They Play Poker Here

hawaiian-gardens-poker-tableCard rooms are legal in parts of SoCal. They are mostly poker rooms. Other table games are played, but with lesser odds than ‘real’ casinos. Poker dominates.

The nearest rooms are in the south end of Los Angeles County, less than a half hour from here. I’ve been to Commerce Casino in… wait for it… The City of Commerce. The largest card room in the world. It’s like a bus terminal!

If you’ve been to beautiful casinos, like in Vegas or Connecticut, you’re in for a letdown. Commerce doesn’t seem to be the exception. I’m told none of the card rooms are showplaces.

This afternoon Helaine and I drove to Hawaiian Gardens Casino in… wait for it… Hawaiian Gardens, CA. There’s a little more room between tables than Commerce, but it too borders on bus terminal.

The casino occupies what looks to be two huge tents! Surfboards hang from the ceiling marking the different poker games dealt. It’s like a United Nations get-together.

wider-shot-poker-roomWe go to Hawaiian Gardens because of the food. Oh my God!

You order from a roving waitstaff with red shirts. Just like the deck of an aircraft carrier, everyone working at the Gardens wears a shirt colorcoded to describe their specific job.

The menu is wondrous. It’s a spiral bound, plastic encased affair with at least ten pages. Along with breakfasts and dinners are pages for Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean food.

The food comes hot. The portions are large. The taste is incredible.

Helaine had a shrimp and asparagus dinner. I had their Thursday night lamb chop special. We both had large Diet Cokes.

I gave the waiter a twenty for both of us, which included a nearly 25% tip. I’m not sure we can eat home for that price?

As for poker, one of us won twice what the other one lost. A fun adventure for us while Doppler kept guard at home.

Is Everyone At The Mall?

IMAG0362-w1400-h1400Stef and H spent most of Wednesday on a mission. Items to return. Items to replace. Get out of the way!

By early evening and still not home, Helaine called to ask if I’d like to join them for dinner. Next stop, Irvine Spectrum. It’s the outdoor mall with the Ferris wheel and carousel. It’s got its own Wikipedia entry.

IMAG0367-w1400-h1400I’ve been going to malls since malls were born. I’ve never seen parking as awful as this! Back and forth, up and down, a pack of cars, each jockeying for a good place to watch for exiting shoppers.

I found a space, but not without a minor conflict.

Dinner was at “The Melt,”

Headquartered in San Francisco, California, THE MELT is simply “Grilled Cheese Happiness.” Currently operating 15+ locations throughout California, this fast casual eatery combines chef inspired, all natural, wholesome food with innovative online ordering technology in an eco friendly environment.

IMAG0366-w1400-h1400The food was great, but the place itself was loud, overly bright and not very eating friendly.

The girls asked me to join them as they finished their quest. Not tonight. Not during mall season.

It was a long walk back to my car. The space I found was at the edge of the property. I wonder if it had resale value tonight?

The Bourdain Disagreement

anthony-bourdain-no-reservationsThere’s a minor disagreement in the Fox house. I think Anthony Bourdain’s show on CNN, “No Reservations,” “Parts Unknown,” is close to amazing. That is not a unanimous opinion.

Masterfully written. Nicely shot. He goes places I dream of, but know I’ll never see.

Tonight’s show is paused. He’s in Congo.

Helaine’s opinion of Bourdain is exactly opposite mine.

The show has Anthony traveling the world, marveling at local (often rudimentary) cuisine. It is the ultimate armchair travelogue. He flies in rickety third world airplanes, travels rivers in rickety boats, drives over rutted and potholed roads while eating food prepared with minimal consideration of hygiene.

There’s no doubt this is Anthony’s show. He will often address the camera directly. Lots of ‘me roll.’

Back to the writing. It’s the most important element in televised storytelling.

Guys like Bourdain and Alton Brown understand how to write prose which will be spoken. Bourdain’s script is crafted in his spoken voice. The narration is embedded deep within the fabric of the story–no less a player than the photography itself.

I’d like to think I write like that. Maybe not. I try.

The word is CNN will air more documentary type shows, like Bourdain’s, in 2014. From

“The goal for the next six months, is that we need more shows and less newscasts,” Zucker said in a recent interview about “massive changes” he’s got planned for the network, adding that he wants CNN to attract “viewers who are watching places like Discovery and History and Nat Geo and A&E.”

