Friday, August 31, 2012

Small Town Tourism: Alexander City, AL

Last time I promised to talk about how I go about finding things to do on my trip.  I assume this is pretty similar to how all travelers go about it:
  1. I ask someone.  Usually this is my customer.  This is how I found out about the house shaped like a shoe when I was in Pennsylvania.  Sometimes they don't have any suggestions which just makes me realize I need to work on some hometown tourism myself.
  2. I go to the city's official website.  They will usually have a link for "Things to do" and sometimes offer a calendar of events.  The drawback to this is it is specific to that city.  So with Alexander City, it is pretty limiting.  Sometimes I will look at additional cities in the area as I did this time for Montgomery and Birmingham, just in case.
  3. I use Roadside America's website and iPhone app.  This was how I learned about the Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham.  I like this site because it specializes in unusual places you might not find otherwise.
  4. For food, I use which has a map of all of the restuarants featured on The Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins & Dives.  I have also used the Food Network's own website to look at other shows like Man vs. Food.  I saw an episode of this show in a waiting room recently and he was in Pittsburg.  I am going to Pittsburg in a few weeks.  Coincidence?  I think not.
  5. I do some custom searches based on things I might want to do.  For example, I usually search for live theaters, art classes and cooking classes in the area.  These often won't show up on the city website or on Roadside America.  Sometimes I use but I find it hard to customize the search on that site and the list of choices in a large city can be overwhelming.
  6. I use the "attractions" setting on my GPS.  This pulls up museums, parks and other potential sites near my location.  This is an imperfect thing as I have documented the problems I regularly have with my GPS.
  7. If all else fails, I drive around.
That is how I found the Charles E. Bailey Sportsplex right next to my hotel in Alexander City.  I was killing time in the morning after scouting my customer's office and decided to drive through here expecting to see some baseball fields.

Not a military airplane on a stick,

a tank,

and memorials to those in this county lost in WW1,

WW2, and additional identical memorials to Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and,

an incomplete memorial for the current conflicts.

Definitely not what I expected to find at a "sports complex".  That wasn't all either.

Across the way there is another memorial, this time for the Civil War.  This monument to the confederate soldiers reads:
"Lest We Forget"
This monument
perpetuates the memory
of those
"Whom power could not corrupt,
Whom death could not terrify,
Whom defeat could not dishonor."

Serious stuff.  The wall listing the names is much larger this time.

There are names on both sides and along the wall behind me and surrounding this platform.

and one final plaque that honors them all and from where you can watch the most serious conflict this area knows on a regular

This park is large and has some replica log cabins, a playground, additional sports fields and some walking trails. It would warrant some additional exploring if time allowed.

The city website had a lot of information about the main attraction of this area, Lake Martin, a 44,000 acre lake that touches 3 counties.  To enter, I go to Wind Creek State Park where the park ranger lets me in for free since I get here about an hour before sundown.  When he asked, I told him I simply wanted to look around an take a few photos of sundown on the lake and he said I could go anywhere execpt "the beach".  This was fine and I never saw a beach anyway or a road leading to one.

The sky is cooperating nicely for a night of sundown photography.

This park is full of pine trees and has very nice camping facilities some with attached boat slips.  It is pretty full being that it is summer and there are a lot of kids riding bikes around the property.

The bathroom/shower facilities are clean (at least the women's are, can't speak to the men's) and as a bonus, the hand dryer says to "turn nozzle upward to dry hair".  No need to pack a hair dryer for your camping trip.

Sometimes you just have to get in the car and drive.

Otherwise, you will never know what you missed.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How This Works for Me: Alexander City, AL

Other travel bloggers out there have it easy.  They pick a destination based on a local attraction or the availability of things to do once they get there.  They stay where they want to and eat when and where they want to.  They have all day to see the sights.  Must be nice.

I don't pick my destination, I go where my customer is.  For this trip I am off to Alexander City, Alabama.  Never heard of it?  I'm not surprised.

I am 1/2 Alabamian on my dad's side and I still had to get a map to figure out where this city is.  It is in the triangle made up by the highways connecting Atlanta, GA, Montgomery, AL & Birmingham, AL. 

