Archives for category: Rants

The weekends I love living in SF the most are the laziest ones. Other busy weekends, when you can’t find a parking spot / wait 45 minutes for a donut / get ignored by a salesperson / attempt to look hip at a party you’re way to old at (heard it from a friend) / navigate the treachery that is the maze into Oakland, the “charms” of San Francisco are lost on me. One look at my monthly rent, and I wonder why I haven’t split for the ‘burbs or East Bay yet.

This weekend was without agenda, and as a result showcased everything wonderful about living in this city, including a concert, a culinary adventure, and a lazy sunday with a climb. Also was tranquil, and calm, and lovely. Until I got stuck behind a Segway Tour.

Fun fact: every time I see a Segway Tour here in SF, I nearly scream at them. Perched on their awkward chariots, the grampa-helmet-wearing participant peer down on us makeup-free masses with amusement. Avec bright neon reflective vests and steely visages, these groups invade the various side streets with cocky swagger cum sheer boredom. They point, as if we could not possibly see them pointing, as they are on segways. Look, Mom, a hipster who probably had one too many cocktails at Romolo last night, as this gaggle of not-so-street-legal motorized contraptions block an entire lane of traffic on Stockton with, hemled by tourists without their sea legs stretching to take a picture of Coit Tower with iPads.

Now before you scream at me for being a tourist snob, I’m going to metaphorically stop you right there. Let me get this straight: I love tourists, of all shapes and sizes, and I hate the tourist vs. traveler debate. One of my favorite parts of living in North Beach is being approached by anyone who needs a tip, or directions. I proudly point them on their way, suggest a good watering hole and provide a smiling face. I know that that interaction could make their day, or at least make them feel slightly more comfortable in a strange place. I take hosting VERY seriously, as a Calgarian who firmly believes in the white hat, and it is an absolute pleasure to help a stranger get to know the city that I love.

The damn Segways, on the other hand, completely remove said traveler from their surroundings. Ta-nehisi Coates posits an “asshole rule” in the Atlantic: a person who demands that all social interaction happen on their terms. Since a segway is not a car, nor a bicycle, nor a form of walking, a group of them occupies a vehicular role and takes up an entire lane, while each individual rider demands the freedom and slow speed of walking. As a result, these groups are not walking tours, nor bus tours (both forms of tourism I am perfectly OK with) and instead slowly creep around North Beach, causing congestion and general grumpiness in me (and remember, it’s all about me).

If only that group could disembark, partake in one of San Francisco’s excellent City Guides walking tours with the hills beneath their feet (feel the burn!). Heck, I would even be, for some ungodly reason, more OK with Riding the Ducks, a semiaquatic, hopped-up bus tour that  heeds both nautical and vehicular parameters (also, have you SEEN them jammin’ on that tour? I’m this close to taking it myself fo funzies. Also, kazoos.)

I don’t like to judge other folks’ travel preferences, really I don’t. But when I get stuck behind one of these tours, or get cut off by them when I’m in a cross walk near Washington Square Park, it takes every ounce of my being to not scream “DID YOU KNOW THAT SAN FRANCISCO IS THE MOST WALKABLE CITY IN THE WORLD?”. I want to shake them, make them look around, take them for a beer and show them the best places to explore.

But then I snap out of it, and continue on my Saturday.

I like food, a statement which should come as no surprise to the 20 people who read this blog. Having dealt with body issues and insecurities when I was younger, moving to San Francisco made me abandon my obsessions and restrictions; food, and the various industries orbiting around it, is king in this town.

One dining aspect I most respect about San Francisco is the lack of pretension. Only in SF can you get a stellar, well-prepared meal made from locally sourced ingredients for under ten bucks on your lunchbreak. Good food is a default in the city by the Bay, and I’ve come to take for granted just how creative, ambitious, and downright freaking crazy food professionals are in the town.

That being said, it isn’t always gastric nirvana in jeans: the money that trails the tech industry in this town, not unlike a whiff of My First Cologne after you pass a teenager on the street, brings with it the very worst (to me) in dining. I’m talking puffed up menus, $20 “bar nibbles”, drinks that cost more than parking, assholes who insist on telling you why a shiraz with the wild rainbow trout JUST WON’T DO. Specifically, I’m thinking of the vast experience chasm I experienced between Dixie in the Presidio and Mission Chinese Food in, well, the Mission.

