Apr 30, 2018


Insalaco's Supermarket (1988)
Valmont Plaza - Hazleton, PA
Thirty years ago today, Insalaco's hosted the grand opening of their 10th supermarket.  From the weekend that it opened, this was the store where my grandparents would get their groceries.  They had a nice bakery with kaiser rolls in plastic bins that we bought every week.  Grandma used them to make sandwiches that looked like something Shaggy would have eaten in the Scooby Doo cartoons.

I looked forward to going grocery shopping with them because they let me pick three things to get.  Every time I picked something up to look at, my grandfather would look at me and remind me that I could put it in the cart if I wanted it, but it would be one of my three things.  Once in a while if they were in a good mood, I was able to sneak in a WWF Magazine as one of them, but they didn't always go for it.  It usually ended up something like Ecto Cooler and a box of Slim Jims.

When I think about this store, the thing I remember the most was the fact that the cash register spoke... a lot.  Every time the cashier scanned an item, a loud female electronic voice would say how much it was.  We typically went grocery shopping on Saturday when the store was pretty busy, so the checkout area a bizarre chorus of robots shouting out prices.

The store closed some time in the 90's and there is now a Big Lots occupying the building.

Apr 29, 2018

Picture It - Philadelphia: 2018

Big Gay Ice Cream
Philadelphia, PA
When you walk into the Big Gay Ice Cream shop in Philly, you're immediately struck by the overwhelming presence of three pretty awesome things: ice cream, unicorns and The Golden Girls.  

For example, this giant sassy unicorn is on the front of the building, and there is pop art of Betty White and Estelle Getty on the walls in the seating area.  The place was pretty crowded, so I wasn't able to get photos of everything without creepily including strangers, but I think these images will give you a pretty good idea of the vibe of this place.

Big Gay Ice Cream is known for their line of Gobbler sundaes.  Some of them have pretty crazy ingredients, including balsamic vinaigrette.  As much as I wanted to try one of those, I couldn't pass up the pumpkin.

Just in case someone in the vicinity gobbles their Gobbler with a bit too much gusto, Bea Arthur is ready, willing and able to give the Heimlich maneuver to a unicorn for your life-saving needs.  Sadly, there is no image of her giving CPR to the mythical beast.

If you can't make it to one of their shops, their pre-packaged ice cream is coming to a grocery store near you - at least one that isn't afraid of a little LGBTQ representation in the freezer aisle.  It's not exactly the same product as the soft serve that you'll find in the shops, but the recipes are inspired by shop flavors, and they do a good job of getting as close to the mark as possible with a pre-packaged ice cream.  I worked on this project very recently and had the opportunity to try each of the pre-packaged flavors.  If you enjoy Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry ice cream, you'll like this too, but if I may offer a suggestion, pass on the enticingly named Salty Pimp and try Lunchbox instead.  It's made up of strawberry ice cream with a peanut butter swirl with mini peanut butter cups that are filled with strawberry sauce.  It tastes like the best peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwich you've ever had!

Apr 28, 2018

Ben Franklin Would Have Been A Retro Gamer

Game Masters: The Exhibition
The Franklin Institute - Philadelphia, PA
Game Masters is a pretty awesome experience for gamers of any age.  It includes arcade, console and PC gaming exhibits chronicling everything from the 70's through the modern era.  This traveling show has had stops in Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden, Germany and in Portland, Columbus and San Diego before it's summer 2018 home at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

The first section is dedicated to vintage arcade games.  The machines are all set to free play and are organized by their designer, including sections dedicated to Toru Iwatani, Tim Skelly, Eugene Jarvis, Tomohiro Nishikado, Ed Logg, Masanobu Endo, Konami and Taito, among others.

I used to play the Atari 2600 port of Reactor all the time when I was a kid.  The game it was based on came out in arcades in 1982 and wasn't in my local Aladdin's Castle or in the arcades at Wildwood by the time I started visiting arcades, so this is my first time seeing it.  Unfortunately, the game was out of service, but it was still pretty awesome to see the original cabinet.

The Tower of Druaga is known as one of the games that inspired The Legend of Zelda on the NES.  It was first released in Japanese arcades in 1984.  I don't know if the original arcade cabinet ever made it to the United States but if it did, I never saw it.  The first time I got to play The Tower of Druaga was on Playstation when I was a teenager.  It was on the Namco Museum Collection: Volume 3 compilation.  It actually reminds me more of Gauntlet than Zelda.  It's a punishingly difficult game and that incorporates elements of Dungeons & Dragons and Pac Man for a unique experience.

I definitely played Robotron: 2084 in arcades when I was a kid, but I've never heard of a game called Rip Off.  You have to admire the guts that it took to call a machine that eats your quarters "Rip Off".  It's a vector graphics shooter that was designed by the same man who created Reactor - Tim Skelly.  It never made it to the Atari 2600, but this arcade classic from 1980 was ported to the Vectrex in '82.

There are stations set up throughout the exhibit with everything from console games hooked up to televisions to handheld games.  It's a pretty cool atmosphere that you could easily get lost in and spend a few hours playing the classics.

