This n that, Life n April

 

I have been busy, with this and that. The bands and music have been keeping me active. I finished up a concert with “Bamboo n Thread Kyudo ensemble” at my favorite club, Snakfin, last week. That went well. We were part of a three or four group show. It was fun, chatting with some new people and hanging out a bit. There were several Sempai from the Kyudojo that came by to watch. Once again I was shocked to hear one of the performer say they heard me someplace else. Another shock was that LZ was speaking with someone who said they came just to hear me. That was really a shock. 
 
 
 
LZ enjoyed going. It was her first time going in the day and getting the full visual of the club and seaside. We had lunch there before the show and the owner gave everyone dessert during a break. It was very cozy.
 
 
 
The other group another Bamboo and String group, the one of my Shakuhachi Sensei. I call us Sennan city Bamboo n String Trio, we had our second rehearsal for our concert next week. We had it at the center we will be playing at. It also went well. I was informed by Sensei we may have another concert next month. Cool, it is good to play with a group that is organized.
 
 
 
This Sat the Blues band is playing at a Street festival. We have known about this for several months. However tonight two days before the show the “Doc” suggest that we do a session at the Overheat club tomorrow (Friday)to get in a little practice before the concert on Sat ! WTF!
Ok maybe it is me, but that seems thoughtless and rude. LZ thought so too, when I told her. One day notice to do a quasi rehearsal live, at a club, in front of people. Beside the fact of no consideration for the other band members plans. The drummer said he was busy, I did not even give an answer. I told him before about some last-minute playing request. Sigh.
 
The Snafkin Cafe owners gave me more info on the concert in June and who is available to play with me if I want. I am still not sure what i want to do. I had considered asking my friend the Shamisen player to join me on a song I was going to write and play Shakuhachi, but, I do not feel quite ready to play public on that yet. Still I may get an idea and just go with it. My main concern is playing in tune with other instruments. It is difficult on the Shakuhachi, more so at my level. I kind of have an idea that may work, it would be an interest experiment if I can pull it off.
 
Next week will be busy, I have the concert with Sensei, the next day I am off to Kyoto to watch the Shinsa for Hanshis. Then next day I got a call to do a modeling job. I do not know where yet, but, the pay is good for a half days work and sort of fun.
 
A had a visitor from the States the other day. A Kung Fu classmate who runs a Kung Fu school and Chan temple in Las Vegas. It was a treat to see him. We go back to the mid 70’s. I had seen him about 4 or 5 yrs ago in Vegas. It was great to catch up with news and talk Chan (Zen).
He is a Chinese Zen priest and Abbot. I had been speaking with one of his old teachers as of late, getting some new training methods to deepen my on practice. I got some inspirational guidance from him about furthering my practice and now have plans to do the precepts at his temple. I had been giving some thought recently on my practice. I feel comfortable being connected to his Shanga. My main Chan Sensei is in Taiwan, and a high level figure there, but I have not been “feeling” the changes that have been taking place with the Stateside organization. I want to connect with Shifu, I met him once, but his English is poorer than my Chinese.
the master and us
I wanted to go there to visit on the way to Japan, but that did not happen. When things do not happen I feel there is usually some reason beyond what I see. Still though perhaps I will one day. One never knows what the tide will bring.
I could go deep into Japanese Zen. However, I prefer the Chinese Chan over the Japanese Zen available here. I do though have a deep interest in the Komuso Zen, which is a branch of my own Lin Chi ( Rinzai ). The Taoist principle incorporated with the Chan fits more into my “spirit” and linking in my Kung Fu and Kyudo practice. Especially my Kung Fu/Tai Chi. I have been really feeling the need to renew that side of my life. It gives me more spiritual direction. The problem here in Japan is mostly my language skills, which I need to improve. Still even with what. Have I need to start pushing more. I am thinking of offering a free class a week to anyone interested. Sort of like a Buddhist bodhisattva output of compassion to the local area. A basic holistic health training aid of sorts. Qi Gong, Meditation, Tai Chi/Kung Fu. I sort of feel once I step on that path the Universe will provide what is needed to develop the “Shanga”. Anyway I feel the idea seed developing, I will see how Universe develops it. I seem to be being pointed in that direction. 
 
