Friday, December 14, 2007

Peck 'Em Hens - FCS Championship Game Blog - Delaware vs Appalachian State

Appalachian State football fans celebrate their team's third straight FCS championship, this time with a convincing 49-21 win over the University of Delaware. (photo by Billy Weeks/Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Hens Pecked! Appalachian State Mountaineers take third straight FCS crown with 49-21 win over Delaware

11:13 p.m. I bailed out on Delaware to watch a bizarre episode of "House" (he hallucinated almost the entire show) with my daughter. No matter, the Hens went down by the same 28-point deficit I left them with, albeit a slightly different score - 49-21. Great job by the quicker and better prepared Mountaineers. Congrats to ASU's players, coaches and fans. My Blue Hens were no match.

10:00 p.m. Flacco scrambles for seven and a first down on 4th and 6! Cuff gets 5. Game clock at 12 minutes. Flacco sacked back to 14--couldn't find an open receiver. 3rd down. Two more plays. Incomplete to tight end. Good coverage. Another fourth. Need 11 this time. Good rush by Mountaineers. Flacco fires, but pass is blocked at the line. ASU takes over on downs. Nice job by Mountaineers defending their big lead in the red zone. Richardson scampers for 31 on their first offensive play. Big night for him. Richardson takes handoff and slips down. Moore slips through line to take a pass and get a first down. 19-yard gain. Richardson runs for 9. Clock approaching nine minutes. Short run by Moore. ASU calls time to avoid delay of game penalty. Nice catch by #82 for first down inside Hen 20. Richardson barrels ahead for 8. Edwards keeps for the first at the 7. 1st and goal. Richardson romps in for the score. 41-14, ASU. Maybe I'll check back in tomorrow for the final score. 6:02 to go. ASU 42 Delaware 14. Mountaineers just too good. Congratulations, Appalachian State!

9:48 p.m. Mountaineers have to punt. Two fouls on Hens on return. They start on the 6. Catch and drop called a catch. May be reviewed. Now incomplete. Next pass complete to Duncan for first down. Clock under 14 minutes. Completion to tight end. Another first down. Announcers talk about Flacco resemblance to Ben Rothlisberger. Long pass gets past Mountaineer defenders to #1. 42-yard gain to ASU 25. Next pass incomplete. Next pass behind tight end. 3rd down. Short completion to Love brings up 4th down. Time out Hens.

9:40 p.m. Third quarter ends. Hens need huge finish just to get to OT.

9:25 p.m. Hens' errors too much to overcome. Moving the ball now as the third quarter ticks down. First and goal at the four. Missed some plays there as I read my daughter's new short story. Cuff gets near the 1. 1:20 left in third quarter. Cuff stuffs it in the end zone. Touchdown! Run over right guard. PAT good. 35-14, ASU.

9:13 p.m. Keeper by Edwards gets seven. Hard tackle. Hens offside. First down for Mountaineers. Option pitch to Richardson gets a couple. Deep throw broken up by #24. Pass slightly underthrown. Hens blitz. ASU picks it up. Completes pass for 18. 30 catches on season for sprinter Jackson. 23 yards per reception with 8 TDs. Six yards on next play. Ball inside Hen 30. Incomplete pass. 3rd and 4. Richardson carries for a first. Short gain by Richardson. #20 carries for 3. 3rd and 4. Eight minutes left in 3rd quarter. QB draw. Johnson brings down Edwards in open field--a yard short of first. ASU going for it on 4th down. Richardson gets it. Hens had good push but Richardson ran behind the pile. Another short run by Richardson. Hens corral Edwards near left sideline. 3rd and 5. 14th play of drive. Edwards throws to uncovered Richardson for easy TD. Flag for excessive celebration. 35-7, Mountaineers. 6:48 left in third.

9:03 p.m. Short kickoff returned to 39 by ASU upback. Pass to wide-open Kevin Richardson is a yard overthrown. Only six passes by Edwards in first half, but four completions for 132 yards. Fake to Richardson; Johnson trips up Edwards short of the first. Whew! 294 total yards for ASU in first half. Way too many. Punt and fair catch at 16 yard line. Short run by Cuff. First down pass to Love. Sideline pass to Duncan broken up. Throw away toward Love almost picked off. Flacco keeps for 9. Fourth and one. Punt to 33 yard line. Punting not at 1-A level.

8:35 p.m. Hen KO return to 27. 0:39 left with three TOs. Flacco can throw deep. Sacked back to 19. TO by someone. 2nd and 17. Another pass over the middle to tight end. Gain of 47. Toss to Duncan. First down and out of bounds. Still need about 10-15 yards. Completion to Love at 29. Time out with 0:08. Hens running another play. Big scramble by Flacco. Fires to Love who drops ball at the 2. Fitting end to half. 28-7, ASU over Delaware.

8:31 p.m. Just 1:10 left in first half. Kickoff return to 28. Pass completion to 40. Edwards elude the rush. Long pass downfield. #2 (Jackson) catches and runs away from defender. No inside help. 60-yard TD pass. 28-7, ASU. Delaware TD negated in 26 seconds. 0:44 left for Hen response.

8:19 p.m. More bad news. TD pass to Love called back for offensive pass interference. Another long pass. Flag for interference on ASU. Catch may have been out of bounds. Review upcoming. Replay looks like a touchdown. Touchdown! Great catch by #21 (Duncan) and proper call, eventually. PAT good. Deficit down to 7-21.

8:12 p.m. Hens need to strike here. First play gains 1. Next one loses 5. Someone needs to get open. Direct snap to halfback on that one. Pass misses. Good coverage. 4th and 14. Hens must punt back. Hens offensive lineman has broken angle. Cuff getting treatment on sideline. Good coverage on punt puts Mountaineers back to the 10.

Richardson stopped for no gain. Erik Johnson, Hens' middle LB, playing pretty well. Johnson rips ball away from Edwards, but he was down. 3rd and 6. Mountaineers playing more conservatively with the lead. Another keeper by Edwards is stopped. ASU will punt. Penalty on Mountaineers return coverage for interference. Good field position for Hens.

8:05 p.m. Still waiting for Hens to do something good so I can get a beer. Mountaineers averaging 9.6 yards per play so far. Edwards runs for a first, but play may come back. Illegal procedure. 2nd and 14. Edwards penned in for short gain. Dangerous play next, 3rd and 11. Pass blocked at line. First punt coming up, I hope. Hens will take over on App. St side of 50. Beer time.

7:59 p.m. - Hens moving the ball OK, but doing nothing on defense. Something has to change. More Yikes, Mountaineers are back-to-back defending champions of this division. Next victim! Kickoff returns come out to the 29. Best yet. Flacco throws to Love in double coverage. Pass broken up. Short pass to Cuff for a first. Cuff run down on sweep. Gain of 2. Another short gain. 6 or 7 left for a first. Pass to Love broken up. Punt coming. Fielded on 20. Penalty tacked on for interference with fair catch. What's next for Hens? I didn't see fair catch signal. Now saying catch and good tackle. No flag.

7:46 p.m. - App St. is 12-2 on year. They were co-champs of Southern Conference along with Wofford. Richardson gets another first. Then four more yards. App St. QB Amanti Edwards had 495 yards of total offense in last game. Pass out of bounds after chase of QB. Edwards slips between tacklers and scampers to 25. 36-yard run. Yuk! #11 reached for Hens and got a handful of nothing. Another first down for Edwards at the 10. Ran over a tackler that time. He weighs 175 lb. Ran for 313 yards in last game. NCAA record for QB in a game. App St record for any back. Hens chase down wide play for loss of 6. 3rd and 15. Find Edwards! Pass thru back of end zone, but flag thrown. Pass seemed uncatchable. Pass interference. 15 yards and first down at the one. Richardson stopped at the 2. Ball fumbled into end zone. Big pileup. Recovered by App St. #84. Touchdown, 20-0! PAT good. This is getting ridiculous. 21-0 Mountaineers with 10 minutes left in second quarter.

7:36 - App St 99-yard drive took 1:26. Yikes! Good kickoff to 1. Return man stopped at 17. Screen pass to Cuff. Sidesteps a tackle for 18 yards. Nice running. Wingback around #1 (Rashad) gets 11 for another first. Screen pass to Rashad gets ball across midfield. Hard tackle. Cuff squirms ahead for three. 3rd and 1. Easy first on next play as Cuff goes for seven. Another sweet run by Cuff to the 21. Short pass for 5. Next pass loses 5. Good tackle by #9. FG attempt. Wide left. UGH! Only 3rd miss of year. Fire up, defense! Hens have moved ball twice with nothing to show for it.

Mountaineers take over on downs at 28. One play then end of 1st quarter. App St 14 Delaware 0.

7:30 - State starts from the 1. Edwards brings it out to the 5. Run up middle by Richardson to the 28. He scored the App TD earlier. Face mask penalty adds 15. Game getting away from Hens. Another first down run by Richardson across midfield. #20 now racing untouched into end zone. 46-yard run for TD. 99-yard drive seemed almost effortless. This could be a long game. Hens are chasing Mountaineers on almost every play. 14-0, App St.

7:25 p.m. - Quick break for dinner, but as we come back the Hens complete a beautiful drive with a 4-yard run by RB Omar Cuff, his 35th rushing touchdown of the season. WR Aaron Love made a great catch and another good catch-and-run on the drive. Replay shows that Cuff's elbow may have contacted the field before he got to the end zone. Could be, is, 3rd and inches. Cuff stopped on 3rd down. Fourth down pass is long. Rats! Points taken off the board don't come back.

December 14 7:00 p.m. - Game time is any minute and supper's coming soon after that. I'll see what I can come up with quickly about tonites FCS Championship Game between Delaware and Appalachian State.

The Hens last won the then-Division I-AA in 2003 with a 40-0 trouncing of Colgate. The Mountaineers are playing this one close to home in Chattanooga, TN.

The Hens are coached by alum K.C. Keeler, who played on the 1979 I-AA champs.

Opening kickoff comes to the Hens. Run back to the 21. First pass from QB Joe Flacco goes sailing OB. Flacco passed for a school-record 3,922 yards. Star RB Omar Cuff gets seven on second and 10. Third down pass broken up. Hens have to punt. Short punt dies at App St 43.

