A Good Deed for the (Rainy) Day

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Consider: You and your spouse are returning home, with a nameless but cheap and smelly fast food dinner, the kind that you’re more than ready to escape the confined space of the vehicle as soon as possible. 

It’s pouring outside.  POURING!  Torrential monsoon.

You’re driving down a two lane, winding residential road.  And there’s a middle aged lady walking along the side of it.  No umbrella.  No rain jacket. 

Given the area, you presume she was visiting a neighbor and got caught up in the leading edge of a storm.  She’s more than soaked, and she’s holding her arms around her body for warmth.

Two cars that are ahead of you both pass by her.  You do the same.  But...

There’s that but that lingers as you continue several hundred yards down the road.  Butt out, but!  The food will taste fine once you get home.  You just need to free yourself of the smell!  ...but... How would you feel if you got caught outside in a storm, obviously unprepared?  And humanity passes you by?

It nags.  The good angel on one shoulder is appealing to your humanity, if not any squashed spiritual convictions.  Thanks, good angel. 

The evil demon on the other shoulder is saying what you already know.  “This food smells.  You need to hurry home before it gets cold.  And eat it while it’s at least a bit good to eat.”  Righto, pointy ears.  “And besides, you never, ever pick up hitchhikers or mysterious people alongside the road.  Bad things happen that way.  Bad things.”

Why is the evil demon making so much sense?  How can he represent the Father of Lies if he’s telling the truth?

Meanwhile, the good angel rolls his eyes, and mutters, “Well, she’s somebody’s daughter.  How’s yours?”

AGHH!  I hate TACO BELL SMELL!  (oops, I said it.  But you guessed it anyway).

Dammit.  So you turn around, with permission from your spouse, who you know will remind you of how bad a decision this is when it turns out badly, even if the good angel is whispering in her ear as well. 

Dammit.

So, you turn around to pick the lady up.  Only, she’s now walking in the other direction.  What’s up with that?   Really?   After getting that drenched, is she closer to her house or closer to a neighbor?  Whatever.

You slow down, crack your window, and shout through the pouring and intruding rain, “Would you like a ride?”

“YES!” is the response, and she quickly enters the back seat.

Okay, this good deed for the day is indeed a noble one, and finishing this off should be a matter of...

Tears?  Okay, she’s cold and upset.  Hysterics?

"Thank you so much I’m so wet I’m going to ruin your seats my cell phone is ruined I don’t have my purse my boyfriend kicked me out of the car what kind of boyfriend does that this is the second time he’s done that I’m so wet I’m from Mississippi I worked at a restaurant I’ve lost my job after 7 years I’ll pay for cleaning your car thank you so much what kind of boyfriend does this to a person...”

Oh, Lordy. 

“Address, please?”

“I don’t know it’s Foxhill Road did I walk past it I can’t find it it’s my boyfriend’s house I have to go there because all my stuff is there did I walk past it I’ve been walking forever I don’t know how I could have missed it did I walk past it your seats are so wet...”

Well, of course they are.  We anticipated that.  It’s okay.  It’s just water.

Let’s see. Hmm, Foxhill.  You’re not familiar with Foxhill, and you’ve only been up and down this road a zillion times.  As has your spouse.  There ain’t no Foxhill.  You know it.  Your spouse knows it. 

Now, for anyone who may be confused, the “ain’t no” is double negative.  Literally, it would mean “is not none,” which cancels out to produce an affirmation that something actually is.   In context, that would mean “There is a Foxhill.”  Except there isn’t. 

In Southern parlance, “ain’t no” is actually a double emphasis to the negative.  “There ain’t a Foxhill.  Again, there is no Foxhill.  You stupid or something?”   Yes, I digress, but that little detour is a comparatively happier place than sitting in the timeline of the story, which I’ll return to just about now...

And, your spouse gives you that “O-M-G what have we YOU gotten us into there’s no way you’re bringing her home this TACO BELL SMELL is awful but it’s mine, MINE!” look.  (Not really, but if it was different food, it would be). You may or may not be familiar with that look (hopefully not), but when delivered in an appropriate occurrence, it takes a nano-second to receive and reply in kind.  You just wanted to give a wet woman a lift.   Sheesh!

You pull over and launch your map App on your smart phone, zooming around for a Foxhill Road, Street... anything.  Please.  Having failed, you search “Foxhill” by name in the city you’re in... Nada.  Great.  Just great.

