Lunch at Casablanca

IMG_5018A week ago, one of our regular customers came into the bank and he mentioned that he just finished lunch at Casablanca, and it was absolutely delicious. I was intrigued, one because I’m always looking for my next great meal, and secondly because Casablanca sounds a lot like a Mexican restaurant, and I’m always down for some Mexican food. I asked him where it was, which turned out to be a stupid question since it was right on the other side of the parking lot and I’ve driven past it countless times, and when he told me where it was, I suddenly remembered it and felt like an idiot for having to ask in the first place, but that, unfortunately, is a common theme in my life. The guy was telling me about the shawerma, which somewhat surprisingly, at least to myself, is something that I’ve never tried, and he made it sound so good that I told him that I would definitely check it out, and I meant it.

A couple of days ago I decided that would be the day I would try Casablanca for lunch, so about an hour before lunch I started looking over the menu, getting a sense of what looked good and preparing myself mentally for what I hoped would be a fantastic meal. I almost got an appetizer platter with hummus, falafel, and baba ghanoush, just so I could try a few things, but the recommendation was for the shawerma, so that’s what I was going to try from there first. For the meat I could choose between a combination of beef and lamb, or chicken,  and since I’m a big fan of gyros at Mediterranean restaurants, which are typically made of lamb meant, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with the beef and lamb at this new place. Along with the meat, the pita contained lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, which I asked to be left off because sometimes I really hate onions and if they are particularly strong they tend to overwhelm the entire dish. It also came with two types of sauce, one mild and one spicy, to pour onto the shawerma if you felt the urge to do so.

I called about ten minutes before my lunch break started to place the order, and it was ready by the time I got there, so I have nothing but good things to say about the speed of service at Casablanca, both in preparing the food and taking care of me almost as soon as I walked through the door. The price was okay, probably a little on the high side as the shawerma alone came out to almost ten dollars after tax. If I had gotten a side with that or a drink then it would have been more in the twelve to fifteen dollar range. The food, the main part of the whole experience, was absolutely fantastic. I was halfway expecting a gyro since the description of the shawerma was beef and lamb meet in a pita with lettuce and tomatoes, which sounds an awful lot like a gyro, but it was distinctively its own separate dish. The pieces of meat were smaller and thicker than that found in a gyro, and it was served inside of a pita pocket rather than a flatbread. The beef and lamb were perfectly seasoned and deliciously juicy, and the two sauces were both unique and flavorful, although I opted to drizzle my shawerma with the milder of the two because the spicy one, which seemed to have a jalapeno taste, had quite a kick to it. I would absolutely go back for the shawerma, because although the price might seem a bit high, it’s very filling and completely delicious. If you’re ever in Memphis and looking for some good Mediterranean food, you won’t go wrong at Casablanca.

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Dear Starbucks

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Dear Starbucks,

I’m going to tell you a story. Once upon a time I was in downtown Memphis on a cold march night a little more than a year ago. I was with my wife and we had tickets for the Grizzlies basketball game that night, and I don’t remember who they were playing, but I did get a Marc Gasol grill set, the promotional item being given away at that Saturday night game. We were walking around on Beale Street, listening to the isolated musical notes that carried through the open doors of the clubs and pierced the frigid winter night. By the time we left the game that night, it would be snowing, but with a little more than an hour to go until tipoff, we were already freezing and ready to go inside somewhere, so that’s what we did, at one of your stores. The Starbucks across from the FedEx Forum in Memphis became our shelter for the next half an hour or so. Inside, my wife sat at the table next to the window while I went to the restroom and then joined her. We talked and people watched through the glass, but the one thing we didn’t do, was order anything. It wasn’t the first time that has taken place either, no, I’ve been in Starbucks plenty of times without ordering anything, content to sit at the table in the corner to work on my laptop, and not once, during any of those instances, was I asked to leave or did the employees call the cops because I was “trespassing.”

So what happened last week in Philadelphia? If I have never been told to leave for all of the many times I’ve sat in Starbucks without ordering a drink, then why were the police called when two men were doing the exact same  that I’ve done countless times? They are black and I am not. It’s disgusting, and when the video surfaced last week there was outrage, rightfully so about it, because these two men who were doing nothing wrong, just sitting at a table without ordering anything, were arrested, simply because of their skin color. There was a lot of backlash from the incident wasn’t there? There was so much negativity surrounding your company that you were forced to do something to help restore your image, and more importantly to you, to keep the profits from dropping. I heard on the news last night that on March 29th, Starbucks will be closing their stores for racial bias training, and I just wanted to take the time today to commend you for that huge sacrifice.

