Thursday, April 26, 2012

Design Your Own Burger at The Counter

Our group at work wanted a place to commemorate an achievement--our new website design just went live. I was lucky enough to have had a part in it--mainly gathering and updating specifications, and I'm quite proud of it.

So, we went to The Counter for drinks and burgers. What a place.

I have had fine hamburgers at other places, including the esteemed Buffalo Bill's Brewery in Hayward (California). But at The Counter, you can custom build your own. They give you an order sheet and an official The Counter golf pencil to fill it out. It's a mind-boggling custom building process.

First, pick your patty: Beef, Chicken, Turkey--or even veggie. There's something called Market Selection MP. I picked beef.

You can have 1/3 lb., 2/3 lb. or a full pound of meat--that weight is after cooking.

Have it on a bun or in a bowl, and if you opt for the latter, there are three different salad mixes.

Pick a cheese. There are 12 listed, including Herb Goat Cheese Spread, Horseradish Cheddar and Soft Ripened Brie.

Choose up to four toppings. Pick from 23 (!). There are also nine premium toppings (add a buck each). These include Applewood Smoked Bacon, Guacamole and even a fried egg.

Choose a sauce. 23 of those, too. Want Apricot Sauce? Dijon Balsamic Dressing? Peanut Sauce? Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette?

If you want a bun (see above) you can pick from seven kinds. Whew.

If you can't figure out what you want there are a baker's dozen burgers--some in bowls--for you to point to.

I had a beef 1/3 pound burger on a Honey Wheat bun with marinated artichokes, Roasted Corn and Black Bean Salsa, and Sweet BBQ sauce. I think there was something else. It was fantastic.

The Counter has starters too--I sampled their sweet potato fries and crispy onion rings--and a fried dill pickle too. They've got plenty of beer on tap and it was happy hour, so they were discounted to just 3 bucks.

They claim 100% Natural Angus hormone and antibiotic free meat that's humanely raised and handled. It's hard to tell, but the beef patty I ate was fine. No trans fats, and the veggie burgers are vegan.

I'll be back! There are locations within driving distance in Northern California.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Shins - James Mercer Strikes a Chord

Funny how you learn about things. I was reading through the March 26, 2012 issue of the New Yorker and discovered a story on the Shins. Because it was in the Music section and on the opposite page I noticed a flowery photo of bandleader James Mercer, I read the article and learned a little about them--including getting a review of their new album, Port of Morrow (pictured).

The Shins, which is James Mercer's songs and singing with various musicians, sounded like a band worth exploring. Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico but now situated in Portland, they have been active for 16 years. I had heard a little about them before and the story was compelling but it wasn't until I happened to see the CD sitting in the rack at Starbucks that I plunked down my $12.95 and grabbed my own copy.

Funny--the packaging looked shiny, with dark photos of Mercer on the front (surrounded by positive blurbs from music industry reviewers and him with his musicians on the back with the song list. Dark and sober. It turns out, that's a fake cover--the real paper sleeve has a gray and black design that, it appears, was deemed too dull to market at a coffee place. In any case, I slipped it into my car's CD player and the fun began.

The Rifle's Spiral starts it off quickly, and then Simple Song and It's Only Life keep the momentum going. Simple Song reminded me of something by U2. Mercer was presented in the New Yorker story as being a quiet, modest performer, but the material on this new album has plenty of power and impact.

As someone whose first set of favorite songs dates from the Lyndon Johnson administration, it's always good to find new artists that I can relate to. Last year it was a fling with Owl City--also the workings of a single person, only in that case, there isn't even a backup band--Adam Young does it all on his songs.

Who does James Mercer sound like? I hear some John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Gerry Rafferty--and Jon Anderson of Yes. A little David Bowie in the final track? The chord changes are exciting and satisfying and the little details of production make for a musical adventure.

I've already played through the CD several times in the car and had a couple of headphones-in-the-chair close examinations. Very worth it--and it's good to live in the 21st century at least part of the time.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Robin Gibb has Awoken from his Coma!

Reuters and other agencies report that Robin's awake and communicating with his family. This is great news.

I grew up with the BeeGees, who were just a couple of years older than I was--but they were already child stars. In 1967, when Holiday was on the charts and BeeGees 1st debuted in the U.S., Robin was just 17--and I was 14. I followed them for a few years and didn't pay much attention again until they became disco legends. I was less interested in that music.

The group put out albums in the 1990's, including the song One, which returned them to non-falsetto singing.

