West Coastin’: Last Call

RT8_sushiIn those final days, our adventures kept us tethered close to Anaheim, cleaning our hotel rooms, gathering souvenirs, and worrying that the airport would not choose to jettison nearly a thousand dollars worth of wine (Mom’s frequent and incessant doubts, to be honest, worried me.  I imagined ourselves forced to drink thirty-six impounded bottles in the airport terminal only to miss our flight or have our stomachs pumped – whichever came first.).

At the time, we were quite content to remain within an hour of the hotel.  Mostly we focused on our stomachs, sampling local bakeries and restaurants recommended by various family and friends . . . and the internet.  I should note here that this form of research notoriously tests wills and tempers, breaking friendships and ruining meals to the tune of ‘But . . . but they said it was good!’ and ‘How can so many people be wrong?’

Advice as Tolkien writes often is a dangerous gift . . . as all courses may run ill.  Yet in the case of dining, this can be taken quite literally.  A bad meal can ruin evenings, sending the unlucky diner tumbling into the bathroom, hugging about the toilet for days.  Good advice is of course aimed to prevent this, yet even precluding sickness, the combination of high expectations, modest fare, and poor atmosphere alone may ruin any meal.

Many people have a habit of recommending hole-in-the-wall restaurants, small cramped cafes tucked away from the mainstream and thus more expensive dining halls, promising excellent fare and original tastes in exchange for unassuming environments (i.e. fly-encrusted tables and claustrophobic dining where you are practically sitting in your neighbor’s pasta bowl).  In such cases, originality and a good story or two is the true fare, not the food.  At one such diner back home, my efforts to dislodge myself from the table and visit the bathroom nearly forced the entire dining room out into the street.

I never relish throwing away money on expensive meals, yet the old maxim often holds true: you get what you pay for.

Yet as mentioned before, the driving force for this trip was food, and so we chose two restaurants recommended by friends and family back home before flying home.  In both cases, the restaurants were stationed an hour from Anaheim’s border, and so once again we boarded our Sebring for another road trip.

RT8_bakeryOur first stop gave us hope.  The Karen Krasne bakery in San Diego greeted us with dozens of freshly made cakes, pies, cookies, and assorted baked goods.  Apparently the selection constantly changes depending on the whims and moods of the cooking staff, thus no dessert menu is given; our waitress asked us to step up front and select from the gooey pastries, creamy custards, and chocolate dripped cakes.  Moreover, the entire staff was made up of well-dressed women, a charming feature for three guys on vacation.

“You guys should look in the back,” Dasad said, returning from the bathroom just as his chocolate sundae arrived layered in home-made chocolate syrup.  I dug into my own dish: shredded coconut blended with dark chocolate and molded into the shape of an evergreen tree.  Our waitress, a beautiful blonde model, smiled at three of us digging into our desserts.

“What?  Did you see them make anything?” I asked, patting the chocolate from my lips.

“No, it’s just that everyone in the back is rather . . . homely or male.  They must shuttle all the beautiful girls to the front.  Keep the . . . less than ideal staff in the back.”

“For presentation purposes?”

“Sure, helps with the elegant look, right?  If you’re running a restaurant, you don’t assign a cranky morbid waiting staff.  You get someone perky and energetic, keeps the customers happy.  Restaurants have décor, atmosphere: paint, landscapes, stained wood . . .”

“. . . basketball hoops, jungle gyms, giant rat mascots,” I added helpfully.  Jay ignored us both and stared without reserve at the bartender, drying martini glasses near the cash register.

“Shut it.  My point is why not hire attractive people too?”  Dasad asked pointing his spoon at me.

“Well, the reverse might be more accurate also,” I said, after some consideration.  “Happy competent people are more beautiful, thus more likely to serve food.”

“Perhaps.   Anyway, I’m not complaining and it’s not sleazy.  They don’t sell wings and tank tops.  The separation was just very apparent to me.”

“That’s cause you’re a perv,” I said, chewing on coconut.

“Shut it . . .”

RT8_cakesSatisfied both body and soul, we waddled outside with three slices of chocolate cake.  Our gastronomic odyssey continued.  Dasad’s cousins had made mention that a truly great roasted chicken dwelled in the heart of L.A. so after dessert we drove north to see about dinner, finding the small establishment in a small strip mall just off Sunset.  It was a little past four when we passed through Anaheim and collided with rush hour traffic into L.A.  Moreover, neither Jay nor Dasad knew where to go, and after consulting Google (Thank Heaven for the iPhone; without the maps, restaurant reviews, and Journey videos – ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ is essential for the long car rides – we would not have survived.), we located the place on the corner of what looked like a strip mall.

Parking was sparse, but we found a space wedged against the wall of the next building, adorn with graffiti and ‘Spaces for Customers Only’ signs.  We kicked coffee cups across the small lot before entering what looked like a school cafeteria: plastic neon orange seats, wobbling tables, overhead menus misspelling chicken with the number 1.  Not exactly what I imagined but honestly, having arrived, the unassuming atmosphere excited me a great deal.

“Finally,” I thought, “A genuine culinary diamond-in-the-rough, known to few, appreciated by only the culinary elite.   The perfect fried chicken . . .”

Yeah.  So the chicken was . . . well, chicken.  Nothing particularly interesting or special.  The seasoning – if any – was on par with the local supermarkets here in Maryland.  Based upon the recommendations, we had expected something extraordinary, a gastronomic masterpiece: savory chicken rotisserie, a roasted bird dry rubbed in garlic and oregano, dribbled with succulent juices, perhaps even infused with warm stuffing or berry compote.  Instead they handed us an animal one would expect beneath the heat lamp at 7-Eleven: good but hardly worth the commendation.

Our late night snack . . .

Our late night snack . . .

The meal had a similar effect on Dasad who as I recall cried aloud at the lack of hearty seasonings.   Yet last weekend, a month after returning to Maryland (our wine arrived safely much to Mom’s chagrin and utter joy) while driving out for a late evening flick (The Invention of Lying in case you’re wondering; another disappointment) I learned that online reports seem to have affected a change of heart:

“You know that chicken wasn’t that bad,” he admitted.  “In fact, it was probably the . . . best I’ve ever had.”

“You said it sucked at the time,” I countered calmly.  “That the bird had no real flavor.  That to Californians, chicken must be some rare delicacy in order for this ‘meal’ – I believe you used the air quotes – to entice so many . . .”

“I did not use air quotes.”

“Okay . . . but you did suggest KFC might be more authentic . . .”

“Yeah but . . .”

“Also if Gordon Ramsey had visited the place, he would have F-bombed the whole block to outer rims of Hell.”

