Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Love letter to Bodegas.

In my pre-San francisco life, I was quite the cook. Dinner parties for 30+ people? Not a problem. Thanksgiving in my two-bedroom apartment? Bring it. Since moving here, well, let's just say I've been a little more... restrained. I don't have any money, I just acquired pans, and ultimately it's just me and The Roommate. So save a ridiculously overpriced chicken parmesan exploit and a whole crab episode (I live somewhere that has a CRAB SEASON!), there hasn't been a lot of cooking in my life.

Part of this is that my grocery exploits are a little different here than in the midwest. Midwest grocery shopping, oh my god, is one of my favorite things in the whole world. You drive your car (this is the one place where I will defend an automobile to the death) to a giant food warehouse where ingredients are usually fabulous quality and you stuff your cart with enough food to cook for weeks and then you get home and unpack it all and it got there IN YOUR TRUNK rather than you carrying it for miles and oh my god I might be hyperventilating.

Non-believers may have thought I was kidding about how much I love grocery shopping. Non-believers are probably wrong.

The grocery thing is the hardest one for me to get over when moving to a bigger city - or, at least, a city with no car. Now, San Francisco, let me hand it to you - here's your advantage over New York. You've still got those sprawling, ridiculous grocery stores with fantastic quality items, and god love you, you have the courtesy to sprinkle them all over the place. (I know Safeway might be boring, but I love them. I know this is probably going to cause problems between us. It's the midwest in me.) San Francisco is this funny little hybrid city. A lot of residents still own cars. It's certainly urban and populated enough that you don't NEED a car, but having one isn't impossible, like New York.

The bulk of my grocery shopping in New York happened via Fresh Direct. I could wax poetic for days, but let's just say it would be in the top five reasons for me to move back to the city. Amazing ingredients, delivered to my door when I want, FOR FREE. I have recently learned Safeway delivers, but they want to charge me $15 or something ridiculous if I don't order enough stuff. (Perusing FD's website now leads me to believe you do have to pay for delivery, but it's still way cheaper. Love. Fresh Direct.) Also, I lived on the fourth floor, and they would bring my groceries into my kitchen, because they are awesome and I am easily winded.

Delivery services are your best friends if you need a lot of groceries. It certainly makes life more convenient. My NYC train stop was also right in front of a local grocery store. It was an awful grocery store, mind you, but not the end of the world if I needed something they couldn't screw up. (No meat. No meat ever from the C-Town on 145th.)

Then there are what I consider specialty grocery stores. They have ingredients of absolutely the best quality you can imagine and they are sprinkled all over the place. Some are really specialized - cheese shops, meat markets, etc., like Lucca's. Love to Lucca's at 22nd & Valencia. An Italian market that makes fresh pasta and has fantastic sandwiches, a good cheese selection and a nice wine spread. Some are just small grocery stores that carry a sampling of amazing ingredients. This is where I give a shout-out to my baby, Bi-Rite. 

Bi-Rite, you beautiful bastard. You heartbreaker. You are my favorite place in the city and if I had $100 to drop on a meal for two people you better believe I'd do it every day inside you. Your meat is exquisite, you have fresh whole crabs, you just got in actual Jamon Iberico for $100 a pound, you have truffles, your ice cream is the most sinful thing that has ever passed my lips and it is $8 for a damn quart. This is the downfall of the specialty grocery store. You are going to spend too much money, and you are not going to know how it happened. Chicken parmesan for The Roommate and I this weekend? $42. Yes. That included an $8 pint of ice cream (Mexican chocolate with salted peanuts, I'm looking at you). But other than that it was two chicken breasts, box of panko, italian seasoning, half a pound of shredded mozzarella, pasta, jar of pre-made tomato sauce, aluminum foil. $42. I could have gone to Valencia Pizza & Pasta two blocks away and gotten twice as much food for half the price and wouldn't have had to cook it myself. But, in all fairness, it was an apology dinner since I had just been a giant jerk about my bicycle's gears slipping and I needed to be nice to The Roommate. This was my $42 penance.

