Monday, January 26, 2015

Planning Ahead

 “You can get anything you want 
at Alice’s Restaurant.
You can get anything you want 
at Alice’s Restaurant.
Walk right in, it’s around the back,
Just a half a mile from the railroad track;
You can get anything you want 
at Alice’s Restaurant.”

-Arlo Guthrie, “The Alice’s Restaurant Massacre"

On Friday night the Captain and First Mate joined some friends for dinner at a local restaurant. I’ll not mention the name of the restaurant here because this blog is not really about the restaurant.

It’s about the draft.

Just kidding!

It’s about the experience. The dining experience. I will explain more in a moment.

But just so you know, this was a rather pricey establishment that sells 3 ½ pound steaks thinking you will share it with others at your table.


I had eaten at this establishment for lunch on one occasion several years ago, having heard they had a good bowl of homemade seafood gumbo. I was kind of grossed out that the vinyl gingham-checked table covering was sticky with grease.

And the gumbo wasn’t much better.

But we were invited Friday night, so we went.

While pricey (our bill was $124, including two mixed drinks and a bottle of wine), the restaurant had no ambiance to warrant that distinction. A concrete floor and brick walls works for some of the other eateries in historic downtown buildings, but this place reminded the Captain of the numerous Mexican restaurants in town that just shoe-horn themselves into the cheapest empty building they can find.

“No need to remodel. We’ll just call it ‘Casa de Applebee’s’!”

In an apparent attempt to warm up the space, the walls were masked with the obligatory paintings by local artists (for sale). I spent the evening staring at a cubist interpretation of a woman’s face – actually three of them, of different sizes and colors – none of which we took home.

None of them were this good...
Because of the hard surfaces, the room was loud – made worse by a pathetic college boy who set up his guitar and keyboard near the makeshift bar and whined an odd selection of oldies throughout our meal.

Traffic flow throughout the three-sectioned restaurant was not well-planned, and the Captain’s chair was apparently located on the bank of that river. Every server who rushed past – and they all seemed to be in a rush, yet going nowhere in particular – bumped into me without a single apology.

Our server on this busy Friday night was a college-age woman wearing jeans and a hooded sweatshirt; others wore a variety of t-shirts with no particular theme. She never introduced herself and she NEVER smiled. Not once! She simply took our orders and disappeared.

The Captain suspects she had previously worked at Olive Garden. After she uncorked a $40 bottle of wine, I had to stop her as she poured my first glass with the intent of filling it to the rim!

As the First Mate finished her salad – a sad array of iceberg lettuce with a few pieces of tomato sprinkled on top – she asked our waitress for the bread that was supposed to accompany our meal. The server replied, “That comes with the entrée.” Then she disappeared again. After the entrées were delivered – great hunks of beef all around! – I asked twice again for bread and received a scowl in reply. As the First Mate finished her steak, the waitress reappeared with a basket of greasy bread.

How was the steak, you might be wondering? Fortunately, the Captain and First Mate agree on steak, preferring our beef medium-rare. So I ordered the 10 oz. filet to share ($39), and she ordered the 6 boiled shrimp ($14) to share. The steak wasn’t the best piece of meat I’ve ever put in my mouth, but it was cooked perfectly; the aptly-named “shrimp”, however, left a lot to be desired. The accompanying “fresh-steamed vegetables” was an uninspired mixture of broccoli, carrots and cauliflower.

Yes, I could have had Fries with that instead. SMH!

As we drove home, we agreed we might go back if invited, but this place would not become one of our “go-to” choices.

At this point you may be wondering, “If the Captain’s not going to tell us the name of this place, why did he go into such detail?”

Good question!

You see, the Captain is planning his retirement – still many years away – which may or may not include owning/operating a bar or restaurant.

It’s kind of up to the General Board of Pensions at this point!

But since a banker friend advised me many years ago that 80% of all restaurant start-ups fail – and thus, getting a bank loan is difficult – over the years I have been taking notes on what makes up a good restaurant / bar.

And, for what it’s worth, it’s not all that different from what makes up a good church.

Based on years of previous eating experiences, I have found three keys to success (in this order):
1.    Ambiance. When a guest walks through the door, the room should look and feel warm and inviting. If a theme is attempted, it should be carefully designed and crafted. In the same way that wearing an eye patch doesn’t make you a pirate, putting catfish on the menu doesn’t make you a seafood restaurant!

Captain’s Note: Catfish is not seafood.

2.    Service. Employees should be relaxed and friendly, as though they, too, enjoy being there. They should also be clean, well-trained, and efficient, and empowered to respond to a customer’s needs quickly and graciously. This is as much a management issue as it is an employee issue.

3.    Food. Food should be made with fresh ingredients, not the institutional stuff off the truck that supplies every other restaurant in town. And make it interesting & unique. If all you have to offer is frozen buffalo wings, don’t even bother.

Furthermore, while I haven’t tested this theory yet, I suspect the “2/3 Rule” applies. If you can get any two of these three right, you stand a good chance of succeeding.

