Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Yum Orleans

For this post on my recent trip to New Orleans, my topic will food, and my quest to experience everything southern on my culinary adventure.

When Tera asked me what I wanted to do and see during our weekend in New Orleans, I said, "I have no agenda. No agenda, that is, except to eat. I want Southern, down-home, comfort food that I can't get anywhere else. Fried catfish, collard greens, grits, sweet tea - that's all I want. In fact, the more Southern, and unlikely, the better."

Tera did not disappoint.

Starting on Friday afternoon, we crossed into Mobile, Alabama, and immediately set our hearts on a shack in the sky called Felix's Fish Camp. It was a complete eyesore, but the parking lot was completely full, so we decided that was good enough for us to want to give it a chance. My meal was three demi-cups of soup - on each of turtle, clam, and gumbo. Add six oysters prepared three different ways, and a local dark beer, and I felt like I was off to a good start.

Friday evening's dinner was shared with our friends, locals Eric and Kim, and as we listened to Eric tell us about his life growing up around the area, we dined on lump crab meat stuffed catfish with cajun stuffed potatoes, which had been proceeded by an appetizer of oysters in the half shell and gumbo BBQ whole shrimp, and was accompanied by local dark stout beer. Our post-meal included a table at Pat O'Brien's, one of the most frequented bars on Bourbon street, drinking Hurricanes as big as our lower legs.

On Saturday morning, we started with huge coffees and beignets, which are Nola-Famous, fried pillow pastries with powdered sugar on top. When we arrived at brekky, Eric and Kim had already ordered four sets, allowing us to start out our day by filling ourselves plentifully with fried sugary goodness.

Lunch (on the go) was a bottle of water and one New Orleans praline (famous in the South). It was delicious, yet sinful, and brought my daily caloric intake a bit higher (only, though, to even out all the walking (and sweating) we'd done).

Late afternoon dining at the Royal House was a shared appetizer of fried eggplant sticks, and a half-dozen oysters in the half shell for me. I paired this with a huge, huge pale ale, which not only quenched my thirst, but set me on a good buzz for the rest of the afternoon (not shocking, having only eaten sugar and coffee for the bulk of the morning). Of course, I had a bite or two of Zach's gator po-boy, which was fried and delicious as well, but did not make me any less tipsy.

Dinner Saturday evening started out with some fresh mussels, followed by whole fried soft shell crab (meaning you eat the shell and all!) topped with a creamy sauce of artichoke hearts, both complemented by the darkest beer on tap. Zach and I shared this, and then followed up with a piece of down-South, home-baked sweet potato cheesecake.

Sunday presented us with a double-car breakdown and an unexpected night in Biloxi, MS (of all places) which allowed us to make multiple cups of lemonade out of the lemons we were thrown. Unfortunately, our great culinary adventure for the day included, in it's highlights, Starbucks coffee and Dairy Queen ice cream, which, in dire situations, can actually make a sour situation slightly better.

Regardless, the day ended with my stomach on a bit of a dive, probably less from Sunday's sugar rush than from all the WTF foods I had eaten over the weekend. I don't regret a single bite, though, and am glad for having had the chance to partake in such down-South, home-cooked classics. Even if it did include a caramel latte or two...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why I buy Apple products

I bought my first MacBook in 2006 before leaving overseas to live in New Zealand. The purchase was an easy decision, and an even easier transition, as I had been using a school-supplied MacBook in my role as a grade 1 teacher at Waukee. I had found the computer easy to work with, quick running, and effortless to carry around, and making the decision to purchase one of my own was only natural.

Along with my MacBook, at that time I also owned a 3rd generation iPod, as well as an iPod nano for working out. The Nano I received free with the purchase of my MacBook, and the 3rd gen was a present from my parents from a previous Christmas.

I bought Apple products because they were new, innovative, well put-together, and durable. But I will continue to buy Apple products because of the superior customer service they provide. My recent trips to the Apple Store this summer only confirmed that, and if, after this story, you're not sold on owning your own, then I'm going to go ahead and call you silly.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Apple's service policy, a quick tutelage: All Apple products are automatically covered under Apple's Protection plan for one year after the date of purchase, and additional AppleCare can be purchased for up to two years afterwards, giving your electronics a fix-it life of three years (which, in this day in age, is a heap of time). When a product is broken, defective, or running funnily, and still under warranty, Apple will gladly fix, replace, or fiddle with it until the problem is fixed. No questions asked, free of charge, and with very, very, very little hassle.

