Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Are The Odds?

What are the odds of two random people crossing paths at Love's Truck Stop on the south end of Cheyenne, WY (I-25 exit 7)?

(If they are two people who live down the street, one would argue that the odds are pretty good. But that doesn't make them random; that makes them neighbors.)
Let's say one person was traveling from South Dakota to Loveland, CO. Like this:

Let's say the other person was traveling from Denver, CO to Torrington, WY. Like this:

Now what are the odds that any two people on those routes would be in the same place, at the same time, in the most sparsely populated state in America, many hundreds of miles from where either of them had ever lived?

Now, what are the odds that these two people were both originally from the same town of about 150,000?

What are the odds that these two people actually knew each other?

What are the odds that they were in the same graduating class of 151 students?

What are the odds...

...that you would run into your first girlfriend as she was buying snacks in the process of moving from South Dakota to Loveland, CO and you had flown into Denver, driven north into Wyoming, and stopped to use the restroom?

Friday, April 24, 2009

New York

Just got back from a super-quick, last-minute business trip to NY.


1. Herm Edwards was on my flight on the way there. Paul Splittorff was on my flight on the way back.

2. Our flight path took us to the southwest corner of Manhattan, then we turned north, looped all the way around the city, made a U-turn, and landed at LaGuardia. The skyline views were stunning--first the Statue of Liberty, then lower Manhattan with all the skyscrapers, then Central Park, then the Bronx and new/old Yankee Stadiums, then around the other side of the island to land.

3. I am so glad I'm not a business traveler for a living. If I had to eat every night at the Ruby Tuesday bar with all the other road warriors, listening to the d-bag salesmen hitting on the women half their age as they talk about all their business conquests/fish tales, I just might off myself.
4. This is a public elementary school. The picture doesn't even do it justice.
It was built in 1935 with a bonafide 4-lane bowling alley in the basement. It requires manual ball return and pinsetting (i.e. a pinboy). You can't even find a bowling alley where you keep score manually any more.
I also came across some survival water circa 1962. Cuban Missile Crisis, anyone?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ireland, Part 5: Drinks

You may have heard the Irish have a reputation for drinking. In some ways, this is accurate. There are thousands upon thousands of pubs nationwide—an inordinate number, really; only a nation that truly enjoys its beers and spirits could keep them all in business. Also, any taboo or guilt about drinking we may feel here in the US (specifically, the Bible Belt) is noticeably absent there.

On the other hand, we went out almost every night we were there. I witnessed exactly TWO drunk people all week*, and one of them was a snotty American broad. (You know the type—whiny as hell, talking way too loud in a know-it-all condescending tone, oblivious to how arrogant she sounds…the type of American that people like me feel compelled to apologize for). This means either the Irish mostly drink responsibly, or they have an superhuman ability to hold their liquor. I would lean toward the former, with no offense intended to anyone's liquor-holding ego.

*Admittedly, we weren’t out super late most of the week, but still…one would have seen far more drunken antics in the States in the time we spent in pubs.

They are quite proud of their homemade products. You may have heard of a beer called Guinness..did you know they make it in Ireland? True story.

One of the most impressive things we saw in Ireland was the Guinness Storehouse, a seven-story altar to all things stout. The atrium was designed to represent the world’s largest pint glass, and it’s located next door to the St. James Gate Brewery. This is the brewery where Arthur Guinness famously signed a 9,000 year lease in 1759. They have the actual lease on display:

After a trip through exhibits explaining Guinness' brewing process and history, you get to redeem your ticket stub for a free pint at the Gravity Bar. This is a glass-enclosed bar at the top of the structure, affording 360ยบ views of Dublin and its surroundings. You're only 7 floors up, but almost nothing in Dublin is taller than that. Here is Dublin disappearing into the Wicklow Mountains:

Our "perfect pints":

Guinness plays an important (albeit indirect) role in our adventures. My fiancee did not like beer at all until she tried a Guinness. This single flavor epiphany years ago has led to us seeking out all kinds of new beer, taking tours, talking to brewmasters...Guinness was her gateway beer. We thanked them:

EVERY pub in Ireland has Guinness on tap. Almost every pub has Carlsberg (Danish lager) and/or Budweiser on tap as well. Aside from that, you see a lot of Harp (lager) and Smithwicks (ale); both are Guinness products. Also, Bulmer's Cider, and even Coors Light (gack!) in a couple places.