“Alright already,” Dasad said, sighing behind the wheel. “I had expected more, but so many people online praise it.  We must have missed something.  Millions of people can’t be wrong . . . whoaaaa!” The car suddenly braked, veering to the shoulder as a herd of deer bounce nonchalantly across the highway

“Millions of people oppose hunting too,” I muttered as the Acura crept tentatively onto the highway again.  “Experience is everything.  My point is you tasted the chicken and left unimpressed.  I remember that much.  How can you be swayed otherwise?”

Dasad seemed to consider this a bit, diverting his attention every so often at the trees to the right of the car.

“No . . .,” he said finally. “We probably just did not order the right thing.  Like that In & Out Burger.  Apparently there’s a secret burger that’s not on the menu.  Everyone orders it, but you have to know.  We couldn’t because we didn’t.  Yet those who have tasted the burger say it’s incredible.”

“What?  Do they press two layers of paper-thin patties together?  Add more lettuce, tomatoes, and secret sauce to make the burger appear thicker?  To hide the absence of real meat?” I asked sardonically, trying to flush out my own feelings for these on-line gourmands.  Unrivaled majority support for anything only proves to heighten my suspicions.

“Either way you order it, dude, it’s still fast-food.  They don’t keep fresh ground beef stored in the freezer waiting for some knowledgeable customer to speak the secret code and unlock the invisible menu.  Pleease . . . just accept your own first impressions.  It sucked . . . deer to the left”

“See ‘em.”  This herd feasted peacefully in the middle median, potential torpedoes ready to leap into traffic.  “So what’s for dinner?”

“Uh . . . Sushi?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Good, a month after California and I’m dying for yellowtail.  The last month has been murder too.  Wanderlust has set again . . .”

“Ha,” Dasad laughed.  “Whereto now?  Montana?  Mexico?  Europe?”

“Or Japan,” I smiled.  “You know me . . . I won’t be happy until we’ve circumnavigated the globe.  In the meantime, turn up the radio.  You can hear my warbled voice until we reach the restaurant.”


And so our journey to the West Coast ended.  We’ve only opened one bottle of the wine so far – Mom learned of the cost and refuses to open more.  I’m still considering our next destination, possibly overseas or near a comic convention.  Dasad and Jay returned to their jobs in good spirits, while I returned to my laptop and my stories.  All in all it was a great time.  In closing, I wanted to post some traveling music, a song that sped up time through wine country and back down to San Diego again in our cramped Sebring.  Thankfully our caterwauls have been excluded from this version:


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West Coastin’: Daring Disney

RT7_rocksDasad, I discovered had never experienced the beautiful chaos that is the Disney theme parks.  This realization shocked me a little, as Dad has our yearly exodus to Florida planned and booked at least a year in advance (Typically, the week after returning to Maryland, growls are heard, demanding our schedules for next summer).  Visiting the familiar turnstiles and tourist-packed ‘lands’ percolate the senses the way home-baked cookies must entice wayward travelers.  The cries of children, the scent of sugar roasted almonds, and even the sight of swollen lines carried the sweet warmth of remembrance, of past adventures en mass: nearly twenty or so brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, mothers, fathers, and grandparents.  Nearly a continent away, I walked through the park nevertheless enervated, ready to show my friends an excellent time.

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West Coastin’: Of Meals and Temples

‘Last scene of all

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’

Our post-Mass breakfast

Our post-Mass breakfast

Sunday morning, crawling to the bathroom, my sense of touch had the nerve to up and leave me.  Even after stubbing my toe on one of the wine boxes, the numbing sensation in my accelerator foot had lingered long after escaping our Sebring; moreover, my sense of balance insisted that my body was floating underwater.  This of course pointed towards some livid dreamscape, and as I lay there considering the possibility of that mermaid appearing again, Dasad woke.  Damn.  Another night Ariel, my love.

“Dude, what are you doing?”

“Wondering why I lost feeling in my legs . . .”

“No, on the floor,” he yawned.

“Oh, I tripped over one of the boxes in the dark.  On the way to the bathroom.  So very dark in here,” I pondered.  “When you close the blinds like this, its amazing how inclined you are to believe it’s two in the morning.”

“It is two.  Go back to sleep.”

NOTE: I may have imagined all this.  Throughout much of the trip, the line between dream and reality continued to fade and establish itself elsewhere, like the world seen through the bottom of a wine glass.

At any rate, we woke (later?) Sunday morning quite exhausted and indescribably drained from our six-hour exodus to Anaheim, in no mood whatsoever for early morning mass.  Yet sloth could not have its way.  Mothers – especially mine – possess an innate knowledge of their children’s foibles, both mortal and venial, and before we got that phone call, I roused our troops early and ushered them out the door.

The theater at Downtown Disney

The theater at Downtown Disney

Mass in California differs little from services back home.  My presence was still something of a minority, trading in a congregation of aging seniors for young Hispanics and Asians.  Nor did I quite grasp the point of the homily, a heavily accented digression into the meaning of faith, a topic which my own pastor would have muddled with several multi-layered tangents and an unnecessary explanation of didacticism – whatever that means.  Even the church’s heavily stylized windows displays and murals complimented my own: a tangled collage of pictures and symbols buried deep within colorful stained glass, like something by Seurat broken and reassembled with Jolly Rancher shards.  Yet Anaheim’s depiction of the Annunciation of Mary gave me pause.

Along one of the walls, Mary communes with an aged angel; in their midst a dove descends, a red beam fired from the bird’s beak pierces the Blessed Mother.

“It was like a holy laser beam had been shot into her chest,” I remarked afterwards to a yawning Dasad.  “I realize the need to conceptualize the Holy Spirit as something more than swirling air currents and fireballs, but doesn’t the divine ‘pregnancy ray’ oversimplify things a little too much.  Hell, they probably stole the idea from a Superman comic.”

“You would know,” Dasad muttered.  “So what’s the plan for today?  LA?  San Diego?”

“You said something about a triple feature.  A day to kick back and watch movies.”

“Okay . . . yeah, let’s do that.  It’d be good to do nothing for one day.”

I refuse to bore you with many of the details that followed.  As is often the case, these rare relaxing moments seldom translate well as good stories, while relating our ubiquitous humiliations and regrets often prove rather interesting – if not downright amusing.  We decided on three flicks, just recently released and from various genres:

  • Ponyo – a child’s fable, but nonetheless whimsical and beautifully told
  • District 9 – awesome and intelligent; excellent science fiction
  • 500 Days of Summer – if you’ve ever downloaded specific music tracks simply to attract a girl; or abhor dating; or simply enjoy honest funny movies

So excellent was the theater fare that without realizing it, we ate little else but stories for the remainder of the day.

