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May 29, 2005

Have Your Birthday Party at The Waffle House

After just writing about organic produce and lobster rolls, I’m a fine one to talk about the Waffle House, but I’m a simple man with simple tastes, so perhaps you will understand how a meal at the humble Waffle House is one of my favorite treats. Ever since discovering Waffle House restaurants on trips to the southeast US, I have always looked forward to going there. When Anne and I went to Atlanta three years ago, we had the cab drop us off at a Waffle House first before we checked in to our hotel.


Waffle House, Elkton, MD

Waffle House, Elkton, MD. (May 22, 2005 2:15 AM)

So what’s so special about the Waffle House? Well, for one thing they are open all night. Coming home from work in the middle of the night (pre-Waffle House), we would often stop to eat at a diner, mainly because that was the only place that was open. Diners have enormous menus, but at that hour I would invariably order breakfast—eggs, bacon, and potatoes. That’s what I usually order at the Waffle House (I like my potatoes “scattered and smothered”). Come to think of it, I’ve never even had a waffle at the Waffle House. (I never order pancakes at the International House of Pancakes, either. What is wrong with me?) Besides being open all night, Waffle Houses serve a mean breakfast. I guess their waffles are pretty good, too...

Waffle Houses have other charms beyond their outstanding cuisine. The staff usually stop whatever they’re doing and greet customers as they come through the door. It’s corny, but I enjoy it. If you ever wonder what’s going on back in a restaurant’s kitchen, you won’t wonder at the Waffle House. All the orders are prepared right behind the counter. On a busy night, it’s quite a show.

Until recently, there were no Waffle Houses around here (Philadelphia), but in the last few years, Waffle Houses have begun appearing in the north. There are three along I-95 between Baltimore and Wilmington, and I’ve also visited ones in Lancaster and Carlisle. While it’s great that I don’t have to get on a plane to go to a Waffle House anymore, the closest one is still well over an hour away, so I only visit when traveling in that direction.

When I was younger and hanging out in clubs, I often heard older jazz musicians use the word “grease” as a verb meaning to eat. (It was always pronounced greeeeze.) I can’t help but think of this when I eat at a Waffle House, because where better to grease than a place where butter is delivered in freight cars.


Waffle House, Elkton, MD

Greasin’ at the Waffle House, Elkton, MD. (May 22, 2005 around 1:30 AM) Happy Birthday, Ward!

Last Saturday night, we stopped at the Waffle House in Elkton for a little birthday celebration. We all ordered breakfast. One maverick ordered an omelette, but the rest of us ordered a custom breakfast sandwich: a bacon, egg, and cheese on grilled bread (instead of toast). Since that sandwich isn’t on the menu, we always have to explain it. “It’s like a grilled cheese with bacon and egg.” Usually we get what we want, but tonight we weren’t so lucky. All four sandwiches arrived on toast. What’s more, the potatoes were a little on the raw side. When they’re done right, the potatoes kind of mat together and form a cake, but these weren’t on the grill long enough. It was the “worst” meal we’ve ever had at a Waffle House. It wasn’t terrible, just not up to their usual standard. There was no birthday cake, but we did play the special Waffle House Happy Birthday song on the jukebox. That made everyone smile.


I work at the Elkton waffle house on 3rd shift. I have seen you all in there plenty! I don't believe I was there for the party though. Haven't seen you recently though. Hope you make it to the area soon!


I work at Waffle House in Archdale, NC, also on third shift. I found this article quite interesting, as I've been looking for blogs with feedback from other Waffle House regulars and current/previous employees. Would you mind linking up with my blog? :) A Day In The Life Of A Waffle House Cook

May 28, 2005

Hancock Gourmet Lobster

Cal Hancock of Hancock Gourmet Lobster was one of Jim Coleman's guests today on A Chef's Table. They make a variety of lobster products (including a lobster roll!) you can get in select stores or shipped direct.

As I was about to enter the Acme to buy some limeade for margaritas (Whole Foods doesn't sell limeade), I had one of those “driveway moments” where you can't get out your car until the piece ends, although it was more like a parking-lot moment.

Anyway she actually brought a lobster roll into the studio, and I had to endure listening to Jim Coleman eat it. I hadn't even had lunch yet! While Cal was talking, you could hear Jim sneak his first bite, which elicited a short Mmm. This was followed by some muffled chewing and another Mmm. Finally he said, “That's unbelievable.” and went back to the interview. I wouldn't have had that much self control, believe me.

I'm off to make Texas shrimp and rice for four. In the absence of lobster rolls, that'll do fine.

