The Old Clam House Changes Hands

I didn’t realize this, but the Old Clam House is the oldest restaurant in San Francisco having opened it’s doors in 1861 [the same year Abraham Lincoln was elected President] and has remained in the same family’s hands until just recently. For those people familiar with the East Coast fried clams are second nature. Everytime I get to go back east I always have to get a clam roll, lobster roll and if I happen to be in New York, PIZZA.

But I digress. I remember the Old Clam House from a time when I worked in that part of the city and the companies out there tended to have their Christmas parties there. I looks like a bit of a dive from the outside, but it was very old school on the inside. I mean old school like California gold miner old school. At one of the parties I was at there after my co-workers had gotten a few drinks in me I tried the fried clams. I wasn’t a big seafood person back then and I still to this day can’t bring myself to eat an oyster, raw or cooked, but you could fry up just about anything and I’ll try it.

The clams were excellent. The steak sandwich was a little tough, but do you really go to a place called the “Old Clam House” for steak? I found myself going back to the clams which were cherrystone clams. Now under new ownership a few things have changed.

First off, it was bought by the people who brought you the Stinking Rose in North Beach so I’ll assume that chef Andrea Froncillo of Bobo’s will make the steak much better. They’re adding prime rib to the menu which is always a plus in my book. Lots of crab and other fish in addition to of course the clams they even have a few items that would satisfy the odd vegan who might follow you to the Old Clam House. Prices aren’t to bad which is always good in this economy. Sadly though, I didn’t see fried clams on the menu. I’m hoping they’ll show up again. An interesting side note is that when the Clam House opened it was a southern waterfront restaurant connected to downtown San Francisco by two miles of plank road. That’s kind of interesting when you stare out at about a half mile of land to get you to the bay.

Time to re-visit the “Old Clam.”

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Playgrounds R Us

Since it’s spring break and our daughter is too young to be running around half naked with drunken frat boys we have to find something to entertain her with. Now that we’re having real weather again in San Francisco we’ve been visiting some of the local playgrounds and have found a few surprises.

This week we went to a playground we haven’t been to in over a year. It’s the Junipero Serra Playground that a block away from the Stonestown Galleria. The nice part about this playground is you can’t see it from any major street. This means that it’s hardly ever crowded. At best there was maybe 12 people at the spot. If you’re a parent of an autistic child this place is a real god send because there’s not a ton of kids running around screaming with joy that can overwhelm your child.

The nice thing about playground today is that they aren’t like the ghetto, industrial playgrounds of my youth. Back in my day [christ I can’t believe I used that phrase] playgrounds were steel, concrete and sharp tanbark. They all looked like something built in cold war Russia. Now they are nice and soft with no sharp pointy things to poke your kids eyes out.

The playgrounds we have today are nice, generally peaceful spots where your kid can run around and well, be a kid. They have much more inviting structures with very little chance for injury and the parents don’t have to keep an eye on their kids as much because if a kid falls you don’t have to worry about a broken tooth or arm because they’re filled with soft puffy foam.

Now this could be construed as a bit of molly coddling for kids and a few people could make allusions to the real world isn’t soft and cuddly, but I don’t think we need to make our kids suffer the harsh realities of the world at a young age. They need a place that they can exercise their minds by making stuff up as they go along. I found myself watching my daughter on the structure in the picture above walking around like it could have been a pirate ship running and jumping and climbing in ways that I wished I could of as a kid.

Then there are people who think the opposite. They aren’t the young kids using their imagination they’re the bored teenage few that don’t have home computers with World of Warcraft to waste their time after school, but can find a way to get their hands on a few cans of spray paint and try to ruin it for the others.

Here was a pretty close to pristine playground except for the sand that always overflows the sand box and a couple of kids had to try and ruin it by leaving their names which no one can read because they lacked proper penmanship and they know that the city lacks the funds to clean up their damage after they’ve finished.

This playground has a really nice rec center, but I’ve never seen anyone inside it or any listing of events here. Around the corner is a set of picnic tables under a well constructed pergola that would be a perfect staging point for a small party. Aside from the graffiti the only thing wrong with this playground was that one of the drinking fountains was backed up. I found a few small sticks that I tried to loosen up the drain with, but it didn’t work. I did notice a guy from park and rec walked around taking pictures and making a few phone calls so hopefully this will be changed in the near future.

Perhaps some of the vandalism is due to the high cost of other attractions around San Francisco that can turn kids minds around. While most of the big attractions in San Francisco have a “Po’ people’s day” where they are open to the masses for free, that also makes them crowded and gives our kids less chance to see and learn from them. Luckily not all playgrounds have been hit with graffiti and vandalism. Today we will stop by another spot that will not have the graffiti and our daughter will have another chance to entertain herself.

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The day I knew I was in the music business…

I went over to my friend’s recording studio in the Richmond District one day a few years ago to help him fix some problems he was having with his mac. We were upstairs and and he was running all about and he came to me and asked me if I could take over for him in the sound check downstairs because he had to run out to the store and pick up a few things for the two guys he was recording downstairs. I didn’t think anything of it because I knew my recording skills were good and my friend Pete had taught me a lot.

