Rolling Stoned for free
The trip to San Francisco really begins a couple of months ago when I signed up with a local radio station (JACK-FM) to win a trip to see the Rolling Stones on their current tour in San Francisco.
Well, I get a phone call in late September telling me I won the thing!!! I couldnít believe it! Round trip airfare, 3 days, 2 nights in S.F. at a luxury hotel, on stage seats to the Stones. How could it get betterÖwell, it did. More on that later.
We decided to make a long weekend of it so we talked to the people setting up the trip and had them book our flight for Friday the 11th of November rather than Monday the 14th. We found out we were being put up at the Pan Pacific Hotel and booked an extra 3 nights there.
Day one, Friday, November the 11th Ė
The flight is on time and we are off to San Francisco. We arrive in S.F. around 4:30p California time, get our luggage and with the help of some very nice folks made our way to the BART, (Bay Area Rapid Transit), rail station at the airport. The cost was just $5 per person one-way from the airport to downtown.
Some research and talking with friends that have been there we heard this was the most economical way to get downtown where we were to stay. Even though we had 4 large suitcases the BART train was really a very easy way to get to the Union Square part of downtown where the Pan Pacific is located.
We arrived in Union Square and after getting our bearings decided to walk, luggage and all to the hotel. Now, for those of you who havenít been to San Francisco just let me warn you this city is hilly, and that may be an understatement. The walk was only about 4 blocks or so but it was mostly uphill, itís a good thing we work out 5 days a week, let me just say that. It was pretty cool though; we were able to see many places we had been researching for the trip and it gave us a good idea of where we were and where we wanted to go.
We checked into the Pan Pacific, which by the way is a very nice 4 star hotel, the room was beautiful, with many amenities including honor bar, safe & computer hookup among others. The staff was just wonderful the entire time we were there.
After checking in we spent some time walking around the Union Square area. Union Square itís self is a park that takes up a city block and hotels, restaurants and shopping surround it. Itís kind of the hub of downtown San Francisco; you can catch cable cars or any number of other public transportation, all on San Franciscoís MUNI system. The MUNI includes the world famous cable cars, the city buses, light rail and they have these single rail cars much like cable cars that are all different from different parts of the world, these run on electricity from overhead cables, we rode on one from Milan, Italy.
The public transportation system in S.F. is fantastic, you can get anywhere in the city using one of these modes of transportation.
My wife had read about this restaurant called Maxís, it just happened to be a block from the hotel so we went there for dinner. Just one of many excellent meals we had while in San Francisco. We split a Caesarís salad and an entrťe of sliced New York strip steak in mushroom marsala sauce with mashed potatoes over a glass of wine. Then for dessert we had chocolate chip cheesecake with coffee. Maxís has several locations and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with an extensive menu of everything from casual sandwiches to full entrťeís.
Day 2, Saturday, November 12th Ė
We headed to Chinatown for a walking tour with the Wok Wiz, owned by chef Shirley Fong-Torres. She offers several tours, the daily Chinatown walking tour, the "I canít believe I ate my way through Chinatown" tour and Caio Chow tour which goes not only through Chinatown but also covers the "Little Italy" part of town in whatís called North Beach.
We wanted to do the Caio Chow tour but it wasnít being offered during the time we were there, so we just opted for the daily tour. Our guide was named Judy and very lovely Chinese girl whoís "regular job" is a school teacher.
On the tour we learned about the history of Chinatown and visited many places including a fortune cookie factory where we got to sample some "unfortunate" fortune cookies, these are cookies that have cooled before they were able to be folded into the famous shape we all know. We found out that the fortune cookie was actually invented by a Japanese gentleman but he didnít patent it and some resourceful Chinese restaurateurs jumped on the idea and made it their own. By the way it is an American invention so if you ever get to China, donít bother asking for them there, you wonít find them.
We also visited an herb shop, a wok store, a market, an temple and a local artist who gave us a demonstration of Chinese brush painting. My wife and I purchased one of his paintings for a souvenir.
The tour ended with a Dim Sum lunch, I think the name of the restaurant was Four Winds, very nice, I wish I knew what it was I ate because it was all very good. We had a salad to start with that had a sweet dressing, spring rolls, pot stickers (kind of a Chinese turnover), stuffed with shrimp and spinach, oh and so much more!!
Then it was time for my wife the professional shopper to do her thing, the afternoon was spent going through various stores in the Union Square including what my wife referred to as "Mecca", the Macyís store that takes up an entire city block and is at least 6 stories.
