Category Archives: Product Review

Subway

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I love Subway. More accurately, I have a love/hate relationship with the eatery. For every great experience or store (such as is usually the case in Eureka Springs), I have a terrible one. Despite it seeming like an exaggeration, I’ve eaten at Subway somewhere around 500 times in my life.

It’s no secret that prices have been inching up in the last few years, mainly after they got rid of $5 footlong promotion. The company has closed a huge number of stores since 2015. Many factors are contributing to its demise, ones not tied to cost. The margins are low, so franchises tend to short-change their employees, both in wages and training. Most keep labor painfully short. We’ve noticed.

Visit any local Subway location and you’ll note a revolving door of faces.

Recently, I noted that some Subways had added a “Tip” selection to their payment kiosks. I have mixed feelings about this.

If Subway were new and tips were on the payment options, I might not stop to consider it carefully. Because I’ve eaten at Subways since they first opened in NWA, it is problematic for it to be an option suddenly. Especially so since I’m standing face-to-face with the employee as I opt-in or out. The sandwich artists are not providing any new value; in fact, I’d say in general that I have to be more careful and repetitive than ever to get my favorite sandwich done the way I like.

That’s not the employee’s fault – that responsibility falls directly on management and the owners.

Whether places like Subway should tip or not is a separate conversation. I’ll agree that’s it not a simple issue.

Most of the time, I get a vegetable sandwich with lettuce, double tomatoes, and Subway spice. That’s it. It is easy to make and cost-effective for the eatery, too.

Generalizing a bit, I’d say that the labor margins have also resulted in less clean stores, longer waits, and dirtier bathrooms. (And a sometimes a comical shortage of napkins.)

Given the uptick in prices, most people realize that they can easily eat a full dine-in meal at another restaurant for about the same price as Subway charges for a combo sandwich meal. In places with many restaurant choices, Subway can’t compete on location, selection, or cost. That didn’t use to be the case.

As an otherwise good tipper, I can see that adding a tip option to the payment isn’t going to go over well for the average Subway customer. I’ve asked several people about it. Most feel a twinge because while they wish to tip when it’s appropriate, they also feel trapped by management’s choice to underwrite the same wages with an upcharge disguised as a tip.

Robin Hood of the Retailers, Version Aldi

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I’m not going to share the ‘why’ of my previous oath to avoid Aldi grocery stores. Suffice it to say that they earned my dislike. Unfortunately, I carried the prejudice forward for years. Once bitten, twice shy, at least for this guy. It’s for the same reason I don’t buy meat products at a Dollar General. Russian Roulette is a game I like to watch in action movies – not participate in when my gastronomical choices are at play.

Aldi has many fans. People like blood sausage, too, as well as watching baseball on television, so popularity doesn’t equate to sensible. The store chain does have a few things going for it. It’s like the “Frugal Hoosiers” made famous in the tv show “The Middle.” The chain does have the “Twice As Nice Guarantee.” I’ll take the expectation of a safe, quality product or my money back. You don’t have to sing and dance for me – just meet expectations. Anything else strikes me as a means to acknowledge that you’re cutting corners on a square house.

“There’s a sense of discovery at Aldi that you don’t find in a traditional grocery store,” say many fans.

Yeah, like discovering the off-brand version of the mustard I had to buy tastes like a chicken fart.

I don’t mind that an Aldi store doesn’t have staff answer the phone. I don’t need to talk to a head of lettuce before I shop. It’s stupid, though. Just my opinion. Any corporation which reduces a customer’s ability to interact isn’t customer-focused, no matter how prettily they paint such an arrangement.

Location quality varies, as is the case for many retailers. Even I often forget that it’s unwise to compare one location of a business with another. There’s too much volatility between managers, cleanliness, and adherence to quality standards. Sometimes, a great manager can rescue an otherwise failed store. The Kroger Superstore in Hot Springs, for example, is spectacular, while the Kroger in my original hometown is… not. One of the Springdale Neighborhood markets is operated as if it’s a psychological experiment geared to determine how much people hate themselves. Harps Foods is so inconsistent in quality that I’m still incredulous that the individual stores are operated by the same system. I dare anyone who visits the Gutensohn and Lowell locations to challenge me to a pie-eating contest to decide the truth of my opinion.

On a whim, I stopped at a local Aldi earlier in the year. I went home a different way, and Aldi was locationally convenient. It didn’t hurt that I had recently suffered blunt-force head trauma. I don’t know what came over me, but the urge to eat a bowl of fish aquarium pebbles and stop at Aldi penetrated my reptilian brainstem.

The smaller footprint of the stores and parking lots of an Aldi store make a trip less invasive than a similar trip to the airfields found at Walmart. The smaller footprint of the stores means you might not find everything you need, either. Like your sanity.