So we go downstairs and I start looking at where he was so far and and I hear him say, “Arlo, Jack, this is Eric he’ll be getting you set up.” I turned around from the recording console to be staring in the face, Arlo Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. I believe I should have been wearing diapers at the time. The first thing that hit me, other than shaking a little bit were the words, “You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant.”

Shit, Fuck, OMG. I was being asked to do a sound check for Arlo Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. I wasn’t too big on folk music and at the time I looked like your typical metalhead, but still, these guys were famous musicians and I freaked a little bit. Would they think I totally sucked? Would they yell at my friend Pete for giving the sound check and prep for two folk singers over to a METAL HEAD!?!?!

I took a breath. They could see I knew who they were were and kind of laughed at the fact that a metal head would feel nervous around them. Thinking back that was kind of a funny moment all in all. I sucked it up and sat down at the console and checked the levels and adjusted the mics. Pete had a heater running in the studio to keep their bones warm and that was something I had to make a few adjustments for but the studio was practically air tight so we could turn it off once they got their end together along with me.

What seemed like hours, but was probably only about thirty minutes Pete came back and took over and I went upstairs to fix his computer. A couple of hours later they took a break and invited me down to have a beer in the backyard with them. So there I was a metal head sitting with two folk legends and a man who was in the rock and roll hall of fame for producing the UK’s first psychedelic song [that was Pete, if you can’t make the connection] drinking beer and just talking. It was just one of those experiences that make you realize that people are people no matter how famous they are and most of the time you can just walk up and crack a beer with them and chat.

No I will not yell “Freebird!” and hold up a lighter. Ya’ll don’t pay me enough to do that.

Sometimes you gotta leave the city…

And you’ll get a few surprises when you do. My wife and I were trying to figure out what to do last Friday because our daughter was off from school for a furlough day and needed something to get some of the energy out of her.After jokingly saying let’s go to San Jose because I hate when she asks, “What do you want to do” and no matter what I offer she always comes up with something different.

So I waited and she comes in and says what about San Mateo? San Mateo? Why San Mateo? Well it turns out that there’s a huge toy store there called Talbots Toyland that she’s heard a lot about. I figured it’s close enough and I haven’t been outside the city [which means farther south than Serramonte] in quite awhile.

Now I know I’m supposed to be writing about all things San Francisco, but when we got there I saw something I didn’t see in San Francisco, well there were a few things:

  1. It’s clean, almost Singapore-like clean.
  2. No homeless people.
  3. No one has an accent. This is something people who hate the Marina say it’s because they’re “too white” but they aren’t “too white” there were asians, latinos and african americans, just no accents or ebonics.
  4. You can understand people who ask to take your order in a restaurant. See above
  5. Parking Downtown: It’s there and it’s 50¢ per hour!

As we were walking around the downtown area we noticed that there was a Draeger’s market across the street so we decided to take a peek. Not really a cheap grocery store, but the quality of the food was good and they actually had products I had never heard of, like Yunnan Palace Bamboo Rice which is green. They even had an escalator going up to the second floor where they had home and kitchen wares.

As for Talbots Toyland, they had everything. They had a room just for model train people and slot car enthusiasts. I didn’t even know they still made slot cars. They had another room of just dolls and another just for biking supplies. They had a stuffed giraffe toy that was easily 15 ft tall and we were wondering what kind of house you would have to have to have that. Obviously a big one.

There are some downsides though. If you like to drink more than beer and wine you’ll have a problem. There were only two bars we saw downtown [mind you this wasn’t an exhaustive check out, only a couple of hours] and Draeger’s only carries wine and beer. Your selection of foods are a little thin downtown in that there’s four pizza places in one block, Two taquerias in the next and a couple of Chinese and Japanese restaurants in the third. Their traffic signs also could use a bit of work, when we were leaving there was a sign that pointed to us to get over to the left for San Francisco which when we did missed the on ramp to San Francisco because that was on the right. We then proceeded to make a U-turn and what looked like pretty much the only street you COULD make a U-turn on and as we’re driving back the on ramp that pointed to 101 South turned out to be the onramp for 101 North. We still made it home in under 30 minutes.

It was a nice place to visit, but I like the fact that San Francisco keeps you on your toes. Which is probably part of the reason people on the Peninsula don’t like San Francisco. As we were walking down the streets we could have been in Burlingame or Millbrae, everything looked the same. No big chain stores though. I’m sure there’s a few there, there has to be and I didn’t see a single SamTrans bus, but did get shaken as the Cal-Train passed by.

All in all, I think I like San Francisco better, but it’s nice to get away once in awhile.

The Trans-Continental Burrito Express

Following yesterday’s review of El Burrito Express I found this article about a supposed trans-continental burrito shipment tunnel that would deliver a California style burrito to those in Weehauken, NJ in 42 minutes. I had to share this.