I have started making plans for a visit Stateside this fall. There will be a lot of stops, places to go people to see. Perhaps my aging mother and uncles for the last time, which was the start of the return visit plan.
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弓道 – Where I am…


 
Backing off the Shinsa intensity was a good thing. It has not helped my shooting , but, that is ok. It is all ok. Not planning another Shinsa until Sept…or later. I am in this for the long run. Backing off has put some fun back into training. Yondan, Godan …it will happen when it is time, if it is supposed to happen. I have stepped up my Chan training again with the reduction of Shinsa intensity.
 
Oh yeah, I am still working on my Kyudo Art skills, just at a more relaxed pace. My ego can wait on the rank label. The bands have been also been keeping me busy, besides the Chan study and need to find a hmmmm…purposeful direction. However that is another story as they say, for another time.
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I have been tracking my shots again, just because I can and it gives me some type of historical reference to look back on. I lost all my data from the beginning of the year up to the Shinsa time. 😦 stupid , troublesome iPad upgrade lost all my data. Oh well, non-attachment, impermanence…
 
I have been experimenting with different things, and questions on myself about how I am shooting. I believe one of my problems, besides, dropping my left arm, hands and shoulders too tense,, is my sight. It has been going downhill as of late. I see a double mato when aiming. I was told once upon a time that this common and to choose the dominant eye image. Maybe I am not choosing right or something… Or not.
 
I have changed my targeting point, more to the left, instead of doing this radical right elbow turn down thing. Now keeping the angle that I am told is correct, or closer to it, with moving my targeting on the yumi more to the left, my shots now, land on the center line more of the mato. Still however mostly too high or too low. Which is another thing to deal with. Any way, I am making some progress , slow but, oh well.
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I went to the new scheduled kimono training session this week. That was cool. I learned the three man , one mato shot. I did not think I could do it, and do Risha, but nope I was wrong. I also was shown how to replace the kimono sleeve after shooting. Also, was given some refinements to doing the standing form. Steps, timing, etc. more good things to know for the next whenever.
 
I am heading to Kyoto first week of May, during Golden week to once again doing some viewing of the big advance Tai Kai and Shinsa. I was advised that the first day of shooting is a great one to watch, as the Hanshis compete then. However the timing with another plan is bad. Therefore the next best is to watch the Nanadan shinsa for those testing for Hanshi. Looks like I missed out on the last Nagoya Seminar for a while as it will be held in another country for the next few, couple or so years. Oh well, I have plenty of local help and Shinsas. The quality of my instruction is not really the issue right now, the issue is me. So until I fix that, it does not matter how good the instructor. The answer is not outside it is within. A Chan rule, which applies to life and Kyudo.

Music is alive


Music is alive…

 
It has been a busy time, week musically speaking. In a three-day span I had rehearsal or a showcase, everyday. It was fun. 
 
Saturday the Kyudo band went to Snafkin. One of my favorite places. There we are called Bamboo, Thread, and Wind. Interesting name. 
 

 
We did a small set, more like an intro for our upcoming show this Sunday. As it turns out there were several others also playing. One person playing, started talking about me. I did not know him and did not understand what he was saying. It was something about seeing me playing in Kobe and a nice surprise to see me here. After his set he came over and spoke to me, said something about having long hair before and playing a sax.
Another person with a group said my name before any of this happened, like she knew me. Kind of weird to be recognized. I thought it was someone I knew but, they, she is friends of the person(s) I knew. This person showed up later and introduced me to them. A couple of folks in the group are sailors from the States and Australia. They were quite shocked to find out I was a sailing instructor.
snafkin peeps
The master Snafkin’s wife asked me to be in a up-coming show they were arranging for June. She said I could pick whomever I wanted to play with me. The female Sax player I really like was unable to perform, however her band members were going to be there, if I wanted to play with them. I really liked Jamming with them. So now, I am giving some thought about what to do in the show. I will ask them to play with me, also a Shamisen player who is a friend of mine, I will ask her. There is also a drummer I have been hearing about I will speak with about joining. I am thinking of making some type of funky blues with an Asian sound touch on at least one song. I may play guitar and Shakuhachi instead of Bass on one song. This maybe very interesting and fun. I will need to work on an arrangement, I may even write a song for the event. I am looking forward to this. If I could get a couple of singers to do backup, that would be off the hook cool! ( great )
 
Anyway it was a fun evening, playing, jamming, chatting, it was called, off the cuff, international night, because we had a mix of people there. After my group played I jammed a bit with a couple of people.
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It is nice to play on my own and not under the Doc’s blues band label and control. He had asked me (late) to do a show with him at the Overheat club, I declined since I was already booked for Snafkin that night, which I prefer anyway. I have been asked a couple of times about playing Snakfin again by him and his girlfriend, I quickly dismiss that topic. I want to keep that separate from the Blues Band, even though I arranged for him/us to play there a couple of times.
 
