Food Trucks Then and Now

Food TrucksSan Francisco has been over run with food truck culture just like many other cities. This time the food trucks are different than they used to be. When I was younger [not a kid, but this lasted into my early thirties] there weren’t really any food trucks other than the taco trucks you would see usually of the El Tonayense variety. These early food trucks were real working man’s kind of places to grab a bite to eat. Now the food trucks have slicked themselves up to cater to the foodistas around San Francisco.

The taco trucks were great when you were on a budget because I could get a burrito I could never finish and a coke for about $4.50. Now the food trucks are pushing up their prices selling gourmet, artisanal and organic foods to the foodistas who have lots of extra cash and in many cases don’t realize that they’re eating the food that the working middle class eats for around four times the price.

I have seen the trucks all over the city and I find it hard to pay $6-$8 for some variation of a grilled cheese sandwich plus the soda is separate from that price. My wife and I were watching The Great Food Truck Race where one truck was selling their hamburgers for $10 and lost due to lack of income and afterwards they were talking that they could have stayed in the game if they charged $12 per burger. I don’t know about you, but I can grill up a might fine hamburger at home with a side of fries and a coke for about $2. I also know of many foodista sit down places where for my $12 I get to have a seat at a nice table and I get the fries and coke for my $12.

I have this little hand gesture I make where I hold my hands flat in front of me to represent the amount I’d have to pay to purchase what they’re selling at cheaper price. Let’s say I pay $10 for lunch for two at In-N-Out burger. Now if I go to a food truck the same thing would cost me closer to $30, so I raise one hand up to show the price difference and ask, for 3x the price is it 3x as good? Honestly, I can’t and don’t think many people can taste organic, artisanal or gourmet in most cases. I can taste a well made hamburger, but gourmet and artisanal are words that are just used for packaging in my mind.  I hand made some silver dollar pancakes for my daughter because I thought it was cheaper than buying the pre-made ones for her. Mine ended up being tossed aside for the mass produced perfectly round pancakes. Oh well, at least I and my friends and family know I’m a good cook.

I understand the whole idea of the experience of eating at a food truck gathering. Off the Grid is a great example of pulling in people who have a large choice of food to choose from. It strikes me though as kind of like a food court that’s outdoors though. I’ve eaten food from several of the food trucks, but while they were good in most cases I’ve been able to get just as good from other places that are cheaper where I can sit down inside.

I don’t think San Francisco is the best place for food trucks because we don’t have the weather to support them every day unlike say, San Diego where the weather forecast is always, nice. We’re an expensive city to live in and the costs get passed on to the people. If anyone disagrees with me please post a comment because I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong. I’d like to see what I’m missing here. Please note that I haven’t mentioned anyone by name as I don’t want to upset any of the food truck owners, yet I do find it interesting that when I visit their websites they never list prices. Most restaurants do list prices and I just think the old rule of, if you have to ask the price you can’t afford it shouldn’t apply to a truck were I have to sit outside in a windy area to eat my food that’s gotten cold half way through it.

Have Farmer’s Markets Become Superfluous?

Farmer's MarketMy wife and I took a trip past a farmer’s market yesterday and as we walked around we began to notice something that I remarked to her about. When I was a kid my parents used to go to the farmer’s market out on Alemany Blvd every few months. My Mom was into pickling and she could buy large flats of cucumbers and wax peppers to pickle and can up because they were cheaper. What we found yesterday wasn’t exactly the case.

Today there’s more than produce at farmer’s markets which makes them kind of more interesting to visit. While it used to be though that you would go to farmer’s markets to get things you couldn’t find anywhere else and to get them cheaper this isn’t really the case today.

Many of the non-produce packaged foods can be found in local upscale grocery stores usually at less price than at a farmer’s market because they just have to deliver the product and not stand around all day to hock their product. With the produce, I’ve seen the same trucks that work the markets at our local produce markets unloading larger amounts than they bring to the farmer’s markets and they are the same quality and cheaper.

