Chinese Food — San Francisco
The first night Elkannah had dim sum in a dive the size of his living room that included the kitchen, two “big tables” with four people, two small tables with two people, and four tiny tables seating two tiny people. This was fire code close spacing of the tables. This was Urban Mainland China Chinese interpersonal space close. You could touch your neighbor’s elbow without much effort.
Elkannah was the only person in there who was not speaking Chinese of some dialect or another.
The owner rather enjoyed Elkannah. He called Elkannah up (YOU and waving of cooking tongs) a couple of times to try this or that sweet dumpling. There were no labels in English. It was grab and eat. When Elkannah was ladling hot sauce on his plate, the owner tapped the side of the steamer with a metal spoon and held his fingertips close together to indicate Little Little. It was not Hot Hot enough to justify Little Little. It was just hot enough to need a little, not much.
Elkannah met a former coworker for Korean. Chris found a place also the size of a living room with four tables. They were the only people speaking English. One of the customers was a Buddhist priest coming in for a pick up order. It is always good to see a Holy Man in your restaurant. If it is good enough for God’s direct reports, it’s good enough for you.
The kimchee was very good, smothered in cayenne pepper paste.
Elkannah’s favorite coffee shop is a small place down the street, about the size of a small living room with no tables but a counter running along the outside wall. The owner and two other women work in a full kitchen with countertops, ovens, microwaves, and sinks. In the morning they are making to-go salads for the day. These nestle close, covering every square inch of counter space.
A second cook lines up three-egg omelets in plastic containers, bowls. They put a top on them and store them in the refrigerator to pull out and cook when needed. They have done this business enough that they can forecast demand for each type of omelet. She makes one set of omelets, then the next set, and stores them in a designated part of the refrigerator so the person cooking can just grab one and pour it onto the stovetop.
The owner talks to a customer about traveling to Italy. She prefers to travel alone. Her husband and children did not want to learn Italian, but they expect her to translate whenever they go to Italy. She has had enough. She has solved this problem by going to Hawaii. She does not have to translate, and she has fun, sun, and ocean.
San Francisco Girl with a fish bag — Elkannah saw a teenage Asian girl with a fishing pole, a deep large red plastic bag, and two fish longer than your forearm and almost as long as your outstretched arm. The fish were in the bag, but the heads poked out of one end, and the fish tails, as long as your forearm and outstretched hand, were pointing out of the other end of the bag. She was on the phone.
“I need someone to pick me up, I caught some fish.”
“I can’t take them on the bus ….”
The person on the other end of the phone did not realize the size of the fish, or did not care. There was a bus in her future and a fish tail in somebody’s lap.
The Uniform Makes the Man
Elkannah has been three things this trip out.
One night, wearing his Hawaiian shirt, he became a Stocker at the Trader Joe’s. Elkannah was walking in empty-handed, no basket, nothing because he only wanted a bag of apples. A guy came up to Elkannah and asked “Where’s the blah blah?” Elkannah knew where the blah blah was, so led him there. At the blah blah the lack of a name tag and a baseball cap protecting his bald head ruled Elkannah out as a Stocker.
“You are not a stocker?”
“No, I am not, but I knew where the blah blah was.”
One night, walking on Polk Street, Elkannah was a Crazy. Elkannah had two cards, a post card with a business address and a real card, in one hand. As he walked after dark, the wind whipped the post card out of his hand. A young woman carrying two loaded Whole Foods grocery bags saw a bearded guy in an untucked Hawaiian Shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers suddenly fold at the waist and whip around for no apparent reason.
While Elkannah might now be facing backwards he was now facing the direction she was traveling. It might be a troll preparing to grasp her at the waist as she crossed the bridge.
Without missing a beat she shot up the street, jumped into an apartment building entrance, beside Elkannah but out of reach, bounced out of the entrance and around Elkannah, again out of his reach; then shot up the hill in darkness. She just vanished like a ghost after bouncing out of reach the second time, and she did not lose a grocery.
On the final flight Elkannah was Airplane Steward. A group of Filipino nuns [was] traveling on the second leg of Elkannah’s flight. As they boarded the plane, Elkannah passed out apples. Nuns have no money, and airports are expensive. Elkannah then ran to give granola bars to the nuns. As nuns, taking turns, passed back from the plane’s bathroom, he issued handfuls of almonds, saying “Use two hands, Sister.” When Elkannah carried the remaining almonds up to the nuns who had not gone to the bathroom, one of the senior nuns said “You have a blue shirt, but you do not work for the airline.” Right on, Sister. Elkannah was just trying to get some brownie points with God by feeding his direct reports.
Arbetter’s — Miami
Arbetter’s is a hot dog joint in a low-rent district. It has two things, hot dogs and fries. If you want anything else, you have to leave. Mike grew up on Arbetter’s Hot Dogs. He was loath to take Elkannah because the Yelp reviews were less than stellar. Elkannah’s question was “Is this going to be our last meal?” His follow up question was “If it is our last meal, will it be our main concern when we are standing at the Pearly Gates?”
Drink refills are $0.25 unless you shout, “I Love Larry Bird!” Larry Bird Sports Memorabilia is all over the place. Since Elkannah had worked in French Lick, Indiana, Elkannah was a good guy, and he would not have to shout for a refill.
Latin Grill — Miami
Latin Grill used to be a really gritty Cuban restaurant in a dicey neighborhood. Now it is a gritty Cuban restaurant in a dicey neighborhood. Mamey shakes are made from the mamey fruit — some type of pink-meat fruit with an English name everyone agreed was wrong. No one agrees what the fruit should be called in English, but they all knew Google was WRONG.
The waitresses speak some English. The word “Hello,” said with conviction, is frequently the only English word they have. However, they can say it with conviction, and they can smile in a charming manner.
Adrian, with a Venezuelan dad, always gets bombarded with Spanish and looks like a possum in the head lights.
Elkannah gets the waitress’ concerned smile until he launches into very bad Spanglish.
Mike just blasts away in Cuban Spanish. Cubans cannot say the last letter of any word in Spanish. You can put a gun to any Cuban’s head, and they cannot say the last letter. Cubans claim they aspirate the final letter of any word.
Good-looking Tom has no idea what has been said, but smiles, and asks “What do I need to do?” Order your food, eat, be happy. Tom can do all those things. They have fried sweet plantains, and Tom orders a side order, receives a heaping mound of sweet plantains, and is happy, very happy. They have excellent sweet plantains, and Tom is happy, and he shares, and everyone is happy. Adrian’s arm seemed to stretch, like Stretch Armstrong, to fork sweet plantains across the table and people’s faces. Adrian really likes sweet plantains.
The Persian Grill needs to better train its waiters. The customers arrived at 11:45 a.m.; the buffet starts at noon. The waiter did not mention this. Elkannah and his coworkers found this by looking at a flier in the window. They were able to cancel their orders just in time and then go for the buffet.
The buffet was very nice. It included dill rice, saffron basmati rice, plain rice, chicken skewers, kibbi (flavored meat grilled on a long thick steel skewer), spinach, kidney beans and a gravy, lentils, and chicken curry. They were the only people not speaking Farsi in the place until a Persian guy brought in four people he worked with. He gave a long dissertation on Persian food and the fact it was “not spicy just flavorful.”
This place caters to the second generation. These are the young guys born in the U.S. who speak Farsi but are culturally American.
It also draws Iranians who hail from the South near Iraq. They keep sumac on the table, more an Arab spice mixture than a Persian one.
