Monday, June 30, 2003

Saturday night on Gilbert

I feel a responsibility to write about what will no-doubt be the most blogged-about event in Ormewood/EAtl this summer.

Charles expired another of his limited years on this Earth in June, so he threw himself a party. The parties on Gilbert are simple affairs, with a bucket of ice serving as the bar and some deli trays from the Ghetto Kroger being the buffet.

But the beauty of a Charles party is that the things - such as free food and drink - we all look for when we're stuck at some lame party to make us feel better about being there don't come in to play.

Two things make a Charles party a good bet for a good time - people and music.

Charles has a knack for making friends with interesting people that seems to go beyond a shared love for illicit herbs, although I'm sure that helps. Charles gets around a lot and must meet a couple dozen new people every week, so I suppose the ones who figure out that he's a pretty cool guy end up part of the social universe that revolves around everyone's favorite smarted-up redneck from south Alabama.

I met at least six people Saturday night who I ended up having interesting and extended conversations with - ranging from a fellow graduate of south-central Louisiana's finest public university journalism program to Casa Charles' artist-in-residence to the fifth known reader of this particular blog.

Note the use of the word "conversation" in the above paragraph. Another hallmark of bad parties is blaring music that keeps guests from having any meaningful conversation. Of course, if the people are lame, that's not a bad thing.

Charles has really good taste in music and is on an endless quest to find cool new bands on the edges of the music world. I'd hazard a guess that the lineup of CDs is one of the things Charles spends the most time thinking about in planning a party.

Music at his parties is good, but subtle. If you're not sitting in the living room, you probably wouldn't notice it. But for folks wandering in and liking what they hear, Charles can provide the What4 of each artist he's got spinning. He's not going to slap NOW! 18 in the changer and he's not going to crank it up when Cum On Feel The Noize starts (I doubt he even owns Mental Health).

OK, that's all the flowery praise I'm gonna give Charles. Good party, though.

And for the record - no, I was not drinking bourbon Saturday night even though I professed here that I "always" drink bourbon when I'm out. I should have also said that I "almost always" drink "way too much" bourbon when I'm out, which is what happened Thursday night with my boy Tom. So Saturday was a recovery evening for me. Thus the Newcastle. It's roughly the same color as bourbon, anyway.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Coffeeshop Dude gets a new ride

Anyone who spends much time in The E-Atl knows about the guy who hangs out at Joe's coffee shop pretty much all day every day. I call him Coffeeshop Dude.

He's a white guy with long, dirty dreds, probably in his mid to late 40s (although life as Coffeeshop Dude is probably hard, so maybe he's younger than he looks). It would be easy to call him a bum, maybe assume he's homeless. But I think there's more to Coffeeshop Dude than that.

I'd call him a man of leisure.

He doesn't ask for money. He's friendly. When he's at Joe's, he's usually reading a newspaper or book and chatting up others hanging out on the sidewalk. It's just what he does.

Coffeeshop Dude doesn't wake up on the sidewalk outside of Joe's. Apparently he has a home (if not a shower).

When I'm driving to work on Ormewood Avenue between 8:20 and 8:30, I can count on seeing Coffeeshop Dude on his bike, heading toward The E-Atl - no doubt to Joe's. Apparently he's got a schedule to keep.

Char-lez sees him when he's walking Louis around the 'hood, and Tony says Coffeeshop Dude rides past his house in Grant Park every morning. So we can establish that Coffeeshop Dude lives somewhere west of Grant Park, and digs Joe's enough to pedal over and hang out every day.

Not a bad life for a dred-head white guy.

So last night I'm at Publix at East Lake, and who do I see? Coffeeshop Dude.

It seemed strange to me that Coffeeshop Dude would ride all the way over to East Lake to go shopping, so I watched him leave the store. He headed out with his groceries and got in a white pickup truck. Driver's side. Alone.

The truck used to have some kind of company logo on it. It had one of those pointless paper license plates you get when you buy a new vehicle.

Could it be that Coffeeshop Dude bought himself a truck? Signs would seem to indicate as much.

So good for him, perhaps.

Having a truck will make the trip to Joe's a lot quicker. But along with the truck comes a lot more responsibility. He has to have money for gas and insurance (maybe).

Follow that logic, and it could mean that in his need for more money, Coffeeshop Dude may have to work more, which means less time at the coffeeshop.

I'd hate to see him lose his dream of a shiftless existence for the "freedom" of vehicle ownership.

