Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday

Place: McGrath's Fish House
Lunch: Pan-fried oysters, rice pilaf, bread, strawberry lemonade

A busy weekend is here. The annual kickoff to Christmas Village kicks off tomorrow night, The Lights Before Christmas is up and running, there's the lights at Temple Square, next week's Festival of Trees...It's Christmas Overload week. My favorite time of the year.

I'll be taking a lot of pictures this week. I have a Canon PowerShot 5mp camera that has been my trusty sidekick for the past few seasons. But the battery, which has never been all that great, has been showing wear, and I ALWAYS run out of memory for pix at Fesitval of Trees, so I'd been thinking about getting a new camera. Ultimately, I decided this unnecessary, as new replacement batteries were available for cheap, as are new flash memory cards. So I blew $40 and tripled my battery life and quadrupled my camera memory. TRY TO DEFEAT ME NOW FESTIVAL OF TREES! ooooh. trees.

So I'm all set. And now that I'm all set, Murphy's Law kicked in, and gave me a vision of a new camera I just HAD to have. Actually, it was Sound and Vision, which pointed out the new Kodak EasyShare V1253. It's a 12 megapixel camera that takes pictures in a 16:9 format (you your shiny new HDTV and wide screen monitor) and shoots high definition 720p video. For under $300.

Yes, really.

And the reviews weren't too bad on it either.

And that magic trigger in my head that says "you WILL NOT SLEEP UNTIL YOU HAVE THIS" went off.

Of course, I had to find out about this on Thanksgiving, and with all the festivities beginning in earnest on Saturday, I'm pretty much stuck getting it on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

Or I could just NOT get it and be happy with what I have.


So at 8am, I hit the road for Circuit City. Both Circuit City and Best Buy sell this thing in-store, apparently, and Circuit City had the better price. At least online.

I creeped along in traffic to the parking lot entrance. Circuit City is clustered in a neighborhood of big box retail that includes pretty much every major discount and department store chain in a few blocks. Super Target, Wal-Mart Supercenter, even a freestanding Macy's (housed in the old non-supercenter Wal-Mart.) This is the busiest road in the whole valley. The traffic reporters on the radio agree with this and are telling people to avoid it.

I'm in and I'm parked. I walk in the store.

Finding a single department in this store is an exercise in madness because most walkable space is part of the checkout line, which snakes around the store in a fashion that looks like...well...Nokia's old Snake game that was a standard feature on their handsets years ago.

But I found it eventually, and I got to play with the camera. I shot video of the line and messed around with settings. Looks pretty good. The video, as you might imagine, isn't broadcast good, and it won't be as good as a real HD camcorder. It looks a bit jittery when you move. It looks great when holding it still. Still, it's far more impressive than you've ever done with a standard camcorder. And you can probably shoot an hour plus video on a good sized flash card. Pictures looked fine on the small display. The 16:9 picture format isn't available in 12mp...the maximum for that is 9mp. Like you EVEN have a need for 12mp pictures in the first place. What are you...a wallpaper designer?

It's also half the thickness and smaller in every other dimension of my existing camera.

The camera doesn't come with a flash card. It has 32MB internal memory, which shot exactly 20 seconds of HD video. You'd want more like a 4-8GB card here. And they don't come cheap at this store. The camera is also more expensive in the store than online. If that's not enough of a deterrent, there's that "reality Nokia Snake" game going on. I don't want to join in. So I leave without the camera.

Best Buy is up the street. If you haven't heard about my experiences shopping at Best Buy, read through the archive. It's not pretty.

I Lowe's...and walk over. I enter the store. "Hello sir! Would you like to register to win a DVD player?"

"No thanks."

"Be sure to get some hot chocolate on the way out."


Six feet later inside the store: "Good morning, sir."

"Good morning, yellow shirt security dude."

No snake line here, but lots of foot traffic. I make it back to cameras and there it is, stock aplenty, and it's on sale. AND they have much better prices on flash cards. WAY better prices.

I play around with the display, take more pictures, shoot more video. The store has completely different lighting than Circuit City, so it's a whole different perspective. At least three different employees ask me if I need anything or have any questions. A fourth comes by when I've decided to pull the trigger and I say "I want this."

"Okay. I'll need to get some keys."

(They're locked up, you see.)

He's back within a minute with the keys. He gets the camera. He asks if I need any flash cards...I have one in hand. He says "I'll walk you to the checkouts." On the way, he tells me about how the cashier is going to ask me about extended warranties, about how they're as wonderful as anything ever created by the hand of man, and how they really really recommend them. Ever met anybody whose actually made a claim with these? Search the web. They're not hard to find. You'll be as angry as those who wrote them.

The checkouts are all staffed and busy, but there's no line. NO LINE. Except me, and I'm only there a few seconds before a cashier opens up. The cashier asks about the extended warranty without any sales pitch, and that's it. They don't try to sell me any magazine subscriptions or anything (they ALWAYS try to sell you magazine subscriptions.) I am in and out of the store with everything I want in ten minutes. ON BLACK FRIDAY.

I could go into Best Buy on a Monday in mid July and not have this happen.

Completely awesome.

The camera is charging now and I'm reading the instruction manual. I'm going to take some practice pictures and video and fine tune the settings tonight. I'll carry both cameras for the time being...I KNOW how my old one behaves. There's always a learning curve with new ones.

Festival of Trees will be no match for me this year.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Monopolize Your Lunch

PLACE: McDonald's
LUNCH: Big Mac, large fries, 3 piece Chicken Selects with ranch, large orange Hi-C "Lavaburst" Orange, large Arctic Orange milkshake

It's "Monopoly" month at McDonald's, and I get suckered in every year. I never win anything but food, though I did pile some "Best Buy bucks" into a DVD a couple years ago.

