Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Five for Fighting

Peter King probably does just fine on his own when it comes to exposure, but for those of you who don’t know him he’s a column writer for Sports Illustrated. This month I want to focus on a drive he started for Sgt. Mike McGuire.

Peter met Sgt. McGuire at a Cardinals game in 2005. Both men were there alone, sitting next to each other and happened to strike up a conversation. Half way through the game neither one of them was paying attention as Peter was riveted by everything Sgt. McGuire was telling him. Sgt. McGuire is a battalion leader for 100+ troops who specialize in IED removal (think The Hurt Locker).

Sgt. McGuire and his men are being deployed to a remote region of Afghanistan and will not have access to a large base. Large bases mean creature comforts such as televisions, gaming systems and even little things such as snacks. Small, temporary bases generally have none of those. This is where the USO steps in, providing these reminders of home. Of course, the USO needs money to provide those.

With the help of Five for Fighting singer John Ondrasik and the USO, Peter has launched the Five for Fighting drive. The premise is simple – donate $5 towards kits for Sgt. McGuire’s men and other battalions. Over the first couple of weeks enough money has been raised for Sgt. McGuire’s battalion, but a handful of others. There’s more to be done.

This is not about politics, nor is about what one feels about the war. It’s all about the troops – the brave men and women who are out their fighting and putting their lives at risk.

So, if the spirit moves, you can donate $5 here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Friday Five

The Excuse

Ok – Look. I was planning on writing this on Friday. In fact, I had most of it typed out on Friday. But unfortunately, as you’ll read below, I was at a conference. Trying to accomplish anything when you’re at a conference is basically impossible. Brenda will back me up on this.

The Week

Ah, convention weeks.

This week I was up in Seattle working a Microsoft convention. If you’ve never experienced a convention, the basic agenda looks like this:

  • Roll out of bed at around 7a
  • Head over and figure out what terrible food the convention center is serving for breakfast
  • Work
  • Choke down terrible convention food[1] for lunch
  • Work
  • Clean up and head out for dinner
  • Spend the night networking[2], generally at a sponsored[3] event
  • Collapse in bed
  • Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It’s a lot of work and a lot of fun. And all joking aside, they generally are great opportunities. But it is nonstop for the entire week.

The Restaurant Bar

In a first for my Restaurant section of the Friday Five, I’m highlighting a bar as I was just that blown away by it. The way I see it, a great cocktail is similar to a gourmet meal. It should be crafted with quality ingredients with care by a bartender, similar to the way a chef crafts a dish. And while we're at it, the bartender should not only care about his drinks but his guests - being both friendly and entertaining. Tini Bigs sees it my way.

Over the 7 nights I spent recently in Seattle, 3 of them found me in Tini Bigs. The first night saw us talking up a storm with Brian and trying two of his concoctions. I had two of the manhattans on the menu (which for anyone who knows me is the farthest thing from a surprise), and my friend had two tequila based drinks. (As a side note, their high end liquor selection, while relatively small, is rock solid.) When we found out it was Brian's second to last night, we made plans to head back the following night for his last.

When we walked in the second night he recognized us immediately, directed us to the bar and took our order - remembering the second drink I had the night before (as that's what I wanted but couldn't remember what it was). From there we really just let Brian do his thing, telling him to simply create whatever came to mind based on what he knew about our tastes, and not once were we handed a bad drink.

The last night I was in town my wife and I stopped by when Shane took care of us. We weren't there for very long - two cocktails for me, and one for Karin. The moment that really sold me that night was when Karin (an admitted lightweight) decided she had enough to drink. When Shane asked if she wanted another and was told "no", his immediate response was, "I know just what to make you. You won't even taste the alcohol." Karin, being a great sport, simply gave an uneasy "okaaaaay" and awaited his next concoction. I watched him make it - he simply filled the shaker with ice, water, a couple squeezes of lemon, shook it up like a normal cocktail and served it in a martini glass with a twist. He dropped off the drink, calling it a "Blue Dolphin" (IIRC). He then came back later and explained what it was and that he didn't want Karin to feel left out.

I've been to many bars, and this one ranks right up there. I don't quite know that I'm ready yet to declare it my favorite (I am prone to hyperbole), but right now I can't think of one that would top it. It would almost make it bearable to live in Seattle. Almost. (BTW - I do love Seattle, I just can't take the weather.)[4]

The Travel Note

I discovered that my roller bag does fit in one of the sizer bins after a very (ahem)friendly gate agent insisted I put it in the bin. Nobody was more surprised about this than I was, except maybe the gate agent.

The Five

Five notes about airports:

  1. Favorite airport – San Diego. Partly because it’s where I live, but also because it’s a small, convenient airport.
  2. Hated airport – San Jose. I don’t think I need to beat up on this airport any more.
  3. Best food – Houston. Over the last couple of years this airport has come a long way. They have quite a few good restaurants, including a wine bar/bistro that would survive just fine outside of the airport.
  4. Biggest tip – Be nice to the TSA agents. They have the power to make your life miserable. As right as you may be, you won’t win the argument.
  5. Biggest peeve – Airports that still charge for wifi. I’m not paying $10 to access the internet.

