Wednesday, December 31, 2008

$5849.48

Place: Spangles
Lunch: Classic hamburger (no tomato), fries, Pepsi

$5849.48.

That's how much money I spent on gasoline in 2008.

How ridiculous is that.

$5849.48.

In 2007, I spent $2697.09 on gas, and I owned a car that required premium fuel then. Not so much this year.

$5849.48.

In May, I paid $3.92 per gallon for gas, a relative bargain compared to some areas which went above $4.

The oil companies, cartels, etc really had us going there for awhile, didn't they. They've been laughing all the way to the bank for the past few years, but especially so this year.

They're not laughing so much now.

Yesterday, I got a tank full of gas for $1.28 a gallon. And 9/10's. $1.28 and 9/10's. We never think about that stupid 9/10's, do we.

I told people we'd see sub-$2.00 gas again. Nobody believed me.

Pfffft.


2008 was quite a year. My wife died (the hippies might phrase that as "reduced her carbon footprint"), the economy fell into the toilet,
the stock market collapsed, several big retail chains said goodbye (Mervyn's, Value City, KB Toys, Linen's n Things, to name a few)...yeah.

Quite a year.

Here's to a quiet, uneventful 2009.

I've had enough "eventful" to last me a full decade.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Very Chili Weekend

Place: Qdoba
Lunch: 3 crispy ground sirloin tacos, chicken tortilla soup, water with lime (guess what it tastes like)

So let's review all of the chili I ate on the road this weekend, shall we?

DISCLAIMER: It was a four-day weekend for me. I didn't eat all this in two days. Although I wouldn't put it past me.

1. Steak n Shake - It really sucks that the Steak n Shake closest to me (and by "closest" I'm talking 90-plus miles) doesn't open until 10am anymore. Sardar Biglari obviously hates me on a very deep and personal level. That's okay...Once he's bankrupted the chain and they're liquidating, I'm buying what's left and taking the chili recipe home. I'm thinking this won't take much more than about $12.50 to pull off.

2. Waffle House - For breakfast. Because chili is available 24/7. With eggs, toast, and bacon. Yum. I once got a Waffle House cook to make me a chili cheese omelet. That didn't come out so well. But it really excited her to try.

3. Krystal - On a chili dog. Or, as they call them , chili pups. Because they're small.

4. Huddle House - You remember the old 76 Auto-Truck travel plazas? Well one of their old buildings in Kentucky (now I think a Marathon) has the restaurant part turned into a really old dumpy makeshift-looking Huddle House, with bright red walls and more seating than any Huddle House I've ever seen. The chili was watery. Good, but it still needed some simmer time.

5. Skyline Chili - Chili 3-way. I've really grown fond of Skyline. I really have.

6. Huddle House - A shiny new Huddle House in Indianapolis. Trouble is...the chili they're serving isn't Huddle House chili. It's more like Wendy's chili. I was horribly disappointed by this.

7. Steak n Shake - On the way home. Lousy service. Very much a "Here's your food, which we prepared incorrectly. Now leave me alone" type of attitude.

I'm telling you...I'm going to be able to buy the whole chain for $12.50 by next summer.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Jim of the Jungle

Place: Roy Rogers
Lunch: Double-R Bar Burger, Large Roast Beef, Coke

One has to wonder why there's a stray old Roy Rogers still hanging on in Ohio, when most remaining locations are centralized on the east coast. Until, that is, you see the zoo this place is at lunch. Then you don't wonder so much anymore.

So today I checked out Jungle Jim's. You may have seen this place profiled on the Food Network...it's a sprawling complex of a supermarket with a jungle theme and a lot of hard to find international foods. It's the place that made the bathroom entrances look like portable toilets. If I ever build a movie theater, I'm totally going to do that.

I walk in and it doesn't look nearly as big on the inside as it did on the outside. In fact, it looks kind of crappy. I walk up and down the grocery aisles and find nothing special going on here. Their prices are kind of high. The liquor section is as big as the rest of the grocery area. At least, the grocery area I'd seen. The one shocker...They stocked Tillamook butter. NOBODY east of Idaho stocks Tillamook butter. Of course, it was nearly three times the price I paid for Tillamook butter in Idaho too. In fact, initially the big deal seems to be a large selection of butter, meat logs, and cheese.

So I'm walking towards the checkouts when I start seeing signs over some items that refer to more items being "in the back". Huh? So I walk up around the checkstands...and discover a whole 'nother section of store.

The other section is HUGE. It's divided into several international sections. Asian, German, Hispanic, Italian, etc.

Some of the stuff in the Chinese section is clearly not designed to be sold in the US...it doesn't even have English on the packaging.

There are whole aisles full of crap I've never heard of before. Imagine all the crap I could buy and never ever do anything with. Ever.

Naah.

Then there's the seafood section. Fresh tilapia? They have LIVE Tilapia. Apparently, they're pinkish, have big eyes, and just hang around not doing much.

It's all very lovely, but I could find a lot more hard to find stuff that I actually want at Woodman's, and lots cheaper to boot.

But some grape Nehi is definitely coming home. And maybe some strawberry cream Piroulines. And Don Pablo's queso. Who knew Don Pablo's even had a grocery line. They're barely even a restaurant chain anymore.

Over the Rhine is doing a pair of 20th anniversary shows this weekend...one tonight with their original lineup doing songs from their first ten years, and one tomorrow night with songs from their last ten years. Yet you've never heard of them and couldn't possibly care less.

Sucks to be you.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Werewolves of Alabama

Place: Hogi Yogi
Lunch: 6-inch smoked turkey on white with Hogi sauce, mushrooms, pickles, onions and olives, orange sherbet twist, Pepsi

EVERYTHING THAT'S WRONG WITH MUSIC TODAY: Literally any time I set foot in a business playing country music in the background these days (like today at Hogi Yogi, for example), I will eventually hear a song that samples both Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" with some lyrics sung by some guy who sounds like John Mellencamp.

Today, the announcer advised it's Kid Rock.

I've actually heard of Kid Rock from some deal years ago. I thought he was a hard rock rapper. Apparently he figured out what Jewel did...Country is easier to conquer and profit on.

The mind boggles.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mushroom Swiss Conquered

Place: Arctic Circle
Lunch: Mushroom Swiss, Yukon Gold fries, fry sauce, Pepsi

YESSSSSSSSS!

I feel better now.

MORE FRY SAUCE

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wood-Fired Goodness

Place: Wendy's
Lunch: Gourmet Mushroom Swiss, chili, Coke

Another day...another limited time only mushroom Swiss burger from one of the big burger chains.

This one is better than Burger King's, but not much. In the grand tradition of Wendy's, the thing looks like somebody stepped on it. It was certainly handled much more than it should have been...Big Fat Counter Guy put it in somebody else's to-go bag, took it out, put it back in, took it out, took it back to the kitchen and asked what it was, brought it back out, put it back in the bag, took it out, then put it on my tray and gave it to me.

It has portabello mushrooms and bacon on it. There's absolutely no point in the bacon being there. The bacon flavor is completely lost.

It did taste better than their previous efforts at a mushroom burger, but not by much.

Me. Need. Arctic. Circle.

And why doesn't Wendy's go to self-serve drink stations like every other major chain with a dining room?

I'll tell you what WAS good, though. Red Lobster has installed wood-fired grills in all their locations. I had dinner there last night. The shrimp, lobster and scallops platter was fantastic. The scallops were much more tender than they usually are there, and the flavor of the lobster was so good, you might even skip dipping it in butter.

Red Lobster's rating just went WAY up with me.

Wendy's...not so much.

Friday, November 07, 2008

100

Place: Jimmy Johns
Lunch: Gargantuan (no tomato), water

On Monday, it was sunny, in the 70's, and my air conditioner was running.

Today, it's cold and windy and there's snow flurries in the air. The Hickory Farms stand has opened in the mall, and Target has an arsenal of holiday Hershey's Kisses flavors in stock.

So much for fall.

Hickory Farms came out with a cajun beef stick a couple of years ago. It was pretty much the best beef stick ever. They've never had it again.

But they do have a ham stick this year. And it's pretty awesome. I'll probably snack on it all weekend. With some smoked cheese.

Snack meat and hot chocolate while watching football and watching the flurries fly. An excellent Saturday beckons.

My 100th blog post should probably be something special, right? Well, it's not. But I'll give the history on how it came to be:

1. Jennifer started a blog.

2. Jennifer said that I should do a blog.

3. I said I didn't need a blog.

4. I came up with the whole "lunchtime social" concept and started a blog.

5. Jennifer's blog, in its entire history, has had nine posts...one of which was made by her sister.

There you have it. Enjoy the ham stick.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

No More Excuses

Place: Arby's
Lunch: All-American Roast Burger (no tomato), Bigger Beef n' Cheddar, Coke

The "Roast Burger" is a regular roast beef sandwich garnished like a hamburger, with pickles, onions, lettuce, tomato, mustard, ketchup, and maybe mayo...I can't remember for sure. Kind of one of those "Why didn't they think of that before" things. Probably because it doesn't quite work flavor-wise. Might be better without the mustard. But the Bigger Beef n' Cheddar...now that's a thing of beauty.

