Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chili Reception

My family and I don’t get back to LA much anymore.
But when we do, I always know where we are going first.
When we left the city of angels in 2005, I made a promise to the kids.
Anytime we go back.
The first stop will be... Tommy’s.
Don’t pass go.
Don’t collect $200.
Just get to Tommy’s.
As quickly as possible.
Tommy’s is an LA-based hamburger joint.
And I mean joint with all due respect.
The first Tommy’s opened in 1946.
The corner of Beverly and Rampart.
And it’s still there.
In fact, the last time I had the two big kids with me in LA.
That’s the Tommy’s we went to.
Right from the airport.
Last spring my eldest daughter and I had a layover at LAX.
So I had a friend pick us up.
Take us to Tommy’s.

In Santa Monica.
And we got back in time for our connecting flight.
Do you believe me now?
Nowadays there are 34 “Original” Tommy’s spread throughout Southern California.
And two more in Nevada. 
In N’ Out Burger is definitely more popular.
But Tommy’s is definitely more better.
I learned that in college.
Right about 27 years ago.
To the day.
I had just accepted my bid to a fraternity.
It was Rush Week.
And what an eye opener that was.
I remember doing things I had never done before.
Seeing things I had never seen before.
And eating things I had never eaten before.
Like Tommy’s.
There was a location about ten minutes from my school.
Bad news.
Open 24/7.
Really bad news.
And we went there every night during Rush Week.
EVERY night.
At the same exact time.
Immediately after 2AM.
That’s when we got there.
I guess technically that’s EVERY morning, not night.
But there was a reason why we went at exactly that time.
That’s because at 2AM.
Every night.
Tommy’s cleaned the grill.
And as a 17-year old college freshman.
Eating healthy was very important to me.
Still is.
If you don’t believe me.
Maybe you’ll believe my standard order at Tommy’s:
    • Double-Chili Cheeseburger
    • Chili-Cheese Fries
    • And a Chili Diet Coke
Ok, the last part is a joke.
But my kids laugh.
Every time.
This week I was out in So Cal visiting some friends.
And even though my kids weren’t with me.
I still kept up the tradition.
Plane landed at John Wayne Airport at 11:34am.
At 12:30 exactly I was at Tommy’s in Fountain Valley.
It was the first time I ate at that location.
But if you’ve been to one Tommy’s.
You’ve been to them all.
Not much creativity going on.
And there really doesn’t need to be.
Although they did have something brand new on the menu.
They call it a “California Classic.”
I call it an In N’ Out Double-Double.
Like I said, not much creativity.
And there really doesn’t need to be.
Tommy’s has perfected the fast food, greasy, slimy, disgustingly amazing incredible burger.
So why change it?
Just order a burger, any burger, and you’ll get:
    • Pickles
    • Onions
    • Mustard
    • Beef Steak Tomato
And... Chili!
Every burger at Tommy’s comes with Chili.
Well it’s called Chili.
Technically, “Tommy’s Famous Chili.”
It’s more like brown slime.
Or the stuff you scrape off the bottom of a pan after you’ve baked a meat loaf.
Although I’m not sure there’s any actual meat in Tommy’s Chili.
But it tastes just like... home.
Just as good as it was 27 years ago.
Every time we go there, I tell my kids “it looks the same going in as it does coming out.”
They laugh at that too.
Every time.
If you don’t fall in love with the chili at Tommy’s the first time you have it.
You don’t know how to love.
Although I must say there was a terribly disturbing development during my most recent trip.
I guess some vegan lawmaker decided that restaurants must now post a calorie count for everything on the menu.
Nothing against vegans.
But that law sucks.
And what sucks even more is that when I gobbled down my food last week.
I had to live with the guilt of knowing that my “standard” meal was 1630 calories.
And that’s with a DIET Coke.
And when I ordered the Tommy’s Chili Dog to wash it down.
That was another 570 calories.

2200 calories at one meal?

