Don’t let the shows on HGTV fool you into thinking that helping find someone their dream home is easy, that it’s as simple as showing a couple three homes, that they will make their decision within a half hour, and then you’ll go skipping down the lane with your fat commission check, because that’s not the way it works. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think it was going to be easy initially, because truthfully, for me, just getting my license proved to be a lot of hard work, from the multiple months I spent taking online real estate courses to the hours upon hours that I spent studying for the Florida state licensing exam. Of course when I went in, I knew that studying would be a big part of getting my license, but it wasn’t studying from the comfort of my own home, curled up on the couch with multiple study books open around me and the quiet serenity surrounding me that is essential to soaking up and retaining all of Florida’s real estate laws and regulations. No, I had to do my studying in the Starbucks café that’s in the middle of the Barnes & Noble, that way I could use the study guides with practice tests without having to purchase them, which I really couldn’t afford at the time.
I know it seems crazy that a Florida Real Estate Exam prep book was out of my price range, but in addition to paying for the exam, once I got my license I would owe nearly a thousand dollars in fees just so I could legally work in real estate, so spending money unnecessarily on something else just wasn’t a priority. That may seem like the worst part of the whole licensing process, spending hours inside of Barnes & Noble trying to learn everything I would need to know to pass the test, but unfortunately, the worst part about it all revealed itself on test day.
The closest testing center to where I lived was in Melbourne, Florida, which by interstate was only about an hour away, however the car I was driving at the time did not inspire much confidence when traveling at more than 45 miles per hour, so rather than risking almost sure death on the way to get my real estate license, I took an alternate route down US highway 1, a four lane road that stretches all the way from Key West to Maine. While a relatively easy drive, staying on that scenic road from Fort Pierce all the way to Melbourne, it did take almost two hours to reach my destination, but still, that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was driving the long two hours back after my multiple failed attempts to pass the exam due to my struggles with the math portion of the test. It was so disheartening every time because I would be so confident going in, having drilled different math questions over and over again until I felt sure that I would pass the test, only to fail once again.
I could have given up, which is something I’d certainly done before without exhausting even a fraction of the effort I’d expelled into this thing, but I kept with it, studying in Barnes & Noble then making the trek to Melbourne where I would arrive a couple hours early and go to the McDonald’s to take one last practice exam that I’d copied by hand from the study guide into a notebook. This was my process, and no matter how many times I failed, I stuck with it, determined to become a realtor and have a successful career in real estate. Well, the second part didn’t happen, but eventually I passed the exam and immediately a weight was lifted off my shoulders and it was worth all of the hard work and struggles that I’d gone through to reach that goal. It wasn’t easy, and ultimately it didn’t work out, but passing the exam and getting my license was one of the happiest moments in my life.
I don’t remember much about the train from Paris to Versailles, how long it took or what I did to occupy the time, but I do remember the events on either side of that train ride, especially the Merguez Frites we had for lunch before embarking on our journey to visit the famous palace, once home to French royalty including King Louis the 14th and Marie Antoinette. I remember the Merguez Frites, which is basically a spicy sausage sandwich in a baguette with a side of fries, so vividly because while we had so much good food on our trip, this was my favorite meal by far. Not only was it was so delicious, but the simplicity of it was absolutely perfect, getting it from a street vendor and sitting on a street side bench, enjoying our lunch while taking in the sights and sounds of the beautiful city of Paris on a cool spring day.
After lunch we boarded the train for Versailles, and that is where my memory goes fuzzy, perhaps due to a food coma that the delicious lunch put me in, or maybe because for a fourteen year old kid, riding a train through the country wasn’t all that exciting or noteworthy, but whatever the reason is, the train from Paris to Versailles is just a haze, and my memory doesn’t return until my dad and I were standing in front of the tall golden gates in front of the palace. It was magnificent, and it seemed as though each room in the palace was more beautiful than the last with ornate decorations and intricate designs everywhere you looked, but what really stood out to me, were the gardens.
