I am a Muppet hipster.

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So enough people know of my love of the Muppets that I have consistently heard the following question or some sort of statement similar to it recently:
"Hey, did you know there's going to be a new Muppets movie?!"
This question is asked with an anticipation that I will be excited about the prospect of there being a new movie. My reaction kills the conversation. I am not excited about the new Muppet movie. I make no apologies. I am a Muppet hipster.

For me the Muppets begin and end with Jim Henson. After his death in 1990, the Muppets have never truly been the same. Enough residual original elements were still in place in the mid-90s that some of the post-Henson stuff was okay, but none of it compared to the truly creative stuff Henson was in charge of.

Henson was a creative pioneer. His early puppet work was experimental and genius. And he was able to grow that into magnificent stories and ways to tell those stories. He was always looking for the next, new thing. After working on Sesame Street, he wanted to do something else more geared for grown ups. That became The Muppet Show. At the height of its popularity, he walked away before it got stale and moved onto something completely different, Fraggle Rock. He never stopped telling new stories, even if he got dragged back into using older characters.

The simplicity of it all was genius as well. From the writing standpoint, a lot of credit is due to Jerry Juhl, but Juhl had Henson's sensibilities and shared the same vision. So much of the writing was sharp, quick, and even very subtle at times. And the characters had such charm and personality. They were a delight to see on the screen.

This new movie is nothing new. In fact, it already sounds like it will be a retread of The Muppet Movie. It almost seems reminiscent of Superman Returns which was a retread of Donner's Superman: The Movie. The charm and personality seems gone. In the trailer, the characters seem flat and not true to form. The Muppets have stopped being characters and have become simply a property. They're marketing tactics have dabbled in parody rather than true irreverent humor.

They are not my Muppets. They haven't been my Muppets for a long time. They have become something else with the same name and same faces (though different voices).


And that's okay. I realize it's not about me. I try to be conscious of that. I've gone down this road before. The Star Trek '09 movie, the DC Reboot, and even the commercial failure of The A-Team movie make me realize that I am no longer the target audience for anything. That's fair enough. I've got the old stuff or I can look for new things that are more my cup of tea now.

I'm not trying to be a hater. I'm not the only one who has these feelings. In fact, this thoroughly written article, brilliantly entitled "Weekend at Kermie's," spells it out much better than I ever could. I don't begrudge Disney for picking up the Muppets and trying to do something with them. More power to them. I hope the movie has tremendous success and a lot of people enjoy seeing it. I really do. It just won't be something that I'm going to get excited about.

More important than anything I've written thus far, I hope this movie finally prompts Disney to release seasons 4 and 5 of The Muppet Show on DVD. Season 1 was finally released on DVD on August 9, 2005, over six years ago (with a few cut scenes at that...grumble-grumble). Season 2 followed almost a year later and season 3 a little less than a year after that in May of 2008. It's now almost September of 2011 and we should have had season 4 and 5 by now and even could have moved onto Muppets Tonight or something else. I don't know what the hold up is, but it's time to light the lights on this and finish out the release of these DVDs. And they better not pull any stunts with a complete set that includes stuff the other individual releases didn't have. (Oh, and they could re-release the first two Muppet movies on Blu-ray as well while they're at it.)

CT's Road Trip, part 5: Hello, old friends...

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One of the greatest things about returning home is being able to visit all the restaurants you loved, but don't have around your new area. It's been six years, but I still long for several places in the Champaign-area, many of which are fortunately still around. But just as some places go, there are new places to try as well. Here's a rundown of the food I ate while in Illinois.


First up, I ate a few things that I had not had before. My parents are big fans of a Mexican restaurant called La Fiesta. Here I ordered the chimichangas. Very good and reminded me that I still have not found a truly excellent Mexican place in Tallahassee.

Next, my parents are friends with a party planner in the area who specializes in fancy cupcakes. We were able to obtain some S'Mores Cupcakes from Pirate & Princesses. Very good, and as you can see, I'm not the only one to think that.

Also, I got to try Panchero's, another Mexican place while we were there. This is reminiscent of a Q'doba or Moe's, but better. The tortillas are great and don't get stuck in my teeth like they do at Q'doba. The only good thing about Q'doba is that it sort of looks like a Klingon word.

That covers the places I had not tried. Now a rundown on the places I had visited before but had to have again while we were home.


We met up with my old friend Dawn and her husband at Curtis Orchard. They have a huge apple orchard and sell many apple-themed items including apple slushies and apple donuts. Dawn treated our kids to some slushies and we also picked up some donuts for breakfast. Dawn's husband was wearing his Bert shirt and I wore my "I appreciate the Muppets on a much deeper level than you" shirt.


We also swung by Hickory River Smokehouse where I got the beef brisket sandwich. Although Tallahassee's Piggy's BBQ is close, I have not ever had better beef brisket than what they serve at Hickory River.