Who can imagine New York City without the Mission burrito? Like the Yankees, the Brooklyn Bridge or the bagel, the oversize burritos have become a New York institution. And yet it wasn’t long ago that it was impossible to find a good burrito of any kind in the city. As the 30th anniversary of the Alameda-Weehawken burrito tunnel approaches, it’s worth taking a look at the remarkable sequence of events that takes place between the time we click “deliver” on the website and the moment that our hot El Farolito burrito arrives in the lunchroom with its satisfying pneumatic hiss.

The story begins in any of the three dozen taquerias supplying the Bay Area Feeder Network, an expansive spiderweb of tubes running through San Francisco’s Mission district as far south as the “Burrito Bordeaux” region of Palo Alto and Mountain View. Electronic displays in each taqueria light up in real time with orders placed on the East Coast, and within minutes a fresh burrito has been assembled, rolled in foil, marked and dropped down one of the small vertical tubes that rise like organ pipes in restaurant kitchens throughout the city.

Once in the tubes, it’s a quick dash for the burritos across San Francisco Bay. Propelled by powerful bursts of compressed air, the burritos speed along the same tunnel as the BART commuter train, whose passengers remain oblivious to the hundreds of delicious cylinders whizzing along overhead. Within twelve minutes, even the remotest burrito has arrived at its final destination, the Alameda Transfer Station, where it will be prepared for its transcontinental journey.

Ever since Isaac Newton first described the laws of gravity in 1687, scientists have known that the quickest route between two points is along a straight line through the Earth’s interior. Through the magic of gravity, any object dropped into such a “chord tunnel” at one end will emerge exactly 42 minutes later at the other end, no matter the distance. But for hundreds of years, the technical challenges of building such a tunnel were so daunting that it remained a theoretical curiosity. Only at the start of the 20th century did the idea become technically feasible, and to this day the tunnel linking the East Bay with New Jersey remains the only structure of its kind in the world.

From the outside, the Alameda facility looks like any other industrial building. Behind a chain link razor wire fence sits a windowless white hangar some three stories tall, surrounded by a strip of green lawn. If you could see underground, however, you’d see that the building sits at the center of a converging nexus of burrito pipes. High pressure pneumatic tubes from all over the Bay Area emerge in the center of the facility, spilling silvery burritos onto a high-speed sorting line. The metal-jacketed burritos look like oversize bullets, and the conveyor belts that move them through the facility resemble giant belts of delicious ammunition. Within a few seconds of arrival the burritos have been bar coded, checked for balance and round on a precision lathe, and then flash-frozen with liquid nitrogen.

The mouth of the tunnel is a small concrete arch in the side of a nearby hill, about as glamorous as an abandoned railway tunnel. Yet if you could open the airlocks and stare down its length with a telescope, you would see airplanes on final approach to Newark Airport, three thousand miles away! To reduce drag on the burritos to a minimum, the tunnel must be kept in near-vacuum with powerful pumps. At the tunnel’s deepest point the burritos will be traveling nearly two kilometers a second – even the faintest whiff of air would quickly drag them to a stop.

The launch tube for the burritos lies just under the tunnel mouth and looks like what it is: an enormous gun. Every four seconds a ‘slug’ of ten burritos, white with frost, ratchets into the breech. A moment later it flies into the tunnel with a loud hiss of compressed gas, and the lights dim briefly as banks of powerful electromagnets accelerate the burritos to over two hundred miles an hour. By the time they pass Stockton three minutes later the burritos will be traveling faster than the Concorde, floating on an invisible magnetic cushion as they plunge into the lithosphere.

No one who built the Alameda-Weehawken tunnel had quite this future in mind for it. The tunnel had its origins in the early 1900’s as an ambitious project for speeding mail delivery between New York City and the booming Pacific port of San Francisco. The telegraph and railroad had linked the city to the East Coast, but transferring documents, currency, securities and diplomatic correspondence across the country was still a slow affair fraught with danger. In 1911, the celebrated British civil engineer Basil Mott approached the plutocrat Andrew W. Mellon with an audacious plan to build a straight-line tunnel 2500 miles long connecting New York City with San Francisco, allowing packages to be sent between the two cities using only compressed air and gravity. The tunnel would resemble the pneumatic tube systems that had served New York City and Paris so well for mail delivery, but on an incomparably vaster scale. Cylinders containing up to sixteen pounds of mail would be able to make the continental transit in less than an hour.

Construction on the tunnel began in 1913, and it quickly grew into the largest public works project in the young nation’s history. Not until the Eisenhower Interstate system in the 1950’s would there be a bigger or more costly civil engineering project. Drilling the tunnel required over 19 years of continuous effort by thousands of miners, often working in conditions of intolerable confinement and heat. Over 22 million tons of rock had to be removed, much of it from unprecedented depths, all while keeping the tunnel perfectly straight over thousands of miles. Just keeping the tunnels cool required more water each day than flows over Niagara Falls.

The tunnel opened to great fanfare in 1933, with a congratulatory message in Morse Code flashed by powerful searchlight from the San Francisco end to waiting dignitaries on the New Jersey side. It was already obsolete. The first regular mail shipments sent from San Francisco in the spring of 1934 had to compete with the sophisticated air mail system that had grown up during the tunnel’s long construction. To make matters worse, breakdowns in the tunnel were frequent, especially in the central “hot zone” where temperatures could exceed 900 degrees Centigrade. Mail would frequently arrive singed or deformed from the intense heat and pressure. While they could never beat the speed of the tunnel, airplanes could deliver documents at far lower price and risk in just a few dozen hours more. In 1936, at the height of the Depression, the tunnel ceased operation less than three years after it had opened.

In the years to come all kinds of schemes would be floated for how to put the tunnel to use. For a brief time after Pearl Harbor there was serious thought given to using it as an enormous gun barrel that could fire artillery shells across the Pacific at Japan (the risk to life in San Francisco if a charge went off prematurely was deemed too great). In the early days of the Cold War, both ends of the tunnel, along with the Chicago and Cedar Rapids access shafts, were considered as enormous fallout shelters. The low point in the tunnel’s fortunes came with a 1971 proposal (mercifully never enacted) to use the Weehawken side of the tunnel as the world’s deepest garbage chute. On the San Francisco end, meanwhile, squatters from the thriving San Francisco countercultural scene had begun using the tunnel as an easy place to take shelter.

By the early 1970’s the tunnel was a derelict, a mostly forgotten relic of a more adventurous time. The turning point came when Robert Cavanaugh, a New York financier with a serious taste for Mexican food, happened to come across a mention of the tunnel in a zoning proposal. The globetrotting Cavanaugh was a fanatic of the recently-invented Mission burrito but bemoaned being unable to get it anywhere outside of San Francisco. Examining blueprints of the defunct mail tunnel on a flight home to New York, Cavanaugh became intrigued by the coincidence in size between a foil-wrapped burrito and the diameter of the old transcontinental mail tubes. By the time the plane landed, he had come up with an audacious plan.

Cavanaugh realized that the intense heat of the transit that had so beleaguered mail service would actually work to his advantage in a burrito tunnel. The burritos could be stored frozen on the Western end and arrive fully heated through in New Jersey. Furthermore, advances in electrical engineering meant that containers would no longer have to be propelled by compressed gas. The burritos already came conveniently wrapped in aluminum foil – it would be trivial to accelerate them with powerful magnets.

Encouraged by his back-of-the-envelope calculations, Cavanaugh formed a consortium and, in a stroke of genius, convinced the Carter Administration to subsidize the tunnel’s operation in exchange for access to the geothermal heat it would produce. Convincing skeptical businessmen to buy into the plan proved more of a challenge – it took six months to persuade suspicious taqueria owners to switch to a salsa with lower magnetic permittivity. Finally, in July of 1979, all the pieces were in place. After a successful July 2 dry run with a sawdust mock burrito, the tunnel ceremoniously opened on Independence Day. The inaugural burrito (carnitas with lettuce, salsa and avocado, no beans) was loaded into the breech at the Alameda terminus at 10:05 AM and was served to a beaming Cavanaugh, Vice President Walter Mondale and New York mayor Ed Koch in Weehawken 64 minutes later. Two hundred burritos followed that same day; by the end of the decade the tunnel would be delivering over two thousand burritos an hour.

In the early days of the burrito tunnel workers on the Alameda side would sometimes use it to send small packages or letters, inking the code words sin carne on the wrapper to alert those on the other end that the ’burrito’ required special handling. This changed after September 11, when strict security measures went into force. Homeland Security officials have been quick to recognize the unique threat of a tunnel that could give terrorists unimpeded access to the entire underside of the nation. They’ve also been alert to the danger a “dirty burrito” could pose if it made it into the New York food supply. Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff would not comment on specific measures his department has taken to protect the tunnel, but he said his office does take the potential threat very seriously. “We’ve known since the first World Trade Center bombing that New York is a top target. We’re taking appropriate measures to make sure the tunnel and the burritos that pass through it remain safe and secure.”

The greatest risks to the tunnel, however, are likely to come from Mother Nature herself. During the 1989 Loma Prieta quake the tube misaligned by over four inches, requiring extensive redrilling, and experts estimate that an earthquake of magnitude 6 or greater on the Hayward Fault could put it out of commission for months. An ambitious expansion plan to begin next year will address some of the seismic hazards while also widening it enough to allow super burritos to make the transit for the first time ever.

Burritos speeding through the tunnel fight a constant battle against friction. At the start and end of their journey they hover in a powerful magnetic field, seldom touching the sides of the tunnel. Past the Colorado border, however, the temperature of the surrounding rock exceeds the Curie point of iron and the burritos must slide on their bellies in their nearly frictionless Teflon sleeve, kept from charring by pork fat that slowly seeps out of the burritos as they thaw. By the time the burritos reach Cedar Rapids (traveling well over a mile a second) they are heated through, and anyone who managed to penetrate into the tunnel through the Cleveland access shafts would find them ready to eat.

