Category Archives: Culture

I Blame Starbucks

After living in the Bay Area for more than half a year, I finally found something to complain about. Sure, California has mountains and sunsets on the ocean and a temperate climate but–


the coffee is terrible. It is Texas terrible, which is my way of saying it is not only bad but the people there think it is good which makes it so much worse. If you walk into a random San Francisco coffeehouse, the coffees of the day will be dark roast, dark roast and french roast. No sensible medium roasts or light roasts. No. They want their coffee burnt. If it was good enough for Alan Ginsberg,..they..think, it is good enough for me.

I seriously doubt Ginsberg drank dark roast. The popularity of dark roast was spread by Starbuck$ which, thankfully, did not have a hold on American coffeedrinkers when the beats were sipping at the Vesuvio in the sixties.

I’m sure many readers are skeptical already, they say, “but Karma, you are not a connoseuir.” No, I’m not a coffee snob* but I lived with two of them, one of whom worked as a barista in an upscale coffeebar for five years. I still willingly drink all kinds of sludge but I have been carefully lectured in the ways of good coffee. Coffee should not cause a physical reaction like cheap scotch. It should be pleasurable. French roast is seldom the latter.

Now my skeptical readers, the history of french roast, the darkest of dark, ze cafe zat makes le merde run like ze Rhine Rhevher.

French roast coffee was born out of wartime rationing. French citizens had to make do with a little bit less of everything. In order to stretch their coffee quantity to the next far away ration, they would burn the coffee beans. You get a bit more coffee that way. They grew accustomed to drinking their brew burnt. French roast is nothing more than nostalgic masochism, the way some like to listen to noisy, crackling vinyl**.

The big coffee chains would have you believe that burnt coffee is more exotic, as if it is peppered with Bridget Bardot’s bikini bits. If it is too difficult to drink, it is because you are not man enough to digest Mediterranean beauties.

And it is difficult to digest. I drink two cups daily and french roast can still make my tummy flip flop. It also has less caffeine then a lighter roast (now who’s hard core?).

Lovers of the more pungent brew believe that there’s more coffee in their coffee, as if those who can’t stomach singed beans aren’t real java drinkers. But the truth is the opposite. One can appreciate a medium roast in the same way they can taste wine: weather and soil conditions give it a flavor that is distinctive to that region. This is why some of the more famous coffee-producing regions brew light roast (Kona, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Kenya). As the beans become darker and more oily, that origin flavor is lost. At the the point of french roast, the coffee tastes primarily of the roasting process. Medium roast has complexity. All french roast tastes the same.

I imagine it is a bit like trying to distinguish between sourdough and rye when you have toasted the bread til it is black. But, oh, that burnt sourdough is so much tougher to eat. Doesn’t it taste rugged and sexy?

The reality is that coffeeshops can make their coffee last longer by roasting the beans longer. This means more money for them. And all these west coast french roast fanatics are the same suckers that smoke Philip Morris and drink crappy scotch.

*You can call yourself a coffee snob if you insist on grinding it yourself. Those who buy their coffee in a can or a bag labeled with the name of your supermarket need not apply.

** I appreciate vinyl as much as the next gal, but some take nicely produced music and digitally add the pops and scratches to make it sound old. Now that’s just silly.

Keeping Up With the Joneses

On a joyride through Oakland yesterday I saw my very first gated church. That is, I saw a huge church with a big electronic gate surrounding the exterior. I’m sure Jesus will make sure that all of those suffering and in need will be administered a gate pass.

Shame on you, Oakland. And shame on Atlanta. As the rumor goes, one of the suburbs outside of that city is now the first to have a gated community… wait, no, could it be? a gated community within a gated community. So that the residents can protect themselves from those other uppidity, white-bread gated community residents.
Who knows? You can’t trust those foks living near the exterior. They could riot. Better
lock down the big screen TV.

Berkeley Bumpers

Phew. I am wiping the sweat from my brow, as I have just completed the challenge of writing a novel in thirty days. It was (way fucking) harder than I thought, but I’m still finished a day early.

After over-indulgently, redundantly, and discursively rambling on at length in a verbose way, it is time to turn my attention to that art form that is the heighth of *conciseness: the bumper sticker.

I can’t have my East coast friends missing out on all of the stickers that haven’t ciruclated there way just yet. So here are some of my favorite Berkeley bumper stickers that may be new to you:






and my favorite,


I have some catching up to do, reading everyone’s blogs and commenting. Let this blog be an exercise in *pitthiness.

*Surely there is a better noun for succintity?

The recent dangers of flying rocks and CO2.

By far the most disturbing class I ever took in college was astronomy. The planetarium shows always featured either the theme, “Look how insignificant we are,” or ,”We could all die at any minute.” Our instructor told us about asteroids that hit our little planet all the time. We saw pictures. The conversation goes…

“So if this had been a major city, millions would have died.”

“Shouldn’t we be concerned?”

“Oh, well, it’s unlikely.”

“Yeah, but that one you have on the screen happened about two years ago.”