So I thought for a second about why would you go to an outdoor market to buy your vegetables and other items when you could get them any day of the week for less at a produce market? I have yet to figure that out. I think it’s nice that there are a few food trucks there because they’re something different, but I just can’t bring myself to spend $20+ to feed my family when there are local restaurants that I can get it cheaper.

While I find them fun to walk around and see what’s available I usually don’t drop more than about $5 and that’s usually at one of the booths set up by a bakery. Frequently we’ve found that the produce we’ve purchased at a market doesn’t last more than a few days and you can never tell if the same business will be there next week.

So if you enjoy purchasing at farmer’s markets please comment and tell me why because I’d like to know.

Don’t Move Here!

Talk-to-the-handAs I was spending my day surfing the web I came across a few articles about people who’ve moved to San Francisco like this one. My suggestion is don’t move here. Most of the people who were complaining about San Francisco have lived here for 3-5 years at the most, tend to be hipsters from the Mission, and shop at Whole Foods. They don’t understand that there’s more to San Francisco and I’m going to tell you some of the only reasons you should move here.

First, you’ve got an Aunt Gladys who bought her house in the pre-Prop 13 days and stayed there. Then she died and left you the house. Depending on the size of the house you’ll get stuck with paying between $800-$1500 a year in property taxes and the bit of house upkeep. Having a house handed you means that you have the equivalent of $42k/year income a year since you don’t have to pay rent. If you’re rich buy away. Once your house is paid off you’ll be paying per year less than what you’d pay per month to rent. I have a friend who bought a two bedroom house about 10 years ago and his mortgage is less than what he could get for renting the place plus it has a built in bar.

Second, if you choose to rent and now isn’t the best time you pretty much missed the boat by about 15-20 years. If you do decide to rent try to stay there. We’ve got a thing people refer to as rent control. My wife and I rented a two bedroom house 10 years ago that we payed $1200/month. Mind you we moved in there in 1997 before the dot com 1.0 pushed rental prices up to a ridiculous rate. If we stayed there we might be paying $1500/month…for a two bedroom house. When I first moved out to the Mission and that was around 1991 I split a two bedroom house with a full living room, full dining room, big kitchen, two huge bedrooms and a sun room for $400/month and that was my share. Our rent never went up while we stayed there and any fix ups the house needed we got to take off the rent.

Other than that, don’t move here. Rents are high and some of the employers are paying stupidly low wages. People who work in grocery stores and the like are here because they live with there parents, inherited their house from their parents or are section 8 disabled. Seeing guys in their 50’s who live with their aging Mom or Dad isn’t something to look down on here because they’re able to live here and go out to dinner at a nice restaurant every once in awhile while working for $17/hour. If you don’t already own and have your house paid off you need to earn about $35-$50 an hour to live like you would in other parts of the country. I don’t understand why some people move here and work long hours and then go shopping on the weekends for prepared foods because they don’t have time to cook or they go out to eat for half the week at an overpriced eatery when they could make enough food on the weekends at home for the whole week if they just made the effort, but that’s not my place to judge. I did used to shake my head when I worked with a girl who made $14/hour, lived in the upper haight with several roommates and would go to Whole Foods to buy her lunch. I would go around the corner for a $2 taco and bring a soda from home if I hadn’t brought my lunch and this was last year.

If you move here you don’t know the City well enough before you move here and don’t understand things like you can get the best and cheapest burrito outside of the mission because there aren’t those kind of hipsters where this place is located. You can get good food cheap if you know where to look [hint alley ways], but you’ll only know that once you’ve moved here and been around the City for about six months.

PBR is not what cheap San Franciscan’s drink. It’s Budweiser. PBR also tells everyone you’re a broke hipster and you’ve just labeled yourself even if you weren’t trying. While there aren’t that many born and raise in SF people left they’re the ones with the money in this city. Face it, until you’ve got 30 years under your belt here you’re going to have a rough time of it.

By all means though, come and visit us. We have a lot to offer. Great parks and museums and as others have noted great food. Affordable housing just isn’t one of those things.

