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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fear Report: Public Speaking...

I was reading an article about public speaking and the fact that it is one of the most common fears people have, and I found myself nodding in agreement. I guess the main thing is that people feel as though they will be judged by the people in the audience.

When little kids are shy, we try so hard to get them to sing a song for the grandparents or dance for the video camera. But the real test is the first time a kid has to read aloud from a book in class. Oh, how I used to cringe when the little idiots in my class couldn’t read; I was always that little jerk, thoughtfully correcting them or finishing the word when a kid was attempting to sound it out. I had no idea I was such an ass. I hope I didn’t contribute to anyone having to spend years in therapy.

Note to parents: Read to your children, every day until they are old enough to read, and then have them read to you. They will appreciate it when they start school and have to read in front of the other students.

So for me being such a smart-aleck in elementary school, you’d think that I would have been at ease with reading aloud in class in middle and high school. Well, I was. In fact, I loved the sound of my own voice and used every opportunity to share it with others. I did get my chance in high school where I actually had a little radio show. Oh sure, I was nervous my first time the microphone went live, but I went home and listened to a tape of myself over and over. Pure genius; I would be the next Scott Shannon. Of course, I wasn’t and instead, I joined the military.

During my first several years in the military, I made extra money playing records in the base club or Dee-Jaying at unit parties. At the young age of 19, I emceed a unit Christmas party like an expert – who knows, I may have been the next Bert Parks!

I tell you this information not because I am hoping to be voted into the next round of America’s Got Talent, but to point out that the mind is quite an interesting thing. With a single embarrassing situation, I went from being an extremely self-confident (though admittedly, not very polished) public speaker to someone who has had to battle extreme panic attacks not just moments before having to speak publicly, but for days and often weeks in advance.

In 1985 during my first assignment to San Antonio, I was to be presented a medal along with a group of probably twenty or so people. On the day of the presentation, I came into work in full service dress uniform, ready for the ceremony. Most units have different methods for presenting medals. In some cases, a single individual is recognized, so it is a small ceremony in the office. In other places, they will have lots of awards to present, so each recipient sits in the audience until his or her name is called, then they approach the commander and the award is presented. This would be different. We had a large unit with lots of medals to be presented, so the plan was to line-up about 20 or more of us and as the emcee would read off the citation to accompany the award; the commander would stand in front of the person pinning the medal on him. Seems like a good idea to make it go fast.

About an hour before the ceremony, I realized that I was sweating profusely. In fact, it was pretty evident that I was getting the flu or something. My uniform shirt was soaked, and to be honest, I felt like crap. And I made several important trips to the men's room to prove it. I recall going to my supervisor, and telling him that I might need to go to sick-call and further, the idea of standing at Attention up on the stage for at least 20 minutes while everybody got their awards was not sounding too exciting. The guy was only slightly sympathetic but he did go and ask a superintendent if they could just present my medal at the next ceremony. Instead, there was some lame excuse about the script having already been written for the emcee, and a change so close (an hour) from the ceremony might screw things up. “Suck it up” was basically the response.

An hour later, being the lowest ranking member receiving a medal, I was the last guy in line up on the stage. One by one as the medals were presented; I could feel the sweat just rolling down my face and under my jacket. I must have been going white as a sheet because I recall making somewhat fuzzy eye contact with this Colonel in the front row of the packed auditorium. He kept mouthing the words to me, “Sit Down… Sit Dow… Sit Down.” It never occurred to me what he was saying until gravity and the stars I was seeing took over and as gracefully as possible, I sat my ass down on the stage. In front of my entire unit. It wasn't as if I was in the middle of the stage sitting flat on the floor, we were actually at the edge, of a slightly raised dais, so really, I simply sat on the stage with my feet on the regular floor. Either way, if people laughed, I had no idea - I was out of it.

Technically, I never lost consciousness because, when I realized I was sitting on my ass when all those around me were standing at attention, I stood up and took the position of attention. That was not a really good idea. Once again, more eye contact with the Colonel in the front row and the whole mouthing of “Sit Down… Sit Down…” My response (still in the position of attention) was to shake my head “No”. But my legs said otherwise.

If you have ever seen a military parade, they usually have the fall-out crew somewhere in the back. When people stand in formation for a period of time, there is always the chance that some dipshit will lock his knees and before long, the blood flow stops and they pass-out cold. This can be quite entertaining from the spectator’s point of view. More often than not, (at least in the Air Force) someone will attempt to catch the poor bastard. But sometimes, if you are lucky, you will see a masterfully executed faceplant. Good times. The fall-out crew comes and retrieves the passed-out guy and he is hauled off to a waiting ambulance where orange juice and severe amounts of ridicule are provided. Remember, the best training methods the Air Force ever invented are Fear, Sarcasm, and Ridicule.

