And now, a word from our sponsor…

We have literally and figuratively moved to the Berkeley/Oakland border. Swell new office, but the desk is still being excavated. When I find some words, I’ll put them here. Thanks for your ongoing patience.

Let Me Take Your Bike

There are several ways to keep your bike from being stolen. My favorite is to leave it in the basement. There, it seems a great many spiders have enjoyed it, and since many is more than one, I hate to take it away from them. Other people employ alternate methods that rely on first inflating the tires and purchasing locks.

There are many reasons why I’m envious of these bicyclists, not least of which is the possibility of enjoying thighs a la Lance Armstrong. When I last rode a bike regularly, I was in college, weighed 100 pounds, wore dresses from the 1950s, with combat boots from the 1970s, and smoked cigarettes, all simultaneously.  I’d like to pretend that I was cute at it, but I also don’t have any photographs to prove otherwise. (If you happen to be someone who does, please keep them to yourself.) Hypothetically, riding a bike means freedom from gasoline (and gas prices), exercise, fresh air and some communion with postwar European films. In practice, pedaling a bike up a hill sucks, especially when trying to keep your hair from blowing into a lit cigarette.

All manner of people ride bikes in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Truly impressive feats of physics, getting up and down ridiculously steep hills and hairpin turns overlooking sharp drops. I cannot understand how so many people, of all shapes and sizes, start their day with a 45 degree angle. I tip my well-worn Italian fedora to you, Bay Area cyclists.

In this greenest of green locales, bike culture is generally supported and encouraged. A few Berkeley restaurants and shops even advertise 10%-20% off for patrons arriving via bicycle.

Incidentally,  I wonder how much you could take off the cost of your tempeh burger showing up with your buddies on this:

Physical inabilities aside, I think the worst part about riding a bike is actually parking a bike. Assuming the proposition of balancing your groceries on two wheels through traffic doesn’t bother you, what about the prospect of walking all your groceries home while also dragging a gutted bike carcass?  Bike thieves are fast. I would love to have a beautiful Victoria Classic Velorbis, or any bike advertised being pedaled in heels, but Snell if I’m going to drop $4,349 just to return to the bike rack to find this:

I recently heard about a fantastic solution to this problem. Not expensive locks, not band stickers or duct tape. Ready? Bike Valets.

Hearing those two words together resulted in the same cocked-head, confused, is-this-a-joke look as when I first heard of Ethiopian restaurants in the late 80s.

So…how does that work?

I imagine that in New York, if your bike has been taken by someone, it looks like this when you try to get it back:

But in the Bay Area, it looks like this:

It makes so much sense, but like with anything else in California, I don’t really understand.

Bike valets are increasingly available at large public events, like concerts and green markets. So this weekend, when you ride over to the marina to see the fireworks, you will be able to park your bike away from the crowds and enjoy your Anchor Steam and It’s Its with free hands. But don’t forget, in a town where legalized marijuana can be delivered to your home, you can still get a D.U.I. while riding your bike, so you may need a designated driver.

Quiz: Know Your Groceries

Taste buds in food-savvy, well-heeled Berkeley and Park Slope, Brooklyn seem to have a lot in common, although not always as local, seasonal, carbon footprint-less or green as anyone would like to appear. For those who crave English milk chocolate or Japanese Calpis (Happy Refresh!), and know where to find it, you can get your junk food on because the packaging is funky and no one knows what it is. NJ and CA both have awesome tomatoes, but what about classic American high fructose corn syrupy deliciousness?

Can you identify which of these foods hail from the greater New York metropolitan area versus those of the San Francisco Bay Area? Some are accompanied by fierce, near teary loyalty, so  if you don’t know, then go enjoy your Cadbury Fruit and Nut bar elsewhere.