Remarkably, people do descend into even the deepest sections of the tunnel, though with a far more serious goal in mind than lunch. Geologists from around the globe have been flocking to the tunnel for five decades. “People in our profession get excited about new road cuts,” says Adam Rifkin, Dean of the Geology Department at the University of Nebraska. “You can imagine what it’s been like for us to explore the world’s deepest tunnel.” Indeed, the Alameda tunnel is the only place in the world where scientists can directly study the aesthenosphere, the boundary layer separating the earth’s crust from the hot mantle. The trip down through the access shafts is harrowing – the descent takes the better part of a day, and temperatures can rise to nearly a thousand degrees Centigrade. Most of the work at the depth of the tunnel is done by robots, but geologists must occasionally descend in person to make repairs or to do work that is too difficult to automate. “It’s a lot like standing in an oven,” Rifkin says. “At the lowest point we’re nearly as far from the surface as the Space Shuttle, and in many ways it’s a less forgiving environment.” Still, he adds, “I wouldn’t give it up for the world. This is probably one of the dullest places, geologically speaking, in the whole country. Under our feet are five miles of silt from the Rockies before you even get to the first rock. Thanks to the tunnel, though, we can punch right through that. It’s like a time machine through the planet’s history.”

“Are you ever tempted to sneak a burrito while down there?” I ask Dr. Rifkin, and he laughs. “At the speed those things are going it would probably take your hand off. But really for us this is serious business – we’re fine not having access to great Mexican food as long as we can do the geology. The tunnel has been an absolute godsend.”

Not everyone is as delighted with the tunnel as the geologists. Old-time San Franciscans will be quick to point out that the comestibles in the tunnel flow strictly one way. “In the old days you’d go to a place like Pancho Villa and get yourself a steak burrito in five minutes, maybe ten if it was near lunchtime,” says lifelong Mission resident Howard Washington. “Now the line is out the door even in the morning. And some of those places down in the South Bay won’t even take customers anymore. If you want a burrito in the daytime you have to get it first thing, or else you go to one of the places that isn’t hooked up to the tunnel.”

Taqueria owners have tried hard to cope with the additional demand, but even they admit that it can get hectic. “The New York metro area has fifteen million people,” explains Javier Corrientes, manager of Cancun Burrito on Valencia Street. “San Francisco is barely a tenth of that size. You got all those people out drinking on a Friday night who want a burrito at ten o’clock, just when the dinner rush is starting here, there’s no way we can keep up.” The secret, he says, is to order tacos. “It’s the same fillings, except it’s quicker to put together and you can’t put it through the tunnel.”

The raw economics of the burrito trade suggest San Franciscans won’t be getting quicker service any time soon. Even before tolls and taxes, a burrito sold in New York brings in ten times the profit of one sold over the counter. John Laplace chairs the Northern California Burrito and Burro Council, an industry group representing Bay Area taquerias. “The tunnel is an incredible economic engine for the region,” he says. “Every burrito that goes through the tunnel represents over two dollars in direct tax revenue and over four dollars in indirect revenue through job creation, research stimulus and geothermal energy. I can understand why people get frustrated, but that tunnel has given us far more than it’s taken.”

Of course, it would be best if the tunnel could give back in a more tangible way. Over the years there have been numerous attempts to send New York staples in the reverse direction – operators have tried sending knishes, bagels, pickles and even Brooklyn-style pizza. None have proven as resilient as the humble burrito, and in the end the two cities have bowed to the inevitable. Both tunnel tubes now carry only burritos.

By the time they reach Cleveland the burritos are fully heated through and traveling uphill at about twice the speed of sound. A series of induction coils spaced through central Pennsylvania repeats the magnetic process in reverse, draining momentum from the burritos and turning it into electrical power (though Weehawken residents still recall the great blackout of 2002, when computers running the braking coils shut down and for four hours burritos traced graceful arcs into the East River, glowing like faint red sparks in the night).

At the tunnel exit, a final puff of air slows the burritos to a stop and they are placed in insulated bags. These are whisked to a fleet of waiting trucks, which pass through the Holland Tunnel (this time at a more stately thirty-five miles per hour) and then onward to restaurants and cafeterias throughout the five boroughs.

Is it worth it? Enrique Alnazar, burrito sommelier for Nobu Fifty-Seven, smiles at the very question. The restaurant recently installed a dedicated high-speed pneumatic line to the Weehawken facility, shortening the arrival time for its prize Los Charros burritos from just over two hours to under fifty minutes. Alnazar won’t say how much the new line cost (estimates run into the millions of dollars), but he insists it was worth every penny. “We’ve had people come in and order a magnum of 1978 Château Margaux on the strength of our burritos. They know that we’re phoning in their order to Mountain View the moment they walk in the door, and they know we’ve done everything in our power to keep them from waiting. A lot of restaurants are happy racking up a few days’ supply in the burrito cellar, but that’s not the same as getting a fresh burrito straight from the tunnel – you can taste the difference. The only way to get a fresher burrito than at Nobu is to fly to California, and our customers appreciate that.”

The success of the burrito tunnel has encouraged no end of imitators – whether the Reagan-era attempt to construct an intracoastal barbeque pipeline, the perennial political deadlock over allowing tomatoes in the Northeastern Chowder Viaduct, or the recent fiasco of high-speed BagelRail. But as Chairman Laplace argues, it’s unlikely such a project could succeed anywhere else. “We really have a unique situation here – a population of fifteen million people without access to high-quality Mexican food. There’s no place else in the country like it, and that makes the economics of a transport tunnel from the country’s finest burrito region workable. On top of this you have the burrito itself, which is a really marvelous food — resilient to overheating, isotropic, compact, able to tolerate high G forces.” Here Laplace smiles. “And delicious. Who would want to live in a New York City without it?”

