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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Coffee Country – 12

Sip Cafe

Zero Post Office Sq
Boston, MA 02109
Neighborhood: Financial District

Review originally published on Yelp.

Sip Cafe

Some coffee shops thrive off the location, and Sip Cafe is one of those shops. Located right in downtown Boston’s Post Office Square, an adorable park compliments the experience of enjoying a coffee. This shop thrives in the warm season, but thanks to a loyal customer base, they do just fine all year round.

I bought a small (8 oz.) coffee on my first visit. Sometimes a small is 8 oz, I get it, especially when the coffee is quality, which it was. They offer a drip coffee as well as a Daterra Southern Italian espresso, which is pretty, pretty nice. Of course, they have teas and other beverages too, as well as a great selection of tasty edibles if you’re hungry.

Go in, get something nice, and take it outside. Sit in the park and watch the city move and breathe around you. I do that on every occasion, as the indoor scene is hard to adjust to.

Running and – 4

Running and – Routine

If you run, you know about routines. You know it can be important to keep a routine if you want to run harder, faster, longer. Pushing yourself is hard to accomplish without a routine. All fitness has results with a routine. Go exercise more than three times a week, and I call that a routine. Even once a week is the beginnings of a routine, but to effectively pursue excellence, you need to make it a part of your daily life.

The same applies for all good and bad things in life. Routine builds tolerance, endurance, and discipline. Routine keeps life moving forward at a consistent pace. It’s what motivates us to pursue that excellence in all of us. It’s what brings each foot in front of the other, each inhale and exhale, each day and night. Routine is the force that drives me – it doesn’t control me – I control it with my own desires to achieve.

Written by Zucker

October 27, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Coffee Country – 11

Big Bear Cafe

1700 1st St NW
(between N Florida Ave & N R St)
Washington, DC 20001

Review originally published on Yelp.

Big Bear Cafe

As a tourist to DC, I relied on my friend to show me around, and while there, I made him aware of my fascination with coffee. He said to me, “before you leave here, I’ll take you to a great coffee shop.”

Big Bear Cafe is that shop, and I have to agree with him on that. Every bit of the experience prior to ordering reminded me of other truly organic independent cafes across the country. The place feels warm and old fashioned. The casual, intellectual vibe existed both inside and outside, where we ended up enjoying our cups of direct trade brew. They know how to prepare a good cup of coffee, and they do it with a smile.

The coffee was great – strong, well balanced, a perfect pick-me-up after a morning at the farmer’s market. They get their beans from Counter Culture Coffee, a well-known distributor in the area that prides itself on all things coffee. I take that as a promising sign, and the staff at Big Bear agree.

I felt like a regular sitting outside, drinking and chatting with my friend the day before I took off to continue my cross-country trip. I took a button from them that had they’re adorable “Big Bear” logo on it, a memory distilled, even after several future experiences of coffee consumption.

Next time I visit DC, I plan to revisit this place.

On the Train – 19

Redlands, CA

Olive Street

I wake up to an empty home. I clean up and get a call from Barnhart sometime before lunch. He’s coming to pick me up; he doesn’t want me or anyone to be around when Gigi’s mom comes back to the house. I ask him why, and he tells me about this time when she walked in on him having a threesome with Gigi in her bedroom. It’s been awkward ever since.

He takes me on a random drive around town. While on the road, he asks me how wild he thought things would get while I’m out here. I didn’t really know what he was getting at. Before we parked the truck on an open strip of road somewhere, Barnhart tells me that Al Gore bought up a bunch of property in this area.

I had to put the pieces together myself, and despite my comfort in drug procurements, meth is not pot, and your average meth dealer is not a cool hippy-type. They’re criminally-charged, deranged, and insecure.

We’re two white guys with North Face jackets and jeans walking through a suburban jungle. Barnhart walks alongside me with his 64-ounce cup of diet coke, telling me about the nature of fear. He must have smelled it on me… He tries to reassure me by saying “you need to control that fear, and not be controlled by it.” As insane as that sounds, walking together through this dangerous neighborhood, I get the idea.

