Monday, June 22, 2015

I Am an Old Woman Who Lodges Complaints about Crackers at My Local Grocery Store

I'm obsessed with a certain kind of crackers right now.

Yes, crackers - & yes, obsessed is probably the right word. I buy four or five bags of them at a time so that I don't have to keep going back to the grocery store for them.

They're Wild California's Fruit & Nut Crisps & their Apricot & Ginger Crisps. I love both flavors equally, so I'll buy whichever is on the shelves of my local Market District (the only place for miles that sells them). I've even looked on Amazon to see if I can buy them by the case, but no such luck.

I eat these crackers at least once a day, for the most part, with a miniature wheel of Ile de France brie (those are only 70 calories apiece, so I promise they're not nearly as extreme as "a whole wheel of brie" otherwise sounds). This, along with a side of fruit, serves as a whole meal - usually a late breakfast - because I cannot cook & also am sort of lazy. But mostly, I just love these crisps.

Recently, though, tragedy struck: My grocery store hasn't sold my crackers for the last four weeks. Four weeks! What's a gal to do when she no longer has access to her favorite meal snack?

The answer? Lodge a complaint Make a request, of course.

It was a friendly request, I promise, made in the most courteous of tones & sans ranting or raving. When went up to the customer service desk & asked how I could let someone know that I'd like for them to start carrying my crackers again, the polite but apathetic employee pulled out the standard form for such matters (which, of my God, exists because of people like me). In her bubbly handwriting, she took down my information & my complaint request with a promise to deliver it to the appropriate grocery store manager.

I didn't leave feeling hopeful, but at least I'd tried, right? I couldn't give up those crackers without a very civil fight.

Two days later, though, I got a call from a local number I didn't recognize. When I played the voicemail back, I was practically bubbling over with excitement about the World's Most Mundane Thing™:
"Hello, Kate. This is Sue from the Market District, & we have your new item request for the Wild California Fruit & Nut Crisps. We have two cases on the shelf in the chip aisle & we put up a tag so it'll be a normal item that we carry. You can find them down aisle five. Thank you & let us know if there's anything else we can help you with. Have a great day"
First, the obvious: I think the official term for this situation is "bomb-ass customer service." Like, all I had to do was make a formal complaint ask, & voilĂ , they made my favorite crackers a regular item? Gold star for you, Market District!

Second of all, equally obvious: This is such a crotchety old person thing to do, & try as I might to rationalize it ("No harm in asking!" etc.),  there's just no other way around it: I am ridiculous & probably turning 75 years old at my next birthday instead of 31.

But you know what? Now I'm back to eating crackers & brie every day damn, & my happiness level has increased exponentially, so maybe all those crotchety old people are onto something: There's no harm in complaining asking.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Remembering My Dad, 20 Years Later

This morning, when I woke up, I went through the motions of preparing myself, physically, for a funeral: black pants, black blouse, black flats, gold jewelry, respectable hair & makeup. And as I stared at myself in the mirror, brushing my teeth, I remembered yet again what day today is for me, & how ironic it is (is that the right word here?) that I'm on my way to someone else's father's funeral, today of all days.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first worst day of my life.

There was one other just-as-bad day that would come after it, the day my high school boyfriend died, but this one... this one was the first. I was 10 years old, less than two months away from 11, & school had just let out for summer.

It was the day after Father's Day.

My dad had spent that day, like so many days before it, in the hospital, & I made him an ice cream sundae from the sundae bar the staff had so kindly set up for the holiday. I don't remember what I topped it with, but surely there was hot fudge involved. And then, with my grandmother's permission & without any sort of ceremonious goodbye, I left to go to the lake with my friends & to spend the night at my neighbor Julie's house.

Julie's mom woke us up early the next day. "Katie needs to go home now," she said firmly, & we wondered what we'd done wrong, whether maybe Julie would be in trouble after left. I expected to walk the one block home, as I always did, but for some reason, this time, her mom insisted on driving me. As I walked the stairs onto the back porch of my home, I saw my whole family gathered there - my mom, my grandparents, & my aunt, my dad's sister, the one who doesn't even like us. She had driven down from Hiram before they even called me home to give me the news.

