Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wine, Friends and Video Tape

In which we share our first experience on camera

A while back, before I took up my glamorous new post at BNET, I wrote a freelance piece for them called "How to Survive Dinner with Your Wine Snob Boss." It was a fun but instructional piece that got rave reviews and garnered huge traffic.

After I was hired at BNET, the head of our video department asked if I wouldn't like to make a video version of it. Of course I said yes. We took a somewhat different tack than the written piece, tee-ing it up as an interview with a sommelier who offered tips of choosing wine and wine etiquette.

Our producer, who owns her own small vineyard in Napa, found a suitable sommelier at the tony watering hole Jardinierre, Eugenio Jardim.

When I arrived at the place one morning last month, I was met by Eugenio, an affable Brazilian -- who looked very familiar. The producers had us working so fast, though, that I didn't get a chance to chat him up until there was a break while the crew adjusted the lighting. At this point I pulled out one of my Vinapedia biz cards and explained that the site was a bit of a hobby and a way for me to learn more about wine. Then I asked if Ted Talley sold wine to Jardinierre (Ted is an old friend in the wine business).

Eugenio smiled and said “I’ve known Ted for 20 years…”

Of course we had met before at parties and such, but it had been a long time, since before I had moved to Southern California. So we chatted about our mutual friends, who seemed to grow more legion with every phrase. Talk about a small world.

Watch me with Eugenio in the video, Wine Know-How.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Willie and Me

In which we chat up a San Francisco icon

Last week I went and listened to former California State Assembly speaker and San Francisco Mayor, Willie Brown, give a talk about his new memoir, Basic Brown: My Life and Our Times, at the Ferry Building.
I have always admired Willie for his style and aplomb and all he has done for this town. Sure, there are all sorts of shadowy allegations of back-door dealing and cronyism. Who cares? Willie has done more for the City and County of San Francisco than anyone. If it weren't for Willie:
  • There would be a massive freeway interchange in Golden Gate Park
  • There would be no Mays Field in China Basin, and the Giants would have skipped town
  • The Embarcadero (Herb Caen Way) would probably be just a noisy thoroughfare, even after the double-deck freeway was torn down, and not the sparkling, grand boulevard that it has become
  • The Ferry Building would still be a set of crumbling offices on the brink of being condemned
  • Union Square would still be a pigeon-and-bum-infested rat hole

And that's just for starters.

At 73, Willie still looks trim, dapper and spruce. His chat was full of energy and charm.
Next day I mentioned my encounter with a coworker. Turns out that another coworker's girlfriend is Willie's executive assistant, She was able to get me a half hour alone with the man a day later. You can bet I wore a tie for that meeting.

Look for more of my encounter with Willie on BNET in March.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


In which we celebrate a San Francisco / Virginia City original

Been a fan of the cantankerous Lucius Beebe since I first discovered him while combing through old San Francisco Chronicle microfiche docs in the San Francisco State University library.

While searching for information on a topic quite unrelated, I stumbled upon Beebe's columns and was instantly enraptured by the man's skilled, erudite and cutting commentary on every subject of the day.

Eccentric, scathing, tempermental and louche beyond comparison -- he travelled his own, private pullman rail car -- Beebe epitomized elegant, upper-crust, anti-burgeois rage. He was a man's man, a bon vivant, a gourmand and a dandy extraordinnaire.

So my love of well dressed curmudgeons and stylish skpetics was born.

Web chum, Will, has recently discovered the Beebe anthology, The Provocative Pen of Lucius Beebe and groks that meme, too.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Snow Daze

In which we rekindle and old flame

This weekend I went snowboarding for the first time in more than two years. I went with old friends, Ted and Kristen and their two younguns, Olivia (6) and Kevin (4). We stayed in their family’s cabin on the western shores of glittering Lake Tahoe. It was a picture perfect weekend of clear, crystalline skies and temperate weather.

I had determined to take it easy, for a change, and rode just a half day on Saturday and most of the day Sunday, stopping frequently for little breaks and long lunches. Ted, an expert skier, decided to try his hand at snowboarding after some seven years hiatus, and giving him pointers and keeping an eye him rather forced me to cool my jets.

This worked to my advantage. Had I gone up with some of my more practiced snowboarder pals – now two years more advanced than me – this first time I might have felt compelled to keep up, leading to frustration at the least or an injury at worst, bombing down every hill at top speed and taking dangerous jumps on wombly legs.

As it was I was able to just hang back, relax and get my snow legs. It made me realize what I really enjoy most about snowboarding, and it’s quite similar to what I enjoy about cycling. Where many cyclists are in it for power and speed, seeing how hard and fast they can do a 30-mile coffee-ride, I enjoy the scenery and the feeling of gliding over the road more than the strenuous challenge. The same goes for snowboarding: the feel of the soft, cold snow as you carve gently across the mountain; the cold wind across your cheeks, the splendid sky above and the shimmering lake below. It’s not about who can do the most dangerous jump or fly fastest through the densest trees. It’s about you and the mountain and the blue winter sky above – and about sharing your experience with your good friends.

