Saturday, December 28, 2013

Old McDonald's

Place: McDonald's
Lunch: Big Mac, six piece Chicken McNuggets (w/sweet chili sauce), Hi-C Orange Lavaburst

Wichita Eagle business columnist Carrie Rengers had a quote from a retired judge who performed a wedding for a couple in the McDonald's they'd first met at.  A McDonald's that had since closed.

Yep...they had their marriage in the kitchen of a long since boarded up McDonald's.

That must have been interesting.

I looked up the old building on Google Street View.  It was your classic mansard design unless you looked above it from Satellite View and saw the sloped roof in the middle.  Then you realized this was a heavily remodeled original McDonald's building with the big golden arches going through either side like handle bars.  Red and white tile.  Walk up only or maybe very limited seating in front of the counter.  They just built a mansard around it, adding a dining area and drive-thru.  Much like one of the McDonald's of my childhood.

This particular location was the second McDonald's in town.  The first (in all of Kansas, actually) opened in 1960 and is still in business, but the building there is of the new nondescript variety.  The mansard it was remodeled from may have been a ground-up rebuild.  Not sure.

The mansard-style McBuildings are on the way out.  And this got me thinking of them.  So I decided to have lunch at the oldest one in town I know of, even though it's been completely bastardized over the years.  The brick is painted white.  The roof is painted red.  And the dining room is one big expanse of brown, brown and orange-brown, with metal chairs that have brown wooden seats.  But I can close my eyes and think back to the days when it might have had the 80's "Jungle Concept" interior.  Green and cream and fake foliage everywhere.

Exact same sandwiches, different environment.

In other history news, it's time for the year in review! 

Album of the Year - A number of my favorite artists released new material this year, but nothing really stood out as earth-shattering.  I guess I'll give the edge to Gary Numan's "Splinter - Songs from a Shattered Mind".  It was pretty great and gave Numan his best UK chart activity in years.  Also, I got to meet him.  He was surprisingly engaging.  We had a fascinating conversation about a wolf.  (NOT a joke.).

Movie of the Year - It was a great year for sequels, but like Album of the Year, I can't pin one down.  "Fast & Furious 6", "Iron Man 3", and "Star Trek: Into Darkness" were really freaking great.  New original material?  Kind of short this year.

I Wish This Word Would Go Away of the Year - "Selfie". It just sounds gross.  It drives me as nuts as the religious term "gird your loins".  Keep your loins to yourself, pervert.

New Product of the Year - Those CREE LED bulbs Home Depot sells really are good 60-watt replacement bulbs.

Costly Maintenance Mistake of the Year - Mechanic: "You need to replace your (car) cabin filter every 20,000 miles.  That's what fried your air blower."  Me: "WHAT cabin filter?"

Poorly Executed Innovation of the Year - My favorite hotel in Vegas changed their room key cards from magnetic stripe to RF readers.  But they won't read unless you take them out of your wallet, and even THEN it's kind of iffy.  What's the point if you have to take them out of your freaking wallet?

Reason to be Worried on a Flight of the Year - Flight Attendant to Pilot: "Are you feeling a little droopy dog today?  Don't worry, it's under 900 miles."

Dumpy Hotel of the Year - Guy two doors down from me complained to the front desk about ants.  Desk clerk resolved the situation by handing him two cans of ant spray.

Restaurant Demise of the Year - The State of Kansas seized the assets of Taco Tico's corporate-owned restaurants and headquarters.  There's just a few scattered franchise locations left, which thankfully includes my favorite one, presumably operating independently now.

Restaurant LTO of the Year - Gotta hand it to Arby's.  That Smokehouse Brisket sandwich was a thing of beauty.

Bad Restaurant LTO of the Year - Subway brought back the Big Hot Pastrami, which I used to love...and it was AWFUL.

Bad Restaurant LTO Etiquiette of the Year - White Castle offered grilled chicken sliders.  Not available at breakfast.  Which makes perfect sense since literally everything else on the menu is.

Fast Food Discovery That Already Existed But I Just Discovered of the Year - Original Tommy's breakfast burrito.  A pound or more of sausage, egg, hash brown, cheese, and chili.  It's so BIG.  And so HEAVY.  But I CAN'T STOP EATING IT.

Fast Food Misheard of the Year 1 - Me: "Three naked tenders..."  Popeyes Counter Girl: "Three-legged WHAT?"

Fast Food Misheard of the Year 2 - Hardee's Counter Girl 1: "I had to pay my rent, I had to pay my daughter's layaway..." Hardee's Counter Girl 2: "You put your DAUGHTER on LAYAWAY???"

Good Restaurant Move of the Year - Whataburger's Spicy Ketchup, previously an LTO, became a permanent thing this year.

Bad Restaurant Menu Move of the Year - The local smashburger stopped selling chili.  And I stopped going there.

Dumb Restaurant Logo Move of the Year - Wendy's moved to an 80's lipstick font logo.  Why?

Long Overdue Restaurant Move of the Year - You know that Taco Bell in an old Sambo's building I complained about for years and years and years?  THEY DEMOLISHED IT this summer!

Bad LTO Grocery Food Item of the Year - Pringles Chili Con Queso.  They were GROSS.

Fortune Cookie of the Year - "You are about to become $8.95 poorer.  ($6.95 if you had the buffet)".

Fro-Yo Flavor of the Year - Buttered popcorn.  Well played, Menchies.

That was Quick of the Year - The family who owned longtime and locally loved Scottsbluff, NE staple Taco Town relocated to Wichita and opened up shop there.  Didn't get to try them...they lasted two months.

T-Shirt of the Year - "Yes I own a truck.  No I won't help you move."

Bad Etiquette of the Year - Don't you hate it when somebody within earshot of your desk replies "LOL" to your e-mail when you know for a fact they DID NOT LOL?

Budget Cuts of the Year - After 18 years, I discontinued DirecTV in favor of going free OTA only.  Six months later, I don't miss it.  At all.

TV Commerical of the Year - The FedEx ad with the golf-loving death metal band.  "As far as your fans know, you are only capable of HATE."  "I don't hate golf." One of FedEx's best ever, and that's saying something.

Bad Commercial of the Year - Dodge Charger: "We're willing to bet no kid ever grew up with a poster of a Passat on his wall."  Yeah, well I'm willing to bet no kid will ever  grow up with a poster of that sedan you currently call a "Charger" on his wall either.

Bad Commerical of the Year II - Am I the only person in the world who really wants to beat the crap out of the smug teacher in the Microsoft Surface commercial?

Bad Commercial Jingle of the Year - "Bigger Better Bob Brown...Bob Brown Auto" to a disco beat.  SHUT UP!  SHUT!  UP!

Missed Commercial Opportunity of the Year - You know that Delta faucet commercial where a guy is using a variety of touch faucets as a drum kit?  That would have been WAY more impressive if they got Neil Peart to do it.

Uncomfortable TV of the Year - It always gets awkward when Joe Buck flirts with Troy Aikman on camera.

Suggested New Olympic Sport of the Year - "Running Through Big Airports to Catch Absurdly Tight Connections".

Feel Better About Yourself of the Year - Ever find yourself feeling down about your place in life in comparison to everyone around you?  Just go people-watching at Aldi.

Personalized License Plate of the Year - "W ENVY", on a green Camaro

Random Unsolicited Advice of the Year - "THERE AREN'T ANY FLYING MONKEYS!" Building maintenance guy at the office shouted at me from the roof

Office Courtesy of the Year - Girl holding door open for me: "Right this way, sir."  To the guy behind me: "BUT NOT YOU."

Retweet of the Year - "So 18 million people watched that Sound of Music thing last night and everything I've done has been canceled."  - @JewelStaite

Monday, December 09, 2013

Alarm Cat

Place: Subway
Lunch: Big Hot Pastrami (with chipotle southwest sauce, pickles, and stale bread), creamy baked potato soup, Coke

I saw the Big Hot Pastrami ad over the weekend and was terribly excited.  It's been a few years since Subway's done the pastrami thing nationally.  So that was my lunch plan for today.

And it's awful.


Almost flavorless.

I actually taste the staleness of the bread more than the pastrami itself.


The soup's okay, though.  I don't go to Subway much and I'm not sure when they decided to carry soup.  Apparently the cashier isn't either, because when I asked for soup, she had no idea what I was talking about.

The girl who made the sandwich (aka "Subway Sandwich Artist") did, though.

Woke up at four this morning.  I did so because Chester Cat decided I needed to be up then.

This happens when I return from long trips.  The cats tend to be more demanding for awhile, and I was just gone for ten days.  (They're not left alone, I have a cat sitter who visits them periodically.)

Anyway, Chester's method for waking me is to sit in front of my face, purr loudly, and slide his paw in and out of the space between my face and the pillow.

It's quite effective.

In this case, it led to him being shoved off the bed.  I'm grumpy enough on a good day.  But I currently have a sinus cold going on, so...

Ten seconds later, he was right back in my face, purring, doing the paw thing.

Then Maggie Cat appeared on the other side of me, looking at me like "Well? Are you up yet?"

So I laid in bed for awhile and pet them.  Then I got up and fed them.  They were SO excited.

I'm about halfway through the work e-mails for the past week.

And about half past sleepy.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

House Cola

Place: Red Iguana
Lunch: Enchiladas Rancheras, beans, Coke

I was here earlier in the week for dinner and my eye spied the Enchiladas Rancheras on the menu for the first time.  It's two cheese enchiladas covered in sauteed mushrooms, "salsa ranchera", and more cheese.  I tried it.  It instantly became my new Red Iguana favorite, and that's saying something.  I had to have it again before flying home.


If you're ever in Salt Lake City, you MUST try Red Iguana.  It's a Diner's, Drive-In's, and Dives kind of place (in fact, Triple D has been there.)  The original location is so popular, they opened a second location just a couple of blocks away to accommodate growing demand.

Smiling Table Server takes my order.  I say I'll have a Coke.

