Monday, December 21, 2009

Westport Is Fun

We spent close to 12 hours in Westport Saturday, and I must say it was a lovely time.

11:30am: Lunch at one80 with a good friend/archivist.

12:45pm: Movie at Tivoli (Some Like It Hot). They are doing a "Movie and a Meal" promotion for the next three weeks - go see a matinee of Casablanca, Duck Soup, or Breakfast at Tiffany's, then take a coupon to just about any Westport eatery and enjoy a discount meal before or after the show.

2:30pm: Hot, caffeine-abundant drink at Broadway Café.

2:50pm: Antiques store stop with aforementioned friend/archivist and his friend. He bought some more crap to archive; she bought a Luke Perry 90210 doll. Both left happy.

3:45pm: Stopped by the high-end kitchen store just north of the Riot Room to get ideas for our remodel that should take place any decade now, but we had to window shop because the place closed at 3pm.

4:00pm: Went to a very busy World Market to buy various snacks and miscellany for the family holiday visit.

4:40pm: Went to the Foundry, met up with good friends to have food, drinks, and candy.

7:30pm: Started drinking.

Sometime around 8pm: First group of good friends dispersed for the evening, but second group began to form at the tables directly behind us.

Sometime around 9:30pm: I had consumed enough Winter Warmers to start talking a little too loud and a little too much. Who cares; I was happy.

10:30pm: Went home.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Expensive Beer, Cheap Wine

Besides Swedish furniture, we also picked up some booze in Minnesota. Nationally, beer is distributed according to state laws, licenses, and proximity, so each state has a different mix of breweries from which to choose. Therefore, I knew what I had to do: go to Beer Advocate to research beer-friendly liquor stores in the Twin Cities area.

After weighing the ratings and geography, we decided to stop at Blue Max Liquors in Burnsville, near the I-35E/W split as you approach the cities from the south. It was a smaller store than I expected (rather cramped for space), but the selection did not disappoint.

In fact, I had a hard time deciding what all to purchase. After filling a certain beer blogger’s order, we bought a bunch of different stuff. Having heard all sorts of great things about Surly (mostly here) I knew that we would buy a 4-pack of each just to try them out. I’ve been very pleased with the smoothness of Bender, the peppery Saison(ish) flavor of CynicAle, and the hop blast of Furious. Haven’t tried the Coffee Bender yet.

Among other things we picked up (sorry the pictures suck):

Dark Horse “One”. Labeled an oatmeal stout ale, this stuff is syrupy. In texture and flavor, it is only slightly less intense than your average imperial stout. Very good.


Brau Bros. Braun Ale. I liked this one too. Dangerously drinkable and tasty. A malty brown, not a lot of hop presence.



Gray’s BULLY PORTER. Really. I had to pick this up, for obvious reasons. Interestingly, it is on the opposite end of the spectrum from our hometown’s namesake. Whereas Boulevard’s version has a dominantly dry-hopped flavor, this one is a bit on the sweet side. It’s a nice beer.


I picked up a bunch of other stuff too.

As I hauled the shopping cart to the register, I asked the fellow ringing me up how long Darkness (Surly’s Imperial Stout and one of the most elusive beers around) lasted on the shelves. The guy manning the next register said they received 5 cases (60 750-ml bottles) of the stuff at the end of October and sold it in 24 hours. I nodded my head and smiled, when suddenly my cashier told me to hold on for just a minute. He disappeared, and the other guy said, “I think he’s going to see Santy Claus”, in his Minnesota accent.

A couple minutes later, our cashier reappeared and said, quietly and secretively, “Do you want one? I can sell you ONE,” adding his index finger for emphasis.

He told the manager we were buying $160 worth of beer, so apparently we surpassed the secret Darkness threshold. I’m surprised no code words or secret handshakes were involved. It turns out they held a sixth case back for employees to sell themselves and potentially cellar for next year.

Of course, even at $18, I bought it.

The manager then came out and said, “I also have some of this.” He held up a bottle of Life & Limb, a collaboration between Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada.

“The state of Minnesota got 5 cases. I got one of them. Would you like a bottle?”

Well, duh.

So we walked out about $200 lighter.

Referring back to the title of this post…our next stop was at Trader Joe’s. We bought a case (12 bottles) of wine.

It cost $68.

With tax.

No Three Buck Chuck either. We do draw a line somewhere; that stuff is awful. Especially when, for $2 or $3 more, you can drink a totally passable bottle of wine (at least for our apparently unrefined palates).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Next Red X Wine Tasting Tomorrow Night

The next Red X Wine Tasting is 5pm-7pm TOMORROW, Thursday, December 10th. There will be pizza and perhaps more wine afterward in Parkville. It’s what we do. Read more here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Feelin' Minnesota: The Aftermath

I have some catching up to do.

-The trip to Minnesota was a success. We got a metric crapload of stuff at IKEA, Trader Joe’s, and Blue Max Liquors. The rental minivan strained to keep up with the sheer mass and weight of all this tightly-packed, mass-produced Swedish goodness:


We got to see the Minnesota side of our family and spend a little quality time with everyone. It was really nice, the weather cooperated, and the Happy Gnome is a highly recommended stop for great food and beer—lots of local produce and a thoughtful selection of brews on tap.

-IKEA assembly was mostly a success. We bought a bedroom set for the spare room (bed + 2 dressers):


an entire office “suite”:



miscellaneous light fixtures and lamps (not pictured), and a TV "wall" for the living room.

Everything went smoothly…except the TV stand portion of the wall. Here it is after I assembled it the first time:


The furniture was listed as 15-3/4” deep on the box, website…everywhere. The problem is that the shelf the TV is to sit on is only 7” deep. Even the stand for a flat screen is considerably bigger (ours is about 12” deep). There is no mention of this anywhere. The only way for anyone to use this furniture as intended is to mount the TV directly onto the back of this shelf as if it is a wall. The problem, of course, is that there is also no mention of this fact ANYWHERE. Worse, it would require 2 additional rails, which of course would require another visit to IKEA or a huge shipping fee.

We decided to improvise instead. She used a router to cut a hole in the bottom of the board that would be behind the TV. This would allow us to slip the TV stand below it, mostly unnoticeably.



Of course, this unique, contoured board with specially-measured holes and couplings then fell to the ground and snapped in two.

Yeah.

The next day, she bought a bracket at Home Depot to repair the board, at least enough so that we could be done with it. We also had to make holes in the board for wires because they stuck too far out of the back of the TV. Fortunately the TV itself hides all this:


End result, with side elements added:


Honestly, it looks great. That said, you may want to stay away from the Besta line @ IKEA. We’ve now had two major problems with products in this line, and being so far away from a store it's not easy to resolve them.

More to come (about things other than IKEA) once I find the time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Feelin' Minnesota

We’re heading up to the Twin Cities this weekend to see the northern outpost of our family and knock out some overdue IKEA/Trader Joe’s shopping.

Every time I go up there I find a reason I would love to live there. Before I leave I inevitably see something that confirms I’m just fine right here, thankyouverymuch.

First off, if you haven’t been, it’s about time you went—it’s a fun place. It’s a straight shot right up I-35. It only takes about 6-1/2 hours from KC if you keep yours stops brief.

