Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bird is the Word

Once again, Doodles has enlisted me to make a piece of art for one of the silent auctions being run through the Electric Moustache art gallery at Krankies. So I put together two versions of this idea. Below is the version that I'll probably keep:

In any case, the silent auction starts at 6pm on Saturday, Sept. 6th, where you can see (and yes, buy) Version 2 of this fine art piece (?), as well as many other works from much more reputable people. I hope to see you there!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Goodbye, Breakfast Club

Despite the timely title, the title is hardly a tribute to the late John Hughes (although plans for a Breakfast Club party are percolating). No, this post is actually intended as a way to pay my respects to the passing of my own Breakfast Club -- a group that I regularly did brunch with here in Winston for the past two years. With JaryMane leaving town on Saturday for the bright lights of Chicago, and DJ Dan heading to the West Coast only weeks before, I have suddenly found myself the only Breakfast Club member left to roam our old stomping grounds in Winston.

Below I detail -- In Memoriam -- the members of my Breakfast Club. RIP.

DJ Dan. AKA, "the Athlete"
Earned his nickname through keeping a ridiculous pace during hikes to South Mountain or the Profile Trail around Grandfather Mountain and never breaking a sweat. Jerk.
J.P. AKA, "the Princess"
Earned her nickname through the fact that she was obviously worshipped by DJ Dan. Molly Ringwald had nothing on J.P.
"GED", AKA, "the Brain"
The ironically-named GED was the first one to leave, moving on to the rarified lands of New York City law schools, where she has already started her inevitable march to the US Supreme Court.
DW, AKA "the Criminal"
Oh yes, recently I got all my hair cut off. Arrrgh! I'm a pirate.
JaryMane, AKA "the Basketcase"
Earned her nickname through the fact that she is a vegan who kills rats (true! trying figuring that one out...) and the fact that she left Winston-Salem for Chicago. What is she thinking? That's right, she's crazy. But she will be missed.

My closing tribute to the Breakfast Club:
We accepted the fact that we had to sacrifice whole Sunday mornings eating brunch with one another for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think its crazy to write an essay telling you who we think we are. You may see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions: We found that each one of us is a brain, an athlete, a basketcase, a princess, and a criminal.

Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Peru in Review

I still have a couple things to remember from Peru, including what I've been calling the Swine Cold -- a nasty little bugger that I've had since two days before I left town.

In any case, I put together a little photo album of the trip, which can be seen at this link. !Salud!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Haggling in Peru

One of the sad things about Peru is just how easy it is to haggle if you don´t care about people´s feelings. I try here to get the essence of two conversations (conveniently glossing over the fact that I speak Spanish worse than horribly, and the other people involved speak very little English).

---------

Story 1: Yesterday, while getting a shoeshine in Cuzco´s Plaza de Armas. Boy who appears to be about 14 approaches and since my shoes are being cleaned, I am sort of a captive audience:

Boy: Do you want to see my art?

Me: Sorry... I don´t want to buy any art.

Boy: Please, look. I painted these myself. My name is Mario. [Shows me his name in the corner of the paintings.]

Me: I´m not really interested in buying any art.

[Boy puts artwork in my hands... these are basically postcard-sized, but each one is handpainted. Eventually I find one that I kind of like.]

Me: How much does this one cost?

Boy: It is 20 soles for 1, or 2 for 35, or 3 for 45.

Me: I was thinking I would be paying closer to 3 soles.

Boy (stunned... insulted I think): 12 soles.

Me: I´ll pay 8. This is the most I will pay... [Eventually he agrees, and the 8 soles change hands]

--------

Story 2: Today, on a guided tour through Chincheros (a very high mountain town). The tour guide has us pass through a market on our way to look at a church.


Girl: You want to buy a hat.

Me: I don´t need a hat.

Girl (whining): You want a hat... 15 soles! [note: a dollar is worth about 3 soles. So... she is offering me a hat that I would probably buy in the states for 15 dollars for 5 dollars]

Me: Maybe later.*

[About half an hour later I return to the bus... the girl spots me.]

Girl: You want to buy a hat.

Me: I don´t need a hat.

Girl: But you said maybe later! 10 soles.

Me: I really don´t need a hat.

Girl: But you said maybe later! 5 soles.

Me (trying to walk away, fruitlessly): No, I really don´t need a hat... I already have a hat.

Girl: But you said maybe later! 2 soles! [Yes, she is trying to sell me a hat that I would get in the states for $15 for about 60 cents]

Me: I´m sorry! I don´t need a hat.

[I walk into the bus and sit by a window. The girl continues to knock on my window for awhile, until the tour guide shooes her away...]

--------

In my own defense, I would like to say that I was only able to get these poor kids to commit to these insulting prices because I really didn´t particularly want what they were selling... so they were basically agreeing that getting something was better than getting nothing. When I have been interested in the goods, I have usually paid fairly close to their initial asking price. But yes... you could easily take advantage of the extreme poverty out here. The Footprint guide that I´ve been walking around with suggests that you pay ¨fair prices¨ noting that people are so poor here and there are sooooo many people trying to sell things to tourists that you can often get people to agree to almost any price, however insulting. I've certainly seen this to be true, and it makes me sad...


* I don´t actually remember saying ¨maybe later¨... however, given the end result I would generally just advise against using these particular words)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Search for Warmth

I got back to Cuzco after a trip down the Rio Apurímac today, no worse for wear except for a couple bug bites and being quite sore from three days of rafting. More on that later...

