Thursday, December 31, 2015

It's Not Healthy So Just Shut Up And Cram It In Your Piehole

Chef Chad Harris prepares bacon

We must have driven by the Fremont Diner 500 times in the last 17 years but we never stopped and ate until this week.  To be fair, it's only been the Fremont Diner since 2009, but we still should have stopped in before now.  It has all of the elements that make an eatery enticing to me:  Roadside, small, unpretentious, and inviting.  Well, inviting except for the ever present line of people waiting to get in which is typically an automatic turn-off for me regardless of the venue.  We went early and avoided the wait. When I tried my first bite of food I realized why that line is always there.  The food is good.  Really good.

It's called comfort food for a reason:  It has lots of fat, cholesterol, and calories, but damn it makes you happy to be eating it.  When ordering from a comfort food join, don't be an idiot and ask if the dish is gluten free because it probably isn't.  Besides, if that's the type of question you ask when you order, then you probably shouldn't stop at the Fremont Diner anyway.  A person of average intelligence should be able to decipher from the size and decor of the building that the food most likely isn't for the health conscious consumer.  It's advertised as "locally sourced, seasonal, country cooking. Our goal is to combine homestyle cooking & high quality, seasonal ingredients."  I will admit that "locally sourced" has become a buzzword in the food lexicon and it sounds pretentious.  All that means, really, is that the beef you're currently eating was grazing on the grass a mile up the road yesterday.  It's fresh, that's all.  Had they used the word "organic" I would have had to kick somebody in the balls.  That means a farmer took a dump on the tomatoes yesterday and you'll have hepatitis C, or whatever it is Chipotle serves its customers, within a week.

Once inside the diner you immediately figure out there's nothing formal or corporate about the operation.  Everything is plain and simple. The food is prepared feet away from you.  Our waitress handed us a paper menu with several dishes crossed out in pen and said, "We've been closed for three days so we're playing catch up.  We don't have the lined-out dishes today."  I nervously scanned the menu and saw a line through "Biscuits and Gravy".  We might have to leave, I thought.  "Except that one", she said.  "We do have Biscuits and Gravy today."

When it comes to ordering, there are three baseline food/drink items I used for universal comparison when I order:  IPA (beer), Biscuits and Gravy, and Pecan Pie (on a similar note my litmus test for vocal artists is hearing them sing either the Star Spangled Banner, O Holy Night, or Ave Maria).  This lets me know how good or crappy the chef or brewer is in relation to others.  My first bite told me this chef, Chad Harris, is good.

Biscuits are similar to tortillas in that there appears to be no reason why making them shouldn't be easy. The reality is that making these two things well is as difficult as it gets, and Chad has mastered it.  The biscuits at Fremont Diner can best be described as chewy.  They were flaky, and fluffy and big, of course, but more than anything they were chewy in the best way imaginable.  They had substance and complexity and weren't merely a landing spot for a ladle full of gravy, a prop used for appearances because eating a bowl of gravy by itself is too embarrassing.   No, they had purpose and that purpose was to bring me joy, in concert with the deliciously life threatening thickness of the savory sausage gravy.  I gave it my A+ Zagat rating when I whispered "Holy Shit" to myself.  Nikki's biscuit sandwich with a fresh pork patty and cheese in the middle made me say the same thing.  Like everything else, the sausage is prepared on-site.  I didn't take any photos of my food because that's what instagram is for.  Go look there, I'm sure you'll find it.

In addition to the great food, they served fantastic coffee, the kind of coffee that requires one statement and one follow-up question.  Here's how it goes:

Me:  "I would like some coffee, please."

Her:  "Cream and sugar?"

That's it.  There's no wasted conversation,  no follow-up questions or clarifying statements, and mercifully no "shots" or other condiments are up for consideration.   On top of that blissfully simple exchange, they serve the coffee in a thermos so you don't get asked every 15 seconds if you need a refill.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the prompt server who's paying attention, but I don't need a refill after every sip of coffee.  It's nice to fill up my own exactly when I need and want it.