May 26, 2005

Store Wars

Jim sent me a link today to a very funny Star Wars spoof called Store Wars (requires Flash). Let me just say that I avoid sharing most of the crap that lands in my In box, partly because, well, it's crap, but mostly because, being out of most if not all loops, by the time I hear about something, everyone else has. For this piece, I'm making an exception, not because I agree with the “message” (which I do), but because it's so well done, and just plain funny. So there.

The piece was produced by the Organic Trade Association and Free Range Studios... better yet, just read the press release. They are preaching to the converted in my case, because we do the vast majority of our food shopping at Whole Foods, although we don't always choose organics. Whole Foods almost always offers both organic and “conventional” versions of produce items. Normally the organic version is more expensive (sometimes way more expensive), and sometimes is scrawnier than the conventional. We usually go with the organic, but don't feel too bad buying conventional, because, quite frankly, we trust them.

Store Wars promotes buying organic products wherever they are available, including more and more supermarkets. That, of course, includes Whole Foods, but I learned from a different Jim how we could “use the farm” more directly without apprenticing ourselves to Yoda (oh, sorry, I mean Yogurt). Jim participates in Community Sponsored Agriculture where you sign up to buy a certain amount of produce from a local farm. Check out Local Harvest for a farm near you. We found one only fifteen minutes away.

May 25, 2005

Afternoon Delight

I was in Washington last Saturday afternoon with a couple of hours to myself. The weather was glorious. I was wandering aimlessly in the sunshine (all the while replenishing my reserves of vitamin D), when I was drawn to the park at Dupont Circle by the sound of drums. I flopped down on the grass and began listening to this fine drum corps.


Drum corps

The drum corps cooling off between numbers.

Watching them play—not to mention the incredible sound—took me right back to my high school days. It was marching band that got me interested in drumming, since the guys in the drum section seemed to be having all the fun. Our drum line in high school was nothing like this group. They switched from playing hand-clappin' funky stuff to executing complicated almost melodic compositions in rhythm. Whatever they played, it was precise and energetic. A real treat.

So there I was minding my own business when I was tapped on the shoulder and asked to take a group picture. I grit my teeth every time this happens, because I always feel like a total idiot. Nobody ever hands me a camera I can understand; it's always a shiny plastic box with a million buttons on it. Sure, I know a shutter button when I see one, but I was still unable to take a picture with this thing on the first attempt. “Hold the button down longer,” they suggested helpfully. After squeezing the shutter button for a few seconds, the little box was finally satisfied and the picture was taken. Really, it wasn't that bad, but I really am a klutz with a digicam.

May 24, 2005

Abs-olutely True

Anne wants us to get cable so she can watch Kept on VH1. (Hunks battle for the privilege of escorting Jerry Hall. Some people will do anything for money.) After showing me the picture of a group of Speedo-clad dudes, I remarked, “You know, dear, I have rock-hard abs, too. They're just buried under two inches of blubber.” Buns of steel? Ditto.

New Claims for the Sunshine Vitamin

A good view of my vitamin D processing array. Vitamin D production can be regulated using a device called a “hat.”

Evidence is mounting that vitamin D can help prevent some cancers. That sounds promising, and gee, since milk is fortified with vitamin D, all but the lactose-intolerant are protected, right? Well, it turns out foods and supplements aren't the most efficient way to assimilate the vitamin. Fortunately, vitamin D is created naturally by the skin when it is exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Those are the same rays that can cause skin cancer, of course, but apparently, the benefits of moderate exposure outweigh the risks.

This wasn't good news to me, because I have always avoided the sun. I burn easily, and my father had a few patches of skin cancer. Those are my principal reasons anyway. (Truthfully, I'm just not that “outdoorsy.”) Anyway, I was concerned that I wasn't getting enough vitamin D. Then my wife reminded me that with all that exposed skin on my head, I can generate more than enough vitamin D with the briefest of exposures. Cool.

May 23, 2005

The Point is Dead. Long Live The Point

I read (via the smedley log) that The Point in Bryn Mawr is closing. Management is reportedly “aggressively searching” for a new location, so all is not lost, but there’s just something about that room. After a show there last year, I wrote:

First, a little bit about The Point. It is a reincarnation of and homage to the Main Point, a legendary venue that hosted such artists as Bruce Springsteen many, many years ago. [blah blah blah] It has much the same feeling as the original Main Point: a kind of coffeehouse atmosphere (although now you can order drinks!) with tables, chairs, and even comfortable couches randomly arranged around the room. The room is just large enough to hold a fair-sized audience, yet small enough that no one is sitting too far away. It’s probably the perfect place to hear music. Come to think of it, it’s probably the perfect place to play music, too.

