Thursday, October 31, 2013

Great Moments in Customer Service

(Sorry about the delayed posting for those of you that saw: "Placeholder".)

Today we present another episode of Great Moments in Customer Service.

A few weeks ago, after getting home late on a Friday night, St. Pauli Girl and I decided to order Chinese food for delivery. We called our favorite establishment
(which also has good Chinese mustard ).  Thirty minutes later our food arrived, although we had already realized they never asked for our credit card number on the phone. So St. Pauli Girl presented the credit card to the deliveryman who, not surprisingly, told her he couldn't process credit cards.

No problem,” St. Pauli Girl said, “I'll just call the restaurant back. Wait here.

A few moments later the man on the phone told her, “We cannot process your credit card right now.

But we always use a credit card when we order. We're good, loyal customers.”

No, we cannot do that right now.”

Oka-a-ay. How about I give the driver a check?”

We don't take checks.”

But we don't have any cash,” St. Pauli Girl reasoned.

No checks. Cash only.

We handed the food back to the driver who apologized and left, all the while wondering why they didn't tell us "cash only" when we called.

In short, the driver lost out on a tip, the restaurant had to throw out perfectly good food, and they lost a loyal customer forever . . . all because they wouldn't bend a no-checks policy even under unusual circumstances. (A broken card reader? Cancelled bank account? We'll never know.)

Not to be outdone, an "upscale taco shop" we visited for the first time last weekend made us question the sanity of yet another restaurant management team. After ordering at the counter, the cashier handed us our “chips and salsa” receipt which we were instructed to take to the food window a few steps away.

We stood on the right side of the window in front of the four people working on the other side. No one even looked up. Then we saw the sign on the left side of the window which said “Pick up food here.” So we moved over to the left side of the window and waggled our receipt in the air . . . where the four workers continued to ignore us.

St. Pauli Girl held the receipt up to the window. The four workers continued to plate food and talk among themselves, still refusing to acknowledge our existence. Lucky for them I had a beer in my hand or I would have been forced to take some kind of action.

I glanced through the window and saw a huge metal container with a couple bushels of chips just waiting to be scooped into a basket. I'm sure the salsa was nearby. It would probably take about five seconds to load up a basket of chips and a cup of salsa.

Do you think we're supposed to walk back there and get it ourselves?” I asked.

St. Pauli Girl pulled on the locked door next to the window. “Guess not,” she said.

I've already decided I'm never coming back here. Even before we get our food,” I said.

Finally, one of the worker bees grabbed the receipt from St. Pauli Girl's hand, looked at it, then wordlessly set it on the counter. He continued doing other things. When we had just about reached the breaking point, he glanced up, spent about five seconds filling a basket with chips, grabbed a cup of salsa, and set them on the window counter. He still didn't say anything. Without asking, we grabbed the chips and ran.

Later, our number for our tacos were called and I went back to the window to get our food.

Both of those trays are yours,” said the guy behind the window.

What? You mean you guys actually speak?” I said, grabbing the trays.

I brought the food back to our table, and St. Pauli Girl realized she forgot to ask for sour cream. Easily remedied, you would think, and you would be wrong. She had to wait in the main line behind a crowd of people to order a side of sour cream. After paying, the cashier gave her a receipt, which then had to be presented at the food window. This all came with the now-familiar ticket-waving and getting-ignored ritual.
Meanwhile I finished my tacos and tried to imagine the business plan pitch for this establishment: “We're going to make really big tacos with interesting toppings but then we'll make it very big city, upscale by providing the kind of service you can expect in a prison cafeteria... except worse.”

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bears Everywhere

Back in August, St. Pauli Girl and I went to visit the mountain cabin of her brother and sister-in-law in the mountains of New Mexico. The rocky dirt road leads to a location so remote that the only area inhabitants are people that don't wish to be found or are up to no good.

“Have you ever thought of building a still out here?” was the first question I asked my brother-in-law.

But it is a very nice cabin, built completely by hand, which is why I refer to my brother- and sister-in-law as Mr. and Mrs. Grizzly. We spent the day hiking around the 25-acre-mountain lot where Mr. Grizzly pointed out the decades-old bear trail and all of the rocks bears had recently turned over looking for grub. Or in this case, grub worms.

Later that night, Mr. Grizzly started grilling some sausage. “Supposedly bears can smell grilled hamburger meat from two miles away,” he noted.

I glanced all around. “And how far away can they smell grilled sausage?”

“That’s five miles.”

Luckily we didn't encounter any bears. That’s especially lucky because the only restroom was an outhouse necessarily situated some running distance from the cabin.

Last weekend, St. Pauli Girl and I returned by ourselves to New Mexico where we had rented a secluded cabin on the side of a mountain. A notice on the door of the cabin warned about high bear activity in the area. The flyer included a cute cartoon picture of a smiling bear wearing a chef's hat and grilling hamburgers, with a warning underneath that read: “The real bear will not look like this.”

Thank you! Yes, we were actually expecting him to wear a tie and green hat. If you want to warn people of danger, a cartoon may not be the best way to go. This would have been far more appropriate.

