Monday, January 23, 2012

The Henderson Chronicles, Part 2: Previously Unknown Food

At the end of last May, when Mom and Dad drove to Las Vegas and Henderson for three days that turned into 10 because of the PT Cruiser breaking down, Dad didn't want to eat regularly. He has a steel mindset of wanting to get things done, such as getting to Las Vegas from the Santa Clarita Valley, such as the job interview he had there, such as looking at apartment complexes with Mom, which led them to the apartment complex we thought might be ours, but doesn't seem so viable anymore. We're looking at others, and the best thing about Henderson is that there are so many other complexes available and a lot of builders erect them near shopping centers for convenience. Today, Mom looked at one online and said about it, "You could fall out of bed and land in Vons."

When we started out for Henderson in the late afternoon of last Wednesday (the 18th), I wasn't going to stand for not eating regularly as Mom reluctantly had. On our way out of the valley, Mom pointed out McDonald's, but Dad wordlessly passed right by it. She pointed out Wienerschnitzel and we, in our rental Nissan Cube, breezed by. I put my foot down and suggested strongly that we eat before we leave the valley because it was going to be over three hours before we reached Baker and the Grewal Travel Center, a combination gas station/convenience store/food court. Dad surprisingly agreed, turned around, and we parked at Wienerschnitzel, where I had my usual pastrami sandwich and ultimate chili cheese fries, Mom had an Angus pastrami dog on pretzel bread and a root beer float, Dad had a mustard dog, and Meridith had an ultimate double chili-cheese burger and jalapeno poppers. I took this first meal out as a good sign for what was to come. In Henderson, we were bound to find what could never be found in Santa Clarita, something satisfying, something made differently than the generally processed assembly line here, something made by real people.

We checked into Fiesta Henderson at 12:10 on Thursday morning, spending time getting settled in our room on the 8th floor, then went downstairs an hour later to the food court right at the casino floor, which also had the box office and entrance to Regal Fiesta Henderson 12 next to it, and a Starbucks next to that. We'd looked at the menu for Fatburger on Dad's laptop upstairs, so we knew what we wanted there. Mom only wanted a Sprite, Dad had a Baby Fatburger, Meridith had an order of Skinny fries, and I had a sausage and egg sandwich, onion rings, and a strawberry ice cream milkshake, which was authentic strawberry ice cream because halfway down, the ice cream began melting.

Fatburger is as would be expected, reliable, being a chain known well in nine states. Despite copious frying, the onion ring coating was a bit loose, but the sausage and egg sandwich was good for additional energy at 1 in the morning, being that I wasn't ready to go to bed yet. Not after having all that, not with so many slot machines in front of me, and wanting to find the new Zorro slot machine I read about. Fatburger wasn't indicative of the kind of food available in Henderson, but it showed that it was good. And it could only get better.

Thursday was our busiest day. We started at a shopping center on North Green Valley Parkway, at Brooklyn Bagel for breakfast. This is where they seem to make their own cream cheese, judging from one of the employees taking scoops of cream cheese from a big metal bowl and putting it into individual containers for sale, containers with the Brooklyn Bagel name on them. There, I had what was called a morning wrap-up, wheat kind, with three scrambled eggs, ham, and cheese. We never go out to breakfast in Santa Clarita, so I have nothing to compare it to in that way, but on quality alone, Brooklyn Bagel far outdistances anything in eggs, ham and cheese in Santa Clarita. Most importantly, the employees are very polite and clearly love what they do. And you know you're getting high quality there because it's open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. They're getting everything ready while you're still asleep. Even getting there very late in the morning for breakfast, it was all still fresh. People come, but it's not a mad rush. It's a steady stream, and a polite one at that.

We couldn't go this trip without driving up and down the Las Vegas Strip at least once, and this included a visit to Chinatown. There, at a place called Mr. Sandwich, we had drinks, and all I remember is that I had a strawberry smoothie (Thick and real), and Meridith had a blueberry drink with boba, tapioca balls usually used in bubble tea, but can really be put into other kinds of drinks.

