31 December 2005

The disappointment consumes me

I missed out on getting a cow! They really should have had more than 100,000 available. Didn't they think more people would want a cow?

Of course, what really ticks me off is that as of next year, the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl is dropping the "Peach!" That's just wrong, so says Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer, Furman Bisher.

Unfortunately, I see why this is a good deal for Chick-fil-a, and not such a good deal for any sports fan who yearns for the way the way things used to be. This is about money, and it appears as though it is enough money to now get the #2 ACC team to play in the CFA Bowl (they currently get the #3). If this is a topic that interests you, click the "keep reading" link below.

It is also possible that Atlanta will end up with the same problem that faced Orlando a couple of years ago. They had a bowl game, the Florida Citrus Bowl -- played at the city-owned Citrus Bowl (ironic, huh?). Actually, it started as the Tangerine Bowl, and remained the Tangerine Bowl (just the Tangerine Bowl -- not the Tropicana Tangerine Bowl or anything like that) until 1982. In 1983, they changed the name to the Florida Citrus Bowl, to reflect the fact that we do grow more than just tangerines down here. Makes sense to me.

The Florida Citrus Bowl name lasted through 1993. They signed CompUSA as a title sponsor in 1994, and that relationship lasted for six years. I remember reading when their contract expired, CompUSA did not want to renew, and Florida Citrus Sports Association had a rough time landing a sponsor. Now that they were counting on the money, they couldn't guarantee the payout without a title sponsor.

Ladies and gentelman, let me introduce you to the "Ourhouse.com Florida Citrus Bowl." Fortunately, that hideousness lasted only one year. Come to think of it, I guess Ourhouse.com probably only lasted one year.

Capital One signed on as the title sponsor in 2001, and after two years decided that it would rather have the bowl called the "Capital One Bowl" rather than the "Capital One Florida Citrus Bowl." I do realize that is quite a mouthful, but it does let central Florida keep some sense of connection to the game. The "Capital One Bowl?" Yuck. The problem is -- Capital One was right. When they were the "Capital One Florida Citrus Bowl," no one called them anything but the "Citrus Bowl." Now that they have dropped "Citrus" from the bowl name, folks have no choice but to call the game the "Capital One Bowl." Still yuck.

In case you wondered, the Tangerine Bowl only went away for a little while. It came back in 2001 as the "Visit Florida Tangerine Bowl." The game, previously the Blockbuster, then Carquest, and then MicronPC Bowl, moved from Miami where it had been played from 1990 until 2000. It became the "Mazda Tangerine Bowl" the next year, and that lasted until 2003. Currently, Champs Sports is the title and sole name attached to Orlando's B-game. How about some cool and timely trivia attached to this bowl game? The first Blockbuster Bowl, played in Miami, in 1990, featured Joe Paterno's Penn State Nittany Lions and Bobby Bowden's Florida State Seminoles. Not a bad little precursor to this year's Orange Bowl (on a slightly grander stage). If history is any indication, and we know that it's not, FSU beat Penn State, 24-17. Since I am pretty sure that neither Peter Tom Willis, nor Blair Thomas are going to suit up next week, I don't think it really matters.

Atlanta residents can take some solace that Chick-fil-a is an Atlanta company. Some people who watch the game will make the connection (although, we are talking about football fans?) to the city. But, Cap One? What they have to do with Orlando, except for kicking in the dough to fund the football game, I will never know.

Lest anyone think such corporate sponshorship is anything new, the Rose Bowl -- affectionately referred to as "The Grandaddy of Them All" -- was originally started as a marketing tool for the Tournament of Roses Parade. The parade pre-dates the football game by 12 years!

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28 December 2005

Who loves end of the year lists?

Ahh...we all do.

Reflecting back on this year, I had a lovely amount of both work and leisure travel. I am grateful for that, as I do tend to get a little bit of cabin fever if I am in the office and my own condo for too long a time.

These are all places that I discovered through reading Jane and Michael Stern's book, Roadfood, and their corresponding web site. All of my selections have received a full review in either the book or the web site. When I compiled my list, I found that I had been to 30 restaurants recommended by the Sterns or one of their online editors since January 1, 2005.

