Monthly Archives: May 2012

An Unemployment Opportunity


(The following guest Rants ‘n Raves was submitted by Mrs. Arthurnator, also known as my wife, Karen)

Approximately 29 months ago, my husband was granted an amazing opportunity.

When Arthur was first laid off from his job of nearly 10 years in December 2009, we certainly didn’t think so. We were mad, frustrated and nervous – especially nervous. We found ourselves in the company of many who had lost their jobs through no fault of their own, including others who had made their careers as print journalists.

Fortunately, we were able to keep afloat, through freelance opportunities from old friends and kind strangers. But the overwhelming cloud of unemployment still hung low, reminding us every day that nothing was guaranteeing our future. Interviews were few and far between, and despite dozens of calls from enthusiastic recruiters, there was nothing much to tell.

Much happened in the months that followed. In April 2010, my mother suffered a heart attack and came to stay with us for a month of recovery. Since Arthur was home, he was able to attend to her needs. In the months to follow, he took care of home repairs, errands, and things the boys needed – all while freelancing and applying for jobs every day.

In March 2011, my mother’s health deteriorated to the point where she needed to move to an assisted living facility and later, a nursing home, in Pennsylvania. In the two months, I made several trips north, with Arthur holding the fort at home, and eventually accompanying me to deal with my mother’s imminent death.

All the while, I began a medical journey through doctors and tests which ultimate resulted in the need for major surgery in July. Arthur was by my side through it all.

Then last fall, my youngest daughter came to live with us for a fresh start. Again, Arthur shuttled and supported wherever needed.

There was still no permanent job on the horizon. But in early November, our luck changed. Arthur began an in-house contract position at Red Ventures, a marketing company that I like to refer to as Disneyland. After 30+ years as a print journalist, my husband was writing and editing copy for a new medium – the Web.

Not only was he employed – not permanently but close enough – but his world was about to change. For the first time in many years, he was surrounded by smart, fun people with fresh ideas. Many young in age, and nearly all young in spirit. He was praised for his efforts, instead of being criticized or nitpicked. He began to help others improve their skills and work effectively as a team. He had opportunities to network, socialize and genuinely feel like he was a valued part of something bigger.

And I had my husband back. He was the guy who once loved to coach youth sports and mentor young reporters and interns in the newsroom. He looked forward to going to work, constantly interacted with his co-workers on Facebook, played basketball in the company gym, enjoyed gourmet lunches, baked cakes and told countless stories of his daily adventures. Most importantly, he was an old dog learning new tricks, running right along with the young pups in the yard – and loving every minute of it.

I think life sometimes makes choices for us that we would never make for ourselves. While no one wants to be unemployed, an unexpected detour on life’s highway can result in new beginnings.

Many years ago, we had a mid-career friend who was displaced from his high-paying job in corporate America. The next day, he started selling Christmas trees and eventually ended up as the head of the local YMCA. I remember Woody telling us that he had never been happier.

This week, Arthur was fortunate to become a permanent employee of Red Ventures. During the interview process, he stood true to his values and offered praise and encouragement to potential rivals. I don’t think he ever wanted anything so much, or was so happy to receive it. But even when he was overjoyed inside, he contained his excitement out of respect for teammates who would now move in other directions.

And while job security is most reassuring, the riches we’ve gained from this whole experience are not monetary. We’ve had time to devote to what’s important, stop and smell the roses on the path less traveled and begin a new journey, living life the way it was meant to be lived.

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Shuffling the Deck


We never even asked her name. I guess it was because we were in full cruise mode. We’d be boarding later that morning at the Charleston harbor.

But first there was the matter of breakfast at the Vendue Inn, the fantastic hotel we’d stayed in Sunday night in Charleston. We’d gotten there in time to walk around awhile once the concierge – that’s right, we were at a hotel with a concierge – made reservations for us and the valet – yup, that too; my first and possibly only experience with valet parking – had taken the car.

We walked down to the dock, saw someone eating green gelato – we never exactly figured out what flavor it was – and took a stroll to our restaurant, Poogan’s Porch. We were there a bit early, that gave us time to people watch, particularly the huge party that gathered on the tiny courtyard. The young couple eating outside near the door seemed pretty distracted by all the confusion.

