Livin’ Legend Wishes You A Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Well, 2014 has come and gone, and what a year it has been.  It’s been good, bad, boring, and exciting as every year tends to be because let’s face it, 365 days is a long time and a lot can happen over 52 weeks.  I could spend a lot of time going over the past year, but honestly I’m way too tired from the holidays to write a large summary of what most of you already know happened over the last year.  A lot of it has been frustrating, but I’ve found ways of making it a more or less good year, and it ended on a better note than most, so all I can say it that I’m quite satisfied with how 2014 has turned out, and like everyone, I hope the new year is bigger and better than the last.

On that note, I’d like to make a few proclamations–not resolutions, because resolutions are always broken–that I intend to fulfill in the coming year.  I try not to be too ambitious in these because not all the things I want to accomplish are entirely in my control, but insofar as I have control over them, I would like to think I’ll work toward those ends.

And so, here is my list of New Years Proclamations:

#5: Have More Fun

I’ve kept myself amused for most of 2014 but even so, I feel I’ve enjoyed barely a fraction of the potential due to focusing on a lot of the negative things that have happened over the year.  I have a tendency to let the little things get to me, and many a potentially fun night has been spent dwelling on the insignificant garbage that I knew full well would be forgotten within hours of waking up the next day.

#4: Relax More

An offshoot of #10, there are quite a few activities and hobbies that I love doing but are time consuming and therefore neglected for what I perceive to be lack of time.  Examples would be cigar smoking, reading, various arts and crafts, watching movies, and simple meditation.  It’s been a busy year and 2015 is looking to be just as busy, and I feel it is very important to take the time to indulges those relaxing activities.  I know most people vow to STOP smoking during those days, but by Cromm I love me some cigars and aspiring to at least one a week instead of one a month is, I feel, fairly risk-free to my health.

#3: Focus On My Side Business

Several years ago I started a small handcrafted soap business.  It’s done well enough to keep me in the black on paper the last few years, but limping along is not what I envisioned for Livin’ Legend Soap Company.  I’ve been reluctant to spend any money on advertising and business growth for fear of the IRS climbing on my back.  Well, this year I’ve decided is a make or break year for the company, and therefore I plan on spending that money on advertising in a back-to-the-wall attempt at making it work.  In a way I feel this is the best possible scenario as it has a sort of last-ditch-effort appeal to me.  The pressure is on, and my creative juices are flowing.  Even if it doesn’t work out, I’ll have a lot of fun trying to make it work.

#2: Get Healthy

This one is fairly cliche I suppose, but regardless, it’s something I really need to look into.  Back in 2012 I proved that I can be extremely healthy if I don’t overindulge my carnal appetites (well, at least when it comes to food and laziness).  In the course of three months I lost thirty pounds, was able to run miles without issue, and my blood pressure was the lowest it had been in years.  Unfortunately, I had set college graduation as a goal point and upon reaching my goal, consequently spent the rest of the summer mucking it up completely.  I’m starting this year on a liquid fast (no, not alcohol… not completely anyway, but more on that later), and the entire month of January and February will be 1000 calories per day along with moderate cardiovascular exercise.  I feel this sets a good precedent for the year, and afterward I’ll focus on a less strict diet that’s more feasible to maintain.

#1: Run A Half Marathon

Another offshoot, I know for a fact that with proper conditioning this body can run miles and miles without wanting to curl up and die.  Hell, I ran a 5k marathon that was basically two trips over a fairly steep bridge with very little training.  Running a regular half marathon shouldn’t be too terrible if I simply do what I did in 2012.

#0: Focus On This Blog

Yeah that’s right, #0.  I call it that because it’s something I should have done long ago as far as this site is concerned.  I’ve gone long stretches of not doing a damn thing with this blog.  Well, I paid a lot of money for the livinlegend.com domain, and this year I’m going to make something of it, or at least fill it full of crap no one will ever read.  In fact, this first week of January I’m going to invest in a lovely premium layout to replace this laggy free layout full of greyness that is completely harshing my mellow.

Anyway, those are my proclamations to myself and my proud and few Dear Readers.  Those of you who know me in person are welcome to remind me of these if I show signs of screwing around as I am wont to do when I think no one is looking.  And on that note, I bid you each and every one a wonderful and prosperous 2015.

Cheers, old sport!

Posted in Musings and Ramblings

A Very Legendary Christmas

Booze Advent Conclusion

Well here we are, Christmas Day is nearly over (actually it probably will be by the time anyone reads this post), and the Booze Advent has been what I consider a smashing success.  It was a lot of fun and I got to explore some new creative territory.  It may not be comedic genius, but it kept this Grinch occupied during what could have been an incredibly stressful holiday season.

So, here are the last few pictures in the series.

Day 22

The Train Job Saga, Part 5.  Keeping with the tequila/Train Job Saga pairing, I had to cover some new ground with the photo editing.  This one was quite fun to make, although the weird lime tequila left much to be desired.

The bastard finally tracked me down. Just as well. Tired of running, tired of hiding, tired of this stupid getup and skulking like a rat while the train money gathers dust at the drop off point. Guess I'll never see it now. Never thought it would end like this, with a Mexican standoff in a church, at Christmastime no less. It'd be funny if it weren't so damned sad.

The bastard finally tracked me down. Just as well. Tired of running, tired of hiding, tired of this stupid getup and skulking like a rat while the train money gathers dust at the drop off point. Guess I’ll never see it now. Never thought it would end like this, with a Mexican standoff in a church, at Christmastime no less. It’d be funny if it weren’t so damned sad.

Day 23

I didn’t have any other Russian references to make with this weird chocolate vodka, so I went with secret agent Sean Connery kind of thing.  The resolution could have been better, but it was a busy night and I had to do this in a hurry.

 When MI6 ashked me to go to Mexshico to track down a bloody train robber and a rogue cop, I told the bashtards I had better thingsh to do and ashked them to kindly pish off, but not before they fetched me another cocotini.

When MI6 ashked me to go to Mexshico to track down a bloody train robber and a rogue cop, I told the bashtards I had better thingsh to do and ashked them to kindly pish off, but not before they fetched me another cocotini.

Day 24

The Train Job Saga, Part 6.  And finally, the end of the Booze Advent series, and I like to think it went out on a pretty good note, with the characters coming full circle.  This one was a bit tricky to make, but I think it turned out quite nicely.

The Train Job Saga, Finale. Before Mexico I never considered myself a dirty cop. I also never considered how lousy the pension was for a good cop. When he told me about the money from the train job, well... I don't quite trust the bastard, but it's a gamble I can afford to lose. I'm not sure where I'll end up, but I can already feel my life getting a little more... colorful.

The Train Job Saga, Finale. Before Mexico I never considered myself a dirty cop. I also never considered how lousy the pension was for a good cop. When he told me about the money from the train job, well… I don’t quite trust the bastard, but it’s a gamble I can’t afford to not make. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but I can already feel my life getting a little more… colorful. That is if I can keep this psychotic train robber from making good on his promise to kill the chef because the puerco pibil was too good.

Conclusion

And that about does it for the Booze Advent series.  I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I have, and thanks for reading!  My only regret is that there was no scotch in the series.  The ultimate Yankee, jolly old Saint Nick, didn’t come through with my one and only Christmas wish.

But wait… what’s that?  Do I hear… sleighbells?

Bonus Video: A Legendary Christmas

Posted in Musings and Ramblings Tagged with: , , , ,

Booze Advent Week 3

Closing in on Christmas

Well, we’re into Week 3 of the Booze Advent, and Christmas is nearly upon us.  While this has been a pretty good season, especially compared to my usual Christmas experience, I’m still ready for it to be over.  That said, I’m having a great time with this series, and I’m excited to show you all this week’s pictures.  You see, I ordered a green screen, and it allows me to really cut loose with these things.  And I feel it should be noted that with these themes getting so involved, I’ve had to do some pretty elaborate scheduling of facial hair.  It’s a good thing I’m a rather swarthy fellow by nature.  So, here we are.

Day 15

For my first green screen picture, I really went all out.  There’s no eggnog in my calendar, but I thought a random flavored whiskey was good enough for this reference

Merry Christmas!  Shitter was full!

Merry Christmas! Shitter was full!

Day 16

The Train Job Saga: Part 3.  Oh yes, I’m still doing these, and I couldn’t resist taking a jab at Cozumel when the liquor of the night was cheap margarita.

Been on the lam for days in the sorry hole called Cozumel. Nothing but cruise ships and fat tourists, but it's crowded and easy to get lost. The tequila is the only thing keeping me sane while I wait. I know the federales are closing in on me, I can feel it. The only question is when the ball will drop. Well let them come, I'll be ready.

