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Monday, April 18, 2005

Neither here nor there

A note on fast food

For a long time now, I’ve observed a pretty strict no–fast food policy. The last time I ate crap like Burger King with any regularity was the first couple weeks that I lived in California, in 1993. Oh, and I ate Wendy’s sporadically when I first moved to Oakland in 1994. Since then, I could count the fast food meals on one hand, and probably have a finger or two to spare.

Well, that changed again when I first moved over here to San Hose. Not knowing a lot of dining options in the neighborhood, a nearby Wendy’s provided a quick meal before the kitchen was set up and before I settled into a schedule. It smelled good driving by, and I figured I could allow myself just one supersalty, ultrafatty meal before I got my act together.

And damn if that wasn’t some tasty shit. That burger was as satisfying as it was square. The fries weren’t so great, and I’d forgotten how those paper cups weep all over the place, but all in all, I was a happy fella.

So happy, in fact, that I soon found more and more excuses to stop at Wendy’s on the way home. Not every day, but maybe a total of a dozen times in the seven or eight months that I’ve lived here. Sure I hated myself, and sure it was bad for me, but it was convenient, satisfying, and really inexpensive.

Last month, my habits changed abruptly. On March 23, I saw a report in the San Francisco Chronicle about a severed finger found in some chili at a San Jose Wendy’s. I went immediately to the San Jose Mercury News website to see if their article had a street address for the restaurant, and confirmed my worst fears: That lady? With the chili? And the finger? That was at my Wendy’s.

At least, that was my Wendy’s. I haven’t been back there since a week or two before the finger thing. And it’s not like I’ve sought out another fast food joint to eat at.

At first, I was ready to blame Wendy’s. I mean, hey, man, I’ve read Fast Food Nation, right? I kept thinking about driving up to order some chili con dedos, but then I remembered a lesson from the awkward teen at Krusty Burger: “It’s a felony to tease the order box, sir!”

Even now that it’s looking like the lady with the bad chili is a money-grubbing lawsuit-happy finger-planter, the Wendy’s down the street is hurting for business. I’ve noticed the papers no longer print their address, but the franchise owners claim that business is down by more than half, and employees are suffering with cutbacks in hours.

Now I feel bad for the nice people at Wendy’s. Should I go get a burger?


Signs of San Jose: Neon and on and on

Not to dwell on the negative, but things sure do suck lately.

But while the tide of suction ebbs and flows, these neon signs along West San Carlos and Stevens Creek in San Jose are as glorious as ever.

Westside Billiards neon Western Appliance neon Y not neon Safeway neon
Friday, April 8, 2005


Ogling Google

Sure you use Google, but do you realize just how much more you could be using it? Forget finding the right specialized dictionary, just Google define:. Calculation or conversion? Google it. Just the other night, I needed area in square miles when I had kilometers. Googled 34km^2 in mi^2, and bingo. “Square miles” or “sq km” works too. Google rules like that.

They aren’t the first to have a map service with aerial or satellite photos, but they certainly have the coolest service yet. Google maps switches quickly between map and photo, and lets you drag and zoom either one around without a lot of slow reloading. This isn’t much of a scoop, I realize — the feature is a few days old, and it’s been in the news. I’m just urging you to check it out.

Here, I’ll get you started with two of the most scenic places I had the opportunity to earn a living: on the San Francisco waterfront in that big wedge-shaped building facing the green park strip, and on the Oakland waterfront under the giant green roof. Google will even draw a pretty line between the two for you.

Thursday, April 7, 2005


Signs of San Jose: Now, that’s what I’m talking about

Alma Bowl

From Highway 87, the VTA light rail, or Caltrain, this one’s tough to miss.

Alma Bowl

The bowling alley, pizza joint, cocktail lounge, and tamaleria are all gone. A stubborn little patch on the north (right) side is all that remains of the paint around the neck of the pin.

