Friday, December 31, 2010


Place: Whataburger
Lunch: Whataburger 5-3-1, fries, Dr. Pepper

The 5-3-1 is called such because it has five pickles, three onion rings, and one pepper sauce.  It's a half-pound double-patty with two kinds of cheese (American and Monterey Jack) on Texas toast.  It was supposed to end its run in mid-December, but it apparently didn't.  Another interesting LTO from Whataburger, who I have grown increasingly fond of over the years.

It took until the end of the year to realize I'm in kind of a funk.  The first part of the year was busy with a work project.  The second third of the year was extremely busy with said work project.  The rest of the year was still busy due to the aftermath of said work project, but I still found time to realize I'm in a funk.  So my new year's resolution is going to be to get out of said funk. 

(Side note to dance party enthusiasts...This is completely different than 'bringing the funk'.)

This won't stop me from doing what we all do at the end of the year...reflect on it.

Dumb Move of the Year - In January, Qwest added a $1 'convenience fee' to people who had the audacity to pay their bill online without signing up for auto-pay.  So I started mailing payments, which costs them WAY more.  I guess I wasn't alone...They got rid of said fee within a few months.  Idiots.

Dumb Shopping Mall Tricks of the Year - Those kiosks in the middle of mall corridors are getting out of hand.  I saw a kiosk HAIR STYLIST.  The guy was REALLY pushy to passing women too.  Cell phone stores, satellite TV outlets, and skin care con artists are getting to be pushy too, making malls start to feel like sleazy flea markets.

Dumb Restaurant LTO of the Year - Burger King's Ribs.  Yeah, that didn't go so well.

Awesome Restaurant LTO of the Year - Whataburger's Bar-B-Que Cheddar Burger.  Hands down.  No contest.  Well, okay...Taco Cabana's Brisket Tacos were amazing too.

Odd Fast Food Promo Combo of the Year - Runza was promoting a combo meal of a cup of chili, cinnamon rolls, and a drink.  Chili and cinnamon rolls?

Fast Food in a Timely Fashion of the Year - Hardee's Counter Girl: "How long on the hash rounds?"  Girl cooking hash rounds: "59 minutes".

M&M's New Flavor of the Year - There weren't any that I saw except Pretzel, and I hated those.  Weird.  But I'd sure like to try the orange chocolate ones they're selling in other parts of the world.  Couldn't find them at World Market or Jungle Jim's.  Somebody also mentioned a 'cherry cordial'?  Didn't see them either.  I WILL say that the fall color mix for Peanut M&M's was quite lovely, though.

Oops I Hit The Wrong Button of the Year - Don't you hate it when you accidentally hit the "Print" button and print a 200-page document you had no intention of printing in this lifetime?

Television Remembrance of the Year - "Twin Peaks" turned 20.  And USA Network's "Psych" did a "Twin Peaks" parody episode that included some Twin Peaks alumni that was pretty funny.  Sherilyn Fenn's still got it.

I Drove a Hybrid - and it was pretty cool.  They still need to get a little more practical in design and cost for me to consider actually buying one, but...

Hot Dog of the Year - Probably the one I had at the Reds game.  Not so much for the hot dog as much as for the experience.

New Soda Discovery of the Year - Cheerwine, a longtime staple of the Carolinas.  Available in cane sugar form in glass bottles.  Yes.

Ice Cream Flavor of the Year - Tillamook Caramel Butter Pecan.  Brilliant.

Weird Flavor Combination of the Year - Del Taco came out with fries topped with taco meat, ranch, barbecue sauce, and bacon.  I'm thinking 'gross'.  Until I tried them.  It surprisingly worked.

Creepy Moment of the Year - Walking through Walmart by a top-to-bottom wall of "Baby Alive" dolls, which are apparently motion sensitive, and they all started bobbing their heads up down and making noises.  ALL OF THEM.

New Business of the Year - Trader Joe's came to town (see November archive).  Favorite thing there that I didn't find until after I wrote my blog post where I tried a bunch of items: Lasagna Bolognese. 

Albums of the Year - "July Flame" by Laura Veirs led my summer driving music.  The woman is based in my hometown and has been recording for years and I had never heard of her until one of those Amazon recommendations.  Then Kim Taylor, who I've known about for awhile now thanks to her occasional appearances with Over the Rhine, released "Little Miracle".  And it is.

Best Album of 2011 that I've Already Heard - If your favorite band is capable of releasing an album in 2011 half as good as Over the Rhine's forthcoming Joe Henry-produced "The Long Surrender" (in stores 2/8/11, pre-order here for instant gratification), it will probably be the second best album of next year.

