Saturday, February 11, 2006

Rebuilding New Orleans, One Restaurant at a Time

Crook's Corner was one of the very first restaurants I ate at in Chapel Hill. One of the RAs (Resident Advisors), Smith "the man with no first name" Hanes, marched the lot of us freshmen from Mangum Dorm all the way down to the west end of Franklin Street for a barbeque dinner at Crook's. That was the fall of 1978, which must have been within months of Cam Hill opening the place back up as a restaurant. That was also the last time I ate there for many, many years. In the interim, Bill Neal and Craig Claiborne made it world famous and made Shrimp'n'Grits a New Southern tradition and it became so popular (so "in" to be honest) that I didn't bother to do more than once or twice.

I first met Bill Smith when I was working the door at the Rhythm Alley in the early 80's - I knew he was a chef and that he would come in late and dance his ass off to the last couple of songs and the encore of whoever was playing on Saturday night. It wasn't until later that I found out that he was one of the original owners of Cat's Cradle, one of the longest running and best-known rawk clubs on the east coast.

Bill moved over from La Residence to Crook's Corner sometime after Bill Neal's death but as I was a vegetarian by that time and Bill was heavy into big meat on the menu, I never had the opportunity to check it out. That is until a few months ago, when I realized he'd added enough to the menu that it was worth a stop. The food, of course, was superb and it was nice being able to say howdy and talk a bit with Bill after dinner, especially as his cookbook was just about to come out. We also got added to the Crook's Corner mailing list and that's how we found out what Bill's up to this winter - helping rebuild restaurants in New Orleans. I'll let owner Gene Hamer and Bill tell it - what a great cause! -

Today, Bill Smith is leaving for New Orleans. He's helping with the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) Project to rebuild restaurants. They've started on Dooky Chase's place and have also been working on Willie Mae's Scotch House. "They started working on Willie Mae's a month ago. She's quite old, 89," says Bill Smith. "Since Willie Mae's restaurant is coming along so well they've moved around to Dooky Chase's. She is something. A wonderful person. Gumbo Z'Herbes is her recipe." There is a weekly update on the SFA's New Orlean's Project at

Friday, February 10, 2006

Craptop shopping

I decided a couple of weeks ago that I want to buy a laptop. This is not a conclusion I came to without some thought - I've been going back and forth about it for a couple of years now. I mean, I have access to a laptop from work, so the need hasn't been pressing. However, it's old and decrepit and frankly won't do the things I'd like a laptop to do.

So having decided that I was ready to buy one, I decided I was ready right then. Oh, I did a little bit of checking around - asking some tech-savvy friends about their experiences, checked on Dell and HP's websites, as well as some of the smaller OEMs like Cyberpower, looked around Best Buy to get a feel for the cases being uses by some of the major players, etc. I knew I wanted an AMD CPU and decided to look for the new Turion mobile chip, I knew I wanted at least 1GB of RAM and a fat hard drive, I knew I wanted a beefed-up video card and I knew I wanted a DVD burner. Oh, and I knew I didn't want to spend $2000 so that cut out Alienware and some of the other high-end gaming systems. After looking at a few, I realized also that a 17" screen was too damn big to really be considered a portable but 15.4" looked just about right.

I poked around Best Buy a little last weekend and really came to like the Gateway MX6450, with a 1.8GHz Turion CPU, 100 GB hard drive (albeit a slow one) and an ATI mobile video card (but unfortunately without dedicated memory). It was pretty minimally what I was looking for but I thought it'd do the trick. So I went back Wednesday when I saw they were doing a sale that I thought might lower the higher-than-MSRP price of $1199. I checked it out again, really liked the feel of it and tried to get the attention of one of the Geek Squaders working in the department. Ha, I should be so lucky. There were only two, and it seemed to take both of them to deal with any one customer (clearly they spend most of their time haranguing anyone who actually buys a system with offers of extended warranties and accessories, since that's where they make their real money). So I waited and waited and waited, while the department filled up with more and more customers. It wasn't long before there were at least two dozen people there, all trying to get the attention of the Geeksters. Some of the pushier were more successful that I was, so I finally left with no contact with them whatsoever.

After pretty much deciding to try my chances elsewhere, I realized that I really liked that puppy so I thought I'd give it another shot. This time I corralled every blueshirter that walked by, knowing that they couldn't help me but each resolving to find someone that could. I hung out by my target, talking to a like-minded guy about what we were looking for and both declaiming loudly that we were going to saddle up and head for Circuit City if nobody showed up pronto. Sure enough, as I started heading for the door, GeekGrrl finally showed up. Our conversation when like this:
I: I've got a quick question and if the answer is right, you'll get a quick laptop sale.
GeekGrrl: Okay

I: Is this Gateway (pointing to my preference) part of your up-to-$200-off sale?

GeekGrrl: Yes, I believe it is

I: So what's the deal?

GeekGrrl: Well, you get the anti-virus license and subscription, that's about $85 and you get the wireless card blah blah blah

I: Wait a minute. How much is it?

GeekGrrl: Well, you'll pay this price (pointing to $1199 tag) but you get...

I: Sweetie, all that is included in the manufacturer's package and the MSRP from Gateway is $1129

And I turned around and walked out. And drove to Circuit City, where I'd seen online the night before that they had pretty much the same unit with a slightly slower CPU for a nice price after rebate. I thought I'd checked the store inventory online, so I was pretty sure they'd have it. As I walked in, sure enough my buddy from Best Buy walked in right behind me. But I was clearly not destined to have a laptop that night, as they were out and didn't have anything comparable to what I wanted.

