Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ricky J's

Sometimes I don't know where to start. I've mentioned before that things happen to me that don't typically happen to other people, which is the reason this blog was born. A couple of weeks ago, we had another one of those "this is your life" moments, and it begs to be told.

We met some friends at the U.S. National Whitewater Center for a beer and music festival. Technically, the location of the Whitewater Center is in Charlotte, however, that is not exactly accurate. I would classify it more as Out In the Sticks, North Carolina. Despite the remote location, the place is beautiful and we had a great time. That said, it was roughly 123 degrees in the shade that Saturday afternoon and after a couple of hours, we decided to seek refuge in some air conditioning while we waited for the evening concert to begin.

The fine vehicle for sale outside.
The Whitewater Center has a relatively nice restaurant, and I have heard that the food is great. But that would have been too easy. Why walk 30 feet for a meal when you can have a food-seeking adventure instead? One of the guys in our group promised he knew a great little place, a hidden gem a few minutes down the road. And so we ventured to the dive bar known as Ricky J's.

The sign out front promised new look, new menu, and new fun. How can you say no to that? Once we crossed the gravel parking lot and passed the sky blue Crown Victoria for sale parked by the front door, we came to the mandatory sign-in sheet. I guess Ricky doesn't just let anyone in his establishment; he needs to verify that you can, at the least, spell your name on command.

Have you ever watched the scene in the Blues Brothers movie, where they walk into a bar, the music stops, and everyone turns to stare? That's kind of the scenario when we finished our sign-in at Ricky J's. It could be that we were ever so slightly out of place in our Tory Burch (girls) and khakis (guys). Or the fact that we were already viciously elbowing each other and muttering, "Oh. My. Gawd." I think some of the regulars seated at the bar did the same thing when they saw us come strolling in, in all our yuppie glory. It was hard to tell exactly what the reactions were, because all the windows were covered with black fabric, making it as dark as a cave even though it was a bright and sunny afternoon. Apparently, regulars at Ricky J's are the type who enjoy a little privacy--and don't we all? Being able to make out the facial features of the person sitting next to you is so overrated. I thought the black out curtains really gave the whole place a VIP lounge feel.

And it treats glaucoma, too.
Sadly, I think Ricky's air-conditioning was on the fritz. Those well-placed black window covers did block out the heat of the sun, but it was still a little, well, sweltering inside the bar. Our group made ourselves at home by procuring one of those industrial floor dryers you see on construction job sites, which was sitting on the side of the stage (live music every weekend!) and turned it toward our table. Ah, the luxury of ventilation. I never said we weren't high-maintenance.

We grabbed some (reportedly new) menus and decided to try some of the more upscale house specialties like nachos, fried pickles, cheeseburgers, and tater tots. I didn't see any vegan or gluten-free options, but I am sure they are always available (for the discriminating palettes of the Ricky J's diners). My friend Amy and I ventured to the ladies room together--safety in numbers--when she spotted the specials written on a chalkboard. In this case, neither of us felt entirely confident that "Pot." in Pot. salad was short for potato. Like my astute friend pointed out, it looks like we overlooked a good chance to try some pot salad. Opportunity missed. Clint also read that Wednesdays are $1 hot dog days. All day, all-you-can-eat. That way, when your pot salad inevitably gives you the munchies, you can indulge in all the hot dogs a 10-spot will buy.

Our food was actually not bad. Not one of us got sick from eating it, which frankly is better than I had dared hope. I could not help but letting loose my hyena laugh when Richard, one of the guys in our yuppie dive bar caravan, enthusiastically ate a fried mushroom and declared, "The food here is better than Dean and Deluca!" Somewhere at that very moment, Dean and his partner Deluca (whoever they are) felt a deep sense of shame and failure without knowing the exact cause. That's what it feels like to be bested by Ricky J.

After a charming gentleman in a mesh trucker hat with "MIKE" on the front walked by our table and informed us, "I ain't your waitress," we came to the conclusion that Ricky J's is a self-serve establishment. Tracy hopped up to get us another round of drinks and returned with an arm full of beverages for the group. She attempted to twist off the cap on her beer, then realized it was not, in fact, a twist-off bottle. She looked across the table at us, a little helpless and a little befuddled that a bartender would just hand that off to a lady, when I explained to her, "If you can't bite the top off that with your teeth, you do not fit in here." I still think that to be an accurate statement. We took the highfalutin way out and asked for a bottle opener. I think I saw an eye roll from the bartender, but with the degree of darkness, I can't be certain.

