travel

Outdoor Curling, Off-Ice

I originally intended for this post to be a two-parter.One for preparation, one for the Sawtooth Outdoor Bonspiel. But one of our games turned into an epic, inspiring poems retold for centuries to come. So now it’s a threesome of posts. No, wait a second. Is there another word for a group of three? Perhaps a double-team? You’re currently reading the meat of this curling-post sandwich.

Read on to find out what the beautiful town of Stanley was like and how I managed to snap my wrist! Then you can find the on-ice stuff here.

Okay, so the good news is that the weather was way warmer than expected. I spent the last three months expecting zero degrees Farenheit, and in the end I got zero degrees Celsius (and y’all thought I didn’t know metric.)

Heck, we didn’t even need the beards and goggles. But when you deck yourself out this sexy, there’s no turning back on account of weather.

The bad news is that it’s really, really difficult to curl when the ambient temperature is the freezing point of water. Because, you see, we need the water to be actually frozen. If it’s melting, the stone can’t glide across it, as it’s supposed to. We went to a hockey game and a water polo match broke out. Not that I’d trust horses on either surface.

As an example, we time our deliveries in curling, in order to give the sweepers an idea of when to sweep and to give the shooter an idea of how the ice is working. We only time the beginning of the delivery. Under normal conditions, a delivery of 3.5 or 3.6 or 3.7 seconds means the rock will end on the button (the middle of the “bullseye”) at the other end, about 25 seconds later. And if I’m timing the lead on my team and discover it’s 3.7 to button versus 3.5, then that tells me I need to slide out a little slower than usual.

At the beginning of our first game, it was 2.6 seconds to button. As far as we could tell. At those speeds, it’s hard to get an accurate reading, as the sweepers are chasing after a 20 MPH bullet. So yeah, for the first two ends, we were pretty much throwing as hard as we could and hoping for the best.

The game was scheduled to start at 5:00, but they pushed it back to 5:30 to accommodate for the weather. They should’ve pushed it back to 6:00. Because by the third end, the ice was closer to normal. Okay, maybe it was 3.3 to button instead of the usual 3.6, but that’s something we can work with.

Not that we could work with it. We scored one in the first end and then got shutout for the next five. There were a few times we’d get a little something going, but then the other team would make a perfect draw and we’d end up with squa-doosh. I was ready to throw in the towel on the second-to-last end when we were down 8-1. But then we were looking at three points before I took my final two shots. We all agreed: if we score less than five, we’ll shake hands and concede the game. Because if we score, the other team gets the hammer (final shot). And it’s really, really hard to score more than two if the other team has the final shot. But if we scored five, we’d be down by two. And then….

We scored five. Game’s now 8-6. Other team wants to shake hands, but we went dick-mode and made them play the final end. It didn’t matter. My final shot curled a foot too far, pushing our own stone back instead of their stone, as intended, so they didn’t even need to take their final shot.

The weight actually normalized a bit when the sun started to set. Although human beings might not like the temperature in the twenties, curling rocks do. That’s one of the ways we were able to mount that comeback. Once the ice behaved in a marginally normal way, we were able to make some stuff happen. The lines were still wonky. If you moved the broom six inches to the left, the rock might end up six feet to the left. But that actually worked in our favor because the other team kept missing their hits. A team can’t really score five points in an end unless the other team messes up.

Then again, you gotta be ready to pounce on the opponent’s mistakes.

After the game, we headed to one of two restaurants in Stanley. There’s usually a pizza place, too, but it was closed for renovation. We were worried that, in a town of 67, the restaurant might not be open past 8:00. Heck, I live in a city of 60,000 and it’s sometimes hard to find anyplace open that late.

Turns out we didn’t need to worry. They stayed open for us, and were still open when the next draw ended. Makes sense. Sixteen teams, four curlers apiece. We just doubled the size of their population. I guess when you live in a remote town, anytime there’s outside money coming in, you gotta accommodate them. Otherwise you’re just taking money from Henry at the hardware store, whom you’ll be giving it back to next week when you need some more propane.

Word in the restaurant was that the late draw worked the opposite of us. The speed of the ice was normal for the first couple of ends, and then the fog rolled in, which pushed people back up to 2.6-second draws. I never thought about the effects of fog on curling rocks (not something we encounter too much indoors), but it makes sense. The air’s going to get heavier and there’s going to be more moisture. Neither of those are great for speeding up a 42-pound rock sliding across a frozen pond.

Unfortunately, because we lost game one, we were stuck in the early draw the next morning. 7:00 AM, an hour and change before sunrise. A wonderful time to enjoy the comfort and extravagance of a mountain retreat. It was pitch black when the game started. Check this out:

You can almost see where you’re aiming, huh? It changed how I held the target broom. Usually I try to make the target as small as possible. I stand directly behind my broom, tuck one foot behind the other. The head on my broom is usually a neon green or garish orange that really pops against the black of my pants and shoes. Don’t want to confuse my team with where the target is. Some skips stand with their legs a foot or two wide and the next thing you know, you’re accidentally sighting in on their left foot or the open air in between instead of the broom.

I started this game doing just that. Then one of my teammates told me to spread my legs. After the commensurate and anatomically errant “That’s what she said,” I opened them up wide. When finished, I saw why they were asking. My body had been blocking the spotlights. They couldn’t really see the orange target. But if I widened my stance like a GOP Senator in a Minnesota airport, they could see the giant stick between my legs.

And there was a broom there, too. Hey-Oh!

I was told by a guy who had come in previous years to be on the lookout for the sunrise. It’s beautiful, he said, and it will, however temporarily, help you stop the nagging doubt building in your gut as to why you signed up and paid for the “privilege” of frostbitten testicles. Then again, he was there on one of those negative-five days, not a twenty-degrees-at-sunrise type of day that I got to experience.

But he wasn’t wrong about the sunrise:

These photos are brought to you by a couple of stones that I didn’t bother watching. I probably could’ve swept them to better positions, helped my team win their fucking game. But really, how can I let that sunrise go by? I didn’t come here to win games. I came to freeze my testicles!

I decided to throw on an extra layer of clothing this time. Despite months of planning, the previous night had been a bit chilly. My legs were fine. My toes, despite two layers of socks and two layers of rubber, felt the ice whenever I stood still. But the worst part was my chest and arms. One layer of thermal, then a t-shirt, then a onesie was not enough. And that had been at thirty degrees. This time the thermometer read a crisp eighteen when we left our hotel. What had been a wee bit uncomfortable last night would be a tad more hard-core today.

It was fine, though. I brought the flannel shirt I usually take camping. It’s thick. Add that to some thermals underneath and my super fancy onesie on top and I should be nice and cozy, right? Well, it was better but still not ideal.

I did finally get my chest to a happy medium, though. After our second game, we were supposed to return to the ice rink to help them out with some stuff around midday. This time I went old school. I have some of those old-fashioned wool long-john style underwear that I’ve had since I was a teenager. I don’t want to say we’ve regressed as a society, but the ugly-ass shit from World War II works a hell of a lot better than the sleek black Audi shit of today. We’ve become more concerned with looking good than, I don’t know, surviving the elements. At least the rescuers will find a very sexy corpse-sicle.

Fortunately it stretches, cause my gut ain’t what it once was. Or rather, it’s a lot more than it once was. Unfortunately it doesn’t stretch THAT much, so the downward-slope of my undergut was feeling a bit drafty. But whatever, it kept the rest of me warm. I actually just wore a t-shirt over it. No onesie! Besides, it was the low-thirties once again, so I didn’t need to ward off frostbite.

By our third game, I had perfected it. Sleek black thermal, wool longjohn, flannel shirt, onesie. Four layers! I was downright toasty.

Except for my feet. Cause no matter how protected my chest and arms were, my toes were still permanently aware of the fact that they were walking on ice. One layer of cotton sock, one layer of thermal sock, shoe rubber and gripper rubber be damned.

I tried some of those iron-oxide foot warmers, but they didn’t seem to do much. I put them outside the thermal socks, thinking the closer to the ice, the better. Maybe I should’ve put them in between my two socks. If I ever return, I’ll test that out.

Oh, and I fell on the ice when I helped during the day. You see, when the sun is out and it’s 34 degrees, it makes the ice super slippery. It’s a bad time to curl and evidently it’s a bad time to walk. I was in the act of kicking an errant rock over to the edge. The ice was in the act of kicking my ass to the ground.

The good news is that years of curling has taught me how to fall on ice. Always fall forward, never backward. Backward is where blackouts and cracked skulls happen. And trips to the emergency room with the commensurate ambulance bill. Unfortunately, when your ass gets above your teakettle, you can get a concussion on the front-end, too. Did you know it’s possible to land temple first?

