Thursday, April 29, 2010

Coffee for those who were otherwise occupied

For the man or woman who was dozing at the back of the classroom when the high-end coffee scene happened, here's a handy study guide:

A tidy description of common espress-based drinks can be found halfway down the page. If one had a scientific mind, one would order one of each and determines how it suits. Jack is pleased to find that froo-froo Starbucks milkshakes are not represented on this list of actual, real drinks.

I bring this matter up because I am currently getting my ass handed to me on a serving tray in chess at Lone Pine Coffee Roasters (downtown). Last meet, the chess hustler mentioned that the high-end coffee scene came to Bend when he was otherwise distracted; and he expressed an unfamiliarity with the current drinks which are common among the coffeenista.

So to him, and others who are unsure about what to order when facing a chalkboard and a hipster barrista in a coffee shop, I commend that article at theoatmeal,com. One could work one's way through the various espresso drinks and order them. See which ones suit.

At Lone Pine Coffee, one can't got wrong with the beans if one is seeking a big coffee taste. The roasting syle leads to coffees with a fat midrange and nice rich "bottom end" [bass] (it turns out that audio descriptives work well with coffee). I like how "chunky" their roasts are.

But they do lack the high notes -- the citrusy, floral notes that are characteristic of different beans. Scott, Lone Pine's owner, told me that he'd made a conscious decision to roast for big richness.

Thump Coffee's beans, on the other hand, let a fellow taste the differences between varieties.

So Jack finds that for an afternoon cup, when Jack so desperately needs something to savor, a drip cone or French press of Thump's beans is richly-rewarding; while in the morning, when Jack is grumping about the kitchen wishing that he could sleep in more, a Clever Coffeemaker of Lone Pine's middle-shelf beans provides all Jack needs to start appreciating the day.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How Gay Am I?

If by gay, you mean, "a man who can look at a vintage dress and know exactly what year it came from," then I'm pretty gay.

This morning, at the Downtown Bend Business Association meeting, I noticed that Kelli Brooks, the owner of At The Beach, was wearing an orange and white plaid mini-skirt length dress, with a white hair band and matching white go-go boots. She looked totally gear.

I met up with her afterward at Thump Coffee and told her that she looked smashing, like a page out of a 1964 issue of Life magazine.

"This actually is a vintage dress from 1964," she told me.

So this tells me two things:
  1. I'm old enough to know 1964 fashion when I see it, and
  2. I'm gay enough to be able to know exactly what year a dress came from. 
That is, if by "gay" we mean "A man who can look at a vintage dress and know exactly what year it came from."

Spying on the Neighbors

"Spying on the neighbors again, dear?"

"Oh, Walt Ward -- I'm worried about the Beaver!"

Pursuant to yesterday's post about the new construction on the lot down the hill, Mrs Elliott and I did a little exploration.

Over on the Bend Economy Bulletin Board I asked whether one could access city construction permits records, and bendbb kindly replied,
You can search by address through monthly/yearly lists of permits here ...

or you can use the interactive mapping application here ...

The map interface takes a while to get used to (it isn't as intuitive as Google Maps), but has access to lots of historical data.
Which is an awesome tool. Using it, we learned that the lot just got approval for a single-family residence with attached garage, and that the owner is the contractor.

Mrs Elliott wasn't too happy about this. "I hope it doesn't block our view," she said. "We might have to plant a small tree so we're not looking into their windows. How tall will the house be?"

Another project. The city has added something called e-Plans which allows one to view plans online. I have a call into the city to obtain a password to access the file.

Yes, okay. We're spying on the neighbors.

Monday, April 19, 2010

That Ain't no Woodpecker

Woodpeckers are non-existent in coastal SoCal so it's taken us a bit of time to get used to the insistent knocking of the birds banging on the house. I reckon they are seeking snacks buried behind the "bark" of the house. Or trying to dig holes big enough for a nest.

Whatever. Woodpeckers may not be the brightest of birds. Wikipedia tells us that "Many of the foraging, breeding and signaling behaviors of woodpeckers involve drumming and hammering using the bill.[4] In order to prevent brain damage from the rapid and repeated decelerations, woodpeckers have evolved a number of adaptations to protect the brain. These include small brain size...".

Today, though, the knocking, knocking, knocking is not due to tiny-brained members of the family Picidae, but rather the sound of massive chunks of concrete being pounded into smaller chunks of concrete down the hill just below our back yard by a large John Deere 490D excavator. The thing has a big brutal spike thing on the end of the arm and is banging away at the concrete.

