Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hide Your Money

Place: Panda Express
Lunch: Orange chicken, chow mein, fried rice, veggie spring rolls

Ever notice how orange chicken sometimes tastes like orange, sometimes tastes like sesame chicken, or sometimes is something in between? This is more like a spicy General Tso's chicken, but sweeter. Doesn't matter, because it's DELICIOUS.

I'm looking for a wallet. The change pocket zipper on mine broke. And it smells because the cat peed on it awhile back. The problem is that I can't find a similar wallet anywhere.

The wallet is a Totes model that I got at Totes/Sunglass World at the factory outlets. Well, the one I got it at is out of business now, as is every other one I knew of. There might still be one open in Minnesota, and I'm going up there next week, so I'm crossing my fingers.

It's designed as a checkbook wallet, but has a zipper compartment for change, and it's slimmer than the checkbook wallets I've been finding. I don't use the checkbook part (who carries THOSE around anymore?). I just like having my dollar bills unfolded, plus the additional space for all the plastic I carry (it's amazing how many places I do business with are issuing those stupid loyalty "club" cards).

But nobody has anything even remotely close to what I'm looking for.

I've been to Target. Wal-Mart. K-Mart. Walgreens. Marshall's. JCPenney. The only place that had something vaguely similar was Dillard's, and that was $40. I'm NOT paying $40 for a stupid wallet. Particularly one that's only vaguely similar. I paid less than half that for mine.

This sucks.

Of course, it's even more annoying because I'm running around trying to find one during the last week of Christmas shopping. My shopping's long since done, yet here I am on a wild goose chase for the unfindable item.

And it's REALLY annoying to keep my change in my pocket.

REALLY annoying.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

14 Shopping Days

Place: Salsarita's Fresh Cantina
Lunch: Enchilada platter, crispy ground beef taco, water with lime

You're thinking to yourself right now "Oh great. Another fresh-mex restaurant in a strip mall." And...well...yes. Yes it is. And yes, the other half of the building IS occupied by Starbucks.

The staff is having a difficult time with the television, which has a big funky menu over the picture. They can't get it to go away. Apparently, the problem is that the satellite receiver is somewhere else in the building. So Employee is pointing the remote at the TV and pushing buttons, but nothing is happening. The other employees are being helpful by laughing at her.

"It won't work from there!"

"But the box is right back there!"

"Well try it from back here!"

Other Employee takes a post in front of the TV while Employee wanders the building pointing the remote in the air and pushing buttons.

"Is it gone?"




"Now?" At this point she's standing in the door of the men's bathroom, probably aiming at the urinals.

"I can't believe you went in there!"



They're all laughing hysterically at this point when the menu goes away. Employee comes out and sees this.

"You're not going to tell me what you did, are you?"

It's December 12, and my Christmas shopping is done. Almost all of it was done online and almost all of it has arrived, is wrapped, and under the tree. Christmas cards went out last week.

I am SO far ahead of the game this year it's scary.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Who did I think they were? Hertz?!?

Place: HuHot Mongolian Grill
Lunch: Freakin' HUGE plate of bay scallops with mushrooms and noodles, freakin' HUGE plate of chicken with mushrooms and different noodles, water

So I returned the rental to Hertz last night along with the written violation from the Nebraska State Patrol detailed in my last post.

I'm pretty sure it went in the garbage.

Not even so much as a verbal apology.

I wrote a strongly worded e-mail to Hertz via the website. At least I felt better for venting.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Not Exactly

Place: Golden Corral
Lunch: Golden Choice Buffet (uh, let see...I had some steak, and chicken, and turkey, and salmon, potato salad, clam chowder, chili, some cookies...), water

There's basically two things to look at as you drive across Nebraska...Cows, and highway patrolmen.
The patrolmen are a lot like mosquitoes. They're everywhere. They sit in the medians and look for any excuse to bite. You can drive I-80 from coast to coast and not see another patrol car outside of Nebraska. There was a news story on last night about how somebody came through with a grant to put even MORE of them than normal on the road this weekend.

This morning, the inevitable for anybody who goes through Nebraska regularly happened...I got to meet one. The reason: No front license plate. The car in question? A Hertz rental.

Apparently, Hertz didn't deem the plate necessary. They apparently didn't think leaving the vehicle registration in the glove box was necessary either, but the rental agreement sufficed with the patrolman. I did find a sealed bag full of screws marked "License plate holder" in the glove box.

So the patrolman has me go back to his Crown Vic and asks me all sorts of personal questions. This is sort of a casual interrogation method. The guy clearly thinks I'm up to no good, and he's hoping to twist my words around so he has an excuse to search the car, or worse.

"What do you do for a living?"
"What is your destination?"
"Do you have family there?"
"Why are you going there?"
"Who is traveling with you?"
"What do they do for a living?"
"Where are you originally from?"
"Is that where you're going now?"

"Where are you staying?"
"Are you staying with people or in a motel?"
"Do you have a reservation at that motel?"

Those are not exaggerations. He really asked me those things. And it REALLY bothered me.

I don't think the Kansas Division of Tourism could do more to promote traveling through Kansas on I-70 than Nebraska patrolmen can by making people want to avoid Nebraska completely.

Ultimately disappointed, he gives me a "no-fee violation warning" to give to Hertz for the lack of front plate.

I'll probably bug Hertz to swap cars tomorrow. They WILL be getting an earful from me for putting me in that position.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Place: Ted's Coney Island
Lunch: Coney basket (chili dog, fries, onion rings, cole slaw), Pepsi

Ted's is a greasy spoon in an old IHOP A-frame. People love it because it's local. At least I hope that's why people love it because the food is terrible. I don't even know why they call it "Coney Island". The focus is on Gyros.

So it's here. The new PlayStation 3 gaming system.

The hype has been growing for the past couple of weeks. The usual issues with any new gaming system (except Nintendo Wii, apparently) are being heard. Specifically, the word "shortages". Sony can't build enough of them, but are releasing it anyway.

The news stories Friday were ridiculous. Two armed punks held up a line in Connecticut demanding money, and one guy got shot. A store line in Kentucky was the scene of a drive-by shooting. The mayor in one city was firing a letter off to Sony demanding they pay for his city's police costs in the melee that broke out at a local mall.

The really stupid thing about this is that most of the buyers aren't buying it to play. They're buying it to resell on eBay at a hefty profit.
PS3's were going for an average $1500 on eBay. If people were honest and good and only people who wanted the system to actually play it were able to be the first buyers, none of this would have happened, and few would have been disappointed.

My video gaming history as a child started with a Radio Shack device that looked like a big cordless phone. It had a dial to select the game, which included a Pong copy called Tennis and a few variations with double players and what not. It also had a Skeet shooting game with an included gun. It was ten kinds of awesome.

Then we got an Atari VCS (later known as the 2600) for Christmas. It was the center of entertainment in the house for a couple of years until the Atari 5200 came along. That's the first one I purchased myself. I saved up the $315 it cost (after tax), plus some money for games. A local video rental store special ordered it for me. Over the years, I owned nearly every title ever released for the thing. I LOVED the 5200. The initial controllers wore out on me, but a second pair I got on closeout from an Atari authorized dealer lasted until I sold the thing in 1990, along with my next system, the Atari 7800.

I also owned the first three Nintendo units. Never owned many games for them. The 64 was a complete waste of money for me.

When PS2 came out, I wanted one because all the cool arcade games from my childhood had come out in PlayStation editions as near perfect ports and the PS2's capabilities would make for great hockey, wrestling, and race games. The day after Christmas the year it was released, I was in Target and, as was heading up the aisles past Electronics, I happened to spy a single unit for sale in the video game case. That's still my current gaming system (that original one, which is amazing considering the quality problems that model had initially.) I own a bunch of retro compilations and maybe a half dozen actual PS2 titles. I still haven't completed a whole season of NHL Hockey, and I have the 2001 edition. About the only real PS2 game I've seriously played over time on it is Splashdown.

Considering what I play, and the fact I don't have a high definition television yet, the PS3 serves literally no purpose in my life. Maybe in a couple of years. But I'm a sucker for marketing hype. If nothing else, I want to see what all the fuss is about.

So yesterday at 11:30am, I walked into my local Best Buy and wandered back to the video games section, thinking they'd have a display model and I could watch frenzied fans playing it. Much to my surprise, I found two PlayStation 3's on the shelf AVAILABLE FOR SALE! One guy was leering over one reading the specs, and one store employee was stationed there to watch the aisle. Nobody else around. If I had been so inclined, I could have walked out of the store with one.

The store's demo display was available for play. Some sort of 4x4 truck racing game. It was pretty cool. No more cool than the racing games I have on my PS2. The graphics were sharper, but nothing mind boggling. I suspect it could have been rendered nearly exactly this way for my console. The system itself, however, is BEAUTIFUL. Really sharp looking.

I probably would have bought it if I had the spare funds and an HDTV.

No, no. That's silly. I've already established that.

Sony should appreciate me waiting. They might actually make money on the unit by then.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wag the Dog

Place: Samurai Sam's Teriyaki Grill
Lunch: Chicken Yaki Soba bowl, egg roll, water

Ever had an egg roll grilled? It's not bad.