The next day was a Jam with the Jazz society group. Again the Doc asked me to play at the Overheat club another thing he arranged without checking if I was busy. This time only a few hours in advance I was asked. Really WTF? I said more warning time is needed, I am already booked. Sigh. No warning, no practice, no pay, not a serious consideration. I went to the Jazz gathering. I did three songs with them with me on Bass. No practice with them either, but it is more fun, a better sound, better players, free food, closer to home, a no brainer. Even though the songs I did are Blues Based, it was more of a Jazz Funky Blues done how I want, not how someone else wants. I also sat in on a couple of song doing Harmonica. Fun stuff, good players.
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Next month session I have invited the Kyudo Group to play a couple of songs. I am sure everyone will be surprised hearing a couple of Jazz songs with a Shakuhachi lead. It will be interesting doing a blend of acoustic and electric. Usually there is just the Shakuhachi, Bass and Classical Guitar. This time, up coming I will have a drummer, conga, piano, maybe another guitar, and Horn player(s) join. It should be cool!! Another venue I keep separate from the Doc’s band, even though they ( some players) do a couple of Blues tunes. I do not want to be identified as just only a bass man for him, and following his lead on what to play and how to play it.
 
I was a little surprised when someone asked at the 24 club was I also playing at the Overheat with the Blues Band. I said yes, they had seen a poster of us there when she played on Jazz night. I find the monthly session at the 24 club with the Jazz society a much better venue. The Overheat club is more about making money off the performers. One pays 1500 yen to enter and gets one drink included. At the 24 club one pays 1000 yen and gets a drink, plus a small buffet spread included. Also a better level of players, not all are pro level, but overall they are better. All of the venues have nice people who show up. It is not about the niceness of the people but the skill level and type of music. Just playing Blues all the time is boring.
 
The owner of the Overheat club asked when we could play and have the whole band show up for a blues night jam I do not know why, it is not like the band has a following. It seems like it is all about Matsuo, so really does not need me other than being the “American” voice. Which the Doc has said on several occasions gives the band an “advantage”. Well whatever anyway, I agreed to a date next month, for a Blues Jam, with the Doc’s band as the main band. This means we play and others who want to join in do so. Sometime it is nice and some good players turn up. We, the band seem to have a new member now with this keyboard player at the Overheat. It is nice having another dimension to the songs with the keys. Still, it is to me a dead-end band. We have a spot at the end of the month in a Street blues festival. It is a very large deal, which take places every year. I am sure we will be on some side street mostly hidden away, still, it is supposed to be a big deal. 
 
Sakai blues
 
The regular drummer for us and the Doc look at it as a big deal, and want to do a good show. However no one, no one in the three or four-month before this, has said anything about, hey let’s practice so we sound good, run smooth and seem professional. Sigh. Yeah I could, but I figure, screw it, if they do not care I will not either, I will just hold up my end. However if I had my name on the band I would make sure we were ready, instead of just showing up. With the Kyudo Ensemble there is no money involved, no risk, but still we have already practiced more in the few month together than the Blues Band has in Three years. Not only practiced, have a song list, and have timed the songs so to see what we need to fill our time slot. The Blues Band, no song list, no practice, no idea what is going to be played or what we need to fill in the time. sigh. Anyway, I have reset my attitude with them to be just a spot/time/ opportunity for me to practice with no other expectations.

It is nice to be playing again regularly and meeting other musicians, my Facebook connections continue tomorrow. I did not expect my music career to be as developing as it is here in Japan. I had hoped so, but still it is fairly surprising. When I first arrived it was very very limited. I had a few outlets but I had to do some serious traveling to make connections and they were limited. It is great to have connections and venues here in my home area, instead of a two hour train ride away.
 
