Monday, July 23, 2012

Pinball Addiction

Posted by Benson

I have always enjoyed pinball.  Pinball machines were always the first thing that I gravitated to in the local arcades when I was growing up, and I rarely ever turn down an opportunity to play pinball nowadays.

I love the visceral nature of playing pinball.  Unlike the video games that are so predominant today, pinball is a very physical, hands-on experience.  A pinball machine is a work of precision craftsmanship full of clever mechanical contraptions.  It clicks, whirls, thuds, thumps, bumps, and shakes.  The ball zooms around the game guided not by intangible, invisible algorithms, but by the physics of the natural world.  The machines have a life and a personality accrued through thousands of plays.  In short, I really enjoy playing pinball.

In the past, pinball has been something that I appreciated when the opportunity arose, but nowadays I have started to seek out pinball machines both at home and when I travel.  Sadly, I have discovered that it is not so easy to locate a pinball machine these days.  This fact does not surprise me.  Pinball machines are expensive and require a great deal of specialized maintenance.  They are also likely not as popular or profitable as the newest video games.

As much as I understand the difficulty of finding a pinball machine, the reality is nonetheless vexing.  Ironically, the challenge of tracking down a pinball machine is proper working order has only increased my growing need to play pinball.  Hyperbole aside, I feel that I may be on the cusp of becoming seriously interested in pinball.

At the moment, I would certainly not call myself a pinball connoisseur.  I do not know very much about what makes a pinball machine work.  I do not know the history of the machines or the companies that make them.  I have not even played a terribly diverse variety of pinball machines.  I do not own my own pinball machine...yet.  But I may just start down that road.

I came to this realization a short while ago when I was visiting my sister in Austin.  Austin is a very cool city with a hip vibe and a great deal of fun things to do.  One of those things happens to be an arcade called Pinballz (with the "Z" and everything).  Pinballz is aptly named as it is the loving host of more than one hundred different pinball machines in addition to an assortment of other classic arcade games.  What I wouldn't give for a Pinballz in New Orleans.

I spent an entire night in Pinballz until the management kicked me out at closing time, and now I've gotten my first really good fix of pinball in a long time.  I want more.  Luckily, I am not the only person with a growing pinball addition.  There are many others out in the world who have kindly taken the time to track down and locate pinball machines in just about every significant metropolitan area.  Sometimes it takes work to locate them, but I will do my best to create opportunities to play pinball when I am on the road.  It may not be long until I'm rearranging the furniture in my office to fit in a brand-new-to-me pinball machine.

Bar & Grill & Movie Theater

Posted by Benson

I think this is where we went, but admittedly I got very lost on the way there. 

Bar & Grill & Movie Theater - How have I not known about this phenomenon?

I recently went to Dallas for work and I went to see a friend of mine who lives in the area.  He suggested that we go to one of the most wonderful places imaginable: a movie theater that is also a bar and grill, that serves you while the movie is playing!  I was astonished.

Now, I have gathered that such places have existed for a while now, and that many of you may be thinking that I must have been oblivious for the past decade.  I would vehemently agree.  I do not understand how I did not know such places existed, but I am now mercifully in the know.

This is perfectly fine if all you're looking for is a movie on the big screen

I have seen movie theaters that serve beer, and ones that also have a substantial menu.  I have also heard of, but have not been to, theaters that allow you to enjoy the substantial menu while the movie is playing.  But the place I went to in Dallas was a true synthesis of the bar and grill and movie theater.

We were given full menus upon entering the theater, and the lay-z-boy-like seats were equipped with a call button.  When we wanted to order we pressed the call button and the waiter came right up to us in the theater, took our orders, and eventually returned with cold beer, nachos, and burgers.  They key here is that this all happened while the movie was playing, which is what I found so astounding.

But can't you have this too?

Obviously, this is an amazing innovation.  I am a huge fan of cinema, and I certainly appreciate why viewers would want to eschew such an experience.  It obviously encourages disruption of the film, however mild.  Even so, there are many movies during which I would find mild disruption to be not only acceptable, but laudable.  For example, the move we went to see that night was The Dictator with Sacha Baron Cohen.  It is an amusing movie, but definitely the kind of thing that is only ever enhanced by a trio of beers, a hot plate of nachos, and an atmosphere amenable to a tasteful amount of commentary and conversation.