This year's board is an all cash game. All cash prizes. There are non-cash prize bonus pieces too for free food and Toys-R-Us and Foot Locker bucks, two places I never ever shop at.

This particular lunch got me eight game board pieces (two of which are duplicates), two Toys-R-Us bucks (stackable op to $5!), a free medium fries, and a free small McFlurry.

I should probably get a game board, huh.

On my way out the door after eating, I happened to catch a glance at the dessert board and saw….ARCTIC ORANGE SHAKE! ARCTIC ORANGE SHAKE! HOLY CRAP IT'S BACK!

(Technically, that was my reaction…not what the menu board actually said…)

I HAD to have one. It's been YEARS.

I still remember my first encounter with the amazing Arctic Orange shake. It was in 1978 at a McDonald's in Prince George, British Columbia. The sign was hand-written and taped to the menu board.


It changed my life.

It's funny how I can remember McMilestones like that.

I remember my first ever Sausage McMuffin with Egg (1984, Kennewick Washington, on the frontage of Columbia Center Mall. They had the "Jungle Concept" interior. Green. Neato. It changed my life. Again.)

I remember my first regular McDonald's as a child (TV Highway in Beaverton, OR. It was an original sloped roof white and red tile beauty with the big arches through it. They built a new modern McDonald's around it at some point.)

I remember the first time I saw Ronald McDonald do his magic act live (McDonald's on Cedar Hills Blvd, Beaverton.)

I remember the time a student at my high school arrived with a duffel bag full of day-old Big Macs and sold them to students for $10 each (we didn't have an accessible McDonald's being the backwater island-locked muskeg-covered rock that we were).

I remember the time I was in the McDonald's at Southcenter Mall in Seattle (a full-sized McDonald's in a regular mall slot) and ordered lunch and a little extra to take home. "20 Big Macs, 20 Quarter Pounders with Cheese, one order of fries, and one large Coke, and pack it up tight because it's going to Alaska". Smiling Counter Girl looked at me in disbelief. The guy who was flirting with her, not missing a beat, asked "Are you planning to share the fries?"

I remember when we DID finally get a McDonald's that I got invited to the "dry run" (where you go in as a customer and order anything you want for free to give the crew practice). That was the first McDonald's in history to have a drive-thru while being located in an enclosed shopping mall, an accomplishment achieved by locating it on one of the mall's corners.

I remember when Ronald McDonald did his live act in the center court at that mall. Everybody was expecting some local McEmployee in a clown suit. But we got an official "Ronald McDonald" complete with magic show. There were people of all ages there. It was amazing to watch that guy mesmerize the kids with his magic tricks. He left everybody smiling.

And I continue to be amazed at how quickly the local McDonald's can move cars through and get the orders right with food that tastes fresh on any given morning I happen to hit the drive-thru.

And now that I've finished this fabulous, wonderful, mystical, magical milkshake, I have to say…

Del Taco's "Orange Cream" shake is better.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

This Tush for Rent

Place: Taco Cabana
Lunch: 2 enchiladas (one beef, one cheese), two crispy beef tacos, beans, rice, warm tortillas, water with lime (guess what it tastes like)

Bananas are superfood for your heart.

Bananas are brain food.

Bananas are the bright spot in every day.

Bananas are quite possibly the world's perfect food.

I know all this not because I'm an expert on bananas, but because stickers on bananas I've purchased said so. And it hasn't stopped there...I've seen stickers on bananas actually advertising non-banana products.

Yes, somebody actually thought to sell advertising on a banana.

Marketing people are always on the lookout for new places to advertise. The latest (and possibly the most disturbing) trend I've seen as of late is on the butts of young girls. School slogans, sexual teases, and more are showing up on the back end of pants and shorts worn by the gender that would rather wear thongs than worry about somebody noticing their panty lines. It's only a matter of time before we see back there.

I have to wonder who it was who came up with this idea. Imagine the moment. Some middle-aged pervert executive is in line at a fast food restaurant somewhere, staring at some young girl's butt, and of all the things he could be thinking, he thinks "I could market that."

I guess I shouldn't complain about the bananas, huh.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Potato Ole Fiasco

Place: Tasty Tacos
Lunch: Steak flour taco (extra meat), cheese enchilada, refried beans, Pepsi

Normally, my Tuesday lunch would be at Taco John's, where "Taco Tuesday" means cheap(ish) tacos. But Taco John's ticked me off on Sunday, so I'm avoiding them for awhile.

I go in for dinner and order my usual "four hard shells and a Potato Ole's Bravo". Mediocre Counter Girl gets confused. Random Employee shows her what to input. And the kitchen makes me a Taco Bravo instead.

I see this and ask "Why is he making a Taco Bravo?" Random Employee gets confused. I explain I wanted a Potato Ole's Bravo. He doesn't seem to know what that is. Then a manager jumps in and, after debate and discussion, they re-ring my order and charge me more money. LOTS more money. Then the manager explains that they no longer have the Potato Ole's Bravo, but they do have the new "small Super Potato Ole's". Like magic, the counter staff has forgotten Potato Ole's Bravo ever existed, even though it was on the menu for what...five, ten years?

Ask aloud with me..."What's a Super Potato Ole's?"

The manager explains that it's the same thing, but with shredded cheese and guacamole added.

"I absolutely do NOT want to see guacamole on it," I declare in a very annoyed tone.