So the next day after Snakfin the Kyudo Ensemble has another rehearsal. It was long but needed, this is part of the musician life and “paying dues”. We do not sound great, but we sound ok. It would be nice to have a percussionist, but I still figure to add an electronic drummer to my bag of tricks further on down the road.
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Mid week, coming, I have another practice session for an upcoming show with my Shakuhachi Sensei’s ensemble. Our show is during golden week and… We get paid! Sweet! Sensei often apologizes for the low pay, but I do not care about that. Train-fare and snack money is fine. Getting paid is not the main thing for my playing, it is nice, but it is not just about the money, it is the playing. The expression of the connection with the Universal harmonic pulse.
 
 
next up Kyudo
 
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吹禅 – New season, new steps

 

New ground…

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Sensei reminded me that this month is in fact when I started classes with him. I was thinking it was last month, but I guess that is when we first met , but classes started this month. It is set in my mind now that Sakura season was the start of my Shakuhachi journey.
 
I am starting on a new piece now. Finally something. Can sink my teeth into so to speak, something of interest. I do not know of this came about because of my reaching this stage or my interest in Zen and having said something about the Komuso or a combination. Anyway, I am finally starting a Honkyoku piece, Sanya Segagaki. I am delighted! I still have much to learn, but now it feels like I am actually making headway. One thing this means is a really need to crack down on my reading Japanese notation, not western. This also will open new vistas of music.
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I have spoken some with my Zen Sensei and was told some things about breathing and meditation that the Shakuhachi will help with developing. There was even some scientific reasons behind what the breath does and how it helps with meditation. So yeah things are getting interesting. I was also told by my Zen Sensei that her, abbot at one time tried to learn Shakuhachi, but quit do to the difficulty. That is interesting considering how hard it is to learn and practice some of the meditation techniques.
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It will be a long time still before I can play shakuhachi with anyone other than myself as a solo performance. I have not yet gotten the control of pitch needed to play with others, and be in tune. This is difficult and a challenge. I told sensei how I figured out how to do it, ( be in tune sort of) he said it was cheating. At my level it is sort of ok, if I need to do it, but it is cheating! Well not an issue right now. I figure it will be another year before i am ready to play in any kind of public setting with the Shakuhachi, at least for sure with another player of any type. Solo I can pull off. 
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The Shakuhachi is a long winding path, like Kyudo! Also like Kyudo the more I have control of myself, the better I will be at playing/shooting. Speaking of Kyudo, yeah i have decided, to wait until Autumn for the next Shinsa, there is no reason to rush, other than submitting to my ego.

Breath


Breath…
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Spring is official now, the Sakura blooms have come and are now starting to fade. Hard to believe this is my third season here. I recall clearly how much I wanted to see them live in mass, like in the pictures. Still It is a real physical feeling, presence of Nature being under a canopy of the Sakura Hana.
There is a huge wind today, many are blown away now. However, there is a tree I discovered the other day, it is in my other Motion Chan practice place. I happened across there being a Sakura there the other day. I was delightedly surprised. I went there to practice and suddenly I saw it was in bloom. The flowers in the area came suddenly. I missed the sight of my favorite tree this year. This newly found one maybe my second favorite. Not from looks but because I can practice under it. .
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I did a little Hsing-Yi practice under it. It was just starting to rain. I came there to work on my TaiJi , but it started to rain. One is not suppose to practice TaiJi in the rain. So I did a little Hsing-i, under the tree, and out of the rain. I was not sure about the energy thing with Hsing-i and the rain. So I figured if it was not ok, I would be out of the rain, mostly and only doing a short Hsing-i drill. I returned the next day, an put in some TaiJi time. It would have been great if the Shrine had a Sakura tree, but it does not. Well at least grown ones. It has a couple of baby ones.
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So, yeah, not all the Sakura have blown away, with this all day long big wind we had. I guess the Sakura has two messages, 1. Beauty is fleeting, enjoy the moment, a sudden wind can blow the fragile beauty away. 2. Beauty is temporary and fragile, but can be stronger than one expects inside. I can see from my window the tree still holding it’s flowers even with the winds high.
 