It was an overcast and cool day, the kind of weather that both me and my dad enjoy, making it the perfect day for a stroll through the gardens of Versailles. I don’t know why exactly, but I’ve always really liked tall hedges and hidden paths in gardens, and Versailles had plenty of both. We walked down the back steps from the palace and turned right along the path with no particular destination in mind, just out for a nice stroll through the garden on a nice day. Everything was so beautiful and I particularly liked the fountains that were hidden throughout, made of stone with crystal clear water shooting out, pieces that could have been the centerpiece in an art show hidden deep within the garden of Versailles. We walked and walked and eventually we started to grow tired and felt sure that we were getting close to the palace again, having followed stayed mostly on the path at the outer edge of the garden that would lead us all the way around in a circle and end where we started. There were a lot of trees where we were so we weren’t able to tell for sure, but we were fairly certain that once we emerged from the brush we would see that we were right next to the palace and our trip through the gardens would mercifully come to an end.
We emerged from the trees and sure enough the grand palace was in view, unfortunately it wasn’t as close to us as we’d thought it would be, directly across from us and separated by a large body of water, we were at the halfway point. I don’t know how we made it, but I think the Merguez Frites probably had a lot to do with it, sustaining us on our harrowing journey through the gardens. Despite the fact that I was exhausted by the time we were through, the gardens were still my favorite thing about Versailles and one of my favorite things overall about that trip to France. My dad even bought me a book from the palace gift shop all about the gardens and the fountains, a reminder of that fun March day that we had together thirteen years ago.
When I think back on some of the greatest three day weekends that I’ve ever lived through, the common factor found in all of them is a good breakfast, and this President’s Day weekend was no exception. My wife isn’t the biggest breakfast fan. She’s the one at McDonald’s before 10:30 wondering why they can’t make her a grilled chicken snack wrap while the rest of society is just glad that we made it there while breakfast is still going on because that is clearly the highlight of the McDonald’s menu, but this weekend when I suggested going to get breakfast, Leticia jumped on board and off we went. The plan was to go to Waffle House, because of all the chain restaurants that serve breakfast, Waffle House, despite being dirty and disgusting, serves the best all around meal where every component of the breakfast, from the eggs to the sausage to the hash browns, is very good.
The plan was to go to the Waffle House in Germantown, because the one closest to our home in Memphis looked absolutely disgusting from the street, whereas the one in Germantown in its white brick building at least gave the illusion of cleanliness, but when we arrived shortly after nine the parking lot was full and we could see people standing up inside the restaurant, waiting on a table. Maybe it’s because it’s the first meal of the day and I haven’t had anything to eat since the night before, but breakfast is the one meal where I really don’t like to wait for a table. It just seems wrong, so we decided to go somewhere else to satisfy our breakfast craving. My wife, clearly pushing her own non-breakfast agenda starts naming off places in the area like Chipotle and Zaxby’s, both of which weren’t even open at that time, but I suppose a girl can dream. We drove down the road, each of us scanning our respective sides of the street, searching for something to eat, when we finally came to Danver’s, a restaurant that neither of us had ever been to before, but one with quite a few cars in the parking lot, possibly indicating a restaurant that knew what they were doing in the kitchen, so we parked and went inside.