But we were treated like royalty, ate our fill and then some and walked a little more before turning in for the night.

She greeted us almost immediately when we were seated, looking up  from her bananas foster french toast – that’s two of my least favorite things, bananas and Fosters. She was heading out for a stroll of her own after breakfast. She blotted the grease from her bacon as she told us she was from Carmel, Calif. She’d come to Charleston, she said, because she thought it would be interesting. She was small, 60ish, and engaging, nothing like what you’d think of a Northern Californian. She was interested when we told her we were on the way to the Bahamas.

She’d been there; she’d been lots of places, as it turned out. She traveled alone and often. When she left, we speculated she’d probably was or had been some kind of executive in NoCal. Regardless, she put us in a great mood for the days to come, when we’d meet people – interesting, engaging people – from across the country.

Here are random thoughts on some of the most memorable:

Green Shirt Guy: Karen and I noticed this guy right away, because he was pretty noticeable. If he were a woman, I’d say he was built like a brick shirthouse. Except I’d have left out one of the letters. The thing was, he seemed to be a good guy too. He was on the make, but he never looked like he was coming on too strong and he spent a lot of time talking to women you wouldn’t have thought he would have talked to. And looked like he was enjoying it. We saw him at least once, usually multiple times, every day on the boat. One person we didn’t see him with was Ball Cap Girl. Of all the women on the prowl, she was the most obvious. I will say she had a nicely filled bikini, and she knew it. We called her Ball Cap Girl because one night, when she’d obviously had a bunch to drink and was being, shall we say, friendly, she was wearing a baseball cap. At an angle. One of my pet peeves, maybe second to people who don’t have passion, is people who wear their baseball caps backwards. Or at an angle. I saw her a lot, too. I don’t know if Karen did. I didn’t usually mention it.

Mia Hamm and her daughter, Celia: I call her Mia Hamm because she kind of resembled the soccer star. In a single soccer mom kind of way. She asked us to take their photo on the formal dining night. We know 5-year-old Celia’s name because she was selected for a magic trick done by our cruise director, Risa, the pudgy, fast talker who made rapid-fire announcements twice or more a day.  Risa gave Celia a magic quarter, which she was to not look at but put under her pillow, and if she believed in magic, it would turn into $5. Which I’m sure pleased Mia.

Bad Ben: We had really good luck, for the most part, when we were seated with other couples in the dining room. The exception to that was the meal we ate with Ben and Barbara. They were from Lynchburg, Va. And Statesville. She was a private care nurse and pretty nice. And obviously lonely. Because she met her blowhard of a husband on eHarmony. He was some sort of engineer who insisted on telling us about how he designed the metal/plastic beer bottles they use nowadays and how hard they were to design and how he loved being a contract engineer and how he had all these medical problems and about his automated insulin pump and more … I quit listening. Karen, who is nicer than I am by a country mile, occasionally got a word in with him. One thing I did hear was how his wife lived five days a week in Statesville with an Alzheimer’s patient. Which had to be less of a chore than listening to this windbag. The other couple that night was Herman and Natalya, who might have been interesting had they been able to get the floor. We ran into them on the Lido deck a couple of times and they seemed so happy to see us. We saw Ben and Barbara a couple of times later and managed to sneak the other way.

Good Ben: The funny was, we thought Good Ben was going to be a blowhard. He had been, he reckoned, on 30 cruises, and he and his wife, Linda, whom we met on the bus from the big boat to the boat that would take us to the charming shopping area in Freeport. He’d been on lots of cruise lines, including Norwegian and Royal Caribbean. He really liked those, he said, because they had more entertainment and stuff and so on. But, he said, he always loved this cruise we were on. Which endeared him to us. So did his answer when we asked him if he’d ever taken his kids on a cruise: “No, we could never afford it then.”

The Johnson City, Tenn., family: Again, we didn’t know their names, but we got in a long discussion with them on the way back from the Blue Lagoon. Actually, we did most of the talking with their three kids, all in college. All, I think, in private colleges. So there was money there, but you sure wouldn’t have known it from the way these kids acted. They formed a level-headed but fun group why acted perfectly happy to talk to a couple of, well, mature vacationers. We ran into them a couple of times later, including when we were disembarking, and they really acted excited about it.

Scott and Danielle: We met them the first night in the dining room. She was also a nurse, a big-time one in the Washington, D.C., area. They lived in Sterling, Va., very near where Lauren and Nicki grew up. But Danielle was from East Tennessee, as were a lot of our favorite people on the trip (there was a couple from Bristol at the table as well). They’d gotten married the day before. I guess they were 40ish. Danielle had lost 80 pounds, she said – she was one of those nurses who despite their profession don’t follow healthy habits. About midway through the meal, somewhere between the brisket and the chocolate melting cake, Danielle asked us if we were newlyweds, too. Now Karen and I have been married nearly 19 years. How sweet it was that they thought we’d just gotten married. (OK, some of you would call it sickening, I guess.) But we saw them repeatedly during the week and each time it was a delight. We just connected with them, and I’ve missed them greatly since we got back.

Fernando, Penelope and Elbert: We also loved several of the Carnival employees. Fernando, our steward, kept the room spotless and made us laugh every time we saw him or one of his towel creations. Especially the towel monkey he hung from the ceiling light the final night. By the final meal, Penelope, the hostess at the dining room, called us by name when we’d walk up. She didn’t have to do that. And we met a waiter, Elbert, that we liked enough to request his tables after he’d served us once. Elbert, who was 37 but looked about 13, told us the first night that he had five children, one in Charleston, one in Miami, one in Orlando … But he couldn’t keep it up. He was always bringing us extra food we didn’t order because he wanted us to try it – we had the best crab cakes ever that way (after he made sure we had no food allergies). He was switching boats after that cruise – they work six months on and three months off – and I really hope we see him again down the road.

Or, even though he’s not on TV, maybe we could find him on another channel.

Being on a boat that’s moving through the water, it’s so clear. Everything falls into place in terms of what’s important and what’s not.” – James Taylor

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First, Do No Harm


In the aftermath of Amendment One’s passage, I started thinking tonight (Wednesday) about my history with churches. And it is history – other than for weddings or funerals or youth basketball ceremonies, I haven’t set foot in one in at least 13 or 14 years.

But it wasn’t always that way.

I grew up going every Sunday to Shady Grove United Methodist Church in Virgilina – a small white wooden church back in the country. My parents went there, and it was understood that my sister, brother and I would do likewise.

It was a small enough church that it shared a preacher with two other churches – the good news there was that meant they only had preaching the second and fourth Sundays. The other two Sundays of the month (and the occasional fifth Sunday), there was just Sunday school. That was relatively painless – it was over by 11, we were back home by at least noon. Which meant I could watch the Dean Smith Show (or the Bill Dooley Show during football season).

Preaching. That was another thing altogether. I was bored early on – I’d daydream during the sermons, peek around the church during the prayers and wince during the screechy hymns. My folks never talked about the sermon on the way home; it was more what so-and-so was wearing, or didn’t so-and-so look sick, and so on. Every Christmas we’d draw names in Sunday School and exchange gifts. And every year I’d get chocolate-covered cherries, which I hate almost as much as bananas.

I can’t exactly remember when they started leaving it up to me whether I wanted to go – I almost never did. When I did it was to see my friends Mitzi and Jane and Dean and a few others.

But I do remember when I went back, not to Shady Grove, but to the First Baptist Church in SoBo. No, I didn’t undergo some sort of conversion on the road to Damascas (or Halifax, for that matter). I started going because it did cool stuff like take the young people to the beach.

That’s right. I started going to church so I’d have a chance to go the beach. They really left you alone and you only had to put up with a couple of hours of religious stuff a day before you could soak up the sun and ride the waves and enjoy yourself. My friends Tommy and Howard went there, and we actually had pretty good times. I even made it after some pretty rough Saturday nights to see my friends. Even took part in the youth choir.

I remember one funny thing about the church’s youth center. It had a bunch of religious stuff, but it also had a couple of albums that didn’t really fit in. One was Blind Faith, the Eric Clapton-Steve Winwood supergroup that must have made it into the collection based on the name alone (though there was one vaguely religious song on it – and I’m not talking about Wasted and I Can’t Find My Way Home). The other was Aqualung, by Jethro Tull. Too funny: I don’t even know where to start.

The other attraction besides the beach was the women: I liked the cast of girls that went there.

Of course, sometimes I’d have to sample some strange – either at the Methodist church down on the corner across the street from the gas station where we often got a soda between Sunday School and preaching, or at the Presbyterian Church across the street.

I ain’t going to lie: I liked a lot of the Presby girls and probably would have gone over there more except it always made Tommy’s parents upset when we did. But I also liked to hang out at the gas station near the Methodist Church – the major crush of my high school years went to the Methodist Church and sometimes she’d come hang out with me and we’d skip preaching.

I stopped going when I left for college and didn’t really go back to a church for a long time, except, as I said, for weddings and funerals. Which was fine with me. I remember an Episcopal funeral I attended in Jacksonville where I was jealous of the corpse – she didn’t have to endure the interminable sermon. And I remember showing up an hour late for a wedding in Charlotte once and still sitting through about an hour of praying and singing and preaching before the reception. And this was a butter mints and peanuts and lime sherbet punch reception on top of that. Not even a root beer in the fellowship hall.

In 1997, Karen and I moved to Henderson, a really small town just on the outskirts of the Triangle. We wanted to fit in and my publisher, Rick Bean, advised us to pick a church and go. So we went two or three times to the local small Presbyterian Church. Until we got accosted by a member who told us we talked too much because we were trying to explain what was happening to the kids. So then we went to Rick’s church, a Methodist outfit that was a bit bigger. It wasn’t big enough. The preacher started stalking us. I swear I’m not making this up. He’d drop in at our house and make Austin sit in his lap and wouldn’t leave. I was working about 80 hours a week at the paper and was very jealous of my time away from work. We ditched that church, too.

And never looked back.

But let me say one thing: I know, love and respect plenty of deeply religious people. People who wouldn’t hurt another or deny another or be mean to another. They live their beliefs in every way, every day, and I appreciate them for it.

And then there are those who pick and choose the parts of the Bible they want to believe and want to make you believe. And if there are parts that contradict those edicts, they just smile and say, “You just don’t understand.”

And you know what? They’re right. I don’t, and I don’t want to. They may be the majority in my state right now, but they sure ain’t moral in my book.

I don’t fear much in this world, but I fear them and their influence and the people who kowtow to them to ride that influence. That’s what makes me so mad and sad and frustrated about Tuesday’s outcome.

I don’t understand that kind of thinking. I won’t understand that kind of thinking.

A few years ago, and I don’t want to be more specific than that, I was a witness in a child-custody case on behalf of a friend. The worse-than-deadbeat dad of her son was suing for custody. The reason: He said she was a lesbian and unfit to raise the child.

She was one of the most fit mothers I’ve ever known. I didn’t know she was a lesbian and frankly I still don’t know whether she was. And what’s more, I don’t care one way or another.

Fact is, she was a great mom who rearranged her schedule to meet her son’s needs and her employer’s. She did everything she was supposed to. She lived on a goat farm out in the country and she loved her kids and her kid. And this drug addict slimeball of an ex-husband challenged her maternal rights just because of her possible sexual orientation. She didn’t lose the case, but she didn’t exactly win either, as I recall (and again I don’t want to be more specific than that).

She got the equivalent of a split decision from a country judge in a rural North Carolina county with no one watching. I shudder to think how the case would turn out today. The climate just seems worse.

First do no harm. It’s that simple. Love thy neighbor. It’s that simple.

If only it were that simple. That’s why I’ve been so angry.

I still believe in love, and I always will.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

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Sushi Can You See?


Got home last night from work and I was starving. OK, I was hungry, not starving. Beer-thirty had kicked in and the Asian salad with grilled chicken I’d had for lunch – and the fruit cup, too (sneer at it if you want, but it had strawberries, blackberries and grapes and was damn good) – had gone away. On top of that, I’d had to make a side trip to buy an iron – ours bit the dust Friday morning.

So I walked in the door blazing. “I’m starving,” I said to Karen, who had beaten me home and was trying to read the paper.

She looked at me, grinned, and said: “You want to go get sushi, don’t you?”

It wasn’t as out of left field as it might sound. We’d gotten a flier/menu the day before from a new sushi restaurant in Matthews that we agreed sounded good. We’ve been looking for a number of months to find a replacement for Ajimi, our favorite sushi place. It was a little joint in, of all places, Monroe that had great sushi at very reasonable prices.

We’d gone so much that we often chatted with the owners. They spoke halting English but we always communicated just find. We even found out eventually that one of their sons was a classmate and friend of Garrett’s. We saw them through a pregnancy. They gave us discount coupons, but we never used them because the prices were great anyway, and we wanted them to succeed.

Then one day we went to Ajimi, and it was dark. We were devastated. We tried another place in Monroe, but it wasn’t as good. In what way? In every way. (See how I mixed in that line from TGWTDT.) The owner not only looked like a member of the Yakuza, he screamed at his employees – especially the waitresses. The food was just all right. We tried it a couple of times but moved on.

———————————-

I remember when and where I had my first sushi. That place is closed, too.

It was when I came down to Charlotte for a job interview at the magazine. I was living in Henderson, where I had been the editor of a small newspaper for three years. I loved having my own paper and being the boss, but I never could keep a full staff and was always having to do double duty. I was missing my family something awful, and I really didn’t want my children to grow up in such a small town.

I got wind – actually Karen got wind – of the opening at the magazine, and I went for it. I landed an interview on a midsummer day. It was hot and the drive was long.

David Kinney and I talked about the job and my past and what I could do and what the magazine did and people we knew and places we’d been. It was going well. Then he asked, “You hungry? Let’s go get some lunch. Do you like sushi?”

Well, I was a country boy from Virginia who’d lived in eastern North Carolina and Gastonia (the Hellmouth of Weird). That means I’d had fried fish and steamed oysters and that was about it. So my answer was short and to the point.

“Sure!”

So we jumped in his car and drove down South Boulevard to this joint, which I recognized as a former Kenny Rogers chicken restaurant that I’d actually eaten at when I lived in Gastonia.

Still faking it, I ordered the Bento Box B and proceeded to eat my first sushi, trying hard to look like a pro. David didn’t notice when I tried a crumb of wasabi – right about the time my tea had run out. But I blinked back the tears, saw how to mix it with soy and continued the interview.

Because that’s what I think it was – a continuation of the interview, even though we were done talking about business at that point. I might have still gotten the job had I declined the sushi but I’m not so sure. When we got back to the office, David told me he liked the cut of my jib, and a couple of weeks later, I got an offer as I was wrapping up a vacation in the mountains (which meant that I gave notice the day after I got back to the paper from vacation – I know it’s a crappy thing to do but it just worked out that way).

Bottom line: I really did like the sushi and told Karen so. She hadn’t tried any either, at this point.

But after we settled in the Greater Indian Trail Metro, she’d work with a big sushi fan, who got her to go to Ajimi. She was hooked – see what I did there.

———————————-

We’ve been to lots of sushi places since, and we’d found an acceptable one in nearly Wesley Chapel that is pretty good even though it’s sushi menu is pretty small. It also has good Thai food – our latest food passion.

But anyway, when we got the flier we were pretty intrigued by the place in Matthews. I didn’t even know the name of it at that point – Karen had read some of the choices from the menu and I thought it sounded good.

So we pried Garrett away from electronics and decided to take a shot.

And when we walked in Fujimi, there they were: Becky (which I’m positive isn’t her real name) and her husband from Ajimi. This was their new place. She gave Karen a hug, we spoke with him briefly and David, Garrett’s friend, came out to chat with us. It was great.

So was the food. It was like we were back at Ajimi, only fancier. Particularly good: The black pepper tuna piece I got. I saved it until last, as I customarily do for what I think will be the best bite. Always leave on a high.

The waitress was quirky but friendly. Her name was Melissa but she urged us to call her Mel because it was easier to remember. She identified the sushi on the plate I ordered – she got a couple of pieces wrong – but she was a great waitress who kept us stocked with what we needed.

We had a coupon but we didn’t use it. Maybe next time. Or not. Good luck, my friends.

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Sushi Can You See?


Got home last night from work and I was starving. OK, I was hungry, not starving. Beer-thirty had kicked in and the Asian salad with grilled chicken I’d had for lunch – and the fruit cup, too (sneer at it if you want, but it had strawberries, blackberries and grapes and was damn good) – had gone away. On top of that, I’d had to make a side trip to buy an iron – ours bit the dust Friday morning.

