I’m sitting in the little sidewalk patio set up just outside of Berlin Bistro—connected to Fingerprints Music—wearing one of those stupid looks on my face that belie someone who, at times, holds the indefensible position that things get better.
A bit earlier I’d heard a short, very short, set by Jesse Wilder and some mates as they played a few songs off The Cars’ excellent debut album. Jesse is the mad monk who puts bands together from scratch to play one classic album for one night; the so-called Album Attack. Tonight, Thursday, Fingerprints is hosting all the bands he’d cobbled together to play a few songs from each of their assigned albums: The Cars debut, Supergrass’s “I Should Coco,” Peter Gabriel’s “So,” The Strokes “Is This It.”
Thankfully, the show had opened with The Cars album because I was hungry and really wanted to get something to eat at Berlin. But I also wanted to be up close to hear The Cars album because it is near and very dear to my heart. It came out in 1978, when I was 16, around the time of the Pistols, Ramones, Elvis Costello and Clash, when words like Punk and New Wave were getting thrown around without being properly defined or—this is America—commodified.
Back then, believe it or not, a song as ubiquitous as “Just What I Needed”—so, ubiquitous that Jesse introduced it by saying he’d been tempted to play only the first few chords and let the audience fill in the rest—was considered dangerously new and a threat to rock n’ roll. All I knew was that I loved Benjamin Orr’s apathetic vocals—an early indicator of my soon-to-be Smiths love—and if the death of rock n’ roll meant never having to listen to “Sweet Home Alabama” again, I was all for it.
Sitting there, I thought about the faces of the people listening to The Cars songs with me in Fingerprints; how happy and transported they all looked and it suddenly hit me that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to have any kind of meaningful relationship with anyone who wasn’t passionate about some kind of music. It didn’t matter what kind or if it was “good” or “important,” they just had to care about something, anything, even something as silly as “Baby Shark” or Imagine Dragons, both of which sound like a six-year-old’s AYSO team.
If someone told me that they didn’t like movies or TV, I’d say I get it, there’s a lot of crap out there. If someone said they weren’t into dance or visual arts, I’d say I was sorry because they were missing out. But, if someone told me they just weren’t into music, at all, I don’t know if I would be able to say anything to that person. Would that be a person?
At this moment, thinking those thoughts, the look on my face must have been ridiculous enough to show that I was going to a special place and as the sun started to set, with good smells wafting from Berlin and good sounds—I believe Supergrass’s Britpop classic “Coco”—wafting from Fingerprints, a gentleman walking by caught my eye and gave me a knowing glance that said: this is Long Beach.
A few days later, I felt similarly while sitting at the Bamboo Club. Yes, yes, I know we’ve written and talked a lot about this place. Sarah Bennett and Brian Addison devoted nearly the entirety of their very first, very excellent podcast “Suppertime in the LBC”—soon to be renamed “Taste Buds” when they come to their senses—and, to be quite honest, I was concerned when I walked into the place, Sunday afternoon, that it would never be able to measure up.
Halfway through the chicken sandwich, making sounds that I normally reserve for that special someone, I had my answer. The Bamboo Club is probably the best new thing in town. It will be the place that I direct people to who ask me what’s the next thing? Chef Melissa Ortiz has brought together the parts to create an atmosphere both relaxed—the married couple that has parked themselves at the bar pretty much every Sunday since the place opened—and fun, the women sitting behind us in one of the thatched booths who produced the kind of deep laughter you only get with your best friends, which now includes pals like Singapore Sling.
Melissa came by to talk several times and it was clear she was happy with what’s been created, both by her food, the mixologists who hail from Stache and the ambiance of Bamboo Ben. Like any good Tiki bar, the interior is silly and transportive to a place that doesn’t exist except in a ridiculous state of mind that says, I just want to drink this blue drink, eat this kickass ceviche and, yeah.
This is Long Beach, something Melissa helped create though she admitted she suspected a bit of scrutiny from locals. I assured her that her suspicions were completely and utterly correct, that Long Beach is sometimes slow to welcome as it has been burned in the past, but as long as this place kept turning out this blue drink and this kickass ceviche, yeah, more and more folks would be showing their gratitude.
I guess grateful was what I was feeling as I sat at Berlin; music, people, food, all conspiring to make me feel utterly nice and produce one of those moments that you wish you could hold on to like spare change for the next time you found yourself a little short.
Of course, it doesn’t work like that. The best you can hope for is that a feeling like this stays with you, maybe through the drive home, and it did as I drove west on 4th toward the 710. It remained as my car idled at the traffic light a couple of blocks from the onramp and continued as I watched the gentleman jogging up a cross street. It stayed there right until the moment I heard what sounded like an explosion and then, upon a moment’s reflection, like a shot, and saw the gentleman drop straight down from my line of sight behind a parked car. He’d dropped so quickly, in such a straight gravitational line, that I remember thinking should I get out of my car and run over to him or would it be smarter to drive over to him? Or, would it be even smarter to drive away? I make no excuses for being human.
It was then that he slowly rose, looked both ways, and slowly started to jog again, turning his head ever so quickly, catching my eye, both of us quickly acknowledging that this, too, is Long Beach.
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