Road Trippin’ Down Under: Life in the Slow Lane

Despite having been up half the night, I was unable to stay in bed much past sunrise. Although I was physically tired enough to go back to sleep, mentally I was wide awake. Between the sunlight dancing on my eyelids, the sounds of the city waking up outside, and the knowledge that mere miles separated us from the beaches, the kangaroos, and all the other things we hoped to encounter in the coming days, I just couldn’t get my mind to shut back down.

The Jarhead, too, had woken up by then—as I discovered only after trying to get out of bed without disturbing him. Evidently he had been awake for a while, too, and had been killing time checking his email and playing solitaire on his phone while waiting for me to wake up. Little had he known that I was lying there with my eyes closed desperately hoping I would fall back to sleep while trying my damnedest not to move a muscle and—for a change—not wake him.

It was all pretty ridiculous, but not exactly out of character for either of us.

At any rate, once we each realized that the other was awake, we got up, got some coffee, and got moving. Although we had nothing specific to do that day and no prescribed time frame in which to do it, we both wanted to see as much of Australia as we could over the seven days we would be there, and that required some thought.

I know, I know. Most people would have decided how to spend a week in Australia before they actually get to Australia. And most of them would have arrived there knowing not only what they’re going to do, but also when, and what it was going to cost. And thanks to websites like yelp and, they also might have had a pretty good idea of how much they would enjoy it.

But all of that takes effort, and we don’t like to work that hard—at least not in advance. Plus, we change our minds—a lot. So we like to keep our options open. And if some of the options no longer exist by the time we become aware of them, or if they happen to disappear while we’re locked in debate or gripped by indecision, well then we figure it just wasn’t meant to be.

So instead of heading out of our hotel armed with train schedules, museum hours, and tour tickets, we left with only our keys, our wallets, our sunglasses, and a thirst for adventure. By that I mean a middle-aged, moderately-active, Midwesterner thirst for adventure, just to be clear.

The first order of business involved a walk around the immediate area to see what fun there was to be had locally. We soon had a set of options to include the familiar and the not so familiar.

The familiar included several retail establishments, like those seen in the photos below. The first shows the exterior of a place called Hungry Jacks, which sounded to our American ears like a pancake or mashed potato shop, but is actually an Aussie version of Burger King. Like it’s US incarnation, it offers burgers, fries, shakes and chicken tenders in ketchup and mustard colored wrappers, only without the funky paper crowns and the creepy plastic faced mascot.

Aussie Burger King


The second is an image of the front door of the local Target which bears little resemblance to the Target stores in the US (as we learned a few days later after the Jarhead realized he’d forgotten to pack undershirts.) Sure, they both sell clothing, shoes, and household goods, but the Target in downtown Fremantle differs from Target stores in the US in several ways.

For example, the layout is nothing like any US Target I had ever seen. It looked much more like an K-Mart circa 1976 than a Target circa 2016, with racks and racks of merchandise arranged in departments, but with no real theme or color scheme, and none of the gi-normous posters of happy, photogenic children, trend-setting teens, whole-grain hipsters and hot-moms hanging from the rafters like you’d find in its US counterparts.

It’s like the land that marketing forgot, I remember thinking as I followed the Jarhead to the men’s department that day. And yet I couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it didn’t have that Target feel—you know the one that makes you want to buy their stuff so you, too, can be a happy, photogenic, trend-setter, hipster and/or hot-mom. On the other hand, it didn’t have that Target feel—in other words, I didn’t feel I had to buy their stuff or be a photogenic, trend-setter, hipster or hot-mom, and that made me happy. (Chew on that for a while. Or not. Your choice. After all, it’s a free country—for now.)

In case you missed it, the signage on the Aussie store is also different from the signage on US stores. Whereas the word ‘target’ is spelled out in red capital letters in the US, the word appears in black and only the first letter capitalized in Fremantle. There is also a period after the word ‘target’ on the Fremantle store that doesn’t appear after the word ‘target’ on US stores. I wondered about these differences but not enough to bother looking into it. If you happen to know the explanation for either (or both) of these idiosyncrasies, feel free to share it as a comment on this post.

Meanwhile, other familiar sites were to be seen on or near the main drag of Fremantle. One of these was a 7-11, which stood across the street from Target and was exactly the same as any 7-11 I’d seen on the outside, but as a Wawa and Kwik Trip devotee, I didn’t bother to check the inside.

