On “Mayochup”

April 14, 2018


 

Today I spotted a funny Washington Post article titled Heinz promotes its new ‘mayochup’ and sparks an international controversy. The gist is this: Heinz sells a condiment that’s a mix of ketchup and mayonnaise in other parts of the world and is gauging interest in bringing it to the US. There’s a few things about this so-called controversy that seem, well… ridiculous.

First, the “international” part of this controversy is mostly within the United States. Heinz and its parent company Kraft Heinz are both based in the US, and at least in the article much of the outrage comes from US citizens (including Puerto Ricans.) Many claim to have invented this unique condiment, but let’s be honest — anyone who’s ever thought to put mayonnaise and ketchup on a hamburger bun basically had the same idea.

Second, if you add relish to this mix you have Thousand Island dressing. I don’t know for certain the ratio would be ideal if you made it with Mayochup, but it goes to show that again, mixing mayo and ketchup is hardly a new idea, let alone bottling and selling it to Americans.

Third, the very concept of putting two condiments in the same jar is silly enough to have made one of the most memorable fake advertisements in the criminally underrated 90′s sketch comedy series Mr. Show. In the sketch two companies compete to combine mustard and mayonnaise with the brands Mayostard and Mustardayonnaise, which only escalates to an absurd yet somehow logical conclusion. Here’s the clip below:


 

The best part? Unlike Heinz, Mr. Show’s sketch repeatedly points out the problems with this idea. Not only is the amount of time it saves negligible, but mayonnaise expires quickly. In other words, the real controversy shouldn’t be who came up with the idea first, but whether the true motivation of Heinz is to sell a product with very little purpose but to go bad before you’ve finished using it, forcing you to purchase more.

So argue all you like over this manufactured outrage, but please excuse the rest of us for rightfully laughing it off.

Mixt coming to the Mission is old news and here’s why

March 21, 2018


 

Today Eater SF “revealed” that salad focused mini-chain Mixt (formerly Mixt Greens) is opening a new location in the Mission at the former location of La Rondalla at 901 Valencia. Surprised? Don’t be; this has been public for a couple months if you knew where to look.

For those who genuinely don’t know how to locate this information let me backtrack and explain.

La Rondalla was a Mission institution far longer than I’ve been alive, which Mission Local explains here in the article about their closure. In summary the family owned restaurant spanned three generations but ultimately failed for various reasons.

Fast forward to a couple months ago when construction began at the former restaurant. But what was going on? This isn’t always a simple question to answer by looking at public records but in this case it was trivial to find out.

First, building permits are typically required for any type of construction. San Francisco takes this a step further by putting some details online. So head on over to SF Planning’s San Francisco Property Information Map and enter the address, then click search. Once it locates the property, click the Building Permits tab at the top. Now scroll through the permit applications until you find something that looks related to the work going on.

Permit #201711093626 involves altering “FOOD/BEVERAGE HNDLNG” and is described as “TENANT IMPROVEMENT OF AN EXISTING GROUND FLOOR AND BASEMENT FLOOR RESTAURAND [sic] SPACE TO A NEW RESTAURANT.” It dates back to January of 2018.

Next click on the permit number to head to SFGov’s website, then click Show Authorized Agents, which takes you here. This step is where things get tricky. Not every permit will list a tenant, or “LESSEE” in the Roles column, but this one does. Sometimes there’s multiple permits for the same project and you have to find the right one.

The tenant won’t always have a name you can easily match to a business, like “Bob Smith” or whatever. But more often than not these days it will be a legally established corporation or LLC. And this time we’re in luck, because the applicant is MG RESTAURANTS INC. Gee, who could that be?

Let’s play dumb for a moment and assume we have no idea what this company is. At the time of this writing, a Google search for the company name comes up with many unhelpful results, but a few down the list is a link to their entry in Corporation Wiki. Among other data is this diagram:


 

While this may look like something a conspiracy theorist drew on a chalkboard, the gist is pretty clear — the only restaurant this could be is Mixt.

Now it’s worth pointing out that Mixt’s sister restaurant group Split Bread falls somewhere here under the same Good Food Guys umbrella, but it’s not part of MG Restaurants Inc. as far as I can tell. Besides, who’d open yet another sandwich spot in the Mission? And as Eater SF mentions, Mixt isn’t quite big enough yet to fall under the city’s formula retail restrictions. Split Bread is pretty far away from nudging up to that restriction so there’s no urgency.

