Thursday, December 31, 2015

Things of the Year

Place: Taco Bell
Lunch: Beef Smothered Burrito (extra beef, extra red sauce, extra cheese, no sour cream, no rice, no chipotle sauce, add onion), Nachos Supreme (no tomato, add red sauce), Grilled Steak Soft Taco (no tomato, extra avocado sauce), Mug Root Beer

Still using the Taco Bell order app.  Still freaking awesome.  App of the year.  Every walk-up format restaurant needs this.  And Apple Pay.  Everybody needs Apple Pay.  If your business supports Apple Pay, I'm probably supporting you more than I used to.

(Taco Bell does NOT support Apple Pay.  Yet.)

And now, here are all the other things of the year...

Fast Food LTO of the Year -  I'm kind of split here.  Hardee's started the year with the fantastic Bacon Velveeta Patty Meltdown.  Then Wichita-based Spangles came out with something called the Garlic Parmesan Bacon Cheeseburger.  A bacon-Swiss cheeseburger on sourdough garlic toast with grated Parmesan cheese.  A rare example of something that looked good on paper that actually came out better in execution.  The best burger Spangles has ever made that I know of.  I'm inclined to go with Spangles because they left it on the menu longer, but it's actually STILL on the menu and may never leave.  Which would be fine with me, but really wouldn't make it an LTO.

Fast Food Improvement of the Year - McDonald's switched from margarine to real butter on their breakfast sandwiches.  They taste SO much better that my intake of Sausage McMuffins increased from maybe a couple a month to a couple a week.

Fast Food Moment of the Year - Taco John's Counter Girl calls out ready order..."Dave?"

Second time..."Dave?"

Customer in Dining Room: "Dave's not here!"

Everybody laughs.

Oreo of the Year: S'Mores.  Or as I and the Price Chopper checkout guy called them, Smoreos.

Coal in Stocking of the Year - Campbell's started using new cans for Spaghettios.  Smaller cans.  Up to an ounce less Spaghettios per can, depending on the variety.  In related news, I'm a grown man who still eats Spaghettios.  As my father once said, "I blame your grandmother".

Movie of the Year - Mad Max: Fury Road.  What an amazing old school cinematic feat.  It IS a hard and gritty "R" rated feature, so if that's not your thing, I give you...

Alternate Movie of the Year - Shaun the Sheep Movie  The latest from stop-motion animation legends Aardman, a full-length adaptation of a series, is funny and clever enough for anyone of any age or nationality to enjoy thanks in no small part to its complete lack of dialogue.  You could play this literally anywhere in the world to any audience with no subtitles or overdubs and they'd get it.  How this movie wasn't an international sensation I will never understand.

Album of the Year - I was watching a local morning news/entertainment show when the husband and wife team of Daniel and Lauren Goans, aka Lowland Hum, performed.  I immediately purchased their self-titled (but not first) 2015 album.  And it's fantastic beginning to end.  Folky pop with vocals reminiscent of It's A Beautiful Day.

Dumb TV of the Year - Bones did crossover episodes with...Sleepy Hollow.  Suddenly, my Doctor Who-Downton Abbey crossover idea didn't seem so far-fetched (and would have been way more entertaining).

Dumb Commercial of the Year - If Chevrolet's ad where they shred everybody's cell phones were real, the next thing to go in that shredder would be that guy's head.  Instead, the guy goes on to show a vehicle with in-car wi-fi "that can connect up to seven devices."  BUT YOU JUST SHREDDED ALL THE DEVICES.

Sad Commercial of the Year - Are the Progressive commercials with Flo's family supposed to be funny or are they just supposed to depress us?

Welcome Back of the Year - Burger King brought back the creepy King in their ads.  I love the King.

You're Such an Easy Target of the Year - You get the impression that the guy who gets the job in the GE commercials is just one of those guys people can't help but mess with?

New Social Media Addiction of the Year - Periscope.  Because nothing's better during insomnia than watching other people with insomnia doing whatever in the middle of the night.  Especially the guy who set up a Connect 4 game in front of the camera and played me (and others).  That's just freaking genius.

You're Not Helping Your Cause Much of the Year - Pete Rose is still banned from baseball, but he has a new sports bar & grill...on the Las Vegas strip.

You're Missing the Point fof the Year -  Saw a story about a guy busted for taking upskirt shots of women in a store.  Several of the story comments were people suggesting he use a selfie stick to be less obvious.

Police Beat of the Year - 




Dream of the Year -  Long before the Presidential campaign started, I dreamed I shared a table at the Peppermill with Robert De Niro and Donald Trump.  De Niro and I didn't say a word the whole time, but Trump WOULD NOT SHUT UP.

Fortune Cookie of the Year - "The one recognize the illusion does not act as if it is real".  Seriously...that's exactly what it said.

Like I Didn't Feel Old Enough Already of the Year - I got my first invitation to join AARP in the mail.

New Annoyance of the Year - Chester Cat figured out a new way to wake me up.  He jumps on the bed, does a rapid-fire paw dig between the bed and an exposed part of my back, then flies off the bed when I'm startled.  Moral of this story?  Stay covered.

Retweet of the Year - "Dear Couples Who Fight in Public, stop trying to whisper and would it kill you to include some  backstory" - @behindyourback

My 2016 Resolution?  To slow down.  I feel like everything happens in a rush anymore and I'm not really taking time to enjoy it.  Trips almost seem like going through the motions.  Maybe I should visit new places.

I turn 50 in 2016.

FIFTY.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Force Awakens

Place: Wendy's
Lunch: Bacon Gouda Cheeseburger, chili, Fanta grape and lime custom mix

Frowning Counter Girl: "For here or to go?"

Me: "Here."

FCG: "..."

Me: "Bacon Gouda Cheeseburger, no lettuce, no tomato, cup of chili, medium drink."

FCG: "Do you want that in a combo?"

Me: "With chili and a medium drink."

FCG: "Do you want a drink?"

Meanwhile at the Coke Freestyle machine, a very very old couple is confused.  They selected a drink, but it won't pour when they push the button.  They are slow and frustrated.

Woman to me: "Do you know how this thing works?"

Me: "Yes."  I step in and get their drinks.

Him: "We're old."

My food is ready.  The burger has lettuce and tomato.

**sigh**

Like most Wendy's special burgers, I'm not tasting anything special at all.  Mostly just the beef.

The big moment is nearly here.  "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", the first non-Lucas Star Wars movie, arrives this weekend.  Preview shows start tomorrow.  Reviews are coming out today, and are insanely favorable.  It's a guaranteed blockbuster smash.  Not that it needs to be...the thing HAS to have already made its budget back in licensing deals.  There's Star Wars themed Spaghettio's for freak's sake.

There's been a lot of social media discussion about the new movie.  One common question asked a lot is "if I want to catch up on the movies beforehand, in what order should I watch them?"  There's two common answers...watch them in the sequential order of events (the prequels, then the original three), or just watch the original trio and skip the prequels completely because they're awful.  And they are, despite what the serious hard core Star Wars faithful will claim.  I used to have a co-worker who was one of these people when the prequels were released.  Watching him try to justify the prequels being "not that bad" to others was hilarious.

But then I thought about "The Force Awakens" trailer.

"There were stories about what happened."

"It's true.  All of it."

The new movie is set 30-plus years past the original trilogy.  It has new young heroes who clearly have no first-hand knowledge of the events of the past.  They're experiencing all this for the first time.

Perhaps you should too.

Perhaps you will find this all the more special if you go in fresh.   Then go back and watch the original movies after if you're curious.

So that's my suggestion.  Don't watch any of them.

Just go and enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I'll Get to It Later

Place: Firehouse Subs
Lunch: Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket, chili, cherry limeade

This sandwich is SO GOOD.  It reminds me of that time I was at Firehouse Subs eating a Smokehouse Beet & Cheddar Brisket and...oh, wait...that's right now.

I just replaced my home desk.  I didn't need a new desk.  It was one of those moments when I'm in IKEA for something else and happen to see something that looks amazing and I must have.  "Oh wow!  This would be a far more efficient use of space!  I could put this here and that there and..."  That happens to me a lot at IKEA.  Everything from light fixtures to media shelves to Kool-Aid pitchers.  So I got the desk...like two months ago.  Hauled the boxes upstairs, and thought "I'll get to it later."

This weekend, I demolished the old desk (literally, it's in pieces mostly in the garbage can) and set the new one up.  Or least mostly up.  It's done enough to get my computer and equipment up and running again.  I still have to assemble the upper shelves.  I'll get to that later.

The whole project was way harder than I thought it would be.  Not because of the new desk assembly process (though some of IKEA's instructions require circus acrobat maneuvering) or even removal of the old desk (though I now wonder how I ever got it up to the third floor when I moved here).  It was clearing all of the stuff I had accumulated on the old desk.  Piles and piles of ridiculous things.  Things that I tossed on the desk with the idea that "I'll get to it later."  So what should have been a couple hour project turned into an afternoon of sorting through things I need to keep and things I don't.

Said things included:

1.44" floppy disks.  Dozens of them.  They were hiding behind my monitor.  I haven't had a computer with a 1.44" disk drive in at least a decade.  How did these make their way to the Townhouse of Solitude from the old place?

Cassettes.  TDK, Sony, even some Maxells.  A couple dozen, many blank and still in the shrink wrap.  A few are marked "air checks" from my last couple of radio gigs.  I may digitize those.  I have a USB cassette player for digitizing that has never left the box.  Not sure where it is, though.  Not on the desk.

I'll get to it later.

An Econo Foods "Econo" loyalty card.  As far as I know, there hasn't been an Econo Foods in business in years.

A LaQuinta Gold Rewards card.  Haven't stayed at a LaQuinta in at least five years.  They drove me off by insisting on making carbons of my credit card.  In this day and age?  Who runs LaQuinta, the GEICO cavemen?

A Bi-Mart membership card.

An Incredible Universe membership card.

An Egghead Software "Cue" card.

A Marriott room key card.

A Tim Horton's Timcard.