I'll be watching the sidewalk at Joe's for Coffeeshop Dude.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Snobbing on Bourbon

Over the past couple of years, I've become a full-time Bourbon drinker (in the sense that I always drink Bourbon when I'm out - not in the sense that I drink it constantly).

Used to be I drank Bourbon during college football season and beer during those very sad other months when no football is played, but I came to realize that my friend Tom (an expert drinker) is right that beer serves to slow you down and fill you up too much. So now it's Bourbon - preferably Maker's Mark - when I'm out.

This evening I was cruising a site that sells Bourbon online (I can't remember exactly what brought me there - it was one of those click-stream of consciousness things), and I came across this description of W.L. Weller Wheated Whiskey (19 year):

"Antique amber color with mature aromas rich in wood spices (vanilla, cinnamon, teaberry), and dates, with a hint of leather and sweet corn. Beginning with molasses and toffee notes, the soothing taste evolves to dried fruit, ultimately becoming spicy, with notes of vanilla and freshly ground pepper. Long smooth finish includes notes of oak and leather."

Do what? Tastes like leather and corn?

I'd really like to meet the wuss writer for "Malt Advocate" magazine who penned that review. Pretty boys who drink fine wine or single-malt Scotch should describe their alcohol like that, but not Bourbon drinkers.

In fairness, this was a $103 bottle of Bourbon. But I say leave Bourbon for us uncivilized Southerners and stop waxing so poetically about "notes of vanilla" and how the taste "evolves to dried fruit."

And if these flowery words were reserved for $100 bottles, that would be one thing. But here's the description of Old Granddad ($18.96):

"Notes of pecan pie, marmalade, sweet pipe tobacco, toffee. Viscous texture. Lovely buttery feel on the palate showcasing rich, tangy fruit and deep baked-pie flavors. Quite lush and broad in the finish."

If I heard a guy at the Flat Iron say "lovely buttery feel on the palate ..." about Old Granddad, I'd have to show him the door.

Even Wild Turkey 101 Proof garners this wussified review:

"Subdued wood and mineral aromas. A lean attack leads to a medium-bodied palate. Firm, drying finish. Not exactly refined, but fiery and flavorful with a decided burn."

You bet your ass there's a "decided burn", Pierre.

Sunday at The Ted

Enjoyed a fine, hot, sunny afternoon at The Ted yesterday with the boys from Shakerville. I've got the sunburn to prove it (at least I wore a hat ...)

Not having been to many Braves games this year, it's interesting to see the evolution of the ballpark experience. The Braves, like a lot of other MLB teams, are getting a lot more creative in ticket packaging (we were on the "family 4-pack" plan, and there are all sorts of sponsored deals that give you discounted rates on certain nights), and that park in general had much more of a carnival feel.

They make bats and gloves at the Plaza stand that used to be a daquiri shop. There's a booth where you can pitch balls into baskets to win prizes, and they've opened a dedicated funnel cake food stand. And I saw all this between the gate and my seat. No telling what else is going on around the park.

The Braves have also expanded their lame between-inning jumbotron entertainment to include more audience-vote gimmicks, a race around the bases by Home Depot tools and a hilarious video of players and Bobby Cox detailing prohibited behavior in the ballpark and what will happen to you if you do, say, run on to the field and punch the umpire (Chipper: "Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law").

I guess this is all designed to boost attendance, but personally a louder, more kid-focused environment won't draw me out to more games. Show more hotties on the big screen, please.

Speaking of ballpark hotties, they were in rather short supply in our particular section on this day. There were a couple of contenders, but by the 7th inning the sows coming and going made me feel like I was living the last 15 minutes of Shallow Hal.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Vegas wrap-up

NOTE: My blog on Vegas is lame. The wife is working up a more exhaustive and hopefully more entertaining account of our Vegas trip at her spanking-new Coffee Achiever blog.

By popular demand (meaning both of the two people who know about this blog asked me about it), I present the wrap-up of the trip my wife and I took to Vegas this past week. To set the context, we went out for the wedding of a friend of my wife's and stuck around a few days to visit with some college friends of the wife who live out there.

First off, it's great that AirTran is flying to Vegas now. Foolishly, I used the cheap AirTran rate to book a flight on AirTran rather than Delta, which is my usual m.o. The Airbus (not a name that inspires a feeling of comfort and joy) 320 flown by AirTran on this route featured seats so close together that I literally could not open my USA Today during the flight. After the 4-hour flight to Vegas, I had an impression in my left knee that resembled a lighting bolt. Not fun.