Kebab Shiraz is down the street from the hotel. Momma cooks, daddy cooks, and son waits tables. They are from northern Iran. The place is decorated with photos of the mountains. They have post cards of the mountains and the area near the Caspian Sea. This is the place with the Old Guard Iranians: all the old guys with gray hair, no hair, and nostalgia for a place that is home no more.
Momma loved Elkannah, serving him okra cooked in a gelatinous sauce that was a cross between an Indian/Turkish curry and Mexican mole. Dark brown and loaded with cinnamon and goodness, it also had mutton. Mutton is usually nasty, but this was good.
Momma also prepares a chow chow, for lack of a better term, unimpeded by health inspectors, and sells it in unlabeled jars. Elkannah did not buy any of this. He forgot, but he really wanted it.
Sergeant Smith’s Wife’s Korean Grocery used to make kimchee without benefit of health inspectors, and it was great. This had the same look: plain glass jars, no price, tucked behind and beside the other products.
Rincon Argentina is a cross between gaucho beef and Buenos Aires Italian dishes. The restaurant offers two distinct flavors, reflected in two distinct sides to the menu. The Italian/Argentine gnocchi were wonderful with a nice thick meat sauce made with Argentine chorizo — firmer and less greasy than Mexican chorizo, but not as firm or dry as Spanish chorizo.
The place is loaded with Argentines talking Italian purporting to be Spanish. Argentina was flooded with Italian immigrants who hijacked the language. It may be written in Spanish, but it is spoken in Italian.
An acquaintance of Elkannah’s worked as a Spanish translator during the British/Argentine War. She was dragged into a listening post and told to translate. Her first response was “this is not Spanish.” She had to figure it out fast. Italian, Castilian Spanish, and Galician Spanish, for flavor, dropped in a blender and served rapidly, make Argentine Spanish.
Versailles is one of the old-line Cuban restaurants. Here the Old Cubans and the Hard Liners hang out. Here there is good food, and the talk is hard line anti–communist, hard-line, anti-Castro. Whenever, some interaction occurs with the U.S. and Cuba, all the TV crews go to Versailles. There will be protests, fueled, some say, with free Cuban coffee, and lots of really good “the world is ending”-type sound bites.
A Peruvian place near the bank has posters of famous Afro-Peruvian singers. Most are these black women with names like La Negra (The Black One) or La Parda (The Brown One). It also features political posters from the guerrilla war against La Sendera Luminosa (The Shining Path).
The place was chock full of Peruvians. Elkannah wished his Spanish were better and his knowledge of Peruvian history broader. There were some very serious cultural and political overtones to the decorations.
The food was great. Stephanie took one for the team and came out to lunch with them although it was not Subway that day. She ate and complained the whole time. She complained all day about the food, that it was not Subway.
David’s analysis: “She comes to Miami and drinks Starbucks. She does not go to the Cuban Starbucks (close to work); she goes to the Hotel Starbucks (far from work). It is like she is afraid of us (Cubans, Spanish Speakers, Immigrants, Non-Long Island WASPs).”
Elkannah then noticed she did not do the café con leche runs. Stephanie eats Subway for lunch and has a hooker’s dinner: she eats free bar food at the hotel and goes back to the room to watch cable.
Café Con Leche
The bank building has a little cafeteria/coffee shop, where Elkannah’s coworkers go for café con leche at 7, 10, and 2. The father, son, and male employee all speak English. Momma does not speak English. She is a fun little fire plug wearing a Miami (Cuban hat).
Momma loves Elkannah — “Elkannah speeka da bad Spanglish.” Momma loves Elkannah — he brings 2–5 guys for café con leche. Momma loves Elkannah — he buys the young lady security guard café con leche just like she likes it. The young security guard loves Elkannah — he buys her café con leche, and she lets him in the building early.
Momma loves David — “He Good Cuban Boy with Strong Good Cuban Boy Accent.” Momma loves Tom — “He tall dark and handsome,” and Elkannah translates English into Bad Spanglish for Tom.
Momma makes Adrian speak Spanish. Adrian has a good Spanish name, and he looks like a Good Cuban Boy. Therefore, as far as Momma is concerned, “Adrian he needs to speak the Spanish and act like Good Cuban Boy.” Elkannah named Adrian “El Bebe” because he takes sugar in his café con leche. Momma loved “El Bebe” because Adrian does not look like El Bebe. Adrian is a young, thick, muscular Iraqi war vet who jokes he does security at work. Momma just loves “El Bebe” in a bouncer’s body.
Mrs. Alfaro’s Yard
Mrs. Alfaro has a green thumb. She has a big custard fruit tree in the back yard which bore three custard fruit this year. In Cuba lives a little bitty wasp that can fit down the narrow neck of a small flower with a bulbous base to fertilize the plant. Florida does not have this wasp, so fertilization is haphazard.
She has an avocado and numerous papaya trees. Mrs. Alfaro can cast a handful of papaya seeds in the yard and next week has a span of seedlings fanning across the arc of her arm’s casting.
Mike has a favorite Trinidadian place, a narrow store front with six tables and the smell of happiness.
They had the potato roti. The roti bread is covered in a split pea flour, then a chick pea potato stew is ladled in, and a spray of habanero sauce flavors the mix before it is rolled up into a sort of burrito of happiness.
The owner remembered Mike because he was a regular. Also because Mike only brought women to the restaurant, and a different woman each time. Elkannah was his first male guest. Mike claimed they were all women who went to school with him, and had a class nearby, and needed some good food.
The owner was talking to Mike about how it is “good to settle down and only eat home cooking” — a very thinly veiled metaphor for marriage and fidelity. His first question was about Mike being settled down. Then it came: “It is good to eat home cooking. You never get tired of home cooking. No matter how long the day or hard the day there is nothing like home cooking. It is comfort for you, especially as you age. Home cooking is the best.”
As they got ready to leave they talked some more, and the owner talked about how we only have good or bad behavior through our life. We have to choose because there are only those two choices. We will determine our life by these behaviors.
Orangenta is an upscale restaurant where Mike would take his dates. It was designed to impress dates, and it impressed Elkannah as well, a really nice restaurant with an orange theme running throughout the restaurant. There are paintings of orange tree limbs on the wall, a screen with orange tree limbs.
The plates say Orangenta and have the orange motif around their rim.
It offers upscale cuisine, inspired by but not capturing the rough edges of spices. You may order a [jerk] Cornish hen priced at its weight in silver. It is not gold, but it is not copper either.
The waitresses are seen but not heard. They gave Mike and Elkannah a broad berth since they seemed to be talking business. They were correct, in a manner, because the men were talking about Mike’s career and how he would have to move. Atlanta, at his level, is a great place to be from. Miami is the next logical step on the way to New York City.
Q Café is a nice restaurant, an upscale diner but not crazy pricey. The food has such good flavor, well cooked, that the price is not bad.
The turkey melt is sliced turkey, good deli meat, pulled turkey breast chunks, sautéed red onions and green peppers, gouda cheese, encased in good bread, cooked with butter on a grill: a calorie and cholesterol bomb, but delicious.
They serve this with a steaming, burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth-hot Brunswick stew made with turkey breast chunks, lima beans, corn, potato, and other veggies. It is good.
Elkannah thinks either the husband or the wife did the hiring because several of the waitresses look the same. Same color hair — light black to dark brown; same facial structure — thin faces with big eyes; same body type — thin, long-legged, long-trunked women.
