Fearless

I was sitting in a café when I saw her
This was not the first time–I had no idea it would be the last.
She was on her bike; sitting up straight!
Gliding through the plaza.

I gasped as she rode through the rushing crowd–effortlessly.
She was too graceful to fall.
Her hair was a lime green that day,
A different color from the last time.

The flowing filaments matched her round sunglasses. She was a beautiful
idea—personified!
I craned to follow her
But she was gone.

My First Ride & My Last Ride on a Jump Bike

I have had some bad luck lately when it comes to commuting vehicles. My bicycle has been in the shop for two weeks with many problems to be resolved including replacing parts the shop does not have in stock. I made the fateful decision to surrender it to the shop thinking that I would always have my scooter to fall back on. Two days after handing over my bike I found that my Vespa had a flat back tire. My bad luck was compounded by my scooter mechanic not being able to fix my ride until the first week of August.

Lucky for me I come prepared! I have a stash of bus tickets I have been using while I have been in this state of congealed personal transport. It’s like the good ole days riding the bus in the morning. Jockomo, jockeying for the best possible seat as the bus begins to fill, upgrading my seats as the bus starts to empty. After getting an encouraging progress report from the bike mechanic, I was hoping that Friday (yesterday) would be the last day of taking mass transit to work. Standing at my bus stop, hearing the bus downshift to clear the hill in front of me, I knew I had a whole hour to burn until the next coach. I could have gone back home and made another cup of coffee and listened to another podcast or two, but instead, I looked at my phone, launched the Jump Bike app to see if there was a bike close by. There was–sort of.  I walked to the closest Jump Bike.

In case you don’t know what a Jump Bike is I’ll let Wikipedia explain:

Jump Bike is a dockless electric bicycle sharing system operating in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. The bikes cost $2 for the first half-hour to rent (then 7¢ per minute) and are located using a companion smartphone app. They are neon red and weigh seventy pounds (32 kilograms). Each JUMP bike has a 250-watt electric motor which powers the front tire. JUMP employees swap out the battery packs every three days. At the end of a ride, the bikes have to be locked to a sidewalk bicycle rack. A pilot program began in February 2018, allowing certain users of the Uber app in San Francisco to access JUMP’s fleet of electric bicycles. Here’s the link: Jump Bikes.

Before the bright red electric peddled-assisted bikes were omnipresent in downtown Sacramento, there was the Tower Bridge Bike Share. I saw the white bikes parked on R Street as I rode into work every morning. I believe the fledgling company was bought out

borisbike
Boris Johson and his “BorisBikes.”

by Jump Bike. There have been other bike share companies. When my wife and I were in London in 2011, there were plenty of ride-share bikes that we couldn’t use. (Damn chipless Yankee debit cards!) Barclays Cycle Hire (now Santander Cycles) nicknamed “BorisBikes” after former mayor and Brexit figure Boris Johnson, who launched the idea were everywhere. Currently, there are other ride-share bike companies in Northern California, but I think Jump Bike has a monopoly in Sacramento. LimeBikes can be rented in some Bay Area cities, and I am sure there are many other ride-share bike companies in America.

When Jump Bikes first came to Sacramento, my wife and I downloaded the app to our phones then drove around looking for two available bikes that were close together on a sunny Sunday afternoon. When we found two bikes across the street from one another, we reserved them. Wow, that was easy! (Beginners luck, I would realize later. Read on.) We rode around the California State University, Sacramento campus until we got the idea how the bikes work and handle. After we were satiated, we hooked them back up near our car. Wow, that is cool.

Quickly forgetting how uncomfortable the ride was compared to my Giant hybrid or my Vespa or, hell, a bench seat on public transportation, for that matter, I was kind of on a high thinking about our little ride on the red electric bikes. I also failed to ask myself, “Why do the bikes have to be electric? What does that buy the rider after the cheap thrill of the first ride?” But that wasn’t the point–it was an adventure. Still, when the euphoria would subside–and it eventually did–I had to ask myself what good the Jump Bike is to me, personally?