It's Election Day, the day those of us with any sort of responsibility and lack of convicted felonies vote for the politicians of our choice. Tragically, no government I know of has ever made "none of the above" an option on the ballot.

For the past three months, literally every available local television spot has been filled with anger, slander, accusations, and overall meanness as politicians spew their personal and bitter hatred at each other. Guess they couldn't find anything good to say about themselves. One of the twists that seemed to be popular this year was an attempt to suggest opponents look like they were against things they and their party are absolutely for. Trying to wag the dog, as it were. If it weren't so sad and ridiculous, it might be funny.

But that all ends tonight, and once again the local airwaves will be occupied by commercials for farm chemicals, miracle cholesterol lowering prescription drugs, and Hardee's.

So I headed to the high school up the street this morning to vote. It's an old monstrosity of a building that looks a lot like the professor's house in "The Chronicles of Narnia". It should be interesting because they've been touting the electronic voting doo-hickeys, so it's a whole new process.

Except that it's not. At least not here. I am handed the standard paper ballot and a pen to fill in the ovals.

Not that the old system doesn't work. It's fine. I was just hoping for the latest technological advancements in voting science. To touch the screen and have my vote cast. And to maybe get in a game of Asteroids Deluxe on the side.

Oh well.

About the only thing I can say about our two candidates for governor is that either one can't help but be an improvement over the current idiot, and that either way, they and all politicians are scumbags.

There is no such thing as a good politician. There's just greed and ego.

Friday, October 27, 2006


Place: Ruby Tuesday
Lunch: Ruby's Triple Prime burger, fries, garden bar salad, strawberry lemonade

Ever seen the commercial for the Triple Prime burger? It's a ground beef patty made from premium beef cuts. Therefore it must be a premium burger right? It's a nicely seasoned beef patty on a kaiser bun with a leaf of lettuce, two tomato slices, and garlic mayo sauce. No pickles, no onions, no cheese. You know what it is? An overglorified Jumbo Jack. When Jumbo Jacks were made with mayo-onion sauce. A Jumbo Jack that costs ten dollars.

Not to mention a four dollar strawberry lemonade. FOUR DOLLARS.

I did manage to make a rather tasty salad on the garden bar thingie.

Is it snowing yet?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Farewell, Tower

Place: Perkins
Lunch: Steak and Mushroom Omelette, home fries, pancakes, water

Waitress delivers the food and asks if I need anything. I am unwrapping my napkin, which is wrapped around the silverware, and there's no fork. "Yes, I need a fork."

"You're supposed to bring your own fork. I'll get you one this time, but next time you'll have to remember."

She looked dead serious as she said this too. As did I. Then she burst into giggles and brought me a whole new napkin wrapped around silverware, which did include a fork this time.

News broke today about the liquidation of Tower Records, and I am sad. Tower was once the holy grail of record store chains. They were the supermarket of music.

Think back to the seventies and eighties when the majority of America was limited to record stores that fit in a mall slot. There was a selection of hit albums of the day and little else. Most would special order something for you, but it wasn't terribly exciting.

Tower WAS exciting. Their stores were massive. Nobody came close to their in-stock selection. They'd have hundreds of copies of big new releases at the ready and on sale. They had imports. They had 12-inch singles. They had the most extensive collection of music magazines anywhere (the REAL ones like Billboard). They even carried cool accessories. They were open until midnight. Everybody who worked there looked the part of music freak. No music chain ever reached the cool factor level of Tower. Not even close.

Music buying today has changed dramatically. You can go to online retailers and not only browse, but easily purchase music and download it with a click. You don't have to go anywhere. But Tower didn't just get hurt there...Big box electronics and discount retailers hurt too. Especially on price point.

As a result, people quit going to Tower. And now they're being liquidated.

The sad part is, a lot of people seem to be taking the "Oh yeah, I love that store. I don't know why I quit shopping there" stance.

My excuse is that I haven't lived near one in close to two decades. I was in the Denver store a few years ago. You know what? Something felt wrong about it. It just wasn't as special as it once was. Maybe because it used to be I'd find something amazing quite by accident, and it didn't happen then. Maybe it was price...they were pretty much doing MSRP. Maybe it was that, in comparison to the ease of finding something new online today, it just wasn't that special anymore. I did walk out the door with a purchase. It turned out to be a lousy purchase.

Still, I can close my eyes and see myself in the old Beaverton store, circa 1986, browsing the rock section, looking for nothing in particular, and loving every minute of it.

Farewell, Tower.



Friday, September 29, 2006

Most. Wonderful. Time.

Place: Subway-in-a-Wal-Mart
Lunch: Six-inch toasted double-meat Pastrami on white with provalone, Chipotle Southwest sauce and pickles, Lays potato chips, Coke

Guy Behind Counter is gleefully whispering something about how they're not answering the phone because he's going to be in trouble with his wife to a customer he knows. When he realizes I'm looking at them, he explains the whole thing directly to me. "Dude! I spent $100 on slots and $100 on the lottery! When my wife realizes the money's missing, she's gonna flip! I'd better win something! HA HA HA HA HA HA!"

Guy he was whipsering to: "HA HA HA HA HA HA!"

Other Guy Behind Counter: "HA HA HA HA HA HA!"

Girl Behind Counter rolls her eyes.

We're having an office potluck today. I swung through the Krispy Kreme drive-thru and got a dozen hot glazed doughnuts and a half dozen of my favorite "Glazed Kreme filled". I ate one of each and my face has been twitching all morning from the sugar rush. Ironically, I'm hoping the Coke will settle my nerves down.

Actually, the best thing I've found to soothe the nerves lately is hot cocoa. So one of the reasons I'm here is to pick up my favorite...Swiss Miss Marshmallow Lovers. I have some big Pfaltzgraff mugs (Mission Flower pattern if you're making wagers) that hold two servings of cocoa, and I make it so hot that the marshamallows melt into a creamy liquid that sits on top of the cocoa. Gives it a very nice flavor, it does. Of course, every variety of Swiss Miss cocoa is on sale...EXCEPT Marshmallow Lovers.

We're heading into my favorite time of the year. Cooler weather, fall colors, football and hockey, and Steak n Shake's Halloween milkshakes. I've already consumed three caramel apple milkshakes this season.

Here's to good cheer and smooth sailing to New Year's.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Place: On the Border
Lunch: Beef taco, beef enchilada, cheese & onion enchilada, rice, beans, water

The other day, I saw a commercial for a Pizza Hut promotion where they had a lasagna pizza.

What made it lasagna-like was its choice of ingredients. They took their Sicilian crust and topped it with lasanga-like stuff. So I guess it tastes like lasagna.

I got to wondering...If you're hungry for lasagna, why not just eat lasagna? It's not that hard to get pre-made in all sorts of varieties at the local supermarket at far cheaper prices than Pizza Hut's pizza. And it's perfectly good. Try to tell me your mother made better lasagna than Stouffer's. Riiiight.

Then I got to thinking about all the other stuff made to resemble real foods. Pizza companies seem to do this a lot.

Taco Pizza - A very popular option at almost every major pizza chain. A pizza topped usually with a taco sauce, a blend of cheese heavy on cheddar, beef (usually not even seasoned...just hamburger meat), lettuce, and tortilla chips. Happy Joe's probably has the best one.

Cheeseburger Pizza/Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza - The first time I saw this done was twenty years ago at Shakey's. And they went all out. Big mac-like sauce. American cheese. Pickles. Onions. I think the crust even had sesame seeds. It was awesome. But they hardly ever had it because they kept running out of crusts, which I guess were specially made and shipped. Godfather's makes a pretty good one today.

BLT Pizza - This is limited to Happy Joe's, and is one of those pizzas people are most likely to be afraid of, but I actually like it. it uses mayo for the sauce and is topped in bacon bits, lettuce, and tomato.

Of course, the concept isn't limited to pizzas. There's Jelly Belly, who makes jelly beans that taste like all sorts of fruits, snacks, and sodas. I'm still amazed by their Buttered Popcorn. And there's all sorts of candy lines made to taste like Coke, Dr. Pepper, etc. Again, I'd personally just rather have a real Dr. Pepper.

Probably the weirdest thing I've found along this line is Dairy Queen lip balm. Yes, you too can make your lips taste like Dairy Queen soft serve. Trouble is, it doesn't really. I guess I'll just have to keep eating at a real Dairy Queen to solve that craving.

I wonder what Dairy Queen soft serve would taste like if I ate it while wearing the Dairy Queen lip balm...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Organic in a Box

Place: Church's Chicken
Lunch: Original thigh, spicy thigh, biscuit, water

Frowning counter guy: "Dez spicy ez no cook. Take three minute. Okay?"


Some Girl is having a close and intent conversation with Some Guy in the dining room. She looks at me as I approach the dining room like she's nervous I'm going to sit within earshot. So I sit as far away as possible. I think they're breaking up. No...I think she's trying to convince him to commit. Maybe she's trying to talk him out of robbing the place. She's getting nowhere for sure. He keeps grinning (nervously) and acting silly, trying to diffuse the situation.

The chicken is fresh and hot. Holy CRAP is it hot! Yow. But yummy.

Spotted today in Whole Foods Market: Organic macaroni and cheese in a box. Organic macaroni and POWDERED cheese in a box.

Now I realize it's technically possible and perfectly logical, but doesn't it seem like a bit much to be marketing a powdered mac and cheese as organic?

