Friday, January 29, 2010

Something that was definately not lost in translation

(Context note: This is back when I was 21 and working as a ski-lift operator near Aspen, Colorado.)

The greatest days for skiing are the worst days for working the ski lift. An endless stream of people means more grooming of the lanes, and more complaints about congestion.

It also means more people falling or dropping something in the approach of the lift which means I get to do the most important part of my job – hit the big red button that stops the lift. From there, I am not allowed to assist the customer in any way for fear of the resort being sued for an employee making their injury worse somehow. It was always uncomfortable when someone would look to you for assistance in standing up and I would have to stand there and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t.”

We had received five inches of fresh powder the evening before and the day was clear and sunny. Thousands of people shelled out the eighty dollars for a lift ticket to take advantage of the beautiful conditions. My post was a high-speed quad going to the top of one of the peaks and I was working furiously to keep things safe and moving quickly.

Snowmass Mountain gets travelers from all over the world, many very wealthy. It’s conveyed in no uncertain terms that the resort will fire you rather than lose the repeat business of a good customer. Service is a priority and the team did its best to accommodate whatever the guests wanted.

At about 1 PM, the after-lunch rush sets in. People can see the end of the day in sight and are anxious to get in as much sliding time as possible. There are a few arguments about cutting in line but I mediate and keep things moving – I am in the zone. It’s as if the mountain is a living entity and I am doing my part to pump blood through the veins. The quad hasn’t been stopped for hours and I hear the phrase “best day of the season” more than once.

Then a hitch in the works – a man in a red ski-suit comes out of the single-rider line and speaks to me in a foreign language. I am usually pretty good at indentifying languages, but I have no idea what this man is speaking – let alone trying to say.

Holding my hands out, I shrug my shoulders in what I hope is the universal sign for “I don’t understand you.” This causes him to gesture wildly and talk even louder. I say “Sorry, I don’t know what you’re saying!”

The line is at a standstill since I haven’t waved anyone through to the lift yet. With everyone watching and waiting, the man unzips his ski-suit and begins urinating right next to the walkway.

The crowd of people in line starts groaning and yelling as my jaw drops. A woman screams to me, “Stop him! Do something!”

“What do you want me to do?” I yell back.

“I’LL do something!” screams a snowboarder in his late twenties. He leans over, makes a snowball, takes aim and fires at the peeing man.

Time stops. Everyone is silent as we watch the snowball arch toward the man. It connects and the powder grenade explodes all over the man. Snow covers his entire torso and down inside his ski-suit. The man erupts a flurry of gibberish while shaking his fist. The snowboarder responds, “That will teach you to pee in front of me!”

The man zips up, walks down the ramp and gets on the lift. I get people moving up the lift again and call ski-patrol who arrives shortly. They lecture me about calling in pranks and how their time is valuable. After reiterating that I am serious, they continue to not believe me. Having no other choice, I walk them over to Exhibit A : yellow snow.

I hear they found the man and ejected him from the park, but I am not sure how I feel about that. If anything, it’s proven to me that a well thrown snowball can break any language barrier.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How about you tell the new kid about "Dead Man's Curve" next time?

(Context: This happened when I was 16. They say that the majority of drivers in the US have their first car accident during their first year of driving. This was true in my case.)

It’s a cold winter Saturday in Placerville and it snowed the previous night leaving about two inches on the ground. I’ve never lived in a place where snow will blanket everything you see, so I am enjoying the newness of seeing the world as a clean blank slate. My plan is to drive down to Sacramento to stay with a friend for a couple of days.

This is the first time I have driven in this type of road condition, but the main route at the end of the driveway is snow-plowed so I am cautious but not overly concerned. I get into my parents’ Mercury Sable, and creep down the driveway, testing the braking and steering. I realize I forgot my razor, throw it into reverse and go back inside the house. My mother is alarmed and asks, “What’s wrong? What happened?!” and I chuckle after telling her about my forgotten item.

I re-enter the car and proceed to the main road. The tape player starts playing a soothing song filled with keyboard synths and layered female vocals. The cassette was the soundtrack for a UK series called “The Celts” and was a gift from a friend who knew I was into Celtic culture. Even though I am not a huge Enya fan, it seems appropriate to the drive and was a gift so I let it play.

I am a half mile from home when the road turns left, hugging the side of a ridge. I press the brakes to slow for the turn and the car doesn’t slow down at all. I press down harder on the brakes which continue to do nothing. The car proceeds straight and hits a reflector meant to guide you around the turn. I think to myself “I dented the front of the car, my parents are going to kill me.”

