Monday, August 31, 2009

My Trader Joe's Rant

[What follows is a personal rant. The writer is fully-aware that in the order of things, he rants about a trivial matter. But he feels much better after writing it. -- Ed.]

Before last weekend's camping trip I went to Trader Joe's to get four items, and left with none of them because they were either discontinued or out of stock. And I was irritated. They are losing my business.

Okay, that's the short of it. You can stop reading now. That's it. Everything else on this page is just elaboration.





Oh -- you're still here? Fine then: here's the long of it:

So I go to TJ's to get four items for the trip. 1. A shelf-stable meal called "White Beans with Vegetables" for dinner, 2. An egg-salad sandwich to eat on the drive to the campground, 3. Some peanuts in the shell for snacking, and 4. A bottle of agave syrup for sweetening my morning yogurt.

I started with the beans. These have been a camping favorite of mine for years, and I often nuke a box of them for a fast meal at home, too. Called, "Spanish White Beans with Vegetables," the package tells us that these are "...a Spanish stew of white beans in a traditional "Sofrito" tomato sauce. A product of Spain." Doesn't sound super appetizing, buy they are quite savory.

Down in SoCal, before we moved to Bend, I purchased these from the Carlsbad branch of TJ's for years. When they had them in stock. When they didn't my inquiries were met with blank stares. No one on the staff had ever heard of them. Ever. They denied ever selling such a thing, or at least not within recorded history, though my last purchase might have been just a few weeks before.

The various CSRs -- Customer Service Representatives -- asked if I was sure I had bought it from Trader Joe's. I assured them that I had. The words "Trader Joe's" are prominently displayed at the top, viz:


But the CSRs looked at me like I was delusional.

And then, mysteriously, a week or so later, more appeared on the shelves. I would show them to the folk in customer service and they'd nod, saying, "Oh yeah, those." And I'd buy several just because they had them in stock.

But then they'd run out. Again, I'd ask about them and once again everyone denied ever stocking such a thing. I'd describe the square, flat plastic package, point to the area on the shelves where the item was usually stocked, and . . .

They looked at me like I was delusional.

It got to the point where I kept a label from the package in the car to show the staff. Suddenly the fogs of memory would clear and they were able to look up the item and tell me when it might next be in stock.

After moving to Bend, I was pleased to find the item here and purchased a few packages.

But last Friday, shopping for the camping trip, and found that they had no stock on the meal. The folk at the customer service desk denied that they had never sold anything that met my description. "Sofrito sauce?" said the CSR. "What's that?" I said I didn't know, but that's what was written on the package.

"Are you sure you bought them here?"

"Yes, not that long ago."

"At this Trader Joe's."

"Um, yeah, and down in Carlsbad, California, too. And they never knew what I was talking about, either."

She looked at me like I was delusional. The other folk in the customer service booth smiled at each other.

"Well, I've never heard of them," she said.

I asked her how long she'd been working at TJ's and she said for 15 years, both in corporate and in the store and that a shelf-stable meal of white beans in sauce did not ring any bells.

"Let's go look," she suggested.

We went to the shelf where shelf-stable meals-in-boxes are stocked and said, "there's nothing like that here."

"I know -- this is where I looked before coming to ask you."

She fetched the person who does the ordering, and she also had no idea what I was talking about.

"What kind of sauce?"

"Sofrito. That's what it said on the package."

She also gave me that look that suggested I was delusional.

So I asked the CSR to look it up on the computer. "Look up white beans," I suggested.

She found them. "White beans with vegetable sauce," she said. "Shelf-stable."

"That's the one," I said.

"They were discontinued in October," she said. "What happened is that we've been selling back stock and have not ordered any for a while. That's why no one knows about them."

Well . . . no. I've bought them for years, and others have, too, since the shelf stock often reached zero without my help. And every time I've asked, no one, not a store manager, not an ordering person, not a checker, not one single person has ever known what I was asking about. Until I showed them the package. Then they'd recalled that they'd carried them for years. After looking at me like I was delusional.

The product must cast a spell of forgetfulness over the minds of TJ's employees.

But, sigh. Discontinued. I know that retailers need to maximize their profits and get items that don't move off the shelf. Still, some disappointment.

