Things end.

This week, I received a notification that AOL Instant Messenger is ending.    On December 15th of this year, the service that was the biggest part of my social life from the mid-1990s until just a year or two ago will go offline for the last time.

Up until fairly recently, I was always logged into AIM-  if my computer was on, my screen name was active.  At one point, I had collected nearly a dozen screen names-  some were used for work, but most were personal.  AIM was the way that we spoke between departments during my early years at my previous Mr. Company, because nobody had invented Slack yet and “team chats” were a fairly nascent idea.

Lately, the AIM buddy list is a ghost town-  there are only a handful of people who still connect, and most of those have their screen names configured to mobile devices.  I would venture a guess that at least half of them don’t even realize they’re still signed in- it’s that slow there now.

AOL Instant Messenger is just one more thing in the ever-growing bucket of things from my past that are gone now, things that I miss quite a lot.   AIM and Yahoo Messenger, both removed from heavy usage by their parent companies were one giant part of my life for most of the last twenty years.

So too was LiveJournal, at least from 2002 until around 2011.  The communities there were wonderful, and I made fast friends through those interactions.   I’ve been commenting in recent posts about the process of going through my old LiveJournal to move worthwhile content over here to WordPress while simultaneously preparing to close out the original LJ.  This is for two reasons:  The first is that LiveJournal was purchased by a Russian company a few years back and they have since moved their data from US-based servers to hardware that is actually located in Russia.  The second, and far more personal reason to close out LiveJournal is that it’s a ghost town-  most of my closest LJ friends have since deleted their accounts, and there’s only a handful of people from my list who still frequent the platform.  Posting there in 2005 was like being in a well attended warm and friendly party.  Posting there now is like shouting into an empty factory.

Things change, time passes, and many of the things that I love have faded away.

When I moved to Orlando, there were two restaurants downtown that I really enjoyed:  Frank & Steins, which was a delicious hot-dogs and beer joint, and the Red Mug diner, which was a 24 hour diner at first.

First they cut the Red Mug in half-  they said that the right side would be a new Poke concept restaurant.  Then they cut the 24 hour aspect on weekdays, saying that it was summer hours and you could still go there in the middle of the night on Friday and Saturday nights.   Finally, they said never mind all that other stuff we said, and we’re just closing the place up.

Frank & Steins was closed up to renovate and reopen as a “food hall” concept, but all the super delicious food on the original menu is gone, and my tongue weeps in gustatory grief.

I was going to include Smash Burger in this list, because the one in Oakland Park closed, but I was delighted to find this chain is alive and well in Central Florida.  Smash is one of my top-five favorite burgers, although my brother doesn’t like it so much.

So many of my memories are about food, now that I think about it.  My mental map of my adopted German hometown Regensburg is marked almost entirely by where the food is.    And then there’s the Navajo.

The Navajo sandwich was a Cheesecake Factory staple for years-  chicken, avocado, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and a dash of mayonnaise served on this delicious thick sourdough bread, and I would order it more than any other thing in the restaurant.  When I came back from Germany, the Navajo was nowhere to be found.  Gone from the menu, without a trace.    A Google search shows that I am not the only person who laments its absence from the menu.  Someone even set up a Twitter account as the sandwich looking for work, but even that faded out after 2013.

Damn, now I’m hungry.

What thing do you miss that is gone from your past?

Three Meals In Los Angeles

Here’s the last of the Los Angeles pictures!  This time, it’s all about the food.

On our first day, Wendy showed us a fantastic place in downtown Los Angeles called Grand Central Market.  The Grand Central Market occupies the entire ground floor of the Homer Laughlin Building, at 317 South Broadway.

It’s a market-hall format, which means there’s a big open space in the building filled with all kinds of great little places to eat inside.  I’ve been to stuff like this in other countries, but this was one of the larger and more interesting ones I’ve been to.  The next three pictures give you an idea of what it looks like inside.

Next up in our tiny culinary tour of Los Angeles is the Original Pantry Cafe.   We stumbled across this wonderful little diner while looking for a place to dine before Bob’s Burger’s Live.

The sign on the top says that the restaurant was opened in 1924, moved to the current location in 1960,  and has been opened continually since it first opened.  If true, that’s amazing.

There is a guestbook under glass, obviously reserved for famous guests.  The page it was open to includes a number of names that I’m not familiar with, and Conan O’Brien.

While we were eating, Richard Masur came in with a small group.  I was facing away from him, but Amelie spotted him right away.

This isn’t a great picture of the cashier cage, but I didn’t think to grab the picture until we were standing in front of it to pay.   The Country Pantry has been cash only since it opened in 1924.

I didn’t know it was cash only until we were already seated, but the signage was clearly marked.  They also didn’t give us menus- all the menu information was on wall signs, so we took it in stride.  I think I slightly annoyed the waitress by not being aware of this before we sat down.

There were lots of old photographs on the walls, and Amelie pointed out that one of the waiters in the restaurant was clearly the same as the younger version of him in the black and white photographs on the right.

