30 July 2006

Hello, Yeah, It's Been Awhile....

....not much, how 'bout you?

With apologies to both England Dan and John Ford Coley, I realize I have been pretty neglectful lately. There will be some good posts coming up, as I am typing this from Pittsburgh, PA in the middle of a four day weekend, covering four cities, four baseball games, and 500 miles of travel. As a matter of fact, as I glance down at the clock, I am EXACTLY in the middle of this trip -- two cities down, two to go, and my flights gets back home just before midnight late Monday.

So far, things are not going quite as planned. My outbound flight was delayed over 2 hours, negating my planned dinner in Cleveland. I slept in a little longer than I planned today, so my trips to the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh and the Andy Warhol Museum were scrapped. I suppose I needed the rest, but vegging in the hotel for the better part of the morning was not what I had in mind. I was also supposed to meet up with an online friend from Roguefood.com for lunch, but I guess she was called in to work and couldn't make it.

No worries. I am enjoying this trip immensely, so far, and things are shaping up to get better tomorrow. I am meeting up with two college recruiting friends in Baltimore, and I am very excited about my first trip to Camden Yards in 10 years. I am also anxious to replace the memories of my last trip there. My overriding memory is that it was the place where I broke up with one of my favorite ex-girlfriends (heck, SHE invited me to a baseball game!). My appreciation of different baseball stadiums wasn't quite as refined then, either, so I am curious to see where Camden Yards, often highly regarded from most folks who have been to a few stadiums, rates with me.

I wrap up this trip with a day game in Philadelphia on Monday afternoon. There's still a lot to do - including a four-hour drive tomorrow morning - and 5:30 is going to come around quickly, I suspect. I hope to have posts upcoming on frugal vacationing (or, more appropriately, properly using your resources for a vacation); where to eat in the 'Burgh, Charm City, and Philly; and why I don't think I will ever cheat on Hertz again!

The only teaser pic that I have right now is this one...and it is only because I hope this dolt who walked in front of my camera got nice and blinded.

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20 July 2006

Tom Hanks Reads My Blog?

What else could explain this?

On a rainy Wednesday night in Cincinnati, a glittering Hollywood trio of Tom Hanks, Ron Howard and Dennis Miller was in the house, and they even stayed through a two-hour rain delay. Three show-business buddies on a cross-country baseball trip.

This was their night to see the Mets. Hanks said all a guy needed to get on their traveling bus was "to be a baseball fan and be funny."

News will be forthcoming about my own upcoming travels, but I suspect that my own trip won't draw the same media coverage.

But, you never know!

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18 July 2006

Site Layout Update

Due to the number of restaurant links, the "Stuff You Oughta Know About Where to Eat" section has been resorted alphabetically. You can now easily find any restaurant review sorted by State first, then City, then restaurant name. I am up to 29, and I would be doing a lot better if I could just remember to bring my camera with me when I leave the house once in awhile!

There is a new section in the sidebar called "Stuff Lots of Other People Think You Oughta Know (discussion boards)." These are links to discussion fora that I frequent, at least as a reader, sometimes as a poster. There is a wealth of information contained therein, and the best way to approach as a new user is to search first, ask second! Each of those boards has a wealth of archived knowledged and many frequent posters who generally help out newbies.

My "Upcoming Travel" section has been updated to reflect my next travel down to south Florida for a week at the end of August. I haven't posted the cities to which I will be traveling for work in the fall, because a lot of that travel is up in the air.

Lastly, the newest link in the "Stuff Other People Think You Oughta Know" section is for my pal Dave's site. He describes as "The Official Site of All Things Dave." It is new, so check it out, if you like.

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Chowing on Cuban Food Across Florida

In the past month, I have had the good fortune to hit two of the best Cuban restaurants in Florida - Puerto Sagua in Miami and Rolando's Cuban Restaurant in Orlando. My trip to Rolando's was somewhat unexpected, so I don't have the pictures to document the visit, but I like the place enough, and plan to make it a point to go more often, so I will try to photograph my next visit. I will save the teasing for one of my frequent posters, "Clothier" until the next time.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a weekend trip to Miami to meet up with a few friends, eat a couple of good meals, and catch a ballgame at the Worst Stadium in the Majors. Following the game, the group of us made off to South Beach for one of the oldest Cuban restaurants in south Florida. Puerto Sagua is located on Collins Ave (A1A) and is very easy to find. There is a convenient, city-owned parking lot right across the street that charges about a buck an hour.

This was my first visit here, and now I cannot imagine making any more trips to Miami without including this restaurant in my itinerary. There are two dining areas; one comprised of a counter with surrounding stools, and one a traditional dining room. They do their best to pack folks in here pretty well. My understanding is that there is often a wait for a table at the most peak hours. Fortunately, we were seated right away. One thing most of White America will notice first is that they are likely one of the few English-only speakers in the joint. Puerto Sagua definitely caters to a very Spanish clientele, but welcomes non-Spanish speakers in kind.