Upon seeing the finished product and reviewing the menu, I discover it is indeed the same product in exactly the same portion size with three changes....They added shredded cheese, guacamole, and nearly a dollar to the price. $2.99 vs $2.19. Couple this with their skyrocketing taco prices, and the writing's on the wall.

Anyway, Tasty Tacos is SO much better. The flour taco is basically in the form of what you know as a Chalupa...but Tasty Tacos has been making them for 46 years.

So last week I placed three different orders with two different companies that shipped three different ways. You know my luck with shipping this year, right? Surprise surprise...All three showed up in my PO box today. I didn't expect any of it until the end of the week at least.

Only ten days of August left. Here's hoping cooler temperatures come with September. And Steak n Shake caramel apple milkshakes. They can't be too far away either...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Place: Taco Time/Samurai Sam's/Surf City Squeeze
Lunch: Crispy Meat Burrito, Chicken Yaki-Soba Bowl, water with lime

Me: "One Crispy Beef Burrito..."

Smiling Counter Girl: " you mean...crispy...ground...beef..."

Me: "Yes."

Relieved Counter Girl: "Okay."

Me: "Is there another kind of beef?"

Smiling Counter Girl: "Well there's the shredded beef."

Me; "You're making shredded beef crispy burritos now?"

Smirking Counter Girl...sheepishly...: "No."

Cafe NoNo

Place: Cafe Rio
Lunch: Chili Roasted Beef taco, tortilla soup, rice, beans, Dr Pepper

I should have known this was a bad idea the minute I stepped up to the door. Any business that actually posts a notice forbidding photography on the premises must be running one embarrassingly bad operation.

The place is insanely busy. They have a permanent snake line at the order counter, and it's pretty full. It moves quickly, though. The place is the typical Yuppie-Mex "assembled to order in front of you" mentality. Flour tortillas are made fresh at the beginning of the prep line.

CafĂ© Rio has $5 burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, salads, and tacos in corn or tortilla style. Yet it becomes immediately clear what everybody orders here because Smiling Counter Guy is literally grabbing a tin and a burrito tortilla as he’s asking me “What can I get for you?” And when I say “A crispy taco”, he immediately frowns, puts the tortilla back, and gives me a look like I’m a big troublemaker. He puts the order to somebody behind him, who lays a flour tortilla on the grill. I guess if I wanted a corn tortilla taco, asking for a “crispy taco” isn’t enough explanation.

I also ordered tortilla soup. Same Guy grabs a Styrofoam cup and slaps a spoonful of chicken into it. He shoves it down to the next guy in line. I follow. Second Guy asks me “Do you want everything in the soup?” Without thinking, I say “Yes”. Much to my horror, he puts in a big scoop of guacamole. GUACAMOLE. Then he puts in some pico de gallo. The entire contents of the bowl are now: Chicken, guacamole, and pico de gallo. Then he tops it with a mystery broth and garnishes with cilantro. And he drops a slice of lime in it. And tops it with tortilla chips. He clearly grabbed more chips than anticipated, so he asks the precautionary "Is this to stay?"


So he dumps all the chips in. They fall in, over, and around the cup.

Frowning Counter Girl asks if I want a drink. Then asks “Do you have your ("customer appreciation") card with you?”

“No, I’ve never been here before.”

“I’ll start another one for you then.”

Seems silly since I’ve already decided I will never ever come in here again, but oh well.

The taco is a “chile roasted beef” taco. The only beef they have is shredded roast beef. No real ground beef taco meat. They also have pork, chicken, and steak. I fish around the bottom of the soup bowl for the chicken. I can’t find it. It HAS to be in here. I SAW the guy put it in. Oh there it is. I taste a piece of chicken that has been marinating in the guacamole pico mystery broth substance. It’s actually pretty tasty. A chicken burrito or taco might be worth investigating.

The soup itself actually isn’t bad initially, but the flavor is basically coming from the cilantro they garnished it with. And it eventually turns to a shade of green that, mixed with the varied color chunks of stuff put in it previously, makes it look like some serious barf. I guess we now know why they don’t want you taking pictures in here.

The taco plate includes rice and your choice of pinto or black beans. That’s exactly what they are…beans in bean water. No seasoning. Just beans. The rice at least has a hint of a lime and cilantro taste.

I ate about half of the $11.29 (!) meal and considered making a run for the Taco Time down the street.

Have you found Country Time's strawberry lemonade in cans and bottles in your local supermarket? It's not quite as good as fresh, but it's better than any attempt previously in cans or bottles. Very nice on a 105 degree day (like today).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

In-N-Out (of Business)

Place: Chadder's
Lunch: Stubby Double, Fries (with fry sauce), lemonade

Imagine opening your own burger joint. It's a single store operation. It's not a designed the menu, the store layout, the whole concept. And before you opened, people were already clamoring at the door. And when you opened, they never stopped coming. It was wall-to-wall customers every open hour of the day.

Did you come up with a great concept?

Not if you're Chadder's. If you're Chadder's, you stole In-N-Out's concept. You copied their building design right down to the color scheme and the angles of the order counter. You copied their menu, giving their burgers your own names. And you trained your employees on their "secret menu" so that if somebody asked for something from it, they could fulfill the order.

Frantic In-N-Out fans actually contacted In-N-Out to find out if it was them building this thing. That prompted a visit from In-N-Out, incognito, to see what was going on. That visit prompted a request for a court injunction to shut Chadder's down.

Chadder's responded by dressing up the building a bit with some blue trim, and giving the menu board a yellow background. They also claimed they weren't using any In-N-Out trademark menu items...their customers were.

And a judge bought it and didn't make them close. But the suit is pending.

