Off Into The Sunset

Just Something To Do

A Tale of Two Seven Elevens

When I first moved into my new neighborhood, I was thrilled that I lived just 3 blocks from a 7-11. Why, you might ask? Well, when I lived in Japan, I was also 3 blocks from a 7-11. (And actually lived in the same building as a Lawson!) Living in Japan had taught me that convenience stores , or konbini, can really be, how should I say this - convenient! A convenience store in Japan is one of those things you could always depend upon to be open, stocked with everything you needed and more, and staffed by courteous, competent folks. Besides the obvious, you know food, and magazines, and stuff, you can also order tickets to almost any event in the country, pay all your bills in about 30 seconds, and always come in and enjoy climate control from whatever sauna- or blizzard-like weather you might be suffering from on the outside.

After coming back to the states, going to a national chain convenience store continued to be as rare as it was before I had left. In San Francisco, anyway, most of the functions of convenience stores are taken over by the corner Mom-and-Pop convenience store. These are fine – the proprietors are usually pretty friendly – but they’re not often open past 11pm, they really only stock booze and snacks, and the quality of the merchandise has a lot to be desired. So, I really missed the “convenience” of the Japanese konbini. This is why I was excited about finally having a neighborhood 7-11.

But in actuality, there is almost nothing in common between American 7-11’s and those in Japan. The selection of goods is worse than the Mom-and-Pops’, and the prices are about 10 percent higher. When I first wrote this, I kind of just wanted to rant about how my neighborhood store in particular let me down, but after doing a little investigation, I see that pretty much all of them in the city are, to use a probably very politically incorrect term, “ghetto”. Sure, they’re open 24 hours. But that just means that there’s a 24-hour a day place for people with mental disabilities and gang-bangers to congregate. I mean, moving to the Sunset, I thought I was getting away from this, but this 7-11 seems to bring a bit of the Mission back. The place is always filthy, and poor folks who don’t know any better just use the always-on lights to congregate and ask the same people over and over for money. I find it really sad, and is another in the many pieces of evidence that we need a stronger social safety net, as the few times I do break down and give out some change to these folks doesn’t really help. We need something better to help the disadvantaged, and it’s not going to come from these interactions.

Well, enough of my little rant. All I really wanted to say is I miss Japanese convenience stores, and am really sad that the big 7-11 sign just down the street doesn’t live up to the memories of what a convenience store could, and should, be.

A Sad Night in Japantown

I love karaoke, despite the fact that I’m just plain awful at singing. I realize that. I’m not tone-deaf, or anything like that. I can hear that I’m off on many of the notes. My problem is my voice has a really narrow range. Now that I have a place all to myself, I’m starting to practice singing a lot more often, and let me tell you, it’s not pretty to listen to.

Anyway, despite the lack of any improvement, because I’ve been practicing a few more songs, both Japanese and English, I was really looking forward to having some fun and singing in front of some people a couple of weekends ago. A couple of friends and I had been frequenting this izakaya-style place in Japan Center called Mogura (もぐら). It’s not perfect as far as authenticity, but it’s the only place in America I’ve been to that serves izakaya food with karaoke - with both Japanese and English songs. Most other karaoke joints in this city are either Korean-run rent-a-room style, or American-style with a DJ and a single stage. The rent-a-room places are what they do in Japan, so those would be fun, but at this point in my life, getting 4 or more people together to sing karaoke (in this country, anyway) is a monumental task. So this place was special.

Imagine my disappointment, then, as my friend Glee and I walk in there poised to sing our butts off after a considerable absence. I ask for the songbook. She didn’t understand - hmm, she’s probably not Japanese? She’s not, but, much, much worse than that - there is no songbook!! The story they told me was that they had let their license to have music performed there lapse, and that it would be reinvoked in a month or so. Honestly, I haven’t been so disappointed in years. I felt like a five-year-old who was promised a new bike for Christmas but instead got a pair of used socks. I still feel that way, honestly.

I will keep an eye on this place, in case they “regain their license”. I don’t feel very confident in that outcome, however. My only other alternatives at this point are a) get a group of at least 4 people together to rent a room to sing and drink, or b) go sing in Japan. I plan on heading to Japan in March, so the remaining question at this point is which one comes first. Either way, I’ll still really miss Mogura a lot.

Welcome to the New Blog

At the beginning of the year, I made a New Year’s resolution to be more communicative with friends and family. Part of that was that I was going to update my blog. The blog engine I was using before was certainly functional, but it had a glaring flaw that it was written in php, which, if you know me at all, I simply despise. So I looked for something written in Ruby. I found Typo, which is easy to set up and is reasonably functional. But then I had to deal with something that anyone who’s done any kind of multi-lingual application work knows will come up: character encoding. Either my old blog posts wouldn’t show up, or if I tried to write a new one using non-ASCII characters, it would break everything. And frankly, I don’t feel like debugging other people’s code in my spare time, because that’s what I do in my day job.

So finally, I found Octopress. Wonderfully simple, it uses the best NoSQL database there is - the filesystem. All I have to do is create a file - I can put any kind of characters I want in it, 例えばこんな日本語のじ、Или эти русские слова, and it won’t break things. Also, since there is no database - the website you see is just a bunch of flat files - it’s nice and snappy. So now that I finally got this thing working, you should see a lot more content from me here. Should.


Here are some of my favorite pictures from my motorcycle trip last Saturday, but if you get a chance you should take a gander through all of them. See the slideshow down below.

About 12 years ago, my friend Tom recommended I find this ghost town called “New Idria” in the middle of California. It’s an abandoned quicksilver mining town about 160 miles southeast of San Francisco. It certainly piqued my interest, and I have looked for it many times. Before the age of Google maps and smart phones and GPS, all I had were some paper charts that were very hazy in that region of the state, so I failed in my attempts. Finally, though, this last weekend, I succeeded in finding my white whale.

It was pretty much a perfect day - the temperature couldn’t have been more than 85F, apparently a little cooler than it had been around there recently. Hardly any wind to speak of, and there was no traffic on the important parts.

I was very pleased with my photos–nice colors and textures in some of them. My little shockproof and waterproof Fujifilm Finepix XP really came through for me. You can see that there was a fire there recently–I guess around 3 weeks earlier, some kids torched a few of the buildings. Damn kids. Also hanging around the place was some squatter named “Castro”. I guess he comes around on his Quadrunner and shoots his hunting rifle to scare people (I didn’t see the guy personally, but these other riders I ran into there filled me in about him). Somebody was shooting guns all over the place though, despite the “No Hunting” signs posted all over the place. This area really does feel like it’s outside of anyone’s jurisdiction; the road becomes unmaintained for the last two miles into the town.

San Francisco Trains

My old running route in Dogpatch always took my by this Muni repair facility. I’ve been dying to take these pictures for a few months. Some of the more interesting rusted-out cars are gone now, unfortunately, so I didn’t get a chance to take those pictures.

BTW, does anyone know what this is?

Photographs From Japan

Finally, finally I got all my pictures from Japan up.

If you can’t see this, or it drives you nuts, let me know.

My New Bike

This past weekend, I bought a motorcycle. I actually had no intention of buying one this soon - I was going to wait about two more months - but this opportunity that presented itself was far too good to pass up. It’s a 1984 Virago. Yes, this bike is over 25 years old. That there could be a bike like this in such good condition is fantastic, but what makes it even better is that I had the same model of bike way back in 1993. So this bike is really special to me. I took it out for a couple of hundred miles this weekend - went down the PCH to the Three-Zero Cafe, then down to Alice’s.

1984 Virago XV700

So I got to thinking - this makes this motorcycle #7 for me. I’ve of course been reminiscing about all the bikes I’ve had up to now. My first was back in 1992, a 1974 Honda CB360 I bought from some guy in Ballston Spa, NY.

1974 CB360

Then, in San Diego, I got this 1986 Virago XV700C (I think there was a C anyway). This was a very special version of this model, in a rare blue color with no “Virago” emblems on it. This was the first bike I went on a long trip on (San Diego to Toledo). Best bike I ever had.

1986 Virago XV700

I sold the Virago (not a good move, in retrospect) before I moved to Iceland. Then, when I got back from Iceland I found this 1979(?) Honda CB750K. The engine needed to be rebuilt, but this guy took me from Toledo to DC and back, then all the way up into Manitoba and back down through Vancouver to San Francisco. Here it is in front of a Viking statue in Gimli, Manitoba

1979 Honda CB750K

The CB750K didn’t last too long once I got to San Francisco. I had to have a bike. Anything. So a friend of Sam’s, a major(?) in the Marine Corps sold me this 1982 Kawasaki 750. Man, this thing lived a long, eventful life. Almost 2000 miles in one of the first weekends I had it, then I painted it gray. One of the mufflers came off in a trip to Las Vegas, coming very close to hitting a couple of my friends. Then it went down to LA once or twice, and since I’ve owned it, it stayed in good hands, with many other adventures to follow.

1982 Kawasaki 750 1982 Kawasaki 750

Then I got the FZ-1. Incredibly fast. I got it up to 162 mph. I went on some great trips with this one, too. I have no need to ever go that fast again, though.

2001 Yamaha FZ-1

The FZ-1 met an untimely end. But I still needed to ride. So I got the V-Star. It was really, really loud. I enjoyed it at the time, but looking back, that might have been kind of meiwaku. Took some great trips, including up to Crater Lake and Portland.

2000 Yamaha V-Star 1100


This past weekend I took a short trip to Tokyo. There I saw another dance festival, among other things.

I think I have seen enough dance festivals in the summer. It’s too damn humid to be outside in the summer, especially with so many people. Anyways, Sunday was a very important election, so you could see a lot of election posters.

And I went to Tsukuji Fish market.

So that’s my story.