This really is a grand gesture you’re making Starbucks, closing your stores for an entire day to teach your employees that it’s not okay to call the police because two black men are sitting at a table and doing nothing wrong. What’s that? Oh you’re only closing in the afternoon, well that’s a little less grand isn’t it? It’s definitely more on brand though. I understand, you want to make a gesture that will make you look better in the public eye, hence the racial bias training, but you don’t want it to really affect your business, hence not doing the training during the much busier, more profitable morning hours. It’s also strange to me that this wasn’t covered in the initial training. To be clear, it’s sad that this has to be said at all in 2018, but it is the employers responsibility to make sure that everyone who enters their establishment, no matter their race, religion, or sexuality, are treated equally. So why weren’t your employees trained on this when they were hired? It seems pretty basic Starbucks. Now it just seems that the only reason this training is being implemented now is because one of your employees was caught on camera doing something disgraceful and now you’re just trying to save face. I’ve always been a big coffee guy, but I’m not the type of person that has to stop by Starbucks every morning on the way to work. I’ll go occasionally, sometime I’ll order a drink, and sometimes I’ll just sit and write, but now, I’m even less likely to go to Starbucks. I would feel more comfortable going to a coffee shop that doesn’t have to publicly announce that they’re going through racial bias training because they already know not to treat a person differently based on the color of their skin.

Pros and Cons of Being a Delivery Driver

When I first moved to Florida in the  Summer of 2012, I was desperate for a job, so I took the first thing that came along, which was standing outside in the sweltering heat wearing a going out of business sign, and when that job only lasted two days, again I found myself desperate and willing to take whatever job I was offered, which is how I wound up as a delivery driver for Marco’s Pizza. I got hired a week before the Port St. Lucie store opened, and a few days later made my first ever deliveries, the day before the grand opening as we did a kind of dry run so the kitchen staff could practice making large quantities of pizza in a short amount of time, and so the drivers could practice making deliveries. It wasn’t the most glamorous job in the world, making way less than minimum wage, the bulk of my income relying solely on tips, but it was almost worth it to see the big smiles on the faces of customers when you showed up at their front door with a piping hot pizza. Almost. Smiles don’t pay the bills.

I’ve experienced my share of frustration of the course of my professional life across various different fields, but aside from showing a bunch of houses as a realtor, only for the client to decide they’re not ready to buy, nothing has been worse than delivering a pizza and then getting stiffed on a tip, which usually happened at least once a day. As a delivery driver, I wasn’t only counting on tips to help supplement my income since I wasn’t making very much money on my actual paycheck, but I needed the cash everyday just so I could put gas in my car to keep making the pizza deliveries; it was a vicious cycle. Every once in a while I would get a really good tip, like the time I showed up to a birthday party with several pizzas. It was around six in the evening, and it was my last delivery of the day having started my shift at ten that morning. So far the day hadn’t been too good as far as tips go, and as I pulled up in front of the house and got out of the car, I wasn’t expecting that to change. Earlier that afternoon one of the other drivers that we called Winslow because he looked like the mouse from CatDog, a nickname he absolutely hated, hadn’t gotten stiffed at a party, something that wasn’t all that uncommon for us. Sometimes, when people spend a lot of money ordering pizza for a party, they feel it is unnecessary to spend any more money on a tip, much to the delivery driver’s chagrin.

I walked up to the door and the woman that opened it called for the man who owned the house to come to the door. When he sarcastically commented to me that he couldn’t believe these people were going to make him pay for the pizza on his own birthday, I was sure that my tip was as good as gone, but fortunately, I was mistaken. The man pulled out a hundred dollar bill and apologized for not having any smaller bills. Per company policy, I didn’t have very much change on me, just in case I got robbed, so I told him I would have to go back to the store and bring him his change back, the cherry on top of an abysmal day, but the man told me not to worry about it, to keep the change, which is how I ended up with a sixty-three dollar tip that Saturday. Those days were few and far between and a lot less common than the bad days, but those were the days that gave me hope, that kept me going back day after day with a winning Marco’s attitude, eager and excited to do my job, because it might be the day that being a delivery driver actually paid off.

