Thursday, July 31, 2008

WARNING TO CENTRAL SQUARE BICYCLISTS

Cambridge police (on foot) are ticketing bicyclists for running the stoplight at Mass Ave and Pleasant St. They got eight bicyclists for this while I was having lunch nearby, plus ticketed another for biking on the sidewalk in front of 7-11.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

LNG Tanker Suez Matthew Heading Out to Sea


One of them 900-foot grenades everyone gets all huffy about.

Wrecked Barges, Neponset River


As always, even more on Flickr. Just click the photo to get to the set.

Mouth of Boston Harbor


On the way back from IND today. Glad I had the camera and new lens if only for the gorgeous approach to BOS.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Why I (We) Go on These Trips*

Billy: Where you from, man?
Stranger: Hard to say.
Billy: Hard to say? Where you from, man?
Stranger: It's hard to say because it's a very long word, you know?
Billy: I just wanna know where you're from, man.
Stranger: A city.
Billy: What city?
Stranger: It doesn't make any difference what city. All cities are alike. That's why I'm out here now.
Billy: Why you're out here now? Why?
Stranger: 'Cause I'm from the city, a long way from the city, and that's where I wanna be right now.

From Easy Rider.

*Not the work trips.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

O'Hare at Rush Hour

"If you open your mouth, it will be filled by the hair, breath, or skin of another traveler. You can always find a warm toilet seat. You wonder how little self-respect people must have to wait 30 minutes in a corral for a seat at Chili's. Flights are only on time til it's time."

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Friday, August 8th

Save the date for some type of Boston fiasco that involves food, drinking, and music.

Friday, July 18, 2008

NCBBQII Part The Third: Return to The Barbecue Capital of The World, The Skylight Inn, Ayden, NC


Pit Boss Working the Cleaver, July 2006

North Carolina barbecue is a complex tradition. For that reason, it's a good thing that nothing ever changes at the Skylight Inn. Hidden on a side road in the farm town of Ayden, the Skylight serves up whole hog barbecue in a way that no other commercial establishment I know of does. The place has been there for decades, but in our two visits, nearly two years apart, the only thing that changed was the uniforms on the employees.


Pit Boss Working the Cleaver, May 2008

Anyone can read up on the Skylight: it was crowned the "barbecue capital of the world" by National Geographic in either 1979 or 1988, depending on your source, and since then, it's been featured in GQ and People. But the crowd is totally rural: decent, Christian-shirt-and-cap-wearing people of two varieties, white and black. That said, race and class happen to be irrelevant in barbecue. And while the Skylight Inn's presence in the national consciousness is clearly the result of and evidence of the intelligentsia's visits to Ayden, I've never seen another out-of-towner there.


Waiting for Barbecue, 2008

The Skylight Inn produces four things: whole hog barbecue, truly unique cornbread, a simple and sweet coleslaw, and requisite sweet tea. You can't buy anything else and the recipes never change. So what's so different about their food?


The Product, 2006

Obviously, the barbecue is the centerpiece, and to an outsider, it conveys a sense of strangeness that can't be forotten. The Skylight Inn's pit boss, who has apparently worked there many years, cooks whole hogs over hickory coals for several hours, then hand-chops every usable piece of pig on a giant wooden cutting board adjacent to a similarly sized wooden trough. The cutting board is in the kitchen, and the trough is in the dining room.

He picks meat off the bones--including the skull--then pours both white and cider vinegar, salt, and hot sauce over the steaming meat...

...and blends and chops it all together with the rhythmic pulse of his cleaver. Chop chop chop chop chop. When the mix is consistent and perfect, the blade of the cook's cleaver pushes it from the cutting board to the trough, where front end employees load up paper trays of barbecue.


On our second visit, we observed the cook scoring sheets of brittle pigskin, then chopping it into tiny bits, then blending them into the more succulent meat. This is what it looks like in the end:


The Product, 2008

It is indeed the pigskin that gives the Skylight's barbecue its most oddly appealing attribute: the crunch factor. The first time I ate there (on NCBBQI, July 2006), I feared that I'd break a tooth on a bone fragment or piece of cartilage. But I soon learned that nothing unchewable goes into the Skylight's barbecue. Smoked pigskin pushes back a bit on your teeth with a faint crunch, but it's nothing you can't handle. And the unique blend of meat and skin serves as an ideal sponge for the pickled pepper-laden cider vinegar found on every table in the dining room, not to mention the individual condiments that are mixed into the barbecue by the pit boss's blade.


