Saturday, March 31, 2018

Overnight Field Trip

My original interest in spending a weekend in San Francisco was fueled by the new sleeper bus, but then I realized that flying from Burbank to SFO and back from Oakland was actually cheaper than sleeping on a bus. I've taken a sleeper bus before, in China, and it really wasn't bad. The real problem with the US version is it would leave me in Santa Monica at the crack of dawn. The time it takes me to get home from Santa Monica by land is roughly how long the flight from Oakland to Burbank is so...yeah.

Maybe next time. Maybe if the sleeper bus has a sale at some point.

My secondary interest in spending a weekend in San Francisco was that my hair cutter just moved there. She'd been in New York first, then moved to LA a month after I did, and now she'd moved up to Haight Street, so this seemed like an opportunity to look a bit more civilized. Plus, I could sightsee and get to an urban environment rather than the quirky, confusing boulevards of Los Angeles county.

I booked a room at a tiny hotel in Haight Ashbury, downloaded a public transit app to my phone, made a list of places to look for new clothes, and off I went to Burbank Airport early on a holiday weekend. I had been up to the Bay Area for non-city reasons, like to visit Yancey in Cupertino or on the outskirts, camping and cycling, but I had not been into the actual city of San Francisco in DECADES, I realized.

It's lovely there.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Evil that is Social Media

I did that thing where you download all your FB data to see what the evildoers of the world are learning about you.

Here is some important information I discovered is out there in the world, about a location I created in 2012.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Pioneer Spirit

Remember this book I worked on a few years back? It’s being reissued with a new design. I can see they're tying it more into the once-popular video game, which makes a kind of sense even though it has very little to do with the style of illustrations in the book's interior.

Don’t die of dysentery!

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Dreaded Reval

I moved to Jersey City in 1988, right after the last property tax reval. I was still in college and knew nothing of taxes and real estate.

But my landlord complained frequently. She talked a lot about how she was going to lose the building I lived in. She put it up for sale and after that, real estate agents frequently barged in on me on Saturday mornings.

No one bought the four-story, three-unit brick row house then, and we were eventually thrown out by the bank when she was foreclosed on. The house sold in 1991 for $130,000. I think it was laughable even then. If I had any idea how anything worked, I'd have jumped on it.

The house continued to be taxed on that same $130k value until just now, when the state of NJ ordered a revaluation of all JC properties. That house is now valued at $1,545,200 and taxes went from $11,700 to $25,032.

There are a couple ways to look at that. One goes like this: Gasp, someone's taxes just went from $11,700 to $25,032. Holy shit. But that's the wrong way to look at it...the right way to look at it, as this reval generates no new income for the municipality, is SOME POOR SUCKER IN A LESS-VALUABLE AREA WAS PAYING THE DIFFERENCE, ALL THAT TIME.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

West for Work

I headed down to Wondercon for the DC Super Hero Girls panel. Most of the creative team was there, and my job was to moderate their panel and keep them on-track.

We had a marvelous time celebrating this incredible achievement—only the best in super hero graphic novels for little girls. After years of making comics for kids via Kuwait, making more comics for kids made sense for my next step.

We are at the end of my run on this—I'm on main DCU material now. So this was a bittersweet group outing for me.

Yancey stayed overnight in my Hilton room with me. The barn door style bathroom door didn't really shut all the way, but it was still better than the half walls we once had in a cabana in Belize.

I headed to the Anaheim train station on Sunday to head back to Los Angeles. The Pacific Surfliner was standing room only, but the Metrolink came along ten minutes later, and it wasn't even half full.

Friday, March 23, 2018

A Belated Souvenir from Mali

In 2011, during the earliest days of the second MariesWorldTour, I went overland from the northern tip of West Africa all the way to Kinshasa. Mali was particularly challenging, and I was exhausted the day I dragged myself into Djenne Djenno Hotel, which was the real name, but the locals called it Hotel Sophie.

Sophie was the owner. The hotel was outstanding, truly remarkable, made from traditional materials, featuring nightly music, great food, a number of local projects, and delicious peanut butter made in the kitchen. Sadly, Sophie'd had to close the hotel last year and had left Mali for London.

But she has an Etsy store. 

And when I got my new sofa, I decided it needed a mudcloth. I went on Etsy looking for a Mali mudcloth, and found Sophie's shop. I was thrilled to get a mudcloth from someone I'd met (she didn't remember me—I only stayed one night), from something I had a personal connection to.

Here is the mudcloth on my sofa. I had planned on trying it out as a curtain in Jersey City, but I think it's destined to stay right here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Out on a School Night

Slipped out of work a few minutes early to see the Decemberists in Hollywood. I grabbed the Burbank Bus to North Hollywood metro, took the Red Line two stops to Highland, saw the Decemberists play a few songs for one of those nighttime talk shows, then jumped back on the train to Universal, where I caught the 155 bus to Toluca Lake to join colleagues at a work event.

