The Google Reviews I Haven’t Left

Here are a few bad reviews that I didn’t leave, but wanted to.

I only leave five star Google reviews. If a restaurant or business isn’t worth a five star review they certainly aren’t worth my time to give them a lower rating. While some people might “Cause a scene” as my Dad would say, I try to avoid confrontation. If service or the experience is bad, I just won’t go back. Which is part of the reason why I only really like to go eat at about three places, Hamburger Heaven, Taquiera Las Cebollitas, and you guessed it, Chick Fil A.

Hamburger Heaven, my favorite restaurant.

But sometimes I get worked up enough to want to say something. Here are a few bad reviews that I didn’t leave, but wanted to.

Three Star Grocery Store

At best this place is a compromise. People don’t shop here because this is a great grocery store, but rather to avoid going to town. Unless you are getting a rotisserie chicken-which are pretty good- or it is an absolute emergency I would avoid trying to shop here. They also picked the worst possible music to play too loud, which always puts me in a foul mood. How am I supposed to find the pectin while some grown man is whining and mumbling-I’ll not call it singing-about his feelings?

Two Star Home Improvement

The only thing this place has going for it is that there is no other competition in town. Which is a shame, because our town would benefit from having options. In theory having competition would make the current store sure up their customer service. More than likely though all these workers would just jump ship to the new store because they look pretty miserable now.

Two Star Home Cooking Restaurant

The pandemic has not been kind to this restaurant. The problem with chain restaurants is many decisions that should be made locally are made in some corporate office a thousand miles away, or in this case 167 miles away. The last time I ate here I’m glad we had a gift card, because I would have been mad if I would have had to pay for rock hard mashed potatoes.

Four Star Italian Restaurant

I really wanted to leave a five star review because my food was excellent. But there is more to a restaurant than good food, and unfortunately the service fell short. The teenage waiter was friendly enough, but frankly he forgot about us and we waited a long time for our check. Which made me wonder why we waited a long time to be seated.

Perhaps I’m turning into a cranky old man who fusses about paying first class money for second class service. Kind of like my dad. As a kid I remember thinking he was making a big deal about something trivial, but now I begin to understand his frustration.

We perpetuate the decline of quality when we continue to accept lesser quality at the same price. If I have a bad service experience at a restaurant but still go back, I’m likely to have another bad service experience the next time and the restaurant will think that I’m ok with it. Or I could just start leaving bad reviews.

Tater-Tot Poisoning

Sarah fried tater-tots the night before a doctor’s appointment the other day. They were so good that she decided to fry some more right before the appointment. I did not know this, or rather, I do not like to retain this in my knowledge, but fried potatoes and more specifically salt (which every self-respecting person knows must go on fried potatoes) can elevate your blood pressure. Which kind of unnerves doctor’s.

“I’m not telling you this to scare you, and don’t rush down there, but because your blood pressure is elevated (along with some other factors) you probably need to go to the hospital to be monitored. It could be nothing, but you could be having a baby tonight.” This is what the doctor told her.

So we pawned the kids off on my sister and headed to Birmingham. We stopped at Hamburger Heaven in Gardendale in case it was the big one. The hospital has a tendency to starve you half to death when you are in labor. We went ahead and got burgers and fries because we wanted to make sure her blood pressure would still be elevated so the hospital trip wouldn’t be in vain.

After about an hour or so hanging out in the hospital room, they told us we could go home. Which was a relief, because I had forgotten my eye drops and my contact lenses have a 100% chance of drying out if I plan on staying up all night reminding Sarah to breathe. It was a good practice run anyway.

Last week Sarah went to two appointments and even without tater-tot poisoning, her blood pressure was still high. Anyone trying to raise two children probably needs to check their blood pressure. So the doctor wants Sarah to be induced.

So I’ve written all of this to let you know that we are having a baby this week. Our other children weren’t this predictable. We let them decide when they wanted to come-Sunday night after we’d been at church all day and Christmas morning respectively. Unless it happens before, we should have a baby this Thursday, October 1st, 2020. I can’t wait to meet this little tater-tot.

