Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Super Creepy 2014

Place: Steak n Shake
Lunch: All American Melt, fries (w/cheese sauce), chili, Birthday Cake milkshake

Steak n Shake could have made you this all along, but it's just officially made the menu recently.  It's essentially a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese take on Steak n Shake's very popular Frisco Melt...a double-patty Frisco bread burger with cheese, pickles, onions, ketchup, and mustard.  It's like the best Quarter Pounder with Cheese you've ever had.  Sometimes it's the simple things.

What?  2014 is over already?  Jeepers.  Is it me, or did the year just kind of fly by?  I guess all years do anymore at my age.  Nothing really stood out, though I was apparently annoying enough that three of my relatives unfriended me on Facebook.  Apparently, I'm like the Ricky Gervais of my family.

Movie of the Year - "Birdman".  This story of personal demons was shot as a chain of single-camera angle scenes by the guy who shot "Gravity".  The brilliant camera work, brilliant soundtrack, brilliant dialogue, and brilliant performances converged to produce the first movie I've given four stars in two years.

Album of the Year - With the disclaimer that I bought maybe five 2014 releases, this is the year even the critics agree with me.  Nothing touched Rosanne Cash's "The River and the Thread" since its release way back in January.

Not Exactly Album of the Year - I downloaded the free U2 album...and feel I got what I paid for.

New TV Show of the Year - All of you should have been watching "Gracepoint".  ALL OF YOU.  I also just recently caught up on FX's "Fargo" series on a three-day binge.  That was also excellent until Lester got to Vegas.  Then it became dumb and unnecessary.

Old TV Show of the Year - Not only did "Twin Peaks" come out on Blu-ray remastered in HD, it was announced the show itself is being revived for a ten-episode run on Showtime.  But we have to wait until 2016.  Hey, we've waited THIS long...

Commercial of the Year: "My cable's out, so I'm down at the rec center watching folks swim."  I could only dream of being as cool as Super Creepy Rob Lowe.

Bad Commercial of the Year - Viagra Girl: "So guys, it's just you and your Honey." Yeah, well, most of our "Honeys" don't look remotely like you and at our age are quite happy to not be bothered for sex in the first place.  (In related news, I probably have an unhealthy attitude towards dating.)

Weird Commercial of the Year - What exactly was GE trying to convey with the beeping kid? Because I sure didn't relate him to the tag.

Least Effective Re branding of the Year: TV ad: "ING US is now VOYA."  Most Americans: "Wait...who was ING US?"

Missed Branding Opportunity of the Year - Kia's full electric version of the Soul is called the "Soul EV".  As opposed to my thousand-times-cooler idea, the "Soulectric"

We've Heard It All Before of the Year - "The New Buick". Yet another "sure our cars were crap before but they're really nice now honest" ad campaign from GM.

Slug Bug of the Year - I've taken to shouting "STINKY PRIUS!" whenever I see a Toyota Prius on the road.  It started as an amusing way to annoy the hippies, but I've actually started angrily shouting it, like I really hate those things or something.  Shaking my fist at them even.  The Prius drivers sort of look worried.

Attack Ad Idea of the Year - During Political Attack Ad season, I came up with the idea of states running attack ads against vacationing in neighboring states.  "DON'T VISIT WISCONSIN! THEIR MINDS ARE MUSHIER THAN THEIR CHEESE! Paid for by the Illinois Dept of Tourism".

Reverse Psychology Ad of the Year - When the Joe's Crab Shack's "you don't think of hot dogs on the grill" commercial airs, I immediately think of hot dogs on the grill.

Oreo Flavors of the Year - What's up with Oreo and all the new flavors?  Watermelon.  Fruit Punch.  Limeade.  Caramel Apple.  Root Beer Float.  Jeepers.  I can't even eat regular Oreos anymore.  They're too plain.  (My favorite?  Lemon.)

Soda of the Year - Faygo, the king of unique soda flavors, came out with a Cotton Candy flavored soda.  You would be surprised at just how well it turned out.

Ice Cream of the Year - People love putting Trader Joe's Cookie Butter on their ice cream.  So why doesn't Trader Joe's just make a Cookie Butter ice cream?  Well, now they do.

Fro-Yo Flavor of the Year - Yogurtini's Salted Caramel Corn.  You know, like caramel popcorn.  Yes, it totally worked.

Restaurant Demise of the Year - I've written many times of Schroeder's Drive-In in Danville, IL, which was originally one of the most successful Burger Chef outlets in the chain, and has been as close as you can get to an actual Burger Chef experience for years from the food to the eighties era Burger Chef dining room full of Burger Chef (and military) memorabilia.  Schroeder's went out of business in October after 54 years and I (and all of Danville) was heartbroken.  I wonder what became of the memorabilia.  And the Pepsi Tiffany lamps.  And that menu board.  I can easily recreate those burgers at home, but I can't recreate that environment.

Restaurant Demise of the Year II - Our Taco John's franchisee opened up a crap ton of CherryBerry Self-Serve Frozen Yogurt outlets a couple of years ago, usually adjacent to Taco John's.   This year, they closed them all.  Seems like the whole fro-yo fad is burning hard, which is kind of a bummer.

Bad Restaurant of the Year - We got a Rita's Italian Ice franchise locally.  And it only took their horrible staff about three visits to completely alienate me as a customer.

Bizarre Restaurant Move of the Year - White Castle, who builds stores in specific core markets and has never offered franchising in its 93-year history, "licensed" a one-off location in Las Vegas, which will be open soon on the Strip adjacent to the world's most profitable Denny's.  Is this a sign that White Castle might FINALLY modernize its business model and make room for growth through partnerships?

Bizarre Restaurant LTO of the Year - While White Castle may be absurdly paranoid about expansion, they're not about throwing anything at the menu board to see what sticks.  White Castle debuted "veggie sliders" at the end of the year.  No, I will not be trying them.  But I'll say this...they're getting a lot of publicity out of it.

Flight Incident of the Year - I got to experience a "go around" while attempting to land at PDX because somebody just HAD to go to the bathroom on approach and they apparently aren't allowed to land when somebody's in the can.  I wonder if Delta billed the passenger for the extra fuel.

This Town Sure Has Changed of the Year - Visited Cheyenne for the first time in forever.  Somewhere in between my last visit and now, it became the City of Roundabouts.

Football Touchdown Play-by-Play Call of the Year - "He could have made a sandwich and walked in backwards."

Unwanted Technology of the Year - The tip I want from Apple Tips is "How to Shut Off Apple Tips".

Lack of Self-Awareness of the Year - Ever notice that people who post Bitstrips in their Facebook feed depict themselves as being way skinnier than they really are?

Retweet of the Year - Next time someone preaches to you about living healthy, just reply with these four words: "Keith Richards is 70." - @Ruth_A_Buzzi

Monday, December 22, 2014

Not Home (for the Holidays)

Place: Taco Time NW
Lunch: Crisp taco (no tomato), crispy chicken burrito, Fanta Lime

You're thinking to yourself "uh, what's the NW for?"  It's for "Northwest", and it's what differentiates your garden variety Taco Time International location from the Taco Time Northwest stores of western Washington.  This is a former Taco Time franchisee (possibly the original franchisee) who broke off from the chain years ago but got to keep the name for themselves in a settlement.  They run completely independent of Taco Time International.  They have their own logo (looks a lot more like the old main chain logo), their own marketing, their own restaurant designs.  They have the same core traditional menu items like crispy burritos and Mexi Fries, but they've added their own new offerings along the way.  They have about 70 stores total and are a strong performer in their territory.   I don't have a specific preference between the two, but suspect the two could learn from each other.

Came home this weekend for my niece's wedding.  Spent the majority of time with family, who I rarely see around the Christmas holiday.  Basically 48 hours on the ground, so apologies to those I didn't reach out to hook up with.  Anyway, I was home for near the holidays, but not quite the holidays.

Either way, I got my fill of Christmas cookies.

Monday, December 15, 2014


Place: Burger King
Lunch: Yumbo (no lettuce), Four Cheese Whopper (no lettuce, no tomato), Coke

Have you seen the BK ad for the Yumbo?  They have a made up BK with a very seventies vibe, employees in seventies uniforms, and customers in seventies hairdos, freaking out random customers who show up and aren't in on the joke.  All of it attempts to point back to the time of the legendary Yumbo sandwich, with its lettuce and Black Forest ham.

