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redd granite

A while back we featured reviews on Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers new CD…..at least new back then.  We thought we would post a video of Clyne performing in ‘Seattle, unplugged with special guest Jason HockneyZiemet.  Jason has a rich resume of playing with bands, some his own., most notably “Drawn Onward” and  including playing with some bands who have gone to national prominence.  Tonight Jason joined Clyne in this unplugged set.  Enjoy.

 

If I Were King…..

On November 1, 2012, in Politics, by admin

With the election pressing upon us, it is time to crawl out the shell and state the platform for which I support. I will get off the fence and reveal my party platform.  I call it the “Erotic Politician” Party.  Yes that is a direct steal of quote from Jim Morrison of the The Doors, back in ’67…….the same Jim Morrison I have written in as a vote for 6 of the 10 presidential elections I have been able to vote. That ought to tell you what I think of politics in general……OK.  Now for the platform.  If I were king……..

  • DEBT. I do not like debt any more than the other person.  We need to proactive steps to reduce it, but in the end, you must not loose sight of the fact, that if the government lays off the number of their workers they should lay off to be aligned properly, the country would go into a massive recession. It would literally take hundreds of thousands of layoffs of government workers to reduce the debt…..and guess what?  These people now add to our GNP….with this many laid off at once, a already dire job market becomes stalemated……..think about it folks……we need to take gradual measures to reduce the debt. Also, clearly, we need more revenue as well.  So, what do I do?  You’ll love these I am sure:
  1. Get rid of the dollar bill and go to dollar coins.  Yes, everyone hates them, but guess what?  We are one of the few countries who still have paper currency at such a low level of exchange. This alone has  been estimated to save $1.5B a year…further, move to plastic based currency. The average paper bill lasts only 3 months.  The average plastic currency last at least 3 times this leaving less need for printing.  BTW, Australia and New Zealand have such a currency.  It is also very difficult to counterfeit
  2.  Sin Taxes.  This is not a judgement. For those things that are purely discretionary, and generally not good for the general populous, like cigarettes and liquor, raise the taxes.  Raise them significantly.  look, when I want to go on a bender, I have no problem paying the piper……
  3. Fuel Taxes. Yes, I would put an additional tax on gasoline.  I would exempt most business, as increases in fuel costs are very inflationary.  I am more interested in energy dependency as anything
  4. Special Interests. There is a butt load of these out there.  Bottom line, you do not want to retard technological advances, but lets face it, many of these funded things are just plain frivolous.
  5. Aid To Other Countries. Stop the flow of American dollars to countries that are not responsible to work out their issues. Cold.  I know.  It is what it is.  We need to quit being big brother and focus on our own shores.
  6.  Legalize Pot. And tax it heavily. Increase substantially the penalties for drug trade and black market. Afterall,  the cartels are getting their money…..and we in the US have proven that it is a market that is not going away.  End the prohibition.

Those are the major ones for budget.  Overall I do believe the government needs to be as small as possible. The only reason I sway from this is the fact that the free market needs adjustment once in a while.  It is based upon short term greed. The old MBA business principles are out of the window. We in America are held hostage to the Middle East and the oil companies.  If there is an issue with delivery of proper amounts of affordable gas based on the latest hurricane or refinery switch over, well, the government steps in.  Do they do it better? Hell no.  But somebody has to step in. Corporate greed has gotten out of control.

  •  Immigration. Big issue for sure.  Secure the borders.  No need to make the matter worse. But for those here, amnesty for those who can 1) prove they have paid taxes in the last two years…and 2) If they have been here over 5 years, no criminal record, then they can stay. However, they must file a tax return the next year if applicable for them. This means all the illegal nannies will have to come clean.
  • Defense. I am jaded, as I work in this industry. That’s the qualifier. But in the end, if we had not played big brother in Iraq and Afghanistan, we would have saved hundreds of lives and save billions of dollars. Face it politicians  we do not understand the culture. We had little business being there. In the end, Iraq was about oil….well get of the teat of the Middle East and you will not have that issue. Speak softly and carry a big stick (not a sexual reference you perves).  We need to invest in defense technology and stay well ahead of all else…..but use it only when absolutely needed
  • Energy Policy. Do not call me a tree hugger. But in the end, we need to be off the teat of the Middle East. I fully support electric and hybrid technologies.  I believe we should have serious tax abatement’s for purchase of these vehicles, much more than has been. Also, the car companies should get serious tax relief for development of alternative technologies. I do not care what it is is, but if we can reduce our gas/oil consumption by as little as 20%, the markets will think differently, in spite of the other countries that are increasing the use of gas and oil. Further, drill, drill, drill. I do not care where it is.  If it is wildlife effecting, we can compromise on how to drill with little impact.  C’mon peeps, our country is tops in technology.  Surely we can figure this out.
  • Education. We are screwing up here.  We are being passed by virtually everyone……I do not have good answers here, but pay and screen teachers much more.  Make college costs more affordable for the masses
  • Health Care. Here is the biggie. I believe affordable health care should be able to everyone. Call me socialist.  I do not care.  And do not say Canadians hate their system.  They laugh at America on health care. whether the government is the right party to administer this is a good argument. But lets face it, a healthy country works more than than one not. Not everyone is blessed with wealth. Now I hate the welfare slackers as much as the next, and if I see another fat fuck in an government paid for electric chair when they should be walking, well, I may go postal. But I believe that those are more the minority, and we can put in place better oversight for such abuses. But people need healthcare.  I think we can all agree that healthcare costs way to much in this country. Provide basic healthcare.  If someone wants specialized or more individual service, they can pay for it

Well, there are many more issues, and If I Were King, I would be will to talk about them all……but I am not, so go out and vote.  But I am writing in Jim Morrison……..call me apathetic, it matters not to me.