That notice, cute as it was, pretty much ruined my weekend as I spent the rest of the time worrying about bears. I wandered around the outside of the cabin looking for evidence of bears, just like Mr. Grizzly had taught me. Every time I entered a different room I plotted my escape, depending on where the bear might come from. And the fact the front door was a simple sliding glass door didn't make me feel any safer.

“Do you think we should close the curtains on the door?” I asked St. Pauli Girl.

“No, why?”

“If the bear can see inside, he may be more likely to break in. I mean, what if he smells the coffee?”

I then pointed out if we wanted to use the hot tub on the deck, we should do it before we grill the steaks. “I bet they can smell prime rib eye from ten miles.”

We did make use of the hot tub, but I didn't enjoy it very much. I was on the lookout for bears.

“Will you stop it and just relax,” St. Pauli Girl said at one point, noticing I looked ready to bolt at the slightest rustling through the pines.

“I think the only thing worse than being eaten by a bear would be getting drowned by a bear,” I said. “Heck, if he tossed some carrots and onions in first, he could just turn this hot tub into a big stew pot.”

But once again we survived the weekend with no bear sightings. On the last day, we wandered around the property a bit. On the hill behind the cabin, I noticed a sign that marked the boundary of the national forest.

“Oh I'm so stupid,” I said slapping my forehead.


“This is a national forest, and the government is shut down. The bears are on furlough.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Captain Amidst Majors

In honor of fall, today's post will involve an old football story:

In my freshman year of high school, we were warming up for our second game of the season. As we stretched, the coach walked by and told me that I would be a captain for the game. I nodded then he walked away while I pondered the awesome responsibilities that might be required of me.

I wondered if I should move to the front of the team to lead the exercises. But there were already two players leading, and it would have caused a scene if I pushed them aside. But I was the captain. Didn't I have the duty to take over? Instead I decided I would do some shouting to inspire the team.

“Yeah, okay, woo-hoo!” I shouted through my helmet

The player next to me looked at me and said, “God bless you.” He apparently thought I sneezed.

Just before gametime, the referee led my co-captain and myself to the middle of the field for instructions and the coin toss.

The referee said, “Now when there is a penalty, raise your hand so we can find you and go over the possibilities. We don't want you looking at your coaches for assistance. This will be a good learning experience.”

He then flipped the coin, and I called, “Heads.”

The coin came up tails and allowed our opponent to get the ball first. As we jogged off the field, my co-captain said, “You idiot! We always call tails.”

“What? Since when? Nobody told me that.”

He just sighed.

When we got back to the sideline, I saw him talking to the coach who then glared at me. Apparently I had missed the super secret captain's meeting where such matters were discussed.

“It's not like the coin toss is going to decide the game,” I told myself in a little pep talk.

Five minutes later, we came off the field after the other team had taken the ball and driven right down the field for a touchdown. I noticed the coach frowning at me again.

Later in the game when were down 20 – 0 (and reducing the importance of the coin flip), the other team was flagged for a penalty. The referee grabbed me by the shoulder and steered me away from my teammates and away from my coach on the sidelines. He started explaining my options, but having played and seen enough football, I already knew the correct decision.

Regardless, out of the corner of my eye, I could see my coach practically doing backflips trying to signal me what to do. Meanwhile, my teammates followed the referee and myself as we seemed to dance around the field trying to avoid coaches and players. My teammates yelled at me to accept the play and not the penalty which I had already decided to do.

“We'll decline,” I told the referee while motioning my hands in the normal referee decline signal.

“What?” asked the referee as if he were a novice.

“We don't want the penalty.”

“So you want the play?”

“Yes, that's what I said.”

The referee then approached the sidelines where he announced, “The penalty is declined.” He waved his hands below the waist just like I had done a minute before.

The game ended shortly thereafter. But I have always been annoyed that I got blamed for something I didn't know (always call tails) and everyone else took credit for the one penalty decision I had to make.

Later that season, that day's co-captain and myself were named captains again. As we went out for the coin toss, I told him he could make the call.

The referee tossed the coin and my co-captain said, “Heads.”

I stared at him in disbelief as the coin turned up heads, and we got the ball first.

As we ran off the field, I said, “I thought we always called tails?”

“I just had a feeling.”

The coach slapped him on the back when we got back to the sideline. I guess some captains are born leaders and others are destined to be stuck in a regiment of majors.

Friday, October 4, 2013


For some reason my previous blog post reminded me of this incident from my youth:

I was 14 years old and at the mall with my dad on a Friday night. (For you younger readers, this is the equivalent of spending Friday night watching CSI reruns with your parents and not getting a single text, tweet or Facebook update.) I walked a good five to six feet behind my dad, pretending I didn't know him.

As we neared the center of the mall, I noticed a girl my age standing alone. She smiled at me. I smiled back. Her blonde hair was carefully coiffed; she wore jeans and a pink blouse pulled tight over a figure that seemed far more advanced in age than her face.

As I tried hard not to stare, she suddenly held up her hand and stopped me.

Hi, I'm Sharla! Have you been saved?”

I glanced around. “What? You mean from my dad?” I pointed in his direction then tried to be more suave. “I mean, no, that's not my dad. He's just some guy that cut me off in my Trans Am in the parking lot. Thought I'd come give him a piece of my mind.”