Except...was "Black Forest ham" even a thing in the seventies?  Was the Yumbo even a thing?  Because I have no recollection of it whatsoever.

Some friendly internet research indicates it did indeed exist.  But the original was simply ham and cheese (two slices) on a hamburger bun.  Nothing about "Black Forest" ham and no vegetables.  It was essentially a Hardee's Hot Ham and Cheese.  This version is NOT a Hardee's Hot Ham and Cheese.  It's an okay ham sandwich on the hoagie roll used for the chicken sandwich.  It also has mayo.  It could use pickle.  It's on the 2 for $5 mix-and-match menu, but if you just buy one, it's $3.89.  You have been warned.

The other new thing BK is throwing at us is the "Four Cheese Whopper".  The "four cheeses" are a slice of American, cheddar sauce, and a "creamy three cheese blend".  Which either really makes it a three cheese Whopper or a five cheese Whopper by my count.  I don't know, I flunked algebra.  Twice.  The "three cheese blend" is some shredded yellow cheeses.  Maybe one of those cheeses is cheddar, therefore they only count cheddar once, making four different types of cheese total.  In any case, it tastes really cheesy.

As a standalone sandwich, the Four Cheese Whopper is $4.79.  So between the Yumbo, Whopper, a medium soda, and tax, I managed to spend $11.52 on mediocre fast food assembled from pre-cooked warmed over ingredients.

Not a winning combination by anyone's standards.

Thursday, December 04, 2014


Place: Dickey's Barbecue Pit
Lunch: Three Meat Plate (chicken, Polish sausage, spicy cheddar sausage, barbecue honey ham), mac and cheese, barbecue beans, soft serve ice cream cone, Coke

On the rare occasion I pop into a Dickey's...a fast food format barbecue first question is "What are you out of today?"  Because they're always out of up to half the meats.

Me: "What are you out of today?"

Girl:  "What do we have today?  We have a special on pulled pork, and..."

Me: "No no no, that's not what I asked.  What meats are you OUT of today?"

Girl:  "Oh!  Uh..."

Guy: "We're not out of anything."

Me:  "Really?  That's the first time that's ever happened to me at a Dickey's."

Everybody laughs.

The trick must be to come in early for lunch.  Dickey's smokes meats at each location daily.  I may have always come in at dinner, so maybe when they run out of the daily allotment, that's it.  Still, what other fast food chain has ever been able to get away with having up to half their menu not available during normal operating hours, let alone four hours before the place closes?  You're throwing money away, Dickey's.

So I take advantage to try the chicken and ham, which they're always out of.  And I get my usual Polish sausage, which is my Dickey's favorite.  Naturally, they give me the spicy cheddar sausage instead and I complain, thus why my Three Meat Plate is in fact a Three Meat Plate with Bonus Fourth Meat in a Side cup.  Ever see that episode of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" where they're at a barbecue place and she tries to order meat as a side?  "WHY CAN'T I HAVE MEAT AS A SIDE?"  I just fulfilled your wildest dream, Honey Boo Boo.

The spicy cheddar sausage is actually pretty good too.  You could go with a Two Meat Plate and get both sausages and be all sausage happy.

The chicken and ham are disappointments.  They don't give you a quarter chicken piece like a real barbecue restaurant would.  They give you slices of chicken breast that have an artificially smoky flavor to them.

Among the sides (you get two with your meat plate), their mac and cheese is a highlight.  Not sure why, but it's really good.

Dickey's also has proper pebble ice and free soft serve ice cream cones, practices I highly approve of.

My longest vacation of the year is winding down.  Got around to all the Christmas light displays I usually go to.  Caught up on movies.  Went to a concert.  Ate all the food.  Replaced the coat I left in Vegas.

Really nothing left to do but go home.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Flying Fall

Place: Subway
Lunch: 6-inch Big Hot Pastrami (Italian herb & cheese bread, double meat, provolone, Chipotle Southwest sauce, pickles), chips, Pibb XTRA

I complained last year when Subway brought out the LTO Pastrami that it was AWFUL.  And I was a fan of it on previous rollouts.  But it's better this year.  Subway's pastrami meat is pretty stringy, though.  Yes, I could just go to Jason's Deli and get a decent pastrami sandwich pretty much whenever I wanted, but...I don't know.  I just don't.

What the heck happened to October?  It flew by WAY too fast for me.  College football is getting down to the nitty gritty, cold air is moving in, there's only four episodes of "Gracepoint" (aka the show apparently only I watch, which is sad) left, caramel apple milkshakes have already come off the Steak n Shake menu to make room for Winter White Chocolate (which are also wonderful, especially if you add hot fudge), my biggest vacation of the year is almost here...what the heck, man.

What a weird weekend it was for college football, too.  I was watching the Oregon-Utah game when the Utah player dropped the ball on the way to the end zone, thinking he'd already scored, only to have a Duck pick the ball up and run it back for a touchdown instead.  That was just mind-boggling stupidity right there.

I did see the movie of the year over the weekend.  "Birdman" is a sort of dark comedy about personal demons where the direction, cinematography, performances, and writing converge into the perfect movie...the first movie I've given four stars to since 2012's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower".  So there's that.

I don't know.  Just seems like...

...I don't know.

Saturday, October 04, 2014


Place: Taco Pronto
Lunch: Two tacos (mild sauce), cheese enchilada, Coke

It's National Taco Day and, being favorable of the medium, I am sort of obligated.

Wichita has many local options thanks to being the hometown of Taco Tico, a once giant of the midwest.  There are many Taco Tico copycats and knockoffs around town that do business exactly the same way.  They're close enough in style that I have coined the term "Wichitacos" when referring to them.

For today's tacos, I chose Taco Pronto.  Taco Pronto has perfectly fine food, though not my favorite Wichitacos.  The reason everybody comes here is for the ice.

Taco Pronto has an ancient ice machine that makes soft shaved ice.  They give you a cup filled with ice, you fill it with soda, then you sip it from the cup sans straw (though they do have straws if you're an idiot) and take in ice with the soda and chew on it.

It's a wonderful thing.

Apparently they don't make this style of machine anymore, and parts are hard to come by, but they've managed to keep the thing (and the one at their other location, I assume) hobbling along.

So if you are a fan of ice and find yourself in Wichita, check out Taco Pronto.

Even if it isn't National Taco Day.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Place: Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet
Lunch: Buffet, Pepsi

A new Chinese buffet ("the most elegant Chinese, Japanese, and American Buffet in the state" according to their website) opened this week in the building that used to be Lone Star Steakhouse.

Did I ever tell you about the one time I've been to Lone Star Steakhouse?  Some of you who have been creepily stalking me since my radio days might remember this story.  Wife #1 and I came to this very Lone Star at around 4 or 5pm on a weekday.  We were greeted and seated.

And that's it.

No server.

We sat there twenty minutes.

We walked out and had dinner at Red Lobster.

No staff member asked why we were leaving, and there must have been five servers available for every table of customers at the time.

So it's no wonder this building has been abandoned for two years.  The Hibachi Grill people did an extensive and beautiful overhaul of the building.  Nothing about this structure will make you think of Lone Star.

The interior is also very nice.  Nice and dark.  When I left, I had trouble adjusting to the sunlight and almost fell down the stairs at the entrance.  They might want to paint yellow stripes on the edges.  But the dining areas...there's several divided up...are pretty dark.  They have a nice big lobby area with an extensive water feature and big sitting area with what looked like copper couches.  I should have tried them out.

The food area has colorful LED accent lighting glowing on the ceiling and the buffet stations themselves are well lit so you can see what you're getting.  And there's a lot to get...Hibachi Grill claims there's over 250 items.  Plus there's the namesake "Hibachi Grill" where you can create your own raw concoction and have the grill guy cook it for you.  We have a couple of Chinese buffets in town that also offer this, but nobody ever seems to take advantage of it.  But here, people were using it.  Maybe because these guys do a better job of making it a focal point.

