Elvis Costello at the LBC

Santa Rosa, California, was the first stop on Elvis Costello’s “Detour” tour, with Larkin Poe opening — the two harmonizing Lovell rock sisters Megan (slide guitar) and Rebecca (mandolin) — who joined Elvis on the numerous encores. These women have charisma and musical chops of their own, as evidenced during their opening, and showcased as they backed up Elvis himself.

As music lovers came into the reclaimed Luther Burbank Center for the Arts (thanks to the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, who have so wisely used their re-naming rights), we were treated to a giant TV screen on the stage, running old Elvis Costello MTV videos.

Then, during Elvis’ show, that TV screen showed an ongoing slide show, variously with historical photos, an old movie still, or poetic quotes, which would then fall apart with letters scattering. (Someone called out, “Turn off the TV!” and Elvis shrugged and said “You came here to get AWAY from the TV. But there won’t be any fucking CNN or FOX News on this TV.”)

The TV screen provided the high-stimulation environment people expect from current entertainment, but it punctured the illusion that the anecdotes were spontaneous, since Elvis would start a story after a photo of the subject had already displayed — and he had his back to the screen. That’s the kind of thing you don’t want your audience to catch you at — we like to fantasize that the performer is doing all this just for us, not promiscuously for all audiences throughout the tour.

My highlights: solo Elvis playing over his own sampled bass riffs on “Watching the Detectives,” the trio on “Love Field,” and Elvis’s encore from inside the TV set with “Alison” and “Pump It Up.” I remember other shows like this (from Lucinda Williams, and Rodney Crowell, for instance), where they would play as long as the audience was still responding, so treat encores as indicators of audience interest, and show your appreciation.

My favorite song of the night, though, was “Shipbuilding,” which he performed at a grand piano, and which was deep with the pathos of the hopes of the blue-collar worker, those who understand that jobs come at the cost of the lives of their own boys in war.

Elvis Costello still has the vocal chops to sing solo for more than two hours, punctuated by stories, though the rocky first half-hour played like an opening act for his own show. Still, this is a big, grand, generous show that will only tighten and improve with time — and what a thrill to be part of its development.

Tips for Enjoying the Bridge School Benefit Concert

Yesterday my husband and I had our first experience of the Bridge School Benefit Concert, held at the Shoreline Amphitheatre (Mountain View, California). The show ran from 2-10 pm, and we had tickets for open seating on the Lawn that slopes up beyond the assigned seats. There’s useful information on the Shoreline’s website, but here are some additional tips for other first-timers:

Dress in layers. The day was mild, high of 75ºF, to a low of 62ºF by the time the show ended. Consider wearing something bright so your companions can spot you. You’ll be in direct sunlight all afternoon, so bring a stylin’ hat, sunscreen, and cover-up clothing.

Seeing the Show. Carry a small flashlight (and maybe an extra battery) so you can find your seat again after dark, and make note of landmarks such as the large projection boxes on the Lawn, the screens, and the sections of regular seating that correspond with your place on the Lawn (we were straight back from seating sections 203/204). Bring binoculars if you want to see as well as hear. There are big screens, but you’re restricted seeing what the cameraman sees.

Lawn Chairs. Acceptable lawn chairs are low-backed. Friends with “pointed” ends on their chairs were required to check them and pick them up after the show. But chair rental is only $5, so you decide if it’s worth it to lug in your own chairs.

Grub & Hooch: Beer and wine are expensive — $12 for Lagunitas Ale, $13 for Blue Moon, up to $16 for a pint of craft beer. Food was a little better, with options for $8 tostadas and $12 sandwiches. After dark, a fellow circulated around the food area carrying trays with coffee, $5 each, with packets of sugar and Coffee Mate powder. If you have a long drive ahead of you, as we did, the coffee is worth it.

Bring Your Own Grub?: You may bring your own food in soft-sided coolers; no cans or bottles, with the exception of factory-sealed plastic water bottles. You are not allowed to bring in your own booze. (That said, a cracker box can hold more than crackers.) We brought a soft-sided cooler for food and water, and a soft backpack for clothes, binoculars, and such.

Parking: VIP parking cost $20, but we didn’t use it, since there’s no extra fee to park, surprisingly. If standard parking is taking too long, the Shoreline has some lots farther away, with shuttles to the venue. Note the number on the lot signs so you can find your car again. The parking lot is dirt, and your car will leave covered with dust, so plan to wash it the next day rather than the day before.

Checking in: We arrived at 1:30 for the 2 pm start time and were inside fairly quickly, but we were cutting it close; 12:30 or 1 pm would have given us more choices. There are two gates, so keep walking – the line at the gate farther in was much shorter. Friendly security people check your bags as you come in.

Seating: Where you sit will determine, in large part, the quality of your experience.