Amen to that. And now a moment of silence...

[   .   .   .   ]

Call me sentimental, but now I feel like I should see someone, anyone at The Point before the last show on June 25. One artist I was hoping to see this year is Tom Rush. Not exactly a newcomer, just someone I’ve never seen. I heard his new CD “Trolling for Owls” recently, and it’s probably the most entertaining hour I’ve ever spent. All these years I’ve been missing out. He won’t be appearing at The Point before it closes, however.

It would be great to nick a souvenir of the old place before it’s gone forever. One of those couches would be nice...

May 17, 2005

On or Off? I Could Care Less

Surfing around today, I encountered a variation of a common expression that always brings me up short. Allow me to explain.

I'm sure you've seen in countless cartoons the symbol of a brilliant new idea depicted by a glowing light bulb suspended over the thinker's head. When I have one of those A-ha! moments (really quite rare), I say that a light bulb went off. My darling wife kids me about this, because, if you think about it, when a light bulb goes off, you're in darkness. In my defense, I'm thinking of that bulb going off like an explosion of inspiration (or in my case, like a little firecracker), but she's right, saying that a light bulb went on just makes more sense.

In the interest of science, I checked with Google to see which version was more popular. I wasn't surprised that my wrong version garnered more hits. After all, that's not the only expression where the wrong version dominates. Take for instance the most egregious example I know, “I could care less.” Ugh. I guess you might be able to make that work if you delivered it drenched in sarcasm, but most people say it without a trace of irony when they really mean, I couldn't care less.

But hey, English isn't our strong suit. As Ralph Wiggum, young scholar and native speaker, once said, “Me fail English? That's unpossible.”

My Franchise Needed Some Exercise...

It's been cooped up all winter, so it was glad to get out and vote today. We arrived at the polls around 7:20 AM, and things were quiet. Not surprising, considering there are no hotly-contested races (most candidates “cross-filed” in fact), and since there are only about 1000 people in our ward, we didn't expect to see too many folks there. In other news, I have a friend running for commissioner in the neighboring township, so I am rooting for her.

May 15, 2005

Chardonnay Deathmatch

Last year I posted results of some informal wine tasting and determined that—to our unsophisticated palates at least—more-expensive wines taste better. Subsequent tests all produced the same result, so we stopped comparing. A couple of clarifications are in order. For one, we restricted our tastings to wines on the low end of the price scale (under $20). It wouldn't surprise me if the results were different for premium wines. In other words, we might end up preferring a $40 bottle over one that cost twice as much. Of course, we'll never know the answer without the help of those lottery winnings. The other point is that even though we preferred the more-expensive vintage, we were perfectly content (with a few exceptions) guzzling the cheaper stuff. I knew what I was missing, but it didn't bother me.

When we were testing, we always compared two wines of the same type (Merlot vs. Merlot), of course, but otherwise didn't attempt to match any other characteristics such as vintage year. Last week Anne spotted two almost-identical Chardonnays that inspired her to try just one more test.

In one corner is a Clos du Bois 2003 Chardonnay (our “house wine” when nothing is on sale). The challenger is a Clos du Bois 2003 Reserve Chardonnay that cost $2 more. The judges included Anne and me and Anne's parents who were staying with us for a couple of days. We all could easily tell the difference between the wines and everyone except Anne preferred the Reserve. She could tell one from the other; she just didn't express a strong preference. Frankly, I was happy drinking the plain Chardonnay, too. Very happy.

The Clos du Bois web site revealed that the Reserve is made from the grapes of a single appellation, the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, while the other is a blend of Chardonnays from “prime vineyards in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Solano Counties.” It's no wonder they taste different.

While it's fun exploring the appellation trail, this latest test reaffirmed our current default strategy of just buying whatever is on sale.

One more thing. In case anyone is wondering, we haven't seen Sideways yet.

May 13, 2005

Fast Lenses

The current article over at The Luminous Landscape is “Fast Lenses for the Epson R-D1” by Sean Reid. This got my blood pumping a lot more than most LL articles, which are all about digital cameras. How 21st century. Boring.

Oops. This article’s about a digital camera, too. Actually, as the title says, it’s really about the lenses you put on it, but first a word about the camera. The Epson R-D1 is a digital rangefinder camera that works just like a Leica. You even have to wind it (to cock the shutter). Charming, methinks.

Back to the lenses. Sean compares 15 “fast” lenses (f/2.0 or faster) in focal lengths from 35mm to 75mm. It’s quite a roundup and interested me particularly because someday I would like to get a second lens for my Leica, probably a 35mm. He reviewed six 35mm lenses, only one of which was made by Leica. Since I will never be able to afford the Leica lens, it was interesting to read his thoughts on the less-expensive models. He found something to like about all of them; he’s obviously not a Leica snob.