So back to square one, but it's probably for the best. I did a little more looking online last night and found an Acer Travelmate with a better video card and a fatter, faster hard drive with a list of $1199 (looks familiar) and a better price than that from, so I'll probably order one. Hate to wait for it now that I've decided to move on it, but better than settling for less than I want or paying more than I need.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Good Blue vs. Bad Blue

Some people look to Groundhog Day as an indication that the end of winter is at least within distant sight. For others Valentine's Day performs the same purpose. For me and thousands like me, there's a day in between that more than anything signifies that spring is on it's way - the first Carolina-Dook game of the season. PC's eloquent take is here - as a Chapel Hill native, his history with the rivalry is certainly longer than mine. I only go back as far as the Gminiski-Spanarkel-Banks teams of the late 70's at the end of Bill Foster's tenure as coach for hating Dook and there was even a short period after that when they were almost pitiable - when the best backcourt they could put on the floor was Chip Engelland and Tom Emma. That didn't last long after Bilas, Alarie and Dawkins came on the scene. So unlike some natives, I've only been hating Dook for about 30 years - but believe me, it is a pure and virulent hatred, one that will last long after I'm dead and gone.

NC State was once almost as hated, but the years of mediocre teams and really crappy coaches have dulled that somewhat. At least when we play in Raleigh, the asinine toofless yokels in the crowd manage to piss me off enough to hate on 'em a little bit. But mostly they're too far beneath the Heels to generate that kind of emotion. And that really is the thing that I try not to think about when it comes to the Dookies - there has to be some respect for them to generate this kind of despite and I don't like having to admit that there's any respect for them at all.

I don't expect a Carolina victory tonight, although it's not as far-fetched a prospect as I would have thought a couple of months ago. I'll settle for being competitive but a win would go down as one of those classics, like the "8 points in 17 seconds" game in '74 or the double OT win at Duke in '95 that Carolina dads will be teaching their kids for many years to come.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Fear of Music

So I still haven't picked up Talking Heads 77 but I did grab the DualDisk copy of Fear of Music Saturday. It's pretty damn terrific as you might expect. In addition to the remastered CD and the 5.1 mix on the DVD side, the best thing I've heard so far is the alternate take of Life During Wartime which is pretty much the one you're used to except that it has an added Robert Fripp guitar track that's a really nice addition and it doesn't fade out a verse too soon like the original (if you've ever read the lyric sheet, you'll know what I mean - the song fades before Byrne sings the last verse).

I also picked up the X: Live in Los Angeles DVD of an X reunion show from 2004. I haven't had time to see much of it yet, but I have no doubt it will rock hard. Just watching the first couple of tracks put me right back at the Pier in Raleigh 20+ years ago standing two feet in front of Billy Zoom's monitor with his wide guitar god stance, Rutger Hauer hair and the big ass smile he turned on us about once a song. I have never understood why they were not huge stars, but I'm happy to be one of the chosen few who dug everything they ever did. Along with the Clash, they were the best pure rock and roll band of the early 80's. If you came to them late and never had a chance to see them, I'd suggest picking this up - they might be a lot older (ain't we all?) but they've absolutely still got it.

Stupor Bowl Xtra-Long

I really have not cared a bit about this Super Bowl and I'm betting ABC is less than enthused as well from a ratings perspective. You know they'd have rather had the Colts or the Pats vs. the Deadskins or da Bears. Hell, I forget that Seattle even has a team and I've never liked the Steelers, even back in the Bradshaw-Harris-Bleier-Steel Curtain days.

So instead of planning all day to watch the game this evening, we spent the afternoon over in Greensboro shopping at the Friendly Center and had a very nice dinner at Lucky 32 before heading home. We did make it in time to catch the Rolling Stones half-time mini-concert, which really wasn't bad. And it looks like we didn't miss a damn thing in the first half. The second half has picked up a bit with the 75-yard run from Carolina boy Willie Parker and the Seahawks interception that stopped the Steelers from blowing the thing wide open. But I'm mostly watching it for the commercials at this point.

The best thing about the drive home was realizing that Little Steven's Underground Garage is being carried on Asheboro's WKRR (92.3 FM) on Sunday nights at 7. I'd heard of the show but didn't realize that anyone around here had it. What we heard was pretty damn good! Past shows are available at the site, so if you've got a broadband connection, check it out!

"Blog on the Run" No More

My best bud Lex, the guy that got me started into blogging, has shut down Blog on the Run after, what, 3 years? If you need your Lex fix, he's still professionally blogging at The Lex Files on the Greensboro News and Record website, but it ain't the same. I'll miss his writing as a reasonable Republican - one that I don't always agree with but that I can at least be sure has thought through his position. But I think I can understand - Lex's blog was high-profile enough that it attracted a number of commenters that were trying at best and downright threatening at their worst. I'm not saying that's why Lex quit - I haven't had a chance to ask him yet - but I would think that kind of constant personal attack would take its toll and certainly detract from the fun factor of blogging. 'Cuz for all but a very, very few of us, fun is the only reason to do it.

Dude, get some rest, catch up on other things, and think about getting back online one way or another. We'll miss you in the meantime, but I have no doubt that you'll catch the next wave before the rest of us and show us the way.