The three of us put away some food. Two of us had arroz con pollo (chicken with yellow rice) with maduros (fried ripe/sweet plantains). I added sopa de pollo (chicken soup), which was prepared with large chunks of chicken, thin noodles, carrots and potatoes. Also, notice in the picture the freshly baked Cuban bread. It is light in the middle, but crusty on the outside.

One of the guys in the group drew some odd looks when he ordered the Seafood Enchilada. The rest of us thought that enchiladas were a Mexican dish, but as the only member of the group who had ever been to Havana, he assured us that they served such a dish in Cuba. This was one of the most interesting meals I had seen in quite some time. If there was a piece of seafood that somehow managed to avoid making it into this dish, I don't know what it is. I could spot clam, shrimp, fish, and even a lobster tail in that broth. The plain white rice soaked up the juice from the broth, as well, making for what looked like a delicious meal.

Make no mistake about it - this place is the authentic, real deal. Check out the pictures of the dining room and the truly bizarre 3-D mural of downtown Havana. We did not cap our meal with a traditional Cuban espresso drink, but by the time we finished, I think we were all stuffed. The total bill, including the one pricey seafood dish, came to about $50 plus tip for three. Puerto Sagua qualifies as one of the great South Beach bargains!

For details on the trip to Rolando's, please continue below the fold...

This past weekend, I had the good fortune to hit central Florida's best Cuban restaurant, Rolando's in Casselberry. Rolando's has also been serving up Cuban for a good while, and the family-run business keeps quality the top priority. The dining room features white clothed covered tables, which gives an air of fanciness, but after just a few minutes seated at your table, you know that Rolando's offers a very casual environment with fast and friendly service. Where Puerto Sagua seemingly caters to the local Hispanic crowd, and accommodates non-Spanish speakers, Rolando's menu is primarily in English with Spanish translations.

A group of three of us ordered the plantain chips and mojo, fried eggplant, and a beef empanada as appetizers for the table. One of the guys commented that it was the best mojo sauce he had ever had. I had never tried it before, and will only say that you had better like garlic! It was some potent stuff. I am not a fan of eggplant, in general, so I shied away - but, to be truthful, it seemed a little out of place. The empanada was good - crunchy exterior with moist, flavorful ground beef. I stuck with my Cuban standard for my entree, arroz con pollo with maduros. The chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender and very moist. The rice was flavorful, but not overpowering. The plantains were wonderful. My buddy had one of their combination plates, which included ropa vieja, another beef dish, and a pork dish (I wish I knew or could remember the names - or find a Rolando's menu online - sadly, I cannot!). His meal came with mofongo (white rice cooked with black beans) and maduros. His wife had a traditional grilled chicken dish, that was also accompanied by mofongo and maduros. We all capped our meal with a coffee drink, that I think was called "cortadito," but I am not sure. It was Cuban espresso with sugar, and some milk (it was not cafe con leche). My buddy's combination meal was the most expensive of the group - and still under $15. My arroz con pollo (white meat version) was under $10.

One of the hidden highlights of the Rolando's meal was the bread. This was not the style of Cuban bread pictured above, but rather a cross between Cuban bread and a dinner roll, all in the shape of a traditional biscuit. The basket that was brought to the table for three of us was polished off in short order by just two of us (fortunately, one didn't much care for the bread).

The proliferation of Cuban restaurants is one more reason to enjoy living in Florida. I was very fortunate to be able to catch two of the very best in all the land (maybe two out of the three best, if you want to throw La Teresita in Tampa in the group). I have a friend who believes strongly in seeking out the most regional foods in his travels. In other words, trying to seek out the best NY-style Kosher deli foods in, say, Charleston, the home of Low Country seafood boils, would be utterly ridiculous. If you are looking to find some of the most regional foods available in Florida, make sure you tackle some great Cuban!

Puerto Sagua
700 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL

Rolando's Cuban Restaurant
870 Semoran Blvd (SR 436)
Casselberry, FL

Edit: Puerto Sagua was featured in the Dining Out: Best of 2006 post.

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17 July 2006

The Price of Convenience

Living the single life doesn't always afford one all of the opportunities to save that a typically frugal person might hope. This situation rears up on me sometimes at the grocery store. It is not easy to stock up on staples, nor is it practical for me to make a full turkey dinner with all the fixings. Since I am also trying to cut down on dining out at restaurants (an area that has not been all to successful, of late), so trying to navigate around the grocery store looking for something unique to eat, but mindful of the time/effort/expense of some of the things that I like. Honestly, I think I could be one of the few people in America who could date more often and SAVE money!

Last night, Publix was hawking some of their convenience items in the aisles. At the seafood department, I found some tasty tilapia stuffed with crabmeat. For the first time in quite awhile, I was induced to purchase by a sample tasting. They offered a freshly packaged (in-store, same day) whole fillet, seasoned and stuffed, and ready to spend some quality time in the oven. The price for this convenience, I felt, was quite reasonable - $5.99/lb. I know that tilapia, alone, can be found cheaper, but $5.99/lb isn't really a bad price for a slab of fresh fish. Since this came as a ready-made meal, I would expect to pay a little bit of a premium. The whole cost for the package was just over $7.00.

