Having a good ol’ aching, upchucking time in Houston

Just a quick missive from the nation’s 3rd largest city. Sandwiched between light flooding and goofy health issues I have tried my best to learn in our annual steward’s meeting. But the last 1 1/2 days were a bit daunting.

On Sunday, I did a stupid thing that could have ended with serious consequences. I was showering in my tub when my soap disappeared. I couldn’t actively grab it because I didn’t see it. Too late, I slipped on the bar of soap and went down like a big sack of Sakrete. As is the case with these types of injuries it is difficult to feel its full wrath until, usually, the next morning.

I drove to Houston on Monday even  though it was a very uncomfortable drive, to say the least. The next day I went to class and our head honcho, who appointed me as a steward as well as regional vice president and who lives pretty close to me, saw how I was hurting. He also knew my ongoing health issues, so he told me I should see somebody medical.

Since my home is almost 90 miles away, I went to the ER at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. I won’t waste time with the ridiculous conversation I had with a VA Police officer, except he needs more attention to the fact that people who come by themselves to the emergency room might just be sick or injured.

I was glad to find out I had no broken rib or fractured neck after an X-ray and Cat scans. I was given a shot of Toradol for pain, as well as Robaxin, and left the hospital wearing a light cervical collar.

This morning I felt a good bit better. I ordered a seemingly healthy, and well over-priced, breakfast. I had a poached egg white and tasso hash. I ordered some sausage which turned out to be four breakfast-type sausages. I didn’t care for any of it although I ate the egg, garnished with some type of greenery, and the sausage. I was running late, so I quickly signed the hotel guest ticket and walked to my class.

When I went to class I chatted with someone while drinking some cold water and waiting to get a cup of coffee. With no notice — well, I did have some mild nausea early — I began puking before there was anything I could do. I opened a door which I thought might quickly exit. In reality, it was the floor’s catering kitchen. I began upchucking every bit of my food this morning until way after there was nothing to vomit. It didn’t escape me that the cooks and waitstaff probably would have wanted me to hurl somewhere else. But they treated me with kindness, gave me a large waste container and some napkins,  as did a classmate who only stuck her hand from behind the door.

After resting an hour or so, in between some unpleasant stomach pain, I felt better. I don’t know if all of what happened is gone because I had some other digestive issues this afternoon. The problem could have been from medicine — both medicines I had orally and  had been injected at the VA hospital — both list nausea and diarrhea — and are listed as possible side effects of both drugs.

I may have had some bad food although I doubt the food I ate in the hotel this morning prompted my stomach problems because I had just finished eating 30 minutes before. The only other food that could have set me off was some fast food I had before leaving the VA. That would be quite ironic if that was the cause.

On returning to my hotel room I spotted a couple of the wait staff preparing to serve a dinner for some function. I felt kind of peevish seeing the ladies but I smiled broadly. One of the two Hispanic women asked me how I was feeling. I said “Fine.

“I’m sorry for barging in this morning,” and proceeded onward.

Hopefully, I will survive the next day and head home on Friday.


Tip-ping is NOT a country, at least at Joe’s Crab Shack

Casual dining place Joe’s Crab Shack is going where no man or woman has gone before — well, at least in recent times.

The Texas-based eatery said they are doing away with tipping. RTT News has reported that the seafood restaurant will be paying employees $12 per hour which will mean a 12-to-15 percent increase an order to offset the wage increase.

I suppose this will work out fine for the diner who normally pays Joe’s Crabs around $14 per order, according to some industry sources. But then, going out to a nice sit-down seafood dinner isn’t cheap. Seafood, especially fresh seafood, isn’t cheap.

Time will tell how well a change in such a long-held practice will add to the cost of living for restaurant workers whose livelihoods rely on tips. I would imagine it would depend on where one lives. Back in the late 1980s I worked for a lunch-crowd cafe for what was then the prevailing minimum wage of $3.35 an hour. Jeez, it didn’t even seem that much back then. In 2012 dollars for 1988, that would be $6.48 an hour, according to U.S. Department of Labor figures. Oh, and I was never tipped there. Even then with minimum wage I had to work three jobs to stay afloat in my crappy little trailer house. A friend, who lived elsewhere, let me live there for free except I had to pay rent for the lot. The best I can remember electricity, water and cable were free. It was a pretty sweet deal except for the fact I could barely hold my head above that free water.