Several Frontier Airlines tickets.  I haven't flown Frontier since at least 2011.  It's sad what that once fun airline has become.

A Burger Chef coin ("doubloon") from 1969 commemorating their 1,000th location with 5 cents off any purchase.

A Series 1957 one dollar silver certificate.

Video editing software that was never unboxed or installed.

A copy of a wedding reception video I made for friends who never watched it, let alone cared it existed.

A fortune cookie fortune that reads "Constant grinding can turn an iron rod into a needle".

Three old wallets.

A Century Theaters employee name tag with no name on it.

A several years old McDonald's Monopoly game piece.

Several Hardee's coupons sent to me over the years by a friend who was an area franchisee.

A Wienerschnitzel golden 50th anniversary wiener antenna topper.

A Del Taco take-out menu.

A Huddle House take-out menu.

A petrified Tootsie Roll.  (Still in the wrapper.)

A ticket to a Van Halen concert that was cancelled.

Windows XP software.

Windows Vista software.

A Plantronics bluetooth headset.

A VHS tape full of Beachcombers episodes.

But the most pleasant surprise of all...the Canadian Mint Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games coin collection.  I'd COMPLETELY forgotten about this.

Most of the rest of the stuff is old papers, some important, some not.  For now, everything went into a box for future sorting.

I'll get to it later.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Sammiches

Place: Which Wich
Lunch: Italian Grinder (Mozzarella, Mayo, Marinara, Mushrooms, Onions, Pickles, Black Olives), Doritos, Pibb XTRA

It's National Sandwich Day, which I knew because of Subway's feel-good ad that ran a bajillion times Sunday during football.  Some sort of BOGO deal where people were giving away their extra subs.  I wonder who Jared Fogle would give his six-inch to?  Oh never mind.

Which Wich's Italian Grinder is my current Champion of Subs, and we just got a Which Wich locally this year.  So these are now in the regular lunch rotation.  (Well, I have to fudge an extra twenty minutes or so into the lunch hour to get here, but...)

We also got our first Firehouse Subs and Jersey Mike's this year.  We went from Sandwich Desert to Sandwich Heaven in the span of a few months.

So I found myself thinking about sandwiches, and thought I'd go over my favorites, in no particular order.

Which Wich Italian Grinder - Salami, Pepperoni, and Capicola, and whatever sauces, dressings, and veggies you desire.  They did an LTO version of this for awhile that added meatball slices and it's ALL ANYONE EVER ORDERED.  Why they got rid of that is anybody's guess.  It was an automatic $2 upsell.  They were PRINTING money.

Quizno's Mesquite Chicken with Bacon - The Quizno's Classic Italian was their best seller until they brought this out as an LTO.  It never left the menu.  They dip the chicken in some sort of mystery broth that gives it its flavor, add cheddar, bacon, ranch, and your choice of veggies.  I add pickles and Batch 83 sauce at the pepper bar.  Tasty.  Toasty.  Whatever.  Quizno's stores are becoming harder and harder to find, but there's still one just up the street from my office.

Jason's Deli Hot Pastrami Sandwich - They used to sell this as a Po-Boy melt with Russian dressing and it was perfect.  Now they make you choose a bread and spread, and the current menu doesn't mention Russian dressing, but I'm pretty sure they had it last time I ordered it that way.  Which admittedly was a couple years ago.  When your menu confuses me, I stop going.  That's the first reason I don't go to Palmer's.  (The second reason is everyone who works there is a rude arrogant prick.)

Subway Turkey Back When They Cut The Bread in a V-Wedge - Is it just me, or were Subway's sandwiches way better when they cut a V-wedge into the bread instead of slicing it in half?  No idea why, but I'm certain of it.

Steak n Shake Frisco Melt - I suppose it's technically a burger, but it's on buttered Frisco toast so I'm counting it.  Two hot juicy patties, thousand island dressing, multiple cheeses.  It's just wonderful.  There's a reason it's a signature favorite for them.  They have a grocery version of this available at supermarkets.  It's not even close.

Arby's Beef n Cheddar - Also known as Chester Cat's favorite sandwich.  At least the beef and cheese part.

Jimmy Johns Gargantuan - The first thing it says on the menu board below Gargantuan is "All the meats".  So when the new guy started making mine and asked "What meats are on the gargantuan?" all the employees and I shouted in unison "ALL THE MEATS."

tesg's Grilled Cheese Sandwich - My own grilled cheese sandwich consists of butter with a dash or two of garlic salt spread on bread and grilled with three slices of Tillamook sharp cheddar in between.  You can use a different brand natural sharp cheddar (making sure they're NATURAL sharp cheddar slices) if you can't find Tillamook.  I make a lot of these during Autumn, usually in the classic pairing with tomato soup or sometimes chili.

Firehouse Subs New York Steamer - What a gross name. What a delicious sandwich.  Corned beef brisket, pastrami, provolone, deli mustard, mayo, and Italian dressing.   I like to pair it with Firehouse Subs chili, but the chili is awfully pricey, making lunch a total north of $13 with a drink (I suggest Firehouse Subs cherry limeade), so I don't have a lot of these.  You just don't feel like you get $13 worth of food.

National Sandwich Day is in November, which means...it's already November.

How did that happen?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Skip the Line

Place: Taco Bell
Lunch: Doritos Locos Taco Supreme (no tomato, extra meat, add red sauce), Chalupa Supreme (no tomato, substitute chicken, add avocado ranch sauce, add bacon), Nachos Supreme (no tomato, add red sauce), Smothered Burrito (extra beef, extra beans, extra cheese, extra red sauce, no rice, no chipotle sauce, no sour cream), Mug Root Beer

I walked into this very Taco Bell a couple of weeks ago and asked for a Bacon Club Chalupa, an LTO that was still listed on Taco Bell's website, because it is fabulous and so am I.

"Sorry, we no longer have that at this location," Smiling Counter Girl said.

This immediately defeated my ability to respond "but I just saw it on the Taco Bell website" because she was smart enough to add the "at this location" disclaimer.

Bummer.

Seems silly, though.  All the Bacon Club Chalupa is is a chicken chalupa with avocado ranch sauce and bacon, both of which they have in the kitchen for other standard menu items.  How hard can that be?

Same goes for the Enchrito.  They have everything they need to make them, yet they took that off the menu, and won't make it if you ask.

I suppose you could just get creative at how you order certain items, fooling them into making what it is you really want.  But have you ever tried customizing a menu item at Taco Bell?  I've had counter people calling for a manager just to show them how to input "no tomato".  These people can barely make change.

Friends, enemies, and none of the above, Taco Bell has a solution.

Taco Bell has rolled out a mobile app that you can use to build an order and even pay for the food ahead of arriving at the restaurant.   Set up an account, place your order, and head for the border. "Live like a VIP."  "Skip the line." "We're good at rhetoric."  "Please wear pants."  You can also do all this through their website.

I set up my account and started an order.  The app first wanted to know where I was so I could select a nearby store.  A map of North America came up and immediately indicated that there were no Taco Bells in North America.  At all.  Who knew.

(Yes, I had given it location permission.)

I rebooted the app.  The map came up again.  But this time it determined there were two Taco Bells nearby that accepted online ordering.  I chose a location and was taken to the menu.

The main menu items appear in a scroll list.  When you select an item, its ingredients appear.  You can swipe each ingredient to the left to select "Extra", or to the right for "No".  No tomato?  Swipe right.  Done.

A second tab on each item allows you to select add-ons and customize things to the point of ridiculous.  Sheetz-level ridiculous.  Most items will come at a cost, which is clearly displayed.  The good news here is one of the freebies is Taco Bell's red sauce, the warm red sauce they put in the burritos, which I would drink right out of the can if I could.  Once you've actually ordered an item, your customization is saved in your history for quick re-orders.

Once you've customized an item, add it to the shopping cart.  This was buggy.  The Smothered Burrito, the most customized thing I ordered, took north of five minutes to add to the cart.  But so did the soft drink, which actually bombed out the first time (got a 'could not add' error).  I tried to add it a second time and it worked.

Once you've followed the steps to check out and pay, the app advises you that you have until the end of the day to pick up.  You then go to the store (there's even an option to get GPS directions if you need them) and, once there, tell the app you've arrived by selecting "DRIVE-THRU" or "IN-STORE" for pickup.  There's no option I can see to determine if you're dining in or just picking up, so everything is packed to go.  I have no idea what you would do if the Taco Bell you chose happens to be in a dead zone for your wireless provider.  Do Taco Bells have wi-fi?  Maybe just drive around and find a signal.  (UPDATE: This has since actually happened, and the answer is to tell the counter person you have a mobile order and your name.  They can pull it up and check you in.)

I walked in past the cash registers to the space where people waiting for food converge.  Guy in the kitchen points at me and shouts "YOU THE GUY WITH THE MOBILE ORDER?"

Me: "Yeah."

That was the whole conversation.  He disappeared.

The only other customers are some young guy and his girlfriend, who are also hanging out by the pick-up area.  They are loud and obnoxious and using language that would make George Carlin blush.  Two middle-aged women enter and stand in front of the cash register.  The girlfriend leaves and the guy heads BEHIND THE COUNTER.  He's an EMPLOYEE.  The order taker, specifically.  He can't figure out how to login to the register.  He shouts "MANAGER!"  A manager appears.  "What the F&%!K!" the manager declares.  You know what?  This part of town just isn't this ghetto.

Another employee appears, logs into the other register, and takes the ladies' orders.  My food arrives.  I have to ask for the drink cup, which results in a deer-in-headlights look.

So here's what I ordered and how much it cost when all was said and done.  No, I normally don't eat this much food at one time...I just wanted to see how everything turned out.  Although yes, shockingly, I really did eat it all.  Everything, for the record, was made exactly as ordered.

Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos Supreme - MSRP: $1.99, as ordered, $2.79 - Taco Bell is the skimpiest place I know of when it comes to putting beef in their tacos, unless you count the well-under-a-dollar tacos of some competitors.  But pay for extra meat and what do you have?  A taco with a REASONABLE BALANCE OF MEAT.  It's still like half the beef you get compared to the tacos at Abelardo's, which are cheaper AND pretty much the best tacos in the world, but it was still the best taco I've ever had at a Taco Bell.