Sack on first snap for Mountaineers! Loss of 10. QB draw. Gain of seven. Pass and run for long yardage. First down inside the Hens' 25. App St players are quick. Illegal procedure sets them back 5 to 25. No gain on a run. 2nd and 15 or 16. Edwards gets loose back to original line. 3rd and 10. Hens are in white. Mountaineers in black with gold numerals. Short pass. Missed tackle both at 10 and goal line. Touchdown! Being reviewed, but sure looked like a score. Receiver is #28. Good hit at goal line but ball carrier kept moving forward. PAT good, 7-0.

This picture of Delaware Blue Hen receiver Aaron Love is from an early season win over Rhode Island. The Hens take an 11-3 record into Friday night's championship game against the Appalachian State Mountaineers. (photo from UDaily)

My alma mater, the University of Delaware, won its way into the former Division 1-AA (now called the something-something (Football Championship, it turns out) subdivision) final football game in Chattanooga, TN by beating the Southern Illinois Salukis 20-17 on the Salukis' home field. What was that, you say? A playoff to decide a championship? What a novel idea!

The Fighting Blue Hens (shortened usually to just Hens) survived an unexpected defensive struggle on cold and foggy afternoon in Carbondale, IL. Over 3-1/2 quarters, they wormed out a 17-10 lead, only to see it disappear in about 15 seconds and six missed tackles on a kickoff return touchdown that tied the game at 17 for SIU. To their credit, the Hens responded with a methodical drive led by QB Joe Flacco that set up a 24-yard field goal for the 20-17 lead. Between the FG and the end, the defense held high-scoring SIU on downs and intercepted a pass that allowed the Hens to run out the clock.

Life doesn't get any easier for 13th ranked Delaware, even after beating #1 Northern Iowa and #4 SIU on the road on consecutive weekends (today's game was pushed back a day because of problems with Delaware's travel to Carbondale). Their opponent in the championship game on Friday, December 14 is none other than the Michigan Wolverine-killing Appalachian State Mountaineers.

Live blogging may be in order for this momentous game. Delaware last won the division in 1979 (actually 2003, how soon they forget). When I was in school, they played Central Michigan in this game and lost 54-14. I hope that can be avoided. Peck 'em Hens!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Road Rouge: U-Turn Signs Solved!

December 11 - I kept thinking about the U-turn signs at the corner of Airline and Goodwood and came up with a reasonable explanation. I think that the "No U Turn" sign is intended for motorists in the right-hand left turn lane. A U-turn from that lane would be a dangerous adventure. The "U-Turn Yield to Right Turn" sign is intended for motorists in the left-hand left turn lane. A U-turn from this lane isn't inherently dangerous, but needs to wait for right turners off of Goodwood. Either I'm stupid because it took me months to figure this out, or this signage is not intuitively obvious. I know that many readers of this blog and of the Curious Signs blog have looked at the picture without sending me the answer, so I'm sticking with the latter explanation.

December 4 - Progress! - It's a small thing, but sometime this week a new signal head will be installed at the intersection of Convention St. and 5th St. in downtown Baton Rouge so that pedestrians crossing 5th St. can see whether motorists have a red or green light. This change is in response to my November 15 e-mail to City of Baton Rouge Traffic Engineer Ingolf long-last-name (I'll look it u). Thanks, Ingolf!

November 26 - Intersection Ballet - I've been meaning to post about a manuever I saw on Government St. in Baton Rouge a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, there wasn't enough traffic to cause a problem. A woman travelling west on Government St. apparently intended to turn left onto Acadian Thruway. This turn used to be illegal, but the intersection has been improved so that it can be done, but not like this woman did it. She overshot the turn lane by two lanes and ended up in the right turn lane from Acadian onto Government. With me on Acadian honking and waving, she sheepishly continued through the turn lane and into the wrong direction of traffic on Acadian. From there she backed into the intersection and returned to normal traffic flow eastbound on Government. I'm not sure what I would have done. Probably ducked into the Walgreen's parking lot on the corner. I like to think that I wouldn't have compounded my error by backing into an intersection. Fortunately there was no traffic in the other directions. I stayed still and watched the awkward traffic ballet.

November 20 - Traffic Fatalities in Louisiana - I found two websites about traffic safety - one from the Department of Transportation, and the other from the Airline Transport Association.

The conclusions?

You are far safer traveling by air than in your own car (in between are busses and trains).

With 982 deaths in 2006 and a population of just over 4 million people, Louisiana has one of the worst traffic fatality rates in the country.

The most dangerous parishes in Louisiana in 2006 were primarily rural.

Speeding and alcohol consumption are the two biggest contributors to fatal accidents.

Increased seat belt usage could save almost 200 lives per year in Louisiana.
Here are all of my observations and conclusions after reading the reports.

November 16 - Traffic Safety Links

Here are a links to a pair of articles on traffic safety--one on running red lights; the other on pedestrian safety.

November 15 Update - I sent an e-mail to East Baton Rouge Parish government yesterday regarding the crosswalk at 5th Stree and Convention Street. It was rerouted to the city's Chief Traffic Engineer, who sent me an e-mail this morning acknowledging my concern and telling me that he would visit the intersection today and check it out.

During my time on the roads today I had occasion to experience a Road Rose moment, when a driver slowed to allow me to move right on Essen Lane to reach the I-12 West on-ramp. Heading north on Jefferson Highway, I turned left out of the leftmost lane onto Essen, not realizing that there were two left turn lanes. In the narrow space and time available to do so, a gentleman in a late-model Oldsmobile saw my right turn signal and let me in. A Road Rose to you, kind sir.

Driving back from my afternoon appointment, I did an informal survey of traffic speeds on I-10 between Siegen Lane and downtown. I set my cruise control at 60 mph. Over the next eight or so miles to downtown Baton Rouge, 24 cars passed me, at least one going no less than 75 mph. I passed one truck. I hope that the speed limit enforcement that has improved safety on I-12 on the east side of town can be extended to other parts of the Interstate that pass through Baton Rouge.

November 14 Update - My wife and I walked through the same intersection (see November 12 entry below) after lunch today--crossing 5th Street at Convention St. One problem is that someone crossing the street from east to west can't see whether the traffic light is red or green. 5th Street is one way at that point, and the signal is only 3-sided. Unfortunately for the pedestrian, the blank side is the only one visible from either side of the crosswalk. I think this is especially hazardous because of all the construction in the area, which both changes traffic patterns and limits visibility for both pedestrians and motorists.

November 12 - I'm Invisible! - Today's story reminded me of a scene in the 1970-vintage movie Little Big Man in which blind Indian chief Old Lodge Skins (played brilliantly by Chief Dan George) walks unharmed through a raging battle in his village saying, "They can't see me. I'm invisible!" (The joke being, of course, that his blindness keeps his enemies from seeing him as well as him from seeing them).

Coming back from lunch yesterday we watched a man walk obliviously into a crosswalk with the light green against him and a Jeep Wrangler approaching. The Jeep slowed down to avoid hitting him. The man never looked up from his phone, seemingly unaware to what might have happened. Fortunately for him the incident took place in a construction zone, where no one can travel more than about 20 mph. Maybe he thought the road was blocked from traffic. I don't know. The story demonstrates that cell phones are dangerous in the hands of both drivers and pedestrians.

November 8: Why Didn't I Cross the Road?

The Story - Today on the way to lunch, I was waiting at the corner of 6th and Main to cross Main St. to the north (toward Serop's Express). The light was in my favor, but blocking my way was a vehicle sitting on Main St. in the crosswalk. I scowled at the driver, who apparently saw me and sheepishly began to make a "right on red" turn to get out of my way, without really looking at what was in his way on 6th St. At the same time, several female pedestrians were crossing 6th St (against the light), putting themselves directly in front of the right turner. In order to avoid hitting them, the driver pulled into the left lane on 6th St. Just then a silver car came rolling south down 6th St, blowing its horn. I stayed put. The women hustled through the 6th St crosswalk. The right turner completed his turn and veered back into the right lane. The silver car slowed and swerved a bit to avoid the car turning into his path. For a second, a collision between the two cars looked likely, but was narrowly avoided. All this happened because the first vehicle didn't stay out of the crosswalk, and then, embarrassed by his error, tried to correct it without paying attention to the rest of what was going on.

The women helped create the situation by crossing 6th St against the light, but in their admittedly weak defense, it sometimes seems safer to cross against a light with nothing coming, then to wait to cross with the light and risk being hit by an anxious driver turning either left or right. Left turners especially seem to delight in threatening pedestrians in the crosswalk. Drivers don't want to get caught in the intersection when the light turns, and they can't conceive waiting through an entire light cycle just to ensure the safety of pedestrians. Or they're talking on a cell phone while making the turn, and not really thinking about any of this. Motorists turning right with a green light may not even slow down much.

Lessons for Pedestrians - Trust no one sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle when you're crossing a street. Continue to scan in all directions as you cross. Make eye contact with as many motorists as possible to hold them in their places. Hold your hand up in the "stop" position to improve your chances. Increasing development of the downtown Baton Rouge area means more motorists, more pedestrians, and more opportunities for tragic accidents. You may be the righteous party in a vehicle/pedestrian collision, but that won't make you any less injured or dead. Protect yourself from becoming a victim.

Lessons for Motorists - Don't "atone" for a mistake by making another more dangerous one. Watch for oncoming traffic, both vehicular and on foot, when making any lane change or directional change, regardless of what the light says. Traffic lights only indicate what motorists and pedestrians are supposed to do--not what they might do when they're distracted by friends, cell phones, the radio, or whatever else has been going on that day. You'll "win" any collision with a pedestrian, but you won't feel good about it, no matter how right you were and how wrong the pedestrian was in his or her actions.

November 5 - Running the Gauntlet - I can't believe it's been more than two months since I posted a Road Rouge story. Drivers in Baton Rouge have been reasonably well-behaved--just the typical streams of cars running red lights while making left turns. Today's story comes from that family. It happened a few days ago, at the intersection of Sherwood Forest Blvd. and the I-12 West on-ramp. In any event, cars turning left with the green light from Sherwood Forecast northbound onto the I-12 on-ramp had already started through the intersection--one had already made it through--when a southbound vehicle on Sherwood Forest decided that he would "run the gauntlet" through the steady stream of cars, against his own red light. He made it without incident, but I was impressed with his nerve.

A few weeks ago we saw an similarly embarrassing move, again without incident. A young woman trying to turn left from Government Street onto Acadian Thruway managed to cross the oncoming lane into the right turn lane from Acadian onto Government. Fortunately no one wanted to make that turn and she was able to worm sheepishly (how's that for a mixed metaphor) out of her embarrasing manuever.