A.) Twisty red licorice



B.) Italian-American Coffee Drink



C.) Refreshing childhood memory



D.) Trip to the dentist



E.) Fun at the neighborhood grocery store



Craft-Based Statements

“I loved (the tea cozy),” said Christina Stork, founder of Article Pract, a knitting shop in Oakland. “I look forward to more craft-based statements.” The Daily Californian, Thursday, June 3, 2010

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense”. – Gertrude Stein

For Berkeleyites no longer nimble enough to climb trees, they can still get their protest on through guerilla knitting. I hate to use up “OMFG” as the title of a post so early in the history of this blog, but hearing this story, I wasn’t sure if it was time to move back to NY, or click my ergonomic Earth shoe clad heels in the air.

Back story: Gertrude Stein had been living in Paris for 30 years when a book tour brought her back to California. When she went to find her childhood home in Oakland, the house was no longer standing. In 1937, she published “Everybody’s Autobiography”, where she referred to the experience as “There is no there there”. OK, so everyone might not have access to Wikipedia, but that quote has since been taken out of context by some fellow Oaklanders , who see it as a slight to the city. I don’t exactly follow, but apparently there are those who are abreast of random literary quotes, but only enough to misinterpret them, then get all hot and bothered and go make bumper stickers about it.

Cut to 2005, the city of Berkeley commissioned a cheeky $50,000 public art work titled “Herethere”, which is installed on the Berkeley-Oakland border. On the Berkeley side, eight foot-tall letters spell out “HERE”, and on the Oakland side, another set of steel letters read “THERE”. Oakland residents grumbled about it, so it probably should have come as no surprise last month when a group of renegade knitters donned masks and worked through the night to cover the “T” in “THERE” in a *giant tea cozy*. When Berkeley city officials suggested the hooligan crafters remove the cozy, supporters set up camp to guard their handiwork of civic disobedience.

Gertrude Stein saw it as an end to childhood. Oaklanders see it as a racist slur. Berkelyites see it as $50K. Knitting activists see it as fun, biodegradable protest. The artists of the actual sculpture see the cozy as “creating a dialog”. The Parks Department sees it as defacing public art. Salt Bagel sees it as delicious fodder.

If there was any part of this story that could have been mirrored in New York, or anywhere else, this is where I think the two versions would begin to break:

The Trust of a Sexual Healer/Performance Artist

I was at home when my husband recently called from out in the world. He was at a gas station and had just discovered a lonely Master Card, on the ground, next to the pump. Rather than suggesting I quickly book us a Lost-themed Hawaiian vacation or buy a fat gift certificate to Circuit City, he wanted me to do a little detective work to return the card to its owner. “Sweet!…Oh…OK…Why don’t you just leave it with the attendant?” He is good. I’m glad he hadn’t read my mind.

There was no immediate listing for Elizabeth Kaden (name changed to protect the unawares).  Google brought up a few misspellings, someone on Facebook, someone in Kansas, and finally:

Liz Kaden is a graduate of the Barbara Brennan School of Healing, an intuitive sound healer and performance artist…


As it turns out, Miss Kaden is, among other titles, a performance artist and sexual healer. According to her website, she is “deeply passionate and committed to helping others explore and expand their own unique creative essence”, and believes that “self-expression through healthy sexuality and creativity can be the key to greater liberation and fulfillment in life”. She is currently living in San Francisco and is exploring her own life as both a healer and artist.

From this page Miss Kaden sells her “Sacred Sexuality Essence”. With only twenty drops under the tongue daily, the tincture claims to clear negative thoughts about sexuality, eliminate chaos and untangle the co-dependent. Using simple ingredients such as: essence of hand-picked wisteria, “conscious sexual healing energy, spring water, brandy (to preserve) and love”, for $15, plus $5 shipping and handling, Liz will send you a bottle, quantity unspecified.

I have so many questions. How do you get conscious sexual healing energy into an eyedropper? Is the brandy there to preserve the energy or the love? Don’t people already do that? Whose wisteria is she picking?  What is intuitive sound? Not to profile, but aren’t sexual healers/intuitive sound healers/singers/performance artists, exactly the demographic for who might lose their ATM card at a Berkeley 76 station?

Below two testimonials, a phone number is listed.

A few minutes later, she calls back. The voice is younger than I was expecting. She’s frazzled but grateful. This will come back to us. Good energy. In the middle of a move, running around today, could she drop by the house tomorrow, or possibly the next day? She’s got a lot on her plate what with work and the move. I volunteer to drop it in the mail, but she insists that she doesn’t want to be any trouble, but actually now that she’s thinking about it, could she maybe come on Monday evening instead?

A trusting sort. This would *never* happen in New York.

After a few more calls to reschedule and write down our address again, a meeting is finally arranged three days later. She would even bring us a bottle of sacred essence to thank us.  She, a kindly, if unfocused Mother Nature. Me, freakin’ Mother Teresa.

We were surprised (one of us answered the door, the other was peeking through the blinds) when I opened to a pert young Cathy Rigby look-alike. A 20-something year-old blond with her blue Toyota station wagon still running out front. I’ll give her chaos, and possibly co-dependency, but what would she know about sexual disorder? Conveniently, all of her essence was in storage while she was moving, but she would definitely mail us a bottle whenever she gets organized… A few more thanks, and assurance that karma owed us one, but she had to dash.

After locking the deadbolt, I’m not sure which of us got out an “Uhnt uh!” first.

We have not heard from her since. I don’t expect to. That’s OK. That part’s the same.

Drinks Out With a Manhattanite

Regardless of the number of delicious vodka-based beverages I sucked down the other night, my headache the next morning could not be described as either “teeny” or “tini”. I’ve only managed a few benders over the past few years, so it should be no surprise that the night’s adventures in mixology were with a single friend, in town from the Upper West Side.

My friend, who has been to San Francisco on numerous occasions, is a capital M, capital S, Manhattan Snob. It was great to see her, but she spent much of the evening missing New York and bemoaning California. “At least we’re not in L.A.”, she said at one point. I felt like the mother pressured by a gum-chewing skeptic to explain how she loves each of her children’s unique qualities. Still incredulous: “I can’t believe that YOU, of all people, would move from New York to California…”  Judging by my friend’s expression as I tried to quantify my new found joy of hiking, I realized that I hadn’t really struck a chord. Similarly, my description of the weekend’s Maker Faire fell flat to this (impressively titled) employee of the Lincoln Center. She had abandoned her half-eaten meal in favor of a cigarette by the time I got to the “how cool it is to have such a year-round array of fresh vegetables” card.

The food was good, the drinks tasty, the service friendly, but when the packed hipster restaurant emptied out by 11pm, my friend gave out a sarcastic “What IS this?”. The dishwasher was mopping around our table when we finally took the hint around 11:40. She relayed that just last week she’d had to wait 45 minutes to get a table at a trendy Meat Packing District restaurant at 4am. I know the place well, and miss it on those rare occasions when I’m drunk and peckish for French food in the wee hours.

We hugged as I put her into a cab, which she was surprised to have hailed so quickly. “Next time let’s meet in New York”, she suggested with still leftover disdain.  I ran off to narrowly catch the last BART ride home of the night.

“I’m from New York!”

Have you ever noticed the city-savvy NYC denizens who can navigate the subway with their head in a book, nattily dress for any occasion, knowledgeably order dim sum for the group, cheerfully ease from their Italian butcher, to Korean tailor, to Pakistani grocer, and later hail a cab home – face back in book – are the same people who visit other cities and loudly declare that they don’t know how to get around? “Why would I know how to do that? I’m from New York!”

I have.

$80 Sweater

Recently, as I was hefting sacks of groceries into the house, a young couple pulled up in their beater car and parked nearby. We exchanged smiles and I went back to hefting. I was surprised when I looked up again and the woman was standing directly in front of me, as I thought our exchange was complete. Now, from whence I hail, quickly approaching a stranger to stand this close would be seen as aggressive. She seemed like an unlikely suspect, but was she about to mug me? I imagined a cute, but unpredictable Drugstore Cowboy-esque junkie couple on the lamb. I panicked that the grocery bags were too heavy for me to swing with any accuracy.

“Do you like this sweater?”, she asked.

I looked over at her boyfriend to see if he was armed.