I ended the meal with a slice of Pecan Pie.  My eyes rolled a little and glazed over when I put it in my mouth and I said "Holy Shit" again.  I contemplated ordering an IPA (which was on tap right in front of me) but I figured that might be too embarrassing at 9:00 a.m.  I guess I'll have to go back.

It's simple, stop touching every piece of silverware!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Eyes Of A Dreamer

Robert dreaming in front of Ursula's painting upstairs at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco

"My aim was to capture the colorful, lush, vibrant and ever-changing views of the city as seen through the eyes of a dreamer."  Ursula Xanthe Young (Artist Of Above Painting).

The first time I met Robert he was sporting a wig and a giant sock schlong.  He was dressed as "Prince Fill my Pants" for a Demented Disney themed halloween party at his house.  I immediately suspected we might have a future as collaborators because I never seem to tire of phallus and flatulence.  In the ensuing years I have taken more shots of Robert than of any other (human) subject.  The old adage from Jim Richardson definitely applies "If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff."  When a guy goes from "Fill My Pants" to "Ring Leader" to "Redneck" to "Joker", my job is a lot easier (see below).

When we initially met, Robert was working for a consulting engineer and although he was doing a great job, the nature of the work wasn't satisfying creatively.  It was clear he had the ability to do bigger things and this creativity manifest itself in his yearly halloween parties, which grew more elaborate each year.  Every time I walked into his house at the start of the party, I muttered "You've got to be sh!tting me" because the design was so good.  Every detail was thought out and no corner of the house was left untouched.

Because of this overwhelming surge of creativity, it wasn't a surprise when he told me he was quitting his job to become a freelance graphic artist, first as Creative RAM and subsequently with Glen as Commuter Industries.  It was a natural move for somebody who was creating this kind of work.  When they asked me to take some shots at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco to commemorate the first year of their partnership it was a no brainer.  In lieu of payment I made Robert assure me we'll be invited to his first premiere of whatever the hell it is that has a big premiere.  He laughed it off, but I fully expect it to happen.  In their first year they have done work for, among others, the following companies:

Skyy Vodka

I'd say the dream is being rewarded.  When you have a chance head over to their site and check out their work.

Main Site:

Commuter industries

Year in Review:

2015 Year In Review

Also, thanks to Kristin Emery and Heather Ochoa at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco who allowed us full access to the bar area as well as providing lunch.  I'd definitely recommend the food when you're down in the Union Square area.

Robert and Glen at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco where their partnership was formalized

The photo used for the Commuter Industries year in review

Robert as the ring leader for his Carnivale D'Abnormale party

One of our spur-of-the-moment collaborations based on an abandoned recliner

Robert and Glen in costume at their "Gotham" themed party

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sweet Soul

Nose-to-nose with Huckleberry, an 8 month old labrador

I'd have to be shown considerable evidence in order to believe that Ft. Funston isn't the greatest dog park in the world.  The park consists of hundreds of acres of sandy, rolling hills with trails overlooking the Pacific.  Dogs roam leash free in the hills and on the beach with nary a territorial dispute due to the abundance of open space.  It's never too hot, or cold, and there's no chance of your dog wandering into unexpected danger.  I assume this is the "rainbow bridge" place I hear about so often.

About ten years have passed since we've been there because our previous dog, Bella, promptly decided one day she could no longer tolerate having her butt sniffed and turned on the offending poodle with a frightening intensity.  As responsible dog owners we knew our off leash dog park days were over.

Olive is much different in her demeanor and sees every dog big and small as a potential friend so we were excited to introduce her to Ft. Funston.   As soon as she was off leash she began the process of introducing herself to each and every dog in the area.  She simply won't pass up any dog within her line of vision.  She must exhibit the correct dog body language because they all accept her within their space.  The dominant ones, the timid ones, the energetic ones, and the lethargic ones.  Sometimes a small squirt of submissive pee helps, but none of them ever turn on her.