I didn’t have a quarter, so I did the hands-full shuffle. I found some interesting items. One of the items I bought was inedible. (No, I didn’t attempt to return it.) On the next visit, I had a quarter. I stuck it in the slot for the cart, and it literally stuck. None of the carts would come out. I went inside and waited a couple of minutes for an employee to make eye contact. I told them the cart corral was needing attention, and I couldn’t get a cart. Eye roll. “There’s no one to deal with it.” Back to checking. Aldi’s employees often must do multiple jobs simultaneously. It’s not their fault: it’s corporate’s fault. Like Walmart, they ‘save’ money by eliminating jobs. Many of those jobs lost would have allowed for attentive customer service and real-time listening when things go awry. I didn’t get irritated at the cashier.

I can only hope that this attitude of cost-cutting doesn’t one day find me in the O.R. needing a suture to sew up my own abdomen.

For my next trip to Aldi, I withdrew $20 from an ATM and then stopped by the car wash and made change for quarters. I drove back to Aldi and parked on the outer perimeter of the parking lot.

I then went to the cart corral nine times. Each time, I inserted a quarter and ‘rented’ a cart. I took each cart to the edge of the parking lot and used the nine carts to make a large arrow facing the store. I’m no Banksy, but I did feel a twinge of stupid pride when I finished my artwork with the shopping carts.

I then went back to the cart corral and took out ten more carts, one at a time, by paying a quarter. I left them loose to the left side of the return corral. Because I always carry white index cards, I left a card on the first few indicating, “Free Cart. Please leave loose.” People observed me doing all this but didn’t comment.

Was it petty? Yes. Worth it? Yes. I was also paying it forward, though, even as I entertained myself.

One of the women shopping exited the store and told me she had watched me assemble the arrow on the other end of the parking lot. “It’s stupid, isn’t it? Just hire a person and keep the store tidy.” Due to her appearance, I was sure she was going to scold me. Her face was pulled back so tight I could hear her ears yelling in pain. She was nice, in any case.

People saw the loose carts with the cards on them, and each smiled and grabbed their free cart.

I felt like Robin Hood of the Retailers.

Imagine. Free carts, with each of us leaving them for the next person. Like a typical store not corraling us into doing their jobs for them.

If I can enter a store and not worry about expired food or being unable to shop easily, I’ll pay for the entirely reasonable expectation of a normal shopping experience.

When people ask me, “What do you like best about Aldi,” the only thing I can tell them is, “I don’t have to go there.” The second-best thing is, of course, the feeling of walking out of one of them.

If I have to choose between Aldi and Walmart, I’ll choose a lobotomy.

If I make the mistake of going to Aldi again, I plan to take 500 quarters with me. I’ll let you imagine what I might do with such a quantity of quarters.
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P.S. If you’re a fan of Aldi, I’m not worried about you reading all of this. It’s a lot of words.
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You Butter Think Twice

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As I was about to finish work, I thought I’d go to Subway to eat lunch. I couldn’t get the image of a double-tomato sub out of my mind. My wife was off in another part of the state so I could choose to eat anywhere. Just to stay in practice, I pretended to have the “I don’t care where we go to eat” argument with myself.

I left work and automatically drove toward Springdale instead of choosing one of the 946 places in Fayetteville. The traffic in Springdale got the better of me. One driver, in particular, seemed to be using a random speed generator to determine her speed. I was fantasizing about participating in an impromptu demolition derby and missed my turn for Subway. Naturally, I ended up at one of the breakfast diners which are coming back in popularity, a place I never choose.

Since I’ve put back on some weight, it didn’t trigger any warning bells as it should have. Let’s be honest, as comforting as the food at these places might be, there should be a heart on the sign by the highway. With an arrow through it.

I parked and as I entered, I waved at a large elderly man sitting on the bench near the main entrance. He was still there, immobile, when I left.

I sat at the counter until my ‘salesperson’ asked what I might like. (They aren’t waitstaff at this diner.) As I started to answer, she mentioned their special peach waffles. I never eat waffles, so of course, I ordered it. As for the rest, I told her to surprise me. She surprised me by bringing a plate-sized but thin waffle covered in peach syrup, eggs, hashbrowns, four pieces of toast, and two pieces of sausage. In the background, I could clearly hear the high-pitched mechanical scream of a bathroom scale. To balance it out, I chose the preferred drink of people who are fooling themselves: Diet Coke.

It was strange to eat at the counter of the diner in part because the entire end of the diner was filled with Latinos animatedly talking. Being a long-time citizen of Springdale, such a detail is not something that passes without me noticing. I tried not to eavesdrop – but I will say that they didn’t consider that I could understand what they were saying. I could write an entire season of “Desperate Housewives” from their conversations. Also, if your name is Pedro and you live near the Supercenter, you should leave town for a few days. (One of those women I overheard is probably going to eviscerate you Friday night after you get off work.)

