Monday, November 30, 2009

New Ideas for Your Brown-Bag Lunches

Sorry for the blog silence yesterday. I've been swamped at work, trying to finish the first issue of our building's monthly newsletter. The point of this website is to force me to write every day, but I've already been writing all afternoon (and I'm exhausted!). I'm not about to leave my bleaders in the dark, though, so here's something I whipped up for a couple of weeks ago. Enjoy!

* * *

Brown-bag lunches aren’t just for kids; they’re for anyone dedicated to healthy eating, environmental sustainability, and saving a few bucks on overpriced sandwiches. But how do those people decide what to pack in their paper bags each morning? My bag usually contains last night’s leftover lasagna or a Healthy Choice microwavable dinner, or sometimes just two pieces of nine-grain bread slapped together with a spoonful of store-bought jelly and extra crunchy peanut butter. But I’m ready to change.

If you’re like me, prepared to dedicate yourself to eating healthy and saving a good chunk of cash each day, here are some quick and easy ideas for your brown-bag lunches.

  • We all know tortillas are a healthy alternative to bread, so why not wrap the contents of your sandwich in one of these tasty rounds? Just add veggie slices, lean meats like turkey and chicken, and low- or non-fat cream cheese.
  • Air-popped popcorn is a tasty snack (or dessert) and easy to take with you to work or school. Sprinkle it with a little Parmesan cheese, or, better yet, try my favorite: sweet-and-salty kettle corn. Mmm-Mmm.
  • Getting bored of biting into carrot and celery sticks every afternoon? Next time you’re at Whole Foods or Safeway, pick up a pre-made vegetable sushi roll. Pack a couple of pieces with you each day as a complement to a sandwich or wrap. With sprouts, cucumbers, carrots, and celery enclosed in white rice and seaweed, you’ll get the same nutrients as you would from veggie sticks – but you’ll have twice the fun doing it.
  • Buy a variety of pasta salads at your local deli to last you the week. Add cooked chicken, then split (or mix) the pastas to make a number of servings, and – viola! Zesty lunch à la mode.
  • Cold strips of grilled, leftover chicken with light ranch or honey mustard dip can be a lip-smacking and filling lunch – and a great way to de-clutter your fridge!
  • Forget washing your sandwich down with soda or juice. Flavored water is not only more nourishing but also simple to make at home and painless to transport in a thermos. Just fill a pitcher of tap water with slices of lemon, lime, and orange and stick it in the fridge overnight. For other delicious flavor combos, use: raspberries and strawberries; cucumbers and limes; lemons and mint; strawberries, lemons and cucumbers; and strawberries, oranges and mint. Who knew H2O could be so delicious?
  • Go the über-healthy route and stuff your egg, tuna or chicken salad into hollowed tomato halves instead of bread slices. This is a great way to add variety to an everyday sandwich. You could even try potato- or pasta-salad stuffed tomatoes.
  • If your coworkers bring their lunches to work too, be bold and start a brown-bag lunch club. Make life easy, and have everyone take turns bringing lunch for the group.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thankful in the City

This weekend, I am thankful for many things. Here is my list…

1. Mom, Dad, and sisters Christyn and Caitlin

2. My wonderful friends and Darren

3. Christmas trees and white lights

4. Sharing turkey with Nancy and Richard

5. My new amazing condo

6. Sunny but brisk weather (my favorite, no matter the time of year)

7. Skype

8. Extra hot peppermint mochas

9. My grandparents, aunts and uncles who are dispersed across the globe but keep in touch through email and letters

10. My job, and the people I get to see everyday

11. My health

12. Receiving a beautiful Thanksgiving bouquet. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Horrible Ikea

I’ve never understood the term Black Friday. It sounds so dark and dreadful. Maybe it’s just me, but I love the idea of waking up at 6am and hitting the shops for fabulous deals on shoes, sweaters and home goods. If it were up to me, I’d call it Fun Friday. Because sales are fun!