“This is what happens to people who give and give other people just take and they treat you like crap and drop you off the side of the road and don’t even come back to get you when there’s a storm your seats or so wet I promise I’ll pay to...”

At which point, the scent of cigarette smoke somehow rises from her soaked clothes to add to your odorous mix of nasty cheap fast food and, essentially, wet dog.

“Are you sure it’s around here?  I’m not familiar with it, and it’s not on the map.”

“Yes I know it is I just cant find it did I walk past it...” (response abbreviated).

You take a guess that she’s actually looking for a neighborhood sort of nearby named Foxhall.  That has to be it, of course, because it’s only, oh, TWO MILES away and located on a different road.  How would she have missed that?

So you drive, with the rambling narrative of wet-and-hysterical-woman-who-doesn’t-stop-talking, who very clearly has no idea where she is, where she is going, or where else she can go.  Wonderful.

“This looks familiar.”

Good.  GOOD!

So good, in fact, that the good angel on the one shoulder leaps over your head to put a beat down on the remarkably candid and truthful evil demon.

“It’s on the right it has short trees no person should kick anyone out of their car I hope he’s not there I just want to get my stuff...”

You pull into the driveway.  It’s a nice upper middle class house, a BMW is in the driveway, and a wet lady who just exited your car races through the downpour to the back of the house after an appreciated (and well earned...) “Thank you.”

And you drive away, wondering if the neighbors might happen to remark on the color, make and model of the car that delivered the accused to the murder scene headlining that evening’s news.

Good deed, though.  Good deed.

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World War Z – Movie Review

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I really enjoyed Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Aside from the British humor, there was the notion of the Infinite Improbability Drive, which worked out essentially by thinking how improbable a thing might be, feed the figure into the drive, and presto!  The Improbable happens.

And so it goes with Brad Pitt’s much more seriously toned Zombie movie.  I guess it could have been humorous, but Zombieland has already been made.

Gerry Lane, our protagonist, is the beneficiary of the the script writer’s Improbability Pen.  Need two dots connected?  The IP makes it happen.  And so it is that Brad Pitt (there’s not a moment during the movie where I think of him by his character’s name, and it must confuse the cast as well because they keep asking who he is as well) runs faster than speeding zombies, becomes stronger than steel (airplanes, cars, or related punctures), and leaps continents in single bounds. 

Who is this guy?

Well, he’s... improbable.  But, the world is lucky to have him.  Consider:

  • The dump truck that allows Brad to breeze through otherwise blocked Philadelphia streets.
  • A collective family “Gosh, none of us were injured!” after the resulting vehicle smashup.
  • The kind-hearted pharmacist who dispenses asthma medications among mass looting and Z-terror.
  • The improbable mile of open green space that’s free of zombies between the pharmacy and the nearest high rise apartment complex.
  • Happening upon the one family in Philadelphia that opens its doors to strangers and feeds them. 
  • The wife who thought it wise to grab flares from the Recreational Vehicle, facilitating a rooftop helicopter rescue a few scenes later.
  • A jailed and mysterious CIA traitor in Korea who points our savior to Israel for answers, just after the trip became pointless.
  • A team of soldiers willing to risk their lives for our protagonist who is imminently qualified to save the world.  A former United Nations investigator and a non-biologist... now that’s someone worth dying for in a Zombie pandemic.
  • Like in Philadelphia, being the one person in Jerusalem who witnesses and survives the breech of Zombies into the walled city.  Okay, there’s 2 actually, or, 1.95 anyway.

While we’re at it, how improbable is it that a virus changes a person in 12 seconds to the extent that they become disfigured, brainless, superfast, and immune to almost every form of bodily harm except head shots or, we assume, falls from airplanes?  Yeah, I know. They’re zombies.  But in 12 seconds?   If it wasn’t so fast, I guess it couldn’t be a sudden worldwide outbreak.

Speaking of which, how improbable is it that a virus which takes 12 seconds to propagate is able to cross the ocean in the first place?    Or makes it to all continents at essentially the same time?  Zombie pilots retain their skills, perhaps?   I continue:

  • Surviving a major airplane crash that smashes the plane into bits, except the one section Brad sits in.  Granted, he fastened his seat belt, which he improbably did during cabin depressurization.
  • Being perceptive enough to save humanity with a solution that educated, professional biologists at the World Health Organization scientists seemed to miss.
  • Surviving a toxic injection of a randomly chosen lethal pathogen (so that zombies are not attracted to host bodies that are dead-ends), but apparently counting on an antidote that does not return one’s status to a suitable Zombie Snack.   Ugh.

