I’m Legit! Global Travel Website Recognition (and new Cuba content)!

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I’m overwhelmed and honored to say that my writing about traveling to Cuba has been recognized by FlightNetwork.com! Check out the article about the World’s Best once-in-a-lifetime Journeys for 2018 that just went live. I’m featured on the Judges page among esteemed global travel writers like National Geographic, Forbes, and USA TODAY!

I also wanted to share with you some unpublished pictures and unseen video from Havana and Matanzas, Cuba. Enjoy!

 I'm a sucker for a classic car in hot pink! Our guide introduced Drew and I to the local escuela community, and Havana's deep ties to artistic Afro-Cuban expression and Santeria. I’m a sucker for a classic car in hot pink! Our guide introduced Drew and I to the local escuela community, and Havana’s deep ties to artistic Afro-Cuban expression and Santeria.  We met this fantastic man JuanCarlos at a random cafe in Habana Vieja. He's been to Silicon Valley and said the invitation was open for us to stay with him at his home in San Jose, Costa Rica! We're tracking you down and taking you up on that offer JC. We met this fantastic man JuanCarlos at a random cafe in Habana Vieja. He’s been to Silicon Valley and said the invitation was open for us to stay with him at his home in San Jose, Costa Rica! We’re tracking you down and taking you up on that offer JC.

 Soooo many cats roaming in and around Havana. They're super friendly and chill! My tabby cat in San Francisco, CA is much more plump and is kind of a big jerk! Soooo many cats roaming in and around Havana. They’re super friendly and chill! My tabby cat in San Francisco, CA is much more plump and is kind of a big domesticated jerk!

 There's no denying the rich history and complicated political dissonance that deeply impact the people of Cuba. This mural was painted in recognition of the late Fidel Castro when he was freed from prison during the 26th of July movement.  There’s no denying the rich history and complicated political dissonance that deeply impact the people of Cuba. This mural was painted in recognition of the late Fidel Castro when he was freed from prison during the 26th of July movement.   One of the best snacks I have ever had! Fried chickpeas in the town of Matanzas–– a community which was virtually untouched by tourists when we stopped by.  One of the best snacks I have ever had! Fried chickpeas in the town of Matanzas–– a community which was virtually untouched by tourists when we stopped by.   Bookmaking still done by hand in Matanzas for more than 100 years!  Bookmaking still done by hand in Matanzas for more than 100 years!   Drew was called a Viking by the artist who drew this up while we ate dinner and listened to music al fresco. 

Drew was called a Viking by the artist who drew this up while we ate dinner and listened to music al fresco.   Delicioso Camarones y aguacate fresco anyone?! Yes please. Por supuesto!  Delicioso camarones y aguacate fresco anyone?! Yes please. Por supuesto!   This is just one of several great artwork exhibits I was in awe of at La Fábrica de Arte Cubano. A must see!  This is just one of several great artwork exhibits I was in awe of at La Fábrica de Arte Cubano. A must see!   The breathtaking view from the highway between Havana and Varadero! The breathtaking view from the highway between Havana and Varadero!

 A lovely server near the Mayabeque province lended us her lighter for those strong Cuban cigarettes. It was a beautiful design! A lovely woman near the Mayabeque province lent us her lighter for those strong Cuban cigarettes. It was a beautiful design!

High Anxiety: Why killing people with niceness isn’t always the best approach

I have to remember that I am not talking to a woman who is mentally well. For nearly her entire life, she’s suffered from debilitating anxiety, paranoia, mistrust, and depression. A “sad salad” if you will. Normally, a conversation like this wouldn’t affect me as much, and I can safely say that I can walk away from a tough conversation nowadays pretty unscathed. But the person I have been chatting with for the past ten minutes is my mother.

She started the conversation on an unassuming Monday morning yelling into the phone with her Filipina-American accent, “WE JUST CALLED TO MAKE SURE YOU WERE STILL ALIVE! YOU HAVE TO CALL US TO ONCE IN A WHILE!” Little does she realize, I can go without talking on the phone with her or my father for months at a time but it’s not a two-way street. I have to pick up the phone, post on her Facebook timeline, make an effort to calm her down so she doesn’t freak out and jump to conclusions about me being raped, conned, given a terminal diagnosis, and heaven forbid, eating too many carbs and meat!

I worry about my parents a lot- Mom more so these days. My Mom always, always tells me, instead of getting angry, just “kill them with niceness”. While that motto has served me well sometimes–– I’ve been able to get out of tense conversations about subjects like politics and racism with the phrase, “Well, if we can all learn to just see past color and be open to new ideas I think we would be okay as a society”–– I can’t help but think it could also adversely bury the anger and resentment you are feeling at the time. That frustration then builds and builds and builds and could eventually become the impetus for dealing with unaddressed, pent-up emotions.

