The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

May 29, 2008

Pick a Lane, Any Lane

Filed under: Bellevue, Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 10:55 am

With the seemingly perpetual construction projects on I-405 through Bellevue these days, it’s not surprising that people might have some trouble finding their way around.  Right now, the construction seems to be focused primarily on the I-90 interchange, where a new bridge is being built to handle more southbound traffic. This interchange  has always been something of a spaghetti junction in its current form (that link goes to an interactive map,) and the proposed master plan for this interchange looks suspiciously like it might make an even bigger mess out of this place than it already is.  Figuring out what lane you were supposed to be in to get to whatever destination you were headed for was enough of a challenge before all this construction started, and with stuff being constantly rearranged these days, it looks like even the sign people aren’t sure which lane goes where:

As far as I can tell, the arrows on this sign are pretty much just pointing off in random directions.  It seems that you’re just supposed to pick a lane, stick with it, and hope that you don’t accidentally end up in downtown Enumclaw for some unknown reason. 

May 26, 2008

I Think My Family Has a Drinking Problem

Filed under: Family — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 9:24 pm

(or, the VanderHoeven Machine Versus the Soda Machine)

Often on holidays, my Mom’s family (several members of which have Blogs of their own that can be found in the links to the right of this post) will have a big get-together at my Aunt Pam’s house.  These gatherings always involve large quantities of food, and if you hang around for long enough something interesting is bound to happen.  Nonetheless, I think I’ll go ahead and leave the details of the “stand in a bucket of ice water” contest to someone else (edit:  Sure enough, Chris blogged it) to cover since I tend to value my extremities too much to participate in such an event.

Eventually, as things began to settle down later in the afternoon, someone came to the realization that the combination of french fries and the previously mentioned shenanigans had resulted in a severe shortage of ice with which to make ice water.  To remedy the situation, my uncle Mike was sent out to retrieve a couple more bags of ice from the nearby AM/PM.  Shortly afterward, he came back with not only the ice, but also with one of their huge 64-ounce sodas containing the highly prized crunchy ice.  When everyone saw this, they promptly forgot all about the ice water, and suddenly everyone wanted one of these things.  Orders were passed around, and before we knew it, my cousin Chris was dispatched to retrieve the sodas.  Since I’m far too indecisive to decide what I want without actually seeing the choices available,  I decided to tag along.  After making the drive over, we began filling in the various orders:


A combination of a slight rebellious streak and the inability to find anything I really wanted out of twenty (well, nineteen if you count the out-of-order one) choices led me to choose an Icee instead.  Before we knew it, we had acquired 3 1/2 gallons of various sodas, and the realization was beginning to dawn on us that we might just have a slight logistical problem on our hands here.  Appealing to the lady behind the counter for help procured us a couple of those drink holder things, which naturally proved woefully inadequate for the task at hand.  Clearly another solution was needed.  Looknig around the store, someone was finally able to locate a half-empty box of Gatorade bottles, which was quickly re-appropriated as an improvised drink-hauler:

Surpringly enough, the whole case of soda (and one rebellious Icee) ended up costing less than twelve bucks (if only gas was that cheap.)  All that was left now was to figure out how to get everything back to the house without any disastrous spillage along the way.  With some rearranging of stuff in the car we managed to get the box of soda shoved into the front seat, although I do have to confess that the drive back to the house might not have been the most comfortable ten minutes I’ve ever spent in a moving vehicle.  At least I wasn’t rhe one driving.

Luckily, we managed to get everything home mostly intact.  My Mom and I decided to leave shortly after this, which was probably a good thing, because with the sheer quantity of soda going around the place it was going to be just a matter of time before people had to start signing up for appointments to use the bathroom…

A Tour of Crossroads Bellevue – Part 1: The Mall

Filed under: Bellevue, Malls, shopping — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:28 am

Note:  This is the third in an ongoing series of posts profiling the shopping malls found in the Seattle area.  The previous posts in this series can be found below:

For those of you out there who have been wondering when I would get around to actually finishing up my profile of Crossroads in Bellevue, rest assured that I have actually been working on this for some time now.  The main reason that I have delayed this is that I have not been able to settle on an appropriate format for this.  Crossroads is a very different place from the two malls that I have previously profiled on the site, and just taking a few photos and putting them up with some comments (as I have done previously) would not do the place justice.  Because of this, I have decided that a better approach would be to split this up into four parts, since there is a lot of material to cover here.  Tentatively, this is how I plan to do this:

  • Part 1: The Mall (this post)
  • Part 2: The Stores and the Restaurants
  • Part 3: What’s the Secret?  (What is it that has allowed Crossroads to succeed where other malls have failed?)
  • Part 4:  A History of Crossroads (I haven’t been able to find a whole lot of info on this yet; any help that could be provided would be appreciated here.)

In many ways, the story of Crossroads Mall is similar to that of the Totem Lake and Factoria Malls.  All three are relatively small malls designed for a similar mix of stores (although Crossroads is about a decade older than Totem Lake and fifteen years older than Factoria,) and all have faced similar challenges.  There is one major difference that distinguishes Crossroads though:  Where other similar malls in the area have foundered and failed, Crossroads has thrived, witha low vacancy rate and a strong base of shoppers.  This has not always been the case though.  When the current ownership took over the Crossroads Mall in 1985, it was largely vacant and considered to be a failed shopping center.  Since that time, a unique approach to retail has evolved Crossroads into something that is less of a conventional shopping mall and more of a gathering place for the community that just happens to be located in a mall, with a unique mix of tenants you won’t find anywhere else.  If you’re looking for designer label fashions, high-end housewares and four-star cuisine, Crossroads isn’t the place to look.  On the other hand if you’re looking for unique yet affordable food, stuff to do and a place to spend a Friday evening without breaking the bank, Crossroads is the place to go on the Eastside.  In this series of posts we will take a look at Crossroads, and what has made it a success where other malls have failed.  After the jump, a tour of the Crossroads Mall property. 

(Please note that this post contains a lot of pictures, and it may take some time to load if you are on a slower Internet connection.)


May 23, 2008

No Wonder Kids Aren’t Eating Enough Veggies

Filed under: Food, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:04 am

It looks like I might have underestimated the mind-numbingly simple milk carton quizzes that I discussed earlier.  Here is one of the latest examples:

Note where the “arrow” in the middle is pointing.  If I’m understanding this correctly, that means that we’re supposed to be feeding our kids 5 bucketloads of veggies per day in order to keep them healthy?  Why not just save yourself the trouble and just install a trough in the dining room?  Sure, the kids might complain a bit, but what kid doesn’t complain about eating their veggies?

May 20, 2008

Something to Sneeze at

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:29 am

On the first Saturday in May, Seattleites celebrate a pseudo-holiday known as the Opening Day of Boating Season. With the large amount of water found in the vicinity, boating is a popular pastime, and on a nice day during the summer you will find boats of all sizes and shapes on the lakes or the Sound as far as the eye can see. To celebrate the Opening Day of Boating Season, tens of thousands of people gather on the Lake Washington Ship Canal for a parade of boats, the annual Windermere Cup rowing races, and a fair bit of general revelry out on the log boom. The formal opening day celebration has been going on for close to ninety years now, and celebrations of opening day have been going on in some form in Seattle for many years prior to that.

Around here, a slightly more obscure tradition follows just a couple of weeks after the boats take to the water. Unlike the one above, this one seems to come relatively unheralded, and doesn’t seem to follow any sort of discernible schedule. Nonetheless, at some point in the middle of May (or if you’re lucky, you might manage to put it off until sometime in June) it is going to arrive, and when it does you will know without a doubt that it has arrived. It starts with soreness in the back of your throat, and slowly fills your head with all sorts of crud. Soon afterward comes the sniffling and sneezing, and the itchy throat that you just can’t seem to do anything about, try as you might.

Yes, the Opening Day of Allergy Season has arrived. Sometimes it shows up a little later than you might expect it, but usually it happens right around this time. It doesn’t come with any parades (unless perhaps you work behind the counter at the local drugstore) and try as you might, the chances are good that you’re going to be looking at a good month of this stuff by the time you’re through with it. About the only thing that’s going to be floating is your head, and the only thing running is going to be your nose.