  • Arrive early. I asked a couple of people who were at the very front of the Lawn when they had arrived to get those seats. They got to the venue at 11:30 am, and the doors opened at noon.
  • The Lawn will fill up, so don’t expect it to stay uncrowded if you sit in the back. If you sit on the left side of the Lawn (facing the stage), you may have the sun in your eyes all afternoon. Go to the right side, or the center. Bring a lightweight blanket or grass mat to claim your territory. If you’re farther back and don’t want to be stepped on, set up your area with your back against one of the projector boxes.
  • Check your sight lines. We went as far forward as we comfortably could, then realized that our view was blocked by the metal cord handrailing along the walkway that separates the Lawn from the ticketed seating. We moved up the slope of the Lawn until I could see between the cords. People ahead of you may stand, oblivious to the fact that they’re blocking the sight lines of dozens of people behind them. As tedious as it may be to have someone’s backside blocking your view of the stage, resign yourself to your fate and adjust your position if you want to view the stage itself. Sitting farther forward reduces some of this.
  • Screens vs. Stage: If you want to see emotion on the performers’ faces, sit farther back and watch the action on the big screens – however, before dark, only the smaller screens on each side of the stage will be lit. The screen footage cuts around a lot, making the stage look more “active” than it really is, and you don’t get to see body language and how the musicians are interacting with one another. If, like me, you prefer your own personal experience watching the stage itself, get as close as possible and watch with binoculars.

Neighborliness. Get to know your neighbors, especially those on either side of you. Bring practical finger food to share around, such as sugar snap peas, nuts, chocolate, or other candy. Friendly neighbors are more likely to watch out for your spot when you’re gone. Also introduce yourself to the people ahead of you; if they know you, maybe they won’t stand up and block your view. Don’t forget the people behind you; if you don’t want to be a jerk, make it comfortable for them to let you know if there’s a problem.

Be Nice to Your Neighbors,  and They will be Nice to You

Be Nice to Your Neighbors,
and They will be Nice to You

Phone ring-tones are hard to hear over the music. Adjust your ring tone and text tones to something loud and high-pitched. Turn your  screen brightness down, or you’ll stand out like a beacon after it gets dark.

Bathrooms. There are plenty of bathroom stalls. Handwashing stations in the middle aisles of the bathrooms are circular; press the rubber ring around the base with your foot, and water sprays down all along the circle. Soap dispenses from little metal pumps on the underside of the rings for water.

Sneaking closer. At the end of the evening, just before Neil Young and Promise of the Real came on, our friends told us that the assigned seating ahead of us was open, with no restrictions, so we all moved forward to theater seats for the final set. We left our chairs and a soft-sided cooler on the Lawn, and they were still there when we returned, but my pith helmet, which had been on top of the cooler, had apparently been knocked off and then stepped on. Someone kindly put it back onto the top of the cooler, however.

I hadn’t been to the Shoreline in many years, having decided I hated the venue, but our wonderful experience at the 2015 Bridge School benefit concert has changed my opinion.

October 26, 2015

No, I Don’t Want a Free Copy of Your Self-Published Novel

A writer friend posted a rather rudely phrased article on her Facebook page from a successful screenwriter who declines the opportunity to read summaries and scripts of acquaintances to “give them feedback.” 

Hell, I’m only a bookseller, and they foist their self-published novels at me and tell me to please take a free copy, because “everybody who has read it loved it.” And that’s even after I tell them the bookstore will take 3 copies on consignment. ISN’T THAT ENOUGH FOR THEM?

It takes me 8 hours to read a novel, and it’s only hubris that makes someone think they deserve to dictate 8 hours of another person’s time. I’m already not going to be able to read even a fraction of the books I personally crave to read, so I’m not going to put off reading Boy, Snow, Bird or All the Light We Cannot See for a self-indulgent project that had to be vanity published for a REASON.

Look, guys, send that MS around while you’re working on the next one. If you do get published, and then if you’re lucky and talented enough that it sells, you’ll want some of your juvenilia on hand for a quick-rewrite follow-up.  

Comcast “Basic Cable” vs. “Limited Basic Cable” – a chat transcript

CHAT ID: 63E43DAE-8F91-4471-8C9D-A06CAEC61B35

Problem: What are the monthly costs for Basic Cable vs. Limited Basic Cable?

Gagan > Hello Ellen_, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Gagan. Please give me one moment to review your information.

Gagan > It’s a privilege to have you here on chat and I am looking forward to provide you excellent service!

Ellen_ > My Issue: What are the monthly costs for Basic Cable vs. Limited Basic Cable?

Gagan > You want to know the price for Basic Cable vs. Limited Basic Cable?

Ellen_ > Hi.

Ellen_ > Yep.

Gagan > Alright!

Gagan > As I am from internet troubleshooting department.

Gagan > Please stay connected while I transfer to the correct department for further support. Before I transfer you, would there be anything else that I can assist you with?

Ellen_ > Tell the website folks that they didn’t give an option for my question! Sorry to go to you, but there wasn’t an appropriate selection. Have a good day, Gagan!

Gagan > Please stay connected while I transfer to the correct department for further support.

Gagan > Please wait, while the problem is escalated to another analyst

Sama > You have reached Sales Department and I will be assisting you with your concern for today. Please give me 2-3 minutes to review your conversation with the previous representative. This will give me a better understanding of the issue at hand so that we can resolve it in the most efficient way possible. Will that be okay?

