Thursday, December 31, 2009

Three Sheets to Epcot Center - A Picture Essay

In this photo essay, we go Three Sheets to Epcot Center.  We drink grape wine, rice wine, glauwein, Morrocan slushies, tequila and of course, beer.

Da da dum. Da da dum. Da da dum bum bum bum.  Every night in every city around the world it happens.  People poor into local watering holes to well...drink.  It's our mission to traverse the globe getting to know these different people and their drinking customs, bellying up to the bar, and with any luck, making some new friends. [For copyright protection purposes, I thank Zane Lamprey, et al for this introduction.  Thanks, Zane.]

6PM.  Orlando, FL.  We're on a limited budget.  Our staff was playing ISpy with their Grandmother and couldn't help us produce our essay.  What easier way to experience, in a technologically disadvantaged way, the local drinking customs of several countries within feet of each other than at the cultural melting pot of Disney World?  Armed only with our trusted camera (I forgot to bring the video camera), we scurried past the lines at the GM Test Track and Soarin' and made our way to the Countries of the World Pavilion to sample the delights from 11 countries around the world.  The theme park's late hours, however, were not tonight and we only had three hours to get in and get out.  Man and woman versus drink, so to speak.  Join us, as we go THREE SHEETS TO EPCOT CENTER!

MEXICO.  Our first stop on our suddenly quick journey through the pavillion was La Cava De Tequila.  You don't need to know Spanish to know that that loosely translates to "Tequila Cave."  MM started quickly with a margarita from Jose, our bartender.  And I had a cheap generic beer called Sola that was served in the same type of clear bottle as Corona.  Hmm.  Is Corona just the Mexican equivalent of Milwaukee's Best?
To be honest with you, I'm not sure that was his name.  All I know is that he was from Miami, Florida. 
To our surprise, we also met the foursome below who were experiencing the Countries of the World Pavilion along with us.  After looking at the Tequila shot plate in front of the guys, we asked whether they did all those shots.  "Really?" my wife questioned when they said they hadn't.  Then, uh, who did?  Whereas this was our first stop, obviously this was their last.  The woman on the left was doing a tequila shooter.  Luckily for us, we backed up after we took this photo, since she was a little "shaky" with the whole salt, lime and tequila shot sequence.
NORWAY.  The girls at the Akershus Royal Buffet at the Norway Pavillion were not amused by my question of whether there was a bar inside.  Even charming Norwegian accents didn't make the angry words "No sir, we don't." sound any less harsh.  Why couldn't the Tequila Foursome tell us to skip Norway?
CHINA.  No luck with a bar here either, but we could order a couple of Tsing Tao with our eggrolls and dumplings from the Nine Dragons cafeteria.  This guy was pretty psyched to have his picture taken.  He also was insistent on taking our picture.  When I looked at it the next morning, I just shook my head.
GERMANY:  Our first stop was to taste the Gerstacker Gluhwein outside of the pavillion.  It's spicy wine made somewhere in Germany.  More than one person told us to try this wine, so we were excited to taste it.  Knowing that we still hadn't hit the "Biergarten," we tried just one between the two of us.  What our bartender didn't tell us though, was that it was spiced wine served HOT.  I suppose if you are living in a cave in the black forest this might be an appealing alternative to freezing, but when its 66 degrees in Florida?  No thanks.  Needless to say, I will have a discussion with those who fooled me into trying this concoction.  The bartender's smirk says it all...another American tourist fooled.
So we moved on to what I truly thought would be the highlight of the experience.  A liter stein at the "Biergarten."  Wait, what, they don't have a bar and worse yet, they don't serve beer?  But its called the "Biergarten!"  Was I wrong to think that "biergarten" means garden of beer?  I'm told that they serve beer during Octoberfest, but that I need to go over to the kiosk over here
to get Paulaner Octoberfest.  Shouldn't Octoberfest happen everyday in Disney World?  Doesn't New Years Eve happen every night at Pleasure Island?  "They don't do that anymore." I'm told.  Oh.  So I begrudgingly order two beers.  The girls wouldn't let me pour my own, so I didn't (as far as they know), but my wife was still choking down her glue wine, so I had two beers for myself.  The guy behind me, who we started talking to while waiting in line, looked thirsty so I gave him my extra beer, so long as I could take his picture and make fun of him in my blog if I so chose.  Prost!
ITALY.  My bewilderment over the lack of beer in a place balled the beer garten was quickly replaced by excitement.
"Can you take my picture with that Disney cast member in the funny clothes hanging out by the fountain?  The kids would love that picture." I request as we make our way to try some Italian wines and Peroni in the Italy Pavillion. 