Brad is certainly the protagonist.   He puts himself at risk.  He makes good decisions.  He saves the girl. He observes things that lead to a solution. 

On the other hand, there’s his family.  Perhaps they add more tension in the opening scenes of “What would you do if your family was threatened?”  But, they really have no role in the movie except “motivation.”   It turns out that Brad isn’t willing to save the world... until his family is threatened with being voted off the island.    How noble is that?

2 of 5 STARS

 

 

(I subtracted one star for the environmentalist propaganda that we are the root cause of our demise).

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Avondale Brewing

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Another old Birmingham building, another brewery.  Avondale Brewing is well to the east of downtown Birmingham in the historic Avondale area, which is benefitting from reinvestment and restorations in the last few years.  The building was built in 1895 as a fire station but has also been home to a post office, many businesses, and even a 2nd floor brothel, according to their website.  It’s nicer than it deserves to be given its age, obviously benefitting from reinvestment when the brewery took ownership.

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But the story of Avondale must wait a short bit.  We arrived hoping for a Crawfish feast held by Red Mountain Seafood, who operate out of a small trailer in the rear.  However, they were a no-show.  Maybe it’s past the season.

But, a reliable standby is just down the block, namely Saw’s Soul Kitchen.

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Not a big thing, is it?

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It’s even smaller inside.  And smaller still when those outside flee a storm to the shelter within.  My experiences here have been very good.  Their BBQ sandwich is excellent, but... they’re well known for their pork & greens.  I don’t eat greens.  Nevertheless, that dish is likely the reason they didn’t have enough pork left over for another BBQ sandwich, so I opted instead for a burger, which took “10 – 15 minutes.”  Actually, about 20.  Below is a glimpse of the menu.

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So, what you do is you get your order to go, then walk it down to the brewery.  Assemble the pieces, and voila!

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I had a side of cole slaw, which I like with BBQ.  Point of the story: convenience wins here for good food and good beer.

The venue itself has a lot going for it.  At the rear of the building is a fenced area with various tables, a separate shed with full assortment of taps, and a newly constructed concert stage.  It’s a happening place.

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My only reservation about this brewery is their choice of logo.  It’s an elephant, and the founders happen to be University of Alabama graduates.  I don’t have any particular animosity towards UA, but I’m not a fan either.  Instead, I’ll trust that their “Trunks Up” phrase and the elephant truly speak to a beer drinking elephant that resided in the Avondale area the first half of the 20th century (where the Birmingham Zoo was originally located).  I’d prefer some sort of orange colored tiger mascot... perhaps a paw.

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The bartenders inside were personable and efficient, which is helpful considering the 13 bars on tap this given day, six of which are their regular beers (viewed to either side in the picture below – click to enlarge).

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The old brick brings a nice vibe to the place, and there are a good number of seats within, definitely well suited and obviously intended as a gathering place.

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The brewery itself is visible but tightly positioned.  As I’m becoming accustomed, steel tanks are steel tanks.  The sizes are different from brewery to brewery.  In two visits, I have yet to hear mention of a “tour,” regrettably.
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They have capacity for 10,000 barrels, which is ample to serve the Birmingham area as well as to the corners of the State.  I think they sized their brewery with clear intent to establish more than a local brew, as they’ve only been open two years.

Avondale has a good diversity of beers, covering the main persuasions with their regular offerings, plus some odds and ends and seasonal brews.

This visit, I tried the (Jack Daniel) barrel aged porter, pictured below.  Not exceptional, but better than average.  The spirits residue didn’t overpower the flavor of the beer.  I also tried Mr. Todd’s double IPA, full of the expected hop character but easily drinkable despite the bitterness.

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Otherwise, this is a place to hang out.  A bartender from another night dropped in to say high, the cashier at Saw’s stopped in for a beer after work, and a handful of regulars were known to each other and the staff.  There should be one of these in every neighborhood. Well, located within 15 minutes from where I live, at least.  Damn Atlanta traffic.

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Cahaba Brewing Company

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It seems part of Birmingham’s process of making the old new once again are breweries moving into older buildings in the general south side of the downtown area. 

Cahaba Brewing is, I think, the latest of the Birmingham breweries to embrace the growing craft beer market.  Located almost in the shadows of the elevated Hwy 280, the 8,000 sq.ft. building seems ready to ignore it’s service garage utility for brewing more social intentions.