The last time I compiled this Top 10, I didn't limit exclusively to restaurants referred by the Sterns. There are three restaurants that I visited this year that were on my list in 2003, so I have purposely left them out. These are, of course, in no particular order:

* Philippe the Original (Los Angeles, CA) -- This is the place where the french dip was invented. The story says that a lunching laborer came in for a roast beef sandwich. The "sandwich artisan" (as Subway would later classify such folks) accidently dropped the bread into a pan of beef drippings. As the customer was in a hurry, he asked that the sandwich be made with the "wet" bread instead of waiting for a new one to be prepared. Well, thanks for being in a hurry! A true classic is born. There are probably better places to get a french dip now -- LA is littered with shops claiming to be the best -- and they may be -- but, Philippe's is an experience. The counter, the mustard, the nine cent coffee -- and the walls plastered with newspaper and magazine articles dating back a hundred years.

* Louis Lunch (New Haven, CT) --It is debated that this is the place where the hamburger was invented. See the trend developing? I think this is the last place on my list that invented anything! The menu at Louis Lunch is spartan, to say the least. They pretty much make hamburgers. You can get your burger with or without cheese; and with or without tomato. That's about the size of it. The burgers are delivered on toasted white bread. No burger bun, you ask? Well, the folks will be quick to point out that when Louis Lunch was founded, there were no burger buns -- remember, there were no hamburgers! The inside of the restaurant is small and tables are very tough to come by at peak hours. When I went, I was able to sit down right away at the counter, with very friendly, accessible, and enthusiastic help. Ironically, as good a burger as this was -- cooked to perfect temperature, by the way -- it wasn't even the best burger that I had that week. Keep reading...

* Duff's (Amherst, NY) -- The best Buffalo wing in Buffalo, a town that takes their wing lineage quite seriously. Note that I did not go with Anchor Bar, the place that invented the Buffalo wing! If you are going to be in Buffalo for any length of time, it would be criminal not to eat that which they call their own. The wings are Duff's are large, succulent, and meaty. They are coated (not drenched) in their signature sauces. Mind the servers when they tell you that medium is like everyone else's hot...and hot are really freakin' hot! Duff's offers a very reasonable deal for 20 wings and a pitcher of beverage (they offer both beer and sodas for a different price). Two "normal" people could probably share this -- perhaps "date night" in Buffalo? But, this author could easily put away the 20 spot and most of the pitcher!

* The Crab Shack (Tybee Is, GA) -- As the picure says, it is "where the elite go to eat in their bare feet." If that doesn't get you through the front door, I don't know what will. The Crab Shack offers an absolute seafood orgy with a gorgeous view of the intercoastal. I made this stop during the summer as part of our annual baseball trip (Savannah Sand Gnats!). So, the meal was enjoyed by myself and another healthy-sized adult male. We ordered the "Seafood Feast for One" -- and couldn't finish all that was laid in front of us. This platter (which I can only describe as the size and shape of an inverted metal trash can lid) included crawfish (yuck!), boiled shrimp, STONE(!!) crab legs, oysters, and blue crab -- oh, and corn on the cob, boiled potatoes, and sausage chunks, too. You will need the roll of paper towels provided on the table, and the open-air sink in the middle of the dining area (it's weird to see). The place looks a little touristy/cheesy -- and maybe it is, but the food will allay all fears immediately. Two enthusiastic thumbs up on The Crab Shack!

* Williams Smokehouse (Houston, TX) -- As is the case with many of the best BBQ joints, it is not located in the best neighborhood, and some would consider driving there at night to be a less than enjoyable experience. However, if you let stuff like that scare you away, you are going to miss out on some of the most incredible ribs and beef brisket in the Houston area. I went at an off time, so the place was empty and my service was impeccable. The lady working the register also delivered the food to my table -- piping hot and full of smoky flavor. The ribs come pre-sauced with a glaze that has quite a kick. The one real warning on this place is that the road in front of Williams is torn up something fierce. I almost drove right past the place, so keep your eyes open. When I asked about the construction, I was told that the road had been that way for quite some time.