Thanks to the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals (and of warehouse clubs that provide 300-count bottles of the formerly prescription-only stuff that would probably last you the better part of a decade) you can manage to stave off a decent chunk of the misery that normally attends seasonal allergies, but it;s unlikely that you’re going to be able to beat all the symptoms at once. Most of the time, you’ll find yourself in some state of general malaise, but you never end up feeling bad enough that you’d ever consider yourself to actually be sick, so you just go on with your life as usual, and keep the Kleenex close at hand.

Fortunately, allergy season doesn’t last forever, and eventually the symptoms will taper off and you’ll be able to actually enjoy some of the summer weather for a while, at least until August rolls around and brings it’s customary ridiculous amounts of heat, but that’s another story. Meanwhile, it’s time to stock up on Kleenex and unpronounceable generic allergy medications, and get ready for the long haul.

May 19, 2008

Animals Forced to Live in Xtreme Conditions

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:05 am

I suspect that at one point or another, most of us had some sort of small animal as a pet.  In my case, it was back around the time I was in fourth grade when for some reason, my parents came home from a trip to Albuquerque one Saturday with a Habitrail and three gerbils of mixed gender.  These weren’t the only pets in the house (my Dad made a hobby of keeping aquariums for many years, and there were as many six of them in the house at one time, with plenty of interesting fish,) but as you might imagine, pretty soon those three gerbils had become fifteen gerbils, and after a mass escape from the cage or two, my Mom managed to find someone to foist the things off on, and that’s pretty much the last I heard of it. 

In those days, the Habitrail cages (Warning: slightly obnoxious use of Flash on that link) were pretty standard boxes made mostly out of orange and yellow plastic, with the customary tubes used to connect the various elements of the cage to each other.   It had all the stuff a gerbil would need for a reasonably comfortable existence, but I don’t think there was anything particularly fancy about it.   Since I have few inclinations to bother with keeping pets these days I haven’t really bothered to keep up with the latest in hamster cage technology, but it seems that in recent years, the selection of these cages has expanded to incorporate a much wider variety of colors and styles, to the point that if you were so inclined, you could probably find one to match your decor.  On the other hand, I think that some of these cages might be going just a bit overboard.  Case in point:

This is CritterTrail X, the “eXteme activity home for critters, with the eXciting, eXtractable ‘Petting Zone'” (and yes, that is eXactly how they write it on the box too. )  Can you think of any place besides Glowing Stuff Night at the bowling alley where something like this wouldn’t clash with the decor?  I don’t know how much scientific research has gone into the improvement of artificial small animal habitats over the last twenty years or so since I had gerbils (has it been THAT long?  Dang, I’m getting old…) but I somehow doubt that “make the cages in vaguely decorative day-glo colors” scored all that well in the final results.  I am not aware of too much animal behavior research that has been devoted to the subject of Attention Deficit Disorder among captive rodentia, but I suspect that a cage like this would probably be a good place to find it if you were looking.

 On the eXterior of the box, we see the text eXtolling all of all this product’s eXciting features, but on closer eXamination of the box you might eXtrapolate that something seems slightly odd, and it’s not just the eXcessive use of quotation marks…  I’ll eXplain it if necessary, but don’t eXpect too much help with this one.

May 18, 2008

Chilling Out in the Pool… Literally

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brian Lutz @ 11:04 am

As you probably figured out if you live anywhere near here, yesterday’s weather was unusually hot for this time of year, reaching as high as 90 degrees in Seattle. a temperature more typical of mid August than mid May.  With some of the unusual weather patterns we’ve had here this year (including snow as late as the middle of April, less than a week after we had a Saturday with 80-degree weather) we’ve been getting such anomalies as the combination of 80-degree weather in the mountains while ski areas are still open.  The weather provided an opportunity to wear shorts outside for the first time in more than six months, and a chance to spend some quality time outdoors.