I, for one, welcome our new salad overlords. But if you miss La Rondalla there’s always Puerto Alegre for deliciously greasy Mexican food with stiff margaritas.

A curious discovery about my laundry service

March 12, 2018

Recently I received an informal text message survey from Rinse, a laundry service I’ve been using for a few years. The survey only had two questions, but I found their response unexpected to say the least.

If you’re not familiar with Rinse, it’s pretty simple — put your clothes to wash in a bag, your dry cleaning in a different bag, and schedule a courier to come to your home and pick it all up. They clean and return your clothes in a couple days.

As for what made the survey’s response so unusual, see a screenshot of the interaction below:


 

Yes, my laundry service just admitted they hate doing laundry. I guess that’s one thing we have in common.

Still, now I feel a little guilty every time they come over to pick up my dirty clothes.
 

Spam: If you’ve never used Rinse before (and don’t mind using a laundry service that hates doing laundry) click here to get $25 off your first order. Full disclosure: I’ll get a discount if you use that link to sign up and place an order.

Paris of the Pacific tour

February 26, 2018


Photo of ships in San Francisco’s harbor circa 1850 from Wikipedia. Used under public domain.
 

Yesterday afternoon I took a San Francisco City Guides tour I’d never heard of before titled 1850′s San Francisco: Paris of the Pacific. This relatively new tour meets at the same place as the Gold Rush City tour, and compliments it in an unexpected way. Like all City Guides tours it’s 100% free and led by volunteer guides.

Whereas the Gold Rush City tour largely focuses on the crowd of Americans coming west in search of gold, the Paris of the Pacific tour highlights a parallel story. When a French spy in Monterey got wind of the discovery of gold in California he tipped off folks in his home country.

Why was there a French spy in Monterey? Turns out New Spain/Mexico’s weak grip on California was an open secret, and France had an interest in colonizing the territory. While French troops never invaded, French citizens invaded with the most American pastime of them all: business.

Thanks to the tenuous political situation in France at the time with Napoleon III as well as food shortages all over Europe, a number of wealthy French aristocrats and savvy business types chartered a ship and sailed to San Francisco. Unlike their peers from the US, the French immigrants to California weren’t interested in seeking out gold directly. Instead they operated businesses catering to gold seekers including bars, casinos, and brothels.

If you’d arrived via ship in San Francisco in the 1850′s you probably would have disembarked at or near the Commercial Street pier, which led directly to San Francisco’s French Quarter, meeting French-speaking people and their businesses in the area.

While little remains of the French Quarter, the direct French influence in San Francisco continues to this day. Isidore Boudin started his Boudin Bakery during the Gold Rush. The Notre Dame Des Victoires church near Chinatown began shortly after the Gold Rush as well.

But the influence of those early French settlers in San Francisco goes deeper. Importers bought in goods from France including clothing and alcohol, and the first restaurants in the area were operated by French chefs. To this day if you want to dine out lavishly in San Francisco there’s a good chance you’ll visit a French restaurant, if not a French-inspired one.

Department stores selling imported French goods lasted from the mid 19th century up until the mid to late 20th century in San Francisco. Some relics of these stores still exist if you know where to look. And where would those be? You’ll have to take the tour yourself to find out.

What we’ll all miss about Virgin America

February 22, 2018

On my flight home from LAX on Virgin America, one passenger seemed to panic when an aircraft sporting Alaska Airlines livery pulled up to the gate. I’m sure he knew the deal — Virgin America was acquired by Alaska Airlines and the former’s brand will be retired this April.

The woman working the gate overcame the passenger’s objection (and repeated this almost verbatim to several other passengers a few minutes later) by saying “don’t worry, the outside of the plane has been repainted but everything inside is still the same with the mood lighting and we’ll still play the video.” You know something’s wrong when a company’s own employees are effectively saying “no, it doesn’t suck — yet” to temporarily reassure their customers.

