Unexpected Surprise

Not to sound opportunistic or anything, but I like it when other people’s mistakes work to my advantage.

For example, last week I finally bought a copy of a long out of print book by Victor Gruen that I’d been wanting for quite some time. I’d never seen a decent used copy for less than forty or fifty bucks, but this one Amazon seller had one for about twenty. It had an intact dust cover, but the seller noted somewhat apologetically that there was writing inside the front cover from when someone had given the book as a a gift. I think that may be part of why it was priced so low.

As I looked at the book yesterday,  I noticed that the signature looked an awful lot like the name of the author, and that the inscription looked an awful lot like something an author would have written. After a quick Google search or two to verify the signature, I realized that I did in fact have a book signed by one of my favorite commercial architects of the 1950s (the designer of America’s first enclosed shopping mall, among other projects) and at a nice bargain price.

Randomly Wednesday

Wow. Is there anything you can’t get from Sears?

More random thoughts for a rainy Wednesday afternoon:

  • This amused me far too much this morning when I was stuck in the lab with not much else to do. I’d really like to see a similar one for San Francisco, but it’s not enough of a priority that I’m going to look for one right now, because…
  • I’m off to Fresno with my mom tomorrow for an early Christmas with Mark and the in-laws (and also for breakfast at the Chicken Pie Shop). There will be a brief lunch stop to see friends in San Francisco as well.
  • As of this morning, the semester from hell is more or less officially over me. The exciting bibliography is turned in, the giant XML file is done, and my contributions to the group project are complete, at least for now. Next semester, we’ll be trying to publish the damned thing.
  • Should you find yourself inclined to acquire one, be forewarned: Time Warner’s DVRs are garbage. Biggest pieces of shit I’ve ever seen. We’ve already given up on one and returned it, and the other will probably follow soon. It’s not just the lousy interface; the actual hard drives are no good, either.The great thing about our big switch, though, is that it’s made me realize I don’t watch much TV these days anyway, freeing us to save lost of money by moving back into the land of ghetto cable.
  • Off to Dewey’s now for sugar cake and Moravian cookies.

God, I Hate Flying

An air travel rant. Cliché, I know…

There’s a reason it’s been twelve years since I’ve travelled by plane for something that was purely a pleasure trip. No matter how hard you try and how far in advance you plan, it is nearly impossible not to get fucked (hard and without lube) when using those little sardine cans in the sky. It’s absolutely nothing I’d ever do voluntarily, and for the past decade or more, it’s been something I only do because of relatives who live on the other end of the country–first mine, now Mark‘s. The thought of taking a “fun” trip to someplace that’s only realistically accesible by plane has pretty much  evaporated for me over the years. I couldn’t imagine getting on a plane if I actually had a choice.

I woke up at 3:30, after managing to get about two hours sleep, to make a 6:20 flight with my mom that was booked two months ago, so we could get decent seats. Upon waking, I immediately learned we’d been re-booked on a flight leaving three hours later, and arriving four hours later. Aside from the special excitement of an extra hour in the Atlanta airport, there were, of course,  only middle seats left on the new flight. This is unpleasant news for most people. For someone of my size (and increasing level of claustrophobia), it almost inspires panic attacks. Seriously. I haven’t been able to get back to sleep thinking about it; I feel my chest tightening up and my heart pounding, and I even considered scrapping the whole trip for a second or two. This is one of my nightmares. That’s why I book so fair in advance; so I can avoid this scenario.

Yes, I understand that I don’t fly often and that frustrations like this are an everyday occurrence for people who do–like my poor husband, who has spent many nights in airports in the past few years. But that’s sort of the point. I would fly considerably more if it weren’t such a gut-wrenchingly miserable experience, and if there were some viable option between first class and hell.

Or if they at least provided lube…

He’s Back

Back from Fresno and other assorted points west. More later about:

  • Family.
  • Friends.
  • Vomit.
  • Machaca in Madera, pizza in San Francisco, waffles in Millbrae, and chicken pie omelettes in Fresno.
  • Loving my boy.
  • Running into someone I’ve “known” for years but had never actually met, on a travel day that was even more sucktastic for him than mine was for me.
  • Safeway Select Diet Grapefriut Soda.
  • The rather exciting fact that most radio stations in California seem to be broadcasting in Spanish these days.

