Monthly Archives: December 2009

More restaurant.com craziness!!

Had to call the Web site the other day and ask for a gift certificate credit to another restaurant. The wife put her foot down and said she does not want to return to Cumin after our dispute with the ownership there last week. Fair enough, though I must say the leftovers two nights later were still pretty tasty.

But then, on Wednesday, I was reading the online version of the Cincinnati Enquirer and saw a story about the Vineyard Cafe and how it was closing after dinner Dec. 31. And yes, we have a $25 gift certificate there.

Guess where we went to lunch today?

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Is $25 worth that much?

Explain this to me if you can. Because I’m simply not getting it.

Julie (the wife) is a master purveyor of restaurants.com* and tonight, with nothing on tap for dinner, we decided to cash in one of our $25 gift certificates.

*In case you don’t know, here’s what restaurants.com provides to you. You spend $10 to get a $25 restaurant gift certificate. And that’s pretty much it. No strings attached. You give them $10 and they give you a $25 gift certificate. Sometimes, you can pay $6 for $25. And sometimes – really, really special times – you can pay $2 for $25. Julie is like a bloodhound for those $2 deals.

So, we drive over to Cumin, an eclectic** Indian restaurant in East Hyde Park, and take in a nice dinner. The waitress is about to drop off the bill, we give her the $25 certificate, and she disappears. We assume she’s dropping the price on the bill by $25 and will soon return. We were wrong.

**Their description, not mine.

The owner walks over, drops the bill and the certificate on the table, and says he can’t honor it. We say, Huh.

“I stopped doing business with them four months ago. We don’t honor these on weekends.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t say that on the certificate***.”

***Almost all of the certificates have some kind of exception. Alcohol isn’t included. Or you must spend at least $35. Or Saturdays are excluded. Cumin didn’t say anything about excluding weekends.

“Yes, I know. That’s why I stopped doing business with that company.”

“Right, we bought this certificate, and now, you’re not going to honor it?”

“I don’t do business with them any more. Listen, you come back during the week – Monday through Thursday – and you can be my guest. But tonight, I cannot. You call them and get them to send you another certificate.”

We argued for a little while – and by we, I mean Julie – but he wouldn’t budge. The truth is: we’ve been to the restaurant once before. It was fine, but we never returned (obviously, we didn’t love it the first time. For that matter, we definitely didn’t love it the second time). We went back tonight, simply because we had the gift certificate. Otherwise, we might never have eaten there again.

Anyway, we grumbled for a bit, paid the tab, filled in the tip and left.

We left pissed off.

And this is what I don’t understand.

The owner of the restaurant doesn’t know who most of his customers are. He doesn’t know how many Twitter followers they have. He doesn’t know how many Facebook friends they have. He doesn’t know that if he pisses off one of them enough that he/she will make a special effort to get on a blog or another restaurant Web site and rip Cumin to shreds. He doesn’t know if his customer is doing an interview Sunday morning on a 50,000 watt radio station where he/she could mention that he/she saw a rat run through the restaurant (there wasn’t, but who’s to stop that person from saying so anyway?). You know how many people could hear/read all that? Potentially, thousands.

But the owner doesn’t think about that. So, he sends us – his paying customers – away from his restaurant pissed. The meal was good, the decor and atmosphere were nice, the server was efficient and worked hard to please us, and it was a pleasant evening. But the ending left a sour taste in our mouth.

Now, think about this: obviously, this guy didn’t want to comp us $25, even though we fulfilled our end of the bargain. Whether it’s principle or whether the guy is having money problems or whether he failed his customer relations class. Whatever. He doesn’t want to take $25 off the meal? Fine. But why doesn’t he offer a post-dinner drink? Why not offer desert? If he does that, we accept and we walk out a little less perturbed. We’re not completely happy, but we’re thinking, ‘Hey, the guy made an effort, and you have to give him credit for that. He tried, in some small way, to make it right.” Instead, we’re thinking, “This son of a bitch did absolutely nothing. Why in the hell should we ever go back.”

And we’re pissed.

Me, I’ve got about 750 Twitter followers, about 550 Facebook friends, and I’m going to be on a long-ranging sports talk radio show a few hours before the Bengals play a football game that has, let’s say, a little bit of interest. Let’s say, if I wanted to seek my revenge, 10,000 people hypothetically could hear or read my rant about Cumin. Maybe 1,000 people – 10 percent – say, “You know what? I don’t like what I’m hearing. I’m not going to spend my money there either.” Say, those 1,000 people would have brought somebody else and spent $90 for dinner. That’s $90,000 Cumin is potentially losing because of what I write or say. You know how he could have avoided it? Honoring the gift certificate.

