Sunday, May 31, 2009

La Mina Mañana

I hadn’t packed my usual lunch for the office on Friday and the thought of melted cheese, jalapenos, fresh salsa, crispy corn tortillas and guacamole wouldn’t leave my mind. So I asked one of the secretaries at my office for the name of the Mexican restaurant she frequents that has the roasted fresh jalapenos she has generously shared with others in the lunch room, and she quickly responded, “Oh, La Mina! That’s right down on H Street. Go past Truxtun, under the freeway , and it’s just before California, on the left.”

With nachos on my mind, I popped in my car and headed down H Street. And there it was, just like she said, in a little strip mall on the left. I was immediately attracted by their sign on the corner. The next thing I noticed was Connie’s Kupcake Kreations, just a couple doors down in the same strip mall. “Hmm,” I thought, “I’ll stop there next and get some cupcakes for the office.”

Inside La Mina I had an instantly positive impression. It was clean, felt cozy and well cared for, was filled with the aroma of red chiles, fried tortillas, cilantro, and all those ingredients that make Mexican one of my top three favorite foods (a close tie with Indian and Italian) and, since it was nearly 2:00 PM, there were only one or two people ahead of me ordering.

I eyed the menu posted above the order counter, which was written in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish, but know enough to decipher that nearly everything on the menu contains meat, fish or eggs (I am vegetarian). However, besides rice, beans, bean burritos, tostadas, and quesadillas, the menu did include my craving, nachos, and they’re a dollar off without meat; just my kind of bargain. I placed my order with a handsome and clean cut young man and he verified that I wanted it sans meat. I asked about the roasted jalapenos too. He checked on the cost and informed me they were 75 cents each. I thought that was a little much for a roasted jalapeno but my craving for them won out and I ordered two. A young lady who was giving another customer their order at the pick-up counter looked over our way and said, “They are 75 cents each, or three for 99 cents.” That sold me, and I changed my order to three.

During the short wait I filled up a few little plastic containers with salsa and pickled carrots & jalapenos; then my order was ready. I gave my thanks, went out the front door, and headed toward Connie's Kupcake Kreations. Ten steps out the door and the young man from behind the counter called out to me, “M’am! Wait a minute!” He ran up to me and explained that although he had confirmed with me that I wanted no meat on my nachos, he hadn’t made this clear to the cook. He checked my order and sure enough, the container heavy with piping hot nachos was also heavy with shredded beef. He said they’d make me a fresh batch right away. I thanked him profusely for catching this and told him I’d be right back after I picked up some cupcakes.

Connie’s Kupcakes was an airy and comfy shop, nothing at all like the slick Sprinkles cupcake store I used to go to in Beverly Hills. The glass bakery case displayed seven or eight varieties of cupcakes, each flavor offered in both a gigantic size (big enough to share) and a mini size (2-3 bites). They looked scrumptious, thick with butter cream, chocolate or cream cheese frosting, and cleverly decorated too (I liked the white on white cupcakes with sprinkles, topped with little plastic basketballs… Go Lakers!). Their prices ranged from $2.00 to $2.50 each for the large size, and $1.00 each for the small. Remembering the 16 employees at the office that day, including seven substantial guys, and that 2-3 bites each would just not do, I ordered an assortment of 17 large cupcakes. Red Velvet, Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chip, Mocha with Coffee Frosting (this was a butter cream frosting with ground coffee beans in it; amazing!), Black and Whites, Banana Nut, and I’m not sure what they all were. She gave me the $2.50 ones at the $2.00 price, a courtesy I won’t expect the next time I go back, but one that ensured I will be a returning customer.

I unloaded two big boxes of cupcakes into my car’s front seat, strapped them in, and went back to La Mina to pick up my nachos. They were bagged up and ready to go. I thanked the young man again for catching the mistake and chasing me down . What a huge disappointment that would have been if I’d gotten all the way back to my office and not discovered the error until then! I wouldn’t have had the time to go back for a replacement, and would have been less likely to return to La Mina at all.

Back at my office everyone was delighted with the cupcakes. They tasted like homemade; homemade like my Grandma Kosten would have made, the cake not too sweet, rich and light at the same time, with a firmness that melted in my mouth. They were spread thickly with a richer, sweeter frosting that made just the right balance in texture and taste. An employee who had recently left the company was in for a visit that afternoon and the cupcakes turned out to be a great way to celebrate seeing her again.