Best Band Show Promo Ever - "Wow.  Outside the "venue" in Modesto.  It's an arcade...and with 7 BANDS tonight!  I hope you guys are coming to see this...should be hilarious."  - (The Birthday Massacre, on Facebook)

Dumb Movie of the Year - Oh, probably "The Losers".  That's ironic.

Movie of the Year - I didn't see nearly as many movies this year as I have in the past, but "Kick-Ass" really brought the awesome.  I actually gave "Toy Story 3" a higher rating, but Kick-Ass will be the long-run keeper. "Scott Pilgrim vs the World" gets runner-up nods.

Forthcoming Movie Question of the Year - Apparently, the next Batman movie is called "Dark Knight Rises".  So does that mean plenty of Viagra product placement?

TV Can't Possibly Get Dumber of the Year - Every year, I wonder if NBC and Toyota's stupid Football Night in American halftime sponsorship gimmick can get any dumber.  Every ensuing year, the answer is Yes.

Bad TV Casting Idea of the Year - Elliot Gould was a guest star on an episode of the original CSI this year.  This was a bad idea because he made the regular cast look like community theater rejects.

Awesome TV Commercial of the Year - Sprint's 'unlimited' commercial where the girl is breaking up with her boyfriend.  Her gleeful facial expressions totally make it.

Cancellation Double-Take of the Year - TV weather cancellation scroll..."Iowa-Iowa State hockey game canceled".  Me..."Iowa and Iowa State have hockey teams?"

Retail Double-Take of the Year - Why would you name a swimsuit store "Anything but Water"?

New Product of the Year - If you have one of those homes with a lot of recessed ceiling lighting, you might want to look at Home Depot for EcoSmart LED Downlights.  10.5 watts, last like 30 years, and really awesome light output. $50 each (although supposedly on sale for $19.95 in stores until Jan 1)...but considering the savings and not having to get the ladder out on an annual basis, they just might be worth it to you.  Even if you just phase them in as your existing bulbs burn out.  I replaced the CFL bulb over my sink with one of these.  Completely outperformed the CFL and gave me back the light level of the incandescent the CFL replaced.

Maybe We're Going to Open, Maybe Not of the Year - New Denny's at the Love's truck stop signage Monday: "Open Tuesday".  Tuesday PM/Wed AM: "Open Wednesday".  Wednesday PM: "Coming Soon".

Ugly Building Conversion of the Year - Our old Saturn dealership was converted into a Mini dealership.  They painted the entire building BLACK.  It looks horrible.

Tasteless Marketing of the Year - I saw a billboard in Ardmore, Oklahoma that said "YOUR WIFE IS HOT!" in big block letters.  It was promoting air conditioning.

Bumper Sticker of the Year - "Punk Rock isn't just for your boyfriend".

Fortune Cookie of the Year - "Borrow money from a pessimist...they don't expect it back".

Reason Not To Lose Weight of the Year - If I were worth my weight in gold, my worth as of October 15 would have been $5,694,624.00.

The Dumbing Down of America of the Year - At hotel, a woman in the room next to mine was trying to teach her two teenage sons how to unlock their door with a key card.  They weren't grasping the concept.

Suggested Tax Dollars At Work of the Year - I would support a federal program that bought all the Pontiac Azteks and crushed them in the name of national beautification.

False Alarm of the Year - Heard Chester Cat yelp like he was in pain...and turned to find him beating up my laptop bag.

Cat Barf Casualty of the Year - One of my cats puked on my Harmony universal remote and killed it.  Wouldn't have guessed that's all it would take.

IT Quote of the Year - "I'm a tech person, and if it doesn't break, I can't enjoy it."  (Company IT guy, explaining why he doesn't like Macs.)

Overheard in a Restaurant of the Year - "The first time he kissed me, I don't think he was impressed.  But then we kissed again and he asked me if I'd changed my medicine!"

Overheard in the Break Room of the Year - "He was on a motorcycle.  You would think he could see a cow standing in the middle of the street."

Retweet of the Year - "Whenever I hear a strange noise outside my room at night, I worry that it's David Lynch, doing something I wouldn't get."  (@Jordan_Morris)

Have a happy 2011.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pepper Run

Place: Del Taco
Lunch: Del Beef burrito, Del Classic chicken burrito (no lettuce, no tomato), Classic taco (no tomato), hash brown sticks, Dr. Pepper

I'm at the newest (and only) Del Taco in Texas.  It's not the first time Del Taco has tried to make a go of it here.  This one probably won't last.

