I just wanna know if Bran was that horse

I. AM. BUSHED.

Throw your expectations out the window. Let’s see, what expectations can I give you here? We just got back from our cottage, so I might go on about that. Game of Thrones just ended, so I will talk about that [consider this entry to be a big ol’ spoiler. You’ve been warned]. Who knows what else? I’m making it up as I go along, as per usual.

It was bittersweet to say goodbye to the palatial country home that’d become our abode over the weekend. Frankly, I think we were all tired enough that we just wanted to get home. At the same time, getting into a car was a curtain call to vacation. Work was on the horizon (and still is, so you’re not worried about tenses here), and traffic came first. We spent the morning in varying states of busy-ness. The gals all went out on a horse ride with the onsite saddle club. They learned to ride, had a brush up on techniques, then had a little trail walk. As the three guys left at home, we fixed drinks, snacked and generally cleaned as we went. Unloading the dishwasher, clearing people’s stuff out of the various areas, sweeping for anything left behind. We did dishes, took stock of the fridge inventory and also lay back checking out Game of Thrones memes. We had a late checkout and the time to do things at our own pace. As far as cleanups go, it was pretty damn effortless.

Okay, Game of Thrones finale time. It happened, it’s done. We got a lot of contemplative shots of Tyrion walking around the rubble of the city. He also got to have an extensive monologue that seemed built from the cutting room of The Quality of Mercy and any number of wedding speeches that started “Websters dictionary defines _________ as…”. It felt lazy, plodding and overly indulgent. What was up with all the time jumps, going instantly from Jon killing Dany to the small council. You’d think such an action would’ve thrust the remainder of Dany’s forces into some kind of civil war or upheaval. Was it just too hard to write that conflict? It was all a little convenient. With no remaining Westerosi leadership from Dany’s advisors, how did they gather all the leaders? Would the unsullied have wanted to negotiate? Did Grey Worm really have an agenda beyond Jon being punished? All interesting questions that probably got cut through time and budget concerns. What narrative purpose did Arya really serve post Night King assassination? Was it just so her arc of revenge could close with The Hound’s arc coming full circle?

Why Bran as king? Are we to believe that he has any desires and motivation? Didn’t he leave that all behind as the The Eyed Raven? Wouldn’t it make more sense to install someone with the qualities of a leader, and for Bran to provide assistance? Wouldn’t Sansa have made an exponentially better ruler? Or are we supposed to believe that Bran specifically played the game, orchestrating events subtly to bring himself to that position? My thought is that if they wanted the Bran storyline to be truly convincing, they could’ve given him some barely noticable tell when he was warg-ed. Maybe uniquely coloured eyes or something. Then eagle eyed viewers could’ve noticed that he’d been subtly influencing outcomes in the background of the series, and actioning his own ascendance. But the show made him out to be overly passive and dismissive. If the thought was that he’d learned how to climb the ladder of chaos, the writers didn’t make this terribly apparent.

Oh well, it’s over, and we can all fixate on something else now. Failing anything, that’s some small mercy. Perhaps we’ll see Hollywood take a chance on other beloved fantasy franchises. Maybe they’ll finally adapt Wheel of Time and discover the horror of their hubris. Give the nerds (myself included, obviously) something else to complain about. Oh yeah, did you hear the Game of Thrones writers are tackling Star Wars next? This is perfect. I’m sure there’s bound to be no backlash at all.

Wait, so is Arya a WesterWesterosi now?

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I would not last long in Westeros with my Big Dad Energy

*Leon has changed this group from closed to secret*

It’s been a weird day. Wait, scratch that, I’ve been weird today. I don’t know if it’s particularly out of the ordinary for me to be in an odd mood, but my mood was anything but ordinary. I got distracted very, VERY easily. I kept getting different songs in my head, whether it was the Night Court theme, Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” (someone had the audacity to say “making my way”) or Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”. I wasn’t quiet about it in the office. I mean, I’m rarely quiet anyway, but today was quite something. After the “children” I work with (they’re probably sub 25) didn’t get my Charles in Charge reference, I walked the floor polling people on whether or not they knew of the classic Scott Baio sitcom. Most under 30 didn’t.