This is where I introduce to you... the bodega.

San Franciscans, you probably call it something else. I don't know anyone, so we never have a chance to talk about these little bundles of joy, so I have yet to test the waters. Rest of the country, you call them convenience stores, and they're usually attached to gas stations. You will probably not get why bodegas change my life.

First of all? They are everywhere. Everywhere! Between me and the Bi-Rite, I think I pass four of them. In two blocks. There are literally two on the same block and I can see a third one from there. There is one on every block. They are slightly overpriced but they are RIGHT THERE. Mere feet from my door! You want milk? You don't want to go all the way to the grocery store because you have to do that on your bicycle and you just know it's going to blow up in your bag in the mile and a half it takes to get home? You should probably walk down the hill less than a block and get a gallon of milk. Okay, it costs $5.50 and that is obnoxious. But... it is right. there. And god bless San Francisco, your bodegas always seem to carry the most beautiful array of Pepperidge Farm cookies I've ever seen. Out of my apartment and back into my apartment with Double Chocolate Milanos, a gallon of milk and a Chronicle in less than five minutes. 

They occasionally serve food. The bodega at 19th & Guerrero (you could probably call this one a deli if you really wanted to) actually has a fantastic array of food. You can walk in and get lasagna heated up and then walk to the park and eat it. And here, god love you, they often have huge selections of wine. Decent wine, even! 

People usually have preferred locations. It entertains me when these preferred locations are not actually the closest one to their homes. In NYC, I was all about 144th & Broadway. I was 6-pack of Heineken girl there. I'm loyal to 20th & Guerrero and 21st & Mission. Some bodegas have names. Some don't. The Roommate understands what I mean when I ask if we can go to the bodega. That is all that matters. They don't need names. They are nearly identical but all of them have their little quirks. 20th & Guerrero has rogue board games hiding in the little side room. One day, I'm buying one.

This is the trade-off I accept for losing my car and my giant grocery stores. I will suck up the delivery charge and let Safeway bring me my groceries. I will strap a big messenger bag on my back and go to Foods Co. or Rainbow and buy as much as I can fit into it and ride it home awkwardly down 20th Street. I will go to Bi-Rite and spend way too much but eat like a queen. And I will sure as hell stop at my bodega every day, where the incredibly nice man talks to me about the weather every single time and never remarks that maybe I'd be less of a fatty if I could buy a gallon of milk without a bag of cookies, for once. 

The bodega does not judge you. It knows what you need. It does not judge when you're a single female walking in and picking up two six packs AND a 22 oz. of Anchor. You can walk in sweaty and disgusting after you've ridden home from work, and it doesn't even make a catty remark about how you probably just ride a bike to overcompensate for all the Milanos. (It's kind of true.) The bodega is slightly over-priced, but humble and unassuming. It is there for you in the best and worst of times. Thanks, bodega.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bicycle commuting.

I am a bicycle commuter.

Sort of.

I don't have a "real job", you see. I'm a freelancer. Lately, I've been freelancing with a super fun, very small company around 3rd & Bryant. I live around 21st & Guerrero, which means this commute is about 3.5 miles. Since I am a giant scaredy-cat about getting back on a bike ever since I went over its handlebars like an idiot, I rode the bus one or two mornings. It's a fairly easy bus commute. Walk from my place to 20th & Folsom, grab the 12, get off at 4th & Folsom, walk down 4th to Bryant, hang a left. Simple.

When I did this, it took me 40 minutes. It's .5 miles to the bus stop and .3 miles from the bus stop to the office. Let's just say I have a history of never catching the 12 in a timely manner - waiting 15 minutes is not unusual. I don't know if it's the bus or me, but this happens pretty regularly. All of that means I have to leave my house at 8:15 if I have any hopes of getting to the office by 9:00. 3.5 miles away from my house. 