* Diana's (Charleston, SC) -- While the neighborhood is a little more upscale than at Williams Smokehouse, the location of Diana's is just as odd -- it is attached (though with no affiliation) to a somewhat run-down looking Days Inn. Don't let that fool you -- this is no roadside hotel restaurant. I made it for breakfast and enjoyed one of the best I have had in a long while. The apple-stuffed french toast (pictured in the link above) may have been the best french toast I have ever had in a restaurant. My dining companion described the consistency of the french toast as being like that of a Bundt cake. Perhaps on my next visit, I will partake of the "Morning Surf and Turf," grilled shrimp and a ribeye steak covering an english muffin, two eggs, grilled onions and hash browns. Diana's gets special mention because during our visit, we had arguably one of the worst servers in recent memory (and I eat out a lot). As bad as she was, the meal was still enjoyable. Perhaps she was just having a bad day, as we saw no evidence of bad service being a continual problem.

* Jestine's Kitchen (Charleston, SC) -- To be honest, I wanted to lump Jestine's and Diana's together for one pick. But, if I was going to do that, I would have also needed to include Anchor Line, Hominy Grill and Bowens Island, too -- to rank them one through five wouldn't be fair to the place that scored fifth. All in all, Charleston has become one heck of an eating town - and Jestine's and Diana's were the top two that I caught on this trip -- but, I easily could have included any of the others. I know that others will rave about the fried chicken at the legendary Stroud's, but I will put Jestine's fantastic fried chicken up against anyone's. I added the mac and cheese for one of my sides, which was also top-notch. I also tried some of the fried okra, which measured up favorably. We, again, arrived at an off time (see another trend developing?), and still had a wait of a few minutes. My understanding is that the line can wrap around the store at the busiest times. The staff moves quickly and efficiently, passing some of the cozy pleasantries to get tables turned over a little faster. On our way out of town, we stopped by for some pecan pie to go (Diana's was out -- and they are within a healthy walking distance from one another). Even though Jestine's was busy -- decent size line outside -- we were accommodated quickly for our take-out, as the owner recognized us from our visit a few days prior.

* Harold's NY Delicatessen (Edison, NJ) -- Harold's proves that "roadfood" can be found just about anywhere. Usually located in downtown areas or rural backroads -- not here -- for Harold's is located in a pretty non-descript corporate park in the vacinity of some hotels and a convention center. It does have easy access to the highway, and is only about 20 minutes (with no serious traffic) to the Newark Airport. Probably the most popular item on the menu is schtick. Yep -- Harold's is known for their gargantuan portion sizes -- which they encourage you to share. I have had Harold's on my list to try for some time and it just wasn't convenient. As I was heading off to the airport, I realized that I was in the immediate area so I stopped by for some take-out. I didn't check my order before I left the restaurant, but when I got to the airport and settled in to wait for my flight, I opened my bag to find the LARGEST sandwich I had ever seen. As part of their take-out package, Harold's packs you some extra rye bread, and I was able to make three full sandwiches out of what they describe as their small corned beef. They also packed some pickles, but those were not as good as what one would find at Katz's. I would have liked to have tried some of their super-sized desserts, but I would have needed to pay an extra fee for an overweight bag! Perhaps next time...

* Ranchman's Cafe (Ponder, TX) -- This fall marked my second visit to the Dave Ross' steak joint (the only one in my Top 10 that I had been to prior to 2005). Mr. Ross' place may be out in the middle of obsolute nowhere (20 miles west of Denton, TX -- and if you are a "suburb" Denton, you are in the middle of nowhere), but quality is second to none and would match that of any big city steakhouse. Come to think of it, I have never had a steak there -- I have been by for lunch twice, and had one of the tastiest hamburgers ever each time. Ranchman's serves a healthy, hand-formed, half-pound burger, cooked to perfect temperature. The grill man puts out a juicy patty as his best effort. The accompanying fries are plentiful and hand cut -- sometimes as fresh as when you place your order. I tried hard to arrive hungry, as I was told last time that the pie is a must. I assure you, it was some delicious apple pie -- the perfect blend of apples, cinnamon, and a crisp, flaky crust. During my visit, there was a high school cross-country team chowing down. With the added crowd, service was a little slow, as the grill got backed up pretty badly. Fortunately, I was in no rush, so it didn't matter, but Mr. Ross apologized numerous times, as he saw me waiting patiently. As he and I discussed, at least the meal was worth the wait. Also, if you are a history buff, Ranchman's is located next to a building that was once a bank robbed by Bonnie and Clyde. There are numerous newspaper articles hanging in decoration around the steakhouse.