The closer you are to Cork, the more likely you are to see Murphy's and Beamish, two other delicious Irish stouts. Both are brewed there, although...well, it's complicated. Murphy's is owned by Heineken, and Beamish is owned by Foster's, and Heineken just bought Foster's. Got it?

Beamish is good, but it's Murphy's and Guinness that I waver on. Asking me to pick my favorite depended on the day. Murphy's is a bit sweeter; Guinness is a bit drier. Both are a big ol' pint of yummy.

Oh--and a couple people asked me if they serve beer at a warmer temp over there. This is a myth. The beers were consistently cooler than cool, which is to say "ice cold".

Most pubs also had at least a dozen bottles of Irish whiskey turned upside-down in wall-mounted brackets for easy access and pouring. You've heard of the Jamesons and Bushmillses; we were quite happy with Paddy and Powers as well. The differences are rather subtle, and we don't purport to be whiskey aficionados, but they were quite enjoyable and most were actually less expensive than beer. We got a couple small bottles at the duty free shop on the way home.

All in all, I think the attitude toward drinking in Ireland is similar to my own. I firmly believe that a little alcohol is good for you in many ways: it alleviates stress, makes you happy, and strengthens social bonds. Now if I could just get rid of these shakes....

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ireland, Part 4: Cuisine

We both dig good food and beer. Part of our preparation on any vacation involves researching a few restaurants we want to try. In the US, brewpubs/gastropubs* with interesting menus rank very high on our list because it’s the culinary equivalent of multitasking.

*I love the concept of gastropubs but hate the term. I always associate the prefix gastro- with IBS or something.

Our research for Ireland consisted of reading a few online articles, perusing a Fodor’s travel book (which was fantastic, by the way), and watching Bourdain and Flay traipse about the countryside, mysteriously always finding yummy treats and eccentric folks. (Wow! They have friends everywhere!)

Well, the opinion from all outlets was unanimous—Ireland, once a culinary wasteland of blanditude, was in the midst of a flavor renaissance! The roaring economy was the main factor: on one hand, immigrants searching for work brought along their culture and food; on the other, the boom in disposable income among the Irish led to more travel and the revelation that, hey—these spices taste good!

For this reason, we looked forward to our food experience....but unfortunately, the results were decidedly meh.

First though, I must say our breakfasts were consistently satisfying. We stayed at B&Bs and were very well-fed. We had a hot breakfast every day with our choice of breads, cereals, fruit, bacon, sausage, eggs...even the black or white "pudding" (blood sausage) was there for the asking. The hosts fed us so well that every morning after I finished breakfast, I thought, "I might actually be getting tired of bacon and sausage." (If you think these thoughts ever managed to persist until the next breakfast...um, have we met?)

As far as lunch and dinner go, the food is still predominantly bland. Don't believe the hype. I think people like, say, my grandparents would be just fine with all the stews, potatoes, and other stick-to-your-ribs grub. That stuff just doesn't do it for me. We ate at pubs a few times, mostly because at the first one we tried my fiancee ordered a fish special that looked like something off Iron Chef--beautiful presentation and flat-out delicious. My "hot pot" (a savory lamb stew) was, in retrospect, very flavorful as well.

This turned out to be the exception, not the rule. Pub food is basically bland meat and potatoes...lots and lots of potatoes. I mean, UNGODLY amounts of potatoes. I'm not exaggerating when I say my week in Ireland easily doubled my 2009 YTD potato consumption.

How bad was it? Midweek, we were both craving something--ANYTHING--with some flavor. The restaurant we visited had an Indian curry dish, so we gave it a shot.

It was tasty--a nice take on curried chicken served with rice.

AND mashed potatoes.

AND fried potatoes.

But here's the problem: restaurants in Ireland are exorbitantly expensive thanks to the explosion in their standard of living. Seriously--I read that it's cheaper to eat in New York or Paris than Ireland right now. Our no-frills pub meals came in at about $35 for two; add a beer and it was about $50. These were the least expensive places to eat, mind you. (If you're in Killarney, you may also get a nice heaping side of kerosene fumes since the furnace wasn't drafting properly.)

To get the "cuisine" that was allegedly everywhere and so univerally lauded, you were stepping up to $100 per couple minimum for a meal that would run you about $40 per couple here in KC.

Knowing we had a tremendous splurge coming the last night of our trip (our most expensive meal EVVVARRRR--details soon), it was really hard to justify too many of those.

In fact, I think our two most satisfying meals on the trip were the aforementioned "exception pub" meal and the pizza we ordered in Cork after walking past the menus of a half-dozen "cuisine" spots.

It was the first time $25 for a pizza and two Diet Cokes ever felt like a bargain.

Finally, as if there were any doubt that we are absolutely not full-time foodies: we also had cajun chicken "panini" (that's what they called them, but they really just toasted subs).


From gas stations.

We needed something quick on the road. Tastier than you might think (they did make them fresh), though one of the other quirks about Ireland is trying to get people NOT to put mayo on stuff. I hate it, and they use it in even far more nefarious ways over there--you'll find it snuck into stuff you'd never imagine. Yeah, the deli chicks looked at me strangely when I requested that they leave my sammich dry.

I don't care. Mayo is for sucks.


The "exception pub": Sonny's in Galway

The River Liffey, Dublin

Old meets new--walls of Dublin Castle surrounded by modern flats
Main Street in Adare, Co. Limerick...but it could really be anywhere in Ireland.

I don't know what these plants are (did Dr. Seuss plant them?), but they're over 6' tall

Braggin' Rights Follow-Up

As mentioned previously, four friends and I taped a week's worth of Braggin' Rights, a sports trivia show that airs on Metro Sports. We didn't know the results because our group and their group, the "Posse", tape our segments at different times in different locations. Each episode consists of 10 questions that both teams try to answer.

It turns out that we did quite well: We tied 7-7 the first day, then 9-9 the second day.

The third day they beat us 9-8.

Finally, on the last day, they missed the last question, giving us a 10-9 victory (yep, we aced the last "day's" worth of questions).

I'm very satisfied with our showing, considering their team consists of guys who do nothing but sports--ringers, in other words. We're just some people who thought it would be fun to be on TV.

How's that taste, Posse?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ireland, Part 3: It's the Stupid Economy

It was a very interesting time to visit Ireland. The country is in the midst of a financial implosion that makes ours look downright palatable.

In the early 1990s, Ireland was one of the poorest countries in Western Europe. The formation of the European Union and aggressively low corporate tax rates drew a multitude of new business opportunities to the nation. The result was explosive economic growth, dubbed “The Celtic Tiger”.

Companies moved to Ireland by the dozen. Jobs were everywhere; unemployment went from double digits to 3% (which is technically “full employment”). Wages soared. People from all over the world moved there to take advantage of the good times. From 1995-2007, almost every year resulted in GDP growth nearing (or even exceeding) double digits.

Suddenly, Ireland was the richest nation in Europe.

In the meantime, the average home price neared $500,000. That’s nationwide, mind you—not just in Dublin. Disposable income was plentiful, but inflation topped 5% per year. Wages grew so high that jobs were being (gasp!) outsourced.

And now…saying the bubble has burst is a vast understatement.

Property values have plummeted by 40% (again, this is nationwide, not just in pockets) and some are predicting a real devaluation of 75% by the time it’s all settled. The economy is set to contract by 8% in 2009. Unemployment is over 11% and CLIMBING.

And on April 7th, as we were driving along the west coast, the emergency budget was broadcast on the radio.

My jaw dropped. Income and health care levies were doubled instantaneously. What amount to tax credits for kids were cut in half. Mortgage interest deductions were phased out.

The newspaper summed up that a family earning 60,000EU would be paying an extra 185EU per month. Think about that—how many families earning $60k here in the states have an extra $185 just sitting around every single month? Okay, now double that family’s mortgage payment and answer the question again. (Yes, I’m ignoring the exchange rate because the higher prices there make their buying power in Euros about the same as ours is in dollars.)

It was obviously the talk of the nation while we were there. People are justifiably terrified.

Here are the effects on different people in different situations. They’re very short and totally worth reading; you can even skip to the bottom to read one sentence and see how badly some of these people are going to be affected.

Cohabitating Couple

Single-Income Family

Dual-Income Family

Single Parent

Single Worker

At the very least, we can appreciate that our economic situation could certainly be worse.


Okay; that was depressing! Here are some pictures to cleanse your palate.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ireland, Part 2: Driving in Reverse

My only other worry was how I'd adjust to driving on the left side of the road. All the reading I'd come across indicated the roads were poorly marked, mirror-bustingly narrow, and (in the country at least) saturated with livestock.

We got to the rental car agency, where we were promptly stuck with fees and insurance of $320. There was no getting out of it, even on a car that was "included" in our travel package. In retrospect, I DID feel good (for the first time in my life) about having full, zero deductible coverage on a rental car, even though (spoiler alert) I didn't end up needing it.

I figured we would basically get a clown car, and I was right. Somehow we made it work.

For the record, I did NOT put that ding in the car. Not only was the car tiny, but it was...well-worn.

After taking the pictures for posterity (and, frankly, to cover my ass), we got in the car. Not only are you driving on the opposite side of the road--you're SITTING on the opposite side of the car. This is where I became incredibly glad we upgraded our car to an automatic. I can't imagine trying to pick up driving on the wrong side and remembering how to drive a stick...with the wrong hand.

The first trip was nerve-racking. I had been up all night, so I wasn't very focused to begin with. The roads are actually marked well, but differently--everything is painted white, so the direction of travel is even more confusing, especially when there are an odd number of lanes on the road (which happened a LOT).

Then, we got to the first roundabout. Holy crap. Transposing everything in my head, looking at the hundreds of cars bearing down, flashes of European Vacation going through my brain...wait, where is Swords Road? Google Maps says take Swords Road; there is no Swords Road! Gah! Turns out, all the roads on the highway system have been assigned numbers, and the numbers appear on the signs now. We figured it out and finally made it to the hotel that we couldn't check into for 6 more hours. We parked the car for the day, because we were told in no uncertain terms not to drive in Dublin.

We also obtained a GPS for the trip, but the device had two substantial glitches. First, the software was out of date, so any roads constructed in the last few years did not appear on its maps. Turns out they have built a bunch of roads recently. We were frequently depicted as driving through some sort of sheep field, no road in sight. Second, the GPS didn't seem to have data on road width, so on at least a half-dozen occasions it tried to send us down a road that was more narrow than my driveway. Nevertheless, we were glad to have it, even when Emily the Brit's condescending voice told us she was "reCALCulating".

Anyway, after the first day, things got better. I figured out roundabouts, city driving, and the fact that a 100 km/h (60 mph) speed limit does not mean you will physically be able to go that fast. Unlike here in the states, you will not see signs telling you how far you must slow down to take that curve ahead. Occasionally a construction truck will barrel around the corner at you, and you better be ready. It was definitely not the least-stressful way to see the country, as there were very few moments of relaxation behind the wheel.

But I wouldn't change a thing. In the end, I drove 726 miles overall (my fiancee was quite alright with not driving, thank you very much), and we saw--on our own time--all of the stuff below. Those poor suckers on the tour buses missed it all...and this is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ireland, Part 1: Transatlanticism

I’ve been thinking about how to write about this amazing trip.

The simplest way would be to give a list of all the things we did, journal-style. But that would be dry, and I feel like the trip was a week-long experience rather than a series of events. Therefore, I decided to write about general topics…Irish Style!

Once the trip was booked, one of my few worries involved how I’d cope with an 8-hour trans-Atlantic flight in coach. I’m 6’4”, and I’m certainly not on the slender end of the spectrum. I have never once been able to fall asleep on a plane*, and this flight was no different, which kinda sucked because it was an overnight flight...and we would arrive in Dublin far too early to check into a hotel. It made for a rough first day, but I digress.

*There are a couple exceptions, but they both occurred when I had a whole row to myself on a Southwest flight and I curled up in the fetal position. Even then, it wasn’t great, and I woke up with the impression of a seatbelt buckle on my face.

Just sitting on a plane for a couple hours makes me altogether irritable. The seats just aren’t contoured for people like me. Plus, I get bored easily and get hungry/thirsty often.

That's what made Aer Lingus a nice surprise. First off, we could each check two bags at no charge. We only had one true check-worthy bag between us, but we went ahead and checked 3 bags because we could.

The seats were pretty roomy for coach, even with the guy in front of me reclined all the way. Sure, you have to get up and stretch every so often, but I wasn’t all that uncomfortable.

Part of that is because I didn’t have to read (which absolutely kills my neck on a plane) to keep myself occupied. The in-flight entertainment system was fabulous. We had about 16 movies at our disposal (each way, mind you—they changed them on the way back), plus an entire season of 8 TV shows (Mad Men among them), and about 300 CDs. They also had about 50 video games, including Centipede, Missile Command, and bar-style electronic trivia that you could play against the other people on board. All on demand, whenever you wanted them. Which is good when you keep taking a few minutes to try to fall asleep and keep giving up.

Between the flight there and the flight back, I saw 3 movies and she saw 5. I was a little more into the games and music. Morbid curiosity made me listen to a couple tracks off this (it was strangely enjoyable):

From a food standpoint…we had the hookup. They fed us a snack and a drink as soon as we got to cruising altitude, then they served us dinner—a full dinner with salad, bread, pasta, cheese, and cheesecake. It wasn’t Justus Drugstore by any means, but it wasn’t bad either. It was certainly more than I expected. They came by and gave us coffee or tea about 6 times, and they let us get up for more at our leisure. Then, to top it off, they served us breakfast—a hot ham and cheese croissant, potatoes, and a small pastry. Service was similar on the way back.

None of this cost anything, by the way.

And that’s kind of the point of this post.

On our roundtrip flight from Chicago to Dublin, the two of us received a combined 8 baggage checks (we only used 6), 8 meals, unlimited use of the entertainment system, and unlimited soft drinks.

We flew United to get to Chicago. The same things we received free of charge on Aer Lingus would have cost us $108 each on United. (Or $137 on US Airways, who charge for movies/headsets/soft drinks.)

$108 per ticket would have made our flight to Chicago as expensive as our flight to Dublin.

It’s 3,673 miles from Chicago to Dublin.

It’s 403 miles from Kansas City to Chicago.

Southwest Airlines Expands

Southwest has added Minneapolis-St. Paul and will add New York LaGuardia (starting June 28) and Boston Logan (starting August 16) to their list of airports. Good news for Kansas City travelers, because Southwest's entry into a market almost always lowers ticket prices for all carriers to and from said market.

Lindsay Lohan's eHarmony ad

This made me laugh. Girl's at least got a sense of humor about herself.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Star

(First things first--I'm back from Ireland, and...wow. What an amazing trip. I would highly encourage everyone to find the time to make a visit. It's surprisingly affordable, and it's a vacation you'll never forget. I'll be posting pictures and stories here when I have a little more time. Onto the post...)

I have never in my life been without a newspaper subscription. When I was a kid, my parents had THREE (the Times, Star, and Kansan).

Yesterday morning, it seemed like the Sunday paper was a little light. No biggie; I know ad revenue has been dwindling and I figured there were fewer inserts or something.

When I got on the bike at the gym to read the paper today, there was no disputing it--the Star was comin' up mighty thin.

Main/Local section (they are now combined): 12 pages minus ~ 4 pages of ads = 8 pages.
FYI: 6 pages (2 of which are comics and puzzles, which I'll be diplomatic and count).
Sports: 10 pages minus ~ 4 pages of ads = 6 pages.

That means there are literally only 20 pages of content.

That number includes box scores, obituaries, TV listings, and four photos at about 1/2 page each.

I know Monday is the lightest edition of the week, but please enlighten me: how am I supposed to justify a subscription renewal?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Brief Hiatus

For those of you who read my silly little musings, I thank you. This blog has turned into a lot of fun, and most of that is due to the comments from/interactions with you readers. Thank you!

I also wanted to let you know that the trip begins tomorrow, so I will be not be posting next week.

I hope to have plenty of good stories and photos from the Emerald Isle upon my return!

In the meantime, watch this little man throw down. A lot of people think dancing kids are SO cute, while I think they all do the same rock back and forth nonsense.

Not this guy. Just when you think he's got nothing left, he takes it to a new level.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tuna Tataki Tacos

On my way to work every day, I see this billboard:

What entity do you think pays for the billboard space?

An Asian restaurant?

The Midwest Regional Fish Importers Council?


It's Denver.org.

The actual billboard, in a font about this big, does mention something about "What the locals know" and Denver.org., but it is so obscure it took me about 4 trips to be able to actually read it.

Tuna Tataki Tacos, on the other hand...plenty legible, thank you.

Reasons why this is a horribly ineffective billboard:

1. You can't read what the hell it's promoting.
2. Denver: Seriously? Tuna Tataki Tacos are supposed to make me want to visit your city? I LOVE food, but even I had to look up what Tuna Tataki is. You might want to play up the whole "mountains" thing instead.
3. We've established that I--someone who seeks out interesting food--don't want to visit for Tuna Tataki Tacos. Now consider that, what, 80% of Kansas Citians wouldn't even visit the type of restaurant that has them on the menu (let alone order them) and you're beginning to understand how big a waste of money this billboard is.
4. On top of all that, the billboard is on Southbound I-635 and Kansas Avenue...right above the railyards, in the middle of industrial KCK. I love my hometown, but gourmets we are NOT.

As Big As You Think.
Tuna Tataki Tacos.
The Only Risk Is Wanting To Stay (Colombia).

Yeah. Let me visit THOSE places.