Updated: Feb 4, 2020
Some fans call their tours of the Bay Area's Green Day landmarks a ‘pilgrimage’ – and rightly so. These places are so ordinary, so irrelevant, to everyone else. Yet for fans, it’s a spiritual experience as the songs – songs that have been everything from rallying cries to friends to first dances – become three-dimensional.
My mum, Joy and I intended to complete our tour in late 2018. It didn't happen. Then someone got an Eventbrite notification for a New Year’s Eve show with The Longshot and Prima Donna. News spread. We’d never been to one of these last minute Bay Area shows before. We'd never done anything for New Year's Eve, either... and we were never going to complete our tour if we didn't act on this. My aunt owed my mum quite a bit of money. The only way we could go was to beg her to pay up. A few refusals later, we booked (and now I owe my mum). It was surreal. Even as we boarded the flight, it wouldn’t sink in that we were going back, let alone going to the show!
‘Welcome home.’ Annabelle said as we hugged at the airport. The next day, sitting in Peet’s on Telegraph Avenue, the reek of coffee failed to wake me up. I was dreaming. I had to be. We walked on, almost striding straight past Stuart Street. My mum stopped us. This was it – the ‘corner of Stuart and the Avenue’ Billie Joe wrote of in the song named after this intersection. It angrily remembers his breakup with his ‘first love’ Amanda – ‘Ripping up my transfer and a photograph of you / You're a blur of my dead past and rotting existence / As I stand laughing on the corner of insignificance.’
‘Play the song,’ Annabelle said, so I did. We stood on that 'corner of insignificance' reflecting on the jilted words. ‘Seasons change as well as minds and I'm a two faced clown / You're mommy's little nightmare driving daddy's car around / I'm beat down and half-brain dead, the long lost king of fools / I may be dumb but I'm not stupid enough to stay with you.’ Then we retraced what might, or might not have been their footsteps to the ‘Ashby house,’ where they met and lived.
‘[Basket Case] still reminds me so much of the Ashby house. That's the house we lived in, in Berkeley and our first video, Longview, was filmed there. We'd be cranking that song out in there, all of us playing in this one tiny room and our neighbours getting pissed because we'd play it five times in a row.’ - Billie Joe Armstrong, 2005
In a nearby CVS I bought a giant plush taco. It was too big to fit in my bag. Help! Now I had to carry a giant taco all over Berkeley with me. Anyway, after lunch at Berkeley Bowl, I finally got a good photo of an Adeline Street sign. Adeline Records, the now-closed label and clothing line co-owned by Billie Joe, was named after this major Oakland street.
People kept complimenting my leggings, but didn’t mention the giant taco. At this point, I should’ve known I was in Oakland.
We passed Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe, co-owned by Mike Dirnt, on our way to Target for supplies. Then I went to destroy Annabelle’s shower with my pink hair dye, because my hasty job looked terrible.
The next day, we awoke to pouring rain. It stopped long enough for us to attempt a trip to Lake Merritt. Mission abort! We got soaked and hid in Starbucks. When it stopped again, we wandered up to KP Asian Market. It has nothing to do with Green Day, but it was there. By the time we'd bought some $2 seaweed, it was about time for us to meet fellow English fans Michelle and Sarah (and Sarah’s husband Jay) at Rudy’s. We chatted about Green Day and the upcoming show. This was our first time actually eating at the Emeryville Rudy’s. I ordered sweet potato fries. They were delicious!
We moved on to the Ruby Room, where the Reverend Strychnine Twitch (AKA Billie) sang about ‘dirty floors and sticky tables.’
‘14th Street, booze and swallow / I'm gonna drown my sorrow / Dirty floors and sticky tables / For the willing and the able / All the zombies on a hot Friday night.’ – Foxboro Hot Tubs, Ruby Room
I never got around to ordering a drink, but Michelle said the Coke tasted rancid. Definitely a good choice to illustrate the ‘hot Friday night’ of a drunk so desperate they’re a regular at a questionable bar.
Finally, we went to have a look at the stage we’d soon be seeing The Longshot on. It was tiny!
Queuing began the next day. I’ve written a separate recap of the show, so I’ll just share one of my favourite photos here.
