March 25, 2012

Out of the mouths of babes

I had a couple of amusing encounters with kids yesterday.

Kristy and I went out for some cheap drinks and nachos in Old Town. Old Town was one of the first neighborhoods in San Diego, and some of the remaining buildings date from as early as the 1820's. It is now a historical park and a local attraction.

The place was packed with tourists and locals alike, and lines led out the doors and into the streets at nearly every place. With waits running at least 30 to 40 minutes at nearly every restaurant, we backtracked to the Alamo. The Alamo is this cheaper, outdoor place where you walk up to a window to order your food and drinks. But they had heat lamps going, and we found an open table with a built-in firepit. Though not near the nicest place in Old Town, the lack of wait and nice view of the bustling street more than made up for it.

Parking is always at a premium anywhere in Old Town, and with the streets and restaurants filled with people, we lucked out  by pulling in just as someone was about to leave. There was a no-parking zone right behind the car, so I pulled up next to the red curb to wait for him to leave. A BMW right in front of him had his lights on as well, but seemed hemmed in and unable to move.

When the car pulled out, a cute five year old kid was leaning out of a back window of the BMW. He held up his hand asking  me not to pull into the spot that had just been vacated. As his Dad pulled back and forward to get better situated in the spot in front, the little boy smiled and moved his hand back and forth as if directing traffic. When the BMW was properly in place, he gave us the thumbs up to thank us for waiting. We both thought it was pretty damn cute, and when we got out, Kristy complimented him on what a good job he had done. We walked on into the crowd of people with a fresh smile.

Earlier in the day I had stopped into my local Starbucks for some afternoon caffeine. I had worked a ten hour shift with the caterer and had been up since 4:45am. When I was headed back out, I walked ahead of a mother with a stroller and a little girl by her side, all stopped in the lobby. I quickened my step so I could get to the door to hold it open for them. The mom looked up and said "Oh, thanks" and "Come on Honey" as they moved to the door.

The mom passed through first with her stroller, but the little girl slowed then stopped in front of me. She was probably three years old. She looked up at me with a serious but pleasant look and said, "You are such a nice boy." This was not prompted by the mom, who I don't think even heard it. The moment did more to boost me out of my sleepy haze than the caffeine would.

Kids today.

March 19, 2012

Quote of the day

“I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you”

~ Friedrich Nietzche

March 17, 2012

Back in black

Just when I thought I was out, they pull you back in.

OK, in truth, I went back willingly.

I spent two decades working in restaurants, both casual and formal. As I mentioned before, most of my friends are people I worked alongside, or are related through one level of separation. My jobs since that time have been a mix of construction and finance, and a big part of me resisted getting back into the restaurant industry. I enjoyed my time there, but I wasn't looking forward to the odd hours and working weekends. But times have been thin for a long time, so I started putting in applications to supplement my income.

Unfortunately, no one has called back. There is no question in my mind that I would do well, be an asset, yadda, yadda, yadda, but I have been out of the game for eight years, and of course there are many more people looking for any kind of work these days. My job search for restaurant work was going about as well as my job search for office work. Nowhere.

And then I got the email. My friend Tami was chatting with a friend who does catering down here in San Diego, and mentioned my name. After a day of playing phone tag, we finally connected last Friday morning. After a quick chat about what we were each looking for, she said she could use some help that weekend. After work, I rushed out to buy a black, button-down shirt that only waiters seem to wear, and was up til midnight laundering, ironing and deciding which dress shoes would be the most comfortable.

I got the call early the next morning to be in at 10am. I showed up dressed head to toe in black, not knowing what I would be doing, or even where I would be working. I had sunscreen and sunglasses in case we would be outside, a notepad and pen in case I would be taking orders, and some folding money to make change or pay for parking.

It was all a bit of a whirlwind, and when I arrived there wasn't a moment to stop and get acquainted. The small kitchen was filled with a crush of people getting food prepped, and the woman who had hired me was busy working on one of the dishes. There was no separation of cooks and waiters, just everyone jumping in where needed to get the job done. I did my best to pitch in and hang on.

As each dish was completed and wrapped, they went into one of the two vans waiting to whisk it away. The clock ticked louder as the deadline approached, but somehow it all came together at the last minute. There were at least three events each day, so as soon as one was over, we had to pack, clean, prep and set up for the next one. Frenetic rushing around followed by slower moments of making sure everything was topped off and kept clean.

I ended up working Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I probably did more food preparation in three days than I had in eight years at the Keg. As the new guy I felt a little clueless, but as the weekend wore on, it all started to come back to me. The energy, the teamwork, the constant need to adjust priorities; the lingo, the jokes, the balance, the rhythm; an old familiar world brought back.

I am essentially on-call at this point, and I will be brought in when there are larger events in town, so I don't know how much work there will be. For now, I will take what I can get and hopefully things will pick up at both places. Like the job itself, you never know how busy it will be, and you always have to be ready to shift gears when take advantage of an opportunity walking through the door.

March 10, 2012

Spring forward, stay in bed

We spring forward and lose an hour of sleep tonight. I typically hate this day for its lost hour. Insomnia doesn't happen as often these days, but every morning still brings exhaustion, so every hour is precious. But this year, I am actually looking forward to losing the hour

I have tried multiple things to try to get a good night's sleep, and one habit that seemed to help for a while was to get up at roughly the same time each morning. Since I don't wake easily or on my own, that meant an alarm every morning, 365 days a year.