The elections are over, so the endless barrage of campaign ads can once again make way for the endless barrage of scare tactic ads for drugs by scumbag pharmaceutical companies. Think YOU are sick of political ads? Try living in Iowa. Our early caucuses and straw polls mean these guys have been hammering us with ads for TWO YEARS.

It was interesting to watch the development of Obama through all this. He started out sloppy...he would say the wrong buzz word or drop the wrong name in many of his early speeches. A local media guy would later point it out to him, and he'd bust out laughing and correct himself. He did a lot of that, and his opponents would point these out as examples of inexperience that could be dangerous as President.

But everybody forgot about that after Iowa. His victory speech was a grand slam. I heard his speech that snowy night while driving on some two-lane blacktop in Illinois and thought to myself "WOW. Now THAT sounds presidential". This was a guy the Democrats could market without resorting to their usual hate-filled scare marketing. This was a guy who could win on face time.

In fact, I thought the scare marketing was toned down quite a bit this year. It was certainly there...the Democrats had their "Palin is stupid" rhetoric going before she even was officially announced...but I thought the reasonable Americans could ultimately look at both candidates and say "Both of these guys are good people." I don't recall ever being able to say that in my memory of being able to understand campaigns (my first being Carter-Ford in 1976...my grade-school teachers were complete Carter shills). That's impressive considering the Democrats...both leaders and average registered voters...have been beating the country to death with their arrogant "hate hate hate Bush is stupid" bashing for the past six years.

Now that the Democrats have what they've always wanted...a complete dictatorship of the federal government...it'll be interesting to see what they do with it, and how the country responds to it.

They have no one left to hate.

They have no one left to blame.

They have no more excuses.

Without their rage and with no one left to blame when things go wrong, will they even know how to act as human beings?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Time

Place: Subway
Lunch: Foot-long Chicken Pizziola, Lays potato chips, Dr Pepper

A SIGN ON THE DOOR says they can't take credit or debit cards because the machine is down. The whole register is down, actually. They're using a calculator to complete orders. The cash drawer just sits wide open for money handling.

Why does Subway need to take credit cards, anyway? Who doesn't carry enough loose cash to eat at Subway?

The Chicken Pizziola is a limited-time only addition to the $5 footlong menu. It would be better if the chicken and marinara were hot before being put on the sandwich...the convection oven just doesn't toast that well...but it's still $5 well spent.

The local moldy oldie radio station being piped into the Subway dining area has apparently broadened their horizons past the fifties and sixties...they're playing the Carpenters. I haven't heard the Carpenters on the radio in decades. That's too bad. They did some great songs. It kind of put me in the mood to fire up some old Carly Simon.

The clocks moved back one hour over the weekend. It was well into Sunday before I figured this out, and it's been wreaking havoc with me ever since.

I can't explain why. Normally, I'm fine with the change. But I was confused about what time it was and messing with clocks until late this morning.

First, I got up 6:30am on Sunday and drove up to the QuikTrip to get gas and a soda. On the way, I noticed that the fast food places that normally sell breakfast were all closed. That was just odd.

It was a few hours later when I heard somebody at say "No, it's only 9:30, the clocks moved back an hour last night" to somebody else that I realized it was actually 5:30 when I drove to the QuikTrip.

Then I forgot about the change again and didn't change my home clocks, so every time I looked at them, I'd think it was later than it was. The cats took full advantage of this and started bugging me to feed them like two hours early. And I fell for it. Then later, they started bugging me again. Then I couldn't figure out when I should eat.

So I finally changed all the clocks. But everything just felt odd the rest of the day.

This problem has continued today. I woke up and thought "Why is it so light out?" And I had more clock problems at work. My office desk clock and my watch auto-change by reading a radio signal from the Atomic Clock in Colorado. But neither received the signal since the change, so they didn't change. It got so annoying that I flipped my clock around so I couldn't see it because I kept thinking it was earlier than it was.

I kept forcing both to find the signal, and they finally got it.

Life is better now, maybe.

I don't remember ever having so much trouble with a time change before.

But I do like that it's now dark earlier.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Lourdes of Ignorance

Place: Burger King
Lunch: the Angus Mushroom and Swiss steakhouse burger, onion rings, chocolate milk shake

There's two counter people and no customers. The counter people are having a conversation about something to do with the cash register and ignoring me. Then one of them leaves and counter girl Lourdes (what kind of a name is "Lourdes"?) stares at me.

"Are you ready?" I ask.

"Yes," she says.

"I'll have a Mushroom and Swiss steakhouse burger, onion rings, and a medium chocolate shake."

...But I've lost her. She's now having a conversation with another employee.

When she finishes said conversation, she asks "You want number 1?"

(The number 1 combo is a Whopper with cheese.)

So we go over this again. She apologizes. I don't believe her.

I love a good mushroom and Swiss. This one is NOT among those. Honestly...Who puts A1 and onion petals on a mushroom and Swiss? I need to get back to Utah and have me an Arctic Circle mushroom and Swiss.

I will say that they gave me a new "zesty" dipping sauce for the onion rings that is almost identical to Arby's onion petal dipping sauce. That was good.

If they're going to offer Angus burgers, why not make a burger branded the Angus Whopper? That just seems like a natural tie-in to me. The regular Whopper...but with the Angus patty.

I was sick over the weekend, but felt better enough to go to work Monday. Then I was sick all over again last night, didn't sleep much, and found myself laying in bed at 7 thinking there was no way I was going to work today. Then, suddenly out of nowhere, I felt fine. So I'm working.

I probably won't feel fine after this.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What do We Know?

Place: Waterfront Seafood Market
Lunch: Rock shrimp basket (fried rock shrimp, fries, cole slaw), clam chowder, Coke

NUMBER OF FRIES I HAD CONSUMED BEFORE SPILLING KETCHUP ON MY SHIRT: None. The first freaking fry dripped.

Stupid ketchup.

For the record, it's NOT on the waterfront, or anywhere near water. It's in an old suburban strip mall. Next to Sally Beauty Supply. But they do have an actual fish market attached to the restaurant. You can take fresh fish home.

The NHL season kicked off Saturday with two games played in Prague and Stockholm. The Stockholm arena was neato. A third game was played on Sunday, I think also in Prague.

Then preseason resumed stateside.

Makes no sense to anybody that I know of.

Regular season resumed last night with a beautiful Red Wings loss, and a Def Leppard concert.

A Def Leppard concert?

Yes, a Def Leppard concert. Apparently they have this new song which is easily adaptable to hockey or something. That's what the Hockey Night in Canada guys were saying on Saturday. So basically without saying it outright, Def Leppard was plugged as a hockey band.

So they're playing tunes from their catalog of hits some twenty years ago (I never got to hear said new song) when out comes a Red Wing on a Harley with the Stanley Cup on the back. He holds it high and kisses the cup as you do when you win the cup. Then he hands it to Leppard singer Joe Elliot, who holds it high, goes over to a stand on the stage, and puts in on...upside down.

The base is in the air. The cup is supporting the weight.

Somebody frantically runs over and rights the oldest and grandest trophy in all of professional sports. Elliot says "It's upside down? Well what do we know...We're soccer boys."

So much for that.

After the show, Vancouver's home opener started with a tribute to Luc Bourdon, a Canuck rookie who was killed in a motorcycle accident in May. Tom Cochrane was on hand to do an acoustic version of his "Big League", a song about a hockey player killed in an accident on his way to the top as told from the player's father's perspective. It's a true story about a Flames draftee from beautiful Bemidji, Minnesota that's well known in hockey circles, though Cochrane has never admitted it's about anybody specific.

Anyway, Tom Cochrane redeemed Def Leppard last night.

Let's hope the NHL remembers that next time they think about promoting a non-Canadian "classic rock" band.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Hooray for Slumberland

Place: HuHot Mongolian Grill
Lunch: A couple of chicken plates with different sauce mixes, Coke

I've been eating here a LOT lately. I get that way...I eat at one place a lot, then suddenly quit and don't go back for months or even years for no reason.

I had dinner at The Cheesecake Factory the other night. Now I know that restaurants have been increasing their beverage costs to ridiculous levels to get their profits up (some don't even bother posting prices on the menu anymore), but $4.50 for a strawberry lemonade?!?

And an update from my last post...Hardee's DOES now have the Chili Cheese Thickburger back on the menu, along with the chili dogs. And chili cheese fries. They also have a pork biscuit with sausage gravy on the breakfast menu. It's awesome, but if you eat it in your car, your car will smell like soggy old socks for the rest of the morning.

I have no idea why.

It hasn't stopped me from eating like three of them this week, though.

I really should start eating out less.

Well, I finally got my chair and ottoman. The chair is pretty much the greatest chair ever. The ottoman is freaking huge and has become the official preferred living room hangout spot for the cats. I can have my feet up and there's still more than ample room for both to stretch out. It's dark green ("sage"), but not the same dark green ("fern") as my love seat. The style is also slightly different. They scream "WE DON'T BELONG TOGETHER!" when you see them. Maybe I should have just gone blatantly different with the chair color and gotten the Taupe.