Oh yeah, I'm still waiting for the State Police to send accident statistics for the I-10/Picardy Ave. area. Deputy Brown acknowledged my request and said that it was in the queue for response.

August 27 - Downtown Drafting - Today's Road Rouge story comes from downtown. Heading east on Main Street, I stopped for a red light at 9th St. To the left of me a large open dump truck roared through the entire intersection while the light shone red. OK, I've seen that, I thought, not too greatly surprised. I was surprised, as were the motorists waiting to proceed south on 9th St, when a small brown sedan "drafted" the dump truck and shot through the intersection behind it, clearly after the light in the other direction had already turned green. Several other drivers and I honked at the two fools as they turned left and headed up the I-110 N on-ramp. It's a good thing that the 9th St. drivers were either observing the 3-second rule, or just slow on the gas when their light changed to green, otherwise an ugly wreck would have occurred and I would have had to stay on the scene as an eyewitness.

August 26: U-Turn Signs Mix Messages for Motorists

On the way to church this morning I stopped at the intersection of Airline Highway and Goodwood Boulevard heading north and waited to turn left onto Goodwood. An interesting (and I think new) sign caught my attention. It instructed "U-Turn Yield to Right Turn". Good advice for those making a U-turn. Two signs and one traffic light to the right appeared another sign, this one with the universal signal for "No U-Turn", the upside-down U-shaped arrow with the red circle around it and red slash across it. Look back at the photo and see for yourself.

Here are my possible explanations.

1) There are two sign crews--putter-uppers and taker-downers. The putter-uppers have done their work, installing the new "U-Turn Yield to Right Turn" sign. The taker-downers will someday remove the conflicting "No U-Turn" sign.

2) Police are setting up to write two tickets to a U-turner who hits someone turning right off Goodwood.

3) The signs reflect the real attitude of the highway designers and the police. We'd prefer that you don't make any U-turns here, but if you have to, please wait until there's no one turning right.

4) No one has any idea what's going on, including me, given that this sign may have been in place for ten years before I noticed it.

August 26: Aussie Pinkie Campaign Shames Speeders - Here's a picture and a link to a fun article from the Chicago Tribune about Australia's "pinkie" campaign to slow down speeders. Do you think this would have any impact in Baton Rouge on what I call the NASCAR set--those who treat traffic like a NASCAR race to be won one car length at a time?,0,7703809.story

Tribune foreign correspondent Laurie Goering describes the campaign.

"After failing to scare young men into driving more slowly, Australian authorities have hit on a new tactic: questioning their virility. A witty advertising campaign features passengers and passersby waving their pinkie fingers -- a gesture suggesting a certain lack of physical endowment -- at show-off male drivers."

August 25: The following Letter to the Editor appeared in The Advocate this morning. I'm not the only one concerned about the safety of motorists on the off-ramp and service road at I-10 and Picardy. It's encouraging that a highway designer shares my concerns. I hope the author doesn't mind me copying it here. I will try to contact him about our mutual interest in this problem.

August 26 Update: I talked to Mr. Truxillo by phone today. As a consulting engineer, he has some contacts at DOTD that he will talk to about the problem. He faces the problems at I-10 between Bluebonnet and Siegen every morning and afternoon at rush hour. He describes motorists who use the frontage road to gain ground on stalled traffic--flying up to 70 mph to bypass 50 cars in line. He did not agree with Chief Engineer William Temple's conclusion that enforcement is the problem rather than poor design. He's seen wrecks, abrupt moves, and plenty of skid marks to demonstrate that we're talking about when, not if, someone will get killed in this area in an accident with poor highway design as the root cause.

I will see if the State Police have any statistics on the number of wrecks that have occured since Picardy Ave. interchange opened.

August 27 Update - I talked to Mr. Truxillo by phone and have exchanged e-mails. He found some highway design information that supports our case. He also said that enforcement was unlikely to be helpful because of the ambiguity of the meaning of "Yield" sign. He will continue to pursue the issue as he has time.

I sent an e-mail to the public information officer for Louisiana State Police Captain Bryan Wynne asking for accident statistics for the are on I-10 and the frontage roads between Bluebonnet and Siegen (which includes the new Picardy Ave. exit).

Published: Aug 25, 2007

Do motorists in the area know the meaning of a yield sign? I think not.

There are several locations around town where this is apparent. One is at the Interstate 12/Airline Highway interchange and the other is at the Interstate 10 off-ramps between Bluebonnet Boulevard and Siegen Lane.

At the I-10 off-ramps to the frontage roads running parallel to the interstate between Bluebonnet and Siegen, the frontage road traffic should yield to the off-ramps.

The frontage road advance signs read, “Yield to Ramp Traffic,” both lanes of the frontage road are marked with yield signs and emblems on the pavement, and there are two overhead yield signs where the frontage roads intersect the ramps.

Both lanes of the frontage road should yield to ramp traffic, but rarely or barely do. The intersection angles are quite bad; there have been quite a few accidents and near accidents at these locations.

A possible solution might be to replace the yield signs with stop signs. A stop sign should get most of us around here to at least yield to the motorist with the right of way.

Ron Truxillo
civil designer, highways
Baton Rouge

Here's the link to the letter of the The Advocate's website.

July 30: Be Safe! Turn Right! was distributed with my byline today by e-mail to all of my company's work groups at the Baton Rouge Tower as the weekly safety reminder.

July 26: My roadway safety kick now extends to work where I'm alerting people to a hazard as they leave the building's parking garage.

Here's my message and a link to a map of the issue.

Be Safe! Turn Right! (Safety Tip for North Tower Contract Parkers)

Employees parking in the North Tower garage encounter a safety hazard almost every day as they leave work. When exiting the garage by turning left onto 4th Street, their view to the left is obstructed by either the Iron Mountain truck, various construction vehicles and pieces of equipment, or both that are parked in what used to be parking spaces along the northbound right-hand side of 4th Street. By turning left to proceed south on 4th Street or to then turn onto Florida Street, they have to nose out past the obstructing vehicles and hope that nothing is coming either through the Florida/4th intersection southbound, or turning right from Florida onto 4th. If they guess right, they can proceed southbound on 4th Street and to their ultimate destination. If they guess wrong, they either get hit broadside or an oncoming car has to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision.

The City-Parish has declined to prohibit left turns coming out of the garage, or to prohibit vehicles from parking in the view-obstructing area. Therefore it's up to us drivers to protect our safety. The safest way to exit the North Tower garage is to always turn right onto 4th Street, no matter where you're heading. If you want to reach I-110, you can turn right on Main St. and proceed to its I-110 on-ramp, which is further from the 1-10E/I-10W split, giving you more time to merge left if you want to go on I-10E, an additional safety benefit. Even those wanting to go south on 4th Street aren't too badly inconvenienced. They can turn right on Main, right on 6th, right on North Blvd. and left on 4th St--several turns to be sure, but less inconvenient than recovering from a broadside collision. You may add from a few seconds to a few minutes to your trip home, but you and your family can be more sure that you'll arrive home safely. Be Safe! Turn Right!

Here's a link to a picture to better illustrate the problem and suggested safeguard.

July 22: Baton Rouge Driving Rules This is a fun post from an observant 19-year old in Baton Rouge.

Please respond to the poll at the right about the I-10 S Exit at Picardy Ave. in Baton Rouge. Thanks!

July 14: My campaign to improve safety at the I-10 Picardy Ave. exit hasn't yet lit any fires. As mentioned before, I got a personal letter from State Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Johnny Bradbury thanking me for my feedback and telling me that my concern had been forwarded to Chief Engineer William Temple. Today, I got a curt response from Mr. Temple, telling me my letter was an enforcement concern rather than a design concern and as such had been forwarded to Captain Bryan Wynne of the State Police. I will follow up with Captain Wynne to learn how his agency is enforcing the yield signs along the I-10 service road between Bluebonnet and Picardy.

July 10: Bad news (without an unhappy ending) and good news today. Starting with the "bad news" driving story, on the way downtown to lunch today, I was ready to turn right from S. Harrell's Ferry Road onto northbound S. Sherwood Forest Blvd so as to enter I-12 from a few yards down the road. The previous light cycle ended with a white car running the red light, and then stopping underneath the traffic signal, thereby blocking the intersection (at least the leftmost lane, where I wanted to be). I guess he thought he would minimize his sin by stopping rather than continuing through the light. I honked and waved a couple of times and then gave up and turned right into the right lane and went around him. Others behind me turned into his lane and further blocked the intersection. Even though I was 100 yards ahead at the next light, I waved some more, hoping he'd see me and move forward to make room for the other drivers. He steadfastly waited for the light to turn green, at which time everyone got well through the intersection before the next wave of S. Sherwood Forest came through. The best scenario I can imagine for him is that he was new to town and not aware that the signal he was sitting under was controlling the intersection that he was sitting in. At least no one got hurt.

My good news is that Baton Rouge's city leaders continue to work on the accident/injury/fatality infested section of I-12 near our house. The speed limit has been reduced from 70 mph to 60 mph all the way to Walker, LA, which is about 5 miles down the road. The speed limit used to change from 60 to 70 as soon as you left East Baton Rouge Parish. They've also posted a number of portable electronic signs along the highway warning drivers to be "Prepare to Stop. Traffic May Slow." I hope this helps. Statistics show that police officers are writing many more tickets recently, which should also help.

July 1: Great Moments in U-Turns - It's been a few days since I've been able to post a good Road Rouge story, but patience pays off as we saw an entertaining U-turn from the wrong lane against a red light this afternoon.

We were in the leftmost left turn lane waiting for the left turn signal to enter the westbound I-12 on-ramp at Sherwood Forest Blvd. A car stopped next to us in the right-hand left turn lane and proceeded to execute a U-turn in front of us while the left was red. The only positive mark I could give him was for not talking on a cell phone during the manuever. We theorized that he moved into the left turn lane thinking he wanted to go on I-12, but then thought of something he needed to do back home. Rather than entering I-12 and going to Airline Highway to turn around (a 5-minute round trip, at least), or waiting in place for our lane to clear and risking the car behind blowing its horn, or having to sit through another light cycle, he decided to take advantage of our law-abiding nature and the lack of cross-traffic to make his creative U-turn. I think there's a barricade that prevented him from proceeding on Sherwood Forest a few yards and then making a more traditional U-turn.

Sometimes I'm not that observant of no U-turn signs, particularly if I really need to make one and there's nothing coming, but I've never tried this particular move. You should avoid it too.