Later in the evening, the singles ward I attend church at had an activity which was originally scheduled as a ping pong tournament, but due to the nice weather ended up turning into a pool party.  This took place at a house which is owned by the former bishop of our ward who is currently serving in Pennsylvania as a mission president, so a member of our current Bishopric is housesitting on a long-term basis.   There’s just one thing wrong with this picture…

As you can see, plenty of people attended, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of swimming going on here.  The weather outside might have been into the Eighties, but the temperature of the pool hadn’t quite caught up yet, and was rather cold.  A few brave souls (myself included) did eventually go into the pool for a while, but other people seemed to need a bit of, um, encouragement.  Josh Wheeler, who currently seems to be busy leading a double life (or at least blogging about one) decided to take matters into his own hands…

May 16, 2008

Then and Now: The 7-Eleven on 148th

Filed under: History, Redmond — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 9:44 pm

A couple of days ago, I took another trip out to the Bellevue Library to do some research, where I spent some time digging for more info on Crossroads and Factoria.  I was able to find a couple of interesting items for Crossroads that at least pin down the timeframe in which it opened and some of the stores that were there, but I’m still finding little useful information on Factoria.  As far as Totem Lake goes, I think I’ve gotten about as much info out of the newspapers as I’m going to be able to, and I need to start looking at alternate sources from the various historical societies.

While I was doing this searching, I came across an article from October 1977 in the Bellevue Daily Journal-American about the opening of the 7-Eleven store and associated gas station at the corner of 148th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 51st Street in Redmond, which I pass by every day on the way to work and back, and find myself spending more money than I care to at lately (but I’m not going to go into that subject here.)  Although 7-Eleven stores had been selling gasoline since 1971, this particular one was opened in October of 1977, and was the first of a number of planned “Super Seven” stores in the Western United States.  While most of the 7-Eleven stores that sell gas around here have just a couple of pumps in front of the store, this station had a full fifteen pumps and its own attendant.  Although the 1973 oil crisis had passed by this time (to be followed by a second one in 1979,) it had resulted in the closure of many of the traditional service stations, and caused others to turn to other sources of revenue, from which the now ubiquitous “mini mart” style gas stations sprang up (the article references a combination Arco station and mini-mart located near the interchange of I-405 and Northeast 8th in Bellevue, which remains in operation today.)  With gas stations crowding in on 7-Eleven’s territory, it would be only natural that they would take them on at their own game, and as a reult, the Super Seven gas station concept was born to combine a high-volume gas station with a 7-Eleven.  By combining the two, it allowed them to place stores on more valuable properties than they might be able to otherwise.

Today the gas station is a Chevron, but remains affiliated with the 7-Eleven store.  The farmland which this store was once surrounded by has now become apartments and condos, the City of Bellevue’s municipal golf course and highly sought-after commercial real estate.  Nintendo’s corporate campus (as well as that of DigiPen)  is found directly behind the 7-Eleven, and Microsoft’s RedWest campus is a short distance away to the North, next to an open field which will undoubtedly become a site of future Microsoft expansion.  A lot has changed in this neighborhood since the late Seventies (The expansion of SR520 from 148th to Redmond Way would not be completed until 1979) but all things considered, not much has realy changed on this little bit of land at the corner of 148th and NE 51st. 

After the jump, the article from which the above photo came, and some current photos of the 7-Eleven and the gas station.


May 15, 2008

Crisis? What Crisis?

Filed under: History — Brian Lutz @ 9:27 am

(Note: This post is crossposted from, with some slight modifications.)

To be honest, the whole future thing seems just a tad overrated these days. Gone are the days when we were told that we could expect a future of rocket-propelled cars, push-button bubble ovens and fashionable evening gowns as far as the eye could see. Mostly these days we’re getting told that we’re either going to drown like all those cute little polar bears up in the Arctic, or we’re going to end up paying twelve bucks for a tablespoon of gas and subsisting on cruelty-free organic fair trade turnips and eating grass as a snack between meals.

Of course, we were being told a lot of the same things back in the Seventies, and most of those things never happened. A lot of the research that I have been doing on the local malls has me digging through a bunch of local newspapers from the Seventies, which seem to be remembered these days as a decade of all sorts of unpleasantness. For example, in early 1977 (where I was doing some searching last night) Carter was in office, OPEC and the Soviets were up to their usual tricks, and things just seemed to be headed for you-know-where in a handbasket. So what was the big scary story on the front pages of the papers? A coffee shortage.

