Friday, February 07, 2014

Zaminar in the Blue-Air Spaceship

Thursday of last week, I left work to walk to the hardware store but half a block away encountered a gaggle of police officers and a few news trucks lined up at the curb on California St. A woman standing on the sidewalk told me that Michelle Obama was due in 20 minutes, so I decided to wait and see if I could get a peek at her.

Later, I said to the police officer I’d been standing next to for some time, “If she’s not here by midnight, I’m clearing out (or if my boss walks by),” which was a joke, because my boss is far, far away, but eventually I did have to conclude that Michelle is just as adept at sneaking past a crowd into a building as her husband, though it’s still kind of exciting to see all the police activity and carrying on.

That was my second day at work without my seatmate. It’s strange not to have him there. For months, he was there every single day that I was. We agreed “definitely!” to get together for a burrito, but we will probably never speak again.

Last Friday night, Tom and I tried The Little Chihuahua, a new Mexican place on Valencia St. between 17th and 16th. It’s medium sized, with an open, spacious feel. The seating is either a padded bench along the wall, which was comfortable, or stools with small square seats. I didn’t sit on one, but they didn’t look like they’d be very comfortable. The plates and bowls are attractive, made of plastic in pleasing solid colors, putting one in mind of Fiestaware.

The menu is burritos, quesadillas and enchiladas, and they have a salsa bar that includes a pretty good chipotle salsa. Dinner came with an abundance of superior tortilla chips, and you can get as many chip refills as you want, though I warned the friendly young woman at the counter that they might want to memorize my face so as to avoid making that offer to me in the future.

Tom had a shrimp enchilada he said was good. I had a burrito with black beans and fried plantains which was not that good, partly because of the sweetness of the plantains. Sweetness is an expected characteristic of a plantain, just not very good in a burrito. I asked for the cheese and sour cream to be omitted and the counter lady offered to substitute avocado, but I only spotted about one or two small pieces of avocado. The toasted tortilla was fairly tough to cut through. Maybe steamed would be better.

On Saturday afternoon I met Elea at Haight and Stanyan for a walk. We went into Whole Foods briefly so I could use one of the most dazzling restrooms I’ve ever seen, with walls tiled in deep blue and, starting several feet off the ground, a metal surface that slopes inward. It’s like stepping into a spaceship filled with blue air—gorgeous. Plus they have an employee stationed right outside the two restrooms at all times, keeping them clean and restocking the toilet paper and probably also making sure no one takes $100 worth of goods, which at Whole Foods you could carry in a hand or two, into the restroom for stuffing into a backpack.

We walked up Stanyan and into the Mt. Sutro Open Space Reserve via a trailhead that just opened in 2011. I’d never been there before and found it amazing all of a sudden to be amid very tall trees, seemingly in the middle of a vast woods, seconds after being in a residential neighborhood. There are no bathrooms or benches or any other amenities, just trees and trails. We walked and talked, encountering a number of other people, several with dogs, and one fellow on a bicycle.

Afterward, I walked all the way home, a trip down memory lane. When I first moved to San Francisco, I spent a year on Clayton half a block from Haight. On this walk, I passed no fewer than four places where I used to go to recovery meetings. Haight between Divisadero and Fillmore seemed sad and dead, that which used to be a very vibrant stretch. A café with sidewalk seating that was always packed is now closed and empty.

At Haight and Fillmore is a building where a co-worker and friend of mine, Jill, lived long ago. I’ve never forgotten her, in part because she introduced me to Pearl Jam, so sometimes when I think of Eddie Vedder, I think of her. I also sometimes think of a wonderful poem she wrote with this last line: “Flora can become.”

Now and then, I pass that building on the bus and wonder if she could still live there. Since I was on foot on Saturday, I walked across the street to review the list of tenant names and there she was! I used the phone entry system to leave a message: “This is Zaminar from Outer Space. Hopefully you recognize my voice.”

I went into the Safeway at Church and Market and found that the glaring overhead lighting had been swapped out in favor of something affording more agreeable ambience, and I was astonished to see that a handsome fellow who I swear was working there as far back as 1985 was still there, and still looking great. But the feel of the place otherwise was dismal. A brand-new Whole Foods opened just across the street in the past couple of months, and I guess anyone who can afford to is going there instead. There were not many people in Safeway and those who were appeared to be those who can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods plus a few who refuse to do so on principle or out of thriftiness.

I went to investigate the Whole Foods itself (the sixth in San Francisco?) and found it’s not a particularly nice one, with at least one area that seemed cramped, dim and cheerless, but of course it’s full of the same enticing products as any Whole Foods, had plenty of customers, and will only have more, as the condos directly above it and the condos across the street, both just constructed, fill with gazillionaires.

Then I went by The Little Chihuahua to get one of their chili verde tofu burritos and the verdict is: go to Papalote. The Little Chihuahua’s chili verde tofu is white and mushy and without flavor, and the amount of chips they provided with the takeout order was meager, perhaps to make up for their very generous in-house chip policy. At Papalote you will get a burrito with firm marinated tofu of superb flavor, in a tortilla that isn’t so much work to cut through, that is larger than TLC’s, with more chips, and with a container of salsa that you don’t have to pack yourself that is the best salsa in San Francisco, for a dollar less.

That evening I watched Fruitvale Station, the true story of East Bay resident Oscar Grant being killed by a BART police officer in the early hours of New Year’s Day in 2009. As the fateful moments approached, I stopped the DVD, as if that could somehow make it not happen: a young father, by no means perfect, but full of life and promise, lost forever to his girlfriend, daughter and friends because of (in my opinion) someone’s inability to see anything other than menace when confronting a black person. Unfortunately, this person had a gun.

That night, as I was falling asleep, I heard Jill on my answering machine, sounding exuberant: “Of course I remember your voice! I loved that you stopped by.” After a flurry of phone tag, we got all caught up.
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