Village Halloween Parade: NYC

Revisiting the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade of 2013, a fiery comeback after the devastating Hurricane Sandy disrupted 2012’s festivities.

Two Halloweens ago in 2012, I happily and groggily moved from one music venue to the next in order to catch the live performances of the artists whose names I’ve encircled, and actually plotted on an Excel sheet, on the Gainesville Fest 11 bill. Those four nights were wild, energetic, and sweaty but given that the festival was centered on music, it wasn’t exactly a proper Halloween celebration.

 I used to pose in front of wig stores in San Diego. And then last year, they all came alive at the Village Halloween Parade.
Village Halloween Parade
Spring St and 6th Ave to 16th St | New York, NY [map]
[Photo Gallery]

Around the same time last year, I was finally living in the city of my dreams but didn’t have time to prepare for what was my first ever fun Halloween celebration. I’d learned about the Village Halloween Parade via a random page on the internet (my usual vehicle towards finding information these days) the day before and decided that for once, I actually wanted to watch a parade. Parades are things I was forced to attend as a kid and I almost always concluded they were stupid and hot and barely worth the effort. But the chance to see NYC freaks behatted, bewigged, and becostumed? OK, that last one’s not a real word but you get my drift. I’ve always been fond of wigs and frequently jumped at the chance to pose in front of wig stores in San Diego before I moved to New York. Last year, the pretty mannequins all came alive at the Village Halloween Parade. For a more in-depth look at last year’s Halloween festivities, check out my Facebook photo album.

Something that I found noteworthy on my way to witnessing the most exciting annual spectacle and holiday for me was the people’s handling of the surrounding crowd in the Spring St. subway station. The way everyone moved in an almost synchronized and choreographed fashion to prevent a stampede without any assistance from any type of authority blew my mind. And made me fall in love with Halloween and its hardcore fans a bit more.

Village Halloween Parade
Black and white on the night of the Village Halloween Parade in front of the Recovery Diaspora mural in Bowery.

Since I was new to the city, I didn’t have a post-parade party but found myself visiting my favorite bar again that was also featured in my Cobra Skulls post. The mild-mannered door guy at Double Down Saloon had a hard time recognizing me because according to him, my hair looked more normal on Halloween than on my driver’s license. Right on the hair part, but the document I produced to be let in was a state ID which looks a lot like a driver’s license. Tip for non-Americans: Other photo IDs will be recognized but a state ID prevents any lingering confusion in locating your birth year when going to American bars or drinking establishments where you’re always required to show one. If you’re not in the US long enough to have a state ID or a driver’s license, just point at your birth year for a speedier entry to anywhere with alcohol. Even if you’re 60, you’ll need an ID.

Village Halloween Parade
Yes, pretty tame hair all things considered.

On our way to Double Down Saloon, we were caught off-guard by an unseen guy in a Gilly Suit who successfully blended in with the fence and then jumped forward and greeted us in his spookiest voice. Surprised we all were, but offended we weren’t. We proceeded to congratulate him and then asked if we could take his photo.

Village Halloween Parade Batman and Mr. Gilly Suit
Just when Mr. Gilly Suit agreed, Batman walked by and I caught a photo of these two costumed individuals.

New York’s Village Halloween Parade is an annual holiday parade and street pageant that started in 1974. The general costume and makeup extravaganza is presented on October 31st of every year except for 2012 when the organizing committee suffered a huge loss on account of Hurricane Sandy. The artists and technicians responsible for these puppets work throughout the Summer and Fall in many locations around the Greater New York City area, Upstate New York, New Jersey, Boston, Cleveland and the North East.

I wish I could have had a better spot than where I was watching last year but even more, I hope to be one of the fifty thousand or so participants this year. I don’t know how accurate Wikipedia is but I didn’t really think the parade was a) televised, and b)reached an audience of one hundred million. That is crazy. I also feel that everyone had energy reserves from the year before last which made for a fantastic night for everyone in attendance. Even the ones watching from their apartments were especially loud and excited as they once again proclaimed their love for this beautifully chaotic city. Here goes mine: I <3 NY.

Clinton Street Baking Company: NYC

Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant serves high-quality brunch and is best enjoyed on a weekday afternoon when there are no lines.

Clinton Street Baking Co. & Restaurant pancakes and french toast
Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant
Monday-Friday: 8AM-4PM, 6-11PM
Sat: 9AM-4PM, 6PM-11PM, Sunday: 9AM-6PM (Complicated Hours)
4 Clinton Street (between East Houston & Stanton) | New York, NY 10002 [map]
Top: Chocolate Chunk Pancakes with Warm Maple Butter Bottom: Brioche French Toast

I’ve been wanting to try this place for weeks now, but I couldn’t possibly justify the long waits described by avid Yelpers in which some of them have had to wait for 2.5 hours to get their pancakes. I’m also usually wary of popular American places due to many terrible experiences in the past, but the food photos from this place on Yelp looked really delicious.

We walked into this restaurant/bakery around 3PM on a cold day with outside temperature at -14 degrees, two hours before the restaurant/bakery was to close before dinner. Note that the kitchen closes at 4PM and the restaurant also serves dinner except on Sundays and reopens at 6PM. My eating partner and I got seated right away and started with the lobster bisque. For $9, it couldn’t possibly live up to the cheaper and life-changing seafood bisque that I’ve had in Pike Place Market of Seattle, but the bisque was as decent as NYC food “that doesn’t quite hit the excellent mark” goes. The creamy paprika soup and the small chunks of very well-cooked lobster left me satisfied. It did, however, have me looking up the amazing Pike Place Chowder, and I yelped in excitement over the discovery that they ship anywhere in the US. Update: I gave Pike Place Chowder a call at 866-249-5890 and was told that shipping to Texas for my friend would cost $62. FYI, they sell their traditional and specialty chowders at $13.95 for a quart. I can’t yet justify the shipping cost but if you’re throwing a huge winter party, I can guarantee you and your guests will love Pike Place Chowder’s Seafood Bisque.

Clinton St Baking Co. & Restaurant Lobster Bisque
The restaurant’s highly decent Lobster Bisque

Now on to the main items we ordered: Chocolate Chunk Pancakes and Brioche French Toast with Bananas and Roasted Pecans. Both were served with maple butter, and both were to die for. The only quirk we remarked on and laughed about with the young Japanese tourists on the next table was the largeness of the portions. We told the girls that most Manhattan restaurants usually have more reasonable portions. That opened up a discussion on other restaurants and bakeries in Manhattan and Brooklyn that we would recommend on their week in the city. The enjoyable conversation reminded me of why I keep this blog in the first place.

Since there wasn’t any way I could finish my French toast, I had it packed up to go and that alone was enough for “brunch” the next day. If you really want to try different things and you’re with a group, have one person order any of the pancakes, share said pancakes, and then try some of their other brunch items. Their dishes are very well-prepared that I can about guarantee the menu items we didn’t have room in our stomachs for are great too. I also found Clinton Street Baking Company’s coffee to be decent and the customer service to be efficient and friendly without being annoying.

Tip: Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant is cash-only but there are ATMs across the street.

Cannery Row: Monterey, CA

Passing through Cannery Row, a waterfront street in Monterey, California named after the famous John Steinbeck novel

Cannery Row in Monterey, California
Cannery Row
555 Abrego Street | Monterey, CA 93940 [map]
As I grow older, I find myself moving further away from the idealistic and closer into the cynically humorous and sometimes mildly deranged authors. I don’t know if I’m regressing or just coming to terms with the fact that I don’t know everything. And like most people, I am a deeply flawed human being who does what she can to get by. I do remember being somewhat self-righteous in my early twenties and admiring John Steinbeck’s works a lot. This doesn’t mean I specifically had him in mind while driving through Monterey in Central California’s Pacific Coast.

After over seven hours of gazing at deer, zebras, the historic Bixby Creek Bridge, and the remarkable McWay Cove of the Big Sur coast, we were looking forward to a relaxing walk break. Not that those wondrous sights weren’t deeply calming, it’s just that beauty of such grand proportions can get quite overwhelming. I also needed to see ordinary people milling around where they live although word has it that Monterey is quite the tourist trap. California in general can be perfect for moments of isolation and reflective thinking, but another thing I learned about myself this year is that I really am over 90% city animal. I love being surrounded by strangers especially if they seem to be having a good time.

Cannery Row in Monterey, California

And indeed they seemed happy to be walking down Cannery Row, the historical site of a number of now-defunct sardine canning factories.  I haven’t read the 1945 Steinbeck book of the same title, but Trip Advisor had this waterfront street as number 19 of 56 attractions in the area. As a frequent US road tripper, most of the stuff on Trip Advisor are hit or miss but I often find myself looking more closely at the ones on the bottom part of their lists. The street name, formerly a nickname for Ocean View Avenue, became official in January 1958 to honor John Steinbeck and his well-known novel. Today the area around Cannery Row is a marine sanctuary and home to a large population of California sea lions.

Smiling Santa riding a Harley in Monterey, California Smiling Santa riding a Harley in Monterey, California

One possible source of joy for the people that day was Santa cruising around town at 5-10 miles per hour in a Harley motorcycle. Can’t say I’ve ever asked Santa for anything but at least he was cheerful and even smiled at me taking photos of him.

Cannery Row in Monterey, California

I also managed to snap a photo of the Cannery Row Brewing Company building. People on Yelp are pretty harsh on this place and this establishment holds an average rating of 3 out of 5 stars. A word of advice on Yelp: the places with 4 stars tend to be overhyped, the ones with 4.5 or 5 but with a really low number of reviews (7-70 is a good range) tend to be excellent, and the 3.5-rated places are often your safest if not the most un-American-tasting (always a great thing) joints. However, the Cannery Row Brewing Company holds a 3. That is a rating to be nervous about, although I haven’t really tried this place.

Steinbeck Plaza in Cannery Row of Monterey, CA

And lastly, I posed in front of the Steinbeck Plaza at the corner of Cannery Row and Prescott Avenue. I don’t know how John Steinbeck would have felt about this generic-looking mall with a pool hall and a Johnny Rockets but I guess Monterey is just giving Americans what they want. Supposedly, once you’re in the plaza near the bay, you get good views of the shoreline to the east and McAbee Beach which is only usable during low tide. Overall, Monterey was an interesting little detour, but my sights were solely set that afternoon on one of the greatest ramen spots in America: Ramen Dojo in San Mateo. It is an hour and 40-some minutes away from the Cannery Row by car but according to Google, you can ride the public transportation for 3 hours and 32 minutes if you’re lucky. I know I said places with 4-star ratings tend to be overrated but with Ramen Dojo, definitely believe the hype.

Bright Nights: Vancouver, B.C.