Here’s some literal dialogue from today:
Me: Look, I wasn’t born when it came out either. That doesn’t mean I don’t know it existed.
Co-worker: Uhhh.
Me: Ever heard of a little thing called WATERGATE? Were you alive for that? Still know it, right?
Co-worker: I don’t-
Me: –Charles in Charge is nothing if not the Watergate of the sitcom world. It had Scott Baio. Jesus, you kids. Read a book or something,

Without a doubt, this is how I get written up for harassment. It’s not like I was being (entirely) serious. I think.

Maybe I’m just in a rosy mood ’cause I’m 24 hours away from a weekend holiday. Friends and I have booked an Air BnB an hour outside of Toronto. It’s gonna be amazing to get away, eat good food and share abundant fun with close friends. I think it’s important to check in before vacation on how people are looking to approach the holiday. Y’know, so you can make sure everyone’s getting the most out of it. I’d done some check ins, and people were on similar wavelengths. Still, there was one question I felt almost afraid to ask. I put the question to the group…

“So, uh. Out of any question I could ask, this is the one I feel weirdest about asking… Do we have any way of/interest in watching Thrones on Sunday? I’d usually be like “we’re away with friends. Fuck TV”, but it’s also kind of the current largest pop cultural product on the planet.”

Almost immediately a chorus of “fuck yeah we are” chimed back. Undisputed. I’m usually pretty hardlined about my use of internet and whatnot while in the presence of others. I don’t like being on my phone when I could be doing face to face interaction. The notion of spending a large portion of our final night away focusing on a fucking television show felt wholeheartedly wrong. But like, what other options were there? The show is inescapable, to the point where its existence and the conversation around it defines internet use in its wake. Fear of spoilers makes certain parts of the internet (ones that I frequent) virtually inaccessible (surprisingly no pun intended). It’s wild. But it can also mean a ton of fun dissecting how it ends. The finale of a television juggernaut like GoT is a huge pop cultural experience ripe for deeper examination. It’s a blast to hear alternate takes, analysis and observations of others who have witnessed the exact same text. I loved watching it in the company of others, riffing on the absurd developments of a show that got way out of hands of its writers. Gorgeous as it looks onscreen, it’s a colossal clusterfuck, and I can’t imagine who I’d rather share that with than good mates.

So maybe it’s not about winning or dying, but how you play the game.

Time to film a biopic. Is the name Ray taken?

I think I’m gonna try and be less negative, so in this entry I’m not going to complain about a single thing. If anything questionable comes up, it’s all silver lining for me baby.

I have nothing negative to say about the Sonic trailer today. It looks like a movie some people could enjoy. It’s nice to see Jim Carrey taking on more projects. Using golden rings in lieu of stars in the Paramount promo was a nice touch. Someone on Reddit made a pretty funny calculation about the real world effect of Sonic’s EMP “boom”, and just how many babies it would kill. While I don’t applaud baby killing, I do applaud applying mathematics to figuring out obscure and odd outcomes. It also stands to reason that from the perspective of the public, after the (probably unintentional) EMP attack, it’s actually pretty valid to see Sonic as a villain and Robotnik as a brilliant inventor trying to save the United States.

A friend posted that Tilt, a barcade here in Toronto now serves “beyond” burgers. Firstly, Tilt is an outstanding establishment. It’s cheap entertainment, fun retro throwback to leisure activities of the past. As a kid I would’ve lost my mind getting $5 entry to all I could play arcade games. Honestly, considering that the other barcades I’ve visited don’t have free play, it’s an amazing deal. They have a bunch of neat little bar snacks, and I think it’s wonderful they’re catering to non-meat eaters in a substantial manner. I’m a happy little meat eater, and I also understand that from an environmental standpoint that’s an indefensible position.

At some stage I assume that we’ll all need to migrate to some manner of non-meat subtance for sheer sustainability. Whether that’s insects, vat grown meat or a plant protein compound, we’ll need to find a way forward that’s not just turning the rich into Soylent Green. I would reluctantly give up meat, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t. If the industry creates a viable alternative that tastes mostly the same and is affordable, I’ll probably get on board. Until then, I couldn’t be happier to see local establishments I adore taking on more socially conscious products. Plus it means I can lure more of my veggie oriented mates out to play vintage vidya games. EVERYTHING is coming up Milhouse.

