Sunday, July 25, 2010

Romance of Flight

Place: Linkhaus
Lunch: Chili cheddar dog, tater tots, Dr. Pepper

Linkhaus appears to be wanting to do with hot dogs and brats what Chipotle did with burritos.  This is a premium upscale place with premium dogs, brats, and a full bar in a very modern interior with cement tabletops (with the Linkhaus logo engraved in), all-glass walls on the north and south sides of the dining area, and a hodgepodge of light fixtures including some LED bulbs.  The dog is in a great big bun that resembles a sourdough hoagie roll and covered in chili, shredded cheddar, red onion, and jalapenos.  I got through like three bites of it.  The tater tots, which may be the most perfect tater tots ever, were awesome.  But there must have been a pound of them. 

I can't say a bad thing about Linkhaus. The staff is courteous, the price seems reasonable for the quality, and I wish them all the best, but I think I'm more of a Dog-n-Shake guy.

The Wall Street Journal, in sort of an opposition point of view to proposed airline regulations, did an article on the "golden age of flying" last week that basically argued there WAS no such age, comparing ticket prices, aircraft quality, frequency of flights, and more, basically coming to the conclusion that Hollywood is responsible for the romantic glamorous image flight has.  That people who remember flying that way actually never could afford to fly.

It's probably true that people who fly less think of it more fondly because it's a special moment in time for them.  People who fly more are jaded from the common downsides.  Actual flying kind of sucks.  You have to go through security checks and sometimes be physically searched (because as an American, I am guilty until proven innocent).  There's all sorts of sitting around and waiting.  And there's the flight itself in cramped quarters with limited service unless you can afford first class (and someday, I'm going to spend the money just for the experience).  But even THAT isn't what proposed regulations are wanting to stop.  Comparing a bumpy, noisy old DC-7 and inflation-adjusted ticket prices does NOT compare to regulations against overbooking, artificially optimistic schedules, and baggage fees.

Flight still holds a certain fascination with me.  In my youth, I had a scanner programmed to the airport frequencies to listen to arrivals and departures.  I still view pictures of aircraft in various company livery just for fun.  I'd probably watch takeoffs and landings from runway viewing areas if they hadn't been taken away from us (again, back to the 'guilty until proven innocent' thing).  I wouldn't rule out working in the industry if I could find the right fit one day.

There ARE ways to remember flight fondly out there.  Boeing Commercial's VP of marketing Randy Tinseth has been writing some great material on the upcoming 787.  Randy does a great job describing where the status of testing is and telling stories about air shows and other events he handles.  He throws in some great pictures as well.

Southwest's blog has a feature called "Flashback Fridays" that looks at not only the company's history, but the history of various airports it serves. Some fascinating images and stories there.

There there's Wichita.  As the "Air Capital of the World", Wichita is a city rich in flying heritage.  The first commercially available planes were built here.  Cessna and Hawker-Beechcraft were founded here and are still based here.  Most major players in the US aircraft industry have some sort of operations here.  Not to mention McConnell Air Force Base.  (Local commercial air service, oddly enough, could use some improvement.  I suppose they don't really have that much business since the flight industry muckety-mucks probably come in on their own aircraft at their own airports...they all have their own runways at their campuses.)

I recently toured the Kansas Aviation Museum.  This building was the Wichita Municipal Airport between 1935 and 1954, a beautiful art deco building that served as a popular hub for the final leg of flights to/from Denver or Los Angeles.  Lots of celebrities from the golden age of film came though here.  Sort of the air industry equivalent to Ogden's Union Station, I suppose.

The building was taken over by the Air Force, who abandoned it in the 1980's.  The foundation to restore the building and create a museum began in 1990.  They have a long way to go (particularly when it comes to air conditioning), but it's still an interesting place with lots of props, motors, and planes on display.  You can go up to the tower the Air Force added on later for the highest view of the Wichita area available without actually flying over the city.

The displays fill the airport building but don't stop there. Several unique and interesting planes sit outside, including a Boeing 727 and 737, some bombers, and smaller military and commercial aircraft.  These include the unique and much loved Beechcraft Starship.

You don't get to enter the planes unless you're apparently a super important elitist (the 727, an old FedEx cargo configuration, was opened up by a staffer for some people...when I followed them in I was kicked out), but how often do you get to walk this close to them...around them, under them?  Still pretty cool.  It had been years since I'd even seen a 727, my favorite airline of all time, and I'd never before climbed the rear stairs of one.