The next thing my brain registers is that I am weightless. I look straight ahead and there is no road – only the tops of trees.  The car has flown off the side of a cliff and as it tilts I see that it’s about 200 feet to the bottom with an obstacle course of trees in the way.

I think to myself, “Well, I had a good run, I guess. This is it. I am going out with my eyes open.”

I grip the steering wheel, and force my eyes to stay open. There is no sound except the soft purring of the idling engine and the ironically soothing sound of Enya’s voice serenading me during free-fall.

I hear the sound of trees hitting the undercarriage and it reminds me of dozens of people knocking on the floor.

Then the sky is down and the ground is up, then back again, then reversed again. There are crashing and breaking sounds coming from every direction -then everything goes dark.

I have my eyes open but can’t see anything. I smell dirt and a mix of various fluids that I can only identify as “broken car”. I look around and realize the car has stopped and am hanging upside-down by my seatbelt. Forcing open the door, I unlatch my seatbelt and flip and fall to the ground. I take two steps forward and assess the damage. It looks like a giant has grabbed the car, crumpled it into a ball and thrown it aside.

The wheels have popped off and it’s buried upside-down near a creek. I look up and see a path of destruction where it flipped end-over-end down the cliff. The adrenaline hits and I start climbing and running. I sprint the half-mile back home, being passed by several cars who veer wide of the bleeding crazed kid running down the thoroughfare.

I open the door and my mother chuckles and asks “What did you forget this time?” and then looks up at me. I see her face go white and I say “I wasn’t driving crazy, I swear I wasn’t driving crazy.”

They put me in the other vehicle and drive to the hospital. My father asks, “Where is the car?” and I point down the cliff and yell, “Down THERE!” and everyone goes silent as the severity of the accident sinks in.

At the hospital, the doctor pronounces me fit and lets me know I should be dead since people die off that corner every year. A policeman stops by and says that he doesn’t have to file a report since the car landed on private property – he also notes that I should be dead.

I lived for three more years in that house and drove that road many more times. I learned that when you hit a patch of ice, the worst possible thing you can do is slam the brakes harder – a piece of information I wish someone had told me before moving up to the mountains.

I still drive snowy roads, but if I have a choice, I let Wife drive -and under no circumstances will I allow Enya to be on the radio.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

4 + 8 + 15 + 16 + 23 + 42 = 108 Trust me, it's relevant.

I enjoy the show “Lost.” With the premiere of the final season of Lost about to begin, it got me thinking about the recurring themes and especially the numbers that pop up over and over again – 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42. (I should mention here that I highly suspect that the show is going to continue in some form. I doubt Hollywood would let such a successful franchise just end without trying to milk it for all it is possibly worth.)

As with most numbers that supposedly have a related hidden meaning, you start to see a mix-and-match of math with those numbers. One thing that popped up several times is the number 108, which is all the numbers added together (4+8+15+16+23+42=108). I spent a couple weeks wondering why that number rang a bell and then it hit me.

(This is the part where I flashback about fifteen years earlier to a cold but sunny winter day.)

From what I can tell from experience talking to people, it usually takes three times on the ski slopes to really get comfortable on a snowboard. I thought I was going to take to it like a fish to water, but it was on the third day that I started having enough control and confidence to take some jumps and have some fun with it. I was with a friend that was at about the same skill level and while riding the lift up, we would pick out a jump that would be our target for the ride back – that way we would have plenty of time to fine tune our speed and what angle we would come at since we still weren’t adept enough to just wing it.

At mid-day we were in the "zone" and cruising down the hill, feeling good. There was a group of kids with the ski school that all had numbered bibs on their back to keep track of them all. Navigating through the waves of children required concentration but wasn’t too difficult.

However, there was one child that was about to ruin my day. I am moving at a pretty good clip when this kid turns over his shoulder, looks right at me, and then cuts me off anyway. I spin hard to avoid him, lose my balance and “catch an edge”. (For the non-snowboarders out there, this means that the front edge of my board has essentially morphed into a hinge between my body and the ground. Almost all my forward momentum gets converted into downward momentum to be absorbed by whatever I choose to take the impact – usually my wrists to be followed closely by my upper body and face.) I go down hard.

My friend rides up and asks what happened, I point at the kid gleefully continuing his ride down the mountain. He goes after him, I am unsure if he was going to give him a "talking to" about mountain etiquette or just glare at him, but it doesn’t matter because I am in recovery mode anyway.