I dined on french toast and eggs, which is one of my favorite dishes.    The french toast was amazing.  I would definitely go back here, if I ever wound up in downtown Los Angeles again.

The third and final stop in our saunter through the comestibles of California is Pink’s, a hot dog restaurant that has been there for nearly eighty years.

This original location of Pink’s has been there since 1939.  Until this visit, I thought it was the only one.  Little did I realize that there are locations in  Ohio, Hawaii, New York, and Las Vegas.  Some are in amusement parks.  A few are temporary locations in various California state fairs.  One is in a hotel in Manila.  There’s even a Pink’s location in the Miami Seaquarium!

Still, we wanted to go to the original one.  In the middle of the afternoon, the line was manageable.  From what I’ve heard, the line can get somewhat entertaining on a Friday or Saturday evening.

Many of the offerings are named after celebrities or movies.  There’s a dog with onion rings called the Lord of the Rings that looked delicious.

I tried the  New York Dog, which had sweet and saucy onions.  Amelie tried the Chicago Polish Dog, which included mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, and lettuce.  I don’t have a picture of mine, but it was way messier than hers.

Before we left, we couldn’t resist the Pink’s photo-op!

What’s your favorite Los Angeles dining experience?

Los Angeles 2: Electric Boogaloo

While my first Los Angeles post was about Saturday night, most of what I’m including in this post took place on Friday.  We had arrived on Thursday night, and after a bit of sleep, we were ready to go see Los Angeles like proper tourists.

This awesome little Starbucks had just opened next to the hotel, and after briefly caffeinating, we were ready to go see the city.  (We sat on that deck once or twice, later in the weekend.  It’s really very nice.)

We started out a little before lunch, and Amelie’s friend Wendy met us at the metro station closest to the hotel.  We had a short list of things we wanted to see, so we set out on foot.  Halfway to our first destination, I realized that we were in front of the Webhosting company I’ve been using since about 2003.   Hi, Dreamhost!

We also walked right past The Bradbury Building, a lovely old built in 1893.

If this looks familiar to you, it’s probably because it’s used often in television, movies, literature, and even comics.  The Bradbury is where Sebastian’s apartment was located in Blade Runner, and there’s a Blade Runner sign posted near the stairwell detailing the movie’s production at the Bradbury Building.

Later in the day, we went to City Hall to take advantage of the free observation deck on the 27th floor.  I wish we had known that the night before this, they were shining the Bat Signal on City Hall in memory of the recently departed Adam West.  I would have liked to have seen that. Our visit was mid-afternoon on Friday, so no Bat Signal.

Across the street from City Hall is a signpost showing all of the sister cities of Los Angeles.

Once we went inside the Main Street entrance to City Hall, we went through metal detectors and checked in with the security desk.  First we took an express elevator to the 22nd floor, followed by another elevator to go up to 26.  On our way up, we saw the Mayor’s office, which in no way tempted us to knock.

After the elevator to floor 26,there’s one flight of stairs up to the observation level.  Inside, there’s a lectern set up, which leads to mugging for the camera, of course.  The first two are Amelie and her friend Wendy, and the third is me doing my best Shatner.  I’m not sure why podiums make me go full-Shat, but there it is.

Once we were done playing with the lectern, we went out to the observation part of the observation deck.  While City Hall isn’t the tallest building in LA, the observation deck goes all the way around the building for 360 degree views of Los Angeles.  You can even see all the wonderful LA traffic!

City Hall is just a block or two away from the Los Angeles Times, which gave us a pretty great view of that building.

This is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a Frank Gehry building with a pretty interesting face.

Union Station is the main train station for Los Angeles.  We walked through it when we first reached LA the night before, and it’s a very pretty station.  It’s also much larger than I realized-  the red roof here is all part of the station, along with the many tracks behind it.

Here’s part of the Los Angeles skyline, as seen from City Hall.

The Hollywood sign and Griffith Park observatory are both visible from City Hall, but it was kind of hazy so this was the best shot I got on Friday.

I took a few dozen photos from the observation deck, but mostly it just looks like rambling cityscape.  Here’s a nice picture of tall LA buildings from sidewalk level.

During our walk on Friday, we also walked right past  the Angel’s Flight funicular.  It was originally opened in 1901 about a block away, and was moved to its current location in the mid-1990s. It’s been closed since 2013, but is currently being restored with some safety enhancements and should re-open later this year.  I’m sad it wasn’t open- I love a good funicular.

This next picture was not taken on the same day- this was a different part of our visit, where we were at a Hollywood metro station which was closer to the Griffith Observatory.  There’s a Dash bus line which runs between this metro station and the Observatory on a regular schedule.   You can actually see the very top of the Dash bus in the bottom edge of this photo.  Not pictured:  A tiny Rocketeer taking off from the Observatory to fight a Nazi zeppelin.

You can always tell where you are in LA by the decorations in the Metro.   Not sure you’re in the station closest to the Griffith Observatory?  Just look for starfields in the station’s rafters.

