Monthly Archives: January 2009

My First Car

Note: This has nothing to do with shoes, or pie, or even sewing.

I grew up in NJ, where the legal driving age is 17. That’s right, 17. I know it sounds strange to the rest of you folks, but we didn’t find it the slightest bit peculiar. If you’ve ever driven the pre-industrial-revolution highway system in NJ, you appreciate the extra year we had to mature.

Although it’s possible to get a learner’s permit at 16-1/2, I procrastinated and didn’t finish my driving lessons (with Corky Wallace, of Wallace Driving School, the school that taught kids to drive on Firebirds) and get my permit until the legal-bare-minimum of two weeks before my 17th birthday. I did not drive once during those two weeks. And yet, somehow, miraculously, I passed my test the first time out, and the State of NJ licensed me to drive on any public road in the U.S.

But I had no car.

My friends had cars. Kim would occasionally let me drive her brown K-car when we were out together. My friend Mike, bless him, would sometimes let me drive his 1971 Dodge Challenger during my lunch period, while he was in class. I never figured out how to adjust the front seat, and Mike was a tall kid, so I wound up driving that beautiful hunk of steel while perched on the edge, meaning that I drove even worse than your average newly-licensed teen. There was a “spare” car sitting in our driveway at home, all it needed was a new choke cable, but my family members shun automatics and my dad refused to teach me to drive stick. He wanted me to learn how, of course. But he knew it would involve both yelling and tears, and he didn’t want to get involved in that. My sister was never home to teach me, and besides, while she was a wiz at teaching me to ride a bike, I thought she was a crappy driver (she hadn’t bothered to get her license until she was in her 20s, so she was  new to it as well).

Throughout my senior year, I walked to and from school. After school and all summer long, I walked to and from work. Sure, I wanted a car, but dad’s rule was that I had to pay for the entire thing myself. Car, gas, insurance, repairs. My part-time job at the bakery wasn’t going to cover that. Besides, I would soon be leaving for school in Brooklyn, and who needs a car when you can take the subway? Heck, my college didn’t even allow freshman to keep cars on campus.

By the end of my sophomore year at college, the government was slashing education loan programs, and my family had collectively run out of the money required for tuition. I transferred to a state school. It was cheaper, and I could live at home, further cutting expenses. But now I needed a way to get to school. I’d been saving money from my new job as a supermarket cashier, and scouring the classified ads for a car that would satisfy my dad’s parental concerns, but still be cool enough for me to be seen in. Week after week, nothing hit the impossible triangle of cheap-reliable-cool. Time was running out. Finally, the weekend before class was to start, I gave my dad $1300 in cash (approx $2k in today’s economy) and he headed out to buy me a car while I went to work.

Now, many of you might worry about letting your father pick out your first car, but you have to keep in mind, my dad is a Car Guy. And an artist, so he appreciates a good line, as well as good mechanics. We’d been going to car shows together for years, and I knew he wouldn’t come home with anything awful.

Like, for instance, a 1984, baby blue, Ford Escort.

An Escort. In baby blue. I actually cried when my dad called to tell me. But, when I decided to wipe away those tears and just be grateful that I at least had a car, a new fear came over me. I hadn’t been behind the wheel of a car in two years. And two years prior, I could probably count off all of my driving experiences without running out of fingers and toes. Um, like, oh shit. My stepmom picked me up at work in my new car, so I could drive it home. The 1-mile trip was completely unmemorable, which I’m sure is a good thing. And on my day off, I took the car through the rigorous NJ state inspection. Which it failed. The car needed a new catalytic converter. Dad, thank goodness, paid for it. He felt guilty for handing me a car that he picked out, and saddling me with that not-inexpensive repair right off the bat. I had the work done, I passed the inspection, and I started commuting.

Whenever I could.