The only application I could see for me is riding a short distance in town (and a nonelectric bike would be just as effective and, ultimately, cheaper). This would be tested a couple of times. Each time I wanted to ride to 5-One-5 Market, a small grocery store/deli located in downtown Sacramento only ten blocks away from my office. I’ve been walking there once a week since it opened its doors in May to buy lunch fixings and to treat myself to lunch at the deli, sit back and enjoy a meal out once a week. If I took a Jump Bike there or take one coming back to the office that would cut down on travel time and considering it’s summer in Sacramento and the walk in 90 degree-weather invariably makes me sweaty, a Jump Bike would come in handy. Each time I eyeballed one of those red bikes or found one on the app close enough to make it worth my while the bikes were reserved. No biggy; if walking both ways to the market was time prohibitive I wouldn’t have done it or brought it up here. So I walk. Anyway, I usually ride a bike to work so why not ride that? This was just a test, remember. Later, I would find out I was not alone in this problem. Other people I know wanted to use these bikes often to find they were reserved by someone else.

The idea of commuting to work (or back) on a Jump Bike seems indulgent–but I almost did it a few days ago, anyway. Someone in my neighborhood decided they didn’t want to respect Jump Bike’s boundaries and rode one to their house about a third of a mile south of the thick red line on Jump Bike’s GPS screen. I nearly walked over there but thought better of it before my bus came and picked me up. Then, as I stated above, I missed my bus last Friday–I mean I was twenty feet away from my bus stop and the bus shot by. So, I ended up weighing my options: sit around for about fifty more minutes and catch the next one or walk to the closest Jump Bike and ride the Big Red Bike in.

I don’t live within Jump Bike’s Sacramento sphere, so I had to hoof it to the closest bike; about 2.3 miles. Not ideal, but at the time I guessed I’d make it into work faster that way than sitting around for the next bus. It’s absurd that any metropolitan mass transit system has buses that run only once an hour during rush hours, but that is the reality here in Sacramento with our Regional Transit District.

So I walked over two miles to the nearest Jump Bike reserving it when I got within .2 miles. When I arrived at the red electric peddle-assist bike I enter my PIN, the U-lock pops free, I dropped the U-lock in its holder, my bag in the big red handlebar basket and start peddling. I turned onto Riverside Boulevard–a busy and occasionally dangerous street for both bicyclists and motorists. Immediately I felt the thrill of the new bike/service dissipate. I was now doing calculations on my way to work: Why is this lug on wheels so damn heavy? Well, there’s a computer onboard to assist the customer and to track the company’s asset. This isn’t your bike, by the way! But did they have to make the product electric peddle-assist? No, but it sure helps to lug the ponderous piece of shit around, doesn’t it? Circular thinking!

I rode 2.5 miles. I wondered how long the average Jump Bike ride for Sacramento customers is? If it is over two miles it is a rough two miles if it is under I have to reiterate, why does the Jump Bike have to be an electric peddle-assist bike? Those lonely and ill-fated Tower Bridge Bike Share bikes would have been ideal. There needed to be a lot more of them and a lot more publicity (and for God’s sakes, any other color but white. Who wants to ride what looks like a ghost bike. It’s as if you are asking for it!).

tower bike
Now-defunct Tower Bridge Bike Share program

Of course, one could ask why is there a demand for the Jump Bike. I wouldn’t have thought there would be such a demand for the fancy bike until they arrived now the red bikes are all over downtown. Perhaps the answer can be found in the rise in popularity in ridesharing and smartphone applications. A few hours of this posting my wife and I were toggling between an A’s vs. Giants game (A’s won in extra innings!) and a Cubs vs. Cards game (alas my wife’s Cubbies lost). She looked at her Jump app at least two times commenting on how close a couple of Jump Bikes were. We were in for the night. She had no interest in going for a ride at 9p.m. Still, I wanted to ask her if she had an app that located her Cannondale EVO forty feet away in our garage. She won’t have found that funny. Seriously though, why do we get so excited about this stuff–especially when there are more straightforward solutions already available? I want to revisit the Jump Bike phenomenon a year from now to see if the fascination is still there; will the streets of downtown Sacramento have more or less of the big red bikes? One happy ending (beginning) to this is the Jump Bike encourages more people to buy and ride bikes. Somehow, I don’t think bicycling has much to do with the rage. I just had s shudder: would if the evildoers at Uber creates a fake event like “June (or some other month besides May) Is Jump Month.” God, shoot me!

