Book Review – Life Is A Wheel

“What is distance, after all, but experience?”

Life is a Wheel

I recently finished “Life Is A Wheel” by Bruce Weber. It’s is a fairly simple book about a man’s journey as he rides his (very expensive) bike across the United States.

The book chronicles the trip from Oregon to New York with intermittent advice about distance cycling, personal anecdotes, logistical notes and observations of middle America.

I found it to be quick and easy to read, in fact at some points it was hard to put down, however I also found it to be devoid of any deep, compelling sense of adventure or drama. (An exception to this was his recollection of a solo ride in Vietnam.)

Reading about Bruce, his life and his motivations, it’s easy to root for the the author and I wish him well. To me this book seems more like a series of travel blog posts than a compelling adventure story. In that sense, some portions felt like filler. I think “Life Is A Wheel” would most appeal to people in similar situations to Weber. People who are ready to take stock in their own life accomplishments, people unsure about aging and what the future holds.

I do appreciate the honest and open writing style of the book, and at some points it seemed like Weber was using the writing process (and bike riding) as therapy.

“Even when you’re far from home, exhausted, coughing, missing your girlfriend, and grinding uphill in the rain, where you are is where you belong. Never wish away time”

My biggest take away from this book is that it inspires me to ride my bike and to write, which is a good thing.

Elliott Smith Top 4

The cover of 'Figure 8'
The cover of ‘Figure 8’

Many consider Los Angeles, California the Entertainment Capital of the World. It is where people go to chase their dreams, to make it big.

Some stay, some go, some just pass through. Few leave their mark, many more don’t.

On Sunset Boulevard I recently visited a place where one musician has left his mark, even if he doesn’t know it.

You might not know the name Elliott Smith, but you’ve probably heard his music. He was heavily featured on the Soundtrack for “Good Will Hunting”. His style incorporates whisper-soft singing over simple acoustic guitar with lyrics that can be mellow yet haunting. Much of his music is both simple and complex, the sort of music that’s best enjoyed at night and while not distracted. 

The cover of his album Figure 8 is a black and white photo of Elliot standing in front of a mural of curved red and black lines. It’s pretty simple and straightforward, probably one of dozens of other promotional photos taken that day at various places near the music studio.

But like the cover of the Beatles’ Abby Road or Bob Dylan’s The Freewheelin’, this simple image and place has now become eternally linked with this artist and his music.

The wall is located on the South Side of Sunset Boulevard next to a McDonalds and a Mexican Taqueria, and recently I went to check it out.

2013-11-15 12.46.41The red and black swirling lines were accompanied by a combination of graffiti tags, tributes and lyrics. The wall has been painted, and repainted many times since the albums release in 2000 and become an ever-evolving place of expression for fans and as well as graffiti “artists”.

2013-11-15 12.47.38

Inspired by visiting the wall, I figured I’d put together a list of 4 of his songs I’ve enjoyed most over the years.

Junk Bond Trader – Figure 8

Unlike many of his other songs, this one is best listened to at a high volume.  In this relatively uptempo song the piano and bells drive a strong momentum. The song’s energy peaks towards the end, before seemingly being cut short. The energy is punctuated with this line at about the 2:50 mark:

Now I’m a policeman directing traffic, keeping everything moving, everything static.
I’m the hitchhiker you recognize passing, on your way to some everlasting…

St. Ides Heaven – Self Titled

This song paints a vision of world through a lens smeared by the effects of drugs and alcohol. It’s performed with the honesty of a man dealing with addiction and regret, and his voice and guitar tell the story of a guy walking alone late at night with cloudy vision. Through it you see a blurry vision of the moon above the artist and a darkness within.

High on amphetamines
The moon is a light bulb breaking
It’ll go around with anyone
But it won’t come down for anyone

Pitseleh – X/O

A prototypical example of the artist’s style, Pitseleh combines simple acoustic guitar, heartfelt lyrics, and whispering melodic singing. It’s the kind of song that easily melts into his other works, yet can stand up on its own.

The first time I saw you, I knew it would never last
I’m not half what I wish I was

Say Yes – X/O

Say Yes is the kind of song that sounds like it was recorded on a cassette tape sitting cross legged on the floor of an upstairs bedroom of a suburban home. The short song is full of lyrics which tap into the universal desire to be desired, doubtful optimism, and heartbreak. It’s stripped-down and clean, and the message boils down to a simple yet profound request – “say yes.”

I could be, another fool, or an exception to the rule
you tell me, the morning after.

2013-11-15 12.46.55

2013-11-15 12.47.08

LA County Air Show

 

A quick post with some photos from the LA County Air Show up in the high desert last weekend.

It was a beautiful clear day and it was really cool to see some of these amazing machines wiz by.
LA Air Show LA Air Show LA Air Show LA Air Show LA Air Show

Food of the World in Los Angeles: Ethiopia

I finally made a stop on Fairfax Ave in the neighborhood known as “Little Ethiopia” for dinner tonight, and it was a very cool experience.

