Sunday, February 19, 2006

Coca-Cola's Vault energy drink

So, Coca-Cola’s got a new drink out and I guess we, the adoring public, are supposed to be wetting ourselves in an unfathomable craze for this new product.  Or, at least that’s how I was led to believe.  Walking around my local Wal-Mart there were hundreds of bottles of this stuff everywhere.  Besides in its preordained space, I noticed it lurking in the freezer section, behind hairspray, and I think I even saw one elderly woman pushing a bottle around in a stroller.

Before I jump too deeply into things, allow me a paragraph to digress about the beverage industry’s holy savior Coca-Cola.  I remember as far back as being a toddler and my Dad leaving half-full glass bottles of Coke all around the house.  Inevitably in the middle of what felt like every single night, I would stumble out into our living room, lit only by the muted television set with my Dad’s snores as the soundtrack to the ritual, and steal a sip from one of these discarded bottles.

Enough waxing nostalgic, what’s to be said about Coca-Cola in today’s present society?  Well, first off—they spend more money on advertising than any other company.  That’s a solid fact.  If you took a third of that annual amount, and used it beneficially, let’s say, donated it to some non-profit organizations that fed underprivileged children or were dedicated to scientific research, then surely we’d all benefit.  But, what do we get?  Every holiday season my television is (or was, I don’t have TV since I moved out last summer) bombarded with carefully calculated images of polar bears slipping on ice (as if they hadn’t adapted to their polar surroundings by now, for fuck’s sake?) drinking bottles of Coke (where did those come from?) and filling us with cheer.  I call bullshit!

And to think, I was aiming to make this a short piece and calling it a night!  I haven’t even mentioned the product I’m reviewing.  So, with those grievances aired above, forgive me for not being overly eager to jump on the bandwagon and celebrating the newest drink in Coca-Cola’s gang—supposed energy drink Vault.  The big selling point they’re promoting with Vault is that it “drinks like soda, but kicks like an energy drink”.  Well, for all the hoopla surrounding it, it better drink like the liquid equivalent of Yoda, and kick like Bruce Lee on heroine.

I’ve always felt when reviewing a beverage for my humble website, it’s always best to use a wine glass to fully showcase the drink’s visual qualities. It’s not like I use a wine glass every time I open a can of Dr. Pepper.  However, I do have a predilection to crazy straws.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect in terms of hue and color, but was met with lasting disappointment upon the spewing forth of generic yellow soda.  I know it sounds like nitpicking, but hey, reviewing things is my hobby and I take it seriously!  I’m not suggesting a color of mind-blowing proportions, but please, give us something different for a change.  The flavor is listed as “Citrus” on the bottle, so easily limes classify as a potential candidate under that listing, could it have been so hard to give us a olive green colored soda?  And the reason this is particularly perturbing, is Mountain Dew recently released an energy drink—which is surely as yellow as the piss I’m about to take on my computer.  How many yellow sodas must we endure?

Besides obvious links to powerhouses Mountain Dew and Mellow Yellow, there are some underlying ties to forgotten sodas of yesteryear, specifically Kick and Surge.  Let’s talk about taste, as undoubtedly that’s what most of you are most interested in.  They’ve broken absolutely no new ground here, folks.  It is my duty to inform my beloved readers that, like Public Enemy once said, “don’t believe the hype!”  It tastes very familiar at first; reminiscent to Mountain Dew, with an aftertaste that reminds you you’re drinking something under the “energy drink” label, so there’s more going on in there than we’re entirely sure of.  But, for the most part you’ll likely experience disappointment, especially if you were hoping for something new.  As far as I’ve seen, these things are only being sold in 1-liter bottles, and I assure you, nobody needs that much sodium.

In terms of its efficiency as an energy drink, I can’t really credit it with being very successful.  After drinking about half the bottle, I did feel a bit jumpy, as if I was experiencing a pretty serious sugar induced high—similar to those achieved after drinking several cups of premium coffee.  But, shortly afterwards, I fell suddenly asleep during the first few minutes of a DVD I was watching.  Obviously, it didn’t give me too much energy; but, I did have a dream where I was trading important government documents for candy to a large moose made up entirely of wood and sour cream, somewhere in the outskirts of Montana.  Maybe Vault vaulted my subconscious into previously unforeseen areas of oddity?

