Review the World Comes to Dallas


Those of you paying close attention will remember that Tobyblog owes its existence to my good buddy Brian Hammons of the nostalgia blog reviewtheworld.com. His site is a surprisingly deep personal catalog that is as much a call to action and personal philosophical movement as anything. Brian has been at this game for far longer than YouTube has been around, and has amassed an unparalleled amount of footage and articles documenting the greater part of his life, from high school hijinks to romances come and gone, to thirty-something introspections with friends. When I think about the kind of legacy he's preparing for his children, it gives me chills. They will have a chance to get to know their father in a way, perhaps, more intimate than most of us ever get to experience; a chance to get a look at the man as a man, as a friend, as a person. To know the thoughts he thought, the things that preoccupied him, the obsessions, the sillinesses, the deep things. To see him grow up.



It was an honor after getting to know Brian through the site and corresponding with him for a while that he chose to visit us here in Dallas. Unfortunately he was only able to stay for a couple of days, so I tried to pack in as much fun as possible during that short time. We both had the idea to film at least something for RtW in Dallas, so I planned the itinerary to provide us with as many opportunities for that as we cared to take advantage of.


Brian arrived on a Friday morning and after a hearty breakfast at the Old West Cafe in Grapevine, TX, I made a rather ridiculous attempt to demonstrate geocaching to him at Arbor Hills. After three successive DNFs I was beginning to think he'd feel I had made the whole thing up, or at least that I wasn't very good at it. It didn't help that when I decided to show him a cache that I had already found, I couldn't locate that one either. He actually spotted it about 20 feet over from where I had last found it, someone having moved the cache slightly. Good grief.

While at the park Brian spontaneously decided to film a little freestyle walking promo, dedicating it to my son Augie.


If you've never seen Brian's Freestyle Walking series, especially if you're a fan of Review the World, I'd encourage you to take a look. You can think of it as junior parkour, but I like to think of it as Brian and his buddies' (mostly the redoubtable Nick Van Bever) noble attempt to elevate the mundane in life. With just a little effort, anything can be something more.


There's a little hill at the park at the top of which sits an observation tower. I took Brian up to see the view, and what should we happen upon on that Friday morning but a random bongo player practicing his craft! He was an interesting guy. We listened to him do his stuff for a while. He seemed appreciative for the audience. He had a hardcore, almost menacing look but was in fact a very affable guy. He told us he played in a metal band, but was trying to break out into jazz. Apparently the market in Dallas is pretty tough for a jazz drummer, because he was having trouble finding a gig. Who knew?


It was getting fairly warm by the time we left, and that wasn't the end of our outdoor adventures that day. In retrospect it was a good idea that we stayed away from the house as much as possible, though it didn't spare us the inevitable. Much earlier that morning I had been awakened by my daughter. She felt sick and needed to vomit. I couldn't believe our luck. With company coming from out of state! I knew we had been hit like a meteor out of the blue with one of the dreaded super-contagious stomach bugs so common in this city. There was nothing to it but to take care of her and isolate her as much as possible. By morning she was feeling somewhat better, and we assumed it must have been an odd case of food poisoning or something. Fools!


Anyway, by that time we had worked up an appetite. One of the problems I ran into when planning the itinerary was that there was just too much stuff to do and eat; it was impossible to fit in everything I wanted to show this guy in just two days. So the idea I proposed was to try a "roaming lunch", and try to hit these three places in Irving that I was enamored with at the time, a little nosh here and little nosh there. Brian and his stomach were up for it, and this is the result. My very own debut on Review the World, and as a superfan of Brian's it was a real treat. Very proud of this one. Not only did I appear onscreen with Brian reviewing some tasty eats from my own neck of the woods, but I also got to be behind the RtW camera, which for some reason I think I enjoyed just as much. 



That night it was off to Bavarian Grill in Plano, one of our favorite places and probably the nicest restaurant that we go to regularly. It's been rated the best German restaurant in Texas many years running, and it really is a remarkable place. The live music is great and the seating is very cozy, bordering on the cramped, which I find adds to the charm, perhaps a bit uncharacteristically for me. We don't normally go on Fridays, though, so we were surprised to find that Friday nights they run a beer lifting competition. Not chugging, you see, but lifting — which is both classier and manlier. I approved.