We went through a couple of winding roads and in and out of some neighborhoods on our way to this best kept secret, so I wasn't completely sure of the street address, until I went to the ladies room and saw this:

So maybe plug that into your GPS and see where it takes you. Clint has already told us that once Ricky J's gets the free wi-fi up and and running, he's thinking of working remotely from there as often as possible. Amy and I are hoping we can get them to cater our next get-together, since we know that Richard prefers fried mushrooms and "Pot. salad" to Dean and Deluca. And we've already told Tracy we aren't letting her go back until she learns how to open that beer bottle with her teeth.

See y'all there, right?

UPDATE: A gentleman who lives near Ricky J's informed my friend Tracy that there is a place across the street that is "even cooler." We've decided to maybe save that for a special occasion.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Go (Father) Figure: Lessons from TV Dads in the 80s

It's almost Father's Day, so in honor of the occasion, I was thinking about some of my favorite TV dads, and the life lessons they imparted week-to-week. When you think of television dads, the first ones that come to mind are probably from shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, or even Happy Days. And yes, those were awesome dads. But you see, I am a child of the '80s, and so my list includes more recent father-figures who were a part of my weekly viewing as a kid. Let's take a look at some of these very of-their-time dads and the parts of their parenting that are pretty much universal.

Let's start with the Big Kahuna, the dad of all 1980s television dads: Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show. To know him was to love him; he was smart, he was funny, and he was sensitive enough to survive raising four daughters and one totally clueless son. We learned a lot from Dr. Huxtable because he knew how to be wise without being preachy, and he talked to his kids about everything from drinking to finances to coping with the loss of a dead pet goldfish. He also showed us that no matter what your dad's fashion sense (those sweaters had a life of their own), or how bad his dance moves are, he's still good ol' lovable dad. You might as well grin and embrace it, or you'll get a zerbert (if this reference doesn't ring a bell, find yourself some Cosby Show reruns immediately--you have a Cosby deficiency).

These next two are personal favorites of mine: Joey and Michael from My Two Dads. For those of you who need a refresher course, young Nicole's mom passed away and joint custody was awarded to two men, both of whom had a thing with Nicole's mom. Joey was the free-spirited artist who showed Nicole how to lighten up and not take herself so seriously, while nervous, responsible Michael helped with school work and accountability. The two dads were complete opposites, but what we can take from them is this: no matter what type personality your dad has, or how opposite from yours it might seem, he's your dad. You may not always understand each other completely, but when it comes right down to it, you're family, and that's what counts. Bonus points if he buys you a couch in the shape of a car like Nicole's dads did.

Another dad who captured my heart was millionaire Nick Foley from the musical show Rags to Riches (he made me want to break into song, too, girls). Nick adopts five orphan girls. The girls aren't used to living in the lap of luxury, and Nick has really only ever thought of himself, so everyone has to adjust to this new "family" situation. This one comes to mind because we could all stand to remember that fatherhood does not come with an instruction manual. Dads are doing their best to fumble their way through it, they learn as they go, and most of the time--hopefully--they get it right. Bear with them, and unless they are as wealthy are Nick Foley of Foley's Frozen Foods, resist the urge to treat the man like an ATM machine. He worked hard for the money you begged him for...even all those times it was "the very last time" you were ever going to ask.
Okay, maybe there wasn't a lot to be learned from Edward Stratton, III, but I really loved Silver Spoons. How can you not love a father who lets you have your own train running through the house? Growing up, when I would ask my dad for certain things, one of his most frequent responses was that he "had to think about it." This usually involved waiting a day or two and then being told no. However, during the suspenseful waiting period, I would sometimes buoy my spirits by thinking that if Ricky Schroeder could have a train in his house, maybe I really could bungee jump/get a go-cart/insert childhood plea here. Stranger things have happened--like railroads running through the living room.

There's no way to talk about television in the '80s without mentioning Punky Brewster (well, not for me, anyway. I had the Punky doll and my mom was patient enough to let me dress like her, bandanna tied around my knee and all). You see, orphan Punky shows up at Henry's apartment building, needing a home. Henry Warnimont is not exactly warm to the idea. In fact, Henry started off a grumpy old man but after the two got to know each other, they became an adorable, unlikely pair. So even when your dad is a tad grouchy, or fails to appreciate your undeniably spunky fashion sense, he would still doing anything for you.