The following is from I cannot verify the authenticity of this article, nor who the author was, but it was just so damn funny I had to repost it.


El Burrito Express: A San Francisco Secret

Thirty years ago when they opened, El Burrito Express was a god send to me. I was a broke college kid with a girlfriend who had a daughter and EBX was half a block away from her house. We would walk down and get a bean and cheese burrito for $3.65 and it would feed the three of us. And oh what a burrito it was. I’ve had burrito’s all over the city and yes, I will sound a bit sacralegious to folks out in El Mission, but I have never had a better burrito than here.

I had to laugh when they said a few years ago that due to the rising cost of supplies they would have to raise their price. The same burrito thirty years later is now $3.95. I can’t knock them for that. What changes they’ve undergone in that time period. Most places will usually trim down their menu to only what is essential. EBX, they’ve expanded it to the point they don’t have room to put up anymore signs and have to use paper attached to the front of their case to advertise their new El Gigante burrito in honor of  the Giants winning the World Series [note, the picture was from last night and they’ve re-arranged things and have done away with the paper signs]. Apparently they’ve also learned a lot about our new technologies and finally have their own website set up, will deliver, they are present on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. That’s pretty impressive for a little burrito shop in the Sunset. I’ve found that calling in my orders works best here as they always seem to be crowded.

Enough about technology. Let’s talk about their food! As you can tell burritos are their main focus, but they have tacos, enchiladas, tamales, tortas as well. They’ve just added something called asada fries that’s kind of like their nachos except using french fries instead of their hand made tortilla chips. That’s more California than the place in the mission that makes a “California Burrito” I’ve spoken about before that’s a burrito with fries added into the mix. I’m going to start with the burritos because they are the best deal you’ll get. You’ve got a choice between the Regular and Bronco to start. The difference is that the regular has guacamole as an extra and the bronco has no rice and sliced avocado [my choice]. If you want a bigger version you ask for the Super burrito or Super Bronco. If you want even bigger than that you have to move up to the Expresso Burrito. This is one HUGE burrito. Two tortillas filled with cheese, beans, rice, meat rolled up and then covered in guacamole, their “special sauce”, more salsa and more cheese. This is the wet style [burrito mojado] and they seem to sell a lot of them.

Now I have at times been a big eater, but lately not so much so I’ve found I can cut one in half and get two days out of it. There was a time that I believe I was able to eat an entire burrito by myself, but I’m not sure. I’ve had their nachos, enchiladas, tostadas & tamales and they’re all good, but it’s the burrito’s that really shine. A personal tip if you’re someone that’s low on cash and needs a quick snack you can get their corn quesadilla’s for 90¢. They also have homemade aqua fresca’s and they also seem to be moving towards a more healthy way of serving their food with in store tips like, “hold the sour creme and add a whole wheat tortilla.” I like the fact that they are being socially responsible and not filling their customers up with tons of lard. They also have advertisements they’ve put on their Burrito TV youtube site that shows they have an interest in giving back to their community and taking care of it as well. See the video below. Note they also have a card you can get where you buy nine burrito’s and the tenth is free.

All in all, there’s little bad I can say against this place. Actually, there’s nothing bad I can say about this place except the front door that is a little hard to open, but that’s nothing. If you want a good burrito, go to the Sunset district. 🙂


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Mommie Dearest

A year ago today marks the day my wife and I found my Mother dead watching TV in our house. That is still a hard day to think about because I don’t really like death. I don’t think anyone does, but I was a 5 year old that was afraid of dying. I suppose that’s when I first understood what it really meant. But I didn’t come here to write a downer piece for today. So let me tell you a little bit about my Mom.

She was born on May 28th, of 1929. That’s seems like a long time ago and you’re right, it was. She was the first of our family born in San Francisco. My family leaning toward the Italian side lived in the Marina when they moved here. Back then my mother told me she as a kid could remember there were still people having ice delivered to their houses for their ice boxes. Being a little girl starting her not too long before the great depression life probably sucked a bit for her, but my family being the type they were stuck together to get through it.

Once she entered her teens she joined the Girl Scouts and was very active with the environment before it was a popular thing to do. She was quite into camping and hiking and seeing as times were simpler then and she didn’t have access to all the new toys like we do she had dolls and a dollhouse that were made by my Grandfather supplemented with a few store bought dolls. In the summers at girl scout camp she would have fun tossing “cow chips”. When you think about it and she never said it, but it would have been a good line, “Why in my day we didn’t have World of Warcraft. When we wanted to have fun we threw dried up cow shit!”

We had family who lived up in Jackson, California which from the pictures back then it was pretty much a farm, so my Mom was a city girl who was raised on a farm part time. Because Jackson had a large population of Native Americans who were the original owners of the land she became interested in their culture and left us with a huge collection of “indian baskets” most of these were from the California tribes, but she did have a few items from the Navajo and Hopi’s, most notable are the collection of Hopi Kachina dolls we have hanging on our walls. What she never told me and we didn’t find this out until we started going through her stuff is that she also had a keen interest in the local Ohlone tribe’s language and it looked like she was either writing a book or just collecting research.

When World War II hit she would spend her days after school at St. Bridgette’s helping out the military by either scanning the skies off the coast for incoming aircraft from the other side to helping out with mapping in the staging areas at the presidio. I suppose they didn’t have child labor laws back then like we do today.

As she grew older she ended up attending SFSU and graduating with a teaching degree and got a job at Francis Scott Key out here in the Sunset working for the city’s then Childcare program. It was nothing like it is today, but it was more like pre-school and a little bit later for kids that couldn’t afford a private school.

Then one fateful Christmas day as my family was gathered into the car to go to someone in our families house for dinner they stopped on a gas station on Lombard street and my Mom saw a gas station attendant that she felt sorry for because he had to work on Christmas. It turns out that a few years later this man would one day become my Dad. For the life of my I can’t remember their wedding anniversary, but then again, I wasn’t there but sometime after that day came me. My Mom had had lots of trouble and after nine miscarriages they finally decided to adopt and that’s where I came into the picture. Adopting was a kind of hush hush thing back then and my parents arranged for a private adoption that only close friends and family knew of. I never would have known myself had I not been snooping around and found the paperwork when I was around ten. Even back then I was a devious kid.

Once I came along she became a stay at home Mom and never worked again. After I got older though she started focusing on her cooking and that is what she will always be most remembered for. If she taught me anything, my Mom taught me to enjoy what you eat and that you can make it from scratch easier than you can buy it from the store [well back then at least]. My Mom would always over cook for most of her life. She and my Grandmother would make vats of minestrone soup or bolognese sauce which was known in my family as Italian gravy. When they were available she would get pickling cucumbers and make pickles. Everyone my Dad worked with and all our neighbors got some along with the gravy and soup which we always had frozen in our big basement freezer.

Mom’s dessert’s were to die for. She could take a package of cake mix and make a few changes and you’d think it came from an uppity bakery that would have charged you ten times what it cost to produce. She made creme puffs and eclairs and cookies that it’s no wonder all the kids liked coming over to my house to play because they always got good food and plenty of it.

I think things started to go downhill for her when my Dad and Grandmother died back in 1999. They died a month apart and my mother had just undergone her fifth hip replacement surgery and the world crashed around her. Her favorite dog Shelly died a couple of months after our daughter was born and if we didn’t have our daughter she probably would have followed the dog in weeks. She at least got to be a Grandmother for a few years and she loved that more than anything else.

The saddest thing to me though is that all I have left of my Mom now are memories that can fit on one piece of paper. Guys, talk to your parents, because one day they won’t be around anymore. Yeah, they can be real assholes at times, but you might learn something from them.


The Chain Gang of San Francisco

San Francisco has a bit of a conundrum on its hands with business. If you have more than three stores you are considered a “chain store” and can’t open any more stores even if there is a demand for your services. Yet, why is there a starbucks every half mile? Why are there so many Chevron, 76 and Shell stations? Why are there so many 7-11’s?

According to the books, San Francisco wants to keep local businesses at the forefront. So the mom and pop who invested money in a 7-11 to open it up in their neighborhood aren’t considered local businesses, yet myspace, google, apple, microsoft can open offices here while they aren’t San Francisco based businesses? Interesting way of thinking. There was a paint store that wanted to open up in the old Hollywood video store [chain!] on Mission street, but because they were a distributor of Glidden paint they were considered a chain and couldn’t move in. Yet we have a paint store in the Sunset that is the exclusive distributor of Kelly-Moore [chain!] paint, so much so that it’s called, “Kelly-Moore Paint” and that isn’t a problem?

I have at one time had a chance to visit the mother of all chain stores Wal-Mart and I was surprised by what I found there. DEALS! That was over 10 years ago and I’m still wearing the socks that I got for $3 for 6 pairs. In this down turned economy that is “coming back” people need a deal.  Mom and Pop who run the small place on the corner can’t give you that. The corner “convenience” [liquor] store that sells a six pack of budweiser for twice as much as your local grocery store [chain!] can’t really compete and you’ll probably notice that there is a lack of corner “convenience” [liquor] stores starting to show up.

There are things that every one of us need. Socks, underwear, gas, food. I don’t really care if it was hand made by underpaid naked virgins in Guatemala [out sourced!]. I just want it to fit and hold up over time. I don’t want to pay $5 for a handmade cupcake made with 70% cacao when I can get 6 for $3 made with Hershey’s [chain!] dark chocolate.

New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg made a trip here recently made a trip to San Francisco and our new interim first Asian American Mayor [we’ll just ignore that Daly City beat us to the punch on that, because Filipinos aren’t the same kind of Asian we’re talking about] Ed Lee gave Mr. Bloomberg a Cable Car bell and locally made, organic hot dogs. Hot dogs? I haven’t seen a cow or a pig in San Francisco since I last went to the zoo. What about our locally made Boudin sourdough bread [chain!]? Or our crab? I have never heard one person say, “Damn I want me a San Francisco Hot Dog!” That’s because we’re San Francisco! We aren’t know for our hot dogs. There is the Treasure Island Frank which I can’t find any info on why a big hot dog is associated with Treasure Island, but they are difficult to find nowadays and I doubt that’s what Ed Lee gave Mr. Bloomberg.

I honestly don’t see a problem with chain stores. They bring affordable wares to the masses, employ people, albeit at usually a low wage, but only people willing to take low wages would work at a similar Mom and Pop local business. Daly City is taking away tons of San Francisco dollars because they’ll allow Target and other chain stores that provide deals that you can’t get here in San Francisco, so why not let them go in here and give back to the city that desperately needs the money? Kudos to the Board of Supervisors for loosening the stick up their collective butts for allowing Lowe’s to move into one of the worse parts of town. I never see any of those San Francisco resident employees with a frown on their face.

OK, rant off for now. Time to go back to talking about the things that make San Francisco the greatest place to be. It’s just getting harder to find.


Journalistic Twits

Twitter is all the talk of the town recently since they want to stay in San Francisco and San Francisco doesn’t want them to leave. This means SanFrancisco is Twitter’s bitch and has to give it up for them to stay. They’re doing this by giving Twitter significant tax breaks. All well and good if you’re a techie and see Twitter as essential. At times, San Francisco and it’s techies act a little more Victorian steam punk and and don’t see why they should get a break.

Well, I like electricity and I’m not a steam punk. I tried Twitter out long ago and couldn’t see why there was anything worth having an account where you essentially were sending out 140 character posts that essentially said, “Dig Me!”

Then the day came when I wanted to integrate Twitter into this blog and I discovered something new. A local community serving the local community. I find with Twitter that I can get more up to the minute news in San Francisco from people on the scene with their smart phones who photograph or video what they see and share it with others. A few days ago when Ocean Beach was hit with a tornado I was staying in from the rain and didn’t realize that there was a tornado touching down a mile from my house. Follow up tweets told me that West Coast tornados that touch down on water aren’t as strong as the ones you hear about in the midwest that rip houses apart and suck cows and diesel trucks up in the air hurling them at people all around.

When I’m out and about and happen to see something going on that is news worthy I share it with my community of followers on Twitter whether it’s a homeless guy sleeping on the streets in the Sunset or a car crash that snarls up traffic for others. These Twits like @obbulletin, @Njudah, @_laughingsquid and @SanFranciscoPro are reporting what they see. No opinion, just check out what is happening here. That’s what journalism is supposed to be as I was taught. If you want some funny opinion pieces I like to read what @DaBakedBaker, @BayAreaGreenway and @UppityFag [Hugh Jackman isn’t gay, he’s just singing and dancing with an orchestra in SF! #gay #fag] has to say because they admit that they’re stoned or drunk and are being funny, something opinionated journalism from Fox News won’t admit.

All these Twits [and I’m using that term affectionately] are beating the newscasters to the punch so much so that the guy who shot the video of the tornado got his footage used on local news and was interviewed to boot. That’s not too shabby a way to get your 15 minutes of fame. I really like the democritization of journalism that’s happening with Twitter when it’s done right. Yes there are a few haters on Twitter, but I don’t follow them. I do like to follow the local politicians who seem to fond of using foursquare to check in where they’re at so that people who don’t like them can hunt them down quickly. I do like @AlohaArleen who must have stayed up through the night after the earthquake in Japan to give everyone an early warning from here home in Hawaii when the tsunami hit. I do think Twitter can be done right. You just have find those people to follow.

San Francisco Vs. The Tsunami

You’ll all have to thank my wife for this post. She had done a bit of research on how bad SF would fare if hit with a tsunami and I have to say that my off the cuff, unscientific assessment was off. I had it worse that it really would be.

She steered me toward the County Tsunami Inundation Maps website that shows just how bad we would be hit and I was kind of surprised. It’s the first time I am glad I’m on the front line of defense because the wave would hit us then make a left and head into the bay. Pretty much if you live in the Sunset or Richmond above 47th avenue you’ll be safe. The site’s a little hard to understand at first because it gives you a far away map and you have to click on it to download a large PDF image. I should have figured that since it was run by the government it wasn’t going to be easy. Maybe Apple should be hired as a consultant to make it more user friendly.

From what I can tell from the maps the worst places to be the Marina, the Wharfs, China Basin and Islais Creek. Oh let’s not leave out Treasure Island which would be underwater. I guess my earlier jokes about the tsunami evacuation signs being at the beach wasn’t that far off. Essentially they’re tell you to move a block away and you’ll be fine. I’ve also noticed that Oakland, Alameda and Emeryville will have a few problems as well even though they’re farther inland. Even those places won’t be hit by more than a few blocks.

It appears that as long as you are about a half mile in from the water you will be fine and have nothing to worry about. So everyone, stop being paranoid and get back to enjoying life. SF 1 – Tsunami 0.