Denver TACO FEST!

Denver Taco Fest

Date: June 27, 2015

It’s a festival!  Of Tacos!  The best food ever!  An idea itself worthy of a 9.99 rating; what could possibly go wrong?

A lot, apparently.  To start, they couldn’t have picked a worse location.  It was in a commercial/industrial zone.  This caused several problems.  There was no parking, we parked ¾ mile away – which okay, I get to work off a few extra tacos.  But, having to park so far away, we were forced to walk on a busy road with no sidewalk (because it is an industrial area), then cross that same busy road just to get into the festival.  Next, instead of the pleasant aroma of tacos, we were greeted by that wonderful Denver industrial-by-product smell.  Finally, we were crammed on to a small street of gravel and broken glass, surrounded by warehouse buildings.  For those that have been to Taste of Chicago, imagine a similar set up on Congress, but instead of a nice big park on either side to escape the crowds there are buildings.  Only one of which was accessible – the tequila expo ($20 ticket, just to get in).

Next problem:  The whole event needs streamlining.  As we arrived, there was a giant queue to get in, despite having prepaid tickets in hand.  The holdup was twofold.  First, prepaid tickets and tickets-at-the-door formed the same line.  Second, they were checking everyone’s ID, even if you didn’t plan on drinking.  Once inside, they didn’t have a ticket system for the food – rather you paid each vendor, causing backups everywhere.  I’ve seen shorter lines at Disney.

They did have some good ideas; they had a stage set up for live music.  They also had a wrestling ring, for some Mexican wrestling.  There was Chihuahua racing somewhere.  Fun ideas, but only added to the congestion.

On to the food! [Reminder, ratings guide at the top of the page]

The first vendor I visited, Spicy Mexican Catering, had both the best taco of the day and the worst taco of the day.  It also offered the friendliest service, the host chatted with every customer, not just taking orders.  At three tacos for $6, I got one of each, chicken, steak, and pork.  The chicken taco was not good (5.5).  It had a flat acidic taste and was otherwise severely underseasoned.  The steak was in the middle (7.5), a bit dry, but probably to be expected from sitting in a chafing dish.  (The vendors had to fight a tough balancing act – prepare for the onslaught by preparing the meat ahead of time, and risk being dry; or do made-to-order tacos, taking longer, but backing up the line, and risk people walking away.)  Finally, the best taco of the day was the pork al pastor (8.5) – as was predicted by the friendly host.  It had all the greasy, spicy, savory goodness that I was looking for in a taco.  The condiment bar was self-serve (a definite bonus as some trucks did not do this), but I believe I didn’t put enough cilantro/onion on my taco, because that would have pushed the score even higher.  Bonus: Came with a Chili Colorado – a flavorful, but non-spicy pepper.  No extra charge.  Vendor Rating: 7.63

The next vendor, La Tapatia, also prepared the meat ahead of time and sat in chafing dishes.  It showed.  All the meat here was dry, especially the Barbacoa taco (6.1).  It was swimming in juice yet it still managed to be dry – not sure how they managed that.  It was nowhere near the quality of Chipotle; even I make a better Barbacoa.  The steak taco here was also pretty dry (6.3); I think they used too lean of a cut, it really could have used some fat to make it a bit juicier.  The pork taco was once again the best of the lot (7.1), but not nearly as good as Spicy Mexican Catering.  I got the three tacos for $6.  Vendor Rating: 6.6

Chile Billy’s, is not for the math challenged.  They offered two different tacos – a Carnitas taco for $2 and an Adobo Chicken taco for $3.  They offered “Any 3 tacos for $8.”  There are four different combinations of three tacos – One saves you money by getting the deal; a second combination is the same price regardless; the final two combinations you actually spend more by getting their “deal.”  The Carnitas taco (8.1) came with a chipotle cherry sauce that was outstanding.  It was sweet and spicy and highly unique as no other vendor had it (that I saw).  The carnitas part of the taco was unmemorable (if you are wondering why it didn’t usurp the pork al pastor at SMC).  So far I haven’t mentioned the tortillas – they have complemented the tacos very well, but they haven’t added anything.  That changed with the Adobo Chicken taco.  All the tacos were soft shell, and then grilled for a bit, this one, by chance, got a little extra grill and had a slight crisp to it that added a different dimension that I haven’t had yet.  The chicken adobo taco (8.3) had a great char taste – definitely one of my favorite tacos, I only wish I had added their chipotle cherry sauce to this taco as well.  [They also had a self-serve condiment bar.]  Vendor Rating: 8.1

At this point, I was getting very thirsty (especially when you look at all my taco ratings that include the word dry) and the crowded nature of the festival came into play again.  There were only two drink vendors, the first, right by my table, was wrapped all the way around the food trucks.  The second was all on the other end of the street, but the line was shorter.  I waited in the “short” line for 40 minutes to get a $6 beer.

