Last weekend the Grateful Dead (or just the Dead, if you don’t want to insult Jerry) played two shows at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, 80 miles north of here, and this weekend they’re playing three shows at Soldier Field in Chicago, a few miles further. These five, swan-song performances mark the 50th anniversary of their founding. They haven’t played together in years and likely won’t again–so we went to both Santa Clara shows.

Considering Levi's Stadium holds nearly 70,000 people and these were mostly sold-out shows, getting into the place wasn't terrible.

Considering Levi’s Stadium holds nearly 70,000 people and these were sold-out shows, getting into the place wasn’t as terrible as expected.

Long security lines (with bag checks and metal detectors) gave us plenty of time to check out the scenery.


You'd think a band would get lost in a stadium, but the stage was HUGE.

You’d think a band would get lost in a stadium, but the stage was HUGE.

We knew our seats were "restricted view" but thought we'd be okay since we were on the side. Nope. Huge screens blocked any view of the band. So Saturday night's show was like being at a weird simulcast.

We knew our seats the first night were “restricted view” but thought we’d be okay since we were on the side. Nope. Huge screens blocked any view of the band. So Saturday night’s show was like being at a weird simulcast.

Not being able to see the band (and having a slight aversion to watching them on the big screen), I took the opportunity to people watch. I don't think I've ever

Not being able to see the band (and having a slight aversion to watching them on the big screen), I took the opportunity to people watch. So much good stuff. This dude danced the entire show with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. Whether that was prompted by chemicals or the music, I don’t know. Why not both?

The costumes people wear at Dead shows could best be described as "circus hippie."

The costumes people wear at Dead shows could best be described as “circus hippie.”


It’s nice to live in a state that didn’t just humiliate itself over gay marriage (now called “marriage”). Also note the guy trying to fly a kite.

There were Dead flags, too.

There were Dead flags flying, too.



The crowd turned and looked into the sky behind the stage. I thought they'd heard some kind of pot dog whistle, but ends up it was a rainbow.

Toward the end of the first set, the crowd turned and looked into the sky behind the stage. I thought they’d heard some kind of patchouli dog whistle, but ends up it was a rainbow. A double-rainbow, actually, though it’s hard to see the second one in this shot.


So. Many. People.

So. Much. Weed.

So. Much. Weed.

So. Many. Colors.

So. Many. Colors.

The seats for show number two were much better. The performance was, too.

The seats for show number two were much better, if not further away from the stage (this is zoomed in).

My friend Evan is involved in an effort to create a huge natural swimming pool in the middle of Houston. This beach ball was my Kickstarter reward.

A friend is involved in an effort to create a huge natural swimming pool in the middle of Houston (called Houston Needs a Swimming Hole). Thought I’d spread the word out here by sending this ball on a journey.

It made it all the way to the front of the stadium.

It made it all the way to the front of the stadium.

Hey, look who it is!

Hey, look who it is! Circus Hippie! And he wasn’t the only person we recognized from the first show.

We don't know these people.

We don’t know these people.

Things got more interesting after dark.

The 80-mile drive back home each night sucked, but it was worth it for a couple of pretty amazing–and colorful–shows.

bonfire at Carmel Beach

I didn’t know people build bonfires on the beach. I mean, in reality. I always thought that was a bullshit beer commercial thing. But James and I recently had independent conversations with locals who told us we had to have a beach bonfire. Especially since it may soon be illegal (or really difficult) to do so at the main bonfire location–Carmel Beach.

And, man, it sounded really fun, so why not?

the glenlivet

Pacific Grove was dry until the late ’60s and still maintains some puritanical views about the drink. Carmel is more open (container) about such matters.


The perfect beach dinner–cold, boneless fried chicken.

boy scout

James was a boy scout.


This is how you dress for a summer night on the central coast. I was sitting next to a fire wearing a t-shirt, hoodie and fleece vest and was still a little cold. Maybe I should have worn pants. Next time.

june gloom

The original plan was to watch the sunset, but it was too cloudy/foggy (I’m not always sure which is which out here). The sky was the same light gray from the moment we arrived (before 6PM) until we left (almost 9PM).


Bonfires were sprinkled all around the beach. The locals had coolers and chairs while the tourists had boxes specially packed by the hotel they were staying in. We watched one couple unpack everything, study the directions, build their fire and then awkwardly try to make their stemmed wine glasses stay upright in the sand. Stemmed wine glasses are for amateurs. Not just in a bonfire situation.

Dennis did California

Don’t freak out or anything, but this post is out of chronological order.

My dear friend Dennis came to visit James and me the weekend before I headed home to see my family (early May). Here’s what happened.


