One of ours finds her way back home

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After moving to the Bay Area back in 1997, I settled into my new apartment, without any friends or family to speak of. I was completely alone in a big town. It was at once both terrifying and exhilarating.

I knew very few places I could drive to without getting lost, but I made myself the solemn promise that I would not just stay holed up in my apartment. I would leave the house and explore, even if it tested my bounds of comfort. And it did.

On earlier visits to the area for work, some people I knew in the East Bay had taken me to a restaurant in San Francisco. They had given me directions to get there, and I still remembered the route. I recalled the food was good and the people who worked there were nice.

So it became a steady destination. The restaurant is named Sodini’s, and I’ve spoken about it here before. If you’ve been out to visit me, I’ve likely taken you there.

Anyhow, as I went out every weekend, a little New Mexico girl picking hayseeds out of her hair, the people at Sodini’s began to know me. They looked after me. They gave me advice on how to live in the Bay Area, and they protected me.

Usually, I’d eat at Sodini’s then go across the street to a bar called The Grant and Green to listen to live music. Once in there, a part time cocktail waitress, part time stripper took over looking out for me. She was beautiful but also one tough lady. She would scare off guys she knew were bad news who had come sidling up to me, or would shout down anyone trying to run a scam on me (there were plenty who tried. What did I know? They didn’t have people like this in Albuquerque).

Then, several months later, I began idly dating a blues musician. So now I really had reason to be in North Beach. The blues scene is thriving. Over plenty of nights in various North Beach bars, I became a regular. I became part of the North Beach family. A loose band of a variety of strange and not so strange. Some talented. Some educated. Some rich. Some homeless. We are a little bit of everything. I’ve both been read to from Plato and offered the chance to buy crack in the same evening.

As motley as these folks are, truly, they became my family. I was often alone considering my boyfriend was a working musician. The more I fretted, the more they looked out for me. And I began looking out for them, too.

With all of the people I knew who lived on the streets, I began to worry about them. My big heart would be crushed if I didn’t see Willie on his regular street corner, playing harmonica to cheer passerby. Or if Lorne wasn’t standing outside Café Trieste, looking for some money or maybe to fix someone’s car for a couple bucks. And then there was Millie.

She’s about four feet nothing and would bop from bar to restaurant to bar with a huge gap toothed grin and a Polaroid camera. For $5, she’d take your photo and then give you the biggest hug you’ve ever received from someone so little. Her smile would brighten the entire room.

As the years passed, things turned rather sour with the musician. Then I went through an odyssey of my own psyche. And to add to all of that, then my father passed away. All life changing events.

I stopped going to North Beach so much. When I did go, my family would hug me, ask after my health, worry over me and welcome me home. Then they’d chide me for being gone so long.

Finally, as more years passed, I was alone again and unable to get up the courage to explore like I had before. Things were changing. I was changing. I was profoundly alone and considerably lost.

Then on a sunny day in November, my gray skies parted when I met The Good Man. For a while when we first dated, he lived in North Beach, which meant I visited my old haunts with a new set of eyes and a new man in tow. My North Beach family eyed him warily at first, but were soon as charmed as I over The Good Man.

But, to be honest, that’s not the point of my story. The point is this…recently our friend Millie, the cheery, adorable Polaroid taking woman had gone missing. I’d heard this through the grapevine and was sick to my heart. She isn’t a young lady, and I feared she’d ended up like a lot of my family and succumbed on a cold San Francisco night.

I cried this morning when read this article in the SFGate.

Millie was found in a Reno hospital after taking a bus up there and getting turned around. Some kind folks went up and brought her home.

She’s back in North Beach with her Polaroid and her amazing smile.

I don’t get back to North Beach all that much anymore. The Good Man and I moved into our place on the peninsula and now we’re all married and domesticated and living our new lives together. That’s ok too. It does my heart good to know that even though I’m not still running around North Beach, that my people are there and they are okay.

I’m a strange kid, I’m the first to admit it. I can manage to be homesick over two places at the same time. Both New Mexico and the Bay Area beat inside my heart. I’m not sure how to ever resolve that.

I’m not sure I even want to try.

Photo from the SFGate.

The more things change

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The more they stay the same…or so the saying goes.

Is that really true? It seems anymore that everything just changes. And changes. And changes.

Am I becoming my folks? Lamenting for days gone by. “Better days.” “It didn’t used to be like this.”

Is it an inevitable side effect of passing years?

Somewhere along the way in my tenure here in the Bay Area, just over ten years now, I crossed a line, passed a barrier, ticked off a marker. I had finally lived here long enough that I could pine for “how it used to be.”

