Mount Sutro: An Electronic Periodical

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The Incredible Voyage

by Archived Article (2001–2014) Help
Today I have been cleaning my apartment and getting ready to leave tomorrow on a nearly one-week business trip. The destination is Bartow, Florida, population 16,455 (2006), named for Confederate political leader, attorney and officer Colonel Francis Stebbins Bartow (1816–1861), the first Confederate officer believed to die in the American Civil War. Located about an hour east of Tampa and southwest of Orlando, Bartow was established as Fort Blount in 1851 in an effort by new settlers to discourage attacks from native Seminole tribes. Fort Blount was named county seat of Polk County in 1861 and renamed Bartow in 1867, two years after the end of the war. In addition to several state and local government offices, my destination in the scheme of things, the nearby phosphate mining contributes to the local economy. The city served as a shooting location for the 1991 film My Girl and was home to recount queen Katherine Harris during her high school years. Travel has been on my mind a lot recently. In fact, this past Wednesday, 23 January 2008 at 2235 hours EST, I received electronic confirmation from Northwest Airlines of my flights on 13 March and 21 March 2008. After learning my friends Steven and Emma would be moving mid-year, my Mom encouraged me to consider using my tax return to fund a trip to visit them rather than repay a debt to her as planned. This was a very thoughtful gift, one I would be remiss to pass up. She made a compelling argument after all, though in all honesty I did not require much, if any real convincing. To thank her for her unsolicited generosity, I asked Mom if she wanted to join me. And that's how it came to pass, that after originally concluding it would be impossible to pull off in the allotted timeframe, I am spending one week of March in Tokyo, Japan. The suburban city of Sagamigaoka, Zama in the Kanagawa Prefecture, to be exact. I am not talented enough a writer to provide adequate descriptions of the excitement and anticipation I feel about this adventure. To visit a place where the language and culture are so divergent from one's own is for me an extremely satisfying prospect. The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji) by Katsushika Hokusai, c. 1830–32
The Great Wave at Kanagawa
from a Series of Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
by Katsushika Hokusai, c. 1830–32
Among the 47 prefectures of Japan, Tokyo is the most populous. Some eight million people live in the twenty-three special wards of Tokyo, with over four million more populating the rest of the prefecture. Tokyo was founded as Edo, a small fishing village, in 1457 and named imperial capital in 1868. Little else about the trip has been planned except for the arrival and departure dates, times and flights. I am going to be researching what to see and do, plus I know our hosts will have invaluable input having lived in Japan for over three years now. It may be the cliché American thing to do in Tokyo, but I do plan to visit the New York Bar on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo as featured in the 2003 film Lost In Translation. I like Tokyo's modern skyline, sparking with lights and red beacons in the darkness of night and wish to experience that vista in person, despite the possible ¥2000 JPY (~$20.00 USD) cover charge. I would have liked to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, but that would require a sixteen hour roundtrip commute. However, including Mount Fuji, elevation 12,388 feet (3776 metres), there are numerous museums, national parks and other local destinations to keep us completely busy the entire time. Indeed my ever-growing list of pre-trip tasks includes a note to investigate additional memory chips for my camera. With any luck, the flights from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (KDTW) to Narita International Airport (NRT/RJAA) and back will provide entertainment themselves, as I anticipate our flight path will take us over Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, past the North Pole and over the Arctic Sea and mountain ranges of Siberia. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity. It would not be possible by my own will alone, so I am grateful to those who helped make this incredible journey possible.
Mount Sutro mount sutro presents The Japan Trip Series the japan trip series [ Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six ] Photograph Gallery
Photo Credit: David July david july

The Next Generation

by Archived Article (2001–2014) Help

I am pleased to announce phase one of the Mount Sutro site upgrade project is complete. In addition to making updates to my original code, some of which has not been changed in some time, the content management system used to power articles, comments, search and feed functions was given an overhaul.

In February 2005, I released the last major version of the site which introduced WordPress as the new CMS. To make everything work just right, I merged the existing site into the WordPress application. It worked very well and was relatively easy to implement, one of the reasons I initially selected the product.

Several weeks later, the next major version of WordPress was released introducing among other things, a new template theme system. A short time later, I attempted to upgrade but the changes I had made when migrating to WordPress were eliminated by the new version. Rather than redo everything, I let it go with the intent of revisiting the issue in the near future.

Nearly three years later, lightning finally struck early in the morning on Saturday, 20 January 2008 and the long overdue project began. Here's a summary of the new and updated features.

  • When viewing articles in groups—that is, not individually—links for older and newer articles allow page by page reading in chronological order.
  • When viewing articles individually, links for the previous and following article are available along with a new RSS feed for the article's comments.
  • The Article Archive window has been reorganized in part to give greater visibility to our feeds, including another new feed that consolidates all article comments.
  • When you search for something, the results are highlighted and boldfaced so you can find your keywords more quickly.
  • Permanent article URLs are abbreviated to exclude index.php. Do not worry about your existing links; they redirect automatically.   ← Old Format   ← New Format
  • New pagination features mean the prohibition on viewing articles by year, month or day is lifted. For example, the sample URL above displays all articles published in April 2004.
  • New default typefaces for improved readability include Microsoft's Segoe UI for most site text and Consolas for fixed-width applications.
  • With the free Akismet plug-in, comment filtration is greatly improved. After a period of observation, I may elect to relax the current moderation policy and permit instant comment posting.
I still have quite a bit of work to do under the hood for phase two, but I do not anticipate any more plainly visible changes. Please let me know what you think and if you find anything broken.

