Wednesday, November 18, 2009

no mo in

The Thursday before Thanksgiving is always the Great American Smokeout. If there are any smokers reading this, I truly hope you are able to break the sinister hold that nicotine addiction has on you. Why not try quitting tomorrow? Maybe you can keep it going the next day and the next day and so on.

Someday in the future when cigarettes have been eradicated, "No Smoking" signs will be obsolete. An exit door at the Knoxville Convention Center offers a suggestion for the signs that could have come from the overlooked and underrated "Idiocracy."

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Friday, January 02, 2009

party quirks

More often than not, my wife and I stay home on New Year's Eve. One year we went over to the next door neighbor's house. Another year we went to the home of some church friends. We had three memorable New Year's Eves in California.

We rang out 1999 at a spectacular black-tie party for the film "Fantasia 2000." So many people were afraid of Y2K, that we got invited to fill out a table that had been purchased by a corporate sponsor. After a screening of the movie, there was live music by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Chicago. Maybe you've heard of them.

Another year we got tickets to see the Brian Setzer Orchestra at the House of Blues. Because the tickets had come from Setzer's management, we found ourselves seated at the same table as Brian's wife. I've already written about the New Year's Eve we spent in Pasadena, getting within smelling distance of the Rose Parade floats.

I had a great time saying farewell to 2008 on Wednesday night. I got to play improv games with my Einstein Simplified pals as part of the First Night Knoxville festival. The evening started early with an appearance on "Live at Five at Four" to promote our performances. Then we had dinner at The Tomato Head, which was packed with people. Despite the huge crowd, the staff found a way to seat our party of 16. I amused myself by ordering the vegetarian chef salad and then having them add free-range chicken to it. The words bacon and salad on the menu got me wondering if there is such a thing as bacon salad. It would have mayo and celery like tuna salad but with bacon instead of fish.

I was a little anxious about whether or not we would draw an audience. Our performance space was in a conference room in an office building across the street from Market Square. I said that I hoped ventriloquist Gene Cordova could draw a crowd. He had shows at 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. in the same room we would use at 9:00. When we got to the TVA West Tower, Gene Cordova had a standing-room only crowd that spilled out into the lobby area. Another conference room across from ours had musical performances by Bantry and Tennessee Schmaltz. They had a decent sized audience too, not Gene Cordova numbers, but decent. Most of the audience who filled the room for our two shows had never seen us before. I was surprised when a former WAVA listener in the crowd re-introduced himself to me. It was Don Samples, cousin of the late Junior Samples. Our shows went very well and I think more than a few of the people will come see us at Patrick Sullivan's in the future.

We ended our second show around 11:30 p.m. and went outside to see the "ball" drop. It was more like a balloon on a tether and not that impressive. Next year they should drop an orange construction barrel, as suggested by reader Cassie. A live band on the Market Square stage made the event feel like Sundown in the City, except for the bitter cold. Like the popular summer event, there were way too many cigarette smokers blowing their exhaust on others. We found a spot that was relatively smoke-free and watched the countdown to midnight. It was 25 seconds slow but who's counting?

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

two great tastes

With the closing of the Fuddruckers in Salem, my wife and I had to find a different place to stop for dinner on our last trip. We picked a random Cracker Barrel along I-81 in Virginia and were immediately disappointed by the question: "smoking or non-smoking?" Our non-smoking table was in a direct line of sight and smell from the smokers. Even though the non-smoking section was much larger, we had to wait for a table. There was no waiting for a smoking table.

Cracker Barrel has a country store where we could bide our time. One corner of the store had a display that showed they know about the current popularity of cupcakes. In addition to the cookbooks and standard muffin pans, they had a pretty neat Ice Cream Cone Cupcake Pan. The cake looks like a cone. The frosting takes the place of ice cream.

Rather than cupcakes that just look like ice cream cones, some people will be celebrating summer with cupcakes that are mini ice cream cakes. You can make your own or buy some at a place called MaggieMoo's that I will have to try sometime when I'm out at Turkey Creek. The ladies at Cupcakes Take the Cake taste tested a brand called PhillySwirl that is available at Sam's Club. I agree with their assessment that these seem to stretch the limits of what we call cupcakes. Not that it's a bad thing.

Ice cream cupcakes would be great but what we really need for this weekend are some graduation cupcakes. Or the time to make them.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Thursday, April 24, 2008

little lambs eat ivy

Thursday nights mean big crowds downtown. My wife sings with the Knoxville Choral Society and didn't want to be late for their performance with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra tonight. The show didn't start until 8:00 but we pulled into the State Street garage at 6:00. There was still plenty of time to walk to Market Square and get a big salad at Trio. Meanwhile, outside the restaurant, people were arriving for Smokedown Sundown in the City. Because Sundown is an open air event, the smokers come out in droves.

While we got to the Tennessee Theatre with plenty of time to spare, several audience members and two violinists took their seats well after the concert started. Tonight and tomorrow night the Symphony is presenting the "Requiem" by Berlioz. It basically follows the format of a Catholic funeral Mass. In fact, the piece was commissioned for a state funeral in Paris in 1837.