None of this has to do with the main content of this post, at least directly.
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I had back to back music rehearsals this week past. The Kyudo Musical Ensemble, I will start calling KME for short. We met on Monday. We have one more rehearsal before or concert end of the month. That would make three. The same amount the Blues Band has had in the 2 yrs I have been with them. We, the KME have been together less than six months. Officially more like three…maybe. Point is, this is the way professional minded players do, rehearse. Rehearsals are not fun, they are not suppose to be fun. Like what a Kung Fu uncle would tell me about Kung Fu training. I still find it mind blowing, as does LZ that the Blues band never has a group practice.
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Anyway, the KME had practice, it was ok, not great but ok. Some songs still need some work but, I do not think, they expect it to be polished. I am more sure that the club does not expect polished acts. Snafkin is a intimate small cafe. LZ, our friends and employers like it, as does my Japanese classmates and Kyudo friends. 
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It turns out there is a surprise for me , in that we are doing two shows there. One next Sat, then another on the 27 th. Big surprise! I am fairly certain there is no money in this, so I will not expect any. It will be a fun mind set, something different musically from the Blues.
 
The next day, I had the first practice with Kishi Sensei’s Ensemble, let’s call it, Sensei’s Ensemble, or KSE for short. The classical guitarist is ok. Sensei called him an amateur, however I think perhaps better than my Sempai. As far as Shakuhachi playing, Sensei does not play the same songs and style as Yamashina Sempai. Sensei is a better player , but Sempai is more versatile. Having the beat buddy drum machine would go better with KME style of music than KSE overall.  
 
It will be interesting to see how this turns out. One thing the concert with Sensei is a paid gig, for sure, even though much. I would have done it for free, lt is something for my musical resume, and “Zen kaze” the artist facebook page, and later my memoirs. I will be taping some from both concert, I may post a bit if they turn out reasonable.
 
On the Kyudo front, I have pretty much decided to back-off thinking about shinsa’s until I can feel ready, by skill, not by luck to succeed. I have no deadlines, that I know of, no reason to rush. I noticed the other day, my Sempai who has started this Yon-dan Shinsa trip before me, and still at it, has been doing Kyudo for 10 yrs or more. At least 10, I recall from seeing the posted names at the shinsa. Another Sempai at the Dojo told me she is a Go-dan and has been studying for 13 yrs. Another I saw from another posting 13 yrs still trying for Yon-dan, my 6 official yrs is nothing! I need to show myself some compassion.
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I went to practice the other day, there was suppose to be a Kimono class but, no one was there. I do not not know what happened, but I just practiced, mostly alone until a few others came in. I shot more relaxed, and tested things, analyzed, experimented. The score was so so. I kept telling myself, it does not matter what the score is, it is just a personal marker.
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My intensity with practice has changed. But in a way more relaxed, yet more focused way! I am back to one or two times a week, instead of almost daily. I still do home practice, but lightly. I was getting way too lost in pushing for this rank prize. Some Buddhist reading confirmed that lost on the finger state. For reals not in a relaxed state for shooting.
As the I-Ching stated I need to adjust my path and goals. In a Buddhist sense “see my true self”, or focus on what is really important.
 
 
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And the beat goes on


 

Please find the “one”…

 

Ok, this is a two parter. The band, a couple of weeks ago had a spot at the Overheat club. It was listed as Blues Night Hosted by our band. I did not know what to expect, so I just prepared myself to roll with whatever, stay flexible from moment to moment and just play.

I was told it started at 8:00 I should be there earlier. Ok, i just said, OK not knowing why, just rolling, w/it. I got there just about 7:35. I figured, I do not speak Japanese so all I have to do is be ready to start, no chatter. I was right i got there and sat…finally I asked the Doc. “So what is the story are we going to play at 8:00 start things? Ohh, yeah he said we are the house band for the night. Hmmm ok, I thought, different, whatever. I just went on stage and started setting up. The “new” keyboard player was there, he came up shortly after me. He was quite friendly to me, acting like we were old buddies, I rolled with it, he is a nice guy.