When the salesperson asked me about the peach waffles, I logically concluded that the peach waffles would be adorned with sliced peaches. Instead, my waffle was slathered with an engine oil-like syrup that somehow simultaneously was sweeter than an entire bag of pure cane sugar and made me think of an insulin syringe inserted directly into my eyeball. I tried to calculate the total caloric value of the lunch I’d been served but the online tracker kept crashing due to insufficient digits available.

Despite knowing better, I ate most of my lunch. A feeling I can only describe as a malaise came over me, one characterized by an inability to think clearly. I recognized it immediately because for the shortest of moments I had the urge to watch Fox News. I tipped the salesperson/waitress exorbitantly in hopes that she might use a bit of the money to eat somewhere else when she finished working.

I waved ‘bye’ to the old man seated on the bench. Much to my surprise, a cardiologist didn’t jump from the bushes and tackle me.

Life is a series of choices. I learned again that I should ignore my instincts – and any buildings with an excessive quantity of yellow paint on the outside.

Wisteria Lane Getaway For Labor Day

 

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This is the porch on Cabin #3. The porch and its swing is one of the best features that many other places surprisingly fail to include.

 

Last weekend, we had a chance to get away for the weekend to Wisteria Lane Lodging. At the last minute, we decided to extend the weekend by a day, if possible. The owner at Wisteria Lane gave us the green light. Instead of 2 nights and three days, we stayed for three nights. We stopped at the grocery store and loaded up on food for four days. The difference the extra day made was immeasurable. Vacationing in far-flung destinations has its appeal, I’ll admit, but knowing that we can drive less than forty-five minutes to be in the middle of nowhere with no one to intrude is difficult to surpass.

No cellphone, no internet, no outside world was imposing upon us. Unlike many of the competitor’s cabins, it’s possible to go and see no one during the entire stay. The cabins have satellite television; the solitude is best experienced without the world’s intrusion, in my opinion. I took a laptop loaded with shows and music, along with cables to use the flat screen television to project them.

Dawn and I don’t leave the valley unless we must. Many people who know me superficially are surprised that such isolation is enjoyable to me. Going without wifi and cellphones probably scares those who haven’t experienced it in the last few years. The disconnection is a welcome privilege. It’s a great way to measure your addiction to connectedness.

For those who love to walk or ride mountain bikes, the area is ideal. It’s possible to encounter no cars during your ride or hike on the maintained dirt rods.

While it only rained a bit during our stay, we sat on the hanging porch swing and listened to the thunder of the insects around us as the sun sank below the upper rim of the valley’s treeline.

Wisteria Lane is located North of Eureka and Holiday Island, in a deep valley populated with five billion trees. Cabin #3 & #4 are the best, in my opinion, given their location toward the inside of the forest. Each cabin has a long, covered porch facing the creek running through the valley. Each porch has a gas grill, which allows guests to cook in any weather, either using the grill or the full kitchen inside.

After our trip, I noticed that I hadn’t been billed for the extra night. The owner told me that she was treating Dawn and me to the extra night at no charge. A great trip made more exceptional due to the generosity of the owners.

 

 

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We usually take the time to paint rocks during our stays. We tend to go a little further than most guests.

 

Wisteria Lane Lodging Main Page

Wisteria Lane Facebook

Custom Diamond Painting

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I inadvertently ordered a custom diamond painting that is 40 X 60 cm, which is either about 16 X 20 inches or 0.0020202 X 0.00252525 furlongs, depending on how weirdly you enjoy your specifications. Dawn completed several ‘out-of-the-box’ ones, so I thought I’d surprise her with one I designed.

I should have used a cutout template, as the picture I submitted contained a mass of colors and details that I didn’t take into account. I’m sure Dawn passed out for a second when she first discovered the number of colors and noted the thousands of diamond squares required. I tried counting the squares but kept getting lost at 8,234.

Months later, she’s finished with the herculean artwork. She passed many hours at the kitchen table, hunched over with an applicator pen and a magnifying glass. If you’re searching for a hobby which will either delight or terrorize, this one is for you.

The picture is based on one I created. Dawn’s image was at an event in Fayetteville, while I am wearing one of the most handsome ensembles from the Handmaid’s Tale Collection. We already own a similar wood-panel version of the picture. It’s available for sale for $120,000 if there’s a potential lunatic buyer out there.

After Dawn finished the painting, we made our first attempt at sealing the canvas, using DecoArt triple-glaze to enclose it. Luckily, it worked fantastically, even with me doing the application. Note to those who once enjoyed eating Elmer’s glue: this stuff does not have any appetizing elements in it.

I bought a great frame from Hobby Lobotomy and placed it on the wall of honor near our bar and fairy door. (We rarely see our pixie/fairy named Crowder anymore.)

