31 January 2007

More restaurant hooey

This is something I'd been meaning to post about sooner, were it not for something about "best laid plans", rodents, male creatures, etc. ......

About a week and a half ago, Seraphim -- my wonderful, awesome and long-suffering bride -- and myself patronized Frank & Linda's Restaurant, a/k/a The Only Restaurant In Rincon, Georgia That Has Lasted More Than Six Months. As I've mentioned in this space before, F&L's of late has been a roller-coaster. Long gone are the wonderful battalion of servers they had along about 2004-2005. Sadly, most of the wait staff there now are from Generation-W. (Whatever.) Ill-educated, lacking a remote spark of initiative, and sitting with their thumbs up their asses without regard for customers who are waiting for what they need. Friday, January 19th, we ate supper at F&L's. For starters, our server kept us waiting for a long time for the requisite loaf of bread (which they're supposed to bring to your table somewhere between the time the server takes your order and when they bring you your salad and/or appetizer).

I ordered the "Fish Fry", with no lettuce on the side. Only, she spelled it "letice" I wonder if she's a graduate of Armstrong Atlantic State University? Or, dare I say, Troy University?

We waited for the bread. Waited. Waited. Patiently, even.

Then, through the magic of Talmadge Gleck Inhalation, my tea glass became empty (yes, I do drink iced tea sometimes, more often than you think; I'm not a complete Coke-head). It was never refilled.

I needed ketchup. Did we get ketchup? Hell, no, our illiterate server went behind the counter to do what looked like "accounting" work (God help that restaurant!).

You guessed it, I got up to DeAnn the ketchup. One of the other servers asked me what I needed, and I said my server (pointing over to her) was supposed to get me ketchup and some extra napkins.

Her response: "Well, she's really busy. I'll get it for you."

Now, if you're on the wait staff of a restaurant, and you're diverted onto another task, what would you do?
A) Ask another server to pinch-hit for you (knowing that the tables will always be turned eventually).
B) Start your task, those stupid fat people in the corner can wait for their @#$%ing ketchup and @#$damned napkins.
C) Start playing "the game" and unwittingly expose your genitals to the entire dining room.

Miz Remeedyul Spelllenng chose "B." So she barely got a tip at all, less than 10%. Serves her right.

*********

The next day, we were "in town" to run some errands, and we ate supper at a true Savannah dining institution, Carey Hilliard's. It's a local chain of 'barbecue/seafood' restaurants -- there are about six in all, plus two wayward locations in Charleston, S.C. Carey Hilliard's is highly renowned for their sweet tea, "hot wings" and barbecue. Personally I find the 'cue a bit on the middling side, but that's just my own taste (I'm very partial to the South Carolina, Memphis and north Alabama schools of 'cue). The only real drawback to CH is that sometimes the food is a bit, well, greasy. But I love their hushpuppies. Love 'em, I do. Ditto for their fried scallops. Yeah, boy. Good stuff. Good, GOOD stuff.

And, with the exception of their newest location (Pooler, at I-95, which opened a couple of years ago), all of their stores have classic style neon signage, complete with chase-sequence arrow, and a neon sequence lighting up C-A-R-E-Y. Did I say "Yeah, boy"?

Our experience at Frank & Linda's was a marked contrast with the treatment we've received at the Pooler Carey Hilliard's (where we usually go when we're in a CH mood -- this in spite of their having only a simple backlit sign out front). Our server remembered us. And she treated us very nicely. Meaning, she got a good (a little more than 20%) tip.

In fact, I don't think I've ever had a bad experience at Carey Hilliard's. Maybe an indifferent server a time or two -- maybe! Over the 6-1/2 years we've lived in this area, we've eaten at all except the original (Skidaway Road) CH location. All are well run.

These contrasting examples lead me to conclude one thing about restaurants and the wait staff which which work for 'em: it's all about MANAGEMENT. It takes a lot to be a restaurant manager ... unfortunately so many prefer to instead emulate "Dan" in Waiting. Carey Hilliard's, obviously, DOESN'T. I get the feeling they crack the whip on anyone who'd dare slough off or leave diners twisting in the wind.

Sadly, it appears that Frank & Linda's is on the verge of getting complacent on us.

Mention this to them, and they'd probably light into us about how hard it is to find good, dependable people.

Well, cry me a river. Woe is me. Boo to the hoo. Why, then, is it that a vast majority of the wait staff at Carey Hilliard's are people who look like they've been there for many, MANY years???
We're talking 50-something ladies who call you "darlin'" between every other sentence here. Truly good people. CH doesn't seem to have any problems finding -- and, it appears, RETAINING (!!!!!!) -- their wait staffers.

I've never asked as much, but I get the feeling Carey Hilliard's employees are paid a little better, while small-time restaurants love coasting on the wrinkle in the minimum wage act that allows them to pay servers as little as $2.00-and-change per hour.

Simple rule: you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Come Celebrate the Great Taste" Gleck

Cold cluck!

The last time Seraphim and I dined at Fire Mountain Grill in Savannah -- or, as we've come to call it, "Fire-Is-Cool Grill" (huh-huh-huh, Beavis) -- was last night.

Emphasis on "last time."

Now, before I continue here, I have to give kudos to our server. UNLIKE IN THE PAST, we had one who was very attentive. Indeed, one of the few such creatures in that building. My Coke glass, and Seraphim's Diet Coke, never went completely empty before they came by with a refill.

As well it should be.

More than once I wondered if they remembered me from our previous visit. Yes, that was the time I up and DeAnn'ed me some Coke. How could they forget a galoot like me? Well, anyway, I was kept nice and full of Coke ... and I swam the Georgia 21 canal all the way back home!

You'd think the visit was a good one. Alas, it wasn't. Far from it. This was about 630 PM. Middle of suppertime. The time when food on a buffet is the freshest it gets.

Ahhhhhh, a big hunk of turkey on the carving bar. Mmmmmmmmm, turkey...........

I got me a slice, along with a couple of pieces of fried chicken. One from the batch that'd been there just before one of the Merry Fire People dropped what purported to be a fresh batch of chicken into the bin. My second piece came from the new pile. And, with a helping of rice to round out the plate, I sit down, ready to partake of what appears to be a wonderful meal.

Let's start with the rice, shall we? Low expectations always come from rice on a buffet. I have a name for it: Russian Roulette Rice. Or "Triple-R" for short. You sink your teeth into a forkful of lucsious Northeast Arkansas white grain, and at least 1/3 of the grains are either undercooked, or nearly raw. The rice appeared to be completely cooked, but this puppy was hiding massive amounts of Triple-R landmines. Ick.

The turkey. Yeah, the turkey. It hadn't been five (5) minutes since I'd sat down with my plate. Folks, a cooked squab doesn't go cold in that short a period of time. Even with the temperature hovering at 45 degrees outside, it was nicely heated inside, with enough warm bodies to more than compensate for any outdoor chill. But this gobble tasted like a Thanksgiving turkey right out of the fridge on Black Friday afternoon.

And now the chicken. Mmmmmmmm, fried chicken...........

Two (2) nice chicken-boobies on my plate. I went for the first breast piece, the one I picked up before the new batch arrived. It tasted lukewarm, just as you'd expect a piece of chicken to taste after being under hot lights since at least the end of As the World Turns.

"Meh," as my son would say.

But it was the "newer" of the two pieces in which lurked the surprise. As I pulled the skin off, I noticed something very disturbing: this "fresh" piece of chicken was cold. Damned cold.

So cold that I had to warm it up by taking it outside in the 45-degree weather.

What happened was obviously similar to what we noticed the previous time we darkened Fire-Is-Cool Grill's doors. The chicken was prepared, fried, and such, per SOP. What is then done is the stainless steel bin full of hot fried chicken was placed on the ledge of the window between the kitchen and the dining room. One of the servers is supposed to see this chicken and then take it over to the buffet so patrons may partake.

[sigh] If "supposed-to" was currency, we'd all be filthy rich.

What happened was, simply, that fried chicken arrived at the buffet after having spent at least 30 minutes in that window getting cold.

Brilliant.

I brought this to the attention of a manager, who basically gave me his card, apologized and started a litany of excuses, i.e. we took over this division in December and we're in "damage control" (funny, that was about the time Fire-Is-Cool began declining).

Excuses and empty promises. They don't give a damn. I hate to say it, but Dan, the assistant restaurant manager caricature in the movie Waiting is devastatingly on-target.

The most outrageous part? Fire Mountain Grill and sister chain Ryan's were both bought by BUFFETS, INC., the parent company of my beloved Old Country Buffet. The deal was closed on November 1, 2006, and while there's mention of the acquisition on the Buffets website, the FMG/Ryan's locations haven't yet been integrated into the site's location map. Obviously full transition hasn't occurred; I've never seen an OCB this poorly run in my life! What I'm worried about is instead of Buffets lifting Fire/Ryan's up, that Old Country Buffet will fall to THEIR level.

Most curious of all, though, I gathered a very negative vibe from this manager about his new corporate boss. He hinted that some changes were coming, such as one price for all drinks (did I mention Fire-Is-Cool charges $8.99 a head for a weeknight buffet, and $1.59 for drinks ... compared with an average $7.99 for dinner at Old Country Buffet. And OCB's price INCLUDES THE DRINK, WHICH YOU GET YOURSELF!)

Frankly, what I really wanted to tell him is, "Gut this place, remodel it, put the servers to work in the kitchen, convert and reflag this building as an Old Country Buffet." Hell, that's what I'd do.

For now, I guess it's back to the middling Golden Corral here in Savannah. WHY the @#$% can't we have a good all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant in this town??

We're through with Fire-Is-Cold Grill until I see some positive changes with the place.

Okay, the "Cardinal Rule" as it's stated in Waiting is "Never f(BLEEP)k with the people who handle your food." But what about buffet restaurant drink-fetchers and brain-dead restaurant managers who so clearly look the other way while perfectly good fried chicken goes to waste? (to say nothing about possible nasty bacterial critters that just love to hitch rides on food sitting out for 30 minutes at room temperature)

C'mon, Buffets, Inc. -- come down here and crack some skulls. Please!

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Yes, as a matter of fact I did taste your spit in my Coke" Gleck

23 January 2007

Hair, there and everwhere.

Discovered while browsing another blog: It's THE MANGROOMER.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=B000HQ0L2E?tag2=rosescorner

My male genetics are firmly in the "hairy" column, so I guess this explains why I was unpopular with the ladies -- I didn't have one of these. People were snickering about my evident lack of muscle tone (I had it, but it was hidden underneath all my gorilla hair!). What's more, people were laughing at me behind my, ummmm, back.

Skeptical? Let the advertising convince you otherwise:

Why is the Mangroomer Right for You?
  • One time purchase with one low cost.
  • Easy to use, lightweight, and do-it-yourself.
  • Offers a fully extendable and adjustable handle that locks into place at various lengths to reach even the most difficult middle and lower portions of the back for men of all sizes.
  • Allows you to rid yourself of unwanted back hair in the privacy of your own home -- not some fancy or overpriced salon or spa.
  • Completely painless, unlike waxing, chemicals, laser, or electrolysis.
  • Folds into a neat, compact size for discreet storage or travel.
  • Shave your back whenever you feel you need it, and it is perfect for quick touch ups.
How the Mangroomer Can Improve Your Life
  • Look and Feel Clean and Manicured -- Eliminating unsightly back hair presents a more refined, clean image to others.
  • Confidence -- Increase your confidence knowing that you are "back hair free" and no one will be staring or snickering at you, or get turned off by unsightly back hair.
  • Romance -- Start up that spark in your relationship or marriage by surprising your partner with a smooth, sexy back.
  • Muscle Definition -- Shaving the hair off your back shows your muscle definition in much greater detail. You'll simply look in better shape after using the Mangroomer.
  • Sweat -- Keep your back shaved clean and help keep your back dry with less sweat and less chance for body odor.
  • First Impressions -- As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Don't let back hair ruin the image you are trying to project.
  • Summer Essentials -- When your shirt is off this summer, no back hair is a big plus. Whether you're at the beach or a pool party, use the Mangroomer to avoid embarrassing, hairy-back jokes.
  • Avoid Embarrassing Public Treatment Options -- With the Mangroomer you can shave your back privately, easily, quickly, painlessly, and inexpensively by yourself, in the comfort of your own home.
Let's address these claims line by line, shall we?

One time purchase with one low cost.
That's good. Because I'm not in the mood to rent one. Besides, I didn't see one at the "Curtis Mathes" rent-to-own store.

Easy to use, lightweight and do-it-yourself.
Does that mean a complete de-d'DEE like myself can use it? And since I'm just now getting back into shape (we've been doing the Y for three weeks now), I don't want to have to worry about lifting any heavy objects. "Do-it-yourself"??? Why do I hear the Adam Sandler catch-phrase "you can DOOOOOEEEEET!!!"??

Offers a fully extendable and adjustable handle that locks into place at various lengths to reach even the most difficult middle and lower portions of the back for men of all sizes.
But what if I have an "easy" middle and lower back? Hey, backs need loving too, and mine gets awfully lonely. What chick wants to date a hairy middle and lower back anyway?

"Men of all sizes"? No comment.

Allows you to rid yourself of unwanted back hair in the privacy of your own home -- not some fancy or overpriced salon or spa.
As opposed to a fancy and overpriced refugee from a Ron Popeil commercial?

Completely painless, unlike waxing, chemicals, laser, or electrolysis.
Unless I sneeze while using my Mangroomer®. Boy, if I have an attack of hay fever during a shave session, I can look like I've just returned from a relaxing weekend at a Singapore jail.

Folds into a neat, compact size for discreet storage or travel.
That's good because I'm always paranoid about bellhops and baggage handlers peeking inside my suitcase. Plus, I'm afraid if my wife sees this thing, she'll make fun of me. I hope said "neat, compact size" is smaller than, say, one of the dozens of motel soap bars I've managed to collect.

Shave your back whenever you feel you need it, and it is perfect for quick touch ups.
But what if I'm on the air? Or in the middle of hot, passionate .... um, er, ah, that's good. Quick touch-ups are always good. Yeah. All good.

Look and Feel Clean and Manicured -- Eliminating unsightly back hair presents a more refined, clean image to others.
"Manicured" and "Talmadge" are two words you'll never see in the same sentence.

No, wait. They just did, above. Oops.

Anyhoo, there ain't a single 'manicured' thing about me. And "refined" is something that's done to Enmark Golden Premium gasoline (7 cents off on Tuesday!), not to old schmucks like me.

And image? Don't need that anymore; I'm all about "substance", baby!

Confidence -- Increase your confidence knowing that you are "back hair free" and no one will be staring or snickering at you, or get turned off by unsightly back hair.
Yeah. That'll change everything. Now instead of being an insecure wallflower at the dance, I'll be a completely confident wallflower. This thing won't change the fact that I can't dance. You know I can't dance, you know I can't dance. I CAN'T DANCE!

Romance -- Start up that spark in your relationship or marriage by surprising your partner with a smooth, sexy back.
Seraphim, if I shave with the new Mangroomer®, will you take me back?

Muscle Definition -- Shaving the hair off your back shows your muscle definition in much greater detail. You'll simply look in better shape after using the Mangroomer.
mus·cle [muhs-uhl] n. 1. a tissue composed of cells or fibers, the contraction of which produces movement in the body. 2. an organ, composed of muscle tissue, that contracts to produce a particular movement. 3. muscular strength; brawn. 4. (pl.) title of 1982 hit single by Diana Ross; penned by Michael "My Problems All Started With a Single Mangroomer®" Jackson.

Oh. That's not what you meant about "muscle definition"? Oops, sorry.

Never mind.

Sweat -- Keep your back shaved clean and help keep your back dry with less sweat and less chance for body odor.
That's why God invented something called "showers."

First Impressions -- As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Don't let back hair ruin the image you are trying to project.
This sounds like a great idea for a TV commercial. Woman on subway, sizing up man seated across from her: "Wow, what great muscle definition, were it not for all that damned hair on his back. I can see it, even though it's 23 degrees outside and we're all dressed in layers."
Man: "What a nice-looking woman. But wait, she's scratching her head. Could be dandruff. Forget her. Besides, I'm gayer than Christmas."

Summer Essentials -- When your shirt is off this summer, no back hair is a big plus. Whether you're at the beach or a pool party, use the Mangroomer to avoid embarrassing, hairy-back jokes.
I always wear a shirt to the beach. Even to the pool. Trust me, you don't want to see my top half, Mangroomer® or not.

I wonder if this situation ever played itself out in those old "Charles Atlas" ads we used to see in comic books?


Avoid Embarrassing Public Treatment Options -- With the Mangroomer you can shave your back privately, easily, quickly, painlessly, and inexpensively by yourself, in the comfort of your own home.
But what if I wanted to make a public spectacle of myself? It could be worse, my mother could be taking me to the beauty shop for a dye job after my brother and stupid shark-jumping-cousin sold me some crap which turned my hair orange!!

I bet "5:00 shadow" is a real bitch while using this thing. And say, I wonder what kind of after-shave lotion I should get? How about some of that "LECTRIC-SHAAAAAAAVE!!" which I used to see advertised on The Lawrence Welk Show???

*********
Too bad my mother never bought me one of those Mangroomers® when it was advertised on late-night TV. NEW, FROM K-TEL! IT'S MANGROOMER®! EMBARRASSED ABOUT MASSIVE HAIR ON YOUR BACK? USE MANGROOMER® -- GUARANTEED TO RELIEVE YOU OF ALL YOUR HAIRY PROBLEMS, OR ELSE IT'LL DICE, SLICE, CHOP AND PUREE TRYING.

MANGROOMER® HAS 101 USES. YOU CAN SHAVE FROM A DISTANCE. YOU CAN CATCH FISH WITH IT. YOU CAN USE IT TO "SEW" ON BUTTONS. YOU CAN EVEN EAT FRESH FRENCH-FRIED POTATOES YOU'VE MADE WITH YOUR NEW MANGROOMER®

K-TEL'S MANGROOMER® ONLY $19.99.95.99! MAKES A GREAT GIFT!!!

But dammit, Mom never went to Woolworth, Woolco, Walgreen's, Super-D, Zayre, Ben Franklin or our local Sears store to get me one. Damn her. It's all her fault.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to change my shirt. It's damned uncomfortable, what with it snagging all my back hair.

Ciao for *OW!!!* Niao.

--Talmadge "TMI" Gleck

19 January 2007

When roadside America throws their mighty shields...

My side comment about South Carolina's state highway shields has gotten me started, I'm afraid.

Now you people have been warned -- it's on my profile, in fact -- that I am part of the species of homosapiens known as "road geek." (also known as "road scholar") Wikipedia has an entry, too - surprise, surprise.

One area that has always held my interest is state highway route markers. Unlike the familiar Interstate and U.S. highway shields one sees nationwide, each of the 50 states have their own unique design for its network of state highways.

Have you noticed on most road maps that state highways are almost always indicated by round bullets? That's because the round shape is the Federal "default" -- the design a state can use if it lacks the creativity to actually make something memorable with its shields. States like MISSISSIPPI, KENTUCKY, IOWA, NEW JERSEY and DELAWARE.

We start our tour with a visit to OOOOOOOOOklahoma, who in 2006 woke up and smelled the Indian tonic. They ditched the default roundie in favor of their own unique design, in anticipation of the state's Centennial in 2009. It borrows heavily from Florida's style below, but I like it -- Oklahoma has an unmistakable outline, and its residents have a high level of pride in their state. Why not, I say! (We were in Oklahoma last March, drat it! All I got were circles under my eyes.)

One foolproof design for a state's roadways is the outline of the state itself:
You can't go wrong with the state image ... and, as in the case of Louisiana and South Dakota, you can add a splash of green to make it stand out. [Alabama 63 is in honor of the road which runs through Eclectic, about a block and a half from where my son lives. Ark. 18 is a familiar sight to anyone in Jonesboro, and Georgia 21 of course traverses my domicile of Rincon].

But what about states whose boundaries aren't conducive to a good route marker design? Florida, Idaho and Minnesota use their outlines in a different form.

Other states resort to using basic shapes, or unexplicable styles for its roadways:
(left to right) VIRGINIA's route markers look like a fingernail. OREGON is .... o-kay .... NEW YORK's shield is probably the most shield-like of the 50 states. NEBRASKA uses a flowerpot design with an image of a Conestoga wagon along the bottom. The diamond is MICHIGAN and NORTH CAROLINA's best friend. CONNECTICUT and WEST VIRGINIA use a square (borrrrrRING!), HAWAII's shield looks like an old "Chocks" chewable vitamin (shouldn't their route shield be an outline of an old "Tiki" doll? Or how about a profile of Barry Williams?)

And finally, WISCONSIN. What exactly the hell is that supposed to be?

Speaking of triangles, it's one of my favorite shapes of a route shield. Besides Wisconsin (yes, their shield is a derivative of its original triangular design), two other states once used triangles to mark its roadways -- Tennessee and Mississippi.

MISSISSIPPI used the triangle until about 1975, when -- under the influence of quaaludes, no doubt -- its highway department 86'ed the design in favor of the illustrious round default.

TENNESSEE started out with a design very similar to Mississippi's, only the state abbreviation was spelled out horizontally. Around the time Mississippi dumped the triangle, Tennessee went to the middle design. And by 1987, they split their network into "primary" and "secondary" roads -- the primary roads got the design on the right, and the secondaries retained the legacy triangle.

Two states draw from their FLAGS for marking their state roads, COLORADO and ALASKA, which brings me to Talmadge Gleck's gift to the state of SOUTH CAROLINA: a highway makeover!

To the left is South Carolina's original style - a simple state outline. Why fix what ain't broke? Well, somebody at the SCDOT obviously bought the same batch of 'ludes Mississippi did, and adopted the middle design. (It's identical to Rhode Island, except for the "R.I."). All together now: BorrrrrrRING!!! Well, Mr. Gleck took matters into his own hands, and created what in his deluded mind is a beautiful shield design for S.C. roadways, incorporating that cool flag of theirs. Now how could you go wrong with THAT?

I give half-credit to the highway gods of NEW MEXICO and WYOMING. New Mexico took the generic round shield and incorporated its trademark symbol around the route number. And Wyoming took a basic square in its own pioneering direction, swapping a white background for gold and adding its state symbol, a bucking bronco.

And finally, we have the states who have proudly taken symbols, monuments, or what have you, and made truly unique designs:

(left to right) What other state could this be but WASHINGTON???

UTAH is The Beehive State - get it?

NORTH DAKOTA treasures its Native American heritage with their shields. NEW HAMPSHIRE's (now sadly gone) "Man of the mountain" is immortalized in its state markers. My favorite design of the 50 would go to KANSAS, the "Sunflower State." I think it's Seraphim's favorite, too.

PENNSYLVANIA is "The Keystone State." Its route shields, predictably, are in the outline of a keystone (and, no, the "57" is no accident -- I'll bet you're not the only one hearing Carly Simon's "Anticipation" in your head, either)

And CALIFORNIA's cut-out design is a miner's spade, for obvious 49'er reasons.

So there you are. You don't have to be a 'road geek' to appreciate the distinctive ways some of our 50 states stand out, even with pieces of metal mounted to posts.

(Credit goes here to James Lin's state highway markers page, from which I took and adapted most of the shields)

See you on the highway .... and ciao for niao!

--Talmadge "Heart made of cutout steel with high-intensity 3M reflection" Gleck

Paean to palmettos and peanuts

Ahhhhh, South Carolina. Palmetto State. Home of smiling faces and beautiful places, smiling Confederates serving beautiful mustard BBQ, smiling gas station signs with beautiful prices, interstates more bumpy and jarring than I-30 in Arkansas, and home to .... ummm, errrr, ahhhhhh, somebody.

Its flag is my favorite of the 50 states. Unlike Alabama (a design so complex that even a fetus could draw it -- heck, drop the red "X" and you'd have a dandy surrender flag!) or Georgia (let's see, what flag will we have this week? Denny's placemat ... or battle flag ... or convoluted Confederate compromise? Personally I think a "Pabst Blue Ribbon" logo would be perfect as Georgia's state flag, but anyway...), South Carolina's flag is almost exotic, a very dignified portrayal of its state tree -- the Palmetto -- in a nighttime setting (hence, the accompanying crescent).

I love it, what can I say?

Matter of fact, there's only one thing I'd change about our lovely land across the Savannah River:

Their incredibly, terribly and excruciatingly DULL and BORING state highway route markers. Basic, bland black on white. Just like a speed limit sign. Imagine some de-d'DEE motorist confusing the two.

"Where's the fire, boy?"
"Ummm, in your eyes, officer."
"Do you know I clocked you going 186 MPH?"
"I thought that's what the sign said."
"No, dummy, you're on HIGHWAY 186. The speed limit is 55."
"But I thought I was on highway 55. Silly me. Phew, I'm glad you didn't catch me an hour ago, when we were on S.C. 228. No wonder my wife's over here white as a sheet and gripping the O.S. handle!"

But what got me on this S.C. tangent was an interesting fact I learned recently: last year, South Carolina's governor signed a resolution making one of my favoritest foods in the world -- boiled peanuts -- the state's official snack food.

I like how those people think. Seraphim, let's call the realtor, put the house on the market and pack our bags -- I wanna move to South Carolina. :-)

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "I Brake for Boiled Peanuts" Gleck

14 January 2007

This one's for you, DeAnn...

I cannot discuss restaurant experiences without telling this golden oldie:

This would've taken place, ohhhhh some time in 1989. I was working and toiling in the wilds of Pine Bluff, Ark., and dating a woman whom, I must say, is one of the most interesting, complex and colorful creatures God ever created (and I mean that in a good way). She and I were quite a pair -- a lower-key version of Hamilton & Meg Swan in the 2000 movie Best in Show. Her name was DeAnn (and, yes, that's her real name; it's been nearly 20 years). We were both intense individuals trying to make a relationship work during very stressful times in our lives.

Not surprisingly, we met a high-strung, at times vicious, and overall messy demise. A marked contrast to the anti-climactic, sedate ending of my marriage to Josiebelle in 1997 .... but in retrospect the rollercoaster ride of DeAnn, while taxing of itself, compared favorably to the "It's a Small World" water torture of Josiebelle.

Today, DeAnn and I both are happily married to spouses, both with Job-esque patience levels. She has a very good job in her chosen field, an area where she has fantastic ability and passion. And, like me, she is a "pet parent" to a beautiful dog. Her name is Lucy. The Christmas card they sent is a treasure -- Lucy's frolicking in the snow and her face says it all: that sweet girl is having the time of her life.

"Snow." That's allegedly a white powder-like frozen form of precipitation which accumulates on ground surfaces when the temperature drops to a certain level. At least that's according to Wikipedia. But you know they can often times be inaccurate. Hmph, the last time we had a few flurries here in Savannah ('03, maybe?), the whole damned city screeched to a halt and gazed in wonder.

(Our Deep South-born and bred PUDDY saw her first snowfall in 2002 when we went to the north Georgia mountains for a couple of days. It'd snowed about an inch the night before and when Puddy went out on the deck of our cabin, that poor girl didn't know what to think!!)

But I digress. Back to the whole point of this post. After nearly two decades, the name DeAnn lives on. In my life, she has become about the only person to have made the jump from NOUN to VERB. Let me 'splain: One evening DeAnn and I drove to Little Rock, and had dinner at Red Lobster. One of RL's trademark devices is the pepper mill, which servers carry on their person to put fresh-ground pepper on diners' salads, or what have you.

Well, DeAnn was waiting for some pepper for her salad, which they didn't bring. She was getting nearly as testy as Talmadge when he's waiting for a Coke refill at Golden Corral ... but DeAnn took matters into her own hands. My then-girlfriend got up from our table, and barged right into the restaurant kitchen to ask for pepper.

Oooooh, to have been able to have seen their faces when she did this. This happened almost 18 years ago, and the Cheshire Cat grin on DeAnn's face when she came back to our table still makes me laugh out loud.

And there you have it. Whenever I am at Golden Corral, Fire Mountain ("Fire-Is-Cool") Grill, or anywhere else, and I'm left with an empty glass and a server nowhere near our zip code, I'll say to Seraphim, "If somebody doesn't come around here with a refill in the next two minutes, so help me I'm gonna get up and DeAnn me some more Coke!!"

One evening at Fire-Is-Cool Grill, just before Christmas, I did exactly that. After waiting forever to get a refill, I got up and went to the fountain at the servers' station and drew me a refill of Coke. Whoooooo, one server was standing nearby and from her reaction you'd have thought I had stood up and yelled "ROACH!!!!!" She third-degree'd me for our server's name and description.

After I sat back down, Seraphim said, in mock indignation, "Did you just DeAnn that glass of Coke??"

But it worked -- our server emerged and from that time on, my Coke glass didn't go near empty for the rest of our visit. And she got her 10% tip -- I figured she'd been tortured enough. :-)

DeAnn, if you see this, happy 2007 to you and yours. Especially Lucy.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "WHERE'S MY DAMNED REFILL??!!" Gleck

12 January 2007

Addenda to my "blue plate blog"

My luffly bride Seraphim reminded me of two other experiences we've had in restaurants which I left out of my previous two posts. And, in a perfect sense of balance, one is good, the other bad.

GOOD:
CAROL at Frank & Linda's Diner, Rincon, Georgia, 2004-2005. For a good while F&L's was our Friday night routine. It's a very nice hole-in-the-wall eatery nicely tucked away in a side-mounted strip off 21 on the left as you're going into Rincon. It could best be described as a mixture of classic Southern comfort food and Greek cuisine. We've taken Nettiemac here a couple of times, and of course when Bolivar came over to visit last September, we had to eat here.

They have a great "fish fry" plate -- two (2) big-ass chunks of Pisces carcass, meeting 6,392% of the RDA for Omega-3. And it's a bargain at $10.99. That's usually what I order. Carol knew this, right down to my preferences (no lettuce on the side, extra plate - for ketchup, and extra napkins). Anyone sitting at our table would've been quite baffled at Carol's routine with us -- she'd ask Seraphim for her order, and then say "Okay, thanks." Carol would look toward me, smile, and not say a word. She knew exactly what I wanted, how I wanted it, and made sure everything was right.

And from us Carol got the tip she deserved. Every time.

Carol is long gone from there, and for awhile things started sliding -- not so much with the food, but with the wait staff and time spent waiting. Things are better these days, so we're making a concerted effort to show our decrepit selves there a little more often.

BAD:
"PHIL" at Perkins Restaurant, Savannah "Gateway" (I-95, exit #94), 2005. One cardinal rule when dealing with Talmadge Gleck is when he declines to eat a particular dish of food, or topping, or whatever, you don't push any further. Some would say I'm a "picky eater", but I think I'm far more 'basic/spartan' than I am picky. Leave off the "bells and whistles." Meat 'n' potatoes, I is. I typically have my 'favorite' entree at any given restaurant, and tend to order just that one thing. You could say I stick to the tried and true.

It amazes me how people think I should be "changed" on this front. Geez.

Seraphim goes with the flow, saying this makes it easy to cook for me (well, it IS). My ex-wife, on the other hand, hailed from a family that always went for the frou-frou, adding gawd knows what to basic decent comfort food. My basic/spartan food repertoire was always getting in the way, especially with my former MIL.

Anyhoo, one night we were in the area of Perkins and partook of a nice Saturday night breakfast. I love breakfast as a night meal on the weekends ... that is, when we're near a restaurant that serves a good breakfast as a night meal on the weekends (see too-numerous-to-count rants about "when the @#$% are we gonna get an IHOP up in these parts??!!").

I ordered the "Tremendous Twelve" plate, basically the Perkins version of the "Breakfast Sampler." I asked for hot syrup with my meal, and "Phil" -- our server -- would have no part of that. He began pushing, and I mean PUSHING me to try the flavoured syrups on the table. I said NO, I LIKE THE HOT MAPLE SYRUP. The CLASSIC, TIME-TESTED stuff. As close to God's own syrup -- Alaga -- as it gets. I do not want the other syrup. It might be fine for other people, and I would never deny others the opportunity, but I wanted hot syrup with my flapjacks.

Phil damn near took the syrup and poured one of the other kinds on my pancakes; he kept on and on about it, despite Seraphim doing her damnest to convey gestures to the effect of "don' t go there, you'll be sorry." He ignored all warnings, and then said, "I'm not going to leave this table until you try that syrup."

And that's when Phil received several new ones, lovingly ripped him by Mr. T. Q. Gleck. I told him in no uncertain terms that his job was to bring me what I asked him, and since I was paying for this dinner, that by gawd I was going to eat it the way I wanted.

I was so livid I don't remember how much I tipped, but while it wasn't a penny, it was certainly far below 10%.

Eventually Phil became a running joke with us. We've been to Perkins several times since, but specifically asked the hostess for a table NOT in Phil's section. Service was good, but I know he was glaring toward us. People who wait tables have elephantine memories when it comes to faces.

Flash forward to Saturday, 16 December 2006. Again, we were in the area on Saturday night, and again we hit Perkins. We joked, "I wonder if Phil is here tonight -- it's been nearly two years since this incident, certainly he's moved on." We didn't ask for a non-Phil table. We sat down.

Our server? That's riiiiiiiight. I think he lives there, and sleeps on a cot in the kitchen.

Ohhhh, I know Phil remembered me. I could see it on his face. I was gracious and civil to him, while Seraphim was no doubt uneasy (as I was!). The food and service were good, not terrible, bad or outstanding, just ... good. I asked Phil for hot syrup. He said, in a voice clearly treading on eggshells, "Coming right up." Eggshells pretty much summed up that experience.

Tip? Exactly 15%. Minimum for good service.

There you have it, two extremes of reaction to someone who knows what they like. Carol got it. Phil did not.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "That's why there's chocolate and vanilla" Gleck

11 January 2007

On second thought, don't bring an umbrella - you're all wet!

Part two of two on my tome grande on tipping in restaurants.

In part one, I outlined several incidents of excellent customer service from servers. Now, on the other side of the napkin, are the ugly stories. And I can think of four right off the bat. One a long time ago, two early last year, and one last week.

1) The Kettle restaurant, Huntsville, Ala., February 1993. Was there for a late breakfast, and - in true Talmadge fashion - ordered a Coke with my meal. Service was lackluster and slow for it being just myself and two others in the entire dining room. Waitress was borderline rude. She plunked - yes, plunked - the glass of soda (as they say back in Cape Girardeau) on my table. I took a swig, and nearly gagged. Now, there's flat Coca-Cola, and then there's Pepsi. Both, in my humble', taste about the same (although I'd rather have flat Coke). Contrary to what some claim, there IS a difference between the two. A big difference. I summoned Miz Crabb back to my table to say "This tastes like Pepsi, are you sure it's Coke?", her answer: "IT'S COKE!"

I'd since looked behind me to part of the prep area, where I saw the fountain dispenser, clearly displaying PEPSI insignia. I pointed behind me, and (rather testy by this point) said "It's Pepsi, why did you lie to me?" "IT'S ALL THE SAME!" "Ummm, no it's not."

I was ignored for the rest of the meal, except for her coming around to plunk - yes, plunk - the check down on the table.

TOTAL TIP for Miz Crabb: .01 She shot me such a nasty look as I was leaving. I returned it, with interest.

2) Cracker Barrel, Montgomery, Alabama, 12/29/2006. We'd just dropped off Tiger in Eclectic and were on our way into Troy for the night. It was a Saturday night, about 8:30 when we got there. It wasn't very crowded, and we got a table the moment we entered. Very un-Cracker Barrel-ish for a weekend evening.

Our food took forever. As in, nearly an hour. A family who were seated after us received their food long before we did. I was getting a bit ticked by this point; we'd driven from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, it had been a long day, and frankly I was ready to finish the last 42 miles into Troy.

The server's attitude wasn't ugly, just ... indifferent. The food was okay, but she left me hanging for tea. The empty glass begin sprouting cobwebs. I raised the time issue to the server, and she gave out a lukewarm apology, and said she'd summon the manager to our table.

The manager offered only glib apologies and then went back to the kitchen. It was already past 9:45 by then. We got our check (something they wasted no time with). Full ticket. Uh-uh, this was a case where we should've gotten something comp'ed. I've never asked for such a thing in the past, even when meals were beyond terrible. But this time I demanded it. Ah, but what else? Yeah, the time on the check. 8:55 p.m. Clearly they were cooking the time so as not to make themselves look bad. We'd placed our order by 8:35. The time stamp refers to when the order is keyed into the system, which cues the cook staff to prepare it.

I wanted the manager, but instead got Miz Whatever. I lit into her, saying we'd waited an hour for our food where others had received theirs sooner. That we'd been on the road for more than 12 hours, that I was ready to get to our destination, I was tired, very pissed off, and did not want this to come to a Mexican stand-off (never mind, it already did). She went back to the kitchen, and produced a revised tab, with one of the meals erased. Seraphim, again, ate free.

Total bill: $13 and change. Total tip: $1.50, a little over 10% on the reduced ticket (one should rightfully never stiff the server a tip on a comp'ed meal, unless the problem was brought on by that server, but in this case she was part of the problem). And I don't think she deserved that much.

Maybe there's a reason that Cracker Barrel didn't have a big crowd.

3) IHOP, Savannah, Georgia, 02/11/2006: This was beyond outrageous, and was so off-the-chart terrible I can't even think of the incident without grinning. Our server's name was Chris (again, real name), and he was extremely rude. It began before we were even seated. He was trying to get past me (it was one of those cramped old A-frame style buildings), and said, "WOULD YOU MOVE??!!" Phew.

It went downhill from there. Everything was answered with rudeness. The order took forever. After it arrived, I found I was stiffed two strips of bacon. I called his attention to this discrepancy, and his response was something along the lines of, "I'll get it, just watch your attitude."

This was so outrageous as to be laughable. MY attitude? Hey, you started it with your Car 54 "Do you mind? DO YOU MIND??" bit!

I could've brought this to the attention of the manager, but there was a good crowd in there, and people were waiting behind us at the cashier. I figured at that point that anybody that rude had to be working for someone who either turned the other way, or condoned such behavior.

But I called IHOP's manager the following Monday, and his demeanor told me nothing would be done about "Chris." As such, we haven't been back, and I don't plan on returning, either. I hate that, for I love IHOP; did I mention that we need a bloody IHOP out toward Rincon, or somewhere nearby on I-95, as they have in Brunswick??!!

Total tab: approx. $22.00. Paid begrudgingly.

Total tip for Christopher Toody: One (1) tarnished Lincoln penny. Only the second time in my life I've ever used that device to make my statement.

Maybe "Chris" used that to put around his neck for his bling.

4) Stone House, Rincon, Georgia. March 2006. Opened in a converted house just up highway 21 from our turnoff. It looked promising -- home cooking, classic oldies motif (old vinyl records covered the walls of the dining room). Like Cracker Barrel above, our order took way too long for it being practically empty. This would've been, what, Saturday at about 730? It does NOT take more than an hour to fry catfish. Seraphim was the one who brought up the issue this time, and they seemed apologetic, but also making excuses. We can't find anyone to work, and we're short kitchen staff. (solution: Pay more to attract good talent -- that's how it's done with CEO's, why not with those who actually work?) Hmph.

Seraphim left to go outside as I settled up. I paid the tab, about $20.00.

Total tip: $3.00, exactly 15%. I tried not holding it against the server.

BUT HAD I HEARD WHAT SERAPHIM HEARD, she might've gotten The Chris Penny. Where our table was situated, and the ambience of the place, Seraphim was in earshot of the kitchen, where I wasn't (you'd have to see the place to know what I mean). My wife heard our server go back into the kitchen after she asked about the delay, and proceeded to berate us to whatever kitchen staff was back there, for having unreasonable expectations about a restaurant.

In other words, we were served by the Naomi character from the movie Waiting.

The Stone House closed recently. Boo to the hoo. Yet another restaurant in Rincon that tried but failed. Frank & Linda's (probably the only good restaurant we have) has nothing to worry about.

*********
Folks, I don't go to restaurants hoping to get free meals. I don't go to restaurants wanting to show off my naturally attractive snarky personality to hapless and incompetent servers. No, I go to restaurants to enjoy a nice meal, brought to me by an attentive and genuinely nice server who wants to make my experience a good one. And everyone with half the sense God gave a doorknob (as my mother is fond of saying) knows that a good experience = repeat business to the "word of mouth" power.

Of course, some are unclear on that concept. Rest in pieces, Stone House. You are not missed.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Why haven't I received any fresh-ground pepper for my salad? I'm going into the kitchen to get some!" Gleck

A short blog entry

A "Honey Do" for our Army pilots:
* Track down Donald Trump.
* Track down Rosie O'Donnell.
* Nuke both.
* Thank you.

--Talmadge "You're Bombed!" Gleck

08 January 2007

Never go out in the rain without your umbrella.

That's a tip I'd like to give a few servers I've had to deal with over the years.

But servers -- tireless mealtime concierges, they -- expect some gratuity to be left on the table after we finish with our meal. It's a tradition in our country which, if you dare peek at the man behind the curtain, is rooted in our subsidizing the salaries of the wait staff, who generally are paid some ridiculous sum like two dollars and change an hour.

Frankly, I fail to see how anyone in their right mind would choose to be a restaurant server. Tips are taxed (talk about the IRS sticking it to the poor!), and owners are required to withhold a certain amount above the base salary for 'anticipated tips.' I've heard plenty of tales about folks literally getting checks for $0.00 because of all the withholding.