I was very happy to see one of my favorite PC games of all time represented at the exhibition.  Maniac Mansion II: Day Of The Tentacle is a point-and-click adventure that was released in 1993 by LucasArts.  Back then, the most advanced thing my computer could handle was Ninja Rabbits and the Out Of This World demo disk, but I played the original Maniac Mansion on the NES, and I discovered the sequel in the mid-90's on the IBM Aptiva that I had in 1996.  To this day, it's one of my favorite games to play when I want to relax.

Speaking of Day Of The Tentacle, this was the job application that designer Tim Schafer submitted to LucasArts in 1989.  He went on to co-design Day Of The Tentacle with Dave Grossman, and hit big with Grim Fandango, which was named Game Of The Year by GameSpot in 1998.

Overall, this exhibit is an excellent way to experience the history of video games.  If you're within driving distance of Philly, I highly recommend it.

Apr 27, 2018

Is Ninja Combat Better Than Sex?

Neo Geo
SNK (1990)
The Neo Geo was released in the United States 28 years ago today.  This is one of the ads that was used to promote it in gaming magazines.  These days, I'm sure people would complain that it's "sexist" (which it isn't in the slightest), but it definitely a brand of humor that you don't often see in video game advertising.  It's also a little strange that they didn't bother to identify the game that the nerd is playing, which is Ninja Combat.

At a price tag of $650 for the system and another $150 for the cartridge, it's going to take a hell of a lot more than a picture of a model in a nightie to pick this over a Sega Genesis.  With inflation to 2018, the system alone would set you back $1,248.

Apr 26, 2018

Hazleton Shopping Center In The 80's

Hazleton Shopping Center (early 80's)
Broad Street - Hazleton, PA
The Acme Super Saver grocery store and Rea & Derick drugstore (far left) were still in business throughout the 80's.  My grandmother worked at Rea & Derick throughout my childhood - one of the benefits of which was that she brought home all of the loose baseball and basketball cards from packs that kids opened in the store.

I don't remember which stores were in the middle.  The two stores on the right are a McCrory's and a Sears & Roebuck department store.  My cousin Tommy had a store called Pet Paradise at the back of the McCrory store until Wal-Mart came to town.

The Sears would become a Blockbuster Video in the early 90's, and the McCrory's sat empty for a little while after the chain went out of business.  It eventually became a Dollar General.  The Acme became an Insalaco's grocery store for a short time.  When that chain closed, the store sat empty for about 15 years until it became a Save-A-Lot grocery store.

Apr 25, 2018

Hazleton Shopping Center In The 60's

Hazleton Shopping Center (early 60's)
Broad Street - Hazleton, PA
The Hazleton Shopping Center began the 1960's with the following businesses (from left to right): Acme Food Market, Rea & Derick (Rexall Drugs), the west end brand of the Hazleton National Bank, Jacob's Bakery and Confections, J.S. Raub Shoe Store, Wise Ladies & Children's Wear Shop, McCrory and Sears Roebuck and Co, with a Sears Auto Service Station behind the department store.

Apr 24, 2018

Hazleton Shopping Center In The 50's

Hazleton Shopping Center (1957)
Broad Street - Hazleton, PA
The Hazleton Shopping Center opened to the public on April 3, 1957.  It included the following businesses (from left to right): Acme Food Market, Rea & Derick (Rexall Drugs), the west end branch of the Hazleton National Bank, Jacob's Bakery and Confections, J.S. Raub Shoe Store and Wise Ladies & Children's Wear Shop.

Apr 23, 2018

An Unexpected Cheesesteak

You know it's going to be a good day when a food truck with tasty cheesesteaks shows up at lunchtime.  This one came from Snook's Wings & Things, and it definitely brightened my day.

Apr 22, 2018

Pac Still Has A Presence

Laurel Mall
Hazleton, PA
These two arcade games are just outside of the GameStop in the Laurel Mall.  The Jr. Pac-Man cabinet on the left has been modified with a 60 in 1 Jamma Arcade PCB.  The machine on the right is a Pac-Man 25th Anniversary cabinet.  It was released by Namco in 2005 and includes Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga.

Even though they're not exactly the same as what you'd find in Aladdin's Castle back in the day, it still does my heart good to see Pac Man arcade games in the mall.

Apr 21, 2018

The NXT Stars Of Bethlehem

NXT House Show
Sands Bethlehem Event Center - Bethlehem, PA
My interest in WWE has faded quite a bit over the past 15 years or so.  I still keep up with current events in the promotion, but it's mostly through podcasts.  Back in the late 90's, I never missed an episode of Raw or Smackdown.  These days, I watch some of the pay per view events, and I go to live shows when they come within a reasonable driving distance, but I honestly can't remember the last time I actually sat down and watched even part of an episode of Monday Night Raw or Smackdown.  It's got to be over a decade at this point.  For far too many years, the presentation of the WWE "main roster" was cringe worthy, comprised of heavily scripted, poorly written dialogue that makes everyone sound exactly the same, and an inconsistent story arc that made little sense.  Additionally, there's simply too many hours of programming to bother trying to keep up with it, even if it was an enjoyable show, which it hasn't been for many years.  Quite frankly, even most of the WWE pay per view events are tough to sit through these days.

