Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Come expecting nothing, leave satisfied

Tuesday night, Canadian Lou and I finally went to Troy and checked out Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. We showed up at 7.30 and were told the wait would be an hour. No problem. We knew that going in. We went out to the parking lot, sat in the car and listened to the best of Howard Stern on Sirius. 45 mins later, our buzzer buzzed and inside we went. So far, so good.

Inside, the place looked exactly like it did when Fresno's was there. I was hoping for more of a makeover, but sitting right on the Hudson the way it does makes for a nice ambiance anyway. We were led to the table by a hostess and a few minutes later our waitress came, delivered her prepackaged, "Is this your first time at Dinosaur?" routine, then went to fetch our drinks. My first thought was that everything about this place was very chainy. All the hype for Dino has been huge, but to me it felt like another Smokey Bones or Applebee's. We opened the menus. Canadian Lou commented on the high prices. I agreed. 15 minutes later: still no drinks. Another waitress came and told us our waitress had fallen down, she was OK, but our drinks would be out soon, very soon. Ugh, it doesn't get more chain-place than that.

We put in dinner orders and an appetizer of fried green tomatoes. The app came, $6.00 for 3 small toms. Not bad, but not good. 55 minutes later: still no dinner. Plus the tables are just benches with no backs, so sitting hunched over like that for so long with no food, really sucked. Our waitress came and told us that there was some "technical difficulty" in the kitchen and our food would be up soon, very soon. Ugh!! To keep us satisfied she brought me and Lou a single cornbread, one cornbread, overcooked and rubbery for us to share. At the 1 hr mark, finally, our food: A full rack of ribs to share, plus 2 mac and cheese sides, 1 french fry side, and 1 cole slaw. It was 9.25. Let's eat.

I couldn't wait to dig into my mac and cheese, but guess what? No fork. I couldn't wait to tear into my ribs, but guess what? No bone bucket. So I ate the mac with my hands and threw the bones on the table. As for the food: as typical and chainy as it comes. The ribs were rubbery and had to be ripped off the bone instead of "falling off" (Smokey Bones: way better), the sides were clearly just microwaved, and the cole slaw/fries were 100% run of the mill. This pitch that Dino is some "authentic home-cooking" or whatever is ridiculous. The food was clearly prepared by two 19yr olds who go to HVCC part time. When the bill came: $51.00, nothing comped for the epic wait, we just paid it and left, not feeling like we got away with anything.

I'll say this: Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue is nothing but another American chain place that falls victim to every chain-place trick in the book. When you walk in the place it promises robotic efficiency then drops the ball at every turn. The place promises great prices and great food, then delivers obviously-microwaved food at pretty high prices. The room is filled with the same cliche people who populate every chain place: the typical American family, the young couple, the two business guys sitting at the bar in neckties trying to score with the hot bartender or waitress by buying into every gimmick and ordering every dumb, Dino drink, and just being really pathetic. The place is decorated like any other chain place you've ever seen, the same music plays over the dining room, the same gimmicks are promised, the wait staff delivers the same scripted chatter. At the end you pay the bloated but reasonable bill (somehow it's always both), leave the tip that equals double the tax, then go home feeling as ordinary and cookie-cutter as possible. If you love Applebee's and TGI Friday's, if you like big hype over substance, you'll LOVE Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue. The place was packed with people and people waiting, so I'm guesssing most of you do.

I predict in 3 months, once the buzz wears off, the place will have tumbleweeds blowing through it. It was just so darn chain-placey, I actually felt a little depressed when we left, a little ripped off. I told Canadian Lou in the car that I felt "boring" for even going there, but she was mad that something fell off the table and stained her $140.00 boots.

You can throw bells and whistles at me till the cows come home, but the fact is the Dino product is as plain and ordinary as it gets. I don't see myself ever going back. Although I don't retail shop in the local stores, I do leave eating out to the locals, and next time you see me I'll probably be at the Villa Valenti or Ralph's in Albany. Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue proves that you can't paint lipstick on an Applebee's pig.

Brian Huba

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How is Lodge's Still in Business?