After flying into Birmingham (because I can go non-stop where Mongomery requires a connection), I expect an almost hour drive ahead of me that today includes a driving rain in the dark making visibility difficult.  Because I am driving less than 30 on a 60 mph highway, it takes me quite a bit longer than an hour.

Don't I look happy to be here?  Actually, I am just tired, it is late and this makes the 7th week in a row I have traveled.  When asked, I sometimes have difficulty remembering where I was last week.

Generally my hotels are of the generic variety (Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn Express, etc.) for price reasons.  I am spending someone else's money and I try to be conscious of that when I am making a choice.  I try to stay as close to my customer's office as possible but if I can save $20 a night and be a mile further away, I will do it.  I also try to watch for a hotel charging for parking or Internet and avoid those to keep the fees down. 

The hotel is usually fine, and just that.  There have been few exceptions on the better than fine end (Miami and D.C. stand out) and thankfully few on the less than fine end (Imperial, CA, Augusta, GA and Victoria, TX come to mind).

If the hotel offers free breakfast, I usually eat there.  Occasionally I will go get breakfast but we are talking about getting McDonald's, not anything exciting.  The continental breakfast hotels offer gets old and I usually have trouble stomaching the fake runny eggs.  Lately, I have started skipping breakfast in favor of a V8 in my room.

My company has a guideline of $30 per day for food.  I have heard of people making money on their per diem but we can't do that.  I once spent $8 total over 4 days and asked my boss if I could roll the excess over to a future trip.  He said no.   If I don't spend $30, I don't get the excess money to keep either. 

Even though my boss said no, I have never been questioned for going over, so I can't complain.  This doesn't happen often but I have gone over the $30 before.  Usually it evens out the next day when I spend less than $10.  But still, I try to be responsible, again it isn't my money. 

The problem with $30 is it means you mainly eat fast food.  Lunch at Wendy's will run nearly $9.  So free breakfast helps.  It also helps when my customer either pays for or provides lunch (this is a toss up and I usually don't know until the day I arrive what lunch will be...provided, out they pay for me, out I pay for me, or on my own).

In Alex City (as they call it), it is better than usual.  Lunch in usually consists of boxed lunch sandwiches and chips or pizza.  This time the mother of one of the employees caters very lovely lunches in a dining room with place mats, silverware and cloth napkins.  Small towns do have their advantages.

If I start getting close to the high end on my food for the day, I purchase the rest of my meals out of my own pocket.  I have been told that this is crazy (by people who aren't my boss) but I can't help it.  I have said it here already...this isn't my money.  If I am wasteful, I only hurt my coworkers and myself.  If I spent $100 on food every day, that is money that me and my coworkers can never get in a raise.  Someone I said that to still thought I was crazy - how do I know that money is passed on to my coworker?  I don't.  But I know if I spend it irresponsibly, it CAN'T be passed on.

I remember a definition I once heard for the word integrity:  It is what you do when no one is looking.  That is how I feel about spending money that belongs to my company.  It doesn't matter what I could get away with.  And I like to think that I have gained some trust from by boss over the years by being responsible with his money.  You know what they say...Karma is a bitch.

At my house, I have a literal reminder.  My dog Karma.  When people ask us what her breed is we tell them "mutt-faced squirrel dog".

I think that having my boss trust me is more important than staying in a fancy hotel.  Also, I get to plan all of my own travel - I pick everything:  flight (airline/times), hotel, car.  If I can't be trusted, that might change and let me say this:  I am not sure if I would continue to do this if someone else decided those things for me.  I don't mean this as a threat (my boss might read this), I mean it as a reality. 

I know others who travel for work who are required to fly evenings after all day at the office.  I don't have to do that.  I also don't fly home the last day after spending all day with my customer.  I consider the evenings my time.  I already worked the whole day so I don't think it is right for someone to expect me to travel on my own time.  Travel required for my job should be conducted during business hours.  I have chosen to travel at night before but it was my choice, not a requirement.

I also don't think I should be required to work 4-5 hours at the hotel every night after working and/or traveling all day.  I was talking to a consultant I have crossed paths with several times before and he asked what I was doing that night.  When I said, he replied, "You always seem to be doing something fun."  He told me he can't do that because while he is at the customer's office, his "other work" is piling up.  So is mine.

I spent 11 years doing what he is doing.  Going all day with the customer and grabbing fast food on the way to the hotel to work several more hours while some crime drama played on TV in the background.  I am over that, life is too short to live that way. 