Or giving us a $5 dessert.

Instead, I’m sitting here writing this rant, more pissed by the moment. And I ask: 1) does this guy understand the modern world and the megaphone the Internet provides? 2) And will I go back to Cumin*****?

The answers: 1) Apparently not. 2) No.

*****This does not count the return visit we’ll make during a weekday so we can actually use the gift certificate.

He’s just lucky I’m not writing about this.

P.S. Just after my wife read this post, she got an e-mail from opentable.com that asked her to review the meal she just had at Cumin. My bet? It ain’t going to be good.

The wedding crasher

So, Julie and I were in Puerto Rico last week, and on the last day we were there, there was a wedding on the bench of the hotel we were staying. We were at the pool, and we heard this loud music coming from the beach, so I went to check it out. Apparently, a guy named Leon and a girl named Charity were getting married. I stayed, in my bathing suit and T-shirt, and watched the ceremony (hey, I’m a romantic like that). At the end of his vows, Leon, with the mic, exclaimed, “Damn, girl, you look off the chain!” This apparently is whose wedding I crashed.

Kelly closes one chapter of his life, kick-starts a new one

I wanted to go to South Bend, Ind., two weeks ago for two reasons. One was to cover the Brian-Kelly-to-Notre-Dame presser; the other was to see the hallowed campus of Notre Dame. It was nearly 10 hours of driving round trip, but I got a pretty good story out of it on CBSSports.com and I got some good color of the event, just in case.

Oh, and Touchdown Jesus was pretty cool.

The last time we saw Chris Henry

RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico – It was the week after he broke his arm and a couple days after the Bengals placed him on Injured Reserve. We spotted Chris Henry, arm in a cast, in the locker room, and about four of us reporters walked over to his corner locker to see how things were going.

We asked fairly innocuous questions – did you know the arm was broken immediately; how frustrating is this injury when it comes at a time like this; do you want to be back in a Bengals uniform next year? Like usual, Henry was soft-spoken and pleasant. He wasn’t a great talker – you might have to combine two or three answers together to get a three-line quote for the story – but he was usually agreeable. For a pro athlete, much of the time, that’s all for which you can hope.

But then, just as we were wrapping up an interview that was probably 2 or 3 minutes long, one reporter asked something like this, “Eh, Chris, some people would say that since you’re not going to be around the team on a day-to-day basis, you might fall back into your old ways. What do you think?”*

*Since I’m off the mainland and can’t check notes or tape recordings, this was how I recollect the exchange. It’s not word for word, but the tone of the question is accurate.

This was an interesting query. Henry, as you probably know, was not a poster child for good deeds since the Bengals drafted him in 2005. He had been arrested multiple times, suspended by the NFL multiple times. He once was arrested on gun charges while he was wearing his own Bengals jersey. He had been accused of providing alcohol to minors. He was ticketed for a DUI. A local judge called him a “one-man crime wave.”

He was obviously a troubled soul.

But when the Bengals released him in April of 2008, casting him into unemployment, he apparently began to change. Mike Brown, the Bengals owner who thinks of himself as a redeemer, brought him back to the Bengals squad in August of 2008, over the objections of coach Marvin Lewis, and during the 2009 training camp, Henry seemed poised to play a big role in Cincinnati’s offense. He caught a touchdown pass in all four preseason games, and as the fourth receiver on the squad, he thought he could make a major impact.

The impact was less than major – he recorded a pedestrian 12 catches for 236 yards and two TDs – but his off-the-field transformation was remarkable. That was the word, anyway. He was staying out of trouble, and he was planning to marry his fiancée, make himself into a family man. But then, he broke his arm, and he found himself finished for the season.

The reporter’s question – some people are saying you might screw up again – caught Henry off guard.

“Who’s saying that?” he asked.

“Eh, uh, I guess I am,” the reporter said.

I don’t remember the answer Henry gave, but it was something along the lines of, “Don’t worry about me. I’ve changed. I’ll be just fine.”