During Christmas Break, when I was in grade school, my mother would take me and a friend to downtown Albany and let us walk around while she went to work at the old Albany DSS on State Street. We'd go the Museum then to the top of the Corning Tower. After that, lunch at Sandwiches to Go then we'd walk around Pearl Street by the Army/Navy Store and Lodge's. I always looked forward to those days, and liked it better if it was snowing. But all these years later, as the region has become overrun by malls, and chain-store giants, and everthing else you can imagine, I wonder: How is Lodge's still in business?

If you don't know what B. Lodge's is, it is an oddities store (men's/women's clothing, socks, underwear, bras, etc) and the oldest store in Albany. It is across from the Kenmore and the Blue 82 Bar on Pearl Street. If you've never been to Lodge's, I would assume you are in the majority, because the whole point of this blog is: I don't understand WHO goes to Lodge's. When the economy is seemingly crumbling around us everday, and the same chain-store giants I just mentioned are going by the wayside in record numbers, this old, musty store, filled with all these grandma-ish clothes and oddities, still stands? Really? Who goes to Lodge's? Please, tell me who you are. I know, I know, when you needed a poncho on the spot, Lodge's saved the day. But how often does that happen? A business can't survive on that craziness, can it?

My memories of the place are that it is really depressing, and old, and really green inside. There are all these waaayyyyyy out-of-style clothes and bins of other buyables everywhere. I even think a bell rings when you go inside. I know it's a slice of Albany history, but are you kidding me? Everything in the store is so second-handish and old. They call pants, slacks. Pants haven't been called slacks since Mr. Ed went off the air. Plus, all the parking is metered. Jez-Louise. I don't understand how this store survives.

Cheap clothes? Go to Macy's or JCP's and you can get namebrand dress shirts for $10.00 sometimes on their clearance days. (I admit, I don't know women's prices.) That may be anti-local, sure. But the mall is much easier and that's where so many go for clothes. You don't have to really pay for clothes anymore anyway, not even good, namebrand suits. I get Express, Gap, and Macy's coupons by the wagon load. At the end of that you're paying floorboard prices.

Recently I tried to go back to Lodge's so I could understand what keeps this dinosaur going. First stop: their website for hours of operation. Guess what? No website. It's 2010. So we made the drive anyway. Guess what? In addition to being musty and super-depressing, and not having a website (that I could find) it's NEVER open for business. Every time I go there, it's closed and those horrible, out-of-style clothes are hanging in the sidewalk-window. What are the hours on this place? (As far as I can tell) Nights? Nope. Weekend evenings? Nope. You can't be telling me that it's only open during regular 9-5, weekday work hours. It's almost like this place's business plan is do ANYTHING to NOT get business. What retailer opens up ONLY when EVERYBODY is at work?

I appreciate the fact that Lodge's is the oldest store in Albany, I get that. And despite my rant, God bless the place for surviving an economy that's worse than Conan's new late-night show. At some point you need superior product that's appealing and relevant to consumers, right? You need to actually make money, and you need to be open every once in a while when people are available to shop. This isn't 1937. It can't all be the State Worker lunch crowd, and retired folks, and people who go there for the great sock deals (because good socks are so hard to come by), and those artsy-people who only believe in buying local (peace and love, peace and love) that keeps this operation afloat, can it? I just don't get it.

Lodge's will always live as a fond memory of my Christmas Break days in Albany, but now, when I'm actually of the age to be a buyer, I couldn't dream up a single reason to hit Lodge's. Is that sad? Maybe. Am I the ugly American for spending my money at Crossgates and Colonie Center? Probably. But it's the truth and I imagine it's your truth too.

Lodge's hours: 8.50Am-5.25PM, Mon-Sat.
??8.50-5.25?? That's so 1937.

Brian Huba

Thursday, November 18, 2010


In case you haven’t heard the horrible story about the military-dog, Target, here’s a brief recap:

A dog honored for saving US soldiers in Afghanistan by barking and snapping at a suicide bomber was accidentally euthanized this week at an animal shelter in Arizona. Target, a shepherd mix who even appeared on "Oprah," came to the San Tan Valley area this summer to live with Sgt. Terry Young and his family. After slipping out an open backyard gate at Young's home over the weekend, Target ended up at the local pound where a shelter employee mistakenly put her to sleep, the Arizona Republic reported. "I just can't believe that something like this would happen to such a good dog," Young told the NY Post. Ruth Stalter, the county animal director, said an investigation was under way.