Buffets

If Shoney’s was a country backroad, The Golden Corral was a five lane highspeed freeway.

Shoney’s was probably my introduction to buffet restaurants. It was the same idea as the family Barbecues of my childhood; you could eat all you wanted. Instead of barbecue and all the orthodox fixings that go with it (potato salad, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, deviled eggs, etc.) Shoney’s had a little bit of everything. I mainly got fried shrimp. The first few times I ate shrimp I got sick with clockwork accuracy. It was a shellfish or iodine allergy. We were at Shoney’s once with a bunch of people from church when Bro. Oliver Murray prayed for me before we commenced to eating. I haven’t been sick from shrimp or any other shellfish since that night. God knows I’ve had plenty of chances because I still love shrimp.

Shoney’s had a Salad Bar. My siblings and I would make a salad with croutons as a base. Then we’d pile on diced ham, and bacon bits, smother it with ranch dressing and eat it with those club crackers that come in packs of two. Eventually we started adding lettuce to the base, but it took a long time. I still credit the salad bar as my introduction to green leafy vegetables. To this day I am a sucker for a salad bar, but now I prefer blue cheese dressing.

I remember distinctly the first time Mom and Dad took us to The Golden Corral. It made the Shoney’s buffet look like a snack bar. If Shoney’s was a country backroad, The Golden Corral was a five lane highspeed freeway. The very entrance put you in mind of standing in line to ride a roller coaster at Six Flags. There was even one of those people counters that you have to walk through to enter the dining area. I imagine it was hooked up to a bell in the kitchen that alerted the kitchen commander. DING DING DING DING DING “Family of five just came in! Drop some more fried chicken and throw some more rolls in the oven.”

Ahhh! The rolls. Quincy’s had the best rolls. The waiter brought them out to your table hot and with a buttery sheen on them. I could eat two of them right now. I think the rolls were a tactic to get you to eat less food from the buffet. It never worked with me. There aren’t many things that I’m good at, but I am confident in my ability to eat. I was made for buffets. “Clean your plate.” This is how I was raised. My parents only had to tell me a few times because the idea caught on very early. They were training me to become a heavy weight buffet champion. We even had a piece of furniture in the kitchen called a buffet.

Don’t misunderstand me, I like all the buffets. But if I could only choose one it’s probably going to be a Chinese Buffet. Our family used to go to Happy China in Childersburg after church. It was in an old KFC. My Dad would get that Hot and Sour soup that looks like they dumped all the buffet leftovers into the dirty dishwater and served it up by the gallon as soup.

“It’s good.” He would say as he slurped it out of one of those round soup spoons that you only see at restaurants and rich people’s houses. We have one at our house but we only use it for special occasions. Like when all the other spoons are dirty.

Now there are some purists out there that are probably turning their nose up at the very thought of a buffet. They’ll say the quality of food is better when you order it a la carte. Snooty people are always using French phrases like that to make you feel dumb. They’ve got a point. But ordering off the menu is so restrictive, and I’m not good at making decisions in Chinese. The wonderful thing about buffets is you don’t have to choose! You can eat it all! Although I probably won’t eat those whole baby octopuses. But it is nice to be able to poke them with the spoon to help you decide.

The last place I ate before the pandemic lockdown was a Mexican buffet. What a way to go out. Since then I’ve been worried about the future of buffets. Will buffets become like The Piccadilly Cafeteria where someone fixes a plate for you behind a sheet of plexi-glass? Will you just have to hope that they pick right piece of fried chicken? That won’t do. I pray that I’m wrong, but I’m afraid that we may have seen the last of the all-you-can-eat buffet.

The Last Buffet

That is why I feel compelled to write about buffets. My kids and future generations need to know that at one time in America you could walk into a buffet and fix a plate of pizza, brown gravy, macaroni and cheese, fake bacon bits, sweet potato casserole, and gummy bears and no one would say a word to you.

Wrecks of the Week

They happen so fast; wrecks. In the blink of an eye, one careless motion can change someone’s entire life.