Things ground to a halt again when Maurice died in 2004 at a mere 53 years old. He was the musician of the group while Barry and Robin sang--and I realized later that it was the bass work Maurice did that I admired in their recordings.

But I'm happy now, and looking forward to Robin's full recovery.

Friday, April 20, 2012

New Subaru Impreza Remains Impressive in 2012

I was eager to get my hands on the new Subaru Impreza. It seems like it had a redesign not long ago, but the '12 is completely redone. It still boasts all-wheel-drive for safety in the wet and snow, but the look and feel are now more substantial.

Subarus use horizontally-opposed flat engines, not inline or vee-shaped ones, and this means it looks a little different in the engine compartment. The forces oppose each other and balance out, while keeping a low center of gravity, for exceptional handling. I didn't drive my Camellia Red Pearl tester in any inclement weather but it felt completely safe and secure. The four-wheel disc brakes with antilock helped, as did electronic brake distribution and electronic brake force distribution. But those are not something only Subaru offers.

I like the compact wagon proportions, now made more chunky with the new styling. The face is not pretty or soft, but forceful and strong. The 17-inch gunmetal-finish alloy wheels are an acquired taste; I tend to like a little more sparkle (but don't care much for chrome) but I know that the younger buyers the Impreza is targeted to are going for that.

The interior, with black plastic and cloth, seems unpretentious in a world of swirly shapes. The dash is padded where it is sometimes hard plastic in other non-luxury cars. The seats had white stitching on them for a little extra sportiness, and tied into the black on white gauge cluster. These gauges glow red at night--not as easy to see for those of us with a touch of color-blindness. Of course, drop the rear seats and you've got lots of carrying capacity--a dream for us bass-playing types.

The 2.0-liter engine is rated at 27 City and 36 Highway (average 30 mpg). I got 27.3 mpg, a little lower than the official average, but that's still pretty good. The EPA Green Vehicle Guide gives the car a 9 for Air Pollution and 7 for Greenhouse gas--excellent numbers. the PZEV sticker (partial zero emission vehicle) sticker sits proudly on one of the side windows.

My tester, a 2.0 Sport Premium, was the fourth highest of five levels. It stickered at $22,414, including shipping.That's above the standard economy car level, and this car doesn't feel like it's missing anything essential. It even had heated seats, although the controls were way back in the elbow area of the center console, where they are easy to activate unintentionally. That's actually exactly how I discovered them.

Prices start at $18,190 for the plain 2.0 model.

This car is definitely on my "would be glad to own one" list. A 2.0 Premium with a five-speed manual transmission would be just $20,000. Today, that's a deal. I'm liking sky blue. Go build your own here.

Music World Loses Dick Clark and Levon Helm...Robin Gibb "Flickers"

Dick Clark
Levon Helm

Robin Gibb
I've spent the last several days checking regularly on the condition of BeeGee Robin Gibb. I'd heard he was  very ill, but he has now been in a coma and, like others worldwide, we're expecting the worst. The latest story on line is that he has shown some "flickers of life" that are slightly encouraging. That would be a wonderful thing. It's been a tough week for the music business.

First, Dick Clark, who, at 82 and 8 years after a serious stroke, finally left us. New Year's Eve will never be the same. Much has been said about Dick over the last few days. Face it--we loved the guy and he did a lot to legitimize and mainstream rock and roll through the years by giving it his blessing.

Then, we lost Levon Helm, of the Band, another man who has been battling health issues. In his case, it was cancer, and he fought it for more than a decade, finally succumbing at 71. My band, Red Paint, played The Weight in his memory last night. It's part of our repertoire, but had a special meaning for us this time.

So, the vigil for Robin continues. A few days ago, I shuffled all the BeeGees albums in my iPod and heard a mixture of performances by Robin and his brothers. I don't have any of the disco era material, though.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Infiniti FX 35 - Swirly Curly

My mother was impressed with the Infiniti FX 35 luxury crossover. She's the one who called it "swirly curly." But you've got to admit that it is that.

The FX gets a new face this year, and a special new model--the Limited Edition. My test car was that model. Offered in a special Iridium Blue exterior color, it boasts 21-inch 10-spoke aluminum-alloy graphite finish wheels with P265/45R21 V-rated all-season tires, dark-tinted headlights with Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS) and auto-leveling, and dark-tinted side air vents and lower door trim. Other features for this special vehicle include aluminum roof rails and roof rail crossbars with graphite finish, aluminum pedals, graphite floor mats with unique blue piping, Infiniti Hard Drive Navigation System, Around View® Monitor (AVM) and much more.