My youngest sister works at Vans, an Emo shoe store in Beaverton, Oregon. After being stuck in the dimly lit shop for eight hours on Fun Friday, she usually stomps through the front door of my parents’ house, bellyaching about: (a) the kid who stole a pair of sneakers while her back was turned; (b) the obnoxious mom who grumbled about her daughter’s poorly manufactured shoelaces; or mostly likely (c) the store manager who forced his employees to wear Santa hats and smile – because Fun Friday is the biggest money-maker of the year.

I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I enjoy wearing Santa hats. Then again, I’ve never worked at a retail store on Fun Friday. I’m usually on the other side of the counter, charging random belts, candles, blankets, boots, make-up, and holiday decorations to my nearly maxed-out credit cards, justifying my purchases by reminding myself that I won’t come across deals this good ‘til next year.

The exception? Ikea. Wandering Ikea on Fun Friday would be fun for no one, because it’s already the least fun place in the entire universe on every other day of the year. Emeryville’s warehouse is crammed with extreme shoppers looking for reductions on every piece of furniture and knick-knack in the store. (Can you say annoying?) They load up rented U-Hauls with their tacky on-sale items and drive away just as violently as they come in. If you’ve been to any Ikea in the U.S., you know what a nightmare this is.

Last Sunday, when Darren and I decided (against our better judgment) to shop alongside these loons, I steered clear of the U-Haul freaks – at first. Later I tried to make friends with them for the very reason that I hated them: They had U-Hauls, and Darren and I desperately needed one. (I quickly learned that it’s not freakish so much as plain smart to bring a mini moving truck to an Ikea warehouse.) I spent my life savings on a desk, a bed, and a gigantic wardrobe complete with sliding glass doors, drawers and shelves – all of which are sold in multiple (heavy!) boxes and require at-home assembly. In the showroom, the items appeared as though they’d fit nicely together in the Jeep.

They didn’t.

We spent 30 minutes loading the car, piecing bits of the furniture puzzle together in the trunk. Darren removed a drawer here and replaced it with bed slabs there; he fit a glass mirror underneath a tabletop a couple times; he moved one or two desk legs to the front seat and then to the back; and then he tied the headboard to the roof. In the end, I found myself scrunched over in the front seat, my face surrounded by cardboard boxes packed with glass. I had no possible way to reach my seatbelt, and a cluster of unwrapped, wooden bed slabs convened on my lap. Darren couldn’t reach the emergency break or the review mirror. It’s a miracle we (and the glass) made it over the bridge and back home in one piece, without a ticket – especially because a cop stopped us on the way.

Basically, the trip was a horrible Ikea.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Lazy Girl's Way to Serve a Last-Minute Pumpkin Treat

For most of us, pumpkin pie is as much an integral part of Thanksgiving as turkey and stuffing. It's been that way since the beginning, when pilgrims included pumpkin-based delights in their harvest meal.

But early versions of the dessert were much harder to come by than our canned-puree (or Marie Callender's) variety. The original New Englanders used pumpkins from the American Indians' harvest, of which they received a large share after arriving in Plymouth, Mass., in 1620. They filled pumpkin shells with a mixture of pumpkin, milk, honey, and spices, and baked them in hot ashes to get that puddinglike, orange deliciousness that so many of us crave by mid-November.

These days, it's hard to find anyone who uses a pumpkin for anything more than a table decoration or a Jack-o'-lantern. But it's just as hard to find someone who'd say that the orange-colored custard tart doesn't belong on the Thanksgiving table. So why argue with tradition? At the very least, you'll be serving up some good, old-fashioned nutrition to your guests, in the form of vitamin A, potassium, and fiber.