But with no movie or other entertainment on the flight, we were happy to be seated among the dozen or so 20-something guys heading out for a bachelor party. They were a good source of amusement, especially as they drank more - first buying drinks then pulling out their flasks to mix into their free Cokes.

Our first two nights there were at the Luxor, which is the Eqyptian-themed, pyramid-shaped casino with the big light on top of it. We had a room in the 4th floor of the pyramid, with an excellent view out onto the ass of the Sphyinx that guards the casino entrance. All in all, a pretty nice place.

Vegas, of course, has become America's leading family vacation destination, so there were plenty of rugrats hanging around the pool and lots of parents pushing strollers through the casino.

We got into town pretty early Friday, so we had time to hang by the pool and visit with our friends who live out there before heading over to the bachelor/bachelorette festivities kicking off the wedding weekend. The wedding party was staying at the Sahara, which is on the far north end of The Strip. The Luxor is at the far south end of The Strip. So we caught a ride up to the Sahara with the wife's friend from college and met up with the guys and gals in town for the wedding.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Before heading up to the Sahara, we checked with the bride about the dress code for the evening. She said it was casual ... shorts and a shirt (whenever possible in summertime Vegas, do not wear pants).

So we get to the Sahara - me in my shorts and polo shirt - to find all but two of the other guys wearing slacks and going-out clothes. After a few minutes, the best man gathered the dudes to explain the plans for the evening. We were to meet up at the swank dance club at The Palms casino before heading out to parts unknown. "Those of you wearing shorts will need to change," said the best man. "It's 8:30 now, let's meet there at 9. You really want to make sure you're there by 9, because after that the line gets real long and you probably won't get in."

The other two guys in shorts - both of whom were staying at The Sahara - went back to their rooms to change. I informed the wife that I was gonna head back to The Luxor, and if I had the time and inclination, try to meet up with the group at The Palms. A lovely time at the Sahara, indeed.

So I take a $15 cab ride back to The Luxor (cabs in Vegas are WAY expensive ... if you're going to be there long, rent a car. All the casinos have big parking garages with free parking), arriving there at about 8:50. A little quick math [10 minutes to change and get to The Palms, which is off the strip about a mile away + $10 or more in cab fare to hopefully meet up with 14 guys I don't know] and I decided to hang with Lady Luck at my own hotel.

Fortunately, a couple we are friends with were arriving late that evening and staying at The Luxor. They called the wife when they got in town, and she told them to call me. We hooked up in the casino, had some drinks at the margarita bar in The Luxor and then headed out to The Strip to find trouble.

Instead of trouble, however, we found an amusing Prince tribute band at the rundown Boardwalk casino. More drinks were had, followed by photos with "Prince" and the guy pretending to be Morris Day. About that time, the wife was getting back from the bachelorette party at The Thunder From Down Under (think Chippendale's on the Barbie) male strip show, and we met her back up at The Luxor.

She had not had nearly as much to drink as the three of us.

We hit House of Blues at Mandalay Bay in time to here the last 18 seconds of the house band's show before they shut down at 2 a.m. Then we had a late night dinner/breakfast at Mandalay's all-night restaurant before finally getting back to our room around 3:30.

More math ... Vegas is three hours behind Atlanta ... the wife had gotten up at 5 a.m. Atlanta time, I got up at 6. We got to sleep just before 4 a.m. Vegas time, which is really 7 a.m. our time. Nothing like staying up 24 hours to cure that jet lag.

So that was Day 1.

Day 2 featured the 1 p.m. Elvis wedding at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, a good bit of rest between the wedding and the 6 p.m. Bellagio fancy-dress reception, lots of free drinks and food at the Bellagio, and a fairly early bedtime (jet lag or no, we were still running on very little sleep).

With most everybody heading back to Atlanta on Sunday, Day 3 was spent with our Vegas-resident friends. We checked out of The Luxor and checked in to The Flamingo, then tooled around with the friends. They've been out in Vegas for a few years, have a cool little daughter and a boy on the way, but still manage to be fun to hang out with. It was a pretty low-key day of hanging out, but that's what we were after following the wedding-dominated Friday and Saturday.