Photo Credit: David July

The Tales of Stories Past III

by Archived Article (2001–2014) Help

The last time I went to B. Merrell's for lunch, I did not even make it inside. As a piece of paper taped to the glass door came into focus, it quickly became clear I would not be met that day by a delicious meal and great service from Jim or Patrick. As I got closer I could read the handwritten message, "Closed. Thank you for 15 great years. Barry Merrell."

Later in the afternoon of 31 May 2007, the message sign out front was being modified by a man using a long pole with a suction cup on the end to hang the letters. The reverse side was already complete. It read simply, "Thank you for 15 great years."

It was one in a series of Tallahassee restaurant closings, ranging in severity of misfortune. In the case of B. Merrell's, I found the closure most unfortunate. Offering a wide range of lunch and dinner entrees, B. Merrell's became my default destination, frequently visited if another restaurant did not attract my attention.

According to an article in the Tallahassee Democrat by Will Brown published 08 June 2007, Barry Merrell closed the 1433 East Lafayette Street eatery to focus on another location in Columbus, Georgia. A desire to stop driving the seven and some hour roundtrip between the two locations was cited as a reason for leaving the area. Local sources claim medical reasons pushed the decision as well. In any event, I hope to some day visit the Columbus location for a trip down lunch break memory lane.

Update: 14 June 2009 — Read a follow-up to this article in The Movable Feasts, where we see what has become of these restaurants of the past.
Another lunchtime regular to shutter was Southern Fixin's at 2840 Apalachee Parkway. Formerly the Florida Grill and then Capri Italian Restaurant, Southern Fixin's got off to a rocky start. At first the place just needed to improve service and get organized, not exactly surprising from a restaurant getting started. After some time and once a regular staff was aboard, things improved dramatically.

The food was good from day one, however. Their full menu included all the classic favorites including meatloaf, fried chicken, pork chops, fish, vegetables and all the sides. It was like a local version of Cracker Barrel—without the nostalgia and store—and soon made a great, reliable addition to my lunch rotation.

One day I stopped in for my usual meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans and could not help but notice the recent installation of a buffet. It was a new all you can eat option for around $10, plus a takeaway option billed per pound. I initially ignored the buffet and continued to order from the menu as I have no need to consume such massive quantities, particularly for lunch.

Before long I was told the menu was eliminated and the buffet established as the sole option. It contained most, if not all or more of the items from the former menu and was good, but by making the buffet the only option they lost my regular business. I do not know if it was a similar sentiment or other factors, but the buffet-only Southern Fixin's was soon closed for business, another eastside restaurant down the tubes1.

One closure that made no sense to me was that of Back Yard Burgers. I was familiar with the chain's one hundred percent Black Angus burgers charbroiled over an open flame, chicken sandwiches and waffle fries from their location in Altamonte Springs. Upon moving to Tallahassee, I was surprised to find two locations, one near the FSU campus at 1410 West Tennessee Street and the other near my office at 2014 Apalachee Parkway. While the central Florida location is drive-thru and walk-up only, the Tallahassee locations featured full dining rooms with self-service beverage fountains. For a fast food chain, the food was delicious and the service exceptional.

The Tennessee Street location was the first to go, but since I never dined there I could not tell if the students simply did not take to the place—a hard scenario to imagine—or if poor service and management were to blame. I can, however, attest to the quality and efficiency of the Parkway location where lunches were often busy but always fast and fresh. So it came as quite a surprise when I saw that location eventually gone as well.

27 January would have marked the third anniversary of the Parkway location, but regardless of their closure Back Yard Burgers is up for a 2007 Tally Award in the Best Hamburgers category, an accolade bestowed on the restaurant last year. The latest winners will be announced 25 January.

Other lunch casualties include Durango Steakhouse at 2705 Apalachee Parkway, The Original Italian Pie at 1140 Capital Circle Southeast, Philly Connection at 1490 Apalachee Parkway and Uncle Ed's Subs & Salads at 3551 Blairstone Road, Suite 132.

The most recent closing was not a lunchtime haunt at all, but rather a nice place to have dinner. The Main Ingredient at 1710 West Tharpe Street is well-known in town for their appetizing mix and match menu and daily specials. The meals were not cheap, but they were amazing.

It was a shock to many locals when near the end of November 2007 the restaurant closed without notice. Several business close or reduce hours when college is not in session and even more over the holidays, so there was a bit of lingering hope the doors would reopen in the new year. That never happened and the word on the street is financial trouble plus the failure to secure a backing deal forced the closure.

