(The EP version with all the outtakes)
Let me give you a little history of the bbq. May 28th, 2010 was Memorial Day so I decided to have a bbq for a few friends, about 10 people. I haven’t had a bbq in about 7 years and didn’t even have a grill at this point. So I ordered a bbq grill with a little side smoker(the one that looks like half a drum) from Amazon a few weeks before Memorial Day after reading all the reviews on bbq grills. I invited a few friends and put the grill on my driveway because I don’t really have a backyard to speak of. We had a couple of those baseball chairs that fold out and brought down a futon on the driveway and just had our normal bbq. There were six Swiss international students that lived above my unit in the triplex(I own the bottom two units. I live in one and rent the other to Brandon and Pam while the Swiss guys lived in the top unit which they called Above Birdlands, crazy Swiss). It was just like any bbq except since I’m from the Philippines, I marinated the chicken, ribs, Filipino style with soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, sugar, etc. I also grilled calamari, fish, and octopus which I got from the local Ranch 99 Asian supermarket.
After that first bbq, we all decided to have another bbq and invited a few neighbors. It was the summer anyway, and it was World Cup Soccer season We just decided to have more Friday bbqs and watch the world cup soccer games the next day. Along the way, more neighbors, friends, and commuters stopped by the Friday ritual. I paid for all the food from May through August, and some neighbors would bring some food to share. The food was all free. No donations were required even when folks insisted because in the Philippines, if you can’t (blow out) or pay for all the food, then don’t have a gathering. It’s not hospitable or polite in the Philippines to ask for donations; it’s considered rude in the country of my upbringing to ask for money. A host pays for all costs or don’t throw a bbq. In June, during the bbqs, we would also invite the homeless in the Ohlone Park and people who were passing by from BART so at least we can meet some of our neighbors getting off BART around 6pm(summer bbqs’ started around 5pm,, but around September, we started at 8pm because it was too much work, and I needed a few hours to rest after teaching on Fridays at the City College of San Francisco until 2pm. I still had to shop for food at Costco, Ranch 99 Asian Supermarket, Safeway, and Trader Joes(two hour shopping trip) and then another two hours of food prep and one hour to set up grill and chairs. It was only me doing all the work for three months and an occasional volunteer. Up to the end of November, we only had two volunteers: myself and Helio Conceicao, my Brazilian neighbor.
I met Paul Lynch, my neighbor to my right of my unit for the first time as a person and individual(this dude lived right next to me and I didn’t even know him and his wife for the last three years while they lived fifteen feet from me(it’s terrible, I know) except they bought a birdhouse from me about two years back. We had no live music then; we just played the radio tuned to KCSM 91.1 jazz radio all afternoon. All we did was eat and gossip from 6pm to 2am though some sessions people would talk till 6am(sometimes folks were found sleeping on the futons outside at 730am as I woke up, lol)especially the international students who came from countries that had late night cultures like Columbia, Brazil, Argentina, Philippines and even in Berlin, Germany. I figured August would be the end of the bbq since I would start teaching at City College of San Francisco in the fall; the summer is over, and I am a lot poorer but happier(my Mom told me that’s ok, you should be generous to people anyway). August came and I told my neighbors, “That’s it! I’m done.” But Paul who lives next to me volunteered to host the next BBQ; then Dorin Blumberg, another neighbor said he would sponsor two bbqs in September after making his money from his Alcatraz tour business. Jun Gumabay, another neighbor said he will pay for one. Morgan Lim, another friend, said he will not only host one but will do his Multi Culti Grill bbq, Malaysian style with satay since he is originally from Malaysia. Pierre Palancade, another neighbor two blocks away also volunteered to pay for the bbq. Dan Reamon, another neighbor paid for the bbq also. So we started a bbq sponsor rotation. (we have seven bbq sponsors now, but we could definitely use more) For the first three months, I was the only volunteer of the bbq from prepping and marinating the meats, grilling, prepping the hookah pipe, putting up the sound curtain barriers across the garage entrance, washing all the dishes and utensils(we did not use paper plates or plastic forks at that time) and picking up all the beer bottles and cigarette butts after the bbq. (Larry, a regular, who usually comes in at midnight now puts away all the chairs, and picks up all the bottle caps and cigarette butts) 10 to 16 hours of volunteer labor but I figured what the heck. By end of August and beginning of September, Paul and his jazz trio wanted to play jazz in the six car garage(I didn’t even know Paul played music(he plays bass) and he was my next door neighbor of three years. There was a car in there, a bunch of boxes, mattresses, futons, and birdhouses so I told them to just play around the 1990 Volvo station wagon all three parallel to one side of the car.