3 Men and a Taco!

Again, today, I consulted my twitter feed to see where the various gourmet food trucks were distributed around the city. A truck I had never tried before, 3 Men and a Taco, was set up on Davis Street in Oak Cliff. I have wanted to visit the Bishop Arts District, only a few blocks down from there, so I decided to make the drive clear across town.

Cutting across north of downtown I drove through the tunnel that the Woodall Rodgers Freeway has become. They have decked over the road for the new five acre park that is going in overhead. I was working downtown when the freeway was dug – it seemed like an enormous undertaking at the time – I can’t believe that they are now building a wooded park over the top of it. It will be very cool when it is finished – a nice addition of some nature to the edge of the Arts District.

I cut across to Oak Cliff and drove down to Davis Street. This brought back a lot of memories for me. When I first moved to Dallas in 1981 I lived with some friends that were remodeling a house in Kessler Park for a while. I remember riding the bus on those streets to my new job in the skyscrapers of downtown. For a kid that had been in Kansas for years this was really exciting and every day I would look out of my bus windows with excitement, wonder, and anticipation at the amazing future that was sure to come to pass. Well, I was young and didn’t know any better.

The street the house was on, Edgefield, is as beautiful as ever. It looks unchanged in thirty years, except the trees have grown almost together overhead and they were orange with fall colors – georgeous. The house itself was a bit of a shock. It still looked the same in the front, the classic Kessler Park Tudor Revival brick – but the entire back yard was filled with a massive two story addition – making the humble cottage into a gigantic mansion.

The truck was set up at Davis and Edgefield, in front of Urban Acres. I was a little late, so many of the choices were crossed off their menu board, but I chose a Coconut Mango Chicken (with Thai Pepper Slaw) and Sweet Potato Portobella (roasted and topped with an orange balsamic reduction). They don’t call these food trucks “gourmet” for nuthin’ – these were not your mama’s tacos.

As usual… it was very good.

3 Mean and a Taco - Gourmet Food Truck

The board with today's selections, next to the "Tip Monster"

The key to a Food Truck's success is to communicate with their customers. The Twitter feed and Facebook Pages have to be kept up, minute to minute.

Coconut Mango Chicken

Sweet Potato Portobella (this was really, really good)

Bánh mì at Walgreens

Nammi Food Truck at Walgreens

I had a day off of work and was being lazy when I began to feel a mite peckish. I checked my twitter feed and discovered that the Nammi Food Truck was setting up in a Walgreens parking lot on Beltline in Addison – not too far from my humble home. Some Bánh mì would hit the spot, so off I went.

One of the tough nuts to crack as gourmet food trucks become more and more common is where do they find a place to park. Restaurant owners tend to be powerful political players and always work to restrict their competition – especially mobile cavalry type competition that can swoop in on a moment’s notice and gobble up valuable customers.

Now I realize how difficult it can be to run a restaurant and sympathize with their plight. But I also don’t think that competition is always a bad thing. The more options people have the more they will eat out and the more business will be driven to restaurants in general. I’m in the minority on this, of course.

So the food trucks have to fight restrictive ordinances to find a place to set up. It is rare to find them out in the suburbs, so I was glad to find one at a Walgreens.

Addison is lousy with restaurants and all the parking lots were full with folks out for lunch from work. There were only a couple spaces left in the Walgreens lot. A steady flow of customers, about two or three deep were ordering at the little window at the bright blue truck. Everyone would order, then stand around typing on their smart phones while their sandwiches were put together. I waited my turn, ordered a grilled pork Bánh mì and pulled a cold Diet Dr. Pepper from a mound of ice in the front of the truck.

“Hey, I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to sell you a Dr. Pepper here,” the guy in the truck said. “It’s a deal we have with the location.”

“Oh,” I said, “I guess they want me to come inside the drug store and buy my drink there.”

The guy nodded. I guess that’s fair. They give up a bit of their parking lot in exchange for customers that come inside for drinks and maybe some ibuprofen while they are at it. I almost went inside, but didn’t want the hassle.

I had writing to do, my first strong idea for a story that I had had in weeks, so I carted my sandwich off to the library, and filled my water bottle from the drinking fountain.

It was very good, by the way.


What I learned this week, November 18, 2011

Are you worried about the Mysterious Structures in the Chinese Desert?

Fear no more, there is a simple explanation.

Do you need writing motivation? Do you like Kittens?

Here it is – Written?Kitten!