Take that Golden Corral!
According to the burgerista, the hot dog calorie count was so high because they use “two scoops of chili.”
Oh, is that what that was?
Thankfully I no longer live within 1000 miles of my favorite burger joint.
And I don’t always eat double chili cheesburgers.
But when I do.
I prefer Tommy’s.
Stay hungry my friends. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Extra Special Happy Hour

There were about three minutes left in happy hour.
When I started crying.
Tears coming out of my eyes.
Amazingly, it had nothing to do with the end of happy hour.
By that point we had pretty much wiped out the entire extra-value menu.
    • 3 orders of chicken wings
    • 2 plates of ahi tuna
    • 1 bbq ribs
    • 1 calamari
    • 1 fried mushroom
    • And six beers
Jenny Craig here we come.
Fortunately there were three of us.
So I only consumed 1/3 of the 10,000 calories.
I was midway through one of them Thai Wings when my phone rang.
It was my wife.
Normally she knows better than to disrupt me during this holiest hour of the day.
But I answered anyway.
And I’m glad that I did.
She started off the conversation by notifying me that we have done a great job as parents.
“Awwww,” I said.
Is what I thought.
But she continued.
She told me one of the parents at her school came up to her today.
To talk about our 12-year old son.
Naturally her first thought was.... “what did he do now?”
But as the story continued, she quickly realized that this story was different.
This story was special.
It goes a little something like this....
Last week my son started middle school.
7th grade.
A pretty big deal.
For us.
A giant deal.
For a 12-year old.
He’s been in the same school for a few years now.
But this is the year he becomes one of the big boys.
The boy who gets a locker.
The boy who gets some freedom.
And the boy who gets to sit wherever he wants for lunch. 
During his lunch break on Thursday, my boy was sitting with a bunch of his boys in the cafeteria.
Just like he always does.
As he prepared to woof down his meal, his eyes wandered.
To another table.
Another table of seventh grade boys.
The cool guys.
Well as these... cool guys... were getting ready to enjoy their lunch.
They were joined by another boy from their grade.
A “special” boy.
A “slow” boy.
A boy who spends part of his day in a different part of the school.
Learning at a different level.
Well apparently the cool kids didn’t like the idea of a new lunch partner.
Or maybe there wasn’t enough room for all the cool people.
Or maybe they didn’t like the idea of that lunch partner. 
Whatever the reason.
They all got up.
One by one.
And left the table.
Leaving the “special” boy not feeling so special.
All by himself.
A feeling he’s probably felt.
More than once.
Now it would’ve been very easy for my son.
Or any 12-year old boy.
To see this, ignore it and go on with their lunch.
And their day.
But apparently it wasn’t easy for my son.
In fact when he saw the boy sitting all alone at the table.
He put his stomach on hold.
And let his heart take over.
My son picked up his lunch.
Got up from his table.
And joined the other boy.
For a special lunch.

For two.
One of the moms saw the whole thing and quickly reported back to my wife.
As my wife started sharing this story with me, I quickly figured out where it was headed.
And before she was done.
I was finished.
With tears filling up in my eyes.
Not the first time I’ve broken down at the end of happy hour.
And not the first time I’ve cried in my beer.

But this time it was for a good reason.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Baseball, Hot Dogs and... Gelato?

I got free tickets to the baseball game on Saturday night.

Three of them.


Nothing better than a free night at the ballpark, right?

Well, sorta kinda free.

If you don't count the...

$15 for parking.

$18.75 for three foot-long hot dogs.

$5 for garlic fries.

One order.

And $13.50 for three ice creams.

By my math, our free night cost $52.25.

Good thing we smuggled in the $1 water bottles we bought outside the stadium.

And it's a really good thing we are not allergic to gluten.

Whatever gluten is.

Inside the stadium I saw a “gluten-free” food stand.

Never seen that before.

Sign of the times, I suppose.

I didn't see a name on that stand.

But based on the price gauging.

It should've been called, “Kick 'Em While They're Down”.

$9.50 for a gluten-free hamburger.
($7.00 for a real burger.)

$7.50 for a gluten-free hot dog.
($4.75 for a “SUPER” dog, just 20 feet away.)

$3.50 for a bottle of gluten-free water.
(Ok, the water was the same price everywhere.)

But $3.50 for a bottle of water?

Not even Chevron would try getting away with that. 

I guess you could say anyone who went to that stand was a gluten for punishment.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Now I certainly love the idea of helping out our hypoallergenic friends.

But those prices are insane.

Haven't they suffered enough?

Shouldn't those cardboard boxes disguised as burgers be like 19 cents?

Have you ever tasted food without gluten?

The last time I tried giving my son a hot dog without nitrates.

I thought he was going to take a swing at me.

And with his hand-eye coordination, that could really hurt.

Midway through the fourth inning, my son got a craving for those garlic fries.

And there was no way he was going to leave his seat.

So I left him and his buddy next to John Fogerty, in centerfield.

And I went in search of something that clogs your arteries.

And makes your breath smell.

At the same time.

Turns out the only place they sell them fries is right behind home plate.

In the high rent district.

As if I didn't know it already, I was reminded of the real estate when I saw the garlic fries stand right next to...

The gelato booth.