Nachos Supreme - MSRP: $2.69, as ordered: $2.69 - It had honestly never occurred to me to ask for red sauce on the Nachos Supreme until the app had the option just sitting there staring at me.  Wow am I glad it did.  But that's all I did to it.  You could go nuts, though.  Change the meat to steak.  Add real cheese.  Add any number of sauces, black beans, onions, bacon, salsa, jalapeno peppers...you can do ALL of that.  You could also triple the price in the process, but it would be totally worth it.

Chalupa Supreme - MSRP: $2.69, as ordered: $3.59 - Chicken, please.  No sour cream, please.  Add bacon and avocado ranch sauce, please.  What do we have, kids?  A BACON CLUB CHALUPA!  How freaking hard was that?

Smothered Burrito - MSRP: $4.09, as ordered: $4.59 - The upcharge seems low because the default smothered burrito is chicken, and the beef version is cheaper.  This customization would have made the counter help's head explode.  Extra beef, extra beans, extra cheese, extra red sauce, no rice, no chipotle sauce, no sour cream.  Which equals?  An ENCHRITO!  Sort of.  I forgot to add onions.  I will not make that mistake again.  Also, it was FREAKING HUGE.  This and the Nachos Supreme would have been plenty, I think.

So am I a fan of the app?  Absolutely.  I may never order at a Taco Bell counter again unless a store I'm going to doesn't support it.

And I'll probably never have a Nachos Supreme again without red sauce.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

McSimple

Place: McDonald's
Lunch: Big Mac, fries, Hi-C Orange Lavaburst

McDonald's has announced that they'll have an all-day breakfast menu starting next month, and WOW did they get a ton of publicity out of it.  They were all over the news yesterday and today.

The menu will be limited and different in various regions...the south will get biscuit sandwiches and drop wraps while others won't, for example...because there's apparently a delicate balance of available space in the kitchen to support this endeavor.

I talked a bit about what I felt was wrong with McDonald's a few months ago when the dreadful McSirloin burgers arrived (and died a quick death).  One of the things I suggested was simplifying the menu.  I would like to elaborate on that.  Because what one of the world's biggest brands needs is unsolicited advice from a random guy with a blog and no practical restaurant experience.

First off, strip the menu of all burgers except:

Hambuger
Cheeseburger
McDouble
Double Cheeseburger
Quarter Pounder
Double Quarter Pounder
Big Mac

That's it.  No burgers with tomato, ranch, or grilled onions.  Most of these burgers use just a few interchangeable ingredients.  The Big Mac is the most exotic offering listed, and all it uses differently is the double decker bun, lettuce, and special sauce.

Second, strip the menu of all chicken sandwiches except MAYBE McChicken.  You are NOT Chick-Fil-A, McDonald's, and you never will be.  Lose the premium chicken offerings.  I can't imagine these are anything but major money losers.

Third, lose the wraps and salads.  Nobody goes to McDonald's to eat healthy.  If you want to keep the apple slices and yogurt thingy, fine, but only if they're profitable to you.

Keep Chicken McNuggets and the fries, of course.

That leaves Filet-O-Fish.  I love the Filet-O-Fish, even as simple and overpriced as it is.  I don't know what the sales numbers are for that, but I almost wonder if it should become a seasonal item for Lent.  If it's good for McRib, why not.  That's how a lot of other chains handle fish.  If it's profitable year-round, great.  But if not...

As for beverages, keep McCafe.  That seems to be working for you.  That's fine.

Is that enough cutting to do a complete breakfast menu all day?  Because here's where I'm going with this...

FULL MENU ALL DAY.

Simplify the menu enough that you can offer EVERYTHING at ALL OPERATING HOURS.  Burgers and fries for breakfast.  Heck...Egg McMuffin and fries for breakfast.  Big Mac and hash round for dinner.  Instead of creating a situation where customers have to understand which breakfast offerings are available after breakfast hours.

Once you've cleared the garbage out of the kitchen, address pricing.  Because I'm guessing the classic burgers are so bloody expensive these days because those burgers are subsidizing losses on the premium sandwiches.

Think about it, McDonald's.

Get back to McBasics.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Call Me

Place: Taco Time
Lunch: Soft meat burrito, crispy chicken burrito, cheddar fries, Coke

Usually, I have a crispy beef taco for the beef portion of this meal, but I had a soft meat burrito for the first time in years recently and was all like "HOLY CRAP HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN ABOUT THESE" so now I'm having them more often, yo.

Still, this is a lot of food, and I don't eat nearly as much as I used to in one sitting.

In writing about Windows Phone in our last lunch together, I got to thinking about all the cell phones I've carried over the years.  Phones have come a long way from that first one I had that did nothing more than make and receive calls that pretty much anyone with a high end scanner could eavesdrop on, so I thought it would be fun to share my memories of my more fondly remembered handsets, most of which I still have in a drawer labeled "Phone Boneyard", which is sort of sad when I think about how exciting it was to get these when they were new.

This does NOT include every handset I've ever owned...just the ones that still have a special place in my technology heart.

We'll start from the beginning...

Nokia 100 -  My one and only analog cell phone.  This was back in the day when $30 a month bought you fifteen minutes of airtime.  Anyone remember Airtouch Cellular?  Yeah.

Nokia 2190 - A co-worker at my last radio gig was the first person I knew to get one of these.  It was digital.  You could text people.  It stored voice mail.  That was the part that baffled us...we couldn't figure out if the voice mail was stored on a chip on the phone itself or on a remote server.  It was all so NEW AND AMAZING.

Nokia 6190 - It did everything the 2190 did, but it did it better and more efficiently in a smaller package.  And you could play Snake on it.  I still play Snake to this day, though it's via an app that emulates the display and even the Nokia 5190 keypad.

Ericsson T28 - This is the smallest phone I ever owned, and the first with Bluetooth.  I had a Bluetooth headset that had a big stem microphone with a blinky diode on the end of it that made people, even complete strangers, make Borg jokes at me.  "RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!"  But I loved the tiny handset size and the swimming pool blue on the display.  To this day, it's my favorite backlight hue.

Ericsson T39 - The T28's successor was slightly bulkier than its predecessor and had a slightly larger display.  It also was the first phone I had that could browse mobile websites.  It was not initially sold in the US, but I wanted one so badly that I actually called the alleged owner of a wireless shop in Sweden who used to promote himself on a Usenet forum with no way of knowing if he was legit or just trolling to steal credit card info.  But within days of its European release, I had my phone and no unusual charges on my credit card.  A co-worker was so impressed with it, HE called the same guy and got one too.  I actually still use this fourteen year-old handset to this day as a test phone.

Nokia N-Gage - HA HA HA HA!  Remember these?  The phone that you could play video games on if you didn't mind pulling out the battery to swap game cartridges?  The one with the phone speaker and microphone on the side so it looked like you were talking into a taco?  Yeah, I had one.  Technically, I suppose this was my first smart phone.  I actually downloaded RealPlayer on it and could stream radio while driving.  It was clunky, but fairly amazing too.  I was annoyed that it didn't come with Snake and that I had to find a hacked version to get it to work on the thing.  Actually, now that I think about it, this was my first phone with a color display.

Sony Ericsson W810 -  The "W" is for "Walkman", which made this model an iPod competitor.  And it worked well as a music player.  I carried a few Sony Ericsson handsets over the years because I felt they had the best menu interface, but the W810 was, as far as I'm concerned, the most beautiful candy bar-shaped handset ever made.  Elegant in black with chromed orange accents.  It was also my first useful camera phone (2MP) and the back ACTUALLY LOOKED LIKE A CAMERA.  It even had a real shutter button that made it FEEL like a real camera, and a reflective orange dot on the face so you could see yourself for selfies.  They thought of selfies before selfies were even a thing.

Apple changed the world about a year after the W810 came out with the iPhone.  After a brief affair with BlackBerry, I jumped on board with the 4S, mostly because it was the best camera phone on the market and I didn't have to carry a digital camera anymore.  Now, all the cool phones are unremarkable displays with a button or three.  They're fantastic supercomputers that can do almost anything but cure cancer, but from a physical standpoint, they're hard to tell apart, really.

Still, I ordered a cheap used Windows Phone this weekend to add to my test phone arsenal and the overall collection.

It'll get some use before it makes its way to the boneyard and becomes a conversation piece of a bygone era.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Windows Phone

Place: Taco Bell
Lunch: Bacon Club Chalupa (no tomato), Nachos Supreme (no tomato), pintos and cheese, Mug Root Beer

This Bacon Club Chalupa is amazing.  Bacon, chicken, some sort of sauce...yesss.

My Pintos and Cheese has no cheese.  I'm too lazy to complain.

Microsoft announced the write-down of the value of their wireless handset division yesterday, just a year after acquiring it.  If that seems amazing to you, consider that said handset division was acquired from Nokia, who once was the industry giant of handset makers not fifteen years ago.

My, how times have changed.

My first cell phone was a big brick analog Nokia.  The high end fashion statement of handsets at the time was Motorola's StarTac flip phone.  My first digital handset was the Nokia 2100 series which, at a half pound, nearly six inches in length, three inches wide, and an inch thick, was downright tiny in comparison.

But it was Nokia's next generation of digital handsets that changed everything.  The Nokia 6100 series was a high-end handset that was much smaller, much lighter, and most importantly was much more power efficient.  But it was its cheaper sister handset, the 5100 series, that changed everything.  That was the handset that changed the top selling cell phone accessory from extra batteries to faceplates.  It was so good and available at such a great price that it nearly put every one of Nokia's competitors out of business.  It was by far the dominant handset in the industry for a good two years.

But that was about it for Nokia innovation-wise.  Sure they came out with some odd ideas over the years (the N-Gage comes to mind), but Nokia really faded from dominance, especially during the smartphone revolution.  Their last attempt at relevance was partnering with Microsoft to get the Windows Phone OS out there in their "Lumia" line.  Everyone understood why they tried, but nobody expected it to work.  And Nokia sold its handset division outright to Microsoft.

