Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday Overkill

Place: Jollibee
Lunch: Chickenjoy and Spaghetti, Pepsi

The plan WAS to do the lunch buffet at Round Table Pizza, then catch a movie at the theatre in this shopping center.  But the last four Round Tables in Las Vegas closed sometime between August and now.  Not surprised, but disappointed anyway.

So I decided it was finally time to try Jollibee at the other end of this shopping center.  I've always been sort of fascinated with this place and its cute bee logo.  Looked a little too professional for something I'd never heard of before.

Turns out Jollibee is the biggest name in fast food...if you live in the Philippines.  The parent company started with an ice cream shop, switched to hot dogs, and expanded both the menu and locations into an empire.  They've also bought a bunch of other restaurant chains over the years which largely operate in the Philippines and China.  They're also the Philippines sole Burger King franchisee (another acquisition).

But the core brand that started it all is so entrenched in Filipino culture that Jollibees have started popping up in other countries, including a couple dozen outlets in the US in areas with bigger concentrations of Filipino populations.  Jollibee claims only the spaghetti recipe has been altered for American tastes, but I've seen a difference of opinion on that with the faithful.

The US Jollibees are branded "Jollibee Chicken & Burgers" to fool people into thinking this is a typical American fast food chain, but "Yumburgers" are about the last thing anyone orders.  The burgers get poor ratings at the usual online review spots.  They have the seasoning cooked into the meat and kind of taste like a dry Salisbury sreak.  Chicken (called "Chickenjoy") and spaghetti reign supreme here, though there are other things on the menu too.  The breakfast menu includes sweet pork, milkfish belly, and Spam, all on plates with an egg, rice (absurdly heavy on the garlic), and a tomato slice.  This particular location shares space with another Jollibee brand, Red Ribbon Bakery.  Which had some stuff I definitely need to try.

Anyway, you immediately know you're not in Kansas anymore when you walk in the door.  This is clearly NOT an American fast food place, even if you didn't notice the Filipino television programming playing on the flat screen or the big mural showing examples of global markets where it operates.  At the same time, nothing feels cheap either.  Professional marketing materials hang on the windows and from the ceiling.

The fried chicken has a texture similar to the Colonel's original recipe and doesn't even need the cup of gravy that comes with it for dipping.  But you'll use it anyway because it's good.  The spaghetti sauce is a meat sauce that I can't really describe the flavor of.  It's sweet and maybe has some sort if an..,Asian?...kickto it.  It has hot dogs cut up into it.  I loved it.

Seriously...this is my go-to lunch spot when coming out to this side of town to see a movie going forward.

It's Black Friday, and I spent it the same way I usually do...watching it unfold on the early morning news as told by cute bouncy local news reporters.  And holy crap are the reporters and anchors on Action News 13 cute and bouncy.  They had a reporter stationed live at the Las Vegas Premium Factory Outlets, a massive indoor factory outlet mall that's crazy on a normal day.  And she's standing there with the outlets in the background and saying "Well...there's not really much going on here."

Then "Good Morning America" came on with the announcers claiming things were "crazy" while showing four simultaneous live shots of malls and big box stores where...almost nobody was shopping.

So where is everybody?

The Action News 13 reporter reasoned this was because the mall opened at midnight and everybody'd already grabbed the "door busters" (hot items sold at a loss to get people in the store).  Indeed, there's been a lot of complaining about Black Friday starting earlier and earlier, even moving into Thanksgiving evening (which I've heard referred to as "Grey Thursday"), and the door buster items were gone almost immediately.  Action News 13 had footage of a woman in a local K-Mart parking lot throwing a fit that she'd waited in line for hours and didn't get ANY door buster deals.

Both they and Good Morning America were showing a security video of a guy shouting threats to stab anyone who got in his way at a store entrance.

I saw a Tweet about somebody getting knocked out over a bottle of shampoo.

So the media still got their tabloid shots.

Hooray for them, I guess.

I suppose I could suggest that stores have reasonable sales on items they have plenty of instead of encouraging this nonsense with loss leaders, but what fun would that be.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Place: Burger King
Lunch: Wisconsin White Cheddar Whopper (no lettuce, no tomato), onion rings (w/Zesty sauce), Coke

This BK location got a mild refresh in the dining room with a creamy new paint color that really lights up the place.  They also replaced the plastic menu board with video monitors, which are largely static menus except for one dedicated to promos.  That one rotates images and videos.  Occasionally, all of the monitors sync a virtual "Celebrating 55 Years of the Whopper" banner.  I wonder if this annoys people trying to read the menu.

Actually, I envision a time in the not-too-distant future where fast food places have a smart phone app that lets you read the menu specific to the location that you're in, create your own order, and transmit it to the cashier, payment and everything.