So if actual flying and the headaches involved has you jaded on a once proud method of travel, look to these guys to feel the magic again.

Or just drive.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

New Flavor

Place: Dog-n-Shake
Lunch: Chili dog, chili cheeseburger, Dr. Pepper

I'm having the strangest feeling of deja-vu.  Like I've been here before.  Recently.

At 5:30am, I woke up, never to get back to sleep.  I had NO reason to be up this early.  It just happened. Got bored quickly.  Decided to make a grocery run. 

So by 6, I was at the East Kellogg Walmart.  This is one of those Walmarts that makes you think of the "People of Walmart" web page.  (Actually, ALL Wichita Walmarts make you think of the "People of Walmart" web page.)  Grabbed some Simply Limeade.  Grabbed some Simply Apple.  Grabbed some Gatorade.  While wandering towards the front, I saw a Dorito's display with two new flavors..."Stadium Nacho" and "Tailgater BBQ".  According to the packaging, these are some sort of co-promotion with the next Madden football video game.  You KNOW you're big when Frito Lay will brand food around you.

I picked up the Stadium Nacho Doritos, because we humans simply cannot resist trying every new flavor Doritos can come up with.  Even when I never buy Doritos otherwise.  Doesn't matter.  Gotta try 'em. 

Closer to the checkstands, I saw a Dr. Pepper display in retro styling.  In celebration of their 125th birthday, Dr. Pepper is putting out a series of retro-looking cans holding Dr. Pepper made with "real sugar".  It doesn't specify WHICH sugar.  Could be cane sugar, could be beet sugar, could be invert sugar (which isn't a real sugar on its's a syrup bastardized from real sugars.  It's apparently sweeter.  The baking industry worships the stuff for its stability and shelf life.)  Anyway, there's four or five different collectible cans.

At checkstand row, exactly one line was open.  It's checkstand 21, at the other end of the store.  This is stupid for at least two reasons.  First, the entry doors at that end of the store aren't open anyway.  Why would you post your only checker at the opposite end of the store from where anybody can enter or exit?  Second, it's a "10 items or less" lane.  What if I want to buy more than that?  (I'm sure they'd accommodate that, but it's still dumb.)

Naturally, every shopper in the store suddenly converged on this line the second they saw me heading in that direction.  The guy being checked out had NO clue how to use the credit/ATM pad.  The cashier was patiently trying to tell him how to use it.  It did not go well.

After I got back, I fell asleep until 10.  Oops.  I then toured the Kansas Aviation Museum, a story which I will save for later. 

How were the Doritos?  Sort of plain.  If you tried them blind and were asked to guess what flavor they were, you probably wouldn't have any idea what they were going for.

And the anniversary Dr. Pepper?  More tolerable than fructose Dr. Pepper, but not quite Dublin Dr. Pepper. 

Must be using invert sugar.

Then again, this hotel fridge doesn't get very cold, either.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Old School

Place: Dog-n-Shake
Lunch: Chili dog, onion rings, chocolate shake

Dog-n-Shake is an old Wichita chain that's been around in one form for another since 1948.  Their specialty is a hot dog in a toasted bun.  Toasted and squished, really.  Good, though.  I toast and butter all my hot dog buns at home anymore.  The dog itself is perfectly decent, if unremarkable.  The shake's pretty good.  The "homemade" onion rings actually come off as if they really are.  The one time I tried making onion rings at home, they looked disastrous.  These look just like them.

Online reviews of Dog-n-Shake are pretty bad.  I think they're unfair.  It's decent cheap eats in an old-school fast food setting and the crew at the one I go to couldn't be nicer.  It makes me think of Pup-n-Taco, a California chain Taco Bell acquired and folded in years ago.  I will always be bitter that I never got to experience Pup-n-Taco.  More so than any abandoned chain.  Sure there's a couple of survivors in Albuquerque working under the name "Pop-n-Taco", but I'm sure it's not the same as Pup-n-Taco in its prime.

Saw "Inception" this morning.  Pretty decent.  A bit of a thinker, though.  And you're left wondering if you just witnessed a happy ending or not.

I may not be blogging much over the next ten weeks, as a major work project will be consuming my time.  But that's's making the summer fly by.

I'm more of an October person anyway.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Paper Waste

Place: Subway
Lunch: Foot-long Cuban pulled pork sandwich, Lays potato chips, Dr. Pepper

I'm a sucker for LTO's ('LTO' is restaurant jargon for 'limited time offering') so I had to give this a try.

