Day 175: Music on Netflix


Rodriguez at the Greek Theatre

Rodriguez at the Greek Theatre

Just as my taste in music has changed over the years, so has my method of discovering new music evolved. As a teenager, I discovered new music through word of mouth; most of my friends were musicians so one of us was always finding a new band and sharing it with the others. Some of us traded tapes via fanzines while some of us stayed up late to tape radio shows that played new and obscure songs.

Nowadays, I’m more likely to hear about a new song or band via social media than the radio. I tend to read books or watch movies during my spare time.

Thankfully, my love of movie-watching actually helps me find new music. Netflix has a great selection of music documentaries. I’ve enjoyed the films about well-known bands (Rush, Pearl Jam, etc.), but it’s the ones about lesser-known musicians and groups that fascinate me.

Two years ago, my wife and I watched Soul of America, a documentary about Charles Bradley, a soul singer eeking out a living as a James Brown impersonator before being discovered as he neared retirement age. It’s an inspiring film and after we saw it, we were fortunate that Bradley was in L.A. that weekend playing a free show at Amoeba Records (he played the FYF Fest the night before).

This past weekend, a fortuitous pair of tickets (thanks to my Yelp Elite badge) led us to the Greek Theatre to see another obscure musician play a big show. We rented Searching for Sugar Man, a film that details the unique career of singer/songwriter Rodriguez (née Sixto Rodriguez). In the early 70s Rodriguez released two albums that barely sold, despite being worked on by top producers who worked with top artists of the day. He was compared to Bob Dylan on more than one occasion, but he wasn’t able to build a fanbase.

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Rodriguez put down his guitar and entered a life doing construction work in his hometown and occasionally dabbled in local politics. Unbeknownst to him, his music had become the anthem of South African youth. He’s regarded on the same level as the Rolling Stones and his albums (bootleg and legitimate) sold more than they did in America. It’s only when two fans of his decide to track him down does he learn the truth. Rumors of his demise had been exaggerated: at one point, people thought he’d killed himself on stage.

It’s a fascinating film, since there are so many unanswered questions, especially by the record label that failed to pay him all of the royalties over the years (there is one revealing interview with an executive). To his credit, there’s no hint of bitterness or self-pity in Rodriguez. He’s led a good, if hard, life and he’s a Motor City son through-and-through.

Like Bradley, Rodriguez experienced his biggest musical moments when most musicians have long retired. I might not have heard either of them on the radio, but I was more than happy to have discovered them via streaming video.

Day 147: Happy Hours


My buddy Ricardo and I put together an Unofficial Yelp Event tonight and it was a blast. A dozen of us Yelpers enjoyed craft beers at the Hamilton Family Brewery in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and chowed down on some snacks that my wife and I brought: salt-and-vinegar cracklings and chicken empanadas. There were plenty of laughs and good times during our two hours at the brewery; hopefully this is the first of a regular series of events.

Day 100: Review and Update

Ticket to Ride board game and app

Ticket to Ride board game and app

I hit the century mark! One hundred days ago I started my Quest to Blog Every Day in 2015 and today I am over a quarter of the way there (27% to be exact). Now let’s review how I’m doing with my other goals and add another one, shall we?

My Goals for 2015:

  1. Write 100 reviews on Yelp. (25 written; on pace, but I’m behind my unofficial 10-reviews-per-month pace that I established last year.)
  2. Read 26 books and review them on Goodreads. (12 read; according to Goodreads, I’m 5 books ahead of schedule.)
  3. Break 100 on the golf course. (I’ve only played a few executive and par-3 courses, so haven’t given it a shot yet; this is most likely the one thing I won’t accomplish this year.)
  4. Watch all of the AFI 100 Greatest American Films of All Time. (read below for more)

I thought that watching all of the AFI 100 Greatest American Films of All Time would be a breeze. I love movies and I especially love great movies. Unfortunately, as of today, I’ve watched an unimpressive total of four. Yikes.

I’ve spent my movie-watching time doing other things: reading books, writing Yelp reviews, binge-watching The Walking Dead, posting on this blog, and playing board games. Now I have less than 8 months to watch the final 96 movies on the AFI list. I could count the ones I’ve seen in the past, but my goal was to watch each film this year. It’s all or nothing. Like my attempts to break 100 on the golf course, I may fall short of my goal, but at least I’ll enjoy my cinematic journey.

