Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Vegas, Baby!

Just got back from Las Vegas, where we attended my brother Max's wedding at the Hollywood Wedding Chapel (having "Hollywood" in the name seems like wishful thinking on their part, though they did have a photo of Ron Jeremy hanging in the lobby).

The ceremony was very touching -- especially when the minister told them to activate their rings (they had special flashing LED rings, purchased at a Jersey turnpike reststop) and then clicked on the recessional music using a remote control. The cake was possibly the most frustrating part since it was photogenic and delicious-looking but made out of styrofoam.

Anyway, we had our fill later when we all dined atop the Stratosphere Tower in the Top of the World restaurant -- it spins! (which did different things to my stomach over the course of the evening).

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

New York Musings

I used to visit New York on a regular basis, but until this last trip I hadn't been back there since before 9-11. It was interesting to note the changes:

The Air Train. In the old days, it was very difficult for cheap-asses like me to get from JFK to Manhattan. I used to take a parking shuttle out to the Rockaway station where I would hop on the subway and take a very long ride (I would resemble a drowned rat by the time I popped up in the city). Now thanks to the MTA's new Air Train, it's much faster and easier. The train picks you up at the airport terminal and drops you at Jamaica station in Queens. From there, you can grab the Long Island railroad or the subway. It costs $5, so it's a bit of a step up (I think the old parking shuttle was free) but not too bad. The city-regulated cab rate from JFK to Manhattan, meanwhile, is now $48!! Not too long ago it was $29.

Ground Zero. Kelly and I strolled around downtown, but there's isn't really much to see there other than a giant construction site (and lots of people selling the WTC buildings embedded in crystal). Much of the excitement in that part of town seemed focused on the Century 21 department store, which is across the street from Ground Zero (seemed to be like a glorified Ross, but people are really into shopping there).

Harlem. Kelly's friend lives and works in Harlem, and we got a nice tour through this fast-gentrifying area. There was an African pride parade going on, though, so I'm not sure we got a totally normal sense of the neighborhood. I do know that if you want giant airbrush paintings of 50 Cent, go to 125th and Powell!

Time Warner Center. This is a new twin-tower building right off Columbus Circle with a mall in the lower floors. It's pretty swank. We were pretty hungry at the time and since I knew there was a mall there I figured we could hit the food court. Word to the wise: There is no Sbarro's in this "food court" -- only pricey sit-down restaurants. (There is a Whole Foods in the basement, though, so we got picnic food and went to Central Park.)

I'm Back

As Jay-Z says: "Guess who's biz-ack? / Still smelling crack on my clothes / Don't let me relapse on these hoes."

OK, not sure what that has to do with anything but I am back from a long weekend in New York.

I'm still catching up on my Bay Area news. Apparently Barry hit No. 700, and someone got stabbed to death in our neighborhood! Oh well, at least they caught the people who did. No wait, they haven't.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

My Brush with Gavin

I went to a technology conference yesterday at the Four Seasons and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made an impromptu appearance. He gave a short talk and then I was able to shake his hand and speak to him very briefly (I said something about how I thought he was "doing a good job").

In person, he's quite striking -- very tall. And his voice is more gavelly than I expected. That, plus his slicked-back hair, made him seem a bit like a mobster (in a cool way). I could definitely see him going far in politics, unless the rest of America is too hung up on the whole gay marriage thing. Go Gavin!

Monday, September 13, 2004

Sad Anniversary

As you all know -- if you've listened to KMEL at any point over the weekend -- today's the eighth anniversary of 2Pac's death (or "death" -- it's always in quote marks on the many Web sites devoted to 2Pac not really being dead).

It's hard to believe so much time has passed. I still remember that night in 1996: a group of us mourned his passing by drinking 40-ounce malt liquors and playing cards (I also seem to recall a plumber arriving to fix the toilet and him not being interested in mourning Pac with us, though we pleaded with him to do so).

Anyway, if you have a chance today, try to "pour out a little liquor" for Pac. (Ok, so I poured out a little Safeway-brand Select cola, but the gesture counts.)

Waiting for the E-Line

Yesterday was quite a day for San Francisco activities: the Chocolate Festival, a huge bicycle race, Opera in the Park, a free Dave Mathews concert, a 49ers game and Shakespeare in the Presidio. I only caught a little of the bike race and not really by choice (we were trying to cross the street!)... but we did make it to a more low-profile event: the South Beach Block Party.