After a minute I get up and gingerly slide down the slope and see my friend sitting down near the bottom of one of the trails. I stop next to him and he says, “He made a sharp turn and hit me in the temple with a ski pole and I bailed.”

The kid’s bib number? You guessed it. 108.

I have harbored an animosity for that kid for many years, but now I am having doubts. After watching Lost, I wonder if maybe it was necessary for him to force us to avoid that jump to circumvent some greater tragedy.

I don’t know, but one thing is for sure. Watch out for the one wearing number 108. Nothing good comes of it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You can't escape the weirdness (aka Bachelor Party, part 2)

(Context note: This is a flashback to several years ago, hope I got the details right and you enjoy.) 

Our next stop was Main Street, Placerville. You may have picked up from a previous post that this is a very ‘old-timey’ town and that vibe really comes across when you drive down Main Street with its antique shops, hardware stores, bakeries and other things you’d expect in a horse-and-buggy main street.

For context, once a year, people dress up in 1800s clothing and ride in an actual wagon train down Highway 50 for a week and have things like tomahawk throwing demonstrations. You can read more about it here.

There is a "Lounge" on Main Street called “Gil’s” which is our next destination. It’s a dive bar, but not nearly as much as Irish Pub. There are a few other people mingling about but they all seem friendly and keeping to themselves so we go in and have a beer.

We sit at the bar and chat with each other, the bartender, a few other people in the vicinity and things are going along nicely. The best man stands up to use the restroom and, as if on cue, the conversation takes a hard left turn.

A skinny older man with a grizzled beard is talking about where he lives which is out toward the hills. One of the groomsmen notes that he lives in the same general direction which prompts this question:

“So, you’ve seen them, haven’t you?’, he asks.

“Seen what?”, the groomsman asks back.

“Well, they say they are green, but they’re actually grey. Well, I guess some are more blue, but mostly grey.”

I was half-listening. I sense tension, turn, and am now full-listening. We are confused and look questioningly at him.

“The little men! You know, they come down to the woods out there!”, he explains. There’s a little bit of a desperate crazy look in his eyes.

Then it sinks in – he’s talking about aliens. I am willing to just humor him, but the groomsman sitting closest to him wants to leave no confusion as to how he feels about it and says, “I am turning around and not talking to you any more.” And then, true to his word, turns around and takes a sip from his beer.

The man begins to freak out, he slams his hand on the bar stating that he is not crazy, that they are out there and we all know it is true. I start to get a bit nervous as to what he is going to do next when the best man comes back. It should be noted here that the best man is what you would call a ‘big guy’. 'Physically imposing' would also be accurate.

He stands behind the frenzied man and asks, “Do we have a problem here?”.

The man turns around, looks the best man up and down, turns back to us, back to the best man, to the bartender who shrugs and then angrily says “No!”, after which he picks up his beer and moves to a part of the bar that’s out of eye-sight.

We decide once again that it’s time to change venues. From that point onward the night was pretty uneventful, a few more friends met up with us, we had a few laughs, a few conversations about life, marriage, family and the TV show X-Files.

The next day I took my wedding vows and it seemed downright normal.

Monday, January 18, 2010

We get it, you're as free as a bird. (aka Bachelor Party, part 1)

(Context note: This is a flashback to several years ago, hope I got the details right and you enjoy.)

It’s the day before my wedding and I am stressed.

I don’t have the “pre-wedding butterflies” that I have heard so much about, it’s more of a fatigue with the seemingly endless details that go into having a wedding. The tuxes and flowers and food and location and weather forecast and music and invitations and dresses and THE dress and … you get the picture. The groomsmen in the wedding take me out for the traditional last night out with the guys.

It’s still a semi-secret but I have planned a honeymoon in Ireland, so it seems appropriate that we go to Irish Pub.

That’s the entire name, not Molly Malone’s or O’Neill’s or The Elephant and the Castle or something – simply “Irish Pub”.

We park and the four of us walk past two men having a smoke by a pickup truck parked near the door. One of them laughs and yells to us, “Hey! You guys don’t have any guns on you, do you?” We shake our heads no and exchange confused looks.

Walking into the pub, I realize that it doesn’t fit my stereotypical idea of what an Irish Pub looks like. In fact, it looks like a full-on country-hick back-woods dive bar. There is loud music playing and I look over to see one man on stage singing “Freebird” into a karaoke mike with all of his heart. I look toward the bar and see that all bottles of liquor behind the bar are one of two things – Wild Turkey or Jack Daniels.