It made me realize that I am willing to pay for a few other convenience items, especially at Publix. In the deli, I like their chicken tenders - even the cold ones that I have as grab-and-go, and their fried chicken (yes, all the healthy stuff!). In the bakery, I will always grab a loaf of challah bread, if they have one unsliced out on the shelf. Their danish are also good, and I previously mentioned their fresh pizza dough.

I do have my limits, though. It seems preposterous to me to pay for someone to cut up fruit for me in advance. When I look at the price that they charge for a melon cut into chunks versus the cost of a whole melon, I wonder why people pay for that sort of thing. Then I think if other people think that I am nuts for buying a loaf of bread or chicken tenders instead of making them myself.

In case you were wondering, the tilapia turned out great. All it took was adding a pat of butter on top of the fish and about 1/2 hour in the oven at 350. It was delicious, and I was able to portion myself out something for dinner and some for lunch tomorrow. Now, if only I could have grabbed some type of vegetable-type substance, I could have made a whole meal!

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The Perfect Woman

It's been awhile since my divorce, and I have softened my "I am never getting married" stance to something more like "I am not likely to ever get married again." Baby steps, friends, baby steps. If I thought I could find someone like this, I might consider it.

"Cyclone relief pitcher Grady Hinchman, 24, is the only player on the team who is married (for all of a month!), but he had a good feeling about the Kerpen-Fisher nuptials.
“If he’s found a woman who will get married on a baseball field, he’s found the right girl,” he said.
So, I sent an email out to some friends earlier today about this article. I don't usually use this forum to share my personal email exchanges, but this one was notable. My very first email back was from a recently married friend of mine who simply said his wife would have nothing of that. I wrote back:
"Nor would the former Mrs. Travelin' Man. :-) Which is why if there ever is to be a FUTURE Mrs. Travelin' Man, she should plan on her nuptials to take place in one of two environs: home plate at the mutual ballpark of our choosing (sure as hell ain't going to be Yankee Stadium) or VEGAS Baby - at the Elvis Chapel of Love, where we will be married by an Elvis impersonator -- and not some thin 1950's Elvis. I want the authentic, 1970's coke-riddled, obese, fried peanut butter and banana sandwich eating Elvis!

If I find a woman who would endure that - then I know that she won't ever leave!"
Surprisingly, one of my very attractive, single friends wrote back and said that she would "totally" do this. It took all I had to not write back in my Joey Trebiani voice "How YOUUUUU doin'?"

Who knows if there is a perfect woman, though? Yet another guy apparently got tired of waking up next to every man's fantasy, Christie Brinkley.

I realize that I can count the number of supermodels with whom I have slept on....ummm....well, no hands, but that doesn't change the fact that this is Christie Freakin' Brinkley. How hard must she be to get along with? This was Husband Number Four - and he would rather schtoop a 19 year-old?

On the other hand, I guess it means that Christie Brinkley is back on the market. I wonder if she is a baseball fan?

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12 July 2006

Adventures in Cooking

I really am trying to make a concerted effort to cook more and eat at home. To do this, I need to come up with foods that I would be likely to make at home. I actually have some reasonably good cooking skills, and what I don't know how to do, I can usually pick up pretty quickly (solid learning curve potential). My problem is that, as a single guy, cooking for one just stinks. In the past, I posted about trying something a little more difficult. Tonight, I went for something a little more simple -- homemade pizza.

We are going to use the term "homemade" in the broadest sense here. I bought fresh pizza dough from Publix. So, I didn't "make" the dough. I used jar pasta sauce - so, I didn't really "make" the sauce. I bought a pre-packaged cheese blend - so, I didn't shred or slice my own fresh mozzarella. I also bought pre-sliced pepperoni, too. But, I did combine and prepare all of those ingredients myself. I will say, though, that writing about this experience sure makes it seem like I didn't really do all that much.

First, let's discuss the positives. This was one cheap meal. The total cost for the whole pizza breaks down like this:

  • Publix fresh dough - $1.59
  • 1/4 jar of Barilla sauce - ~$.50
  • 1/3 bag of shredded cheese - ~$.70
  • 1/10 bag of sliced pepperoni - ~$.35
  • oregano sprinkled on top - negligible?
Around $3 for a homemade pizza - not bad! It was also very easy to make and better than many grocery store-bought pizzas that I have had in the past. I had dinner at a friend's house a few weeks ago, and I was treated to some excellent homemade pizza, using most of the same ingredients, including the Publix pizza dough. I thought that I had observed the cook well enough to give it a shot myself.

The biggest downside was that it didn't taste as good as it could have. The crust seemed a little "heavy." I am a crust guy. All of the other ingredients worked really well, but the crust was lacking. It almost had the texture of one of those frozen DiGiorno pizzas. I am confident that I can do better, though, so I will give another attempt.

The procedure...

Set the dough out to rise - usually 1/2 hour to an hour.

Prepare your ingredients.

Press dough into pie shape on a pizza stone, and bake at 425 degrees for about five minutes - just about until the dough is set and slightly browned. When you remove the crust from the oven, you will likely need to poke some holes into the top with a fork, as the crust will "puff" up.