The original sport utility vehicles (SUVs) were truck-based and boxy, but the tall, people-and-stuff-hauling crossovers are anything but. And Infiniti (Nissan) gave the sensuous exuberance of their cars to the big FX 35.

There's plenty of power from the 3.5-liter V6--303 horsepower to be exact--and intelligent all-wheel-drive handles the light offroading chores. There's a ski mode for going up to the cabin in Lake Tahoe, but you won't want to do much more dirty driving than that. You don't want to damage those 21-inch rims!

You get 16 City, 21 Highway (18 mpg average) from the EPA. I averaged 19.2 mpg. The EPA Green Vehicle Guide numbers are 5 for Air Pollution and just 3 for Greenhouse Gas. 

It's a world of leather inside, where the rounded look continues. You'll find hides on the seats, (with 10-way heating), steering wheel and shift knob. The panels have an "inflated" or convex feel to them, implying fullness and richness.

All this good stuff will cost you. The sticker on my tester was $52,445.

I like the way you can see the curving front fenders from the driver's seat. So often these days you can't see the outside of the car at all from there. It was smooth sailing for this big beauty.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Back to the 60's!


Last night, my band, Red Paint, played a birthday party for a guy turning 50. The theme was the 60's so I went out and got a few props to make myself look like a 60's musician. Yep--found a tie-dye t-shirt (not pictured) and, most importantly--a huge head of hair. It was the "Howard Stern" model (labeled: DJ Wannabee). I also put temporary die (sold as "mustache wax") on my goatee to match, and brought out my wire-framed sunglasses. What do you think?

Of course, the folks at the party "dug it," but it also felt good to be looking like I did many years ago. It was a personal time travel experience--only with even MORE hair. I got to experience the hair-in-the-face annoyance and the hair-in-the-mouth-while-eating phenomenon that my wife has described. She wears her hair up almost all the time for that very reason. It felt good to rock-and-roll and shake that mop of hair. Wearing the sunglasses made me feel a little insular and "safe" in some way, too.

You can live your dreams--playing bass in my band is a big one for me--but looking "cool" too is another. I've never been much for costumes, but I'll bet this will be a big hit at some party this coming October 31st.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Ford Edge - The Ultimate Crossover

Ford brought out the Edge several years ago as part of its recognition that the market was shifting. Out were the old, boxy, heavy SUVs and in were the "crossover" vehicles. Crossovers are tall cars, on regular car unibody platforms instead of truck chassis, with swept back windshields and, one hopes, more comfort and efficiency.

The Edge had a Ford look about it, and like other models put out in the middle of the last decade, an integrated appearance. It supplemented the lineup next to the legendary Explorer and extra-large Expedition and the compact Escape SUVs and the larger Flex crossover.

The Edge got a mid-cycle redo, and while the basic clean shape remains, now the three-bar grille flows down like lava onto the bumper--in chrome on my car. This ties in with the Fusion sedan, and is a look that Ford is actually moving away from (see the upcoming Fusion for a clue as to where the brand is headed).

The interior features Ford's MyFord Touch system, which gives you an amazing and at times perplexing electronic dash. Behind the steering wheel (nicely leather-covered in my Cinnamon Metallic testcar) you have a central speedometer flanked by two slender panels that you can configure to tell you what you want to know. On the left is fuel, mileage, economy and other useful performance metrics. I kept it handy for average economy, and saw 20.6 mpg, a little below the 24 average Ford proclaims on its window sticker (21 City, 30 Highway). On the right side of the instruments you can view specifics of your navigation system, entertainment, phone, and other interactive features.

The main panel in the center of the dash is a "home page," much like you might have on your PC or Mac. Its four rectangles feature phone, audio, navigation and climate--and give you information about those as needed. Touch the edge of the box near each corner and a full screen opens where you can see--and control--features for each. This is a car with heated seats that are controlled only by touch screen--no buttons.

The actual controls below the screen are tiny touch-sensitive grains of rice. I also found that the four-way flashers (a small red triangle) are activated the same way. I accidentally touched the spot and found them flashing away as I drove down the road. I must have brushed against the control as I adjusted the radio.