No, silly. I mean, have you accepted Jesus?”

Oh. I'm Catholic.”

I now know that usually that at this point she should have turned me over to her recruiter, or she should have at least said, “You're going to hell anyway.” But Sharla didn't blink. Maybe she just liked me?--my 14-year-old self hoped.

That's okay, Jesus wants to save everyone,” she said, still smiling. “Would you like to pray with me?”

Without waiting for an answer she took me by the hand and led me to a bench. She sat and turned sideways, clasped both my hands in hers, and leaned forward.

Close your eyes,” she said.

I did as instructed. Then I slowly opened one eye to see if hers were closed. They were, and I realized then that I could see right down the pink blouse. I opened both eyes. Wide.

Do you want to go to heaven?” she asked, squeezing my hand with her eyes squeezed shut.

I think I can see it from here.”

Great! If you accept Jesus as your personal savior right now, your place in heaven is waiting for you.”

I'm sorry, I didn't hear that. Can you move closer?”

She scrunched her knees next to mine and leaned forward. At this point I lost track of everything she said. Five minutes earlier, I was the biggest loser on earth spending Friday night with my dad and now sweet Sharla had my hands in hers while I enjoyed a heavenly view. I looked around hoping someone from school might see me. I felt her hands tighten around mine.

Did you hear me?” she said with a frown, eyes open.

Oh, what? Sorry, it's loud in here.”

She closed her eyes and resumed praying.

I looked around and noticed four or five other pairs of kids holding hands and doing prayers on surrounding benches. A couple of middle-aged men with stylish Moe Howard haircuts walked around keeping an eye on everyone. I couldn't decide if they were ministers or sales managers. One of them made eye contact with me and glowered. I immediately closed my eyes and threw my head back as if in rapture. He left, and I refocused my gaze.

Repeat after me,” Sharla said.

I hesitated. Now she wanted me to actually pray out loud with her.

Did you hear me?” she said somewhat annoyed, jiggling just enough that I decided right then and there that I would push virgins into a volcano for her if necessary.

I repeated all her prayers, and she finally asked, “Do you accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”

I sighed, knowing it was all coming to an end soon, so I leaned in and admired the good Lord's handiwork one last time.

You bet I do.”

She jumped up and hugged me, which answered one of my own prayers. I glanced heavenward, a chill running up my back.

Sharla pulled away and smiled.

Have a great weekend,” she said.

Hey, can I have your phone number?”

What? Oh, no! Gross!

Newly saved but devastated, I walked in a fog to the record store, wondering if I could come back and get saved again the next Friday. And the one after that. Perhaps if I got saved enough I might be less gross to her.

I walked back into the mall and finally caught up with my dad who asked where I had been. I started to tell him that I met someone then sighed and said, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Texan at Last

A few weeks ago as St. Pauli Girl was driving us somewhere, something finally dawned on me:

“I just realized that I've now lived in Texas longer than any other state,” I marveled.

St. Pauli Girl slammed on the brakes (luckily we were at a traffic light).  “Oh my God!  You're a Texan!”

In most states and maybe even some countries, fifteen years residence would earn at least honorary citizenship.  Not so in Texas.  Later that night, St. Pauli Girl came out for happy hour armed with a clipboard and a copy of the Texas Constitution encased in glass.

“I've been authorized by the county Constable and a guy who claims he knew someone related to Sam Houston to give you the official Texan Citizenship Exam,” she said.  “Now put your left hand on the Constitution and raise your right hand:  Do you hereby swear on this here holy piece of paper and to the Republic for which all else are jealous and on every concealed handgun in the room that you will do your  God's honest best to answer some hard falutin' questions about the motherland so help you God and Willie Nelson and Rick Perry?”

“I do,” I said then held out my hand.  “Do you need to draw blood?”

“Not yet.  Let's begin, shall we?  First, tell me something about barbecue.”

“The only real barbeque is beef ribs and brisket.  Pulled-pork is okay as a minor offering, but serving a vinegar-based sauce is a felony.”  I sat back with a smile knowing this would be a breeze.

“Good,” she said with a smile.  “In at least 10,000 words, tell me how great Texas is.”

“10,000 words?”

“Hold on a second.  No, that's just for native-born Texans.  There is no word-count minimum for foreigners.”

“Okay, let's see,  Texas is really big.  And great.”

There was a moment of silence.

“Can you expand on that?”