Subway Sandwich Artist: "They recommend yellow mustard and pickles for this," making a face when she says "pickles". 

Me: "I agree."

Subway Sandwich Artist: "I don't like pickles, but I tried this with them anyway.  I didn't like the pickles.  Now I put peppers and banana peppers on mine."

Then she giggles.

It's pretty good, but pulled pork is always better with barbecue sauce, in my opinion.  They also put Black Forest ham on these.

Remember when Subway sandwiches were cut by putting a V-shaped wedge into the bread?  The sandwiches were FAR more impressive looking then. Now they cut them in half and they look like they were stepped on somewhere in the assembly line.  Who is the idiot who came up with that idea?

My friend @michaelkreagan did a blog today about the increasing irrelevancy of the Yellow Pages.  I have to agree.  I must get four or five different versions dumped on my door step or in my mail box a year.  I keep case I need a quick reference to a local plumber or something...but the rest go straight into the recycle bin.  There are several easy ways to find this info online from your computer or even your phone.  The only time I ever use them is if I'm in a strange town and I want a quick and easy alphabetical list of local restaurants.

I find myself thinking the same thing about newspapers anymore.  We keep hearing people complaining about wasting our natural resources, and yet here's all this paper and ink that can be delivered electronically FAR easier, cheaper, and with fewer tree sacrifices.  The hotel I stayed at in New York last week left print editions of USA Today in front of everybody's door each morning, which for some reason really annoyed me.  (I took each edition and left it in front of a door that didn't have one, hoping the guest already picked theirs up and would open the door to another one, thinking "Huh?"  That's me...Mr. Obscure Humorist.)

The reason these ancient technologies continue this way is because the print industry hasn't figured out how to make their electronic editions the cash cows their print counterparts are...or used to be.  Several perfectly good magazines and newspapers have folded because they couldn't figure out how to survive with (or against) the internet.  And their business models aren't changing...A lot of big-city newspapers spent millions modernizing their presses over the past ten years.  Reminds me of the movie multiplex building boom that happened just before stadium seating came along.  Hundreds of complexes nationwide suddenly became irrelevant and closed just a few years after opening.

With devices like the iPad and Kindle now, I can see the death of print editions coming.  If publishers can convince people to pay subscription fees for complete editions delivered electronically that can be read on their iPads or desktops, why deal with big, bulky newspapers.

Books, whole 'nother story.  I realize Kindle and the iPad have changed the perception of print books, but a lot of avid readers just want the comfort of that binded edition in their hands.  Electronic copies will absolutely hurt print, but I don't think it'll kill the industry outright.

But newspapers and phone books?  Not so much.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Pay Toll Here

Place: Burger King
Lunch: Texas Whopper (no tomato), onion rings, Dr. Pepper

Oh no!  Who do I choose...Edward or Jacob???  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!  Actually, I have no idea which crest represents who, so I choose the one that has totem pole-like images.  I win a Crossanwich.  How very Native American.  I rub off the other crest to find it would have won me NOTHING.  You SUCK Team Other Crest!

BK is having a Twilight contest.  You have to collect groups of game pieces, much like McDonald's Monopoly game. The game pieces are represented by the goth characters from the movies.  I wouldn't mind winning that Volvo XC60, but there's no WAY I'm eating enough BK to bother.  Actually, it looks like you can also win the Volvo instantly.  Or you could win $100,000, buy the Volvo, and pay the taxes on it.  That would appear to be the correct plan of action.

The promotional tray liner is covered in angry goth kids.  Why isn't anybody in Twilightville ugly? Oh wait...Leah's ugly.  Carlisle's pretty ugly.  Edward and Riley are ugly.  Actually, Edward and Riley appear to be the same person.

PREVIOUSLY ON THE WAY HOME FROM NEW YORK...I stopped at the toll plaza on the west edge of Ohio, handed the toll taker my money, and she said "We can't accept Canadian coins.  Do you have an American penny?"

Seriously.  A PENNY.

Without saying a word, I fished out an American penny and swapped her.  As I started to drive off, she muttered "It's not my fault".

(I later used the Canadian penny at a bp station.  Consider that my protest against the oil spill...I stuck bp with an apparently inferior Canadian penny.)

The irony here is that the New York Thruway toll booths actually ENCOURAGED Canadian money with a ten percent discount if paid in Canadian funds.

