31 May 2006

Long live the three-day weekend

I love three-day weekends. I think at my ideal job I would work four days a week so that I could have three days off every week. It seems that I'm just getting unwound from the previous week when the next one pounces on me on Monday morning, so I really enjoyed having an extra day this past weekend.

Friday was our anniversary (number 4, in case you're counting), so we went out to dinner at Zati's. Some of you may remember this as the place around the corner from our apartment where we had our rehearsal dinner. Because of the wedding-weekend ties, we like to go there for special occasions. The food is Turkish, by way of California, and is nice without being too fancy. Our appetizer of grape leaves stuffed with rice and currants in a spicy tomato sauce with mint yogurt drizzled on top set the tone for the rest of the meal. Anne ordered the crab ravioli (I've never known her to pass on an opportunity to eat crab), while I had the manti, which is a beef-stuffed pasta dish kind of like tortellini, and which I have about every third time we go there. Both meals were delicious and filling, as was the chocolate mouse with berry sauce that we had for dessert. One of the highlights of going to Zati's is Zati himself, who is a very gregarious man who always has time to come over and say 'hi' to us. Inevitably, he asks us when we're planning on having kids, then tells us about how he and his wife waited nine years so we shouldn't rush. Overall, it was a great way to celebrate our anniversary.

Saturday morning we headed over to the Grand Lake farmers' market and got some produce as well as some goodies for a picnic lunch. We bought a tasty Afghani bread that looked kind of like stuffed naan and some spicy yogurt sauce for dipping. That, along with some fresh strawberries and cherries (this is about my favorite time of the produce year) made for a tasty lunch. We took our goodies and walked down to Lake Merritt where we read our books and fended off the geese.

That evening, we went into the city to see the Crown City Rockers at the Independent. The other day, Roger asked for my perspective on the local hip hop scene, and I wrote what turned into a long-ass reply, which you can read here if you're so inclined. One of the things I mentioned was that the Crown City Rockers are one of Oakland's finest rap groups, and they showed why on Saturday. An added bonus was that one of our favorite MC's, Chali2Na from Jurassic 5 was hosting. This was the last show of CCR's west coast tour, and they gave it all for the hometown crowd, playing for about an hour and a half, which was pretty impressive for a band with only one proper full length CD Some highlights were:

Opening act Native Guns. This was the first time I'd heard rapping in Tagalog.

Chali2Na trying out some new material between sets. (And also announcing that J5 is coming out with their first record in ages at the end of July.)

Guest appearances from the likes of DJ Platurn from the Oakland Faders and Zion I.

The beautiful and talented Kat Ouano on the keyboards, including one song played on an old boom box with a tiny piano built into the top.

Crown City Rockers rocking the house until nearly 2:00 in the morning.

I've only been to a handful of hip hop shows, but this one was one of the best I'd seen.

Sunday, we had ambitions for going kayaking in the morning, but those were dashed when we did some post-concert sleeping in. Instead, we skipped straight to brunch, which was the Sunday Soul Brunch at Luka's in downtown Oakland. They had a DJ spinning soul, and the menu was heavy on southern food. Anne had the veggie scramble with grits and toast and I had the catfish fillet with grits, eggs, and toast. I think there was about a stick of butter between my grits and my toast. Damn.

We had a very Oakland experience on the walk to the restaurant. One of the car lots on Broadway was having a big sale, and they were blasting hip hop from a PA system. They also had three or four women dressed in cowboy hats, tight shirts, and tiny shorts posted in the median to lure potential shoppers. One of the women was dressed like a prostitute who just got off work, with a furry coat and knee-high boats. Come to think of it, she may not have been working for the car lot. As we walked by on our way home after lunch, someone was setting up a mobile barbecue, while the salesmen from the lot across the street looked on forlornly.

After wallowing on the couch for a while after we got home, we cleaned up the apartment and I noodled around on my guitar. Then we headed into the city for dinner at our friends Maggie and Kelly's. This was the third time in the past week I'd gone into the city, which I think was a record for me. It was a very pleasant dinner (pesto pasta if you're tracking my caloric intake for the weekend) with friends. It was only slightly marred by the fact that we had hoped to watch "Big Love," a drama on HBO about a polygamist, but it was preempted for a Sopranos re-run.

Yesterday, Anne's cousin was in town with his fiance. They were visiting friends in the area, so we went out to lunch with them. We went to Cato's, which tempted Corey with its 22 microbrews on tap (well, 21, plus PBR for the hipsters). As always, the beer was great and the food was so-so. But it was really nice to hang out with them, especially because this was the first time we'd met Corey's fiance, Andrea. We were happy the first time we met her wasn't going to be at the wedding in September, because weddings aren't the best place for get-to-know-you conversation with the bride.

After they left, we took some books to Mosswood park and read under a tree. A lot of families were there barbecuing, and I counted no fewer than four drum circles, which added to the festive atmosphere. When we got tired of reading, we broke out the frisbee. Without fail, whenever we play frisbee at Mosswood, some kids come up to us and ask if they can play too. I always wonder where these kids' parents are. Two boys joined us, as well as a third with a water gun that I was just as happy to see wander off after he shot me in the face with it, and hopefully we were able to keep them out of trouble for the 20 minutes or so they were throwing the frisbee with us.