In conclusion, Coca-Cola disappointed me on all fronts.  The design of the packaging is lackluster, the drink poor and uninspired, and I predict ultimately, Vault will be disappearing from shelves forever in the near future.  Pick up one soon… no, not to drink, but as a souvenir because these will be gone forever by the end of the year.

Overall Grade: C- 

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Lite-Brite Pen

One of the few remaining Christmas presents I’ve yet to open, I felt that this was ideal for reviewing purposes.  It has obvious novelty appeal, from the pen itself to its packaging.  But, if we’re going to spend some time talking about Lite-Brite—I need to rewind back to the late 1980’s.  As a youngster, I spent many cold December nights bathed in the iridescent glow of my original Lite-Brite.  I remember my parents taking me to Toys ‘R Us, where I’d grab a couple paper refill packages containing pre-designed outlines so you could create glowing renditions of all of your favorite characters in the comfort of your very own living room.  It was a great time to be alive; the aroma of Mom’s patented meatloaf was drifting in from the kitchen, your best friends were Garbage Pail Kids, and you were creating a visage of Donald Duck using colored pegs.

What this pen is supposed to do is amplify those magical times and give you the opportunity to take Lite-Brite on the road!  Whether you’re bored at school, work, during a long car ride, etc. you’ll now be able to create glowing masterpieces anywhere!

Now come on, aren’t these just adorable?  If you remember the old blank background papers (I’m sure there’s a more streamlined official name for them, but it’s after 2:00AM so I’m not doing research) then these will look very familiar to you.  Sadly, they’re one of the only things they got right when revamping Lite-Brite for its miniature debut.

This is the tiny battery that comes with your new pen.  The end of your initial experience with Lite-Brite in pen form may face you with the desire to break this battery and consume its innards.  I applaud such innovative ways of showing your disapproval with this brutal bastardizing of a childhood favorite.

Here’s a shot of the pen out of the package, minus the lights, color pegs, background paper, etc.  This is the no frills pen, but still not entirely suitable for the office; that is, unless it’s “casual Friday” and in that case, go berserk!

Here’s our first glimpse of the famous colored pegs that allow you to create your glowing works of art.  Imagine the possibilities!  Imagine the fun!  Imagine yourself doing something more productive!

Here’s a close-up shot, and I’ve got to say, I kind of like these pegs on their own.  My favorite ones are of the light blue variety, although the greens are also rad.  This makes a nice wallpaper photo, too.  If you’re into that type of thing—and judging by the way you’re handling that mouse… I think you are.  I’m watching you.

The lights are on!  We’ve got a blank canvas… let the fun begin!

What is this?  I know… I’ve let you all down.  I wanted to create something really cool, like Frankenstein armwrestling Saddam Hussein for the world’s supply of beef jerky; instead, all I have is this lousy abstract piece.  I could lie, and say that it has deep underlying meaning and merit, that the colors represent deep personal truths, but that’d just be total bullshit.  This thing is impossibly hard to work with.

Let’s look at the pros and cons, shall we?  If you’re actually going to use this thing, you need to have a toolbox nearby.  You’ve got to unscrew two separate pieces to even get started.  Anything designed for kids shouldn’t be that hard to use, nor require that sort of effort.  Only a couple of my pegs actually stick in the holes, the rest fall out randomly, others almost leap out and end up lost in a sea of carpet.  The light isn’t very powerful whatsoever; only the pegs on the far left side will be graced by the light’s dim presence.  The compartment that holds the pegs is tiny, too; which means when you’re finished you have to return each peg individually to keep from losing them.

So, what’s good about the Lite-Brite pen?  Well, you can’t fault them entirely for trying.  It’s a fun concept, although flawed in its delivery.  I’m a very nostalgic person, thus I can’t hate this much-maligned pen.  Although crafting a glowing Abraham Lincoln eating a taco stuffed with $100 bills is out of the question, you can still be creative and kill a couple minutes every now and again.

And, if nothing else, at least I have a new pen!