 

I just have to step back and marvel at the entertaining world of politics, especially as it relates to people.  A quick check on a daily basis of the social media, and it seems a majority of the friends and acquaintances are hanging some shingle out there for their candidate, or who won what debate, or throw spears at Obamacare, or whatever. It seems that never has a nation been more divided. The good news is that people seem to be standing up and taking notice, even if it is their own, jaded, little minded corner of the world that they thinks revolves around them. Well, one thing I have learned over the years is that one’s perspective is merely that, a perspective.  It is not right or wrong, it is the reality that is that person. If you accept that premise at some level, then one has to ask why everyone feels compelled to throw their opinions out there in such a strong manner?  Especially in friend circles like found on Facebook and other social sites. I do not get it, or maybe I do, it depends upon your perspective.  Sure, some of us may be on the bubble as far as candidates go, but shouldn’t we all take responsibility for our own decisions and opinions, vote responsibly and according to our opinions, and move on?

Politics as Usual, and We Buy It

Instead you get this barrage of people staining the face of your Facebook wall apparently trying to cram their opinions and views down your throat. Oh joy.  This is what I joined this social page for.  I look forward every single day to the self annointed iconic suggestions of these “friends” who apparently feel I need guidance on my political views and choices. Save it folks. You are not changing my mind, or likely that of any other person.  Get back to the light hearted environment that I believe Facebook was originally meant to be. Yes, I know that Facebook is really nothing more than a advertising platform.   Believe me, I get it.  But most of us, I believe, look beyond the marketing side of sites such as these and focus on content. Many of us, me for one, have connected with long forgotten friends from decades past. I utilize Facebook to keep up with family that is geographically separated.  This has been enjoyable. But as we get closer and closer to the election, it seems everyone is coming out of their foxholes to put forth the proposition that we must agree with their political (or in many cases, anything else) views. Really?  Who anointed you God of my sphere? Why should I care?  Because you are a friend or acquaintance? Again, really?  Is this what friendship is based upon?  My way or the highway?

Interestingly enough, many of these posts can get quite derogatory. Like that is what this country needs,yet another opinionated self appointed royalty to throw out a bunch of jaded philosophy on the masses as if it is God’s given truth.  Well, I am sorry, largely, we are not interested in your singular epitaphs of wisdom that you deem so robust. My real feeling on this is that it is another narcissistic attempt to call attention to oneself…..a kind of calling card to the circle of friends to put your stamp on who you really are. Branding. ‘ I am a democrat, no, I am a Republican, or I am Tea Party, or’…….you see the point.
The thing is, the reason we put up with the commercial platform that is Facebook is that we like hearing about what is going on in your life, your trials, your tribulations, your joys, or (God willing) a suggestion of something in life that you found useful and feel that others could benefit from. Personally, now about 20% of my wall posts are for dog rescue groups, and that is what I now choose to focus on and it brings satisfaction to the Facebook experience.  Yes. If you wish to call attention to yourself, why not brand yourself as someone who is helping and concerned about something  rather than landing a political scud on the social sites in the friendship circle?  All, is this really what the idea of social networks were all about to begin with?  I will live with the advertising.  I will live with the pages you have a choice to hit “like” on Facebook.  I can live with that, because  right wrong or indifferent  that is what America is, an ad driven capitalistic society driven by greed.  And we are not alone.  All of the 40+ countries I have been to (my own brand of narcissism) have the same commercialism.  Maybe they are on different levels and intensity, but they are there.

But at the end of the day, I am not interested in being a friend or acquaintance if it comes with the qualifier that ‘you must be like me’. I understand that everyone feels more comfortable around people of a like kind.  But we have some serious issues to attack here. The political process is broke. I am fairly certain it matters not who gets elected….decisions are made along partisan lines with little or no regard to what is really the answer. Let us not draw friend ship lines along political lines.  It just seems wrong.

Enough.  Go vote.  Vote your heart. I honestly do not care who you are voting for. But hopefully, you can cleanse your mind of all the influences that people try to insert into you that is nothing more than assisting them to assure themselves they are right.  That is not voting.  As you find on this site, I highly believe the political process is seriously broke and needs and enema.   But, it is what we have to live with now……..please, vote how you will vote.  But please, allow me to do the same without all the  pompous  opinions submitted on the social networks.

Yes. I can choose  not go into FB or other social networks.  It is like the radio and TV with potentially offensive stuff….my opinion is that you can always turn it off if you do not like it, but do not attempt to edit it.  But in the end, many of us are on social networks to  (get ready for it) connect with friends of the past and current…..and keep involved in the lives of friends and such.  For God’s sake, please, please do not subject us to your political platform (or other for that matter).  Recognize what Facebook and other social media platforms are:  A way to connect and communicate.  And please note:  Anything more than the above, well, most of us are just not interested.

Unfortunately, I am not sure I have the gall to use the many tools I have to immediately paste this to FB.  I had thought of doing an experiment, count the number of friends before and after the post……….that is too calculated.  Lets just let the article stand on its own.

P.S.  I did decide to put it on Facebook.  After all, why not join the narcissistic parade? I will report the estimated friend total I lose as a result of this post……….peace.

 

 

 

Kraken Black Spiced Rum

On August 23, 2012, in Rum Reviews, by admin

 

Rum Guy has been at it again. Not sure how he does it, but this boy consumes a lot of rum!  Here is a review of his latest foray:

Kraken Black Spiced Rum. Apparently Not So Good

Today’s review of the latest Rum adventure is The Kraken (Black Spiced Rum).  This rum, brought to us via import from  Proximo Spirits, Jersey City, New Jersey.   The website is somewhat contradictory, which is becoming more and more common with some rums. At one spot it states the rum is distilled from Sugar Cane Molasses from The Virgin Islands. At another place is states the base rum is from Trinidad and Tobago, aged 12-24 months in oak barrels and the various spices are added.  The website states the rum is all-natural, gluten-free and vegan.  But is it any good?

