January 2, 2011

Our Natural Amphitheater

It's been only three days since the announcement that San Francisco has been chosen to host the 34th America's Cup, but already much has been made of how the bay is a 'natural amphitheater' for viewing sailing events.

What the heck is a 'natural amphitheater' anyway?

As far as I can tell, it's a term to describe San Francisco Bay that found its way into a press release from team Oracle a few months back and that has been repeated repeatedly by a lot of people who are too lazy to make up their own descriptive metaphors.

'Amphitheater' comes from two Greek words meaning 'on both sides' and 'place for viewing'. An ancient amphitheater looks a lot like what we'd call a stadium today.

Ancient amphitheater

Modern (sort of) stadium

But you can imagine the raised eyebrows there'd be in a roomful of marketing dudes writing a press release for Larry Ellison if someone suggested the next America's Cup was going to be sailed in "the big stadium" of San Francisco.

The marketing dudes must have been sitting around an impressive iroko table before lunch, getting hungrier and thirstier, staring at a whiteboard with the words 'big stadium' crossed out, and with everyone drumming their fingers on the table.

Then, some genius blurted it out - "Wait a minute, I've got it!"

"Natural Amphitheater"

"That's it! It's got flow. It's got grandeur. It's total bullshit."

"OK, lunch!"

It's roomfuls of thirsty admen that have given us all sorts of cool, meaningless phrases like that.

- Corinthian leather.

- Natural beechwood aging

- Tastes great, less filling

- If nature didn't, Warner's will.

(Maybe most of my readers are too young to remember that last one, but it's still one of my favorites. You could look it up)

At any rate, what's bothering me most about this is the huge number of container ships, tankers, tugboats, ferries, sightseeing boats, and other badass commercial traffic that always seems to be plowing right through the orchestra pit of our natural amphitheater.

I know that almost every time I want to pirouette from stage left to stage right, I have to alter course to avoid being mowed down by that badass traffic.

Maybe I should be crossing from Blackaller Buoy over to Angel Island via the mezzanine of our natural amphitheater.

This has been tossed off by many as a simple problem to solve, but what exactly are they going to do with this endless parade of freighters and tankers that needs to get from the Golden Gate over to Richmond or Oakland? Our natural amphitheater doesn't have a green room where they can wait for the better part of a day. We can't call up China and say, "Look, could you hold up on the refrigerators, iPads, and SpongeBob SquarePants dolls until next month?"

I say we do nothing at all. Let them all come.

If Larry wants this to be the America's Cup for the rest of us - the one that the public can actually get to see and connect with - then why not let it be racing the way the rest of us race? For what Midwinters or Big Boat series or Three Bridge Fiasco or Friday night beercan race is all commercial traffic stopped in our natural amphitheater?

If you have to plan the next upwind leg around your best guess of what the Mitsubishi Maru is going to do, then why shouldn't Russell Coutts?

How cool would it be to watch two monster high-tech cats splitting tacks around an 800-foot long supertanker doing 18 knots down the starboard layline?

Now that's what I'd call a natural amphitheater.



  1. Love it! I was just figuring out how to make Murder at the Yacht Cllub into a screenplay with the AC in the background, so Clint could film it and guarantee good weather for the racing (according to people who've worked with him, he always gets good weather when he's filming). Maybe there's also a way to work the shipping traffic into the movie.

  2. Thank you. I had never see that word "iroko" before. It's a good one. I will try and use it as much as I can.

  3. Is that the old Japanese dude from New Hope who made all of that impressive furniture out of trees and stuff?

  4. No no no. Iroko was the ship in Star Wars that belonged to Valius Ying. It was used to capture The Last Resort and its passengers.

  5. Geesh, Carol Anne, all Clint would need to guarantee good weather here would be to schedule shooting in September.

    I can see him staging a high-speed powerboat chase along San Francisco's famous city front and then having to slice through the chaos of the spectator fleet. I don't know how he'd work in the mandatory shot of the vendor's cart getting trashed, though.

    Tillerman, only your perceptive eye would have seen through my little ruse. This post really has nothing to do with the America's Cup at all, but is a carefully crafted celebration of that often ignored hardwood.

    Baydog, I think you're referring to George Sashimi, whose famous furniture designs were based upon the simple shapes he found in the raw fish at his favorite sushi bar.

  6. George Sashimi1/3/11, 10:13 AM

    I understand that the Mayor's marketing dudes recently had lunch around an orinoco table and decided to upgrade the phrase from "natural amphitheater" to "magnificent amphitheater". They also issued a revised Cliché Guidelines Handbook to all sailing journalist in the Bay area requesting that they should refer to the shoreline of the bay as the "iconic waterfront".

  7. I plan on taking a tour of the natural amphitheater from the cushy confines of a luxury suite, the Magnificent Yacht VALIS during the esteemed race known as the Three Bridge Fiasco. Will you be joining the festivities?

  8. Future news: All was going surprisingly well in the natural amphitheater until Bruce Dern showed up with a blimp...

  9. So if I sail my Dinghy Bass ( not the fish the instrument) boat, I should not need an amp, if I play in the natural amphitheater...

  10. Breaking news. The Laser Masters Worlds 2011 wil be sailed off the iconic waterfront in the natural amphitheater.

    Verification word: menni = number of boats at next Laser Masters Worlds.

  11. Good point, Zen. The hallmark of any natural amphitheater is good acoustics.

    I'm not sure why you're taking a string bass along on your Pacific crossing, but it's got to sail at least as well as an El Toro.

    Edward, I'll probably miss the Three Bridge Fiasco again this year, but you've got to tell me more about your technique for scoring such impressive rides. You can't be doing it on boyish good looks alone.

    BTW, does Valis need a sommelier?

  12. So are there good seats in this amphitheater? Good spots to throw down a blanket and meditate on combining iroko and rococo in a sentence?

  13. Puffin, for some reason your comment made me think of Rocky Rococo - which is the closest I could come, on short notice, to using iroko and rococo in the same sentence.

    Then I noticed that almost every Rocky Rococo referenece in Google is to a string of pizza places by that name in the midwest.

    Does anyone besides me remember where the two guys who started that pizza chain stole the name Rocky Rococo?

    And why do I wonder about things like this?

  14. Firesign Theatre used the name Rocky Rococo for the villain in Nick Danger. They in turn stole it from Rocky Racoon on the Beatle's White Album. And that song written by Paul McCartney is clearly a pastiche of The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert Service.

    Bu whoever heard of a pizza place called Dan McGrew Pizza?

  15. Good job of sleuthing, Tillerman.

    You've made it through the first round.

    But is this just idle Google? Or did you actually listen to the tales of Nick Danger, third eye?

    And delving even further into the cultural pillars of my youth, what late-night New York radio dude used to recite The Shooting of Dan McGrew on a recurring basis, using tortured background music to enhance his inspired reading?

    He would later gain wider fame in a different medium.

  16. Jean Shepherd - who later narrated and co-scripted the movie A Christmas Story.

    "You'll shoot your eye out!"

    My father owned a book of Robert Service's poetry (possibly the only book of poetry he ever owned) and I developed a reputation within the family for dramatic readings of some of my favorite poems from that book whenever the extended family was gathered together at holidays.

  17. You are again correct.

    I've thought about doing a post on Jean Shepherd.

    I was one of the 'night people' who listened to his old WOR radio show (which could be heard up and down the east coast). The show developed something of a cult following among dysfunctional adolescents like me. Pounding out 45 unscripted minutes every night, he gradually developed a whole cast of characters who he'd weave into tales of his Indiana youth.

    Christmas Story is really a distillation of those stories. When the movie came out, people would tell me about it, but anyone who'd listened to the radio show already knew its plot, all of the whacky characters, and that Ralphie was actually Shepherd.

    I think he was one of America's great unsung humorists. It was good to see him finally get some of the recognition he deserved.

  18. In the category of iconic (not the cliche-d "iconic", as in waterfront) late-night AM radio jocks was the incomparable Jazzbeau, aka, Al Collins

    For a certain period in the early/mid 1980s, he was my regular nightly sign-off (WNEW-AM in NYC) before zzzzzzz. The Purple Grotto, and all.

    He was one of a handful of unique and inspiring personalities (Wolfman Jack, Shepherd, Scott Muni, Allison Steele, e.g.) that no longer exist in our modern "radio" media.

  19. It being Friday night, and I having had an extra glass of wine (or two), I mistakenly left off the "x" to complete Jazzbeaux's name, or "jazzbo" to which it was sometimes shortened.

    I also left out a favorite remembrance. Upon Jazzbeaux's death in 1997, Jonathan Schwartz, another (still broadcasting in NYC) iconic DJ, recalled that he still carried one of Al's business cards with the following rhetorical question on the back:

    "Too much Basie? There ain't no such thing."

    I can't argue with that.