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Shore Leave: Over already? I just got there!

Wow, where did the weekend go? This year’s Shore Leave was a whirlwind, over so fast it hardly had time to sink in. Maybe it’s because I flew there this time. Not only did I get in later than usual on Friday and leave early on Sunday, making for a total of only about 48 hours spent in the hotel (c. 2 PM Friday to c. 2 PM Sunday), but maybe the quicker travel time made the whole thing feel more abrupt somehow.

But let’s see what I can extract from the sensory blur in my memories.

The flight out from Cincinnati to Baltimore went fairly well. I seemed to get through the airport amazingly quickly, in part because I got randomly assigned to the expedited TSA check which is simply a walk through a metal detector (along with everyone else around me — making it seem like an implicit admission that all the security theater of the past few years doesn’t really make much difference after all). I took a quick flight to Philadelphia on a medium-sized plane and then a short hop to Baltimore on a small turboprop — the first propeller plane I think I’ve ever been on, and the first plane where the cabin has been under the wing, so I could actually see the landing gear from my window. A little scary at first, but I reminded myself that if it weren’t a proven and reliable technology, it wouldn’t still be in use after a century. And the props were clearly made of carbon composite, which was reassuringly modern.

Then came the long ride on the Light Rail, literally from the very start to the very end of the route. But it didn’t feel like it took too long, even though I gave up trying to listen to music on my phone because the train was too noisy. (Maybe I should’ve brought my other earbuds, which block sound better. Plus they don’t get tangled as easily, I think because one earbud is on a shorter cord than the other so there’s less there to tangle.) The one hitch was that I got a sandwich at the airport planning to eat it on the train — and then saw that eating on the train is prohibited. So since I’m an extremely law-abiding sort, I had to wait another hour and a half to eat my lunch. I had half the sandwich while walking from the light rail station to the hotel, and the other half once I got into my room (which was quick and easy because I arrived late enough that it was already prepared).

When I visited the vendors’ area, I was pleased to run into Sally Malcolm and her husband, the founders of Fandemonium Books, the British company that publishes Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis tie-in novels. They were there along with New York writer Diana Dru Botsford, who’s done a number of SG novels for Fandemonium as well as having written for ST:TNG on television. I was glad that this year they were able to come to Shore Leave and bring the two tie-in franchises together, as it were. And now I know who to contact if and when I have a Stargate novel pitch… ;)

At dinnertime, I ran into Greg Cox and some other folks at the hotel’s little cafe/lounge place, which is now open for business again since the hotel came under new management. We had a nice talk there, and later we were seated together at Meet the Pros, though we had less time to talk there since it was really well-attended and busy — another reason it seemed to go by so fast. I signed a lot of copies of Tower of Babel. Unfortunately only one guest bought a copy of Only Superhuman for me to sign, since the book vendor only had it in hardcover. The dearth of mass-market paperbacks of OS continues to bewilder and frustrate me. (It’s still available by print-on-demand, but getting paperbacks in stores is better for getting casual readers interested. Or would have been…)

I also finally got to meet Australian uberfan Ian McLean, aka Therin of Andor, who’s probably the one person who loves Star Trek: The Motion Picture more than I do, and after whom I named an Andorian character in Ex Machina, a character who’s been picked up on by other authors and taken on a life of his own. He brought me an awesome gift, an Australian edition of the ST:TMP novelization from Futura Books, with a lovely photo insert section and a few bits of additional description in the text. He even got it autographed by Billy Van Zandt, the actor who played the Rhaandarite “alien ensign” in TMP, whom I made into a major character, Vaylin Zaand, in ExM. It is a cool thing to have.

Let’s see, panels… Before Meet the Pros, I was on a panel about comedy science fiction, in which I got to talk about my Hub stories, though my comedy contributions are fairly limited in comparison to fellow panelist Peter David — though he demurred that most of his overt comedy writing is fantasy rather than SF. Also in attendance were Aaron Rosenberg, co-founder of Crazy 8 Press, and two authors who’ve had comedies published by Crazy 8, Lorraine Anderson and Russ Colchamiro.

But the rest of my panels were on Saturday, so I was kept pretty busy that day. First was the panel on writing movie-era Trek, which was intended to focus on the original series’ movie era, but ended up being broadened to include TNG movie-era books. Greg and I were on that along with Peter David and Dayton Ward (who did In the Name of Honor in the post-ST V era as well as A Time to Sow/A Time to Reap with Kevin Dilmore in the TNG movie era). Greg pitched his upcoming Foul Deeds Will Rise, set in the post-ST V era, and I just talked about ExM.