You see, good tales possess a unique aroma, such that one might discuss an excellent tale with the same enthusiasm some reserve for fine cuisine or century-old merlot.  This analogy may be a bit off-putting to some, like my sister Katie, who suffers through most books like a sick child with castor oil, yet for bibliophiles the metaphor is all too accurate.  In my time, many books of such excellent vintage have incited periods of prolonged fasting and isolation (the night I discovered Harry Potter springs to mind), only to emerge again physically weak but nonetheless spiritually enervated several days later.

Excellent stories, thus, provide food for the soul.  And if the soul dies, the body follows shortly, right?  Therefore, reading is more important than food . . . or breathing.  For this reason and more, my family worries for my health and sanity.

Nevertheless, having fed our souls well, we left the theater satisfied and finally able to focus on our all-too-needy stomachs.  Late night dining (a little after ten) is sketchy at best, limiting hungry patrons to stale burgers or scraped bean paste wrapped in doughy tortillas.   Luckily we found a 24-hr Subway across the street from the hotel, wedged in between a Mexican take-out and Chinese restaurant that sold grease spiced with chicken fat (noodles were extra).  Jay opted for Chinese and Dasad tempted the Fates by ordering Mexican.  All in all the movies were better, and we returned to the hotel with satisfied hearts and stomachs in need of Alka-Seltzer.

NOTE: the bathroom at the theater was enormous and clean.  This may sound like an unusual topic to mention in closing but those who have traveled far through many a gas station or rest stop restroom can appreciate the joy of stumbling across clean public bathrooms.  It was breathtaking that I actually took a picture of it (thank the weekly matinees that it was empty).

So clean!

So clean!

West Coastin’: Geek Out

RT6_kenwoodThe next morning after a breakfast of oatmeal and microwaved egg sandwiches, we emptied our rooms of bags and wine-stuffed boxes.  Now I mentioned earlier that Dasad had rented a Chrysler Sebring for our travels, a nice unimposing number with four doors, three passengers, and no retractable hood.  The little gray wisp of a car had wandered much of the state with us and performed admirably, but loading the car that morning, the lack of space proved quite a hindrance, much like stuffing an elephant into a clown car.

“So . . . um dude,” I asked, after loading our three wine boxes.  “Where are we going to throw the bags?”

In addition to Jay’s and my bags, Dasad had brought this immense rolling sea chest, which, apart from containing all his earthly possessions, did not fold or bend very well.  In the end we stacked everything in the backseat: suitcases, book bags, food, souvenirs, maps, and somewhere at the bottom of it all, Jay.   Leaving the hotel, I imagined our car as those station wagons you see in Walmart parking lots, stuffed to the brim with bags of clothing, Tupperware, trash, blenders, and every known species of plastic dog, bobbing their heads on dashboard mounts.

We visited Kenwood and V. Sattui Wineries to fill in those extra nooks and crannies left in our boxes, and drove back to San Francisco.

RT6_japantownNow as mentioned before, the driving force behind this trip lie with the stomach: to eat authentic Japanese cuisine and imbibe mass quantities of authentic Californian wine.  So far, so good.  Yet apart from the woman in Pismo with the Muppet-mouth, we encountered few instances that truly proved weird or unusual.  My soul thrives off that stuff, one of the reasons I suggested the Wizard World convention at the conclusion of our last cross-country trip.  Also because I like comics.  They make me happy.

As we retraced our steps from last night, I noticed a few of the streets had been closed off, barricaded for the festival.

“Look at the crowds here, dude.  It’s just like the con last month.”

“Yeah, but no sweaty basement dwellers.  The general public.  And if my eyes don’t deceive me, girls!”

“There were girls at the con.”

“The ones here aren’t dressed like Princess Leia.”

“Yeah, okay . . . so it isn’t perfect, but for authentic Japanese ramen, I won’t hold it against them.”

The street between the Kintetsu and Miyako malls, which we visited the previous night, and the NEW PEOPLE J-pop Center had been closed off earlier that morning to accommodate the expected crowds arriving for the center’s grand opening.  Long lines streamed out the three-story glass building, housing a menagerie of Japanese pop culture artifacts including manga, anime, art, cinema, and music.  An ideal locale to whet my otaku appetite, yet spying that the crowds nearly encompassed the entire block, we opted to return to the malls for lunch and some shopping.

"Soba, udon or ramen?"

"Soba, udon or ramen?"

Before finding the entrance, we walked through the street festival, sniffing at various foods and pouring through the works of local manga artists.  Dasad found a Bubble Tea stand, attended by kawaii girls in maid attire, who smiled and bowed as we slurped our tapioca.  In the town center, J-pop and J-rock bands sang and screamed (respectively), while nearby otaku tried forming mosh pits with proud parents and any curious visitor who happened by.  We found the mall’s entrance hidden behind a group of teens in Guy Fawkes masks, offering free hugs in addition to the sensation of being violated by a man in a mask.  No extra charge.

Inside we settled for a small ramen café near the hibachi grill from the previous evening.  Now for the record, Japanese ramen is good.  Very very good.  For those of you reading this, nodding your head with a Cup O’Noodles in your hands, I can only say that you know nothing.  The broth was delicious, the noodles fresh, the vegetables real.  I even splurged for a bowl of curried rice, as an apology to our waitress for trying to fake my way out of a language dispute.

“Ramen, udon, or soba?” our waitress asked.  Her accent and my bad hearing contributed to my confusion and ultimately not understanding what was being asked of me.

“Um . . .” I said scanning my menu for clues.  “Uh, I think I’ll try . . . white?  And an iced tea?”

Her eyes told me that I had guessed incorrectly.

“Uh . . .” I muttered, returning to the menu again.  Ummm . . .”  The type of rice?  Pick two sides?  Pork or tofu?

“She’s asking you for the type of noodles, dude,” Dasad clarified helpfully.

“Oh, uh . . . udon, please.  Thank you.”

She nodded and left gratefully, delivering the orders behind swinging door to spit in the white guy’s food unseen.

“You know, Murph,” Dasad chastened.  “You could have just asked her to repeat it instead of masking your ignorance.”

“I didn’t want to be a burden,” I sighed.

“So instead you made yourself a fool,” he noted.

“Yeah,” I groaned, my head in my hands.  “It’s just not in me to ask questions.  When in doubt, research.  If that fails, fumble about awkwardly until the question is repeated.  Thanks for the save, by the way.”

“Happy to oblige,” Dasad laughed.  “I just wish I remembered to pull out my camera and videotape the whole thing.  That lost-puppy look alone is like gold on Youtube.”

“Thanks,” I said, sighing again.