I got behind a UPS truck pulling doubles this morning on the way to work. Ordinarily I would have passed him, but after watching him weave back forth into the fast lane and then all the way onto the opposite shoulder a few times I decided it would be prudent to follow a good way behind until the interstate widened to three lanes. These are the kind of drivers that cause accidents. After a while I watched the truck driver run merge into another lane, running a pickup truck off the road and onto the shoulder. I blew the horn because I felt I needed to do something. It could have been a nasty wreck.

They happen so fast; wrecks. In the blink of an eye, one careless motion can change someone’s entire life. In the time it takes to check a text message someone could brake check you and you’ll be checked out for good.

It is rare that I do not see at least one accident per week on my commute. I have spent hours parked on the interstate behind countless accidents, making me late for work, and more importantly late for home. In April of 2019, I was late for work because of a wreck in Birmingham. As we crawled past the scene I snapped a quick picture with my phone, mainly as evidence for being late. When I finally got to work and had a chance to look at it I was struck by how powerful the image was. Since then, I’ve tried to capture a photograph of every wreck I’ve seen. I’ve captured quite a few over the past year, but I don’t even get half of them. Sometimes it just isn’t safe to try take a picture.

My first wreck photograph. I’ve often wondered about that phone conversation.

It is easy to forget that an inconvenience in schedule for thousands may be fatal for one. While someone is furious about being late to a place that they would rather not go, someone else will never get to speak to a loved one again. I try to think about this when I see a wreck.

I share all of the wreck photos on Instagram. They don’t get a ton of likes. I think because people may feel uncomfortable liking such horrible subject matter. Nevertheless, whenever I meet one of my social media friends in person they always bring up the wreck pictures. It is human nature to want to gawk at calamity, that’s why we rubberneck on the highway, even if we don’t smile about it.

I’m not sure how you look at art, but I like to imagine what is going in the picture. These images all tell a story.

I had a flat on the way home from work. I hope that this is the only time I’m ever featured on Wrecks of the Week.

You can find more wrecks of the week on my Instagram account. As always, thank you for your support.

Grilled Onions

Nobody ever waded through a crowd of people at the fair because they smelled a snow cone.

You know are an adult when you start ordering grilled onions on your cheeseburger. You may have suffered from alliumphobia as a kid, but sooner or later you’ll grow up. The smell is what gets you. You can trick people into thinking that you’ve been working up a storm in the kitchen by simply putting an onion in the oven. If you’ve ever been at an outdoor festival, it’s the smell of grilled onions at the polish sausage stand that draws you over. Nobody ever waded through a crowd of people at the fair because they smelled a snow cone. It’s the caramelized onions that draw you.

I hated onions as a kid. I am still not the point where I can take a bite out of a raw onion like Ronnie Spates. Perhaps I’ll work up to that someday. Right now I tolerate raw onion and cilantro that they serve at the taco place, and the occasional slice of onion that comes on that turkey sandwich from Costco. I’m still not overly fond of raw onions, but I am talking about it so that is part of the healing process. Onions are ingredients, not stand alone food. People don’t just walk around eating flour or baking soda do you? I do remember people walking around at Smith’s Grocery eating starch out of the package. The kind of starch you iron your clothes with. “It’s great!” They said. “But my doctor tells me not to do it.” I never understood that. Eating raw flour might make more sense. Do you know any starch eaters?

I remember sitting in the buggy and eating raw hamburger meat straight out of the package at Food World. It was before Lindsay was born, so I guess I was under two years old. It seems like I was mesmerized by the shiny shrink wrap around the ground beef. I poked it with my finger. After a while I made a little hole in the shrink wrap and started eating the raw meat one little nibble at a time. It was the cashier who noticed that the package had a hole in it. Mom frowned at this discovery but never suspected me. I told her a couple years ago. And I just told all y’all. If you are wondering I’m fully recovered. Anyway, I was telling you about grilled onions.

It all started in Winchester, VA. There was a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant called The Snow White Grill. It had been open since the 30s and they were known for tiny little hamburgers. Imagine Krystal burgers, but good. The burgers are-perhaps were, I haven’t been in a while-made from fresh local beef on a flat top grill. They make about forty patties at a time, and they finish them with grilled onions. They take pride in their grilled onions. There is not an option to have a burger without onions and if you ask for no onions they will look at you like you ate the Lord’s supper.

