Sunday, November 23, 2008

Visit your local hole-in-the-wall

Who needs to frequent a big chain restaurant when you have a hole-in-the-wall or 2 or 3 that serves better food, is cash only and sports some of the best d├ęcor around?

Stop 1 was the Thai restaurant in Eagle Rock, CA. Thai Spirit sports a great name and likely some of the best naugahyde around. Nineteen-seventy's green "hyde" was the rage back in the day and with rips and tears abound, it always makes me wonder what may have happened. Did a hot plate of Pad Thai hit the spot and disintegrate the man-made miracle? Who knows, but if a place has a deep, half-moon booth with a crumbling laminate tabletop, it's a guarantee that the food will be good. Exterior lattice on the interior of the restaurant is another sure bet too. Fake plants? Yep. If the place has them it's a bonus. If the plants are dusty, even better. The last element that assures the place is good is not the "A" or even "B" rating, but the tiny Asian kid taking a nap on the seat in the booth across from us. Apparently he's the owners kid and was real tired.

Stop 2 is also in Eagle Rock, CA. Casa Bianca is without question the best pizza, bar-none. It's a landmark for kitsch and of course cash only. Red naugahyde adorns this joint too along with bad wallpaper and those sweet overhead lamps you normally see in Uncle Bubba's paneled basement above the pool table. The walls in the entry have framed pictures of the B-celebrity variety, and the people who own it have done so since the mid-1950's! The cash register is still the old "typewriter" style and the female waitresses kick ass. We've watched many of them grow up! Another tip for judging a place: If the bathroom is a shithole, the food will be good. Oh yeah, the lineup is always out the door... another good sign it's good.

Stop 3 is our favorite little sushi place in Korea Town (Los Angeles). Noshi Sushi is also an institution and also cash only. Please note that if you are "whitebread" you will stick out like a sore thumb, but they don't care. This place serves the basic sushi. No jalapeno-cream-cheese-sour-cream-candy-yuck-hipster rolls, but instead the tried-and-true bits and the rolls are big. About the only thing super-progressive is the Dynamite. Everything but the kitchen sink (or including the kitchen sink) has been thrown into this casserole-type dish. It's hot and gooey and will likely give you heartburn, but when you eat something like this you don't contemplate the consequences! It's the equivalent to going to Tommy's. You know it's "bad" for you and that you will pay dearly for it, but it tastes so damn good. "The journey is the destination" my friend. Noshi sports green naugahyde and the bathroom is also nasty. The kicker to this place is the old Asian guy who acts as the security-parking patrol in the parking lot. He's usually kitted out in the usual security garb and on occasion sports a pistol that resembles that of a child's cap gun. He's a great dude, always smiling and directs you to a open space.

Go ahead and seek out your local holes in the wall... They're there!

To recap some requirements for what makes a dump a true dump with great food:
1. Must have naugahyde. The more ripped the better.
2. Cash only.
3. 1970's style lighting.
4. Laminate table top, preferably the crumbling variety.
5. Booths that have seating that have nothing left in terms of padding or springs.
6. Stucco and/or lattice on the interior walls.
7. Massive iron security gates that keep the place tight when it's closed.
8. ATM machine inside.
9. Napping Asian kid in the booth across from you.
10. Pistol packing (on occasion) parking guy.
11. An "A" rating is okay but it's always better if it's lower, or if the rating sign is obscured.
12. A crappy bathroom.

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That early morning sound of yard work

It's 7 in the morning and the cool chill coming through the bedroom door feels great. Snuggled under the down comforter, it's a typical morning until the hum begins. First it's the chatter of workers, then the sound of the mower starter. Yep, it's Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday, etc., and the yard work begins. Gone are the days when dads would wake up on Saturday morning and do yard work. Next comes the other guy with an edger and then the dreaded blower. All are gas-powered of course, none good for the environment, but it's always been that way. Prior to my electric mower that my sis-in-law donated to me, I had the gas gobbling, fuel burning front throw mower and the gas edger (now electric through a donation from my dad).

My point is this: Where are all the dads doing yard work? Am I the only one? Am I just a throwback? My hunch is that the dads of guys my age didn't teach their sons to do yard work or wash their cars or change their own oil, or even clean out their rain gutters! Now I am not saying I am some masculine macho man, but the lessons I learned from my dad regarding hard work and yard work and all that, have stuck with me. While some dads claim it's too much, they are wussies and for those who say it takes time away from being with their families or kids: whatever!

So the buzz of mowing and edging break out in full force down my street, and I get annoyed. Why do they start at 7:15am? Why do they use gas? Isn't that outlawed? I have the same reactions every day, every week, all the time. It's predictable.

When I get out there with my mower, blower and edger (all electric, mind you) I get blank stares from the workers, from people driving by and others. "What's he doing?" is what I assume they are thinking. "Mommy, is that a rake?" says the little girl (maybe).

Edging the lawn is a fine art. I remember my dad showing me the finer tips of the "art" of getting a straight line. At the time, it was annoying, but today I attempt to apply those same rules and methods. "Mow this way, this week, then mow that way next week." Whatever dad. Now I do the same thing. These lessons I learned are being passed to my 10-year-old and soon to the 4-year-old.

So I am the only one on my street. A rebel, outcast, revolutionary(?), maverick. No not a maverick, I hate that word... been exploited too much. I get a great sense of enjoyment and pride from manicuring my yard, adjusting the sprinklers, replacing PVC pipe, swapping our sprinkler valves and trimming trees. Getting the hands dirty, having finger nails full of mud and dirty shoes all excites me. Me caveman? Naw. Throwback? Maybe. Satisfied? Yep.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Where's my bailout?

So let's get this shit straight. It's no longer a bailout but instead an investment. Initially it was going to be used to help out banks and it seems it has... a little. And it was also supposed to be used to help out folks with bad mortgages (more on that in a second). Ultimately it was going to bailout, yes bailout, financial institutions and now it will likely change. The Big 3 automakers are now bleeding, no erupting, money out the front door and need help. Meanwhile the likes of Toyota, Honda, etc., seem to be doing okay. The Big 3 are dieing a slow death because, in my opinion, they have been off the back for so long. Rather than making economical cars and pursuing hybrid technology, they continued to make "Bummers", Escalades, and Suburbans like it was going out of style. Now they are in trouble, behind the times, and look to us the tax payer to help them out. Many financial experts believe that we should help them, while others think we should let them fail. It seems that the only way for someone (in this case a company) to change or evolve is to hit rock bottom. The Big 3, it seems, have been on standard operating procedure for way too long. Would they change their ways? Since gas is relatively "cheap" will they be aggressive with hybrid and alternative fuels? Maybe we should let them fail, reorganize and come back leaner, meaner, more aggressive, and perhaps creative. You can't teach an old dog new tricks but perhaps bankruptcy could change them.

Buying people's bad mortgage is a bad idea. I say this because I, along with millions of others, went the appropriate route. My eyes weren't bigger than my wallet. I didn't buy a $700,000 with no money down. Nor did I state I made $100,000 a year when I clearly didn't. I asked questions. "What's my mortgage payment now?" Or, "What will it be in 5 years?" So to the people who went that crazy route and thought things would be sweet, even though common sense would tell you it would eventually suck after a few years, don't expect a gift. I mean another another gift.

And so it goes. The American way to "cure" a problem: Throw as much money as possible at a problem and hope it gets better. Put a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.

So look, I can fill out the 2-page application for money. I would love to have an extra $2,000 to do stuff around the house, get my teeth whitened, get a pedicure, buy some socks, and get a 1 terabyte firewire external hard drive.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Stacks, packaging and junk mail

I don't know about you but stacks have become a normal part of my life. They infiltrate my home, garage, office and sometimes my car. How do they get there? Why can't I get rid of them. Without question stacks are my doing. I get things in the mail, bring things home from work, accumulate things.

My "purge" process is simple really: Do an initial "weed" through and move the stuff I don't want into the "trash" stack. Next I take the stuff I want and make the "keep" stack. That "keep" stack is then moved to a place such as the location above. There it sits for days on end. Lonely, heart broken, yearning to perhaps be filtered again and maybe moved to a better spot. After a week the "keep" stack should be considered trash shouldn't it? Not in my world. I filter it again and make yet another stack, which then is joined by other pieces because by this time, new material has been brought into the situation. Pick it up, move it, move it back, add new things, and on and on. It's an evil cycle an eventually all of it gets thrown out because of frustration. Then, of course, a couple days after I chuck the remnants of the "keep" stack I usually find myself looking for something that was tossed.

Look, as a graphic designer I love packaging. I am not alone either. How many of us have bought things based on the packaging? Yeah, I thought so. I'll buy a bottle of wine because of the cool label! I am convinced that if the label design is slick, the product must be good too. Look at all the toiletry products with crazy bottle shapes. I guess you have to somehow differentiate your "insert aromatherapy crap name here" from your competitors since most of it is the same, using the same exotic herb from some mysterious place. I buy a tiny, portable stereo for my iPod and the packaging accounts for most of the girth. There's the box of course, the plastic adult-proof sealed thingy that you must machete through, the cardboard protection, the manual, the registration sheet, the remote control and the cardboard box it came in and finally the foam sheet liner that keeps it all in place. The carbon footprint on this $39 electronic bit is mind-boggling.

"Hey, here's a sweet website you can go to, to get your name off the junk mail-catalog list," says a tree-hugging friend of mine. "Sweet! I'll try it out" I say. I did it. Checked off all the catalogs I get and don't want, all the catalogs I don't want but get and everything in between. Sure enough, I get even more and I still get the ones I supposedly checked off. I half-way think I signed up for more in some mysterious, marketing way.

So now I have too much junk mail, way too much packaging that I throw away (gets recycled... hopefully) and islands of stacks that have just become a part of my life. Funny thing is that I am not alone. Multiply my situation by millions of others and we have a crapload of, well, crap.