Years ago, my alarm clock was like an air raid siren. It would rattle the house, but I wouldn't hear it go off next to my head. Then there was the battle with the snooze alarm, giving myself an extra ten minutes with each smack of the hand. At some point I set the clock fast so I would scare myself awake and out of bed, but eventually I could do the groggy math in my head and it no longer worked.

At some point I made up my mind to stop using the snooze button. Even though I fell asleep between every ten minute interval, it wasn't the best sleep. I eventually decided to just get up when the alarm went off so I could get that extra, uninterrupted half hour. But I still need the alarm to jolt me awake.

No more.

Now I have an old, fidgety dog to wake me up every morning. I still set the alarm, but I am rarely around when it goes off. I could force her back to bed I suppose, but even though I am exhausted, I find it much more difficult to fall back asleep lately. It might be age, stress or some other new factor, but once I am pulled out of deep sleep, the best I can do is hover in that frustrating non-sleep limbo as she clicks back and forth across the floor.

After we set our clocks ahead an hour, sunrise will come after seven o'clock, instead of just past six. I am hoping that the extra hour before the world begins to brighten will keep Sierra from tap-tap-tapping on the floor so early.

A guy can dream.

March 6, 2012

Sharing a good read with a stranger

“A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.”
~ Henry Miller
The Books In My Life (1969)

I love bookshelves. I love books of course, but I love to see books displayed. Lately I have been searching online for library books or ebooks, so I miss strolling through bookstores and walking past all those possibilities. I enjoy looking over bookshelves in people's homes, looking for new authors and insights. I even love seeing what complete strangers are reading at the coffee shop or bus stop, letting random novels catch my eye out in the wild.

I don't have any shelves these days. Downsizing has forced them into boxes, tucked away from sight. As part of the effort to carry around and maintain less stuff, I only hang onto books that I really enjoyed, and can imagine reading again or loaning out. I used to sell books back to places like Half Price Books or Third Place Books up in Seattle. They never offered much money, but the books went back out into circulation, and I received a little store credit for more books at a discount. I haven't found (or looked) for similar places down here, so the few books I had were starting to pile up. 

I have started using a site called Book Crossing. It is a book sharing, tracking, networking sort of world library. From their website:
Label. Share. Follow. Breathe new life into books instead of letting your old favorites collect dust - pass them along to another reader. Our online archival and tracking system allows members to connect with other readers, journal and review literature and trade and follow their books as lives are changed through “reading and releasing”.
You register each book you would like to "set free" and assign it an identification number. In that way, the book's travels can be traced as it makes its way around the city, state, country and maybe the world. You can buy labels or print up your own to let the next person know about the project. The site was started back in 2001, and it is similar to the way people have been tracking dollar bills at Where's George. But books, like the ideas and stories they contain, were meant to be shared, and their travels are usually much less random than bills changing hands. 

You can exchange books with the nearly one million members on the site, but more often books are set free in the wild - left at a bus stop, coffee shop, doctor's office, or wherever you imagine another reader might pick it up. They ask that you do not leave them where there might be a security concern (airports), or where it would be inconsiderate, like in or outside a bookstore. Along with the tracking label on the inside cover, I have been clipping a note to the front cover letting people know that the book was not forgotten, but that it is looking for a new home. 

I was watching an episode of Charlie and Lola the other day (well, it was on for Annabelle, and I was watching her). The episode was about something that many of us did as kids. They released balloons with notes attached, not knowing where they would land, hoping that someone would find them and send back a note to let them know how far it had travelled. Releasing these books is sort of the same thing, but with the gift of a new read, instead of just a deflated balloon. 

When I released my own balloon in grade school, I never heard back. I have only released four books so far, so it is a little early to tell what the results will be, but I hope to hear back about their travels. 

March 1, 2012

Happy 140th Birthday National Parks

God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.
~ John Muir

Yellowstone National Park, established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872, was not only the first national park in the United States, it is widely held to be the first of its kind in the world. The National Park Service was not established for another 44 years, but the setting aside lands "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations" began at Yellowstone.

More from Wikipedia - Ferdinand V. Hayden (an early surveyor of Yellowstone), while not the only person to have thought of creating a park in the Yellowstone region, was the park's first and most enthusiastic advocate. He believed in “setting aside the area as a pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” and warned that there were those who would come and “make merchandise of these beautiful specimens”. Worrying the area could face the same fate as Niagara Falls, he concluded the site should “be as free as the air or Water.” In his report to the Committee on Public Lands, he concluded that if the bill failed to become law, “the vandals who are now waiting to enter into this wonder-land, will in a single season despoil, beyond recovery, these remarkable curiosities, which have requited all the cunning skill of nature thousands of years to prepare”

There are now 58 protected areas known as National Parks set aside in the United States. A list can be found here. I have friends who intend to visit them all at some point, and after looking through the list it appears I have only made it to seven so far. I will never see them all, but I will never forget visiting the Grand Canyon, riding my bike through the Redwoods, or climbing part way up Mount Rainier.

Though I suppose there is a way to value all the land within the parks, it is impossible to put a price on what it means to have these wonders of nature set aside for us and future generations. As John Muir also said, "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."

I am thankful that they were saved from the foolish among us, to continue to nurture the best that resides in all of us.