But always aim for 100%!

Now, some will argue that “food” should be #1. I disagree. The Captain has forgiven bad food when the ambiance and service were to my liking. On the other hand, we have stopped patronizing a restaurant where the food was superb but the service was lousy.

I have perhaps related this story before: at one local restaurant, I ordered my customary Southern Comfort on the rocks. There are three bartenders in town who know to pour this for me without asking. 

Wait a minute. That either sounded snooty, or makes the Captain look like a big alcoholic. Sorry about that!

But on this particular occasion, the waitress reported back, “We don’t have Southern Comfort.” Guessing at my avocation, or simply lacking creativity, she suggested a “Captain and Cola” instead. When I suggested they should stock SoCo, the bartender – yes, the bartender got involved – replied, “We can’t stock a private bottle for every customer.”

No need to, my friend. We won’t be back.

So what would a “Captain Dave’s Bar & Grill” look like? Something like this:

My favorite meal experience was at Señor Frog’s in Cancun several years ago. The décor was tropical and fun, the atmosphere was electric, the waitress was perky (as was the girl who passed by our table several times selling shots!), and the food was unique and delicious!


And the good vibes didn’t even rub off when, later in the evening – as we watched with anticipation a local reggae band setting up – they asked us to vacate our table so they could turn the room into a dance floor!

Rock on, Bob Marley!

Captain’s Note: This type of experience works best in locations where there is a dependable bus / taxi service to transport patrons safely home.

Just sayin’…

So look for "Captain Dave's", possibly coming soon to a town near you!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Consider the Source

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday in memory of the great civil rights leader who was assassinated on April 4, 1968. At the time, King was in Memphis supporting the garbage workers strike. On April 3rd he delivered an address at Mason Temple, and on the next evening he was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

The alleged weapon was a Remington Gamemaster, allegedly wielded by James Earl Ray from a hiding spot in a building across the street.

Captain’s Note: I say “allegedly” because Ray initially pled guilty, then recanted. Later he was advised to plead guilty by his attorney in order to avoid a jury trial and the possibility of the death sentence. Ray was sentenced to 99 years in prison, and he fought the rest of his life to withdraw his guilty plea and secure a trial. Rumors of conspiracy continue to swirl.

This weekend also happened to be opening weekend of the new Clint Eastwood-directed film, “American Sniper”, based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, the most successful sniper in U.S. military history. The movie has already earned more than $100 million at the box office.

Suddenly, the two stories seemed to converge, thanks to Michael Moore – director, producer, writer, and liberal political activist. On Sunday Moore posted the following on Twitter:

An uproar ensued. “Deadline Hollywood” and “Hollywood Reporter” took this “tweet” and reported that Moore said he didn’t like Clint Eastwood’s movie and disrespected Chris Kyle. The public was outraged by what the news media reported. Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and even Rob Lowe weighed in, adding fuel to Moore’s public lynching.

The controversy almost broke the internet!

By the way, Rob Lowe has offended the International Paruresis Association for his “Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe” commercial.

Michael Moore followed up on Facebook Monday with an explanation. He claims his comment was referring to the King assassination, not the sniper movie. He points to the fact that he never mentioned the movie or Clint Eastwood in his tweet.

Moore explained that his uncle was an Army paratrooper who was killed by a Japanese sniper 70 years ago. His father, a Marine stationed in the South Pacific in WWII, always held a low opinion of enemy snipers as a result.

“My dad always said, ‘Snipers are cowards. They don't believe in a fair fight. Like someone coming up from behind you and coldcocking you. Just isn't right. It's cowardly to shoot a person in the back. Only a coward will shoot someone who can't shoot back.’"

This, by the way, is why the Captain prefers fighting with a sword: you have to face your enemy and look him in the eye.

But the kerfuffle didn’t end there. On Sunday, actor Seth Rogen also took to Twitter to actually comment on the movie:

The scene he referenced was a fake Nazi propaganda film within the film about a sniper.

Again, the internet exploded.

Keep in mind this is the same Seth Rogen who was partially responsible for “The Interview”. 

Rogen defended himself:

Would it matter to anyone that even Chris Kyle, before his untimely death, also criticized Hollywood’s version of war? Speaking to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, Kyle said, “Hollywood fantasizes about it and makes it look good. It… war sucks.”

But this post isn’t about celebrities or Chris Kyle or “American Sniper” – which the Captain has no plans to see.

This post is about all those people who get their panties in a wad over a comment someone has made. 

Frankly, judging by how often some people are offended and feel the need to mouth off, the Captain wonders if they shouldn’t just go buy some new underwear that doesn’t bunch up and get twisted so much!

Seriously, does anyone really care what Michael Moore thinks… about anything? Or Seth Rogen? Or even the Captain for that matter?

These people are not world leaders or even national policy makers. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone whose opinion was ever swayed by a tweet!

As for the Palins and Gingriches, these are political has-beens who once tasted the magical power of being in the spotlight for a brief moment in history and will now offer up faux rage at just about anything in order to pander to their constituents and keep their names in the media.