Once refreshed, I hopped in a relatively short line, Chivi’s, to get a unique taco that I have wanted to try all my life – the Lengua (or beef tongue) taco.  I get about five people from the front of the line when they erase the one taco I wanted to try from their chalkboard menu.  This was three hours into a two-day event and they have already run out of food.  Frustrated, I go to another vendor.  Tempted to give this truck a 1.0, but instead I’ll leave it unrated.

The final stop of the day is Dude Bro Taco.  Only the final stop of the day because I can’t take the lines anymore.  It took almost an hour to get through this line, despite “only” two dozen people in front of me.  A far less math challenged place as the taco prices were 1 for $4, 2 for $7, and 3 for $9.  They had two different meats, carnitas and brisket.  They get bonus points for having guacamole as an option ($0.50 per taco).  The carnitas taco (6.5) needed more seasoning.  The brisket taco (8.0) was a good solid overall taco, though it was more BBQ-y than taco-y.  If that is the worst thing you can say about a taco, you are doing OK.  Vendor Rating: 6.83

I wish I could have sampled more fare from more vendors, but it took me three hours to visit only four food vendors and one beer vendor.  I never found Comida, this year’s winner of the taco festival.  I don’t feel bad about skipping the pizza truck or the truck with pictures of hamburgers on it.  They sold tacos, but I was looking for a bit more authenticity.  I also passed on the Chinese truck, but in fairness, they were Latin/Asian fusion – an interesting combination.  I missed a number of other trucks as well, but more because I didn’t want to stand in line anymore.

Needless to say I found this to be a very disappointing event.  There could be a number of improvements.  First, a new location.  This has the feel of a festival that has grown too big for its current location.  A nice grassy field, with room to spread out would be much better.  Second, better parking and some sort of crossing guard, so that all the drunk people don’t get hit by a car leaving the event.  Third, streamline the entry process with prepaid ticket holders in one swift moving line, and tickets-at-the-door in another line.  Fourth, once inside, have big signs that say you need a wristband to get alcohol.  The have an optional line for the wristbands inside the event.  Fifth, create a ticket system for taco purchases to help expedite the lines at the food vendors.  Part of the holdup was the constant exchange of cash.  A centralized location for payment would help.  Fourth, more drink vendors.  A lot more.  Dehydration is a bad thing.

Most importantly, a special thank you to my beautiful girlfriend for putting up with the event.  Not only can she not have tacos, she can’t have a single ingredient in the tacos.  She saved a spot at a table for me, in the shade, while I stood in line for hours.

WWYT Rating: 5.07

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Book Review: Making Money

Making Money

Author: Terry Pratchett

Published: 2007

When Terry Pratchett died earlier this year, all of my sci-fi writerly-type friends mourned his loss on Facebook.  Up until that point, I had never heard of him.  But, I made a note to check out his work if I ever got the chance.  That chance came sooner than I expected.  After volunteering at Denver Public Library’s used book sale, as I was perusing the books (volunteers receive a discount) I found a Terry Pratchett book – Making Money.  For a couple dollars, it was worth trying a new author that I had heard good things about.

Making Money centers on Moist von Lipwig, the postmaster general for Ankh-Morpork.  He inherits a dog, that happens to be chairman of the bank.  This makes Moist the de facto chairman.  He has some radical ideas about what to do, and is now the enemy of the richest family in the city.  The situation further complicated by von Lipwig not knowing anything about banking.

I’m sorry it took me this long to discover Pratchett’s work.  The book was very funny (in case you missed the part about the dog being chairman of the bank).  While reading it, I was thinking it was similar to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but not as off-the-wall silly.  In retrospect, however, it might be closer to Catch-22 in style.  Here is my favorite (or at least most memorable) quote:

“Y’see, it costs a ha’penny to make a farthin’ an’ nearly a penny to make a ha’penny.  A penny comes in at a penny farthin’.  Sixpences cost tuppence farthin’, so we’re in pocket there.  Half a dollar cost seven pence.  And it’s only sixpence to make a dollar, a definite improvement, but that’s ‘cos we does ‘em here.  The real buggers are the mites, ‘cos they’re worth half a farthin’ but cost sixpence ‘cos it’s fiddly work, bein’ so small and have got that hole in the middle.  The thrupenny bit, sir, we’ve only got a couple of people makin’ those, a lot of work which runs out at seven pence.  And don’t ask me about the tupenny piece!”

“What about the tupenny piece?”

“I’m glad you asked me that, sir….”