The good news is that my on-ice instinct must be honed very well. The bad news is that I got my wrist underneath me at the last minute before my face planted. Or maybe it’s the good news. Because a sprained wrist is better than being knocked unconscious and whisked off to the nearest hospital, which was over an hour away. But unfortunately, a sprained wrist is substantially worse than an unsprained wrist. It looks gnarly, too.

That’ll teach me to help out.

Best Buffett in Vegas

Just hopped down to Vegas for the weekend to catch a Jimmy Buffett show.

Not sure I’ll do a concert review this year. I’ve only seen two shows , and they’re both bands I’ve seen and written about before.

But we traveled to see both bands, so I guess I can write about the travels and the concert together.

I saw Mumford & Sons in South Carolina in March. Did I forget to write about that? Hmm…

South Carolina was very Caroliney. Lots of barbecue places, although most were mediocre until we found an excellent one in Columbia. Also, Columbia is the home of the University of South Carolina. Home of the Cocks. I guaran-fucking-tee I’ve written about my love of the Cocks before.

Wait a second. That came out wrong.

And the concert was awesome. I think I’ve written about Mumford at least twice before. They are spectacular in concert. In fact, I’m seeing them again in a couple months. This time nearer to my home.

But enough about Mumford and the Carolinas. Let’s talk about Jimmy Buffett in Vegas.

Phil Collins was also in Vegas that night. We thought about trying to fit them both in, but their concerts started within a half-hour of each other. Really, Aging White Dudes? Are you not aware that some of your fans might want to double dip?

Oh well, I can’t tell you anything about Phil Collins. But boy, if you’ve ever wondered if there are any places that might make Buffett fans more Buffett, well, I found it for you.

Parrotheads Descend Upon Sin City.

I’ve been to Jimmy Buffett concerts before. I’ve been to Vegas before. Both are experiences in their own regard. So when I saw that Jimmy would be playing in Vegas, well, I just had to go.

Evidently I wasn’t the only one.

Holy shit!

You wouldn’t think a single fan base could make a dent on the Vegas ambiance. Vegas has a few hundred thousand visitors on a normal weekend, right? Some people are there to see Reba or the Jonas Brothers or Barry Manilow or, occasionally, Phil Collins. Heck, I’m guessing the mummified corpse of Frank Sinatra is performing somewhere. Not to mention the sporting events, be they NBA All-Star Games or Ritualistic Ear-Biting.

In addition there are, allegedly, other recreational activities that might draw people to the middle of a fucking desert.

Normally, any one set of those travelers don’t make much of an impact. The Air Supply fans and the Drake fans each orbit around amongst each other without affecting the overall gravitational pull that is Vegas. I bet when Tupac got shot, he was right next to some drunk frat dude with an ironic trucker hat.

So I didn’t expect to see the neon footprint of Parrotheads wherever I went. In fact, it was so far out of my mind, that when there were four people dressed like pirates when we took the monorail (MONORAIL!) to the Flamingo area for brunch, I didn’t even think they might be there for the concert that was still nine hours away. I just thought, “Huh. Pirates.” It’s Vegas. What’re you gonna do?

But as we took the skybridge from the Monorail (MONORAIL!) station into the Flamingo, we saw a giant banner for a “Son of a Son of a Pool Party,” to be held from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Now, you might think this is just a great cross-promotion. Get all the people that are heading your way for the concert later tonight to show up early, spend some extra money. And, yeah, to a certain extent, that’s what was going on.

Except not entirely. Because the concert was at the MGM Grand, not the Flamingo. Granted, I’m never really sure which casinos are currently affiliated with which other casinos. But when I was in the Flamingo, I could use my Caesar’s loyalty card. Then again, when we told the aggressive timeshare salesguy that we were staying at Hilton, he said, “That’s our competitor. How about I give you a deal to stay here next time?” This despite the fact that it’s always been known as the Flamingo Hilton and there was still a sign at the Uber drop-off that referenced “Flamingo by Hilton.”

Regardless of if it’s a Hilton or a Caesar’s, I don’t think either of those are affiliated with MGM Grand. So while this was an attempt to get the Parrotheads out early to spend some extra cash, it was not an attempt by the property where the concert was actually happening. It’s counter-promotion, like the Puppy Bowl at halftime of the Super Bowl. Except instead of half-time, it’s beforehand. And instead of cute puppies, it’s drunks who should have stopped wearing swimwear like that about thirty years ago. Present company included.

I never found out which pool had a Phil Collins pre-party. It might be tough with all of the bald heads.

