I don't know about you, but I myself enjoy a certain level of trashy in my life. I become deeply excited by things like bedazzled cell phones, baby mamas and facial tattoos. If I can find all of these things in one place, well, so much the better. So I have always adored traveling on the Chinatown bus, an experience that is as typically Struggledelphian as cheese steaks or getting into a drunken fight at a sporting event (ask me about my youth hockey league). For between twenty and forty dollars you can board a bus at the corner of 11th and Arch and it will take you to other Chinatowns in Boston, Washington D.C., and New York City. Cheap, fast, and probably funded by the Chinese mafia, the Chinatown bus has carted many a teenager trying to leave home, many a hungover hipster, many an illegal Chinese family and many, many others from one city on the eastern seaboard to the next, asking only for a small fee and that you keep your feet off the seats. Sketchy it might be at times, but it gets you where you need to go.
However, of late the Chinatown bus has faced some serious competition from a new kid on the block, the Bolt Bus. The Bolt bus claims to be cleaner, faster, stronger, which incidently is Kanye's sequel to last year's hit. Well, I'm sorry Kanye, but I took an experimental ride on this new line this Saturday and let me tell you, the Bolt bus is in reality a HUGE struggle, and here's why:
1. You have to get on the Bolt Bus at the corner of Market and shadiness. At least the Chinatown bus is right by Reading Terminal Market, so you can grab a freshly made Amish pretzel before your journey.
2. My bus didn't have air conditioning. Okay, fine, that sucks, but I can live.
3. Apparently the other passengers couldn't. We stopped at a rest stop in New Jersey to wait for a new bus.
4. The new bus took too long to come. We continued in the heat.
5. We stopped at ANOTHER rest stop in New Jersey and got on another bus. This bus did have air conditioning. I almost froze.
6. Arriving in New York an hour and a half late I ran to the show I had come to see (the gloriously funny Machines.... whose antics made it worth the struggle), cursing the Bolt bus.
7. The way back was no better. I arrived in Struggledelphia at 10:40pm, despite the proposed arrival time of 9:15pm, sweaty, dirty, and halfway through Anna Karenina. Looking out on the city as I waited for my father to come pick me up, I thought I saw the bright lights of Chinatown in the distance. Oh, Chinatown bus. I'm never ever trusting anyone but you again. Say what you will about the mafia, but it gets results.
We've been over my love of all things sci-fi and their related fantasy cousins (anyone see Willow? Dawves? Tiny guys with french accents? Val Kilmer? Is there any better combination?) So obviously I found myself waiting in line last evening at the Riverview Plaza Movie Theater right here in Struggledelphia. Never mind that I had work in the morning. Never mind that this is the sort of theater where your shoes not only stick to the floor but in some cases refuse to move another step. Never mind my disapproval of Shia LaBeof and the way he just talks and talks and talks. The movie promised alien robots in, and out, of their respective disguises. I was down.
Though we reached the theater forty minutes before the 9:50 show, the extreme popularity of the movie mixed with the extreme trashiness of the theater meant that we had to wait an hour and a half to see the 10:20 show. Super, I thought, there went my plan to be in bed my midnight, might as well talk to some food about this. Before I got a chance to smother my troubles in a butter-like substance, however, my friends Benjamin and Michael convinced me to play a video game before I turned to the therapeutic powers of popcorn. Now, I didn't really play video games growing up, because I have no hand eye co-ordination and I tend to give up after the first two seconds and find something to read. But we were stuck in a giant building with terrible carpeting and excessive air conditioning so now seemed like as good a time as ever to get back into it. This game was some kind of adventure with things shooting and lots of explosion. I know. That really narrows the playing field. I lost pretty quickly and let Michael take over, but I will say one thing, and that is, sorry, blue states, but shooting guns is fun. No other way to say it. If even me, a bleeding heart liberal with a compost pile and compact fluorescent light bulbs in every lamp can get into this, I can't really blame the rest of the country for being a part of the magic.
As we chatted up a young lady behind us who had brought her infant daughter to see the violent, loud action film about angry robots who want to destroy the sun, I could only reflect on my own childhood, with it's early bedtimes and pbs oriented viewing. Thanks, parents, for neglecting to expose me to far-fetched narratives about killer robots until I was at least old enough to be properly freaked out by them. Say, you know, the age of six. I did eventually get that popcorn, by the way. I promptly spilled about half of it on the floor of the lobby. Oh well, it's not like I significantly altered the landscape, I only gave it more of the same.
Is my cell phone a decepticon? I may never know...Damn you Megatron!