Been on the lam for days in the sorry hole called Cozumel. Nothing but cruise ships and fat tourists, but it’s crowded and easy to get lost. The tequila is the only thing keeping me sane while I wait. I know the federales are closing in on me, I can feel it. The only question is when the ball will drop. Well let them come, I’ll be ready.

Day 17

Yeah, the redneck ones are kind of too easy, but every now and then I should be entitled to pick the low-hanging fruit.  These cinnamon whiskeys are wearing a little thin, I will admit.  Also, this one was kind of a pain to do with the green screen on account of the fishing line.  I was lazy, and I’m not apologizing.

They's bitin', but I don't know what they is.

They’s bitin’, but I don’t know what they is.

Day 18

The Train Job Saga: Part 4.  These are starting to really amuse me.  I’m digging the noir feel.  Not that tequila or Mexico are particularly noir, but I think it works.

 I've been after him for weeks. Staking out these godawful cantinas, waiting for a lead. Haven't shaved. Haven't slept. Nerves are raw. I'm tight as a drum. Only thing keeping me grounded is the swill that passes for whiskey in this place. I'm close to him now. I know I am. I'll have him soon. Then I can rest.

I’ve been after him for weeks. Staking out these godawful cantinas, waiting for a lead. Haven’t shaved. Haven’t slept. Nerves are raw. I’m tight as a drum. Only thing keeping me grounded is the swill that passes for whiskey in this place. I’m close to him now. I know I am. I’ll have him soon. Then I can rest.

Day 19

The drink of the day was Bacardi rum, and I couldn’t think of a more fitting theme than The Trailer Park Boys.  My only regret is that I don’t really have anything to complete the trio with Ricky.

Alright boys, time to do the Big Dirty. Ricky, Bubs, get Corey and Trevor to distract Randy and Lahey and bring the car around. And for fuck's sake, don't screw this up.

Alright boys, time to do the Big Dirty. Ricky, Bubs, get Corey and Trevor to distract Randy and Lahey and bring the car around. And for fuck’s sake, don’t screw this up.

Day 20

I’m just going to say it now: I don’t think I can top this one.  And yeah, Bailey’s isn’t Kahlua, but I’d never forgive myself if I passed up the opportunity to have a Dude reference.

Far out, man.  Far fucking out.

Far out, man. Far fucking out.

Day 21

Another redneck picture, and right after the Big Lebowski picture?!  I know, I know, it’s not the best way to cap off the week, but it couldn’t be helped.  There wasn’t much else I could do with this cheap peppermint flavored ‘moonshine’.

Talkin' 'bout that dang ol' moonshine, I tell ya hwat.

Talkin’ ’bout that dang ol’ moonshine, I tell ya hwat.

Conclusion

And that wraps up Week 3 of the Booze Advent.  There are still three days left in this thing, and I know what you’re thinking: Livin’ Legend is going to cheap out with a three-picture-post on Christmas Eve.  Well, you’re wrong.  I mean yes, there will be three pictures, including the thrilling conclusion of the Train Job saga, but if you thought I’d end this thing with anything less than some true over-the-top off-the-wall chicanery, then you just don’t know who you’re dealing with.

So until Christmas Eve, I bid you all a happy holiday season.  Cheers!

Posted in Musings and Ramblings Tagged with: , ,

Booze Advent Week 2

Admission

Okay, so maybe this Booze Advent thing I’ve been doing has gotten me more into the holidays than I would have thought.  It certainly has me thinking more creatively than I have in a few months, and everyone else seems to be enjoying my antics, so I guess I can call this a win.

So let’s just jump right in.

Day 8

Turns out I ended up with several of these weird cinnamon flavored whiskeys, so I’ll be consistent and keep with a rednecky theme on these.

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Watch this, hold my beer!

Day 9

So, yeah, I had nothing at the time for blackberry vodka, so I picked the low-hanging fruit and gave an F-you to Santa Claus.  Cut me some slack, I have twenty-four of these things to do!

IMG_20141209_182943575

Gimme a break, it was a long day and I hadn’t discovered the treasure trove that is Goodwill

Day 10

Flavored whiskey, and and I had just made french fries, so Sling Blade seemed appropriate.

IMG_20141210_212443534

I like them french fried taters, mmhmm.

Day 11

And this is the night I discovered Goodwill.  Oh, the amazing source of props that place proved to be.  Although I seriously doubt a real Russian would bother with flavored vodka at all.

IMG_20141211_195232066_TOP

You see Ivan, people are knowing you are Russian when always you are drinkings vodka and wearings track suit.

Day 12

Case in point, getting down with some maple flavored Canadian Mist with props pilfered from Goodwill for less than $5.

IMG_20141212_134901678

Oh my FOCK, boys! It tastes like maple fockin’ syrup! DECENT!

Day 13

This idea came to me at random, as they often do, to take the theme concept a bit further and put a little story into the mix–not that it’s a very in-depth story or a good one, but things like this happen when I find myself riding a tiny train around a park on a Saturday afternoon, and I have to act on them.

IMG_20141213_221759

I’ve been on the run after the train job went sour, and now I’m holed up in a seedy motel down in old Mexico with nothing to keep me company but my gun, a bottle of cheap tequila, and my thoughts. The federales will never take me alive.

Day 14

The Train Job Saga continues…

IMG_20141214_192846

I don’t know how he did it. I thought for sure we had him when his partner sold him out for immunity. The train job was supposed to be the end of the line for him, but he gave us the slip. I’ll get that son of a bitch if it’s the last thing I do. But tonight, Jack Daniel will keep me company.

Check back next Sunday for more thrilling Booze Advent pictures!

 

Posted in Musings and Ramblings Tagged with: , , , ,

On Procrastination, Advent Calendars, and How To Get Through the Holidays

What I Haven’t Been Doing

Okay, so I may not actually be very good at this blogging thing; I’m woefully negligent on writing, I have ideas from way back in the summer that are totally irrelevant now, and that revamping of the entire website has still yet to happen, although everything should redirect to www.livinlegend.com rather than www.livinlegend.com.  They’re just mirrored for now, but I hope to have that ironed out in the following weeks.  Or months, no promises.  But hey, Thanksgiving is over and I have little to do for the rest of the year outside of work, so I’m free to let my creativity run wild.

Time to Cook

The sap really started flowing early this year.

The Holidays

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I hate the holidays with an unholy passion.  It’s not that I’m a Grinch, I just don’t care for the feel of the energy around this time, with everyone scrambling to spend as much money as possible as a measure of how much they care for one another.  Going out in public in December is an exercise in anger management.  I quite enjoy busyness and excitement, but the vibes during the holidays approach undertones of menace and hostility.  I don’t even like going out to the grocery store until after New Years.

But seeing as how I have to put up with it, I may as well try and have some kind of fun, so I decided to do an advent calendar.  What is an advent calendar?  Go ask Wikipedia, because all I know is it involves counting down to Christmas Eve and every day you’re rewarded with something like a piece of candy, or literature, or bible verse.

Boozing Up the Advent

Or in my case, liquor.  Yeah, I know, you’re thinking I’m making an appointment with my balcony again, but don’t worry, it’s no more than a nightcap.

So I went out and bought 24 of those little bottles of liquor they give you on airplanes and hotel minibars.  Just a random selection of whatever they had, which was surprisingly ample and in some cases, decently top shelf.

To make things more interesting, I assigned them random numbers pulled out of my cruising hat.

Hat Numbers

And because I’m a sucker for presentation, I put them in brown paper mini-sacks not unlock your typical liquor store packaging.  It’s not my best work ever, but it’s not bad for something I thought up in about an hour.

Lineup

Pay no mind to the carboy in the background; I wanted it to be mead, but it wasn’t meant to be.

DAY 1

So on the first day of advent, the drink of the evening was something called O3, some sort of orange liqueur.

First

It wasn’t bad, but there was something missing from this activity, and as that nightcap-sized bottle wasn’t nearly enough to distract me from the season, I began to form an idea.  Why not themed nights?  Now that was something I could get into, and anyway I missed out on Halloween this year for a number of reasons.

DAY 2

I came up with that little scheme just before the second night’s beverage, which was grape flavored UV vodka, so I kind of had to wing it.  Since I don’t run with the crowd that’s into that kind of liquor, I just assumed they were either raging douchebags or beachgoers, and since I didn’t have any particularly douchey clothing I went with something vaguely beachy.

Vodka

Ain’t no cure for the summertime douche

DAY 3

On the third day I had a little more time to plan (yes, I peak in the bags to give myself time to come up with something–it’s artistic license, dammit!), and this Jack Dagnal’s cinnamon flavored whiskey was pretty easy; I just had to get out my rednecky hunting gear and Remington 870 pump action shotty.  Guns and booze are an excellent combination, as we all know.

Whiskey

I am the terror of the trailer park

DAY 4

On the fourth day, I really hit my stride with the Canadian Mist.  I don’t have anything particularly Canadian lying around the house, so I feel that this was particularly inspired, and you have to give me credit for doing my own Wolverine hair.  I think the claws were a particularly nice touch.