I got to see the recent Game of Thrones episode without any spoilers. In turn, I promise not to post any spoilers. It’s definitely not a spoiler to say that there were some visually compelling moments that really made my heart race. As far as battles on the show have gone, certain angles made this one stick out. It was cinematic in scope, and it’s made me know full well that I’d have no place in a war. I don’t have the mettle for it. I can imagine that if I was to arrive on a battlefield, I’d faint out of terror and perhaps wake up after everything was over. So I guess that’s positive?

While I’m not sure that I’ll manage to finish Chris Gethard’s Lose Well before it’s due back to the library. While this sounds negative and thus in violation of this entry’s M.O. I really want to profess my admiration for the book and how much it’s already given me. Gethard is a fantastic writer, he’s not patronising and he doesn’t blow unneccessary smoke. He’s very down to earth in justifying not only how important hard work is to any kind of success, but taking into account the function of failure. There’s no part of the book that tells you things will just work out, but it has an accessible tone that helps break down overwhelming concepts into more manageable bite sized pieces. It’s consistently funny, and paragraphs are short while staying laser focused on their subject. If you’re a vaguely creative person who feels inadequate or in an unassailable rut, I profusely recommend picking it up. Even if you only get through half, you can always just renew the book, right? RIGHT?

How was that? A break from my ordinary negativity? Maybe I’m turining over a new leaf, to become a constant beam of sunlight and photosynthesize myself into my own motivational engine.

Spoilers stop cars from taking off. They won’t stop me from taking your head

The internet is a treacherous place to be right now and I’m offering an entirely spoiler free oasis. Why would you be anywhere else?

Chances are, you’ve followed the exploits of Marvel Studios or Game of Thrones for a while. Given that they’re two of the most outrageously popular intellectual properties of the past decade, it seems a safe bet. Geek Culture is mainstream culture. As someone who grew up obsessed with X-Men, it’s neat that the kinds of stories I surrounded myself with are the zeitgeist. Sure, I’m still a nitpicky fusspot and I’m endlessly complaining about them. Still, my complaints mostly belie that I get to put these kind of texts on a pedestal and expect that they’re more than campy trash. I never expected that Iron Man’s adventures would become the purview of film critics. I mean, it’s been said to death, but when Iron Man previewed in 2008 it was a gamble. Iron Man was not a popular mainstream character. Robert Downey Jr. was a massive risk, pushing hard on that rehab revolving door. I never would’ve expected it to be empire building material.

You might not think it, but Game of Thrones was considerably popular within the fantasy reader community before being optioned. By the time I got into the books, A Feast of Crows was soon to be released. The series was almost ten years old by that point, but known as A Song of Ice and Fire. I’m pretty sure there was a Collectible Card Game, maybe a tabletop RPG ruleset. I don’t think the HBO show was the first attempt at putting Westeros’ warring families to the screen, but it may have been the first successful one. I had no idea how they’d be able to translate such a convoluted, character-ridden plot to mainstream success. When I watched the first episode with flatmates, I had to assure them it got better. That things picked up and the show would be worth watching if it could stick the landing. It wasn’t, by any means, an instant runaway hit. Obviously, it got there.

The internet has been trying for the past few days. I feel like I’ve run into nascent spoilers for both Endgame and GoT. These days someone doesn’t have to say much to constitute a spoiler. I made the mistake of visiting Twitter. A rando was all “x actor deserves an Oscar”. Immediately, I’m gonna assume that character dies with a touching arc. The AV Club, Facebook, Reddit, they’re all warzones requiring evasive tuck and rolls. Spoilers could emerge from the shadows unannounced. It’s a minefield out there. I’m even afraid in the office that loudmouths will mindlessly blurt out important plot points or developments. We live in a time of fear, as always, it just so happens that the severity of spoilers is a lot less than most other threats right now. That doesn’t mean they don’t suck.

Why? Why are spoilers such a pain? For me at least, it’s because I’m being deprived effective narrative payoff. Sure, it’s fun to talk about this stuff, but there’s usually a hell of a lot of intention and form placed into making these shows. When a revelatory moment happens, it’s the result of carefully sculpted scenes leading up to it, or dialogue that paves the way for these moments to grow larger than life. Left field twists and turns can define how you view a text if they’re well deserved. Having this taken away feels like a betrayal, because you don’t get to experience the moment as intended. It cheapens your viewing experience, which is a loss. The worst part is, the person spoiling most likely got to witness it unmarred, enjoyed it fully, then turned around and took that away from others. It’s mean, careless and lacks compassion. It sucks when it happens for any ol’ movie or series. It’s even worse when it’s a major pop cultural phenomenon ten years in the making. That’s so goddamn selfish, to deprive another of the way that a text can make them feel, just ’cause you want to have the earliest hot take.

I’m seeing Endgame on Thursday. Dear Internet. Please save your bollocks until then.

It was, in short, a magic gathering.

I think yesterday was the kind of day I’d come to Portland for. A day spent going with the flow and enjoying where it took me.

In a weird coincidence, The Smiths played at least once in every establishment I set foot into yesterday. Which is even weirder because last night I dreamed that somebody loved me.

The last day or two had me feeling a little lonely and isolated. I wasn’t getting a whole lot of social interaction and the connections I hoped I’d find didn’t eventuate. When travelling, connecting with strangers and interacting with people outside of my usual experience keeps me going. What you see when going from place to place makes for a great backdrop, but the characters you meet provide the flavour. Tinder has proven to be a dead end. Without any matches it’s more a time sink where I get to judge a portfolio of people and marvel at what a terrible human being I am. What did work out though, was Couchsurfing. I was terrified of ending up in another meet up where people said “schwag” on repeat for 20 minutes, but I downloaded the app to try the “hangout” function. Simple but effective, it lists people who are actively seeking others to hang out with. It’ll say what they’re looking for (coffee/tea, drinks, lunch), have a link to their bio and show approximately how far they are from you. I saw that some dude within a 3km radius was looking to grab coffee. He was an aspiring audiophile and well travelled guy. I figured I lost nothing by opting in for a hangout. I sent a message and within minutes he accepted. He said it’d take him about half an hour to get ready and suggested a cafe about half an hour from where I was. What could go wrong?

Nothing, apparently. He was a nice bloke in his late 30s. He’d been constantly on the move for the past nine years or so, periodically coming back to Portland between journeys. He’d taught English in Korea, Japan, backpacked around South America and Columbia. Used to work in PR for tech companies, but got wanderlust and had to sate his thirst. We talked about cultural differences in the places he’d visited and how his language acquisition had gradually increased. I mentioned how I’d had trouble pushing myself to meet people. How I’d felt that I’d be interrupting or forcing myself on others who were just looking for their own space. He said not to worry, that if you’re not being a dick the worst they’re gonna say is “no thanks”. He said that oftentimes he’ll just chat with the bartender if they’re not that busy, which creates the opportunity for others to join in on the dialogue if they’re feeling it. He mentioned the difference smartphones have made over the years. How on one hand they’d made it harder to spontaneously connect with the people around you, as everyone was plugged in. At the same time, they were infinitely useful when travelling alone in order to find your way around a new city, figure out events to check out or make online connections for meet ups. I asked him, with all his travelling, what was the first thing he’d do when arriving in a new place? He said that he wasn’t much of an insta-traveller, that he often stayed somewhere for a few weeks to a few months. He said that establishing a routine made him feel more comfortable, he’d check out coffee shops and local bars. Once he felt settled, he’d engage more with connecting to others. We chatted about music, how we sourced new artists and how our relationship with music had formed and changed over time. We talked podcasts, TV and films. He suggested a few places for me to check out around town, some particularly choice food cart pods. After our coffee he took me around the corner to a pod (that’s what they call clusters of food carts, if that wasn’t immediately obvious) and introduced me to a delicious korean pork belly lettuce wrap. It was the size of a burrito, with a delicious spicy sauce. Food carts are so good here. The quality and prices are both unbelievable. Social batteries recharge, I ventured out to Happy Hour with a renewed vigour.

I stopped back into The Hungry Tiger and sat at the bar. Sipping on a whiskey & coke, I noticed someone looking at her phone and picking at a macaroni & cheese. I thought ‘here goes nothing’ and thought of what the Couchsurfing guy said. If the worst was gonna be “no thanks” I could always just go back to playing on my phone. “How’s the mac here?” I asked. She looked up. “It’s vegan and I’m vegan so it’s pretty good. They use better “cheese” than some other places.” That wasn’t so bad. We talked for a while. She’d been looking to move to this part of the country to do her masters in photography. She’d checked out San Fran and was leaving Portland in a few hours. The cost of living here was lower and she was strongly considering it. She asked me if I watched Game of Thrones and lit up once I said yes, so we talked the ins and outs of Westeros for an hour or so. She was 25 and not the sort that I’d usually hang out with, but that didn’t make her a bad person by any means. Frankly, it was just nice to talk about a mutual interest with someone and kill an hour. I guess the Couchsurfing dude was right.

The only thing I’d actually planned on doing yesterday was checking out Tonic Lounge. A bar on the North East side, it hosted a weekly Monday night Magic event. Given my lack of success with events over the past week, I expected to walk in and find the place empty. Instead there were around 20 or so players by the time I arrived. Everyone was playing, sipping on pints and eating bar snacks. The music was great and they had old episodes of Robotech playing on the projector. Since most of the staff were Magic players themselves, the bar extended the Happy Hour specials all night for anyone who was there to game. I had a great chocolatey stout and ordered a $6 plate of pulled pork nachos. I couldn’t believe how good they were. The pulled pork was sweet and tangy. Super cheesy, there was a dollop of sour cream in the middle, fresh bruschetta on the left and picked carrots/jalapenos on the right. Everyone was really friendly and, while experience levels varied, nobody seemed to be outright cutthroat. It was an amazing space to enjoy the game, see some great plays and have fun hanging out. I had such a fantastic time and only regretted not being able to become a regular.

With one and a half days left here, I haven’t got a lot left to cross off my list. How much debauchery can I get up to before I leave?

Oat Brick would likely be my Knight Name.

Hey friends. There’ll be Game of Thrones spoilers coming up later. They’ll be very clearly marked.

Well that eclipse was some kind of whelming. It was neat and all, and the science behind it is pretty choice. In the end though, as a partial eclipse it was good for a minute or two of “ooh”s and “aah”s before walking back indoors to resume unremarkable work. Not to brag (I lied, it’s bragging), but it wasn’t my first. Way back when I was sub ten years we had one in New Zealand. I remember making some kind of shoebox pinhole contraption that kinda worked. I was at a friend’s place and his dad went into the garage to grab his welder’s mask. It worked way better, plus I felt like some kind of 70s sci fi cyborg. Which was basically my childhood M.O.

Fuck it’s great to eat bread again. I’ve been trying not to nosedive straight back into excessive eating, but what I’ve had so far has reminded me all too well of the massive sacrifices I’d made giving it up for Tough Mudder Lent. The cafe I often visit on the way to work has a plethora of baked goods. They’re ultra decadent, like these crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside salted chocolate brownies. For months now I’ve had my eye on these breakfast biscuit things. With no idea what they were, they nonetheless seemed like something I wanted to shove in or around my gob. So today for a treat I got one with a flat white. It was sturdier than I expected, but chewy and semi-sweet. Probably about ten centimetres in diameter and three centimetres high. Some kind of oaty, dried fruit brick. I dawdled along to work with my coffee in one hand, oat brick in the other, bliss in the centre of my being.

*** GAME OF THRONES SEASON SEVEN EPISODE SIX SPOILERS TO FOLLOW ***

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Wasn’t that a shit episode? I’m not trying to imply it was boring in any way, because the show has switched into act three action. The shortened half-season is screeching to a halt and they’ve got a lot of stuff to get done by the time it’s over. I certainly enjoyed a bunch of the scenes we got thanks to the Magnif-Ice-nt Seven grouping of fun fan favourite characters. A lot of cool interactions between characters. I’d forgotten the link of Brienne that chained Tormund and Sandor together. The Jorah/Jon Longclaw scene was nicely handled. Still, the entire adventure was a stupid fucking idea that made no logical sense for the characters concerned. Nobody at Dragonstone thought to seriously question just how shitty it all stacked up on a risk/reward scale (no pun intended, surprisingly)? Just a way to waste a bunch of Redshirts. Also for the first time it feels like temporal complaints were pretty fucking valid. They were surrounded by a ring of zombies. How long did it take a) Gendry to reach The Wall, b) the raven from The Wall to reach Dragonstone and c) the dragons to arrive North of The Wall? I’d wager maybe three or four days at the very least. Did they just stand there in the freezing cold for days? They didn’t seem to have a ton of provisions. Dumb, clumsy writing from a show that should know better.