June 28 Part 2: My post of last night was very timely as The Advocate, Baton Rouge's daily newspaper, ran a story this morning about a meeting on I-12 safety headed by the Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden. The short-term upshot is addition of highway police patrols along the dangerous stretch of highway, which has experienced almost 2,000 wrecks causing 567 injuries and at least 10 deaths over the last five years. Here's a link to the article:

June 28: Fatal Accidents Plague Baton Rouge Interstates - Baton Rouge drivers have been behaving themselves in my sight lately, and I've been off the roads for a few days as a surgery patient. Still a couple of road-related topics have come to my attention. Sadly, the first involves a couple of fatal accidents that have taken place on I-12 in Baton Rouge within a few miles of my house. In the first accident, some large pipes (sewer pipe size) came loose from the back of a tractor trailer, one of which crushed a vehicle and killed its driver, a pregnant woman. We've talked a bit around the house about how such accidents could be prevented. A lot of large trucks travel with open loads, secured by straps and chains. In this case, it seems like large pipes could be carried in a closed container that could provide some protection for other vehicles when one of the pipes came loose. I read that a similar accident happened along I-12 in Baton Rouge several years ago.

The second accident, also on I-12 East, involved three 18-wheelers (and some other vehicles, I think) and resulted in three fatalities. I haven't seen an analysis of the accident, but a problem in the area of the wreck is the narrowing of the highway from three lanes to two. Particularly in late afternoon (although this wreck took place at about 10 p.m.), traffic backs up as commuters head home. The area to the east of Baton Rouge has a growing population, many of which work in Baton Rouge. Too many cars are forced to merge into too few lanes and on many days traffic flow stops. A vehicle that's not aware of this situation and not paying attention can easily be going 65 mph and find cars in front of him going 10 mph or less just feet in front of him. Personally, I think everyone's in far too big a hurry during rush hour. If traffic thins just a bit, cars are once again going 70 mph, even though the next slow down may be only a quarter mile ahead. Long haul truckers get paid by the mile and seem determined to travel 70 mph for every possible mile, even though they would add only 3 minutes to their trip by going 50 instead of 70 across the 20 or so miles that pass through Baton Rouge. Because there's no bypass, Baton Rouge has some of the worst rush hour traffic around, as commuters and through traffic share the road for 2+ hours in the morning and 3+ hours in the evening.

Driving along the two-lane road that parallels this stretch of I-12, as I do most days, is a dicey experience. More than one large vehicle has left the interstate on the right hand side, driven through the chain link fence and into the two-lane road. A friend of mine was hit by such a vehicle. Her SUV was totalled, but miraculously, she was unhurt. You can count the number of times someone has gone through the fence by counting the lengths of new fencing.

Some of Louisiana's legislators have been paying attention and have asked the DOTD for a study of this stretch of I-12, which has yielded 11 fatalities in the last five years. I look forward to seeing the results of the study, and to whatever improvements might be made to make this dangerous stretch of highway safer. In the meantime, everybody please slow down and pay attention.

10 Commandments of Driving

My second topic is the recently issued "10 Commandments of Driving", offered by that noted source of highway safety information, the Vatican in Rome. One can opine as to whether highway safety is the best use of the Holy See's resources, but the ideas offered are sound, albeit a little high-minded, given that they don't address such directly hazardous activities as speeding and tailgating. I'm not sure if God was a point system for violators, or what the consequences of non-compliance are, other than increased risk of tickets, accidents and injuries or worse. Without further liturgy, here they are:

The "Drivers' Ten Commandments"

1. You shall not kill.

2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.

4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.

5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.

6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

7. Support the families of accident victims.

8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.

10. Feel responsible toward others.

Here's a link with more of the story:

Maybe as part of this effort I'll come up with a more secular version of my own.

June 14: On the way to work (whoops, I mean the doctor's office) this morning, we were waiting on Sherwood Forest to turn left onto I-12 West. Traffic was heavy in the other direction, and the car in the opposite left lane stopped to avoid being stuck in the intersection. At this point, the driver behind the stopped car darted out into the right lane and moved into the intersection, only to be stuck with no place to go, as traffic on that side was backed up as well. Fortunately for us, traffic moved along enough for the woman to clear the intersection so we could turn left when we got the green arrow. I guess she just couldn't handle waiting through another light cycle.

Picardy Ave. Exit Update: I got a letter today from the Secretary of DOTD saying that my concern had been forwarded to their Chief Engineer and that I would be hearing from him. The letter appeared to be authentically signed by the Secretary and it arrived in my home mailbox only two days after I sent my fax. Very encouraging. Stay tuned.

June 11: Today I offer a "Road Rose" to the unidentified Louisiana State Trooper who slowed down and flashed his lights to allow me to merge into I-12 East at Airline Highway on Sunday afternoon. Without such help my options were to drive on the shoulder or to proceed straight from the on ramp to the off ramp to try again.

June 10: Dangerous Road Design - Today I want to highlight a dangerous road design here in Baton Rouge in the hope that greater awareness, or perhaps even a redesign can prevent a costly or even deadly crash.

My concern is with the new Picardy Avenue interchange on I-10 South. One of the primary objectives of this interchange is to move travelers from I-10 into the Mall of Louisiana without having them drive on Bluebonnet Blvd.

However, when you exit I-10 South at Picardy, you have almost no time to cross two lanes of traffic coming from behind you on the southbound frontage road before you reach the Picardy Ave. turnoff on the other side.

The drivers on the frontage road are warned with many "Yield" signs, but in my experience with Baton Rouge drivers, it is very counterintuitive for those going straight ahead to yield to those merging into or across a given street.

When I've tried to make the move across to Picardy, I've found it hard to take it on faith that those motorists speeding into my side view mirror and are going to slow down to allow me across. One time, I continued on down the frontage road to Siegen and took the northbound frontage road back to Picardy. The next time I exited I-10 South at Bluebonnet and wound my way around the Mall to get to the new Rave Theater to pick up my daughter there.

Having driven a lot in Texas, I'm familiar with the value of frontage roads, but I haven't seen one there where a driver exiting the interstate is confronted with such an immediate need to cross traffic to get where he or she wants to go.

I'm very afraid that there's going to be a high-speed collision at this site before something is done to improve its safety. Please be very careful if you find yourself traveling south on the frontage road from Bluebonnet Blvd. to Siegen Lane or if you are exiting I-10 at Picardy Ave. and trying to get to the Mall.

June 12 Update: I faxed this concern today to the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. When (and if) I get a response, I'll post a summary here.

June 9: Imaginative and Dangerous Driving - Today we saw two examples of Road Rouge, my term for the imaginative and often dangerous driving I see here almost every day in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Both were associated with interstate ramps. Interstates I-10, I-12 and I-110 run through the middle our fair city, so it's fitting that the first examples come from this critical driving environment.

First on an I-12 on-ramp, a red sedan executed an unexpected pass, using the unoccupied (barely) second lane to execute the pass. We were far enough behind in line to just enjoy the move without having to deal with it. I'm not sure what motivated the driver to make such a move to advance one space in the line of cars entering I-12 at that point. Maybe he or she just bought the car and was looking for chances to check out the excellent handling promised by the salesperson.

On the same trip (actually less than a mile down I-12 at the next exit), another vehicle decided about one-third of the way down the off-ramp that he or she still needed to be on I-12, darted to the left, cross all those diagonally-striped lines and made his or her way back into traffic. Fortunately, traffic on a Saturday afternoon was pretty light, so the move put neither the driver nor other travelers in jeopardy. We were the next vehicle in line at the exit, well behind, but within range had the driver been sideswiped while trying to reenter interstate traffic. Surely the daring driver felt satisfied, knowing he or she had saved the two or three minutes it would have taken to complete the unintended exit, drive on to the next on-ramp and continue safely on his or her trip.

Your examples of Road Rouge (or whatever you call it in your hometown) are welcome. Please leave them as comments on this post.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

November (and One December) Book Reviews - Grisham True Crime; Ford's Jersey Series Continues; Hip Louisiana PI; US Defense Policy Analysis

I read just three books in November, one of which, Daydream Believers by Fred Kaplan, was an advance review copy from Amazon that to my knowledge, I'm only supposed to review on until the book's release in February 2008. That leaves two books: Louisiana Bigshot by Julie Smith and The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford. To beef up the numbers and to publicize what I think is one of the most important books written in awhile, I'm adding a December book to the list, The Innocent Man by John Grisham. I'll start with it and work backwards.

The Innocent Man by John Grisham

Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

The phrase "Grisham book" and word "important" aren't often found in the same sentence, but John Grisham's 2006 non-fiction book, The Innocent Man, allows me to state that Grisham has now written the most important book of his mega-successful career, and one of the most important I've read by any author.

The book recounts two murders in the small town of Ada, Oklahoma. Both victims are young women. In both cases, the local and state police investigating the case are stumped. But with a harrowing blend of extremely circumstantial "evidence", shocking crime scene photos, junk science, inexpert experts, jailhouse snitches and critical "dream confessions" induced by near-torture tactics, the police pin the murders on four young men of the area, two per murder.

The "innocent man" of the title is 30-something ne'er-do-well Ron Williamson, a schoolboy baseball star whose dreams of playing in Yankee Stadium dissolve in the low minors in a mix of arm injuries, booze and the onset of mental illness. By the time of the murder that consumes most of Grisham's tale, Williamson has washed up back home in Ada, and deservedly earned a reputation as a loudmouth loose cannon of sorts. Still his worst crime is passing a $300 phony check.

Skipping forward quickly, Williamson becomes the focus of the police's investigation and ultimately finds himself on death row in an Oklahoma criminal justice system whose aim seems to be to continuously reduce the amount of respect shown to death row inmates until it reaches zero. Shrewd detectives that they are, the police "know" that there's a second killer because of a misspelled warning message written in catsup at the scene, "dont chase us or ealse." Enter suspect two, single father Dennis Fritz, whose main crime is being a friend of Williamson.

I'll stop here regarding the "plot", even though this is a news story and you could look it up. (If you don't know the outcome of the story, skip over the photos in the middle of the book until you've finished reading.) While novelistic in format, The Innocent Man reads more like a newspaper report, or like a lawyer dispassionately recounting the facts of a case. (Well after awhile not so dispassionately, as the injustices against the accused and then convicted men pile up.) The issues raised by the case and brought to light by Grisham cover the gamut of criminal justice - abuse of police power, single-minded focus on particular suspects and deliberate ignorance of others, near-torture-induced confessions, prosecutorial arrogance, lack of resources provided to defendants, mishandling of evidence, coercion of expert witnesses, use of junk science to dazzle a jury, the general and mistaken belief by the community that the police only arrest guilty parties, and most compellingly in Williamson's case, the inability of the criminal justice system to recognize and deal humanely with mentally ill prisoners.