Philip, me and Dennis in San Francisco. The three of us met while working at the Alley Theatre more than a decade ago (time flies). Over lunch, we discussed our plans to bring queso to the Bay Area. Million dollar idea. All we need is a million dollars to get started. After lunch, I brought Dennis down to Pacific Grove for the weekend. Where SF is an expensive, exotic cat with vegan dreadlocks winding its way back and forth between your feet, PG is an old hound dog that barely raises its head from the porch. I generally prefer hanging with the hound dog, but it’s fun every once in a while to try to pet the cat.


The fog started rolling in before we were out of San Francisco, and it followed us south. We teetered back and forth between fog and clear blue skies all weekend. Sometimes at the same time. Dennis is the first friend we’ve had visit, and we weren’t sure what to do for entertainment. So we did what we love–went to Big Sur. Two days in a row.


We took him to some of our favorite places. This is one of the Garrapata turnouts. I took this from the stairs going down to the beach. James suddenly lit out for some off-roading (seen here, scampering up a hill), and Dennis followed. 


Here’s where they ended up. And they managed to get down without breaking anything.


Sitting in the car waiting for the Point Sur Light Station gate to open. We did the once-monthly moonlight tour in April and loved it, so we were excited to see it was happening again while Dennis was here. (Notice the reflection of the ocean. And, though I may wear a cap like a dude, when taking a photo I hold my pinky out like a lady.)

point sur

It was a totally different experience this time–and still amazing. The weather was calm–no gale-force winds. The skies were cloudy, obscuring the sunset and moonrise. Our tour guide was dressed in a vintage lightkeeper’s uniform, and he carried a lantern. There were amateur ghost hunters in the group. Oh, and one more thing.


Whales! I’d pumped Dennis up to see sea lions, whales and otters (he’d seen plenty of bears in San Francisco), but on his last night here we still hadn’t seen any whales. Even though, just a week ago, I easily saw water spouts while driving down the highway next to the ocean. We were gathered at the base of the rock the lighthouse sits on, and Dennis joked that the whole trip was a bust because I’d promised whales but there were none to be seen. Then someone in our group pointed and yelled “Whales!” Sure enough, there were two gray whales frolicking in the water very close to shore. Not only were they blowing spouts of water, they were also breaching and hanging out close to the surface.

gray whale

This was the best action shot I managed to snap. It was odd that they were so close to shore–hope they weren’t trying to warn us about aliens or great white sharks or great white alien sharks.

Our tour guide, inside the lighthouse.

Our tour guide, wearing a 1920s lighthouse keeper’s uniform. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that this same fellow told us some ghost stories later that night.

And then there's Maude.

And then there’s Maude, chilling at the Big Sur river.

I didn’t manage to take pictures of the two times we ate burgers (here and here). Or the time we ate It’s It. Just know that those important things happened. And they were good. So was our visit with Dennis. We’re hoping he didn’t find us too weird and will come out here again soon.

going home

Most things about this move have been wonderful. The one major black fly in my chardonnay is being so far away from my peeps. So a week ago, I went home to visit my family. James stayed here and held down the fort (that being the dogs, since we’re incapable of putting them in a GD kennel for a few days). I didn’t make it to Houston on this trip, but I still managed to eat queso four times (not kidding).

I flew from San Francisco to Austin. If we’d managed to work in a layover in Portland, it would have been the most hipster flight ever. My plane was diverted to San Antonio because the Austin airport was closed due to bad weather, and we didn’t have enough gas to circle waiting for it to reopen. Didn’t get upset because a) what can you do and b) my parents, brother and Tex-Mex were waiting for me once I actually made it to Austin, only 1.5 hours late.

We spent our visit talking, laughing, eating, drinking and chilling on the back porch watching it rain. It was perfect.


An adorable two year old was seated two rows in front of me. He was incredibly well-behaved, entertaining those of us in the back of the bus the whole flight. He didn’t fuss when we unexpectedly landed in San Antonio or when we took off (again) for Austin. As we began our descent into Austin, for real this time, he Exorcist-puked–all over himself, his father, his father’s backpack, the aisle–and started wailing. Since we were back in the baby section (yay), the parents of the 15 other crying babies started passing the father wet wipes and towels. Interesting fact for us non-parents: the smell of baby puke is fairly indistinguishable from the smell of a fat hairy biker’s puke on 10-cent wing night. Once we landed, a flight attendant came out in a face shield and hazmat suit to clean things up. It was all very dramatic, but since I was traveling alone there was no one to receive my eye rolls. Unacknowledged eye rolls are the saddest eye rolls.

We took evening rides on my parents' mule (not to be confused with the animals two shots above) and were treated to deer, rabbits, raccoons, raptors and lightning bugs.