If I hadn’t rediscovered my love of board games, I might have put a bigger dent in that AFI 100 list. I have no regrets, though; it’s been a wonderful experience reconnecting with my love of games and the best part is that my wife shares my new passion. We’ve played dozens of games of Ticket to Ride and recently bought the Android app to play on our tablets. I still prefer the real-life version, but the digital option is a fine port of the original.

So, it looks like I’ll reach two of my four goals (write 100 Yelp reviews and read and review 26 books on Goodreads). My third goal (break 100 on the golf course) seems unattainable unless I start playing more, and possibly take lessons. The fourth goal (watching all AFI 100 movies) will take a Herculean effort to finish.

I tell myself it’s all about the experience, but I still like to accomplish my goals, no matter how silly they may seem. In that spirit, I’ve decided to add a fifth goal based on my last two months: play 10 new board games. I’m nearly halfway there, after buying Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, Tsuro, and Castle Panic. I’m staying with the most popular and the least time-consuming games as my gaming rebirth continues. Right now, the thought of going deep into hours-long campaigns has no appeal to me. But I’m someone that never likes to say never, so perhaps I’ll get into them. For now, I’ll enjoy playing new games until I reach my goal.

Here’s my updated list of goals for the year, including my Quest to Blog Every Day in 2015:

  1. Write 100 reviews on Yelp.
  2. Read 26 books and review them on Goodreads.
  3. Break 100 on the golf course.
  4. Watch all of the AFI 100 Greatest American Films of All Time.
  5. Play 10 new board games.


Day 93: 5 Inexpensive Ways to Rock Date Night

Game Haus Cafe in Glendale

Game Haus Cafe in Glendale

Although my wife and I aren’t jet-setting billionaires, we still have a lot of fun on our date nights. Living in Southern California gives us plenty of options and many of them require little or no cash to enjoy. Don’t let the lack of a Learjet, personal assistant, or a bank vault full of cash stop you and that special someone from having a blast together.

Here are five inexpensive ways to rock date night in Southern California. Obviously, your mileage may vary, but for what it’s worth, my wife approved of all of these dates: enough so that she actually ended up marrying me.

1. Trip Down Nostalgia Lane

Brady Bunch House

Brady Bunch House

As proud Generation X-ers, we were thrilled to find the actual house used for the exterior shots of the Brady Bunch. It’s located in a residential neighborhood in North Hollywood, so respect the owners’ and their neighbors’ privacy and property. We took a few quick snapshots and left. Feel free to sing the show’s theme song before, during, and after your pilgrimage. Everyone else does (okay, maybe not, but we sure did).



Continue your Trip Down Nostalgia Lane date with a stop at the nearby Carney’s. What better way to feel like a kid than to chow down on a coupla hot dogs inside a train converted into a diner? This Carney’s is just as good as the original restaurant on Sunset: get in line, order your food, then munch away while sitting at a window seat, pretending you’re on a trip somewhere. Get a dog with sauerkraut, one with chili and mustard, and a soda; it’s the perfect meal while you look at your photos of the Brady Bunch house.

More info: Brady Bunch House, Carney’s

2. Historic Downtown

Las Morelianas, aka Carnitas Heaven

Las Morelianas, aka Carnitas Heaven

This date is awesome because it’s easily accessible by public transportation and you can walk off all of the food you chow down at Grand Central Market. The scene at the market has always been vibrant and energetic. The food choices change over the years, but it’s always delicious. Trendy eateries come and go, but several have been here for many years. Our current favorite: Las Morelianas, which serves some of the best carnitas this side of the border. An employee is usually out front handing out a small sample of the meat in a fresh tortilla. One bite was all it took for us to order a few tacos. Be sure to ask for “mixta,” which is a combination of everything good on the pig that is, the pig snout, liver, and heart — trust me, it’s muy delicioso.

Angels Flight Railway

Angels Flight Railway

Two attractions at opposite ends of the market offer L.A. history. On the east side of the market across the street is the Bradbury Building. The moment you walk inside, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to the early 20th century. You can access the first floor only, but it’s worth a visit (especially if you’re a Blade Runner and/or 500 Days of Summer fan). I wish they’d allow guests to use the elevators, but looking up at them and the skylight is still quite a treat.