Here are some ideas for last-minute pumpkin treats, from traditional pies to modern alternatives:

From the outside, this Mission Street den doesn't look like a place where you'd want to buy a pet mouse, let alone a dessert to feed your loved ones. But stepping inside the café is like opening the door to Oz: bright colors and friendliness offset the tattered exterior. The staff suggests preordering from the rotating menu of five popular holiday pies ($18) if you want a whole one in time for Turkey Day. And believe me, you will. Try a slice ($3.85, or $3.50 to go) with a dollop of chilled whipped cream and a cup of one of three house-blend coffees. You'll find the pie's as traditional as anything Grandma's ever made for you.
2901 Mission, SF. (415) 282-1500,

It's nutty. It's succulent. And according to my findings, one person can devour the whole thing in a day. Beautifully wrapped in plastic and a pink bow, Miette's pumpkin walnut cake ($14) is a staple dessert for anyone headed to Mom and Dad's for Thanksgiving — but only if you can make it there with some still left on the platter. Not dressed to impress? Oh please, this cake is class-y. It will make up for a tattered sweater or a stained pant leg.
Ferry Building Marketplace, Embarcadero and Market, SF. (415) 837-0300

This avant-garde brand makes completely organic pies from rice milk, free-range eggs, and palm fruit oil — which all taste better than they sound. Plus, everything is wheat free, gluten free, and casein free, so dessert lovers who are allergic to wheat and dairy can pig out without losing sleep. Pick up an eight-inch pumpkin tart at Whole Foods, Rincon Market, RJ's Market, Rainbow Grocery, Mollie Stones, Le Beau Nob Hill Market, or Andronico's.
(415) 826-7187,

It's always fun to mix things up. It's even more fun when there's pumpkin cheesecake involved. In my opinion, the cheesecake is a close second to its time-honored counterpart, the pie. And unlike most cheesecakes, Zanze's (6-inch pie, $14; 8-inch, $22; 10-inch, $28) won't weigh you down like a pile of bricks — you'll have a turkey to do that. It's light and carefully whipped, so there will be no need to embarrass yourself by unfastening your pant button and unleashing your belly bulge. It'll all fit this year.
2405 Ocean, SF. (415) 334-2264

With its top layer of apricot jelly and delicate homemade crust, Peasant's pumpkin pecan pie ($15.75, one-day advance notice necessary for ordering) will have you wishing Thanksgiving were a weeklong celebration. Peasant Pies' menu was inspired by the savory tarts found in Sète, France, and was designed with health-savvy pie eaters (is there such a thing?) in mind. Bon appétit!
1039 Irving, SF. (415) 731-1978,

With its oh-so-desirable pumpkin pies available only through New Year's, the bakery recommends placing an advance order to get your paws on one. It also offers pecan pie and harvest pie (with apples, cranberries, and caramel strudel) during the holiday season (pumpkin and pecan, $17; harvest, $20). Now we really have something to be thankful for.
1346 Martin Luther King Jr., Berk. (510) 526-2260

Maybe you're the unpatriotic Scrooge who doesn't serve pie on Thanksgiving. Fair enough. But this year, dish up a few pumpkin-flavored cream puffs ($2.25 for one, $11 for six) to give off that I'm-a-reformer-who-still-has-a-little-spirit vibe. They're flaky on the outside, creamy on the inside, and lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar that will undoubtedly end up all over the place. It could be a fun new tradition.
845 Market, SF. (415) 978-9975,

By Meghan McCloskey
Originally published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian 11.18.08

P.S. How cute is Google today? Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Bay Bridge is Effed Up

You know it’s bad when you get emails from friends you haven’t spoken with in three years warning you to stay off the Bay Bridge. Especially when they don’t even live in San Francisco and therefore have no idea how effed up it really is. In lieu of typical sign-offs (like “Keep in touch” and “See you soon”), they write “Stay off the Bay Bridge!”

Eh hem…

From: Friend in Oregon
To: Meghan McCloskey
Date: Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Subject: Just want to say hi!

Hey Megs,

It’s so great to hear you’re doing well in SF! How is your job? And your blog? :) Work has been GREAT; for awhile it was quite busy and stressful, but now it has slowed down for the holidays. I’m loving the extra time on my hands! Matt & I are super excited to fly home TOMORROW for Turkey Day. Next time you’re in Portland, let’s get together for a drink. I know you must be extremely busy when you come home, but we could try, right?

