Street Smarts

Okay: At the advice of dozens, I have reported the Google Map problem to the Google folks, along with the suggestion that they consult Mapquest, which has it right. I hope they don't take that as a personal attack. Let's see how long it takes to get this corrected. Thanks to all who told me how to file my report.

Street of Dreams

Here's an interesting "Should I do anything?" question. Google Maps has just decided there's a street in my neighborhood that doesn't really exist. There's an unnamed alley that I guess kinda looks like a street on their aerial satellite views. But it's an alley with no name and you can't really travel down it very far, in part because it hasn't been repaved since the Crimean War. Google's computers have, I guess, not only decided it's a street but that it's a continuation of a legitimate avenue that is situated roughly on the same longitudinal line but which terminates many blocks to the north.

So on Google Maps, the alley is now named with that avenue name and if you're searching for directions around here, Google Maps wants you to drive on that street…which like I say isn't a street and doesn't even have street signs. Folks who go looking for a street by that name in this area will never find it. They'll see an old, unpaved alley and think, "Well, that can't be it." I think I should report this but I have no idea who to report it to.

Never the Twain Shall Meet…

So the next Mark Twain Award for American Humor is going to Ellen DeGeneres. I like her but as folks say whenever Gilbert Gottfried opens his mouth, "Too soon!"

Let us remember some of the great living comic talents who have not received the Mark Twain Award: Sid Caesar, Stan Freberg, Shelley Berman, Don Rickles, Mort Sahl, Robert Klein, Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, David Letterman, Tim Conway, Dan Aykroyd, Jerry Lewis, Jon Stewart, Dick Van Dyke…

For that matter, they seem to have decided that though Samuel "Mark Twain" Clemens was an author, the award in his name should go only to performers. What about someone who's funny in print? The website for the Kennedy Center not only says this but says it twice on the same page

As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters, Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly. He revealed the great truth of humor when he said "against the assault of laughter nothing can stand."

Wouldn't that apply to Garry Trudeau? Or Dave Barry? How about Norman Lear or James L. Brooks? How about giving it to one of the writers who created the material that some of the performer-winners performed?

Aah, why am I getting annoyed about this? It's not about honoring humorists. It's about selling tickets to the ceremony. Forget I said anything.

Pasta Upgrade

Click above to enlarge

One thing that really helped me lose weight was learning to read labels. I mean that two ways. One is learning what to look for, how to read them, how to make sure you understand what a portion size is, etc. The other is to learn to read labels the way you learn to look both ways before you cross the street.

The other night in a CVS pharmacy, I happened to notice a shelf with some of those Hormel "Compleats" microwave meals and there were a couple of packages of their Rotini & Zesty Marinara Sauce.  If you look at them casually, they look like the exact same product.  If I read the label of one and decided I wanted to purchase two, I would have just grabbed the other one without checking its label. Closer inspection however shows they're not the same thing. The one on the left has 290 calories, one cup of vegetables and 8 grams of whole grain.  The one on the right has 300 calories, half a cup of vegetables and 28 grams of whole grain.

I'm guessing the one on the left is from an old shipment and the one on the right is the new version.  And I'm wondering if the changeover is accomplished at least in part by cutting back on sauce and putting in more pasta.

I don't have a big point to make here other than that you need to study labels to know what you're getting.  Sometimes, a product changes without it being too apparent.

A Contest With No Prizes

And by "no prizes," I don't mean No-Prizes like Stan Lee used to give out in Marvel Comics. I mean there are no prizes. But write me if you can identify the individual who painted the above painting. I'll run the names of the first ten people who get it right.

From the E-Mailbag…

My pal Joe Brancatelli, who knows more about air travel than any man, woman or child alive, writes in answer to my two queries…

So the reason why airlines no longer check luggage tags at most airports is that they are cheap and the number of luggage thefts is actually pretty low. It's cheaper to pay off on the rare losses than staff carousels.

And why is pizza so bad at airports? Because most places only have chain joints in the first place, chain joints make crappy pizza at the best of time and limited space at airports mean no on-premises dough (it's shipped in, often frozen) and no ovens with sufficient heat and size to make a good pizza. Now that I think of it, it's the ground-based equivalent of why coffee is so bad on airplanes. The high altitudes make it harder to get water hot enough to make a decent cup and most airlines use awful blends of coffee because it's cheap…

I buy the first explanation but still want to know what changed. Did the airlines just all figure this out one day? It's not like they suddenly got cheap. Back when all those employees were diligently making you show your baggage claim check, did the airlines not know that it would be cheaper to just pay off the losses? And I'm still curious as to what percent of people taking others' luggage is deliberate theft and what part is "Gee, that looked just like my bag!"