Recounting an unexpectedly delightful display of Christmas lights in Canada on December 2012

Stanley Park Bright Nights, December 2012 in Vancouver, Canada
Bright Nights in Stanley Park
Original Schedule: 3pm-10pm Sunday to Thursday | 3pm-11pm Friday and Saturday
11am-3pm Wed, Fri, Sat & Sun Matinees 
Updated Schedule: 11am-11pm Open Daily (December 20-January 5)
Closed on December 25
Vancouver, BC V6G 1Z4, Canada [map]
[Photo Gallery]

Since I’m really more of the non-traditionalist type very closely resembling to Britta of Community, I didn’t seek out any Christmas action while spending three days in Vancouver last December. After getting mistakenly lured by the promise of Moroccan tagine at a place that barely delivered and a slightly lukewarm outing at Granville Market, I wasn’t ready to call it a day. I decided to visit Vancouver’s 1001-acre Stanley Park which was two short and mostly comfortable bus rides away from Granville Island. To put things in context, Central Park just recently expanded to 844 acres of land area.

Stanley Park Bright Nights, December 2012 in Vancouver, Canada

One thing I didn’t expect was being greeted by the sight of giant static Santa. I wasn’t upset over this development to my night though.

The people at Stanley Park in Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Christmas revelers at Bright Nights in Stanley Park.
I don’t get traditions but I was happy to see these Bright Nights revelers having fun.

There were a lot of couples young and old alike, as well as parents who brought their little kids to enjoy the spectacular displays that Bright Nights had to offer.

Animated Display during Bright Nights in Stanley Park

Another cool display during Bright Nights in Stanley Park

As I’ve said, I’m not the Christmas-y type so I didn’t recognize all the different displays. The photos above are some of the ones I appreciated. I’ve been realizing lately that I’m really more of a cold-weather kind of person, so these ones stood out for me. I also didn’t mean to look so queer amongst the penguins. For other displays that may be more interesting to you, visit my Facebook page to view my Bright Nights gallery.

On our way out, we saw the sign that read “British Columbia Fire Fighters: Bright Nights Welcomes You.”  Learn more about these nights of magic and illumination here.
Burn Fund by the British Columbia Fire Fighters AssociationThe Burn Fund has been established by the British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters Association in 1978. This year marks their 16th annual celebration of Bright Nights which they’ve trademarked if you can’t make out ‘TM’ on the sign. Bright Nights will be closed tomorrow on Christmas Day but the celebration will go on until January 5, 2014.

You should definitely check out this group’s well-organized event if you happen to be in Vancouver for the holidays. You will be amazed by their incredible efforts at putting everything together — even this jaded punk reveled in some of last year’s animated displays. Obviously, Stanley Park also caters to the day crowd if that’s more your scene. Either way, have fun and make your Vancouver visit count.

Yayoi Kusama Exhibit: NYC

Checking out the hype surrounding Yayoi Kusama’s exhibit at the David Zwirner Gallery

Late last week, I read an article on Untapped Cities about the Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the David Zwirner Gallery. According to its website, the art gallery has been hosting “innovative, singular, and pioneering exhibitions” since 1993 but remained practically unknown to me and most everyone in NYC prior to Yayoi Kusama’s I Who Have Arrived In Heaven exhibit. As a matter of fact, the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea had only 6 Yelp reviews before this recent boost in popularity. Thanks to Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Rooms, the art gallery has had to cope with exceedingly long lines and forewarn people of a 6-hour wait after witnessing persistent lines and a record-breaking attendance during the snowstorm of December 14th.

Yayoi Kusama at the David Zwirner Gallery in NYC
David Zwirner
10AM-6PM Tuesday-Saturday
Closed on Mondays and Sundays
525 W 19th St | New York, NY ‎10011 [map]

Such was the hype surrounding these rooms and  The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away installation in particular which some have referred to as “prime selfie real estate” on Instagram. Since it was free to get in, I decided it couldn’t hurt to view the exhibit on its last day of showing on Saturday, December 21st. I was warned about the lines but didn’t arrive at the gallery till 4pm, two hours before closing. As previously remarked upon on Yelp, there were two different lines facing separate directions. Both were so horribly disorganized which made it  really confusing where to stand. Later on, one of the staff members announced on his very quiet megaphone that the much-longer line facing east was for The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away and had been closed earlier. Supposedly, those people broke the former 6-hour record wait with some of them standing in line since 7AM.

I honestly was not curious about The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away since I’d already had such a great time viewing the Space Needle of Seattle and the Skydeck of Chicago last year. That installation looked to me like a 45-second redux of watching any large city at night. Yes, you had to take off your shoes to stand on the platform of the room that features a shallow reflecting pool as its floor and take as many selfies as you can in 45 seconds. If you’re curious, you can view photos and a video of it here.


Yayoi Kusama’s I Who Have Arrived in Heaven was a multi-part exhibit which spanned all three locations of the gallery in Chelsea (519, 525 and 533 West 19th Street) less than a block from the High Line.  Those of us who stood in the westward line were given 60 seconds to go inside the room featured in the photos above. The above explosion of neon colors was called Love Is Calling. I thought it was the neatest part of the entire exhibition. My companion was turned off by the fact that Love Is Calling was made to look like a bouncy castle yet the staff member’s sole directive was that you could not poke, touch, or smack the components of the art installation. I was just happy I didn’t have to stand in line for more than 20 minutes.

IMG_8577Directly outside of that room was a wall-sized video monitor of Yayoi Kusama reciting and singing her poem/song called Manhattan Suicide Addict. Other than the nonsensical nature of the title, I wasn’t particularly moved by the 84-year-old artist’s ramblings. IMG_8579

I did, however, enjoy the kaleidoscopic background.IMG_8580 I also suspect I was lured to this David Zwirner exhibition by Yayoi Kusama’s bright red wig and crazy stare.IMG_8581 Lastly, we went into the rooms that featured 27 new large-scale paintings by the artist. My companion again had a funny comment on the nature of the paintings being very appropriate for children’s books. My personal thought was that most of them looked inferior to some IKEA rug designs I’ve seen.IMG_8589_1 And so my final photo before leaving the vicinity of the gallery was of this building right across the street. Well I’ll be damned if this didn’t end up looking like the most visually artistic feat of last weekend’s outing. IMG_8597Or perhaps you should never come to me for a critical analysis on the works of an artist I just didn’t get.

Remembering Cobra Skulls: USA

December 2013: A timeline of my relationship with the now-disbanded Cobra Skulls, and a sporadic look back at some Californian nature and art

I’d first heard of the existence of Cobra Skulls in 2008 via Against Me! I initially filed them under “Related Artists” for AM! without knowing how much impact their music would bring to my life. The first song of theirs that I’ve heard on Youtube was Charming The Cobra. One can’t help but be curious about what else a band has got to say with lines that go Nobody’s hungry / everyone is well to do / and we lack motivation. / If the truth can set you free / then how can we keep dying for you?

evin Peralta of Cobra Skulls at the now-closed Metaphor Cafe.
The band playing at the now-closed Metaphor Cafe in November 2011.

A year later in 2009, Cobra Skulls released American Rubicon: a great reflection of the times that perfectly encapsulates the movement of a democratic republic towards an authoritarian empire. It’s safe to say the record is still on my rotation and I listen to the best tracks of American Rubicon fairly often.

In 2010, I started working in Singapore and was badly struggling with the overcrowded public transportation. When you think about it, people relocate to Singapore to work and seek out gainful opportunities. But most of the time in my numbing exhaustion, all I could think of was a much-needed population control. Enter Overpopulated: The factory farm don’t make it easy to sustain. / People with a narrow scope / market a supply of disposable hope. / And the masses will demand it every day. But before that, I was dealing with the pains of not hearing back from hundreds of places I applied to and worrying about having my temporary visa run out. Enter One Day I’ll Never: I never asked to be put on this Earth / but I’d like to be able to prove my own worth… /And I know that I’m a cynical bastard, / and I’d run away from myself if I could.

In February of 2011, the band released an EP called Bringing The War Home. A month after that, I immigrated to the US by way of San Diego, California and saw firsthand what Devin Peralta was talking about in his songs when it comes to rich Southern Californians and their moral convictions being mostly founded on a disconnect with harsh world realities that most ordinary people have to suffer through. I watched and fought back tears after handing out leftovers to old Mexicans waiting under the harsh glare of the sun outside of Home Depot, hoping for a temporary job helping owners build or improve their immobile sanctuaries. These guys are there most days waiting to provide extra sets of hands to those who never have to worry about their next meal, or loved ones who are miles away from where they are. Enter ICE in the Night on my car stereo which, according to Devin Peralta, is “a true story about my friend and co-worker who was abducted from his home near Fresno, California, by an American terrorist organization called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).” Read a track-by-track of the EP here.

Manuel could never do another man harm
I know him well from working on the family farm
Most of his life and all of my life

But don’t bother telling the I.C.E. “Tiene Tarjeta”
But a green card don’t mean a thing
Next to brown skin and a Spanish accent

Later that year, Agitations came out which couldn’t have been better timing as I was struggling with trying to keep up with loved ones over the internet. It came to a point where I didn’t even wanna have my own phone, I wanted mostly nothing to do with technology as I went through days of grueling physical labor with no real reward in sight. Enter Iron Lung: Modern marvels at fingertips / keeping me replete. / They fuel me with indifference / to the earth beneath my feet. / Still I don’t need / your iron lung.

In November of 2011, we went up to Escondido to catch them and Nothington (another really really amazing band from San Francisco) at The Metaphor Cafe. That night I got to meet Devin Peralta. But rather than showering him with words of gratitude, all I could manage to get out was a “You’re really tall” comment as I posed for a photo next to him. It didn’t help that he seemed just as socially awkward as I was. (Aside: Yelp is telling me now that The Metaphor Cafe has closed. This constant quashing of great underground culture is why I get sad when I think of San Diego.)

Wearing a Cobra Skulls bandanna as I hiked through the steep trails of El Capitan in San Diego county.
Me wearing a Cobra Skulls bandanna as I hiked through the steep trails of El Capitan in San Diego county.

At this point, I had become deeply curious about the man behind these lyrics and started reading more interviews. I found out the album cover for Agitations was a photograph of a mural at Balmy Alley in San Francisco. A string of luck finally provided me with enough money to catch both Cobra Skulls and Nothington amongst other great acts at the annual punk fest in Gainesville, Florida. That was October of 2012, and that’s where I picked up the band’s Eagle Eyes EP and a pair of Cobra Skulls earrings made of reused bottle caps. You can order yours if you want through the crafty lady’s Tumblr. I bought everything that I could afford from this band because they deserved it. The title track of that EP still sticks with me and hits me in so many ways today.

Now I’m not a stranger to self-loathing
But I’m not impressed by your secondhand clothing
Sold you with hip white lies
What good is heaven, eagle eyes?

