Professor Humor

After the waitress seats us, the professor’s wife leans in and asks if we’ve ever eaten at the restaurant before. When we say no, she squeals, “Oh, you’re going to love it” and recommends a drink on the menu: hot ginger lemon apple cider. You can also add bourbon to it and it’s delicious, she says.

My daughter – Little M – and I hadn’t planned on having dinner with her professor and his wife. But the quaint, tiny neighborhood restaurant near Ocean Beach in San Francisco was packed tonight. We were next in line for a table when the professor, sporting a fedora and full gray beard, and his wife, petite and full of positive energy, walked in through the front door and smacked into a wall of people on the waiting list. So we offered to have them join us for dinner.

I know my daughter was nervous. Our plans for a laid-back dinner suddenly became a high-stress situation, where she felt compelled to impress. I was fine with it. The prof taught Asian American studies, a subject I care about and was well-versed in. Thank goodness, he didn’t teach physics or math.

“I’ll have the hot ginger lemon apple cider,” Little M says. “But no alcohol, please.”

I waited for the others to order.

“I’ll have the same,” the professor says. “But I’m going to have the bourbon because I’m grading papers tonight.”

And without missing a beat, he looks at my daughter, smiles and adds: “Expect your paper back tomorrow.”

It was funny. I laughed out loud. I didn’t look at Little M’s reaction (she was sitting beside me on a bench), but I didn’t have to. I knew she smiled, but inside, she was dying. But for me, the joke eased any tension there was. It was good to know the old prof has a sense of humor. It told me dinner was going to be all right.

And it was. The prof and his wife were delightful, the food was delicious and the conversation was stimulating.

About two hours later, as we parted ways, and Little M and I walked back to our car, I told her I was confident that she did impress. She was on. She did great.

I, the taxi driver

A while back, a buddy – frustrated and tired –  texted me late at night, telling me he chauffeured his teenage son and his friends to skating parties and teen clubs, morning through night.

“I was dad the driver today,” he wrote. “Sheesh. Drove my son and his friends all around. Got home at 1:20 a.m. I’m now tired and pissed!”

I laughed. Ah, the taxi-driving days. All those memories come rushing back to me.

I pick up the kid in front of the high school and she jumps in says, “my friends are coming over to the house.” It’s not a question. It’s a statement. And before I say anything her three friends pile into the backseat, and she’s switched the radio station from a gentle Sarah McLachlan to the angry rap of 50 Cent on 106 KMEL, and cranks the volume level up about a hundred decibels.

I pull into the street and she shouts, “Can we go to Taco Bell?” So I go through the drive-thru, and it’s the biggest frickin’ order of my life and I have to wait forever for a) them to figure out what they want, and b) for the food to be made. And of course, the other kids don’t have money. I hear the jingle of coins in the backseat as they count their change. But their orders are only a few dollars each – they are dainty girls after all – so I front the money.

“Thanks, Mr. Wong!”

The food arrives, and as I drive home, it’s chaos in the car as food exchanges hands. “Pass the chalupa!” one witty girl says in back.

I share this story with my friend the next day. And my friend stays quiet as I reminisce, and when I’m done, he says: “Right. I have done it.”

He’s taken his son and his classmates to get food at Mickey D’s, he says. One ordered $10 worth of food and had no money, so my friend had to pay for it. The kid didn’t say thank you, and in the ensuing weeks, neither did his parents.

“That sucks,” I tell him. “That’s when you tell your son, ‘I don’t want that kid in my car again.’”

“Right,” my friend says. “He wasn’t even a friend. Just a kid who needed a ride.”

“Take heart,” I tell him. “You’re just a taxi driver for a few more years. But then again, you have to buy him a car.”

Blackberrys, the presidential race and Dungeness crab…

This is an illustrated tale of how my donation to my favorite presidential candidate was diverted to seafood bliss.

