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San Francisco And New Orleans, Pt. 2: Ween And Haight-Ashbury

Watching Ween play live in New Orleans and checking out Charles Manson’s house (among others) in San Francisco

55 years too late

In my previous post we had traveled to San Francisco as a layover and toured Alcatraz before moving on to New Orleans for Anna’s conference and watched some great live music while in town. There were still a couple of days to be spent there before heading back to San Francisco so lets get this show on the road!

Friday, April 28, 2023
Now the day that I had been looking forward to was upon us. It was announced at the beginning of the year that my favourite band, Ween, were going to be playing New Orleans roughly the same time we were going to be there for the conference so I had managed to book presale tickets using the incredibly unreliable internet aboard our flight to New York in February. Ticketmaster being the terrible organisation that they are only gave the option of getting tickets to both the Friday, April 28 and Saturday, April 29 gigs, rather than being able to choose just one of the nights and our original plan had been to fly back to San Francisco on the Friday. However, Anna knew how much this meant to me, as I had only got to see them once before and that was when they reformed in Colorado in 2016, so we changed our flight to a day later, allowing us to catch one night of Ween, yet still spend a few days in San Francisco, this time in what is always considered to be the much cooler Haight-Ashbury district.

Still, we had an entire day to kill before the concert and a lot of food to try. An old basketball teammate and friend of mine has a son playing in New Orleans and the plan was originally to meet up with him, but unfortunately it turned out he wasn’t going to be in town, however, he gave us some recommendations for places to eat, as did an old colleague who spends a lot of time there. One of the local specialties we hadn’t tried yet was turtle soup and apparently one of the best places to get it where they use real turtle meat was a place called Brennan’s so that was where we would be going for lunch. What we didn’t expect from a place where you can eat turtles was that it was rather fancy and we’d usually need a booking, but we had no qualms about sitting at the bar to eat.
We pulled up our seats at the bar and next to Anna sat a typically loud, boastful man who, although mentioning he had a wife, felt the need to impress the two women seated next to him with stories of his worldly adventures and they just lapped it up, despite the fact that pretty much all of what he was saying was either common knowledge or could be seen in a stock image; “The cities in Europe have these beautiful squares” was one pearl of wisdom, “Africa has some of the most incredible wildlife” being another, followed by “Loire Valley in France produces some of the best wines in the world”. The girls’ reactions to these statements were usually something to the extent of  “That’s amazing! Oh, we have to go there!”, but it was when he was talking about how easy it was to learn a foreign language that Anna and myself had a little trouble trying to stifle our laughter. He was talking about a series of audiobooks and podcasts by an author whose name I can’t recall that apparently dumbs down learning languages and even the woman serving us chimed in at this point, “Oh, I love him, he’s amazing!”. The guy at the bar was focusing on learning German and claimed that to understand words, they either rhyme or have similar suffixes to English vocabulary (although he obviously didn’t use the term ‘suffix’, because I doubt he knew what one was). “If a word in German ends with -ung, just change it to -ing, it’ll almost sound the same”. As for the words rhyming, “So many words sound the same as in English; If I want to say ‘I cannot’, it’s just “Ish Kinish’. We listened to these audiobooks in the car and my son learnt how to speak German in three weeks.” he said with a satisfied smirk as the two girls and the server gushed over this fountain of knowledge. “Oh, it’s so obvious, I don’t know why they don’t teach languages like that in school, it would be so much easier!”, one remarked, him nodding in agreement. Well, as someone who did six years of German lessons in high school, yet can barely construct a sentence, as well as spending almost a decade trying to help foreigners learn English, I can safely say that languages aren’t taught that way because they simply don’t work that way. German nouns occasionally rhyme with their English translation, but usually don’t, but they do have genders, which can get a little tricky when it comes to using the correct determiners, and don’t get me started on sentence structure. Also, good luck trying to get any German to figure out what “Ish Kinish” means (for those wondering, he meant “Ich kann nicht”).
He then went on to regale the women with the story of a tarot card reading he had had while in New Orleans that, although the results sounded incredibly vague, he believed to be strikingly accurate, but that’s what you get with a hot read, as pretty much all of them do.
Anyway, take a tour of Brennan’s, including the turtles in our bowl and the ones in the garden:

Once lunch with the human Rosetta Stone was done we did what we had done every day in New Orleans and that was shopping, at one point being followed by a guy dressed as crawfish singing, “Don’t be afraid of the crawfish man, the crawfish man, the crawfish man… unless you’re allergic!”. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was officially beginning that night and there are almost no Asians living in this city so people could tell we were from out of town. “Y’all here for the festival ?” we’d be asked as soon as we entered any store, but as soon as Anna replied that we were there for a conference, they also knew about the ARVO Conference as well, however, the festival was something they took a great amount of pride in so they needed to know, “But y’all gonna catch some music while you’re here?”. Each time I mentioned that we were going to see my favourite band that night, but they weren’t part of the festival, some gave me confused looks, one even said, “Yeah, I heard about some little band that didn’t get on the bill”.
The strange thing is, if you look at the lineup, it seems that anyone can play the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, because Ed Sheeran, The Steve Miller Band, and The Wu-Tang Clan definitely aren’t Jazz and that’s just scraping the surface (although there are a few on there that I’d like to see). Maybe that’s just the ‘Heritage’ part?:

The constant inquiries about our attendance at the festival got a bit tiresome after a while, plus we’d seen pretty much everything there was to see in the area so we went back to Pepper Palace to buy a bunch of hot sauces and pickles and then took a walk by the river, passing a huge paddle steamer along the way back to the hotel where we could have an early dinner, shower, and go to the show. However, I had received conflicting information as to when the concert was starting, my ticket stating 9:00pm and a reminder I got on my phone saying 7:00pm so we walked to the Orpheum Theater to check, and it turned out that doors were opening at 8:00pm, the show beginning at 9:00. We also found out that there were VIP boxes that could be purchased through the theatre itself with a table for four to the side of the stage that, besides a perfect, unobstructed view of the show, gave you priority entry, a bottle of champagne, and a personal waiter for drinks, but that was an extra US$250.00 on top of the ticket price, more than a little expensive when we had general admission tickets and I can see over the entire crowd. There were people already lined up out the front, some dressed as watermelons and pineapples to Anna’s amusement, she was only beginning to see what she was getting herself into. Anyway, Let’s eat!
We had ticked off most of the items on the menu that we had wanted to try in New Orleans, but there was still seafood boil, a dish that is as simple as it sounds, but absolutely delicious! It’s just pretty much prawns, crab, and crawfish boiled inside a bag with some chili sauce and that suited us perfectly, but there was one problem when I went to pay; one of my credit cards was missing! We paid using another card and then it occured to me that I may have accidentally bailed on our tab at the bar the previous night so we power-walked down there and the guy that had been serving me recognised me immediately and told me I had paid the previous night’s bill, but had just forgotten my card.
The day so far:

We had about an hour to spare so we walked back and found a bar near the theatre and pulled up a seat. After a while I heard the guy next to me mention the Orpheum Theater to the waitress so I asked him if he was going to see Ween. The guy’s name was Austin, he had driven five hours from Houston, Texas for this show and one of his friends was supposed to be coming with him, but there was a last minute emergency and he had pulled out so Austin was alone. We were talking for ages and I mentioned the premium seats, because I hadn’t heard of them up until that point; as luck would have it Austin had one of those tables and he was going to be by himself so he said we could just join him. I told him we’d at least pay for his drinks, but that seemed like a small gesture to me so I also got him some cash from the ATM and we were soon on our way.

By the time we arrived the line was wrapped around the block. Ween fans are almost like a cult, Anna commenting that it’s like a big family, but when it was time to enter we got to go through a special door to skip the crowd, however, I wanted to buy one of the gig posters, but the line for the merchandise stand wound up several flights of stairs. Anna grabbed a spot in the line which moved quite quickly, while I went to the bathroom, a guy in the next stall having eaten something that had definitely disagreed with him, and Austin checked out our seats. We bought our t-shirts and stuff and pulled up a seat for an epic show that in traditional Ween style, lasted three hours, us getting served beers the entire night. Anna sipped her champagne and knew most of the songs from me playing them so she seemed to be enjoying the show, but at the same time when she has to sit in a dark room Anna starts to fade so after about an hour she caught a taxi home.

The gig was absolutely fantastic and afterward Austin and myself were still a bit hyped so we went back to the bar and hung out with some people who had been to the show, some who had been to other gigs for the festival, and just some randoms as well. One guy claimed to be a music producer and wanted me to send him the photos and videos from the Little Freddie King show the previous night and there was also a woman there that absolutely hated me from the beginning for reasons I’ll never know
Ween live and more drinks:

It might seem a bit weird that there are only a few photos from during the show, but because we had a table, I was able to sit my phone down and film the entire thing. If you feel like watching it, there are the usual issues — it took a little while to get the right angle and zoom, sometimes it’s obstructed by people, and occasionally the phone just fell over, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out:

Saturday, April 29, 2023
If Friday had been the best day of this trip, then Saturday, our final day in New Orleans, was definitely the worst, although it did start out pretty well. We grabbed a coffee and then went to Gus’s Fried Chicken, an apparently world famous restaurant where even the vegetables and pickles are deep-fried. After that we walked into town again, this time so I could buy a poster tube, but the three post offices I located on Google Maps had closed down and FedEx stores don’t stock them. Add to this the constant annoyance of being asked if we were there for the festival and getting stuck in a torrential downpour, it was a pretty frustrating day. I settled for a box big enough for the poster to sit in, then we caught a taxi with a clearly stoned driver who was just babbling the entire ride and ran up the curb in front of our hotel.
We changed out of our soaking clothes, got our luggage, and went to the airport and upon checking in it became apparent that my luggage was 9 lb (4 kg) over the weight limit, not just due to the difference in the amount of weight allowed on this particular flight, but also because of the sheer amount of pickles and hot sauces in my luggage. I managed to move some stuff into my carry-on bag and we were soon on to the security check. I took off my shoes and belt, removed everything from my pockets and went through the body scanner, but it kept coming up with metal near my groin. I figured it was the zip on my shorts, but each time they scanned me it still detected metal to the lower-right of my abdomen. The security officer told me the lengthy terms and conditions of what he had to do, including that he may accidentally brush against certain areas, and asked my permission, however, I bet ‘No’ would not be a suitable answer. He swiped down the inside of my right leg and legally he had to give me the same spiel before he swiped the other leg, but it was really slowing down everyone else so I cut him off to tell him, “Cool, just do it”, but still nothing could be found. His last resort was to tell me the T&Cs again and cup me as if I had been inserting pins down there like some modern day Albert Fish, but yet again, nothing. It was only when they let me proceed that Anna reminded me that it would’ve been the mesh inserted there from my hernia surgery a decade ago. Well, the worst was now over and we were soon flying back to San Francisco.

We hadn’t been having the best of luck with taxis and Ubers so far, not only because they’re hard to locate in New Orleans due to not having a license plate on the front, we had just had terrible drivers, but this driver to our hotel was the worst; he had the music up insanely loud and the windows open despite the fact that it was freezing outside that night. When we were approaching the hotel he yelled over the music to Anna to ask where the hotel was, but got frustrated when two people who were coming from the airport weren’t familiar with their surroundings or the exact location of their hotel. Anna eventually saw it on the other side of the road so he drove straight into oncoming traffic and just dumped us out the front. Once we had checked in there were no restaurants open, but we were allowed to order food to the hotel so Anna ordered ramen, but wasn’t sure it worked so tried again. Over the course of the next hour or so we had three separate deliveries of ramen come to our room, a pretty fitting end to the day.

Sunday, April 30, 2023
Our initial stay in San Francisco, besides Alcatraz, had been a little underwhelming, however, this leg should prove to be a bit more fun, because we were staying in Haight-Ashbury:

Initially a collection of isolated farms and sand dunes, the area transformed into a popular entertainment destination after the completion of the Haight Street Cable Railroad in 1883. However, the neighborhood faced decline during the Depression and post-WWII period. In the 1960s, the district became a haven for hippies due to the availability of cheap rooms and vacant properties, turning it into a center for counterculture, drugs, and music.

The 1967 Summer of Love brought national attention and popularized the counterculture movement. However, the Haight-Ashbury district later faced issues of overcrowding, homelessness, hunger, drug problems, and crime. The area eventually improved and renewed in the late 1970s.

Most music fans have probably heard of the place, especially considering household names such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, and even Charles Manson had called the neighbourhood home at one stage, so we were pretty excited to spend the day exploring. My first stop while Anna looked at a few clothing stores and got coffee was a disappointing visit to Amoeba Records before hitting up all of the secondhand and goodwill stores and one thing immediately struck us —  we knew that San Francisco wasn’t going to be all that warm, but this particular area was freezing when the strong wind came up, it was absolutely frigid and I was wearing thermals, a t-shirt, and a light puffer jacket. Anyway, we continued on, passing the disputed former residence of Jimi Hendrix, and checked out more vintage and thrift stores among others, but the prices in a lot of them were just plain ridiculous, one even making us wear plastic gloves to look through the clothes, even for a bunch of t-shirts from the 2000s. We also began playing a game of our own creation, ‘Hobo or Hipster?’, because just like the other areas of San Francisco we had been to, there were a quite a few homeless people in Haight-Ashbury, but this area has also attracted its fair share of hipsters and sometimes it was hard to differentiate between the two, although there were occasional tells like holding a cup of coffee or not smelling quite as bad as the unhoused.
Once we had completed our trek around Haight-Ashbury our intention was to find some famous houses, but first we had to get out of that freezing wind! We went to a cafe and managed to get a seat, however, it was right next to the door and apparently that strong wind wasn’t a one-off. Roughly every 30 seconds another customer would enter and leave the wooden door ajar, the wind blowing it shut with a deafening slam that gave us a jolt each time, even when we knew it was coming, and we soon noticed after several such occurrences that part of the doorframe was starting to detach due to the perpetual impacts. It was so frustrating every time it happened so when a table became free further inside, we pounced immediately so we could finish our coffee with our eardrums intact.