Before indulging in cupcakes, however, I enjoyed my nachos. Hands down the best nachos I remember ever having had. Move over and take a seat Baja Fresh and La Salsa, because La Mina gets the honors today. Enough for two to share (I’m embarrassed to say I devoured the entire order), homemade tortilla chips were smothered with perfect pinto beans (no lard), jalapenos, zesty guacamole, sour cream, salsa, melted cheese, and topped with crumbled queso fresco. I added the salsa I had packed in the little containers (I’m big on big flavor) and enjoyed the roasted jalapenos, bite by bite (still warm from the grill). Totally hit the spot and satisfied me well enough I did not need dinner that evening. I think next week I will go back to La Mina and try the tostada.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Crossing the Mountain

Perhaps you've heard that it's hot in Bakersfield. Summer starts in mid May and ends some time in October. Triple digits are the norm. When I moved here last October it was the tail end of 100+ weather. While job searching during August and September I came up to Bako from down south a few times a month and it was well over 100. This heat actually felt good to me. Trust me though, most people do not feel this way. For me, as long as the air is moving, I feel like I can breathe. At night when it seems hotter than the day, I simply keep the AC set at 85 or so and turn on a fan. That circulating air makes all the difference in the world.

As much as I may enjoy (or at least tolerate) the heat, my car (a very well maintained 1991 Toyota Corolla) does not. If it's over 85 degrees or so and if I don't turn the heater on full blast when driving up the mountains, the engine will overheat. The only problem is, driving in 100+ heat with the heater on full blast is a little bit of a torture. This fact makes trips to L.A. less attractive.

And that brings me to what is the hardest part for me living here. It's not the heat; It is that I do not yet feel part of a community. I know it's just going to take some time.

Making that kind of connection, at least for me, is important. Women need to connect with other women; it's in our DNA. We need these connections to feel whole, to counsel one another, to discuss those things our husbands have no interest in hearing about, and simply to chat and laugh together. I miss playing bid whist with my girlfriends. I miss my writing group and the sharing of our stories that brought us all so much closer together. I miss walking down the street in the neighborhood I lived in for so many years, and almost without fail running into a long time friend or new neighbor, and stopping for a few minutes to shoot the breeze. These small things, they are so great really, are often not appreciated enough.

As part of my mission to meet people, I've joined a writing group here in Bakersfield (Writers of Kern). I think this group will be helpful in terms of becoming a better writer and perhaps one day getting something published. I am thinking though of starting a new group, like the True Tales group I started in L.A., that isn't so much about the craft of writing as it is about sharing the small stories from our lives that we've written. Maybe something interfaith, or intercultural, or really interanything. This kind of sharing is such a wonderful way to gain deeper understanding, appreciation, and respect for one another. We can all use that, don't you think?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Amazing Technicolor Dream Date

I wrote this a few weeks ago, after a wonderful night out with my huzz.

Carol, one of the women my husband knows from his office, told him a few weeks ago that her son was soon going to be in a play and how excited she was about this. Her son is 9 years old, the venue was his school’s auditorium (which was all part of their church’s complex), and the tickets were $8.00. He immediately said the he would love to go and see her son in the play, and asked to purchase two tickets. When he told me about it, I wasn’t really super thrilled about making a courtesy appearance at an elementary school event for someone I didn’t know. But, it would probably be a fun thing for us to do together, and I thought why not?

That’s how we ended up, last night, going to a school play to see a 9-year-old boy with a small part singing in the chorus. We arrived at exactly 7:00 PM, show time.

Bakersfield is a strongly Christian community. You will find large, exquisitely maintained and well-attended churches on what seems like every corner. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on So. Real Road was no exception (and I must specify the address because in this city with a population of about 500,000 there are hundreds of churches, a good number of them with this name).

As we pulled into the expansive parking lot, we drew a simultaneous breath. The lot was nearly full. Wow, all this for a small school play? I had been thinking homemade costumes, cardboard sets, and a crowd of parents cheering their kids on. My gears began to shift.

Entering the building, we were warmly welcomed and directed down the hall toward the auditorium. The room, which could probably seat close to 500 people, was completely packed. We felt lucky to find two empty seats on the far end of the back row, which was perfect. We are both tall, we could see well enough, and wouldn’t be blocking anyone else’s view. Carol came over and greeted us and introduced us to her husband Don (who was a scenic assistant for the show) and son Gregory. We promised to cheer when he was on stage.