[1] Most. Redundant. Sentence. Ever.
[2] Networking [n] – Hanging out with friends that you don’t get to see nearly often enough while imbibing
[3] Translation: Sponsored == free alcohol
[4] There is inconsistency here if you’re paying attention. I’ll fix that next week

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

It appears that my travel has become rather repetitious. A bit redundant. That I’m visiting the same cities over and over again. Like I’ve been here before recently. It’s as if... – OK, I’ve killed that joke. In any event, because I knew the way, I was in San Jose again this week.[1]

The nice part about San Jose, as I’ve mentioned before, is the ability to see friends. Full time travel can become quite a grind, but being able to see a friend you wouldn’t normally have had the chance to see makes things that much more bearable. Really – having human contact outside of the classroom makes all the difference in the world.

Unfortunately, I was only able to get together with a few friends as a couple of others had to back out. I guess not everyone can rearrange their lives around me.

The Restaurant

I have a confession to make. There are many kitschy things I enjoy. I love dueling piano bars. I enjoy romantic comedies more than I probably should. And I love me a good teppanyaki restaurant.

Now like a piano bar or romantic comedy, every one is basically the same. The chef comes out, taps around a lot of the cook surface and a salt shaker and then begins cooking. The jokes are the same. The tricks are the same - flipping shrimp, tossing pieces of egg, onion volcano. The food is the same. Yet for reasons I just can't explain I eat it all up (literally and figuratively).

The food is always good if not great. The atmosphere is a lot of fun and very social. It's a bit spendy, but you're getting dinner and a show.

Just save room for the green tea ice cream.

The Travel Note

The TSA has changed the information they require for travel in the US – they now need a full name. When I registered for my OnePass account with Continental (their frequent flyer program) I used Christopher Harrison. Now it needs to be Christopher Patrick Harrison. So I called up the service center to have this changed (because the website won’t let me – FTL). They said they updated it – only they left it as Pat.[2] I still can’t get my OnePass number on that flight.

The Five

I’ve been connected for as long as I can remember. As such, I’ve accepted certain terms and abbreviations as commonplace and I assume other people know them as well. Alas, that’s not always the case. So here’s a list of terms and abbreviations I use (consider it a Geek to English cheatsheet).

  1. Grok – From Stranger in a Strange Land, “grok” is a bit of Martian that means literally “to drink”. Figuratively it means to understand fully.
    Usage: “I grok the Chargers wanting to cut ties with Antonio Cromartie.”
  2. IIRC – If I recall (remember) correctly.
    Usage: “IIRC, Ed Hochuli was a great official decades ago.”
  3. AFAIK – As far as I know.
    Usage: “AFAIK, Matt Holiday has not yet touched home plate.”
  4. FTL (For The Loss) and FTW (For The Win) – Bad and good things respectively.
    Usage: “I got upgrade on my flight from SAN to EWR. FTW!” or
    “I got stuck next to a screaming child from SAN to EWR. FTL!”
  5. Airport codes – I’d mention a quick Google search will help you out, but just to list off a couple of common ones I use:
    SAN – San Diego
    SJC – San Jose
    IAH – Houston (Bush)
    DCA – Washington National (Reagan)
    BWI – Baltimore
    EWR – Newark
    ORD – Chicago (O’Hare)

[1] Again, you’re welcome, Brenda.
[2] What is it with people wanting to abbreviate my name?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

This is the way a week should start. You leave Washington, DC on Saturday morning and land in Las Vegas later that night to be greeted by friends and whisked off to the Hofbrauhaus. Abram and I had planned a trip to Vegas the week (as it so happened) after I was in DC. We also managed to convince Donna, Richard and Karin to head out with us for a night at the Hofbrauhaus. Needless to say that kicked off the week perfectly.

IMG_0430 Abram and I were left alone without adult supervision for the next two nights in Vegas and managed to stay out of trouble – most of the time anyway. During our stay we had dinner at Lawry’s Prime Rib (highlighted below) and saw Penn & Teller. If you’ve never seen them you owe it to yourself to take in a showing. If you’ve seen them then you should see them again – their show is in a constant state of flux. We also visited one of our favorite places, Casa Fuenta, which is one of the few (only?) cigar bars left on The Strip.

Seeing as how Abram had traveled this far, it only seemed fair that he venture the rest of the way out to San Diego. He’s managed to spend the time catching up with friends, and I’ve spend the time avoiding work (with varying degrees of success).

The Restaurant

As I mentioned above Abram and I, on our traditional Suit Night, decided to visit Lawry’s Prime Rib. While there may be many places in Vegas you can get “prime rib” for $10, I can guarantee you the quality and service doesn’t hold a candle to a dinner at Lawry’s.

The first thing that strikes you when you walk in is the feel of the place. It looks like it was transported in from the 1940’s. We arrived very early for our reservation hoping to be seated earlier, alas to no avail. However, we were directed to the lounge area to enjoy a predinner cocktail. (Bonus points to anyone who can guess what I ordered.)

Upon being seated we were introduced to our server, Ms. Backman.[1] Not Susan, or Stephanie, or Alice. Her name was Ms. Backman.

Ms. Backman introduced us to the menu and let us know we could choose our cut of prime rib when the carver wheeled the roaster around to our table. We started off with some shrimp cocktail which was good. The one issue I did have with it was the cocktail sauce didn’t have enough horseradish, ironically enough.

After finishing our appetizer, Ms. Backman came back to prepare our spinning salad and deliver our wine (bottle of J Lohr cab). Shortly after the salads Ms. Backman came back to introduce us to Juan, our carver. He opened up the roaster to present us with a three skewers of meat, mashed potatoes and other sides if you were interested. We both went with the The "Diamond Jim Brady" Cut, which includes the bone. It was served with mashed potatoes and doused with au jus, with horseradish (creamed and straight) on the side.

IMG_0427 The meat was unbelievably flavorful and tender. It certainly didn’t need any horseradish, but as I love horseradish I couldn’t resist. The mashed potatoes were of course perfect (you have to work hard to mess up mashed potatoes), and the gravy awesome.

Trust me – resist the urge to visit a $10 buffet to get your prime rib. You get what you pay for, and this place is worth the extra money.

The Travel Note

There’s a long list of things I’ve left on planes. You can now add a Zune to that list. Fortunately a flight attendant did find it and it’s on it’s way back here.

The Five

In honor of Vegas, here’s a list of five of my favorite things in Vegas. This is not an exclusive list, and this is in no order.

  1. The Art of Shaving – If you’ve never experienced a hot shave you owe it to yourself to indulge in this little bit of manly pampering.
  2. Casa Fuenta – It’s in Caesar’s, so the prices are a bit high. But as I mentioned before it’s about the only cigar bar left on The Strip.
  3. Penn & Teller – Still the best show in Vegas.
  4. Mon Ami Gabi – French steakhouse across the street from Bellagio inside of Paris. If you sit outside you’ll overlook the hustle/bustle of The Strip and the Bellagio fountains.
  5. Hofbrauhaus – I don’t know how many times we’ve been there, but we’ve never had a bad time there.

[1] If they were going to be truly period accurate, however – she would be Mrs. or Miss, rather than Ms. I’m just saying...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

One great part about travelling is the weeks I get to go somewhere cool. This week I was in Arlington, VA. Not only do I love the DC area, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to get together with Abram, something we took advantage of maybe a little too much.

After this week I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll just never get used to dealing with the cold again – just in case there was any doubt. Not that it was that cold in DC this week, but the wind was enough to drive me crazy whenever I had to head outside.

The Restaurant

On Thursday Abram and I checked out a place called Matchbox, which serves what can be best described as high-end junk food. They focus on burgers (in particular their sliders) and pizzas, billing themselves as a “vintage pizza bistro”. Settling in at the bar the first thing you notice is their beer selection. While it’s not extensive, it’s chock full of good beers. Abram told me to have a double IPA that they served in a wine glass. After harassing him about drinking beer out of a wine glass I figured I’d give it a shot and am very glad I did.

Their menu features both “girlie martinis” and “manly martinis”. On the manly list is listed a specialty manhattan which, if you know anything about me, was right up my alley (and outstanding). We both started with the cream of crab soup which was just awesome. The sausage & pepper pizza that we split was good – very good even – but not great. We did liquid dessert, each having a couple of glasses of whisky – the first just because, and the second because the Capitals game just let out and we didn’t want to fight the crowds on the Metro (or at least that’s the excuse we used to have a second glass).

All told, for where it was and what we had the total bill was remarkably reasonable; this is a place I intend to get back to again.

The Travel Note

I suppose as time goes on and I fly more often I’ll eventually run out of “firsts” and eliminate more and more “nevers”. This week saw another first and the elimination of another “never”.

Never before had I been informed that bags weren’t allowed under the seat in front of me in an exit row. Never, that is, until this week.

The Five

There’s been quite a bit going on in the sports world lately. I’ve wanted to blog on a couple of items, but in the mean time here’s my quick thoughts on some of the big stories right now:

  1. While I’m disappointed Tomlinson won’t finish his career as a Charger I’m not surprised the Chargers cut him. He hasn’t been the same back over the last 3 seasons.
  2. Before you compare what Brittney Griner did to LeGarrette Blount’s actions watch the tape of Blount. Not only did he punch the Boise State player, but was uncontrollable afterwards. Not saying Griner’s act was defensible, but let’s not go overboard on the calls for punishment.
  3. Tiger’s apology was straight forward. Yes, he didn’t deliver it very eloquently, but he didn’t dodge a single accusation or try to justify his actions. Compare that to any steroid “apology”.
  4. I’m so very tired of Brett Favre stories. Stop me if you’ve heard me say that before.
  5. Stories they may not run the Belmont Stakes are extremely disappointing. Not that I’m a huge horse racing fan, but this would put the final nail in the coffin of a struggling sport.