Pirates of penance…

Famed for caffeinated anarchic tendencies

Travelling 22nd Street through the Mission last week I noticed a Victorian flying a pirate pennant – you know, the skull and crossbones – at half-mast. What was up? I couldn’t think of anything in the news, and even Googled to make sure Rupert, famed as the plus-sized pirate-with-a-heart from Survivor, hadn’t passed away from a chicken bone or heart attack or anything.

I was even thinking this could be an opportunity to make up an interesting back story (it’s how “Red Glitter Shoes” came about) – but then the new issue of SF Weekly hit the free news stands and I saw that Pirate Cat Radio (and Cafe!) – the famed promoter of media anarchy and hip coffee in the Mission District – has gone back to the air, and gone legit. So sad when those things happen!

But they actually they went legit last year. After the FCC fined them $10,000 for broadcasting without a license, they became an internet radio station and ceased the pirate, over-the-air broadcast.

Cut to recent events – A few weeks ago a donor gave Monkey (Pirate Cat’s legally so-named owner/operator) a 300 watt broadcast license. It’s not a lot of power, and the license is in Pescadero “a small town in France.” Well, not really, it’s somewhere along the coast of San Mateo County – and now as the over-the-airwaves home of Pirate Cat Radio, it’s about to get a taste of urban hipness that (they can hope) will blend it with what is most likely it’s current hippieness. (Although not a word, it should be, so there!)

Aside from music that cannot actually be heard by non-hipsters (I tried and all I heard was noise) Pirate Cat is mostly famed now for its Bacon Maple Latte – as tasted by Anthony Bourdain!  Check the clip below.

And aside from the hippies and cows in Pescadero, the internet will continue as the primary way to check it out. Go ahead now – check it out! (Annoying plug-in seems to be required)

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More India lovin’

If you don't think you like cauliflower - try pakoras!

Last weekend I got an itch to make an Indian meal for Shmoopy and some friends. Like I said in my last post, a lot of times we meet friends out at restaurants, but sometimes it is more fun to enjoy good cooking with friends at home. We made a chicken curry, cauliflower curried-pakoras with a ginger, coriander, cilantro, vinegar relish and more. But the hit of the dinner was the cauliflower pakora hors d’ouevre…

These babies really hit the spot!

Today was one of those days where you cruise along, making headway, thinking good thoughts then BAM! You get a couple emails that let you know – yep, you’re just taken for granted. Co-workers either don’t get what I do, or just don’t appreciate it. As I work remotely literally three hundred miles from most co-workers, I don’t get routine face-to-face interactions. I’m “Charlie” – the voice on the phone. Sometimes that just seems to sum it up.

Democracy vs. the Media-Corporate complex

My Google News extracts this morning trumpet “Open Season on Incumbents” featuring Sen. Arlen Specter, who has lost his primary to challenger Joe Sestak. (Article courtesy of the consummate news establishment – CNN of the Turner Empire).

Sen. Arlen Specter (left)

Sen. Arlen Specter’s loss brings number of incumbents to fall this year so far to three

Wow! That is three percent of the entire Senate, and still less than ten percent of those up for vote! But, we have again been edged out of the faux-democracy race by Albania in the days of its Stalinist rule, where Enver Hoxha was re-elected by 99% margins for forty or fifty-odd years. But, not by much…q

Welcome to Little Tokyo!

I was in Los Angeles this week on a business trip for one of my clients. The client office is in an industrial-warehousing-cum-low income residential suburb past the eastern outskirts of Boyle Heights. Within a few miles, no real signs of civilization exist unless one counts the Montebello Shopping Center and umpteen strip malls with 7-11s, liquor marts, and (weirdly) sushi restaurants as anchor tenants. I don’t count them although I am familiar enough with greater-LA to know that these elements, strung together along a ginormous web of freeways and boulevards, are what make up City. The City, that is, that forms all of Los Angeles outside of the “West LA.” West LA distinguishes itself by proximity to the beaches, and sports high-income housing along the same freeways and boulevards strung with liquor marts, sushi bars and shopping malls that feature more exclusive buying experiences than JC Penny. In other words, same shit, different bathroom.

That’s not to say some interesting gems don’t lay hidden in dusty corners. My last few visits I have stayed in the Little Tokyo section of Downtown. Even if you know LA, you may not know where that is – so, here in LA-speak: that section of downtown south of the Hollywood between the Los Angeles Street and Alameda Street exits. It’s where the new Geffen Contemporary Art Museum, the Japanese American Museum, and a few Japanese-themed shopping malls and hotels are located. It’s downtown without traffic, with a Metro Gold-Line (the line to Pasadena I believe) stop, and a close up view of the colorfully lighted LA skyscrapers by night. Palms line sidewalks, construction cranes vie with them for your attention.

It’s clearly one of those areas that was considered “blighted” fifty or so years ago and was bulldozed to make way for ten-story bank and government office buildings, a few shopping malls, street-level retail and restaurants and broad streets – and still a lot of vacant lots. It has that unfortunate 1960s harsh concrete urban-renewal vibe. If it weren’t for beautiful warm weather it would be as if San Francisco’s own pitiful Japantown (a shopping mall in the shape of a pagoda) were transplanted into the area around the SF Giant’s ballpark. Interesting, with that “there is almost something vibrant going on” feeling that in the end is crushed by the inhumanity and artificiality of the neighborhood.

