Wednesday, June 25, 2008

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The Strongest Drink in New Orleans

Recently I had a chance to visit New Orleans as my wife was attending a conference there. This afforded me the opportunity to a bit of exploring on my own while the conference was in session. I wandered the French Quarter and ate beignets with chicory coffee each morning at Cafe du Monde. The French Quarter has this great feeling about it from 7 in the morning to about 9. Most people haven't recovered from the night before but the streets are busy with people pressure washing puke off the sidewalks. Other than that it's very quiet.

Despite these cleaning activities I did enjoy looking at the old houses; the fences and gates in particular. So many of them had interesting defenses. Broken bits of glass embedded into cement on the top of them prevented you from scaling the walls or climbing over the gate to get into the courtyards and for good reason.

Even though these dwellings may have great historic value they are also Bourbon Street adjacent. Regardless of the historical and culinary significance of the area the existence of a year round spring break party necessitates a certain level of home defense. It's natural that such an environment would attract the heavy drinking college students of the United States. From what I gathered the party starts at about 10am with some beer drinking and really gets going at about two in the afternoon, it goes down hill from there as far as I'm concerned.

Considering all of this it's not surprising amongst the various lewd advertisements that I came across several posters claiming one drink in particular as "New Orleans Strongest".

It is my theory that the Hand Grenade was born of a need to get people drunk with a drink that is easy to make (only 5 ingredients of equal measure) , doesn't taste like anything else you've tried and is impossibly strong. I would imagine that this drink is mixed with very low end ingredients as if you are ordering one of these then you are probably beyond the point that you care.

It was a little sad to see this drink so popular in a time where properly made cocktails are on the comeback and correctly made drinks with balance ans style are appreciated once again. I do however recognize the need for such novelty drinks. Did I mention that this is served in a tall plastic cup with a hand grenade shape on the bottom?

As a point of reference this drink contains two to three times the amount of alcohol that is in the legendarily powerful Long Island Iced Tea depending on who is making the drinks. In doing a little research on the Hand Grenade I noted that the recipe gets consistently high marks. I attribute this to my theory that the people that are making these at home are trying to get so drunk that they can't remember what they had to drink.

At this point I must say that I did not try the Hand Grenade but rather I am making assumptions based on the recipe and the aftermath that it leaves in its wake (which I did see). Rumor has it that you can also order this drink with "the pin pulled" which adds some extra 151 proof rum which can be flaming so long as it's not served in a plastic cup.

I think that it is worth noting that lighting a drink on fire in a plastic cup is a really bad idea. I only did this once and it resulted in a melted plastic cup and it freaked out my cousin. Only light drinks on fire if you have read up on the subject and are using flame proof drinkware. Flaming drinks are best early in the night to avoid accidents.

Below is one of the recipes that I found for this drink, some recipes noted that you can add water and sugar to taste. Personally I'm not sure that there is enough sugar and water to make this drink palatable.

The Hand Grenade
1.25 oz Gin
1.25 oz Rum
1.25 oz Vodka
1.25 oz Melon Liqueur
1.25 oz Grain Alcohol
Shake with ice

As you can see there are no mixers, unless you count grain alcohol as a mixer. The amazing thing is that I saw people walking around carrying two of these. I assume that one was from a friend that had passed out but still. My advice is that unless you are a fan of the Screaming Purple Jesus (which is also highly ranked oddly enough which further backs up my above theory) you might want to leave this one alone.

In order to maintain a little bit of balance I'd also like to make mention of the Sazerac. This drink has a deep and rich history, it was born in New Orleans and still served to this day. It's from as era long before plastic cups full of booze roamed freely in the area and is a drink that is not to be forgot any time soon. Hopefully the Hand Grenade will not be so well known in 138 years time.

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Coming Soon: Vending Machine Love

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The random famous people I haven't recognized

I have to admit that I'm not the best at recognizing famous people when I come across them in real life. Most of the time I don't give them a second glance as they are just people. I do tend to focus on architecture, trees and little non people things that distract me. I notice them as people, it's not like I bump into them or anything, I just don't recognize them as someone that I should recognize. I also don't keep up on celebrities and I can never remember actors names.

I've probably run into many famous people but I just haven't recognized them. Below are the stories behind several of my encounters with people who are more famous than myself. OK, these are all people that are way more famous than me, you have probably even heard of some of them.

LL Cool J: This was my latest famous person encounter. I was checking in at the Brisbane, Australia airport and there was some commotion behind me. A group of 5 or so guys were complaining that they were escorted to the front of the queue and wanted to know why they were waiting now. I thought that was pretty obnoxious. The agent that was helping me asked me if that was LL Cool J, I looked around and didn't recognize any of them so I told him I didn't know. The agent rushed to finish helping me at this point and promptly took his break.

