Where There’s Smoke


A couple weeks back now we saw UB40 at Humphrey’s, a wonderful outdoor arena that is more poster for the good life in San Diego than hardcore concert venue. Surrounded by the waters around Shelter Island, Humphrey’s is open to the marina on one side and fringed with up-lit palms around the 1,400 seat arena. As the sun sets over the ocean, the lights come up on the opening band.

Dave and I arrived early enough to stand in line for an $8 beer and an $11 mojito. But hey, we go out so seldom, for all I know that could be the going rate at every night spot in town. Before heading to our seats, we hung around the perimeter, nursing our drinks and listening to the opening act, a very energetic reggae artist called Elan who reminded me a bit of Ché Guevara (here’s his MySpace link).

We’re big people watchers at events like this — fascinated by the cross-section of locals who consider themselves fans, digging each other in the ribs every time someone talk-about-later-worthy passes by: The surgically enhanced, forty-something Barbies wearing way too much jewelry, cleavage, and not quite enough clothing. The fifty-something surfer dudes with natural highlights and leather flip-flops, casually dressed in expensive Tommy Bahama shirts.

I digress only to set the stage. The mojito was mostly ice and since Dave was driving, I wound my way through the crowd, back to the bar to get another drink — Ché was still well into his Marley-esque treatise on World Peace. The line up was by this stage ten or twelve deep and I happened to join it at the same time as a guy who looked to be about my age. We smiled and did the classic “Go ahead … no you … no, please, you go ahead.” So we ended up standing together, chatting, and I found out that he was from the Dominican Republic, had lived in New York for many years, had seen UB40 before and was now at the concert with his aunt.

We’d just started talking about our families and what we did for a living when the woman standing in front of us, a toned-down version of the aforementioned barbies (a bit more conservatively dressed and with very carefully styled blonde hair, à la Elizabeth Perkins in Weeds), spins around and blurts out, “It’s a pity they don’t let you smoke here.”

It’s interesting that I draw on a character from Weeds because the conversation that ensued made me feel as if I was slap-bang in the declared-drug-free and very fine suburban neighborhood of Agrestic, CA.

Yes, says she: “It’s a pity they don’t let you smoke here.”

My line mate, Mr. Dominican Republic (I’ll call him DR), looks at me, then back at her and says, “Uh …. yeah …” As if she’s just told us that visitors from Jupiter are hovering behind the stage in a spaceship made totally of M&Ms.

“I mean, like, HOLY!” she says, “It’s a UB40 concert people! Come ON!

DR and I look at each other and smirk. She has a point.

“Like, you know. I could really do with a smoke.”

“Uh, huh,” says DR, nodding politely.

And me? I’m staying out of it. Letting DR do all the talking.

She reaches in her handbag and shows us a small clear baggie, all surreptitious like, and we nod knowingly.

“I gotta have a smoke,” she says. “You know what I MEAN?” and at this point she wobbles a bit on her heels.

“Hey, I tell you what,” says DR. “We’ll keep your place in line … if you wanna go have a smoke.”

“Really?” The look of gratitude. “You’d do that?!” For a moment I think she’s going to throw her arms around both of us and hold us close.

As she weaves her way through the crowd, DR and I chuckle to ourselves.

“You ever smoke?” he asks.

“Nope. Never … you?”

“Yeah, long time ago. But not anymore.”

As we chit chat, the line starts moving pretty quickly. We’re two away, and DR peers over the crowd, “She’d better smoke fast or she’s gonna lose her place in line.”

“Somehow I don’t think she’ll be too concerned about that,” I say.

The concert itself? Apologies to those who thought this was going to be a review.

Wonderful. There is something about watching a bunch of guys who have played together for thirty-odd years. Something about the ease of the company of friends and brothers doing what they love together. UB40 played a good mix of mostly oldies with a couple new songs thrown in. Very little talk in between so you didn’t get much of a sense of the characters, but on the whole the show felt rich, warm, comfortable and full. For us, a great evening out under the summer sky.

And as I mentioned, Humphrey’s is open on the one side to the marina. And as happens at most performances at this venue, there was a flotilla of dinghies, kayaks and canoes, joined oar-to-oar to form a bobbing carpet of rowdies — or in this case, very mellow rowdies, exuding a cloud of illicit smoke, wafting up and over the arena.


2 responses to “Where There’s Smoke

  1. I wish I’d been there….This 60-something Granny would have par-tayed with the best of them!

  2. I have seen UB40 twice before! Both times awesome! And how fun about Barbie Weed lady.

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