"Pepsi okay?" he asks.

"Even better," I say.

I'm a Pepsi guy when I'm not drinking one of the cane sugar glass bottle sodas that populate my pantry.  But restaurants typically limit you to the products of one of the major brands...Coke or Pepsi.  There are some exceptions, but they are few and far between.  So when you ask for Pepsi in a Coke place, they're all like "We have Coke products."  Or vice-versa.

So one day years ago, I decided to come up with a generic term that handled either/or.

"I'll have the house cola," I said to the server.

Server: "What?"

Me: "The house cola.  Coke or Pepsi.  Whichever you have."

Server, annoyed: "We have BOTH."

Wouldn't you know it, the place I decide to try this out is the one place that has both.

The idea was pretty much abandoned then and there.

And I had a Green River instead.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Auto Renewal

Place: Taco John's
Lunch: Four hard shells, small Super Ole's (no tomato, no guac), Pepsi

There's a guy weighing my food.

He's weighing everybody's food, actually.  Everything that comes off the prep line is placed on a food scale and notes are taken.  It's either quality assurance or they're making sure they aren't being too generous with the ingredients, or something.  He questions Food Prep Girl on my Super Ole's.

Food Prep Girl, annoyed, "You have to account for there being no tomatoes or guac."

Yeah.  Take that, Food Scale Guy.

I'm phasing out magazine subscriptions.  Partly because I don't really read any of them anymore...they just take up space...partly because mail annoys me.  Also, anything that reduces revenue for the USPS and therefore (hopefully) shortens their lifespan is okay by me.

I had five magazine subscriptions for years.  I still do, but two of them are now digitally delivered to my tablet.  I was planning to just let the other three expire.  (Actually, one of the digital ones will be going away too.)  One of those three is up for renewal.  The notice came last week.  I sat down and read it, and discovered in the fine print they've instituted an "auto renewal" policy.  Unless you call them and cancel, they'll continue you as a subscriber automatically.  If they have your credit card number, they'll hit it.  If they don't, they'll bill you until you pay or call them to cancel.

This isn't really new.  Digital subscriptions do this.  They send e-mails clearly warning you of this in advance, for the most part, so you can opt out ahead of time.  Some are easier to opt out of than others.  Some things...magazine subscriptions or otherwise...aren't.  Don't you love how many services make it convenient to renew stuff online or even without thinking, but you actually have to call somebody to cancel?

So I called the number.  It was quick and painless.  The guy was nice and didn't pull any retention effort.

FAR different than the first time I experienced this with the local newspaper.

This was back in the mid-nineties.  My wife had the subscription, but we weren't really reading it anymore.  Newspapers at the time were big into stripping out increasing amounts of local content in favor of cheap national stuff in an overall smaller package and couldn't understand why subscription numbers were off even though they were complete monopolies...the internet was still in its commercial public infancy.  Most people weren't even online yet.  So somebody in the industry came up with the 'automatic renewal' idea.  And it included an unbelievably blatant and shameless guilt trip to get you to go along with it.

We learned about it one night when our paper carrier showed up at our door demanding money for the renewal.  We told him we had not renewed and no longer wanted to subscribe. He then pulled a sob story that the paper charges him for the papers he'd continued to deliver even though we weren't subscribing, so we were really hurting him by not paying for them.

At which point I advised him in a not so friendly fashion that I was contacting the State's Attorney General's office and to get the hell off our property.

I did exactly as I said I would, and the State's Attorney General's office looked into it.  The result was a letter from the carrier a couple of weeks later advising the newspaper had reimbursed him and the matter was resolved.  He also noted that we had generated "a lively discussion" on the matter in the circulation room.

We also received a message on our answering machine from the paper advising us they were well in their rights to commit such behavior.  It was so long, the answering machine hung up on them and they had to call a second time to complete it.  It was clearly written by an attorney, and I found great satisfaction in the idea that the paper spent more getting that statement written than we ever paid for the life of our subscription.

(The State's Attorney General's office informally agreed with me that the auto renewal thing was a dumb idea.)

Apparently after this, the paper started inserting big bold notices on big blue cards into the papers of people who were coming up on renewal advising them of their new policy.  So I guess something positive came out of it.

From that point forward, whenever a stray paper showed up on our property, they got a phone call or a personal visit (my wife worked near their offices) demanding to know why (usually because they were distributing free copies in the hopes people will subscribe, which wasn't noted anywhere on the paper itself), and a demand to cease and desist.

I continue this practice today.

Get off my lawn.

Monday, November 04, 2013


Place: McDonald's
Lunch: McRib, McDouble, McChicken (no lettuce), Hi-C Orange Lavaburst

McRib is back.  Monopoly usually is too around this time of year, but McDonald's did it in July instead.  Which completely threw my internal clock off.  I'm surprised I didn't show up in Utah in August, wondering where the Christmas light displays were.  Thanks a lot for screwing up my entire year, McDonald's.

McDonald's got a lot of press last week when they announced the new "Dollar Menu & More", essentially morphing the dollar menu and the "Extra Value Menu" together.  Media sensationalists largely reported it as a "farewell to the dollar menu" story because that sounds more exciting, I guess.  But come on.  The way things  have been going with food commodity prices, many of the dollar items should have had a price bump a long time ago.

The new $1.00 part of the dollar menu still has nine items: including two burgers and two chicken sandwiches.  The McDouble is not among them.  It's now $ least at this location.  The Double Cheeseburger, a former dollar menu champion, is $1.49.  New to the dollar menu is a Buffalo Ranch McChicken, and a BBQ Ranch Burger, which the picture indicates is topped in something similar to Fritos.

Then there's a $2.00 line of sandwiches, including a Bacon McDouble, a Bacon Cheddar McChicken, and a Bacon Buffalo Ranch McChicken.

Then there's the $5.00 20-piece Chicken McNuggets, which McDonald's helpfully points out "serves 2".

That's everything they're promoting on the big store banner.  There's other items, including breakfast stuff, on the main menu board that I didn't get a chance to read.  I was sort of hoping for a "Mac Double", basically a Big Mac version of the McDouble.  But when they're getting away with charging north of $4 for a regular Big Mac, what's the point, I guess.

The big surprise for me was that the McChicken stayed at a buck.  I've often joked that McChicken was the biggest value on the McDonald's menu because they put nearly a dollar's worth of mayo on it.

I don't have a problem paying $1.19 for a McDouble.  To me, it's the perfect McDonald's burger.  Just the right mix of meat, cheese, condiments, onion, and pickle.  If you're really hungry, get two of them, discard the bottom buns, and merge the two sandwiches together in what I call the "McQuad".  Four patties and two slices of cheese with condiments on both sides with two bun crowns.

I almost never do that anymore.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Place: Hardee's
Lunch: 1/3 lb Original Thickburger (no lettuce, no tomato), onion rings, Coke

Hardee's is hyping "fresh baked buns".  The new buns are baked on site, probably in the same oven they've been making fresh baked biscuits out of for years.  And they're a winner.  A HUGE improvement over the old sesame seed buns.  Soft and a little sweet.  Available on their Thickburger line (not including the "Little" Thickburgers, which still have pre-fab sesame seed buns.)  At least some Carl's Jr's are also doing these on their Six Dollar line from what I've read.  Probably the ones who also sell Hardee's biscuits at breakfast.

Now if we could just get Hardee's to replace American processed cheese with Tillamook cheddar...

People, we need to talk.  We need to talk about QuikTrip.  Specifically, the new Gen-3 QuikTrips and how you are shopping there.

QuikTrip is the greatest convenience store chain in the history of the world.  Bright clean modern stores staffed by bright clean people who, as I understand it, actually earn a livable wage.  Many make their careers with the company.  I know people at the QuikTrip down the street from my office who have been there a decade or more.  Stores are well maintained and replaced routinely.  There are no dumpy old QuikTrips that I know of anywhere.  Rows of beautiful hot dogs and other items on the roller grill.  Rows of neatly organized snacks.  And at the center of it all, an L-shaped counter with three registers where anywhere from one to three cashiers bop back and forth between stations moving customers through at a pace unrivaled by any other convenience store.  People just walk up to any of the open counter spaces and the cashiers come to you, sometimes even while processing another transaction.  It truly is...a quick trip.

QuikTrip adapts with the times and trends.  Trends lately have seen the traditional convenience store profit...gas and cigarettes...falling.  So QuikTrip and some other players have moved towards doing more things with fresh foods.  In QuikTrip's case, this has resulted in a new store design known as "Gen-3".

The new 5,700 square-foot stores are much bigger.  They're even taller to give them a grand exterior presence.  They have an expanded beverage selection...about two dozen smoothies and Freezonis (QT's version of a Slurpee) for example.  They have a kitchen, which is initially offering sandwiches, specialty coffee drinks, and soft-serve ice cream, but will likely expand significantly as the idea evolves.  The initial format, with a touch-screen order display, could become something like the MTO order system at Sheetz.  And they have a big beautiful cashier counter up front with four registers and room in between them for six to eight customers to drop their purchases on and get checked out.

And that's where my problem lies with the QuikTrip customer base.

Customers aren't doing this.  If there's one cashier, customers are now just forming a single line at his/her station.

It's like you've all forgotten how QuikTrip works, and it drives me NUTS.

The cashier will be running somebody's credit card on one machine and motioning the next person in line to come up to the next station and get checked out.  But they WON'T.  They just STAND THERE.

I think it drives the cashiers as nuts as it does me.

Tryst me, this works.  I've walked up when one guy was checking out and set my stuff down at the next station.  The cashier bops right over just like the old stores.

It's fine.


Maybe QuikTrip needs to make a video instructing people on this and play it on flat screens in the stores.

Or maybe people just need to think more.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pulled Pork

Place: Burger King
Lunch: $2 for 5 Mix-n-Match Whopper (no lettuce, no tomato) and Pulled Park sandwich, Coke

BK must have paid for half the advertising slots during last night's football game, pounding us with ads promoting the addition of the Pulled Pork sandwich to the $2 for $5 mix-n-match promo they've been doing.  So I figured I'd try the pulled pork for lunch today.