It was a pretty busy weekend, but in spite of all the stuff we did, I managed to get some work done and get caught up on sleep. Let's hear it for the three day weekend!

25 May 2006

Oakland in the news again

Previously in this space, I lamented a news story that focused on the violence in Oakland. Well, the producers at NPR must be reading my blog, because All Things Considered recently ran a story about our upcoming mayoral race with hardly a mention of the murder rate. It's a pretty interesting piece that primarily focuses on Ron Dellums, but gets into the personalities of all three legitimate candidates as well as the impact the changing demographics of the city have on the race.

22 May 2006

Some needed perspective from a stranger

With the lab moving to Sweden at the end of the summer, I've been working pretty frantically lately. Walking home from the bus stop on Saturday, my head was swirling with all the things I still need to do (namely, write dissertation, find postdoc), when a disheveled woman with a walker came shuffling toward me on the sidewalk. She slowed as she got near, turned, and said, "They didn't work you too hard today, did they baby?"

"Nah, they didn't," I replied.

"That's good," she said and continued on her way. I think that was a sign not to get too caught up with work. That or it was a sign that if I stop worrying about working too hard, I'll end up homeless and pushing my walker down Piedmont Avenue. I'm hoping it was the former, but maybe I'll hedge my bets and work late a couple days this week.

19 May 2006

I shot a man in Reno...

On my ride home last night, I passed a parked car that I could have sworn said "Suzuki Reno" on the back. I thought to myself, "why on earth would you give a car that name?" This afternoon, just to verify that I wasn't crazy, I did a quick search and found out that the Suzuki Reno does in fact exist. So now, two out of the four places I've lived have cars named after them. I'm not sure that a sporty hatchback quite as accurately evokes Reno as the Toyota Tacoma does its namesake, but there you have it. I leave it up to you to imagine what the Scion Seattle and Pontiac Oakland would look like.

16 May 2006

Scalpers are evil creatures with hearts consumed by blackness

OK, the fact that scalpers are bad people may not be a big revelation, but allow me to vent about my personal experience with them yesterday. Radiohead is playing two nights at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley at the end of June. Of all the bands that I like that are still actively touring and that I've never seen live, they're definitely at the top of the list. Tickets for the two shows went on sale yesterday morning at 10:00, so I was dutifully sitting in front of the computer at 9:58 logged onto the Ticketmaster website. As soon as the tickets went on sale, I tried to buy a couple. However, I got put in a line while the website processed the orders, and by the time I got to the front of the line, both shows were sold out. This was at 10:05. By 10:30 tickets were selling on eBay for as much as $150. (Face value was $43 + Ticketbastard fees.)

As much as I want to see Radiohead, I don't want to pay that much for any concert, especially if most of that money goes to some asshole who probably doesn't even like the band. I guess I'll have to wait until next summer when they have an album to tour behind and will undoubtedly play somewhere like Shoreline (blech). Yes, I'm certainly not the first to say that the system for allocating concert tickets is broken, but this is the first time in a while I've been directly victimized by it. It really bothers me that the market is so easily distorted by people who act as middlemen in a transaction that doesn't need them. I heard that the World Cup is requiring ticketholders to show photo identification. I don't know if something like that is really practical, but I do think something ought to be done.

Needless to say, I was pretty upset by this unfortunate turn of events. So much so that I forgot to pack my hat when we went to our sea kayaking class yesterday. So I can blame my sunburned forehead on scalpers, too. But a trip to REI to buy new sandals, a lunch at Viks, and an afternoon paddling in the bay at least mildly relieved my frustration. I guess I'll just have to content myself with listening to Kid A on my home stereo and ranting on my blog.

14 May 2006

Blog hiatus and northwest rock

Haven't written in the blog in a long while, and I have no one to blame but myself. Things have gotten pretty crazy at work lately (see, there I go blaming something other than myself) and it's made me a bit negligent. The main culprit has been an added urgency to finish my dissertation. At the beginning of the semester, one of my committee members announced that he's been offered a job in Sweden. A couple weeks ago he got back from a recon trip to Europe with his family and announced that he's more than likely going to take it. This means that he, and more importantly his lab where I'm doing all of my work, are going to be leaving the country in the fall. Although my mental calendar had me finishing with lab work by the end of the summer, this announcement has added some urgency to my labors. Nothing like a deadline to pick up the pace at work.

Of course the labwork gods are a fickle bunch, which is why, very shortly after upping the amount of time I'm spending in lab, the DNA sequencer caught on fire. Luckily it was a small fire and the damaged parts were replaced within a couple days, but the frustration of having the sequencer down led me to drown my sorrows in a trip to Amoeba. I picked up the latest album from Sleater-Kinney, which more than made up for my frustration over lost time. As I listened to it for the first time, I couldn't help wondering why it's taken me so long to bother listening this band. The CD (The Woods) flat out rocks. It should make the hours of pipetting go by a little quicker.