* Peter Luger Steak House (Great Neck, NY) -- OK...so, this one is in order. Luger's was, by far, my Number One eating destination for 2005. Yes, I know that the original location is in Brooklyn, and there is no real comparison in the ambiance between the Brooklyn and Long Island locations, but sometimes you just have to make do. Having never been to Peter Luger before this year, I was fortunate enough to enjoy three visits this year -- once for dinner and twice for lunch. Plan on spending a small fortune on your dinner tab (especially if you hit the wine list), but it is so worth it. Luger's porterhouse is the best steak I have ever eaten - bar none. The dinner bill came to $90 pp for a table of three that included the steak for three, the tomato and onion appetizer, the bacon appetizer for three, a bottle of wine, creamed spinach, broccoli, home fries, two coffees and one dessert. Of course, one of my favorite things was something that came complimentary - a wonderful bread basket assortment. Some will say that you pay more for the atmosphere than for the quality of the food -- but, I will say that the quality lived up to my expectations.

If you want to get the Luger experience while being a little friendlier to the wallet, consider hitting the place for lunch. I had found Peter Luger's listed as one of the "20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die" from GQ magazine. Normally, I don't take my dining cues from GQ, but figured if they think that this is a pretty good burger, I would give it a try. This was undeniably one of the best burgers I have had the pleasure of consuming. For one thing, I am not big on condiments. At most places, a good burger means slathering on secret sauce and "dragging it through the garden." Not at Luger's. For $7.95, you get a half-pound burger (they describe it is "at least" a half-pound). The burger comes meat on a bun. If you want something else, you had better ask -- and be prepared to pay. You can add on cheese for $1.50, bacon for $2.50, and a side of their famous steak fries for $1.50. I added the bacon and the fries, and asked for them to add one of their thick slices of fresh tomato. I also added just a taste of Luger sauce -- enough to add a hint of sweetness to the burger, not enough to overpower. The key to this burger is definitely in the taste of the meat -- as there is nothing else to interfere. The beef was flavorful, cooked to perfect temparature -- juices dripping into the fresh, sesame-seeded, doughy bun. I thought that the fries were overrated and a little skimpy for $1.50. They are thick cut steak fries, but mine seemed a little underdone for my taste. I would probably order them again, as I can't imagine a burger without fries -- but, I might ask them to cook them well-done and see how that turns out. The bacon didn't seem as thick as what they serve for dinner, but was just as flavorful. I am pretty sure that I could go there and eat myself a meal from their breadbasket and an order of bacon.

I hope that your travels were equally enjoyable. I am eternally grateful for the culinary path laid down by the Sterns that continues to enrich my travels. I still have a trip planned to Georgia before the end of the year. I hope to hit some new places along the way, but if any of them are "Top 10 Worthy," I will be sure to add them for next year.

Still to come...a list of the 20-odd others that didn't make the cut for Top 10; my first ever disappointment from a Stern-recommended restaurant; and some other new favorites discovered on my own.

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Don't go changin'...

Yesterday was a good day to be a Billy Joel fan.

My concert tickets arrived in the mail. I suppose I always knew that they would, but I hate Ticketmaster. Four tickets cost less than $160, but the fees that they tack on brought the total to over $190. I view them in about the same regard as pillagers. In that vein, I don't trust them much and am grateful to have the tickets in my own hands.

Of course, it also means that I now have about three months to lose said tickets.

As an added bonus, BJ was on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. It was a previously aired show, but one that I had not seen. Actually, it was a good episode of Conan. He had his "Tree Lighting" episode, which featured Abe Vigoda (gotta love "Fish"); the hot chick from "Access Hollywood"; and Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog! Alan Alda, who I hate (personally, not professionally) was the "lead" guest, but he only had one very short segment pimping his new book and his new role on "The West Wing."

Joel got a sit-down segment to push his new box set and two additional, one song segments. I hope the upcoming concert echoes this mini-set -- semi-obscure older tracks, such as "Everybody Loves You Now" from his first album, "Cold Spring Harbor"; and "Vienna" from his fourth (and, arguably, best) album, "The Stranger." In all the times that I have seen/heard him live, this is the first time that I have heard either of these two songs performed live.

During his interview, I also learned that Billy and I have something else in common. He said:

My family is Jewish; my friends are all Italian; and all the women who ever broke my heart are Irish.

Even Billy knows....dang redheads'll get you every time.