Bud’s Ice Cream

logo_budsWe went over to a friend’s house a few months ago [what we call Summer in San Francisco and others call Fall] and they offered us some ice cream. They pulled out a half gallon of Bud’s Vanilla Ice Cream and a light bulb went off in my head. It was only about a 4 watt light bulb so it faded away quickly. My wife brought up Bud’s the other day so I had to dip into the morgue and see why this stuck in my head at one time.

As it turns out, Bud’s Ice Cream was the first premium Ice Cream sold in the United States from an ice cream shop [there had been restaurants going back to the 1800’s that served elaborate ice cream desserts made on the premises that didn’t have any funny ingredients and it was pure cream thick and heavy in each scoop]. Bud Scheideman opened his store in Noe Valley at a date I couldn’t find, but he sold it to his cousin Al Edlin in 1952 for $8000. It was then that the premium aspect jumped out. They didn’t really have much competition back then because when I was a kid in the 70’s you had generic store brands that mixed milk in with their cream or simply replaced the cream altogether and sold it as Ice Milk. Ice Milk was nowhere near gelato [which is made with milk and not cream] and Bud’s was the cream of the crop for ice creams.

It was the only ice cream my Mom bought for awhile until Baskin-Robbins opened up 31 flavors. My Mom fell in love with their black walnut or the jamoca almond fudge which Bud’s never made, but when it came to chocolate or vanilla ice creams it was always Bud’s because it tasted better. My Mom would have run back to Bud’s for black walnut or jamoca almond fudge if they made them, but I guess Bud’s had a problem with using the term jamoca which refers to a person of mixed racial heritage.

As I was searching through the morgue [i.e. my addled brain and google] the hammer came down. Bud’s was sold to Berkeley Farms in the 80’s who outsourced the production of Bud’s Ice Cream to Bangkok, Thailand [Headquarters are in Ho Chi Minh City]. OUTSOURCED ICE CREAM?!?!?! Are they going to start milking cows as well? Maybe that’s why Berkeley Farms slogan is Farms? In Berkeley? That’s because their ice cream is made in Thailand, not Berkeley.

Now, while I’ve never been to Bangkok, Thailand I’ver heard many good things about it from friends who’ve visited [most of which I can’t print here and have very little to do with ice cream, but upon occasion…] This isn’t something that transports like say, plastic bottles. Ice cream needs to be transferred in a large freezer cargo ship. There must me some expense that adds to this. Couldn’t a place like say Canada or Mexico do the job or maybe Berkeley instead of shipping ice cream across the Pacific Ocean to the states?

It was a pretty good ice cream, but you don’t find it in too many places in San Francisco anymore. Our friends got it from a high end grocery store in San Bruno where it was $9 for a half gallon. While it’s good, it’s not three times the price as good. We have so many locals or much closer than Thailand who make good ice cream that I don’t need to pay $9 a half gallon for that I’m just as satisfied with.

P.S. I’m more of a gelato fan, gianduja to be specific and I can make it at home very easily.

Great Highway Finally Gets A Makeover

Great HighwayWell, I wasn’t the first to this story, so I’ll give credit where credit is due to my friends at Ocean Beach Bulletin.  Our beach is different than most other beaches. Just about anywhere else beach front property is expensive and in high demand. In San Francisco, it’s the place where they put a lot of low income Section 8 housing.

You have to be born and raised here to find anything fun at Ocean Beach except on the few warm days we get out there when the beach is packed. It can be so nasty out there some days that I’d have to say it’s worse than Coney Island in December. It was so disliked at one point in 1980 that a group of condos were built on the remains of Playland at the Beach and nobody wanted them. I could see the value in the future and when they’re were trying to dump a four bedroom condo with an HOA of $25/month on people for $13k I wanted to use an early inheritance from an Aunt to purchase one. While my parents didn’t like the idea, they would now if they saw that they are selling for over $500k.

The Great Highway itself is kind of a mess. I’ve written letter upon letter that they need to do something out there. When I used to live closer to the beach and had to cross over from the Sunset to Richmond to do my grocery shopping I’m sure that’s part of the reason my car’s wheels needed re-alignment every six months. The asphalt was garbage and there were potholes everywhere. With the passing of Playland at the Beach there was only the Beach Chalet and Safeway to go for shopping out there.