Then again, the Flamingo does have the Vegas Margaritaville restaurant. So the symbiosis did make a certain amount of sense. In fact, it’s a bit of brilliance. There’s a reason Jimmy Buffett is one of the most valuable musicians despite never having a number one hit. He knows that his fans are in town, he knows they like to drink, and he knows they tend to run older and higher on the socio-economic scale than the average fan base. And they can’t all fit inside the Margaritaville restaurant. So how about a pool party?

Oh yeah, he also opened a weed dispensary in town with the same name as his band, the Coral Reefers. Its grand opening was the weekend of the concert. Not bad for a dumb redneck from Alabama who just sings stupid party songs.

But the Parrotheads weren’t just at the pool party. We went across the street to Bobby Flay’s restaurant, Mesa, and wouldn’t you know it, Parrotheads everywhere. We went to see Potted Potter, a show at Bally’s, at 2:00 in the afternoon, and there were Hawaiian shirts everywhere. And hey, dude in front of me? Do you mind taking off your foam shark hat so that I can see the Ron Weasley wig?

To be fair, there might’ve been a lot of Phil Collins fans traipsing around the Strip as well. But they’re not as easy to spot.

I actually felt under-dressed. Or maybe I was overdressed, seeing as I had socks. But my major faux-pas was my lack of a Hawaiian.

I packed a Hawaiian, of course. I think of you show up to a Jimmy Buffett show without a Hawaiian shirt, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in Parrotjail.

And heck, half my wardrobe is Hawaiian. The Tommy Bahama outlet store is my own personal, inexpensive Disneyland.

But my Hawaiian (with parrots, natch) was still back in the hotel room. Because the concert was still over nine hours away. And I was going to be eating and drinking in between now and then.

These people… were they going to stay out all day? Were they going to start drinking heavily and still make the concert at 8:00? This is Vegas, can I bet the over/under on how many of them aren’t going to make it to the show? Also, any chance I can figure out what seat the dude with the balloon-flamingo hat and the “pet” foam shark on the pipe cleaner-esque “leash” has? Because I’ve kinda got nosebleed seats and would like to know where there’s likely to be an empty seat tonight.

Did I mention it’s easy to spot the Parrotheads?

But here’s another cool thing about Jimmy Buffett. This wasn’t the last I saw of the pirates from the monorail (MONORAIL! ) or flamingo-balloon-hat lady or Pet Shark Dude. They showed up at the show. Just maybe not in person.

If you’ve never seen a Jimmy Buffett show before, he usually plays in front of a giant HD screen that shows pictures and videos that go with whatever song he’s singing. Lots of tropical beaches, bucolic mountain vistas, and fun-in-the-sunners. “License to Chill” featured a video selfie of Jimmy Buffett kayaking. “He Went to Paris” had shots of the Eiffel Tower.

“It’s Five o’ Clock Somewhere” started with a clock with a whole bunch of fives. Then it showed some boat drinks. Then a pool. The pool totally looked familiar… Holy crap! I know that pirate!

What followed was three minutes of footage from the pool party that day. The pool party at a competitor’s hotel. How cool is that? All you have to do is spend money for his concert and at the pool party put on by his restaurant, and maybe his pot dispensary, and you can see yourself up on stage at a Jimmy Buffett concert. Shit, to do that at a Bruce Springsteen concert, you have to be Courtney Cox.

One more kinda cool thing. There was no opening band. Tickets said 8:00 and by 8:17, Jimmy was out on stage. He’s gotta be considerate of all of the old fogeys he made drink for ten straight hours.

He played for two hours, with only a 6-minute break to go grab a drink or a what have you.

I know the break was about six minutes because he played a video to keep us entertained. The video featured a ukulele player playing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” complete with lyrics so that we could all sing along. And sing along we did. You haven’t heard horror tinged with comedy tinged with “aww, that was sweet” until you’ve heard 20,000 people try to time “Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. (Let him go!) Bismillah! No, we will not let you go.”

Why did Jimmy have this random video of a random ukulele player playing a Queen song? Because the guy had opened for him in Dublin. How cool is that? Buffett liked the guy and liked the performance, so he gave him free exposure to this crowd. And sure, that’s often the point of an opening band, but who the hell pays attention to the opening band? That’s just background music for getting frisked by security, right? And those assholes usually end up playing way too long. Some even get surly that we aren’t there to see them and are only paying marginal attention to get a clue as to how much longer their asses are going to be wasting our earspace.

But this guy, Jake Shimabukuro, is playing right in the middle of the show, when we’re all in our seats. And he’s only playing one song, so we don’t get tired of him. And it’s a song we all know and can sing along to. And even better, he didn’t even have to show up! That’s the fucking trifecta of expanding an audience right there.

If only I could get Jimmy Buffett to promote my blog.

Mid-Eighties Circus. 

We usually stay at the south end of the Strip, but this time we were on the north end. So I was able to check out the Sahara, which has been refurbished since the corpse of Frank Sinatra played there. And Circus Circus, which most assuredly has not.

I’ve been coming to Vegas since the early eighties, when my age was still in single-digits. And we always stopped or stayed at Circus Circus. Back then, my mom could give me $10 in quarters and I’d go full Latchkey for HOURS on the upper floor. Carnival games, arcade, circus acts. What’s not to love? I remember feeling sorry for my poor mom, who had to be downstairs in the boring casino, missing all the fun up there.

Back then, Circus Circus was actually a destination, a worthy anchor of the northern end of the Strip. There were maybe only ten casinos, most of which had been there long enough to have streets named after them. Circus Circus didn’t have its own street, but it was an anchor, nonetheless.

Boy, its hallowed days are gone.

Unfortunately, this affects their business model, as well. Because there wasn’t shit going on on the Saturday morning we went there.

Those who have followed my travels before know we sometimes bring our daughter’s stuffed animal on our trips, so they can “take pictures” and “report back to her.” Except on this short weekend away, where we went straight from work to the airport, oops!, we left Giraffey at home. No problem, we figure, we’re staying by Circus Circus. Let’s go get her a new friend.

Except the upstairs wasn’t open until 10:00 AM.

WHAT? Sure, maybe the circus acts aren’t going to run 24 hours, but the carnival games? And I know they need employees to run those games. But at least the video arcade should be open, right?

Wait, they don’t do video arcades anymore? Is Pac-Man no longer chic? Boy, where have I been? Downstairs in the boring casino, I guess.

Speaking of the casino, we figured maybe we could just gamble for a little bit until the upstairs opens. I just needed to get a rewards card and… never mind. The reward card center doesn’t open until 10:00 AM, either.

So much for being the city that doesn’t sleep. At least one end of the Strip not only sleeps, but sleeps in as well.

I just threw five bucks in a machine while Wife visited the bathroom. Without the benefit of Big Brother tracking me.

When she returned, I had it back up to five bucks. So yay! I broke even. Although if I had been using a rewards card, I would’ve made a point or two. Whatever, I just pushed the button to collect my winnings.

Then something crazy happened. Instead of the familiar dinging sound I’ve come to expect when the ticket prints, there was a strange whirring. Then something shot out the bottom of the slot machine.

Holy Shit! Those are quarters! Coming OUT of a slot machine. It really IS 1986 in here!

When I realized what was happening, the things went through my mind in rapid succession:

1. What the hell is happening? Where is my fucking ticket? Is this thing possessed? It’s, like, spewing out its innards!

2. OMG! Those are quarters. How fucking cool is that? It’s so retro. Like I’m a fresh- faced 21 year old again (at least according to my i.d. at the time). Tonight were going to party like it’s 1999, baby!

3. What the fuck am I supposed to do with 20 quarters? How fucking annoying is that? I hate coins. If I have a dollar bill, it’s worth a dollar to me. If I have 99 cents, I might as well have nothing. In my world, ten dollars in coins is worth less than a single dollar bill. Because the coins in my pocket at the end of the day just go on the nightstand to die. Or they stay in my pockets where the laundry fairy takes them as compensation for cleaning the sacrificial dirty pants I left in her hamper-shaped altar. Back in the old days, when my i.d. said I was 21, I used to hold onto coins until I came to Nevada, but now slots don’t take coins anymore, so the one value coins had is now gone. Wait a second. If these slots pay out quarters, maybe they’ll… Nope. No coin slots. They take in paper money and pay out coins. Even when you win, you lose.

So I grabbed one of those buckets next to the machine. Remember those? Not that I needed it for a whopping twenty coins, but dammit, they done pissed me off with their coin bullshit. They’ll be lucky if they get this bucket back without my DNA in it.

Don’t get me wrong. The idea behind the retro slot machine is a good one. Think of all the all of the old video game consoles on the market these days. But a ticket-or-coin option would’ve been appreciated. Or maybe at least a warning sign.

Unfortunately it still wasn’t 10:00, so after cashing (coining) in my winnings, we headed for the Monorail (MONORAIL!). Still had to get a new stuffed animal. So we high-tailed it to Margaritaville to buy a couple of plush parrots. I’m sure Jimmy Buffett appreciates our business.