See, the car had no power. My dad thought I was just being whiney because I’d really wanted an 8-cylinder vintage muscle car, like maybe that ’71 Cougar that I had very seriously been looking at, but really, I swear, the car sucked. My campus was perched on the top of a large hill, and there was no way to get there without climbing up one road or another. My car would chug along, slower and slower, occasionally pissing off the people behind me. Dad finally believed me, and we took it in to a shop, where we found out that only three cylinders were working. More money, again out of dad’s pocket, and the Escort was back on the road. Until the next cylinder went out. Or maybe it was the same cylinder, over and over. All I remember is being towed more than once to an assortment of mechanics, borrowing my grandmother’s car whenever mine was in the shop (she drove a ’77 BMW so it REALLY wasn’t a hardship for me), and shopping around for a new car. We tried to use the Escort as a trade-in, but no dealership would take it. One salesman even told my dad, “I wouldn’t let you pay me to take that car.” I sold it privately for parts for $500, my compassionate grandmother kicked in a matching $500, and I had a small down payment on a brand-spankin’-new, Aztec Red Nissan Sentra a mere eight months after getting the Escort.

Oh, and I’m still not allowed to mention the Escort within earshot of my dad. :)

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Filed under cars, family, nostalgia

Pinstriped Handbag

I love pinstriping. More than handbags, less than shoes. Actually, maybe more than shoes. No, that’s crazy-talk. But I do love me some pinstripin’ madness.

This past summer, I was nosing around West Side Sinners, a local “kustom kulture” boutique, with my pal Megan. We shop there from time to time, but on this day, we’re there to watch a hairstyling demo by Lauren Rennells, the author of Vintage Hairstyling: Retro Styling with Modern Techniques as well as Bobby Pin Blog. Smart girls that we are, we get there with plenty of time to meander through the racks of goodies. Erin, the owner of the store, has stocked a selection of pinstriped handbags and I am ogling all of them, but one in particular is whining at me to take it home. A black leather vintage bag by Lady Audley, it’s striped on both sides in four colors, and it is just fabulous. Erin is asking a very reasonable $60 for the bag… reasonable for everyone but me, that is. I grew up amid the financial stress of a two kids/one parent household, and I’ve never earned enough myself to forget what it’s like to have the power company shut you off. Again. So, even when I was gainfully employed, I’ve always had these unofficial price caps in my head. They shift, so I couldn’t tell you what they are specifically, but I can tell you that I’ve never paid $60 for a handbag before.

But…

But…

Damn, this bag is gorgeous. And Megan is supporting my decision to buy this bag, should I choose to do so. (This is how Megan operates. She won’t tell you outright to buy something, but she is subtly encouraging, if she approves.) Okay, now Megan is being a bit less subtle. “It’s perfect for you. And those colors… it will go with so much! $60 really isn’t expensive, to normal people. You should get it.” Everything she says is true.

So I buy the bag.

I only have to reconfigure slightly what I carry around with me in order to fit stuff in. I start using it immediately. (Erin, if you stumble upon this post, the price sticker left icky goo residue on the bottom of the bag. Maybe you can try a different brand? Or tie on hangtags, instead? Also, are you hiring?)

Not too long after, I’m at my local Starbucks, when the cashier notices my bag. “I like your purse. My dad’s best friend is a pinstriper. They’ve known each other for years.” Oh yeah? Does he live around here? What’s his name, maybe I’ve seen his work at a car show. “He’s local. His name’s Rody.” Heh-heh. Um, this is actually his work. Rody striped this purse. “Really?! Hey, he never striped anything for me! I’m going to ask him to do something about that.”

I’d like to note, I have used this handbag every single day since I bought it. Megan was right, it goes with (almost) everything. In fact, I should call Erin and see if she can book Rody to do one of my own bags, so I can have the “brown” segment of my wardrobe covered, as well. Having those two, I could get rid of a whole lot of purses! (Yeah, right.)

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Filed under fashion, friends, shopping, vintage

It Will Stand

Woody doesn’t read my blog. I know that he doesn’t read it because when he asked me what had happened to the pie I was going to make him, and I cut-and-pasted the blog excerpt of the pie that was born from the withering apples of “his” pie, he seemed pleased that I’d written about him. I explained to him that no, I hadn’t. I’d written about pie. Which then made him cyber-pouty.