I’m not trying to make too close a comparison between Jump Bike and its parent corporation–Jump Bike doesn’t exploit worker insecurity. I don’t think any struggling cab drivers will be hanging themselves thanks to Jump Bikes. Nor do I think bus drivers will lose bargaining power thanks to those red bikes. I just can’t fully appreciate the business model. The first time I had the Jump Bike Experience (tracking a bike down via my smartphone, performing the transaction, riding the peddle-assist two-wheeler, and locking it up damn near wherever I choose), it was exciting. And that’s precisely because it was the first time–it was new, novel, fresh. The second time I rode a Jump Bike, it was uncomfortable and inefficient. I thought up a bunch of improvements to the thing, first one losing the wasteful electric peddle-assist feature, but I suppose that and the app are the hooks.

Last night I received a call from my neighborhood bicycle shop. My commuter bike was ready to go. Actually, I need a new derailer, but that’s being shipped, so they asked me if I wanted to pick up my bike now with the option of replacing the derailer on the spot when the new one comes in. It had been two weeks without my bike and one week without my scooter. Hell yes. From work, I took the trolley to the station only a couple of blocks away from the shop, paid the bill, and rode my bike home. A much better ride.

As I peddled back to the house I wondered, if I didn’t have my own bicycle, if I lived a little closer–inside Jump Bike’s area of service, and if missed my bus would I ride a Jump Bike in? No. There are too many ifs in the above situation. The Jump Bike is a desperate last resort. I can always have another cup of coffee at home.

An Unqualified Cupping of Port of Mokha’s Al-Jabel

I like coffee. I probably average about two to three cups a day. I’m not a connoisseur: my tastes are wide-ranging–I’m not too picky. I prefer higher quality beans prepared expertly at high-end coffee houses, but I don’t mind drinking my wife and son’s more common beans from Peet’s or Peerless. The brewing systems are wide-ranging as well: pour over, French press, drip which I order at Temple Coffee Roasters I frequent; immersion drip, which I use at work; drip via Mr. Coffee and even (don’t hate me) Keurig I use at home usually with more pedestrian beans.

I do aspire to drink from only the best coffee beans though my domestic situation makes it hard to stick to top-shelf beans unless I buy my own, and I don’t want clutter up my freezer with an additional bag of grounds just for me. Also, I am too lazy to grind my coffee as I go so when I buy my gourmet coffee beans for my immersion drip system at work and have them grind the beans: convenience at the expense of degrading the quality of premium beans, I know, but making coffee via immersion is time-consuming enough. Add grinding and my entire break is consumed by the making of a single cup of joe.

So I think I have rammed home the fact that my taste is not impeccable. I might pick Folgers over the finest Esmeralda Geisha in a cupping, and maybe I wouldn’t mind if I did. I don’t buy the higher grade for the taste–though I always feel like I am drinking excellent coffee when I fork out the extra coin for it. I buy the stuff because it is Fair Trade, and yea, I feel like I’m not drinking shit that has been sitting around in some warehouse forever.

book

Then I read Dave Eggers excellent The Monk of Mokha, about Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a twenty-four-year-old Yemeni-American hotel doorman and coffee lover who leaves San Francisco and travels to his ancestral homeland to tour terraced farms high in the country’s rugged mountains. It is there he meets the beleaguered but determined coffee farmers. When civil war breaks out and engulfs the nation, Alkhanshali smuggles himself and some of Yemen’s beans with him. Like the other books by Eggers I have read, The Monk of Mokha is a page-turner featuring three main characters: Alkhanshali, some priceless coffee beans, and the coffee farmers of Yemen. A while later, Alkhanshali creates Port of Mokha, Inc.

 

But what about the coffee?

1a

I ordered the four-ounce bag of “Al-Jabal Single Farmer Lot 7” beans from the Port of Mokha website for $45. (FYI: Google translates Al-Jabal as “Sea of the Mountain.”) When the product arrived, it came in a fashionable lime-peel green box with a stylish foldout of the Port of Mokha story, mission, and plenty of pictures of the homeland with Alkhanshali in most of them. There is also preparation instructions (see below), and the beans in an elegant vacuum bag and a band with the terraced farm on it.