Looking at my program (4-color glossy pamphlet) I saw that the “play” was actually the well-known musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.” Well, that will be quite something for a group of 4th graders to pull off, I thought. But, looking around the dimly lit auditorium, I noted professional lighting, sound equipment, and 3 stages; left, right and center. The room buzzed with an incredibly high spirit of festive expectation.

The show began a few moments later and any lingering preconceptions I had about this being a small school play immediately vanished.

As we learned later in the evening, every three years the community of South Bakersfield puts on an “amateur” musical production. Sponsored by the Bakersfield South Stake along with R&H Theatricals and The Really Useful Group Ltd, participation is open to everyone in the entire community. Each and every task involved, from set design, set and prop construction, costume design and creation, choreography, casting, directing, acting, singing, lighting, music performance... is on a volunteer basis. It is purely by and for the community. Tickets are priced so everyone can afford to come. The proceeds cover production costs, and probably barely. They offer 7 performances over a period of one week, and then pack it up and start planning for the next show in three years.

The cast of nearly 100 ranged in age from small child (and there were well over 50 kids of all ages in total, in various chorus, dancing, stomping, and acrobatic parts) to the elderly, all who had auditioned along with hundreds of others to obtain their roles. Highlights included a high school senior named Steven Kinnison, who played Joseph. Remember this name! He is a huge talent, with extraordinary stage presence and a voice that is clear, pitch perfect, and captivating. He is tall and handsome to boot. My husband and I made a point to meet and congratulate Steven after the show. If I’d had a scrap of paper to write on, I would have asked for his autograph.

Another favorite was a young father of three, Matt Wheelwright, who played the role of Pharoah (which is hysterically based on another king, Elvis). We were nearly rolling in the aisles. This young man, by the way, had no prior stage experience except for a role in a high school play years ago. Never considering himself an acting or musical talent, he tried out for the show just for fun. He ended up one of its brightest stars.

Costumes were on par with what you’d expect in a Broadway show, all designed by Steven’s mother, Suzanne Kinnison (who was also the assistant Director). Her husband Dana Kinnison created the synthesized music for the production. Steven’s brother and sisters also helped with scene design and other production tasks. This is a family dedicated to the arts!

The show was cast in January. In under four months, after several nights a week and full-day Saturday rehearsals, they pulled it all together.

The only possible reason it is called an amateur show is because nobody is paid.

This is true community theater. It was as much about process (bringing hundreds of people together, creating life-long bonds and memories during their months of rehearsals, stitching costumes, building sets and props, and so on) as about the actual production (bringing thousands of people together for an outstanding performance – each show was sold out – and building community bonds).

I think I’m going to try out for the next one. Watch for my name in lights in 2012.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Tale of Laundry and Buttons

I had been saving up a bunch of dry cleaning because I'd received a letter from the local dry cleaners thanking me for my business, along with a 30% off coupon. I wanted to maximize that 30% with as huge an order as possible.

Winter is over (trust me, it's going to be 105 here this weekend) and when I changed my sheets I thought, Hmm, this would be a good time to get the mattress pad cleaned too (it's wool). I checked the hall closet and also grabbed a couple of wool coats. The camel coat had one button hanging barely by a thread, and another loose button in the pocket. I thought, OK I'll get these all cleaned now, they can sew on those buttons, and then I'll put everything away for next winter. Thus, with the entire back seat of my car filled with a huge bag of my coats, blouses, pants, silk salwar kameez suit, and my husband's vests, plus the California King wool mattress pad, I headed out to Today Cleaners on my way to the farmer's market.

I don't know if Today Cleaners is anywhere other than Bakersfield. They have a near monopoly here. In by 11, out by 4, same day, everyday, even Sundays. The two locations I've been to are clean, in nice buildings, and there's always plenty of parking. Their store by my office has drive up service, too. They provide free laundry bags that are actually quite sharp looking, with your own ID tag. So, when you're in a rush you can simply drop off the bag and run. I like that they have 25% off coupons on the internet and all you have to do is print them out.

However, this day I had a special 30% off coupon.

