Sunday, March 25, 2007

Becoming a man

Little bro Michael had a Bar Mitzvah last weekend! I flew off to Atlanta for the occasion on Thursday and picked up my mom and sister and the kidlets, Mia and Zachary at the airport. I'd reserved a full size car from Avis, but the dopes at Avis at the Atlanta Airport were definitely not trying harder last Thursday when they gave me a trashy Pontiac Grand Prix. To my sister’s dissatisfaction, we squeezed in and drove off. I was forced to return to Avis the next day and got a much larger car – a Mercury Grand Marquis – which was like driving around on a grandma’s living room couch. What’s up with these dumb American car manufacturers? Nobody but Avis or an 80-year old from Westland, Michigan would buy a car like this.

Of course United Airlines mishandled my checked bag. Even with a one-hour layover in Denver and all flights on time, they couldn’t seem to get it to Atlanta. My current checked bag status for domestic flights: 80% of the time in the last two years (yes, eight out of ten times!) my bag has not arrived with me.

Brad’s flight was screwed up by United too. They had a mechanical problem in San Francisco and instead of getting everyone on flights that would get them to their destination on time, they passed the buck to the Chicago staff and he ended up getting in to Atlanta four hours late.

The Bar Mitzvah. The night before, my dad took us to a greasy Chinese restaurant. Canton Cooks. He kept pronouncing it like the city in Ohio. I kept trying to repeat it with the accent on the second syllable, but it didn’t affect his pronunciation. I think everyone just wanted to sit around a big table and eat ribs. They had all ordered by the time we arrived so we ordered even more! Everyone actually ate what we ordered. Nobody ate the pile of Chinese fried chicken, egg rolls, and fried gung fat hot choy. Nobody looked too excited about the greasy Beijing Duck. (Okay, it’s really Peking Duck, but why haven’t they changed the name?). Michael was excitedly telling Uncle Steve that this place served really good Chinese food, but Steve pointed to the gays from San Francisco and told him to ask them about real Chinese food.

What a fun time we all had at dinner!

The day of the ceremony was enjoyable. A whole bunch of goyim headed to a synagogue. Pretty Easter dresses! Guys wearing sporty yarmulkes over their uncapped skulls. Sister Beth and I were forced to do an Aliyah (the occasion of chanting prayers before and after the reading of the Torah). I also dressed and undressed the Torah, marched around behind the scrolls and stood around while the rabbi did a fake Kiddush. That’s supposed to be the prayers over the wine, but Temple Sinai didn’t even put wine in the glass! Super sacrilegious are they without the fruit of the vine on their lips. Michael did a really good job, but nobody really wanted to sit there and watch the ceremony. They watched the rabbi lovingly caress Michael’s neck. They wanted to pose for a family photo!!

Am I related to any of these people? I made Brad get in the picture to add height on the right.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. Grandma Bobbie was babysitting for Mia and Zachary. Mia was sick with some wretched virus and Zach was a little freaked out by being away from his Cincinnati human-free safe haven, but they both survived. Grandma was left with a few scars, including back pain and generalized fatigue.

Babysitting for Mia and Zach requires a bit of effort.

Brad and I made it back to San Francisco before 11:00 PM PDT. I was so relieved to get back, knowing that my next flight left in 9½ hours! I raced home to unpack and pack, and managed to squeeze in about five hours of sleep. The next morning, I was off to Yucca Valley.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Same old-same old one more time

Back to flying. Flying itself has become same old-same old, I’m on a plane right now heading to San Francisco from Bakersfield. It’s one of those annoying Skywest Embraer turboprops, so not the quietest, most comfortable or fastest flight on the planet. I was on another flight this morning from San Francisco to Bakersfield.