As mentioned above, at home I usually either brew my coffee via an automatic drip, or I use a Keurig. For this cupping; however, I am going to hand-brew this cup of “Al-Jabal” to control the water, dose, and brewing. Not all steps in this cupping use best practices of handmade pour over brewing, but it’s better than dumping the grounds in mein Herr. Kaffee!

1

Usually, tap water is good enough for my goose-neck kettle, but this night I opted for bottled water. Optimally, one should use purified water. We never got around to installing a filter, so it’s straight City of Sac Tap.

 

2

As stated above, the coffee comes with instructions for five popular brewing methods. I don’t have any of these methods, but Chemex is the closest to my plastic cone. Yeah, I know, I should be using a ceramic cone. (Hey, is that a hair on the instructions? Eww!) Per the two notes at the bottom of the instructions, I am grinding as I go for this cupping though this humble philistine usually asks for his expensive beans to be ground before he buys them. Too, he will commence with the pour over directly after the water comes to a boil. He’s not going to mess with a thermometer.

 

3

Yeah, I know, it’s not a burr grinder. I didn’t buy it.

 

4

Perhaps a little too fine, but it will have to do.

 

5

Fold my #4…

 

6

rinse it…

 

6b

And pour the grounds. I didn’t catch any of the grounds dropping in the filter. I need a third arm, damn it!

 

7

The same goes for the blooming and brewing processes.

 

8

The pour over process time took around two and a half to three minutes. I’m sure I got the volumes correct, but that seems like a small amount. Perhaps it is my giant mug.

 

9a

After doing the math, it comes to a little less than $6 a cup, which was less than I initially thought when the 4 oz bag costs $45.

 

9

So, how does it taste? Hmm, in aroma it’s delicate but high-toned, richly sweet. I sense caramelized apple, honeysuckle, baker’s chocolate, tangerine zest, frankincense. In taste: a balanced structure with bright, juicy acidity; buoyant, syrupy mouthfeel. The deeply sweet, flavor-laden finish leads with notes of cacao nib and honeysuckle in the short and rich frankincense with hints of bittersweet citrus zest in the long. Ha ha ha. I hope I had you going for a while! Fifty years of food laced with hot peppers, horseradish, wasabi, hot Chinese oil, and all kinds of Mexican hot sauces have dulled my pallet. I really cannot describe the coffee I just sipped other than to say it’s tasty, acidy, full-bodied, but that could represent hundreds of coffees when prepared correctly or at least made as well as I could with the tools at hand–including less expensive beans.

 

Palate Development & Tasting
How many tastes and aromas do you identify with your favorite cup? I’ll be taking a class in August. I hope I learn how to distinguish these qualities. A tall order for this dullard!

I am drinking black coffee more and more these days. This is mainly because of how pour overs are presented at my favorite coffee house: in a Hario v60 Range Server and a cupping bowl–that holds less than six ounces of coffee–delivered on a tray. To add cream to my pour over would mean walking over to the station every few minutes to add my dairy. The first time I ordered a pour over, I nearly asked for a cream dispenser and then thought this might be a good time to learn how to enjoy coffee without cream–the way my two ex-barista sons drink it.

Also, while reading Eggers’ book, I decided I would take coffee drinking even more seriously and drink the stuff black each time I made or ordered a cup. As I write this, I am almost exclusively a black-coffee drinker, reserving the right to adulterate the brew when the swill is too bitter for me to take straight.

Recently, I started buying an extra bag of coffee in bean form and–when convenient–started grinding coffee as I needed it and using the pour over method. I have also bought a few new gadgets, and I am checking out some more. Recently, I signed up for a Palate Development & Tasting class at Temple Roasters. If things go as planned, I will be an insufferable snob to my friends and family alike!

 

 

Burritos Burgers and Booze

taqueria jalisco

My friend and fellow blogger Chip told me as we were driving out of Downtown Sacramento last Wednesday night that the taco stand we were passing served his favorite hamburger. I looked at the sign as we drove by, Taqueria Jalisco. His statement and the stand’s name were incongruent. Did he mean his favorite Torta? Nah, if he said the hamburger, he meant it. Anyway, there are plenty of ethnic restaurants that serve other types of food.

