Friday, June 12, 2009

your mileage may vary

One of these days I hope to get back to Seattle to visit my friend Bean. For that reason, I've been trying to hang on to some frequent flyer miles that are in danger of expiring. I'll admit that I could have gone to the Emerald City by now if I hadn't been using all my vacation time for family trips. In 2007, we went on a 3,000 mile college search road trip. Last year's vacation was planned to coincide with freshman move-in. Earlier this year, my son and I went on Spring break together.

To keep from losing my accumulated miles, I need to have some sort of activity on my account every eighteen months. The last time I had this problem, I donated a few of the miles to charity. At that time, the American Airlines representative suggested I sign up for their dining rewards program to earn miles at participating restaurants. You would think that I would have no problem spending $25 at one of the eateries on the list. However, my year-to-date total is still zero.

I specifically looked for a restaurant in Florida where my son and I could eat, I could earn a few miles and more importantly have some activity that would save the 26,000 miles I am on the verge of losing. The decision was easy. We went to Cheeburger Cheeburger.

On Wednesday night I called the number for the rewards program to ask why my Cheeburger purchase hadn't shown up on my statement. In fact, my pork salad at La Costa should have earned me some activity too. The nice lady on the other end of the line explained that the credit card I had used had been taken off my rewards account. As it turns out, my wife had inadvertently assigned our joint credit card to another cause.

When we lived in Burbank, my wife was co-chair of the scrip program at St. Finbar School. She and another mom would sell gift cards from local grocery stores and other retailers. The school made a 3 to 5% profit on card sales. All Saints Church has a similar program with Food City and Kroger.

A few months ago my wife responded to a request from eScrip. She could donate a portion of certain credit card purchases. As a result, St. Finbar got 57¢ from my bill at Cheeburger Cheeburger. eScrip and the dining rewards program are operated by the same company. Any given credit card number can only participate in one program at a time. My wife logged in to her eScrip account and swapped our joint account number for some other cards in her purse. Meanwhile, I logged on to AAdvantage Dining and re-added the joint account number.

I'll start looking for restaurants we can patronize on our summer vacation in New England. Locally, I was glad to see that Pimento's Café has joined the program. I think I can talk our vegetarian friend into meeting us there for salad the next time we get together.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

dredge report

Although the weather turned nice this afternoon, the dreary skies this morning prompted me to post some photos from my recent vacation in Florida. A news article I found online before the trip said that Bathtub Reef Beach had reopened on June 16, 2008. Yet when my son and I drove up, we found the parking lot closed. It was occupied with trucks and equipment from a dredging company. So we drove to the next closest beach and parked in that lot. Once we reached the sand, we walked toward Bathtub Beach.

We saw a large pipe, probably used for the dredging. While we were sitting nearby, a stream of water shot out from it for a few minutes and then stopped. We swam for a bit, hoping to see some fish. The best we saw was a Pompano that was caught by a fisherman casting into the surf.

My son took handfuls of the wet sand to make a drip castle. When it was done, we laughed about the Robin Sparkles song, "Sandcastles in the Sand."

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

piercing wit

People of my grandparents' generation had a joke about a brand of pipe tobacco. They would call a store and ask if they had Prince Albert in a can. The clerk would say "yes" and the prankster would say "well, you better let him out!"

With the passing of time, that joke has run its course. I may have found a product at Publix that could take up the slack. An Arnold Palmer is a lemonade and iced tea drink named after the famous golfer. The country club staple is now available in cans.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

smelly pizza face

There is still more to share from my recent Florida vacation. Here are a few leftover photos that didn't quite rate their own blog entries.

Is it so embarrassing to buy ProActiv that you can't face the sales clerk? The Treasure Coast Square Mall has a ProActiv vending machine. Once your skin clears up, you can have your picture made at the booth next to it.

Dan Quayle never lived down the way he misspelled potato by adding an e at the end. The folks at Nick's Tomatoe Pie don't seem to care about Quayle's mishap. They have a restaurant in Jupiter and a bar inside Palm Beach International Airport.