We hadn't actually gone up to our Flamingo room when we checked in, so we were pretty curious to see the place when we were dropped off that night. The Flamingo, of course, was Bugsy Siegel's hotel, the place that made The Strip famous. The original buildings were all torn down in the 1970s, but it's still got that old-school Vegas vibe.

When I checked in, I asked for a high room with a view of The Strip. We ended up on the 20th floor directly across from Caesar's Palace. The room had floor-to-ceiling windows with an amazing view out over The Strip. The Bellagio was to the left, and we had a great vantage point for the fountain shows, and we were high enough to have a view of the whole Vegas valley and the mountains beyond. And all for $60 a night!

Day 4 was spent at the pool and exploring The Strip. The Flamingo's pool as described on their site was the biggest selling point for me - 15 acres of tropical gardens surrounding 4 pools; one of Vegas' largest pool complexes. The pool was really nice, but all those damn tropical plants took up valuable sun-bathing space. And with the 1,000 or so people at the pool that morning, we were left without deck chairs and forced to actually GET IN the pool!

After pool time, we made our way down The Strip for lunch at Fatburger. Mmm ... Fatburger. You know a burger is big when the wife can't finish it, and I don't want her leftovers, either. We explored Caesar's Palace and its Forum Shops, which I hear is per square foot the highest-grossing retail space in the world.

In 104-degree heat, that made for plenty of daytime fun.

The wife went back over to hang with the friends that evening, but I had a bit of a backache, so I hung at the room and ordered a hooker.

Day 5 - the last full day in Vegas ... more pool time and hanging with one of the friends, who was off work. We went to the Ethyl M chocolate factory, but like the last time we went, they weren't making any damn chocolate! The wife ripped some poor woman there a new asshole, then we had some samples, bought a chocolate bar and left.

Dinner with the friends, followed by some more hanging out at their place, and we were back to the room by 11.

Day 6 was mostly a get up and go day. We got to the airport early to request exit-row seats (smart boy ... more legroom). Storms in Atlanta made our approach to Hartsfield interesting, but we got in pretty much on time.

Apparently some dillhole picked up one of my bags by mistake at baggage claim, so we waited 30 minutes before we noticed he had apparently slipped back in and swapped my bag for his. People suck.

And that was our trip to Vegas. It wasn't as lame as it may have sounded.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

www.pointless.url.gov

License plates have evolved into cheap advertising platforms for states. Drivers end up paying to have tiny mobile tourism billboards attached to their cars (think the auto-wrap advertising idea in reverse). We have "Georgia ... on my mind", Louisiana has "Sportsman's Paradise" and Alabama has replaced "Heart of Dixie" with the curious "Stars Fell on Alabama" (it's a reference to an Ella Fitzgerald song, but stupid nonetheless).

I had a friend in high school who moved from Wyoming, and his tag had this cool cowboy-on-a-bucking-bronco logo. I thought that was pretty brilliant. Says pretty much everything Wyoming wants you to know without some contrived "Wyoming - we got horses" slogan.

But as I was making my way home Tuesday, I got behind a car with Pennsylvania tags. I remember seeing "Keystone State" on their tags in the past, but this one was different. No "Keystone State", "Hey, look at the funny Amish people" or "Parts of the state are clean!" slogans. The tagline - so to speak - was:

www.state.pa.us



Apparently Pennsylvania is putting all their marketing eggs in one basket - hoping I'll be so intrigued that I'll just have to punch up www.state.pa.us when I get home. (OK, so I did ... but only for research).

What do you find at www.state.pa.us? Apart from some bizarre web design (the navigation has a fade-out effect that made me think my monitor was dying), you get the standard links to "top news" such as "Governor Rendell Appoints Robert B. Miller Jr. as the Governor's Sportsmen's Advisor", government agencies, and specialty websites (my favorite is the Falcon Cam - a whole site build around some falcons that roost on a state building in Philly).

Not surprisingly, this move was made in late 1999, just at the height of Internet hysteria. Seems then-Gov. Tom Ridge was sucked into dotcom fever (the new governor is pushing his "plan for a new Pennsylvania", so I guess he's managing the turnaround after the VC money dried up and Ridge had to put the state's IPO plans on hold).

The really odd thing is that the state choose www.state.pa.us as the URL for their tag. First off, that's the standard government-assigned homepage all states get, so it's fairly easy to figure out how to get their on your own. Secondly, why would I want to visit www.state.pa.us? I might go to www.pennrocks.com or www.seetheamish.gov, but the state government's homepage? Weak.