Don't get me wrong, sometimes I work at the hotel, sometimes for several hours.  I always at least check email and voicemail and deal with things that have to be done.  But I have finally learned three things:

  1. Very little of that stuff can't wait.
  2. I need to let other people be accountable for their own jobs (passing on support questions customers send me to our technical support staff instead of answering them myself for example).
  3. I am only one person and I can't do everything.
More than that, I don't want to do everything any more.  My boss recently told me he was happy I was getting out and doing things at night on my trips.  He didn't complain about me not working enough.  I like to think it goes back to the trust issue.  He knows I will get the job done.  If I have to work at the hotel, at night or on a weekend, I do.  I think I am just better at figuring out what really has to be done and what can wait.

So now, I get out and do things but sometimes it is quite challenging.

The Sloss Furnaces is a National Historic Landmark in Birmingham.  Hours of operation are 10 am to 4 pm Tuesday - Saturday, Noon to 4 Sunday, closed Monday (the day I took this picture from the parking lot).

My most common trip involves me flying out on Monday afternoon, spending all day Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at my customer's office and flying home Friday morning.  This leaves me the evenings on Monday (depending on my flight) through Thursday, generally 6 pm until bedtime, to do whatever I am going to do.  When places aren't open during this time, it limits my choices.

Going to places like Alex City, population 15,000, adds additional challenges.  In my next post I will talk about what I did find to do and how I go about determining what my choices might be before I ever leave Dallas.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Rules of Baseball

I have been to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City before, it is a very nice stadium.  When David and were much younger, we drove to Kansas City, watched the Rangers and Royals and drive back to Dallas all in one day/night.  It was brutal.  I am too old and too smart for that kind of nonsense now.

Fortunately, I am not going home until Friday morning and it so happens that the Rangers are in town to play the Royals beginning on Thursday night.  Once again because I only need one ticket, I am able to get a really good seat.

Center of the visitor dugout on the 4th row.  See Craig Gentry there peeking at me from the dugout?  He looks surprised to see me.