Then came “60 Years of Godzilla,” with Greg again (since he novelized the recent movie) as well as Jeffrey Lang and Andrew Gaska. I got to do my spiel summarizing the history of the franchise, based on my posts on this blog, but I think I went a little too much in-depth, since people were walking out by the end. I was afraid that would happen.

I got a burger and fries for lunch in the cafe, where I’d previously gotten a breakfast of cereal, milk, orange juice, and a banana. Both meals cost me 9 dollars. Each. Hotels are so expensive! I also attended a “Writing Stargate” panel by the Fandemonium bunch, and learned some more about their approach and interests. Apparently they’ve been trying to convince MGM to let them do a post-finale series of SG-1 as they’re already doing for SGA, but with no luck as yet; and they don’t have a Stargate Universe license, which is too bad, since I woul’dve liked to write for that one. They explained that the new movie reboot that’s being developed has nothing to do with the show’s continuity and doesn’t affect the books. (I can’t understand MGM’s decision to let Devlin and Emmerich resume their vastly inferior version of Stargate rather than continuing the TV universe.) I also sat in the audience for a panel called “The Villain’s Journey,” with quite a few people including Kathleen David (Peter’s wife), David Mack, and Marco Palmieri exploring the question of whether there was a Villain’s Journey model to complement the standard Campbellian Hero’s Journey. An interesting talk, but it got a bit too philosophical for me at times.

And then I was a member of two more consecutive panels. First was “Writing Action Scenes,” with Dave Mack, Kirsten Beyer, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and a couple of others I didn’t know. I felt a little out of place there, since my approach to action is a little more understated and less based on experience than that of some of the other panelists. But it was informative; Keith’s experience with karate brought some useful insights into the experience of being in a fight, which hopefully can be useful to me in future writing.

Finally was “Series in the Sandbox” with Dave, Kirsten, Dayton, and Kevin, focusing on ongoing single-author or single-team series in Trek (since SG author Jo Graham couldn’t make it). This was supposed to be my big chance to promote what I’m doing in Rise of the Federation, but I can’t remember whether I really talked about it much. By that point I was so frazzled that I wasn’t really sure what was going on.

But fortunately a bunch of us went out to dinner at that really good barbecue place near the hotel, Andy Nelson’s Barbecue Restaurant. It’s the second time I’ve been taken there, and I think I had the same thing I had the first time: a pulled turkey BBQ sandwich, cornbread, and cole slaw, along with a much-needed iced tea. I generally don’t like either cornbread or cole slaw that much, but both were excellent here. It was nice to get to hang out with the group, but the problem with being in such a large group at such a long table — especially since I was sitting at one end — is that you don’t really get to talk to everyone. I was hoping to get to talk more with Kirsten Beyer this weekend, for instance, just to catch up, but we only got to talk briefly a couple of times. (Usually, these past few years, Meet the Pros has died down early enough that the writers have had more time to wander the hall and socialize, but this year we were kept pretty busy throughout.)

I just went back to my room after that, since I needed the peace and quiet after that long, long day. By the time I got up Sunday morning, it was almost time for the author breakfast in the hotel bar. After that I attended the memorial service for the late Ann (A.C.) Crispin, though I’m not sure I really belonged there, since it turned out to be more of a private gathering for her friends, and I was never more than passingly acquainted with her. But I wanted to show my respects. It was a nice service, and the stories her friends told made me regret that I didn’t get to know her better.

I don’t remember what I did for the next hour — probably just went back to my room — but then I went to a panel about Orphan Black that Marco was on along with… oh, man, I totally don’t remember. I think Aaron Rosenberg was there? It was a fun panel, though. After that, I went to a presentation by artist Rob Caswell, whose art inspired the Star Trek: Seekers novel series that Dave, Dayton, and Kevin have just debuted. But halfway through that, I realized I’d been so caught up in panel after panel that I’d totally forgotten to go down to the book vendors’ table and do my stint in the author chimney, the little recessed space between brick columns where we authors sit for an hour or so to sign autographs. And I’d arranged to get a ride to the mall (where I could get lunch and wait for the light rail) right after that panel ended, so I was only able to give the book folks half an hour, during which it was almost totally dead because it was the afternoon of the last day and everyone had already spent whatever they had to spend. I regret that I let this slip my mind until it was almost too late.