My wife and I were the youngest people in the restaurant by at least thirty years. It was pretty dark inside and there was a lot of wood everywhere, and the first feeling that sprang into me upon looking around was one of depression, but we ordered and I hoped that the food would make up for the incredibly soul sucking decor. I got the two egg breakfast, with eggs over easy, sausage, hash brown potatoes, and a biscuit, and my wife got the same thing, in title only, with her eggs over medium, substituted chicken tenders for a breakfast meat, hash browns, and toast instead of a biscuit. Both of these meals with a drink cost a little over nine dollars a piece, which is a little more than I normally pay for breakfast, but I held out hope that maybe it was priced so high because it was just so good, which it was not. Everything was okay, but everything on my plate seemed to have a bit of a weird aftertaste. The sausage was too greasy, the hash browns were undercooked in my opinion, and one of the egg yolks was already broken when my plate was handed to me. While nothing was outstanding or even very good, there was a lot of food on the plate, which I suppose justifies the price, although I still don’t think it’s worth it. By substituting the chicken tenders for sausage or bacon, my wife easily had the best tasting food on the table, because the chicken tender, which was incredibly juicy and flavorful, was absolutely delicious and I would consider going back to Danver’s for lunch or dinner and ordering the chicken.
On a scale from 1 to 10, I would give the Danver’s breakfast a 5, because it was just average and nothing more. I wouldn’t recommend it, however I would recommend going sometime and trying the chicken tenders, because although I’ve only tried a couple of bites, they’re definitely up there on the list of best chicken tenders so I don’t think you can go wrong choosing Danver’s for lunch or dinner, just stay away at breakfast because you can get better quality food at a much better price somewhere else.
It’s Friday so you know what that means, it’s time for a book review! Okay, so maybe I haven’t been super consistent about the day on which I tell you about what I’ve been reading, nor have I done so every week. The truth is, I had to skip the review last Friday because I recently got an Xbox and that has kind of consumed my life as of late, not leaving me much time to get my reading done, so I apologize, but I’ll try to be more consistent about reading a book and reviewing it every week. Let’s just put this behind us and move on, because I’ve got a really good book to tell you about today, and if you read this review begrudgingly because you’re upset about not getting any book recommendations last week, then you’re really going to be missing out on a great read, a book that despite it only being the second month of the year, I’m quite confident will be somewhere on my list of favorite books that I read in 2018.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, caught my interest as I looked through the bestsellers on Amazon at the end of last year as I compiled a list of new books that I would like to read, and even though it took me a little over two months to read after receiving it, I finally got around to it and the only regret I have about reading this gem is that I waited so long to do so. Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio in the early 1990’s, Little Fires Everywhere is the story of Mia and Pearl Warren, an artist mother and a teenager daughter who live the lives of vagabonds, staying in one city only long enough for Mia to finish whatever photography project she’s currently working on before moving on to the next town to start again. When the Warren’s arrive in Shaker Heights however, things are going to be different, and Mia promises her daughter that they won’t move anymore, a notion that becomes more and more appealing as she meets the Richardson’s, the family whom they are renting their home from, and becomes intertwined in their lives.
The Richardson’s, at least the four kids, welcome Pearl Warren into their lives with open arms, quickly making it a routine that the five of them find themselves most every afternoon watching TV and hanging out together, and on the surface, even the matriarch of the family, Mrs. Richardson seems to feel the same way, but deep down there’s just something that she doesn’t trust about the Warren family, and she’s determined to do whatever it takes to find out the truth about her tenants. Throughout the course of the book, multiple compelling storylines breakout, some of which are shocking and scandalous, and all of which will keep you intrigued and turning the pages as fast as you can read to find out what happens next. There are little fires everywhere, and in the middle of them all are two families. Will they both come out unscathed or will someone get burned? Pick up a copy of “Little Fires Everywhere” at your local bookstore to find out. It’s the first novel I’ve read by Celeste Ng, and having enjoyed it so much, I’m very eager to read her debut novel, the book she wrote before this one. Don’t make the mistake I made and put off reading this fantastic book, it will be well worth your while. You can thank me later.