The thing is, Windows Phone is actually pretty great.  I love the tiles and many of the features.  And it has a die-hard core fan base screaming their frustration at the lack of global app support.  Why the lack?  Because fewer than three percent of smartphone users world wide use Windows Phones.  "Why bother," say the app makers.  And let's face it...Apple and Android fans are happy enough with their handsets to say the same thing.  It's not only that Microsoft hasn't given anyone a compelling argument to try their product out, Google and Apple haven't given users any reason to seek out an alternative.  They're all solid products.  Most of you probably didn't even realize Windows Phone even existed.

Microsoft isn't killing Windows Phone outright...yet.  Windows 10 is still coming, and Microsoft still partners with third-party handset makers to release Windows Phone handsets.

But expect to see fewer Lumias, if any, built by Microsoft going forward.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sweet

Place: Arby's
Lunch: King's Hawaiian Brown Sugar Bacon & Roast Beef (no lettuce, no tomato), potato cakes, orange cream shake

Me: "Maple bacon roast beef, no lettuce, no tomato, small potato cakes, orange cream shake."

Smiling Counter Guy: "I NEED TWO POTATO CAKES AND AN ORANGE CREAM!"

Smiling Counter Guy: "So that's a Market Fresh and..."

Me: "No, the maple bacon roast beef."

Smiling Counter Guy: "YEAH!  Bacon!"  Nine ninety five!"

I pay him and wander off to the side.  If I'm reading the abbreviations on the receipt correctly, I should be getting what I actually wanted.

Smiling Counter Guy, staring at a sandwich box, shouts to the back "WHAT IS THIS?"

Back: "BACON ROAST BEEF NO LETTUCE NO TOMATO!"

Smiling Counter Guy: "DID YOU HEAR ME CALL OUT POTATO CAKES?"

Back: "They're right here."

A shake magically appears, and I'm all set.

Smiling Counter Guy staring at something else: "WHAT IS THIS?"

Who cares.  No longer my problem.

ARBY'S HAS THE MEATS.  And a new variation of one of those meats...the bacon, specifically.  The new Brown Sugar Bacon is a sweet, perhaps candied, bacon.  And it works perfectly here with the King's Hawaiian bun and the roast beef.  And the Swiss and the creamy dijon.  The whole thing tastes sweet, but perfectly so.  It's just great.

There's also a smoked ham version and a BLT version, where they pair three strips of brown sugar bacon with three strips of Arby's pepper bacon.  Which technically makes it a BBLT, or you would think.  I'll probably have to try that one eventually.

Nothing much going on.  Summer is flying by.  TV sports guys are already talking football.

Seems to go faster as we get older.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Noise

Place: Spangles
Lunch: Garlic Parmesan Bacon Cheeseburger, Pepsi

Spangles is a Wichita-based regional burger chain with a fifties theme and an extensive menu of cooked-to-order burgers and things.  They're not Freddy's or Culver's, but they're decent.  I like their breakfast bowls.  But this...the Garlic Parmesan Bacon Cheeseburger...is just magical.  Easily the best thing they've ever come up with.  A burger patty coated in garlic butter with bacon, shredded parmesan, and Swiss on grilled sourdough bread.  They say it's a limited time offering.  It should be a permanent menu item.  It's SO good.  It would certainly make my Burger Hall of Fame.

I heard a radio commercial the other day about disconnecting.  It started with a family member excited about the night's television offerings, a mom texting her daughter, the daughter busy with responses to her social media post, the son's new video game...it all became a mass of noise.  Noise which we apparently need to disconnect from.  I think it went on to encourage spending the evening outdoors camping or enjoying the fireflies (while not capturing them in jars) or otherwise somehow connecting with nature without being eaten by a bear, but I might be mixing up plots of the various PSA's the station I was listening to airs.

(Side note...they really could stand to get their sales people to work harder at selling their online stream ad slots.)

This got me thinking about all the noise in my life.

I routinely get awakened in the middle of the night by work-related emergency calls.  Said callers have an unnerving knack to know exactly when I've taken two Advil PM and am dead in the middle of a dream about the ice cream shop next to the other ice cream shop in the strip mall that closed...in fact they BOTH closed...and I'm standing there trying to remember if they were ever open in the first place or even real.

(That's not a joke, by the way.  I had this very dream last week, and would have never remembered it if it weren't for my voice mail notification tone waking me up.)

After handling such issues, I usually can't get right back to sleep.  I find myself laying there in the silence, thinking about things.  Over thinking about things.  Usually dumb things.  So I end up turning on the TV to drown out my thoughts.  That's what ends up getting me back to sleep.  It totally works.  Thanks, Night Gallery.

I always have noise in the car.  If I'm not listening to music from my library, I've got some talk show or podcast on.  It's very rare that I don't have the radio on.  Same with planes.  Flying with my music through my headphones makes flights go by FAR faster than without.

I stream radio all day at work.  Vegas in the morning, Portland in the midday, Salt Lake City in the afternoon.  (No, not on the company network.  On the cell phone network, nosey co-workers.)

So when do I need to disconnect?  When do I need the silence?

Sometimes when I get home from work.  I shut off the car, the garage door closes, and I'll sit there for a minute with my eyes shut before getting out.

But not much longer.  I'll be reading Twitter with the evening news on in the background minutes after the cats are fed.

I can remember the days before the Internet.  It was a dark and terrible time.  I was SO bored.

Y'all can have your great outdoors and your fireflies.

I'll keep the noise.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mutant

Place: Hardee's
Lunch: 1/3 lb Most American Thickburger, chicken tenders (w/ranch), orange cream shake

Hardee's and Carl's Jr posted a really tacky teaser image a couple of weeks ago featuring lips painted blue around the upper (with stars) and red and white around the lower, with the lower red and white dripping.  A tongue was sticking out licking the upper lip.

The teaser turned out to be for the "Most American Thickburger", a standard Hardee's 1/3 lb Thickburger with the addition of a split hot dog and kettle chips.  And no mayo.  They skipped the mayo, making me wonder what the dripping white from the lips is supposed to represent.

Who doesn't like hamburgers?  Who doesn't like hot dogs?  Who doesn't like potato chips?  But does that mean mutating them into a single menu item is a good idea?  For example, I like baked potatoes, but I don't like mashed potatoes.  My grandmother used to argue that they're the same thing, just mashed up.  I would argue back that her mashed potatoes had milk in them to make the potatoes creamier, and that completely changed the flavor profile into something gross.  This argument always, without fail, ended with her rolling her eyes.

(For the record, I was probably not using the phrase "flavor profile" back then, at the age of six.)

When the sandwich was revealed on the Hardee's and Carl's Jr Facebook feeds, I posed a question..."Wouldn't it make more sense to put a hot dog on the chili cheeseburger?"  Think about it, a chili dog cheeseburger.

I know, right?

Nobody cared on the Hardee's page, but the Carl's Jr faithful were TOTALLY behind this.  I got more likes and comments than pretty much anything I've ever posted on my Facebook page.  People want that burger.

Of course, Hardee's hasn't offered a chili cheeseburger in years, and Carl's Jr apparently discontinued theirs, so I guess it's up to you, Wienerschnitzel.

So how is the "Most American"?  It's not very good.  I removed the chips about two bites in and finished maybe half the thing.  The split hot dog doesn't even cover the patty...a good third of it has no hot dog on it.  It just made me wish I had a pastrami burger.

The chicken tenders were great, though.

And the orange cream shake was a total bonus.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dave

Place: Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen
Lunch: Three blackened (formerly known as "naked") tenders (w/ranch), one spicy thigh, Fanta Lime Rickey (1/4 Fanta Lime, 3/4 Fanta Grape from the Coke Freestyle thingy)

Smiling Counter Guy, a manager, rings up my order on their cash register (which is literally an iPad), and it's quite a bit cheaper than normal.  "I gave you the pop," he said.  No particular reason.  He just did.

"No complaint from me," I said.  He laughed.

Didn't make me any less grumpy, and I am grumpy.  It's rainy and 50 today.  Again.  It's like I live in the Pacific Northwest again.  I shouldn't have to be grumpy about this kind of weather in the Midwest.  I should be grumpy that it's too hot and humid.  It's not fair, Mother Nature.  Or global warming.  Or climate change.  Or whatever the hippies are calling it these days.

I'm probably actually grumpy that tonight is Letterman's last show.  The last of the great broadcast talk show hosts.  End of an era.

It's true that David Letterman hasn't exactly been relevant for years, but I'd still watch him before I'd watch Fallon, Kimmel, Meyers, or the dreadful Corden (any bets on when they just let Reggie Watts take that show over?) .  This Fall, Stephen Colbert takes over for Letterman, leaving Jimmy Kimmel of all people the elder of late night broadcast talk.

(Sorry, Conan.  I don't have cable.)

So why am I bummed about Dave leaving?  I don't know.  He does have some great interviews on occasion in between the ones I find so painful that I flip to Perry Mason reruns...those interviews where he comes off as a senile old man berating celebrities for advice on raising his son, and when his show comes off as a blatant political infomercial.  Still, I like his laid-back style, and he does have the ability to pull a joke out of the air.  He does have some great musical guests.  There's been more than one occasion that I've gotten on my computer and ordered music from a guest artist before they've even finished their song on his show.  Esperanza Spalding and St Vincent are two such examples.

Maybe it's because he's the last tie to Carson in the business, and I still miss Carson.

Not that many people take the time to watch the full shows anymore anyway.  Apparently the kids just stream the highlights on their phones.  Five minutes of an hour show and on to the next viral video sensation.

Yay for them, I guess.

But my generation's era of late night talk shows is done.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

McSirloin

Place: McDonald's
Lunch: Steakhouse Sirloin Burger, fries, Hi-C Orange Lavaburst

Here we go again.

