Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Putting my writing skills to good use.

I wrote to the customer service department of the Hard Rock Cafe to let them know that our Nashville experience wasn't all that great. When we had a bad experience at Houlihan's last year, I wrote a letter to Houlihan's customer service and ended up with gift certificates. Since Mr. Awesome and I will be travelling to several cities that have Hard Rock Cafes in the coming months, I was hoping to get an HRC gift certificate... and I am! Here's an excerpt from the response I received from the general manager of the Nashville Hard Rock Cafe:

What I can tell you is that we have been #1 in the world for Hard Rock International in Guest Satisfaction for 10 months running and we are very proud of that accomplishment.  We strive every day to maintain that standard.  In your case our standards slipped big time.  We take all comments seriously and make improvements immediately.  Your comments will be read at our shift meetings for the next week so our staff fully understands how high expectations, on the part of the guest, can be destroyed with just one word or lack of product.

Please don't give up on our brand.  We are so much better than what you saw in Nashville.  Since you will be traveling the Midwest this fall I would appreciate it if you would accept complimentary gift cards from me so that you may enjoy a meal at a  Hard Rock Cafe in one of the cities you will be visiting. 

The moral of this story, boys and girls, is if you have a crappy customer service experience, let the business know about it. In almost every case, they'll try to make good - unless that business is Photographx Unlimited.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Benventure 4: All U Can Eat (unless they're out of food).

Saturday morning we dropped Finn off at the kennel and headed off to Nashville. About eight hours later, Lucretia (our navigation system) tried to lead us to our hotel via a bridge right next to the football stadium. This would have worked if there hadn't been a football game that night. We were sent in the right direction by a nice police officer with a thick southern accent and made it to our hotel around 4:30.

Our hotel was nice, but as we've discovered recently, the more stars the hotel has, the more likely they are to charge for every little thing. Parking was $20 a day. Wi-fi was ridiculous at $10 a day. We passed on the wi-fi, but had to cave with the parking.

Saturday night we headed to the honky-tonk district (I can't believe I typed "honky-tonk" - ha!) for dinner.

We went the tourist route and hit up the Hard Rock Cafe. We both wanted something called the "Rock Chop," but they were out of that. How a popular restaurant could be out of their signature dish at 6pm on a Saturday is beyond me, but whatever. I ended up with a decent steak and Mr. Awesome had fajitas. I also had a raspberry margarita that was really quite good. We walked back to our hotel, stopping by a small market for dessert on the way.

The walk back took us by the Tennessee State Capitol building, which is really pretty cool. It also took us by a lot of bums. There were more bums in downtown Nashville than we expected. Most looked perfectly benign, but some looked a bit scary. Some had Confederate flags displayed somewhere on their person, which was also scary. /rant Give it up, people. That flag represents your heritage only if your heritage is being a racist fucknut. /end rant

Once we were back at the hotel, we hit up the pool. For once, we were the only people at the pool and had the whole place, including a relaxing sauna, to ourselves. Swimming is awesome, especially when you haven't swam in a while. So we swam for a while then headed back to our room to get some sleep.

Sunday morning, we wanted pancakes. It's damn-near impossible to find an open restaurant downtown on a Sunday morning (our hotel directed us to a place just down the street, but when we went by, the "chef" was sitting outside with a server smoking and chatting it up. There wasn't anyone at the restaurant, and we didn't want to feel like we'd busted up thier morning confab), so, with Lucretia's help, we headed to IHOP. They were out of the mixed berry pancakes we both wanted (what's up with Nashville being out of stuff?) so we settled on apple pancakes for Mr. Awesome and french toast for moi.

Bellies full of breakfast, Lucretia led us to Music Row to check out the sights. That killed about 20 minutes. Not much to see there, really, but we can now say we've seen Music Row. We saw a bunch of painted guitars around Nashville that reminded me of our Cow Parade cows.