Of the many restaurants all along both sides of the street we decided upon Messob, both because we thought it looked interesting inside and because it had good reviews on Yelp.

Exterior of Messob on Fairfax in Los AngelesThe dining room was full and smelled of interesting spices and dishes, people sat around eating communally with their hands out off large platters filled with a variety of colors and textures.

Massab InteriorI’d never had Ethiopian food before, and I’ll admit the prospect of eating soft, saucy food without any utensils or plates (Gursha style) sounded both challenging and different – right up my alley.

From Massab’s website:

Gursha is an Ethiopian tradition of hand feeding your dinner companion. The tradition of giving Gursha plays on the exotic component of eating. Gursha means mouthful and refers to a morsel of food which one places carefully in another person’s mouth, usually as a gesture of affection. This is perfect for couples wanting an intimate experience that is out of the ordinary.

Out of the ordinary for sure. After consulting our waitress for a popular, signature item to try we were served the Super Messob Exclusive, which as you probably know consists of Doro Wot, Siga Wot, Yebeg Siga Alitcha, Yater Alitcha, Kitffo, Tibs, Yatakilt Alitcha, Alitcha, Yemisir Wot & Collard Greens.

Super Messob Exclusive

The dish is served on a large plater along side and over lots of spongy bread called Injera which is used to scoop up the food for eating. There was salad, corn, lentils, chicken, beef, lamb…and…who knows what else but it was flavorful and filling and I’d try it again for sure. It reminded me of mild Indian food with the addition of lots of veggies and of course the injera.

I sipped on a floral Ethiopian beer and K enjoyed a homemade honeywine in an awesome chemistry-class style glass flask.

Honeywine

For more Food of the World of Los Angels, check out my posts on the food of Vietnam and Shanghai.

2014 Rose Parade

 

We started 2014 off with an early start – the 2014 Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA.

Beautiful floats, lots of bands, and great weather combined for a full day of Southern Cali culture. Here are a few pics I snapped with my Canon T3i (with 55-250mm zoom lens) and some from my new GoPro Hero 3.

Peacock Float Float Flowers Can you hear me now? Marine Band Colorful woman Digging Dog TB and KW Colorful Flags Hippo E Harmony Palms Stanford Tree Pegasus Float

For some photos from Pasadena’s wacky summer time Doo Dah Parade, click here.

Happy New Year!

TB and KW

Slice of the LA Fashion District

I did some xmas shopping this year in Los Angeles’ Fashion District, a sprawling complex of storefronts and warehouses near downtown where people buy and sell all kinds of stuff. It’s a real experience to walk through, one I recommend, especially Santee Alley.

Here are some photos I snapped after I finished shopping. They’ve been treated with a Photoshop Action called Winter Breeze which can be downloaded here.

 

Slice of the LA fashion district(click to enlarge)

Breaking Bad Cookbook

Breaking Food Logo

I was a big fan of the AMC show Breaking Bad which concluded this year. For those who don’t know, it was a show about the misadventures of an average middle aged guy as he descends into the seedy business of producing and distributing crystal meth.  The focus on the show was the characters, the drug trade and family drama. But there were also many other layers to the show, including the presence of various foods.

I randomly woke up the other day with an idea for a Breaking Bad cookbook.  Not instructions on how to synthesize or “cook” meth, but rather collection would be a humors take on how to prepare and serve some of the foods featured in the show.

Here are a few dishes I thought of:

  • Flynn’s Flapjacks
  • Heisenberg’s PB&J
  • Skylar’s Greenbeans and slivered almonds
  • Hank’s ‘Schraderbrau’ brew
  • Gus’s Chilean Paila Marina
  • Los Pollos Hermanos Fried Chicken with Madrigal Franch Sauce
  • Lydia’s Camomile Tea with Soy Milk (and Stevia)
  • Tuco’s Tight! Tight tight, yeah! Burritos
  • Jesse’s Funyuns with Chili P (Chili Powder)
  • Venezia’s Cost-Saving Uncut Pizza

Which am I missing? The show was so dense I’m sure there are a few other good ones out there!

 

The Food of The World in Los Angeles: First stop Shanghai…

Tonight I’m starting a new theme of posts “The Food of The World of Los Angeles.”

It’s my goal to identify, discover, enjoy and share unique foods which originate from various places around the world.

It’s an amazing time we live in, one where the globe has never felt smaller and America has never felt more diverse. While I might not be able to travel to all the places I’d like to see in my lifetime, through this project I hope to open up to new experiences and flavors and to take advantage of living in this huge, international city.

First up is Emperor Noodles in San Gabriel for some Shanghai style buns.

Emperor Noodles ExteriorI first heard of this place through an LA Weekly article about Shen Jian Baos, or Pan-Fried Buns.

