“I been trying to tell you that I can tell you are a singular girrrrr-rl,” Rhett wailed, swinging his hips wildly, like a little boy, eyes closed, imagining himself a rock star. Which he was. Or at least to Slim’s packed concert hall he was. And to all of us pushed up against the stage, they were the only band that mattered.
We kissed shoulders and nudged hips and crushed toe to heel to the beat of Philip’s straight-through-your-belly drums, then arched our necks to catch Ken’s guitar riff on our eyelashes. Murray, my favorite whose genteel charm reminded me of my sister’s old boyfriend, the one from small town Minnesota, harmonized with a lonely call of a freight train crossing a flat land of dry prairie grass.
The Old 97’s captured my musical heart when I was in college. George and Brendan stumbled upon their album Too Far To Care in a bin of new release CDs at KDNZ, the student radio station. With lyrics that referenced everything from Greek mythology to Raymond Chandler to T. Rex set against music that churned like a John Deere driven by Joey Ramone on a bender, the band ignited exotic dreams of cowboys and small town Texas where the grass grows by the mile.
The boys are still at it and even better than ever. Marriage and kids and the small dramatics of life have made their music even more adept at hitting you in the gut and kissing you on the cheek. Check out their shows at The El Reyin LA later this month to see live alt country done right.
In honor of Singular Girl, one of the band’s finest songs*, I’ve included three amazing places of brazen, focused singularity below. All are in Burbank, a town of nostalgia and rebirth, fitting to spring to mind when discussing Old 97’s.
* (but if I had to name a top 5, I’d pick: 1. Bel Air 2. Timebomb 3. St. Ignatius 4. Doreen 5. Question. Oh, hell, let’s call it a top 10 with: 6. Rollerskate Skinny 7.Crash on the Barrelhead 8. Salome 9. Melt Show 11.Four Leaf Clover),
Porto’s Bakery and Cafe
Porto’s Bakery and Cafe creates great Cuban small bites —empanadas, mariquitas, tamales—in a big setting. I first sought out the family-run bakery over ten years ago when I was tooling around town in a big truck with skunk streaked hair and ears ringed in piercings, having heard whispers of its amazing pastries and tortas. Though Porto’s has expanded, opening this grand Burbank location, not much has changed. And that’s good. Andy and I ordered a mess of pastry bites to snack on while we waited for the Cubano sandwich and Southwestern steak salad. While the mains were perfectly solid, the savory treats—chorizo and meat pies and rellenito—were the standouts.
Porto’s built their reputation on their sweet delicacies and these lived up to the hype. A take-home box of Salvadorian quesadilla cake and cuernito de guayabas, barely lasted a day in our house. When I recently packed up a care package for my mom’s friend who moved from Cuba years ago, we received a message exclaiming that “I must be in Cuba!” as she recounted breakfasts of the flaky guava pastries as a girl.
Porto’s Bakery and Café 3614 West Magnolia Boulevard Burbank, CA 91505 (818) 846-9100
When I order a root beer or a cola, I ask for a pop. Not soda. We summered most years in Milwaukee at my grandparents; the culmination, usually, of a cross-country station wagon road trip with my mom and dad switching off driving to avoid stopping overnight. Now that I’m a parent, I understand why they would want to limit the time that 2 adults, 3 kids, and a couple of dogs would be adrift far from the comforts of home on the great highway. At the time, I found the glowing neon beacons of roadside motels exotic, with names like Sleep Tite Inn and Three Bears Lodging and Starlight Motor Inn illuminating the night in flamingo pink and electric blue lights. I imagined the little bottles of shampoo and logoed matchbooks and Andes mints left on the bedside table in towns across Wyoming and Nebraska and Iowa. But we would whir pass to pull into my Nana and Boompa’s driveway in record time. Even if it was midnight, the yellow lights in the kitchen would pop on and, after a flurry of hugs and hellos and hands on shoulders and patting heads, my grandfather would fry up meat, whether sausage or steak or pork chops, and my grandmother would start a kettle for tea. We kids would crack open pops and the kitchen table would expand to hold all of us around into the even smaller hours of the night.
Rocket Fizz stirs up just these kinds of memories of late night reunions and Midwest road trips. The store stocks the stuff of childhood obsession – pop and candy – along with an entire wall of reproduction tin signs. The cold sodas fill three large refrigerator cases, sell by the bottle or the six pack and include modern companies such as Jones Soda as well as the entire line of Reed’s Premium Ginger Brew and an impressive selection of low-sugar alternatives. I generated to the candy, of course, happy to find a huge selection of nostalgic brands such as Twin Bing and Sifer’s Valomilk as well as a collection of that bittersweet bad boy, black licorice, including offerings from England and Germany.
Rocket Fizz 3524 Magnolia Boulevard Burbank, CA 91505 (818) 846-7632
Besides the ability to put away massive amounts of good food, my husband and I share the reading gene, enabling us to lie in awkward positions, beneath dim light, in a noisy room if the story is compelling enough. I sometimes imagine us as kids under the same sky on different coasts of the country, both crouched under the covers trying to fit in one last chapter. Fortunately, our tastes in books diverge so that we are never fighting over my copy of Joan Didion or his copy of Christopher Moore (though we’ve found common ground with Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, and Neil Stephenson).
Andy can be found leaning against the aisles of graphic novels, horror, or fantasy in most bookshops and has found nirvana in horror shops like Borderland Books in San Francisco. Most of these outposts tend to skew to the geekishly cool side, though, imparting outsiders with the distinct sense that they’ve stumbled into a gothic no-girls-allowed tree house. Refreshingly, Dark Delicacies welcomes all, even if your dressed in white shorts, a cabana top and a sun hat with a baby in a stroller.
This sizeable shop houses a full range of horror, from smarty-pants Bram Stoker and Edgar Allen Poe classic horror to witchcraft guidebooks to modern takes by Patricia Briggs and Jim Butcher. In addition, an aspiring pagan lovely can anoint herself with one of dozens of essential oils and Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs perfumes or deck out a home with gothic glassware and plates. Best of all, Dark Delicacies tucks a children’s nook into the front of the store with handmade girls’ dresses, Halloween and monster-themed books, and Jolly Roger-printed bibs. The owner, a writer and editor in his own right, welcomes everyone with a smile and a good story or two to boot.
Dark Delicacies 3512 West Magnolia Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505 (818) 556-6660