Dinner was at Ohana Hawaiian BBQ in the same shopping center as Brooklyn Bagel, in the same shopping center as a popcorn store called Popcorn Girl which uses real sauces for its popcorn, not powder. They give samples, Meridith tried their "Mac 'n Cheese" flavor, and she knew right away that this was the real stuff. Somehow, they had managed to match the flavor of macaroni and cheese in popcorn. Dad bought a bag of dill pickle popcorn and the same thing: The popcorn tasted exactly like a dill pickle. Henderson boasts a great deal of creativity in many pursuits, and popcorn was a great surprise. In fact, Henderson encourages it. Here, you feel like you want to do so much for this city, to contribute something of value, to help keep the city riding high.

At Ohana, I had chicken katsu, which was fried chicken strips, with macaroni salad and two scoops of rice on the side. There were also malasadas, deep-fried and sugared yeast balls, for dessert. Couple all this with NBA TV playing on the flatscreen above us with an old game on, and I was completely satisfied. Again, just as fresh as Brooklyn Bagel had been, the same high quality, and it still amazed me: People actually care here? People actually want to do well in what they do? I want to do well in what I do! This is truly home!

We got back to our room at Fiesta Henderson at 8:15, and then Meridith and I went downstairs to Regal Fiesta Henderson 12 a few minutes after 9 for the final showing of the day of "Beauty and the Beast 3D," at 9:30. Meridith wanted to try the popcorn in Nevada, and it was another example of caring, though more muted (I'll describe that more in a future entry about this particular movie theater). None of the popcorn in the large bucket we got was carelessly burnt at the bottom. Plus, at this theater, they keep the butter dispenser behind the counter at the concession stand, and know exactly how much butter to put in. Just enough to spread throughout the entire bucket, but not too much that the popcorn is positively drenched in it. Whenever I go to the movies, I don't buy anything from the concession stand anyway, but this was a special exception, being that it was our first movie in Nevada.

On Friday morning, breakfast was at Dunkin' Donuts near Fiesta Henderson after checking out, and not a great one. I had ham, egg and cheese on a croissant and the croissant broke off too easily from being toasted too much. The hot chocolate was so-so, not at all what Brooklyn Bagel had available in a dispenser (That was chocolaty). It's more a kind of Dunkin' Donuts that you go to if you have to get to work or elsewhere quickly. You just pick up what you need and go. It's not one to sit in for a while. Very business-like.

Hours at Galleria at Sunset included me, Mom and Meridith sitting for a while at the food court, and I had a fruit and maple oatmeal from McDonald's there, which I've found that I like after trying it for the first time on the morning of my eight hours at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills for my research. At that McDonald's in Valencia, they'd accidentally given us an extra oatmeal, but I kept it, saving it for during the day, when I took a break from my work mid-afternoon.

The only thing I really noticed about this oatmeal at the Galleria at Sunset food court is that whereas overregulated California requires that the nutritional facts be printed on the side of the cup, Nevada doesn't have that same issue. They trust their citizens to know what they're getting. And I knew exactly the oatmeal I was getting. Same kind as in Valencia. Same kind that I'll find in other McDonald's throughout the rest of Henderson and Las Vegas. But it also depends on the people and there was another example of someone doing his job well, what looked like maybe the manager of this location, or senior staff. Hierarchies exist for purposes of paychecks, I'm sure, someone gets paid higher, someone gets paid lower, but I don't get the feeling in Henderson that they exist as they do in places like Los Angeles. People have jobs to do, and they do them. They get paid, and they go home to do whatever else their lives entail. In Henderson, a job is only one part of their lives. There's other things to do too. It's important in order to live, but it is not a driving force.

The oatmeal was the end of my exposure to food in Henderson. After Dad's job interview, we had to start back to the border into California, and it was getting late. One major tip to impart is that if you've gone on vacation and you've had all that I've described here, don't have a footlong chipotle chicken and cheddar flatbread from Subway on the way back. I've got more on this in the weeks to come, but you end up having chipotle breath burps often.

And yet, even with having tried some new things, I've covered barely 1/16th of 1% of what's available in Henderson and Las Vegas. There's so much to try that it can take you years to get through it all. One place I'm psyched about either next time or as a resident is a Steak 'n Shake inside South Point Casino. In fact, I'm calling South Point Steak 'n Shake from now on. We had it in Florida, but there's none in California. South Point's Steak 'n Shake is the only one in Nevada. What life takes away, Las Vegas gives back, including good food.

