Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Last blog-post of 2008

They say that ice and snow are snarling highways and airports around the country as winter storms blow from west to east, which makes me appreciate all the more the opportunity I have to enjoy a quiet and peaceful holiday at home with Jenny and Vienna.

We've mailed our family newsletter, strung twinkling lights, baked Christmas cookies, and played holiday tunes, and today we'll trim the tree (a bit late). We also have just enough time to finish wrapping presents before settling in to watch It's a Wonderful Life and drive around nearby neighborhoods looking for our favorite lighting displays tonight. The cats are remarkably friendly these days as they prefer our company to the cold outside. In short, all's right in Woodland.

I need not overestimate the gap between our present calm and the stresses awaiting in the new year. It's almost as if we're taking a pause, all of us, holding our breath before leaping off a tall diving board. We hope there's water in the pool, but we're not entirely sure. The economy, the war, the unknown... Today we enjoy a respite, but we know that the future will be tough.

So we draw inward a bit, closer to friends and family. We require fewer things and more meaningful moments. We celebrate all manner of holidays this season but generally agree that this time calls for each of us to commemorate love above all things, love for those who have guided us to this point, love for those who share our joys and woes, love for those who stand with us when the winds blow.

I hope you have happy holidays and a prosperous 2009.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Drift Tiki Lounge

Last week, I came to the Phoenix-Mesa metroplex to write about Waffle House (it's a long story) and, along the way, I thought I'd check about area tiki opportunities. I came across some positive reviews of the (apparently revamped) Drift in Scottsdale with low expectations. Wow, was I delighted to be wrong.

The folks who designed this place - definitely a nouveau tiki place - get a lot right. Dark and exotic interior? Check. Grand tiki idol? Check. Aquarium in the bar? Check. The only disappointment: Hipster music pumped loudly, even on the outside porch. A big fat minus on the island vibe. But not a buzzkill, given the deal on Mai Tais.

I showed up during happy hour and ordered one, getting a second one for free. Uh oh. I decided to find a comfortable place to chill, knowing it'd be a while before I could drive; I don't want to experience Arizona law enforcement in any other manner than a rerun of Cops. The Mai Tai itself was standard bar-fare: nondescript rum in a plastic decanter, not the sublimely sour concoction of Hawaiian memories. No matter. The price was right.

I sat outside on the patio, the chill December air banished by a fireplace and overhead heaters. While I'd spent the day eating Waffle House grub, I somehow found room to down some free Happy Hour pupus. Amy (the manager) dropped by, and we chatted about my trip. She kindly offered another Mai Tai . No thank you, I replied. Driving. But if you're in town, stop by. It's a swell place.

Here's my revised list of top tiki experiences.

10. Castaways in Colorado, CO
9. Drift in Scottsdale, AZ
8. Thatch in Portland, OR
7. Forbidden Island in Alameda, CA
6. Trader Vic's in Chicago, IL (closed)
5. Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles, CA
4. House Without a Key in Oʻahu, HI
3. Hula's in Santa Cruz, CA (ranking skewed by homefield location; ask for the Tiki Room)
2. Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale, FL
1. Kahiki in Columbus, OH (closed)

For 'completists' only: Kon Tiki, in Tucson, AZ, Tonga Room, CA, and Alibi in Portland, OR

Of course, you've got to see the Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland (CA) at least once.

Next stop: Hala Kahiki in River Grove, IL

(Photograph by Andrew Wood)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mesa Motels

During my recent trip to Phoenix, I spent some time in nearby Mesa. Happily, Main Street contains some fine motel architecture - like the Highway Host (above) and the Kiva Lodge (below) - and a sublime sunset on my last day in town.

The video (below) celebrates a terrific motel, the Starlite, which features one of the truly great animated motel signs in the country.

Trouble seeing the video? Point your browser to this link (click "watch in high quality" for best view):

(Photographs and video by Andrew Wood)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Update on Blogging Schedule

I'm taking some time away from the blog until next week, spending a few days in Phoenix to write an essay on (and at) Waffle House.

I plan to blog for a couple of days before Christmas before taking my end-of-year hiatus until soon after New Years Day. Then it's back to normal.

I hope the holiday season finds you well...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

2008 Wood Family Newsletter


I've uploaded the 2008 Wood Family Newsletter. If you'd like to take a look, click the link below:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Highway 9 - 500th post!

Ah, the Highway 9 detour, adding an hour to an already hourlong commute about twice a year. A wreck earlier this morning on the 17 stopped traffic in both directions because, after all, you know, it was raining. So, it's a morning of drizzly, hairpin turns for me.

We're taking the windy road through Felton and Boulder Creek, passing hut tubs covered with fallen leaves, passing the houses that look like they were built in the seventies by stoned buskers, passing the redwoods that have stood for centuries.

And I'm sitting by a guy who gave me the stink-eye because I dared to sit where he'd placed his luggage. A line of people behind me, some who may end up standing for hours, and he's feeling territorial. I offer to help him move his bag, but he chooses to hold the case on his leg, seething.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Barking Dog

Today I found myself standing once more at the Highway 17 bus station, waiting for the predictably late coach to arrive. Today it would be filled with dozens of extra passengers than normal, UCSC kids heading home for the holidays, hauling their gear to the train station. I boarded to a smell of pot smoke and cat pee. I had to smile.

Just a moment before, I heard a loud bark, followed by another and another. I looked down the road and saw a huge dog, a livestock dog, sticking his head out the window of a SUV. This dog was barking at the passing trees, barking at the passing cars, barking at the passing birds. His tail was awag and his eyes were bound open with excitement. This was one happy dog.

Ah, heck, the ride won't be that long.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Starbucks Bucking the Economy?

An update from the Starbucks-Dunkin' Donuts-McDonald's wars:

As the economy sputters, McDonald's is expanding its brand of espresso and posting billboards in Starbucks home-turf of Seattle. One announces, "four bucks is dumb." At the same time, Dunkin' Donuts continues its efforts to move into higher-end coffee. Here's a snip on the Starbucks response:
"I think the way we deal with that is not to respond to something that's that frivolous," [Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz] said. "Are you going to say to your friend, 'Let's go meet at Dunkin' Donuts?' Are you going to say that?"
Read the entire story: Starbucks won't slug it out in ad wars

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2009 Summer Diner Tour

I think we've settled on our summer travel plans: The 2009 Wood Family Diner Tour!

We so enjoyed our 2007 Wood Family Southern Routes BBQ Tour, we thought we'd try a similar approach this year - only this time visiting diners in the northeast.

Any ideas of necessary places to add to our itinerary? Please feel free to post a comment.

(Photograph by Andrew Wood)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What I wish I knew

At 40, hardly a ripe-old age, I've made a sufficient number of mistakes, and studied those who don't, long enough to offer a beta-version of my top pieces of advice ("Mine goes to eleven"). This is stuff I wish I knew 20 years ago (note: this list is also accessible via

Friends who are friendly at their convenience are best reclassified as "acquaintances."

When choosing between two options, do what you will remember in five years.

Some battles aren't worth fighting (most of them aren't, actually).

Everyone lies, and usually not as well as they imagine.

"Hard working" almost always beats "smart."

You will lose every thing, not everything.

Pack only what you can carry alone.

Kindness is a lifeforce multiplier.

It's rarely as bad as you fear.

See the world.


Monday, December 8, 2008

End of Semester Update

I'm wrapping up a long semester over the next week and a half.

My second year as director of the SJSU Peer Mentor Program has contained its share of unique challenges and opportunities for growth, highlighted by our successful hire of a new class of PMs. I so enjoyed meeting these fascinating and dedicated folks, but it was difficult to identify a cohort of 20 from our 49 applicants. The PMs helped - heck, we sometimes had four or five veterans interviewing with me! - but I alone had to make the final call.

At the same time, movement of my promotion dossier through the department and college marked an important milestone. I know many of the folks evaluating me on a friendly basis, some are in fact quite close to me. But ultimately they are required to assume a certain clinical detachment when reviewing my teaching, writing, and university service. I imagine that it's no more fun for them to make these decisions, particularly the painful ones, than it was for me to carve out a new class of PMs from a number of promising candidates.

Over the semester, I've also savored the opportunity to review page proofs for the omnitopia book, feeling no pressure from the press to rush the process. This is a strange turn, since every other publisher with whom I've dealt has instituted draconian deadlines from page proof to final edit, and I know that I've made mistakes in those rushed periods. In contrast, Hampton Press and the book's composer, Sue Morreale, have patiently endured my constant tweaking -- even allowing me to make changes only to change them back -- without so much as a "hurry up!" email. Now, I think we're ready to go to press (as soon as I receive the author index).

Elsewhere, Jenny and I have been making the transition to the status of empty-nesters, with our daughter off to college. All three of us have found this time to be remarkably challenging. Vienna faces a stressful workload and an understandable desire to be closer to her friends and loved ones back home. Jenny struggles to make sense of a life in which her primary priority and concern, being a mother, is rendered abstract by the miles. And I find myself stumbling in my own efforts to figure out my own role in this time of change.

And work and at home, It's been a busy few months. I have made some mistakes, but I feel that I've come through a difficult time more or less intact. I'm now counting the days until I leave for a solo roadtrip to Phoenix, writing an essay about Waffle House. I've been given a wide berth on how to approach this piece, but I still don't know exactly what I want to say. I'm hoping that a couple of days in the nearest Waffle House to my home will give me some ideas. Given our planet's ongoing economic crisis, I wonder if this opening line might work: "I'm sitting in a Waffle House in Phoenix, waiting for the world to end."

(Photograph of 2009 Peer Mentor training class courtesy of Amirissa Mina - I added the pic after the end of the Spring 2009 semester)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Fun Post: Yip-Yips

Gen-Xers: If these dudes don't bring back some happy memories, you've got a heart of stone.

Difficulty seeing this link, point your browser here:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Iran Update - December

Here are some recent rumblings in the slow-motion train wreck called the Iranian nuclear program. A snip:
Israel is drawing up plans to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and is prepared to launch a strike without backing from the US, it has been reported.
Read the entire piece: Israel 'prepared to attack' Iran nuclear plants

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I don't wish to sound like a twit, but...

For the life of me, I don't yet "get" Twitter.

I was thinking about this as I read an story this morning about how Facebook and Twitter have attempted to work a deal to combine their companies: Facebook, the increasingly ubiquitous social networking platform that must be making money hand over fist thanks to advertisers who yearn to connect with 40 year old male Ayn Rand fans, and Twitter, which has yet to figure out how to make a dime.

Certainly, Twitter provides an elegant application, the means to convey 140 character missives to "followers" via web and mobile phone. And the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai showed just how much information can be shared in 140 character bursts as Twitter-users updated friends and family around the world with eyewitness accounts of the assaults as they unfolded. Twitter, I'm told, is coming of age in a world when we don't seem to have much time or inclination to send long messages.

Ever willing to experiment, I started a Twitter account sometime last year, even though none of my friends seemed to be interested in receiving "tweets." It wasn't too long, though, before strangers started asking me to follow them and for them to follow me. And, yes, I did follow Mad Men's "Don Draper" for a while too. But nothing about the experience resonated with me.

Perhaps I'm using the wrong platform.

I carry a MacBook with me most of the time. It's thin enough to fit in an interoffice envelope, and its battery-life lasts long enough for a medium-sized airplane flight. I like the click of the keys and the size of the screen. My mobile Mac is my primary window on the world. When I want to check the web (which is pretty much all the time), I use a web browser. Heck, I even send regular "status updates" though my Facebook account. And when I want to write something more developed than that, I use a word processor. Thus I tend to write in paragraphs, not in "tweets." I have an iPod touch, too, and it comes in handy in a pinch - as long as I'm in a wireless hotspot. But I'm used to using a full sized and full-powered computer.

That said, I get the sense that Twitter is best used on a mobile phone. And I can see why.

These days on campus, I must navigate a shifting maze of phone-tapping students who shuffle from class to class, eyes locked on those tiny screens. I can't imagine one of them reading this blog post on her phone; she'd walk into a wall. But mobile telephony is how younger folks seem to stay connected to each other and to the world. Twitter was made for those phones. I so want to know what those messages entail, whether they are Tweeted or simply texted. What do people tap on those tiny devices? Are the messages anything more than a ceaseless flow of updates? "Leaving class." "Hungry. "Bored. "Lonely."

Here's my concern: I fear that those short screens and short messages lead to short attention-spans, the same kind of limitation that produces panic at the prospect that someone will actually answer us honestly when we ask, "How ya doing?" in passing. We've been practicing Twitter-speak for a long time; the technology is finally catching up.

Now I hear that Twitter is best understood as part of the micro-blogging phenomenon, sending bursts of witty repartee everywhere at once and processing an endless stream of witticisms, rejoinders, and bon mots in return, each of us wandering amid our own private Wordles. In this world, an essay of multiple paragraphs might seem as archaic as a thank you note. Readers who still write thank you notes may therefore share my unease at Twitter and what it represents.

Here, I should note my own diminishing horizons of thought.

I write blog-posts mainly while riding the bus. It's a nearly one-hour trip. Thus, I dedicate about one hour to my most developed entries. Sure, I'll do some editing later, and I'll add updates as events warrant. But I can hardly presume to write a meaningful essay in an hour. And if that's so, how can I censure Twitter and the whole micro-blogging craze? All of us have come to tolerate ever more constricted bursts of data, we who drown in the stuff. Maybe Twitter is an inevitable next step.

Moreover, my tech-geek friends will admonish me to avoid writing in generalities, "Twitter leads to short attention-spans, blah, blah, blah." One may write books, compose articles, whip out blog-posts, and jot tweets, each medium fit for each message, they'll say. Twitter does not kill thoughtful prose, it simply augments our day-to-day lives. This seems reasonable to me.

But around campus, on the bus, in airports, in coffee shops, and elsewhere in public life, I see fewer people reading books or even perusing newspapers. I see more folks tappa-tappa-tapping on their phones. Maybe they're reading War and Peace. Maybe they're writing something equally dense and meaningful. Maybe they live lives of thoughtful inquiry and deep reflection.

I just don't quite see it yet.

Follow-up: OK, I kind of get it now

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Omnitopia Index

Awaiting the author index (currently under production by Hampton Press), I've gone through the page proofs one more time - and yes, I managed to find a couple more typos.

Along the way, I've been reviewing the subject index, which took a couple of weeks for me to construct. I had to smile after finding a few entries that are unlikely to appear in other books.

Apple, Reality distortion field, 178-179
Armpit of America (See Battle Mountain, NV)
Cellphonies, 2
Googie, 145
Honkey tubes, 123
No-tell motels, 114, 127
Office Space, 6, 183
Soul-patch poseurs, 2
Winchester Mystery House, 145, 146
Zombies, 101, 131, 146-148, 166
The book is scheduled for release in January. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Shameless Media Plug - Wisconsin State Journal

Last week I was interviewed for a newspaper story about the closing of a Mom and Pop motel in Wisconsin, the Colonial Motel, another roadside lodge lost to development. Here's a snip:
Andrew Wood, a professor of communication studies at San Jose State University in California, has also studied the nostalgia of motels. The age of the properties and their owners has led to the decline of the classic, small, road-side motel, he said.

"Hearing that these pieces of architectural Americana are declining saddens me greatly," Wood said. "Many of the old-timer owners, folks who bought after (World War II) have passed on, and a second generation of their children or close associates are now looking to retire. A potential third generation likely doesn't look with confidence toward a life of motel ownership."
Read the entire article: Middleton's Colonial Motel to take a room in history