Tellini’s: An Italian Feast

IMG_5016One of my favorite meals on a cold night is Italian food, not only because the food is deliciously hot and hearty, but because Italian restaurants always seem cozy to me, whether the restaurant is bathed in warm yellow light or the lights are dimmed with a big fire burning in the fireplace, so Saturday night, when the temperatures started to drop after raining most of the day, my wife and I agreed on an Italian dinner to combat the unseasonably cold April night. Although we go out to dinner somewhat frequently, probably about once a week or so, we rarely find ourselves rarely eating Italian, not because we don’t like it, it’s just that we don’t really think about it that much, but Saturday night, it was at the forefront of my mind. I listed off some of the restaurants I knew, and we narrowed it down to a couple of options, Tellini’s and Macaroni Grill, two of the places that were closest to where we live. It’s been ten to fifteen years since I’d eaten at Macaroni Grill, and I didn’t remember that much about it, but it was one of the go-to Sunday lunch places of one of my best friends growing up, so I got my fair share of the Grill in my younger days.

Tellini’s, a place that my grandparents told us about was a place that I’d never been, though I’ve driven past many times, was the least attractive option between the two restaurants because from what I’ve seen in passing, it looked more like a fast food restaurant, complete with a drive-thru, which I felt wouldn’t offer the same cozy comfort that made eating at an Italian restaurant in the cold weather attractive in the first place. My wife had been to neither, so she left the decision up to me, and before long we were pulling into the completely empty Macaroni Grill parking lot. At least I think it was the Macaroni Grill, but it was hard to know for sure since all of the letters had been removed from the building and there were no signs anywhere to be found. With Macaroni Grill no longer an option, suddenly Tellini’s was sounding a lot better, so we crossed the street and were in the drive-thru in less than two minutes.

It was decided that we would get our food in the drive-thru and take it home to eat, because the crowded and fluorescently lit Tellini’s seemed too depressing on an already cold and dreary night. We looked at the menu, which had a good amount to choose from, and my wife decided on the fettucine alfredo pasta with grilled chicken, and I, after much contemplation and asking the person on the other end of the speaker to give me just a second to make up my mind, I decided on the baked ravioli with meat sauce. After only a minute or two of waiting, the food was handed to us in big brown paper bag with delicious smelling steam floating out of the top that seemed to validate our choice to spend our money there.

The food itself, was okay, neither mine nor my wife’s favorite Italian food we’ve ever had. The meat sauce was decent and melted cheese is always good, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the filling in the ravioli. Seemingly made of ricotta cheese and heavy cream, the filling did have a nice rich flavor, but there was so much of it stuffed into the ravioli that it completely overpowered every bite of ravioli. It would have been a much better dish had there been a lot less of the filling and if the pasta had been cooked slightly longer. It certainly wasn’t a great meal, but both of us ate for less than twenty dollars which is a pretty good deal for Italian food, so if you’re in the mood for okay fettucine alfredo or baked ravioli, then Tellini’s is the place to go. I’m sure I’ll go back at some point just to try something else on the menu before cutting them out of my life completely as is my personal policy. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Dez Bryant: A Tribute

IMG_5012In the spring of 2010 I was at college in St. Cloud, Minnesota, but even though I was up north, the southern roots that had been with me since birth were still wrapped tightly around me, so of course I was still a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan. In my friends’ dorm room, we all watched the NFL draft that year, and while the native Minnesotans were disappointed that they didn’t get a first round pick that year, I was ecstatic about our first pick in the draft, a wide receiver out of Oklahoma State named Dez Bryant. Although I’d heard the name, I really didn’t know that much about him, but from what I gathered on draft night, he had the potential to be a really good player and could be our number one receiver, which was great news since following the release of Terrell Owens more than a year prior we didn’t have that big time playmaker, no offense to Miles Austin or Roy Williams.

Dez was exciting to watch on the field, and he instantly became one of my favorite players. With Tony Romo at quarterback and this young stud at wide receiver, with some hard hitters on defense, it wasn’t hard to imagine a successful playoff run, which is what got me through all the heartbreaking losses at the end of every season, the hope that our stars were coming back, and knowing that although sometimes they fell short, they did have the potential to beat the best teams in the league, so maybe next year it would be the Cowboys turn to win the Super Bowl. After Dez’s first contract was up, I wanted so bad for Dallas to reach a deal with him, because the thought of him not being on the field as our star receiver was sickening, but the thought of him playing on another team was even worse. The announcement of his new contract was announced in the Summer of 2015 when I was in Orange Beach, Alabama, making one of my favorite places in the world, even more special. I will always remember standing inside the entrance of Doc’s Seafood Shack, straining to hear the news coverage on ESPN over the noise of the crowded restaurant. I wanted Dez to retire a Cowboy, but things change.