Then it was back to the hotel, and out for a walk to watch the crowds gathering by the riverfront to hang out before the Titans game.

Apparently, parking at the football stadium is really expensive, so people park downtown and walk to the stadium. Seeing all those people was pretty cool. Lots of tailgaters with smokers and grills - I think all of Nashville smelled like smoked meat on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday evening, we met some BenFriends for sushi before the show. The sushi was decent, the conversation was better. Much of the talk circled around the upcoming Ben Folds Five reunion show and whether or not everyone who wanted a ticket would get it (only some did, by the way - that was a big 'ol clusterflock and I'm glad we weren't planning on going in the first place). After dinner, it was time to head to the concert hall for the big show.

The show opened with four songs performed by the Nashville symphony. The conductor, Albert-George Schram, is a fantastically animated character in a tuxedo and white sneakers. He was a joy to watch. After their songs, we had a short intermission during which the piano was raised from below the stage. During the intermission, the talkative girl next to me told me that she flew in from Canada for this show. Damn. That's a long trip.

Ben came out dressed in khakis, a blue polo and black leather Chuck Taylors. The audience went wild. He then performed several songs with terrific symphonic arrangements. We were all spellbound. Here's a setlist:

  • Zak and Sara

  • Smoke

  • All U Can Eat

  • Ascent of Stan

  • Landed

  • Fred Jones Part 2

  • Gracie

  • Jesusland (with choir, see below)

  • Cologne (with Jared and Sam and other choir members... and Ben mentioned that the song wasn't supposed to be on the album in the first place and after they made the orchestra version and then blew the video budget on it and then added it to the album)

  • Effington (with choir)

  • One Down (piano solo)

  • Not the Same (no piano, just singing with orchestra)

  • Steven's Last Night in Town

  • Narcolepsy (with a tenor)

  • Encore: The Luckiest
The whole show was incredible, but the highlight for us was Cologne. It's a beautiful song, and to hear it with the orchestra and choir was an experience worth the whole trip.

Monday, we drove back to KC, with a pit stop at White Castle for lunch. There aren't any White Castles in Kansas City any more and I don't know if that's good or bad. I'm thinking good, since those little steamed burgers are delicious little bundles of artery-clogging goodness. The fewer opportunities to eat them, I suppose, the better. When we got back into town, we picked Finn up from her adventure at doggy day care and headed home. After two days of eating mostly fast food, we were seriously craving something with identifiable ingredients. We also wanted to eat something that might react positively with the miracle fruit tablets we bought last week and hadn't tried yet. The best option was Pho from Mr. Le's.

So. Miracle fruit. It's the shit. Willy Wonka apparently exists and makes miracle fruit tablets that make nearly everything taste like candy. Lemons taste like sweet lemonade. Limes are like limeades. Ginger is, well... like sweet ginger. Whether it was the miracle fruit tablet, or the fact that we hadn't had decent food in two days I don't know, but the pho we had last night was the best pho I've ever tasted.

Tuesday found me back at work, and today I'm counting down the days until we head to Louisville for another symphony show. Twenty three days and counting. To tide me over, I just purchased Amanda Palmer's new album (Who Killed Amanda Palmer?), produced by Ben Folds, with a little Ben action on drums and Jared on the bass. If you pre-order, you get an advanced download, which I'm listening to right now. It's gorgeous and brilliant, as expected.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Maybe next time.

So, a Ben Folds fan's dream is about to become a reality - Ben Folds Five is reuniting for one concert in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on Thursday, September 18th. They will be performing the Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner album, and Darren Jesse will be opening with an acoustic Hotel Lights set. If you aren't familiar with Hotel Lights, I strongly encourage you to take a listen.

Of course, we'd love to be there, but we have to pass it up. Hopefully, this won't be the last reunion show ever.

The good news for us is that we still have several more Ben Folds performances to look forward to in the coming months, including one this Sunday with the Nashville Symphony. I can't wait! The weekend can't come soon enough.