Turn down your ego, I cannot arrive everywhere we go
fearing regret
Turn down your ego, I don’t wanna leave everywhere we go
trying to forget

Coming back from that life-changing music festival just made it painstakingly obvious how boring of a huge town San Diego was. Fortunately I had enough money left to visit San Francisco. I’d been so excited to check out The Mission in general and Balmy Alley in particular.

Cobra Skulls playing at The Metaphor Cafe in November 2011.
“Desaparecidos Pero No Olvidados” mural by a Peruvian artist which became the album cover for Cobra Skulls’ Agitations record.
Balmy Alley in San Francisco, CA

I had thought about relocating to SF but subsequently cancelled that plan when I realized how expensive it would be for me to live there. I honestly couldn’t stand the thought of many more years of grinding poverty — at some point it had stopped being a badge of honor and just started feeling more and more like a reminder of my helplessness and inability to help people. But I also couldn’t live in the American suburbs anymore. And so another cross-country trip was decided for December 2012 with NYC as the final destination since I have a few friends who have been living here for a while. Of course I couldn’t leave without making room for some really amazing visual treats on the way.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Seeing these really tall trees was a lesson in humility. I will be writing a more detailed post later.

The redwoods of California will always be one of the highlights of my traveling existence. And damn my self-awareness, but seeing those trees made me think of another Cobra Skulls track, Solastalgia.

You bought a hot new shit today, better than the old one in every way
Imagine the envy of all of your friends when your carbon footprints fade
But you don’t believe in anything that won’t suit consumer needs.

As I look into the atmosphere I’m changed with every breath I take
I’m beleaguered by indifference and denial of all the mess we make
At the same time quick to herald that we harness what Gaia will provide.

Since I was following Cobra Skulls on Facebook, I caught wind of their announcement earlier this year of much less frequent shows. I’ve seen enough bands break up to think of that as an unofficial hiatus on account of Devin leaving San Francisco. I know how hard it is to keep going without making enough money to live on not to mention having to overcome the physical distance between the band members now and the not-so-rare encounters with assholes who would break into their cars and steal their cash and valuables.

So I can’t possibly fault the band that’s helped me keep my sanity throughout all my struggles as a jaded human being trying to find my place in the world for bringing this news today. If anything, I’ve been waiting for the axe to fall for some time now. I can’t say I’m not saddened that it finally did, but mostly I’ve been acknowledging defeat as I looked for luck in the flights department earlier tonight. I had thought maybe I could catch them for the last time in Los Angeles, Google’s answer was a resounding monetary NO.

Or maybe I dream too often about seeing this band live. I also remember hoping for another Cobra Skulls show three months ago as I stumbled upon an awesome Las Vegas-inspired rockabilly bar here in New York.

Double Down Saloon
A faithful recreation of a Las Vegas rockabilly dive bar in NYC, Double Down Saloon is pretty much my favorite bar.

Just like that night when I played Life In Vain on the jukebox, I cannot let this news pass me by without saying something. So, this is the only place I know how to say this to the Cobra Skulls: Guys, your music has had a profound effect on me and my life is forever changed by it. Devin, thank you for the most thoughtful lyrics accompanied by thick chugging bass lines. I look forward to what you have up next music-wise.

Central Park, South End: NYC

Central Park initially opened in 1857 on 778 acres of land. It now covers 844 acres and is still NOT the largest park in New York City.

For the longest time, I was one of those who visited New York once in 2011 and then lived in one of the outer boroughs for 8 months without having set foot in Central Park. I have no explanation other than they weren’t kidding when they said there is so much stuff going on in this city. It also has been blowing my mind the vast number of other green spaces available here for long hikes and other nature activities whenever I needed to decompress and step away from all forms of iron lungs.

Central Park south end entrance and map
Central Park
6AM-1AM (Open Daily)
W 59th St | New York, NY [map]
[Photo Gallery]

So I’ve been to this famous park twice now — once before the onset of fall, and most recently on November 30th of 2013, two Saturdays before we got our first taste of snow for the winter which didn’t officially start until December 21st. On my first visit back in September, we got off the train on 59th St and started walking towards the closest entrance to the south end of the park. On the way, we were greeted by a small wedding entourage. I couldn’t resist snapping a photo on my camera phone. To my later frustration, it was the only camera I had with me at the time.

A wedding entourage on the way to the South End of Central Park.
There are those who travel far to seek out “nature” on their wedding day, and then there are city people. So the question on every wedding planner’s checklist should be: “Do you prefer man-made illusion or urban grime?”

And then we got to the entrance with a map of the huge park, but not without one of us partaking in a supposedly classic New York experience: eating a hot dog while visiting Central Park. I get queasy over hot dogs and how they’re sourced in general so I passed. Despite it being a cloudy day, the park was crowded and full of people having fun walking their dogs.

People walking their dogs at Central Park.
Big dogs are often happy when you take them outside for a walk.

Before we could take our own afternoon walk, our individual calls of nature got more urgent and were made progressively worse by the lack of any visible bathrooms. We ended up going to the cafeteria and standing in line for almost 30 minutes before one of the cafeteria employees directed the crowd to the closest public restroom. Hopefully this saves you some time when visiting Central Park. Yes, there are 16 public restrooms all over the park.

After a long and painful release, we started our walk at The Mall leading to the Bethesda Terrace and lo and behold — your typical TV and touristy NYC stuff happened.

[metaslider id=2499]

There was the old man drawing a sketch of a female tourist, a busker who looked like a shorter Sansa Stark, and of course, a living statue. My best friend-cum-travel partner pointed out: “Hey, that used to be Amanda Palmer’s job.” Yes, it was in fact Amanda Palmer’s job and you should go watch her inspiring TED talk about it.

Balto statue, the dogsled who saved lives.

We also snapped a photo of the sculpture of Balto, the sled dog who saved Alaska’s children from a diphtheria epidemic. If you go to the park’s official website, you’ll learn there are 82 points of interest on the South End of Central Park alone where we visited the first time.

Another standout for me was the moment before we stepped down to the Bethesda Terrace with the decorative ceiling. There was a 15-year-old teenager in a My Chemical Romance shirt who approached me with a quivering voice saying “Your hair is awesome.”

A view of Bethesda Terrace from the top
A view of Bethesda Terrace from the top

If I were less awkward, I would have given her a hug. Don’t get me wrong, but I have never felt as validated in my entire life as I do in NYC. Give that 15-year old girl a few years, and she’ll be telling you about the best underground stuff and the most DIY things happening around you. Maybe that’s the 13-year-old in me speaking, the one who thought Blink-182 was the best band ever but whatever. Give young punks a chance to grow or they (and I) will never like you.

Central Park Bethesda Terrace musician
New York City is replete with musicians who willingly serenade everyone around them for free.
While touristy, I would much rather kids take their parents to Central Park than the mall. :P
While touristy, I would much rather kids take their parents to Central Park than the mall.

And of course there were kids petting ducks, and taking pictures of the white animals with their iPads.


I couldn’t resist the temptation to pose by the famous Bethesda Angel of Waters statue on the Bethesda Fountain. Unfortunately I got her back view but she is supposed to be referencing the Gospel of John which describes an angel blessing the Pool of Bethesda and giving it healing powers.

Central Park South End by the Bethesda Fountain

And I was a little too sorry I didn’t have my nice camera with me when this beautiful scenery revealed itself to me.

The stunning 18-acre Central Park lake
This stunning 18-acre Central Park lake used to be an untamed swamp.

Central Park lake that used to be a swampPeople find it hard to believe sometimes, but NYC does a great job of juxtaposing beautiful skyscrapers with mesmerizing natural views. Just like all other cities I’ve been exposed to, it is far from being perfect but Central Park is a testament to its legendary greatness. Another standout point of interest for me was the Belvedere Castle which gives you the best and highest views of the park and the surrounding cityscape.

The Belvedere Castle which  also serves as the official Central Park weather station.

A noteworthy fact is that since 1919, the National Weather Service has been using this castle as the location of the official Central Park weather station. In a fenced-in compound just south of the castle, other data such as the rainfall is recorded and sent to the weather service’s forecast office at Brookhaven National Library on Long Island. The Henry Luce Nature Observatory which was created in 1996 is also located in this castle and is open to the public for free Tuesdays-Sundays from 10AM to 5PM. Sadly it was past 5 when we made it up this way.

A stunning view from the Belvedere Castle of Central Park
An example of the much-talked about “stunning views” from the Belvedere Castle.

The Belvedere Castle has also been the setting for many popular films, animated series, and video games. Learn more about this interesting architectural feat here.

A wedding happening at Central ParkAnd brides or brides-to-be really do seem pulled in by the allure of Central Park. Our remark while witnessing two wedding entourages that day was that we couldn’t really fault them for this choice. Next up, I will discuss my night visit to the North End of Central Park which was incredibly different and I assume is much less touristy during the day. I can’t wait to explore it further.

Julian Pie Company: Julian, CA

Julian Pie Company is “as American as apple pie” indeed but I encourage you to try their strawberry rhubarb, too.

Julian Pie Company
Julian Pie Company
9am-5pm (Open Daily)
2225 Main St | Julian, CA 92036 ‎[map]

After over half a day of exploring Anza Borrego, we were feeling famished and thirsty at the same time. Sugar may not be the best cure for hunger and thirst but pies always have a way of beckoning me. Julian is another little town in California replete with small-town charms which can be quite nice for a few hours. We couldn’t decide which one to try out of the three or so pie shops in the area but ultimately we picked the one that was more well-known and named after the place it was in. I also quite like the logo.

Julian Pie Company
Left: Julian Pie Company’s rich pecan pie. Right: Their amazing traditional apple pie.

By the time I visited this small pie shop, I’d already had over a year of dining experience in America. Many people recommend the Dutch apple pie but as a non-American more used to the Asian way of baking things, I hesitated since the crumb crust was described as sweeter than their regular counterparts. Trust me, there is a big difference between American and Asian sweets. Here’s what we ended up devouring:

Pecan Pie

Seriously, who can resist a good old pecan pie? It’s risky getting it outside though — most of the time the caramel sauce is made very sweetly. There’s only a few pecan pies I would buy again and this isn’t one of them. Still this wasn’t bad at all.

Traditional Apple Pie (Original)

This is Julian Pie Company’s crowning glory. The crust and the filling left nothing more to be desired. It was a perfect slice of pie.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

I was nervous but extremely curious about rhubarb at the time, this was such a great surprise. I’ve had a better slice of rhubarb pie since but still, thank you Julian Pie Company for showing me that they’re not all poorly made like what my companion feared.

Julian Pie Company

And yes, I may have had a craving for more. If you live in San Diego county, a bunch of supermarkets carry limited selections of their pies.

Julian Pie Company
I bought this apple pie from Windmill Farms in San Diego.

