Posts By The Wombat

BEER! (Part III)

Okay, so I’ve just spent two posts about the beers I don’t like. So what, you may ask, DO I like in my beer? Well, I’m glad ya asked.

Truthfully, my flavor profile has changed a few times in my life, and are in a bit of a flux right now, too. Perhaps this is why I don’t understand the continuance of the decades-old trends discussed in the previous posts. Then again, I’ve always tended to be along a somewhat tight variance. Browns and reds and pales. Somewhere in the middle of the hoppy vs. malty spectrum. I love me some balance.

Of course, in a begrudging nod to the IPA-philes, over the past few years, my preferred beer has gone farther up the bitterness scale. For a while, I was all about the Amber and Scotch Ales. Alaskan Amber, Kilt Lifter, Nutty Brewnette, Old Chub. Even Newcastle was an occasional go-to in a pinch. The benefit of Newcastle is its ubiquity. Even a bar that only carried the standards is likely to have Newcastle.

Fat Tire was my favorite beer for five years or more. And clearly I wasn’t the only one, because it’s the beer that put New Belgium on the map. The brand barely existed at the turn of the century, but as of now, it’s ranked #11 by volume, just behind powerhouse no-longer-microbreweries Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada. And yeah, I know they’re really pushing their Voodoo Daddy IPA these days, but all of that is on the strength of their flagship.

I’ll still drink Fat Tire. Sometimes I have no choice. When I’m visiting family, it’s the only one they can remember that I drink, as they try desperately to avoid saying “Flat Tire.” I don’t know why it’s such a difficult pronunciation. I know a flat tire is a thing, but it’s not like Fat is some obscure word. Yet every baby boomer I encounter asks me if I want one of those “Fla.. uh.. Fe-ua… Feat Tires?”

But Fat Tire tastes a bit too sweet for me these days. The nutty and caramely and malty beers that I drank for the majority of my thirties just aren’t doing it for me these days. I never liked stouts and porters, because they’re too sweet, and something clicked in me in the past year, making most browns exhibit the same syrupy consistency. Maybe it’s just a hundred degrees in summer kind of thing, or maybe my brain is subconsciously telling my tongue that hops are here to stay, so I’d better get used to it. Now a Fat Tire tastes like a Frappuccino to me. Or an iced coffee when they put all that syrupy crap into it. No, Starbucks barista, I don’t want fucking “room” in my iced coffee. Just black coffee and ice. Someone ordering an actual coffee at your coffee business shouldn’t make you so damned twitchy. 

One fun brew I found many moons ago was Innis and Gunn. On my second trip to Scotland, we asked for a local beer. The waiter described something that we couldn’t understand, because he was speaking Scottish, which bears absolutely no resemblance to English. We nodded our approval and received one of the most wonderful concoctions ever invented. It’s aged in Scotch barrels. But there’s more to it than that, because after tasting Innis and Gunn, I tried a number of other beers that claim such a distinction and none of them have the smooth toffee flavor of Innis and Gunn. I’ve even, since then, tried some other Innis and Gunn flavors, including their rum-aged and Irish whickey-aged. None of them have that je ne sais pas of the original.

When we got back to America, we looked everywhere for Innis and Gunn. At the time, New York was the only place in the United States that carried it, and that seemed a bit far of a drive. But who said we had to purchase it in the United States? Vancouver’s only a fifteen-hour drive! My friend hit the Great North the following summer and brought back a case. Two summers later, I made the trek. The employee at the state-owned liquor store looked at me strangely when I wanted 30 bottles of something they usually sell by the single. But when I flashed the real-live, legitimate, international-standard American dollars, they were willing to do just what I said.

Just kidding. I think I paid with credit card. And I probably insulted the guy when I asked what it cost in “real money.” The guy selling joints in Nelson Park, however, was happy enough to take American cash.

We continued to check the Innis and Gunn website, plotting their progress on a map like they were the Allied army advancing against the Kaiser. First they were spotted in Washington, then Oregon. We went to the city walls waiting to cheer the liberating army as it came within sight. When my wife texted me a picture from the local Total Wine, I knew that life would never be the same.

Then again, at $14 for a 4-pack, the I&G is still going to be reserved for special occasions.

My IBU preference has been creeping up recently. The forties taste fine to me now. Although I suppose that’s where I started. The first beer I was actually able to get through being a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Then I avoided it fro a while, but it’s back in my favored wheelhouse. I can even tolerate beers into the sixties. When I was in Denver recently, I drank quite a few Dale’s Pale Ales, with an IBU of 65. It was fine. But I might’ve been suffering from altitude sickness.

But my favorites of late seem to be reds. Reds tend to add a bit of hoppiness to the typical maltiness of a brown. You know, like what hops were originally meant to do. There’s one here in Northern California called Heretic Evil Twin. The “evil twin” comes from the combination of the two flavors. If you’re a malt fan, the hop is the evil twin; if you’re a hop fan, it’s the malt. And they’re both in there. It’s a solid brew, with an IBU of 45, right in “the middle,” so to speak. But I think it’s ainly available in Northern California, so sorry if I got your hopes up. If you read on, you’ll see I’m right there with you on the torture. .

Let’s talk about Karl Strauss Red Trolley. It’s available everywhere, right? Its crispy nuance makes it my current favorite beer. It’s not that you can taste all the flavors, like in Heretic, but it’s also not all one flavor. Somehow it has an IBU below Fat Tire, which I consider bullshit because it’s definitely not as sweet. Of course now, after a decade of indoctrinating us that IBU is the be-all and end-all of a beer flavorness quotient, they’re saying it’s an incomplete measure. Now they try to distinguish between hazy and juicy and, I don’t know, fluffy IPAs? And New England IPAs, which are basically the same as West Coast Pale Ales. There are also Northwest Pales. It gets really confusing when you need an eight-directional compass just to figure out what the hell you’re drinking.

Or grapefruit. Don’t get me started on grapefruit. How very fitting that Ballast Point would be bought out by Coors.

Although the Grapefruit Sculpin works as a good transition into my most recent beer find. While in San Diego, my hotel bar had a local beer called Coconut Contender. This intrigued me, because I like coconut. Have I mentioned that I like coconut before? And that I worry they are on the cusp of jumping the palm tree shark? I think I have.

Coconut in beer isn’t a new thing. Coconut porters have existed for a while. I’ve had a few of them, and they’re okay in extremely limited quantities. Porters are sweet, coconut is sweet, so what you’re left with is the equivalent of adding caramel syrup to a white chocolate mocha, which is something I’m surprised Starbucks hasn’t done yet. Hell, I had some sort of Iced Vanilla Bean drink there a couple weeks ago, and I can still feel the granules of sugar coursing through my body. Dammit, Barista, I ordered a coffee frappuccino, not a caramel frappuccino. Repeat after me, barista!  Coffee! What the fuck is wrong with just serving me the goddamn product you’re supposed to be known for! Y

Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, the Coconut Contender. What intrigued me about this particular beer was that it was not listed as a coconut porter, but a coconut IPA. So instead of using the sweetness of the coconut to augment the sweetness of a porter, they’re going to counteract the bitterness of the… hmmm…. Why, that sounds brilliant!

Of course, they’ve done this with other flavors. That grapefruit crap is the most famous, but I’ve seen orange and tangerine and raspberry IPAs. But most of those others are tart more than sweet. Plus, did I mention that I like coconut? So I asked for a pint. The bartender asked if I wanted a taste of it first. Maybe he’s had customers that were hoping for a coconut porter and were disappointed by a beer with nuance. I was ninety percent sure I didn’t need a taster of it, that I would drink the whole damn thing. But if I’m about to order sixteen ounces and I can get the seventeenth ounce for free, I’m taking that bargain.

Even better when I discovered it was 21 ounces for the price of 20.

Verdict? It was as sublime as I expected. The coconut was in the background, as was the hoppiness. I didn’t wince from the sweet or chew the bitter. No need to drink five gulps of water to remoisten my palate. (Remoisten my palatte sounds like a dirty book that might be written by the OTHER Tony Kelly, the one who forces Amazon searches for my book to a second page. Go ahead and check, I won’t hold it against you).

I could definitely see myself drinking more of those Coconut Contenders. For instance, I saw myself drinking it again the next night. And the night after that. After all, I was at the hotel for a week-long conference. Unfortunately, the rat bastard behind the bar must have recognized me the rest of the week, because he never gave me that free taster again. Then again, he did “accidentally” pour the wrong drink once, and then gave me the correct pour in a take-home cup. Tip your waitstaff, people!

So of course, the first thing I did when i got home was to hit the local liquor stores to get me some Coconut Contender at home.

BevMo? Nope. Total Wine? Nada.

Dammit, this Coconut IPA is not to be found anywhere in the Sacramento area. Or at least anywhere in the whopping TWO liquor stores I looked in. So I decided to google Coconut IPA. I found that the one I had in San Diego wasn’t the only one. There are at least three  currently being brewed. And Total Wine stocked precisely zero of them. Didn’t double-check back at BevMo for the other two, but I’m not holding my breath.

According to one beer review, it’s the “New taste of summer.” I totally, totally agree. But at participating locations, only.

Oh Life, why must you mock me so?

BEER! (Part II)

Welcome back to Part Two. In Part One, I talked about Coors Light and the rest of its ilk, remnants of an older time that somehow persist in a world of much better options.

Today, I’ll talk about one of those better options that I don’t necessarily feel is a better option. Watch out, hipsters.

If you’ll recall what started this retrospective, I was visiting a new person’s house and he offered me a Coors Light. I declined. Except that Coors Light wasn’t the only thing he had available. He also offered me an IPA. Ugh.

And hey, hipsters? The fact that someone would have only two options of beer, one of which is an IPA and the other of which is Coors Light, should tell you all you need to know about how fancy your brillo-pad of a beer really is.

Now here’s where I know I part from true beer snobs. At their best, India Pale Ales are tolerable. At their worst? Pass me the Coors Light. Or better yet, I’ll just take some water.

Fortunately, in this particular case, it was Lagunitas, which is one of the most tolerable IPAs. In fact, their original IPA wouldn’t even be considered an IPA by today’s standards. It would be like Ronald Reagan in the modern GOP, or JFK trying to make it past two primaries in the 2020 Democratic party. It only has an IBU in the mid-40s. Nowadays if your IPA doesn’t have an IBU above 60, you might as well call it a lager.

For those who don’t know, IBU stands for International Bittering Unit. It measures the amount of hops in the flavor. Hops are those things that smell like really nasty marijuana. When they’re put in the beer, they help offset the sweet, caramelly flavor that comes from the malted barley. So a stout, which has the same bitterness as a bold chocolate milk, will have an IBU below 10. Ambers and browns usually range in the 20s, although some of the “nuttier” ones will be as low as ten. Twenty years ago, when Lagunitas was one of the few IPAs out there, a red or a pale ale was in the thirties and above forty was reserved for an India Pale. These days, if you’re not flirting with triple-digits, the millennials will only roll their pierced eyebrow at you.

India Pale Ales are supposed to have more bitterness because, historically, hops were used as a preservative, so the extra hops would keep the beer from spoiling on those long cruises from England to India. Note it was for preservation, not taste. Because, and me out here, hops taste like crap. They do. I know you there in the back, currently scraping a filmy layer of skin off the top of your arid mouth can’t admit it without worrying you’d have to shave your beard as penance, but it is not at all refreshing. It tastes like you’re drinking cotton. It’s dry, it’s scratchy. And last time I checked, you’re not supposed to consume cotton. Especially cotton that smells like dank weed that’s been left in the bong for a fortnight.

Hey, I think that might be the first combination of “bong” and “fortnight” in the same sentence in the history of the English language. Unless you’re talking about the video game.

On the West Coast, Lagunitas was one of the forebears of the IPA craze. As if on a dare, they started proudicing Double and Triple and Imperial IPAs, pushing that IBU up into the triple digits, just waiting for someone to have the balls to say it tasted crappy, but groupthink’s a hell of a drug. Just ask the Nazis. It’s ironic that Labunitas once had the balssiest IPA, and now their IPA is so tame. It barely even registers as a straight Pale these days. For comparison, Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues (a fun Colorado brewery that comes up with names like Old Chub and Mama’s Yellow Pilsner) has an IBU of 65. Their IPA has a bittering factor of 70, almost double that of Lagunitas.

New Belgium’s IPAs range from 50 to 70. They also have Hemp IPAs. Did I mention dank weed?

And IPAs are just the start. Now breweries have Imperial IPAs, Double IPAs, Triple IPAs, and, I don’t know, a-vine-of-hops-shoved-directly-up-your-ass ale. IBUs of 80 or 90, even triple digits, are starting to become the norm. Colorado and California breweries are now coming out with hemp IPAs. Hell, if it’s gonna taste like headache-inspiring weed, they might as well go to the source. I can only imagine that straight-up marijuana IPAs are on the horizon out here.

And I know I’m in the minority here. The reason I know this is because every brewery or taphouse I go to has a shit-ton of IPAs and their ilk. You’ll have maybe one red or one amber, but not both, one pilsner, and then seventeen beers with IBUs ranging from 65 to 120. Hey, this one has notes of citrus and that one has a whiffs of cotton-swabbed asshole. Oh, and Coors Light is tap #20.

Clearly the market has decided something that is not my cup of Indian tea. A friend of a friend started a brewery. He has a similar taste profile to mine, and was tired of seeing the same varietals at every brewery. He wanted to show what could be done with some of the forgotten flavors. A nutty brown versus a hoppy brown. A light or a dark lager.

But the substantial majority of the customers who came in had one request: more varieties of IPA. So now when I go in there, I’m relegated to my one option, but at least I can commiserate with the brewer.

And I cancross my fingers and hope that more brewers are like he and I. We’re all just waiting for this trend to end. Putting a whole bunch of recipes on the shelf, ready for the moment when hipsters and millennials grow enough balls to admit that the IPA trend has gone too far. Every culinary movement has a backlash at the end, right?

But dammit, I’ve been waiting for this particular pendulum to swing back for a decade now. And my liver ain’t getting any younger.

I know, I know. I don’t like mass-produced beers and I don’t like IPAs. What the hell do I like? Check back on Monday to find out.

BEER! (Part I)

AKA The stuff that doesn’t require fruit added to it.

I’m looking at you, Shock Top and Hefeweizen and Corona.

AKA Just because it’s from Europe doesn’t make it fancier than Budweiser

I’m looking at you, Stella Artois and Heineken.

AKA Don’t even get me started on that piss water that is…

No, you know what? Get me started on that. I’m starting right the fuck there.

A few weeks ago, wife and I were playing nice with the parents of one of my daughter’s “friends,”AKA the only one at her daycare that she seems to remember doing anything with on any given day, even though her teacher (AKA babysitter) swears she is a veritable roamer.