So I got a good lunch at the mall, which Marco very nicely picked up the tab for, and then my light rail trip began. And this is where the fun ended. I got mixed messages about whether the train I caught was going to the airport, and it turned out not to be, so I realized I’d have to transfer. Although it became evident that if I’d waited 2-3 more minutes, I would’ve caught the airport train. And halfway through the trip on the train I was on, it got overloaded with Orioles fans who I guess were going home from a game, and it was hellishly noisy and crowded, and I wasn’t comfortable about being on the wrong train. I mean, logically I knew that the right train was behind this one on the same track so I couldn’t possibly miss it, but neurotically, all I knew was Oh my gawd I’m on the wrong train!!  And I was fatigued enough that neurosis won out over logic. I could’ve transferred much earlier, but I checked the MTA website and there was a travel advisory about a power outage on the tracks and the need to take a bus from a certain station, so I wanted to wait to transfer at that station just in case the problem was still around. And once the gaggle of fans boarded, I had to wait until the crowd thinned anyway. But once I finally got on the right train, it was so very empty compared to the one I’d been on. Oh, if only I’d waited those 2-3 minutes more! To add insult to injury, midway through the ride I discovered that I could access a tracking page on my smartphone which showed me exactly where the trains were. If I’d looked into that before my trip, I could’ve determined in advance which train I wanted.

And then I had to wait in a long line at the airport and do the whole rigmarole of taking everything out of my pockets and storing it in my bags and jacket — only to end up in the expedited line at the end of the process and learn too late that none of that had been necessary at all. You couldn’t have told us sooner, guys? By this point I was tired of spending extravagant prices on food, and my late lunch had been satisfying, so my “supper” consisted of a protein bar I bought at BWI and a smoothie I later bought at the Philly airport. The flight to Philly was uneventful but the taxiing took forever. For some reason, they used a huge plane for such a short hop (although it was going on to Dallas afterward) — it probably seated more people than both my Friday flights combined. The flight from Philly to CVG also took forever to get takeoff clearance, and we hit some bad weather along the way and there were some scary moments of turbulence. I was struck when I looked out the window and realized the flashing wing lights were illuminating a spray of raindrops streaking backward relative to the jet. No, I didn’t see a gremlin on the wing, but there was a moment there when I wouldn’t have been surprised to.

The weather delayed us just enough that I missed the last bus from CVG to downtown Cincy, and I learned that a taxi ride home would cost 42 bucks. So I caught an executive shuttle van for only 22 bucks to get to the bus stop downtown — only to learn at the last moment that I could have arranged a ride all the way home for a few bucks more, but that the driver couldn’t accept any additional payment at that point. Argh. And then it looked like I’d missed the bus I wanted and would have to wait 40 minutes, but then the bus came late, which was a relief. It didn’t get me as close to home as the later bus would’ve, though, so I had to walk a few blocks at night in what isn’t the best neighborhood, which wasn’t fun. By the time I finally got home well after midnight, I was too tired to do anything but shower off the travel sweat and go right to bed.

I decided to fly because I didn’t want to go through the long slog of spending 2 days driving each way and not getting any sleep at motels, and risking drives through terrible weather. But after all this, driving is looking a lot better. At least it’s a lot quieter, giving me a lot of time to think. Which can get boring, but it’s not as harrowing as all this. Maybe I’d have a better memory of the con this year if the trip home hadn’t been so hectic. Also — between buses, planes, and trains, my outgoing trip took over seven hours from home to hotel, and my return trip took over nine hours the other way. The drive to or from Shore Leave is 10-11 hours split over 2 days. So maybe I don’t save so much time by flying after all.

I don’t mean to sound negative. Shore Leave itself was great, and I got a lot out of it this year. It just went by so fast. Maybe next year I should use more restraint in volunteering for panels, so I have more downtime. Although I guess that wouldn’t rule out having most of my panels scheduled on one day.

And who knows? Maybe next year I’ll have more new work to promote and talk about. I certainly hope I will. To that end, though, I should probably get back to work…

Getting back from travel

Okay, I’m back home from Detroit. I didn’t post during my trip since something was wrong with my aunt and uncle’s wifi, and I was occupied with other stuff anyway. I guess I could’ve posted from my smartphone, but it didn’t occur to me as something I needed to do.