Taste-wise, it was fine.  There were highlights and lowlights.  I'd put them overall third taste-wise compared to the other two Chinese buffets in town I frequent, but that doesn't make them bad.  Highlights included "Cheesy Wontons", which are a wonton-wrapped version of a Crab Rangoon.  Those were awesome.  They had a really nice smoked salmon sushi.  I'm not really a sushi expert, but I liked that.  They also had some unusual things like roast beef and "cheesesteak", which was some sort of Stromboli-ish looking thing stuffed with what simply tasted like roast beef.  Pretty rich, actually.  You could eat one piece of that and be all like "Dang, I'm full.  And I still have 249 other things to try."  The salad bar had several pre-made salads, like a Caesar.  Dessert options included the usual, but a more extensive selection of cakes and ice creams.  They even had a green tea ice cream.

But it's the traditional Chinese food items...the General Tso's Chicken, the Lo-Mein, the Garlic Beef & Broccoli...where they fall short of the competition.  It's still fine, but the others are better.

But for $9.16 plus tax and tip (lunch price), you'll certainly feel you got your money's worth.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Place: McDonald's
Lunch: Mega Mac, Mc Chicken (no lettuce), Hi-C Orange Lavaburst

McDonald's is doing BOGO Big Mac Mondays during the NFL season, which is quite a deal considering a Big Mac today costs $4.49.  In related news, why exactly does a Big Mac cost $4.49?  It uses no more meat or cheese than the less-than-a-buck-and-a-half McDouble.  There's no way lettuce, special sauce, and an extra piece of bun justifies this.

Big Macs should be two bucks, tops.

Anyway, I disassembled the sandwiches and created a Mega Mac.  Mega Mac is a wayback LTO that has been offered in two versions over the years...the version where the regular patties were replaced with two Quarter Pounder patties, and this version, where they simply used four regular patties.  My version has an extra slice of cheese and extra pickles since they came on the extra sandwich.  But McDonald's pickles are amazing, so there.

If McDonald's ever started a grocery line, the first thing I'd buy is McDonald's pickles.  The closest equivalent you can get today is to buy Vlasic Original Dills (NOT kosher) whole and slice them yourself.  Slice them as thin as you can.

Have you noticed the increasing number of restaurant chains who are getting into the grocery business?  Some have been around forever, like Marie Callendar's and Bob Evans.  Heck...the Chi-Chi's grocery line outlasted the Chi-Chi's restaurant chain.  Nathan's not only offers a wide variety of hot dogs (including the restaurant-grade ones), they offer pickles, sauces, and fries.  But in the past couple of years, names like PF Chang's and Chili's have started appearing in the frozen food section, as have Arby's Curly Fries and Checker's Wild Fries.

Not all of the items are actual restaurant menu items, and even when they are, they usually aren't the same recipe.  Steak n Shake has offered canned chili for years through supermarkets.  It isn't the same as going to the restaurant.  But some things, like Checker's Wild Fries, come out pretty good.  Cincinnati's Skyline Chili in the can is a dead accurate replica of the real deal, as is LaRosa's pizza sauce in the jar.

What I would love to see in the grocery is Taco John's Potato Ole's.  You just can't duplicate those at home with standard potato crowns.  I used to live near the plant that made the Potato Ole's for Taco John's.  If you had a friend who worked there, they could get you the restaurant pillow packs from the company store for a ridiculously cheap price, and you could fry them up at home whenever you wanted them, hot and fresh.

It was a great time to be alive.

It's gotten cooler, football is in full swing, and Steak n Shake's rolled out the seasonal caramel apple milkshake.

It IS a great time to be alive.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Cure

Place: HuHot Mongolian Grill
Lunch: A couple of plates full of chicken and mushrooms and the usual sauces and oils, Coke

Guy Standing Next To Me at the Grill Line observes my food cooking and says "Say!  You don't happen to like mushrooms, do you?"

Me: "No, I sure don't."

Hysterical laughter of the entire line ensues, because I have all the mushrooms.

You've probably noticed in your Facebook and Twitter feeds that loads of people are doing this "ice bucket challenge".  It's a fundraiser for the ADF Foundation, aka the group fighting "Lou Gehrig's Disease".

I'll tell you right now that, if you challenge me, the response will be "bugger off".  I don't believe in any of the organizations who are claiming to be researching a cure to whatever cause they support.  Because, as far as I know, not one of them has ever managed to cure a disease.

I can remember Jerry Lewis declaring "We're THIS CLOSE to a cure!" for Muscular Dystrophy when I was a kid.  Every year.  No we weren't.  And no we're not.  Even though the MDA raised $159,000,000 in 2012 alone.  Hasn't bought a cure.

Cancer?  No.  Diabetes?  No.  Alzheimer's?  Nope.  Frankly, we're not bright enough to cure the world of snoring.  Our best scientists probably couldn't exactly copycat Steak n Shake's chili recipe if you gave them some to analyze before trying.

We're supposed to be smart enough to take on a real disease?


Curing all this crap will involve taking a completely different approach than any of these organizations or any university is trying.  Do I know what that is?  No, and neither does anybody else.  But somebody should be thinking about it.

But I have a feeling it's coming.  In the next ten-twenty years.  A private, for-profit company will break the code, create the tools, and obliterate it all.

And if that company isn't Apple or Google, it will be one very similar to them.

I'm betting on Apple.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Pie Five

Place: Pie Five Pizza
Lunch: High Five (beef, ham, pepperoni, bacon, sausage, "Tuscan marinara" (red) sauce, cheddar on a classic pan crust), Coke

Pie Five (the name comes from the idea that it allegedly takes five minutes from the start of the order process to cooked pizza) is a new concept from the Pizza Inn people that takes pizza ordering down the Chipotle and Qdoba burrito path.  You order your pizza from a list of pre-designed combos (under the menu heading "Our Pie") or you customize your own (under the menu heading "Your Pie"), then follow it down the assembly line, picking your crust (there's four, including a gluten-free one), sauce (there's seven) cheese (there's four), and toppings (there's twenty-four).  Then they throw it in their scary-hot conveyor oven, which cooks it in "just over two minutes", according to their website.  Imagine a giant version of this in the hands of a Batman villain. Batman and Robin tied to the slow moving conveyor by the Pie Five Villains.  Will they escape?  Or are they in deep dish?  Tune in tomorrow.  Same bat time, same bat channel.

There's a couple dozen Pie Five locations up and running, with commitments and plans for about a bajillion.  Wichita's opened just yesterday and is the first freestanding Pie Five in the chain.  The rest are in strip malls.

I enter the parking lot exactly at opening time.  The manager opens the door and shouts "Yes!  We're open!"  He has to shout because I'm quite a distance from the door, which he holds open for me.  So I do a very exaggerated "Chariots of Fire"-style slow motion jog to the door, a joke he doesn't seem to get.

"Welcome, First Customer of the Day," he says.

This is apparently First Customer of the Day special treatment, because there's a couple coming up not far behind me, but he does NOT hold the door open for them.  Or anyone else later.

He hands me a menu and points me in the direction of the order line, itself quite a distance.  This place is HUGE.  Didn't expect that.

Smiling Pizza Making Line Girl: takes my order for a "High Five on Pan".  The fresh-made-every-three-hour dough is coated with red sauce and white cheese mix (mozzarella and provolone) is added.  Since the only cheese noted on the menu for this pizza is cheddar, I was surprised at the mozzarella, but apparently the cheddar is considered a separate topping.

Smiling Pizza Making Line Guy next to Smiling Pizza Making Line Girl takes over and adds the toppings, including the cheddar.  He asks for my approval on the finished product.  I approve.  Off to the oven it goes.

The next guy is Smiling Salad Dessert Upseller Guy.  He asks if I want a salad or dessert (aka stuff listed on the menu board under the heading "Not Pie") and then stops himself because they're out of something.  Not sure what.  I decline anyway.  I will say that I saw some other customers with salads later, and they were small but really impressive looking.

The next guy is Smiling Garnish Your Pizza with Peppers or Magic Dust Guy.

"Uh, what's Magic Dust?"

It's a powdered blend of parmasean, romano, and Italian seasonings.

"Okay, yeah, you can do that."

I pay the nine bucks and change (the pizza and a soda).  I get my drink, and wait for my pizza, which takes considerably longer than the advertised "just over two minutes" to get through the oven.

