1-3-2006 Walkabout

The worst day of a man's life is when he sits down and begins thinking about how he can get something for nothing.--Thomas Jefferson

NO! Jefferson did not play for the 49ers!

I just got back from a walkabout through the downtown area and back. 'Splain this one to me: Some bedraggled guy who looks like he just crawled out of his shopping cart under the Market Street Bridge comes wandering out of the soup kitchen with a doggie bag in hand and quickly proceeds to auto-dial someone or other on his flashy-looking cell phone. Does that work for you, or am I just a hard-hearted flimflamaphobic?

Two hoddogs and a bag of Combos a day is apparently well beyond his financial reach, but his cell phone makes mine look like a cordless rotary phone? His coat and jeans looked like they were worn in a deep coal mine for a couple of weeks, but his 'spensive looking Nikes, and his designer Cowboys ballcap looked brand spanking new. Do you think he purchased them with his Access Card, or do you think some bright individual who understands how to secure foundation grants for the purposes of employing themselves gave them to him? I'm curious.

Right-leaner's typical response: It's a shame what's happened to this country.

Left-learner's predictable response: It's a shame that this country can't provide that poor man with an NFL Starter jacket.

I dunno. Maybe I'm painting with too broad a brush.

Nah! I'm not. Thing is, that crumbum probably sold his Access Card for some cash as soon as he laid hands on it. A $200 card for $100 worth of beer and cigarette money? Now that's the American way. The Democrat's War on Poverty way, that is.

Sez me.

By the way, Wifey joined me for this walkabout event, which is a very rare happening. She mixes with exercise about as well as Queen Hillary mixes with capitalist and democratic constructs. Rutro! Now I've gone and done it. If she becomes the prez one day, I'm sure to get audited by the IRS, and she'll probably lose my FBI records, too. No matter though. Beats having your body rolled up in a carpet and dumped in the park. No?

Sorry about all of that. Anyway, Wifey and I headed on down to the Rite-Aid on the Square in search of all sorts of toiletries, some super glue type material and a tooth brush rack. Real exciting stuff there, heyna? I don't know what it is about that store, but the usual clientele makes me feel like I've woken up in the middle of a Dawn of the Dead film. There! I said it! That store is a frickin' trainee zombie magnet. And other than the cashier making eye contact with me and then deciding to turn his back on me and make me wait while he rearranged the gift cards behind the counter--my visit was just groovy, Marcia.

Whatever happened to customer service? You go to the bank, and there's one teller waiting on customers, while four others are wrapping pennies or suchlike. You go to the deli counter and take a number, while two employees wait on the line of thirty people. You schedule a doctor's appointment for the top of a certain hour, and then the doctor is ready to see you 45 minutes later. You go to the local mini market and grow an inch taller while some senior citizen spends his miniscule lottery winnings on more lottery tickets. Forget the f>cking paying customers! This senior needs his daily fix!

All of which reminds me of my restaurant management days. If some gorgeous big-tittie beauty queen of a waitress wasn't at your table and kissing your wide load of an ass within thirty seconds of your being seated--that was your excuse to make a scene and talk all kinds of sh*t on the manager you demanded to see. But you gotta watch. Not every restaurant manager will listen to your needless bullspit. Trust me, I've got the scrapbook clippings to prove it.

It just never seemed fair to me. No matter where you go, you'll stand in line forever and it would never occur to you to do more than sigh heavily and noisily in protest. But there's no farging way you will wait a lousy thirty seconds for a diet coke. I could never feature that silliness. I think the worst of the bunch were the businessmen. They be wearing their 'spensive suits, and trifling with their cuff links, and sporting shoes that looked like they had stolen them from a women's shoe store. And if they weren't waited on pronto, they were launching into tirades all in attempt to impress some other guy that was probably their boyfriend's ex-boyfriend.

I remember this one blowhard beckoning me to his table and saying something to the affect of: "Allow me to F>CKING IMPRESS UPON YOU THE F>CKING IMPORTANCE OF GOOD SERVICE!!!" The entire place went silent except for the chuckling coming from his two businessman buddies. And as he was about to chortle some more, I interrupted him in a hushed tone with: "The cops will not get here in time to save you a beating if you don't shut the f>ck up, fatsnot." He was beyond outraged and immediately barged out of the store. Good. An open four-top. One less name on the waiting list. The beauty of this encounter was that by speaking in very hushed tones, he had nary a witness as to what I had said to him. BANG!

But I'm much better these days.

Anyways, Wifey and I finally found our way around the three rather large women blocking the Rite-aid exit, and we made our way down to the Main St. Trading Post.

My sidekick at work told me this store has used DVDs up the whazoo, and they're cheaply priced to boot. Normally, I would never lower myself to entering a pawn shop of any sort, but what the hell! Wifey wanted to find of copy of The Pacifier for the grandrodents, and the place was nearby. The trusty sidekick wasn't just whistlin' Dixie. That joint has used DVDs up the freakin' whazoo priced at $9, or $7 if you buy at least three. I snagged me a copy of Aliens with the 17 minutes of restored footage, the behind the scenes muckity muck, and the digitally mastered blah, blah, blah. Wifey did not find what she wanted, but she gave the DVDs a good looking over.