The metroplex is larger than Kansas City by a good 60%. In turn, they have many more options for shopping, restaurants, music, theater, sports teams, and other things that generally make a city desirable.

The city feels much more urban than Kansas City, with more public transit, denser population, more innovative architecture, and more truly self-contained neighborhoods.

The population is well-educated; this is to be expected in a city that contains one of the five largest colleges in the country (the University of Minnesota). I’m usually taken aback by how kind people are there. “Minnesota Nice” is not an ironic concept.

By the end of each trip I’m reminded:

The largeness of the metroplex also means it is far more difficult to get around. The traffic snarls are nearly constant, exacerbated by seemingly never-ending construction projects.

The cost of housing is much higher there. Yes, this is what happens when you have a desirable place to live, but I like having an affordable mortgage payment. (Wages are only slightly higher there.)

And then…there’s the weather. On average, it is FIFTEEN degrees colder there than in KC from December to February (and this is the warm part of Minnesota we’re talking about). Think about how you feel on a cold, windy January day in KC…now subtract those 15 ticks off the thermometer. Yeah. The ground is frozen for months.

To be fair, a hot summer there is far more pleasant than a hot summer here. They average 8 degrees cooler temps from June to August with far less humidity.

However, I remember walking two blocks from a bar to our car a couple winters ago. It was a windy night, and my fiancée was almost painfully uncomfortable. She said something to the effect of “this is ridiculous and please remind me of this if I ever mention moving back here”.

I told her, “The bad part of all this? This isn’t even THAT COLD for Minneapolis.”

It was 14º at the time. The average—AVERAGE—low in January is 4º.

No thanks.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dead Canary? Doodle?

I'm looking to someone who keeps up on these things better than I:

Have you heard anything new about the progress at Dead Canary Brewing or Doodle Brewing?

For those who don't know, Dead Canary was started by two women who work at Flying Saucer and have done extensive homebrewing. According to their blog, they have built a space in the West Bottoms that includes an upstairs taproom and dodgeball/beer pong facilities.

They've met with Adam Avery of the badass Avery Brewing Company to discuss both the beer and the business side of things. Unfortunately, that was in January - and that was their last post on the blog.

As for Doodle Brewing, a former 75th Street brewer who has worked in the craft beer industry for over 6 years (including a stop at Harpoon in Boston) planned to open a brewery in Liberty.

Doodle's blog hasn't been updated since July 24th, at which point he was fully financed, construction was 99% done, test batches had been approved, and he hoped to have beer for sale in KS and/or MO by August.

Any news on either of these ventures?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Vacation, Part 3: Last Day in the Canyon

We spent the morning exploring the east end of the South Rim, where the overlooks are farther apart and a car is required.

We were amazed by all the different languages we heard in our time there, as people from all over the world were drawn to visit. It drives home how truly unique and renowned the Grand Canyon is.

A few more photos, some of which show the Colorado River thousands of feet below:





We traveled the entire length of the highway to the east entrance of the park (some 20 miles), and as we turned back it began to rain a bit. We made it back to where we started, and before we left the park we pulled over to get one last look.

Here's what we got:




And this:



We're thinking we might go back someday.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Vacation, Part 2: Elevation, Shmel...*catches breath*...evation

Our second day at the Grand Canyon would be one of our most exhausting in recent memory. I mean this in the best possible sense.

We chose to take a day hike, descending on the South Kaibab Trail into the canyon. We weren't sure how far we would go; we decided to see what "felt" right.

The trailhead is at an elevation of 7200 feet. The Colorado River is at 2500 feet. Translation? The trail tends to look like this:


The views were absolutely amazing, though:


This was our view for lunch:


We descended further, until we turned around and saw how far we'd come (gulp):


Yes, we had to make it all the way back to the top, so we figured it was time to turn back.

The downside of hiking into a canyon is that the hard part comes LAST. You're already worn out from coming DOWN the rocky trail, and two and a half hours later you realize you've descended something like 1500 feet.

Now, consider that you're still at almost 6000 feet altitude, and...well, your midwestern lungs just aren't happy with you. We had to stop about every 5 minutes on the way up and take a serious break. We recovered fairly quickly, but we couldn't go far between breathers. Looking back to see how far we'd climbed kept us going, because the canyon rim never seemed to get any closer.

Finally, we made it. This sign was apropos:


To give you some perspective, here's a view of the ridge we traversed:


We celebrated with some haute cuisine:


After all this, we still walked another several miles (on level ground, thank you) to take in more of the views. We were absolutely beat, and we gorged on pizza once we got back to the hotel.

I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Vacation, Part 1: Erosion is Beautiful

I landed in Vegas at 10am; my fiancee didn't arrive until 8pm as she was flying in from Boston. After a quick spin down the Strip to see what was in store for us later in the week, we got to our brand spankin' new Comfort Suites to get some sleep before our road trip.

About 30 miles south of Vegas is the Hoover Dam. Many statistics are thrown out there about the enormity of this thing. My two favorites are:

1. The dam was finished in 1935. Some concrete deep in the heart of the dam is STILL curing.

2. The dam contains enough concrete to build a 2-lane highway from San Francisco to New York.

It's big. Them are cars up on top.


I pushed our rental Sonata pretty hard; we didn't see the legal side of 90 mph for much of the trip. The speed limit was 75 and we were mostly just keeping up with traffic, so I didn't feel I was being reckless or anything.

The scenery through Arizona got progressively nicer as we approached the highway that would take us to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. We got to our Best Western (quite nice - I would recommend it), relaxed for a moment, then made our way into the park.

There are no words to adequately prepare you for the first time you walk up to the rim and see the vastness and colors and shapes come together. There are no pictures to do it justice, which doesn't stop me from posting some anyway.

You really have to go. Everyone should see this at least once in his or her life:


Here are the layers of rock, all of which are exposed at certain points in the canyon:


The canyon:


You must see the canyon, especially at sunset:


Eventually it looks like this:


We finished our evening with a lovely meal at El Tovar, a lodge next to the canyon that was built in 1905.

More to come...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

McCoy's Dinner = Great Success

Check out photos of the event here

IMO, every course and pairing was a hit. Just look at the pictures...your eyes will agree.

I've already got tickets for December, where some of the beers on the menu include McCoy's Winter Warmer, St. Bernardus Abt. 12 (a quadrupel and part of the beer cycle), Samichlaus (with which a Foundry bartender once tried to kill me, and a special Christmas treat from Boulevard (it's a secret!).

Thanks to N & D for attending, and it was nice to meet with owners, chefs, brewmasters, and bloggers (LC, holla!) who made the event possible.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Kansas City: The HORROR

Check this out, featuring local improv legends Dennis and Nikki Dupont!

Trivia, JoCo Style

Trivia, JoCo Style

After our thrice-postponed fall softball finale was finally played Wednesday night, a number of us headed to Tanner’s for food and beer.

One of the things I’ve found lacking in JoCo is a good place to go for drinks. Most places just seem so…generic. This is not shocking for a county which serves as a veritable beacon of beige construction materials.

Tanner’s is the epitome of the JoCo watering hole, in my opinion. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the place, but there’s nothing right about it either (except maybe the 2 for $8 burger + fries special they were running Wednesday night—really a pretty good deal for an okay burger).

