The Chronicles of San Diego, Part II

Business travel is frequently vexing because you spend so much time alone when the work day is over. It's hard not feel like a social pariah when you walk into a restaurant and say, "Table for one." Consequently, it's tempting to take get carryout or take delivery in your room every night, but your waistline will definitely suffer. Truth be told, the only perk of company travel is dining on the company dime, so you ought to enjoy it even if you travel alone.

Nearly every part of the country has some regional cuisine that is done really well, so there's no reason to suffer through the generic chain food, regardless of where you are. Inevitably, company meetings and such will be at Chili's or some other place you've been a million times, so don't eat there unless you really feel the need to eat something you've already eaten before.

Still, it can be hard to travel and eat alone. Here's what I do:
  • Use the web. Type in your current location and see what local restaurants are well rated. There are gems in most places. I had amazing shrimp in Sunnyvale and excellent lamb chops in Harlem because I did a little searching.
  • Order a beverage. I don't drink, but I always order a beverage of some kind. This automatically ups your check just a little bit and gives your server an excuse to visit your table. You'll inevitably get better service.
  • Don't be afraid to sit at the bar, even if you don't drink. I usually get great service from the bar, and there are almost always TVs or music or something that is much less alienating than sitting in a booth by yourself.
  • Stretch out the meal. When you dine alone, you'll notice that your food arrives much faster, and you finish quicker because there's no one to talk to. Even at a really nice restaurant, you can be in and out in well under an hour, and then you'll inevitably feel unsatisfied. Besides making a deliberate attempt to slow down, I frequently order a soup or an appetizer with dinner, just because it makes the meal more of an experience.
  • Ask about the specials. Unless you're at the Cheesecake Factory, the specials are usually actually special. They're the freshest ingredients, chef's specialty, or whatever. Your server will definitely know what most people order.
  • Get used to the alone-ness. Relish it. Once you go to a movie by yourself, you'll wonder why you ever try to corral a group of people to try and go to a movie. Dining alone can be the same way.

This week in San Diego has been a culinary masterpiece. I come here often enough that I have some of my favorite haunts. First is Point Loma Seafoods: a fresh fish market that also serves lunch. They have AMAZING chowder. Warning: they only take cash. Second is Phil's: Texas style BBQ, great blues. Beef ribs that would satisfy Fred Flinstone. Warning: closed on Mondays. This time, I also visited the Chart House at Dana Point, and it was simply amazing -- great view.


The Chonicles of San Diego, Pt1

Once again, I find myself on a work trip. When people ask me about what's new in life, the thing that usually comes to mind is my latest or upcoming travel, because so many people seem interested in the novelty of getting paid to travel. Sometimes I think people assume that it's exotic and exciting; lots of power suits and power lunches and really intense motivational speeches in high rise buildings. I hate to dash any illusions you might have, but right now I'm sitting in a mostly empty office in jeans and a t-shirt, blogging.

Still, I thought it would be fun to chronicle this trip on the blog. I'm going to see if I can come up with at least one good story for every day that I'm here.

I landed in San Diego at 11:30 this afternoon. I swear that we taxied FOREVER. It made me wonder if the airport is really like a big mall parking lot on Saturday, and the pilot tooling around in his 737 looking for a spot that's close to the food court but still doesn't make him walk through the lingerie section of JCPenny. In my mind I can hear the co-pilot yell, "Look! You passed a perfectly good spot right back there! We can WALK."

Still, the day has been good thus far. I enjoyed lunch at Point Loma Seafoods; a seared Ahi sandwhich and bowl of claw chowder. I'm sure we'll talk about food later, so I'll leave it at that. The highlight of the day, though, was this guy panhandling in the median of the street. He was walking up and down past the cars waiting to turn left. He held a sign that said: "BET YOU CAN'T HIT ME WITH A QUARTER."

How's that for a challenge?


I'm a victm!

In today's edition of "What I Learned", I'm taking you back to 1991, when cinema changed forever. This was the year that Hollywood proved three things: 1) that no film is too asinine to justify an even more asinine sequel, 2) acting skills are entirely optional in film making and 3) Death is really funny.

Now wait, did you think I meant that death, as in dying, was funny? No, no, I meant "Death" with a capital "D" is funny. Specifically, this guy:

Figured it out yet? Yes, we're talking about this trio:

In case you forgot, the first time we encountered Bill and Ted on their Excellent Adventure, they used a time traveling phone booth to collect historical figures (as in actual people) for a report so that they don't flunk out of high school. In the end, we learn that Bill and Ted's totally non-heinous band is critical to the history of the world, and that's why they couldn't flunk history. (Nevermind the fact that they could have used the time machine to study, but whatever.)

Well, in 1991's Bogus Journey, evil robot versions of Bill and Ted are sent from the future to kill the good Bill and Ted and prevent them from playing in the battle of the bands. (MTV's take on the Terminator, if you will.) Good Bill and Ted meet a totally egregious loogie filled demise and then have to journey through limbo, hell, heaven and challenge Death to make it back to San Dimas in time to save the babes and rock the show. Sound awesome? Totally.