I would have spent that long looking for parking in Hollywood. Go transit!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Supermarket Games

The supermarket I go to is part of a chain that has an annual game involving collecting game pieces.

I won!

I claimed my prize. Now I own frozen waffles. Ten of them.

All in all, I’d rather win Powerball.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Furnishing Out West

I have a sofa! I looked and looked for a sofa I liked. I didn't find any until I did, and then I found Very Expensive Sofas.

Finally, I was wandering around the outskirts of DTLA after going to an art supply store near the Greyhound terminal, and I stumbled over an old factory converted into a fancy thingy. A destination. A hipster habitat. A place with more food trucks than Alameda Avenue on a Tuesday.

And in the middle of the circle-the-wagons food trucks were vendors.

And one of those vendors was a furniture maker.

I took a month to make up my mind, and by then the sale had ended. But they honored the sale price and I got myself a sofa, which was delivered today.

Here is my sofa, both naked and dressed for church.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Did I Err?

Something awesome happened at work today.

This. Brittany texted me from across the table in a meeting. She had a view of the hallway outside.

"Sergio's here."

She'd spotted the legendary cartoonist at MAD, just outside the meeting room. I stood up without explanation and walked out of the meeting to go find Sergio.

He didn't know who I was at first—fair enough. I last edited Groo in the early nineties. But he still gamely went along with me insisting he come upstairs to see my office door, and when he got there, he was amazed.

And then I showed him the cow he drew for me in 1992, and he knew exactly who I was then.

Journey's End

I had never commuted through Newark Airport before. It's always been an origin or destination, never just a place to go through Customs.

I struggled with not going straight home. With getting on the next plane to Los Angeles instead of on the train to Jersey City.

But it was raining out and my coat was in Burbank, so I had a bit of incentive to return to California.

And when I got home, semi-delirious from time zone changes, I unpacked my bag. No paintings, but at least these little guys made it safely from Tunis to Burbank.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

24 Hours in Barcelona

"I shall drown my Tunisian handicraft sorrows in Spanish shoes," I thought.

I had checked into a hotel in the Gracia neighborhood and left my broken painting in a dumpster, all wrapped up in cardboard and bubble wrap. I had a 10-trip metro fare card in spite of only being in town a day--it's just cheaper that way.

I spent my day wandering through Born, seeking shoes and clothing. I stopped in On Land, the last boutique standing of my favorites, and bought a sweater. I managed to buy quite a few articles of clothing before heading back to Gracia for the real reason I'd stopped over in Barcelona.

Hint: Though I found Gracia to have a street full of independent boutiques, I wasn't really there for the shoes.

Casa Vicens recently opened for public tours.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

A Sad Tale

Here is the sad story of a Tunisian painting, now residing in pieces wrapped in cardboard in a Barcelona dumpster.

The painting prior to shipping. I didn't think the glass would make it home, but I'd replace it when I got there.

I wasn't allowed to take the painting as carry-on. It went "Special Luggage" class
I could feel the glass moving about as I carried the package under my arm from the airport to the Barcelona hotel. I knew the glass had broken, but didn't care about that much. But what I didn't realize was the painting was actually ON the glass. 

Goodbye, little painting. You were awesome. We hardly knew you. 

Leaving Tunisia

For those mornings when you crawl out of bed at 5 a.m. in a stranger’s house in the Tunis Medina, pull the door shut behind you as you run through your list of possessions in your head, walk to Bab Mnara to hail a taxi, and the taxi drives you to the airport through empty streets with every warning light flashing, and then you get to use “special luggage” for your new Noah's Ark painting to travel to Barcelona, you need a pain au chocolate to start the day.

Tunisia is not what people think of when they think of Africa, mostly because Africa is what people associate with lions and Masaai warriors. In my mind, like most people, I associate Tunisia more with Morocco, Egypt, Libya,'s just what we do. But is IS Africa, North Africa, like all those other countries I just listed. I wondered, as I sipped my latte, what is the term for my interest in this continent? Like Frankophile or Anglophile, is there a name for the sort of person who likes to take share taxis around the continent? Cape-to-Cairo-o-phile? Bus-ist? And if I'm an Africa-phile, what do we call my various other fascinations? Wallaby-o-phile? Bangkok-o-phile? Bali-o-phile? Yogyakartist?

I'm not even sure it's travel I'm obsessed with. It's really just novelty and an adventurous romp. A good laugh helps.