“Look at the pictures on my phone, and go walk down to that red car over there and see if anyone’s inside.” We approach a corner, and he points to the red car with tinted windows at the end of the street, 500 yards away. I ask him “I can’t go in with you?” and he says “No, but I’ll be quick, in and out, before you’re back.”

I take his phone and begin snapping pictures with it. I lose my fear of the neighborhood as my artistic eye dilates. In this neighborhood, many things are worth photographing. An American flag is torn and twisted up in a gated fence, surrounded by tropical brush, palm trees, and overgrown garden décor. I had just snapped a picture of the American flag.

A man who looks like a biker with black sunglasses on appears behind the fence, breaking through the jungle of tree brush that made up his backyard. “Excuse me; are you taking pictures with that phone right here? If you are, you’re gonna’ stop right now.” Barnhart appears from around the front of the house, takes his phone back, and says, laughing, “Dude, you can’t be taking pictures out here.”

“If he takes anymore pictures, I’m gonna’ have to knock his ass out.” Barnhart’s voice flutters as he says “it’s alright, I’m deleting them.” The biker asks me “what are you doing here?” and Barnhart replies for me, “He’s with me.” I say “I’m just along for the ride” and the biker says, “ride’s over; now get the fuck out of here.”

“Don’t ever put me in that position again,” I tell Barnhart when we get back to the truck. We sit there a few minutes to hash out the last ten. He tells me I have nothing to worry about, because “he knows me.” The rest of the ride was relatively quiet, aside from Barnhart’s reassuring comments about drugs in California.

We go back to his place on Olive Street, and I put on a James Bond flick. Barnhart disappears into his bedroom to smoke his meth. I watch him. He digs deep into the folds of his ass to pull out a tiny ball of saran wrap. He carefully cracks it open to examine the product and sets it down on a book while he shuffles round for his pipe. His pipe looks like a ball lollipop, discolored by smoke and resin. The ball is blackened under a point where the meth is deposited. He picks up the delicate collection of white and drops about a third of it into the ball. He shakes it around to make a small island of meth. He sparks a flame, and before he smokes it, says “you might want to try this, it’ll clear your sinuses right up.” He then proceeds to hold the flame for several seconds under the pipe and inhales a thick cloud of white smoke.

He smoked that little island of meth twice, rotating the ball in his hand, burning all the resin inside. And then he proceeded to work on his website. I lost sight of him as I watched the movie and passed out an hour in. I wake up around six, and Barnhart is still plugging away. Without looking away from his laptop, he tells me we’re picking up Gigi after work and going to a place called Eureka!Burger for dinner. My spirits are lifted; I love burger joints. I also feel less sick, so I’m motivated to go out and make the most of it. We pick Gigi up at the hospital a half-hour later.

Written by Zucker

September 26, 2011 at 8:00 AM

Coffee Country – 10

Stell Coffee & Tea Company

1580 Barton Rd
Redlands, CA 92373

Review originally published on Yelp.

Stell Coffee & Tea Company

This place is what independent coffee shops are all about. They roast locally, and distribute locally. And while I only got a cup of the usual on my brief visit to Redlands, I could taste the quality – strong, aromatic, and full of body. It’s a simple operation they have over there, and they’ve perfected the process.

They roast their beans inside the shop, and it gives the place a hearty coffee smell. It’s an adorably small and welcoming atmosphere, half inside and half outside. Their staff is very friendly. Their edibles are pretty appetizing, especially the chocolate chip cookies and panini sandwiches. They put time and effort into their product, and that’s enough for me to buy a bag before continuing on my cross-country trip.

On the Train – 18

San Bernardino, CA

Before I knew it, I was at the train station in San Bernardino, and Barnhart, my host out there, was ten minutes away with his girlfriend, Gigi. “Don’t go exploring, you’re in gang territory,” says Gigi over Barnhart. “Gang territory?” (It kind of felt like a shady place to stick around.) “Yeah, you know, the Bloods and the Crypts do business out there. Don’t wear anything red.” I look down at my red plaid shirt, and I start to panic. “I’m wearing red. Come find me, now.” Gigi takes the phone and says, “Get yourself inside somewhere. We’re on our way,” and before the line cuts off, I hear her say “shit” under her breath.