Wrong or right, the room was packed on a Wednesday night. Most of the people were probably there for the cheap burgers, but a good number were also playing trivia. It was standard bar-style trivia: a guy with a mic plays music or movie clips over the PA and asks a question about it.

However, there was one wrinkle I’d never seen before:

EVERY GROUP HAD A LAPTOP.

Seriously. It was open book effing trivia.

Sorry, but what’s the point? To be able to say you’re the most industrious user of Google in the bar?

When the answers were read back, I wanted to throttle people who cheered when they got some of the answers right. Not just because any trivia team worth its salt would have gotten them without a computer, but because all they had to do was type in the title of the song that was playing into the Google toolbar to magically have it spit back the artist who recorded it.

Lame.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How Does That Taste, Improvisers?

I was curious how local improvisers would feel about this:





Comedian Fills Big Shoes At Second City





In summary, a 21-year-old from the KC area took one improv class on a whim to fulfill an elective. Her teacher (EDIT: Brian Posen, who is actually a teacher at Second City, not Brian Posehn, who Bull correctly suggests would not be allowed near college students) suggested she try out for SECOND FREAKING CITY.

Of course, she was accepted.

After one improv class.

Now, granted, she IS a musical theater major, so she had already honed a lot of the tools that would make her a valuable commodity to Second City.

But how does that make you feel?

I admittedly rolled my eyes and thought, well yeah...she probably got accepted into the training program, or MAYBE the touring company.

But I don't know the details, and those thoughts were only to minimize her accomplishments to make me feel better.

If I'm being truthful with myself, my emotions were as follows: jealousy and resentment.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Respite

These last few months have been busy. It seems like it's been a constant stream of stuff hanging over my head.

Remodel a bathroom.
Buy a house.
Sell a house.
Move.
Get settled.
Make wedding plans.
Find a car.
Travel for work.

I've longed to have a couple weeks where I simply had nothing major to do.

I think I'm finally there.

I've been looking forward to the Grand Canyon and Vegas for quite a while, and Ken Burns' work has only made me more excited.

I will fly into Vegas Saturday, enjoy the drive to the Grand Canyon (by way of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead) and back, then spend the latter half of the week enjoying the artificial splendor that is Sin City.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What I Learned At The Foundry Last Night

-McCoy's Ursa Major Imperial Stout is back, just in time for the chilly weather. Thinking back to the last batch, I may have been a fan. This year's is outstanding as well, though it's poured cold and you'll need to let it warm up a bit. Definitely worth a trip if you're a fan of the style.

-November 3rd is the next McCoy's Brewmaster's Dinner, and it's going to be a doozy. It's all fall food paired with Belgian Trappist beers. I looked for a .jpg of the menu, but couldn't find it. I was drooling. I'll post it once I find a copy. My reservations are in. Let me know if you'll be there and we'll meet up beforehand. It'll be like Drinking for the Cycle plus food.

UPDATE: Found this on the Foundry's calendar...

TRAPPIST BEER DINNER! All of our Brewmaster's Dinners so far have sold out. However, this highly anticipated food and beer pairing is certain to fill up quickly, so make reservations now.

First Course: Chimay Tripel featuring Hazelnut-encrusted Chevre Goat Cheese Truffles with rosemary honey.

Second course pairs a Pumpkin Soup served with Sage Crouton and Nutmeg Whipped Cream with Orval Belgium Pale Ale.

Next up is the Rochefort 10 matched with a Roast Duck Salad, Sun-Dried Cherries, Candied Walnuts and Roquefort Cheese.

On to the Fourth Course: Seared Diver Scallop over butternut squash, brown butter sauce and proscuitto paired with Achel Bruin 8.

For the main course, Westmalle Dubbel is served with a Braised Beef Short Rib, shitake mushrooms and parsnip-turnip puree.

And finally, for dessert, a Double-layered Butternut Squash Pecan Pie with an Apricot Glaze and Maple Whipped Cream teamed with Konigshoeven Quadrupel.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tantrum: Friday, October 9th w/ Jonathan Bender

Tantrum’s 2nd Friday series at the Westport Coffeehouse continues this Friday at 8pm.

Who: Tantrum Improv Comedy with Jonathan Bender
Where: Westport Coffeehouse Theater, 4010 Pennsylvania
When: Friday, October 9th, 8pm
How Much: $10 (but you can go to http://www.tantrumkc.com/ and check out “Latest News” for details on how to get in for half price!)
(May contain adult content)
http://www.tantrumkc.com/

Call 816-678-8886 for reservations.

In October, we're joined by writer Jonathan Bender, who blogs for The Kansas City Star’s Prime Buzz, which covers Missouri and Kansas politics, and The Pitch’s Fat City. And he’s working a book about Adult Fans of LEGO (he put that in caps, so we’re respecting the subculture). He also performs with the improv troupes Improv-Abilties and Loaded Dice, so we're pretty sure he can handle whatever you guys throw at him.

To get Jonathan started, you'll shout out topics you want to hear about. He can respond with anything he wants to—as long as it’s true. Then Tantrum takes over, twisting and turning his tales into a series of scenes. Get to know Jonathan better by reading his answers to our 7 Questions.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Adam's Rib - Closed

As mentioned here, I was rooting for Adam's Rib. Lots of others were too.

Now, apparently it's closed.

This sucks. I really liked their food AND their people, and I think the place was just hitting its stride. The pulled pork was fabulous, their spicy sauce was great, they had a good lunch special...oh, and JUST TWO DAYS AGO it was named Pitch's Best Barbecue (South Region) for 2009.

Again, this sucks.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Kids

I went to a cookout recently at a friend’s house. There were probably about 13 other guys there. I think 6 of the guys were married. All brought their wives.

Five of the six couples had a child under a year old with them; the other was 8 months pregnant.

Being surrounded by all those kids really got me wondering: what is it that makes people want to have children?

I’m not asking this rhetorically so I can go off on some rant about how I don’t like children, because that’s not the case. I ask this with genuine curiosity, from the point of view of someone who has never had the urge to be a father.

(I don’t know that this is especially rare for a guy. I think my fiancée gets far more dog-hearing-high-pitched-noise looks when she talks about not wanting kids. And I will readily admit that I’ve started to get rather mean when people (women) start insinuating that my fiancée is waiting until she can trap me into marriage then go bait-and-switch, biological-clock-ticking, demanding bitch on me. Great. Glad you give your gender so much credit.)

I feel like I lead a full life. I enjoy the things I do in my free time, and I love the lifestyle I have with my soon-to-be wife. We love our freedom and all the little spontaneous things we can do.

We’re also not the most traditional people in the world, in the sense that we’ve never seen parenthood as a given.

Here’s what I worry about, because I’ve seen it all too often: Life becomes 90% about the kids. The husband-wife relationship takes a back seat to the parent-child relationship for many, many years. Sometimes it never recovers. The things you loved doing together just become too inconvenient. Every venture outside the house turns into a test of patience and nerve.

I don’t want any of that to happen. I love my fiancée. She’s my favorite person in the world. I don’t want anything to get in the way of us enjoying our relationship.

To be fair, most people do not complain about being parents. My guess, though, is that it’s partly because they’d be lambasted by other parents for daring to suggest that parenthood is not the best, special-est thing EVARRRR.