Stay off the Bay Bridge!

Today, swapping the phrase with “hi” and “goodbye” is widely accepted. Soon (in San Francisco, at least) I believe it will be interchangeable with “thank you.” It’s like “aloha” or “cheers.” Shooting the breeze with strangers now means chattering about the overpass. There’s no more “looks pretty foggy out there today” or “how about them Giants.” It’s all about who drove off the bridge this morning and the size of the metal beam that fell off the structure and onto the Toyota Camry in yesterday’s rush hour traffic. At local pubs, during Trivia Night competitions, one of the questions usually goes something like this: “What was loaded in the truck that crashed and flew off the Bay Bridge on Monday?” If you don’t know, you’re not a real San Franciscan and ought to be ashamed of yourself and leave the bar. (Note: The answer last week was “pears.”)

Even my morning-time pals Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera report on the bridge’s fatal defects. That’s how I know it’s really bad. Because usually? The pair doesn’t whisper a word about West Coast happenings between the hours of 7am and 10am; I have to wait for Hoda and Kathy Lee to come on before I get the scoop on California. Usually the gossip revolves around celebrities, I admit. But one day it involved the bridge. (They said it was “effed up” and then took sips of their morning glasses of chardonnay.)

So all of you who sent me emails and text messages and voice messages and Google instant messages and hand-written letters and BBMs? Don’t worry. I’m way too effin’ scared to get on that bridge. (Plus it costs four bucks and takes you to Oakland. No thanks.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Debbie Does Dinner, But Not Like Mom

Last year at this time, I sat on the floor in my “two bedroom” apartment stuffing a bright red suitcase with wintry sweaters and mittens while whining in misery and anger.

Get me the hell outta here. Get me the hell outta here. Get me the hell outta heeerree. I repeated the concentrated sentence over and over in my head, and I think it escaped my word hole a few times, which frightened Alexa. Thanksgiving marked my being in San Francisco for two whole months – and I’d hit a brick wall. I wanted to go home.


I lugged my suitcase onto the bus and (despite the comments I knew my coworkers would fire at me) took it to the office. I would journey on BART to SFO straight from work at 5:30 p.m. I had no other option. As I flashed my bus pass to the driver, he raised an eyebrow in pity, and then I dragged the travel case up the steps and down the aisle. He waited for me to situate myself before taking off, which bus drivers NEVER do. Which means he felt sorry for me and thought his bus-driver life was better than my attempted city-girl life. Which made me feel worse. And cry.

Get me the hell outta here. RIGHT NOW. OR ELSE.

I was ecstatic to see my family on Turkey Day, and even happier to see a turkey. A home-cooked meal! I hadn’t eaten a home-cooked meal for months, unless you count a can of warmed black beans slapped inside a tortilla. My mom’s juicy mashed potatoes, flavorsome gravy, cranberries, soft homemade bread, straight-from-the-turkey stuffing, array of salads, and pies spread across the festive dining room table. I couldn’t imagine anything better on Thanksgiving.

But then I found Debbie. Apparently she “does dinners.”

A couple of days ago, a resident at Luxury Condo asked me how he could get a home-cooked dinner on Thanksgiving without having to cook it himself. I lazily typed his question into Google and found Debbie Does Dinner. I learned that if you’d rather watch football and kick your feet up on Thanksgiving – or if Mom’s not around to prepare a feast – Debbie will make you an all natural free-range Diestel turkey for just fifteen dollars per portion, plus buttermilk chive mashed potatoes, luscious gravy, cornbread stuffing with chicken sausage, dried cranberries and apples al dente, and green beans with crispy bacon (among plenty of other items).