The Whopper celebration, of course, features an LTO Whopper that also seems to be BK's answer to McDonald's CBO, though they're really not in the same league.  While the McDonald's version on paper sounds more impressive with its 1/3 pound Black Angus patty, white cheddar, and bacon, the BK White Cheddar Whopper is far FAR better.  It's a regular Whopper with regular toppings ( onions instead of white) plus bacon and a very natural looking, feeling, and tasting white cheddar slice. This cheese is Tillamook quality, unlike McDonald's near flavorless mystery cheese.  The charbroiled patty and the bacon bring out a smokiness in the cheese that makes this quite possibly the best Whopper ever.  I will be eating a lot of these while it's around.  It needs to become a permanent menu item.  Are you listening to me, Burger King?  NEEDS TO BE PERMANENT.

Hardee's also has an interesting LTO burger currently.  The Memphis BBQ burger has pulled pork on it.  A burger patty and pulled pork.  Which gave me an idea.  McRib is back at McD's.  What if you got a CBO and a McRib, then put the McRib patty in the CBO, between the patty and one of the buns?

(Admit it.  You're thinking of trying that.  But I'm not.  I'm far too in love with this Whopper.)

T-shirts and shorts weather for Thanksgiving?  I'll set foot in five states Thanksgiving day, and every one of them has favorable weather.  Especially the last one, where it will be in the low 70's.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Twinkie Trauma

Place: Cici's Pizza
Lunch: Buffet, Pepsi

I saw a Cici's commercial the other night where they were hyping the buffet for "only $5.00 for a limited time".  First off, the regular buffet price at this location is $4.99.  Second, it's recently been $2.99 with the purchase of a drink.  So the commercial makes no sense.

The $2.99 price is driving traffic.  I haven't seen this place this busy in a year or two.

If you didn't think the world was in trouble before, you should now.  In a world where the parent company of Twinkies goes out of business, something is seriously wrong.

Hostess announced it's winding down its business.  The final straw was the inability to settle with striking union workers.  The company has been in bankruptcy (more than once, historically) for awhile now.  No more Twinkies, CupCakes, Sno-Balls, Donettes, Wonder Bread, or even Dolly Madison products.

Twitter users, of course, are all over this...

"Hostess is shutting down right when marijuana is getting legalized?  Well that's just not right." - @ZBeebs42

"Worst part about Hostess going out of business is now there's nothing to eat to cope with Hostess going out of business." - @rejectedjokes

Then you have the health Nazi's dancing in the street, and the organic crowd pointing everyone to "real bakeries with real baked goods".

Settle down, hippies.

This reminds me of my youth when the workers of a local spruce mill went on strike amidst threats from the parent company that it would result in the permanent shutdown of the mill.  The strike happened, the mill shut down, and the union had two guys posted at the gate with strike signs daily for TWO YEARS before deciding the company was actually serious and giving up.

I don't think the Hostess thing will be quite as dramatic.

Hostess will sell their brands.  The company who buys them will be able to start production without any existing union contracts.  They won't even have to use the existing Hostess plants.  Some off-brand snack cake maker could just slap the Twinkie brand on their existing knockoffs.  It might not happen immediately, but it will happen.

Still, it's kind of mind-boggling it got to this point.

Truth be known, I don't buy snack cakes of any kind very often.  I'll miss Wonder Bread more than anything.  But I still swung by QuikTrip and grabbed a package of Twinkies this morning just for nostalgia.  And chocolate CupCakes.  And my personal favorite Hostess product, orange CupCakes.  There was no shortage of supply.  They were fully stocked with all your favorites.

They'll be enjoyed, but if it's the last of their kind for me, it's no big deal.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Support Your Local Sheriff

Place: Taco Bell
Lunch: Enchrito, Doritos Locos Taco Supreme (no tomato), Nachos Supreme (no tomato), Pepsi

Me: "I'll have an Enchrito..."

Fast Talking Counter Girl: "Beefchickenorsteak?"

Me: "What?"

Fast Talking Counter Girl: "Beefchickenorsteak?"

Me: "It's an enchrito.  There's only one option."

Fast Talking Counter Girl: "Nothoseoptionsareavailableeventhoughthey'renotonthemenu".

I hate you.

In case you've been living under a rock, it's Election Day.  I usually vote over lunch as I've found my polling place is pretty empty if I leave a little early.  Five-ten minutes process tops.  But we have a new polling place this year and I was up early, so I headed straight down ahead of their 7:00 am opening.

Enter the big spacious lobby of the YMCA.  Greeted by some very friendly guy who points me to the obvious line.  Not bad...I count 13 possible voters ahead of me.  Two minutes to opening.  The line has a view of the YMCA's pool.  Old men, some in Speedos, are standing around the pool in what looks like some bizarre Twin Peaks scene.

(Someday, I'm going to be that guy.  The old man in the Speedo.  Yes.)

7:00 am sharp, the line starts moving.  This is where things get stupid.

The voting room is small.  REALLY small.  Less than half the size of the old place, maybe even a quarter.  There's three points you have to check in at versus one in the previous election that I remember.  You have to fill out a form at the first point, give it to the second point who verifies who you are and puts a sticker on the first form, then the third point where you pick up your ballot.

There's nine voting booths.  Three of these are unusable because the line to get through the check points are right up against them.  Doesn't matter because the second check-in point takes so long that there's never more than two or three people voting anyway.