With all the humor, I felt like I was missing some of the jokes – references to things I knew little about.  So I looked up the book, and it turns out that this is part of his Discworld series.  The Discworld series has 40 books, with number 41 coming out posthumously in a couple months.  (Forty-one?! 41 books?  Goddammit, my reading list is never going to get smaller is it?)  Even though it is part of a series, it felt pretty well self-contained.  There was a beginning, middle, and an end.  [Spoiler Alert]No one is stabbed in the back, and we don’t have to wait years and years to find out if they are alive or dead, unlike some other series I read.  [/Spoiler Alert]

This was a good fun read, I am glad I found out about him (though not the circumstances how I found out about him).  I’ll go back and read the other books in the series, though it might be a while before I get there with my book queue the way it is.

WWYT Rating: 7.5

Killjoys

killjoys poster

Airs: Fridays on SyFy Network @ 9pm EDT

Review: Pilot Episode

I have to admit I may be a bit biased on this review.  The premise for this show revolves around a group of intergalactic bounty hunters.  I am writing a novel that has…intergalactic bounty hunters.  Though I am not sure whether I will be biased for it (it’s my idea!), or against it (they stole my idea!).

The opening scene was predictable, but not unenjoyable.  John Jaqobis (played by Aaron Ashmore – you might remember him from such shows as Smallville and Warehouse 13), is tied up by the bad guys.  His partner, Dutch, is “captured.”  If you knew it was all a part of the plan, give yourself a gold star, or maybe just a silver one, because it was so obvious.  Still it was fun to watch them work together to bring down the bad guy.

Dutch is a strong female lead who can kick some ass, which is always good.  She is definitely the most interesting character, with a dark, mysterious background.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about John – he isn’t very interesting.  They didn’t drop any information about his background and I didn’t really want to find out more about him.  His brother, D’avin, is more interesting than John is – he has PTSD from the war (what war?)  Why did he lose contact with his family for eight years?

On the positive side, the show is set up for some tension within this team that they have created.  Everything won’t be hunky dory between them and that can create some interesting episodes.  Though, I think a stereotypical love triangle would be annoying, so I hope they don’t go in that direction.

One of the great difficulties in science fiction is immersing an audience in a different world, without over-explaining the world to that audience.  I think the show did a decent job of building the world for us, but it was noticeable when they did it.  I don’t know whether that is because it was sloppy or I am just hyper-aware of it because I am trying to do the same in my novel.  However, I will say that despite being set in space in the “J Star Cluster; Quad Planet” there was a distinct lack of “alienness.”  This episode contained exactly zero aliens, with zero mention of any aliens.  They went to a different planet and raided a 20th century house.  In short, I am not sure why this is taking place in space.  This could easily just be set on Earth 10-15 years in the future.

The biggest red flag to me is that John knows absolutely nothing about Dutch, despite “doing everything together, but sleep together.”  I found this to be incredibly unrealistic.  When D’avin calls John on it, John deflects back on him about abandoning his family.  Very poorly done and could be a sign of future writing problems.

Despite some of the flaws, I found it enjoyable.  There were some lighthearted lines (not all dark and broody like so many of SyFy’s recent shows).  The action scenes were solid and the toys were kinda cool.  The show definitely has potential (of course it does, it was my idea!).  But, it all depends upon which direction they take it –it can be a good mix of funny and suspenseful or the sloppy writing about the partners not knowing each other very well could take center stage.  Also, John needs to be developed beyond one dimension.

WWYT Rating: 6.49 (Ratings legend)

Nielsen Ratings: 0.26.  Low, but it is on cable on a Friday night and Syfy’s original programming is suffering.

Renewal Projection: 75%.  The ratings are average for a SyFy show, but some flaws could plunge the ratings to near zero.

The Astronaut Wives Club

The_Astronaut_Wives_Club_abc_logo

The Astronaut Wives Club or “The Real Housewives of Cape Canaveral”

Airs: Thursdays on ABC at 8/7c.

Review: Pilot episode.

A lot of TV shows start sometime in the future, usually with the hero or heroine in danger, then we flashback to sometime earlier.  I hate this format.  99% of the time when a TV show does this it is completely unnecessary.  If you just tell the story in a nice linear format, you would get the same effect.  The exception that proves the rule, Breaking Bad.  They were brilliant at this – they put the characters in a “WTF?!” situation and we are left wondering how they got to that point from where we are now.  Then they built to that situation through a single episode or multiple episodes.  Hint to all TV shows, unless the characters are in an unusual situation, then the flash forward opening scene is unnecessary.  The reason I mention this is that The Astronaut Wives Club (AWC) starts with this very format, showing a scene, then flashing back two years earlier.  It was already off on a bad foot with me.

As we are introduced to the wives from two years ago, we find them to be catty and bitchy toward one another.  It is what I’d expect to see on a “Real Housewives of Wherever” type show.  [I am just guessing because, I have never seen one.  Nor will I ever, if all goes according to plan].  What little we see of the husbands, we find them to be drunken philanderers.  Basically, we are left not liking the women or the men.  We’ll call that strike two.