On of the essential techniques of art is to be able to reduce complex reality to its bare essential truth. Minimalism.

A master of this is the artist Gregoire Guillemin. I really love some of his work.

Take a look at this – famous people reduced to their bare minimum. How many can you identify? The groups are especially fun.

Here’s some more, divided up, some identified. I wish I could do that.

Why Does McDonald’s Keep Bringing McRib Back?

I have never ordered or eaten a McRib in my life. I don’t think this article is going to change my mind. I especially like this paragraph:

McDonald’s relationship with the pork industry goes back to the McRib’s conception. In 1972, Roger Mandingo, a University of Nebraska professor, received a grant from the National Pork Producer’s council to develop a technology that bound small “umarketable parts of the animal” into a formation that looked more appetizing. In other words, he figured out how to mold tripe, heart or stomach bits into something that looked like a choice cut of meat. Let’s say, the ribs.

MMMM, sounds like some gosh darn good eatin’

What’s the McRib made of, anyway?

The 10 Types of Writers’ Block (and How to Overcome Them)

  1. You can’t come up with an idea.
  2. You have a ton of ideas but can’t commit to any of them, and they all peter out.
  3. You have an outline but you can’t get through this one part of it.
  4. You’re stuck in the middle and have no idea what happens next.
  5. You have a terrible feeling your story took a wrong turn a hundred pages back, and you only just hit a dead end.
  6. You’re bored with all these characters, they won’t do anything.
  7. You keep imagining all the reasons people are going to say your story sucks, and it paralyzes you.
  8. You can’t think of the right words for what you’re trying to convey in this one paragraph.
  9. You had this incredibly cool story in your head, and now you’re turning it into words on a screen and it’s suddenly dumb.
  10. You’re revising your work, and you can’t see your way past all those blocks of text you already wrote.

I think the blonde dancer is Terri Garr.

New Orleans – St. Charles Streetcar

The grandest ride in America was the St. Charles streetcar. You could catch the old green-painted, lumbering iron car under the colonade in front of the Pearl and for pocket change travel on the neutral ground down arguably the most beautiful street in the western world. The canopy of live oaks over the neutral ground created a green-gold tunnel as far as the eye could see. On the corners, black men sold ice cream and sno’balls from carts with parasols on them, and in the winter the pink and maroon neon on the Katz & Besthoff drugstores glowed like electrified smoke inside the fog.

—– from The Tin Roof Blowdown By James Lee Burke

The St. Charles streecar in New Orleans is one of my favorite things in the whole world. If you have never ridden it, put it on your bucket list. Now.

The best time to ride the streetcar is at sunset on a hot late summer evening. The windows open and the breeze from the motion sweeps the sweltering afternoon away as the purple sky darkens beyond the southern mansions and ancient oaks. You sit on the wooden seats jostling as the machine tumbles down the neutral ground. The lights flicker mysteriously and each new section of track is greeted with a flash of lightning, a clacking cacophony, and a whiff of ozone from under the wheels.

The streetcar becomes a time machine… no… not that… it is a timeless machine. The streetcar is exactly as it was ages ago, the floods, Katrina, countless Krewes from countless parades gone except for the risible plastic beads hanging from the trees, the mansions, the music, the food… all are distilled into a parallel pair of rails and high voltage overhead that lumber from the edge of the French Quarter way out past Tulane and Audubon park.

The streetcar is not only a tourist attraction – you share your ride with office drones from downtown banks, lawyers from big firms, and dishwashers nodding off after a long day – the heartbeat of a city brought cheek-to-jowl together. It isn’t very fast – waiting for riders making change at the old-fashioned boxes, drivers bracing themselves to swing heavy levers, stopping at lights while the cross traffic fights out of the way. You can almost walk this fast. But you get there and the getting is everything.

When we are in town we usually stay in a bed and breakfast on St. Charles not far from Tulane and when I wake up in the morning I always like to lay in bed and listen for the streetcars. When you ride them they are all jangling and jump but somehow, from outside, they are smoother, slick steel wheels and sliding commutator sparking along. A bell at the intersections if the cars don’t move fast enough.

Like all of New Orleans, it’s hard to figure out why there aren’t more fatalities along the route, with the traffic, walkers, runners all thrown together with few signs and fewer rules. But they get along, somehow. They always do.

Inside the St. Charles Streetcar

One of my favorite spots is this unassuming little coffee shop at St. Charles and St. Andrews. I like to sit out front, sip my coffee, and watch the streetcars go by.