Cider Vinegar with Peppers, 2008

That leaves us to the sides. The Skylight's cornbread is strange and flat. I dare say it's almost flavorless, but the North Carolina Barbecue Society Website (and the book it quotes) claims that the very flat cornbread actually has "drippings" from smoked hogs mixed into the dough. I'll believe it when I see it: I like to have an everyman experience wherever I go, so I've never asked to tour the pits or the kitchen.

The slaw is simple, green, and sweet. It's very finely chopped, and neither watery nor thick. It's a perfect accompaniment to the meat.

Outside, relics like this sign...

"If It's Not Cooked With Wood...," 2006

...bear silent witness to the traditions that are upheld at the Skylight Inn. Will the traditions continue? It seems that the pit boss, that frequent subject of my photographs, is truly the man whose craft and dedication keep the place going. Who will take over when he is gone? Who will get the coals going at 4am and babysit the smoking pigs for hours, then chop them up for hours more, then dispose of the burnt coals and select the firewood for tomorrow?


Pit Boss Selecting Firewood, 2008

A guest reviewer on a popular barbecue website suggests that they "train some Latinos" to carry on this tradition of extremely difficult work. (I'll be writing about Hispanics in the south in another post.)

I'm glad to report that the Skylight, at least right now, is what it has been, and reminds in our minds the king of Eastern Style barbecue.


Barbecue Capital of the World, 2006


BAR-B-Q KING, 2008

Additional photos are available on Flickr, from visits in July 2006 and May 2008.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

There Will Be Blood

I just finished viewing this film last night. I am gladdened that, in this perhaps very questionable time, our country continues to produce supreme art.

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Hospital Bound


Rear-ending in Teele today.

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Extracting Victim


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Preparing to Extract Victim


Rear-ending in Teele today.

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Getting Started on the Accident Report


Rear-ending in Teele today.

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Airbag Deployment


Rear-ending in Teele today.

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Providing Shelter to Victim


Teele Sq today.

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Second Return of The Sidewalk Job From Hell



They're baaack. Constant destruction and re-pouring of this corner started before I moved into the neighborhood last July. That's right: this sidewalk job has been going on for over a year. This morning we see one man doing the work, three watching, and--my favorite--the "police detail" officer also watching.

I welcome anyone's attempted explanation of why anything in the photo is necessary.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

NCBBQII Part The Second: The Race to B's Barbecue, Greenville, NC



It has no phone line, but it has a state road named after it. It only opens for lunch, and it closes as soon as the last scraps of smoked meat are sold. The anomalies and challenges surrounding B's Barbecue make it the grail of any barbecue quest, so we made it the first stop on our second North Carolina trip.

Now, about those challenges. First, you have to work around B's summer vacation schedule. Impossible! They have no phone or website. In 2006, we showed up late on a Saturday morning to find the place closed for a week. (Okay, it was close to July 4th.) Second, you have to get there before they run out of food. Greenville looks reachable on a map, but it's actually four and a half boring hours from D.C., where our NCBBQ tours begin.

This time, we did the requisite planning. We had to wake up hung over on a vacation Friday at 6:30 a.m., grab bagels, and book it southward from the District. I-95 is heavily policed in all of Virginia, so one must drive the speed limit. As the stereo in Rob L's Taurus blared blared Dale Watson and John Hiatt, the NC border grew closer and closer. Traffic jams in DC and road work in VA slowed us down, and a nervous silence pervaded the cabin of the auto even as country and blues emanated from its speakers. Would we make it to Greenville in time?

The gas needle moved leftward as our route took us over a very rural road. With eighteen miles to go, we were down to less than an eighth of a tank. Noon approached. Would we ever find a gas station between highways? If we ran out of fuel, could we hitchhike to the barbecue? I neurotically rolled up my window to reduce drag. Rob left his down. We drove on.

A rural outpost of three independent gas stations appeared; this was Belvoir, NC. One of the gas stations sold beauty supplies, and another was out of business. We gassed up at the third, where lunching farmers inside stared uncomfortably at our bright shirts. Quite the opposite of Texas, everyone wore baseball caps instead of Stetsons. Onward.