In my case, when I “took a seat” on the stage the second time, there was no fall-out crew. I would have just as soon had two large guys run onto the stage, grab me by the arms and legs and just haul me out of the place, but apparently, that wasn't in the emcee’s script either, so I just sat there for several seconds and finally, stood up, stood at attention, had the commander pin a medal on my chest, salute and thankfully, being the last person to be presented, left the stage to thunderous applause, taking a seat in the back of the audience with my office mates.

This was a commander’s call, so for the next hour, I had to sit with my co-workers poking me to be sure I was okay while simultaneously laughing at me for being such a clown. Reviews were mixed. Several conspiracy theorists thought I had concocted the entire near-fainting sequence as a joke – just to see if I could pull it off. Others suggested I was just a retard who had locked his knees. My supervisor felt like crap, knowing that I most likely really was coming down with the flu.

At the end of the day, I just chocked it up to “Shit happens” and before long; I hadn’t given it another thought.

About a year and a half later, we were stationed in Italy. Not long after, I was notified that I would be receiving another medal. As the day approached, I suddenly began experiencing serious anxiety attacks regarding the thought of standing up on a stage and getting a medal. I skipped the presentation. And so it would go for the remainder of my career, either skipping out of presentations, or at least arranging to have them presented within my office with co-workers.

But in the military, you have many opportunities to be not only seen, but heard. For example, when Big Whigs visit, they usually take them on tours of the various offices and expect briefings on projects or at least a quick overview of what the job is. In most of the cases, I was able to shirk off the responsibility to someone else, eager to be seen and heard in front of a general officer (we call those people brown-nosers). This worked well for the most part, but in a/effect, what I was doing was taking a one time, easily understandable near-fainting incident and turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy sort of thing.

There were times when I simply could not avoid speaking in public. When I had to give a presentation as part of a course for example, there was no way out. Everybody in the class would know my situation and even though I would have a room full of people supporting me, and I always got through it without passing out, it was still a painful exercise.

And the problem got worse. Over time, it was no longer a matter of standing on a stage or giving a presentation before a small group. I actually would get nauseous at the beginning of meetings with the anticipation of the standard going around the room and having people introduce themselves with a brief explanation of who they were. I began to actually write my name and the office I was from on a note book so I could just read from my notes in case I simply lost my mind and couldn't remember.

If you have ever been to a conference or a meeting of people from many different organizations, it is not uncommon for people to give a near National Geographic length documentary about their background, what their position is, what they hope to bring to the meeting and what they hope to gain from it. Then they get to me: Name, rank, serial number.

And even in meetings within my own office where I knew and easily conversed with people on a daily basis, there was something about going from the casual office chit-chat to the now official meeting. I could go on and on about this - and if you ask my wife, by now I probably have. This stupid thing just got worse over time; not better.

Obviously, I have learned many work arounds or I probably would be unemployable. For the type of work I do, you must be able to communicate with others, and I do.

More recently, I have been doing a lot of work with our neighborhood association and our neighborhood watch group. This has meant getting up in front of a small crowd of people and not only having to speak, but actually stand before people and attempt to make sense of things. I cannot tell you how extremely painful it was the week leading up to and finally getting up to speak at the first meeting. I had prepared myself with a bottle of water at an arms length, if only to douse myself in the event I started to see stars. In truth, the practice and the experience gained each time has made the next meeting easier and this confidence has helped with the times I have to speak in my job.

Several months ago, as part of my neighborhood watch program, I was asked to make a presentation to some people from the City of San Antonio. I agreed to do it, after much fretting I might add, but only because I was under the impression it would be a relatively small group. Along with another member of our neighborhood group, we got to the meeting place and found a small auditorium which eventually was standing room only. And at this point, there was no backing out.

As we waited for our turn to speak, I could feel my body reacting to the panic that was taking over my body. I sat down, stood up, walked around, sat down and tried to do whatever I could to relax. Finally, when we were on, it occurred to me that what I had to say was really important. It wasn't the sound of my own voice that made me find my inner Freddie Mercury that day, but instead the fact that the message must be delivered. Clearly nervous at first, I somehow made the words flow - and they did. By some accounts, it was 40 minutes; more than twice what was expected.

That experience helped me tremendously, but there would be more. We were asked again to make a presentation for the city, but this time in a theater before a larger crowd. While I felt more confident, I was still understandably nervous. This would be like going from the kiddie pool to the high dive in one quick step.

This time, instead of two of us with me having the major speaking part, we would bring four speakers and handle it as a group presentation. This eased my mind. I would be second to speak, basically had a page worth of stuff to say, and that would be it. The rest of the time, I would just stand on the stage and look pretty. I've got that part down.

Because we were attempting to stick to a strict schedule, our group decided we would basically read our scripts to go along with the slides we had as opposed to trying to speak more extemporaneously. We got together and practiced a few times, and I felt pretty comfortable with the delivery - not only mine, but everyone else's.

On the day of the big speech, I showed up with honestly, all the confidence I could have asked for. We went in the theatre and checked out the stage, the podium, the computer for our slides and such, and honestly, the place seemed very comforting. We were set to speak right after lunch, and the entire morning, I was fairly confident, actually asking a few questions as an audience member.