(Somewhere, a Whole Foods executive is thinking "Not if it sells. And BOY does it sell! Hee hee hee!")

Whole Foods is awesome. They have amazing produce and seafood departments, interesting and unusual things found nowhere else (did you see the "Unwrapped" that featured IZZE soda...100 percent carbonated fruit juice? Whole Foods sells it), and their store-brand "365 Organic" stuff is reasonably priced. I started messing around with the organic label stuff (365 and Safeway's "O Organic" line) about a year ago, and found some of it just tastes better than the non-organic counterpart I've used previously. Plus, the organic stuff tends to come out slightly ahead on the "Nutrition Facts" label. So I actually do shop Whole Foods intentionally, and go there with a shopping list.

But organic mac and cheese in a box?

Now that I think about it, I should have bought some and tried it.

Next time.

What's the deal with 7-Eleven marketing a vanilla Slurpee colored purple? That's just wrong. And what kind of 7-Eleven has eight active Slurpee flavors and not one of them are cherry?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Great Conversion

Place: Quiznos
Lunch: Double stack pastrami on white with ranch instead of mustard, chocolate shake

Quiznos apparently has shakes now. At least here. That's odd. $2.99 for a cup about the size of their medium drink. Too chocolaty for my taste. Not bad, I guess, but not worth the money.

This has been a long time coming. I've kind of been on the border of doing this for a few years now. It's probably been inevitable, but I've finally taken the big step and made the leap.

I'm converting my VHS tape collection to DVD.

This is no small feat. I have three large storage containers full of tapes. A couple hundred or so. When all is said and done, I figure those containers will be replaced by a single CD/DVD case that can sit on my desk.

I picked up a cheap combo DVD/VHS recorder...a $179 Magnavox...and a 50-pack of Phillips DVD+R's. I went home and read the instructions. One of the points stressed was to use certain brands of writeable media. Phillips was NOT on the approved list, which is stupid because Phillips-Magnavox is the same company.

There's actually several choices for writeable media in the DVD recording world. There's the one-time permanent DVD-R and DVD+R, and there's the rewriteable DVD-RW and DVD+RW. The difference between the "-" and "+" versions apparently involve faster write times and greater edit flexibility. Or something. I had to Google that to find out.

Anyway, my player takes them all, so it's all good. What I've found it DOESN'T play very well is some studio movie DVD's. I fired up "Sons of Provo" (which, by the way, has one of the most creative DVD menus ever) and got a big blocky mess. It also doesn't pass DTS, so my old DVD player will also remain in my equipment mix.

Doing the dubs can be as simple as putting a blank DVD and a recorded tape into the machine and hitting a single button. It just dubs exactly what's there. The recommendation, however, is that you start the tape and hit the dub button at the point you want to start the copy. That not only gives you a cleaner starting point on the DVD, it gives the auto-tracking function time to set the tape tracking. But once it's going, I can just let it run in the background with no need to even watch it while it dubs. So on a good weekend, I can dub a dozen two-hour tapes while doing or watching other things.

It's been a couple of years since I've even had a working VCR. My old one, which I bought at Dayton's at the very end of the days they sold electronics, died and was never replaced. After a couple of years of watching nothing but digital broadcasts and native DVD's, I have to say...VHS sucks. It just looks AWFUL. It didn't help that my VCR did a relatively poor job of recording things in the first place. The stuff I'm dubbing that was recorded on it looks terrible. The stuff I'm dubbing that was recorded by others doesn't look nearly as bad.

The project has actually turned out to be less of a burden than I initially imagined. For one thing, I'm finding tapes of shows that have since been released on DVD anyway, so I won't bother dubbing those. I'm also finding tapes of shows I can't imagine WHY I recorded at all. Does anybody even REMEMBER "Pointman"? Or "Marker"? Or the 1993 short-lived (four episodes) redux of "Route 66"? (Actually, I'm keeping the Route 66 shows...)

That's another thing...The number of things I recorded and never, ever watched again. What's up with that? I suppose it made sense at the time because the majority of my tapes were recorded before DVD existed and in the days of 36-channel cable TV systems. There was much less stuff on the air, and it didn't air nearly as often.

All told, I'm guessing about half my tape library will be simply thrown away without being dubbed at all.

If I really want to get fancy, I can record to a +RW, upload it on my PC, and use editing software to take out commercials, set chapter breaks between segments, and make snazzy menus. I've played with that a bit and have actually completely edited a couple of programs. Seems like a lot of work to do regularly. Besides...Most shows you'd want to save today can be purchased in box sets in far better quality than you'll ever do yourself at home. But there is one unexpected side benefit...The stuff I edit and burn on the PC will actually play on my old DVD player. The stuff burned and finalized on the recorder won't.

Of course, I also now have the ability to record programs off the air again (to VHS OR DVD, actually). Not that I'll use it much...I haven't had that ability since my old VCR died, and I didn't really miss it.

Anyway, The Phillips brand DVD+R's didn't have any problems in the Magnavox at all. I've gone through nearly all the original DVD+R's. I need to go buy more.

I need a new Sharpie too.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Shiny New Supercenter

Place: Buffalo Wild Wings
Lunch: Ribs & Tenders, buffalo chips

Fourteen different sauces and they don't have Ranch? Oh, they DO have Ranch? What? I have to pay EXTRA for it?!?

A shiny new Wal-Mart Supercenter opened on the west side of the metro this week. The whole west side has had to share a Wal-Mart for the past decade. A really crappy, dirty, cramped Wal-Mart.

It opened in the early 1990's as a regular Wal-Mart and later remodeled into a Supercenter. It's the busiest Wal-Mart I've ever seen...there's more people in there at three in the morning than most Targets at three in the afternoon. The "traditional" part of the building is pretty much the same as it was before expansion. Lots of merchandise packed into narrow aisles. Anything requiring staff assistance is handled slowly. I once was quoted a half hour for getting tires installed and left five hours later...the tire department guy refusing to even look at me the whole time. The seafood counter was never regularly manned. People working in the bakery would repeatedly be heard on the intercom calling for somebody to help the line of customers at the seafood counter...a problem they solved by getting rid of the seafood counter completely. Checkout lines were always understaffed, which Wal-Mart is apparently trying to solve by phasing out human checkers in favor of self-checkouts. Self-checkouts that don't work very well (and I've used self-checkouts at other Wal-Marts without problems). The property is, for all intents and purposes, an island. Their parking lot is accessable via a bridge entry from the main road or you can sneak through a path between two strip malls north of the neighboring Sam's Club. Either way ends up at the same two-lane four-way intersection. Don't even get me started on that. What are they going to do about that? Get rid of the parking lot? And don't even get me started on the customers. I have no idea where they come from but you don't see them anywhere else around town. Maybe they just inhabit the store full-time. That would certainly explain the foot traffic.

So I've traveled twenty miles to the other side of the metro for my Wal-Mart needs for the past few years.

Not anymore.

The new store has easy access, wide aisles, and not a single self-checkout in the building. And most of the hypocritical snobs who live there and complained about Wal-Mart coming in at all seem to be shopping there now.

Based on what I see in the parking lot of the other store, they're just as busy as ever.

Fine with me.

Monday, July 17, 2006

School No Way

Place: Taco Bueno
Lunch: Combination platter (Bueno Chilada, taco, rice, beans, chips), chicken taquitos, more tacos, water

It sounds like a lot of food, and it was. But it's not my fault. I didn't order the extra tacos. The girl who made the order must have misread "taquitos" as "tacos" (the taquitos come in pairs) and made two tacos. Then she realized her error and made taquitos. Then she just gave me the tacos because...well...they were made. And I just ordered the taquitos to try them. Really.

But as they say in the advertising...it's more bueno. So I ate everything. Yes I did. And the taquitos came with a cheese dipping sauce, which I mixed with hot sauce from the salsa bar and poured on the chips. That plus the guac and sour cream that came with the platter equaled some TASTY nachos.

We are roughly halfway into what's known as "summer vacation" for the school going folk. I hated school. Absolutely hated school. Particularly from the fourth grade forward. And to this day, I hate back to school sales. I CRINGE when I see them.

Sunday, I saw the first back to school sale of the year. Wal-Mart, running a campaign called "School Your Way", has rolled out the glue and crayons.

Kids have barely been supporting the local pools a month and a half and Wal-Mart is trying to usher them back to math books, bullies, and homework (because teachers aren't smart enough to teach kids in their own alloted time. They have to cut into their personal life as well.)

Does anybody at any school age even USE glue and crayons now? I'm pretty sure even kindergarteners have gotten so computer savvy, they can type better than high school typing students could 20 years ago.

Back to school sales should be outlawed until the last weekend before school starts.

Which in these parts is a week too early anyway.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


Place: Red Robin
Lunch: Barbecue burger, steak fries, chili, "Freckled" lemonade

I haven't been to a Red Robin in a decade or more. I remember them having ridiculously slow service and ridiculously high prices.

I remember correctly.

Burgers start at $7.99. Eight bucks for a BURGER. I don't care if it comes with unlimited steak fries (which translates to around 13 on the plate and more if you demand later). Strawberry lemonade is $3.99. It's a buck higher than a cup of chili. This is "cinema snack bar" bad. Red Robin makes Fuddruckers and Fatburger look like relative bargains.