Ignoring all the blatant warning signs that this is not what I expected, I approach the bar and order a Guinness.

“A what?”, the bartender yells back. I repeat myself and he continues to be confused as to what I want.

“Ok, what beers do you have?”, I yell. He responds, “We have Bud … and Bud Light!”

I blink and Freebird starts to reach its crescendo. I ask, “Do you have any imported beers?” He looks a little disgusted and says, “I think we have a Heineken in back!”. Right about now I feel committed to at least ordering something so I say, “I’ll have that!”

He comes back with a lukewarm bottle of Heineken that has a nice layer of dust on it. I pay the man and tuck into trying to finish it as fast as possible so we can get out of there. One of the groomsman orders a Bud and I decide to say out loud, "We need to get moving as fast as possible."- just so there is no confusion.

A new song is starting and there appears to be some sort of argument as to who is going to sing Sweet Home Alabama. It sinks in that there are two things to worry about: first, that there may be an altercation over whether this is going to be a solo karaoke night or everyone taking turns. Second and more concerning, we may have a Lynyrd Skynyrd marathon going on and I don’t know of anything good coming from that.

I leave some warm beer in the bottle, put it on the bar and say, “Let’s go.” and walk out. I think to myself that if pubs in Ireland are like that, I am about to give my new bride a severe let-down.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Historic California, Part 3 - Emeryville

Working in Emeryville, I used to take the opportunity to explore my surroundings. I found some pretty interesting things, but this post is specifically about the Bay Street Mall.

The Bay Street Mall in Emeryville is fancy. It’s got condos built into it so you can look out your balcony and watch people wander in and out of any number of the expensive big name stores. Perfumed air comes wafting out of each entrance you pass and security officers go whizzing by on Segways.

Then, one day I heard that Ohlone Indians were protesting the mall and declaring a "don't buy anything day". Thinking that was an odd place to protest, I looked it up and the reason they are upset is that the mall is built on one of their burial grounds.

One thing that movies teach is never build anything on top of an Indian burial ground. However, I never saw any pots flying through the windows of Williams-Sonoma. I never saw any books acting strangely in the Barnes & Noble. No furniture magically putting itself together and taken apart at IKEA. So, I come to the conclusion that maybe it’s the specific store or stores that sit right on top of the burial site that would be the one to avoid.

Bay Street Mall has 65 stores, 10 restaurants and a movie theater, but there is only one establishment that sits right on top of the burial site. One business that risks the vicious anger that movies say will come upon them for their disrespect. And that place is : Victoria’s Secret.

I find the thought of haunted lingerie hilarious. I imagined a storyline of a husband buying something special for his wife and it tormenting the family by showing up in odd places. “Honey, why is there a bra in the casserole?”

So, in conclusion, that is what I think about when the topic of California history comes up: hanging, cannibalism, and lingerie.

Seriously, though, I like where I am. I try to take advantage of being near a wonderful city like San Francisco, and even find great places and people even closer to home in less recognizable cities like Walnut Creek, Concord, Danville, and all the others.

I guess there’s “gold” everywhere you go, not just the mines in the California hills – in the people, the places, and the stories. Personally, I think there’s richer mines out in Europe, but I totally understand when people say they’d rather try their luck in my sunny backyard.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Historic California, Part 2 - Donner Pass

Warning: The following post is not for the weak of stomach, it involves topics such as cannibalism, murder and those hats that are made out of a raccoons.

This story also takes place in the mid-1800s with a caravan of people headed to California to take advantage of the boom after the discovery gold. I’ll summarize, but I highly recommend the book “Ordeal by Hunger” by George R Stewart. The story itself is fascinating and shows that there can be some true heroes in horrible situations. It's when life or death decisions are on the line that shows what type of person you really are.

I’ll summarize the important facts: A caravan leaves Illinois in April 1846, George Donner is the leader. A lot of these people are not prepared for hard travel (i.e. are pretty wealthy and bring things like a piano for their house in California. This sort of thing slows them down because the huge heavy wagons are slower and get stuck more often.) They try a “shortcut” which ends up costing them three weeks. Rather than turn back and wait the winter out in a fort, they decide to race the winter to the Sierras – and they almost make it.