If you don’t live anywhere near San Diego, you can order their pies online. Julian Pie Company offers a Frequent ‘Pie-r’ card but it does not apply to wholesale or retail orders. Learn more about the terms here.

Anza-Borrego Desert: San Diego, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is perfect for camping, stargazing, and hiking so long as you can avoid the thorny plants.

Anza-Borrego has sharp agave plants but is a really great morning hike if you're careful.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
November-April: 9am-5pm (Open Daily)
May-October: 9am-5pm (Open on Weekends)
200 Palm Canyon Drive | Borrego Springs, CA 92004 [map]

[Photo Gallery]

I have briefly touched on Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in my San Diego post. I visited the park September of 2012 to get away from the monotony of living in the quiet city and gaze at stars instead. It’s one of my favorite camping memories to date; however there are some things you must remember in order to keep your road trip enjoyable.
1. Steer clear of the prickly jumping chollas. Those things have continued to plague my pants even after a few washes.
2. The roads leading up to the second largest park in continental America are really steep and narrow. They will either cause dizziness, extreme hunger, or both. I highly suggest you pack up hefty-sized meals and snacks if you’re spending more than just a few hours there.
3. If you plan to camp overnight like we did, make sure to bring blankets because the deserts of California do get cold at night.
4. Coyotes will be around and howling at night — there is no need to panic and attract them towards where you are. As smartly pointed out by a Google review, this desert is “not for sissies!”
5. If you want great photos of the stars, bring a tripod.
6. Anza-Borrego has 110 miles of hiking trails. It’s best to hike in the morning as it gets hotter and drier throughout the day.
7. Make sure you’re wearing the right shoes, the surrounding agave plants look potentially life-threatening in the event that you fall.
8. Don’t dehydrate. There is at least one gas station not far from the Visitor Center.
9. Stop by Julian and eat an apple pie on your way out.

Powell’s Books: Portland, OR

Visiting Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, the largest used and new bookstore in the world with over four million new, used, rare, and out-of-print books.

Night view of  Powell's City of Books in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon.
Powell’s City of Books
9AM-11PM (Open Daily)
1005 W Burnside St. | Portland, OR 97209 [map]

All traveling bookworms would often find themselves in a bookstore somewhere. I wound up at Powell’s December of 2012 and the different floors and shelves of printed paper on every subject you can think of were overwhelming to say the least. Powell’s Books claims to be the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world with over four million books on their online and retail inventory.

Perusing Robert Ferguson's The Vikings: A History at the City of Books, the flagship location of Powell's Books.
Perusing Robert Ferguson’s The Vikings: A History at the City of Books, the flagship location of Powell’s Books.

I picked up a copy of Patti Smith’s Just Kids and Isabel Fonseca’s Bury Me Standing at Powell’s flagship location in downtown Portland. The former is a great memoir that had me laughing and crying at the same time, the latter is a detailed exploration of the lives of the misunderstood Roma Gypsies in Europe whose history of persecution is largely unknown to most of the world. I highly recommend Bury Me Standing to travelers not only interested in sightseeing but also learning about the history of the places that they visit. I definitely hope to visit Eastern and Central Europe one day. I also noticed a sense of romance in Patti Smith’s retelling of her visits in Paris, a feeling that doesn’t seem to be associated with the famous city by present-day travelers. Is Paris romantic or overrated? Someday I will find out.

Earlier that day, I found one of the chain’s other locations, Powell’s Books for Home and Garden, by accident. It was across from Crossroads Trading on SE Hawthorne Boulevard where I picked up some much-needed winter clothing. I would have welcomed the chance to explore Portland’s neighborhoods further but it was raining for most of the three days that I was there. To find out which Powell’s location is convenient for you, check out Powell’s Locations page.

I didn’t have enough time to visit each of the rooms at the much-larger Powell’s City Of Books packed with over 68,000 square feet of books or covering about 1.6 acres of retail floor space. Powell’s website provides a very enthusiastic and well-written tour of the different rooms at their flagship store and their different offerings.

Neil Gaiman & AFP: Town Hall NYC

An Evening With Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer at the Town Hall was a joyous, darkly humorous, and intimate affair to remember.

First, a little bit of an intro: I’ve dreamed of catching Amanda Palmer live eversince I first heard of the punk cabaret duo, The Dresden Dolls. This dream came true back in August thanks to Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors free summer concert series. She was touring with The Grand Theft Orchestra but to everyone’s delighted surprise, Amanda called Brian Viglione onto the stage after telling us she was just asking him if he wanted to borrow her tights. This gave me a brief glimpse of the Dresden Dolls in concert — it was surreal and left me wanting more. Brian now plays with the Violent Femmes if you didn’t know that yet.

Just like Amanda before meeting (and eventually marrying Neil), I admit to have only regretfully heard of the wonderful author in passing and mostly through his Tumblr fans who shared some remarkable quotes and later on, a most excellent comic strip inspired by Neil’s Make Good Art speech. I did eventually pick up Stories: All-New Tales from Powell’s of Portland, Oregon — it’s jam-packed with inventive and most deftly-woven short stories by authors both familiar and new. I would have to give the best story prop to Al Sarrantonio’s The Cult of the Nose although Neil’s was so darkly whimsical and Chuck Palahniuk’s was surprisingly fresher than his recent books which left me bored. Go get a copy of this anthology as soon as you can, Neil Gaiman’s note alone makes it worth it.

An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer
The Town Hall NYC
123 W 43rd St | New York, NY 10036 [map]
Show Tickets: $42.50/person

An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer was originally slated for Saturday, November 23rd, but the tickets sold out quickly that the couple added another date for us sorry fans. From the moment we walked into the Town Hall, I was treated to a visual feast of lovely punks and goths dressed in their most righteous outfits befitting the occasion. Much theorizing was made over the guy with steampunk buttons jammed into his eyes — were they glued or pinned? How did he manage to make them stick? Another one who stood out was the girl with pink streaks and lovely tights who would go on to ask me during the intermission what brand and shade of green dye I used on my hair. I change my hair so often but if you’re also curious, this time it was Manic Panic’s Enchanted Forest.

Everything about that night was a cool story waiting to happen so I’m just gonna point out a few highlights. For a more detailed breakdown, check out Bleeding Cool’s review of the evening.
1. Amanda and Neil opening with “Makin’ Whoopee.” I had previously seen this on Youtube but that did not make Neil’s deadpan delivery any less funny. The male half of the old couple behind us knew most of the lines, not a surprise since Google tells me this song was first popularized by Eddie Cantor in the 1928 musical Whoopee!
2. Amanda’s spirited performance of “Coin-Operated Boy.
3. Their love poems for each other. Amanda’s was cute, Neil’s was darkly poignant and melancholy.
4. Neil’s reading of his short story, “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury.” This was perfect in ways that I’d be too pretentious to elucidate. I highly suggest you listen to the short story here. Also, if you’re a book nerd like me or just like reading in general, you can start with Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
5. Then there was the Q&A portion. I was especially taken by Amanda’s response to the question of whether she wants to be considered a feminist role model: “Once you try to be a role model, that’s when you start sucking.”
6. Amanda’s ode to Judy Blume. Judy is Amanda’s “should-have-been-obvious-influence-that-I-could-have-cited-but-didn’t” figure so she wrote an entire song about her with dramatized recollections of her childhood. I may remember everything out of order so make sure to check out the professional review.
7. Australian cabaret performer Meow Meow and Lance Horne bringing down the laughs and bonus entertainment. Meow Meow performed “Missed Me” with Amanda and then proceeded to pick out a guy in a very bright shirt with glasses to hold her waist while she’s performing so she “could do something with my hands.” Before the song was over, she was taking out her bra pads complaining that she was just trying them out that night and they were distracting. Hilarious with a capital H.

8. Claudia Gonson, Neil, and Amanda treating us to a performance of The Magnetic Fields’ “Come Back From San Francisco.” Claudia is a personal friend of Neil’s who proved to be a much bigger deal to Amanda than Stan Lee whose work she knew nothing about when she met him.  This was one of the few stories they have regarding Amanda’s cluelessness when it comes to Neil’s friends in the world of fiction. Claudia Gonson’s dad also happens to personally know Judy Blume and she then went on to share a funny dinner story involving Judy and her son.

9. Neil’s anecdotes of Amanda’s hilarious run-ins with his author friends. Earlier that day, they met JJ Abrams and Amanda was hurrying Neil because they “really needed to go.” To say that I found this cute may be understating my emotions about that anecdote and everything that went down that night.
10. Amanda and Kat Robichaud’s powerful performance of The Dresden Dolls’ “Delilah.” As if we didn’t have enough memories to hold on to, Amanda went on to introduce us all to Kat Robichaud — a recently eliminated contender of The Voice, a show most of us including Amanda have never seen before. Up until their fated Twitter encounter, Amanda just assumed everything about the show was evil. I admit I am very skeptical about reality shows too. She did an interview with Kat on her blog which set the record straight on that. Kat told Amanda she only really needed to see her video clips, Amanda told Kat that she was the real winner for being with us that night and then welcomed her to the dark side. What followed was an impassioned performance of The Dresden Dolls’ Delilah which brought me to tears in a fortunately dim and intimate room.

This was one of those tracks that kept me going while being inconsolably sad and uninspired in Singapore before. Having Kat’s amazing vocals just added a whole new “you guys, please stop making me cry” dimension to the performance. And then it all came to a close. But not without Amanda revealing the exciting news that after a long time of trying, they are finally making their way down to New York. Neil will be upstate so he can continue to make things up and write them down, Amanda’s looking for a NYC apartment so she can be in the city. I love that couple and like everyone else in attendance, I too hope we can do that entire night again in the near future.

And so it came to pass that I spent a magical Friday evening with the lovingly unkempt Neil, the fantastically weird Amanda, and their equally delightful guests and friends. Big props to the Town Hall for being such a lovely intimate venue although I would have changed the stage lighting if it were up to me.


Martha’s Bakery: Queens, NY

Martha’s Country Bakery in Forest Hills is full of baked goods on steroids. Avoid if you don’t like desserts that are sweeter than actual sugar.

When I first moved to New York in late January of 2013, one of my first dining experiences as a resident of the city was at HinoMaru, a ramen shop in Astoria, Queens. It was decent but not memorable. Whenever I find myself not entirely satisfied with my meal, I walk around looking for a small bite of anything sweet to compensate for a not-so-great dining experience. I got really excited when I saw Martha’s Country Bakery three blocks away. I went in but unfortunately it was too crowded so I left taking a mental note of the place.