"I'm from Wisconsin, I don't work here." The guy answers as I put my arm around him. 
"Can we take a picture with you anyway?" my wife inquires.  Just imagine if this happened in Faneuil Hall?
We end up missing any beer but try some white and red wines from a very nice lady named Maria.  She was very subdued when her boss was around, but very outgoing when the boss went out to the back room.
UNITED STATES.  Just a beer at the Fife and Drum take out stand.  We enjoyed the choral concert at America Gardens, but how can you have much to say about a Budweiser?
JAPAN:  Another situation where neither of the restaurants had a bar or served any beer or sake.  Everyone pointed us back to the same kiosk that we had left minutes before.  "You see, I told you you'd be back." the nice lady admonished.  May I just pour my own sake and drink peacefully?  Thank you.
MOROCCO.  We missed Mo'rockin' but did have a Casa Beer and a "Sultan's coloda," which was a Pina Colada with orange juice in it.  The best part was that my wife could make her own drink.  Well she got behind the bar for the picture below, and I assume she made her own drink, but I was too busy reading the receipt that said we just bought a "refreshment" and a "slushie."  If your spouse comes back from a work-related trip and you find a bunch of receipts that say "refreshment" and "slushie," well you know what was going on on that trip.  Mmm.  That's one good slushie!
FRANCE.  As we moved on, to the last part of our journey, we discovered that were running out of time.  Luckily we were going to France next, so I knew that this would be a quick trip.  Either I wouldn't be able to take them or they wouldn't be able to take us for very long.  Surprisingly, we all had a great time.  We must have been their last customers of the day, since everyone was helping us.  Either that or they wanted to be a part of our Photo Essay. 

My tasting notes from the wine tasting were predictably scant, but I did note that the Beaujolais Nouveau was "a little sour with some cherry and rasberry."  It must have been sitting in that box for too long.
ENGLAND.  Finally, a bar to sit and have a beer.  I wish we could enjoy this more, but the bartender was getting tired (of us) and didn't want to make any more suds shamrocks on our beers.  He dispatched us to the restaurant to eat dinner.
Instead, we made our way over to the Canada Pavillion.  Thanks for the beers, my man.
CANADA.  Similar to Norway, there was no beer to be had, although we just assumed that since it was getting to be closing time, and nothing appeared to be open. 
So back to England for that potato leek soup which was a truly forgettable dining experience.
THE NEXT MORNING.  I had forgotten that the family was going to be up early the next morning to head over to the Magic Kingdom.  Because the sun was shining a little bright this morning, we needed to find a hangover cure.  And fast.  Luckily the line at Splash Mountain wasn't too bad because of the cool weather and we thought that the 50 foot plunge into ice cold water would be a great way to get rid of our headaches. 
Mission Accomplished.  A great time was had by all.  Perhaps some of the folks we encountered will remember us and our adventure around Epcot.  I can assure you that we will never forget (most of) it.

Check back with us on Saturday as we go "In Search of Tiger Woods."


Monday, December 28, 2009

Orlando Magic Now Know that I Am Because We Are

When I booked our family trip to Orlando this December, I promised myself that part of the itinerary would include the Christmas Boston Celtics game with the boys against the Orlando Magic.  I love watching sports live to soak in the atmosphere and the sounds.  It was Santa's present to me - a reward for a grueling week of theme parks in and around Disney World.  Okay, I had just as much fun as the children on the rides, including It's a Small World, but it was still grueling.  I also wanted to bring the boys to their first NBA game for some male bonding.  Anyway, despite being awake since 4am because Santa foolishly bought all three of my children electronics for Christmas, we headed to downtown Orlando for what promised to be an exciting Christmas afternoon.  Maybe, just maybe, we could experience our own Ubuntu, just like the Celtics, and start chanting it at little league games.

Orlando, FL.  1pm.  Alright, I have just listed to "Just Dance" and "Fire Burning" ten times each.  Not the standard radio versions.  No.  My 5 year old's version of these songs, singing along at the top of his lungs with his Ipod.  I have to admit that he knew 75% of the lyrics, and the words he made up for the other 25% were amusing the first couple of times around.  But, the garage attendant knew I wasn't kidding when I told him that I would like to go around the cones instead of going around the block for another 15 minutes and gave me the "look around and hesitant nod" to go ahead.  By this point you might be asking why Santa got a five year old an Ipod.  Frankly, Santa is shaking his head in regret as I'm writing this.  In Santa's defense, his 7 year old brother also got one, and Santa figured that they wouldn't fight if they both got one.  Santa's stupid.

