Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Food Truck Park

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a little benefit event to support Atlanta's nascent food-truck industry. Tonight, some of that benevolence paid off in the form of the Grand Opening of Atlanta's first and only food-truck park, a park dedicated exclusively to food trucks. The cool part is, unlike most other innovative things in this City, the food-truck park is not located far from my home but only about two blocks away.

Atlanta's first food-truck park surprisingly did not open in one of the hipster neighborhoods like Little Five Points or East Atlanta Village, or in Midtown (much to the dismay of Midtown-centric Midtowners), or even along Buford Highway with its ethnic Hispanic and Asian neighborhoods, where it probably would be the most popular and best suited. Instead, it is off Howell Mill Road in Atlanta's resurgent West Side, in a formerly deserted lot behind a Willie's burrito joint. Some of the complaints posted on line (and there are a lot of complaints - just Google "atlanta food truck park" and see), is that it's out-of-the-way location does not lend itself to pedestrian traffic, but is just another driving destination for a City already gridlocked in traffic - and along a street already choked with cars at many times of the day at that.

Fair enough. But it's within walking distance of my house, so let the naysayers say what they will. All day, I looked forward to walking over after I got home from work, fed the cats, and changed my clothes.

But at the last minute, I gave in to one of Atlanta's more unfortunate impulses and decided to drive instead of walk. After all, at 6:30 pm, it was still about 95 degrees outside and the food park, although only two blocks away, was over a mile walk (a forbidding distance by Atlanta standards).

Almost immediately, I realized my mistake. Howell Mill Road, while often choked with traffic at this hour, was particularly slow this evening, due in no small part to drivers looking for a place to park their cars for the Grand Opening. The lot, it turns out, is where people would have parked if the lot itself hadn't turned into the very attraction for which they needed to park. After an excruciatingly long drive around the little park, waiting on people trying to parallel park on a residential side street and dodging pedestrians pushing their children along in strollers or dragging them behind by their hands, I wound up retreating half-way back to my house before parking in front of a Post Office and hiking back again to the food park.

It was packed, almost entirely by young, predominantly white, families. Diversity aside, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing, and I was glad to see a good turnout to support the food-truck movement. There were long lines in front of all the trucks - they were doing good business, without which the park will never succeed. But there was also no place to sit and eat after you bought your food; in fact, there wasn't even much room to stand and eat without being in someone's or something's way.

With all of the traffic on the residential streets and the throngs of people walking around, I had to wonder how great an event this was for the person living in that white house in the background of the picture below.

At some point, you had to ask yourself: how long will people flock to the opportunity to battle rush-hour traffic in order to eat greasy food standing up in the Georgia heat and humidity while breathing in the exhaust of their own cars and of the trucks themselves?

This was the only tree in the whole lot in a position to offer even a chance for some shade, and as you can see, it won't be providing any shade for anybody for a long, long time:

But enough negativity. Grand Openings are always overcrowded (at least the successful ones), and the large crowds indicate the city's enthusiasm and support for something like this. And it's always nice to see something other than a new strip mall or another fast-food franchise opening on the West Side. The promoter told the press that he wants to develop the food park into a full-time venue offering something for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late nights. I, for one, can imagine myself stopping by on the way to work for some coffee and a beignet while enjoying the cool morning air, or stopping by for a bite while returning home from some concert or another. But until they can provide some shade and more places to sit, I don't imagine that it's going to entice me for a mid-day meal any time soon.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


This weekend, the Sasquatch Music Festival is being held in Washington State's Columbia River Gorge, in the cleverly named town of George, Washington. I didn't go, but I am listening to it more-or-less live on npr.org. I didn't go to either of the two fine shows last night, partly because I was listening to the performances at Sasquatch over the interwebs all evening. Virtually every performer remarked on how beautiful the setting is, and NPR's Bob Boilen even went so far as to say, "This is the most beautiful place I've ever seen on Earth."

I often wonder what my life would have been like had I managed to sell my house back in '08 and move to Portland. I like to think that I would have gone to Sasquatch for the Memorial Day-weekend festival (I understand it's about a four-hour drive from Portland). I imagine that my life would be enhanced, would somehow be better, if I were living in and amid all of the natural beauty of the Columbia River Gorge and the Pacific Northwest. I imagine that I would be more active, more sociable, and that I would be somehow better had I moved.