So I sucked it up and got back on the bike and took a nice, not terribly scary route to work. And you know what? It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. I ride down 20th to Folsom and take it all the way down to 4th, where I jump on 4th for a couple of blocks and then head down a back alley so I can ride into their parking lot. I feel fantastic when I get there. I want to fill my body with water rather than over-sugared coffee. Riding seven casual miles every day makes me feel better, more healthy, stronger. 

But let's talk about why bike commuting is a bitch. Folsom has a bike lane once you pass 14th. Great. Except Folsom is lined with businesses, and businesses get deliveries, and delivery vehicles park in my bike lane. So now I have to check out what traffic is doing and whip around the vehicle taking up my lane, and cars get pissed, and I get pissed. (The other day, a Bud Light truck around 11th & Folsom was parked entirely blocking the car lane so that the bike lane was completely clear. I yelled out a thank you to him as I rode past, because I legitimately appreciated that.)

Taxis are the worst. They have absolutely no regard for other vehicles on the road, and that might be fine if you're in a car, but I'm not. Drivers in San Francisco think they're used to cyclists, so they know how close they can comfortably drive to me. Here's a hint - your comfort zone from the inside of your SUV is significantly different from mine, on top of my 35 pound bicycle (it's a late 70's mixte, leave it alone). I may be a cyclist, but I am not a terribly good or adaptable one. It is me versus a car for twenty minutes every morning. 

And nighttime is worse. Coming down Harrison is terrible. No bike lane. Despite the fact that it's something like a six lane road, cars get pissed off that I'm there. And fair enough - at my fastest, I'm probably clipping along at 20 miles an hour. If someone was doing that in front of me, I'd get angry too. 

The worst is when I can't figure out what a car is doing. When we're both trying to anticipate the other's actions, it gets dicey and awkward. Someone needing to turn right across my bike lane when I'm approaching an intersection is like running into a brand-new co-worker at a sex shop. And not in the tame "I just dropped in to grab condoms" section, either. Neither one of us knows what to do and so we're both going to dance around awkwardly until someone figures out how to duck out of the situation. 

There are signs all over this city reminding cars that bicycles have the right to take up an entire lane, but no one really gives a shit. If I take up an entire lane, I've got cars on my ass waiting for me to speed up. If I ride to the side, cars are going to nearly side-swipe me trying to pass in a lane that they don't really have room to pass me in. And that's saying nothing of someone opening a car door without looking, allowing me to run head-first into it. 

But I love it. I do. I don't mind walking in to work all sweaty with my pants rolled up. I've learned to not mind the honking. I'm a considerate cyclist - I'm not diving in and out of traffic unless I have to because something in front of me is blocking my path. I don't run red lights - I have a tendency to stop at yellows because I know I'm not actually fast enough to get through an intersection. I panic when the walk lights don't count down their seconds, because I don't know when the light is going to change, so I speed the hell up. I only become an asshole the second time you honk at me when there is clearly nothing I can do to change our situation. 

Cyclists and drivers hate one another. Hate. And we are all self-righteous. I am better than you because I am on a bike. I am getting exercise, I am seeing the city block by block rather than setting my car to auto-pilot and ignoring my surroundings. I roll up next to people in the morning and we occasionally have conversations, while you are caged up and will never interact with another human being between the time you lock your door and the time you arrive at your destination. You've got the morning radio show, I've got nature. You pay $50 a month to push metal plates around, I get my exercise twice a day as a side effect of how I get to and from work, and the city is my gym.

But we act like assholes. We are all better than one another. I get that cars are irritated with cyclists. If I was in a car and someone in front of me was going twenty miles under the speed limit, I'd honk my horn and act like a jerk too. If I've got somewhere to be, never mind the fact that they're propelling themselves with their feet and I know they can't go 45 miles an hour. And cyclists weave around unpredictably, and who knows if they're going to run a light... Look. I get it.