At the west side of the market across the street is the quirky and cool Angels Flight Railway, which is the “world’s shortest railway.” It’s basically a ride up the hill connecting two streets. This is a must-do for tourists and locals alike; however, it’s currently closed (as of July … 2014) due to some red tape. Check their website to see if they’re open again during your trip there.

More info: Grand Central MarketLas MorelianasThe Bradbury BuildingAngels Flight Railway

3. Park, Ride, Eat

Our bikes parked in L.A.

Our bikes parked in L.A.

While dinner and movie is always a good, if predictable, date, combining some kind of physical activity is even better, since you won’t feel as guilty about wolfing down on all of those calories. While I enjoy walking and running, there’s something about riding a bicycle that is perfect for a date. Maybe it’s the childhood memories that sprout up from a good bike ride or the feeling of movement that’s unique to powering those pedals. Whatever the reason, when my wife and I hop on our beach cruisers, it’s hard for us not to have fun.

We’re fans of the Pacific Electric Inland Empire Trail, which is open to walkers, runners, and bicyclists all year round. The trail runs from Claremont to Rialto, a distance of 27 miles, and is dog-friendly. This date will require you and your significant other to stretch those legs on the pedals, but the best part about is that you can vary it according to your fitness level, with several starting points throughout the trail. Ride for a few minutes or over an hour, depending on where you start.

Faux carnitas bowl

Faux carnitas bowl

For our date, we started at Central Park in Rancho Cucamonga, then rode our bikes a few miles to Viva La Vegan, an awesome all-vegan market and eatery. The food was surprisingly good. As much as I love carnitas (see Las Morelianas above), I know it’s not the healthiest food in the world. Thankfully, Viva La Vegan offers a “fauxnitas” made entirely of jackfruit (!) and is an excellent alternative to the piggy goodness. The cafe sits in the larger Viva La Vegan space and it’s a terrific place to relax before jumping back on your bikes.

More info: Pacific Electric Inland Empire TrailViva La Vegan

4. Shakespeare in the Park

Macbeth in the Park.

Macbeth in the Park.

Free arts and culture is always a good thing, especially with the top-notch Independent Shakespeare Company that puts on free Shakespeare at Griffith Park during the summer months. Pack a picnic basket with food and drink, a blanket or low-back chairs, and some type of insect repellent. The location near the Old Zoo at the park is awesome; you’ll feel like you’re in another world as you get wrapped up in one of Shakespeare’s plays.

Roma sandwich. Simple and perfect.

Roma sandwich. Simple and perfect.

For the perfect (and easy to transport) dinner at the park, my wife and I love the sandwiches at Roma Market in Pasadena. Mr. Mazzeo is the store’s longtime owner and resident sandwich maker; just ask him for a sandwich and watch him as he slices the imported meats and cheese by hand before drizzling imported olive oil on a freshly baked Italian roll. It’s minimalist deliciousness at its best and you’ll definitely have the best sandwich amongst your fellow Shakespeare fans.

More info: Independent Shakespeare Co., Roma Market

5. Games and Grub


Nearly 1,000 games at Game Haus Cafe

Find out if your date has a geeky side to him/her by hanging out at the amazing Game Haus Cafe in Glendale. Kickstarted two years ago, the cafe is home to nearly 1,000 board games that you and your date can play all night for only a $5 cover charge.

Don’t waste your time playing the stale old Monopoly, though. We’re living in a Golden Age of Gaming, so take a chance with something you’ve never played before. I can think of no better introductory game than Ticket to Ride. It’s often noted for its elegant gameplay: it’s the perfect game for new players and seasoned gamers love it as well. It only takes a few minutes to learn, but offers a lot of replayability. The staff at the cafe is terrific. Feel free to ask questions or for game recommendations.

Food and drink are good at Game Haus and you’ll need sustenance for all of that gaming, but for better and cheaper eats, go down the road to El Sauz Tacos for great carne asada tacos and other hole-in-the-wall goodness.

More info: Game Haus Cafe, El Sauz Tacos

Bonus Date!

6. In the Air Tonight

Various dishes at Salo-Salo.

