Thursday, April 29, 2010

Postcard from Buffalo (or the Buffalo area)

On our road trip from Chicago to Boston, we spent the night in West Seneca, NY, which is just outside of Buffalo.  One might not think it would make a great stop, but they would be wrong for two reasons:

  1. Beef on Weck
  2. Wegman's
Once settled into our hotel (did I mention that we ended up staying in Hampton Inns the whole time and that they've become our new favorite mid-priced hotel chain?  Comfy beds, friendly staff, good breakfast, good deal!), the Boy called his friend Biff, who's from Buffalo, for some dinner recommendations.  That was the first time I ever heard her--or anyone--utter the phrase "beef on weck."

Granted, I've never been in upstate New York, and I only just got regular access to the Food Network, but I'd never heard of this local specialty.  Basically it's a big roast beef sandwich, but the bun is a kummelweck roll, which is a big bun with caraway seeds and salt.  Lots of salt.  I must learn how to make this bun!

I had my beef on weck at Schwabl's, an old school joint that served up a mighty mighty good sandwich.  The beef was piled high, and the roll was coated in salt.  Even though the sandwich was huge, I managed to scarf it all, especially the bread, which was so good.

We also enjoyed a cocktail, which made the next stop a little tougher:  Wegman's.  Wegman's is a grocery chain that the former consumer goods researcher in me has been dying to go to.  It's one of the best grocery chains in the country--good quality, good service.  They've constantly been innovating (for example, according to their website, they've been recycling plastic bags since 1990), and have become one of the companies that sets the standard for other groceries.  

And there was one right out the back of our hotel.

I'm not sure what the Boy really thinks when I beg to go to a grocery store, but after our Schwabl's dinner (and cocktail), we went over there and wandered around.  Even though I wanted to buy a good number of items, I somehow managed to control myself.  We did walk out with a few "taster" apples.  These were small apples--maybe about half of a normal apple (or 1/3 of a big apple).  They were crispy, slightly tart, and the perfect snack.  So tasty!  

All in all, a great night in Buffalo!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Dear US Gymnasts Amy Chow, Jamie Dantzscher, Dominique Dawes, Kristin Maloney, Elise Ray, and Tasha Schwikert,

Congratulations on winning the Olympic bronze medal for women's team gymnastics!  In 2000!

You've got to give the IOC credit for staying on the case for nearly ten years to prove that China fielded an underage gymnast, but they got sufficient evidence, and now you finally rise from fourth to third in the official rankings and get the medal you earned.

I'm just curious--how did you find out about the news?  Did the medal just show up in the mail?  Does this help ease any disappointment you might have felt at the time, or did you have "we almost had it" feelings over the last ten years?  What did Bela say?

At any rate, it's nice to know that justice was served, and that the situation was made right.

Congratulations again!
Your pal,

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Postcard from Toledo

Toledo for lunch?  Toledo for lunch!

On our first day on the road as we moved from Chicago to Boston, we were gunning to get to Toledo by lunchtime.  Why would anybody care about Toledo, Ohio and food?

Tony Packo's, that's why.

Jamie Farr helped make this Hungarian hot dog joint famous while he was on "M*A*S*H*."  It's not that far from the highway, where an industrial area meets an ethnic neighborhood (and the sign does just say "ethnic neighborhood."  It's up to you to figure out it's Hungarian).

Hungarian!  When we first decided to move to Massachusetts, I asked some people who my new nationalities would be.  I figured that I'd lose the ability to walk around a Polish neighborhood or slip into a German restaurant that reminds me of Munich, but that didn't mean I wouldn't get to explore other nationalities. I didn't think about what we'd find along the way.

What is a Hungarian hot dog?  Well, the dogs are sliced in half lengthwise (you can get double meat--I first thought that meant two hot dogs, but no, it's just one whole one), and it's got mustard, onions, and a secret sauce (spicy chili with paprika, which warms you up inside).  Dish delish!  I also tried the chili mac--instead of macaroni noodles, the chili is piled on spaetzle and topped with shredded cheese and onions.  I also made room for a few deep fried pickles (and wished my metabolism would allowed me to have digested more, that's for sure).