Once done it was time to find some of the legendary residences in the area, first Janis Joplin’s at 122 Lyon St., then to 737 Bona Vista Ave. West for Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead’s former abode, but the house that I was most interested in was that of Charles Manson at 636 Cole St. All of these properties appear to currently be occupied, but I think real estate agents would be legally obligated to tell prospective tenants at the Cole St. apartment that it was also the exact location where one of the world’s most infamous cult leaders formed the Manson Family in 1968.
A look around Haight-Ashbury including those famous celebrity residences:

It was soon time for dinner so we had a look around closer to where we were staying, finding another insane pinball place along the way and maybe we had just given ourselves jet lag again with the flight from New Orleans, but we were beginning to fade, plus there isn’t a whole lot open there on a Sunday night so we kept it a relatively early one.

Monday, May 1, 2023
It was the last full day of this most recent American adventure and Anna had an old friend, Dawn, that lived in San Francisco with her partner so they joined us for brunch, Anna and myself dressing more appropriately with windbreakers to deal with the awful weather. Our food and enormous bowls of coffee arrived so we had a great catch up with them for an hour and soon it was time to be parting ways.
We decided to look around another part of San Francisco, winding our way around and down the incredibly steep streets that you see in any car chase scene in old films set in this city, walking around the Castro and Corona Heights neighbourhoods, but once we finished there it really seemed like we had done everything there was to do in this part of San Francisco too. We took the almost vertical streets back to Haight-Ashbury and even had a proper look to make sure we had seen everything we had wanted to, arriving back at the hotel in the middle of the afternoon.

After a couple of hours of relaxing and then packing with some classic Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episodes playing in the background we went out to a bar to watch the deciding game of the Sacramento Kings vs Golden State Warriors playoff series and it was lucky I had packed my Jason Williamson jersey, because the Kings got blown out. We then had another look at the pinball place before having dinner and finding somewhere to spend our final night out in San Francisco and that’s when things got a bit weird. There were a couple seated at the relatively empty bar and I had a tab running so each time I ordered a drink for us I had to say my surname. By the third time I said “Abel” the woman sitting there started to get suspicious and asked me for my name. I told her it was Tim Abel which was met with laughter, because her partner’s name was Ryan Abel and she thought I had been discreetly putting drinks on their tab! We hung around and chatted with the couple, Ryan constantly referring to me as family more times than Vin Diesel does in The Fast and the Furious franchise, happily ignoring the fact that we’re different races, but soon Anna realised her phone was missing. She went back to the previous bar to look while the Abels +1 tore apart the furniture in pursuit of the phone, only for me to later receive a call to inform me that it had slipped into a compartment she wasn’t aware existed in her new bag.
We were flying out the following day so she came back to thank the two for their help, as well as to get a photo of the Abel family.
Looking back on that conclusion of our latest US adventure:

We took the 16-hour flight home to Singapore the following day and spent more than two weeks jet-lagged upon arrival, me with a few pimples from all of the fried food.
New Orleans was fantastic, we both absolutely loved it there, Anna even saying on our final day in San Francisco that maybe we should’ve spent more time there, suggesting that I could’ve even gone to that second Ween show! As for San Francisco itself, we had high hopes, were really looking forward to staying there, and as expected Alcatraz was incredible, but as for the rest of the city it definitely came up a little short of our expectations, but it was nowhere near as cold as where we’re going soon!

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2 Comments on San Francisco And New Orleans, Pt. 2: Ween And Haight-Ashbury

  1. Really sorry to hear that SFO did not deliver. I have always loved it a lot, but have seen a lot of bad press coming through over past few years. I’ve not been in ages.

    New Orleans is always a treat – so damned alive! I also arrived in town and ggot a big surprise – I was there for Jazz and Heritage (yeah, it’s a mess o’ stuff – has been for many decades now) Festival, and all I really wanted to do was see The Neville Brothers play at Tipitinas – that would suit me fine. This was 89,, long before gig listings on line, so we arrived blind aside from the J & H Shows. We rushed out to Tipitina’s first night – and who is playing? The Go-Betweens! So the disappointment was soon great happiness, we stayed back with band and made friends with half of them – so a pretty joyous night. My friend and I were wandering back walking those wide streets, antebellum mansions everywhere, live oaks doing their magic – felt like Lousiana heaven. But boom! A card screeched to a halt, group of white college kids yelled out “Git in the car, y’all shouldn’t be here!” They rushed us back to the French Quarter ranting how dangerous the area was. I still don’t quite believe them.

    Thanks for your posts. I always enjoy them,

    • Dr. Tan's Travels // May 31, 2023 at 2:38 pm // Reply

      We didn’t have a bad time in San Francisco, it just wasn’t really what we were expecting, we just thought it would be a bit more lively.
      I’m glad you like the posts, thank you for reading them!

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