Good friend that I am, I poke around for any mention of him on my blog, to cheer him up. And I find one, vague reference: I touch on a song I heard on “a friend’s” iTunes playlist in my tale of the WPLJ montage. I send him the link for the post, and passionate music nerd that he is, he doesn’t care about the lame allusion but needs to know WHAT song it was. We squabble for a while, because I’m sure it had been W.P.L.J. by either The Four Deuces or The Hoodoo Rhythm Devils and he is sure that those aren’t in his library. While we’re typing back and forth, I’m listening to the Carol Miller aircheck of the montage. 8:11 in, the song I heard at his place comes on for 4 seconds. He’s right, it’s not W.P.L.J. after all. But with only a snippet of song, and no real lyrics to speak of, I can’t look up what it is. He can’t play RealAudio files, so he can’t hear the snippet. “Well,” he asks, “what are the words?” Of course, he’s not going to be able to get it from that. But I type, “Rock, roll, rock, roll.” Two words, common to the genre, repeated once. No music to go by. No clues, other than it’s something, somewhere, in his library of +/-4,000 vintage tracks.

He immediately types back to me, “It Will Stand by The Showmen.” Okay, he’s taking a stab. This is his first guess. We’ll narrow it down, because I can say “No, the tempo is faster” or “The guy’s voice is lower” and stuff. I head to iTMS to play samples. Hmm… none of them are playing anything that sounds like the bit used in the montage. I broaden my search, and find the whole song on YouTube.

It was no guess. He knew exactly what song it was. Yup, it’s the brief intro to It Will Stand, by The Showmen. It’s short, it isn’t repeated anywhere in the song, and Woody managed to “Name That Tune” in no notes. I tip my hat to you, ’60s Music Geek. I still owe you a pie.

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Filed under blogging, friends, music, nostalgia, vintage

Another pie.

If you weren’t aware: Friday was National Pie Day. Yeah, I know, you probably had to go to the office anyway. It’s not FEDERAL HOLIDAY Pie Day.

Anyway, me being me and all, I figured that I’d better make a pie.

Someone I follow on Twitter wished that it was INTERnational Pie Day, so I thought it would be a good time to attempt the cà phê sữa đá pie that I’ve been kicking around in my head. Cà phê sữa đá is a Vietnamese espresso drink, made with condensed milk and served over ice.

Sweetened, condensed milk. Mmmmmmm. Doesn’t that just beg to be a pie?

The recipe was easy to figure out. The crust had me baffled for a bit, until I decided to go with a chocolate cookie crumb. Sort of a mocha sữa đá. :)

Okay, preheat the oven to 425° while I mix up the pie filling. Fill the pie crust, and pop it in the oven. 20 minutes in, decide that it’s smelling awfully near-done-ishy, and check my notes for my planned cook time. No, 40 minutes. Hmmm. 30 minutes in, decide that it’s really smelling done, and then realize that I’ve heated the oven to 425°. Yeah, that’s exactly what I set it to. 425°. Except, that’s not my PIE temperature, that’s my Puffy Pancake temperature! I bake PIE at 350°! Yikes! I pull the coffee-colored pie from the oven, but it’s a coffee-friggin’-pie in the first place, so I really have no idea how browned it is or isn’t. I whip up the merigue, top the pie, and put it back in the oven (at 350°) to finish it off.

Verdict: It’s not burned, but it is very caramelized. There is a LOT of sugar in condensed milk (44%) so this is now a sticky pie. Not corn syrup sticky, but sticky toffee pudding sticky. The flavor is pretty darn good, though. A pleasant espresso top note which quickly fades to the caramelized bottom end, but the caramel tastes neither burned nor “too” sweet. I couldn’t taste the chocolate cookie crust at all. When this one is polished off, I’ll try again, with the proper temperature. I think the recipe shows great promise!

Amy asked for pie photos, but here’s the deal. Most of my pies lately have been topped with meringue, so they all look the same. Here’s a random photo of one of my pies, and you can pretend it’s a photo of whichever one you wanted to see:

img_0257

(Yeah, yeah, I know. I still need to redo the Creamsicle pie, too. I haven’t forgotten.)

