This Week's Day-by-Day Picks 

WED 5

What has the Albatross done for you lately? The cavernous Berkeley institution turns forty next year, and it's showing its age. We mean that in a good way -- its booths are cuddly-comfy and its surprisingly numerous warrens stretch out from the bar like mama's open arms. But if the dog-friendly, lived-in look -- not to mention pool tables, dartboards, and board games aplenty, fifty bottled beers, and fourteen on tap -- isn't enough for you, the Albatross also offers free, live music Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tonight at 9 p.m., the entertainment will be provided by Craig Fletcher (banjo, guitar), Jeff Ward (mandolin, guitar), Ran Bush (acoustic bass), and John MacFarlane (fiddle), aka the Whiskey Brothers, purveyors of classic western swing, bluegrass, and appropriate originals. 1822 San Pablo Ave. (at Hearst). 510-847-2473.

THU 6

If Bay Area politics had an official spokesmodel, it would be Greg Palast. The LA-born, England-dwelling journalist may do most of his reporting for the UK's Guardian, Observer, and the BBC, but California just loves this man. Last month, California State University's School of Journalism gave the author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy two more Project Censored awards. Prior to becoming British journalism's favorite American expat, Palast fought the good fight by unearthing the doctored safety records that proved the Exxon Valdez crash was unavoidable, negotiating contracts for the United Steelworkers Union in Chicago, and helping to start a consumer rights organization in Peru. This evening at 7 p.m., he speaks at King Middle School, 1781 Rose St., Berkeley, to benefit San Francisco's Media Alliance. Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased from 415-546- 6334, ex. 300, or Media-Alliance.org

FRI 7

It's no wonder that, in an age when treacle like "Baby boy you stay on my mind/fulfill my fantasies/I think about you all the time/I see you in my dreams" passes for love poetry, the work of Maulana Rumi still sells like hot cupcakes. "The minute I heard my first love story/I started looking for you/not knowing/how blind that I was/Lovers don't finally meet somewhere/They're in each other all along." Though the object of the 13th-century mystic's lyrical affection was God, his poems are still a favorite purchase come Valentine's Day. Tonight at St. John's Church (2727 College Ave., Berkeley), Dr. Andrew Vidich will discuss "Rumi: The Way of the Heart," sharing meditation techniques and exploring the spiritual essence of the great poet's work. The talk is free and starts at 7:15 p.m., with a vegetarian reception to follow. Information: 707-226-7703, or SOS-CA.org

SAT 8

Chopped Mercs. Hemi 'Cudas. Lil' deuce coupes. If these euphonious phrases get your fluids stewing, then hop in your Honda Civic and head down to the K&N Filters/Goodguys Fourteenth Autumn Get-Together, a rather clumsily named car show that starts today at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. Gates open at 8 a.m. both days for this automotive spectacular, featuring over 2,500 American-powered hot rods, customs, classics, and muscle cars of all makes, models, and eras parked throughout the grounds. There's also an indoor car show with commercial exhibits, a swap meet, and more. (We imagine there will be some babes in bikinis, too, but don't quote us.) General admission costs $12 for adults, $6 for kids 7-12, and free for 6 and under. There's an $8 fee for parking at the fairgrounds, which can be found at 4501 Pleasanton Ave. in Pleasanton. Goodguys: 925-838-9876, or Good-Guys.com; Alameda County Fairgrounds: 925-426-7600, or AlamedaCountyFair.com

SUN 9

The first time classical vocalist Jessye Norman heard the contralto of Marian Anderson, she cried. "I listened," she recalls, "thinking, 'This can't be just a voice, so rich and beautiful.' It was a revelation." Anderson had to emigrate to London in 1925 to begin her professional career, and, shortly after returning to the States a decade later, she faced off with the Daughters of the Revolution when they refused to let her sing in DC's Constitution Hall. It's no surprise that Anderson sang the spirituals of her childhood as often as she did the classical arias that were her bread and butter. Learn more today from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., when Friends of Negro Spirituals present Marian Anderson's Negro Spirituals Singing Journey, a forum hosted by Light Devoy Harris and featuring members of the University of Light performing Anderson's story and songs. The free program takes place at the West Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline St. 510-835-5140.

MON 10

As a mother and former public defender, both Israeli-born Berkeleyite Ayelet Waldman's Daughter's Keeper and her Mommy-Track Mysteries series were inspired by the combined experience of her years spent lawyering and mommying. There's no telling what the subject matter of her next book will be -- perhaps the story of an author whose husband's books are always mentioned in articles about your own. You can ask the multifaceted Waldman this and other rude questions when she gives a talk at 10 a.m. at the Contra Costa JCC (2071 Tice Valley Blvd, Walnut Creek), as part of the Fifteenth Annual Jewish Book Festival. Admission costs $5; call 925-938-7800 or e-mail riva@jfed.org for more information.

TUE 11

And now, for a completely different Waldman: Ken Waldman, aka Alaska's Fiddling Poet, starts off a week's worth of Northern California dates tonight (8 p.m.) at the Freight & Salvage, 1111 Addison St., Berkeley. The old-time musician and Beat-style wordsmith will be joined by East Bay musicians including guitarist and fiddler Ray Bierl, banjo player Brendan Doyle, and the Squirrelly String Band. Cover is $15.50. You can check the man out at KenWaldman.com or call the Freight at 510-548-1761.

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