The next question I asked Google? Was how to pass it off as my own. Because I’m staying in San Francisco this year and don’t know the first thing about pulling off a Thanksgiving feast. (Sorry, Nancy and Richard.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Just Another San Franciscan on the T

The air is ice. The wind strikes my cheeks, and it’s like the glacial Pacific Ocean is sweeping me away with its powerful current. I can hardly catch my breath. The sensation is menacing, raw. I don’t remember last year’s weather being this frigid. It’s only November. As I cross the street with my arms wrapped around my body, hugging myself, I peer down at my improvised ensemble and grimace. It’s completely wrong for the climate. I’m wearing washed-out designer jeanswhich are exhausted, worn to the threads, and patched in the knees and back pocketsflats, a fitted cotton tee with strings hanging from the unkempt seams, and a lightweight wrap-around jacket that I’d bought for spring and summernot fall and winter. The conditions don’t require my massive sunglasses, but I wear them anyway because they hide my swollen eyes and the fact that I haven’t had coffee.

On a normal day, I’d be dressed more appropriately and have a latte in my hand. But today is only day two of residing in the new condo, which means my clothes are piled in suitcases and cabinets and every corner of the floor, and I don’t know where anything is. We haven’t finished unpacking, and I have to make do with what I can get my hands on.

As I approach the train stop for the first time in eight months, a nervous butterflies swarm my insides. It feels like the first day of high school. My legs shake anxiously, in no particular rhythm, as I wait for the T on the 20th Street platform. I whip out my BlackBerry and text my parents about how weird it is to be nervous for a train that I used to take every day. (I justify my childish fears by reminding myself that I used to ride it the opposite direction. Last winter, I took it from my downtown apartment to work at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Now I live right by the Guardian, and I take it to work, downtown. It’s an entirely different routine, see?)

I search my purse for two dollars in change as the train pulls up. After I step inside, I rub shoulders with professionals of all ages who wear trendy shoulder bags and surf their iPhones. The foul smell that I remember about the train is gone, and I don’t see even one hobo dragging a black plastic bag full of aluminum cans. Before, I used to sit among the putrid beggars who’d hop on and off without paying the fare. They’d shoot out the doors just before the Muni police would step on and check for tickets; their scandalous routines were timed flawlessly. I wonder, is this the same train? Because it seems different.

I gaze out the window, knowing exactly how frigid the air feels but wishing I were breathing it in. I wish I were walkingnot ridingto work. The train whizzes by AT&T Park and the Embarcadero, and the sapphire water sparkles the whole way. Suddenly, everything is beautiful, not like I remember it eight months ago. I wonder, is it because I’m in a new, gorgeous apartment and out of the grime? Is it because I’m out of the armpit of San Francisco and am simply happier? Or could it be that I’ve grown accustomed to the grime and the hobos and don’t even notice the foulness of the city anymore? Am I becoming a true San Franciscan?

I don’t know, and I’m not trying to figure it out. I like this feeling, whatever it is.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Liquor + Cigarettes + Irish Movers = You'll Get Your Furniture Shipped in Record Time

When I say “Irish guy,” what pops to mind? Is it a drunken bloke with red hair, freckles, and a shamrock tee? Is he stumbling all over the place, burbling “Ah, blarney,” and “C’mere, lad,” and “Em, I’m so peckish I could eat a ‘ole meal ah bangers an’ mash”? Because that’s what I see. And not just in my imagination. I had a nice, juicy taste of this authentic Irish lifestyle back in July 2008 when I visited my aunt in Dublin. We rented a car and drove (on the wrong side of the road) across her green country, stopping in towns like Galway, Sligo, Cork and Kilkenny, where these drunken chaps crowded the pubs each night. On stage, they’d recite poems from memory and play the spoons and dance to the audience’s hand-clapping rhythm. So, yesterday, when our Irish movers showed up (forty-five minutes late), I wasn’t surprised to witness flickers of this type of behavior.

At first the movers were overly polite, and each of the three gentlemen shook both mine and Darren’s hands and introduced himself. “Ey, ya got a lot a stuff, do ye?” the big one asked while jiggling my hand up and down ferociously. My arm was Jell-O. And my boring American accent was super lame, I realized. I attempted to spice it up, but it came out hick-ish. “Nah, this’ll be a breeze for all ya fellas,” I said. Then I covered my mouth and led the guys to the apartment.