Naah.

You know what happens when you go to Homemakers and ask how long it will take to get a color of something in they don't stock? They have a scripted answer that goes like this..."Five to six weeks, which is really fast in our industry." I've had three or four different salespeople use that line on me over the summer.

You know what happens when you go to Slumberland on Sunday and ask the same question? "We can get it from our South Dakota warehouse on Tuesday. You can pick it up that afternoon."

You know what happens when you go to Slumberland on Wednesday after deciding the piece you picked up on Tuesday sucked and you want to order something else they don't have in stock? "We can get it from our South Dakota warehouse on Friday. You can pick it up that afternoon and return the original piece then."

All this summer I'm looking for a stupid chair and ottoman, and it never once occured to me to go to Slumberland. I've been to furniture stores in three different states. I drive by Slumberland all the time. Never occured to me to go in. Then one late September day I'm driving by and went "Wait a minute..."

Anyway...Hooray for Slumberland.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Gold Medal

Place: Hardee's
Lunch: 2 chili dogs, Coke

Yes, Hardee's is selling chili dogs. They have chili in the kitchen, they're selling chili dogs, but they're not selling their awsome occasional chili cheeseburger. For that, I have to go to Carl's Jr.

Still...good chili dog.

The Summer Olympics ended a couple of weeks ago. I enjoy watching the swimming and diving competitions more than anything else. That camera that follows the divers from the board into the water is awesome, especially in high definition.

Men's gymnastics can be pretty good. I'm not that fond of the women's gymnastics because the girls are so young and it feels like exploitation to me. Watching the lifelong dreams of little girls crushed at the hands of snotty judges after they risk their limbs on balance beams and high bars just doesn't work for me.

Which...somehow...leads us to Aldi.

Aldi is a German-based grocery store chain with a small footprint low-price format. They have small stores with a small staff and an almost 100 percent inventory of store label products. Everything is ridiculously cheap. And pretty good too. I prefer many of their items to the national brands.

When I first encountered them about fifteen years ago, the stores all had manual cash registers and no prices on the products. The cashiers had every item's price memorized, and could rip through an order at lightning fast speeds. It was very impressive. And it's a good thing...They hardly ever have more than one line open at a time.

Today, Aldi has scanners. But the cashiers are just as fast as they ever were. So when a woman ahead of me in line today with an overflowing cart full of Aldi plunder asked "Would you like to go ahead of me?" I said "No thanks, I'm fine." Because I knew she'd be through the line in a flash.

Sure enough, the Aldi cashier ran everything through in less than a minute. He gave her the total, which was about $115, if I remember correctly. That's a LOT of stuff at Aldi.

She balks. "How much?"

She didn't have that much cash.

"How much do you have?" he asked.

It was less than $60 from what I could see.

Then she started returning items. So he's re-scanning and hitting "Void" on stuff. Which is a lot slower than scanning stuff for sale purposes.

I watched the receipt as it printed the voids out.

Twenty-seven items. Literally half the cart emptied.

Which brings us back to the Olympics.

I am certain that if overestimating your spending in a grocery store was an Olympic event, I just watched a gold medal performance.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Greatest Summer Ever

Place: Souper Salad
Lunch: Buffet (salad, soup, pizza, spaghetti, mac and cheese, loaded baked potato), Coke.

I'm willing to bet I drank twice my own body weight in fountain Pepsi this summer.

The local convenience store chains had a price war. QuikTrip (the greatest convenience store chain in the history of the world) was doing 69 cent 32 oz fountain sodas until Kum & Go came out with their 49 cent "Soda vs Pop" campaign. QuikTrip then went to 39 cents.

And I totally bought into it. I picked one up two or three days per week on the way to the office. It's my morning equivalent to you coffee drinkers.

I should probably quit. Or maybe exercise or something.

It was a summer of soda and driving. My poor car, which I took delivery on less than five months ago, has 22,000 miles on it already. It's been to 13 states, which do NOT include Minnesota or Colorado. Yet. To it's credit, the Rogue has been completely trouble-free, save for a slow tire leak, keeping me from having to take it into Satan's Nissan for anything.

I took a mindset that, in spite of how the year started, I was going to have the greatest summer ever. I didn't exactly manage that, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Any time I found myself questioning my eating habits or some such thing, an angry voice in the back of my head would shout "GREATEST SUMMER EVER!" And that was that.

I attended the Dublin Dr Pepper birthday party. My eight-day Utah sabbatical turned into a trip home to Oregon. I spread my wife's ashes partly in view of the Salt Lake area...and partly under a drive-in screen. I discovered the wonderful burgers at Freddy's. I saw Stephanie Smith live in front of a couple dozen people in a city park. I saw Deborah Fotheringham live at a truly odd benefit concert that I really should have done a blog post on (the three acts included a junior high school dance choir). I made it back to the Nebraska homestead and reunited with the cousins for my uncle's funeral.

But I'm ready for fall. Football is on TV again. Hockey is around the corner. I'm ready for cooler weather and snow storms.

I'm sure I won't completely settle in, but it's time to stay home more.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Power of Choice

Place: Huddle House
Lunch: Chili, strawberry shortcake, Pepsi

Waitress, acting as cashier, says "Yah ate that Strawberry Shortcaike pretty fast."

Me: "Yeah, you have to eat fast around here."

Waitress: "That shore is true."

Busy place.

So as I'm pulling into my driveway, there's a big piece of trash sitting in it. I run it over, park in the garage, and walk out to investigate. It's the big city newspaper, wrapped in plastic. With my tire print on it.

I don't subscribe to the paper. In fact, I once considered suing them. My wife used to subscribe years ago, and let the subscription lapse because we weren't reading it anymore. They continued to deliver anyway. One day, the paper guy shows up at our door asking for payment.

"We don't subscribe anymore," we said.

"Oh, but you didn't call and cancel, so we assume you want to keep the subscription active. Please pay. I have to pay for the papers, so you're really not sticking it to them...you're sticking it to meeeee!"

WOW.

I blew my top. Absolutely went off on the guy. Told him I was contacting the Attorney General's office.

Which I did. And they questioned the paper about this practice.

The paper ended up reimbursing the guy for the papers. Then they called our answering machine and left a message explaining their right to do this. The message was so long, the answering machine hung up on them and they had to call back to finish it.

The satisfaction for me was that it was clearly written by an attorney, and that meant they had spent far more money on this problem than they EVER made from us in subscription fees.

So anytime a stray paper would show up on our doorstep, we'd either call and complain, or my wife would stop by their office (which neighbored hers) and complain.

They'll be getting a complaining e-mail tonight.

Anyway, the first thing I see in the plastic under the tire tread is "Are we a nation of distractions?"

The subtitle is "Freedom to have unlimited choices in life may not really be a freedom at all".

OOOH. My blood got going right there.

The (Associated Press) article first focused on a shop dedicated to sodas in California...how they had 500 varieties...then went to the dramatic expansion in cable channels. A sidebar called "Too many choices?" laid out other examples, from the number of available books on Amazon, to the number of menu items at Taco Bell.

The ultimate target, of course, was politics. "In a universe of unprecedented static, how can an American leader lead?"

The rest of the article didn't really matter...it gave examples of how too much choice makes us "short-circuit" and make no choice at all, and it didn't really draw any conclusion. It kind of collapsed under its own weight. I think the point was "how do our leaders get our attention", or "how do we get everybody involved in politics". My opinion on politics is simple...There's too much of it, and it's far too deeply rooted in our lives. I DO vote, and my vote is made on one simple factor...Who is most likely to butt out of my life?

Nothing has improved my life more over the years than the internet. I have instant access to the world. The expansion of knowledge and creativity is unprecedented. If it weren't for the internet, I probably would have died of boredom years ago.

Twenty years ago, I was working in a radio format known as "AOR", or "Album-Oriented Rock". The concept was to go deeper into rock albums than whatever was deemed the single at the time. A station might be playing two or three tracks from the latest U2 release among their current music rotation, which played alongside what was then considered the classics...the roots of hard rock. And even THEN we had people complaining to us for being to narrow-minded in the music we played.

The format, the last little bastion of creativity on the FM dial itself, died almost universally overnight when a single program director with a lot of clout invented "classic rock". New music was no longer relevant. A simple list of "test-proven" tunes from fewer than fifty artists played over and over again was better for the mindless masses.

And so it has been ever since.

And my love for radio pretty much died.

At the time, there were two mediums for discovering music...Radio, and MTV. New artists had already long since been complaining they couldn't get exposure to their music in the corporate-driven industry. For people who actually liked hearing new things, it was a horribly stifling time.

Today, the music world has turned upside-down. Radio is completely unnecessary anymore. Finding new music is as simple as listening to samples online, searched by genre. And for artists, recording your own album is relatively easy and much less expensive than it used to be

That's just one example of the power of choice.

Let's go back to that soda shop. The guy carries the variety he does NOT because he expects people to come in and sample a lot of it (though there are those who do), he does so because he knows people will come to him for that one specific soda they know only HE will have. And if enough people do so, he will be successful. His empire is built on the fringes. And God bless him for it.