I had a nice visit with Aunt Shirley and Cousin Cynthia, though Uncle Harry was away with my other cousins because of health issues delaying his return home. I wish him a speedy recovery. Thanks to Shirley’s vegetarian cooking, I tried my first Thai food, rice noodles with satay (peanut and coconut) sauce, and found it fairly interesting. I generally don’t care for Asian cuisine because I’m not fond of soy sauce or sweet-and-sour sauce, and I’d heard that Thai food was very spicy so I wasn’t tempted to try it, but I like peanuts and coconuts, so this was agreeable. The other favorite home-prepared thing I had was some sweet-potato gnocchi that we had along with spinach and onion omelets (another thing I usually don’t eat — I’m not an egg person, generally). And on my last full day, we got a nice “spinach supreme” pizza from a local place, and I got to take a few pieces with me for lunch on the drive home and dinner when I got back.

One evening I went on a bike ride with Shirley and Uncle Clarence (who lives nearby), and it’s fortunate it was a slow ride; I didn’t bring my own bike, and the only one available was a rather unusually structured one that wasn’t quite recumbent but had a seat with a back you could lean against. I don’t remember the brand name of it — something that started with Re-.  (Edit: Cynthia tells me it’s a Revive.) It took a little getting used to, particularly since I’m out of practice at bike-riding anyway (I’ll avoid the obvious joke), but I did okay for the relatively brief duration of the ride.

And I finally got a chance to look through what we call “The Grampa Book,” a Bennett family genealogy that was compiled some decades ago, but that my father never got a copy of because he wasn’t very family-oriented. I do recall getting to see it at least once before, but that was many years ago, and in my more recent family interactions, it wasn’t until now that we actually tracked it down for me to look at. I learned a number of things I hadn’t known before, even about my own branch of the family. I never knew, for instance, that my maternal grandmother had the same first name as my sister. I lost touch with that side of the family after we lost my mother, and I was very young when that happened, so I only knew my maternal grandmother as “Grandmama.” (Which was how I distinguished her from my other grandmother, “Grandma.”) But I learned some other things too. For instance, a couple of my ancestors testified at the only colonial witch trial held outside of Massachusetts, a 1692 trial in Fairfield, Connecticut of an alleged witch named Mercy Disbrow or Disborough. Unfortunately they testified on the wrong side, against her. She was convicted, but spared due to a technicality. (Cousin Cynthia once just randomly discovered that an acquaintance of hers was descended from Mercy Disbrow, a rather astonishing coincidence.)

Also, it turns out that some of my paternal ancestors were a lot more religious than my grandfather and his progeny — his older siblings included some people with unusual Biblical names, like Philander Bennett (it originally meant “lover of men,” as in a philanthropist, but it seems to have gotten confused to mean “a loving man” at some point) and Zadok Alonzo Bennett. I think I’m going to swipe “Zadok” as a Vulcan name in my current novel.

And I finally found out where the Bennetts came from. I’ve known since my first, long-ago glimpse of The Grampa Book that my ancestors have been in the US since colonial times, but I was never clear on where they came from before that. It turns out that the first Bennett in the New World, James Bennett, was born in County Kent, England around 1616. He may have been the son of a tailor named Jacobus Bennett of Appledore (who’s listed in the Canterbury marriage licenses, 1609), but there’s no proof of that. He sailed in December 1634  aboard a ship called the Hercules of Sandwich, which sounds like a slogan for a fast-food offering. He was one of seven servants of a yeoman (i.e. landowning farmer or minor nobleman) named Nathaniel Tilden, the former mayor of Tenterden in Kent and the most prominent passenger aboard the Hercules. They settled in the colony of Scituate, Massachusetts, where Tilden became ruling elder of its first church. I find a number of online sites about the Hercules and its passengers, but poor James B. tends to get lumped anonymously under “servants” in the manifests. Most of my other paternal ancestors seem to be English, mainly from the home counties (i.e. southeast England around London) but some from around Yorkshire or Hereford as well as one from Scotland. Although apparently my paternal grandmother’s ancestry was largely German.

