Wednesday, May 24, 2006

New Job!

So it looks like I'll be getting a firm offer tomorrow to work for a major defense contractor. For the first time since I finished school, I will actually be able to afford living here. It is a huge pay raise, but it's also a chance to do something slightly different. Plus hopefully work in a less miserable environment. It's also made me reevaluate whether I want to remain a renter here. I read all of those real estate bubble blogs, and as a result, I'm very wary of putting money into a condo here. I know I've written about this ad nauseum, but it's a major life decision for me. I can't deal with negative amortization, and I don't want to live here long enough for the market to stabilize (if the condo market indeed plummets) and to regain any losses on the property. I guess it's something I should think about once I actually start drawing these new paychecks. But anyways, I'm pretty happy right now.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Crystal City Depression

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, I've been real tied up with job interviews and bolting my Federal job for the green pastures of contractors. One thing during my time in Crystal City that I've noticed everyday is how depressing Crystal City is. Location wise, Crystal City would seem to be prime for great development, it's on the Metro line, its convenient to jobs, but for some reason all that's there is a depressing line of buildings with a half-assed attempt to spruce things up by dropping a Jaleo and Oyamel on Crystal Dr. The most depressing part of this area has to be the part that is most widely known: the "Crystal City Underground." The underground mall is one of the most downtrodden, mystifying shopping areas I've ever encountered. First off, the actual shopping areas are not underground, they're at street level. Second, I still to this day, do not know how most of the stores survive. There is a puppet/marionette store for gods sake. Is the demand in the DC area for marionettes really high enough to warrant retail space?!? Walk through the underground during working hours, the hours you would assume are right in these stores' wheelhouse, and you will see nothing but depressed looking shopkeeps sitting in empty stores. This got me thinking, maybe it attracts a weekend crowd like most malls. Wrong. I went into my office on Sunday and found an even more barren underground. So, I have no idea where the revenue is coming from to keep these stores open. Maybe Charles E. Smith is giving free rent. Who knows...

My opinion on the Crystal City area in general is that it needs to get torn down and rebuilt. All the government office spaces will soon be vacant, and once DoD moves out, there's really no reason for the defense contractors to stay there. Perfect timing to raze everything, keep the Metro-centric development idea, and rebuild new structures. The location is perfect, has great views, and is close to everything you need. It just needs a new face.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Yet Another DC Area Mexican Food Post: Orale Taqueria

For the next two weeks I am taking classes at Fort Belvoir which usually is a pain because I have to drive from Arlington to the class. But there is always a silver lining when I go out to that part of Alexandria: the best, the #1 seed, the most authentic, the best selection, simply the greatest taqueria in the DC metro area. As I've posted before, I hold El Charrito Caminante in high regard, but Orale is really my true love when I need a taste of Southern California (don't be confused, it is not Baja style, but it is damn good Mexican/Salvadorean). Orale has possibly the worst location of any business in the region. Not only is it in a run down portion of Route 1 in Alexandria, it is in a run down shopping center with nothing but a Food Lion, Wendy's and uniform store in it. These are the only stores most people are aware of, mostly because they have signage. Orale does not. In fact Orale is nearly invisible from the road, tucked into a breezeway with zero signage. And that's how you know it's good. I really can only credit the food for allowing this place to stay open for the last 2 years. I even finally got the camera on my phone to work (crappily) and snapped a picture of the interior of the place. That pic pretty much shows it all, its a counter where they make your food from scratch right behind the glass, and there are about 8 tables scattered.

