Sunday, July 31, 2022

return of the grievous angel

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about online review sites and it got me thinking. Regular readers of my other blog (all four of you) may recall a post from 2019 about featured "Dead Celebrity" Gram Parsons. Gram, a singer, songwriter and one-time member of the psychedelic-folk band The Byrds, was a pioneer in what has come to be known as the "alt-country" music genre. What started out as an account of the harrowing, now-infamous episode surrounding Gram's death and the fate of his remains, turned into another example of why I love reading reviews on Trip Advisor and why I love the internet. Here's the story, as it appeared on December 13, 2019....

In the summer of 1973, while attending the funeral of Clarence White, a musical colleague and member of the country-rock band The Kentucky Colonels, Gram Parsons, the singer-songwriter-guitarist who was influential in the "alt-country genre," instructed his friend and manager Phil Kaufman to cremate his body at Joshua Tree National Park when his time came. He wanted his ashes spread at the Cap Rock site at the park, which was a favorite spot of the singer. Little did he know that time would come just a few months later. In September, Gram Parsons overdosed on morphine and alcohol in Room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn

In a series of clumsy, ill-conceived incidents, Kaufman intercepted Gram's body at the Los Angeles Airport (in a stolen hearse) and drove it back to Joshua Tree to fulfill the singer's last wishes. However, nearby campers reported the heavy smoke from the make-shift "cremation." The remains were retrieved and Phil was arrested a few days later. He was fined $750 for the theft of the coffin. (At the time, there were no laws on the books regarding the theft of a corpse.) What was left of Gram's body was returned to his stepfather for a burial in New Orleans, which was later revealed to be an ulterior motive in order to lay claim to Gram's chunk of a family inheritance. 

When I was doing research for this story, I stumbled upon a number of reviews on Trip Advisor for the Joshua Tree Inn, which is still in operation. The hacienda-style hotel is situated on a desolate stretch of Twentynine Palms Highway in the Mojave Desert, just north of Palm Springs and offers homey accommodations for visitors to the national park, as well as rock and roll curiosity seekers. The infamous Room 8 is available for those who need a personal connection to Gram Parsons. The room is marked with a guitar-shaped sculpture outside. The interior, however, is completely redecorated, save for a large mirror that management notes: "where Gram Parsons saw the last glimpse of himself." How eerie

The Trip Advisor website is a source of valuable information, in addition to being unintentionally entertaining. Personally, I love to browse the "terrible" reviews* given to hotels by angry guests looking for an outlet to vent their frustrations of a "less than satisfactory" lodging experience. A few years ago, while searching for a hotel in Anaheim, California, I read a review for a particular establishment that, along with the usual complaints about cleanliness and service, claimed the place was haunted. I began to read the current reviews for the Joshua Tree Inn, narrowing the criteria to only those in the "Terrible" category. The filter yielded twelve reviews. As I read, I noticed that a member of the hotel's staff had left a response to nearly every review, addressing the concerns and complaints noted in each. While the hotel doesn't have the capability to remove a bad review, it is offered a platform for rebuttal and clarification. 
 
In 2012, a disgruntled traveler from Atlanta, Georgia levied a "terrible" review against the Joshua Tree Inn. They began their assessment by saying that they should have opted to stay at the Holiday Inn Express down the street. Then, they laid into the place, complaining about the out-of-date d├ęcor and the "brick-hard" mattress that also squeaked. They mentioned the paper-thin walls, allowing guests to hear everything that was going on in adjoining rooms. They went on to gripe about the thermostat, the bathroom lighting and even the complementary breakfast, which they described as "a half jug of milk and some old bagels." They did, however, praise the landscaping, specifically the lovely and fragrant lilacs that are planted throughout the property. On the whole, the review was scathing. Although there are 134 "Excellent" reviews, one would think twice about staying at the Joshua Tree Inn after reading this. 
 