A few months later, I started living in Forest Hills. It’s not exactly the most exciting neighborhood, and the fact that the pubs and fastfood places feel so much like my first neighborhood in San Diego (Pacific Beach to be specific — I hate bro culture!), my prognosis of the Martha’s in the area wasn’t too good. I held off trying their sweets for as long as I could. But then my favorite person in the world was celebrating his birthday on a Monday when La Boulangerie with their excellent French desserts is closed. We hoofed it down to Martha’s and tried these baked goods:

Martha's Country Bakery - Forest Hills, NY
Martha’s Country Bakery
6AM-Midnight (Monday-Thursday, Sunday)
6AM-1AM (Friday and Saturday)
70-30 Austin St | New York, NY 11375 [map]

Macaron. I had a small bite of this green thing and my first thought was “fake sugar!” How can anyone possibly finish one of these suckers no matter how tiny? It’s sweeter than eating spoonfuls of refined sugar.

Custard Napoleon and Red Velvet Cupcake from Martha's Country Bakery in Forest Hills
Top: Red Velvet Cupcake Bottom: Custard Napoleon

Red Velvet Cupcake. This was just dry with weird-tasting frosting. I only had a really small bite of this atrocity of a cupcake.
Custard Napoleon. Argh! This tasted like bad milk and hydrogenated oil. This was creamy in a slightly disturbing manner.

A few days after, I walked by Martha’s again on the way back from work and it couldn’t have been perfect timing to see two overweight women stopping in front of the bakeshop. One of them dramatically paused and touched the door with her oh-so-final proclamation: “This place is heaven.” Ugh, I should have known I was never their target demographic.

Author’s Note: Please forgive the crappy photos, I was pretty upset over Martha’s Country Bakery’s general mediocrity and confounding popularity in New York City of all places.

Empire Drive-In: Queens, NY

Empire Drive-In provides an in-depth and appropriately inappropriate look at suburban alienation.

I don’t know if I can write as poignantly as this guy about what transpired three Saturdays ago, October 12th, but I have a lot of feelings about it. The Empire Drive-in as detailed on their official website is a large-scale temporary installation built from junk cars and other salvaged materials that was started by two New York artists, Todd Chandler and Jeff Stark. The empire was first commissioned in 2010 in San Jose, California. It was also brought to Manchester, UK at some point.

Empire Drive-In October 4-20, 2013 | 7pm-11pm New York Hall of Science  47-01 111th St | Corona, NY 11368  [map]
Empire Drive-In
October 4-20, 2013 | 7pm-11pm
New York Hall of Science
47-01 111th St | Corona, NY 11368 [map]

The Queens, NY outdoor “movie theater” was set at the New York Hall of Science and ran October 4-20 of this year with event tickets being sold at $10 for NYSCI members and $15 for non-members like me. I happened to catch two of these very well-curated events but I mostly want to talk about the first one I’ve witnessed: the Teenage Wasteland double feature.


Going in I really was more excited about catching RVIVR for the second time than seeing the movies that they were going to play. Despite my love for classic films and longtime devotion to punk music, Over The Edge (1979) and Suburbia (1983) have both managed to escape my notice before that night. We showed up a few minutes before the operators in a van started playing hilarious old commercials from the emphatic anti-cable announcement to the laughable ominous-sounding warning against public displays of affection and the more than slightly disturbing anthropomorphic hotdogs.

Empire Drive-in Junk Car
I’m no car expert but I’ve read that these abandoned cars were manufactured in the past 15 years.

Since we couldn’t find any seats inside or atop one of the cars in the lot, we ended up parking our butts on the ground. Even though I wasn’t looking forward to getting butt and leg cramps, a quick glance at the audience and their laughter over the ridiculous commercials left the promise of a warm and cozy evening. Keep in mind that this happened on an autumn night where you’re never quite sure whether you need a light sweater or a thicker coat. It did eventually prove to be too cold for us to stay for Suburbia. But allow me to give a further recap on that incredible night full of human warmth and community.

By the time Over The Edge started playing and a young Matt Dillon came on screen clad in a midriff-baring shirt and acting like a snarky punk, I was already convinced there was no way I could have topped that Saturday night. The featured music, just like in all other movies and TV shows I’ve seen, was way louder than the spoken parts, but who really gives a damn when it’s Cheap Trick’s Surrender being blasted as the soundtrack to teenage angst? The loudness perfectly complemented the first whiff of punk energy which I got that evening.

Despite the fact that it was a rather uncomfortable seating position, I couldn’t help but break into a constant smile every time I would hear jeers from the audience directed at the right (wrong) people. I was grateful to be in the midst of eternally curious and youthful adults — the ones who miraculously manage not to be overpowered and fully tamed by the overwhelmingly obedient and law-abiding masses who surround them in their daily lives. So when the kids on the screen finally got their revenge and executed the perfect act of rebellion, I was one of the many who were clapping and cheering. It was also great comedic timing that a cop car drove by with its sirens on right at the time they were burning shit down in protest.


I should point out that I saw a septuagenarian couple in a junk car but did not notice any kids in attendance. Most city-organized movies in the park that I’ve seen in San Diego attracted toddlers and young kids with their parents in large numbers. Overly serious and holier-than-thou human beings will certainly not approve of the film content but if you’re the type to keep an open mind, then I can’t recommend Over The Edge enough.

Before the oft-suppressed spirit of rebellion could get sucked away by the increasing coldness of the temperature, someone introduced RVIVR as “a band with a good idea of what punk sounds like in 2013.” The four-piece punk band went up on stage to do a sound check and tune their guitars, most of us left our “seats” to stand closer to them. Of course what should greet me but Matt Canino — a polarizing figure in the punk community largely due to his outspoken support of the “queers” and freaks in general (he’s my hero!) — wearing a tight black dress and greeting the crowd with “Seriously, fuck the police, right?” And yet on cue for the second time, a cop car drove by. This was the part where I let out an internal shriek of excitement.

[metaslider id=1815]

While RVIVR’s presence was mostly due to a promoter oversight (they were supposed to play a show in Brooklyn but ended up being double-booked), I can assure you that Matt did not regret spending his birthday with us. In a perfect conglomeration of rebellion and weirdness in general, we expressed our gratitude by dancing and moving our heads to the band’s ferocious and infectious brand of pop-punk.

I’m not sure I can fully articulate the myriad of sensations and warm feelings that my first Empire Drive-In experience triggered in me, yet I would like to highlight and thank the organizers for these aspects to the event: 1) Individuals huddled together and bonding over their discontent which in essence formed a temporary community, 2) the issues of suburban angst and isolation brought on by the American car culture being acknowledged and discussed, 3) and a great punk band playing in a security-free zone.

Having spent the first twenty-four years of my life with public transportation being readily available, I could understand the refreshing allure of the private car which I quite enjoyed riding in my first few months in California. The only other mode of transportation you get there is the bus and those have limited routes and took all day to get anywhere. Like most people who were in attendance that night, I don’t believe that human beings should spend their lifetimes in cars as most Americans do. Sooner or later, your choice of vehicle gets absurdly bigger, you start blowing your horn incessantly in frustration, and you stop seeing those around you as human beings, only car models.

Not one of us holds the key to weeding out feelings of alienation, but I still hold out hope for a workable future that will mostly help the forgotten and the ordinary. I cannot overstate the impact of NYC’s counterculture and nerd scene and how it continues to pick me up and dust off the cobwebs of ennui which covered me in my worst days in San Diego. As eloquently stated by the organizers, Empire Drive-in came about not out of nostalgia, or in some attempt to relive their childhoods. They built it as a monument to a failed system, to unchecked consumerism, to the death of the car. It is very much the collective experience and the critical nostalgia that they have hoped for — a coming together of people who are mature enough to acknowledge the pitfalls and the failings of the American society.


Since I couldn’t get enough of that experience, I made sure to go back the Saturday (their final one) after that first event I attended. This time the title was Silents and Noise: Handmade Films with Live Scores. To Many Men Strange Fates Are Given by Brent Green and The Rink  starring Charlie Chaplin were particular standouts for me.


I can’t give enough thanks to the main organizers, the New York Hall of Science, and all the artists involved in this wonderful project. Lastly, this review snippet on their website perfectly encapsulates my Empire Drive-In experience: “It’s magically subversive; a dream made real.”

Sweetleaf: Long Island City, NY

Sweeatleaf is a cozy spot in Long Island City serving West Coast coffees and possibly the best carrot cake in Queens.

As cliched as it may sound these days, add me to the millions of people who claim to be addicted to coffee. And no, I’m not talking about your giant cup of steamed milk topped with an overgenerous dose of sugary syrup with the tiniest hint of caffeine. What I want and often dream of is aromatic coffee from Ethiopia or Guatemala (some of my favorite coffee-growing countries) lightly roasted and brewed to perfection with nothing else added. If the shop’s espresso happens to be really good, I may order an Americano (a double-shot espresso with hot water) or a red-eye (a double-shot espresso with brewed coffee for extra zing) guaranteed to wake me up.

Living in San Diego, it has been a long, arduous trial-and-error process before I managed to find a really great coffee roaster. Over a year later, I visited San Francisco and found myself revived and even enthralled by some of the best third-wave roasters in the city. This of course didn’t come cheap and all hopes of moving to Northern California in general and San Francisco in particular were thwarted by my constant shock over how expensive everything was. A few months later, I found myself riding in a tiny cramped car on a snow-covered day to start over in a city more notorious for expensiveness (but not really) which I also previously visited but felt more enamored to. I kept the memories of that visit close to my heart for every time I felt like “everywhere’s the same and everything sucks and why can’t I go back to my hometown where everything was much easier and closer to each other in distance.” Anyone who hasn’t stayed in the same place forever has those days. But anyway, my time in the US is not done and I couldn’t be happier over my choice to move to New York City. I found Sweetleaf after a long day of my first odd job in Queens running deliveries on Valentine’s Day of this year. It should be noted that this is particularly ironic given my long history of ignoring and/or poking fun at holidays.

Sweetleaf Long Island City carrot cake and coffee
Sweetleaf LIC
Mon-Fri 7am-7pm | Sat 8am-7pm | Sun 9am-6pm
10-93 Jackson Avenue | Long Island City, NY 11101 [map]

Now why choose Sweetleaf on your next trip to NYC?

1. They carry some of the best coffees from the West Coast including Stumptown of Portland, OR and Ritual and Sightglass of San Francisco. These coffees are lighter and far from the bitter and burnt-tasting cups that I’ve had in California.

Sweetleaf coffee shop in Long Island City carries coffees from Ritual, Stumptown, and Sightglass from the West Coast

2. The first photo above features the most amazing carrot cake with a modern twist that I’ve ever had in my life. It has coconut flakes and some unidentified but tasty nuts — it is extremely delicious. I do encourage you to visit the About page of Sweetleaf’s website. I feel so strongly about this and I am definitely giving this the Ron Swanson recommendation.

3. It is less than 30 minutes away from Manhattan and I really appreciate the decor. So much thought has been given to the whole setup and the shop is divided into the Lounge Room with comfy couches, the Laptop Room (wooden table pictured above), and last but not least, the Record Room below.

Sweetleaf coffee shop in Long Island City's record room with the heavy fucking metal section Sweetleaf coffee shop in Long Island City's record room with the heavy fucking metal section Sweetleaf coffee shop in Long Island City's record room with the heavy fucking metal section

Brick walls, an awesome selection of records including the “heavy fucking metal” section, and a salvaged pew for customers to sit on. What else can you ask for?

4. Maybe the fact that the Long Island City Piers are a few minutes walk away? Less than five, I would say.

Long Island City Piers which is a very short walk from Sweetleaf
Yes, this place really exists.

People have a bone to pick over the fact that the Laptop Room does not have any outlets. I personally like the idea of relaxing and not looking at a screen when I’m out. If I had any nitpick, it would be the hours. Even in NYC, there’s just not enough coffee shops (as opposed to places with regular East Coast coffee which is highly acceptable BTW) to lounge at past midnight. 😉


Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Carmel-by-the-Sea, or Carmel for short, is a charming yet conflicting fairytale coastal city in Central California.

I love road trips, I really do. And Carmel-by-the-Sea is most definitely worth the stop if you happen to be south of San Francisco or if you’re on a Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) road trip. But every time I come back here to share more worthwhile experiences, I can’t shake my doubts as to the object of this blog. Am I here for the sole purpose of bragging about eating and traveling milestones? Do people really care? Is this gonna be one of those really ambitious pursuits that fizzles out and gets forgotten? I hope not.

The world hasn’t exactly gotten kinder last I checked, and I cannot lie that recent events have definitely tampered with my enthusiasm for narrative. Yes, even more so than your usual happy tale fueled by blissed out ignorance or just plain apathy. It pains me to admit that I have become incredibly pessimistic as to the outcomes of the latest scandals plaguing my birth country. Pork barrel scams aren’t exactly new to Philippine politics — misappropriation of funds and kickbacks have been rampant since before I came to being, so why has nothing changed until now? Is everyone in power as corrupted and corruptible as they seem? Is violence really the only way to keep people in line? It doesn’t help either that the country I’m living in continues to dole out punishment for acts of heroism and compassion thereby proving the old truism that “no good deed goes unpunished.” See this and this for recent examples. But then America also has this to offer.

Carmel-by-the-Sea or Carmel is a charming yet conflicting fairytale city in the Monterey County of California.

[Photo Gallery]

Given my above-average research skills, it wasn’t so hard for me to find this charming and highly scenic town south of Monterey and Pebble Beach in Northern California. The place piqued my curiosity with its vigorous historical pursuit of planned development strategies so the little city can retain its character as “a village in a forest overlooking a white sand beach.” One rule arising from this is that new buildings must be built around existing trees and new trees are required on lots that are deemed to have an inadequate number. What I’ve seen of the area left me with no doubt of the locals’ success in this department. Carmel regularly hosts delegations from cities and towns around the world seeking to understand how the village retains its authenticity in today’s increasingly homogeneous world.

This is what awaits you when you walk down those steps in Carmel, California.
This is what awaits you when you walk down those steps.
Taken from a different angle, Carmel-by-the-Sea is just a vast expanse of captivating natural beauty.
Taken from a different angle, it’s just a vast expanse of captivating natural beauty.

While this sounds well-meaning and all, what does it mean in reality? The homeowners in this city aren’t exactly the type of folks whose lives greedy and thoughtless corporations can uproot and mess with. It is a very exclusive town inhabited by wealthy families and celebrity millionaires. Pretty ironic given that this used to be a refuge for Bohemian poets, musicians and writers in the wake of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. At the time, these new residents were offered home lots – ten dollars down, little or no interest, and whatever they could pay on a monthly basis. Amongst them were George Sterling, Sinclair Lewis, and Jack London — the novelist who inspired the hiker Chris McCandless’s adventures into the wild that ultimately led to his untimely death.

The ocean in Carmel was like a commingling of the best parts of SoCal (sweeping scenery) and NorCal (seasons).
The ocean in Carmel was like a commingling of the best parts of SoCal (sweeping scenery) and NorCal (seasons).

Now this may seem lazy yet I can’t help but to share this Yelp review of the city by a guy who is even more familiar with Carmel than I am.

“I want to write about the beauty of Carmel’s natural surroundings, the quaintness of its streets and architecture, and the way it epitomizes coastal Northern California. I also want to write about the decades of magical Christmas vacations I spent here with my family and all the traditions we created, altered, and reinvented. Unfortunately, I can’t write about all of that, not because I don’t still have wonderful memories of even the rainiest and windiest of days here, but because Carmel is ridiculously exclusive.

Exclusive is a bad word. You might think it’s not, but it is. Just like trendy. If you find nothing wrong with exclusivity and trendiness, then, well, you’re part of the problem. Put another way, if you don’t have a problem with keeping certain people out or expecting people to conform to rather arbitrary, specific ways of grooming, dressing, acting, and living, then I have a problem with you.
It’s not really Carmel’s fault, or it wasn’t originally.

Like many beautiful places in California, Carmel was long characterized by a kind of bucolic laziness. Sure, very rich people came here to get away from the big city, and celebrities enjoyed the relative anonymity with which they could enjoy themselves in public here, but Carmel also used to be home to ordinary rural folks and artists whose work didn’t only appeal to people with far too much time and money on their hands.”

"I'm like a hobo outside your window" is the phrase I stole and uttered at the time this was taken.
“I’m like a hobo outside your window” is the phrase I stole and uttered at the time this was taken.

So in a lot of ways, Carmel reminds me of She & Him. Famous for being sweet and quirky, yet inaccessible in ways that leave me unsettled.


I can’t come up with a Yums vs. Yucks list because I haven’t really spent enough time in the city to draw enough conclusions. What I do have is a list of quirky facts about Carmel-by-the-Sea that you can weigh in on.

1. The one-square-mile village has no street lights or parking meters.
2. The businesses, cottages and houses have no street numbers. The early artists who were the first builders of the homes in the town gave their houses names rather than numerical addresses. This means no delivery of mail to individual addresses, the residents have to pick them up.
3. Wearing shoes with heels more than 2 inches in height or with a base of less than one square inch is banned unless you obtain a permit. This was the “cover our asses” move that the city came up with to defend itself from lawsuits resulting from wearers of high-heeled shoes tripping over irregular pavement distorted by tree roots. Permits are available without charge at City Hall.
4. Selling and eating ice cream on public streets used to be prohibited. This and other similar business-restrictive laws were overturned by Clint Eastwood (yes, the Clint Eastwood) and his council during his term as mayor in 1986-88.
5. Wikipedia’s list of notable people living in Carmel includes Betty White. If you don’t get why this excited me to my core, then watch the following commercial. She makes the rest of them look like indistinguishable blurs, and she’s 91. While I was in Carmel, I kept trying to guess which quaint house was hers.


6. Hugh Comstock’s fairytale cottages. I’m kicking myself for not having read about this sooner but consider this a treat if you can make it there. Read more about it here.thetuckbox

Pacific Coast Highway, California

California’s Pacific Coast Highway adventure recount / A celebration of a dear friend’s triumph

We heard the great news today. I feel close enough to my friend to use the collective pronoun “we” which I often wish to avoid for the reason that individually, human beings usually arrive at much clearer decisions than they do as a group. Political gripe aside, I have been privileged enough to hear about my friend’s life via private messaging (thanks, Facebook) for the past two years or so. It’s rare enough to find the kind of friend you can really talk to, having someone you actually want to spend a lot of time with is even rarer for me. As life descends into a frenzy of hustle and bustle, there is very little time to be spared for pleasantries and good ol’ BS. I read a great quote by Roger Ebert (unfortunately after the time of his passing) that says: “What I believe is that all clear-minded people should remain two things throughout their lifetimes: Curious and teachable.” Sherie Ann Pedros is both of these things.

Pacific Coast Highway

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I feel very lucky to have had the chance to swap personal stories, soak up pop culture, make music recommendations, and discuss current events with you but most of all, I am honored you trust me enough to keep me in the loop where your heart is concerned. I may not know all the details about your fast-blossoming friendship that has later bloomed into a deep commitment (I hope I’m not embarrassing you too much, dear) but your chat photo captioned “a world without borders” by the guy who won you over was enough to make my dark heart melt. I’m not one for “friendships” by mutual association but I’ve done a little stalking and can I just comment on the photo of the stack of lumber sticking out of a tiny car? Is that Patrick’s? If so, I trust a guy who makes a ballsy third world style move like that to take good care of a dear friend. If not, I would like to meet more people who think outside the confines of their cars or whatever boxes they have to work with. ;p

Before I go off on another tangent, here’s another installment of the unexpected long vacation-turned-best-time-ever that I took back in December. I know I have kept you and a few people waiting, mostly because I got extremely busy and nomadic right after that time, but also because I haven’t really come to terms with the Facebook photo-gawking zombies auto-clicking “Like” on every photo they see of every person they like. Okay, enough with the rantiness. I’m here to talk about the dreamy Pacific Coast Highway, dammit.

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I’d first heard of this amazing route packed with as much sights and beauty as you can handle from my cousin who is based in Kentucky. I was highly intrigued by it, even more so after I caught a glimpse of the area very close to Carmel, another California wonderland that is very worthy of talking about. I also saw signs pointing to the Hearst Castle, but a further investigation showed it would take over $100 to tour all the rooms. A bit expensive, if you ask me. Maybe one day I will feel justified spending that much on one landmark. But I definitely felt it was a must to travel this famous highway and see it for all its glory in the daytime where there’s sunlight to guide me. The night before, we stayed at Holland Inn & Suites in Morro Bay which I’d booked hours before via Priceline. I cannot stress it enough, Priceline is the best way to go for booking last-minute accommodations at amazingly low rates. The older couple running the hotel were very gracious and did a fantastic job in maintaining a “home-away-from-home” vibe in the rooms. It was one of my favorite places that we stayed at on that extended December 2012-January 2013 road trip.

Another point of interest south of where we were staying is the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History which sits on a hill overlooking the Morro Bay Estuary. We didn’t have time to visit the museum because we were running on a tight schedule and had visited LA’s La Brea Tar Pits the day before.

Pacific Coast HighwayThis was the Avila Beach Pier, a stark contrast to the beautiful chaos that was Bubblegum Alley from the night before. To say that I was enchanted by the view is an understatement; little did I know how much I’d be taken by the scenery that awaited me as we headed up north. This wasn’t part of my list, but Google Maps tells me this is along San Luis Obispo Bay which is more rural and agricultural than many other coastal regions in California.

Pacific Coast HighwayWe kept driving north…and then there were zebras. What a treat after possibly the worst cup of coffee in recent memory from Cambria Coffee Roasting Company. Sorry guys, but your “medium roast” black coffee tasted like charcoal mixed with piss. It was atrocious and I couldn’t finish it.