Having said that, everything IS really good. There's a reason this place is as busy as it is. And I suppose if you just had a bowl of chili and water, you could get out of here for around $5 instead of the $20 I dropped after the tax and tip. A generous tip, mind you, but I couldn't wait around for change. I've had cheaper lunches at the Cheesecake Factory.

And what's with this "How do you want your burger cooked" crap? The guy a table across from me was asked this, ordered his burger "medium", and that's what he got. A pink center. He freaked out. "This is raw hamburger!" he exclaimed to the manager, who comped him, even if it IS what he ordered. Debate e-coli all you want...Even if there is minimal risk, a public terrorzied by the media doesn't want pink hamburger meat.

Ever notice that you can order chili at five different restaurants and have the results be five completely different tastes and textures?

It hasn't rained a day since last week's office lunch. Figures.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

First Day of Summer

Place: The Office
Lunch: Hamburger, bratwurst, potato salad, cookie, water

Being the first day of summer and all, the company decided to throw a catered outdoor lunch. This is the third company function of the year. The first one was delayed due to weather. The second one was moved indoors due to weather. But it's been sunny, hot, and dry for weeks. What could go wrong on the first day of summer, right?

So yesterday as the sky disappeared over a thick dark layer of clouds, I heard one of the organizers say "The forecast calls for showers tomorrow afternoon."

Co-organizer says in a flustered tone "You know, it's been dry for HOW long? The ONE day it has to rain!"

The lunch went on. It rained about an hour in, but we survived. We had a big tent anyway. My department sat together, as did most departments. This frustrated at least one organizer who kept saying "You're supposed to MINGLE! Get to know your co-workers!" Yeah. They already know me and mostly hate my guts, except when they need something from me.

One of today's perks was an encouragement to "dress festive" and shorts would be allowed. People are wearing shorts and sandals to work today.

Some of them maybe should have re-thought that decision.

Mmmm. Good cookies.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Miracle of Breadless Pizza

Place: Fuddruckers
Lunch: 1/2 lb Original burger, chili, chocolate shake

Several years ago, I heard the news guy on a morning radio show tell the feel-good story of an elderly man who had walked out of a restaurant without his briefcase, which contained his six-figure life savings. He apparently didn't believe in banks. His server noticed and returned every penny to him. The guy hosting the morning show commented..."If he wanted to lose all his money in a restaurant, he should have just dropped his family off at Fuddruckers."

Fuddruckers is a pricey hamburger joint that looks much better on paper than in execution. You order from a menu board, choosing from 1/3-to-1 pound hamburgers and other sandwiches that include buffalo and ostrich burgers and chicken sandwiches. They give you a pager, you come back when it goes off, get your sandwich, go to the topping bar, and top it yourself. They hype fresh ingredients both on the topping bar and otherwise. They bake all their buns on site.

This is my first time at one. Beef was plain, dry, and hardly seasoned. The liquid cheddar cheese on the topping bar wasn't very good. The chili was...okay. The fresh-baked garlic bread piece that came with it wasn't. The milkshake was pretty good, but not great. It was all pretty plain. $12 for the whole thing won't exactly bankrupt anybody, but I can do a whole lot better at Steak n Shake for that or less.

I might come back and try the chili dog.

The host of a completely different morning radio show has been hyping an invention of his all week. It's a pizza with a crust entirely made of cheese.

No bread. Cheese.
He has big ambitions of marketing this.

Admit it...You're as curious as I am.

They debuted today in "ready-made for home baking" format at a single supermarket. There was a small crowd looking at them and discussing the idea of a pizza with "no crust" (which is wrong...there IS a crust, it's just not made out of bread), but nobody seemed courageous enough to actually buy one. Screw that. I'm getting one. I grabbed a Pepperoni and headed for the checkout.

Checkout Girl with a name tag called Sarah beckoned me over because nobody's at her line and she's cool like that. I gave her the $7.99 pizza and a twenty dollar bill. She said "This is all anybody's buying and everybody's been giving me twenties" with a smirk. She had to open a batch of fives wrapped in plastic. "I'll have to give you fives, and you'll have to wait while I get these open." She finally got them open. "Cool! These are brand new!"

She gave me my change, and I said "Thank you, Sarah." And she said "Thank you, Brown Shirt Guy."

The pizza itself looks like an ordinary pizza with a crust that might have been partly pre-baked....maybe closely toasted from the top. The crust has a sort-of breadlike quality to it, but there's no flour listed in the ingredients. It's topped like any other pizza...sauce, cheese, and toppings. The top listed ingredient: Pizza cheese. As such, expect it to be fatty. The nutrition facts list states a single serving contains 14g saturated fat, 70 percent of your daily recommended limit. A full pizza equals "6 servings". HA HA HA HA! You KNOW I'm eating the whole thing. Tragically, it's topped in the same sub-par grocery store pizza toppings the store uses on all their in-store made pizzas. The proprietary part apparently only applies to the crust. Actually, I question whether or not the crust ingredients were part of the list at all.

The thing doesn't take long to bake....five to eight minutes. You have to put it on the high rack in your oven ("at least eight inches from the heat element" say the instructions) and you have to let it sit for five minutes after it cooks. Then cut it and serve like any other pizza.

It was a little weird pulling out the first piece, because the bottom side suddenly FELT like cheese. But the piece slid out onto a plate okay and could be held in your hand. The pieces are droopy. The texture would best be described as "greasy pizza". It's soggy, but it holds together. The only crunch is the outer crust edge, so if you like a crisp, crunchy pizza, stay away. You can fold pieces if you wish with fine results.

I suppose the key to pulling this off was finding the right cheese. I'm tempted to mess around with the concept and figure it out for myself, but I'm a pretty big fan of my existing crust recipe anyway.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hi! Welcome to Ci Ci's!

Place: Ci Ci's Pizza
Lunch: One buffet, water

Ci Ci's has arrived on the west side. We've had one on the east side for a year, but the new store makes Ci Ci's "lunch accessable". HOORAY FOR PROGRESS~!

For the uninitiated, Ci Ci's is the king of the cheap pizza buffet. For $3.99 (plus $1.39 for a drink), you get all you can eat cheap pizza, pasta salad, breadsticks, and dessert. The employees put on a happy attitude and shout a lot, like when you walk in the door and somebody says...

"Hi! Welcome to Ci Ci's!".

In case you didn't get the point, the entire staff repeats. "Hi! Welcome to Ci Ci's!"

Nervous Counter Girl doesn't know what else to say as I approach the counter and say "One buffet and one drink, please." So she says "Are you familiar with our buffet?"

"Yes," I say.

"Oh. Would you like a drink?"


It turns out the $3.99 price I'm used to is actually $4.49 here. So I stand corrected.

Anyway, she rings me up and says "$6.23". I hand her $6.27. She takes my money, nervously puts it in the register, and doesn't give me a nickel. She gives me a receipt, though. Then she looks down at a script she's hidden below the register and says "Oh...uh...because you're one of our first one hundred customers you get this card which you may present for a free buffet once a week for the next...y...year."

Then she looks up as if she is begging for help.

So I say "Sweet!" in my best Napoleon Dynamite. She Who Runs the Front, who has slid up next to Nervous Counter Girl, giggles. Then she notices the $5 bill sitting next to the cash register.

"Whose is that?" she asks Nervous Counter Girl.

It's theirs. It's the one I handed her. She forgot to put it in the register. But Nervous Counter Girl has no idea, and she's locked up like Windows Millenium Edition with a look of sheer terror on her face as she stares at the stray fiver.

I assure She Who Runs the Front it's theirs and move on.

Supercute Blonde is...uh...I think she's counting the salad plates. She picks one off the top, puts it in a new pile. Picks another one off the top, puts it in a new pile. I have no idea what she's doing, to be honest.

"You should try the macaroni and cheese pizza," she says, still moving plates.

"I've had it," I say.

"What did you think?"

"It was okay."

"Oh. Well, if you need anything, please feel free to..."Hi! Welcome to Ci Ci's!"

Another customer just walked in.

The salad bar is a moot point unless you're into salad. Except if you want a cup of ranch sauce for dipping the cheese breadsticks in. Ci Ci's has the best cheese breadsticks in the free world. You could come in for the buffet and eat nothing but them and be happy. I dip them in the two pasta sauces ("red" and "white"). I don't actually get any pasta.

The pizzas are cheaply built but fabulous. There's traditional red sauce that's a lot like Little Caesar's and..."Hi! Welcome to Ci Ci's!"...a garlic sauce for certain pizzas like their chicken one. There's an occasional specialty sauce like barbecue and taco too. There's a deep dish pizza that also dips well in the sauces. In the unlikely event you can't find a pizza to your liking, ask. They'll make a new one to your specs. And for dessert, there's a cinnamonish-caramelish roll that's to die for, an apple crisp of some sort, and..."Hi! Welcome to Ci Ci's!"...brownies.

Ya. It rules.

He Who Owns the Joint is looking out the window for his three stooges who he has stationed along the road with signs pointing drivers inward. It's very windy out. An employee is standing next to him asking "Where's Charlie? Is his shirt blowing up? I wish I brought my camera."

They're both snickering about them being out there in the gale force winds.

"Hi! Welcome to Ci Ci's!"

