Tuesday, May 31, 2005


I'm not a drinker. Never have been. That is, until I went to Paris back in 2004. Even though I had never had a drink up until that point, I decided that when I was in France, I would try to learn to like wine. Red wine, in particular. I figured that white stuff was for wussies, and I had to go whole hog.

So, nearly every day of my 11 day trip, I bought a glass of wine with dinner. Every day, I forced it down. It wasn't until the very last day or two, that I started to think "Hey, this stuff isn't the worst ingestible substance known to man." I began to suspect, even, that wine had some redeeming tasty qualities.

So, every once in a while, I try a wine or two, to try to learn and understand the tastes. My mind has also started entertaining the notion of trying to like beer.

About 9 months ago, at a school party (A "TG"), I tried a fancy clear German wheat beer, which was mostly tasteless, but extraordinarily fizzy. I had a few sips, and never looked back. About 6 months ago, I was in Frederick, MD, and I had half of a glass of Blue Moon beer, which is also a clear wheat beer. It was also fairly tasteless, and extremely fizzy. The Blue Moon, however, provided an extremely pleasant aftertaste whenever I burped. I would try it again.

I went beerless, and mostly wineless, for the next 6 months, until last week, when I went to Pittsburgh's Church Brew Works for dinner. We decided that both of us need to expand our beer-horizons, so we ordered their beer sampler tray, which gives you about one glass's worth total of 5 different beers.

I've always loved the Church Brew Works' food and ambiance, and in Pittsburgh, it's the place I end up taking people who I want to impress. The food is some sort of fusion of Asian, Greek, Pizzaria, and Polish Pierogie cuisine, which ends up being pretty tasty, and moderately priced. The atmosphere is mind-boggling. The restaurant is an old Catholic church, which has had its altar gutted and replaced with beer brewing equipment, and has had tables put between its pews. The men's bathroom is located up near the front of the restaurant, forcing you to walk in front of the altar. Every time that I pass it, the Good Catholic in me tells me I have to genuflect to the beer brewing equipment. It's a wonderful feeling.

I love the place so much, I tried to convince the owner to rent the place to run the PittStop Lindy Exchange last year, although they declined.

This was the first time I've ever had their beer. What I've learned is this:

Celebration de Mayo: A "special" this week. It had this lovely peanutty/creamy atertaste, which was to die for. After much discussion with the floor manager and the waiter, we came to believe that this was due to the presence of "Caramel Malt" in the beer.

Celestial Gold: A lightly-colored beer. It finishes with the same peanutty/creamy aftertaste of the Celebration de Mayo. It is also regularly on the menu. As a result, I highly recommend it.

Pipe Organ Pale Ale: This beer wasn't bad, but it did not sing to me, so I'd recommend passing it for the other offerings.

Pious Monk Dunkel: This beer seems to appear in a sauce used to garnish many of their desserts. It was better than the Pipe Organ Pale Ale, but it also did not sing to me.

Blast Furnace Stout: My friend tasted this beer, and she immediately declared it unfit for human consumption. References to "mud" and "sludge" came falling from her mouth. It was very impressive. My reaction, however, was quite different. I found this extremely dark beer, apparently made with oats, to have quite a complex set of flavors, remeniscent of coffee. I would order this beer by itself, as its strength completely overpowered and clashed with the food. Eventually, I convinced my friend to retaste this one after tasting all the others, and she found it much less offensive the second time around, but I suspect that she still did not like it very much. This Blast Furnace Stout won a Gold Medal in the Oatmeal Stout Category of the 1999 Great American Beer Festival, and although I do not have enough understanding to judge by, I think I can fathom why.

I ended up drinking probably 3/4 a glass of beer in total, and my friend 1/4. At the end of the meal, both my friend and I had a bit of a headache, and I wonder if it was related to the alcohol consumption (especially since it was a low dosage), or if it was just a random occurance. I'll have to go back and experiment again sometime in the future. Perhaps I'll build up a tolerance.

By the way, if you find yourself near Pittsburgh, do yourself a favor and visit Church Brew Works: http://www.churchbrew.com/

Monday, May 30, 2005

Why Starbucks Will Win

There is a part of my moral fibre that tells me --- no, make that screams to me --- that their business model is wrong, and I must not patronize them. There are so many reasons never to go to Starbucks...But there are two things that they manage to get right, that so few other coffee shops get right. I'd like to discuss them here:

1) Customer Satisfaction
No matter what happens, they give you what you want. The last two coffee shops I went to, Crazy Mocha Coffee and Caribou Coffee in the South Side Works, managed to fail on so many levels. NEITHER shop managed to get my order right. Both asked if I wanted whipped cream with my mocha, and I declined in both circumstances, but they both put a huge pile on top. If the beverage tasted good, I could even live with that. My drink from Crazy Mocha, however, was lukewarm, and bordered on the undrinkable. How on earth do they expect to compete with a tight well-oiled Starbucks down the street?
Even the creme-de-la-creme of Pittsburgh's independent coffee shops have to pull their heads out of the sand. I went to La Prima Espresso a week or two ago. La Prima lives by their Saturday morning rush hours, and I went on a slow Wednesday, and we were the only people in the shop. My friend and I stood at the counter for 5 minutes, as the single "barista" chatted on the phone. The "barista" continued her conversation with her friend, even after seeing us waiting there to order. I have a revolutionary idea for La Prima: When you have a customer in your store, TAKE THEIR ORDER.

