Thursday, October 28, 2010

Boulevard, Books, Baseball and Booze

It was one of the most beautiful sounds I've ever caught, caught as I stood at the threshold of Boulevard in San Francisco.  This particular sound - ok, it doesn't top the first time I heard my daughters' first burbles, and it's behind hearing Karen sing Christos Anesti in the shadow of the Nicholas Peaks in New Zealand, but it might be up there with the bullfrog breaking the exquisite silence of a rock quarry's stillness in the Valley after the generator was turned off at the end of day - but this handful, these are some of the most beautiful sounds I've heard, and to be a new addition to this short list means something.

Can you wait for it, though?  Tell me you can wait for it with me.

Last night, I'm looking for omens.  So when I pull into the BART parking lot - at the Frutivale Station in East Oakland, the lot where last Thursday I had to screech to the freakin fifth floor before I found a parking spot - the very first space on the first floor beckons me like a redlight in Denmark.  Are you kidding me?  There's never a spot open on the first floor, especially when the Giants are playing World Series Game #1 at home - and fans might, you know, take BART to the game.  This free space shouldn't exist.

Free first space augurs good tidings, methinks.

But am I going into San Francisco to catch Game #1 in the most beautiful park in the Bigs?  I am not.  I had agreed to attend an author dinner on this night, before this night was slated to play host to the Giants and the Rangers, playing on baseball's biggest stage.

Author dinners are one of the only perks I get as a bookseller.  Publishers will bring authors to town, an intimate dinner is coordinated, and a lucky few booksellers get to attend.  It allows us to meet the author and hear stories about their book before it's published - this gives me, as a bookseller, one more reason to get behind one of the myriad of titles that will be published in any given season.

Plus, free dinner at fabulous restaurants.

So I am not going to complain - too much - that instead of attending the World Series, I was walking by the Ferry Building en route to Boulevard at One Mission Street.  Dinner is at 6, first pitch was at 4:59.  Conflict, conflict galore.

I arrived early to SF - I'm never early, but bad form to be tardy for a dinner hosted by Penguin Books for a wonderful and provocative title.  So I'm going to loiter, to get the latest game updates on my phone before I'm forced to enter the restaurant.  I delay by visiting The San Francisco Railway Museum.  It's on the way, right there where Market meets the Embarcadero.  I buy a hunk of steel cut from the rail for one of San Francisco's first cable car routes.  The slice of rail - originally laid in 1888 - is heavy in my hand.  Heavy with history and rust.  We share one thing - neither of us has seen a Baseball World Champion from San Francisco.

So I buy that hunk of steel - and a bookmark, the bookmark with a MUNI admonition, the one posted on all SF buses above the driver:  Information Gladly Given But Safety Requires Avoiding Unnecessary Conversation.

I stroll out, continuing to loiter, but my iPhone updates aren't fabulous.  The Good Guys let the Bad Guys score a run in the first.  Dean is dying.  My brother texts me:  Are you expecting to win this game with 2 mistakes in the 1st inning?  Really?

I text back, Lotta ball ahead.  Deep breath.

This doesn't get Dean off the ledge.  When the Good Guys let the Bad Guys score another run in the second, Dean texts - I think I'm going to take a walk.

And it's now, right now, when the most beautiful sound is heard.  But you've waited this long.  Can I beg your indulgence for a bit longer?  We'll skip that moment on the threshold of Boulevard, this moment when it's almost six o'clock, when I have to tuck my phone into a pocket, enter my favorite restaurant, the restaurant where I've spent a birthday (or two.)

Just blink - blink and we'll be inside the restaurant, inside and then ushered to the vault.  The vault is a brick-topped room, mirrors on one wall, hundreds of bottles of wine on the other, a glorious slag-glass chandelier overhead.  And while the confines of the vault are cozy, and conducive to great conversation, iPhone reception?  Not so much.

I excuse myself and track down the gentleman in white, the man who has been filling my cobalt-blue water glass.  I ask if he has access to the score - I don't need to explain which score.  He glances over at the men and women working hard in the kitchen, at the servers gliding by, the gent there mixing cocktails at the bar, and he responds politely, Yes.  I slip him a twenty and ask if he could let me know about any developments.  He smiles, palms the bill, and nods - politely.

The Giants are facing a Ranger's ace with some of the greatest stats in the history of the postseason - Cliff Lee with his 7-0 record and ERA of 1.26.  So later, after our hors d'œuvre, I react with surprise when my white-garbed friend refills my water and leans close.  The Giants - all sotto voce - have chased Lee out of the game with a six-run fifth inning.  They lead 8-2.

I announce this news to the table, briefly interrupting the polite grilling that the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has been receiving.  I've tried to not be part of the grilling, polite or no.  The author's laughing, though, she's a delight, and the table reacts to my news with grins and soft hoots.

My friend leans in during the next inning - this time, it's the Giants' pitcher who has been chased.  Two runs for the Bad Guys, the lead now trimmed to 8-4 in favor of the Good Guys.