I get angry when drivers seem to do things out of spite. The other day, coming toward the mission on Folsom passing under the bridge, a giant F-350 who had been honking at me flew by me really, really close. I would have been fine, but it made me really nervous, so I swerved a little. Could have fallen. And sure, that's because I'm skittish and not very good at what I do - but all I'm saying is that you're not proving a point. The way you "win", with your two-ton+ vehicle, is by hurting me. The bicycle and I barely break 200 pounds. We are tiny and slow. You are not winning by proving a point to me. 

Through all the rage and indignity, I simply can't get enough. I had a slight mental breakdown to The Roommate on Saturday when it occurred to me that I'm still really, really scared on a bicycle. The slightest thing goes wrong and I am completely powerless to recover from it. But it turns out all I can do is just keep riding the damn thing, and eventually it'll get easier. The other option is being caged up. That doesn't even sound like me. 

I've read two stories today about cyclists getting hit and injured at busy intersections. How about we all try to be safe and not act like assholes? And this is directed at you too, cyclists. You know we're jerks. I get the indignity and that we're trying to take our streets back - but whether we're proving the point or the car is, we're the ones at risk for getting hurt. Let's keep this shit fun.

(P.S., a side note to The Roommate. It appears I am doing this for myself, after all. Sorry I had forgotten about that.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Every city has them. In Kansas City, it's barbecue. Cincinnati has its chili, New York has its pizza. Prior to moving to San Francisco, I had given the Bay area chocolate. There's a lot of really, really good chocolate here, people, from my favorite and somewhat-well-known artisan chocolate maker Scharffen Berger to the lesser known, web 2.0-ey up and coming Tcho. (Full disclaimer: I am a tester for Tcho, but the fact that they send me free chocolate doesn't make me love it any more. Okay, maybe a little more.)

And then? Well, then I moved to the mission. Home of the mission-style burrito. People. San Francisco has BURRITOS. That's their thing!

The mission-style burrito is a thing of beauty. You have had something similar to them, most likely. The chain burrito craze hit a few years back and has since blown up, largely thanks to Chipotle. (Say what you will about Chipotle, San Franciscans, but be very careful. I eat your burritos now, but Chipotle burritos defined five years of college for me.) I remember eating New York Burrito in Salt Lake City back in 1999, but that was my first experience with burritos the size of my face. They are an art form here. You can get a regular burrito, but if you're smart, you'll go with the super burrito - which has, among other things, cheese and sour cream, my favorite parts of any Mexican dining experience. They'll run you around $6 and you can probably make them last two meals, depending on where you go.

I will not make any claims as to the "best" burrito, because I have only had a couple of them, and that would not be fair. There are more taquerias in the mission than there are anything else (they rival the number of bars, I swear). Supposedly the first super burrito came from El Faro at 20th & Folsom, a location I pass almost every day but have never gone to. It's a San Francisco tradition, and I'm incredibly excited to share it with my mother two weeks from today. Incidentally, I was the first one to take her to a Chipotle, so it's only fair that I show her where they came from.

What are your favorites, locals? I'll admit, I really like Cancun's food - I know it's kind of a standard answer, but they've been good to me. I didn't mind El Toro's (17th & Valencia), and I was recently subjected to one from Chavo's, which is totally not in the mission but was still a decent lunch. 

Oh, and since I've mentioned my San Francisco biases, it's only fair that I list the other three - get your pizza from John's on 44th when you're in New York, your barbecue from Arthur Bryant's on 18th in Kansas City, and your chili from the Ludlow Ave. Skyline in Cincinnati. You're welcome. :)

P.S. I just wrapped up one big on-site job and another small personal job, which means I have nothing to do. Expect more posts this week, including the "furnish your completely bare kitchen" post I've been working on for months.

Friday, November 7, 2008


I am a shitty San Francisco resident, people.

You see, here was the point of starting this blog - show people my experiences living in a new place. I really love hearing people not from New York talk about New York. It makes me see certain things in a new way and get all nostalgic about when I found those things to be weird too. (In Cincinnati, when someone doesn't hear what you just said, they'll often say "Please?" instead of "Could you repeat that?". I say "Come again?" and people there look at me like I'm crazy.)

