Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Friday, June 24, 2016

Cutter's Crabhouse in Seattle

On our recent night in Seattle, we walked down to Pike's Place Public Market, and looked for somewhere to eat dinner.  Most of the restaurants at our end of the market were smallish, and a couple we looked at asked for reservations.  So, we saw a sign on the opposite side of the street indicating that despite some ongoing renovations to the building there, Cutter's Crabhouse was open for business.  We knew nothing of this place, but figured it was a good location, and they did readily agree to seat our party of seven.

We were seated fairly quickly (there was enough time to order a couple of beers at the bar for my son and me, and we only had time for a couple of sips), and began to study the menu.  While noting that prices were high (to my mind), I took in the general ambience.  I noticed the wait staff was dressed alike, in white shirts, with red ties, and the old school long aprons tied around their waists.  Wait staff appeared to have the time to chat freely with their individual tables, and I noticed more than one conversation that took considerable time.  It occurred to me that perhaps other assigned table were being made to wait while these conversations took place.  But, I figured this friendliness likely leads to good tips.

The tables were nicely appointed, with a stiff white paper over the cloth table cloths.  Cloth napkins were provided, with flatware rolled inside.  I ordered a House Louie, and requested that they not include salmon with mine.  I remember eating Shrimp Louie way back when, so hoped that this would be like that.  The waiter did promise to ask the kitchen to include extra crab to make up for the salmon, and I appreciated that offer.

Overall, while the wait for our food was pretty long, I would have to say that is likely due to the fact that it is not easy to prepare seven different dishes for that many people, so that they all can be served together.  So, I don't feel like it would be fair to criticize this restaurant for our long wait.  Everyone ate with gusto, and I don't feel we had to wait too long for refills of our beer, but I must confess that, at the end, I had a lot of beer to finish, after my food was gone.

I have to give them points for the view, as we could see out over the market, the bay, and traffic on the bay, as the evening waned.  We saw ferries going and coming, a freighter or two, and of course pedestrian traffic along the street in front of the market.

Ultimately, I'd say that Cutter's rates a strong four out of five, and I'm left with no answer in my mind as to just how pretentious it is.  Maybe I am too harsh in my use of that word.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

What Is Wrong With Hotels and Motels?

We stayed at a few hotels on our recent trip up to the Great NW, and I have learned a few things from the experience.

First of all, whether you call it a hotel or a motel, and whether you pay a lot or a little, they have certain things in common.  I should mention that we searched for places (on our phones) to stay each day, as we figured out where we would be that night.  Our basic criteria included space, cost, amenities, and location.  Unfortunately, we could not get a good idea of location in all cases, but we did focus on location in terms of where we wanted to go, and what we wanted to see either that afternoon, or the next morning.

Since we were a family group of seven people (four adults, three kids, 11, 14, and 16), we did need something beyond the standard room with one bed.  We asked for and booked two rooms each night, each with two queen sized beds.

Basically, they all offered clean linen, barely enough towels, a little bit of soap and shampoo, televisions, and little else.  Some offered a continental breakfast, at least one claimed a full breakfast (apparently based on offering waffles), and all had in room coffee (but only one with real cups, and none with enough sugar for even one cup of coffee).

Hospitality Inn - Portland

Our first night was at a place called Hospitality Inn (photo, above), in Portland, Oregon, and this was conveniently located next to a pizza place on one side, and a Mickey D's on another.  We found it to be adequate, and reasonable in cost.  The coffee was reported to be weak, and the breakfast skimpy (my wife checked it out, and I took her word for it).  We had breakfast and coffee at Mickey D's.

Valley River Inn - Eugene, Oregon

My son and his family stayed at the Valley River Inn (photo, above), on the Williamette River, in Eugene, on our second night (my wife and I stayed with my friend, Rich).  We all had breakfast there the morning after, and liked it.

Shiloh Inn - Tacoma

The next night we spent in my old hometown of Tacoma, Washington, and this mistake is on me.  I chose a location based on price, and a street address, with seeing this place on a map.  This was a place called the Shiloh Inn, located immediately adjacent to a very busy Interstate 5.  Naturally, we were stuck on the freeway side of the building.  Noise was the main problem here, but fortunately, we made our way all the way to So. Jefferson Street, nearly downtown, for dinner at Rock Wood Pizza, and enjoyed that very much, and there was a very nice place right across the street for breakfast, called Elmers.



We booked into the downtown Sheraton for our next night in Seattle, and found it to be very good.  Comfortable, and very close to so many different places.  We walked down to Pike's Place Market that evening, and had dinner at a rather pretentious place called Cutter's Crabhouse. 

Cutter's Crabhouse - Seattle

Then, we traveled way up north for breakfast the next morning to a little diner called Patty's Eggnest.
Really good breakfast.  By this point in our journey, I was very much aware of a commonality to be found in all hotels/motels, and I'll explain that in a moment or two, after I get to our last few places.