The ambience also helps make the place--the walls are covered with autographed hot dog buns and other bits of Toledo lore.  They've got a full bar (sadly, the special Tony Packo blend bourbon was not yet available, much to the Boy's chagrin), and of course, the shop, which is actually tucked into the back and doesn't draw attention to itself.

This lunch was a fabulous stop along the way--a nice way to experience America!

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Blow-My-Mind Moment

Dear Phil Zepeda,

Hey there!  Perhaps you remember me, the girl you went on a couple of unfortunate dates with back in the late 1990s.  I actually just wanted to reach out and say congratulations on a nice television appearance the other week.

The Boy and I just got Direct TV, which is kind of exciting--it's actually the first time I've had pay TV since, well, since the apartment I was in when the two of us went out.  This past Friday it got hooked up.  I was flipping through the channels when the Boy came home from work and saw that I could catch a repeat of "Celebrity Apprentice" on CNBC.  I clicked on the channel, and there you were, accepting a check for your organization!

I gasped and said, "I dated that guy!"

The Boy took a look at you.  "Is that Phil?  Of 'Phil and Jill'?" he asked.

"Yes.  Yes it is."

And by now you must realize that this isn't quite just a congratulations.  It's also a thank you for giving me one of the better "bad date stories" in my small repertoire of dating stories.  You may not remember that date, but it's emblazoned in my head.  A graduation picnic for some people in your Master's program way out in B.F.E. St. Charles, IL.  I was wearing a white polo and khaki shorts that was literally the only clothes in my closet that were clean.  When I opened the door to greet you, you were wearing the exact same outfit, which threw me into a bit of a panic, but you assured me that it would be OK.

Thank goodness I happened to know one of your classmates, since I wasn't very good at small talk, especially when almost everyone at the party told me some form of, "Jill?  You're with Phil?  That rhymes!  And you're wearing the same outfit!"  What do you say to that, when you're not the one who just got a fancy communication degree and can talk that off?

While there were many reassurances of how cute it was that we were wearing the same outfit, the only other thing I remember from the day was that at some point I slinked off into the living room and ended up engaging in a bunch of Holocaust talk with some of the older crowd.  What a way to remember a picnic, right?  Rhyming names, matching outfits, and Holocaust talk!

After that, we didn't go out again.  Actually, I'm not sure we ever talked either--played a little phone tag maybe, but ultimately, everything just faded away, to be filed in the "If We Ignore It, It'll Disappear" category.  Which it did.  Which was good.  Better to end this mismatch quickly, than prolong something that wasn't right.

At least I got an excellent story out of it.  And I've learned to never wear a white polo and khakis ever again.

Thanks again--and congratulations once more on your television appearance.  It blew my mind to see you on my TV screen.

Your pal,

Friday, April 23, 2010

Petty Fraud

Dear Citibank,

When I answered the phone the other day and I heard the computerized "This is Citi Fraud" voice on the other end, I have to admit that I felt a wave of dread splash over me.  The Citi Voice has called me before, and that resulted in your team stopping a pretty big fraud (I think a computer purchase is big); however, I had to deal with all the hassle of closing a credit card account, getting credit reports, and changing a few automated charges.  Pain in the butt, no matter how you slice it.

I located my credit card (yes, I still had possession of it), and I waited with baited breath to hear the possible fraudulent charge.

"Did you charge $55.14 to a BOOKSTORE?" bellowed the Citi Voice.

Citi Voice called me over $55.14?  And seemed surprised that I'd been shopping at a bookstore?  Yeah, I know I've cut back on the bookstore visits, and I've been paying cash when I do buy books, but really.  It didn't make sense.

Oh, I know.  Maybe this got triggered because I'd just changed my address, and I've had problems swiping my card at some gas stations with newer pumps that will sometimes ask for the zip code, but I can't remember which zip code my card is under.  But even with my old address, no other charges triggered Citi Fraud?  Like maybe a $1000 down payment on a car?  But $55.14 at a bookstore did?

I don't want to sound like I'm complaining here--it's more funny than anything else.  Still, I'd love to know how fraud notices get triggered and how many fraud calls get dialed on a given day.  It's tough to keep on top of this crime, and you're doing the best you can.  Thanks for keeping an eye on my account--I do appreciate it.

Your pal,

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What Is This "No Parking Zone" You're Talking About?


Hey Dummy! [That would be the owners of a Nissan Ultima with Florida plates and an Eagle Talon with Illinois plates...and I'd so love to put their plate numbers on the Internet, but I'll be nice.]

Thanks so much for ignoring the "no parking--residential move" sign.  It's made our move out of here an absolute nightmare.  Why?  Well, we hired movers, who came with a big truck and we needed our loading zone plus the two spaces behind it.  We prepared--got the no parking signs up two days in advance--but you chose to ignore it.

I hope you don't believe in karma, because you're in for one hell of a bad time.  Because of your actions, our moving van had to block traffic for a good 15 minutes (twice)--the people trapped in cabs must've loved watching their meters climb and not be able to move.  In addition, your actions turned our move from a "short shuttle" to a "long shuttle," which added $75 to the cost of our move.

So thanks. We appreciate your courtesy.  Please do us one more favor--try not to be such a moron.  I realize it might be difficult for you, but for the sake of our community, please try.

Your pal,

[note:  I did leave this note on the windshields of both cars that parked in spots we'd tried to block out so that our moving van could fit in front of our building--our building that has no alley, so the only place to park a van is out front.  What a bitter, bad day our move was--the moving crew sat around for an hour while we desperately tried to figure out where they would park on our narrow, crowded street littered with other moving vans.   They finally ended up parking illegally in someone's driveway a couple of doors down, and the people who owned that house were incredibly cool about letting the van stay parked there.

The "no parking" signs were a lame "pretty please, don't park here" thing--no towing involved if you did park there (a "tow-zone" sign would involve a permit and a few hundred dollars).  The alderman's office wasn't much help, but they were about as nice as they could be with an irate constituent.  Apparently most people are pretty good about not parking when they see those signs.  We didn't have that experience.  Go figure.]

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Home Sweet Home--Hopefully

Dear Apartment,

Please fit all of our stuff.  We seriously didn't think we had much, but apparently we were wrong.  We'll get creative about storage.  We'll consolidate.  Just please, work with me today because I'd really like to finish unpacking our boxes.  The mess is driving us nuts!

Your pal,

Monday, April 19, 2010

Running in Circles

Dear Boston Marathon Organizers,

Today is the big day!  The marathon kicks off in an hour or so, and it's a gorgeous day for a race.  It's my first marathon experience in Boston, and I couldn't be more excited...except I can't figure out how to get around to see any of it.

The race apparently runs only a few miles from my house, but it looks like I'm going to have to go downtown to the finish line, because that's the only place I can figure out how to get to. Between the small course map on your website and zero info for spectators, I had to rely on the Boston Globe's coverage and spent a good amount of time figuring out how to get to a viewing area via public transportation that's not going to take as long as it will take the elite runners to run the race (a. I know better than to try to drive, and b. My bike got lost in the move--or else I'd totally be on my bike).

Granted, there are probably some buses running that are probably closer to home, but between the lack of info on your site, and wallowing through the MBTA site (it doesn't help when you don't have a big system map that you can refer to in order to learn the system...learning it piecemeal online is tricky), I just can't find them.

I have to say that this situation shocks and surprises me.  The Boston Marathon is the granddaddy of all marathons.  Why it doesn't have better spectator information on its site is incomprehensible.  Maybe next year you could make some tweaks to your website to make it a little easier on all the people who are trying to figure out how to watch for the first time.

Thanks for your time.

Your pal, Jill

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Downside of Vintage

Dear Kitchen Storage Manufacturers,

Hey there!  I'm in the market for a new cutlery tray.  I had my last one for 15 years, and the plastic was starting to get a bit grungy.  It seemed like time to get a new one.

I'm starting to second-guess my decision to throw that one away, because I'm having a hard time finding another one that fits in the drawer space I have.

See, what I keep finding are all these expandable trays, which sounds fantastic, except that my drawers are too small.  Some of us don't have big new(ish) kitchens with ample drawer/cupboard space.  Some of us are dealing with kitchens from probably the 1970s or some other era where plates and glasses were smaller and you didn't have so many kitchen items overall, so why you would need large cupboards and drawers is beyond anyone's imagination (especially if you have a pantry and a china cabinet).  And some of us who have these kitchens are stuck with them because we're renters.

I have a kitchen drawer that I should be using for silverware.  It measures 18 3/4" x 9 7/8" x 2 1/8".  Many drawer organizers are too wide or too tall. The OXO expandable tray I brought home, which I liked because it looked like a great space saver, was too tall.  Many others are too wide, so I can't even think about buying them.  I've got my fingers crossed that a basic Container Store tray will work, or else I'm going to have to buy individual Rubbermaid trays and link them together (not a bad plan, but it's an expensive one comparatively).  Or I could buy a Rubbermaid tray online, but honestly, I kind of like shopping for this stuff in person, and I don't want to wait several days to have it shipped to me.

I just wanted to say that not all  of us live in big spaces, and maybe you should jump on the downsizing bandwagon and make smaller products to fit the smaller homes that people will be moving into (since that's what they'll be able to afford).  Don't forget us!  Don't forget me!

Your pal,

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Getting Back into the Swing

Well, Readers,

What the hell?!  Right?!  Where have I been?  Has Massachusetts (my new home) totally sucked me into a patriotic sea from which I'll never blog again? [Note: Monday is Patriots Day here, which seems to be a pretty big deal....I'm sure a local would retort, "The start of the American Revolution?  Yeah!  Pretty fuckin' big deal!"]

Well, we're here.  After a long packing/loading the moving van.  After a long time cleaning.  After a couple of days on the road.  After a couple of extra days in hotel because our stuff didn't show up on time.  After cleaning the apartment (bathroom and kitchen, mostly) so that it was fit to live in.  After hauling our bed into the house ourselves because it "didn't go up the stairs" (um, we got the mattress up the stairs, professional movers).  After buying a car.  After numerous commutes to the Boy's new job.  After a weekend in Western Mass.  After yet another trip to Target to get something that we need.

Much to the chagrin of the Boy, we're still in boxes.  I'm hoping to take care of some of that soon (like, today) so that we can figure out how the hell to fit into our new place.  We have an extra bedroom, but somehow the whole place seems smaller than we originally remember it, the kitchen cabinets are from another era, one where people apparently didn't have much in the way of cooking gear, nor did they have the large plates and glasses of today's consumer.  Today's Target run includes returns on a silverware holder that is too tall for the drawer and a garbage can that is too wide to fit through the door underneath the kitchen sink.  Everything in the kitchen is tall, narrow, and not very deep, and I'm having a tough time adjusting to all of that.  

However, we'll get there.  I'm unpacked enough to be able to focus on some work, and getting back to blogging is pretty important.  Over the next few weekdays, you'll get letters I sent either back in Chicago or wanted to send from the road and just didn't.  Then hopefully, things will be back to normal.

Thanks for your patience.
Your pal,

Monday, April 5, 2010


Dear Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago,

The Boy and I enjoyed our last evening in Chicago (after living there 15 and 10 years, respectively) in your fine hotel.  Our room was great--we really enjoyed our cheap upgrade to a suite.  The bed was comfortable, the toiletries were stellar, the hair dryer was the best I've ever had in a hotel, I'm enjoying my downloaded iTunes playlist, and the views from our room were stunning.

However, you charge extra for wireless internet access.  Really?  The Hard Rock had such nice luxurious touches, but totally failed on the one service that seems to have become a standard in most hotels.  I've been in Best Westerns and Travelodges that have free wifi access (bedspreads and decor that probably date back to the 1980s, but free wifi wasn't a problem).  I've even seen Super 8 motels advertising free wifi.  A low-budget Super 8 can offer it in every room, but you can't?  How hard can it be?

Oh, I know what you might say--I could've enjoyed free wifi in the lobby area, but no one would've enjoyed me hanging out in the lobby in my grungy pajamas trying to get some work done.  You know creatives--we like working in our PJs.  I know you could also say that I could've bucked up and paid the internet fee.  I can't remember what it was and it probably wasn't terribly expensive, but that's beside the point.  I don't understand why a luxury property needs to nickel and dime me on what's become an increasingly necessary service, especially to the business customer you're trying to court.

Once you flip the switch on wifi access, I'll consider staying at (and recommending) your hotel again.  In the meantime, the Hampton Inn has been more than sufficient in offering a comfy bed, decent toiletries, a surprisingly good breakfast, and free wifi--all for a lower price. Maybe not the best views in the world, but sometimes I need to do other things besides look out the window.

Wirelessly your pal,