Yesterday evening I had occasion to drive The Cute Boy™ to San Francisco. He’s laid up with a bum ankle (don’t ask). So Cute Boy is now Gimpy McGimperson on two crutches. He had some business in our fine City, so I took him there and decided to bide my time and wait for him to be done, más o menos, three hours all in.

So while waiting I decided to visit an old haunt in North Beach, a place I’ve waxed ecstastic about in these very pages. A lovely family owned restaurant called Sodini’s. Owned by the venerable Mark Sodini, when I first moved, a hay-seed-in-my-hair girl from New Mexico, Sodini’s was one of the few places I knew how to get to in that big mean city.

Back in those days I was trying to catch the eye of a local musician (it ended badly, don’t ask) who played at the bar across the street. So I’d go to Sodini’s for dinner and some liquid courage. It’s always a bit weird being a girl going to a restaurant or bar alone, but any trepidation I had quickly dissolved in the kind presence of the good people of Sodini’s. These folks couldn’t have been more cordial, and kind, and they took good care of me, looked out for me, and became my friends.

So it was a melancholy bit of business to sit, once more, by myself on a barstool, drinking a well made drink and tucked into a gorgeous Caprese.

My eyes wandered to the strangely quiet Green street out the windows, and my retinas were burned by a neon sign blaring FAX, COPIES, PHOTOS. I said to Mark, “What’s with the copy place? Didn’t that used to be a frame shop?” He laughed and said “Yeah, but it’s been a copy place for about two years.”

Two years? How do two years slip past without me knowing it?

Then I looked over at the old North Beach Video shop. It’s now an upscale restaurant (I don’t even remember the name) and the video store moved into a much smaller space next door.

I started getting depressed. “My neighborhood is vanishing!” I thought, nervously sipping my drink and spooning in Minestrone for comfort. That sort of demoralized anxiety was setting in, until I really stopped, took a breath, and looked around.

There was Mark at the end of the bar playing liar’s dice with Leo. I met Leo not long after I’d moved, on a night much the same. Leo owns Vesuvio, the bar next door to City Lights. If you are familiar with the Beat Generation writers, then those names mean something to you.

Leo has lived in North Beach for a long time. I can’t quote how many years, but I’m guessing somewheres between forty and sixty. On that night way back then, Leo told me stories of North Beach. Told me how he used to own a coffee bar (in the first popular incarnation of coffee bars in America) and that he once paid Janis Joplin twenty bucks to play all night. I asked him questions about her with wide-eyed wonder, and he remembered her fondly, remembering her as “a little odd”. He told me about Jefferson Airplane. And Grace Slick (who’s long been a hero of mine). Told me they were good kids and he enjoyed them, but they drank too much.

This was amazing to me. A living history book. And last night, there he was again, taking everyone’s dice and beating ’em all, like usual.

As I continued to gaze around the restaurant, I spotted a favorite waitress and the guy who used to work the door at the Grant & Green. And Mark said “You need another, Karen?” and I nodded. And he served it right up because he takes good care of his customers.

And I relaxed. And smiled. And let out a little bit of the whole lotta stress I’ve got working me.

Because everything might change. This world moves too fast. Everything looks different when you turn around and look again. And in this fast pace world, sometimes you just know that certain places will remain enough the same to keep you sane, and that’s good enough for me.

(Don’t even get me started on my fair New Mexico and what the hell has happened to my beautiful Albuquerque. Oy! Guess it’s time to move somewhere new where I don’t remember what it “used to be,” and leave before I cross that same line again. Ah well, I love New Mexico. I love the Bay Area. And most of all, I love The Cute Boy™, and that is something that, good lord willing and the creeks don’t rise, will always be there, growing a little stronger every day)

What I did on my summer vacation.

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By Karen Fayeth

:)

Man oh man….back at work today after a most luverly week off. It took me three days to just relax enough to realize HOW MUCH I needed a vacation.

‘Course it took me three hours back at work to *forget* I ever had a vacation.

By 11:00 I’d already nervously eaten my packed lunch (I do tend toward emotional eating…something I did a lot less of last week when slings and arrows weren’t flying at me from all directions).

By noon I already had to ask someone to stop yelling at me. You know for one full week I never once had to ask someone to cease yelling at me? (Unless you count the meowling four-legged one who does get snippy when the bowl is empty…but that’s justified, IMHO.)

We’d originally planned a fairly elaborate road trip, which would have been wonderful, but at the last minute, my partner talked me into bagging the road trip and having a vacation at home. I was not thrilled about this at first, but he ended up being right (ssshhhh, don’t tell him, okay?)