Let me start by saying that YES, I know I’m late to the praising Mission Chinese bandwagon. I know it’s old hat, and the hipsters have new chefs to gastronomically idol-worship, but I don’t give a shit. It was damn freaking good, every moment. We endured a thirty minute wait (super short, so I’ve been told) and from the moment we walked in the door and our nostrils were assaulted by the capsaicin hanging foggily in the air, I knew I was home. No need for a faux-foodie review on this one: it was spicy, inventive, had a point of view, was delicious, and was seriously well priced. Ben and I left with enough leftovers for 2 dinners, all for $50 or so. With beer. That’s a good deal.

Part of the reason we fell so heartily for MCF and have proceeded to order delivery from them numerous times since is how it’s all about the food and not so much about how the restaurant wants you to perceive the food. Yes, the Kung Pow Pastrami was a bit of a mind fuck, but who cares? It rocked! While I didn’t adore all of the dishes, I knew what the the chef wanted to say, and I appreciated that: I like when I can tell that a real live human has crafted a menu.

So rewind back two weeks beforehand. It was a foggy, misty San Francisco Saturday, and Ben and I were struggling to find a place to eat. Having no reservations, I consulted my go-to source that makes me look more “with it” than I am and found Dixie in the Presidio. Hmmm, I thought, I like soul food, the pedigree of the chef is impressive, hey there, they just opened and we should support local businesses! Having scored a seating in an hour, we got ready, called an UberX (BEST THING SINCE CREATION, if you ask me), and made our way out into the mist.

My business is schmoozing and I went to a pretty fancy school, so normally I don’t get uncomfortable in fancy situations (you should see me rock a dinner party) but I tightened up the second I walked in the lobby area. There was something, something I couldn’t describe or point out, something that made me think “shit, they’re going to find out we’re frauds”. What I mean to say is that I felt like the other-side-of-the-tracks significant other meeting the country club parents for the first time: out of place but trying really hard to pick the right fork. The lighting was low, the decoration was modern lodge chic-ish (or was it? I really felt I couldn’t stare for too long), and the clientele was… how do I put this…. not of my social status?

I guess what bothered me the most is not the fanciness (I’ve had the pleasure of being treated to insanely fancy meals that were comfortable and laughter filled), what bothered me was the insistence on making comfort food seem fancy, that there was some inside joke I didn’t know about.

Thing is, when we were laboring over our choices on the menu, the couple sitting next to us, an impeccably dressed older gentleman from Brussels and his much younger (and gorgeous) companion, ordered the tasting menu. I must reiterate, I’m not hating on the structure here, I’ve dropped at least a third of a month’s rent on a tasting menu and ate Kraft Dinner to make up for it. The elements didn’t irk me: it didn’t bug me when they waiter overheard the man’s french accent and did his best to converse in his native tongue. I thought nothing of it when they brought out a bottle of St. Emilion that sat firmly in the two hundred dollar range, and the gentleman remarked on what a bargain it was. It wasn’t an issue that the service seemed eager but uneven.

I was flabbergasted, however, when they brought out the first course for the couple next to us: a hush puppy covered in caviar. There, the delectable hush puppy, the very same hush puppy that a moment before we’d enjoyed as an appetizer, sat forlornly on a plate, adorned with a pile of inky eggs, not unlike a British bearskin hat. The couple raved over the dish and proceeded to dig in.

What bothered me, what made me absolutely wish we’d stuck to our favorite pizza joint, or taco place, or Indian Curry Pub, was that there wasn’t anything inventive on that plate that I could see, only wealth heaped upon a humble dish. Now, I didn’t try the dish mind you, and I’m no caviar aficionado, but I cannot imagine that the little fish eggs on top of that puppy actually elevated it to fine dining.

And maybe that was my problem: I don’t eat at “fine” establishments often. Maybe I’m not the target audience for such a dish, or an establishment like this – after all, I’m not a startup billionaire, descended from the Rockefellers or a member of MI6 (OR AM I?) Maybe my palate doesn’t understand the intricate flavors the caviar brings out in the hush puppy. Maybe I’m not meant to “get it”.