McDonald's is in a state of woe.  Historically, McDonald's has responded to states of woe in two ways...a new value menu, or a new premium burger menu.  We are now in the "premium burger menu" cycle.  McDonald's is rolling out a line of 1/3 pound sirloin burgers.  There's the Lettuce & Cheese version, the Bacon & Cheese version, and the most unique of the bunch, the Steakhouse Sirloin, which has grilled onions and sauteed mushrooms.

All of these have processed white cheddar cheese, which McDonald's has been putting on LTO burgers and breakfast sandwiches for a few years now, making me think somebody locked McDonald's into a long-term contract for this stuff that their lawyers have yet to find an out for.  It's a very boring tasting cheese.

So how is the Steakhouse?  Terrible.  Possibly the worst McDonald's burger I've ever had.  Really really bland.  The white cheddar is no substitute for a slice of Swiss, the traditional paring for a mushroom burger, making the highlight of the meal the room temperature fries.  No, actually, the orange drink.  That was the highlight.

The Sirloin line is just another example of McDonald's trying to be something it's not.  Much like the McDLT, Arch Deluxe, and Angus burger line.  Let's face it, the last "premium" burger McDonald's ever launched that actually stuck was the Quarter Pounder.

So what does McDonald's really need to do here?

Streamline the menu to the basics and cook it all to order.

McDonald's (and Burger King) assembles food to order.  That means they pre-cook the cooked ingredients, keep the ingredients in warming trays, then assemble the sandwiches when they're ordered.  At least we're past the days of pre-assembled sandwiches that sit in the big warming bin for who knows how long before being instantly handed to the customer upon ordering,  That was fine (well, not really) when there were just a few major players dominating the market and stores were always busy.  But guess what?  That's no longer the case.  A growing list of competitors are taking the time to cook to order.  And I'm not just referring to premium outlets like Five Guys, Steak n Shake, or Shake Shack.  Culver's cooks to order.  Freddy's cooks to order.  In-N-Out cooks to order.  Carl's Jr/Hardee's cooks to order (or very close to it).  Whataburger cooks to order.  Even Jack in the Box cooks to order.  Jack in the Box is my go-to place for chicken nuggets for that very reason.

(Not all of these examples cook fries to order.  If they did, I'd probably order fries more often.)

I don't care if it takes longer.  I want hot fries.  I want hot McNuggets.  I want burger patties that are still juicy.

Actually, what McDonald's REALLY needs to do is take every penny of its profits and use it to buy back its stock and go private.  These irrational reactionary moves they make are really designed to keep the stock price from collapsing.  McDonald's really needs to get out of the stock market.

That...and cook to order.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dahl's

Place: Tasty Tacos
Lunch: Original flour taco (extra meat), steak enchilada, Mug root beer

Tasty Tacos is a family-owned local favorite fast food Mexican chain with one of the more unique menus to the format.  Their signature item is the "Original Flour" taco, which is a fried flatbread (think Taco Bell's Chalupa or Taco Bueno's Muchaco) full of meat (or chicken or steak or pork or beans if you're a weirdo), cheese, and lettuce.  Get one with extra meat  (or chicken or steak or pork or beans if you're a weirdo), and it's pretty much all you need.  It's a little weird in that their meat has pinto beans mixed in, but they're great.  And you can side them with all sorts of different things.  They have a selection of deep fried options that rivals most state fairs.  Want a taco and an order of deep fried mushrooms?  This is your place.

Speaking of local favorites, a local supermarket brand is being put to pasture next week as the last Dahl's stores are converted to the Kansas City-based "Price Chopper" brand.

W.T. Dahl's first market opened in 1931.  The first supermarket format store opened in 1948, a location that operates to this day (though looking nothing like it did back then due to remodels and odd expansions to fit the footprint of the lot).  Dahl's was an early pioneer of in-store bakeries, lunch counters, and curbside grocery pick-up.  Dahl's holds claim to being the world's first supermarket to accept debit cards as payment for groceries.

Dahl's was one of many local stores distributed by Supervalu when I moved here twenty-plus years ago.  There were a number of independent local names Supervalu sold to, many operating out of old Safeway buildings.  Tait's.  Randall's.  Dillow's.  Supervalu's presence was such that they had a major distribution center in town.  Nash-Finch distributed to a few stores as well.  Easter's locally, and econofoods in neighboring areas.  They all gradually fell by the wayside as Walmart and Target got into the grocery business, discounter Aldi entered the market, and local behemoth Hy-Vee built bigger and better stores with more services, and Supervalu's distribution center fell with them.

Completely employee-owned by 1970, Dahl's had the appearance of being healthy, seemingly poising itself for the future with store remodels and newer, bigger locations in recent years.  But there was talk they were positioning themselves for a sale in the early 2000's, with Albertson's and Kroger being mentioned suitors.  (Albertson's did enter the market briefly through another acquisition.)

So what happened?  Bad decisions, probably.  Clearly too much capital spending.  The first sign of problems came last year when the thirteen-store chain closed their two newest stores, both open just a few years.  Around that time it was revealed that Dahl's had switched distribution to Kansas City-based Associated Wholesale Grocers, who had also purchased some of the Dahl's properties in leaseback deals to give Dahl's operating capital.

The writing was on the wall, and Dahl's hit that wall pretty quickly.  A third store closure came a couple months later.  In November, Dahl's filed for bankruptcy.  The eventual fallout resulted in three more store closures and seven stores going to Associated, who declared five would be rebranded as Price Choppers, their flagship brand, and two as Cashsaver, a low-price format where marked prices are calculated based on the wholesaler cost plus the cost to deliver the food to the location.  Then you pay ten percent above the marked price at the register.  That's...weird.

My local Dahl's store when I moved here was their second supermarket location on Ingersoll Ave, a store nicknamed "IngerDahl's" by the locals.  It had an unusual property layout.  It had entrances on the north and south ends of the west side of the building.  If you walked in one and out the other, you walked down the exit side of the cash registers on one side and the customer service and lunch counter space (two U-shaped counters, REALLY cool) on the other.  There were separate parking lots on either side.  Dahl's replaced this store with a new one built on the north parking lot footprint a few years back, about the time I moved out of the neighborhood.  I've been in that store a couple of times and am baffled by what exactly they think they gained with the new store.  Space?  Yeah, okay.  But the charm was gone.  Still, that inner-city location was probably Dahl's best performer.  The locals will probably continue to refer to the store as "IngerDahl's", though it would be awesome if they called it "IngerChop", and Price Chopper staffed it with ninjas.

The thing that was nice about Dahl's is that it was the one place in town that felt like a proper modern supermarket.  They had very nice interior packages with a regular supermarket layout, whereas Hy-Vee has gone into an obnoxious direction with more and more space devoted to a food court and even full-service restaurant format and a big focus on prepared foods.  Price Chopper stores operate closer to what Dahl's does than Hy-Vee, but you can see them evolving in Hy-Vee's direction.

(I'm not going to put Fareway in this argument because they're a whole different animal.  A very wonderful animal I love dearly, but they're truly one-of-a-kind in the industry anymore.)

I guess we'll see how Price Chopper does.  They're the biggest grocer in Kansas City, but locals in any market tend to be very fickle when it comes to grocery brands.  But being as close as they are to here, and Kansas City being a popular shopping and sports team destination for locals, perhaps that makes them familiar enough to get their footing.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

All The Pretty Cars

Place: Which Wich
Lunch: Grinder (on white with mozzarella, marinara, mayo, pickles, onions, mushrooms, and black olives), sour cream & onion chips, Sprite

It's Auto Show week.  What's the big new thing this year?  Subcompact crossovers.  Basically, everybody wants an SUV that is essentially a tall four-door hatchback with an efficient four-cylinder motor.  They're perfect for kidless couples who want the ride height and occasional light duty "utility" of an SUV to haul the occasional bookshelf home from IKEA while getting good gas mileage and a car-like ride.  Buick has had a huge hit with Encore.  Now Chevrolet will have their own, as will Fiat, Mazda, and Honda, among others.  I sat in several and feel like they'd be the vehicle equivalent of those tiny shopping carts that have become popular at organic markets.

New this year is "Luxury Lane", where several high end models that used to have their own room were on display together.  Bentley.  Jaguar.  Aston Martin.  And...a Hyundai Genesis?  WHAT???  The girl managing the area kept shouting to anyone who would listen "Welcome to Luxury Lane, where the cars are all the same...expensive!"

I have a rant for all auto makers...PLEASE stop with the touch screens and touch controls.  They're downright dangerous.  Give us a screen with simple options we can scroll through and select with real buttons, preferably via a toggle on the steering wheel we can understand by feel instead of having to look where we're touching.  You are literally causing distracted driving with this crap.  Knock it off.

Alfa Romeo

4C - Your local Fiat dealership (well, SOME of your local Fiat dealerships...about 80 of them) will be selling Alfa Romeo's first US model in a decade.  This way-more-expensive-looking-than-it-is mid-engine sports coupe features a carbon fiber unibody on a carbon fiber and aluminum chassis with additional aluminum inserts in the US version to meet crash standards.  The 237 horsepower turbo four-cylinder 1.75 liter engine doesn't sound like much, but in a package this lightweight, it's more than enough, getting you to 60mph in about four seconds.  We'll be getting fewer than a thousand 4C's in the US and, at about $70,000 loaded, they'll all be spoken for immediately.

BMW

i3 - Actually got to sit in one this year.  Really goofy controls.  Some Guy said he drove one in Vegas recently and was really impressed with the power.

i8 - Holy freaking crap, what a beautiful coupe.  If I won the lottery and wanted to put an electric in my personal fleet, this would be in the running (though it's not a PURE electric...it's a plug-in hybrid.)

Buick

Cascada - It's a convertible coming soon that the turntable spokesbabe claimed has a 1.6 liter four-cylinder.  I make fun of Buick a lot for their dumb "The New Buick" ads, but some guy walking by actually looked at this car and exclaimed to his wife "Wow!  That's a Buick?"