Within five minutes, three grown men were chasing each other up and down the stairs, to and from our second-floor studio. They pulled at each others’ heels, stumbling and rolling on the floor once they reached the top of the staircase. They found this hilarious. Then they wrapped the flat screen in a big blue blanket and packing tape and flew down the steps just as fast as they’d dashed up them. I was too nervous to watch the clowns handle Darren’s precious Samsung and sectional leather sofa, especially because he hadn’t signed anything stating that the company would be liable for any unforeseen damages during the move. I’m no lawyer, but I know enough to give (or get) a signature for the shipping and handling of the two most valuable items in one’s household.

The owner of the company simply explained, “Well, we were supposed to bring this manual that describes the insurance policies and everything, but it’s, like, this thick.” He held his hands a good two feet apart from one another to show us how massive the book was. I gave him my usual eye-roll and simultaneous head-shake. Then I perused the refrigerator – leftover Chinese food, half a pizza, sour milk – in an attempt to distract myself so as not to give the Galway, Ireland native a piece of my mind (which means a loud sigh and another deep roll of the eyes). “So, I just need you to initial here, here, sign here, and initial there,” he continued. But the man forgot a pen, so Darren couldn’t even fraudulently sign on the line that indicated he’d read a non-existent manual.

When we arrived at the condo, the moving truck wasn’t there. After waiting a few minutes, I thought the guys may have taken our boxes of clothes and housewares and fled to Mexico. Or Ireland. But eventually they arrived (and subsequently charged us an $85 “driving fee”). Even though they smelled like liquor and cigarettes, I applaud the men of Corrib Moving & Storage for getting our furniture to the condo undamaged – and in record time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I Have a Dishwasher!

Stay tuned for more about the move, the Dog Patch, and the dishwasher.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Day of Packing, in Photos

One bum is going to be very happy, very soon. Darren and I have loaded up bags upon bags of clothes, dishes, blankets, BOOZE, pillows, and so on for Good Will. But we decided to make a "special" bag for the homeless guy who stands out this week. It's a Bum of the Week contest, I guess you could call it. Winner takes all.

Last night? A scruffy man wobbled up to Darren asking for milk and cookies instead of beer. This guy, for example, has a good shot at winning the prize. The "special" bag contains half a gallon of Burnett's vodka (leftover from college, probably), two old pillows, a couple of throw blankets, basketball shoes, socks, a Burberry jacket, a puffy Nike vest, Green tea bags, and used deodorant. What more could a bum want? (Well, besides food and shelter.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Telephone. A True Story.

Setting: I'm on the floor of my studio apartment, face down. I just tripped over an extra large cardboard box packed with wine glasses wrapped in newspaper, battery chargers, a mouse pad, stacks of Playboy and Elle magazines, jeans, stilettos, a football, two video game controllers, sheets, blankets, and a pink ceramic jewelry box that holds my gold sorority pin, Darren’s fraternity pin, and a green and yellow pin that reads “Info-Hellion,” which one of my insane college professors awarded me after I passed her journalism class that students referred to as “Info Hell.” These extra large boxes are scattered about the studio as if a tornado had blown threw. I hop up from my belly-down position on the floor, then carefully plot a route through the disaster zone until I reach the rusty door.

Time: 8:46 a.m.

Amount of time it takes to get to work (on foot): 23 minutes

Amount of time after I get to work that it takes to change into my uniform and gear myself up to play the part of a concierge in today’s production: 12 minutes

Time I must be at my desk: 8:59 a.m., because a resident asked to meet me at 9 a.m. “on the dot.”

Point: I’m dead meat.

* * *

Me (into the phone): Harold! Oh, thank Gawd you answered. It’s Meghan.

Harold: Oh, hi Maijken.

There’s no time to correct him.

Me: Yeah, hi. Mr. Rupert needs to store five cases of wine in the Club Level refrigerator for his event tonight. I’m supposed to be there to meet him at nine, but that’s not gonna happen. So could you send someone upstairs to unlock the kitchen?

Harold: The kitchen?