 

The bottle itself is a contradiction.  The glass itself is quite attractive , solid, with handles on either side of the neck for carrying.  The label is black and white , much too busy with the hand-drawn logo of a huge sea creature like a cross between an octopus and a squid enveloping a large three-masted sailing ship.  The art style is as if taken from the old sailing maps from several hundred years ago.  The label is not impressive, but may catch the eye from a marketing standpoint.  I have bought rums previously based on the attractiveness of the bottle/label/contents.  But I won’t buy that rum again, unless it’s a good rum for the value.

 

Opening the screw-top of the bottle to let the rum breathe a little, I find my first concern.  No cork in the top—just the screw-top.  Upon pouring straight into a glass, the rum is dark, but not what I would call “black”, more of a dark brown, hmmm another concern.     The first taste offers a basic rum, with a touch of cinnamon, earthy chocolate, and perhaps clove, but all are very feint, and are more a vague echo then actually notes.  This is a 94 proof rum, much higher kick then most rums which are around 80 proof, but you can’t tell that by the taste, or the kick.  The rum mixes relatively well with regular and diet cola, not as well with fruit drinks.  For a spiced rum, this is very bland stuff, like a Disney Afternoon Special for kids.

 

Overall, I give this rum only a disappointed three corks out of ten.  Not a terrible rum, but for approximately $18 a bottle, I expect black spiced rum to taste like a dark, spiced rum, not a basic rum with some spices dipped in briefly like a tea bag.   This  wild sea creature of a rum is more krill then Kraken.

Tortuga Original Caribbean Rum Cake, 16-Ounce Cake

Bacardi Rum 151@ Carta Blanca 200ML

The Quest goes ever on….

 

–The Rum Guy

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In our ongoing journey of fun things to do in the Lone Star State, today’s entry brings us to Luling, Texas and the famous Watermelon Thump.  What is a Watermelon Thump you ask?  Well, it’s a festival celebrating this small south-central Texas town’s agricultural roots of the watermelon.   The town was founded in 1874 as a railroad stop meeting one of the various cattle trails that made up the Chisholm Trail.  Oil was discovered in the 1920’s and today many of the still-producing pump jacks extracting the black gold from the earth are enhanced with whimsical decorations, such as a WW I biplane, a cowboy on a bucking bronco, animals and many others.  The Thump started in 1954 and draws people from all over Texas the last weekend in June and this year we were able to attend.  As we drove into the outskirts of this town of approximately 5,000, the first thing you notice is that several of the water towers have been painted to look like giant watermelons.  Nice touch.  The town is on the banks of the beautiful San Marcos river and there are several businesses dedicated to encouraging canoes, kayaks, swimming, fishing, etc on the river.  We arrived mid-morning just as the event was opening.  Indeed, we got to see about half of the opening parade as it wound through the city.  There is something about a small-town parade that speaks to the spirit.  The veterans’ marching, the 4H clubs, the high school marching bands with the cheerleaders on the back of a pickup.  Church groups, civic clubs, small-business sponsors all with decorated trailers or pickups proudly grinning at friends, neighbors, family, and gathered strangers lined along the streets.

 

From there we found our parking spot several blocks from the main area and walked past the farmer’s market with many sellers offering peaches, onions, garlic, corn, tomatoes, radishes, as well as the expected melons.  We quickly decided to window shop only, and do our serious shopping on the way back,  to make it easier  while we walked through the craft booths.  Going early meant that while some booths were still setting up, we were also beating the June Texas heat, that promised another 100 degree day.  We spent 45 minutes perusing the various craft booths and chatting with the owners.  While this event was perhaps smaller than several festivals we have attended over the years, it was just as much fun.  Unfortunately, the famous events such as the melon auction where prize melons can fetch as much as $22,000, the melon eating contest to see who can eat a slice of watermelon the fastest, and the incredible watermelon seed-spitting contest, were all to be held late afternoon and our schedule did not permit us to stay that long.  The Guinness Book of World Records lists the current record holder with 68 feet, 9 and 1/8 inches, set at the Watermelon Thump in 1989.  They have a building with stands set up inside to watch the attempts to set a new record.  There is also a large covered area where touring country bands perform at night.

 

From the craft booths we headed to an early lunch.  What do we look for at these great festivals we visit?  Why BBQ of course!  And Luling has been praised as having two of the top spots in the state:  City Market and Luling Bar-B-Que.  We headed to City Market first, but so did a large crowd of people, so we quickly stepped down the street to Luling Bar-B-Que.  Stepping into the old building, the aroma gets your taste buds drooling.  Though very crowded, we were able to grab a small table and stood in line while deciding what to try. As usual, I got the two-meat plate with brisket and sausage while my better half got the chopped BBQ sandwich.   Among numerous optional  sides we chose potato salad and Cole slaw.  BBQ sauce was not poured on the meat, but provided at each table for those that prefer it.  I am a sauce man myself but always appreciate the option of with or without.  The sauce was Carolina-style, vinegar based, with some spices we couldn’t indentify, almost a pale yellow in color and very good. The brisket was outstanding, extremely tender with a nice smoke ring and flavor.  The sausage was good, not greasy, with some unusual spices, and a little black pepper.  The casing was unusually easy to cut with the traditional Texas plastic ware. The chopped beef however was a disappointment.  The beef was more pureed  then chopped,  almost a soup with too much sauce.  We disagreed over the sides, I liked the Cole slaw, fresh and crunchy,  and thought the potato salad was bland, while “the boss” stated the potato salad was among the best we have had on the BBQ Road, but thought the Cole slaw was average at best.  We did agree the sweet tea was delicious.  Overall grade?  Luling BBQ gets a B+.  Great brisket, very good sausage, good sides, but the soupy chopped beef dragged the score down.  Would I go again? Oh yeah.