It's wonderful that all these choices are out there.

But the most significant point the writer of the A.P. article doesn't get is that the vast majority of you don't take advantage of any choices at all.

There may be a large variety of sodas out there, but if you go down the aisle of Joe Average supermarket, you'll find them all divided the same way...1/3 Coke products, 1/3 Pepsi produts, 1/4 Dr. Pepper products, and 1/10 everything else. And that little "everything else" section isn't exactly stocking 500 other brands. And you stopped after the Coke section anyway.

You're all STILL blissfully ignorant of any recording artist not broadcast on the local classic rock or "Lite FM" station. (Country fans may be the exception, but the very idea of creativity in Country is absurd anyway).

You may have 150 cable channels, but you're only watching ten of them, if that many.

There may be 22 varieties of Doritos, but I'm thinking about 9 out of 10 of you never even think about buying any flavor but Nacho Cheese.

And you all know there's exactly two real choices in politics...Democrat, or Republican. And it doesn't matter who the face of the party is and what smoke and mirrors they throw up as an agenda (isn't it ironic how often THEY throw the word 'change' around?)...the end result will be exactly the same. Policies will change to benefit the same old agenda of the party in power, and the money that buys them.

THAT is a choice we need to expand upon.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Comfortable Seating

Place: Original Pizza
Lunch: Slice of pepperoni, Pepsi

A couple of months ago, I bought a new love seat. I'd been thinking about replacing my furniture for some time. I wanted lower height arms with better cushioning, like the microfiber stuff that's out there now. In the case of the love seat, something that would be easier to flop (lay) over without getting a stiff neck.

Behold the power of Big Lots, who I discovered were selling the perfect love seat in a dark green color called "Fern" for an incredible $219. Furniture Sales Manager: "I've got like FOUR of these things but I can't move them because I don't have the matching pieces. But it's a WONDERFUL sofa and I'd LOVE for you to take one home! I'd take one home myself if I had room for it!" Yes, they were desperate. And I snagged it.

(BTW - Those of you who have claimed to love the old one...it's in the garage in perfectly good condition awaiting a new home.)

Ever since, I've been looking for a chair and ottoman to go with it. It doesn't have to be an exact match...it just has to fit ME exactly.

So here I am in this old shopping mall (same place I'm eating at) that is going through a major remodel. Most of the ceiling is stripped to the frame joints, some sections are blocked off with temporary drywall, and about half the parking lot is fenced off. Some of the stores, including this fabulous pizza joint, look like refugees from the eighties. I'm having memories of the old Jantzen Beach shopping center here. I suppose they'll ruin that as the new look is phased in. (Did I mention about how they ruined the Jantzen Beach mall when I was in Portland? Oh, never mind...)

But the stores are open for the most part, and one of the anchors is a furniture store. So I wander in.

And what do I see but my love seat. The very same one I got at Big lots.
Right there practically as I walk in the door. Same manufacturer, same color. Slightly higher price...okay, WAY higher price. On sale for $400-plus. Their regular price was north of $450.

But the big deal is, they have the exact matching chair and ottoman. On sale for...oh...I think it was close to $600 for the pair.

So I sat in the chair, briefly dreaming of the bliss of matching coordinated furniture.

VERY briefly.

The chair was AWFUL.

It sat your back straight up and stiff. There was no way I could relax in this thing. It was horrible.

Elderly Sales Lady approaches and explains how these are on sale, and how they could knock off even more if I were a cash buyer. I thanked her and advised I was just browsing.

I HAVE found the perfect chair and ottoman in terms of comfort, but the store was out of stock and they wouldn't have fit in my vehicle anyway. They were the right price too, about $329 for the pair if I remember correctly. The color was a lighter green, which probably wouldn't look too good against my existing love seat. I think I'd be better off with a dark brown or maybe even sand colored solution.

Maybe if time and space converge and I happen to be in that area again with the right vehicle, I'll get it anyway.

Or maybe something else will come up at Big Lots.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Taco Bargains

Place: Taco Shop
Lunch: Combo #4 (2 tacos with mild sauce, 1 cheese enchilada, Pepsi)

Let's compare to the Taco John's lunch of yesterday (see previous post)...Today, I got 2 tacos, a cheese enchilada, and a Pepsi.

Price before tax? $3.39.

The food was better too. Actually, the recipes were almost identical to Taco Tico.

It's no surprise that there isn't a Taco John's within 40 miles of here.

It's a shame that the new Batman movie is coming out next week, because it will probably cannibalize ticket sales for Hellboy 2, which I saw today.

REALLY fun movie.

I really hated that "Batman Begins" they made a couple of years ago. Whenever the guy was in the bat suit, he sounded like he really had to go to the bathroom.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Taco Cons

Place: Taco John's
Lunch: Stuffed Grilled Taco, Potato Ole's, Pepsi

The new Stuffed Grilled Taco is a corn shell taco with the usual meat and cheese, plus sour cream, wrapped by a flour tortilla and grilled. It is absolutely not worth the $2.29 they charge for it.

But even worse...The combo deal for this thing is $5.49.

They're adding $3.20 for a 20 oz soda and overglorified tater tots.

WHAT?!?

Adios Taco John's.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dan's Old Ride

Place: Del Taco
Lunch: Macho taco (no salsa), 2 chicken soft tacos, Del Beef burrito, original Mr. Pibb (put it in your head)

So I get my drink cup and it says "WIN DAN'S RIDE". It's a promotional contest to win a Dodge Charger. I was surprised to see this because "Dan", Del Taco's commercial spokesman, was let go like TWO YEARS AGO.

So why are they running a contest?

Turns out, they're not. The game rules clearly state the contest ended in 2006.

They're using up old drink cups.

What makes that even weirder is that this Del Taco just opened maybe a month ago.

THAT doesn't look terribly professional, does it.

What they DO have that's new is "Del Inferno" hot sauce. Del Inferno has regulated Del Scorcho hot sauce to the second hottest available condiment at Del Taco.

My experience is, the hotter the sauce, the less the flavor. But Del Inferno has a distinct flavor to it.

AND quite a kick, I must say.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

No Tomato

Place: Waffle House
Lunch: Two eggs over light with white toast (no grits), 3 strips of bacon, small bowl of chili, Coke

And the winner is...WHATABURGER

Congratulations. You've won the "Don't lecture me about the tomato crisis" award.

I ate at three burger joints this week, each where I asked for my burger to be made with "no tomato" as usual. As you are probably aware, there's a salmonella scare with tomatoes, and most restaurants have pulled the pesky things from menus.

This is the response I got:

Hardee's: Snippy Counter Girl says "We no have tomato. Read the sign." I HAD already read the sign, and it said they'd removed tomato from "most items". So my request was still valid, Maria, you stupid snippy Hardee's counter girl. I HATE YOU.

Spangles: Smiling Counter Guy says (while pointing at their sign, which they've posted like 50 copies of everywhere) "Actually, due to the (blah blah blah), we're not currently serving tomatoes." To which I replied "Well, since I asked for no tomato, I guess we'll get along just fine then." At which point, he realized that mentioning it at all was really kind of dumb in my case.

Whataburger: "That'll be $7.07. Please pull forward to the window."

(Yes, I ordered more than just a burger.)

I've also noticed this week that Mexican restaurants that claim to make their salsas, pico de gallo, and what not fresh daily are STILL making said items.

Must be using canned tomatoes for that stuff, huh.

Suddenly, that whole "fresh" perception takes on a different tone, doesn't it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Portland

Place: Round Table Pizza
Lunch: Lunch buffet (salad, pizza, pizza, pizza, twisty garlic thingies, pizza), Pepsi

I LOVE this dining room. Brown woods, tiffany lamps...it's old and awesome.

Blue Ford Focus comes flying into the lot and pulls into a handicap spot. Driver fishes in the glove box and produces a handicap hanger and hangs it on the mirror. She and a little girl get out and jog to the door, showing no signs of any handicap between them. There were several non-handicap spots nearby, including one closer to the door.

I only get home about once every five years anymore, and I wasn't planning to come home now either. But on Sunday, two days into my Utah 8-day sabbatical, I decided it was now or never. And after two days here, I am reminded why I don't come back more often.

Portland is, by far, the most beautiful place I've ever been. The greens are simply greener. The air smells fresher. The colors are vivid. Even the highway pavement looks nice. I still get a rush coming into view of downtown at the I-5/I-84 junction. Great restaurants are abundant ("so why are you at Round Table?" you ask. Bite me) and the city and people have an identity all to themselves.

So what's wrong?

It's crowded. I picked up my aunt from work last night on 5th avenue downtown. A flood of people doing whatever they feel like (because former Mayor Vera "Nit-Wit" Katz apparently legalized right-of-way to non-motorist traffic regardless of status of traffic or signals) just beg to be run over...one even accused me of trying to run her over in an explosion of temper and high-brow attitude. Peak traffic is a nightmare on all freeways.