So we take child over to friend’s house for a playdate (AKA running around screaming at the top of their longs), and of course because child is four and we are the helicopter generation, we stay to engage with the parents. It is my firm belief that this did not happen when I was growing up. If my mother and/or father (let’s be honest, mother) took me to a friend’s house to play, I have to imagine she then high-tailed it to… I don’t know, a bar? The Club? Did Bunko exist in the mid-1970s? She probably just went back home to clean, which is probably what wife and I should have done, because I swear there used to be a floor at my house before we had a four-year old whirling dirvish.

Anyway, we showed up and released the kraken that was our two daughters. The other father turned to me and asked if I wanted a beer.

Of course I want a beer. What the hell kind of question is that? Without thinking, I started to respond.

“Yeeeeee-uhhhhh.”

But at this point, halfway through my affirmative response, I saw what was in his hand, which froze my answer in it tracks. Beads of sweat dripping down a dull grey label across a distinctive brown bottle. I’m sure the holder of said bottle considered the label to be bright silver, but it was a dull grey. Screaming red cursive script across a recessed image of the Rocky Mountains. It’s a Coors Light. A C-minus. The Silver Mother-fucking Bullet.

And no, I didn’t here any Jerry Reed music playing. Even worse, Burt Reynolds was nowhere to be seen.

“Yeeeee-ah, no thanks,” I finished my answer. “I’m driving.”

“Aren’t you guys staying?”

“Right. I meant I’m going to be driving. Not tonight. Maybe some time in the future. Better not let any of that one-percent Alcohol-By-Volume elixer touch my lips.”

Before you ask, I didn’t bother to check if the mountains were blue or mauve or fuchsia or chartreuse or whatever-the-fuck color it’s supposed to be to denote that the beer is ready to be consumed. I don’t think it’s a color that occurs in nature, because Coors Light is never drinkable. Note that the label is only supposed to change color when it gets cold. Coors Light really pushes the whole “cold” thing. I mean, I guess if you can’t really talk about the flavor, you might as well extoll the virtues of modern refrigeration technology.

But some people swear by the C-minus. And surprisingly, not all of them live in trailer parks. I know people that fit the description. Each of the last two years at Camptathalon, both of the new attendees prefer it to other beers. One of them has no desire to drink anything else. The rest of us show up to camp with a variety of lagers and ales of all variety. Pale, red, amber, black, India. You name it. John rolled up with 30 cans of Silver Bullet. The rest of us mix and match what we brought with what others brought. Communism at its finest. But John wanted none of the ten other varieties, which was fine because none of us wanted to partake of his.

This year, the new Camptathalon attendee brought the real stuff. Coors “Banquet” Beer. The… um, tan bullet? At least this year’s attendee was capable of drinking non-Golden-based beers. Although maybe that’s not the best for the rest of us. Communism at its worst. The root cause of the 1991 Soviet coup was people bringing Coors but drinking your Karl Strauss was the root cause of the 1991 coup.

Speaking of non-light Coors, they’re really pushing that whole “banquet” moniker these days. Check out this sign from a show at Red Rocks:

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Then again, if you’re only a quarter less than a well-known IPA, you better pull out that “banquet” bullshit.

My cousin also swears by the stuff. As does, clearly, the father of my daughter’s friend. And Burt Reynolds, obvs.

But the Bandit had an excuse. It was the 1970s. Back then, there weren’t a lot of options for beer. We’re talking about a time period where Budweiser and Miller were the good stuff, because they were being compared to the likes of Milwaukee’s Best and Schlitz. I’ve never actually had Schlitz, but I have had the Beast, and I suppose if my only options were variances of that swill, then maybe I’d be willing to smuggle some of that “beer from Texarkana.”

But it’s the 21st Century now, all of those laws that forced beers to stay in one region have been long rescinded. So if they’re thirsty in Atlanta, not only can they have Coors, but they can have Sierra Nevada and Yuengling and Leinenkugil. To say nothing of Stella and Newcastle and Bass and Smithwicks. Which means they’d have to be pretty fucking thirsty in Atlanta to want to drink Coors. Actually, maybe that’s the point. Since Coors is pretty much water, maybe it quenches your thirst more.

In Sacramento, we recently had one of our original microbrews close down. Some people were surprised. Rubicon Brewing Company had its restaurant and brewery open since the late 1980s. At one point in the mid-to-late nineties, it was a solid business, almost a Sacramento institution. Even as late as 2010, their Monkey Knife Fight was readily available at most regional restaurants and stores.

But I wasn’t too surprised. Because Monkey Knife Fight wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t really all that good either. In the mid-1990s, it was a solid drinking option. But back then, most places only had a few beers on tap. And who the hell knew what a red ale was, anyway? But by 2017,Rubicon really didn’t have anything that could compete with the quantity and quality of beer you can get pretty much anywhere. Sacramento now has four or five other breweries just in the downtown area, to say nothing of those taphouses where you can get twenty different flavors from twenty different breweries, with a rotating list that’ll give you twenty brand new options when you come in a fortnight later. In that sort of crowded market, a Rubicon couldn’t do anything to distinguish themselves, and if you can’t compete with quality or quantity, you aren’t going to last.

Which makes me wonder how the Big Three are still in business. Hopefully it’s not for long.

Want to know what else I don’t like? Follow me to Part II.

Camptathalon 2018

Since I already “spoiled” the Camptathalon big picture, I figure I might as well post the Official Camptathalon Log sooner than usual. Usually this works as a wonderful retrospective of the fun and frivolity of a weekend-long competition. This year, it’s a half-completed afterthought. There are very few things more awe-inspiring than my drunken wit, but I suppose bears and fires are two of them. Damn you, Nature!

By the way, “Chris” is the noob this time around. His first Camptathalon. Regular readers will note there has also been a “Chris” in previous years. That Chris couldn’t make it this year, so we replaced him with another Chris. Like when soap operas change the actor for a character and hope nobody will notice. We like consistency. If I ever miss Camptathalon, they’ll have to find some other marsupial to take my place.

Friday:
5:45 So much for this being the only place in California that isn’t on fire.
drive in3
6:05 Tony, Chris, and Rick arrive.
6:40 Swisher Sweets, cause we be fancy
6:42 Wisconsin Lunch Box and Official Camptathalon Flag are present, but cannot be unfurled yet. Backstage, waiting for the Opening Ceremonies.
7:10 Sparky arrives.
7:23 Chris: “Who brought that 49ers cooler? I might have to piss on that.”
7:24 Chris’s first official timestamp. Camptathalon Cherry broken.
7:41 Pink axe, cause we be fancy.
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7:50 Trophy presented.
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7:55 Flag is up.
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7:57 Chris: “I’m a Clamper. Can I take a picture of that? Some people don’t like their picture taken.”
8:00 Camptathalon 2018 opens with Official Toast.

8:03 Chili is served. But no beans, so it’s not real chili.
8:04 Chili Cook: “Fuck you, asshole!”
8:20 Shit, they don’t take checks here. Do we have enough cash?
8:26 Pissed about cash. Write “Praise Allah” on the envelope.
8:28 Nothing says Manly Camping Trip like “Friday I’m in Love,” by the Cure.
8:29 Never mind. Richard Marx came on next.
8:30 This is Don Henley, you Dumbass.
8:31 Rick busts out the spelunking lamp.
8:32 Chris: “I usually don’t go to touristy camping spots like this.”
8:36 Upper Deck 1990 Baseball Cards opened. Fortunately the toilet is a vault, so we can’t have a celebratory upper decker.
8:37 “I hope I find the 1990s Rockies Hologram.” “Keep looking, Rick.” (Editor’s Note: The Rockies did not exist until 1993.)
8:43 Poker. Whiskey. Which will be finished first?
9:30 Rick confirms that the Loser Libation is in the category of: Beer.
9:37 “Can you hand me the Pube?”
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9:45 Turning in all the white (25-cent) chips. “Somewhere, Al Sharpton is having a wet dream.”
9:54 Rick and Tony in dead heat for Loser Libation.
10:16 Tony “wins” the Loser Libation, which is… A 40 oz. Bud Ice.
10:20 Instead of whiskey with a beer chaser, it’s beer with a whiskey chaser.
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10:34 “On the way up, I came up with a great idea for when we’re around the campfire… And I’ll tell you later. When we’re around the campfire.”
10:38 “I am the Ape.”
10:57 Rick and Sparky go all in. Chris wins. How do we score that? Rick and Sparky go five cards, all up, for Camptathalon points.
10:58 Camptathalon standings: Chris – 4, Sparky – 2, Rick – 1, Tony – 0
10:59 What Chris doesn’t realize is he has to buy breakfast on Sunday. Fucking newbie.
11:03 Sparky: “How many points does Tony have?”
11:08 Loser Libation is finished.
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11:09 Rick: “How many points does Tony have?”
11:21 “This is the last time I played horseshoes, mind you.”
11:23 Sparky’s shoes catch fire.
11:38 Chris is brought into the eternal “Was Guns n’ Roses a hair band?” debate. He answers correctly. Yes.
11:44 “If you say Nirvana was a great band, I will kick you in the balls.”
11:58 “What was the end of the innocence?”
11:59 Fucking Richard Marx
12:05 Goddam pussies (Sparky & Rick) go to bed.
1:00 Nose to nose w/ bear. Chris scared him away. On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t have left the beef jerky out on the table.

Saturday
7:23 “I usually don’t say this, but I’m glad I vomitted last night.”
7:26 “I like Jameson. But I don’t think it likes me.”
7:34 Storm Davis. Hey, isn’t that who Trump was banging?
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7:52 “This is not the worst I’ve ever felt at Camptathalon, but it isn’t the best.”
7:53 “I need a sausage.”
8:37 Chris busts out the bloody marys. maries?
9:34 “I don’t like fishing, but I do like sitting by a river, drinking beer.”
9:45 Cribbage. Teaching Sparky for, like, the seventh time.
10:55 1-4-24 begins.
11:18 Rick to Sparky: “You Asshole.”
11:42 Let’s double the stakes.
11:44 One tie, all tie. $16 in the pot.
11:50 Home Run Derby
12:00 Tony hits the longest HR in Derby History (estimated 240′) but doesn’t hit any more.
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12:27 Tony is the Trent Dilfer of Home Run Derby: 1 homer in round one, 1 homer in round 2, 6 homers in final round.
12:28 Camptathalon standings after two events: Chris – 4, Tony – 4, Mark – 4, Rick – 2
12:29 Chris busts out a fruit tray. “What the hell is that?” “Vitamin C.” “Couldn’t we just take pills for that?”
12:44 The eternal butter toss debate: soft or firm?
1:12 The less time tossing butter, the better.
1:34 The butter toss is coming.
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1:42 We all hate butter toss. If we could vote, we’d all vote to take it out. That’s why we can’t vote.
1:48 Fine. Let’s get this over with.

(Editor’s Note: To be Equal Opportunity, Obama has also been the target in the past, albeit not in tennis Depends)
1:58 Rick wins butter toss, complaining the entire time.
1:59 Camptathalon standings after three events: Mark – 6, Rick – 6, Tony – 5, Chris – 4
2:18 Let’s go to the resort. Let’s go to the mall… today.
2:39 Resort was evacuated while we were waiting for a beer. What the fuck?
2:40 I’m going to something a little more official than the bartender at a cabin before I start packing up.
2:43 Should we get another event in really quick so it doesn’t end in a tie?
2:55 “Gentlemen, you are under a mandatory evacuation order.”
3:00 Camptathalon called on account of fire evacuation. Fuck you, Bud Selig.
evacuation

Can’t Stand the Heat

The 2018 version of Camptathalon was scheduled to take place last weekend. It lasted less than 24 hours, but might be one of the most eventful camping trips in, I don’t know, ever?

For those unfamiliar, Camptathalon is an annual extravaganza amongst me and my friends. We sequester ourselves from civilized society and engage in something approximating a competition of athleticism and wit. Well, it is definitely a competition. The approximation refers to the athleticism and the wit.

Three years ago we had the brilliant idea to keep track of the frivolity and posting the log here. The result is usually pages and pages of inside jokes, “that’s what she said”-level humor, and comments that would get me kicked off a “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise, ad infinitum, ad nauseaum.

And yeah, the truncated log of this year’s frivolities does exist. It will appear around here in the near future. But the adventure of Camptathalon 2018 was not the stuff that happened between the metaphorical foul lines. To properly explain what happened, we must go beyond the “7:03 PM Can cunt-bubble be a verb?”

We had a noob this year. He’s not a camping noob; this guy probably camps circles around the rest of us. The spot we picked, which the rest of us call “remote,” he refers to as “touristy camping.” So he knows how to camp, he’s just never done it with a Wisconsin lunchbox, a SC Gamecocks flag, and an eternally-present notebook to keep track of things for posterity.

He also sucks at whiffle ball homerun derby, which I’m thankful for, because it allowed yours truly to advance into the second round with a mighty score of one. Another guy flamed out in round two and I made it to the third round with a grand total of two homers, at which point I launched six and won the whole thing, the whiffle ball equivalent of Nick Foles.

Sorry, this isn’t supposed to be about the actual Camptathalon. I just couldn’t resist. Did I mention one of my homers went an estimated 240 feet?

Fine, fine, I’ll talk about the bear.

Oh yeah, did I mention there was a bear? Seriously. The Noob went nose-to-nose with a motherfucking bear.

It happened Friday night, which ended up being the only night of camping. The rest of us had gone to sleep. The first two went down around midnight. I know because I timestamped it in the log. I don’t know when I went down, but I’m guessing it was around 12:30. Noob “stayed up,” meaning he passed out in a sitting position at the campsite table while waiting for the fire to die down.

What happened next is a bit of hearsay, but it’s the hearsay of a drunk person roused from being passed out, and if we can’t trust a barely cognizant guy after 10+ beers, who can we trust?

Noob claims he felt some breathing on him, so he woke up to a bear about three feet from his face. He claims he startled himself awake, making enough noise to make the bear turn and run. This may seem unrealistic, but California grizzlies are notoriously skittish. Had it been a Montana Black Bear, Noob and the rest of us might not have fared so well. And he assures us it was out of shock and surprise, not a wily survival instinct.

My favorite part of this story (other than the fact that none of us were mauled by a bear, of course) is that, after chasing a bear off, Noob had the sense of mind to turn around and timestamp the encounter in the Official Log. Otherwise none of us might have known, because he needed to be reminded when he woke up the next morning. That’s the point of the Log, of course!

Again, the story might sound like bullshit, which was our first reaction when we saw the 1:00 AM timestamp. But then we looked in the dirt. Paw prints more or less corroborated his story. Distinctive steps coming forward, pausing a few feet away from the table, then a dusty splotch, and paws going back the other direction, farther apart from each other, implying the bear was trotting faster in that direction.

Shit, based on the physical evidence, Noob coulda said he wrestled the fucking bear and we woulda had to believe him. Especially if that was written in the Log, because if it’s written in the Log, it’s true. Just like Wikipedia.