The question is: Is this the husband’s dream, and he has his own little visual harem? Or the husband’s nightmare, and the wife has her own little dog pound to keep him at home?
George and Lucas’, Cheech and Chong’s, Happy and Go Lucky’s
This place has two names, names that go together, and a sign proclaiming “Famous for Greek Salad.” The Greek Salad is good; everyone swears by it. The four women in the table behind Elkannah’s friends were nothing but elbows, jaws, and Greek Salad.
However, John Boy (Johnnie B Good Boy) wanted two things: “Crab Cakes. Fried Green Tomatoes.” For a boy from West Virginia, he can find some crab cakes. Fried Green Tomatoes would be his cultural bailiwick. Crab cakes are just not a West Virginia treat. The Fried Green Tomatoes are cut thin and breaded heavy. There is as much spiced breading on one side as there is tomato in the middle. They would have been better only if they had been fried in bacon grease.
The front of the restaurant has the Greek Orthodox Christ Icons. Two Christs watch over the restaurant, one on the wall and a second on the baker’s rack with the family photos. The baker’s rack is a shrine to Greek culture, Greek products, Greek people, and family business — Dad’s business, the restaurant, and the daughter’s business, an organic farm. They also sell organic honey — very organic at that price.
They use Greek bees, brought over on [H-1B] visas, since they could not find any domestic bees to do the work. The honey costs must cover immigration legal work, ads for domestic bees, flight for Greek bees, housing for Greek bees, phone calls home for homesick Greek bees.
Bourbon is at least a seven-year crop. [Distillers] must age the bourbon in oak barrels for seven years. The distillers know they have to predict demand at least seven years in the future. When they are wrong they have lots of bourbon to sell at a discount. If they underestimate then they can raise the prices. They also tend to have deep capital.
Pecans are a ten-year crop. Ten years must pass before the trees bear any real yield. They may yield some pecans in year eight or nine, but it is not much. Pecan farmers have less capital and are more at the mercy of nature.
Hot dry summers with cold winters make good bourbon. These may make dead trees.
At this moment the Japanese are some of the largest bourbon consumers in the world; the Chinese are the largest consumers of pecans. They love pecans for Chinese New Year’s celebrations. Will these two markets stay strong, and will these two products continue to sail west in the same ships, or will there be divergence? Who knows?
Rule of Thumb
Rules are rules. Know when to break them, know when to break them, and know when to ignore them. Rules of thumb are stronger than other rules. Theirs is a rule that exists, they are right the vast majority of the time, and ignore them at your peril.
Rules of Barbeque
A BBQ Joint’s name has to have:
- A first name and/or
- A family name and/or
- A nickname
Elkannah knows these rules. He invented these rules. These are immutable. Most of the Ten Commandments have exceptions. These do not.
Grillin and Chillin is a BBQ joint. It smelled like heaven. It smelled like love. Even the takeout menu smelled like heaven. Elkannah passed the menu around for others to smell as evidence of BBQ goodness. Elkannah and the others went to Grillin and Chillin. It was the same great smell, the same fat, smiling, happy griller. It was marginal food.
The best line of the week was “Grillin and Chillin, I been there twice, my first and last time.” Elkannah did not think of this. The others bandied it about.
Super Uber Coffee Machine
The Coffee House is the home of the Super Uber Coffee Machine. The coffee shop was first established by an ex-convict who could not find a job. He started this coffee shop to provide opportunities for convicts and show them the love of God.
The coffee shop and the ministry have since been separated. The coffee shop is a technological wonder. It features an espresso machine which weighs the espresso in the cup on a digital scale, to three decimal places. The steamer has a thermostat which ensures the water is the correct temperature as it passes through a precisely weighed espresso. The barista can control the temperature, to three decimal places, as it passes through the espresso.
Another station makes coffee one step at a time. The filter is first weighed to three decimal places. Then the coffee is added and weighed to three decimal places. The paper cone is loaded in a special glass carafe which weighs the carafe and content to three digital places. …. The water flow is measured to three decimal places on another screen.
The coffee carafe, [at] the precise weight, is removed from the scale and the coffee is allowed to flow through the filter into the carafe’s bowl. The coffee is then poured into the cup.
A tremendous amount of technology and precision go into a bad-tasting cup of coffee. These machines are one of two sets outside of Germany. The other lives in Melbourne, Australia. How did small-town Georgia get chosen for this machine?
The coffee guy waiting on us is the “Nose.” He chooses the raw coffee; roasts the coffee; grinds the coffee; and makes a cup of coffee for testing the roast.
The Nose extracts water in a measured syringe. He has to have a precise amount of water. He has a set amount of coffee. He puts the coffee in the water and then shines a reflectometer (maybe some other XXXXXmeter). The Nose needs to know that the coffee is 1.333 per cent solids to 98.667 per cent water. Per some brilliant technical treatise this is the perfect cup of coffee. All the machinery above is to ensure that the water/coffee mix is perfect at the perfect temperature.
Per the Nose, the coffee is well known per the various coffee blogs and one of the top four in the U.S. competing with Chicago’s Intelligencia, in spirit, since their markets do not overlap. Elkannah has drunk Intelligencia Coffee, and this is no Intelligencia Coffee.
This is coffee for 8 a.m. because Alicia looks like Ricky Raccoon because she did not sleep well. This is 2 p.m. coffee because Elkannah wants to walk around. This is 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. coffee because there is nowhere else to get coffee.
The technology cannot overcome bad coffee selection, bad coffee roasting, and bad coffee taste.
Elkannah did not have the heart to tell the Nose that Super Uber is not a brand. It is just two superlatives jammed together that impress the locals. Elkannah has been to Miami: it takes more than two dramatic superlatives, in two languages, to impress him. It would take three superlatives, and the third one would have to be in a third language, something like “Bon Super Uber” or “Tres Chic Super Uber.”
Slices is a New York-style, by-the-slice pizza joint in Griffin, Georgia. It is foldable, thin-crust, hand-tossed pizza. The baker stretches the dough ball and starts to toss it in the air. Sitting on the second floor, Elkannah would periodically see a cream colored line or some other shape in his peripheral vision. Once they went down stairs to pay the bill, he saw the guy tossing the pizza crust ten feet in the air. It provided quite a show as the crust swooped up over the balcony and back down to the baker.
Leon’s is a [barbecue] house established in the middle of a subdivision before there were zoning laws. The house has expanded with a porch and picnic tables in front and an insulated but unplanked freezer and planked but unenclosed addition in the back, peeling paints of three different colors with some readily apparent pattern.
The sign in the BBQ joint gives the hours with an asterisk by the closing time. By the asterisk it says, “Or until the old man decides to go home.” The owners are an old couple, and she sounds like a Vietnamese war bride. It is just another little quirk in a small town in Georgia.
The hot BBQ sauce was hot but thin. Alicia wanted a thicker, sweeter hot sauce. This had a pinch to it, it pinched your tongue, but was like chunky water pinching as it went down.
Nanyan, originally from India, still has to eat his food with a knife and fork. He just cannot get over the psychological hurdle of grabbing a rib and gnawing it down to the bone. How long does someone have to live in Georgia before [jettisoning] manners? Fingers are tools. They are built-in, portable tools, but tools.
If everyone else on the picnic tables outside this joint has a dusting of dirt, mud, or grease on their bib overalls, Dickey’s, or blue jeans and is plowing through ribs with dirty fingers, then he can use clean fingers to run some bones. Since we are the only white shirts in the place, we do not need another thing marking us as outsiders. Gnaw, Elkannah says. Gnaw them ribs.