I was very put off by the constant stream of black folks heading to the check cashing window at the back of the store. That check-cashing service is a frickin' rip-off and it should be banned by law. Reminds me of the predatory Rent-A-Centers of the world. Nah! They don't charge interest on that $1,400 television that can be had elsewhere for $600 iffin' you've got the cash or credit to buy it outright. Nope. They don't charge interest. And when a bill floated in Congress sought to do away with this rip-off, it never even made it out of committee. Which lobbying group should that one be chalked up to?

And then some college-aged couple sauntered in with a Strat copy, and a Marshall practice amp. Both the axe and the amp appeared to be just out of the boxes. Not a freakin' scratch. Not even a smudge. You know what happened here, don't you? Just another kid who bought himself an amp and an axe figurin' that being a guitar hero would be easy, only to quickly learn that playing any instrument well requires tons of practice and dedication. In other words: Yo! This frickin' sh*t is hard, man! Muck this! And off to the pawn shop they went.

So the gangly kid wants cash for the unblemished Strat copy and the Marshall. And what does the guy behind the counter offer him? Twenty-f>cking dollars. That was it. He was willing to spring for twenty bucks. The kid should have told him to shove it, but he showed proof that he was 18 years of age and off he went with the lack of cash. Here's the sick part. How much you wanna bet if I go in there next week it'll cost me close to $200 to purchase both of those musical items? Wanna bet? What a freaking huckster! Then again, why would I admit to anyone that I was actually interested in a Strat copy, or any copy for that matter. When I actually find the time to play, I want somethin' that sounds sweet. That reminds me. The boy never brought my Flyin' V back to the adobe. Punk-ass kid!

Here's another problem. All you have to do is waltz in there, prove you're 18 years-old...and the guy will buy whatever you've got under your arm? Is it any wonder that the burglars keep on burgling? Maybe my new special edition Aliens DVD is red hot. Who knows? Maybe it's yours. Been burglarized lately?

Whatever, man. Follow me here. I will never, ever go into that sleazy place again. And in retrospect, I can't believe I actually spent $9.54 in there. I'll write that off as a temporary lapse of reason. But we're talking Aliens, man. I gotta keep it. And I gotta watch it tonight. I'm weak.

Newt: My mommy always said there were no monsters---no real ones---but there are.

Ripley: Yes, there are.

Newt: Why do grown-ups say that?

Ripley: Because usually, it's true.

I gotta turn some more lights on before I spin that disc.


Okay. So I bought a DVD that might be hot. What can I say?

Once we escaped that upsetting place, We agreed upon a spot of lunch, and headed in Carol's Deli. I have never eaten there, but I figured it was about time that I had. We picked the window table and I headed off down the hall to the restroom. What? No restroom? We were out of there. Sorry, but I really to had to pee, so off to the bowels of Boscov's we trudged.

Wifey mentioned Thomas' deli and got a quick thumbs down. She pointed towards Subway and got pretty much the same response. Boscov's? Not! Then I remembered that Judy place. I could not recall the actual name of the place, but it sits on the back side of the Provincial Towers building and it's not even big enough to store an SUV inside. No matter, though. I love smallish eateries and I'll share with you why.

First of all, if you visit a national chain restaurant, you have to pay for their advertising. At Friendly's a grilled cheese platter will set you back 7 bucks. At a place like Judy's, you're talkin' $2.50, minus a slice of tomato added on. The biggest chains order generic foodstuffs. Despite not being able to purchase in bulk, the Mom 'n' Pops tend to avoid doing as much. Quite often, the tiny restaurant owners build repeat customers by providing better quality, lower prices and a hands-on approach to providing good service. As I previously made mention off, national advertising campaigns are freaking expensive. Word of mouth is a helluva lot less expensive. Hence the ability to provide a quality product at reduced prices. With all of that having been said, before today I had never been in Judy's either, so the two of us were headed off into uncharted waters.

So we wandered in there, grabbed a two-top and glanced at a table tent menu small enough to challenge the eyesight of Superman. Judy caught on and brought us the much larger versions of the menu within a minute. Not bad! She took our drink order and then proceeded to place a couple of cans of Coke in front of us. Right then and there, I knew I was gonna like this teeny tiny place. Do we have to pay for the 'spensive CO2 soda dispensing systems, and all the visits from the repair guys? Nope. Have a can of Coke. I love it. There's an Americana thing going on here somewhere. Wifey ordered the turkey club platter, and true to form--I ordered the tuna sandwich platter.

This place is unique. It seats 22 tops on the interior, and probably an equal amount on it's exterior tables. We had a soap opera on the boob tube, and a bunch of historic pictures of Wilkes-Barre smartly displayed. Judy told me she got them from Pictureonit.com up there in the Harris Muffler building in the Heights. The picture of Percy A. Brown & Company got my mind to drifting back, and another dinky restaurant, now long gone, came to mind. Yeah, memories of Harold's Hoddogs were stirred from within me. We ate there as kids, and later as teens. Our kids ate there when they were struggling young dorks doing bikeabouts with their Dad. That would be me. And Wifey said it's too bad the grandrodents won't be able to do likewise. I agree. I wholeheartedly believe in carrying on family traditions, even if it involves something as unimportant as a really good chili dog. Or a bag of fresh roasted peanuts being fed to a bunch of pigeons.

If I must be critical, I thought the lady cook was a tad slow, but then again, I still go into the corner Turkey Hill even though I'm treated like a second class citizen when the lottery freaks come a callin'. We'll just scrutinize her finished product before we pass judgment. We asked for light toast and we got light toast. The produce was all fresh and crisp. Trust me, if Wifey sez you make a good turkey club, then you make a good turkey club. In these parts, she's the ultimate turkey club critic being that that's all that she ever frickin' orders. And her club wasn't crushed near flat. More often than not, after a cook assembles a club sandwich, they mangle it while trying to slice through it's three tiers. And I freaking hate that! Ask any of the top-flight cooks I trained about crushing club sandwiches, and my snarling face will likely pop into their heads. Sorry. While I may not manage a restaurant these days, a certain part of me always will be. I can't turn it off. It's in my blood.

Get this. The fries were bulky, and they even tasted like potatoes. They were thoroughly cooked, yet not even approaching that golden brown look that typically signifies that they are cooked correctly. What this proves is that the lady cook regularly changes her fryer grease, which is not the norm in the restaurant industry. But I did warn you about small-time restauranteurs paying attention to the basics, did I not?

We finished everything in our oval plastic baskets and Judy was on the spot quickly afterwards. We were not interested in dessert, and I paid the damage--ten bucks.

Before heading out, I asked her how business was. She said: "Good." I pressed her about how the Labor & Industry building's opening had affected her business. She said: "Real good." And I was happy to hear as much. Too many Wilkes-Barre residents have poo-pooed the impact that 300 new employees in the downtown could mean to those long-struggling businesses that stuck it out through thin-and-thinner. But according to Judy, things are suddenly looking up. And that's exactly what our downtown needs at this point. Small shops making a profit. Small shops making a go of it. I am encouraged.

Needless to say, I'm glad I wandered in there today, and I think I found a new warm weather hang-out. You see, with those outside tables, the rodents and I can have some lunch, do it very cheaply and still be able to keep an eye on our elongated mountain bike.

As the Governor of California has stated ad nauseum: I'll be back.

Historic tile 1

Anywho, I enjoyed me a walkabout today. And I had me some company for a change.


From today's Times Leader:

Posted on Tue, Jan. 03, 2006

Restaurant owner jailed again

By KRIS WERNOWSKY kwernowsky@leader.net

WILKES-BARRE – Trouble continued for an embattled city eatery owner who was arrested on a drug-related charge Sunday for the second time in two months, police said. According to Wilkes-Barre police:

Shakeya Craig, 29, last known address of Thompson Street, was picked up on a drug charge at about 4 p.m. in the Sherman Hills Apartment complex on Park View Circle after police responded to the area for a reported shooting.

She was walking away from the scene when Wilkes-Barre police officer Tom Kupetz watched her throw several baggies of suspected cocaine on the ground. She was arrested on a charge of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.

Craig was taken to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility, where she was being held without bail on a federal detainer. She is expected to be released into custody of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency sometime today, according to facility officials.

The previous drug-related run-in with investigators came in November when federal authorities said Craig was using her business, Sylvia’s Soul Food Restaurant on Academy Street, as a front to launder money she earned selling large quantities of crack and powder cocaine over the past 1 1/2 years.

Police made several controlled purchases of cocaine from a woman named Samantha Bonomo, according to a federal affidavit.

Investigators say Bonomo got the drugs from Craig. Bonomo, 18, of Plymouth, had been selling drugs for Craig from an Orchard Street residence in Plymouth since at least November 2004, when Bonomo was still a juvenile, according to investigators.

Craig and Bonomo were charged with conspiracy to distribute powder and crack cocaine.

According to our cops, this drug chickie has been one shifty, hard to catch hombre for quite some time. But when did her smallish drug empire first begin to unravel?

Ahem. That would be when she moved to Thompson Street.


From the e-mail inbox Mark:

That guy in the first picture better close his mouth or have good health insurance. And I think Mr. Freeze ain't quite right, except for the beer part. I do see some scenery that might put this event on my calendar next year...

Pet fanciers plunge into river


Um...I would have loved to have participated, but I'm not that screwed-up just yet. Soon enough.

Historic tile 2

I know better, but I'm gonna watch the Penn State bowl game, whatever the heck it's called. I watched one, count 'em, one of their games this year and they upped and lost.

Bikeabout tommorrow.