One thing I had forgotten in getting back into town after being in down almost in a jungle climate for a couple days is how hard it is to stay warm in this town. Cuzco is about two miles high, and it is the middle of Cuzco´s winter, so when the sun goes down the temperature drops quickly. I decided to walk around the Cuzco´s central square, the Plaza de Armas, waiting for one of the seemingly endless masseuses to stop me on the street so that I could get a nice massage. The massage would be nice, but to be honest I was more interested in potential supplementary services, like a jacuzzi or a sauna so I could restore some body heat...

Finding this combination ended up being a little harder than I expected. I passed up several potential masseuses (?) because they didn´t offer these secondary heat-providing services. Ultimately, I ended up agreeing to go to a place where they offered ¨Inca Massage,¨which apparently means that they do regular massage and then put hot stones on you for awhile. The hot stones sounded like just what I wanted.

The location of the massage ended up being, as far as I could tell, a massage spa + travel agency + private home. (Not unusual... other stores can sell you groceries, change money, book trips, and allow you to make international phone calls all in about a 12x12 room...) The woman who enlisted me in the massage got me to the building and asked her son through the door to turn off the television before letting me in. Afterwards, she led me upstairs -- above the travel agency -- to a sort of rickety second floor with three massage tables set up pretty close to one another. And this is where I realized that the place was disappointingly drafty.

The massage ended up being pretty good, but the hot stones were not hot enough, and as soon as it was over, I laid on the table for a couple minutes, trying to avoid the cold that awaited just outside of the towel, and then finally dressed as quickly as possible. I suppose I will have to try harder next time. The going rate for massages here is about $8 an hour, so why not? Maybe I won´t even wait until tomorrow...

-----
Current location: Inside an Internet cafe in the San Blas district of Cuzco. They are playing a version of John Lennon´s 'Imagine' on Peruvian pan-pipes and I am wearing a scarf and hat.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

DW Does Machu Picchu... Solo

My friend Tracey organized our trip to Machu Picchu, and then the morning afterward fell violently ill and only got into the park for about an hour before deciding that she had to return to our hostel and sleep/vomit/do whatever other horrible things it is sick people do. Que lastima...

In any case, as Tracey was leaving Machu Picchu she gave me the all important task of documenting the trip. I only had about two hours to do this and so I ended up walking through there at a pretty brisk pace, but I think I was successful enough. Here are a couple pictures:





Guide with a tour group during the sunrise at Machu Picchu.




My version of the shot that you've already seen 1000 times.

BTW -- you can hike that mountain thing in the back. It's called Huayna Picchu (or Wayna Picchu), and they only let the first 400 people that come hike it each day... something good to know for next time...


People pay a whole bunch of money to do the four-day Inca Trail hike, in large part because they think that this is the only way to see the Sun Gate. Well, you can save yourself a lot of time by just hiking backwards from Machu Picchu... it'll take about half an hour and this is about what you'll see.

A picture of me walking back into Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail taken by... me...

When hiking alone, desperate times call for desperate measures...


As I walked through Machu Picchu, I stumbled onto this little vizcacha and a Peruvian couple. The woman kept saying "¡Que linda, que linda!" (how beautiful! How beautiful!) while the husband tortured the poor animal by getting as close to it as possible until it scurried away.


More or less what Tracey was up to all day as I was having my fun.

Tracey has since had to head back to work, and so I am now in Cuzco for the next week sans travelling companions. Next up: the Río Apurímac, where I'll be floating Class 4 rapids with a bunch of Israelis (I think). Catch you on the flip-side!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Really South: Goodbye Lima

I´ve noticed that I have a nasty habit of going AWOL for a long time just after leaving somewhat disconcerting posts. Well, the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I am currently in Cusco (Cuzco? ...Both work) after spending a wonderful last couple days in Lima. I ate some wonderful ceviche, had my first anticuchos (marinated beef hearts... delicious!), drank free whiskeys all night at a party hosted by Lima´s DedoMedio (Middle Finger) magazine, and crossed Barranco's beautiful Puente De Los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs).

We'll see if this video loads, but this was one of my highlights of my trip -- the relatively new "Circuito Mágico Del Agua", which is a park that consists almost entirely of water fountains:




Friday, July 24, 2009

The Ladrons and the Gringo-Swindling

* The word "ladrons" translates approximately to "thieves" but it also somehow reminds me of "toilets" for some reason which is appropriate enough.

** Also note that all the facts of my accounting of the events of yesterday are highly suspect... this includes the names of the people I interacted with, to my accounting of anything I think I might have said since I don't speak spanish...  I just got tired of writing "supposedly" to qualify every sentence and so you can mentally add those in if you like.

OK... a full accounting of the events of yesterday would take a long time, but suffice it to say that yesterday while wandering the streets of Lima I ended up bumping into a man named Jose, who was playing in a band in Barranco later that evening.  We talked as well as people can when one person doesn't speak better than pre-K English and the other doesn't speak better than pre-K Spanish, but we were having a good enough time and soon I agreed to buy him a drink at a bar.

We get to a dark bar -- I think that we were the only people there at the time, and soon another friend of his shows up.  I agree to get pisco sours (the drink I'm holding here) for the three of us, and we order a plate of alpaca meat with other goodies.  Both were tasty enough.  And we had most of the conversation in Spanish... so I was having a pleasant time with good food and drink practicing my Espanol.

There is much more to this story really (including their attempts to get me to buy an expensive bottle of "ayawaska" from a shaman -- this is a sort of hallucinogenic elixir which appeared to me to look like blended toilet water), but in any case, I ended up walking out of there $150 poorer from the three drinks and alpaca meat I had bought... which might not sound like the most money in the world to Americans, but things are cheaper here and my friend Fabi assures me this is about the price you would pay for a good meal at the most expensive restaurants in town.

In any case, I probably would have been out a lot more except for the convenient fact that I didn't have any credit cards on me and hadn't brought enough money to pay the bill I had already racked up anyway, and so the party had to end sooner than my compadres had originally intended... I imagine I could have been blindsided by a much larger bill later if they hadn't learned sooner how little I was carrying on me.  

The owners of the bar wanted me to leave some sort of collateral behind while I picked up the rest of the money. I was only carrying my passport and camera, and I didn't want these people to know where I was staying, so this seemed to me to be a horrible option, but I luckily had a cell phone on me from Fabi's mom, which was supposed to help me get out of any emergencies.  I thought this qualified, and so I called and luckily Fabi came to the rescue.

It took Fabi about a half hour to arrive at which point Jose and his friend (the one in the picture... I don't remember his name) were gone.  As I sat and waited I actually had a very pleasant time trying to talk with some of the staff of this bar in Spanish, who for the most part spoke no English whatsoever.  But I started our conversation by noting to one that "that was an expensive Spanish lesson..."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Really South (Prelude): A Lesson from Avshalom Caspi

A couple years ago as I was in graduate school, working my ass off on my dissertation and generally feeling stressed out of my mind, we had a guest speaker come to town by the name of Avshalom Caspi, who I had the privilege of joining for a free lunch at a classy restaurant as a part of his festivities. Dr. Caspi is a widely regarded authority on the study of genetics and personality development, and conducts ridiculously massive studies including one which consists of surveying an entire birth cohort of New Zealanders every two or three years (others are more ridiculous). He also has long flowing hair and was wearing bright purple socks with yellow spots with his suit at the time.

I was supposed to have gleaned many lessons about how to conduct research from him at this lunch, but given my generally stressed out state at the time I don´t remember anything from that day at all. Except for one thing: he told me that when he and his wife got married, they made a vow to one another that they would have a trip once a year where they would go someplace exotic for a full month. And after some 15 or so years of marriage, they have stuck by this vow, travelling to places like Madagascar and Ecuador and Thailand.

At the time this was a sort of revelation to me: you could conduct research that was good enough to get you papers published in Science and get you a job at Cambridge, while at the same time taking vacation that lasted an entire month out of the year. My last several years of almost incessant working started to seem... unnecessary and perhaps counterproductive. That year, I resolved to do one of these trips myself (I ended up in Turkey) and currently I am sipping pisco sours in Lima, Peru, just a couple days away from Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Thanks, Dr. Caspi! I´m now trying to spread the good word to other hopeless workaholics.

More later...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Big 3-0

A Facebook comment from DJ Dan on the event of my 30th birthday:
Happy Birthday! Your personality is now set like plaster.
This was an allusion to the belief among some psychologists that your personality is "set like plaster" and basically impossible to change after age 30.

My reply:
Fuck! I had so much self-improvement planned for last night that I just didn't get around to.
An interesting reply, I think... perhaps not proving that personality is fixed at 30, but maybe in several ways illustrating that I have much self-improvement left to do. Let's hope the psychologists are wrong.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Summer Nights at RayLen, w/ Rosetta Stone Star

A little over a week ago I went to the second concert by my multi-talented friend Leah at RayLen vineyards. The first concert was a classical concert (which meant that I can't name any of the songs), which was held around April -- here's a picture that was snapped by alert concert-goer Brad:

The first concert was great and widely attended. But the second to me was even better. By June you could look around the RayLen grounds and see fields of ripe vines in every direction. We were just a day or two shy of the solstice, and so the days were long enough that the final songs of the concert were played against the setting sun. There were probably close to two hundred people listening to the concert over glasses of wine on the lawn in front of the winery.

The second concert also featured a much more eclectic set of music... only a smattering of classical songs that I couldn't remember the name of. This concert featured a set list ranging from Leah crooning Elton John's "Your Song" on the piano, followed by a cover of Vince Guiardi's "Christmas Time is Here" from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special (a Top 10 Christmas song ever, btw). Over the course of the concert Leah played not just the piano, but also the bassoon and guitar, all while singing most of the songs. There were also some other unusual song selections which escape my mind at the moment. But I remember the last song sung at the finale was a sort of sensual version of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On," which Leah said she hadn't originally been planning to do but maybe the ambient wine got the best of her. I dunno.

In any case, it has been about a week since the concert, and I had sort of forgotten to do this post, until I was working through my Spanish using the Rosetta Stone software and stumbled onto none other than Leah again, who was providing important clues into the proper use of the past tense:


I am trying to get at the heart of the mystery on this one and have contacted Leah for clues. No answers yet, but she did perhaps unwittingly confirm that this is in fact her. So guitar, piano... bassoon... Rosetta Stone superstar... what doesn't she do?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hip to be Square

About a month ago while sitting at Krankies one day, innocently drinking a Boddington's Pub Ale, I suddenly found a little square piece of wood shoved in my face... Doodles had enlisted me to create a piece of artwork for the Electric Moustache's "Square" exhibit.