Use your own discretion, but spread an even amount of sauce across the crust's surface. I sprinkled some oregano on the sauce. On top of the sauce, add your cheese. I used a shredded mix of Italian cheeses, including mozzarella, romano, provolone, parmesan, asiago and fontina. In the past, I have used sliced mozzarella. Use what you like. I also added some sliced pepperoni, for flavor. Get creative in your own way here. Add whatever you like.

Bake for about 15 minutes, but keep a good eye on your pizza, as you may like yours more or less well-done as I do. I pulled mine out of the oven at the perfect color for what I like.

I can only wish that my pie tasted half as good as it looked. I am sure that I did something to screw up the crust, and I will give another go sometime in the near future.

All in all, a successful venture, and a learning experience. If you have any pizza baking tips, please post them in the comments section to share!

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One More Thing...

A few days ago, I gave you five reasons why the World Cup is dumb. Leave it to FIFA to not let a sleeping dog lie, and add fodder for a solid SIXTH reason why the World Cup is dumb!

Monday, one day after the exciting (yawn) final match between Italy and France, FIFA awarded their MVP, called the "Golden Ball" to Zinedine Zidane. You might remember Zidane as the player who scored France's goal in the final match on a penatly kick. Of course, if that is how you remember Zidane, you are the only one, and you obviously turned the game off at the end of regulation time. The rest of the world remembers Zidane as the guy who headbutted an opponent after an exchange of words late in the extra time session. The rest of the world's last sight of Zidane was of him walking out through the tunnel, just underneath the World Cup trophy. The rest of the world - at least, the rest of the world that has an ounce of common sense, would think that awarding the tournament's highest individual honor to a man who was kicked out of the final match with the game on the line would be insane.

Not FIFA. And, not the media who covered the matches (they were the ones who voted on the award). Major League Baseball should make sure that anyone who participated in that vote doesn't also have a say in the upcoming Cy Young Award balloting. I hear Jason Grimsley could be a longshot candidate to win!

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Is 'The Eel' the New Mole?

News came out this week that Peter MacNicol will be joining the cast of '24' for the upcoming season. Word is that he will be playing a "high-ranking government official." This is a good fit for me. I love '24' and I have loved Peter MacNicol since I saw him in 'Chicago Hope' as in-house counsel, Alan Birch, affectionately referred to as "The Eel."

'Chicago Hope' was a well-done show with an excellent cast (Mandy Patinkin, Hector Elizondo, Adam Arkin, Mark Harmon, Christine Lahti, Thomas Gibson - before he met Dharma) that most definitely began trolling the shark-infested waters the day The Eel was shot and killed. 'Chicago Hope' never recovered.

I hope that The Eel doesn't meet the same ugly fate that befell last year's new "star" addition, Rudy!

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10 July 2006

The Best Way to Save More Money

This is going to sound simple...too simple, but it is true. The easiest way to save more money is to make more money. I am serious. I thought about this long and hard. I have cut most of the expenses I am reasonably willing to cut from my budget and still maintain a lifestyle that will not drive me insane. My small amount of credit card debt is all at 0%, and will be paid off within the next two months. Even if I were willing to give up my cable television (and I am not), it is built into my monthly condo association dues. I think I am about to cut out my blockbuster.com subscription, as I am just not using it nearly enough. That's less than $20/month, though, so we are not talking about huge dollars. Could I eat out less? Sure, but as a single guy, who is not a huge fan of cleaning, dining out carries a multitude of benefits, not the least of which is that it keeps my kitchen and refrigerator relatively clean, which I think is a health benefit! Seriously, I am making an effort to eat at home more frequently...and, dare I suggest, carry my lunch to work???

On top of that, I don't spend a lot more than I have to on gasoline (I live less than 5 miles from work), home cooling (thermo set to 78 in the summer, and off when I am not home), phone ($40 monthly cell plan), and incidentals (I only buy clothes and most other necessities when they are on sale, etc.). Still, I feel like I need to make more a serious dent in my outstanding student loans (paid down below $19k, finally!) and increase my savings - both retirement and current/short-term. It's not hard to see that I do not have much of an outflow problem, but I have a distinct income problem. What to do???

Get a second job (sort of). I have friends who own a talent agency, and I am able to do some contract work for them seasonally. Fortunately, that season is coming up! This type of second job really works for me. My career job is not conducive to a regular, post 5 pm, waiting tables kind of second job, as I am required to travel frequently for work. This work, however, is able to be done in the course of a few days in the winter and a few days in the summer, and pays extremely well. I haven't done the math, but I am pretty sure that the money I make would be more than I would if I worked 10 hours a week all year at some minimum wage job. Next month, I will likely take in around $2,500 from this extra work. This is found money, as far as I am concerned, and my current plan is to send $2,000 off to the student loan and add the rest to my savings. My advice: If you feel like you need more money, get a second job. Obviously, my situation is ideal for me, but get ANY second job. Take the money that you make and use at least 80% of it to pay down your debt or increase your savings (you said you NEEDED the money, right?). Use the remainder to do something fun for yourself. Human nature dictates that if you don't see some kind of immediate benefit, you will start to resent the second job, and it may even effect your performance at your first job.