My wife read the almost 450-page paperback version in one day. She then bugged me to read it for several days until I interrupted my second attempt at Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer: A Novel and dove in. Even while sick, I finished it in a day-and-a-half. After his disappointing novella Bleachers, I'd pretty much written off Grisham (never have considered him much better an airplane read in the first place), but I'm deeply grateful to him to recognizing the power of this story and bringing to the attention of so many people with this fine book. I also salute him for sticking to the non-fiction format, resisting the novelist's urge to fictionalize the story and embellish it with tie-ins to the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11 and the like. The Innocent Man may not stand up as literature to recently-deceased Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song, but it's still a great book--the best true-crime story I've read with the most important messages about America's criminal justice system and its generally unrecognized threat to innocent men and women everywhere (and especially in Ada, OK where the DA that prosecuted the cases is still in office).

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

Ford's Private Jersey

Action and plot take a backseat to character exploration in Richard Ford's third novel about New Jersey-based sportswriter cum real estate agent Frank Bascombe, who having survived loss, tragedy and a career change in his first two appearances (The Sportswriter, which I tried to read unsuccessfully several years ago, and Independence Day), returns in The Lay of the Land for his self-named Permanent Period. Naturally gregarious, Frank is quite alone (except for the atomic BBs in his groin--there to fight prostate cancer) in November 2000 (the Gore-Bush election dispute is an ongoing element of the story), his children grown and moved away from New Jersey, divorced by one wife and left by the second. With his protege, Tibetan immigrant and amateur Buddhist philosopher Mike Mahoney, Bascombe manages his thriving real estate office on the fictional island community of Sea-Clift off the Jersey shore. In a hospital cafeteria, in a bar (or three), or in his seaside condo (not for sale but valued in excess of $1 million) alongside a diminishing band of secretive and/or eccentric and annoying neighbors, Frank searches for human contact. He goes so far as to arrange a catered Thanksgiving dinner for his children and their spouses, partners, or dates, even going so far as to invite his first ex-wife, a move that both he and former tennis coach Ann Dykstra immediately regret.

Counting almost 500 pages in the trade paperback edition, the novel includes at least 350 pages of the inner workings of Frank's mind. In just three days of thought and action before and on Thanksgiving, we learn more about Frank than most people would know about their spouses after 20 years of marriage. Along the way we learn a good bit about the Jersey shore real estate trade and about the idiosyncractic makeup of the whole of New Jersey, an amalgamation of small towns, boros, and villages struggling to maintain their identities in a big box world that wants to smush them together into market segments. When it comes the action can be violent, comic, pathetic or some combination of the three.

Well-written throughout, The Lay of the Land may keep you going even if character-driven novels aren't your speed. The big ending, which I read about four times, will be your reward. Five star elements - writing, character-development, detailed insight into setting; four star or less elements - plot and action. Overall four stars. Folks that liked John Updike's Rabbit series will probably like this one. I hope that Ford will use his considerable talents to write a truly great book (at least to my tastes) like Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex: A Novel.

Louisiana Bigshot by Julie Smith

Hot Stuff Louisiana Style

Not being a big fan or urban detective fiction, I never would have bought this book if not for taking a half-day class on character development in fiction writing taught by the author. The class was fun and informative, but I haven't written any fiction since the class. However, I did buy and read Louisiana Bigshot, one of Ms. Smith's 20 or so detective novels. The heroine of the story is young African-American Talba Wallis, a PI by day and the performance artist Baroness Pontalba by night. A friend is murdered and she convinces her boss to take the case. Investigation involves digging in the past of a nearby small town that hasn't advanced much culturally since the 1950s. Race, sex, violence and politics, the grist of a good Louisiana-set novel, are all here and capably handled by Smith's fast-moving style.

Hip, computer-savvy, but accident-prone Talba is a fun leading character, but with some issues of her own that she works on in parallel with the murder investigation. Her boss Eddie is an obese Yat from the old school, but he knows the key to unlock almost any door. Smith also creates a touching character to be Talba's spiritual guide, an aging retired minister who devotes his life to caring for his aging and ailing wife. Though the town at the center of the story is fictitious, Louisiana readers will recognize many of the settings. Like a fresh fried shrimp poboy, Louisiana Bigshot (which sounds like a good name for a hot sauce or a drink) - is a quickly-consumed and tasty treat. Three-and-a-half stars for the book and the extra half for its author teaching the fun course for a total of four stars.

Daydream Believers by Fred Kaplan

As a regular reviewer at, I got an advanced copy of Daydream Believers this book through their Vine program. The book will be released in February 2008. The author writes the column War Stories in the online magazine Slate (, which I've enjoyed for years. Having received the book for free, I owe a first review to that Vine program, so all I’ll say here is that if you read this book you will have a much greater understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of the Iraq War and its aftermath. The title, taken from an old Monkees song, I think, undersells a very informative and important book. The “believers” part of the title is right on.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

BCS Jumble Solved - Ohio State vs. LSU in BCS Championship Game

7:30 p.m. Update - Ohio State and LSU were clear picks as #1 and #2 and will compete in the Allstate Bowl Championship Game in the Superdome in New Orleans on Monday, January 7. They were first and second in both human polls and second and third (to Virginia Tech) in the computer rankings.

1:00 p.m. Update - The Coaches' Poll has Ohio State and LSU in top two positions, followed by Oklahoma, Georgia, Va Tech, USC, Missouri, Kansas, West Virginia, Hawaii, Arizona St and Florida.

In Baton Rouge yesterday, the planets aligned; the traffic jam cleared; the drought broke; the lottery number hit--whichever of these or your own chosen metaphors fits--just a week and a day after a bitter 3-overtime loss to Arkansas, LSU's football team is back in the running for the 2007 National Championship. The Tigers did their part by beating the hard-hitting Tennessee Vols by 21-14 in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, on a day when Coach Les Miles had to announced his intent to continue as LSU's coach in 2008, in light of an published report that Michigan would announced Miles as their new head coach later this week.

For the Tigers to have any chance to play for the big prize, both #1 Missouri and #2 West Virginia had to lose on Saturday. Playing formidable #9 Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game, Missouri seemed the more likely victim, and sure enough, they were trounced, 38-17 by the Sooners. Playing at home against 4-7 Pitt in the annual "Backyard Brawl", West Virginia was favored by about four touchdowns and figured to romp to victory. Stunned Mountaineer fans sat speechless and motionless in the stands as Pitt players and fans celebrated a 13-9 upset win.

The outcomes will very likely push previously #3 Ohio State into the #1 spot. Upwards of ten teams will be considered by pollsters and computers today for the coveted #2 spot in the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans. Here's my take on the pros and cons for each team; my prediction destination for each team; and how I'd vote if I were a real sportswriter, coach, former player or computer.

Ohio State - pros - only 1-loss record among major conference champs; champs of Big 10; cons - no Big Ten tournament, last game now a week-old memory. Prediction - In BCS Championship Game as new #1. CORRECT, continue.

Missouri - pros - great record (11-2); strong schedule; Big 12 North champ; cons - lopsided last game loss to Oklahoma. Prediction - Fiesta or Cotton. Cotton or something else. Tough treatment for Missouri.

West Virginia
- pros - several impressive wins over Big East opponents ; cons - last game loss at home to lightly-regarded Pitt. Prediction - Orange? Long trip to Fiesta.

Georgia - pros - #4 ranking in last week's poll; 10-2 record; playing very well at end of season; lopsided win over Florida; cons - not even champ of own SEC division. Prediction - almost any game possible (BCS, Sugar, Orange, Rose), I'll guess Sugar. CORRECT, continue.

Virginia Tech - pros - 11-2 record; ACC Champ; loss to BC avenged in ACC title game; finished strong; cons - early-season 41-point loss to co-contender LSU. Prediction - Orange. CORRECT, continue.

Kansas - pros - #5 ranking in last week's poll; 1-loss record; lots of high scoring wins; cons - lost critical game to Missouri and didn't look good doing it; strength of schedule poor. Prediction - Fiesta. Orange over Missouri, despite head-to-head loss.

LSU - pros - 11-2 record; SEC Champ with gritty win over Tennessee; big wins over Va Tech, Florida, Auburn, Miss St (all bowl teams); two losses both in 3 OT's; cons - #7 in BCS standings last week; recent loss to Arkansas. Prediction - BCS Championship Game. CORRECT; way to go voters.

Oklahoma - pros - 11-2 record; Big 12 champ with win over then-#1 Missouri; cons - #9 in last BCS standings; poor strength of schedule; recent ugly loss to Texas Tech. Prediction - Fiesta. CORRECT; continue.

Hawaii - pros - only undefeated team in country; win in last regular-season game played by anyone; cons - played in perceived-weak WAC; #12 in last BCS standings. Prediction - Sugar. CORRECT; three in a row.

USC - pros - Pac 10 Champ; cons - big fall from preseason #1; embarrassing loss to Stanford at home. Prediction - Rose. CORRECT. Playing non-BCS team Illinois (Big Ten tie-in)

My top eleven would be:

Team (Dave rank) BCS Rank

1) Ohio State yes
2) LSU yes
3) Oklahoma #4
4) Georgia #5
5) Virginia Tech #3
6) Missouri yes
7) USC yes
8) Florida #12
9) Kansas #8
10)West Virginia #9
11) Hawaii #10

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Impressions of a Sometimes Moviegoer - More DVDs - Spanish, English, Japanese and Intergalactic

It's been a long time since I posted any movie reviews. I'll start with movies I've seen in the theater this year and then backtrack to DVDs I've seen at home.

In the Theater

The Simpsons Movie
- The adventures of Homer and his friendly neighborhood Spiderpig didn't save the world (though they did save Springfield), but they've been on my mind every time I've seen a promo for the "real thing" (Spiderman, that is). Overall, the writers did a decent job of expanding a 20-minute TV show to a 75-minute feature film, thought at times the pace wasn't quite as frenetic as I'm used to. Green Day's ill-fated concert on Lake Springfield made us all laugh. The staying power of the Simpsons franchise is amazing. I used to think that the movie would mark its end, but now with a new season started, who knows how long Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and the good (and not so good) people of Springfield can go on? Four stars (out of five).