Ellen_ > Thanks.

Sama > You are most welcome.

Sama > Based on your conversation with the previous representative I understood that you want to know the price of Basic cable and limited basic. Am I correct?

Ellen_ > Yes.

Sama > I will be more than happy to check the information for you, Ellen. You’ve certainly reached the right department! Please be assured I will do my best to help you with your concern.

Sama > Ellen, may I have your account number please?

Ellen_ > As I told the previous Analyst, Gagan, the website doesn’t give a link to Sales, so I ended up getting to you through Internet Troubleshooting!

Ellen_ > May I ask why you need my account number to tell me the package prices? Will they be different depending on where I live, for instance?

Sama > Correct Ellen, we need the account number to get the information and resolve your issue.

Ellen_ > Can you just give me ballpark package prices? Pretend I’m a new customer.🙂

Sama > Sure.

Sama > Let me check that out for you. Would you mind waiting for a couple of minutes while I do the research?

Ellen_ > No problem. Thanks.

Sama > You are most welcome.

Sama > Based on the information you have provided, we have Limited basic at $25.90 per month.

Ellen_ > Cool, thanks. How about Basic Cable?

Sama > With this package you will get 10+ channels.

Ellen_ > Yes, the website page does tell me the features:

Ellen_ > http://customer.comcast.com/help-and-support/cable-tv/difference-between-limited-basic-and-expanded-basic-cable/

Sama > Ellen, Basic cable and Limited basic cable are the same package.

Sama > To view the channel lineup of this plan, please use this link: https://www.comcast.com/Customers/Clu/ChannelLineupPopup.ashx

Ellen_ > OK. What’s the cost for Expanded Basic Cable, then?

Sama > We have Digital Economy at $39.95 per month.

Sama > With this package you will get around 50 channels.

Ellen_ > There’s no Expanded Basic Cable any more?

Sama > Ellen, which specific channel would you like watch?

Ellen_ > SciFi. But that’s just me.

Sama > Let me check that out for you. Would you mind waiting for a couple of minutes while I do the research?

Ellen_ > Unfortunately, my time’s up. However, I have a message for whoever reads these chat messages:

Sama > No problem Ellen, you can chat back to us anytime.

Ellen_ > Dear Supervisor — Please let the reps answer questions directly and stop making them try to upsell me! All I wanted was to find out the difference between two cable packages, but what should have been a 3 minute conversation has taken 20 minutes of my time just so you can hit poor Sama over the head for not selling bigger packages!

Ellen_ > Thanks, Sama. I appreciate your help, and I can only imagine the frustration of having to use those canned lines. Have a good day, and tell your supervisors that customers know what they’re doing to us!

Sama > I understand your concern, Let me apologize.

Ellen_ > IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT, Sama. I blame Comcast for not letting you just talk to me directly.

Ellen_ > And they’re going to make you apologize, when they should be apologizing to YOU. I hope this doesn’t get YOU in trouble for THEIR bad policies…

Ellen_ > Anyway, I don’t want to get you in trouble, since you’ve been so helpful. Have a good day, Sama. Thanks again.

Sama > Ellen, we have Expanded basic cable but it is not a specific package it comes under Starter package and above than that.

Ellen_ > OK, thanks.

Sama > You are most welcome.

Sama > Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Ellen_ > No, thank you though. Have a lovely weekend!

Sama > Thank you for contacting Comcast! Here at Comcast, Customer Satisfaction is important. It has been a pleasure to assist you today. Thank you very much for your time and patience all throughout the chat. Have a great week and take care!

Sama > Good bye Ellen.

Malcolm Cowley – “ernest”


Go forth and do what you must do!

Dry Season - ernest panorama

“Ernest” by Malcolm Cowley, from “The Dry Season”



Safe is the man with blunderbuss
who stalks the hippopotamus
on Niger’s bank or scours the veldt
to rape the lion of its pelt;

but deep in peril he who sits
at home to rack his lonely wits
and there do battle , grim and blind,
against the jackals of the mind.


Red VW Beetle Convertible Karmann

Red VW Beetle Convertible Karmann

VW Beetle Convertible Karmann

Karmann emblem on a VW Beetle Convertible


I took my first drivers road test in Eureka, California, in my grandparents’ maroon Karmann Ghia, a sporty little car that I still miss. The Karmann Ghia was designed by the Italian firm Ghia and built by the German firm Karmann.
Here’s a convertible VW Beetle from Karmann.

(Thanks to Michael Marinacci for the background info.)


Refinshing the Letters at the Sonoma County Library

Outside the downtown Central branch of the Sonoma County Library, one of the maintenance crew was refinishing the large metal letters. He peeled off thin sheets of silver foil with adhesive backing like a sticker, carefully applied the sheet to the letter, smoothed out bubbles with a scraper tool, then cut the outline of the letter with an X-acto knife.


Applying silver foil to the letters outside the Sonoma County Library


Lettering outside the Sonoma County Library, Central branch

… and then cutting it to size with an X-acto knife.

This was the thrifty alternative to taking the letters down sending them off to be refinished, he said.

Who knew?