We had a similarly sweet dog in Mariah, but she didn't know the correct dog language because she would get scolded (in varying degrees of intensity) by a dog nearly every time we went to the park.  It didn't seem to faze her, though, because she always approached the very next dog with the same energy and demeanor.  It was common for me in those days to return home and see Mariah standing over a prone Bella, barking at her.  This despite the fact that Bella often pinned her down ferociously with her mouth around Mariah's neck and her screaming for help.  It was hard to blame Bella, though,  because Mariah was so damn persistent an obnoxious in that way.  She was like the bratty sibling who wasn't intimidated by an ass whuppin'.

We've missed Ft. Funston a lot and we're glad to be back in dog heaven with a friendly dog.  Although the dog has changed and our knees are a bit creakier, the timeless quality of this place still remains.  Regardless of the year, or month, or day, the place echoes with the boundless joy of a dog running, chasing, wrestling, or pooping.

Huckleberry leading Olive on a chase on the beach

She's open to playing with all sizes

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Coon Hound Rib Roast

"Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!", she seemed to scream as she came bounding over the crest of the hill like a freight train, all legs and arms flailing at full capacity in hopes that she might stay just ahead of the coyote now pursuing her with bad intentions.

She and I walked this stretch of hill many times when she a puppy, but months had passed since we were last there.  When I let her off the leash she bounded like a kangaroo through the tall grass.  I assumed it was exuberance over being back in this area after a long absence, never knowing it was the fresh scent of a coyote lurking nearby.

This was taken several years back in Marin County

This crappy iphone shot shows the same coyotes the next morning.  This is about 200 feet from our house.

It's not uncommon to see coyotes when we walk.  I estimate we see them three times a week, usually at a distance of about a quarter mile.  Even then she will come to attention and point when she sees them moving, hoping for a chance to go introduce herself.  It must have been quite a pleasant surprise to her to have the opportunity to say hello face-to-face.  It probably went something like this:

"Hello Mr. Coyote, I'm Olive!  I've seen you and your friends walking around, I've smelled all your poop, I feel like I know a little bit about you, and I'm excited to spend time together"  (Olive only speaks in sentences that end in exclamation points.  EVERYTHING IS THAT EXCITING)!

(Coyote looks at her with a piercing glance and thinks):  Mmmm.....steak.  Come one step closer and then you're mine.

Olive:  Oh shit, I've seen this look at the dog park once before.  RUUUUUUUUUUUUN!

Olive Honing her skills.  She's a feisty shit when she needs to be.

My first instinct was to bark like a dog and I was a little surprised it worked.  The coyote came to an abrupt halt when it saw me and sat down.  Overcome with a new sense of confidence at this change of fortune, Olive swung around and turned to go back at the coyote and reproach him for his bad manners.  BZZZZZ!  She stopped immediately and came back to me, validating my decision to buy the electric collar all those months ago.  The coyote laughed at the submissive canine and walked off back over the hill, stopping briefly to pee in our direction.

I  fully expected to find some bite marks on her backside and began looking her over.  The coyote was that close to her.  Amazingly I found nothing and we continued our walk, her attitude and confidence the same as it ever was.  Once at home, I gave her the lecture about social hierarchy, dominance, law of the jungle, and other important life lessons.  About halfway through my talk she looked past me, fixated on something,  and screamed, "LOOK, THERE'S A BALL OVER THERE, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT!!!!"

And off she went....

Friday, July 24, 2015

Field Of Dreams

Poop shouldn't make a creature this happy, I think as I watch Olive devour a large cow turd. I don't think it's anthropomorphic to believe she's smiling every time she surveys the open field with the mounded treats. I think it's a fact.  She runs with them, she sits with them, she rolls with them, and she eats them.  They're as equally entertaining as they are fulfilling to her.  She poops cow poop.  I've never seen anything like it.

Puppies are generally excitable and energetic but this pursuit of poop goes way beyond normal.  If it's possible for a dog to have ADHD then this must be what it looks like.  As far as I can tell each turd is a completely new experience because each one is approached as if it's the first time she's ever seen one.  Her enthusiasm never wanes.  Ever.  If I could give voice to her exuberance it might sound like this:

"HOLY SHIT (that's punny), I FOUND A TURD OVER HERE, LOOK DAD!!!!!!"