Speaking of clumsy, what about this whole Arya/Sansa thing? It feels disingenuous to the characters that they would’ve gone through their worldly experiences and not be able to resolve their issues without Arya threatening to wear Sansa’s face. Yes, I get that family reunions have a way of making old dynamics resurface, but that seemed like a flimsy excuse to manufacture drama. Plus Sansa didn’t know that Littlefinger had any idea about the incriminating scroll (I mean, Arya wouldn’t take the fact that Sansa wrote it under duress as a valid argument? She knows how soft Sansa was back then), in that context why would she willingly go to him with information? She knows he’s not to be trusted. Furthermore, Bran is in Winterfell right? And he knows everything? Why not ask him? Is he too busy being aloof and watching Sansa’s highlight reel of traumatic experiences? Good show, but that episode was fucking dumb, clunky and sold out its characters for the sake of expediting the plot.

Still, it hasn’t eclipsed an otherwise enjoyable season.

If I owned an arcade my official title would be Cabinet Minister.

I live every day in the shadow of my past. I know full well that life peaked years ago and with each sunrise, that gets easier to bear. Maybe as the years continue to stack, I’ll discover some shallow reflection of my former glory. Hope isn’t dead. Not yet.

The peak that I so fondly recall was after my brother’s bar mitzvah. Not the service, that was the usual ceremonial boredom. But the after party? My parents hired arcade machines. IN OUR GARAGE. There was Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, Bad Dudes, Ninja Turtles and other stuff that wasn’t the aforementioned collection. When you have titles like those, why would you need anything else? The after party wasn’t even the peak. There were so many people, games were in use and I had to interact with others. There were arcade machines in our house. What need had I of non-player people? If they weren’t engaged in my game, I wasn’t engaged by them.

After everyone left, however, we had another couple of days with the cabinets. My best friend came over and we clocked as many as we could. Endless free play on Mortal Kombat? How could life get better than that? YOU COULD UPPERCUT PEOPLE INTO SPIKES. This was pre-internet, so we had no idea how to do fatalities. Instead, we’d select our characters and hope we’d get to the spikes level. Once we were there we’d swap turns of letting the other player beat us so they could have a go at spike uppercutting. THERE WERE DECAPITATED HEADS AND EVERYTHING. We also beat Bad Dudes a bunch of times, to prove that we were bad enough dudes to rescue the president. These days, perhaps not.

Today a bunch of us all visited the house of a mutual friend. She had a newborn and was planning to fly away to visit family in Fiji. If we were gonna see the kid before he left on an airplane, we had to take the chance. More importantly, the house we were visiting had a fucking pinball basement. I’d read about it in Toronto Life last year and didn’t realise we were heading to the same place. My childhood was dominated by arcade cabinets like our bar mitzvah hires. I didn’t play as much as I watched (and pretended to be playing while the demos were on screen), but I adored the flashing lights and tactile nature of the towering machines. I’d never sunk much time into pinball (outside of Space Pinball, of course). Holy hell, it’s a blast.

This house had a row of 15 machines, all lovingly taken care of. Some with custom mods. A plethora of flashing lights and bonus modes. Of course pinball looks busy, but I had no idea how expansive the games were. It was such a different experience to the games I’m used to playing. There were large pieces that moved while the cabinet shook. On Medieval Madness for instance, if you knock open the castle door and hit it three times, you destroy the castle. The parapets shake and fall down. Hitting a certain target sends the game into troll mode, where troll heads pop up and you’ve gotta bop them a certain number of times. It’s so much goddamn fun. Also having a multi-ball with four simultaneous balls is pure insanity. Most of the games were from hugely popular IPs. Spider-Man, The Avengers, AC/DC, Metallica, Ghostbusters, Tron. The Game of Thrones one was amazing. You could choose your house allegiance and conduct missions against the other houses. There was a miniature pinball table in the top left corner with a dragon mini game. It had cut scenes and bonus balls and so many flashing lights. Stimulation overload!

Awww. I miss sketchy old Yifan’s. Maybe it’s finally time to check out Tilt Bar.