Now I do not have any thing resembling a gifted taste bud, a taste for the exquisite, etc., but I know what I like. And I've eaten at probably 30-40 various Mexican/Salvadorean places across the nation. Orale is the only place that I can say is as good as my favorite place in Southern California. They have a huge variety of tortas, tacos and burritos on their menu, along with yuca and pupusas. They have a list of about 8-10 meats you can put in to any of the dishes. These range from carne asada, carnitas and chicken to tripe, head, chorizo and barbacoa. The barbacoa is a clear standout. I know a lot of people like Chipotle (including me to a degree), but Orale's barbacoa blows away Chipotle. It is heaven. The barbacoa looks pretty much pulled pork Memphis style, but it's taste is amazing (and beef). Hints of all kinds of spices to go along with the heartiness. It goes great in the burrito or torta. The carnitas I had today were outstanding as well. And the chorizo? Let's just say I'll stick with San Vicente. I've also tried the carne asada before, finding it delicious as well. But just as goat tacos are El Charrito's specialty, the barbacoa is what I'll be continually going back to Orale for. Tomorrow I'll be trying more of the torta family (after today's taco day).

Seriously, this place is worth the drive for any unique and delicious food seekers willing to take a chance. Granted, it requires a commitment to drive out to the Fort Belvoir area for this, but wow. It is a drive that I have made no questions asked when that craving hits me. I did a search on Chowhound, the self-professed site for those that will hit up burrito trucks at soccer games for the best food or try the dinkiest place in a strip mall, and they have zero mention of this gem. I just realized in the off chance that anyone actually tries driving out to Orale, that they will probably get confused and lost and never find it. Here is the address:

8762 Richmond Hwy, Alexandria, 22309

You seriously have to park on the side of the strip mall by the dumpsters, and go down the breezeway to find the place; but well worth it. Trust me. I love it. I'd probably marry it if I could.

This should wrap up my pseudo-food reviews/preachings for now. Unless people want me to start posting reviews of the 15 or so Mexican places I've tried in the area in the quest to find a SoCal worthy place. Or not. Then back to inane stories about going out and getting fratty and hating work.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

New Line of Work

So for the past year, I've really started to discover that I hate my job. I am one of the thousands of folks around here that handle Federal contracts. Supposedly, I am in charge of buying things for the military. In actuality, my job is to push paperwork, navigate bureaucracy and write up papers that let the government cover themselves when questioned about how much stuff costs. I've really started to just hate it. On top of that, I get paid as a Federal employee which isn't really very much. Especially when people working for companies make like 30K more than me for the same work. I'm currently looking at the private companies for work, but that really is just a stop-gap solution. I'm pretty sure I'll still hate what I do. So I'm taking the LSAT in June, thinking that maybe law will be a better career for me. I hope. Since law school is going to put me in debt by about $100K. It's kind of a risk, but it's a risk that I think I have to take. I just can't imagine going through life feeling as miserable every morning as I currently do. Not really sure what jobs I could really do. Maybe sales or something. I've heard I'm really good at convincing people to do things they don't like doing. But who knows. I guess stay tuned, but for the time being, I guess I'll just keep on contributing to the military industral complex.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Razing Columbia Pike

As some steady readers may know, I often write about going-on's on Columbia Pike because that is where I live. In particular, I take great interest in the planned street car that will run from Pentagon City to Bailey's Crossroads. I noticed it was back in the news last week, as it has moved to a stage where Arlington and Fairfax counties are actually talking about funding this project. I truly think this will revitalize this whole corridor (probably through gentrification eventually, but what's new). I got to thinking about what will happen when they do build the street car line. Columbia Pike is full of aging, rectangular brick apartment buildings, usually low rent. Is the solution in "revitalizing" the Pike to just raze all of these memories of Columbia Pike's downturn? Condo conversions? I'm not sure. I believe they will maintain the old fashioned downtown feel around Bangkok 54 and the Cinema and Drafthouse, but maybe stick some more hip hangouts in where there currently are ethnic stores and nail salons. I mean, would it really kill anyone to put a decent bar in this area? With the amount of Pentagon and Navy Annex and Crystal City employees that live on the Pike, I would think that there would definitely be a customer base for such a place. When I take a step back, I really don't see any other option than to tear down the old and build up the new, which I guess would make the Pike more like Ballston than anywhere else comparable. Then I just start thinking about the wealth that this would create and wish I could put some in on this.