Of course, I can also recognize that this is just the way that the mind works. "If only . . ." I fantasize about any number of things, "then things would be better." My whole life, I've moved from one place to another, from one relationship to the next, from enthusiasm to enthusiasm, always thinking that things will be different, be somehow better. But everywhere I go, as they say, there I am. As Bob Marley once sang, "You can't run away from yourself."

Had I moved in Portland, I probably wouldn't have actually gone to Sasquatch. I probably would have stayed home and listened to it over the 'net, just like I did last night. After all, I never go to Bonarroo, next month's music festival in nearby Manchester, Tennessee, just north of Chattanooga. Why would it - why would I - be any different over there?

Actually, if I were really honest about it, had I moved to Portland in '08, my job probably wouldn't have survived the recession and I would most likely have been unemployed, and with no contacts or client base in Oregon, I would have had a very difficult time finding a new job. Of course, fantasy and imagination don't like to consider financial, psychological, and other realities. It's more fun to think that there's a way to escape yourself.

Zen teaches us that although there's no escape, the present reality isn't so bad. "Self-nature is inconceivably wondrous," Boddhidharma is said to have noted. And yet we defame our inconceivably wondrous self-nature, which is to say Buddha-nature, all the time, thinking that the universe can be improved if only we had this or that, from material possessions to the respect or affection of another, from a different life to a different state of consciousness. And while we're off seeking, we're missing the wonders right in front of our nose.

Spending the Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend home with my cats, listening to Local Natives and Wye Oak, among others, over the 'net, is not a bad way to spend time. After all, it was my choice, it is what I wound up selecting among all of the options available to me.

Appropriately enough, even while I was writing these words, Michael Elliston, my Zen teacher, posted a message on Facebook, saying "Buddhism, particularly in its Zen form of focus on direct experience, offers the personal revolution required for individuals to find what is missing in their spiritual lives. When and if they do, they need nothing from others, in the sense of envy and covetousness, and so are able to actualize personal peace, which is the foundation for world peace." It's ironic (synchronous?) that we were both thinking along such similar lines at the same time.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Although the neo-psychedelic (actually, retro-psychedelic, the only thing neo- about it is that it's modern) poster does not suggest it, tonight's concert over at The Goat Farm will be of rockabilly music. Tonight's options also include Adron at the Drunken Unicorn, with Jeffrey Butzer performing a solo score to a Buster Keaton movie.

It's Memorial Day weekend, and the weather couldn't be lovelier.

Friday, May 27, 2011

How To Dance

In case you need some new dance moves for this weekend, Li'l Buck shows how it's done, and to the music of Yo Yo Ma at that.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Difficult To Understand

"Life and death touch each other intimately. They in no way hinder each other. There is no life without death. There is no death without life. Life is not death and yet life and death are indivisible. They identify each other."

"Life does not change into death. Death does not change into life. Life is just life; death is just death. Life and death are not before and after. In reality, death vividly and peacefully coexists with the fullest expression of life."
- Reb Anderson, Being Upright, p. 99
This thought is echoed in John Daido Loori's book, The Heart of Being (p. 86):
"Buddha-nature never dies. The realm of Buddha-nature is completely beyond dualism. As a result, you cannot oppose killing and nonkilling against each other. There is no killing, there is no being killed, and there is no one to kill. To give rise to the thought 'to kill' instantly violates the precepts from this perspective. The thought itself is essentially deluded."
Both author-teachers are interpreting the ancient Master Bodhidharma's comments on the First Grave Precept:
"Self-nature is inconceivably wondrous; in the everlasting dharma, not raising the view of extinction is called 'not killing'."
In the practice-enlightenment that goes beyond the distinction of self and others, when all the universe is one interconnected, inter-dependent whole, nothing can be added and nothing can be taken away. There can be no new birth or death, no creation and no extinction. Everything is just thus. When Chinese Zen Master Nansen killed the cat, from his perspective, there was no "cat" distinct from the rest of the universe, and there was no net gain or loss in life and death. But like Shrodinger's cat, Nansen's cat - as well as his monks - were still trapped in duality and could not see it that way.

Commenting on this case, Zen Master Dogen said, "Nansen's killing the cat is a manifestation of the great function of the buddha-dharma. This is a pivot word. Upon hearing this pivot word, see the cat as nothing but the Buddha-body. Upon hearing this word, students must immediately enter enlightenment."
Dogen also said, "This action, that is, killing the cat, is nothing other than Buddha's action."