It's a BLATANT copy. Seriously. As you approach it, it looks like an In-N-Out that was closed and sold to somebody else.

There's one small problem...Chadder's burgers suck. The beef patties are overcooked and dry. The sauce is a weak copy. They bear nothing of the flavor of a real In-N-Out burger.

Nobody seems to notice. They were doing an insane amount of business while I was there.

Much like the typical In-N-Out.

It's 100 degrees in the shade today. Time to hang out at the pool. An indoor air-conditioned pool.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Gas Problem

Place: Skipper's Seafood & Chowder House
Lunch: Fish & Chicken basket (with fries and cole slaw), chowder, Pepsi

Poor Skipper's is drowning. The chain filed bankruptcy and is effectively dissolving. The parent company has closed over a third of the existing units, has sold some of them to people who get to keep running them as "Skipper's" independently, left four franchise units alone, sold the grocery product line rights to somebody who plans to continue it, and is trying to sell the franchise rights, which I suppose means somebody could go on. But I doubt they will.

I was kind of surprised to see this one operating. So I took advantage.

A couple of years ago, I headed on a circle tour through the lower Michigan peninsula, Ohio, and Kentucky. When I left, gas was at a ridiculously high $2.39 per gallon. And I was angry.

Five days and one hurricane named Katrina later, gas was $3.09 per gallon.

People were furious.

Yet we've gone this whole summer with prices at Katrina levels, and nobody cares.

Last night, at a Conoco station in Nebraska, I saw premium unleaded priced at $3.79.


In rural Nebraska.

Oil companies have a history of taking advantage of any little excuse they can to hurt people. The excuse on this one is "a shipping source in Coffeyville Kansas is under water. Boo hoo hoo."

Shut up. You're laughing all the way to the bank.

It is time to break up the oil companies. Reverse every merger made in the past ten years.

Break up Chevron Texaco.

Break up Conoco Phillips.

Break up Exxon Mobil.

Break up BP-Amoco.

Break up Valero and all the crappy little companies they absorbed.

It's time to open up Alaska and give the rights to a non-oil company. Somebody with a track record of delivering low prices. It's time to let Wal-Mart find their own oil and produce their own gas.


Saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix today. Is it just me, or does Ginny Weasley bear a striking resemblance to Harry's mother?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Save Your CD's!

Place: Burger King
Lunch: Western Whopper, BK Big Fish, chocolate milk shake

The Western Whopper is the greatest thing to ever grace a Burger King menu. The second greatest thing is BK's tacos. But the stores around here don't sell them. Sucks to be me.

As previously noted, I was sorry to see Tower Records go (although I hear the guy who bought the trademark is going to actually open a store again soon.) But now there's more stories about major music store chains closing stores due to sagging CD sales. For example...The Virgin Megastore at the Gateway is on the way out.

The blame is put on people not buying CD's anymore...they're buying downloaded songs from iTunes and other online sources. They NEVER mention competition with more attractive pricing like online retailers or big box discounters like Wal-Mart and Best Buy, but why would they admit to their own wrongdoing?

In any case, there's no doubt that CD sales are falling through the floor.

Personally, I don't get it.

I have an iPod. I like it. I use it. I have my entire CD library loaded into iTunes. But it has its limitations.

If you're unfamiliar with how portable audio devices work, you install a program like iTunes on your PC (or Mac). Then you either purchase songs from the program's corresponding online retail store and download them to your hard drive, or you import the music from your compact discs into the program. Your songs are encoded into an MP3 or MP4 (AAC) lossy format at a bitrate of your choosing. With iTunes, you can go anywhere from 16 kbps to 320 kbps. The lower the bitrate you use the worse the sound quality, but the less disc space used, therefore the more music you can install. The higher the bitrate, the better the sound quality, but the bigger the file size. You can even copy the files as raw WAV files and they'll work...but your 5,000 song iPod will suddenly become a 500-song iPod. The "happy medium" compression level the industry has accepted is 128 kbps, which is the bitrate most download stores use for the files they sell you.

Anyway, once you've purchased your music or uploaded your CD's, you hook your player up to your PC (or Mac) and copy the files.

Slick and simple.

Many people uploading CD's prefer to go with a higher bitrate. Critics suggest a "minimum" 192 kbps, and Apple has even started offering limited titles at 256 kbps for an extra charge.

I use 192 kbps. I find that's a decent bitrate for listening to music on my iPod, but it's not acceptable for creating CD's. I've tried it, and the songs on my car stereo (which is nothing's the factory unit and speakers) sounds like "music with a head cold". A noticeable amount of dynamic range is missing. There's no question that when you buy online, you're buying an inferior product.

CD's aren't perfect either. Purists have complained that the 16-bit technology was incapable of providing the fidelity of LP's since the format debuted. They say LP's sound "warmer". There's even been a next generation technolgy to replace CD's in the form of various DVD audio-related formats, but the marketplace has ignored them, probably because you can't rip the files to your library, and at least partly due to poor marketing. Plus, there's very few car stereos that can play them. As a result, the record companies are all but abandoning these formats. Why offer an improvement when everybody is favoring inferior formats?

I like CD's for a few reasons. I prefer having an available hard backup of my music. I prefer the sound quality for non-iPod sources. I prefer knowing that if my computer blows up tomorrow, I can start all over again easily. I prefer knowing that as bigger hard drives and better compression technology comes along, I can adapt by just uploading everything again instead of having to buy it all over again.

So the CD market continues to sag. People are even selling their CD's to used stores after they upload to their computer. They'd better hope their computer and their MP3 player don't crash on the same day, or they're REALLY doomed. That's an area where downloads can be advantageous...the better download stores have your purchasing history stored and will allow you to re-download the songs again.