Next, for lunch, I figured that one of their pre-made egg salad sandwiches would fill the bill. They're not excellent, but they do provide a decent meal when driving. Discontinued.

"We do have egg salad in the refrigerator section," another CSR helpfully suggested. But then I'd need to buy a loaf of bread. Didn't need a loaf of bread.

A few years ago they discontinued another favorite that we and several friends liked: their frozen Soy Tomatillos.

It is getting irritating.

They are also not so red-hot on keeping things in stock.

Peanuts. I hunted for peanuts in the shell. "We're out of stock right now," said the fellow behind the samples counter at the rear of the store.

I also wanted some agave syrup. It's a good sweetener and doesn't crystallize at low temperatures like honey does. This makes it more suited for camping. But that section of the shelf was empty.

Right now popping into a store isn't very easy, what with my broken foot, the crutches and kneeling roller and stuff, so a lot of effort went into that shopping trip. It did frost my pumpkin that four of the four items I specifically went there for were either out of stock or discontinued. I ended up buying some shelf-stable Indian meals and a bottle of beer, some cheese, and a couple other forgettable items.
---------------------
Postscript. Using their website's "Contact Us" link I sent an email to Trader Joe's corporate about the beans and included a draft of this post. In the message I offered to take any overstock of these beans off their hands, to purchase them, and I received a boilerplate response which re-stated what I'd already said about the realities of maximizing profit on the shelves. My request to buy overstock went unmentioned. Boilerplate begins:
We are sorry to hear that we have discontinued a favorite product of yours.

At this time the Trader Joe's White Beans with Vegetables
[you can almost see the cut and paste here - j.e.]
has been discontinued due to slow sales in all of our stores. We will forward your comments and request to bring this product back to our Buying Department and that will be taken into future consideration.

Our mission is to bring you the best quality products at the best prices. To do this, we have to manage our store space well. Each of our products must "stand on its own," meaning it must pay its own way. Each product passes certain criteria in order to earn its way onto our shelves - including a rigorous tasting panel.

There may be several factors that determine why we discontinue products:

It may be a seasonal product - for example, strawberries, which are in season only specific times of the year. The gang way factor - because we introduce 10-15 new products a week, we have to eliminate 10-15 items in order to give our newest items a fair chance. The cost of producing the item may increase, which would in turn increase the cost to you - if the item is not a strong seller, we may choose to discontinue it.

Many thanks,

Nicki K.
Customer Relations
Trader Joe's

Mmmm. Boilerplate. Shelf-stable, too.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Setting Up Camp, or Another Milestone


It does a man good to do for himself. Since May, others have been helping me with my needs. From being wheelchaired around Spain by Mrs Elliott, from being driven everywhere, from having meals brought to me in bed while recovering from surgeries, to having my laundry done for me, and more, to getting help wrapping garbage bags and cling-wrap to water-proof dressings and casts before I could even take a shower, my failed, repaired, then repaired again, and now (hopefully) healing ankle has limited my ability to do many things for myself.

But on Friday I drove alone from Bend to a lovely little secluded campsite on the bank of a river -- a site I won't name because that's what I promised the person who told me about it -- and when I got there, I set up camp: I leveled our little 1984 VW Westfalia camper, I popped the pop-top and unzippered the mesh windows in the canvas to let out the afternoon heat, I opened up the kitchen area and sucked on the sink spigot to prime the freshwater pump, I turned on the propane for the stove top, I unloaded the camping gear, I put out the solar panels and ran the charging cable to them, and I set up an aluminum and nylon folding camp chair with a small camp table next to it. From the refrigerator I brought a cold can of Abbot Ale and a pint glass to the table and set them on it. I rolled myself over to the camp chair, transferred myself into it, and I picked up the can of beer and opened it and poured it into the pint glass.

And I raised that pint glass of cold ale to my lips and drank it.

For the doctor had said that my blood tests told him that my liver was out of the woods after being stressed by a month of strong medication, and that a beer or two would not harm it and might in fact be good for my spirits.

For the PICC line -- all 26 centimeters of it -- had been slid silently out of my arm by a nurse the day before and 40 days of twice-a-day iv antibiotics were behind me.