On and on this quest goes.  Day after day, week after week, it's the same thing, with the same enthusiasm.  She pursues turds at 9 months old with the same excitement she did when she was 4 months old.  She likes sticks and she like bones, but poop will never hurt her.  Is that how the nursery rhyme goes?

We all want our favorite foods just the way we like them.  Thankfully she prefers her mini mountain snacks in a pseudo jerky form.  This way she can carry them with her and I'm spared the brown pasty kiss that would ensue had they not had time to properly cure.  Nikki has asked me to try and stop it but that's a fools errand.  Though the sight of it is rebarbative, what's in there other than the golden grass these free range cows eat?   I see it as a balanced, healthy snack and besides, who would take away a kid's crackers mid snack just because they didn't like saltines?  If they prefer pureed peas, you give it to them even if the sight and smell of it makes you gag.

I try to imagine what could make this hunt so relentless and her energy so indefatigable. It must be like having the food from your favorite restaurant laid out daily for you while you lounge at your favorite place in the world.  Oysters and beer in the sand at sunset? Wine and steak in the lodge at Vail with a gentle fire burning nearby?  Whatever that place is, go there in your mind and you have a small sense of what she must experience when looking out over her buffet.  Her body shakes with anticipation as I fiddle with the leash to release her into the lavish feast that awaits.   I unlatch the hook and off she goes, into her field of dreams.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Prepare To Be Underwhelmed

"Prepare to be underwhelmed", Perry said when I suggested we get together and play some music.  The idea to play came when I was at his apartment several months back and noticed he had 16 guitars lined up on a rack.  My dad was a musician for many years and never had more than 3 as far as I can remember.  When I asked Perry why he had so many he said he got the urge to buy one every time he was deployed or changed assignments.  I can remember the urge to compulsively buy drum equipment years back, but it has long since subsided, replaced more recently by the urge to buy camera gear.  In fact, I had a new camera body I wanted to try out on this day.

When Perry agreed to bring some of his guitars over I knew I would have to climb into the rafters in the garage to retrieve the drum equipment that had been relegated in favor of maintaining space for the racket stringer and other things that are used more frequently.  Well, except for my motorcycle which has stubbornly maintained its space on the garage floor, refusing to yield its spot because of the intense grip it has on my psyche.  It whispers to me of younger times and although I know its day has passed, I humor it from time-to-time by promising to get it fixed one day.  After 3 head bumps and 2 shin grinds, I had the drums down on the garage floor.

There's something magical about setting up drums.  For a brief moment I am actually a musician, anticipating the things I'll do with the sticks and imaging, surely, how similar my playing will sound to John Bonham's.  It used to take 15 minutes before I was convinced I was a level below the top players.  Now, one 5 second trip around the skins killed the dream.  All the coordination was gone and I had rigor mortis arms, not the fluid, calm muscles required to play at a high level.  At least I still had the ability to press a button on the camera.

I knew Perry could play a little based on a couple videos he had posted and once he was set up and began noodling it was clear he was way past the basic stages of guitar competence.  I indulged the ruse by insulting the drums for a few minutes and then I picked up the camera.

We talked and laughed about old times, a little about the future and enjoyed fleeting moments of greatness on our instruments.  We agreed that the next time we play we will absolutely destroy "Just Got To Be" by the Black Keys.  Whether we play well or not we will have met our goal.

Friday, January 2, 2015


"That didn't take long" I said to Nikki when she handed me her phone.  She was getting ready for work and I was barely awake.

"I know, she's pretty cute isn't she?"

I knew we were all in the second I looked at the photo.  Damn.

Less than 24 hours earlier we made the excruciating decision to put our beloved Bella down.  It was the right thing to do, but it was still devastating.  We were working on processing the emotions and dealing with a dog-less house for the first time in 19 years. Empty.  Everything felt empty.

I took a closer look and the adrenaline I felt completely surprised me.  I knew we would get another dog eventually, but I didn't think I could feel this excited about a dog so quickly. No doubt it was the resemblance that reeled me in.  The puppy looked eerily similar to Bella when she was young.  Within an hour I had the required adoption forms completed and I told Nikki as she left for work, "I'm gonna go get her."

"Olive", she said, "Let's call her Olive."

According to the rescue agency (The Dog Spot Rescue), Olive's mother is a Treeing Walker Coonhound and the father is unknown.  She was one of a litter of 9 puppies, living outside in squalid conditions, arriving at our house having been treated for giardia, kennel cough, and various parasites.  The owner didn't speak much English, but the staff was able to convince her to give the puppies up for adoption. All indications were that the dogs would have been given away to people in the neighborhood, or grocery store, or whatever, all sickness included.  The odds against her survival were long.  She wasn't off to a good start in life.

Prior to adopting Olive I had never heard of a Treeing Walker Coonhound so I immediately set about learning more. Through diligent reading I've come to find out I'm in for a mess of shit.  This breed is known for being very intelligent and stubborn.  Both of these traits have been clearly manifest in our brief two weeks together in her actions and (dog) words.  We're working on coming to a resolution.

Her intelligence was at the forefront of our initial interactions.  Hell, within a matter of days, Olive appeared to understand the concept of going potty.  She begged to go out, then promptly did her business and ran back inside.  "I can't believe how easy this is," I thought.  Then, she showed the dark side of her intelligence:  She used me as a springboard to get onto the couch, which she couldn't reach otherwise.  "Nikki, did you see that?", I screamed.  I had to read some more to find out if that happened the way I thought it did. I found this on Wikipedia:

"This breed is highly intelligent, and consequently they require absolute consistency of training, as they look for loopholes to exploit. They may attempt to negotiate, responding to human direction by offering an alternative course of action they prefer.  They have been known to use objects as tools or to manipulate their environment to accomplish a task (e.g., moving furniture to climb over gates, using household objects to manipulate kennel mechanisms, etc.). 

Uh-oh.  If she had thumbs she'd be a primate. 

In the next several days I saw all of these traits play out.  The first day I put her in her pen we had a huge negotiation about her thoughts on this matter.  She protested when I put her in the pen so I gave her my best alpha dog stare and used my deepest voice to put her firmly in her place.

"No!" I bellowed with an intense gaze.

 She considered my offering for a brief second, then gave me a counter offer.

"HELL NO!  NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!" she said emphatically, looking me directly in the eye the whole time.  Then she sat and stared at me.

This was repeated several times.

The negotiation seemed to be going well. Both parties stated their case with equal vigor.  I stated my position and she offered an alternative course of action.  Wow, raising dogs is really rational and rewarding, except for the fact that I'm supposed to win.  This conversation made me realize I needed the upper hand in the negotiations and I saw the solution in the form of a squirt bottle.

Initially, the bottle has an element of surprise to it that a puppy can't quite figure out.  A stream of water magically appears from the heavens and startles them into ceasing the current behavior.  This worked for a short amount of time until she figured out where the water came from.  Then she got a gleam in her eye.

(Olive Digging a huge chunk of grass out of the ground):  

Me:  SQUIRT!  No, stop digging!

Olive: (shakes water off of her head, looks at me out of the corner of her eye).  KNOCK IT OFF!


Olive:  (Shakes head again, butt in air) Seriously!?  That's annoying.  STOP! (continues digging)


Olive:  (Hauls ass over to new spot and starts frantically digging)  F*&ckin' thing don't reach over here does it, smart ass?

And so it goes, a battle of wills that I imagine is just beginning in this great adventure of raising a puppy.

I write this stuff down because much of it will be forgotten when she's mature and "normal" life has returned.   I've never had kids, but having a puppy in my 40's makes me understand the irrational impulse to shake a baby.  She's infuriating, frustrating, time consuming, and demanding.  And she has me wrapped around her finger because she is absolutely loving and trusting.  At the end of the day when she's tired and plops her head in my lap, she owns me.  I'm all in again.

Bella on the left at 5 and Olive at 3 months

Olive at the Casa Madrona hotel


She spends all day plotting how to get on the couch, but when I place her on the bed for a photo, she frantically tries to get down.

Christmas Table Center Piece

Looking guilty, although she hadn't done anything wrong.