As I quickly approach my 40’s, I find solace in the fact that I am just now starting to understand why people act out or say things the way that they do, including my elusive parents who worked their whole lives to pursue the “American Dream” and have American-born children. It doesn’t mean I am an expert on social understanding by any means. I just wish there was a class for that back in the 90’s. I have a working title–– Life Management. Or wait–– Not Killing Them With Niceness: A Field Guide to Life. I think I might just be onto something…

Burger Review: It’s Tops — A San Francisco staple since 1935

March 4, 2018

Cruise down Market near the U.S. 101/I-80 Exit to Octavia Street and you will rush right past it but it’s there– been there since 1935. It’s Tops Restaurant and Coffee Shop has managed to stay in business despite the inevitable developments surrounding the once Bohemian-thriving city by the bay. The guy who runs the joint today, Bruce Chapman– along with his wife and partner Sheila– watched his father Richard Chapman build the business since he came back from the Korean War in the 1950s and yes, you can still see Bruce greeting customers and making old-school milkshakes at the counter to this day!

Life definitely slows down inside this historic San Francisco diner. Tightly wrapped around luxury condos, overpriced bistros, $5,000 bike shops, It’s Tops shares a wall with one of the most eclectic record stores in the city– Grooves, where we picked up The Best of the Everly Brothers, The Doors eponymous first album, and a snappy ragtime jazz album, all on vinyl.

But you’re not reading this entry for the history lesson. You want to see the burgers! C’mon, Leila, get to the damn burgers!

Okay, okay.

It’s Tops has a pretty decent menu for carnivore-loving burger fans.

Since the blog has been on hiatus for a few years– sorry but we have bills to pay and life happens– there were only two of us this time around. Still, the hunger was real and Drew and I were ready to gorge!

After much pondering and lots of oohing and ahhing, I went with the “California” burger with cheese, avocado, and Feeeex-ins!!! (mayo, lettuce, tomato, and grilled onions– not too shabby) Drew– who continues to be well-hung and deviously charming to the point of danger (his words, not mine)– went basic bitch and opted for the “S.F. Giant” burger sans tomato, with cheese and fixins. We both got cheddar cheese– because nothing is better than a classic– although you could get Monterey Jack or processed American cheese cuz well, ‘Muhrica. I grew up on the plastic wrapped Kraft ™ slices of goodness with the generic Oscar Meyer ™ brand of bologna between two slices of white Wonder ™ bread! Don’t judge me. By the way, folding the American cheese over and over again until it resembles a sticky Jenga ™ tower was a fond pastime for my brothers and me in suburban Detroit.

 The  California  burger with crispy fresh-cut fries The California burger with crispy fresh-cut fries  The S.F. Giant burger with cheddar cheese, fixins (no tomatoes because Drew turns into a Gremlin if he has them on a burger), and awesome cripsy, cooked-to-perfection fried onion rings The S.F. Giant burger with cheddar cheese, fixins (no tomatoes because Drew turns into a Gremlin if he has them on a burger), and awesome cripsy, cooked-to-perfection fried onion rings

For sides, Drew chose the crispy onion rings and I went with the fresh-cut fries.

 Ooh, those onion rings are still super hot! Ooh, those onion rings are still super hot!

The verdict: Excellent. The fixins, which were very fresh, didn’t overwhelm the patty which is key to quality and taste. Nothing is worse than biting into a beautifully-assembled burger and you can’t taste the damn meat! You know who you are past burger blog offenders! The patty was juicy, not too overdone, pink in the middle, and perfectly seasoned!! Brava It’s Tops. The bun is a simple sesame bun and while I tend to favor a nice potato bun, this one didn’t bother me since it really let the meat be the star.

 Drew: Me am in happy place. Drew: “Me am in happy place.” Me: This is a burger. Yep! 

The piece de resistance? Mint…. Chocolate… chip… milkshake!

Assembled the old-school way via homemade milkshake machines from the 50s, I was entranced by the whirring of the mixer as the waitress carefully watched it reach the perfect consistency of thickness and iced cream yummery. Yes, that’s a word now. I’ve decided. The list of flavors is plentiful and next time, I totally want to get down on a Root Beer Float.

The Highlights:

Cost: $$ Two out of four dollar signs.

I’m sure the items on the menu used to be much more affordable– we paid $35 for two burgers, fries, onion rings, a milkshake, and a Coca-cola and water– but it’s San Francisco y’all. $3,600 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. This is a deal for the food and the experience!

Napkins: 1 out of 3

Might not be first-date worthy because of the messiness that will end up on your lap or favorite t-shirt, but this place is a classic diner and exudes a feeling of romanticism from the early 50’s and 60’s. Take your wife, husband, spouse, partner, cisgender friend, parents, grandparents, whatever!