I’ve been using social media to try and get some food trucks out there on nice days. They wouldn’t really compete with the Beach Chalet and give visitors more choices. They could use a little something more out there to bring people out to the beach, but you also need nice roads with median lines you can actually see.

The part of the Great Highway that runs from Lincoln Blvd to Sloat also needs work especially to keep some of the sand off the road which closes it down frequently. I read that they’re planting a new median, but some more ice plant on the ocean side might help a bit as well. Work begins this week so keep an eye out if you drive around that area.

While I can’t take credit for it at least they’ll finally be doing something to get the place to look nicer. The redo will run from the Point Lobos parking lot where the Lands End Lookout is to Sloat Blvd and Great Highway. I’d really like to see some more added to the beach area to bring people out there. Now that we’re having climate change around the world we’re having less nasty days and more nice days, but the wind on the beach is still a bitch.

Goodbye to Vivian Brown

f42b35_a506bfd5b11c0ff060fcd3e320511a5e.jpg_1024There we have it, another San Francisco icon is gone. Well half gone in this sense, but Vivian Brown of the Brown sisters has died. Vivian and Marian were identical twins who dressed a like in a manner that would sometimes just make you scratch your head. I used to see them around San Francisco quite a bit before I found out they were the “Brown Sisters” and one day I ran into them and actually talked to them.

I had a girlfriend who was a little weird like me. We both had a fondness for the pipe organ and Grace Cathedral has the best one around. They used to give [it’s been so long they probably still do, but my wife isn’t into the pipe organ as much as I am]. My girlfriend at the time and I used to go to the afternoon or evening organ recitals and we’d usually go a bit early and maybe have a drink at the Fairmont [never went to the Tonga Room though and for some one born and raised here that’s kind of odd].

As we were walking around one day we saw the Brown Sisters walking into Uncle Vito’s which was one of their regular hangouts. My girlfriend and I being the metal heads we were [and we were kind of extreme at the time] stopped and talked to them right before they went in. There was a bit of a chill in the air and they invited us to come in and have a slice of pizza with them. So there you had the Brown Sisters and a couple of metal heads sitting together talking in the front window of Uncle Vito’s. I wish I could find the picture, but that was so many years ago I’d have too many boxes to go through to find it.

We you talked to them you quickly got passed the leopard print cowboy hats that you’d usually see on older hispanic women out on the town in the Mission [usually at La Rondalla before it closed] on a Saturday night. They were were really funny and surprised that we were going to an opera recital at a large cathedral dressed all in black leather. We both gave a cocked eye and an ahem without having to point at them who the two of them wouldn’t just dress alike they’d dress alike in some of the most bizarre clothes that kind of made you remember them like they were walking down the street on fire.

They were in many TV shows, movies and were also asked to be on a few talk shows. Just a two second shot of them in a commercial and you knew who they were. I’m kind of sad that Vivian is gone because it’s been awhile since I’ve been downtown and run into them. I think I might just have to make a trip to Uncle Vito’s and see if Marian will still hang out there just to wish her well and offer my condolences.

Dealing With Old Houses

No this is not my home.Pretty much everyone here is from somewhere else. Especially today. I think I’m one of the few people left over 40 who was born in San Francisco and one of the even fewer who is living in the house he grew up in now. My family inherited the house after my Mom died [well not really, my name was on the house since I was 18]. There’s a difference though when you live in a house that your parents bought in 1954 and have been the only family to live there.

Before my wife and I moved back into the house my Mom was the only one left and didn’t get around much so there were lots of areas that she never looked at. When we moved in we realized that the double paned windows upstairs caused about a 15° difference when you went downstairs where we only had single paned [old single paned] windows. In the winter like now. It gets cold downstairs and nothing short of a space heater will warm the place up even though we have central heating. This is something we’re working on figuring out how to fix at the moment because we can’t afford to replace the downstairs windows.

The shower in the downstairs bathroom leaks to the point that when you take a shower water soaks through the wall and runs out into the basement. This is going to be fixed today. You have to re-caulk old caulking every couple of years because with the old tiles and worn marble floor [which I’m also in the process of refinishing] doesn’t always seal up completely.