After making a trip to Michael's to get art supplies, I went about making my first piece of artwork in several years, and to the best of my knowledge my first painting ever. Here it is, and my sister's are below:

I titled this one "European Rooftops" after taking photos of various
buildings I liked from Google images and smooshing them together.

Doodle's first picture, which she titled "Ganesh"

Doodle's second picture, "Simon Bolivar," modeled after a famous portrait.

The exhibit happened last week, and was accompanied by a silent auction. I was around for most of the auction, watching my picture from afar. I was amazed when someone actually placed a bid down (the first piece of art I've ever sold!). I resisted the temptation to walk up and talk to the bidder, as I imagined he would ask "what can you tell me about this painting?" and then I would say something stupid like "This is the first painting I've ever made... I was figuring out how to use acrylic paints as I was going along," and then the man would be filled with regret and try to scratch his name off the bid list.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Talkin' Cajun Yard Dog

I've been to Charlotte many times now, and had this conversation many times with my friend Jess -- a distressed Charlotte native:
Jess: "You know that there are other places to eat in Charlotte than Cajun Yard Dog, right?"

DW (channeling Homer Simpson): "Whatever Jess. Cajun Yard Dog is like steak. And why would you eat hamburger when you can have steak all the time?"
Mmm.... Cajun Yard Dog. Step through the door in an unassuming strip mall, and suddenly you are back in New Orleans. Some personal favorites: The seafood platters, the Po Boy sandwiches, the crawfish etouffe, the "okrachokie" appetizer (fried okra, artichoke, and calamari), and some of the best shrimp and grits I've had in the south, all washed down with a pint of New Orleans' Abita beers. Then there is the "smothered cabbage" side dish which absolutely cannot be missed: cabbage cooked in heavy cream, white wine, three cheeses, hot sauce, and a bunch of other probably heart-destroying things until it basically tastes like decadent mashed potatoes...

Well, last weekend, Jess and I got a group of seven folks together to go to head to Charlotte for the day. After watching a movie, the seven of us tried to figure out where to go for dinner. The two choices? A Mediterranean restaurant, and Cajun Yard Dog. Where should we go? I abstained, saying "I'm impartial; either is fine with me". One by one, everyone else abstained, until getting to DJ Dan, who said "I'm partial... let's go to Cajun Yard Dog." And of course, I was perfectly happy with the outcome. This of course led to a familiar conversation:
Jess: "You know that there are other places to eat in Charlotte than Cajun Yard Dog."

DW: "Whatever, Jess."
After being at Cajun Yard Dog so often that I know
the waitress's name, I figured I should buy a shirt.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Good Folks @ Alexander's in Clemmons


This kindly security guard helped me get the car towed after it got all broken up around Chestnut & First St.
One of the fun things about blogging is the sense that you can hold people accountable after they shit on you (yeah, don't think I've forgotten, Northwest Airlines... I still hate your guts), by bringing their sins to light and airing your grievances and contempt with the world and generally smearing their reputation. The last two weeks I've been without a car, and was gearing up to write scurrilous comments about Alexander's Auto Shop in Clemmons, where I was getting mycar fixed. A month ago, I had the ignition switch fixed by them. Then, about 10 days later, (after they had told me I would "probably never have to fix that part again"), the ignition switch broke again. Since then, I've been without my poor Rav4 for two weeks as they've been working on it. I mean, really, two weeks to get an ignition switch fixed??

But my irritation was misplaced and undeserved. It was clear that they were working on the car almost every day, and a major part of the delay was the fact that my particular Rav4 model has some unusual/rare parts and some ambiguities with their model (there are two different 1997 Rav4 models). When Alexander's kept getting the wrong parts delivered to them by their parts supplier, the mechanic working my car started driving to auto yards himself to find the right part. It was soon discovered that the problem wasn't actually the ignition switch, but a bigger problem with the steering column.

Despite the fact that they had put hours upon hours of work into this thing (the main mechanic said "I felt horrible every day I got back to the shop and saw your car still sitting there"), and despite the fact that the problem ultimately was different than the one that was supposed to be covered by the warranty, I got the car back without paying a cent for their work, without even suggesting this myself at any point. The mechanic gave me some tips on detailing with future auto body shops so that ambiguities about my car's particular model wouldn't get in the way.

So basically, I want to thank you guys -- I appreciate the help greatly, and will definitely recommend you to anyone.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hell is Myrtle's Beach Bauble Stores

A nice scene from a recent trip to Myrtle Beach:
And another one, from inside:
Somehow Myrtle Beach had at least one of these disgusting, nauseating stores on every block. Many of these were from the "Wings" chain (which I was disappointed to find out: does not actually serve buffalo wings! Lies!). Along the beach, it was sometimes possible to see two and even three Wings stores from a single vantage point.

This reminded me of a trip to Vancouver B.C., where I found two Starbucks kitty-corner from one another at the same intersection (one was for business-folk, the other was jazzy-hip-folk, as I understood it). I guess the Pacific Northwest has its sickly amounts of coffee shops, and Myrtle Beach has its sickly amounts of beach bauble stores. And mini-golf stores. And doughnut shops. And...

Ahhh, Myrtle Beach.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Not in Seattle anymore

Earlier today on a trip to Krankies:
DW: "What would you like to drink Doodles?"

Doodles (note: former Seattle barista): "Oh... I'll take an Americano. Ooooh, a double-short Americano, mmmmmm...."
--Doodles leaves to snatch a table, leaving me to think "What the hell is a 'double-short Americano?' Oh well... maybe its a barista thing." --
DW to barista: "I'll take two medium Americanos. And can I get one of them *double-short*?"

Barista: **stares at DW blankly**

DW: I don't know what it is either.
--Awkward silence until Doodles comes back--
DW: "What the hell is a double-short Americano?"

Doodles: "Oh, it's just an Americano with two shots of espresso."

DW: "Oh. I see." (*thinks, thinks*) "So a double-short Americano is a double-shot Americano." (*thinks, thinks*) "What do you need that extra 'r' for?"

Barista: "You Seattle people think you are so cool with your high-falutin' coffee terminology."*
* Didn't actually say that, but I'm sure that's what he was thinking.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Beyond Tacos? Yes, ¡Sopes Deliciosos!

One of the first things Doodles was looking for after getting into town was some good Mexican food. Apparently Koreans are very good at providing good Korean food options (kim chi, kim chi soup, kim chi burgers, kim chi.. other things...), and their foreign food options don't expand much beyond McDonald's.

I was more than happy to oblige in helping her find some good Mexican food, and took her down to Waughtown St., where they have at least two excellent taquerias: La Perlita (which I wrote about previously) and El Paisano... which is a bit harder to get to (an extra couple minutes down Waughtown St.), but which I think has the better tacos.

My friend Pamphilia insisted that I give La Perlita another try, and so Doodles and I found our way there for her inaugural trip to Waughtown St. It was then that I was hit with a strange sensation to order not just tacos, but something else... (I know... I almost didn't recognize myself), and ordered a couple sopes to snack on after the tacos.

Sopes are sort of like open-faced sandwiches, starting with a puffy corn-flour tortilla which is topped with a lot of stuff. La Perlita's were topped with refried beans, lettuce, onions, carne asada (steak strips), sour cream, queso fresco (a mild cheese that might be described as something between mozarella and feta), and a nice piece of avocado.

I don't know... despite the fact that we had already devoured nearly half a dozen tacos between the two of us and were thus adequately satiated, those sopes were so delicious I almost cried. My eyes have been opened: should I be eating and writing more about Mexican food than simply tacos? Si, debo.

¡Viva la Sopes!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Doodle Dispatch: Week 1 in Winston

My sister Doodles and I summarize her first week in town (click to enlarge):

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bruce Rocks Steensboro!

I'm not a particularly big Springsteen fan, but I do like a good music concert, and somehow my friend Paul was able to score four $100 tickets to get us onto the floor of the Springsteen show in Greensboro for about $40 a piece. So I rustled up Doodles and DJ Dan, filled my trusty flask with whiskey, and we headed off to the show at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Three hours later (including a six-song encore), the flask was empty and we had a lot of great memories from the evening:
I love to see weird old people come out of the woodwork to rock out with bands that were big 30 years ago.
video
Bruce goes through the crowd picking up signs for musical requests -- pretty much any song was game, even if not a Springsteen song. He played "Seventh Son" and "Hang on Sloopy" and a couple others. Sloopy was really fun...
Town is renamed!
(Photo from the Smith Family Times... check out their account of the concert.)
Just Bruce looking like a fucking rockstar.
(Photo by Nelson Kepley (News & Record)

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Cool Kreme Trap

Doodles and I wandered into Krispy Kreme on Stratford to redeem a coupon I had scored for a free Cool Kreme ice cream cone. We wandered in, and were greeted by a cheerful cop who was on his way out.* "Make sure that you ask for a sample cone," he said, "it's free!"

So we ended up going to the counter and getting a cruller and a custard-filled doughnut and our free ice cream cones for a little over 2 bucks. After we handed her the money, the cashier handed us two MORE coupons for free Cool Kremes, meaning that we'll have to go back, I suppose.

As we were walking back to the car, eating ice cream and donuts:

Doodles: "I think that living in the south is going to turn me into a heifer."

Me: "There is no Doodles any more... There is only Helga."

Doodles: "I ate Doodles... she was tasty."

* Krispy Kreme was also running a promotional campaign at the time called "Cops on Doughnut Shops." Go figure...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Doodle's in town!

My sister Doodles made it to North Carolina about 48 hours ago for an extended stay after two years in Korea. We were both up by about 8:30 the next day and by 10:30 (without any help from me, btw) the kitchen looked cleaner than it had in months... a cleaning dynamo...

After seeing this level of industriousness, I decided that it was clear what I needed to do: get her to start contributing posts to Blue Ridge Grass.

One of the first things she wanted to do was make a visit to the nearest bakery. We headed to Ollie's, where she walked in and stared at the bread and the pastries for a good while, soaking it in. After a couple years of nothing but white bread that was pretty nasty anyway in Gwanju, Korea, she said "You don't know what this means to me."

She didn't shed a tear though... just bought a loaf of light wheat bread. She's a trooper I guess.

Bee Uprising

Less than a day after spotting a bee getting to work on a hive under my garage, I found a new bee doing the same thing, and even further along. I now know that that first bee was not a fluke, but a harbinger of things to come. I dosed the bastard with Raid and plucked down his little handiwork to put as a little souvenir in my kitchen.

The next day, I went into work and was quietly minding my business when a bee the size of my pinky started buzzing around my office, presumably filled with massive amount of venom and orders to avenge his fallen comrades. I paced the office for a good 15 minutes waiting for my moment to strike and then pounded him with a clipboard as he rested on the windowsill. After this I left for lunch and came back an hour later to find the bee upright and walking around, like an aging prizefighter who refuses to stay down for the count. So I clubbed him again (killing big insects is gross, btw).