I thought for a minute then remembered the song by the Austin Lounge Lizards
“Our guitars are the twangiest, our guns are the ka-blangiest
Our cattle the long-horniest, our yodels the forlorniest
Our cookoffs are the chiliest, our Waylon is the Williest
Our sausage is the smokiest, our neighbors are the Okiest.”
St. Pauli Girl grimaced.  “That question may come back to haunt you.  Okay, now use 'y’all' in a sentence.”
I frowned.  Having grown up primarily in Tennessee, I had managed to banish that awful contraction from my vocabulary.  “Okay, let's see... I was feeling very sleepy and then I y’allned.”
“Not acceptable.  Repeat after me:  dinner is ready, y’all.”
I started to sweat.  “Dinner is ready...... folks.”  I tried but I couldn't do it.  “No wait: vittles is ready, folks.”
St. Pauli Girl shook her head and made notes on the clipboard.  “Who was the leading rusher on the 1973 University of Texas Longhorns football team?”
I wanted to say Earl Campbell but I thought it might be a trick question and didn't want to press my luck so I just gave her the hook'em horns sign.
“The correct answer is Roosevelt Leaks, but we will accept the hook'em sign.”
I wiped my brow.  This is really getting hard, I thought.
“Next: if we're in the grocery store and I ask you what kind of coke you want, what is your response?”
“That's easy, classic Coke.  They don't even make new Coke anymore.”
St. Pauli Girl dropped her head into her hands.  “The best response would be Dr Pepper.”
I shut my mouth.  I knew the situation was too tense to argue Coke versus pop or even soda.
“Look. You're really borderline here,” she said with a sigh.  “Lucky for you that your fifteen years of residence goes a long way with Willie and Rick, so it all comes down to this last question.”
“I'm ready,” I said as I leaned forward.
“Do you accept Ted Cruz as your personal and Texan senator?”

I guess I will never truly be a Texan.

And as a final insult, apparently I can't even write like a Texan:
Editor’s note: The correct punctuation of the contraction is  y’all, not ya’ll, and Dr Pepper, a Texas-born elixir, has no period.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Neighborhood Watch

If you follow the news at all (or maybe even if you don't), you've no doubt heard countless stories about the government keeping tabs on your emails, web surfing habits and how many times a day you go to the bathroom. As disturbing as that may be, it should come as no surprise that the government is capable of turning into a James Bond villain. And similarly, most of us have more to fear from ordinary people than super villains.

I have been working from home for twelve years now. Most of that time has been spent working in rooms without a view. However, I am now set up with an office in the front of the house and as we remodel, said office has no curtains. Hence, anything that happens outside distracts me or captures my attention. It recently occurred to me that I know way too much about the neighborhood and can tell time by what is happening outside. And because my job regularly requires me to work nights, I have quite a timeline.

I know that someone across the street works the graveyard shift leaving the house about 1:00 a.m., returning for lunch at 5:30 and then leaving again at 6:30 a.m. Shortly after, the first dogwalker passes by in the dark. After sunrise, more dogwalkers come by including the woman in the black yoga pants and her hair pulled back so tight, it wrenches a permanent scowl on her face. She is followed by an older woman walking her terrier. This woman wears one of those hunting caps with ear flaps, even in July.

At about 7:45 a.m., the high school neighbors take off to school in their cars. One next door neighbor leaves for work about the same time. I always see him because he parks his car in other people's driveways instead of his own. The father across the street leaves for work at 8:30. A hipster doofus with long blond hair makes his way to the corner 7-11 for his morning Big Gulp. He'll make a return trip in the afternoon. If it's Monday, the local grocery store catering truck delivers groceries to the retired woman across the street. On Thursdays, her cleaning lady comes at 10:00.

At 11:00, two different women jog past. Sometimes one of them will be jogging with her boyfriend in which case they race to the stop sign. He usually wins, but I bet she lets him. The afternoon is a little slower especially in the summer. A few bikers will go by including a senior citizen dressed in button down shirt, nice slacks and helmet. And he must ride for at least an hour up and down the street. The mailperson comes by at 4:00.

But I recognize everyone and can spot the door-to-door salespeople. I know which cars should be on the street, which shouldn't and make sure the cars driving too slowly keep moving on.

St. Pauli Girl and I spend most nights on the back porch for happy hour during warm weather. A few weeks ago, a thunderstorm broke out, and we were forced inside where we sat in our breakfast nook by the front door. We watched the rain and lightning while sipping on our wine. St. Pauli Girl pointed to a house across the street where a couple of teenagers embraced on the front porch. A minute later, the girl looked up and moved in for the kiss which quickly turned into a heated makeout session.

St. Pauli Girl and I whooped and cheered them on. We started to give advice which they couldn't possibly hear. The girl seemed to be the aggressor as she moved her hands under his shirt, and he stood passively with his arms barely grazing her side.

“He needs to go for the butt grab,” I said. “He's standing there like this happens to him all the time.”

“Maybe it does,” St. Pauli Girl said.

“Regardless, he needs to seize the moment.”

After another minute or so, his hands finally slid slowly down her back and pulled her tight.

“Yes! The two-handed butt grab!” I cheered.

St. Pauli Girl and I high-fived each other and applauded as the kiss finally broke up.

In short, people should worry less about the government and more about their creepy neighbors.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

That's Entertainment

I have mentioned previously that we like watching the “House Hunters”shows on HGTV. St. Pauli Girl likes to check out houses while I get a kick out of the people on it and their constant complaining about needing an open floor plan. But what really gets on my nerves now is that every couple proclaims something along the lines: “But we entertain a lot” or “we really expect to entertain a lot and that deck is too small” or “I really wish we had friends because this would be a great house to entertain in.”

I understand what they mean. They like/want to host dinner parties or plain old parties or just have friends over for drinks. Just say what you mean. As far as I know, I've never received an invitation to a night of entertainment, but that could be because I'm very boring. I've been invited to parties and dinner parties and although they have been fun, I wouldn't necessarily consider myself to have been entertained.