Assess the interest rate on your savings. Compared to a year ago, I am making a lot more money with the money I have than I was before. Did that make sense? A year ago, I had my emergency savings fund sitting in my Wachovia savings account, earning a whopping 0.10% interest. I was able to earn a grand total of around 38 cents per month on my savings. Last December, I opened a savings account with ING Direct, mostly because of the $25 account opening bonus that they offered. In addition, their interest rate is quite attractive, currently at 4.35%. Yes, I know that there are banks that offer a slightly higher rate, but all of my research says that ING has the best customer service and an easy to use web interface. Besides, compared to what I was earning, the rate I currently get is HUGE! What was 38 cents a month last year is now almost $20/mo. I know that I mentioned a few paragraphs ago that $20 wasn't all that significant, but it is better than nothing. My advice: If you haven't already, open an account with ING Direct. They still offer a $25 sign-up bonus, if you are referred by a current member. Email me, and I will be happy to send you a referral. It is a win-win for both of us. You get a $25 bonus if you open an account and fund it with $250 or more, and I get $10 for referring you. I just did this with a friend last week, and both of our bonuses posted promptly. Even if you don't choose to keep the money there for any long period of time, earning 10% on your money instantly is a very nice rate of return.

Increase peripheral income. I think that this could be the hardest thing on my list. I have a few ads set up on this web page, but even if I encouraged everyone I know to buy their textbooks through my Amazon link, I don't think that I would generate enough money to buy an extra ice cream cone every month! Still, if you blog, you should have an account set up with Amazon, as well as Google AdSense. Also, make sure that you are getting a rebate on all of your online purchases. I mentioned previously about Ebates, and there are other sites that offer similar deals, as well. Many online purchases with major retailers qualify for cash back from somewhere. One thing I would like to commit to do more is sell some things on eBay. Everyone has clutter around their house that just isn't used. Do you need your "stuff" or do you need cash? I need to get off my behind and determine what I have that I can move out. The benefit is two-fold -- increase cash flow, and reduce the amount of junk in the house. My advice: Take inventory of the things you can sell around your place. Try to make a manageable schedule to prepare, post, and package eBay items. You don't have to make a lot of money here - think of it is a yard sale. If you clear a few bucks and clean out the house, you are ahead in two areas. Don't worry about what you paid for something or the perceived worth. It is worth whatever someone else is willing to pay for it.

See, it's just that easy. Make more money. Why didn't I think of that.

Oh yeah...I did.

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09 July 2006

Five Reasons Why the World Cup is Dumb!

I don't suppose this is the most popular opinion, but it's mine...and I kind of like soccer. I was fortunate enough to see my college soccer squad win an NCAA championship while I was a student - on our own pitch. My interest in soccer has waned over the years, as I realized that the game I saw as an undergraduate was not the same game that was being played worldwide. We had an aggressive team that scored a lot of goals - and we won a lot of games. Isn't it just like an American to like a high scoring game - and one at which we succeed. The World Cup, though, is flawed...badly.

First, there is the corruption. I don't know how anyone can explain to me how someone like Jorge Larrionda can be selected to referee even one match - let alone four, including a semifinal match. The guy was suspended in 2002 by his home federation, for what was cited as "irregularities." If this is the signature event of the world's sport, how can the referees chosen not be above reproach. Of course, Larrionda's history becomes notable because he officiated a match involving the US squad, which was roundly criticized almost universally as being one of the worst officiated games in World Cup history. His reward for this fine performance? Not one more assignment, but two, including the France/Portugal semi-final match.

Along the same lines as corruption, this World Cup will be remembered for the number of players faking injuries and taking dives. I understand that this is a part of the game, but the amount of cheating (and, really, who are we kidding by calling it anything else?) in this World Cup taints the sport on a world stage.

Extra time is another twisted reality for this sport. I don't understand in a sport where goals are nearly impossible to come by, why they wouldn't use something exciting to end a match, like a sudden death overtime period. FIFA toyed with the idea of "golden goal," using this terminology for the same result as sudden death, because it had less of a "negative connotation" (panzy Euro-freaks!). One of the reasons why Americans like hockey and football (sports where scoring is also somewhat limited) is because they know that if regulation time ends with the score tied, play will continue until someone scores - and only until someone scores. I don't see why we need to play ninety minutes to a tie, and solve that tie with a guaranteed thirty additional minutes of play. For sports like basketball, where scoring is frequent, requiring a fixed amount of time for overtime makes a lot more sense. I think a much more exciting end to the Italy-Germany semi-final match would have been a golden goal from the foot of Fabio Grosso in the 119th minute. Instead, Italy scored and then had to get back and play again. For lack of a better phrase, this is just plain dumb.