Of course, these are just a few of the fantastic fathers we met during those good old days known as the 1980s. Those were the times when Charles was in charge (of our days and our nights), we all had our Family Ties, Mr. Drummond knew exactly what Willis and Arnold were talking 'bout, and Jason Seaver coaxed everyone through their Growing Pains. I'm willing to bet you can add some great memories of your own dear old dad in with those television ones as well. Take a moment to appreciate all the things your dad brings to the table, and keep in mind the biggest thing these sitcom dads illustrate: when it comes to family, there's no such thing as normal. And sometimes, that can be a really great thing.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Another Walmart Trip

You're not going to believe it. I am still trying to make sure it wasn't a dream, or some sort of walking hallucination, but it appears that I managed to have a semi-pleasant experience at Walmart this week. Shock and awe, right? Since I have been so vocal about my shopping displeasure at the low price leader, I think it only fair to tell you about Monday's events.

To set the scene, Mondays are grocery buying days. What a conundrum that I love food and I love to shop, and somehow I still hate buying groceries. You would think this would be the culmination of two of my super powers and I would be able to leap tall checkout lines in a single bound, but it is usually a very trying adventure, this gathering of supplies to get us through three square meals and multiple snacks for the next seven days.

First, I stopped at Dollar Tree. That's right, I shop at Dollar Tree...frequently. I realize that I walk in, reeking of eau de yuppie, and then proceed to scour the store for frivolous yuppie essentials like holiday merchandise, gift bags, and greeting cards. Fact: we have bought our dog approximately a half a million dollars worth of toys over the years. He will shove aside all the cutesy ones from little doggie boutiques until he finds a squirrel with no eyes that reads "I'm Nuts" that came from Dollar Tree. It's kind of like how you can give a child a fancy toy and then watch them play with the box it came in for the next three hours.

On this particular trip, I stocked up on bottled water. You can get a six-pack of bottled water at Dollar Tree for $1. It's probably the best deal on the planet. So you should know now that when you come to my house, you are consuming bottled water that retailed for 16 cents a piece. Which is better than a certain relative of mine, who shall remain nameless, who pretends to be chivalrous by opening bottled water for his guests before giving it to them to enjoy; the real reason being that he refills the bottles with tap water and uses them again for the next round of guests.

I arrived at the cash register bearing a roll of wrapping paper, a bag of cough drops, a handful of cards, and two packs of water. As I paid, the store clerk informed me that they were completely out of bags. I looked at my haul, which had not been easy to wrangle to the counter. She offered that I could go buy a pack of trash bags and put my purchases inside if I wanted? I see what you're doing there, lady, trying to make another sale, but it isn't happening. I took a deep breath, gathered up all 37 pounds of water and other very reasonably priced items, and struggled my way to the car.

After that escapade, I have to admit that I wondered what special kind of pie Walmart had waiting to throw in my face. Imagine my amazement when the first cart I tried had four working wheels and didn't make noises like mice cheering on a cheese eating contest. I won't say the whole shopping trip was blissful, in fact, it was pretty average in that several people stepped out in front of me and then stopped abruptly to block my path, Walmart was out of albeit strange items like sugar free Jell-O pudding and brown rice, and the aisles were a heyday of people going this way, that way, left, right, and nowhere, all at the same time. But then....

In the produce department, a shockingly attractive lady in a work appropriate dress cut me off with her shopping cart. Now, clearly this lady was lost, disoriented, or from out of town because she was way out of Walmart's league. To further prove it, she promptly apologized for getting in my way, which we all know is a breach of Walmart etiquette. Then, this woman complimented my makeup. I wanted to put her in my cart in between the Diet Coke and Baked Cheetohs and bring her home.

An older gentleman, in a sweater and cap despite the 82 degree weather, overheard this, smiled, and asked me, "You must have a date after this?" I smiled and told him I did not. He winked and said, "Well, you could." I responded, "I don't think my husband would be very happy about that." And that cute little man said, "I wasn't planning to tell him." I blushed into my bag of pears and headed for the checkout.

Those magic moments alone would have been enough, but my amazing journey wasn't over just yet. Attention, Walmart shoppers, do you know what happened next? I walked up to a cashier without waiting. There was no line. I honestly thought the apocalypse was upon us. No line? No people who don't understand how to use the card swipe machine? No crazy cat lady with five cases of cat food and a dozen coupons that won't scan? I was beginning to fear that I had slipped on a loose grape over in produce and was having an unconscious fantasy.

I'm absolutely certain that next week I will get run over by an obese woman wearing fleece pajama pants driving a motorized scooter and become penned underneath an end-cap of NASCAR merchandise, but for now, Walmart, thanks for the memories. They are even better than the falling prices.

Welcome to Walmart.