My pizza is then put on a tray that also has salads, and some lady goes to pick it up.  "No, wait!" shouts Smiling Garnish Your Pizza with Peppers or Magic Dust Guy.  "That's hot hers, it's his!" pointing at me like I was the killer all along.  Everyone looks at me in shock and terror.

The resulting pizza is around seven inches, typical of personal pizza size at most chains.  It looks REALLY hot, so I wait a few minutes for it to cool down.  This proves unnecessary.  It's just fine.

And it's delicious.

Seriously.  This sauce is just amazing.  Tangy and full of flavor.

I'm in love.

Everything about this is great.

I'm not kidding.  This thing is just fantastic.

The size is fine for one.  I think we have a mentality that leads us to overeat when it comes to pizza.  You have a large delivered on sale, you eat too much of it.  You go to the pizza buffet, you eat too much.  Here, you have a determined portion, and it's just about right.  At least for me.

Well played, Pie Five.  I'll be exploring the menu more in future visits.

**UPDATE** - Pie Five ultimately opened three locations in Wichita.  As of 2018, all of them had closed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Double Deckers

Place: Burger King
Lunch: Mushroom & Swiss Big King, onion rings (w/zesty sauce), Coke

BK's 2 for $5 "King Collection" lineup has a new sandwich, a double decker Mushroom & Swiss.  I don't think I've ever seen a double decker mushroom & Swiss before.  Then again, I'd never seen a double decker chicken sandwich until BK put one out there last Spring.  It's still available.  I guess BK is trying to maximize use of the triple bun.  I just got one with onion rings because I don't think I could get through two burgers today, even though they're smallish.

Anyway, this is perfectly decent.  Mushrooms, Swiss, and mayo.  Works well with the charbroiled patties.  Score one for the double deckers.

Pardon me, sir.  What exactly is a double decker?

What?  You've been reading this blog for how many years and you don't know this?

Well, you've never really taken the time to explain it specifically.

I haven't?

**searches blog**

Oh.  I haven't.

Right.  Let's do a brief history on the double decker.

Yay!  Jolly good!

A double decker is a three-bun burger.  There's the bottom bun, a burger patty, a center bun, a burger patty, and a top bun.  You know, like a Big Mac.  But the Big Mac is hardly the original.

The story as I know it is that Bob Wian created the sandwich at his diner in 1936 when challenged by a customer to create something different.  He cut up a bun into three pieces and stuck two patties in between.  It was a hit.  He labeled it the Big Boy and started franchising the sandwich itself to others.

The general rule with double deckers is that they have lettuce, cheese (maybe one or two slices), and a special sauce.  A few might have onions or pickles, but not all.  Most Big Boy's used thousand island dressing as their special sauce.  But Frisch's Big Boy of Cincinnati, who today operates independently of Big Boy International, uses tartar sauce instead.  (They always have, even when they were a Big Boy franchisee.)

It was the Frisch's version that Burger Chef probably copied when they brought the double decker to the quick serve level with their charbroiled Big Shef.  It used a "special sauce" that was essentially a spiked tartar sauce.  (Hardee's occasionally rolls out a "Big Shef" in Indianapolis and St Louis to keep the Burger Chef trademark in their paws, but it's not the same sandwich.  It's not even a double decker.  It's a double cheeseburger with mayo.)

Then, of course, came McDonald's with the Big Mac, which has dominated the double decker segment ever since.

Sandy's had the Big Scot, which had the distinction of having cabbage instead of lettuce and a yellow special sauce that was a mustard-mayo based mix.  Sort of like  Burgerville's "Burgerville Spread".   I have a copycat recipe of the sauce and made some Big Scots a few years back.  It was pretty decent if you like cabbage.  I'm not fond of cabbage, but the flavor made more sense with the sauce than lettuce would have.

My favorite of the double deckers is Arctic Circle's Ranch.  AC uses ketchup and white sauce (their proprietary version of mayo) at company stores, but some franchises actually use fry sauce instead.  I don't know why I like theirs so much, but I do.

Actually, I wouldn't turn down any of them.  I still enjoy a Big Mac once in awhile.

And the occasional Big Boy.

Friday, July 04, 2014

30 Years

Place: QuikTrip
Lunch: Chicken Bacon Ranch Wrap, Pepsi

A few years ago, QT started building what they called "Gen-3" stores, new stores with a bigger footprint and a kitchen concept that had specialty drinks and room for future ideas.

Said ideas have expanded into a concept knows as "QT Kitchen", which they've since started adding to older stores.  It's apparently so different that even our local Gen-3 store's kitchen was closed and completely remodeled.

The new space has the specialty drinks (hot and cold), pizzas, some weird breakfast thingy I can't pronounce, and hot sandwiches and wraps.  You order using a very Sheetz-like touch screen, though the menu and options are far more limited than Sheetz.  You can get really ridiculous at Sheetz, where they nickel and dime you to death with the add-ons.  I once created a walking taco at Sheetz that, by the time I was done with it, was north of $8.00.  (The end result was, for the record, obscene in its awesomeness.)

Anyway, I really like this wrap.  The soft flatbread is more like a thicker tortilla and is folded like a soft taco.  Inside is chicken, cheddar, bacon strips, and ranch sauce.  It's all melted together and holds well enough to eat while driving.  You can add lettuce and tomato if you want for an additional price (see previous "nickel and diming" comment).  I think there were some sauce options too.

It's Independence Day, where America celebrates its birthday with fireworks, picnics, and parades.  Said parades will include class reunion floats.  And my class, being up for its 30th reunion, is no exception.

I skipped going this year, just as I skipped the 20th and 10th reunions.  Truth be known, I was an outsider with no real friends in my class.  They literally won't notice I'm not there, and I'm not really one to dwell in the past.  Still, I've seen more of this reunion than the previous ones thanks to Facebook.  It's sort of surprising just how many of my classmates I have no recollection of whatsoever.  We were a small class for our school at around 150.  We were also kind of the "anti-class" class.  We didn't play well with others.  If we're remembered for anything, it's for literally put an end to pep assemblies by introducing the concept of bench-clearing brawls to class spirit challenges.

Yeah, good times.

From what I can tell, maybe twenty-to-thirty showed up.  They did a float.  They're having a picnic.  They all appear to have done well for themselves.  They look really happy and I'm absolutely certain that I would have felt as out of place with them now as I was back in the day.

But it's nice to see them looking happy together anyway.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Love from Lehi

Place: Del Taco
Lunch (no, Breakfast): Bacon & Egg Quesadilla, hash brown sticks, Pibb XTRA

Del Taco launched their 50th birthday celebration yesterday.  I've been a regular for about twenty of those years, at least when I'm hanging out in a Del Taco market.

Ed Hackbarth started as a manager of the Barstow, CA Taco Tia outlet, one of Glen Bell's pre-Taco Bell concepts.  Bell eventually sold Hackbarth the store and it became the second Del Taco.  (Hackbarth had already opened the first one in Yermo.)

I'm starting the summer out in Utah, staying at a brand new Courtyard within walking distance of this Del Taco, a Maverik, a Carl's Jr, a Firehouse Subs, a 7-Eleven, and even a Megaplex Theatre.  With sunny skies, temps in the eighties, and humidity at 15 percent, who needs a car.

Not a fan of Courtyard's new interior decor package.  It's a lot of drab grayish and grayish blue tones, even the wood tones in the laminate in the furniture.  The furniture has all sorts of odd angles built in.  Makes the room look like an Adam West Batman villain's lair.

Holy angles, Batman!
The lighting is minimal and mostly, if not all, LED-driven.

The highlight is all the charging ports.  Both bedside tables and the computer desk have USB plug-ins, and the bedside phone has multiple adapters coming out of it that include mini USB, Apple Lightning, and Apple 30-pin.  The phone has speakers and will play music from your device.  It's also a radio.

The other highlight?  The walk-in shower.  It.  Is.  Awesome.

7-Eleven has a new LTO Gatorade flavor.  Last year, they had an exclusive run with Strawberry Lemonade.  That flavor is back, but available pretty much everywhere.  This years's exclusive is Fierce Green Apple.  And I have to say, it's a good one.