Cadillac

Johan de Nysschen, the guy who took the helm at Infiniti a few years ago and renamed the entire lineup into something similar to Jollibee's combo menu, bailed for the head job at Cadillac.  One of the first things that happened?  Cadillac is renaming their entire lineup into something similar to Jolibee's combo menu.  But they're doing it over several years with new models, not changing existing models in a single model year.

Cadillac also falls under one of the worst offenders in the touch screen rant I posted at the top.  Not only is Cadillac's CUE system a horrific mess, the entire center console is touch-activated.  The climate control and everything.  And it doesn't work very well.  Especially if you have a hard time finding the touch "sweet spot" while driving.

ATS Coupe - It's a Cadillac coupe in the grand tradition of Cadillac coupes.  You'd look at it and think "Oh, it's a Cadillac coupe."  Yes.  Yes it is.  You could probably park it next to any Cadillac coupe of the last twenty model years and even with its swoopy lines and modern headlights, it would blend right in.  And nobody would notice or care which was newer.  It would just be a bunch of Cadillac coupes.  I do like the seating position.  Might have to rent one.

ELR - This is another Cadillac coupe in the grand tradition of...oh forget it.  Except it shares the Volt's electric power with backup generator setup.  The first trick of understanding this car is figuring how to get in it.  It has a weird electronic door handle scoop thingy.  I'm sure I hit the button right several times before it finally opened.

Escalade - Like siblings Tahoe, Suburban, and Yukon, the luxo barge has a new design.  The front end, which has a HUGE grille, looks like a cordial, smiling robot.  "Hello.  I am Escalade.  It is lovely to make your acquaintance."  Tragically, the center console has the same touch buttons as the SRX.  Like all its sibling models, it looks best in black.

Chevrolet

Colorado - Chevy re-enters the midsize pickup market after a brief absence.  Actually, all American makes yielded this segment to the Japanese some time ago.  There's a four-cylinder and a V6.  I can see a viable market for a midsize four-banger, but I would think most V6 buyers would just go with a base full-size Silverado.

Corvette -  The new generation base model debuted last year, but 2015 brings the high performance Z06 version with its 650 horsepower superchaged V8.  So your Dairy Queen runs should take slightly less time.  The new convertible version also arrives.

Equinox - Chevrolet announced a style refresh for their now second-best selling model for the 2016 model year, and there's a "prototype" in the house.  The grille gets an almost unnoticeable change.  The biggest change seems to be the new ginormous fog lights.  If you have the current model and a fog light fetish, you might trade yours in.  We're not here to judge you, pervert.

SS - If you ran out and bought the 2014 debut version of this and thought "Gee I wish it had a manual transmission", get ready to trade.  It does now.  And better brakes.  And a better suspension.  Sucker.

Suburban/Tahoe - Suburban and its slightly shorter brother Tahoe gets a redesign this year with a "power fold-flat third-row" seat feature that I guess is the greatest thing since back-up cameras or something.  Other than that, it's got the usual improved tech and safety features, nicer interior, and better fuel economy, all while still being a Suburban.  The only thing that really competes in this segment are Suburban's brothers in the GMC and Cadillac lines.

Trax - Trax is a budget-minded few-frills sister version of the Buick Encore, Chevy's entry into the subcompact crossover segment.  Trax may also be the reason  Chevrolet's fleet division is discontinuing Captiva, the rebadged Saturn Vue they slotted in to replace the position the HHR held in fleet sales.  So I'm guessing you can expect to see Trax become a staple in rental and flower delivery fleets.  It's...I don't know, kind of weird looking.  Almost cartoonish.  The instrument cluster is similar to the HHR's.  I liked Captiva better.  I still maintain that a late model Captiva is one of the best values available for the budget-minded crossover shoppers out there.

Chrysler

200 - The new second generation model is an unremarkable sedan in a sea of unremarkable sedans, though you can get this one in all-wheel drive.  It has a nine-speed transmission.  NINE-SPEED.  I can't even imagine how swimmy the shifting is on that thing.  This is the one you see in the German and Japanese speaking ads where the announcer brags about performance (in the German version) and reliability (in the Japanese version)...only to be startled to see it's a Chrysler, in an effort to make you think their product is on par with the imports for the first time ever.  Because those types of ads have SO worked historically.

300 -  Restyled for 2015, it's not TOO different from the car its been since its 2004 debut.  Remember the "wow" factor it had then?  It's still one of the nicest looking big luxury sedans out there.  The rotary dial shift knob seems to be a cool feature.

Dodge

Challenger - Challenger gets a new top end 707 hp "SRT Hellcat" version.  Expect to buy a new set of tires every time you floor the gas pedal from a dead stop.  It comes with different key fobs that automatically nanny the available power in case you loan the car to someone or need to valet park it.  Make mine Sublime Green Pearl, please.

Fiat

500X - Fiat enters the subcompact crossover market with a car that will easily become their best seller in the US, despite the silly "little blue pill" ad.  It's technically a 2016 model year car, but hits dealers soon.  I wouldn't be surprised if this model alone triples Fiat's overall US sales.  I still don't get why Fiat insists on badging every US model as a 500, though.  The 500, 500L, and 500X really are different vehicles.

Ford

Edge - Edge gets a style refresh and a new "Edge Sport" version that's...uh...sportier?  Anyway, it looks slightly less like a toaster on wheels than the old one.  New more efficient engines and suspension are also afoot, but I doubt Edge buyers know anything about engines.

Expedition - Ford's ginormous people hauler gets a restyle that will make everyone think you bought a reconditioned 1990 model from JD Byryder.  Seriously.  It's THAT BAD.  But it has one of those new EcoBoost V6 motors under the hood, so you might get 17 mpg as opposed to, oh, 12?  Not sure what the point was in bothering with any change since the all-new next generation model is due next year.

F-150 - Ford's most important vehicle is all-new for 2015.  Using aluminum extensively and featuring smaller engines, it should be more nimble and efficient while being as powerful.  It's far more radical a change than it sounds.  Concerns are primarily over long-term durability.  I guess time will tell there.   It certainly LOOKS tough.

Focus - Focus gets a style refresh for 2015.  I couldn't begin to tell you what changed because this isn't a terribly memorable car.  There's a new-to-the-US "RS" sport version available now that may be slightly more memorable, at least on the performance side.

Mustang - All new for 2015, they managed to stick Ford's new face on the thing while not being TOO different from the outgoing retro model.  Interior is much improved, my only complaint about the outgoing model  Loved how it drove, hated the interior lighting for night drives.  The new model apparently drives much better.  I probably won't find out until they hit rental fleets.  Honestly, if I ever own an American muscle car, it'll probably be a Camaro, though I still need to drive a Dodge Challenger.

GMC

Yukon - Fully redesigned just like its siblings.  Not as elegant looking as Escalade, but at least the center console has real buttons.

Honda

HR-V - Honda's entry into the subcompact crossover is based on the Fit platform.  Good enough for one or two who occasionally need a little utility.

Pilot - Oh look!  A Chevy Traverse!  No, wait...

Infiniti

So the dickish guy who took over Infiniti and renamed the entire lineup into something similar to the Jollibee combo menu bailed mid-2014 to take over Cadillac.  So can we call the "QX70" the FX again?  No?  Bastards.  The FX really should be a halo car for Infiniti, not lumped in with the other SUV's.  THAT is the car they should be dropping the Nissan GT-R's turbo V6 into instead of the Q50 "Eau Rouge".  Imagine the super awesome nasty possibilities.  Infiniti didn't even bother with an official display this year, they just stuck a Q70L, a Q50, and a QX60 in Luxury Lane.  LAZY.

Q70 - The former M was restyled with a Q50-ish front end and an interior with better wood tones.  Still has the same old tech, which is fine by me in the center console because the Q50 two-screen setup is a complete disaster, but they REALLY need to change out that center cluster trip computer for Nissan's newer model, even if that model could also use some work.  There are basic Nissan models that have had it for TWO MODEL YEARS now.  The only Infinitis that have it are the Q50 and QX60 as far as I know.

But the real big news for the Q70 is the stretched Q70L model with ginormous back seat space, a change made to suit the Chinese market, where back seat space is as important as cup holders are to Americans.  I sat in one.  JEEPERS.  The back seat space is REALLY impressive.  Infiniti is making "L" versions of a number of their vehicles for China, but so far, the Q70 is the only one getting a US launch.

QX60 - I got to tool around Vegas in one of these because Hertz thinks it's hilarious to "upgrade" me to seven-passenger people movers on a regular basis.  And I have to say...if you need a Chevy Traverse-size family hauler, make sure you test drive this before committing to anything else.  REALLY drives nice.  I kept forgetting how big it was.

QX80 - The big huge massive beast of a people mover gets some minor styling updates and the newer interior wood trim similar to the Q70.  If it comes flying into your rear-view mirror on the highway, it will still scare the crap out of you.  Didn't have one at this show that I could find.

Kia

Soul EV - Limited markets get an electric version of the Soul.  Tragically, the marketing geniuses at Kia didn't think to call it the Soulectric.

Sorento - Redesigned for the 2016 model year (but out shortly).  It's bigger and it sort of looks like...a minivan.  We'll just call it a "people hauler".  It comes in five and seven-passenger versions.

Lincoln

MKC - This is the compact crossover you see in those creepy Matthew McConaughey commercials.  Nice interior, but I hear the engines are kind of weak and noisy with both options being Ford EcoBoost four-cylinders.  You can get one in gold, though.  Who makes gold cars anymore?  I REALLY liked the seat in this, and the positioning of the sunroof.  Too many CUV's have the sunroof positioned too far back for the driver to even notice it's open.

Navigator - Lincoln's version of Ford's Expedition gets a new front end and an EcoBoost engine.  It otherwise looks just as dated, and the changes are really here to milk a vehicle slated for replacement for the 2017 model year.

Mazda

CX-3 - Mazda's entry into the subcompact crossover segment is, by far, the ugliest.  Inside and out.  WOW.