Maybe there IS a lot of money to be made in tips. That has to be the only explanation; don't tell me it's because people are desperate for jobs, no matter the sub-minimum wage. You can easily get a job behind the counter as a De-D'DEEEE!! at any fast-food restaurant and make at least $5.15 an hour (for now).

Some say a proper tip is 15% of the food total. Others say it should be 20%. I've long held toward the former, but lately I've tried to tip 20% when the service is good. This, of course, is for a "real" sit-down restaurant. I tip less for buffet restaurants where the server only brings me my drink ... I usually tip 10% there, and only if drink glass doesn't stay empty for more than a few minutes.

I like sitting down at a restaurant and having pleasant dealings with a server. One who anticipates my every need (contrary to what some of you might think, I'm not very difficult -- I only get that way either when I'm left twisting in the wind or the server sets a negative tone). One who has a genuine sense of humor, enjoys interacting with schmucks like us. One who doesn't condescend, or get all phony, 'tease-y' and 'chummy' with us. I can spot the genuine people from a mile away.

To give you a fer-instance, here's one such person (and this is her real name) we dealt with last Friday night. Alison at Logan's Roadhouse in Savannah. Alison even wrote a nice "thank you" note with a Sharpie on the take-out box which Seraphim requested.

Our tab was $32-some-odd. I rounded off the tab to $40, giving her a tip of more than $7.00 -- somewhere between 20 and 25 percent, if my math is good (and often it isn't). Alison deserved every penny, and then some.

Our recent road trip to Missouri involved a stop in Memphis, where we treated Tiger to a night at the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street. This woman -- and dammit I forgot her name -- went above and beyond the call of duty with her service. For starters, the Mountain Dew was out of soda water, so she took some out of another tap and mixed it with the syrup HERSELF. As she told us, "I know how Mountain Dew is supposed to taste, I love it, and I made it the way I think it's supposed to be."

No fewer than two (2) glasses of waitress-made Mountain Dew, and both were spot-on perfect. The fizz and syrup mix was flawless.

There was also another issue at HRC, and it involved Seraphim's order. The grilled chicken on her order was undercooked, to the point of it being quite raw in the dead center. We pointed this out to her, and not only was she genuinely apologetic (it wasn't her fault; the one who prepared it should apologize!), but she went back there and when it was all over with, Seraphim got her chicken actually cooked ... and it was COMP'd! Her dish was struck from our bill.

It was a wonderful experience. And the tip? Well, let's just say that I tipped 25% of not only the food tab, but also the sweatshirt I bought for Tiger and the requisite magnet we got for ourselves (for convenience, HRC will add gift-shop items to your check). About $20 tip on top of an $80 total bill. As with Alison, the woman deserved every penny. Here's another tip: consider a job as product testing for PepsiCo. No machine can make Mountain Dew better than you did.

From that night, a new phrase has entered the already-bulging Tal & Sera Dictionary: HARD ROCK TIP, or HRT for short. It's a tip in excess of general parameters, given only when service exceeds expectations on a grandiose scale, if a server goes way above and beyond in her duties.

These restaurant servers have earned those big tips. Yet, owners still pay 'em less than three bucks an hour?? That's f(BLEEP)kin' obscene.

I can think of two other incidents where I've tipped large amounts: 1) Denny's in Dublin, Ga. on 12/25/2001. On the way back home that evening, we stopped at about the only place open. The skeletal staff were very nice, gracious and attentive. Tiger, then all of nearly 10, put a dollar into the jukebox to hear a couple of songs. But then one of the wait staff decided to fire up the vacuum, rendering my son's selections inaudible.

However, before any of us could say a word, the vacuum jockey stopped by our table and lay a dollar in front of my son, so he could hear those songs again after she finished vacuuming.

What a wonderful gesture! We left a $10 tip on a check of roughly $25.00.

2) Shoney's in Jonesboro, Ark., circa October 1985. [back when they still had an old Big Boy statue out front ... by then they hadn't strayed too far] College town, Saturday night, 11:30 p.m. Four of us were enjoying a leisurely late-night meal. Or, was it? Come to think of it, I don't think it was even that. We might've been having tea. In any case, it wasn't much. Well, our group was one of maybe half a dozen in that restaurant. And this one waitress, poor woman, was the only one servicing the entire dining room!! Evidently, there were some no-shows that night. There was a patron in another booth who was giving her a hard time, and on top of that she was being bitched at by the manager for leaving him hanging. She was this close to tears, and probably ready to walk out herself. Through all that, she was as pleasant as could be to four college kids who didn't exactly order half the menu.

Our cumulative (wait - I work in radio, I should say "cume") check was less than 10 bucks. We all pitched in, and from that one of us - I don't remember who - produced a $20 bill and we left that on the table for her, with a note scrawled on a napkin: "Hang in there." As we left, we looked toward her as she saw our tip. I think we made her night. We smiled back at her and continued on our way.

Like I said, how anyone in their right mind would want to wait tables is beyond me.

These are the good experiences. I'll outline the ugly encounters shortly. Just you wait.

Wait. Hah. Get it?

Ahem.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Check, please!" Gleck

06 January 2007

Another year is at hand

How do I love thee, Seraphim?

Where do I even begin?

Your face brings me goofy grins every morning I wake up and see it.

Your eyes blow a breeze of peace to my soul's desolation.

Your voice eclipses the most beautiful melody ever played.

Your smile brings white-cap waves within my inner being.

Your friendship made me believe in the concept of trust again.

Your acceptance of me, years later, still amazes me.

And most of all:

Your love, almost nine years ago, literally gave my heart a reason to live.

And for six years today, I have had the supreme honor of wearing a band on my finger that you put on it.

I love you, Seraphim. Happy anniversary to a truly mythical being.

XXXXXXXXX

--Talmadge

05 January 2007

The Internet, 1960

Don't let anybody fool you into thinking the Web came into being in the '90s. The Internet was alive and well long before Al Gore had his first case of termites and spelling "HTTP" with his Alpha-Bits.

That's right, gang, between cooking a roast (the husband's bringing the boss home for dinner, again) and cleaning the tops of the curtain rods wearing your pearls, chiffon dress and other feminine finery while watching your stories on the Sylvania, you could interact with your favorite store and ... shop online! What convenience! What value! And you won't have to miss Search for Tomorrow, either -- Joanne Gardner Barron Tate Vincente Tourneur is getting married again, and it behooves you not to miss it.

This picture is from one of those "Live Better Electrically" magazine adverts from the late '50s/early '60s, promising all the things coming down the pike, thanks to Reddy Kilowatt and those ugly overhead squirrel-killin' power lines. I found it at a really cool website called www.plan59.com -- "The Museum of Mid-Century Illustration"

It amused me, which is why it's here. That's all.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Duck and Cover" Gleck

01 January 2007

Jokes and road trips


Dee-D'DEEEEE!!!
--Carlos Mencia

A great experiment was undertaken during the holiday period following Christmas, and that was a family vacation. I say "experiment" because it involved my about-to-turn-15 son Tiger, who doesn't exactly share his Dad's penchant for spending time on the highway. He wants to get there, and the hell with anything else along the way, while I've often felt that getting there is more fun than what happens at the destination itself.