Yesterday was one of those rare days where my wife didn’t have work or school. It’s an occurrence that doesn’t happen to often because she works thirty to forty hours every week at her job, and is a full time student two days a week, but yesterday, on Valentine’s Day, she had to do neither, which seemed like a pretty lucky coincidence. I still had to work, so we wouldn’t be spending the whole day together or anything, but I thought it might be fun to go out for a nice lunch together since that’s something that our schedules generally don’t allow these days, so I asked Leticia if she wanted to meet me for lunch at Buckley’s Lunchbox, a restaurant that’s only open for lunch and is a subsidiary of Buckley’s Grill, which is more of a fine dining restaurant. I’d only been to Buckley’s Lunchbox once, years ago, when I came to visit my dad, and I don’t remember a ton about it except for the steak burger that I got was incredible and was instantly one of my favorite burgers in Memphis. My wife looked over the menu, something she often does before we eat somewhere she’s never been, because God forbid we make an important decision about where to eat lunch without doing extensive and tireless research, and excitedly agreed after finding a menu item, the cheddar bacon burger, that was up to her standard.
A few minutes after one, my designated daily lunchtime, I got in my car to make my way towards the restaurant where my Leticia was set to meet me, in about five minutes, but the train had other plans. To get to Buckley’s Lunchbox, I have to turn left out of the parking lot at the stoplight, but since the train happened to be going by at that particular time, even though it wasn’t blocking my path, I still couldn’t turn left because the traffic continued to flow on the busy street thanks to the stoplight that was choosing to completely ignore the people like me who needed to turn left. By the time I got to the restaurant it had taken me almost fifteen minutes, but luckily my wife had been running late as well so she wasn’t left waiting on me for too long. We squeezed ourselves through the front doors of the crowded restaurant, wedging ourselves between everyone else in the city that apparently had the same idea for a romantic Valentine’s Day lunch that we did. Once we made it to the counter, the hostess informed us that it would be a fifteen minute wait, so on top of the fifteen minutes it had taken me to get there, plus fifteen minutes waiting, my hour long lunch break would be half over before we even sat down at our table. Given how crowded the restaurant was, it didn’t seem likely that we were going to get the super quick service required to order, eat, and pay the bill, all within twenty minutes so I would be able to arrive back at work on time.
Based on the numbers and knowing that I needed to be back at work on time so that the next person could go to lunch, I informed the hostess that we wouldn’t be able to wait and that we would have to come back another time. I haven’t been in this situation too many times, but I would assume if you tell the hostess that you will have to come back another day because you don’t have time to wait today, that the hostess would thank you or say something like “We’ll see you soon.” This hostess did neither of these things, and didn’t actually say anything to either me or my wife, but she did give Leticia a look, a sympathetic look, a look that said “I’m so sorry he’s ruining your Valentine’s Day” or “What kind of jerk would make you leave over a fifteen minute wait?” The look was sickening. This person didn’t know us or our situation, she didn’t know that I had to get back to work so that another coworker could take their lunch, and she didn’t know that my wife was completely okay with leaving and going somewhere else, something we discussed before walking in when we saw how crowded the parking lot was. If there was a wait, we would just go eat lunch somewhere else, so that’s what we did.
We decided to try the Half Shell, a restaurant both we both like that wasn’t too far away, but when we got there, even though it was nearing 1:30, the parking lot was completely full, as in there wasn’t a single open parking space. Using my Sherlock Holmes detective skills, I figured out that if there was nowhere to park, then the restaurant would be really busy and there would probably be a wait, so Leticia suggested we just go to Lenny’s, the sub shop next door. It certainly wasn’t crowded, and the sandwiches we ordered were pretty good, the roast beef for her and the American club, a sandwich with ham, turkey, bacon, and cheese, for me. It certainly wasn’t the lunch we expected to have when we made plans to meet yesterday, and even though the quality of the food probably wasn’t as good as we would have had at Buckley’s, it was nice just to share a Valentine’s Day meal with my beautiful wife.