So I got all my laundry out of the car and with my arms so laundry laden I could barely see in front of me, I made my way through the door. Then, I couldn't understand why there were people all standing in a row behind a glass counter that wasn't there before, and why were there little tables and chairs in there? Then I looked up and saw the sign listing all the Subways. Not quite in the mood for a Veggie Delight, my laundry and I turn around, located the door, and went outside, one door down, to the cleaners.

Being in a bit of a hurry as I already would be barely making it to the farmers market before they closed at noon, I dumped everything on the counter. A slightly round young woman looked at everything and pointed to my mattress pad and said, "What is that?" I replied, "That is a wool mattress pad." She then proceeded to explain to me why they would not clean it... "It's just our policy, I'm sorry."

"What do you mean?" I asked incredulously. "Of course you can clean this. Here, look at this tag, right here, it says, 'Dry Clean Only.'" I felt I had certainly proven my point; after all it was written in plain English on the tag.

"I'm sorry Mrs. Khalsa, but we don't accept these. We've had some of them fall apart." It was clear this woman was not going to budge, and I was in a hurry.

"Well, I've had it cleaned before with no problem, I would be happy to have you clean it and sign a waiver or something so you aren't responsible if it gets damaged," I said, trying to employ the best rhetoric I could muster up.

"I'm so sorry, M'am," she said one more time. "These other things will be ready for you this afternoon at 4:00."

I said, "Fine, then," picked up the mattress pad and bolted out the door. I hadn't raised my voice, but I was a little annoyed and started having thoughts about never ever going there again.

I realized a few nights later that I had left the slightly round assertive young woman at Today Cleaners without getting a receipt or telling her about my camel coat and its buttons that were falling off. I thought about calling and telling her, "Remember me? The impatient woman with the turban who walked out when you refused to take my mattress pad? Could you please sew on my buttons?" but just didn't even want to deal with it. Besides, I'm never ever going there ever again. Ever. How could they refuse to clean my mattress pad?

However, I did worry about the buttons on my coat. The one could just fall right out of the pocket and be lost forever, and the other was literally hanging on 2 inches of thread. And damn, this was probably the first time I had ever thrown out the packet of spare buttons that is pinned inside so many garments.

I ended up bringing the mattress pad to another dry cleaner closer to our home. They took it without hesitation, asked for $24 payment in advance (just my luck, no coupon), and when I picked it up a week later it was perfectly fine.

My husband must have picked up the drycleaning from Today Cleaners, because a few days later I noticed it all hanging in the hall closet. My mind was still stressing about the buttons. Finding the camel coat, I reached up under the plastic and felt inside the pockets. Gone. But, examining the coat I saw that not only were both buttons securely fastened, but someone had taken the time to reinforce the stitching on all of the buttons. The coat looked as new and fabulous as when I bought it on sale at Macy's last year.

I guess I'll be going back to Today's after all.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Saag Blog

Since the early 70s when I used to cook for the Siri Singh Sahib, I've developed a reputation for being a great cook. I've written two vegetarian cookbooks, had columns in Beads of Truth and Aquarian Times magazines, as well as on Healthworld Online. In the late 90s through early 00s I ran a catering company in L.A. called Yogi Eats, and I've cooked so many meals for large numbers of people (the most about 1200) it's hard to count. At some point (about the time I burned out on the physical labor of cooking large amounts of 10 different dishes every week for five years with Yogi Eats) the energy shifted and I now have little interest in cooking anything more involved than sauteed or steamed vegetables with some quinoa on the side. Once in a while I'll get inspired and surprise my husband with an entire fabulous meal.

I didn't make a fabulous meal last night, but I did make some fabulous saag, which is one of my all time most favoritest foods in the world. So, I am going to share that recipe right here, just as I made it last night.

If you would like to try some Punjab Soul Food (the equivalent of greens and grits), try saag with makhi di roti (spiced pureed mustard greens with corn chapatis). Here's how to make the saag. We won't tackle the corn chapatis here, so try serving your saag with some fresh corn bread or corn tortillas.

