Life could be worse


As we were leaving Orlando this morning, a squall line passed over the airport. There was thunder and lightning. People do not work outside when there is thunder and lightning and large metal objects.
That
As we were leaving Orlando this morning, a squall line passed over the airport. There was thunder and lightning. People do not work outside when there is thunder and lightning and large metal objects.

That meant our plane was delayed for an hour. Which means we were an hour late getting into Dallas. Ah Dallas, the city where I spend so much time and yet no time at all. American airlines already had us re-booked on the next flight. Still, we have an hour and a half to do nothing. The Admirals Club was beckoning.

The young man above was making guacamole. Custom guacamole. We might have to wait for our next flight, but at least we were waiting in style. Avocados, garlic, cilantro, onions, roasted corn and fresh lime all stirred up on the spot. Plenty of chips. If you have to miss your flight, this is the way to do it. 

Pretty soon we’ll be on our way. Full of fresh guacamole and looking forward to being home. Life is good. 

Orlando–odds and ends

It’s over.  We’re done and gone, checked out and moved into Susan’s house in downtown Orlando.

The tournament was fine, if you like playing lousy bridge.  That’s nobody’s fault but my own, but I don’t have to like it.

I noticed some flashy fingernail work on opponents, and got a few pictures:

The social side of the game becomes more important to me each year, finding friends from home at the table is alway pleasant.

Hotel prices are always inflated, just like the movie theater.  Sometime, though, they are just absurd:

 

In general, this was a nicely run tournament at a decent location.  The hotel gave us good service, and had a variety of food choices from the very cheap Picabu “buffeteria” to the very expensive Bluezoo.

The playing spaces were well lit, the air conditioning was well moderated without hot or cold zones, most of the cards were new and not sticky, the games started on time and with one exception ACBLLive got me results just a few minutes after the last hand was played.  I thought this was a very well run tournament from the league side.

The hotel, though, had a few glitches.We didn’t even have a car, so it doesn’t matter to me, but the parking situation was a disaster, and that has to be all the fault of the hotel.  It was taking people up to 45 minutes to get out of the parking lot after the game.  The facility has a convention of some kind every week, why haven’t they come up with a better system to get people home?  I’m sure some of the locals didn’t come back after facing the fiasco at the gate.

The league fell down, however, by pricing the national events insanely.  A regional game is $16/session, the national events were $25.  That’s $100/day for a couple to play the senior mixed pairs.  Too damned much.  Then they went overboard and decided that teams must pay by the player, not the team.  So a 6 man team is paying $150 PER SESSION to play.  I guess the theory is that billionaire sponsors won’t care, but I’m not Nick Nickell or Bill Gates and that’s an idiotic amount to charge.  The league is just trying to soak the players to pay for the ACBLScore disaster that has cost us millions, and run smack into the law of supply and demand–there is damn little demand at these prices.

The last night, we skipped play and had dinner at Shula’s with Susan.  We got creative with the menu, ordering a 20 oz Prime Rim and an 8 oz lobster to share among the 3 of us.  Three of their great side dishes completed our meal.

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Perfectly medium rare roast been, almost 2 inches thick.

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My plate with prime rib, lobster (at the top), roasted corn and creamed spinach.  We also split a huge baked potato.

Something that peeves me about good restaurants is the frequency that I finish a meal and find out that they have some wonderful dessert that takes 20 or 30 minutes to prepare.  Why didn’t they tell me this earlier?  I never want to wait that long.

Fortunately, I was aware that Shula’s has an excellent soufflé, so I ordered it with at the same time as everything else.  It was the perfect ending to an excellent meal.

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Souffle, ice cream, whipped cream and creme anglaise.

Sharing the dishes the way we did we had more than enough food and it was reasonably priced, considering the quality of both the food and the service.  A perfect way to cap off the tournament.

It doesn’t look like I’ll be at another NABC until Toronto, since none of my friends are interested in Kansas City in the dead of winter.  See you in Canada in July.

Orlando–The Future of the Game

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We all agree that the game of bridge need new, fresh, young blood.  How to make that happen is the subject of much debate

In Orlando, Susan Rowley and her unit have found a way.  They have two schools where bridge is an extracurricular activity, taught by the teachers and volunteers.  All of the students are ACBL members.  They play free at regionals and sectionals.  The unit supports them in every way possible–providing boards, bid boxes, table cards, books, a $400 annual stipend to the teacher, volunteers to help, t-shirts, regional entries and plenty of pizza.

Saturday, there were 12 table of young people playing.  They are from Bear Lake Elementary School and Teague Middle school, and have been playing as much as 2  years.