After the bear left, Noob decided to clean up a little bit. On the table, right behind where he had been passed-out sitting was a bunch of beef jerky we had left out. It was that jerky, I presume, and not the empty bottle of Jameson’s nor my sleeping friend, that the bear was sniffing.

I know, I know. Probably not the best idea to leave fresh jerky out on the table with bears around. We mentioned this thought earlier. But, in our defense, we figured that if it was bear country, there would be bear lockers.

Also, in our defense, we intended to clean up anyway, but we were pretty inebriated. That’s usually an acceptable defense, right? I’d be a wonderful public defender, right? “Your honor, my client drove under the influence, but in his defense, he was fucking wasted.”

Noob put the jerky away, wrote the timestamp in the Official Log, double-checked the fire, then went to pass out. Again.

And, had Saturday gone according to plan, that bear might’ve been the story of the weekend. But within fourteen hours, the bear was a footnote. And no, not just because of my HR Derby win.

What happened Saturday? Well, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but the entire state of California is pretty much en fuego right now. And I don’t mean that we’re in a good groove. I mean the entire state is ablaze. I think at last count there were 175 fires, each burning over a half-million acres with approximately twelve percent containment.

In the time it took you to read the last sentence, we’re up to 178 fires.

The two fires that are getting the most attention right now are the stupidly-named Carr Fire and the Mendocino Complex. I don’t know if that one has a catchy title, but I do know that it was two or more fires that combined forces a la The Avengers or Voltron to become the largest fire in California history. How’s that for some teamwork, gentlemen?

Southern California is even getting in on the fun this year. Usually they sit fire-season out, but decided to add one this year in a show of either camaraderie or competition. See? The Supreme Court knew what they were doing when they threw that ballot measure to split the state in three off the ballot. Who needs democracy when you’ve got sibling rivalry? GROUP HUG!

The Southern California fire is called the Holy Fire. That’s a pretty fucking cool name right there. I want my next job to be fire namer. Pretty sure it would be a full-time job in this state.

Of course, we were good, conscientious campers and picked one of the few places in the state that wasn’t on fire. Okay, not really. More like we had picked this place three months ago and it happened to still be standing. But fortune favors the bold, and we were super excited to get out of the Valley and see blue skies for the first time in a month. One of the guys sent out an e-mail to that effect on Wednesday, proudly proclaiming that we were going to one of the few places in California not on fire.

And no, he isn’t allowed to put anything in writing anymore.

Turns out a fire DID start sometime on Thursday. It was just a tiny speck by Friday morning, and really, even after it had grown past 15,000 acres by Monday, it still barely warranted a mention on the local news. So even if we had googled it after my friend’s ill-advised e-mail provoked Vulcan, we probably wouldn’t have known about it.

But as we drove up Highway 108 toward Sonora Pass, we saw a distant plume on the horizon. Then it turned into a curtain of smoke that we appeared to be driving directly into. Before before long it turned into HOLY CRAP WHEN DID THIS HIGHWAY TAKE A DETOUR THROUGH MARS? I’m pretty sure we could see flames, although that seems unlikely as the fire should’ve been about a thousand feet lower in elevation. So maybe it was just the smoldering asscrack of Beelzebub, because something was lighting the underlayer of the smoke hanging over the canyon to our left.

(The Road In)

Then again, I’ve recently learned that silly things like giant granite cliffs and lakes and land that was burned just last year don’t do shit to slow down California fires these days. They’ve evolved. Adapt or die, motherfucker. You’re in the FIRE’S house now!

“Should we… should we…,” the conversation went inside my car. Turn around? might have been spoken aloud once or twice, but we usually tried to keep that line of reasoning on the down-low. Because if nobody says it, then we don’t have to acknowledge it. Manly man logic! And if that fire wants to fuck with my weekend plans, I will fucking jam a two-by-four up its ass and take a straight shot of testosterone chaser.

Besides, we weren’t all in the same car, and there’s no way we can communicate with the other cars, because we’re out of cell range. Sure, one’s right in front of us, but HE isn’t slowing down, so it’s go, go, go. I know how to play chicken. Passive aggressive indecision is the true mark of modern man.

Plus, I was pretty sure that we still had another ten miles or so to go to get to our campsite. Plus another 1,000 feet in elevation gain. Two thousand feet up and ten miles away? Please. This fire’s got nothing on us. I’ll eat its children for dinner.

Or at least, I’ll eat something that its much smaller brethren cooked for me. Mmm… sausages.

(This was the fire in the distance shortly after setting up camp)

When we made it to the campsite, we could see the distant plume once again, rising in the western sky like a signal flare. But it was distant. And it was going straight up. And, pshaw, we could see blue sky above it. And above us. We’ll be fine. It’s not like there’s anything capable of burning around here.

Hey, can you grab all of those pine cones for kindling, please?

When we woke up Saturday morning, the smoke was gone. Huzzah! They must have jumped on that fire early and squashed it in its infancy. Such a capital idea. Perhaps we should try putting other fires out before they can spread.

I’m a fucking fire whisperer, man. I can name them, and I can tell people the proper time to fight them. I offer my services to the State of California. Out, and I’m still waiting for a call from Arte Moreno, because i posted in December, 2012, that the Josh Hamilton signing was a bad idea. Don’t sign a baseball player who has admitted to quitting on his team before and stop the fires before they spread. How am I not a millionaire?

By the way, I still don’t know where the smoke went overnight, but it was gone until about 10:00 Saturday morning. Does smoke go to sleep at night? I know winds can shift, but the plume should’ve been visible even if it was travelling away from us.

Maybe the Noob wrestled it away along with the Montana Black Bear. And the Alligator.

Then the wind shifted and the smoke started coming our direction.

Of course, the wind shifting had nothing to do with that 240′ whiffle home run I hit. That was all muscle and technique, baby! Oh, and the whiffle balls have been so beat up over time that they’re about ninety percent duct tape by now, which may or may not be more aerodynamic that a swiss-cheesed bit o’ plastic.

Regardless, when the air around us started to get a little hazy, we thought it might be a good idea to stop drinking. It’s a tough choice, because if we decide to pack up and leave, it’s advisable to be somewhat sober. But what happens if we DO end up staying? We might be upsetting the camping gods, who live by the mantra of “Camping without beer is just sleeping outside.”

Around 2:00 in the afternoon, we walked across to the resort, which is really just a couple of cabins, a grocery store, and a bar. In theory, we were going as a sort-of All-Star Break, having reached the midpoint of the Camptathalon competition. Plus we were going to see if we could get some inside information on if we were going to die if we could start drinking.

The Forest Service had a map of the fire up, which was very nice of them. Evidently it had grown from 500 acres Friday morning to 1,000 acres Saturday morning. It was defined as “zero percent contained,” which feels like an odd phrasing. Does “nothing” really deserve a percentage designation? Are you TRYING to contain it? Or is this like me saying I’ve got about five hundred books that are zero percent written. If you count every random idea that’s ever entered my mind, Stephen King’s got nothing on me!

Still, we all felt pretty comfortable with the location of the fire. It was going east. We were south. There was a river and a number of roads between it and us. Plus that whole granite cliff. It would have to get into a very specific canyon to head up Highway 108.

We’re fine. Let’s grab a beer.

“Um…,” the bartender starts. “I’m not sure if we’re staying open. Let me see if I can serve you.”

She checks, then comes out. Wow, this might be the earliest I’ve ever been cut off in a bar.

“Yeah, we’re closed,” she continued after checking with her manager. “And we’re evacuating.”

Cut off before I’ve had a beer and kicked out of the bar when the sun’s still up. Both personal records to put in my Baby Book. But unlike most of my other water-hole evictions, this one was not accompanied by a round of applause.

Well, shit. What should we do now? One of the guys decided to buy a t-shirt on the way out. The cashier looked at him like he was nuts, but rang him up anyway. Huzzah, commerce!

By the time we got to the parking lot, everyone had the thousand-yard stare. The other would-be customers were standing in front of their cars, shrugging their shoulders as if that might help load up their trunks. The people we had talked to on our way in are still looking at the map, scratching their head. The map hasn’t changed. How can the fire be close if the map hasn’t changed? Everybody’s moving in slow motion. Although nobody’s really saying as much, everybody’s standing around as if the evacuation’s going to be reversed. Do evacuations get reversed? Doubtful. Then again, we’re not really sure if this evacuation is official or just an overzealous manager. Who knows? Maybe they’ll get the owner on the phone and be told to get the fuck back to work right this goddamn minute.

But that’s not likely to happen, and the people staying at the resort have to get going. The place they had booked was closing up shop, kicking them out. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.

But the four of us aren’t staying at the resort. We’re camping across the street. I’m going to need something a little more official than a jittery bartender before I pack up my shit. After all, we have full-weekend hall passes from the wives. And I’m not even halfway through my beer. The two-liter I filled with margaritas hasn’t even been opened yet.

Camptathalon is tied, for gods’ sake! We still have three events to go. We can’t be turning this into the 2002 All-Star Game.

Still, maybe we should hold off on the drinking.

What follows is an awkward half-hour. The four of us sit around the campsite, engaging in chit-chat, as the air grows hazier between us. The campground’s too quiet. Too still.

We throw out a few passing mentions of pushing on with the Camptathalon. But engaging in Camptathalon events without alcohol violates the spirit, and quite possibly the law, of the event. I haven’t looked at the non-existent bylaws recently, but if there isn’t a clause about sobriety invalidating any and all event results, there ought to be.

So we sit and stare. An even hushier hush comes over us as we see the forest ranger in her olive pants and canary shirt walking from campsite to campsite. And then she’s coming straight for us. Is this going to be a “be prepared” speech? Or is it going to be…

“Gentlemen, you’re under a mandatory evacuation order.”

What, we don’t even get a jovial greeting first? And just as I’m about to rouse my inner libertarian and ask her to define “mandatory,” after all this is federal or state land and dammit, it belongs to the people and remember when Harry R. Truman held his ground against Mount St. Helens? Viva la Revolucion! To the Bastille! Who’s with me?, she goes on…

“Do those tents belong to you? Yes? Nobody’s missing? Anybody down at the river?”

Wow, Sister Party Pooper. What’s crawled up your butt? You act like you have a whole fucking civilization to evict.

“Okay,” is what we actually answer. And while I really wanted to ask if DUI laws are suspended for the duraton, I think it’s best to just let it go.

Fifteen minutes later, we’re more or less ready to go. It was odd to pack up while not hungover, but somehow I managed. Because, to quote “Footloose,” sometimes we’re holding out for a hero.

evacuation

(This was the state of the sky when we were evacuated)
The only other decision we needed to make was whether we would turn west, toward the fire and our wives and our lives, or if we would go east. Tough decision. We had assumed those instructions would come with evacuation. We had also assumed the evacuation would be a little more, I don’t know, exciting? Air-raid sirens and martial law, like in the movies, not some random bureaucrat walking around sotto voce.

So east or west? On the one hand, we could probably get some cool visuals by driving into the fire. Sure, our lives might be at stake, but we do live in the society of miles-long back-ups on the highway just to lookie-loo at a minor fender bender. So that idea definitely had merits. The pictures I got on the way up didn’t do the fire justice.

On the other hand, our wives weren’t expecting us home until Sunday. And every movie about husbands returning home early ends poorly. So for the sakes of our wives and our marriages, we definitely should go east.

Oh, and did I mention that Nevada is to the east?

So a couple hours later, the four of us are inquiring about rooms at the Carson Valley Inn in Minden, NV. It’s not quite as rugged as was planned, but it’s not exactly a Vegas four-star. Although they’re not low-class enough to like our idea of sudden-death bocce on the casino floor in order to determine a Camptathalon champion. However, it being a casino, we were still able to inundate our clothes with the same amount of smoke as if we were sitting in front of a campfire.

Then again, I don’t think we would’ve won $50 on the Toronto Blue Jays at the Dardanelles resort.

And oh hey, check out what passed us, heading back the direction we came, while we were heading down the mountain:

That’s just a sampling. I didn’t start snapping pics till after the Humvees had gone by. There were about 12 to 15 military trucks in total. And that barbed wire looks well on its way to closing off a major thoroughfare. So it turned out that, even without considering casinos and sanchos, it was a wise decision to turn away from the fire. I wonder if there’s a correlation between not drinking and making wise decisions. I doubt it. No use t engage in any further experiments on this topic.

Once we were back in cell phone range, we could do a bit of research on what we now learned was being called the Donnell Fire. The information we had from Saturday morning, that it had grown from 500 to 1000 acres on Friday, was accurate but obsolete. On Saturday, the day we evacuated, the fire grew from 1000 acres to almost 6000 acres. Yeah, that’s quite a jump. It was still zero percent contained. Probably because every firefighter west of Montana was already fighting the other fires across the state.

Hell, I’m surprised they didn’t try to deputize us to fight the fire ourselves. After all, it’s recently been revealed that they’re using prison labor, at a price of $2 an hour, to fight the Carr Fire up north. I might need prevailing wage, though. Or they can just pay me in beer. It worked so well for the Rolling Stones at Altamont.

As fun as Minden was, though, I still felt the reservations may have been a little overzealous. I know, better safe than sorry and all that, but it seemed the fires was still going east, not south. We were still well outside the danger zone and the…

I’m sorry, what now? The owner of the resort tweeted something out on Sunday? Let me check it out…

safe_image

So, umm…. yeah. That’s the place we were staying across from, the bar that wouldn’t serve us, the store that my buddy bought a T-shirt at. So maybe the evacuation was a LITTLE bit warranted, even is we still had hours to spare. I stand a little bit corrected. So much for rivers and California highways and large granite faces in between. Fire has a mind of its own. Who knew?

It’s kinda sad that the Dardanelles is gone. The resort had been there in one incarnation or another since the 1920s. It was sold only a year or two ago. I hope the new owners didn’t decide to wait until it was profitable before shelling out for insurance.

I’ve only been there twice. Well, one-and-a-half times, now. The other regular camper and I went up there about a decade ago and we liked it. They had a fiddle concert there Saturday night. For the last decade, we kept saying we wanted to return there. I’m glad we actually decided go there this year. It won’t be an option next year, or for quite a few years after that.

And it’s kinda cool to be one of the last humans, or at least the last civilians, to walk through a place that was destroyed. It’ll be like my grandpa telling stories about Route 66. And the T-shirt my friend bought is a collector’s item now. I wonder if he had the sense to pay with credit card, because that might not have gone through.

And while Saturday night featured no fiddle playing this time, there was a cover band at the casino playing John Fogerty, which might as well be fiddle.

We might re-convene the competition in the Autumn, but of now, Fire is the official winner of Camptathalon 2018. Not as exciting as a Wombat victory, but more memorable. As shitty as the 2002 All-Star Game was, it’s the only one that I can remember what happened in. Bud Selig, meet Donnel Fire. Fire, this is Bud. You are equally destructive forces of chaos and nature.