Pacific Coast Highway - Los Padres National ParkPacific Coast HighwayPacific Coast HighwayAnd on we went…until we stopped again at the sign that said Los Padres National Forest. I don’t know much about it but can somebody help me find the name of the plant above? They soothe my sensibilities.Pacific Coast HighwayPacific Coast HighwayWe took another stop on the California Route 1 otherwise known as the Cabrillo Highway that would lead us to the natural beauties I had wanted to see that day. And really, this was by no means a short drive. Well, Google tells me we only covered 121 miles and that would normally take 2 hours and 54 minutes. However, that was our last chance to explore California in all its panoramic and coastal glory. With the many little stops we’ve made, we started around 10am but didn’t reach Monterey, CA by 5pm. If you have the money and the time, you can explore all the hidden coves and beaches day by day and take as much time as you need to savor it all in. Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast HighwayWe squealed thinking this was Bixby Bridge but no, it was just one of the 33 bridges spanning this super highway. I wish I wrote the name down because no one seems interested in anything but the historic Bixby Creek Bridge.Pacific Coast HighwayAt last, we have arrived at the stop I’ve been saving a lot of energy and enthusiasm for. I even went so far as to writing the directions down on a notepad in case we got lost. This is the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and it broke my heart with all its exquisite beauty. Homesteaders John and Julia Burns, thank you for keeping this little piece of heaven intact. Pacific Coast HighwayAbove is the iconic McWay Cove and the McWay Falls. There used to be a house around here that was torn down when the owners died as they have requested on their will. Some people do have a great sense of what belongs with nature and what doesn’t, thank you Browns for the lack of vanity after death.Pacific Coast Highway Pacific Coast HighwayPacific Coast Highway - Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Pacific Coast Highway - Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park McWay Cove Pacific Coast Highway - Julia Pfeiffer Burns State ParkDid you know I really like tunnels? This connects the inland portion of the park with the seaside area. Pacific Coast Highway - Bixby Creek BridgeAnd finally, we have reached the right bridge if the big sign was to be believed. We saw a few people stop on the same spot so it must have been the famous Bixby Bridge, right?

IMG_2591_0Right. This bridge is situated 18 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea which I have previously talked about here.

Pacific Coast Highway - Bixby Creek Bridge Pacific Coast Highway - Bixby Creek BridgeThe Bixby Creek Bridge was quite stunning and truly an example of masterpiece engineering. Learn more about its history here. Photos don’t really do justice to a lot of things, I believe bridges to fall in that category along with great paintings.

Pacific Coast Highway - Bixby Creek BridgeAnd this was the area we caught a glimpse of the first night we got on this highway designated as an “All-American Road” and pronounced by some as “one of the best drives on earth.” The All-American Road designation is granted to scenic byways meeting two out of the six “intrinsic qualities”: archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and/or scenic. I find that people exaggerate the greatness of a lot of things but this time I have no words.

Pacific Coast Highway - Point Lobos State Reserve Pacific Coast Highway - Point Lobos State Reserve Pacific Coast Highway - Point Lobos State ReserveThis is Point Lobos State Reserve where I saw deer and baleen plate from a humpback whale (what it uses for filtering food from water instead of teeth). I hate sounding like a hippie but there are just moments where you can breathe the encompassing beauty around you. Point Lobos is one of the most beautiful areas I’ve seen and has been called “the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world” and “the crown jewel of the state park system.” The entrance to the park is three miles south of Carmel and vehicle admission costs $8 per car. We avoided this by finding roadside parking and walking over to the entrance.Pacific Coast Highway - Point Lobos State Reserve

Pacific Coast Highway - Point Lobos State Reserve Pacific Coast Highway - Point Lobos State ReservePretty neat tree, isn’t it? As great as it’s been outside, I had to go in and check out the not-very-big but definitely interesting Whalers Cabin Museum.Pacific Coast Highway - Point Lobos State ReserveIf you’re a film buff, download this photo and zoom it in. These are some of the movies that have been shot in this area before the restrictions took into effect.Pacific Coast Highway - Point Lobos State Reserve

So, Sherie, despite the fact that I will never live in California again, I am willing to do this drive with you when the time permits. I want to explore more of the hidden coves and beaches, I want to go in the summer when it’s warmer and we might get lucky enough to squeeze a swim out of these lovely but often too cold waters. But for now, let’s set our sights on backpacking across Belgium and the rest of Europe, shall we? Thank you for sharing the good news.

Since you mentioned One Tree Hill in our last conversation, let me leave you with a song by a band (not from California but Arizona’s close enough) featured prominently on that show. I believe this is appropriate — hope you both enjoy.


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Author’s Note: I can provide some directions if you’re interested, but this road trip is widely covered on the internet. A great start would be National Geographic’s coverage. The following is a map of the general route that we took. I hope to cover more ground the next time I’m there. Hopefully then some of my old friends can join me.

BP Helios House: Los Angeles, CA

A quick look at a highly controversial oil and gas company’s colorful station in Los Angeles — BP Helios House

In my summary post for LA, I lied. Or more accurately, I misremembered. My first time in LA was actually an unplanned outing that was triggered by my friends in the food industry who were craving ramen. They said they’ve had it once, and eversince then, none of the ramen shops in San Diego would do for them anymore.

I have had much better ramen since but at the time, it felt like a great welcome after enduring San Diego’s mostly crappy dining choices. The ramen was soupy, Thai spicy (which is definitely not how most Japanese enjoy their ramen if my later experiences are to be gauged), and most importantly, cheap. Also, I later found out the small shop has been featured on Man vs. Food so my bias against your television sensationalizing places that are far from being the best is coming into play here of course. In fact, I have been so far removed from that experience I almost forgot about it. Although last night, I did have the pleasure of enjoying another big bowl of my favorite ramen in NYC so far — a great ramen roundup is definitely in order.

BP Helios House
8770 W Olympic Blvd | Los Angeles, CA 90035 [map]

We needed gas on the way back to San Diego and wouldn’t you know it, we happened upon this really futuristic-looking gas station which we all agreed looked pretty neat. I don’t remember ever learning the name but a quick search of “colorful gas stations” just now pointed to BP Helios House where BP’s marketing group was really trying to sell us to the fact that this was going to be more environmentally-friendly than your typical gas station. The company tries to explain why but if you spend some time in California, you do get the sense that everyone’s feeling a certain pressure to take up a “cause” or more tritely, an allergy or a fake intolerance to something (the next thing you know, Miley Cyrus is claiming gluten intolerance as a dietary trend).

Colorful ATM.
Neon ATMs, everyone.
A farther view of the station.

Rather than actually getting educated on issues that I hope more people would care about, every visible and influential figure is out there playing with activism and representing a cause to make it “sexy.” So the trendy yet educated people of Los Angeles are pretty much biting BP’s head off on what they feel is an act of fraud. I don’t hold the answers and if the scientists are to be believed, none of what we do to prevent the Earth from collapsing actually matters all that much. We may be a little too late but who knows, maybe some of us will save this planet yet. *deep heavy sighs*

Buckle up, there will be a lot of driving.

So how is it that a planned colorful post took a dark turn again? Whatever, you’re dealing with a curmudgeon here and I just cannot gloss over anything to please everyone. Still, in my best Angeleno impression, “have a nice day, you guys!”

Little Guilin: Bukit Batok, SG

Little Guilin — a quiet oasis from the highly monotonous hustle and bustle of Singapore

Singapore is not a place I associate with tranquility and peace of mind. It is far too crowded, humid, and stressful. But before I got to the point where I couldn’t appreciate anything anymore, I stumbled upon Little Guilin — a quiet little area in the neighborhood that I lived in. I won’t ruin the photos for you because I mostly want to dedicate this post to a friend who’s going on a week-long trip to Singapore.

Little Guilin, a respite from Singapore's constant state of stressfulness.
Little Guilin
8360 Bukit Batok East Avenue 5 | Singapore 043359 [map]

Little Guilin, a respite from Singapore's constant state of stressfulness.

I don't care what anyone says, condos don't make for a good view. But I guess the lighting works in this one.
I don’t care what anyone says, condos don’t make for a good view. But I guess the lighting works in this one.
Little Guilin, a respite from Singapore's constant state of stressfulness.
Tim Burton, anyone?
Little Guilin, a respite from Singapore's constant state of stressfulness.
Wouldn’t it be fun to do yoga here?

So, dear Helen, I hope you come back with a full report on the good, the bad, and the ugly because let’s face it, a lot of things can change in over two years. And the man who refuses to acknowledge change is the man who should still be riding a horse.

Bubblegum Alley: SLO, California

“Art is hard.” Discovering San Luis Obispo’s Bubblegum Alley.

After a day of exploring LA’s amazing La Brea Tar Pits and gorging on its very authentic eats (Korean and Jewish respectively), we decided to head up north in time to catch the Pacific Coast Highway’s wondrous views the next day. I also decided on a whim that I wanted to see all I could of California before I left it for good. San Luis Obispo definitely came to mind. Why it did was mostly because Devin Peralta of Cobra Skulls is from that part of California. I know I’m disgustingly obsessive with the very few people that I like, you don’t have to point it out. Also, on top of that fandom influence, SLO happened to be very close to where we were gonna get tucked in for the night. I had not heard of the Madonna Inn until a few weeks ago which many have written about and touted as “one of the most kitschy-cool hotels ever.” Of course it’s unjustifiably expensive for me so it wouldn’t have been any use anyway. But if you’re  into that, go have fun and make the experience worth the expense. Now on to the Bubblegum Alley which I wanted to tell you about.

While I was looking up places to check out in the area, my slow phone returned this neat-looking landmark that continues to stir local controversy. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to see anything since it was late at night, and furthermore, we were slowed down because some streets downtown had been closed off for a local celebration. I never did figure out what it was about but I give more community plus points to SLO for that.

Bubblegum Alley - Located at 733.5 Higuera St. in San Luis Obispo, California
Bubblegum Alley
733.5 Higuera St. | San Luis Obispo, CA [map]

To this creature of the night’s happy surprise, the alley was actually well-lit for nighttime visitors. What you see above is Bubblegum Alley which is lined with pre-chewed gum left by passersby and gawking visitors. It is considered to be the most-talked-about landmark of San Luis Obispo. The history of how this gum-sticking tradition got started is sketchy like most histories are. Truths are often disappointing and not as dramatic or creative as we want them to be. This tradition is believed to have been started in the 50s, so I imagine I was looking at gum that have been stuck there for over 60 years. How cool and nasty is that?

Bubblegum Alley: gum-covered walls -- art or not?

