September 24, 2011

Hawaii 2011, Day 3

Day 3 was a full day of museum conference fun.

Followed by a reception. If you are Facebook friends with the Honolulu Academy of Arts and purchase something at the giftshop, they will give you a set of greeting cards featuring a painting of hanging lobster claw by Georgia O'Keeffe.

After the reception we were hungry. Mrguy had been having a special feeling about a restaurant that sits about two blocks away from our hotel. Chiba-ken, you are a yummy restaurant. Our first new stuff to love!

I walked in and right off the bat wanted to buy a tshirt. Excellent design.

We sat at the bar, which I generally hate doing, but mrguy encouraged it. Again, it must have been his spidey sense. It was completely un-intimidating. The chefs were well worth seeing, and their presentation was fabulous.  We had a little of everything.

While we were eating, Mrguy noticed that the sushi chefs both had coffee cups from Kaimuki Grill. I asked the food runner if he could find out what the connection is. Not only was that restaurant in my home town, but I had eaten there. It was Chiba-ken's owner's former restaurant. Now I was eating his sushi again in Honolulu. Too cosmic. Meant to be. We bought t-shirts and I will wear mine at the conference today.

So ends Day 3

Hawaii 2011, Day 2

We've really been struck by what's changed since we were last here. We had a good run with our old stuff, but have been disappointed by what is not here for us this time. Our determination?

Find new stuff.

Here's the old stuff:

1) AM940 appears to be gone. What happened? KINE is nice but has way too much syrupy music
2) Aku Bone Lounge is pau
3) SPOILER ALERT! Keawe 'Ohana is good, but the Marriott needs a new sound system. We could barely hear, which reduced our enjoyment. Alan Akaka's dry wit is almost my favorite part of the show and I couldn't quite make out what he was saying
4) No more turntable at Jellys. This means that I will have to use my gut more when buying records. I remember last time that I would have bought some really crap records by sweet-looking old grandmas if I had not been able to listen to them last trip.

On the upside:
1) Jellys exists, in two locations
2) The Keawe 'Ohana is still really darned good

So Day 2 was really nice. The IHOP breakfast cured what ailed us. We bought super yummy food at Shirokya, at Ala Moana Center. We paused for a while to look at the beautiful sculpture and the koi pond. There seemed to be more than one breed. I don't recall seeing the fish with the big foreheads before. They seemed to hang out together. Mrguy dubbed them the Mensa Club :)

Then off to to the North Shore. Oogenesis is still my favorite store in the world, but nothing really fit.

We took our lunch to the beach, slathered on sunscreen and ate our delicacies. Within five minutes I was truly suffering. I was wearing a large hat, so my face was fine, but my legs were burning to a crisp. I hope you find the photo (which I will add later) amusing. I used newspaper as a sun barrier so that we could finish eating on the beach. When I got up, the ink from the newspaper registered the headlines on my sunscreen covered legs. It wasn't a long trip to the beach, but it was so pretty.

On the way back to town there were stubborn rainbows that wouldn't go away.

In the evening we saw the Keawe 'Ohana at the Beach Marriott. A visiting musician sat in during the second set and played Waikiki Chickadee, which made us happy, as did Kumu Akaka's At The Coco Palms.

So ends day 2.

September 22, 2011

Hawaii 2011, Day 1

We finally made it to Hawaii. About time!

The flight seemed quick and was uneventful except for running into friends from ukulele class who were on their honeymoon. Awwww.

First stop, as usual, was La Mariana Sailing Club, that lovely oasis on Sand Island Access Road. It's been smartened up a bit, and was a shinier version of its usual quirky self. The joint was hopping, which we were glad to see, and there were many ladies there at lunchtime. Our waitress had an amazing Texas drawl, reminding us of our Texan friend who used to work for the Hawaiian tourist board.

We could not resist going to Jelly's in Aiea for a brief visit. I'm on a mission to find a particular 3 Scoops of Aloha tape that Akebono carried with him from Hawaii to Japan when he first signed up for sumo. Found something close. Have questions.

Then to Ward center for slippahs and books.

After a stop at the hotel we made our usual pilgrimage to the restaurant we now call Mama's. I have to say that it also was a shinier version of itself. The food was more delicate.

Sunset Serenaders were on the bandstand at the Halekulani. It's amazing how much you feel the influence of the Kahauanu Lake Trio and Hui 'Ohana in the bands in Waikiki. We felt bad for them when the request was for Pearly Shells. What would be the antidote to that? Makalapua?

And the people watching at the Halekulani was amazing last night. A woman near the edge of the stage sat with a big sullen-looking guy. She reminded us vaguely as a better-dressed version of the hooker who used to appear at the Super Safeway in the old place late at night wearing a long t-shirt and panties. The Honolulu version was a scary skinny lady propped up on high platforms, with sparkly hat, mucho braceletage. Wowsa. They had their cheese plate and beverages sent up to their room because nothing says romance like cheese, I guess.

I am now paying for that second mai tai.

September 18, 2011

Diners Part 2, or, My Life As A Diner Waitress

Food service came naturally to me. Background in an esoteric liberal arts major? Check. Love of food? Check. Desire to help people? Check. Ability to multitask? Check. It was September after my graduation from college, and my deadline for being removed from the family teat loomed. A friend took me to the diner.

I started my training the next day.

It wasn't too far off from the scenes in Mildred Pierce in which she learned how to order: "two bugs on a raft!" or whatever. In the case of my diner, there was a system in which ingredients were asssigned numeric values. For the kitchen, it went like this:

1. Swiss cheese
2. American
3. Ham
6. Tuna

If you put parens around your ingredients when writing down your order, it meant something was grilled. No parens meant cold.


23/ Mac = Ham and cheese sandwich with a side of mac
(23)/ Pot = Grilled ham and cheese with a side of potato salad.

Drinks were also numbered. 33 was Coke, 44 was root beer. 1 was milk, and J was coffee (Joe is slang for coffee).

The head waitress was a woman named Grace, who ran a really tight ship. She'd worked at the restaurant for over 30 years by the time she and I were acquainted. She wore her hair in an Ann Miller style bouffant flip and she'd regale us with the stories of working at the diner in the 1940's when the restaurant was a more formal place in a more formal time. Ladies wore gloves and the waitress uniform included platform shoes.

When I worked there, however, the diner was in transition, as was that part of the city. It was frequented by many elderly people, some of whom had been dining there since the days when Grace wore platform shoes. After school we served kids from the high school. In the afternoons and evenings we served a lot of college students, including the library students who I idolized. We also served a lot of street people. We turned nobody away. This had its upside and its downside. I felt like this was the right thing to do, but if anything ever went wrong on one of those crazy night shifts nobody backed us up. On the odd occasion when a guy was being chased through the restaurant by another guy with a gun, Jimmy the cashier would pretend he didn't see anything.

The waitresses who raised me, Grace, Margene, Lulu and the young one whose name I can't recall (!) were a resilient bunch of characters, all with their own charms. Lulu was the most timid, had a sweet voice and had been a dancer. She wore her hair in a bouffant and was round but light on her feet. Margene talked like a truck driver, and out of the side of her mouth. My two favorite Margene-isms are "You make a better door than you do a window" (when you were blocking her view) or "I'll give you a nickel if you do x." The nickel was not actually forthcoming, but I'd do the task anyway. The young kid was a hard-working single mother who lived in worry that her own child would be pregnant at sixteen, and she was. That lady could scold with a look that brought me searing shame without her saying a word. But usually there were words too and I'd be reduced to tears for affronts such as taking her toast by mistake. Only now do I fully understand that every piece of toast got her closer to providing for her family, and that's why she was occasionally so harsh.

Enough for now.  On another day I'll go into more depth on the customers, and why it is that when I go to the Greek Festival I look for the boss' name in the departed benefactors' wall and finger the letters, happy that he's gone.

September 12, 2011

Diners, Part 1

On Friday I traveled to this fine location, my dermatologist's office, for my bi-monthly biopsy. Did I mention that I'm majoring in basal cell?

Along the way, a conversation about cool diners of the past led me to think about what I liked about them, and a quasi request for a story. Doctor, this is for you.

I have always loved a fine diner. We didn't eat in them often when I was a kid, so I mostly loved them from afar. When I was in college, diners became part of the web of life and I came to love their menus, their employees and their architecture.

When I moved to the college town where I lived for many years, there were two phenomenal diners nearby. An embarrassment of riches, really. The more famous diner was circular, had beautifully upholstered booths, and was frequented by an odd mixture of cops, hookers and families. If you wanted a classic Monte Cristo, deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar, this was your place. Its most memorable appearance in my life was as the place where I began a brief but notable relationship.

The other diner was far more humble. It had a cute sign and the requisite lava rock glommed onto the exterior. It was the menu that set this diner apart, however. As I mentioned to my doctor the other day, there are three things I look for on a diner menu: 1) buttermilk, 2) prune juice and 3) cherry jello. Not strawberry. Cherry, which is in the pantheon of man's finest artificial flavors (cherry, grape, orange). This place had it all. And like any good diner, it had amazing diner ladies.

When I was a veteran diner waitress myself and looking for a new gig, I went to place #2. I dressed up in one of my finer thrift store outfits, a blue and cream seersucker dress. I waited until after the lunch rush and asked for the head waitress. She was an amazing older woman. Kind, Southern accent, you could tell that she didn't do her own hair but went to the beauty parlor once a week. I told her that I was looking for a job. She looked at me earnestly and said "Just out of the service?" Turns out that my seersucker was the uniform worn by Navy nurses. She'd been a Wave. I felt not smart telling her that I wasn't aware of the importance of my outfit.

Never got that job, but diner #2 became the place I wanted to go to when given the choice of the two restaurants. Come on. It had the trifecta.

Mrguy, Middlesis Guy and I went there together one last time in the 90's. Sis and I had tickets to see the Blue Jays one day. She drove. Her car started making weird sounds 1/4 mile from the stadium.

Never made it to the stadium. Ended up at the diner after getting towed home. As an aside, I can tell you how sad it is to hear the Canadian national anthem coming over the walls of the stadium while waiting for a tow truck driver and knowing that you have Row 1 seats in your pocket.

Neither diner is still with us but they live deeply in our memories.

Next: stories of a diner waitress...

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