The knee-jerk instinct is to blame the shelter worker for this tragic miscue, some going as far to call this worker “complete scum” and suggest that the worker should be “put down” the same way. As you know I am an over-the-top animal lover, and was deeply saddened to hear about the death of this dog, as I am when I hear about, or even think about, the death of any dog. But the truth: this kind of thing (dogs being put down) happens every day in shelters all over America, happens by the thousands in fact. Thousands of unlucky dogs that would run, and play, and serve a family happily, if only given the chance to live, never do get that chance. It sucks.

I can’t even think about the reality of what actually happens to so many homeless/unwanted pups, and I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to work in a shelter, and have to face this horrifying reality on a daily basis. For anyone to blame this shelter worker is insane. In fact, I bet this “worker” is actually a volunteer. I for one applaud any person willing to serve animals in this way, because I couldn’t do it. I know Ruth Stalter said that she was putting an investigation in motion, which, in my mind, kind of implicates the shelter worker. I hope that’s just fodder for the media. Because I can’t imagine what there is to investigate. This seems like nothing more than a bad mistake. I don’t think someone who devotes themselves to this sort of work would maliciously kill an animal. Do you?

If somebody needs to be blamed, I’d lay it on the owner: Sgt. Terry Young. Young allowed Target to get out of the yard, and clearly didn’t have the dog tagged or chipped. "I just can't believe that something like this would happen to such a good dog," Young told the NY Post. Well, of course it could happen, if the dog is able to escape and go unclaimed for the few days that any dog is held at a local pound before it’s put down. My anger is directed at this man. I don’t know about you, but if one of my dogs got away I wouldn’t eat, sleep, or breathe until I had her back again. There’s no way my baby would ever go a second without tags, ever get out of the yard, and sure as heck NEVER sit in a local pound for three to five days without being claimed. NEVER. This dog shouldn’ve died, no dog should ever die like this, and I am sorry for the shelter worker who has to shoulder this mistake, and I blame Sgt. Terry Young 100%, if I MUST lay blame. Instead of allowing the shelter worker, I mean volunteer, to take the heat, I hope Young falls on the sword. Then I hope he fixes the fence before getting another dog.

Brian Huba

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Howard Stern & Billy Joel

If you didn't get a chance to hear the great Howard Stern interview Billy Joel on his Sirius Radio Show on 11/16/10, do yourself a titantic favor and listen to it on Youtube. I will paste the links in below.

Howard Stern claims that he only has 14 shows left on Sirius Radio, due to his contract expiring in January. I for one hope this isn't the end of Howard. But, if it is the end, this past week of radio may be his best ever. Jay-Z stopped in and gave a great interview. Then, of course, Billy Joel, maybe the greatest singer/songwriter alive. Billy sang his songs live in studio, told the backstories, and answered any question that Howard asked. If you know anything about Stern, you know that he's the best interviewer in the business, so the questions were fantastic. It was/is must-listen-radio. I couldn't turn it off. I sat in my garage for 40 minutes just listening.

If you don't love Billy, you don't love music. I can remember when we were in high school then college, our favorite thing to do was get together and listen to Billy. If someone was having a house party with all the bells and whistles, the best girls, etc, etc, we weren't interested in showing up until we got the Billy Joel situation sorted out. So, for me, this interview was awesome.

It's not everyday you get a real interview with a legend, instead of some idiot throwing softball, prescripted questions. I'm thinking of the George W. Bush interview on Dateline. Pathetic. No, no, this is real, and it's incredible. Two legends trading wits. Doesn't get any better than this. Hope you take the time to listen. It'll be worth it.

