Pianist, saxophonist, vocalist and dreamer.


The City of Angels

When I first arrived in this city, it was tough. I had been planning this move for nearly a year, but it’s difficult to mentally prepare for the initial shock of a move to a city I had never visited, in a state I had never visited, where I had almost no friends and when I was truly on my own for the first time in my life. The drive in on Vermont Avenue to get to my new apartment at the end of my 1,913-mile journey was smog-choked and a bit unattractive. The apartment complex was not as nice-looking as I hoped it would be (I thought the hallways would be carpeted) and the room was a depressingly cavernous, empty shell like any brand new place would be.

But in any new situation, one adapts. I live in Koreatown, and there are good restaurants and bars here, far more than I’ll be able to explore anytime soon. I was not very successful at my attempt to get piano students before or since I got here, and I am looking for a studio or student referral service to join. (I’m flattered that one such service was “very impressed” with my qualifications, though they didn’t have an open position for me.) In the meantime, I deliver pizzas for Domino’s. I’m normally not too proud to admit that this is my job, but as I mentioned in a previous blog entry, this job gives me a snapshot of people’s lives. And that is especially interesting when my delivery area is primarily in Westwood, the neighborhood of Los Angeles immediately to the west of Beverly Hills. I deliver to stunning luxury apartments lining Wilshire Boulevard, and to apartment rooms that have doors that open directly to an open-air courtyard or even a rooftop (those doors could be blocked shut by a foot of snow if they were in Minnesota.) And, I deliver to UCLA. Occasionally I also get to go to Bel Air. Bel Air has 40-million-dollar houses, and I got to deliver to one recently; it’s on a mountainside and you can see the entire city of Los Angeles from their driveway.

One thing that has become pretty clear though is that the people of Los Angeles are very nice. Very very nice. Unless they’re in a car. But they only really get mad around rush hour, and it’s quite understandable. The traffic is like this: The freeways are clogged at major intersections even on weekends. Interstate 405, which runs through West LA and hosted the O.J. Simpson world’s slowest car chase, happens to be the busiest freeway, and maybe the busiest single road in the United States. There is another lane being added to I-405, which will not be enough. This creates incredible frustration in people who are driving and road rage. But other than that the people of Los Angeles have been quite kind (though they still keep to themselves), enough that I’m going to use “California nice” instead of “Minnesota nice”. They generally understand that it’s not too cool to ask pizza drivers for free food, and are not unduly mean when I’m having difficulties, with one recent exception. (I had to deal with a lot of rude customers when I worked in East Saint Paul… The high school students at Harding High School in Saint Paul were far more polite than the average adult in that area and actually opened doors for me.)

To me, in many ways, this city represents the future challenges of the United States. The traffic and smog are major problems, and make me think that finding alternative fuel won’t be enough by itself to meet our transportation needs. There needs to be a greater emphasis on public transportation, or someone needs to finally figure out how to make flying cars that are affordable. Even self-driving cars, something that’s a possibility within this decade, would help with traffic jams a little bit. The sidewalks in some places are covered with black spots that look like 40-year-old gum. The homeless population in Los Angeles is very visible, with a sleeping bag and a shopping cart piled high with someone’s dirty worldly possessions to be found on every block in this area. I don’t really think I would want to live here permanently, but until Toussaint and I become as successful in music as we want to be, I don’t really want to live much of anywhere else. Though I do wonder if we could make it in Europe first.

My new solo album Five Dollar Medicine is out today! For pictures of Los Angeles, see the photo album on Facebook. I will add ocean pictures when I can get back out to Santa Monica and not have to worry about parking my car, which is difficult when close to the ocean.

Tips for Pizza Customers

I’ve been a pizza delivery driver for a few years, mostly for Domino’s Pizza. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s been my day job for a number of years while trying to become a successful musician. Toussaint pushed me to start teaching piano, and it was only quite recently that I started to think of myself as a teacher and see that teaching private lessons could be a reasonable endeavor, and one that could free me from having to work at a job such as this that I increasingly view as a mark of shame.