 

After lunch, we stepped back out into the Texas heat to head back to the farmer’s market area for some serious veggie/fruit/flowers shopping. While there were growers and vendors from as far away as the Houston area, we wanted a watermelon grown in Luling.  It seemed as if there are dozens of varieties of watermelons from round to the traditional shapes, patterns on the outside, textures with seeds or without, and color of fruit from yellow (which takes some getting used to but is quite good) to pale pink to red.  We settled on a “small”  melon about 10 pounds along with some luscious Stonewall (Texas) peaches and a couple of tomatoes.  Carrying these Texas-grown treats back to the car in the smothering early-afternoon  heat was a chore as we had several blocks to go.  Finally we loaded everything in the car, cranked up the AC and hit the highway for the 90 minute ride home.

 

Overall, we enjoyed the Luling Watermelon Thump.  The Texas heat can be an issue, so either go early, or come prepared with hats, sunscreen, patience and drink plenty of water.  We are already looking forward to going again next year.  After all, there is always “Thump-thing” going on in Luling!

 

Rocklahoma 2012: Rewind

On June 29, 2012, in Concert Reviews, by admin

It has been over a month since the festival grounds in nowhere Prior Oklahoma have been cleared of empty vodka bottles, beer cans, and used condoms. All the RVs have left, makeshift stripper poles taken down, Karaoke set ups packed back into their boxes, and the makeshift stages in the VIP camping area have been dismantled.  Every year during memorial  day, Rocklahoma is held in this in this hot and quiet community in in northwest Oklahoma.  What started as a country festival in 2003, and run by a local company with the vision to build such a facility such as this, I am happy to say the country festival fell by the wayside in 2010, but the rock festival added in 2007 lives on.  Not bad in the heartbeat of country music Oklahoma.

Main Stage of Rocklahoma

So very memorial day weekend, beginning with pre-parties on Thursday, scores of rock fans filter into these grounds with their rented RVs, tents and such to stay in the usually hot, dry and sunny weather to listen to over 70 bands play over the three day weekend.  Of course, it really is more of an excuse to drink and drug heavily for three days.  All this under the watchful eye of the Mayes County sheriff department, with the help of many other sheriff departments. Interestingly, most of the workers here are local people who donate their time in assisting running the event. They get paid an hourly wage by Live Nation, and their pay is donated to whatever cause the Chamber of Commerce determines.  Quite a trip.

Second stage....all GA

The two levels of ticketing includes the regular three day pass, or VIP.  The VIP includes a air conditioned tent (or at least a try at air conditioning), catered lunch and dinner, and all the Bud Light you can choke back…..all included in the ticket price of $350.  The VIP section seating is that closest to the main stage. The GA area is behind the VIP section.  So the three day party begins, with main stage bands starting at 4p and going to short of mid night. After the music on the two main stages, there are usually several stages set up in the VIP camping area where upcoming bands play well into the morning, usually knocking off around 4a.

This year’s line up was, in my opinion, a little weaker than last. Headliners included Rob Zombie, Chickenfoot and Creed. Other headliners were Megadeath, Queensryche, which would prove to be the last show together before Geoff Tate getting the boot from the band, and others. Of the above, Rob Zombie was his typical show, it has not changed a whole lot in the last few years. The crowd reception was expectantly good….personally, I enjoy Zombie in smaller venues where the focus is more on the songs and more personalized show than the robots, fire and movie clips.  Of course, Zombie did not miss an opportunity to tout his upcoming latest installment of distorted film making…..a movie I quickly forgot the title of. Chickenfoot is a supergroup consisting of Sammy Hagar, Micheal Anthony of Van Halen fame, and Joe Satriani….who if you live in Austin Texas over the last 15 years, you cannot avoid him. No Van Halen or Sammy Hagar songs were played, with one exception…..Sammy dug deep to Montrose days to play a spirited rendition of Rock Candy.  Michael Anthony takes a more prominent role in this band than when he is touring just with Sammy.  Michael is the distinctive harmonizing background voice you heard on all VH records, whether Sammy or Dave the punk was singing lead.  In the Sammy split over Eddie’s out of control drinking, clearly Anthony went with Sammy, and Chickenfoot benefits.  The music is good. There is more jamming in this band than the normal group these days.  Less corporate rock, if you will. Despite the lack of any material that gets seriously airplay, Chickfoot was well received overall.  The one that surprised me was Creed.  This is the fourth time seeing them.  Scott Stapp was back with Creed for this tour, and Mark Tremoni is taking a break from Alter Bridge to tour with Creed. I generally have not liked Creed in the past. While I like their recorded music just fine, it did not translate well live.  However, this time, whether it is because they had not been together for a long time or what, there was indeed a vigor in their performance.  This was by far the best headlining band. The largely christian messaged music was played with a more determined rock sound.  No question Stapp was into, and his voice was strong. They truly looked like they were happy to be back on stage together and the music reflected it.

Queensryche was Queensryche.  This is think tank music that is more difficult to wrap your head into live. Megadeath, as well, was Megadeath.  The long red hair locked Mustane was his typical broody self….launching into long solos.  While he has very little interaction with the audience, he once again, seemed truly thankful to the fans for their continued support.

What interested me most for this year’s line up was the grouping of up and coming bands that receive a lot of airplay on Sirrius/XM…..Octane channel.  Bands like Red Light Kings, Cavo, New Medicine,  Otherwise, Rains, Blackstone Cherry, 10 Years, Volbeat……the list goes on.  You can still go to the website rocklahoma.com to get the line up.  The bad was that I missed some of these I wanted to see.  I only heard Rains from afar. I missed Trivium, Janus, Adelita’s Way and Charm City Devils.  I purposely missed Theory of A Deadman and The Darkness.  Of the new bands, Volbeat stole the show. The energy and unique sound of the group took the crowd to a spectacular energetic level.  Others of note were Red Light Kings and Pop Evil.  I love the Pop Evil sound.  Disappointsments were Cavo and 10 Years.  I love 10 Year’s music, but for some reason I cannot determine, they just came off as flat and unconcerned.  The band that gets the fun award is Black Stone Cherry.  In this ode to Wouthern Rockers, their sound is frolicking and good times, and their personality matches.

There was way too much music to give a detailed review of all.  I will return next year, as overall, I have to say, no matter what the line up (which they try to mix between older and newer rock acts to draw a more diverse crowd) this event is a great time as it is well managed and a great way to spend memorial day weekend

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Low Budget Review: Las Vegas

On June 6, 2012, in Travel, by admin

Seems our rum swaggin low spending guy ended up in Las Vegas:

Just returned from 4 days in Las Vegas, my home away from home.    In this 24/7 city, there have already been changes made and changes started since my last visit in October.  First, arriving Sunday and getting the rental car, I drove to The Excalibur where we were staying this trip.  The Excalibur is on the Strip, right on one of the biggest intersections.  I was meeting my college-age son and his roommate who had never been to Vegas, and they decided to do a cross country bus trip…..hm, college kids)so we wanted the convenience of being right on the center of the action.  The other three corners are occupied by The Tropicana, one of the few remaining “old” Vegas properties, the MGM Grand with 7000 rooms and one of the largest hotels in the world, and New York/New York, with its distinctive architecture of the skyline of the Big Apple, a 3 story replica of the Statue of Liberty, a replica of the famous Brooklyn Bridge, and a roller coaster twisting amongst the architecture.  The Excalibur façade is a big castle, with turrets and a moat and its theme is tied to that castle: knights, kings, Merlin the Wizard, etc.  The rates were being offered were very good for Vegas about $45/night with the addition of the bogus “resort Fees” of $15 /day.  That is still a very good rate for anywhere in Vegas but especially the Strip.

 

After making a run through the Sports Book and getting some bets down, I settled into my room, took a nap then went to explore the hotel.  Why is this important?  Even though I had stayed there over 10 years ago, some areas had changed and been renovated.  The Excalibur has over 3000 rooms in four towers.  The casino floor is over 100,000 square feet.  Add in numerous bars, restaurants, many shops,  a downstairs ‘fun dungeon” with video games and carnival-style games this place is larger than large—it is humongous.  Very easy to get turned around and struggle to get where you are going.  It was not crowded.

 

Later that night, after picking up the guys from the Greyhound Bus Station downtown next to the Plaza (A 30+ hr bus ride—what fun) we settled in for a few drinks at one of the many bars.  Late dinner was at ABX (American Burger Works) a new chain.  Burgers and fries but with a myriad of dipping sauces. ½ lb burger was $6.99, so while expensive, it was cheap for Vegas standards.

 

The next day I let the guys sleep until noon (as they do anyway, but especially after little fitful sleep on the bus) we got up and started to cruise the famous LV Strip.  Next was to play the role of tour guide. First stop was the MGM Grand to see if the lions were awake in there indoor enclosed habitat.  Alas, the lions weren’t there—and neither was the habitat.  The whole area was under reconstruction, a common theme in LV.  I do not know if they will bring the lions back or not.  Onward to ever other casino on that side of the Strip-Planet Hollywood (with its modern design, very chic and sleek and well done)   Then past several shopping areas to Paris, Bally’s and then past Bill’s Gambling House to the Flamingo where we had decided to eat lunch at Margarittaville in the far end of the hotel.  Another change, the restaurant now has its own Casino, small, but tropical themed (duh).  The gift shop has been moved, the waiting area removed, but the bar with the huge margarita machine was still there.  As usual, I had a large Boat Drink (with rum and assorted fruit juices)no rum reviews here apparently, along with my “Cheeseburger in Paradise”.  The stage for live music is still there.  I would give Redd Granite’s left kidney to play there one night.  I would pay them to play there.  Yeah, the food is overpriced, the place crowded. Yeah it’s a tourist joint—I don’t care—gotta go.  After lunch, we purchased huge yard-long margarita’s to go.  Vegas is one of two cities (New Orleans being the other) that allow open containers up and down the street (if you are walking). So we took advantage of the opportunity. Note: do not let this opportunity go…..for all of the control our world tries to place on our behavior, this is a refreshing option in these two cities….God bless them both.