For my heart felt immensely lifted by the beauty around me: the river rushing quietly at my feet, the firs and grasses along its narrow banks, the sharply rising backdrop of dark basalt cliffs on the opposite bank, stone which had taken the lead-gray color of the clouds passing overhead when I arrived, but were now warmed by the amber cast of late afternoon as sunlight sleeted across the stone face, casting the contours of the cliffs in sharp relief and flashing each drop of a brief rain shower in jewel-like brilliance before they peppered the surface of the dark green river water with white splashes and a hissing sound; and as the shower passed a mighty rainbow arched in the east to remind the sun that there's more to light than than just sundial precise and bright.

For that moment and for my reward I drank that cold ale...and it tasted really, really good.

I hadn't climbed a mountain or hiked the PCT, I hadn't paddled across a lake and set up a tiny camp on the shore, nor even hauled a load of firewood across the backyard. I'm not there yet.

But I also couldn't have set up camp a month ago, couldn't even imagine that it could be possible until last weekend when Mrs Elliott and I went camping at Little Cultus Lake -- and then I started to see that it might be doable if I was careful and creative.

I had to figure out alternate ways of doing things. Tasks which formerly took moments sometimes took several minutes. I tried, but was unable to lift the weight of the pop-top without two strong legs, but after some thought I saw how, with a crutch and the tabletop in the van to brace it against, the roof could be lifted with only one leg to stand on. I learned that getting up from the ground after reaching under the van to turn on the propane was possible as long as I had something fixed like a door handle to haul myself up with.

Of course, I'm not foolish enough to spend an entire camping trip by myself : I had no assurance that I could get the camper set up well enough for sleeping, and a fall caused by too much enthusiasm or an unseen branch in the dark could set me back weeks. So a little later that evening, my son joined me in camp and we drank some freshly-ground drip coffee (beans by Simply Organic) and sat quietly as the sky darkened.














Jim Elliott. My son.

I was happy that I had been able to set up camp before he got there. We spent two nights on the shore of that river, and I slept in until 8 on both mornings, which felt luxurious and restful. I seldom sleep past 6 or 6:30, so this was indeed an occasion. I musta been doing something right.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Scurrilous Rumor Quashed

Last week I wrote how an evil Mr. Potter-like landlord was said to be forcing out Choclat e Gateaux, Marz and Astro Lounge.

Someone tipped the Source Weekly's Eric Flowers to my posting and he has followed up and largely laid the rumor to rest. Read it here.

We at Jack and Mrs. Elliott Move to Bend (Bend's #1 newsblog*) are shocked, shocked, that our sources are less than trustworthy, and have taken this time to reëxamine our policy of obtaining information through the use of torture. We have decided that techniques such as plying sources with blended, rather than single-malt scotch; and keeping our reporter up past his bedtime of 10pm, will no longer be countenanced. We are considering setting up a fact-check department, but so far, all the candidates have tried to sneak a bite out of the bowlful of obviously fake papier-mâché fruit on the kitchen table.

We apologize for the inconvenience but go away knowing that since Chocolat e Gateaux has folded its tent as predicted, part of the rumor was accurate. Just the less-interesting part. We regret that a computer screen cannot, in most cases, be used to wrap fish.

====
* July 28, 2009 -- New York Times/CBS News poll. The poll of 1 adults (me), has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus, like, a hundred percentage points.

A Degree of Independence Returns: Driving

Well golly, I can drive again.

Mrs Elliott got a hankering yesterday to pick some blueberries, so we took our 84 VW camping van over the just-opened McKenzie Pass down toward Leaburg where she had heard there were blueberry trees a-waiting for the picking.

We got stuck behind a line of cars right over the top of the pass and waited for about 45 minutes until a flagman let us through -- ODOT was striping the new pavement and we had to wait until the paint dried in the cool temps before they'd let us down the other side.

Watched a mess of small orange butterflies on the black lava rocks warm up their wings in the sun and take short test fluttersby for the duration. Mrs Elliott drummed her fingers and muttered imprecations, visions of nimble-fingered early-arrivers stripping the trees bare of fruit.