At the show we met up with Claudia from France, who we’d met previously in Santa Ana and Seville. The three of us went for lunch at Homeroom on New Year's Day. Our heads were too fuzzy to cope with anything else! Across the road at Subrosa Coffee, we ran into Strychnine from Arizona and Whitney from Texas. We chatted until the sun set over the toilet shop and it was too late for Claudia to pick up some bags from another fan in San Francisco (fortunately, he was happy to meet her the next day).
On January 2nd, we took a relaxed walk to the Berkeley Rep with Annabelle. The American Idiot musical was developed and opened at its Roda Theatre. Banners still boasted a photo of John Gallagher Jr. as Johnny. Across the road, a sidewalk plaque celebrated Knowledge by Operation Ivy – which is probably Green Day’s best-known cover, too.
'It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s what I love about it. When people see it, it’s going to be my wildest dream.' - Billie Joe Armstrong, 2009
At the show, Claudia passed a rat plush to Billie, since it’s the Year of the Rat. Then she lost him. A homeless man with blankets walked by. My mum, squinting at his bag, said ‘that man has a rat plush.’ I turned. ‘It’s Claudia’s rat!’ So anyway, he’s enjoying a new life in Berkeley right now.
We got the bus to the Ivy Room in Albany. The Coverups, a ‘cover band that doesn't take requests’ – including Billie Joe, Mike, Jason White, Pinhead Gunpowder bassist Bill Schneider and audio engineer Chris Dugan – played their ever first show there.
Then we got back on the bus for a second attempt at Lake Merritt. Transferring on Telegraph Avenue, we passed The Uptown Nightclub, the last of four places Green Day played 21st Century Breakdown in full.
The Uptown was just up from the Fox Theatre, another of those four places. It also hosted the Dookie celebration where February 19 was declared Official Green Day Day in Oakland.
This time we made it to ‘take a walk around the lake.’ We did find the ‘garden in the park there,’ but it was shut. It was probably shut when The Rev offered to take Mother Mary, too.
The sun began to set while we listened to Mother Mary on a picnic bench. We walked on to get ‘lost in the shadows’ as the Oakland skyline glittered in the serene water.
I set aside the next day to finish my recap of New Year’s Eve. Being in Oakland was kind of distracting, though. I was also wiped out from only sleeping for 15 minutes before the show. My body wanted to sleep. I switched my laptop off and we jumped on the bus to Berkeley Marina. We didn’t smash a bottle or go to jail, but then it wasn’t 3AM. I was busy sleeping by then.
‘Said that I'd meet ya at the Berkeley Marina / 3AM when no one will be found / All I got in mind is a Boone’s Farm jug of wine / Smash a bottle in the parking lot / But considering our luck, we'll get busted by the cops / Instead of sex we'll go to jail / Another lesson learned and failed.’ – Green Day, The Ballad of Wilhelm Fink
Claudia picked us up in a rental car the next day. Blasting The Longshot, we headed up the I-80 to Christie Road. Then I switched my camera on to find the SD card was corrupted. I’d forgotten my spares. That could have been one of my biggest mistakes, but Claudia had the patience of a saint and drove us all the way back and then back again to Christie Road.
Despite the nearby highway and refinery, the air was refreshingly cool and clear. In every direction rolling hills, dotted with trees and grazing cows, touched the blue sky. Old train cars sat on an unused line. At the entrance to the road was a farm, where a confused man squinted at us.
Christie was once a station but it disappeared in the 1920s. One line is still used. As well as a Green Day fan site, it’s a BNSF railway fan site. I wished I could've shared it with my grandpa, Roy, a train driver and railway enthusiast. The wagon labels he gave us to sell helped fund our adventures – which he’d shake his head at, before pulling me aside with a wink and telling me to have a good time. I hope he enjoyed Christie Road from paradise or wherever he is now.
We tentatively stepped up to the tracks. The iconic photos of Green Day on train tracks weren’t taken at Christie Road, but we still had to re-enact!
We wandered along the tracks, laughing hysterically at a certain musician for squeezing my arse on New Year’s Eve and a secret agent joke I won’t repeat. Or was it a joke? Only the residents of Christie Road know the truth. Dun-dun-DUUUN... Espionage plays!
Climbing down at a crossing, we walked back to the car. The confused farmer peered through trees to take photos of us. I don’t know if he thought we were after his cattle or just wanted to document the weirdos.
‘Take me to that place that I call home / Take away the strains of being lonely / Take me to the tracks at Christie Road.’ – Green Day, Christie Road
As we listened to Christie Road, Claudia drove us all the way down, past the paved road onto dirt tracks as the car rumbled and lurched over bumps. She’d only just passed her driving test in France, making it especially impressive! We got out at Wyvern Farm, where the sign actually said ‘Christie Road.’
Here, away from the highway, only our footsteps broke absolute silence. Afternoon sunlight glowed on the green hills. Beautifully serene, it was easy to see why this was such a beloved refuge for the band; for anyone thinking ‘gotta get away or my brains will explode.’ The clear air, the silence, the presence of only grazing animals – it was reassuring.
‘If there's one thing that I need / That makes me feel complete / So I go to Christie Road / It’s home.’ – Green Day, Christie Road
Back on the highway, after narrowly avoiding knocking over a ladder, we passed the Rodeo San Francisco Refinery. Its towers, sudden modernity in the serene countryside, feature on the cover of Dookie. 21st Century Breakdown also mentions it while introducing Christian – ‘my town is blind from refinery sun’ – and referring to the polluted air Billie Joe grew up with in Rodeo.
We reached Rodeo, where Billie Joe grew up and Mike lived for a while in the Armstrong home. Parking on a quiet suburban street where a woman smiled as if she was used to Green Day fans, we showed Claudia the Rodeo sign where Billie took a selfie. I took one in 2018, so I just took a photo of the sign this time.
‘[Longview] was just living in the suburbs in a sort of shit town where you can't even pull in a good radio station. I was living in Rodeo, California, about 20 minutes outside of Oakland. There was nothing to do there and it was a really boring place.’ – Billie Joe Armstrong, 2005
Claudia drove us around Rodeo. It was the perfect picture of American suburbia. We’d never have known one of the shops was, as Billie Joe put it, ‘kind of a speed hangout.’ It was that perfect picture that inspired not only Longview and the song Jesus of Suburbia, but his entire character; bored, angry and apathetic, with dreams of something bigger.
‘The first two lines of [Jesus of Suburbia] are the most haunting lines that have ever affected me.’ – Billie Joe Armstrong, 2005
Next stop, across the Carquinez Bridge, was a Starbucks in Vallejo. This modern, unassuming café was once Rod’s Hickory Pit, where Sweet Children played their first ever show. Billie Joe’s mum, who worked there to support her six kids, convinced her boss to let them play. He and Mike were just 15. The audience of 30 enjoyed the show enough to invite them back.
We hadn’t planned anything beyond Christie Road, but I knew Benicia was this side of the bridge. So, playing Going to Pasalacqua, we drove the way early Green Day might, or might not have driven as Billie Joe wrote the lyrics. Its namesake, Passalacqua Funeral Chapel (39/Smooth spelled it wrong, or removed the ‘ass’), was a burst of light amidst suburban streets where porches faded to pitch black.
It was cold now. We crept around the back, feeling slightly disrespectful since we weren’t dead yet. There was an empty parking lot. We took a few more photos – it’s not every day you visit a random funeral chapel in a town no-one’s heard of, after all – then got back in the car. We went to Pas(s)alacqua! Whatever that means, since Billie Joe said in 2010 the song is about revenge.
‘Here we go again, infatuation touches me just when I thought that it would end / Oh, but then again it seems much more than that, but I'm not sure exactly what you're thinking.’ – Green Day, Going to Pasalacqua
Just five minutes away were the Camel Barns, now part of the Benicia Historical Museum. Both Sweet Children and Green Day played there, sharing bills with Monsula, Separate Ways, Bumblescrump and Blatz.
The moon shone amidst glittering stars above. Claudia asked if I could take a photo of them. There was too much artificial light.
‘But you know where we could get great sky shots? Christie Road!’
‘OK! Let’s do it!’
It was official – we were going back for the third time in one day. On the way, Claudia asked about Concord and La Jolla, mentioned in The Network’s Spike. We had no idea where La Jolla was (it’s near San Diego), but Concord was close by. So we set the GPS and off we went to find something that said ‘Concord’ as we listened to Spike. I’d never have come up with that one myself!
The GPS’s guidance ended on a random, pitch black street. Nothing said ‘Concord.’ Sad... then, back on a main road, we spotted Concord Auto Service! That would do. We amused, or scared, or baffled locals again as mechanics stared at these random people photographing their shop. A funeral chapel was weird, but this was weirder. If we’d known that we would’ve gone to... somewhere else in Concord? What do you mean go back to Concord then?