In contrast, I never miss an episode of NXT from Full Sail University.  It's a fantastic, well written show with great matches and consistent storytelling that makes sense.  The backstage skits and diatribes on the microphone are kept to a minimum, and when they do happen, the performers sound like they each have an individual personality.  Also, the programming is just the right length - one hour per week with semi-monthly special event shows called NXT Takeover.  This promotion has been a breath of fresh air in an industry that has felt stale for too long.

This was my second time seeing NXT at this venue, and I very much hope that it won't be my last.  It was an excellent show that delivered on every level.

The show began with a ten bell salute to the late Bruno Sammartino.  The former two-time WWF World Heavyweight Champion, whose second title reign lasted over seven years, passed away on Wednesday.  He was 82 years old.  The opening match began shortly afterward.  Here are the results of the show:

Singles MatchNo Way Jose defeated Chad Lail
(Chad last wrestled as Gunner in TNA)

Singles MatchBianca Belair defeated Candice LeRae

Singles MatchEC3 defeated Kassius Ohno

Tag Team MatchThe Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford) defeated The Forgotten Sons (Steve Cutler and Wesley Blake)

Tag Team Match

Kairi Sane and Nikki Cross defeated Shayna Baszler and Lacey Evans

Singles MatchTommaso Ciampa defeated Oney Lorcan
(Johnny Gargano ran out to the ring to stop Ciampa from hitting Lorcan with the bell after the match)

Tag Team MatchAleister Black and Ricochet defeated Andrade "Cien" Almas and The Velveteen Dream

Here are some photos from the show:
Kassius Ohno - I've watched him wrestle as Chris Hero in ROH, CZW and Chikara for over a decade.

A new team: The Forgotten Sons.  One of its members, Wesley Blake, is a former NXT Tag Team Champion with Buddy Murphy.

Japanese superstar Kairi Sane

Shayna Baszler immobilizing Kairi Sane as Lacey Evans looks on.

Oney Lorcan reminds me a bit of Dean Malenko.

Oney Lorcan gets ready to slam Tommaso Ciampa's head into the turnbuckle.

The Velveteen Dream - one of the most interesting new characters I've seen in a long time.

Former NXT Champion, Adrade "Cien" Almas.  He lost the title two weeks ago to Aleister Black at Takeover: New Orleans

I've been following Ricochet for his entire career, since he first uploaded a personal highlight reel to YouTube.  I don't think he was even out of high school at the time.  The dude is a phenomenal talent.

The new NXT Champion, Aleister Black.  This show was the 13th day of his reign.

The NXT Champion has a lot of incredible tattoo work, including the head of Lilith on his back.

This was taken just before the opening bell of the main event tag team match.

Aleister Black in mid-air, about to crash into the man who he defeated for the title.

The tag team of Aleister Black and Ricochet.

The 15th NXT Champion, Aleister Black, right before the end of the show.

Apr 20, 2018

The Loaded Philly

The Loaded Philly
South Philly Cheesesteaks & Fries - Bethlehem, PA
This cheesesteak shop is in the food court at the Sands Casino Resort.  I've never been one of those people who likes to put french fries inside of a burger or hoagie, but I figured I'd give it a shot.  It wasn't bad, but I still prefer to have my fries on the side.

Apr 19, 2018

A Different Kind Of Solo Cup

Solo collectors cups
Denny's (2018)
They're really going all out at Denny's with this cross promotion with Solo: A Star Wars Story.  They're selling Topps trading cards from the movie for three bucks a pack.  You can also get one of four collectors cups with a Millennium Falcon lid.

I didn't get the cards, but I couldn't resist having my lemonade in a Chewbacca cup.  I mean, come on!  Who could resist bringing this bad boy home?

They also have Star Wars inspired meals available for a limited time.  Most of them were breakfast foods, like the Lighspeed Slam, the Co-Reactor Pancakes, and the Two Moons Skillet.  They did have one Star Wars cheeseburger called the Blaster Fire Burger.  It's topped with Chipotle Gouda cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onions and a spicy Ghost pepper sauce.  It was tempting, but the Bourbon Bacon Burger looked too good to pass up.

Apr 18, 2018

Happy National Harmonica Day

Mac Tonight poster
McDonald's (1988)

Apr 17, 2018

What Do You Do?

Well then.

Apr 16, 2018

The Shark Was Easier To Believe

MEG: Primal Waters
Steve Alten (2004)
Temple graduate and Phillies fan Steve Alten wrote a series of sci-fi novels about a 70 foot megalodon shark in the South Pacific.  Dan McQuade of Deadspin recently pointed out that the story, which is set in 2019, includes a scene in which Pat Burrell passed Barry Bonds to break the all-time home run record.

The author tried to give Pat a signed copy of the book.  Unsurprisingly, Pat was a jerk about it and refused to accept the book.  That might be why the subsequent paperback release was changed to feature Ryan Howard hitting the epic home run in question.  It doesn't explain why he's given the name Perry Meth to the Giants right fielder.

Photo Credit: Dan McQuade (via the Free Library of Philadelphia)