People in the Wild, Downtown Tempe edition: Five types I see on my walk to work.

As I’d recently mentioned, I’m in the habit of walking to work these days. It’s just over a mile and a half, and it’s straight down the street, so my thoughts wander while I walk. I observe, and my mind does that thing human minds do and it classifies people.

Today, I thought I’d present my scientifically precise classification of the types of people I observe on my walk to work every day (and home from work 3x/week). The following is brought to you by my notes:

Group one: Exercisers.

There’s always an assortment of people doing healthy-human things, such as cycling, running, or power-walking (with and without hand-weights). I see them alone, often in pairs, and sometimes in small groups. The sight of them makes me happy.

Then, at the opposite end of the health spectrum, we have:

Group two: Altered-state people/zombies – (???)

In this group, I run into “regulars” and random people, alike. Some of them are homeless, some are not, but they all display the under-the-influence characteristics of the shuffling walk and the glazed-over eyes.

This compels me to share an anecdote:

Walking to work mid-last-week, I passed four random people as I was heading east and they were heading west. They seemed to be inebriated to varying degrees, but it was all pretty normal until the last guy shuffled my way and did something totally random and unexpected: he literally (emphasized because I never use the word “literally” unless it absolutely is) lifted his arms straight out in front of him, turned his sightless gaze to my face, adjusted the position of his feet so as to steer the vehicle of his body in my direction, and moaned a long, gutteral “Uunnnhhhuunnngg” as he approached.

Okay, I never make things up, but just so you know, I am SO not making this up. Neither was he playing around. There was nothing behind this person’s eyes, no hint of cognition whatsoever.

A chill skittered down the back of my neck like an insect with icy feet as I quickly side-stepped him to rush past, because in that instant, the word ZOMBIE flashed through my brain while my neurons fired in all directions with the realization that should a zombie apocalypse occur, I AM NOT PREPARED. NOT IN THE SLIGHTEST.

 

THIS WAS HIM.

THIS WAS HIM.

 

I mean, what could I have done? I didn’t recognize the guy’s zombieness until he was directly in front of me, and that, my friends, won’t cut it. My brain generated questions I couldn’t answer, and I mentally floundered for the next five or ten minutes as I pondered. How do you handle zombies masquerading as normal drunk people? Even if you recognize a zombie from further away, how could you know whether he’s a fast-moving zombie, or a slow-moving one? WHAT IS MY LIFE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY I AM SO NOT READY FOR THIS MAYBE I SHOULD START WATCHING THE WALKING DEAD SO I CAN GET SOME PRO TIPS.

These were my thoughts until I came across the first of two specimens I’d see that morning from the next group:

Group three: Leaf-blowers.

They’re so polite, the leaf-blowers. They cease their activity as soon as they note your approach, and they smile and nod at you as you walk by. Leaf-blowers are our friends!

Next, that same day, I spotted some people representing the fourth group:

Group four: Circle K regulars.

As with Group two, some folks in this category are homeless and some aren’t, but the characteristic that bonds them – the one, critical thing they all have in common – is that they know a good cup of coffee when they have one in their hands. That’s why they’re Circle K regulars. They hang out in the shade at the front of the building, or off to the side, usually in pairs or in small groups.

Basically, anyone with any kind of java savvy at all knows that the best-kept coffee secret in Arizona is that humble little pot o’joe at the Circle K.

Anecdote two: When I worked as a barista briefly while I was in college, I used to open the shop on the weekends, so I’d get there very early in the morning to grind the beans and prepare for opening. I started giving free cups of fresh coffee to the homeless couple who lived in their car on the periphery of the premises. We became friendly fast. We learned each other’s stories, and sometimes, in addition to coffee, I’d give them “old” pastries or muffins that were being replaced by fresh ones. After a few months, one of them landed a job, and they were able to rent a place to live. I missed them after they left… they were the nicest people, and the smiles on their faces when I’d give them coffee made my day.

Group five: Skateboarders.

Skateboarders are plentiful around town, and they embody an awesome sort of freedom in movement and spirit. They’re also the most diverse of the groups listed here. I see younger and older people on skateboards, and people of varying gender. There are skateboarders of all shapes, sizes and colors. There are girls in hijab on skateboards, and people dressed as students, professionals, professional students and professional couch-surfers. I see them getting from Point A to Point B on their skateboards, and I see them just hanging out, practicing their kickflips and heelflips and what have you.

This leads me to anecdote three: Walking around to the entrance of my building at work recently, I ran into two young guys on skateboards. They were practicing tricks flying off a ramp. The guy poised with his board at the top of the ramp looked over at me and said to the guy on the ground, “Okay, this one’s for her.” And he shot off down the ramp… and missed his landing. His friend cracked up, but the guy nonchalantly got up and called to me, “Well, I tried!” With a big grin on his face. And I couldn’t help but smile back as I walked away.

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The Pizookie and the French

Down the street from our house here in downtown Tempe, there’s a pizza joint called Oregano’s. It’s been a local favorite for the last two decades. It was newly opened when I first started going there in 1994; now, 20 years later, there are 14 Oregano’s locations throughout Arizona. They’re famous for their pizzas, but their entire menu is made of yummy awesomeness… I love their salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes. And their dessert? There’s only one dessert on the menu at Oregano’s, and that, my friends, is the Original Pizza Cookie, or, as everyone calls it, the “Pizookie.” The Pizookie is available in three flavors – chocolate-chip, white chocolate macadamia nut, and peanut butter chocolate. I’m sure that all the flavors are great, but I’ve always only ordered the chocolate-chip.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-OreganosTempepizookie

 

The Pizookie, for the uninitiated unfortunates among you, is cookie dough slightly baked in a 6-inch, deep-dish pizza pan, topped with three scoops of vanilla bean ice cream and sprinkled with chocolate chips. The resulting concoction defies description. There are no words.

Many others have tried to re-create the Pizookie, but as far as I know, no one has succeeded at elevating the simple combination of cookie dough and ice cream to the sublime height of perfection that Oregano’s consistently achieves. It must have to do with the pan they use, the type and temperature of the oven, the amount of time they leave it in, the particular recipe for the cookie dough, etc. It is a feat of culinary genius.The cookie comes out of the oven perfectly half-cooked, with the underneath firm (scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan is a part of the delightful experience), the top just barely set, and the inside soft and hot… and then, fresh from the oven, it’s topped with ice cream. It is voluptuous. By the time it gets to your table, it’s a pan full of hot and cold melty, gooey, chocolately ohmygodthisprobablyhasathousandcaloriesbutwhocaresIcanworkouttomorrow goodness.

It’s meant to serve 2-4, haha!

 

We went to Oregano's last night just so I could take this picture. OH THE SACRIFICE! OH THE THINGS I DO FOR THIS BLOG!! Meet the Original! Pizza Cookie at Oregano's. PIZOOKIE.

We went to Oregano’s last night just so I could take this picture. OH THE SACRIFICE! OH THE THINGS I DO FOR THIS BLOG!! Meet the Original! Pizza Cookie at Oregano’s. PIZOOKIE.

 

Just to give you an idea – I’m vegan 95% of the time. Since we’ve been back in Arizona, I mainly reserve the 5% for Oregano’s Fancy Dancy Mushroom pizza and their chocolate-chip Pizookie.

Now all of this, of course, leads up to the little story I have to tell you today.

When I lived in France, one of the most baffling reactions I got from the French was their dubiousness and often mocking hilarity when they’d ask me what things I missed in the States, and I’d answer, “The food.” I honestly did not understand their mirth. In my experience, the diversity and excellence of food here is unparalleled. America is, pretty much by definition, a merging of cultures; we have all the food here. For instance, I couldn’t find decent Thai food where we were in France… between the Rhône-Alpes (Valence, Grenoble) and the Alpes-Maritimes (the French Riviera), all we encountered were approximations of the Thai food that we know here in the States. And Mexican food? Forget it! Those are just two examples… all the cuisines in the States are rave-worthy. I could not find Ethiopian food in France. The plethora of excellent Indian restaurants we have here? Nowhere to be found over there. Also, from our national classics to our regional specialties, American food itself is great, not to mention “New American Cuisine” and fusion styles. I just love food, and there were so many foods I missed while I lived overseas. I found it nearly impossible to be vegan in France… the variety of vegan-friendly foods over there was dismal, at least where we were (we hung out in Paris on several occasions, but we didn’t live there).

Anyway, my answer to What do you miss about the United States? drew laughter laced with disbelief. There were degrees of the same reaction. Some people just laughed. Others laughed and made mocking, disparaging remarks. And yet others simply made disparaging remarks about American food, or my food (when I’d show up with something of my own that I’d brought, or that my parents had sent) for no reason at all. The French that I encountered just could not conceive of anyone liking the food in the States, much less missing it. (Not ALL French reacted this way, mind you! Of course there were those who were super polite and nice and had manners. I’m not talking about my friends, for instance.)

Callaghan was just as perplexed and taken aback by this reaction as I was, and he was embarrassed by the attitude of the French. Not only had he formerly lived in the States for ten years, so he knew the truth about the food here, but he also couldn’t believe the rudeness of the responses when the subject of food in America would come up. He speculated that people probably assumed “food in the States” meant McDonald’s and hot dogs, and pretty much nothing else.

Thus, we were both fully expecting Callaghan’s Dad and his Dad’s girlfriend Nicole to turn up their noses at the food in any given restaurant we’d visit while they were here staying with us over New Year’s. To make a long story short, they loved all the food they ate everywhere we went. It was kind of funny how we could tell that they were enjoying the food, but for the most part, they kept their reactions, you know, low-key. But Oregano’s was their favorite. They loved the jazzy atmosphere, and they loved the food, and they could not hide their reactions there.

When we got there the first time, Nicole said that she wasn’t really hungry. She ordered soup. But when she sampled my Fancy Dancy Mushroom pizza, she couldn’t conceal her pleasure, and neither could Callaghan’s Dad when he tried it. They both reached in for more.

Then the Pizookie arrived. We’d ordered two, so they could share one and we could share one.

It was rapture at first bite.

Suddenly, Nicole, who “wasn’t hungry,” was shoveling in mouthfuls of the hot and cold melty gooey Pizookie goodness. Callaghan’s Dad was doing the same. Several times, they both tried to stop eating it, but they could only leave their spoons down for a few minutes before they picked them up again. They were hard-pressed to hide their ecstasy. I’m telling you… I had never seen either of them eat anything with such gusto, in France or anywhere!

The next day, Callaghan called me while I was at work.

“We’re at Trader Joe’s buying chocolate chip cookie dough,” he told me. “They want to make a Pizookie.”

My first thought was, I could make better chocolate chip cookie dough. I don’t think anyone would argue that homemade is better than store-bought. My second thought was, they’re going to be disappointed, because there is no possible way any Pizookie we’d make at home could even come close to the heroin-laced Pizookie that emerges from the pizza ovens of Oregano’s. I cringed at the idea of them even trying, but I was amused nonetheless.

That night, the “pizookies” resulting from Trader Joe’s cookie dough and our conventional oven were a huge disappointment, as I knew they would be.

The next night, after dinner, Nicole said that she wanted to go back to Oregano’s. She wanted a Pizookie. I couldn’t believe it. She ate some American food she liked so much that she literally couldn’t get enough.

I was scrambling to work on my December Favorites blog post, so I declined, but I ended up tagging along when Callaghan implored me to go and we compromised with me bringing my computer and them accepting that I was going to be anti-social.

There we were, at the end of December during an unusual cold spell, after dark, sitting outside on the patio at Oregano’s, cozying up to the outdoor heaters. I wrote for this blog while everyone dug into their Pizookies. It was kind of surreal, but not surprising. The Pizookie is a thing you have to experience to understand… and if you think you know what it is because you had it somewhere other than Oregano’s, then you really don’t know what it is, because only Oregano’s does it like that.

So, Arizona people, if you’re hosting visitors from France, take them to Oregano’s – the great food, atmosphere and top-notch service speak for themselves, but moreover, there’s nothing more American than a chocolate-chip cookie… and baked in a pizza pan and topped with ice cream at Oregano’s turns it into an experience they’ll never forget!

Happy Friday, All!

(NOTE: this post was not sponsored by Oregano’s.)

Little Ranch House in the Desert

In my “July Favorites” post (that seems all too recent), I mentioned an on-going adventure that consumed the month. It actually started on the last weekend of June, and the situation changed so frequently from the very start that we just decided not to mention it until the end. That brings us to today. We’re moving!

No need for alarm. We’re only moving down the street this time. Heheh.

We loved our apartment, truly. It was peaceful, and we appreciated the unfettered feeling of renting rather than owning our living space. Having lived in many apartments and owned properties in the past, I’ve always felt more comfortable as a renter than as a homeowner. But over the last few months, several compelling reasons to reconsider welled up.

One, we needed more space. Callaghan used the larger of the apartment’s two bedrooms for his studio, but still, the room overflowed with the accoutrements of his multifaceted craft… plus, we also had to use that space for storage, making it even more cramped.

Two, we weren’t properly set up to host guests, and when your guests mostly come from Europe for longer stays, that’s a big deal. Two of our visitors from France slept on an air mattress we put in the middle of said cramped studio room at night, which wasn’t very comfortable for anyone, and the third – a couple and their daughter – stayed in a hotel (yet somehow, they were the ones who accidentally saw me naked).

Three, I didn’t have an office, and I had been sorely feeling that lack of a dedicated writing space. Obviously, I can survive without one, but I just reached some kind of limit after several years of officelessness. I needed that room of one’s own, to echo Virginia Woolf. Since 2010, I’ve been carving out little office spaces for myself here and there by placing a small desk in the corner of a crowded room, usually the bedroom. I longed for an office again.

Four, nearing the end of our apartment lease, we discovered that our rent would be raised upon re-signing. We had to make a decision.

All of this led to the final thing (and the catalyst for everything) that happened: I was half-joking around one night at the end of June when I filled out a form online. Next thing we knew, we were swept into the eye of the house-hunting storm that defined the months of July and August.

It’s a good time to buy, and looking for a house was fun. The twists and turns of our search initially took us out of our preferred area, but eventually, a house right down the street from our apartment appeared on the market. It happened at precisely the right time, and it happened that we both loved it at first sight, and it happened that our inspector found it to be in excellent condition (unlike the previous house we’d almost committed to buying).

Built in 1958, the house is your standard four-bedroom/two-bathroom ranch-style abode so common here out west. It has everything we need, and nothing we don’t. It was critical to us that we didn’t get more house than we absolutely needed. Most importantly, its location is ideal. The appraiser recorded the house as being situated “1.5 miles from the center of the ASU campus, in a highly sought after area of old town Tempe,” and that’s exactly where we wanted to be.

 

Little Ranch House in the Desert

Little Ranch House in the Desert

 

The house-buying process was almost complete when the universe, in a flamboyant move to confirm our decision – just in case we were having doubts! – hurtled a spectacular monsoon into our apartment neighborhood, knocking out our power, taking down trees and permanently altering the botanical composition in front of our balcony. It’s still lush and green out there, but suddenly, the tree house effect that had so captivated us in the apartment was gone! We were sad for the destruction of the trees on our street, but it was a magnificent storm.

 

Our apartment is the in the upper left....

Our apartment is the in the upper left….

 

The storm made quite an impact on our street!

The storm made quite an impact on our street!

 

I don't think anyone was hurt, though.

I don’t think anyone was hurt, though.

 

It was the one good storm of the season.

It was the one good storm of the season.

 

We got the keys last night, and this weekend will be all about the move. It is, in fact, happening, and I’ll be so glad when it’s over and we’re unpacked and organized! I’ve been fantasizing about an organized life with a place for everything for years, it seems. It’s amazing. I’ll have an office, and Callaghan will have a studio that’s just a studio, and visitors will have a guest bedroom and bathroom, and Ronnie James and Nounours will have lots of running-around space, and there will be no shortage of storage space, either.

So, that’s the story behind this latest move into this latest dwelling, which we see as being a Very Long-Term Situation. It’s sweet. It’s a sweet little house, and we’re grateful to have gotten it. We got lucky, is what we got.

Happy Friday!

Blog Design Change!

I took a critical look at my blog over the weekend and said to myself, “Self, your blog needs a design overhaul.” I clearly remember sitting in the Little House in the Rhône-Alpes in France back in the fall of 2012, selecting and setting up my first theme and writing my first post. Now it’s 18 months and 161 posts later, and I’m in a totally different place in more ways than one. My blog should reflect that, I thought.