Wolverine

Wolverine probably rocked a pornstache at some point in his long life, bub

DAY 5

I realize hardly anyone will get this one, as it’s a reference to an anime show (strike 1), one that’s not wildly popular in the U.S. (strike 2), and is actually a reference to the fan-based parody of said anime (strike 3, you’re out!) but I didn’t have anything very German around the house, and there’s only so much you can do with Jägermeister as a beverage, let alone a themed reference.  So let’s just call it Jägerbombastic and leave it at that.

Jagerbombastic

It tasted like Nyquil and gasoline

DAY 6

It’s a little early in the life of this blog to start offending people with ethnic stereotypes, so let me preface this by saying my Hispanic girlfriend gave me the go-ahead on it.  Cut me some slack, all I had were limes, my diving hat, and my pornstache!  And I’m not really a tequila guy, but this Jose Cuervo Silver wasn’t half bad.

Sanchez

Call me Sanchez. DIRTY Sanchez.

DAY 7

And finally we come to day 7, this very evening and the stopping point for this week’s Advent post.  This is actually one of my favorite rums, so I was very happy to release the Kraken.  There was really only one direction I could go with this, so I dug out the closest things to pirate clothes I have (good ol’ RenFest outfits) and let fly.  For the record though, I hated that damned show.

Pirate

Why’s the rum gone? Why’s my pornstache gone?!

And that concludes this week’s compilation of Advent pictures.  I’ll be posting these every Sunday since they’re quick and easy posts that might just motivate me to post something a little more interesting and catch up on my content from a few months ago, irrelevance be damned.

With any luck, I’ll get through this wretched holiday season with enough sanity to keep me out of the straitjacket.

Posted in Musings and Ramblings Tagged with: , , , ,

On Website Acquisition and Domain Resellers

In the Beginning…

When I started this blog last year, I really wanted, of course, to have the domain www.LivinLegend.com.  Unfortunately, that website was already registered by a domain reseller who wanted what I considered an exorbitant amount of money for it.  Knowing that I was pretty much the only entity going by Livin’ Legend at the time, I was content to let it sit there until I knew the website would be viable, then maybe negotiate the price down to something more reasonable.  Enter last week.

That Nagging Feeling

On a hunch I decided to check and see if the price had lowered over the last year–no luck.  I did see, however, that there was something else out there going by the name Livin’ Legend which had registered a domain extension other than the .com.  I won’t go into details because I don’t have anything flattering to say about said entity, but it did alarm me that there was something else out there that for whatever reason didn’t register the .com but may sometime in the future.  So I decided to open negotiations.

I made what I considered a reasonable offer and was, in typical cybersquatter fashion, counter-offered something rather insulting.  My first instinct was to disregard the domain and let it continue to sit.  After all, the other LL hadn’t registered it yet, so they must not be doing so well off.  If this site were generating that kind of revenue I’d have snatched it long ago.

Several days later, with this thing percolating in the back of my mind throughout the weekend in a fog of red wine and barbecue (another great story altogether), I began to develop a constant and subtle dread that if I didn’t act soon, I would end up losing the domain for good and I’d regret it forever, especially given my feelings about this other entity.

Those of you who know me personally know how much I hate giving money to people I feel are ripping me off.  I’ve fought tooth and nail with cable companies and hospitals in the past and have been largely successful.  Had the original circumstances remained and there was no one else who would even remotely be interested in that domain, I would have dug in for the long hard fight, and probably come out ahead after a drawn out negotiation process.  With another potential player on the field, however, the game had changed.

I’m reasonably certain the reseller Googled the name to see what else was out there.  Seeing more than one, they knew they were holding all the cards and eventually someone would pay what they wanted, it was only a matter of time.  By the middle of this week I was–and I will admit there’s a certain degree of absurdity to this–stressed and losing sleep over it, waiting for them to make another counter-offer to my counter-offer.  I realized quickly that that would not happen, and though it offended me to the very foundation of my soul, I paid the asking price.

Through the bruised ego, however, I felt a heavy weight fall from my shoulders.  I began to feel lighter in my step and easier in my thoughts, and for the first night this week, I finally slept soundly.  And most importantly, I am now the proud owner of www.LivinLegend.com

What does this mean for Cockeyed to the World?  Not much right now.  ICAAN requires a 60-day registrar lock before I transfer it to Hostgator.  I have put a URL redirect on the domain, so if you go there–go ahead, try it–it will take you here to the original site.

I do, however, have a few ideas I’d like to implement when I make the switch.  First and foremost, I’m going to invest in a more professional looking and efficient premium site that will hopefully load a bit faster and give me more wiggle room with the layout.  I may also do a bit of rebranding.  “Cockeyed to the World” was something I came up with off the top of my head when setting up the blog, and I think I may want the title to be something that at least includes my name.  I’ll probably also go ahead and design some sweet, sweet business cards because I have a thing for them.  My God, they may even have a water mark.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to, among other things.  The week has ended the way I wanted it to, even if the path was a bit more expensive than I cared for.

A Word on Domain Resellers

That word is “disgust”.  I find them quite detestable to put it mildly.  Of course I feel that way about most middle men, be it car dealerships or stock brokers.  They’re a parasitic and useless nuisance that exist only to make things more complicated and expensive.

Now I got off pretty easy, I will admit.  There’s really no limit on what they could have charged for this domain.  They could have even raised it once they saw someone was interested, so as far as rat bastard cybersquatters go, these guys were not the worst.  But I remain disgusted by the general concept of these guys who buy up domains in bulk let them sit unused until someone pays an exorbitant markup for them.  Even worse, should you lack the tech savvy to have an auto-renew on your domains, you may find your domain snatched out from under you upon expiration, and have it ransomed back to you.  Was it your fault for not renewing?  Without a doubt, but what a sleazy way to make a buck.  There are some laws that provide some protection from the worst of it, at least in the US, but it’s still a problem.

Anyway, I wanted to blow off a little steam.  I’m a supporter of free trade, and I can’t logically see any major difference between domain reselling and, say real estate speculation, at least when there’s no trademark involved, but I find these domain resellers make their money in a nasty way.  But hey, business is business, right?  If there’s a profit to be made, someone’s going to do it.  In this case I can respect it even as I despise it in the same way I can respect that fleas and ticks are just doing their jobs.

At the end of the day, I procured my domain, so I can’t complain too enthusiastically.

Posted in Musings and Ramblings

Austin: Overnight Restaurant Review

Preface

As I sit here in pain, wondering what was going through my mind when I signed up for a 5k run–and not just any 5k run, but a 5k run over a fairly tall bridge, twice–it occurs to me that I have nothing better to do than start posting on some things I’ve been meaning to post.  In this case, a few quick reviews of some restaurants I went to when I found myself in the weird wold of Austin, TX for an overnight trip a few weeks back.  Since it wasn’t exactly a pleasure trip I didn’t have much time to play around, and my gallivanting was pretty tame by the standards of some, but here we go.

Alamo Draft House (Lakeline Mall)

I blew into the Round Rock area where my hotel was several hours early on a Friday and they had no rooms available at the time, so I left my bag and decided to have a bite to eat and see a movie.  Within a mile was Lakeline Mall, and next to that one of the newer Alamo Draft House cinemas.  This presented the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, and I’m all about efficient killing so it was an easy choice.

I decided to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which as quite appropriate as I had previously seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes in another Alamo back when it was released.  I enjoyed the movie, but I won’t review that in this post for the sake of consistency.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Alamo Draft House, it’s a wonderful chain of theaters that combine the dinner and movie concepts in a most enjoyable way, serving food and drink right to your seat.  And when I say drink I mean booze.  Also, they have a strict no talking or texting policy during the movie which I find admirable.  Not only do they enforce it, but if you have the gall to phone them and complain about it, you’re liable to end up being lampooned in a PSA before the movie.  Case in point:

Anyway, the theater itself was very modern.  Upon buying your ticket you’re able to choose your seat, which I found quite novel and refreshing.  The theater itself was dark and comfortable, with roomy seating and convenient individual tables.

The procedure is fairly simple; you write your order on the provided slips of paper with the provided pen, place it upright in the holder on the table, and a waiter comes by a discretely retrieves it and brings your order.  Future orders during the movie are provided in the same silent manner.

Before the movie I decided to loosen up with a Long Island iced tea from the bar.  It was a tasty drink, but a bit heavier on the citrus than I prefer.  It was adequately strong, which was of course my main concern.

For the meal itself I had the default Royale with Cheese (Many of their food items were movie references).  It was a sizable burger and much better than I would expect any movie fare to be.  It had an old school diner vibe to it, which I suppose is what they were going for.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it an 8 in terms of flavor.