So I ask again—what is it that makes people want to have children? Do people’s hearts melt when they hold a baby? Do children fill some sort of void? Is having kids something people simply feel like they’re supposed to do at a certain point in their lives? Is it societal pressure? Evolutionary pressure? Grandparental pressure?

Most people say parenthood is a wonderful feeling…that they don’t mind giving up their old life because they love their kids THAT MUCH. But I also think most of these same people wanted kids to begin with. Bully for them that it turned out even better than they hoped.

I will readily admit that I’m curious about how our kids would turn out. Frankly, I think we'd be solid assets for the gene pool. I’m not worried that we wouldn’t be good parents. I think we’d be attentive and loving (but not so competitive as to have pissing matches over how the Montessori school/classical music/gluten-free diet we chose make us better parents than THOSE people). And, yes, I concede that there is a possibility that years down the road we might regret not having children.

It’s just that those reasons aren’t enough.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Car Shopping = FAIL

As mentioned before, I’m looking for a new car.

Yeah, I’m STILL looking.

I’m really not all that picky; my problem, over and over again, is that I get into a car and I’m just not comfortable. The issue is that I’m 6’4” (mostly torso) and broad-shouldered.

I just want something I fit in that’s reasonably fun to drive. Is that so difficult?

Legroom really isn’t a problem in most cars. It’s headroom. In some cases, I can’t physically position the seat in a way that my head is not grazing the roof. In others, the combination of my eye level being so high and the roof line being so low would require me to lean forward every time I’m at a red light to see the signal change.

Some cars’ seats are too narrow as well. I test-drove an Accord whose seats made me feel like I was getting a hug from a person with no forearms and sharp elbows. The contours didn’t really fit my contours.

The suck part is that I actually want a small- to medium-sized car (see “fun to drive” criterion above). The problem is that those cars don’t tend to come with power (i.e. potentially low-slung) seats as an option, which would be essential to my ability to drive them.

I can’t believe how frustrating this has become.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Kansas City Kansan Has a New Owner

Growing up, my parents always got two newspapers: the Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Kansan. The Kansan was the "local" local paper, covering all things KCK: business, sports, government; you name it.

When I made the honor roll, the Kansan printed it.

When our legion baseball team won a doubleheader, the Kansan printed it.

It was a daily newspaper for almost 87 years. Think about that.

In 2008, the Kansan was cut to a twice-weekly circulation.

By January 2009, its only presence was online.

Now, a KCK native is going to try to inject new life into the publication all by himself.

Twenty-four-year-old Nick Sloan is a one-man publisher, handling copy AND sales. He just purchased the rights to the Kansan's website, which I have added to the blogroll.

I wish him the best of luck in his attempts to report on his hometown, and I encourage you to support him as well.

For more, here is a link courtesy of Plog.

Interview with Nick Sloan

Friday, September 18, 2009

Random Sports Note - Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter. Yep, I hate the Yankees. Hate them. Jeter's a fine player, but I've never liked him, mostly because he’s smug, spoiled, and overrated.

(An aside—I swear I’ll lose my mind if I ever again hear how amazing his play was against Oakland in the playoffs several years ago. You know the one: he runs over to redirect the lousy off-line throw from the outfield, tossing the ball to Jorge Posada who tags an inexplicably non-sliding Jeremy Giambi. People talk as if it was the smartest, most magnificent play in history. Whatever. I did the EXACT SAME THING playing kickball in 3rd grade. Laugh if you want, but at 8 years old in the Hazel Grove gym during PE class, I ran over and deflected a poorly-thrown ball right into Randy Kussatz’ legs as he tried to score, thus retiring the side. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn, or pretend I was some wunderkind athlete. What I’m saying is that while Yankee fans want to anoint Derek Jeter the messiah of baseball for his incredible smarts and instincts, a chubby 8-year-old in KCK had those same smarts and instincts.)

Anyway, did you see how much coverage they devoted to him breaking the Yankees’ career hits record? There’s a one-minute sports update on the radio, and 10 seconds of it is being used to let me know Jeter’s 6 hits away from tying the record? It’s the lead story on SportsCenter? There are people actually suggesting this makes him an MVP candidate?

It’s a franchise record. Not a major-league record. Not even an American League record.

He’s now got the 52nd most hits in major league history. BFD.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Black Clover Beerfest Lookin' Bro

The Black Clover Beerfest is tomorrow night (Friday Sept. 18) at the Riot Room. It’s a celebration of beer (Avery, Great Divide, Schlafly, New Belgium) and local hip-hop. Beer tasting starts at 7, show at 10.

Headlining the show is Mac Lethal, who just unleashed this hilariously NSFW video on YouTube. Big nod to Wayward Blog

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Random Sports Note - Football

-Why does every new young coach in the NFL feel compelled to act like he’s a hardass? They have to instill a “culture”, make an example of the standout players on the team, and generally just get into a pissing match every chance they get. It’s stupid.

I hear the Kevin Kietzmans of the world talk about how much they love that Chiefs coach Todd Haley is a disciplinarian and doesn’t put up with anything. Why is that impressive? Alienating your best players is a horrible way to motivate them long-term. They don’t respect the coach more because he takes their parking spots away or cusses at them all the time.

Even more annoying is that I hear the talking heads on ESPN swear up and down that every team’s woes are due to a lack of a winning culture in this clubhouse, or this other team has heart and that’s why they’re successful.

Bull.
Shit.

Teams win because they are more talented. Teams win because their coaches have figured out where there is a talent mismatch and go on to exploit it (or compensate for it).

You ever wonder why every NFL-player-turned-analyst never talks about talent?

Why the result of every game, nay, every PLAY is the result of something intangible?

Why it’s always heart and “never giving up” and “wanting it more” that win games?

Because professional athletes THINK THEY ARE BETTER PEOPLE THAN YOU ARE.

Their egos will not allow them to admit that they made it to the NFL because they were simply born with more talent, size, and athleticism. No, it had to be their superhuman drive to be the best. It had to be their work ethic and attitude. You know, something they can attribute to themselves and their own inner greatness. Seriously – listen to any one of these guys and tell me they aren’t utterly convinced of this.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Random Sports Note - Women's Tennis

-The U.S. Open Women’s tennis tournament was rather interesting. First, you had the Serena meltdown:

She definitely threatened to shove an effing ball down the judge’s effing throat. For two days she avoided any display of remorse or contrition (Serena has never held herself accountable for anything). She finally apologized two days later, probably while her PR person held her at gunpoint.

More impressively, Belgium’s Kim Clijsters went on to beat Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki in the final. Clijsters was playing in only her 3rd tournament since taking a 2-1/2 year hiatus to have a child.

Even more impressive than that? I was actually able to watch the match without hitting MUTE, thanks to a complete lack of grunting. Seriously—neither woman in the finals sounded like a buffalo being speared. It was highly refreshing to see/hear.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Event of the Decade (Redux) - Red X Wine Tasting Thursday



It's that time again.
Thursday, September 17, 5-7pm.

Here is what I wrote last year to describe the Red X Wine Tasting in all its magnificent fluorescence:

My mind has officially been blown.

I have rarely experienced so many layers of fascination in one place.

Friends, I’m speaking of the Red X wine tasting EVENT.

If you’ve never witnessed the Riverside Red X, it is everything to love about America under one roof. Groceries. Cigarettes by the CASE. Every type of lottery ticket ever invented. A hardware store. A dollar store. A museum with statues of animals AND a suit of armor.