A month after the Atlanta traveler unleashed his venomous diatribe, "jtinn," identified as the Joshua Tree Inn's "Guest Relations Manager," offered this reply:
Mistaken identity. Review is not of the Joshua Tree Inn. We do not have bagels or jugs of milk, or lilacs, or noisey [sic] beds There is no Holiday Inn Express down the road. Nor have we had a couple from Atlanta, Ga. in April or anytime this year. Clearly you have confused us with an inn in 29 Palms.
The 29 Palms Inn is 16 miles away from the Joshua Tree Inn. It is also a hacienda-style hotel with a big, identifying sign out front. It has a similar variety of good and bad reviews on Trip Advisor. Maybe the folks from Atlanta were taking their "Gram Parsons" pilgrimage a bit too seriously and dipped into the hallucinogens. 

* Trip Advisor has five categories of user ratings: Excellent, Good, Average, Poor and Terrible.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

never gonna give you up

My wife and I had Phillies season tickets for 18 seasons and we were pretty avid baseball fans. Besides going to Phillies games, we would watch other, out-of-market games on TV and even visit other ballparks. We wouldn't necessarily go to other cities when the Phillies were the visiting team (as a matter of fact, we would prefer not to). We liked to compare Philadelphia's stadium to other city's stadiums. (All were much better than the giant toilet bowl that was Veterans Stadium, but after 2004, nothing compared to beautiful Citizens Bank Park. Fight me!) We also liked to to see how other teams handled the "fan experience," including available concessions, ease of parking and stadium entry and how fans were made to "feel at home" and be "part of the game." (With the exception of the Phillie Phanatic — the greatest mascot in the Major Leagues — the Phillies experience leaves a lot to be desired.)

We gave up our season tickets in 2014. Actually, we kind of gave up on baseball, as well. We stopped watching games and we stopped visiting other ball parks. But, just this year, while on the hunt for outdoor activities in the (fingers crossed) waning days of the worldwide pandemic, we began to go back to baseball. We've already been to a few games here in Philadelphia and yesterday we even ventured to Washington, DC to visit Nationals Park. We made plans with Mrs. P's Virginia-based cousins who, for reasons that are still unclear to me, are rabid Atlanta Braves fans. The Nationals were playing the Braves, so this would be a great opportunity for a particular family member who, at sixteen years old, would be attending his first Major League baseball game.

The Atlanta Braves began life in the latter part of the 19th century as the Boston Braves, adopting a Native American in a feathered headdress as their logo. They relocated to Milwaukee in 1953, still keeping the stereotypical Native American motif as part of their uniforms and team logo. The team moved to Atlanta in 1966, still clinging to, and even elaborating on, the cartoonish portrayal of Native Americans, including a depiction of a "laughing Indian" as the team logo. They added the presence of "Chief Noc-A-Homa" at Braves' home games, who would emerge from his left field teepee and dance when a home run was hit by a home team player. Russell Means, an actor and Native American activist and advocate, complained about "Chief Noc-A-Homa," citing the name as "derogatory" and his actions as "insulting" to Native Americans. Instead of sympathy and re-examination of the concept, the Braves PR department explained that the actor who portrayed the character at the ball park was, himself, Native American and therefore validated the whole scenario. It was essentially a kiss-off to Means and his accusations. In 1991, stadium organist Carolyn King began to play a stereotypical, yet familiar, "Indian" riff for most Braves' at-bats. When coupled with the distribution of oversized foam tomahawks, the infamous "tomahawk chop" was born. Once the Braves became a pennant contender, fans were relentless. They wielded their foam "weapons," or just their outstretched palm, in a mock "chopping" motion when the Braves scored a run or made a spectacular play. Soon, the action could be spotted in other stadiums when the Braves were the visiting team.

When protests were levied against the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins regarding their team names and practices, their respective management examined their options. Sure, it took a while (In DC, it took a few years. In Cleveland, it took decades), but eventually, they did the right thing. In 2018, Cleveland removed all reference to "Chief Wahoo," the long-time mascot depicted as an exaggerated caricature of a Native American. At the end of the 2021 season, it was announced that the team would be renamed "The Guardians" to start the 2022 season, the new name being a reference to the iconic sculpted figures on the Hope Memorial Bridge in downtown Cleveland. The Redskins, cited by Native American groups to be just as offensive as the unspoken "N-word," ditched the racist moniker and went with the generic "Washington Football Team" for two seasons while a new name was selected. The 2022 season will see the team rechristened the "Commanders," while sporting a stylized, though rather nondescript, "W" on their uniforms.

