Best of the Archives #13: Wrapping Up

A dozen “Best Of” articles feels like a good haul for this quarantine project, so I’m going to declare it a wrap and move onto other things at this point. I hope the 12 pieces posted here either elicited “Oh, I remember that!” responses from long-time readers, or “Huh! That was interesting!” reactions from those who started following in the past decade. It was fun to re-read some of these old things, several of which I’d forgotten about, along with a lot of other aged items that I didn’t post on the blog.

While the articles posted here, plus new reflections on them, marked the public part of this little personal project, I actually spent a fair amount of additional times in “back of house” mode doing some other overdue clean-up work, and being The Destroyer. As a result of these activities, the site now only has 939 public articles, about a 15% reduction. I also, finally, killed off and closed down the rump Indie Albany and Indie Moines sites that had been sitting out there for years as “just in case” placeholders. No more. All gone. Destroyer destroyed.

Here’s the roster of featured pieces in one place, if you stumble across this post before the others. Onward!

Rulebound Rebellion (2010)

On Being A Music Critic (1998/2010)

The Shared Experience of Hair Removal (2004)

Interview with Kim Deal (1997)

Fin de Cyclical (1999)

The Road to Anywhere (2003)

The Grease Group (2009)

Heart of Darkness, My Old Friend (2009)

The King of Tests Strikes Out (2002)

A Lifetime of Good Eats (2009)

Trio das le Studio (1999)

Internet Information Overload (1995)

The Destroyer’s work is done. For now.

Best of the Archives #10: A Lifetime of Good Eats

THE ARCHIVAL ARTICLE:

A LIFETIME OF GOOD EATS (2009)

THE BACKGROUND STORY:

There’s an old joke about a Southern man’s personal prospects that posits the greatest uncertainty about his health outcomes thusly: Will he have his first heart attack before he loses all of his teeth or not? I come from a long line of big Southern Men, and it was a valid question for a lot them, as dentures and cardiac arrests were certainly real life concerns for most of the old gents in my life, many of whom were indeed done in by clogged arteries and diabetes, before the cigarettes could get them.

I did learn from that, and I watch what I eat and I exercise regularly. I’ve also been blessed with tough teeth that I care for properly, even though (true confession time) I have probably only been to the dentist two or three times since college. On those rare occasions when I do go, the dentist invariably praises my oral hygiene and says everything’s fine. I’m told that different people have different bacterial cultures in their mouths, some that foment the growth of plaque, and some that foster decay and cavities. Neither one of them seems to care for my pie hole. I’ll take that as a blessing.

I had some blood sugar and cholesterol readings some years back that were marginally problematic. I adjusted the necessary lifestyle choices accordingly, and neither one’s much of a concern for me now. I know I don’t eat as much fruit as I should (it’s a grease group thing), but otherwise I’m pretty good about maintaining a high fiber, low fat, low carb diet, without much red meat in it. I don’t obsessively mind my calories, but I’m mindful of portion control, and I rarely indulge in any belt-busting all-you-can-eat buffet style behaviors either.

But, boy oh boy, is that all learned behavior of my adulthood, because I was brought up eating the polar opposite of that, in almost every way. Today’s archival article is a remembrance of those glorious, innocent days when buffets, fried foods, sweet tea, processed meats, and just about every other unhealthy thing imaginable featured heavily in my diet, and the diets of pretty much everybody around me, friends and family alike. It was all bad for us, sure, but it certainly tasted good, and I sure do remember those days fondly and wistfully — most especially my dad’s quixotic quest for the perfect chili dog, which found us buying unhealthy bags-worth of them in most every town we lived in or visited over the years. (Note well that what Southerners call “chili” on a hot dog has no resemblance to the Southwestern food of the same name; it was more of a greasy, chopped meat paste that it was bean-rich bowl food).

This article focuses a lot on diner-style restaurants, and I wrote it while still living in New York’s Capital Region, where those are a big part of the regional culture and cuisine. I tried to find an analogue of that experience when we moved to Des Moines, but never quite succeeded. Drake Diner on the campus of the same name has the chrome exterior and big menus, but it always felt more like a diner-themed college cafeteria than it did a real diner to me. In our current East Village neighborhood, there’s a new place called Clyde’s Fine Diner that advertises a gourmet-caliber diner experience, but that’s just an oxymoron, really. The food at Clyde’s is quite good, mind, and they even have Shrimp and Grits on the menu, but it’s foo-foo, and bears no resemblance to what real Carolina Shrimp and Grits looks and tastes like, while the restaurant interior is in the standard noisy Iowa box-style that I’ve written about, unhappily, here. Diner and hipster dining cultures just don’t align, no matter how hard folks might want them to. Bubba’s in Des Moines has also legitimately good and authentic Carolina-style food, but it’s more of a white linen restaurant than a diner, so that doesn’t count for me either.

While they don’t usually call them diners, once you get out into rural and small town Iowa, you can find a lot of family-owned, non-chain restaurants that are legitimately analogous to the feeding holes of my Southern childhood. While the menu highlights can be dramatically different, there’s fried foods aplenty, and you can easily create a true carbohydrate nightmare meal if you want to. If I had to pick the best of the bunch that I’ve experienced to date in Iowa, it would be Cronk’s Restaurant and Lounge in Denison, which has been around for over eight decades. It’s located on US-30, which is the modern-day remnant of the Lincoln Highway, America’s first transcontinental automobile roadway. Its hearty food, great prices, convenient location, quick and friendly service, and unassuming interior have likely made it the perfect pause point for millions and millions of travelers over the years, while the locals seemed to love it just as much when I was there.

It’s good to know that places like that still exist. I don’t want to eat like that everyday, but I’m glad I can when the spirit moves me to do so.

Central Lunch was still hanging in there when my sister and I visited Albemarle in 2011 — but the last time I was there a couple of years back, it seemed to have been finally shuttered, alas.

Best of the Archives #6: The Road to Anywhere

THE ARCHIVAL ARTICLE:

THE ROAD TO ANYWHERE (2003)

THE BACKGROUND STORY:

This was from the 2003 “Summer Issue” of Metroland. It was one of our periodic group pieces, when large chunks of the paper would be turned over to a single topic, and all of the writers (staff and freelance alike) would be given somewhat free reign to write something that fit within the theme. They were sort of the bottle episodes of the journalistic world: easy to produce, usually somewhat disposable, but occasionally some good and memorable things would emerge from them.

For me, that was the case with this one. The “Summer Issue” was usually intended to be frothy, light fare, and I started writing this piece that way, but it went in different directions as I started thinking about the story and how various pieces fit together. Since much of this particular archival article actually is “the background story” itself, I won’t say much more about it than that, except to note that this is one of the pieces that generates more direct contact with me from readers than any others on the site. Oh, and I’ll also note that it was one of the last pieces I ever wrote for Metroland, perhaps even the final one. So it really is a tale of transitions, with resonance.

Our Ford LTD Country Squire was named “Eloise.”

Florida Man (And Woman)

Marcia and I have been in the Sunshine State for over a week, as part of our ongoing Winter of Warmth Campaign, fleeing frigid Iowa for more pleasant climes, and following earlier trips to Spain, New Mexico and Arizona. While the weather here is lovely, and we’ve gotten lots of great walks in, being away from home as COVID-19 erupts and global markets collapse has been disconcerting, needless to say.

Places that should be mobbed are quiet or closed, and public events that we might have considered are mostly cancelled. Which is good and right. We are practicing social distancing ourselves and monitoring the situation as best we can, keeping safe and smart, and listening to the experts, always. We hope that science and a sense of shared social responsibility carry the day(s) here, even as we worry about the volume of stupid that social media and some suspect politicians are spewing right now.

As it turns out, I had been planning to drive up to South Carolina to see my mother this weekend, but we chatted and decided that it would be best to delay that visit, given her risk factors for respiratory infection. I also learned this week that the Iceland Writers Retreat that I was planning to attend in April has been cancelled, and we have a couple of other trips booked in April and May that we will be evaluating when we get home. I strongly suspect that we will bail on them, opting to hunker down in Iowa instead, hoping that spring thaw might arrive there sometime soon.

All of that being said, I’ve been outside snapping pics as I always do when I travel, while being mindful of personal safety ranges and steering clear of other human beings as best I can. I’m averaging about 12 miles per day walking, according to my pedometer, so I am seeing a lot of sights. The nice thing about keeping that active is that it makes snacking less guilt-inducing, and we did find a fave daily desert stop while in Tampa: Hyppo Ybor. Their fresh popsicles are to ZOMFG for, and I was especially wild about their Horchata and Pistachio-Rosewater ones (dipped in chocolate, of course). Highly recommended, once it’s safe to be out snacking again. I hope they make it through the likely shutdown to come.

In closing, and with tongue planted firmly in cheek, if you do not know the inspiration for this post’s title, I picked it in homage to America’s Worst Superhero. To learn more about this legend’s exploits, go to Google right now and search for “Florida Man + [your birthday]” to see the headlines for what he did on your own special day. For me, it’s “Florida Man climbs on playground equipment to tell children where babies come from.” Hmmm, alright then. On with the pictures . . .

UPDATE, MARCH 18: We made it home this afternoon, and are glad to be in our nest for the hunkering down time. If you want to see a few more pictures of the trip, here’s the gallery.

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Home from Arizona

What a great trip Marcia and I had in Arizona over the past two weeks! We flew direct from Des Moines to Phoenix. (You can’t go direct from DSM to many places of interest, so that’s a big plus for the Grand Canyon State as long as we have to get from here to there). Our trips this winter are to suss out possible warm(er) weather climates, because we’re just about Upper Midwested Out at this point. Toward that end, we’ve generally been renting apartments or houses as we travel to get some small sense of what it’s like to actually live in a place, rather than just being in a place.

We spent time in Phoenix, Tempe, Florence, Sedona, Flagstaff, Cottonwood, Prescott and various point between and around those towns, and also made a trek up to Grand Canyon Village to see the big attraction there. And Holy Moly, is it BIG! (Or, perhaps even, Grand, if you prefer). Marcia and I both added “Hike down to bottom of Grand Canyon from rim, and back” to our bucket lists. Hopefully we get that one sooner rather than later, wow! Cottonwood and Flagstaff were probably the biggest surprises to us in terms of places that we didn’t know much about, but really liked and that would put us close enough to Sedona (which we love) without having to contend with Sedona crowds/traffic and expenses on a regular basis. We’re loosely thinking we will head back out that way in May to do a bit more poking about.

We had great weather the whole time we were there (cold up north in the mornings, but that’s okay so long as the sun comes out later in the day), and did at least one, sometimes two, good hikes per day, pretty much every day. My phone pedometer says I walked about 200,000 steps over the past two weeks (95 miles); not the most I’ve done in a two-week period, but still a credible trekking tour, given some of the climbing that was involved in getting up to the good stuff. We also had a lot of great meals (Flagstaff was dynamite on that front), and got to see some family and friends, which always makes things nice(r).

A great trip, overall. Feeling very warm (no pun intended) about Arizona at this point. As always, I snapped and snapped and snapped away with my camera, and if you want to see some more of that, it’s over at my usual Flickr repository. You can go directly to the Arizona Album by clicking the snap of Marcia taking a peek over the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, below. Close. But not too close.

That’s a long way down, that is . . .

Arizonin’

Marcia and I are nearing the mid-way point of our two-week Arizona jaunt, so I thought I’d post a quick baker’s dozen pics of our adventures thus far. We’ve spent time in Phoenix, Flagstaff, Grand Canyon Village and Sedona to date, and have stays in Prescott and Phoenix (again) yet to come. Amazing, beautiful country, with some great eats and stunning hikes tossed into the mix. A good trip, with lots of sun. That last piece goes a long, long way as an alternative to dreary Midwestern winters!