On the Jukebox:

Yaaaaaaasssss! A personal jukebox on every booth and table!

I believe what’s playing in the background at a restaurant can either make or break your experience. Drew and I had to listen to some awful techno music that was blaring in the background while we enjoyed some delicious Thai food at a well-known Mission District restaurant. DM us if you want to know which joint this was.

Here’s what was playing at It’s Tops while we noshed.

Ain’t No Sunshine by Al Jarreau

Lawdy Miss Clawdy by Llyod Price

Splish Splash by Bobby Darin

Cathy’s Clown by The Everly Brothers

Cut Across Shortly by Eddie Cochran

No Particular Place to Go by Chuck Berry

Lollipop by The Chordettes

Service: 2 out of 5

While the lovely ladies manning the fort were very nice, they weren’t super attentive and we had to go up to the counter a couple of times to get noticed. I get it. It’s a diner job that attracts customers who just want a quick bite and might leave a buck or two next to their messy plate. On a positive note, one of the waitresses took her break enjoying a burger from the kitchen (photo above). Points for servers who eat and actually like the items on the menu!

Disclosure: The staff didn’t know we were there to do a burger review. It helps with the authenticity of the experience. We don’t want special treatment! Okay, maybe we could use another sponsorship with Chevrolet but that was years ago and I realize we have to build the brand back up!

That’s it. What do you think? Have you been to It’s Tops? Did you like it/hate it? Where should we venture off to next?

Thanks for reading and happy burgering errbody!

 Important to note: You pay for your bill at the register by the entrance. This ain't no fancy joint where you get your bill in a glass container delivered to you by an even fancier dandy fop or foppess! Important to note: You pay for your bill at the register by the entrance. This ain’t no fancy joint where you get your bill in a glass container delivered to you by an even fancier dandy fop or foppess!

Bonus photos:

 Drew pointing out the cover of the SF Examiner. He did a few stand-up comedy sets at Oakland's Feelmore adult sex shop and the place is struggling to stay afloat because of the high cost of living and sky-high rent. Support local businesses!   Drew pointing out the cover of the SF Examiner. He did a few stand-up comedy sets at Oakland’s Feelmore adult shop and the place is struggling to stay afloat because of the high cost of living and sky-high rent. Support local businesses!    I met a dude who wolfed down this awesome-looking plate of goodness (Buckwheat pancakes drenched in maple syrup, corned beef hash, two breakfast sausages, and two eggs over easy) in TEN minutes! Well done, sir! Well done.  I met a dude who wolfed down this awesome-looking plate of goodness (Buckwheat pancakes drenched in maple syrup, corned beef hash, two breakfast sausages, and two eggs over easy) in TEN minutes! Well done, sir! Well done.    California  burger:  It's Tops  best-selling burger according to our waitress.  California burger: It’s Tops best-selling burger according to our waitress.   The goodness inside!  The goodness inside! 

365 Covfefe Days Later: Comedy with a Cause

 The Organizing for Action San Francisco Team (from left): Leila Harmon (me), Alisha Qiu, Emily Boyd, Logan Evasco, Angelica Ramirez; Hospitality House Development Manager Tess Davis  The Organizing for Action San Francisco Team (from left): Leila Harmon (me), Alisha Qiu, Emily Boyd, Logan Evasco, Angelica Ramirez; Hospitality House Development Manager Tess Davis

Now that all the turkey and leftovers have been digested, it’s time for a little reminder of just how fast this year has flown by. I’m so not ready for Christmas yet!

For many of us, myself included, 2017 has been a tough, trying and super political year. So to keep the momentum of community organizing going, I wanted to update you on the results of Organizing for Action San Francisco’s free comedy show and donation drive for our friends at Hospitality House.

 Comedian Samantha Gilweit Comedian Samantha Gilweit

The Nov. 9th event raised an impressive $190 in cash donations and a big pile of in-kind donations to help those living on the streets get through these cold winter months.

 Comedian Joe Gorman  Comedian Joe Gorman 

Nearly 40 people came out to PianoFight for a night of laughs with our fantastic guest comedians Drew Harmon, Joe Gorman, Samantha Gilweit, Valerie Vernale, and Matt Gubser. The comics kindly donated their time but OFA made sure to give them each Participation Ribbons to celebrate their special comedy snowflake-ness.

 Comedian and Host Drew Harmon  Comedian and Host Drew Harmon

We also want to send out a special thank you to Tess Davis, Development Manager at Hospitality House for collecting all the donations, and Development Director Allan Manalo for stopping by to support us!

 Comedian Valerie Vernale  Comedian Valerie Vernale

For those of you who still want to donate new basic necessities, click here for more information. Since Hospitality House does not take used items, you can still drop them off at the nearby St. Anthony Foundation in San Francisco.

 Comedian Matt Gubser  Comedian Matt Gubser 

Until next time…