Over the past couple of years it’s been clear that Bryant’s on field production wasn’t what it was just a couple of years prior. To be clear, I don’t think any of that is his fault. With Dak Prescott taking over the quarterback position for Tony Romo, we went from a quarterback who could make big passes down the field, to a kid fresh out of college whose game was more suited to scrambling around the backfield and throwing short passes on the run. I’m excited about Dak and the possibility that he’ll be our quarterback for the foreseeable future, but there’s no denying that he has an accuracy problem when he’s throwing the ball more than ten yards down the field, and that’s what killed Dez. Dez couldn’t make the big plays anymore because he just didn’t get very many opportunities to do so. The optics weren’t good when he was arguing on the sidelines, but I can see why he would be frustrated because he went from one of the best wide receivers in the league to being basically irrelevant, and it was all due to the change made at quarterback.

There were times during the last season when I thought that keeping Dez might be more trouble than he was worth, but that didn’t mean that I liked him any less. It just seemed like nothing good was going to come from keeping him around, because he was clearly unhappy with his diminished role, and it was more and more apparent as the season went on. I would have loved for him to retire as a Cowboy, but things don’t always work out the way we want them to. I hope wherever he lands he will get that spark back and will be back to making big plays every Sunday, and even more importantly than that, I hope that he’s happy, unless of course he goes to play for another NFC East team, where happiness is not deserved. I’m joking. Thanks for the memories Dez, we’re going to miss you. X

Good Memories From a Bad Year

I woke up today, which was a bit surprising because I figured the world was ending. It just seems apocalyptic that the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that has been a constant in the NBA playoffs for the last seven years, ended up with the second worst record in the league. The tragically long season came to a close last night with a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, probably my least favorite team in the league, but it happened on a night where Russell Westbrook, easily my least favorite player in the NBA, recorded 20 rebounds which made him average a triple-double for the second season in a row, a historic achievement. Now I could go on and on about all the disappointments this season, of which there were many, but I think we’ve had enough negativity this season, so it’s time we put all that behind us and focus on the positives, so today, I want to look back at some of my favorite moments of the season, some of the fun memories that made this tough year a little bit easier.

There was a game in the first month of the season against the Houston Rockets, which I believe was a home game. I didn’t make it to the Forum that night, but I do remember sitting on the couch watching it that Saturday night with my dog Jack next to me. It was the game when Chandler Parsons, the punchline to jokes around the league, the guy who is constantly hounded on social media, the player who got booed on the home court this season when some fans got fed up with his lack of performance on the floor for much money he was getting paid, caught fire and took over the game on the offensive side of the court. He was hitting three pointer after three pointer, each one triggering a celebration by me wherein I would pick jack up on his hind legs and do a little dance that he didn’t seem to enjoy very much, and he was pulling up and making mid-range jump shots, silencing all of the haters and reminding everyone that he can still play. Unfortunately, there weren’t many games like that for Chandler Parsons, but for that night, against the Rockets, he was a hero whose back the team rode to victory.

Another great memory from this season was making some of the league’s star players lose their cool. There was the game against the Rockets, where Mario Chalmers defense against the likely MVP of the league this year, James Harden, to get mad and shove Chalmers to the floor, which resulted in Rio getting quickly to his feet and squaring up with the bearded star, ready to fight. Luckily some of the Grizzlies players had the foresight to hold him back, because there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have annihilated Harden in a fight. Then there was the game against the Golden State Warriors, where two time MVP Steph Curry got mad and threw his disgusting mouth guard at one of the referees, resulting in his immediate ejection, and unable to control himself amidst all the jeers of the hometown Grizzlies fans, Kevin Durant started talking to and taunting the crowd which resulted in his ejection from the game. What a sight it was, two former MVP’s of the league, on the team that one the Finals last year, walking off side by side to the raucous jubilation of Grizzlies fans. We one that game which was fantastic, made even better by the fact that two of the best players in the game couldn’t handle themselves that night in the Forum.