"How is everything?" Supercute Blonde asks.


"Well, my name is Supercute Blonde. Just let me know if you need anything."

She's like the third employee to say that to me.

"Hi! Welcome to Ci Ci's!"

Four high school students are being explained the free buffet for a year deal. They've clearly hit the motherlode. An old hobo-looking dude is asking several ridiculous technical questions about his buffet card, and the guy he's asking..."Hi! Welcome to Ci Ci's!"...has no idea how to answer him.

"Need any plates taken away?" asks Supercute Blonde.

"No, I'm fine."

In fact, I'm about full. I finish my plate and open the exit door. And all the employees shout "Bye! Thanks for coming!"

Bye. Thanks for having me.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Shaken Movie Syndrome

Place: the old spaghetti factory
Lunch: Pot Pourri (spaghetti with portions of meat sauce, mushroom sauce, clam sauce, and mizithra cheese), strawberry lemonade

Server: "Have you been to The Old Spaghetti Factory before?"

Me: "Yes, but it was in Portland in the 1970's."

Server: "Well! Welcome back."

It was 1973, actually. I was seven years old. It was my best friend's birthday party dinner. I got him a gumball machine, if I remember correctly. Actually, I'm pretty sure he hated my guts all along, but who else could he hang out with? I once won his sister a live mouse in a bingo game at school. Really. She begged me to let her have it.

The Old Spaghetti Factory is a national chain now, and my return was long overdue. The "Pot Pourri" sampler is actually on the dinner menu, but the lunch menu isn't offered Saturday or Sunday so it's fair lunch game. I think I'll have to try the lasagna or the meat lover's treat next time.

I saw "United 93" today and I still have a headache. The film was shot with handheld cameras with extra shake. I was basically sick by the time the stupid movie was done, even though I shut my eyes through a significant part of the movie. I wanted to drag the director to Home Depot, stick his head in the paint shaker, and fire it up.

Too bad. The movie otherwise seemed pretty good.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Lucky Number 12A

Place: In-N-Out Burger
Lunch: Three-by-three (no tomato), fries well done, water

The last time I flew was in 1988.

The reason I haven't flown since has nothing to do with problems related to flying. I just enjoy driving and, for my purposes, flying hasn't exactly been practical. But for the past few years, I've been looking for an excuse to fly, just to experience it again. When planning my Spring/Summer vacation, a great fare to Las Vegas fell into place with my plans. I could fly to Vegas, drive to Utah, spend several days, drive back to Vegas, hang out for a couple of days, and fly back. Awesome.

Flying is a whole different game today. Service is limited, baggage size is smaller, and airport security is a whole different animal. I did a lot of reading about what to expect. Turned out to be a whole lotta hype. Aside from having to sit around for two hours before the plane arrives, everything worked out smoothly. People sat around occupying their time in various ways. Many read. One young woman watched a movie on her laptop. Another spent the entire time on the phone. One excited little girl clutched her "Build-a-Bear", which had its own carrying case, as she talked about planes with her mother and expressed her excitement for her first flight.

The plane was low-rent compared to my previous flying experience. The MD-80 felt more cramped than the old 727's and 737's I'd flown on previously. The seats were blue vinyl. There were rubber floormats. It looked like it was built so that the cleaning crew could just come in with a hose and go nuts.

Boarding was quick and easy, even though the plane was packed. There was a large group of young adults who described themselves as a "Las Vegas bachelor party". A co-ed bachelor party, apparently. They had others coming in from other cities too. When the Captain got on the P.A. and announced the expected temp of 98 in Vegas, the group shrieked in delight and applause. Captain said "Okay! That must be the group planning to be poolside this afternoon." That got another "Wooooooo!" from the crowd, then they broke out a "VIVAAAAAA LAS VEGAS!". Somebody in the group said "This plane is going to HATE us!" They actually weren't any trouble at all. They had quite the poker game and the flight attendants seemed to be having lots of laughs with them.

My window seat and a clear day gave me an excellent view of the ground from 32,000 feet. For the most part, our flight path followed major interstates. I marveled at how towns it took hours to get to by car whizzed by every few minutes. I could get used to this. Our witty Captain noted "It should be a clear day as we fly over the Rockies and Utah. Of course, we're over Nebraska right now, so there's really nothing to look at."

I was seated next to Heidi from Albert Lea, MN, who was flying with her parents for a weekend family get together. Heidi is married with children but Husband and Kids weren't along. I knew all this because of conversations she had with her parents, who were sitting behind us. She mostly kept to herself and read some offshoot Da Vinci analysis book with her iPod Mini on. She didn't speak to me at all until the big drawing.

The "drawing" was a money pool created out of one dollar bills contributed by the passengers. In the spirit of our destination, the flight attendants collected one dollar bills that passengers had written their seat numbers on. Then they would draw one and the person with the seat number on the dollar won the pot. Heidi said "My friend won this on another flight. She was so excited!" So I threw one in too, if for no other reason than to emotionally support Heidi.

The flight attendants announced that Brianne would be doing the drawing. Brianne was the little girl with the Build-A-Bear. The woman seated in front of us told us Brianne won her trip through her local 4-H. Brianne was having quite an adventure.

She drew the winning dollar, and Flight Attendant said "Okay, now we TOLD you to put your seat number on these!" No seat number was written on the bill. Brianne drew again.

Flight Attendant: "If you are on the right side of the aircraft...Maybe you'll have better luck in Vegas."

Right side: "Awww."

Flight Attendant (complete with dramatic pauses): "And our winner is...in seat A...row...12!"

Everybody erupts into applause for Seat 12A. Especially Heidi, who shrieked as she turned to me and started bouncing up and down.

Because *I* was in 12A.

Brianne and Flight Attendant appeared in the aisle with a garbage bag full of ones. Flight Attendant introduced Brianne and with no amount of subtlety insinuated she desevered a bit of the pot for her good work. I agreed and reached into the bag to hand her some bills, but somehow only managed two. So I reached in for more as Brianne started walking away and Heidi was trying to stop her and Flight Attendant was saying "Oh come on!" I got her many more ones...almost more than she could hold...and BOY was she wide-eyed. I have no idea what I gave her, but I'm sure I paid for the Build-A-Bear.

It took quite a bit of time to count all the ones. Heidi and I couldn't stop laughing as more and more bills came out of the bag. All told, there was $151.00. I split the pile into two and handed one of the piles to Heidi. "Here's your share."

She was floored. She got all Minnesota Nice and kept insisting "You don't have to do that!"

I know that, fool.

They also held a $5 version, which was won by some guy in the back who had no idea what he was entering. Apparently his friend made him write the seat number on the bill and put it in the bag. When Brianne and Flight Attendant brought the money back to him, he had no idea why they were handing him money.

That guy may still be confused, but Heidi will be telling this story for years.

As will Brianne.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

No Place Like Home

Place: Texas Roadhouse
Lunch: 10oz Ft Worth Ribeye (medium well), chili (with cheese and onion), rice, water

The server sucks. The bar-like atmosphere sucks. The country music sucks. But the steaks are awesome. What are you going to do?

The "Parade of Homes" happened this weekend. This is not an actual parade...they don't stick a bunch of houses on wheels and drive them down the street with half-naked models throwing candy out the windows. It's not even the "Street of Dreams" every city seems to have where a development with six-to-ten dream homes are constructed and shown off for a $10 admission fee. This is an overglorified open house covering 75 properties located all over the metro. There's a couple of clusters where a dozen or so homes are within a couple of neighboring developments.

I decided to check out some homes. I'm not in the market. It's just something fun to do. And it's free, so why not?

Trying to find the homes proved to be a challenge. The map isn't even close to accurate. It has dots indicating homes south of a main thoroughfare that are actually several blocks NORTH of said thoroughfare. One home was mapped significantly northwest of another I looked at, but imagine my surprise when I happened upon it a block west and two blocks south. I even tried Googling some of the addresses to get more definitive information ahead of going, but alas, these addresses were apparently too new for Google to know.

Anyway, I managed sixteen homes...three which weren't even on the official tour. I visited two others that were closed. I didn't find my dream home (I've already found that plan), but I found some interesting ideas. Homes are listed in the order I toured them.

Home #61: $419,900 - Second favorite home of the tour - I wanted to see this one because it had "cherry stained maple woodwork", and I thought that sounded cool. It was cool. The space over the garage was the master bath and walk-in closet. The walk-in closet was as big as some of the bedrooms I saw in later homes. The place wasn't perfect, but it was neato.

Home #64: $534,900 - Third favorite home of the tour - Easily the nicest decorated home of any I toured with extensive wainscoting, really nice light fixtures, and cherry and granite. I had problems with the layout, in particular the size of the master suite walk-in closet and the dimensions of the family room off the kitchen. And why does everybody insist on sticking fireplaces where the TV would go? The guy showing it was very interested in comments about the house. When I said something positive, he'd say "Thank you!" And when I'd say something negative, he'd nod and look thoughtful. Picture the Iron Chefs when the food critics are analyzing their dishes. That's EXACTLY what this guy was doing. EXACTLY.

Home #57: $349,900 - The only thing I remember about this home was looking out a bedroom window at an elementary school. Children. Ewwww. One of the homes had a double-sided fireplace between the kitchen and the family room. It might have been this one.