Around Belvoir, NC:



Like many small southern cities, Greenville is ringed by rural suburbs and thick summer verdure. We knew we were close to B's, right around noontime, when the restaurant almost literally exploded into sight. At a T-shaped intersection stood the white brick structure and its smokehouse, the latter bellowing even whiter smoke into the clearing. Cars and trucks and every type of human covered every available inch of ground. There were many nurses and paramedics from the nearby hospital, schoolteachers, delivery drivers, a road crew, and us. We ditched the car and got on (in) one of the two lines.

Eat-In:


Take Out:


Friendly natives, visiting their former home from Dallas, welcomed us into the line. They told us that they'd come at 1:30 the day before and found the place deserted--the barbecue had run out. As we moved slowly into the building, we discovered that there was a quite large and dimly lit dining room inside.

As the line made its way to the counter, we debated--again, neurotically--whether to get pork sandwiches or the chicken and pork combo. We were glad we chose the latter, for B's is the only place I've been to that gives its chicken and pork equal treatment. This means that instead of using a thick, tangy, tomato-based sauce on the chicken (like Stamey's in Greensboro does, for instance), B's douses its chicken with the same vinegar-based sauce or "dip" that the pork gets. Every joint in NC makes its own sauce, so it's hard to describe the faint variations, but B's is accentuated by bright flecks of a red pepper.

But enough about the chicken. The pork, of course, was perfect. B's barbecue was tender and almost smooth, with nary a bit of skin or bone to interrupt its texture.
Meals also come with two sides and corn sticks, a strange, fried cornmeal concoction. Like the more common hushpuppy, they seem designed to soak up vinegar-based sauces. For my sides, I got a boiled potato salad and coleslaw.

The pork and chicken combo:

B's sauce, served in old Crown Royal bottles:

Outdoor close-up:


We ate and ate and only got halfway through our meals. By one p.m., the crowd showed no signs of dissipating. Smoke still bellowed from the smoker. Cars and delivery trucks hunted for parking spots, and some ended up parking in front of neighboring houses.

The Smoker and Its Keeper (This is a Dignity Hunt photograph):


Yes, B's really has a state road named after it, though the road uses a different spelling of barbecue.


Though sated, Rob and I had more work to do: we had to eat lunch again. So we hopped in the car and drove down Route 43 to the Barbecue Capital of the World, the tiny town of Ayden, NC.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

New Favorite Scene from Blue Velvet

You're fuckin' lucky to be alive. Look at me. Candy. Colored. Clown. Don't be a good neighbor to her.

I'll send you a love letter. STRAIGHT FROM MY HEART, FUCKER. YOU KNOW WHAT A LOVE LETTER IS? IT'S A BULLET FROM A FUCKIN' GUN, FUCKER! YOU RECEIVE A LOVE LETTER FROM ME, YOU'RE FUCKED FOREVER! YOU UNDERSTAND, FUCK? I'LL SEND YOU STRAIGHT TO HELL, FUCKER!

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

One Month To Go

In this very productive 26th year. Four year blog anniversary has passed, too.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Discovering Castle Island and Sullivan's

I'm surprised to have discovered the foil to New York's trendy-but-delicious Shake Shack, in Southie of all places. The unsurprisingly named Sullivan's, a long-operating burger and seafood shack, serves as the gateway to the best part of Castle Island Park and all the urban treasures it offers.

Last night, I showed up at Castle Island for the first time ever before taking in a show at the Pavilion. I had always wanted to check out the park and fort at the mouth of Boston Harbor. City Point, the location of Castle Island, is only about seven miles from Teele Square. After spending way too much time installing a rear fender on my new bike, I headed out across much of the city at rush hour. No cars drove into me, and I arrived at Castle Island in about 50 minutes, starving.

I expected that once I arrived, I'd take a peek at the harbor and then find a slice of pizza deeper within Southie. Upon biking into the park's crowded lot, though, I noticed that everyone around me was eating crinkle-cut fries. A brick building with the word Sullivan's on it seemed to be the source of the fries. I locked my bike to a tree (where are the bike racks, DCR?) and entered.