Anyway, it's something to think about before you get rid of your CD collection.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Place: Taco Bell
Extreme Cheese & Beef Quesadilla, Crispy Taco, Nachos Supreme (no tomato), Pintos & Cheese, Mug Root Beer

This Taco Bell is like thirty years old and is housed in a building that was originally a Sambo's. They "remodeled" a couple of years ago when they brought in seats and tables from another Taco Bell that was either demolished or remodeled. This style and color hasn't been used by Taco Bell in 20 years or more. There's a reason Taco John's dominates this market.

So yesterday I was browsing Google News and noticed a story about CKE (proud owners of Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s) suing Jack in the Box to try and stop a commercial of theirs that CKE alleges implies “Angus beef” comes from the anus of cattle. (Jack in the Box has the funniest commercial campaign on television. I really want to see this ad.)

But it wasn’t so much the article I noticed as it was the picture that accompanied the article. It was a picture of a Hardee’s that I had taken several years ago and included in a review on my own website. The Money Times had lifted it from my website and took it as their own. Without my permission.

So I clicked the link for a closer look. Yep. My photo. At the bottom of the page they had a comment form for the article. So I posted a comment.

“The picture used in this article was taken by me, lifted from my website, and used without my permission. As you might imagine, I'm not terribly fond of you.”

This morning, I checked the website again and discovered they’d resolved the problem…by banning my IP from accessing their website again.

No problem, I have access to other computers. So I found the article again and discovered they also changed the picture to a generic CKE burger photo that they probably lifted off somebody else’s website.

That’s more than the Bloomington Pantagraph did when they lifted a photo I took for an article of theirs. They just ignored me completely. Same goes with several sleazy owners of drive-in theatres who took many of the unique questions and answers from the “Rules of the Drive-In” page I wrote for and adapted them for their own sites.

You know, it’s not like The Money Times and the Pantagraph are websites set up by some punks with no morals and too much time on their hands (like said drive-in owners). One is a major publication owned by a global organization, and one is a primary daily newspaper. The same types who would be screaming and crying and issuing “cease and desist” orders through lawyers if somebody took their story and republished it WITH credit.

But it’s perfectly fine for them to take stuff from some average guy’s site and post it as their own.

And it’s not like I would have said “no”. I’ve given permission for my photos to be used in magazines and websites previously. No problem.

The bizarre thing is that I stumbled upon both instances completely by chance.

If I really went digging, what else would I find?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Hour of Despair

Place: QuikTrip
Lunch: Chili dog, beef taquito, Pepsi

Wow. The things I had to go through to get here.

First, I stopped by the post office to check my PO Box. This has been a depressing thing to do as of late, because I have two packages that are WAY overdue, and nothing's ever in the box.

Much to my surprise, a package notice was in the box today.

So I get in line. It's one of those rare days where three counter people are actually working, and the line is moving at a relatively steady pace.

I give Counter Guy the slip. He heads to the back. I wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Then he appears again and grabs another Counter Guy.

"I can't find this," he says.

Other Counter Guy disappears with him. I hear some mumbling about where to look.

Other Counter Guy mans his counter again.

And I wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Counter Guy reappears. "I can't find anything for you."

"So they just put a slip in my box for no reason?"

Counter Guy disappears again without saying a word.




I spy him on the other side of the building now.




Dozens of people have come and gone in the line since.

FIFTEEN MINUTES after walking in, he appears with my package. Shockingly, it's one I've been waiting for since mid-April.

On the way home to drop off the package and e-mail the guy I bought it from to cancel the insurance claim he's filed on it with his postal service, I stopped by Git n' Go. My purchase totalled exactly $4.00. Redneck Counter Girl takes a $20, and hands me back $15.01 in change.

"No, that's not right. It should be $16.00 in change."


"The total was $4.00, so you should have given me $16.00 in change."

She looks confused for a second, then realizes her error. "Oh DUH! Hang on, the drawer will pop open when I sell this guy's stuff. Unless you want this dollar that kid (before me) left."

Said dollar is mangled and has a big hole in it. I'll wait for This Guy.

This Guy is using a credit card. He slides it through the reader.

Wait for response.




"It says it's invalid," says Redneck Counter Girl.

Guy has a look on his face that is concern, but not exactly surprise.

Redneck Counter Girl runs it through her reader on her keyboard, looks at the card, and says "This isn't yours, is it."

He kind of smiles as he shakes his head.

You know what's coming next, right?

You're wrong. The card is approved and the drawer pops open.

I get my dollar and leave.

I run home, drop off my package, and e-mail the seller. I head back to the office, hitting every red light along the way, including the right turn off the interstate exit that is a "NO TURN ON RED" intersection. It's "NO TURN ON RED" because our lovely Dept of Transportation just rebuilt every bridge over the interstate with built-in blind spots. it's inconceivable that this ridiculous design would be approved in this day and age, but they did it. Then instead of correcting their error, they stuck "NO TURN ON RED" signs up on them, which nobody paid attention to. Then they stuck bigger "NO TURN ON RED" signs up on them and posted cops near the intersections for the purpose of profit. They've probably paid off the bridges by now.

It's an hour and five minutes into my lunch hour, and I'm just now eating.

Should have stayed in bed.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Reverting to Childhood

Place: Bandana's BBQ
Lunch: BBQ chicken, smoked sausage, potato salad, BBQ beans, garlic toast, water

SIGNS IT'S TOO HOT ALREADY AND I'M NOT SLEEPING ENOUGH: A couple of days ago, I dropped an asprin on the floor and it rolled under my desk. And my immediate...and completely serious...thought was, "I should probably leave that there for Runaway Ralph."