That evening for dinner on a friendís recommendation we went to a place in Pacific Heights called Gerabaldiís on Presidio, this was by far the best meal we had, and we ate at some nice places. We split a Gerabaldiís house salad, seasonal greens, candied walnuts, pears and Gorgonzola cheese & balsamic vinaigrette. I had lamb loin with tarragon cuscus and Lore had seared scallops with butternut squash puree with pomegranate. We finished off with walnut apple pie al am ode. Everything was perfectly balanced, the flavors just filled your mouth and made you want to savor every bite.
Day 3, Sunday, November 13th Ė
Wine tasting day!! We rented a car in Union Square and head up to the wine country. We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and head up 101 to Sonoma. The drive is very pretty and a lot closer than I thought, it was only about 60 miles to Sonoma from where we picked up the car and taking our time we were there in just over an hour.
First stop Sebastiani winery, this was another recommendation by a friend of Loreís and boy did she do us right. We made our way to the wine tasting bar and after surveying the menu, opted for the $18/ 4 upper valued wine selections and 2 from the lesser valued wines for comparison. Our bartender was named Greg and he was just a blast, very fun and informative, we had a great time talking with him.
If you buy at least $20 in wine the $18 tasting fee is forgiven, we ended up with 4 bottles, 3 for us and 1 for Loreís friend that recommended the winery.
We also joined the wine club where every quarter they will send us 3-4 bottles of select wines for around $40. This is really a pretty good deal as most of the wines there at the winery sold for over $20 a bottle and we will receive special wines not offered to the general public on occasion. We also got a Sebastiani etched wine glass each for joining the club.
We ended up spending close to 2 hours at Sebastiani and tasted way beyond our 6 glasses we initially paid for. Then Greg told us his fiancť worked at a winery up the road called Kunde, so we headed that direction.
The California wine country is just one big photo op, the town of Sonoma is very quaint and the surrounding mountains and vineyards are just a feast for the eyes.
We tasted several wines at Kunde and purchased a bottle of wine and a bottle of their house chocolate sauce that has 4.5% alcohol in it, very tasty!!!
Then it was time to head over to the Napa Valley and Cakebread Cellars winery. We took a road that cut from Sonoma Valley to Napa Valley by passing over the mountains and thru the forest; it was a beautiful peaceful drive and took less than a half hour to get to Cakebread Cellars.
Cakebread Cellars is a winery an architect friend of mine has visited for years and sometimes has brought us a bottle of chardonnay, so we knew this was one winery we wanted to visit.
For the wine tasting you purchase a glass for $10 and you are taken to the vineyard and you get to sample 5 select wines while the host tells you all about each wine. We purchased a bottle of the chardonnay we like and a bottle of Pinot Noir and decided it was time to eat.
My wife had found on line a restaurant called the Napa Valley Grille in Yountville so we headed down the road and found it just a couple miles from where we were. We started off with a small flight of 3 red wines, a crab fondue and a mini appetizer burger that was really good. We sat on the outdoor patio and enjoyed the sunset and our appetizers and reflected on the trip so far.
After the sunset we moved indoors to have dinner, which composed of splitting a butter lettuce salad, then for entrťe I had pepper crusted Kobe tri tip steak, my wife had the daily special of scallops and risotto.
Heading back to San Francisco we took the westerly route and came down through Berkley and crossed over the double decked Bay Bridge. Because of it being so late and on a Sunday, the car rental downtown was closed so we had arranged to return the car at the airport and again took the BART train back to town.
Day 4, Monday, November 14th Ė
We got up and walked the 4 vertical blocks to Nob Hill. 4 blocks doesnít sound very far but when you are dealing with a 27% grade, maybe a 50 degree incline, it seems a lot farther.
We met our tour guide Valerie and the rest of the tour group at the Fairmont Hotel. This place is just beautiful, we toured the hotel lobby, a couple of ballrooms and a roof terrace all the while Valerie gave us a history lesson of the Gold, Silver and Railroad barons of San Francisco. We also visited the famous Mark Hopkins Hotel where the Top of the Mark restaurant/ bar is. Grace Cathedral a magnificent Episcopal Church that sits on the grounds of a former Silver baronís house. We also viewed several other properties that were built by these men of means that contributed to the rise of the city of San Francisco and the great western railroad.
For anyone interested in history and architecture this is a great tour and I would highly recommend it.
We wanted to take a ferry over the seaside town of Sausalito so we took one of those rail cars I had talked about earlier that is part of the MUNI system, our car was from Milan, Italy as I had also mentioned. It took us from the Union Square area down to the Ferry Building, which has been restored and has some nice local shopping, cheese stores, wine stores, a fish market, a meat market and some restaurants.