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Final Holiday Post of 2005!

Yesterday, I discovered that my beloved XM Channel 107 is no more. I never really listened to an extended amount of Christmas music before, so I wasn't sure if it ended immediately after December 25 -- or stuck around until New Year's Eve?

Channel 107 was one of my favorite discoveries of 2005. XM called the channel "Special XMas" and it was a non-stop playlist of the most twisted Christmas music you have ever heard. I discovered my new favorite Christmas artist. You can keep the Burl Ives and Bing Crosby tunes. I found Dan Hart! Anyone (apparently) can sing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," but it takes someone special to sing "Santa is a Psycho" and "Santa Eats Little Kids!" Do you see a theme here? How many issues does this dude have?

They also played a bunch from the Star Wars Christmas Album! Yes...it's as bad as it sounds!

I never thought I would be pining for Christmas music for the next 11 months!

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My wish for the holiday season

With all due respect to Steve Martin's legendary comedy routine, I offer my one wish for the holiday season: That all of our friends and family make it home safely from overseas, and Maj. Steve Beck needs to find a new line of work.

A guy in our office recently returned from about 18 months or so in Afghanistan. While he was over there, his emails were short, but usually positive and upbeat. When he got back, he told us some of the other stories that he didn't feel were appropriate for the time (good guy -- didn't want all his friends and family worrying about him). One such story involved a trip that he made back home to the States accompanying the dead body of one of the men from his unit. I am sure that you wouldn't need to hear him say that it was the toughest thing he had done in his life. If you read the linked article, you had best have a hanky handy. If you don't need it, you better check your pulse.

If I could make that stop, with my one wish, I am sure that is what I would want.

But, if I had TWO wishes...

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25 December 2005

Nothing to see here...

payday loans

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19 December 2005

Getting my financial house in order, Part II

Reading other people's personal finance blogs has been part boon and part bust for me. On the one hand, given my personal set of circumstances, I am not doing too badly in the Great Financial Game Show of Life. On the other hand, I also think that I realize that I don't make nearly enough money to ever live a comfortable retirement.

The Pros:

  • I own my own condo. I purchased it about six years ago -- before the huge real estate boom in this area. The best news is that I only owe about 1/3 of the property's market value. I guess that makes it a considerable asset, even if, relatively, it is not all that expensive a place.
  • I don't have a lot in the way of outstanding credit card debt (under $1,000). What's left are the remnants of when things weren't so good in life. I am making conscious efforts to pay down this debt -- all of which is at 0% interest.
  • I own my car(s) outright. I do need to get rid of the Seinfeld car (my black 1992 Saab convertible), but it does still have a positive value. The Town and Country that I inherited this year has an Edmond's value of over $10,000 -- and is surprisingly comfortable to drive.
  • This is the first year that my retirement accounts (old 401k from last job and current 403b now total over $25k) total more than my outstanding student loan balance (~$21k). I am psyched to know that the gap between the two will continue to grow.
  • The most brutal line items (a foreclosure, for one) have been removed from my credit report.
  • When you consider how relatively small my current income is, it is pretty amazing that I have been able to own my home, a loan-free car, and grow my savings -- all the while, not skimping out on the life's little things along the way. To be honest, I have no idea how I managed!

  • The Cons:
  • Without a serious upgrade in salary, I don't know that I will be able to meet my mid-range and long-range savings goals. I am doing OK, but there is only so much you can do on what I make.
  • I have too many accounts spread out -- and it appears to be costing me money. Actually, in some areas, I am hemorraging money. I have a TD Waterhouse brokerage account, which has a $25 quarterly inactivity fee. I also have a Regular IRA with Waterhouse that is also bleeding money. I opened the account when my last job didn't offer a retirement plan. I made a few deposits, but haven't really touched the money since. I am willing to bet that it has lost value.
  • Even though I recently opened an ING Direct savings account, the bulk of my savings are still sitting over at Wachovia, earning the pathetic 0.10% interest mentioned previously.

  • The Conclusions:
    I am not doing too bad, all things considered, but there is room for improvement. I spent the better part of the weekend installing Microsoft Money on my computer and importing and recording data. Hopefully, this will help me to identify accounts that need to be merged and/or closed, and target buget areas that could be trimmed or eliminated.