It's snobby. The people of Portland are left-wing snobs. They won't talk to you (or give you a good job) if you don't have a college degree, unless they have something about you they want to complain about. They're fiercely politically active. There have been some absolutely wacko things put on the ballots here over the years. It's like a San Francisco with a smaller gay population. If you don't like politics, this town will just depress you. And I'm pretty sure there's some requirement in getting a public job that you "must treat everybody else sub-human".

It's dangerous for all the wrong reasons. Years ago while working at the Target on TV Highway, one of my co-workers...a woman...was pulled over in our parking lot for a burned-out tail light. They discovered she had an outstanding parking ticket or some such thing and decided to arrest her. She asked if she could tell her boss she wasn't coming in and the officer agreed. She started walking toward the store, he grabbed her, threw her against the car, and made some statement about leaving the vehicle before he was ready for her to. She spent her day in shackles on various police transport buses being transferred to different precincts all day. My comment to her upon her return to work the next day when she related her adventure to us was "You're lucky they didn't shoot you." And everybody...including her...agreed. If you knew the police there at the time, it made perfect sense.

It's self-righteous. Years ago, I went on a blind date with a woman to Cannon Beach, where we stood over the bluff up high at the beautiful view and she said "This was a nice place before all these people ruined it," looking at the people on the beach. I guess we somehow didn't count as the low-life people she was referring to.

It's expensive. Think housing prices are high in your community? I don't know how ANYBODY can afford to own here. Expect to spend $2 million here on the same home you'd get for $400,000 in the Midwest.

Mini-Serve Gas. Oregonians can't pump their own gas. It's the law. What a stupid law. Lawmakers have tried to change this over the years, but the people keep signing petitions to get it to a vote, and they always vote it down. Oregonians are too good to pump their own gas.

Interstate Speed Limit: 65. And the highway patrol is as thick as it is in Nebraska.

So basically, I could probably live here happily if I were independently wealthy and I could limit my movement to
between the hours of 9am and 1pm, then maybe 7pm-5am, because anytime outside those hours means gridlock traffic and foul tempers.

Then again, it's not like they need any more residents here anyway.

Not even a native.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More Oil Madness

Place: Ivar's Seafood Bar
Lunch: Jumbo tiger prawns, french fries ("chips"), original white chowder, Coke

Another summer approaches, and even MORE pilfering of your pockets by the oil companies.

I've seen gas range from $3.55 a gallon to $3.92 this week. For the low-end stuff.

Nobody cares. I have proof. I've seen gas stations a block from each other with as high as a 20 cent a gallon difference in price, but both are just as busy.

Somebody on the radio made the suggestion that oil companies simply lower the price of gas by a dollar out of the goodness of their hearts. Their point was their profits would STILL be obscene, but they'd be helping the country out a little.

I can tell you what their response would be..."We have a responsibility to our shareholders."

They're right.

Selling gas for less wouldn't necessarily make a barrel of oil drop in price, but it would send the stock of the oil company plummeting.

The reason gas is so high is not supply or demand (or any refinery "shutdown" scams). It's because the buyers and sellers in the commodity markets keep pushing the price up as they abandon common stocks for oil.

This problem COULD be solved if the market players sell their oil and get back into business stocks. They're cheap right now. They could drive the market right up and make lots of money.

How much higher can oil go, anyway?

I don't even want to think about it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Shangri-Fraud

Place: McDonald's
Lunch: Big Mac, fries, Southern chicken sandwich, orange drink, orange drink

I have a Big Mac craving and I want to try the new chicken sandwich. So I order the Big Mac combo and a chicken sandwich. Smiling Counter Guy notes that, if I buy a medium drink, I get the chicken sandwich for free. It's a day-only promotion of some sort. So I go that route. And end up with two drink cups...one for the sandwich deal, and one for the combo.

The Southern chicken sandwich is McDonald's answer to the Chick-Fil-A. It's WAY smaller though, and probably not worth $2.99.

Last night, I went to the Shangri-La Buffet for dinner. I have dinner here once or twice a month. It has unusually good food for a cheap Chinese buffet. You can't beat their crab rangoons.

So I walk in the door, and a cute young smiling waitress says to me "You come for your bill?"

"What?" I reply bewildered.

"You here last night?"

"No."

"You never been here before," she says sarcastically.

"No, I've been here before. I just wasn't here last night."

Apparently, she thinks I was here last night and didn't pay for my dinner.

I wasn't here last night. I was at home eating Ivar's chowder. And tacos that I picked up on the way. Tacos and chowder. It's what's for dinner.

People who walk out without paying are selfish, stupid deviants. As worthless as used toilet paper, and about on the same social level. But people who blame me for doing so are just as bad.

She seats me and things are business as usual until at some point when I'm eating and she brings the check, points at the money tray, and says "You pay now."

She SERIOUSLY believes I was here the previous night and welched on the check!

It's not like I have one of those faces. The only person on Earth as hideous looking as me is my father, and as far as I know, he's in Alaska right now. This girl wears glasses. They're in need of checking, I think.

And who would do such a thing and COME BACK THE NEXT NIGHT? Common sense is not at play here.

In any case, she gets her money, brings me change, and says "Thank you."

I stare. I'm doing a slow boil at this point.

She again says "Thank you."

At this point, I am ready to tear her apart.

But I don't.

I'll never go back.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Cinco De Morons

Place: HuHot Mongolian Grill
Lunch: Two plates of scallops with mushrooms in a mixture of hoisin, teriyaki, and barbecue sauces with hot chili oil, water.

Woo hoo! They almost never have scallops during the week. I hope that means today goes better than yesterday.

It all started with yesterday's end of the work day.

First, I try to go home. My lovely brand new townhouse is a mile less distance from my work than my crappy old home. When looking at different developments, I clocked how long it took to get to/from them. I tracked them on a GPS. I did my research. This one took 8 1/2 minutes. That's a good seven minutes quicker than the old place's best time.

Unfortunately, that was on a weekend with no traffic. I've never even come close to that since.

This is the commute from hell. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. And everybody drives 50 mph tops, when the speed limit is 55. So my 8 1/2 minute commute is more like 15 if I'm lucky, 20-25 if it's a day like today.

I get home and it's 76 degrees inside. The climate control thermostat says it's 73, but I have another thermostat that knows better. So why hasn't my brand new central air conditioning kicked on? The thermostat control is set to "Cool", the temperature is set to 68, and the interior fan is running. So I reset the fuse box breaker. Nothing. I go outside and check the unit...it's not doing anything. I check the breaker outside at the unit. It's plugged in.

I make a service request. I also note the dishwasher doesn't work. It started the first time I tried it, then died somewhere in that first run. The dishes were dirty. There was water standing in the bottom of it. Having an electric dishwasher was one of the most exciting features of this new place for me...and the stupid thing doesn't work.

I feed the cats, who are looking at me like "We demand you feed us and open the windows. In that order" So I feed them and I open all the windows. Then I leave to run some errands in the cool confines of my car with its working air conditioning.

I go to Lowe's, where the air conditioning is about as good as at my house. I have a list of things I need. I leave with ONE of them, because the stuff was either really expensive or not in stock.

I go to Wal-Mart for another list of things. They have more of what I need, but are also out of several things. I suppose on the other hand that I should note they DID have one of the things I failed to get at Lowe's. But either way, I end up with about half my total list stuff. And of course I end up in line behind some old woman who buys dozens of one dollar DVD's and waits until after they've all been run through and she's heard the total before sliding her credit card. Then there's a hassle over that. Then while I'm getting rung up, she (who has been reviewing her receipt all this time, barely moving out of the way for other customers to check out) complains that one of the dollar DVD's rang up as "a doller and sixty seven cents." She's STILL there whining when I leave.

I go to Target for the other things. I walk out empty handed. I literally walked out of Target without buying anything. Who does that.

I go to dinner and spend $21.70. I give the server two twenties. She brings back $8.30. She leaves before I notice her attempt to short change me. I sit around waiting for her to appear again. At least she admitted to her mistake.

I go to Cold Stone at the mall and spend $5.00. No, wait...$4.50. The guy charged me for the wrong size initially. HE caught his own mistake.

One of the things on my list today was a desktop calculator/adding machine. Preferably a nice modern looking one that is backlit full-time (and therefore is a plug-in, not battery operated). It doesn't have to print receipts, but it does have to calculate tax.

Wal-Mart and Target failed miserably. They have the same crappy old designs they've had for the past twenty years.

I try The Sharper Image. The Sharper Image has gone out of business.

I try Brookstone. Not happening.

Nothing at Amazon.

I go home. It's still hot, but not as bad as it was.

This morning, I pulled out of the garage and noticed a package in front of my door. It wasn't there last night...I would have tripped over it when I went out to check the air conditioner. The mailboxes are locked and when a package is left, they put a key in your box to one of two larger secure boxes. I can only guess yesterday's letter carrier put the key in the wrong box, and the neighbor who got it dropped it on my doorstep sometime last night/this morning.

But this is a new day, HuHot has scallops, and there's an Office Depot down the way with probably a whole aisle devoted to adding machines.

Which will probably all be boring and stupid too.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Pizza Mile

Place: Happy Joe's
Lunch: Pizza buffet (a whole lot of pizza, macaroni and cheese, cottage cheese, potato salad, Pepsi)

WOW it's cold today. What happened? I actually turned on my A/C last night to clear out the humidity.

On Tuesday, I realized I'd eaten at two different pizza buffets already this week, so I decided to go for it and eat at pizza buffets the rest of the week so I could compare them.

Most pizza chains with dine-in seating offer lunch buffets. The only chain around here that doesn't have them is Godfather's, which is odd because some outlying communities have Godfather's that DO have lunch buffets. Most pizza buffets are a pretty good value...you'll rarely spend over $10 even if tipping is expected...and it's pizza for pete's sake! Go nuts.

I'm sort of a grazer. I might pile up a plate the first time around, but otherwise I'll take a couple of slices and kind of watch out to see what gets rotated in. Unless they have all my favorites up at once, which is rare.

MONDAY: Old Chicago

The "Rush Street" pizza bar, which I'm pretty sure I covered in a recent blog post, comes with a salad or soup and a cookie at the end, all brought to you by your server. In between, you have about a half dozen pizzas and/or strombolis to graze from, as well as breadsticks and pasta with your choice of alfredo or marinara sauce. Easily the best quality food of any of this week's buffets. This is the same stuff they serve at dinner.

Neato.

Old Chicago actually has a complete lunch menu aside from the pizza bar too in case you'd rather have a lunch-sized serving of lasanga or something.

TUESDAY: Pizza Ranch

I arrive and there's three cars in the lot with people sitting in them, even though the store should have opened several minutes ago. Sure enough, the door is locked. I walk down to where I can see employees standing at the counter looking lonely, wondering why nobody's coming in for lunch. One sees me, takes the hint, and comes up to try the door. He unlocks it immediately, and the entire management team gets a look of "Oh, that's why." Everybody gets out of their cars and the stampede is on (pun intended, if you've ever been here.)

Same Guy who unlocked the door rings me up but somehow locks the cash register. A manager assists him while the others waiting in cars get checked out by Some Girl who knows what she's doing on another register. Eventually, I have a plate and drink cup and am on my way. The buffet is already fully stocked and waiting.

This store opened one week and one day ago, and I was here for opening day. The manager who helped the cashier said to me "Well, we must have done something right the FIRST time, because you came back!"

The Pizza Ranch is as known for their excellent chicken as they are for their pizza, and the representation of both at the "Mile-Long Buffet" (no, not even close) gives them the biggest non-pizza hot food variety of any of this week's buffets, with chicken (crispy or barbecue), mashed potatoes (yes, there's gravy) fried potato wedges, fried in-house potato chips, a salad bar, corn, soup (chicken noodle today...it's always chicken something here), and dessert pizzas available. Plus there's about eight pizzas. if you want a pizza that's not out, ask and they'll make it. This place was an instant hit on opening day, even though the road it's on is closed.

The Pizza Ranch is decked out in an extreme Western cowboy motif, almost to the point of ridiculous. Most food items are named to fit the theme. There's "ranch chips", "ranch wedges", and pizza combos named "Prairie", "Trailblazer", "Bronco", etc...) The staff is easily the friendliest of this week's pizza buffets. The staff is much more genuine in their concern that you enjoy the experience.

You know what's weird? The soda fountain has two taps for Pibb. One is labeled "Pibb Xtra", the tangier stuff that replaced the original Mr. Pibb, and one is labeled "Mr. Pibb". Could they actually have BOTH? So I have a glass of each. I'll be darned...they really DO have both. They're two distinctly different tastes. I didn't think Mr. Pibb existed anymore.

WEDNESDAY: Pizza Hut

It's been so long since I've been a dine-in customer at a Pizza Hut that I'd completely forgotten they have a table service format.

Server seats me, gets my Pepsi, and I head to the buffet. They have two lines of food...the hot line, and the salad bar. The hot bar has a couple of pastas, six pizzas including one dessert pizza, and breadsticks. The salad bar has all the usual salad fixings, plus potato salad, macaroni salad, pears, cottage cheese, a couple of puddings...it's easily the most decked out salad bar of the week.

The pizzas include a couple of original crust, a thin, and a couple of pan pizzas, including a taco pizza. Some Old Guy who works here brings out a thin crust Pepperoni Lovers and heads for a table of random old folks. "This goes pretty quick when they put it out, so I figured I'd better get you some now." He gives them each a slice or two. They are elated. Then he takes the rest back with him TO THE KITCHEN. I am denied Pepperoni Lovers until my second trip up, when the rest of that pizza is FINALLY added to the buffet.

The macaroni and cheese, which was one of the available pastas, was industrial and awesome all at the same time. The salad bar was great. The pizza variety rotated frequently as pies ran out throughout lunch. The pizza itself? As boring as ever.

I can't believe Pizza Hut has lasted this long. I really can't.

THURSDAY: Cici's Pizza

Cici's is the motherlode of pizza buffet value. It's the cheapest option, yet has the most pizza variety...a dozen pies at any given time...on a well maintained buffet line. Cici's makes a number of specialty pizzas that make them stand out from the crowd, including Buffalo Chicken, Zesty Pepperoni (a zesty white garlic sauce), Macaroni and Cheese, and more. They'll make any pizza you don't already see if you just ask (somebody today actually ordered a "green olive with garlic sauce". I didn't know they HAD green olives). The salad bar is simple but adequate, and the dessert choices (brownies, AWESOME cinnamon rolls, and an apple pizza) are very popular.

Cici's staff is trained to be friendly and fun. "Hi! Welcome to Cici's!" is heard from the cashier when you walk in the door. It's SUPPOSED to be repeated by the rest of the staff, but the staff at this store is pretty jaded, and you're lucky if one or two bother to mumble anything at all. They have other chants in their arsenal too, but all of them have disappeared here. They do announce when a new pizza is added to the buffet ("Pepperoni on the buffet!" "Garlic Chicken on the buffet!" "Lance, you idiot, get off the buffet!") The staff will often ask you if everything is okay, then give your their name and advise you to ask if you need anything. It's very scripted, which is what makes Cici's (slightly) less friendly than the Pizza Ranch.

Cici's staffs somebody (usually a supervisor) full-time in front of the pizza line. Stacy is the Master of Pizza Ceremonies most of the time when I come in for lunch. Stacy is a tall skinny long-legged blonde who keeps her hair in a pony tail. Once when I was here, she came in on her day off in hippie street clothes, glasses, and with her hair down. On that day, Stacy's status in my mind went from "Master of Pizza Ceremonies" to "One of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my entire life".

I once in awhile make a special request for a pepperoni-mushroom. I didn't today, but one of the other regular supervisors saw me and had one made anyway, then brought me some.

THERE'S service for ya!

FRIDAY: Happy Joe's

Cici's pretty much ran all of the local Happy Joe's out of business this year. But two of them reopened under new management. This one seemed to be doing a decent business today.

I walk up to the door and the store hours indicate they open at 8am. WHAT??! Since when? Inside, I see a poster promoting the new Happy Joe's breakfast! Freaky Old Cashier: "It's pretty good." The menu includes some specialty breakfast pizzas and bowls. You can have a breakfast pizza made with whatever pizza ingredient you want on it. So if you want an egg, cheese, and pepperoni breakfast pizza, they'll apparently do it.

Happy Joe's has the smallest of the buffets, but they make use of the space. Six or seven pizzas are crammed into one half of the bar, with a couple of pastas, potato salad, cottage cheese, and a minimalist salad offering (I don't even recall seeing salad dressing) making up the rest. But the pizzas are rotated in at a pretty good rate, and if you plan to hang out for a half hour or so, you can try a wide variety of Happy Joe's combo pizzas.

Happy Joe's original "thin" crust will be familiar to those familiar with Shakey's or Round Table. It's not as doughy as Round Table's though. Their most popular pizza is the Taco Joe, probably the most popular taco pizza in existence. That's what everybody talks about when discussing Happy Joe's. But they have some other tasty unique creations. The B. L. T. pizza, a bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise pizza, is my personal favorite. And I got to eat both today, so I'm a happy smurf.

The one problem with this buffet is that you have to go to the cashier for drink refills, which means waiting in line behind people ordering lunch. That can be annoying. I plan to suggest a self-service soda bar on the comment card.

Well, there you have it. You'd think I'd be sick of pizza about now, wouldn't you?

No. I could totally do it all over again next week.

But I won't.

At least not every day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Memory Foam

Place: Old Chicago
Lunch: "Rush Street" Pizza bar, Caesar salad, Pepsi

This pizza bar thing is pretty cool. They have about a half dozen pizzas out, you get a salad made and served just like the ones with a regular dinner, and then they brought me a warm cookie at the end. All for under $10.

Sweet.

I bought a new mattress pad for my bed this weekend...a memory foam pad that Costco sells. It's actually two-sided...one side microfiber and one side memory foam...but you get the idea.

So I get it home and pull it out of the box. Turns out there's some assembly required. The microfiber and the memory foam part are packed separately. You unroll the memory foam, lay it out on the microfiber, wrap with the attached cover, then zip the whole thing up.