So I walked in the door blazing. “I’m starving,” I said to Karen, who had beaten me home and was trying to read the paper.

She looked at me, grinned, and said: “You want to go get sushi, don’t you?”

It wasn’t as out of left field as it might sound. We’d gotten a flier/menu the day before from a new sushi restaurant in Matthews that we agreed sounded good. We’ve been looking for a number of months to find a replacement for Hajimi, our favorite sushi place. It was a little joint in, of all places, Monroe that had great sushi at very reasonable prices.

We’d gone so much that we often chatted with the owners. They spoke halting English but we always communicated just find. We even found out eventually that one of their sons was a classmate and friend of Garrett’s. We saw them through a pregnancy. They gave us discount coupons, but we never used them because the prices were great anyway, and we wanted them to succeed.

Then one day we went to Hajimi, and it was dark. We were devastated. We tried another place in Monroe, but it wasn’t as good. In what way? In every way. (See how I mixed in that line from TGWTDT.) The owner not only looked like a member of the Yakuza, he screamed at his employees – especially the waitresses. The food was just all right. We tried it a couple of times but moved on.

———————————-

I remember when and where I had my first sushi. That place is closed, too.

It was when I came down to Charlotte for a job interview at the magazine. I was living in Henderson, where I had been the editor of a small newspaper for three years. I loved having my own paper and being the boss, but I never could keep a full staff and was always having to do double duty. I was missing my family something awful, and I really didn’t want my children to grow up in such a small town.

I got wind – actually Karen got wind – of the opening at the magazine, and I went for it. I landed an interview on a midsummer day. It was hot and the drive was long.

David Kinney and I talked about the job and my past and what I could do and what the magazine did and people we knew and places we’d been. It was going well. Then he asked, “You hungry? Let’s go get some lunch. Do you like sushi?”

Well, I was a country boy from Virginia who’d lived in eastern North Carolina and Gastonia (the Hellmouth of Weird). That means I’d had fried fish and steamed oysters and that was about it. So my answer was short and to the point.

“Sure!”

So we jumped in his car and drove down South Boulevard to this joint, which I recognized as a former Kenny Rogers chicken restaurant that I’d actually eaten at when I lived in Gastonia.

Still faking it, I ordered the Bento Box B and proceeded to eat my first sushi, trying hard to look like a pro. David didn’t notice when I tried a crumb of wasabi – right about the time my tea had run out. But I blinked back the tears, saw how to mix it with soy and continued the interview.

Because that’s what I think it was – a continuation of the interview, even though we were done talking about business at that point. I might have still gotten the job had I declined the sushi but I’m not so sure. When we got back to the office, David told me he liked the cut of my jib, and a couple of weeks later, I got an offer as I was wrapping up a vacation in the mountains (which meant that I gave notice the day after I got back to the paper from vacation – I know it’s a crappy thing to do but it just worked out that way).

Bottom line: I really did like the sushi and told Karen so. She hadn’t tried any either, at this point.

But after we settled in the Greater Indian Trail Metro, she’d work with a big sushi fan, who got her to go to Hajimi. She was hooked – see what I did there.

———————————-

We’ve been to lots of sushi places since, and we’d found an acceptable one in nearly Wesley Chapel that is pretty good even though it’s sushi menu is pretty small. It also has good Thai food – our latest food passion.

But anyway, when we got the flier we were pretty intrigued by the place in Matthews. I didn’t even know the name of it at that point – Karen had read some of the choices from the menu and I thought it sounded good.

So we pried Garrett away from electronics and decided to take a shot.

And when we walked in Fujimi, there they were: Becky (which I’m positive isn’t her real name) and her husband from Hajimi. This was their new place. She gave Karen a hug, we spoke with him briefly and David, Garrett’s friend, came out to chat with us. It was great.

So was the food. It was like we were back at Hajimi, only fancier. Particularly good: The black pepper shrimp piece I got. I saved it until last, as I customarily do for what I think will be the best bite. Always leave on a high.

The waitress was quirky but friendly. Her name was Melissa but she urged us to call her Mel because it was easier to remember. She identified the sushi on the plate I ordered – she got a couple of pieces wrong – but she was a great waitress who kept us stocked with what we needed.

We had a coupon but we didn’t use it. Maybe next time. Or not. Good luck, my friends.

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