Anyway, that's what's going on.  Going to check out the new West Valley Cinemark this morning and see "Jersey Boys".  Kiss-Def Leppard happens tomorrow night.

Laziness ensues in between.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hamburger Memorial Day

Place: B-Bop's
Lunch: 1/4 lb Single (no tomato), chili, Pepsi

I pull up to the drive-thru speaker.  A male voice says "mumble mumble B-Bops mumble mumble."

"I'll have a quarter pound Single, no toma..."


"No.  Also no tom..."


"No.  But I want..."


I pause, then shout in a tone completely mocking his "DO YOU THINK I COULD ALSO HAVE A SMALL CHILI AND A PEPSI WITH THAT."

He pauses, then says (not shouts) "I'll have your total at the window."

He didn't  Some girl did.  Coward.

It's National Hamburger Day, so I'm having a hamburger.

Not a cheeseburger, mind you.  A HAMburger.

Most will probably celebrate National Hamburger Day by having a cheeseburger.  And that's just wrong.  There's a whole different day for that.  But given the way the burger chains do their menus these days, it's a little understandable.

I ranted a little about this last year.  I'm ranting more now.

For years, fast food chains had hamburgers on the menu, and the counter help pushed you to add cheese.  A slice of crappy American processed cheese would cost you anywhere from 30 to 50 cents at most joints.

(For the record, I would probably say "yes" more if you offered Tillamook cheddar.  So Burgerville wins.)

Then somebody came up with the bright idea of making the upgrade mandatory by just listing cheeseburgers on the menu with the upgrade price built-in.

The national chains are mostly on board.  Wendy's does this.  Hardee's does this.  McDonald's does this.  Unless you want the very basic cheapo value hamburger, you're buying a cheeseburger.

(Kudos to Burger King, where cheese on your Whopper is still optional.)

I remember fondly the McDonald's Quarter Pounder of my 70's youth. The non-cheeseburger one came in a white Styrofoam clam shell with "QUARTER POUNDER" printed in an olive green color on the exterior.  Still probably my favorite sandwich wrapping ever.  I think the cheeseburger one came in a yellow clam shell with brown text.  Not nearly as nice looking.

You can order your burger without cheese, but in most if not all cases, you're still going to pay the cheeseburger price.

So on this National Hamburger Day, mourn the lowly hamburger.

It deserved better than this.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bad Lunch

Place: KFC-Taco Bell
Lunch: Doritos Locos Nacho Cheese Taco Supreme (no tomato), Nachos Supreme (no tomato), extra crispy thigh, Mug Root Beer

I had no idea what to do for lunch today.  Nothing sounded good.

("So why didn't you just not eat?")


So I headed east on the Interstate, which keeps pretty much every option open, and ultimately decided to take a bit of a drive to the east side to the Kentacobell so I could have nachos and a piece of chicken.  Because obviously, I'm pregnant.

I pull into the parking lot, which involves a poorly designed left turn onto a narrow fenced path, then a quick narrow right turn.  Except I can't turn right, because a big Suburban is blocking the entrance.  No idea why, there's nothing in front of it.

So I go down the path to where the exit is and sneak into the parking lot.

Upon exiting the vehicle, I can see the woman driving the Suburban.  What's got her stopped?  She's TEXTING.  But why park and text when you can block the whole freaking entrance, right?

I go inside.  There's thirty (exactly, I counted) kids in front of the counter, along with camp counselors (according to their shirts).  Where'd these people come from?  There's no bus in the parking lot, and they couldn't have all fit in the Suburban.  Then I notice the two Trailways buses parked in the neighboring McDonald's parking lot.  Some went there, some came here.


But most of them appear to have ordered, so I get in line.  Shortly, I'm face-to-face with Frowning Counter Girl.

Me: "One Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco Supreme, no tomato..."

Frowning Counter Girl:  "We don't put tomato on that."

Me: "Uh, yes you do."

Frowning Counter Girl: "No we don't."

Co-worker behind her: "Actually, we do."

She doesn't really appear to acknowledge him other than to stare down at the register blankly.  He reaches over her shoulder to show her how to input no tomato.

Me: "Nachos Supreme, no tomato..."

She inputs the nachos, then stares at the register again.  She's already forgotten how to input no tomato.

Me: "Beef Enchrito..."

Frowning Counter Girl: "We don't have Enchritos anymore."

That makes perfect sense, since there's no unique ingredients to an Enchrito.  They have everything on hand to make them.

Me: "Extra crispy thigh, and a medium drink."

Frowning Counter Girl mumbles back the order in gibberish.  I have no idea what she's saying.  I've already conceded defeat and I'm just going to eat whatever I end up with.  And it's clear it won't be what I ordered.  Most of the kids and camp counselors are at the counter complaining that their food isn't right.  Everybody's missing something, or has the wrong thing, or whatever.  The bus driver shouts "CHECK YOUR FOOD BECAUSE THEY DID EVERYTHING WRONG!" at the dining room.

Eventually, my number is called.  The chicken piece is missing.  They fix that pretty quickly.  Everything else is actually correct.

The kids eventually clear the dining room as they head back to the bus.  Somebody has left behind a personal effect.  An employee notices, grabs another employee, and says "Hey, can you do me a favor?"

Other Employee: "No, I don't like you."

He actually appears serious.  But he ends up delivering the item to the bus anyway.

Some Guy in the Kitchen: "That was fun!  Let's do it again."

Other Employees: "NO!"

Sunday, May 18, 2014

HD Everything

Place: Taco Time
Lunch: Crispy Taco (no tomato), Crispy Chicken Burrito, Cheddar Fries, Coke

"Cheddar Fries" in Taco Time speak are Mexi Fries topped with melted cheddar.  "Mexi Fries" are tater tots.  Basic tater tots.  Nothing special, no special seasoning.  But I get them anyway.  Because tater tots.

I was watching my usual Saturday TV lineup last night.  Saturday is my all-MeTV night.  They start with two episodes of Batman, then Wonder Woman, then Star Trek, then Svengoolie.  During Svengoolie, a commercial for something called "HD Night Vision Glasses" ran.  They're apparently amazing because they reduce glare, and they're totally HD.

Being "HD" started becoming trendy thanks to HDTV, or High Definition Television.  HDTV is, of course, the modern broadcast standard, replacing the old 4:3 480 line standard with a picture that has five times the resolution.  Higher resolution equals higher definition.  Or...HD.

Most of us replaced our old TV's with HDTV's over the last 5-10 years, and most television programs have long since converted to HD production.  It really should just be "television" at this point.  Yet it's still cool to declare your show is in "HD".  So cool in fact that it's become trendy to declare products having nothing to do with televisions are HD, even in applications where it doesn't stand for "high definition", if it stands for anything at all.

Let's have a looksie at some of this silliness.

HD Night Vision Wraparound Glasses - The idea is that they reduce glare at night, thereby giving you clearer vision.  There's a number of yellow lens "night glasses" in the market, making similar claims to improve vision.  The more reputable web sources seem to think they're snake oil.  I love a good night drive, but have never tried them.  I do wear my polarized sunglasses in the rain to reduce glare though.

HD Radio - A digital radio broadcast technology (trademarked by iBiquity) used by several stations across the country.  The signal is piggybacked on the analog signal, though the industry could go all digital eventually.  Compatible radios automatically pop between the analog and HD signal as needed.  Some stations offer sub-channels, effectively allowing them to broadcast up to three channels of programming on a single frequency.  In this case, "HD" does NOT stand for "High Definition", or anything else, though in the early days iBiquity claimed it stood for "Hybrid Digital".  Given the relatively low bitrates being broadcast, especially on the AM dial and on sub channels, that's probably for the better.  Hasn't been adopted widely by receiver manufacturers, surprisingly, but I'm starting to see receivers in rental cars now.

Chevrolet Silverado HD - Just imagine washing your HD truck on a sunny day and giving the world a beautiful HD thing to look at.  Except "HD" in this case means "Heavy Duty".  But feel free to wash your truck anyway.  Your neighborhood association thanks you.

Silverback HD - They make truck parts like brakes and stuff.  Also using "HD" as an abbreviation for "Heavy Duty".

Timberline HD Roofing Shingles - Yes, shingles.  "Lifetime high definition shingles", according to Timberline.  Look closer, I guess.

The Home Depot - Guess what their stock symbol is?  That's right..."HD".

Make Up For Ever - They have an HD line of makeup and use the phrase "high definition" on their website.  So I guess if your face is looking a little standard...

PixelSkin HD Wrap for iPad - In case you need an HD cover for your iPad.  But don't iPads have Retina displays?

Cellucor Super HD - Diet pills.  Admittedly, there isn't a lot of definition to my stomach.  It's just round.

Maybe I should come up with a new HD product.  Maybe HD chili.

In that case, the "HD" would stand for "Heavy Density".

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Joker

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

It's April Fools Day.  Apparently, the April Fools joke at this particular Taco John's is to do everything reeeeeealy slooooowly.

I've been seeing the usual April Foolery in the form of fake news stories and social media shenanigans.  Then there was the big CBS show swap, where Craig Ferguson and Drew Carey swapped shows.  But I don't count that because it was heavily promoted and acknowledged.  If Carey had just shown up on the Late Late Show and Ferguson had just shown up on TPIR with no explanation...maybe even using each other's would have counted.  Having said that, Carey did a phenomenal show last night.  As far as I'm concerned, Carey just became the beginning and end of the list of people who should eventually replace Letterman.  Carey and Ferguson would be a knock-out late night punch.

My April Fools joke?  I left my office calendar on March.  In related news, I'm not much of a practical joker.  In fact, I can't even think of any good practical jokes I've ever planned.  Except for that one time where the payoff came completely by accident.

We lived on a remote island of 13,000 in my teenage years.  There was no road access to the place, so reliance on boats and aircraft was big.  My family fell somewhere between 'poor' and 'middle income' and generally we either didn't have a washer and dryer, or we had a broken washer and dryer.  When I got my drivers license, I ended up alternating laundry duty with my mother.  Every two weeks, one of us would haul about a half dozen ginormous garbage bags of laundry down to the laundromat and take up an entire row of machines.

The laundromat was in a strip mall next to the biggest harbor in town.  Big boats, small boats, yachts, fishing boats, house boats, hundreds of every sort of privately owned boat you could imagine were docked here.  As a result, this laundromat got a lot of 'boat people' business, be it from people who lived on their boats to transient traffic passing through.  Like all laundromats, this one had a community bulletin board on the wall where people posted "for sale" or "wanted to buy" items.  This board was always packed with 3x5 cards.  As you would expect, the majority of items were boat related.

So I'm sitting there with the washing machines running, bored out of my mind, reading the bulletin board, thinking about how weird all this stuff would look like on the bulletin board of any other laundromat in the civilized world.  And I decided to write up a card myself as a joke.  Something that people would question, but just be plausible enough to let it pass.

WANTED TO BUY: Shower head for 50hp Mercury outboard motor.  Must be rust free.

I put the phone number of a public radio station 150 miles away as the contact with no name.  I figured nobody'd actually call because they'd have to pay long distance, and even if they did, their receptionist at best would just put a note on THEIR bulletin board in an effort to get the message to whoever of their fifty volunteers might have posted such a thing.

People would just look at it, maybe question it, then let it go.

And that was the end of that.

Or so I thought.



"Yes, Mother?"

"Did you put something on the bulletin board at the laundromat?"

She was standing in the dining room of our palatial double-wide, mixing bowl with spoon in hand, making dinner.

After a pause, I asked "Why?"

And then she told this story...

"Well, your brother and I were doing the laundry, and he was reading the bulletin board, and he said  "Mom, doesn't that look like Sam's handwriting?"

"Yes it does."

"Mom, why would somebody want a shower head for an outboard motor?"

"Well, fisherman want some pretty strange things sometimes."

I FELL ON THE FLOOR laughing.  Probably into a fetal position.  Tears streaming down my face.  Hysterical laughter.

I could not have envisioned this payoff in a MILLION years.

At some point, I looked up at her.  She was standing over me with this completely dumbfounded look on her face.  She had NO idea why this was funny, and I was making NO effort to explain it.  Eventually, she just shrugged her shoulders and went back to the kitchen.

It's probably ironic that the best joke I've ever pulled off was something only I laughed at or even understood, and that it happened completely by accident.

But even today, it still makes me laugh.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Place: Captain D's
Lunch: Deluxe Seafood Platter (w/fries and mac & cheese), Pibb XTRA

This particular Captain D's has a unique atmosphere Sunday mornings.  The place fills with well-dressed church-going folk, Southern-style gospel music plays on the sound system, and everyone from the staff to the customers are very pleasant.  It's a nice warm feeling.  Unlike the very weird feeling I experienced overnight.

I haven't been sleeping well lately, and was dozing in and out at best when it felt like somebody shook me to wake me up.  And I definitely should not have been feeling that since I was the only person who should have been in my hotel room.

I jumped and looked around.  Nobody.  Checked the door.  Locked.  Checked the windows, all of which I had open, but the screens were in place and I'm on the fourth floor anyway.


Ultimately, I decided the only logical cause was that God had found something really cool on TV and decided I needed to see it, so he did it.  So I turned on the TV.

Whatever it was, I couldn't find it.  Most channels were showing infomercials.  I settled on a "Diners, Drive-In's & Dives" marathon.

About an hour later, when Guy Fieri was declaring whatever goofy thing he was eating "one of the top five things I've ever eaten" in whatever category said item falls in for like the third time tonight, IT HAPPENED AGAIN.  The bed shook.  Actually, everything shook.  The ceiling even creaked.

Then the light bulb in my head went on.  I'd just felt an earthquake tremor.  For the first time in my life.

(Well...second behind the one that woke me up.)

I checked the news this morning, and sure enough, a 4.3 earthquake happened near Crescent, Oklahoma.  The USGS confirmed it could be felt through much of eastern Kansas as far away as Kansas City.  There were several aftershocks.

No damage.  No big deal.  Just a new experience, I guess.

I've lived in earthquake-prone areas before, especially when I was younger, but I'd never actually felt one.

I managed to go back to sleep after understanding what was going on.

Peace of mind, I guess.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

As the Auto Mile Turns II - Electric BMW

Place: Hardee's
Lunch: Western X-TRA Bacon Thickburger, Charbroiled Atlantic Cod Fish Sandwich (no tomato), Coke

The first time I ever heard of Carl's Jr (some twenty years ago, long before they bought Hardee's), it was via a coupon that included some sandwich images.  The one that caught my eye was the Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger, specifically because it had onion rings right on it.  That was unheard of at the time.  And that's what got me in the door.  So it's nice to have a version of it at Hardee's right now, even if just for a little while.  Especially with extra bacon.

So remember about a year ago when I wrote a post about the musical dealership game going on at one of the local Auto Miles?  Well, I'm updating it because this goofiness just hasn't stopped.

The focal point here is the old Pontiac-Buick-GMC building, which used to be the Pontiac-Porsche-Mazda-Subaru building.  So here's a quick summary...When the neighboring Buick franchise and the down-the-road GMC franchise were consolidated under one franchise, Mazda moved into the Buick building (acquired from the old Buick franchisee) and Subaru was put into a new addition adjacent to the Mazda..uh, Buick...building.  Then that dealer lost the Buick-GMC franchise in GM's government bailout nonsense, got it back a year later, then gave it up a year after that in favor of being a used car super center, while the Fiat dealership up the street moved into the old Hyundai dealership building, who had moved into the old Honda building, who had moved into the old pre-consolidation GMC building, to make way for a new Buick-GMC dealership.

Follow me so far?

Wait...where'd the Porsche dealership go?

Nowhere.  We don't have one anymore.

Oh.  Bummer.

Yeah.  Somebody needs to pick that up.

Okay.  So now what's going on?

Mazda and Subaru have moved BACK into the building that was the used car super center, aka the old Buick-GMC dealership, aka the old Pontiac-Porsche-Mazda-Subaru dealership.

Apparently, this was spawned by the need of the neighboring (and not co-owned) Mercedes Benz-BMW dealership to expand.  They bought that property from the Pontiac-Porsche-Mazda-Subaru guys, who are now operating their remaining brands in their original footprint.  BMW will move over and apparently will have a showcase space for their new electric and hybrid cars, I guess.  Separate showrooms for gas BMW's vs electric BMW's, at least that's the impression I got.  Why not.  The building has two showrooms now.