The video she referred to is the pre-flight safety video Virgin America has been showing for many years, which you can watch here:


 

It’s an effective video because it serves two purposes — to educate passengers about what they’re required to know in a memorable way, and to project Virgin America’s fun image. To think passengers may complain if they don’t show the video tells you something about the strength of Virgin America’s brand.

What do people even think about Alaska Airlines, aside from the Eskimo guy on the tail? Apparently not much. On the other hand, everyone seems to know that Virgin America safety video. When it first premiered Ellen had the original dancers perform a short version on her show. The employees seem to like it, especially this flight attendant working himself into a sweat dancing along.

Video game streamers know it too, just watch this clip of a couple guys playing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time while singing it. One viewer of their channel went so far as to take their vocals and re-dub them over the original video to hilarious effect.

Virgin America doesn’t fly outside the US and Mexico, but that didn’t stop a group of students in Taiwan from making their own version of the video. Or a dance school in Australia from making theirs as well.

None of which is to say the video was the sole reason Virgin America is a great brand, it’s just an easy example of fandom that would otherwise be difficult to measure. When you take Virgin America’s mood lighting, friendly service, reasonable prices, timeliness, cleanliness, excellent entertainment options, surprisingly decent food, and add that all together… well it’s clearly greater than the sum of its parts. Their impeccable safety record doesn’t hurt either.

I guess my point is I don’t see why Virgin America’s fans would stick around — and there seem to be many of us — unless Alaska Airlines learns to “live it all up in the sky.”

View from Griffith Observatory

February 21, 2018

Griffith Observatory
 

Before leaving Los Angeles last night I figured I had to take one last look at the city. Although Griffith Observatory was technically closed, the area around it was as open as ever.

According to everyone I spoke with the main attraction is not the observatory itself, but rather the view from the area on the hill around it. So it didn’t bother me that the observatory was closed, but the DASH bus service up to it was concerning. Not only did it run infrequently but I’d barely heard of DASH before. As it turns out my concerns were unwarranted — DASH service runs in weird spots, costs very little, and they accept LA Metro’s TAP card as payment. Not knowing this I paid far more for a Lyft ride up to the top of the hill.

Griffith Observatory
 

From the hill on Griffith Observatory one can easily spot many landmarks. The Hollywood sign is in the distance, as is downtown Los Angeles. On the way up the hill I began to worry about the views — the city had become engulfed in clouds. Yet from such a high vantage point, those clouds only served to frame the city down below as an contrast to the weather patterns above.

As a T-Mobile subscriber I’m used to the occasional odd spot where there’s no coverage. Griffith Observatory proved to be one of such spots; at first I wondered if it would be best to wait for the DASH bus down the hill, but eventually I discovered that even while closed, Griffith Observatory provides a free wifi hotspot. Using this I requested a Lyft from there to LAX. It’s a long ride but my driver was cool about it. Better for him than those short, cheap rides anyway.

LA’s Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and Koreatown

Los Angeles has three Asian neighborhoods you’ll find on the map, and I decided to give them all a visit. For starters I booked a tour of Chinatown and Little Tokyo from Downtown LA Walking Tours (same company that runs the Haunted Tales tour.)

New Chinatown, LA
New Chinatown, LA New Chinatown, LA
 

The tour started in Chinatown, where the central plaza was covered in confetti from the previous night’s celebration of Chinese New Year. A group of janitors were out trying to clean it up and fish it out of the fountains, but the wind wasn’t being terribly cooperative. It was pretty dead in the area as it was not only Monday morning but also President’s Day.

This is technically New Chinatown, as the original Chinatown was located where Union Station is today. For a variety of reasons it had fallen into decline, and was moved to the previous site of Little Italy after most of the Italian community had migrated away to the suburbs. To say ethnic minorities weren’t treated well in America back in the day would be a huge understatement. Although significantly smaller than San Francisco’s Chinatown, both were given a stereotypical Chinese-ish theme that looks like something you’d find at Epcot in Disney World.

Various movies have been filmed there including Chinatown (well, duh) and more recently Rush Hour.

Going back to the theme, a new modern looking housing development nearby had some elements of theming including hanging lanterns and a color scheme dominated by the color red. Sure it’s whimsical but it felt like a tasteful departure from the older parts of Chinatown.

New Chinatown, LA
 

One last thing before moving on — Bruce Lee fans will appreciate the statue in his honor located in Chinatown.