This about sums up the movie.  It doesn't really go very far from this.

Ultimately, it feels more like watching a movie in your own amazingly awesome home theater than in a proper movie theater, which is the appeal.  Going to a movie with friends can often wind up being a rather staid experience in which the only appeal of going as a group (unless you also have before and/or after plans) is that the personal experience of seeing the movie becomes an experience shared with others.  Yet the depth of such a shared experience tends to be rather shallow, and primarily limited to the temporal linkage of the viewings, for even if you and I see the same film at slightly different times, we can still have a substantively similar conversation about it later.

There's little, if any, interaction in a theater (excepting of course two people on a date in which case the situation is entirely different).  You watch the movie in relative silence, not always even seated close to one another, and you leave. If the principle motivation of the outing is because you want to see the movie, that's perfectly fine.  In fact, I am a very strong proponent of silence in a movie theater.  If I am there to watch a movie, I want to watch the movie without interruptions.

Unless you're necking or ruining the movie with talking,
going to the movies might as well be like this regardless of who you're with

This is why I think that the bar & grill & movie format is such a great thing.  It is a much more social environment because it is not marred by the expectation of complete silence.  It can't possibly be, because the waiters walk right into the theater and take orders!  Sometimes you want to be able to talk during a movie.  Sometimes you you want to watch a movie on the big screen without taking it too seriously.  Sometimes you want to go see a movie, get a bite to eat, and have a few beers with your friends without being out all night.  Sometimes you want to have your cake and eat it too.  At the  bar & grill & movie theater you can do just that.  Now we just need to get one in New Orleans!

Creole Zydeco Farmers at ASTC Conference!

Posted by Benson

The Creole Zydeco Farmers is an absolutely awesome local Zydeco band.  You may remember reading about them in one of our earlier posts about the Abita Opry.

The Farmers put on an utterly unforgettable show at the Opry, and I absolutely wanted to see them perform again.  Last month the American Society of Trial Consultants held its annual conference in New Orleans, and the soon-to-be-president elect (Douglas Green) asked me to line up a musical act for one of the events.  Naturally, the Creole Zydeco Farmers were first on my list.

Not only were we able to get the Farmers to perform at our special Cajun Night and Crawfish Boil, but we were also able to record the performance thanks to our friends at Sights and Sounds!

The good news for all of you is that a video of the entire performance has been uploaded to the ASTC phanfare website.  Head on over to check out another amazing performance by the Creole Zydeco Farmers!

DGA Wine Club: The Patriots Merlot

Posted by Benson

The Patriots (2010) is a Merlot from the Maipo Valley in Chile.  The Maipo river, from which the valley takes its name, flows from its headwaters on the west slope of Maipo volcano in the Andes mountains down to the port of San Antonio on the Pacific.

The Maipo Valley is the most famous wine-producing region in Chile, best known for its well balanced red wines.  The Patriots is produced by Terra Andina Cellars from fruit grown on its estate in the upper region of the Maipo Valley.  

The vines are grown along the lower slopes of the Andes, more than 1,000 miles above sea level, and the mountains have a profound impact on the grapes grown there.  The rising sun must crest the Argentinian side of the peaks before it warms the vineyards in the afternoon, and cool mountain breezes slide down the mountains at night, locking in fresh flavors. 

The Wine

The Patriots is a vibrant purple-red wine with a floral aroma that contains strong, earthy undertones such as tobacco.  It is a smooth, drinkable 100% Merlot with a strong forward taste of black cherry that lingers on the palate.


We found The Patriots to be a bold wine with a flavor that stands up well to heavily spiced or smoked meats.  It pairs well with dark chocolate, rich pâté, and hummus.  The UK's What Food, What Wine awarded The Patriots with the trophy for 'Best Overall Red with Bangers and Mash.'  We heartily concur.  Although we did not pair The Patriots with bangers and mash, it has a sweetness that would complement strongly spiced sausage, and the boldness to stand up to such a rich and greasy dish.