Basically, it looks like the bees and me have a score to settle. In fact, I'm so sure of this that they even get their own label. Bring it on, you bastards...

R.I.P., Flavio II
R.I.P., Flavio III

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bee Startup

"Lookit -- some bees are trying to make a hive right on my garage. They're just getting started."

"How do you know it's bees?"

"There's a bee right there."

"Oh. Weird."

"Yeah."

"You should take a picture of the hive and then kill it."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Musical Flight

Short note that my pal & fellow contra-dancer Leah will be playing a couple hours of classical music starting at 5:30 tomorrow (Friday) at RayLen Vineyards as part of the Sky Meadow Strings trio. I expect it will be an entertaining couple hours with wine, fine music, and nice weather... My other understanding is that this concert is ultimately being performed to help the trio advance their noble goal (?) of collecting beer money to help kick the weekend off with a bang, so donations are appreciated.

Here's a link for more information -- hope to see you there!

http://www.raylenvineyards.com/index.php/Future-Events/

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bad-Ass Turtle

I was biking around Reynolda Gardens today when I bumped into this guy, definitely one of the most bad-ass turtles I've seen in a while, clocking in at maybe 2 1/2 to 3 feet from head to tail:


This picture was about as close as I wanted to get to him -- I got a little closer at one point and he snapped and sort of hissed at me. I like my fingers and other extremities, so I left him be.

I think that a good name for this feller is "Soup". As in "Sup, Soup?" or similarly: "Sup? Soup."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Two brief Texas Pete brunch stories

I was at Christopher's for brunch some time ago with my mom & DJ Dan enjoying their amazing Lobster Mac & Cheese, when the waitress came up to me and asked if she could take our bottle of Texas Pete for another guest. "Well, we don't have any more bottles of Texas Pete," she explained, "and, well... the owner of Texas Pete is sitting in the other room."

In addition to Krispy Kreme donuts, Winston-Salem is the original home to Texas Pete hot sauce, and so I find it frequently as the featured hot sauce in Winston's various Sunday brunches.

Today, DJ Dan and I did another brunch, this time at Sixth and Vine.** Most brunch entrees at Sixth and Vine come with country-style potatoes and a side of fruit -- pineapple, strawberries, and grapes. I saw DJ Dan pour something strange on top of his pineapple slices.

"You should try putting Texas Pete on your pineapple... I've never done it before, but it's pretty tasty." He said it reminded him of sort of a Thai-style sauce.

I dabbed my pineapple into a pool of Texas Pete. Mmmmm.... "You're right!"

-----
** Winston-Salem tip: We were supposed to be joined by another friend for brunch, who never showed up... for the record Sixth and Vine is NOT the address of Sixth and Vine, and so you should not tell someone it is when they ask for directions.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pickles the Cat Theme Song

Several weeks ago, I posted a heart-warming story about the cat that often hangs out in my yard, and asked readers to give the cat a name.

The winner was JaryMane, who suggested the name "Pickles", which somehow seemed to fit to me given that the "Pickle Man" is one of my favorite starting hands to play in Texas Hold'Em (**privileged insider information). In any case, I subsequently commissioned JaryMane to write a song in honor of Pickles the Cat, to be sung to the tune of Winnie the Pooh -- this is what she came with:

Pickles the cat
Pickles the cat

Furry little feline I'll make you fat

it's Pickles the cat
Pickles the cat
DW's sorta kinda maybe pet....

The lyrics appear to be largely inspired by JaryMane's sense that it was horrible that I wasn't actually feeding the cat (Line 3 in particular seems to be wishful thinking). In fact, JaryMane even decided to forgo her payment for the song (which was going to be SUBSTANTIAL, btw) under the condition that "you have to make Pickles a bowl now. That was part of the deal."

Make Pickles into a bowl? That's gross! But OK JaryMane, whatever you say...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

When Life Hands you Hamburger, Make Diamonds

I held my first barbecue of the year on a rainy day about a week ago, where I cooked hamburgers, sausages, and pulled pork barbecue. An ambitious plan, but I am an ambitious person. Some of the guests asked if there was anything I needed help with, and I demurred, saying that I had it all under control because I am a man and I don't need anybody's help on the grill because I can handle it myself okay so just get a drink and things will be done when they are done don't insult me with such a question already thanks bye-bye now.

In any case, after awhile I took the pork off the grill and disappeared into the kitchen to cut it into bite-size pieces. I suppose I became a bit too involved with this, as I came back 10 minutes later to find the whole grill was a flaming fireball. I snapped this picture about an hour later:
You can see the nicely carbonized hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. My favorite part is the plastic handle that you can see on the edge of the grill... if you look farther to the left you can see some metallic wire bristles that used to be attached to this handle. About a week later now I still haven't cleaned the grill because my damn grill brush is now... a permanent part of the grill. Just great.