The tour then boarded a Gold Line train on LA’s Metro. We only went two stops so you could probably do this on foot without much trouble. Then again, Metro tickets are relatively cheap.

Little Tokyo
Little Tokyo Little Tokyo
 

Little Tokyo seemed more varied than Chinatown, with a museum, a Buddhist temple, a couple of shopping centers, and various public art including the “Friendship Knot” of two metal poles tied together. That said my tour guide’s wife was Japanese and he clearly knew more about Japan’s culture as a result — perhaps we skipped some obscure but interesting parts of Chinatown.

One interesting takeaway from the tour is Los Angeles is the birthplace of mochi ice cream. These balls of ice cream wrapped in a rice-based dough are now sold in grocery stores across the country, but were once an unusual fusion cuisine you’d only find in LA.

Little Tokyo
 

A model of a Space Shuttle isn’t something I would have expected to see in Little Tokyo, but it’s not just any Space Shuttle — it’s the Challenger, which exploded seconds after launching, killing everyone on board. Among the seven dead was Ellison Onizuka, an Air Force test pilot who became the very first Japanese-American astronaut.

I realize that’s a depressing note to end the tour on, but I can’t go into detail on the final stop because it’s a secret location. Sorry about that — you’ll have to go on the tour yourself to find out, but trust me it’s a tranquil and unexpected place you’re extraordinarily unlikely to find on your own.

Koreatown
Koreatown Koreatown
 

I asked the tour guide about Koreatown. He suggested taking a bus or car ride as it’s pretty far from Little Tokyo. His advice was completely on the mark; I took the Metro’s Red Line subway and it still involved a fair amount of walking to get to the heart of Koreatown.

Unlike Chinatown and Little Tokyo there’s virtual no theming to Koreatown. It’s a typical LA neighborhood near downtown with a weird mix of large and small buildings. You know you’re in the right place when you find people speaking Korean, see Korean writing on various buildings, the occasional Korean flag, and of course many Korean restaurants. Unfortunately being a holiday and a Monday not much of this was open.

Koreatown’s architectural styles vary wildly and large churches/temples fill the area more than anywhere else I found in Los Angeles. It was early in the afternoon by this point and I needed a coffee — which wasn’t hard to come by at all. There was also a lot of construction going on.

As I wandered eastward out of Koreatown I wound up in MacArthur Park. The west half of the park seemed fine with kids playing soccer and such. But heading to the east side there were some sketchy dealings going down. I requested a Lyft out of there and it couldn’t have come soon enough.

Barnsdall Art Park and a curious encounter with the legacy of L. Ron Hubbard

February 19, 2018

View from Barnsdall Art Park
 

Once I’d finished sipping my little cup of espresso at Blue Bottle, I hopped on another bus; this time to Barnsdall Art Park in East Hollywood. It’s a unusual park on the top of a hill, featuring a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright.

There’s a not particularly large patch of lawn outside the fence around the house though it seems to be a hot spot for young couples to sunbathe and picnic. The best feature of the park is the view. On one side you can see Griffith Observatory and the iconic Hollywood sign in the distance.

On the other side of the park you can make out the top of the big blue Scientology building with the gold cross thing on the top. It’s a little hard to see as there are a few trees in the way, but it’s unmistakably the back of their Fountain Avenue building.

After leaving Barnsdall Art Park I had to make a choice — soldier on to Griffith Park, or head back downtown. Ultimately my legs were getting tired so I went with the latter and headed to the Metro’s nearby Red Line station. As I took the second escalator I noticed something out of the corner of my eye — a small book or pamphlet with an oddly cult-like design on the front. Thinking quickly as the escalator descended downward I reached back and grabbed it.

The little book turned out to be The Way to Happiness: A Common Sense Guide to Better Living by (who else?) L. Ron Hubbard. In that spontaneous moment I felt the universe winking at me, as though someone had left this artifact for me and me alone to discover.

"The Way to Happiness: A Common Sense Guide to Better Living" by L. Ron Hubbard
 

The cover features what appears to be an oil painting of a path through greenery leading to a sunrise in a relatively clear sky, with the ridiculous long title floating among the clouds. It’s truly the stuff of nightmares for any competent graphic designer.