Now, I must preface this post with the acknowledgment that I have indeed discussed the weather before, and I recognize the material might be getting a little stale for you, but bear with me. See, the thing about the weather is, it deeply affects my life. It deeply affects the lives of people who live on the east coast. Denizens of California might not understand this, and I doubt Washington State even notices changes in the cloudy cover, but the climate really can ruin your day, and not just in an inconvenient truth sense. I was once talking with a friend from California and she was like, I really never understood how people could talk about the weather until I came to the East Coast. And I was like, yes. We can. All day. Because in this part of the country what happens outside really will change the way you live your life. For example, I bike everywhere, it's my primary method of communication. So for me, when the weather changes, or darkens, or becomes the universe of torrential downpour, as Struggledelphia has decided to do of late, my life because a big wet mess of awful. Yay, summer.
This Saturday morning as I woke up blearily and scowled into the smiling face of the woman who gave birth to me I cursed past-Leah, who decided to schedule an appointment for 10am on a Saturday. Damn past-Leah, always ruining things. Future-Leah's going to way better then this, I swear. Turning my head from my mother to the window I cursed louder and more colorfully as I gazed out into the pour rain. Gotta love the weekend.
Now, I don't know how many of you have biked around an urban environment in the rain, but let me assure you, it is both dangerous and stupid. While I generally find biking to be a pleasant and productive method of getting from point A to point B and burning some calories as you do so, biking in the rain is like running through a car wash, and here in Strugglephila it's like running through a car wash while over-weight gentlemen in poor fashion choices alternately whistle at you and scream at you. Having been cut off and nearly killed many times I found myself screaming at one particularly aggravating mister "I'm saving the environment, what are YOU doing?". I think it's fair to say I get more done before 10 am then most people do all day.
Soaked, hungover and horse from screaming, I took comfort in soup from a shockingly shady little Chinese food place at 8th and Girard. Take a look at the photo I slyly took as they prepared my lunch. Drug front? Organ market? You decide.
I love food shopping. I love it as much, if not more, then regular shopping, because you don't have to try anything on and face the cruel judgmental dressing-room mirrors and their stupid awful lights, nor do you have to deal with salespeople, at least, not ones telling you that bedazzled sweatsuits are all the rage this year. If I wanted to live in the Disney channel I'd call Selena Gomez.
But not only do I love food shopping, I love food shopping at the Chinese Market on 5th and Spring Garden right here in Struggledelphia. Not only is it filled with all kinds of items, from ramen noodles to tripe, but it is a hilarious journey of asian and american items, interspersed at random. Take a gander:
Asian food, is it? Any particular kind? No then? That's cool...
Afternoon snacks made easy!
It's so important to have beverage options, don't you think? Mmmmm, refreshing!
Who needs dinner theater? Point me towards a supermarket and I will make a night of it all by myself.
I know I am probably the millionth person on earth to say this, but the new Star Trek movie is so awesome it hurts a little. I mean, seriously, it is delightful. There explosions and lasers and aliens abound. What I've always really loved about Star Trek, and what I think separates it from some of the other cult favorite sci-fi phenomenon, is that in Star Trek aliens are a give-in. I mean, they are just there. They are around. Everyone's cool with it, no one's like, Vulcan, what the hell is that? In Star Trek someone will be like, oh, meet my friend Iabsjtewiuglon, and everyone's like, oh, right, this guy, the pleasure's all mine, which tentacle should I shake? You just have to admire a series that is like, come one, come all, gay Asians, fierce Black girls, residents of the stars, as long as you are klingon free you are cool with me. But why, you might ask, am I making this revelation now? Well, because I literally just saw the movie. About 2 months later then every other person in the world.
In my defense, I was sort of busy with the not-Yale business and the graduating and the mental breakdown that accompanied all that. So by the time I had received my very expensive piece of paper from the nice man in the crazy velvet robes in not-New Haven, everyone I knew had already seen the movie. Fine, I thought, I will see it my self. And then I took a look at my bank account, fainted, woke up, looked again, threw up, and started formulating a plan that would allow me to experience the magic of Star Trek with no money down. That's right. I made my parents take me.
We saw the movie at the Imax Theater in not-Philadelphia's Franklin Institute Museum, which is a huge dome of a theater. Seeing a movie in that space is like, well, sort of like flying in a space ship, and as you can guess, having the world of Star Trek all around us was both amazingly exciting and scary as hell. Never have I been so worried about alien invasion as I was that night, and I worry about alien invasion a LOT. (Seriously. Battlestar Galactica could totally happen. Cylons are everywhere. Tell no one.) In our mad rush to make it to the movie on time after work, my parents had nobly sacrificed dinner, which made us almost willing to eat our own hands by the time we got our seats. Coming back from the concession stand, laden with popcorn to tide us over, I was hard-core hit on by the ticket guy. Seriously, do men think this works? "No, I don't currently have a boyfriend, but gosh, you look delightful! Let's make babies! I've always wanted to date a total stranger who checks me out as I struggle into a movie theater with my PARENTS." That guy needs to take a lesson from James Tiberius Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Girls like boys who have their own starships, save the world on a daily basis, and remind them of William Shatner.
At this angle doesn't our new cat, Falco, look kind of like an alien? Hopefully his race is a friendly one.