I had been pretty rusty on this trip, having been chained to a desk for three-and-a-half years aside from my little test trip to Tijuana a few months ago, but I'd warmed up quickly. I was feeling stress now as I prepared to board the plane back to Europe, departing the continent of Africa where I'd been through so much in my other lives, residing in Cairo, Uganda, Namibia, Cape Town...taking public transit up the eastern side and down the western side. Spending time with Herr Marlboro back when I still thought relationships were something I might want to prioritize. I was just dipping a toe in here in Tunisia, but the thought of going back to Burbank and to work kind of broke my heart.

I boarded my flight for Barcelona, just over the Mediterranean. A short flight, less time than I'd spend getting from Burbank to LAX by public transit, but a world away.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Carthage Afternoon

I caught the TGM trolley out to Sidi Bou Said, a little village just north of Carthage. This is a town decked out in white and blue paint, a town that gets a nice breeze off the ocean all year around.

I guess. I was only there briefly one afternoon in March. I'm definitely making a lot of leaps here. I was too impatient after five days of pure touristing, too instantly bored by environment.

It wasn't as atmospheric as Chefchaouen in Morocco, which has a lot more blue than white, but it is probably a really nice place to live. Bet Sidi Bou Said is part of the rent-is-too-damn-high club, though.

I headed to Carthage next, but after the extraordinary Roman ruins at Dougga, I was mostly disappointed, so headed back to Tunis.

When I got off the train, I passed the Jawa sandcrawler again, and stopped at the first sidewalk cafe I saw for a snack. I'd been breaking my own rules a lot on this trip, skipping meals, not staying hydrated, and not eating on a schedule. One of my rules is eat on a schedule, even if you have to eat poorly. This wasn't poorly was a chicken sandwich.

I hunted for souvenirs next, back in the medina, wandering the alleys looking for something I wanted to carry home.

I finished my afternoon up with a visit to my host in her workshop.

"How much is that?" I asked, pointing at a Noah's Ark painting on her workshop wall. It was the equivalent of $63. I paid her in cash after a visit to the ATM, and she packed the painting up for me.

"Can't I roll it up and leave the frame?" I asked.

She looked horrified. "No. We will pack it with...this stuff. I don't know the English for it." She did a popping motion with her fingers.

A Jawa Sort of Morning

I finally had a chance to sleep in and enjoy a normal breakfast for once in Tunisia.

So who was that person talking loudly downstairs in the guesthouse at six in the morning?

Eventually, I figured out it was the breakfast cook, but she wasn’t talking, she was watching TV while she prepared breakfast.

The guesthouse is amazing—it’s a restored medina house, but there are a few downsides to staying in a beautiful, old place. One is the sounds—they echo throughout the house. The other is the owner refuses to give the guests keys, because she’s “always home.” Which isn’t at all true. But her house was so nice I didn’t have the heart to scold her.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Art Shopping

"That painting in my room...where did you get it?"

"Of Noah's ark? I made it myself."


I was speaking with Khaoula, the owner of El Patio guesthouse. A young Tunisian woman, her passion was historical interior design and restoration.

I loved the painting in my room and what I'd expected Khaoula to say is where she'd gotten it. I'd go to that store and see if I could find a cool painting to take home. But this answer was unexpected.

"Do you sell your paintings?" I inquired as casually as I could, since I suspected I wouldn't be able to afford a piece of original art.

"Yes. My workshop is across the alley. I'll show you tomorrow."

I told her I'd be at Carthage in the morning, but would be sure to get to her workshop in the afternoon. I tried not to get to excited...who knew what would be on offer or what the price would be.

Day at Dougga

The six a.m. iPhone chimes taunted me from my bedside at El Patio, the boutique guesthouse I was staying at deep in the Tunis medina.


It tried again a few minutes later.


Three consecutive days of super-early rises had gotten the better of me. I barely made it out of bed by 6:30, and I knew I was pushing it as far as the louage time. I slid into my clothes, headed downstairs in the dark, picked up a back of snacks with my name on them from the hostess of El Patio, and as soon as I pulled the door shut behind me, realized I’d forgotten my scarf.

6:30 a.m. is a bad time to knock on a door, so I just went without, hoping not to get caught in the sun or rain. I walked down a narrow stone alley out of the medina, to the nearest modern road.

“Bab Sadoun, s’il vous plait,” I said to the taxi driver who’d picked me up by Bab Mnara. Bab Sadoun is where the gare routiere is located for the buses and louages I needed to get myself to Dougga.

So many questions, I know. What’s a gare routiere? What’s a bab? What’s a louage? What’s a Dougga?

A Dougga is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the ruins of a Roman city in…you guessed it. Dougga. That’s a town in Tunisia. It’s about an hour-and-a-half east of Tunis.