But the Braves are standing firm. Sure, they slowly eliminated the "laughing Indian" from team uniforms, but they kept the bright red tomahawk, still displayed prominently across players' chests. The Braves' front office claims the team's relationship with the Native American community is "a proud expression of unification and family." Spokespeople from the Native American community beg to differ.  

In the 2019 post-season, the Braves were facing the St. Louis Cardinals in the Division Series. Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, a vocal member of the Cherokee Nation, expressed his dismay about the controversial "tomahawk chop" and its accompanying chant by fans. The pitcher said he found the fans' chanting and arm-motions insulting and that the chop depicts natives "in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren't intellectual." Upon hearing this sentiment, the Braves discontinued the sale and distribution of the popular foam tomahawks. The stadium organist was instructed to immediately stop playing and inciting the "chop." Related graphics would no longer be displayed on the stadium scoreboard. The Braves then released a statement saying they would "continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the overall in-game experience" and that they would continue a "dialogue with those in the Native American community after the postseason concludes." Various Native American groups continued to condemn the Braves' actions. Even in the aftermath of Cleveland and Washington changing their team names, the Braves announced on-going discussions regarding the "chop," but defiantly stated that the team name will remain unchanged.

At Saturday's Nationals-Braves match-up at Nationals Park, I saw a substantial representation of Braves fans, identified by the abundance of tomahawk-emblazoned jerseys and t-shirts scattered throughout the seating area. After a lackluster beginning, the Braves lit up in the top of the third inning when first-baseman Matt Olson took a 1-0 fastball over the fence, scoring two teammates who were already on base. This prompted the visiting Braves faithful to rise from their seats and enact the notorious "tomahawk chop" and its equally-notorious low, throaty chant. A solo home run in the very next at-bat by third-baseman Austin Riley kept 'em standing and kept 'em chanting. Mrs. Pincus's young cousin and his father were cheerfully waving their outstretched arms, joining in on the rebellious activity. Sideways looks and silent jeers be damned! These are our Atlanta Braves! Proud team! Proud rituals! Proudly confrontational! The Nationals fans (if there really are any), the casual baseball fans and those just looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon sat quietly, sort of like the victim of a relentless bully.

I felt like I was being Rick-rolled.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

this is my cayman review

After many trips to Walt Disney World in Florida, my family and I decided to venture out to the west coast and see what Disneyland was all about. When we planned vacations to Florida, my wife and I were already pretty familiar with the accommodations that were available in our price range in Central Florida. We had gotten information from travel agents or friends who had taken similar trips or just from scouting around the area on trips that we had previously taken. We were familiar with the tourist-y areas and with various hotel chains. Of course, we had our share of bad experiences (referenced in this post), but they only served to narrow our list of possible choices on subsequent visits.

When we began making plans for our California vacation, we had a new resource available to us — the internet. Yessir! The good old Information Superhighway, chockful of all sorts of information to make planning a trip a veritable breeze. No longer were the services of a travel agent required. Just log on to a hotel chain website and booking a room could be accomplished from the convenience of your home while wearing pajamas. Then, click on over to Disney's website and purchase admission tickets. Other amenities, like a rental car or admission to side trips, could be secured in much the same manner. As time went on and technology advanced at lightning speed, websites like Expedia and Travelocity and dozens more were popping up, consolidating all of these actions and all making vacation plans so simple that anyone could serve as their own travel agent.

Along with ease and convenience, another aspect of vacation planning became available — reviews and recommendations. Websites like Yelp and Trip Advisor offered potential travelers honest reviews from fellow travelers — people just like you. Folks who visited particular hotels were encouraged to leave a review of their experience, whether good or bad. These reviews were meant to be helpful to other people in choosing accommodations based on the experiences of Mr. and Mrs. Average American Vacationer. So, when I was deciding which Anaheim California hotel would be our home for the five days and four nights we would spend at Disneyland, I read reviews for many hotels in the area.

Oh  boy!