The Edge has been motivated by a V6 lately, but my car had the highly efficient EcoBoost 2.0 four-cylinder. You'd never know, though--the two-ton car zoomed along without a problem. That's because despite its size, the Spanish-built engine makes 240 horsepower! That's what EcoBoost is all about. You can also order up a 3.5-liter Ohio-origin V6 if you want that puts out 285 horsepower. The EcoBoost gets around 3 miles per gallon better fuel economy than the six.

My SEL model, with options, priced out at $36,670, but they start at around $28,000.

The Edge gives you the "above the fray" feeling that SUVs do but feels like a nice big car, and was an easy ride.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Eric Carmen Does Rachmaninoff--Twice

While working through Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, third movement in orchestra practice, I couldn't help thinking the theme sounded familiar.

And it is! In 1976, Eric Carmen released a song called Never Gonna Fall in Love Again. It has its own Wikipedia entry. The ballad went to number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

What I really didn't realize was that Carmen's big hit the year before, All by Myself, also was based on Rachmaninoff--the Piano Concerto No. 2! Well, it certainly makes sense to have good source material.

Does the Rachmaninoff estate get any royalties?

Click the links and listen for yourself.

Monday, April 2, 2012

59 Birthdays

Today I'm turning 59. A look back to my life on each birthday, year by year:

April 2, 1953: Born. Cute. Only breast-fed baby on the floor in the hospital. Thanks, Mom.
April 2, 1954: Apple of my parents' eye. Time to move from an apartment to my first house.
April 2, 1955: My brother is a day old. Mom wasn't at my birthday party.
April 2, 1956: My dad has a new sports car.
April 2, 1957: We took it racing. Dad and his friends have fun on the driveway.
April 2, 1958: Dad took movies of my birthday party. I had to share it with my brother.
April 2, 1959: My last birthday in my first house. Shared my party again.
April 2, 1960: Just moved to New Mexico. We have a Corvair. And a horse.
April 2, 1961: I'm skipping from 2nd to 3rd grade in the middle of the year.
April 2, 1962: We're moving again.
April 2, 1963: Our year in Staten Island is almost over. Because we're moving, I can't be a crossing guard at the school next year. I have a baseball card collection.
April 2, 1964: The Beatles have arrived! I got Meet the Beatles for an 11th birthday present.
April 2, 1965: Glued to the radio. Reading Spider-Man comics.
April 2, 1966: Now in California. My bar mitzvah is next month and I'm learning my torah portion using a tiny tape recorder. Just became a Boy Scout.
April 2, 1967: Dad has moved out last October. Mom bought a stereo. I love Ramona (secretly and painfully).
April 2, 1968: Got Bee Gees' Horizontal album as a birthday present. I got my first guitar this year and am taking lessons. I want long hair and little metal glasses like John Lennon.
April 2, 1969: Playing guitar in my free time. Dave W. and I played down the street for a party. Loving Manon now (she still doesn't know).
April 2, 1970: I'm almost out of high school, but I'm in Arizona with my dad. Terribly stressful time, but I play music in a practice band. I graduate in less than two months.
April 2, 1971: Living in a garage apartment in San Francisco. Taking guitar lessons. My hair is long and free. Just finished working in a restaurant.
April 2, 1972: Just started college. I'm in the music department--but I won't stay there long. Elton John's Tiny Dancer is a big hit.
April 2, 1973: Living with the two Larson brothers in a flat in San Francisco a few blocks from the Haight-Ashbury. A dream--but not like I planned. No steady girlfriend, but my beard is growing in nicely.
April 2, 1974: Just arrived in Israel last month; living on a kibbutz. Ani lomed Ivrit (I am learning Hebrew).
April 2, 1975: Back in Concord with my friend Scott. Attending Diablo Valley College. Driving my first car--a red VW Beetle. Still no girlfriend.
April 2, 1976: Back at college in San Francisco, I met my first real girlfriend last September, at my part-time job and we move in together.
April 2, 1977: Life is good. I publish a book review in the San Francisco Review of Books. My VW Beetle dies--found a nine-year-old VW Squareback.
April 2, 1978:  Almost time to graduate. My English degree will be Summa Cum Laude. We moved to Eureka Valley (S.F.) from the western edge of town.
April 2, 1979: I'm working at an antiquarian bookshop in downtown San Francisco. I wear a suit and tie. I like the steady money.
April 2, 1980: I'm married! We got hitched on a Thursday at San Francisco City Hall last fall. It feels good. We have a new Toyota. I'm playing bluegrass music on Sundays (mandolin).
April 2, 1981: It's the eighties. Things feel different. My wife is pregnant!
April 2, 1982: I'm working for Jeffrey Thomas, a fine man who is starting up his own rare book company. My son was born last December.
April 2, 1983: Life is good and busy. My son is growing, work is going well.
April 2, 1984: We move to Clay Street--a nicer apartment. I consider graphic design as a profession and take a couple classes.
April 2, 1985: Marital troubles. We moved from dream apartment when the building sold and are stuck out in the foggy Sunset District of S.F.
April 2, 1986: Living on my own in Albany, CA. New job selling phone systems in San Francisco. Dating again.
April 2, 1987: Working at the Golden State Warriors. A two-week assignment let to a full-time hire. Driving a new Honda Civic Si since last summer.
April 2, 1988: Met the beauty who would become my second wife in November and life is wonderful.
Taking on the Season Ticket Ombudsman job at the Warriors.
April 2, 1989: I'm engaged to be married on July 22. We're making our own wedding invitations. We moved to a brand new apartment in Emeryville, CA.
April 2, 1990: Married and house hunting. I take on new work role as editor of Warriors Playbook magazine.
April 2, 1991: Moved to a townhouse in San Leandro, CA. Small, but ours. Almost immediately the property values drop because of a market shift. I own a new Saturn.
April 2, 1992: Stillborn baby last October shocks us. We decide to try again and are expecting in September. I start a brand new weekly auto column in February in the local paper. I help found the Western Automotive Journalists.
April 2, 1993: My second son is born in August 1992. He's healthy and beautiful and some of the pain of loss is relieved. For my 40th birthday I start growing my hair long (and for the first and only time, have it straightened).
April 2, 1994: My son is growing, my column is thriving, but things are getting tense at work.
April 2, 1995: The Warriors job implodes in August of '94. I start a new job with the San Francisco Spiders hockey team.
April 2, 1996: The Spiders go out of business after just a year. It was a nice run, but I'm looking for work.
April 2, 1997: I'm selling newspaper advertising for the paper that carries my column. Hard work for  modest pay. My son's in Montessori school.
April 2, 1998: I was wooed away to a big newspaper to sell ads, but it's terrible and I return to the small paper again. My column continues.
April 2, 1999: Still in the ad business. Starting to look around for other opportunities.
April 2, 2000: After a short stint at Chek-Chart, an automotive information company, I left when the company was sold. My son's in college! Just started a contract position at Oracle University. Sad: lost Lucien, my mother's longtime partner, also Fiona, another stillborn baby.
April 2, 2001: At my Oracle contract job I looked around and got a fulltime tech writing position at Oracle starting last December. My salary has doubled. My wife didn't believe it. We got Max, our Boston Terrier, last June.
April 2, 2002: We just moved into our new house in Castro Valley--triple the space.
April 2, 2003:  I lost my dad suddenly last June, right after his 75th birthday. I turned 50 today, and got the greatest birthday present ever--my Fender electric bass.
April 2, 2004: After a year of electric bass lessons, looking into the upright bass now. House, car, job, column all chugging along.
April 2, 2005: Taking upright bass lessons. I'm loving it.
April 2, 2006: Bought my own upright bass. I got a Nash Metropolitan to play with, too, but it has serious electrical issues.
April 2, 2007: My son got married last July--I have a lovely daughter-in-law! Started a band with three other music students, called Tin Whiskers. Just joined the Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra and played my first concert a few weeks ago. Got our second Boston, Coco, late last year.
April 2, 2008: Tin Whiskers is now Red Paint. We played a 4th of July gig and are rehearsing weekly. Just started a new job at Gilead Sciences in internal communications.
April 2, 2009: I have a beautiful granddaughter! My 20th wedding anniversary arrives in July.
April 2, 2010: I'm going to chamber music weekend workshops. It's another way to enjoy bass playing. I work at Responsys now, an email marketing software company, as a tech writer.
April 2, 2011: Red Paint recorded their first CD. Younger son has completed high school, older one is a CPA. I got a fine tattoo to celebrate my love for guitar and upright bass.
April 2, 2012: It's a fine day. My Jewish Roots Project is three months old. I posted every day in this blog in 2011. My car column turned 20 years old in February. I've spent eleven months at Luidia, where I started shortly after my last birthday. My younger son is an Abercrombie & Fitch model. Band and orchestra going strong, extra musical projects are fun. My beautiful wife looks much younger than her age.

Actually, counting the actual day of my birth, it's 60 birthdays, isn't it?