So I walk up to the counter and order.

Smiling Short Elderly Counter Girl Who's Regular Speaking Voice is Louder Than Most People Shouting With A Megaphone: "WE CAN'T DO THE PULLED PORK ON THE MIX-N-MATCH!"

Me: "But they ran an ad on the football game last night about a thousand times saying you can now."

Her:  "OH REALLY?"  *turns to drive-thru girl* "CAN WE DO THE PULLED PORK ON THE MIX-N-MATCH NOW?"

Frowning Drive-Through Counter Girl Who Could Be A Sumo Wrestler: "Yes."

Smiling Short Elderly Counter Girl Who's Regular Speaking Voice is Louder Than Most People Shouting With A Megaphone: "OH!  OKAY!  LET'S SEE IF THIS WORKS!"

She starts inputting into the register.

Frowning Counter Girl Who's Natural Facial Expression Screams 'I Don't Care About Anything': Um, just enter a stuffed."

Something on the screen appears that says "STFT/WHPR" and I'm charged correctly.  I get the sandwiches I actually ordered.  Life has once again overcome impossible obstacles.

The Pulled Pork sandwich?  Not very good.  The thing is actually compacted into something that looks like a pork patty, but it falls apart as you bite into it.  It has a Memphis-style barbecue sauce and onion.  Just not all that good to me.  Probably would have been better off going to Arby's for a Smokehouse.  I need to take one of those home for Chester Cat to try.

Cooler weather seems to have finally settled in for good.

I love October.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Season Premiere

Place: Arby's
Lunch: Smokehouse Brisket sandwich, potato cakes, Pepsi

YESTERDAY AT ARBY'S: Went in, ordered my usual large Beef n' Cheddar.

Mediocre Counter Girl: "The number 9?"

(The number 9 is a non Beef n' Cheddar roast beef.)

Me: "The large Beef n' Cheddar."

Mediocre Counter Girl: "Oh, the Beef n' Cheddar."

Me: "Right. Large."

Mediocre Counter Girl: "Large?"

Manager, behind her: "Sir, do you mean the Max?"

Apparently, they've changed the names of their sandwiches.  What was called "large" the last time I was here is called "Max" now.  And just like the counter help at Hardee's and Taco John's have proven on many occasions, the minute they make a little change, the counter help immediately forgets the previous names ever existed.

And yet I'm back today anyway, because after I got my food, I noticed the new LTO offering known as the "Smokehouse Brisket", and I had to try it.  But to be fair, I'm now at a completely different Arby's.  Because there's like seventy Arby's within a ten minute drive of my office.

The ordering process is uneventful.  But then they call my name, I head to the counter to pick up my food, and there's nothing there.  There is an elderly man walking off with what appears to be my order, though.  And he is.

Frowning Counter Girl: "Wait...aren't YOU Sam?"

Me: "Yep."

Frowning Counter Girl: "Sir!  That's not your food!"

He's ignoring her, so I intervene.  "Sir, that's actually MY food."

Elderly Food Thief:  "Oh!  It is?  HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!"

He gives me the tray.  Frowning Counter Girl produces his food.  He slowly shuffles back to the counter.

All is well.  Especially with this sandwich.  If you like smoky, this one's for you.  It probably gets a lot of its flavor from sodium, unfortunately (though Arby's claims the brisket is smoked for 13 hours).  In any case, it's really tasty.  The smoked gouda cheese only helps.  It also has crispy onion strings, barbecue sauce, and mayo.  It may be the second best briskety thing I've ever had (behind Taco Cabana's Brisket Tacos).  I'll be grabbing a lot of these while it's around.

In a non-lunch related food note, Hardee's finally put a chicken biscuit breakfast sandwich on their menu, something I've been screaming at them to do for years.  Tried it this morning.  And it's a home run.  Perfectly buttery.  Just awesome.

The new Fall TV season is underway.   With several of my regular shows from last season cancelled, and the fact I'm now antenna only (I gave up satellite last Spring), I gave a few new shows a try this week.  And checked out my usual returning ones.  Here's some random thoughts.  I'll skip "Bones" and "Sleepy Hollow" since I ranted about them in the last blog post.

The Blacklist: It would be a milestone on NBC's part to have a show I'll actually watch regularly.  I can't remember the last time such a show existed.  I will occasionally watch "Community", but not regularly, though it has its moments of brilliance.  In the case of "The Blacklist", I tuned in because of James Spader.  And I like what I see.  It's clear this guy can run over the feds and manipulate them in any way he wants.  He has an agenda.  So I'm in so far.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: This was the most interesting of the new shows.  I didn't get to see it on Tuesday because my favorite band was performing in the state (which they never ever do) and I don't own a DVR.  But ABC repeated the debut last night, so I got to watch it anyway.  Thanks for not making me buy a DVR, ABC.  Anyway, I'm in with this one too.  It feels sort of like a US version of "Torchwood", but that's okay.  Sorry, NCIS.  You''ve lost me to new time slot competition.

Criminal Minds:  So there's a serial killer, and people die and stuff know, I really just have this on in the background while I read Twitter or something.  It's the same show every week, really.  But nothing else is on, so...

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation:  This show is REALLY going through the motions anymore.  I wish they'd cancelled this one and kept CSI:NY and moved it to Wednesday nights.

And...uh...that's about it.  I'll check out the new "Ironside" when it debuts (they did a 2-hour "Law & Order" this week) and "Arrow", my favorite show on currently, starts Season 2 in two weeks.

Other than that, it's movies and football.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bad Television

Place: Quizno's
Lunch: Mesquite chicken w/bacon (no tomato), cup of chili, Coke

It's cold and rainy today, making it a sammich and soup kind of day.  Or sammich and chili.  Chili is a soup, right?  Soup-ish, I guess.  Anyway, this chili tastes strangely home made.  Like I think I've actually made this recipe before.  Good, though.

The new television season is here.  While the traditional networks start their new shows next week, most syndicated shows and Fox start this week.  Last night, "Bones" had its season premiere.

"Bones" is a pretty light but fun crime show.  The FBI and a fictional museum of natural history that has a department specializing in bones and forensics and stuff work together to solve murders involving horribly decomposed bodies.   It's done okay enough ratings to stick around nine seasons, though two of those seasons were half orders.  The program also serves up some of the most shameless product tie-ins in the history of the medium.  Federal agents driving Toyotas?  Everyone carries a Windows Phone?

The leads, FBI agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) and renowned bones expert Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel...yes, Zooey's sister) went through the usual relationship tension crap for several seasons before finally hooking up, having a child, and making a home together (yes, in that order).  Towards the end of the last season, Brennan finally asked Booth to marry her.  (Yes, she asked him.  Far too long to explain.)

Enter super villain Chrstopher Pelant (Andrew Leeds).  First off, I HATE super villains.  I've hated them in every show they show up in.  Super villains are recurring characters who can impossibly and inexplicably watch everything going on and manipulate any character in a show.  They usually show up several years into a show's run as a way to...I don't know...keep the show fresh?  They usually last a half season or so before being ridiculously easily uncovered and killed or, worse, imprisoned (because if they're alive, they're escaping and coming back).  Criminal Minds and all of the CSI's have had some dumb ones.  But the writing for Pelant on Bones has REALLY been ridiculous and has WAY overstayed its welcome (if it had a welcome at all).  Which brings us to the season finale a few months back when Pelant called Booth and told him he had to call off the wedding and couldn't tell Bones why or people would die, and Booth TOTALLY WENT ALONG WITH IT.

It was far worse than I can possibly describe.  It was atrocious, inexcusable writing.  I was absolutely furious, as were others.  If I were head of Fox, I would have cancelled the show immediately in the name of putting an end to bad taste.

Fox didn't, of course.  Last night's season premiere led with tension between the leads and stupid this and stupid that and ultimately peace between them while Pelant listened into their obviously bugged house.

While watching this, I came up with my own alternate season premiere script.

This is that script.

BONES: SEASON 9, EPISODE 1 (tesg alternate script which totally rocks)

Upon being shocked by Booth's announcement at the cliffhanger, Brennan walks away and boards public transit.  Pelant, who of course called Booth from nearby because he has to watch everything, happens to be on board.  Brennan sees him, pulls out a gun, and confronts him.

Brennan, being far too smart to not figure out Pelant had something to do with Booth's action: "WHAT DID YOU SAY TO BOOTH?"

Pelant: "I...uh..."

Brennan shoots Pelant between the eyes.  Pelant falls dead to the floor.  The passengers are shocked.

Brennan: "Wow.  That was surprisingly simple.  Suddenly, my troubles are gone!  NO MORE SUPER VILLAINS!"

The bus passengers erupt in cheers.  They surround Pelant's body and trample it into an unrecognizable pile of mush while Brennan does a happy dance.

Brennan makes plane reservations on her Windows Phone, the entire process shown in intricate detail, then calls Booth.

Brennan: "Booth?  Pelant's dead.  Pick me up in your federally-issued Toyota.  I just made plane reservations on my Windows Phone and we need to get to the airport."

Booth and Brennan fly to Los Angeles.  Brennan spends the entire flight explaining to Booth how important trust is.  "You taught me that."  Booth sleeps through it all.  Upon arrival, they take a cab to the 20th Century Fox lot and find the Bones writing offices.  The writers are meeting in a conference room around an oval table covered in pizza boxes when Booth and Brennan storm in the door.

Brennan, gun drawn: "Who is the head writer?"

Some Guy, sheepishly: "Um, I am?"

Brennan shoots him in the head.  His lifeless body falls out of his chair to the ground.  The bus passengers from back in Washington inexplicably enter the room and trample the head writer's body into an unrecognizable pile of mush.

Brennan, waving the gun around: "NO MORE SUPER VILLAINS!  DON'T EVEN THINK I'M F(bleep)ING KIDDING!"