Unfortunately the family genealogy doesn’t go back beyond the first generation of colonists in the 1600s, since the compiler never got the chance to visit England and continue his research there. Still, it’s nice to know this much. I’ve always been an Anglophile, so it’s cool to know I have roots over there.  And I’m rather pleased to find I’m descended from a commoner rather than a nobleman.

(I’m afraid I don’t know much about my maternal ancestors, but doing a web search now for my mother’s rather uncommon maiden name suggests that they were originally from Scotland, part of a wave of Scots and Irish settlers who came to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia in the 1770s — and apparently never left, since that’s where my mother was from.)

Well, my smartphone did prove useful on my trip. I was able to use a weather radar app I downloaded to warn me when a rainstorm was approaching, which let me sit it out at a rest area while it passed, and I was able to pass the time websurfing on my phone. Although that kind of backfired, since I then ran straight into a severe traffic jam, and by the time I finally got up to Michigan over an hour behind schedule, I ran into the afternoon rain I’d been hoping to avoid, as well as rush hour traffic. Oh, and having unlimited texting was really helpful, because it let me text ahead and let the folks know when to expect me, including updates on my delays. I also used a gas price app to find the least expensive fuel along the route (in the Toledo area), and GPS to get directions to that station and then back to I-75, and then for the final leg to my aunt’s house — although I think I misunderstood an instruction and took the wrong turn, but that just put me on the route I usually take anyway and the phone GPS adapted. However, I found that GPS use really drained the battery, so I had to plug in the backup battery pack that Cousin Mark got me last Christmas. I’d been thinking of getting a car lighter to USB adapter, but I thought I’d try going without one this time to assess the need. The verdict is that next time I really should have one.

Still, as cool as the GPS navigator is, it’s the sort of thing that would work best if I had a passenger to monitor the phone for me so I could keep my eye on the road. Although I suppose they probably make some kind of bracket for placing the phone on top of the dashboard, so I wouldn’t have to glance down at the phone in the cupholder.

The GPS was of mixed use on the trip home. It was helpful for directing me from my aunt’s house to I-75 (a route I’d taken before and brought along printed instructions for, but it was handy to have the directions read aloud to me), and then I didn’t think I’d need it anymore. But I hit rush-hour traffic getting into Greater Cincinnati, so I decided to take an early exit and make my way to a familiar road. But at first I wasn’t sure whether the computer was trying to direct me back to the interstate or not, so I had to pull into a parking lot and pull up the list of directions to make sure it was directing me to the route I wanted. It was, and it even corrected me when I took a wrong turn shortly thereafter (since I was coming at a familiar intersection from a new direction and got confused). But then I realized that it was, indeed, trying to direct me to the next I-75 on-ramp. Fortunately, by that point I already knew the rest of the way home, so I could turn it off. Otherwise, my drive home was uneventful, except for hitting a brief, fierce rainstorm not far out from home. Although I guess most rain is fierce when you’re driving through it at highway speeds.

I managed to get some writing done on the trip; on the drive up, I was able to work out how to proceed with the scene I’d begun before I left, and I got it finished by Saturday evening. Also, Cynthia (who’s from the Bay Area) was able to give me some insights into San Francisco for some material set around Starfleet Headquarters in my novel, so that was helpful. But then I let my mind wander to other things, so now I need to get back to work. The vacation is over.

Oh, yeah, that Comic-Con thing

I really ought to post something about New York Comic-Con, but I’ve been too busy or too tired. I’ll try to keep it concise.

I ended up driving after all due to the cost of plane fare after waiting so long to buy tickets. I planned out my route carefully this time, so it went fairly smoothly — but I set out too early on the second day and had a hard time staying alert. I didn’t really feel recovered until after lunch. So on the way back, I think I’ll spend the morning of the second day in the motel just resting, then get a good lunch, then drive the rest of the way home.

I’ve been staying with friend and fellow author Keith R.A. DeCandido, his fiancee, a family friend, several cats, and a large Golden Retriever. I was nervous about the latter, but he’s a friendly dog and I’ve been getting used to having him around. Indeed, there’s something reassuring about knowing a dog that big is sleeping outside your bedroom door, on sentry duty as it were.