No doubt, restaurants are a tough make it or break it business with complex logistical operations, high costs and frequent employee turnover. Smart franchisers need to approach Tallahassee without visions of grandeur and focus on the essentials in order to succeed.

I specifically invite Five Guys "Famous Burgers and Fries" and Jersey Mike's Subs, a growing franchise started as a stand-alone in 1956, to give our capital market a spin. Both former Back Yard Burgers locations need new occupants anyway.

1 "Down the tubes—hear that one a lot. People say, 'Ah, the country is going down the tubes.' What tubes? Have you seen any tubes? Where are these tubes? And where do they go? And how come there's more than one tube? It would seem to me, one country, one tube. But does every state all of a sudden have to have its own tube now? One tube is all you need. But a tube that big? Somebody would have seen it by now." – George Carlin

Photo Credit: David July

The Tales of Stories Past II

by Archived Article (2001–2014) Help

Toward the end of October 2007, Omar and I observed the weather was not too hot, not too cold and mostly clear, perfect conditions for a road trip. Not wanting to miss our opportunity, we planned a drive to a nearby city to cruise around, find a place for lunch and head back before sunset.

When we took off on Saturday, 03 November 2007, the weather cooperated with our desires. Windows rolled down and sunroof open, we headed west on SR 20 toward our destination cities Panama City and Panama City Beach, Florida, crossing the Ochlockonee River near the C. H. Corn Hydroelectric Power Plant at 1328 EDT.

The estimated one-way drive time is two hours, thirty minutes, but we were in no hurry, for the roundtrip itself was part of the desired experience. In fact, I brought my camera with the intention of taking many pictures but captured only four images the entire day.

There were very few clouds in the sky as we approached Panama City on US 231. I had plotted our course to cover the most ground without the need for much backtracking. We drove through Cedar Grove, Callaway, Springfield and then through Panama City.

At this point we were ready for lunch and kept restaurants on our radar. As we continued to wind through the streets, one eatery after another met one or more of the following criteria: chain, fast food, closed for business, out of business and Mexican. I mention the last attribute only because based on our observations, Mexican restaurants are extremely popular in Panama City.

Unimpressed with the options thus far, we continued west on US 98, over the Hathaway Bridge and into Panama City Beach. My last time through the area several months ago, I passed a steakhouse pumping out a deliciously redolent aroma. Unfortunately, we discovered Angelo's Steak Pit was closed as well, probably for the season.

Forty-five minutes earlier on the drive in, part of the road was closed for the biking leg of the Ford Ironman Florida Triathlon. Unbeknownst to us at the time, we would intersect with the bikers again along West Front Beach Road running parallel to the Gulf of Mexico. Driving with part of the lane coned off and filled with tri-athletes peddling alone and in groups was at times an arduous task, but Omar managed excellently. Having noticed only one viable candidate for food, we turned around in Laguna Beach and made our way to Sharky's Beachfront Restaurant.

There were a few occupied seats and a handful of people at the tiki bar as we made our way to a beach-side table and ordered a cocktail. It was a little breezy on the water, but the cool air was diminished by the warm sunlight. I ordered the Mahi-Mahi, Cajun blackened on a bed of rice with steamed vegetables. The service was good, the food exceeded expectations and the locale was perfect.

We continued to drive around after lunch, stopping at a few local shops for some knickknacks before heading back to Tallahassee. The return trip was enjoyable and in no time we found ourselves back on my couch talking about the day and speculating about future trips.

Photo Credit: David July

The Tales of Stories Past

by Archived Article (2001–2014) Help

I was pleased to hear the news my friend Omar accepted a job at my office. He had worked there before and it was nice to have someone to go out to lunch with regularly, not to mention a non-work friend. Not too long after he started we talked about carpooling.

After all, Omar's apartment is about 100 feet from mine and our office across town requires a fourteen mile daily round trip. It seemed vacuous both economically and environmentally to do this journey separately, especially when we would sometimes find ourselves driving side by side down the road. And thus it became so on a Wednesday in October 2007.

Two or three weeks after we started carpooling to work, I received word through the City of Tallahassee e-mail newsletter of the upcoming Commuter Choices Week. The purpose of this event is to raise awareness of alternate forms of transportation and encourage local residents to find a green way to work.

In addition to press conferences, lunches and rallies, the week featured several themed events including Ride Your Bike Day, Carpooling Day and StarMetro Ride Free Day. Carpooling Day was the Wednesday event so Omar and I were amused at the irony, but the Ride Free Day captured my interest as well.

I figured a one day trial of the local bus system might be educational so I decided to see what it would involve. The 80x Express Route went into service in August 2006 and has a stop near my building. There are several ways from home to the closest 80x transfer at the main bus station, C.K. Steele Plaza in downtown Tallahassee, but after reviewing the various routes and times I found no way to get to work by 0700.

Carpooling is a far more viable solution for Omar and me anyway, granting us the opportunity to make detour trips when needed and to have at least one car on hand during the day for lunch and unforeseen circumstances such as illness or an emergency.

Looking back on the three months carpooling thus far, I can easily conclude this experiment a success.

Photo Credit: David July