Oh - and booze. Lots and lots of booze.

That’s great, JJS, but I have a liquor store near my house.

I’m sure you do. But it doesn’t have a SUIT OF ARMOR and FUNHOUSE MIRRORS!

Point taken. But I’ve been to wine tastings before at other places, and they were kind of a drag – you know, kinda snobby.

I’m talking about the Red X, fool! There’s no place for snobbery. And what did your wine tasting have, 4 bottles to try? 8? Red X opened AT LEAST 80 different wines.

Wow. 80?

At least. And no, I did not try them all.

That SOUNDS cool, but I’m a little intimidated by the whole “wine scene”.

Your fellow tasters will include guys in NASCAR shirts and mullets asking to try the “SEER-uh”. That makes it 95% less intimidating and 9500% more glorious.

Uh…

Great! Sounds like you’re in! The next one takes place:
Thursday, September 17
5:00pm-7:00pm
Riverside Red X

Yes, it’s early, but that leaves plenty of time to go get dinner afterward at Stone Canyon Pizza (where they have, ironically, 1/2 price bottles of wine).

Let’s do this.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Apologists

Are you ever forced to associate with someone, through work or otherwise, who makes your life miserable?

You know the type--people who sigh audibly, roll their eyes, and are generally indignant any time you ask them to do something (like their job)? Or maybe they say totally inappropriate things—stuff that belittles you or gives you the distinct sensation of being thrown under a bus. Perhaps he’s the guy all the women in the office avoid because he’s too hands-y.

The exact personality dysfunction doesn’t matter. The point is that you have to deal with these people because the people who have the authority to effect change don’t have the stones to do so. Plead your case to them, and you get the inevitable response (say it with me):

“Oh…that’s just Mike.”

Then Mike is a DICK. Stop allowing him to act like one.

“Yeah…Sharon takes a little getting used to.”

No, Sharon’s an ASSHOLE. She needs to be called out on it.

Stop making excuses for these people.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Birthday Dinner: Starker's Restaurant

My birthday was Friday. That means I’m another year older, but more importantly, it meant BIRTHDAY DINNER!

We do four special dinners a year – anniversary, Valentine’s Day, both of our birthdays. Previous entries include Bluestem and Michael Smith. We don’t tell the other person where we’re going beforehand.

When it’s my turn to be surprised, it’s always exciting to get in the car and start running through all the possibilities based on which direction we’re headed. (We’ve also learned that varying our driving routes and taking unnecessary turns adds more fun to the game.)

We eventually landed at the Plaza, and my list narrowed considerably. We typically go somewhere we’ve never been before, no chains, with interesting food and at least a modicum of formality.

We parked, started walking, and finally I knew we would be dining at Starker’s Restaurant.

I had been looking forward to trying this place. It’s located above Restoration Hardware on 47th, which makes it easy to miss if you’re just walking by.

First things first: this restaurant is known for its wine. It has won numerous awards for its list, including Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. The list is 51 pages long, but it’s organized quite well. As you may imagine, you can order a $25 bottle or a $2500+ bottle.

We like wine, but I’ll let you guess which end of that scale we’re on. Your guess is correct. We enjoyed a nice Malbec (Madena was the label, I believe). It was tasty, as red wine tends to be.

On to the food!

I really liked the layout of the menu. On one page is the list of Starker’s Classics. These are your year-round dishes. On the other page is Seasonal Favorites, which focuses more on in-season ingredients. This list changes frequently…in fact, the current menu is different from the one from which I ordered 4 days ago. They provide a list of local providers, which is nice.

Each page offers one soup, two appetizers, two salads, and four entrees.

She started with a cream of heirloom tomato soup. It was rich, with a surprisingly strong smoky/chile flavor, topped with sourdough croutons. You could really taste the freshness of the tomatoes. I had a fresh (green) bean salad, topped with feta and lardons. I was pleased with this as well—a simple dish taken to another level by using fresh ingredients.

(I originally ordered a braised pork belly appetizer, but they were out.)

My entrée was an herb-encrusted rack of lamb. It was super juicy, cooked perfectly, and…well, let’s just say I had to discreetly pick up each bone to get the last bite off of it. It was too good to sacrifice any of it. The summer squash was, as with all the ingredients we had, fresh and delicious.

She had rainbow trout. If I had known fish could taste that good, I wouldn’t have gone most of my life not liking it. It was (you guessed it) very fresh and served with Minnesota wild rice; this last fact probably pushed my fiancée toward the dish for a taste of her homeland.

We finished by sharing a slice of chocolate pecan pie with vanilla ice cream. How can you go wrong with that? It was a great end to the meal.

The service was professional without being stuffy, and attentive without being smothering. In other words, ideal for a special meal.

I was very pleased with the restaurant overall. A couple quirks: the clientele was certainly on the older end of the spectrum. Not a problem, except that a couple of the people at the table behind us were hard of hearing and talking REALLY LOUD AT TIMES. We mostly laughed it off because some of the stuff they were talking about was kinda funny (the self-esteem movement and how it’s ruining kids, how beer doesn’t taste like it used to, how one of their neighbors thinks he's--and I quote--"hot shit").

Also, the layout is a bit odd. To get to the restrooms, you have to walk down a narrow hallway past the busy kitchen. There’s a logjam of servers there waiting for plates.

But these are minor, minor quibbles. This restaurant is about the food and wine, and they deliver both admirably. The food is a great value given the quality; most of the entrees come in at no more than $30. If you’re looking for even more of a bargain, Monday through Thursday they offer a 3-course meal for $33.

Give them a shot! You won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Flamenco, BBQ, and Cyclists: Stuff I Learned Between 6:04pm and 7:18pm

1. Bluestem had flamenco night tonight...music AND dancing. Cool, but ultimately not helpful in my attempt to secure perhaps the best burger in town.

2. Matchstick BBQ is pretty damn good.
Corollary: If I see a barbecue place I've never tried and I can even remotely convince myself it's time to eat, I will stop there.

I remember reading about this place on Fat City but had forgotten about it. I happened to drive by after leaving Bluestem and am happy I did so. I ordered a two meat combo (brisket and pork) on Texas toast with fries and beans. Why Texas toast? Have you tried it? Hint: I've yet to find a dish that the taste of butter didn't improve. Suck it, purists.

Brisket was sliced thin, quite lean, nice smoke ring, a little chewy. Pulled pork melts in your mouth, though it was a little too fatty in spots. Fries were good--not too thick, not too thin. I prefer mine done a little more, but they certainly weren't raw. Beans were excellent--super thick and meaty; they started smoky and ended with a little sweetness. The sauce was solid (I mean, it was liquid, but...you know what I'm saying). There was no one flavor that jumped out at me, but I actually liked that about it. It seems like too many places want to make their sauce so unique they forget to make it GOOD.

They also serve breakfast, and what appear to be really good burgers and lots of other non-BBQ sandwiches too. Check 'em out.

3. Business is not so great at Matchstick for dinner.
It's a tough location for barbecue, to be honest. It's in the old Spitfire (and before that Addis Ababa) space on 39th. Parking is not easy, and I have to think most barbecue joints would go under if not for carryout orders. Case in point: I was there from 6:15pm to 7pm. One other guy (as in one person, not one table) was there the first 15 minutes I sat there, and no one arrived while I was there. I hope things pick up for them (or that they do bang-up breakfast and lunch), but it didn't look good.