That exchange from last month was the first thing I thought about when I saw online that Henry had fallen off the back of a pick-up truck during a domestic argument and was in bad shape. Then I thought: if he hadn’t suffered his broken arm, Henry would still be with the Bengals. He wouldn’t have been in Charlotte arguing with his fiancée. He wouldn’t have jumped onto the back of a pickup truck shirtless and the cast still on his healing arm. He wouldn’t have reportedly threatened suicide. He wouldn’t have fallen off. He wouldn’t have died.

Coach Marvin Lewis called Henry a “beacon of hope.” I’m not sure I agree with those exact words. But here’s what I believe – Henry finally realized he had to make changes and that he was trying to turn his life around. Trying really hard. He was trying to be the best father and the best domestic partner he could be. He made a bad decision during an argument with a loved one, and it cost him his life. The way he died doesn’t make him a bad man. The year leading up to his death showed who he truly was trying to become.

Sadly, we’ll never know the end result. And that’s a shame. He could have really had something to say.

The New Steward of Xavier Tradition

When Sean Miller resigned as Xavier’s basketball coach to take the job at grand old Arizona following the 2008-09 season, I figured Chris Mack – Miller’s right-hand man on the bench – would get a shot at the job Miller was leaving. At first, I didn’t think he’d actually get the job.

I’d covered the Musketeers for three seasons, and I got to know Mack fairly well when he was Miller’s top assistant. I like him.

But I wasn’t sure he was the right guy for the job. I thought Xavier, with two Elite Eight appearances since 2004, could draw in somebody more high profile. A coach who had run his own program before. A coach with more accomplishments. Ultimately, Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski went with his gut – and the recommendation of Miller – and hired Mack. I’ve questioned Bobinski about the move: are you sure Mack was the guy you wanted, the right guy for the job? And every time, Bobinski – whose judgment I trust tremendously – has been resolute. He’s sure.

For the latest issue of Cincinnati Profile magazine, the editors wanted me to write about Mack. How would he deal with the expectations that continued to filter throughout the Xavier fan base, even as the exhaust from Miller’s jet plane out of town barely had evaporated? How would Mack perform as a head coach?

I sat down with Mack for about a half-hour, and the interview was perfectly fine. But honestly, I had a tough time writing this story. Some stories are like that. Not sure of the lede, I had to work for a way to begin the story. I had to work hard, harder than normal to find the right words. After having just read it, though, I think it comes out pretty well. Mack comes off pretty well* also.

*Enough so where, before a recent game vs. Kent State, Mack spotted me in the hallway outside the Cintas Center media room, stopped in his tracks and said he appreciated the article.

His coaching career hasn’t started so splendidly, though. The Musketeers are 5-3 after putting up an uninspired effort against Kansas State on Tuesday. Yes, in Miller’s first season, his squad went 17-12 and missed the NCAA tournament. Fans blasted him. Mack, I imagine, will begin receiving the same treatment soon if Xavier doesn’t improve. I still like him, but ask me if he’s the right guy for the job, and the only answer I can give is this:

I’m still not sure.

E-Rupp-Tion

I stole that headline from somebody – maybe ESPN.com – but it tells the story of the Kentucky-North Carolina basketball game from last Saturday pretty well.

The first time I worked a game at Rupp Arena – the first time I’d been inside the building at all – was when I worked at the Red & Black student newspaper and covered the University of Georgia basketball team. The arena, from what I remember, was packed – probably sold out. But as the game began, the crowd wasn’t loud*. The fans weren’t exactly silent, but it wasn’t a great atmosphere. I remember thinking it had been a “wine and cheese” crowd. Since that 2000 contest, I’ve been back to Rupp maybe a half-dozen times. The atmosphere hadn’t changed much since. Still crowded, still laid back.

*That could have been a function of the fact that the Bulldogs, though an NCAA tournament team that year, weren’t exactly filled with superstars and perhaps not as exciting as other squads in the conference.

Last week, though, I covered the Kentucky-North Carolina game for CBSSports.com. The Wildcats were ranked fifth; the Tar Heels No. 10. The place obviously had sold out – more than 24,000 for a new Rupp Arena record. It was loud. Spine-chillingly loud. Awesomely loud. The last time I covered a game in front of a crowd like that was the Mike Tyson-Danny Williams heavyweight fight in Louisville’s Freedom Hall.

It was incredible. And I’ll never think about Rupp Arena in the same way. In a good way.