However, it remains to be seen whether this  landmark will stay a part of the San Luis Obispo downtown charm. Many shop owners complain that these gum-covered brick walls  are unsanitary and disgusting while local politicians continue to fight to have these cleaned up. Why these old farts decide to lead joyless lives in a warm and sunny place is way beyond me.

Matthew Hoffman contributed the largest piece in the Bubblegum Alley so far -- his self-portrait which he refers to as the "Projectbubble Gum".

The Alley has attracted quite a bit of attention and a lot of visitors over the years. One might even argue it is the main reason why people visit this not-very-active city that felt more like a small town. I personally feel this landmark fosters a sense of community that is missing in many parts of the US.

Fortunately not everyone is being a tightwad about this whole thing which was very likely started by a bunch of bored kids trying to make something happen. Funnily enough, the Chamber of Commerce which I can’t imagine to be composed of vibrant individuals takes the juvie side on this one. This  local emblem of the human spirit has even gone on to inspire a professional artist, Matthew Hoffman, to make the largest piece in the Alley — “Projectbubble Gum” which is his gummy self-portrait above. A poet from Arroyo Grande, California who wishes to be known as “M” also  went on to publish a beautiful poem called “An Ode to Gum Alley.”

So what do you think? Is it art or just another eyesore? If you dig it, the great people of Seattle have also started their own Gum Wall.

Ink.Sack: Los Angeles, CA

Ink.Sack is Michael Voltaggio’s (Top Chef season six winner) highly creative Los Angeles sandwich shop located around the corner from his famous restaurant, Ink.

Excuse me for saying this but sandwiches are not what come to mind when I think about eating out. The trip to Ink Sack was spurred by the highest praises of a very talented writer, musician, and poet  Alexei Perry Cox. Seriously, if you’re on Instagram and you don’t follow her photographs paired with biting poetry, you are missing out on a very intense experience.

Ink.Sack is a great Los Angeles sandwich shop presented to us by Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio. Not a sandwich person but I was greatly impressed by the wide range of flavors and textures!
11am-8pm (OpenDaily)
8360 Melrose Ave #107 | Los Angeles, California 90069 [map]

I wanted to sample a lot since I couldn’t be around very often and now that I’m on the East Coast, I really can’t be sure when I can be back at all. I ended up getting some free BBQ pork rinds (crunchy and slightly spicy!) with the three different sandwiches that I’ve ordered:

 Cold Fried Chicken

The chicken was juicy, firm, and cold in temperature without being cold in feeling. Also, that was the first time I’ve tried Gindo’s Spice of Life and it was great.


This had a great balance of fat, lean, and curried flavor including a liver-y punch that provided a range of textures. Definitely my favorite out of the three and possibly the most creative sandwich idea that I have come across.

Bahn Mi

Not very distinctly Asian-tasting in my opinion, but tasty nonetheless. It had a big load of pork offset with some not-too-sour vinegar pickles.

Some people have complained that their sandwiches are small, but they’re actually very filling and reasonably-sized for the price and quality. I cannot speak about Michael Voltaggio’s more expensive venture, Ink, but Ink.Sack is definitely worth your time. Since I have only recently started photographing my food (I’ve felt for too long that it was ridiculous), here’s where you can find photographic proof of these delicious sandwiches.

San Diego, California

San Diego, California is a huge slice of middle America on the West coast.

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Living in San Diego wasn’t the dream that I’d hoped it would be. I will admit to being mightily impressed by the skies that looked at first like nature’s bluest painting, but even that got old as I found myself yearning for the beastly rain. I found no comfort in the slow-talking dudes in backwards baseball caps and shorts, or the women who found it their life’s mission to be up and jogging at the break of dawn.

I didn’t like the fact that I once trailed a source of light to McDonald’s in an effort to scope out some night action. And no, I couldn’t be pacified by the idiotic cacophony of Pacific Beach, the tame movements of Hillcrest’s supposed gay district, and the unabashed pretensions of North Park’s rich hipster kids.

But of course, that wasn’t all of it. There were mountains and hiking trails that made for sweaty and thirsty afternoons, a few interesting (though not very welcoming) intellectuals, a fisherman who also happened to be a Lucero fan, and a smart world-traveling cook whose friendship I later gained.


Hiking Trails

True to SoCal’s reputation, San Diego’s got some fine sights and hiking available. You can move from ocean to mountains in half an hour, and find yourself truly mesmerized by jaw-dropping vistas. Some are much harder than others (El Capitan for instance), but many aren’t that difficult to hike.


Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

The second largest state park in the US lets you camp not just in the predetermined campgrounds but anywhere safe you desire. The dry air combined with the total lack of artificial lights visible from most of it lend a whole new meaning to stargazing. Be careful going off trail though, every single plant here is thorny and sharp. Watch the agave in particular, it can seriously cut you. And I’m still getting jumping cholla spines out of my jeans and boots half a year later.


Almost Perfect Weather

No seasons – hardly any rain and lots of sun. Almost never cold, almost no humidity.


Chicano Park Murals

Great (in both quality and size) works labored on by great artists. Chicano Park has a bunch of them in a small area, and they’ve just been restored. Do not listen to rumors and Yelp allegations about this area being dangerous, it just isn’t.



Russian-Georgian restaurant so great it bears a special mention here. There was a pervading sense of glory and wonderment every  time I found myself in it. I can only hope to give this restaurant the righteous ode that it deserves at a later post.


The old Yellow Food Truck

Maybe it was wrong of me to assume El Jefecito’s California Burrito was portentous of many more great eats to come in San Diego, but alas it was one of the few. I’ll never forget the beefy deliciousness, the boiled (not fried!) seasoned potatoes, and the tasty avocado all rolled up inside the comfort of a warm flour tortilla. It was a Mexican gastronomic milestone that I kept hoping to make more of  but just didn’t despite all of my attempts. I can’t make any guarantees as to their latest parking spot but my last taste of their shrimp burrito (after a separation of over a year) was in front of Kenwood Market in Spring Valley.

Cafe Virtuoso

If you only have one chance to drink coffee in San Diego, you must try Cafe Virtuoso. And make sure to ask for their Amaro Gayo and coconut muffin if they’re available.


Freezing Ocean 

In my almost two years of living in San Diego, I have only managed to jump into the water a grand total of an hour. The water had often been too cold that everyone else was just parading their nakedness, or apparent laziness by laying in the sand close to the seagulls. I never did get the point of walking that 15-minute steep trail to Black’s only to nap by the unswimmable beach.


Gaslamp Quarter

I have talked to two d-bags in New York so far who claimed to have visited San Diego but could only remember this overhyped spot found in every tourist brochures that no one should listen to. I stand by my once irreverent renaming of this touristy area (which smells like French Fry oil BTW) to “Asslamp Quarter: The Historic Fart of San Diego.”


Balboa Park Gardens

While some desert plants are cool, this was just really dry and the Australian garden was a construction site.


Overpriced Attractions

I really wanted to check out the San Diego Zoo Safari Park but with tickets between $44 and $599+, I just didn’t have time for that nonsense. For comparison, the Bronx Zoo in New York which I have yet to visit is priced at $16 for adults.



This bummed me out to no end every time I’ve had to look at another misspelling, deal with the lack of bookstores, or notice the kids at the library not giving one fuck about the books to be found in it. One time I was corresponding via email with a clueless college student who claimed she searched high and low for my company website which also happened to be my email domain name.


Bland People Culture

This blog does not mean to get political but it’s safe to say I couldn’t identify with the band of bros, untalented hipsters, rich hippies (let that sink in for a second), and Americanized immigrants.


No Coffee Culture

As someone who’s worked in a coffee truck, people couldn’t have been more eager to tell me how to make their favorite McDonald’s shake, or their “grande” Starbucks vanilla caramel macchiato.


Fried Foods

And so much of it everywhere you go. You can try introducing the people to better foods, but nothing will get as warm a reception as a deep-fried giant hunk of something with a cheesy “lean” meat filling slathered with that extra sweet mayo or ketchup-based sauce. I think it’s safe to say that’s every successful food establishment’s formula for gaining the local seal of culinary greatness.

Los Angeles, California

“I want it all, I want it all bad.” What are people willing to do to live in Los Angeles?

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Where do I even begin? It fills me with wistfulness to think that I have lived in San Diego for almost two years yet only made it to LA four times. The first time was out of intense boredom and curiosity (and the need to renew my passport), the second was a late dinner stop on the way to San Francisco, the third an overnight stay inside a tiny red car parked on a quiet residential street, and the last was to make it as the official starting point of my three-week road trip back in December.

Now when you talk to people about LA, your conversation will probably go down one or more of these lines: Hollywood, fake plastic women, celebrities and whether you’ve seen any, and perfect dreamy weather with lots of sunshine, man! If you ask me, I would probably befuddle you with my thoughts on shows made there like Community and Sons of Anarchy, bands from struggling to well-established such as Roll The Tanks and the supergroup Divine Fits (just don’t call them that), darkly funny stand-up comedians trying to make it, and last but not least, FOOD so much better than what you can find in the rest of California (San Francisco’s food scene was way overrated, more on that later). Not that everything there is perfect, of course. Here’s a list of things that you can expect as a visitor.


Beaches and beach culture

The water can be cold so they’re not my pick for swimming, but they’re beautiful and most of them are lively, if sometimes crowded.


Panoramic Sights

LA spawned the movie industry like it did because of the sheer variety of landscapes available nearby. The surrounding geography has recently imitated NorCal and Ireland for Sons of Anarchy and the pretend-Indiana town of Pawnee in Parks and Recreation. Before CGI and modern transit, it has stood in for the bulk of movies made in the US for every type of surroundings. Mountains, oceans, hills, deserts, and plains – it’s all around. The smog has even cleared up letting you see most of it these days.


Ethnic Food

As mentioned above, LA is definitely my pick for California’s food capital. In terms of variety of immigrants and authentic eats, the only competitor in the country would be New York City. I have personally tried Korean, Japanese, and Jewish food that hold up to worldwide standards. Although I’ve seen many promising Latin neighborhoods, I must admit to a relative burnout over generic taco shops in San Diego.



There are so many great up-and-coming, as well as long-standing, bands in the city that I won’t even make a pretense of listing them.



If you’re in LA, you’re bringing (or at least renting) a car. This is a must. A car is the only way to get to where you need to be, unless you just find some obscure aesthetic pleasure in the idea of spending half the day on a bus. Not that this means you’ll get around quickly, five miles can take almost an hour in that traffic. If this could be dealt with, you can definitely have a great trip.


Fake Glamor

Done properly, this should only be a minor issue in your travel. You can avoid almost all of this because of how big the place is  you’ll see the irritating idiots and d-bags around, but don’t let them define Los Angeles for you. Unless going to exclusive and enormously expensive parties is the highlight of your traveling existence, there is very little chance you’ll run into fake-boobed orange women in bikinis. But then if that’s your thing, what are you doing reading this blog?