If you don't already know, the Roots are quite the hometown heroes here in Struggledelphia. Not only is the band from here, but they play here all the time and are considered native sons, as much a part of the landscape as the liberty bell, or cheese steaks or really plump people eating cheese steaks. A lot of people know the Roots, in fact, I know a guy who used to work with Tariq at a Whole Foods in South Philly. So I'm practically a member of the band. Anyway, because the Roots like the city and the city likes the Roots the concerts they give here tend to be well attended and fairly awesome. So when my friend Mariel offered me a ticket for Saturday's Second Annual Root's Picnic, I was all over that like brown on rice. (I've been trying to eat healthier.)
Here's some things I'd like to share with you about the Roots picnic. One, it had a delightful array of bands playing, beginning with the Roots, who brought New Kid on the Block Donny Wallberg. So that was pretty much the best thing that has ever happened ever. Two, it had an equally exciting array of places to buy, among other things, belts, baked beans, and beer. Three it was profoundly populated with hipsters, people from New Jersey, hipsters from New Jersey, and a disturbing amount of children under the age of 4. By our second beer, Mariel and I were actively staring at one particularly stunning Kevin Federline wanna-be as he balanced his baby, his cigarette and his corn on the cob while his wife/girlfriend/baby mama gazed on, drinking her Bud Light.
Now, I don't really hang around with that many people from my old high school, because, well, it was high school. So you can imagine my surprise when Mariel and I were practically assaulted by a group of wide-eyed youngsters screaming our names. Bemusedly eying these pimply people, I realized that I had been a senior in high school when they were freshmen and sophomores. Lovely, I thought, small talk with people I barely know. However, my dismay turned to delight when I was informed by two of the girls that they had smuggled vodka into the concert, past the frisking guards, by putting it in plastic bags and hiding those bags in their underwear. Awed by their ingenuity, I couldn't help but laugh. Vodka in their underwear. Now how come we never thought of that?
Being a struggle means you can just take pictures of strangers. Clearly. Because that's what I do. Am I crazy, or is that guy totally KFed?
When I arrived home from college, world weary, my hands heavy with the awesome and powerful weight of my diploma, I did what all good students, or former students as the case may be, tend to do upon returning to their childhood havens. I looked in the fridge. By passing the fat free Greek yogurt and the Vietnamese leftovers I went to the back of the cooling device, where the good mixers usually hide. Once there, I made a startling discovery. Like an archaeologist delving deep into a sandy excavation site I marveled at my findings. Lurking, like a lone ranger in a world of juices, was a carton of buttermilk. Now, in other kitchens, in other refrigerators, perhaps this might be a normal occurrence. But in my household, well, I mean, what the hell are you really supposed to do with buttermilk, anyway? If you aren't running a soul-food diner or living home on the range, when exactly would buttermilk be something that you would have an everyday usage for? If there are people who go through cartons of buttermilk like pairs of underwear, well, I certainly haven't met them. When I asked my mother about this new object in our larder, as it were, she waved her hands vaguely in the air and said she didn't know. I can only conclude therefore that this buttermilk magically appeared in our lives and demanded to be used, and used well. So here we were, all buttermilked up and nothing to do.
Now, given my tragic illness, my mother let me off the hook for using said buttermilk for a few days. God knows the woman didn't want me cooking anything for fear I would infect the whole household. And besides, I was on an all soup diet and the idea of anything that didn't come hot and chicken scented really appalled me. But now, in my recovered and rejuvenated state, my mother expected me to step up and deal with the magical appearing buttermilk in an appropriate manner.
As it has been established that I don't do a whole hell of a lot with my time none of you need be surprised that I spent last evening watching season four of The Office on netflix.com and furiously searching for recipes including or featuring buttermilk. My biggest hit included several biscuit recipes, three of which I tried this evening. In my floral a-line skirt and apron, hair up in some bizarre little bun, I looked like some odd Donna Reed/June Clever clone had either of those ladies been a brunette or had a normal waistline. A survey of distinguished palates, that is, myself, my parents, and whatever our kittens could steal, decided that the cheddar-scallion biscuit recipe was the best. Here it is, with my own alterations:
2 1/4 cups flour 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 3/4 teaspoon baking soda 1 tablespoon salt 6 tablespoons cold butter 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese 4 scallions, chopped 1 1/4 cup buttermilk (the magically appearing type is preferred)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut up butter into small pieces and blend with dry mixture using your hands until the mixture looks like a coarse meal. Add cheddar and scallions and mix well, then add buttermilk. Mixture will be slightly sticky. Shape dough into balls or just drop large spoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Enjoy. Now what to do with the remaining buttermilk...
Leah Franqui is a fairly interesting person/director/writer/reader/eater/drinker. She likes ugly dogs and dislikes her hair in the morning. She's a sucker for environmental causes and plays hardball with deals on chewing gum. She is a struggle.