When the flagman eventually released us we drove down the steady, winding, hair-pinny downhill cruise of about 20 minutes. Mrs Squirrel rarely touched the gas pedal. The auto tranny (84 Vanagon) was in 2nd, the engine rpm-ing at about 3,000 so as to save the brakes; the smell of scorched brakes from cars ahead of us suffused the morning air.

Mmmm . . . hot brake pads.

We located the blueberry orchard and while Mrs Elliott was filling a bucket with the fruit, I sat in the van eyeing the layout of the pedals behind the steering wheel. I scooted across the gap between the two seats and quickly determined that I can't use my right foot for driving yet: the ankle does not bend, nor will it ever again, and it takes more pressure than I am presently allowed to put on the joint to depress the brake and gas pedals.

So I tested to see if I could use my left foot to do the job. And, yes, my left foot can fit over there and operate the controls.

So I drove us back home, or at least as far as Sisters. The left foot's a little spastic on the accelerator and needs some training, and after about an hour the ankle got a little fatigued from the awkward angle. That's why Mrs Elliott took over in Sisters.

But by gum I can drive the van.

Good thing it has an automatic transmission, most have a four-speed tranny, and two-footed driving is presently beyond my capabilities.

The only really awkward part is getting up and down from the driver's seat. It's pretty high off the ground and usually requires a big step up, not a move I can presently do (try stepping up onto a chair one-legged). But by using a little plastic footstool I can get up high enough to get my butt on the seat. Then I simply haul up the stool with a rope lanyard I have fashioned, and I am good to go.

It's like dropping and lifting anchor.

So -- ahoy. First port of call: doughnuts.

Yes, it's true: I have had a hankering for doughnuts for a couple weeks and Mrs Elliott finds the tasty little artery-stiffening globs of fried flour and sugar anathema, so if I ever expect to get a doughnut* again I have to do it myself.

Richard's, I hear, has the good donuts, but they've been closed the two times I checked them out a few months ago. I'm gonna give them another shot.

Why? Because I can. For the first time since early May, I can drive myself. And that's a good thing.

So is having a freezer full of ripe organic blueberries.

=========
* Doughnut = dough + nought (i.e., dough made in the shape of a zero, or "naught/nought"; a circoletto di pasta). Websters, IMHO, has its head up its ass when they say that that the word comes from dough + nut. Anyone wanna fight about it?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Weekend's Posting

There's not much going on this weekend, so far. Certainly not much I can do, with one foot out commission.

Let's see, um, Mrs Elliott has been volunteering for KPOV at the Bend Elks games, flogging raffle tickets to raise a few kopecks for the station. I went to one of the games. I understand how the game works but don't find it very interesting. Doubtless a personal failing of mine, one I will have to continue to live with.

We've attended three or so of the Bend Memorial Clinic's "Munch & Music" events at Drake Park this summer. If you've not gone they are a perfectly acceptable way to spend a Thursday afternoon and evening.

When Mrs Elliott's nearly totally Republican family was here in late July, the music was by Rhythm Culture (www.rhythmculture.org). Reggae music. "Hippieland," one family member dubbed Bend, watching the crowd of dancers in front of the stage. But since 80% of America is to the left of her family, one expects comments like that.

Last Thursday saw the final M&M event for the summer.

At other Munch & Music events, we also enjoyed the Misty River Band (www.mistyriverband.com), and Soul Vaccination (www.soulvax.com). I've always wanted to play bass in a large R&B band, and it was fun watching those old silverbacks play grooves from the 60's and 70's. Tower of Power they ain't, but they chugged along right good. Chick bass player. And the excellent Empty Space Orchestra has a chick drummer. I love this area.

While here, one of Mrs Elliott's family members (unmarried, male) noted that there sure are a lot of pretty women here. He's right: it's something that Mrs Elliott and I have both commented on. I dunno what a high percentage of pretty women says about an area, but it can't be bad. There are certainly plenty of towns where one can go all day without seeing attractive females. Bend ain't one of them.

We just tumbled to the fact that there are still some free (as in $0.00) music events before the end of summer at Northwest Crossing's Saturday Farmer's Markets (10am to 2pm, until Sept. 12) featuring bluegrass (Moon Mountain Ramblers, today; "campfire pop" (Western swing?); W. African drumming and dancing; Japanese Taiko drumming; and soul/jazz and funk. Also some free Friday evening movies in the park, 5 - 9:30pm. See www.c3events.com for more info on these items.