Ejo asked, "What shall we call it?"

Dogen said, "Call it killing the cat."

Ejo asked, "Is it a crime or not?"

Dogen said, "Yes, it is a crime." (from Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Book 1, Chapter 6).
Dogen speaks first from the absolute perspective, then answers Ejo from the relative. The two views do not oppose one another.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Oh, look. An article on Atlanta's post-punk girl band, The Coathangers, got posted over at Altered Zones, a Pitchfork spin-off site that focuses on left-field pop, experimental, and home-recorded sounds. Fittingly, after seeing The Coathangers perform at the Did You Hear Something?, Tunes From the Tombs festival in Oakwood Cemetery, their featured song is titled Trailer Park Boneyard.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Keeping An Eye On Newt

Republican Newt Gingrich told a Georgia audience last Friday evening that the 2012 presidential election is the most consequential since the 1860 race that elected Abraham Lincoln to the White House and was soon followed by the Civil War.

Addressing the Georgia Republican Party's convention, Gingrich said the nation is at a crossroads and that the re-election of Democratic President Barack Obama would lead to four more years of "radical left-wing values" that would drive the nation to ruin.

Gingrich also blasted Obama as "the most successful food stamp president in modern American history."

Last year, he suggested U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was a racist, said Obama is best understood by his "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior," and argued that placing a mosque near ground zero in New York City was akin to placing a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.

Earlier Friday, at a speech before a gathering of economic conservatives in Washington, Gingrich said General Electric's aggressive legal and accounting strategy, which led to reports of a zero corporate tax liability last year, was a clever and rational response to the nation's high tax rates.

Just saying . . .

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday Night Zazen

Zen Master Dogen said, "You should maintain the precepts. Still, it is wrong to insist upon them as essential, establish them as a practice, and expect to be able to gain the Way by observing them. We follow them just because they are the activities of Zen monks and the lifestyle of the Buddha’s children. Although keeping them is good, we should not take them as the primary practice. I don’t mean to say, however, that you should break the precepts and become self-indulgent. Clinging to such an attitude is an evil view and not that of a Buddhist practitioner. We follow the precepts or regulations simply because they form the standards for a Buddhist and are the tradition of Zen monasteries."

"For true attainment of the Way, devoting all effort to zazen alone has been transmitted among the buddhas and patriarchs. When we sit zazen, what precept is not observed, what merit is not actualized? The ways of practice carried on by the ancient masters have a profound meaning. Without holding on to personal preferences, we should go along with the assembly and practice in accordance with those ways."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Did You Hear Something?

Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery is one of the oldest and most historic in the city. It's something of a destination for historically inclined tourists; there's guided tours and notable graves include golfer Bobby Jones and former mayor Maynard Jackson. But even though I've lived in Atlanta for over 30 years, I've never visited until today.

The cemetery is one of the largest greenspaces in the city, laid out in a Victorian garden style similar to Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts. It' not an unpleasant place to spend a day - as long as you're not mortified by the idea of being surrounded by about 70,000 dead people - and there was a sizable crowd this afternoon.

Quite a sizable crowd. As it turns out, and the real reason that I finally went there today after 30 years of staying away, is there was a music festival in the cemetery, cleverly titled Did You Hear Something? It was a 2-day festival with a number of bands at multiple stages, each of which was shielded from the sound of the others by the natural topography of the cemetery. Below are a couple pictures of the Atlanta band, Mermaids, playing at the Pretty Ambitious Stage, named for a local record label.

There was a variety of music scattered throughout the park, but the cool kids were all playing at the Pretty Ambitious Stage. Here's a busker in front of a mausoleum:

And a little country twang at another stage:

But over at Pretty Ambitious, Lucy Dreams took over after Mermaids.

Oakland Cemetery is adjacent to an elevated MARTA line, and it is a truly unusual sight to see live music in this transit-poor city with a train in the background. Of course, for the people in the train, it was even more unusual to see a crowd rocking out to a band in the cemetery. A few trains actually stopped and checked us out before moving on (the cemetery is next to a station, so the trains could pause a moment as they pulled out without disrupting the lines too much).

It was a hot and sunny day, in the mid 90s and not a cloud in the sky. The audience spent a lot of the time huddled in the shade of the occasional trees or mausoleums, but leave it to the jazzmen to find a shady place to play. Here's Atlanta's Fourth Ward Afro Klezmer Orchestra (or 4WAKO for short) at the Voice of the Arts Stage.