It’s late October, a blizzard hits and they are trapped. They split up into three groups and either build cabins or try to head down the mountain on snowshoes. Historians’ best guess is that the snow got up to 22 feet (that’s almost 7 meters for those on the metric system.) This is where the meat of the tragedy begins. Some try to get down the mountain to form a rescue team for supplies, which results with some people dying and others not able to convince anyone to go back uphill in the monstrous weather. The ones that stay are completely out of food and with people dying from cold and sickness resort to cannibalism. It’s important to note here that during this time period murder is illegal, but cannibalism is not. A lot of the conjecture of what happens revolves around whether or not someone “helped” someone’s passing in order to sustain themselves.

In any case, when February rolls around, relief efforts come to get them. Battle hardened men are getting sick left and right. One camp in particular only has one survivor, fit and healthy, which is suspicious under the circumstances. It’s obvious he turned predator during the winter, but they can’t prove murder so he walks away a free man. He ends up moving down to San Jose and opening a successful restaurant, proving once again that truth is stranger than fiction.

I visited Donner State Park where one of the cabins was built. There is a big statue there with a description of what happened and a list of survivors. I can’t think of it as anything other than a monument to lack of planning, horrible decisions and the depths one can sink to in a crisis.

My friends in Europe always wonder why I start snickering when we go to a kebab restaurant. It’s because of this story and the item known as the “Doner Kebab”. It makes me want to start screaming “It’s made out of people!”

Next up – a Native American burial site!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Historic California, Part 1 - Placerville

The back-and-forth in the comments of this excellent blog spurred me to write a few stories of when I tried to really dig into the historic monuments of my home state, California. I am going to split this into three parts: Placerville, Donner Pass, and a surprise outcome of a Native American burial ground.

There are definitely Native American sites, but they are hard to find, not promoted very well, and few in number. I suspect this is for two reasons: First, the people roamed around rather than build fortified cities meant to withstand attack and last for hundreds of years. Most of my experiences of the culture are paintings on caves and things like divots in a large flat rock used for grinding acorns a very long time ago.

Second, I think there’s a bit of subconscious guilt along the lines of “Um, yeah, there used to be a whole lot of people here.”, so most of the investment in historical preservation goes to “American” history. However, I haven’t really researched this, I may be wrong, but it’s a gut feeling.

I spent four years of my late teenage life in a city called Placerville. It’s also where I met my wife so I have a fond memory of it, but I am not inclined to live there ever again. I am too addicted to convenience and technology to call the wooded hills my home, but it has some historic significance.

Most of the California monuments begin in the mid-1800s when there was a huge influx of population to mine for gold that was discovered in the El Dorado Hills. Placerville is somewhat near where gold was discovered so its stories begin around that time period.

It has the nickname of “Old Hangtown.” The story goes that there were some thugs that were terrorizing the town, killing people that crossed them, hanging out at the saloon gambling and generally being a nuisance. The miners get together and give an ultimatum to the town saying all professional gamblers have 24 hours to get out (translation: Hey, you guys that hang out in the saloon and gamble all day? We are talking to you. Leave.)

One of the leaders of the miners gets mysteriously shot while walking near the saloon. The rest of the miners take this as the answer to their ultimatum, haul out the gamblers and hang them all from a tree outside. The saloon owner comes out and starts yelling that he is going to have them charged with murder for killing his customers with no proof. The mob doesn’t like hearing that, get another rope and hang him too. (Note: I find this an excellent example of a good time to keep one’s mouth shut.)

Now the saloon has a dummy hanging from a noose outside and a bright neon sign that it is a historic monument. I went in and it’s what is known as a “dive bar”. Nothing special. After that disappointment, I decide to up the ante on the California history front with one of the most infamous and tragic stories about a migration to the West.

Up next – Donner Pass!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Go west, young man

I am 22 and have made the decision to move back to California, leaving my roommate and friends in Colorado. I have worked as a ski lift operator to get a free season pass to the resorts and as a computer geek managing digital photos and property layout designs for a real estate appraiser. After a lot of soul searching I decide to hunt for a “real” job in the California tech industry, which will allow me to propose to my girlfriend with some small measure of confidence that I could actually provide for her.

I had formed a friendship with someone my age that was eager to go with me to California to be my roommate (I'll call him E). The day before we start the road trip heading west he tells me that he has changed his mind – he wants to go with me to check out California for a short time but is coming back to team up with the roommate that I am leaving. He also lets me know that they all think that going back to my home state and settling down with my teenage sweetheart is a backwards move in my life journey.

I’m feeling pretty betrayed and despondent.