Don't forget about the upcoming 2009 Bend Roots Revival (Sept. 24 - 27) over at the Flaming Chicken roundabout on westside. Something like 50 local music artists and other performers on two or three stages. Promoting local talent. Free, free, free. Make a donation to help support local community organizations and keep this thing going every year. Food by Parrilla Grill, Victorian Cafe, coffee and snow cones and cookies. It is said there will be a beer garden.

Despite my out-of-commission foot, Mrs Elliott and I are in discussion about whether we could pull off a camping trip next weekend. We determined this afternoon that I can, by using a series of maneuvers found only in Victorian-era books about obscure, forgotten forms of Oriental self-defense, hoist myself into the passenger seat. So over the next week I will try to gather up the camping gear which got stashed away -- somewhere? -- last August when we first moved in. And I'll want to find a nice place to camp, someplace with ADA sites (smooth concrete for my wheelchair), quiet, secluded, views of water -- lake, river or stream. The missus is quite the camper, but I'm used to doing the heavy lifting so this will be "camping lite."

Unload Them Recyclables, Help Community Radio.

A brief note to my reader: Mrs Elliott has collected a boatload of recyclables to donate to KPOV's second Can and Bottle Drive (this Saturday only, see www.kpov.org for details). We're (read: she) will load them into our van and we'll see if I can figure out some way to climb up into that thing with only one leg, and drive them over to the collection point at Ray's Food Place (8am to 6pm -- did I mention that it was TODAY ONLY???)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

One Year in Bend -- A Camping Trip

One year ago today, at around 7pm, I pulled up in front of our new-to-us house in Bend. It was a hot day, and I was tired, after having spent two full days behind the wheel of my 84 VW Vanagon Westfalia camper. The sky was a brilliant blue, I had passed through masses of butterflies along the shore of Klamath Lake, and after I crossed the Deschutes and headed up Newport Ave, Bend's "summer butterflies," in the form of folk and their kids on bicycles, were out flitting around, enjoying the beautiful summer evening.

I unloaded my little travel trailer, set up the inflatable mattress and plastic patio furniture which would serve me until Mrs Elliott's arrival with our household possessions, six days later. During that time, my job was to work with the painters and remodelers before the big moving trucks arrived. I got my part of the deal done, she and my son Jim and an employee got the trucks loaded and up here and unloaded as planned, and we entered into that odd space between just having stuff in the house and being truly moved in.

I'm still trying to figure out where to put some of the stuff.

The year has gone by quickly. We found that we were able to easily accommodate ourselves to the dreaded winter months that everyone warned us about, though we did need to install a forced-air furnace into this 70's house with its failed radiant heat ceilings to bring the temps above 62 degrees. I added hauling firewood and stoking the wood stove insert to heat the office downstairs to my morning duties.

With remodeling projects and getting our businesses moved, Mrs Elliott and I had been unable to explore central Oregon or do any camping, which we both enjoy, and so we set those pleasures aside for this summer. But, as has been described in tedious detail on these pages, my ankle blew out in May, derailing our plans for outdoor activities (I can't even drive yet!) until this ankle fusion heals and I can start walking again.

So camping and exploring the area will have to wait another year.

When I was a lad -- third grade? -- Mom and Dad took my two younger brothers and me up the coast to Big Sur for a week-long tent camping trip in summer. I had a great time and was heartbroken when we had to leave and go back south to Santa Barbara at the end of the trip. Since that time, I have always associated camping with the Best Times in life, and returning south to the dry stucco as marking the End of the best times.

In one sense, living here has been like camping for me. The house is a really commodious camper (considerably larger than our Westy). We've got this site along the road with nice views. The weather is always interesting (right now there are big puffy white and gray cumulus clouds drifting across a cobalt blue sky), and I don't have to regretfully count up the days before we load the camping gear back in the car to drive back home -- we're already here.