I waited at the Doughnut King nearby. The nice Asian shop owner gave me some extra doughnuts with my egg, ham, and cheese sandwich order. It was terrible. I picked at it enough to get my fill just as Barnhart and Gigi arrived. I was so glad to be leaving that area; some kids were loitering outside the shop, giving me funny looks. Barnhart was driving a big white truck, holding a 64-ounce cup of diet coke from Circle K. We had a quick hug and shake, and I threw my bags in the backseat. Barnhart had a ruffled look about him, as if hadn’t slept much lately.

Barnhart used to work in real estate back east, but was originally from California. After a two-month solo adventure in Cambodia that almost got him arrested and killed, he returned home to begin more lucrative ventures. He started a delivery business that covers most of the area, and that has been his most recent passion project. For as long as I’ve known him, he has always worn Berkenstock sandals, in every occasion. Even in the midst of winter, he’d wear those sandals.

The drive was comical. Barnhart kept the 64-ounce cup of diet coke in his lap, and while driving with his left hand, he played the drums with a bound bundle of chopsticks in his right. The radio was not on, but still he kept a beat while asking me how things were going. The conversation was nice enough. On occasion he would drift into a separate conversation with Gigi, who sat in the back. The highway drive was dangerous like this, but I didn’t mind. My eyes were too busy looking out at the mountains ahead.

The Mountains of Redlands

Written by Zucker

September 14, 2011 at 8:00 AM

A Pratt Student Art Show

Brooklyn, NY

Photo Credit - Ben Zucker

Walking into the Pratt Student Art Gallery, I notice a large framed print of a homeless man whose face is obscured by the metallic structure of New York City. “This is one of those pieces where you can clearly identify New York as the geography.” The picture centers the man on a signature example of objective street life.

Perpendicular to this opening piece, an incredibly close profile of a woman’s hands are captured in vivid detail. Their self-embrace is intimate. Every piece in the show has this sort of candid, subjective quality, rich with personal urban narratives. Some are warm despite the cold, and some leave us wondering what, why, and how.

Amanda's Hands

Photo Credit - Ben Zucker

Some of these pictures offer an odd distance between the subject and the viewer. There is no need to identify the subject. An old, feeble hand, decorated with golden rings and a manicure, holds an expensive bottle of prescription heart medicine.

One photo shows a woman emptying her purse on the street among pedestrians and shadowy strangers. That is not what draws my eye. The contents of her purse sprawled on the dirty sidewalk offer a glimpse into her life and culture. Chase Manhattan bank card, iTunes gift card, stamp-set “Get Healthy America” food and fitness cards, business cards and post-its, half-regurgitated out of the mouth of a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag. Perhaps she’s waiting for the bus.

Photo Credit - Ben Zucker

A retail space under construction was once an ATM kiosk, and the last remaining proof of it remains in a window’s wax labeling, almost scraped away, much like the retail space inside. Desolation, destruction, a passive interpretation of future creations that will one day cover up the past.

“I’m only giving you views I want you to see.”

Roughly one foot from the ground, the photographer’s camera captures a letter of emotion and sincerity. The keywords “My dearest… jail… streets… dead or in jail…” stick out. This letter had so much brevity, and yet it’s cast aside, littered and left to no voice, a watery pickup of sewer streets, a dirty home for a dirty life.

Photo Credit - Ben Zucker

A Styrofoam food container hangs motionlessly between the belly of a city trash can and the unidentified hand that releases it. More human interaction exists around it, but only to further illustrate the scene aptly captured in visual clarity. What will happen when time catches up with it, transforming the passive to active?

For more pieces from Ben Zucker’s exhibit “In Between Before and After,” visit his Flikr Page Here.

Written by Zucker

September 7, 2011 at 6:00 PM


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