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Almost without fail, breweries tend to take ordinary buildings, customize them for a process, and otherwise converting “some” space for the public.  As Alabama’s laws basically allow breweries to operate as bars, less the food, they aren’t necessarily limited to 2 hour tours as breweries are in, for example, Georgia.
Greeting us as we arrived was a sign of the culture they’re trying to build around their fledgling brand.  Food trucks, live bands, and....

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... a skeeball league.  Sure!  Why not?  It looks like weekends might be a fun destination.  Wednesday nights... those present were there just for the beer.

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For more traditional activities, there is a nicely provisioned, if drab, darts room.  It’s free, so I shouldn’t complain about the lack of atmosphere. 

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Or, for those not seeking entertainment (cough cough) you might enjoy a beer!

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And, while I’ve had several of their beers at local restaurants (their Liquidambar red ale is their flagship at present), I have to admit that I wasn’t familiar with their size and scope of their offerings.  So...  4 beers on tap was a bit of a disappointment.  The seasonal Kiwi Kolsch was out, which left their mainstays.
If I understood correctly, Oka Uba is an Indian name for Cahaba, and the Cahaba is a river that flows through the southern edge of Birmingham.  The Oka Uba IPA was my selection during the brief visit, and I found it to have a well measured and refreshingly restrained amount of hops, true to expectations but without the amped bitterness I usually find in IPAs.   I liked it better than the Liquidambar, actually.  But, IPAs aren’t for everyone.

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As you can see on the coaster, their motto is “Small Batch, Big Craft.”

The tanks in the background represent all of their brewing capacity.  I spoke with Taylor DeBoer, a co-owner, briefly.  The brewery makes 40 barrels a week, so roughly 2,000 barrels per year.  Their product is sold only in Birmingham, and they can’t keep up with the demand of the 50 area accounts they have. 

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So, it sounds like the starter set of brewing equipment that they purchased from Straight to Ale in Huntsville, only a year or so ago, might be getting some larger neighbors soon.  They certainly have space to expand.  The operation currently is small enough that they have one employee during the day, and several part timers during the evening.

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Kudos to providing pretzels, by the way.  Every brewery should have something like that, if only to decrease potential liabilities a slight bit.  Plus, beer tastes good with pretzels.

Anyway, it’s a pleasant diversion, and I’ll revisit sometime when they have a wider variety of offerings.

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Black Market Bar

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A coworker mentioned Black Market during a recent visit to Birmingham, AL.  There seems to be good burgers everywhere, but far be it from me to ignore a recommendation for another good one.

The bar was moderately busy when I arrived, mostly with people stopping by after work.  Most were dining outside in a patio area. I sat at the bar within and took stock of the place.

By my friend’s observation, and later by the bartender’s inquiry about me being from Atlanta, there are some Vortex similarities.  One would be their reputation for burgers, obviously.  Another would be that they have Laughing Skull beer, virtually the house brand for Vortex made by Atlanta’s Red Brick Brewing.  And third would be the retro nostalgia themed walls, but on a lesser scale.

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It is, however, different in a number of ways.  Parking isn’t a pain, smoking isn’t allowed, the music isn’t played so loud that conversation is difficult, and the pace is unhurried.  Good things, all.

To the crux of the matter.  The Good Cook?  Or, the Evil Cook?  The burger menu below shows their offerings, but the boxed option in the upper right is the offering in point:  The Trashcan Burger.  You can rule out one ingredient, but the rest is left to the whimsy of the Cook.

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They have other quite tempting options... but to not go down this road would be one of those rear view mirror regrets.  You gotta try it, right?

Well, there is the possibility of the Evil Cook, one noted to have replaced the buns with grilled cheese sandwiches on either side of the meat patty.  Or who piled a burger with jalapeños when the customer was overly vocal about what he didn’t want.

Okay.  You take your chances... I opted for no raw onion.  And below is what I got:

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First of all, the meat patty was fantastic – not overly greasy, either.  The bun didn’t disintegrate due to juices or handling, so the basics are covered.  Otherwise, we have a good quality bacon, gouda cheese, maybe another kind of cheese, a special sauce with a hint of jalapeño (perhaps), lettuce (maybe with a dash of salad oil), tomato, fried pickles, and, just to spite me, a single scallion.

Summed up:  better than anything I’ve had at Vortex, and one of the very best burgers I’ve had.  So, here’s a heartfelt “thanks” to the Good Cook.

Otherwise, Black Market has a good selection of beers and mixed drinks, and the service was excellent.