Saturday, March 31, 2007

One for the Show

Place: Tim Horton's
Lunch: Chicken club sandwich, chili, Boston cream doughnut, hot chocolate

I rrrolled up the rim. I didn't win.

(If you're not familiar with Tim Horton's, you won't get that.)

Been to a concert lately? I haven't. Aside from a couple of shed shows featuring rehashed "classic rock" bands, my last real concert was KISS on their "farewell tour".

I think tickets to that one were around $45, plus a couple of bucks for the pre-requisite Ticketmaster service charge. I remember complaining about that.

Oh how things have changed.

Shortly after that tour, some concert promoter looked at "ticket brokers" who were buying said $45 tickets and reselling them for double or triple the value. Instead of getting angry, the promoter said "If people are willing to pay that price, why aren't I charging that price?"

BAM. Overnight, ticket prices doubled or tripled. Crappy seats on the Kiss/Aerosmith tour just a couple years later were $75 for the CHEAP seats. And the best seats were reserved for special ticket packages that ran in the THOUSANDS. And with that, concerts were priced out of the range I was willing to pay.

And that was that.

Recently, I've discovered it's only gotten worse. I was looking at tickets for something on Ticketmaster. I was floored with what I found.

Ticket price for "best seat available": $225.00
"Building facility charge": $4.00
Ticketmaster "convenience charge": $20.40

This was for a single ticket in the sixth row of the lower risers in about the middle of the building.

That didn't include shipping, which ranged from $14.50 to $25.00. To mail a ticket. Unless you wanted the tickets "e-mailed" to you so you could print them on your computer...which cost $2.50.

Yes, you even have to pay to print them yourself.

Shipping could be skipped if you wanted to pick up the tickets at will call. And I guess old US Mail is an option if you order far enough in advance (in some markets, anyway). Still, you see the precedent here.

And yet, people are paying.

So I've sworn off concerts. Who wants to put up with the crowds, parking fees, and all that crap anyway, right?

But once in awhile, a little gem comes along.

A month or two ago, I found myself at the Over the Rhine web page. They're an Ohio-based sort of folky rock Americana-ish...uh...anyway, they're awesome. I clicked their tour dates page. One of the dates was an "all ages" show in Goshen, Indiana. Ever heard of Goshen? Me neither. So I clicked on the page, and was linked to the Goshen Theater. Looked at some pics and immediately decided I had to go to this show.

Tickets? $20 or less. $20 was described as limited reserved seating in the first few rows. Oh yes. I did.

The tickets were sold directly by the theater. No facility charges. No convenience fees. Just $20.

A week later, the ticket was delivered in a hand-written envelope. And last night, I was in the second row among about 350 Over the Rhine fans (a sellout in this building) who enjoyed an amazing couple of hours in a beautiful old movie house.

We heard stories, we laughed a lot, and we enjoyed some really incredible music.

Which just goes to show...There are some great treasures out there if you look hard enough.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Auto Show

Place: Hickory Park
Lunch: Quarter chicken, pork ribs, beans, potato salad, chili, Green River soda

The beginning of Spring for me is the annual auto show. For nine bucks, you can browse, sit in, and mess with, a thousand motor vehicles under the roof of the convention center. Even if I'm not in the market (and I'm not), I go to the auto show. It's fun to see what's new and different. Take all the time you want. I usually take about three hours and am pretty worn out by the time I get to the GM display, at which point it's hardly interesting anymore. Or maybe it's just the GM product that makes me feel that way.

Some of my favorites...

Dodge Charger - When they came out with these, I thought they were pretty darn cool. I also wondered how long I'd think they were pretty darn cool. Well, they're still pretty darn cool.

Volkswagen GTI Fahrenheit Edition - A limited edition GTI in orange with specialized interior packaging and branding. It was the most interesting thing at the VW display this year since VW tragically doesn't have any new models. WHERE'S THAT TIGUAN?

Porsche Cayenne - Here's something new...When you turn on the lights, the instrument cluster lighting doesn't just come FADES UP! That SO makes the price tag worthwhile...

Mitsubishi Outlander - Sort of looks like a Toyota RAV4 without the annoying rear-mounted spare tire. The driver controls and indicators looked great and it had an in-dash navigation system that doubled as the radio, MP3 player, and personal organizer. All with touch-screen control. Pretty sweet.

Hyundai Santa Fe - Controls were all backlit in blue. Soooooothing. VERY nice seats in the uppity leather version. And you can get it with a manual transmission. VW doesn't even make the Touraeg in a manual, and VW sells more manual transmissions than anybody.

Hyundai Tiburon - In a world where cars are all getting taller, sitting low to the ground in a reasonably priced sports car like this feels good. Anybody who owns an SUV should have one of these in the garage for weekend Steak n Shake runs...even if it's the cheap four-cylinder. And it has blue control lighting similar to the Santa Fe. I wonder if Hyundai would give me a package deal...

Scion xB Release Series 4.0 - Actually a 2006 model. It was a special edition with a bronze paint that seems to change color depending on the angle and light you're looking at it in. It was REALLY impressive. I could see myself in one of these things, but I would prefer better ground clearance.

Some of the more boring finds...

Subaru - Doesn't matter which model...Subarus are boring. They're good cars to own and drive, but come on! Some fresh blood is needed in design.

Ford - Styling at Ford these days is a little...weird...obnoxious. That new chrome grill they're using reminds me of the a futuristic vision from the fifties. Something's wrong when you decide you need to revive the Taurus brand. They had a concept branded "Fairlane" that looked like a stretched Scion xB. And the Edge...Who cares.

Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner/Mazda Tribute - I've driven a LOT of these as rentals over the years, so I was particularly interested in their new look. Refreshed for 2008, Ford's mini-ute has new faces and new interiors across its three brands. Gone are the white-faced gauges of the Escape, which I hated. But the gauges are still too small, and I prefer the old look to the new. If you must go with one of these, look at Mariner. I don't know why Mazda even bothered when they've got the much cooler CX-7 and CX-9 crossovers now.

Toyota Yaris - What is Toyota's fascination with putting the instrument cluster in the center of the dash?

That's about all I remember. Chevrolet had a great big red "Dale Jr" pickup truck that was quite impressive. I think it even had a few of its own body parts. I think it was just a concept or some sort of one-off show car though.

Oh yeah, one more category...Most frightening question I heard all day...

Women almost universally were asking the same question..."Does it come with a navigation system?"

Seriously. Are we really that lost?

Friday, February 23, 2007

So what can you get for a buck these days?

Place: Huddle House
Lunch: Two eggs (over easy), bacon, toast, bowl of chili, water

The new Presidential coin series launched Monday. The US mint is releasing a series of dollar coins at the rate of four per year featuring all our dead presidents on them in sequential order up to where one of the presidents is still living. Meaning, unless Carter kicks the bucket before 2016, Reagan won't get one. The idea, of course, is to try and stimulate interest in dollar coins and get us to actually use them.

The plan is based on the wildly successful state quarter series. (You may or may not have also noticed the Westward Journey nickel series, which was super neato, but only lasted three coins.)

The dollar coin has had a cursed recent past in the United States. The Susan B Anthony wasn't different enough from a quarter to pass muster. The Sacagawea dollar hasn't helped to spark interest either, even when they got Wal-Mart to push them initially.

Coins are more durable and last longer, saving production costs, thus the reason for the push. Getting rid of the paper dollar apparently isn't an option, probably for fear of backlash come voting time.

This hasn't been a problem in Canada for two reasons...One, they DID quit making paper dollars. Two...Their dollar coin has a way cool nickname. Who WOULDN'T want a pocketful of Loonies.

In an effort to capitalize on hype, the Mint took an unusual step in making the coins available...Banks have been able to order and stockpile the coins for two weeks previous to the official launch. That way, eager consumers would be able to get them immediately.

Except, of course, on launch day. That's Presidents' Day, and the banks aren't open. This is probably a fitting omen. But the next day...Really! You can get them! Everywhere. Every bit as common as cat hair.

Admit've been keeping state quarters. One or two (one of each mint branding) of each state at least. I have a Big Boy piggy bank full of the things. Last year, since the series has moved into western states that are of much more significance to me, I decided to buy an annual silver proof set from the US Mint so I could have some nice shiny ones. For under $40, I got two plastic cases displaying silver proof versions of all five 2006 quarters, plus each of the other coins minted in 2006 (penny, nickel, dime, half dollar...yes they still make those too...Sacagawea dollar), each stamped with the San Francisco Mint "S", boxed up with a cheesy little glossy matchbook cover-like certificate of authenticity.

They were STUNNING.

I couldn't stop looking at the stupid things.

So I also ordered the 2005 set while it was available (which had the side effect of giving me a complete Westward Journey nickel set), and will probably order future sets too.

Anyhoo, I decided that being the shiny new coin collector that I am, I should help out the Mint and start circulating the dollar coins. It's the LEAST I could do for my country, right? So on Wednesday, two days after the official launch, I strode into my bank, head soaring like a proud American, and asked for a roll.

"We don't have them. Maybe tomorrow."

He looked really annoyed that I even asked. He probably said "Loser" under his breath as I left.

Then I decided to call another branch ahead of going. A recording answers and invites me to leave a message. NOBODY HUMAN ANSWERS THE PHONE EVER! I suppose I can't complain because I do the exact same thing at my house.

Later in the day on my way home, I happened by another branch and stopped in. Smiling Banking Teller said "I sure do!" I walked out with a shiny new roll (25 coins) of George Washingtons. A friend of mine called me and told me he'd picked up eight rolls (200 coins).

My immediate impression: They remind me of video arcade tokens. They're really shiny new but I imagine they tarnish the way the Sacagaweas do (I believe they're identical in composition). The words they stamped on the side of the coins are almost unreadable for me, which means they WILL be unreadable for most. They are slightly bigger than a quarter...enough so that I could easily tell the difference when reaching in my coin pocket. The etchings of the words also helped there.

I imagine a lot of people will question if they're real money.

So how do people react? Well...

Frowning Counter Girl at Dunkin' Donuts: I handed her two dollars and she stared at them in her hand, looking really confused. Then she turned them over. Then she turned them over again. Then she stared some more. For a good minute. Then she looked at me and said "These are a dollar." Yes. She's catching on. Then she spent a considerable amount of time trying to decide where to store them in the cash register.

(By the way, if you haven't tried Dunkin's new white hot chocolate...mmmmmm. Heaven in a cup.)

Customer Service Counter Girl at Dominick's: "Oooh! Purdy!"

Smiling Counter Guy at a completely different Dunkin' Donuts: "I thought they decided not to make these."

Counter Guy at Short Stop: "...Out of two bucks. Thanks!" He was the one cashier who didn't even blink when I handed them to him. Literally everybody else has at least stopped for a second to understand what I'm handing them.

There were a couple of places where I completely forgot I had them when I could have used them. I found that to be kind of annoying.

I don't find them to be that much of a burden to carry around. And the novelty is kind of fun.