First, I read just the positive reviews of a number of chain hotels (Best Western, Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn), all within walking distance of the theme park. "Wonderful," "Clean," "Warm and welcoming" was the general consensus for these establishments. Then I started to read the negative reviews for the same time period. "Horrible!," "Staff is rude," "Filthy!" read a few. How could some people have had good experiences and others hellish experiences within the same week of stay? The more I read, the more entertained I was by these reviews. I had forgotten that I set out to book a hotel room for a family trip to Disneyland. Instead, I became focused on these harrowing tales of horrendous experiences that these poor families were subjected to. In a flurry of colorful language, one poor reviewer told of giant insects, brown water from the faucets, burns on the carpet, leaking ceilings, unidentified stains on the bed sheets and a staff that chose to ignore their complaints. Another spoke of "unpleasant smells" and "loud noises outside the room." However, a subsequent post, time-stamped just a few days after two I just read, spoke glowingly about the sparkling cleanliness of the room, the bountiful free breakfast, the big bowl of fresh fruit at the front desk and the lovely, friendly, professional employees. Could all these reviews be about the same place? Did they clean up their act and ditch their entire workforce in the time between when these comments were written? How could that possibly be?

I read on. Things got more interesting.

One reviewer of the independent Candy Cane Inn, a longtime and popular neighbor of Disneyland right there on Harbor Boulevard, complained about his room being haunted. "As I lay in my bed," he wrote, "I saw cabinets open and close. I heard strange noises and saw furniture move. I packed my stuff up and immediately demanded a refund. Will never stay again." Another recent visitor to the same hotel gushed about the stellar accommodations and the attentive staff, noting that the Candy Cane Inn is her "go-to" place when in the Anaheim area. We actually ended up staying in a Best Western across the street from Disneyland. A review I read, while offering glowing praise, pointed out that the lines delineating parking spaces in the lot were particularly narrow. Well, indeed they were. It was very difficult to open the doors and exit our rental car if there was another car parked on either side. Otherwise, the place was very nice.

Over the years, I have used Yelp and Trip Advisor as a guide in choosing accommodations for vacation destinations other that a Disney resort. Recently, Mrs. Pincus and I went to Jamestown, New York and stayed at a very nice La Quinta Hotel that was in a pretty shitty neighborhood. The hotel itself was brightly lit when we pulled into the parking lot at nearly one in the morning. We were greeted by a number is unsavory looking folks just sort-of hanging around the otherwise deserted lot. But, once we checked in, the room was nice and clean. The following morning, the lobby was bustling with guests enjoying the free breakfast, as advertised on the La Quinta website. In the daylight hours, the shady element had retreated, only to return once evening arrived. I covered all of this in the review I wrote when we got home. No other review had mentioned anything similar to our experience. 

A few weeks later, Mrs. P and I headed to New Haven, Connecticut. I booked a room at another La Quinta, having been satisfied by the one in Jamestown (well, the hotel anyway) and expecting a chainwide consistency. I briefly read some online reviews, but could not come to any solid conclusion. Some were good. Some were bad. Well, when we arrived, the area looked to be very unappealing. This La Quinta had seen better days. The building was sun-bleached and old. It was surrounded by several fenced-in yards filled with rusty industrial equipment and machinery. There was a seemingly-closed restaurant attached to the main building that lit up with life at nightfall. The nearly-empty parking lot became packed with cars, bringing folks — dressed to the nines — who filed in and out the restaurant. The staff inside the La Quinta were uninformed when asked about check-out times and travel distances to nearby attractions. And their advertised free breakfast (a staple of the La Quinta chain) was a paper bag with an apple, a granola bar and a room temperature yogurt. None of this was in any review I read.... but it probably should have been. That would have been helpful.

I decided that reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor for hotels (and I suppose restaurants, bars and anything else) are just there as a writing exercise for people hoping to be considered for an college scholarship. Or perhaps they are all budding horror novelists.

Or maybe they are just doing this to entertain me.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

my prerogative


Recently, my outlook has changed. When I was an avid baseball fan, I would often hear other fans scream things like "Yankees suck!" Well, based on fact, that is incorrect. The Yankees have won more World Series titles (way more!) that any other team in the history of American professional baseball. Coming from a city whose baseball team holds the dubious record (based on factual statistics and years of record keeping) of the most losses in professional sports history, not just baseball, I know a thing or two about "what sucks" and what does not.