I decided on a new theme, found a dusky photo of Tempe Town Lake I’d recently taken from half-way up “A” Mountain (representing our downtown Tempe neighborhood), and, early yesterday morning, asked Callaghan if he would be so kind as to lend his clicking finger to an impromptu photo-shoot, because what better way to start your day than to go outside and take a million pictures of your overly-detail-oriented partner? (I wanted Virgil’s cute cactus garden in the background!) I also updated content where updates were needed and just generally cleaned things up a bit. We threw it all together last night. It took less than an hour, but the minimal, streamlined result pleases me very much.

So that’s the main thing. The only other thing I wanted to tell you about today was… and this is random (with so much going on all over the place, this week already feels more random than usual, and it’s only Tuesday)…

You know you watch too many horror movies when you hear the low tinkling of a classic lullaby from a back corner of your apartment, and when you cautiously venture forth to investigate, the following dialogue takes place:

“Are you listening to a creepy lullaby?” I called to Callaghan, who was somewhere.

Or it’s the ghost of a child. This apartment complex is probably between 50-60 years old, so a lot could have happened.

“I’m watching sleeping puppies and kitties! Haha! I’m almost done, Baby.”

He was in the bathroom with his tablet, watching cute animal videos!

It was Brahms’ “Lullaby and Goodnight,” and actually, I did have an eerie experience involving that particular nursery rhyme when I was a teenage babysitter. But that’s a story for another time.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com_tempetownlake

As every writer would tell you: Word Choice. It cannot be underestimated.

Quick – what’s one way to get people to recycle?

Allow me to show you Arizona State University’s approach:

 

ASU tells it like it is.

ASU tells it like it is.

 

Employ the power of a visual via the power of language, et voilà! “Trash” is no longer an option. Just guilt. Carry on.

I have to hand it to Tempe… it’s become downright unceremonious around here. With parking meters that read “dead” and “fail” and trash cans labeled “LANDFILL,” the euphemism is going the way of the dodo bird.

(I was amused to see these relatively new trash cans all over campus yesterday… you know I had to share!)

In other news related to sights around town, I realized, on Saturday evening, that there’s a fisheye setting on my camera. We found ourselves attending a get-together on a seventh floor deck, and thanks to my accidental discovery, I got this shot of downtown Tempe:

 

Downtown Tempe (from the seventh-floor deck of W6).

Downtown Tempe (from the seventh-floor deck of W6).

 

Happy Tuesday!

Blunt Parking Meters in Downtown Tempe

This being a new month, I wanted to stay on trend and post about my favorite things from the previous month, but when I sat down to do it, I actually couldn’t think of anything new I loved in December that I didn’t already love in November. However, it’s only the 8th of January and there’s already a growing list of simple-pleasures things tickling my fancy, so when February rolls around, there’ll be that.

So, what I thought I’d share with you today is an odd thing I never noticed anywhere before. Maybe it’s just me… you know how you can walk by something a million times and never notice it? This might be one of those things: I just recently became aware that some parking meters display messages. That is, they display information other than the amount of money left on the meter.

This, for instance, is a typical parking meter display:

 

This parking meter has no money left on it.

This parking meter has no money left on it.

 

This was one of many parking meters in downtown Tempe that Callaghan and I passed as we were walking home one day a few weeks ago.  We were on Ash Ave., talking as we walked, as oblivious to the parking meters as always, having no need to take notice of them, but then Callaghan stopped and said, “Wait! Did you see that meter?” We went back to the meter in question. It said:

 

RIP, parking meter.

RIP, parking meter.

 

“I guess that meter is dead,” I said. “How thoughtful of it to let us know.”

Curious, we re-traced our steps to see if other meters would have anything interesting to report. Most of them displayed the -0:00 reading like the first one, but sure enough, another meter down the line read:

 

This parking meter is FAIL.

This parking meter is FAIL.

 

Clearly, the people who work for the City of Tempe enjoy this part of the job! Maybe they’ll see this post and know that someone was amused.

What I’m Digging Right Now – November Favorites

Why hello, December! I can’t believe it’s already time to recount the blessings of November.