It's an odd location in that it's the only Del Taco I know of that shares real estate with another tenant. The duplex building is Del Taco on one side and Five Guys Burgers & Fries on the other.  There's another reason this is odd...Del Taco ALSO sells burgers.

A rare Texas Carl's Jr is on this row too in a building that originated as a Krystal.  Wienerschnitzel used to be up the street.  I'm pretty sure one of Texas's first In-N-Outs is planned along this strip.  (That's not a joke...they're really coming.)  Might as well be in California.

Del Taco has FINALLY come up with a new decor package.  It's about ten years past due.  It's not exactly head-turning, but it's an improvement.

I ordered my food from Confused Counter Girl.  It was one of those experiences where I double-checked the receipt (which she printed out THREE TIMES) to make sure it was right.  I got my drink and settled into one of the bright green plastic chairs that dominated the half-filled dining room.  Every new Del Taco outside of their core markets I've been to are usually this busy.  But they never last.

After awhile, I wander up to the counter to see where my order is.  There's the tray with one taco and one burrito on it.  Hmmm.  It's clear from the kitchen conversation that nobody has any idea what they're doing, and every order is a big mess.  Another customer slides up next to me.  "How's it going?" he asked.

"Fine," I say.  "How are you?"

"Not too bad.  What's your order number?"


"Oh good, then it's not just me."

"I get the impression this isn't the most experienced crew," I say.

"They just opened two weeks ago, and half the crew has already quit," he says.

You know, this guy actually looks like Morning Drive-Thru Window Guy at the Lehi, Utah Del Taco now that I think about it.

They call my number, which gets the other guy excited.  "Hey!  That's you!"  On the tray is two tacos and one burrito.  I pull out my receipt and show the guy what's supposed to be on it.  He shouts to the crew, "This isn't right!  He has his receipt, and it's not even close!"  He sends me off with the burrito, taco, and extra taco. I discover they made both tacos the way I ordered the chicken burrito (with no lettuce and tomato instead of just no tomato).  I'll pass that one.  The chicken burrito and hash brown sticks are delivered to my table a few minutes later.

The guy I was talking to is sitting with his wife and child.  They now have their food, and they start praying.  They're praying hard.  REALLY hard.  I ate half a burrito in the time it took them to finish.  Maybe they were praying that their order was right.

I'm on the 'way back' side of the semi-annual Dublin Dr. Pepper run.  I started this at 2am.  I was up at 2am because I fell asleep at 7:30 last night.  No idea why, but I sure have a lot done already today.

Can't complain about that.

Monday, December 20, 2010

London, Rome, Paris...Kentucky

Place: Tastee-Freez
Lunch: Angus Coney dog, Tastee burger, chocolate milk shake

For years, Champaign, Illinois had the only Wienerschnitzel east of the Mississipi.  It was run exactly like any other Wienerschnitel.  It had the same dogs and menu items made exactly the same way, had the same promotional materials, had the limited time offerings.  That's kind of unusual...many chain locations out in the middle of nowhere are just a little bit odd compared to the core markets.

It finally closed about a year ago and probably should have been left at that, but the corporate Wieners (ha ha ha!  see what I did there?)  kept trying to find somebody to take it over. 

It's finally happened.  The yellow A-frame was repainted blue, and the red W started sharing space with the Tastee-Freez logo.  The classic Tastee-Freez logo, even!  Technically, they're calling it a Tastee-Freez, but it's really a co-branded Wienerschnitzel/Tastee-Freez.

Wienerschnitzel bought the Tastee-Freez brand seven years ago.  Tastee-Freez has always been sort of a knockabout chain where franchisees bought the Tastee-Freez ice cream equipment but otherwise did their own thing.  The 40 or so remaining locations continue that way, but Wienerschnitzel has added Tastee-Freez treats to over 300 of their Wienerschnitzel and Hamburger Stand branded stores.

This store, to my knowledge, is the first fully Wienerschnitzel-authorized branded Tastee-Freez outlet with a full menu created by the company.  Which includes, of course, the full Wienerschnitzel hot dog menu.  If it's an attempt to revive the Tastee-Freez brand and get Wienerschnitzel hot dogs more widely available in the Midwest, I'm all for it.

I had breakfast in Paris over the weekend.  Paris, Kentucky, that is.  Had a nice drive on some old narrow winding two-lane blacktop amidst hilly snow-covered fields immaculately maintained with stone wall fencing.  Really, really beautiful.  And the people of Kentucky are some of the nicest you'll ever encounter.