That’s good new and bad news. Among the bad, every hour of doc programming is an hour less of news. CNN is already news challenged too many hours of the day.

The good news is shows like Bourdain’s are worthwhile endeavors. We know so little of the world around us.

The Movie We Didn’t See Tonight

IMAG0327-w1400-h1400This story needs a setup. It is tradition with the Foxes and many other Jewish families, Christmas Day is spent at the movies followed by Chinese food. Go back in the blog to any December 25th entry and you’ll read about a movie and a meal!

This year, since we’re close to Stef, it’s likely she’ll join us. Neither Helaine, Stef nor I agree on which movie we should see.

OK. You’re caught up. The story continues…

Stef called this afternoon. Did I still want to see “Saving Mr. Banks,” with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson?

I knew I wanted to see this movie as soon as I watched the trailer. Hanks. Disney. Nostalgia. Hooked!

Stef wanted Helaine and me go. Goodness of her heart? Not tonight. Going removes one choice for Christmas.

“Mr. Banks” opens ‘wide’ next week, but Orange, CA (not far) is among the “selected cities” showing it now. Normally a 25 minute trip, Google suggested a back way which would take 28 minutes. The usual route, 45!

Christmas shopping I suppose. That and Kanye West playing at the Honda Center in Anaheim, under a mile from the theater.

We occupied Doppler with a treat and snuck out through the garage. By the time we were on our way, Google had changed its preferred route. We were still skipping the major roads. Still saving time.

The parking lot was jammed. I dropped Helaine at the box office and looked for an open space.

She was first in line when I caught up with her, but the news wasn’t good. “It’s not playing here,” she said.

Stef and then her father had searched correctly for the movie, but didn’t look closely enough at the result. When the movie wasn’t available tonight, Fandango just offered up the next showtime: December 20! The date was on the page, but I was expecting tonight’s movies, Fandango.

We ended up at Costco.

And The Calories Just Keep On Comin’

I am living proof. Too many Christmases. Too many pounds.

I like working here in “Connecticut’s Newsroom.” It’s a busy place. Since we’re a TV station, website and the Hartford Courant it’s by far the largest newsroom in the state! A newsroom like this is steeped in tradition.

I got this via email yesterday. It’s a newsroom tradition!

Just a reminder…..

Tomorrow (Wed.) is our annual newsroom holiday party.

Please bring a potluck dessert to share.

See attached flyer.

Happy holidays !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I forwarded a copy of that note to Helaine who sent me in with banana cake enveloped in cream cheese frosting. Somewhere nearby a cardiologist is crying!

In case you’re wondering my place of business is just like yours. Throw out some food and they’re all vultures!

It was just a little crazy with cakes and cookies and pies. It was too much even for an overeater like me! There are delights I’d love to sample if only they’ll keep until tomorrow.

Fat chance!

Eat-a-thons like ours today are the grist of holiday news stories like this one from the New York Times.

[S]everal studies now show that the average weight gain during the winter holidays is just one pound.

The news isn’t all good. Most people don’t ever lose the pound of weight they put on during the holidays, according to a report in The New England Journal of Medicine. Since the average weight gain during adulthood is about one to two pounds a year, that means much of midlife weight gain can be explained by holiday eating.

I am living proof. Too many Christmases. Too many pounds.

Dinner At The Place

As you watch the show that is food prep you’ve got to wonder, what would happen if OSHA ever came to this place?

If you watch Food Network any length of time you know every region has its own eclectic dining experience. It’s the kind of place no one would set out to design. In fact it is the antithesis of design! Our one-of-a-kind place in Connecticut is “The Place” on the Post Road in Guilford.

The Place is open air. You sit on tree stumps! If there’s rain you should hope there’s no wind because the only cover is tenting–when necessary. The grill where all the cooking takes place is built from cinder block and brick.

“The Place” serves lobster, clams, steak and corn all grilled over open hardwood flames. Yeah, grilled lobster! It’s crazy good!

Helaine and Cousin Melissa went to The Place Tuesday. They liked it so much they asked if I’d go Wednesday? They knew what I’d say long before the question was asked!

As you watch the show that is food prep at “The Place” you’ve got to wonder, what would happen if OSHA ever came here? Can inspectors be held at bay with drawn butter?

Is There Food Here?

When I’ve asked my co-workers about the availability of diners they begin to weep softly and look down.

At first glance there’s less to eat in Hartford than there was in New Haven. Hopefully that improves at second glance though I’m not terribly hopeful. When I asked co-workers about the availability of diners they wept softly and looked down at their shoes.

Not that I don’t love you Subway, but I’ve already spent too much time at your nearby shop.

Tonight I went to the Wood-n-Tap on Sisson and picked up a salad. Pretty good. I mistakenly didn’t tell them to hold the bleu cheese. My error.

I found the last parking space nearby. Parking’s gonna be a problem. I’ve already been warned.

When you order out for dinner it’s easy to fall into bad habits. Delivered food is often what’s worst for you. There aren’t enough stairs in this place to work that off!

I am Hungry

Unfortunately, I am living proof that when eaten in quantity even things that are good for you are bad for you!

I am hungry. It is 1:17 AM and I am hungry. This is my normal snack time… and by snack I mean grazing through the overnight as if you couldn’t pack on pounds after midnight!

I am changing an insurance policy which means a blood test which in turn means fasting until morning. They don’t think of guys like me when they say “No food after midnight.”

The secret to all night snacking is variety. A nibble here. A bite there. I try to stay away from anything that was made in a factory. Food shouldn’t come from a factory&#134. Unfortunately, I am living proof that when eaten in quantity even things that are good for you are bad for you!

Did I mention I’m starving at the moment.

My wife has will power. If you ask her about it she’ll deny it. Those with nothing to deny often do. On the other hand I certifiably have no will power.

Let’s face it. Guys are sluts when it comes to food.

&#134 – The one exception to my anti-factory food stance is pretzels. Pretzels, especially sourdough hard pretzels, were sent to Earth by God himself. Pretzels alone could solve all of humanity’s problems if we just gave them the chance.

Tom Brokaw’s Gander, Newfoundland 9/11 Lookback

Back here in the family room I was crying like a little baby. OK, I’m a soft touch for crying, but this real story is a real tear jerker.

On March 11, 2010 NBC announced this documentary would re-air. More details here.

Helaine and I were watching Olympics coverage this afternoon when Tom Brokaw was brought on to introduce a feature piece about Gander, Newfoundland’s part on September 11, 2001. I already knew much of the story. Helaine hadn’t heard any of it.
From Gander Airport’s website:

On September 11, 2001, 39 heavy aircraft were diverted to Gander International Airport when airspace was closed in the United States because of tragic terrorist hijackings. Runway 13/31 was converted to a temporary aircraft parking ramp. The airport terminal was turned into an aid centre as food and clothing was distributed to stranded passengers. The airport and its surrounding community afterwards received high praise for their response to the tragedy.

gander airport 9-11-01.jpgAll of a sudden Gander’s 10,000 residents had 7,000 guests¹!

The piece started slowly. At two minutes in it was obvious they’d buried the lede, until I realized this was no two or three minute piece. Brokaw and team had produced and NBC was showing a full length documentary!

It’s a shame to say if NBC had told its audience they were about to see a full length documentary they would have bailed in droves. They probably did anyway in which case they missed a truly wondrous story.

There are few superlatives to describe how kind and generous these Newfoundlanders² were. They opened their schools, homes, and wallets.

Back here in the family room I was crying like a little baby. OK, I’m a soft touch for crying, but this real story is a real tear jerker.

In the crush of news this 9/11 story was mainly lost. Without this Brokaw package it was destined to become more obscure. I was surprised at how many abandoned links I found while trying to find some interesting quotes for this entry.

Mostly the Twitteratti seem to agree with my assesment:

  • cukawen : Watching the brokaw special on #gander on 9-11-01…all I can say is wow.
  • porcupineridge : Great NBC/Tom Brokaw story on Gander, Newfoundland during 9/11 ground stop. Why can’t I find it online?
  • villageous : Just saw Tom Brokaw’s report on Gander, Newfoundland. Compassion people everywhere showed that day truly is lasting legacy of 9/11.
  • trs614xc : this tom brokaw segment about Gander, Newfoundland’s response to grounded flights on 9/11 is one of the most touching things i’ve ever seen
  • RoccoDeMaro : Tom Brokaw is a legend. But his never-ending, meandering piece on Gander / 9-11 felt like a trip to my wife’s grandmother’s house.

Thanks Rocco. There’s one in every crowd!

I agree with “porcupineridge.” Why can’t I find it online?

¹ – To say Gander is rural is an understatement! I landed there for refueliing on a westbound Overseas National Airways DC-8 transatlantic flight in the mid-70s. We flew in over a deep pine forest without seeing a sign of civilization. I figured we’d see the town on the way out, but again, nothing but pine trees until we were back over the Atlantic.

² – Originally this entry contained a less elegant nickname describing Newfoundlanders. Brian J. Mallard of Memorial University in St. John’s told me, “The majority of us do not like the term.”
My apologies to anyone offended. It was a poor attempt at showing affection.

Oh What A Bad Feeling – Toyota

The public trust is not easily obtained nor should it be taken lightly. Toyota has been behind on this story at every step. It’s not going away.

toyota-logo.jpgOh Toyota. You are this close to becoming a business school teaching lesson. You are this close to becoming Bon Vivant Vichyssoise! Never heard of Bon Vivant? Read on.

Back in the early seventies there was a food company named Bon Vivant. They made high end canned soups under their own name and for others. I’ll let the NY Times pick up the story:

On an early July day in 1971 when it was too hot to cook, a couple in Westchester County, N.Y., sat down to a meal of Bon Vivant vichyssoise, a soup often served chilled (and in this case, straight from the can). The soup tasted funny, so they didn’t finish it; within hours he was dead and she was paralyzed from botulism poisoning. F.D.A. investigators found five other cans of vichyssoise from the same batch of 6,444 that were also tainted with botulism, and spot checks of other products raised questions about the company’s processing practices, so the agency shut down the plant and told the company to recall all its soups.

Bon Vivant tried to fight the recall, calling it an overreaction to a highly isolated problem, but it soon became obvious that few consumers would touch anything with Bon Vivant on the label. And because it was known that the company manufactured store brands as well as its own, people started to be suspicious of every kind of canned soup on the shelf. Bon Vivant filed for bankruptcy within a month.

Instead of getting ahead of the story Bon Vivant pushed back. They put their profits and priorities before their customer’s. We tend not to like that from those who feed us and from whom we expect scrupulous attention to safety.

Nearly seventy years of soup making and Bon Vivant was gone within a month! They became the poster child for what not to do in a crisis.

Fast forward to 1982. Someone injected cyanide into Tylenol capsules after they were already on the store shelf. What did Johnson and Johnson do? They took responsibility and bore the immediate cost though the sabotage happened out of their reach.

Although Johnson & Johnson knew they were not responsible for the tampering of the product, they assumed responsibility by ensuring public safety first and recalled all of their capsules from the market. In fact, in February of 1986, when a woman was reported dead from cyanide poisoning in Tylenol capsules, Johnson & Johnson permanently removed all of the capsules from the market.

You don’t think twice about taking Tylenol today, do you?

I am a Toyota guy. My first new car was a 1970 Toyota Corona. I or my family have had one for most of the time since then. Helaine and Stef both drive Toyotas today.

I have no animus toward Toyota. But seriously, it seems they are following the lead of Bon Vivant and not Johnson and Johnson.

The public trust is not easily obtained nor should it be taken lightly. Toyota has been behind on this story at every step. It’s not going away.

I just watched CNN’s Jessica Yellin play a phone conversation with Toyota about her own Prius. Damning.

I know GM and Ford are licking their chops hoping for Toyota’s downfall. I’m not sure that would be as good for all of us as it is for them. I am not rooting for Toyota’s failure. Their prior attention to quality has forced the US auto industry to step-it-up over the last few decades.

Right now more than Toyota’s cars are speeding down the road out-of-control.

Weighty Decisions

When Helaine and I started dating she starting baking. Is the way to a man’s heart through his stomach? Yes. Well at least it was the shortcut to mine. Helaine bakes butter cookies tasty enough to bring world peace!