The show spends the first 20-30 minutes setting up the women to be adversaries as they attempt to help get their husbands to become the first men in space.  It at least explains some of the cattiness of these women.  Then through the magic of the “spinning magazine,” we jump forward two years.  [I don’t remember if they actually spun the magazine, but they might as well have].  The magazine shows the three men selected to go into space.  You read that right, they literally skipped over the plot that they were building in the first 30 minutes of the show.  Definitely strike three.  I turned it off after 40 minutes.

This show was clearly not for me.  It does have some positive points.  The cast is actually pretty good with Joanna Garcia Swisher from Reba, Yvonne Strahovski from Chuck, and Domnique McElligott from Hell on Wheels.  If you like the Real Housewives series, you might like the latest installment –The Real Housewives of Cape Canaveral.  Though I warn you, it might have less of a plot.

Rating: 3.00 (A legend for Ratings found here.)

Nielsen Rating: 1.1, in the fall, this would be a death knell, but in the summer, this is an acceptable rating.  Ratings typically fall after a pilot episode, and that could spell trouble for the future of this show.

Renewal Chances: 50%, initial ratings and potential appeal to people who aren’t me prop it up.  Quality drags it down.

Bonus Theory: I think that they skipped over the two years because they will come back to it throughout the season.  I suspect that each episode will focus on a different wife (the Pilot focused on Alan Sheppard’s wife; episode 2 will focus on someone else likely with a similarly bad format)

Welcome

Welcome to the first post on What’s Worth Your Time.  So what is worth your time?  Hopscotch?  Origami?  Playing with Porcelain Dolls?  Maybe, but that isn’t what this blog is about.  It’s about TV, movies, books, food and drink and whether it is worth your time to watch, read, eat or drink it.

We’re all busy people and we like to enjoy ourselves when we relax.  There is nothing worse than sitting down to relax by trying out a new TV show only to wish you had that hour of your life back.  Or, shelling out $20 for a movie, hoping that the money isn’t wasted.  Or, hating the book your reading, and fighting the urge to quit reading while pushing forward, hoping it will get better.  Or, going to that new restaurant only to overpay for a small portion of mediocre food (At least it is only a small portion of mediocre food –it might be worse if it were a large portion of mediocre food.)

This blog’s goal is to save you from wasting your time on the bad stuff, allowing you to focus on the good stuff.  In other words –I’m a critic.  After all, everyone is.  The problem with reading someone else’s critiques is that you don’t know their tastes.  They could love something that you hate, or vice versa.  So here is an outline of my tastes—

TV:  Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t watch “reality” TV, but I’m a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy shows.  You could say that the more unrealistic the show, the better the chance that I am going to like it.  The key elements to a successful show are in order of importance to me, are 1) characters: I will forgive many sins if I like the characters and want to root for them.  If I hate the protagonist, then the show is done for me.  2) Plot: Where is the show going?  If it is too difficult to follow, or doesn’t make sense, then it will lose my viewership, immediately.  Another example of something that gets me to stop watching a show almost immediately:  If the plot revolves around Person A not telling Person B something then there is no show, because why aren’t they talking?  3) Premise:  If you have an interesting premise, then I will tune in to check it out.  This however, only gets your foot in the door.  4) Acting: I can forgive bad acting.  I know many people who can’t, and will stop watching immediately.  Anything short of openly reading a cue card on camera I’ll probably tolerate.  I’ll try to point out bad acting for those less tolerant.

Movies: Fair warning, my Netflix queue is about three to four years behind the movie theater releases.  I, in general, look for the same things as in a TV show, though plot and premise have increased importance.  In addition, the ending needs to fit with the film.  It doesn’t need to be a happy ending, but it needs to make sense.

Books: I read a lot of High Fantasy.  You won’t find a review of a mystery novel here.  You will find some classic novels.  I branch out every so often into other genre’s, but don’t expect to see the Twilight
Saga
reviewed here.

Food & Drink: I love food.  I would describe myself as a “foodie.”  The only food I dislike is asparagus.  To me it tastes like licking a penny.  Other than that, I eat everything.  My favorite cuisine is Mexican food and I could probably eat it for every meal.  I eat all foods though, but when I go out, I tend to not get pasta because most of the time, I can make it just as well at home for a fraction of the cost.  A few idiosyncrasies: I prefer a cheese plate to a sweet desert and I am compelled to get French Onion Soup anytime it is on the menu.

By now, you now have a sense of my tastes.  If you agree with them, you can follow my blog and my recommendations.  If you don’t agree with them, follow my blog anyway,then just do the opposite!  Click on the Ratings Legend at the top of the page for a description of my ratings and an example in each category.

Finally, I hope that this blog is Worth Your Time.