The students were quiet, serious, polite and ready to play good bridge.  The adult teachers and volunteers were there to help with bidding and play problems–there are no director calls, just issues to sort out and handle.

 

Everyone was deep in thought, then a special visitor entered the room:

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Yep, the Mouse himself came in, to polite pandemonium.

 

The kids played two (short) sessions, with a pizza party in between.  There were goodie bags and prizes.  Susan had arranged parking for all the parents, many of whom stayed the entire day.

The Orlando Unit youth bridge program is a huge success, with one school having a waiting list because they don’t have space for everyone who wants to join.  The key seems to be to get a teacher from the school interested in leading it, rather than volunteers from the unit.  The students, and the school staff, are then familiar with the leader and things go more smoothly and successfully.  Then the unit has to support the program fully, inviting the students to sectionals and regionals and making the experience pleasant for them.

The Blue Ribbon Pairs and the Reisinger may seem like the big events at a NABC, but I’d argue that this little 12 table game of non-life masters was the most important thing that happened Saturday.  Good work, Susan and Unit 240.

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Susan and her friends

Orlando, and the GOAT

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Benito is the guy with the great hair.

That would be Greatest of All Time.  The Muhammad Ali of the double squeeze, Benito Garozzo.

Our friend Mike Rippey has fallen into a serious friendship and bridge partnership with Benito, and they are playing here.  Last night after my game finished (slightly above average, played with Jerry Fox, just off a cruise ship from Europe) I went to kibitz the last 2 or 3 boards of the North American Swiss and meet the master.

Benito is 89 years old, sharp as a tack, and has a full head of hair I would kill for.  He started winning world championhips when I was still in grade school.  Arthritis has slowed his fingers, but not his mind.  Every day Mike and Benito get together to go over system, constantly refining their methods.

Yesterday was the first day of the event, and the Rippey team qualified 32nd out of 48 for the semis.

This is exciting.  I’d probably rather watch Benito than play myself, and that’s what I’ll be doing for certain if they make the finals tomorrow.  Once again, the openness and democratic nature of bridge makes me happy–none of my friends will be golfing with Tiger Woods or sparring with Floyd Mayweather.

 

Orlando, part deux

Mike and I played the Fast Pairs today.  Don’t ask.

We walked over to Boardwalk Disney, a very fancy place to hang out, eat, shop, dance, play in the arcade, watch the performers and just have a good time.  I think there are time shares available right on the boardwalk if you want to make it an annual event.

We were headed to the Trattoria for dinner.  Mike told me there were no reservations, which I though meant they don’t take reservations and he actually meant he had called, found nothing available until 8:30 and figured his boyish grin would get us a table anyway.  His grin may be less boyish than he thinks it is.

Going in to the next establishment, we scored a walk-in table at the Flying Fish.  This is a class joint, right down to the silverware:

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Pretty cool to have tableware match the theme of the restaurant

There is a river of glass fish flowing overhead, one of the nicest decorating ideas I’ve seen:

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My photos of dinner were rotten, so you can’t see them.  You’ll have to believe me that dinner was very good.

I started with the blue crab bisque, a rich dish with chunks of blue crab, a beautiful presentation (damn I wish I had taken better photos) and dressed tableside with a splash of sherry.  My main course was the Bison Strip, three square chunks of very tender, tasty farm-raised bison.  There was some gloppy red “sauce” I pushed aside to better enjoy the full flavor of the meat.  The meat was accompanied by “ancient grains”, some barley/farrow/groats concoction with string beans and some fancy mushrooms I tossed to the side of the plate.  The whole thing was both different and excellent.

Dessert was beckoning, but nothing on the menu excited me.  What did excite me, and may still happen, is the cheese plate paired with a flight of ice wines from their extensive wine list of these rare and delightful after dinner drinks.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a flight (3 1-oz pours, $16) offered like that anywhere.

This place is good, but expensive.  When the chicken dinner is $37, you are definitely in the tall cotton.  Be prepared.

After the meal, Mike wanted to hustle back to the hotel, and I wanted to saunter, so off he went.  Linda was on her way in from San Francisco, and her flight had been delayed 5 1/2 hours.  She wasn’t scheduled to arrive until 2:10 a.m., then would have the long ride to the hotel.  Mike did the best he could to help her by ordering a limo to pick her up when she landed, then planned to go downstairs in his jammies at 3:00 am to greet her.  If I was a better blogger I’d have been there to take photos, but that didn’t happen.

Disney does thing right.  On the boardwalk are kiosks with souvenirs, caricaturists drawing kids on Disney characters bodies, more restaurants, a general store with more stuff to buy, and entertainers.  I stopped to watch “Coney Island Chris” do a delighful comedy/juggling act.

