Wednesday, March 25, 2015


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.


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's a plug-in hybrid.)


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?"


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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...


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.