It turns out West Virginia has also added a URL to their tag recently, but their URL is the more marketing-focused www.callwva.com (which begs the question - if your URL has "call" in it, why not just print a 1-800 number instead?) and it was added in the plate's header, leaving the pretty cool "Wild, Wonderful" slogan intact.

Pennsylvania actually brands www.state.pa.us as "PAPowerPort" (yes, they have it trademarked), and they own www.papowerport.com, although it's a dead-end URL. So maybe www.PAPowerPort.com on the tags? That's lame, too.

BUT, the state operates www.ExperiencePA.com as their tourism site. Hey, there's an idea.

My exhaustive research led me to a site showing license plates through the years for all 50 states. You can see how plates turned from simple vehicle identifiers to marketing tools in the mid-1980s. I think it would be pretty cool for a state to come out with a "throwback" license plate from 1969 or something.

I think my favorites have to be New Hampshire, which has managed to keep it's rockin' "Live Free or Die" slogan alive in this age of political correctness:



... Idaho, whose slogan is "Famous Potatoes" but recently added a script "Scenic" in front of the "Idaho" up top, to let everybody know that the famous potatoes are pretty cool to look at:



... and Washington DC, which changed its slogan from "Celebrate & Discover" to "TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION" in 2000 to protest the lack of support for its statehood:



I think that's a pretty interesting precedent. License plates as political speech on behalf of the entire state. Maybe Mississippi could change its plates to "Vegas Sucks!" to help promote its casino industry. Or Georgia could have "We're not last in education ... Alabama is!" on its tags.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

The all-new Ghetto Kroger

You have to deal with a lot of crap living in the hood. Shiftless dudes hanging out on Moreland Avenue at all times of the day; piles of clothes, furniture and whatnot appearing on the curb outside the houses of the evicted (although the plus there is that you can get rid of just about anything by simply toting it to the curb since people are trained to look for curb-side freebies); beat-down American cars spewing smoke as they barrel toward you on narrow neighborhood roads; and endless lines of people buying Cash 3 tickets at the Chevron when all you want is a Coke.

And, until about two years ago, you had to drive 10 miles to find a decent grocery store. Then the Publix opened at East Lake, followed by the big, shiny, all-new Ghetto Kroger on Moreland down by Charles' house. The new Ghetto Kroger replaced the original a couple miles farther down Moreland.

Ghetto Kroger was my nickname for the old store (think Disco Kroger in Buckhead or the former Freddy Kroger on Ponce), and anyone who ever ventured inside would know why. I made that mistake once, then learned the short way to Publix at Ansley the Publix on Ponce when it opened before the East Lake Publix opened.

When I saw the new Kroger under construction, I was intrigued. In my former life, I lived in Alpharetta (home of some of the most glorious Krogers around), wrote some about the new store designs and became quite a fan of the big deli counters, meat departments, produce counters and all that.

I went to the new Ghetto Kroger the first day it was open. Yep, looked like the Crabapple store. The daily case mooed, the lettuce racks made the cute thunder sound when the mist was unleashed. The clientele was diverse, to say the least, but it all seemed to work.

Now, about a year or so later, the all-new Ghetto Kroger has made my "don't go there" list. It's not the customer base, which somehow does seem to be made up of more "old school" neighborhood folks than the Publix, it's the service.

At about 9 p.m. Sunday night, they had a total of three registers open, and the lines of shopping carts were winding all over the front of the store. There had to be more than 30 people total waiting to check out. Even the U-Scan lanes were backed up, because everybody who came close to being able to get all their stuff through self checkout was taking that route.

I tried to be patient, but gave up after about 10 minutes of no line movement, other shoppers combining their carts in front of me to skip the line and the growing stench of humanity packed in there on a rather warm evening.

So I became a real-world instance of what e-commerce folks call "shopping cart abandonment". I was tempted to leave it sitting driverless in line, but that would just hurt those poor saps stuck behind me. So a quick left from the line of lines, an easy roll down the sugar and flour aisle and I was off to Publix.

Ten minutes to re-create my shopping cart, quick checkout (no lines), and I was out.

Goodbye, Ghetto Kroger.

Yeah, the first one

Like most things in my life, the creation of this blog was spurred by a sense of competition, one-upmanship or whatever you want to call it. I learn my boy Charles has one and a couple of hours later -- poof, mine appears.

Charles names his after his neighborhood; I name mine after my 'hood. The challenge has been answered, my friend!