The Bourne Ultimatum - This was a movie that all three of us (Dad, Mom and teenage daughter) were willing to see, though it wouldn't have been anyone's first choice. Director Paul Greengrass (United 73) contributed his jarring hand-held camera style. Matt Damon contributed his stoic good looks and action-hero agility. Robert Ludlum and current-day screenwriters contributed the story. My daughter enjoyed Damon (who looks a lot like the quarterback on the hometown LSU football team), but disliked the director's style, which kept the movie from being just another thriller to me. I read Ludlum's books at least 20 years ago, and therefore can't attest to the faithfulness of the films. Still they've all been worthy contributors to the book/film franchise. Three-and-a-half stars.

Hairspray - My exposure to this story started with the Broadway musical, which as a big fan of musicals, I just loved, even at $110 per ticket. When we got home, we watched the '80s Hairspray movie on DVD. It would have been better to see these two versions in the other order, as the original film was an offbeat, low budget comedy--much less boisterous and joyful than the show. The current movie musical follows the path of the Broadway musical, keeping most of the songs and adding a couple others. The young actress who plays the indomitable Tracy Turnblad is terrific, but the rest of the cast suffers from star-studdedness, primarily in the Latex-laden form of John Travolta as Tracy's mom, Edna Turnblad. The use of a male actor is the role isn't unprecedented. Actually, it's the standard, as transvestite actress Divine played the role in the '80s movie, and a variety of overweight male actors have played the role on Broadway. Still, HD-clarity on made-up pores in Travolta face and petrochemical molecules in his fat suit distracted me from enjoying Hairspray as much as I could. (He did do a good job researching and trying to maintain a Baltimore accent.)

Supporting roles were filled with non-singing stars as well--particularly Michelle Pfeiffer as Velma Von Tussle; Christopher Walken as jokester father Wilbur Turnblad. The romantic song and dance featuring Travolta and Walken is pretty hard to watch. Still, a ticket to Hairspray the movie musical cost only about $6, and you get to hear the incomparable opening number, Good Morning, Baltimore, and the rousing closing number You Can't Stop The Beat, along with some energetic singing and dancing from younger and less famous members of the cast, which is more entertainment than a lot of movies offer. This one might even be better on the small screen, where Travolta's Edna won't be quite so enormously alarming. Three stars.

Across the Universe - My 14-year old daughter is not much of a Beatles fan, but her best friend is. The friend, who lives out of state, thought that Across the Universe, a movie musical built around the music of the Fab Four, was terrific, so off we went to a matinee showing. Not too unexpectedly, the music was the highlight. Most of the arrangements stayed close to the original versions, an unfortunate exception being the psychedelic Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite, which suffered from a hambone performance by stand-up comic Eddie Izzard. The other mostly unknown performers were all good singers and it was a treat to see Joe Cocker show up in three small roles. Otherwise the movie was a mishmash of Beatles references (the major character names all come from Beatle songs--Jude, Lucy, Prudence, Max, Sadie, JoJo), social consciousness, history lesson, love story, and head trip that I never quite connected with, despite having grown up in the '60s (sort of like my reaction to Forrest Gump). My daughter, neither a child nor student of the '60s or a Beatles fan, loved it. As I mentioned, I liked the music. Three stars (includes one-half from my daughter).

On Netflix

Kundun -
This was Martin Scorsese's fascinating biopic about the Dalai Lama. A little slow paced at times, the film still opens a window to the exotic world of Tibet and its ongoing dispute with the People's Republic of China, and on the life of the current day spiritual icon. Philip Glass contributed a ethereal score. A cast of unrecognizable actors allow you to concentrate on story. The film compares favorably to the more celebrated The Last Emperor by Bernardo Bertolucci. Recommended for fans of historical and religious themed pictures. Four stars for fans of this genre.

Little Children - Kate Winslet, one of my favorite actresses, provided the hook to this strange suburban drama. She does her usual fine job, this time playing a bored housewife with a young daughter who befriends a stay-at-home husband and his young son at their small town's public pool. Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Connelly are excellent as the husband and his high-achieving wife. Jackie Earle Haley is brilliant and bizarre as misfit Ronnie McGorvey, who is trying to deal with a history of child molestation. Reminiscent in style and tone to the Best Picture-winning "American Beauty", "Little Children" is a solid, if somewhat creepy movie for adult audiences. Four stars and a bit for adult audiences.

Life is Beautiful - My entire family adored this charming tragicomedy about life in Italy just before and during World War II. Director and star Roberto Benigni has created a fairy tale with an edge. An irrepressible Jewish waiter falls in love with a socialite, winning her away from her Fascist fiance with a mix of humor, coincidence, opportunism and whimsy. They have a son and find themselves in the midst of a Jewish pogrom that transports them to an unnamed concentration camp. Father "Guido" uses the same skill set that he used to win his wife to protect his four-year old son from the brutality that surrounds him, convincing him that the camp is an elaborate holiday and game in which the winner will receive a new tank. Benigni's performance (which won a Best Actor Academy Award--rare for a foreign language film) is a masterwork--manic, touching, hilarious and affecting in about every possible way. The scene where he translates a German soldier's camp instructions for the benefit of his son is priceless ("No lollipops! Don't even think about asking!") His wife Dora is beautiful and bemused in the first act and exists more symbolically, but still powerfully in the second. The very young actor who plays son Joshua is amazing--portraying the wide-eyed enthusiasm of his father combined with a mistrustful wisdom well beyond his years.

Like the recent French film Amelie, "Beautiful" has a whimsical soul. The concentration camp sometimes seems a little too smooth, a feature that Spielberg films on serious subjects are sometimes accused of. Still, the Germans were known for the their organization and order, and the story doesn't really need grisly depictions of much of what went on during the Holocaust to make its point. The production design also fits with the fairy tale feeling of the tale. My wife doesn't much care for foreign films, but said she felt like she'd learned some Italian watching this one. My daughter doesn't like foreign films or period movies. Both loved Life is Beautiful. You will too. Five stars for all viewers!

-The beautiful Penelope Cruz by herself was almost reason enough to watch this Spanish black comedy. The parallel stories about both honoring the dead and protecting the living made Volver both intriguing and fun. The film also provides insight into life in the matriarchal Spanish culture. A gold star to anyone who works out the surprise ending in advance. The supporting cast of actors ranging from age 10 to 80 complements Cruz well.

I didn't feel quite as comfortable with Volver in Spanish as I did with Life is Beautiful in Italian--maybe because I know a little more Spanish than Italian and was trying to follow the dialogue just a little rather than depending entirely on the subtitles. Four stars for a good foreign film, even for American audiences.

Notes on a Scandal - This quiet and creepy film is an acting tour de force for stars Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. The story revolves around veteran teacher Dench's friendship with young teacher Blanchett, for which the two characters have entirely different goals. Dench is particularly devastating as a soul-bared aging lesbian. Blanchett does the best work I've seen her do as the young schoolteacher. For the quality of acting and the power of the interpersonal story, Notes on a Scandal is almost a must-see. But some viewers, probably more than some, will be put off by the lack of likeable characters--kind of a deadly serious version of Sideways. Four stars with that proviso.

Letters from Iwo Jima
- This is the second and less publicized half of Clint Eastwood's pair of movies on the battle for Iwo Jima near the end of World War II. Based on some actual letters from the Japanese commander on the island to his family in Tokyo, the film tells the story of the American invasion from the perspective of the Japanese troops dug in to protect part of their homeland (politically, Iwo Jima, though an almost uninhabitable rock located hundreds of miles from the mother islands, was part of the Tokyo district of Japan). The Japanese soldiers were put in the unenviable predicament of serving as a stalling tactic. Japanese high command never supported them with the intent of defeating the American invaders, just slowing them down and causing a lot of casualties, hopefully enough to cause the Americans to sue for peace. On the other side, the Americans needed the island badly as a refueling point for bombers tasked to attack the Japanese mainland.

With a cast of actors obviously unknown to American audiences, Eastwood can focus your attention on the relationship between the commander and his men and of both to their hopeless mission. To me, Eastwood's (and the commander's) message is loud and clear to political leaders--be very careful about starting a war because wars are so difficult, painful and costly to end. Soldiers who are sent into battle to do nothing but kill and die have families and loved ones at home. Every casualty is a personal tragedy that ultimately may be not be justified by the war's outcome. Kudos to Eastwood for making the film. Five stars for fans of serious and thought-provoking cinema. Letters is not light entertainment.

Galaxy Quest -- On the other hand, this surprisingly fun spoof of the Star Trek culture was purely light entertainment. The star-studded, ironic (Tim Allen (voice of Buzz Lightyear) and Sigourney Weaver (from the Alien movies) lead the way) and burnt-out cast of the fictional sci-fi TV show "Galaxy Quest" find themselves on a real-life mission when aliens visit the earth. The hambone acting skills and vague familiarity with a spaceship set that work so well on TV help the crew save the . . . well I'll leave it to you to figure that out. But Star Trek fans won't be offended as there's hardly even a "stun" setting in "Galaxy Quest's" satirical ray gun. Even the seemingly over-obsessed Trekkie-types come off looking good by the end. Four stars as fun family entertainment. A star less if you're looking for anything even remotely deep.

Rabbit Proof Fence

The Painted Veil

The Crucible

Quiz Show

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Restaurant Rouge - Now, PoBoy Lloyd's and Roman's Cafe

Dadlak's Guide to Restaurants in Baton Rouge, Elsewhere in Louisiana and Across the South

For a variety of reasons, my family and I eat a lot of meals in restaurants. Lunch on most weekdays. Dinner at least two times a week. On almost every special occasion. With that depth of experience, I thought a Dadlak post on restaurants would be helpful to my Louisiana readers and interesting to others. I'll start with Baton Rouge restaurants, then go to other Louisiana restaurants and finally a short list of out-of-state restaurants. I'll include links to the restaurant websites as they are available. My original list of restaurants just in Baton Rouge runs to more than 50 names, so check back often to see if I've gotten to your favorite, or one that you're interested in knowing more about.