Various dishes at Salo-Salo.

Here’s one more pack-a-picnic-and-go-the-park event that we love attending: free music at the park. Most cities offer a concert in the park series during the summer and we’ve enjoyed many of them. I especially like the event at Creekside Park in Walnut. Parking can be a pain (which is true for most of these events), but the park itself is roomy and comfortable, with a good sound system, and a few food trucks and local groups worth supporting. The crowds at these events tend to be families, so the vibe is always mellow and relaxing.

The music varies, though, as does the quality of each act. If possible, check the city and the band’s websites for samples of the music being played. Most are cover bands, so you’ll recognize the music, but the bands aren’t always top-notch. We saw a Beatles cover band a few years ago and they were one of the weaker ones, which was a disappointment. Still, free music at the park is a typically good evening out.

As for food, you can never go wrong with the Filipino dishes at Salo-Salo Grill a few miles away in West Covina. I prefer the family style meals at the restaurant, but you can get any of their affordable dishes to go. Definitely get the garlic fried rice; pair it with one of the entrees like beef tapa or lechon (pork) ribs. Whether you decide to bring it to the park or eat beforehand, either way you’ll be stuffed and ready to enjoy some free music. Don’t forget to bring a blanket or comfortable chair.

More info: Creekside Park Summer Concerts, Salo-Salo Grill

Day 85: Having a Ball


Our masks for the Black and White Masquerade Ball.

Our masks for the Black and White Masquerade Ball.

Last night my wife and I attended the Black and White Masquerade Ball, a Yelp Elite event hosted by Yelp’s Los Angeles (East) Community Manager Katie B. and her staff, along with the the Vertigo Event Venue and other sponsors. I’ve been fortunate to have attended some great Yelp parties for the Elite members of the website and this was another spectacular soiree. I’ve talked about my love of Yelp before (here and here) and I’m happy to be a part of its amazing online community.

Speaking of Yelp, a friend just told me that my review of the Gondola Company of Newport was highlighted in the Yelp Orange County Destination: Date Night. I remember that gondola ride like it was yesterday: my wife and I were newlyweds when we rode the gondola around Newport Beach. It was one of those perfect summer evenings, mellow and relaxing, the waves lapping up against the gondola as we sipped red wine and chatted, secret conversations lost in the sea air as the sun set behind us.

Day 68: The Mall

De Cafe Baristas

De Cafe Baristas

I was in Monterey Park the other night, with about an hour to kill. I had a few things I wanted to get done for work, so I Yelped coffeehouses in the area and stumbled upon De Cafe Baristas in the Atlantic Times Square Plaza. A few minutes later and I had scored a parking spot (not easy to do, apparently) and wandered through the outdoor mall.

It’s a great space and I was instantly impressed. It has a city-like feel to it, with apartments towering above the retail and restaurant spots. As I walked to the coffeehouse, I was excited to see the eating options: 101 Noodle Express, Curry House, and Lee’s Sandwiches, to name a few. Having been to so many malls and shopping centers with the typical Sbarro/Panda Express/Jamba Juice food courts, this was like a breath of fresh air. Just thinking about the beef roll and scallion pancake at 101 Noodle Express makes my mouth water.

And, yes, I loved De Cafe Baristas. Read more in my Yelp review.

Day 53: World Record

World Record for Largest Beer Tasting.

World Record for Largest Beer Tasting.

One year ago today, my wife and I helped set the Guinness World Record for Largest Beer Tasting. Yelp hosted the event at Santa Anita Park, the historic racetrack in Arcadia, CA. To set the record, 490 people blind tasted three different beers. My wife isn’t much of a beer drinker and didn’t care for two of the beers, but she liked the Shock Top Wheat Chocolate Stout beer. I liked them all, of course.

Alas, fame is fleeting: our record was broken at the end of last year. It’d be great if we could get another crack at the title. Until that happens, we’ll have fun referring to ourselves as former world record holders … and we’ll always have the glassware to prove it (as seen above).

Day 40: 40 Days, 40 Blogs


Star Wars: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn


So far, so good. I’ve stayed true to my Quest to Blog Every Day in 2015, this being my 40th post in the first 40 days of the year. I’m currently on pace to meet my goal.