So awesome, in fact, that me and my nerdy high school friends suspended our traditional bickering about the plausibility of time travel to quote the movie incessantly. These were our favorites:
[Bill and Ted are falling to hell.]
Bill: Dude, this is a totally deep hole.

Ted: I can't believe Missy divorced your Dad and married mine.
Bill: Shut up, Ted.

Bill: Hey, you wanna play 20 questions?
Ted: Okay! I got one!
Bill: Are you a mineral?
Ted: Yeah!
Bill: Are you a tank?
Ted: Yeah!

Bill: Dude, there's no way I can possibly do infinity push-ups.
Ted: Maybe if he lets us do them girly-style?

Ted: Dude!
Bill: What?
Ted: Hell sucks!
Bill: Definitely!
Ted: We were totally lied to by our album covers.

Ted: Who's that?
Bill: Ted, it's the Grim Reaper, dude!
Ted: Oh. How's it hangin' Death?

Bill: Ted.
Ted: Yeah?
Bill: If I die, you can have my Megadeth collection.
Ted: But, dude, we're already dead.
Bill: Oh. Well then they're yours, dude.

[Bill and Ted beat the Grim Reaper at Twister]
Bill: You played very well, Death, especially with your totally heavy Death robes.
Death: Don't patronize me.

Death: Don't overlook my butt, I work out all the time. And reaping burns a lot of calories.

In fact, I say that we quoted these movies just a little too much. I totally blame them for my gross overuse of the words "totally" and "dude". I promise I am not a surfer stuck in 1988, just a victim of the most non-non-non-non-non-heinous Bill and Ted.



Anyone else feel like they've been sucker punched in the groin by Adam Smith's "invisible hand" lately? The fall of Fannie and Freddie this weekend was the last straw. I was righteously indignant when my taxes were spent on artery clogging government pork, but I'm unconsolably incensed when they are spent to rescue profit mongering shareholders, home flippers, and people with irresponsibly large mortgages.

The thing that irritates me most of all is that I have to admit to myself that the government MUST step in. They have no choice. We can't let the two mortgage giants twist in the wind as they rightfully should, because there are lots and lots of honest, hard-working people who want that part of the American dream that is home ownership, and they need Mac and Mae to help them with their loans.

How did we get in this mess? I think it goes back to Adam Smith. Like many American industries of the late 80s and 90s, the banking industry experienced a fair amount of deregulation. Then, in the mid 90s, the economy picked up steam, and everyone was doing well. It seemed like deregulation was the way to go. Soon, the number of investment firms ballooned and everyone was getting into stocks and securities. It seemed like easy money. The problem was that companies were now beholden to very fickle shareholders who primarily wanted a higher stock price regardless of what it meant to the company. Executives were replaced, CEO salaries skyrocketed, and the temptation to satiate shareholders was so great that many companies start to post paper profits.

This all ended when the dot com bubble burst and Enron et al collapsed. At this point, the government had to step in like it had in the past. Sure, the market was free with deregulation, but too many people were too greedy. The markets and the companies that traded on them simply HAD to be more closely monitored. After all, a lot of honest hardworking people were hurt when their pensions and 401k burst along with the dot com bubble. In the end, it was the regular folk that were most hurt. The venture capitalists/investor types were only shaken up. And since there would be no more lucrative IPOs and acquisitions, they needed a new place to make their money. Unfortunately, they settled on the mortgage market.

Soon, the mortgage market heated up along with the real estate market. Interest rates were low, and everybody was getting into real estate. People starting flipping homes. Home ownership became a short term investment vehicle rather than a means to a permanent domicile. Investors loved it. Banks loved it too because they could sign people up for terrible variable rate mortgages which they could then sell to investors, who actually expected to see that 10 or 12% interest after the two years were up on the ARM. With deregulation, banks could be more aggresive in marketing mortgages to consumers, relaxing lending requirements, and could become very creative in how they bundled up the mortgages to sell to investors. Suddenly, "second mortgages" somehow became "home equity loans" and people could afford the cabin/boat/RV that they always wanted. It seemed like everyone was winning.

It was inevitable, though, that prices would fall. The market was saturated by real estate gurus, flippers, and investors clamoring for share price -- which had all speculatively inflated the market. Meanwhile, interest rates had been too low for too long. This had weakening the dollar, making US investments look bad in general, and causing general instability in the markets. When those investing in mortgages started to realize that there really is no such thing as a free lunch, they jumped ship, just like the home flippers and the family earning 100k a year and living in a half million dollar home on the bench.

The companies did their best the massage the numbers, hoping to hold out until the market rebounded. Mortgages were fundamentally sound, risk-free investments, right? Well, it turns out the Freddie and Fannie were counting some mortgages as capital assets, as if it was an absolutely sure thing that they would be repaid at the full interest rate. Well, who in their right mind is going to pay a 12% interest on a mortgage that is now upside-down? No one, that's who. The people buying the mortgages should have known it, too, as should the people trying to profit off of the hot market. Why people were willing to take such risks with something as important as a family's home, or millions of homes across America, I will never know.

So, are you mad yet? I hope so. Our tax dollars are going to be used to keep these companies afloat. In our efforts to be more laissez-faire, we end up being tens times less so, and exactly because we have to protect ourselves from all the capitalist asshats that assured us that a more market freedom would be better for us all.