We managed to get to “those things” on the home list that need to get done but never do. You know what I mean, little improvements to the living space that would be nice, but by the time the weekend rolls around everyone is too exhausted and running errands to even think about it? Right.

So we go those done.

We had a nice sit down breakfast every day.

Bikes were ridden.

Lots of good food was eaten….(I believe I’ve name checked Sodini’s here before….)

Sleep was had. Oh glorious lovely, beautiful, nourishing sleep!

We even played tourists a couple days. In the ten years I’ve lived here do you know I still hadn’t gotten around to walking on the Golden Gate Bridge? Driven over it a zillion times. Been to the fort below the bridge. Been on the Marin side and looked back and took photos, but never once actually walked over the bridge. So we did that. (Crappy iPhone photo at the bottom).

And I read…a bunch. Just for the joy of it. No contracts. No vast emails. Just, books, fiction, enjoyable. Watched some movies.

And mostly I reconnected with my partner. He and I have been running too far too fast. It was nice to just be together. To remember how nice it is to just be with each other. He’s still my favorite person to spend a day doin’ nothing with. For just the pleasure of his smile alone, it’s worth it all.

He took care of some much needed correspondence, I sent off some photos for a contest, and we let the days pace slowly by. God, it was wonderful.

Today I got stuck in a traffic jam on 101. Got to work and was set upon by my over caffeinated program manager, got buried in a mound of papers, and got yelled at.

*sigh*

Here we go again……..

My Happy Meal

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In one of those “I saw something and that gave me an idea for something else” moments, I was scanning the Albuquerque Tribune today and looked under the “Photos” heading where sometimes they have little “Viewfinder” vignettes with a cool black and white photo accompanying. Today there is a link with the title Viewfinder: His happy meal.

It’s a cute little story about a dog. But that’s not the point of this post.

Just reading that title in my stressed out work haste made me think about food, comfort food (it is my lunch hour, after all). I have been so tweaked out with work and personal issues that I have been eating a LOT, lately. Taking to fats and sweets and salty to try to make me feel better about a life that feels on the verge. It’s doing nothing to help my waistline and doing even less to improve my mood.

Nonetheless, as I sit here with rumbling in my tum, I had a thought upon reading that title “What meal would make me happy?” Kind of like a turn on “If you were on death row, what would be your last meal?”

My mom wasn’t that great a cook, so I don’t have a lot of “home cooked” stuff I could list. But let me take a stab at it.

If I had to eat a last meal and there were no space or calorie limitations on my tummy, here’s top ten what I’d have:

1) My best friend’s homemade chile rellenos. She makes them with chile grown by her uncle, the flavor is fantastic and she has just the right batter to make them light and delicious. Alongside her with her pressure cooked pinto beans, she makes the best beans, hands down.

2) Beef Lasagne from Sodini’s in San Francisco. And the seafood linguini…..

3) Fried Calamari from Caesar’s down near the Wharf in San Francisco. And the Minestrone….

4) The green chile chicken enchiladas with an egg and sour cream on top from Gardunos….and a couple margs…I love Gardunos mix. And the carne adovada……

5) Pretty much anything made by my brother-in-law, but his mashed potatoes rock my little world…….

6) My mom’s tortillas “back in the day”. She can’t put the finesse on ’em like she used to, but circa about when I was seven years old and we’d come home from Saturday Mass and she’d roll ’em out and I’d cook ’em on the griddle. Layer on marinated beef or game meat, cheese and you were off to the races……

7) Anything from Legal Sea Foods in Boston.

8) Hamburger. All of the following:
A green chile cheeseburger from Blakes.
A Whataburger.
A Fuddruckers hamburger circa 1986. (I went recently, it’s yucky now, but back then it was da bomb! ).
A carefully cooked thick burger over a campfire on a bun that *might* have a little sand or ash on it but who cares because you’ve been swimming in the lake/fishing/ hiking/ skiing all day and you are FAMISHED and besides you already ate two hotdogs……

9) My own chile con queso and chips

10) Huevos rancheros from this restaurant in Albuquerque that is now defunct and it will plague me all day until I can remember the name……

Honorable mention:

Biscuits hand made by the mom of my college roommate along with her homemade apricot jam….next to two farm fresh (I pulled ’em this morning) over easy fried eggs.

Homemade ice cream (my best friend’s recipe) and a couple of my homemade chocolate chip cookies

Anything from Chopies, Nopolitos or Sadies

An Owl Burger (the one in San Antonio, NM, not the Albuquerque location)

Pizza from New York City, preferably the borough of Brooklyn….