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Filed under diner pie, food, kitchen

As you inhale like a breath of fresh air

There has been a bit of a stink in some circles, because President-elect Barack Obama wants to add, as many Presidents have, “so help me God” to his swearing in today. Back in school, I refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance because of the “under God” line. I stood up and put my hand over my heart, don’t get me wrong. I am allegiant. I just didn’t dig bringing God into it. In all the years of my doing it, I don’t think anyone even noticed. I wasn’t trying to make a statement, it was simply a personal thing for me. Speaking the Pledge was my choice, and I chose not to, because that one line didn’t mesh with my personal beliefs. But if we went back to the original Pledge, before that line was added in the ’50s, and I wanted to tack on a “so help me God” at the end? I don’t have a problem with that. That’s a voluntary postscript. So you folks out there who are all “Blah blah blah, separation of Church and State, yadda yadda…” Yeah. I get you. I hear what you’re saying, and I’m on your side. Trust me. But you’re MISSING THE POINT. Mr. Obama is choosing to keep God by his side during this rather momentous occasion. If you don’t allow that, you are joining your enemies in forcing your own beliefs on someone else. So back off, would you? Thanks.

Now, on to the glee:

Today, we get a new President. TODAY, WE GET A NEW PRESIDENT!

[Q-Tip]
Can I kick it? (Yes, you can!) *7X*
Well, I’m gone (Go on then!)

Can I kick it? To all the people who can Quest like A Tribe does
Before this, did you really know what live was?
Comprehend to the track, for it’s why cuz
Gettin’ measures on the tip of the vibers
Rock and roll to the beat of the funk fuzz
Wipe your feet really good on the rhythm rug
If you feel the urge to freak, do the jitterbug
Come and spread your arms if you really need a hug
Afrocentric living is a big shrug
A life filled with *HORN* that’s what I love
A lower plateau is what we’re above
If you diss us, we won’t even think of
Will Nipper the doggy give a big shove?
This rhythm really fits like a snug glove
Like a box of positives is a plus, love
As the Tribe flies high like a dove

[Phife Dawg]
Can I kick it? (Yes, you can!) *7X*
Well, I’m gone (Go on then!)

Can I kick it? To my Tribe that flows in layers
Right now, Phife is a poem sayer
At times, I’m a studio conveyor
Mr. Dinkins, would you please be my mayor?
You’ll be doing us a really big favor
Boy this track really has a lot of flavor
When it comes to rhythms, Quest is your savior
Follow us for the funky behavior
Make a note on the rhythm we gave ya
Feel free, drop your pants, jack your hey-ya
Do you like the garments that we wear?
I instruct you to be the obeyer
A rhythm recipe that you’ll savor
Doesn’t matter if you’re minor or major
Yes, the Tribe of the game, rhythm player
As you inhale like a breath of fresh air

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Filed under citizens, Is it safe to remove the gas masks?

A few pies.

I interrupt this ghastly silence to bring back to Shoes & Pie: Pie!

I tried to make a Creamsicle®-inspired pie. The consistency was more sauce-like than pie-like, but it has potential. I’ll go back to that one. Any volunteer tasters?

Banana Cream Pie. Friggin’ perfect. Not my recipe, but the one I found online needs no changes whatsoever. It is, all by itself, A Perfect Pie.

Buttermilk Custard Apple Pie. This one needs a different name, because hey, is it buttermilk custard, or custard apples? In this case, it’s buttermilk custard. And apples. And a gingersnap cookie-crumb crust. And way too sweet. This one will be tweaked, with CONSIDERABLY less sugar. The entire thing caramelized from all the sugar.

Sour Cream Dried Tart Cherry Pie. What’s with all the multi-word pie names? At least this one is a bit more straightforward. Again, I started with a recipe I found online, and tweaked. Again, it would benefit from less sugar. However, there is little in the world that tastes as good as sour cream mixed with vanilla and sugar, so this pie can’t really go wrong. I will make it again, less sweet, and I will also see if I can thicken the custard up a bit (although I haven’t checked on it since refrigerating it overnight; it may have solidified nicely).

Coming soon to a blog near you: Shoes!

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Filed under diner pie, food, kitchen