When you deliver to people, you see a snapshot of their everyday lives, and you get a sense of how people live in the areas you go to. It’s the kid walking around in a diaper and looking up at you inquisitively while the acrid smell of marijuana hangs heavily in the air. It’s the foreign student living in Seven Corners who has to ask you the value of the coins he’s giving you. It’s the large family coming down to meet you from their crowded apartment in a public housing building, the children looking eagerly at the small amount of food you hold in your hands. It’s the man in Maplewood with a Tea Party tattoo on his arm, talking with me about the night’s Vikings game. But beyond that, I observe that there is a sense of entitlement, a me-first mentality that is pervasive in our society, though I wonder if that is just Minnesota passive-aggressiveness showing through. (Maybe more on that in a future post.) Below are a series of suggestions for if you ever order food for delivery, or even just see a delivery driver on the street.


*NEVER ask a delivery driver for free food, or pretend you ordered when you didn’t. Don’t ask what someone else ordered, and then get mad when the driver won’t tell you. Please be respectful of drivers in public, who have a difficult enough time just doing their job and don’t need random pricks on the street harassing them.

*Don’t ask if your food is free if it takes longer than 30 minutes. Domino’s stopped doing that in 1993, and no-one else does that. Apparently, Domino’s still does that in India, so if you’re in India and you want pizza, go for it.

*The delivery estimate you are given on the phone, or online, is not the word of god, especially online. Additionally, if ordering from Domino’s, you should take the Domino’s Tracker with a grain of salt. Store managers are under a lot of pressure to meet certain service goals that often are not very realistic, which leads to widespread cheating and punching out orders before they are ready. Also, drivers may need to take an order or two (or even more!) before yours, so you may need to wait a while even after the tracker says your order is on its way.

*Things may take a while if the store is busy. It’s often not the driver’s fault. I know that some stores have delivery areas that are simply too large, and upper management has not stepped up and done anything about it as of this writing. What I’m saying is, just try to be patient. Also try not to badly piss off the driver; consider the fact that we know your phone number, your address, and usually your name, and many franchise stores seem to have grown lax in the background checks of their employees.

*Try not to waste the time of the driver or the people in the store, who may have a hell of a lot else going on. Know more or less what you want before you order, and don’t make your significant other order over the phone when you know what you want and they don’t. Talk about it beforehand. Also, don’t keep the driver waiting a long time at the door or in the lobby. When you keep a delivery driver waiting a long time, you not only hold up things for them but you also do so for any other customers they need to get to on that run or on their next run.

*It’s always nice to leave a light on at night if you’re at a house, to make it easier for the driver to find your place and to let them know they are not walking into an ambush. Drivers at any major company will carry less than $20 in change most of the time and are concerned about not being robbed.

*You have to tip the driver. Having the driver keep less than a dollar in change does not count as a tip. Most drivers do not carry coins, no matter what the upper management of their particular corporation might say, so they won’t give you change that’s less than a dollar anyway. It’s kind of insulting to tell a driver to “keep the change” when the change is five cents or 23 cents, though many people don’t seem to realize this. If you can’t include a tip for whatever reason, an apology helps a lot. I would say about 40% of my customers let me keep less than a dollar for a “tip”.

*You are always better off trying to use a special when ordering pizzas. You also should probably not order if you can’t justify getting more than one pizza. After a delivery charge (now $2 or $2.50 at most major chains) and tax, the one pizza you bought at menu price becomes very expensive. For example, at Domino’s, you can get a large one-topping pizza at menu price for $12.99. After tax and delivery, that’s $16.69. But there’s a deal still honored for two or more medium two-topping pizzas at $5.99 each, which works out to $15.61 total for two. You saved a dollar, you got more food and you got an extra topping. Not many people seem to realize how much you can save, even those who know about the deal. It’s also important, and this applies to fast food in general, to think of what you spend on pizza as a entertainment expense, like going to the movies. Never rely on this kind of food as your main source of food.

I hope these tips provide a little insight for you.


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