Siri Ved's Blog Saag yield: 4-6 servings
  • 2 nice big bunches fresh mustard greens, rinsed well and coarsely chopped (it will be pureed later, so no need to chop finely)
  • 2-3 inches of fresh gingerroot, peeled and cut in small chunks
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, whole and peeled
  • 1/2 cup ghee (clarified butter) or olive oil (I always try to use ghee for best flavor)
  • 2 medium onions, sliced/chopped in narrow short strips
  • 1 rounded tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne (or less, to taste)
  • 1 rounded tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground coriander seeds
  • 1-2 medium tomatoes. blanched, peeled and chopped (or a cup or so of unsalted chopped canned tomatoes, which is what I had on hand last night)
  • salt to taste
  1. Put about 2" of water in a stock pot and bring to boil. Add the chopped greens. Then peel and chop the ginger and add the ginger. Then peel the garlic cloves and add them too. Let these boil/simmer together, uncovered, while you prepare the following:
  2. Heat ghee/oil in a 12"-or-larger iron skillet or other heavy fry pan.
  3. Add onions and fry on high heat, stirring occasionally to evenly sizzle.
  4. When onions are starting to brown (after about 10 minutes), make a little pool in the middle. If necessary, put a teaspoon or two of ghee in the middle so there is a small pool of hot ghee/oil.
  5. Add the turmeric and cayenne to the center and let them sizzle for about 30 seconds. Then stir in with the onions.
  6. Add other spices and continue to cook on medium-high heat, stirring as needed.
  7. By now the greens should be cooking down. Pour off some of the broth into the onions and keep cooking the onions in the pan and keep cooking the greens in the pot.
  8. When the broth has cooked out of the onions, add the chopped tomatoes. Stir well and keep cooking on the medium-high heat, stirring now and then to prevent scorching and keep even cooking. You will cook this "masala" (mixture) until it is very well done and becomes unified, pulling away from the edges of the pan. If you still have a lot of broth in the greens pot, add some more broth to the onions and cook them some more, cooking down until thick and pulling away from the sides. (Last night, I had put way too much water in for the greens. I didn't want to just pour it off and lose all that flavor, so I kept adding it to the onions and cooked them a really long time. Cooking a masala a long time is really the key to outrageous flavor in Indian cooking).
  9. When the masala is done and the greens are very done (they should cook at least 45 minutes) remove them both from the heat.
  10. Drain any remaining broth from the greens. Put it in your favorite mug.
  11. Transfer drained greens & ginger into food processor bowl and process for about 1 minute until pureed.
  12. Add the pureed mixture to the masala (you might need a larger pan). You can cook it a little longer to cook out extra water (ideally it is thick and rich, not soupy at all). Check taste for salt.
  13. The saag is done.
  14. Celebrate by drinking the mug of broth (which is delicious).
Traditionally saag is served with makhi di roti. I suggest also or instead serving it with steamed beets and quinoa or cornbread.

Let me know how it turns out!

Monday, May 11, 2009

TV Land

We are on our way to becoming a Nielsen family. First came a phone call a few weeks ago, letting us know we'd be getting a packet in the mail. Then, an over-sized envelope came, along with a crisp five dollar bill. I excitedly filled out the questionnaire, happily telling them anything they needed to know. How many members are in our household? What are our ages, education? How many TVs do we own? Do they all work? Do we own a Tivo? Do we have cable? If so, with which company? Does it include DVR?

I answered each question truthfully, imagining all the while what a thrill it would be to be a Nielsen family, to actually have a "box" in our living room and therefore personally influence our national TV ratings! I'd lived in L.A. all my life and never known a single person who had a "box." Only a few short months living away from L.A. and I have already received a two-page questionnaire! Those suckers in L.A. What do they know!?

Two weeks later, another phone call. Would we be willing to track every single TV show we watch for one week? If so, they will send us a special log to complete and, this time, thirty dollars, in cool cash!! I immediately agreed. Why is my husband rolling his eyes when I tell him this? Does he not understand what a privilege this is?

Then, finally, last Wednesday the big packet came with the special log booklet, instructions, and thirty dollars cash (the twenty was a little dingy, though the ten was certainly fresher). The form was much more complicated than I had anticipated. We are asked to write in the complete name of every single show we watch for more than 5 minutes, the channel number, the station call letters, who watched it, for how long, what age each viewer is (at least that part's easy because we are both 56)... plus there was another questionnaire. Even though this is going to take a lot of effort to complete and be worth way more than $30 of my time, I still envision the prize, the pot of gold at the end of this questionnaire rainbow, the glorious box.