The neon sign at Jimmy John's got a smile from me. They offer free smells to passersby.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

cheez whiz

Just inside the doorway of the Cheeburger Cheeburger in Jensen Beach is a sign that says "Pepsi Pepsi – No Coke," an obvious reference to the Olympia Restaurant sketch that I wrote about on Tuesday. The sign is held by a cardboard cutout of the Three Stooges.

Our waitress was pleasant but not especially knowledgeable about the business. She knew nothing about the Lenten Menu being promoted on their website. She also forgot to deduct a 10% discount for showing her our movie ticket stubs. My son and I had just seen "Watchmen" which was okay except for Blue Man Group's numerous nude scenes. Fortunately, the restaurant manager quickly fixed the discount. The Lenten Menu wasn't a factor either, since we weren't there on a Friday.

The minor inconveniences did nothing to ruin our meals. My son ordered the Semi-Serious burger and I ordered the Classic and a salad. Both come with a choice of dozens of free toppings. I chose lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese, and onion rings. I'm pretty sure they left off the A1 Steak Sauce I had ordered but our waitress brought me a bottle when I spoke up. Everything tasted good and made me want to visit one of the other Cheeburger Cheeburger locations during my next trip.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

a sometimes food

The food court at Treasure Coast Square Mall had several businesses that were new to me. I saw dueling-but-related Chinese restaurants called Asian Chao and Chao Cajun. Fancy Flavors served a red, yellow and blue ice cream named after Superman. Interesting, but not enough to make me crave it.

Today’s Lenten Friday Forbidden Treat comes from a place in the food court called Your Kind of Cookie. They let you choose your dough and your toppings for cookies made to order. The list of 40 available toppings is comprised mostly of popular candy bars with some fruits and nuts thrown in too. A tray of delicious-looking S’mores cookies grabbed my attention as I walked past. The label said they were made with Hershey's bars, marshmallows, fudge drizzle and a graham sprinkle. I would have loved to try one, however this picture will have to suffice as I’ll be flying out today to spend the rest of Lent at home.

The idea of building your own dream cookie made me think of a British website I read about the other day. features giant recreations of popular treats like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kat bars.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

this mortal coil

Feeding times are the highlight of the daily agenda at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center on Hutchinson Island. My son and I made sure to get there in time to see one of the volunteers toss minnows, shrimp and squid to the game fish in the lagoon below.

As soon as that feeding ends, another program begins at the stingray tank. The volunteer there explained that stingrays are fish and that they bury themselves in the sand in shallow water. He advised us to do the "stingray shuffle" when walking in the water. It's a popular thing to do in Florida. I saw a guy doing the stingray shuffle in the parking lot right next door at Publix. The stingrays are de-barbed and can be touched and hand-fed by visitors. We were told to make our palms flat and to pinch a piece of shrimp or fish between our middle and ring fingers. The stingrays swam onto our hands and nibbled at the food with the mouths on their undersides.

Later, we stuck our hands into another of the center's touch pools. It was populated with horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs, starfish and conchs. The milk conch was interested in my son's fingers, sticking out its eyes and mouth to investigate.

We had barely taken our hands out of the stingray tank when it was time to begin the nature walk through the 57 acre compound. The trail must have been at least a mile long. We only saw a couple of small lizards and a fiddler crab. Along the way we passed the gate to a sterile facility where they grow baby oysters in an effort to repopulate the area.

When we saw a tree covered with Spanish Moss, we were told that the same material is sold at craft stores. The volunteer guide said that wild Spanish moss needed to be microwaved to kill any small insects before being used for decoration. She also said that the bugs caused problems in the old days for people who stuffed mattresses with the moss. Another guest on the tour said she had heard that Henry Ford used Spanish moss to fill the seat cushions on his early vehicles until the bugs thwarted his money-saving plan.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

fish tale

South Florida may be a long way from New England but my son and I found a place for Maine lobster without even trying. The sign for The Lobster House caught our eye as we drove along Federal Highway in Tequesta. Once inside, we saw a flyer for a Two for Tuesday special that was exactly what we wanted: two lobsters for the price of one. I was surprised when they told me that the two lobster meal was intended for only one person. Despite their intentions, we ordered it and each had our own crustacean.