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Chris is a comedy nerd

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Jugglng 5 balls at once

This is Disney–when the show is over there is no passing of the hat.

As good as the show was, I also enjoyed the audience–kids, kids and more kids.

 

Disney is famous for lighting trees, buildings, bridges and everything else beautifully, so I walked slowly, stopping to brace my camera on anything available to take long exposures.  A smart guy would have a tripod.

 

Arriving back at the Dolphin I stopped at the Fountain for dessert:

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Cookie dough ice cream

Gail arrived at 9, we had drinks with Karl and Susan then went to bed.  Today we play the Senior Mixed Pairs.  Life is good.

Orlando, part uno

So I got here, finally.  Turns out I had been too nervous in changing flights–my bags got here on the earlier flight I had bailed out on.  90 minutes in the Admirals Club in DFW was cheap insurance, I guess.

There is a whole shuttle service from the airport in Orlando to Disney properties, but I couldn’t use it because Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort is NOT a Disney property, at least in the sense of taking the Disney Magic Shuttle.  I don’t get it, but thems the facts.  So I bought a $23 shuttle ticket from somebody else, and by 11:30 I was in the hotel, ready to check in.

As with everything, that was a process.  It’s a damn shame when the world is so rule bound you can’t even bribe a hotel clerk.  I put my ID, credit card and a $20 on the counter and asked the young woman, Calyn, to find me a very nice room.  That usually works, but not here.  She couldn’t even find me the room I had requested, with a king size bed.  All she had was a room with 2 “queens”, which is hotel-speak for doubles.  She offered me a room with a king bed and an “alcove”, for another $60/night, but that didn’t seem like a plan.

Putting the $20 back in my wallet, I began the trudge to the room she assigned me.  After the first 1/2 mile I thought I was close, but then had to turn down a new hallway and plod 200 yards more.

That just wouldn’t do.  I hated it and Gail would hate it even more.  So I turned around and trudged back to the lobby to get another room.

By this time I was more flexible, and told Calyn that if she could get the “alcove” room down to $30/night I’d take it.  And get the $20 “tip”.  No dice.  The girl can’t be bought.

So here we are in a decent, not great, room with 2 double beds  At least there is plenty of hot water, the bathroom is recently refurbished, the mirror is nice and they promise (but have yet to deliver) to have a robe here for Gail.

I hadn’t had much dinner with all the flight changing, so I found the 24 hr “buffeteria” and had some entirely adequate fish tacos.

After a good sleep, it was time to play bridge.  Mike and I began the Blue Ribbon Pairs today, and not well.  After our first round, he thought we were about 55%, I thought about 52%.  The computer said 44.5%.  Bleaghhhh.

We went for dinner to Todd English’s Bluezoo.  Yep, that whole thing is the name of the joint.  It’s a pretty good place to have dinner, except I have never been in a colder room in my life.

We started with the flatbread, which a pretty mediocre offering of somebody’s vision of a margherita pizza.

Things picked up with my grouper, served over rockfish risotto.  The both fish and risotto were excellent, and almost enough to eat.

Mike had the corvina (some kind of white fish) which comes with a crabmeat sauce.  Again, an excellent dish but just not enough to eat.

I would have had a warm dessert like a lava cake or breadpudding, but there was none such to be had.  The room was far too cold to entertain the idea of ice cream.

The bill was more than I wanted to spend for not enough to eat, but we paid it and went back for our second session of cards.

Round 2 was much better, but not enough to overcome the hole we dug in the first outing.  We were 23rd out of 70 this evening, but didn’t get the coveted Q.  Tomorrow we’ll play fast pairs and wait for Gail and Linda to arrive.

Dallas, of course 

In what has become a tradition it seems, I’m in Dallas. On my way to Orlando this time for the fall nationals.

The plane out of San Francisco this morning was delayed an hour and therefore I had to switch to a later flight to Orlando. I might have made the first connection , but even if I did mybags would not have. So I sat in the lounge for an hour and I’ll catch the next flight.  

The airport is jammed. The road to the airport this morning was jammed. Tremendous traffic today everyone going home after the long holiday weekend. I’m probably lucky that I was able to get a seat on this second flight.

Mike and I start play in the Blue Ribbon pairs tomorrow. Gail arrives Wednesday night, and will play with me as well as Susan. If I have no game I’ll go to Disneyland. That’s not the worst thing that ever happened to anyone. 

They’re calling my flight So I have to hurry and hope I find overhead bin space.  

That’s all I have to say so far.  More tomorrow from the Disneyland Swan and Dolphin.

That was easy

We’re heading to Santa Barbara for the holiday and everyone is warning us about heavy traffic and crowded airports.  Hah!!

We left the house at 4:30 and by  5:45 we were at the airport, bag check, through security, and at the food court.

The airport is pretty empty. I suspect you could fire a cannon down the concourse and not hit anyone.  We have lots of time to kill because we planned for crowds that never materialized.
We will
We have lots of time to kill because we planned for crowds that never materialized.

We will just sit here and enjoy ourselves. The party has started already as far as I’m concerned.

Give me that old time coffee shop

We eat at plenty of the new hip, slick and cool restaurants.  I’ve had all sorts of modern creations, odd combinations and molecular gastronomy.  Sometimes, though, you just want to eat at an old time coffee shop, with a blue plate special, strong coffee and overly friendly waitstaff.

Thursday, I had some business to attend to in South Lake Tahoe. At lunch time, instead of just stopping in to Burger King or Taco Bell to “consume mass quantities” as Beldar Conehead would say, I decided to try Ernie’s Coffee shop.  That was my best idea of the day.

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My kind of place

Laminated menus that never change.  Cheap flatware on a paper napkin.  No sissy water glass, a printed mug ready to hold coffee that will eat the spoon if you aren’t fast.

I sat at the counter, just like I did with my Dad when I was a kid.  Maybe that’s why I love these places, memories of youth.

You won’t go hungry at a good coffee shop.  I ordered the grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

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Grilled Ham and Swiss on Sourdough, slaw and fries. Lunch for a hungry man.

There are a few marks of modernity–you get your choice of cheese on the sandwich.  In the old days it was cheddar, plain and simple.  I chose Swiss, and the sandwich was great.  The slaw was thick with mayo, as God intended. (Gail differs on this issue)  The fries were crisp, and needed salt, but that’s just more of the modern trend.

I’ve taken to ordering my iced tea with lime because it’s better that way.  It amazes me how often, even in hoity-toity fancy pants restaurants they can’t get this straight.  At Ernie’s, it wasn’t an issue:

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If they give you a huge glass they don’t have to refill it so much. And they have Splenda, too.

That was more than enough food, and a sane man would have quit.  But then it occurred to me: a good coffee shop always has a case full of home made pies.  I like pie.

So I asked, and made sure that the pie was homemade, not Costco. They indeed have an apple pie baked in house, so I had to order a slice.  Showing at least a tiny bit of restraint, I passed on the ice cream.

It took a couple of minutes, but that’s because they heated the slice up in the oven, not the microwave.  What I got was a big slice of piping hot pie, with crisp crunchy apples inside a perfect crust.

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Mom didn’t bake.  This is what pie should be.

Service was like stepping back 40 or 50 years to chipper waitresses who didn’t need to introduce themselves and repeat the specials.

The tab for all this came to $15.46, and I tipped lavishly–$3.54.  I ate too much, but that’s an occupational hazard of the itinerant food blogger having a great day.

Ernies Coffee Shop.  On Highway 50 about 4 miles before you get to the Y.  Don’t miss it.

Ernie's Coffee Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Great American Play

 

 

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Josh Schell, Beth Wilmurt and David Sinaiko in the Shotgun Theater production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Gail and I love the theater.  We’ve had the good fortune to have seen many of the greatest American plays, with fabulous actors.  Long Day’s Journey.  Our Town. Streetcar. Death of a Salesman. Glen Garry, Glen Ross. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.   The list goes on.  Sunday night, we went to the Shotgun theater in Berkeley and saw what I think is the greatest, the singular “Great American Play”, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

It is one thing to re-watch the 1966 movie as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton chew the scenery while tearing each other apart, but the intimacy of a stage production, for the entire 3 hours of the play, is vastly more satisfying.  This production uses a bare stage with no furniture, just a wall in back with liquor bottles to facilitate the massive drinking that drives the breakdown in social norms and behavior the play highlights.  This theater is small, the closeness is palpable.

We’ve seen this play before; the production in San Francisco starring Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner.  I think I like the Shotgun version better, partly because of the small venue and partly because of the direction, which just seemed to make the play clearer.  For the first time I felt the depth of the love between George and Martha, the love that binds even through the tearing, shattering, soul-killing fighting and game playing.  David Sinaiko, as George, has a depth and strength that bears through all the brow-beating and emasculation from his harridan, alcoholic shrew of a wife.  Beth Wilmurt (Martha), is stronger and less blowsy at the beginning of the play, gradually dissolving into a blob of tearful jelly as George wreaks his terrible vengeance on her, shattering the central illusion of their marriage.

The play will run just one more week at Shotgun, then return in repertory in December.  Tickets are cheap.  You don’t want to miss it.