When I bought my first MacBook and got it home, I immediately experienced issues with the camera turning on and off without my doing so. I dropped back into the Apple store, and within hours, had a brand-new-brand-new computer that worked just as it should. Similarly (and more fortunately) only a week after purchasing my (very expensive) Japanese iPhone, and consequently after a night out with Rachel that included her spilling more than one drink on me and my new toy, I took my slightly battered phone down to the Nagoya store, pled the 5th, and, within an hour, had a brand-new, perfectly working phone, as well as a data transfer to make sure the settings were exactly as I had left them on the original. In both of these situations I paid nary a cent for either replacement, repair, or time spent. The appointment, fix-it, and new products were completely free of charge, and the people (both in Nagoya and Des Moines) who did the work served me knowledgeably, pleasantly, and very, very quickly.

But, like I said, nothing tops the customer service I received just last week. It's the reason I do, and will continue to, support Apple.

When I came home this summer, I quickly spent a small fortune on a new MacBook Air, a light and peppy little piece of work weighing only 3 pounds and perfect for the can't-be-bothered traveler. I had decided to treat myself to a new computer when, a) I couldn't be bothered to carry the 7-pound original through airports anymore, b) the 'h' key had fallen off of it, c) the mouse clicker didn't work either, and d) it was a year off of warranty (plus, I figured four years with one computer was plenty, thank you very much). So, I made an effortless and easy purchase of the Air, and have been in love ever since.

Along with my Air came a 1:1 service plan, which included complete data transfer by a Genius expert. When it came time for said data transfer, I dutifully dropped off both my old Mac and my new, and left them in the hands of a lovely Macboy with the promise that the data would be transferred within 24 hours. It was, and I picked up both computers gladly and thankfully, expressing how constantly impressed I was with Mac's superior customer service.

When I got home, though, I had trouble. I turned on my Air, which was fine, but my old MacBook refused to start. I had planned on letting Nik use it for the rest of the summer, as well as using it as a back up and an additional CD drive, but it wasn't cooperating with starting up, or even pretending that it knew me. A year ago this wouldn't have bothered me, but as the old Mac had been off warranty for a year, I knew that if it was going down, there wouldn't be anything I could do about it that probably wouldn't cost me a few hundred bucks. But, since the computer began having these problems AFTER the data transfer, I figured I had a good leg to stand on when I took it back in.

R, my Mac pro the next day at the Genius Bar, assessed the situation before looking at me sadly and said, 'Your hard drive has gone.' I replied, 'But, it was working fine when I brought it in the other day,' to which he replied, 'Yes, but sometimes these things happen.' Trying not to look too sad and forlorn at him, I instead looked longingly at my old friend and began lamenting it's untimely death when R replied, 'Well, luckily, I think I can replace the hard drive for you quite easily.' I quickly looked up, big-eyed, and truthfully (because Karma counts) replied, "But, I'm not under warranty on it any more." He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Eh, no big deal." I was ecstatic, and he began the quick replacement of the hard drive. After 5 minutes, he handed me back my computer, new hard drive in tact, and asked me to wait a moment to fill out some paper work. Then, we hit roadblock number 2. R noticed the broken hard drive he had just taken out of my computer (and was getting ready to send in to Apple for defective product inventory) was not actually a Mac hard drive (a co-worker in Japan had replaced it for me earlier this year in lieu of a generic brand with more storage space). R looked at me and said, "This isn't an Apple hard drive, and I actually can't replace it for you," meaning that he would have to re-remove the new hard drive he had just put in, and replace it with my dead one. But, after giving it a moment's notice, he instead replied, "Well, I'll pretend I didn't notice.' Nice!

He gives me instructions on how to take it home and reinstall everything from an external hard drive that I owned, which I promptly did. I had no issues whatsoever, except that Itunes, although recognizing my entire music library, would not open for lack of proper updates. Just to be safe, I made a third appointment with Apple the next day, and again, walked it in. R gave me a big smile, welcomed me back, and asked what was up. I showed him the iTunes error box, and he said, "We simply need to run an update. No worries. Come back in a half-hour, and it will be done." Earlier that day, my 'h' key had fallen completely off, and before handing it off, I warned him to be cautious of it. He looked at me and stated, "Why don't we just replace the top case for you? It'll fix the 'h' and the mouse, all at once." I quickly looked up, big-eyed, and truthfully (because Karma counts) replied, "But, I'm not under warranty on it any more." He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Eh, no big deal." So he sent the computer to the back for updates and a new top case.

When I came back three hours later to pick it up, he had replaced the battery as well

New MacBook Air: $2000
Three trips into the Mac store: 4 hours of time
Having half of your old computer replaced with no hesitations, hassles, questions, or worries: priceless.

So, why do I buy Apple products? Because if customer service counts as currency, they are worth every single cent.

Monday, July 05, 2010

26 hours

of travel.

This time, coming home, 26 hours is what it took.

Instead of my usual two flights, I was routed on four, which made for a long and somewhat over-stimulating day. So, what does an overzealous girl like me do? Type it all out on my Iphone. Because hey, do you have a better idea of how I can occupy my time? As you know, I could (and sometimes do) write novels about all the things I do, or the random bits from inside my head, and so became the case for this trip, as had plenty of hours to pen (or thumb-type, in my case) the highlights of each bit of my long and weary travel day.

Now, I'm not gonna lie, but when I typed it all out (flight by flight and layover by layover), I did have a particular audience in mind. But after spending so much time getting it all out and edited, I decided to reedit and redistribute to a second audience - all of you. Because that's what this blog is all about - the random and irrelevant ways in which my life is sometimes funny and always interesting. Even if by 'interesting' I mean within the realms of qualifying Julia Roberts as a competent spokesperson for Lancome makeup (see 'Layover 1' below).

So, please, if you will, sit and enjoy Wendy's random (and sometimes funny?) take on the plight of the twice (thrice?) yearly trans-Pacific traveler.


For starters, it's worth noting the things I never travel without (alongside the myriad of regular things in my handbag): Dramamine, ear plugs, a buckwheat pillow, two books, a hooded sweatshirt, extra hand sanitizer and Tide sticks, multiple cell phones (consequently, multiple wall chargers too), and multiple sets of keys to multiple international houses (the latter two on the list contribute to the Bond-girl in me!). Also along with me on this past travel day were a few sentimental items, including some recent snapshots, a personally-planned schedule of events for the prior week's holiday, and an expired USMC golden base pass.

Flight 1 (Nagoya to Tokyo):
Hella short (45 minutes) and fast. It was empty-as, so much so that, immediately upon take-off, I upped the armrests, tucked the seatbelts in, opened all three blankets, and went horizontal in my empty row. I was enjoying a half-nap when the plane hit the fan, and we did two barrel rolls through turbulence. The small child three seats behind me went into hysterics, and not to be outdone, the smaller child two rows ahead joined. Naptime: over. Then, because the turbulence evidently wasn't enough for all of us to think the wings were gonna break off, the plane took a sudden and sharp, funny-feeling shot upwards a few minutes later. Startled, I opened my shade, wondering, 'Are we landing already??' to instead see a JAL plane shoot out just below us. I'm going to go ahead and call its range: a) within 500 meters of us, and b) judging by the sharp upward swing, was as unexpected by the pilots avoiding it as it was to me seeing it. I have never, ever, ever seen two airborne planes so close, and I'm pretty confident that they're not supposed to be. Not gonna lie, though, that since I didn't die, I thought it was pretty bad-ass. To top it all off, the pilots were American, crazy-as, and I swear to God, as we descended into Tokyo, were flying twice as fast as the legal limit (obviously making them my kind of pilots).
Bonus: finding half a bag of cocoa dusted almonds at the bottom of my purse, much to my relief, as I was starving.

Layover 1 (Tokyo's Narita Airport):
It only took 10 minutes from disembarkation before a business-class gaijin (foreigner) asserted his American-entitlement and (much to my horror) tried to whine/complain/argue his way through security without a ticket. I made a heightened effort of passing through veeeery quietly, and smiled extra politely, in hopes of placating the universe and making it up on his behalf.
The Tokyo airport is pretty fab. I did a little window shopping at Hermes (yummy!) and Bvlgari (yummy!) before stepping into a duty-free shop to spritz myself with a light mist of my favorite Chanel (yummy!). I also checked out some new makeup at the Lancome counter, and quietly reckoned that those Lancome guys should have picked me as their next spokesmodel instead of Julia Roberts, because although her beauty is beyond compare, she's a bit of a, well, obvious choice. Then I had a spot of lunch, though I won't say where, and gleefully (luckily) spotted and snatched up a box of adzuki caramels for dessert.

(Pre-) Flight 2:
Getting on was a mission - per it being the July 4th weekend, every passenger (on this double-decker, Pacific-crossing, air-Titanic (which means a lot of people)) was strip-searched on the way in. They patted me down (not unpleasant, really) and scoured my handbag, finding nothing of consequence in either place. As a result of the search, the flight took off a good hour after its scheduled departure time, but since I wasn't in a hurry to be anywhere fast (and because I was getting ready to travel through time anyway), I wasn't fussed. Plus, it gave me more time to randomly type it all out. Now comes my secret admission - I love plane food. The saltier and more artificial, the better. Flying makes me slightly queasy, very tired, and ravenously hungry. The menu was satisfactory (Sliced beef with oyster sauce? Danish pastries* for brekky? Don't mind if I do!), so I was quite happy about that. My immediate neighbor was an older Asian lady whose bag I helped put up in the bin, and whom I spoke to in Japanese. I only wondered at her lack of response for a moment, for when she sat down, she pulled out a copy of the Bible, in Korean, and vigorously signed the cross, up-down-left-right, over and over again. During the meal service, I gave her an accidental, but sharp elbow blow to the shoulder. I apologized profusely in as many languages as I know how (none of them being Korean), to which she put her hand on my shoulder and slowly said, 'No English, but, very beautiful.' then she pointed at me and gave me a thumbs up (which is a universal language for good things!). Luckily, I know how to say 'thank you' in Korean, and after I blushed 4 shades of pink, I smiled and did just that. In the end, I slept the entire way, which is something I don't think I've ever done on a trans-Pacific flight. I woke up an hour before landing at around 8am LA time, and was pleasantly satisfied with my body's sleep cycle. Gave myself a little shout out even - for starting this holiday off on the right sleep pattern**.
*Actually, I drew the line at the Danish Pastry. I may be on holiday, but I still have standards...

Layover 2 (LAX):
After a long walk, the entire plane aggregates at Customs, and the complaints start. 'Never flying this airline again,' or, 'They call this customer service?' They say this as if they've forgotten in the last 6 minutes that they've just come off a huge machine that magically flew them halfway across the world to the great land that is America, are happily fed, coffeed, and entertained, and that Delta, bless them, has anything to do with delays at Customs. Me = smiling, hopefully appeasing the universe and appealing to the better nature of this room of unhappy people...
I stopped again for a spot of lunch, though I won't say where.

Flight 3 (Los Angeles to Memphis):
I board next to a nice young kid sitting alone. He's into a book, and, as a reading teacher, I find myself inclined to ask about it. He's not real talkative, though, not past the title at least. So, I continue my book as well. A few minutes later, the flight attendant comes over, looks at him, and says, 'You're one of my UMs, right?' The boy nods, and is promptly whisked away to first class. Having received proper acronym training just last week, I quickly worked out that UM means 'unaccompanied minor,' and that this kid, along with two other U13 UM (under-13 UM) girls have just unintentionally worked themselves into first class, and consequently, all the free beer they can drink (luckies!). This leaves an empty seat between me and my neighbor, who is the only guy on board wearing a turban. Of course, I'd like to make up a story in my head about this guy, but I don't have to try hard, because based on the way his unending hair is tied in his turban, as well as the silver bracelet on his wrist, I'm thinking that he's a Sikh, which means that he's also packing a knife somewhere on his person. Not gonna lie - that's kinda cool. I'm pretty sure he doesn't speak English, and wonder if he's a bit frightened (as being 'that guy' in a turban on U.S. flights probably doesn't come with its share of warm fuzzies). I smiled at him a couple of times and pretended that it helps. I considered asking to see his knife, or his comb, but instead decided otherwise.

Layover 3 (Memphis):
Memphis. Bless. As you know if you're a traveler, each new airport is like a box of chocolates, and you never know what you'll get. Will they have a Starbucks? A Cinnabon? Free wi-fi? Well, Memphis had all three, and although I enjoyed, plentifully, the former and the latter, I (sadly) skipped Cinnabon altogether, remembering it might not fare well in conjunction with my cholesterol test Monday morning. Bonus points: Starbucks sells hummus, and I can read all of the ingredients in it. Double bonus (in two words or less): low-fat frappucino (150 calories in a Grande? I'll even go one better and settle for a Tall!).

Flight 4 (Memphis to Des Moines):
Our flight attendant is bubbly-as, and hilarious to boot. She keeps (with an 's,' meaning multiple times) referring to our craft as 'The Little Plane With A Big Heart,' and has just introduced herself as both, 'Trudy, the bag in charge of the bags,' and 'Grambo.' We are all laughing out loud. The flight is short, easy, and my hummus-filled belly is happy. Plus, Grambo dancing the bev cart down the aisle while singing, 'Watch your fingers and your toes, here I come,' to the tune of, 'If you're happy and you know it,' is enough to make anyone smile. Lo and behold, an hour in, the earth, from 10,000 feet, began to flatten out, cul-de-sac suburbs popped up, and Des Moines' one, lone, tall building came into view. With the exception of Aukland, New Zealand, I have the uncanny affinity for living in the most boring cities on the planet.

And there it is. 26 hours, 7744 frequent flier miles, and a lot of typing later, I arrived safely. I immediately whisked myself off to a local brewery for some catch-up beers with a dear friend, and eventually made my way home to Nik's comfy spare room. It was a very long, but incredibly stress-free, non-problematic day.

Sigh. It's good to be home.


** Good sleep patterns my a**, as I type this to you at four a.m. Monday morning...