Anything from the Aqua Grill in SoHo.

A good old fashioned Polish buffet alongside my Midwest family in South Bend. Ah the fried chicken! And the sausages! And the saurkraut! : drool :

Crabs, lobsters and clams straight outta the pot by the pool at the home of my best friend from high school. Ah, those were good days…..

I’m sure there is a lot I’m missing, but that’ll do for now. I’m happy. And hungry.

: rumble :

Lime+Tequila+Triple Sec+salt+ice = love

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What’s a girl gotta do to get a good margarita in this town?

I moved from the great State of New Mexico about ten years ago. This Memorial Day, in fact, marks ten years ago. Oh how far I’ve come in lo these ten years. The span between 28 and 38 sometimes feels like a lifetime.

I was a wide-eyed innocent back in the day. I’ve become more cynical, less career driven and much, much calmer in these ten years. Not to say that wouldn’t have happened had I stayed in Albuquerque, but I think living in “the big city” has grown me up…a lot.

At first I wanted to throw off my New Mexico roots. I didn’t tell many people I was from there thinking it foreign and backward. The people I did mention it to said “oh, like Taos?” Good lord, if they only knew there was SO much more to the state than Taos. Or Santa Fe.

A lot of people in San Francisco have asked me about Santa Fe. I think the Madison Avenue advertisers have done a good job of hyping “the mystique”. I guess if you aren’t from there it’s all mysterious and stuff. For a local, it’s a tourist place. Locals avoid tourist places.

In order to help my fellow San Franciscans understand, I began to liken Santa Fe to Pier 39. I’d get a startled “oh!”, but they got it. I’d tell them there was much to see in a state that big that didn’t include Santa Fe or Taos. Then I’d drop this tidbit on them: you can’t fly into Santa Fe on any of the major airlines. That was usually enough to get them talking about something else.

But time has passed and I’ve gotten perspective on my state. Now I find I’m proud as hell of being from New Mexico, and I’ll shout it from the rooftops. My boss at work wears a USC shirt on most Fridays because it’s his alma mater and he’s very proud. So I got online and ordered up a nice crimson NMSU shirt and began wearing it on every Friday, grinning at him in staff meetings. Sadly he didn’t notice until I pointed it out…..

NMSU made it to the NCAA this year. Oh man, after years of looking at the Duke posters and brackets outside of my VP’s office (and my executive VP and the VP of the group I worked in a few years back) I was so damn proud to post up the wall outside my office with NMSU schwag this year.

I had a laugh when a group stood outside my office looking at the stuff and laughing about how they hadn’t heard of New Mexico State. I said, “hey, by the damn way, our Governor is running for President!” They looked at me with blank stares. I said “Bill Richardson” helpfully. The response was an appalling, “who?”

Bah!

But ok, I’ve gotten used to people thinking I’m from Arizona. I’ve gotten used to “oh Taos” being the answer to the statement “I’m originally from New Mexico” or jokes about a left turn at Albquerque. I’ve learned to deal.

What I’m still struggling with is the lack of good Mexican food around here. You’d think a state with a population of Latinos at or better than half would have some kicking Mexican food. You would be wrong. At least for the Northern part of the state. I lay no claims to the food down south not having spent enough time in research down there.

My loving partner thought he knew from good Mexican food until this past October when, on a road trip, I turned him on to the delights and joys of the fruits of Hatch, New Mexico.

But more than that…more than using tomatillos for the green in your salsa, more than finding *gasp* CARROTS in my fajitas, more than seeing low fat refrieds on my plate, the one thing I miss is a real good margarita.

It can’t be that hard, right? And yet it is. It’s all about the mix. Gardunos does it well, really well. My mouth is watering as I type…. Sadies also does a fine job. I think one of the best margs I ever had was in Juarez at Señor Frogs (I don’t think it’s still open at that location). It was great because it was fresh squeezed lime juice, a bit of sugar, and tequila. All nice and unmessed with. Fresh and oh so delicious.

You should taste the crap I have to put up with around here. It’s unnatural! It makes a homesick girl want to cry.

Now there is a LOT of food that the Bay Area does REALLY well, (I’m talking to you Peter and Mark Sodini), but so far…Mexican food isn’t one of them.

Don’t EVEN get me started on guacamole. Avocado, lime juice, tiny bit of cilantro, tomatoes. THAT’S IT!

Why’s it gotta be so hard?

Sigh, sometimes it doesn’t pay to be an expatriate New Mexican…..