    I don't want to leave my current job (I have expressed that sentiment to those that matter numerous times now) for two reasons. First and foremost, I like what I do and the people with whom I work. I also like living here. As there are no other four year universities in my area, there are limited job opportunities, within my field, in this town. So, I just need to come up with a way to make a few more dollars on the side. I have tried selling stuff on eBay, but that is tough with my travel schedule. I have worked a few days as an indepent contractor for a friend who can provide me with a little bit of occasional high-dollar income. If I can pick up about 10 or so of those days, then maybe this workable?

    Not that this will generate a whole lot of income, but I have started a few new savings techniques. In addition to the ING account, I have opened checking and savings accounts with Bank of America, and I plan on participating in their "Keep the Change" program. They offer a match of everything you contribute to your savings account through this plan for the first three months you are enrolled. After the first three months, they will still match 5% of your contributions, up to $250/year.

    I also discovered this little gem: Of course, that blog references yet another article, so I will spare you the linking and the linking and the linking again -- but, the idea that I liked and have begun to employ is saving all of my $5 bills. I don't get too many of them to make a serious dent in my cash budget, and it seems like something that I can stick to.

    The battle rages on.

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    Deal of the Day, 12/19/05

    It's a little early to be thinking about "bracketology" -- but it is not too early to sign up for the NCAA's offer of free streaming video of the 2006 NCAA Basketball Championship Tournament. The even better news that goes along with this -- if it is early enough to talk about March Madness, then it is also early enough to mention that Spring Training is right around the corner!

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    16 December 2005

    Billy Joel at the Carrier Dome

    Lucky is me.

    Billy Joel has announced a spring tour, and as luck would have it, I will be in Syracuse for work the same time that he is playing the Carrier Dome. The full list of tour dates, as of today, are as follows:

    It seems as though dates are being announced in dribs and drabs.

    The great thing about the Syracuse show is that tickets are discounted:

    Pop music icon Billy Joel is slated to perform at the Carrier Dome on March 25, 2006 at 8 p.m. The concert is part of the popular singer’s first solo major concert tour in nearly seven years and is one of the milestone events celebrating the Carrier Dome’s 25th anniversary...Tickets will go on sale Dec. 10 at 10 a.m. for only $39.50 each, the same price tickets cost in 1998 when Billy Joel last played the Dome solo.
    I managed to log on this past Saturday morning and nab four tickets -- in pretty good seats:
    Tickets are already selling on the secondary market in the same section for almost $200! I guess that I will have no trouble finding three other counselors who will want to see Billy Joel with me after the Rochester NACAC fair that day.

    We will just add this to the list of holiday gifts that I have purchased for myself while I should have been shopping for others. My roommate wanted to know what to get me for the holidays. Maybe I will suggest this to get me in the mood.

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    14 December 2005

    Getting my financial house in order

    I opened my statement from Wachovia last night. First, the good news....

    My savings account had way more money in there than I thought. It was really nice to see a balance that included a comma for once! Don't get me wrong...there is not a ton of money in there, but at the end of fall travel season, it is usually the fattest it is going to be for awhile. I will whittle part of this money away in the next few months to compensate for my pathetically low salary!

    The bad news is, because of this new found "wealth", I realized that the money in my savings account earns an abyssmal 0.10% interest. Holy cow! I might as well be keeping my money in a shoe. I knew the earnings on this account was bad, but I didn't think it was 0.10%. There are higher interest rates available for higher balances. For instance, if I had $1,000,000 in my savings account, I could earn 1.01%!

    I had read up pretty well on other sites about ING Direct's savings account, which currently earns 3.75% interest. Plus, I had a friend refer me, so I got an additional $25 bonus (and my buddy got $10). There is no minimum balance requirement, no fees, and they offer an automatic savings plan. If you initiate the transfer from ING, there aren't even any fees on bank transfers. My account is still in the process of being set-up, but I anticipate things to go smoothly. If you check out the web site, and decide that this account is for you, please let me refer you -- you will get the same $25 bonus I received, and I will get a little extra for my piddly account, too!

    **Disclaimer -- While there is no minumum balance requirement to MAINTAIN your account, there is a $250 minimum needed to open the account and receive the bonus.

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    12 December 2005

    Sometimes a free meal is about the right price

    Most of my food suggestions going forward will be for quality food or a special eating experience. This, my first real food post, is simply about finding edible bargains. One of my favorite sources of finding great places to eat is this book:

    "Roadfood" is a state-by-state listing of all the best backwoods, off-the-beaten-path smokehouses, burger joints, shacks, and lunch counters that dot the highway landscape. I am pretty confident that none of these places will be detailed in that book. I will come back to "Roadfood" in a later post, but for now, we can just focus on sustinence.

    Many restaurants offer deals for signing up for the web site's mailing list. Often, these email newsletters will include coupons, promotions, or notices of menu changes. A good lot of these folks will also try to lure you in the door, at least once a year, with a free treat on your birthday or at sign-up. Some places may offer a free entree, others may just go with a dessert. For my fellow college counselors, you can always list your "birthday" on the email lists as being some time during a prime travel season, when you will be eating at a lot of restaurants anyway. You can, of course, have a different birthday at a different restaurant on a number of nights. This is especially helpful for those of us on per diem. The reality is, not many of these places actually check to see if it is your birthday -- they just care that the date on the coupon matches the date of your visit (most places give you two weeks or a month to use your freebie).

    Folks that know me know that I am not a huge fan of eating in corporate restaurants. However, sometimes, these places cannot be avoided, and when I have to go, the least painful way is for it to be cheap!

    These are the places that I know about. I belong to some, and have read about others. If you know of others, please let me know, and I will add them to my list. There are also local places that employ this type of promotion, so check when you hit restaurants in your area, as well.

    Free appetizer at sign-up at Houlihan's.
    Free birthday entree at Bennigan's.
    Free birthday entree at Tony Roma's.
    Free appetizer at sign-up at TGI Fridays. They also offer a loyalty program through Goldpoints, which can earn you some free eats.
    Free ice cream cone at Friendly's. There is a separate program for your kids.
    Free appetizer on sign-up and dessert on your birthday at Buca di Beppo.
    Free dessert (and more?) on your birthday at Ruby Tuesday.
    "Special birthday gift" at Red Lobster.
    Free birthday sub at Firehouse Subs.
    "Special birthday gift" at Rockbottom. They also have a loyalty program.

    I am not sure what these places offer. They have some sort of club, or email mailing list, but I have no idea what you will get. If you find out, let me know!

    Texas Roadhouse VIP Club
    Damon's Grill
    Uno Chicago Grill
    Steak and Ale (owned by the same company as Bennigan's, which offers a birthday entree)
    McCormick and Schmicks
    And, if you can stand the talking moose on the wall, Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse has the Creek Club.

    These places have a loyalty program of sorts -- usually entitling you to free stuff, free food, and/or discounts after a certain threshold purchase amount:

    Dave and Busters offers $10 in free gaming chips and more...
    Benihana's Emperor's Club
    VIG (Very Important Gator) Club at RJ Gators
    And, one that is hard to recommend, unless you frequent it often -- The Palm 837 Club. There is a one-time $25 enrollment fee, but you get back a $20 gift certificate. Why they don't just charge you five bucks, I will never know.


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    08 December 2005

    p a y d a y l o a n s

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    06 December 2005

    Deal of the Day, 12/6/05

    Insomnia causing the clock to roll from one day to another means that there is a new Deal of the Every Now and Then.

    Who doesn't need a little Chunky Monkey in their life?

    OK...who doesn't need a little FREE Chunky Monkey (or any pint of B&J's) in their life?

    To register, go to http://www.benjerry.com/chunk/
    You need to cut and paste into your browser, as a click-through will take you to the B&J's home page, with no mention of this deal.

    **Disclaimer: I am way less responsible for your weight gain for eating an entire pint of ice cream than my own. So, stuff it....and Happy Holidays from me -- I just got you a free pint of ice cream!

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    Satellite Killed the Radio Star?

    I can say with certainty that my absolute favorite purchase of 2005 has been this:

    I have only had XM for a few months, but I almost don't remember what life was like before it. I am not really a music junkie, per se. I could get by on what you could find on the radio and, had I never discovered this, I would really have been none the wiser. The real reason for the purchase was XM's agreement with Major League Baseball to carry their broadcasts -- using the local announcers from the home teams. To be honest, I wasn't really sure what I would listen to during the offseason, but it still seemed like a good enough deal.