Another familiar site was the Cold Rock Ice Creamery, which looked identical to a Cold Stone Creamery in the US but—as we discovered a few days later, did not measure up in terms of flavor or consistency. In fact, it was exactly what I imagine ice cream would have been like in Soviet-era Russia or Poland. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad. But it was darn close.

What downtown Fremantle lacked in terms of marketing and ice cream, it more than made up for in it other ways—including but not limited to the variety, authenticity, style, and even value of its cuisine. There were so many restaurants, it was hard to choose which ones to sample, but every single one we tried was awesome. And two of them were awesome enough to warrant an encore.

The first of these was the Monk Craft Brewery & Kitchen, where we had an early dinner after wandering around for hours trying to decide how to decide where to have dinner. We eventually settled on Monk for no other reason than it was a beautiful day and we could eat there alfresco.

There were several other places that offered an alfresco option, but their tables were all crammed close together under awnings, whereas the Monk had several tables with big wide seats that would allow us to sit right out under the sun, which is where we wanted to be right then. So Monk it was.

It was a dinner like we’d never had before, and probably never will again. The Jarhead had what they called a Tackle Box—which included fried squid and fried white bait with crispy onion and chilli-lime aioli. I had the lamb ribettes with rosemary and garlic grilled lemon and a Greek salad. Fizzy water (for me) and a beer sampler (for him) completed our meal.

From there, we headed to a nearby liquor store where we bought enough beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages to induce me to wonder if the Jarhead planned to ever leave the room again. That question was answered when he asked the liquor store clerk for some ideas on what there was to see and do while we were in the area.

What follows is a song I wrote about this experience, and some of what happened the next day. I don’t have a title for this little ditty, but please enjoy it to the tune of the theme song (or thong, if you’ve been drinking, like me) from The Beverly Hillbillies.

Now this is a story ‘bout a bloke named Ted

A liquor store clerk with a curly brown head

He said Margaret River was the place ya wanna be

So we paid for our booze and planned to head southerly (south, that is)

Well the next day we spoke to the head valet

The sheila said, no—dontcha go that-away.

She said Margaret River is infested with crocs

And all the nearby beaches are filled with shocks (great whites, that is)

Now, I don’t know if that dude had a grudge against us or tourists in general, but I for one was not amused. Considering how nice had been to him—and now much money we had spent at his shop that day, we did not deserve to be sent on an excursion that had a better than average chance of leading to our demise.

Of course, we had no idea that his advice had a better than average chance of leading to our demise when we got back to our hotel that afternoon. We hadn’t spoken to the valet yet, and since we were too tired/lazy to pop open the laptop and do some research our own, we would remain blissfully unaware of our brush with death for several more hours.

So instead of learning more about Margaret River—or prospective alternatives to going to Margaret River—we popped by the front desk to ask for an extension cord (which they promised to deliver post haste) and headed up to our room.

I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but we were tucked in (with the CPAP securely attached to an industrial size extension cord that run under the headboard and over to WIGCBAPTTRTB my side of the bed) and asleep by 6pm, thereby securing the title of the Most Boring Couple to Visit the Continent of Australia in the History of International Travel.





Road Trippin’ 2015: Circuitous Logic

The road between the Denali turnoff and Fairbanks is remarkable in that it is entirely unremarkable from a topographical perspective. With its winding rivers, grassy marshlands, random forests, and scrubby brush land, the area looks pretty much like northern Minnesota or Wisconsin. In fact, were it not for all the fireweed and the unfamiliar town names and road numbers gracing the signs along the way, the route we took to Fairbanks could have passed for any number of highways connecting the northern part of any Midwestern state to its nether regions. Still, it was uncharted territory for the two of us, and we were thrilled to have the chance to see it up close—even if it looked a lot like home.

Although the topography was relatively familiar to our eyes, other aspects of the geography were not. In fact, now and then it would feel as though we’d entered a land that time forgot—like when we would run across a house featuring four different types of siding or a tri-color roof that looked more like a shed or a kid’s fort than a dwelling. In any other setting, such a sight might suggest poverty or malfeasance. But out here, where resources are scarce, a house of many hues is not so much a reflection of one’s income or iniquity as evidence of one’s ability to improvise, overcome and adapt. Many in the so-called civilized world like to talk about the environment and conservation, but the folks who live in the sticks of Alaska take the concept of reduce, reuse, and recycle to a whole new level. Whether they do so by choice or by necessity, one has to admire their ingenuity.

