Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Charlotte 500, Laps 71 - 75: Daytrip to Winston-Salem

Winston-Salem is less than 90 minutes north, and slightly east, of Charlotte, the perfect distance to discover some new things without the expense of hotels or too much gas.

Lap 71: Reynolda Gardens - Now part of Wake Forest University, Reynolda Gardens is located on the grounds of what used to be the Reynolds (as in RJ) family farm. The gardens are a quiet, peaceful island in the middle of a fairly large city, with, as you probably guessed, lots of flowers, trees, and vegetables. There are also a few shops and restaurants on the grounds, but they are designed so as not to ruin the atmosphere.

Lap 72: Foothills Brewing Company - Located in downtown Winston-Salem, Foothills offers up the usual pub grub, but with some different twists. You can get the beef and chicken, but you can also have buffalo and ostrich. The chips were pretty good, too. I won't say it was outstanding, but it was pretty good and convenient to downtown. Plus, if the weather's nice, you can eat outside.
Lap 73: Mayberry Ice Cream & Sandwich Shoppe - One of the shops located at Reynolda Gardens (there are other locations, too), Mayberry makes the list because it is ice cream and ice cream is good!

Lap 74: Wake Forest University - Although it wasn't long before classes started again, the Wake Forest campus was pretty much a ghost town so we didn't get to see much but the outside of the buildings, which is usually the most interesting part anyway. The campus seemed to be spread out, and it was very clean, with many trees and extensive green space.

Lap 75: Warthogs Baseball - Professional baseball in Winston-Salem dates from 1905, with the current franchise operating since 1945. The Warthogs, Class High-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, played their games at Ernie Shore Field in Winston-Salem. They'll be moving to a new stadium closer to downtown in 2009. The team will also be playing with a new name and mascot. Too bad, I liked Wally Warthog.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Top Ten: Sad Songs

I haven't done a top ten list in a long time, which is surprising to me because I love to make lists. Being that I'm in a pensive, waiting-for-the-world-to-end kind of mood, I thought this would be a good time to share the ten saddest songs in my iTunes play lists...just to help brighten your day. The lyrics of these songs aren't necessarily sad, though some are, but these songs all make my heart ache for one reason or another.

10) On the Evening Train - Johnny Cash: The death of a loved one
9) Our Town - Iris DeMent: The death of a town and a person's history
8) She's Too Good For Me - Warren Zevon: Letting go of something/someone you don't want to let go of
7) He Went to Paris - Jimmy Buffett: Guess I never paid attention to the story behind this song, but it makes me sad anyway
6) If You Could Read My Mind - Johnny Cash, covering Gordon Lightfoot: This one is more the lonesome, dying voice than the song
5) Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain - Willie Nelson: When he's on, Willie Nelson could make "Happy Birthday" sound like a lamentation
4) The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down - The Band: I guess this is about the death of an ideal
3) Some Day Never Comes - Credence Clearwater Revival: Always makes me feel hopeless
2) Days That Used to Be - Neil Young: Nostalgia, and that's all, for the greener fields of yesterday
1) Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning - Willie Nelson: A crushing song, especially when you listen when you're on your own; "Excuse me for looking like I just lost my best friend"

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Walking Soundtrack # 5

1) Waltzing Matilda - The Pogues: One of the best war songs ever recorded, describing the horrors of war and the usually idiotic reasons we humans kill and maim eachother.
2) Gotta Dance - The Who, live in 1964 while the band was still known as the High Numbers: A Holland-Dozier-Holland tune, originally recorded by the Miracles (later known as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles), it's a typical early Who cover of great Motown music.
3) Let the Mystery Be - Iris DeMent: I'm not sure how to take this song - satire, serious, who knows? I also can't decide if I really like it or not.
4) I'm Still a Guy - Brad Paisley: This one's from the Tiffany collection and is the usual catchy and funny song with semi-serious undertones from Brad Paisley, one of the most clever writers around today.
5) Fast As You - Dwight Yoakam: One of the best country-rock songs ever. The first time I really noticed this song was when it was cranked to 10 (or 11, if you prefer) on the sound system at a Chicago Wolves game. Perfect for getting the blood flowing, whether walking or not.
6) I Am Afraid - Pete Townshend: From Pete's last solo album, it's a decent pop song, with a methodic beat that's good for walking.
7) The Long Defeat - Sara Groves: I know I like this song, but I can't remember anything about it.
8) Sinner Man - Nina Simone: Long, haunting spiritual jazz song. It's one of my favorite songs, and might be the only jazz song I like.
9) I'm Coming Back (But I Don't Know When) - The Lonesome River Band: Great bluegrass music, which is always good to keep up a good walking pace.


The Charlotte 500, Laps 65-70: Pizza Search

After 15 months, we still haven't found a pizza place in Charlotte that rises to the level of those we've found in Chicago and New York. With all the New Yorkers who've moved to Charlotte, there is an abundance of pizzerias claiming to serve New York pizza (none have measured up) and the only place claiming to serve Chicago style is Charlotte's Pizzeria Uno (good pizza, but who are they kidding??). And, really, we haven't found any place that serves the type of thin crust pizza you can get in Chicago. Anyway...Here's a review of a few we've tried recently.