Quick updates on my other goals this year:

  • 100 reviews written on Yelp: 11 reviews finished. On pace.
  • 26 books read on Goodreads: 2 books finished. Reading two books now (one of them pictured above). On pace.
  • 100 movies seen on the AFI 100 Greatest American Film list. Only 3 movies finished, when I was hoping to have knocked off 10 already. Off pace.
  • Break 100 on the golf course. Unfortunately, I’ve only had time to play a par-3 and an executive course. Breaking 100 on those doesn’t count, so let’s say I’m off pace.

It’s been a good 40-day stretch of blogging. As they say, I’m still finding my voice, but I have a few surprises planned for future entries. Here’s to the next 40 days of blogging. Cheers!

Day 5: Elite

Ruel G. s Reviews   Inland Empire   Yelp

Pictured above is part of my Yelp profile. Just two days ago, I wrote about my love of Yelp, how I’d started a Write-100-Reviews-in-a-Year challenge, and my desire to score my 2015 Yelp Elite Badge. Well, the badge showed up on my profile today!

I wear my Elite badge proudly. Okay, I virtually wear it proudly. Still, I like being held to a higher standard and being a Yelp ambassador. My friends and family know how much my wife and I love using the site and we always get a kick out of sharing Yelp-related stories.

One of my favorite Yelpish stories happened last spring. A buddy checked-in to his storage space (for those not familiar with Yelp-ese, users “check-in” to businesses via the phone app). He posted two photos from his storage unit of his-and-her beach cruisers with a caption that read, “For Sale.” A few messages and two hours later, my wife and I were proud owners of two almost-new beach cruisers and we rode in our first CicLAvia the next week.

We were blown away by CicLAvia, an open-streets event in Los Angeles inspired by the original Ciclovia in 1976. The city shuts down a few miles of streets and bicyclists, skateboarders, runners, and walkers (and the occasional unicyclist) are the only ones granted access for most of the day. It’s an amazing, inspirational, and transformative event, with plenty of smiles and laughs from everyone involved. For someone who hasn’t ridden a bike in over 20 years, it was a few hours of pure joy. Our first CicLAvia was along Wilshire Boulevard and it was strange not seeing a single car on this well-traveled street through Koreatown and beyond; we likened it to riding on the biggest and coolest bike path ever.

Of course, I reviewed CicLAvia for Yelp, rating it five stars. If I could, I would’ve given it an additional five stars, thanks to the great deal on my bikes the week before.

Below: In less than a year, our bikes have traveled throughout L.A. We got a kick out of parking them next to the motorcycles in front of Urth Caffe in L.A. before the October 2014 CicLAvia.


Day 3: One Down, 99 To Go


Like most people I know, Yelp is my go-to site/app for finding a place to eat. Back in the day I would thumb through the Yellow Pages’ restaurant section, going through each listing until something piqued my interest. A few years ago, Yelp changed this, giving me access to restaurant information and reviews as well. As I used it more, I noticed that there were all types of businesses reviewed on Yelp and I used it to plan some cool dates.

I received my first perk from Yelp in February 2011, before I even had a Yelp account: two tickets to the L.A. Derby Dolls, thanks to LA Community Manager Katie B. tweeting about a giveaway. My girlfriend and I went on our date and had a fun night of roller derby and food truck eats.

I created a Yelp account a few months later and wrote my first Yelp review, giving three stars to the Colton Golf Club. Although I wasn’t exactly prolific in my review writing early on (I had a grand total of 11 reviews by the end of 2012), I was slowly but surely becoming a Yelper. My reviews weren’t James Beard material, but I was honest and tried to be as informative as possible. I also used the site to plan a few more date nights with my girlfriend (who eventually became my wife!).

This all changed in 2013 when I signed up for a write-100-reviews-in-one-year challenge. My wife and I attended our first of many cool Yelp events. In November of 2013 I became a part of the Yelp Elite, a few weeks before I completed my 100th review for the year. In 2014 I was a Yelp Elite again, and pushed my yearly total to 120 reviews.

My Quest to Blog Every Day in 2015 has been partly inspired by my reaching my Yelp goals. I hope to be Elite again this year and I started another 100 reviews challenge today. Here’s my first review of 2015. Only 99 more to go!