But during desert - better news.  The Giants have scored three more times, and a lead of 11-4 is daunting for any team with only one chance to change their fortunes - just three outs, now, and the Good Guys take Game 1.

In a heartbeat, though, my friend arrives.  Doesn't pretend to pour water - just leans in and whispers, There have been some complications.  The Rangers have scored three runs in the top of the ninth.  It's 11-7.

This precipitated much gnashing of teeth - until my man in white returned to report that the Wilson had successfully done the deed.

Game over.  Applause, applause.

Now that it's been written, now that the Giants have won, travel with me back - back before I set out in search of a bar with loud fans.  A crowd to celebrate with - if only to be near other celebrants.  That damn urgent need to be with like-minded souls in times of happiness and heartbreak.

But in the Financial District, at night, one's pickings are slim, and the only watering hole is blocks up Market:  Sutter Station.  But the fans are there, drinking and singing.  There's only Journey on the juke, since Journey's been adopted as the soundtrack to this postseason.  Once there, I'll order Basil Haydon, rocks, and that whiskey will go down smooth - and the music will beat as the plastic pumpkins add dim orange light to the dark bar.

But it's before, come back with me before, back when night hadn't fallen, back when I stood on the threshold to Boulevard, with a hunk of newly purchased steel in my pocket, back when the Bad Guys had scored two runs, and the Good Guys had yet to knock on the Rangers' door.  It was at that moment, 5:56 p.m. on a Wednesday in San Francisco, just as I dropped my phone in my coat pocket, checked my hair in the window of the restaurant, this beautiful restaurant more than a mile away from the Game that was in progress, both the restaurant and the stadium near the waters of the bay, but the gulf separating them may as well have been a thousand miles, and not one.  It's then, as I was about to step in, I heard - I heard...

A soft murmuration, growing, growing, a glorious sound, rising rising, traveling along the water, through the city, rising, and I know the sound instantly, know that it is fed by the voices of 43,000, as those 43,000 watch 9 defend themselves against 1.

But the one was a Giant named Sanchez.

And the sound, that glorious sound, the crescendo reaching my ears as 43,000 react to men playing on a field below, as the Giants score the first of eleven runs on this wonderful Wednesday.  Such a lovely sound, this boisterous, clamorous chorus, traveling so far, bringing tidings of joy.  How ever did it travel and reach me, all the way here?  All the way here?

Go Giants.


  1. nick~

    the restaurant had a different name and mine was in the east bay, but almost every emotional tug and pull you described i experienced with you last night, buddyboy. something remarkably sweet about it too.

    i had to attend a dinner with my boss who has little (or no) interest in Giants baseball. there are more important things to deal with like global warming in his world and i honor any 84-year-old who is willing to continue diligently his battle as he does. but still....that doesn't diminish my internal passion to follow this ragtag group i've come to love this year, pitch-by-pitch.

    in contrast, i got to spend game two in a restaurant sports bar tonight with a group of close friends who love these particular boys of summer nearly as much as i....and who have never experienced, whether young or old, a san francisco baseball championship.

    as they moved a step closer, quite definitively, i'm beginning to smell that sweet magic i've always wanted to take in. damn if this isn't fun?! so much different than the debacle of 2002. i don't want to recall that. i don't want to rush this. i just want to, like matt cain did when leaving the field tonight, soak in every precious moment as it unfolds.

    you helped me do that by reliving last evening.
    here's to saturday....wherever we end up watching the game. these are the best of times aren't they?


  2. I was hoping you could hear Katy and I!

  3. Steve - just a second, let me get Randy a drink. Randy, Black Cat Martini? 'Tis the season and all that. And yes, I could definitely hear you and Katy. You both were part of the roar - the only reason I could hear it from where I was.

    Steve - what's your poison? I'm fully stocked over here.

    That's funny, about your boss. Interesting that he hasn't been swept up with the rest of us. It's a good reminder that there are outposts that don't care. I think, though, that they keep getting smaller and smaller.

    A friend of mine wasn't interested, soccer is her thing, but then even Barbara was caught off guard by Tony Bennett the other night. He totally swept her into the moment, and she was given a glimpse of what the hoopla is all about.

    And no, we shan't speak of the Year That Will Not Be Named.

    And thanks for that great image of Cain leaving the mound. One of the Rangers congratulated Cain for not showing up his opponents with fist pumps or other histrionics. He thought Cain must be humble, the way he calmly walked off the mound to the largest ovation the park has heard in years (thanks again Randy and Katy!)

    But I think you're correct. He must've been reveling in that moment the same way we all were - who wouldn't have walked off slowly? It's like in Jerry Maguire where the Cuba lays, wounded, but ok. And he's just soaking in the atmosphere, laying there. Soaking it in.

    So let's soak it in. Enjoy Saturday. Raise a pint during the seventh inning stretch, and I will too.

    Go Giants.