The Henderson Chronicles, Part 1: I Need a New MP3 Player

It's a huge honking sign when two days in Henderson makes me not hate the Santa Clarita Valley anymore. I still don't like it, but I can tolerate it now and ignore all that has frustrated me for eight years because I know I'll be home soon enough. I can ignore the shallowness now, the logos of Walmart, Target, McDonald's, and other big businesses seeming to be the be-all, end-all in this valley, whereas those same logos are just part of Henderson, not dominant.

I can't simply write a day 1-day 2 recap of all that my family and I did in Henderson. This isn't a day at Six Flags Magic Mountain. This was an introduction to a life with roots I can finally have. Spending more hours in the Galleria at Sunset mall than we did on a visit in 2010, we walked through all of the mall, and I looked up at the ceiling with decorations near that are lit up at night and I truly believed that I dreamed about this mall, or a mall just like this one. On the way into Henderson, I felt like I could drive those roads. Most importantly, I want to be part of this. I want to work here, play here, explore here. I want to know everything that Henderson is and was in its history, the same as I do with Las Vegas.

Therefore, instead of a typical recap, I'm going to stretch this to many entries over this week or more than that. I'm not quite sure yet. But I'm going to start with a problem that I thought was going to be a solution.

The Monday before we left (the 16th), I deleted all the music from my mp3 player, an import from Hong Kong which boasts four gigabytes of space, which seemed to be the biggest at the time. Or the cheapest compared to what the American market was charging. Mom bought it for me and I was enthusiastic about fitting well over 100 songs on this thing.

The constant, annoying pinprick problem about this mp3 player is that it doesn't play all the music I put onto it. Some of the songs just don't show up, despite me syncing the music from the computer onto this player. Looking at the files inside the mp3 player on the computer, I see that those particular files that don't show up are in the player. So what's going on?

I still haven't figured it out. I thought this latest thorough cleansing would help. And it nearly did. One Elton John song, "Club at the End of the Street," never showed up before, and there it was now. Depeche Mode's "Strangelove" was finally there too. But now, the entire soundtrack to the 1999 Broadway production of Putting It Together had disappeared. And I had left enough room in the hope that all the songs I had downloaded to my mp3 player would show up, 1.5 gigabytes worth.

There's an old radio program, CBS Radio Workshop, that had an episode called Subways are for Sleeping, based on the Harper's magazine article by Edmund G. Love, which Love turned into a book that I proudly own. I had the episode on my mp3 player last year before deleting and starting over, and I thought I'd have it again this time. It didn't show up.

I liked that my mp3 player seemed more organized. Songs didn't look like such a jumble as I scrolled through them. The Christopher Cross and Sting albums I have were finally together. It was finally easy to get from Annie Lennox to Donna Lewis without having a long distance to travel between them. But still, half of what I had put on my mp3 player was nowhere on there.

It didn't affect my vacation in Henderson. I listened to it on the way from Santa Clarita to the road we use to bypass the Las Vegas Strip and go on to Henderson, taking a break when we stopped at the Grewal Travel Center in Baker. But that was about it. I was mostly reluctant to use it while we were driving throughout parts of Henderson because I don't get radio stations on it and it's rare that we hear radio stations of Las Vegas in the actual area, or near it in this case. But why bother also with an mp3 player that's apparently not working much for me anymore? I've had it for a few years, so it's probably time to replace it anyway.

It's impossible to top listening to the live version of Depeche Mode's "Strangelove" while driving through darkened areas of Southern California that have bright lights in the distance on the left. Really dark. Like you'd think you were looking at a fairyland at rest.

I don't know if I'll get a new mp3 player by the time we go to Henderson again, but I've got to see what may work and what's reasonable because I want to have all my songs available whenever I want, not just half of them. Or maybe it's better to wait until we're residents of Henderson to start looking. Contribute to the local economy rather than giving money to this valley. I think I can wait longer since I only use my mp3 player on long days of errands here, and the errands haven't been that long lately. Plus, things are relatively cheaper in Southern Nevada and that's worth the wait.

(I promise the entries will get better, certainly more interesting. Four days with no writing beyond what I jotted down in my composition book left me rusty, and this was the best way to start to shake out some of the rust. Something basic before I get to details important to me.)