Me: Yes, the kitchen on the Club Level. With the refrigerator? Could you have someone unlock it?

Harold: Sure, I’ll send a page to the Sales Office to unlock the kitchen.


Seriously? He really thought I was Maijken? From the Sales Office? Because I’m Meghan from the Club Level.

Me (into the phone, to someone else): Hi, Lawrence? Could you call Mr. Rupert and tell him that the kitchen will be unlocked at 9:15 a.m., when I get there? Unless you can meet him on the Club Level at nine and help him with his wine storage. I’m running a bit late. I called Harold, but he thinks I’m Maijken and says he’s going to the Sales Office. He’s completely confused.

Lawrence: No prob. I’m on it.

I’m not convinced, but at this point there’s nothing I can do but haul ass.

* * *

Setting: Club Level. I walk toward my desk, calm and collected. (This is scene 1, act 1 of the production I star in every day.) I’m horrified to find Mr. Rupert slouched in a chair across from my desk, with five cases of wine stacked on a bell cart next to him.

Mr. Rupert: Someone called me and said Maijken would be here at nine, even thought I thought I was supposed to meet you. So I’ve been waiting twenty minutes for her. The concierge said she’d open the Sales Office? And that she’d put my wine in there, instead of in this kitchen? And he said I'd get my own key from the Key Trace program, so that I can access the kitchen anytime. I didn't know you guys did that. That's really nice. But jeesh, I'm way behind schedule.

Moral: Don't play Telephone. And be at work on time.

Illustration by Furbird Designs.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Geary Street’s Familiar Strangers

Throughout the course of your day, do you expect to see certain strangers at specific times? I’m not talking about the guy who takes your order at Noah’s Bagels. (For me, it’s Ahmed.) Or the barista who makes your latte at Boudin Bakery. (It’s Miguel, the one with the strange accent and black fingernail polish). Or the hooligan behind the counter at the liquor store who hollers, “How you doin’? You still livin’ around here? Whatcha up to tonight?” and then takes five dollars off your bottle of already-reduced cabernet. (That would be James). And I’m not talking about how, each evening at 7:52 p.m., you hike down O’Farrell Street and pass the Laundromat that’s attached to your apartment building and glance through the window to see the same woman mopping the same spot in the same corner of the floor. 

Yes, it’s a fresh dose of déjà vu, but it’s not what I’m talking about.

All those folks work for companies that schedule their employees for the same shifts every week. But what about the strangers without set schedules? The ones you see on the streets every day but never talk to? After taking regular note of their presence, you wonder about their personalities, their journeys, and the meaning of your encounters.

You see, for six months, Alexa knew that if she rounded the corner of Geary Street at 8:37 a.m. on her way to work, she’d get stuck behind a prehistoric Asian couple: a man who stood five-feet tall and weighed 100 pounds (on a good day), and a four-foot-seven-inch woman about as heavy as one of Alexa’s arms. She was Big Foot next to them. The duo shuffled down the sidewalk at a turtle’s pace, but Alexa couldn’t get around them because everyone else tried to get around them at the same time, which created a persistent bottleneck. Of course, the man and woman were oblivious and moseyed along their merry way.

After a few weeks, Alexa grew accustomed to looking at the back of the Asian shufflers’ heads. She began to notice little details about them. The lady grasped the man’s arm tightly, while her free hand, weather beaten, touched the metal cart they pushed together.

Where are they going? Why the cart? What’s in the cart? What on earth are they wearing?

Alexa grew more curious every day. She must have been too afraid to ask these questions, so she made stories up about where they came from and what they did. In Alexa’s imagination, they were Uma and Melvin, proud parents of five children and fulfilled grandparents of ten babies. They’d owned a Laundromat all their lives. Three years ago, they were forced to sell the Laundromat to their middle child, Kim. Uma and Melvin had grown too old to run the Laundromat, but they intended to keep the business in their family, as they’d spent so many years building it. Every day, Melvin pushed their metal cart filled with laundry supplies to the building while Uma hugged his waist for support. She suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, and her muscles challenged her strength often.