I recommend dropping by your bank and picking up a roll. It's basically no cost amusement, if nothing else.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

One of Those Days

Place: DQ Grill & Chill
Lunch: Mushroom Grillburger, onion rings, chili, water

It's no longer "Dairy Queen", you know. DQ's current ownership (Warren Buffet) is insisting all franchisees convert to the Grill & Chill concept. This is stupid. "Brazier" was such a cool name.

Anyway, this is my first time in a Grill & Chill. The menu is standard DQ with fancier burger names and toppings. And fancier prices.

I order my food. I'm given a number on a red card which says to put it in the holder at your table. What holder? Oh...must be that circly thingie on top of the metal mini ad stand.

My food is up. I can see it sitting under the warmer light.

Still there.

Still there.

Employees standing around staring at it. Kind of like people around here when the light turns green. They don't know what to do. So they just sit there. The natives are all zombies. Very few of them even have souls.

Still there.

Counter Girl appears, grabs my food, and brings it out.

It's still hot and fresh tasting.

And terrible.

Really bad.


The onion rings have an aftertaste like fish.

The burger just sucks.

The chili is hideous.

Guess I'll get a cone to get the taste out of my mouth.

Counter Girl looks confused that I'm back. "One medium cone dipped in chocolate to go, please."

"It'll be over there (pointing) in a minute."

So I stand over there.

Still standing.

Still standing.

Still standing.

Refill my water.

Still standing.

Woman holding plain cone in hand..."You the one with the cone?"


"Chmmclt mmmrrph mlrrrff myt?"



"I can't hear you."

"The chocolate hasn't melted yet. Can I get you anything else?"

"What do you mean?"

"A Blizzard maybe?"

"Just give me the cone."

"A Blizzard?"

"Please just hand me the plain cone."

She does. "We'll give you a coupon for a small cone."

"That's quite alright."

She never once apologizes.

As I'm opening my car door, the soft serve above the cone rim slides off and plops on the pavement.

Imagine...I paid for this experience!

It's going to be one of those days.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Possible Wallet

Place: Bravo! Cucina Italiana
Lunch: Sicilian pizza, lobster bisque, water with lemon

I'm seated next to the big windows overlooking the lake, and it's snowing as I eat my lobster bisque.
It is a beautiful moment in time. Bravo has a really good lobster bisque. I've never quite understood why.

Jennifer found my exact wallet...on e-Bay.

I bought it immediately.

Jennifer is awesome.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Impossible Wallet

Place: McDonald's
Lunch: Quarter Pounder, Big Mac, large orange Hi-C

Ever notice that McDonald's only offers the Quarter Pounder with cheese on their menu anymore? The cheeseless version, which was my personal childhood favorite before my family hauled off and moved to a part of the world so isolated that even McDonald's didn't exist, hasn't shown up on the menu in years. But you can still order it. Just make sure you specify "without cheese".

Which I did today for the first time since I was probably nine. When I was nine, they came in a white foam clamshell with "Quarter Pounder" in an olive green outline. I kept a few containers to store stuff in. You could smell the burger in there for weeks after it was consumed.

Today's came in a Quarter Pounder with Cheese cardboard clamshell.

It was still good.

I might order that more often.

So I finally got a wallet. I settled on a bi-fold that zips shut and has a snappable change pocket inside. It holds less than half the crap of my Totes checkbook wallet. This sucks.

Checkbook wallets of ANY variety were hard to come by, let alone one with a zipper pocket. It just blows my mind that I couldn't find another wallet like mine. And don't think I didn't look. I even looked at women's checkbook clutches, all of which were much bigger and far too gaudy. I don't know why even women would carry something that looks as ridiculous as most of these did.

Let's review, shall we?

Wal-Mart: No.

Target: No.

K-Mart: No.

Walgreens: No.

Marshall's: No.

JCPenney: No.

Totes/Sunglass Hut: I DID find a location still open! I marched in, the girl said "Can I help you?" I said "I need one of these" and slammed it on the counter, Totes logo up. "Oh! We don't have anything like that!"

Macy's: No. But do you know what they DO sell in their men's accessories department? DVD players.

Sears: No.

Dillard's: No, but one came close. Not close enough to spend $40 on.

Sharper Image: No.

Brookstone: No, but one came close. Not close enough to spend $50 on. Almost...for $130.

Burger Time: No, but the burger was delicious!

Nordstrom Rack: No, but I'm coming back here when I need a new coat.

Another Target: No.

Another Wal-Mart: No.

A third Wal-Mart: No.

Burlington Coat Factory: No, and that was really disappointing because they DID carry a lot of Totes branded stuff.

Younkers: Younkers had no less than five different wallet displays throughout the men's department. I almost settled on a bi-fold there. Younkers ALSO carried a lot of Totes branded stuff. But not wallets.

Wilson's Leather: No.

American Tourister outlet: No.

Dollar General: No.

Big Lots: No.

Some random closeout store in the old Sam Goody location at Mall of America that made Big Lots look upscale: No.

A whole bunch of other shops at Mall of America: No.

Bloomingdales: HA HA HA HA! I'm not going in THERE.

K's Merchandise: No. They're going out of business. Not that it matters.

Pamida: The only thing Pamida had that even resembled a wallet was a pack of picture windows for a tri-fold.

ShopKo: No.

Gordman's: No.

Franklin Covey: No.

The gift shop at Terrible's: No.

Dollar Tree: No. But what the heck is a "gel pen"?

TJ Maxx: No. But that's where I gave up and bought the $12.99 Kenneth Cole bi-fold.

Maybe I'll learn how to sew and rehabilitate my old one.