No Dogs

“I paid $80 for it at Anthropologie but I’m not sure if I like it. Do you like it, hon?” She looked over at the boyfriend.

Straggledy-haired blond boyfriend stayed cautiously neutral but wisely offered that she looked pretty.

The sweater was tres Berkeley despite the chain store purchase: multi-colored, organically grown-looking and somewhat shapeless. I wouldn’t be caught dead in it, but it seemed to match her wholesome, nature gal vibe, so I, still waiting for the catch, volunteered that it was “nice”.

She repeated that the sweater had cost $80, and wanted confirmation from a complete stranger that she had paid too much. She was a wall of chirpy twitters, interrupting herself only once to say that she liked my outfit, and ask where it had come from. As my “outfits” rarely come from a single store-bought, chain store source, I condensed my response to “Banana”.

Conscious of melting dairy products still weighing me down, I finally offered that if she had so many doubts about that (fugly) sweater, then perhaps she should return it. Ten minutes later, satisfied with my answer, she suggested that we might see each other around and, with her boyfriend, headed over to the multiple-occupant surf-hippie house a few doors down.

Who does that?

Crazy Berkeley hippie kids.

Wait, you don’t have an accent…

It doesn’t take long to notice that outside of parts of New York and a handful of 70s movies, people don’t have New York accents.

As tidal waves of yuppies swell into neighborhoods previously reserved for third generation immigrants, it’s a rapidly fading NYC cultural institution. Locally-born kids sometimes try to avoid it to seem worldlier, but new residents try to adopt some flavoring words for authenticity. It’s argued whether the different New York accents (yes, there are variations) can be attributed to each of the five boroughs or just class level. Like any regional accent, those who don’t use it often think of it as charming, but ultimately uneducated sounding. (See also Fargo, Valley Girl, Good Will Hunting and Sling Blade.)

Thank goodness for torchbearers like Cyndi Lauper, Mel Brooks, Robert De Niro and the Beastie Boys.

Northern California doesn’t seem to have accents. (Am I wrong?) Instead they have some of their own jargon (“hella”, “bounce”, “chillax”, “grass”, etc.).  The only exception I’ve noticed so far is with second and third generation Japanese American Californians (Nisei and Sansei). I can’t put it into words yet, but you can just vaguely hear an accent that is distinctly not first generation immigrant, but unique. I haven’t heard it with any other second+ generation ethnic group.

More as I understand it.

Why Salt Bagel?

Because I like them.

Bagels are as ubiquitous to New York as real sourdough is to San Francisco. You can get them anywhere, and they range from so-so to excellent. (You cannot get sourdough unfortunately.) The best I’ve had come from Terrace Bagels on Prospect Park West. They of course, make them every morning and they are good good: the slightest crunch gives way to dense, soft (if you’re lucky, warm), slightly doughy bread.

Apparently, you can’t get bialys anywhere else in the world.

All manner of New York proprietors run bagel bakeries, and all serve up a similar flavor and texture. The only other commonality these proprietors share is their pact never to pass along their recipe to non-New Yorkers. Seriously. Is it the water? I’m sure I am not the first to write about this serious issue, but this pact has caused a plague upon the rest of the planet. No matter what the heritage of bagel bakers in New York, most can produce a delicious bread product that looks, smells, feels and tastes like a bagel. Outside of the city, they have only really mastered the look.  It makes sense that flavors might change to match the local taste buds, like sun-dried tomato in San Francisco and green tea with pistachio in Tokyo (strange, but good), but I don’t understand why the texture can’t be matched.

If I ordered a croissant from a place called Les Meilleures Pâtisseries de Paris!, I’d expect buttery, flakey deliciousness, but in the SF Bay Area, there are a few misleadingly named bagel chains, like Manhattan Bagel and Noah’s Bagels, that haven’t developed beyond a rubbery Kaiser roll (which themselves are only a shadow of the delicious original Austrian semmel rolls…).

This isn’t to say that Northern California doesn’t have some of the best eats in the world; it’s just that they can’t get a good bagel down.