But here's the fun part...The memory foam part is vacuum-packed in one of those airtight sealed bags. You know those storage bag kits they sell where you put the stuff in, suck the air out with a vacuum, and have a bag a fraction of the size to store?

They vacuum-sealed memory foam.

Memory foam.

It was nearly impossible to roll out, and when I did, it looked like a fraction of the size of the bed. It's supposed to be like four inches thick, but it looked more like one.

Two days later, it's still not completely normal.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Now Serving...

Place: Burger King
Lunch: Loaded Steakhouse burger, onion rings, Coke

I was filling up my shiny new Rogue when I spotted the burger promo sign in the BK window.

From a distance, the picture made it look like it had bacon, mushrooms, cheddar, and ranch sauce. Up close, the picture made it look like it had bacon, onion petals, barbecue sauce, and a ranch sauce.

Neither impressions proved to be completely accurate. It had: Bacon, American cheese, onion petals, barbecue sauce, and the innards of a twice-baked potato mixed with sour cream and chives.

I have to admit, that's a new idea for a burger. At least I've never seen that before.

And it worked. Pretty good.

Our local drivers license bureau is been in the basement of a dead shopping mall in the central part of the metro for years. I'd long since figured out I could go there during lunch and get in and out in a few minutes. It was never that busy at that time of day.

Last year, they moved to a sprawling new complex in a northern suburb, making it an inconvenient drive for ninety percent of the county. Everybody complained, nobody cared. I guess they did put a new substation in an old strip mall attached to a long abandoned Target. not far from the old place.

Yeah. Like I'm going THERE.

So I go to the new place. The "visitor" parking...a sliver of the vast parking lot...is a one-way situation where you drive to the end, enter, find parking, and drive out the other end. Naturally, somebody is driving the wrong way when I pull in. What better place to break traffic laws than at the DOT headquarters, right?

The new office looks crappy in comparison to the old. It has an open ceiling that really shouldn't be. It looks very industrial. It uses a color scheme of drab, drab, drab, and off-drab.

And there's a line.

So I wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Then I get to the entrance. Entry Screener takes my license, asks why I'm there, gives me a form and a number, and sends me to the waiting area where I am to watch for my number to be called at windows "A through K".

Each window has an electronic sign that lights the numbers. I rule out A-D immediately because they're hanging over NOTHING.

Everybody here looks depressed.

But the process actually went pretty smoothly. My number was called in about five minutes, I got my stuff done with the DOT employee, I sat back down, Picture Taker Guy got my picture taken, I got my new license, I left.

The new licenses are pink and teal and stupid looking. I would swear they were fake if somebody showed one to me before I'd actually been issued one.

Oh...Yes, I got the Rogue. I test drove it a couple of weeks ago as well as the (still forthcoming) VW Tiguan. I think it was even the same Tiguan that was at the auto show. My dealer had it available for test drives for a short period.

The Rogue was the better choice for me.

The Rogue is good.

The Rogue is awesome.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Crash!

Place: Carlos O' Kelly's
Lunch: #1 combo (beef taco, beef enchilada, cheese enchilada, rice, beans), tortilla soup, chips, salsa and queso, Pepsi

Carlos O' Kelly's has long been known for their mediocre food and slow service. I haven't been to one for a few years, and I'm not sure what possessed me today, but the service was easily the best I've ever had here, and the food was better than it used to be.

Go figure.

Monday morning at 2:15, I was awakened by a loud extended crash...like nothing I'd ever been awakened by before.

The noise came from the kitchen and shot me straight up. Maggie the cat, who was curled up next to me, also shot straight up. We gave each other a startled look and then appeared to think the same thing together..."What did Chester do now?"

Chester is my orange tabby tomcat. He's a very nice fellow with a mellow demeanor, but he has a curious side about him. If there's a space he can access, he will. Leave no cupboard door open, or he's going in. I once caught him balancing himself on top of my large but thin LCD television. And once he sets his mind to doing something, there's no stopping him. You may stop him temporarily, but he WILL continue to try until he's succeeded. When he gets fixated on something, it's going to happen. Period.

I head for the kitchen to find a mess of epic proportions. My horrible pathetic kitchen has a big cabinet to the right, and a long single shelf that runs from the left of the cabinet to the left wall. A lot of stuff is stored up there...cereal, containers, pitchers, and small appliances.

In my fifteen years in this house, I had no idea that the only thing holding the shelf up there was the gravity of its own weight on two wedges underneath it, each about a third of the way into its length.

No glue, no screws, nothing.

Neither did Chester, until he jumped up there and disrupted the delicate balance of all that stuff on there and sent it all flying.

The shelf itself had ended up bridged between the kitchen sink and the stove, which was hit so hard it knocked out the pilot lights.

In the sink were two shattered glass containers with the pasta and sugar that were in them, my blender, a couple of crushed cereal boxes, and several other miscellaneous items.

On the floor scattered about was everything else, including a plastic pitcher that managed to break.

Maggie was most impressed with the calamity. I'm sure she was disappointed she wasn't here to see it...she seems to find great amusement out of watching Chester do dumb things.

Chester was nowhere to be found until I was about halfway done cleaning up the mess, when he came crawling into the kitchen, shaking. He seemed none the worse for wear otherwise, but he was really shook up.

A half hour later, the garbage was taken out, the shelf cleaned (WOW was it dirty...I can't believe I kept food on it), the salvageable salvaged, and the shelf was returned to its rightful place...this time with a good dose of carpenter's glue applied.

At least he didn't break the TV.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Cross on Over

Place: Don Pablo's
Lunch: Cheese enchilada, beef enchilada, pork tamale, rice, beans, chips, salsa, tortilla soup, Coke

Sounds like a lot of food on paper, doesn't it. But if you think about it, it's just a regular Mexican restaurant meal with an appetizer.

It's Auto Show time again, and I'm off to wander the floor of the Minneapolis Convention Center checking out all that's new in the auto industry. As it happens, this is one of those years where I'm actually in the market, so things should be all that more interesting.

I'm thinking about getting an SUV, one of the smaller ones that's really a car pretending to be a truck. Or, as the industry likes to call them, "crossovers".

I'm quite familiar with a couple of them. I've rented more Ford Escapes over the years than you can count on your existing digits. And I had a Chevrolet Equinox for the annual Utah Holiday Lights trip a couple of years ago. The Escape tosses around nicely, but has ventilation controls with oddly limited options for air distribution. It has a small gas tank for its mileage too, so you end up stopping a lot more. The older ones didn't have very good headlights either, though newer ones have improved. And the "new" Ford Escape they're selling now is just hideous.

The Equinox, on the other hand answered every issue I had with the Escape. The ride to Utah and back was never smoother. It was very comfortable. It had a nicer interior (this one had leather seats), better headlights, and lots more room. It was bigger, it was quieter. And I got 26 mpg out of it on straightaway highway driving as well as around town (19 through the windy hills of Wyoming).

On the downside, it has electronic power steering that takes a full 2 1/2 revolutions to a hard turn. Parking it is an exercise in madness. On top of the the turning issues, seeing parking lines from the drivers vantage point is difficult.

The other problem with the Equinox is that it's a Chevy. And I hate Chevys.

Yet when I researched the potential vehicles out there, I kept coming back to the Equinox as being the overall best choice for me...until I came across Nissan's new Rogue.

The Rogue is odd-looking...kind of like a mini Murano. It has a lot of modern features the Equinox doesn't like Bluetooth phone sync and HID headlamps. It gets slightly better gas mileage. It looks to have some wicked interior lighting at night. It supposedly handles better. But it also sounds like it's noisier...it's a 4-cylinder with a CVT transmission.

Still, might have to test drive one.

So will Auto Show 2008 change my mind? Will something else come up that I have not yet considered?

Admission to the show: $9. Parking across the street in the garage that connects to the skywalk: $10. Headache I'm nursing from staying on the same floor as some high school hockey team at my motel: High (it's also state hockey weekend, you know.)

DODGE JOURNEY: This is a new one...so new that I couldn't research gas mileage for the thing online. It's on the lower end of the mileage range for what I'm looking at. And it's not that impressive. Very boring, actually. Some Guy looking at it with his wife said "Well, it's a station wagon."

HONDA CRV: Nice leather seat. Leg room isn't working for me, though.

HONDA ELEMENT: You know, I keep forgetting about these. The one on display here is nicer and more refined than one expects an Element to be. The price is right, and it gets decent mileage. Wonder how it handles. Should drive one. I'll probably forget, though. Can you imagine buying one and forgetting you had it? There you are in the supermarket parking lot looking for your old car and the Element is talking like it does in the commercials..."HELLO...I'M RIGHT HERE..." and you're totally ignoring it...

NISSAN ROGUE: There's two one the floor...one base model and one decked out with leather seats. The base model one is a complete waste of time. The other...Well, it feels a bit small initially. It's certainly smaller in the rear storage area, though it has a neat hidden storage bay. I'm not sure there's any place on the dash I could mount my (tall) GPS unit. But I can sit in it comfortably, and I like the leather seats. I think I am going to test drive one of these. And I came back to it THREE TIMES during the show after trying out others. I just kept coming back to it. Tragically, the "premium" sound system is from Bose.