The conference (as they normally do) was running a little behind schedule, so they decided to serve lunch and then continue with the presentations as people ate. With a plate full of vegetarian lasagna in front of me, the guy who was speaking just before our group began what was supposed to be a 15 minute speech. He was a member of our state legislature and apparently, nothing that can be easily said in 15 minutes should take less than 45 minutes to an hour (not unlike the things I write about in my blog).

So as this gentleman rambled on, I looked over and noticed that the three of my co-presenters were each reading their scripts. Hah! They must be nervous! I casually pulled out my script and got about two lines into it (the part where I say my name and the organization I represent) and suddenly, as if on cue, I began to feel nauseous, lightheaded, cold, clammy, and any other symptom one might incur with a case of stage fright. I took several sips from my bottled water and tried to listen to the state representative casually read from his notes. I just needed to calm down and relax like him. Let's face it, many people would still be munching on their lunch when we got up to speak, they wouldn't notice if I sounded a little nervous.

For the next twenty minutes, my body and my mind went through cycle after cycle of complete calm and confidence to shear terror. I actually was contemplating making a quick alteration to the script so one of my other presenters could simply read my portion in the event I had passed-out before reaching the stage. I understand now, and I understood then, that this was all so silly, even though being nervous was natural for all but the most experienced speakers. I recall reading a book about Willard Scott where he says that he suffered from such extreme stage fright during his career that he actually had to take a half-pill of Valium before every Today Show broadcast.

Finally, the representative finished his presentation and our group headed for the stage. Like a present from heaven, my fears were suddenly gone. I walked to the stage in complete confidence knowing that I could stand and deliver a full two or three minutes worth of insightful information to an appreciative crowd, and quite possibly, we would be asked to go on Oprah or Letterman.

And then as the first speaker was making his way through his script, the cycle came around and I could feel my legs begin to wobble. This was not a problem, actually. I had been in this situation before and I knew that I just needed to get started and life would be good. I would relax, my voice would be clear, and the words would come out.

And they did. And then after about the third or forth sentence, I realized that I had not taken a single breath since beginning to speak.

I don't know about you, but one of the things that happens to me quite often (and this may say a lot about me) is that I suddenly drift into commentary like conversations in my mind, even though I am in the middle of a conversation with another person, or in this case, a theater full of people who finished their lasagna half way through the state representative's speech.

Suddenly, I found myself debating me (as I continued to read without breathing) as to whether or not I should stop, take a breath and start again. I do know that at some point before I began to lose consciousness, I stumbled over a word, and I stopped reading the script to say "excuse me". That little pause gave me an excuse to breath and I decided it was time to go off script so I could relax.

I cannot tell you if my little psychotic episode was even noticeable to the people in the audience or the other guys presenting with me. I do know that I never did faint and when the last guy finished speaking, we received the thunderous applause one would expect for such rock stars.

In the end, it was another speaking experience that I can learn from. I don't think I'm ready to deliver the keynote address at a commencement ceremony for graduating 5th graders. When you consider that I spent 15 or 20 years creating this ridiculous fear of public speaking, I think these baby steps are very reasonable.

Got any horror stories of your last big speech to the Rotarian's? Tell me about it or leave a comment here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Timber Path Construction Update...

It isn't that I have forgotten about the Timber Path construction taking place - I have to drive by it each day, it's just that I have been too lazy to pull over and take some pictures. But since I'm a glutton for 102 degree heat in the middle of the afternoon, I figured I'd leave the comfort of my air conditioned vehicle and take a few pictures. I think I may need some sunscreen and a cool drink.If you weren't aware, this construction is taking place over the dry creek bed back behind the Bill Miller's and What-a-Burger located on Grissom Road at Timber Path. The idea is, because the creek floods when it rains (obviously not a problem during the drought) and blocks the flow of traffic, they are building a bridge that will allow drivers to drive right over the water. It has been a long time coming.You can see here that they have been building up all sorts of pylons (I guess that's what you call them) so the bridge can sit atop them. For such a relatively short bridge, it sure seems like a lot. But then again, since I'll be driving over it, I think the more support the better!

GNWatch Appreciation Dinner Report

Just last evening, my wife and I attended the Great Northwest Watch annual appreciation dinner. We had a great time. You can read more about it on the GNWatch Page.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Strange at The Pearl Brewery...

My wife and I were walking toward the Pearl Farmers Market on Saturday when she pointed to a row of bicycles she thought was cute. I just pointed my camera without really looking to focus and clicked and we moved along.This is the picture of the bicycles.

As I was going through the photos and resizing them for use on my blog, something caught my eye. Look just above the bicycles and slightly to the right where there is a lady walking with something.
WTF? Let's pretend this is Halloween. But it isn't. It was 100 degrees in mid June and unless that creature is from Mars or someplace, it is a little kid in some sort of costume. Oh, and no other kids are dressed up at all.

