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A professional writer's private thoughts

Archive for July, 2012

Silence from the side of the car

Was a third party in a San Marcos smash-up on Sunday. Car stopped ahead of me, I stopped, car behind me stopped, car behind them didn’t stop, Car behind me (Mercedes Kompressor) got hit hard, they hit me hard, I ended up on the shoulder and luckily no one was seriously hurt. Driver and passenger in the second vehicle took the full impact of the collision and were transported to Cottage Hospital via American Medical Response ambulance.

Feeling a bit unsettled and unwell tonight. Shoulder pain from getting slammed forward into my seatbelt and a lot of generalized anxiety. Sleep elusive. A strange way to look forward to Monday.

Dad has a good piece about the dangers of deer on the pass in his book, Sideways in Neverland Unforunately the impetus for this wasn’t blameless Bambi, but delinquent attention by other drivers.

Extremely professional and compassionate response from 911 dispatch, Santa Barbara County Fire first responders, American Medical Response ambulance crew, and California Highway Patrol personnel on scene. Many thanks to all.

Don’t drive that road if you don’t have to. I know better and only went that way today due to the ongoing construction project on Highway 101 at Gaviota. Big apologies to my grandfather for missing our weekly Scrabble bout.

Kompressor that hit me 7-22


This little guy was enjoying his afternoon nap at the harbor on Friday evening. He sure looked comfy, perched on the edge of a barge also used as a hangout by many pelicans.

Harbor seal

A sunny spot to catch some sea dreams.

harbor seal and pelican

A watchful pelican babysitter keeps a close eye.

Summer of pie

Peach pie with lattice crust

Peach Pie!

I’ve been on a baking streak lately, and not for any particular reason. But I realized not too long ago that the great thing about pie is that even if you don’t want to eat it yourself, there is always bound to be someone in the vicinity who will.

Something that always confused me as a kid was how my Mom, a prolific baker, could turn out all these amazing baked goods (cookies, brownies, pies, cakes, cupcakes, cheesecakes – you name it, she baked it) and not eat much if any of them. Well, I figured out her secret a couple of years ago. After I turned 30, I lost my sweet tooth.

Save your shocks of horror and amazement at my incredible restraint. I used to be very pro-dessert. Now I could care less. Granted, that doesn’t apply to the chocolate that my coworkers bring to the office – that I eat because I’m bored. These days I’ll make a pie and let it sit on the stove for 24 hours before I decide that somebody better eat it, and it’s not going to be me, and give it away.

So you might be wondering, “why bother?”, and it’s a valid question. But there’s something about the baking process that’s extremely therapeutic for me. Even when the crust doesn’t roll quite right or the edges aren’t perfectly scalloped, pie baking is a finite process that doesn’t take too long and produces a very desirable result. I’ve never met anybody who said “Pie? I hate pie!” If you are that person, fess up. You’re surely a specimen of tragic disorder.

I tend to keep making the same pies repeatedly because people like them. Berry, peach, apple, strawberry-rhubarb, rhubarb are all on that list. But there’s been a request for something unusual – a date pie – so that’s on my list for this weekend. I’ll let you know how it turns out.


Rhubarb pie pre-crust


Mixed Berry

Mixed Berry pie


They moved the mural that no one likes

The mixed use residential and retail project along Victoria between Chapala and State Streets (immediately behind the Arlington Theatre) is moving forward, and earlier this week a crew moved the Mosaic Mural that No One Likes.

It’s a piece from local artist Joseph Knowles (1907-1980) that formerly faced Victoria Street, and as of yesterday afternoon had been craned over to face Chapala Street. I put on my “sometimes I miss Edhat” hat and took some photos of the new location before yoga on Wednesday.

Musical chairs for this mural

The Arlington spire in the background

The Arlington spire in the background

The architects designing the project gave a lot of thought to preserving the mural, which is admirable and important. It’s a little funny, though, because of all the public art in Santa Barbara, this seems to be the one piece that no one really likes.

I’m not sure if its the colors, or the subject matter (early California history) or the fact that the little tiles remind them of their grandma’s bathroom, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who professes any affection for this artistic creation. Apparently the history of the piece wasn’t of interest to this writer from Noozhawk, who covered the story without mentioning the artist or when the mural was constructed. (He did, however, get a nice quote from a former employee at the Vons grocery store, who observed “It looks like something built out of Legos, it’s no da Vinci.” Well put.)

I posted a pic of the mural’s new location on Facebook, where it got zero reaction from my friends. Meanwhile, a picture of a sunset that I posted Wednesday morning had more than a dozen thumbs-up. You could probably tear down the funky murals on Mason Street and get more of a rise from the crowd. Over on Edhat, commenters expressed no particular excitement about the preservation, although one observed: “They look better than ever without the dated framing they had. Maybe they’ll look great in the next new airport.”

Santa Barbara’s funny about development. Some yelled and screamed when this project (37 condos, 27K square footage of commercial use) was first proposed, but once things get approved everybody shuts up and gets on with their lives. That’s probably a good thing. There’s no doubt we’ll see more urban mixed-use infill projects like this in the future, and the downtown corridor is going to be the most popular place to put them.

As for Joseph Knowles, he was also a gifted watercolor artist who taught at UCSB and Brooks, making a significant contribution to the community. It’s nice to know his most visible legacy will be preserved by this project.

Memories of the Chumash, in mosaic.

Everybody loves a sunrise

As pretty as this one. Taken Wednesday morning on my run along the beach, from Devereux Point:

Sunrise over the Pacific

The ocean was flat as glass. Would have been a perfect morning for a paddle. But there was no one around at all, except me.

Further down the beach there were some other cool colors on one of the disintegrating retaining walls. I hate watching these walls fall apart/get burned as firewood/be dragged off by scavengers. Even though I secretly want to make a headboard out of a small section.

Retaining wall below Ellwood.The colors in the sky were long gone by the time I turned around to run home. It’s worth waking up early to grab a little bit of that beauty and put it into my day first thing.

Some songs I like

The Deadly Syndrome has a new album out. It’s got some great stuff on it. You should listen to it. Find it right here: http://www.thedeadlysyndrome.com/

Who is The Deadly Syndrome? They are four cool guys who make really good music.

Over the last five years they have produced three albums, played a lot of great shows around downtown, Hollywood, Silver Lake and Echo Park, toured nationally, gotten high marks from Pitchfork, held some badass annual Ugly Sweater Parties, all while holding down day jobs and living pretty regular lives, for rock stars.

Here’s a great new video from their new album, All in Time, which releases Aug. 7. The song is called Demons:

Their song “I Hope I Become A Ghost” (from a previous album) was featured in full on the Robin Williams film “World’s Greatest Dad.” It covers a montage of the main character, who commits suicide, reflecting on the people he has left behind and how they should feel now that he’s gone. (It’s a dark comedy, and the song is perfect for the film.)

You can see The Deadly Syndrome live on Sept. 9 at Bootleg Bar in LA. Don’t miss it – they play an amazing live show.

Thanks for saying thank you

Yesterday I had two customer service experiences that were at the opposite ends of the spectrum. One was negative, nasty, and altogether unpleasant. The other was positive, kind and redeemed my hope in friendly sales staff – at least temporarily.

I have to observe at the outset that overall, I think customer service in Santa Barbara is trending in a very negative direction lately. I’ve spent hundreds of hours of my life working behind a counter in a retail store, so I feel like my critiques here are based more on knowing what makes good customer service, as opposed to whining from the credit-card holder’s perspective.

My basic rules for good customer service are these:

  1. You do not have to say hi to me or greet me when I walk in. I am totally OK with being ignored up to the point I want to buy/order something.
  2. Friendly conversation during the transaction is certainly appreciated, but not mandatory.
  3. If you do not say thank you when the purchase is complete, or after I have thanked YOU for selling me clothing/food/something I probably don’t need, I will flip out.

And by flipping out, I mean that I will remember the experience, and I will probably not return to your establishment unless there is simply no alternative.

The primary targets of my ire here are usually younger clerks or counter staff who seem to have taken some kind of vow to do their jobs while being surly and speaking less than five words during the course of the transaction.  The main thing they seem to be missing is this: Your job is going to be way more pleasant if you engage with the public. I know retail is no fun, but sharing a “Hi, how are you, how is your day going?” is going to help, not hurt. The returned greetings and subsequent conversations are going to make you feel better about your job and your life. The day will go faster, and you might even feel like a real human being as a result.

I’m not going to recount the negative experience I had yesterday other than to say that it might be a good idea to avoid a certain major national auto service chain located on the corner of Hollister and Fairview. The staff working there yesterday was universally hostile, and I felt depressed and upset when I left.

On the flip side, after work I stopped by Whole Foods to grab some dinner supplies. As usual, I picked the wrong line (I’m really gifted at this). The wait took a little longer than it should have, maybe five minutes, because there was an issue with the customer ahead of me. But when the time came to pay, the employee (whose name was Bryan) thanked me for my patience and apologized. Instantly I forgot that I was waiting and in a hurry. I thanked Bryan for acknowledging the wait, and we proceeded to have an interesting conversation about customer service in Santa Barbara and how it has been going to the dogs. (Turns out we are both local natives who lament the tragic new absence of bookstores downtown.)

So this is a thank you to Bryan at Whole Foods and all the other SB customer service folks who are swimming upstream against a current of rampant surliness. Just say thank you. That’s all it really takes.

Common Sense

In other words, your common sense is greatly appreciated.