The Grilled onions on the Snow White Grill cheeseburger is what got me. It was a completely new way to experience a burger. Like seeing your childhood neighborhood in a different city. One with a Chick Fil A. It’s like going from arithmetic to quantum mechanics. Or Perhaps just algebra. I’m not entirely sure what all quantum mechanics entails. Grilled onions on your cheeseburger makes it deluxe. Like the familiar standard model, but way better.

Maybe you already know this and have been putting grilled onion on everything from cheeseburgers to ice cream for years. You probably eat raw onions too. But some of y’all have never tried grilled onions on your cheeseburger, and if you’ve read this far so you might as well go do it. Just be sure it’s at a reputable hamburger place. I recommend Hamburger Heaven or Milo’s. And let met know about it.

Bacon Cheeseburger with Grilled Onions from Hamburger Heaven

Thanks for reading, sharing and supporting.

-Zane Wells

Swimming

I’d be in a bind before I had to go swimming in that snake pit, especially naked.

For the most part I usually go swimming in my clothes. At the family reunion on the river, I would run straight from the car and dive off the pier fully clothed. It might seem a little odd, but quite tame compared to my Dad’s philosophy.  He  would shake his head and say, “That’s crazy, swimming in their clothes like that Sonja.”

“They need to be modest Perry.” Mom would reply, she was big on being modest. “What do you want them to swim in then?”

“We always went swimming in the water.” Dad would say with a grin. It wasn’t a helpful suggestion, but it was the truth.

Dad grew up with a younger brother and slew of cousins. They were notorious for skinny dipping in Hurricane Creek, a creek behind my grandmother’s house. He took me back there once to show me. It was a glorified swamp. I’d be in a bind before I had to go swimming in that snake pit, especially naked. When you use the word “naked” in Genesis your mind wants to pronounce it “Nay-ked”. It makes the word seem like not a bad thing.  And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed Genesis 2:25. Anytime you read the word after man was kicked out of the garden, you have to pronounce it, “Neckid”, which lets you know that there is shame involved. And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. Genesis 3:10.  

There was still a moderate amount of shame involved in my Dad’s generation of nude bathers. I remember hearing a story of when the gang were all swimming in their “natural” way, when a family on a picnic discovered them in the creek. One of the cousins climbed out of the creek and began to put his clothes on not many yards from the people.

“What in the world are you doing?” They all cried to him.

“I ain’t going to let these people to see me naked.” He replied.

After a few instances like this, they had to search for a new swimming hole. 

Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. Proverbs 9:17

Even the Bible implies that there is a thrill in doing something that you’re not supposed to do. Dad would recount, “Whenever we saw a sign that said keep out, or do not climb, we interpreted that as, ‘Climb Please’.” It was in this manner that they happened upon the water tower. They climbed it and to their surprise, the latch at the top was unlocked.

“It was dark in there.” Dad used to say. “That first jump in always took a little courage because not only was it dark, you never knew what the water level was going to be.”

It worked great as a swimming hole until Dad, being a concerned citizen mentioned to Uncle Johnny, who worked on the water board, that the water level seemed unusually low in the water tower.

“How in the world do you know that?” Uncle Johnny asked, a bit surprised.

“We went swimming in there last week and the water level was fine. Yesterday the water was real low.”

“What are you boys doing swimming in the water tower? Y’all can’t do that!”

“It’s fine Uncle Johnny, they purify that water before it goes out.”

“Naw! That water goes straight to your momma’s sink. Y’all better net get in there again.”

The next time they tried to go swimming there was a lock on the lid. I guess nothing gold can stay. They had to go back to swimming in creeks, lakes, and rivers. This is where I’ve done most of my swimming too. I was always to chicken to finish climbing the water tower to see if the lid was open. Still, whenever I pass a water tower during the summer I always wonder if there is a gang of cousins in there skinny dipping. 

 

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