Lap 65: Taste of Buffalo Pizzeria, Huntersville - Who knew Buffalo had their own style of pizza? Wings I knew about, but pizza? I wasn't very confident about Taste of Buffalo, but it was a nice surprise. Served in a rectangular pan (or box, if you carry out), and featuring a thicker-than-thin-but-not-quite-thick, soft, chewy crust, Buffalo pizza is actually a nice treat.
Lap 66: Bullzeye Pizza, Huntersville (and Cornelius) - Bullzeye is one of the best thin-crust, non-New York style, pizzas we've found. The more ingredient you load it with (brocolli, spinach, garlic, tomato, onion, and pepperoni is very good), the better it holds up.
Lap 67: Donatos Pizza, Huntersville (and various other locations) - Donatos is a national chain, but I include it on my list because their thin crust ranks with Bullzeye as the best we've had, and because it is the only place I've ever seen that offers almonds as a topping, which add a surprisingly wonderful nutty flavor and crispy texture.
Lap 68: Pizza Peel, Myers Park/Cotswold, Charlotte - A very nice thin crust, pseudo-New York pizza restaurant, known as much for its beer menu as its pizza. Lots of kids, so if that's not your thing, then this ain't the place for you.
Lap 69: Brooklyn Boys Pizza, Mooresville - The people around here seem to love it, but, to me, the crust is way to chewy (not even close to true New York pizza), and the ingredients are laid on way too thin.
Lap 70: Fox's Den, Huntersville (and various other locations) - Not bad for a light, snack type pizza, along the lines of Dominos, Fox's Den offers a thin, cracker like crust with just the right amount of ingredients. Not really a meal, but still pretty good.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Charlotte 500, Lap 64: Tony's Ice Cream, Gastonia

Since moving to Charlotte, I've rediscovered the joys of ice cream (speaking of which, we've got a couple quarts in the freezer...I'll be right back.)

Not that I ever lost touch with the joy of ice cream, but we've definitely dug in with greater verve than ever before. Gastonia, 20 miles or so west of downtown Charlotte, is home to Tony's Ice Cream. We both ordered a couple scoops of some really tasty ice cream - one of my scoops was coconut, which, I'm sure, will be the daily special in heaven. However, as we ate our ice cream and watched what everyone else was ordering, we decided the shakes must be the house special. Also, judging from the line at the grill, the food must be pretty durn good, too. We'll have to head back to Tony's in order to investigate those observations.

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The Charlotte 500, Lap 63: Bill Spoon's Barbecue

Located south of downtown, and even south of the South End for that matter, Bill Spoon's has been around for nearly half a century. I picture it as once having been on the outer edges of Charlotte, but the city has since grown up and surrounded the restaurant. Quick service, great bbq, and some of the best hush puppies we've yet found, Bill Spoon's is a worthwhile step back in time to the Charlotte of yesteryear.

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Walking Soundtrack # 4

I think my iPod was trying to sabotage my efforts at a healthy lifestyle this time - you'll see why below. I had set a rule for myself that I wouldn't forward over any song so that I would, over time, really listen to my entire library of songs. However, after this walk, that rule might be revised.

1) Polly Gone Home - Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: Overall, not a bad song, but horrible for the purposes of exercise. Slow, slow, slow...

2) Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain - Willie Nelson: Wille's first #1 song, and, maybe, the best he ever sang (he didn't write this one). It is a pensive song, but it's so good it's works for walking.

3) Molly Ban - The Chieftains with Alison Krauss: Typically sad, and long, Irish song - it's great, but it makes you want to bury your head and cry rather than be physically fit.

4) Carrickfergus - The Chieftains with Alison Moorer: Another typically sad, and very long, Irish lament, chock full of phrasing like "marble cliffs" and "salt sea" and references to Kilkenny. By this point in my walk, the only thing stopping from sagging to the sidewalk in tears is the thought of what my neighbors would think.

5) Water - The Who, live at London's Young Vic in 1970-1: Ahh, the 'orrible 'oo, my favorite band. But this isn't just their most annoying song, it might be the worst ever written by anyone. But still, it's got thundering guitars and pounding drums - enough to quicken my steps and lift me form the morass of Irish dirges.

6) The Highwayman - Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson: Ahh, now we're getting somewhere. Cheesy concept, cheesy lyrics, but still a wonderful song. I can walk a bit quicker to this.

7) Tired of Waiting - The Kinks: My theme song, or, rather, the theme song for those who have had to live or work with me over the years. Punctuality isn't my best quality. Actually, it isn't one of my qualities at all, no matter how hard I try.

8) Fade Into You - Mazzy Starr: Another slow tune, but this one's dreamily brilliant and it won't slow down my pace. This one always makes me miss Peter & Lauri, the first neighbors I ever had while living on my own, who made this song their first dance when they got married.

9) Travelin' Band - Credence Clearwater Revival: While listening this time around, I realized this song was a cheap grab at selling records rather than a serious effort at making music. It annoyed me so much, I deleted the song from my play list.

10) The Old Man Down the Road - John Fogerty: It makes me dizzy to realize it, but I remember when the video for this song came out nearly a quarter century ago. I'm not supposed to remember things from so long ago! Some day much too soon this song might be about me. But, for the time being, it's a great tune to move to, so I'll just be happy I got through this walk without those depressing Irish tunesmiths causing me to jump in front of a truck.


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Cat Nap

Not having kids, I take more pictures of Tigger than is probably normal. After taking the picures, though, I don't do anything with them, so I thought I'd post a few here. It will help me feel better about having taken all these pictures.