I’m just window-shopping unfortunately, because I blew my camera budget when I dropped the Leica back in January. I won’t tell you what that repair cost, except to say I could have bought a very nice lens. Sigh.

Speaking of fast lenses, a thread on streetphoto about a hunt for a Canon 50mm f/1.0 turned up this photo of a Leitz 90mm f/1.0. What a monster—and probably useless, too. With that giant hunk of glass out there in front, there’s no way you could see anything through the rangefinder!

May 12, 2005

We Have Tiger in the House

Our Tiger Family Pack arrived, and Anne installed it on her iMac today. The upgrade went smoothly and quickly, and so far there have been zero problems. Tonight we've been admiring all the new widgets. Ooh, shiny!

SQL Server Oopsie

I occasionally get nasty error messages from web pages when some server-side processing has gone south. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I usually only see these kinds of errors on sites using Microsoft technologies, such as Active Server Pages or a SQL Server backend. I'm just saying.

I've been assigned some SQL Server responsibilities at work. Since my experience has all been with DB2 and MySQL, I am trying to get up to speed. In surfing around, I found SQL Server Central, which looks to be one of the biggest SQL Server sites. You would think that a site devoted to SQL Server would be run by people fluent in, uh, SQL Server. Apparently not. Try clicking on any of the columnists' names, and you will see this error:


Microsoft OLE DB Provider for ODBC Drivers error '80040e14'
[Microsoft][ODBC SQL Server Driver][SQL Server]Line 1: Incorrect syntax near ','.
/include\, line 63


I can't talk, though. There are plenty of mistakes right here on this site. I mean, I have a list and everything.

I've been working away on a small project, and the tool I'm using most, “Query Analyzer,” was a big disappointment. It's certainly adequate, but it's text editing features are almost nonexistent. Some features aren't really thought through very well. For example, error messages include a line number to help pinpoint the source of the error, but the number is not based on the number of lines in the file, it's relative to the selected text. That makes sense to Query Analyzer, since the selected text is what is being executed, but it doesn't help me at all.

May 11, 2005

Boring Things

We headed up to New York today to attend my sister-in-law’s graduation ceremony—she received her MBA from the Stern School of Business at NYU. The speeches were both inspiring and disturbing when you think of the responsibility these young people will have. After all, they represent the next generation of corporate looters, and we all look to them to uphold a long and proud tradition of flagrant disregard for ethical conduct and moral values in the pursuit of personal enrichment. I can say that (facetiously, of course), not because I’m so sure no graduate will ever cause a corporate scandal, but because I was won over by the earnestness and sincerity of the faculty’s devotion to ethical and socially-responsible behavior. The day gave me some hope that these tycoons were at least taught the difference between right and wrong.

Some random notes follow.

They have a pipe band. That is so cool, although I don’t quite get the Scottish connection. The pipe band played the processional while the graduates took their seats.

Besides the many inspiring speeches, they showed a video of campus life. My favorite quote from a professor: “I’m an accountant. I’m not a boring person. I just get very excited about boring things.” I wish I’d said that. I freely admit to getting excited about boring things. Whether I’m boring or not... well, let’s move on, shall we?

I was hoping to snag a lobster roll after the ceremony, but all the places I knew of close between lunch and dinner. We headed back to an early dinner at a nice Italian restaurant across the Hudson in Hoboken. Then we headed home. The graduate and her husband are taking some well-earned time off.

May 10, 2005

Guess Who?

A nice profile of jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins in the current New Yorker reminded me of a parlor game my friend Ward and I play on long trips in the car. We often listen to jazz radio on these trips (WRTI in Philadelphia, or WBGO in Newark), and to pass the time, we try to guess who’s playing.

You might think that’s difficult, but it’s not that hard. Imagine you’re hearing a new release by your favorite band on the radio. I’m confident you would recognize the work as theirs immediately. With jazz it’s slightly more difficult, but only slightly. Most jazz musicians have a distinctive set of qualities (such as tone, phrasing, and note choice) that makes up their “style.” Singers, of course, are easy to recognize. Instrumentalists are more difficult (with bassists and drummers being the toughest), but hardly impossible.

I have a special heuristic for saxophonists I don’t recognize. If it’s a tenor saxophone, I usually guess Stanley Turrentine. That’s not to say that Stanley doesn’t have a recognizable style, but I’ve never been able to discern any distinctive “hooks” in his playing that are memorable to me. His playing isn’t quirky in any way, it’s just good. And since he made tons of records, it’s always a safe guess. Sometimes I’m even right.