2) Employee Satisfaction
I believe the problems I list above are intricately intertwined with this problem --- Starbucks almost always seems to manage to treat their employees with some basic level of respect, paying them fairly well, offering benefits, and all that jazz. At all the independent coffee shops in the area, however, all the employees complain about:
a) Poor wages
b) No benefits
c) Long, and/or irregular work hours
d) Bossy micromanagers and owners

What makes it so difficult for independent coffee shops to get Customer and Employee Satisfaction working for them? Is it tighter profit margins? Is it ignorance? Is it that they simply don't care?

Patience, Dancing Grasshopper

This past weekend, I visited Cleveland to dance again. I really tend to enjoy these trips, and the people that I hang out when I go out there. This time, I went with a local Pittsburgh friend, Kyle, who made the ride there and back much better with chatting and such.

Yesterday, I had to leave early, to make it back to set up my Chicken Swing dance. In fact, leaving made me particularly sad, especially since I was expecting this week's Chicken Swing to be a flop. CMU declared we had to change the time at the last minute, because the venue was closing 2 hours earlier this week, and furthermore, we had a dance this week only because CMU cancelled our event for commencement a few weeks earlier. On top of all that, it was Memorial Day weekend, and I couldn't even find a teacher to teach with. Everything was against us.

So, I got back to Pittsburgh with 30 minutes to spare, got my equipment, a muffin for dinner, and went to set up the dance. I had to park a block or two away, which made carrying my big-as-a-whale speaker and additional equipment by my lonesome very difficult. When I got there, I was a few minutes late, and nobody was there for the lesson. I didn't even set up the dance --- I just sat in a corner and caught up on my email. The dance was obviously going to be a flop.

Before long, though, a few people showed up. Soon, I was involved in nice conversation, and still had no energy to set up the dance. Eventually, there were 3 other people there, and so I set up the equipment in case they wanted to dance some. I figured soon the energy would die, and we would all sit around chatting, or everyone would go home.

Within the first hour, though, something like 15-20 people showed up. And they were all brilliant dancers, and lots of people who don't even normally come out to ChickenSwing, or haven't been out in a long time. I was happily amazed! The night was wonderful, and I was struck with a nice dance high for the entire dance.

My DJ'ing even seemed to score some props. Every time I went to put on another song, there was a crowd of 2 or 3 people around my computer, writing down the name and artist of the song. I swear, there are two people now who have the complete playlist written down on scrap paper with them now. It was quite ego-boosting :)

So. The Moral of the story. Even when your chips are down, things can really work out so much better than you think they ever will. Just be patient, do your job, and hope for the best.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Dancing Philosophy I

It's taken me quite some time to figure out what my first nontrivial blog entry would be about. I thought: "Maybe StarWars III," but making one's debut blog entry about StarWars seemed way too lame for me. So, I came up with something more substantial.

I went swing dancing last night at Edgewood club (Shameless plug: pghdance.com). Possibly due to a mild caffeine overdose, my dancing was on some extra special crack. Not a single dance was what anybody would consider "normal."

That's the way it should be. I sometimes get stuck in "the box" while dancing, and don't reach out enough and run for the creativity stick thrown out in front of me. That's a fairly depressing condition, which results in at best mediocre dances, and less fun on the dance floor. Naturally, one can extend this metaphor to creativity in life in general. Let me codify my rules for reaching your creative potential:

The Rules for Breaking the Rules

1) Fall on the floor at least once a night. If you don't, you're not trying hard enough.
2) Create a pattern you have never been taught. If you need to, stop, take a patient moment, and seek divine inspiration for it.
3) Repeat that pattern. This helps to prevent arbitrary flailing, and makes it look like you mean what you're doing.

Follow those rules, padawan learner, and you will transcend to new planes of dance existence. It really works. At the end of last night's dance, a guy came up to me, just to say (in effect) "You're fun to watch. You're so good at improvising." And this happens to me more often than I feel comfortable with. If people only knew how much of a hack I am! I am saved only by the fact that so few people (in dance, or in life) follow the rules outlined above.

This post is getting longer than I originally intended it to be, so I will forbode future posts on aspects of my dance and life philosophy as all good blogs do. And what's best is that in the classical blogospherical character, I do not even have to deliver!

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Behold! Today I am reborn on the blogosphere.

I feel dirty.

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