Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blissful Mediocrity

Place: Golden Corral
Lunch: Lunch buffet, Pepsi

I love buffets. I'm not one of those people who pile up plates of food that look ridiculous...I make a few trips getting small samples of stuff. It's like every trip is a treasure hunt. Particularly in recent years when the quality of food offered at buffets has increased substantially, largely thanks to improvements by Golden Corral, forcing the competition to step up.

My goal for 2009 was to fly under the radar. To go through the year with nobody dying. No major moves. Just a year of normalcy. A year where all that was new is now routine. Blissfully uncomplicated. Yes. That's the ticket.

Somehow, it happened.

Here's a reflection of random moments that defined 2009...

Speaking of buffets...I'm driving down I-15 in Las Vegas this summer when I see a banner hanging off a downtown casino advertising "Las Vegas's only seafood buffet". But I don't go there...I go to the buffet at the Wynn. While waiting for the hostess to seat me, I listen to the phone conversation she's having with somebody. "No, we don't have a seafood buffet. We have stations with (this food, that food, this food...) So she seats me, my server gets my drink, and I head to the non-seafood buffet that includes: Chilled crab legs, chilled shrimp, smoked salmon, smoked trout, grilled salmon, grilled halibut, some sort of seafood stew, a salmon salad, some sort of fried fish, and about a half dozen other items from the sea. But since that encompassed maybe a fourth of the offerings, I guess they don't technically have a 'seafood buffet'. The Wynn buffet may be expensive, but it's worth every penny.

Space for my Ladder
- I bought it at Costco when I moved last year. It's one of those ladders that folds from a step ladder to large regular ladder with lots of options in between. It's big. It's heavy. And it's almost never needed anywhere but the third floor, and there was nowhere to store it on the third floor. Until the day I thought to see if it would fit under the bed. You know what? It does. Chester did not approve of this idea as it disturbed one of his hangouts.

Star Trek -
The big movie redux hit a home run. Multiple viewings at the multiplex.

Kentucky Grilled Chicken - I tried it. It was okay, I guess. Haven't had it since. Health factor is a moot point since I ate it at a KFC-Taco Bell alongside some nachos and a couple of tacos.

Odd Habits-
Ever hear of people dipping their fries in their milk shake? A co-worker said her daughter dips her fries in her Wendy's frosty. I'd never heard of such a thing. Naturally, and almost immediately, Wendy's put a commercial on the air validating this bizarre behavior.

Twitter - I'm hopelessly addicted. It's almost like having actual friends. I love my Tweeps.

Cancel My Service -
My DirecTV receiver lost signal. Checked DirecTV tech forums (on their own website) and discovered it's not only a known issue, but they issued a recall on my model receiver a YEAR ago. Thanks for telling ME! So I call to get a replacement. Long story short...I argue with various reps over nearly a week's time until I say those magic words..."cancel my service"...and finally they send me a scratched up used replacement that they can't activate on my account because it's active on somebody ELSE'S account. The rep's response to this? "It's an honest mistake, SIR." "Cancel my account, MISS." Retention fixes the problem immediately. Moral of this story..."Cancel My Service" are the only words that will ever get anything accomplished at DirecTV. Even if you're calling to change your billing address, say "Cancel my service" at the opening prompt or you will be put through hell. Oh...And the new receiver sucks.

You Light Up My Life - So I'm in Dillon's Marketplace in the furniture area when Debby Boone's one and only hit plays over the store's sound system. I haven't heard this song in decades. And the strangest thing happened...It completely grabbed me. I had to have it. I have no idea why. So I found it on an old out-of-print Billboard "Top Movie Hits" compilation. It ended up having an awesome collection of 70's movie themes on it, including that sort of disco-ish Close Encounters theme.

About a Dozen - Number of times co-worker Donette called me and said "Sorry, I didn't mean to call you" when I answered.

Sugar Sugar
- Pepsi rolled out "throwback" versions of their flagship soda and Mountain Dew. It was a limited time thing, but I bought a whole bunch of Pepsi. Even though I already have regular access to real sugar Pepsi in glass bottles at my local Mexican grocer. They did a lousy job of promoting it, though, and grocers typically put it anywhere in the store but the soda section, as if they were hiding it. Jerks. They brought it out again at Christmas in retro packaging that is much easier to distinguish and far more awesome looking. You should be able to find it for the next eight weeks or so. And if that isn't enough, I just heard that there's a limited-time real sugar Dr. Pepper under the guise of "Heritage Dr. Pepper" in stores now. From what I hear, it's probably made from cheaper sugar than the cane sugar that Dublin Dr. Pepper uses and doesn't quite taste the same, but is much better than the HFCS version. I've also heard that original Pibb fans think it tastes close to their long lost favorite. If Coke brought back a limited-edition retro real sugar Mr. Pibb, it might just cause a stampede. Specialty distributors are even making real sugar versions of Moxie, Nehi, and Faygo flavors, as well as Dad's root beer and cream soda, and even Bubble-Up, all in glass bottles. Real sugar sodas may be a specialty market, but it really seems to have come to the forefront this year.