So in case you are not sure if you are entertaining or just having friends over:

A good rule of thumb is if you think you could charge a cover charge or guests should bring a wad of dollar bills, then yes, you can consider yourself an entertainer.

If you sing some songs, you're friends will probably smile and politely applaud. If you put out a tip jar, you're an entertainer.

If you give a ten minute monologue of jokes, it just means you waste a lot of time on the internet. If you provide a backing laugh track, you're an entertainer.

Hosting a game night is not entertainment. I'm a sore loser so if I win, I might have been entertained; if I lose, I've just wasted a night of my life. And I probably won't come back.

Cooking dinner in an open kitchen does not make you an entertainer, especially if it involves Brussels sprouts. Flipping food in a pan over massive flames, hand tossing pizza dough, and/or juggling bottles of liquor does not make you an entertainer unless you charge me $100 to sit there and watch you. And I'll probably want a refund at the end of the night.

Now that we've settled the difference between entertaining and having friends over, I would like to announce my new career: Power Broker!

We were lucky enough to watch a new show on HGTV last night called “Power Broker.” Now I'll admit we missed the first fifteen minutes of the show, but essentially the Power Broker is a guy who gives a list of homes for sale to a young couple and helps them pick an offer price. Now this may vary by state or country, but the thing that's still great about realtors is that they handle all of the contact with the seller or buyer so you don't have to.

But the Power Broker doesn't do that. He tells the buyers to make an offer and let him know what happens. When the offer isn't accepted, he tells the buyers to write an emotional letter to the sellers. After the deal is done and the contractors start remodeling the house, he stops by and takes the head contractor out to dinner.

This would be like calling myself Power Surgeon then going into the operating room and telling the real surgeons: “yeah, the appendix is somewhere down there in the gut. You might want to start with a scalpel. Good luck. Hey, who wants to go out for pizza after this?”

But why be a Power Surgeon when I can just be a Power Broker? So if you're looking to buy a house, give me a call and I will:

    • Give you a list of three houses in your price range. And they just might be somewhere in the area you want.
    • Suggest a good starting offer after examining the market and randomly picking a number out of my head.
    • Wait for you to let me know what happens with your offer
    • Tell you how stupid the sellers are when your offer is turned down.
    • Forget to tell you that you'll be on television and maybe you should take a shower and wash your hair (this would have been good advice for last night's episode)
    • Advise you to go vandalize the house as the sellers will then have to lower their price.
    • Advise you to write and record an emotional song plea to the sellers then tell you to stand on their lawn with a boombox over your head blaring the song over and over until they break down.
    • Take your contractor out to dinner.
    • Collect my fee from you including reimbursement for taking the contractor out to dinner.

The show wouldn't bother me so much if they didn't call it Power Broker. That guy's about as powerful as my cat picking out houses by deciding where to poop on the newspaper. But I guess it was easier than calling it “Some Guy Off the Street Whose Bald Head Makes Him Look Powerful and Once Bought a House so He Sort of Knows What It's Like.”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Incidents on Fremont Street

Everytime we come home from Las Vegas, I try to think of things and/or incidents that demonstrate why we think Las Vegas is the greatest place on earth. For example: the Las Vegas airport has a widely advertised liquor store. You can get the party started before you pick up your luggage. Ever wanted to flag down a taxi by waving a bottle of vodka? You can do that and then tip the driver with a shot.

But in the end, my thoughts always come back to the people-watching. You get to see the entire human social strata in Las Vegas. You see people dressed to the nines stepping out of limos bumping into others wearing tank tops and pulling a cooler on wheels filled with Natural Lite behind them.

Several times during our stay, we saw a man with well-groomed beard, smoking a long pipe sitting at various card tables. In fact he looked a lot like this guy except without the hat. Thereafter, I referred to him as “Captain.” And pipe smoke at a blackjack table is highly underrated.

Various characters continued to entrance us: one night we walked down to the newly remodeled Plaza, which was nicely done, but it's still the Plaza. We sat at the bar and played a little video poker while a group of guys in their early twenties gathered nearby. One of them stood behind us for a while yammering into his cell phone. I won't bore you with the entire conversation but it went a lot like this.   (No, I didn't kill or even injure him.) After he hung up, he came back to the bar to talk with his boys:

“My man's got a stack we got to burn over at Bellagio. Then we'll get the limo and hit Hustler. We got bottle service set up,” said the lead dork.

[My interpretation: his buddy had $100 in chips he wanted to lose at the Bellagio so he could look like a big shot. Then they had reservations at the Hustler Gentleman's Club. But I digress.]

“So can I come to Bellagio?” asked dork #2.

“Nah, you guys hang here.” [--insinuating his friends weren't cool enough to be seen with him at the Bellagio.] We'll meet you at Hustler. We'll be the ones in the limo. Did I mention we got bottle service? And a limo?”

Did I mention that this conversation took place at the Plaza? These guys are talking up a big, classy, expensive evening, but they're staying at the Plaza. Cabbies don't even like to take people to the Plaza because they know that they'll be too cheap to tip. (In the lead dork's defense, at least he was going to pretend like he was staying at the Bellagio.)