On Friday, I had breakfast at the Hen House, a restaurant in an old barn-like structure just off I-74 at the Mahomet, IL exit that I always thought would be fun to try.  REALLY good pancakes.

Had a ticket to go to the Bengals-Browns "Battle of Ohio" game on Sunday.  Didn't bother.  After spending Saturday night in the cramped quarters of the Taft Theater, I really didn't think I could handle three hours on a hard plastic seat in 20-degree weather.  Plus, when even the Bengals broadcast station promos say "Will they even bother keeping score?", it's hard to get excited.

I don't know...It's been hard to get excited about ANYTHING this season.

Christmas in a week?

I didn't even buy cards this year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Loyalty Cards

Place: smashburger
Lunch: Chili dog (no jalapenos), chili (no jalapenos), Dr. Pepper (no jalapenos)

So last night, I was at Cold Stone.  I got my usual ('like it'-sized cake batter with cookie dough mix-in in a plain waffle cone).  Smiling Counter Guy asked if I had a punch card yet.

Me: "No, and I don't want one".

Him: "Oh, uh, okay."

Recently at a favorite restaurant, the server, knowing I ate there often, gave me a loyalty card to register online.  Something about a free meal every ten, I think.

Haven't been back since.  Said card is sitting by my computer, unregistered.

I hate these things.  Supermarkets and restaurants are the most common places to issue loyalty cards or punch cards or whatever.  They get a bunch of your information for the purpose of micro-marketing to you, then they have specials that are applicable to only those with cards.

Meanwhile, your wallet is bulging at the seams with plastic and paper cards.  And coupons.  I hate those too.

What am I supposed to do...start carrying a purse?

Nobody's forcing anybody to carry them, of course.  You can pay full-price for whatever it is you should be already 'saving' on (which was probably already at an inflated price to begin with).  And in some places I've been, even when I didn't have a card, I got the discount anyway.  The clerk either ran their OWN card through, or they used a spare one they had lying around.  One clerk recently even borrowed the loyalty card from the customer behind me and got me the discount THAT way.

I've basically allowed myself to carry five.  One for a hotel chain, one for a supermarket chain, one for a pet store chain, one for a department store chain, and one for a restaurant chain.  Mostly because these specific places are the only places to offer specific things I regularly want, and they do save me a significant amount of money.  I've actually long since lost the pet store one...I just give the clerk my phone number.  My phone number from several years ago, because I've long since moved, and the pet store doesn't have any easy way for you to change that information.  And I have absolutely no reason for them to have current information anyway.

Doesn't that really defeat the purpose for them?

I would MUCH rather shop at a place that offers good prices for the stuff I want without having to sign up for one of these things.

I was already loyal.  Why force the issue?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Slip and Slide

Place: Cici's Pizza
Lunch: Pizza, soup, cheese breadsticks (dipped in Alfredo sauce), Dr. Pepper

As usual, Dora the Explorer is on.  Today, Dora and Swiper are on the same side.  Huh?  Apparently, Dora's trying to help Swiper get off Santa's naughty list.  You'd think Swiper would be practical enough to know Santa doesn't exist, wouldn't you. 

While traveling the world, my new PC speakers showed up.  I'd been eyeing these for awhile and they came up as a Cyber-Monday deal, so I ordered them from the road. 

I installed them last night.  This was a bit of production because they're HUGE in comparison to the little Gateways that came with my PC.  I just had those sitting behind my LCD monitor in the vast space that was intended for a CRT monitor.  The new ones are up top on the shelf above the monitor.  I can't believe the included wiring was actually long enough to complete the job.

While I was at this, Chester Cat was going through the various boxes (three total) the speakers came in. In between two of the boxes was some shipping paper the shipper had wadded up and wedged in as packing material.  Chester pulled it out of the box immediately. 

I'm not sure what happened after that...I was busy untangling wires and figuring out how to lay everything out...but when I got done with my project and turned toward the door, Chester was proudly sitting on his shipping paper, which he had managed to unwad and perfectly stretch out across the floor.  All three feet of it.

THAT is one smart cat.

This paper is now his new favorite thing. He sleeps on it, burrows under it, and dives on it like it's a slip-and-slide.  It makes all sorts of noise whenever he moves on it, of course, which I assume is the attraction.  I'm pretty sure he played with it all night. 

I'm actually glad to be back at work.  Who knew.