Here's a little taste of their sound:

I even got the chance to run into my friend, David, a dharma brother and part of the group that recently split off from our sangha, who caught me up on some of that group's news. Apparently, they've formed a new Zen group and are meeting weekly in some rented space. No one has yet emerged as the new "leader" (i.e., teacher) yet, but I think that's probably just a matter of time. I'd love to be proven wrong on this, but given what both karma and human nature are, soon enough attachment to recognition, approval, and power will lead to disagreement, which will lead to argument, which will escalate to fighting, which will result in shame and dishonor. But enough about that.

Meanwhile, after hearing 4WAKO, I found Waldo.

While 4WAKO were playing the Voice of the Arts Stage, Atlanta's Coathangers were playing the Pretty Ambitious Stage.

It's not every day you see a post-feminist rock band playing in a graveyard.

It was too hot to dance, but that didn't deter this young lady.

Despite the heat, the Coathangers put on a great show of raucous, girl-band punk-pop (I've previously posted a video they shot at The Goat Farm, the site of yesterday's event, here). Eventually, the drummer and the guitarist switched instruments for the final song of their set.

After their set, the band literally collapsed in the nearest shade, leaving their instruments on the stage as they recovered from their energetic set.

By the way and as a reminder, all of this was going on in a cemetery.

The day's headliner was Athens, Georgia's Twin Tigers. I couldn't describe their sound any better than the explanation provided by NPR Music, "While the band's dark and explosive sound might recall the distortion of Jesus and Mary Chain and Sonic Youth as well as neo-psychedelic groups like The Black Angels, they filter their influences well, pushing into territory all their own" (descriptions like that are the reason NPR writers get the big bucks).

Twin Tigers played a blistering and exciting set, but by the time they had set up (6 pm) the day's heat got the better of the crowd, who stayed about 20 yards back in the shade of a mausoleum. The only people braving the sun and the heat, other than the band, were a pack of photographers who brazenly got right up in the band's faces and snapped away (examples below).

A late afternoon performance by Thomaston, Georgia's Intergalactic Cowboy at the English Acoustic Stage.

Atlanta's undergoing a bit of a renaissance right now, not an economic renaissance by any means, but a rediscovery and a re-appreciation of its urban core. After so many decades of the population, jobs, new development, and money fleeing for the suburbs, the people are coming back, and rather than tearing down the old urban infrastructure and replacing it with "modern" amenities, they're embracing the old brick factories of the west side (e.g., The Goat Farm) and neighborhoods like the Old Fourth Ward, Cabbagetown, and Fairlie Poplar. The Beltline's certainly a major part of this, but so are some enlightened developers and urban planners. It's an exciting time to be living ITP.

It was a great day to spend in a cemetery. While the day will inevitably come when I'll be spending a loooong time in Oakwood or elsewhere, one afternoon per 30 years was enough for me (unless they make this an annual event).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Meanwhile, Back at the Goat Farm . . .

Saturday afternoon at The Goat Farm: food, ice cream, drinks, and music.

The event was called the Southern Swap Meet, a fund-raiser for Atlanta's food truck businesses, which are victims of a byzantine licensing process and arbitrary enforcement of health-code rules, likely due to pressure from existing restaurants. Eating al fresco from vendors selling a wide variety of foods is one of the urban pleasures of certain West Coast cities (think: Portland), and something that could greatly benefit the quality of life here in Atlanta.

The afternoon's events also included some comedic theater performances.

Meanwhile, this guy was really happy about the purchase of his new truck.

(Just kidding. It was part of a dance performance that was a part of the festivities.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Night Videos

At some point during last Wednesday night's performance at The Earl, it dawned on me that Here We Go Magic is now officially one of my favorite bands. Due to some combination of their musical abilities (every member of the quintet contributes something interesting to nearly every song they play), the quality of their songs, and their earnest and sincere presence, I was glad to stay out with them on a weeknight until well past midnight.

Here they are performing Collector at KCRW's studio in Santa Monica:

And here's a video of another favorite band, Fleet Foxes, whom I saw last weekend (it's been a good week for music). This video was shot at New York's United Palace theater, while I was at the Here We Go Magic show:

And finally, here's a preview of the goings-on for this weekend: