Road Rage and Tailgating

I don’t get tailgating. It’s bullying, only behind the wheel.

It’s a behavior that creates unnecessary stress for a driver and his victim, and could easily lead to an accident. Or in Chicago, a shooting.

I was encouraged by this video that’s been making the rounds this week. A (supernaturally fast) bike rider in Skokie was being tailgated on Oakton Street, and a local cop took notice.

If you’re a habitual tailgater, just stop, okay?

The gleeful mispronunciations of Run For the Cube

Since late last year, I’ve been working as a reporter for Rivet News Radio. As I work each morning to write and produce news stories, it’s critical that I pronounce every name, country and concept correctly. That frequently leads me to do a little online research.

A few months ago, I wanted to be certain I was correctly pronouncing the name of Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos. A quick Google search led me to a bunch of results, and the first video link on the page was this “pronouncer.”

It was wildly and intentionally wrong (the video’s incorrect pronunciation: Jeef BEE zohs; correct pronunciation: Jeff BAY zohs). I laughed my ass off and played it again. Then once more. And then I brought my co-workers in the studio to listen with me.

Fascinated, we started listening to other videos done by the creator, Run for the Cube. They were all completely insane. Since then, I’ve become obsessed with the Run for the Cube’s “work,” such as it is. Besides pronouncing well-known names, he does on-demand pronunciations for five bucks a pop. I shelled out the cash to have two co-workers immortalized. Here, for your amusement, are Rob La Frentz and Chris Mezyk.  (Rob returned the favor last week. Here’s my name mispronounced.)

Most recently, I’ve discovered that Run for the Cube has branched out to recording twisted, uncomfortable, “I’m not sure I should be watching this” product reviews. This one manages to be unsettling without doing anything certifiably inappropriate.

I needed to learn more about the Oz behind the curtain. I recently tracked down the man behind Run For the Cube and asked him for an interview. His response was the second best thing to actually getting the interview: he politely passed, and said he likes to use the free time he has to focus on his “craft,” and chooses to let his work speak for itself.

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My worst dining-out experience of 2014 (so far)

I just had a meal so bad it made me re-download Yelp to my phone before I left the restaurant. I wanted to angrily tap something out while I was in the moment.

Once Yelp showed up on the screen, I got to work. I was quickly reminded that I’m just not that great at typing on the phone (many of the bad things in my life have been ducking awful), so I waited until I got home. And then I decided to just write my thoughts here.

The offending restaurant was El Sol, in Morton Grove. Since leaving, I’ve also called it “Hell Sol,” “No Soul,” and “El Hole” (my favorite of the bunch).

First, I’d like to publicly say that I never should’ve referred to it as a “festering craphole” on the car ride home. It amused my 12 year-old to no end, but at the same time shattered his illusion that I never use inappropriate language.

Second, I take full blame for choosing to go there. I had a craving for chips and salsa, and it became so intense I was willing to walk into any Mexican restaurant in my path.

We went after my son’s little league game. My wife and daughter went to see an evening show of Maleficent, which meant… MAN NIGHT. My son and I love trying new restaurants, especially dive-y ones. As we pulled into El Sol’s tiny strip mall lot, I said to him, “how bad could this be?” Had I been looking for red flags (or, banderas rojas), there were plenty:

  • The restaurant was empty at 6:45 on a Saturday night.
  • The Yelp reviews included bons mots like “If I could give this restaurant 0 stars I would,” and “Service: Worst (sic) than anywhere else.”
  • The interior is a dingy, depressing disaster. There’s a lot of empty space at the front-of-house that’s not for standing, dining or any plainly-obvious purpose. It looks like 15 tables were removed from there and never replaced.

Bullet points aside, the restaurant’s been there for at least 10 years; I figured there had to be something behind its staying power.

The meal started with complementary chips and salsa, which is one of the easiest ways to my heart. The chips were stale and the salsa was flesh-searingly hot. I like spicy food, as long as there’s flavor behind it. El Sol’s salsa was all heat and no taste.

We started by ordering a queso fundido appetizer and horchata (the drinks were generously-sized, and easily the best thing we had).

The horchata came quick, and then we waited 15 minutes for our next table visit. We burned through the chips fairly fast, and I chugged my water because the salsa was so hot. I also used my one napkin (I tend to spill a lot), which left me needing a new one. Once I realized no one was going to come by, I gave up on standing on ceremony. I grabbed napkin roll-ups from the booth behind us, and downed my horchata as I waited for a water refill.

The next time we saw our server, she was bringing our entrees to the table. “No queso fundido?” I asked. “Oh, sorry,” she said, and started to walk back to the kitchen. As she turned, I said, “No worries, we don’t need it at this point.” She didn’t acknowledge me, and kept walking. It was our last interaction of the night. Meanwhile, I would’ve killed for another glass of water.

My chicken flautas were flavorless. The meat was tough and bland; the corn tortillas over-fried. To punch up the taste, I had two options: smear around the also-bland avocado-sour cream topping, or spoon on some of the ultramafic lava-like salsa. Neither was particularly satisfying. The rice was also sin sabor, and the refried beans tasted store-bought.

With our half-finished plates and empty glasses piling up, no one came back to the table. I waited for about 10 minutes until I asked the bartender for a check.

It was brought to the table, no questions asked, no dialog exchanged.

Total bill:

$27.50 for two drinks and two entrees.

A Taco Bell dinner would’ve been half the price and ten times better.

 

 

My new idea

Once in a while, I have an idea that I get really, really excited about.

This is one of them:

http://www.carconcarne.com

We’re going to record this week to see if it’s a viable concept. Wish us luck.

C2E2 2014

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(My C2E2 audio wrap-up for Rivet Radio is at the bottom of the page)

 

Like Giant-Man or Colossal Boy, C2E2 just keeps … growing.

My legs hurt from walking the massive showroom floor. My feet resent me. Each year, C2E2 carves out more real estate than it had the previous year, creating more space to walk and explore. For those of us who eat lots of pizza while reading comic books, the brief flirtation with cardio fitness probably isn’t a bad thing.

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Though the space was bigger this time around, the starpower wasn’t. Outside of Stan Lee, the celebrity guests weren’t necessarily “must-see” or “must-meets.” And from a “why wouldn’t they be there?” perspective, it seems strange that DC Comics was again absent from the showroom floor this year.

So what brings the (estimable) crowds to McCormick Place? Could it be that the idea of the event is bigger than the details? It’s certainly been enough to keep me hooked these past few years; the panels and autograph signings always seem like too much work to consider.

I went on Sunday this year: “Kids Day.” This was the last time my son could get in on the deeply-discounted $5 ticket (To his disgust, he absolutely hated the fact that the Kids Day laminate featured a Hello Kitty design). You take your breaks where you can get ‘em.

We went with another family this year (hi, Jack), which helped balance out the costs of visiting the con. I normally plan to spend a max of $100, and fail miserably. Between this year’s two-family entourage, and the fact that my son saved his money and paid for his own stuff this time around, I actually came in under budget. My total expenses for the day are itemized at the end of the post.

I tend to get the most out of walking Artists Alley each year. It’s an oddball mix of known professionals and totally green artists and publishers. There were hidden surprises in practically every row this year, like Eisner Award-winning writer Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, the Flash). I had him sign a Daredevil comic for me–five bucks all in.

As for the retail side of things, I can’t resist trade paperbacks. My favorite vendor at the con had a massive display of paperback and hardcover collections, all for 50% off. I walked away with three of the b&w, reprint-only “Marvel Essentials” titles–they’re my favorite cheap way to build up a nice reading library.

I’ve been tempted in the past, but this year I finally bought an autographed print from Neal Adams. The man pretty much created the modern Batman, so I figured $20 was the least I owed him.

 

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Nostalgia’s a powerful thing. I stopped in my tracks whenI stumbled across this display of Mego action figures. I owned every one of them when I was a kid. Every. One. And now the Falcon’s worth $450.

Mego

And hey, let’s hear it for cosplay, a comics convention favorite. Is there a Deadpool in the house? Let’s hear it for Li’l Deadpool!

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Batgirl was pretty fabulous:

Batgirl

Captain America takes his job seriously:

Cap

Walking on stilts at a crowded convention can’t be easy:

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The Rocketeer squeezes out pulpy goodness!

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Not the droid I was looking for:

R2D2

 

Next year, I’m committing myself to all three days. I’m going to plan a sensible (but allowing for fun) budget, and wear much more comfortable shoes.

In case you’re wondering, here’s how this year’s expenses broke down:

 Item Cost    
Admission (self)  Free (Press)
Admission (son)  $5
Essential Avengers Vol.2  $7
Spiro’s Greek Myths #1 (indie publisher/Artists Alley)   $5
McCormick Place parking  $21
Essential Peter Parker Vol. 1  $7
Essential Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 4  $7
G-Man #1 (signed by Chris Giarrusso)  $1
Pre-show donuts at Glazed & Confused  $18
Signed Neal Adams print-Batman #244  $20
Signed Mark Waid Daredevil comic  $5

Rivet Radio audio recap:

Previous years’ coverage:

2011

2012

2013

Taking a break from barbecue

I just made what had to be my 20th trip for barbecue this winter, and I’m pretty sure I need a break. I have pulled pork where muscle should be, and sauce pumping where blood once circulated.

My plan is to try to eat vegetables again, if only for a little while, before again throwing myself at the mercy of brisket and baked beans.

Chicago never used to be a barbecue town; at least not when I was growing up. The only place I remember from my youth is Russell’s in Elmwood Park; my grandparents used to take me there all the time. After making a few nostalgia-driven trips there over the past year or so, I discovered that the food doesn’t really live up to the memories (the sauce, while tasty, is thinner than water).

It’s crazy to me that there are now dozens of barbecue choices in the Chicago area. It’s as if the city finally came to its senses and said, “Hey, we’re a fat city, and this style of cooking involves lots of meat slathered in sauce, accompanied by high-calorie side dishes. How could have we ignored this for so long?”

The best barbecue discovery I’ve made over the past year is Real Urban Barbecue in Highland Park. It’s been worth the trip up 41 for burnt ends and sides that are as good as, or better than, what you’ll find at most of the BBQ joints in the city.

I still like Smoque, though I haven’t been enjoying the sauce as much lately. Too much of it can kill a meal.

I liked the entrees, but hated the sides, at Rub’s Backcountry Smokehouse. It was recently and briefly shut down, but just reopened for business. Not a bad option for the far north side of the city, but the room fills up fast.

And what about Lillie’s Q? Holy crap, those homemade sauces are amazing (the “Smoky” is a killer, pleases-everybody-at-the-table, gotta-buy-some-for-home sauce).

To all the other places I’ve been in and out of, including Smokin’ Woodys, Smoke Daddy, Bub City and Hecky’s … it’s not you; it’s me. I just need a little break from barbecue. I swear I’ll be back.

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(Update, 4/28/14-I don’t know who I was kidding. The break didn’t last long at all. I’ve probably had BBQ five times since I posted this last month.)

Bitcoin

How fat is your Bitcoin wallet? What’s that?  You still don’t “get” Bitcoin? You’re not alone. And you may just want to stay away from it at this point.

Just weeks ago, Mt. Gox, the web’s biggest Bitcoin exchange, was essentially wiped off the internet. At the time, it was learned that 850,000 Bitcoins were missing, adding up to over 450 million real dollars. This weekend, the blog of Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles was hacked, revealing account information from the Mt. Gox database. In a show of Bitcoin user solidarity, the hacker(s) wrote on Karpeles’ blog, “no user database dumps have been included … Lots of people, including us, lost money and coins.”

The message on the hacked blog opens with, “First and foremost, this is not Mark Karpeles. Fuck that bitch-titted motherfucker.”  Yep, people who lost money are angry.

The CEO of another Bitcoin exchange was found dead two weeks ago. If you believe the internet, it was suicide. If you trust official sources, the death was “unnatural,” and “no foul play” is suspected.

And then there’s Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto. Newsweek just outed him as the alleged creator of Bitcoin. He denies it. The Washington Post says that if he is the guy, he has good reason for denial.

The way I look at Bitcoin is this: imagine you meet someone that seems really attractive. The person is open, accessible–someone you think might have potential. The problem is, you’re not sure about the person’s parents, or where that person came from. And the person’s been linked to sketchy behavior and people.

The person may not be marriage material, and you know your friends will never understand. And that leaves you with a nagging concern, a voice inside your head that says, “maybe this isn’t for me.”

That’s Bitcoin. The promise never outweighs the evidence, or that gut feeling.

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