Sure, I took a few jumps and had a few spills, but I could be hurting a lot more today.

Having Olivia and Kevin with us on the mountain was a treat. Being skiers since about the age of 2 ½ or 3, they are both probably already better skiers than I am a snowboarder. Little Kevin is the mad bomber, careening down the mountain as fast as he dared (and knocking little girls out of the way) and Olivia’s quite the little jumper. They were a joy to watch. They kept it light.

In the evening we played dominoes, drank superior wines, wrestled with the kids, showed them magic tricks – I am the louche uncle “who can pull his thumb off” – and told stories of the “snow ghost.” (I consider piquing the curiosity of small children and women through the twin vehicles of awe and terror to be a personal gift.)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Look Out, Blogosphere! Pops Bought a Scanner!

In which we celebrate family, ephemera and a clean, close shave

Blogging. Seems like everybody's getting into the act. And why not? Surely, everyone has something to say right?... Right?

Even The Popster, Poppa, Junkman, my dad, now has a blog. Luckily, the gassy septuagenarian has refrained from blogging about his ailments and his harpie troubles and instead has focused on one of his collecting enthusiasms, in this case paper and other ephemera.

Above is an image from his most recent entry, on a gas powered shaver -- of all things -- that he recently came across.

Now, recently, I left my razor at a hotel somewhere and was forced to go out and buy another. I'm not a fan of electric razors, so I bought another one of the multi-bladed ones similar to the one I had before. When I finally got the reinforced steel and concrete package open, however, I was surprised when two little batteries fell out onto the table.

What the... ?

Turns out I'd bought the latest, latest version of that shaver. Not only did that li'l fucker have no less than five blades, it also vibrated. This, the package assured me, would give the cleanest, closest shave I'd ever hope get. Well, I tried it once but it was just too damned stupid, the slippery little thing quivering in my paw like a chihuahua on LSD. I still have the shaver but I took the batteries out.

It's nice to know, at least, that this kind of stupidity is hardly new.

Thanks, Pops.


In which we're shaken but not stirred

In wasn't The Big One. Heck, it wasn't even a big one. But it was my first since moving back here to Seattle South.

I was lying in bed early this morning waiting for my alarm clock to go off (don't ask) when... BANG! Our Victorian suddenly lurched northward what felt like about a foot-and-half and creakily resettled back onto its foundation.

Gave me a bit of a start but, being an old San Franciscan, my first thought was, "Eh... about 3.4." Turns out it was 3.1, but it was close, centered just a mile off the coast of Pacifica.

Just big enough put some momentum into my morning.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Travels West Heads North

In which we discuss our recent movements

I suppose it had to happen sometime. Friends said it was inevitable, though I wasn’t so sure. What am I talking about? Well, if you’re one of the six or eight lucky people who actually read this thing, you will have noticed that the tagline of Travels West is now “Travels and Musings Around California and the American West” and that my location has changed from Studio City to San Francisco.

Yep, I’ve moved back.

Just before Christmas I received a job offer at, one of the most trafficked business-related website in the world. Operated by CNET, BNET gets some 7 million visitors a month and has thousands of registered users. (My blogs at Yahoo, by contrast, received around 140,000 visits per week.)

It’s been quite a whirlwind my first three weeks on the job. I’m in charge of expanding the operation’s social media footprint (don’t ask), editing the Insight section, which includes 11 bloggers covering different areas of business, helping my team think up new ideas for feature packages and other content, and some significant writing myself. This job is about two thirds Big Thinking, three parts daily update of my part of the site, about three-and-one-half quarts top editing, a dash of backslapping social networking and roughly 1 cubit’s worth of kick-you-in-the-balls, daily color-commentary journalism. So far it’s great.

As My Postcards from ‘Frisco showed, my first days back in the City were bright and brisk and shiny. This has given way to chill rain-showers under a mottled gray and blue sky. I look forward to the Spring.

I live among the gingerbread Victorians in the what we used to call the Western Addition, but for reasons I suppose have to do with gentrification of the old ‘hood, is now called NOPA or “north of the panhandle.” I type this looking out my bay window at the giant red and white oyster fork of Sutro Tower.

It some ways it’s as if I never left. It’s one of the cities that I just know how to be in, like London or Helsinki or, to a lesser extent, Paris. There is much that is the same – the food is still the tits – but also many things are different. For one thing, there’s the most extraordinary building boom going on just now. In South of Market, around Rincon Hill and in China Basin, where there was naught for an empty rail yard for years, it’s as if a whole new city is rising. We’ll see where that all goes.

I’ve been doing city things – you know, wasting time sitting around in coffee houses instead of sitting around in bars, shopping downtown in order to update my warm-climate Southern California wardrobe, taking long walks in the park and bike rides along the shore of the bay and ocean, visiting old friends, and what not. Next week I go with friends to Tahoe to do some snowboarding, my first trip up the mountain in more than two years.

Naturally, the focus of Travels West will shift. I’ll still talk about my travels in the west, of course, but expect to see more about the City and its little hidden histories, a subject I am far better versed in than that of Southern California.