They went to a family place that began as a family restaurant run by Greeks. Traces of Greece remain on the menu and in the cake case, among trays of baklava.
However, the new owners are not Greek, they are Hispanic. There are lots of Juans, Marias, and Joses. The cashier was an Erika with a Georgia drawl and an indigenous face. When the locals closed their eyes and listened they heard down home and CMT. When they opened their eyes they saw she could have been a contestant in the Miss Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, etc. She was not the local pasty white or black.
The town has one coffee shop. It serves as the study hub for students from Thomas College, salesroom for local artists, advertising fliers for local craftsmen, and source for caffeine. They understand caffeine. Elkannah had a medium latte two days in a row at 2:30. The third day the manager looked at him and said “You know it’s three shots [of espresso].” The large is four shots, designed to make the students go zoom-zoom, and the milk cuts some of the bite of the espresso.
Mr. Fred is an institution. He is an old dark-skinned black man with a peppered salt moustache and hair, wearing ironed khaki pants, khaki socks, tan shoes, tan belt, nice short-sleeve plaid shirt, black suspenders, and a straw fedora. Mr. Fred walks the commercial district slowly all day. He is surveying the crowd, the new goods in the windows, the new chalkboard tents advertising goods and services.
Before lunch he is in the only coffee shop in town sitting alone. He greets all who make eye contact. He sits alone bouncing one leg and then the other. He holds no real long-term conversations, but rather recycles the same conversation with new people as they line up for coffee.
About two in the afternoon Mr. Fred is back again, but no longer in the prime real estate next to the coffee line. He is off to the side closer to the milk and sugar, bouncing his legs.
After dinner, Mr. Fred occupies the prime real estate by the coffee line, bouncing one leg and then the other. The clientele has changed and is in its final iteration, now rich white kids going to Thomas University. The barista will come forth and say “Mr. Fred, Miss XXXX would like to buy you a coffee. Would you care for it now or later?” If now then he gets a coffee and thanks the donor. If later, and the donor has fronted the cash, then the barista makes a note for a future coffee. In either case the offer is acknowledged, and social obligations have been met.
The barista did not recognize the turn of phrase “Mr. Fred is a local institution.” Her response: “We had one of those places years ago, but he was not from there. We have other people who were from there. Mr. Fred keeps to himself. Mr. Fred makes ready friends. Mr. Fred is a nice guy who just likes to sit alone.” She did not seem to notice the inconsistencies within this narrative.
The barista then explained they do have people from the institution. One of them comes in with bobby pins through his ear. He is not nice and has almost been thrown out for being a jerk.
She missed the realization that Mr. Fred is the only black person consistently in the main street business/tourist district. There is only one black employee in the front of the house in one business, the coffee shop. None of the other businesses here have black employees. One of the major restaurants, several streets off the main street/tourist route, has one black employee in the front of the house. Walmart, Dollar Tree, the banks, the car dealerships, and every business on the bypass, by contrast, [have] black employees in the front of the house.
Black people do business on [the] main street. They are going to the courthouse to register vehicles, pay taxes, rezone property, etc. They are just not in the higher-end commercial zone.
The Spot is a family-friendly, air-conditioned hamburger joint sporting five different themed bars. Each bar has its own limited booze menu and a limited supply of fans — designed to keep people hot and thirsty.
Elkannah’s trainees wanted the tequila joint, [veggie] burgers, and [48-ounce] margaritas with upside down bottled beers inserted into the margaritas — think slowly about that food and booze combination. They would drink down the margarita and pull out the beer bottle injecting beer into the margarita. They seemed to think this was health food — vegetable (tequila), fruit (lime), wheat (beer), and vegetables (veggie burger with lettuce and tomato). Veggie burgers cover and correct a multitude of sins.
South Georgia Mennonites
South Georgia Mennonites look like Indiana and Illinois Mennonites. They are blond-haired and blue-eyed Swiss-German-looking women. They wear ankle-length polyester dresses, black ankle socks, and sensible shoes. However, they do not sound like Northern Mennonites. They speak with a Southern drawl, with no trace of a German accent. The Indiana and Illinois Mennonites have just a tiny hint of a German accent because they still speak German at home. These women may speak German at home, but the accent, if it exists, is lost in a Georgia drawl.
The mother, three daughters, and a son work at the restaurant — the son, only if no farm chores await and no one needs other help. The sisters are joined by two other young women. They have a daily special, salads, paninis, and wraps.
Monday features hamburgers with baked beans or potato salad. A country boy cooks burgers on the sidewalk, with the smoke wafting out into the street, calling customers.
Tuesday’s special is braised pork chops with a black pepper and sweet syrup glaze served with green bean casserole and rice.
Wednesday’s is poppy seed chicken, green beans, and rice.
Thursday brings meat loaf and a sweet barbeque glaze, macaroni and cheese, creamed corn, or butter beans.
Thursday night is pizza night — Mennonite Pizza. German Swiss Pizza actually was very good. They took over an old Italian restaurant, so they have pizza ovens and an espresso machine. Well, they had an espresso machine, but you cannot fix one of those with baling wire, so it is still broken.
One of the Mennonite women is wild. She wears a full length skirt and a T-shirt with the restaurant’s name, rather than an ankle-length dress. She also wears a wedding band and has pierced ears. One day she even wore dangly earrings. None of the other Mennonite women have any jewelry, and none of them have pierced ears. Elkannah bets she gave her mom HECK growing up.
Elkannah got some of that good Mennonite love. They like Elkannah more than anyone else. Elkannah and three other employees went for the Thursday Special. Two of them ordered double macaroni and cheese and no butterbeans. Elkannah had mac & cheese with butterbeans. Elkannah’s plate came out first, just heaping mounds of mac and cheese. The other two employees’ double orders were about two-thirds of Elkannah’s single order.
When the waitress left, Elkannah explained. “I am the favorite. They love me. They do not love you.” This is because Elkannah brought them business every day. There were 1–4 people for coffee at 9:30. There were 1–4 people for lunch. Elkannah’s order was the same every day — “Special, Sweet Tea, Water.” Then there were 1–4 people for coffee at 2:30.
Elkannah also saved them money. If the other employees were going to use a debit card to pay for coffee, then Elkannah paid for both orders with cash. Elkannah also lectured the employees about unnecessary transaction costs and death by a thousand cuts. Those Mennonites loved that lower transaction cost.
Xian — New York City
Xian is a Western Chinese noodle restaurant. This is not the Southern and Eastern Chinese restaurant found in the U.S. and Europe. This is Muslim Chinese and northern Chinese fare. Elkannah was one of two Mzungu (Swahili for European) in the place. He was sitting alone reading; the other Mzungu was with his Chinese girlfriend. They were the only three native English speakers in the place.
The restaurant has all instructions in English and Mandarin. The instructions are to the point: Order your food, find a seat, and sit. Do not sit then order food. If there are no seats, then your order becomes takeout. Take Out. A narrow hallway with a standing bar offers a single alternative if you cannot find a seat and do not want to do takeout. However, it is very narrow, and they expect you to feed and fly.
Elkannah was sitting there, minding his own business, reading Conan the Barbarian when a young lady asked if the space was taken. It was not taken, but there was no seat. The seats are all wooden stools painted utilitarian dark brown. She hauled over a seat and started talking to him. Now four people spoke English in the place. However, she was originally from Shanghai and went to Northern Iowa. She told him she was the advertising manager for a hedge fund. They talked about Nicholas Nassim Taleb, and Elkannah gave her a reading list with his works, since Taleb ran and runs hedge funds. Elkannah told this would help her understand the quants in the office. At the end she wanted to know if he was in Linked In or some other social media. She enjoyed their talk and would like to have more books to read.