Trick or Treat? Hell; get this kid a bucket of ice.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pearl Farmers Market Report: Give it a Try...

This morning my wife and I headed down to the Pearl Brewery where they are holding the weekly Farmers Market now. We had heard a few good comments about it and were eager to see it for ourselves, especially since we had been by when it was still a work in progress.We were lucky to find a parking spot in the lot just under 281 and made the short walk toward the Full Goods building (I guess that is what it is called). Lots of people out and about and I could sense from the people we passed by that this was more of the Organic Crowd. And I don't mean that in a negative way, but you would understand if you had a line up of 6 people who regularly shop at Whole Foods and another 6 people who shop at a regular HEB. I'm sure that based upon clothing, shoes, and accouterments, you could pick out which 6 were the Organic Crowd.The entire area is clean and very welcoming. There seems to be a lot of people who are somehow working for the place, helping people with directions and such. Inside the Full Goods building, it looks pretty spiffy with all sorts of solar powered things and I especially liked the huge ceiling fan that looked big enough to be a helicopter rotor. The building is obviously still working on attracting tenants, but I think it will be a nice place to visit once more shops are open.The Farmers Market itself was set up in a back parking lot and it was pretty much full with vendors. And as you could imagine from the description of the clientele, I'm pretty certain all the vendors were strictly organic type farmers.We attempted to purchase some Bison jerky, but the guy was sold out. We actually thought about purchasing some of his Bison steaks, but had no way of keeping them cool since we were not headed directly home. Maybe next time.Halfway through the market, we decided to go down to the Pearl Springs portion of the River Walk. It is really, really nice and if it had not been for the heat, we probably would have walked more than just a few hundred yards of it. I'll post the pictures I took of it on the Flickr Page, but I did want to show this lucky dog who decided to take a dip.They have a small lock system for diverting water, it appears, to some of the water features. This small little water line is about 16 inches wide and maybe a foot or so deep. This lady was walking her Greyhound when she decided to cool herself off. I can't recall the dogs name, but my wife thanks it was Ginger. Anyway, she and her owner attracted lots of curious onlookers.Back into the Full Goods building, we went into the one shop that was open and thriving. The Mellisa Guerra store is half art store and half kitchen store. We went in and it was very impressive and worthy of a look around. At some point though, we felt a little uncomfortable by the young lady who would accost customers and politely request that she take the items they wanted to purchase and hold them at the counter.

That's fine I suppose, but it got a little old being followed around to see if we would pick up something else to purchase, and naturally need to have it placed at the counter to save us from having to carry it ourselves. WTF? We cut our shopping short and while we stood at the counter waiting for the cashier to locate our items, my wife said she would just as soon not make the purchase. And our surveillance officer standing behind us seemed not to mind one bit.

Don't let our uncomfortable experience sway your opinion, I suspect riffraff like us should just learn to deal with it.

We really enjoyed it otherwise and will certainly return, though I suspect if we need anything from the Mellisa Guerra shop, we'll handle it online. Okay; not likely.

Lunch Report: Spanky's Smokehouse on Blanco...

I received an e-mail from a friend suggesting that we try out a place over on Blanco just south of 1604 called Spanky's Smokehouse and Saloon, and since my wife and just happened to be in the area, we figured we ought to stop in for a little taste.If you have ever been in that area, Spanky's is located in what used to be the Hungry Farmer, so right away you will feel like perhaps you have been there before.We were seated and then almost immediately greeted by our waitress who was quick to offer up some of their awesome iced tea. I asked for mine to be half sweet and half unsweetened, and that presented no problem whatsoever, even when she came back for my five or six refills. Before we even get to the food, I will tell you that our waitress was probably the most competent and friendly we have experienced in a really long time.My wife ordered a beef brisket sandwich with onion rings for $7.95. They loaded it up with excellent brisket and even grilled the buns as required in order to be good. My wife has the no sauce rule when she is trying a new meat, and sure enough this brisket passed the test.The onion rings we great. Served with some creamy cayenne sauce that has just enough of a kick, they were good with or without. My wife also asked for some honey mustard to dip her rings in and it was also very good.The waitress brought out three sauces for us to use. The one on the left was their habanero sauce, the middle was some sort of Carolina style, and the one on the right was the house mixture. I ordered the Texas Pulled Pork with rings for $6.95 and it was quite excellent. On one side of it, I used the Spanky's house sauce which had a nice little tangy kick, but not anything that would hurt the taste of the vittles. On the other half, I tried the Carolina mixture which has to be shaken up before you use it since it involves vinegar and stuff that settles to the bottom. That was lip smackin' good.When we were done, our waitress tempted us with multiple dessert options and we gave in, splitting a piece of apple cobbler. Good stuff, even for the early afternoon.