The writers all shout "Okay!" while peeing themselves.

Booth: "Ew."

One of the bus passengers: "Is there any pizza left?"

Brennan uses her Windows Phone to rent a Toyota and reserve a wraparound terrace suite at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.  The process is shown in intricate detail.  Booth and Brennan drive to Las Vegas, where they are married.  They check into the Cosmopolitan, where they make mad passionate love in the bed and again in the bubble tub, flooding the bathroom, before relaxing with drinks on the terrace, totally naked.

Brennan: "You know, this episode had surprisingly little dialogue."

The end.

Then they could hire better writers and do a season of normal episodes.

See?  Was that so hard?

After "Bones", the new series "Sleepy Hollow" premiered.  Ichabod Crane gets somehow transported to the future where he helps modern cops solve crimes.

Surprisingly watchable, and sort of supernatural.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Place: Taco John's, Cherry Berry
Lunch: Four hard shells, small Super Ole (no tomato, no guac), Pepsi, fro-yo

Me: "Four hard shells..."

Mediocre Counter Guy: "Did you want the special?" pointing to the "Taco Tuesday" promotion where they charge $.79 for hard shells.  There's nothing special you need to do and nobody should be charged regular price, so there's absolutely no reason to ask me this.

Me: "Yes."

Me in my head: "No.  Charge me full-price.  I DARE you."

Taco John's has always been by far the dominant player in fast food Mexican in this market, largely thanks to years of gross neglect of the market on Taco Bell's part.  Taco John's has about as many units as all the other top players in town combined and they've been expanding lately.

The local TJ's franchisee has always tried new ideas to grow the business, including co-branding some stores with Noble Roman's Pizza for awhile.  There was also talk they were going to co-brand some stores with Colorado's Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard (which would have been awesome), but that never happened.

Finally the self-serve fro-yo concept came along, and our franchisee is running with it.  New TJ's are popping up on the end of strip malls (so they can still have a drive-thru).  In the same strip mall?  A Cherry Berry, also operated by the TJ's franchisee.  There's at least five such locations in town set up this way now.  In the case of this location, there's even a door between the two so you can just hop from one to the other.

This is working out very very well, as you might imagine.

It's practically mid-September and it was over 100 yesterday.

Seriously, Fall.  Get here.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

International Dog

Place: Buldogis
Lunch: Chili cheese dog, Euro fries, Coke

In the days when I had a big fast food review guide on my personal website, I was asked on a few occasions what would MY restaurant be like if I opened one.  I always said I'd never actually open a restaurant because I'm just not the type of personality who should be dealing directly with the public.  Especially the stupid public.

But there was a very detailed concept in my head.  A concept known as "the evil sam graham's international chili dog counter".  It would be a long, narrow all-glass storefront right on the sidewalk that would look in at the all counter stool seating facing the open kitchen with the logo spanning the entire length above in an old airport-style font (something like a wide courier-type font in all lower case).  Behind the counter visible to the exterior would be a large mural of a winged flying hot dog.  The mural would be lit up at night so passers-by could admire it.

The menu?  Probably not so international, unless I had Polish and Italian sausages and German brats, I suppose.

Leave it to somebody in Las Vegas to truly put an international spin on hot dogs.  Buldogis, founded by former executive chef Boyzie Milner, resides in the old Quizno's space at Village Square.  They just celebrated their second anniversary of serving up dogs topped in kimchi, pork belly, bulgogi, corn relish, Asian slaw, Banh-Mi slaw, and several other things you've never heard of.  It's described as an all-American concept with an Asian influence.  The influence is mostly Korean, I'm told.

Don't want a dog?  You can get a burger with the same toppings.  They also have a variety of topped fries, including these "Euro fries", topped with pork belly bacon, cheddar, garlic mayo, and an herb blend.  There's chicken wings and tenders and other sauces (there's like a half dozen mayo sauces alone) and stuff.  They even have a "Dragon Kimchi Dog" food challenge that involves eating a very very very spicy concoction in a limited amount of time.

Walk in and you'll immediately know by the aroma and the sizzle, crackles, and pops coming from the kitchen that you're not in any ordinary hot dog place.  Even if that doesn't tip their hand, the bill will...mine was north of $14 for a chili dog, Euro fries, and a soda.  But when you see what you get, you'll be fine with it.

The dog is a nice big premium all-beef dog similar to an Eisenberg.  It was topped in a hearty but sort of plain beef chili, cheese, and green onions.  The Euro fries were great with the toppings, but once you conquered the first layer, you really just had plain fries.  But the portion is so big, you're already full anyway.

Anyway, people are loving them.  The place was packed.  Some people were new to the place and raving about their food.  This wouldn't be my go-to place for a hot dog, but it's a nice diversion once in awhile.  It's certainly an adventure I'd recommend.

It's the end-of-summer Vegas weekend.

A Barstow Taco run is a certainty.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Helpful Smiles

Place: Burger King
Lunch: Whopper combo with onion rings (no tomato, no lettuce), zesty sauce, four chicken nuggets, Coke

My little bedroom community became seemingly less little yesterday when Hy-Vee, a Midwestern supermarket chain, opened their new 92,000 square-foot behemoth of a store a half mile from the Townhouse of Solitude.

Yay, I guess.

I'm not a big Hy-Vee fan.  It was twenty-some years ago when I first moved into Hy-Vee territory.  Their stores were like real traditional supermarkets, something that had been lost in favor of warehouse formats where I'd moved from.  They had big red block signage that spanned the length of the store front that said "HY-VEE FOOD STORE", as if they felt the need to point out they sold food.  They had a great funky logo that had "Hy-Vee" in the silhouette of a shopping cart.  Their jingle tag line was a fifties-campy "where there's a helpful smile in every aisle".  Prices were reasonable, staff was courteous, and their store brand mac and cheese was awesome and often found on sale for a quarter a box.  Very cool when you're in radio and barely making $13,000 a year.  You could get in, get your stuff, and get out easily.  And they had a small corner "deli" that served a 99 cent breakfast (2 slices of bacon, 2 eggs, and toast) that was always popular.

Things started changing quickly after I discovered them, though.  New management was taking over on the executive level.  Store size increased through the 1990's, as did the number of departments.  Interior decor packages became less and less interesting.  The shopping cart logo and kitschy "HY-VEE FOOD STORE" signage gave way to a not so impressive new font designed specifically for them.  Bigger and blander seemed to be the theme.  The little deli evolved into a food court situation with Italian and Chinese food stations.  The store opened yesterday is the second in the chain to have a full-service sit-down restaurant and bar, not to mention wood-fired pizza, sushi, and gelato.  And prices?  Not so reasonable anymore.  Through the roof, actually.

The Hy-Vee brand isn't just limited to supermarkets.  They have Hy-Vee Gas, which is your typical convenience store, usually but not exclusively located in front of Hy-Vee supermarkets.  Ours opened months before the big store even started construction.  I DO like these.  They have cheap fountain sodas and Eisenberg hot dogs.  There's also Hy-Vee Drugstores (formerly known as Drug Town).  And now there's Hy-Vee Mainstreet, a smaller format neighborhood grocery they seem to still be working the kinks out of.

(By the way, why do Hy-Vee's convenience stores only operate from 5am-11pm, even when the stores they're on the frontage of are open 24 hours?)

Anyway, I checked out the new store last night.  I'd say every one of their six hundred employees (NOT an exaggeration) were there, as well as roughly half the population of the western suburbs.  The new employees all had on the helpful smiles and were roaming every aisle like you'd expect at any well run grand opening.  In a week or two, I"m sure they'll be back to the normal mediocre service.

The store is nice and big and has lots of stuff.  Especially pre-made stuff.  This part of the store is just massive.  Pizza.  Chinese.  Every comfort food you can possibly imagine.  Deli meats.  Sandwiches.  Fried chicken.  Meatballs. Available hot or pre-packaged cold to re-heat at home.  Yes, we have become a society that goes to the market to buy LEFTOVERS.

The Seafood counter is amazing.  They had the usual fishy suspects plus more exotic stuff like fresh red snapper...including a WHOLE the display case.  They had a seafood party platter built on the body of a FISH.  Between the head and tail.  THIS is presentation, people.

The rest of the store was...well...Hy-Vee.  The prices on stuff I buy ran around 20-50 percent higher than comparable prices at Walmart, Target, or Fareway.  I even found something in the organic section 20 percent higher than the same item at Whole Foods.  WHOLE FOODS, PEOPLE.  And they have the smallest selection of ramen and cup-o-noodles type stuff I've ever seen.

Still, they might get some of my business out of convenience.  They are open 24 hours, so I can run over to get that one little ingredient I'm missing to make cookies at four in the morning.  They're only one of two grocery stores along my evening commute, and Hy-Vee doesn't involve any left turns in or out, whereas the other one does.  And that seafood counter is too awesome to not shop at.

So what did I buy last night?  Fried chicken?  A wood-fired pizza?  A nice halibut fillet?  Some deep sea scallops?

A box of Hy-Vee mac and cheese.

Sixty-eight cents.

It's still pretty good.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Soda Summer

Place: Bamboo Buffet & Grill
Lunch: Buffet, Coke

I share my fortune cookie fortunes with my Twitter followers.  The last couple from here have been doozies.

You are about to become $8.95 poorer.  ($6.95 if you had the buffet.)


Here we go. Low fat, whole wheat green tea.

Not so much today, though.  Happiness isn't an outside job, it's an inside job.

Oh well.

Made a trip to Breese, IL this weekend to visit Excel Bottling Company.  It's a small antique bottling plant going since the 1930's as a Ski distributor. (Ski is a Fresca-Squirt kind of citrus soda.)  They also have a bunch of their own signature sodas, all bottled in glass using cane sugar.  They've also started bottling their own line of microbrews to hopefully boost business as the world decreases the amount of soda they drink.  They're also bottling the new Dublin Bottling Works sodas.  Dublin (the old Dr Pepper bottler in Dublin, TX) doesn't have any way to bottle their new sodas in non-returnable glass or in the volume needed.  Their antique machine only does returnable bottles, and in low volume.

Anyway, Excel is a treasure more people in the St Louis area (and the region) need to know about.  Breese is about 40 miles east of the metro.  While some area convenience stores and supermarkets carry Excel products, you can go straight to the plant and get soda too.  CHEAP.

There's two options...Returnable glass bottles, or non-returnable glass bottles.  Returnables are $8 per case of 24 with a $10 deposit on each case.  Meaning you can pay the one-time deposit and as long as you keep returning the bottles $8 will buy you a case of any of their sodas.  Non-returnables?  $13 per case.

The returnable glass bottles are becoming increasingly rare.  Apparently nobody makes them anymore or they're cost-prohibitive to get or something.  So Excel has collected a bunch from defunct bottlers over the years.  That means the soda on the label may not be the soda in the bottle.  Don't worry...they'll set you straight on the sale.  You just might get confused at home.  Maybe.

I picked up a case of Blueberry Breese, which is so good Dublin even sells it.  It's like a Sprite or Sierra Mist, but with a blueberry kick, in a beautiful blue hue.  I think the color contributes to the feeling of refreshment you get drinking it.

I also picked up a 'mix and match' case, where I sampled other Excel sodas.  That included the original Ski, which I'll probably maintain a small supply of.  The other I've tried so far is Million Dollar Strawberry, which I didn't care for.  There's something muted about the flavor.  But I have more stuff to try.  Two more Million Dollar flavors, Cherry Breese, Excel Black Cherry...

The new Dublin sodas (which, unfortunately, you can't buy at Excel) are universally good.  They've sort of put Texas Root Beer up as the flagship, but the real Dublin fans are huge into my new favorite soda, Dublin Black Cherry.  Let's just say that has a strangely familiar flavor profile.  Yet it's been improved upon.  Drink a Dublin Black Cherry, then follow it up with a cane sugar 8oz bottle of Dr Pepper.  The Dr Pepper will taste like soda water. Its flavor profile is COMPLETELY LOST.  It's as if Dublin came up with a Dr Pepper antidote.

I've tried all of the Dublins except the just-launched Texas Peach and the only one I'm not really a fan of is Cherry Limeade.  I even like their Orange Cream, and I'm not a fan of orange creams.  These are soda flavors the way you remember them as kids.  Kids of the 50's-70's, anyway.

The Dublin sodas are quite a bit pricier at their store ($24-26 if I'm remembering right), but then they have to ship the cases down from Illinois.  At Excel, you're standing like ten feet from the bottling machine when you pay the guy.  So that's probably the difference.

Anyway, it's been a great summer for soda.  Get out your vintage muscle cars and road trip on down to these bottlers.

The little guys are doing it right.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Money Matters

Place: Quizno's
Lunch: Mesquite chicken with bacon, Lays Kettle Cooked Applewood Smoked BBQ chips (40% less fat! Woo hoo!), Pepsi

Ever wake yourself up in the middle of the night by biting your own tongue?  Yeah, that happened last night.

July was a month of financial lessons.  Specifically, about how everyone is out to get me.

It started off literally on July 1 while having lunch.  I got a call from my credit card provider alerting me to possible fraud on my account.  Sure enough, somebody (or something) had attempted two $500 charges to some German-based business whose very name sounded like a service that exists for no other reason than to charge cash withdrawals from stolen credit cards.  One was processed, the second declined.  Naturally, this happened two days before I was going on a trip and needed the card.  Still, the card company had the card shut off within an hour of the incidents and had me a new card literally hours before departure.

But the rep who handled this apparently didn't put the original $500 into dispute, and I had to do that myself.  A month later, it's still being processed.  You'd think the whole thing would be straightforward, wouldn't you.  They contacted me first for crying out loud.

Then my checking bank, who I've done business with for twenty-plus years, decided to steal from me.

I was at an ATM on the way home late one night trying to withdraw cash from my checking account.  The machine went to dispense the cash, and failed.  The cash door opened, there was machine noise, then it closed.  Then it opened and closed several more times.  Then an error popped up on the screen indicating the machine could not dispense cash.

(Side note...the machine's night lighting, a bright blinding LED that stares you in the face, is completely absurd and is actually more hampering than helpful.)

So I got home, checked my e-mail, and there in my Inbox was an ATM receipt indicating I DID withdraw $100.

I raised the issue with the bank immediately.  They assigned a case number.  And two and a half weeks later, I received a letter in the mail from the "Operations Manager of ATM Operations" that said...

"We have completed our research of your inquiry about the ATM card transaction shown below, and found that these transactions were correctly charged to your account.  As a result, we're not able to reimburse you."

Yes, they said "multiple transactions".  They listed two...the one in question, and another the day after when I got the money I was trying to get the night before.  Which was a normal transaction I didn't question at all.  Which is proof they paid no attention to my issue whatsoever and just let it sit for two weeks before blowing it off.

There recently was a local news story about a big bag of cash that had fallen off an armored truck leaving a bank.  Some young couple found it lying around on the ground and went on a spending spree.  They're in jail now for stealing the money.

You take money lying around that a bank lost by its own accord, that's robbery.  But a bank stealing money from you?  Perfectly legal.

Can you imagine if that happened to somebody who was in a desperate financial situation and this was their grocery money for the week, or even month?  The fact this even took two weeks for the bank to blow off is appalling.  They SERIOUSLY do not care that they're hurting people.  They SERIOUSLY believe they're that much better than the rest of the human race.

Smug bastards.

So I'm shopping for a new bank.  I hope my bank's sick perversion was worth it for them.

I know, I know.  It won't matter.  They couldn't possibly care less.  And based on the online reviews I'm reading, that's true about all banks..

I will never understand how these people live with themselves.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mediocre Tacos

Place: Taco John's
Lunch: Four tacos, small Super Ole (no tomato, no guacamole), Pepsi

I don't go to Taco John's much, especially since I discovered Abelardo's.  But I did the Taco Tuesday thing last week just because I hadn't in awhile, and the tacos were REALLY good.  They had a good amount of meat in them, they actually had a reasonable amount of cheese in them (which for Taco John's is unheard of), and they weren't watery.  The meat was meaty and well seasoned.  So I came back this week.

Me: "Four hard shells (which is Taco John's speak for crispy tacos), small Super Ole (which is Taco John's speak for Potato Ole's covered in cheese, beef, beans, sour cream, olives, and other stuff), no tomato, no guac, medium Pepsi."

New Counter Girl inputs the tacos and a Super Ole with EXTRA tomatoes and guac, and no olives.

I point out the errors.

New Counter Girl: "Oh, the button did the wrong thing."  She removes the "extras" and adds "no tomato" and "no guac".  But also leaves out the olives.

"Actually, I DO want the olives."

She fixes the olives.

I give her my money and matching change.  She pulls the paper bills out from under the change and just ignores the coins.

So I point that out too.

You're picturing New Counter Girl as being a teen who doesn't care.  But she actually appears to be the age of somebody who's had a few kids and she's really nice.

Miraculously, the food arrives as ordered, but it's more like standard Taco John's fare than the awesomeness I experienced last week.  The beef is watery and not very flavorful.  The cheese is back to its near non-existent levels.


Nothing much going on.  Weather's been cool this week.

Still humid, though.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Changing Deli

Place: Jason's Deli
Lunch: Pastrami on French bread (w/Russian dressing, provolone), Texas chili, oily garlic toast thingies you get free off the end of the salad bar, Coke, free ice cream cone

I haven't eaten here in forever. Naturally, everything has changed.

Me: "manager's special with pastrami po-boy and Texas chili."

Smiling Counter Girl: "What kind of bread?"

Okay, they didn't used to ask that. "The Po-boy bread?"

Smiling Counter Girl: "The French bread?"

Me: "Uh, sure."

Smiling Counter Girl; "Did you want anything on it?"

Me: "Do you still have the Russian dressing they used to put on it?"

Smiling Counter Girl: Well, it's a build-your-own sandwich now. The only sandwich we automatically put the Russian dressing on is the Reuben now."

Me: "So if it's a build-your-own sandwich, would one of my options be the Russian dressing?"

Smiling Counter Girl: "Um...Oh!  Sure."

She inputs into the register, which is also new.  They used to write down the order on paper, put it on a clip, and send it down a zip line.  Then you'd pay at a different station.  But they're all computerized now.  The old pay station is now a self-serve touch screen for people ordering the salad bar.  They can do the whole order themselves with no human interaction.  Lucky bastards.

Smiling Counter Girl: "Anything else on the sandwich?"

Me: "Provolone."

Smiling Counter Girl: "Anything else?"

I review the register screen and see only a sandwich. "I asked for the Manager's Special, with Texas chili."

Smiling Counter Girl: "Oh! You wanted the Manager's special?"

Me "Yes."

She now has to re-input the entire order, which she does cheerfully.

"What kind of soup did you want?"

The sandwich that eventually arrives is amazingly basically the same sandwich I used to get by simply saying "Pastrami Po-Boy". The plate includes chips, but no longer includes the pickle spear.

I miss the pickle spear.

And the zip line.

Zip lines are cool.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

National Hamburger Day

Place: smashburger
Lunch: Samburger (a CYO 1/3 patty with cheddar, fried egg, pickles, onions, mayo, and mustard on an egg bun), haystack onions (w/zesty sauce), Coke

smashburger (their logo is all lower-case) has a "Create Your Own" option where you can define your own burger your way.  So I had them whip up my signature Samburger for National Hamburger Day because I'm too lazy to make my own at home, and making burgers at home isn't all that practical anyway unless I want to eat Samburgers all week or just waste a lot of food.  I'm just not going to use a whole pack of buns or a whole onion worth of chopped onions before they go bad.  And it's not like we're exactly short on burger joints anywhere in the good old USA.

I've had hamburgers on the brain all morning since National Hamburger Day was brought to my attention.  While there's much debate over the origin of the hamburger, the first prominent chain was Wichita-based White Castle, who started out in 1921 and is largely credited for creating the strict standardization that assured you got the same quality product regardless of store or market.  They set the benchmark for everyone who followed.

White Castle no longer has any existence in Wichita whatsoever (corporate is now and has been in Columbus, Ohio for decades) and no longer makes their burgers the same way they did originally, but they're still a cult hit.

White Castle's departure didn't stop Wichita from being a burger-crazed community.  Local chains Spangles, Bionic Burger, and Nu-Way (who have loose meat sandwiches sort of like Maid-Rite) still crank out burgers today.  But a recent newcomer, Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, has taken the industry by storm.  Originally planned as a one-off by three brothers, Freddy's has exploded into a 90-plus store chain with locations in sixteen states and counting in its eleven-year existence.

Burgers aren't just a Wichita phenomenon, of course.  We're a burger-crazed nation.  And the burgers are getting bigger and better.  We just don't settle for that 1.6-ounce McDonald's single patty anymore.  Industry growth in recent years has been through gourmet burger chains like Five Guys and Fatburger, two brands that have been regional hits for years but just recently went national.  They've spawned copycats who are also growing.  And there always tends to be something new to try.  I recently had lunch at the new Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar's.  They had these little sliders with a nice thick beef patty, cheddar, and a garlic aioli.  I don't know what they seasoned that meat with but they were just amazing.  I could go back just to eat those all day.  Or for the two-hour limit they allow you to stay and eat there.  You can spend that much time just waiting in line to get in.

One new trend I am NOT happy with is the tendency to take hamburgers off the menu completely in favor of cheeseburgers only.  So now you have to actually request "no cheese" and I'm betting what used to be an up-charge for cheese doesn't get any sort of discount for doing so.  It's a sneaky way to make more money.  Most of the major chains are doing this now.

My favorite burgers tend to depend on my mood, but why not come up with a top five list?  So here's my top five all-time favorite burgers.  No, In-N-Out isn't on it.  Neither are Five Guys.  Settle down, fanboys.

1. Wisconsin Buttery (Steak n Shake) - Steak n Shake is my favorite restaurant, period.  The Wisconsin Buttery is my current favorite burger anywhere.  It's a double-patty with American cheese, grilled onions, and a butter sauce that makes the whole thing.  The butter sauce soaks into the bun.  It really does taste buttery in a really wonderful way.

2. Freddy's Original Double (Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers) - "Freddy" is Fred Simon, the father of the brothers who founded the chain.  It's said this burger was inspired by Freddy's backyard barbecues back in the day.  Two thin patties topped with mustard, pickle, and onion on a plain white bun.  (You can add other toppings.  I always add mayo.)  The patties are seasoned with a proprietary mix that's also used on the shoestring fries.  Deceptively simple, and completely amazing.  And at six bucks and change for the combo (INCLUDING sales tax), priced right.  Every Freddy's I've been to from California to Missouri has been an overnight sensation doing In-N-Out level business, even in markets where they're competing directly with In-N-Out.

3. Tillamook Cheeseburger (Burgerville) - The hometown pick.  A freshly cooked burger topped with Tillamook medium cheddar.  No lettuce or tomato on mine, and add onions.  Because Burgerville doesn't put onions on their burgers by default for some dumb reason.  Fairly easy to replicate at home, as there's no special sauces...just ketchup and mayo. They use leaf lettuce instead of iceberg.  There's also pickles.  Everything but the cheese goes on the bottom bun.  There...go make your own.

(SIDE FACT: I sometimes take slices of Tillamook cheddar with me to restaurants and order hamburgers, then add the cheddar myself.)

4. Whataburger (Whataburger) - I say the same thing every time I walk in..."Whataburger combo with onion rings, no lettuce, no tomato".  The burger looks bigger than its seasoned 1/4-pound patty being on a 5-inch plain bun (toasted and buttered the way God intended).  The toppings are mustard, diced onion, and a generous amount of pickles.  (And lettuce and tomato if you're not me.)  I think it's the seasoning that makes this burger, but all I know is it never disappoints.  It's the perfect Texas burger in that everything in Texas must be big, and true Texans would never soil a burger with any condiment that isn't mustard, even if Whataburger claims there are 36,864 ways to order one.

5. White Castle Sliders (White Castle) - The little five-hole steamed patties on a bed of onions with a pickle served on a dinner roll.  Crude, simple, and deceptively tasty.  Especially if you discard the top buns and fold two together to make a double.  Almost guaranteed to leave you belching up that taste all day.

If I went ahead with a top ten, this smashburger would probably be number six.  They make some wonderful, if not overpriced, burgers.

But I have to stop somewhere.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Savvy Marketing

Place: McDonald's
Lunch: Big Mac, fries, Coke

Me: "Number one combo."

Frowning Counter Girl: "Noomba wun?"

Me: "Correct."

She enters a Big Mac, no fries, no pop.

Me: "You just entered the sandwich.  I wanted the combo."

Frowning Counter Girl leans over register.  "What?"

I repeat myself.

Frowning Counter Girl stares at the register, then back at me.  "No stuff?"

Me: "What?"

Frowning Counter Girl: "You want no stuff?"

Me:  "I wanted the combo meal.  With fries and a drink."

Frowning Counter Girl wanders off, then returns with a manager, who looks terribly annoyed that I'm bothering him, even though technically SHE bothered him.

Manager, annoyed, to me: "Yes?"

Me:  "I wanted the combo.  She entered a sandwich and has no idea what I'm talking about."

Manager: "Oh."  Turns to Frowning Counter Girl.  "He wants a MEAL.  Push the MEAL button."

Frowning Counter Girl, who is now actually laughing, "Oh!"

Manager walks off without saying another word.

Frowning Counter Girl does not give me a total.  She just stares at me and expects me to hand her money.  I do.  This includes a penny because the change amount is 26 cents.  She takes everything but the penny, opens the register, then starts trying to figure out what to give me.  It becomes immediately clear that the only thing she understands less than the English language is US currency.  She grabs someone else to assist.

Frowning Counter Girl: "Is this right?"

Her Girl Friday: "You still need three quarters."

Frowning Counter Girl grabs a quarter and stares at her.

Her Girl Friday: "Now another one."

Frowning Counter Girl grabs a second quarter.

Her Girl Friday: "Now one more."

Frowning Counter Girl doesn't get one more, at least not without further egging.  Then she does.

So I finally have my change and the tray is set aside for the eventual delivery of what will ultimately be stale food.  Frowning Counter Girl is staring at me as if she's wondering why I'm standing there.

Her Girl Friday: "You should give him his drink cup so he can go get that while we're making the food."

Frowning Counter Girl: "Oh!  Okay."

I eventually get a drink cup...but from Her Girl Friday, because Frowning Counter Girl obviously has no idea what Her Girl Friday's actually talking about.

Seriously.  That was just mind-numbing.

You've probably been included on a share or two linking to K-Mart's latest viral ad for "Big Gas Savings".  It's a professional ad using a play on words in a way that would never ever actually air on television, much like their equally clever "Ship My Pants".

This seems to be the new trend.  Produce a brilliant ad that gets people talking and see if you can make it go viral.  Millions not only see it, but are talking about it, and yet K-Mart doesn't have to spend a single penny on actual television time.

Especially impressive is the fact this was done by an also-ran company that probably has no right to even be in business anymore.  Honestly...does ANYBODY shop at K-Mart?  HAS anybody so much as set foot into a K-Mart in the last twenty years?

My favorite viral ad is Audi's use of Leonard "Classic Mr. Spock" Nimoy and Zachary "Current Mr. Spock" Quinto in to the country club.  Audi not only got everybody talking for nothing more than the price of producing a spot, they actually stole Mazda's thunder.  How?  Mazda is the official automotive partner of "Star Trek: Into Darkness".  Not Audi.

Have you seen Mazda's Star Trek ad?

If I have, I don't remember it.

And you don't either.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

One-Stop Shopping

Place: Burger King
Lunch: Bacon cheddar stuffed burger, onion rings (w/Zesty sauce), Coke

The patty is stuffed with bits of cheddar and bacon.  It's a lot smaller than I thought it would be.  And not all that tasty.  If I were to describe the taste, the word that comes to mind is "phony".  It just doesn't work.

So yesterday at the office, a co-worker was trying to fix a jam in the copier, which actually turned out to be multiple jams.  This was a doozy.  There was paper jammed seemingly everywhere in the thing.  I stood there watching him, offering no help whatsoever, for a good five minutes.

Eventually, he gave up and sent everyone an e-mail advisory to not use the thing until it was serviced.  He titled this e-mail "Finance Ricoh" (because it's a Ricoh copier in the Finance area).

I replied back "Nothing to do with anything, but your e-mail title has inspired me to start a paycheck loan business called Rico's Finance".

Co-worker: "Sounds like a reputable establishment.  Maybe it can have tanning booths too, or be a tobacco outlet."

Me: "And an oxygen bar.  That's all the rage now.  And of course, an authorized (our company) reseller."  (We're a cell phone company with a popular prepaid service.)

Co-worker: "I know a buddy who has an old school bus.  There's an empty lot down on the southeast side."

Me: "Old school bus?  It could be a food truck too!  And we could have shirtless tattooed guys fixing rock chips in the parking lot!  And a bikini car wash!  And once you've experienced all our services, we'll give you a paycheck loan to pay for it all!"

Co-worker: "You are a visionary.  I am speechless."

I don't think we can just call it "Rico's Finance" anymore though.  The concept is obviously far too evolved.  I'm thinking more like "Rico's Carnival of Souls" now.

Imagine the franchising opportunities.

Yep.  We're gonna be rich.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Woodman's Market

Place: Taco Tico
Lunch (actually also probably dinner): Four tacos (mild, plus meat, no tomato), cheese enchilada, Pepsi (easy on the ice)

Poor Taco Tico. The corporate stores in Kansas...about a third of what's left of the chain total...were all shut down by the state due to unpaid taxes last month.  The owner filed bankruptcy and was supposed to re-open some of them, but I don't know if any stores actually did.  Their website is dead.  What's left is maybe a couple dozen franchised outlets here and there, including this one, who does things so much better than they were doing in Wichita it isn't even funny.  The food at the Wichita stores had become crap in recent years.  If all Tico's did things the way this one does, there'd still be hundreds of locations all over the Midwest.  You have a hard time finding a table at lunch on the weekends here.

So I was sitting in my office the other day, laughing maniacally at the absurdity of it all, when it hit me..."You know where I haven't been in forever?  Woodman's Market."

Road trip.

Woodman's Market is a Wisconsin chain of fifteen ginormous supermarkets.  They're just huge.  How huge?  Most 'big' standalone supermarket buildings today are in the 60,000-80,000 square-foot range.  Woodman's?  Over 200,000 square feet.  The Kenosha store, at 252,345 square feet, is the largest supermarket in the United States.  That puts their stores in the size range of bigger Walmart supercenters.

But unlike Walmart, they're not devoting 3/4 of the store to clothes, electronics, and general merchandise.  It's still a grocery store.  A grocery store with one of the widest varieties of everything you've ever seen.  Especially sausage and cheese, being in Wisconsin and all.  That area of the store is just ridiculous. They carry a lot of regional favorites from regions other than the upper Midwest too.  The liquor "department" rivals smaller grocery stores in size.

I can spend a good hour wandering the store.  I always find new things to try, especially when it comes to sausage.  Got some locally produced smoked kielbasa to try this time.  And a bunch of new Mexican frozen items I haven't seen before.  Plus some soup bowls and stuff in the International aisle.

Spent about $90, all told.

Might have to get creative with freezer space.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Place: Abelardo's
Lunch: Two ground beef tacos, rice, beans, Coke

I figured when Abelardo's fourth local store opened (in an old Mission-style Taco Bell building), it would instantly become their best performer because it would be the only Mexican drive-thru within a two-mile radius.  But on the way over this morning, I noticed one end of a new strip mall under construction a block to the west is taking the distinct shape and color of Taco John's.

That won't exactly be an unfamiliar scenario.  The first Abelardo's in town opened right next to an extisting Taco John's.  You have to enter the same driveway to get to either restaurant.  And the second Abelardo's is not only a block away from a new Taco John's, Abelardo's is housed in the old Taco John's building the new Taco John's replaced.

Only the third Abelardo's in town isn't anywhere near a Taco John's, and that store doesn't do any business.

Go figure.

Made a quick road trip to Texas over the weekend.  Weather couldn't have been more perfect.  Beautiful drive.

On the way back Sunday morning, I had breakfast at Whataburger.  The young crew of three working had that "partied too much last night to be working on a Sunday morning" look about them.  They were grumpy, they were groggy, and in between store duties, they'd run out the side door to take drags off the cigarettes they had sitting on the window ledge.

And that got me thinking...

I don't smoke, but I've always been around smokers.  My parents smoked.  Most of my girlfriends smoked. My wife died from complications that started as lung cancer, as did her father. All of these people smoked regularly and routinely inside the home.  The point being...I've been around cigarette smoke all my life.  It was once a far more acceptable behavior in society than it is now.  Even my high school had an officially designated student smoking area.

In the last decade or so, smoking in restaurants or most publicly accessible businesses has become illegal.  About the only indoor business people can smoke at anymore is casinos.  Even bars in most states aren't allowed smokers.  And as the smoke has cleared, so to speak, I've noticed that I'm far more sensitive to smoke when I'm around a smoker or in a casino.  Suddenly, it annoys me.

So here's these kids going out and smoking, then running back in and making my food.  They're not washing their hands, and they're breathing their freshly smoked breath in the kitchen.  Ever kissed a smoker?  You KNOW they're a smoker instantly.  Ever made love to a smoker?  You can TASTE it in every pore in every part of their body.  Smokers think they can disguise the odor with mints or perfume.  They can't.  They're fooling themselves.

So I actually found the behavior of this crew to be kind of gross.  Seems silly, particularly with my history, but I found myself wondering...should smokers be banned from being food handlers completely?  Or be banned from smoking at the workplace?

My food was fine.  It was made perfectly and tasted great.  I have no reason to believe food made by a non-smoker would have been any different.

Still makes me wonder.

Friday, April 05, 2013

The Balcony is Closed

Place: Taco Bell
Lunch: Nacho cheese Doritos Locos Taco Supreme (no tomato), Nachos Supreme (no tomato), beef Enchrito, Mug Root Beer

I have, for the record, tried the new Cool Ranch Doritos Locos taco.  I was disappointed.  It just doesn't have the 'pop' the nacho cheese one has. 

I paid tribute to Roger Ebert last night the only way I knew how...I made a Steak n Shake run.

It was his (and is my) favorite restaurant, after all.  And even though the idiots who work the drive-thru at the closest one to me sent me off with the wrong burger...again...I ate the whole thing in his honor.

(Maybe they gave me his favorite burger instead.  I don't know.)

Nothing reminds you of growing old like watching your heroes pass, and with Ebert, my five biggest have left us in just a few short years.

There are lots of movie reviewers out there.  Even I have a (really silly) movie review blog.  But Ebert was my favorite.  The thing about his reviews was that even if I didn't agree with his star rating, he told the reader just enough about each movie that I could get a pretty good idea if I would like it or not.  He didn't say too little.  He didn't say too much.  He didn't fill his reviews with big words or over-elaborate descriptions.  He wrote sensibly, and witty.  For a guy like me who just starts to glaze over at crap like that, he was the perfect writer.  That was true about all of his writing, even unrelated to movies.  Still, my all-time favorite line of his was movie-related...his plot summary of 2001's "Pearl Harbor", where he described it as "a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on December 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle".

Ebert lost his ability to speak due to cancer in 2006, which ended his television career, but didn't stop him from writing and reviewing movies.  If you read him, you pictured the Roger Ebert of the television days.  It was a shocking contrast to SEE him in recent years, but his knew the man was still fully there.

Ebert hadn't been writing many reviews recently as he worked through his latest health issues.  Ironically, I've only seen two movies in theatres so far this year.  And there's nothing I want to see for the foreseeable future....maybe until Iron Man 3.

That's something Ebert could have changed.  Not even necessarily with a positive review...just a good description.

Monday, April 01, 2013


Place: Original Tommy's
Lunch: Cheeseburger (no tomato), chili fries, Pibb

I was reading some reviews on Yelp for something else when I ran across reviews for Original Tommy's, a So-Cal tradition that's been around since 1946, who just recently started opening outlets in Vegas.

It was immediately apparent that newcomers to Tommy's often suffered a case of what I call "White Castle Syndrome".  Everybody's heard of White Castle, but since they operate in limited markets, most people haven't actually tried them.  After years of buildup by the White Castle faithful, when the moment finally arrives, they're expecting the holy grail of hamburgers and are horribly disappointed with the actual product....something they see as a meat flavored dinner roll.

Such is the case with Tommy's.  Tommy's "cheeseburger", like all their burgers (and pretty much every hot food item on the menu), is topped with chili.  The chili is an unapologetically greasy thick meat paste with a texture more like refried beans.  It's applied generously along with onions, mustard, a thick tomato slice (hold on mine please) and the biggest pickle slices you've ever seen.  It may be the gutbomb to end all gutbombs.  A number of the negative reviews of this particular location joke that the fact it's next to St Rose Dominican Hospital is a matter of convenience.

Being the lover of low-rent old school fast food that I am, I had to try it.  So I did so Saturday night.

And it's awesome.

It's the best chili cheeseburger I've ever had.

Good lord it's good.

I also sampled other things.  Amazingly, I'm not all that impressed with their chili dog.  Mostly because of the dog.  Or the chili fries.  The fries work much better with ketchup.  They also have a chili covered tamale I'll reserve for a future visit.  I'd wondered where Wienerschnitzel got that idea when they LTO'd one last year.

Anyway, I'm back today to make sure the burger was as good as I thought it was initially.

It is.  But even I couldn't down more than one or two of these a month.  Jeepers.

Las Vegas has become home to a lot of low-rent old-school chili and coney-related outposts in recent years.  Pink's is here.  Nathan's is here.  American Coney Island (from Michigan) is here.  Even Steak n Shake (best chili ever) has a location in a casino now.

Now if we could just convince Skyline to get out here...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

As the Auto Mile Turns

Place: PF Chang's
Lunch: Kung Pao scallops, fried rice, egg drop soup, Coke

PF Chang's has a lunch menu?  Who knew.  You get a small portion entree with your choice of rice and soup or salad.  The egg drop soup was bland until I thought to put some of that sauce they make at your table in it to give it a kick.  That totally worked.

I was seriously craving Taco Casa yesterday.  But Taco Casa is in Texas, so I figured I'd go to Abelardo's after work.  But I was ALSO going to go to Aldi after work, and the Abelardo's near Aldi hasn't opened yet.  (It's opening next week.)  So I ended up at Tasty Tacos, which did nothing to satisfy my craving for Taco Casa.  But it did mean I had to drive down one of the local "auto miles" along the way.  That took me by our new Fiat dealership no longer a Fiat dealership.  It's now a Buick-GMC dealership.

That was fast.

So I checked the news and found out the company Fiat begged to open a franchise here (their first in this market) was later begged by GM to open a GMC-Buick dealership on this side of town.  So they did, and they moved Fiat into another old car dealership building that happened to be for sale.

The original short-lived Fiat dealership was housed in a really old building that's been the home of many car makes over the years and has never been remodeled.  It's kind of cool in that way.  It sat abandoned for a long time after its last tenant, Mitsubishi, moved into a new facility.  But it was going to get a major overhaul for Fiat (and will anyway for GM.  I should go photograph it before they get around to that.)

The "new" Fiat dealership used to be a Hyundai dealership.  Hyundai moved into the neighboring building that used to be a Honda dealership after Honda moved into the neighboring building on the other side that used to be...wait for it...the GMC dealership.

The GMC franchise was lost to the guys who had the Pontiac and Buick dealerships in two buildings about halfway between the old GMC dealership and what's now going to be the new Buick-GMC dealership.  They consolidated all three brands under one roof for a year before GM killed the Pontiac brand, begged the government for loads of money, and shed a bunch of dealerships...including the newly consoldated Pontiac-GMC-Buick dealership.

Said dealership appealed the decision and for an entire model year kept up the facade they were still a dealership when they weren't.  They had no new cars to sell at all.

But they won their appeal, and became an official dealership again for the next model year.  And when that model year ended, they decided they no longer wanted to be a Buick-GMC dealership and dropped the franchise in favor of being a used car supercenter.

And now the old building just up the street that had sat long abandoned before Fiat showed up is selling Buick and GMC.  That's gotta bunch their panties even more than the fact that Carmax, one of the nation's major used car supercenters, just opened up nearby.  They could have just SOLD their GMC-Buick dealership to these guys instead of abandoning the franchise.


I should've gone to Texas.  I can't handle all this drama.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Auto Show 2013

Place: Taco Tico
Lunch: Four tacos (mild, plus meat, no tomato), cheese enchilada, Pepsi

Jeepers I'm beat.  A week back home taking tours and visiting friends, then flew into Minneapolis yesterday morning, had some lunch, and went straight to the Auto Show.  I was a complete zombie on the drive to the hotel, where I napped extensively.

TRAVEL TIP: If you must fly out of MSP (and God help you if you do), park at an off-site location like EZ-AirPark in Eagan.  They're $5 per day cheaper than MSP's so-called "value parking" (which is $16 per day!) and you don't have to go through the ridiculous process of commuting from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 (which involves a ride on public light rail, at least two extremely long escalator rides from seemingly the Earth's core, a SECOND tram ride, and loads of walking in secret underground corridors).  They take you right to the terminal from your car and right back.  There's some MSP nonsense in getting back to the shuttle when returning (go to Baggage Claim 6, find the cleverly hidden escalator, go down, go by the satellite Delta ticket stations, go right, find the cleverly hidden escalator, go back up to the level you were just freaking on), but it wouldn't be MSP if they didn't make everything as difficult as possible.

I probably missed some cool stuff at the Auto Show because I was tired and because they TOTALLY MOVED EVERYTHING AROUND.  Not fair.  I couldn't even find the Fiats.


TTS Coupe - Beautiful, but when I shut the door it made a cheap "thud" like I haven't heard on a car in years.  Yikes.

Q5 - Q5 got a style refresh for 2013.  Very nice feel, beautiful dash and...a cruise control STEM???  No control for cruise on the steering wheel???  Are you FREAKING KIDDING ME???


Cadillac seemed to be pushing new tech versus new models, although the ATS was on a turntable, and the SRX may have gotten a style refresh.  I can't remember from appearance.  And I even drove a rental SRX last year.


Camaro - They had a Camaro "Hot Wheels" edition convertible.  You know...the little die-cast metal Hot Wheels?  It had a cool new blue color and Hot Wheels badges.  Neato.

Impala - All the attention was going to the new 2014 Impala, which looked great inside and out.  Fewer of the ugly interior curves Chevy's recently cursed models with on the two-tone dash.  Looked WAY better than anything on the Ford stand, but have you noticed Fords are getting REALLY ugly?

Spark - How do you make a car called "Spark" and NOT have it be electric??? EV version is coming for 2014?  Okay, never mind.

Silverado - It's all new for 2014.  From a looks standpoint, it doesn't stray too far from the farm.  Which is probably a good thing for Silverado fans.

Traverse - New styling.  Much improved backside, replacing what was one of the ugliest rear ends in automotive history.

Volt - FINALLY sat in one.  Man these are ugly.  The dash has stubby touch buttons.  Guy also sitting in it compared it to a microwave oven.  Have to agree with that.


Dart - The new Dart has nothing to do with the disastrous Dart of days gone by, and interest in it is high.  It has lots of tech on the inside that somehow feels cheap to me.  I'm betting that, like many Dodge models, it'll look dated in a couple of years.  I have to say that Dodge's "Dart Registry" marketing idea, where you get friends and relatives to commit to buying pieces of your ride, is genius.


Escape - The all-new Escape is out and selling well despite several recalls.  Feels okay, but awfully knob and button heavy.  Not impressed with the controls.

Shelby GT500 - A white customized 'Stang with Shelby cobra badges on the outside and what I'm sure is some serious motor on the inside.  Sexy. I drove a Mustang rental last year and was pleasantly surprised with it, until I drove it at night.  Didn't care for the dash illumination, which is a big deal for a night driver like me.


GMC hid their stand deep in the back corner of the Chevy display so that Nissan couldn't cleverly place their trucks next to them this year.  Chickens.  The entire staff dove for cover when they saw me coming.

Sierra - All new for 2014.  Haven't we seen that front end on a Ford before?


Santa Fe - The all new Santa Fe replaces the old Santa Fe AND the discontinued larger Veracruz.  Really...there's the standard version and a longer version with a third row of seats.  The short version is the "Sport" model, then there's the longer pretend-it's-not-a-minivan "GLS", and the pretend-it's-not-a-minivan-while-riding-in-luxury "Limited".  It was one of the most popular vehicles at the show, so of course Hyundai made ONE available for climbing into.  There were like THREE freaking Velosters for crying out loud.

Elanta Coupe - Isn't that girl who can't decide between models in the Elantra commercial annoying?  I about fell asleep when I climbed into it though.  REALLY boring styling.  But it's cheap transportation, so what do you expect.

Veloster - Neat big start button in the middle of the center console.  They had a chrome one on display.  Google should sue.


Infiniti last year moved their headquarters to Hong Kong, hired former Audi USA yes man Johan de Nysschen to head the division, and announced they were re-naming their entire lineup after Jollibee's combo menu (my interpretation, not theirs).  Turns out the reset wasn't the worst possible option.  It was later reported Nissan considered discontinuing the Infiniti brand completely.  Dicks.

Q50 - The next gen G37 gets all sorts of new advancements, including the cup holders from the Nissan Rogue.  (Which, seriously, is an improvement.  Infiniti has become my go-to rental car make and the old cup holders sent more 44oz drink cups flying than any other car I've driven.  That's NEVER EVER EVEN ONCE happened in my Rogue.)  Too bad they didn't actually HAVE one here.

EX/FX37 - The EX and FX moved up to the 3.7 litre V6 (from the old 3.5) so they got new names that will only last a year since they're getting Q badging next year.  But after sitting in the new Nissan models and seeing their new style and tech, it's evident that most of Infiniti's models are SERIOUSLY dated and need updating STAT.


Jeep built an obstacle course into one entire end of the hall and were letting attendees drive it.  They also may have been displaying a vehicle or two.  Maybe.  No, I didn't drive the course.


Altima - America's second-best selling sedan is all new and really nice.  Even the base model feels swanky.  It's full of tech goodies, has really nice seats, and looks good without making noise.  Now where's the new coupe version?

Leaf - It's not selling all that well, so Nissan has introduced a lower-end model to try and boost sales.  Still ugly, but intriguing.

Sentra - The new Sentra looks really nice and has some impressive tech for a car in this price segment, but reviewers who have driven it say the fun pretty much ends there.

Pathfinder - Pathfider is also all new and has moved from a truck platform to a car, making it an overglorified minivan.  It's pretty ordinary looking.  Back seat leg room is atrocious.  Even if the woman in the drivers seat had the seat all the way back, this was really bad, inexcusable in a model of this size.


BRZ Coupe - Holy crap.  A cool Subaru?  This is one sharp looking coupe with a 200hp four cylinder available with a six speed manual.  Reasonably priced, good gas mileage, and good looking.  HUH?  It was apparently co-developed with Toyota, who have their own version known as the Scion FR-S.  Apparently neither is available in AWD form, which is completely out of character on the Subaru side.  Even more odd for a four cylinder, it's RWD.  But the reviews are off the chart on how awesome it is.  Teens were totally into it.  I had a hard time getting out of it.  I'm apparently getting too old for low-riding coupes.


RAV4 - The long overdue fourth generation RAV4 finally arrives.  The rear-mounted spare is gone and a proper liftgate is added.  Those were probably the two biggest issues with potential buyers.  The new dash layout is snazzy while also being simple, though some packages can be tech heavy (which is a good thing).  The V6 is's a four-cylinder affair all the way now (or EV, there's an electric version).  A new six speed transmission replaces the ridiculously outdated four speed.  This is on my short list of potential next cars, though I'll probably end up with the next gen Rogue.  My Rogue has just been awesome.


Golf - The new seventh generation Golf, the world's best selling car, debuted this year.  Except in the US, where we keep the old one for another year because Volkswagen believes the United States is a third-world country.  What happened to you, Volkswagen?  You used to be cool.

Jetta - The once Golf-with-a-trunk that now looks more like a 15-year old Impala is available as a hybrid.  I could not for the life of me find a comfortable seating position.

Passat - The US-built Passat has been a winner for VW and is available with a TDI diesel motor.  I WAS able to find a comfortable driving position in this.

Beetle Convertible - New for 2013.  Looks cool, naturally.  If I were the convertible type, this would probably be the one.

Tiguan - FOUR overhead compartments???  FOUR??? You could have put a SUNROOF there, idiots!


Volvo ended the show for me with the ugliest car there, the C30.  It's a 2-door hatch intended to compete with the VW Golf.


The drive home today has been okay so far given the forecast.  Had a brief bit of nastiness near Fairbault.  Could have more on the second leg.

Oh well.  I'm coming, kitties.