Last night at Xian Elkannah saw a group of three Chinese Barbies. How did he know they were Chinese? The signs in Xian are Chinese and English. The Barbies talked to the cashier in Chinese, and she answered in English. How did he know they were Barbies? They were acting like a pack of Blonde Tri-Delts from the University of Kentucky. They could have been U.K. Tri-Delts, except they were not Blonde WASPs.
Elkannah does not mind Barbies unless he is hungry and they are causing problems. The first problem had to do with the fact that the entrance is about 3.5 feet square, with nine people in this area, and more people lined out the door. The Barbies could not make up their minds what they wanted with all these people in line. They dithered back and forth about orders, who would pay, and how. Please see business model above for more information.
Xian was taking a food delivery as Elkannah came in. Four men hauled things to the back, and two guys hauled things to the delivery van driven by last night’s cashier, who was shouting encouragement in Chinglish — like Spanglish but using Chinese. One of the Barbies got in the narrow walkway going back to the dining area. She moved back and forth, blocking the walkway. Then another Barbie yelled, “Look out, Barbie!” Elkannah guessed this was the cry because it was Chinese. She froze in the center, fully plugging the entrance. Then Barbie realized she was the bottleneck, so she turned sideways — not good enough because the delivery cart was too wide. Then she tried to climb over the delivery cart rather than walking back to the dining room out of the way. The guy with the delivery cart was not happy with Barbie’s high heels climbing over cases of food.
Once the Barbies got to the dining room they brought a different set of problems. They wanted three seats together – not available at the moment. Then they blocked the hallway to the front, where people took the orders. Once they found seats — much drama and estrogen-fueled chatter — they could not pick up their order. The crier called their order numbers — they were seven, six, and five people [ahead of] Elkannah; therefore, they were numbers 46, 47, and 48. The crier called the number, and no movement. The next order was up no movement, the next order was up — no movement. Elkannah was standing by the window — no seat for him yet — so he looked at them and repeated the number. No movement. Finally the cashier from the previous night strode with purpose to the kitchen, caught his eye, and bellowed the first number. For such a little thing, she could project her voice. Elkannah thought she might be an evolutionary freak with lungs from … tailbone to throat. The bellowed number got one of the Barbies moving and started to clear the kitchen window.
Three Barbies are just as destructive and disruptive as a 200-pound drunk hillbilly. They just jam up the works. However, they do not look dangerous.
Xian Business Model
Elkannah loves these people. They take cash, cash, and cash. It is really easy: CASH. The Barbies were arguing about credit cards. They take CASH, CASH, and CASH. Come on, Barbie, get a move on.
They also do not use pennies. The prices are discounted down to the nearest nickel.
- The price rings up.
- The tax is added.
- If the number does not end in zero or five, then it is rounded down to zero or five.
This makes the cash drawer easier. It also speeds up the transaction. There is one less variable, three possible coins rather than four coins. Elkannah assumes they pay the full tax, but they reduce their income by the pennies.
Since their model is turning tables, this fraction of a second making change matters. The place is utilitarian and clean. They want the customer sitting, eating, leaving.
A sign by the cash register tells the customers to verify their change. Once a customer steps away from the register, the transaction is complete — there are no claims of inaccurate change.
Mzungu (European in Swahili)
Elkannah has studied a small sample, but thus far is usually the only Mzungu without a Chinese significant other or coworker. All the other Mzungu are with a Chinese date looking lovingly at their [faces], or [with] a coworker talking shop. There is a ledge for standing and dining in the hallway going back to the dining room. Mzungu will stand there and eat, but they do not usually go back and sit in the dining room on a stool with a short ledge serving as a table. The stools are packed tight. This is not American interpersonal space. This is fire code personal space, literally fire code interpersonal space. Elkannah eats. He reads. Someone sits within one to six inches of his elbow. Mzungu do a brisk carryout.
Noodles at Xian were developed by the Xiughur, linguistically a Turkic-speaking people in the western part of China. They have all kinds of good food. Elkannah just works his way down the menu every time he comes. The Chinese are always surprised when he douses a salad with black vinegar. It is good and tart and makes any salad better.
His favorite NYC Lesbian no longer works there, or she is working at one of the other locations. He was sad not to see her. She always has a fun book, and she is usually going out on a date after work. He always wanted to see what her girlfriends looked like. He thinks they would have been cutesy femmes or … serious bull dykes. He just sees Pink Frill or Black Leather in her life. He does not see a Plain Jane — she just did not seem like a Plain Jane kind of gal. However, she might have been the bad girl and had a Plain Jane.
Elkannah was in line with 1,000,000 of his best Chinese friends when two German guys came by and started speaking German. He listened to them for some time. They were chattering like parrots, and one of them pointed at Elkannah like, “see, white people eat this, too.” He looked at them and said, “Sehr gut” with two thumbs up. This led to a wall of German to which he said “Ich habe kein Deutsch!” They went to English with a strong German accent. He told them it was very good, and they would be a linguistic minority. Since there were only two of them, they were already a linguist minority in NYC.
The Senegalese place was good but not much to look at. The owner presided with his son. Elkannah’s coworkers had the only big table in the place. The young ones stopped to get wine for dinner. Elkannah was not sure this was a good idea since the Senegalese market attached to the restaurant has Halal meat. The website, per the youngsters, said BYOB, so they did. The owner could not find his corkscrew, so he sent his brother out to get one.
One of the trainees, Miao, is Chinese, and she had been to the Senegalese place and loved it because the fish came with the head on. Kristen could not take having Miao’s fish looking at her, so she and Riley traded places.
The class is a dozen people. They are either young, just out of college, or adults. The young ones look young. They have two veterans. Elkannah was talking to one of the veterans, Mark, and he said has not been able to sleep well since Afghanistan. It also seems like his life has been a divorce and series of women he lived with since he got out of the Army. However, he used his divorce from his wife to motivate him to complete his college degree and get a better job.
There are two Kentucky boys who are very pro-U.K. Very, very Kentucky. It is not the good side of Kentucky at all times. Elkannah has this feeling they bought into the whole caste and class thing. The one guy from Lebanon has his needlework belt with U.K. in the center of it. It was just so preppy, so frat boy. Elkannah knows he may be pigeonholing them, but they are on his radar screen as possible trouble.
Riley was talking about the unrest in Kiev, Ukraine. The government sent a text to everyone demonstrating in a square that they [were] part of an unauthorized protest and the authorities [had] been notified. They used the cell phone towers in the area to send the text to just those phones in the area. They also used the cell phone towers in the area to collect all the phone numbers: very 1984. It also makes you wonder what the NSA can do. If the Ukrainians can do that, what has the NSA developed? However, this is a not a democracy, and it is veering toward dictatorship. The politics of dictatorship is to use technology to spy on your own people. They seem to develop a means to use technology to spy on everyone. The Stasi built microphones into new houses so the secret police could listen to people whenever they wanted. Therefore the Ukrainians may be ahead of the NSA on domestic surveillance. The NSA would not view that technology as a worthwhile use of its time and resources since it has to spy on the world.
The Dominican restaurant sits in front of a D-class hotel. The hotel is an old courtyard hotel built in the late 1940s or early 1950s, before the Interstate system was built. It faces a US highway which would have been a major north-south artery at that time. This hotel is now an economic backwater, as the Interstate moved traffic and businesses about 15 miles East.