A significant portion of the coffee crop in Brazil had been killed off by an early frost, and as a result coffee prices spiked dramatically. There was talk of a coffee boycott in the air. People were being forced to pay a whole fifty cents for a cup of coffee (and yes, Starbucks was already around at this point, but only as a small-time purveyor of coffee beans and coffee making equipment. It would be another decade before they would start selling coffee drinks or open any stores outside of Seattle.) The local newspaper here ran an editorial (included after the jump) telling people to get used to paying big bucks for their morning fix, and expressing hope that the high price of coffee would get people to reconsider their habits. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, we even have a slightly boring clip from a contemporary CBC news program featuring some talking head from a consumer organization scolding people for guzzling coffee in the first place. Does any of this stuff sound familiar?

Of course, now people pay $3.50 or more for a cup of coffee without even blinking for entirely different reasons, and it’s the price of gas that’s headed for the proverbial stratosphere. Around here at least, I suspect that there are some people who would have an easier time living without gasoline than they would living without coffee, but then again this is Seattle I’m talking about here. Given the choice between no gas and no coffee, which one would you choose? For me it would be an easy choice since I already don’t drink coffee (for religious reasons, although I have found that even if that weren’t the case me and caffeine just don’t get along anyway.) In the meantime, for those of you who long for the rocket car and glass bubble ovens of the future that never was, enjoy the clip below.


May 13, 2008

Why Settle For Being Nickeled and Dimed to Death?

Filed under: Advertising, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 10:46 pm

As anyone who lives around here knows, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the days when the big weekly bolus of junk mail arrives, clogging your mailboxes with all sorts of circulars for grocery stores you don’t shop at, coupons for fast food joints and other such detritus.  As people who have been reading this Blog are probably aware, at times these big piles of ads can also prove to be an unending source of unbelievable “bargains” and all sorts of other stuff you didn’t know that you don’t ever need.  Another case in point is this ad which arrived in today’s batch of dead tree spam:

There’s nothing too unusual here, as long as you’re the type of person who is open to the idea of buying coins for more than their face value.  If you haven’t bothered collecting those state quarters that the US mint has been producing for roughly the last decade or so, you can spend $19.95 on a (nearly) complete set of those, or that same $19.95 can also buy you a silver dollar from 1921.  If those are too rich for your blood, you can spend $2 on three World War II era steel pennies, or $5 on a couple of what I would assume to be highly collectible 2008 half-dollars and Sacagawea dollars.  In addition to those, there’s also this offer:

Given the fact that large scale production of the Sacagawea dollars was halted only two years after it started due to low demand and excessive supplies, I don’t think that “popular” is the word I’d use to describe these.  Since 2002, Sacajawea dollars have only been produced in relatively small quantities for collectors (although annual production is still well into the millions,)  Because of this, I’d say that there’s a pretty good chance that thirty years from now this set of coins is going to be worth all of nine bucks.  At the “original” price of $67.95 a set like this would be out-and-out highway robbery, but at $19.95 I’m sure it’s a steal (although it remains unclear which party in this transaction is the one that is doing the stealing.)  Granted, the United States Mint themselves sells these things at a markup (a $25 roll of 2008 Sacagawea dollars goes for an asking price of $35.95 plus shipping, and a bag of 250 goes for $319.95,) but nowhere near as much as these ones are selling for.

Of course, even at those unbelievable prices (well, I don’t believe them anyway), these things are sure to go fast, right?  After all, this is your last chance to “save” 70% on these things.  Of course, what happens if you don’t act now?

You end up saving 77% instead.  This ad is located just a few pages away from the one above, but it offers the exact same set of coins for the somewhat less ridiculous price of only $14.95, complete with a free Oklahoma state quarter you can take with you on your next trip to the video arcade or the laundromat.  At least they have the courtesy to  throw in free shipping with the deal, so that means you’ll only end up paying about $5 more than these are worth by the time you’re done.  Oh yeah, and don’t forget the “prized” first year coin in the set from 2000, one of only 1.2 billion or so that were produced back when the government thought they were actually going to replace the dollar bill with these things.  I’m sure that there will be some numismatist (yeah, I had to look up the word) out there who’s going to flame me to a well-done crisp for this  post, but I suspect that if I ever found myself inclined to take up coin collecting (given my prior track record with collectibles, this would probably be an incredibly bad idea, but that’s another post that I’ll probably avoid writing anytime soon in the interest of preserving my dignity) there’s probably a better place to buy coins from than my junk mail…

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