Look At Your Waiter’s Face. He knows.

“Look at your waiter’s face. He knows. It’s another reason to be polite to your waiter: he could save your life with a raised eyebrow or a sigh.”
Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

 

One of the last Sears stores closed in a giant parking lot (that used to be a mall, a long time ago) a few blocks from my house. This creates a vacuum sitting on top of a vast sea of tarmac. The local chatter is full of re-zoning talk. The first step is to change the zoning to allow restaurants with drive-thru service (really? That isn’t allowed in Texas Suburbia?) and everyone on the neighborhood interwebs is excited about the proposed chain restaurants that will start to fill the area (truth be told, one of them is something I’ll enjoy having in easy bicycle range). At first I was a bit aggravated – who wants more chain restaurants? We need locally owned, original (ethnic) food, not more giant corporate chains.

But after thinking a bit, I withdraw my objection. There are plenty, and I mean plenty (and by plenty I mean more than you could eat at in a lifetime) locally owned, original (ethnic) food in my ‘hood. If you are not from here you think of Texas as a giant redneck bastion of right-wing evil. But Texas in general and my suburb in particular (especially my side [the poor side] of said inner-ring suburb) is surprisingly diverse. I boast, with only a little hyperbolic exaggeration, that I can eat the cuisine of any country you name within walking distance of my house.

There is a life cycle of a restaurant building. It may start out as a chain, staked upfront by distant investment bankers, built to careful specifications developed with focus groups and people with MBA’s that would never eat fast food in their real lives. These chains last… maybe a decade, then they either go broke or move to somewhere more shiny and modern. That’s when the locals, usually immigrants take over. The best eating in the country is in one of the constellation of family-owned eating places in the shells of ex-fast food establishments that now serving up noodle soup, or tacos, or chicken on spits, or baklava and shwarma, or mysterious lumps in delicious sauce from a wok fired red-hot over a vertical jet engine cooker… or something like that. You know what I mean. Every city is like this.

So, when I moved in there was a chain Pizza Buffet called Mr. Gatti’s down on the corner of Belt Line and Jupiter. Well, a few years ago it closed down. It actually moved to a really nice, new location (with beer!) a mile away – which went under after a year. A string of low-quality pizza places tried to make a go of it in the building. The first one, obviously under-funded, tried to save money by painting out all but the first letters on the sign and going by the moniker, Mr. G Pizza. It didn’t last very long.

Over the next couple of years the place went through several iterations, some only lasting weeks. Whenever I see a restaurant open and close that quickly, I wonder if some sort of an investment scam is going on. At any rate, I lost track of the place and never thought of it. I drove by that corner a lot, but the traffic is bad there and I tended to look at the other cars instead. Then one day, not too long ago, I went through there as a passenger and was able to spot a new sign at that location. It said:

Di-an-gi Pho-Burgers-Tacos

New restaurant at Belt Line and Jupiter, Richardson, Texas.

Di-an-gi Facebook Page

Pho… Burgers… and Tacos! I have never heard of this combination before. There are a lot of burger joints in my neighborhood, gobs of tacos (one of the last Taco Bueno locations is right next door), and God only knows how many Pho-slinging establishments… but this one is All Three!

I had to go and try it out. Despite the threat of rain, I saddled up my bicycle and headed down. Unfortunately, although the location is not far from my house, it is difficult to access by bike – I had to do some sidewalk riding to get there.

And it was very good – better than I expected. Very clean and well-arranged. Very friendly and attentive service. I was glad to see there were a healthy smattering of customers – hopefully it will remain in business for more than a while. I know I’ll be back.

So, the big question is what did I order? This time, for some reason, I had the hamburger. It was freshly made and served with an excellent and unusual spicy sauce on the side.

Next time… Pho. And then Tacos.

We Ourselves Flash And Yearn

“Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn”
John Berryman, The Dream Songs

Hall Arts Plaza, Dallas, Texas

I have never completely recovered from the time when I realized that the cotton in the aspirin bottle was not necessary and you did not have to replace it after you extracted your tablet – a belief that, as a child, I structured my entire world around.

The Inmates Made Jokes About the Chair

“The inmates made jokes about the chair, the way people always make jokes about things that frighten them but can’t be gotten away from.”
Stephen King, The Green Mile

Nic Noblique, Chair No. 3, Anita Harris Phelps Park, Dallas, Texas

There is a mathematical formula (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before) to calculate the number of bicycles you should own.

N = the number of bikes you have

X = the number of bikes you should own

X = N +1

I’m at three right now. One supposed advantage of having three bikes is that if one breaks, you have others that you can ride. This does not work, because of some divine sense of humor, all three will break at the same time.

Last weekend I wanted to ride the train and my bike down to the Design District West of Downtown Dallas for a birthday party for some of my kin at a combination Cidery and Video Game Extravaganza. The tire blew out on my folder the day before and the front wheel on my “road” bike needed truing.

No problem, I’d ride my Commuter/Cargo bike (a converted mountain bike with front and rear racks and fenders) – it weighs a ton, but is comfortable and works well as long as I’m not in a hurry. I took it out and started riding to the train station. I noticed that I was having a bit of trouble pedaling and stopped to take a look. The shift cable housing for the rear derailleur had come apart to pieces and the chain was stuck in high gear.

For a minute I thought about quitting, but really wanted to go for the ride. I have a toolkit that I carry and with a few minutes of work, I had the chain on a more manageable middle gear. I couldn’t shift, but I could move. The route to the Design District was mostly downhill… the only steep uphills I would have would be on the way back. I’d worry about that later.

The commuter tracks in downtown are being replaced, so I was spit out by the train at the east end of the central city. I used Google Maps to find a route through uptown to the American Airlines Center and on under Interstate 35 to the Design District. That’s were I found the nice little unexpected pocket park with the three Nic Noblique sculpture. It was a welcome peaceful spot to rest in the middle of the crazy city.

The trip back was mostly uneventful – without my low gears I did have to walk the bike in two spots – but I have no pride, so that was OK.

When I caught the train (the Blue Line this time) back to Richardson via Garland two women with five kids, including an infant in a stroller, tumbled on and took some seats in front of me. The kids were really hyped up and the women yelled at them constantly. At the Mockingbird station, one of the women suddenly shouted, “This is our stop!”

They herded the kids to the door where the four of them ran out the egress. The two women were maneuvering the stroller around when the door suddenly shut and the train started off. They were still aboard the train and the kids were on the platform. The two women panicked.

“Call the driver, push the red button,” another woman on the train said.

“We need to go back!” they said.

The voice in the metal grill was riddled with static, “This is a train lady, it doesn’t go back.”

I figured I needed to help. “Get off at the next stop, White Rock, and then take the next train back. You’ll be there in twenty minutes. Does your oldest kid have a phone?”

“My battery is dead.”

“Use mine, call him.”

She told the kids to wait on the platform. Then I called the emergency number and asked the police to watch the kids.

“What train do I take back? We’re not from here!” – she was still on the edge of panic.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “There’s only one train on this line – it goes back there.” When we pulled into White Rock another woman made sure they crossed the tracks to catch the train going back the other way. I looked up at the display and one would be there in ten minutes – so I’m sure it was fine.

It was only four miles from the Garland Jupiter station to my house – a lot of spring parties were going on in the yards on that route, I rode through clouds of bar-b-que smoke the whole way. It was nice.

Wounded In Some Way By Falling In Love

“All over the world there must be people like us, Anna had said then, wounded in some way by falling in love – seemingly the most natural of acts.”
Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero

Nic Noblique, Wounded, Anita Harris Phelps Park, Dallas, Texas

The second of three Nic Noblique sculptures in a little pocket park amidst the construction of luxury high-rise apartment towers in Uptown, Dallas.

Your Dead End Dreams Don’t Make You Smile

Hey, street boy, want some style?
Your dead end dreams don’t make you smile.
I’ll give you something to live for.
Have you and grab you until you’re sore.
Hello, daddy. Hello, mom.
I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!
—-The Runaways, Cherry Bomb

Nic Noblique, Cherry Bomb, Anita Harris Phelps Park, Dallas, Texas

Nic Noblique Studios

When the Mushrooms Took Hold

“When the mushrooms took hold she sensed some of the gods calling to her from inside her own chest and followed their urging outside into the yard and up the sunny slope into the trees. She felt all gooey, gooey with the slobbered love of various gods gathered within, and smiling full-time went about the woods looking to collect butterflies and pet them until they gave milk, or maybe roll in the dirt until she felt China through her skin.”

― Daniel Woodrell,  Winter’s Bone

 

Huffhines Creek in back of my house, Richardson, Texas

There is no better weather… no better day than the one after a violent storm. The sun is so bring, the air so fresh – scrubbed clean by the violence. You never know what’s going to peek out and enjoy the calm.

A Cloud Flower

“Mushrooms were the roses in the garden of that unseen world, because the real mushroom plant was underground. The parts you could see – what most people called a mushroom – was just a brief apparition. A cloud flower.”

― Margaret Atwood,  The Year of the Flood

Mushrooms along the creek in back of my house.

When I was a little kid, my parents had a friend that knew what eatable mushrooms looked like, in contrast with poisonous ones. We lived next to a golf course and I remember him coming over with some others, they woke me up at four in the morning and we headed out to the golf course with flashlights and little plastic buckets. I’m not sure why (or even if I remember this accurately) but there were mushrooms everywhere. I didn’t even need my flashlight – it was if they glowed in the moonlight. We filled up our buckets and headed home. The expert examined the pile… one by one, to insure we all had “good” mushrooms.

What an odd memory. Maybe it never even happened… but I hope it did. I don’t remember eating the mushrooms… but back in those days the adults kept the delicacies for themselves.