Who buys gelato at a baseball game?

What happened to an old-fashioned Carnation Malt?

Take me out to the ballgame... 

Buy me some peanuts and an Amaretto Gelato?

I don't think so.


On my way back to the seats, with garlic fries in hand.

I saw a pack of 20-something college school girls.

I noticed they were all wearing the same t-shirt.

Well, different shirts.

Same logo.

And that logo said that they were all from the same sorority.

The same sorority where I was a big brother.

When I was in college.


How cool... I thought.

I gotta say hi and tell them.........

*Insert Sound of Tires Screeching *

Thankfully the left side of my brain kicked in just in the nick of time.

And reminded me.

I was old enough to be their stalker.

So I shut up.

Walked back to my seat.

And handed my son a half bag of half-eaten garlic fries.

And that's where we enjoyed the next inning.

Until it was time for ice cream.

Nothing like a free night at the ballpark.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reality Bites

I’m not much of a reality TV guy.
And that clearly puts me in the minority.
Sure, I watched The Real World on MTV.
In the 90’s.
And I have a pretty good read on how that genre has changed the TV biz.
But as a viewer I just haven’t bit the hook.
Like so many others.
Ok, I’ve nibbled.
I watched an entire season of Biggest Loser.
Like five years ago.
And LOVED it.
But I never went back.
I watched season 2 or 3 of Big Brother.
But I just read they are now on Big Brother 13.
So I’m not sure that would qualify me as a fan.
I’ve dabbled in The Bachelor.
And Bachelorette.
And The Apprentice.

I am definitely excited about the return of Fear Factor.
But I could care less about Survivor: Abu Dhabi.
Or wherever they are headed next.
That’s just reality.
Other than American Idol, none of these shows have hooked me for more than a few months.
And with my love of music, I think American Idol is more of my fantasy than reality.
But you don’t need a degree from MIT to see how popular these shows are.
You just need the internet.
And an extra long keyboard.
That’s where I found the latest network ratings.
And in the much beloved “Adults 18-49 Demographic”.
It’s reality, reality, reality.
All the way down to #15.
That’s where 60 Minutes was listed.
To be totally fair, 60 Minutes was a re-run last week.
And to be more fairer, 60 Minutes was ranked 4th overall among “PrimeTime Broadcast Network Total Viewers (all ages)”.
But still.
And when I went to go look at the latest cable numbers.
The #1 cable show last week was Jersey Shore.
Season 4.
With 7.37 million viewers.
Now let me come clean.
I have seen Jersey Shore.
About 10 minutes of a re-run.
About nine months ago.
It was the episode where they yelled at each other.
And then went to a bar.
And got drunk.
Have you seen it?
Well based on the ratings, you probably have.
Now I’m not trying to sound like some old fuddy duddy who doesn’t like to watch real people act stupid.
But isn’t that what CSPAN is for?
Somehow I’ve managed to avoid the reality onslaught.
But I can’t say the same for my wife and kids.
My DVR has been overtaken by.... Housewives.
Real Housewives.
Of New Jersey, Orange County, Beverly Hills.
Papillion, Nebraska.
Put “Real Housewives” in front of it and my 14-year old daughter is hooked.
And if she is hooked, the seven-year old can’t be far away.
They know all of the characters too.
(Are they really characters?)
And these damn shows are so damn addicting.
Usually I’ll walk by the TV.    See what they are watching.
Prepare to yell at them.
And then fall into a trance that won’t let me walk away for at least 35 minutes.
Can you believe what a bitch Kyle is?
Oh, sorry.
I suppose one of the nice things about these reality shows is.
They are real.
Real people.
Real stories.
Real drama.
And plenty of it.
But it’s all fun and games.
Until someone gets hurt. 
A few days ago we learned that Russell Armstrong, a Real Househusband of Beverly Hills, killed himself.
No joke.
The police said he was hung.
And they was right.
Honestly I don’t watch the show enough to even know who he is.
But my daughter does.
And when I broke the news to her about this story, she was shocked.
Shocked that he was dead.
Shocked that he took his own life.
Shocked that anyone would do such a thing.
At 14, she is not so naive.
She understands that these things do happen.
“But what would it take for somebody to do this to themself?” 
She said.
Then we spoke about Russell.
And Taylor, the real Housewife.
And their five-year old daughter Kennedy.
For a few moments.
But that conversation quickly moved into a discussion about life.
And death.
And why.
And what.

And how.
How could anyone do such a thing?
I’m not sure I had the answer to any of her questions.
But we talked.
And talked.
And it was real.
More real than anything you can watch on TV.