Ms. Teana-Lanster

Ms. Teana-Lanster

Despite everything, the food was quite good — with no evidence of our hostess’s displeasure.  We left then to sample some of Jay’s crepes and gaze at PVC figures of gun-toting ninjas.  Though hoping for some intriguing sculpture or game, I encountered nothing of interest, which disappointed Dasad some, I think, as my temperance afforded him no opportunity for ridicule.  Not that he refused to try anyway, drawing my attention to several poorly dressed heroines and loudly asking if I saw their pantsu, their panties.

“Oooo . . . black,” he squealed.  “Hey Murph, did you see these?  White and blue stripes! Kinky.”

I quickly left before my friend made his way to the adult ‘ero’ section.

In the next store, Jay drew our attention to the Japanese DVD release of the latest Miyazaki film, Ponyo.  The film had just been released at theaters with English dub, and I suggested we spend an afternoon at the theater soon.  My companions seemed eager to catch a flick; Dasad even suggesting we waste a whole day at the movies.

“A triple feature,” he said.  “After all the traveling up and down the coast, we could use a day to sit back and just relax.”

Stawberries, chocolate, whipped cream, and ice cream.  Mmmmm . . .

Stawberries, chocolate, whipped cream, and ice cream. Mmmmm . . .

It was close to two o’clock by the time we decided to leave.  The crowds continued to pour onto the streets, and even browsing through the claustrophobic aisles of the local supermarket proved slow work, like those squirrel mazes in the Ranger Rick magazines (Help Mr. Nibbles escape with his nuts to the old willow tree).  Our time in San Francisco had ended; we hopped into our overloaded Sebring and drove south.

Five or six hours later, just before reaching our hotel, hunger struck our small Chrysler, prompting us to stop at the local In And Out Burger in Burbank.  The parking lot was stacked with teenagers and other shady age groups including short old women in Cadillacs  and forty-year old accountants on motorcycles and mopeds.  Dasad felt certain we were going to die.  Or get robbed.  Or both and then sold to the local medical school for surgical demonstrations.

“Dude, I don’t think our car is safe here.”

“Don’t worry,” I said calmly.  “If anything happens, it’ll probably cascade into murder, not theft.”

“As long as no one takes our car, that’s fine.  Remember we still have thirty-six bottles of expensive wine in the trunk.”

Honestly, I had considered opening up a bottle for dinner that night, toasting our successful bounty from the north over burgers and fries, but glancing at the packed crowds inside, I thought better of it.  They might have insisted we share!

We ordered our burgers and sat down next to a group of college-age teens, discussing movie trivia, which I suppose is common among Burbank youth.  Jay came back with our food, and I dug into what was to be the worst burger I have ever eaten in my life.  At least for the three bucks I paid for it.  Admittedly, the vegetables were nice and fresh, but the meat, a thin sliver of beef, was non-existent, nearly half the thickness of a slider, nearly melting into the bun.  Thankfully I had ordered a milkshake too, and we quickly waddled out to the car left Burbank in our dust – which they probably collected, froze, reheated, slapped together with lettuce and tomato, and sold for three dollars.  Mmmmmm . . .

Next: Why aliens and humans will never breed, and Disneyland dreamin’.

West Coastin’: I left my heart . . . where?

RT6_warfAfter visiting Fisherman’s Wharf for some authentic Boudin sourdough, we made our way along the water to Gheribelli Square for a tour of their modest chocolate shop. Dasad poked his head into a gourmet cupcake place, buying three small cakes for about twelve bucks.  Frankly I doubted the value of a four dollar dessert, which my mouth could consume easily in two bites, but my friend assured me it was worth the price.

“You don’t know, because you haven’t tasted.  If you did, you would know.”

“If knowing means shelling out four bucks for a lousy cupcake,” I remarked, “then ignorance is bliss, man.  I’ll take my watered down iced tea and sugar substitute any day.”

“Weirdo.”

He placed the box on the sidewalk, removing one of the small cakes and placed it atop the lid.  Then adjusting his camera, he proceeded to subject the poor dessert to a mid-street photoshoot.  Jay and I stood back and watched.  He said nothing for the next several minutes, snapping shot after shot, moving only to adjust the perspective or catch the fading daylight. In my whimsy and boredom, I imagined his interior dialogue similar to a Vogue photographer, demanding and masochistic:

“Fabulous!  Now growl for me baby.  Yeaah!  Like an animal.  Strike the sexy pose.  Beautiful!  Beat me.  Whip me!  You make me want to come over there and tear into you.  Incredible!”

Rowr!

Rowr!

Others scurried quickly by, possibly sensing the intensity of the shoot and the risk a rogue shadow or misplaced foot might incur.   Most however fled in fear, frightened that the Asian man with the cupcake might accost them with a few 8x10s and a dozen wallets.

We walked down to the waterfront then, near the Maritime National Historic Park, where swimmers weaved laps in the man-made lagoon between colored buoys; ferries, tugboats and century-old clippers bobbed up and down nearby, reminding the athletes why mankind never evolved fins.  Accustomed to the murky corpse-laden waves of the Inner Harbor, watching the divers spit water in and out of their mouths made me sick, and we decided to continue our tour along a concrete walkway that extended out into the bay, forming the north-western edge of the lagoon.  Most of the path appeared damaged, cracked and crumbling into the sea, and thus barricaded for repairs.

“Watch how you’re holding the box, Jay!” Dasad shouted as I stared across the sun-drenched fog at the Golden Gate Bridge.  “You’ll smear the icing!”

“Huh,” Jay shrugged.  “I wasn’t tilting it or anything.”

“There’s a right way and a wrong way.  I thought it was common sense.  Look half the chocolate is on the box.”

“The heat probably had something to do with it, man,” I said.  “You can’t expect to carry that stuff around without messing them up a little.  Why don’t we just eat them now?”

Dasad said nothing – I took that to mean ‘No’ – but took control of the box as we continued our walk around the Maritime Park.

By now, long time readers should be accustomed to my frequent use of hyperbole, such that my friend often criticizes (i.e. mocks) my reliance on (i.e. addiction to) superlatives:

  • ‘Dasad, come play Arkham Asylum.  It’s the best game I’ve ever played, ever,’
  • ‘Hey Dasad, did you click on that Youtube link, I sent you?  Wasn’t that AMV the greatest thing you’ve ever seen in your whole entire life?’
  • ‘Mankind, only really needs three things: iced tea, books, and a store to purchase both.  Everything else can pretty much be jettisoned into the sun.’

RT6_goldengateThus, I suppose that my opinion carries little weight in the eyes of true cynics, yet I assure you that staring at the city from the mouth of the bay ranks as one of the most beautiful sights on our trip.  San Francisco seems to roll, undulating as it approaches the water like an ocean current,  dragging its inhabitants — not unwillingly — towards the shore and out to sea.  Of all the cities this country bumpkin has visited in his short life, most thick with smog, murder, refuse, and hobos (I’m looking at you Denver), San Francisco alone captured my heart.