Each evening, we took a Mule ride (the four-wheeler, not the four-legged conveyance) on the back roads and were treated to deer, rabbits, raccoons, raptors and lightning bugs. Lightning bugs! I hadn’t seen those since I was a kid and thought they had gone the way of the dodo.


It took me maybe 100 shots, but I managed to capture an image of one in my parents’ back 40. See center of picture.


The front of my parents’ house at night. It’s not blurry in reality. Ends up, I don’t make a very good tripod.

Mom downstairs at the job site. Dad and Tohner (Artisan Builders) are building a 10,000 square foot house.

We checked out a couple of Dad and Tohner’s (Artisan Builders) projects. This house is the biggest mofo house I’ve ever seen. Literally 12 of the house I live in could fit inside.


A close-up of one of Tohner’s art pieces. Who knew Martinelli’s apple juice bottles would make for such cool light fixtures? This piece has four. At night, the ridges on the bottom of the bottles make cool designs on the wall.

While Rowan just wanted to drive.

Rowan, ready to drive. We talked about Star Wars. He asked how old I was when the first movie came out (a year older than he is now). He hasn’t seen the first one yet–when he does, I want to know how the scene in the bar holds up for today’s six or seven year old. It was always my favorite part.

But it was still a good idea to check for cars in the rearview mirror. Molly was mostly checking out how awesome she looks in sunglasses.

Molly was supposed to use the mirror to check for cars, but she mostly used it to check out how awesome she looks in sunglasses.

Folks in Brenham are astir about the Blue Bell ice cream shut down.

To say Blue Bell Creameries is a major employer in Brenham would be an understatement. These signs are in practically every fourth or fifth yard.


I turn to her and say: Texas. She says: What?


I said: Texas. She says: What.

They've got big long roads out there.

They’ve got big long roads out there.

And donkeys.

And donkeys. Or maybe burros.

And wee rabbits.

And wee rabbits.

Last meal in Texas. Surprisingly decent queso at Bergstrom Airport's fancy Earl Campbell's Sports Bar.

Oh, and queso. Liquid gold. Texas cheese. This fine specimen came from Earl Campbell’s Sports Bar in the Austin airport. The chips were straight out of a Tostitos bag, but the queso was surprisingly good. Or maybe it’s just that there’s no more legit queso until the next trip home. Some day I shall crack the code of restaurant queso (the special ingredient is plastic!), and the West Coast will be mine.

10- year blog anniversary: people and places

horsiesToday is my blog’s 10th birthday. This is the last historical listicle.

It might seem odd to honor the memory of someone you love by making a bacon monstrosity, but Mason would have approved. In fact, he would have been there eating it with us if he could have.

I always knew I’d eventually go to the Museum of Natural Science with kids I share a little DNA with. Ends up, they were Tohner’s offspring.

Before moving, one of my constant refrains was that the Houston of my youth, the memories of which kept me tethered to the city, was quickly disappearing.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have much love for the place of my birth and the people who live(d) there.

I’ve posted a lot about our travels:
road trip to Grand Canyon
traffic in southern California
a family trip to Carmel and Big Sur
a ghost in New York

More recent travel posts were about our trip home to Texas. It’s different traveling home than it is traveling away from home. Maybe, in the long run, that’s what this blog is about.

10-year blog anniversary: potpourri

all workWe’re almost to the end of this journey back in time. One more post tomorrow, and then it’s back to the present.

This post is about how pussified writers (and many artists, actually) have become. How they need constant reassurance and stroking to put pen to paper, when so many who came before wallowed in obscurity (and even filth) but still managed to crank some good shit out.

You would be amazed how many people google “did phil collins witness a murder?” They find an answer in this post, which was born from a question my brother Mason submitted to my fake advice column on houstonist.com called “Ask a Dilettante.”

I’ve always promised to be honest in this blog, and I’ve mostly succeeded. This was a rare creative writing entry not based on reality.

First I fell in love with Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. Then I got a cold splash of reality that maybe it was a little more fiction than reality. Then I realized that most memories are at least a little bit fiction, even when we’re recounting them shortly after the fact, because we’re constantly placing events in the context of our own reality. And my reality is likely different from yours, even when we’re standing right next to each other and maybe I’m a little closer to you than I should be and it’s making you slightly uncomfortable.

Back in the day (2012, in fact) Google search terms that brought people to my blog would show up in a list on my admin dashboard. They were always way more interesting than my blog, so I was sorry when Google went dark on search terms.

10-year blog anniversary: let’s get political

dangerContinuing our look back at past posts:

Once, I was interviewed on the radio (Houston’s Pacifica station, natch) about the Fight stupidization campaign. This is the post that helped make that happen.