The two days I spent at the con are kind of a blur right now, so to sum up: both my signings on Friday went pretty well. The GraphicAudio booth is in a good location and drew a lot of attention from passersby, and we got to sell a number of copies of my audiobooks, along with free copies of the prose books as a bonus — courtesy of Tor in the case of Only Superhuman, plus a few Spider-Man; Drowned in Thunder copies which I provided myself. I was expecting Tor to be offering the paperback, but their giveaway copies (half of which I took over to GA, the rest of which I signed for them to give out at Tor’s booth) were hardcovers instead. I guess that makes sense — they want to use up the stock now that people will mostly be buying the MMPB. But it made it more of a slog to carry them over to the GA booth through the Comic-Con crowd. Anyway, the giveaway copies moved pretty well, I was told. My A Choice of Futures signing at the SImon & Schuster booth went well too; this time people actually came to see me specifically rather than just happening to pass by.

I got to talk with a number of colleagues — Keith, of course, and the GA people, and fellow Trek author Kevin Dilmore, who works for Hallmark and was manning their display. It was nice to catch up with him. Unfortunately my former Trek editor Marco Palmieri, now at Tor, was too busy to talk much. I also had fun meeting Lilly, a friend of Keith’s who’s a professional balloon artist, and who performed at his booth to attract passersby. It’s an interesting craft, improvisational yet requiring a lot of meticulous manual control and precision.

Today I just stayed in and rested while Keith et al. went in to the con. I needed a day of quiet to recover before undertaking the drive home tomorrow. I did go down to the local pizza place for lunch, though, and had an excellent slice of white pizza with spinach.

That’s all for now. Maybe I’ll mention more details later, if any come to mind.

Matrix misfires and food follies

Well, that fancy new collagen matrix that was supposed to replace my lost gum tissue hasn’t worked out too well. The doctor says I’ll have to come back in for the standard gum-graft procedure where they take some existing gum tissue from elsewhere in my mouth. So I’ll have to go through that same procedure a second time, only it’ll be more unpleasant. Ugh. At least I get to wait a few weeks, since right now I’m busy finishing up Tower of Babel and right after that I have the Shore Leave convention.

At least for now, I’m finally able to resume a normal diet. For about six weeks, I had to avoid biting into anything with my front teeth. I managed to have the occasional peanut butter sandwich or hot dog by cutting it into pieces with a knife, but it just wasn’t the same. For the moment, I’m back to normal and enjoying getting to bite into stuff again.

I actually had a pretty full head of lettuce in the fridge when this started, wrapped in a towel inside a plastic bag with a hole or two poked in it for ventilation and stored in the back of the crisper drawer. I’ve been afraid to take a look at it, expecting it to be badly wilted at best, if not rotten. But to my astonishment, it was still quite crisp and pristine. I guess that storage method really works. I’m not entirely sure it’s actually been in there for six weeks — that seems unlikely — but I can’t think why I would’ve bought lettuce in the interim, since I couldn’t have burgers or sandwiches with crunchy stuff in them.

Unfortunately, now that I can have sandwiches again, I’ve discovered that two of the local sandwich places I frequented, Arby’s and Jersey Mike’s, have both closed, and the nearest remaining ones of both are across the river in Kentucky — though there are others in parts of town I occasionally have other reason to drive to, and indeed I got an Arby’s sandwich after leaving the periodontist’s office the other day, the first meal I had after being cleared to bite stuff again. Still, it’s frustrating not having them in walking distance. There are several other sandwich places locally, including two or three that just opened in the newly constructed plaza by the university, but they’re not the same.

There seems to be an increasing dearth of restaurants specializing in roast beef. There used to be one called Rax that I really liked, many years ago, but then they closed and I had to settle for Arby’s, whose roast-beef sandwiches weren’t nearly as good. Then Arby’s came out with the Market Fresh sandwiches, which were really good, but I usually had the turkey & swiss. Now Arby’s stores seem to be getting thinner on the ground. I guess maybe the trend has been toward more generalized sandwich shops that offer a variety of meats, and that’s absorbed the market for the more specialized ones (and Arby’s barely even qualifies as a roast-beef specialist anymore, even though that’s what the name means — sound it out).

But, although I’ve lost two sandwich shops within walking distance, I recently discovered that there’s a Donato’s Pizza about to open near my local post office. I’ve long been fond of their pizzas, especially their Hawaiian variety, but it’s been a long time since I’ve lived close to one of their stores. So that makes up for the loss somewhat.