On the back cover is a sort of reverse warning, a claim that the book presents a completely secular moral code, presumably there to disavow any connection with Scientology, and claims to be “based wholly on common sense.” Do people need common sense explained to them? Apparently L. Ron Hubbard thought so.

Whereas the Ten Commandments managed to sum up a moral code with only ten bullet points (well, sort of) Hubbard needed twenty one items in his list with detailed short essays for each and often multiple subheadings. Say what you will about the man, brevity wasn’t his strong suit.

Hubbard goes so far as to provide definitions of many words he uses in footnotes, even rather simple words such as “example” and “practice” where it’s unclear how someone would be able to understand the definitions but not the words themselves. This concept comes directly from Scientology’s Study Tech which places an emphasis on readers understanding words correctly. While building your vocabulary is a pursuit most of us agree upon, Hubbard’s insistence that it’s always the reader’s fault for not understanding written text is awfully convenient for authors such as himself; it provides a form of inerrancy where authors cannot be wrong, only readers for misunderstanding written text.

As for the advice in the book, most of it seems pretty reasonable. Don’t harm others, brush your teeth, follow the golden rule, set a good example for others, etc. That said much of the advice is weirdly specific and seems purely reactionary to events Hubbard himself despised such as the rise of Communism and the American hippie counterculture movement.

For a book about common sense it contains two sections that are absolutely shocking. First, in section eighteen titled “Respect the religious beliefs of others” it starts out preaching tolerance, but by the end swings in the opposite direction instructing readers not to respect atheists and agnostics. To call this section self-serving for a man who started his own cult (with the express purpose of profiteering) self-serving would be a massive understatement.

Second, the book’s first full page titled “How to use this book” instructs the reader not only to give the book to a friend who needs the advice, but to order additional copies and give them to that friend so they can distribute them to others. This is a classic pyramid scheme.

But in the end, you know what the best part is? Scientology’s lawyers cannot threaten to sue me for any of these criticisms. After all, this book is completely secular and therefore unrelated to Scientology in any way.

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart
The Echo Park Time Travel Mart The Echo Park Time Travel Mart The Echo Park Time Travel Mart The Echo Park Time Travel Mart
 

After spending the morning gorging myself on a food tour, I plopped my bloated ass down on a bus seat for a ride to the Echo Park neighborhood so I could visit a store aimed at time travelers.

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart sells items for a variety of time traveling use cases, such as a Viking odorant (the opposite of deodorant), a device for disabling evil robots (a magnet), soap from the Soviet Union, a gel that prevents cloning (the shopkeeper explained it must work because he uses it and there’s only one of him), as well as robot milk which is inexplicably some type of powder.

Now, obviously there’s an ulterior motive at work here. The store is a front for a local branch of children’s writing workshop 826, also known as the people who run the pirate store in San Francisco at 826 Valencia Street.

In exchange for a purchase and small donation, I was allowed to spin The Wheel of Fortunes. Apparently a lot of candy will be coming my way tomorrow!

Before leaving for the Blue Bottle next door, I was encouraged to step into the garden in the storefront, which was built for its photogenic properties.

The Last Bookstore

February 18, 2018

The Last Bookstore
 

Late this evening I stumbled into The Last Bookstore, a large downtown LA store selling books as well as music, DVDs, and various other items. Much of the store was somewhat inaccessible due to author Rowan Blanchard speaking about her new book. This took up most of the main floor thanks to a sizable audience — a good thing for the store but it also meant I couldn’t explore all the shelves.

Their selection goes all over the map; including classics, books on LA and California (several books on Oakland caught my eye) and even photography coffee table books which had their own separate room.

The place is immaculate and mostly well organized, though some mischievous acts led me to discover unexpected books. For example on a shelf of new books about entertainment I found a used copy of Max Headroom’s Guide to Life from 1986. It’s a silly book and doesn’t attempt to reproduce Max’s digital stutter (how could you in book form, really?) but does a decent job of replicating his arrogant ignorance.

Mostly I was glad to find a late night reprieve of the insanity on the streets from the NBA All Stars game. What kind of bookstore is open late? The Last Bookstore is your answer. I was glad to stumble in and find this quirky LA landmark. It served as a welcome reprieve from the chaos on the streets outside.