If I were to complain about anything, it would of course be the bill.  Especially the soda.  Something to the tune of $4 for refillable soda.  You are going to pay for this kind of treat, so be warned.  Is it worth it?  For a special night out, absolutely.  As a weekly event, well, not on my salary.  But hey, I get it, they make their money on concessions.  I rarely buy food or drink at cinemas because of the high prices, but with Alamo it’s part of the charm, so I didn’t feel much of a sting when I paid the bill.

Alamo Draft House is a must-see if you head to Austin.

Interlude: Heroes and Legacies

Since my business in the Austin area was for Saturday morning, I had the entirety of Friday to myself.  I decided to stop by one of my favorite cigar lounges, Heroes and Legacies (can you guess what first drew me to the place?) for a cigar and possibly some conversation.  I found both in spades, and had a lovely evening, possibly drumming up some business for my soap company.  By the time I finished my cigar, I was rather hungry and decided to try something a little more exotic than I can get in my hometown.  Enter Korea House.

Korea House

Bringing up Yelp in my hometown is pointless; you get a few restaurants, mostly fast food, and within the first page you’re already ten miles out from your current location.  Austin is a different world altogether.  Five pages in and I was still within half a mile of the cigar lounge.  If I were to move to the Austin area, I think I would quickly die of a heart attack fat, broke and happy without ever having gone to the same restaurant twice.

I decided on Korea House, a well-reviewed and reasonably-priced restaurant next door to another Alamo Draft House.  It was a long and narrow establishment, not particularly plush or flashy in its furnishings, but clean and welcoming the way I like a restaurant to be.  Most of the tables had gas burners for the Korean barbecue, and I was saddened to learn there was a minimum of two required for those tables, because it looked absolutely delicious.

I settled for an exotic seafood stir fry that included baby octopus, shrimp, and an assortment of vegetables and thin noodles.  When the plate arrived, they began unloading small bowls of other things onto my table that I neither ordered nor could identify aside from the basics–some sort of pickled cabbage, some bean sprouts, tofu, and more.  I’m completely unfamiliar with Korean food, so I assumed it was the normal medley of side dishes.  Whatever they were, it was all delicious.  I had never been a fan of tofu, regarding it as jello that was lying about being meat, but as it happens I had just never had it prepared properly.  Consider me an appreciator of tofu now.  If any of my readers know what the stuff is in the picture, please enlighten me:

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I didn’t even feel out of place engaging Hipster Mode in Austin.

The main course was also amazing, the octopus tender and not rubbery, the noodles fine and delicate.  The vegetables varied between soft and crunchy, and taken individually or as a whole, the dish was an instant favorite.

The portions were also quite generous, and despite my prodigious appetite, I could barely finish half of it in that sitting.  Something else to love about the place was the price; any restaurant that’s not an all you can eat buffet that can send me home with a to-go box for $15 is noteworthy.

Korea House will definitely be on the list when I head back to Austin–hopefully with a friend or the lady so I can get in on that sweet, sweet Korean barbecue.

Korea House is located at:

2700 W Anderson Ln

#501, Austin, TX 78757

Short Stop

After concluding my business Saturday afternoon, I was headed back toward I-10 when I saw something I thought was lost to my childhood forever: a Short Stop Deluxe Hamburger joint.  I hadn’t expected to find anything during the trip that would top the Royale with Cheese, but if this really was the same Short Stop chain that occupied the Golden Triangle area in halcyon days of my childhood, I knew it would be no contest.

Indeed, the burger was amazing.  Something about the steamed buns and the seasoning.  Thus far it’s one of the few things I’ve attempted to regain from childhood that retained its elevated position in my mind.  There is simply nothing else to say; they’re legendary.  Apparently there are several of these in the Austin area, so Google some addresses and go if you have the chance.

Legendary Smoke House

On the long but scenic drive home down Highway 290, just outside of Houston in a town called Hempstead, a sign caught my eye that wasn’t there last time I made an Austin trip; Legendary Smoke House.  I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I had to investigate for obvious reasons.

It's funny because my name is Livin' Legend.

It’s funny because my name is Livin’ Legend.

It was a nice little roadside smokehouse, a bit overstated in the manner I’m becoming used to seeing on these long highways–it pays to stand out, I suppose.  It had the air of one of those roadside attractions, not at all unpleasant.

Inside was no different, though a bit more updated than I was expecting, sort of a slightly rednecky hunting lodge/sports bar type of setting.  Again, not unpleasant, but I had to approach the place with a critical eye, seeing as how it bore my name.

I ordered the standard fare for Texas barbecue joints; brisket, baked beans, coleslaw.

Aww yis.

Aww yis.

I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised.  I expected disappointment, but was met with a brisket so tender that chewing was option, the flavor was just right, and the sauce had a lovely homemade taste to it, though a bit on the peppery side, but not overly so.  The baked beans had chunks of bacon in, which is always a welcome addition.  The coleslaw was pretty standard, but at no time gave me the impression that it came from a Sysco truck.

All in all, I feel Legendary Smoke House is worthy of my esteemed name.  I hope it does well out on that lonely road in Hempstead, though it was quite empty while I was there.  If you see it out there, stop by and give them some business.  Tell them Livin’ Legend sent you.  They may remember me; they were quite amused by the name on my credit card.

Legendary Smokehouse is located at:

52130 US 290

Hempstead, TX

Conclusion

Well, as I said, my trip to Austin was pretty tame this time around, but I had some good food, met some interesting people, and had a good time despite there being business to tend.  I hope that if you’re headed out there or already are there and need a little direction through the myriad wonderful restaurants in that weird town, that my recommendations prove satisfactory.

And of course, I welcome your own favorites and recommendations in the comments below.  I love to try new places, so give me some ideas!

Posted in Travelogue

Quick Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (Spoiler Free)

Going In Blind

Ever since hearing that Marvel was releasing a movie that had a raccoon and a talking tree as characters, my interest was piqued.  I immediately resolved to go into this movie knowing as little as possible about the story and cast, aside from what I had gleaned from the trailers and the inevitable mentions on various websites.

As it happens, I’m very glad I did, because not only was virtually everything about the movie a complete surprise, it turned out to be exactly what I wanted in a summer blockbuster; a good balance of action and comedy, with a decent enough plot to hold it all together.  Add to that a great 70s-era soundtrack and a cast of talented actors performing characters with enough quirk to be funny but not enough to be obnoxious, and what you have is Marvel’s latest treat, Guardians of the Galaxy.

Review Time!

I don’t like giving long, detailed reviews because part of the joy of cinema is discovering things you didn’t expect, so I want to just give you the bones of the film, and I promise I won’t spoil anything you wouldn’t see in the trailer or the first third of IMDB’s movie page.

One of the fun things about the film is the soundtrack; great tunes like “Hooked on a Feeling”, “Come and Get Your Love”, and even “The Pina Colada Song”.  I knew about the soundtrack beforehand and was wondering if they were going to justify its existence as a minor plot device–this is done in the first five minutes of the film as they introduce the main character as a child in 1988.  It was a pretty clever setup to the movie and in its own way serves as a decent enough set of bookends to the plot.

But enough about the soundtrack, let’s talk about the movie.  The overarching plot of an alien religious fanatic (Ronan, played by Lee Pace and looking like a heavy metal version of a Blue Man Group member) that wants to destroy a planet because that’s just how he seems to be rolling at the time, is a bit basic and not all that compelling, no more than a viable framework to get the movie going, although it did allow Marvel to tie the movie into their megaverse of movies, because they’ve been trying top Stephen King on that front in recent years.  It’s a nice trend and I’m glad to see them continuing it.

The movie really shines in how the main characters, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana,), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel in his easiest role since The Iron Giant) interact.  Some of the best moments of the movie are when they’re simply bantering amongst themselves.  The cast had excellent chemistry and all performances were quite good.  Even Vin Diesel put a decent amount of expression in the one phrase that made up his entire dialogue.

The only thing that distracted me in terms of acting was that Cooper’s performance of Rocket seemed at times to be channeling Jason Alexander to a pretty high degree.  The performance itself was hilarious and went extremely well with the CGI of the character.  One scene in which he joyously mows down dozens of enemies with a fully automatic weapon with the kind of vicious snarl only a raccoon can produce, was among my favorites.

Dave Bautista also stood out in his performance of a character so literal-minded that metaphors simply go over his head, which results in the sort of cheesy dialogue you might expect.  A less-talented cast probably couldn’t pull it off, but they did it in spades.

Zoe Saldana played her role as the tortured and so-freaking-done-with-evil in such a way that she didn’t seem ridiculously stern or that much of a buzzkill in this group of goofballs.  Her fight scenes were a lot of fun to watch and never felt too over the top, and allow me some fanboy leeway here when I say green is definitely her color, if you know what I mean.  And I think you do.