The last thing I’m going to remember from this season, isn’t a particular moment or a particular shot, it’s going to be the collection of young players that were asked to step up this season, who played hard every night regardless of the opponent or the fact that we they weren’t supposed to win the games they were playing. Not all of the young players gave their all, which was obvious and discouraging to see at times, but the ones that did, it really gave us hope for the future of the franchise. There’s no doubt that most of our young guys, had they been on other teams, wouldn’t have had an opportunity to play, so it was nice to see, that when that chance opened up here in Memphis, some of them make the most of it and play their hearts out each and every day. I’m excited about some of these guys going forward, and think they can be legitimate contributors to the team, and it’s good to know that when the going gets tough, they don’t lower their heads and sulk away, but they fight, showing us that the new generation of Grizzlies have some of that Grit and Grind coursing through their veins as well.

It was a long season, and there was undoubtedly a lot more bad than there was good, but all of that’s behind us now. We have so much to look forward to, whether it be the draft lottery coming up next month, or the actual draft in the summer where we will get one of the top picks. We can look forward to getting Mike back healthy for next season to lead our offense, and there’s hope that Chandler could be back to his old form next season and that the Grizzlies will make a great coaching hire that turns out to be the next Gregg Popovich. Maybe Dillon Brooks will take even more strides to become the next great young player. We have about six months until the season starts again, and we can speculate all we want until that time about what the 2018-’19 Grizzlies are going to look like, but the truth is, we won’t know for sure until the opening night tip off, but I’ll tell you this, I’m feeling optimistic.

Proof I’d Make a Terrible Father

IMG_5008So in case you were wondering, I’m not cut out to be a dad, which is something deep down I’ve probably known for a while, but it didn’t really surface until last night. The evidence is in that picture at the top of the page. No, that’s not a giant pile of cocaine, because what kind of fool would I have to be leave my precious cocaine lying on the dirty, dirty ground. I’m joking, obviously, which is probably the first sign that I’m not fit to be a father. Joking about drugs, what a disappointment I’ve turned out to be. Anyway, that white powdery substance on the floor, that is one hundred percent not cocaine, caused me to realize, much to my consternation, that fatherhood is probably not a good option for me.

Last night I was in the restroom, and when I walked out, much to my dismay I saw a dark spot on the carpet just outside of the door. Normally I wouldn’t jump to hasty conclusions about such things, but from experience, I knew that the only thing that causes dark spots on the carpet in the apartment is dog urine, so I knew immediately that one of the dogs had peed in the house. As I turned left towards the bedroom, I realized this unfortunate circumstance was far worse than I realized when I saw a line leading all the way from the original dark spot, to another in the bedroom, which was a bit perplexing. It wasn’t hard to pin the perpetrator, because Mocha was on the bed, and she can’t jump up or down from there by herself, and Jack was looking sheepishly out from behind the black iron legs of our dining room chair, guilty as could be.

I knew it was Jack, so I called him over to me and pointed down at the long line that he had created within the last minute because it wasn’t there when I went into the bathroom. “Look what you did,” I said to him, which caused him to take off running back under the table. While my wife got out the baking soda to absorb the urine, I studied the pattern to try and piece together a motive for this particular display of disobedience, because something just wasn’t right. On the very rare occasion that one of the dogs uses the bathroom in the house, it is always in a single spot, hence me knowing exactly what the dark spot on the carpet was as soon as I saw it, yet for some reason, on this particular night, the perp decided to wander down the hall mid-stream, spraying pee in concentric circles due to the movement, then it hit me. He must have been peeing right outside of the bathroom, and when he heard me coming out he got scared and ran towards the bedroom so I wouldn’t catch him in the act. You can call me Sherlock Bones, doggy detective.

So I knew what had happened, but he still need to be taught a lesson because he knows that we take him out at certain times of the day, but if he needs to go out in between those times, he needs to let us know, which he always does by going and sitting by the front door, but last night he didn’t give any indication that he needed to go outside, and that’s when the floodgates opened. I would never hit my dogs so I figured the best punishment, since you can’t sit down and have a rational conversation with them, is to play mind games with them. Again, I would make a terrible father. I made a big show of giving Mocha treats, and picking her up and hugging her, talking about how she was my new favorite dog, you know, just to make Jack feel bad, but shortly after this display, it was me who was feeling bad. Jack was just looking up at me with his big eyes, and looking sad, so I broke down and gave him some treats and picked him up to sit in my lap where I proceeded to scratch behind his ears until the pee incident was all but forgotten. That’s probably the main reason I would be a terrible dad, because I just wouldn’t be able to enforce my punishments. I would just feel too bad, cave, and do whatever I could to be friends with the kids again.