Thank God that I decided to take the electronics away as we parked because we were so early for the game that we had to wait for the doors to open.  I guess I've grown accustomed to the hassle of getting to professional sports games in Boston.   The wait was worth it though as we get to our seats and score three Dwight Howard Superman T-Shirts (great to wipe your popcorn mouth on), three sets of candy cane thunderstix and three programs.  Not to mention the 3 dollar hot dogs and 5 dollar beers.  This is great.  I love cheap food and drinks and swag.

As warm-ups began, I was debating trying to get closer to the Celtics bench since we had good seats, but on the other side of the arena from the benches.  As people began to file in and the boys were knee deep in popcorn and hot dogs, I felt that my decision was made for me.  Stay in the seats.  That turned out to be a mistake, though as two "fans" sat down in their seats right in front of us with their thunderstix already blown up and paddles that the guy next to me calls "Rally Racquets."  They were determined to enjoy their experience.  "Do you need those rally things because Orlando is always losing?" my seven year old asks.  Ha, that was a good one.  And people in Florida are too nice to be smart back so it was win-win.  Sadly, those words would be the last ones we all would utter without having to scream over the din of thunderstix and the Rally Racquets.  These racquets looked like the paddles that all the people in the climatic scene of Karate Kid II were beating when Daniel was about to put the beat down on Chozen. 

"Are they going to do that the entire game?" my seven year old asks.

"I hope not."  I look at my five year old for his reaction, but he's asleep at this point.

After a couple of more tidbits about the new Amway Arena being built down the street, and a couple of more laughs over Rasheed Wallace and the paddle people, the game starts.  Ugh.  Two minutes into the game we say goodbye to Kendrick Perkins until the second quarter as he draws his second foul of the game less than two minutes in.  This is just the beginning of some hurt feelings on both ends.  I'd be pissed too if I had to work on Christmas afternoon away from home, I suppose.  The game is also marked by poor passing and shooting, as well as rough physicality.  The Magic end the quarter leading by a point.  On the bright side, my 5 year old did wake up.  Good morning!

The Second Quarter looks eerily similar to the First Quarter, except that the Magic are not making any of their shots now.  The Celtics begin to pull away with four consecutive lay-ups by Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo (a personal favorite) and the aforementioned Kendrick Perkins.  The Celtics roll into halftime with an 11 point lead.  38-27.

"Will that person stop beating that drum, Dad?  Can you ask her to stop?"  My seven year old now has his hands over his ears.  I tried to explain the Golden Rule of sports etiquette.  I figured he was in CCD now so he might understand.  It goes like this.  Unless someone is using foul language or being destructive, let him or her do and say what they want, so they will treat you likewise when you do and say what you want.  If they ask you to stop, then you can legitimately give them a sideways look and say "Make me."  Just kidding about that last part. 

While I was explaining the "Golden Rule" to him, the lights dimmed for the entertainment we are about to experience at halftime.  Unfortunately, the halftime show was disappoining to say the least.  The game before, the show included Christmas themed slam dunk guys.  These guys led the local 11pm news!  And we were supposed to be entertained by six people trying to figure out a credit card puzzle faster than six people were to make 10 free throws?  I think my 5 year old would have fallen back asleep if the Magic's mascot hadn't swished a behind his back, three quarters court shot.  Now that's a highlight!    

Back to the game.  The phyicality that was bubbling in the first half started getting out of hand.  A hard foul on Rondo was followed by a right forearm to a beleaguered Kevin Garnett.  Even my kids were screaming that he was fouled.  The best part of this ugly game?  "Superman," midway through the third quarter has two points and four fouls (and a technical foul).  This must have been the Superman who gave up his powers to be with Lois Lane in Superman II.  Orlando cuts into the lead at the end of the third quarter, though, 61-53.

The paddles are now starting to drive me crazy too, so I furiously try to blow up the thunderstix we were given so I can slam them together everytime something good happens with the Celtics.  Points, rebounds, fouls, steals.  It doesn't matter to me.  My seven year old however is now fading into sleep; he must be since he's not the least bit embarrassed by Dad at this point.  They couldn't fall asleep on the car ride to the game?  So with 10 minutes left in the game, reluctantly, the male part of the clan begin the slow travel home. 