Dust, OMG DUST! This is an old house by San Francisco standards which means we have wall to wall carpeting. You can vacuum the floor for a half hour and then go over it with a small hepa filter vac and notice you get more dust out of the carpet. Our dryer downstairs is in the back of the basement so it doesn’t vent outside so you get lint everywhere. It must have been about 1″ of 30 years of lint that I had to work with my hand before being able to vacuum it off the cabinets next to the dryer because my Mother never used the lint trap. Lint gets everywhere and you have to move stuff and get behind it to suck it all out.

Walls, I have no idea what made the marks and stains, but the walls have gotten rather dirty so I’ve been trying a few things to clean the walls which are working somewhat well. The Magic Eraser pad works, but we have to go over the walls a couple of times to get all the spots off. This gives you a good work out if you’re doing it right. Your arms should be tired after you’re finished.

Carpeting in general get dirty and we’ve had carpet cleaning companies come by that have still left the stains after the carpet dries. I actually used some oxy-clean on one particularly dark spot going into the kitchen and now it just shows how much dirt has collected over the years because we have a nice clean bright patch of carpet surrounded by dark beat up carpet. In reality, the carpet is close to 30 years old and should be replaced because there are areas which haven’t been walked on that stand up more than others. When we can afford it we’ll do that.

Bannisters. These are fun because you don’t realize that when people grab onto them the oils and dirt from their hands sticks to them. I tried three days of goo gone and that wasn’t enough so I finally stripped the lacquer off and refinished them and they look brand new.I’ve learned in the past to  start with rough sandpaper and work down to the finest you can to get it smooth and have a good tack cloth ready.

The kitchen. Nope we don’t have granite counter tops we have the old tiles everyone used to have. The tiles have held up quite well, but the grout has worn or gotten stained from coffee spills to the point that I had to re-grout most of the tiles. This isn’t that hard and we had at one point the the mortar in front of the sink wear out so I had to hammer out the old mortar and glue the tiles back in place and then grout when they were set. In some places the grout has worn out to the point that it’s not grout anymore, but  dirt and grease that’s collected that you can gouge out with a screwdriver. If you have one of those hand held steamers that will sanitize the area before you grout and get some more dirt out of the cracks. Eventually we’ve get new countertops when we can have the cabinets refinished. I happen to like the Zodiaq quartz counter tops because they’re easier to deal with and they’re cultured quartz. We’ll definitely need someone to put those in along with a new sink to replace the 1954 porcelain sink that’s been worked over with comet a little too much.

As for furniture, we’ve got such a mixed group of items that you just have to shake your head. We have side tables and a dinner table from the late 1800’s. A chair that was purchased from a Charles Lutwidge Dodgson [i.e. Lewis Carroll] in 1850 which fix well together [if it’s your grandma’s house], but then there’s this horrible faux-asian bamboo printed couch that’s gotten stains from over the years and the springs need replacing, a high back faux Victorian chair which while I love it because it’s comfortable and if I fall asleep in it I’ve got those side thingies so my neck doesn’t get crunched. It’s kind of like a car seat for lazy adults, there’s another chair that I don’t know the time period, but it looks like around the 30’s and a lazy boy recliner that’s electric and I’m willing to sell it to get it out of here.

Other general things that we’ll need to call in outside help for is the dry rot that we’ve developed in the corners of the living room windows. I could sand a lot out, but that won’t fix it. I think we could handle the painting ourselves, but we have a guy down the street who painted the outside of the house who would do the inside better than us. There are also cracks and holes that have developed over the years that I’ve been spackling over and I’ve gotten pretty good at dry wall work. Thank you for all the helpful videos.

It’s a lot of work, but I’ve never been one to buy a house and flip it in a few years for a profit, especially now with prices going up or down in six months. I like the place because I grew up here. Now it’s just time for us to make it ours. And that is why you haven’t heard from me in awhile. I’ve been so busy fixing up the house instead of other New Year’s resolutions that people break that I’m doing pretty good.