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Brown-bagging it

I noticed the other day that a new sandwich shop called “Which Wich” has opened across the street from the local post office, so I decided to try it out. Their gimmick is that below the wall menu is a bunch of hoppers with different paper bags in them, one for each category of sandwich (e.g. turkey, ham, specialty, etc.), and printed on each bag is an order form where you can use the provided markers to check off the type of bread, toppings, etc. you want, whereupon you hand it to the cashier, who rings up your order and then hands it to the preparer to follow like a deli order slip, sliding it along until the completed sandwich reaches the end of the prep area and is inserted into the aforementioned bag. It seemed like kind of a neat idea at first, and maybe it would make things more efficient when things are busy; but I was the only customer ordering and it seemed to me that it just added more complications to the process. Even with my clearly marked instructions on the bag/form, I still had to watch the guy preparing the sandwich and remind him I’d asked for cucumber.

At least the guy had his salesmanship down, asking how my day was going and then saying it would get better once I got the sandwich. But it didn’t live up to the hype; the sandwich was okay but fairly ordinary, a lot like Potbelly or maybe Penn Station. The ordering gimmick is the main thing that distinguishes it. And I don’t know if that gimmick would really appeal to the university students who are likely to be the store’s main clientele, and who have enough bubbles to fill out on forms as it is. “Now you can have the fun of pretending to take a test while you order lunch!” Yeah, that’s a good idea…

Still,the menu did list some varieties of sandwich I haven’t seen elsewhere and might want to try, like chicken pesto or black-bean patties — and they offer spinach as well as lettuce, which is good. So if I should again happen to find myself at the post office around mealtime, I may decide to give it another try. At least it’s good to have another option.

Actually there’s a lot of new construction around the university these days, new apartment buildings going up all over the place to accommodate the student market, and there are a number of storefronts included on the ground floors. I’ve noticed a few new signs already going up closer to home, including a Mexican restaurant, a frozen yogurt place, and a Waffle House — which is cool, since I’ve long lamented the lack of a breakfast-type eatery in the area. And there’s still plenty of room for other businesses. I wonder what other dining options might materialize in the neighborhood soon.

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There is such a thing as a (semi-)free lunch

I went for a walk today to enjoy the 70-degree weather, and I decided to take a path that would a) include a long, moderate uphill climb so I could get some decent exercise and b) bring me to an area near the university where various sandwich shops and the like were located, in case I decided to buy lunch at one of them. But I wasn’t really in the mood for the available options, though I was leaning toward one.

But then I noticed that there was some kind of food cart on the corner, and decided to investigate. It was someone giving out free samples of Sabra brand hummus. Never one to pass up free food (if it’s a kind I like, and I do like hummus), I took a couple of samples and decided my lunch selection had been made for me. I already had some pitas and vegetables in the fridge, so now I’m having hummus pitas with tomato, cucumber, and onion, and they’re reasonably good. The hummus has a little too much bite for me, but it works better blended with the other flavors, and it’s got a good texture. I think I’ll stick with the hummus mix I usually buy, but a little variety now and then isn’t bad. Especially when it’s free.

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Tea rose… and fell in my estimation

Oh, what a terrible pun. So naturally I couldn’t resist. Anyway…

Sometimes taking a chance on something new works out well — like last year when I decided to try out the Earl Grey teabag I found in a hotel room where I was staying and rather liked it. But sometimes it doesn’t work out at all — like yesterday, when I finally decided to try the bonus sample of French vanilla chai that came in the box of Earl Grey teabags I had bought as a result of that discovery. (I don’t have tea very often, so I’m still working through the first box.) Or rather, it was a blend of black tea with French vanilla and spices which I think were cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves. And I found it so repulsive that I dumped it down the sink after the first test sip (well, the second, but they were really tiny sips), rinsed out the cup, and made some Earl Grey instead. What’s more, I was still detecting whiffs of its cloying aroma as recently as this morning. Not pleasant. Well, at least it was a free sample (I think).

Apparently “chai” is the term generally used in the West for a sweetened, spiced Indian variety of tea properly called Masala chai (since chai is simply the word for tea in many Asian languages), and this was apparently a pretty typical example of that in terms of the spices, though with French vanilla added. Maybe that makes sense; I gather Indian cuisine is quite spicy and aromatic. I’ve never actually tried it, though, which may be why I didn’t know the flavoring in the chai would be so overpowering. Well, now I know.

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