One picture is of the finished painting on the kitchen table. The other is of it hanging on the living room wall. You’ll note that I overcame my otherwise professional perfectionism and used a picture that reflects the picture window at the front of the house. At my age, it’s risky wasting precious time getting the camera just right.

 

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Note: there is a huge difference in comfort between diamond paintings using square vs. round tiles.

My wife prefers round, for a variety of reasons.

DecoArt TG01-36 Triple Thick Gloss Glaze, 8-ounce Triple Thick Gloss Glaze is what we used to seal the canvas. 8 ounces is more than enough to do a 16 X 20″ painting. You can use it on other things, too, if you’re interested.

I personally think it’s acceptable to leave many of the colors unfilled. I’m hoping my wife will do a diamond painting with the main parts finished and allow me to hand paint the gaps with either white or corresponding colors. I can imagine several creative alternatives to an intentionally finished diamond painting.

 

Kroger in Hot Springs

A word of praise: The larger Kroger in Hot Springs was both amazing and depressing.

Old age has its pleasures.

It’s awesome to see the shores of the Pacific. But it’s epic to find new delicious foods to shove into one’s gullet.

The Kroger in question was a sight to behold, in part due to the wide selection of food, both healthy and otherwise. There were at least 30 items that I would gladly substitute as my entire diet if I could.

It was depressing, though, because I knew I’d leave and come back to NWA, where none of the competition has such a spectacular cross-section of items, price, and quality. It’s true that I can visit 3 different stores and probably approximate what I’d buy in one visit to Kroger.

I know that a “super” Kroger isn’t common. But if you’ll permit me to dream for a moment, I’ll ask for world peace, total nonviolence among nations, and that Kroger builds a replica of the Hot Springs store near my house. I wrote Kroger to let them know how much I look forward to them building a store near me.

P.S. You can remove all the Walmart Neighborhood markets and relocate them to Nebraska.

Thanks.

Good Thins (The Beet One): Proof of Diabolical Culinary Forces

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Product Review #13 Nabisco Good Thins Beet Crackers:

I originally posted this review more than a year ago. The trauma of my initial taste test had faded in my memory sufficiently for me to convince myself that a subsequent retry was in order. I’ve now added this mistaken idea of my list of most monumental errors in life.

I saw ads for this item and despite my natural aversion to beets, for some reason, this sounded divine to me. I enjoy weirdly-flavored crackers; it’s like a sadistic eccentricity of mine, like my love of licking 9V batteries, eating burned food, and the smell of tar and creosote. Truthfully, I thought I was going to fall in love with this incarnation of Nabisco’s The Good Thins line.

Many people don’t know that beets are actually goat livers which have been buried secretly by elves. They are second only to raw celery as ‘the food most likely to taste like death.’ Given my overall love of vegetables, it pains me to say that beets are the culinary equivalent of phlegm stuck in the back of one’s throat after a prolonged cold. How I thought Nabisco was capable of disguising the hideousness of beets remains a mystery to me.

I tried a sample of these crackers. After a couple of seconds, I regretted every bad thing I had done in my life – there was no doubt that this product was created with the singular aim of making me repent for my sins. As the product sample lady awaited my reaction with anticipation, I weighed my options: spit the vile concoction onto the floor or wait until projectile vomit pushed it from my mouth. Had a cliff been nearby, I would have thrown myself off of it, if only to rid myself forever of the aftertaste of these beet crackers. I managed to swallow the cracker and was certain that I had just eaten the edible equivalent of an exorcism. After eating this cracker, I fully expected a little Sigourney Weaver alien baby to burst forth from my abdomen.

When I got home, I researched this item on Nabisco’s website. It turns out that Nabisco digs up the goat livers (aka beets) and feeds them to miscreant cows. Once the cow naturally converts them into manure, that is then desiccated and sliced into micro-thin wedges and cooked by the evilest chef in North America. (Probably someone who ‘trained’ at the Culinary Institute of Applebee’s.) Then, they season the dried wedges with the tears of repentant teenagers.

Several reviews on Amazon suggest that this item is either a test product program whose aim is to gauge limits of self-imposed suffering or an attempt to punish vegetarians for their holier-than-thou ways.

Paradoxically, I give this product 5 out of 5 stars, if only to hoodwink you into stupidly attempting to eat this product, too. Please eat a box and let me know whether you need chemo afterward.

P.S. The other flavors of Good Thins are some of best chips/crackers that exist. Other flavors include spinach and herb, sea salt, potato, rice, white cheddar, sweet potato, chipotle tomato, among others. Nutritionally, the other flavors and textures are delicious.

 

I’m still perplexed that the same company which makes the other flavors is capable of the sadism required to continue manufacturing these beet chips.