I love music. I have listened to music since I was a little kid, starting with nursery rhyme records played on my little Close & Play record player. As a pre-teen, I bought 45 RPM singles (with my own money), then full albums and, of course, I recorded hits off the radio with my little cassette recorder. I made mix tapes (and later mix CDs) and went to dozens and dozens of concerts. I have always been open to all types of music, all genres and a wide variety of musicians and singers. I can honestly say I have favorites in many different styles of music. Music does not suck. Music cannot suck. Unlike baseball, where detailed records are kept, music appeal is purely subjective. Its greatness or "terribleness" cannot even be based on record sales or concert revenue, because not all music appeals to all people. Like or dislike of music is purely and solely personal opinion. O-PIN-ION! However, most people get very, very offended if you don't like a band or singer that they like. They take it personally, as if they have some sort of vested interest in a particular singer's career. (They don't.) They act as self-appointed publicists for bands that don't know they exist. It's just music. It's not a contest. There's no right or wrong answer. You can like who you wish. It's just opinion and opinions are meaningless (like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). So, instead of saying "That band sucks!" I will say, "I don't care for them." Obviously, there is music that I like that someone else does not like and vice-versa. And that doesn't bother me. I won't try to convince you to see things my way. You are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine.

While I like a lot of music, I also dislike a lot of music. There are bands and singers I simply don't care for, but I will listen to their music if it comes on the radio. It's funny, the music I really dislike is from five specific artists. They are popular artists, very popular, as a matter of fact. Individually, they have sold millions of records. They all have rabid fans who have loved and followed their careers for decades. They have all been honored with industry awards and four of the five have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as if that means anything). The three artists that are still with us continue to sell out shows. The two that have passed on regularly appear at the top of those "If Only I Could See Them Perform" lists that frequently pop up on social media sites.

But I don't like any of them. While I certainly understand the appeal of four of the five, they just don't do it for me. I can appreciate their impact on music in general, their songwriting ability, their musical innovation, their influence. Four out of five, that is. But, in most cases, I will instantly change the radio station within the first few notes of  hearing a song by these five particular artists.

I sure hope you read and understood the big red "WARNING" at the top of this blog post, because I am about to name names. I'm pretty sure someone will be offended.


5. Jimi Hendrix.
 In the immortal words of Lina Lamont: "I caaaaan't stan' 'im!" I do understand his appeal and his reverence among guitar players. But, I find Jimi Hendrix's songs to be repetitive and uninspired. Often, they come across as just a five minute session of tuning up. Sure, perhaps I would feel differently if I, myself, was a guitar player. I have seen Jimi interviewed on old TV shows and he seemed like a nice, personable, humble guy... even a little shy. But his songs are maddening to me. Aimless improvisational exercises in "Look at what I can make my guitar do!" The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. His Rock and Roll Hall of Fame biography says "Jimi was arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music." I'd argue.

4. Janis Joplin.
A staple among the disciples of "classic rock," Janis Joplin was been given the same ethereal status as James Dean or Marilyn Monroe. She died young and she will forever be young and vibrant. But, Janis Joplin's voice just gets under my skin. She screams. No... she shrieks, as though in pain. Perhaps, that is part of her musical expression. Maybe it's the pain of a hard life coming out through her music. But, to me, she sounds like she hit her thumb with a hammer. Play a few seconds of "Piece of My Heart" and I will gladly confess to killing the Lindbergh baby. Again, I understand her appeal to her fans. She's the rock and roll equivalent of Billie Holliday... right? No. She's not. Billie Holiday could sing. Although I was not consulted, Janis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

3. Bob Dylan.
Oh my God! Did I just say I don't like Bob Dylan? Bob Dylan? Are you kidding me? Yes, yes and no, I assure you, I am not kidding. Bob Dylan wrote some great songs, I will admit. Iconic songs. Americana standards like "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Mr. Tambourine Man." But — Jesus! — what did he do with the money? What "money," you ask? The money he was given for singing lessons. I do not own a single Bob Dylan album. I do not enjoy hearing his kvetching off-key vocals coming from a radio speaker. I do not care to hear how great he is from Bob Dylan fans. And if I never hear "All Along the Watchtower" ever again in my life, I would be pretty happy. I'm okay with (most) Dylan songs sung by (most) other people. But, when I hear that nasal-y, tuneless whine and sporadic blasts from his harmonica... well I can't reach for the radio dial fast enough. In March 2020, at the beginning of a worldwide pandemic and lockdown, Dylan released a seventeen-minute ramble called "Murder Most Foul." My favorite Philadelphia radio station put the song into immediate rotation, because... hey! it was Dylan. I think I would have rather contracted COVID. Bob was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988... no thanks to me.

2. Joni Mitchell.
That's right. I can't stand Joni Mitchell. I can't stand her voice. I can't stand her tuneless, meandering delivery of her songs. I can't stand the blind allegiance of her fans singing her praises as though she had the same societal impact as Mother Teresa. Once again, I like Joni Mitchell songs by other singers. (Tim Curry's take on "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" is a particular favorite.) She sounds like she is singing a different song than what the music is playing. Seriously, Joni... pick a melody and jump in any time. For years, I have been asking die-hard Joni Mitchell fans to whistle a Joni Mitchell song. Any one. Doesn't matter. I have been met with scowls, jeers and good old fashioned "fuck you"s. But, dammit, if anyone could actually come up with a whistle-able tune. I recently revealed my dislike for Joni Mitchell to my classic rock-loving older brother. He shook his head dismissively and said, "Oh, I  disagree." I replied, "You disagree that I don't like Joni Mitchell?" Joni has been a recluse for a number of years. That's just fine with me. Despite what think, Joni was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

1. Dave Matthews.
This guy is the one. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why anyone — anyone — likes Dave Matthews. Even among jam bands, his music is incredibly bland, safe and average. There is nothing original or imaginative about his music. No thought, no spirit. Just sounds from instruments... and not even good sounds. And his voice! Eeek! It's like ragged fingernails dragging slowly down a dirty blackboard. Remember that Seinfeld episode where Mary Hart's voice would send Kramer into a seizure? That's how I feel when I hear Dave Matthews' gritty yet grating growl of a voice. I cringe! I literally cringe from the sound. When I hear that someone likes Dave Matthews or even paid actual money to see a Dave Matthews concert, I wonder "Was the Grateful Dead too intense and scary for you?" or "Did you graduate from the safe, average blandness of Bon Jovi and you thought this would be cooler?" (Surprise! It is not.) And Dave Matthews singing "All Along the Watchtower?" Oh my God! Kill me now! Just kill me now. By the way, Dave Matthews was not included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 2022 induction nominees despite previously topping the fan ballot. Hmm... maybe I should rethink the validity of that Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thing.

May I once again direct your attention to the warning at the top of this post. Please re-read it and remember... opinions are like assholes. Only assholes have them.

Or something like that.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

baking potatoes, baking in the sun

...and now, a few words about potatoes. 

Who doesn't love potatoes? Kids, adults, everyone loves potatoes. Although technically a vegetable, potatoes are separated in a category all to themselves. On restaurant menus, dinner entrees are noted to be accompanied by potato and vegetable. Potatoes stand alone, while all the other vegetables are lumped together. Similar to steak, you have you choice as to how you'd like your potato prepared — baked? twice baked? French-fried? mashed? You don't get that option with other vegetables. "You'd like your potato baked with butter, sour cream and chives? Very good, sir. And your carrots? Fuck it! You get 'em on a fucking plate!" That's right. Artichokes may be classy, but they are in the same category as lowly peas.

Potatoes were first grown and cultivated in Peru for thousands of years. They were brought to Ireland by Sir Walter Raleigh from a South American exploration in 1599. They didn't make it to the rest of Europe for another forty years and even then, they weren't particularly popular. In the early 1600s, the Governor of the Bahamas sent a gift package featuring potatoes to President Thomas Jefferson as a gesture of goodwill. Jefferson served them at the White House, giving them aristocratic cred. The influx of Irish immigrants to the United States strengthened their popularity among the common citizens and working class. 

Potatoes are part of our being, our culture. If Forrest Gump's friend Bubba decided to use potatoes as the main commodity of his proposed restaurant, he could have offered more varied cooking methods than he imagined for shrimp. Fried, boiled, baked, mashed, au gratin, hash browned, cottage fries, curly fries.... you get it. Potatoes are so revered, for goodness sakes, they are mentioned — by name — in a common idiom. "Meat and potatoes" means "of fundamental importance." While the "meat" is undetermined and unimportant, the potatoes are specific and not to be confused with any other vegetable. "Meat and broccoli" doesn't have that same strong, basic inflection. Neither does "meat and string beans."

In the 1950s, potatoes got into the lucrative toy market with the introduction of Mr. Potato Head. Hasbro marketed the popular toy to children, using the potato as the exclusive vessel on which the plastic-pronged eyes, feet and other molded body parts were applied. It wasn't until almost a decade later that other vegetables (and bandwagon-jumping fruits) muscled in on the celebrated tuber's rightful territory. Mr. Potato Head himself still remained popular. It was the first toy marketed with television commercials. Later, it received a co-starring role in the Toy Story film franchise, even appearing as a major character in the associated theme park attractions. Let's see zucchini make that claim.

Speaking of TV... although used in a derogatory manner, "Couch Potato" is a term for someone who just watches TV all day from the center of the sofa. I have been labeled a "Couch Potato" in my life and I really can't argue. But, once again, "potato" gets the call. Not "cabbage" or "beets" or any other vegetable. Potato! 

When I was a kid, I ate a lot of French fries. I ate a lot of mashed potatoes and I ate a lot of baked potatoes. Funny thing, though. I, like most kids, never ate the skin of my baked potatoes once the fluffy, buttery insides had been scooped out and consumed. I'd scrape the insides of the baked spuds until the skin was nearly transparent, but I wouldn't dare eat it. My mom ate the skin and always tried to convince me how "delicious" it was and how "all the vitamins" were in the skin... like I gave a shit about vitamins. If I wanted more vitamins, I'd just pop a couple more chalky-tasting Fred and Barney shaped tablets from the jar in the bathroom medicine cabinet. In the 70s, restaurants started including "Potato Skins" in the "Appetizer" sections of their menus. Essentially, they were the part of the potato I didn't eat, but loaded with cheese and bacon bits and sour cream. Before becoming a featured trendy menu item, these things were discarded once the white part of the potato was separated and mashed. Every cozy bistro-style restaurant served potato skins to, apparently, huge profits. After all, feeding customers something that was just a few steps away from being tossed in the garbage.

A more recent trend for potatoes, initially triggered by the then-popular film Napoleon Dynamite, is tater tots. In a similar fashion as potato skins, tater tots began appearing on the menus of bars and restaurants. Once only available in elementary school lunch rooms, tater tots (or just "tots") were now offered with a variety of innovative toppings, making them "cool," but they were still potatoes. 

Soon, baked potato stores started popping up in mall food courts. Offering a variety of toppings (like their spuddy cousins, the tots), these eateries were like "make your own sundae" places, but for potatoes. They merely used potatoes as a vehicle to sell chili or Sloppy Joes with a potato instead of a bun. Nobody would dream of covering a hunk of cauliflower with chili and serving it to potential customers, but put that on a big, comforting potato and you got yourself a meal without question.

Of course, French fries are ridiculously popular. Every fast food establishment prides themselves on their French fries, each claiming to be the very best of the best! Who hasn't strolled a seaside boardwalk with a giant, grease-soaked container of French fries in one hand? French fries make an excellent between-meal snack or something to hold the kids over and keep them quiet while on a marathon road trip. After all, they're healthy... right? They're natural... right? They come from the good earth! Sure, they are deep fried in old, over-cooked, fat-laden oil, but.... I did mention that they are a vegetable, right? 
Potatoes are served at every meal. Hash browns (or home fries) at breakfast. Potato chips or French fries at lunch and baked or mashed potatoes at dinner. No one asks for Brussels sprouts with their eggs. Yeah, you can get onions and peppers mixed in with your home fries, but those potatoes have to be there first. Onions and peppers alone next to a stack of pancakes just won't fly.

Recently, my wife and I have been watching what we eat very carefully. We maintain a regular diet consisting of nearly the same dinner every night. That dinner usually includes a baked potato. At first, we made them in the microwave. They were good. Actually, they were just okay. Now, they are prepared in the actual oven, where they bake directly on the middle rack for over an hour. They come out hot and fluffy with a crispy skin. How do I know the skin is crispy? I am an adult now, so I eat it. I eat potatoes like they are apples — skin and all. And no one needs to cajole me with promises of "vitamins" and "deliciousness." I found that out on my own.

That's it. Just a few words of praise — and thanks — to our friend the potato.