I managed to catch the very end on video, when they announced the winner. The point was to hold a large, full German-sized beer mug at the end of your outstretched arm while maintaining that arm parallel to the ground. If you started to tire and your arm dipped more than 10 degrees, you were out. It's an elimination-style competition so the last man standing was declared the winner and invited back for a tournament of champions. Great fun, and a lot of folks participated. Of course Brian and I competed and outlasted all the others, but we finally lost to the guy with the robotic arm. What are you gonna do?


The next morning after an outstanding South American breakfast at Cafe de Brazil we brunched at Avocado Sushi, 'cause, frankly folks, Brian just freaking demanded it. Brian is a sushi hound, and can pack away vast, vast quantities of rice and fish. I had been talking up Avocado for a while in our IMs, and he just couldn't leave Dallas without trying it, even if that meant we had to pull off another, far more loaded wandering lunch.


And what can I say? That place delivers. The sushi menu is huge, and a lot of it obviously caters to more American tastes. It's a great spot to bring someone if you want to introduce them to sushi, because there's more than a little for everyone, including those who are squeamish about raw fish. Their presentation is also top notch — the dishes were just beautiful; no buffet bar rolls there. We were in the moment and the place wasn't too crowded that morning, so we decided to do a full review at table, which is kind of rare thing among RtW restaurant reviews. It was also my son Augie's first recorded appearance on RtW, and I don't mind saying he did me proud, as he always does. Both he and my daughter are also longtime fans of Brian's, though I don't show them absolutely everything on Review the World. It's a PG-13 site, after all!


Prior to Avocado I took Brian and Augie out to World Market to scout for some potential review material. I had something specific in mind, but while we were there we decided to pick up some additional items, because we were really feeling it that morning. I don't know how we decided on the theme; I guess it just kind of evolved — three green drinks.


These were some pretty exotic colors and flavors, and I think they made for a great little review vid, and maybe Augie's best. It felt like we were in Emerald City in that pretty little courtyard, sipping our green sodas. Shortly after that I decided to commemorate Brian's visit with a series of geocaches in honor of Review the World, and I placed the first one right near where we shot this. 


Beautiful Breckinridge park. I love that place. Anybody who doubts its grandeur has never seen it in mid-April, with the firewheels in full bloom. Or maybe in early June, when their time is close to spent, their colors no longer vivid, but still very striking with burnt oranges and auburns replacing the intense golds and reds. We caught some of that here, which I'm glad of, but still not nearly enough to get a real sense of the place. Swamp Pop sodas are a sort of hometown novelty, being brewed and bottled in Lafayette, Louisiana where I went to college. What really caught my eye is that they use unique fruits native to South Louisiana to put a spin on traditional soda pop flavors — fig sugar cane cola, satsuma orange pop, etc. I only regret that we weren't able to get a bottle of the ginger ale, as I would have liked in particular to try that. It was a really fun vid to shoot. Brian had some creative ideas for the camera work, and it came out really well, I thought. The only sad thing is that my final review under the bridge is almost completely obscured by wind, marring what would have been my favorite of the Dallas reviews.


I even made a cameo in Brian's Four Small Candies review, where I tried Chick-o-sticks for the first time. Brian attempted to choke a goose with a small chunk of candy, but they were too smart for his ruse. We filmed that segment right after the Swamp Pop review in the same park, with the last bit of juice left in Brian's camera battery. I think by that point we all felt like we had given him a lot of material to take back to Ohio, much more than we had initially planned. And I know at least I was happy with how it all turned out.

And that's basically how I would like to remember the trip, because it was in the hours after that that things started to take a decided turn for the worse.

We headed to Dallas proper to hit the flagship Lakewood location of Dallas' own Liberty Burger franchise, a joint that I had been pushing to Brian for months. Gourmet burgers, crazy awesome LTO specials, local beers, Liberty Burger had it all. Unfortunately, in the weeks prior to his visit I had cooled on the place, what with quality slipping at the original location and an outrageous incident involving extremely rude behavior by the wait staff at the Addison branch. I figured we'd give the new flagship a shot, especially since I'd heard they'd put so much work into making the place acceptable to the Lakewood property snobs. When we arrived I was unimpressed. I hate to say it, but I think aggressive expansion has cost Liberty Burger its soul. It's just not the place it once was. The LTOs have lost their old originality and seasonal flavor, and the quality is inconsistent at best these days. The Lakewood venue, contrary to my expectations, was not on the floor that much different from the other locations. I'm not sure what the fuss was all about. The food was good, I suppose. At least that's what I remember Brian and Augie saying. I'm not sure I ate all that much, or at all. Because, truth be told, I already sensed at that point what was coming.