The restaurant itself is painted orange and white and looks abandoned, or nearly so. Inside the restaurant is clean, bright, white, shiny CLEAN. They sell Dominican coffee, not as strong as espresso but much stronger than U.S. coffee, laced with sugar until it slides across your tongue like a caffeinated liquid lightning.
They do not have rice and black beans, they have Cristianos y Morros (Christians and Moors). They also have rice as one item and black beans as a separate item, yucca fried like great big potato wedges, chicken chunks marinated in mojo and cooked until the meat fell off the bone and onto your tongue with the slightest effort. There were also chicken patties cooked in a spiced tomato base and covered with cheese like eggplant parmesan. The restaurant served whole fish with the head on, which Miao likes. Unfortunately, the fish was the size of a serving platter. Miao could not/would not order a fish the size of a serving platter. The fish was the size of her torso, so it might have been a bit much.
Everyone liked the food but had to admit they would not have visited the restaurant due to the unplowed snow-covered parking lot in front of a sketchy looking old hotel complex. The hotel complex just looked like a good place to be murdered in the night.
The portions are smaller than they used to be at this restaurant. They used to be huge. Now they are just large. The prices are the same. Everyone enjoyed the food. Elkannah bought two chichas, a purple corn drink, and had it poured in five glasses so everyone could try some chichi. It was good for them.
The Peruvian place is steady but not busy. It used to be busy. There were fewer Hispanics than usual, more Mzungu. Elkannah does not know whether they are becoming more hip, or it is economics.
Miao will eat meat, but she prefers a vegetarian diet with fish. She had the Peruvian fried rice with shrimp, remarking that it is just like Chinese fried rice. Well, it should be, Elkannah says, since it arrived with the Chinese who fled the Communist victory in 1949. The Peruvians brought this dish into their food culture.
Monarca Mexican Grocery and Taqueria
Monarca sits back behind the bank. It is the only place with decent food within walking distance of the bank and not a fast food restaurant chain. There is another Mexican restaurant, but it is really bad bar-food Mexican: good food if you are drunk, hung over, or an alcoholic needing to put something in your stomach.
Monarca serves elote — a Michoacán dish. It is corn cooked in butter, then mixed with mayonnaise and Mexican cheese that you flavor with hot chili powder. Elkannah split an order with a trainee who thought this place was exotic. Elkannah just did not see the trainee trying much of anything new or outside his comfort zone. He himself had really low expectations because of the mayonnaise. But it was good, really good, and the chili powder just made it better.
Your classic low-end Mexican dive, [Monarca] uses corn flour tacos from the grocery shelves, tortas made with bread from the local paneria, and meat from the store’s butcher shop. The cooks make their own chorizo and spiced meat. The brother runs the restaurant, and the sister is the grocery’s cashier. Elkannah does not know whether she is supposed to watch out for him or he is supposed to watch out for her. In either case, family is watching the place.
The first morning they went in for coffee, the brother gave it to them for free because it was not prepared on time. It was a good day: free strong coffee.
Protect us from Evil in the guise of Country Cuties
Rachel is from Up North. Elkannah first met her when she came in to sell candy bars for her child. Elkannah understood, had done this, and his parents did this. Everyone does this. The candy bars are $2 apiece. High, but not unreasonable.
Certain expectations accompany a $2 candy bar; Elkannah has sold these. They tend to be either an off brand, long and thick, or if they are major brand, then they are large. These were Hershey’s but not large, 1.5 times the size of a regular bar. She was talking about this, and she mentioned something about eating 12 candy bars. Numbers are Elkannah’s thing. He remembers numbers.
So he asked about the price, and she clarified that the candy bars are $1.50, “but most people do not have quarters.” She then tried to play it off as the teacher said to sell them at $2. Rachel has 50 bars to sell at $1.50 or $75.00. If she can sell 38 bars at $2 then she has $76 and twelve candy bars. Where Elkannah comes from, this is called skimming. The thing that really bothered him is that she is skimming from her kid selling candy bars. This did not enamor him with her.
Rachel is a country cutie, not used to having to work. She is used to smiling and getting men to do what she wants. Elkannah does not care if she smiles at him. She is not married to him. Besides, she skims from her kids. What would she do to him? It is like a snake: coral snakes are beautiful. Red cobras are beautiful. They will also kill you without much thought or warning.
Brit is called the Candy Man. Brit always wears a suit. Business casual means no tie and black loafers. Brit brings a canvas shopping bag of candy for everyone. If the mix is not right, then he gets more candy. He told Elkannah he had to get more chocolate, since all the chocolate was gone.
Brit also brings apples, bananas, oranges, and breakfast bars. Elkannah likes the fact he brings healthy food as well as candy. There are fruit snacks in the candy bag. Stealth nutrition for sugar cravers.
Two of the film crew for the reality show Trucking Wars were in the hotel with Elkannah. The hotel room’s TV was having fits. so Elkannah was watching TV in the lobby. The first crew showed up to ask if they could watch the show since they were the camera crew. Elkannah agreed. Four twenty somethings met with red wine and gelato. This was their dinner — two containers of good gelato, caramel salt and pistachio, and two large bottles of cheap red wine. This did not seem like the dinner of champions.
One of the young women went upstairs and came back down in lounge pants, a flannel shirt and duck boots, announcing these are her pajamas. Without this announcement she would have just looked disheveled. With the announcement she looked disheveled and tacky. People should not wear their pajamas in hotel lobbies. This is just a bad idea. At least her pajamas left everything to the imagination and called to mind a poorly prepared woodswoman getting ready for duck hunting season.
The conversation was interesting. They talked about the fact the guys on Duck Dynasty knew how to read a script. [They said] Phil’s problem is he would go off script. Most of Phil’s wanderings made good TV, so they just let him rip. The problem was when they did not edit … his ramblings or Phil talked to people off the show. Phil’s ramblings hit that money marker hard, which is why he is off the show.
There were two back to back episodes of Trucking Wars. They were talking about filming the characters and interacting with the characters. Everyone watched the first episode. One of the camerawomen left for the second episode, saying with an edge as she left the room, “I do not need to see that one; I shot it.” This comment made more sense because the trucker was a jerk. He might make good film because he was a jerk and could do stupid things, but watching someone do stupid things after seeing it in real life would be draining.
Steve, for whom Elkannah was working, has celiac disease: he is gluten intolerant. When they go out to lunch they have to go to restaurants that serve gluten free and have systems to prevent cross-contamination. Elkannah is happy to eat with him in places that will not cause him to get holes in his stomach. However, these places tend to be expensive. EXPENSIVE. They had lunch at a Brazilian place that was $30 for lunch. Elkannah almost cried.
Elkannah had feijoada, which his poor Portuguese renders as “Fa-sho-do.” If you have it the traditional way, it has pig ears in it and all the little nubbins and bits the poor could afford. It was also $7. He did not know he was eating pig ears for the longest time, just that it was meat and fit in his pie hole. Thirty dollars bought nice pork chops, pieces of steak, and good smoked sausages, the food [of] rich people — not a pig ear to be seen. Elkannah missed his pig ears.
The $30 dish had braised collard greens sliced into ribbons. The traditional way had collards chopped into bits. $30 had a nice hot sauce in a petite ramekin. $7 had hot sauce in a small cheap IKEA bowl. Elkannah was glad Steve did not get holes in his stomach, but for $23 he would have gone in the kitchen to make sure there was no cross-contamination on the cheap plate.