We were watching KOHD's 5 o' clock news last night (it's like a high school production, we get a kick out of those earnest kids playing newscasters) and they were doing a story about, oh I don't know, some small wildfire near Warm Springs, maybe, and Mrs Elliott turned to me and said, "Can you believe we're living here?"

I know what she means. The news from Salem is now more relevant than that from Sacramento. The needs and interests and political/economic issues are not the same as those in Cali. Here, I am interested in the health and well-being of the town. There, I had no hope that any of the towns would ever be interesting to me.

I read IHTBYB's BendBubble2 inflammatory and bleak postings because his predictions and descriptions of the back-room dealings that have helped damage Bend have been so spot-on so many times. But just as deep dark depression about the area's future threatens to suck me under, he closes with pictures of lovely lasses with large ta-tas, which I always find cheering; and with that, er, lift, I am reminded that economic cycles are inevitable, that over the long course of recorded history, we see civilizations rise to glory and sink into the sands; that one's own life is an arc beginning at birth and ending at death, with struggles and successes in the middle.

That's life, man.

Chance the Gardener: In the garden, growth has its seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
President "Bobby": Spring and summer.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
President "Bobby": Then fall and winter.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.

(Being There, 1979)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Marz, Astro, Chocolat e Gateaux -- and maybe Dudley's and Kitchen Complements



Warning: hearsay and rumor ahead. Lash yourself to the mast lest ye be swept to sea.


While I was out pergimpulating around downtown,
I met up with one of my little birds who told me that the owner of the Minnesota Ave. building which houses Chocolat e Gateaux, Marz, and Astro Lounge has Big Plans.

First, Chocolate e Gateaux has not has his lease renewed. The shop will be shuttered by the end of this coming weekend. The awning is already down.

The rent at Marz is said to have been raised 28%. This in an effort to get them out. I didn't learn what's going on at Astro, but since the owner plans to knock out all the dividing walls and join all three shops into one, Astro probably has been given unpleasant news, too.

Additionally, the owner has made an offer to buy the building which houses Dudley's and Kitchen Complements. Again, to bang down the walls and further open up the space.

Converting what was five small business into one big business.

And what kind of business might this be. Well, the fellow behind these machinations (described to me in rather unflattering terms, words I cannot use here in a family publication) is, it appears, owner, or son of owner, or part owner (unclear) of a winery which produces expensive wines. It is a large wine tasting bar/shop that he wishes to open.

I am not familiar with the winery. I Googled the name and turned up a boutique winery in Australia.

Jody Denton's not coming back ... is he?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Apparently There CAN Be Too Many Taco Stands

One of the maxims of life in SoCal is that there apparently cannot be too many Mexican food huts. Every town has a plethora of them. In San Diego county alone, there are over 100 different huts or chains ending with "-berto's" (like Bend's Rigoberto's). Howie at foodieview.com writes that,
Whether you grew up in San Diego or have only been here a short while, you have no doubt been exposed to the “Berto’s” phenomenon. Like the cheese on their potato rolled tacos, these late-night carne huts are heavily sprinkled throughout the city. They don a variety of different pre-fixes including: Adal-, Ai-, Al-, Ali-, Ei-, Fili-, Gual-, Ham-, Hil-, Hum-, Juan- Jil-, Noel-, Nol, Nor-, Ram-, Rigo-, Ro-, Rol-, Roy-, and Ru-. In addition to the last syllable “Berto’s” these San Diego Taqueria’s have several other attributes in common. They almost all have red and yellow exterior walls and signage, drive thru’s that seem to have been installed as an afterthought, and a logo of an oversized sombrero atop either a man or jalapeño with a mustache. They also offer many of the same San Diego-style Mexican food staples including the rolled taco (drenched in cheese and guacamole), the California Burrito (complete with french fries… inside the burrito), and, last but not least, the Carne Asada Burrito.
SoCal can support an apparently unlimited number of these cheerful places. Low-quality but filling food made from low-quality materials and sold at low, low prices is a winning formula.

And I've never seen one of these taco stand, "-berto's" or not, go out of business in SoCal. I witnessed plenty of other fast food places go out of business only to open a few weeks or months later as a Mexican food joint, and forever remain in business thereafter.