While my friend snapped a few shots of Alcatraz, I noticed the fog had lifted around the Golden Gate Bridge.  Sailboats gliding across the foreground made for some nice shots, and turning, my feet accidentally kicked Dasad’s cupcake box, sending it skidding a few feet and into a shallow pothole.  Oops!  Grimacing, I forced my eyes upward, but he hadn’t noticed (or decided to say nothing).  Jay had though and made for the railing to laugh.  How the collision would damage the integrity of the cake, I can’t say, but to be careful I gave the box a wide berth and made for the rail.

RT6_sanfranAfter a few hours, we left the waterside and drove eastward towards the baseball stadium to meet up with Dasad and Jay’s cousins, who live in town.  The couple who I will – with their forgiveness – name George and Alice for the sake of anonymity were quite kind and offered to take us out for dinner.  We admitted not having visited Chinatown yet, but upon hearing that our raison d’etre in California was to sample authentic Japanese cuisine, we drove off towards Japantown.

“Yeah, so the mall extends throughout the both these blocks,” George said, parking beneath an extensive shopping complex that spanned nearly two blocks, connected through various bridges and outside auditoriums.  “The food here is great, if you know where to go.  Otherwise it gets a bit touristy, though never as bad as Chinatown.”

We emerged into the mall, decorated with banzai trees and small ponds with trickling waterfalls.  Several of the signs and notices taped on store windows were written entirely in Japanese.  I recognized a few characters, but not enough to piece together the advertisement.  Still pretty awesome for an otaku, obsessed with Japanese culture.  They even had a taiyaki stand and a noodle shop and a . . .

“Jay.  Jay!” I whispered.  “Look an anime shop!”

As do I, Hello Kitty.  As do I.

As do I, Hello Kitty. As do I.

One of the local stores befitted their window display with Gundams, figures of sword hacking female ninjas, and Pokemon cards.  Further down the corridor, we passed a bookstore stacked with Japanese novels, magazines, and row upon row of un-translated manga.  Then atop the land-bridge connecting the next block’s shopping center, we passed a small sushi café, which entertained guests with Miyazaki films from hanging television screens: Kiki’s Delivery Service and Howl’s Moving Castle.  Just below shelves of translated Naruto and One Piece manga to peruse while dining, with cat-eared waitresses balancing orders in frill-laden dresses.

“Dude, I’ve died and gone to heaven.  This is where geeks go, when they’ve been good and refuse to download fan subs.  I’m sure of it.”

Jay elbowed me and pointed to several kids, feasting on fruit-wrapped crepes.  Whipped cream and chocolate left their marks on their faces, but no one seemed to mind.

“Are crepes even Japanese?” Dasad asked.

“Who cares,” Jay said, nearly licking his lips.  “They look delicious.”

“Look downstairs.”  My two companions gazed where I gestured franticly.  “A noodle shop.  Like in Naruto!  We can get some honest to goodness Japanese ramen.”

“And strawberry ice-cream crepes with bananas!”

“And anime and ninja-girl figures!”

“Yeah,” Dasad sighed.  “Too bad we’re leaving tomorrow.  Shame really.”

RT6_crepeThe realization undermined our enthusiasm a bit, much like a torpedo beneath a merchant vessel.  Jay and I began to pout, when Dasad’s cousin pointed out a flyer taped on the window of the restaurant.  In bright colors and English text, we read that tomorrow Japantown would hold a Kawaii! Festival, featuring live Japanese J-pop bands, the grand opening of a museum to Japanese pop culture, and a loli fashion show.

“Hmmm . . . maybe we could stay for another afternoon,” Dasad mused poring over the leaflet.

“What changed your mind?” I asked with a smile.  “The museum opening or the nubile goth fashion show, young girls in frills and lace?”

He would never say, citing something about needing to taste authentic ramen and bubble tea, but both Jay and I suspected otherwise.  The dirty old man.

RT6_habachiFor dinner, we ate a hibachi-style restaurant, equipped with gas-powered grills in the middle of our table, where we cooked our meals ourselves.  Back home, I was more accustomed to the teppanyaki Japanese steakhouses, where chefs wheel in their carts full of raw chicken and shrimp to our table, whirling their knives and ignite billowing holocausts that left my uncle petrified and missing an eyebrow last June.  Here in San Francisco, we ordered a vast array of raw meats bathed in various sauces to be grilled ourselves over tabletop hibachis.  The concept at first struck me as rather lazy (‘So we’re paying you for the honor of cooking our own food?’) but proved rather fun in the end.

We left the restaurant long after closing, our bellies full and absent of – noticeable – E. coli poisoning (Wahoo!).  The waiters waved us off, eager I’m sure to finish cleaning our late night feast and tuck in themselves.   For our part, the hour was late, and we planned to visit one or two wineries before returning to the city; and so after many thanks to Dasad’s cousins for the tour and the excellent meal, we returned to our hotel.

Dasad opened the cupcake box then, and we held off sleep for one last midnight snack.  My friend reveled in their taste and exquisite flavor, decadent chocolate and smooth icing.  I downed mine in two bites, relishing the delicious flavor of four whole dollars sliding down my gullet.

My dreams that night were filled with exploits of zombies (a house favorite in my nocturnal theater) rampaging through the local malls, where I whittled away my hours slaying undead hordes and perusing shelves stocked with anime and video games.  A vision!  I prayed so.

Tomorrow: Japantown, Disneyland and our day of rest.

West Coastin’: Popping Corks

RT4_grapesHaving arrived in Napa, we immediately passed out at the FairField Inn.  Just not from alcohol.  That was the second day.  The first day’s stupor resulted from the combined exhaustion of a long drive through San Francisco traffic, restless night’s sleep in a soggy Monterey motel, and irritation from discovering most hotels in Napa booked or overpriced.  Moreover, the sun seemed stronger in the heart of the valley, and after a busy morning watching fish and eating chowder, we needed a few hours to do absolutely nothing.  And a bathroom.  Again.

“So . . . uh, guys, I may have to use the loo soon,” I said as we left downtown Napa and its collection of occupied over-priced hotels.  “Just so . . . you know.”

“No prob,” Dasad said, now driving.  “Let’s check out Sonoma first.  It shouldn’t be that far away and I’m sure they’ll have something.  Can you hold it?”

“Uh, sure, I’m okay . . . for now.”

“Good.”

Of the many benefits derived from Catholic schooling, learning how to effectively hold one’s bladder ranks near the top of the list.  Leaving the classroom in the midst of lessons would often let loose Sister’s wrath, and so I learned to wait for hours ‘til break or lunch to slip out and do my business.  This skill has come into handy many times since: driving home early in the morning, sitting through organic chemistry lectures just before mid-term, The Lord of the Rings movies.  The trick is to focus your mind away from the body outwards, toward the world around you: simple things that do not require much analysis.  Like road signs.

“Welcome.  To.  Sonoma.  County.  Population.  Four-hundred.  Sixty-six. Thousand.”  Though typically, I only read aloud as a last resort.

“What are you doing?”  Dasad’s short drive to Sonoma after several lights and one slow-moving truck has taken fifteen minutes.

“Reading.  When the pressure gets too high I try to regain focus.  Otherwise . . .”

“Huh, does that really work?”

“. . . yes,” I muttered, calming myself.  We closed in on the truck.  “McDonalds.  Over One Million.  Served.”

“Shoot, okay.  Jay, look out for 12 North.”

“California.  AJ378K.”

“Should we head back?” Jay asked, laughing.  Something about my predicament seemed to humor him.

“Deally Lane.  Domaine Carneros.  Vineyards.  Next. Right.”

“Um . . .,” Dasad paused.  “No, we’ll be alright.  Hang in there Murph.”

“Love. That. Chicken from.  Popeye’s.”

“Better grab an empty Snapple bottle just in case,” Dasad said turning right.

RT4_vineyardFinally veering onto Route 12, we passed through a small town with a few banks and one or two small strip malls.  Dasad turned into an empty gas station.  I nearly tore my seat buckle off and, toppling from the car, walked quickly toward the station office.  The door did not open.  I tried it again.  And again.  Looking inside, I realized no one was there and that the station was probably closed or abandoned.  Unsure of where to go next, my feet carried my swollen body down the sidewalk, much like a sun-soaked legionnaire mindlessly chasing a mirage.  Faintly I heard Dasad yelling after me, but my legs ignored him for the bush in the adjacent yard.  Jay caught me before I drifted into traffic and pushed me back towards the car.

“There’s a Subway on the other side.  Come on!” he said.

“Five.  Dollar.  Foot.  Long.”  I mumbled seconds from exploding.

We parked, and I wandered inside, allowing Jay to order just in case the bathroom was for paying customers only.  Then I feigned nonchalance: “I’m going to use the loo real quick, while you’re ordering guys, okay?”  I stared at the cashier, daring her to stop me before ordering an Italian BMT.  Receiving no challenge, I rushed inside and experienced two minutes of pure bliss.

Dasad and Jay were hunched over, nearly laughing on the floor.  I just smiled and ordered my sub:  ‘Club sandwich, please, and a  large iced tea.’  Sometimes habit trumps wisdom, especially when tea leaves are involved.


The hills and valleys of Napa and Sonoma were rife with unexpected magic and beauty.  They were also hot as Hell, and with our bodies flush with wine, the cool breeze that arrived late in the day, as we toured Cline Vineyards came as a relief.  The cashiers at Cline’s likewise proved quite kind and generous with their samples, offering free tastes and ample volumes.  Walking off to join the tour, our glasses full with a subtle and delicious pinot grigio, Dasad and Jay began to waver some.

“Ugh, I can’t drink anymore, dude,” Dasad sighed.  “Anymore and you’re going to have to drag me to the car.”

We had began the morning at Sterling Vineyards, one of Mom’s favorite vineyards and lying farther up the road near Calistoga, the perfect place to begin our tour of the valleys.  In order to visit the vineyard, visitors must board a gondola which carries them to the hilltop facility and tasting center.  The whole ‘ride’ angle reminded me of Disney World and gave my imagination ample fodder to feed upon: Cask Mountain, Riesling of the Caribbean, and a stationary teacup ride, where you drink merlot until the world spins.

I suggested as much to Dasad, but he was busy practicing his Engrish to pay me any heed.

“Country rooooads, take me hooome . . . To da praaaace I berooooong . . .”

At Sterling, tours are self-guided with tasting stations scattered along the way.  We tasted pinot noir and an unforgettable white wine – whose name at the moment escapes me – taking pictures of steel vats and enormous barrels.  Occasionally we would . . .

“Me no want wahta.  Want ahss cream.”

Ahem, yes so . . . the Engrish. Throughout the drive, we encountered numerous non-native Americans, visiting or working here in the States.  As such, we played at mimicking accents, returning the favor for some sidelong glances at my Baltimore ‘O,’ hon.  Anyway it was a great way of wasting a few minutes, driving through the mostly unremarkable scenery from Monterey.  After several hours of hillsides and sun burnt grass, it grew into an addiction.  Then while walking to our rooms that morning, we passed an aging Asian grandmother in a roller, screaming at her grandchildren for Rocky Road.  It seems humor will always find a home reaffirming stereotypes.

“. . . ahss creeeaam.”

Our combined swag

Our combined swag

Returning to more pertinent matters  . . . between Sterling and Clines, while collecting various bottles of cabernets and merlots, I discovered the great secret behind Napa.  Wine tasting is much like shilling out $30 to knock over milk jugs at a carnival; you’ll win your Kewpie doll but still arrive home $30 lighter.  The scam is flawless.  At the wine bar, samples drizzle into your glass.  You sniff the liquid, taking in the rich bouquet – as instructed by the brochure picked up at the hotel lobby – and then sip, swirling the contents around your tongue.  If you’re naïve and sensible, you’ll swallow then.  Only connoisseurs taste and spit.

Your taste buds detect blueberries, chocolate, and burnt wood, just as the placard before you suggests.  Awesome!  The effects are immediately edifying: you feel intelligent, refined, aware.  Sherlock Holmes could not have detected as much in his first sip as you have.  Your server smiles.  A knowing wink.  No one else here can taste like you can.  In triumph, you buy ten bottles at a hundred dollars a pop to take home and flaunt before friends.

“Brian, taste this.  If you have the talent, you might just detect chocolate-covered cherries, mint and the subtle hint of 100-yr French oak.”

“Ugh, it burns my tongue.”

“That’s the oak!”

I wish we could admit we were not fooled by this shell-game, that we were smarter than these plaid-collared con artists, that we paid for our $5 glass of wine and left instead of filling our three boxes with thirty-six bottles of expensive wine that no one else, not even ourselves, can fully appreciate.

Well, we did not buy thirty-six bottles.  Dasad snuck two extra bottles into his luggage, totaling thirty-eight in full.  California is far richer because of our visit.

Still for all our ‘expertise’ the wine tasted good.  We bought what we liked, which in the end proved the true sounding rod.  Awards and all.

RT4_viewBack at Cline’s Vineyard, Dasad and Jay were pouring wine into my glass, when our tour group arrived.  A bus pulled up to the stone wall where we sat and unloaded.  The eclectic group of tourists mingled among the garden and chatted noisily just as a brisk but welcome blast of air drifted through the valley.  The air refreshed our drowned senses some and we watched the crowd, wondering if anyone here truly understood wine culture.  Judging from the dialects, most of the visitors appeared foreign: British, Australian, Chinese, Italian, and Korean.  Only a few held their glasses by the stem or sniffed subtle rose bouquets before gulping down their samples.  We relaxed.  They were like us: ignorant tourists but diligent alcoholics.

Our hosts circled the wall, filling up our glasses again with a sample of their red wine.  Dasad groaned, took a sip, and filled my glass again.  Jay poured it into the garden.  The tour guide talked for a few minutes about the wine, how it was one of his favorites, and how we could taste the subtle hints of apple and cherry wood, before beckoning us all to follow him through the winery.

Steadying Dasad who wobbled to his feet, I noticed a man walking by himself, a pink sweater tied around his neck, swirling his wine in his mouth and spitting into a large bush.  Ah, a connoisseur.  The man’s curly salt and pepper hair recalled to mind something about Leslie Nelson and Spartacus, slapstick and bare chests.  His locks fell long in the back, a trim but noticeable mullet that more than anything convinced me the man was foreign.

“Dude,” I said nudging Dasad, who was trying to convince the others we were Australian.

“Eh? Wot mate?”

“Take a look at that guy over there?” I pointed.  “The guy in the sandals and pink cardigan.  Doesn’t he look like Ricardo Montalban?”

Dasad stared for a minute or so before cracking up.

“KHAANN!!!”

RT4_cheeseWe stumbled . . . er walked into one of the large warehouses, behind the tasting center; Ricardo sulked off by himself to stare at the ceilings, looking devilish and European like old men in pressed suits and eye patches.  Inside large twenty-foot fermentation barrels lined the walls like giant beehives; stacks of smaller barrels sat idly on racks throughout the rest of the warehouse.  Our host offered us another sampling, merlot this time; Dasad managed to avoid the bottle by taking pictures.  I surreptitiously snapped a few myself of Ricardo, whose eyes never left the rafters: scheming warehouse infiltration and cask burglary perhaps.   Wine theft?!  Is there no end to your infamy, Khan?  From Hell’s heart I stab at thee!

We crawled out to the car – figuratively in my case, literally for the others.  Dasad threw me the keys, nearly falling asleep immediately in the back seat.  Arriving at the hotel, we pass out, our faces red from liquor and sunburn, only to awake hungry a few hours later.  Thus, we return to Sonoma for burgers and fish at Taylors, a California staple apparently.  Best fast food I have ever tasted at least.  Bellies full of fries and milkshakes, we drove back to the hotel to rest up for the Jelly Belly factory and Fisherman’s Warf.  Stay tuned . . .

West Coastin’: Feeding the Animals

Giraffes!

Giraffes!

Our second port of call was San Diego.  Having heard of its charm, beauty, and the annual comic convention – which we missed this year but desperately hope to attend next summer if I can beguile . . . er, convince Dasad – we decided to scout out the city.  We stopped first at the zoo, since it was a bit of the inspiration for Critchon’s Jurassic Park and I was curious to see if it lived up to its reputation.

“This place is more like an amusement park,” Dasad said, gazing at the map, nearly the size of a Risk game board.  Various regions color-coded by continent or climate, divided the map into pieces; animal icons indicated species-specific paddocks.  We decided to invade the ‘Urban Jungle’ first, one of more intriguing lands with rhinos and anteaters and because it was also closest to the entrance.  Along the way, we halted our expedition to take pictures of some koalas and a capybara, the largest rodent on Earth, a fact indifferent to most tourists.

“Here come take a look at this big rat,” a red-faced man said picking up a small boy, who I assume was related in some way.  “If only I had my shotgun . . .”

The pair (father and son?) walked off to join a larger group – family I suppose – the man, shouting ‘Boom! Boom! Click!’ in his wake.  The unwitting ‘rats’ continued to scamper around the cage, blissfully ignorant and sleepy.

RT2_rhinoWe made our way to the elephant paddock then, a huge pen intermingled with other animals: vultures, lions, snakes, insects, and other modern day descendents of those swallowed by tar eons ago. The elephant compound could not have been larger had the zoo built it for dinosaurs.  Large open space sparingly furnished with trees and downed logs; a gated bridge joined the two enormous pens, allowing tourists to pass beneath.  Huge steel rails, nearly as thick as a mammoth’s thigh, circled the enclosure.  I had the passing image of a rampaging bull elephant ramming against the bars, trumpeting in rage, scattering frightened tourists.

Mom once warned us after noticing the heightened police presence at the mall that we should be careful, watchful for gangs and pickpockets.  Pat and I laughed then at the irony, but looking at the huge mammals stomp across the plain, I have a greater appreciation for what Mom meant.  Despite the impressive lodgings, the dung beetles garnered larger crowds than the mammals whose waste they depended on. We fought through the crowds for just a glimpse of three black bugs the size of quarter roll dung up a hill.  Amazing.

Sodomy2Passing through a tunnel beneath the paddock, Dasad spied a large four-foot statue of a condor or an eagle, silently surveying the nearby leopard pen.  Various statues and animal busts guarded several of the enclosure throughout the park, perhaps like fiberglass owls back home, to scare away local (and thus uninteresting) wildlife from the grounds.  Nonplussed my friend attempted to ride the stone bird, but stretching his legs across the bird’s back proved dangerous, awkward, and painful – unfortunately he halted the attempt before I managed to free my camera.  Feeling quite foolish, I suppose, amid the crowds, he instead stood behind the animal and humped it.

One of the zoo officials called out to him as I took the shot.

“Hey man!”  Somehow I felt that this exhibition would signify an immediate expulsion from the park and probably several PETA fines to boot.  The fact that the animal was actually made of stone and several times larger than its model seemed a moot point.

Thus I gaped while the official high-fived Dasad and yelled, “Some days man.  Some days, I wish I could get some too . . .”

What this signified about San Diego zoo employees, I could only guess, but Dasad reacted as if he had received a medal of honor.  Worse, he had discovered an audience, and if there’s one thing I learnt from reading Batman over the years, it’s that crazy people love an audience – which is why Freud created psychologists.  Garnering strength from his new fan base, my friend proceeded to pleasure several additional stone fauna before we managed to extricate ourselves from the park.

RT2_waterOn the way down to the Seaport Village, we passed the city’s monstrous convention hall, swarming little more than a week ago with geeks and fanboys for the 2009 ComiCon.  Of the city’s many pleasures, this stood out in my mind as I’ve been meaning to attend the convention for the last few years, only to arrive now several days late and a dollar short.