FeetonScale.jpgWhen I first started hosting PM Magazine/Buffalo one of the TV critics (there were two back then) wrote it might be nice for Chef Tell to fatten me up! May I please have that metabolism back?

I know I weigh too much because for the last year I have avoided getting on the scale (or looking at my 401-K).

As a bachelor I was totally disorganized. There was usually no food in the house. I could gorge on Hydrox cookies, when I had them, because I’d also go days without eating or minimal eating.

When Helaine and I started dating she starting baking. Is the way to a man’s heart through his stomach? Yes. Well at least it was the shortcut to mine. Helaine bakes butter cookies tasty enough to bring world peace!

We got engaged, she moved in and I began to eat well and on a regular basis.

Helaine is the best thing that ever happened to me. Eating regularly on the other hand has taken its toll. I’m close to 40 pounds over my Buffalo weight!

You might not notice my girth on TV because I buy clothes often enough to (mainly) fit into what I wear. Trust me–it’s there.

I don’t want to look my age. I also don’t want to be unhealthy. I am dieting.

OK–I’ve dieted before. It only works for a while because dieting is a treatment, not a cure. I’m trying to diet smarter.

My attack is different this time because I am going directly after the low hanging fruit, what I eat after I get home from work. Think cattle free range grazing!

I still have a little fruit at night but nothing that’s been ‘manufactured’. I’m also avoiding that occasional bag of pretzels I’d snatch from the vending machine.

The easy first four pounds are off. Now comes the more difficult part.

I’m never going back to my Buffalo weight. If I can lose another 15 pounds I’ll be ecstatic, but even 10 more will make me happy.

It’s in the mid teens outside today. Hopefully in another few months the warmth will return and Helaine and I will be able to start walking Sleeping Giant. You can’t exercise your way to weight loss, but it will help.

Our Last Full Day In SoCal Begins

By the time the Eagles were set to disappoint me (terrible a game) I was ready to collapse! This is more physical labor than I’ve done in a long time.


Physical labor! This has been a trip of physical labor. Yesterday was box day, moving them from my friend’s house to Stef’s apartment after I’d been softened up with some heavyweight shopping.

The boxes were cumbersome and heavy. The walk from my friend’s house to the car wasn’t long… but everything was cumulative. Once I got to Stef’s place the boxes needed to be lifted from the car and put on a dolly (operated by my fellow teamster Helaine) to go upstairs.

I mentioned the Dodge Grand Caravan before and I will again. This is a white box of a car with little styling. It is magical for carrying freight! The seats fold into the floor to reveal a huge cargo area. I don’t want one, but I appreciate how fortunate we were to get one.

We knew it was necessary, but not the extent.

By the time the Eagles were set to disappoint me (terrible a game) I was ready to collapse! This is more physical labor than I’ve done in a long time. I couldn’t nap because there was more.

I joined my friend Howard and our secretive friend for some Italian food. I’ve eaten so much on this trip all I wanted was a salad. Wish granted!

After dinner we went up into the hills above Encino to “Magic Matt’s” house. Matt, who is the morning man on Sirius/XM’s “70s on 7” channel has a free form Internet radio show.

I’m still not sure what it was all about, but secretive friend and I were welcomed as the fresh meat for conversation we were.

I was back at the hotel after midnight.

This is our last full day here. I have one more piece of furniture to assemble. Stef has a few more boxes to unpack. I suspect there’s more shopping to come too.

My credit card is actually glowing.

Christmas At The Movies: It’s Complicated

Trust me, the Chinese restaurant might as well have hung a sign on the door saying “Se Habla Yiddish.”

its_complicated_poster.jpgThe Fox Family is living an ethnic stereotype, right? It’s Christmas so we went to the movies then ate Chinese food before I went off to work. Trust me, the Chinese restaurant might as well have hung a sign on the door saying “Se Habla Yiddish.”

I wanted to see the George Clooney movie. Stef and Helaine wanted Meryl Streep’s “It’s Complicated.” Two against one. Outvoted again.

They made a great choice.

This was not a complex story in spite of the movie’s name.

Meryl Streep is divorced from Alec Baldwin, but with three children, a college graduation and wedding-to-be it’s tough for him to be out of her life. Baldwin’s character realizes he wants to get back with Meryl just as she meets Steve Martin–the architect supervising an addition to her home.

Hit pause a second. We’ve got to talk.

I haven’t seen this much effortless affluence in a movie since Doris Day swooned over Rock Hudson. Streep lives on a multi-acre estate overlooking the Pacific in Santa Barbara. Her sole source of income seems to be an upscale bakery/coffee shop. Unless she’s baking up twenties there’s no way this could happen!

I know, it’s a movie. Buy the premise, buy the bit. Fine. We move on.

The story is sweet, clever and mainly well acted. It was edited with a meat cleaver.

Who gets the blame: cinematographer or editor? There were cutaway shots behind a person speaking… but his jaw isn’t moving (the shot’s from behind so you don’t see his lips). Maybe I’m too critical, but that injures a movie and reduces my enjoyment.

Good grief Meryl Streep is good. She is incredibly comfortable in her own skin. That serve her well. It just doesn’t seem like she’s acting! That’s how it’s supposed to be.

“She makes the people she works with better,” added Helaine as we did a postmortem on the way out of the theater.

Alec Baldwin, as the ex-husband, is a guy who seldom looks past his own needs. It’s not like he’s trying to hide that. To meet him is to know the only way he can be is needy.

I was a little disappointed by Steve Martin in a role in which he seemed self restrained. He is a favorite of mine, so this is not idle criticism. I’ve just seen him bring a lot more to a role.

There were no surprises, no out-of-the-blue plot twists, no unexpected drama. That’s part of the reason this movie works so well. It is clever without being gimmicky.

The three of us really enjoyed it.

The Chinese food? Well that goes without saying. The movie may change from year-to-year, but the restaurant is always Dynasty in North Haven. As always it was delicious.

Darlene Love Means It’s Christmas

I realized I was acting like those people who’ve seen Rocky Horror Picture Show a few dozens times and now talk back to the on-screen dialog.

darlene-love-christmas.jpgIt is said Jews have written the best Christmas songs. This is what we talk about while going to the movies and having Chinese food on Christmas Day. There’s White Christmas and The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) and Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). The latter has the distinction of also being the finest Christmas song from a convicted murderer–Phil Spector.

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) was performed tonight on the Letterman show by Darlene Love. She’s been doing it on his last show before Christmas as long as I remember and I look forward to it every year. I’m not alone.

For late night TV this is a big budget production. Along with Paul Shaffer and the band there was a nine voice chorus, six string players plus a few brass pieces and other instruments I surely missed.

Darlene’s still got it. She belts the song. She hits the notes while staying mainly on key. She wears a skirt short enough to shame women a third her age and gets away with it.

Darlene is always on last. That makes her appearance late enough that I’d never watched it with company until tonight. I had to drop off something at my friend Rick’s house and we watched from his basement.

What a scam! The man works from a studio in his basement. Sorry–jealousy getting the best of me.

Rick is an announcer. You have heard him a million times. He sounds like God.

I always wanted to be an announcer, but wasn’t born with the equipment. I told him tonight he is my Mickey Mantle.

Darlene finally came. I waited a year for this. I was excited. Rick, not so much.

As the song began I told him what was coming next. I realized I was acting like those people who’ve seen Rocky Horror Picture Show a few dozens times and now talk back to the on-screen dialog.

It made no difference. Darlene was magical. The song is hers alone.

I left Rick’s a few minutes after Darlene’s exit. I watched her again a few times on the DVR at home.

This is obsessive behavior right? It’s the way I know it’s really Christmas.

Photos Of The Puppies Of Palm Springs

At the bottom of the rundown is this single line: “We’re dog friendly!” They are.

Here’s what I like about California. It’s dog friendly! Dogs are a big part of California life. For instance, tonight we walked the main drag here in Palm Springs for the weekly Villagefest. Palm Canyon Drive is closed to traffic as vendors set up booths for “art, handcrafted items and unique food.”

Villagefest has, as you might expect, a website. At the bottom of the rundown is this single line: “We’re dog friendly!” They are.

Here are some of tonight’s friendly pups shot with my Sigma 10-20mm lens and Canon Rebel Xsi.