I spent the day in Kern County. If you know me well, you know I know Kern County well. Over the last 13 years, I have led the majority of the transit plans in rural Kern County. Talk about same old-same old. But the nice thing about Kern County is that I’ve become a bit of an expert on it. I can describe, in detail, the transit services in each community. I can talk about the lay of the land, the economic trends, the political climate. I’ve attended dozens and dozens of meetings in Kern County, had a flat tire in Kern County, been in a blizzard in Kern County, had my car nearly overheat in Kern County, eaten bad Chinese food in Kern County, eaten great Mexican food in Kern County (today), ridden buses in Kern County, stayed in dumpy motels in Kern County, been on an Air Force base in Kern County, shopped at discount stores in Kern County, had a fling with a mortician in Kern County, seen tremendous poverty in Kern County, flown in and out of two different airports in Kern County… the list goes on. It has become one of those reliable places that I know well. I suppose that’s one good thing about doing the same thing over and over: it becomes very comfortable. Even if it’s not the most spectacular place, it begins to feel like home. People get used to their homes, even if they’re not the most incredible places.

My coworker and I spent some time today in McFarland, Wasco and Shafter. McFarland is one of the most depressed communities I’ve seen in the US, making even some rural Georgia towns – and rural Mexican towns – look good. The streets are in disrepair. Stores are boarded up. Houses are covered with faded Christmas lights: the ugly dangling icicle ones. Some of the houses appear to be as small as my bedroom, and I suspect about eight people reside in even these tiny abodes. Eighty-five percent of the population is Latino and most of them speak Spanish at home.

I could live there. Whenever I’m in Kern County, I look at the ugliest apartment building, usually a two-story building on the wide road in a small poor town. These buildings often have a large banner hanging on the side: “Two months free rent!!” I could live there. I could just pick up and move there from San Francisco and settle in to my new apartment, maybe paying $350 a month. If I were to move to McFarland, my days could be spent shopping at the Palace Market and Lupita’s 99 Cents More or Less store.

When I want a generic sanitary meal, I could drive to the McDonald's and get a Fillet-O-Fish Sandwich. I would have nothing to do in the evening unless I wanted to drive to the local bar.

But I couldn't really live there. It would be very depressing. I would end up eating too much and get really fat and then go on a Splenda diet and get a horrible rash all over my ass and have to spend my days in the Dollar Tree store so I wouldn't have to sit. Or I could go back to my depressing apartment and roll around on my stomach hoping to push out some of the Splenda-saturated cake from my body so I wouldn't get cancer. That would be my life. Dollar Tree. Palace Market. Ass rash.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Everything is the same old-same old

I am sitting on a plane watching a very dumb movie. Something about a night in a museum with creepy Ben Stiller. Everything in the museum comes alive while he’s on duty at his new job. An all star cast of losers like Dick Van Dyke and Robin Williams and Owen Wilson. One gold tablet makes everything in the museum come to life.

For some reason, I feel like this story has been told before. In countless childhood books, in other movies and in a lunatic rant of a book a few years ago: Smithsonian Institution by Gore Vidal. Sure, they all have their own unique characteristics, but they are all the same thing. Something funny comes alive, something is violent, a beautiful mannequin of Pocahontas or Sacajawea befriends the male protagonist.

Actually nothing is new, or so it seems. Sometimes I feel that everything I read, eat, listen to, see, visit, try on, or smell is something I already read, ate, heard, saw, visited, tried on or stunk. I recently was listening to some songs by Belle and Sebastian. What’s up with them? Everything they sing sounds like something I heard in the 80s. Every new neighborhood I visit in a city I’ve not yet explored looks just like a neighborhood in some other place I’ve already visited. Every dismal suburban shopping center looks like every other dismal suburban shopping center.

I know this entry is dull because it’s just like every other posting on It’s me ranting about everything that’s the same or that’s irritating in one way or another.

I’m looking for a new experience. I just don’t know what it is. What can one do who has had too many of the same experiences? People tend to do one of the following:
  • Move to a new city
  • Move to a new house
  • Go on vacation
  • Change their job
  • Have a child
  • Take up a new hobby
  • Have an affair
  • Buy a different kind of breakfast cereal
  • Do nothing at all and hope something will surprise them.