While Dasad and Jay argued over suitable dining for the evening (seafood or Mexican), I gazed with rapt attention at the sizable edifice, imagining the site next year: awash with costumes, movie stars, and fans from every corner of geekdom.  Aisles glazed in plastic inserts, polished art, and one-of-a-kind sketches.  Manga and graphic novels shimmering on the racks like unpolished gold, shrouding the magnificent stories deep within their leaves. Beautiful.  Next summer when we fly back to San Diego, we’ll need to bring extra bags for . . .

“Wait, hold on dude,” Dasad interrupted as we drove north under a multitude of cranes, arching above us like medieval cathedral.  One or two cargo ships in dock sleep patiently while the mechanical arms reached down and snatched at the crates nestled snugly in their holds.  “Who said anything about coming back for ComiCon?”

“Well, I did silly.  Thought it best to mention the trip now, so you can plan out the rest of your year.  Save the date, and all that.”

“We’re not going to ComiCon or at least I’m not.”

“Of course, WE are.  Did you not hear what I said about the comics, the movie stars, and the graphic novels like buried gold?  Beautiful stories buried beneath piles of obsequious merchandizing?  The metaphor might be too subtle.  Maybe an allusion  . . .”

“No way.  Do you know how much the tickets to fly to Anaheim cost?”

“About $400 dollars round trip?”  For both of us, and for the moment ignoring hotel expenses.  As I said, I’ve been considering rubbing elbows with geek-elite since New Years.

“Well, San Diego is probably more.  Just to see sweaty unbathed virgins pore over stories we can buy here with the airfare we save.”

“With the rising cost of gasoline that might not be true anymore . . .”

“I can live without it,” he grumbled. For someone horny enough to violate a cement eagle, he sure had difficulty sucking it up now and then.  I penciled him in as a definite maybe, and listening to my stomach growl, refocused my efforts on finding dinner.

RT2_westWe decided on Old Town, a collection of historical houses and shops much in way of Colonial Williamsburg, back home.  I tried picturing John Wayne or Clint Eastwood walking through the streets, kicking up dust and dried blood with their six-shooters as their sides, but the green lawns and ice cream parlors suggested more Ann of Green Gables than the Man with No Name.

The surrounding area about the antiquated buildings is devoted to small Mexican markets filled with trinkets and t-shirts and restaurants, bursting with the scent of refried beans and sizzling fajitas.  Here – at least according to Jay’s iPhone – the enchiladas and burritos were considered quite authentic, and being quite techno-savvy, as well as famished, we strode the three blocks without argument to the restaurant just outside Old Town’s Plaza del Pasado, a hotel that showcased live entertainment and open-air dining with fiery brick fireplaces.  The sun had sunk behind the architecture, and the warmth of the fires was inviting.  While Jay convened with Google, Dasad and I stopped to gaze at a sign just outside the plaza.

“Haunted tours, huh?”  Dasad read.  “Nine o’clock.  ‘We know where the ghosts are.’  Sounds interesting.”

“Might be fun to simply stand in the back and scream every now and then,” I said, “Just to keep things interesting.”

“Probably isn’t much though.  Hell, we could start our own tour.  Get a list of places, research the history, and then scare the tourists with flashlights and mirrors.  Easy.  We’d get plenty of screams just having you pop out from time to time.”

“Funny,” I muttered.

RT2_city“Here boys and girls,” he shouted in his best Barnum-voice, “We have the rare treat of encountering a single American otaku, look at his pale features and large gut.  Unemployed specimens like Murph here dwell in the dungeons and cellars of their ancestors, absorbed in painting miniatures and playing with themselves.  Watch out Miss, he has not known a woman’s touch in so long . . . He might become unpredictable when aroused.”

“Look, I wouldn’t . . .” I began.

“Ewww, Mommy make it go away.  Its pasty skin . . . like it’s dead.” Dasad continued, whining in a high-pitched voice.

“Don’t worry, son.  We’ll go to the gym tomorrow or spend the day outside.  It hates sunlight and physical labor.  Otaku can’t chase us even if we jog.”

In my case, this happens to be quite true.  In his current marathon-ready state, I could never hope to catch Dasad even if he skipped up the lane (which he does, ladies, more often than any grown man should).  I returned with a few pointed jabs at Trekkies, computer consultants, and assholes until I felt that we were even.  Together we laughed at the absurdity, creating several other skits before we reached the restaurant.  Jay followed silently – clearly the most mature of our group – holding his iPhone before him as if scanning the area for clues.

Now Mexican food is a treat for me, one reserved for road trips and the occasional movie night with Dasad.  The man loves his spicy food about as much as my family hates it: the hot sauce and spices do not mix well with their strict meat and potatoes diet.    Thus, I only manage to feast on enchiladas about twice a year (I refused to eat at Taco Bell with their $.99 tacos and brown bean parfait, sluiced through an old Slushee machine and sprinkled with week-old chedder.).

Thus, I had high hopes for Casa Guadalajara.

Inside we were met with an explosion of color: paper streamers of sun-burnt oranges, reds, and blues hung loosely from the ceiling; large vases overflowed with green leaves and bombastic flowers; and striped tablecloths like hand-woven shrouds dangled from long family-sized tables.  A mariachi band played in the corner and families chattered noisily in the corner.  Kids giggled, running and ducking beneath their parents legs.  The whole place reminded me so much of home, I nearly cried.

RT2_mexfoodOur waiter sat us down and gave us our menus.  One of the principal rules for dining – much like grocery shopping – is to never ever choose anything on an empty stomach.  This might at first appear a rather faulty paradox, seeing as you arrive at a restaurant to eat, and thus rather peckish.  Yet men oft order with their eyes, thinking little of the portions their hunger demands, and before you can consider otherwise, your appetizers spread out before you several portions larger than expected.  Like the surfer praying for a wave, and ending up with a tsunami.

Such was our case.  The appetizer in addition to the free chips and salsa nearly overwhelmed us; nevertheless we dived in, scooping out soft tacos, guacamole salsa, and cheese drenched chips.  Five minutes into our feast, we abandoned our pre-game meal to the doggy bag and loosened our belts.  Our burritos and enchiladas had yet to arrive, and short of storing the meal in my cheeks, most of our entrees would have to be taken home.

In the end, we waddled from the restaurant, our arms dangled with take-home bags, our guts hanging over our belts in complete and utter satisfaction.  After a walk around the shops and market – searching in vain for an authentic pancho for Dasad – we left to drive back to Anaheim.  Tomorrow we would set up the Pacific Coast Highway, on our road to Napa Valley and a truck full of wine.