Home #63: $509,900
- This is next door to #61, but it wasn't open when I went to the first place so I ended up backtracking. It's a main floor/basement configuration with cathedral ceilings in the main area, which is essentially one big living room/dining room/kitchen seperated by wall dividers or cabinets that don't go to the ceiling. The master suite is right off this area. The other bedrooms are in the basement. I don't like the basements of today with their windows and walk-out amenities. Just seems like big wasted space that's easy to break into. But most of the homes I viewed had them. I still don't get why it was one of the most expensive homes I toured.

Home #62: $428,000 - This actually ended up being a three-home tour because the realtor also had the listing next door and a third three houses in the other direction. She opened them all up, unstaffed, and just invited people to go through them. The wood floors had wider planks and a light color that gave them sort of a country feel. I'll have to think those into my dream home. The second home had a big space divided into the living room, dining area, and kitchen. The kitchen looked extremely small in comparison to the rest of the space. Walking from the living room to the kitchen felt like walking the expanse of Nebraska to get there. This house had a nice loft office area though. I don't remember anything about the third house.

Home #67: $210,900 - This was a "model home", meaning it was a fully furnished model designed to show off the builder. It was the crappiest quality build on my tour. It had those faux laminate countertops that are supposed to look like granite, amongst other things. The master suite not only didn't have a whirlpool tub, it didn't have ANY tub. Just a shower. One of the door handles practically came off in my hand. You get what you pay for. The highlight was the dining room, which had a beautiful sort of mustard yellow color. But I would have gutted the kitchen immediately.

Home #65: $144,900 - Townhouse. The advertised "large kitchen" was a tunnel parallel to the two-car garage. So it was large but uninviting with no windows or personality. I guess you could say it made use of the available space. I guess.

Home #66: $184,990 - Townhouse. MUCH nicer than the first. Kitchen and living room were essentially one big great room, which I love. It had a sunroom off the back and a massive finished basement, which as I've noted before, I find annoying. A family was all but closing on it with the realtor in the kitchen. Their little girl followed me around like a puppy as her mother yelled at her "Be sure to show him the master suite!" The master suite WAS much nicer than I expected it to be.

Home #72: $125,000 - Row house. A row house is a townhouse with the garage on the back side. That's as close as I can figure.
The girl showing it didn't seem to realize she was part of the Parade of Homes. She was sad I wasn't actually buying. There was a guy sitting at a desk in the garage whose cell phone went off three times in the ten minutes I was there. The home was cheap in that it had a small apartment-like kitchen (similar to the quality of Home #67, which figures because it was the same builder) and no whirlpool tub. But it was also one of the only places I toured that had walls painted something other than sandy beige. The back wall of the living room/kitchen was brown and looked really good with the cabinets and countertops. The master bedroom was slate blue. I would have taken it over several of the other places I looked at.

Home #73: $135,750 - A cookie-cutter townhouse that was LOCKED! Nobody there. Pricks.

Home #74: $380,000 - Favorite home of the tour - The ad said "Mission-style" interior and they were right. Lots of arches and rounded corners with creamy and dusty tones. The woodwork was awesome. The space between the kitchen and garage entry had a large built-in wood coat rack and cube shelves. The kitchen was beautiful. The backyard was enormous. "It opens up to a park," said the realtor. "There's a bike trail coming through eventually. No other homes will ever be built back there." If I WERE in the market, this is one I'd be looking at.

Home #12: $144,500 - The actual Home #12 apparently sold, so they moved it to an unfinished home in the development. By "unfinished", I mean it was empty rooms...no kitchen cabinets, no bathroom fixtures, nothing. But the development was interesting. The homes are designed to be more traditional. They take up a smaller footprint, they don't have fireplaces, whirlpool tubs, or master suites. They just have regular bedrooms and regular kitchens and regular family rooms with nothing oversized. They're just simple houses.

Home #5: $104,900
- Condo. This turned into a two-home tour becuase the realtor took me through two units...a two-bedroom and a three-bedroom. Condos are like nice apartments. No exception here. The upstairs units were cheaper than the main floor. That would be awesome for the person living below me and my down-firing subwoofer.

Home #13: $209,900 - This was the same builder who built Home #67, and was seemingly the same build quality, but was MUCH nicer. Lovely kitchen with birch cabinets stained to look like maple. Nicer light fixtures. And cheaper! Golly.

Home #6: $129,900 - Some sort of duplex/row house/townhouse type deal, which was LOCKED! Pricks.

Well that was fun. I was surprised that none of the homes I visited were doing any new construction techniques or using anything like Geothermal heating and cooling. Standard wood frame construction, standard furnaces, standard light bulbs.

I guess if I ever move, my dream home will have to be built from the ground-up.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Wendy Has Left the Building

Place: Taco John's
Lunch: Four hard shell tacos, one Potato Ole's bravo (no tomato), water

Ahhh. The miracle of Taco Tuesday.

On the drive back to the office from lunch, I passed an abandoned Wendy's. Wendy's relocated to a new store not exactly nearby (it's a good two or three miles away) about three months ago. This store is empty, the signage has been removed, and a big sign in the window indicates where to go for the new location.

Yet the car in front of me in traffic is pulling into their parking lot.

As I look to see where he thinks he's going, I spot two MORE cars in the drive-thru lane.

They're just sitting there, as if they're waiting for somebody to take their order.

I've never given people around here credit for being terribly bright, but this takes the cake.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Barefoot in the Park

Place: International House of Pancakes
Lunch: Sourdough bacon cheeseburger melt, onion rings, water

I used to date a girl who couldn't say the word "pancakes". It usually came out like "paddencakes". And it frustrated her to no end. Not to mention the Denny's waitress.

But I'm not having pancakes today.

Server Jenne (with an E) is a clicker. Whenever she is moving, she is clicking the release cap on her pen. Clicky clicky clicky clicky. You can tell exactly where she is in the building just by listening. There she goes...Clicky clicky clicky clicky...

I went for a walk on a breezy day earlier in the week. We have a paved walking trail behind my office...sorry...building which houses my little cubicle where I dwell with the other cubicle dwellers like cattle waiting to die...which routes around some soccer fields, connects with a neighborhood sidewalk, then connects back. It's a twenty minute circle, basically.

So I was walking and suddenly, I felt compelled to take my shoes off. To walk barefoot.

I have no idea where this impulse came from.

But I went with it.

I walked the rest of the trail barefoot. It's a completely different sensation walking barefoot on cement (and grass...I walked off the trail a bit).

It was simple, yet it was different.

It's amazing what one little change can make in one's life.

It's another breezy day today.

I should buy a kite.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

New York Doll

Place: Arby's
Lunch: Two roast beef sourdough melts, one chocolate shake

It's a brand new Arby's! Like we SO needed another one. We have so many stupid Arby's in town that I actually drove past one on my way to THIS one.

Ordering ahead of me are some lady, her mother, and her child. They're not talking about sandwiches so much as her back problems. "I'm TRYING to find a good chiropractor," she says. "Something's wrong with you," notes Mom. Smiling Counter Girl is far more patient than I. Then Stuffy Counter Girl appears at the second register and asks "Hafe you beed helbed?" She's "stuffy" because she has a SERIOUS head cold. Anyway, I order.

"Did you wabt two beef abd cheddar or one beef abd one hab?"

"Two beef and cheddar."

I ended up with my food faster than Mom, Grandma, and Child.

The decor is a lot of reds, browns, and beige. It's almost the 1970's all over again. That would be cool if companies started using seventies decor again. Brown wood paneling, orange and yellow plastic...

"New York Doll" came out on DVD yesterday. It's a rockumentary about Arthur "Killer" Kane, the bassist who never moved on stage. It culminates in the band's 2004 reunion show. The Dolls inspired and set the wheels in motion for dozens of bands and artists over the years. Pretty much any fan of Kiss or the punk movement should be familiar with the name.

I caught it in its limited theatrical run. It's one of the best rockumentaries I've ever seen. I can't recommend it highly enough. So the DVD was a must-have.

Best Buy's website indicated my local store had it. So I swung by Best Buy yesterday over the lunch hour. Remember the last time I went to Best Buy for something?

When you walk in the door, the big new releases of the week are usually in displays up the aisle toward the DVD section. This isn't exactly a big release, and as I expected, no New York Doll in the big displays. So I headed to the DVD section in back and checked the "new releases" section. No New York Doll. It's not even listed on the banner of releases for the week.

Not a good sign.

So I looked in the regular DVD section.


So I went to the music DVD section, a seperate area up front by the CD's.


So I went back to the new releases, thinking I missed something.

Still nothing.

That's when a Best Buy employee asked if he could help me find anything.

"New York Doll. It's supposed to come out on DVD this week."

"New York what?"

He's clearly never heard of it.

After a brief explanation about it being a documentary about the rock band, he headed for the computer to check inventory. Computer Inventory indicated it didn't exist.

He tried alternate spellings. Nothing.

"Do you know anybody who stars in it?" he asked.

"It's a documentary about the rock band," I say (again.)

He then pulled up the Best Buy website, where I was able to show him a picture of the DVD cover and confirm they should have it.

So he tried searching for it as a music CD. JACKPOT. They supposedly have four.

"It's in the music DVD section," he said. I've already looked there, but okay.

He went with me. It's not there.

He headed to the back and came back out about five minutes later.

"I can't find it anywhere," he said.

So I thanked him for his trouble and headed out, about 20 minutes after I entered the store.

On the way out, I came across a display of seemingly random DVD's near the cash register.

And there's all four copies.

So I grabbed one and took it back to show the guy, so when others come in asking about it (and they will), he'll know where it is.

He came back to the front with me to see where they were, and was much appreciative.


Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Fourth Anniversary

Place: Palmer's Deli & Market
Lunch: "The Melt" sandwich, potato salad, pickle, brownie, Pepsi

Palmer's is one of those delis where you walk in to a menu with a million sandwiches and sides available, and the help looks annoyed with you if you don't know what you want immediately. They're overpriced and they're rude. Naturally, they do an insane amount of business.

Overheard in the office from a woman who got roses for her anniversary...

"The first year we were married, he sent roses. And I said "What are you doing? I hate roses!" So then he sent roses again the SECOND year! Then the third year, he sent a bouquet and I said "Where are my roses?" And he's like "But you HATE roses!" And I said "Yes, but now it's a tradition!" Honestly."

If she were married to me, I would send her divorce papers on the fourth anniversary.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

They Eat Horses, Don't They?

Place: Fazoli's
Lunch: Baked spaghetti with meatballs, breadsticks

There's a REALLY cute blonde dining with a guy who looks German. He even has a stocking cap with a brim that makes it look like a German army helmet that was knitted over. She is on her phone with a friend going "blah blah blah giggle blah blah blah" and he looks bored out of his mind. Like he's going to fall over.

E-mail conversation I had earlier today:

(bish): "Come on, didn't you miss me a little?"

(me): "Of course, silly. Weren't you visiting your brother in Siberia or something? I here they eat penguins there."

(bish): "Switzerland and it's horses. SOOO not kidding."

I ate at an Idaho truck stop that had rabbit on the menu once.

But never horses.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Goblet of Money

Place: Culver's Frozen Custard & Butterburgers
Lunch: Northwoods Walleye sandwich, cheese curds, Culver's root beer

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" came out on DVD today. History shows that if you go to one of the major discount chains on release day or the few days after, you can get major releases on sale...usually around $16.

So I dropped by Super Target, the Target with amazing super powers. Sure enough, there it is, on sale for $15.97...IF you want the barebones single-disc edition. The two-disc edition is $22.97.

Welcome to the newest greedy scam of the major film studios.

It USED to be that a two-disc special edition didn't require extra cash. For the three previous movies, the only edition released was the two-disc edition, which you could buy for the going sale price (which, as I recall, was around $15-$17.) Now you get the single-disc edition for that price which lists NO extra features of any kind on its cover, or you pay more for the two-disc set with its fancy 3-D-ish cover and list of extras.

This is rather annoying without even getting into the price difference. Suggested retail price (translation: fake skyrocket price only mall music/movie stores would be stupid enough to charge) of the single-disc edition is actually $28.98, while suggested retail of the two-disc set is $30.98, a difference of two dollars (he said in his best Bob Barker voice). Target is getting $7.00 more for the two-disc set. A quick check online proved that Amazon was doing close to that as well with a $5 difference ($15.99 and $20.99). Best Buy was getting $14.99 for the single-disc and $20.99 for the two-disc set, a $6 difference. The retailers are just as guilty as the studios.


There's actually four versions of the DVD on display: The full-screen single-disc edition, the widescreen single-disc edition, the two-disc "special edition", and an eight-disc box set which includes all four movies in two-disc editions.

Of course, you could always go with the "no-disc" edition, and tell the studios and retailers to go screw themselves. But you won't. And I didn't either. THIS time.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

the First Church of the Auditorium 12

Place: The Cheesecake Factory
Lunch: Pepperoni pizza, strawberry lemonade

I woke up this morning with one thing in mind...


I had a craving for chili.

When it comes to chili, it works out like this for me (in order): Steak n Shake, Huddle House, Waffle House, Big Boy, Jason's Deli.

And Jennifer's, but I can't go bugging her at any hour of the given day to make me some chili.

Problem: Steak n Shake is a two hour drive. Huddle House is a fourteen hour drive. Waffle House is a three hour drive. Big Boy is a six hour drive.

I debated driving to Steak n Shake. I really did. Ultimately, I should have. But I wanted to see a movie that started at 11:30, so I decided to stay in town.

Jason's Deli is the "last resort" desperation stop for chili because it's local. It's also not quite on par with any of the aforementioned, but it'll do. It's "Texas style" meaning no beans. Or very little beans.

Jason's Deli's posted hours state that they open at 10:00am seven days a week. I arrived at 10:25am and found the doors locked.

The entrance was locked. The take-out entrance was locked. The delivery driver entrance was locked.

The lights were on. People were inside. They saw me. They ignored me.

At 10:35am, I arrived at the multiplex. The food court in the mall it's attached to doesn't open until 11. The restaurants around the mall lake don't open until 11. Except for one. So that's where I had lunch.

The Cheesecake Factory's strawberry lemonade can solve almost any crisis just by existing. It really can. But it doesn't solve the fact that the Cheesecake Factory doesn't have chili. They have the most extensive menu you've ever seen, but it doesn't include chili. And even if it did, it would probably be some goofy crap with 1,800 ingredients. I want a chili that is meat, beans, and a meaty chili tasting gravy.

Then I went to my movie. As I passed Auditorium 12 on my way to Auditorium 18, I saw church literature on a table and heard preaching.

Auditorium 12 plays host to worship services on Sunday morning.

I know this is becoming a regular alternative use for auditoriums, but it's the first time I've ever actually witnessed it in action.

I just kind of peeked from the door. I didn't actually go in.

Fascinating. But they'd better wrap it up..."Pink Panther" plays in there in about an hour.

When I got home, I found a simple and quick chili recipe on the back of the Gebhardt Chili powder label. Chili powder. Garlic. Salt. Cumin. Tomato sauce. Beef. Onion. 20 minutes. Beans optional. I used red kidney. I also tossed in a little unsweetened cocoa.

It wasn't great, but it wasn't half bad.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Wayback Machine

Place: Del Taco
Lunch: Macho Taco, 2 Chicken Soft Tacos

The "Macho Taco" just seems to be a larger Ultimate Taco if you ask me. They replaced the tomato with a pico and they put more beef in it, but that's really the only difference. I should have thought to look and see if they dumped the Ultimate Taco. I really liked that one. But bigger is better, I guess.

NOBODY makes better Chicken Soft Tacos.

One of the more interesting ways to waste time on the web is to browse the Internet Archive. And if you enter driveintheatre.com into the Wayback Machine line and click one of 1997 dates in the resulting page, you can access my old Drive-In Theatre Guide.

It's all very retro.

That doesn't even get into the other stuff you can find at the Archive, including old public domain videos like the Hindenberg explosion.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Big Evil Burritos

Place: Qdoba Mexican Grill
Lunch: Chicken Mole burrito, tortilla soup

Yes. They're FINALLY open. And I left early to make sure I beat the lunch crowd (see Popeye's).

As far as I know, I was their first customer. There were lots of people, but they were all employees or Qdoba reps. The franchise owner, who has several stores in multiple states, was also in attendance.

"Is this your first time to Qdoba?" he hollered at me from the kitchen.

I shook my head.

"So you know what's going on, then!"

I nodded my head.

"What other ones have you been to?"

I replied with a list of stores across various states that I could think of (official count: six not counting this one). When I got to Davenport, Iowa, he said "Oh! That's one of mine!"

"Yes," I said. "You also own Bloomington, right?"

"Yes I do," he said.

The Bloomington, Illinois Qdoba is the worst Qdoba ever, specifically due to access. The street address is 1505 N Veteran Parkway. If you arrive there on Veteran Parkway heading south, you can see it, but you have to go all the way down to the next light, turn around in the parking lot of the half-abandoned strip mall, and come back up the street. But that still won't get you there, because you can't get there from Veteran Parkway. You have to go up to the next light, turn right, then go back south on the next block in what effectively is an alley. The sign when you turn in says "No Outlet". At the end of the non-outlet is a big circle with three driveways, but you'll only notice two…the one on the left (which goes straight into an alley behind a building) and the one on the right. The one on the right won't take you there either, but it looks like it does. So you pull in and fail. So you backtrack and realize there's a middle drive too. The middle drive takes you right at about a 45 degree angle into a cramped parking lot where you zig and you zag until FINALLY you're there, and you're REALLY mad.

Didn't seem to be hurting business.

This store is much more readily accessible. Franchise Owner told me they're planning three more stores in the metro, none of which will be more convenient for me than this one.

Everything was Qdobalicious.

I'll probably be back for dinner.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Doo-Hickey Dilemna

Place: Wendy's
Lunch: Classic Double with cheese, chili, Coke

Random Employee approaches my table and asks "Did you order what you wanted?" And I'm, like, "Huh? Of course I ordered what I wanted. What a stupid question." But before actually I say this out loud, I figure out she's probably meaning "Was your order served as you ordered it, or did we screw something up?" So I said "Yes".

Wendy's new interior is SNAZZY. Earthy tones and lots of wood. Some will find it BORING. Actually, it is sort of boring...

This Coke tastes funny.