Brian Huba

Listen: Part 3 and Part 4 should be posted today

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Michael Vick? No Thanks

If you're a football fan you likely watched the Philadelphia Eagles, behind QB Michael Vick, destroy the Redskins on national television. If you turn on sports radio today you will likely hear a lot of pundits talking about how great Vick is playing now, how he turned his life around, got back to playing football and leading the Eagles to a 6-3 record, etc, etc. In case you forgot, and it seems so many of you have, Michael Vick was the millionaire QB for the Atlanta Falcons who was arrested and convicted for engaging in and funding dog fighting.

But there's more to the Vick story.

There’s a wicked misconception that after signing a $125 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons, Vick’s role was merely as dogfighting financial backer. Not true. He himself serially slaughtered animals with his own hands. He strangled, drowned, hanged, electrocuted, and beat unprofitable dogs to death while being coveted as the “Face of the NFL.” His multi-million-dollar property was a cemetery of pit bull carcasses left for decay in shallow graves. When simply crucifying dogs proved boring, Vick fed his family purebred to a cage of pit bulls, just to watch it get ripped to shreds. This belief that he’s rehabilitated himself is insane. “I’ve overcome a lot,” proclaimed Vick. “More than one single individual can handle or bear.”

I don't care how many football games he wins or how many interviews he gives, I will never, ever feel good for this scumbag or root for his team to win. No way! For those of you who say he paid his debt to society and should have a chance to redeem himself, I say forget that. The problem with this country is everybody has such a short memory. This creep throws a few TD passes and all of a sudden football fans embrace him and football teams are potentially (at season's end) lining up to pay him millions. Is there any such thing as measuring a man's character before signing him to a huge deal? Ask the Falcons about that. They took back this sleeze ball's millions. Good for them.

There are two crimes that there's NEVER an excuse for: rape and abuse against animals. There's actually meatball-pigs who will buy #7 Vick jerseys and wear them around in public. Disgusting!

I'm a bigger NFL fan than anybody. I love Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin. But if either of them ever engaged in this kind of behavior, I would be writing the same thing about them. And I'm not saying Eagles fans should allow this scumbag to ruin the experience of rooting for their team. But next time you cheer for #7, keep in mind the kind of man you are endorsing. There's really nothing worse than what he did. And this idea that he's rehabilitated himself is a joke. He's the same piece of garbage he's always been and always will be. Just like his dirtbag brother. Don't believe me that scumbagginess runs in the Vick family. Google Marcus Vick and read away. These are the type of people you are dealing with. One more horrible than the next. Should fans separate the man from the player when watching sports? Of course. But some things can't be separated, some lines can't be blurred. Knowing what this man did with his own hands to harmless, helpless animals. A man who was blessed with all the skills in the world. A man whose life was a dream come true, in so many respects. I can't separate that. Can you?

You slaughter, electrocute, or drown helpless dogs with your bare hands: Game Over. And, speaking of games, I hope the NY Giants put a thrashing on this guy Sunday night.

Dedicate it to the dogs, Big Blue.

Brian Huba

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Should I Have Been Comped?

Friday night I went out to the Chessecake Factory to eat dinner. When we arrived we were quoted (that's the word they use, quoted) a wait time of 45 minutes. We walked around the mall then came back and were being led to our seats at 44 minutes. So far, so good. If you've never been to the Chessecake, they run the place like a well-oiled machine. That's what they pride themselves on: efficiency. So anyway, when I saw we were being led to one of those table-things where you have to sit on top of total strangers, I told the small hostess girl that we would wait for a booth. While we waited another 15 minutes, samples of free cheesecake were being passed around. It was great. 15 minutes later we were being led to a private booth by another of these hostess girls. It was busy, but they got us seated.

Now, going into Chessecake, you expect the place to be run like a drum. You don't expect over-the-top-good food, but they make a big display of dotting the i's and crossing the t's. So if that's your thing as a business (chain or otherwise), you better get it right, right? We both ordered sodas and an appetizer of crab wantans. A few minutes later we ordered burgers as entree--medium. After 30 minutes of filling up on the free bread, a young man who was not our waitress delivered our burgers--under cooked. I told him that they had forgotten the appetizer. Two minutes later, our waitress came and apologized for the miscue, and offered to bring the wantans out with our burgers or have them wrapped up as a snack. We politely declined, because nothing sounds worse than having wantans with cheeseburgers, except maybe having them as a late-night snack. But I joked that we would take them "on the house." The waitress laughed as if I was not serious (which I was) then went to refill our sodas. After dinner we ordered cheesecake slices to go. When the bill came, we were charged for everything we had gotten, right down to the sodas.