It turns out that Spanky's is a chain of one store so far with aspirations for more. We were quick to give our vote for opening one in the Alamo Ranch area. Really, if you are in the area, you owe it to yourself to stop in and give them a try. On our next visit, I will have to try the chicken and perhaps the ribs.
No question at all. Great service, fair price, and outstanding vittles gets Spanky's Smokehouse a Tasty Treat!

Friday, June 19, 2009

All Out of Love? Really?

I don't want to make it appear as though I am complaining. I mean, I like Air Supply and their Greatest Hits just as much as the next guy. But can we at least agree that at some point, headphones are in order?

For the past few months, several of the neighbors on my street and the next one over have been on the receiving end of some liquored-up guy who must be going through some sort of emotional state that requires him to turn on an extremely low quality boom box at more than extremely high volumes, blasting music at random times of the day. It could be 9am or midnight.

I hate those cars that make that deep bass thump-thump-thump sound, but I almost wish this guy could get some speakers like those, just so the music he is blasting into my yard from five houses down could sound a little better.

I like oldies just as much as the next mid-forties guy. And who doesn't want to attend a wedding and hear Air Supply proclaim that they are all out of love? Hell, I'll even admit to owning the album, if you will accept that I purchased it when I was a member of the Columbia House Record Club and it was one of my free 8 albums for a penny, at the age of 16.

So tonight, my wife goes out to our lower deck and sets up the projector, puts in a DVD of the movie Chicken Run, and we kick back to enjoy the almost cool breeze and watch a flick. It was almost like being at the drive-in, only I don't have to smuggle in the beer because it is in my refrigerator and I own the place.

Anyway, we keep the volume at a relatively subdued level, but loud enough to hear, when the next thing you know, instead of chickens clucking and such, I keep hearing Air Supply. And I don't mean an occasional high pitched chorus, I'm talking every note and every octave.

Oh sure, if it had been some George Strait or some AC/DC, I might suspect the guy is having a pool party, but no; at 10PM on a Friday night, dude has Air Supply on about a three or four song rotation. Let's hope he was wearing pants.

Headphones my friend; headphones.

Did ya Need Some Free Bread?

My wife and I were headed home when we saw some people standing in the parking lot at Grissom and Timber Path with a sign that says "Free Bread". My wife, eager to learn more, stopped in and had a chat with a young man running the operation and found out about a nice little situation being sponsored by the Rivers of Life Church which as you have probably seen, is in the old HEB building that was for years, the Coyotes Dance Hall and later, Tejano Texas. I'm gonna tell you; there has got to be some spirit in that church!

Anyway, my wife stopped and talked to a youth minister named Alfred and he explained to her what is going on. Apparently, the folks at that church offer a food pantry service providing free vittles to needy people. All they have to do is go between 3-6PM on Thursdays behind the church - and yes, I know exactly what many of you are thinking - and they can hook you up. On Fridays, beginning at 5PM, they pass out bread in the parking lot where we saw them, until it is gone.

Sounds like a good thing to me.

Sadly, because of the long cement wall that faces Timber Path, Rivers of Life is often the target of vandals who live near by, eager to find an open canvas for some middle of the night tagging. Disgusting. Who tags a church?

I'm only one of many people who has painted over the filth on that wall more times than I can count. And of course, the church-folk there have painted it too and as the young man told my wife, they are thankful for the volunteers that help them, in spite of never really knowing who does it. And that makes me and the other volunteers feel good.

Dinner Report: Mr. Cod, Part 5 (and Final I might Add)...

I owe a huge apology to the numerous people who left comments on my first review of Mr. Cod. You can see the original post and all the negative comments here, followed by my first review and all the negative comments here. In all honesty, we had a relatively good experience the first time around and just assumed that the rest of you people were screwed up. As it would turn out, we were just lucky. So, sorry.

I came home from work this evening and suggested to my wife that we go and give Mr. Cod a second go round, especially considering that they have been in business a full month, but also because we were really impressed when we met the owner. The owner and his wife are trying so hard to make the place a success and if you encountered them at the store, you would want them to succeed.

So we went in and there was a couple in line in front of us, and several other customers who had ordered ahead of them and were seated waiting to get their orders.

I have to admit that I was somewhat put off by the man ordering in front of us. He wanted the person to explain to him how the "chips" were cut. Let's be clear: chips is fries. You don't need to know any more than that. Yes, the Blokes cook theirs to a slightly different consistency, but in truth, they are just fries. French fries if you want to be more specific. But this guy for some reason was trying to display his knowledge of European foods and had to point out - to a British guy who I assumed to be from the Mr. Cod franchise - that they cut the potatoes differently in Italy. WTF?

My wife and I (who in case you were not aware also lived in Italy for three years) just looked at each other. Italians have French Fries just like us. And by the way, I don't think most British people think of themselves as European, but I don't want to speak for them since I only lived there for two years and that was back in the mid 80's when "Wake me up before you Go Go" was some fine sounding music, and George Michael only seemed Gay. Anyway, I just want to point out that this sort of behavior is what the term "ugly American" is all about.

I'm sorry for that minor outburst, but I just couldn't take it. On to my less than tasty meal.

We Americans are always in a hurry. We want our food fast, but more than we want it fast, we'd prefer it to be fully cooked. Some of the complaints received from you readers who took the time to leave comments, was that the cooking left something to be desired. My neighbor for instance had a piece of fish that was burnt crisp on one end and raw on the other end (but just right in the middle, I suppose).

Another complaint was the high prices and the small size. When we went the first time, it was during lunch and we had the special, so honestly, for $5.99, we thought the size of fish was okay. Interestingly enough, I got really good sized fish this evening, but I noticed as we were leaving that somebody picked up an order, and the pieces of fish were literally half the size of my order. Unbelievable.
Oh, and this is my favorite. Several complaints from people about the napkin situation. But when we brought it up to the owner on our first visit (and as I noted in our report) they were expecting the napkin dispensers to be placed on tables soon. Apparently, three weeks later is not soon. They actually have rolls of bathroom style paper towels on each table. Egad.So on to it. My wife ordered the Fish Sandwich Combo (I think that is a #5) and it was $6.09, and comes with chips/fries and a drink. She was almost completely pleased with the sandwich. The fish was good, the size was enormous and it was served hot after a 15 minute wait.The only negative was the brown lettuce in the sandwich. A couple with an older lady came in and were seated near us and the lady had a salad. Her lettuce was all brown and the man immediately whipped out the customer survey card and started going to town, writing several paragraphs on the back of it.My wife also ordered the side of calamari for $2.99 which, if you have ever ordered from a place like Sea Island or Olive Garden, that is a pretty good price. Unless it sucks. We always know to eat the calamari as soon as it comes out because it doesn't take long for it to get chewy. By the time it got to our table, we were too late. I had two pieces and left it at that. My wife tried a few more and that was enough.

I ordered up something called the Trio Sampler Platter which comes with fish & chips, chicken and shrimp. Well, mine came with the fish, chips and chicken, but I had to wait even longer for the shrimp. And not worth the wait. It was I think $9.99.
The fish was fine. Someone had complained before that it was bland. I have to agree this time around. Though I loaded mine up with malt vinegar - a must - it was not as flavorful as I thought it should be. But still, it was piping hot and it was enough to hit the spot. My two pieces of fish were fair portions and I have no complaints about the size, though as I said earlier, the people I saw pick up the order after us got royally (no pun intended) gypped. As I said, the shrimp was worthless - same as the first time we went.What was really weired was the chicken. For some reason, I just had it in my mind that they would serve chicken fingers or chicken planks or something, not actual pieces of chicken. But sure enough, the meal came with a leg and a thigh, fried up like the fish. I think they use a pressure cooker of some sort the same way KFC does. The only problem was, in spite of the long wait, the chicken was not cooked. Now don't get me wrong; I'm not one of these people who needs food to be completely burnt to a crisp, and in fact, I have had more than one person ask me to throw their chicken back on the grill because I pulled it sooner than most people would like. So if I look at a piece of chicken and it gives me the shivers, then we have a problem.

My wife took the chicken thigh up to the counter and saw the owner. She discreetly showed him the chicken and he nearly had a cow. He apologized profusely then grabbed the cook and had words as a new batch of chicken went in.

As we waited, we finished up our chips which were sadly, crappy. One of my neighbors had complained about the chips being a big clump stuck together. We had a similar experience today. Not all of them, but several clumps along with some overcooked fries. Overall, just not good.

After at least another 15 minutes, I went up to the counter and asked for the piece of chicken to-go. In all honesty, I was done eating but my wife didn't want to leave without the chicken considering we paid almost $10 for it. If anything, we would give it to the dog.
When we got home, I opened up the container and the chicken looked very good on the outside, and in fact, I pulled the skin off (I wouldn't want my dog to get high cholesterol or anything) and ate it. Then, I started to cut into it so I could put it in the dog dish and my wife saw blood again. That was it.I'm sure Gracie would not have minded in the least, but my wife jumped in the truck and drove right back over to Mr. Cod with the bloody (no pun intended) chicken. She worked for 17 or so years in the food service industry and basically went to the owner and told him to cease and desist his chicken sales until they could get their act together. He was kind enough to give her a coupon for $5 off the next purchase of $15.00, but in all seriousness, I'm probably going to put it on Craigslist and see if I can get $3 for it. Okay, not really.

But I won't use it. I will give it to a homeless guy.

This is one of those cases where I wanted so bad for the place to be good enough for me to go there on a regular basis, but it just didn't work out. I wish the owners luck in whatever their next endeavor is, because I just don't see this one panning out.

And to those of you who called this one right from the word go, you have my sincere appreciation for trying to keep me straight! Need to go back and read all the comments? Click here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

GNWCIA Meeting Report: My Notes...