At least we got the Butter Toss in.

0804181347625609802.jpg

Bandwagon Season

There’s a strange hue hanging over Northern California recently. And no, it’s not the ubiquitous smoky sky from approximately seventeen thousand wildfires going on simultaneously. It’s August, so we’re pretty accustomed to that visage.

Although did we really need to name one of them the Carr Fire? You know “car fire” has a different connotation, right, media?

“Hey, did you hear the latest on the car fire?”

“No, I took a different route to work today. Is that why you were late?”

But the current strange vision is  a color combination that I’m not used to encountering in the summer. Or really, at any time since the Bush administration. It’s a distinctive shade of green. Bright, unnatural. Maybe it’s called Kelly green? I don’t know. It seems to me that Forest Green is very deep green color, and everything else is Kelly Green. Or turquoise.

But these shirts and hats I’m seeing definitely aren’t turquoise. Turquoise only shows up in this region in April or May of years when the Sharks are both in line for a top playoff seed AND didn’t underperform in the playoffs the season before. So, basically never.

“Never” is also when I assumed I’d see this garish green-and-yellow again, but it’s the summer of 2018, and it’s back. When I first moved to Northern California, in the early 1990s, it was everywhere, the unofficial color of spring and summer, after which it became garnet-and-gold season. Then it disappeared, only to have a brief resurgence in the early aughts, coming up for breath once per decade like the Nessie above the surface of her Scottish loch. I’m wracking my brain for what that precise confluence of events, which stars and constellations have aligned, to bring out the blinding combination once more.

Wait. Could it be… Let me double check the standings just to be sure and… Yep, the Oakland A’s are holding the wild card. If the season ended today, they’d be in the playoffs.

At least the Giants aren’t in contention, so we don’t have to worry about the green-and-yellow clashing with the black-and-orange that is usually seen around these parts this time of year. Of course, you could never have both teams being represented at the same time. Because the people wearing the green this year are the exact same people that were wearing the orange two years ago.

You see, Northern Californians are horrible sports fans. When a team is losing, they are either afraid to represent it, or more likely, they simply stop rooting for that team. Ignore it like Janet Jackson asking, “what have you don for me lately?” And then, when that team starts to win, they all of a sudden come up with these wonderful stories of how they’ve been lifelong fans, busting out clothes that looks either twenty years old, or freshly purchased this week.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not just NorCals. ALL Californians are horrible bandwagoners. Northern Californians are just much more obvious about it. The SoCals’ fandom expands or contracts based on the viability of the team at the moment. A decade ago, Dodger blue was only noticeable in the Valley and LA proper. Now it’s the unofficial color of the Southland. At least it was until LeBron signed with the Lakers, and then my Facebook feed looked like it was 2010 all over again.

But the SoCals don’t swap allegiances quite as fickly as thee NorCals. Now, maybe that’s because Southern California teams rarely change position. The Clippers, Angels, and UCLA aren’t competitive enough to do a true control experiment. The Angels won one World Series, but usually underperform. The Clippers gave us a little test run, being a better team than the Lakers for most of the past decade. And while I saw more people checking in at Clippers games, and many people saying “Hey, good for the Clippers,” nobody was changing their profile pictures to suddenly claim their lifelong Clipper fandom. If the Clippers and Lakers played in San Francisco instead of Los Angeles, there would be a whole lot of people shuffling past their red-and-blue to find their antiquated purple-and-gold the moment LeBron signed. (See Below: Kings, Sacramento; Warriors, Golden State)

Southern California does have one sport with two different champions. And I give them credit for sticking by their hockey guns. The level of excitement for the two Kings championships was equaled only by the general level of ho-hum, oh-wait-there’s-another-hockey-team-here apathy the two times the Ducks won it all. And most of my friends live in Orange County. However, most of them became hockey fans before the Ducks existed. Oh, and they hate Disney. Still, if Orange County gives more of a shit about the LA team than the one in their own backyard, they’re not bandwagoning.

Back to Northern California and the impending return of “A’s Country.” Northern Californian teams swap places on a more regular basis, and boy howdy, do those fan allegiances give me whiplash. Fifteen years ago, when the Sacramento Kings came within one compromised referee game of winning the NBA championship, everything north of Fresno might as well have been washed over in purple. You couldn’t go anywhere without proudly showing your allegiance to the basketball team-du-jour.

There was another NBA team in Northern California at the time. Not that you’d know it. They were called the Golden State Warriors. I doubt you’ve heard of them. Their colors were… dark blue? Or maybe grey. I seem to remember they had some sort of ninja on their logo. With lightning-bolt lettering?

I’m being serious here. I don’t remember what their colors were in 2002, because NOBODY owned any Warriors gear. Or if they did, they wouldn’t have had the audacity to show it in public.

I know what the color and the logo look like now. It’s blue and yellow, with a picture of the Bay Bridge in a circle in the middle. I know that because the Warriors are good now, so everyone is wearing their gear. And a hell of a lot of these “Lifelong” Warriors fans were so decked out in purple a decade ago that their own children might not recognize them.

Nowadays, if you  wear a Sacramento Kings hat in Sacramento, you will be mocked incessantly. This is Warriors-county, baby!

Does this bleedover happen in other markets?  I imagine that, even when the Dallas Mavericks were very good, the predominant gear worn in Houston would still belong to the Rockets. Am I wrong here?

The good news is these Warriors fans can’t claim they bought their gear twenty years ago, because the Warriors have changed their look so many times. And yeah, their current look is a bit of a throwback, but the Bay Bridge has been torn down and rebuilt since the 1980s logo.

We went through the whole bandwagon with the San Francisco 49ers, too. Again, when I moved here, you could barely go out in public between August and February without sporting a gold Starter jacket. But by the time Y2K rolled around, you couldn’t find Niners gear everywhere. And I know these fans still rooted for their team. They would come into work on Monday morning rehashing every play of the game. Even in shitty Candlestick Park, the team was still selling out games. But there were no hats or jerseys or Starter jackets.

It got to the point that I forgot I lived in Niner Country. Then Jim Harbaugh showed up and they started winning again. All of a sudden, people who I had worked with for ten years started showing up in Niners polos and jerseys every Friday. I even mocked some of my students (“Oh hey, you Niners fans finally found all that gear at the back of your closet”), which was mean and probably a bit errant because the Niners had never been good in their life, so if they had gear, they probably were legitimate fans.

Although, in my defense, last year I taught the younger sister of the girl I mocked. I asked her if her sister still wears a lot of Niner gear. She said no.

Northern California fans feel this is absolutely normal. They simply believe the way the world works is to stop showing support for your team when they are losing. Clearly they’ve never been to Chicago, where people were wearing Cubs and White Sox gear when neither team had won anything in fifty years or more. Or Boston before 2004. Hell, I’ve never been to Cleveland, but I bet there are still a lot of people wearing Browns gear during football season there.

And this says nothing of international destinations, where people still wear shirts for their teams when they drop down to the minor leagues.

At least Niners fans didn’t put on silver and black when the Raiders got good. If there’s one sport where NorCal fans don’t just jump to the currently successful team, it’s football. But when you talk to a Giants fan who thinks it’s perfectly fine becoming an A’s fan overnight, and you ask them if they should do the same thing with the football teams, they will look at you aghast. That’s fucking crazy talk.

It should be for baseball, too. Browns fans are still Browns fans, even after years of being horrible. They wouldn’t jump ship to the Bengals just to save face. Nets and Knicks fans don’t have to look at the standings to know which team they like that day. I have a White Sox friend who says, “I’d rather my sister be a whore than my brother be a Cubs fan.”

Of course, I always told him those weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

And I guaran-fucking-tee there is no New York equivalent of this monstrosity:

20180810_074941

I’m not saying you can’t root for a team other than yours. On any given day, there are usually 14 games that do not feature your favorite team. It’s not a bad thing to prefer one team over the other. In 1986, when the Mets were playing the Red Sox in the World Series, I assume that Yankees fans wanted the Mets to win. But I doubt they started spouting off about how long they had loved the Mets and started wearing Mets gear instead of Yankees gear.

That’s what puts California fans apart. They are proud of switching their allegiance on a dime. Again, look at that atrocious hat. People are PROUD to own that hat.

But when two teams share one media market, dammit, those are supposed to be rivals. I grew up an Angels fan and I absolutely hated the Dodgers. The typical sports news in Southern California was eighty percent Dodgers and twenty percent Angels. We were the red-headed stepchild of SoCal.

Then the Angels won the World Series and the whole Southland was smothered in halos. Not only did the Orange County Register remember there was a team in Orange County, but the Los Angeles Times did, as well. It was unnatural. I felt uncomfortable. I actually felt a little sorry for the Dodgers fans who stayed true, because I knew how they felt rooting for the forgotten team in the market. Just like those Golden State Warriors fans.

Even worse, the Angels started selling out their games. I was like the fan of the indie band that hits it big. For two or three years, I couldn’t get tickets.

Of course, the Angels only won once and within a few years, the Dodgers were back on top in SoCal. Now I can get any ticket I want in a stadium that’s only forty-percent full. All is right with the world. Until we lose Mike Trout…

Which brings me back to the Bay Area. I thought we had finally gotten to an equilibrium a la SoCal, with the A’s as the permanent underclass. They haven’t been competitive in over a decade, and they usually have to trade away their entire team every year. Even worse for them, their decade of crap was also a decade when the Giants won the World Series three times.

And some of the A’s fans that switched to the Giants actually acknowledged it. They say it’s tough to root for a team that will never sign good players and will always trade away their stars. The irony, of course, is that it’s the Giants fault. Back in the early nineties, when NOBODY went to, or watched, Giants games, they threatened to move to Florida. To entice them to stay, the commissioner made it so that the A’s would never be able to move out of very-heavily congested Alameda County. So then the Giants built their brand new stadium and everybody started going to their games. The A’s tried to follow suit and the Giants blocked them. The Giants are literally the only team in all of sports that can control the ability of a rival to make money.

And that power was given to them because the A’s were too popular in their market.

Now, or at least up until this year, the Giants have the fancy new ballpark and the world championships and all of the fans. Fans who say, “I just love the black-and-orange color scheme. That rustic, intertwined SF Logo. I mean, the A’s logo is just so gauche and doesn’t really match with anything.”

Until 2018.

In Sacramento, our AAA team switched affiliates from the A’s to the Giants, thinking this would bring in more fans. Not only did they switch, but they went Giants all the way. When they were the A’s franchise, they marketed themselves as “Sacramento’s team.” Since the switch, they reference Sacramento as little as possible. All of their giveaways are Giants players who never played in Sacramento. The bobbleheads all wear Giants, not River Cats, uniforms. They even put the fucking Golden Gate Bridge on our hats and uniforms.

It’s sucked for attendance though, because they forgot that Northern California fans are fickle. The year after the World Series? Yeah, gangbusters in Sacramento. But since then, it’s been dismal. Plus the team has tanked. The A’s usually have really good minor league teams, a result of that whole “trading their entire team every other year” thing. But the Giants don’t really build through the minors.

So now the River Cats are horrible and the stands are empty. The only time fans show up is if a major leaguer is rehabbing, and then they only pay attention when that particular minor leaguer is at bat. Then they talk over the rest of the action and check their phones and just generally don’t give a shit about anybody else on the team.

When Madison Bumgarner was rehabbing, tickets were being sold on eBay for over $100. Fifteen-thousand fans showed up. MadBum  pitched into the third inning. By the fifth inning, there were only about four-thousand fans left. The following week, MadBum was back up in San Francisco. The stands were half-full. Those Sacramento fans probably could have seen him for substantially less than $100, even after paying for gas and bridge toll.

Hey, at least playing in Sacramento is preparing those AAA guys for what it’ll be like to be a real San Francisco Giants, where nobody will come to their games or bother knowing who they are unless they’re winning a World Series or are named Barry Bonds.

New York, Addendum

One more day about my New York trip. Here’s some of the various musings that didn’t necessarily fit into one of the other posts. Some residue, if you will.

And of course, because everybody loves some more giraffe adventures, I’ve put some more of his pictures at the end. Daughter will be so happy!

Staten Island Ferry

Staten

We did the Staten Island Ferry. We didn’t do anything on Staten Island, but we did the ferry. It’s free.

We  planned on doing something on Staten Island. The Staten Island Yankees, a short-season low-A minor league team, is changing to the Staten Island Pizza Rats on Saturdays this year. And you can walk to the station from the ferry. So I can go to a minor league game when they’re NOT named the Yankees? And the view from the ballpark actually looks pretty nice. Hell’s yeah!

But then Saturday night rolled around and it was threatening to rain and we had just dealt with the 9/11 Museum and an annoying Hop-On/Hop-Off narrator, so we decided to just take the night bus instead. It ended up not raining, but it might have, and that’s enough reason to stay away from the minors. Trust me, I live in Sacramento, and if the high isn’t between eighty and ninety on any particular day, nobody goes to the ballpark. And we’re AAA!

We knew we weren’t going to do the Statue of Liberty, but I figured wife might want some photos of it. Actually, let’s be honest, Giraffe wanted pictures with Lady Liberty. And we had an hour or so to kill between the Tenement Museum and the Mets game, so we figured the Staten Island Ferry was a good, free way to fill that time.

Oh, by the way, I did the tenement museum. It isn’t catered to history teachers.

The Staten Island Ferry was easy as hell to board and ride. I don’t understand why it’s free. I could see it being an extension of the subway, where the same swipe that’ll take you from Flushing to the north Bronx can get you to Staten Island. But I don’t understand how its free. The terminal has turnstiles, so at one point it wasn’t free, but now it is. I feel like things usually flow in the opposite direction.

The angry hop-on, hop-off narrator said the only people who live in or go to Staten Island are mafia. So maybe that’s why it’s free. Maybe now that I’ve ridden it once, someday, and that day may never come, I will be called on to do a service. But for now, the ferry ride is a gift on the day of some daughter’s wedding.

Anyway, with no paying or scanning of cards, the boat arrives, everyone in the terminal boards it, and off we go. Four decks, plenty of room to spread out. Inside, outside, upper deck, lower deck. Doesn’t really matter, it’s a quick trip.

Does come damn near the Statue, though.

Staten Liberty

And when we got to Staten Island, we got right back on the same ferry for the return trip. We weren’t the only ones. Clearly it’s a touristy thing to do. Did I mention it’s free? All the people that were out taking pictures of the Statue were the same ones taking the left turn in the terminal to put us back in the boarding group. The commuters, the ones who stayed inside the ferry because it was fucking hot outside and why the fuck do they care about some goddamn statue they see every goddamn day on the way to and from work, they all walked straight to the parking lot or the blue line or whatever the hell was going to take them home.

The other fifty of us got right back on the same boat. Not sure why they made us get off in the first place. But they made an announcement that acknowledged there’d be plenty of us barnstormers fucking up their ticket count.