Alarming Announcement

The Detroit Free Press announced yesterday that it will begin limiting home delivery of its print edition to three days a week starting early next year. Apparently, there will still be some sort of printed newspaper available on the other four days as well, but it will only be sold in stores and racks.

I find this pretty alarming, but not really unexpected. Smaller newspapers have been making similar announcements and cutbacks for quite some time, but this is a major metropolitan daily, and I’m pretty sure this won’t be the last such announcement. We’ve all been hearing for decades about how newspapers were on the way out. Seems it may finally be happening. And that’s sad, not just because it means the end of an institution that has been such an important part of history, but because it also signals the end of a very effective, compact, and convenient means of preserving that history in the future. A complete newspaper from, say, 1942 or 1959, is perhaps the quintessential pop culture artifact of its day; nothing else is really comparable.

I’m pretty comfortable accessing most of my information digitally, but barring a digital display tool that approximates the size and feel–but more importantly, the foldability and browsability–of a newspaper, it’s never going to be quite the same for me once the printed version finally disappears.


This son of a bitch stole an entire page from Groceteria, posted it on his own site (images linked directly from my server and all) without attribution and didn’t even include a link to the page he stole it from. Far be it from me to suggest that you add a comment telling him what you think of that, but…

By way of an update, the page was removed shortly after I commented on his site and made some creative edits to the photos he’d leeched.

Videolog: Behind the Wheel

Depeche Mode
Behind the Wheel, 1987

When I drag up images of myself living in Charlotte in the late 1980s, this is one of about half a dozen or so songs that are pretty much always playing in the background. Others come from such varied performers as The Leather Nun, Tones on Tail, The Information Society, The Cure, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, among others. Maybe I’ll feature some of the rest soon. Or maybe not.

‘Twas the Night After Christmas…

Christmas, family, food, etc. You know the drill. This year, we hosted my dad’s side of the family (a dwindling group, alas) and my mom took care of her side of the family, which meant she had a much bigger group to face.

Mark and I are off to Charleston WV, Pittsburgh, and Richmond for a week starting tomorrow morning.We’ll be giving the new (to us) Buick its first major road test, and hoping today’s three hundred bucks worth of repairs will have corrected all the problems we inherited with it.

Just in case this turns out to be the last post of 2008, happy New Year.

Winston-Salem to Charleston

We both needed a vacation. I needed to be surrounded by something a little more urban and Mark probably needed to be someplace a little less, well, San Francisco. We had a new (to us) Buick to break in. Charleston and Pittsburgh proved to be the perfect choice.

I’ve had a fetish for Pittsburgh since my very first visit in 1997. Even then, I thought it was both more aesthetically pleasing than San Francisco and also a more realistic place for mere mortals to live. I love the diners, the variety of neighborhoods, the fact that a viable working class coexists with a major collegiate presence, and that whole Rust Belt vibe. Pittsburgh has a very undeserved bad reputation as an ugly, grim, depressed sort of place. It’s not. It is, however, one of my favorite cities, and it’s probably the most likely big city I’d ever consider relocating to.

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But the trip started in Charleston, following a drive up a series of back roads that took us through Mt. Airy, Princeton, Beckley, and the Kanawha River Valley,a nd offered several Kroger locations for our convenience. Once in Charleston, we found an ancient Italian restaurant and had dinner before retiring to out stylish accommodations at the Kanawha City Red Roof Inn.



We started the day in beautiful downtown South Charleston at a diner called the Farm Table, which was nothing particularly special, but was more than adequate. We walked around the area a bit and then hit the car for the grand loop of South Charleston, Dunbar, and Charleston proper.

I was excited to find a smelly old Fas Chek supermarket in Dunbar that had opened as a Kroger more than fifty years before, and we were both excited to find what is apparently the West Side Urban Renewal Area, a streetcar strip with amazing old commercial buildings (most of them vacant) and also the Charleston Department Store. We liked the Charleston Department Store. It had pants in my size, which is an unsual and beautiful thing since most “big and tall” stores have the big part covered, but not the tall part, under the assumption that there are no tall fat people. I also found an abandoned pharmacy from the 1930s that I really want to live in.

Afterward, we made our way to downtown Charleston, where we strolled about and had cheap pizza for lunch.

The evening brought a trip to the more far-flung western suburbs of Nitro and St. Albans, where we found a Tim Horton’s for Mark and something resembling a Mexican restaurant for both of us.