You’re wondering where the “gem” part of this dusty corner is. We’re not there yet Ms. Impatience! I’m not a civic-booster shill, there’s more dust first.

One of the historic sites in the area, a warehouse that because the first Pentecostal church in 1906 (just a few days in fact before the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco), was part of the bulldozing and has not even a marker now. Back then, the area was already in decline and was becoming LA’s skid row. I imagine that having had a high African American population made it a target for demolition when the urban renewal forces rolled through (just as with San Francisco’s Japantown). Today one doesn’t see evidence of African Americans in the area – lots of Japanese tourists (go figure!), lots of “Luxury live-work” lofts for rent, and the usual LA ethnic mix.

I’ve been staying here for a few reasons – it is *much* nicer than the area near the client which would be akin to staying in Antioch; the client is a Japanese-owned company and visiting execs like to stay here, so one of the most upscale hotels has a corporate rate and perks like free parking (who would guess parking in LA costs $30 a night!); because everyone commutes to Downtown rather than living in Downtown (but that is changing rapidly) getting out is fast in the morning and getting back is fast at night.

Now – despite the bulldozers and new concrete retail malls, auto orientation and artificiality the Little Tokyo district (and all of Downtown) does have a few interesting features that have managed to establish themselves much as a hardy clover can push up through a sidewalk crack and bloom, despite neglect and constant threat of being trod upon. Senor Fish is a local Mexican seafood bar-restaurant in an old single-story brick building surrounded by parking lots on its side of First Street, across from the Geffen and a Metro Line “transit mall”. You have to have heard of it to bother. I had passed it numerous times driving to and from my hotel – intrigued by the colorful mural and fish logo it sported, making it too quirky and idiosyncratic to be part of any chain – yet was put off by its isolation. It must be empty! I assumed.

Then I yelped it. And found out it was not only popular, but had a patio in back, and was an art gallery space as well. They get a huge lunch crowd, the patio doesn’t need heaters, the food is fine and cheap (not fancy) and the art has life and freshness – think Puerta Vallarta gallery rather than local cafe “artist of the month”. I didn’t more than peep in at the bar, but the crowd was more Mission-hip than skid row leftovers. Like a lot of genuine Mexican places, the bar is a completely separate room (in this case separated by a hallway that also functions as a gallery space) from the family dining area.

Maybe because of the relatively isolated location (even for the area) I went for a dinner and had the place almost all to myself. Still more fun than the mall spots (or heaven forbid eating at the Hotel!) of course but it’s really a lunch spot, especially when the weather is nice (I guess in LA that’s not much of a qualifier) and everyone wants to be eating in the lovely walled patio space in back.

The other spot I found on this trip – “Spitz” – I noticed along a row of storefronts in strip mall of Japanese resturants, food marts, pop-culture trinket stores (logoed ball caps, t-shirts, backpacks, sunglasses key chains blah blah blah) that must pull in the tourists. I pass it all by, but one of the shops on the Second Street side had a big sign out front that screamed something about “Doners” which I recognized from my days in Canada is another name for a Greek gyro sandwich. Suddenly I was hungry for a “doner”. So I peeked in.

The view in from the sidewalk is just of a darkened space. But inside, for those in the know apparently, is a beautifully designed and decorated bar-restaurant serving their own contemporary take on the traditional Greek-American gyro / doner. The bar serves micro-brews and daily sangria specials – the day I tried it the sangrias included a peach-basil / white wine; cardamom-cinnamon spiced red, apple-mint rose among a few others.

A deconstructed (hat-tip top Top Chef for knowing that!) Gyro with a Southern California twists: sweet potato fries. Best, the lamb was not your typical Sysco food wholesaler pressed spiced lamb. They were doing their own.


I had a “doner platter” with a red sangria for dinner, while watching the eminently watchable twenty-something sk8r patrons and listening to the Philip Glass-meets-flamenco live guitar performance. The guitar player was uncredited, but should be discovered. I guess that’s why he was playing a Doner house in Little Tokyo LA – because the crowd was not a bunch of big tippers. It was quite warm and the tables outside on the sidewalk were all occupied, and only a few spots inside were not taken – and the crowd most all including the bartender could have been my kids.

Strangely I did not feel out of place at all – just kept reading a favorite John Rechy novel, keeping an ear cocked on the music, munching very slowly through a pile of the spiced lamb, romaine, feta, and sweet potato fries. And occasionally checking out one of the hipster / sk8rs sitting nearby because he kept checking me out. I wondered if these 20-somethings might be locals who actually live in the nearby (newly renovated) lofts and apartments carved out of old warehouses and factories that were ignored by renewal forces long ago and are now being put to alternate uses?

I hope so – it would certainly be a good sign that life can survive, can return anywhere.

Earthbox – the week one update

I’ll try to remember to post an update photo later, but even after being away in Los Angeles this week, the earth box – checked upon my return – seems to have kept a constant level of moisture available to the two tomato plants and the zucchini. The plants still look quite healthy and are showing new growth, after being transplanted eight days ago.

The zukes are actually budding already! The tomatoes of course are quite tropical so still can’t be happy with the cool (cold!) nights but at least now they have a good chance of not drying out in the sun / wind of the rooftop.

Love Shack, baby!

My downstairs neighbor is away on extended business in India, and has a friend who checks in on his place for him. Seems the “checking in” part has taken on an added element – our neighbor’s place is now a “Love Shack.” Oh Oh Oh it’s going to be an interesting summer.