    Well, I have become addicted to the music and a lot of their other content, as well. At this point, I think the only terrestrial radio that I listen to is Howard Stern -- and, as you may well know, that won't be an issue too much longer. I love the decade stations, the Boneyard (Ch. 41), the stand-up comedy (Chs. 150-151), ESPN Radio (Ch. 140), and, my man, Tony Kornheiser (Ch. 152). They also have contracts with the National Hockey League and the Atlantic Coast Conference (including my beloved Tar Heels) to broadcast their sporting events -- enough to keep me going until baseball season rolls around again.

    In the spirit of the holiday season, XM does have the requisite all-holiday music, all the time channels. Most of them cover similar fare to what you would find on your regular radio -- classical, popular hits, country, etc. But, Channel 107 -- Special X-Mas (get the XM thing there?) is what gets me right in the festive holiday mood. I can only suspect that this station is being programmed by either 'Weird Al' Yankovic or Dr. Demento. In a relatively short listening period, I have already heard the most bizarre collection of holiday music ever assembled. Tonight, for instance, the highlights had to be Elvis Frogsley "croaking" Blue Christmas. (you know you want to click on that link!) and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass doing their rendition of Sleigh Ride.

    This is why I am an XM subscriber. I really feel like they "get me" -- and, really, that ain't easy to do.

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    05 December 2005

    Deal of the Day

    I would like to think that I could make this a regular feature, but who are we kidding? That would involve regular updates and research on my part. Unfortunately, "Deal of the Every Now and Then" doesn't really roll off the tongue.

    This is one for the Brevard County residents (who, at this point, HAVE to be the only people reading this anyway). If you are looking for a gift for the gardner in your life -- or just a discount on what you plan to purchase anyway -- Rockledge Gardens is running a deal on their gift certificartes. Click here and get a $25 gift certificate for $20 -- a nice 20% savings. This offer is good until December 31, 2005. Rockledge Gardens also has their own loyalty program!

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    04 December 2005


    This is a site dedicated to all the folks who have asked me, over time, how I have been able to accomplish things. For instance, others have asked how I got the nice rental car, while they drive the ol' 2-door "Speck?" I will tell you. Others want to know how I got the nicer hotel room, first-class flight upgrade, or found the ideal restaurant. I will share.

    I will try to stick to discussing topics that I know -- or would like to know about. This may include travel, food, personal finance, my work, pop culture, current events, television, sports, etc. I will leave out the stuff that I know nothing about -- you know, like my personal feelings. You won't have to wade through pages and pages about my personal angst to get to some, hopefully, useful information. On the other hand, if I recently returned from a business trip, I may want to share some information about the great burgers I found in Fort Worth.

    The topics about which I post most frequently are listed above, as tabs. The rest of the labels can be found on the right hand sidebar. Poke around. I may have already said something interesting, and you just didn't know it yet. I will try to inject humor (or what passes with me for humor) into what I do here. You may not have the same sense of humor as me, and if that is the case, and you don't like my style, just click somewhere else. The views that I will express are 100% my own and not those of my employer(s) or anyone else. Posts that are someone else's opinion will be clearly stated and properly referenced.

    More to come....so, you might want to stick around. You never know when I am going to say something worthwhile. Heck, I don't ever know when I am going to say something worthwhile.

    If you are a fellow blogger and would like to exchange links, please drop me an email and we will work something out.

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    01 December 2005

    Consolidated Trip Report: STL-KCMO-Omaha, NE; June 2006

    A primer on the College World Series.

    Day 1; Home to St. Louis - airline food, the St. Louis Zoo, Blueberry Hill, and Ted Drewes.

    Day 2 (Part I); St. Louis - Tony's Restaurant, Missouri Botanical Garden, and Chihuly.

    Day 2 (Part II); St. Louis - Breakaway Cafe and the New Busch Stadium.

    Day 3; St. Louis - O'Connell's Pub, Grant's Farm, Ted Drewe's (again), Union Station, The Locker Room

    Day 4; St. Louis - Kansas City - Omaha - Arthur Bryant's BBQ

    Day 5; Omaha - Rosenblatt Stadium, Lo Sole Mio

    Day 6; Omaha - Rosenblatt Stadium, Johnny's Cafe, Bohemian Cafe

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    Stuff You Oughta Know About Where to Eat

    This is the complete list of all the restaurant reviews/mentions on this site. All links should be A-OK.

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