 

Next up was another change—The “old” Vegas place O’Shea’s (one of my favorite places to play) is gutted for a new property. Do not misconrue, this is the low budget guy, and O’Sheas was a place you could find $3 BJ tables on the strip.   Evidently Caesar’s Palace (across the street) bought it and is turning it into LINQ  and they are supposed to put a giant Ferris wheel, aka the London Eye on the roof.    We strolled past The Imperial Palace (a semi-dump) Low Budget Reviews guy’s kinda place….and Bally’s (my worst Vegas experience) to The Venetian with its Madame Tussaud’s  Wax Museum, (we took pictures of the guys with a wax The Rock).  The Venetian is one of the most beautiful hotels you will ever see.  Incredible murals on the walls and ceilings, impeccable marble floors and yes, a real canal inside the middle of the place.  A canal with real gondolas taking tourists (for a price of course) for a short trip.  Yes, singing gondoliers cost much extra.  We passed on that.  Although there were several more properties still on that side of the street, our fatigue was starting to show.  We had already walked several miles in 100 degree temps.  So we headed across the street, walked through the incredibly tropically landscaped Mirage then headed to Caesar’s Palace Forum shops , over 200 upscale shops, and restaurants all indoors with faux cobblestone steps, huge marble fountains, and lights that recreate full daylight to nighttime stars all in a 2 hr period.  We were fried by then, so took a cab back to Excalibur where the guys hit the pool.   Later that night, we migrated to the “Minus 5 Bar” in Monte Carlo hotel.  The Minus 5 is a bar with a unique twist.  For a fee (of course), you get a parka, and gloves and go into the bar area where the temperature is , you guessed it Minus 5.  As in 5 below zero.  Everything inside the small bar area is made of ice, the bar, numerous sculptures, the glasses for the drinks, tables, chairs, lounges—all made of ice.  They had faux furs on the seat.  Drinks were $10-cheap for Vegas, but small.  A photographer takes several pictures for purchase later.  There is no time limit inside but the bartender stated about 20 min was the average.  We had on shorts and tee shirts but were actually very comfortable.  We stayed about 45 min before our cold fingers and faces told us it was time to warm up. One of our party actually took a large bite out of his “glass”.  Amusing experience.  We stopped next door at Diablo’s  an open-are type bar/restaurant with an upper floor that overlooks the Strip, great for people watching. Alas, it was closed for a private party.  From there we stopped in NY/NY at the 9 Fine Irishmen pub.  This pub had been originally in Dublin Ireland and was dismantled and reconstructed here. Very cool place/dark Irish Pub vibe. We sat outside and had beers. I had a “Black and Tan” –half Guinness and half Newcastle’s Brown Ale.  It was good.    Back to Excalibur for dinner at their Italian restaurant a chain place called Buca De Bepo (or something) (Ed Note:  Actually that is Buca De Peppo, a chain BUCA is the stock exchange).  Huge portions, filling and acceptable even if not great.  Hit some slots then crashed.

 

The next day was the long day with many activities.  The first stop was the famous pawn shop for the hit show “Pawn Stars”.   As usual, there was a line to get inside, but we had less than a 10 min wait.  The place is smaller than it looks like on TV.  Alas, Chumley was not there.  Another change—the famous Jim Morrison painting was gone ($20,000). (And there was much weeping from
Redd Granite cause he let it get away) I don’t know if they sold it or just rotated to storage.  They had  another painting up instead.  In 10 min we were out the door and headed to In-and-Out Burger for lunch.  This west-coast chain offers nothing but hamburgers or cheeseburgers, fries and drinks.  That’s it.  The food is always incredibly fresh and delicious.  It is a must-stop at least once on every trip.  They have expanded into the Dallas area and eventually will be on the Austin area.  The Vegas ones are always packed regardless of time of day.  However, we drove right in to a parking spot, walked right up to place our order and snarfed it down.

 

Rejuvenated, we then headed out to Red Rock Canyon.  The Natl Wildlife Refuge is the setting for dramatic red rocks with layers of blindingly white rock formations on top.  Also, petrified sand dunes can be seen.  A favorite of hikers, bicyclers, rock climbers, the park has a one way 27 mile drive with numerous spots to get out a view the scenery or take a hike.  It is up several thousand feet in elevation from the LV Valley, so the temperatures are always 10+ degrees cooler.    Busy day so far, but not even halfway done!  From there we drove up to Mt Charleston, about 45 min away.  At 11,000 feet this mountain is remarkable in its scenery,  20 degree lower temps, pine and aspen forests, campgrounds, and at about 8,000 ft and cool restaurant and bar.  We ordered drinks and sat outside under an awning, enjoying the ambience and the view.   Unfortunately, the native-American ladies selling handmade jewelry were packing up for the day, so we didn’t get a chance to see what they had. (Sorry Redd).

 

From there, we now had the challenge of coasting downhill in neutral, to see how far we could go.  The Park rangers were out ticketing speeders, so I had to stay within the posted speed limit.  Nevertheless, I made it the 14 miles back to Hwy 95 before putting the car in gear.  Yesssssss! Quite a feat for LBRG since he drives like a grandma

 

Back to the hotel to take a shower, get a quick nap, and then off to the next adventure—Sunset and cocktails at the Stratosphere Tower, 107 stories up.  The drinks are not cheap $12-15 each, but you do pay for the location.  2 for 1 belvederes make this tolerable and a quick buzz. It is magical  to watch the sun go down and see all the fabulous lights of Vegas light up at dark.  Martinis and an appetizer kept us occupied for a good hour.   From there we drove to downtown LV to catch the hourly light and sound show of the Fremont Street Experience, a dynamic show on the ceiling on the downtown area, that stretches for blocks.  The shows last about 5 min and every hour features different bands.  The first one we caught was Queen, they did 3 songs.  The next one was the Doors.  After that we went to The Golden Nugget to see the huge gold nuggets on display and to grab a bite in their 24/7 Café.  While the entrees were close to $10 each, the portions were huge.  None of us could finish our meals.  After that long day, I was done.  Back to the room to crash while the guys went out to hit some bars.

 

My last day, we went to the Rio Hotel off the strip to the Carnival World Buffet for lunch. Should have skipped the buffet and headed to the Voo Pool.  In my opinion, this is the best buffet in Vegas,  Many, many offerings, great quality and quantity.  For about $20 a piece (for lunch) we stuffed ourselves, then wandered around the hotel.  Their pool area is very well done.   From their was went back to the hotel, and hit our pool for a while.  That night, we had tickets to the dinner show “The Tournament of Kings” a fun, family show with knights on horseback, jousts, hand-to-hand combat, wizards shooting fireballs, dancing girls, pyrotechnics….fun.  Dinner was soup, Cornish game hen, potatoes, biscuit, broccoli, served on plates with no silverware. Everything is eaten by hand (the soup was in a bowl).  Everyone is expected to root for the Knight representing the area in which you sit.  So there is much cheering, boo-ing, tacky comments, “Huzzah’s!!”  etc.

 

From there we walked down to the Bellagio Hotel, to watch the famous Fountains do their water dance to music, every 15 min.  Saw several of those, one of the top free things to do in Vegas.  Then inside to see the incredibly ugly décor and tacky carpet.  A visit to the Conservatory is a requirement on every trip.  This large room next to the check-in desk is themed to match the seasons, changed four times a year.  This being summer, there were huge areas of zinnias and marigolds among others.  There were two ladybugs made of flowers about the size of two suitcases, and there was a frog made of moss and lichen about the size of a small pony.  The Conservatory is always well done.

 

By that time, my energy and Vegas-tolerance was almost empty.  We trudged back to Excalibur, hit some slots, had one drink and I was done:  back to my room to pack and crash as I had a 4 am wake-up call the next day.  John and Galen were not leaving until Friday evening.  They were to have several adventures that perhaps he can write about at a later time.  They will have great stories to tell as years go by.

 

For closing notes:  In the empty lot across from Mandalay Bay, they have started construction on yet ANOTHER London-Eye size Ferris wheel, which will look down the Strip.  So eventually there will be two.  Anything worth doing is worth overdoing—it is the American Way.

 

And lastly, gas was anywhere from $3.96 to $4.06 a gallon for regular.  I just paid $3.39 here today. And what?  No report on your losses?

 

VIVA LAS VEGAS!

 

Austin’s Zilker Park…..

On May 21, 2012, in Travel, by admin

 

For those of you not in Texas….a quick run down about this post.  The state of Texas is large encompassing much land and different personalities.  The landscape varies from flat, to deep woods, to mountains (not the rockies, OK) to green prairies.  Its personality varies as well, but overall, this is a conservative state with people who spend much of their lives living in a box.  Enter Austin.  Full of lakes, parks, and the Texas Hill Country, the cities personality varies from every other Texas city.  Here the hippies roam with republicans, the street people tend to be young, pierced no futures on skateboards…the music scene is self pretentious on Austin and alive…….so here we go in with a brief on one of the crown jewels of Austin, Zilker Park

 

Recently, we had the idea to get a couple of our “Austin Bucket List” items marked off that list.  You know, those “one of these days, we need to…” moments.  Last Saturday was one those incredibly beautiful days I call a “Chamber of Commerce” day.  You know the kind of day the Chamber would love to bottle to advertise for the touristas to come and visit.  The morning was cool, upper 60’s-low 70’s, bright sunshine, clear robin’s egg blue sky, a little windy perhaps.  We drove to Austin’s Zilker Park, paid for entry (they now charge $5 to park on weekends and for special events).

 

Anyway, by 9:30 am the parking lot was already mostly full.  We then strolled past the incredibly cool children’s playscape,  past the children’s locomotive train loading up for the day’s first run, down the worn limestone steps and over to the boat rental shack.  The man in charge was a real Austin character.  Looking about 65, sounding like he was about 85 (ah, another Austin hippie with more miles on him than years), with a cheerful grin and some quick jokes about getting wet, he took my ID, directed us to the paddles, life vests, and a string of kayaks.  We debated on canoes, but my better, smarter half decided on a 2-person kayak.  She knew canoes can be easily tipped over by the novices that we were.  Plus, we had some experience with 2-person kayaks in Grand Cayman, and I had no experience in canoes.    We quickly dragged the bright banana-yellow heavy plastic kayak to the launching spot and off we went.  For those unfamiliar with Zilker Park and its environs, the park is home to Barton Springs, a large volume, clear, very cold (a constant 68 degrees year ‘round) springs that fills the Barton Springs Pool, then flows into Barton Creek and then into the Colorado River.  (For you non-Texans, our Colorado River is not The Colorado River that goes through the Grand Canyon, etc.  This is OUR Colorado River.  We are Texans, we can name our rivers anything we want but it’s kind of a long story.  But I digress….)The water was brisk, and for those of you with kayak experience, you know your butt and legs get wet.  But we were not uncomfortable.  Barton creek is probably 50 yards wide from the Pool to the river, extremely wide for a Texas creek.  There has been archeological evidence of people visiting the Barton Springs area for over 8,000 years.  (I wonder if they called it Barton’s Springs?  It is an old Texas name…hmmm…)

 

The current was very gentle, the tree lined banks sheltering us from the wind,  as we paddled lazily downstream, pointing out numerous turtles, fish (several quite large) ducks and other birds.  There were only a few other boats on the water but the famous Hike and Bike Trail ran along one side packed with people out enjoying the day.   After we reached the mouth of the creek/river, we headed across to the far shore.  The Colorado River is maintained by a dam so it flows gently and is really more of a lake than a river.  On the river, we saw several scullers,  solo, tandem, and teams racing by great speed, athleticism and energy.  We made sure we stayed out of their way as we meandered upstream a ways and then turned back towards the creek.  While on the river the wind picked up but outside of making me put my hat on my lap, it didn’t affect either the stability of the kayak or our ability to paddle.  Heading back up the creek, we passed by about a dozen 2-person kayaks, all filled with attractive coeds in bikinis.  Obviously a UT Sorority House.  As I said, a beautiful day.   As we brought the kayak up on the bank, paid the $12 for the hour we were afloat, we headed out noticing the deep green grass hillside across the creek had rapidly filled with sun-worshippers.  Austin, ya gotta love it….