The Mercedes Benz-BMW guys have a large modern facility they built after moving from downtown around ten years ago.  While building the new property, they temporarily operated out of the building that was the Fiat dealership for about five minutes before becoming the current Buick-GMC dealership.  When the new building opened, it also was the Volvo and Jaguar dealership, and they had a Land Rover dealership on the frontage.  But those three makes are now sold by a completely different franchisee, right across the street.

It's like the Auto Mile for swingers, or something.

Are we done?  Is everybody settled?  Probably not.  I just noticed the Hyundai dealership apparently has a parking problem, because they're overflow parking new cars in the lot of an abandoned restaurant nowhere near their dealership.  Or maybe those were Nissans, who are on the other Auto Mile, and who are going through a shakeup of their own.

I have no idea why I'm so fascinated by this.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Auto Show 2014

Place: Hardee's
Lunch (well dinner at this point): Big Roast Beef, bacon cheddar fries, Hi-C Orange Lavaburst

I'll go out of my way for a Hardee's that still sells the Big Roast Beef.  Specifically in this case, nine miles off the interstate.

Is it Auto Show weekend again?  Yes?  Oh good.  Blah blah blah cars.

The quick and dirty summary?  There's starting to be a growing gap between cars with lots of tech and cars that are overcome with too many button controls and dated instrument clusters.  This is happening at every price point, and some manufacturers (I'm looking at YOU, Toyota) need to get their act together or be left behind.  Then there's companies like Infiniti who are totally botching the new tech.  Make it beautiful and simple, people.  And stop moving all your interior lighting to white.  Jeepers.  Remember when Volkswagen had the coolest lighting with their blue instruments and red buttons?  Well on the new Golf I saw, EVERYTHING IS WHITE.  It's like they're screaming to the world "Please don't buy our cars!"  Drives me nuts.


In all the years I've been coming to the Auto Show, I don't think I've ever set foot in a BMW.  Ever.  That changed this year.

BMW1 -   A new smaller CUV.  I guess, at least that's what the five-door felt like.  It's small.  That's what I said.  That's what everyone I overheard said.  "It feels really small."  Like Infiniti EX small.

BMW i3 - BMW's new 100% electric car.  Like all electric cars, the designers just had to make it really weird looking.  It has different size side windows in the front seats, rear seats, and even the rear hatch area.  It has completely silly blue accents around the headlights and rear logo.  Some models have some completely absurd two-tone paint jobs.  But one thing I thought was cool was the rear hatch, which has a glass body the tail lights sit behind, making the whole thing seamless.  Except for the BMW logos.  Which they could have also done and lit them if they wanted to.  A sales guy I chatted said "We can open it up" and tried to open it, only to find it locked.  He then turned to another BMW rep and shouted "WHY DID YOU TELL ME WE COULD OPEN IT!"


I'd rented a 2012 previously and didn't like the dash or center console at all.  They re-did all that for 2013 and I drove one of those recently.  The new cluster and console are MUCH improved, though I still had complaints.  The center console has touch buttons with a vibrating tactile feedback that took some getting used to.  Cadillac's CUE audio system still leaves a bit to be desired.  The one feature I really loved?  The heated steering wheel.  Because apparently I'm turning into a GIRL.  Anyway, the thing drives too soft and loose for my taste.  When I picked up my Rogue at the airport after a week of driving the SRX, I found myself thinking "Holy CRAP.  This handles SO much better."  Note that I'm saying that about a six-year old car with 230,000 miles on it running on the factory suspension.


Camaro - The 2014's have a new style front and rear, a color trip computer that does nothing the old aqua colored one didn't, and, according to a sales rep I chatted with, "a throatier exhaust note on the V6".  The SS model at least has swankier bucket seats too.  I rent these every once in awhile in Vegas, and aside from "getting in and out of one" should be considered its own exercise group, I really like them.  I've driven models with both engines and I'd go with the V6 over the V8 if I were actually considering owning one.  The V6 version just feels more manageable.  The V8 will fishtail right out from under you if roads are even barely wet.

Corvette - The all new 'Vette was here in red with a two-tone black and red leather interior.  The girl modeling the car noted the rear hatch "can fit two golf bags", proving when it comes to this car, Chevy knows their market.

Impala -  This was new last year, but I still checked it out again to see if I was still impressed with the interior.  A guy got in the back seat and said "Lots of legroom.  You must be short."

Me: "No, not really."

Then we get out and he's easily a foot taller than me.

Me: "Okay, I'm short by YOUR standard."

SS - If the void in your life is a big powerful sporty American (sort of...GM's Australian division Holden is responsible for this) sedan, the SS is your ticket.  With a 415hp V8 and rear wheel drive, think of this as a modern-day performance-oriented Caprice. As in the Caprice cop car Chevy makes today, not the old bouncy boat of the seventies.  My aunt used to have a Caprice wagon she named "Cleopatra's Barge".  It bottomed out in my grandmother's driveway every time.


Dart GT - An orange Dart GT with red accent trim on the interior was here.  That's about as notable as it got for Dodge as far as I could see.  I'm not hearing good things about the longevity of this car.


500L - If you go by the name, you'd think this is a stretched 500 with real back seat room.  But it isn't.  It's taller than the 500 and doesn't feel anything like the 500 inside.  It has a completely different dashboard, instrument cluster, and controls.  It actually felt more like a reboot of the old VW Bus to me.


C-Max - Tiniest. Speedometer. Ever.

Mustang - There were some rumors going around that the next generation Mustang would NOT have the retro look of the current one, and that kind of worried me.  But the new one looks fine. More streamlined on the outside and supposedly a much improved interior.  I'm all for that...the one I drove had a horrible interior lighting package, and I love a good night drive.  The girl modeling the car referred to it as "THE ONE THAT STARTED IT ALL".  Is she referring to muscle cars or Ford itself?  She's wrong on either count. 

Transit Connect - The Transit Connect is a small panel van that Ford sells mostly for commercial small business use, though some have seen individual van use.  They're highly configurable.  You can get big empty ones for hauling stuff or doing your own customization, or you can get a seven-passenger minivan version.


Canyon - It's all new and was on a turntable with a show model who proudly proclaimed to all "I don't know what gas mileage it gets, I don't know what it will cost, and I don't know anything about the engines!"  You can't make this stuff up, people.


Sonata - A couple of guys were REALLY impressed by the new Sonata "for the price".  This and the Elantra have some really nice headlamp accents similar to what some of the nicer makes are doing these days.


Q50 - The G37 replacement (or if you live in Japan, the next generation Nissan Skyline) is every bit as fine a performer as its predecessor, at least with the base model rental I tore around in for a few days.  But reviews for the more advanced models have been poor.  Owners haven't been happy with the all-electric "Direct Adaptive Steering" (mine didn't have it) and the center console infotainment master control, which apparently gets buggier and bugger in more advanced upper end model versions.  There's two touch screens on all cars, and they should be simpler to use and a lot more flexible to customize than they are.  And the lower screen has a glossy front that really reflects fingerprints.  Also, the system takes time to boot up, making this the first car I've ever seen where, if the radio station playing when you start the car isn't what you want to listen to, you actually have to wait a significant amount of time to change the channel.  As in you'll be down the road a few blocks by the time you can do that.

That's absurd.

Still, the hotel valet guy noted to me how impressed HE was with the thing.  I wonder if he took it out for a proper spin.  If he didn't, he should have.

Nothing else new from Infiniti aside from the idiotic, stupid, and completely pointless name changes across the line.


Soul - The hamstermobile that shares this niche market with maybe the Nissan Juke and the Hyundai Veloster has been restyled and it's pretty darn cool.   I like that these funky cars are being made at reasonable price points for the younger market.  And the fact that said market is buying these.

Sportage - Um, I think this is restyled.  Those headlights certainly look new.  But compare the inside to the new Nissan Rogue and you have to wonder where Kia gets off charging $31,000 for one of these.