I fill out my form at the first point then get back in line for the second point, which is crammed between the first check in point and the unusable voting booths.  It winds around the small space where the other voting booths are and the machine you submit your ballot in is.  The woman handing out ballots, having nothing better to do while the people verifying voters are taking forever, comes up to the line and says "You can't be this close to the voting booths".

We argue that there's no more space to stand in.  She sort of agrees, then decides to push the voting booths closer together.  I am not even exaggerating when I say the Fire Marshall would shut this room down if he saw this. It's absolutely ridiculous.

When I get to the second check-in point, I notice the holdup is because the two girls checking for registration are taking three to five minutes per do their job.  There's an option to scan your drivers license at the check point to expedite the process.  I do this.  This does quicken the process, but the girl still stares at the screen forever before asking me what my date of birth is for verification.  But I'm still out far faster than the voter next to me.

I get my ballot.  I go to a "booth" (a small plastic surround divider) and get to voting.  There is absolutely no way in this space that my voting is least a couple in line can't help but have full view access to my ballot.

Voting is quick if you're a straight-line ticket voter (which I'm not).  You can vote party, then flip the ballot over for everything else, which is nothing but a few judges.  We're not one of those states/counties that has a crapload of silly propositions.

Push through the cramped space to the machine you stick the ballot in, argue with the woman manning it, submit the ballot.  Squeeze your way through the single door this room has, which is full of people trying to come in.  Done.

28 minutes from door to exit, with only 13 people voting before me that I counted.  At that rate, they'll be lucky to get 400 voters voted in this precinct by closing time (9:00 pm) tonight.  The old place could handle roughly a dozen voters at the same time easily.

Who approved this space?  It's not like this is the world's first election, let alone this county's.


At least the TV campaign commercials will go away now, to be replaced by the usual bombardment of ads for prescription drugs.

Which I find every bit as offensive as the campaign ads.

Monday, November 05, 2012


Place: Subway
Lunch: Spicy Italian (the November featured $5 footlong), chips, Coke

Ever go by a Subway and think "Gee, I never noticed that Subway before", and it's because it just opened and even though you drive by there every day you didn't see it coming?

I suppose that's because Subways just kind of magically appear in strip malls overnight, and possibly because who cares, there's like fifty Subways within a ten-mile driving distance of any point on Earth.  Or at least it seems like there is.

Anyway, they opened last week.  Who knew.  No grand opening banners.  Few customers. That's a good thing here because this may well be the slowest Subway crew EVER.

My sandwich looks like it was run over in the parking lot before they served it.

Slightly more noticeable last week...Dunkin' Donuts returned to the market for the first time in...oh...a few decades.  The press release claimed it's "the first Dunkin' Donuts restaurant in the area since 1972", but I think that's when the last one OPENED.  I think they were here until 1980 or so.  There's definitely one old Dunkin' building still standing in town that until recently was a taco place.

I stopped by on opening day.  It was busy, but not ridiculously so.  I parked right out in front.  Waltzed right in.  Third in line.  Had a free Munchkin.  Ordered my usual...a Boston Kreme and a hot chocolate.  Also got a Strawberry Frosted just because.

Total $3.28.  Handed clerk $20.28.  Got back NOTHING.

Didn't think about it for a second, then caught on.  " owe me $17."

She stands there looking innocently confused, then says something to another employee.  "It'll be just a minute, sir."

She rings out the next customer, because she can't just open the drawer, according to the other employee.  She needs a transaction where the drawer pops open so she can make change.

Except this guy is paying with a credit card.

So does the next customer.

Why do people use credit cards for $3.00 transactions?

Another employee asks me if he can help me, not because he's helpful, but because I'm in the way now.  I explain why I'm standing there.  He gets a manager, who nervously shows the cashier how to open the register.

I finally get my change and move over to where you wait to pick up drinks.  Mine, of course, has been sitting there for awhile.  One of those regional people franchises bring in to oversee store openings wastes no time explaining to me that they're just opening today and these things happen and therefore it's nobody's fault.

Short-changing has become such an issue with me that I have to wonder if cashiers are doing this on purpose to supplement their low wages.  We have a local Target store where you simply couldn't pay cash without exact change...they'd skim you every time, regardless of who the clerk was.  (Don't know if it's still like there, I quit going to that one years ago.)  I also had it happen to me at a Walgreen's recently.  I confronted that clerk and she got upset, completely denying it.  I confirmed I was right when I got home and balanced my books.  (Yes, I'm that anal...I track every penny.)

Then I stopped this morning at QuikTrip for Lotto.  I had a $1 winner and was buying $3.  The machine was directly in front of me behind the counter.  The clerk inserted my existing ticket.  The machine made its "You're a winner!  Woo hoo!" sound and the display showed I owed $2 after he plugged in my $3 plays.

He turned right around to me and said "No winner on that ticket.  $3.00 please."


I pointed out that he was incorrect.  He turned again.  "Oh, right.  $2.00."

Maybe that's why everybody's paying $3.00 tabs with credit cards.

I went back to Dunkin' this morning.  Hit the drive-thru this time.  Got a couple of doughnuts and a hot chocolate.  Paid with exact change.

Drove off only to later discover they gave me the wrong doughnuts.