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 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.