The GPS still couldn’t find Christie Road, so it must’ve thought we really love golf going back to Franklin Canyon Golf Course. The highway was eerily empty. We hoped no one would come speeding out as the car rattled down the unlit Christie Road. Surely not? Who’d be driving up and down this road with less than 20 residents at night? We saw headlights. There was indeed someone coming. Claudia pulled over by the tracks, leaving the lights on so they wouldn’t hit us. We worried they still could. The approaching car slowed. Then it stopped. This was Baltimore 2.0, except this murder mobile definitely wasn’t The Longshot. I tentatively wound the window down. A man, face dimly illuminated by our headlights, peered out.
‘Do you… need something?’
‘Uh, no, we’re just going to take some nice night sky pictures.’
He drove off. I wondered if he’d seen us driving up and down and shrieking with laughter about bum squeezers earlier. He probably thought we shouldn’t have been driving. We got out, using my backpack and the car as a tripod. My mum and Claudia held flashlights to the tracks so I could focus the lens.
This time, feeling somehow like criminals – or enemies of the secret agents I wouldn’t mention earlier – we reflected on Outlaws, the nostalgic ode to youth described as a ‘sequel’ to Christie Road.
‘I found a knife by the railroad tracks / You took a train and you can’t go back / Forever now you’ll roam.’ – Green Day, Outlaws
Something moved in the bushes. It might have enriched the road’s serenity in daylight, but now it was just creepy. The cold crept up our sleeves and down our necks. I placed the ‘tripod’ on the bonnet while my helpful assistants lit the tracks again.
‘Was that light on before?’
My mum pointed to an amber light. She was sure, being a driver’s daughter, that meant a train was coming. The car was right by the tracks. There was no sign of headlights, so we kept taking photos.
Then we heard the horn. It was too late to move the car. I was sure the train was going to smash it to pieces and that we’d be in the firing line, too. So I did what one of my two favourite photographers, Frank Hurley, definitely would’ve done and turned to take photos.
‘See the hills from afar, standing on my beat up car / The sun went down and the night fills the sky / Now I feel like me once again, as the train comes rolling in.’ – Green Day, Christie Road
I didn’t really need to ‘feel like me once again’ after returning to Christie Road for the third time in one day, or visiting a random funeral home and taking photos in a Starbucks, but if there was any doubt about whether I’d been replaced with a secret agent – there was ‘me once again.’ We’d seen a train at Christie Road! The car survived! We survived! With photos! We were even almost standing (or laying injured) on a ‘beat-up car.’
As we drove down the cute, tree-lined road turned horror movie wood, my mum told us about a book she read called Loving Frank. In the last five pages a butler randomly came and killed the family with an axe. Thanks for that. Now we were sure the secret agents were coming.
Almost back at the highway, we heard rumbling. Another horn. There was another train coming! This time we definitely weren’t close enough to die. Claudia braked and I leaned out to take photos. They’d have been better with an external flash and finally replacing my kit lens, but hey, we have some photos of the train ‘rolling in.’
We set the GPS for Foxboro. Claudia hadn’t seen the Foxboro Hot Tubs’ namesake yet. ‘Sign! Foxboro sign! There it is!’ we all shouted in unison before looking for a place to park. I bizarrely only took photos on my phone in 2018, so I was glad to take some more – and at night, when the band actually visited.
‘The Foxboro Hot Tubs were a place we used to sneak booze and chicks into late at night. But most of the time it was just “dude soup.”’ – Billie Joe Armstrong, 2008
I shared that dude soup quote in 2018, but you can smell the words even without synesthesia. Stopping in Pinole on our way back, we showed Claudia Fiat Music, where Billie Joe learned to sing.
We also checked out The Red Onion. Billie Joe worked there for a while in his teens, but in 2018 we sat on the sign outside and forgot about it. All these things were pieces of a puzzle of inspiration that formed Jesus of Suburbia.
Then we returned to ‘the centre of the earth in the parking lot, at the 7-Eleven where I was taught.’ A guy coming out saw us taking photos and raised his beers with a whoop. Bet all the locals think us Green Day fans are right nobs. Anyway, we bought a platypus plush and called them Willow.
Claudia was due to return the car the next day, but there were more adventures to be had. She extended the rental. We drove over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco.
The Warning cover shoot, by Marina Chavez, took place in San Francisco’s Chinatown. I knew the bakery on the cover was Blossom Bakery, so I thought it’d be easy to find, but as far as I could tell it no longer existed. We felt a bit lost. Then I spotted a red and white awning that looked familiar. I compared a doorway to another photo from the shoot. The bakery did still exist – just under a different name.
Setting the self-timer for 12 seconds, I hesitantly sat my camera on a bin on the other side of the road. People kept walking in front. Then we spotted another tourist and he was kind enough to take a photo for us.
I recognised the end of the street from another photo. We showed the photo to another kind person we thought was a tourist, but turned out to be a local, who agreed to take one.
Walking back to the car, another alleyway looked familiar.
‘[With Warning] I wanted to start saying things in songs that I could be really proud of – that wasn’t just songs about masturbation. I mean, that’s significant, too…’ – Billie Joe Armstrong, 2004
Colourful houses passed as we drove up and down hills. It felt like being in both the When I Come Around video and City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2. One day I’ll take a photo of me skidding down streets on a broken plane wing (or pretending to, since the risk assessment might not go to plan).
Looking for Hyde Street Studios, Google Maps took us to an unmarked wall. It had to be on Hyde Street, so we wandered down, wondering if we were somehow in the wrong place. Then there it was – a thin, unassuming blue building. We could easily have walked by. So this was where Green Day recorded Insomniac, fuelling up with caffeine between takes and Tré repeatedly ripping the calluses off his hands to perfect Panic Song.
‘The fact that that album came out, like, a year and a half after Dookie was us trying to cut off the bullshit in its tracks and just keep making music. That’s all we wanted to do, keep making music. Sometimes I feel that Insomniac is the most honest record I ever made at the particular moment that it was written and recorded.’ – Billie Joe Armstrong, Kerrang
’I felt at the time that there was a real urgency to what we were doing. There was a real urgency to stake our claim and say, “No, we belong here.” It was really important to us to make sure people knew that we weren’t just a flash in the pan.’ – Mike Dirnt, Kerrang
Following the actual route of the When I Come Around video now, we drove on to Misión San Francisco de Asís. The video opens and closes with night shots of its towers. It’s also pretty regardless.
Our last stop of the day was Haight Street. In Misery, the character Mr. Whirly – a Replacements reference – becomes homeless and sleeps there. We soon spotted a sign that said ‘Haight,’ but now we needed a parking spot. Hopefully Mr. Whirly was on foot, because it took several minutes of driving around in circles to find one. Claudia’s parking was impressive, though. Around us, beautifully painted and decorated houses climbed steep hills.
'Mr. Whirly had a catastrophic incident / He fell into the city by the bay / He liquidated his estate / Now he sleeps upon the Haight / Panhandling misery.' – Green Day, Misery
The last stop on our list was Highway 1, but it was getting late and we were all tired and hungry. We were also broke and Claudia was kind enough to buy us dinner. ‘Soul of Ms. Teresa’ right there! Driving back across the Bay Bridge was moving on from City Escape to Radical Highway. Don’t worry, that’s still not a Green Day reference.
It was strange looking at our almost-completed list the next day. Back in 2009, longingly looking at $1,000+ tickets to the Uptown show we knew we couldn’t buy, it really was hard to imagine ever visiting Oakland. Even in 2010, when we saw Green Day in Mountain View, we couldn't afford to cross the bay. This was still surreal. We decided on the ‘facility on East 12th Street,’ where ‘Jesus is filling out paperwork now’ in Homecoming.
‘There's a police station on 12th Street in Oakland. After I got charged with a DUI, I had to do a whole bunch of paperwork there to satisfy my community service requirement.’ – Billie Joe Armstrong, 2005
I love the entire American Idiot album. Letterbomb is my favourite track, but the closest to my heart – that’s between Are We the Waiting and Homecoming. Every time I hear Homecoming, it takes me back to Broadway, watching Billie Joe sing ‘you taught me how to live’ and thinking ‘shit, man, you really did.’ Even that blatantly autobiographical line about his 2002 DUI – well, I spend my money on his band instead of learning to drive, but for me it’s still one of many lyrics representative of the years I spent housebound by illness. I’ll recycle the analogy that seeing the places that shaped those words is like loving a movie all your life and finally visiting the set. Anyway, was a boarded-up police station weirder than a funeral chapel? I’ll let the few readers who aren’t Green Day fans decide.