Charleston to Pittsburgh


Breakfast was at Freeman’s Family Restaurant and Catering on the edge of downtown Charleston. It was a great little diner where everyone seemed to know everyone else (except, of course, for us). It was kind of an interesting neighborhood too.

After breakfact, we headed through Morgantown WV (which will, I think, require further study at a later date) toward Charelroi PA, where Mark’s dad was born. We’d visited Charleroi before, back in 2004, and thought it was sort of cool little town. In fact, the thought of buying a really cheap vacation home there had occurred to us (Mark fantasized about owning the old family homestead) and one of the goals of the trip was to spend a little more time there. And it was fun. We had lunch in an ancient hotel restaurant called Rego’s, which got me all warm and squishy amid the old people and their salads and soup. WE actually spent several hours in Charleroi, looking at houses and trying desperately to find postcards and stamps.

And then there was the library. Mark had planned to do some research there, using old city drirectories and maybe newspapers. Alas, this was not to be. Upon entering, we made the mistake of asking the reference librarian (OK, the only librarian) for help, and were told flat out that “nobody keeps stuff like that anymore because it’s all on the computer” and that the only people who might be able to help us were members of the historical society, who were only there one day a month or something. This woman was horrid. It wasn’t that she was rude, per se. She was just unwilling to help in any way. And she didn’t know what she was talking about; I’m pretty certain that Charleroi’s old city directories haven’t been digitized yet (and even so, wouldn’t the library be the one doing it?) and such items, as well as newspapers on microfilm, are available in most public libraries I’ve visted, no matter how small. As a library school student, I was appalled by her demeanor and her complete ignorance. Plus, she pretty much shat all over one of Mark’s primary reasons for visting the town.

End library rant.

After Charleroi, we continued up the back road to Pittsburgh through the Monongahela valley. By the time we arrived, we settled for a trip to Giant Eagle and some Chinese takeout before bed.

Pittsburgh, Day One


As all my  Pittsburgh trips do, this one started with breakfast at Ritter’s, which is a wonderful thing. It’s also a smoke-free thing now, but I imagine that it by legislation rather than by choice. All the same, it was nice.

Today, we did a slightly modified version of the Blue Belt tour of Pittsburgh For those not in the know, Pittsburgh has a system of color-coded belt routes around the city, cobbled together from existing streets (sort of like Route 4 in Charlotte). The Blue Belt is the closest in (not counting the Purple Belt, which is all downtown) and it’s a good tour of the Pittsburgh periphery, giving a glance at parts of the city proper (Shadyside, Spring Hill, Troy Hill)  as well as suburbs like Homestead, Dormont, Crafton, and McKees Rocks.

On a detour through the Northside, we wound up in need of lunch in an area where none was to be found. I really wanted to eat at the Modern Cafe, but when we walked in, we determined that it was much more bar than cafe. Sadly, it would be destryed by a fire thirty-six hours later, so maybe we should have risked it anyway, particularly since Wendy’s turned out to be the alternative.

Tonight was dinner with Mark’s friend Tina in Southside. It’s noce to hang out with a native (of the area, if not the city), especially one who just sort of gets it. Tina also has Charleroi connections. I requested that she use her powers to get the librarian from hell fired, but I’m not sure if that’s really likely.

Pittsburgh, Day Two

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We knew it was going to snow while we were in Pittsburgh and today was the day. There wasn’t really very much–an inch or two at most–but it kept stopping and starting all day. And it was cold.

We started out the day at Lindos on the Northside. We probably would have eaten there yesterday when the food panic hit, but they close at 3. After breakfast, it was off to Oakland to tour the assorted used bookstores off Forbes and Craig Streets near the universities. I really liked Caliban and Mark preferred Townsend. Across the street, I got to visit not just any Carnegie Library, but the Carnegie Library. That was kind of cool.

We made our way up to Mt. Washington and parked in the snow so we could take the incline down to Carson Street. This was our day for strolling and transit (and for finding that a lot of the places we wanted to go were closed early on New Year’s Eve). We had lunch at a pleasantly warm gyro place.

Dinner (yes, it’s all about the food) was at India Garden, which was offering a special New Year’s Eve buffet. My digestive system was very happy to have been reintroduced to vegetables at this point.

We brought in the New Year here atop the Fort Duquesne Bridge (on the pedestrian walkway, not in the car) and then strolled down to the Point. It was quite beautiful and inspiring. And freezing cold. We were apparently on the wrong side of downtown for the fireworks, but that wasn’t  a  big problem.