Sunday, July 29, 2007

I Hate Chain Restaurants!

If there was ever an insidious disease eating away at the core of our rich American food heritage, it would have the name Restaurantitis Generica. Bland "everyman" food with no sense of history or cultural placement, just a hodge-podge of oversweetened, dumbed-down plonk. Bland, generic, sterilized decor with an atmosphere more akin to a hospital ward than an eating establishment. Hokey-costumed waitstaff with bright buttons and dull wits.

The worst offenders in my book are:

T. K. Tripps: Home of the ten-dollar hamburger - cheese and flavour extra, thankyewverymuch! Overpriced, mediocre food, but their pride and joy is their atmosphere! If I wanted atmosphere, I'd take a walk through the woods just after a late-spring rain. The penultimate snobbery hangout for yuppies in the 90's, this blank wall of nothingness charges way too much and delivers so very little.

Applebees: Big on pretense, small on results. They try to give the appearance of an upscale eatery but somehow the rich, savory delight of a true family restaurant got lost in the mail. Instead of a happy, enjoyable dining experience, you get fake smiles hiding behind a wall of glittering buttons as if it they were the gansta bling of the food industry. For some reason the less-intelligent of the Human species gathers here every day to celebrate birthdays, because every conversation I attempt to have with my friends and family in this place is interrupted by tone-deaf staff screaming some insipidly annoying version of Happy Birthday.

Ruby Tuesday's: Nothing sets this place apart except for the dim lighting and even dimmer staff. Except maybe the completely unimaginative menu. The layout of the place is horrendous, a special violator of common sense design. (See below)

Outback: I am so fucking sick of the fake Aw-straaahl-yan accent! I know REAL Australians, and every last one of them hates this place too. And for good reason. The food is extraordinarily ordinary, and the decor so stereotyped and fake it is an insult to the real denizens of the "Fatal Shores." If a Soul Food chain tried to duplicate this they'd plaster tap-dancing blackface stepin' fetchits all over the wall and the resulting furor would shut them down in less than a week.

Rock-Ola: Elvis is dead. I know this because if he were alive, he'd personally kick the asses of every single owner of this noisome franchise. Trying so hard so evoke a "rock-n-roll" feel, they somehow managed to excise all of the roots of rock-n-roll and instead leave you with a combination of pasty white crooners with pot-addled Woodstock rejects. The place is so noisy, I'm surprised they manage to stay open without violating local noise ordinances. Casual conversation is impossible here. If I wanted to shout at my friends over the top of generic pop music, I'd get tickets to a Hanson concert.

The [Insert City Nickname Here In Vain Attempt To Appear Local] Chop House: The ultimate yuppie hangout from the overpretensious 90's. The place to see and be seen. But not for eating. Portions designed to keep starving Africans starving, decor straight out of smoke-filled boardrooms, and waitstaff specially trained to be snottier than the French. Try showing up here while on business travel by yourself sometime. "Table for one, please." [Snotty look] "Only one, m'seur?" "No, stupid, I brought all of my imaginary friends."

Longhorn Steaks: A recent addition to my list, thanks to waitresses clad in Texas garb but spluttering Jersey accents whilst smacking gum. What. The. Fuck. So there's one open in a nearby town, now. I took the Gnu Herd there, thinking maybe things had changed. Nope. Completely empty place and they can't seat us right away. Something about having to find an open table. Guess they needed a map. Worst of all, we ask for non-smoking and we get a table in the no-man's land near the smoking bar while the real tables in the rarified "non-cancerous" altitudes remained empty. So I asked to be re-seated. You'd have though I'd just asked if I could set fire to the place. A huge dramatic production ensued between one empty-headed blonde and another to try to determine if such a thing as another empty table existed anywhere in the known universe. Remember, the place was nearly empty. We left in disgust.

Cracker Barrel: Remember the old commercial where a guy eating out of a jar of Peanut Butter runs smack into a girl wolfing down a Hershey bar? The result was Reese's magic. No such magic is apparent in this bastard lovechild of a wannabe country store and a greasy spoon truckstop cafe. You'll find these places popping up like poisonous fungi along the highway, just follow the ever-present columns of smoke from the misplaced Wal-Martians wandering the aisles in the gift shop right up front. This will really turn your stomach: a few years ago, the local TV station tested the tea they serve here and found that it contained more fecal coliform bacteria that a water sample from the wastewater plant. 'Nuff said.

Each entry above illustrates perfectly the underlying design flaw present in every last one of these miserable joints. First, from the parking lot to the hostess is the first hazard to overcome: The Outside Chimney Line. Scores of smokers puffing away, some two-fisting it for chrissakes! - as if the mere thought of a nicotine-free dinner was itself fatal.

Having made it past Cancer Cloud City, we arrive in the portico of misery: The perky yet dim-witted hostess who for some reason needs Air-Traffic-Controller grade technology to keep track of the tables. And yet, a mere peek behind the Wizard's Curtain reveals scores of glittering tables ready for the huddled mass of patrons anxiously awaiting reprieve from the billowing smoke emanating from the Chain-Smoking Gang outside as well as the eye-watering bar directly in front of them. It's like a cancerous Scylla and Charybdis.