Contrary to what some might believe, I did not spend the bulk of the drive waxing poetic about the virtues and vitality of the inhabitants of Alaska’s interior. If I had, no doubt the Jarhead would have set aside his distaste for talking to strangers and stopped off somewhere to borrow a strip or two of duct tape. But since he was napping (ostensibly) most of the way and thus would not have heard me anyway (or would have pretended not to) I kept such thoughts to myself.

There were times, of course—especially when we would go miles and miles without seeing another car—that I wondered if we were making a huge mistake in venturing out on our own without an atlas or a firearm. But whenever such a thought would occur to me I would remind myself that the people who live in the interior do so for a reason, and therefore are less interested in us than my ego would have you believe. Not to mention the fact that the folks who are up to no good are likely to be packing more firepower than whatever we could have brought along for protection.

And so instead of contemplating who might be looking to murder me (and when, where, and how) I considered what I had learned about Alaska so far on this trip that was unlikely to be found in your average textbook or on even the most thorough of travel websites. One thing that came to mind was the subtle rivalry that apparently exists between Alaska and Texas, as evidenced by all the items bearing the phrase “Let’s cut Alaska in half and make Texas the THIRD largest state” or some variation thereof. With both states being famous for their size and their oil, I suppose it’s only natural that they would compete with one another, but I found it odd that two places that are so different—and so far apart—would even bother.

Being more accustomed to regional rivalries, such as exist between Minnesota and Wisconsin, I would have expected to see merchandise with trash talk directed at Canada, perhaps, or at least the Yukon. Consequently, a rivalry between Alaska and Texas made about as much sense to me as would a rivalry between beef jerky and Laffy Taffy.

A more fitting rivalry for Alaska, in my view anyway, would be Minnesota. Both states are known for their harsh winters and hardy residents, after all, and until Alaska came along and stole its thunder, Minnesota was home to both the northernmost point in the United States and—according to my friends at Wikipedia—more square acres of wetlands than any state in the nation. In addition, both are populated by hunting, fishing, hockey, and snow machining enthusiasts, and both attract their share of tourists. And still, despite all these ingredients of a rousing rhetorical grudge match, I have yet to see even a one tee shirt or coffee mug in either state speaking mockingly of the other.

Then again, having been to the Lone Star State three times without seeing any evidence of an adversarial relationship between it and the Land of the Midnight Sun, I’m inclined to think Alaska’s war with Texas might be a one-sided argument. Either that, or Texas handles its enemies the way I do mine: by pretending they don’t exist.

Near the end of the day’s drive, I learned something else about Alaska: The suburbs there look pretty much the same as the suburbs in every other state. In fact, if I hadn’t been awake for the entire drive—if instead I’d been chloroformed, thrown in the trunk, driven around for several hours and somehow managed to escape the vehicle while my captors stopped for coffee or to use the restroom—you could have told me we were in Burnsville, Green Bay, Fredericksburg, or even Philadelphia and I totally would have bought it. At least until I noticed the road signs. And maybe a license plate or two. But up to that point, surrounded by buildings bearing the names of nearly every single restaurant, clothing store, and home improvement center to be found orbiting every city in the lower forty-eight, you would have had a hard time convincing me we were in Alaska.

As they saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” With that in mind, we pulled into the parking lot of the Hilton Garden Inn, tossed our bags into a room that looked exactly like every other room in every other Hilton Garden Inn in every other city and, after a brief stop at Walgreens, set out to find a place to eat whose sign did not end in bee’s, back, or bucks. This was a bigger challenge than one might guess since, those that weren’t part of a chain often looked a bit like the houses I mentioned a few paragraphs ago.

Eventually, though, we found a place called Brewster’s where we enjoyed “Great Food, Great Alaskan Spirits” just as their slogan promised. Specifically, we enjoyed their simply-named, signature appetizer, Steak Bits, which are tiny chunks of steak simmered in a sort of savory broth and served with garlic toast. And when I say enjoyed, I mean it. It was the most delicious and different treat we’d sampled in a long time. And the rest of the meal was no slouch either. To top it all off, our server apparently recognized the Jarhead’s military bearing and, without prompting, offered us a military discount. It was all almost too good to be true. And yet, it was.

The next morning we set off for the Arctic Circle, which, according to LaVon’s map, was just a few miles off the highway between Fairbanks and North Pole. Although we didn’t expect to be greeted with the kind of fanfare one might receive upon completing a marathon or winning a Grammy, we were at least hoping to take a photo and earn some bragging rights.