Craig isn't the only one who looks at me funny.  I get a lot of odd looks probably due to the fact that I am 1) alone and 2) a woman who is alone.  I think people keep wondering when my companion will appear.  I can imagine them talking - I bet she got stood up, poor thing.  That's what happens to big girls in their 40s. 
While it would be nice if David were here, I am fine at the game alone.  I don't go to the ballgame to shop or eat constantly (though one hot dog is a requirement) or chit-chat with the person I am sitting by.  I come to watch the game.
This cannot always be said for those around me and some people aren't as happy to be here as me.
The little girl in the white shirt across the aisle had a complete meltdown before the game started.  There were a lot of tears followed by some bribes involving ice cream.
There is a guy sitting to my right who isn't happy either.  It is warm and really humid out tonight and there are no empty seats in this row.  This man is BIG, as in spilling over into the next seat big.  He is hot.  He is sweaty.  He is unhappy.  He tells his friends several times that he wants to move.  They stay put.  He scouts seats they can move to.  Finally, in the 3rd inning, they move to empty seats several rows back.  This makes him and me both very happy as I am able to move over one.  The 2 seats to my left should be empty but two guys sit there because someone is in their seats.  One thing I agree with the big guy is too hot and humid to be sardined in with this many people.
As it turns out, this isn't my last encounter that that group of men.  When I go to get my hot dog during the singing of "Take me out to the ballgame", I pass them just in time to be smacked in the head by their overzealous, drunken swaying.
At this game, I really start thinking about the "rules of baseball".  I don't mean the rules of the game but more the rules of attending a live game - according to me. 
For example, there is a woman behind me who spends two innings telling her companions about how she decides what shoes to wear with what outfit each day.  TWO FULL INNINGS.  HER COMPANIONS ARE MEN.  I imagine they desperately want her to SHUT UP. 
The man in front of me screams at the umpire and is very upset over a "blown call" when the umpire calls Ian Kinsler out at second but Ian stubbornly refuses to go back to the dugout.
Ian warming up before the game, he is David's favorite Ranger.  He refused to leave second because he wasn't out after all.  When you steal second and are thrown out doing so it doesn't count if the batter at the plate gets a walk on that pitch.  I finally point out the walk so the man will stop yelling.
Later, that same man gets all in a tizzy when a Royals player hits a ball and it only goes a few inches.  The catcher jumps up and throws him out a first.  The problem?  The man says the ball bounced before the batter hit it.  That doesn't matter.  The ball could roll from the pitchers mound to home plate like a bowling ball and if the batter hits it, he hits it.  The ball is in play.
I realize that some of you reading this might not know these rules either.  That isn't my problem.  My problem is the swearing, yelling, booing and berating of the umpire.  Umpires get it wrong, they are just people after all, but if you don't know the rules of the game yourself, sit down and keep your mouth shut.
So sitting alone at this game, I came up with my "rules".  I reserve the right to add rules in the future:
Have a beer or two but don't get drunk.  I have to get out of the parking lot at the same time as you. 
If you want to talk to the people around you (or heaven forbid, someone on your cell phone), that's fine but don't talk non-stop, don't talk about things no one cares about (shoe lady), don't fight with your girlfriend/boyfriend/sibling/mom/dad/coworker/friend at the game.  And keep your voice down, everyone in your section doesn't need to hear your life story.  Finally, to the lady in the row behind me in San Francisco...there's no crying in baseball!
If you have to get up, be courteous.  Wait until the half inning or a pitching change or something like that.  The same applies when you return.  And try not to spill your food or beer on me when you come back too.  David and I went to a game where a couple stood up in front of everyone in their section to have their photo taken - in the last inning while game is still going on.  You have been here the whole game and NOW is when you are going to block the view?
Taken before the inning started.  The moon was foul that night.  Get it?  Foul?
If you are rooting for the visiting team, be courteous.  Root for your team, that's fine, but don't be obnoxious about it.  Actually, this goes for everyone, home or visitor.  Let's face it, Ian Kinsler, Craig Gentry and the rest of the team don't even know I exist.  It seems a little ridiculous that I would act like and ass and possibly get into a fight over the outcome of a play or game for someone I don't even know and who would probably be embarrassed for me if they knew how I behaved.
These rules could probably be summed up in two statements: pay attention to the game & be thoughtful of others.  Actually, these would be pretty good rules for most anything you do in life.
Hey you, lady in the red...stop texting and pay attention.  We are in foul ball territory and if one comes this way in a hurry, you need to be ready to protect yourself and your kid.  And don't start asking questions about what happened in a minute, you should have been watching.
While we are on the subject, don't leave your kid unattended and hey, kid - TURN AROUND.  If a ball is fouled and hits him in the head, it could be life altering.  A boy my daughter went to high school with died when a ball hit him in the head while he was warming up before a high school game.
This isn't a rule exactly, more of a pet peeve but I want to add it here:  Never, ever boo your own team.  Totally unacceptable.
No booing needed tonight, we win! And...
Bonus Friday Night Fireworks!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Triple D and BINGO, the Musical: Kansas City

Having not learned my lesson in Omaha at Big Mama's, I seek out two more Diners, Drive-ins & Dives restaurants, this time in Kansas City.  First up is Grinders which is next to Grinders West.  If you are wondering why they aren't one restaurant, they are not attached.  There is a tattoo parlor separating them.  Looking at the employees here, I think they might work at all three. 

Lest you think I am against tattoos, I am not, I have two myself.

Any place that offers things like Funky Dough and Big Ass Shrooms has potential.

I did have some trouble finding this place due to my continuing problems with the GPS.  It took me to another location that wasn't anywhere close to correct.  Once here, I like the interior of the restaurant and the "sit anywhere you want" attitude but it is too warm and too loud in here for me.

When I ordered two slices of their specialty pizzas, the waitress gave me a funny look.  Now I know why, those are big pieces.  I had the Goldberg (on the left) and the Fun Gi.  I don't really care for the Goldberg, even though it has salmon on it.  The Fun Gi, which is a variety of mushrooms, was better.
The verdict:  It was okay.  I might give it a second chance before making a final judgement if I ever came back to the area.
Next up is Brick.  I check this one out on the last night in town before I head over to the play I have tickets for.  The interior is funky like Grinders but it isn't as hot or as loud.  

They are playing music and it is an eclectic mix.  I heard Etta James followed by The Shins. 