I'm a needy person. On Tuesday at 8:30pm, I needed a PCI ethernet adaptor. For those technically challenged, this is what you would call a "doo-hickey".

I go online and check out Best Buy's inventory. They have a variety of doo-hickeys, and their feature that allows you to check stock at local stores indicates my local store has lots of these by at least three different manufacturers. So off I go.

I get to the store and look up and down the aisle where these should be. Nothing. Not even inventory/price tags.

I go to the kid manning the computer department. He's on the phone planning his after-work social agenda. I don't think he should be planning anything but bed. He looks really sleepy. He gets off the phone and asks me if he can help. I tell him what I need. He goes back to the aisle I was in, looks around, and runs to another guy.

(Another Guy): "We don't have anything like that."

(Me): "Your website says you do."

(Another guy): "Well, we don't."


It's now five to nine...too late to get to CompUSA...and I have no doo-hickey.

So my only hope is they stock such a thing at that mecca of hard to find internal computer components...Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart actually had one.

In fact, they had eight.

And it was cheaper than any of the ones listed on the Best Buy website.

I win.

WHEN IS QDOBA GOING TO OPEN?!? They've looked ready since the weekend. I called their number but nobody answered. That's sort of rude.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Starburst Shenanigans

Place: Long John Silver's
Lunch: Two chicken planks, one fish, clam chowder, Dr Pepper

If there was such a thing as Hot Dog Chowder, this is probably what it would taste like.

I was walking through the office when I noticed a collection of Starburst fruit chews in a cubicle, organized by flavor.

Cube Dweller wasn't around. I pointed this out to Neighboring Cube Dweller.

Neighboring Cube Dweller took a look, then suggested "We should move them around."

I didn't even hesitate.

I put a couple of orange ones in the yellow rows, a couple of yellow ones in the red rows, a couple staggered off the pattern completely. It was lovely.

A little while later, Neighboring Cube Dweller e-mails me.

"They are back in an organized pattern…"

I later heard Neighboring Cube Dweller fessing up to Cube Dweller about the switch. Cube Dweller apparently didn't know what to think when she saw them, and considered accusing Neighboring Cube Dweller of ruining her pattern, but "didn't want to come off as a crazy person". Alas, Cube Dweller's crazy status was only confirmed afterward.

(me) "I heard you fessing up. What REALLY would have been funny is if we could have figured out a way to change them while she was SITTING there."

(ncd) "Yeah, she started messing with them while I was talking to her and (I) couldn’t help it. What we need to do is get into the bag she has in her drawer of even quantity flavors and mess with that since she hand counted to make sure they were equal – like take her favorite Strawberry out…she has some issues…"


(ncd) "Yep…hand counted. The ones on her desk were the odd numbers in each color that she was eating first. She could be a case study for someone I’m sure."

Neighboring Cube Dweller took the joke one step further today by swapping the Starbursts on the desk for the "Sour Starburst" equivalents, which are packaged identically.

Cube Dweller ate them and didn't notice the difference.

Which was probably the saddest possible outcome.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dave and Rick's Inner Baja

Place: Taco Del Mar
Lunch: Fish burrito, crispy taco

Taco Del Mar has come to Nebraska, and I'm passing through Lincoln. It's a good thing I've been to Taco Del Mar before out West and know better, because if this was my first experience, it would probably be my last.

Before I start, I'll note that the names "Dave" and "Rick" may or may not be correct. That's just what I remember at this time.

Our story starts as I walk into a shiny new Taco Del Mar, where three people are working behind the counter, two people are talking at a table, and a couple of people are in the order line. I enter the order line.

I place my order for a fish burrito. Counter Guy takes my choice of tortilla (they have four different types of tortillas to choose from) and puts it in the tortilla steamer. A magical whoosh of steam and noise happens, the tortilla is removed, and I am asked what kind of beans I want. A pile of black beans is heaped on the tortilla. He then gets out a taco shell for my taco and work basically stops.

"Rick, we need you over here!"

Rick is this skinny kid who sounds a lot like Woody Allen. He's sitting at a table talking to some guy. Rick says in a condescending voice "Hey Dave? I'm going to need you to handle the register for awhile, okay? Great."

Rick is apparently the boss. Dave's mad. He looks like he wants to smack Rick upside the head. As do I, actually.

One of the two girls working the assembly line has put my taco together and wrapped it. She's confused about the flour tortilla with the beans on it that's just sitting there. "We're waiting on fish", says Dave.

Dave has problems at the cash register and needs Rick's assistance. Rick FINALLY gets up, comes over, shows him whatever, then says to the two girls "You need to stay at your stations. You have stations. We have a system here!" Then he opens the door to the back and says "You guys need to come out here and help. There's people out here. You need to stop prep work and get out here!" Whoever is back there never does.

Several minutes, customers, and confusion later, Rick comes out with the fish. There's two empty bins in the assembly area. One is for fish, and one is for shrimp. Rick dumps the shrimp into one and part of the fish pieces into the other...but one piece goes into the queso. Rick says aloud "...Aaaand the fish is in the queso", LEAVES it there, and wanders off.

There's other people waiting for fish items, and the girls make their food. My burrito shell with the long-since cold beans still sits. One of the girls takes a piece of fish from the fish bin and puts it in my burrito. "Are these supposed to have two or three pieces of fish?" she shouts to anybody listening. Dave notes "Two". She looks in the queso bin and says "Well we can't use that."

Dave is getting really frustrated. "Throw that out. We'll start over", he says regarding my sitting pile of cold beans on a tortilla. Then Rick says "Well did you ask him if he minded if the queso was on the fish?" The girl says "No." Then Rick says to me (as if I wasn't standing there watching all of this the whole time) "Sir, one of the pieces of fish fell into the queso. Would you mind if there were some queso on your fish?" At which point I pointed at the queso where the almost completely obscured piece of fish was and said "That piece of fish?"

"Yes", Rick said.

"Well what about that piece of fish?" I said, pointing to the other piece of fish that was in the fish bin that nobody but me noticed.

Rick sees the other piece of fish and exclaims "You guys need to look before you start a crisis!" Girl says "But I didn't see that!" And I'm just like, Whatever.

So of course I get the cold beans and burrito with the fish. They finally finish the assembly process and bag my stuff. Dave doesn't apologize outright, but he says it with his eyes as he rings me up. He rang up the burrito and NOT the taco, and he gave me a drink cup. And chips. Dave's the man.

Naturally, everything (included the just heated fish) was cold. The taco had so little meat in it that it may as well have come from Taco Bell. The fish tasted like freezer burn.


I was correct about me jinxing the Avalanche. Their winning streak is over.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Stupid Goalies

Place: Costco
Lunch: Hot dog, slice of pizza, soda water

Soda water. On tap.

The have soda water. ON TAP.

This should be mandatory everywhere.

The Avalanche are moving up in the NHL standings after a dismal start to the season where they'd score like five goals per game, but their opponents would score like seven.

Stupid goalies.

Anyway, they've won like eight games in a row and lead their division today.

I've probably jinxed them now.

You couldn't possibly care less, could you.

Well, poop.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Little White Pills

Place: Century Theatres
Lunch: Nathan's Famous hot dog, cherry ICEE

I've been walking around with minor sinus blockage and a headache for about a week now. The cold finally hit full-on over the weekend. So before I went to work, I found a package of store-brand cold/allergy relief stuff in the bathroom. Little white pills. I took one and headed to work.

It worked...my sinuses cleared up and the headache was gone...but the pill had some freaky side effects. The front of my face was numb, I was feeling kind of paranoid, and I just sort of started moving around in slow motion. I could also feel where the sinus problems went to. They were all in a tiny little ball just above the bridge of my nose. All compacted and numb. The feeling is probably similar to Chinese water torture.

Two hours later, I walked into my boss's office and said "I need to leave." She said "Feel better". I went home and took another pill. Then I slept for three hours and had some seriously messed up dreams.

I woke up and sat in my chair with my eyes shut. My mind is a complete void. I'm moving very slowly. verrrrry slooooly. And suddenly the solution to my problem becomes clear! I need to go see "Hostel". Perhaps a horror flick will be just the thing to cure me. I take ANOTHER pill and head for the cinema. WHY DO I KEEP TAKING THESE PILLS?!?

The ticket seller said "Flahhb lahhb flur flom flaahhb?" and I just stared. Because I couldn't remember why I was there, mostly. Oh yeah. "One for Hostel".

Then I went to the snack bar. The SELF-SERVE snack bar. Which is confusing enough when I'm coherent. I somehow ended up with a hot dog and an ICEE. Mmmm. ICEE.

The trailers started, the sound immersed me, I sort of closed my eyes periodically, and suddenly everything was better. Except that the trailers that played before the feature all seemed like the most awesome movies ever. I'm pretty sure they weren't. One of them is from "WWE Films". Those guys need to hire a new sound mixer. That trailer has NO punch to it at all.

"Hostel" opens with "California Dreaming" playing in the background. About a minute into the intro, I realized I was singing along out loud. Oops.

Somewhere in the movie, characters in the movie take little white pills that look just like MY little white pills. And I'm thinking "NO! DON'T TAKE THE LITTLE WHITE PILLS!"

Then I went home and slept some more.

I'm pretty sure "Hostel" was awesome.