As a 'test run', earlier in '06 we made a day trip to South of the Border (a gigantic tourist trap straddling the S.C./N.C. border along I-95). He seemed to enjoy it, so we tried a three-day road trip toward Missouri, revisiting old stomping grounds and showing off some interesting sights and what-not to Tiger.

The trip included dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street in Memphis, a visit to the New Madrid Museum in the small Missouri bootheel town of - you guessed it - New Madrid. Then from there it was to Sikeston, and another southeast Missouri landmark: Lambert's Restaurant. (ahhhhh, throwed rolls!). We visited friends of mine in Cape Girardeau, and gave wife and son the nickel tour (it felt very strange showing off Cape to my kid, who is the same age I was when living there). We also drove up to Saint Louis, where we "did the Arch."

The Gateway Arch is an experience unto itself. Some good, but a lot of bad. Basically we were all treated like pesky interlopers throughout the entire process. The trams which carry people to the top of the arch are about the size of a two-ply roll of Charmin. Tiny bastards which do well to seat five (5) people, provided all five (5) aren't as fat as Calista Flockhart. Add to that the biggest crowd of December -- a month which typically doesn't see many folks visiting the Arch. It seemed that all of us had the same idea. Then there was the matter of the NPS people treating all of us like cattle. If not potential terrorists.

All in all, it was a fun time.

Now, to the meat of the matter. The requisite "inside joke" every road trip is supposed to have. Thanks to watching waaaaay too much Carlos Mencia on Comedy Central while staying in West Memphis on night #1, we had our joke: Dee D'DEEEE!!!! Suddenly, we were all acting nice and politically incorrect, throwing that phrase around left and right.

Of course, our last road trip (Pittsburgh) gave us one nice joke: FARM FRESH EGGS!

To use a well-worn phrase, we must do this again reeeeeeal soon.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Great River Road Warrior" Gleck

Gall-A-Day Inn

Greetings and a Happy Ought-Seven to everyone out there in blogland.

I remember saying at first that our room for Christmas at the Holiday Inn of Troy, Alabama was "nice enough." Methinks I might've spoken too soon. For starters, while the room itself has seen remodeling since 1966 (the year it opened), I'm convinced the beds in the room are 41-year-old classics. I should've noticed this while I was sitting on the bed using our laptop, but evidently not. Sleeping with Seraphim on these beds was akin to spending a relaxing night on a trampoline. She rolls over, my face goes straight into the popcorn ceiling above. And vice versa.

The bathroom was little better. My love for things nostalgic (such as the round, flat light globe -- classic mid '60s Holiday Inn) was no match for the poor shower in there. Having to bathe in Troy, Alabama water ... so soft as to make a baby's butt feel like sandpaper, and more lead than a tank of 1971 Super Shell gasoline ... was bad enough, but having to endure pressure drops every time someone in that building so much as flushed their toilet! I mean, aren't motel rooms each supposed to have their own water 'circuit', so to speak?? I've never encountered such a thing at any other motel, not even the $29 room I had at the Opelika MOTEL 6 several years ago!

Christmas morning was another matter. My mother put us here because the Holiday Inn had a hot breakfast buffet, as opposed to the more "continental breakfast" served next door at the Holiday Inn Express. She has this hangup about motel breakfasts. I mean, come on -- they always cheap out on these things. Always.

Now Seraphim's not as picky about 'em as I am (she actually ate those goll-durned "farm fresh eggs" at the Hampton Inn back in Pittsburgh), but she understands my simple philosophy regarding breakfasts while on the road: "That's why God invented IHOP!!!" Breakfast is a meal where I don't like to dilly-dally around. I tend toward the 'picky eater' side of the room, and mornings are when I feel LEAST adventurous. Every IHOP has the Breakfast Sampler. And, if we're in an area not served by the Worldly Structure of Flapjacks, I'll gladly settle for a Denny's, a Perkins, or another family-style restaurant that isn't Shoney's. All have good breakfasts, and -- most importantly!! -- consistency. You know what you're getting at an IHOP, whereas in a motel, you're at the mercy of each franchisee. Stale cereal from a dispenser. OJ with more pulp than juice. Rubber biscuits. Boca (i.e. "Farm Fresh") Eggs. And you really can't bitch to the management because it's "free."

As you can tell, I'm digressing again. After waking up Christmas morning, Seraphim went to the restaurant area to procure the "hot breakfast", and -- awesomely sweet wife she is -- liberate some bacon, if they have it, for her husband back in the room.

Merry Christmas! No bacon! In fact, no hot breakfast at all! Just a lousy "continental breakfast." What's more, they were not allowing folks to take a plate back to their rooms! All had to be consumed in the dining area. There was another traveler staying there -- poor thing, she had to go back to her room and wake her kids and bring them, both still in their pajamas, to the dining room so they all could have breakfast. She asked for mercy. The woman working the desk denied her request.

That's downright shitty. Especially on Christmas Day. Yes, I know people should have time off to spend with their families. A lot of businesses have the luxury of being able to close shop on the 25th. But some lines of work require people to be there even on The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. Radio stations, for instance. I've worked many, MANY 12/25 days in my career, as have others in my field. Comes with the territory.

But more important than radio, there's roadside service establishments -- restaurants, gas stations and motels. People DO travel on Christmas Day. Some, indeed, do not celebrate the holiday, so it's just another page on the calendar. Those who are out and about on Christmas Day deserve at least a skeletal infrastructure. Motels, of all places, should have a hot breakfast available -- even if it IS "farm fresh eggs." Don't just haul out the lukewarm Minute Maid and day-old cinnamon rolls and bark at the weary travelers, "YA GOTTA EAT 'EM RIGHT HERE!"

I'm sure that experience gave this lady a great impression about the city of Troy, Alabama, too. The staff was very indifferent and borderline hostile, too. Just the right impression to give travelers along US-231, a major arterial highway connecting I-65 and I-10. Midwest snowbirds drive through Troy en route to their Florida destinations. Does the city of Troy care about these impressions? I doubt it. As long as 231 is lit up like a football stadium (as their illustrious mayor wanted), nothing else matters. Just enough bling to dazzle the Yankees as they head toward their rendezvous with palm trees, Cubans and speed traps.

Yes! Image over substance! That's my Troy! "Golly, what beautiful nighttime streetlights. I must stop my travels, send for all my stuff, and relocate to Troy at once. I wonder if Wiley Sanders is hiring?"

It's a long way from nicer times in Troy, when I entered the city in the front seat beside Gran Lera as she's driving us into town for one of my periodic visits. Rounding the curve on 231 beside the Pike Pioneer Museum, and being greeted with a beautiful evening sight: the Holiday Inn "Great Sign", all lit and pulsating, atop the hill before us.

The Great Sign is gone. So is Gran Lera. All that's left is sad and decrepit waste and squalor.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Give me Motel 6 over Holiday Inn any day" Gleck