Shockingly, this event was not mentioned in the newspaper — perhaps on account of it being "utterly lame." For those of you who don't know, San Francisco's South Beach neighborhood is the area surrounding the baseball park — and sadly, the diet is not named after us. Anyway, the "party" mainly consisted of some tented kiosks run by the local library association and the SPCA. (The SPCA booth did have a guy dressed in a dog suit who thought it would be fun to attack Kelly from behind — that offered a few moments of excitement.) Oh, they also provided pizza-flavored fritos or something like that.

But there were two highlights:

1. The Market Street Railway association had a booth and offered some very interesting information about the proposed E-Line. This streetcar line would start near the Dogpatch neighborhood and run the length of the Embarcadero and through the Fisherman's Wharf area. Then (and here's the cool part) it would go through an old army tunnel underneath Fort Mason and pop out in the Marina. Finally, it would end at the Presidio Main Post (where they are building that huge Lucas complex). What's more, the E-Line would use the same vintage streetcars as the F-Line — currently Muni's most popular rail line by far.

The E-Line isn't a done deal yet, but it seems quite probable, they said. It helps that the Fort Mason tunnel is already built (in 1914) and sitting unused. Anyway, check out the group's Web site at streetcar.org -- it's pretty slick.

2. The USS Potomac, FDR's presidential yacht, was moored nearby and the ship's staff offered free tours. I'd never heard of this thing, but apparently it's usually at Jack London Square. It has quite a fascinating history.

FDR often used it for fishing, entertaining dignitaries, etc. They showed us his cabin, which wasn't very big — though much bigger than the crew's quarters (there wasn't room for FDR's Secret Service detail so they had to take a separate ship). It didn't seem very accomodating to FDR's wheelchair needs, but there was a cool elevator that took him to the top deck — it's disguised as a smoke stack!

Anyway, apparently after the Potomac fell out of use by the Coast Guard, it wound up in private hands and eventually was used by drug runners (what a fall from grace!). Then it sank (partially at least) until it was grudgingly rescued by the Port of Oakland. But now it's fully restored and can even be rented out for "your next event" (not sure what sort of events...bat mitzvahs?).

Friday, September 10, 2004

I Wallow in Ignorance

Since I consider myself a local trivia buff, I was pleased to find a Bay Area trivia quiz in today's Chronicle. But wow, was it hard! Out of 30 questions, I only got about 10 right. (If you want to do the quiz yourself, I wouldn't recommend doing it on the SF Chron Web site, since they have pictures posted there that give the answers away -- the print version doesn't reveal anything.)

Here it is (with my attempts at answers):

1 Even casual movie fans know that Clint Eastwood is the title character in "Dirty Harry." But who was originally supposed to be the San Francisco police inspector?
I guessed Steve McQueen, but the answer is Frank Sinatra. However, apparently Steve McQueen was also offered the role, so I gave myself 0.5 points.

2 While we're at it, the villain in "Dirty Harry" was loosely based on the Zodiac, one of the most famous killers in San Francisco history. According to the most generally accepted police estimate, how many people did the Zodiac kill in San Francisco?
I guessed 10. But apparently he only killed one person in SF (a cab driver). Zero points.

3 Before Sacramento became the state capital in 1854, the capital shifted among three Bay Area cities. Name them.
I guessed Monterey, San Jose and Benecia. I realize Monterey is not in the Bay Area, but it was once the capital. But they wanted San Jose, Vallejo and Benecia. 0.66 points.

4 Where can you find the world's oldest working lightbulb?
Livermore fire station. The Chron did a story on this not too long ago. 1 point.

5 What 6-foot-2-inch girl captained her basketball team at the Branson School in Ross in 1928 and 1929?
Julia Child -- how many women are that tall and that old (well, now deceased). 1 point.

6 We all know where Tony Bennett left his heart, but where is the heart of San Bruno?
The Artichoke Joe's casino? No, apparently the streets around Cupid's Row form the shape of a heart. Zero points.

7 What young comedian was heckled so badly during an appearance with Barbra Streisand at San Francisco's hungry i in the early 1960s that, as the San Francisco Examiner put it, "He was reduced to something pale, quivering and not quite human, his back to the audience, elbows on the piano, mumbling material to the brick wall"?
I said Chevy Chase, but it was actually Woody Allen. Zero points.