But then I remember back to wonderful meals/experiences I’ve had at stunning places – marveling at the details of a foot stool for your purse and perfect plating at Del Posto, saving up for three months for an eight course tasting menu that lasted until 2 AM at Babbo, insisting we try pounded beef heart and lamb tartare, and realizing I’d been pushed out of my comfort zone and loved it at Incanto, catching a rare non-busy day and experiencing the epicness that is the pasta at Flour and Water, washing down the peanut butter bacon burger and thai chile hotwings with a Rio Grande at 15 Romolo, the absolutely epic meal I ate after watching its creation at my hometown’s own Petite… restaurants that were welcoming and warm, no matter how expensive or not, chi-chi or not, for other people than me or not.

and let us not forget fish eggs used well, for all I could think about at Mission Chinese when we plunged our spoons into uni custard topped with roe, a perfect little cup of salt and brine and sweet and depth and acid and oh my god how is it possible that I love this dish as much as I do… how each deliberate component on that plate served a purpose and made every bite a weirdly wonderful trip down a memory lane that wasn’t mine. How nothing was wasted, nothing was showy, there was no “wink wink” or sleight of hands. So maybe I get it: all I could think of was THAT is how you fucking rock a fish egg.

And it was under $10, which is 1/7 the cost of the aforementioned Caviar Hush Puppy tasting menu.

Have I ever told you that I once went to a summer camp for gardening? Oh yes. That. In addition to the badminton league I was in and the curling lessons I participated in, it sums me up in a nerdy little nutshell: I went to gardening camp.

Sure, it was a day camp at the local Golden Acres Garden Sentres (oh yes, they spelled it like that, and it fricking infuriated 8 year old Amy. I loved – and still love – rules, like spelling and refusing to talk down to children for cute’s sake). There, I learned all about annuals and perennials and fertilizer and how my hometown had a 2 month growing season and how all we could do is grow plants indoors if we ever wanted anything resembling kitchen herbs.

After said gardening camp, I promptly forgot this information, and went back to plotting how I was going to win a Tony AND a Nobel Prize at thirty (ed note: she’s still got 1.5 years!).

Anyways, fast forward a couple of decades, and Ben and I are standing in the succulents aisle at Home Depot in San Rafael, determined to turn our shared, neglected roof deck into a leisurly paradise worthy of coverage in Gardenista. Unfortunately, we had no clue what we were doing.

Ben grew up here, in the land where everything grows despite the fog, and if you let it go it will take over your home and assume your apartment lease and possibly steal your SSN, or something like that. A land where palm trees are a nuisance more than anything, and where a plant left unchecked will actually AFIX ITSELF TO YOUR CEILING. Like, for reals, plants will do that in Northern California. Where I’m from, roses need to be “bedded” (cue saucy whistle) in August to avoid the frost. Here, they mutate and multiply and have their own reality shows. There was no way I was going to win this war.

Back to home depot. In California, where things grow, I wander aimlessly, touching leaves, smelling lavender, generally resembling a frat boy encountering his unplanned offspring for the first time: curious, but not quite ready to take charge. I resort to my best habit, namely wondering a bit-too-outloud about what to do. Within seconds, a fellow shopper proceeds to take a full 20 minutes to explain exactly what to expect. When I mention something about “the lavender’ll be ok, right?” she eyes me up and down. Obviously, this product of the Great White North doesn’t quite understand what to do with greenery. With unsolicited-but-much-appreciated advice in hand, we part with a couple of hundred bucks and fill the Mini with plants.

Now, move forward a couple of weeks, and I’m sitting on my roof glaring at the lavender. It seems Mr. Lavender is having nothing of this unseasonably warm San Francisco weather and laughs at me, as he goes in and out of green health and borders on brown, or wilts, or stands tall, or gets blown over by the wind. Ben suggests we should toss ’em and start over again, but the competitive A-type eight year old is rearing her overzealous head. I shall beat you lavender, oh yes, you shall live and thrive and attract bees from hives that bear their name on top of Tony’s Pizza.

Tune in next time when I talk to the Cacti. That post’ll be a scream.

trolly in sf
I started writing this post on my iPhone while stuck on the 22 bus last week, but actually had to stop due to motion / olfactory / emotional sickness. With the music of Law & Order in your head, this is my story.

I’m Canadian, so it’s in my DNA to inherently trust and be a fan of public services. Transit is one of those things. I fundamentally believe that urban sprawl is the cause of many of today’s ills, both metaphorical and painfully real.