 

We were not done, however.  We decided to grab a bite to eat at the Tex-Mex place called “Juan in a Million”.  This east of I-35 eatery had been featured on The Travel Channel’s “Man Vs Food” show and I had wanted to try their famous breakfast tacos for years.  However, by the time we got there (before noon) there was a large line already out the door.  Having little patience to wait, we drove over to the UT campus and The Drag (Guadalupe street).  From there we pulled into Dirty Martin’s, a famous UT hangout since 1926 still on the original location and another place on my “to-do” list.   Luckily, there were plenty of tables, so we downed some excellent cheeseburgers, great Onion Rings, and lightly fried pickle slices.  The waitress was friendly, helpful, and prompt.

 

Overall, a great Saturday, and two more items checked off the “Austin Bucket List”!

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Cayman’s Reef Barbados Rum Review

On May 12, 2012, in Rum Reviews, by admin

Today’s candidate for election into the Rum Guy’s Top Ten rums is  “Cayman’s Reef Barbados Rum”.  This is a mysterious rum, as the bottle indicates it is imported and bottled by the Cayman Reef Rum Company in that famous rum hotbed of Princeton, Minnesota just a few miles north of Minneapolis.  This town of less than 4,000 sits on the appropriately named Rum River.  However, web searches for the name of the company, and/or the name of the rum are fruitless.  It is evidently connected to World Spirits, LTD in Princeton, but there the search dies as World Spirits is privately owned and evidently doesn’t release much information about itself.

 

The clear-glass bottle is attractive with the name and two palm trees etched in gold offsetting the darker amber liquid within.  It states it is aged five years in oak casks.  Pulling out the cork, the rum aroma is quiet but flavorful.  Sipping straight, you can taste a hint of chocolate, and a brief kiss of blackberries.  This 80 proof rum mixes very well with both regular and diet colas with very little back-bite.   The finish is very smooth.  While it is not a perfect match for fruit juices it does not clash either.  It is good for frozen Boat Drinks.  This rum is soft and easy, like old comfortable house shoes, but like house shoes, you wouldn’t take them to a party.

 

At under $20 a bottle, this is a good rum for the price.  As a candidate for the Top Ten, however, it does not win the election.  It is not a great rum,  but I could see buying it again.

 

The Quest Continues……

 

The Rum Guy

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Atlanta Quick Review

On April 29, 2012, in Travel, by admin

Recently an opportunity arose to travel to Atlanta to watch an Elite 8 Regional basketball as part of the NCAA tourney.  I had traveled to Atlanta several times previous on business, but never for just pure pleasure. As this city regularly competes for convention business, it ends up being a destination many of us go to but rarely get a chance to spend significant personal time exploring.  Enter the regional.  With an opportunity to see my team in the Elite 8, I could not pass a chance to go.

Atlanta is a true southern city with the southern charm, if you are into that sort of thing. The city is serviced by a strong public transportation system which even feeds all the way to Hartsfield International Airport. Very convenient if you are not looking to rent or save on taxi fees.  Sure, the stations can get a little creepy at night, espeically the underground ones, but all in all, they seem fairly safe and for the most part, well used.  Atlanta has several distinct districts in the city. The older of these entertainment district is the Atlanta Underground, basically under central city.  This was developed as an entertainment district, but in the later years has lost a lot of its popularity to more trendy destinations like Mid Town.  Another district I had been previously was Buckhead.  This is further north of central Atlanta and severla years back had many nice restaurants and clubs.  Some of the clubs could be a bit wild as well.  While I did not get out to Buckhead this trip, I am told that the clubs are largely gone.  They had been run out with rents in an attempt to cater more the the higher end restaurants in the area.

The area we stayed was Mid Town. This is become a trendy part of Atlanta more recently.  Looking to avoid the standard hotel chain, we choose the independent Artmore Hotel. Upon first impression, I was a bit concerned with the clientele as it looked like it may turn into a hip hop party. Not the case.  The Artmore is well appointed and anchored by a great bar where the bartender knows how to mix a great martini. The Artmore also has a great court yard where you can take your drink and smoke a cigar. Rooms are well appointed, fairly spacious and for the most part quiet.

One of the noticeable things about Atlanta and it being in the deep south is the number of restaurants with grits on the menu. All kinds.  A normally bland dish, the Highland Bakery in mid Town dresses them up with various tastes offering them with several of the interesting breakfasts at the small establishment. Hard to find, it is a small walk up service eatery at the base of a professional building.  There are a few tables outside that make this pet friendly, if you are not in the middle of summer anyway.  Great unique breakfast offerings.

Another great eatery just down the street from Highland Bakery is South City Kitchen.  Also serving breakfast, but here, you will want to struggle through the waits for their fried chicken.  This is marinated in a buttermilk concoction for over 24 hours, then fried with a tasty crust, but leaving the chicken inside tender and moist. This eatery brands itself as new southern cuisines. Not sure what that means, but what I found off of the menu was very creative fare that I would like to come back again and again to try.  I had the crab cakes in hollandaise sauce.  Excellent.  Tender and tasty fresh crab served over cheese grits and hollandaise…….absolutely wonderful. This will be a must for a return trip to Atlanta (who hosts the final four next year)

As for the basketball……it was held in the Georgia Dome. A decent venue, again, served by the rail line.  I was not impressed with the facility or the surroundings due to lack of good places to eat immediate within walking distance.  It too is in a neighborhood that you must be careful after dark.

Overall, Atlanta was pleasant.  It was March Madness, and spring.  It may be a little different visiting in the summer, as it is hot and humid in this southern city

 

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