It was the night before our trip to San Francisco, and Gary and I were awake late – packing at the last minute. Because that’s how we do. We had already fielded calls from both of our moms – expressing concern for our safety with the Northern California earthquake and aftershocks they’d been hearing about in the news. Because that’s how THEY do.
So as we gathered suitcases, we turned on the TV to catch the news about said aftershocks, only to see that the News had been taken over by other events happening in Los Angeles… Four LAPD officers, who had been accused of severely beating a man (Rodney King), had been acquitted in a trial earlier that day. And LA was breaking out in big, deadly riots…
The next morning as we headed to the airport for a half day of flying, we began to run into delays. The smoke from the rioting and vandalism was so thick around the LA airport, that other flights all over the country were being affected because of rerouting… So we gathered extra magazines and snacks and patience, and offered some heartfelt prayers for the people of LA, as well.
When we finally touched down in the San Francisco airport that evening, the day had already been long and tense. Every person we’d sat beside or waited with had added a story to the unfolding saga of the Los Angeles riots. And we’d caught faint hints that the violence was spreading out to other parts of California, too. So as we began to drive north toward Bodega Bay we were a little on edge, with visions of riots and almost-forgotten-earthquakes dancing in our heads.
And then we got lost. And then we got found! But then we got confused about whether we wanted Route 101 or Route 1.
We made the wrong choice.
Let me tell you, California Shoreline Highway Route 1 is no joke, driving in the pitch-black of night.
But finally we arrived at the Lodge we’d booked for our stay. And as we walked in to register, the night desk clerk said, “Oh, great! You made it! We were afraid maybe you’d been stranded when rioters closed the Golden Gate Bridge…”
Umm, no. But thanks for pointing out how precarious our lives seem to be right now…
And that was just the beginning of this momentous trip. Our plan had been to explore Bodega Bay and San Francisco for a few days, and then drive south to Santa Clara to see Todd Rundgren and Utopia in concert. Gary is a big fan, and apparently this show was a big deal. Last time together before they retired, or something like that. Clearly, I was just along for the ride and the extracurriculars. But the Utopia show was the endgame.
As we greeted a new day, we learned that rioting had indeed erupted in San Francisco the night before. A curfew was set for the evening hours, and National Guardsmen were going to be policing. So we decided to occupy ourselves in the more rural activities of the Bodega Bay area. And the first idea we came upon was a hot-air balloon trip.
Now, we did not realize that there are two parts to this kind of Wine Country hot-air balloon adventure. The one part of the adventure is when WE are in the balloon, and others in our group are following along in a “chase vehicle” below us. And the second part of the adventure is when we are in the chase vehicle, as the others are taking their turn in the balloon.
One part has all the thrills of flying high like birds, with a steady wind in our faces and absolutely breathtaking views below us. And the other part has all the terrors of drag racing with a maniac driver who thinks he can keep one eye on the balloon in the sky and another eye on a road map, even as he drives at crazy speeds along winding coastal highways, desperately trying not to lose sight of the balloon, all the while saying things like, “Golly, the wind is strong today! We’re getting pretty close to the ocean! They’ve got to get that balloon down NOW, or they’re going to have a water landing…”
So that was that day. And yes, the balloon landed safely. As I recall, the balloon landed on the side of a mountain, just short of blowing out to sea… A very nice rancher came out to greet us, as we scared her cattle and alpaca herd with the super loud and startling sound of the balloon “burners” navigating a tricky landing on a steep slope.
We drove back to our Lodge, passing through peaceful Santa Rosa as we meandered homeward, taking deep breaths and feeling grateful for the quiet. And as we arrived at the Lodge, someone remarked to us that if we intended to go back out that night we should AVOID SANTA ROSA, because they’d had some rioting there that day…
Well of course they did!
So we spent another quiet day or two in Bodega Bay, still reluctant to make a trip into San Francisco because of the lingering riot rumors. And then finally it was time to move to our hotel in Santa Clara, to be in town for the Todd Rundgren concert.