Toll roads are highways local tax payers were too cheap to pay for, so politicians force poor unsuspecting travelers to pay for on the fly.  Very popular out east...I paid a total of $22.15 in tolls between Victor, NY and Chicago coming home.  Greed-hungry politicians nationwide are always wanting to turn existing highways into toll roads, so I can only assume massive corruption and kickbacks are involved.  All of that crap is supposed to be paid for through gas taxes, so just raise those.  Or stop using gas taxes to pay for non-related crap, as some groups have accused.  Jeepers.

What I really hate about toll roads are the unmanned exits that demand exact change, making it impossible to pay if you don't happen to have enough coins (they're always like 50 cents and they don't take bills).  Chicago is notorious for this.  Their 'alternate' solution is you can go to their toll website, note your license plate and the date and time of the offense, and pay the toll with a credit card.  Yes, I once paid like 65 cents on my credit card via their website.  Stupid.  Just stupid.  If you can't be bothered to staff the things, you shouldn't be charging tolls.  Then there's Denver, where they have toll plazas every few miles instead of at the exits, so you're constantly having to stop and pay for another leg of your trip.  Freaking ridiculous.  (Thankfully, there's almost no reason to ever use Denver's stupid toll roads.)

Anyway, when traveling around Chicago, make sure you keep a roll of quarters in your vehicle, unless you're going to do this enough to bother with an E-ZPass.

Toll roads often have an electronic pre-pass you can put in your car, avoiding toll takers completely.  You drive through the reader lanes, and they either bill you or you maintain a prepaid balance.  Most states from Illinois eastward use a common one called E-ZPass, which will work in every state that accepts it.  I don't travel those states enough to bother.  I DO travel the Kansas Turnpike enough that I have their K-TAG.  It's a small adhesive thing that sits behind the rear view mirror and is completely invisible to the driver.  The days of big, bulky metal contraptions are gone, baby.

There are advantages to traveling turnpikes, the big one being 'service centers'.  These are super rest areas with gas stations, restaurants, and convenience stores.  No exiting off to some town, just jump off and jump on.  And they're typically staffed 24 hours, so they feel a lot safer in the middle of the night.  The negative is that they often...not always...tend to do a little price gouging.

Turnpikes also tend to be in better shape than the interstate system...or at least they SHOULD be, being maintained out of the perpetual fund generated by tolls.

The Kansas Turnpike also has an advantage of its own...aside from the I-70 stretch, it has lighter traffic. Since I-35 runs south of Kansas City to Emporia, few people (aside from those seeking Topeka specifically) travel the stretch between Topeka and Emporia, so it tends to be a quiet, less stressful drive.  Even the stretch between Emporia and the Oklahoma border feels less traveled, though I don't know how that traffic is bypassing it.

You know what would be awesome?  If a state without tolls started charging tolls JUST to cars with license plates from states that charge tolls on THEIR highways.

"But my car's a rental! I'm not really from there.  The plate just happens to say I'm from there!"

Look, punk. In any war, there's an acceptable loss ratio.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Long Summer Drive

Place: Sheetz
Lunch: Meatball sub, garlic Fryz, Pepsi

I have no idea how they make these garlic Fryz taste so good...but they do.

What a perfect day for a patio lunch, and a little blog writing.  It's just gorgeous.   I'm on the road heading home after what will have been a week-and-a-half long combination work/personal trip.  Should be back tomorrow.  The loop trip has taken me through Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.   Weather has largely been favorable, save for a torrential downpour between Galesburg and Peoria...the kind where people park under the overpasses and even SUV's hydroplane.  Nasty.  The drive last Sunday from Florence (y'all!) to Webster was crazy hot and miserable.

Western New York is just beautiful.  Our vendor is in the village of Victor, whose business district is right out of a small-town romantic comedy.  Cute buildings, cute homes, cute businesses being run out of cute homes.  All surrounded by lush greens and big shady trees.  Very quaint.  Sort of Pacific Northwest without the rain.  Two convenience stores, both crappy.  Tim Horton's became my breakfast routine.  The Holiday Inn Express we were booked at was ridiculous. While waiting for the others (who flew in), I sat in the lobby and listened to the desk clerks quote $130-$140/night over the phone in between conversations about how much they hate their jobs.  Oh, and the maid had left me a present...half-used soaps in the shower from previous guests.  What I would give for Marriott to put a Spring Hill Suites in here.

Tonight is South Bend, where rumor has it they have a real functional Del Taco.

Then home to the cats.