My wife and I made the short trip down to the Lodge of the Great Northwest to attend the monthly open Board meeting of the Great Northwest Community Improvement Association (GNWCIA). I'll keep the notes brief - because... !

In case you weren't aware, this is the first open board meeting since the annual membership meeting failed to obtain a quorum. The resulting failed election for two new directors caused the remaining board members to accept applications for and subsequently appoint two new directors. Needless to say, there was much interest in the community as to what the sitting directors would do; simply appoint the two previous candidates, or go with some of the people who threw names into the hat for consideration. I'll tell you what happened, in a moment.

Presentations and Delegations: You may recall that the residents of District 6 elected Mr. Ray Lopez to represent us at City Council. He sent GNW resident Andy Greene, a temporary member of his staff, to give us some news from the district office. Most important good news is that they will be using the GNW facilities as sort of a satellite office on the last Friday of the month in June, July and August between 10 and 3PM or so. This will give residents a chance to come in and discuss their needs. What a great move. There will be more info on this in the next issue of Passages.

Residents to Speak: A resident of Village Northwest approached the board to ask for information about installing a fence in her front yard. This is normally something a resident would approach the Architectural Control Committee with, but based on her understanding of the covenants, she already knew it would most likely be denied. As it turns out, her real concern is with stray/vicious dogs. She has no faith in the city to control the strays so she would like to put up a fence. She was ultimately told to get with the Community Manager and discuss the process offline.

Another resident and former board member from Silver Creek spoke on multiple issues of concern. She had lots of positive things to say about the volunteers working to cover graffiti (which we appreciate). But, she also voiced concern over the fact that the DRACO and Rec Director positions have been filled by the same person for a while now is a concern and the resident cited multiple deed restrictions that were not being addressed. One example was that she counted 70 garbage cans that had not been put in their proper places, in just a short stretch of homes. Really, it does look tacky. She also pointed out two homes on the same street that had different types of issues that needed to be looked into. One is a known home that seems to be filled with drug selling youth. The other was the incredibly way over the top house that seems to belong in an episode of Miami Vice. Her point was that these things are happening and nothing seems to be getting done about it. Further, it is these type of things that bring home values down.

Community Manager's Report: The Community Manager announced that they have hired a person to come in for 20 hours a week to do noting but go up and down the streets, give out tickets for deed restriction violations and then go back and follow-up on them. I don't recall the exact number, but he had written over 100 citations in the first week. Warning to residents: This board is getting serious with this issue and you'd better get your shit together.

Also: Lots of people abusing the use of pools. The life guards are starting to get tough on people ruining everyones good time. People are being ejected, passes are being checked, and if you live in a house with 20 people in one home, they are going to make you prove you live there before issuing you a pool pass.

CM also reports that the maintenance staff is getting on the entryways to the various neighborhoods and cleaning things up, putting in water saving landscaping and in general trying to approve the appearance.

Committee Reports: Director Rodkey asked me to speak on the GNWatch. I pointed out that we have our annual appreciation meeting next Wednesday. E-mail me if you plan to attend. Also, a group of residents will be speaking at the City of San Antonio's Graffiti Convention on the weekend of the 27th. And finally, I thanked Director Doherty for taking on the Cellular on Patrol Program.

Mike Yager from the A-Team announced that we will be holding two paint drives on Saturday's - the 25th of July and the 29th of August, 9-12 at the soccer fields. We will be collecting latex house paints (no oil based). Basically, instead of you having to store all your old house paint in the garage, you can bring it to the A-Team and then we can mix it and use it to cover tagging. More information on this will be posted in Passages.

Old Bid'ness:
Of course, the pressing issue was the appointment of new Directors to the board. The Chairman announced that in addition to the two people who originally ran for the two open positions, the board had received three additional applicants for the positions. Each of the applicants was afforded five minutes to address the board and the members present.

Up first, Mark Martinez who had run during the failed election, spoke and in my opinion gave a very solid if only brief speech. He spoke of working together for the common good and I found him certainly worthy of consideration.

The other person who had run, Beatriz Dean did not attend the meeting.

Applicant Eric Cooper has run in the past and most recently moderated the debates our association sponsored for the city elections. Eric discussed concerns he had about the lack of a quorum and wanted to use his skills to help eliminate that problem. He also spoke of being a team player and avoiding some of the partisan issues of the past.

Applicant Briana Brooks came in and wowed the assembled residents with a message of building up the neighborhood and bringing the association back to greatness. Honestly, in her brief talk, I looked around the room and I could see that the residents hand found a favorite candidate.

Finally, Applicant Constance Stallings, a neighbor of Briana's, gave a stirring talk about the concerns she and her neighbors have with crime on her street. She decided to apply for the board to help get positive things done.

The board adjourned for about 30 minutes to go into closed session so they could decide on two of the five applicants.