Here's a link to the blog from which I borrowed the photo:

Restaurant Rouge (restaurants in Baton Rouge or immediate surroundings)

The Chimes (two locations)

I've been eating at this restaurant's campus location on Highland Road for 20 years. Once a bar/club with good food, The Chimes has been expanded to serve more diners (and drinkers) over the years, with the music moving next door to The Varsity Theatre. They are also open on Sunday, a big selling point when I was single. Still The Chimes may be most famous for their expansive selection of beers, including more than two dozen on tap. One can drink his or her way "Around The World" by ordering one each of about 60 different brands of beer (their selection is much larger than that). The walls of the restaurant are covered with plaques bearing the names of Around The World drinkers, many with multiple (up to 50 or more) citations. Around Baton Rouge, The Chimes menu (and that of other similar restaurants) is known as Louisiana comfort food--fried seafood, soups, big salads, and poboys are staples. The soups and salads are always good as soups and dressings in made in-house. I like their plate lunch specials, hamburgers, shrimp and corn soup and blackened salmon. Fried alligator, crab fingers and onion rings are appetizer specialties. Service is generally efficient and friendly, though the place can get very busy during lunch hour (from about 11:45 a.m. on) and on football game days. Ambience has improved since Louisiana pass the "no smoking" law for restaurants. TV scattered around the restaurant are generally tuned to sports.

The Chimes East on Coursey Blvd about 8 miles east of the other Chimes restaurant, is the franchise's newest location. They built the weathered looking building from scratch. Dining is offered on two floors. The bar is more separate from the dining area than at the campus location. They also have an outdoor dining area. The Chimes East is definitely a restaurant with a good bar rather than vice versa. Sunday brunch is a highlight here. I've found that the cooking isn't quite up to the level of the original Chimes, though I expect it will improve with time.

Food - Louisiana comfort - very good
Drinks - Outstanding beer selection, great iced tea
Meals - lunch/brunch/dinner
Ambience - casual, busy
Price - inexpensive to moderate (daily lunch specials, which include salad and roll for $7.25 are a particular bargain)
Service - good
Overall Value - excellent
General Comment - Consistently among my top five favorite restaurants in Baton Rouge. I often take out-of-town guests there to feast on Louisiana food.

De Angelo's (several locations)

I've enjoyed watching this franchise grow in the last fifteen years from infancy to a mainstay of Baton Rouge restaurants. In the early 1990's, then 19-year old Louis DeAngelo borrowed some money from his family and opened a small pizzeria in a strip mall. Given the dearth of good pizza restaurants in Baton Rouge that were not also smoky bars, DeAngelo's Pizzeria was an immediate hit. The original location has moved twice into larger quarters. The franchise has added three more restaurants in Baton Rouge and more in neighboring towns and cities across South Louisiana (and even in Bloomington, IN). Pizzas and calzones are still the mainstay of DeAngelo's business, but they've also expanded their menu to include many pasta dishes. In fact, what used to be called "DeAngelo's Pizzeria" is now "DeAngelo's Casual Italian Dining". Their salads and desserts are also excellent. Dressings are homemade and can be purchased for takeout. DeAngelo's went to a "no smoking" policy long before it became law, another step that's made them very popular with young families.

Food - pizzeria, casual Italian - very good
Drinks - Limited beer selection, good wine selection, great iced tea
Meals - lunch/dinner/small group events
Ambience - casual, fairly quiet (just a few TVs which may be tuned to sports or news)
Price - inexpensive to moderate (individual pizzas run about $10; pasta dishes are somewhat higher)
Service - very good - team concept employed
Overall Value - excellent
General Comment - Consistently among my top five favorite restaurants in Baton Rouge. My first choice for guests if they want pizza/Italian.

Mestizo Louisiana Mexican Restaurant

I've lived in Baton Rouge long enough to watch this restaurant be born of its parent--Carlo's. Carlo, founder of Louisiana-Mexican cuisine (think shrimp and crab enchiladas and crawfish tacos), has long since retired but several years ago his son opened Mestizo in a small building that was once a donut shop. In the last year, Mestizo moved to a new larger building that more than doubled its capacity. Mestizo features typical Mexican menu items, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and chimichangas, but with a Louisiana flair, as most are offered with seafood as well the more traditional beef and chicken. Shrimp and crab enchiladas must be experienced to be appreciated.

Food - Louisiana Mexican - very good
Drinks - Limited beer selection, great and large margaritas
Meals - lunch/dinner
Ambience - casual, quiet (TV only in bar)
Price - moderate (lunch specials are $9-10; dinners about $4-5 higher.)
Service - good
Overall Value - excellent if you like their particular type of food
General Comment - Consistently among my top five favorite restaurants in Baton Rouge. My first choice for guests if they want Mexican and like seafood.

Serrano's Salsa Company

Serrano's Salsa Company has two restaurants, one each in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The BR restaurant is next door to The Chimes LSU campus. Our first exposure came on a day when The Chimes offered a 30-minute wait for lunch. We walked next door and were seated immediately. They also offer superior parking to The Chimes, which has a parking lot about a block behind the restaurant. But enough on geography--on to the food.

Serrano's features a full lineup of Tex-Mex food and drinks in a comfortable atmosphere. They also offer patio dining. We've eaten both lunch and dinner there and I've enjoyed everything I've eaten--the parilla fajitas and verde (green) rice at lunch and the delectable shrimp en brochette (bacon wrapped and jalapeno stuffed) for dinner. Service is consistently good and sometimes excellent as in my last visit, when I forgot to request "double rice and no beans". When I sheepishly asked if they could make the replacement after the food was served, I got a cheerful "sure" and in just a minute a fresh plate full of rice without a hint of refried bean.

My only complaint with Serrano's in Baton Rouge is it's sometimes slippery floor. I'm not sure what's going on there.

Food - Tex-Mex- very good
Drinks - Limited beer selection, good margaritas, iced tea can be weak
Meals - lunch/dinner
Ambience - casual, quiet (TV tuned to game shows/news at lunch)
Price - moderate (lunch specials are $8-9; dinners about $4-5 higher.)
Service - very good
Overall Value - excellent
General Comment - Overall, the restaurant appears to be one of the best-kept secrets in Baton Rouge. I always hope that they'll have more customers so that they'll stay around to feed me

Capital City Grill (two)

Capital City Grill has two restaurants in Baton Rouge--one downtown and another on Sherwood Forest Boulevard. The downtown location is adjacent to the new Shaw Center for the Performing Arts. I'm sure it does a good pre-show business.

The downtown restaurant offers limited outdoor seating in good weather. The suburban restaurant has a screened porch for year-round seating, which also serves as a smoking section. The two restaurants feature much the same menu--Louisiana comfort food--fried seafood, steaks, burgers and big salads, along with assorted appetizers--a little more upscale than The Chimes. My favorite is a broiled tilapia with a glazed pecan topping and steamed vegetables. My wife loves their tenderloin salad (strips of filet in a big salad). My daughter eats fried crabfingers off the appetizer menu. Their hamburgers and shoestring fries are also good.

In the world of drinks, the downtown offers flavored martinis made from various fruit infusions. Both the bar and screened porch at the suburban restaurants are good places to watch an LSU game, if you don't mind over-excited middle-aged fans screaming at the TVs.

Food - Louisiana comfort food - good to very good
Drinks - Limited beer selection, good iced tea, full service bar
Meals - lunch/dinner
Ambience - nice but casual, quiet in dining room (no TVs)
Price - moderately expensive (lunch specials are $10-13; dinners about $5-7 higher.)
Service - good, but not special
Overall Value - good
General Comment - We go to the suburban version fairly often because it's close to the house. The downtown restaurant is a good choice for business lunches.

India's Restaurant (Indian) - no website, but here's a Yahoo page with more information and reviews -

India's is the older of just two Indian restaurants in the Baton Rouge area. We've enjoyed their lunch buffet for years and occasionally gone there for dinner. Almost everything on the lunch buffet is spicy, some extremely so. Dessert of either kheer (my wife's weakness) or mango ice cream (mine) is always welcome to cool a flaming palate. The buffet includes vegetarian items, lamb and/or chicken curries, a variety of rice dishes, and the ever-popular tandoori chicken. For dinner we often choose the mixed grill--tandoori lamb, chicken and shrimp. The beer menu is limited, but includes otherwise hard-to-find Indian beers. We always get a 22 oz. Kingfisher (or two) and share. It's a beer that I wish were sold in the grocery store. The surroundings show their age a bit. Service is generally efficient and unobtrusive, particularly at lunch, where the buffet is a serve-yourself activity.

India's has been a Baton Rouge fixture for years, but I still worry about its viability, given the very small crowd we usually encounter at dinner. At $7.95 per person, lunch is very reasonable and popular. Apparently, it's what keeps India's going.

Food - Indian
Drinks - Limited beer selection (but including good Indian brands), good iced tea, full service bar
Meals - lunch buffet / dinner
Ambience - quiet in dining room (no TVs), furnishings a little threadbare
Price - inexpensive for lunch; moderate for dinner
Service - very good
Overall Value - very good, particularly at lunch
General Comment - If you like lots of spicy food, I particularly recommend India's Restaurant's lunch buffet.

Zeeland Street Market (plate lunches/sandwiches) - 2031 Perkins Road (at Zeeland Street of course)

I started going to this restaurant when I learned that friends of mine from church owned and operated it. Located on a residential section of Perkins Road, Zeeland Street Market is also the closest restaurant for me to reach by car from our downtown Baton Rouge work location. Some might call Zeeland Street's offerings "soul food". I prefer tag "home cooking". My favorite item is their club sandwich on whole wheat toast. I could without the big pickle, but that's my personal taste. I'm sure the pickle would be great for pickle lovers. My wife gets the plate lunches--fall-apart pot roast is a speciality, along with crab cakes and various chicken and fish dishes. Country-style vegetables, mostly beans and greens, don't do much for me, but they make most Southern diners, including my wife, happy.

The ambience is busy and noisy. You place your order and pay at the register on the way in. Get your drink from the self-service drink machines (iced tea is good although a little strong for my taste--I dilute it with some water) and take a seat. In five minutes or less someone will call your name from the open kitchen. Walk up to get your food, utensils and napkins. Come back to your seat and enjoy. It's that simple and unpretentious.

Food - Home cooking
Drinks - Soft drinks and iced tea, self-serve
Meals - Lunch only
Ambience - busy and noisy, but no TV, furnishings are utilitarian--though wooden booths are substantial. The owner may come out from the kitchen and chat with repeat customers.
Price - inexpensive
Service - quick but sometimes a little shrill (when they have to call your name multiple times)
Overall Value - very good
General Comment - Tasty home-cooked food and quick turnaround make Zeeland Street Market a popular choice for lunch. Get there by 11:45, as sometimes the line gets long.