Not that they sell tickets.

The ferry ended up being a great diversion. My only real complaint was that they didn’t have…

You know what? This deserves its own sub-heading

Lack of Chargeports

I know I come from the outskirts of Silicon Valley. Okay, maybe not the outskirts, maybe just the general region. But I also travel a lot on this side of the country. Southern California, Seattle, Denver, Portland. And I’m surprised at how much more technological the West Coast is than the East Coast.

I already mentioned a few examples. Hop-on/Hop-off buses requiring extensive line-standing and humongous, awkward tickets. A subway system that only reads cards on the way in, and charges a general fee regardless of how far you’re going. The Broadway tickets still predominantly use willcall or a TKTS system where you have to hoof yourself to a designated area to purchase a paper ticket. At the Mets game, I had to print my internet purchase out at a kiosk instead of using the MLB Ballpark App.

But the most noticeable aversion to technology in New York was the sheer lack of chargeports. Or really, the lack of plugs out in public. If the Staten Island Ferry were, say, ferrying us across the San Francisco Bay instead of Hudson River, I have to assume there’d be outlets at the end of each row of seats. Maybe in between seats, too. On the Staten Island Ferry, however, there wasn’t a damn outlet in sight. Trust me, I looked through at least five rows on all four floors.

Before boarding the Night Bus, my wife and I were trying to get a quick charge on our phones. We already knew the buses had no chargeports, which would be sacrilege in California. What do they expect us to take pictures of all of their fancy touristy things on? Cameras? Which Roosevelt do they think is still president?

So we went to the Starbucks in Times Square. Starbucks always have outlets. Hipsters surfing the web while sipping coffee is pretty much their entire business model. A lot of them even have those cool magnetic wireless chargers. But at this particular Starbucks, there were no plugs in the entire store. Or at least in the customer area.  There WAS one in the bathroom, and there was a guy charging his phone in the bathroom. Because, as we all know, anyone’s allowed in Starbucks bathrooms now. Even phone chargers. It’s just in the REST of the Starbucks where our kind is made to feel unwelcome.

I’m sure this was intentional. If it wasn’t intentional, there would’ve been one or two outliers. I’ve been to those coffee shops before, where all of the customers were huddled around that one particular corner. I’m sure Times Square real estate’s gotta be pretty pricey, and you can’t make those sales if you’ve got a bunch of squatters. But this Starbucks did have round tables, which I presume were for sitting and sipping or meeting friends or having job interviews or whatever the hell else people do at a Starbucks. So the only action they were hoping to avoid was charging of electronic devices. Oh, and maybe they were hoping to avoid some West Coast jackass from blogging about their lack of plugs.

The Sacramento Airport has gone through about five redesigns in the last decade, and each one has added more plugs and charging stations. Often at the cost of seats. But most West Coasters would take a fully-charged electronic device over a comfy seat any day of the week. Because when that battery level hits 0%… Well, life is over, right? You can’t Twitter or Instagram. Or access any of those paperless tickets and plans that you downloaded. You can’t even figure out how to get from where you are to where you’re going without Google Maps these days, can you?

Sacramento Airport also added a stupid monorail in one of its redesigns, but that’s probably a post for another day.

I’m not saying California’s ubiquitous electronic consumption is better, necessarily. Only that I had assumed the rest of the world was on the same page as us. The same lumin-clad e-ink page.

Lack of Sortable Trash

Speaking of New York feeling decades behind San Francisco, what the hell is with the trash-sorting there? Central Park had three, count ’em, THREE, types of trash cans: trash, cans, and magazines.

Magazines? Are those still a thing? Would it have been too difficult to label that last one “paper”? As I just said, there’s a lot more paper produced in New York than I’m used to in the current decade. But I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to throw paper in the magazine bid, so the fifty pages of Hop-on/Hop-off ticket had to go in the garbage. Wouldn’t want to interfere with the, I don’t know, five magazines still in circulation.

And just cans? Maybe they’re hoping by not printing glass bottles, that nobody will bring those to the park. But what about plastic bottles? Every hot dog cart in the Park sells plastic bottles, but we wouldn’t want to update our nomenclature since 1986 or so.

So what am I supposed to do with an apple? No compost? Or how about those cardboard coffee cups from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts? In most West Coast parks, there’d be a more general “paper” option. But I don’t see myself throwing a coffee cup into the “Magazine” bin. By the way, I tried some Dunkin’ coffee because I’ve heard so much raving about it. My verdict? Meh.I’ll take a Philz or a Temple or a Blue Bottle, thank you very much.

And yes, I know many of our trash bins can be confusing. You see people standing in front of the multi-colored facade for five minutes, staring back and forth between the rubbish in their hand and the fine-hair splitting signs in front of them. I stayed at an airbnb in Seattle where we were informed that we’d be charged extra if the owners or the city had to resort our trash. Eight college grads with at least four advanced degrees, and we spent damn near thirty minutes debating what to do with the cellophane wrapping around the butter.

I only hope that they pay people to sort the trash after it’s been thrown away. If not, I never want to hear a New York politician talking about me not doing my part for the environment.

Denouement (Pronounced “Dyno-MITE!”)

RCMH

Look, kids, it’s Radio City Music Hall. Giraffe’s hitting the big time.

Chess

Nobody was willing to take on the powerhouse that was Giraffe at Chess.

Donuts, donuts, and more donuts. And what better thing to do with donuts than eat them in Central Park? Picture number one was of the fancy donut place that didn’t open until 8:00 AM. The second was Giraffe being singularly unimpressed with this Dunkin’ Donuts coffee he’s heard so much about.

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I don’t quite understand this sign. Plus two points for blocking the intersection? Is there some New York driving RPG where you have to gain experience points by driving poorly?

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And finally, since my very first blog post was about Sharknado 2, I couldn’t resist reenacting one of the most quintessential scenes from the cinematic masterpiece. Unfortunately, no giant inflatable bat. And no Sharknado.

New York, Part V

It’s my last day of point-by-point descriptions of our trip to New York. In fact, on our last day we left the friendly confines of New York and drove to Boston. West Coasters might not realize those are different cities. In our defense, the distance between those two cities and the time it takes to get from one to the other are about equivalent of the greater LA area. Yet somehow it requires driving through four states when you’re in the east. If a Californian moved from Ventura to San Diego, they’d still be able to pronounce Worcester.

But I digress. Because before Boston, I wanted to talk about…

9/11 Museum

I know I said I wasn’t going to delve much more about the 9/11 Museum. I changed my mind. It’s been long enough that I might be able to write a bit more about it.

Overall, we avoided a lot of the overly touristy stuff. Other than the Hop-on/Hop-off, which is more of an geographic introductory course. We didn’t do the Empire State Building. No Statue of Liberty, no Coney Island. We never paid a shit-ton of money to go up a building. We were willing to go to a roof-top bar, but never got around to it. Sure, we did the Natural History Museum and the Tenement Museum. And of course, Times Square, but primarily to see some TKTS-discounted shows.

Some of those things were on our “if we get to it” list, but not long into the trip, we figured we’ll probably bring our daughter when she’s a bit older. So we started to update our “to-do” list with things that would be appropriate for an eight- or ten-year old and what would not. I figure we can do the buildings and the statues and the Disney shows then. Not the Disney Store, mind you, just the Disney shows. Three front-row tickets to “Frozen” probably costs less than a Jack-Jack doll.

And this trip, we did the “Avenue Q” and the Becco and breweries um, the bar inside the Whole Foods. The one thing we absolutely knew we had to do this time was the 9/11 Museum, because there’s no fucking way we’re taking her there next time.

So yeah, we did the 9/11 Museum and all I can say is wow. I mean, it’s powerful. I wish I could be coy or funny or flippant, but I really can’t. It’s a powerful, draining experience. Not a lot of talking going on. Just a lot of zombies slowly swaying from one exhibit to the next.

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We saw the fire truck that was crushed and burned beneath falling debris. We saw what was left of the steel girders that were at the impact point. Hey, all you 9/11 Truthers who claim that fire shouldn’t be enough to bring a building down. You know that the superstructure had just been pierced by a fucking plane, right? Those girders weren’t exactly at their full load-bearing self. Looking at the frayed girders, I’m surprised the buildings stayed up as long as they did after impact. The fucking plane flew THROUGH the fucking building. And the second tower to be hit fell first because it was hit lower. You’ve played Jenga, yes?

Oh, and Building 7 was damaged by the two fucking skyscrapers raining down on it. Did you bother to look at what happened to Building Five? No? The whole fucking front of it was gashed down the middle. Because 110 stories of steel falling right next door to you are going to cause some pockmarks.

Oh, and Truthers? The Earth is round. And Rebecca Black wasn’t singing about JFK. Sorry to shatter your other conspiracies.

But I am willing to engage you in a discussion about whether the U.S. had the technology to land on the moon in 1969.

Back to the 9/11 Museum, just when we thought we were done, we stumbled upon the actual historical exhibition. Yikes.

So, it’s at the Historical Exhibition, buried deep in the bowels of the footprint of… I’m gonna guess Tower Number One? Fifty percent chance I’m right, right? The North Tower. Again, a fifty-fifty chance, although I’m now down to twenty-five percent chance overall. Hey, look at that! A history teacher doing math!

And there you have it: my joke for this section.

Because the historical exhibition was intense.

Even worse, Fitbit evidently doesn’t count things as “steps” when you are crawling at a snail’s pace, mouth agape, staring and reading intently every thing on every wall and then some. What the hell do you mean, only 200 steps this hour, Fitbit? I think I lost more than 3,000 steps that day. One for every 9/11 victim. Not sure if it’s a fitting sacrifice, but one does what one can.

It’s dubbed a multi-media experience, and I guess that’s true based on the dictionary definition, but don’t go expecting some “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” 4-D Experience. There’s no cockpit footage taken by the government because they were behind the whole thing. Right, Truthers? Was it Dick Cheney flying the airplanes or Dubya himself? I know he couldn’t complete a sentence in English, but he was certainly capable of masterminding a multi-pronged, simultaneous attack in complete secrecy. Oh, and fly a plane, of course, and maybe teleport out at the last second.

The walls of the historical exhibition was a timeline of the morning, accompanied by videos, pictures, and audio clips. I thought I was well-versed in 9/11. My school’s latest revamp of U.S. History had the intent of getting to 9/11, and dogonnit, I finally succeeded in getting there. But now I feel like I have more to add to the 9/11 story than just the story of my dumb ass sitting on the couch watching the second plane hit because my insomniac father called me at five-something in the morning, and this was in the time before silent voicemail, so my answering machine played his message out loud and woke me up and made me think, “What the fuck does he mean, a missile hit the World Trade Center? I should probably wake up to prove him wrong.”

Does the mention of answering machines make you feel old? Hey, here’s another one: The juniors I taught 9/11 to this year were born in 2001. Most of them were born before 9/11, but some were not. Next year, all of my junior will have never lived in a world that contained the Twin Towers. Or a time when the United States was not at war.

Here’s some other things that surprised me in the historical experience. We have the footage of two of the terrorists walking through airport security in Portland. Kinda creepy, them walking though without a care in the world grabbing their coats off of the X-Ray conveyor belt. Dressed business casual, if you care.

And we have recordings of the flight attendants in contact with air traffic control. They were giving a pretty detailed account of what was happening, especially in the first two planes. I know we focus so much on the “Let’s Roll” in Flight 93, but I found “I see the water. I see buildings.” to be a much more powerful reminder of the day.

Oh, and Truthers? I’m with you on the whole “Flight 93 was shot down.” There’s no way passengers could have bum-rushed the cockpit. Have you ever been in the corridor of an airplane? But I’m also fine with Flight 93 being shot down. It was either going down in a field in Pennsylvania or it was killing even more people in Washington, DC.

There was also a lot of video footage, like the World Trade Center victims jumping from the towers. I found it interesting that there were a couple of spots in the exhibit that were hidden behind walls with warnings that the visuals might be disturbing. Oh, it’s just the people leaping to their deaths that’s disturbing? I’m so glad everything else in here is just a visceral walk in the park. I know we are a visual creature, but I don’t know how “I see the waters, I see buildings” is somehow less abysmal than people leaping to their deaths.
Seriously, if a person ISN’T disturbed by any part of this exhibit, then I think it’s probably the person that is disturbed. You might want to go see somebody about that. “Hey, Doc, I thought the 9/11 Exhibit was kinda ho-hum” should definitely get someone put on the no-fly list.

So there’s my recap, saved for Part V for a reason.

Let’s just focus on the Vesey Street Stairs. Yay, some people survived!

And let’s go on to a spot where the good guys were the terrorists…

Boston

Our last day was in Boston. The timeshare agreement only allowed for five nights in New York and, dammit, we have a week’s worth of grandma babysitting, so we ain’t going back a moment too soon. So let’s hit that other New England city. After all, I used to watch a lot of ESPN, and as far as they’re concerned, they are equal and the only two cities that matter in the entire American landscape.

Speaking of the four-letter, I drove through Bristol, or at least nearby. It’s halfway between New York and Boston, if that helps you understand the focus of the four-letter. I’m sure if it were based in Fresno, the A’s-Angels rivalry would be much more pronounced. Then maybe we wouldn’t have the fucking commissioner of baseball saying that the best player in baseball is bad for baseball.

The reason I was driving near Bristol, and not taking the train like a proper Nor-easter (what? That’s only a storm? I can’t use it to describe a people? Fine.) is because I didn’t book the train early enough. I had checked the prices many times back before the trip, but I didn’t buy because it looked like the price wasn’t changing, and I doubted Amtrak was using any of the nasty economic ploys one might expect. For instance, I just checked the rates for a train ride tomorrow from Sacramento to LA, and it’s $57. That’s comparable to what the prices were from New York to Boston when I was checking back in April and May.

But clearly there’s a time warp on the East Coast. Or maybe it’s they have really fucking good cookies on their website. Because when I went to order train tickets when I was in New York, Holy Crap!

The real reason I hadn’t ordered the tickets ahead of time, aside from confidence in cheap availability, is because there were four train trips, each an hour apart from each other, and I wasn’t sure how much our PDT body clocks would have adjusted to the time zone difference, so I thought I’d wait a few days to see how brutal 8:00 AM EDT is.

It turns out 8:00 AM EDT is brutal, but I’m not sure how many New Yorkers are aware of that. I don’t think our clocks ever adjusted. We really didn’t need to. The coasts play off of each other, so even though we’re three hours apart, we don’t really do things that far apart. For instance, that whole “9 to 5” thing? That actually exists on the East Coast. Like, people don’t actually get up and go to work until 9:00 AM. Out here on the West Coast, it’s pretty common for people to roll into work closer to 7:00. The school I teach at starts at 7:20 AM. But there was a donut shop near our hotel that didn’t open until 8:00. Eight? A donut is a breakfast food, right? I think a West Coast donut store that didn’t open by 5:30 wouldn’t be in business very long.