Yes, that dreaded liberal media!

But we’re finding more and more that the American public has become a thin-skinned lot, taking offense at every little thing. The best I can remember, it started when then-President H.W. Bush announced that he didn’t like broccoli.

Oh. My. God! The world is coming to an end!

No. It’s. Not!

But public outrage has only grown worse since then, as the average American now has many more venues by which to publicly express their anger – like Facebook... and Twitter... and... Blogspot....


Yes, I am offended that so many people are getting offended these days! In a land that supposedly cherished the First Amendment –

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”

– we sure don’t like it when a citizen exercises that right!

But here is an important word of wisdom the Commodore ingrained in me as a child. If someone ever said something that hurt my feelings, he would simply say, “Consider the source.”


Monday, January 12, 2015


There was once a day in American family life when people aspired to an ideal. In general that ideal was the “nuclear family”, a phrase coined as early as 1913 by anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski. The nuclear family was composed of a successful working father, a stay-at-home mother, two or three gender-balanced children, and a dog.

Okay, the Captain made up the part about the dog.

But who doesn’t love dogs!

For the most part, the ideal of the nuclear family was also necessarily middle class and white.

That ideal was widely portrayed on television and hailed in public forums. As Garrison Keillor would say about the people of his fictional Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

In that ideal America, divorce was frowned up - even punished! - and remarriage after a divorce was almost considered to be worse. Being unable to have children brought “clucks” of pity, but choosing to have no children was downright blasphemous.

And let’s not get started on disobedient children.

Although with today’s widespread “zero tolerance” policies, it’s amazing that any children make it through school!

As late as 1993, the nuclear family was still being hailed as the model for civilized society.

“It places gender and sexuality at the heart of family ideology, being both heteronormative and dependent on a gendered division of labor oriented around reproduction.” 
– Anouska Bhattacharyya, Harvard PhD candidate, 2011.

[Captain’s Note: Bhattacharyya is simply reporting this way of thinking, not advocating it.]

I cited the source of that quote because I don’t want anyone thinking the Captain talks like that!

Whatever the reality might have been, that idealism began to change with the introduction of two inventions into American life.

The first was birth control. Although attempts at birth control have been recorded since the ancient Egyptians – some 2,000 years B.C. – the more reliable birth control pill was introduced in America in the 1950s. The advent of birth control was sexually liberating for women, giving them control over their own fertility, when to have children, and how many children to have.

The second was assisted reproductive technology. The introduction of new fertilization techniques in the 1980s created a clear division between sex and reproduction. Women could become pregnant (by choice) without the need for sexual intercourse with men, bringing into question the long-defined roles of mothers and fathers, and creating new understandings of “family”.

The 2000 U.S. Census reported a total of 601,209 gay and lesbian families, with slightly more than half of those being gay-male families.

The truth is, while many still hold up the nuclear family as the American ideal, only about 6% of U.S. children grow up in a “traditional” family.

It’s time to look at the world differently. It’s time to admit that the American family ideal of the past never really existed (at least for 94% of us). It’s time to embrace a new reality.

The previous year has been filled with news of the U.S. Supreme Court knocking down state laws regarding who could legally marry, with same-sex marriage prevailing in most cases. It was in 1989 that we learned that “Heather Has Two Mommies”. 

Now 25 years later, Heather’s Mommies can get married in 36 states.

Yes, there will initially be loud celebrations as same-sex marriages are conducted – and a few small protests, no doubt. We will see men holding hands with men and perhaps other public displays of affection. And it will probably take some adjustment on our part.

Since porn has long thrived on lesbian sex scenes – or so I’m told – the Captain suspects that seeing two women kiss in public will not be so difficult for us to accept.

**What? No pictures?**

And eventually people will come to realize that the world has not come to an end. The noise will die down and such will become just another part of the new American life.

The Captain says, although it may be “new”, and it may be “different”, it shouldn’t necessarily be labeled “bad”.

Which brings us to last night’s broadcast of the “Golden Globes” award show. Amongst all the pageantry and celebrity that such shows thrive on strutted Conchita Wurst, the controversial winner of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012.

“Dressed in a green velvet dress with a thigh-high slit and plunging neckline revealing a nude bustier”, the lovely Conchita strolled the red carpet with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Kate Hudson, Sienna Miller, and Meryl Streep.

The 2012 controversy was not about her singing ability however. Conchita was born Thomas Neuwirth. The singer/drag queen told CR Fashion Book, “I grew up in a very small village in Austria, a quite conservative one, and I was always the outsider. I was always the weird little boy dressing as a girl and behaving not like the other boys.”

But last night she was a hit!
And the beard?

Yes, the Captain is envious of her beard!

"I always get the question, why the beard? And I think the beard, for me, has so many reasons and so many meanings, but at the end of the day, I want to show that you can achieve anything, that you can have a beautiful life with any kind of look, because the way you look isn't the most important thing in life. It doesn't matter."

So true. So true.

Friends, it’s 2015.