I don't remember how they told me. I was sitting on someone's lap, but I don't know whose, & I as soon as the news was out, I ran upstairs to cry. I called my friend Catherine & my friend Christina, fellow not-quite-sixth-graders who had no idea what to say to console me. I shut myself up in my bedroom & refused any visitors who weren't my grandfather. My face swelled damn near shut.

I don't remember the funeral, either. Did I wear black? I don't think I did. It was the dead heat of summer, the sun shining brightly in a starkly mismatch from the way we all felt, & I vaguely remember wearing some sort of flower print. My uncle's eulogy mentioned Sylvester Stallone movies; my mom's best friend's husband gave a eulogy about the strength of my dad's handshake, & what it conveyed about his personality.

And I gave a eulogy, too, read a poem I wrote whose lines I have never been able to recall. I practically blacked out with nerves, & when I was done, I retreated to the side of my aunt, who was in a wheelchair; I felt less small next to her, somehow, less scared, less like this tiny child surrounding by looming, sobbing adults.

I painted my toenails for that day & didn't take the polish off for months, letting it chip & fade in a sort of sign to remind me how long it had been since the day my father died.

That was 20 years ago. A whole lifetime ago. I don't know if any of the fuzzy details I retain today are correct. But I don't paint my toenails anymore.

When my friend's parents die now, now that we are adults, mourners sometimes say to me, "Well, you know what this is like." But the reality is that I don't, not really. I have a hard time relating to adult friends whose parents pass after a decade of life & relationships; I feel simultaneously bad for me & worse for them, because they have so many more memories to mourn.

I was just a little kid when my dad died, not even in middle school yet. I didn't know anything more about my father than my 10-year-olds do about theirs - that he loved Oreos & NASCAR racing & Home Improvement & always made PB&J sandwiches that had too much jelly in them. He called me Boogaloo, & he took me to Swenson's drive-in on the way home from dance class.

But I feel like I got ripped off. I don't admit it too often, because I never want to sound like a martyr, but of course I do. I am an adult now, & the only way I know my father - the only way I will ever really know my father - is through the eyes of a 10-year-old, stuck that way forever despite my growing older & arguably more mature.

So today is the 20th anniversary of my dad's death, & I will spend half of it at a funeral for a family friend. And then, I will spend Father's Day with two of my dad's best friends, the brothers whose family has taken my mom & me in as their own. And a day or two after that, I will attend another funeral, this time for the father of one of my closest childhood friends, who died just yesterday of lung cancer.

And all the while I will remember the father I never really got to know but who will always be, in my mind, as wonderful as he was when I was 10 years old. And come to think of it? Maybe that's some sort of blessing, after all.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A 15-Step Guide to Having an Adventure Weekend Instead of Staying Home & Being a Whiner

There were two places I wanted to be last weekend: One was with family at a cabin in Pennsylvania that I've been going to since I was a kid, & the other was with friends at an unveiling ceremony in Chicago for our friend Elissa, who passed away in 2013. Neither of them panned out, though, & I was fully prepared to spend the weekend moping instead.

Luckily, Cleveland had other plans for me.

Early Thursday morning, I drove up to Lakewood to work from home for the day with my boyfriend (!), Mike, who works remotely twice a week. When the workday came to a close, though, we activated weekend mode in full force. It was one of the best weekends I've had in a long time, & there was absolutely no moping involved.