I ask: Shouldn't a place that prides itself on being robotically efficient have comped us something because of their mess up, albeit a small mess up? The sodas or even the cheesecake maybe? Instead of offering to comp something on the bill, when I went to pay, the waitress again tried to upsell the wantans as a late-night snack, and thus charge me for them. Of course this isn't a big deal, but I really expected some manager-type with the earpiece, you know the type I'm talking about, to come over and offer dessert on the house or something. But nope, charged for everything, even the sodas.

My point: If you are all about robotic perfection, because (honestly) the food there is nothing to get excited about, be ready to go overboard when that perfection isn't met. I don't care about bells and whistles. I care more about product than presentation. That's why you'll never catch me in a Friday's or Chilli's, because the atmosphere is fun but the food sucks. The next night we went to an Italian place in Lansingburgh called Verdile's. The wait was insane, the place looked like a dumpy diner, all the servers were men (which is REALLY weird), and there weren't even tableclothes on the tables. But the food was great, and that's why I'll go back. And if they had forgotten an appetizer, no big deal, because there was nothing about this family-ran joint that said it's a robotic system. Mistakes happen. And, I promise, they would've comped us dessert or soda refills.

Should I have been comped?

Brian Huba

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Computer Doesn't Allow That

(Ben & Darr)
You know what line I'm really getting tired of: The computer doesn't allow me to do that. You may have heard it recently at some local retailer, like a clothing store or something like that. Allow me to explan further. You go into a store like H&M or Express, etc, and you have a coupon that says if you spend 75.00 you get 25.00 off, or whatever. Then guess what? Your total sale comes up to $49.96, and the 18yr old working the register says he/she would love to give you the 4 cents and thus give you the coupon credit, but "the computer won't allow me to do that." Obviously the goal is to get you to buy something else before getting the discount, I understand that, but come on, can you please stop insulting us with that silly little lie about the computer not allowing you to do that? It's complete crap and anytime a cashier says it to you, he/she is lying through their teeth, giving the company line so to speak.

Last night I went to the movie theatre and saw the new movie with the guy from the Hangover. Very funny. But beforehand we bought a popcorn/soda combo deal for 14.95 (wow) , and was told that all candy was 2.50 (as many boxes as we wanted) with the combo, instead of the regular 3.75. So, of course, I bought a candy with the combo meal, allowing myself to be upsold. Why not, right? Then I told the kid working the counter that I had my receipt and would come back out during the movie to take advantage of the offer to purchase unlimited boxes at 2.50--if we got hungry again. But guess what? The computer wouldn't allow him to do that. All the candy had to be purchased on the spot, in the same transaction. So I confronted him about this blatant lie, and basically said that it was nonsense about the computer not allowing the candy to be bought later. Here was the exchange:

Me: Why won't the computer allow you to do that if I have my receipt?

Him: Company line mumbo-jumbo.

Me: I have my receipt. What's the difference? In fact you'll probably sell more candy if you keep the offer alive the whole night. I'll probably keep coming back out to buy.

Him: The computer will not allow a candy sale of 2.50 unless it's with the popcorn/soda combo. Has to be all one transaction. Otherwise: 3.75. Sorry, dude.

Me: What will the computer do? Not open up when you hit enter or whatever? Does the computer sieze up and stop working if you dare make a sale of 2.50 instead of 3.75? There's no override option of any kind? You're clearly not telling the truth.

Him: Company line mumbo-jumbo.

We live in a world that has computers that can improve eye sight with lasers and drive satellites through outer space. But an asst. manager at Express or Gap can't punch a couple buttons and make a sale of 49.96 enter in as 50.00? Please, it's B.S. And, by the way, it's not a computer it's a cash register, and I doubt the cash register is abreast of all promotions, and sales, and such, and somehow be programmed to not EVER allow an override of any kind. Get real! It's clearly a lie. Of course the reason for this lie is to get you to buy more product, whatever retailer it is. But, as a consumer, I kind of have a problem being lied to straightfaced when I'm inside spending my money. Especially if the person lying to me is an 18yr-old kid. And I know that's what all employees are told to say, and that is part of the pull in: get a customer inside the store then get everything you can out of that customer. I get it. I guess I'm just tired of hearing this stupid, blatant lie all the time, even at the movie theatre.