To top it all off, the lead dork's credit card got rejected for a $4 bar tab.

Confession: we actually stayed at the Plaza once, a long, long, time ago. Yeah, that was a cheap trip.

But time and again, it's the senior citizens who remind me why I love Las Vegas so much. One morning about 9:00, St. Pauli Girl went downstairs to get coffee. She passed by an older woman who had stopped a cocktail waitress and was whispering, “I know it's kind of early, but do you think I could get an amaretto sour?”

This next incident happened on a previous trip. I was sitting at a bar playing video poker (do you see a trend here?) while watching sports highlights on a big screen. Two little old ladies, one with a walker, shuffled up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Excuse me, young man,” said one lady. “Did you happen to see if the Boston Bruins won?”

“Actually, they lost 5 to 2,” I replied.

“G**d*** it!” the other lady said loudly. “F***ing idiots!”

That was my number one reason for loving Las Vegas until this next incident occurred on our most recent trip:

We were standing in the middle of Fremont Street one afternoon probably trying to figure out where to gamble, eat, or drink next. We happened to be standing across from the infamous Girls of Glitter Gulch strip club which normally has women like this standing outside trying to woo passersby inside. (Why is she carrying a pen like that? Does she really get a lot of autograph requests?) I've never actually seen anyone venture inside the strip club.

Just to my left, I saw a well-dressed couple in their early seventies. They stood staring at each other for a minute, not talking, then the man took his wife by the hand and they strode confidently into the strip club.

Recently I saw someone post on Twitter that an older couple still holding hands is the cutest thing.  I think an older couple holding hands and walking into a strip club is much cuter.  And that's why I love Las Vegas. 


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Boobs and Blackjack

We just got back from our almost-annual trip to Las Vegas, which is always an excellent source of blogging material.

Las Vegas is a pretty surreal experience; you can pretend you are in New York, Paris, Monte Carlo or even the Sahara, assuming the desert has a roller coaster as well. (Note, the Sahara closed down a few years ago.) However, we prefer to stay downtown because we like the cheaper gambling, plus it's much easier to find blackjack games with more liberal rules. Hence, downtown Vegas has been traditionally associated with old people who come for the cheap rooms and cheap gambling. Oh wait, that's us.

In the past five or six years, downtown has made a serious effort to attract a younger crowd and families that would normally stay on the strip. The Golden Nugget opened up an awesome new pool (as well as a new tower) and not much later the Plaza underwent renovations, which included Oscar Goodman's (ex-mayor) new restaurant called “Oscar's Beef, Booze and Broads.” Supposedly, it's a classy old-time steakhouse with the added bonus of “broads,” women who will sit at your table and have conversations with you about sports, Vegas, politics and/or wine. I suppose this gives patrons the excitement of "escorts" without the legal hassles or sex.

This year, to up the ante even higher, we discovered two casinos (Golden Gate and The Las Vegas Club) that offer live go-go dancing between the tables. Even more amazing, the scantily-clad young go-go dancers are also the dealers!  (seriously) Yes, you have to deal twenty minutes of blackjack then get on the table and shake it! Coyote Ugly may have hot female bartenders who dance on the bar at intervals, but they won't pay you 3 to 2 odds on blackjack. The whole dealer-dancer experience sure makes busting more fun.

I've never been to blackjack dealer school, but I suspect that the curriculum has changed, at least for the women. I'm guessing morning classes consist of basic dealing while the afternoon classes are held in small cages on a stage at the Classy Foxes Go-Go Club. I've also been trying to imagine the hiring interview for recent female graduates of blackjack dealer school:

How many hands can you deal in a fifteen-minute block of time? And can you try on this outfit? I need to see if you can make the fringe swing back and forth effectively enough to distract players. And just so you know, the tips aren't as good as strippers make, but you get to keep your clothes on. And it's more money than Hooters waitresses make and you don't smell like a grease fryer at the end of the night. Although you might smell like a cigarette butt. Do you smoke?”


Great, you'll love it here! Now get on that platform and shake those moneymakers while I deal the cards, and you stop me when I bust or if I should double down.”

St. Pauli Girl and I played at the Golden Gate one night, not for the girls but because they had a six-deck, hand-shuffled shoe. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.) We had a good time playing, and St. Pauli Girl and I enjoyed people-watching while making side bets on the cup size of our next dealer. There was a dealer a few tables down sporting the librarian look. Well, that's assuming your local librarian wears long leather boots, fishnet stockings, hip-hugger shorts, and a fringed bikini top that's two sizes too small. Okay, so she was more like a stripper with glasses than a dancing-and-dealing librarian.

After a while, St. Pauli Girl decided to call it a night but I wanted to play a little longer since I was on a roll. Players came and went. One guy sat next to me and started playing two hands at a time. At one point, the dealer didn't see him wave his hands to stand on his deal, and she asked for clarification. In a thick, deep New Jersey accent, he said, “Hey, I waved my hand! Are you f---'in blind?”

Well, I didn't see it, and I have to make sure they see it upstairs.”

Grow up, honey. The game moves fast. This is an adult's game. If you can't keep up, maybe you need to get out.”

Her eyes narrowed and shot daggers at him and she very adeptly and very quickly dealt the next hand. To add insult to injury, the guy didn't know what he was doing. He stood on 15 against a dealer 10 and didn't take advantage of any double down opportunities when he should have. He finally left in a huff after five or six more hands. After he departed, I said to the dealer, “I would like to apologize on behalf of all of humanity for jerks like that.”

She smiled and we had a good laugh about it.

You know, this may be hard to believe,” I said, glancing around the casino then pointing at the empty chair,but I think that jackass was the biggest boob in here.”

Ha! I kill me!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Carbonated Beverage Shortcuts

In first or second grade in Tennessee, I had a phonics lesson where we were given a picture with blanks underneath for how many letters were in the word and we had to fill in the letters. One picture showed a classic Coke bottle with three blanks underneath it. Another kid originally from North Dakota and myself (a recent transplant from Ohio) got the correct answer: “pop. We earned the only two 100's for that lesson. Or so we thought.

A riot ensued as the rest of the class and even the teacher complained that the lesson was incorrect, that the publisher really meant to put four blanks under the picture. The teacher threw out that question and adjusted all the grades. I learned two things that day: 1) life is not fair and 2) I was smarter than everyone.

As the years went by, I grew accustomed to the fact that southerners refer to all carbonated drinks as Cokes. Although I personally refused to succumb to that illogical application of language, I did finally remove the word “pop” from my daily speech because I was always having to explain to my fellow Tennesseeans what I was talking about. Instead, I settled on the more universally acknowledged “soda.”

It absolutely drove me crazy when people would ask if you would like a coke, then hand you a root beer. Or conversely when visting a friend:

Would you like something to drink?” the friend would ask.

I would like a Coke,” I might say.

Sure, what kind? We have Sprite and Dr. Pepper.”

No, I want a Coke.”

Right. Sprite or Dr. Pepper?”

Eventually I ended up in Texas with the (usually) awesome St. Pauli Girl who, like most Texans, follows this same misguided practice, much to the delight of the Coca-Cola corporation. Her grocery list would include “Cokes,” or she might ask me if we needed more Cokes even though we only drink generic diet drinks, usually diet root beer. One time I answered, “Yes, we need Cokes. We do not have any Cokes.” She dutifully brought home two new cartons of diet sodas (not Cokes) only to find an unopened case of sodas sitting in the pantry.

I thought you said we were out of Cokes?” she asked.

We are. We only have diet root beer and diet Dr. Pepper.”

She smacked me with an empty carton of diet root beer.

Now, I write “sodas” on the grocery list to alleviate this constant misunderstanding. But she has taken up the practice of crossing through "sodas" and writing "sodahs," pronouncing it in an obnoxious fake Boston accent, inferring that I am a damn yankee and lucky to have ever set foot in the great Republic of Texas without getting shot. So I decided to go back to my roots, and I now refer to all carbonated beverages by the true, original term: pop.

This morning I told her we were out of pop. She has already started mispronouncing it "pipe" (which in Texan sounds just like the rest of the country's "pop"). I can't wait to see what she brings home from the grocery store . . . Although, I hope she doesn't hit me with it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Dine And Dash Without the Dash

Today we have another episode of “Great Moments in Hospitality.” It turns out there is such a thing as a free lunch . . . and dinner. The following is a true story told to me by an acquaintance; only the names have been changed to protect the innocent:

Bartender Arch was working a slow afternoon shift alone in the bar at a large hotel convention center when suddenly, without advance warning, one of the conference rooms burst open, spilling fifty to sixty thirsty, hungry women into the bar. Lucky Arch: the adjoining dining room didn't open for another hour. And these women were thirsty and hungry.

Arch did the best he could taking care of the demanding women, singlehandedly taking lunch orders and mixing drinks, serving the food and then mixing more drinks, and ringing up tickets. But after a long, grueling hour and a half he thought he had everyone satisfied. There had not yet been any complaints.

As the room emptied out except for a few tables, Arch began clearing plates. As he pulled the dirty plates from a table where three well-dressed women sat, in his best Fridays/Applebees/Chili's waiter spiel, he said, “So can I interest you in some key lime pie, turtle cheesecake, or maybe just some coffee?”

Um, we're still waiting for our lunch,” one lady said haughtily.

Arch looked down at the dirty plates in his hands that he had just removed from her table.

Yeah, and we've been waiting forty-five minutes,” snarled another.

Dumbfounded, Arch didn't know what to do. He looked around at the now deserted dining room for clues. The bar area had been completely clean before the avalanche had descended on him; he was positive no one had sat at a dirty table. He took the pile of empty, dirty plates back to the kitchen and talked to the manager. They were both positive the ladies had been served their lunch, and indeed, a quick search produced a used, time-stamped ticket for that table showing as much.

What should we do?” asked Arch. "They clearly already ate their lunch."

Fire up the grill,” said the manager with a shrug.

Ten minutes later, Arch brought another round of entrees to the table and apologized for the long wait. The "starving" ladies each took a tiny nibble of food, pushed pack their chairs, and asked for to-go boxes.