Everything in Santa Clara was clean and crisp and state-of-the-art; and exactly what you would expect from an up and coming city in Silicon Valley. As we were checking-in at our hotel, Gary was making conversation with the concierge and happened to mention that we were there for the Todd Rundgren/Utopia show. It was a rather small venue – aka “an intimate gathering of Rundgren fans” – so we weren’t sure anyone would have heard of the concert, but we hoped the concierge could give us directions for driving there later that night.
And she chuckled. Actually, it was kind of a snort, as she said, “Gosh! I thought that place closed a long time ago! It used to be a dance club. Like, for body-slam dancing…” Her raised eyebrows told us she didn’t think we really “belonged” at that kind of “show”…
Our curiosity piqued, we immediately took a drive over to see the club. And one quick glance explained the concierge’s thought about the club being long closed. It definitely looked… unkept. As in, if all of the rest of Santa Clara had a polished newness about it, this one block was the forgotten ruins of the early pioneer days… or maybe the 60’s. Whatever.
Later that evening we arrived for the concert pretty early. Ticket information had been a bit sketchy, but we expected “General Admission”, meaning no assigned seating. What we hadn’t expected was NO SEATING. As in, this is usually a body-slam dance club, thus there are no seats.
Also, no air conditioning.
But hey, we’re here! Surrounded by a bunch of other like-minded fans, eagerly waiting for the show to start.
And waiting. And waiting. And…waiting.
Finally, a warm-up band came out. I don’t remember much about them… I think I was getting a little light-headed with the standing and the heat and all the people pressing in, having no sense of personal space because NONE OF US HAD SEATS… And then the warm-up band finished; but still no Todd and Utopia. And no announcer to tell us why the delay.
The crowd began to stir; and then the chanting started: Bullsh**! Bullsh**! Bullsh**!
At some point we had already asked a staff person at the club if it was possible to leave for awhile, perhaps get some fresh air in the parking lot, and then return. But we were told there would be no re-entry allowed.
So with the crowd chanting “Bullsh**!” and getting angrier as the wait continued, and no idea when the show would actually start – TWO HOURS AND TWENTY MINUTES past what should have been the starting time, we made the reluctant decision to walk out of the club and go back to our hotel.
Bummer. BIG bummer. No Todd Rundgren show. Which was the POINT of the whole trip, right?! Ugh. Just… ugh.
But no! There’s more!
We had one last day in California, the rioting seemed over, and we decided to squeeze as much of San Francisco into that one day as possible. First, though, Gary had to call his office to check on a few things. So he found a pay phone in the hotel lobby to use – this was 1992, and pay phones were still a thing. But before he could begin his call, Gary heard the guy in the phone booth next to him talking to someone, seeming to be dictating a story for a newspaper or magazine. And he was reporting on the Todd Rundgren Utopia show! And the guy was saying things like, “Best show they’ve ever done!” And, “The fans waited two-and-a-half hours! But it was SO worth it!”
Two hours and thirty minutes.
Yeah. If you’re doing the math you are realizing right now that we missed that show by TEN MINUTES. We’d stood in that hot room for hours, and then left just ten minutes too soon.
And THEN, throughout the rest of that day as we played tourist all over San Francisco, guess what topic of conversation we kept overhearing in various places…? Everywhere we went, someone was talking about the Todd Rundgren concert, how great it was, and how the band had travel delays that made them arrive two-and-a-half hours late, but wow, best show ever, they played for three hours etc etc…
So, Gary and I have told the story of San Francisco/Todd Rundgren a time or two over the last 26 years… And it just never had a satisfying ending! I mean, what can we say? We had a lot of “near misses” that trip – good AND bad – but, it kinda feels like we just shoulda stayed home that week…!
But last night, that story finally got a worthy ending… Gary, along with his good friend Collin and our forever-son-in-love Holden, went to see Todd Rundgren and Utopia in a beautiful theatre in downtown Chicago. Nothing went wrong. Nobody rioted, no alpacas were startled, there were no earthquakes. It was just a concert. With seats, for sitting!
It was JUST a concert! But it’s a picture to me of how LONG the threads of life are; how winding it is, full of questions and mystery…
When life seems precarious or plans seem uncertain, it’s good to remember that God plays the long game. Some stories seem to have unsatisfying endings. But sometimes – maybe – that’s because it’s not yet the ending.
~May 23, 2018~