If not for the special, we could have tried to win our dinners by each putting $2 in the Love Maine Lobster Claw machine. I had read about these machines over the years but didn't realize that any were still in operation. The price card next to the joystick shows that a determined player can get 14 chances for $20. The lobster at the front of the tank was enormous. I wonder if the machine's claw is even strong enough to lift him.

The talk of the gigantic lobster led the restaurant host to tell us about a huge great white shark that his boss once caught off Montauk. Lobster House owner Tony Gambino was fishing with his uncle and some others when they saw a dead whale being eaten by sharks. They stood on the whale's floating carcass and hooked a behemoth using rod and reel.

Before long Tony himself had come out to meet us and to tell us that his uncle was famed shark hunter Frank Mundus. His autographed photo hangs in the kitchen near a model of the big shark. Next thing we knew, Tony was leading us through the kitchen to see his live lobster tanks and other mounted fish heads.

I told Tony that I had been to Montauk and that my grandmother used to have a place in Noyac. He said we should try to visit his family's other restaurant, Southside Fish and Clam, next time we're up that way.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

hold the pickle, hold the lettuce

A restaurant that I plan to visit in Florida later this week has brought back some old memories and I haven't even been there yet. The restaurant is Cheeburger Cheeburger and the memories are from high school.

"Saturday Night Live" was a favorite of mine while I was in high school. I still watch it today, thanks to the invention of the TiVo. There were many years in the middle that I missed. Back then, it seemed that everyone knew the latest catchphrase by the time school started on Monday morning.

One such phrase was "cheeburger, cheeburger" from a skit set in the Olympia Restaurant. John Belushi would tell his customers that they had "no Coke, Pepsi" and "no fries, chips" before shouting out their cheeseburger order to Dan Aykroyd on the grill. The burgers and the grill were real. I know because I smelled them.

My father used to play tennis with NBC announcer Bill Wendell. Mr. Wendell arranged for my wife and me to attend a taping of "Late Night with David Letterman" during our honeymoon. Years earlier, I had asked Mr. Wendell for tickets to "Saturday Night Live."

A couple of factors came into play. I was only in high school and there may have been an age limit for attending the show. Plus, at the time, SNL was a hot ticket. Mr. Wendell said he couldn't get me any tickets to the show but he could get me into the next best thing, the dress rehearsal. The dress rehearsal was held about three hours or so before the live show. It would be recorded and could be used all or in part if something went terribly awry later that night. Also, skits that didn't get a good enough reaction could be cut or rewritten before 11:30 p.m.

I just barely got up the nerve to ask a cute girl from a neighboring all-girls high school to go with me to the dress rehearsal. I figured that the hot ticket and the earlier showtime would guarantee a "yes" from her. They didn't. Instead of just saying no, Margaret Finneran turned me down because she planned to go to a father-daughter communion breakfast the next day. I ended up calling Ed Gough, my friend from seventh and eighth grades, who met me at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. By the way Margaret, I was home in time to watch the 11:30 telecast. And I made it to church in time the next morning.

That week's
host was comedian Robert Klein. The musical guest was a newcomer named Bonnie Raitt. In that episode, they introduced some new skits and characters that would turn up again in later shows. Bill Murray and Gilda Radner played nerds Todd and Lisa for the first time that night and the Olympia Restaurant opened for business with its real "cheeburgers" on the grill.

During "Weekend Update," there was a joke about giant lobsters headed toward Manhattan. The show concluded with the lobsters attacking 30 Rock. Comedy writer Al Franken came up into the audience during a break and sat next to Ed and me. He informed our section that we would need to react in terror to the news of the lobster attack. The director was going to superimpose an image of a giant lobster coming toward us. Franken said that if we got it right, they would repeat the process with the live audience. If we messed it up, the bit would get dropped from the show. We must have done well enough because the shot stayed in the actual broadcast.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

stew in your own juice

Because we were directed around to the back of the Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum on Saturday, my son and I found ourselves in the entertainers and vendors parking area of a local street festival. Before heading into the museum, we made a quick tour of the various tents and booths at the Jupiter Jazz & Art Festival.