It was also going to be an excuse. A beautiful excuse to get out and explore the city and do all sorts of... whatever. You've heard this before.

And I have done none of it. I moved to the mission, like an idiot, and I have no excuse to leave my neighborhood, ever. I break a collar bone and can't ride a bike. I decide to freelance instead of getting a real job so I never leave my house. I get an on-site job and it's at 3rd & Folsom, a 15 minute bike ride from my house and a commute that involves not one single degree of difficulty.

Now? Now, I have lived here for over two months, and my mother and best friend are coming to visit me for Thanksgiving. They have never been to San Francisco before and it is my job to make their week worthwhile.

They are exactly like me - pool, dive bars, burritos. Yes. All of it. So I'm not worried about what to do around my apartment. I know those answers. What I don't know is where else to take them. We have no desire for the overly-touristy, though going to see the bridge might be nice. But where are all those beautiful hilltops that everyone takes the touristy pictures at? I don't even know how to be a tourist in my own city. I have failed myself, and I'm about to fail them.

Nothing expensive, nothing that involves a wait line. (Ice cream from Bi-Rite excluded.) When Mom came to visit me in NYC, there was no Empire State Building. Violates both rules, so it was out. Both of them claim that they couldn't care less about sight-seeing, but the fact remains that they are in this amazing city for the first time and I'd like to give them a couple of experiences to write home about. 

The Roommate recommends Sutro Baths, and I agree. I recommend seeing the bridge from somewhere high up and pretty and accessible by MUNI. They will eat burritos and do dive bars in my neighborhood. There's probably going to be a Market St. shopping trip, but we have no money and I'm not sure what there really is that's super unique to this great town of ours. 

Help me not look like an asshole, guys. What am I missing out on? (Probably taking them to Boudin, and somewhere with chocolate. Side note.)

Oh, and P.S., you crazy liberals, thanks for Tuesday. I sincerely hope it was as good for all of you as it was for me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I am so busy I don't have time to breathe, thanks to an on-site freelance position that I really enjoy. We'll speak more of that later. Right now, though, here's what's important.

Today, commuting to work on my bicycle, someone pulled up to me in the bike lane and asked if I knew where a bank was. I didn't. But it opened a line of communication between myself and another person. We talked the rest of the way to work. He gave me advice on my bike, I told him about my broken collar bone. We didn't exchange names. There were lots of people parked in the bike lane today, so we called back and forth to one another to let the other person know it was safe to go around. I made a human connection today as I flew in and out of traffic. This is what riding a bike affords me: there is a sense of community, a sense of belonging. I am a part of something.

This story could not have happened to me at a better time. I am 23 years old and have participated in two presidential elections. I left my grandmother's funeral early in 2004 so I could fly back to Ohio and vote. My candidate was already chosen, and I wanted him to win, but I was in the "lesser of two evils" crowd that you hear so much about come voting time. I didn't feel like I belonged to a movement. I was simply making a choice. I voted for Kerry, who ultimately lost. It would be easy to say my vote didn't count, but it would also be painful and pointless. It would imply that I regret voting; that it didn't matter.

But this time? This time, I am in it. I have invested for over a year in my candidate, from the steps where he gave his first speech declaring his intention to run, to the convention where he accepted the nomination to be this year's candidate. I was the first on my street with a yard sign. I attended every function I could. I participated. I became a part of something bigger. I didn't let the fact that my vote "didn't matter" in 2004 deter me from committing to this as hard as possible.

I cannot say this enough: Your vote matters. I very strongly believe in my candidate and my political views, but this is not the day for me to push them on you. I hope your mind is already made up. I hope you believe as strongly in your candidate as I do in mine, no matter who you're voting for. You can debate all day whether or not your vote matters, you can spout facts about the electoral college, but this is the one thing you can do.

This is your vote. Belong to something.

(Oh, side note, if you would like me to push my views on you - YES on Prop 1A, a really gigantic FUCK NO on Prop 8, and YES to Obama/Biden '08. But honestly, just get out there.)