. Yet recently, it has been hot, there is little wind and thus the smoke fills the air and doesn’t move. It is as though we’re experiencing some divine retribution because at minimum we would have a slight breeze if not a full on wind. Not these days, the wind is absent.
As for COVID those first few months were like a novelty. Everyone went on walks, we got projects done and caught up with long lost friends through Zoom meetings. As we enter the 7th month of the pandemic it is no longer a novelty. There is more activity in getting out of the house, no more complete lockdown, but it remains low except on hot days. On the hot days Highway 1 becomes jammed as it usually does with everyone seeking relief from the heat on the beaches. Pacifica closed the beaches this past Labor Day but Half Moon Bay did not so everyone went there clogging our portion of Highway 1. Due to that the COVID cases will now spike.
So here I am, sitting in my living room on September 10th, 2020. Our inner circle of friends continues to shrink, the pandemic persists, and now we’re surrounded by fire and smoke. My mood is melancholy and I need to make a mental effort to get out of the slump. It will be another weekend at home where I may not even be able to workout due to the air quality. I do have a computer project but sometimes the air quality gets so bad that we all need to retreat to the family room and stay by the air filter. If the Pacifica onshore wind would just return then we would be fine but again, there is no wind. Weekends in 2020 are nothing to look forward to.
I forgot to mention that through all of this PG&E has threatened power outages from the grid being overtaxed due to everyone using their air conditioners as well as major wind events blowing over power lines. I’m waiting for this wind event and hopefully it blows the right way. But God forbid a pandemic, heatwave, poor air and then a power outage? We cannot go outside, cannot open our windows and then just sit inside and roast? Luckily we are in Pacifica so it is not as hot as in other parts of the Bay.
I should mention that I’ve learned something with my air purifier and air quality sensor. Closing windows to avoid dirty outdoor air does absolutely nothing. The dirty air will still sleep in. The only thing closing windows does is give the person inside a false peace of mind. The air quality sensor shows it makes no difference as indoor air will be as polluted as outdoor air regardless if windows are closed or not.
Secondly those $200 air purifier models everyone buys do work but are only good for cleaning one medium sized room. Furthermore the windows and doors must be shut for it to make progress. We use it in our family room and there is a big entry way with no door coming from the living room. In order for the air purifier to actually purify the air I need to put up a sheet to cover that big entryway gap. If I do not, even though I run the air purifier at full speed it will only reduce the pollution but does not have enough power to clean the air completely. That is to say pollution levels will be better than outdoors but never reach the healthy, “green zone” levels. We will get slightly cleaner air but also a huge electricity bill.
It is 3:42 AM and I didn’t get a good nights sleep due to the food and cola I drank at Hooters last night.
The time has come for my friend Sadao to leave the USA. He has been in Pacifica for 27 years but due to family matters must now go live in Japan. Twenty seven years is a very long time. I was only 15 years old, a freshman in high school, when he moved to this town! But everything changes with time and nothing remains the same.
It is not a permanent goodbye as many of us are in Japan every year and so will see him again. But we felt it right to have a goodbye dinner at his favorite restaurant Hooters and were very lucky to get a table as it was Monday night and that meant the football crowd was there.
It was a surreal experience for me as I had not been in an environment like that before. Yes, I remember how Ohio State games are although I’ve only been to two in about twenty years. But to go out on a Monday night and be surrounded by a sea of people in ’49ers jerseys, eating, drinking and yelling was something I’m not used to and found very strange.
Obesity was everywhere. And they ate, drank, and then ate and drank some more all while staring at the screens yelling at it. It made me think that perhaps the Republicans had a point not wanting to offer universal healthcare to Americans as it probably would bankrupt the finances. The crowd was fat, very fat and they continued to eat and drink throughout the night. I imagine at least half the people in the crowd are taking pills so they can continue to eat and drink, especially on Monday nights.
There were also tattoos everywhere, even on the serving girls. The girls wear very short shorts and most had fake eyelashes along with a large amount of makeup to change their appearance. Now let’s step back and take a look at this scene as it would appear to someone, perhaps a foreigner, that has never been to Monday night football before.
You step into the restaurant that is packed to the brim by people wearing the same type of uniform. They are obese yet continue to eat and drink massive amounts of food and beer. They are all staring at one of the ubiquitous TV screens while yelling at least half of the time. They are surrounded by women in scantily clad uniforms and have so changed their appearance by facial modification that they would look very different after a shower.
The team which they cheer is called the San Francisco ’49ers but they no longer are part of the city of San Francisco. In fact, they are the Santa Clara 49ers which is a good 40 minute drive south. So these people, wear the uniforms of a team to which they do not belong, often with names on the back that aren’t theirs, and that play in a different city. In their minds, if this team wins then they win. If the player whose jersey they wear does well, then they do well! By supporting other men demonstrating the ideal image of manliness – playing a rough game – it makes the viewers also feel manly. By simply being a supporter of very macho men, they too can feel macho, although most in that crowd probably couldn’t run to the next block.
None of this makes any sense to me. Here we live in a world where very pressing issues determine life and death, but a game, a game where you have to move a ball over a line, is more important to the majority of the population. This game is also one that ends up crippling the bodies of many who play it.
My friend John also noticed the crowd and said “You know how much we’ve advanced since Roman times and the coliseum? Zero.” It is true.
It would seem that sports as well as religion is the opiate of the masses. When I was in 8th grade my teacher said that in Roman times sports heroes were held in higher regard that war heroes. She said it in such a way as to make me believe times were different now. Nope, a person that plays a game with a ball very well (and those that act too) is held in higher regard that those that actually contribute something to society such as doctors and police.
When I see such a crowd I no longer believe in democracy. Our government is always harping on democracy but given the rise of Trump and a populace that values sports over global life and death issues makes me no longer believe in it. The truth is that the masses are not smart enough to make good decisions. Unfortunately concentrating power in the hands of a few doesn’t work either as people are easily corrupted. They value power and money above all else. The only alternative is to turn to the imagination and religion which promises people rewards in the afterlife if they just do good things now. Seems kind of like a trick by the rich and powerful over the less bright. “No you don’t need money and power, leave that all to me. What you need is to have whatever the equivalent of money and power is in the next life so long as you aren’t too greedy in this life.”
Give the masses religion and sports. It gives them something to do, gives them an identity as well as answers. Make politics like sports too, entertainment and will make the masses feel smart as well. Maybe we should have jerseys for politicians that the masses could wear? I’m being sarcastic but in times like these nothing is too absurd that it couldn’t possibly happen. There is the MAGA hat after all. Perhaps a full uniform is the logical next step.
On May 24th 2019 World Oyama karate SF was invited to put on a demonstration for Japanese Heritage night at the pre-party and on the field at Oracle Park before the San Francisco Giants vs. Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game.
It was only black belts on the field but we lower belts got to participate in the pre-party demonstration and I got to break a bat again. I noticed there was a photographer in front of me who was taking pictures of me breaking the bat and so I looked for that picture and found it on the Japanese Consul General’s website.
A few weeks ago my wife showed me a few free children’s tickets to the Garden Bros Circus she had gotten somewhere during her usual routines. My kids had never been to the circus and I think I’ve been only once in my life although the only memories I have are just flickers and could possibly be false. I try to pull any memories from the deep recesses of my brain and a distant echo tells me I did go but it is all just very faint shadow. Now I have been to Cirque du Soleil pre-kids back in 2008 or so but that doesn’t count.
Anyway, I was on-board as I thought it might be a fun experience and then we could say we’ve all been to the circus. So I hopped on Ticketmaster looking for those extra cheap tickets of $12.95 “to the first 100 buyers” that the children’s tickets had promised. Of course none were available (if it they ever were) and so with taxes and fees a single ticket jumped up to $33 and then I ended up getting scammed by purchasing “insurance” on the ticket which I had thought was free which bumps up the ticket to about $40. I wrote about this in a previous post entitled “American Scam.”
Well, last Sunday it was finally time to go and I was a bit curious to see what a circus would look like in the year 2019 and in the Cow Palace, not in some dusty field, under tents in the middle of nowhere. My image of a true circus is a bit like in the Disney movie Dumbo. It is a ragtag group of transients, misfits, acrobats, hobo clowns, elephants and other large animals, traversing the country by train entertaining the simple folk near countryside towns in some farming community nobody has ever heard of.
To start the experience I was proud of myself realizing that you can just park on the street and walk to the Cow Palace instead of paying the $15 or $20 they charge to park in the Cow Palace parking lots. I’ll never pay that fee again, it is a complete rip off making the $12.95 (times two adults for $15.90) bait into an over $100 switch-a-roo.
We were there a bit early and so waited about 20 minutes until they opened the doors. There were very sparse concessions consisting of $15 cotton candy and popcorn, along with $5 light up toys which I didn’t bother to check the prices on as those would also be around $20.
On the main floor the circus ring only took up less than half of the floor so the other half was filled with a large inflatable castle/slide and a pony carousel. It was sad to see the pony carousel as this is the 21st century where we as human beings are bit more advanced, a bit more ‘woke’ as they say. Looking at the ponies it is easy to see they are sad so why do we still do this? Well, the answer is easy and is the answer for most of the terrible things human beings do and that is money. But we’ll come back to this later.
So my first impressions were that this was a very pared down circus. In the age of iPhones, iPads and unlimited entertainment the circus full of animals and acrobats just doesn’t have the same draw it would have when it might have pulled in just about all of a Midwestern farming community , especially in a pre-television age. The circus as it used to be is a relic and must evolve into something else like Cirque du Soleil or perhaps a dinner show like Teatro Zinzani.
But Garden Bros., as they advertise, is a family tradition for over 100 years, so they stick to the old ways. But since the old ways don’t have as much of a draw anymore they really need to cut costs. There were no high-wire acts, flying acrobats and the clowns could have been better. There were also not many animals which I was glad to see. Animals belong out in nature or to be really cared for in a way they deserve, not mistreated in a circus (more on that later). Now, having said that, they did do a decent job for an old-time circus surviving in the modern age.
There were ladies who climbed up rope/fabric and did their poses. There was the “sphere of fear” where two guys who rode dirt bikes in that sphere and managed to not crash into each other. There were a contortionist, juggling, dogs doing tricks and so on. But the main event, at least for me, were the Kambarov Riders from Kyrgzystan.
Now this was quality circus entertainment and they were fantastic. Yes, they use horses of course but I could see the horses were well cared for. One of the tricks was a rider crawling underneath and coming up the other side of a galloping horse. This is something you wouldn’t want to attempt with a mistreated horse. And being from Kyrgyzstan these people have genes from the Mongol horde, people who know horses so for these people, the use of horses for entertainment is OK in my book.
They were great but what really got my attention was their facial characteristics. I had never seen people with such a mix of Asian and Western characteristics. Black hair and Asian eyes coupled with Roman noses and a facial structure more like the Russians. I thought the mix was absolutely beautiful and the one female rider, Aiperi Kozugulova was downright gorgeous. I wondered about all of their lives and how they ended up joining a circus? Now I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan but imagine they have a horse riding culture like Mongolia since they have a shared history and then being on the silk road would have also contributed to a culture that made use of horses.
Joining the circus would allow them to use their skills and see the world so seems like a logical thing to do? That part of the world isn’t very rich and so I imagine their citizens, nor any from the ‘stan’ countries travel overseas much. Personally, I’ve met people from all over the world, even from places like Madagascar and war torn Yemen but I cannot recall anyone I’ve ever met from a country ending in ‘stan.’
Watching these riders I had felt as though I had just discovered a new type of human being! In my mind central Asia was in the West to South, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, then Asia as most Americans would consider it. To the North was White Russia and if you went farther West then you hit the Middle East. I had never known or given consideration to that patch of the world with the ‘stan’ countries and I was fascinated!
I was fascinated not only because their beauty struck me but because they are a crossroads of civilizations. Their countries were traversed by peoples of many great civilizations through trade on the ancient Silk Road and also by marauding armies such as the Mongol Horde. In watching these Kambarov Riders I wasn’t paying so much attention to their skills on a horse as I was thinking about history and who their ancestors might have been. Black hair and Asian eyes, coupled with a Western visage.
Now I find myself excited as though I have discovered a new land to explore, one that I did not really know existed. I’m reading Wikipedia, visiting their countries through the magic of virtual reality and daydreaming about what it might have been like to live there as an expatriate. In Kyrgyzstan they speak both Kyrgyz and Russian. That would have been a bit difficult trying to learn both languages so you could fully function and understand their society.
I see there is also some crime and reading the expatriate websites that you should invest in some good locks for your doors. Reading this causes concern until you think about the TONS of crime in America. Hell, I think almost anywhere else in the world, that is not war torn, is probably safer on average than America. Just take a look at the Citizen App to see all the nonsense that goes on in San Francisco/Oakland on a daily basis.
So yes, I’m fascinated and am putting Kyrgyzstan on my bucket list. Interestingly, this country also seems to be more open than its neighbors. A visa seems easy to get and they are actively inviting tourism/investment and so on whilst its neighbors don’t seem to be able to shake off the Soviet shadow with visas being had to obtain and a relative reluctance to join the world.
But back to the circus. Most of the performers were Mexicans which was easily ascertained by their accents. They did a fine job with juggling and other tricks. The final guy was balancing on a big ball, with a plate balanced on a stick on his forehead all while juggling a couple of rings. He fell completely off that thing but I couldn’t tell if it were part of the act or not. From his apology I’m guessing not, but he got back up and succeeded the second time.
Then it was time to go and being San Francisco I wondered if there would be protesters and I was not disappointed. An organization called Humanity Through Education was there handing out fliers that the use of animals for entertainment was cruel and Garden Bros. should stop using them. I agree with them here. The circus is no life for animals and just like Sea World has faced the music in recent decades so should the circus. I guess that without animals a circus such as Garden Bros. would finally succumb to its slow death that not even $25 popcorn could save. I took one of their fliers and the lady said “Thanks for caring.” Yes, I do care about the animals and was uneasy from the start with Garden Bros using them.
It is hard to keep a relic from the past going. I looked at the ratings/reviews for Garden Bros. before the show started and the reviews are terrible. They only got 1 1/2 stars on Yelp in Washington and that is incredibly low! It seems sometimes the show was abruptly cancelled, there are a string of unpaid bills across the country, and it is just a shady outfit in general. But it is the circus, isn’t being shady an inherent characteristic ?
All in all, Garden Bros did a good job and we enjoyed ourselves. It also got me interested in a brand new (for me) part of the world and I’m excited to learn about it.
Update: 12:58 – 4/18/19
I mentioned Teatro Zinzanni above. Teatro Zinzanni is an incredible dinner show where the performers do their thing above, around and right in front of your table. It really is high quality and was one of the ‘gems’ I’d found in San Francisco. It was so good we took my parents, my sister and even the in-laws when they came to town. Unfortunately, it had to close due to the stupid America’s Cup in 2011. Apparently it will re-open in a different location but it sure is taking many years to do so.
Anyway, I started thinking about the experience and just like the Kambarov Riders, there was an act that really stood out to me. Well, I just spent the last 40 minutes racking my brain and searching for the name of that act. I didn’t take a lot of pictures nor keep them well organized until 2010 and we were at Teatro Zinzanni around 2008 or 2009. So I couldn’t find any pictures but I knew I had something and that something is a hyperlink in my bookmarks!
The performers are The Randols , a beautiful couple who had a roller skating and hula hoop act. The most impressive for me is when Massimo Randol would throw hula hoops over everyone’s heads while they were seated for dinner and Denise Randol would catch them with her body and right into hula hooping them. The other reasons I remember them is that Denise was smoking hot and Massimo looked like Brandon Lee from the movie The Crow.
I’m so glad I still had that bookmark, otherwise their names would have been lost to me forever. Taking a look at their website it seems it hasn’t been updated since I last saw them in 2009! Their latest act is still listed as San Francisco in 2009. I wonder where they are now and I’d be surprised if they were still together. I don’t think the circus is a very good environment for stable relationships, or stable anything for that matter.
We went to my youngest child’s first San Francisco Giants game on Tuesday, May 15th and vs. The Cincinnati Reds. The Giants won 5-3 and it really was a night to remember!
I am not much of a sports fan but am able to get tickets since the Giants are my customer. The thought about getting my youngest to his first baseball game came when I took a customer to a Giants game last month. Looking up at the board I saw Japanese Heritage Night was on the 15th and that it might be a great opportunity. I am also switching jobs soon where the Giants might no longer be my customer so we should take the opportunity while we have it. Furthermore, they were playing they were playing the Cincinnati Reds which of course are from my home state of Ohio. So needless to say it was a perfect game for his first. What I didn’t know is how fantastic it would be.
I secured the tickets no problem but then was speaking with my second contact at the Giants and he mentioned getting out to a game. I told him, “Well, actually we’ll be there on Tuesday!” He was thrilled and said “Why don’t you come a little earlier and I can get you on the field for batting practice. Say 4:15?” This sounded like a great opportunity so I quickly agreed. Again, there was something I didn’t know and that is how amazing it would actually be!
We parked at Daly City and took the BART to the Embarcadero station then switched to the Muni which we took to Second Street. My contact met us near the stadium souvenir store and we got our passes for the field.
The first person we met is one of their scouts/assistant coaches Will Clark! Will Clark is someone I remember growing up with and I swear I have his baseball card but will have to double check. I learned that it is good to have two young kids with you because many of the guys will give you practice balls and take pictures. Will Clark obliged but I didn’t think at the time that we should ask for a signature so we just got the picture.
Next, we walked to the other side of home plate and watched practice for a while.
My contact then asked if we had a pen so we could try to get signatures. This isn’t the easiest thing to do because you’re kept to the track and cannot bother the players who are warming up. But if they approach you then you’re free to talk to them. We were lucky to have my contact with us because he could easily strike up a conversation with them since they know him. He saw that the biggest star of the Giants, Madison Bumgarner, was near the rope and went over to speak with him and introduced us. Madison was kind enough to take a picture with us but not only that, he signed TWO baseballs for my boys!!
We returned to the other side of home plate where Gorkys Hernandez came over and gave my boys high fives. I thought it might be rude to ask pictures and autographs from everyone that came over so we just did the high five with him. I was also too timid to strike up a conversation in Spanish and couldn’t think of anything to say anyway.
The next person my contact was kind enough to strike up a conversation with and introduce us to was Mac Williamson. We had some light chit-chat and he was kind enough to take a picture with us and also signed two baseballs for my boys! Really nice guy.
The next stop was to the press box where reporters broadcast the game in real time and report to newspapers and other news outlets all over the world. Here is a view from the press box.
We then went over to the Japanese Heritage Night party which was held just outside the stadium. They were giving away SF Giants – Japan cherry blossom themed backpacks and so we got two for the boys. To be honest I wanted one as well (I’m just a big kid) but thought it might be rude to take too many so was left without.
It was an incredible night and what a story to tell should my boys become baseball fans. I doubt my youngest will remember it but to help, I wrote about it in the family blog so he can have a refresher when he is older.