A month ago, on Tuesday, Feb. 5, I thought the only important thing going on in the world was Super Tuesday and the race for delegates in the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. (more…)

Hunting for food

I’m a night owl in a state full of morning people. I face that reality every time I go out to eat. Nearly all the restaurants in my bedroom community close at 9 or 10. Anything later and the only options are the big chains. This past Saturday, we were ready for dinner at 10:30 p.m., so we settle for P.F. Chang’s, which closes at midnight. When we walk in, the large dining room is empty, except for two couples, and they are already wrapping up with doggie bags on their tables. We sit down and Miiko says, “We’re living Manhattan hours in Arizona.” So true. The night before we strolled into The Cheesecake Factory at 11:10 p.m.

I used to complain about the lack of restaurant options after 10 p.m. in Arizona. But it’s partly because we’ve romanticized the Bay Area. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time back home the last few months, and realized – or reacquainted ourselves with the fact – that many Bay Area restaurants close up shop early, too. Upon further reflection, there’s perks to late-night dining in Arizona. We’re always one of the few customers. We get excellent service and the food arrives fast.

24 Hour Johnny

Remember that wonderful dot-com called Kozmo? Bike messengers delivered everything from music CDs to Starbucks coffee to your door within an hour? I never used the service, but what a terrific idea for the ultra-busy person or the ultimate couch potato.

I want something in my neighborhood that’s on a smaller scale. Earlier tonight at 11:30 p.m., I was craving a piece of banana cream pie, but I was in my jammies and much too lazy to schlep to my neighborhood diner half a mile away. In times like these, I often wish I could call some kid named Johnny down the block who can come to my rescue. And I’d gladly pay a $5 to $10 delivery fee.

So there you have it: A free idea for an enterprising teen who wants to make some good money on a part-time basis. Your company name can be “24 Hour Johnny,” with the tagline, “Every Neighborhood Needs a Johnny.” (If you’re female, you can be “24 Hour Janie.”) Think of the opportunities! Our neighborhood is full of young parents. They sometimes run out of milk. They might need their lawn mowed. They might even want a piece of pie after midnight!

In the time it took me to write this, the diner has closed. I could have gone there and back and consumed my piece of pie. Instead, I munched on BBQ potato chips, and it didn’t hit the spot.

Where’s 24 Hour Johnny when you need him?

Finding the perfect bowl of wonton noodles

I push through the restaurant door seeking noodle nirvana, but what I get is so much more. It is late afternoon – too late for the lunch crowd and too early for the dinner crowd – so the restaurant is empty, except for the three faces at a table looking up at me. As I stroll toward the counter, a woman, probably in her 50s, maybe early 60s, jumps out of her seat to join me, leaving her laptop computer, Chinese language newspapers and two male cohorts behind.

I pick up a menu, but the woman bats it away. “I’ve got a Chinese menu for you,” she says. I tell her I can’t read Chinese, but she says it’s got English, too. So I scan the menu and see what I’ve been lusting after: wonton noodle soup. Cool. Since moving to Arizona nearly five years ago, I’ve been seeking a Chinese restaurant with good noodles. But every time I’ve ordered it, I’ve been disappointed. The broth is either bland, or the noodles lacked the right flavor. Back home, the best Chinese restaurants are grungy hole-in-the-walls, and this one has the look and feel. “I’m from San Francisco,” I tell the woman. “And I miss eating good wonton mein.” She replies: “If you’re from San Francisco, you’ll love our food.”

She’s spunky, full of energy. I like her. And I want to believe her. So I order two bowls of wonton noodle soup, and one order of crispy chow mein and some jook for good measure. “Are you going to be able to eat all this?” Yup, I say. Do you want that crispy bread to go with the jook? Yes. Do you want this order to go? Yes. One of the men, wearing an apron, hurries into the kitchen to prepare my meals. After paying, I turn to join Miiko, who is parked at a corner table, when the woman says, “You should eat the wonton noodle soup here.” It wasn’t a question. It was practically a demand. A bit bizarre. I look at Miiko. She looks at me. Moment of truth… and I say OK. (more…)