As we thank our parking lot attendant, get back onto the highway, and prepare for the torrential monsoon about to hit us, my seven year old pulls off his headphones and thanks me for taking him to the game.  We then talk about what his favorite part of the game.  "Well there were a lot of cool things, but it definitely wasn't that person banging the drums!"  My five year old realizing that we are having a conversation then pulls off his headphones and smiles his toothy grin.  "Thank you Daddy for taking me to the game!"   We all then keep looking for the scores on my phone, since I couldn't figure out how to get a local station to listen to the game on the Sirius Radio in our rental car.  Satisfied that the Celtics pulled out the win, we set our sights on Christmas dinner with their grandmother, thinking about the just-concluded adventure.

Oh yeah.  The title of this story - "I Am Because We Are?"


Check back on Wednesday as we go "Three Sheets to Epcot Center."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Can the Five of Us Enjoy the Third Fours?

I've spent numerous nights at the Fours in Boston before Celtics games, always leaving happier than when I came in.  I consider the Fours in Quincy to be a pretty good duplicate, despite its strange location in the back of a municipal parking lot.  As a result, high expectations abounded for the newest location in Norwell, Massachusetts.  The Fours in Norwell opened up a couple of months ago in an even stranger location - the former home of a failed TGIFs on a main street dominated by nursing homes, professional offices and eclectic small shops.  Desperate for new places to take the kids on Saturday afternoons, though, we've been to this rendition numerous times.  Luckily for these guys, I don't care about the food (or price, ultimately) that much.

Norwell, MA.  2pm.  On a rainy Saturday afternoon, we took the kids for their usual grilled cheeses, french fries and ketchups.  After a particularly harrowing experience with a boating Santa and a cranky lawnmower, we were looking forward to a little relaxation, where the din of a busy restaurant drowns out the kids' screaming.

GROG.  I can only describe The Fours as an Americanized version of an Irish Pub mixed with strange sports memorabilia, so the beer selection had to be good.  With Guinness, Smithwick's (I I'm just assuming), Sam Adams Brick Red, Harpoon, blue Moon and all the light beers you can think of on draught, the Fours delivers here.  Oh yeah they also have wine and spirits.  Yawn.  I can't give them 10 Happies though unless they have Murphys or they are a microbrewery, but they get the best score without serving those.  9.0 Happies out of 10.0 Happies.

KIDS CRAYONS AND OTHER ENTERTAINMENT.  The kids got the usual assortment of crayons and paper, but the boys and I were instead transfixed by the college football games on TV - oh fine, it was just me transfixed leaving Mom to fend for herself.  There had to be at least six TVs in our vicinity, and we were in the dining room.  I don't think that my daughter had anything to watch though, since Barbie and Wow Wow Wubbzy does not go with the aforementioned sports decor.  We were also entertained by one of the busboys trying to scrape off some foreign substance off of the table next to us.  The grossed out "ewwwws" from seven year old were progressively getting louder as the busboy was chipping away at the glob of gunk, which made us all chuckle - except for the unfortunately busboy. 7.5 Happies out of 10.0 Happies.

SPEED.  Being an old pro of all of the locations, I knew that our food would be hot and served in about 2 minutes and 30 seconds.  I ordered my second beer when I got my first beer thinking that would be the case.  Doesn't make sense though does it?  Just work with me here.  As expected, the food came in lightning quick speed.  No time for restlessness.  9.0 Happies out of 10.0 Happies.

DESSERT TIME.  Hoodsies with whipped cream, hot fudge and cherry on top.  My seven year old wanted to get another lunch so he could eat the second dessert.  When I told him that I could easily make that at home, he wasn't impressed.  "You say that now Dad, but you won't make it when we get home."  He's right.  A couple of games of Sorry and then straight to bed!  7.0 Happies out of 10.0 Happies.

WHO'S PAYING?  Uh oh.  This is where the trouble began.  A grilled cheese with potato chips was 7 bucks?!?  That was ridiculous, especially since I was still wiping off the burnt grilled cheese bread crumbs off the coat that my five year old had thought made a darned good recepticle.  But not nearly as bad as the $6.50 beers.  I didn't send them back, but $13 for a couple of pints is a little steep, unless I was paying for beer that was charged in Pounds or Euros.  The appetizers and sandwiches for the adults were moderately priced, however, which moderated the score a bit.  3.5 Happies out of 10.0 Happies.