Stealing luggage at the airport always struck me as a pretty stupid crime — a lot of risk for little potential gain. I can't think of anything that's ever been in one of my suitcases that was worth even a 1% chance of doing hard time. (That, by the way, is how I feel when people get hysterical and scream "Vote Fraud!" because it's technically possible sometimes to go to a strange polling place, get someone else's ballot and vote. There are folks out there who loathe Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. How many in this country would risk prison to change one vote in one precinct in one state? They'd stand less chance of being caught and would impact the vote more if they robbed liquor stores and gave the money to a PAC.)

Getting back to the airport: I'm not sure I buy Joe's explanation about airport pizza. I've been to great pizzerias that had just as little operating space as the places at the airport. Vito's, the best place I've found to get pizza in L.A., operates out of the crate in which their mozzarella is delivered. Still, they seem to be able to make fresh dough and they seem to be able to bring in an oven that gets hot enough. Then again, Joe does know airports and he is Italian…

In his e-mail, he chides me for eating airport pizza at all, noting I could have consulted this guide he compiled on good food in airports or its sequel. The answer is simple: No time. In Minneapolis, for example, I had less than a half-hour between one flight's arrival and the departure of the next.

I would have loved to go to Ike's, the Minneapolis Airport eatery that Joe recommends. I dined there years ago and it was excellent — an airport restaurant I would go to if it were outside an airport. But I was in the wrong concourse and didn't have 90 minutes. I did have plenty of time at Indianapolis Airport but Joe's guides do not recommend a great restaurant there. Looking over the list of places to dine at IND, I assume it's because there isn't one.

This is my way of saying that I'm sure Joe's recommendations are sound. Listen to this man and read his latest article, which is all about why United Airlines is the "Worst. Airline. Ever. Again." And you know it's just gotta be awful if someone says that with a period after each word.

Things I Don't Understand About Airports #2

Someone reading this can explain this to me. If it isn't you, it'll be Joe Brancatelli…

Years ago when I flew into most airports, I'd pick up my suitcase at Baggage Claim and then there'd be a guard or some sort of airport employee there who'd be checking tags. I would have to show a baggage claim check to get out of there with my luggage.

I don't think I've been asked for that in over ten years at any airport. Now, I just pick up what I claim is my bag and I leave with it and no one cares.

So…what's changed? I can only think of the following options…

  1. Airports realized that it was never really necessary to check the tags.
  2. It was necessary at one point but suddenly, people became either more honest or more adept at recognizing their own suitcases that it wasn't necessary any longer.
  3. There is and always has been cases of people taking luggage that wasn't theirs but the airports all decided that checking tags really wasn't diminishing it enough to justify the expense of those tag-checkers.

The last time my suitcase got lost (lost, not stolen) I asked a fellow who was working in the finding-your-baggage department at Southwest Airlines and he didn't know for sure. He just shrugged and speculated, "I guess they figure if someone wants to steal your suitcase badly enough, they're going to do it," which didn't strike me as much of an answer.

I'm also curious as to which is the greater problem: Dishonest people intentionally walking off with your suitcase or honest people who take your bag thinking it's theirs. I always had the feeling the tag-checkers were stopping more of the latter than the former. So have folks become better at not taking the wrong piece of Samsonite? Or more honest or what?

Things I Don't Understand About Airports #1

My trip last week put me in four different airports in four days. I ate nothing at my home airport but at each of the others, I had a slice of pizza. I have no idea why I did this because airport pizza is always terrible. How…terrible…is…it? The following is not a joke: The best pizza I ever had at an airport was Pizza Hut.

At Memphis Airport, I had but a few moments to grab a bite of something before boarding the second leg of my flight to Indianapolis. A place called Vito's Italian Deli was near Gate A7 which I'd be going through in a matter of minutes so I gave it a try. I was perhaps attracted to the name. The best pizza I've had in Los Angeles is at a place called Vito's (obviously no relation) over on La Cienega. I like it so much I named the Italian chef on The Garfield Show Vito. Anyway, the Vito in Memphis is undeserving of the name. Even Garfield wouldn't eat his pie.

I had some time to kill at Indianapolis Airport for the trip home but in the area where I set up my laptop to work until boarding time, there were three eating options: A McDonald's, a Chinese place and a pizzeria called Giorgio's. I wasn't in a Mickey D's mood and the food in the steam table at the Chinese stand looked like it had been there since my previous trip to Indianapolis in 2010. The pizza at Giorgio's looked good but tasted like matzo covered in catsup and Cheez Wiz. Maybe for Passover…

On the way back to L.A., I had to change planes in Minneapolis without much time to eat and board. Near the gate on Concourse G was Taste of Tagliare, which looked like Sbarro Done Right. It turned out to be Sbarro Done Same. I ate about a third of a slice before it went into the trash. Awful, awful pizza.

So here's what I don't understand: Why? Why is airport pizza so far below the standard we'd expect from a pizzeria not in an airport? Thousands of pizzerias across the nation master the skill of making good pizza. Why do none of them set up the same assembly line at an airport? Or if they do, why do they serve a product they would never serve outside the airport? I understand being able to stay in business with rotten pizza when your potential customers only have the option of you or Burger King. I don't understand not trying for something better than being the least bad alternative.

Shirt Tales

I keep seeing people wearing this shirt. It's a plain black t-shirt but they've printed a little fake name badge on the pocket area. And on the name badge, it says: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Every time I see one, I laugh. But I also have three thoughts…

  1. That, of course, is a famous line from the book and movie, The Princess Bride, both written by William Goldman. Do we think the company putting these out made any sort of deal to compensate Mr. Goldman for the use of his words?
  2. What the hell do people think who see this shirt but aren't familiar with The Princess Bride? And finally…
  3. Wouldn't it be cheaper and funnier just to make your own version of this shirt? You probably have a black Sharpie around. You can buy a package of those labels for two bucks in the CVS Pharmacy near me and, I would imagine, other places. Then you can stick the label on whatever you want to wear. It would be a lot funnier on the kind of clothing you'd likely wear to the kind of event where people walk around with name badges. That usually doesn't mean a black t-shirt.

That's all I'm thinking…and note that I'm concerned that Mr. Goldman is not being paid but at the same time, I'm suggesting a way to further exploit him without paying him. So maybe if you do walk around with one of those stickers on, you could buy one or two of his books to put some coins in his pocket. You'd probably enjoy them as most of them are very good.

Air Blogging

I'm blogging, largely because I can, from a Delta Airline flight. I don't know how high up we are but the GoGo Wi-Fi doesn't work below 10,000 feet so we're at least there. Remind me never to fly on a Friday afternoon. The Minneapolis airport was like the stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera. In fact, I think I even saw Chico there. He tried to sell me a tip on a horse and I told him, "No, no…that's your next movie!"

I'll tell you about the trip later. Right now, things are kinda cramped. There are six midgets on this flight but the guy sitting next to me makes me look like #7. But hey, let's see if I can at least post a photo of Stan and Ollie from up here…

Go Read It!

My friend Shelly Goldstein, oft-mentioned on this blog, writes a monthly column for a Gay Rights website arguing for more tolerance and also some of those "equality" things like marriage. When I mentioned her gig to someone once, he furrowed his brow and said, "She's not gay, is she?" No, she's not and it's sad that there are some people out there who can't seem to grasp the concept of taking a stand on behalf of others, as opposed to your own immediate self-interest.

Here's her latest, which is about a great teacher she had…a man she later learned was gay. I think I had one of those, too. I mean, I never found out for sure but years later when I'd met more gay folks and had several instances of learning that someone it didn't occur to me was gay was gay, I realized that particular teacher probably was, too. And of course it doesn't really matter except to make the point that it doesn't really matter.

I should probably link to all of Shelly's column but if I wrote about everything she does, there'd be no room on this blog for me or pictures of Laurel and Hardy or postings about tomato soup. But if you read her new essay, you may want to look up some or all of the earlier ones.

Go See It!

45 Reasons Why We Can't Have Nice Things.

Go See 'Em!

The website for Cracked, which used to be a magazine and is now a website, runs a neat series called Images You Won't Believe Aren't Photoshopped. Here's the latest installment and here's the one before that and the one before that and the one before that

Go See It!

Hey, let's look at some ways you can be deceived at the supermarket!

Lolly, Lolly, Lolly…

A lot of folks consider the A.P. Stylebook as an important decider in what is and is not good grammar. Hopefully, their newest decision won't upset too many purists.