When the board returned, Chairman Garcia thanked all the applicants and asked that for the ones who were not selected to please consider running in 2010. I'll skip all the fanfare of who made motions and who seconded, but I will tell you that the board unanimously appointed Eric Cooper and Briana Brooks to fill the positions on the board until 2012. Honestly, I think most of the people in the audience were pleased, though obviously, the ones who were not selected couldn't be that excited.

Congrats to the two newest Directors. I think they will make a nice fit on the board.

And there ya have it! Comments? Thoughts? Lawsuits?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Remodel Report: Not One, But Two Bathrooms...

I will confess right upfront that I am partially to blame for escalating what was intended by my wife to be a very small project into something a little bigger. But only if she will take full responsibility for wanting to do the second upstairs bathroom as I was trying to put away the tools following the first.

This started with a mirror. When our home was built in the mid 1970's, there was a full sized wall mirror that was mounted above the 6 foot long vanity. I personally think that is a good thing. But after seeing some of the new modernized stylish mirrors that people put in their bathrooms, my wife was ready for a change. So the idea was to pull out the huge mirror and replace it with something smaller, and do some minor painting and maybe replace the light fixture. Technically, a one day job.
Then I suggested we replace the dual-sink, mint green Formica bathroom counter top with a single sink, tiled surface. And I thought we should remove the horrendous texture on the ceiling with some less noticeable smooth texture, and remove and replace the highly offensive combination light/fan/heater unit with a new one. Oh, I wanted to go further. I wanted to rip out all the sheet rock in the entire bathroom and start from scratch but she had to draw the line somewhere.

I don't want to turn this into some Bob Vila tutorial, because Lord knows, we are generally flying by the seat of our pants on this kind of thing, but I would like to offer just a few points to those of you who are homeowners and want to tackle something like this.

Do not screw over the next homeowner. The people who remodeled this bathroom the first time tried a few things that were just beyond their capability and it showed. When we bought the house, the crappy texture job was not a deal breaker because I knew eventually I would either pay someone to fix it or do it myself. But the wiring and the installation of the exhaust fan were problems that I had to deal with (with some help from friends) and some of the plumbing left some craftsmanship to be desired. So all I am saying is, unless you know that you are going to be the last person to live in a house, try to avoid making the next homeowners job that much harder.

Once we made the decision to install a new tile counter top, we hit several places looking. Here in San Antonio, we are lucky that we have numerous tile outlets so you can go in and pick and choose and generally get a good deal. We did go to Floor & Decor on Bandera and even stopped in at a few of the places on 1604 that were closed when we happened to be there. So being the impulse buyers that we are, we bought our tile from Lowes. I was expecting we would pay maybe $2.50 to $4.00 per tile. The one my wife chose was $11.00 per tile. Oh well.
So, not that I'm one in a position to give advice (or perhaps, I am in exactly the position), take your time and shop. I promise you can get a good look for less than $11.00 a tile. But it does look pretty good.

I do have to tell you the story of the wiring on the overhead exhaust fan. The previous owners had wired it backwards and we simply lived with it. No real harm. The Vent switch turned on the vent. The Heater switched turned on the light, and the Light switch turned on the heater. As long as you know what works, you can live in a house for 10 years and not mind it. So when it came time to replace the unit, I decided to wire it correctly so that the switch (which is labeled) would turn on the appropriate thing - light for light, heater for heater etc.

I simply left the wires hot and used my little electricity tester to make sure I knew which wires were which, and marked them when I was removing the old unit. A few days later when I had finished texturing the ceiling, I went to install the new unit and immediately was frustrated to find that things did not work as expected.

To hear my wife tell the story, I worked on it for almost two hours. I think a more accurate depiction of the chronology of events was maybe 20 minutes, give or take an hour. Either way, this was at the same time my wife was laying down the new tile on the counter top, so how could she know? Anyway, I decided to just forget the fixture and help her.

By the end of the evening, I had replayed the wiring diagram in my head, and it dawned on me that being a three-way switch, it was different than the standard black-goes-to-black, white-goes-to-white situation. But of course, it was bed time and I decided I would knock it out the following day after work.
Fast forward to me walking in the door the following day and finding my wife up on the ladder messing with the fixture. I immediately demanded she remove herself from my workspace before she messed up my wiring. Her response, "What, you don't think I can read the instructions?" With a few flicks of switches, the light came on, the vent came on and the heater came on, all perfectly assigned to the appropriate switch. WTH?Of course, I starting listing off names of people I suspected having come to the rescue, and she was able to keep a straight face until I mentioned friends Matt & Lea. That was it, she busted out laughing and the gig was up. She said Matt was able to diagnose and wire the vent in less than ten minutes.And I guess it was that time saved that caused my wife to get up Saturday morning and suggest we do the master bathroom. We didn't do nearly as much - just the counter top, a new GFCI plug, mirror and the new sink. Same colors, same $11.00 tile. And we are very happy with it.

And that's it. I'm not doing anything for the foreseeable future.

Need more pictures of the project? You can always hit the Flickr Page.

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San Antonio, TX, United States
I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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