“Yes, but it is most likely to hit the ocean, or an unoccupied land mass. Like this giant crater in this slide… anyway, if they see it coming, they could nudge it several inches from thousands of miles away and that would be enough to steer it off course.”

“Didn’t seem to work in this picture.”

“Well, yes, no one knows about most of them until after they hit.”

“So, what you’re saying is, there’s always a slight chance that a giant asteroid could come hurtiling towards my window and pulverize you, me, and everyone we know; we have the capability to stop this and we don’t bother to hire two or three grad students to stay on top of this sort of thing?”

“Well, yes, except that a large asteroid really has the potential to destroy all life on earth. But really, it’s quite unlikely. So here’s another picture from 1992; this crater is about the size of New Hampshire…”

I have only felt that sort of terror and shock over the fate of our world on one other occasion — last week. I went to go see this film called “An Inconvenient Truth.” It’s about the presentation that Al Gore’s been giving in cities all over the world to spread the truth about global warming.

I’m sure you’re thinking, a slide show about Al Gore? zzzzzzz …. SNORE…. zzzzzz….

Yet the facts alone are compelling enough to make this required watching for anyone who has or is thinking about having children. Or anyone who cares about the future of humanity. Or anyone that’s planning on living to a ripe old age. Or anyone who was affected by Hurricane Katrina. Or anyone whose noticed that summers keep getting hotter and hotter. Or — Okay, you get the idea.

The presentation of the film is engaging without being too flashy. I was watching Ebert and Roeper (I don’t really like either of them but I like to watch them bicker — now that’s reality TV!) and Ebert said that for the first time in his entire career he felt that it was apt to say, “You owe it to yourself to see this movie.”

On another note, I think its fantastic that Al Gore hasn’t gone into retirement. But where was this side of him when he was running for office? If he’s so concerned about global warming than it should have been a huge part of his campaign. In the movie Gore has wit and character. Where was this in the speeches and debates? Of course the Democrats don’t want to step on any toes. There so worried about stepping on toes they can barely cross the street.

Whatever your opinions of Al, please go see this movie. You won’t regret it.

Contemplate This While I’m Breathing Your Exhaust

Now and then as I’m cycling along the streets of Atlanta, a motorist will honk at me. I can see only two reasons for this:

1. I look so fetching in that styrofoam helmet, you just couldn’t resist blaring your Danger! signal at my sexy abs. Thanks for sharing.

2 (and more likely). You don’t like that my slow-moving bicycle is taking up space on your precious asphalt.

There are a few reasons that I might be riding in the road, other than the sadistic pleasure of pissing you off.

Atlanta’s sidewalks are entirely unpredictable. They’re often cracked and broken, or have huge holes or strange things drilled into them. Those handy street signs you’re so fond of are often jutting out of the middle of the sidewalk. Same goes for those huge, lovely historic-looking streetlamps. I love trees, even sticking out of the middle of a sidewalk. But they sure aren’t fun to bicycle around.

Sometimes there are no sidewalks. Or the sidewalk has just ended or is about to end. Or they are preceded by an enormous curb that I am not skillful enough to jump. Its not quite as easy as jumping curbs in your LandRover. Nest time you angrily point to the sidewalk, check to see if, you know, THERE IS ACTUALLY A SIDEWALK.

Riding on the sidewalks is dangerous. I know that you don’t care. I have inconvenienced you. You have to pass me and add five seconds to your commute so you would laugh heartily to see my innards spread across the concrete. Just the same, I’m attached to my innards (pun intended). Cars pull out of driveways and look left-right-left onto the road before turning onto it. Motorists don’t look for fast moving objects coming on sidewalks. They often don’t look at sidewalks at all and just consider them part of the driveway. That’s okay, I want them to get a good look around before they turn. I’m considerate that way. But I do know that there are lots of driveways on most roads and that this is a great way to get hit by a car. How do I know this, you ask? Because I was hit by a car this way. I’m hoping you’ll see me in your massive Suburban Assault Vehicle.

Did I mention that cycling on sidewalks is illegal? Cyclists must follow the same rules of the law as cars. While you may drive on the sidewalk, most people think that’s a no-no. Would you risk getting a ticket to avoid inconveniencing me?

What is all this hostility about, anyway? Do you honk at slow-driving old ladies? How about schoolbuses, with their annoyingly frequent stops? I bet you get a kick out of blaring your horn at Postal trucks. They have no business on the road, slow as they are.

No, no, of course I’m not like those people; I’m a public menace. I took the easy way out, bicycling to get around. Sure, I could have invested all my surplus income in a car and bought a gym membership for exercise, like a normal person. But no. I insist on smelling the flowers and the smog and the pizza joints and your exhuast. I insist on using my body to power up hills. I insist on seeing my city as I move through it, instead of in a bubble. I insist on boycotting fuel because –no matter whether you’re politics are left or right — everyone know s we could afford to be less dependent on foreign fuel.

Really, I can’t imagine how these things are so offensive to you. I don’t mind if you pass me, I really don’t. If you really don’t want to see cyclists on the streets, lobby for more bicycle lanes. But if seeing me on the road gets you all riled up, maybe you’re a bit too tense. You could use a good bike ride.