Today marks the sixth anniversary of the first Valentine’s Day that me and Leticia ever spent together, so if you’ll indulge me, then I’ll tell you the sappy love story of that first day. Just kidding, it wasn’t that sappy, so if you’re looking for something like that, then you definitely need to look elsewhere because you’re not going to find it here. It was February 14, 2012 and night had descended on Searcy, Arkansas, the college town where we were both attending school at the time. Being a broke college student, I didn’t have much money with which to take her out to dinner on that most romantic of evenings, but that was okay because we each had a coupon for a free Papa John’s pizza due to a promotion during the Super Bowl where you guessed the result of the coin toss and if the majority of the country’s population guessed the toss correctly, then they would get a free pizza. I think this might have been the one and only time I was ever excited to get Papa John’s pizza.
While I didn’t have enough money to take us out for a nice Valentine’s Day dinner, I did however make sure I had enough set aside to get her a gift, something I was very excited about. Pretty early on in our then five month old relationship, Leticia and I were talking about what we liked to read and that was when I found out that she was really big into Russian Literature and her favorite story was called “The Nose” by Nikolai Gogol, a writer I’d heard of but hadn’t read much if any of his work. She told me about the story and how much she enjoyed it, but I also discovered that she read “The Nose” on a handout in one of her high school English classes, and had never read anything else written by Gogol. When I found this out, I knew that I wanted to get her a collection of Gogol stories so that she would not only have her favorite story in a book, but also have more to read by that author that she enjoyed so much, so by the time February got here, I already knew exactly what I was going to get for her, the only problem was, the only bookstore in town, Hasting’s, didn’t have anything by Gogol.
This was a time before I became an Amazon savant, ordering any book I want with the click of a mouse and having it arrive at my doorstep two days later, but luckily, Hastings told me they could order the book for me and guaranteed it’s arrival in 7 to 10 days, which was pushing it since there was only a little more than a week until Valentine’s Day, but I knew this is what I wanted to get her, so I placed the order and just hoped that the book would get there on time. As the days ticked by I was starting to get nervous, but the day before, on February 13th, I got the call and all was right with the world.
I picked up Leticia at her dorm, then we picked up the pizza from Papa John’s, a pizza she had special ordered to arrange the pepperonis into a heart shape. Okay, so maybe it was a little sappy. We took the pizza and went to a park down the street where we walked to a picnic table where we ate the pizza, and huddled close together under the starlit night watched the movie, “Big Fish” on a laptop. I’m not sure why we decided to watch “Big Fish,” but she had never seen it and from what I remembered it was pretty good and luckily it turned out to be as good as I remembered and we both really enjoyed the evening. Before I took her back to her dorm, we exchanged gifts. I reached into the backseat of my gold Ford Explorer Sport and pulled out a little wrapped package that was unmistakably a book, but Leticia still acted surprised when she ripped off the paper and found that it was indeed a book.
She was excited about the collection of Gogol stories I’d given her, and was a little bit surprised that I remembered her talking about that months ago. I might have been offended at her surprise, but admittedly, and as a lot of people can attest to, I’m not the greatest listener. Then Leticia reached into the back and pulled out a golden brown box which she handed to me. I had no idea what it could be, but when I opened the lid I was surprised to see something I’d wanted for a long time, a Tony Romo football jersey. It’s possible that I’m the biggest fan that Tony Romo ever had, praising him with the good and standing by him with the bad. While other people were quick to criticize number 9 on a late game mistake, I was quick to defend him, knowing deep down that all the haters were just being ignorant. I hadn’t had a Dallas Cowboys jersey since I had Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman back in the mid 90’s, because since then, there had never been a player I liked as much as I had them, but ten or so years later, that all changed when a young Tony Romo came into the game and led the Cowboys to victory.
Leticia, like few other people I knew, was on my side in the Tony Romo debate, and understood how much he meant to the team as well as the fans, so she got me his jersey, the throwback jerseys that the team wears on Thanksgiving, my favorite out of all their uniforms, and to this day is still one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I couldn’t have asked for a better first Valentine’s Day to spend with the woman who would eventually become my wife. It wasn’t an upscale dinner at a steakhouse where a man walked between tables playing the violin like we had last year, but we made due with what we had, and looking back, it’s one of my favorite meals that we’ve ever shared together. I feel very lucky to have the same Valentine’s Day date six years later. There’s that sappiness again.
For a while now, my go to food at barbecue restaurant’s has been barbecue nachos. Chips topped with either pulled pork or chicken, shredded cheese and cheese sauce, barbecue sauce, and sometimes jalapenos, this is not only one of my favorite meals at a barbecue restaurant, but is on my list for one of my favorite meals anywhere, or at least it was, until it was replaced by something superior the other night. Now that football season is over, Saturday’s have become basketball nights where my wife and I will watch whatever NBA showcase matchup is on ABC at 7:30. It’s always an intriguing matchup even if it’s not always a good game and we both just like watching professional basketball so it’s a perfect way to spend an evening.
Food and sports viewing go hand in hand, just think about it. Hot dogs, peanuts, and cracker jacks are synonymous with watching baseball games, while cooking brats and burgers on the grill are associated with tailgating in football, then there are other foods that just go great with watching sports in general, like hot wings and nachos, so Saturday night, when thinking about what we wanted for dinner, I took into account that we were going to be watching the basketball game, thus deciding to maximize the experience by getting a sports friendly food, which is how I ended up at Tops Bar-B-Q.
I decided on nachos, and sure I could have made traditional nachos with ground beef or even ordered some steak nachos from the Mexican restaurant down the street, but I was in the mood for some barbecue nachos, and while not my favorite, that honor reserved for Central BBQ, Tops does their barbecue nachos pretty good, and since it’s two minutes away from my apartment, it’s the closest and most convenient option which was high on my list of priorities that day since it had been raining all day and I just wanted to get back to the comfort of my warm home as quickly as possible. It was while in the drive-thru line that I had a genius idea. They say a genius idea comes around but once in a lifetime, so if that’s true, I consider myself incredibly lucky for having the thought that I did, to see if they could put the barbecue nacho toppings on French fries instead of chips, because the result was incredibly delicious.
Originally it was an idea born in a Mexican restaurant that created Carne Asada fries, and while it was so good that I declared it to be my new favorite food, my mind was closed to the idea that the parameters of nacho fries could be expanded outside the walls of La Hacienda, but then it just hit me, barbecue nacho fries. It wasn’t on the menu so I wasn’t really sure if they would do it or not, but we asked and after a slight hesitation and the question, “So you just want us to dump a larger order of fries in the box and putt the pulled pork, cheese, and barbecue sauce on top?”, I gave my affirmative confirmation and the barbecue nacho fries were born. Since it wasn’t on the menu and hadn’t been given a price, I’m not exactly sure how the employee at the drive-thru window decided what to charge me, but it ended up being about four dollars cheaper than the barbecue nachos with chips, and it wasn’t like it was a smaller portion by any means.
For $5 and some change, the barbecue nacho fries from Tops might be the most filling meal I’ve ever eaten at such a low cost, but not only that, it was a very tasty meal as well. My big knock on Tops barbecue has always been the fries, crinkle cut too thick with not enough seasoning, but throw a boat load of cheese sauce, pulled pork, and barbecue sauce on top of them, and suddenly they become delicious, transformed, in my opinion, from the worst thing on the menu to the best. The portion was so big, the entirety of a Styrofoam carryout container filled with the nacho fries, that I only ate about half of it, and for less than six dollars, I’d venture to say that you won’t find a better meal for a better deal anywhere.
Maybe I’ll keep going back and ordering the barbecue nacho fries until they finally realize the popularity of the dish and put it on the menu. Then perhaps, because I’m the one that introduced them to this phenomenal creation, and because it’s simply the right thing to do, they will name the barbecue nacho fries after me, and years from now people will still be pulling up to Tops Bar-B-Q ordering “The Kendall,” and it will be just as delicious then as it is now. It would be so cool to have my name on a menu next to a beloved item that I created. That’s the dream.