Wouldn't you know it, that was LL Cool J and his entourage and they were on the same plane I was on, fun. Most interesting in his group was the guy that I designated as his manager, a portly fellow who was very friendly, easy to talk to and had a fondness for mimosas even though it wasn't brunch time.

When we got back to the states LL was wearing a white hooded sweatshirt and had a large stuffed dog that he carried around with him. Our queues intersected once and I overheard him asking his manager if he really had to wait in line, his manager said he'd make a call but he never did.

Dee Snyder: While working in Southern New Jersey the hotel that I was staying at was taken over by a movie monster/horror convention. I was initially on the 4th floor but my door wouldn't properly shut, it had a handicap accessible bathroom. They moved me to a nicer room on the 10th floor that didn't have working AC, the view was really nice though. At any rate being on the 10th floor put me and my wife (though she wasn't my wife at the time, for ease of reading I will refer to her here on out as my wife but you should know that we did have some adventures before we were married) on the same floor as Dee Snyder who happened to be the key note speaker for the convention.

I'm not exactly what you have to do to become the key note speaker at such an event but Dee Snyder had apparently won the respect and admiration of all of these crazy people. There were people dressed up in costume, some as zombies and others in t-shirts that plainly claimed that they loved zombies. Of course I would be a terrible person if I didn't mention that I wasn't completely uninterested in the goings on of the event as I have been known to sling my fair share of food coloring laced corn syrup if you catch my meaning. I have a zombie costume in my closet.

Anyway, enough about me. My wife and I were heading out to dinner and there were some security types in yellow shirts that held us up at the elevator. This was a bit of a pain as the hotel was completely full and the elevators were running at full tilt. Eventually they let us on along with this tall guy with long hair. We continued our conversation without paying him much mind though I did notice that he had these great purple suede boots with silver accents.

When we get out of the elevator my wife asks me if that was Dee Snyder. I stared at her blankly. She said "You know, the guy from I love the 80's." After a quick search on the internet, sure enough that was Dee Snyder.

Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman: In Providence, Rhode Island my wife and I were walking down Thayer street and she said "Hey, that was Rhea Perlman and she was trying to help Danny Devito parallel park a large black SUV." I turned around and didn't see either of them. She could have made this one up but I'm usually the one that does that kind of thing.

Marylin Manson: Coming home from LAX to EUG I was checking in my wife and myself and the agent wrote on a boarding card "Marylin Manson" with an arrow on it and it looked like she was pointing it at me. I thought she was nuts and I was digging out IDs and the itinerary so I paid her no mind.

Later I find out from my parents that Marylin Manson was checking in next to us and I completely missed him. Well I wouldn't say that I missed him but you know what I mean.

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Coming Soon: The strongest drink in New Orleans

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

True Coworker Story: Paperwork Trouble

I work with a very interesting group of people and I hear some great stories such as the time one of my coworkers may or may not have killed his landlord with a cup of coffee (he makes a great cup of coffee by the way). While that is a great story it’s a bit of a stretch to make it about travel, if you know me please ask me about it. Every now and then I hear a story about someone's travels that’s easy to relate with, incredibly funny (because it didn’t happen to me) and it's just too good not to share. The tale that follows is one of those stories.

While traveling in China my coworker went out to dinner to entertain his customer and upon sitting down at the table of a fairly nice restaurant the party was presented with a box of napkins for the table to use. He thought this slightly odd but was thankful for such a bounty of napkins and wondered if the food was really messy here, hmmm.

The dinner progresses as business dinners tend to and the one of the normal needs that humans tend to have over the course of such dinners began to kick in. Naturally my coworker sought the shelter of the room that one takes care of these kinds of needs. After taking care of the primary objective he aimed to complete the paperwork that this task generally requires however the forms were not present.

This is the moment at which panic usually sets in. There was however an added curiosity this time. Not only where the forms not present but the folder that usually contains said forms was also missing. Upon contemplating the situation and verifying that there was no one else in the area he moved to a new "workspace". After settling in he found that the forms and the form folder were once again nowhere to be found.

Calmly he started to go over his options. I can only imagine what he was thinking in this scenario but I would like to think that I would be as resourceful were I to have been in his place. My coworker found a solution in his wallet.

He figured that the receipts that he had accumulated on the trip thus far would just about do it, not the most comfortable solution but it would work. This of course would lead to an interesting conversation when it became time to file the expense report for this trip but right now this pressing paperwork took precedent over such mundane matters. With proper planning and a steady hand the standard receipt could be used a total of 3 times and then discarded.

Upon completion of this task he was quite irritated and returned to his party. He objected to the staff about the deficiency that he had just had to deal with. Calmly he was told that the napkins that were so innocently presented were to be used for all of his paperwork needs at the establishment.

How anyone was supposed to know of the need to take the napkins with you is beyond me. Thus are the adventures that happen when you travel abroad. I am truly sorry that I was not present for the conversation that took place while he submitted his expense report.

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Coming Soon: The random famous people I haven't recognized

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Favorite Travel Gear

Traveling as much as I do there are certain things that I have grown accustomed to carrying with me to make my travel life more comfortable. Most of these things have proven useful so many times I wouldn't think about traveling without them. Others such as the soap leaves are of theoretical value and have yet to prove themselves in the field.

This list has changed as my travel needs have evolved and I'm sure that it will continue to evolve as I discover new items that can make my travels more comfortable. The below list is in no particular order.

Travel journal: I am fairly dedicated in writing in my travel journal. It is not only a record of things I've done, places I've been and people I've met but it also helps me plan for the adventures I'm going to have in the future. I've had strangers draw maps to a favorite pub (I didn't find it by the way) and I've jotted down local phrases for future reference. I've also pressed leaves and other flat things that I've found along the way.

It aids my memory by holding onto all of my frequent flier numbers and remembers where I parked my car two weeks ago. I'm on my third travel journal right now and I like a medium/small sketchbook as they are about $5, just the right size, easy to find and are unlined.

3 ball point pens: A primary and two backups because if you only have one backup that one will explode on you and you won't have a pen to write with when your primary runs out of ink. Not to mention that your hand will be covered in ink.

Pocket knife: This doesn't really belong in this group as it's an everyday life gear item but I'll include it for completeness. True I have to check it in my suitcase but I use it everyday for any number of things. I prefer the Tinker by Victorinox.

Reusable water bottle: Nalgene bottles are quite handy as you can just use a drinking fountain instead of buying a $3 bottle of airport water. Three of those bottles of water buys you a Nalgene bottle that you can use over and over again. You are also reusing over recycling which is better environmentally. You'll also need a bottle brush to keep it clean but if it's only water then that isn't every day that you need to wash it. You can even brew tea in these, just get a couple/four tea bags and pop em in with some cold water. A couple hours later and you've got tea. I've used the free in room tea bags but it's always better to bring your own.

Ear plugs: Little foamy $2 earplugs. These are the best when you get stuck in a room next to an elevator because you checked in at midnight. Mine came in a hard plastic container which is handy for travel.

Comfy shoes: Shoes for walking and shoes for working, these are usually different shoes.

Snacks: My favorites are Cliff Bars, beef jerky (they'll take this at Australian customs), figs, peanuts, almonds and dried apricots. Basically anything that packs well makes good travel food.

Toilet seat covers: That only sounds strange when you think about it. Lots of places (whole countries even) don't have these. You can get your own from the camping section of your local mega mart, they come in 10 packs. Mentioning that you are carrying toilet seat covers is not as good a conversation starter as you may think.

Soap leaves: I found soap leaves at a local shop that sells fancy soaps. There are solid leaves of soap (they look like sheets of paper) in a thing that looks like an oversized matchbook. Fortunately it comes in a plastic sleeve otherwise mine would have melted in the last downpour I was in (Australia or Germany, Germany was worse, stupid bus). These haven't seen action yet but I'm sure they will some day.

$100 bill: A crispy one if possible. This I carry on international trips just in case my ATM card doesn't work. It can always be converted to local currency and buys me enough time to come up with a plan C or find a compatible ATM.

Local coins: For some reason I really like vending machines and carrying a few local coins helps me get something cold to drink even if I don't speak the local language. I keep a container of local coins with a value under 50 cents and those stay home, anything larger than that comes with me when appropriate. Having local folding money is also nice if you happen to have it.

GPS device: This has helped me out several times. When I get to a new place I'll waypoint my hotel. Then when I'm wandering around I can always find my way back. I used this to find my way home when I got turned around in London, it was very handy.

Distraction: For me this is usually a sewing project (I like to make sock monsters) but it could be my MP4 player loaded up with some Dr. Who episodes or an interesting podcast. I have started downloading podcasts to learn new languages but that aspect of the device is theoretical at this point.

Tiger balm: Good for sore muscles and really clears you up when you need it to. The power of menthol and the goodness of camphor, how could it be bad?

Pills: melatonin (resets your internal clock), anti-diarrhea pills, Tylenol.

Change of clothes: My carry on has a shirt, pair of pants, underwear, socks, comb, toothbrush and razor at all times. You never know when your bags will get redirected to someplace you aren't going to.

Well that's about it, I carry other things as well but these are the ones that I wouldn't want to be without.

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Coming Soon: True story from a coworker