Alma Bowl

What a beauty. Too bad the neon never comes on.

Update 2/27/06: They knocked the bowling alley down last week, and with it came the sign. Why not commemorate the occasion with the purchase of a photo print, available in a range of sizes from puny to poster. Act now!

Sunday, April 3, 2005


Signs of San Jose: Part IV

Cambrian Park Plaza

This sign at Camden and Union looks like it’s had some stylistic updates (the disco font, for instance), but that carousel on the top has got to be pushing 40. In case the sign’s gaiety and whimsy don’t lure you into the shopping center, it’s been given the nearly irresistible power of motion, spinning around like a very sad carnival ride.

When the sign’s magic finally draws you close enough to see the carousel in detail, you’re rewarded with some hideous and disturbing scenes. A monkey rides a bicycle and leers at the woman in front of him, and no wonder — she’s flaunting some ass-hugging pants. And who’s that behind the monkey? Why, it’s a foreign dandy bringing fistfuls of cash to the mall! Excellent!

Cambrian Park Plaza detail
Saturday, April 2, 2005


Yet another sign

Hacienda Gardens

Hacienda? Gardens? Where are the truth-in-advertising people? Not on Hillsdale near Meridian in San Jose, where this stylish yet misleading sign is located.


More signs


Another classic San José sign is this example at Camden and Leigh. Though most of the small merchant signs have obviously been replaced, the overall look is still there. It might be as recent as the 1970s, I’m guessing, but it still looks dated as hell, and not just because of the faded colors. Somebody probably once thought this looked timeless.

There were some pretty good signs on the stores themselves, but as I turned to face them, a man came out of the hair salon and demanded to know who I was working for. I told him I was a student of photography, and he wanted to know where. Then he told me I couldn’t just come around taking pictures like this.

Now, I was on private property, and it’s true that the owner could bar me for trespassing or something, so I wasn’t going to press the issue. I was more than happy to leave. But then the man went on to say that taking pictures was against the law unless I got “permission from the city.”

“The city?” I asked.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he replied, confident that it was the role of The Government to protect Regular Folk like him from Evil Doers like me.

What I wanted to say was, “You don’t even know what you’re afraid of, do you? You’ve heard over and over to keep an eye out for unusual activity, so when you see some guy with a camera in your parking lot, he’s got to be trouble, right? Look: I drove up in the middle of the day and parked where you could read my license plate. I got out of the car and stood right where people could see what I was doing. I made no effort to hide or disguise myself. If I were somehow going to do evil deeds with my pictures, however you imagine that happening, do you think I would be so obvious about it? Do you not think that I might come at night? or on Sunday? or stand across the street with a telephoto lens, or drive by in a car, or — how about this? — I could just use one of those damn cell phone cameras everyone has now!

“No? Well, you’re right! You got me! I represent a local association of evil doers, and we were plotting to bring the Silicon Valley economy to its knees … starting with your hair salon! Now that you’ve foiled that plot, we’ll just have to find another symbolic power center, like a thrift store or an El Pollo Loco. Curse your vigilance!”

Instead, I just assured him that my motives were good, lawful, and noncommercial.

“I’m going to need your name,” he said, pulling out a notebook.

Normally, I’m very kind, patient and polite to strangers, so what came next surprised me. I laughed in his face.

The exchange ended there, and I left. He probably took my license number, so maybe he’ll come take pictures of my house. That’s fine. All the same, I don’t feel like disrespecting the guy’s wishes, no matter how nonsensical, so I won’t show his crappy storefront and reveal whatever trade secrets may reside there, such as whether walk-ins are or are not welcome. I also won’t reveal the store’s name or phone number, which the owner divulges only to those who look at a large plastic sign visible from the street. All I was really interested in was the old stock art in his sign, which you see everywhere if you live in 1982.

They've got the look

On second thought, the name is just too perfect to keep to myself. The man’s salon is called Hair Conspiracy.