I am parked in Glenwood Springs waiting for E to get off work so we can start the long drive. Planning on being confined with him for a huge chunk of time, and having a few hours to kill, I decide to walk off some of my frustration. Picking a direction at random, I start marching.

I pass a sign that says “Historical Monument” and without a better plan, adjust course to where it’s pointing. I trod on, following signs up a hill that gets red mud on my shoes, but I don’t care. When I get to the top of the hill, my haze of emotion fades and I realize I am looking at a graveyard. Obviously, someone famous must be buried here, but there is no one around and no obvious markings so I wander around reading the gravestones. Eventually, I find it.

Doc Holliday. I don’t know much about him besides what I know from the somewhat recent move Tombstone where he was played by Val Kilmer. I walk back into town and duck into a shop that caters to tourists and thumb through a book about Doc.

He died of tuberculosis. He was in Glenwood Springs with the hope that the sulfur springs would help him heal. Modern medicine says that it probably made things worse. The thing I find most interesting about him are his last words. He was a noted gambler and gunslinger and most everyone, including himself, guessed he would go out with guns blazing. When he was on his deathbed, he looked down at his feet, realized he was going to die in bed with his boots off and said, “Well I'll be damned. This is funny.”, and expired.

During the quiet spots on the long drive, I think about how it used to be a measure of daring and courage to travel out west, and now I am being accused of taking the “easy way out” traveling out west to settle down.

Looking back, I think it did take a measure of courage to stand up to my peers and leave the “fun scene” to be a responsible adult. I wonder if I would have felt less like a loser if I had been riding a horse with a six-shooter strapped to my hip.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Weren't we supposed to be welcomed by the lollipop guild?

(Note: I am trying to really apply my goal of appreciating my locality, no matter where I am. First post of the year is for when I went around my home base of Walnut Creek.)

When I have a ‘night on the town’, sometimes I play a game called ‘Follow the Yellow Brick Road’. It consists of having a general plan but basically when we stop at a place, strike up a conversation with someone there and ask where to go next and (if applicable) what to order. I always have a backup plan if I hit a roadblock, but in general, people are more than eager to give their advice about places they like.

This has a few advantages : I often go to places that I otherwise would miss, it prevents me from staying at one place and running up a huge tab, it gives me the feeling that I am actually doing something instead of warming a seat and consuming empty calories.

So, one autumn evening, a friend is visiting so we start at home in Walnut Creek. I ask Wife where we should go and she suggests Shiro (formerly Sushi Groove) and she doesn’t care what we order.

So we walk to Shiro and the place is mostly empty. I recognize the bartender, Blake, and order a hot sake to warm me up. I ask how the economy is affecting business and he notes that it’s really sporadic, but the place is doing ok. One thing I found interesting was the opening of a huge Cheesecake Factory on the other end of town that other restaurant owners were concerned would cause a huge drop in business. Fortunately for them, the "Cheesecake Effect" was a myth and things are the same as ever. I think to myself about all the empty calories I am consuming and know that a different "Cheesecake Effect" is definitely not a myth and I'll have to run some extra miles over the coming week to burn it off.

Blake points us to the next stop: Prima’s bar to order Manhattans. It’s a semi-upscale Italian restaurant a few blocks away. (The line between fancy and casual dining is really blurred in this area. Basically you will have a fancy place filled with people in jeans because they have enough money to buy the place and don't care about dress codes.) The bartender comes over and asks what we want, we say that we were sent there to order Manhattans. She chuckles and says, “Oh, I know who sent you here. Blake.”

We get our drinks and they are excellent. We decide to order some food, ask what’s good, and order the flatbread pizzetta. When it comes, I am shocked. It is quite possibly the best pizza slice I have had in my life. This isn’t a pizza joint, but I make a mental note that if I have a hankering for a top-shelf slice instead of a pepperoni and mushroom monster from a delivery place that I must come back here.

Feeling relaxed and happy, we nurse our drinks. They close the doors and I ask to settle up, but they assure me that there is no rush and we can hang out while they go through their closing work. I offer to help bus some tables but they laugh and decline. They turn up the radio and it’s set to a random download from the Pandora website. (If you haven’t seen Pandora, basically you enter a song or artist and it makes a ‘station’ that chooses random music that it thinks you will like.) After a few 80s hits, I ask what the station is set to, and the manager responds “Eye of the Tiger”. Brilliant.

A short night, but a fun one. Once again, the yellow brick road led me somewhere new and proved that I can still travel in my own backyard.