So it was with surprise when I saw that Rico's Tacos/Tacos Rico on 3rd was closed. Maybe it's been closed for a while, I haven't been able to get out much these past few months, but I marveled at the sight. Not out of schadenfreude, the taking of pleasure from the misfortunes of others, but the novelty. It's true that westside's Rigoberto's was shut down last year for dealing drugs out the drive-thru window, but it wasn't closed for more than a few weeks before Phoenixing from the ashes as Taco Salsa. (Kudos for avoiding the "-berto's" thing, but Taco Salsa strikes me as the kind of name you get when you saw apart some other restaurant's sign and stick together two of the words. Eminently practical but lacking any spark of originality. But since no one goes to a Mexican food hut for originality, that's a quibble.)

The current downturn which has hit Deschutes county so particularly hard has certainly closed plenty of restaurants, and the damage has not been limited to the high end. Rico's Tacos/Tacos Rico may have had a less-robust business model than your average hut. Maybe the owners had a family emergency. Or they might have been a dreadful place to eat. It would have to have been pretty bad even by Mexican fast food standards if the bean and cheese burrito I got from the Rigoberto's on 3rd is anything to go by: the thing tasted like motor oil yet they're still in business.

Whatever the reason, I was taken aback to see a taco shop shuttered. I'm questioning one of the bedrocks of my belief system: that there can never be too many taco stands.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Liver and Joints

"The liver, you see, is a large, ugly mystery to us. If you've ever eaten liver, you know what I mean."

-- the "English Intern," Catch-22

Dr. J. Lutz, MD, the man handling the infections part of my recovery, called this morning to report that my latest blood work showed that my liver is being hammered by the fluconazole antibiotic. Wants me to cut the dosage in half.

More than happy to.

Between the fluconazole and the vancomycin (iv), my joints are getting real sore. Feeling like I'm about 80 these days. Hips, shoulders, elbows, upper and lower back, and knee (only one is organic, the other titanium) are really crotchity and achy.

Sleeping has become quite the challenge. No matter what position I turn, at least one joint starts complaining, loudly. Toss and turn all night long.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Nearly One Year

I arrived in Bend, behind the wheel of "Mellow Yellow," my 1984 VW Westfalia, towing a little ladybug utility trailer on August 12, 2008. Mrs Elliott arrived along with two gigantic moving vans on the 18th. In just a few days we will have been here for a year.

I'm just saying.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Finally out of Withdrawals

Oh -- forgot to mention that the gritty and shitty opiate withdrawal symptoms I've had for the past few days are over.

I had forgotten what it feels like to not be on constant pain meds, it's been so long.

It's rather nice.

Me likee this. Anyone wanna fight about it?

Lyle Lovett and the 'lectrical Storm

Last night's Lyle Lovett and the Large Band's concert was cut short a bit due to the arrival of a massive electrical storm. The music was great, the band was fantastic (I mean, in addition to his acoustic guitar, we had two electric guitarists, a fellow that swapped between acoustic guitar and mandolin, a fiddle player, a cellist, pedal steel, a great piano player on a Yamaha grand, a fantastic bass player on upright bass, drums . . . and four backup singers). I mean, when you get good enough to be able to hire a band with that many session-quality country music, jazz and the blues players, you got a show.

I'm not a music writer so I'm not going to struggle to provide a review here. I like Lovett's music and love watching a great band do its stuff. So I had me plenty of fun.

The storm that ended the show was slow moving and had been walking up from the south for some time, with nearly continuous flashes of lightning. It packed a punch. Lovett said that the show organizers had requested that the band get offstage. Weather permitting, he said, they would resume after the storm passed. But by the time the leading edge of the dark clouds began to move slowly overhead, the brilliant lightning, wind gusts and light spatters of rain had the crowd on their feet and moving to the parking lots, and stagehands were covering the instruments and sound equipment with tarps.

Under such conditions, especially when one is in a metal wheelchair in an open field, one begins to feel a trifle vulnerable,

I reckoned the smartest thing to do was to beat feet down by the front, under the stage overhang, near its nicely-grounded metal legs. The lightning might be attracted to it -- a tall, well-earthed conductive structure?" You bet. But at least the current would want to flow through it to ground. Or so my thinking was: I might be wrong about all that.