And so, based on my four-day weekend in the CLE, here are my tried-&-true steps for having an Adventure Weekend in this great city (though I look forward to identifying additional adventures for future weekends):
  1. Eat dinner at Barrio, where you can create your own (fairly extreme) tacos. I knew I could probably only eat two, but I ordered three anyway, just so I could sample more. Unfortunately, the one with peanut butter & BBQ sauce didn't go over very well with my taste buds. But, uh, adventure!
    Disclaimer: These tacos are not from Barrio. I was too busy eating those tacos to photograph them.
  1. Cheer for the Cavs in Game 1 of the NBA Finals from a townie bar, preferably while drinking PBR from a can. This is the only way to do it, unless you're, like, actually at a game (in which case, congrats on having thousands of dollars to spare). Even though our team lost, it was exhilarating to be a part of that atmosphere, befriending strangers (including an openly Islamophobic former pastor who told us that Jesus had healed his limp...) who were all rooting for a hometown win.


  1. Try not to eat every single thing at West Side Market. I first consumed a cornbread waffle with piping-hot honey butter & real Ohio maple syrup at the attached West Side Market Cafe before wandering in & out of the many bustling stalls as WSM that sell everything from gourmet cheese to homemade pad Thai to colorful macarons to... an entire pig. Mike got a pourover coffee & ate half a bag of homemade cheese-&-beef jerky (which was surprisingly less gross than it sounds), but we otherwise left without buying anything because we didn't want to haul groceries around the city all day.
  1. Take the $5 brewery tour at Great Lakes Brewing Company. Truly, GLBC deserves its own post, & I fully intend to give it one at some point in the future, but for now, suffice it to say that I was wildly impressed with the tour & with the company in general. I've long been a fan of Great Lakes beer, especially now that I drink more than just, like, Miller Lite, but hearing the company's story - including their commitment to sustainability & bettering the local community - really sold me on them. The four beer samples didn't hurt, either.
  1. Take a bunch of cheesy pictures downtown. We spent a not-insignificant amount of time trying to locate the #ThisisCLE statue that I've seen featured in so many Clevelanders' Instagram photos. Alas, it was only after all our searching that we learned it's actually a mobile installation... & thus its location is totally unpredictable. We did, however, score a photo of the "ALL IN" Cavs logos spray-painted on the ground around the Q, which was an acceptable substitute... for now.
  1. Bask in the magic of East Fourth Street. I received my $50 credit - which can be used at any restaurant that uses OpenTable - right after I left D.C., which was a pretty big bummer because I had big plans for it in the District. Luckily, it turned out to be perfect for a more-expensive-than-we-could-normally-afford dinner date at Greenhouse Tavern, recent winner of the James Beard Award, where I inhaled lamb rigatoni & this Strawberry Smash cocktail. We sat on the patio that faces East Fourth, where all the coolest stuff downtown is, & basked in the Clevelandness of it all... including the part where some bricks fell out of a building & almost smashed the people sitting at tables below it.
  1. End the night at a hole-in-the-wall Motown bar. Suffering from a severe case of the JAMS ("just ate, must sleep"), we capped off our Friday night with a drink at the Ontario Street Cafe, which serves only one beer on tap - Gennessee Cream Ale, of all things - & takes only cash.
  1. Fall asleep watching HBO's Scientology documentary. OK, so this one doesn't have anything to do with Cleveland, but it was entertaining.
  1. Spend half a day at a quirky coffee shop. I slept in Saturday morning & spent the afternoon solo at The Root Cafe in Lakewood, an adorable vegan bakery & coffee shop that makes all their own syrups, etc. While there, I read my friend Jess's book & sipped on a vanilla iced coffee & pretty much just loved life.
  1. Chill at another strange bar that doesn't serve food or take credit cards. Is this a thing, Cleveland? Because I don't like it. What I do like anyway is The Barking Spider Tavern, a hidden gem of a music venue near Case Western Reserve University. It's not  restaurant, & their draught selection is pretty limited, & they only take cash, but they have live music every night, you can bring food in from the outside, & there were free cupcakes on the bar because it was someone in the band's birthday. It's the sort of place where everyone has a story - & much of it is scribbled on the bathroom walls.
  1. Eat dinner at the towniest chain restaurant in town. We'd been planning to go to a festival in Little Italy but spent so long listening to the band at Barking Spider that we missed it! Instead, I requested, with only slight embarrassment, that we eat dinner at The Winking Lizard, a popular (if cliche) Ohio wing joint whose sauces I've long loved. I took no photos because A) I was very busy inhaling boneless wings with Thai chili sauce, & B) Adventure Weekend was so much fun that I let my phone die. 
  1. Fulfill Mom's 15-year dream of eating arepas again. My mother has been dreaming of arepas since our Venezuelan exchange student, Ani, first made them for us in 2000. Imagine her excitement, then, when I revealed that there's an areperia in Cleveland! We met up at Barroco, a quirky little gem of a place in otherwise-weird Birdtown, for a Sunday brunch of arepas & plantains & BYO booze. Bonus: My mother was at peak happiness level, which meant it was the best possible time for Mike to meet her.
  1. Go to the beach. OK, so we weren't really beach-ready (I was wearing a denim vest, after all...), but we stopped at Edgewater Park, situated on Lake Erie, to do some people-watching & enjoy the finally-nice weather. This spot also has a damn nice view of the, uh, very impressive (ha) Cleveland skyline. Come see both of our buildings!
  1. Geocache! Mike had never been geocaching before, so I loaded up the app & we set off looking for Edgewater Park's three caches. We found two, much to Mike's excitement, & then spent awhile digging for an as-yet-undiscovered cache in a mayfly-filled patch of woods. It was the perfect (free!) activity for a sunny day in the city.
  1. Head home exhausted & happy... to watch the next Cavs game. After a weekend like this, I am definitely "all in" on Cleveland.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

In Which I Doubt Whether Cleveland Is Actually the Right City for Me

There was a nasty little period of time upon my return to Ohio that I began to worry that I didn't actually like Cleveland at all. In fact, I secretly confessed to one friend, I had briefly become concerned that I hated it.

I know, I know, this sounds crazy. Any longtime friend or reader of this blog knows that my Buckeye State pride is evident in, like, every other post & that I always expected I'd eventually flee to the Cleve. But when I got back to Northeast Ohio - living about 45 minutes away from Cleveland itself - I realized that I don't actually, well, know anything about this city I claimed to have come back for.

"What do you like best about Cleveland?" people asked, & I couldn't answer in specifics beyond some vague sense of camaraderie & that Midwestern feel that I'd missed. "What part of the city do you want to live in?" they wanted to know, & I had no idea because I didn't know any parts of the city. The more questions I got, the fewer answers I had. An afternoon spent in the popular Ohio City neighborhood, which I was alarmed to find seemed more like the suburbs & less like the city, only deepened my sudden concerns. And then, when I started looking or apartments & found that my only options seemed to be suburban duplexes or $1,500-a-month studios (hello, more-than-my-D.C.-rent), I started to to panic: Did I even like Cleveland at all?

Since then, I've started spending more time in Cleveland, something I hadn't actually done much of because I didn't have anything to do here (or anyone to do it with). It helps that I recently started dating someone who lives in Lakewood, a suburb (he doesn't like when I call it that) just a few minutes outside the city. Spending time with him has given me the opportunity to spend some low-key, no-pressure time in Cleveland, without spazzing about whether or not it's the perfect place for me - & increasingly, blessedly, I feel like it is.

I'm starting to better understand that Midwestern cities (save maybe Chicago) are just not the same as East Coast cities, & as it turns out, I had accidentally become a bit of an East Coast snob. After seven years of living in D.C. & then just outside Boston & New York, my understanding of what cities "should" be like is based on concepts that are... just a little bit different than the reality here, what with all the driving & the lack of public transportation & the neighborhoods that feel, to me, like clusters of suburbs. It doesn't mean Midwestern cities are worse than East Coast cities, though I'm sure some other East Coast snobs will disagree - it just means that Cleveland is, in fact, a bit a mental adjustment for me. It's a different way of life, a different kind of city life.

But it's going to be my city life, one of these days here soon, & I am relieved to have been able to spend some time here to alleviate my sudden panic. I am where I'm supposed to be. In CLE I trust.

Monday, June 1, 2015

I Got Caught in a Monsoon During a Food Truck Festival, but at Least There Was Pizza

I learned of the Tallmadge Food Truck Festiva from a billboard next to the highway, because life is old-fashioned like that here in suburbia. I looked forward to the event for about two months, literally counting down weekends until my friends & I could descend upon the nearby city of Tallmadge for its second annual gathering of a dozen or so food trucks in a rec center parking lot (because, again, suburbia).

Of course, as is so often the case on the day of exciting outdoor events, the forecast for the day was rain, rain, rain - like, all day long - but the skies were clearish on Sunday morning, so we set off as planned. Parking was a nightmare, with nearly every spot full in the nearby high school lot, so my friends & I parked in makeshift spots on the grass approximately three quarters of a mile away from the big event - & then we trekked through a muddy field to get to it.

We were going to do a casual lap to see what our options were, but we quickly realized that we should capitalize on any short lines we encountered. There were a lot of attendees & not quite enough food trucks to keep them all fed. Based on which trucks the Internet told me would be there, a few vendors must have bailed when they woke up & saw that the weather looked like this:


Ominous, I know, but we are young & dumb & hungry.

We stopped at the first place that seemed delicious & didn't yet have a line snaking through the parking lot: 216 Bistro, named in homage to Cleveland's area code. First up was an appetizer of rosemary & sea salt tater tots, which, while delicious as tater tots always are, didn't have nearly enough rosemary for my rosemary-loving liking:


Next up was a trio of pulled pork wonton tacos topped with pickled onions & Thai chili sauce from Umami Bites, a Wooster-based truck. Important question: WHY WAS THERE NEVER A LINE FOR THIS TRUCK? We actually got these tacos twice because we didn't want to wait in other lines & these were delicious enough to warrant a second round. Everyone else was sleeping on these!


As we sat on a curb & consumed round two of aforementioned tasty tacos, a photographer from the Tallmadge Express took our photo from afar & approached to ask for our names for publication. Local celeb status, right here! Except, uh, the photo doesn't seem to have appeared anywhere, much to my sadness.

Luckily, there was a lobster roll to cheer me up.


If I'm being honest, I have a difficult time referring to the above sandwich from the Manna Food Truck as a lobster roll, if only because my time spent living on the border of New Hampshire & Maine taught me a thing or two about what to expect of lobster-based handhelds. Don't get me wrong, this was a pretty tasty meal, as seafood salad sandwiches go, but I don't know that it deserves the title of "lobster roll" - or the $12 price tag.

As I finished up my lobster roll, we waited on wood-fired bacon & honey pizza (!!!) from the Fire Truck Pizza Company, a food truck based out of (OK, I guess the name gives it away) an actual old fire truck. And then, just as we received our pizzas, the sky opened up, & it started to rain pretty hard. Like, really hard. Hard enough that we squeezed underneath a tiny tent with 100 or so other people & hoped for the best. Hey, at least we had pizza to keep us happy?


But it kept raining & raining & raining. It just wouldn't let up, except for a very brief respite after we finished our pizza, which we used as an opportunity get gourmet popsicles. We were already pretty wet by that point, but we still held onto hope that it the rain was juuuust about to finish up.

Alas, it wasn't to be. Strawberry rhubarb popsicles acquired, the rain reappeared, & we retreated to the cover of a sturdy building awning, where we remained relatively dry for about 20 minutes... until it began to rain sideways. Immediately soaked, we decided there was no use in trying to wait it out, & as others ran for the cover of flimsy tents, we finally accepted our fate - our very, very wet fate.

Remember how I said we'd parked a solid distance away? Across a field? Let's just say that it was a long, damp trip back to our cars, & that wearing Sperry boat shoes does you no good when your boat capsizes, so to speak. Truly, we could not have been any wetter if we'd jumped into a swimming pool.

But you know what? It was an adventure. A soggy, sort-of-stressful, muddy adventure. A little rain never hurt anybody, & for a stomach full of city-level food truck cuisine, it was absolutely worth it - or at least it feels that way now that I'm finally dry again!
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