As it turns out, Taqueria Jalisco states it is a Mexican and American food restaurant. When I pulled up to the stand the following Saturday it as much right on the sign, I just couldn’t see it when we were going past it at forty miles an hour. The menu didn’t have very many American-style items, but it did feature five different hamburgers. None of them exotic: Burger, Cheese Burger, Bacon Cheese Burger, Double Cheese Burger, and Pastrami Cheese Burger.

taqueria jalisco burger

I ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger (I can’t handle the parsing!), along with fries, and a Diet Coke. Unless I missed it, their french fries are not on the menu. I did find Carne Asada Fries and wondered if they are as good as the Flaming Grill Cafe’s offering, but didn’t want to go there today.

Someone told me Taqueria Jalisco sells the only real tequila in town. I don’t drink and when I did, I only had one shot of tequila and that was enough! I don’t know what”real” tequila is–I’ve seen enough bottles of the stuff and have never seen a label that said “fake tequila,” “imitation tequila,” or “synthetic tequila.” I asked a drinker of the stuff, and he told me Taqueria Jalisco serves Tequila Tapatio, Casamigos Reposado, and Cazadores Reposado. My drinker continued, “Like champagne, true tequila is made only from fermented blue agave. Unlike champagne, tequila isn’t specific to any one region, as agave plants are fairly hardy.” He also sent me this nugget of Mexican trade law: “Mexican laws state that tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and limited municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.” So, I got educated on something that I really don’t care about and I question whether anyone who reads this post cares, as well. Aside from tequila, the joint also serves Irish whiskey, various alcoholic drinks, Voss, that ridiculously over-priced Norweign spring water, and fountain drinks, like the Diet Coke I’m drinking. Okay, enough of the booze interlude. On with the review of the burger.

Taqueria Jalisco’s Bacon Cheeseburger consists of what I believe to be a 1/3 lb. beef patty, cheddar cheese, bacon, mayonnaise, Thousand Island dressing, lettuce, tomato, pickles, on a “specialty bun.” If it sounds pedestrian, I would typically be with you, but wait until you taste it. The beef has a high-fat content (translation: it is juicy and flavorful).

Sure, there isn’t anything ground-breaking or experimental: no Gruyere cheese, no smoked paprika, no cilantro aioli, and the burger isn’t topped with a fried eye. And while I don’t think it matches Scott’s Burger Shack’s Fat Boy–another not-so-fancy burger that hit’s it out of the park–it is an excellent traditional burger. This burger is the kind of you would be served in a small backyard barbecue hosted by someone who really loves the traditional hamburger, loves it big, and doesn’t skimp on the ingredients (though I wonder why no onions). The bacon looked and tasted like the buyer bought it for himself–he didn’t skimp! It was thick, not fatty, and probably not cheap. The bun–specialty or not–was rugged enough to not dissolve by all the juices. There are fancier burgers available in Sacramento, but this was one of the best at least in the None Designer Catagory. (Yeah, I just made that up.)

Finally, a word about the fries. I didn’t ask the guy at the window, but the fries seemed to be battered. They had that crunchiness that is reminiscent of the way Cod, or Calamari is prepared at a good fish and chips place. I love these kinds of fries. There was no need for ketchup.

I will definitely return to Taqueria Jalisco–it is close enough to my house I can get my family in on this. The dilemma is, do I try the Mexican food that looks so good (street tacos!) or maybe I order the bacon cheeseburger again. Decisions, decisions!

Catching up with some of Nicholas Gurewitch’s work

I like political cartoons. My favorites come from artists like Dwayne Booth aka Mr. Fish, The Sacramento Bee’s award-winning Jack Ohman, and Gary Trudeau’s syndicated Doonsbury. I also enjoy the animated cartoons by Mark Fiore. Terrific stuff! I guess that makes me a political (cartoon) junkie, though I do read Scott Adams’ syndicated Dilbert on Sundays. I work in an IT cubical farm and understand Adams’ humor too well. I used to read his three-panel weekday strips, but I got annoyed how Adams too often wrote the funnier joke on the second panel leading the reader to be disappointed when the third panel fell flat. Does he do that on purpose?