At a Chinese place that has gluten free they serve gluten free on square plates. The owner knows Steve, and she makes sure his stuff is correct. Steve brings them a lot of business. He hauled at least ten coworkers to the restaurant per week for two weeks. Steve is a little moneymaker for them. Elkannah could not tell if Steve [was] the pimp or the prostitute in this transaction.
The Italian place was just a little too chichi for him: too tastefully decorated, little too-stark-white tablecloths. Their waiter was obviously studying acting and waiting to be discovered. Elkannah was glad for him and wanted him to get his prissy ass back in the kitchen with the order and get food out to the table. Elkannah does not give a shit if he is cute, thinks he is cute, or the little old ladies with lots of gold and very expensive clothes think he is cute. Elkannah wants his overpriced food, too small a serving and too big a price, to be out of the kitchen and on the table. He hates holes in stomachs.
Dominican Food II
They tried to go to a Peruvian restaurant, but it was not open. Jim had Peruvian food in Cincinnati, so he was game. The Peruvians are not getting meat until Friday. No meat means a closed restaurant. Jim and Elkannah had to find new food, and it meant a chance for a new adventure.
The place next door said Spanish Food. It was not Spanish food, but Dominican food. Jim was brave. He has had black beans, white rice, and shredded pork which looks like barbeque. Jim had never had café con leche. This is real café con leche made with milk and not water, and not just milk, but whole milk with all the fat. Jim liked the coffee. The flan was very good, not the best Elkannah has ever had, but in the top 10 flans.
We were the only two non-Dominicans in the place. The owner came over to talk to Jim, since he looked like he did not belong in the place.
Jim did not think much of yucca — stringy gritty potatoes. However, he was chomping down on the plantains. The owner explained they were too green and not sweet. Elkannah ate his with hot sauce, and Jim ate his plain. However, Jim was chowing down on them.
Market North used to be a factory about a century ago, and now it is a custom market. Thirty-one small shops fill the place: restaurants, bakeries, creameries, coffee shops, wine shops, candy shops, whole food places, and more.
Elkannah had pho at the Vietnamese shop — nice, but she gave you just splash of hot sauce and hoisin sauce with one slim sliced jalapeno, five leaves of Thai basil, and twelve bean sprouts. He guessed the locals do not know how to eat pho, so she was not going to waste high-end product only to see it thrown away. He understands. but it makes his little Hmong place in Green Bay all the better. Momma gives him lots of peppers, basil, and sprouts.
He had Indian, and it was nice. The owner and his daughter work together. Dad recognized him as a new [customer, and] so was giving him more things to try and offered two naan. The daughter hissed something in some language, probably to the effect of “don’t feed the strays or you are giving away our profit.”
Casey found a Polish place. Grandpa is in the back and speaks no English. If he is the only one in the shop, it is pointing and smiling. Casey likes grandpa because he makes the sausage fresh every morning. Grandpa is happy to be singing in Polish and slicing meat and stuffing it in intestines. Elkannah had thought about the Polish place but did not try it.
Arepa is a Venezuelan place downtown. It offers a culinary slice of South America and Cuban sandwiches. They know how to cook beef cubes, and they know how to fry some plantains. These were sweet plantains, but they were good. They were even better when dipped in a chemically hot cilantro sauce. It bit the front of the tongue and the back of the tongue.
Russian Muslim Grocery
A building across the street says “Toni’s Pizza” in the center of the awning. A big sign says “Mediterranean Restaurant,” and it has “Hossani’s Cars” on one part of the awning and “Grocery” on the other part of the awning. It is none of the above, but [instead] a Halal Russian Grocery. However, they have products from all over the world. They have any kind of South Asian mix or spice you could want. They have Jordanian and Polish candies. They have Moroccan and Russian canned meats. They had Turkish jarred vegetables, garlic, and jarred Greek olives of every variety. They had Russian sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and other seeds Elkannah could not identify. There were spices from all over South Asia and North Africa.
The clerks were loud Russians. There were big clumps of Russian customers — unable to travel in less than a set of two. There were Bosnian women and South Asian women and a big tall Afghan.
He found Kabul Café the last night in Columbus. It was the first night they did not go out to dinner. Jim had to do something for his daughter, and Elkannah was just tired. He had gone to the Russian Muslim Grocery thinking it was a restaurant. It was not.
So he walked back to the hotel with his Jordanian cinnamon gum — 400 pieces for $2.49. Those Jordanians are getting smarter about marketing in the U.S. now; they package the gum in little two-piece packages rather than dumping 400 pieces in the box like they used to do.
The front desk clerk told him, “There is a Mediterranean place.” He found it at the very end of the shopping plaza, Kabul Café. Kabul is in Afghanistan, not the Mediterranean. A large Persian carpet hangs on the wall with a map of Afghanistan in the center … the Afghan flag to its right, and scenes of famous places in Afghanistan surrounding the map. Elkannah thinks he would hate to see what a German restaurant would look like — Irish pub? Spanish Tapas. Brown people, not Mexicans, he supposes, are Mediterranean. Therefore German food could be white people food.
Elkannah has never had Afghan food, or he does not remember it, so this is a reading without reference. There is just no context. However, he had a Peshwari Kabob and liked it: spiced meat mixed with something green and leafy and lots of coarsely ground peppers stuffed in the very center with a hot pepper that focuses your attention on the first bite. There are two sauces. The first appears to be a tomato sauce, and it is a red pepper sauce — surprise, surprise, surprise. The second is a green sauce which looks like the Venezuelan cilantro sauce – green pepper sauce – surprise – surprise – surprise. Elkannah bet his bald spot was pink by the end of the meal. The rice is flavored with something delicate, but he has no clue what. It also may have had a heavy flavor, but the peppers made it seem light and delicate, like a rose rather than a thistle.
They offer free hot tea, black as coffee and strong as a bull. Sugar cuts the harshest edges, but it is still tough. When you drain the cups there are little black flavor crystals scattered across the white cup like black stars, or black holes, in the night.
Elkannah knows the one customer was a big tall Afghan because he was buying sheep at the Muslim Russian grocery.
St. Louis Bartender
Jim met a bartender in St. Louis who is an author. The guy wrote a book called Step Into My Office: life lessons I have learned as bar tender or something like this. When they were talking about things, the bartender would point to a story in the book.
The key lesson for Jim was procrastination is fear. You are afraid of something then you put off doing the work or doing some task. The idea of procrastination as fear is a novel idea, and it really makes sense. Elkannah has procrastinated doing things in situations where he feared the answer or was unsure how to do something. He decides he is now going to think about this idea whenever he finds himself procrastinating. He needs to find out what he fears.
One of the ladies working at the bank is named Candy. Elkannah loves Candy. She used to be a country girl jock and still is. It is in her attitude and bearing. She has swimmer’s shoulders, a basketball player’s gait, and lugs a purse around like it is a laundry bag, back pack, or dead cat. Candy has large hands and probably can still palm a basketball. She has a feminine voice and tries to be feminine, but it just does not work. Probably it does not help to be working on the farm with your husband every night. Farm work is kind of a butch job. The thing is that if she were the male football or basketball hero, she would be 300 pounds and living in his glory days in his head. She is living in the now, and just cannot figure what to do with that stinking purse.