One day, Alexa rounded the corner and didn’t see Uma. Melvin hobbled along, though, his glossy bald head hanging like he’d just lost the love of his life. Naturally, Alexa thought he had. She called her mom in a panic while keeping a few paces behind Melvin. Don’t worry, her mom said, comforting her. It was as if Alexa had called about a close friend.

Ecstatic, Alexa spotted Uma the next day. The old lady looked revitalized, new. What had happened to her? Alexa wondered. It must have been something drastic, because Mel looked heartbroken. And Uma does the same thing every single day. She walks on Geary Street at 8:37 a.m. What had caused her to alter this custom? Alexa’s mind went crazy thinking about the possibilities, but she realized she’d probably never know the truth. And then she wondered how a stranger could have touched her life like this – especially when the stranger didn’t even make her bagel (at Noah’s) or coffee (at Boudin) in the mornings. For Jeez’s sake, she’d never even spoken to the lady.

But that’s the thing about familiar strangers. You never know how they’ve impacted you until they’re gone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bad Days Turn Around at Gordon Biersch

Once again, I’m caught in a flurry of Brooks Brothers suits and pencil skirts. I snag a mouthful of somebody’s long blonde curls, which smell and taste like TRESemmé Extra Hold hairspray from an aerosol can. Bleh. Gusts of wind repel my onward motion, so I push back, leaning forward at a 45-degree angle as if hiking a vertical mountain with a 70-pound sack on my back. I think I’m starting to sweat, but I can’t tell because it’s so freakin’ windy. I hold my shiny white MacBook close to my body so as not to ruin it while smashing into bits of the swarm, which make up the chaos that is lunch hour on Market Street.

It’s Friday afternoon. At this point in my city-life endeavor, Friday is the only day of the week that I don’t have to be at one of my four jobs, and all I want to do is sip a mocha and open my laptop for a good Facebook-surfing session at Starbucks. In Beaverton, this would have been simple, but in San Francisco, employees like torturing their patrons. A working example: At Starbucks, the only way they let you access the Internet is with an AT&T account – and Verizon is a zillion times better than AT&T, so there’s no way in hell I’m signing up for one of those – or an online pass or a gift card of sorts. So after ordering my holiday favorite (a big fat peppermint mocha with extra whipped cream and sprinkles), I pack my computer bag and exit, my face as red as the cup I hang on to. I just want to go home.

Right as I start to feel sorry for myself (which you know I’m totally not doing anymore, if you saw yesterday’s post), I smash into another woman with blonde curly hair – and, yes, I eat another mouthful of hairspray-taut locks. This time they taste like Aussie Mega Hold.

“Well, hello there, Li’l Munchkin!” Without even looking, I know it’s Maijken. Nobody else calls me Munchkin.

“Hi!” I exclaim. I’m thrilled to see a familiar face, especially when it’s that of my only friend in the city. (Well, one of my only friends in the city.)

“Hey, what are you doing right now?” she asks. I tell her the story of my horrendous morning, which doesn’t sound so bad to her. She’s already been in San Francisco a year and is used to eating hair. She’s with a coworker, on her way to Gordon Biersch Brewery to sample a plethora of appetizers and drinks for her company’s holiday party. Maijken wants to know if I’ll tag along. Let’s see, I think I can put off doing nothing to eat and drink at a tasty restaurant with a magnificent view, yes.

Gordon Biersch is positioned directly in front of the Bay Bridge. So close, in fact, that we can make out the details on the cars that drive over it. We sit on the patio, under the heat lamps, with eight cups of different wines in front of us. The waiters ask us to sample them like it’s a chore, but we oblige. After an amount of vino that probably isn't appropriate on a work day, Maijken and her coworker signal the waiters to keep the appetizers coming, while I sit motionless, grinning from ear to ear and exposing my purple chops. After all, how would Maijken and her friend decide what to order for their holiday party if they didn’t sample everything on the menu?

Forget this morning. I definitely drew the long straw this afternoon.