We have two more days to go, or should I say I have two more days to go, since my husband will have no part of filling out the form. He complicates things by constantly changing channels. Some people call this channel surfing. I call it plain annoying. Unable to keep up with him, I simply write in "Inside the NBA," "NCIS," "Star Trek," or anything ESPN for his slots.

I am beginning to feel that perhaps I am not watching enough hours and perhaps if I watch more TV we will have a better chance of getting a box. [Please note that nowhere in any of the Nielsen literature we have received has there ever been any mention of ever having a hope of getting a box. I am certain it is implied, however, and of course that's what this is all about.] I really don't have time to watch more TV though, so I write in a few shows that I would have watched if only I'd had the time. They couldn't possibly know the difference, anyway.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Who's Counting

We're back in Bakersfield after a quick weekend visit to L.A. for the 70th birthday of our long time sister-bid whist partner-seva buddy-yoga teacher-Super Bowl hostess-friend Krishna Kaur. If you know Krishna, your life has been touched by her in a probably transformational way.

It wasn't too long ago that 70 seemed ancient to me, way old. No more. Some of my very best friends are a just few years away from being septogenerians and now another one, Krishna Kaur, has crossed into that decade. Ancient souls, yes. But old? Nope.

You might think now that my age can be rounded up to 60, of course 70 doesn't seem so old to me anymore. That's part of it. But the main deal is that my "older" friends are amazing, vital, wise, and contributing souls. They are internationally known teachers, authors, counselors, business women, spiritual advisors and life coaches who impact the lives of others on a daily basis. They don't look 70. They don't look an age and perhaps it is because they don't act an age. They are who they are.

I hope when I'm 70 I'll be.... no, wait a minute. I hope when I'm 101 I'll be as full of spunk and light as the 101 year-young woman who sat at the table across from me at the party last night.

In the meantime, I'm just going to keep on breathing... deeply.

Friday, May 8, 2009


There are signs now. Red ruddiness, sort of like acne, but blotchy, like blush powder splashed on in the dark. There's a name for it. Brown spots, there's a name for them too. Forgetfulness, to the point I think I may be losing my mind. Wisdom of simply knowing, of being, of seeing the game, the players, the ball, the goal, the boundaries, the out of bounds... and having good seats. The wondering about what still can be. Though the path ahead is not so long, it is broader, blooming, fragrant and rich with possibility. Seeing now, it has been so all along. I am fine with all of this. I truly am. I am fine with myself. And seeing my daughters coming into their own, each so beautiful. Life is so beautiful and is such a gift. So all this, none of it matters, I am fine with everything, and if my mind is not what it was, so what. It is what it is. I am who I am. And that's that. But really, must things submit to the gravitational pull so soon?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Life in Stepford

Perhaps it is just me, but I swear that all the cars in this town are always clean and shiny. I am not proud of the fact that I wash my car less than once a month. Since moving here, I've bumped it up to maybe twice a month, at the Cruise Thru. I feel a sort of pressure to do this. Like there are many eyes on my car noticing that its sparkle is not quite up to standard.

It seems there's an unspoken rule in Bakersfield that you must keep a clean car. I tested this theory. Standing, waiting for my gas tank to fill up, I inspected every other car in the station. Not only were they all clean and looking fresh off the lot, but at least three drivers were busy wiping their windshields or buffing their hoods, making productive use of their time as their tanks filled. Of a sudden, I felt guilty for merely standing next to my car that still had some leaves and "what not" on the windshield from being parked under a tree all day.

The wide streets of Bakersfield easily accommodate the many shiny late model cars that stream down their multiple lanes. Veer out of line (ie, go more than 5 miles above the speed limit, run a red light, or make a "California" stop) and you'll be quickly brought into line by one of our fine city's courteous and plentiful police officers.

In L.A., at large intersections with double left turn lanes, people generally will take the leftmost lane. Anyone can easily gauge that the inner lane has a shorter distance and therefore it is a cinch to be first around the corner (unless, of course, you are planning on making an immediate right afterward; these things are calculated instantly).

But not here. People avoid the inner left turn lane (and many intersections have these). Why? Because the medians on many streets are nearly a foot high and almost vertical. There's no leeway. It's easy to spot the marks made by tires scraping up against these, cutting their turns a little too closely.

This little thing, these assertive medians, is another way of keeping us all in line, in our shiny cars. I tell you, I'm feeling a little spooked.