 
 
Finally all set, and we play, this was not our regular drummer, he was off, then the Doc was off, he gets off beat anyway. I am thinking, oh snap, where is the “one” beat!? Where are these guys!! At first I thought maybe it is me, and my hearing is flipped out. This happened on a couple of songs, when I listened back to the recording I made, no it was not my hearing, both of them lost the beat. Something I heard from my shakuhachi sensei was, Japanese, have a different sense of timing from westerners. He said the younger generation not so much but the older ones yes. Even I, he said, have trouble with keeping, feeling, Western beats at times. Jazz players do not like to play with me for long. Hmmmm Ok so that may explain things with the Doc and his sense of timing. Tonight was bad though, since both he and the drummer where on different timings. I was following the keyboard player who was on beat, but not strong on the 1. This gave an off-sense to the song from me, playing blues , based on the 1.
 
 
 

Anyway the evening , went on, I ended playing for 3 hrs. People came in an sat-in, Jammed with us on some songs, some songs came out good, ok, and some better forgotten. The evening was long, sort of fun at times, I got paid, (basically train fare) less than when a played last time for 4 songs…I rolled with it.

By the Sea in Kobe

 
We had a showcase scheduled the night before the Tai Kai at Osaka Castle…
This was something, I really did not want to do from the beginning. The Doc, said he really wanted to play this place. I said do it, you do not need me, you’re the Matsuo Blues Band. This was a club owned by a friend ( again) for the drummer. Ok, I gave in, after some pleas…I did so very reluctantly, the loyalty to the band thing.. This was an almost two our train ride, no money paid out, but we did get something to eat kind of deal. I agreed…reluctantly, as I said. We where to get picked up at the train station by the owner or somebody and taken to the club. This place is on a small man-made island off Kobe city. Another bus or Mono rail ride after the train ride, the car pickup was suppose to be a help.
 
We arrived at the station, it was a cold night, after the prior nights had been warm. We waited, and looked, and waited. No driver, no pick up. The club was called, the drummer was called, still no drive, he is supposed to be there we are told. After about 30 minutes of waiting we are supposed to be on the other side of the station, to meet up. Somewhere, somebody screwed up. I rolled with it…
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We got there late and got settled a little bit. Said hello to some people we knew. Some of who I like and was surprised to see. Then we are called up. We get organized somewhat one stage. The Doc asks if I am ready, I say no, 30 sec later he starts. From where I am in the corner next to the amps, i join the song the best I can. I am having some technical issues with my cord. It sounds like a short or/ and it is too short for this stage. I roll with it for the song. I ask afterward for a spare cord from the stage person, or somebody. Some guy bring one up, I thank him and plugged in and more to my place at the mike. 
 
We do a song, it sounds off, like no one could find the one. I thought I noo , not again! It sort of resolved, but to me it sucked, it was hard to hear what was going on, stage sound needed to be adjusted. Next song, ok, let’s do blah blah, I say the name and tell the key. The Doc says, something I say no in “G”. We start, it sounds way off, I wrenched, he changes key, it sounds better but still not the right key. I play on…yup “rolling with it”. It would not have been so bad if he was singing, then I could have just changed, but I was singing, so key changing to where he was not a good move. The audience, still clapped, I was embarrassed. The Doc says, loudly, oh you were playing in G, I was playing in A ( the key I told him it was not it)…
 
 
 
Next song, I took it as mine, it was old enough and slow enough for the guys, so even we could pull them off ok, with no rehearsal. That went well, I put a little extra chi in the vocals to make up for the last couple of songs. That went over well enough to be asked for one more song, now that we were warmed up the owner said. Everyone laughed.
The last songs, I chose more upbeat and funky, the crowd like it and I got some good reactions afterward. Now after much back and forth getting my stuff together off stage it was time for me to head home. We were supposed to get a meal, dinner out of the deal , no way I had time to hang out for that. I had a two hour train ride ahead, which, was catching the last or next to last train running for the night. This currently needed to be caught within the next 45 mi !
 
A couple whose house we had played at, last year, offered to give me ride. As it turns out I thought we were getting a ride as a band back to the train station… From the owner. Well no! I had to take the Mono-rail, to the train station about a 15 min walk away. Just great I thought, before I got the ride offer.
 
I couple wanted to finished their food and hear one song from the up coming band, then they were out! Ok, I said , thanks for the offer.
my ride
 
I made it home in reasonable time, still could get in about 4 hours sleep once I got fully settled in for the night. It was going to be a long day tomorrow at the Tai Kai, but luckily I didn’t have anything to do but hang out an shoot. I already knew my shooting was going to suck, so why worry about only a couple of hours sleep….