The other options that presented themselves were to to stay in the field in the wheelchair and take my chances, or transfer into a plastic lawn chair and have Mrs Elliott move the wheelchair a safe distance away. And take our chances.

Or go home. Many were.

But I was also struggling with another important consideration: Mrs Elliott had just returned from the Ben & Jerry's booth with a cup of chocolate ice cream for me and I was totally torn between finishing the ice cream or getting the hell to safety. When one is in motion in a wheelchair, one has no safe place to set a cup of ice cream, you see, except in one's lap, which on bumpy grass, is insufficiently secure for a tub halfway filled with melty ice cream. It actually took me at least two minutes -- two minutes in which I was feeding myself ice cream -- delicious, cold, chunky chocolate fudge ice cream -- to realize that I would need to shortly abandon the quiescently-frozen delicacy and suggest a course of action.

A ground strike less than two miles away pretty much made my mind up for me.

I chose to get our asses under the metal stage.

But the storm got more and more violent and when another ground strike took out the power to the stage as well as every other light source within sight except for some parking lot lights at the Old Mill, and it was clear that the really big part of the storm was still dozens of miles away yet on a course directly for us, we elected to head home. We packed up and Mrs Elliott rolled us right back to the car.

I got safely seated while Mrs Elliott struggled at the back of the car to stow the heavy wheelchair. "I better not get struck with lightning while I'm putting this thing away!" she said. "If that happens, you'll be in big trouble."

[Image of photograph taken by Medical Examiner showing glass blown out of car's raised rear door, under which is charred skeleton with fingers welded to metal frame of wheelchair.]

Fortunately, the trip home was uneventful.

The storm passed overhead slowly, lasting more than an hour, so there's no chance the concert would have resumed. Too bad, as The Large Band was most surely going to end with a mighty finale.

But it's okay -- during the drive home and from the relative safety of our house we watched an amazing display. I've never seen such a stunning display of lightning. Whole sequences of cloud-to-cloud strikes lit up the skies like flashbulbs in a smoke-filled room. One ground strike had to have been within 500 feet of us. The FLASH-BLAM! positively levitated Mrs Elliott right off her feet.

The whole evening -- the music and the light show -- were worth the price of admission.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hot Enough For Ya?

My reader asks how we're doing in the heat. These days are like them Santa Ana winds days in SoCal: "wife beating weather" a cop friend calls them. It's rare for the winds to blow for as many days in a row as this heat spell has lasted, but while the Santa Anas just make things miserable, dry and hot (when they are not fanning some wildfire upwind that is depositing day after day of ash on you), they don't bring in these swell thunderstorms.

Me likee thunderstorms. Munch 'n' Music at the park on Thursday got all thunderstormy, Friday night's Elks baseball game got briefly thunderstormy, and last night was dramatic as all get-out. But when the time lag between the flash and the sound dropped to, well, zero, I decided it was time to get our asses off the deck and come indoors.

The rains came sleeting down right then, too. And the power went out. Killing the window-mount new Frigidaire A/C unit we had picked up at Lowe's a couple days earlier. That little sucker is going to slam our electric bill, but when it's 99 degrees outside but 80 inside -- as measured by a thermometer located between the living room, where the unit is mounted, it's doing a right fine job.

Sitting in front of it, as we do when watching TV, it's downright frigid. Money well-spent, make the place quite tolerable.

But this heat doesn't carry a candle to the misery I'm feeling right now withdrawing from pain meds. I've been on opioids since May, at times quite heavy dosages, and have been tapering for the past couple weeks. The meds ran out 36 hours ago, and I was only taking one pill every 12 hours at that point anyway.

Even so, it's surprising how much pain the body manufactures when one's opioid receptors are no longer being plugged with exogenous narcotics.

I'll take heat over withdrawal symptoms, hands down, no questions. I'm not talking Trainspotters-grade symptoms here, but the next time I hear about someone who has managed to kick heroin -- like a niece of mine, brave girl -- I know I'll have a slight idea what they had to go through.

Lyle Lovett's performing at the Schwab tonight. I like his music. I bought the expensive tickets back when they were first on sale. I hope I feel good enough to see the show.
 
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