Sonny Rollins is certainly one of the greatest players ever on the instrument. If I hear a tenor player with a huge tone just pouring out strong, original ideas, then I automatically guess Sonny Rollins. Again, sometimes I’m even right. When I’m wrong, who do you think it is? It’s usually Dexter Gordon. I should never mix those two up, but I do. Hmm.

May 9, 2005

Two Retrospectives

Sal DiMarco

Sal DiMarco caught in mid-story at a party in November, 2003. Taken with a Leica, of course.

This week brought news of two retrospectives by photographic artists who died way before their time.

Around Philadelphia at least, Sal DiMarco needs no introduction; he was a renowned photojournalist. I was fortunate to meet Sal a few times at gatherings because of our shared interest in Leica cameras. He was an engaging story-teller, and he had so many stories to tell! It was a shock to all when he died suddenly in 2004.

His negatives have been presented to Temple University, and I learned over the weekend of an online exhibition of his work there.

Like Sal, photographer Steve LeHuray also died suddenly (in 2003). I never had the pleasure of meeting Steve, although I wish I had, as he was also devoted to Leicas. Steve posted fine work on his web site every week like clockwork, then bam, he was gone. After his passing, his site remained online for a while, but at some point went dark. Thanks to the intercession of Alan Hayes, the site came back online last week providing us with a “retrospective” edited by the artist himself.

I’m a Dopter

When it comes to operating system upgrades, I’m definitely not an “early adopter.” For example, Apple’s latest operating system (Tiger) was released over a week ago and boasts “over 200 new features,” yet somehow I have been able to restrain myself from ordering it. Somehow? It was easy. I guess that makes me just a plain old dopter.

Don’t get me wrong—I want the latest and greatest... eventually. I’m just not that excited by any of those features, and frankly, I’m trying to postpone the inevtable letdown. Every release of OS X has been a disappointment in some significant way, and I’m sure Tiger will be no exception. My ambivalence about Tiger notwithstanding, I was feeling some small pressure from Anne who was clearly suffering from an anxiety disorder I diagnosed as “widget fever.” There’s only one cure for that, you know, so we finally ordered ourselves the Family Pack, although it won’t arrive until the middle of May. I’m confident that the first update will be released sometime this month, so I am planning to wait until then to install Tiger. It’s what us dopters do.

May 7, 2005

Lobster Rolls in Manhattan?

Anne's sister graduates from NYU with an MBA next week, and we are headed to New York to celebrate. Such an auspicious event calls for lobster rolls (if not champagne), but I'm not sure we can work any into the schedule. The only lobster roll I've ever had in New York was at Aquavit, and that doesn't count, so I'm looking forward to trying some others. There are no places within walking distance of Madison Square Garden, and the two closest places, Maine on Fifth and Shaffer City Oyster Bar & Grill, I know nothing about.


Google Maps search of Manhattan for lobster rolls

What this? It's a Google Maps search for lobster rolls in Manhattan.

  1. Maine on Fifth
  2. Mary's Fish Camp
  3. Pearl Oyster Bar
  4. Mermaid Inn The
  5. Shore
  6. W New York Times Square Hotel
  7. About.Com
  8. Bongo
  9. Pier 116
  10. Lobster Place

May 3, 2005

Doin’ the Loosen Up

I got a new pair of pants (pleated khakis, like all my other pants) the other day. They were bought online so I couldn’t try them on first. I ordered my current waist size, the largest I’ve ever worn, and they were, uh, a bit of a struggle to fasten.

Anybody remember “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells? (No, of course you don’t. Sorry.) Anyway that’s what all my pants are doing to me. (“Tighten up on that belt, drummer.”) Is there no end to this suburban sprawl? Time for some changes. Nothing drastic, just smaller portions.

While eating my smaller portion last night at dinner, Anne remarked on the oddness of the expression “cheating on your diet.” Normally, she said, when you cheat, you gain an advantage that helps you win (if you aren’t caught, that is). But if you “cheat” on your diet, you lose. Wouldn’t it be great if all cheating had such direct and visible consequences?

So, no cheating for me.

I hadn’t thought of Archie Bell in many, many years until “Tighten Up” popped into my head. When I first heard it, I thought it was the stupidest song I’d ever heard. Evidently, The Nazz (another band from Philly) thought little enough of the song to parody it with a version called “Loosen Up,” although I never actually heard it. I wonder if iTunes... Yeah! Sure enough, iTunes has both songs! The 30-second sample of “Loosen Up” is all you really need to hear to get the idea (it’s only 1:30 anyway).