Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cheesecake Factory Wreaks Havoc in Clarendon

We've had a Cheesecake Factory gift certificate lying around the apartment for a few months and decided to cash it in tonight for dinner. Very bad idea. Pulling up to the Cheesecake Factory in Clarendon, we were greeted with throngs (yes, throngs) of people outside the restaurant. There was a line to get in the door to even put your name in. [Note: The picture above was NOT taken tonight; just imagine mass humanity outside] It turns out July 30th is National Cheesecake Day which means that any slice of cheesecake is $1.50. Who knew?

That's all well and good, but you had people hanging out of the place like they were giving away free steak dinners and trips to Cancun. Making matters worse, traffic in the area was a mess, as people apparently flocked from far and wide to enjoy (according to the company's website) a slice of cheesecake at "1978 prices." Unfortunately gas isn't at 1978 prices for dealing with the gridlock and the seemingly endless driving in circles in the Market Commons garage trying to find a spot.

We settled on Bertucci's instead.

***UPDATE*** This post has been linked here at the DC Blogs Noted page (thanks, guys!)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More "Celebrity" Sightings

So I'm sitting in 30th Street Station in Philadelphia yesterday waiting for my train when this really tall guy sits down in front of me. I felt short. Literally a second later, a kid comes up to him and shyly asks for an autograph. "No problem," says the Tall Guy. I then notice he has a small Sacramento Kings backpack with him. NBA player, maybe? Not wanting to look like an idiot, I just sit there rather than pulling the "Are you a professional basketball player?" question which would be more acceptable for an attractive twenty-five year old woman to ask. But me? I'm a baseball guy so I just sit there. He then gets up a few minutes later and heads for the train. I forget about it.

Fast forward to today. I'm sitting around writing some cover letters with ESPN on quietly in the background. I happen to look up and there's Tall Guy on my TV. It turns out he is Jason Thompson, the 12th pick in this year's NBA Draft (for the Sacramento Kings). Maybe I should have asked for the autograph after all. He was riding first class on the train and I have a feeling if he lives up to the hype, he'll be getting used to it. Good luck out West, Tall Guy.

To check out the video clip I saw, click here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Good Stuff Eatery Lives Up to Its Name

I finally got to Good Stuff Eatery last night for dinner following a screening of "Endless Summer" at the Library of Congress. A free movie + dinner at Spike's new hamburger joint = a perfect downtown date with my girlfriend. Good Stuff Eatery opened a couple of weeks ago with a great show of support from the DC community; lines to get in went down the street. We figured that a Tuesday night meal around 9:30 might be a little quieter, and while the lines weren't as bad, they were still practically to the door. And with good reason - the whole experience was great.

Walking through the door, we were met by Spike's father Harvey who greeted everyone with a smile and kind word. He seemed so happy to be there and it is evident he is so proud of his son who was working hard behind the counter making milkshakes, pulling pints, and handing everyone their meal. I knew that Spike would be working in the kitchen, but I didn't expect him to be right out front in the thick of it. I actually saw his hat first when I walked in the door and jumped back a second thinking "Aren't you supposed to be on Channel 39 on my TV, not 10 feet in front of me?" (What can I say? I get a thrill out of celebrities, even if they are of the reality-show kind)

I ordered my meal, a Farmhouse Cheese Burger (tomatoes, onions, pickles, lettuce, and "good stuff" sauce) with a side of handcut fries and a Red Stripe beer and took in the scene. Two levels, well-lit, lots of seating upstairs and outside, and a quality soundtrack provided XM Radio's Top Tracks. About 15 minutes later (I said it was busy), my pager was buzzing and we went to pick up our food from Spike. "Thanks for coming to DC," I said shaking his hand. "You guys been working hard?" "Oh yeah," he said. Though you can tell just from looking at him it's been a long few opening weeks. "Is it good to have the whole family here?" I asked. (His mom and sister are also involved in the venture). "Definitely," Spike responded. "People say, 'Why would you want to go into business with your family?' I say, 'I wouldn't have it any other way.'" I agreed with him, noting that my family had run a business together for over fifty years. "Enjoy your meal guys, thanks for coming in," he said.

My girlfriend and I grabbed seats out on the street and dug in. Now I'm no food or burger connoisseur, so let me just say simply that the burger (and particularly the fries) were great and I definitely recommend anyone in the area to go check it out. Though there are no shortage of burger options in the DC area, it is well worth investigating. Before leaving, my girlfriend wanted to get a menu signed and Spike happily obliged (though we aren't sure what he wrote under his signature - "I'm the Weab" or is it "I'm the Weaz"? - is that chef-speak for something?) We'll find out next time we stop by.

It was a great end to our little date and we both agreed that Good Stuff Eatery lives up to its name.

Good Stuff Eatery is located at 303 Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E. You can check out their menu here.

***Update***: Famous DC linked this post to their website here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Brooke Hogan Should Be Disenfranchised

I made the mistake of surfing through the channels tonight on TV and stopping on VH1's "Brooke Knows Best," Hulk Hogan's daughter's new reality show. I tuned in just in time for this enlightening comment:

"You know what? I am actually not that much into voting. I think it’s kinda crazy that a woman is running, because I think that women deal with a lot of emotions and menopause and PMS and stuff. Like, I’m so moody all the time, I know I couldn’t be able to run a country, ‘cause I’d be crying one day and yelling at people the next day, ya know?"

You always hear people ranting about the sex, violence, and profanity on TV, but let's be honest, comments like this are what should be bleeped out for the viewing audience. Sorry Brooke, but your voting rights should be revoked. But apparently you already did that to yourself.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Happy Moon Landing Anniversary

Today is the 39th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. Given that this anniversary is not a multiple of 5, the milestone has not gained much attention this year. Expect the documentaries, magazine features, and interviews to be out in full force next year for the 40th, along with the obligatory Woodstock nostalgia-fest. In many ways it seems like the 60s are back considering this year's obsession with 1968 and the inevitable comparisons in the fields of politics, culture, and sports.

Not being around in 1969 for the moon landing, it is hard to grasp what the atmosphere and drama was like at the time, an episode in history when the whole world looked up with awe and amazement. In some ways, I must admit that I'm jealous I wasn't around for it. It is hard to believe that there was a time and event that could link people and cultures across the world for something so very positive and enriching. That "small step" was a true celebration of humanity.

In our own somewhat troubled and uncertain era (by no means as volatile or transformative as the 1960s) it is still comforting to be able to look back to a period in our history when our country struggled and still came out on top. We now take the moon landings for granted, but when President Kennedy made a commitment to reach the moon by the end of the decade, some at NASA and in the space community essentially freaked out, believing that such a goal within that time frame was nearly impossible. Others embraced the task at hand and got to work. As it turned out, the good folks at NASA were able to do it with 5 months to spare, despite many setbacks and challenges:

The success of NASA in putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s has served as a strong analogy for many policymakers today who have made calls to find new ways of providing alternative energy for our country. The moon landings were proof that with political will, sufficient funding, and a "think outside the box" mentality, anything could be accomplished. Last year while speaking about finding solutions to climate change, Gov. Bill Richardson said, "When John F. Kennedy challenged this country to reach the moon, he challenged us to get there in 10 years, not 20 or 30 or 40.” It is this sort of urgent thinking that is needed to ween our country off its addiction to oil in order to find sustainable ways to power our country and the planet.

So while there have been the Obama-JFK comparisons on style and attitude, perhaps the best Kennedy-esque element a President Obama could bring to the White House is a similar sense of urgency and national unity to address the pressing challenges of our time. That would be something to truly celebrate next year on the 40th anniversary.

The Godfather Test, Part Two

It appears that Garry Trudeau, creator of the Doonesbury comic strip, agrees with George Stephanopoulos' "Godfather Test" for deciding on a political candidate to support. (More on that here). Check out today's Doonesbury strip below. I wouldn't be surprised as to how many similar conversations like this have occured around our country in the past few years. "Competency" beats "beer-worthy" any day. Let's not make the same mistake again.

To see a bigger version of the comic, click here and go the July 20th posting.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

R.I.P, Runner's Wave

So I haven't been able to button the top button on my dress shirts lately which told me two things: 1.) My neck is getting fatter and 2.) It is time to start running again. Growing up, I spent my summers on the Jersey Shore and was able to run along a great bike path that ran parallel to the beach. After the move to the DC area, I've now settled for the streets of Arlington. Unfortunately, not only has the scenery been downgraded, but the friendliness and camaraderie of the runners has fallen off, as well.

Now I don't want to get labeled as "the guy who writes about how anti-social DC people are" (i.e., the "Metro Moment"), but I can't tell you how many times I've been snubbed on the streets here by other runners. Jogging past, a little nod, smile, or wave goes unnoticed since these "fellow runners" are so intent on staring straight ahead or glancing down in an attempt to avoid eye-contact. It is a great analogy for the worst of the professional culture in this city - focus straight ahead and ignore others around you.

In Jersey, there was something that resembled a community of runners who would at least acknowledge the presence of each other when out on the path. It's like, "Hey, yeah it's 90 degrees and humid as hell and we're both out here doing this together." Apparently, San Diegans suffer from the same disease afflicting DC runners. Up Before the Sun in San Diego expressed a similar sentiment two years ago. She wrote:

Is the world becoming more and more guarded? Are we all simply too focused, too busy to extend a kind word to others who are in the same beloved sport? It rattled me a little, I must admit, that time after time I raised a hand and a smile, and those gestures were returned by a downward glance or a blank stare.

At least we have some things in common with San Diego. I just wish it were beautiful beaches and 365 days a year of sun.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Back Door Jam

I spent this weekend in Philadelphia (well, Camden) at the XPoNential Music Festival, the annual concert weekend organized by 88.5 WXPN, a member-supported public radio station based out of Philadelphia. The festival was four packed days of music on two stages with acts ranging from local groups like The Brakes and Kuf Knotz to well-known performers such as Shelby Lynne, Matt Nathanson, and Amos Lee.

While all the groups were great (you can't really beat live music, right?) two in particular really got my attention: Back Door Slam, a blues trio from the Isle of Man and The Budos Band, an 11 piece Afro-funk outfit from Staten Island. Back Door Slam's guitarist, Davy Knowles, is one of the best up and coming blues guitarists out there (think Kenny Wayne Shepherd who also sings). They're in DC tonight at the Rock and Roll Hotel and I have a feeling they are one of those groups who you have to see live to really appreciate - the CD doesn't do them justice. Here's them at the SXSW Festival in 2007. They've cut their hair since, but still have the same great sound:

The Budos Band were also great live, like watching an army of musicians on stage in a hypnotic trance. The rhythms and beats were infectious, though I don't think some of them have had a haircut in years:

For more on Back Door Slam, click here. For Budos Band, click here.
Check out 88.5 WXPN, one of the best remaining radio stations out there, streaming live on the web here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Punky Brewster Takes Over Crate and Barrel

I'm almost finished watching Season One of "Miami Vice" on Hulu and I must say I have a new appreciation for the 1980s. While the show by no means reflected the "real Miami" of the mid 80s, it is hard not to get caught up in the style, atmosphere, and music on the show. Still, I can only take my appreciation so far.

The latest CB2 catalogue (Crate and Barrel's hipster spin-off brand) arrived yesterday and you would have thought Punky Brewster became the new CEO of the company based on some of the new designs and patterns. Trust me, I'm no interior decorator, but these patterns scream 1985 Boy George to me. (Whatever happened to Boy George? Oh yeah, he's busy getting his visa denied by the State Department). Anyhow, here are the offending items:

If you like what you see (I shudder at the thought) or are getting nostalgic for the Reagan era, you can check out the rest of the catalogue online here.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Stephen Hunter and the Washington Post Miss the Point

With both parties locked in with their "presumptive presidential candidates" for the upcoming election, the media has entered a summer vacation of sorts in terms of reporting on the race. Sure there have been speeches and rallies here and there, but the real juicy stuff doesn't happen until the end of the summer with the conventions in Denver and Minneapolis. That said, it shouldn't be surprising that there has been a deluge of silly and unnecessary articles to fill up space in newspapers and magazines.

Stephen Hunter's "Leading Men" piece in Sunday's Washington Post is no exception. Given, it was in the Style and Arts section, but Hunter's comparison of Obama and McCain to movie stars past and present was a bit over-the-top and, I would argue, flat-out wrong on one important point. You can read the article here, but the general gist of his piece is that John McCain's image parallels that of the the cinematic "tough guys" of the past - John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Clint Eastwood, while Barack Obama is similar to some of the young rebels of the 1970s and 80s such as Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert De Niro.

Fine, that's all well and good. I'm sure the editors of the Style and Arts section loved it. What bothered me was a constant motif that Hunter continued to return to throughout the article, inspired by a comment from John Wayne's character Ethan Edwards from the 1956 film The Searchers. Here's how Hunter begins the article:

Wonderful moment in John Ford's "The Searchers," from way back in 1956: John Wayne, as the surly, violent Ethan Edwards, signals to his young compadre that it's time to move on in their pursuit of Scar, the Comanche chief who's murdered their family and kidnapped the youngest daughter, Debbie.

"Let's go, blankethead," he scowls to the young Martin Pawley.

I love the Duke's pronunciation of the word "blankethead"; it radiates contempt for the young and the untested. Ethan is using the blast of scorn to tell the young man not only to get going to his horse but to get going in growing up, to acquire sand, grit, salt and all the other granular metaphors for old-guy toughness and savvy. Blankethead: It's a three-syllable telegram on the theme of the fecklessness of youth, and nobody but Wayne could turn it into poetry.

Sorry Mr. Hunter, but you are waaaay off the mark. A little more insight into the movie would reveal that Ethan Edwards is a bitter racist who can barely hide his contempt for Native Americans. The Martin Pauley character is Ethan's adopted nephew who happens to be part Cherokee, part Welsh and English. "A fellow could mistake you for a half-breed" Ethan says to Pauley during dinner. How Hunter interpreted the "blankethead" comment to be a "three syllable telegram on theme of the fecklessness of youth" is beyond me.

While I couldn't find any information on the origin of the term, it is fairly clear that it is being used in this context as a flat-out racist insult. It must have been many years since Hunter saw the film if he believes Wayne's comment "radiates contempt for the young and untested." Further on in the article, Hunter writes, "It's not hard to see Sen. McCain calling the young, fresh-faced Sen. Barack Obama a "blankethead" just as it's easy to imagine Obama interrupting his opponent in a debate with a hectoring, "Hey, old guy" " (a reference Hunter made earlier about a Will Smith quote from Men in Black). This is like pouring salt in the wounds of the reader - Hunter just doesn't get it. And if I were McCain, I would be heated for being compared to such a character.

It's still many more days until McCain and Obama accept the nominations from their parties, and even more until Election Day. Let's only hope that the inevitable pop-culture comparisons and human interest stories are kept in check. They do have a role to play for sure, but it does a general disservice to the public if the media stretches the analogies too far.

On another note, The Searchers is one of John Ford's best films and arguably John Wayne's finest performance. The two disc 50th Anniversary edition DVD is worth checking out and is loaded with great bonus features and a new transfer. You can find it on Amazon here. Trust me, it's a better use of your time than reading Hunter's article.

***Update***: The DC Feed linked this post to their website here.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Happy Birthday America

How is tomorrow July 4th already? This summer is flying by. Anyhow, I'm heading out for the weekend this evening, but here's something to think about from Bruce. Recorded September 30th, 1985 during the height of Reagan's America. Have a great holiday weekend and don't let the best of us slip away.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Live Hope Love

No one ever wants to become a statistic. But for many people living with HIV/AIDS (particularly outside of the United States), their daily struggles and challenges living with the disease have been relegated to being charts and bar graphs in United Nations and World Health Organization reports. While these organizations have played a very important role in providing assistance to these men, women, and children in need, it is important to remember that behind every "statistic" are real lives, hopes, and dreams.

Using the power of the Web and other multimedia outlets, journalists and activists have been able reach a large audience to tell these often forgotten stories. In 2006, NPR aired the audio diaries of Thembi Ngubane, a young South African woman living with AIDS. She carried a microphone and recorder around her small village outside of Cape Town documenting her daily experiences and reflecting on her life. When she came to the United States that spring for a tour, I was able to see her speak to a small gathering in Boston. Her courage, optimism, and strength touched everyone in the room.

More recently, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has launched a new interactive website called "Hope: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica" which utilizes interviews, videos, images, poetry, and music to reveal the complexity of the AIDS experience in Jamaica, a country that has felt the full effects of the disease. At the core of the site are poems written by Kwame Dawes that were inspired by his five trips to Jamaica at the end of 2007. The stories he heard there were, in his words, both "anthems of hope and alarms of warning." Dawes is a fantastic writer and poet (author of one of my favorite books, Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius), and his work brings to life the experiences of these Jamaicans in a way a 2 minute BBC report simply can't.

"Hope: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica" can be found here. For more about the Pulitzer Center, a leading sponsor of independent journalists who cover under-reported stories and conflicts, click here.