New Orleans – Lafayette Cemetery #1

When you visit New Orleans for the first time, you can’t help but notice the cemeteries. Because the city is built on a swamp below sea level, you can’t bury anything underground. The cemeteries consist of cities of elaborate above ground crypts and mausoleums instead of grids of tombstones.

Right in the middle of the Garden District, one block off the St. Charles streetcar line is Lafayette Cemetery #1. It was established in 1833, when that part of the city was called Lafayette. I had wanted to take a tour of the cemetery but I wasn’t able to get away until Sunday – and the cemetery was closed on Sunday.

Something to do on my the next trip.

The Lafayette Cemetery #1 was closed, but I still could take pictures from the gate.

Across the street from the cemetery is Commander’s Palace, one of New Orleans’ best and most famous restaurants.

Ferns grow from the ancient wall around the cemetery across the street from Commander’s Palace.

The crypts are elaborate and showing their age. You can see how the legends of ghosts and supernatural come from places like this.

The elaborate vegetation-covered tombs stick up over the wall surrounding the cemetery.

New Orleans Architecture – Lower Garden District – Kayak Storage

In art – in the life worth living – there is always a struggle between beauty and functionality. I love finding examples that combine the two.

In the Lower Garden District – St. Andrews and Chestnut – Someone is using a beautiful old wrought iron balcony to store a couple of kayaks. I’m not sure why, but I really like that.

Animated Streetcar

It was Sunday and the Saints were playing downtown. The Saint Charles Streetcar was crowded.

Saint Charles Streetcar, beads still in the trees.

Getting off the Saint Charles Streetcar in the Garden District.

Photograph – Jogging in the Neutral Ground

(Click To Enlarge)

Everywhere else, the space between the two lanes of traffic on a divided road is called the median. In New Orleans it is called the Neutral Ground. The legend is that it is called this because in the early days when the French lived in the Quarter and the Americans lived in what is now downtown and beyond they would meet in the wide median of Canal Street (named because there was going to be a canal built there – that is why the street and median is so wide – but it never was built) to resolve their differences.

Now, all medians in the city are referred to as the “neutral ground.” This is especially important during Mardi Gras, where a lot of people watch the parades from the neutral ground. If you are waiting for a certain person in a Krewe they will tell you if they are on the street side or neutral ground side.

Along Canal Street, Saint Charles (where this picture was taken) and Carrollton Avenue, the streetcars run in the neutral ground. I’ve got some pictures of the Saint Charles Streetcar (one of my favorite things in the world) that I’ll be putting up here. The Saint Charles neutral ground is a wonderful and popular place to go running in New Orleans.

Fiddling in Jackson Square

It’s hard to take pictures in Jackson Square – the walls are all covered in Artworks for sale with signs asking for no photographs. You have to angle yourself so they don’t appear. I took these two photos at the same time I shot the photo shoot in Pirate Alley – I’d turn one way to get the guy playing the fiddle, then turn and take a picture of the photo shoot.

In the background, you can see a Lucky Dog hot dog vendor cart. These always remind me of Ignatius J. Reilly, who had a (fictitious) terrible time as a hot dog vendor in New Orleans.

(Click to Enlarge)

What I learned this week, November 11, 2011

Looking around the shelves at a used book store I came across a copy of 500 Essential Cult Books. I’m casting around for something to read right at this moment.

I didn’t buy the book, but I did sit down with it, some index cards, and a Parker 21 that I carry, and sat down at a table to go through most of the 500.

My first impression is that I was shocked at how many of the books I had already read… somewhere around half. The books were divided into categories and some I had read almost all of the selection.

At any rate, I filled a couple cards with books that I had not read and that looked interesting. Some I already have in my library or Kindle, most I do not. Here’s the list, in no particular order:

  • Generation X – Douglas Coupland
  • Nausea – Jean Paul Sartre
  • Been Down so Long it Looks Like Up to Me – Richard Farina
  • Cathedral – Raymond Chandler
  • A Feast of Snakes – Harry Crews
  • Perfume – Patrick Suskind
  • The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles
  • VOX – Nicholson Baker
  • The Wasp Factory – Ian Banks
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
  • Almost Transparent Blue – Ryu Murakami
  • Bad Behavior – Mary Gaitskill
  • Cocaine Nights – J. G. Ballard
  • The Ginger Man – J. P. Donleavy
  • Atomised – Hichael Houellebecq
  • Young Adam – Alexander Trocchi
  • Wonderland Avenue – Danny Sugarman
  • A Hero of Our Time – Mikhail Lemontov
  • How Late it Was, How Late – James Kelman
  • Of Love and Hunger – Julian Maclaren-Ross
  • D. B. C. Pierre – Vernon God Little
  • Nelson Algren – A Walk on the Wild Side