The last picture in this post is not related to anything else in the photo- it’s just a Korean restaurant where we had dinner on Sunday night.  We all thought the name of the place was pretty entertaining.  The food was delicious, if a bit zippy for my tastes.  I had Kimchi pancakes, and tried Soju, a clear Korean liquor that was similar to vodka.  Tasty stuff.

Have you been to Los Angeles City Hall? 

Knaus Berry Farm (or we waited almost an hour to have a snack and it was totally worth it)

Look, I know it’s been two months since my last post and you’re probably wondering where I went and what the heck happened.  I’ll get to that, I promise.  That’s not what this post is about, though.

This post is about dessert.  Sort of.

Last weekend, Amelie and I took a drive down to Homestead, Florida, into the Redlands Agricultural District.  For those who’ve never been to South Florida, Homestead is one of the southernmost cities in the state, just north of where the Florida Turnpike and US-1 meet.  Redlands is about 20 miles south-west of downtown Miami.  If you keep going south from there, you pretty much wind up in either the Florida Keys or the Everglades.

Inside of Redlands is a place called Knaus Berry Farm.   They’re a seasonal bakery that has been run by the Knaus family since 1956.  They also have you-pick-em strawberry and tomato fields, depending on availability.  Amelie has been raving to me about this place for more than a year, but we missed their open season last year and I had to put a reminder on my calendar to check in when they opened again in November.

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Knaus Berry Farm has a dedicated following, and the line on a weekend to get to the bakery counter is often 45 minutes to an hour.   This wasn’t even all that busy, from what I understand.

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The bakery counter has various fresh basked goods, which I’ll get to.  If I had more stomachs, I would have wanted to try one of everything.

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The bakery counter is a cash-only operation, so the line actually moves reasonably quickly.

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There are separate lines for produce and for milkshakes.  The produce counter only had one person step up while we were inside.  The produce looked amazing, but we were there for the baked goods.

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This is what we went out for:  the cinnamon buns.  Fresh out of the oven, they were so, so good.  They’re also dense!  Just one of these is actually crazy filling.  Once we made it to the bakery line,  we just sat in the grass, in a patch of shade near the main building to eat one of these each.

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Since I had a family thing the next day, I also took one of their Black-Bottom Cakes.  I’d never had this type of cake before, and it was damn tasty.  I know it may be blasphemy for me to say this, but I liked this cake more than chocolate chip cookies.

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If you want to visit Knaus Berry Farm, I will offer some quick tips:

  1. Use the bathroom before you go.  There’s no restroom on site.   We were in line already, and had to duck out to go three miles away to a fast food restaurant on US-1.  Then we started the line over.
  2. Bring cash.  They don’t accept plastic here, and you’re gonna want to get more than one thing.  The prices are reasonable, but you don’t want to go all the way there and not be able to buy these delicious baked goods!
  3. Check the weather, and bring sunblock.  The line for the bakery is not covered.   The only time you’re really indoors here is at the bakery and produce counters-  the rest is basically outdoors.  Standing in the South Florida sun for even forty minutes will give most people a bit of a burn.  I’ve lived here almost all of my life, and I wore the same hat I wore to the Great Pyramid, and even I got a little pink in places.
  4. Come hungry.  Seriously, if you eat a big meal before you drive out, then you’re missing out on the joy that is these gooey wonderful cinnamon buns fresh out of the oven.

Knaus Berry Farm is open November through mid-April each year, at this location: 15980 SW 248 Street
Homestead, FL 33031
305.247.0668

You can see more reviews and photos here.

Have you ever been to Knaus Berry Farm?

National what day?

I brought my laptop with me to Panera Bread so that I could get on with the business of rewriting my resume to reflect modern times.  The last time I  really updated my resume was well over a decade ago, after all.

Once I had my lunch, I opened Firefox and it dutifully reloaded the last few tabs I had open.    Naturally, this included the great time sucker, Facebook.  Facebook told me in the trending bar on the right side that today is National Sandwich Day.

How fortuitous, then, that my Pick-2 includes a rather tasty turkey and avocado sandwich!

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Today is also National Stress Awareness Day, which is hilarious to me-  I’m plenty aware of stress.  National Chocolate Day was a few days back, and it’s a travesty that I totally missed that one.

Today’s also National Candy Day, but I feel like that one really ought to be synchronized more with halloween.  National Pastry Day and National Brownie Day are one day apart, but I feel like they should be grouped together.

While my birthday has no truly fun National days, the 15th of December is National Cat Herders Day.  I quite like that one!  The good news here is that we all have plenty of time to prepare for National Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day.  That one sounds like fun.

National Procrastination Day was January 4th this year,although the date of this one changes yearly for some reason. Maybe I should celebrate it officially today, because I really should be working on my resume.  That is why I brought my laptop here in the first place.  I’d better get on with it…  right after I figure out why today is National Chicken Lady Day!

What’s your favorite National ______ Day holiday?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?