It seems like a basketball comparison would make even more sense to point out the sheer idiocy of settling the championship game of the World Cup with penatly kicks. I know this argument has been made before, likely by folks more eloquent than myself, but it is akin to settling the NBA Finals with the two teams having a free throw competition. I would be curious to see the statistics, but I suspect that teams shooting PKs have a better chance of scoring than most NBA players shooting free throws (Dwayne Wade is a notable exception). Again, the issue is the lack of scoring that teams produce over the course of the regular game. It makes it seem all the more random that you would settle a match using a technique that rewards a team whose goalie happens to guess correctly, at the right time, to which direction the ball will be kicked by his opponent. Ninety minutes of well-played soccer, plus another 30 minutes of extra time, on top of four previous weeks of competition just doesn't seem like the best way to solve the championship, does it?

Lastly, the World Cup is dumb because the Americans just can't seem to field a good team. The US is widely regarded as claiming the first victory in World Cup history back in 1930. That team reached the semi-finals, where it was promptly thumped by Argentina. More than 75 years later, it is still the best finish by a US squad. Wouldn't FIFA and soccer world-wide benefit from a strong US program? The 1994 World Cup, hosted by the United States set attendance records that still last today. The amount of money spent by Americans on sports memorabilia is enormous. Sure, calling the World Cup dumb just because America cannot field a competetive team is ridiculous, but isn't it just like Americans to blame the sport on our inability to succeed?

Fortunately, we don't have to endure this nonsense for another four years. Four more years to show the world why the best sporting event anywhere is held in Omaha, Nebraska!

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Stuff You Oughta Know About College Orientation

Boston Gal's Open Wallet has a post about an article in today's Boston Globe, Life-away-from-home 101. The article discusses how Boston area colleges and universities are dealing with the annual ritual that is freshman orientation.

I realize that my college experience was not the norm. I arrived at school by myself, moved in with no parental help, and was happy to be 1,200 miles away from where almost anyone else knew me. Now, the college orientation process involves as many seminars and programs for parents and families as there are for the students. My orientation was a series of placement exams, a number of social events, and a loose collection of gatherings designed to encourage "involvement." Now, placement exams are done online during the summer. The social events are all planned and sponsored, using expensive guest talent. The term "loose collection" doesn't apply anywhere anymore, because of the need to hold everyone's hand at every step along the way.

This time of year, I receive phone calls every day from parents asking how long they are "allowed" to stay. Parents can't imagine that they might leave their kids somewhere - and they will be just fine. If they're not fine, they are going to call you - on the cell phone that you bought them, with more minutes than they could reasonably speak to someone else in one month.

I recently had a conversation with one of our academic deans and he told me that he wished there was some way that we, in the Admission Office, could better evaluate a student's maturity level in the application process. This article, at least, reinforces the idea that it is not just our students who are coming to college lacking academic, physical, and emotional maturity.

We now spend so much time holding students hands that some actual education that would be beneficial during Orientation gets lost in the shuffle. It would be helpful if students were educated on the dangers of using blogs, personal web space (myspace.com/facebook.com), and photo sharing services (flickr.com, imageshack.us). Sharing personal information is OK, as long as you know with whom you are sharing your personal information. Anything posted ANYWHERE on the Internet is fair game for a search engine and could possibly end up in the hands of someone you had not intended. On the other hand, when you get called into the Dean of Students' office on an alcohol charge, don't assume that s/he hasn't seen your myspace page, or the picture you posted on facebook doing a keg stand.

The message for all students heading off to orientation this season is simple - don't be stupid. That's my advice for almost everything, but it is something that you likely won't hear at your school's formal presentations. They will cloak it in family-friendly words and cover it up with the bandage that is political correctness. Sometimes, though, you just need to get smacked in the head, without hidden messages.

So, don't be stupid.

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08 July 2006

No Love for the KC Royals?

I was asked why we arranged our previous trip through Kansas City, but didn't go to a Royals game. The primary baseball focus on this trip was twofold -- the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis and the College World Series. If scheduling would have worked out better, we thought about doing an interleague game there - Pittsburgh was in town. Since we only had a few days in Omaha to soak in as much as we could of the CWS, when we saw the limited scheduling opportunity, we decided to pass.

We attended a game at Kauffman Stadium during our first trip to the College World Series back in 2003. You will have to use "attended a game" in the most broad sense, as we got much more of a story than a game that night. Get a quick look at the sky -- it isn't poor coloring on the photo, it is ugly weather rolling in.

We secured tickets outside the stadium from what appeared to be a season ticket holder, who just didn't want to be bothered with the impending weather. Total cost for two excellent seats was about $20 (less than 1/2 the face value of $24 each). My general rule of the thumb when going to a new ballpark is to buy the cheapest ticket I can find, and then see what better seats are available. I like walking around a park anyway, and this way almost forces me to wander. I am sure we could have purchased cheaper general admission tickets (or their equivalent), but this worked out well. Surprising as it may sound, not that many people turned out for a rainy night to see the Royals play the Diamondbacks (not exactly one of those marquee interleague matchups).