I’ve been reading a lot about the “Bubble in Higher Education.” One of the interesting articles in that vein is called, Where Have All the Chemists Gone?   It links to a New York Times article – Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)

You can read both of these articles and decide what you think about it on your own, but it does bring back an experience of my own, one I’ve talked about ad nauseum – but still…. I think I’ll write it down here. This is something that happened almost forty years ago… so maybe the trends identified in the articles aren’t so new after all.

I remember my first freshman chemistry class at the generic big Midwestern public university. It was held in a large old gothic auditorium (since burned down) where they played the basketball games back in the twenties and thirties. The professor walked out on the first day and said, “This is Chemistry 301, Introduction to Chemistry for Chemistry Majors. You should only take this class if you are going to get a major in Chemistry. There are three hundred and fifty students in this class. We graduate about forty chemists a semester. You need to do the math. If you don’t think you can make it through this class, drop as soon as you can to minimize the damage to your academic career.”

I was stunned when about a dozen kids walked out at that point. How low must their self-esteem be to give up at that point (or maybe they realized they were in the wrong classroom). The first exam took over half the class. The mid-term dropped half of those that were still left. At the end of the semester the class was well under a hundred. The really bad thing was that, three years later, Physical Chemistry took a third of those that had made it that far (I still believe that P-Chem is one of the absolute evils in the world – I know if any other chemists are reading this – I just gave you a nightmare).

A few years ago I was at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Arlington (I remember there were three Nobel Prize Winners at the dinner) and the the topic was improving chemistry education. I was talking to a professor afterward about how to increase the enrolment of chemists and he said, “Actually, in my experience, most of the student that can be chemists, are chemists… what we need is to increase the understanding of some of the basic tenets in the non-chemist population.” This was a guy that should know what he was talking about.

Oh, and the article talks about how grades are lower in STEM classes than in, say, business or liberal arts. No shit. My goal in chemistry was to graduate, that was it (I consider my bare C- in P-Chem I and II to be one of the greatest accomplishments in my life. I managed to pass two semesters in a subject where I had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on at all). In the decades since, I don’t think I have ever had anyone ask me my GPA. I have hired a few chemists in my day and if I ever had a job applicant with a 4.0 and a major in chemistry (In reality I never have seen or heard of such a thing) I would not hire them. To get a 4.0 in a chemistry curriculum you would either have to be too smart to be in the same world as I am, or some sort of mutant that could not relate to ordinary human beings in any meaningful way.

Another list of “Must Eat At” places in New Orleans.

New Orleans – A Foodie’s Paradise

  • Gumbo at the Gumbo Shop
  • Crawfish Etouffee at Chartres House Café
  • Jambalaya at Coop’s Place
  • Red Beans and Rice at Joey K.’s
  • Muffulettas at Central Grocery Co.
  • Beignets at Café Du Monde
  • Bananas Foster at Brennan’s
  • King Cakes at Sucre
  • Po’ Boys at Parkway Bakery & Tavern

I’ve been to six of the nine… though some were a long time ago. I wrote about Joey K’s the other day. Last year I set out to find the best Shrimp Po-Boy in New Orleans, and Parkway was the best, IMHO.

How to make pancakes from scratch

Wallet Pancakes

Why imitation syrup is better than the real thing

How to make the best diner pancakes in america

a new word for our time

Man, I would love to snag a 2011 Rangers World Championship Cap. I wonder what impoverished tropical hell hole I’d have to go to so I could buy one of some poor dude’s head.

Where does World Series Runners-Up Gear Go?

A few more Scopitones. Starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel.

I used to Love the Tijuana Brass, back in the day. This song and Scopitone is not why.

Great Hair… terrible rock and roll.

There have been some very good versions of Telstar over the years. This is not one of them. Plus odd and wildly inappropriate footage.

Petula Clark… one of the greats. There was “Downtown”, “I Know a Place”, “My Love”, “Colour My World”, “A Sign of the Times”,  and “Don’t Sleep in the Subway.”

Oh…. and this:

And, last but least… The absolute worst: