Daughter and I were looking for a place to eat for supper, and I said: Which Wich?
Yeee—ahh! she said, warming to the idea. Curiosity! Adventure. We’d masse Which Wich for a few years, never stopping - it’s in a new psuedo-urbanist development in the suburbs, a place built to conform to the glories of density and pedestrian activity. The planners and city officials envisioned, as they always do, a bustling place, which is vibrant, where people window-shop before meeting a friend for dinner and a glass of wine. These are the basics. The brochures for the housing developments always show a middle-aged couple, trim and prosperous, enjoying that glass of wine on the deck.
Previously they had looked in store windows. Perhaps now they are talking about that delightful little piece they saw and whether it would fit in the bedroom. Maybe they’re talking about a store clerk, who knows. Point is, this walking - looking - wine idea is central to all these New Urbanist suburban developments, and while I think it’s amusing, the developments are better than strip malls or parking lots.
Here’s the neighborhood after they cleaned out the car dealerships, just in time for the economy to crash and demand to shrivel up:
But they kept going, and a few years later the corner was filled out with a hotel and more housing. A restaurant and a Fresh Thyme grocery store - think "Whole Foods" without the insufferableness.
Is this better than a parking lot or open field? Sure. But here's the problem. Take a look at the Penn side of the project - as unfriendly a thing as you'll see in the suburbs or the urbs - and push it right or left.
It's still suburban sprawl. Access is easy, though, if you know where to go. Parking is plentiful. You can get a lot done here, if you drive - and that's why everything looks the way it does.
The Which Wich chain is self-explanatory: you assume there are a variety of sandwich options, and the only question is which one you will choose. There’s gyros; there’s French Dip. It’s like a fast-casual Subway but much, much better.
The graphics are bright and clean, and the options are numerous but not complicated, and you don’t have to command the Sandwich Artist to do this or that. We stopped going to Subway years ago, because Daughter stopped taking Karate lessons. The Subway was in the same commercial complex. I had enough. Enough of the regrettable buns, flavorless vegetables, vinyl cheese, chicken slabs that tasted like fillets of marinated paperback books.
“Can I attempt to redeem this with a thick squirt of mayo and a drizzle of that horribly-caloric sandwich dressing?” you hoped the Sandwich Artist would say, just so we all could admit how meretricious this experience had been, and would continue to be until you scrabbled the last SunChips out of the bag and left.
It was better than Subway. 8/10 would try again. I admired the total brand package, which extended to the music on the speakers: in between songs you’d hear a DJ talk about the Which With Channel, which impressed Daughter: they’d thought of everything.
As chains go, it was fine. But what if something has the soul of a chain, and doesn’t seem to realize it? The other night we went out to Harriet’s Pub, which used to be a gas station. Significant expense was poured into the spot, but you can imagine the contractor talking to the investors:
“For forty-six dollars more, I can add small touches that give the place a sense of charm and uniqueness. Something that sets it apart. Gives it soul.”
“Forty-six dollars? That would put the project nineteen dollars over budget. Forget it.”
When I walked in I was struck by the quantity of fake brick: obviously the stuff you buy in thin sheets and glue on. It has a little depth, but it’s almost hyper-realistic. Daughter noticed it right away: “it looks like a video game texture,” she said. There were a few craft beers, a big bar bought from the Big Bar Supply House Inc., some TVs in case you got the jitters being away from sports for more than ten minutes, a sealed gas fireplace that lent no heat or light, Olde-Style tables and chairs that had been pre-dented and pre-scratched to indicate Authenticity, high ceilings to wick away any sense of community, and so much open space between tables you expected the wait staff to wear hoop skirts.
Brand-new and pre-fab - and the food was dull and dry. The reviews on Yelp are mostly 4 and 5 stars, leavened with AYFKM one-stars that express amazement anyone puts up with this. I mean, THIS IS THE CITY. We want invention, imagination, something with quirk and spark.
I imagine they want that in the suburbs, too, and there are places that provide it. Suburbs, however, are the home to the big bland chains, and Lord knows they’re popular. You know me: I am no enemy of the burbs. I love the burbs. But when I’m home in Fargo and we go out to eat, there’s every burb-food option on earth and it always comes down to Fettucini or the Signature Burger, which starts with a half-pound of hand-formed ground chuck and a special blend of seasonings, and ends with a bowel movement the next day that seems as if you’re passing a Louisville Slugger.
Oh it’s delicious, but I need a Rascal scooter to leave.
So Harriet’s Pub wasn’t even good at burb fare. Just a few blocks down the street is the Lowbrow, which somehow just made a great neighborhood burger-beer joint up out of nothing, and it’s fantastic. I think it’s the difference between two schools of restaurant thought:
We have hired these people. Now these people should make a great neighborhood place.
We want to make a great neighborhood place. Who should we hire?
I know where the FFES is going first. What’s the FFES? I said I’d get around to that. Daughter says the second F is unnecessary. I disagree.
1915. I'm not saying they're getting everyone in the mood for war, but they're getting everyone in the mood for war.
That's a big reciter of war, not a reciter of Mammoth War. Although it could be.
The reference to Earl Kitchener may not be familiar; wasn't to me. It wasn't a man, but a title.
Earl Kitchener, of Khartoum and of Broome in the County of Kent, was a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created in 1914 for the famous soldier Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener, 1st Viscount Kitchener of Khartoum. He had already been created Baron Kitchener of Khartoum.
Also Viscount Kitchener of Khartoum, filling a small empty space on his uniform.
A different culture:
I've had this sitting around for a while, and keep moving it around from week to week. Because it's an odd entry for B&W World, as you'll see. Well, let's do it.
The audience is informed this is going to be . . . spicy!
She has more legs than she should, really, but who cares.
It's possible - very possible, or perhaps slightly possible - that you know what the punchline is to this entry. It has to do with the complete and utter confounding of your preconception of an archetype.
Doesn't that sound fun? Isn't that why you come here every day? Archetype confounding.
We begin with a legs contest, reminding you that the word "legs" looks and sounds funny the more you say it. That's true of many words, but you start thinking: leg. It's such a short word for a not-insubstantial thing.
The days are long gone when the Civic Betterment Board would sponsor anything like this:
Thirties legs were shorter. They just were. Some modern supermodels would have made them drop to their knees and worship this Eloi from the Future.
Our hero, reminding us that they did not stop wearing straw boaters when the market crashed:
Warren William, one of my favorites.
Now. Who does he play?
Drunk. Passed-out and drunk. The exact and complete opposite from the fellow you know, but the original PM was a tad more dashing than the stolid version of 50s TV.
The movie is a comedy, more or less. A comedy. Broad acting all around, with Warren William breezing through the whole thing with bright panache.
Three decades later, the real Perry would handle . . . the same case. But now we see things through a modern framing device:
It's a televised contest. The Emcee is Renny McEvoy:
He never liked for him or anybody else to say, "good-bye"; it was always, "so-long" because he thought "good-bye" was permanent like he was never going to see you again.
He was afraid of the concept of death (see above item re:"so-long").
He made it to 82! Hope that was enough.
Anyway, it's not the same story, but it is. The same guilty party. I won't spoil it, so what do we do to pad this out? Why, some inadvertent documentary. This is Cloverdale Utah:
There's no such place. Guessing that's LA, somewhere. Believe me, I tried to find it; checked the old directories with the terms Morris Plan, Eastern Airlines, Newberry - all from the signage. Nothing.
I leave you with this: Perry and Della enter the elevator.
That'll do; I presume - if you're in the mood for more, there's matchbooks, and another big then-and-now piece coming up around Noon at Startribune.com.