We also had to stop at Culver's which serves a wide variety of food items including burgers, fries, and frozen custard. There is not a better fast food burger than what is served at Culver's. There is not one of these in Tallahassee and that's probably a good thing as I would eat here all the time. I got the burger basket and a caramel cashew sundae.


We also couldn't be that close to Chicago and not get some pizza. The best option in Champaign is probably Papa Del's. My wife loves it and I certainly will put some away.

Finally...

Since moving away from Illinois six years ago, I have not had the chance to really enjoy the company of fellow nerds like I did with Jeeg and PLee. No slight to those other nerds I have hung out with since moving here intended. We started this blog as a way to keep up with one another and have discussions and even invite others to the table to chime in. But that doesn't replace the real thing. Before this trip back, it had been a year and a half since I had seen PLee and three and half years since I had seen Jeeg. It had been more than three and half years since we had all been together. We were able to reunite during my time there. Jeeg and I met up for a viewing of Captain America (more on that in the future) and then all three of us gathered at Niro's Gyros.

I had a gyro, fries, and two Chicago-style hot dogs. Jeeg had the double gyro meal, and PLee had the chicken pita.



We followed up our trip to Niro's with a visit to Jarling's Custard Cup. Jarling's was, and for some still is, the frozen dessert place of choice in Champaign. I enjoy it mightily, but when Culver's came along and was less expensive, I stopped frequenting Jarling's. Since our return trips had mostly been around Christmas time when they are closed, we had not been there in over six years. It was good and tasted just like I remembered. Their cold fudge is absolutely amazing.

It was good seeing you Nerds again and I'm glad we've got something in the hopper to extend this blog out and keep in touch even more.

TO OOKLA THE MOK!


CT's Road Trip, part 4: A Stop in Metropolis

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While I haven't finished covering the trip, I wanted to sneak in a post about the trip back to Tallahassee before finishing this out on Friday when I talk about the food I ate and the meet up with Jeeg and PLee.

When traveling between Philo, IL and Tallahassee, FL, the route we use, takes us through a little town known as Metropolis, IL. My wife and I have been here before and I'd love to come back for a thorough review of the town someday. But until then, this quick little visit will have to do.

Metropolis, IL is actually a town of less than 6,500 people. This really is not some booming city, but they take their name seriously. They are home to a large museum full of Superman memorabilia. It is impressive and I will get back in there some day...for the blog. They also have a few fun little spots for tourists to come through and get their picture taken. 
Most prominently is the giant Superman statue. It towers over everyone, especially children. As a side note, it's things like this for why DC shouldn't change Superman's costume. This is iconic. There's no need to change it to Kryptonian space armor or whatever. This is the Superman costume. This is what people make statues of.

There are also classic cutouts for kids of all ages to pose with and appear as though they are Superman or Supergirl.

There is a giant mural of several of the actors who have portrayed Superman and some guy named Brandon Routh.

 There's quite a bit of other decor in this little area near the museum and statue. And Pepsi must have sponsored this because there is even a Mountain Dew bench. Mountain Dew and Superman...two of my favorite things.

 Since my wife and I visited there without kids, they have installed a Noel Neill statue just down the street from the Superman statue. Neill played Lois Lane in the Superman serials and the Adventures of Superman television series. It's a pretty good likeness and a very cool thing to have in Metropolis.


There is also a little place called Thor's Gym in town. Not sure how I feel about that.

As an aside, there is a trend of cardboard cutouts at state welcome stations. I managed to get three pictures of me with people I'd never meet in person:



Alright, that does it for the trip back, but come back on Friday for the last post in this series. Hossin'! And the gathering of the Nerds!!!

CT's Road Trip, part 3: The Freestyle

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While in Illinois, I learned that one of the Jimmy Johns locations in Urbana had a Freestyle Coke fountain. Upon learning more about this, I had to make a stop to try this before heading back to Florida. For all I know, every Jimmy Johns might have one of these things and it's not a big deal. But it's new to me and I think it's very cool, if a bit overwhelming. You might check out this article for a bit more info about it.

This thing is the future when it comes to restaurant sodas. Every restaurant should have one. Or two. In fact, I'd like one for my own home even though Mountain Dew would not be a part of this. It seems a bit complex, but it's rather simple actually. The hard part is making the choice. Especially when you know you'll be heading 900 miles away from this soon and want to make the most of it.

First, you are presented with a selection of 22 base flavors. This is a touch screen panel because touch screen panels are in style now. Your choices are: Powerade, Hi-C, Dasani, Dasani Sensations, Vault, Powerade Zero, Diet Coke, Coca-Cola, Coke Zero, Barqs, Diet Barqs, Fanta Zero, Fanta, Caffeine Free Diet Coke, Sprite, Sprite Zero, Diet Dr. Pepper, Dr. Pepper, Minute Maid Lemonade, Minute Maid Lemonade Light, Seagram's, and Water. Whew! (Note: This machine had Dr. Pepper but apparently other machines have Pibb Xtra and Pibb Zero instead of the Peppers.)