While most posts have been based on perhaps unearned bravado and an affinity for my own opinion, every once in a while I sought outside sources. This was my most researched post, and it’s about the first amendment.

The most read/shared post in this blog is about guns. Go figure. I thought it would be one of my odes to Michael McDonald.

10-year blog anniversary: so much awkward


When I’m not experiencing awkward moments, I’m imagining them. Here are a few things that happened–and some that didn’t–over the past decade.

Check out this series of events from 2006. These are the oldest posts to make it into the 10-year blog review. Read in order. Enjoy the non-sarcastic mention of myspace. And see how much more wound up I used to be. Reading this stuff almost gave me a tension headache.
Keith Hill, person-to-person
You’ve got the wrong Crystal Jackson
Or maybe you don’t

When you’re a person of a certain age who doesn’t have kids, some folks assume that means you’re a perpetual child yourself. Not exactly.

What do you do when you really need to go? You Cloo. Assuming you’re willing to pee in the house of a murderer.

Sometimes I don’t even have to have the awkward experience to write about it. Meet Bob and Linda.

The post that required the most personal humiliation was my remarkable experience on a whale watching trip here in central California.

this blog is 10 years old on Sunday


That’s like 1,000 years in blog-time. This is my longest-lived writing project and most meaningful one, even though it’s mostly just poop jokes.

To commemorate the occasion, for the next few days I’m going to share some favorite posts from the 965 I’ve written so far. Yes, I actually scanned back through a decade of this bullshit. Then I got a headache.

After the posts have been posted and Carol Burnett is mopping the place up, I’m going to give away a Fight stupidization. t-shirt in black, XL. I only have two left–I’ve been saving them for random encounters with LouisCK or Neil deGrasse Tyson–but I think this occasion is worthy. More to come on that.

Thanks for reading. It’s nice having company on this trip.

Mill Creek Redwood Preserve

palo colorado road

There’s a road off Highway 1 halfway between Carmel and Big Sur called Palo Colorado. The lower section is a redwood grove with old cabins and the occasional odd structure nestled among the trees. Like most mountain roads around here, it’s one lane, so when someone’s coming you have to pull off to the side. Drivers fall into two categories: speeding locals who want you to get out of their way and gawking interlopers who need to get out of your way. Eventually the road begins its climb. Instead of trees and cabins next to you, you have trees and a steep drop into the canyon. Mill Creek Redwood Preserve is 6.8 miles up the road–this is the view from the “parking lot,” which is really just a wide spot next to the road that can fit maybe six cars in a line if people don’t park like jerks.

mill creek

You sign up online for a permit (link below) and wait for them to send you the okay, which you print out and put on your dash. The limit is eight permits a day, so there’s never a crowd–something that’s getting harder and harder to find lately. We were the first in–you have to sign a clipboard when you arrive/depart–and only saw four people in the three hours we were there.


The trail in the 1,500-acre park was built by hand over a 10-year period by a dude from the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District with help from AmeriCorp volunteers and prison crews. From the park’s website, “The craftsmanship is reminiscent of the Civilian Conservation Corps era of trail building during the Great Depression.”




Glorious trees. Redwoods, oak and madrone.

the birds

And a cacophony of bird sounds.


rocky trail

The trail is 5.5 miles round trip. The elevation gain is less than 250 feet, so this is a fairly easy trek. You cross a creek 8 or 9 times by bridge (and the creek wasn’t even a crick when we did the trail last weekend, so the bridges were mostly unnecessary). Still glad I had my walking stick because there were a few rocky spots and I’m a klutz.


You know you’re getting close to the end of the trail once you emerge from the trees.


Your reward is comfortable seating to take in the view.


And it’s a helluva view at 2,000 feet. Even when the ocean is socked in by fog, as it was on this day.


Yes, under that foggy cloud (cloudy fog?) lies the Pacific.


I accidentally dropped a wet wipe on this lizard. Other wildlife included butterflies and moths and the previously mentioned birds. We also saw a ringtail cat (a type of raccoon),  but it had shuffled off this mortal coil leaving behind its lovely tail and desiccated corpse. We kept an eye out for mountain lions, since we’ve seen one near this park before. No dice, but we did see a bunch of hipsters (a PBR, if you will) just up the road at Bottcher’s Gap Campground. We’d hoped to enjoy the canyon view for a few minutes, and I needed to make a pit stop–there are no facilities at Mill Creek. But the lot was full and there were too many jorts and oversized glasses, so we rolled back down the road. It took 20 minutes to drive the 6.8 narrow and windy miles to Highway 1, where we left blue skies behind us and headed off into the fog.

Mill Creek Redwood Preserve
Bottcher’s Gap Campground