There are, of course, true service professionals who earn a very good living in upscale restaurants one mainly find in large cities. Perhaps waiters in a smaller to mid-sized cities can make a decent living or perhaps stay afloat in college. But when you think about it $12 is not a whole s**t-pot of loot. I make $20.60 per hour, working 32 hours per week, and it isn’t a whole lot of money.

Despite my trying to sound clever with a Star Trek-style lead, Joe’s isn’t the only restaurant that doesn’t allow tips. I know at least one casual dining place where I live that has a posted policy of no tipping. The Georgia-based McAlister’s Deli, at least the one where I eat in Southeast Texas, posts the no-tipping sign,  saying the restaurant’s employees are well-paid and do not need tips.

Looking around on the ‘net, it seems like the Sonic Drive-In chain purposely keeps its policy toward gratuity on the sly. I see pages and pages where people inquire if you should tip your Sonic carhop.  What I don’t see are answers.

I know at least at one newspaper where I had worked, a local Sonic had been questioned as to whether its carhops should be tipped. The answer was no.

Part of the uncertainty about tipping in restaurants is the franchising of such places as Sonic and McAllister’s. What the corporate types tell the franchisee is not usually discussed in the open.

I have notice in the past few years, I suppose it grew along with the Recession of ’08, that everywhere one looked workers were asking for tips. This includes workers who, I would think, do not depend on tips. I have seen signs requesting tips in such places as Quiznos, where the customer stands from the time they place their order until it is completed.

So there are plenty of questions as to how well those companies who stop tipping will fare. Will it come out good for the worker? The same question can be asked for the customers and owners. For many, such policies might just seem as if they are headed into the deep, dark spaces of the universe. Then again, I may be wrong and probably a little over-dramatic.

How’d you like your eggs, hon? With waffles.

During my visit to the Mississippi coast last week, I was taken aback by the number of Waffle Houses I spotted.

If you’ve ever been down South you probably recognize Waffle Houses by their bright yellow color and big picture windows. While they are open 24/7, the zero hour for them is whatever closing time is in their area. Since there are a dozen or more casinos on the coast that are back up and running since Hurricane Katrina, the diners are probably hopping at least some time throughout the day.

Many Waffle House diners are a favorite for those seeking “drunk food.” Some say eating a greasy early breakfast after an evening of drinking helps “soak up” the alcohol. I doubt that is the case but eating and drinking coffee helps make one a well-fed and wide-awake drunk.

I don’t know what the alcohol sales laws are in Mississippi these days. Back when I was stationed at the Navy Seabee base in Gulfport during the late 1970s, the general statute was that one must be 18 or older to buy beer and wine, and age 21 and up to buy liquor. I am sure that has changed as for age, but I don’t know about the hours legal for consumption. I remember drinking beer at sunrise in the bar where my late friend Betti worked. That is kind of like Louisiana laws where, at least in my younger days, one must only show that they were alive.

Map through Creative Commons. Copyright By Nik Freeman
Map through Creative Commons. Copyright By Nik Freeman

Waffle Houses are more than just a “Southern thing” or curiosity. Since they are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the stores serve as a gauge for FEMA during disasters. If Waffle House is closed, things have got to be bad.

I came across this map by a geographer named Nik Freeman that shows Waffle Houses by density in “quads,” or quadrants, on U.S. Geological Survey maps. This information is run here courtesy of Mr. Freeman through Creative Commons. Freeman was able to figure where the most Waffle Houses were located. The top 21 quads showed the Atlanta area with 132, Fort Worth was fifth with 25, and the lower end of the top 21 was a tie with Raleigh, N.C., Little Rock, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pensacola all with 16 Waffle Houses each.

Although this information was compiled in 2012, the data helps show that I was not imagining Waffle Houses were everywhere in the Gulfport, Biloxi area. As a matter of fact the Gulf Coast from Gulfport to Pensacola (via Alabama) contained a whopping 86 Waffle Houses over a width of only about 100 miles. If you go “down South jukin’ and lookin’ for a peace of mind,” as Lynyrd Skynyrd suggested, at least you’ll find waffles and eggs cooked to order. You will also find some nice waitress who will call you, “hon.”

Whether you are jukin’ or just drunken head to the Gulf Coast and find the nearest Waffle House. You’ll have no trouble finding one.


Listicles for itchy feets

Spring on the Gulf Coast is a time that is hard to beat. When I say Gulf Coast, I mean the area that extends from the “ArkLaTex” to the Florida Panhandle. It is a grand time of the year although it always leaves me with a case of “itchy feet.”

My feet, figuratively speaking, have developed that old get-up-and-go-somewhere feeling even more this year since, literally speaking, my feet have held me back from doing much of anything.

At last report, my podiatrist said I should go through about two more weeks of taking it easy on my tootsies, or should I say tootsie. My hammertoe surgery was performed about three weeks ago and yesterday was the first time I could even remove my foot from bandaging and take a shower. It, the shower, was “mahhvelous,” as Billy Crystal would say while performing as Fernando Lamas on “Saturday Night Live.” The toe doesn’t look very well, but that is only because stitches were only removed from both top and bottom of the toe.

I have been pretty much cooped up recently, that is hopefully ending in another week. One might observe that by reading my previous blather. My Union’s steward training at the end of July is in Albuquerque. It will be nice to get out and get away, despite that our training tends to get rather lengthy. And after reading about the Albuquerque police and its brutal ways, I might just stay to myself in my hotel room after training.

All this said, I have some places I have wanted to visit for R & R but couldn’t for one reason or the other, mostly a lack of funds. With that in mind I began thinking of the various places I have been after listening to sports talk radio hosts who were making a listicle of their favorite “Sports Towns.” With that in mind I shall make my own listicles of favorite places I have been to help prod my sad and itchy feet into happy and (non-itchy?) feet. Some of these places I visited 35-to- 40 years ago so for sure they will have undergone change. But as with gifts, it — supposedly — is the thought that counts.


1. Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

2. Perth, Western Australia

3. Auckland, New Zealand

4. Taipei, Taiwan

5. Devonport, Tasmania, Australia

TOP FIVE MAJOR UNITED STATES CITIES (More than 1 million people)

1. San Antonio, Texas

2. San Diego, California

3. Los Angeles, California

4. Dallas, Texas

5. Houston, Texas

TOP FIVE LARGE U.S. CITIES (From 500,000 to 1,000,000 people)

1. Denver, Colorado

2. Austin, Texas

3. Washington, D.C.

4. El Paso, Texas

5. Fort Worth, Texas

TOP FIVE MEDIUM-LARGE U.S. CITIES (100,000 to 500,000 people)

1. New Orleans,  La.

2. Gulfport- Biloxi, Miss.

3. St. Louis, Mo.

4. Little Rock, Ark.

5. Las Cruces, N.M.

THE REST OF THE BEST (Less than 100,000 people, for various reasons. U.S. and Territories.)

1. Nacogdoches, Texas

2. San Marcos, Texas

3. Hattiesburg, Miss.

4. Santa Barbara, Calif.

5. Estes Park, Colo.

6. Ruidoso N.M.

7. Lake Charles, La.

8. Mobile, Ala.

9. Stockbridge, Mass.

10. Albany, N.Y.

11. Milwaukee, Wisc.

12. Big Sur, Calif.

13. Agana, Guam

14. Surfside, Texas

15. Sabine Pass, Texas

16. Newton, Texas

17. Maydelle, Texas

18. Llano, Texas

19. Wimberley, Texas

20. Lajitas, Texas

*Just as larger cities are ranked more as sentimental favorites, places that I just like, and cool spots on the map, the 20 listed above are not ranked and are merely listed and enumerated.


Good gourmet burger? Beets me.

Mine eyes have seen less glory in the last two decades due to aging, heredity or for whatever reasons that might develop. I started out with prescription glasses but eventually found I could do just fine with cheap reading glasses that somewhere along the way have been dubbed as “cheaters.”

I usually take my glasses along if I anticipate reading. Often times I don’t take them and later wish I had. Then sometimes it doesn’t really make a big ice sculpture whether I do or don’t need classes.

Most times I have glasses when I visit a place to eat that I have not previously visited. There is no telling what type of font or print size on a menu one might find nor may one predict the lighting. Even with glasses, especially cheaters, I might not possess the ability to read a menu with ease. Who knows what one might order.

But last week while staying at a Marriott near Houston’s Galleria I did not have a clue where I wanted to eat or what I wanted to eat. I was by myself, I was on foot — I have been told by a doctor to stay off my feet for more than a month ago due to a foot ulcer — so I likewise chose not to venture far.

As it turned out, there was a little strip center just around the corner from where I was staying. It was actually across the street from the huge mall but I had already taken one tour, at least partially, through the center. So I was pretty tired and was hungry.

I try not to eat more than a burger a week, it being my favorite, for weight and health issues. Although, sometimes a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. Using such irreversible logic, I decided upon a darkened little restaurant called the Burger Palace and Bistro.

The sign on the window made mention of its being Houston’s best destination for 100 percent Akaushi American Kobe beef. That pedigree being mentioned I could see dollars slowly fading from my debit card. Having been a hamburger cook at a 4-star flea market cafe — hey when I say “4-star” what they hell does it mean anyway? — I could cook a burger that would make Wendy and Ronald McDonald go into hiding.

Now all sectors of the farming and ranching industry these days put out all kinds of smack about their food. An old friend from high school works as a PR guy for a statewide farm association and he is on the warpath with the anti GMO folks. Me I could care less. Two things food is basically about. One is sustenance. The other is taste. Then, somewhere down the line is health. And yes, I agree, that is three. So sue me!

I must’ve been lost somewhere down the line. But all these foreign names for beef don’t impress me. That is why I chose the Mitsubishi, sorry, I mean Akaushi, which is a strain of Japanese cattle. Kobe originally meant beef sold by tall, dark professional basketball players. No, just joking. It’s a city in Japan, silly.

Once inside the Burger Palace, back to no glasses, I could hardly see what was on the menu. Out of the 50 or so imported beers, I did make out “Estrella Damm” as the kind of light Spanish beer I might like to have with or before my dinner. It was a nice light beer, reminiscent of Olympia, which was the only American beer I could find worth a damn in Asia back in the Navy. And way back before Oly became synonymous with Old Milwaukee,

Speaking of the Navy, I visited a few ports in Australia back when I rode a destroyer in the Western and Southern Pacific. That nation had some delightful oddities in their food and it had nothing to do with chewing rough kangaroo feet. Australians had some great variations on food we ate as a matter of routine in the U.S. Among that cuisine was fried eggs or pineapple slices on their hamburgers.

Australians also were very fond of beets — they call them “beetroot” — and found them to be a very fitting additive to a hamburger. I ate eggs and pineapple on Aussie food, but I never tried beets. It just didn’t seem right. Not on a hamburger. Not in my stomach.

But last week in the Burger Palace and Bistro, at 2800 Sage Road, #1100, I tried beets on my burger, called the what else? the “Down Under.” Here is what comes on your burger, mate:

“Grilled Pineapple, White Cheddar, Roasted Beets, Fried Egg with Duck Fat or olive oil & Homemade Aioli.” Aioli is a garlic-flavored yolk sauce. I don’t know if there was any “duck fat” on it. I hope not.

But it was a very delicious burger. The beet left a reddish color to the bun and the gooey-ness made the sandwich somewhat difficult to navigate as a hand food. But it was just as good eaten with a fork.

The burger, which I ordered with a side of upright fries, was $10.95. The imported beer and tip came out to about $20. It was kind of pricey for a quick meal alone. But This seemed to be favored by couples and small groups.

The menu displays a variety for just about anyone’s pallette including vegans. Just tell them to leave off the duck fat.

The Burger Palace and Bistro
2800 Sage Rd., #1100
Houston, Texas 77056
Monday-Saturday 11a.m.-10 p.m.
Closed: Sunday