We made our way up into British Columbia the next day, and spent that night in Richmond, right close to Vancouver's airport.  This night we stayed at a Hilton, on a block chock full of hotels.  There was a Sheraton and a Marriot also on that block.  We tried to get into a place called the American Grille for dinner, but were turned away by a snooty person with a fake French accent (OK, it may have been real, but he was so snooty, it makes no difference.  He refused to seat such a large party, and at least one female staff member indicated we should have had a reservation. I guess the fact that they can't spell Grill should have been a clue for us).  We had dinner at Harold's Bistro and Bar, located in the Sheraton, and had a great meal, with a wonderful waitress.  That would be the American Grille's loss.  We waited for breakfast the next morning until we were back in Washington, and ended up at a Mickey D's in Bellingham.

Harold's Bistro and Bar


I have to mention that our experience crossing into, and then back out of Canada was very, very different than what we are used to encountering here on the Texas/Mexico border.  First, crossing into Canada, the Canadian Border Guard was affable, cordial, efficient, and friendly.  He actually welcomed us to his country.  Upon our return the next day, the American CBP agent was a marked difference from every one that I have encountered locally over the last four years or so.  He was very friendly, joked with us, did his job efficiently, without asking intrusive questions ("Where did you go?  What did you do?  Where are you going?  What do you do for a living? - those are the questions I always get from agents here in El Paso).  Not only that, but there was no line coming into Blaine, Washington!  The line going into Canada the day before was longer.  Go figure.  I, for one, cannot explain why the local agents have to be so rude, so lacking in common courtesy, and, in short, so crappy.

Back on track, we managed to hit the Space Needle that day, and then caught a ferry over to Bremerton, headed for Tacoma again.  John, Jr. thought it would be fun to stay in a hotel casino, and booked us into something called the Emerald Queen for that night, but all we found was a smokey casino, so we decided to look for beds elsewhere.

We spent that night at the single most beautiful place encountered on our trip, location-wise, a Red Lion.  Unfortunately, this place, located on Capitol Lake, in Olympia, the state capitol, was three months into a renovation, with a good long ways still to go.  Their restaurant was hard to get to, their front desk was non-existent (some tables, with computers on them), and there were indications all over the place of work yet to be done.  The grounds, however, were spectacularly beautiful, with a great view over a small finger of the lake.  We had dinner at Red Robin, something we still lack in El Paso, and enjoyed it.  We had breakfast, free, at the hotel next morning, before heading out for our last night, in Portland.

Red Lion, Olympia

Our last night was spent at a very nice Crowne Plaza near the Convention Center.  John chose this because they offered an airport shuttle to get us to the airport the next day.  We drove around Portland a bit late that afternoon, and following the recommendation of my aunt, Donna, ended up at a restaurant called Stanford's in the Lloyd Center.  Great menu, great food, and great service.  We even had a free floor show!  Our table was located next to a large window on NE Multnomah street.  While we were eating, a group of young people came by, and one of the young men, somewhat the worse for drink, decided to water a tree standing right on the street.  Literally!  That's right.  He urinated right there on a public street, reinforcing our impression that Portland strives to outdo Austin, Texas, in keeping it weird.  We - unfortunately - had a perfect view for this sight that cannot be unseen.

Stanford's Lloyd Center

We also had one last breakfast in Portland, at Pine State Biscuits.  This was something very different, and within easy walking distance of our hotel.

Now, about that commonality I referred to earlier.  Every single one of these places has little, teeny, tiny toilets!  None of them come up to ADA compliance.  Now, I'm not saying that the ADA requires that hotels install higher toilets, but I am saying that toilets that are too close to the floor are not easy for old people to use.  Our knees hurt!  One of these was so low (I know.  I know.  "How low was it?") that it reminded me of what we used to call the 'Kimchi Squat' back when I was in Korea in the mid-sixties.  This may not be a big thing to most folks, but for future reference, I think I will ask for ADA rooms if ever I have to book another night in a hotel/motel.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Not the best of times.

Funny how we always used to say things like, "This is such a great time to be alive."  Or, "We've got it so much better than any other age in the history of the world."  

Well, what are the history books going to have to say about us, if there is anyone left alive who would be able to actually write such a thing?

Let's look at post-Reagan America.  We have taken away what used to be a growing, thriving, and very productive middle class.  We have turned out a couple of generations of people who are mostly ignorant of history, science, mathematics, geography, or much of anything else.  We have created millions of religious fanatics, both at home and abroad.  We have turned what used to be the World's leader into a below average, much hated nation.

We have failed to set examples in any important areas, while we concentrate on killing each other, and sending our best off to fight wars for the rich people who now totally control us.

We have very few people alive who are capable of looking at our Constitution realistically.  Especially damning is the failure to see the Second Amendment for what it is, and the inability to realize that maybe it could stand just a little bit of tweaking.  Be honest.  The Second Amendment was written in a different time, and for a different world.  It is time to update it, and pretty much scrap it.

Our response to horrible mass murders, on an almost daily basis is to offer up "love and prayers?"  Really?!  That's it?  That's all we, as a people, are capable of?  When is enough, enough?!

I just started watching an HBO production, "The Newsroom," last night.  Yes, I know, I am way behind the times.  From the very first episode, I started asking myself, "How can we get more people to watch this?"  So much truth is there!  They make reference to the early pioneers of broadcast journalism, like Edward R. Murrow, who set the bar so high, and Walter Conkrite, who was perhaps the most trusted man in the U. S., at one time.

They point out how television news began as an outgrowth of the really great news reporting that took place during the Second World War, and how the networks (mostly CBS to begin with) weren't necessarily out to make money, but to provide something valuable and worthwhile.  The show misquotes, or paraphrases, Thomas Jefferson by having one of the characters say something about "an informed citizenry/populace/electorate" being necessary for the proper running of a nation.

The point is that this is rightfully, the raison d'ĂȘtre for journalism, but unfortunately, our commercial networks forgot that many years ago.  At some poiont in time, they learned that their air time was valuable, so they started focusing on making money, and they justified their ongoing news programming by making it pay for itself.

So, today, our nightly news fix is dominated by commercials for Viagra, and anti-clotting agents, and obscure (expensive) prescriptions medications.  This is partly because they have learned that young people pretty much do not bother to watch their efforts any more, but they fail to realize that this is most likely due to the fact that the commercial news organizations cannot be trusted to maintain any standards of real journalism.

They blatantly slant their reports to echo the political stances of their owners and the corporations that pay for their precious air time.  So, now, instead of the viewers learning only about what is happening, the viewers are also told how they should react to the happenings of the day.  That is not journalism.  And, that is why we have been rewarded with political campaigns that make us the laughing stock of the entire world.

That's right.  The whole world has been looking at us in wonder ever since we elected W, a certified moron if there ever was one.  (But, then, I live in Texas, where we have pretty much cornered the market on fools in public office, ever since our last good governor, Ann Richards).  How can an entire nation possibly be so stupid as to vote for such an ignorant fool?  Well, mostly because the entire nation, with few exceptions, has been dumbed down, so that we easily turned into an oligarchy.

So, is this a great time to be alive?  I'd say it is pretty much a fulfillment of that ancient Chinese curse:  "May you live in interesting times."  And, by the way?  This is not ancient, nor is it Chinese in origin.  Go figure.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

He was indeed The Greatest

Watching the coverage about the death of Muhammad Ali over the last week or so, I have had many thoughts pass through my mind.  It occurs to me that most of today's young people have no idea just what he meant to people of my generation.

I was born a few years after him, so I was old enough to be aware of his winning Gold at the 1960 Olympics, and I recall seeing his rise through the ranks of professional heavy weights, leading up to his fight with Sonny Liston.  Sonny Liston was not the most popular of champions, you understand, but he was the champ.  Many people were offended by the brash young man from Louisville, especially the older generation.

I do not want to claim that we who were coming of age in the 60's were already "enlightened" or yet into the "flower power" attitude that represented hippiedom, but I like to think that we were a bit more open minded than were our parents.  I remember the night that Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston, and find my thoughts going over that night of late.

Feb. 25, 1964, was a Tuesday, and the outcome of that fight was much discussed by just about everyone I knew.  I was a senior in high school at the time, at the greatest high school you've never heard of (OK, if you have ever read my blog, then you have heard of Stadium High School, in Tacoma, Washington).  Being a senior means that I was very self centered, and had no time for much awareness outside my own tiny world.

But, we were impressed with the apparent bravado demonstrated by the young Cassius Clay, and - I believe - we were quick to realize that it was not entirely bravado or braggadocio behavior, as he backed up all of his big words.  Maybe we identified with him, to an extent, because he was not much older than we were.

Whatever our attitude towards him, I do know that, over time, we came to accept his brash predictions and his - to some - arrogant behavior simply because he did indeed accomplish those things that he said he would accomplish.  And, with the rest of the world, we all moved into his corner.

I think it is obvious that we all became enamored of this great man more after his fighting career ended, and his public life continued to set standards for all.  I could never hope to have to words to express just how big his impact has been on the world, and I certainly could not hope to even echo the great eulogy delivered by Billy Crystal at his funeral, but whatever I fail to say here, consider my feelings to be the same as Billy Crystal's, and let me just say that he spoke for me, just as Ali spoke for millions, and for generations to come.

Here's Billy Crystal's speech: