Sunday, November 29, 2009

Casa Bonita: Part Deux

Yesterday, when I left off, we were en route from the serving area to the seating area: this was what we had come to see! Cliff divers, pirates, gorillas, Blackbart's cave, mariachis! We made a special request to the host for a cliffside seat, as I'm sure everyone does; despite being prepared with a $10 bribe, I felt a bit sheepish about bribing a host at what is, essentially, a children's restaurant. He stated that our seat would have "a waterfall view" which was, again, tangentially true. We walked around confused for awhile until a waitress took pity on us and found our seat (again, I'm not sure how she knew where out seat was, furthering my conviction that Casa Bonita employs some type of animatronics).

We met our server, who claimed his name was Juan. He assured us that we would have only the finest service and that, indeed, the chips and salsa and the sopapillas would be gratis. We had a flag on our table and he showed us how to employ the flag to our advantage; moving it from the down position to the up position would indicate that we were in need of something. But really, what I need is companionship. And more cliff divers. So I didn't raise the flag for awhile until I wanted a taco.

Speaking of the entertainment, it is scheduled every fifteen minutes. It mostly consists of cliff divers, mariachis, and some dog-and-pony (or shall I say pirate and gorilla) show which seemed less than authentic. However, I did get caught in the middle of a chase; after a bit of banter, the gorilla escaped from its pirate owner, sending them into wild goose-chase mode. I saw the gorilla run by me, and attempted to misdirect the pirate when he asked which way the gorilla went. "Behind you!" I said. But this did not fool the wily pirate, who seemed to be no stranger to chasing large primates through Casa Bonita.

Sopapillas. While I could write about these for awhile, given they they are fried, free, and all-you-can-eat (hint, hint: bring a gallon bag with you and take some home!) I got a priceless photo that really sums up the sopapilla experience at Casa Bonita:

Finally, the check came. While charging me for their horrendous food seemed cheap of them, I had faced the facts that the only way to dine and dash would be via Blackbart's Cave and an emergency exit. Besides, they had provided us with two pitchers of beer and two margaritas (for the ladies) which was worth something, right? Well, it wasn't worth $17 for a pitcher of Coors Light. Which brings me to one of my major tips which I may or may not summarize depending on fate at the end of this blog. I don't think I can come out and say that you should do something illegal, because that's like yelling fire in a crowded theatre or spreading lies deliberately in a written manner (libel). So I'll say it in another language: Ooyay ustmay ingbray askflay.

Blackbart's Cave! Known to me only from South Park, this was a pretty sweet place to get back at kids for cutting in line... I mean it's dark and if the kid is as tall as my knees, how was I supposed to see him? I was focusing on the pirates. And going as slow as possible to block all the kids behind me. This is the treasure of Blackbart, it's crazy it's been out there this whole time just sitting there and no one has tried to take it.

Casa Bonita: Parte Uno

Casa Bonita. The words evoke a feeling of hominess, like your family will always take care of you. I wouldn't say the reality of the place quite lives up to its name, because from the odd buffet-style dining, to the amusement parkesque atmosphere of the place, Casa Bonita did not quite match my expectations. (Note: If you have not seen the South Park episode you really should prior to reading the rest of this. I believe it is Season 7 episode 10 or so. We viewed it practically en route to the restaurant.)

First off, let me remind you that Casa Bonita is first and foremost A RESTAURANT; this is confirmed by the fact that they won't let you in without buying an overpriced plate of nacho cheese with various (but surprisingly few given the number of combinations algebraically possible) portions of chicken, beef, and starch that didn't pass for a tortilla. I'm pretty sure they've cut costs by eliminating vegetables and real cheese from the menu.

But all these facts were available to me prior to visiting and yet I went. As you all may know, I am not always insistent on five-star food; I have, to my knowledge, never been within a mile of a Michelin-rated eatery. In fact, I am once in awhile willing to eat this very Tex-mex fodder that I've been describing. I once ate a taco al pastor reheated and filled with broccoli beef. My legend lives on, as so far I've never met anyone who tried this same thing.

That said, CASA BONITA IS AN UNMITIGATED FAILURE. And, moreoever, that said, thus, there is alot of science that I will write about below but you have just read the summary of my feelings on this strange place.

Here's the play-by-play. We arrived about seven PM armed with a "Survivor's Guide to Casa Bonita" provided so thoughtfully by Craig. We entered the castle-like structure to an entryway so small it may have been a bodega; we were immediately herded through turnstiles in a line of many shelters, twists and turns. I didn't realize until later that these were intended to confuse prospective diners as to their wait time.

And what you don't see until the last minute is that there are young ladies posing as hostesses who are actually waiting to take your order on a secret computer. So when you get to the front of this line and actually think you're about to be seated, you are forced to come up with an order while all the other hungry, pissed-off parents are wondering what's taking so long, not knowing that THEY TOO will be similarly confused, continuing a decades-long cycle of confusion perpetuated by the Casa Bonita MGMT.

OK. So we're still trying to order. Everything, strangely, is lined up in two columns: BEEF and CHICKEN. And the only menu is on the far wall. And alcohol is hidden behind some little kid. The "hostesas," which we'll pretend means hostesses in Spanish, seem to have the art of dodging questions down pat. Here's a sample of our convo, evidently she is communicating on a higher plane than I am:

RJK: "So do I have to order beer here or can I order from the table?"
Hostesa: "I can take your order for beer here."
RJK: "How do I get more of the all-you-can-comer platter?"
Hostesa: "You can get more of anything on your platter."
RJK: "How much are pitchers of beer?"
Hostesa: "I'm not sure, you pay your server at the end." (This was a truly great answer, as I would have without a doubt choked her if she had told me the answer which will be revealed later.)

I felt as though I might be speaking with a Fem-bot. We all sympathized with any parents in line; thoroughly frustrated as a group of reasonably intelligent twenty-somethings, we could not collectively imagine doing this with a five-year-old. Weekly.

Thoroughly mystified, we turned a corner to find that there was another line in which to wait. The end of this one held our food, though, so there was some promise of seating and sustinence ahead. Oddly, every platter being presented at the communal serving area looked to be the same even, perfectly molten, orange hue of cheap nacho cheese (we're not even talking about good nacho cheese here). Luckily, they came carefully marked by party, and on request the lady would magically discriminate YOUR plate of nacho cheese from THE TUBBY KID'S plate of nacho cheese.

Speaking of the tubby kid, I had my eye peeled for any budding Eric Cartmans. And I found one almost immediately when he slapped his brother. Attempting to get a photo with or of this child became my biggest wish for awhile. I really wanted to see this kid eat, a privilege which I was denied by the dismissive host. And yes, I know you're wondering, this kid was super-tubby.

Tomorrow, check back for the dining experience, the secrets of Blackbart's Cave, and a sweet picture of sopapillas and me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Crazy Rock Lady Acts the Fool.

In my last posting regarding the crazy rock lady (c. 3 months ago), I had assumed that all our tensionsfrom our minor run-in had boiled over and receded long since. How nieve I was, nieve enough to forget the umlaut over both of those words. It seems that the rock lady holds on to our scuffle like it was a epic battle of minds and rocks, although I don't quite remember it as being that significant. Anyway, here's how the most recent As The Valley Turns goes.

I was working my normal Friday afternoon shift. All was well in the Centennial Valley. I was about halfway through my shift, watching some Cash Cab on the TV and listening to Elton John on the j-box. A customer unfamiliar to me, but evidently well known by others in the bar, walked in with a possible husband. They sat and had one or two beers when someone called on the bar phone, "is Michelle* there?" (*means the real names have been altered) I called out for Michelle, and the new woman responded. She chatted on the phone for a few seconds before handing it back to me.

Soon after, I heard them saying, "Jan is coming." Jan happens to be crazy rock lady, but I didn't think much of it given the remoteness of the incident in both time and space. I figured she'd matured alot since the incidenct and wouldn't give it any thought, and we'd bury the hatchet over a can of Busch beer or something. But upon her arrival, the hatchet was not buried, dude.

She sat down at the end of the bar next to a friend of mine and greeted all in the party of four. She kind of ignored me as I think she sensed the power of the beard and the likelihood that, in a minute, she could speak with Mohammed. I asked her kindly what she'd have, and she responded that she would enjoy a Busch can and a shot of peppermint Schappsteria (she didn't actually say that, I just added it for effect). As soon as I turned my back to get her drink, I overheard her asking her neighbor, "Is that Mohammed?"She immediately ran out of the bar into the grill area and never returned.

So now the weird part starts. First, she sent someone from the grill into the bar to pick up her two drinks and deliver them into the grill for her. Next, she sent someone else to pay for her drinks, tipping me $1! Soon after, she sent the same messenger with a hand-written note to meet her at the other bar/restaurant option in town. After her friends complained about the childishness of all this and refused to go to the other location, she left.

Soon after, she called to speak with the members of her party, disguising her voice when I answered. When they took their time finishing their drinks and complaining further about the immaturity of this fifty-something woman, she had another person call and then pass the phone to her after speaking with me.

So I submit to you, reader, that this level of subterfuge, vidictiveness, and immaturity have seldom been reached by someone past the age of 14. I have realized that the rules in this conflict are different: there are no rules. And no limits. So I must radically change my thinking about this whole deal. I need to be on my guard at all times. Turf wars are on.

In unrelated news, my toilet froze and cracked, so soon you will have the update on how the JK-fixed toilet works.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Wyoming

I guess you could call it a bucket list, but I don't. Sometimes you do things and later realize that you've just checked an item off the life checklist, like when I saw Vanilla Ice in person and he poured elk's blood (read: Jager) into my mouf. And another one of those moments happened to me a couple days ago. I was attempting to reach a lake two miles off the main road, which closes for the year due to snow. As I neared the gate, I turned off toward Brooklyn Lake because I had heard a rumor that the dirt road was plowed the two miles back to the lake, which would allow me to park and access several good fishing lakes in the area.

As soon as I turned off the road, I knew that my plan was woefully awful as the road was not near plowed. Trying to maneuver around a parked snow plow, I felt my right front wheel fall off into a small snow-covered ditch. Stuck, I was. And nine miles from any type of civilization. And out of cell phone range. And at the end of a dead-end, snowed-in highway by which very few people pass. And without a shovel. And without a heavy coat. I approached a lodge I knew in the area, but it was empty. I decided to walk a mile downhill to another lodge that advertised it was open "year-round", which was totally untrue. So, knowing that I had no cell service and there was no one likely to be around for miles, I did what any normal person would do: cried. Cried before I decided to hitchhike, yeah!

It only took about ten minutes for a vehicle to drive near. I realized that this could be my last shot for hours, so I decided to not wait by the side of the road with my thumb out like a bum. Instead, I decided to stand in the road in front of their car waving my arms like a crazy bum. I wished to Allah I had shaved my beard that morning in anticipation of looking good while I attempted to hitchhike, but this did not happen Inshallah. Allah did smile on me when they stopped, mostly because they had nowhere to go except through me. Luckily, they were college students up for an afternoon sled, and not the murderous organ-thieving type of college student that picks up hitchhikers.

Right now I'm preparing for dinner, and I know you wonder what's on my menu given the limited cooking and cleaning capabilities I possess. Well, today it's chicken noodle soup followed by a salad with chicken. I recently got a free life insurance policy (from some actuary who clearly hadn't done their homework on me) and I'm trying to overdose on chicken so my family can reap the benefits... the benefits of being a close relative of the first person in the world to OD on chicken.

You may be wondering what I do most of the day now that the parents are gone, I have a steady two-day-a-week job, and I have no water. Well, I listen to the 80's song "Almost Paradise" alot and dream that I'm Kevin Bacon in Footloose, which is probably my favorite 80's movie. I whip up some vinaigrette once in awhile. I spend silly amounts of time reading news and books, most recently Friday Night Lights, which was pretty similar to my high school football experience albeit at an urban private school to which we wore ties and grey pants. Ultimately, I spend alot of the day chopping and moving wood, starting fires, handwashing dishes, cooking,and generally doing things that modern conveniences have long since rendered obsolete. So be thankful for these conveniences. And send me money.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Medieval Times

Usually there would be no stories to tell from a Vegas trip, but here's a child and family friendly one that you can show the kids. Know to most people as "Medieval Times" from the movie Cable Guy, we visited a similar show at the hotel Excalibur called "Tournament of Kings". For the uninitiated, it features legions of horsemen, midgets, overweight king-types, and fair maidens putting on a chivalrous display cum melodramatic performance, frequently exhorting the audience to sip from their chalices of $10 wine with a loud "Huzzah!" (which means "quaff your expensive wine, tourists!" in Gaelic).

So we met at the grand hotel, Excalibur, at the planned time. We took our seats in the Russian section (they seat people in sections led by your fictional "king;" ours happened to be Russian even though I pled with the host to seat us elsewhere. We opted for the prix fixe menu, which is mandatory for buying a seat to watch the tournament. This menu has been in existence, unchanged, for nineteen years as far as I can tell. The luxurious courses began at once. Tomato soup, which one of my friends promised would be the finest part of our dinner, was served in a not-very-medieval-looking plastic bowl. It was indeed good, although for all I know it could be straight from a Campbell's can. Then, the magnum opus of the meal:

You see the offending meal above, and believe me, this is one of the more appetizing pictures of it I was able to find on the World Wide Web. Soggy broccoli, lighted cooked potato sticks, delicately seasoned yet cardboardy cornish game hen, and some pieces of bread round out the entree course. The meal made us long for the days of junior and high school cafeteria food (especially Macho Nachos, and BBQ Rib). But enough about the food: the tourney hath begun!

These are the eight kings of our tourney. They hail from Sweden, Norway, Russia, Iceland, and maybe Spain and some other countries in Europe that really hadn't formed by Arthurian times. The historical acumen of the writers of this show is stunningly poor. But anyway, I was tipped off by someone in the audience that the Russian king would cheat to win the joust (even though I wish he would have said "earmuffs" prior to ruining my enjoyment of the night). I engaged him in conversation, telling him that, based on prior experience with Russians, I had assumed some acts of subterfuge from my king. I also expect his children to dote on him as he lays dying and they harass the doctors and nurses, but I digress...

As the tournament started, there was some half-ass trumpeting going on and some amateur-looking pyrotechnics. I also noted that, less children with their parents, we were the only people under forty in the audience. I ALSO began to note a serious lack of pre-gaming on our part, which became far more obvious as the tourney dragged on and I fell asleep as per usual. But from the part I was awake, I remember that there was a lot of prancing, in fact there were about twenty guys and ten gals whose job was simply to prance around the ring engaging in gymnastic feats. There were a full ten drummers, moonlighting from their day jobs as eighties' hair band backup drummers.

And then there were the eight kings. We all agreed that these guys were moonlighting prior to the night showing of "Thunder From Down Under" as they seemed to be a little too ripped for a medieval king. There was some jousting via horses, some swordplay, a mystical Dragon King who appeared in a puff of fire and fought everyone at once. It all came dangerously close to small children several times and I'm just glad no one got hurt. I slept through the ending, which I assume included some type of moralistic lesson from the time of kings, and I'm glad I missed that part.