November was all about road trips and nesting and family. Between driving from Austin to Phoenix, and Phoenix to San Jose, and San Jose back to Phoenix, we clocked in more than 40 hours on the road… and it was worth every second. November’s main highlights were moving back to Arizona and going to spend Thanksgiving with my family in California.

November’s “BEST OF” to note:

1). Being back in the desert.

 

This was actually taken yesterday (in December), but it continues November's brilliant sun and gentle warmth, so here you go. Sitting outside in a t-shirt, blessedly dry in the absence of humidity!

This was actually taken yesterday (in December), but it continues November’s brilliant sun and gentle warmth, so here you go. Sitting outside in a t-shirt, blessedly dry in the absence of humidity!

 

Phoenix date palms lit up for the holidays

Phoenix date palms lit up for the holidays

 

2). Music: Steve Earle, my favorite country artist and one of my all-time favorite musicians, period. He’s a wonderful poet, and I love his unique sound… it flows between country, country-rock and alternative country, rich with folksy, rock n roll and bluegrass flavors here and there. He’s just amazing. I made a playlist of my favorite Steve Earle songs and burned the CD for our trip out of Texas. It was perfect!

 

My Steve Earle CDs: El Corazon, Townes, I Feel Alright, Copperhead Road and Jerusalem.

My Steve Earle CDs: El Corazon, Townes, I Feel Alright, Copperhead Road and Jerusalem.

 

3). Target’s generic brand energy drink (Archer Farms). We think it out-red bulls Red Bull, and it’s very tasty.

 

The energy drink that fueled our many hours on the road in November. It's Target's brand. I love the raspberry flavor, too.

The energy drink that fueled our many hours on the road in November. It’s Target’s brand. I love the raspberry flavor, too.

 

4). Living in downtown Tempe.

 

On the patio at the Handlebar in the middle of the night, just because we could. I guess it's debatable whether living near Mill Ave is a plus or a hazard. Nah... it's definitely a plus.

On the patio at the Handlebar in the middle of the night, just because we could. I guess it’s debatable whether living near Mill Ave is a plus or a hazard. Nah… it’s definitely a plus.

 

Arizona State University's Sun Devil Stadium, down the street from our apartment. We get to hear the fireworks when the Devils score, and that's a lot these days!

Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium, down the street from our apartment. We get to hear the fireworks when the Devils score, and that’s a lot these days!

 

5). Re-visiting favorite old hang-outs.

 

Alice Cooperstown, Alice's sports bar/restaurant in downtown Phoenix. Major points for nostalgia here.

Alice Cooperstown, Alice’s sports bar/restaurant in downtown Phoenix. Major points for nostalgia here.

 

6). Feeling truly at home again! After books, houseplants define “home” to me.

 

Our first houseplants in three years! They're temporarily named "His Plant" and "My Plant," respectively (L - R). I have a special fondness for spider plants.

Our first houseplants in three years! They’re temporarily named “His Plant” and “My Plant,” respectively (L – R). I have a special fondness for spider plants.

 

7). My house-warming gift to myself, which didn’t cost me a cent.

 

I took some old books to Bookman's and traded them for the hand-made Greek (Rhodes) Bonis plate on the right.

I took some old books to Bookman’s and traded them for the hand-made Greek (Rhodes) Bonis plate on the right.

 

8). Dexter.  We binge-watched the entire eight seasons, starting in Texas and ending in Arizona.

 

Our favorite serial killer. And everyone else's, I suppose.

Our favorite serial killer. And everyone else’s, I suppose.

 

9). November’s rave-worthy beauty product was (and continues to be) Garnier Fructis Triple Nutrition Miracle Dry Oil for Hair, Body & Face. I spray a little in my palm, rub my hands together and run them through my dry air, and it leaves a nice sheen. Callaghan also loves it for his skin.

 

This oil defies the dryness of the desert without leaving you greasy. LOVE IT.

This oil defies the dryness of the desert without leaving you greasy. LOVE IT.

 

10). Two Very Happy, Satisfied At-Home Kitties.

 

Nounours at home on his blanky!

Nounours at home on his blanky!

 

Ronnie James at home on the love seat!

Ronnie James at home on the love seat!

 

And last, but far from least: Thanksgiving in California, a last-minute decision that was the best decision ever!