Mercedes-Benz

I drove my first Mercedes-Benz (a GLK350) last year and wow did I ever hate the thing.  Nothing was where it should have been and the (many many) buttons lack sufficient back lighting during daylight to be readable.  So while driving the thing in a heavy Portland rain, the windows fogged up and I couldn't find the defrost or A/C buttons.  I couldn't adjust the seat because I didn't realize the controls were on the door.  It had one of those stupid big plastic keys you have to use in the ignition and the lock/unlock buttons were completely black, so you couldn't easily see which button does what.  There was a NAV button for the navigation, but if you selected it, you were told there ISN'T navigation.  It also didn't have a backup camera, despite the existing big radio display.  The radio wouldn't recognize my iPhone when it was plugged in the USB port and wouldn't charge it either.  The between-seat storage space, split length-wise into two doors for absolutely no reason I could think of, required brute force to open.  The shifter was an electronic steering column mounted arm switch located where the wiper controls are in most cars.  The space they saved in the center console by not having a shift stick was used for a completely useless shallow storage space with a sliding door cover so big it was comedic.  You couldn't even put sunglasses in there.  The cruise control was a control arm on the left of the steering column hidden in a blind spot behind the steering wheel.  My aunt, who figured out several things while reading the owner's manual in the passenger seat, noted "It doesn't even have bun warmers."  She owns an older Mercedes and loves it, but said she'd NEVER buy one of these.  I can't believe ANYBODY would buy one of these.

Mitsubishi

Yet another year of nothing new from a brand that's almost nonexistent in the US, and yet they had a HUGE display with over a dozen vehicles out.  They sell like three models here.

Outlander - Teenager gets in, fumbles with the seat controls, and mumbles "No lumbar support."  Are you KIDDING me?  My first car didn't even have seat runners.  They'd rusted away.

Nissan

370Z NISMO - Some Lady in her deepest Minnesota accent: "Well, ya not gonna haul groceries, that's fer sure!"  Uh, you're missing the point.

Maxima - Maxima skips the 2015 model year completely for an all-new 2016 model, which made its debut at the end of Nissan's controversial Super Bowl ad.  I'll reserve judgement until I see it in person, but in the ad, it looked kinda...odd...

Murano - All new and now US-built for 2015.  It's a radical new look, yet kinda reminds me of some of the weirder Honda crossovers.  The Crosstour, specifically.  Still very nice on the inside.  A solid choice for someone who wants something that stands out in traffic and provides a little upscale feel.

XTerra - Holy crap.  They still make this?  I seriously thought this ended production like ten years ago.

Versa - Nissan's el cheapo model gets a style refresh.  Looks more Sentra-ish, I guess.  There's one of these parked in my office lot every day.  It's lost its hubcaps and has a bit of front end damage that you don't quite get is front end damage until you get up close.  Which makes it look like a cheap car that's just falling apart.

Ram

ProMaster City - This is a re-badged Fiat Doblò brought in from Europe to compete with Ford's Transit Connect in the "functional, versatile, yet efficient" commercial van segment, which also includes "me too" entries from Chevy and Nissan.  Who knew there was so much demand.  It's suitably goofy looking.  This seems to be a requirement for the segment.

Toyota

Camry - It's not an all-new next-generation model, but a LOT changed this year.  Much sportier looking with a better interior and tech updates to catch up with its competitors.  It needed it.  The previous "new" Camry looked like it was designed ten years ago.

Yaris - Toyota's low-end basic transportation gets a more aggressive front end.  The inside still looks like car I nearly died of boredom driving a couple of years ago.

Volkswagen

People wandering around the VW area kept saying aloud "There's nothing new.  It's just the same old stuff."  Glad it wasn't just me.

Jetta - Jetta gets a style refresh that VW is big-time hyping as "THE NEW JETTA!"  .I couldn't tell the difference.  At all.  Maybe if a 2014 and 2015 were parked right next to each other and I tried really hard, I could come up with something, but...

e-Golf - VW has an all-electric version of the Golf available in limited US markets.  This would not be one of those markets.  But from what I've read, it looks and feels for the most part like a gas Golf, which was VW's intention.  No weird design elements, aside from badges.  So if you're looking for an electric car that doesn't scream "HEY!  I'M AN ELECTRIC CAR!", this might be up your alley.  But you might wait a couple years to see how the reliability reports are.  This is, after all, a VW.

Scirocco - A mid-cycle (??? - it's been out six years now) style refresh includes LED taillights and other minor mods.  There isn't really one at this show, of course, because the new Scirocco isn't sold in the US because VW is the world's most clueless car company.  "But it would cannibalize GTI sales!"  Or, you know, attract more buyers to the brand.  Bringing the Scirocco to the US is probably what it would take for me to look at buying a VW again.  But then I'd probably read about their continuing mind-boggling reliability issues and walk away anyway, so...

Whew!  I'm beat.  Time to go back to the hotel and soak.

And maybe nap.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Shake Shack

Place: Shake Shack
Lunch: Shack Stack (no lettuce, no tomato, add pickle, onion), cheese fries, chocolate malt

You can come to Vegas to gamble and/or be debaucherous, or you can come for the burgers.  Because a lot of regional burger (and hot dog) chains have outlets here, thousands of miles from the second closest outlet. The two newest entries are White Castle and Shake Shack, two opposite ends of the burger market.

Shake Shack is a New York-based chain that started ten years ago with a "shack" in a park and now has upscale looking stores in the East, the Middle East, the Far East, even Russia.  Las Vegas is their first US location west of Chicago, but to be fair, it is on the frontage of New York, New York and is part of the park-like walking plaza with shops thingy MGM Resorts is building in between New York, New York and the Monte Carlo.  So the New York park roots are there, even if this isn't a "shack".

I dropped in for the first time the other night, then again today for lunch.  The building sort of feels like an abandoned organic grocery.  Lots of wood tones, black, and cement. with green accents and a lot of white neon lighting.  A tall sloped ceiling and lots of glass.  Looks impressive from the Strip entrance.

The signature "ShackBurger" is essentially an In-N-Out knockoff.  VERY similar patty and sauce.  It comes with lettuce, tomato, and Shack Sauce, though you can request pickles, onions, and the usual condiments.  The pickles are a more premium dill variety with a nice crunch.  Almost a shame they don't put them on everything automatically.

Shake Shack offers a "vegetarian" burger known as the 'Shroom, and it's hilarious.  It's a breaded and deep fried glob of mushrooms and cheese.  Decidedly not vegan.  (HA HA HA HA!  Vegans.)  Bite into the hockey puck-shaped "patty" and cheese starts to ooze out.  The mushrooms taste perfect.  My burger for this meal is the Shack Stack, which has the 'Shroom puck AND a burger patty.  It's the best thing on the menu.  SO good.  SO unique.

There's also a "SmokeShack" burger with bacon and chopped cherry peppers. The peppers give this burger a really sweet relishy taste with a spicy kick.  Not my cup of tea.  The burger patty has almost no taste, as if they didn't season it.

(SIDE NOTE: "ShackBurger" and "SmokeShack" are single words on the menu, but "Shack Stack" isn't.  No idea why.)

The fries are Yukon Gold krinkle cuts.  You can get them topped in cheese sauce.  Pretty good cheese sauce.

The malt is custard-based, so it's basically what you'd expect from Culver's or Freddy's.  Nothing remarkable..  There's cones, shakes, and concretes.  Drink options include beer and wine.

There's a line of hot dogs, which unfortunately doesn't include a chili dog.  I believe they use Vienna Beef dogs.  They split them and cook them flat on the grill.  I had one with cheese sauce on my previous visit.  Nothing remarkable.

They have a "draught" root beer that is supposedly worth trying, but they couldn't bother to have it in stock when I tried to order it.

So is Shake Shack going to become a must-visit for me when in town?  Probably not, but I will occasionally drop in for a Shack Stack.  And maybe make another attempt to try that root beer.

It never rains in Vegas, unless I'm in town.  Then it ALWAYS rains, at least a little.  It even SNOWED yesterday.

The county should pay me to move here.

I'd solve all their water problems.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bacon Magic

Place: White Castle
Lunch: Eight White Castles, Coke

White Castle has landed on the Las Vegas Strip.  It's the first ever White Castle west of the central time zone, and the first non-company owned "licensed" store in the chain's 90-plus year history.  It's located next to the worlds most profitable Denny's in Casino Royale.  On opening day, they were moving a thousand Sliders an hour, and broke the company's single-day sales record in the first twelve hours of business.  The lines were out the door and down the street.

No such problems on a Sunday morning.  I walked right up, ordered, and had my lunch (well...breakfast) in minutes.  They accidentally gave me two more burgers than I paid for, but hey...that's a happy accident.

The Vegas White Castle has a pared-down menu.  There's no breakfast, no fish, and no LTO's.  But you can get the classic sliders 24/7.

There IS something different about the taste of these.  Something's sweeter.  Maybe the pickle or the bread.  They seem to be a bit less oniony too.  Maybe.

Little Caesar's is getting a bunch of publicity lately with the debut of their Bacon Wrapped deep dish pizza.  Basically, they slap bacon onto the sides and bake it in.  Everyone thinks this sounds awesome on paper.  Everyone I know who's tried it says it's...not so awesome.

Oh well.

My preferred bacon is Farmland thick cut (though I still occasionally splurge on the greatest bacon in the history of bacon), and I buy the fattiest cut I can find.  There I am in the supermarket going through the entire stock, throwing aside the lean looking packages.  Shoppers who find themselves getting struck in the head by flying bacon packages don't seem to mind, because even being hit in the head by bacon is better because it's bacon.

I fry up the bacon on the lighter side so it's less crispy, plate it, then drizzle some of the excess bacon fat over the plated bacon.  For taste, not presentation.

Then I eat all the fatty parts and Chester Cat takes the crispy bits.

I've been known to make a whole meal out of this.  Fry up the entire package.

My grandmother was just the opposite in her bacon approach.  She cooked standard cut bacon to a perfect crispy brown, then let it set on a paper towel to drain the excess fat.  I made some bacon her way recently.  Took me right back to my childhood.