I was surprised at how much I liked this ballpark, considering how sparsely attended the game was, the horrible weather, and the incorrect perception that this stadium was similar to the other cookie-cutter stadiums of the same era in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh. The fountains, seen often on TV (as often as the Royals are on TV) are pretty cool, and they also had a mini-park just outside the main stadium where kids played with the team mascot.

Kauffman is also home to the worst Hall of Fame in the history of sports. George Brett is a worthy candidate. Name another Royal worthy of induction to ANY Hall of Fame. This one contains the likes of Dennis Leonard (no All-Star game appearances), Freddie Patek (a career .242 batting average), Lary Gura (won 18 games twice, All-Star once), and Paul Splittorff (never an All-Star appearance). Ouch.

Three-plus innings into our game, the sky opened up like I have rarely seen. We get some powerful thunderstorms here in central Florida, and this one gave any of ours a run for the money. If you are a fan of storms, this was one to watch. Our seats were not far from the nearest overhang, so we got a good view of the storm, and stayed relatively dry. Since our goal is not to watch bad baseball, but rather to "collect" stadiums, we were OK with taking calling our visit complete and making a run for the car at the earliest sign of a weather break. After about a 45 minute wait, the game was called. The picture was taken before 8:30 pm - still light at this time of year. The weather was just that ugly.

On our way out of town the following day, we decided to exchange our tickets for an upcoming game. It turns out that the Yankees were coming to town soon, and we would be able to exchange our tickets and then list them for sale on eBay. They exchanged our tickets (remember, these were season tickets) for some cheaper seats (there was no exact match for pricing purposes) and gave me a $6 refund, to boot. So, now I have two $21 tickets to the Yankees one and only series in town, and I only paid $14! The tickets sold for about $20 each, making Kansas City one of our more profitable stadium excursions.

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03 July 2006

Delta Offers Similar 25,000 Mile Bonus

I mentioned in a previous post that United is offering 25,000 bonus miles through Rewards Network (formerly iDine). Delta is offering a similar deal -- one that I think is a little better. The gist of their deal is that if you do 25 qualified dines of $25 or more before the end of the year, they will give you 25,000 bonus miles. United's deal required you to spend $125 per month, every month, until the end of the year to get their bonus. If you don't spend the $125 one month, then you get no bonus. With Delta's deal, they don't specify when you need to do your 25 dines, just that you need to have 25 done by the end of the year.

I don't always spend $25 per meal, especially when I dine alone for work, but I have worked out a way to take advantage of deals like this anyway. It really only works for places where you do some repeat business, but it is a handy tool. Instead of paying for your (under $25) meal with your registered credit card, purchase a gift card/certificate for $25 and pay for your meal with the gift card. You will get the remaining balance to spend next time, and you will meet the requirement for a $25 dine.

I am still hoping that American will kick in with a deal of their own. Remember to register for this deal BEFORE you dine out to qualify!

Hat tip to Free Frequent Flyer Miles.

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$10 Savings at Amazon.com Grocery

I mentioned in an earlier Amazon post that Amazon is now selling grocery items. It appears as though they are trying to induce business into their new department, because they are offering a $10 discount on orders of $49 or more. Since everything also qualifies for free shipping (with orders of more than $25), you will get the discount and have it shipped to you for free.

It seems to me that you would need to be the type of person who already buys at warehouse stores to benefit from this. A single guy like myself probably couldn't eat 7 boxes of Raisin Bran in any reasonable period of time. But, shop Amazon Grocery, and see if they have anything you need.

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02 July 2006

Twilight Zone Marathon on SciFi Channel!

I just got back from a weekend trip to Miami (one food post coming soon!). I listened to the Mets/Yankees game for the last part of the way up. Off to a good start with a 4-0 lead, chasing the Yankees starting pitcher, things were looking good. Well...not so much. I don't know how the game is going to end up, but I can't bear to watch any more of it on television.

Flipping around the channels, I discovered that SciFi Channel is running a July 4 Twilight Zone marathon. I tuned in just in time to see one of my favorite episodes, "The Masks." The next episode up is the one where the sun is moving closer to the earth. I love it. If I wasn't already pissed that I had to go to work tomorrow (after having a three-day weekend), I am now! I could have easily camped out on the couch and watched Twilight Zone episodes all day! Instead, Insomnia Boy (The Travelin' Man's alter ego) will soak in as much as possible tonight, and likely watch a few more episodes tomorrow!

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Trip Log, Day 6; Omaha

Note: This is one of a series. You can find the complete series index here.

One of the biggest lessons that I learned from typing this trip journal is that I really need to do a better job of daily writing when I am on vacation and then just put it into proper format and add pictures. On the other hand, this is a great way to relive a wonderful vacation, so maybe it is not so bad that I am still writing about my Omaha adventures almost a week after the College World Series ended (unhappily, I might add).

This shaped up to be a weird day. One of the things that we tossed around for an agenda prior to the trip, was the idea of seeing the early game in Omaha, then driving back to KC to see a game between the two worst teams in the majors (Pittsburgh was in town), catch one more meal in KC, and fly out the next day. The scheduling gods were not with us, though, as the "early" game was scheduled for 4 pm local time. There would be no chance to see any part of that game, and then make the drive to KC for a 7 pm start. Instead, our new plan would be a late lunch at the famous Johnny's Cafe, and then a day and evening of baseball, with evening food consisting of ballpark fare.