Since I basically fell in love with Baos on a trip to Japan a few years ago, I knew I had to check out the pan-fried version since pretty much everything is better fried up to a crispy golden brown.

Emperor Noodles InteriorThe restaurant itself was decorated with all types of red furniture and decor, the cliental seemed to all be speaking in another language I assume to be Chinese, and the waitress was very helpful in taking my order, despite a pretty significant language barrier between us.

Emperor Noodles MenuIt took about 5 minutes before my 4pc Pan Fried Pork Buns were ready to go, and I couldn’t wait to try them, despite their molten-hot interiors.

Emperor Noodles Pan Fried Pork BunAs you can see they are comprised of a white, fluffy dough toped with black sesame seeds that’s been seared slightly on the bottom with white sesame seeds.  Each one was about the size of a peach, the outside soft and the bottom  just barely crisp, creating good contrast of texture and flavor. Inside was a savory pork filling along with some very tasty (and very hot) liquid.  I’ve had a fair amount of baos over the past few years, but these stand out because of their unique flavor and presentation.  I was tempted to eat all four, but I resisted and the urge after two and saved the other two for some friends.

Overall? Good food, good price, pretty convenient location for me, so I’ll likely be back for more Shen Jian Baos or for some of the delicious looking soup the rest of the customers were enjoying.

For more info, check out Emperor Noodle on Yelp.

Dia De Los Muertos 2013

I spent a little time at the Hollywood Forever cemetery  the other night during the Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos) Festival and took these pics. It got really crowded after a while and the dark made taking photos tricky, but it was a cool cultural experience that I recommend checking out.

Backpack Drummer Stage couple With the mic Hats Hats 2 Teeth jim

 

Ciclavia in the Heart of LA

Last weekend I took part in CicLAvia, an event held a few times a year where streets of LA are closed to cars and are overtaken by hordes of bikers. It’s a really fun time. As a biker the streets are quiet and offer unique views of the city, the crowds are happy and I was able to visit some cool neighborhoods and parks for the first time. Below are some pics from the event, including a map which was painted on a “rolling mural” in Grant Park.

20131009-013345.jpg

20131009-013403.jpg

20131009-013415.jpg

20131009-013434.jpg

20131009-013509.jpg

20131009-013606.jpg

20131009-013641.jpg

20131009-013711.jpg

20131009-013857.jpg

20131009-014042.jpg

20131009-014138.jpg

The Boston Public Garden

Boston really is an interesting town. It’s a town with a lot of character and history, it’s fast paced and the roads are hard to navigate but at the same time charming and beautiful. It’s home to towering buildings over head but if you look hard enough you can find some quiet corners.

On a recent trip to Boston I had several hours to myself downtown and I decided to take a walk around the Boston Public Garden. With a few clicks on my iPhone I was able to stream an excellent audio walking-tour podcast made by Audissey Guides.

The tour took about an hour and included not only an easy to follow map, but also some really interesting chapters featuring Boston public figures, historians, and other notable locals. It was a great way to open my eyes to all that the Public Garden has to offer, and enhance the experience of being there on a beautiful summer day.

This was my return trip to Boston after the Marathon bombings in April, and I was happy to see so many people (locals and tourists alike) outside living freely and actively enjoying all that downtown has to offer. Here are some photos from my afternoon walking around the Garden, a scenic gem in the heart of a great city.

George Washington Statue at the Boston Public Garden Child Fountain  at the Boston Public Garden George Washinton and Flowers  at the Boston Public Garden Rose Garden  at the Boston Public Garden Ether Monument  at the Boston Public Garden Squirrel upon the Japanese Pagoda Tree  at the Boston Public Garden George Robert White Memorial at the Boston Public Garden Man with Trumpet  at the Boston Public Garden Old  Glory above Cheers Make Way for Ducklings Statue  at the Boston Public Garden Japanese Lantern and Swans at the Lagoon  at the Boston Public Garden Swan Boats  at the Boston Public Garden Flowers at the Boston Public Garden Local musician  at the Boston Public Garden Swan Boats  at the Boston Public Garden Statue  at the Boston Public Garden Statue  at the Boston Public Garden Camperdown Elm  at the Boston Public Garden Bridge  at the Boston Public Garden

 

In the south west corner of the Garden is a very quiet corner of Boston, the September 11th Memorial Garden of Remembrance.  Two of the planes left Boston that morning, and here those who were lost are honored.  Located about a half mile from the Marathon finish line on Boylston Street, the memorial includes a poem by Lawrence Homer from “Boston & Sea Poems”:

Time touches all more gently here,

Here where man has said, No:

Trees and grass, and flowers will remain,

Where the first-born sometimes sees

His father’s father’s eyes

Reflected in the shallow pool;

Feels an ancient heart beat

In the palm of his hand

Pressed against a willow:

And seeking comfort, seeking shade

Lies beneath the golden leaf elm,

Watching swanboats glide in season