A few years ago I was showing my son a Mr. Fish comic. He laughed. Then a few minutes later produced a printed copy of a strip titled “Skub” from something called The Perry Bible Fellowship (PBF for short).

PBF020-Skub

Besides being very funny and insightful, I noticed how simple and whimsical the art was–almost childlike, which accentuated the humor. I mistook the strip as political simply because my son handed it to me as a reply to a Mr. Fish piece and the message could easily be construed as political factions warring over a petty issue. More importantly, I had never heard of PBF, not seen any other strips from the artist, though it had been on the web since around 2005-2006. So I and this post are embarrassingly late to the party. Still, I’ll continue for anyone who is as tardy as I am.

My son handed me another sheet of paper with a comic strip on it before I had a chance to visit the PBF website. “Today’s My Birthday” was just as funny and was right up my alley–dark. I visited the website and was on the site for over an hour, forgetting to take my now thoroughly wrinkled work shirts out of the dryer.

PBF032-Todays_My_Birthday

The PBF comic strip is the brainchild of Nicholas Gurewitch, an illustrator based in Rochester New York. He attended Syracuse University, where he studied film and where his comic strip was first published in The Daily Orange. The comic gets its title from the name of a church in Perry, Maine. (Source: Wikipedia)

pbf3
The three comics reproduced in the post and many other comedic gems can be found in The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack seen above featuring my foot and hand. This is a follow-up to The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories, though there is some overlap, I have been told. I only have the Almanack collection.

Gurewitch’s style varies. Sometimes he mimics famous artists like Nancy Munger, Quentin Blake, Shel Silverstein, and Robert Crumb. Some of the art looks like it comes from early comic books, in other strips Gurewitch seems to be copying other artists’ styles that I can’t identify, but have seen before. One of the first ones I viewed from the PBF website is his hilarious parody of the late Bil Keane’s Family Circus.

PBF187-Way_Too_Much

While I was being introduced to Gurewitch’s genius via Almanack and the PBF website, he had already crowdfunded and published his latest book. Notes on a Case of Melancholia, Or: A Little Death, is a brilliant homage to Edward Gorey’s style though instead of sketching his images, Gurewitch painted each plate black then etched the images into life–a subtractive process illustrated in the twelve-minute documentary Notes on a Case Nicholas Gurewitch. The documentary shows how much work went into this project. By watching the video, the reader can begin the appreciate Gurewich’s creative process. Some of the plates in Notes on a Case of Melancholia took up to a million strokes to fully flesh out the image. Also, many plates and early drafts never made it into the final product. Notes on a Case of Melancholia is a dark and touching thirty-seven-page story of Death and his son. The story has no text, but each page speaks volumes on the beauty and humanity of Gurewitch’s art.

Notes

Well, I guess I’ve caught up with Gurewitch, and no, I’m not turning BurgerScoot.net into a review of books. Just consider this post the flipside of my piece on the books by Arundhati Roy.

 

Faster reading than CliffNotes!

In high school, I fell in love with CliffNotes, not because it helped me read the classics. Ha! Right! I read the CliffNotes on our assigned readings and skipped the books. Needless to say, I did not do well in my English classes. Here’s another solution.

Wrong Hands illustrator John Atkinson blends cartoons, literature, and humor in his new book, Abridged Classics.

via Abridged Classics: Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read (But Probably Didn’t) — Discover

“Okay, everybody be quiet! I’m going to change channels”

The news from Mother Jones doesn’t surprise me. All “smart” devices have the ability for others–including the government–to accidentally or purposefully eavesdrop on your conversations. I’m especially creeped out by Amazon’s and Google’s smart speakers.

In case you needed another reminder that Amazon’s Echo, an internet-connected recording device designed to listen and respond to verbal commands, can pose security and privacy risks for you and your loved ones, here you go. “Unplug your Alexa devices right now…you’re being hacked.” A family in Portland, Oregon contacted the company recently to ask it…

via An Amazon Echo Recorded a Family’s Private Conversation and Sent it to Some Random Person — Mother Jones