Growing up in suburbia, I had my own car (Grampa’s 87 Plymouth Voyager, THANKYOUVERYMUCH) so I hardly embarked on a bus or train, instead enjoying my newfound wheels o’ freedom while tooling around my frozen city. College involved walking no further than a mile to get from Junior Year dorm on the bottom tip of campus to the Theatre and Dance department – a rusted 1 speed purchased for not much more than a lark and a song got me from place to place.

Living in New York, I depended on public transit. Whipping around the city’s arteries in a tin can, crushed body-to-body with strangers doing their absolute best to ignore the masses pressed against them, I marveled at this crazy city’s ability to reduce the whole populace down to a moveable system under ground. From doorman to CEO, you could see a cross section of NYC every morning, and a broken AC system was a true social leveler. It got me to work, to parties in tiny walk-up apartments, to a friend’s funeral, with a relative ease and (most importantly) I could depend on it.

Living in SF has crushed those utopian, innocent dreams of one equalized nation, under MUNI. There are moments on public transit in this city where I think I should burn my TransLink/Clipper/WHATEVER they’re calling it now, buy an SUV, and start to see my daily commute through the comfortable lens of climate control.

Yes, there’s a subway, but it only travels on one line, one way. Yes, there are the gorgeous old trolleys on the Embarcadero, but they are never on time, despite what the fancy GPS tells you. Yes, there are buses, but some lines come once every half an hour and are as crowded as an NY subway, only with more stops and SF’s epic hills. Public transit as I know it in SF is a loud, smelly, sickness inducing endeavor that I avoid with all of my being.

No, SF has converted me to the faith of the bicycle instead. To the idea that running to work is an actual, feasible mode of transportation. To the belief that friends with cars are truly patron saints.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a heavy set cruiser that needs some air in her tires.

His coverage of price gouging in airports is spot on – if a meal at a restaurant less than 5 miles away from my terminal is 20% less, it makes me pretty ragey. Despite my best intentions by chugging a kleen kanteen dry before heading through security, and trying my darndest to smuggle in the best freakin’ turkey sandwich my kitchen can make, sometimes all I need is (almost) freshly fried calamari and an Anchor Steam. I don’t want to spend more than my ticket on Southwest on munchies.

Read More: I’m Sick of Airport Food Price Gouging

I’ve been thinking a lot about Steve Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who decided he couldn’t take it anymore, told an entire plan what was what, and then activated the emergency slide to exit the aircraft.

Much is being debated – did he call the plane a variety of colorful names? Will he be charged with a crime that might land him in jail for a long time? Did he throw an unjustified hissy fit, or his he a martyr to the decline of basic civility?

Not to be an old fogey – I’m just starting the second quarter of my life, so bear with me – but I am SHOCKED at how badly people treat each other when they fly now, and it comes from both sides. On a recent flight back from NYC, I witnessed a group of passengers berating a desk agent at a terminal, a sun-kissed couple pushing a man with a walker out of the way to get in the First Class line, and a flight attendant snap at a family that didn’t speak English because they dared to stand up too fast. It continued throughout the flight – jostling, grumpy people elbowing each other in the head, mad that I had to get up to use the bathroom once during the six hour trek, the passenger behind me using the back of the seat as his personal leg press machine. Needless to say, it was quite possibly the least pleasant flight. Of. My. Life.

Flight attendants put up with a lot of crap, and for the most part handle the screaming, sighing, ignoring, grumbling, and farting passengers they encounter with grace and poise, even with a sense of humor. I have seen flight attendants get treated in such a reprehensible way that I have turned to my fellow sardine-can dweller and told them to shove it (made for an awkward descent, mind you). I was raised to, no matter how bad your day is going, always treat people with the dignity and respect you expect, and to never transfer your bad day onto the people around you. Flying these days is a total sh*itshow, and reveals those elements of human nature that make me want to hole up in a cabin and never speak to anyone again.

I wasn’t on that JetBlue flight, I don’t know what happened. Not every flight attendant is roses and sunshine, as I’ve witnessed numerous times. What I do know, however, is that I’ve seen airline staff treated with disdain, anger, even rage, and it’s unacceptable. Had I been Mr. Slater and had been subject to the sort of work environment I see when I fly, I may have curled up in fetal position in the aisle long ago.

Next time you fly, breath. Be nice.

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