Inside, chaos! Picture a Revere Beach street scene on steroids and/or coke--well, more steroids and more coke. To use one of my mother's favorite words, the scene around and within Sullivan's on an average weeknight is absolute BEDLAM. The diverse crowd swelled and ebbed as employees barked order numbers. Behind the counter, nearly a dozen teenage white girls in green t-shirts and shorts took the orders, counted the cash, did the cooking, handed out cardboard trays of food to their more diverse customers. I asked if it was always this insane. Yup, the girl said. I paid her just $4.75 for a cheeseburger, fresh-seeming fries, and a soda.



I ate outside with dozens upon dozens of others, taking in the sickly salty yet soothing and cool air of the North Atlantic. I watched joggers and walkers ring Pleasure Bay, but what I really wanted to see was the harbor, which was just over a hill, behind the the old fort and out of sight. By the time I finished my fries, I was already late to meet my friend at the Pavilion. I took a quick walk to the real waterfront anyway. I checked out the little fishing pier that I've seen a half dozen times from the Harbor Islands ferry, and it was crowded as always. Giant, widebody aircraft roared overhead, beginning their transatlantic journeys. A middle-aged nerd with a giant, old aviation frequency scanner repeated the air traffic commands for his wife. Castle Island seemed the rare place where you could show up anytime with a camera and find great shots of people doing whatever they do.

What makes Sullivan's and Castle Island truly great is their location--urban, yet desolate, at the tip of Southie and nestled behind the Conley Container Terminal. This keeps the people real. Meaning: you'll see families of all colors and sizes, a guy with a horrendous, undressed, facial knife wound waiting next to you for his burger, small children and old men staring upward in wide-eyed wonder at giant aircraft roaring overhead, and no suits whatsoever. I like it there, and I will go back soon.




What do you see? -- Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster -- tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?.
--From the few pages of Moby-Dick that I read

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no energy left

With which to write two posts, one about biking to the urban gem that is Castle Island, another blaming cul-de-sac people for my not getting anywhere with the ladies tonight. Maybe in the morning.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Economic Punishment for Inefficient Cabbies

NY Taxi drivers are complaining about gas prices and demanding a fuel surcharge. But more than 90% of them drive the Ford Crown Victoria, basically a V8, rear wheel drive tractor with seats. Let's take a look at the Crown Victoria's fuel efficiency at fueleconomy.gov:

2008 Ford Crown Victoria FFV 8 cyl, 4.6 L, Automatic 4-spd
15 mpg city; 23 mpg highway

Not very good. Not very good at all. What about the Hybrid Escape, also by Ford, that has become popular in NY and is starting to pop up in Boston?

2008 Ford Escape Hybrid FWD
34 mpg city; 30 highway

The 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid is also up there: 34 city/33 highway.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance is quoted in the linked NY1 article above stating that the average cab burns 20 gallons of gasoline per shift. Maybe it's time to invest in some more efficient vehicles.

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Preteen Invasion

Yesterday I found a crowd of about two dozen Asian preteens outside my living room window. They appeared to have a young, Caucasian counselor leading them around Teele Square. Tonight, in Davis, a troupe of chain-smoking young teens who said they were from Spain sat within inches of my head--I was reading Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent on the skylight roof of the subway station (how Somerville). When their charge-type person, a late thirtiesish lady in a white dress, came to retrieve them, they followed her up College Avenue, many lit cigarettes still in hand. What the hell is going on?

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Music and Blog Update

Music first. Erich and I wrote four new songs this weekend. They're mellower than the blues-punk-rock tunes I've been writing with my brother, but they still rock. Our plan is now to try and merge the groups next weekend, and then find a drummer. If we can get Erich and CMike working together, we will still achieve my goal of having "no p**sy songs." By my latest estimation, the new group has ready frameworks written for 17 songs. Most just need lyrics and fills.

Blog is going to feature a lot of nonfiction and photos about this summer's two major trips: NCBBQII (Eastern NC barbecue run) and UP08 (Upper Peninsula of Michigan).

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Tune Inn, Washington D.C.


From NCBBQII. You are going to see so many empty restaurant pictures from me. Here's the one that started this particular obsession.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Checking In With A Bouncer, Washington, D.C.


From NCBBQII.

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NCBBQII Part The First: The Road to DC

Here's most of the set. All the little buttons are linked to the full size images.


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