It's pretty much been going on all day so far. I have no idea what it's breaking up -- old house foundations or something. I do know that it's moving slowly uphill toward the back fence. It's a fearsome-looking machine so I'll keep an eye on it, just in case. 

I hope this does not signal that the lot behind our house is getting developed. It wouldn't block our view unless they put a five-story building on it, but it will be pretty noisy for a while.

Who's building houses these days, anyway?

We'll just have to watch and see. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

About as Pretty a Day as One Could Want

What a nice, warm, mellow day this was. I saw a robin pulling a chubby earthworm from the lawn a couple days ago, so I call Spring.

I trust birds.

Mrs Elliott has been out of town for the weekend, exhibiting at a conference in Atlanta, GA. With her gone, one could be excused for thinking that Jack would lay about the house, drinking beer, watching sports, and belching.

One would not be wrong, I did all that.

But I also built up a sweet little mountain bike for Mrs Elliott today. As soon as the next nice weekend day comes along, we'll take a ride together -- maybe up the river trail, bring some sandwiches and white wine, a camera, and enjoy the day.

These are the unpredictable days, here in Bend. Dour, bitter Old Man Winter (think: blackdog) has not released his grip on Central Oregon, though his strength is weakening; while cheerful Spring, yet a callow youth hereabouts, hasn't the strength to wrest us out of crummy OMW's grasp. So, being caught in a tug-of-war between these two opposing forces, Bend has to contend with surges from both Winter and Spring.

Spring will win, and will escort us to Summer; and Summer will lead to Fall, who cannot but take us back again to Winter. Around and around. Things will get better and better before they get crummier and crummier. This is how things go, this is the nature of living on a planet with an axis tilted relative to the ecliptic plane, in a place so at affect of the seasonal changes.

Hey -- howzabout that swell new black and white picture of me (over on the right)? I got them glasses a couple months ago. Mrs Elliott hates them, says they remind her of her math teacher. I like them as they are awesomely dorky.

The stern expression? You got a "D" on the last exam. See me in my office, young lady.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dunc Sez It Well

Nail. On. The. Head.

At first Mrs Elliott and I were like "Oh look!" + spend. Now we're settling into life here as residents, not tourists.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Historical Downtowns

After yesterday's post about California sprawl, blackdog commented that "I'm sure that at one time, maybe 60 or 70 years ago, those California towns had distinct neighborhoods too, but they were engulfed by the sprawl."

As we were leaving Fairfield, we found the historical downtown. It has this thing called "character," or at least used to. Being the seat of the county, it had the usual looming government buildings that designers create and councils approve, for whatever reasons they approve such things. Taste, apparently, is not one of the valued criteria, nor is concern about how damned forbidding the buildings are.

But if one blocks out the giant cement structures with a (large) hand and looks at the few blocks that surround them, one can indeed see the signs of a city that had a main street with shops and offices. Like downtown Redmond or one of any hundreds of towns you care to name, the place had, at one time, a center.

It's dirty and shabby now. One sees martial-arts studios, mattress shops, uninspired low-end restaurants, a jeweller, a couple beauty parlors specializing in hairstyles long out of fashion, furniture stores with orange and green plaid sofas, and other businesses targeting the lower income end of the economic spectrum; and, of course, plenty of law offices because of the proximity of the county courthouse.

It's a depressing reminder of how unbridled sprawl, shopping malls, strip malls, and chain stores can strip away a community's character and its center along with its money.

But there it was: the sad remains of what could be, today, a charming downtown.

Due to greed and crap planning, it was allowed to wither and die. The only thing keeping that downtown from being bulldozed and another shit mall from being banged up is the money the county government spends in it. That's just enough to keep the patient on life support, with a bit of a pulse, but not enough for it to become conscious. The soul has departed.

Along with anyone who cares.

Blackdog is right: buried inside every metastasized, cancerous stucco and asphalt southwest city I've ever lived in, one can find the original main street and the buildings that were once the downtown, its heart.

Here in Bend, the downtown is still intact and retains vitality. The shopping malls on the north end are regrettable, sure, but they are out of town and center of population has not been allowed to surround them. The northwest side is a disaster, certainly: a prime example of what has been shown not to work, over and over again (see any sprawl in California); and while 3rd Street is ugly, it's pretty much what one expects along a busy highway. There has to be a place for strip clubs, supermarkets, gas stations, and convenience stores, after all. The Old Mill isn't ugly, though I find it very, very boring.

I dunno, these are my opinions only. As a newbie I'm probably not even allowed to have opinions, in the minds of many. But after this last visit to California's vast wastelands of stupendously thoughtless out of control development, I just feel that if one lives in a town that hasn't yet had the life crushed out of it under the boot of profit, there is still hope.