The smoking section itself constitutes a gauntlet that patrons must run through to get to the supposedly clear-aired non-smoking sections. One must endure the impenetrable wall of putrid carcinogenic smog that will stick to your clothes more permanently that a Sharpie in the hands of a four-year-old. Even after you arrive at your seat, the concept of air circulation completely escapes both the architects as well as the operators of these places: a mere waist-high partition separates the living from the dying.

Smoke, of course, knows no bounds. We always manage to get placed right on the border between breathable air and smog, a virtual no-man's land where the food, if it originally had flavour, now tastes like asphalt. And invariably there's some idiot smoker hanging his or her cigarette over the wall in our faces. I have actually tossed my water over the fuming hedge separating me from such imbeciles, thinking the carpet was on fire or something.

If the designers of these places had any sense whatsoever, they'd either make the entire restaurant smoke-free or place the Death Ward in the very back near the garbage bins. I'm not one to go around advocating laws and such to govern personal behaviour, but given the complete lack of forethought in civil engineering coupled with the fact that one person's "Low Tar Taste of Adventure" is forcibly shared with others who find the putrid smell disgusting, perhaps we need a little governance to rein in the nasty effects of certain personal habits. At least until those who insist on killing themselves learn better how to keep it to themselves.

One such place which has taken a lead in creating a true family-friendly atmosphere is Red Robin. I'd been to one out on the Left Coast, and was delighted to find two nearby the office. And a third one is opening soon right down the road from my home. Red Robin is 100% non-smoking. [Raucous applause from the still-growing lungs of children everywhere!] The food is fairly good, too. Nothing like a local mom-and-pop place, but at least it doesn't taste like pine tar. It is not overbearingly noisy; they actually have a working volume control on the muzak! The waitstaff are competent, unobtrusive, and to get a better feel for how far they will go to serve you, I call upon The Taco Prophet to share his experience dining there with his family.

Unfortunately, no franchise chain can ever replace the local eateries with long histories of local food traditions. Soul Food rich with wholesome goodness from the heart of the South, pier-facing fish houses on both coasts brimming with Neptune's bounty, steak houses in the Heartland where each steak is grilled to personal order over hot coals - and you occasionally taste a bit of real mesquite or hickory wood that popped out of the coals just to remind you how real men cook steaks! - or the exotic flavours of the Far East, brought to the New World from home far, far away. These places are disappearing fast, as the new generation fails to carry forward the venerable traditions of old. It doesn't help either that the local repositories of both food traditions and the histories of those who gathered in droves to partake thereof are being driven out by the invasive Kudzu of commercialized blandness.

Friday, July 20, 2007

My Hero, My Nemesis

My good friend, The Taco Prophet, recently spoke about his two kids on his blog, Noggin Vomit. In the comments, BlueJeanGirl poses the question, "What do parents of only children do for laughs I wonder?"

I'll tell you what we do, my Blue friend: We mess with their minds.

Exhibit A: We went to Boone last weekend and stayed in a hotel suite with TVs in both rooms. Wife and I are watching one show in our room, and the Little Gnu is in the other room watching hers. Unbeknownst to her, the remote in my room works perfectly well on her TV over there. So I spent the better half of an hour randomly resetting the volume, changing channels, turning it off and just generally behaving like a poltergeist pointing my remote at the TV in the other room, until finally she cries out, "Daddy! The TV's messed up!"

Cue my hero shot: I walk in, bang the top of the TV, and boldly declare, "everything is fixed."

For about 10 minutes. Lather, rinse, repeat. Mwahahahaa!

Exhibit B: The Little Gnu is watching a nature show on the Discovery Channel about snakes. I amble by with a warm, unopened Pepsi bottle in my hand. I walk up behind her and say, "Snakes on TV? Hope there aren't any snakes in the living room here."

"Oh don't be silly, Daddy, there are no snakes in here."

I stand right behind her head and twist open the bottle cap with a loud "PSHHHHH!"

When the poor child finally scraped herself off the ceiling, she chased me out into the garage. Good thing I unplugged all the power tools.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Measure of a Man

Yesterday, the microwave broke. Help! We're gonna starve!!

I shouldn't complain too much. That particular unit lasted for seven long years with us. Especially with Mrs. Gnu and the Little Gnu popping up popcorn and pizza every half hour all summer long. We got our money's worth out of it. But alas, it died so off to the local Hardware Superstore I went to get a replacement.

Brought back a really nice one for the low, low price of $200. Not bad, actually, considering Mrs. Gnu had her pretty little eyes set on one of the $600 ones. I won that argument. Dammit. The new oven has got automagical settings for all four food groups: coffee, pizza, popcorn and leftovers. Woo-hoo! One of the Helpful Hardware Experts at the store, after much arm-twisting to get me to spring for the in-home delivery and installation (a bargain at $150!!) to no avail, assured me installation was a snap. All you gots'ta do is unscrew the top bolts, slide the old oven off the back bracket, and ease the new one in. Piece o' cake.

Yeah. Murphy doesn't take a fucking holiday around here, folks.

First of all, I had about an hour and a half to get the two ovens swapped out before we had to head out for an afternoon Barbecue with friends. Shoot, if it's as easy as the nice salesman says, I'll have this done with time to spare. Who in their right minds would shell out 150 clams for someone to this? Well, pulling the old oven out was easy. Destruction usually is. Off to the boneyard with you, old friend.

Now we encounter the first problem: the bracket is incompatible with the new oven. We found that out after trying and trying to hoist the oven up into the slot and failing miserably. Arrgh! Fortunately, the new oven comes with a new bracket. Just have to pull the old one off and screw the new one in to the wall. Whoops, I dropped my screwdriver behind the stove. Time's up! Gotta go grill and chill with my peeps! Got home late from the BBQ and fireworks, off to work early in the morning.

Come home this evening to a pair of very angry Gnus. They want their popcorn... Now!! Back to work on restoring the kitchen to working order. So, we have to move the stove out and then squeeze in behind the cabinets to trade brackets. Only to find out that the guys who put it in managed to miss every single stud and had improvised with drywall mounts. Big, ugly, useless holes all over the drywall! On top of that, my cordless screwdriver's batteries died. I tried every single battery in the house (we have a whole ensemble of Black & Decker cordless products, not a single one of them in working order presently) and couldn't find one that would hold a charge. Off to the Hardware Superstore again, this time for a speed square and a drill with a cord.

Back from the hardware store, time to see if the bolts line up in the cabinet. Nope. Gotta drill those out, too. There's an old saying, "measure twice, cut once." I measured three separate ways, to make those damn bolts line up, and in the end, I was still off by 1/4 of an inch on all four sides!!

It took all night, a lot of swearing, and assistance from Mrs. Gnu to re-drill the bracket holes, mount the bracket, re-measure the top-mount holes, and hoist the microwave up only to discover that there is a quarter-inch warp in time-space that exists precisely 30 inches above our stovetop.

"It's okay, dear," says Mrs. Gnu. "You're used to handling twelve inches at a time, so a quarter inch is nothin'."

God, I love that woman!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy Independence Day

No, not "Happy Fourth of July" as if we simply celebrate the passing of June in to July. We do not celebrate days, we celebrate events. In this case, we celebrate the birth of Liberty. Now, understand, Liberty came at a terrible price for those who struck up its cause in the beginning. They cast their lot onto uncertain ground, at great risk to themselves and their families. Many never lived to see the day when their grand experiment would bear fruit for our country.

I guess it is fortunate that none would live to see the sad state of affairs today, when political animals, living here simply by accident of birth, work so hard to betray our country and bring ruin down on all our heads. These are Liberals: more interested in political power than safeguarding the lives and liberty of us true Americans who are forced to share our country with them. Since they seem to have infected the Democratic party like a gangrenous leprosy, I call then TreasonCrats.

Liberty is a very fragile gift. It requires maintenance, vigilance, and dedication. It is not a gift to us, it is a gift entrusted to our care for our children. It is not easy to keep Liberty. Most things worthwhile in life are not easy to obtain or keep up. TreasonCrats seem to believe that they have the natural right (not God-given because they hate God and do everthing possible to erase His name from our land) to be free to do as they will on a whim, and damn the cost that others will be forced to pay for their selfish happiness.

This "happiness at all cost" attitude is irresponsible and destructive. Note that there is a difference between Liberty and freedom. Liberty exists in the structure of civilised behaviour with a clear understanding of rules and boundaries, and respecting the unbreakable link between choice and consequence, right and responsibility, privilege and obligation, while unbounded freedom thrives in anarchy with no regard to the consequences and no thought at all to the future.

Here is an Independence Day message for all the Liberal TreasonCrats out there:

We're fighting a war for the survival of all civilised life here. And you're not helping. In fact, too many on the lunatic left are actively engaged in treason against the very country that allows them the liberty to act like assholes. But there is a big difference between the right to act like an ignorant douchebag and tearing down the very structure of your own country. You cannot separate cause from effect or choice from consequence; you can ignore the link between them, but only at your own mortal peril.

We're fighting a war against true evil: Islamic Fascists who are hell-bent upon destroying all human life including their own. There is no moral equivalency between our fighting to protect the lives and freedoms of civilised humanity and the wanton death and destruction that these Death-Cult types wish to visit upon our children.

We are not alone in this battle. Some people actually get it. Greetings from another country under fire from Liberal TreasonCrats and their Islamic Fascist allies:

If you are unable to distinguish a moral difference between the two images above, then you have something obscuring your vision. Ideology, perhaps?

Quotes from others throughout history who get it:

To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke

We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God's good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old.
Winston S. Churchill

It is the soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us freedom to demonstrate.
It is the solider, not the lawyer,
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the solider who salutes the flag,
Who serves under the flag and
Whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

Father Denis Edward O'Brien, USMC

Happy Independence Day to all True Americans, who love Liberty and may God bless America and those who defend it.