Pressing each screen then takes you to another screen of options. I did not take the time to give you the breakdown for each base flavor.

In this case, I selected Coca-Cola and several different options came up including Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, Lime Coke, regular coke, and the one I chose, Cherry Vanilla Coke.

Not every flavor had so many options. Coke and Coke Zero had eight different flavor options...

 ...where Vault only had five. I did get a Peach-flavored Vault refill which was quite tasty.

Now that we're back in Florida, I have been researching and discovered that there are two of these machines in the area. Further exploration of Tallahassee will be needed soon. I have downloaded an app for my iPhone that will take me to them and will allow me to play some sort of silly game but also gives me a breakdown of the types of drink choices to expect.

Today I covered the best drink experience during my trip, but on Friday I will recount a good portion of the hossin' I did on the trip including my in-person meet up with Jeeg and PLee. But check back on Wednesday for a post about the drive back to Florida.

CT's Road Trip, part 2: Escape from the Action Figure Armpit of America

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Some men like to fish. I've never understood it really. I've gone fishing before. Not my thing. Or maybe it is and I'm only now realizing it.

I have long enjoyed going out for toy runs. Hitting the Walmart, Target, and Toys R Us action figure aisles can be a blast. There's nothing quite like turning the corner and seeing that the aisle has been reset and there are new figures hanging from the pegs. Still, during my time in central Illinois all those years ago, I remember being incredibly frustrated knowing that new product had hit California or some other area, but it had not worked its way into the Midwest.

When we moved to Tallahassee, I was in the middle of my brief time where I had given up collecting action figures, but that didn't ever stop me from looking. Once I began collecting again, my toy runs returned, and I was disappointed to discover that things had not improved for me. Upon returning to Illinois for this visit, I wanted to go on toy runs again and found that Tallahassee is quite possibly the worst area an action figure collector could live. There are waves of G.I. Joe figures that our stores have never received that were warming the pegs in multitudes at the various stores in Champaign-Urbana. I don't really get why action figure distribution is so broken. I want to be able to buy these things at reasonable prices within my own area. Sadly, that might be too much to ask and contributed to my leaving the collecting scene before and may eventually do so again.

That aside, I figured I'd share my loot. I was able to pick up two G.I. Joes that I had not seen and did not have. First was a Cobra Shock Trooper. I almost picked up two of these guys and in retrospect, kind of wish I did. He comes with a tremendous amount of gear, enough that you could probably pick up several and make them all look somewhat different.

I also picked up Shadow Tracker who is a new character for this line. I haven't been getting too many newer characters, focusing mainly on the characters from my childhood. However, this guy is very reminiscent of the Predator and came in a wave that was very much inspired by that movie. Of course, Predator is the greatest G.I. Joe movie ever made. If the G.I. Joe movie had been half as good as just the stuff with those guys, then it would have been a really good movie. I'd like to think that Predator and G.I. Joe each owe a bit of inspiration to each other, but that may be fanboy wishful thinking.

I wasn't the only one to get some new action figures. We have been picking up these stylized super hero action figures for my son. He recently lost his Superman and has been asking for a Wonder Woman. While on the trip, we saw the new wave that contained a two pack with Superman and Wonder Woman. Also picked up a Batman and Deathstroke.
 


He has quite a collection of these guys now including several of the Marvel versions. It does look like Marvel is changing their figures from this line. We saw the new ones while in Illinois as well.


Also, for the first time, I saw several DC action figures. This line is very cool and appeals to me because of its homage to the Super Powers line, but at $16+ per figure, I am not going to collect.



I am thinking about picking up the Young Justice line though. The smaller figures are priced at $10 or so and each figure comes with a piece of a "Hall of Justice" backdrop. I would love this backdrop and would sell the figures themselves and keep the Hall pieces. This is a project for a later time as only 4 of the 12 figures are out and there is no telling when all will be out.

I also revisited the closet in my old bedroom and brought back a majority of the pieces from my G.I. Joe Headquarters. This thing is very cool and the newer style Joes fit in it just fine. I hope I just forgot the missing pieces and can one day fully assemble this again.


Finally, while there, I was given a handful of vintage Joe and Star Wars toys that had once belonged to someone I knew a few years back that has since passed away. At some point, I plan to clean these up and figure out a way to sell them. Then I'll donate the money to a diabetes organization of some kind since that was the ultimate cause of this guy's death. If anyone has interest in these vehicles, let me know. I'd love to avoid selling them on ebay since they take such a huge cut of the profit.

All in all, a very fun trip for the toy hunt. I even saw a fellow collector that I knew out doing his own toy hunt. I might have to give him a list of things I'm looking for since I know he's in a better place as far as action figures are concerned.

On Monday, I'll be talking about one specific aspect of my trip...my soda from Jimmy Johns.
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