FORD ESCAPE/MAZDA TRIBUTE/MERCURY MARINER: I still might consider a late-model Tribute of the pre-redux variety, but likely not the current version. Well, maybe at a fire-sale price...

MAZDA CX-7: This thing is kind of cool, but pricey and is more of a performance model than an economical one.

TOYOTA RAV4: It was this I was looking at online when I discovered the Rogue, because so many people were discussing how they chose the Rogue over the RAV4. I have to agree...I can't find a single redeeming factor for the RAV. It's just uninteresting.

SATURN VUE: Saturn's original Vue sat on the platform of the existing Equinox, Pontiac Trans-Sport (which dies next year in favor of a GMC version), and some Suzuki model. The new Vue is effectively a rebadged Opel, which sits on the platform the next Equinox will be built on. It has two problems that immediately rule it out...1. The amber yellow instrument lighting, and 2. No sunroof available.

I love a good sunroof. More than working brakes.

HYUNDAI SANTA FE: Something in my gut just says "No" to this vehicle. I still may look at them, but...I don't know.

HYUNDAI TUCSON: HA HA HA HA HA HA! No.

KIA SPORTAGE: Two years ago, I might have said "Yes". That thing has NOT aged well.

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER: Interesting looking...until I read the reviews on it.

CHEVROLET EQUINOX: GM has about 20 percent of the floor space in the building. There are Malibus everywhere. There's ONE Equinox, and it's the "Sport" model. It's like they're saying "We sell enough of these without trying, so screw you all."

Then the wrench that changed everything came into view...

Volkswagen brought a Tiguan to the show.

The Tiguan is VW's forthcoming crossover. I've seen pictures of the thing and it doesn't look very nice.

Pictures don't do it justice.

It's just beautiful.

It has a sunroof that takes up bloody well near the whole roof.

It has big, beautiful alloy rims with narrow 19-inch tires that probably cost a fortune to replace.

It just SCREAMS to come in metallic orange with a black leather interior and a personalized license place that says "THE TIG".

Tragically, it was roped off so you couldn't play with it.

The specs aren't out on it yet. It uses the 2.0 turbo from the Passat and gas mileage is expected to be in a similar range to what I'm looking for, but that engine requires premium gas, so there's a penalty there. A penalty I've been paying all along on all my VW's the past 20 years, but one I was hoping to get away from.

But MAN...That thing just blows everything else out of the water.

This thing could replace the Jetta as VW's volume seller.

It's scheduled to hit the market in May. I might have to wait until then to make my decision. Or at least until the specs and pricing are finally released.

In the meantime, where's the Nissan dealership?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

26 Minutes

Place: Whataburger
Lunch: Whataburger (no tomato, extra pickles), onion rings, chocolate malt

26 minutes

Twenty-six minutes.

It took them twenty-six minutes to fulfill this order.

Seriously.

I don't care if there's a room full of teenage girls (some sports team) here. There aren't enough of them to fill the place, and they'd all long since ordered when I got here, and most of them seemed to be eating.

You know how almost every fast food employee programatically says "Sorry about the wait" to you every time they give you your food?

This one didn't. She just handed me the tray and said "Need ketchup?"

And then some idiot passing by spilled ranch sauce on me. I didn't even notice...another patron alerted me to the drip on my shirt.

I love a long cold winter, but even I was ready for a thaw by this weekend. And I'm in 70 degree weather with the sun roof open today. I even had the air conditioning on for awhile. And I stumbled on a really cool convenience store that claims to have over 500 different sodas, mostly in glass bottles. They had Moxie. MOXIE! I NOW OWN A BOTTLE OF MOXIE!

I'm almost scared to try it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Final Valentine

Dear Darlene,

Yesterday, we held your funeral. More people showed up than I possibly could have imagined. I bought four dozen roses so that Amy and Shannon could hand them out to people as they came in. They were out of roses well before people stopped coming.

Most of my relatives who you have met made the trip. Even my brother came. They wanted to be there for me. They wanted to be there for you. On Tuesday, eleven of us went to dinner together. My family met your family for the first time. Much conversation was had. Much laughter was had. And I swear I caught a glimpse of you at the end of the table.

Everybody said it was a beautiful service, and I hope that was the case. You deserved it. But even though we said goodbye to you yesterday, I felt compelled to write you this one final valentine. Preparing your eulogy and flowers kept me busy these past few days. But today when I look at your pictures, I have no distractions. I just lose it.

You are finally at home now. Your ashes are in a beautiful gold urn centered on the hutch shelf, not too far from the picture we displayed at the funeral. Everybody thought it was a good picture.

I plan to keep you home for awhile. You so much wanted to just come home from the hospital, and I find comfort having you finally here. Eventually, I will set your ashes adrift in the wind high atop the mountains of the west as you wished. May your spirit soar with the Gods.

Happy Valentine's day, Darlene. I love you.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Store Nocator

Place: Taco Tico
Lunch: Four tacos (mild sauce, plus meat, no tomato), Tico Tots (with chili, cheese), large Pepsi

Everybody should eat more Taco Tico. I'm just saying.

You know what annoys me? Retail and restaurant chain websites with store locator functions that will only provide you information on locations within a limited range of your ZIP code.

For example, if you enter my ZIP code in the Circuit City website, it comes back with "We're sorry; there are no Circuit City stores within 100 miles".

I could have told them that. So where's the nearest one?

I don't care if I live in Novosibirsk, Siberia. If I want to know where the nearest Circuit City is, why wouldn't they want to tell me?

Most chains are like this. Best Buy limits responses to 250 miles. Golden Corral to states where they have operating stores. Chipotle's website (quite possibly the most annoying website ever) did the most bizarre thing...It provided two pages of locations, but Page 1 read "Showing 0 of 33 locations". And it was right...not a single location was shown. But click on Page 2, and it showed the closest 33 locations.

There are exceptions...Del Taco and Krystal will show me the closest locations even though they're several hundred miles away.

I guess they want my business more.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Now THAT'S Cheesy!

Place: Burger King
Lunch:
Whopper with stale bun (no tomato), onion rings, 4 chicken tenders shaped like either chicken feet or a crown...I'm not sure..., Dr. Pepper

I was watching some quality television drama (professional wrestling) when a Burger King ad came on touting their double cheeseburger. The ad bragged that it had...I think it was 30 percent more beef than McDonald's double cheeseburger.

"Gee. I haven't had a regular double cheeseburger at Burger King in years. I should try one tomorrow," I said.

Chester, my big orange tabby cat, gave me that "I don't like it when you talk aloud to yourself like that" look.

It makes him nervous, you see.

So I get here and look at the menu. You know what else is bigger about Burger King's double cheeseburger? The price. $2.60. 160 percent higher than its McDonald's counterpart, a longtime staple of the dollar menu.

I went with a Whopper combo instead. And some chicken tenders. I'm not sure why I ordered those instead of chicken fries. Chicken fries are awesome.

So here I sit with my Whopper. This stupid sucky dry Whopper with its crusty stale bun.

Shoulda gone to Hardee's.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Run for the Cheese!

Place: Five Guys Famous Burgers & Fries
Lunch: Small hamburger, bacon cheese dog, fries, Pibb XTRA

The local presidential caucuses are today. Commercials have flooded the airwaves for the past several months. "Caucus for me! Caucus for me! Me me me me me!" Then there's the "Don't caucus for that guy! Or that Hillary lady! Me me me me me!" Not to mention all the pre-recorded messages from politicians that pollute my answering machine on a daily basis.

Shut up.

What I wouldn't give to see a Hardee's commercial right now.

I hate politics. I hate politicians. I also hate the health care system and most vegetables. And "Independence Day". What an unbelievably stupid movie.

So being the great American that I am, I got the heck outta Dodge and ran to Wisconsin, a safe haven for all who love cheese. Who DOESN'T love cheese. Probably those who are lactose intolerant. Losers.

Later today, I will be shopping at Woodman's Market, the mecca of all grocery stores. Woodman's has a dozen or so locations in Wisconsin and Illinois. They are freaking huge monstrosities that sell a much larger variety of items than your typical supermarket. For example, the space your supermarket devotes to Mexican food is about the size of space Woodman's devotes just to Old El Paso stuff. Then they have an Ortega section. And a La Preferida section. And a La Victoria section.
And a Goya section. Who knew Goya made so much different stuff. Who knew Goya made FROZEN stuff.

It's like this all over the store. They're the only chain I know of to carry Tree Top juice east of the Mountain time zone, and they carry the whole line.
They have a whole aisle of odd international foods. Don't even get me started on the frozen pizza selection. Woodman's itself may be the cheese and summer sausage capital of the world.

It's a fascinating place to shop, and one of the cheapest.

If I overheard a manager (talking to a customer) correctly, they'll try and order pretty much anything you want that they don't carry too.

I'll bet when I get home, I'll have 57 pre-recorded messages from Bill Richardson on my answering machine begging me to caucus.

Nice guy, that Bill Richardson.

Shame he's a politician.