Musical Artist Discovery of the Year - Greg Laswell. Who ISN'T new this year...just new to ME.

McDonald's Angus burger line - I'd rather not remember this, actually.

Bad Use of a Classic Rock Pun - I saw a billboard in Minnesota for a minivan that described it as an "Oreo Speedwagon".

Bad Marketing Evolution -
Remember when drink cup game pieces showed you if you were a winner instead of making you register a number at a website?

Bad Choice in Bumper Stickers -
"Bad boys drive bad toys"...on a beat up old Geo Metro.

Bad Lodging - LaQuinta: Spanish for "We still make carbons of your credit cards".

Bad Local Television - STILL no local HD newscasts.

New M&M's Flavor of the Year - "Strawberried Peanut Butter". They were good, actually.

Other New M&M's Flavor of the Year - Coconut. Really? Yes.

I'll have a 1/3 pound Mushroom-Swiss, side of Haystacks, and a Dr Pepper please - Our HuHot franchisee brought in a smashburger franchise that instantly caught on. I hadn't been terribly impressed with smashburger previously, but the local one is REALLY well run and for some reason makes burgers that are tastier than the other stores.

Another reason the government shouldn't have bailed out GM -
Chevrolet is bringing back the Caprice brand on a new sedan exclusively for police fleets. And they'll have an "undercover" version. Of a car EXCLUSIVELY SOLD TO POLICE.

But do they have fry sauce? - The Salt Lake City area with more burger chains than anywhere I know of...gets In-N-Out Burger, the chain with the best reputation. Not the best burgers, mind you, but don't tell Californians that. The only thing more amazing than the traffic the first two stores were doing when I was in town (two weeks after they opened) was the fact that none of the other burger joints around town seemed to be affected.

Frameless wiper blades - Have you seen these? They're awesome! At least the Bosch ICONs are...

WinCo Foods Enters the Salt Lake City market - This eliminates road trips to Pocatello for Tillamook and Santiam products. I mean, I like Pocatello just fine, but...

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - I gave it three stars and watched it six times during its theatrical run. And even though I watched it six times, every time I watched it, I thought "I was right at three stars".

Keep Clam - The home version of Ivar's clam chowder was reformulated so that the non-dairy creamer is built in. Previously, you added milk or your own non-dairy creamer. The result was nothing like the restaurant chowder. The new result is VERY much like the restaurant chowder, one of my favorite tastes in the world.

Relocate Clam - Utah's last Skipper's...the one in Murray...closed. But the Orem store re-opened after a two-year hiatus. The Orem store is in better shape anyway.

"What other orchestra would have this in their catalog?" asked the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra conductor as he and Over the Rhine tore into the Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)". This July evening at Devou Park in Covington, Kentucky was the highlight of the summer. An amazing performance with some great surprises.

There you have it. How can 2010 possibly top this?

I have a few ideas, but I'm not telling...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Driving Driving Driving

Place: Pal's Sudden Service
Lunch: Pretty much everything on the menu and about four large Cokes

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas. I spent it on the road. I did the "stay home" thing last year, and it sucked. It really really sucked. The road wasn't much better, but at least I was busy. At the same time, I can't imagine being around people. It probably would have driven me nuts.

My original plans had been to be in Oklahoma for the next couple of days so I could swing down to Texas and re-stock my Wolf Chili and Dublin Dr Pepper supplies. Then later next week, I was going to swing down to Tennessee to finally cover Pal's for my fast food pages. I've been planning to come down here for years...down to having hotel reservations...but something always comes up to delay this.

So on Christmas Eve, I got home from work, made lunch, and fell asleep for a couple of hours on the way to being snowed in all weekend. Then I got up, re-checked the weather forecasts, and suddenly realized I could flip the trips around and escape the storm. So I flipped around the reservations and took off. The cats looked horribly disappointed. Don't worry, kitties. Misha's coming over to visit.

So today, I wandered the back roads and US highways of northeastern Tennessee and finally experienced the goofiness that is Pal's, which I will add to the fast food pages next week, along with Bojangles, who may very well make the best biscuits in the history of the world. It was a beautiful drive in perfect driving weather.