Jones Creek Cafe and Oyster Bar - I've been eating in this restaurant since I first moved to Baton Rouge in 1987. It was a particular favorite of one of my co-workers. Back in the days when I still ate raw oysters, their 25 cent oyster happy hour was one of the best deals in town. The establishment in both its old location on Jones Creek Road and its new location at 15005 Market Street has always featured an oyster bar side and a cafe side. Patio dining was wedged in at the old location. Their new location includes a designed section for outdoor dining. JCC, as it's colloquially called, features good old Louisiana comfort food, with an emphasis on fried seafood. They'll broil it if you ask, but you need to be clear about your request. At the old location we've send fried food back to be replaced by the broiled food that someone ordered. This is especially painful in that broiled orders take an extra 20-30 minutes.

My favorite food by far at JCC is their seafood gumbo, which I rate as the best in Baton Rouge, maybe anywhere. Their roux must be simmered for hours to achieve its ultra-dark color. The gumbo is full of seafood, including big crab claws you have to handle with your fingers. The rice is always perfect. Other highlights from the appetizer menu are fried crab fingers and boudin balls. Sometimes they even have boudin links--all the flavor of boudin without the guilt of deep frying. Both the fried and broiled seafood platters are favorites of other family members.

Prices range from inexpensive for a bowl of gumbo to almost $20 for a seafood platter. Service is always friendly, but too often imperfect. The new location is spacious and a little noisy, as TVs are set in all four corners for people to watch live sports events.

At one time, the bar side was smokier and noisier. I'm not sure if smoking is allowed with the new Louisiana anti-smoking laws. Smoking is allowed in the outdoor area.

JCC lost some of its downhome charm when it moved from its strip mall location to its own building, but it's still a good place to get reasonably-priced Louisiana seafood dishes at reasonable prices, and a great place to eat raw oysters (up to 35 cents each during Happy Hour, I think, after 20 years), if you still do that sort of thing. A word of caution--if you've got any kind of liver malfunction, stay away from those raw oysters.

Food - Louisiana seafood
Drinks - Beer (mostly domestic), soft drinks, good iced tea
Meals - Lunch and dinner
Ambience - Casual, slightly noisy, TVs tuned to sports in dining room.
Price - inexpensive to moderately expensive depending on choice
Service - friendly but sometimes slow or inaccurate
Overall Value - very good
General Comment - JCC is a good close-to-home (for me) place to get fried seafood and especially their wonderful gumbo, and can be a reasonable "taste of Louisiana" experience for out-of-towners.

I'll let someone else review the sushi part of this Japanese restaurant on College Drive. I can comment on the hibachi grill, having enjoyed it many times. My best story regarding Koto is going there expecting a "last meal" after reading in a neighborhood newspaper about it's imminent closure. When we got there we learned that restaurant was under new ownership--the retiring owner had found a buyer. We were delighted and have been back many times since.

The food at most hibachi restaurants is predictable--salad with ginger dressing, onion broth soup, shrimp and steak cooked in front of you, fried rice and sauteed vegetables. Still it always seems special because it's cooked fresh in front of you and served piping hot. I can eat a lot of fried rice served in this manner. The chef's show--the fiery display after starting the grill, the spinning egg, the onion volcano, the zucchini toss--gets somewhat old hat for adult diners, but the kids always get a kick out of it, making it a great family outing.

Koto does all this better than any similar restaurant in Baton Rouge. They've recently expanded to build more grill tables. Prices are higher than some evening restaurants, but fair for a Japanese hibachi grill in a town the size of Baton Rouge.

Food - Japanese hibachi grill and sushi
Drinks - Beer (limited selection, but including Japanese brands), soft drinks
Meals - Dinner
Ambience - Convivial--"floor show" by chef; sit around grill with other diners
Price - Moderately expensive, but meals are generally "one price"
Service - Good
Overall Value - Very good if you want steak and shrimp; children not young enough to be children may get more food and spend more money than you're used to
General Comment - Koto of Japan is a fine example of its kind of restaurant. It was kind of a special occasion restaurant for us for several years. Probably not the best place to take out-of-town guests. They no doubt have a similar restaurant in their hometown.

Po Boy Lloyd's - lunch in downtown Baton Rouge

The first meal I ever ate in Baton Rouge back in 1980 or '81 may have been at Po Boy Lloyd's (though I may have gone to the down-defunct Giamanco's for dinner the night before, depending on when my flight got in). Even then, Lloyd's was the preeminent lunch spot in downtown Baton Rouge. These days it has a lot more competition, but owner Fred Taylor's combination of fresh fried seafood and a variety of sandwiches keeps the tables full for a couple of hours every midday.

Thursday is chicken-and-dumplings day. Get there early to get a table; and at least by noon to get the better "white meat only" version. Lloyd's has a busy and casual atmosphere, accentuated by their serving process. You stand in line to place your order at a counter. They'll ID it by your name. Take your drink with you and look for a table. Ten minutes or so later, someone will emerge from the kitchen and yell your name, then look for someone who answers to it. Most of the time you get the right food, unless they can't read the handwriting on the ticket, or if there's someone else there with the same name. The server will leave the ticket with you. You carry it to the cash register to pay on your way out, where Fred will take your money (cash, check or credit card) and give you a piece of peppermint candy. He'll also sell you a lottery ticket and give an opportunity to buy a square on a "football board", which is probably a subject for another post.

Everyone has their personal favorites--mine is the regular catfish plate, which includes three pieces of fried catfish, a pile of french fries and two pieces of heavily buttered toast--it's a cholesterol feast, and as such, very tasty. Shrimp poboys are also very good. The featured chicken and dumplings comes with french bread and delicious apple crisp. Plate lunches (pork chops, hamburger steak and the like) and a variety of poboys and sandwiches are also very popular choices. Mississippi mud pie is a great dessert, but costs extra and packs about 700 calories a slice, I suspect.
PoBoy Lloyd's also serves breakfast, but other than the very occasional biscuit to go, I don't eat it, so I'll let others comment.

Food - Poboys and plate lunches, homemade desserts
Drinks - soft drinks, iced tea, minimal beer selection
Meals - lunch and breakfast; though they are open on some weekend evenings for dinner
Ambience - noisy, busy, casual; TVs in midday are tuned to game shows or news
Price - inexpensive
Service - utilitarian (but friendly), not much followup, orders can get lost or misserved
Overall Value - very good; portions large, quality good; prices reasonable
General Comment - competing lunch restaurants come and go in downtown Baton Rouge. PoBoy Lloyds' consistent value keeps them around when others fail.

Roman's Cafe (Greek-Lebanese)
- In general when a restaurant has several locations within a city, the quality is about the same across the board. Roman's Cafe has three stores in Baton Rouge--the original on Government St., their second in Hammond Aire shopping center, and the newest on Perkins Road in south Baton Rouge. The Government St. and Hammond Aire stores serve among the best Greek-Lebanese food in Baton Rouge. Surprisingly, the Perkins Road location has always disappointed me--every time my food has been cold and dry.

I can't talk about much of the menu. I always order gyros, rice pilaf, feta salad and pita. My wife and daughter prefer chicken shwarma. My wife gets hummus and tabouli along with her salad. Being closer to downtown, the Government St. location is our standard for lunch. Being closer to our house, we usually eat dinner at Hammond Aire.

Service is generally quick and efficient. Being semi-regulars for lunch, the staff recognized us and were ready with our drink orders. That is until the entire staff was changed after a recent credit card scandal. On our last trip it was cash and checks only. I wonder if they'll be able to maintain three stores in the wake of that problem.

The atmosphere at all three stores stresses eating. I don't remember their being any TVs. Lunch can be busy. Dinner, at least when we eat (generally early) is very quiet. Along with the usual selection of soft drinks and iced tea, Roman's offers Lebanese tea (rose water and lemon juice, I think--I don't drink it) and a limited selection of beer and wine, including some Greek specialties.

Food - Greek/Lebanese (gyros, shwarma, shish kabob, etc.)
Drinks - soft drinks, iced tea, Lebanese tea, minimal beer and wine selection
Meals - lunch and dinner
Ambience - quiet, casual
Price - moderate for both lunch and dinner
Service - efficient and friendly
Overall Value - very good; portions large, quality good; prices reasonable
General Comment - if you like Greek/Lebanese, stick with the Government St. or Hammond Aire locations and you'll be well satisfied. I hope they'll survive their recent problems and continue to serve my favorite Greek/Lebanese food in Baton Rouge.

On Deck

Christina's (breakfast, plate lunches, sandwiches)

Other Baton Rouge writeups coming up:

Fernando's (Tex-Mex)
Outback Steak House (steak chain)
Superior Grill (Tex-Mex)
Raising Cane's (fast food chicken fingers)
Las Palmas (Tex-Mex)
Galatoire's Bistro (French Quarter upscale)
Mike Anderson's (Louisiana seafood)
Ralph and Kacoo's (Louisiana seafood)
Ruffino's (upscale Italian/steak)
Parrain's (Louisiana comfort)
Mansur's on the Boulevard (Upscale steak/Creole)
DiGiulio's (casual Italian)
Casa Maria (Tex-Mex)
Juban's (Upscale Creole)
Fleming's (Upscale steak)
PF Chang's (chain upscale Chinese)
Las Carabbas (chain upscale Italian)
Gino's (romantic Italian)
Louisiana Lagniappe (Louisiana seafood)
Olive Garden (chain casual Italian)
Macaroni Grill (chain casual Italian)
Buffalo Wild Wings (finger food sports bar)
Maison LaCour (upscale French)
Frank's (breakfast, plate lunches, sandwiches)
The Table is Bread (soul food)
Cafe American (Louisiana comfort)
Taste of China (Chinese buffet)
Great Wall of China (Chinese buffet)
Albasha (Greek-Lebanese)
Arzi's (Greek-Lebanese)
Brewbacher's (plate lunches, sandwiches)
George's (po-boys, sandwiches)
J. Alexander's (upscale steak)
Sullivan's (upscale steak)
Ruth's Chris (upscale steak)
Lone Star (chain steak house)
Hunan (Chinese buffet and menu service)
D'Agostino's (romantic Italian)
Little Village (romantic Italian)
Johnny DeAngelo's (NY-style pizza)
La Madeline (French cafe/bistro)
The Silver Spoon (upscale lunch)
Brandt's Maisonette (romantic French/Creole)