Chris Pratt, if you’re familiar with Parks and Recreation and nothing else, is a big surprise.  Having trimmed down by about fifty pounds and donning a tattered trench coat over body armor (and sometimes a retractable facemask), reminded me as a hilarious mix of Malcolm Reynolds and Deadpool, characters from two entirely different series that you may or may not be familiar with, but trust me on this one, they’re cool.  He’s definitely made the transition from brain damaged puppy to quirky action star very nicely.

For me, one of the most entertaining aspects of the movie was the supporting cast.  Again, I went into this not knowing any of the actors beyond the main characters, so when I saw Michael Rooker show up as another creepy blue alien, I was absolutely delighted.  He seems to have had a lot of fun filming his character, and as he usually does he plays it to the hilt.  And I have no idea how he did it, but he managed to be redneckier as a blue alien than as a white supremacist from Georgia.  The man never fails to impress.  His various idiot henchman make a great backdrop to his scenes as well.

Benecio Del Toro has a brief role as The Collector, who… collects things.  He’s eccentric but then, when is he not?  Pay attention during his scene, as some of the things in his collection are quite fun if you get the references.  Incidentally, stick around after the credits for one of Marvel’s signature random character teases.

As far as special effects and CGI go, it’s about what you’d expect from one of Marvel’s summer flicks.  Space battles and firefights were well-composed and didn’t overwhelm like so many do these days.  Ship and weapons designs were imaginative and exotic, and everything was animated such the viewer could follow the battles without being distracted by too many frenetic cuts and other tricks typically used to dazzle you into thinking you’re looking at quality.

All in all, if you’re in the mood for a summer blockbuster done right, I can’t recommend this film enough.  Good action, great performances, and with a story that, while not an example of brilliant writing at least carried the plot in a respectable manner, this is a fine addition to Marvel’s lineup.  It never takes itself too seriously, and indeed with very few exceptions absolutely refuses to be serious to the point of stepping on the villain’s dramatic speech in the climax–something you know you always want to happen.  And yet it never goes so over the top that it takes you out of the film.

This film definitely gets the Livin’ Legend Stamp of Approval

Yeah I know this wasn’t a quick review.  They’re never quick reviews.  You people should know that by now, what do you want from me?

And the Venue…

No Livin’ Legend movie view would be complete without a lambasting of the Southeast Texas moviegoing public.  You knew it was coming.

I try to go to movies here in my town as seldom as possible, because not only are there some incredibly discourteous jerks that like to ruin movies for everyone whether intentional or by genuine idiocy, but the theaters around here do not employ people to enforce the Draconian rules of no talking and no cell phones.  You’re taking a real gamble if you seen any movie past early afternoon when the real genetic lottery winners wake up and need to find another dark place.

This time around I knew there would be a theater full of kids, this being a comic book movie and many parents in this area not smart enough to count to thirteen, let alone know they ought not take their three-year-olds to a PG-13 movie.

Surprisingly, the kids in the audience were quite well behaved.  It’s their parents who should be beaten with barrel staves until they’re sorry.  And it’s always the worst of the lot that sits directly behind me.  This time around I had to deal with one cackling jackass who so enjoyed the jokes and was so finely attuned to the comedic cues and timing of the movie that he would loudly burst forth in mad guffaws about three words into the line, on average.  By the halfway mark I thought of him simply as The Connoisseur.  I missed quite a bit of what I’m sure was hilarious dialogue because of The Connoisseur.  I was dismayed that this creature brought children I assume were his own, but at least they were quiet.  Hell, they were probably embarrassed.

Thankfully, he was the worst of the bunch, and there were no other offenders this time around.  But there’s always that one you wish would forget how to breathe.

Thanks for reading, folks!

Posted in Movies, Product Reviews Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

The Vehicle Hex

Piece of shit car

I got a piece of shit car

— Adam Sandler, “Ode to my Car”

Chapter 1: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Let me preface this long-awaited post by apologizing to my readers–all three of you–for not posting anything since the cruise series.  My life the last few months has been both busy and uneventful.  That is, busy in the boring, nobody-wants-to-read-about-this kind of way.  I haven’t had much to write about in terms of Musings and Ramblings, and I didn’t want this to become a blog with nothing but product reviews.

Well guess what, Dear Reader: I’ve got something to ramble about for awhile tonight, and it’s because of that thing that I have the time to do it.  I’ll try to make my frustration as entertaining as possible for both our sakes.

A little backstory: In December 2003, I traded in my problematic Harley Sportster for a nothing fancy, just the basics, standard transmission ’03 Honda Civic LX, and despite the furious tone of this post, I’ve actually loved the damned thing up until recently.  For almost eleven years and 215,000 miles I’ve driven the thing with nary a problem, aside from Honda’s incredibly cheap interior materials that started to show signs of peeling, fading, and chipping around the three or four year mark.  Both door locks failed for no apparent reason, but they were under warranty, and I had to replace the stock CD player after three years, but I didn’t mind having something with a little more zazz that had an iPod port.  The engine, however, was absolutely solid.  Not much in the way of get up and go, but I never was much of a speed demon.  I kept to the scheduled maintenance and the car got me to scheduled appointments.  I had a lot of stress and worry in my 20’s, but the car was not one of them.

IMG_20140613_154114

She’s a little worn, but not bad for her age.

Present day, different story.

So how did it come to this?

I’m not much of a believer in curses or any of that mumbo jumbo, but all my major car problems seemed to stem from a very bad decision to help out a family member who was in need of a cosigner for a used car.  That’s a story my Facebook friends are well acquainted with, as I have given many enthusiastic sermons on the subject.  The gist is that I was burned when the little prick decided to not pay the very reasonable car note for several months without telling me.  My credit score took a hit, I was alerted, I took the car back, and went about trying to sell this 2001 Toyota that was not only about $4000 underwater, but also returned to me with a broken door handle and jammed rear window.

Luckily my wonderful girlfriend knew that rarest of creatures, an honest mechanic.  Being a friend of her family’s, he fixed the window and door handle with parts he had lying around, at no charge.  One less thing to worry about.

While I waited for the work to be finished, wondering how I was going to sell a car so deep underwater, I had my first issue with the Honda; anytime I stopped, it would begin to overheat as it idled.  As if that weren’t bad enough, it also began to leak oil at an alarming rate.  I called the mechanic and asked if he’d like to take my money this time, and for the next day or so I waited and hoped the Honda wouldn’t fail for good before he had room for it.

As I sputtered into his driveway and swapped the Honda for the Toyota, I considering myself quite fortunate at least, in the midst of this familial betrayal, that I should at least have a secondary means of transportation while my Honda could be repaired.

Halfway through the week as my car was being worked on, as I sat in the drive-thru at Taco Bell to eagerly ruin my diet, the Toyota begins sputtering and misfiring.

As I recall, it was this exact moment that I began to suspect I had run afoul with some mechanically inclined evil voodoo shaman who has lain a vehicle hex upon me.  Could simply bad luck account for this kind of weird coincidence?

I know what you’re thinking: sabotage!  I assure you, it was not.  I’ve had many dealings with this mechanic over the last two years, and I’ve often had to force the guy to take payment for the work he’s done.

To cut this part of the story short, later that week, I swap the Toyota for the Honda, back in good repair, and off I go.

The problem with the Toyota was a simple ignition coil.  Nothing serious, quick and easy to fix, and all was right with the world, so I set about trying to sell it.  I was sure my luck had changed when a friend recommended a coworker of his who liked to buy used cars for resale.  He indicated that he was willing to buy it for Blue Book value.  I had driven the Toyota every other day for about a week at that point, and it was running quite well.

Naturally, as soon as I started it up with the potential buyer present, it began to sputter again.  As you might expect, the offer came down quite a bit.  Rather than take that kind of hit, I assumed the mechanic had missed something and that he would be willing to make it right.  When I called him, he offered to look at it again to make sure he hadn’t broken anything himself, only he was swamped and wouldn’t be able to look at it for another week.  He recommended that as a just-in-case, I check the spark plugs, as he had checked the ignition coils first and, having seemed to have fixed the problem, didn’t even check the plugs.

As it happens, the car not only had two bad plugs, they were all the wrong kind.  Pro-tip, kids: stay away from Automart in Orange, TX.  That was an amateur thing for a dealership to miss.  I changed the plugs, the car was fine.

Skipping ahead a bit, I managed to sell the car to a needful college student for close to Blue Book value, and though after repair costs, overdue payments and the rest of the loan I had to contend with, my reward for that good deed was a $4300 dent in my bank account.  You cannot imagine the evil thoughts I’ve directed toward that soulless redheaded stepchild of a bastard cousin.

But let me stop right there before I start inventing some new curse words.

That was a little over a year ago, and it’s been smooth sailing since then–until a month and a half ago.

Chapter 2: Return of the Check-Engine Light

So there I was, on my way from work to the gym for my daily dose of misery, when I noticed the check-engine light had activated.  My heart sank, as I had actually been considering for several months looking into trading in my beloved Honda for something a little newer.  So much for Blue Book value, thought I.

As I parked, I noticed it was idling quite roughly, nearly stalling.  Naturally, I called the mechanic.  The wait was a bit longer than usual, as he had just recovered from an eye surgery.  Unfortunately, he could not identify the problem, although he recommended I try a bottle of Techron additive in the gas tank.  I was hopeful, but not optimistic.

I was delighted to see that it seemed to be working.  The engine was idling smoothly with no misfire.  I decided to drive through a full tank of gas before selling it, as I am at heart an honest person and would consider it bad form to sell a potentially damaged vehicle to a private party.

As I refilled the tank, I was composing the For Sale ad in my mind and as I stopped at a red light, the ad practically written… the damned check-engine light flashed and the car began to misfire.

I will not repeat here the words that to this day still sear the fabric of space and time at the intersection of Lucas and Concord.

I did the rounds on Google, tried many different things in an attempt to fix the problem myself, going as far as to practically dismantle the entire air intake system to access the injectors in that damnably small engine compartment to see if the problem was there–a few dirty and sweltering hours wasted on that fruitless effort

Again I was graced with a small amount of luck, as my dad owns a 2003 Ford Ranger that was not being used since he began driving a company truck, and so I began driving that until I could figure out what was happening with the Honda again.

My mechanic knows the limitations of his shop in his semi-retired state, and so I bothered him with it no more, opting instead to take it to a guy another friend had pleasant dealings with.  I reluctantly shelled out the money for the diagnostic, the results of which were that he was almost certain it was a valve issue.  He recommended that before I look into doing anything major, i.e. expensive, I should buy a bottle of Marvel Mystery Oil and add it to the engine oil.  I bit back my irritation at the slightly vague diagnosis that I had paid good money for, picked up the car and added some Marvel.

Twenty miles after that, the check-engine light went off, and the car was running better than it had in years.  I was absolutely thrilled with this development, and had decided that before anything else went wrong that I would find a new home for my old friend.  My dad offered to let me use his truck for as long as I needed it and seemed happy enough that it wasn’t sitting in his driveway, and I rather liked the idea of using the proceeds of the sale to advance the payoff date of my evil student loans (which, of course, would have been paid several months ago were it not for the Toyota loan).

Chapter 3: Gimme Some Heat!

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, goes that old amusing poem by Robert Burns, and I should have been used to this pattern by now.

On the first truly hot day of the summer, I noticed the car overheating upon idle again.  It may have been my imagination, but I could swear I saw the needle jump with every throb of my enraged head.

Thinking it was the radiator fan failing again, I took it to the mechanic.  The amount he charged me to fix it last time was a pittance for my peace of mind.

A day later he tells me he drove it for miles, ran it for hours, and never once did it begin to heat up–even the air conditioner was practically arctic.  He said it may have been a stuck relay, and to let him know if it starts doing it again.

Whatever, I don’t care, I’ll mention it to a potential buyer and take whatever hit it takes to overcome any reluctance.

I had taken to alternating between the truck and car for no particular reason other than the novelty of having two readily available vehicles, although I had a vague notion that it would be bad luck to let the car sit for any length of time, remembering the surprise misfiring of the Toyota.

All was well until a week and a half ago, the very day I placed the For Sale ad for the Honda, confident that I could sell it at a reasonable price with a clear conscience.

I arrived home after a long and pleasant Saturday with the family, and noticed that there was an alarming amount of steam rising from under the hood of the Ford, and the heat gauge was nearly as high as it would go.

At this point I just sort of stared at it for awhile,too impressed with this almost sentient string of bad car luck to be furious.

Called my dad, turned out this had happened before, no big deal, we’d bring it to the mechanic that fixed it last time.  And hey, no big deal, I can drive the Honda until then, because it’s running just fine!  I was actually somewhat happy to be able to shift gears again, as I’ve never completely trusted automatic transmissions.  We set up a time to get this thing done, and everything was not-so-bad.

Chapter 4: F*#&

Enter last Friday.

I was leaving work, pulling out of my spot, and the check engine light began blinking as the engine misfired.  After warming up, the engine smoothed and the light stopped blinking, but stayed on.  Even upon stopping and idling, it seemed fine, though at each cold start the same thing would happen.  Quite distressing, and I knew that there was very little I could do short of bringing it back in and at this point throw money and parts at it and hope something fixed it.

I edited the ad just this morning, dropped the price, and surprisingly within hours had a call from an interested party who wanted to look at it tomorrow afternoon.  The truck was due to be repaired by tomorrow evening, so I wouldn’t have to worry about waiting on transportation, the curse is finally broken, can I get a Hell Yeah?

Hell no.  Of course hell no.

Just a few hours ago, I went downstairs, got in the car, and prepared to go run an errand.  I inserted the key into the ignition and engaged the clutch.  I turned the key.  Nothing happened.  I stare uncomprehendingly at the newly-lit battery icon on the console.  I try the ignition again, for surely I had not turned it correctly as I had literally thousands of identical times in the past.  Nothing.

Hey, no big deal, I told myself, it’s just the battery!  I replaced it less than two years ago and it’s under warranty!  I’ll get a jump, head to Auto Zone, get a new one and I’ll be good to go, and no one has to suffer!  Called a friend, connected the cables, cranked the engine.

Nothing.  Not so much as a click.

So now here I am, stranded and completely spent after typing out this long, ridiculous story.  Between the generally frustrating week along with he unrelenting automotive hell, there’s really nothing to except see what happens next.  I can’t help but wonder if somewhere there are scale models in plush of these vehicles, stuck with countless pins and in the possession of a vindictive voodoo priest.  Did I cut him off in traffic?  Did I drive by his house at night and scare his sacrificial chickens?  Or is this just an accumulation of bad mechanical luck that’s built up over the last ten years of relatively good luck?

I hate being a downer, Dear Reader, even when I’m trying to be funny about it, so I’ll close this long overdo post with a bit of optimism.  This situation is pretty annoying, but I have been incredibly lucky at breaking even in terms of never having to go completely without transportation, until today.  And because I’m lucky enough to have a dad that’s always there to help out, what could have been a major drain on my resources has turned out to be, in the grand scheme of things, a nasty inconvenience.  Tomorrow, with dad’s help, I’ll once again to the car-swap song and dance when the Ranger is repaired, and I am hopeful that the Honda’s issue won’t cut too far into the already dwindling proceeds of its eventual sale.

Also, it finally got me off my ass to do some writing again.  Incidentally, if you’ve spent the time reading another of my novella-sized posts, I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and I can say with cautious optimism that I’ll be making more time to write about some of the interesting things that are starting to happen apart from the seemingly endless parade of car troubles.

It’s good to be back, and may you all have far smoother travels than I have this week.

Posted in Musings and Ramblings Tagged with: , , , ,

Caribbean Cruise, Part VII: Final Sea Day and Debarkation

Continued from Caribbean Cruise Part VI

Well, now that I’ve gotten the Cozumel rant out of my system, I think I can wrap up this cruise series with a minimum of rancor and malevolence, especially since the final Sea Day and debarkation were more or less pretty good days.  I’m going to combine those two days into one post since it was mostly more of the same, and debarkation and the drive home were fairly uneventful.

Morning, November 23rd, Final Sea Day

We woke up around 7:45 after a rejuvenating night’s rest, mostly recovered from the exertion of the last two days.  We intended to spend the rest of the cruise being as lazy as possible.

We had breakfast in the Havana Bar which was quite tasty; some sort of egg pie, cheese pastries, and chicken brochette.  The rest of the morning was spent lounging on the balcony with a couple of cigars and soft music on my phone, courtesy of Spotify.

Around 11:00 we went to the Ocean Plaza Taste Bar to see what they had to offer, hoping to see samples from the sushi restaurant and steakhouse, but it was more of the continental breakfast found on the Lido Deck.  Not that that was a bad thing.  We certainly had a good meal of eggs, toast, deli meats and cheeses.

Afterward, we strolled to the picture deck to see if we could find the pictures that were taken of us throughout the voyage.  We found most of them, and they were pretty ghastly; as I’ve said before, Carnival’s photographers left much to be desired.  I ended up buying the pictures from the formal dinner night, because damn I looked smooth in that tux, and my date was a hottie.

b08p26790

The photos were, like everything else on board, horribly overpriced–I only wanted a digital copy for $10, but you have to buy the proofs before they let you do that, so the grand total for those two pictures was about $30.  But hey, memories and all.

My one big complaint for the day, and I feel this isn’t just a nitpick, was that one side of the picture deck carried the distinct odor of raw sewage.  I don’t know if there was a leak somewhere or what, but it was unmistakable and rather disturbing, bringing to mind the news reports of the Triumph, or as I call it, the Dookie Ship.

After returning our pictures to the room, we went out to the Lido Deck for some sun, where we met up with an acquaintance we had made on board earlier in the cruise.  Jay was a single cruiser with many cruises under his belt and had given us a lot of great information over the course of the week.  He was staying in one of the Cloud Nine Spa rooms and offered to show us his cabin, as we hadn’t seen an interior cabin yet.  It was quite nice and roomier than I would have expected, but even so the lack of windows would have made it uncomfortable to stay in for any length of time, in my opinion.  I am hopelessly spoiled by that balcony.

Later we attended an art auction at the behest of madam.  I didn’t care at all about the art auction, but they claimed free champagne, so why not?

We were there with about a dozen other people, all of them looking about as cultured as we did, so we reckoned they were there for the same thing.  We were greeted by young British fellow who proceeded to show us a PowerPoint presentation (Strike 1) and lecture us (Strike 2) about the merits of spending a lot of money on art, particularly with his art house.  His humor came across as pretentious and I quickly realized I did not like the smarmy little jackass.  He went to great lengths to espouse the merits of his art house, especially that they did not–did not, I say!–deal in posters, prints, or reproductions, only originals!  I turned my head to the right and noticed a print of the old anime, Speed Racer, and turned my head to the left and noticed a poster of Muhammad Ali–although it was autographed, so I suppose that makes it art.  He went on to tell us that none of the art at this auction would be sub-$100 and cracked what he thought were smashing good jokes, such as, “It is expensive, yes, because this is fine art, not Wal-Mart,” and “I’m going to tell you right now that if you’re only here for the free champagne, you may as well run, because I freely admit that we serve the worst champagne imaginable.  It’s so bad I call it…” Pause for effect, “Cham-pag-nee!”  Ba-da-tssss.  Good one there, old sport.  God save the Queen and all.

His presentation ended and he showed us some of those adhesive tabs used to mark signature lines on forms and contracts, telling us in tones of admonishment, “I’m giving you all three tags, and I want each and every one of them to be placed on a piece of art so it will be tagged for tonight’s auction.  My team spent all morning setting up these paintings for you, and they deserve respect.  If I see anyone with tags left, I’m going to send you back out to tag some paintings.” (Strike 3, lil dog) It was about that time that we walked out.  We were bored and had better things to do than be lectured and preemptively scolded by a salesman with delusions of class and good taste.

After we left the connoisseurs to their business, I went back to the room while milady went to play Bingo to try and pay for the cruise.  She won a dollar which was nice, but I felt pain when she told me about the big winner.  She had the choice between $2500, cash American, in her hand right then… or a free cruise.  She chose the free cruise, I’m guessing for two, probably interior cheap rooms.  A cruise doesn’t even cost half that price, ya mo-ron!  No one that stupid should be allowed to win anything.

We wanted to check out some games in the casino, so off we went.  there was some machine that made you push a button to try and time a key-shaped plunger so that it went through a small plexiglass hole to knock down a prize, which were actually pretty good; $200 cash, $200, $400 and an iPad Mini, some of them the iPad and cash.  I wasted about $10 in that thing before giving up.  We tried the slots and quickly lost another $5.  We were determined to at least win our money back (famous last words, I know), so we picked one final machine–Gorilla Chief.  Hey, monkeys and apes were apparently our spirit animals for the cruise, so why not?

Surprisingly, we won about $20 almost immediately.  We took the money and ran.  Looking like idiots, we took a selfie with the benevolent machine.

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We had lunch at Guy’s and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the ship, particularly the almost completely deserted outer Deck 4, where we watched the ocean and spotted some more of those strange flying fish.  It was very relaxing, and the ship’s wake made rainbows.  It was the most relaxing spot on the ship thus far, other than the balcony.

At 4:00 we went to the Ocean Plaza for a towel animal demonstration, which was fairly interesting.  They showed us how to make an elephant and a puppy.  True to Carnival tradition, if we wanted to know more they would happily sell us a book of all their animals.

When we returned the room, we found a note from Jay, which cryptically said, “If you want a good dinner, ask for Nutuk.”  Having no idea who or what that was, we thought it would make a fun scavenger hunt, so we went looking, hoping we would at least find our friend so he could explain himself.  Our efforts were fruitless, as no one had any idea who that was in the Lido Deck Buffet or the Ocean Plaza, so we headed out to the outer deck, which was almost completely empty as the wind began to pick up.  It howled through the wires and cables strung above the ship, whipped hammocks back and forth, and tore at the heavy loudspeakers mounted on the walls.  The impression was eerie but pleasant, or at least that’s how I perceived it.  But you’re talking to someone who doesn’t leave when hurricane evacuation orders are called because he prefers an empty town and bad weather to a full town and good weather.

We happened upon our elusive friend at the Alchemy Bar, and he had obviously been having some fun (which we had already figured, based on the code-like nature of his note), and he informed us that he was on his way to dinner at the main restaurant and invited us along, as he wanted us to see what the service is like when you have the same waiter the entire time.  We happily accepted and followed him to the restaurant.

“Nutuk” turned out to be “I Kutut” (God I hope I spelled that right–I had had a couple of juleps at the Alchemy Bar, so perhaps I contracted the same spelling handicap as Jay), a very friendly but intense Filipino who waited his table with military precision and impeccable charm.  He made a snail out of a napkin, told wonderful jokes, and made us feel very much at home.  We immediately regretted not having the opportunity to choose assigned seating when we booked the trip.

As we were placing our orders, a group of Canadian ladies showed up, also friends of Jay, whom we had met in the elevator several days previous.  One of them had complimented my mustache, telling me that I reminded her of her son, who was “in the Guard,” and it was then I learned that the Canadian military (is that really a thing or was she funning me?) requires mustaches to be waxed.  I also learned that the stereotypical “Oh yah, eh!” Canadian accent is every bit as real as The Trailer Park Boys led me to believe.

The ladies had all clearly been having themselves some fun, and there was much laughing and flirting with the much younger Jay.  I tell myself that they were just too polite to flirt with the other handsome devil because he was taken.

When Kutut came back to the table, he proceeded to entertain the ladies by making a little man out of a napkin, with a spoon for a head.  “Is man or woman?!” he demanded of the ladies.  “Oh I don’t know, a man?”  “Yes!  You know how you tell?!  Put hand here!” Guiding her hand to the napkin man’s nether regions, he pressed the spoon head repeatedly, making the other end rise and fall–you get the idea.  The ladies loved it, and as the conversation moved to other things, after a minute or two Jay pointed and shouted, “She’s still playing with it!” And she was.  And that’s how I learned older Canadian ladies have wonderfully dirty senses of humor.

Now on to the food.  The appetizer was crab cakes, and they were very good–much better than anything we had in the restaurant before.  The main course was prime rib.  I ordered it rare, and by God they gave it to me rare, and it was delicious.

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Moo.

For dessert I had the famous Melting Cake, and it was not bad.  I’m not a huge fan of chocolate cake, but I was told that I should try it and nothing else looked all that great to me, as I’m not very big on desserts in the first place.

Jay was feeling impish, apparently, so he told Kutut that it was the lady’s and my honeymoon and could he sing us the Honeymoon Song?  Kutut seemed so freaking excited to be able to sing this song that we didn’t have the heart to correct him (or throw something at Jay).

The Honeymoon Song was a variation of “Happy Birthday”, only they held a napkin to block everyone’s view and ordered us to kiss.  Hell, why not? Everyone had a good laugh and Kutut looked incredibly pleased with himself.

As the dinner drew to a close, and this being the final dinner of the cruise, the entire staff came out and sang “Leaving on a Fun Ship” to the tune of–you guessed it–“Leaving on a Jet Plane”.  It was silly but a lot of fun.

After saying our goodbyes, we went back to the room to pack and fill out our customs forms, as our booze had in fact been delivered.

The customs forms were straightforward enough for my three liters of booze–I knew that customs allows one liter of duty-free liquor per person with duty charged on anything above that, so I counted on having to pay that.  No big deal, duty is apparently not that bad.

As for my three remaining Habanos, I remembered the ridiculously observant security guards who spotted my rum and took steps to outsmart them this time.  Not that I condone smuggling in those evil Communist cigars, but let’s face it, the embargo is a pathetic remnant of the 60’s-era Red Scare pissing match, and there are plenty of perfectly legal but morally questionable imports to the United States–but I digress, and I’ll get off my soap box now.  I really do have soap boxes though; you have those lying around when you run a soap company.

Before leaving for the cruise, I had already decided which cigars I wanted to try, and in case I wasn’t able to buy a full box (which are easy to disguise), good thinking on my part, I had a contingency plan.  I bought the non-Cuban counterparts of those cigars and brought them with me in my travel humidor, along with the receipt in case questions were asked.  I then carefully removed the bands and applied the non-Cuban bands to the Cubans, hiding the original bands in my wallet.  I stowed the Cubans in my humidor normally.  A master of misdirection, I secreted the disbanded non-Cubans throughout my luggage, my logic being that if for whatever reason customs looked through my baggage and found them, they would confiscate them, as I’ve been told they sometimes do with disbanded cigars, and if they asked about the others, I would have a receipt to show them.

Confident in my masterful scheme, we finished packing and placed our luggage outside for checking, where we ran into Ionut, who looked harried and a bit frustrated.  We didn’t want to take up much of his time, but we wanted to thank him for being such a good sport and to get a picture with the guy.  He was, as with all things, very accommodating, and he was probably glad these two psychopaths were almost gone.

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On the shelf with the towel monkeys and Cozumel monkey, we left him a $40 tip on top of the tip Carnival automatically charges, as well as a few bars of soap that I had left.  We also left him the wooden monkey, and a final note thanking him for everything and telling him that the wooden monkey wished to remain on board to see the world, and asked if he would take care of him.

Looking back, it seems amazing that we did most of these shenanigans while totally sober; we’re just odd.

We joked that after leaving the boat we would hear a blood-curdling shriek of fury and see a tiny wooden monkey flying off into the Mississippi.

We began to feel the ship rocking quite hard, and I went out on the balcony, surprised to see that we were already heading down the Mississippi.  I found the rocking very soothing, and I slept incredibly well that night.

Morning, November 24th, Debarkation

We awoke early the next morning, hoping we would be off the ship in time to finally go see those famous St. Louis cemeteries in New Orleans, which closed around noon on Sundays.

They had asked everyone to be out of their rooms as early as possible so they could be cleaned for the cruise leaving that afternoon, so we went to the Lido for a final breakfast, which was the usual stuff, not bad, not awesome.  We found a table and sat down with our carry-on bags to wait for our deck to be called.

We had been told that our options were either self-carry or checked baggage, and we assumed that those with checked baggage would be called for debarkation first, as there wouldn’t be as much luggage to weigh a person down and they could exit the ship faster.  This turned out to be the exact opposite, as they asked the self-carry passengers to leave first, and they started at Deck 1.  We had a sinking feeling that we would not be seeing the cemeteries.

This turned out to be a good prediction.  It took several hours for all the decks to be called, and our Deck 9 cabin was one of the last areas to be called.  This was around 11:00, so any hope of seeing the French Quarter was pretty much dashed.

Debarkation was slow and cumbersome, with a plague victim directly behind us sneezing and coughing the entire time, not bothering to cover her mouth.  We filed through the labyrinth that was the Port of New Orleans, and was greeted with a level of incompetency I had come to expect.  It was a confused mass that could barely be called a line, and we proceeded to the large open rooms where the checked bags had been unceremoniously dumped (with little to no security to keep bags from being snatched), categorized by deck number.  We found our bags, grabbed them, and found what I hoped was the end of the line to get out of there.

From there we proceeded to customs.  Be cool, Livin’ Legend, be cool.  You’ve got this.  You’ve trained for this.

We got in line, which was moving suspiciously fast, with customs agents looking at forms and waving people through.  I had my wallet out, ready to pay the duty for the two extra liters of booze clearly written on the form, but not seeing any credit card machine or cash-taking apparatus.  I handed my form to the agent, who read it as he was chatting with another guard.  “Did you buy anything that’s not on this list?”  “No sir, just the alcohol.”  “Have a nice day, sir.”  He waved me through.

What the–?  All that preparation, that sly misdirection, and not only did I get through without so much as a questioning, but I didn’t have to pay duty on the extra booze?  I was almost offended.  Next time I might pick up some cocaine or something.  I’m kidding of course, NSA.  Don’t go hacking my e-mail or anything, although you probably already do that anyway.

After my brilliant deception, we went outside to wait for the shuttle back to Fulton Garage.  There was a small crowd there, so we were pretty sure we wouldn’t make the first bus, but the driver was a Tetris master and managed to pack an amazing number of bags into his luggage area, and we had the last two seats on the bus.

Arriving at the garage, I left the bags with milady and went to get the car.  At the machine, I inserted the ticket and waited for the price.  I had briefly wondered how it would just know I picked the discount rooftop parking and charge me the $8 a day instead of day-to-day parking price of $20.

The answer: it doesn’t.  I found that out the hard way when it charged me $140.  I put on my flashers and called the number on the box, and an attendant came down to reset it the $8 rate.  Apparently to get the cruise discount you have to book online.  That was probably made clear someplace on the website that I never paid attention to.  So if you plan on going the cheap parking route, book ahead of time and save yourself some trouble.

I found my wayward girlfriend on the sidewalk with the bags, loaded them up, and we were on our way home, the French Quarter decidedly abandoned.

Traffic was light most of the way, and the weather was nice.  We stopped in Baton Rouge for lunch at TJ Ribs at the recommendation of a coworker, and it was amazing.  If you’re in the area, go there and have the baby back ribs, and make sure you try the coleslaw.

The rest of the voyage home was mostly uneventful, except somewhere between Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, on the side of the road I noticed a brown speck and as I approached, I saw that it was a large owl.  I knew there must have been something wrong with it by virtue of being out in the daytime and just sitting there.  As my car drew nearer, I made eye contact with the beast.  We regarded each other in a moment of timelessness and I remember thinking, “Don’t do it!” But it did.  At the last minute, the bird launched itself directly at my car.  There was no time to react.  Before I knew it, the owl had disappeared in a cloud of feathers.  Something was very wrong with that owl and I felt sorry for it.  Rest in peace you majestic, suicidal, dumbass creature.

We finally arrived home as it was getting dark.  I dropped off the lady at home and went home myself, exhausted from the long ride, glad to be back in my own space.  In a way, the best part of a vacation is the coming home where you can sleep in your own bed.

Final Thoughts

During the course of these posts I’ve tried to keep things humorous and light, even when it didn’t go according to plan or was just infuriating in general.  Sometimes I have a bad habit of focusing on the things that annoy me at the cost of enjoying the good things, although as I’ve aged I have managed to limit that fairly well.  It is not more than two months since the cruise, and looking back I find my mind drawing to the good things more readily than the bad.  Like everything, the little annoyances fade with time and they don’t seem so important when they become memories.

I was never under the delusion that any vacation would be perfect; it’s a fact of life that something will go wrong, things will annoy you, and you know what? I prefer it that way.  I once read that perfumers would include a subtle bitter note in their formulas which, while undetectable consciously, would combine with the whole to make the overall impression richer and fuller.  That may be complete garbage, as I never verified it, but I like to think of life in those terms.  If everything were perfect, with no negatives as offsets, things would be boring and soulless.  So while there are aspects of the cruise I didn’t like, and some I actually hated, it all made for pretty good stories and experiences I’ve never had before.

Will I go on another cruise?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  While I did enjoy myself on the whole, there are definitely pros and cons.  I liked that a cruise allows you to see several different places in one vacation, but on the other hand it doesn’t allow you to actually experience those places.  I can honestly say I didn’t much care to be cooped up on the ship for more than a day, especially with Carnival’s nickel-and-dime tactics, constantly trying to get you to buy things.  That said, the ship itself was very relaxing, especially the balcony.

My biggest deterrent from future cruises is Cozumel.  That is one place I never wish to visit again, and I’ll avoid any cruise that goes there.  The problem is that cruises from the two ports that are most accessible to me, Galveston and New Orleans, almost without exception visit Cozumel by default, unless you spring for a 7 to 10 day cruise that goes to the Eastern Caribbean.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that for me the ideal cruise length is no more than 5 days.  A 6 day cruise with three ports of call might be acceptable, but only two ports just leaves too much time cooped up on the ship.

I would also like to experience another cruise line just to have something for comparison.  Carnival’s idea of a good time usually did not mesh with my own, being more of a party ship with activities geared toward loud party music and other things of that type.  Not really my scene.

I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned with the recent rash of norovirus outbreaks that seem to be happening more frequently.  I’ve had food poisoning before, and it was literally the worst pain I had every experienced.

So in short (yeah, I can do that sometimes), I’d consider a shorter cruise, perhaps from a different cruise line for comparison, as long as it didn’t go to Cozumel (also, I’ve heard Progreso is about the same, so no to that one as well), but more likely I’ll stick with single-destination vacations or road trip vacations where I control the destination and have more freedom of movement and time to savor.

And finally we come to the conclusion of the Caribbean Cruise series.  I’ve managed to drag this one out an impressively long time thanks to the holidays, and by now I’m sure you’re all sick of reading about it, but thanks just the same for being my audience.  I hope you enjoyed it and even perhaps came away with some useful knowledge for your own voyages.

Posted in Travelogue

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