8 Thirty years ago, the Eugene O'Neill Foundation helped to save the Tao House in Danville from being demolished. Why?
I said "because O'Neill stayed there," but they wanted a bit more detail: He wrote most of his famous plays there, including "The Iceman Cometh." 0.5 points.

9 What does San Francisco author Amy Tan have in common with bestselling authors Stephen King, Scott Turow and Mitch Albom, plus syndicated columnist Dave Barry and "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening?
I had no idea on this one. Turns out they've all been members of a rock band called the Rock Bottom Remainders. Zero points.

10 What's the easiest way to walk from San Francisco to Alameda County without crossing a bridge?
I said to take El Camino all the way to the South Bay and then Mission Blvd. back up the East Bay. But this was actually a trick question. The west end of the former Alameda Naval Air Station extends so far into the bay that it's actually considered part of San Francisco. From there, you could easily walk into Alameda County. Zero points.

11 Where is Wyatt Earp buried?
Colma -- where else? More specifically at the Hills of Eternity Memorial Park, a Jewish cemetery. Apparently his wife was Jewish. 1 point.

12 What is unique about Tuffy, one of the dogs buried in the Benicia Army Cemetery?
This one stumped me. Apparently Tuffy was perhaps the only dog ever to be court-martialed. It seems he tore the trousers of a young girl. Zero points.

13 Why would Mill Valley's 2AM Club look familiar to fans of Huey Lewis and the News?
It's on the album cover of "Sports". 1 point.

14 What was Li'l Folks?
I should have remembered this -- it was the precursor to Charles Shultz's "Peanuts". Zero points.

15 In "Foul Play," a 1978 comedy starring Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn, there's a plot to assassinate the pope in San Francisco. Who portrayed the pope?
George Burns, I said. Actually, it was Cyril Magnin, "Mr. San Francisco." Zero points.

16 Which current Bay Area resident was the youngest performer ever to win an Oscar?
A rare easy one: Shirley Temple Black (she lives in Woodside and was 6 when she won). 1 point.

17 Which San Francisco mayor became a Union general in the Civil War?
The answer, which I didn't get, is John Geary -- San Francisco's first mayor. Zero points.

18 Where did Charlie Chaplin make several films, including "The Tramp"?
I should have gotten this one, because I recall hearing about it on a "Bay Area Backroads" episode. The answer is the Niles district of Fremont. Zero points.

19 Why was the name of San Francisco's Pacific Street changed to Pacific Avenue?
No idea. Turns out that the fancy people in Pacific Heights wanted to be distinct from the "bawdy" portion of Pacific Street closer to downtown. So in 1871, they renamed their portion of it Pacific Avenue. The whole street became Pacific Avenue in 1929. Zero points.

20 What city's motto is "Climate Best by Government Test," and what the heck does that mean?
I pass this Redwood City sign every day on the train and know it's based on a study by the German government (misleading, don't you think?). The study's other "best climates" were the Canary Islands and the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. Apparently stifling heat was considered an asset. 1 point.

21 In San Francisco, a couple of streets just west of St. Mary's Park are in an unusual shape. Why?
I guessed because of the hills. It's actually because St. Mary's College used to be located there. It's now in the East Bay. Zero points.

22 In the 1969 graduating class at Redwood High School in Larkspur, who was voted "Least Likely to Succeed"?
Robin Williams. I figured he would pop up in the quiz somewhere. 1 point.

23 On Memorial Day 1977, a large protest was held to support installing suicide barriers on the Golden Gate Bridge. Which key speaker in support of the barriers ended up becoming world famous?
The irony! I didn't know this, but it was Jim Jones (of Jonestown mass suicide fame). Zero points.

24 In Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," one crucial building was Bodega Bay School. What's the school's real name, and where is it?
Heck if I knew this. The answer is Potter Schoolhouse, which is now a private residence. Zero points.

25 Who were Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions?
Didn't get this one either -- it was the first band formed by Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Ron McKernan. Zero points.

26 What brothers were part of the Blue Velvets, entertaining classmates at El Cerrito's Portola Junior High and El Cerrito High in the late 1950s and early 1960s?
I didn't get this, though I probably could have if I had thought about it longer. The answer is Tom and John Fogerty (of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame). Zero points.

27 TV trivia from the 1980s: The mansion in "Dynasty," the winery in "Falcon Crest" and the hotel in "Hotel" are all in the Bay Area. What are their real-life names and locations?
The "Hotel" answer is easy: the Fairmont Hotel in SF. I didn't get the other two -- the Filoli estate in Woodside appeared in "Dynasty" and the Spring Mountain Vineyards in St. Helena appeared in "Falcon Crest." 0.33 points.

28 San Francisco used to be referred to as the Barbary Coast. Why?
I'm always a bit foggy on this. It's because in the Gold Rush era, it was thought to resemble North Africa's Barbary Coast, which was rife with pirates. Zero points.

29 What was the original name of the Oakland Raiders?
Say what? The answer is the Oakland Señors. Awesome! Zero points.

30 More Oakland sports: When the A's had their glory years in the early 1970s, they had famous players such as Reggie Jackson and Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers. But the most famous person from the team turned out to be a ballgirl, Debbie Sivyer. Why?
She baked cookies for the team and parlayed that into the Mrs. Field's empire. 1 point.

Total: 10 points.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

But it's a Classic!

Today the always-helpful AOL welcome page directed me to a Parenting magazine article on the "Seven Things Not to Say to Your Child." Since this seemed like highly relevant information for me, I took a gander...

I was soon shocked to discover one of the things is, "I'll give you something to cry about!"

What?! This delightful taunt has stood the test of time, and I'd hate to think today's parents would stop using it. I mean, sure it's a cliché. But the kid doesn't know that!

The article's reasoning for ditching this old favorite? "Threats rarely get results," it says. Well, sure — if you don't follow up! Maybe the real point is: Don't tell your kids you'll give them something to cry about unless you really mean it.

Parkmerced, I hardly knew ya!

Between 1997 and 2002, I lived in a Soviet-style high-rise on the southwestern edge of San Francisco. I look back fondly on my time there -- dwelling in rent-controlled bliss among the octogenarians and Russian immigrants -- but I would hardly describe the place as fancy.

But lo, has Parkmerced changed! A few years ago, they remodeled the rental office, renamed it "The Villas at Parkmerced," and now they've added an elaborate sign on 19th avenue. Water flows over the logo -- it looks like some kind of resort!!

I can't say if the apartments are any different -- or if the hallways no longer reek of fish oil -- but it's quite an impressive transformation. (And check out the fancy Web site.)

Friday, September 03, 2004

Diamond Dilemma

Cecil Adams' Straight Dope column tackles the issue of diamond prices in Friday's installment, and he doesn't pull any punches: "Diamonds are a con, pure and simple....Prices are kept high by a cynical cartel that preys on vanity and stupidity."

I agree with most of his points, but I do think there are certain intangibles (prestige, status, etc.) that can't be measured. I also think that if diamonds didn't exist, society would have to invent them. Diamonds convey a message: "I paid a ton of money (and got ripped off by a South African cartel) because I care about you." If diamonds weren't a tremendous ripoff, would the sacrifice of buying an engagement ring mean as much? I don't know.

Now you could argue that people should find something legitimately valuable, such as gold, and give that as an engagement gift. But a gold or platinum band would have to be huge to equal the cost of most diamond rings. And other jewels don't have the simple neutral look of diamonds.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Move over, Belvedere

For a while it seemed like Belvedere was the brand of choice among vodka snobs (ok, among hip-hop artists; I don't know any vodka snobs). But a taste test of premium vodkas in Slate found that Chopin is a superior product. I don't think I've had Chopin, but it's a potato-based vodka (unlike most of the top-shelf choices, which are made from wheat and rye) and costs $30 a bottle. That means it's actually a bit less than Belvedere, which goes for $33.

Absolut, meanwhile, scored poorly -- though it is a good bit cheaper at $23 a bottle. But at that price, they preferred Stoli (also $23).

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

SUV Update

Last month I linked to a Slate story about how large SUVs were illegal on many California streets (since they weigh more than 6,000 pounds). But according to the Mercury-News' Roadshow column, this is a fallacy. Since SUVs are considered passenger vehicles and not trucks, the weight limits don't apply. So have no fear, Cadillac Escalade!