The artichoke spinach dip was good but the regular chips were a little on the stale side.  I dealt with this by eating only red ones.  Plus, I ordered the portabella sandwich too so I didn't need to eat much dip, I really just wanted to try it.  My sandwich was fine, but not great.  You may be thinking, "Holy cow!  What will it take to impress this girl?"

The Dream Twinkie:  a beer-battered, deep-fried twinkie, cut in half and drizzled with chocolate sauce, squirted with whipped cream and topped with a cherry.  I wouldn't have even ordered this but it isn't time to go to the theatre yet.  I have been leery of trying a fried Twinkie though I have heard of people eating them, mostly at the state fair.  I assumed the cake part would be soggy with oil from frying.  It wasn't.  I only ate half though because I am afraid of being in a food coma at the play.
The verdict:  I would go here again just for the Dream Twinkie and I would eat the whole thing this time.
I am going to see BINGO, the Winning Musical at the American Heartland Theatre.  I don't realize that this theatre is in a mall.  When I arrive and try to go to some of the shops, they are closed.  I found this really weird since the Crown Center is attached to a hotel and it is only 7 pm on a weeknight.  I did find one store open, the toy store.  On the back wall, I find these costumes and consider buying one for my 3 year old granddaughter.

She could be a police officer.
Note:  She calls police the "po-po". 

She could be a pirate.
She could be a train engineer.
She could be a hair stylist.  WAIT!  Why are there only girls on this one but there were a girl and boy on all of the others?  I refuse to buy one of these because obviously Melissa & Doug of Melissa & Doug's Role Play Sets are discriminating against boy hair stylists. I myself have a boy hair stylist that I really like.
So I bought this instead.  I make this commitment to you right will be the first to know how my hot dog mummy and shrunken head turn out.
Time for the show!  An escalator takes me up to the theatre where I take my seat.  I have polite conversation with the women on either side of me and enjoy the company, however short, of both.  Both have been here before and seen productions containing the main character in this one.  They tell me she is fantastic.
The idea here is that those of us in the audience are not actually the audience.  We are people who have come to play Bingo.

So in my program I find 3 Bingo cards.

One advantage to traveling alone is the ability to find the odd single seat in a good location.  I am on the 3rd row in the center. 
There are three friends who play Bingo together every week.  It is the birthday of the inventor of the game so it is a big night at the parlor.  A storm comes in and people are advised to stay home.  Nothing doing.  But the parlor can't wait on them to arrive so we play the first game without them.
I turn the free space and nothing else.  The audience winner is given $5.  We are given instructions on when we will play and when we won't at this point.  We will play a total of 3 times throughout the show.

The second game fares a little better for me, and the winner.  This time it is a $10 prize.

Final game.  I don't win.  Someone else wins $15.
This play was hysterical.  I loved it.  I would have to rank this at the top of the community theatre productions I have seen so far.  I won't give away the story but if you have the chance to see it, I highly recommend it.  There is a musical number centering around one of the characters being an understudy in a play in New York.  She is Nurse Ratched in the musical version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, called Cuckoo of course.  That song is fantastic and the girl playing the part did such an outstanding job, with both her voice and her facial expressions.  I also understand why the ladies next to me like the actress playing the main part.  She was really funny. 
I will give one word of caution.  Be careful where you sit.  The characters will interact with someone in the first row.  The man at this production was such a good sport.  In the escalator on the way out, someone asked him if he knew what would happen.  He said they told him she would be doing things but they didn't tell him what. That was probably a good thing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I'm going to Kansas City, both of them.

First let me say I didn't understand whether Kansas City was in Kansas or Missouri or both.  If the answer is both, is it one city or is it two cities?  Mystery solved.  There are two different KCs, one in Kansas and one in Missouri.  The locals refer to them as KCK and KCMo.  They are different towns with separate government.  There is also a North Kansas City but I don't remember what state it was in.

I also didn't remember having been to Kansas City before but when I arrived at the hotel, I realized not only have I been to KC before but I have stayed at this exact hotel before.  It is hard not to remember a hotel where you get Monopoly money to exit the parking lot.

It is possible I stayed in room 524 before but since I just started doing these photos this year, I can't be sure.