We stopped at a place I believe it was called Taylorís or something like that; it is a 50ís diner looking place on the street side of the Ferry Building. We split a BLT that was very good an had a glass of wine each, then we went to the ferry box office and bought our tickets to Sausalito, $25 for 2 round trip tickets.
We had a little time to kill and Lore realized that she had been in California for 3 days and hadnít had any avocado, so we went to a little Mexican restaurant on the bay side of the Ferry Building and had some guacamole and chips and a couple of Mexican cervezas while waiting to board the ferry.
The ferry ride was very smooth and we got some great views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and the skyline of San Francisco as well as the views over to the Sausalito side.
Ok folks, this is where the trip went from way too real to surreal. Once we arrived in Sausalito we came upon this street performer, he appeared to be an old hippie with his guitar and this wirehaired dachshund with sunglasses, a hat and a jacket on, laying on top of his guitar.
Well this guy is talking about heís the "Wavy Gravy" of Sausalito and doing his routine, all of sudden he starts talking about the Rolling Stones, "Did anyone here go see the stones Sunday night? They were great!" My wife pops up and says "weíre going tomorrow night and we have seats on stage." I hear this voice behind me say "Thatís funny, Iíll be on stage tomorrow night also, I play sax for them."
I spun around and there is Bobby Keys, the long time saxophone player for the Stones, "Bobby Keys" I said, "Itís a pleasure to meet you, sir" I shook his hand and he seemed a little surprised I knew who he was. He introduced us to is wife, his son, his sonís friend and with them also was a lady named Caroline who has been the Stoneís makeup artist for the past 20 years. We talked a little longer with them and the street performer and headed out on our way to do some shopping.
After a little shopping we decided to have a glass of wine before catching the last ferry back to S.F. We went to a restaurant that sits on the break wall on itís own pier called, Scomaís. The building has actually been there since the late 19th century and has had several names over the years.
We proceeded to the bar and ordered our wine and an order of calamari, which was very good, lightly deep-fried with a tangy tomato sauce, very tasty indeed!
Well, we are sitting there and in walks Bobby Keys and family, they had actually been there already but had stepped outside for a few minutes. We exchanged pleasantries again, and continued enjoying our drinks.
Eventually we started talking with Bobby and his wife Holly and before we know it heís sitting at our table and we are all engaged in conversation. We had well over an hour before the last ferry left and we all continued to talk and have a great time together.
They were all fascinated with the story of us winning the trip to see the Stones, in fact everyone we met from folks on the street to wait staff at restaurants were all amored by our story. Bobby kept reaffirming that we had tickets to the show and we kept assuring him we did. Finally he said "I want yíall to be my guest backstage tomorrow night". You could have knocked me off my chair! We won this fantastic trip and we are also going to go backstage for the show!!!
Of course we accepted the invitation and we exchanged some information, he said to call them at noon on Tuesday and he would get everything set up. At this point we werenít sure this was for real, but it really didnít matter, we had a wonderful time hanging with them and if it didnít go any further, that would have been enough.
It came time to get back on the ferry for S.F. so we all made our way back to the ferry pier and boarded to cross the bay. We all continued to hang together on the ferry and just have a great time.
When we arrived back in San Francisco we parted ways and as Bobby was getting into his cab he stopped and walked back to my wife and said "This is real, I donít B.S., call us tomorrow"
Well, to say the least we could have floated back to the hotel, but took a cab instead, grinning from ear to ear.
Day 5,Tuesday, November 15th Ė
The day of the big show. We got up and did our usual breakfast routine, which I havenít mentioned yet. Every day but one when we got room service, I would walk across the street to this little liquor store/grocery and pick up some juice and yogurt. This was plenty to get us going and because most days we were going to eat a pretty big lunch, a light breakfast was in order.
After getting cleaned up we headed up the a hair salon that I believe was called the "Level 4 Salon" where my wife got her hair cut and styled for the concert. I headed back to Chinatown for a little shopping and to take some more pictures. Did I mention I love Chinatown?
Time for lunch, I had found this little French restaurant on the internet called Anjou, so we headed to Compton Place, an alley between Sutter and Post along Stockton St.
Half way down the ally is Anjou a small, elegant restaurant with a yellow and white awning. The food was very good, again we split a salad, I had the veal medallions and my wife had the sea bass and to finish it off, I had CrŤme Brule and she had a chocolate dessert that was just so rich I canít describe it.