I was impressed that there was too much music for the stage to contain. The KSO brought in musicians from surrounding areas on a "per-service" basis. In addition to several extra tympani players, there were about 140 members of the Knoxville Choral Society (including my lovely wife) packed onto six rows of risers. A soloist named Andrew Skoog had a chair near Maestro Lucas Richman. Best of all, there were four brass choirs surrounding the audience, two on either side of the stage and two more in the back of the auditorium. Horns, trombones and tubas in the four corners of the theatre created a great surround sound effect.

The Berlioz Requiem will be performed again on Friday night. My wife will have to get there early because of the rescheduled Dogwood Arts Parade that runs right past the Tennessee Theatre starting at 7:00 p.m.

Labels: , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Monday, February 18, 2008

survival of the fittest

The owner of a local restaurant says business is down by a third since the state enacted a partial smoking ban last October. Tennessee allows restaurants to choose whether to serve all ages in a smoke-free environment or to only serve patrons over 21 who are free to smoke at the table. In many other states, smoking is banned at all restaurants, period.

When a restaurant suffers because of the smoking ban, I have to wonder what it was that drew in their clientèle in the first place. Obviously, restaurants that can survive on the quality of their food will do so. Others that rely on their atmosphere, albeit polluted, can continue to cater to smokers. Some of the comments posted on the News Sentinel article are worth reading (especially this one and this one), if you can ignore the ones from smokers who somehow feel that their "right" to blow smoke in our faces has been infringed upon by the ban.

At the end of the newspaper article, Scott Bryan from the Knox County Health Department says that some restaurants have seen their business double since the smoking ban. Yet that doesn't make the headlines. Meanwhile, the story about the restaurant switching back to allow smokers gets picked up by TV stations in Alabama and Kansas and who knows where else.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Sunday, January 20, 2008

no time like the present

The news of Suzanne Pleshette's death wouldn't have caught me off guard today if I had read about her poor health last fall. Instead I was watching her in "The Birds." By coincidence, I just saw her interviewed in the profile of Bob Newhart on "American Masters" that I had recorded last month on PBS and finally watched on Friday night.

The obituaries described her as "husky-voiced' or "smoky-voiced." Listening to her speak, it wasn't much of a surprise that she succumbed to respiratory failure. The longtime smoker had been fighting lung cancer. There's a nice appreciation of Suzanne's work on USA Today's website.

As usual, I hope that when people hear the sad news they will decide to quit smoking.

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

cheese and oxygen

The best known pizza place in East Tennessee used to be off limits to me. I had been to Big Ed's Pizza in Oak Ridge when I was new to the area but found the place filled with cigarette smoke. Despite my love of pizza, I knew I could never return. Fortunately the smoking ban that went into effect last month has opened some doors for me. The giant caricature of Big Ed in the window is probably inviting to most, however it was the no-smoking sign on the door that said "welcome" to me.

I asked our waitress if I could order a salad. "We only sell pizza," was her response. Without any acrid smoke to interfere with the taste, I could finally understand why everyone loves Big Ed's. The pizza was really good, especially the crust. They make their own dough at Big Ed's and it shows. The tiny paper plates and super thin napkins make eating a little more challenging than at most restaurants.

On my first trip to Big Ed's, I got one of their famous t-shirts. At the time I needed size XXL, which is now way too big for me. The thought of the smoke kept me from going back to get a free shirt on my last birthday. Now that the air is smoke-free, I can make plans to pick up a size L shirt next year.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


At this time last week, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Patrick Sullivan's would go smoke free rather than limit their clientèle to older smokers. Things went smoothly tonight except for one small thing. After our performance, several smokers went outside to puff. They stood too close to the front door, creating a foul cloud that the rest of us had to walk through.

The historic collapse of the Mets left me with very little to say. A headline on the New York Times site summed it up perfectly: Ya Gotta Bereave. The Best Week Ever blog brought a smile to my face with their analysis of why the Mets fell apart. I especially like their idea of a Julio Franco curse.

I learned about 90 minute sleep cycles when I first started working an early morning shift. Phillies fan Perry Simon remembered hearing me preach about it and mentioned it on his blog this week. Since we're on the topic of sleep, I think I'll go get me some.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

whose lung is it anyway?

The building that houses Patrick Sullivan's Steakhouse and Saloon has stood on the corner of Central and Jackson since 1888. According to local legend, it used to be a brothel. I've been doing improv at Patrick Sullivan's almost every Tuesday night for the past five years or so. Every week I come home reeking of second-hand smoke thanks to the audience members who can't resist the addicting power of nicotine. The carpet on the stage is pockmarked with scores of cigarette burns from the butts dropped by the rock and country bands who play there on weekends.