Mazda2 - It's cute and tiny and girly and stuff.  A young woman walked up to it, said "Oh cute!" and went to get in it when her boyfriend grabbed her by the arm and said "YOU'RE NOT GETTING ONE OF THOSE!" as he dragged her away.

Mazda6 - Mazda's bread-and-butter sedan  is all new and has a swanky two-tone interior on the upper end model.  Actually, most Mazdas seem to be doing two-tone interiors on their upper end models these days.


Some Guy: "How's Mitsubishi doing these days?"

Mitsubishi Guy: "Great!  Sales are up 21 percent this year."

Yeah, well 21 percent of practically nothing is still practically nothing.  Mitsubishi sold 67,000 cars in the US in 2013.  They sold 345,000 in the US in 2002.

Mirage - If you're looking for a cute colorful car, this is it.  There's a bright green metallic and a bright purple metallic and...

Outlander - Did they do this new style this year, or last year?  I can't remember.  Anyway, the front end makes me think of the classic film "Metropolis".  You could drop one of these in any factory scene and it would blend right in.  But inside, it's really really boring.   The Outlander Sport still has the Lancer's front end.


Juke Nismo -  The Juke has carved out a niche for itself, and this Nismo edition is pretty cool.  I'd consider one of these if I could get it in all wheel drive with the manual transmission.  That's probably not happening.

Rogue - All new for 2014, the successor to my existing ride is uglier and boxier by my eye, but has some welcome interior and tech upgrades...the best and most sensible tech in its class as far as I've seen.  And the new interior is by far the nicest in its class that I know of.  This is Nissan's second-best seller (behind Altima) and the new model should only continue to grow in sales volume.  But if you're feeling nostalgic, the previous generation is also staying in production as a lower-price option called "Rogue Select".

NV Passenger - A Nissan Commercial vehicle, this beast  was configured with seating for TWELVE on the Auto Show floor.  Don't tell your Mormon wife about this...she'll just want to have more kids.


Macan - Remember when Porsche came out with the SUV?  The Cayenne is Porsche's best seller now.  So here's another one.  The Macan (which I was genuinely surprised to see here) is smaller and looks a little sportier.  It's REALLY beautiful.  It's also $11,000 more than the Cayenne diesel model sitting next to it, which had a lot of people scratching their heads.  If they can get the price down, I could see this as the first true competition to Infiniti's FX (now tragically known as the QX70).


Crosstrek Hybrod - This appears to be the more youth-oriented CUV in Subaru's lineup with a few bright colors available, and it's now (or soon) available in a hybrid.

Forrester - Subie is finally learning to make cars that look more normal.  The new Forrester fits right in with the other CUV's in the market.

WRX STI - New for 2015, the WRX is essentially a really souped up sport version of the Impreza.  The STI Launch Edition will be limited to 1,000 cars.  Subaru won't have a problem unloading them, even at nearly $40,000.


Toyota makes really reliable cars that are horribly boring.  They're trying to get people out of that line of thinking, but it's not working because THEIR CARS ARE HORRIBLY BORING.  I rented two Toyotas last year.  The first was a Yaris.  I nearly died of boredom while driving it.  Then I was issued a Camry by Hertz on a rental.  I put my bag in the trunk, I got in, I started it, I sat there for a minute, I shut it off, I got my bag, and I left with a red Camaro SS.  It cost me $150 more on the whole, but my soul says it was totally worth it.

Corolla - You know that commercial where the guy walks up to Jan in the dealership and says he wants something sporty and she says "How about Corolla?" And he points to a Corolla and says, "No, something more like that."  Well, the new Corolla does look pretty good.  The inside still needs work.  But if you're looking for great fuel economy and near bulletproof reliability at a great price, this is still your car.

Highlander - Toyota wrapped the all new Highlander in a vinyl Muppets movie crossover promotional wrap that included the phrase "NO ROOM FOR BORING" across the top of the windshield.  Well I sat in it and it was...pretty boring...


Beetle R-Line -   It's red, it's sharp, it has cloth seats, and costs $26,000.  Huh?  It didn't even have a sunroof.  Not sure what makes it so "R".

Golf - The USA FINALLY gets the new 7th generation Golf that's been on sale for a year in most other major markets and third-world countries.  The two-door looked pretty nice on the outside, but pretty stale on the inside.  Guy sitting next to me in it and I agreed that VW has gotten far too homogenized.

GTI - Cool!  A golf ball shifter.  On an automatic transmission.  On a four-door car.  Um...can we PLEASE have the new Scirocco in the US?

Touraeg - Not sure if it got a style refresh this year or last year, but it FINALLY has a push-button start.  As well as that clunky big plastic key thingy.  What...are you supposed to put the key in THEN push the button?


XC60 - The new Chinese-owned Volvo appears to be getting its act together with improved interiors and instrument clusters.  Still too many buttons in the center console, though.

That's about all I noticed.  This show seems to be getting smaller and smaller every year.  It was once the seventh biggest in the nation and there were exhibits on the upper AND lower levels.

I don't even recall a single concept vehicle this year.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Everything's Broken

Place: Quizno's
Lunch: Mesquite Chicken w/Bacon (no tomato), chili, Pepsi

Quizno's has posters up promoting their new "Italian Classics" line.  This includes the new Spicy Sausage sandwich and a "new recipe" Italian Meatball.  What's not on the poster?  The Classic Italian, which was once Quizno's best seller (before the Mesquite Chicken came along).  Seriously...why would you NOT put the Classic Italian on the Italian Classics poster?  Give the REAL classic a little love, Quizno's.

It's a good chili day, even if it isn't nearly as cold as it has been earlier in the week when we were significantly below zero even before the wind chill.  Still, it's been single digits and teens at best.  Not a good time for the heat in my house to quit.  But that's what happened Tuesday night.

I have a Nest thermostat.  Have since they came out two years ago.  I love the thing.  It looks cool, it lights up to clearly show you the current temperature and settings when you walk by it, it does all sorts of tricks (especially with the A/C) that have clearly lowered my electric bill (I'm all electric, no gas), and it can be controlled and monitored on smart devices via an app.  And Nest keeps it up to date with firmware updates that automatically download and apply.  It's smart.  But it was not so smart of Nest to dump a bad firmware update into the thing on one of the coldest nights of the year, effectively rendering it useless, and making it impossible for the furnace to kick on.

This didn't just happen to me.  It happened to a lot of people.  Social media confirms this, even if Nest is pretending like nothing's wrong, and their insane support volume is, in their words, due to new customers that got Nest products over the Christmas holiday.

Nest is in denial.

Anyway, unable to get my Nest troubleshooted and fixed, I picked up an old timey rotary dial Honeywell thermostat, spent fifteen minutes installing it, and had heat again.  No big deal.  But I really love the Nest and would like it working again.

Doesn't stop there.

My upstairs toilet needs a new flush valve.  The tank is draining water into the bowl like it's constantly running.  So I shut off the water to it to stop the running until I get around to the repair job, which involves removing the tank.  Seems like a lot of effort, and my downstairs toilet works fine, so I'm really being lazy about it.

Doesn't stop there.

My work laptop hard drive blew up a couple of weeks ago.  Managed to back up my files and nothing was lost, but the drive was damaged enough that IT couldn't do a full backup and restoral.  The OS and programs had to be re-loaded.  So I'm going through the phase of re-adding and re-configuring stuff I forgot about in the initial build.  It's going okay, though.  And the new drive is a solid state drive, so the machine works much faster than before and should be more reliable.

Doesn't stop there.

My home PC stopped going to sleep.  Even if I put it to sleep manually, it wakes right back up like ten seconds later.  It never did that before.  So I put a login password on it and even disconnected it from the network for awhile to make sure nobody was hacking in.  Didn't help.  Even if I manually put it to sleep, which requires the login to fire it back up, it fires back up anyway.  Skips the password.  So I started shutting it down completely when I'm not using it.  And maybe I forgot to shut it down yesterday, but I'm pretty sure I did, and it was ON AGAIN WHEN I GOT HOME.

So I made sure I shut it off this morning.  If it's on again when I get home tonight, I'm calling the Ghost Hunters people.

I suspect the new 2014 antivirus software is causing this.  That's the only change I've made to the machine in forever.

So please, stuff.  Stop breaking.

Let my life be boring again.