From there we visited White Rock Lake where my plan was to film an epic co-review of two entries in Lakewood Brewery's Legendary beer series, the ones dedicated to a couple of Dallas urban legends centering around the lake, the infamous White Lady and the temperamental Goat Man.


The review was rushed, and fell somewhat short of "epic". We filmed it on my iPhone with Augie doing the camera work. I could tell Brian was somewhat nervous about being busted for having an open container of alcohol on park grounds, probably justifiably. At any rate, I didn't want to get him in too much trouble down in the Southland, so we ended up doing the review part as quickly and surreptitiously as possible, particularly because we were attracting glances and patrol vehicles were in the area. Also, I had neglected to study up beforehand on the legends in question. And also I was starting to get sick.

And there was a lot of wind in that one, too.

Still, though, it was fun and I look back on that silly vid as my sentimental favorite from the trip. I think it would be voted the "People's Choice" if I were to nominate it to myself up against the other five. What do you say?

Epilogue

Brian's visit was intended to end with a grand spectacle — dinner and a tournament at Medieval Times. Instead it ended with the grand spectacle of my son puking his guts out in the back seat of my car immediately behind me as we were pulling up to the house. There was a dinner and there was a tournament, but sadly I did not participate. I made it as far as the gates of the castle, but once inside I played the part of the medieval plague victim. I spent roughly two hours splayed out on a bench in the main lobby, without shame, while anxious employees peppered me with questions about the horses. Apparently they have a lot of people faint when the horses come out. No, I was fine with the horses. Was I sure? Yes. Was I really sure, because a lot of people think they can handle being in the presence of a horse, but they really can't. No, I assured them, it was just a stomach bug. 

Just.

I eventually had to move closer to the bathrooms. Mercifully an opportunity arose where no one was in sight, and I forced myself to shuffle over to the toilet where I spasmodically vomited up all of the excesses of the last two days, in some sort of surreal karmic purge. I felt like I hovered over that toilet for half an hour at least. When it was all over I cleaned up as best I could and drug myself out to the bench again, telling myself that I felt somewhat better now and could probably even make it home. That lasted for about 10 minutes, then I was down again.

I gave Brian the keys, because I wan't driving anywhere. By the time we made it home Augie was down. My wife informed me that while we were out the baby had started vomiting, and within an hour of hour of our arrival she had started as well. With my last gasp of strength I told Brian just to seal himself in the room and not to open the door for anyone, and not to come out till morning, no matter what he heard happening on the other side of the door. You guys should have seen the look on his face. Priceless. I wish I could have taken a selfie with him right at that moment, with me giving a thumbs up and him doing that face. Exactly the way you want to leave an esteemed and honored guest. 

The passing of that night was something awful, something that will be remembered in the annals of our family for many years to come. And as I recall lying there on the couch with the dog pestering me for attention, or a walk, or just out of sheer sadistic pleasure, I think I can say that I hit rock bottom in my relationship with that dog on that particular night. It'll only be less frustrating from here on out, and I suppose I can be thankful for that.

Somehow I was given the grace to be able to drive Brian out to the airport the next morning, a drive that was admittedly and quite understandably awkward. What a note to have to leave on! I didn't know how he'd feel about the trip or if he'd ever want to come back, especially if he came down with the bug on the plane or on the drive home, or brought some exotic disease home to his family. As fate and good fortune would have it, he never got sick. It took us probably five days to fully recover. Even now I'm still wary of sushi and haven't tried Swamp Pop since because of the illogical, but very real and completely physical, associations. 

Brian and I remained in touch and I'm happy to say that my presence continued to be felt in other videos on Review the World and Cheap Thrills, the successor to the old Brian and Tim YouTube series. I even got a name drop once during one of Brian's appearances on veggiemacabre.com. Hopefully on the balance I've added, and not subtracted, from the RtW vibe. Decide for yourself. Brian — thanks, buddy, and you're always welcome back!