Small Town Mexican
If you go into a small town Mexican joint and all the women waitresses are white with long hair pulled up in buns and [are] wearing long shirts, think about it. If you hear hillbilly music rolling out of the kitchen rather than Rancheros or Norteno Music, turn around and leave. You have entered the world of missionary Mexican food. It is like something out of the Twilight Zone. You do not know what is going to happen, but you do not want to be there.
Sparta is a co-op restaurant which teaches people with no jobs skills so that they can find jobs, the subtext being “get out of Newark.” They serve good and fair-trade coffee. The food has been tasty. The vegetable omelet has a wide array of fresh vegetables and farm fresh eggs. The home fries earned Elkannah’s approval.
The meat loaf was very good, spiced with something. The kitchen was not doing very well that day, so there was no mushroom gravy.
Every one of the waitresses is a young single mom. The manager is a tattooed blonde with an older child. She has herself together. She runs a good restaurant and deals with the realities of her employees. If there is no child care, then the kids are in the restaurant. It is what it is.
Green Bay Farmers Market
In the old days the Farmers Market was a million Hmong truck farmers with their flowers and vegetables. Then some of the local Anglo (Mzungu) farmers came in with produce.
Now a cast of thousands sells everything from flowers to vegetables to tamales to egg rolls to buffalo jerky to goat milk soap to fossils to African porcupine quills to jewelry to beer.
The food selection has grown dramatically because the restaurant owners realized lots of people congregated in [the] contained space. It is just easier to sell prepared food to them when they are looking for food to prepare. One guy cooks with a wood-burning pizza oven. Elkannah has no idea how he protects the asphalt or the sidewalk or how he is permitted to run this oven on the street. There are several bakeries and several places selling organic meat — the chicken probably wore a smile just before they killed it. At least one place sells buffalo meat. There was no chance to evaluate everything because the crowd was flowing, so [Elkannah] had to move with the migration.
Every color of the rainbow appeared in every combination. He saw lots of ink, good ink, bad ink, and discount ink. The discount ink was on young women who got the tattoo when they were skinny. Now they are fat, morbidly obese, and the tattoo stretched. The new size tattoo would [cost] a mint.
Everyone needs to try out Kilimanjaro; it is run by a Malian woman and has good foufou, one of those things you will either love or hate. Elkannah loves foufou. When he took Brandon to a Ghanaian place in Cincinnati, Brandon tried foufou and would have spit it out, but there was a woman at the table. He swallowed his serving whole. The other employee got the goat and foufou. Ghanaian goat is so hot Elkannah’s whole bald spot sweats and his head turns red. The other employee was eating the goat and her foufou, saying, “This is so HOT, this is SO GOOD.” She has to eat Prilosec after thinking about a jalapeno pepper. She was using foufou as a goat delivery system. Foufou is your friend, and it is God’s way of saying he loves us and wants us to be happy.
Where You Been?
The Halsted Deli had an old woman who worked there for years. She knew everyone. Elkannah’s team travels a great deal and might not be in the regional office for a couple of years. When they reappeared, she would always ask, “Where you been?” It was a nice touch, and it does mean something. What was really impressive was the fact [that] she would remember if you drank flavored coffee and, if so, what flavor you drank. This really meant a lot.
She was approximately 1,000,000 years old when Elkannah started. She has been replaced with a young Hispanic woman. The first day he stopped by, she said, “You are new in the building.” They talked about traveling. Every morning since then, she has had his coffee and bagel ready by the time he arrives at her cart, first thing in the morning. Today at lunch she said that she would see him later and he agreed. They both meant months in the future.
The deli found the person. Recognizing people and acknowledging people does matter. It matters a great deal. We all want to go to somewhere we are known. In these cities it is about creating a village. Elkannah may not live in a little German village, but he can create his own village in his dealings with people.
Genetics at Starbucks
He saw a young woman come in with two tow-headed children this morning. The little boy reminded Elkanna of himself. The boy was having a rough morning and wanted his sister’s mini vanilla scone. Elkannah asked him to ask his mother if he could have a genetics lesson. The mother looked at him and at Elkannah and said yes.
Elkannah then talked about tow-headedness being a visible genetic marker of a resistance to childhood diseases. He talked about his own tow-headedness. The mother then talked about the need to have vaccinations, and they discussed herd immunity. The three of them went to the bathroom. As they were leaving Elkannah heard the mother talking about how the baby brother’s blue eyes came from [Daddy, whose blue eyes] came from Gram. There may have been a scientist born that morning.
Towne, despite its name and appearance, is a Greek place. It is a diner as well, but at its heart it is a Greek place. An acquaintance told Elkannah to try the moussaka. She recommended also another dish with noodles.
The hostess was some sort of Eastern European Beauty Queen. She had green eyes, and Elkannah thinks that she was surprised that he could tell you her eye color. Probably none of the young men could tell you what color her eyes are. Since he could tell what her color eyes are, Elkannah got to sit in the warm part of the restaurant.
The only drawback to this arrangement was that the warm space was filled with an Angry Greek Cook. The waitresses were tip-toeing around and talking to the owner about his bad attitude. Another small silent cook started cutting vegetables with a large knife. It was amazing how when Silent Greek started slicing vegetables, Angry Greek got calm. There seemed more than a little threat in the slicing.
The warm part of the restaurant had a young couple in love. She was in love, and he was in heat. The young waitress is sort of kin to the Silent Greek. She had one too many tattoos and one too many piercings to work there unless she was family. She spoke to Elkannah in English and Silent Greek in Greek. Elkannah assumed her Greek was as good as her English.
Brian’s Restaurant and Bookstore
Brian is a quadriplegic after some tragic accident. He used the money to buy a restaurant bookstore. His family helps with the business. The mother is an excellent baker and spends all Saturday baking. She works her regular job and then comes in to help with the restaurant.
Their restaurant has very good food. The clientele tends to be older. The vast majority of them are retirement age. They come here for lunch. The younger clients are lawyers from the courthouse across the street. The older lawyers, who also come in for lunch, outnumber the younger lawyers.
The books are a mix of interesting children’s books, including a book published by a local high school history professor. The adult books are usually New York Times best sellers and Christian drivel.
The chicken dumpling soup is great. The dumplings are homemade. They vary in size from thin strips to nuggets the size of your thumb, index finger, and middle finger balled. The dumplings float in a multicolored broth. The multicolored flakes are carrots, celery, onions, and cauliflower bits the size of a broken wooden pencil lead. These flavor bits just make it better.
One of the waitresses is a sporty young woman. She is a blue jeans, wallet-in-the-back-pocket-but-sporty-shirt kind of gal. The old lawyers were hitting on her, talking about drinking beer and trips to Europe.
She was trying to change the topic and move them away from her. She started to tell the tale of her marriage proposal. Sporty Girl and her boyfriend went to Red River Gorge and other parks to go hiking. Apparently, her boyfriend tried to propose to her a couple [of times] on the trail. He would get down on his knee to propose, and she would be up the trail or up the cliff face.
They stopped in Lexington, Kentucky, to go to Liquor Barn. Sport Girl wanted to get some good olives, cheese, bread, etc. She described it as a “high-end grocery store” rather than a liquor store. This is true, but it is also a big liquor store. The boyfriend called to her before she entered the store. She was walking to the front door and saw him down on one knee. He proposed in the liquor store parking lot because he wanted to propose in Kentucky. The moral of the story is that if you are going to marry a sporty girl you have to be fast or vocal.
Elkannah could hear the old lawyers talking at lunch. Most of it was uninteresting. However, he did hear a phrase he enjoyed: Nerd Herd. As in, “You come over to my office and bring your nerd herd with you.”