Well, the battery is running down on this laptop so I'm just gonna post this without proofing it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Things Ain't So Pretty In Fairfield City

Mrs Elliott and I are presently down in California, visiting the kids. The two families live in Fairfield and Vacaville, two cities next to each other, located about 50 minutes east of San Francisco on the I-80 corridor.

It's an area completely lacking in charm. There is sprawl every direction, and it's endless. The cities are composed of two basic elements: housing and shopping centers. Tatty older houses on tiny lots, packed together street after street after street, and by "older" I don't mean charming funky older, I mean they were crappy houses when they were built and they've not gotten any better. They go for miles, relieved only by massive shopping malls embedded every so often into the sea of houses.

In the shopping malls you can find every damn chain store and restaurant of indifferent quality you can think of. Chili's, Applebees, Chuckee Cheeses, McDonalds, Home Buffet, -- this is breeder territory, I have not seen a single restaurant for grown people who don't have kids in tow. The stores are your Targets and Lowe's and J.C. Penny's and Michaels and the list goes on an on and not one of them is a place you haven't visited time and time again. None is unique or interesting. For Christ's sake if you blindfolded someone and set them down in any one of these asphalt surrounded clusters of charmless stores and pulled off the blindfold they'd have no way of knowing what town they were in. There's no here here.

Welcome to Generica.

The people work, come home, spend their money in the chains which suck most of the money right back out from the community. Travis Air Force Base probably dumps a lot of money into the area. So the money comes from our tax dollars into the pockets of the locals here, who then spend it in the chains, and that money that doesn't go to minimum wage store employees promptly departs the community and heads to the store corporate headquarters. This is a business model that can never result in a city getting prosperous because there's no earthly reason why anyone would want to invest in the place unless they were looking for cheap housing and all the crappy stores you could want -- as long as you are willing to drive your car to them. The distances make walking quite impossible, and as I saw yesterday, cycling is no Swiss picnic.

We bought a house here for one of the kids and the grandchildren, a place he could afford which is out of the nasty part of Oakland that they had been living in. The house here has a bit of a back yard. Each child gets his and her own room.

It's a serious fixer-upper, been abandoned for a few years.

Yesterday morning I rode my bicycle to Home Depot to pick up some cabinet hardware, a round trip of about eleven miles. And I was reminded how much I dislike riding a bike in suburban sprawl in California. The cars speed up if they see you crossing the road ahead of them, the accommodations for cycling are rudimentary and clearly show that whoever designed them is unfamiliar with bike riding. It's a struggle to get anywhere safely.

Unlike the PNW, where cycling is more mainstream, the only other people I saw on bicycles were homeless guys or Hispanic men riding little BMX bikes. So around here, riding a bicycle sends the message that one is a marginalized person.

There is a former railroad right of way that cuts through the neighborhoods in a fairly straight direction from the house to the hardware store, and the city thoughtfully put a bike/walking path where the rails used to be. It did get me off the city streets for several miles, but no one really uses it: other than a two sleeping homeless guys and some Mexican men drinking beer, I was the only one using it for its intended purpose.

Anyway, we're working to make this house more liveable, as well as trying to make a habitable "granny flat" in the garage for Mrs Elliott and me to stay in when we visit. Other than the bike ride, I found no time for an oil painting I wanted to work on, the amount of work to be done is so overwhelming.

Visiting here reminded me how places like this are just not for me. I am thankful that I no longer live in suburban California, and live in a pretty place as Bend, which has a sense of community that these soulless places entirely lack. We're driving north today.

Thinking of making it a two-day drive, and stay at this funky little B and B in Dorris, then swing by Crater Lake on the way back home. Spring may arrive later in Central Oregon than it does here, but Bend doesn't crush my soul the way these places do.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Snowflakes and Raindrops and Wind, Oh My!

Some sun, too.

Bend changes its weather faster than I can change lanes.

Maison Elliott faces south into the little fold up which Newport Avenue runs. Between our house and the houses across the valley I can see big fat snowflakes falling. The snow is blowing nearly horizontally, and the sun is shining.

Today we had:

From midnight until noon: snow, sometimes heavy.
From noon until 3pm: bright sunlight. Snowmelt was pouring off the roof by the bucketsfull.
And now this. Wind, sun, and snow. The sky is blue overhead.

My daughter, on spring break, is visiting our fair city from Carlsbad, Calif. and reports that she got a bowl of gelato downtown this afternoon, stepped outside, and it started snowing again.

Place can catch the unwary by surprise.

Dress in layers. Trust no one.
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