My other favorite way to have bacon at home is wrapped around scallops.  Whole Foods has a  package of bacon wrapped sea scallops shrink-wrapped on a wood plank.  Just unwrap it, put the plank on a baking sheet, and bake for 25 minutes.  They're awesome...better than Target's "Archer Farms" version or even Trader Joe's.  And there aren't toothpicks involved.  Use a fork or your fingers, lazy.

But the whole "put bacon on everything" restaurant fad wears thin with me.  Maple Bacon Doughnuts has become a popular pastry item, and I don't get it.  They just taste overly salty to me...salty and smoky.  We've seen chains introduce bacon milkshakes and bacon sundaes.  Sorry...bacon is many things, but it is not a dessert item.

I have a bottle of bacon soda in my office.  It's for entertainment purposes only.  It will never be opened.  People ask, but it's staying sealed.

Bacon does work on many levels in pasta.  Doing something with bacon and Alfredo sauce almost always works.  And one of my mother's regular dinner dishes was Bacon Spaghetti.  Fry up some bacon, saute some onion in the fat, add a can or two of tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes.  Mix it into cooked spaghetti.  She may have baked the whole thing too.  I can't remember.

A bacon cheeseburger can be a wonderful thing too, IF the bacon is not pre-cooked.  If it's fried to order for your burger, it's probably a winner.

I'm betting that Little Caesar's bacon comes to the restaurant pre-cooked.  I can't believe they'd even have the resources to fry bacon to order.  And the people who have tried it tell me it's really dry.

Even bacon has to be done right to be...bacon.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Radio Shack

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

Mumbling Wimpy Counter Guy: "Mumblemumblemumblemumble"

Me: "Three hard shells, small Super Ole no tomato no guac, and a medium drink."

Mumbling Wimpy Counter Guy: "Mumblemumblemumblemumble?"

Me: "For here."

Mumbling Wimpy Counter Guy: "$10.02."

Me: "It's Taco Tuesday."

Mumbling Wimpy Counter Guy: "Mumblemumblemumblemumble $8.43."

**sigh**

So it looks like the end has finally come for Radio Shack.  The NYSE suspending trading of its shares and are reportedly planning on delisting them.  Sprint is supposedly going to take about half their stores, then the rest will close if Radio Shack can't find a buyer (Amazon is said to be interested in some of those.  Yes, actual Amazon retail stores are probably coming.)

(UPDATE: The bankruptcy is official.  The brand WILL likely carry in an a far more limited capacity.  Under the initial plan, Sprint will operate most remaining stores as co-branded outlets.  Franchise stores will continue.)

No one is surprised, I'm sure.  Most products people would think to go to Radio Shack for are obsolete.  Who's buying resistors rooftop antennas, scanners, or CPU parts anymore.  We're streaming everything on tablets and handsets.  Tablets and handsets you cannot just build or repair yourself.

I probably haven't set foot in a Radio Shack in ten-fifteen years.  But before that, there was one literally a block from my house, and getting a replacement CPU fan or a new antenna simply involved walking up the street and picking it up.  That's what Radio Shack was at its best...the neighborhood electronic doohickey store.  And for some, the general electronics store.  Radios, stereos, largely their own brand ("Realistic").  To this day I have a police scanner and an atomic clock on my desk that came from that store up the street.

The weirdest Radio Shack thing I ever remember buying was a pair of outboard tweeters designed to enhance your traditional speakers.  My best friend in high school and I had them duct-taped to the rear shelves of our cars (his Monza and my Super Beetle).  Actually, our cars were also equipped with Realistic CB radios and Radio Shack antennas.  Chicks dug us.  NOT.

Today, I'd just research and order that stuff online, and that same Radio Shack, while still stocked with the gadgets, is more interested in selling mobile phone service.  From what I hear, they aren't very good at it.  Stock tends to be lean on the most desirable phone models.  And unlike the old days, they have direct competition next door.  In the case of my old store (yes, it's still there), there's a couple of dedicated cell phone stores within eye's reach of their front door, and those stores are far better at getting you the handset you want than Radio Shack is.  Even within the old neighborhood, there's competition now.

Radio Shack (or then parent company Tandy Corporation, a company specializing in leather goods who acquired the chain in 1962) tried to grow outside the traditional neighborhood store format a couple of times in the eighties and nineties.  They acquired Computer City, sort of a CompUSA-type big box computer chain, in 1991.  They sold the chain to CompUSA in 1998.  (CompUSA itself folded in 2012.)  They also acquired, and eventually folded, the Video Concepts chain, a mall slot television and computer store.

Then there was Incredible Universe.

There was never, and never again will be, anything quite like Incredible Universe.  This was a Tandy concept from the ground up.  It was their answer to big box retail competition.  The buildings were massive at 185,000 square-feet (though about half the space was used for warehousing inventory).  The entrance led to a central rotunda with a stage.  It was like a mall center court.  They had live DJ's, at least initially.  They even held events.  The departments surrounded it like mall shop slots and in fact were run like individual stores.  There was a camera store, a big music (CD/record) store, a software store, an electronics accessory store (essentially the doohickey section of a Radio Shack), and a central corridor that led to the big space where televisions, stereos, computers, and appliances were sold.  It was a destination, an attraction, a place you wanted to go and check stuff out.

It was big and bold and...ultimately...an incredible failure.  They lasted less than five years with seventeen locations, the last finishing liquidation in 1997.  A few of the buildings became Fry's Electronics.  They are operated as a shell of their former glory.

But I digress.  We're talking about Radio Shack in 2015.

While I didn't see Radio Shack lasting long-term, I still expected them to outlast Sears, K-Mart, and BlackBerry.  How those brands continue to exist baffles me.

So long, Radio Shack.

I'll think of you whenever I'm in immediate need of a fifty-cent amplifier fuse.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Au Naturale

Place: Carl's Jr/Green Burrito
Lunch: The All-Natural Burger (no lettuce, no tomato), side of beans, Coke

PREVIOUSLY ON THE LUNCHTIME SOCIAL...Greg and Brenda split up after Greg slept with Brenda's mother.  Also, I checked out Hardee's decidedly un-natural Bacon Velveeta Patty Meltdown.

So why not try the polar-opposite LTO happening at Hardee's sister chain.

This is "fast food's first All-Natural Burger", according to the Carl's Jr website.  But if you read the fine print after the asterisk, things get fuzzy.  "All-Natural attributes refer to beef patty."  "First All-Natural patty among major fast food chains."  So Burgerville fans can calm down now.

The main description of the burger reads "A grass-fed, free-range charbroiled beef patty with no added hormones, steroids, or antibiotics."  If I'm the only one who imagined hamburger patties happily rolling through a grassy meadow, my drugs are better than yours.

"But wouldn't they be easy targets for coyotes and wolves and outdoor house cats?"

Please.  Haven't you seen the covers of those religious pamphlets where children and leopards and fire-breathing dragons are all peacefully co-existing?  You need to watch less violent nature shows.

The description goes on to note the burger is "topped with natural cheddar cheese and vine-ripened tomatoes."  I'm actually more excited about the cheddar than the beef.  I'm all for natural cheddar.. I may never understand why people like processed American cheese.  The burger is otherwise dressed with what appears to be Carl's "Six Dollar Burger" veggies and Fresh Baked Bun.

So how is it?  Believe it or not, the beef patty tastes different than the standard Carl's Jr patty.  It tastes...aged, I think.  I guess it would be silly to have a patty being marketed as some sort of premium taste exactly the same as the non-natural patty.  Remember when McDonald's launched their Angus patty premium burgers?  Their social media comments were almost universal in complaining that there was no discernible difference in taste between the Angus beef and their regular beef.

The cheddar is nice, though seems to be mild.  I could go for a sharper cheddar.

But I'll give Carl's a "well played" anyway.  It's a perfectly nice, premium tasting burger.

Hanging out in Tulsa this morning for the first time ever.  Going to check out Taken 3 at a new Warren multiplex.

Never seen "Taken" or "Taken 2".

I'm guessing that won't be an issue.

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Meltdown

Place: Hardee's
Lunch: Bacon Velveeta Patty Meltdown, chili cheese fries, Coke

So there I was listening to a game on the radio this weekend when suddenly Gary Busey started swearing up a storm.  Lots of bleeping.  What happened?  A very clever Hardee's commercial for a sandwich called the Meltdown, that's what.  (The TV ad features professional wrestler Brock Lesnar having a meltdown involving throwing things.)

Meanwhile, what is sister chain Carl's Jr doing?  'The All Natural Burger".  With real cheddar.  Pretty much the polar opposite of a Velveeta-based burger.

Anyway, this thing is just freaking great, and I'm not even a Velveeta fan.  But it works here with the toasted Frisco bread, charbroiled beef, bacon, grilled onions, and mayo.  The burger LTO of the year may have already arrived.

Seeing the chili cheese fries banner was a surprise.  There's no banner for a chili cheeseburger, though.  Why not?  The chili's already here, for crying out loud.  For that matter, why not have a chili version of the Meltdown?  Chili and melty Velveeta?  Come ON, Hardee's!

I about had a meltdown of my own this morning.  This was clearly one of those "should've stayed in bed" Mondays.

The plan upon leaving the house was to get gas, something to eat, and hit the office.  The first snag comes when I can't find my hat and it's four degrees out and windy.  Meaning my head will be in a great deal of pain by the time I fuel up because I couldn't have possibly gotten gas on Saturday when the "low fuel" light went on as I was passing the gas station and it was 50 out.

Then I get a work emergency call and I'm suddenly in a big hurry to get to the office.

Then I can't get breakfast because there's no place to park.  The parking lot is PACKED.

But I get gas, get to work, and take care of the emergency.  Then I go to get some water so I can take some aspirin.

The water cooler is empty.

EMPTY.

The jug is empty.  The base is empty.  There's plenty of available jugs right next to it, but everyone was so lazy over the weekend that nobody could be bothered.

I replaced the jug and took the aspirin with our not-very-good-tasting tap water.

Anyway, now that I've eaten, I feel a little better.

This will change on the commute home, which is expected to be very snowy.