I regularly do one of the things above and I’m easily capable of doing six more of the things on the list. I like to travel and use that as a way to uncover new experiences. I find that it helps to escape the US, to get away from some of the drab same old-same old. Like this trip I’m making right now to Houston: talk about drab same old-same old.

I could take up a new hobby, because many things interest me, but because many things interest me, I would always be taking up a new hobby.

Some things should be same old-same old, because they don’t become drab. Friendships get better the more same old-same old they become. Friendships are meant to comfort and provide enjoyment, so pair a same old-same old friend with a new experience and you have a perfect combination. Relationships are the same. Or at least they are supposed to be. For me they tend to be, but I think for many people same old-same old in a relationship is dull. More later...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

More whining

Napa Valley. We went to Napa Valley on Saturday and stopped in at four wineries. Napa has always been a big touristy messfest, but it's gotten worse recently. Of course, now all of the wineries charge about $10 for a tasting. They used to be free.

We first sauntered into V Sattui. I went with one purpose in mind: Gamay Rouge. This wine brings back grad school to me. And always reminds me of broken bottles. I think my friend Alisa bought some and broke it, spilling that Robitussin-colored wine all over a car. And Jim bought some and broke it, spilling that stuff all over the sidewalk. And Mark bought some and broke it. Maybe it's bad luck or something, but now pink wines are back in vogue, and I figured I'd splurge on a couple of bottles and try not to break them. The winery itself was like being at a food-frenzy tacky wedding of some relatives you're not particularly fond of. So many people, all shoving their glasses to the front of the counter for a taste, paying their ten bucks and then scooping up a bunch of bottles with a block of cheese and some baby clothes before going outside to the barbecue. We bought the wine after giving up on the tasting lines and made a run for it.

My previous experiences at Merryvale had been good, but this St. Helena winery lost it's luster for me. The guy pouring for us was drab, dribbling very small tastes into our empty goblets for which we had agreed to pay their tasting fee. The reserve wines were very good, but we left without much satisfaction, not feeling warmly welcomed here, even after I tried to lavish guarded praise on the winery.

Peju was absurd. It has a dumb name -- that's for sure. And inside the French-inspired chateau was an orderly queue of white people waiting for white wine. I dipped a pretzel in an open jar of cranberry mustard at the condimento display and caught up with Brad, who was dashing to flee this place. Perhaps he wanted to get back out to that exquisite sculpture garden.

The mustard was delicious. Can't speak for the wine.

Finally, we found we could purchase love. Alpha Omega. It's a new winery sandwiched among all of these other behemoths. For ten bucks, a visitor is invited to sample their four wines. Unlike the other wineries, if you buy a bottle of Alpha Omega, the tasting fee disappears.

We politely stood at the counter as the friendly 50-something year-old woman who told us about her chef training in London and her MBA and her 'previous life' as a teacher poured four glasses for each of us. These were generous pours, perfect to soften us up for a purchase of their $60 red. And enjoyable they were, from the tropical sauvignon blanc to the earthy chardonnay and then to the zesty (is that a bad word to describe wine?) cabernet. She served a sliver of chocolate fudge as we swigged the cabernet. She reminded us to savor the soft mingling of chocolate and wine. Brad later remarked he would have been far more impressed with the winery if they had not also sold that fudgy stuff. It cheapened the experience for him.

It's interesting how friendly sales banter can close the deal. We heard about the owner and France and the marketing manager who is from Georgia ("She's a former Miss Georgia, but she's actually smart"). We heard about her son in college, about the remodel to the winery, about the wine club and how their wines were destined for greatness. She showed the list of the 10 or so wines from Napa that had received a perfect 100 score from Wine Spectator over the last dozen years.

I don't remember much of it because I was pretty tipsy at this point and looking forward to getting a malt down the highway at Taylor's. But we left with an easy $40 bottle of chardonnay, a little loopy, excited to be a part of the in-crowd, in-the-know about Alpha Omega and its predetermined superiority.
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