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Midsummer Music Fest – Candler Park

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The wife’s away, so husband, son, and substitute son will play.  

I’ve been to a Sweetwater 420 Festival in the same park several years ago, and found the viewing area for the stage to be quite limited.  So, I wasn’t super enthused about going to this festival, but it qualified for getting out of the house on a beautiful Atlanta day.

As it turned out, this was my son’s first trip on Marta, as well as his friend’s.  Marta was “convenient” in that I didn’t have to find parking in the Candler Park area, otherwise it was it was as inefficient as always.  But... it certainly added to the experience.

After walking several blocks, we arrived.  Both were stunned to find that you cold just walk in without paying (unless you wanted to pay for an armband to buy alcohol, which was $10 after 5:00 p.m.). 

Nice surprise: they relocated the staging from my previous visit, allowing ample room for those in attendance.

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There was the usual gamut.  Resellers of clothing/jewelry, beer vending booth, and numerous food trucks.  I headed for those as I was hungry, and we opted for Latin cuisine, which was essentially Mexican.  Decent, but I have yet to find an “exceptional meal” from a food truck vendor, regardless of their novelty.

Otherwise, a balloon man was there.

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There were ample people drinking Red Stripe Lager, an official sponsor of the event along with 790 The Zone sports radio.  I knew this in advance, and saved the $10 admittance because I expected the choke hold on other offerings.  I chose wisely.  And, if I did want a beer, I’d want two, right?  And that would be an additional $12 plus potentially a tip, so, say $24 for the enjoyment of two beers.  Except that they didn’t have a beer I enjoy.

Onward!  It wasn’t terribly hot, but pop sickles were popular, as evidenced by the scratch outs.

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We checked out the first band, featuring The Soul Rebels, who offered a brassy mixture of jazz, funk, and a bit too much hip-hop for my ears.  Curiously, the brass was ear-splittingly loud at a distance.

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I didn’t have a desire to head around, and I could tell the kids were bored standing around, so I released them to go find their way wherever (which turned out to be 12 “rows” away from the stage by the time the headliner, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, took stage.  By that time, the evening had dimmed, the crowds were full (estimated 25,000), and the dancing, arm waving, and beer drinking began in earnest.

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The above was as close as I got, with full zoom on a Canon G-15.  It was close enough.  Sharpe is a decent entertainer, but I’ve grown beyond whatever hippy laid back peace and love tendencies I’ve had.  If I ever did.  I could enjoy it from a distance.

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The picture above has Steak Shapiro and Nick Cellini in the foreground, Mayhem in the AM hosts on 790 the Zone.  I didn’t see them until working through the pictures, but was amused by one of Shapiro trying to talk on the cell phone with the music in the background.  I guess he’s used to voices talking in his ear.

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At this point, I was done watching the concert.  The Zeros win with lead singer Alex Ebert’s chilled out dialogue and the mood of their songs, but there’s nothing going that is a visual “must see.”  So, I decided to see what was happening around the place, and settled in on taking pictures of food trucks when they’re less busy.

Well, the below isn’t a food truck, but it was interesting to see fired pizza at an event, rather than warmed pizza in boxes cooked some time earlier in the day.

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This was more common.  No lines, with business owners hanging out, waiting for orders.

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Trucks for foods have a wide variety of how they present themselves, as well as condiments, napkins and such.  The version below is what I'd call “Speak to the Hand” – The proprietor sits high above and transacts through a raised slot.

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This one is far more traditional, as BBQ should be.

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No one coming anytime soon...

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Quality Control in progress:

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This lady looked like a train conductor.

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Another “Talk to the Hand” below.  Though, the raised lighting is interesting.  It also gives more room for heat to rise within the truck, possibly making it cooler for the employees.

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Nope. No one near.  Just me. Thanks for not looking.

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This one certainly brought the New Orleans mood with it.  You can see the proprietor in the window left of the green sign.

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Not sure if he’s checking sales, or making a call. 

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Talk to the Hand! 

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This lady sold cupcakes in the main concert area.  Didn’t try any, but I could tell she took a lot of pride in her business.

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My self-appointed photo assignment complete, I headed back to the stage area.  There was a slow stream of people leaving, but the Zeros have plenty of fans.

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I mentioned it was a beautiful day.  As soon as the sun set behind the trees, it was an even more beautiful night.

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I was actually pleased with the above.  I hadn’t attempted a long exposure on a compact camera, and it turned out reasonably well.  Much more agreeable than the interminable wait for Marta trains...

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