I'll give it another go sometime soon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spring in Charlottesville

Didn't make it to D.C. for the cherry blossom festival this year, but I was able to do the next best thing and see the trees blooming on a short trip through Charlottesville, VA a couple days ago. Here are some trees that I felt compelled to make a stop for on the way through town:
As for Winston, trees are beginning to bloom here as well... the most immediate effects seems to be that the trees over my house are shedding a bunch of crap on my roof. Upside of spring: nice warm weather, beautiful flowers. Downside: yard work... sigh...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Best Tacos? Mexico, Gringo


The original King Taco truck: a vehicle filled with more devine goodness than the Pope-mobile.
The final stop on my Taco Quest in California was to East L.A. -- home of King Taco itself. On a hot tip from J.J.'s friend, we had learned that there were two excellent taco joints to explore: the aforementioned King Taco, and Taco Real, just blocks from one another. We set out to see who was the real king of tacos -- names notwithstanding.

As we stood in line at King Taco, we saw a woman in line and asked her, "If you had to choose one, which would you say is better: King Taco, or Taco Real?"

She took a moment and then replied, "Mexico."

I laughed, "Well, I agree, but unfortunately we're sort of stuck here, and it might take awhile before we can make it down to Mexico."

I said this before realizing that what her answer meant was that she didn't understand the question I asked her at all. And then I realized that we were the only non-Hispanic people in line.

In other words, we were in the right place.

For the record, King Taco wins!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

F#%*ed up Food Post of the Day

Before continuing onto Part 2 of TacoQuest LA, I felt it important to post a disturbing item that was brought to my attention by friend-of-the-blog Holly, who had recently attended a baby shower and spotted this cake:


Apparently the baby cake was named "Sophie" (incidentally the name the expecting mother plans to give her own baby -- the mother's idea), and was made with red velvet cake.

I don't know what strange chemicals must be coursing through this woman's body to make her think of such a thing... I am appalled. However, here is an illuminating video showing how you too can create your own baby cake.

Red velvet!? I mean, c'mon... really?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Taco Quest Continues: The Whole Cow, Nothing but the Cow

Last week, I made it out to L.A. to continue my ongoing quest for some of the finer tacos this side of the border. In particular, I was interested in retracing the steps of intrepid New York Times reporter Cindy Price, who wrote an impressive article on the authentic taquerias in the greater LA area, just as I was discovering tacos in Central Illinois. In this two-part series, I detail some of the highlights of my own taco expedition.


Some of the fine tacos at Lilly's Taqueria... I think that the taco de ojo is the third one.
With my friend J.J. joining me for the trip, we headed to Santa Barbara to recreate some of the major highlights of Cindy's trip. First stop: Lilly's Taqueria, where they serve lots of cow parts: eye tacos (taco de ojo), lip tacos (taco de labio), and cheek tacos (tacos de cachete), and finally head tacos (taco de cabeza -- what part of the head, you ask? I don't know!!). Many of these were animal parts that had not really occurred to me as possibly being food prior to the visit to Lilly's. But I ordered them all.

Of course the highlight was the taco de ojo -- I'd been looking forward to trying it for some time. Due to some prior arm-twisting, I had elicited an agreement from J.J. to take a bite of the taco de ojo herself, however I didn't force her to follow through with this when we got there... the eye taco tasted alright but had sort of a gooey slimey quality to it. Also, right after I told her she was safe, I took another bite and encountered a bit that tasted something like tough cartilege (presumably this would have been J.J.'s bite). This caused me to wonder if I had bitten into an iris or something, but I didn't dwell on it and kept munching. Best not to think about these things.

Next we headed to La Super Rica. The NYT's Cindy Price had gotten my hopes up that I might spot some David Crosby-class celebrities here, but there was no one here that I recognized. Their taco menu was a lot more limited than Lilly's -- I think their options were parsed down to steamed and grilled pork and steak, and I must admit that both were mighty tasty. The line here stretched out the door, which I've heard is pretty typical at La Super Rica. As I bit into my steak taco I wondered whether there might be some inverse relationship between the number of weird animal parts served and the length of the line stretching out the door. With happy faces and full bellies, we headed back to L.A., where the taco journey continues...

Next time on Taco Quest: East L.A. and beyond!

Monday, March 2, 2009

March Roars in Like a Lion

Well, since there wasn't much snow of note through December, January, and February, I guess it was only fitting that we would get a couple inches of snow dumped down in the beginning of March. My friends Paul and Jen were visiting from Atlanta, where they don't get so much snow really, so around 10PM we sauntered down to Grace Court and to check out the scene. Along the way we saw the snow cause a branch to snap off a tree and a transformer on a power line light the sky a bright blue when it nearly blew up right over our heads. Good times!

A couple pictures below:

Jen reenacts her favorite Christmas Story scene.
Me in the snow
Grace Court on a snowy night...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Seared Cookie With Ice Cream

I was discussing a favorite dessert idea of mine with my friend Charlotte earlier this evening. The idea was basically that with the long recent history of popularity for chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, people had neglected an even better dessert option: chocolate chip cookie ice cream. Basically, the idea is that one actually bakes the cookie dough, and then after taking it out of the oven puts a piping hot cookie at the bottom of a bowl and tops it with a scoop of a good vanilla ice cream. Viola!

Charlotte then astounded me with her own innovation (incidentally, a similar idea had been proposed to me independently by J.J. days before). Instead of baking the cookies for the full amount of time (say, 12 minutes), one bakes them for only about half the time (say, 6 minutes). This causes the outsides of the cookies to be baked, while the insides are still doughy and gooey. The result? You get the best of both worlds: hot cookie and cookie dough with your ice cream. Brilliant!

But then I thought about it for a bit, and proposed that we take it one step further. "You know how at good restaurants they will often cook steaks at temperatures as high as possible for just a minute or two on each side, so that the steaks will have a nice sear while still being practically rare in the center?"