The Fours is obviously meant to be a sports bar/Irish Pub and not a place to entertain children.  That being said, we enjoyed ourselves despite having a much lighter wallet at the end of the day.  36 Happies out of 50.0 Happies.  Not perfect, but better than bad.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Who Can Beat Jmann Review? NFL Game Blog #4

In NFL Game Blog #3, I had indicated that division games are always difficult matchups even when one team is good and one team is mediocre or worse.  That theory was proven when the heavily favored Cowboys barely eked out a 7-6 victory over the Zornskins at home.  It might also be that Dallas is mediocre itself.  I also picked against that theory by taking the Patriots at home over the lowly Jets even though they were giving 10.5 points.  That game was such a blow out that I left the stadium at halftime.  And I'm sticking to that story.

This week will really test our handicapping ability as several games fall into the handicapping netherworld of pick 'ems and spreads between 4 and 6 points.  These are the toughest games; particularly the games with 5 or 5.5 point spreads.  I mean who wins by that many points?  To assist in our endeavor, I have also recruited my three year daughter (DLG) to help the three of us.  Believe me, I tried to ignore the "Daddy, can I help?" whines, to no avail.

9am.  We are all excited to begin, particularly when I told C and G that they don't have to help me rake the leaves if they help me pick the games.  Home teams are in capital letters.

FALCONS (+5.5)

C:  Eagles.  "I like the Eagles because they are faster than Falcons."
G:  Eagles. "Because there are two birds on the team!"  Perhaps he thinks that they are playing together?
DLG:  Falcons.  "Because..."  "Because why?"  I ask her.  "Because why." she answers with a Coach K smirk on her face.  Let's just go with the Falcons; I don't have a chance.
JMR:  I like the Falcons in this game.  Matt Ryan hasn't been Tom Brady this year, so the difference in QBs is negligible.  I think between Mcihael Turner and their other skill players, Chris Redman will be just fine.  If Turner doesn't play either though, forget this pick.


C:  Dolphins.  "Because Dolphins, when they come up for air and then go back down into the water, they hit people in the head with their tails."  I like the physiological approach, if not the reasoning for why they would win.
G:  Patriots.  "They are the best team in the whole entire world.  At least you know he didn't stay up late with his uncle to watch the Saints game.
DLG:  Patriots.  "Because..." "Because why?" I ask her. "Because why. Hahahahahah!!!" she answers. "Thank you sweetie for your help.  Can you find Mommy for me?"  I tell her, knowing that Mommy is hiding in the bedroom closet trying to stay away from us.
JMR:  Patriots.  I think the Saints game demonstrated that the Saints are just a well-coached, talented team, and not that the Patriots are falling apart.  Also, Chad Henne does not strike fear into anyone's heart like Drew Brees does.


C:  Lions.  "Lions can kill tigers and are more restless [N.B. I'm told restless means aggressive to him].
G:  Bengals.  "Tigers are faster than Lions." He looked at me quizzically when I asked him if he liked the Bengals.  Then I explained a Bengal is a type of Tiger, and the resulting excitement was off the charts.
JMR:  Lions.  I picked the Lions to win this game in my preseason review of the Lions team.  I'm not backing off now.  In fact, I like the Lions winning outright.

BROWNS (+13.5)

C:  Browns.  "I like eating brownies.  Do we have any brownies, Dad?"  No you can't have a brownie at 9am in the morning.  Unless you get Dad a diet coke too while you're in there.
G:  Chargers.  "Because Drake and Josh live in San Diego."  He's used that one before, but he's also winning at a 75% clip, so I'll go with the kid on this one. 
JMR:  Chargers.  They are peaking at the right time (for the Patriots and the Colts, that is, well before the playoffs begin).  I see this game finishing with a Chargers 31-6 win.

I also like the BEARS (-9) (has there been a worse 9 point favorite in the history of the NFL?  Oh yeah, the Seahawks last week), Raiders (+14.5), Titans (+7), CHIEFS (+5), Saints (-9.5), PANTHERS (-5.5), Jaguars (Pick 'em), GIANTS (+2.5), 49ers (Pick 'em), Vikings (-3) and PACKERS (-3).  A three team tease with the Saints, Patriots and Giants is a sure winner. 

Last Week 8-6
Season 26-18