Corollary 1: If you don't want a place to close, support it. I know there are a lot of choices, and the principles of natural selection certainly apply to restaurants. But don't you dare whine if a place you "love" closes and you can't remember the last time you went there.

Corollary 2: If you're the only table your server has, tip that server WELL. Especially if she, knowing she's probably not going to make jack that night, is still super-friendly and kind.

4. Cyclists are A-Holes.
I'm not talking people who ride bikes. I'm talking about cyclists. The ones who ride in groups in their full Tour de Jackass jersey and Oakley shades regalia. The ones who ran their stop sign and nearly got plowed by the car in front of me, then had the nerve to flip the driver off. The ones who on Merriam Lane - a two lane road with what amounts to a full shoulder - ride right in the middle of the lane. Single file. At a staggering 12mph. With--not exaggerating--a good 15-feet available to their right. Share the road? I'm trying. How about you do the same?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tantrum - Friday, August 14 with writer Jim Howard

Tantrum is back. Hilarity ensues.

Who: Tantrum Improv Comedy
Where: Westport Coffeehouse Theater, 4010 Pennsylvania
When: August 14th, 8pm
How Much: $10
(May contain adult content)

See below for full details on our special guest!


TANTRUM BRINGS WRITER JIM HOWARD BACK FOR MORE STORIES
Improv troupe goes another round with the guy who will say anything


There’s only one place where you can see some of KC’s most interesting personalities live, unscripted and uncensored. At every show, the improv comedians in Tantrum invite a “guest monologist” to tell stories on the spot. In August, they welcome back Jim Howard—“prosodist, screenwriter, hired word gun; father of three, master of none.” To get Jim started, the audience shouts out topics they want to hear about. Jim can respond with anything he wants to—as long as it’s true. Then Tantrum takes over, twisting and turning his tales into a series of scenes. A mild-mannered greeting card writer by day, Jim has written screenplays for Big Bad Love and the Lifetime Channel TV movie Dawn Anna. In his last shows, Jim covered everything from elementary school humiliation to illicit adolescent behavior to houses burning down to frolicking with dolphins—nobody knows where the suggestions will take him this time. In many of his stories, someone is naked. Tantrum features Trish Berrong, Pete Calderone, Nikki DuPont, Rob Grabowski (Pitch's Best Funny Performer 2008), Megan Mercer, Michael Montague Jr., and Josh Steinmetz. Also in this show, Tantrum plays some of the popular improv games they grew up on. Ideas from the audience spark characters, situations and dialogue in short, structured, fast-paced scenes. Don't miss what the Pitch calls "the daring, scene-based improvisation of one of our best local troupes,” every Second Friday at 8pm at the Westport Coffeehouse Theatre, 4010 Pennsylvania Ave., beginning January 9. Tickets are $10. Seating is limited—call (816) 678-8886 for reservations. Visit http://tantrumkc.blogspot.com/ for the latest news.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Drinking For the Cycle

For the uninitiated, “hitting for the cycle” in baseball involves a batter recording a single, double, triple, and home run in one game. It’s fairly rare; there have been 43 cycles in the nearly ten full seasons starting in 2000.


That’s roughly once every 546 games.


I’ve never really thought much of the accomplishment, to be honest. I think it’s because it’s more of a statistical anomaly than any real measure of skill. Sure, George Brett’s hit for the cycle, but so has Neifi Perez.


The closest I’ve ever come to witnessing one in person was in September of 1999. I was doing a ballpark tour, and I made sure to catch Detroit’s Tiger Stadium and Milwaukee’s County Stadium as they were in their last years of existence.


(As it turned out, the Brewers played another season in County because this tragic crane collapse delayed the opening of their new park, but I digress.)


Steve Finley of the Diamondbacks had a homer, triple, and double in his first three at-bats. A few people I had been talking to started to leave in about the 6th inning, and since I was keeping score I mentioned Finley was a single away from the cycle. They thought it would be cool to witness such a feat, and since he had the three more-difficult hits out of the way it seemed fairly likely it would happen.


Instead, the game dragged on for nearly four hours as the two teams used a combined 15 pitchers (I was listening to the radio broadcast, and you should have heard Bob Uecker trashing the managers for that) and Finley didn’t get his single. Box score here, if you care.


That’s a convoluted way of getting to a much more rewarding cycle experience: the Belgian beer cycle.


Two friends and I happily completed that cycle Tuesday. One friend did not.


As the Brain Trust met at Dish Pizza in Liberty, I was again impressed with the beer selection (click on link for menu).


I realized it was time to achieve. Here’s how it went:


First AB (Absorbed Beer): Dubbel (Grimbergen)


Grimbergen Dubbel was everything a dubbel should be: rich brown color, a little caramelly-sweet, with that nice alcohol warmth at the end.







Second AB: Tripel (Westmalle Trappist)


A true trappist ale, the strength of this style is deceptive: it pours light, almost pilsner-like (the style has its roots there) and comes through with a rich, crisp flavor with that nice funky sweet finish. By this point, my body knew I was in the midst of something special.









Third AB: Quadrupel (St. Bernardus Abt 12)


It was time to power up. Seriously—this is one of the best beers you’ll ever have. Dark brown, yeasty, fruity, great syrupy mouth feel…it’s just luxurious. Do yourself a favor and pony up for a bottle of this next time you see it.










Fourth AB: Single (Caracole Amber Ale)


This was the only beer in the cycle I hadn’t tried before, but it left me quite happy. Don’t be deterred by the non-descript “Amber Ale” label. This is a lovely Belgian, rich in hops but with that distinct finish.




The cycle was complete. By my count, my slugging percentage was 2.500, but my BAC wasn’t far behind. At 6.5%, 9.7%, 10.5%, and 8.0% respectively, Belgians do NOT play around with weak beer.

The best part? This cycle cost $15.

You read that right. All four super-premium beers for $15.

Dish has all their bottled beer on special Tuesday nights, and if you look at the list you’ll see how ridiculous the prices are.

Their pizza’s quite good as well, whether you go deep dish or thin crust.

So, if you happen to be in the NE corner of the metro, stop by Dish and have a beer and some pizza. No, they don’t have individual stemware from each brewery, but they have the beer.

And that’s what's important.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Odell Extra Special Red

I like hops. I'm just not crazy for IPAs. They’re kinda boring, and they tend to have the piney hop flavor that overwhelms anything else that may be going on with the beer. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll gladly drink one. It’s just that there are usually many other styles I’d reach for first.



Then you have Imperial (or “double”) IPAs. All the flavors are more robust (including the hop notes), but they’re typically more balanced. However, the balance comes from all the sweetness (which can be a bit much) produced along with the high alcohol content. What to do?


Have an Odell Extra Special Red! It’s definitely in the rotation as one of my favorite summer beers, and my appreciation for it continues to grow. I guess you could call it an Imperial Red Ale, coming in at about 7.8%. It’s hoppy, but without the pine flavor of IPAs or the Überdryness that comes from, well, most dry-hopped beers. It's full-flavored, and at about $10 per 6 pack it’s not much more expensive than your average micro. I’ve seen it at Gomer’s, Red X, and Lukas.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Best Exercise Device. EVER.