As for Pal's, I visited five different locations through the day and sampled pretty much everything on the post-breakfast menu. I don't think I actually ate a whole sandwich. But I did drink four Cokes. My stomach is a swimming pool right now.

Before running around eastern Tennessee all day, I also re-thunk my trip plans and decided I'd be much better off just running to Texas from here and making a big loop trip instead of going home and hitting the road again. So by the time I get home, I will have traveled about 2,900 miles. But I'll have a few days to unwind before going back to work. And maybe I'll decide to stay home for awhile.

The cats would appreciate that.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Quick Jaunt

Place: McDonald's
Lunch: Big Mac, fries, Hi-C Orange

Sometimes you just gotta have a Big Mac. Even if it costs a buck forty more than it should.

Here's my weekend in a nutshell:

Friday 5pm - Leave work and drive to Peoria in snow and crap. Pick up dinner at Steak n Shake drive-thru along the way.

Saturday 8am
- Leave Peoria, Dunkin' Donuts white hot chocolate in hand.

Saturday 11am - Lunch at Schroeder's in Danville.

Saturday 4pm
- Arrive Cincinnati.

Saturday 5:30pm - Arrive at Arnold's Bar & Grill (the oldest bar in Cincinnati, apparently) for dinner with 40 fellow members of the message board of the band we are seeing tonight.

Saturday 7:20pm - Arnold's FINALLY serves dinner. I have lasagna. It's cold. Not lukewarm...not room temperature...COLD.

Saturday 8pm
- Arrive at Taft for Over the Rhine homecoming show. Buy beautiful poster done exclusively for this show.

Saturday 11pm
- Depart Taft. GPS gets confused and sends me on a wild goose chase trying to get back across the river. A trip that should take five minutes takes twenty. I can drive to downtown blindfolded, no problem, but can never get back out without some ridiculous winding route through timbuck two.

Saturday 11:20pm - SERIOUSLY need soda. Great big freaking huge AM/PM Mini Mart Pepsi acquired.

Sunday 9:45am
- Gas tank filled. Great big freaking huge AM/PM Mini Mart Pepsi (yes, a completely different one) acquired. Depart Cincinnati (well, Covington technically, but...)

Sunday 10:45am - Stop at Kroger in Batesville, IN for
groceries I can't get at home. Also picked up a bag of Cheetos "Giant White Cheddar Jingle Balls" for no other reason than the amusing suggestive branding.

Sunday 11:15am - Lunch at Skyline Chili in Batesville, IN. Also picked up two LaRosa's pizzas next door to take home and have cold through the week. The car smelled WONDERFUL the whole way home.

Sunday 3:30pm - Have argument with Frowning Counter Guy at Hardee's/Red Burrito in Morton, IL over whether or not "no tomato" means "no salsa" on my tacos.

Sunday 4pm - Weather goes completely to crap between Morton and Galesburg.

Sunday 8:30pm - Arrive home. Cats throw party and have a big fight.

Now I have to find a 19 x 25 frame for the poster. I wonder if World Market would have one.

They couldn't have just made the thing 18 x 24, could they. They had to go with some random odd size.

Downtown Cincinnati is absolutely beautiful at night during the Christmas season. And it's bustling with activity.

Seriously...It's December 21 already?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Images and Words

Place: Arctic Circle
Lunch: Double cheeseburger, fries well done (with fry sauce), Pepsi

For those interested, you can view my photos of the Utah Christmas light displays I went to this week via my Facebook albums here, here, here, and here. These are a tradition for me that I absolutely treasure. They're one of the primary reasons this is my favorite week of the year.

I love Utah. I love the people, I love the scenery, I love the burgers. I love Chuck-A-Rama's potato salad. I love...oh forget it. I have today and tomorrow left to embrace you like a warm hug, and I fully intend to do so with gusto.

Regarding Facebook...If you're somebody who has sent a friend request but I don't know you (I'm amazed that random strangers actually read this silliness), I probably ignored you unless you sent a note along explaining who you were and why you were friending me. So if you're still waiting...that's why.

I don't use Facebook much anyway. I'm a total Twitter addict though.

If you are a Facebook friend, my brother has been posting old family photos up over the past couple of days. You should be able to see them from my Facebook home page. Amuse yourself with images of the skinny blond kid I once was. Wonder aloud just 'what the heck happened'.

Well...I'm off to see a movie. Got a couple more to catch before leaving.

I'll miss Utah. But I miss my cats more right now.