On another note, DCist had a posting two days ago about a place I affectionately call the Taco Shack. San Vicente is a little shack in the CVS parking lot in Adams Square along the Pike. I had long been curious about it (since I can't get enough of tacos, burritos, Mexican food, Salvadorean food, El Charrito Caminante, etc.) but had never tried it. DCist got me to finally make the leap yesterday, and I ordered the chorizo tacos and the Woman ordered a pupusa. It is definitely different in that things are made to order instead of just pulling meat out of a pre-made vat. I suspect this is as much for quality as it is because of the seemingly low volume of business the shack is doing. I can honestly say that it is the best chorizo I've ever had. The Woman was very pleased with the pupusa, which was made from scratch while we waited. I will be returning for more chorizo tacos and I highly recommend San Vicente for when you're looking for some risk-taking newness.

Another new note, Metro DC Sewer now has an e-mail address!!! Feel free to e-mail me with comments and suggestions at dcsewer@gmail.com.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Hot New Business Plan: Beer Baron

As some long time readers may know, I went to Costa Rica back in March for a vacation and was quite taken by the country. One of the bright spots of this trip was a chance to sip a frosty beer while watching the sunset on an isolated beach. And it's not just the scenery that was great, it was the delicious Costa Rican beer, Imperial Cerveza. When I got back, I searched everywhere for some Imperial, only to find it is only being distributed in Southern California and NY/NJ. I got to thinking, if no one else is distributing it here in the DC/MD/VA area, why couldn't I?! So working with my friend in Los Angeles, we've been toying with the idea of trying to take on the distribution of Imperial here. It all started with an e-mail to the importer (located in a hole in the wall business park in my hometown) who got me in contact with the brewer in San Jose, Costa Rica. Apparently they are examining new markets on the East Coast and I am the front runner (by default) for this territory for distribution rights. Of course I have no idea how the beer distribution business works. Here is where I used all my guile and deviousness. I e-mailed the Beer Distribution lobbyist group posing as a Georgetown student, and told them I am doing a project for an entrepreneurship class involving the distribution of "a fictional Central American beer in a new sales territory in DC/MD/VA." I had heard that this was a secretive and close-knit industry, but they seemed very willing to share all the secrets to me. I guess they really do care about education. So now I play the waiting game until the brewer wants to enter this territory. I honestly think Imperial would sell well here. Especially with all the Central Americans that live here that have nothing to remind them beer-wise of home (even though pretty much none of them are Costa Rican). Plus it has a cool label and logo, and is advertised to be made from the "fresh spring waters of Costa Rican volcanic springs". With the right marketing campaign, I think it could be a hit (and already is in California).

I guess we'll see if this idea sticks or if my short attention span forgets about this great plan in a week or so. It would be sweet to be a beer baron though...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Custardy Goodness... and more!

Something I was introduced to last year was one of the more exciting things to happen at my office in... maybe ever. I was introduced to the wonderful world of frozen custard. For a while I had been wondering what these little printed out calendars filled with flavors for each day were. I saw them in at least 5 other cubicles. I was finally let in on the secret. The secret of Del Ray Dreamery (which was forced by a corporate ice cream company to change its name to the Dairy Godmother). With the weather getting warmer, it is now appropriate to start planning more and more trips to this great, community place. Never before have I seen such unique flavors. This Friday is Mexican chocolate which is going to be great, but yet, I haven't seen this flavor since I left Southern California. My office pretty much can't wait for the turn of the month so we can see the new flavor calendar and start planning when we'll sneak out for a "meeting". And by meeting, I mean meeting up with delectable custard. Lo and behold, I learned on my last trip that custard is in fact healthier for me than ice cream. Who knew? The Dreamery has been one of the bright spots I've found here, and a good example of an independent business thriving and serving the community.

On another note, I've started thinking about applying to a new job. Not in a new career category, I'm too big of a pansy to take on that risk. No, I'm thinking about switching from the Government to private industry. So on that note, since I haven't been able to find any info on this, I am asking for help. How much will a contract specialist with a clearance make in this area? Spread out your feelers and get me this info. I need to figure out if it is really the financial windfall I think it will be.