We got to Johnny's (4702 S. 27th St.) a little before 2 pm (good thing, too -- their lunch service ends at 2!). Johnny's is an old cattleman's hangout, just outside the Omaha stockyards. Greeting you at the entrance is a larger than life photo of Jack Nicholson, grinning ear to ear (naturally) in that way that only he does. Nicholson filmed "About Schmidt" here, and, even as shy and demure as he is, apparently had his arm twisted into taking a photo for the wall. The dining room is decorated in what can only be called 1950's chic - a dimly lit room with big leather chairs and booths. The server, a robust midwestern woman, takes her time greeting the table, but she is always moving. You definitely feel like you have taken a step back in time. Lunch is served with a somewhat pared down menu, but they note that dinner steaks are available for lunch, as well.

We both had our hearts set on two things - the filet and the hash browns. Our server told us that the hash browns would be an upcharge for the lunch-sized 6 oz. filets, but come as an standard side to the 9 oz. dinner cut filets. Hmmm...more steak? OK. As for the photo, no there is not a mirror splitting the middle of the table - but, when you know what you want, why order something else? Split open, there was a significant difference between my buddy's medium rare and my medium. Actually, I would be amazed if these guys EVER had a steak sent back. The hash browns lacked the crispness that I prefer. I recall them being a little crispier the last time, but I am not sure if I ordered them that way, or if at dinner time you just get better hash browns? I am not much of a wine drinker, but their house Cabernet was delicious, and I thought a bargain at $4.75/glass. The bread plate is pretty pedestrian, but the spread that was served with the bread was cottage cheese-like, and pretty tasty. Suuficiently stuffed, and wallets emptied ($70 lunch for two), we made off to Rosenblatt.

The beginning of the first game was lightly attended, so we were able to walk right in again (no general admission line) and secure decent seats behind home plate. Today's session was two games long, so unless you had the desire to see one of the two teams playing the early games, you didn't need to arrive particularly early. Knuckleheads like us, on the other hand, were able to get good seats! My favorite thing about Tuesday in Omaha is that it is "Elimination Day!" Both brackets have both of their teams with one loss play each other. Since this is the double elimination part of the tournament, the losers go home. The first game was Cal State Fullerton against Clemson. Two of the top seeds in the tournament, who had each lost a game to North Carolina. I thought this was going to be a great game - two of the top teams, and each looked better than at least three of the four teams in the other bracket. It was a shame that someone would no longer be playing after this contest.

The reality didn't live up to my self-promoted hype. The game was sloppy and long. It took over four hours before Fullerton came back and broke the hearts of these guys sitting behind us. As a matter of fact, it was the second or third longest nine inning game in CWS history. What that meant for us was sheer baseball overload. We'd seen enough. I wasn't looking forward to sitting through a 50-minute break to see Oregon State-Miami, a replay of the lone blowout in the entire CWS. It seemed Miami would have it in the bag (hmmm...have I been RIGHT yet?). Instead of catching the late baseball game, we could just grab one more good meal in Omaha, and that is what we decided to do.

The Bohemian Cafe is another of the legendary Omaha restaurants that most people just assume you hit when you tell them that you went to Omaha. I had never been there - heck, I wasn't really sure that I liked Czech food, but what the hey...I'll give it a shot. The recommendation that we got was to order the duck and pilsner. I like duck and I like beer - should be a winner. Again, we walked in the door just about as the place was closing. I wouldn't think that a Tuesday night in Omaha would be all that hopping, but 9 pm seems to be when the whole town shuts down. We were seated, graciously, and next to us was a father/son duo who had clearly made the same bee-line for the place as we did from the stadium. They must have had better seats or a better parking spot, because they already had their food. I also let the sight of their meal talk me out of the duck.

I ordered the jaeger schnitzel, sort of czech veal cutlets in what tasted like a very thick marsala sauce. It came with a cup of their chicken and dumpling soup, which was fabulous and two of the thickest and tastiest dumplings I have ever had the pleasure of consuming. My buddy stuck with the roasted duck, and was not disappointed. The Pilsner Urquell is served on draft in a frosty ceramic mug. Homemade bread accompanies the meal, but there is enough carbs in those dumplings to get anyone with even the slightest sense of watching their carb intake to take heed. For the first time on this trip, I could not finish the meal. I couldn't come close to finishing this meal. I left a whole dumpling, some of the veggies, didn't touch the bread, and it was even tough to finish the beer.

Needless to say, this was the perfect ending to a great trip. The flight the following day left little room for anything but a wake-up and a drive south to the KC airport. Fortunately, we were back in first class on the way home, so even though MCI-ORD (O'Hare) offered little more than a bag of pretzels, our flight from ORD-MCO would at least give us a similar snack to the flight up. Refer back to the first post in this trip report if you must, but this is a great vacation for any true baseball fan who has had it with the typical spoiled professional athlete!

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