Atlanta Uber-alis.

posted in: Day In The Life, Work 0
Would that it were pink. Photo: Thomas R Machnitzki, courtesy Wikipedia.
Would that it were pink. Photo: Thomas R Machnitzki, courtesy Wikipedia.

I touched down in Atlanta this morning and had to find a way to get across town — way across. Here’s a travel riddle for you: There are 25 miles between an airport and a gig and getting a lift from a pal is not an option. What do you do? Do you rent a car? Take a taxi? A shuttle service? A limo service, hm? Nope, in 2016, you order an Uber.

Uber is a company that has created the perfect way to order a taxi. You tap a button on your smartphone that pings where you are, then you tap out where you want to go. You hit, “Request Uber” and a bubble pops up that tells you exactly how long it will be before your taxi picks you up (usually it’s two to four minutes.) You can watch on the map where your car is in real time. Your ride arrives to your exact spot on the globe, you verify each other by name — riders should check the license plate numbers, too — and you’re on your way. Oh, and there’s no cash; the Uber app keeps your credit/debit card number and the ride is charged after you get out of the car. I love this service.

You can order a regular taxi, a fancy black SUV — maybe even a limo — or you can order an UberX. UberX cars are driven by anyone with a car and the ability to meet Uber’s strict requirements for signing on as a driver. When you order an UberX, you don’t get an actual taxi: you’re getting picked up in Dan’s Ford Taurus, say, or Shonna’s Toyota Camry. UberX is cheaper than a taxi and way cheaper than a limo. Here’s the solution to the riddle: a “real” taxi to the convention center today would’ve cost me $100; shuttle service, $80. An UberX ride? Thirty-six bucks. I placed my order.

As my driver drove up, I waved. He stopped the car and got out and I was about to say, “Hey, I’m your Uber” when Glenn — his name was Glenn — who was already helping me with his suitcase, said under his breath, “We work together. Don’t get in the backseat, get in the front.”

This was unusual. As in Sketch Town, USA unusual. And hey, man. I’m from Chicago. You can’t hustle me. “Woah, woah,” I said, putting my hand on Glenn’s arm so he couldn’t get my suitcase further into his trunk. “What is this? I’m looking for my Uber.” Glenn said, just moving one corner of his mouth, that UberX cars weren’t allowed to pick up at the airport and the cops were looking at him.

Great. Thirty minutes in Georgia and I’m breaking laws. But I rolled the dice; I got in. Most of the time in life, you’re not going to get kidnapped and tossed in the Chattahooche. Besides, I needed to get to work.

On the way over, Glenn asked me if it would be okay if he stopped to pee (he said “pee”) and get fuel. Sure, Glenn. Besides being repelled by his hacking cough there in the front seat, I actually enjoyed the ride. We got to talking; Glenn was a world-traveler. He’d been to Kuwait, Somalia, Afghanistan, many others. I just asked him about his big trips while I was on this small one.


Dairy Kween: Heather & The Cotton Candy Blizzard

posted in: Food 2
Blizzard in a cup, not to be confused for "gizzard in a cup," only in participating stores.
Blizzard in a cup, not to be confused for “gizzard in a cup,” only in participating stores.

On the way to give my lecture to the stately and gifted women of the Northern Lake Co. Quilt Guild on Wednesday night, my dear friend Heather and I stopped for a dinner of sorts at the Something Oasis on I-94. There were strangely no French bistros at the Oasis or one-star Michelin restaurants, so I ate a McDonald’s hamburger for the first time in lots of years — pretty good! — and Heather got a slice of Sbarro’s pizza. We were walking out when Heather gasped. I jumped a foot. I thought she had seen a spider on me.

“Cotton Candy Blizzard?!” she said, looking at a banner next to the DQ on our right. Indeed, Dairy Queen was advertising a Cotton Candy Blizzard. Heather was a sitting duck. “I’m getting that,” she said, and promptly ordered a mini. The guy handed her a cup of ballet slipper-colored ice cream with multi-colored sprinkles. I had a bite and couldn’t believe how much it tasted like actual cotton candy. A remarkable achievement, Dairy Queen. I could see how it would be easy to eat a large quantity of this food.

When I got home I researched the Cotton Candy Blizzard so I could write about it from an expert’s point of view. It turns out the DQ Cotton Candy Blizzard is a Thing. A Major Thing. The flavor debuted years ago but was only an experiment, a limited-time offering. The public went nuts for it and, in a brilliant marketing move (I imagine) DQ snatched the thing away and made people visit their restaurants again and again in hopes of seeing the flavor on the menu again. Well, this year they did a “Fanniversary” celebration and asked their customers what favorite flavor they’d like to bring back. Cotton Candy won by a landslide.

The flavor is available for a limited time, so get out there and get’cher self one. Note that the medium-sized Cotton Candy Blizzard contains 890 calories. Enjoy!



My Soup, My Salad, My Nemesis: Vapiano

I'm sure these people had a better time.
I’m sure these people had a better time. Especially the dude in the hat. He always has a good time.

At brunch on Sunday, my (affianced!) sister Rebecca told tales of her recent trip to Tokyo. A transcription of that exciting conversation is forthcoming, but last night I was reminded of the specific tale she shared of the elegant efficiency of Tokyo noodle shops. I was reminded because I was sad.

Here’s how a Tokyo noodle shop works: you step up to an automated kiosk and put in your money. You press a button for the kind of ramen you want (select by picture) and bloop! out comes a ticket. You take the ticket to the noodle man and zing! he makes your ramen. Double happiness, arigato! No cashier, no waiter, no wait. The only possible mess in this process might be soup on your blouse.

Friends, let us leave the Tokyo ramen shop and pay a visit to its berserker anti-matter evil twin: Vapiano in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

[Pardon me, darling: before I begin, I’ll need my blood pressure medication, yes, thank you, and my smelling salts. Is there Xanax? There is? Yes, dear. I’ll have two, please, one for now and one for five minutes from now. I’ll take them with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Thank you, darling, and a napkin. That’s good. Yes, that’s very nice. Now, gather ‘round, children.]

Vapiano is a German-owned restaurant chain. The first Vapiano opened in 2002 and today there are 120 locations worldwide. Chicago got a roomy one in the old Carson Pirie Scott building about a year ago. During the construction phase, I passed it and felt happy because a quick, freshly prepared salad option downtown is always welcome news. Indeed, Vapiano proclaims “fresh” Italian-style pizza, pasta, soup, salad, and dessert. And each Vapiano restaurant has a full bar and a large dish of gratis gummy bears at the host stand when you walk in. Why, I don’t know, but when we went there, Yuri ate two handfuls of them immediately. This ended up being a smart move because at Vapiano, it’s gon’ be awhile.

The first thing that happens is that you’re greeted by a hostess so scared to tell you what’s about to happen, she races through the spiel fast enough you may wonder if she’s speaking English. Something about cards? Something about stations? Tapping? Paying…sometime in the future? She thrusts menu cards into your hands and you are then absorbed by the Vapiano food pen. We learn from the Vapiano website that the name is a word inspired by an Italian proverb that goes, “Chi va piano va sano e va lontano,” which translates to: “People with a relaxed attitude live a long and healthy life.” Clearly, Vapiano stakeholders are being ironic. There is nothing relaxed or healthy about their “high-concept” restaurant. “Long” works. Keep “long.”

So you get a credit card thing. There are stations in the food pen for the different offerings, pizza, pasta, etc. You stand at the counters and order what you want from the long-suffering line cooks whose smiles are so obviously required for employment there, you want to lean forward conspiratorially and tell them they can give it a rest. But you don’t. Because you’re hungry. You tell them what you want and then they say something you can’t hear and they make a swiping motion and gesture to your card. You look around for a credit card machine, but there isn’t one. There’s a screen, though, embedded in the counter, so you smoosh your card down there and it goes beep! and the line cook looks with a pitying look of congratulations and begins to make your carbonara.

Which takes a long time. So long. And you’re not seated at a table waiting, remember. You’re just standing around. And what do you do with the card? Well, the Vapiano people tell you that this is the beauty of the whole thing, that you can take the card all around and just keep ordering all kinds of stuff for hours and hours and your card keeps everything straight for you. (A waiter is surprisingly efficient for this, too, but don’t mind me; my Xanax just kicked in.) But… But where do you put it? Your wallet seems a little…final. Your pocket seems risky, though, because you’re blithely eating all this German-Italian (?) relaxation and health and what happens if you lose that card or forget what it is and give it to your kid’s teacher for Christmas? And it still wasn’t totally clear whether or not we should pay and then eat or hang onto the card even longer and let its confusing presence further flavor our caprese salad.

I spent most of the “experience” running all over the damned place, picking up the food we had ordered 20 minutes earlier. Got the soup! Okay! What else? Oh! Salad! Be right back! Ooh! Our pager went off! (Oh, there are pagers involved, too.) Pizza! Okay, do we have everything? Okay, I totally wanted a piece of pizza, but that’s okay! No, I wasn’t here. It’s fine. How was it? Awesome. Ooh! Dessert! Be right back.

Surely there are people who love this. Surely there are people who understand it better. I am entirely aware that I’ve probably done Vapiano incorrectly, that there’s something wrong with me. If anyone, German, Italian, American, or otherwise can help me, help me, because I really really like the tomato soup.

Seriously, it’s great.