By this time it was time to head back to the hotel and get cleaned up for the show. We got ready for the show and met up with the contest host and got our tickets to the concert, stage left, box 11, seats 5 & 6.
We opted to take a cab to SBC Park rather than take the bus with the other contest winners, as we wanted to go a little later than they were leaving. We arrived at the ballpark around 6:30p and headed to the Will Call window and picked up our backstage passes. They directed us to where the tent was set up for the "Rattlesnake Inn" the Rolling Stonesí backstage lounge.
I must say it was pretty cool just walking past all the security and just being waved through. We made our way into the tent, found the cooler and helped ourselves to a couple of Coronas and found a place to sit.
The tent was full of folks that were either friends of the band, family members or just luck saps like us who managed to get invited in. There was a full catered buffet with all kinds of food, but we were really too excited to eat.
The couple at our table was from Florida and he had bought several of Ronnie Woodsí paintings and had gotten passes from Woody and had actually been to several of the shows on this tour including the one on Sunday night in San Francisco.
Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie didnít make it into the lounge, but most of the supporting members of the band were there. Caroline the bandís makeup artist, who we met on Monday came by and said hi, she said the band had been doing TV interviews all day and she had been very busy. She introduced us to Keith Richardsí guitar tech, it was so funny, "Are you the contest winners? Wow, thatís so cool! Here, have a pick!" As a guitar player myself this was a pretty cool souvenir from the trip.
Steve Perry the former lead singer for Journey was there and Iím sure there were other famous people there, but we were talking and just enjoying the moment and didnít really recognize anyone else.
I think it was around 8:00p when the shut the place down and unceremoniously booted everyone out, so it was time to find our seats for the show.
We made our way into the stadium and after a little confusion as to where to go we made our way to a door that took us literally backstage where we were escorted to a tent, given another backstage pass that was for our seats. Then we were escorted right behind the stage, up three flights of stairs and out to the box "seats" overlooking the stage. We were actually in standing room only boxes, and at first everyone was kind of in everyone elseís way and it was a little hard to see, but that got worked out and we could stand leaning against the rail to look down on the band.
The show kicked off with the intro piece "Continental drift" and then into "Start me up". This band may be in their 60ís but you would never guess it, Mick strutted his stuff from opening chord to the last note. At times running and skipping, heís quite the skipper, from one end of the massive stage to the other. At one point on one of these jogs, he was out running a security guard that was on the ground, in front of the stage! This guy was maybe in his late 30ís and he couldnít keep up with Mick, very impressive indeed.
The band was amazing! Iíve seen them several times and every time I have been blow away at the tightness of the band.
At about midway through the show the beer kicked in and we had to make our way back down the stairs to the restroom, a security person escorted us down the stairs and as we reached the bottom Bobby Keys was standing just below us backstage. We hollered at him and he looked up and saw us and yelled "Marc and Lore!!" The security guard was trying to stop us saying "DonítÖ you canítÖ" then she realized that Bobby was running up beside the scaffolding to where we were and she says "Do you know HIM?" Lore and I looked at each other and laughed and said, "Yes we do".
We went over to Bobby and he gave us both a hug and asked if we were enjoying the show, silly question. We thanked him again for the passes and he asked if Holly had our phone number and said he would see us in Dallas.
The rest of the show was just great, one thing about our seats was we had a view of what it would be like to be on stage playing for 50,000 people. The show ended with "You Canít Always Get What You Want" and "Satisfaction" and capped off with some fireworks.
After the show we went to the Four Seasons Hotel lounge and had a couple of drinks, again most of the supporting band members were there but non of the principals. We did see Bobbyís son and his buddy and we talked with them for a while. I also got to talk with the Stoneís bass player Daryl Jones for a minute. Just before we left the keyboard player for the band, Chuck Leavell was playing duets with the lounge piano player, pretty cool.
We headed back to our hotel and fell asleep with big grins on our faces.
Day 6, Wednesday, November 16th Ė
They make us go home, we checkout of the hotel and because we had lots of luggage and 2 big boxes of wine we opted for the town car to the hotel rather than mass transit, I just didnít have enough hands.
The plane was a little late taking off, but other than that it was and uneventful plane ride and we made it home safe and sound.
Even putting the concert and the backstage experience aside, the trip was fantastic; we are already planning our next trip back to San Francisco. We would highly recommend the Pan Pacific Hotel, all the restaurants we ate at, a trip to the wine country and just a visit to the city by the bay, you wonít be disappointed. There is so much to see and do we didnít even make it to Fishermanís Warf, Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square or some of the neighborhoods we wanted to visit. Just have to work them into the next trip!!