I imagine that smokers made up the majority of the clientèle of all the various businesses to occupy the building since it first opened its doors 119 years ago. All that is supposed to change on Monday when the new anti-smoking law takes effect. I had assumed that Patrick Sullivan's would take advantage of the loophole that allows smoking in bars that deny admittance to people under 21. Tonight I was surprised to hear from Dave the bartender that Sullivan's doesn't want to shun underage customers. If they enforce the smoking ban like they're supposed to, that means tonight was the last night I had to suffer through the vile, fetid, putrid, poisonous, obnoxious fumes emanating from the audience (and from one of my improv brothers).

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Monday, August 20, 2007

top of the food chain

Feast with the Beasts is one of my favorite annual events. Attendees sampled food from some of the area's best restaurants while strolling through the Knoxville Zoo this past Saturday night. The weather was warm but not unbearably hot like two years ago. And it didn't rain like last year.

I especially liked the shrimp grits from the Green Hills Grille. I can't remember which restaurant served fried alligator meat. I felt a little guilty about tasting it mere minutes after viewing the living rare white alligator in his tank. I didn't try everything but almost everything I did try was really good. The only food I should have skipped was something they called a "boneless hot wing" from Applebee's. It was just a chicken nugget.

The darker it got, the easier it was to forget you're at a zoo. I could barely see the silhouette of an African elephant by the time we got to that end of the zoo. I wondered if the elephant was bothered by the noise and the all the cigarette smoke. I wish smoking was prohibited at the zoo. Heck, I wish smoking was prohibited in all public places. My wife and I knew it was time to leave at the point in the evening when it seemed to change from an eating event to a drinking event. The food booths had started to run out of samples. I heard one guy tell his buddy that he hadn't gotten his $60 worth yet. The friend advised him to "keep drinking."

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

by a wide margin

The big news out of Burbank is the election of my friend Anja Reinke to city council. There were four people running for two open seats. Anja and a local restaurant owner each got about 6300 votes. Anja will become one of many St. Finbar parishioners who have served on the council. She should get to take a turn as vice-mayor and then mayor eventually.

The other two candidates, who happened to be a married couple, got about 3300 votes each. Their unsuccessful campaign was endorsed by a soap opera actress whose reading skills I coincidentally featured in my blog last December. At least George Takei loves her.

Anja supports a ban on smoking in places like public parks and restaurant patios. The losing candidates gave an overly wordy answer to the same yes/no question. Maybe someday Knoxville will become more breathable for the non-smoking majority via a sales tax increase or a ban on public smoking. WATE had a town hall meeting on the topic tonight.

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Sunday, January 07, 2007

three topping sundae, um... three topic Sunday

Something in the church bulletin caught my eye this morning. At their next meeting, the women's guild will watch "Really Bad Girls of the Bible."

The editorial in the current Metro Pulse is one I can agree with. It explains why it's time to ban indoor smoking in Tennessee workplaces. Majority rules, right? Let the 26% or so of Tennesseeans who still smoke do it only in the privacy of their own homes, not in the restaurant where I'm trying to eat.

The New York Football Giants almost won their playoff game tonight. I'm disappointed that we won't get to see any more of the Pillsbury Throwboy, J. Load, the Hefty Lefty a/k/a Jared Lorenzen. He looks a bit like one of the deejays at the hip hop station down the hall. No offense, T.

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

phone call for Pete Zaria

Da Vinci's Pizza was closed the first time we wanted to eat there. Yesterday was Tuesday so we gave it another try before the Einstein Simplified show. The pizza was pretty good but the atmosphere left something to be desired. The front of the shop was so dark that I thought the place might have been closed again. The only other customers were smoking cigarettes while they waited for their carry-out calzone order. We picked a table as far from the smokers as we could. I got the special: two slices and a bottle of water (or soda) for $5. The crust was thin and flexible, which is the way I like it. Rather than pizza lovers like me, their target audience might be people looking for a late night snack after an evening at the various drinking establishments in the Old City.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Monday, November 07, 2005

kicking butts

ABC World News Tonight is running a month long feature about smoking called "Quit to Live." If you've missed any installments so far, you can catch up at their website. The facts and figures are troubling. There are still 50 million smokers in America. Each day 2000 teenagers pick up the disgusting habit.

I heard a comedian say that anyone who smokes nowadays is either stubborn, stupid or French. It's understandable that there are people over the age of 40 unable to kick the addiction. They probably started smoking when it was permitted in high schools. But why on earth would anyone in their teens or twenties start down the path to lung cancer?

Each November, the American Cancer Society promotes the Great American Smokeout. It's always on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. If you know a smoker, urge them to try giving up the smokes for just that day.

Although I would describe myself as not just a non-smoker but an anti-smoker, I do believe that smokers should have the right to smoke themselves silly in the privacy of their own homes. But I also believe that I have the right to go out in public and not smell their fetid smoke while I'm trying to eat. That's why I prefer smoke-free restaurants like Connors Steak & Seafood. (Speaking of smoke-free restaurants, UCSF publishes a great website about the techniques used by the tobacco industry to fight smoking bans.)

The putrid stench contains some of the same foul-smelling chemicals as rat poison and nail polish remover. The smoke wouldn't bother me so much if it smelled better. Why can't they make cigarettes with the aroma of hickory or mesquite BBQ?

Labels: ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button