Two hours and countless miles later, however, the road terminated at a resort at Chena Hot Springs. Having seen nothing in the way of a sign or symbol referencing the Arctic Circle along the way, we were more than a little bit confused. Had we misread the map or simply missed a turn? Had LaVon’s memory failed her when she was drawing the map that morning? Or could the phrase “a few miles” means something different to one former Minnesotan than it did to others?

Sadly, there had been no one to ask about the location of the Arctic Circle as we made our way to Chena Hot Springs, and once we got to the point where the road terminated it seemed a moot point. So, after giving Oscar-worthy portrayals of a couple of paying customers while strolling around the resort in search of a restroom, we turned the rental around and headed back to toward the highway.

We never did find the Arctic Circle, but we did make it back to Fairbanks and on to Glennallen via North Pole and Delta Junction. Along the way, we stopped off at several state parks and scenic overlooks to admire all the rivers and other natural wonders to be found along the way—including two moose, one moose calf, scores of bison and one semi-suicidal elk. At one stop we found and photographed no less than a dozen types of mushrooms—more than I had ever seen in one place other than a field guide. Despite our futile attempt to find the Arctic Circle, it was a great day.

By the time we landed in our room—having stopped at the first place we found with a vacancy—we were more than ready for bed. Which is good because we had few other options. Having arrived at 8:51 to a restaurant whose staff had decided to close at 8:45 instead of 9, we were unable to procure a hot meal, and thus had been forced to choose between something from the cooler and whatever could be found at the convenience store we’d passed two miles back on our way into town.

In addition, as none of the outlets in our room were tight enough to maintain a circuit or hold a plug, we were unable to use any electronic device other than the television that was mounted in the corner of the room near the ceiling and whose cords had been carefully run through the wall with the goal, one assumes, of thwarting a theft. Consequently, the Jarhead was forced to position the nightstand in such a way that would hold the plug in the outlet so I could run my CPAP and not die from lack of oxygen. Likewise, he was able to arrange a chair, the refrigerator, and microwave—MacGyver style—so we could charge our phones and run the box fan that provided the white noise I needed in order to sleep in a remote area with funky electrical systems and employees who resented their patrons.

On the upside, there was a Jacuzzi tub in the room from which one could see the television and imagine it falling from its perch and landing somewhere in the vicinity of one’s knees. Even after the Jarhead pointed out that for the TV to fall into the tub it would also have to break loose from its power source I was completely disinclined to give it a try. Given my lack of faith in the facility’s wiring and my general aversion to death by electrocution, it just made more sense to avoid using water altogether.

Instead, we hit the rack and watched reruns of Forensic Files and Unsolved Mysteries until the Jarhead had nodded off and I was left to imagine all the possible crimes to which I could fall victim before daybreak. Naturally, I would have preferred to imagine myself awakening to a bright sunshine and travelling joyfully to Valdez, but we all know that isn’t how this mind works. Nevertheless, at some point I decided I’d rather be killed in my sleep than face whomever might come through the window or door, and switched off the tube and waited like Will Smith in “I am Legend” for morning.

Road Trippin’ 2015: Three Marketeers

Of all the ways a body can spend a Saturday, shopping would rank among my least favorite. Of all the ways a body can spend ANY day of the week, in fact, shopping would rank among my least favorite. To belabor the point, if I were to create a list of the ways I would deliberately and knowingly pass a few free hours, shopping would come in second from the bottom followed only by having handfuls of my hair ripped forcibly from my head. That assumes, of course, that one has already excluded NASCAR events, golfing, and reality TV from the list, and that neither Donald Trump nor Sarah Palin is speaking into a microphone somewhere.

And yet, there we were—David, LaVon, and I—on the morning of August 15th, strolling  from booth to booth, and later store to store, through the fog and drizzle in downtown Anchorage. We could have been on a boat watching dolphins and whales. Or on a ferry to Kodiak Island to watch grizzlies feasting on salmon. Or on a train bound for Whitter followed by a 26 glacier cruise. But no.

Clad in jeans and rain gear, and sporting hair that looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, I was taking one for the team. Primarily because the Jarhead loves markets and the market is only open on Saturdays, but also because it’s hard to see glaciers—much less whales and wildlife—through the fog and rain. And because, in that weather, my hair would have been a nightmare anyway.

So, despite the cold wet weather—which the Jarhead hates, though evidently not as much as he hates NOT shopping—we went shopping. Or, more accurately, we went window shopping. Because, although the Jarhead enjoys shopping, he enjoys the IDEA of shopping more, since it’s generally less expensive, and you never regret THINKING about spending your hard earned cash on home grown produce, Inuit folk art, or a new leather jacket.

Well, almost never. One notable exception occurred during our first trip to Anchorage and the Saturday market in 2005. It was June and one of the first booths we approached was offering fresh morels. The Jarhead is very fond of the elusive fungi, so he was tickled at the prospect of taking some home.

Not wanting to carry them around all day, however—especially if they could be purchased for a lower price at another booth—he decided to skip buying them on our first go around and to pick up a pound or two on our way back to the car.  Apparently he misjudged just how popular they would be among his fellow marketgoers, however, because by the time we finished our meander through the market there were no more morels to be found.

No such sorrow would befall us this time around, however. Ever the type to learn from his mistakes, the Jarhead vowed not to miss his next opportunity to take home the tasty treat. Fortunately there was no one selling morels in mid-August, or who knows how many duffle bags we would have had to borrow from LaVon in order to carry the precious cargo back to Wisconsin!

As it was, we had to borrow at least one bag to carry all the souvenirs we had purchased while we were there. Among these was a cribbage board that we bought as a gift for El Noble and unwittingly swiped right out from under the nose of a fellow Wisconsinite. Fashioned from an elk antler, the board measured over twenty-four inches long, and was perfect in terms of shape, color, and condition. We knew it would make a great conversation piece as well as a wonderful addition to El Noble’s man cave—provided we could get it home without crushing it or snapping off one of the spikes.

Little did we know—until we had already paid for it that is—that another customer had seen the item earlier, and had decided to come back to purchase it. And so we were a bit uncomfortable when, as the clerk was bagging it, a man approached the counter and asked about the item, which had been on display on the far table, only to learn it had just been purchased by the guy standing next to him. Visibly irked, he man turned to the Jarhead and offered to buy it from him. When the Jarhead declined, the man then looked him up and down and asked him where he was from.

Had it been me, I would have said “Birmingham” and made a few other remarks in a very convincing British accent in the hope of avoiding death or dismemberment. The Jarhead, however, opted to go the riskier route of responding truthfully and shaking the dude’s hand. That was the sporting thing to do, I suppose, since he admitted to being a fellow cheese head, but I wasn’t so sure—especially when, a few minutes later, after accepting the Jarhead’s apology, the guy nodded and said, “That’s okay. I know where you live.”

And people wonder why I’m so skittish.

Anyway, the rest of the day went about as smoothly as it could have given the weather. The Jarhead was glad he hadn’t hesitated on the cribbage board the way he’d hesitated on the morels ten years ago, and I was glad he hadn’t mentioned our last name or our street address to anyone who might want to find us.

A couple hours later, after trudging up and down the streets of Anchorage looking at various fur and leather items whose beauty and prices took my breath away, we enjoyed a meal at a popular local watering hole and then headed back to the house to freshen up. That evening we dined with a couple of LaVon’s friends, and then hit the sack to rest and recover in preparation for our very first adventure into Alaska’s interior!

Retail Combat

There are people for whom shopping is a pleasure. These are the folks for whom the process of seeking and/or acquiring new clothes and other goods is fun and enjoyable if not downright thrilling.

I am not one of them. To me, shopping is a chore I would do almost anything to avoid. Unfortunately, in our family, responsibility for this necessary nuisance falls to the person with the greatest amount of free time on their hands or the one who puts in the fewest paid work hours. In other words, me.

Not that I’m complaining. Despite having to do the one job I dislike more than almost any other—and that includes scrubbing the toilet AND cleaning the floor if the Princess isn’t home when one of the cats throws up—I definitely have the better deal. The Jarhead may get to spend his days in a comfy office while I slave away in the kitchen, the bathroom, or the garden, but I get to do my work in shorts or pajamas. Unless I’m going to Walmart, in which case I’ll wear lingerie.

I’m kidding, of course. Like many people, I do my grocery shopping fully clothed and armed to the teeth. I’m only half kidding this time. Unless you count my sharp wit, I rarely take a weapon to Walmart. That said, if future visits to that place are like the last one, I may start wearing combat gear and body armor.

The trip started out like any other—with me selecting a cart and heading toward the garden center via health and beauty. I was passing by the shampoo aisle when I heard a strange grinding noise in the rear right wheel. Having inspected all of the wheels upon yanking the cart free from the fourteen others it seemed to be bolted to, I was surprised to hear that sound and gave the cart a couple of good shoves to see if it would happen again. After all, if I was going to have to replace it I wanted to do so before it was laden with 150 pounds of groceries and gardening supplies, and well before I had walked the equivalent of five city blocks back to the cat litter.

Unable to recreate the sound, I headed out to the garden center, chose three bags of potting soil from the stack, and walked back to the main building. I was just approaching the electronics section when the cart came grinding to a screeching halt. Literally. It was as if someone had put ground glass in the right rear wheel housing and it was now being squeezed between the ball bearings. And I not only heard it; I felt it—in my arm and all the way up and down my spine. If you don’t know what I mean by that, just imagine chewing on a mouthful of lasagna that’s been seasoned with a cup or two of gravel or sand. It nearly killed me.

Now at this point I COULD have set the cart to the side, walked to the front of the store, chosen another cart, brought it back to electronics, moved all my items from the defective cart to the other, and went on my merry way. But I was not about to surrender so easily, so I picked up the back of the cart and dropped it onto the floor a few times until the wheel came unstuck and headed toward the restrooms in hopes of finding an empty or partially filled cart that had been set to the side by someone with a full bladder.

I don’t know if I would have had the nerve to surreptitiously swap my cart for someone else’s, but I sure wish I’d had the chance to find out. Unfortunately, there was not one single cart parked near the bathroom doors or the photo center.

And so I continued to suffer at the hands of that wheel, which came to a screeching halt about a dozen times between electronics and the cat food, and about a dozen more between there and the cleaning products. In between, it carried on grinding, which sent shivers up my spine, made my eyes water, and nearly made them roll permanently backward inside my head. Kicking myself for my stubbornness, I decided I deserved the stupid cart at this point, and picked up a can of foaming bathroom spray—which I promptly dropped.

Now, I’d like to blame it on the nerve damage I suffered as a result of that $%#@ wheel, but I’m guessing it had more to do with the fact that I’d picked it up by its lid. Either way, I knew there was NO chance of catching it as it hurtled toward the floor between the shelving and my cart. And at first I was relieved that it was a spray can because that meant it wouldn’t break open and spill all over the floor. But then I was terrified because it was a spray can and could EXPLODE all over me. So now I’m holding the plastic lid in my hand as if it’s the pin from a grenade as the can itself tumbles as if in slow motion toward the floor, and waiting to be hit in the face by either foaming cleaner or spray can shrapnel.

It landed—and hard—and bounced, then landed again—hard—but didn’t explode. It bounced a few more times then came clanking to a halt. Fortunately no one was in the aisle at the time to witness it or my reaction, which was a mixture of shock, horror, and shame that blossomed way beyond what was warranted in the situation.

I decided then that nothing could possibly happen to make this trip any less enjoyable, but I was wrong. For a few steps later, the wheel seized up completely and no amount of pushing, shoving, yanking or dropping would make it come loose. And so I had to drag the b@$t@rd—which was now piled high with potting soil, cat litter, dairy products and bottled beverages—from the back of the store, through the meat department, canned goods, frozen foods and produce.

When I’d finished I felt like I had circumnavigated the earth on foot while alternatingly pushing and dragging a mastodon. And so, with the checkout stands now in sight, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief believing that my battle with the cart would soon be over and calm would be restored. But, again, I would be wrong.

I should mention here that in my cart were a number of floatation devices that we affectionately refer to as ‘noodles.’ When I say a number, I mean eight. Unfortunately, the number I paid for was six. It was an innocent mistake which resulted in my having underpaid by $3.95. But I didn’t NOTICE it until I was putting them in the back end of my car, when instead of three yellow noodles and three blue ones, I realized there were four of each.

I nearly died again as I realized I had shoplifted not one but two items from the country’s largest retailer. Hoping to both preserve my reputation and avoid prosecution, I trudged back into the store with the now empty cart—which was much easier to push even with the stuck wheel—and made my way to customer service where a nice young lady accepted my payment for the two extra noodles and thanked me profusely for my honesty.

Of course, if I were truly an honest person, I would have told that young lady about the cart and left it with her to be repaired. But by then I was so tired and frustrated that I couldn’t bring myself to care. So I pushed it back to the doorway, and left it to become someone else’s problem.

That was a pretty gutsy thing for me to do considering the toll it could take on my karma. So if you happen to run into me at Walmart, don’t be surprised to find me wearing body armor. Over my lingerie, of course.

Product Liability

While the rest of my fellow Midwesterners are grousing and grumbling about latest snow fall—which had the audacity to arrive just was we were all seeing—or imagining—the first blushes of spring, I’m going to complain about a matter of far greater importance. And that is the unnecessary and wholly unwelcome change in the formulation of The Greek Gods Traditional Plain Greek Yogurt.

My intent is not to mock or to minimize the plight of those who are tired of shoveling while struggling to scrape together the last precious bits of rock salt like a character in a Dickens novel sweeping together the last grains of rice in hopes of warding off starvation. Rather, my goal is to express my dissatisfaction with a company that, without consulting me, altered the formula of a product that was already perfect in every way and, in the process, managed to alter the course of my breakfast for the rest of my life. If it happens to annoy some of the souls who follow this blog, then so be it; if it happens to entertain some of them, so much the better.

I used to enjoy a half cup of this product for breakfast as part of a ketogenic diet that I follow for the purpose of weight management and diabetes prevention. Without getting too technical, let me state that the key to ketogenesis is the consumption of healthy fats in an amount that exceeds the combined total number of grams of protein and carbohydrate.

Until the makers of The Greek Gods Traditional Plain Yogurt changed the formula, it contained 11 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, and 5 grams of carbohydrates per half cup. Since the fat content exceeded the combined total of the protein and carbohydrate, the product was ideal as a component of my breakfast, which included unsweetened flake coconut, and an assortment of nuts.

The new formula has only 7 grams of fat per half cup. This would have been bad enough if the protein and carbohydrate had stayed the same. However, there are now 7.5 grams of carbohydrate, which along with the 4 grams of protein, add up to a total of 11.5 grams, which now exceeds the amount of fat in the product.

If that isn’t bad enough, the new version came out in a cleverly redesigned carton that boasted “New Look—Same Great Taste” but conveniently failed to mention the fact that it now contained fifty percent more sugar. For shame, Greek Gods Traditional Greek Yogurt. For shame.

Unfortunately the carton was already on my counter before I noticed the change to the nutritional information or it would have been left on a shelf—as far from a refrigerator as possible. Upon noting the change, however, I immediately took it upon myself to complain to manager of the health foods section of my grocery store, and to the regional manager of the Greek Gods brand of products, who happened to be there when I paid my visit. I also voiced my displeasure by phone to the company, and by email to the person responsible for changing the formula who had the misfortune of being asked by the regional manager to explain their decision. None of which made any difference, of course. But I felt better having given each one of these folks a piece of my mind.

As I told all of them, at a time when other companies are taking OUT the sugar in their products, it is likely a mistake to put more IN. Although they say they haven’t added sugar to their product—that the increase in the sugar content is merely a consequence of their having reduced the amount of fat—that doesn’t help those of us who relied on this product, which heretofore was the only one available locally that met the needs of people on this diet. I guess they’d better hope their slick packaging did its job and kept their other customers from noticing the change or they will soon find themselves with no customers at all.

Still, this isn’t the first time such a tragedy has befallen me. The giant version of the antibacterial wipes known as Wet Ones—which are made by Playtex, and which I routinely used to clean my hands after pushing a shopping cart—was recently taken off the market. Now I have to choose between the smaller convenience pack that really isn’t convenient at all, and those that come in a plastic tub which doesn’t fit in the side pocket of my driver’s side door. Deep down I know it’s just a wet wipe, but sometimes after a visit to Wal-Mart I find myself asking, “Why me, Playtex? Why me?”

The latest company to disappointment me was the manufacturer of Feline Pine cat litter, which changed their formula to include baking soda. I’m not sure what motivated the change since it already did a great job of controlling odor—which is why we used it in our multi-cat household in the first place. To be perfectly honest, I don’t care what they put in it as long as it costs the same and still does the job. But as Vlad the Impaler is arrestingly sensitive to changes in the size, shape, location, color, and smell of his littler box and, as a matter of course, needs little motivation to do his business elsewhere, I have a keen interest in keeping the litter room and everything in it free of any and all unnecessary changes.

So Feline Pine, beware: If I start finding spots on my rugs, you will be hearing from me.