Since their food sort of, took so long to get to the table, the manager comped their meal. Make that meals, with an S. And they left no tip. Why should they, for such rotten service?

This is like breaking into a grocery store, stealing a hundred pounds of beef, then walking past the night guard and asking him to validate your parking stub. And then pointing to the beef and saying, “Oh and could you supersize this?”

What's really amazing is that this was an entire team of women pulling it off. It's one thing for a lone sociopath to attempt such blatant theft with a straight face, but how do you get three people to do it? I would argue that it takes a lot of training to accomplish such a feat.

And I suppose you have to work your way up to that level of expertise and daring. I imagine Level I begins with a first-timer being required to go into a convenience store, carry a magazine to the checkout counter, then grab a pack of cigarettes and stuff it in her purse while the clerk is busy ringing it up. Then the clerk says, “Oh wait, that's five dollars for the cigarettes.”

What cigarettes?” the thief-in-training replies.

The ones you put in your purse.”

I ain't got no cigarettes.” Then she has to calmly light a cigarette in front of the clerk and walk out with a straight face.

From there, she can work her way up to Level II: stealing gas; preparing a meal at a grocery store salad bar and consuming it while standing at the salad bar; pouring drinks from a bar while the attendant isn't looking and then denying it. After those, perhaps she's finally ready for Level III: The Full-Service Restaurant Double Whammy Power Punch Team.

I'm not sure I have ever heard or will ever hear a more brazen story. However, the same convention is booked for the same hotel next year. We can only hope that the Level III team can top themselves. You go, girls!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

America Wins the Mustard War

Growing up, four or five days a week my school lunch entree was a single slice of chopped ham between two slices of white bread slathered with yellow mustard. Even after college, I continued packing this same lunch for work almost every day except, as a wage-earner in control of my own destiny, I boldly expanded my sandwich repertoire to include two slices of chopped ham and sometimes (gasp!) cheese. I never realized lunch could be so much more, but on to my point: after eating literally thousands of boring ham sandwiches cemented with yellow mustard, I've had enough yellow mustard to last me a lifetime.

I remember the first time I had real (American) Chinese food with Chinese hot mustard. (Of course back in the 70's my mom occasionally made chop suey from a can and mixed it with ground beef, but that qualifies for Chinese food about as much as Spagettio's qualifies as Italian--but we never had hot mustard with it that version of chop suey.) Early in my career, I went with some co-workers to a Chinese restaurant where we started lunch with some eggrolls. Following everyone else's lead, I unwittingly dipped my eggroll into a generous portion of Chinese mustard. Seconds later, a volcano rolled through my sinuses and I grabbed my water to douse the flames. But what I found really amazing was that I immediately wanted more!

And so began my love affair with hot Chinese mustard and its cousin, wasabi. In fact, wasabi became the real reason I love sushi. I love the rush and the feeling of risk that maybe this time I might have taken too much... then “Ahhhhhhh!” the sweet release as it flushes out my sinuses. In much the same way that you should never eat at a barbecue restaurant tif you can't smell it from a mile away--if you didn't have a runny nose when you leave a Chinese restaurant, you should cross it off your list.

Way back then, when I first came to love hot mustard, I didn't even care about the eggrolls; I just needed a vehicle for dipping into that awesome, gratifying, sinus-clearing hot stuff. You could have given me a plate of cardboard toilet paper rolls and I probably would have declared them "fantastico!" if the mustard was good.

Flash forward to the present. Because of our recent long, drawn out moving process and having to take care of two houses for a while, we spent a lot of time on the road which meant we didn't feel much like cooking. And so we have had more pizza and Chinese food delivered in the past year than in all previous years combined. This has made us experts on eggrolls and Chinese hot mustard. But after a few deliveries, I began to notice that the "mustard effect" wasn't quite what it used to be; it was taking more and more mustard to get a decent fix. Had I developed a tolerance, like a meth addict?

We switched to a different Chinese restaurant for delivery but nothing changed, the mustard didn't seem hot at all. In fact, upon close examination I realized that the mustard looked and tasted more like the yellow mustard I had eaten growing up than it did the Chinese mustard I had come to love. In desperation we bought a dry hot mustard mix from the grocery store, but this too tasted bland and heatless.

Where oh where had my hot mustard gone?

Sadly, it appears to have undergone the slow but inevitable Americanization process that many original foods and flavors fall victim to. We don't appreciate cultural or regional differences when it comes to food. You can find the same chain restaurants, in virtually any city in any state. PopEyes is considered authentic New Orleans fare to many of us. And Taco Bell is "Mexican" food. But we don't want surprises in our food. And we want a Taco Bell bean burrito to taste exactly the same wherever we go whether we're in Anchorage or Albany. With this homogenization, some foods slowly morph together, and the masses get what they want. Thus, Chinese restaurant owners have undoubtedly, over time, catered to the non-adventurous American tongue by subbing familiar mild yellow mustard for their authentic, fume-inducing Chinese one.

I suppose it's democracy at its best but the victory of plain, banal yellow mustard over Chinese mustard makes me weep, the way a good dose of Chinese mustard used to. Guess I'll go make myself a chopped ham sandwich.