"Um... no."

"Well, they do." I then proposed that one might go about baking cookies for only half the time recommended on the package, as Charlotte suggested, but do so at about 100 degrees hotter than the temperature recommended. This would give more time for the cookies to form some of that delicious hot cookie crust, while still leaving the middle soft and gooey -- the best of both worlds, but even more so! And yes, the cookie equivalent of a seared steak served medium rare. Mmmm...

I tried it this evening, and damn, it was delicious! Below is a picture I snapped of the dessert in all its gooey, crusty goodness... Gourmet Magazine, eat your heart out!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Southern Movie Fest

My friend J.J. paid a visit to Winston-Salem for a couple days and we took the opportunity to blaze through a slew of southern movies -- most of which I hadn't seen before.
  • To get the Southern moviefest started, we popped in Junebug -- one of my favorite movies of all time. It was on the top five list even before I discovered that it was filmed in Winston-Salem (apparently a number of other movies have been shot in part in Winston-Salem, ranging from Leatherheads to Thank You For Smoking).

  • After this, we went old school and watched Gone With The Wind. I had never watched it before, and now I am all the more confident that I will never have to watch it again. After almost four hours, if I have to hear Scarlet say "Oh, Ashley!" one more time I might have to kill myself.

  • Next up we watched Deliverance, the point of which seems to be either (a) a cautionary tale to avoid canoeing down rivers in the south, (b) an opportunity to show Bruce Reynolds shirtless, shooting things with a bow and arrow, or (c) an attempt to make people feel a twinge of fear whenever they hear "Dueling Bangos."

  • Not done yet, we shifted to Fried Green Tomatoes. Interestingly, I think this marked the second movie that I've seen with Kathy Bates swinging a sledgehammer. This movie was a little less scary than the first, but after viewing this one I will nonetheless probably find myself hesitating a bit before digging into the food at my next barbecue.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Contra Insurgency!

One of the things I missed most after being out of town for the better part of the last month and a half has been contra dancing on those fine Tuesday nights at the Vintage Ballroom.

I had heard of contra dancing before I moved to Winston, but really had no idea what it meant. I imagined that it was some sort of Latin dance. Well... no. Actually, it's much more like square dancing, except with hippies. As you can see in my little video from last Tuesday, some of the best leads are women (I'm talkin' about you, Jess!) and many of the dancers seem to think that shoes are optional or just get in the way. This is precisely the sort of dance that you would suspect would be big in Crunchytown, and my understanding is that it's huge there.

video

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Search for ESPN360

My plan to watch the Federer/Nadal final at the Aussie Open in Australia -- an event only 20 times more important than the Superbowl, only with worse commercials -- has been a complicated one.

Since I don't have cable, watching it on TV doesn't seem to be an option. BUT, I did discover that the game will be broadcast live online through ESPN360. A quick tour of their website (www.espn360.com) reveals that they "broadcast" all sorts of things through that channel, if you don't mind watching your sports through a computer monitor, including the Demon Deacons traumatizing loss today to some ACC cellar-dwellers. (Why do the Deacons have to start losing games just when I start caring?? **sniffles**)

In any case, a kink in the plan occurred when I discovered that my internet service provider -- Time Warner Cable -- does not support ESPN360! How could they do this? Apparently AT&T and Verizon both allow a person to watch events online through ESPN360, but not Time Warner. Lucky for me, it appears that I'll be able to leach onto a local stranger's unsecured network to watch the Aussie men's tennis final (thanks "Madam M", whoever you are...). But if Time Warner doesn't start supporting this in the future, I may choose to vote with my dollars to switch horses and give AT&T's internet service a spin.

Time Warner, you are on the clock, and it is ticking!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mmmm.... A taco interlude

Sorry folks: I must admit that I have been struggling to find time to blog now that work has been piling up at the start of the year.

HOWEVER, as Winston-Salem's occasionally intrepid taco adventurer, I did feel it was my duty to put work aside, take a short timeout, and make a quick post to spread the world about this most amazing taco from Taco Town (thanks J.J. for bringing this beauty to my attention):



Mmm... taco. The only thing this baby is missing? That's right: Chicken McNuggets.

I swear, there will be some more substantial posts sometime soon.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mr. Obama goes to Washington

A couple pictures from the Inauguration:

It took us about two hours from the time we started walking near the Capitol to when we ended up at this joint near the Washington Monument to catch the Inauguration Ceremony. A good view of (just a SMALL) part of the crowd...
At one point I hoisted up some young kid in the air so he wouldn't be stuck watching people's butts as Obama was taking the oath of office. But we also found that other kids had elevated themselves above the masses through other creative means...
At the Eastern Ball, J.J. and I somehow found ourselves standing right next to Massachusetts Governor Patrick's wife, Diane Patrick, who had made it through the crowd to join us as we watched James Taylor perform.
Finally, the Obamas made a surprisingly early appearance. President Obama talked briefly with the crowd, then danced with his First Lady Michelle for approximately 2 minutes before leaving. Total length of the visit: maybe 10 minutes max. But I still managed to snap off over 20 photos :-)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Another post about toilet paper

This is what they did to the main quad at Wake Forest after the Deacons won a big game against Carolina:I'm not sure how I feel about a university that encourages TP-ing the Quad. I heard that the old basketball coach Skip Prosser even joined in with the students on a couple occasions. Doesn't it feel like officially condoning TP-ing would somehow take out all the fun?