Overall Grade: C+ 

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Arby's Breakfast

What is this picture and what does it represent?  Well, the quick answer is that it’s the interior of the sandwich I ate one particular Saturday morning.  The long answer is that, due to circumstances that I’ll get into shortly, my brain wasn’t properly functioning, and I forgot to take any pictures of the restaurant’s exterior or interior.  So this is the opening image to today’s article.  See, after I summarily bashed McDonald’s breakfast, I received e-mail from a reader of this site who suggested I try Arby’s breakfast, review it, etc.  He not only guaranteed its tastiness, but also said he’d accompany me on my visit.  We made plans to meet at 9:00AM the following Saturday.  Would we be a team like Mario and Luigi, or vodka and cellular phones, or perhaps a different beast altogether?

If you don’t have an Arby’s in your area, for the record it’s got a Western theme, and their specialty is roast beef sandwiches, lovingly dubbed “Beef ‘N Cheddars” by the adoring public.  When I was in Hollywood a couple summers ago, I saw a prostitute with a sign advertising “Beef “N Cheddar for $35”, but I think she had something else in mind.  Our plan had us meeting at my local Arby’s, on Route 4, on Hamilton’s seedy East Side.  My breakfast buddy Paul showed up a couple minutes after I arrived, and we found out that this particular Arby’s didn’t open their doors until 10:00AM.  He offered to drive us across town; to the distinctively more posh West Side location where he assured me breakfast was being served.  By the time we walked in the door, I was ready for a cowboy to whip out a pistol and shoot curly fries directly into my mouth.

First off, the hashbrowns, or as they were called here, “potato cakes” I believe.  Paul promised they’d kick McDonald’s hashbrowns’ ass… he was so totally right!  These were amazing to me, like dinosaurs playing volleyball.  Well, to be fair, there wasn’t a whole lot going with them; they weren’t terribly flavorful, however, they weren’t grease soaked projectiles like the ones served up daily at McDonald’s, either.  I’d sit gladly upon a throne made entirely of Arby’s potato cakes, wearing nothing but ketchup and a smile.  I had to make note of Paul’s coffee.  Although the picture doesn’t do it justice, there was a very weird chemical film on the top of his coffee, similar visually to the mixture of gasoline and water.  Once we were secure that this wasn’t any of Ivan Ooze or King Koopa’s chicanery due to the insistence of the staff, we continued with our meal.

Behold… our sandwiches!  I got the ham, egg, and cheese croissant, while Paul opted for his personal favorite, the ham, egg, and cheese on sourdough.  This sandwich was better than anything that I’ve ever eaten off McDonald’s breakfast menu.  The main reason being it tasted extremely fresh; it wasn’t greasy, didn’t disrupt my stomach (and subsequently cancel my breakdancing plans), and ultimately, was delicious.  You can opt for bacon or sausage instead of ham, which I’ll most likely try on a future visit.

Here’s Paul, one of my beloved fans, wondering what he has gotten himself into spending a morning with a guy who worships Good Will Hunting.  That’s me, with the heinous hair, and bewildered expression.  I think I was having an odd daydream of monster trucks crushing dogs filled with orange soda… or maybe I was eyeing Paul’s hashbrowns.

Lastly, I decided to get something sweet for dessert and stumbled across this gem.  I didn’t have to swing across crocodile infested water by a rope like in Pitfall, just simply stroll up to the disinterested teenage girl working the counter and order.  This is their apple turnover, it also comes in cherry, but that dredges up too many memories of Mrs. Pac-Man, and I didn’t want Paul to see me cry.  This thing wasn’t remarkable, but it was flaky, in a good way, and worth the pocket change I spent on it.

In conclusion, Arby’s is a much better place to go to for breakfast than McDonald’s.  The food is much better.  It’s healthier, better tasting, and less scary.  Also, something I didn’t note above, it’s a lot more affordable.  And finally, they give you two hashbrowns… instead of the one Ronald’s silly ass forks out with their combos.  Paul… thanks for the idea and invite, driving me around and suffering through my surely banal conversation about old Alf episodes and the characteristics of African elephants.

Overall Grade: B+