Brian Huba

Monday, November 8, 2010

Casual Fridays

For those who don't know what Casual Friday is allow me to explain. Casual Friday is when people who work office jobs or white-collar jobs (generally) decide to ditch the professional attire and wear something, well, more casual to close out the work week. Some popular choices are pullovers, maybe a button down of some sort, and of course, the staple: Jeans. I for one think Casual Friday is completely ridiculous, and have never understood the reason why people do it.

What is the attraction to Casual Friday? Is wearing jeans to the office really that big a deal? Are we so bored as a society that something so mundane and lazy as donning weekend wear is a look-foward-to thing? I don't know how it is at your job, but where I work it's the same handful of people who partake in this nonsense every week. Obviously, someone who opposes this tradition has to ask: What's the message you're trying to send by showing up to work in blue jeans and a half-zipper fleece on Fridays? Should we take you seriously Mon-Thurs, but NOT take you seriously on Friday?

I know, I know: It's just a way to change the pace around the office for a bit, mix it up. I ask: Why? The office (I hope) is a place of business and should be treated like that all days of operation, not just Mon-Thurs. When I see you wearing jeans while at work, when everyone understands the general attire is professional, you instantly drop a notch in my mind's eye, in regards to how serious you are in your craft, when just the opposite may be true. You may be great at your job, dedicated. But hey if it walks like a duck . . . Did Bill Gates and/or the guy who made up Facebook wear jeans to the office? Maybe. But they invented Windows and Facebook. When you invent something that literally changes the world, go ahead and whip out the Wrangler's.

Where does it end? Do all professions do this? I know county workers and state workers made this famous. How about doctors or cops or firefighters? Do they have Casual Fridays? Is there a day where these professionals just take it easy, change the pace with a pair of blue jeans from the back of the closet? Please tell me if that's the case, so I'm sure not to have a heartattack or house fire on those days. Because if I came to the ER with crippling chest pains and found myself in the middle of Casual Friday hospital-style, I'd be pretty freaked out. I want the guy who's gonna cut my chest open to look the part everday, even Friday, if that's not too much to ask. No, no, you're probably saying, someone as important as a cop or heart surgeon shouldn't participate in Casual Friday, that's not for them. OK, I get it: Casual Friday is for less-important jobs. Just remember that line when the company's budget cuts your position from its books and sends you packing. But hey, I'm sure the boss will give you one last Casual Friday on the clock.

What's my point? Maybe everything is getting a bit too casual these days. Everybody feels it's so important to express their personal styles in the workplace and beyond. When did this level of entitlement start? If it's not Casual Friday, it's an inner-office wedding shower, or birthday party for Becky in HR, or Christmas grab bag. Is it really a wonder that American productivity is declining so quickly? This country doesn't make anything anymore, doesn't build anything brand new, we just push paper around, have meetings about meetings. Nobody wants to do the real work anymore. We're too worried about personal days, and sick time, and wearing jeans on Fridays. But now, more than ever, the corporate belt is tightening. Now is the time to show up at the office in top form, because we sure seem ready to (all of a sudden) walk the company line when budget cuts loom.

Workplace practice is like anything else in life. You're permitted certain things, like two weeks vacation time, X-number of sick days, so much maternity leave time, etc. But that doesn't mean you NEED to take it. And of course nobody will say anything when you exhaust all your personal options, but that doesn't mean somebody's not watching, always watching, and when push comes to shove, maybe something as simple as not ALWAYS using all your personal time will keep you on the company dime. That's just one person's opinion.

My greatest fear is that Casual Friday will one day become Casual Monday, then Casual Weds-Fri, then finally, well, you get the idea. Before long we'll all be going to work draped in velvet sweat suits. Try eating cake at Becky's inner-office birthday party while wearing that.

Brian Huba