A few days ago, I was between exercises at the gym when I heard one girl tell another girl in passing, "I wish I had arms like yours."

The second girl said, "Thanks!" and continued with her routine. The first girl may not have known this, but the second girl is a personal trainer. At the time she was approached, she was targeting her triceps with a rather formidable dumbbell. She was really straining and struggling to finish, her last repetition a real challenge.

A couple minutes later, I saw the first girl finishing a set on the chest press machine. Her last repetition was as easy as the ones before it. She was using the absolute minimum weight possible. In other words, she was coasting. She wasn't pushing herself in the slightest, which is kinda the point of working out.

My first thought was: she'll never have the arms she wished for.

But now, I realize the error of my ways.

Behold...the Shake Weight.

Ladies, it's time to work out.

"Dynamic Inertia" never looked so sexy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Friday: Wine + The Grand Marquis - Holy-Field Winery

This Friday night from 6:30-9:30, Holy-Field Winery in Basehor (less than 10 minutes from the Speedway) is hosting the final installment of their summer jazz series with special guests The Grand Marquis!

Where else can you gather, drink wine and listen to a great band...in a vineyard? It should be a great summer night--current forecast for Friday is 83º/63º and sunny.

Who: Everyone
What: Live Music - Grand Marquis
Where: Holyfield Winery
When: July 31 (Friday) 6:30 - 9:30 pm
Why: Because Summer is running out and we need to enjoy it!
The Skinny: You pay $5 entry fee which covers your wine tasting, buy the bottle you like (bottles run about $10-$20), and head outside to the vineyard where they have tables set with ice buckets to chill your wine. However, the tables tend to fill so you will want to bring a travel chair in case we need to make our own space. Sunglasses are a good idea too.
They have catered BBQ with hearty plates for sale, but the line tends to get long so feel free to bring your own picnic. It's kid-friendly, they will have a great time running around the vineyard playing with the other children.

HOLY-FIELD Vineyard & Winery
18807 158th Street
Basehor, Kansas 66007
www.holyfieldwinery.com/

www.grandmarquis.net/

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ads for Days

Think about this—in your lifetime, how much marketing and advertising have you had to absorb?

It’s a constant fog; the signs, logos, colors, and slogans create visual white noise EVERYWHERE.

We’ve all learned to accept a certain level of invasion by these ads. My computer monitor says “Dell” at the bottom. An email from a vendor ends with his company’s logo and slogan in his autosignature. It’s rare that I will look at one of these more innocuous placements and think, “I really don’t like this company”, or “I would never buy something from them”.

Make a bad decision in your TV ad, however, and you might lose me for life. Here’s my current list, compiled from a couple hours of TV watching this weekend.


1. Most car dealerships. Yeah, it’s cliché, but I have to seriously ask: what in the HELL makes you think your commercial makes me want to buy a car? Your low budget, poorly-sung jingles (Bob Sight Independence Kia…no BS!)? Your claims that you sell more Fords than anyone in town (why does that matter to me)? Your cocky, douchey salesperson in the commercial who is the vinegar-scented embodiment of why everyone hates shopping for a car?


2. Homestead Financial. Yep, 800-Granny-8. My grandmother is not old enough to sound like that crabby broad, but she is not on the list of people I would ask for mortgage advice. Why? She hasn’t shopped for one in nearly 40 years. But that’s beside the point. I’m convinced that the company requested a toll free number, got something random, then looked at their phone to see what they could spell. Once they came up with “Granny”, they decided that would be their whole marketing campaign.
3. Hanes (at least their underwear). They are currently running ads with Michael Jordan and…Charlie Sheen at a country club discussing boxer briefs. The problem? I associate Charlie Sheen with syphilis and therefore don’t want to associate my underwear with his chancres.


4. Nikon. Would anyone buy anything from Ashton Kutcher? I mean, really?



5. FreeScore.com. Okay, this has more to do with my disappointment in Ben Stein for stooping to this level. He’s an economist who has a personal finance column. I respect the majority of what he has to say. But this is just a cash grab. FreeScore is another in the line of “free” credit report websites. The catch? You have to sign up for monthly monitoring of your credit report, which costs about $10 a month. And it’s a pain in the ass to cancel. It’s disappointing because there is a government-mandated, no-strings-attached, FREE credit report website at annualcreditreport.com. I’m sure Ben knows about it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Biting My Tongue



There's a internal conflict that I frequently encounter: I have something on mind that I don't vocalize--even though it chews me up--because I know the long-term consequences of saying something are worse than just getting it off my chest.

It's two parts of my personality colliding. I'm a bit of a ruminator, so thoughts don't simply enter and exit my brain as they normally should...especially when they trigger something in me emotionally. In other words, I have trouble letting shit go.

On the other hand, I'm (usually) sensitive to a fault about how my words could affect others. I can be honest with someone as long as I don't think my honesty would affect my relationship with them. If I feel like it would lead to a grudge on their part, I'd just as soon let it chew me up.

The problem with this, of course, goes back to the first issue--things tend to chew me up, but never spit me out. It leaves me in this perpetual state of unresolved annoyance.

The irony is that I never hold a grudge against someone if they're honest with me. I'd rather hear that they don't like working with me because ____ or even that they don't like me because ____ than for me to be under the wrong impression.

Why the hell can't I just give people a measured but honest version of my thoughts? What the hell am I afraid of?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

No Cash For This Clunker

Now that the house is almost officially sold (we close July 30th), it's time to put some of the proceeds toward actual grownup transportation.

Some background: I've owned only three cars in my life. I've paid less than $12,000 COMBINED for them. I've personally put around 375,000 combined miles on them. I think I've gotten my money's worth, thanks mostly to fortunate car choices and bang-up maintenance with the help of my dad.

Speaking of, Dad bought his first Ford Taurus in about 1996. He must have liked it, because he bought two more shortly thereafter. One of these, a 1994 sandy-bronze colored number, became my second car. It replaced my first--a 1982 Monte Carlo that was beyond pimp--after it developed a bit of a smoking problem.

That first Taurus lasted me almost five years (and 120,000 miles), after which I paid cash for a 1998 Mercury Sable (seen above). Not fancy, not impressive, but reliable as hell. Seven years later and I'm over 240k on the odometer.

At my best count, my immediate family has owned nine Tauri/Sables. We ALL have one right now. It's funny and sick at the same time, because they're great cars mechanically but none of us is necessarily proud of them.

However, as cars reach the end of their lifespan, little shit starts to nickel and dime you. For example, I've got a wheel bearing that's about to go, and the air conditioning has a leak that's not so slow anymore. I had the coolant hoses replaced a few months ago. Normal stuff, but each repair yields a question: how much more money do you put into a car that's not worth any money?

A solution started to materialize. The Car Allowance Rebate System is on the horizon. Known colloquially as "Cash For Clunkers", the program works like this: trade in your car that is a) no more than 25 years old; b) registered and insured to you for at least the past year; and c) gets no more than 18 mpg combined per new EPA standards. You then get $3500 toward a new vehicle if it gets at least 4 mpg more than your clunker, and $4500 if it gets at least 10 mpg more.

I looked up my Sable.

The EPA says it gets 19 mpg.

As in, 1 mpg too many.

Dammit.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Royals Revisionism Part 2, or: How I Learned to Ignore Journey and Stop Believing

Part two of this two-part series is more depressing than the first, but in a way that kinda makes you laugh while shaking your head because you've seen this movie before.

Prediction: Second base will drop off from 2008.
Revised prediction: Yep.
Why: Alberto Callaspo has sprayed the ball around, with a lot more doubles than I expected. But he is an absolute BUTCHER in the field. Can’t run either.

Prediction: Shortstop will be marginally better than 2008.
Revised prediction: In defiance of all that is good and holy, somehow it’s not.
Why: Mike Aviles somehow (through Tony Pena, Jr. osmosis?) became, well, Tony Pena, Jr. My guess is that it was another mystery injury, because 27-year-old shortstop should not go from active roster to Tommy John surgery. Ever. TPJ is the worst hitter in the major leagues…last week he got his fifth hit of the season AND fifth error in the same game. The defense has been atrocious, and we’re not even talking about it because the hitting has been so abysmal.

Prediction: Third base will be marginally better than 2008.
Revised prediction: It is, but for all the wrong reasons.
Why: Mark Teahen has played there and been reasonably productive—moreso than Alex Gordon was last year. Of course, this is because Gordon is hurt again. Teahen will likely be traded, which means we will get to see if Gordon is going to make something of himself. I’m not holding my breath.

Prediction: The outfield will be marginally better than 2008.
Revised prediction: It’s not. It’s so, so not.
Why: Coco Crisp is hurt, but he was hitting .228 when he was lost for the season. He ran down all kinds of fly balls, but his arm was so ridiculously weak he makes Johnny Damon look like Jesse Barfield. I can throw harder lefthanded. I’m serious. Mitch Maier, his replacement, is not a major leaguer. Jose Guillen can’t move, still can’t get on base, and has lost his one attribute (power). David DeJesus leads the team in RBI. As the leadoff hitter, where he’s completely miscast. He’s adequate at best in left.

Stuff I couldn’t even have dreamed of predicting:
-The Royals would lose a game when a base hit barreled through a flock of birds in centerfield.

-The Royals, who purportedly wanted to work on plate discipline and drawing walks, still don’t have anyone with more than 29 walks. And that’s Coco Crisp, who has missed 44% of the team’s games. Miguel Olivo has walked 3 times. Three. In 228 plate appearances.

-The Royals, based on a Bill James statistic, have almost had the worst baserunning season since the statistic was first calculated. And it’s a cumulative stat, meaning the Royals have almost become the worst by the All-Star break. Anyone who has watched a game or two can vouch for this, and it’s not just a lack of speed—it’s boneheadedness (a force out at home from right field? Two people doubled off first base on fly outs? In the same game?)

-The Royals are a DREADFUL defensive team, leading the American League in unearned runs allowed (by a lot).
-The Royals once pinch hit Luis Hernandez for Tony Pena, Jr. Later in the game, they pinch hit Tug Hulett for Luis Hernandez. (None of these three should be on a major league roster; somehow the Royals stockpiled them all and are using them in strategic moves during real games.) Their slugging percentage--that's total bases divided by plate appearances--was .370. IF YOU ADDED THEM ALL TOGETHER. As of today, Albert Pujols' slugging percentage is .723. By himself.

-The Royals score no runs because they are a plodding, station-to-station team…who can’t even get to the first station, let alone drive someone in. They play bad defense. They make boneheaded mistakes.
-So they trade their top pitching prospect for a shortstop who can’t run, can’t get on base, can’t keep his head in the game, and can’t play defense.

Prediction: The Royals will finish 80-82.
Revised prediction: The Royals will finish 67-95.
Why: The Royals won 18 of their first 29 games, but it was smoke and mirrors (they weren’t scoring runs then either). And really, it could have been 21 of 29 if not for Farnsworth’s efforts. Yeah. The pitching, while certainly acceptable, came back to Earth. And no one can hit. Or field. Or, god forbid, score from second on a single. They’ve won 19 of their last 59—that’s less than one outta three. My guess is that the rest of the season won’t be THAT bad, but not much better. I predict a .400 winning percentage from here on out, hence my revised prediction.

They are last in the AL in runs scored. They are 10th worst (out of 14) in the AL in runs allowed.

They suck.

As usual.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Royals Revisionism Part 1, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Watch Food Network


We’ve reached the All-Star Break in Major League Baseball, which is traditionally looked at as the halfway point in the season (though it’s a little past that). Since we're waist deep into this wretched, wretched season, it’s a good time to look back at my preseason prognosis for the 2009 Royals, which I wrote about here.

Prediction: Greinke will win 16 games with an ERA in the mid-threes.
Revised Prediction: Greinke will win 16 games with an ERA just under 3.00.
Why: Everyone knows about his remarkable start to the season. Over his last eight games, however, his ERA is 3.95. Nothing wrong with that, except that it’s only good enough for a 2-4 record with this bumbling Royals offense. Does anyone really see him winning more than 6 games in the second half? The huge start will probably keep his ERA under 3, but the Royals’ bats will cost him the Cy Young Award because Roy Halladay will likely have 20 wins when it’s all said and done.

Prediction: Starting pitching will be marginally better than in 2008.
Revised prediction: It’s about the same, even with Greinke’s performance.
Why: Gil Meche has been inconsistent, thanks in part to manager Trey Hillman’s passive-aggressive handling of him. Brian Bannister has been a pleasant surprise, but you never know when he’s going to go out and just get POUNDED. Luke Hochevar is erratic as can be. And the others (Davies, Ponson, Chen) are a joke at this point.

Prediction: Relief pitching will be marginally worse than 2008.
Revised prediction: It will be noticeably worse.
Why: In yet another medical mystery, Joakim Soria spent part of the year in arm soreness limbo. Hillman said Soria wasn’t hurt; then he said he was but was strategically keeping it a secret. He’s back and effective, but that’s where it ends. Kyle Farnsworth is a head case, and everyone else can become a gas can at any point. Juan Cruz especially hasn’t lived up to expectations. We pretty much have to pray for 8 innings and give it to Soria.

Now it gets ugly.

Prediction: Catchers 2009 = Catchers 2008.
Revised prediction: Yeah, pretty much.
Why: Miguel Olivo leads the team in home runs. He also has a .267 OBP because he’s never seen a pitch he didn’t like. He strikes out over 1/3 of the time he steps to the plate; this is because all you have to do is throw a slider that starts on the outside half of the plate and sweeps away. I’m serious—every damn time. He’s like freaking Pedro Cerrano from Major League*. John Buck is a Caucasian Olivo, the difference being Olivo has no glove and Buck has no arm.

*It’s really cool that Dennis Haysbert, who played Cerrano, went on to play President David Palmer in 24 and is now the Allstate spokesperson. It very bad drink Jobu’s rum.



Prediction: First base/DH will have significantly better numbers than 2008.
Revised prediction: Not so much.
Why: As Billy Butler starts to hit a bunch of doubles and show himself as a serviceable bat (NOT a #3 hitter), Jacobs basically hits every hundredth pitch about 6 miles. Seriously, these are TITANIC blasts; he just doesn’t get to many pitches. Neither of them has major-league skill in fielding, running, or baseball IQ.
I'll get to the rest of this lost season later.