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?

Dining Out In Germany

When I was planning my trip to Berlin last month, I had a conversation on Ye Olde Facebook with my friend Heather about restaurants in Germany. I offered a lot of advice regarding how the experience is different from dining in the US, and I realized (not for the first time) that I really ought to post about this. I’ve been meaning to write this one for a long while. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

When you arrive:

Most restaurants in Germany do not have a ‘please wait to be seated’ sign. When you arrive, you are expected to simply sit down at a table of your choosing, although you should avoid any tables that have a ‘Reserviert’ (Reserved) sign. When in doubt, you should ask the staff.

Placing Your Order:

In places accustomed to tourists, it’s not uncommon for a restaurant to have an English menu.  Sometimes you’ll be handed the English menu as soon as they hear you speak.

Typically, your drink order is taken first, and then they come back a little while later to take your food order.

During the meal:

In the US, a glass of water is standard in most restaurants. Here, you shouldn’t expect a glass of water with your meal unless you ask for it. When you do ask for water, the waitress might ask you if you want it with or without gas. This is because carbonated water is very common and popular here. If, like me, you prefer not to have carbonation in your water, you can ask for ‘still’ water and it will be given to you “ohne Kohlensaure,” without carbonate.

Don’t expect ice in your drink in most restaurants, either. There are exceptions, but not many- even cola is typically served at room temperature here.

Some restaurants have longer tables where you might find yourself sitting with strangers- I’ve found myself in this situation a few times, and the preferred behavior is to politely ignore the other person. Sometimes you might find a talkative seatmate, but I haven’t found that to be the case.

When you’re finished:

The waiter will not bring you the check until you ask for it. It’s not uncommon for German folk to sit for quite some time after eating, have an espresso, and talk. More than one German traveler I’ve spoken to has expressed that the American habit of putting the check down while they’re still eating feels extremely rushed and rude. In Germany, nobody rushes you out the door.

Cash is king, especially when dining out. Credit cards are usually accepted in major places like hotels, but many restaurants won’t accept credit cards at all. American credit cards are especially problematic in Germany, because the banking systems are different here. If you don’t see credit card logos on the door of the restaurant, assume that you’ll need cash.

When the check is brought to the table, you will often be asked who is paying, if one person is paying, or if the check should be split. It is a common practice to split the check right there and then, and the waiter will give each person a subtotal based on what they ate.

You pay your check at the table, and the wait staff always carries a money pouch to handle the transaction. When the waitress brings you the check, she’ll give you a total. You say how much you’re paying- including the tip- when you hand over your money. For example, if I have a check of 23 euros and want to tip ten percent, I would hand them thirty and say “26 euros” (I usually round up), and they’d give me four back. Don’t leave your tip (Trinkgeld) on the table- that’s typically considered rude. If you want them to keep the entire amount you’ve handed over, you can say ‘stimmt so,’ or, in Bavaria, ‘passt so,’ and this is generally understood to mean keep the change.

Tipping is usually done at 10-15%. Any more and they’ll think you’re nuts. Absurdly generous, but nuts. In the US, people who wait tables have a tiny tiny wage and live or die by their tips, but here, they have a decent living regardless, so if you tip 10%, you’ll seem normal, not stingy.

That’s all the restaurant tips I have for the moment. I may revisit this post in the future.