For all of you that think business travel would be fun, exciting and glamorous, let's go with a story about the wonderful world of car rentals.  I usually need a car.  Miami and San Francisco are the only cities I have been to where I didn't need a car.  When you are staying in KCK and the office you will present yourself at is in KCMo then you definitely need a car.

After completing the paperwork and answering the same old questions (I will bring it back full, I don't need a GPS, I don't want the insurance, I don't want to upgrade unless it is free) the agent tries to talk me into becoming reward member.  I decline.  He explains all of the benefits.  I decline.  He persists by telling me I am stupidly wasting money and points now and in the future.  I decline.  (I have a membership with another agency but they don't have an office at this airport.  I keep this information to myself.)

I am dismissed to locate my car in space A24.

The space that is void of any car.  As are A25 (where I park my luggage while taking this photo), A23 & A22.

The key tag says I am looking for a black Mitsubishi.  There are only two black cars in the lot and clicking the unlock button on the key fob several times, I know neither of these are the car I have been assigned.  It is pushing 100 degrees outside.  It wasn't a short walk to this spot.

I haul my suitcases back inside where the agent is now helping another customer.  When he sees me he stops and says, "Is there a problem?"  I tell him about the vast emptiness that is space A24.  He tells me this isn't possible.  I assure him it is.  "Did you go straight out?"  Yes, I went straight out, I say.  "That's the problem." 

We are not speaking the same language.  I think "straight out" means immediately, he thinks it means I walked straight when I went outside even though his original instructions were to go left as soon as I passed through the double doors leading outside.  Instructions he believes I ignored.

We resolve this discrepancy but ultimately, he still thinks I am an idiot (demonstrated by my refusal to join the rewards program) and have simply looked in the wrong place. He sends someone outside with me to locate the car that I am obviously too dumb to find on my own.

Back in the sweltering parking lot with my chaperone, I follow him to A24.  He stands there - obviously shocked - looking at the empty space as if the car will magically materialize any moment.  When it doesn't, he begins turning in circles rooted to his spot in A24.  Then he starts clicking the alarm button.  I explain that I have already done all of this and point out the two black cars in the lot.  He begins walking away from the spot and away from the doors we came out, further into the lot.  He now has his hand held high above his head and is clicking the alarm button over and over.

An alarm sounds.

The car ends up being way out in this other lot, across the street, behind the barriers.  It has been cleaned on the inside but has not been washed on the outside. 

I won't be joining the reward program here any time soon.

Incidentally, it is ironic to me that the problems with my rental involved a Mitsubishi.  I once worked at Mitsubishi Motors Credit and it was a horrible place to work.  Blatant sexual harassment, overt discrimination in credit decisions (approving unqualified women with "hot" pictures on their license, declining qualified minorities) and other bad behavior were not only tolerated but actively encouraged.  I went on maternity leave while working here and the corporate office came and cleaned house while I was gone.  It didn't matter, I never went back.

Maybe instead of going "straight out" I should have sponsored a party in the Family Restroom at the KC Airport...

...where the occupancy is a whopping 1073.  Does anyone know what state the airport is in?  I don't.

In other strange bathroom news, when I arrived at my customer's office in KCMo the next day I find this to be the situation in the ladies room:

I have never been in a bathroom with giant windows outside of the stalls before.  You can't tell from this picture but this is in an inside corner of the building so the offices on the other hall have a direct view into these windows.  Some woman assures me the windows are tinted but it really doesn't matter.  I have serious performance anxiety.

The view from inside the stall.  If I can see them, I am sure they can see me.

I am lucky they found my car.  I will just abstain from drinking anything all day (not hard for me at all, ask David) and speed all the way back to my hotel with its wonderful unwindowed bathroom in KCK ASAP.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chasing Triple D in Omaha

In a recent post, I mentioned eating at restaurants featured on The Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins & Dives.  Because my experiences have been good thus far, I decide to check out a couple of D3 places in Omaha.

Big Mama's Kitchen

This one almost didn't happen.  First, they are not open in the evening (they close at 2 during the week) so I had to work out going here for lunch.  Second, I almost couldn't find it.  When the GPS says I am there, I am in a neighborhood and don't see any sign of a restaurant.  Having watched a couple of shows now, I know this can happen.  Recently I watched an episode where the restaurant didn't even have a sign.