(it was a classic moment) I don’t know who suggested it, but someone said we should move the car out and build a stage for the jazz trio to play in. Well, I told Paul, if we are going to do this, we might as well do it right. Being an artist of course and being called a “human dynamo,” by my neighbor Susan, I enlisted a Brazilian neighbor who is also musician and capoeira guy to help me build a 1” inch stage that same night.(haha..the garage ceiling is so low that the stage can only be an inch high) so anything over one centimeter off the floor qualifies as a stage. We got some leftover two by fours out of the backyard, some plywood from the hardware store and Urban Ore, and a carpet remnant. Four hours later after moving the car, we had a 10 by 10 foot, one inch stage with a single shop light with 200 watt bulb functioning as a stage light. My buddies at DC Piano brought my upright piano downstairs into the garage the next day and tuned it. My neighbor in the building, Pam Hollis, an interior designer sewed the velvet fabric I bought to be used as drapes for the stage and the windows of the garage. My friend and neon artist, Shawna Peterson of Peterson Neon(check her out; she’s done work on the Castro Theater sign in SF, the Uptown neon in Oakland, and Levi’s)made two Birdland neon signs with a one to two week deadline. (I laugh now when the media calls us a jazz club; we are NOT a jazz club. We have a garage with a piano and a shop light and jazz musicians play in the garage; this is as old as the cavemen singing and beating a stick in a cave time immemorial. But thank you, media, anyway for thinking of us so highly on the same level as Yoshi’s and the Village Vanguard in NYC. lol. We are NOT a supper club. We have one bbq grill(well now two, soon to be three by summer 2011), and gave away free food like the original potlatch ceremony, a competitive ceremonial activity and wealth destruction ritual among certain North American Indians, especially the Kwakwaka’wakw, involving a lavish distribution of gifts and food, but thank you again, media, for regarding our food meriting a food review and a pending Michelin star and Zagat rating. Lol.
So what’s the issue with the City of Berkeley? The main issue is people on the sidewalk(public right of way) since sometimes there are 10-20 people on the sidewalk with a chicken or rib in their hand, but pedestrians have always been able to walk through except when we specifically block them unless they eat something first and meet a few neighbors before they go where ever they need to go. Even my neighbor Josh who is visually impaired and walks with a stick, gets through the crowd every time. Noise is not an issue since my garage is adjacent to a baseball field and Ohlone Park so the nearest neighbor to my left is about a block away(over a football field away), and across from me is the North Berkeley BART station so the closest neighbor across is about a block and half away(another football field and half away) and to the right of me is Paul Lynch’s house(his house is on the corner so you have to cross the street again before you get to the other neighbors and the next closest three neighbors(the Brasilians, Julio, and Helio, the lawyer, and Pat and Joe) on the right after you cross the street to my right are regulars at the bbqs and Susan and Mike Freeman who live behind me, also a musician, plays there with his band every few months and are both regulars; we also installed acoustical sound barrier curtains across the garage to cut the music down by 55 dbs. The second issue is serving free food to the public which requires a permit. I guess we were still operating under the Kwakiutl social codes and violated the Indian Act enacted in Canada in 1884 and in the United States in the same period which banned potlatches at the urging of missionaries and government agents who considered it “a worse than useless custom” that was seen as wasteful, unproductive, and contrary to “civilized” values.
So the solution was really simple, just move everyone off the sidewalk and into the garage, the backyard(I cleared it out to make it usable for people since the City of Berkeley tried to give me citations, and my condo upstairs which can hold about 50 people anyway, and we can still accomodate 150 plus folks comfortably–200 and you’re in the sideyard chicken coop territory with eight chickens. Birdland Jazz and BBQ became Birdland Jazzista Social Club, a “private” social club open only to “private” members on “private” property and “private” food and “private” nonalcoholic beverages will no longer be served to the “public.”(bummer, I’m really sad about this) Moving the bbq away from the sidewalk appears less neighborly(not only appears–it is) and inviting but at least we don’t have to deal with the City of Berkeley government agents over public right of way issues requiring special event permits. Bottom line: We want to comply with city codes, and Berkeley Zoning has been helpful clarifying the permits and zoning issues. We will try to keep the spirit of those summer 2010 bbqs’ albeit more “private” and less “community oriented” at least from the physical layout. But we will still be totally committed to the community and will expand our range of community and cultural activities.
“Viva la potlatch, Viva la jazz, Viva la comunidad! Hasta la Victoria Siempre” Ernesto “Chi”cken Jazzista
“Give me a pork rib, or give me death!” Anonymous Jazzista