And unless you’er in San Francisco or Seattle proper, we usually try to eat dinner between 6:00-7:00 here on the West Coast, which was not a problem at all, because 9:00-10:00 seems to be prime time for dining in Manhattan. So in the end, my back-home body clock wakes up in the 5:00 hour and trails off into dreamland between 9:00-10:00. So waking up at 8:00 AM and plugging away past midnight seemed perfectly acceptable in our new environment.

At least until we had to wake up at 5:00 AM to be on our way to the airport by 6:00. On a coast where a place that calls itself a Bed and BREAKFAST can’t be bothered to even have coffee brewed by that point. They make timers on coffee pots on the East Coast, too, right? At least because of my faux pas with the train the day before, we had the benefit of driving to the airport instead of taking the T.

Speaking of which, I never finished my train v. car comparison. By the time I tried to book the train, three days before traveling, the price was up to $250. One way! Per Ticket! I checked airplanes, and that would cost around $100 each. The new Amtrak slogan: “Triple the time for triple the cost!”

The rental car cost $63 total, even with us renting it in New York and returning it in Boston. Well, I don’t need to be an AP Economics teacher to know that, of those three options, the train is not the best. But since I am an AP Economics teacher, I might bring up that the variable cost of adding one more train car, and thereby servicing a hundred or more new customers, seems negligible. The benefit of no TSA and not having to drive is not worth paying eight times as much.

So we drove.

Rental

Daughter was very upset that Giraffe wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

Regardless of how we got to Boston, we weren’t going to have much time there. By the time we “checked in to” the B&B (we never saw the owners – they just left a key and some instructions on the front door for us) and took the T down to Boston Commons, it was well past 2:00. And we had Red Sox tickets for 7:00. So after a lunch from the Vietnamese food truck that was a hell of a lot cheaper and a hell of a lot better than the shitty lamb gyro in New York, we did what anybody with only a few hours in Boston should do. We took the Freedom Trail.

At least that’s what I assumed would be a proper American’s first order of business in Boston. Except the first time I was there, I was with some other teachers and we were playing hooky from “further enhancing” an educational conference in Providence. We drove into Boston and went straight to Cheers. That was the one bone the two ladies I was with threw me. But when I found out the Boston Massacre site was only a few blocks away and wanted to go, they wrinkled their noses. They were in a brand new city, filled with wonder and personality and architecture. Why would they want to go to some stupid “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” site? (Actual quote)

So we settled for Harvard. Fine, I figured, we’re teachers, let’s go to Harvard. We did one circle around the campus, or really one “quick glance at the quad,” then went into Harvard Square. Harvard Square has a bunch of shops. And while I found a kinda cool book store, where did my fellow conference attendees go? The Body Shop. You know, the one with the scented soaps and shit? The one that’s in every mall in America? Yeah, they spent a fucking hour in there. Because of course, when you’re in a new city, filled with wonder and personality and architecture, why would you go to a rather specific site where one of the quintessential acts of the American Revolution happened, when you can get lavender-scented soap at a “Buy One, Get One Ten Percent Off” deal?

Just as Benjamin Franklin would’ve wanted it.

I’ve returned to Boston a few times since then and finally did the Freedom Trail properly. Including Lexington, spot of the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” and Concord, the spot of the first official battle (a couple hours after Lexington). Both towns have the battle spots still as they appeared 240 years ago. With visitor’s centers and shit. Pretty fucking awesome if you can get twenty miles out of town. When we transitioned from train to car, I thought about diverting wife there, but the Red Sox weren’t waitin’ for no one that night, so we bypassed the best addendums to the Freedom Trail.

But this was wife’s first Boston foray, and we only had a couple hours, so it’s time to follow the yellow-brick sidewalk.

That was somewhat literal. If you haven’t done the Freedom Trail before, it’s about as dumbshit-proof user-friendly of a tourist attraction as you’re liable to find. There’s a yellow line that goes through a good portion of the town. It’s embedded into the brick sidewalks for most of its path, it crosses the street when it needs to. And there are plaques along the way. Look honey, “One if by Land, and Two if by Sea.” And the act of self defense that was sold as a Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Except last time I did the Freedom Trail, I feel like I got a lot more context. I remember anecdotes about British soldiers quartering themselves in people’s homes, so those colonists had to camp out at Boston Commons. Or maybe the British garrisoned at Boston Commons after the Boston Tea Party. Regardless, that’s where the Third Amendment, America’s second-most forgotten amendment (I’m looking at you, Eleventh) came from. On my last Freedom Trail jaunt, there was also derisive disdain for Paul Revere, who didn’t even deliver his fucking message but still took credit for it because he ran a newspaper, the same newspaper that dubbed the riot a massacre.

Okay, so maybe the fun little anecdotes didn’t really stick with me as much as they ought to have, but I at least remember getting them.

So maybe I was taking a tour? But I don’t think so, because I was visiting a friend who lived in Boston. And I don’t think she told me all of those stories. Maybe Paul Revere, but I don’t think she went into the Third Amendment. So I kinda think I was listening to some pre-recorded thing.

I must have been listening to an audio tour. And this was back before mp3’s and ubiquitous listening devices. So maybe I rented one of those old-timey listening sticks.

And it turns out that there is an audio tour now. Unfortunately, you have to download it before you arrive. The info we saw said it wouldn’t work to download it straight to your phone – you have to go the mp3-to-iTunes-to-phone route. Maybe that info was outdated, because I remember getting books on CD that had to work that way. But most phones produced this decade can bypass that route. But maybe it’s intentional on the Freedom Trail. I assume they’re trying to replicate the difficult technology problems of the Revolution. We all know that the war dragged on for six years because Washington only had 3G technology to text out his battle plans, right?

So instead, wife and I just walked a few blocks and saw some cool brick buildings. And a cemetery with a bunch of faded tombstones. Very historic. One of them housed a Chipotle, which I can only assume is the very same Chipotle that the John and Sam Adams met at before the Boston Tea Party.

And of course we saw the cemetery, because that’s a happy way to start any trail. Seriously, Boston, I know you can’t go all Poltergeist” and “You moved the bodies, but not the souls,” but why the hell do you start the Freedom Trail with a cemetery? I’d be a hell of a lot more impressed if John Hancock had signed his own tombstone.

I also remember something about Crispus Attucks, the first victim of the non-massacre, being buried here. Or maybe he wasn’t buried here because he was African American? I can’t remember. If only I had an audio tour.

We ended at Faneuil Hall, which I remember as a natural stopping spot when walking the Freedom Trail. There’s like ten “stops” within five blocks of each other. Then, I think, it’s a seventy-five mile hike to the next spot. Yeah, I get that the Battle of Bunker Hill wasn’t really fought on Bunker Hill, but I don’t need to hoof it halfway to Maine to verify that.

Plus, I was too pissed to continue. Why? Because at Feneuil Hall, they had a whole bunch of random slightly-patriotic shit for sale. Huzzah, America! And one particular display featured this:

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TEA? In Boston? The Audacity! Don’t they know their history? We dumped all the fucking tea in the harbor so we wouldn’t have to drink that British shit anymore. Sell some goddamn American coffee here, dammit! USA! USA!

So we “finished” the trail, and made sure to do the other properly American thing to do in Boston. Giraffe had to pose in front of Cheers. We didn’t go in, because as I discovered on my first trip to Boston, the inside looks nothing like the TV show and was very disappointing. There is another Cheers in town that was built to look like the TV Show set, but it wasn’t built until the show was off the air. And I didn’t find that out until my third trip to Boston. But the TV-set lookalike was closed the day we were visiting. So sorry, no shots of Giraffe sitting in Norm’s spot.

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In the end, Wife liked Boston. It definitely felt more laid back, and more comfortable for these two California-suburb dwellers, after five days of the hustle and bustle of a city where people spend ninety million dollars and still have to exit their apartment onto a street with a shit-ton of people who haven’t bathed in weeks. Boston Commons feels like you could sit back and read a book. Central Park feels like you better be fucking doing something, or on the way somewhere, or else why the fuck did we build this fucking park for you? And, hey look, there’s the Dakota building!

 

We ended our day in Boston, and our trip to the Northeast, with a trip to Fenway Park. My Angels were in town, and when I bought the tickets, their season and their likelihood of winning this game, or really any game, was not so farcical. By the time the game rolled around, I told my wife that it might get ugly, early. And it did. The Red Sox slapped the Angels around like they were playing a different game. The pitcher, who had only been called up a few starts ago, got as absolutely lit up as one would expect when a AAA pitcher faces a first-place lineup. He didn’t make it out of the second inning.

But the fun didn’t end there. The perfect bookend to our trip happened the next morning. After we got our asses up at oh-dark, left the B&B with very little B and not a sniff of B, who did we see boarding the same United flight to Los Angeles as us? It looks like… well, let me just pull up the apps to check the tattoos and… Why, it was the Angels pitcher from the night before! Well, I’ll be damned. I guess Los Angeles is the transfer point to get ballplayers back to Salt Lake, where the Angels have their AAA affiliate. And all of a sudden, I feel bad for this guy. Twelve hours before, I was cussing him out and saying he better re-think his fucking career because his pitching was a fucking joke. And now I’m thinking, aww, poor guy, he finally got his dream to pitch in the majors and now he’s being sent back down to AAA on the next fucking flight.

Turns out it was neither scenario. He went on the disabled list with an “inflammation of the elbow.” And now I’m back to pissed at him. His elbow seemed fine. Maybe he should have his neck looked at because he had to keep watching all the laser-beam home runs he was serving up. Go back to tha Minors, ya bum!

At least he got to ride first class.

New York, Part IV

Day Four of my New York recap. It’s Times Square Day!

Times Square

Not that we only did Times Square once. We hit it multiple times.

I read a travel guide that said don’t bother going to Times Square unless you’re doing Broadway. Otherwise it’s just a festering pool of humanity. However, we were doing Broadway. But yeah, it’s a festering pool. One thing I didn’t mention below that I never quite understood: there are bleachers at the north end of Times Square that people sit in. I can’t tell why they’re sitting there. It looks like there should be a performance going on in front of them or something, but there’s not. I assume they want a better view of Times Square, but it’s kinda hard to NOT see Times Square. I don’t imagine sitting ten rows up makes all that much difference.

Oh well. On to the stuff I wrote during the trip:

Three Broadway Shows

We saw three, count ’em, THREE Broadway shows over the course of the five nights we were there. Okay, technically one of them was deemed “off-Broadway,” but if it’s in the city of Manhattan with equity-earning actors, I’m calling it Broadway. We picked all three of them using the time-tested “what’s half-off at TKTS” method. Like real New Yorkers. So don’t expect any reviews of “Hamilton” or “Frozen.”

Although, holy crap, when did Broadway become all Disney? In addition to “Frozen” and the currently-longest running “The Lion King,” there was “Aladdin” and “Anastasia.” “Beauty and the Beast” wasn’t currently running, but I know that’s a thing. We’ve done a full one-eighty circle from the 1950s, when the successful stage shows became movies.

But let’s focus on the shows we actually saw:

The first show was the off-Broadway one. We saw “Avenue Q” at the New World Stages. I saw “Avenue Q” pre-wife when it came to Sacramento. There were many, many complaints, because the typical Sacramento theater-goer only wants to see the same ten shows repeated once every three years. And when something new comes along, that means “My Fair Lady” has to wait a fourth year before returning, and we can’t be having that. If you add in bad words and/or, I don’t know, puppet sex, you can assume every blue-hair in the audience will be writing a sternly worded letter to the editor. So if wife wanted to see it, and ain’t no way it’s ever coming back our way. So it was resolved that, if “Avenue Q” was at TKTS (and let’s be honest, “Avenue Q” is ALWAYS gonna be at TKTS), then that’s the show we would see our first night in New York.

The show was fun. Wife is now happy she’s seen it and will have some context when those songs come up on my iTunes. Not that you need much context for a song titled “What do you do with a BA in English?” And “The Internet is for Porn” is the most self-explanatory songs ever.

But the coolest thing about this show was the venue. Note the plural in the name New World Stages. Because there were multiple plays going on at the same time at this venue. You walk into a fairly non-descript storefront and immediately descend two or three levels of stairs/ramps. For my first night in New York, I immediately assumed we had been led astray and were going to a sex dungeon instead of a Broadway show. It’s in Hell’s Kitchen, after all, and Daredevil fights sex dungeons ALL the time.

Unfortunately, it ended up being a Broadway show.

But not just one Broadway show. There were at least four shows going on at the same time. And by the same time, I don’t mean “at intervals throughout the day.” No, I mean that at least three of the shows were starting at more or less the same time. When we got to the bottom, there were ushers like at a movie theater: “Avenue Q?” First door on your left. “Puffs?” Second door on your right. “Jersey Boys” and “Imbible,” around the corner.

By the way, “Imbible” sounds fun. On night three, it was a toss-up between that and the show we actually saw. I think the show we saw was more entertaining, but “Imbible” would’ve given us free booze.

The theaters were smaller than one would expect in New York, but it’s still impressive to fill many shows nightly. Must be some damn good sound insulation in those walls. It IS a sex dungeon!

It appears their one major rule is that the plays couldn’t have intermission at the same time. Don’t let the “Avenue Q” perverts out at the same time as the squeaky-clean Harry Potter nerds watching “Puffs.” No co-mingling, no sneaking into “Imbible” to get the free drinks they give out. No crossing the streams.

Speaking of which, here’s one glance at the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Giraffe:

Stay Puft

The effect of staggering the intermissions was that our play was rewritten to extend the first act and tighten the second act. At first I thought I was going crazy, thinking “I swear this song/plot point was in the second act before” or “I really don’t remember this dragging so much” and eventually even “Did they just get rid of the intermission?” But when we finally were released into the wild, ushers were standing there with signs that read “Please be quiet. Other shows in performance.” Then it made sense. It’s probably a lot easier to re-arrange puppet sex scene than to have Frankie Valli’s daughter die in the first act.

Oops, spoiler alert! For an event that happened in 1980.

Margaritaville

On night two, we opted for “Escape to Margaritaville.” Long-time readers of this blog (Hi Mom!) know that I am something of a Parrothead. Jimmy Buffet’s songs, and the lifestyle they represent, are a little slice of wannabe reality for me. I also think he’s a hell of a wordsmith and has a fair assessment on what really matters in life. So when we heard that there was a musical featuring his music on Broadway, it seemed like a no-brainer.

Until the show got totally panned. There were reports about it playing before half-filled crowds and getting shut out of the Tonys and that it was going to wrap up production on July 1, about three to five years earlier than planned. So I started having second thoughts about seeing it in New York. Allegedly it had done wonderfully in San Diego and New Orleans (no surprise), but the stodgy Broadway crowd didn’t find it appealing (less of a surprise). So, even if I might like it on its own merits, do I wanna see it amongst a crowd of the unimpressed when I could just wait for it to go on tour and see it with a bunch of fellow Parrotheads?

So after six months of “Escape to Margaritaville” being at the top of our list, a couple of weeks before we went to New York, we swapped it with “Avenue Q,” for the reasons stated above. If we made it to a second show, we might go the Jimmy Buffett route. Although, truth be told, I was leaning a different direction when we were standing in the TKTS line. Because I really was worried about being disappointed. I remember all too well being annoyed when they failed to market the Billy Joel musical as a ballet, because the people on stage only sing, they only dance.

But wife chose the tickets on day two, so we hit Margaritaville.

I’m glad we did. It was a fun show. Not bad knowing ninety percent of the words before the show even starts. Although, to the dude sitting in front of me, that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to sing along to every fucking song. You know those people up on the stage are, like, professional singers who are getting paid to do this, right?

Plot was pretty straight-forward. No real shocks. Uptight, workaholic woman takes her friend, who’s about to get married to an asshole, to an island resort. They both fall in love with workers at the resort.

Astute Parrotheads could spot most of the Easter Eggs in the first scene of the play. Hmm, the old dude is drinking a green label. I bet he, I don’t know, went to Paris at some point in his life. And they’re drinking “good red wine” out of a tin cup. And I’m sure the “Volcano” on the center of the island isn’t going to erupt with a series of “I Don’t Know”s.

At least the characters were way more likable than “Mama Mia.” Oh holy crap, the first time I saw “Mama Mia,” I tweeted out at intermission that it was like a bad episode of Maury Povich, except that I didn’t care who the father was. So glad they’re making a sequel to that piece of garbage.

And of course, ABBA music doesn’t hold a candle to Jimmy Buffett music. Sorry, Norway.

They tweaked around a couple of songs to fit the plot or the more modern setting. Most still kept the feeling or mood of the original song, with the exception of the one they tweaked the most, “It’s My Job.” The original song is about working hard and taking pride in what you do, even if it’s not a glamorous job. “Escape to Margaritaville” turned it into the workaholic woman whining about why she can’t turn off her desire to be number one. It went from being a working class anthem to a song about the 1%.

They also changed my favorite line in “A Pirate Looks at 40.” I don’t care if “I made enough money to buy Miami, but I pissed it away so fast” doesn’t fit four people nowhere near Miami, it should’ve stayed in there.

So all in all, I’m glad I went. And I’ll probably still see it again when it tours nearby.

Oh and, hey, “Escape to Margaritaville” did set one Broadway record: most alcohol sold on opening night. I guess the people that paid $10,000 to see “Frozen” on opening night weren’t the “three margaritas at intermission” types.

I was going to reference the people who saw “Hamilton” on opening night, but that musical shocked everyone. There was virtually no demand for it at first and it has moved three times to bigger and bigger theaters.

Play

Our final show was Sunday night, which didn’t leave many options. That’s okay, though, because the show we had unofficially pegged at third (Hell, I would’ve picked it before Margaritaville) was playing Sunday night. We hit the Times Square TKTS booth ten minutes before the show started and got two of the last tickets available. We’re damn near locals at this point!

“The Play That Goes Wrong” had an interesting premise. You see, it’s a play, but get this… it goes wrong! Not sure if you caught that from the title. The synopsis talked about the set falling apart and whatnot. I expected it to be a farce, and I like farce. Jack Tripper was my hero growing up. That probably explains a lot. I’ve even acted in some community theater-level farces before, so I really wanted to see how Broadway compared.

Oh holy crap. I don’t think I’ve laughed that solidly since… I don’t know, the first time I saw “Airplane!”?

The play “starts” before it really starts. Two “techies,” clad in black, are “fixing” a couple of things on the set. The door won’t close, so he keeps pushing it closed. The mantle keeps sliding down. The female techie is too short to hold the mantle in place, so she picks someone from the audience. Audience member holds it up in place, then she just walks away. Other tech comes, chats with audience member. Audience member nods, let’s go on mantle, walks off stage to applause from rest of audience. As soon as he resumes his seat, mantle falls again.

Ah, so it’s going to be prat falls and physical comedy. Lady behind me, who I can only assume bought tickets even later than us, is unimpressed. “Oh, is this going to be one of those stupid plays where they do stuff nobody ever does? This is lame.” Well shit, I thought, I really don’t want to have to turn around and explain what live theater is. But guess what? Within two minutes of the show starting, the only fucking peep I heard out of her the rest of the night was her laughing her ass off.

Tech addresses audience before the play “starts,” asks if anyone’s seen his “Best of Duran Duran” CD. He then takes his place in the balcony to run the “sound board.” Needless to say, half the sound cues “accidentally” start off as Duran Duran songs. An actor says the storm’s coming in, and the first few chords of “Girls on Film” play, before the tech scrambles to push the correct “thunder” button. These types of callbacks went on throughout the play.

When the “play” actually starts, of course the door that wouldn’t close all of a sudden doesn’t open. So the actors who are trying to get in do what anyone else would do in that situation: they go around the set wall and just walk in from stage left. And it’s already begun, because the whole point of this play is that the actors are pretending that the stuff isn’t going wrong. Did I mention I’ve been in community theater productions before? So maybe I was a bit more susceptible to some of the laughs. Because when he says he needs to get the pencil from the desk and there’s no pencil, he just grabs the key and hopes nobody notices. And when, two minutes later, another character comes in looking for the key, well…. Of course, in community theater, I would find the pencil off stage, so that I had it in the next scene if I needed it. Not in “The Play That Goes Wrong.” One scene later, he’ll be using a key to “write” in the vase that was the only thing left on the table when he went to grab the notebook. The notebook, naturally, was used to unlock a door.

And of course, the missed cues and forgotten lines. Again, I’ve been there. Nothing’s worse than your fellow actor stare at you, open-eyed, on stage in the middle of a performance. The universal sign for “Oh, shit, I forgot my next line.” Then it’s on everyone else on stage to make do without that character, or to give that actor a subtle cue without being obvious, or maybe jump ahead to an easy jumping on point, or, worst of all, to ad-lib. I think “The Play That Goes Wrong” did each of those at least once. They also called for “Line” when the Duran Duran-listening techie isn’t even following along in the script. “I don’t know where the hell we are,” the techie says and, of course, the actor repeats that word-for-word. And, of course, it kinda fits what’s going on in the play right then.

I don’t want to delve too deeply, because I could probably proceed to spoil every single joke. But just look at this Giraffe selfie and note that everything on the set, including the set itself, will come into play. See that “Second Floor”? Yeah, that’s not long for the world, either.

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All I know is I was very happy we decided to return for one more evening of theater, and even, GASP, see a non-musical on Broadway. And I’m also glad we saw this in New York, because as I said, I’ve seen community theater farces, and this show could be really, REALLY bad in the wrong hands. But, oh hey look at this… They’re going on tour with the same set? They’ll be in Los Angeles next Summer? You don’t say…

Disney Store, Hershey Store, M & M Store

After “Escape to Margaritaville,” we found ourselves in Times Square on a Friday night, so we figured we’d do the whole “Times Square on a Friday Night” thing. And no, that didn’t mean picking up a transvestite hooker. At least not this time. Besides, I think that’s Thursday’s du jour.

In 2018, the only way to properly “do” Times Square is with unbridled, neon-infused consumerism.

On somewhat of a lark, when we saw the orgy of capitalism in front of us, I joked to my wife that we should go check out the Disney Store to buy the same crap that we could get at any mall back home, albeit with some additional service charge for being in Times Square. Evidently wife thought that was a capital idea, because the next thing I know, I’m surrounded by Belle and Rapunzel and some transvestite hooker screaming, “I didn’t say she was crazy, I said she was fucking Goofy.”

In this particular sojourn’s defense, this Disney Store did in fact have a few items specific to its prime real estate location. Directly as you enter, you see a full display of Mickey Mouse Statue of Liberty shirts and plushes and totes. Next to them are some “I Heart NY” items with Mickey’s silhouette in the heart. the other 95% of the store, as predicted, is the exact same as every other Disney Store. Okay, so maybe we can get one New York-specific item for the toddler we left at home with Grandma and then we’ll be on our…

What’s that? An alleged one-day only sale? Buy six items and get 26% off? Well shoot, I guess I can… Wait, SIX fucking items?

So for the next half-hour, we’re scrounging every corner of the store looking for the best deals. We were stuck on three items for a long time. And wife was not interested in my argument of “You know, if we only buy three items, it’s fifty percent off.” So sometime around midnight, we finally found enough trinkets to make the one New York item we bought cost slightly less. We got in line and wife decided to buy a couple more items in the impulse-buy area. Good thing the sale was for six OR MORE items.

Our next stop was the Hershey Store. And HELLO, I’M HOME!!! Wow, if I had known this little slice of heaven was so close by, I might’ve let wife peruse Walt’s empire on her own. This place had it all. Mini size, regular size, king size. Flavors that don’t exist elsewhere. Did you know they make pina colada Kisses? I don’t care if that’s getting us closer to Peak Coconut, it’s going in my belly.

They also had a whole line of Reese’s clothing. And a shit-ton of products that I had no idea were produced by Hershey. Like Reese’s. And those Brookstone chocolate-covered berries. And that new Chocolate Bark. And Jolly Ranchers. Plus good old fashioned candy bars like Whatchamacallit and Mr Goodbar.

Oh, Mr Goodbar, how I miss you at all of the times of the year not named Halloween. And I forgot they made Mr. Goodbar in any size besides mins. Speaking of candies I forgot about, is that a king size Whatchamacallit? For sharing? Oh, I think not.

And do you want to know what Hershey’s Chocolate World had that the Disney Store didn’t? Bakeries. That’s right, plural. They had one bakery in the back that was making giant s’mores sandwiches. And then over on the side, they had a bakery with different types of cookies and brownies and the like. I bought a Reese’s Peanut Butter Blossom Cookie that was simply divine. It took me two nights to finish it, and even after it had cooled off, its crumble was still a masterpiece.

You know what? I’m getting hungry. Let me just go on to the third Times Square stop:

The M& M Store. Crap, that’s not going to help my hunger.

Except, actually, it is. Because after the Hershey experience, I was sorely disappointed by the M&M store. I know M&M/Mars is responsible for almost as wide an array of candies as Hershey. Certainly I’d find all manner of Snickers and Twix and Skittles, right? I once saw a hazelnut Snickers in Australia, It was wonderful, but I’ve never seen it in the States. Maybe it’ll be at M & M World, like a king size, pina colada Whatchamacallit.

Nope.

But that’s okay. Certainly they’ll have some mix-and-match Skittles. Those new sour ones are really tasty.

Nope.

Okay, but I bet that Twix cookie from the bakery will just taste… Hmm, there’s no bakery.

So what, you may ask, do they have at M & M World? Clothes. And a few plushes. And maybe a towel or two.

They’re all very colorful. But my daughter doesn’t quite identify with the cute, anthropomorphized characters from the M & M commercials the way she does Mickey Mouse. My niece might have when she was younger, but that’s only because her initials are M.N.M., so my sister got her a bunch of M&M stuff when she was a child. But that seems a tad too focused of a marketing strategy. Kinda like this birthday card:

I mean, how many people outside of Arkansas have a wife/mother.

Sorry, Mars, but you’re about a century behind Disney in the whole co-opting of childhood thing.

Oh, and a lot of those commercials are actually catered to adults. And air during adult programming. Which might explain the mode age in the M & M World being a 22-year old female. Hey, so is my niece!

There were, at least, plenty of M&M’s for sale, many in colors and mix-and-match options that aren’t available in the real world. But that clearly wasn’t the focus of the store. There was also a place to stamp your own M&M’s. You could put one of about five pre-written messages, like “Happy Birthday” or “Getting Married,” or else a letter other than M. The line looked about an hour long, so no thanks, I guess I don’t need to put “W” for Wombat on some M&M’s. I guess I’ll just turn my next M&M upside down.

At least Giraffe found something he liked:

M & M

New York, Part III

Read Part I and Part II, if ya want. Or read the Cliff’s Notes:

Wife and I spent five days in New York in June. It took me a while to write it all up. If you close your eyes and squint really hard, you can pretend this is a live blog. Just don’t look up when the New York Pride Festival was…

Food

How the hell did I make it to day three of updates before I mentioned food? I’m disgusted with myself. Who the hell cares how I GOT to New York? All that matters is I ate there. And might as well start from the beginning, which was also the low point.

I’m horrible at making decisions. Blame it on being a Libra, I suppose. I’m usually okay narrowing a choice down to two or three options, but from there it’s a non-stop back-and-forth of the pros and the cons. And if/when I’m finally forced to make a decision, it’s buyer’s remorse the entire way.

I think the “Freakonomics” podcast did an episode on this phenomena. The takeaway was to take away choices. People say they want to have a choice, but are almost always less satisfied with their experience if they were given a choice. If you don’t know what the alternatives were, you’ll make the best of the situation. Subway sounds fine if I didn’t know Five Guys was an option. But if I chose Five Guys, I’m spending all of lunch checking my phone for the specials at Subway, even if I haven’t voluntarily eaten at Subway in years.

Regardless, by the time we got to our hotel, after one hour of sleep on a redeye, with bodies feeling like it was breakfast time despite the clock and world saying lunch, we knew that we needed to eat before we did much else.

Oh, and we wanted to see Central Park first.

So I checked Yelp for anything in Central Park. I found one that seemed to have an okay aggregate score. Even better, it didn’t look like there were any other options short of mortgaging the house for Tavern on the Green, so boom. No shifting back and forth between different reviews, no half-hour spent trying to figure out what I want. Let’s just head straight there.

And ignore some of those reviews that say, “Great view, mediocre food.”

My review? To call the food mediocre is being generous. And the view was… I mean, it was Central Park, but… meh.

Central Park1
(The view was not as nice as this)

Well shit, this isn’t gonna do fuck-all for my propensity toward analysis paralysis. The few times I pick the first option, I get burned. Wade Boggs never swung at the first pitch, meaning that pitchers had caught on and were throwing the first pitch right down the middle and getting a free strike. A manager once told him he needed to swing at the first pitch to keep them honest. He swung at the first pitch and hit a weak groundout. He never swung at the first pitch again.

So after figuratively swinging at the first pitch, and ending up with the culinary equivalent of that groundout to second, where’s my next destination? We need to go to TKTS in Lincoln Center. Any guess how many restaurants were on that route? Good restaurants with happy people eating tasty-looking food? Wonderful ambiance, with beer and wine? Oh, I’d say a thousand. Or so it seemed. And they all looked a hell of a lot better than the lackluster meal we just ate.

You’re right, Wade Boggs. I’m never doing that shit again. Did I mention Boggs hit over .300 even with that free strike he gave pitchers?

But, like Wade, we got more hits than whiffs in our New York career. (Double-checking Boggs’s Yankee stats and…. yep). In fact, other than the first lunch and a lamb gyro from a cart in Times Square (really? $18? Maybe you should have the price written somewhere or communicate it ahead of time, cause I wouldn’t have bought that shit if I knew I’d only be getting two dollars back.), every other meal was good.

Two places stick out: On the first night, fresh off our Central Park faux-pas, we went to Becco in Hell’s Kitchen. Again, I had found it online, but this wasn’t an instant Yelp check, I had researched it before we left California. That being said, I still worried when the cab drove by ten to twenty good-looking spots en route. Who knew Hell’s Kitchen was such a culinary hotspot? My only cultural reference to Hell’s Kitchen prior to this trip was Daredevil comic books. And the Gordon Ramsey TV show, but I don’t think that’s intended to be literal.

But while I’m sure that Cajun Italian place is wonderful, there’s no buyer’s remorse this time. Becco was wonderful. We felt more confident in our decision as soon as we arrived. The wait list was overflowing wait list and no, they could NOT moveour 6:30 reservation up to 6:00 because we “happened to” there early in an attempt to make our show. They’re in the theater district. Do you think you’re the first try-hards to hocus pocus that particular bullshit?

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At Becco, their specialty is daily pasta dishes. There are three of them. And here comes the kicker: I didn’t have to choose between them! You get all three. And ALL YOU CAN EAT! Let me repeat that: Three different all-you-can-eat pastas, changing daily. Why do they even need to print the rest of the menu?

The night we were there, they had a spaghetti in tomato sauce. Just plain ol’ spaghetti. Guessing they have to have something run-of-the-mill each night. It was fine. Nothing to write home about. Definitely not going to cede any more of my dwindling stomach space to it. Not when there’s…

An artichoke ravioli in a light cream sauce. Now we’re getting somewhere. The ravs were a bit too big, but my family’s Piedmontese, and from what I can tell, everyone else considers our ravioli to be Mini Coopers. Size notwithstanding, the flavor was very good. I flagged the guy walking around with ravioli refills over once and was happy to do so. So long as it didn’t take up the third corner of my plate, where I had fenced-off a permanently vacant lot of real estate so that it would be ready for the return of the…

Penne pasta with short rib ragu. Oh my freaking lord. It’s been a month and I’m still dreaming of this dish. To be clear, wife is absolutely not a fan of short rib, and she thought this dish was wonderful, too. If there was short rib on a menu and she wasn’t forced to have it in order to get at the ravioli, it never would’ve touched her plate. And now even she is craning her neck around to find the refill guy. So imagine her husband, who likes short rib under normal circumstances, sitting across from her, salivating over the remaining portion on her plate since he’s already devoured his portion and is now just swirling around the pomodoro in a holding pattern.

And let me tell you, that short rib ragu guy was the one circling the least often. It always happens that way, doesn’t it? Like the sausage and pineapple guy at the Brazilian ststeakhouse. No thanks, chicken dude. There’s a reason your sword is still ninety percent full and it ain’t your lack of salesmanship.

So yeah, spaghetti dude passed by four times and every time, we responded with, “No thanks, but if you see the short-rib guy…” When the messiah finally returned, he had to weave his way through the ravenous beasts throughout the entire restaurant. Beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. When our hero finally emerged from the tumult and the travesty, he scarcely had a smittance of his holy grail full. But it was enough.

And fuck all of you patrons with the audacity to sit behind me. Just keep scooping, pasta boy, don’t look at them. What did I tell you about eye contact?!?

The other major culinary win for us was going to be a win whether the food was worthwhile or not. Because HISTORY!  I decided long ago that the next time I went to New York, I would dine at Lombardi’s Pizza. Not because it’s named after a famous street in San Francisco, but because it is, officially, the first pizzeria in the United States. It might not actually be. But it’s got a fancy plaque out front and, more importantly, it’s been featured on the History Channel, which is where all proper Americans get their historical knowledge. And alien conspiracies. I mean, who cares if Paul Revere didn’t actually complete is midnight ride and it was actually William Dawes who delivered the “Regulars are coming.” Dammit, “America: The Story of Us” claimed it was Revere saying “The British are coming,” so that’s how it fucking happened. It is not for us to question what the alien overlords tell us. After all, they built the pyramids.

But Lombardi is credited as the first, and furthermore, they own up to that. So to Lombardi’s we go. Even if I’m not a fan of thin-crust, and if their aversion to shredded cheese seems downright communistic.

Lombardi

But I’ll be dammed, it was fucking good. The crust was what my wife described as “the perfect amount of fluff.” Odd, because Lombardi allegedly trained most of the early pizza chefs and is considered the godfather of that “calling it cardboard-thin is an insult to cardboard” New York-style pizza. I mean, if the guy and the place who invented it thinks dough is not a bad thing, why does the rest of the city want it to be the consistency of a Saltine?

And the no-shredded cheese? Okay, that fucking WORKED. I know real mozzarella is a tender cheese. And I know that the shredded mozzarella that you buy in the store is just an overly-processed facsimile of what it’s really supposed to be. But at the same time, a pizza with strips of mozzerella placed throughout its circumference going to leave some cheeseless territory, like when I attempt cheese toast in the toaster oven. And you need cheese in every bite, right? Otherwise it’s just tomato bread. I can’t be the only one who shudders when a cheeseless pizza is an option on some menus, right? Because without cheese, it’s just bread. The cheese is what MAKES IT PIZZA.

But my worry was unfounded. It turns out that there is enough cheese to go around. I don’t think I took any cheeseless bites, and if I did, there was at least enough going on with the other stuff. And the ninety-plus percent of the bites that DID have cheese were divine. Oh my goodness, I didn’t think pizza was supposed to taste this way, this combination of crunchy and pungent and smooth.

The best proof of conversion? I told my wife that I’m making the extra trek to the Italian store to get some real goddamn mozzarella the next time we do a Boboli. Although I don’t feel like Boboli is sufficient for legitimate mozzarella. Because, let’s be honest, Boboli is much closer to French bread than it is to pizza crust. We might have to splurge and get the Pillsbury.

The Pride of High Line

We knew that Pride was going on the weekend we were in New York. It’s kind of hard to miss it. The entire Island of Manhattan was strewn in rainbow. The Night Bus narrator seemed to be surprised by this. I mean, she knew the Pride parade was the following day, because she warned us about the upcoming changes in the bus routes at the end of our ride. But every time we went around a corner and saw a new building. “Oh, and it’s always fun to see how they change the decorations to… hmm… it’s another rainbow…”

So yeah, we knew there was going to be a big parade. Google was even nice enough to tell us the route of said parade. South of Empire State Building, down to Washington Square Park, then over and back up 6th or 7th Ave. At least, I think. This is from memory. New York peeps, does this sound like an accurate parade route, or did I just give directions to some “Wrong Turn” West Virginia cannibals?

We planned to meet a couple of my high school friends who have been living in New York for a few years. We texted each other in the morning about where to meet up. They asked what we were planning on doing that day, we responded with either the Brooklyn Bridge or the High Line or Harlem. I thought they lived in Brooklyn because the husband posts about a lot of Brooklyn breweries. No, they live in very, very north Manhattan. So they tell us there’s a good spot at the southern end of the High Line, and they can take the A Train (cue the Duke Ellington) there. So that’s the plan. I briefly thought about mentioning the Pride parade, but I thought, “Nah, how could they live in Manhattan and not know about the parade?”

Spoiler alert: they knew about the parade, but not its route.

As for the High Line, it was okay. I had been told it was something surreal and sublime. It was, meh, a nice walk.

For those of you who don’t know, the High Line is an old elevated train line that they’ve turned into an elevated walkway. It’s location is awesome. It was for shipping, not for commute, so it’s right along the waterway, which I’m going to guess is the Hudson River, because it’s on the left side if the island, so I’m guessing it’s not named East.

Seriously, New York, why does one river have the name of an explorer and the other is named after a direction? Some consistency, people!

There are plants along the High Line. The sign said something about nature reclaiming civilization, urban jungle, “Life After People” type of plants. I believe some of them are naturally-occurring, but I have to believe a lot of it is planted to look that way.

Highline

Which leads me biggest problem with the High Line. For all of the nods to reclaiming wasted space with an innovative new urban plan, it’s really just an elevated walkway. I assumed I’d be walking along rickety old train tracks a la “Stand By Me.” But for most of the track, they’ve built the walkway to be a foot or two over the train tracks. With the exception of the newest part, where the sign said they are making an effort to let the track still be seen, you would never even know you’re on a train track. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they took the train track out for most of the southern half of the trail. Even on the newer parts, where the tracks were still visible, they were enclosed by a large chain-link fence, so there’s still no coming in contact with them. It’s like a zoo where you can see the past, but not really interact with it.

Continuing in my “Stand By Me” let-down, there was also no blueberry pie-eating contest. But there was a person selling ice cream sandwiches at the midway point, and they were abso-fucking-lutely awesome. Totally worth the price of admission. Actually, the price of admission was free, so maybe they were worth the price we paid for the sandwiches.

High Line Ice Cream

We finished our trek a little bit early and meandered through the Chelsea Market. It was pretty much what I thought it would be. Lots of good looking places to have a drink or a bite to eat. This information might have come in handy in a little bit, but it didn’t. Instead, in retrospect, this would be a reverse of that first-day lunch. This time, we passed all the good places to end up someplace very mediocre.

The text came in. “Meet us at the corner of 16th and 8th.” Okay, no problem, we’re on 16th and 9th, so it’s only one block.

Except for the barricade. Oops, the block between where I’m at and where I’m going is blocked off. A cop is only letting people in if they have a wristband. And, despite the fact that I looked NOTHING like I was going to a Pride Parade, the cop would hear nothing of me just wanting to get to 8th Avenue.

Wait, you need a wristband to watch a parade?

No, I would later find out that this block, and the next few, were staging areas for the floats. So the wristband was to get you on to a float. I guess I’m fine with that.

But others weren’t. When I finally made it to my friends on 8th, there were some protesters  walking down the street with signs that said “No Wristbands,” “Allow Everyone.” Clearly I wasn’t the only one who needed to get from 9th Avenue to 8th Avenue and didn’t want to go around. I can only assume that’s what they were protesting, because these guys had to know they could still watch the parade, right?  And that the wristbands were just to get ON a float? Or was this some reverse “Little Red Hen” protest? Without working on or helping build a particular float, they just think anyone should be allowed on any damn float they want? Why even have a parade? Just put the floats on display and have everyone climb all over them like a jungle gym, I guess.

But before that, when faced with the initial barricade, I figured I’d just go around. One block down to 15th Street and… same problem. We doubled back and went up to 17th Street. Well, shit. Finally we heard rumor that 14th Street went through, so a few more steps on the Fitbit and I was finally approaching my friends at the corner of 16th and 8th. Now let’s eat and drink and catch up on the olden…

Oops! The place they wanted to go was behind another barricade, blocking off the next block of 16th Street, where another float was being staged, which would require another wristband. Again, at this point, I’m thinking it’s the actual parade route that’s being blocked off, and I’m thinking this is the most fucked-up, non-inclusive parade ever. They go for a block at a time and don’t let anybody in? Maybe I should join that protest!

With the lunch spot my friends had chosen blocked off, they decided to go up a few blocks, hoping to get away from the crowd. I thought about mentioning the Chelsea Market, but nah, these two are locals and probably have a better handle on where everything is. Chelsea Market looked kinda hipster, anyway.

But the crowd wasn’t thinning out. So the next thought was to go across to the other side of the island. The Little Italy/Chinatown area should be far enough away from the insanity. Again, I thought about mentioning that the parade route was supposed to go right down 5th Avenue, but nah, these two are locals and probably have a better handle on where everything is.

Plus I thought that the parade was going DOWN 5th Avenue, and that the parade was already over. That the blockades and such were at the END of the parade.

Nope.

And… Nope.

We tried to cut across 23rd Street, because certainly Madison Square Park would be accessible, and “Hey, have you guys seen the Flatiron Building?”

“Yes, we have seen the Flatiron and, HOLY CRAP, is that an actual live parade, in progress, down 5th Avenue?”

Yeah, we’re not cutting across to the other side of the island.

All four of us finally come to the conclusion that we should’ve reached from the get-go: Let’s take the subway. Did you know that New York has a rather extensive public transit system?

Of course, the subway stations near the parade are closed, so now we’re huffing back west toward 7th Avenue. Are you tracking this so far? We started at 9th and 16th, we are now near 5th and 23rd, but are doubling back to 7th.

We go down in the first subway station we see, figure we’ll just take the subway a stop or two and figure it out. Of course, it’s a north-south line, not an east-west line, so no going to Little Italy. But as long as we get past Times Square, the city should be somewhat sane. And the first stop past Times Square is… right the fuck in front of our hotel.

But hey, we finally had that beer! At a Whole Foods…

Technically it was an Asian restaurant inside the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle. And they didn’t have a bad beer selection. The wine selection wasn’t thrilling my wife, but we’re northern Californians, and it takes quite a bit to thrill us with wine. In fact, the best wines we found were Northern California wines. Oh hey, they have Bogle. That winery’s thirty minutes from my house. 

So to racap: We left our hotel on 57th Street, and they left their home on 180th Street, in order to both meet down on 16th Street, so we could walk another ten-to-twenty blocks, in order to take the subway back to where we had started. In retrospect, we should’ve just walked the Brooklyn Bridge, or, I don’t know, just met them at the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle.

The food at the Whole Foods wasn’t bad, either. And it’s between our hotel and the TKTS, so let’s add one more spot to the list of places we could’ve gone for lunch on day one. Oh, and the place that I was really salivating for after that lackluster lunch? P.J. Clarke’s? Yeah, my friend told me it’s pretty good. I should totally check it out.

Damn you, Wade Boggs!

At least my Fitbit was happy.

As for the Pride Parade, it was more or less the same as those in other major cities. I mean, I only saw one topless woman, so maybe it’s not quite as brash as its West Coast counterparts. I’ve never really understood why that happens. At some point, it was determined that the most appropriate way to celebrate homosexual love is to expose oneself in public. This is particularly true amongst heterosexual women. They’re co-opting this celebration just as they have Halloween.

Oh, it’s time to celebrate? Here are my asscheeks.

Don’t get me wrong. I love asscheeks. And breasts, for that matter. And as a heterosexual male, I gotta be honest that the six-packs on the dudes wearing the mesh shirts are impressive as hell, too. I just don’t know why they necessarily all have to be on display at this particular event.  I worry that, when the dress-up becomes what everyone gravitates toward, the original purpose of the event might get lost. And what happens when Aggressive Hetero Dude-Bro starts to realize that he can ogle attractive females at Pride events? Welcome to Mardi Gras 2.0.

Besides, what the hell do these people do with these outfits the rest of the year? I guess they get put in the same spot in the closet as my Silent Bob and Santa Claus costumes. Probably take up a lot less space, too.