In one tent, a man and his wife were offering tastes of their barbeque sauce on tortilla chips and small pieces of rice cake. I tried both the mild and hot varieties of Rodney’s Backyard Barbeque Sauce and ultimately bought a bottle as much for the story behind it as for the taste of it.

Rodney had been making his own sauce at home for years. He got hooked up with a Florida company called IPAC, which bottles products for dreamers like him to sell for themselves whether online, at festivals or door-to-door. Rodney said that the head of IPAC was some sort of well-educated genius who got tired of the corporate rat race. I found an article about another guy who uses IPAC to bottle his comically-but-crudely-named hot sauce.

My son and I used Rodney’s sauce to season some boneless, skinless chicken breasts that we bought on sale at Publix. We’ll have to try to finish the bottle while we’re in Florida because I don’t think the TSA will let me bring more than three ounces of it on the plane.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

tribute site

Do not follow Google's directions to the Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum in Jupiter, Florida. They have you turn onto Indiantown Road, proceed 95 feet and then turn right into the museum's parking lot. As it passes the facility, Indiantown Road is an overpass with a drop of about 25 feet to the parking lot below. Fortunately my son and I spotted a sign that said "BR Museum" which pointed us around to the back of the nondescript building.

Once inside, we saw all the stuff Burt Reynolds has accumulated over the years. The displays ranged from his Palm Beach High School football letters to the keys to various cities. A good portion of the items are pictures and various things autographed by other celebrities. Some of the photos had small engraved nameplates, others did not. For example, the brass plates identified the "one and only Fred Astaire" and the "one and only Elizabeth Taylor." Also rating a plate were "kind, wonderful, talented Robby Benson," "the dearest cowboy of them all, Mr. Doug McClure" and "actor, artist, teacher and dear friend Charles Nelson Reilly." The picture of Jim Nabors had no nameplate but did have a long message from Jim: "To Burt, You're the best! And you've been more than just a friend! With love and respect, your other brother, Jim."

A large steel door was ajar next to a collection of memorabilia from "Evening Shade." It prompted me to ask the museum staff if the building had once been a bank branch or if Burt had installed the vault himself to store his most precious artifacts. I guess I was a little disappointed that the place had once been a bank. Nevertheless, I stuck my camera in the opening to get a glimpse of the things Burt didn't put on display.

Burt's Emmy and Golden Globe for "Evening Shade" were in a display case by the front door. However the docent told us that his most prized award was a huge trophy from the World Stunt Awards. As you can see from the nearby photo, it took both Burt and Arnold Schwarzenegger to lift it. Another case held a sculpture of a reclining Burt, that I thought looked pretty good.

One corner of the room held a few paintings of Burt. I didn't ask whether they were made by fans or commissioned by Burt himself. One shows him shirtless, on a horse, holding a dog. Another is a representation of his character in "Deliverance." It hangs next to the actual canoe from the film, which is inexplicably tucked away in a little nook, where it will be the last thing you see before leaving.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

no accident

Some interesting stories have emerged from the recent plane crashes in New York. Two Blount County women have now met because they were both on the plane that crash landed in the Hudson River. The News Sentinel featured them on Sunday.

I was even more interested in the Florida family who avoided the fatal crash near Buffalo. A gate agent at Palm Beach International Airport rerouted them off Flight 3407 for two reasons. They missed the boarding call for their flight to Newark, where they would have gotten on the doomed plane. Rather than rush to catch their scheduled flight, the gate agent advised them to switch to a different airline. Turbulence and delays in Newark also factored into the decision.

My father used to say that he missed a deadly crash due to the Immaculate Reception. He regularly flew to Miami on business for Bacardi Rum. In 1972, he had plans to see the Dolphins in the AFC Championship game near the end of their undefeated season. Back then, the rules for which team hosted playoff games were different than today. Even with their record, the Dolphins were not guaranteed home field advantage. When Franco Harris made his improbable catch and helped the Steelers defeat the Raiders, it meant the Dolphins would have to travel to Pittsburgh the next week. The flight my father probably would have taken from New York to Miami, had the Dolphins hosted the Raiders, crashed into the Everglades on Friday, December 29, 1972.

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