On the other side of the street from where the GPS says it will be, there is a campus of some sort.  It looks like an abandoned school surrounded by a chain link fence.  As it turns out, Big Mama's is in there.

You have to find the entrance way back here.  It isn't well marked, see that yellow sign?  That is the entrance.  The whole time I am walking up I am thinking this has to be wrong.

This hearse parked out front didn't help... with either the part where I thought I might be in the wrong place or the part where I am going to go inside and eat at a place with a hearse parked out front.

Big Mama's dining room feels like a school cafeteria.  You don't walk through a line to get your food but the room has that institutional feel.  I am seated by a teenage hostess at a small table next to the specials board.  There are a few other people here but it is definitely not crowded for a lunch hour.

While I review my choices and wait for my server, 3 young men are seated at the next table.  They begin a serious debate over having the Salisbury Steak Special or something else.  Based on their conversation, I don't think they have eaten here before either.

I am leaning towards Big Mama's Smothered Chicken (3rd under Meals).  D3 featured the Afro Burger (first under Sandwiches) and this is what the boys at the next table are conflicted over - Afro Burger or the special?

I go with my gut - so to speak.

This wasn't what I expected.  The "gravy" is this yellowish liquid when I thought it would be cream gravy (a mistake most southerners would make I think).  Also, the chicken isn't boneless.  The gravy prevents picking it up or eating it with your fingers and the bones make it impossible to cut.  I eat part of the thigh (I prefer dark meat) by tearing it.   

Sweet potato ice cream is one of their advertised specialties so I thought the sweet potato casserole would be a good bet. In my world, sweet potato casserole can carry a whole meal.  I convinced my daughter to cater her wedding through Sticky Fingers in Augusta, Georgia based solely on their sweet potato casserole.  This recipe falls well short of Sticky Fingers.  It is okay, but just okay.  I don't really like the gravy on the chicken and the okra is as expected.  The cornbread is a little dry.

The guys at the next table have a new dilemma.  Having gone with the special they are conflicted that none of them tried the Afro Burger.  They discuss whether it is suitable for reheating with the waitress - maybe they will get one to go?  Finally, they decide yes, one to go.  The one closest to me makes the decision and as the waitress leaves, we make eye contact. 

"Good choice," I say, "you obviously wanted to try it."  He agrees and asks if I have been here before.  I explain I am from the Dallas area, here on business.  They live here but haven't eaten here and, like me, learned about it from the show.  "Have you been to California Taco?" he asks.  I tell him no but that it is on my potential list.  "If you go tomorrow, we will probably see you there."  The Afro Burger arrives and it turns out reheating won't be an issue.  They split it 3 ways immediately.

Verdict:  I wouldn't go here again.  The odd location and difficult hours are not offset by the food and I found it somewhat pricy for the quality.  I am pretty sure I can also safely add this to the list of "Places My Mom Wouldn't Go".

California Taco

The next day at my customer's office, it becomes clear we will finish a little earlier than expected.  There are some things we need from other people that aren't complete so we work a little past lunch to finish and call it a day.  I ask if the lady I am working with wants to join me in checking out CA Taco.  She has never been there and agrees to go.

Much easier to find.  This restaurant sits in a corner, is well marked and bright red.  We are lucky and find parking directly across the street.

There is a pretty long line where we wait to place our order.  There is some confusion on our part since we don't know what the difference is between a CA Taco and a regular taco.  When it is our turn to order, we learn that CA Tacos have a soft pita-bread like shell.  (It isn't exactly like pita bread, that is just the closest thing I can think of.  I don't remember what the guy at the counter said.)

I decide I can't go to California Taco and NOT get the California Taco so I order the CA Fish Taco (grilled but they also offer fried), rice and a side of guacamole.

While I wait on my companion to order, I check out this mixer behind the counter.  It is almost as tall as the guy working the register.

The taco and the rice are really good.  One taco is plenty, it is big and filling.  The guacamole is so spicy I take one bite and know immediately I can't eat it.  I have never tolerated spicy food well and I am sensitive to jalapenos (I get a migraine).

If you were wondering, I didn't see the 3 guys from Big Mama's or didn't recognize them if they were there.  

Verdict:  I would eat here again.  Easy to find, price was reasonable and the taco was really good.  I would skip the guac next time but if you are in the area and like it spicy, go for it.