Daughter ended up naming the parrots Jimmy and Buffett. She then took them to show-and-tell at school. CPS, I await your call.

People. A couple shorties to finish off. Two people who stuck out. Maybe not for the best of reasons. Unless you are entertained by idiots, in which case, they stood out for the BEST reasons!

First was the guy sitting next to me at Mesa. He had clearly watched a fair amount of Food Network in whatever podunk area of the country he came from. And being at Bobby Flay’s restaurant gave him carte blanche, or rather creme freche, to make random requests out of his ass.

His wife ordered some pink concoction. Maybe it was a Cosmo, but it looked foofier. He tried it to see if he liked it before ordering a drink of his own. Of course, the server had to stand there for the experiment. Diner decided it was a bit too sweet and wondered if there was something a little less sugary.

Boy, that’s a tough one. Are there any drinks less sweet than a Cosmo? Can’t think of a single one. Sorry. We all know that cosmos are the driest drinks around, right? Certainly not Martinis or Old Fashoneds. A straight shot of scotch whiskey might as well be a swizzle stick when compared to the stifling bitterness of the Cosmopolitan. The mummified corpse of Dean Martin drank cosmos all the time.

He then asked if they could take a drink like that and add some bitters. I wanted to jump out of my seat to assist the server’s explanation that bitters aren’t actually bitter. But whatever. Dude probably heard it on a Bobby Flay show once, so who are we to question his culinary knowledge.

I didn’t pay attention long enough to hear what he ordered. The next time he caught my attention was when his burger was delivered. Tight before he asked if they had any “straight mayonnaise.”

Straight mayonnaise? I didn’t even know condiments had sexual proclivities. Sure, mayonnaise might look like semen, but I’m sure these Vegas condiments are only creaming meat, as God intended, and not some other condiment. Then again, I don’t partake in mayonnaise much, so maybe I’m just out of the loop on the Mayonnaise Agenda. Or is it a War on Mayo-mas?

But what do you expect from someone who orders mayonnaise? No mayo deserves to be anywhere near a well-cooked burger, regardless of whose bread it likes to butter.

It turns out, of course, that this guy wanted regular, unadulterated mayonnaise. None of that garlic aioli crap. Unflavored. If he’s going to dip or smother his food in sweet lard, he wants the pure stuff. Black tar heroin.

I only hope he didn’t want the mayo for those fries on his plate. If I end up yacking in my Irish Coffee, I’m adding it to his tab.

But no, the server explains, they don’t have straight mayonnaise. The closest they have is a subtle aioli.

Food connoisseur passed, disappointed.

Umm… not to side with Patron Guy in this endeavor, but if you have garlic aioli, how do you not have mayonnaise? What’s the base of the aioli? I hope Bobby Flay isn’t shipping his dips in from far away.

Go ahead, Server, double-check on that mayonnaise. It might be listed as creme fraiche.

Dude number two came running up to our Uber driver as we were heading to the airport Sunday morning. Where, he wanted to know, might he watch an NFL game.

Uber Driver feigned ignorance. “No hablo ingles.” Pretty convincing, too, as Wife and I were worried we might have trouble communicating with him. Not that you need to communicate with your Uber driver. That’s what Google Maps is for. But still, sometimes it’s more convenient to explain where we’re going.

Turns out he knew enough English to say and hear what he needed to say and hear. And I’m pretty sure he could understand “TV” and “Futbol.” Even if he pointed to where one could watch soccer, he’d be doing Dude a solid.

But that’s not his fucking job. He doesn’t need to tell Dude where to watch an NFL game on a Sunday morning in Las Vegas. Even if the answer is “Literally Anywhere.”

Seriously Dude, you see that high-rise buildings? Or that one? Right, the ones with the neon.  They’re called “Casinos.” And in these “Casinos” are things called “Sports Books.” The “Sports Books” take “Bets” on “Games” and then have giant “TV’s” where you can “Watch.” So if you’re looking for a particular game, pick a direction, any direction, and go into a high rise, any high rise. Then look for the wall with twenty giant screens on it.

They have NFL Sunday Ticket, too, so you can even watch obscure teams like… what’s that? You want to watch the Raiders? You mean the team that’s going to be the Las Vegas Raiders next year?

Yeah, I’m guessing you could watch them on local TV.

Maybe even at Circus Circus.

Going to the Reno of Love

I went to Reno a few weeks ago. Nothing much to note. Reno is pretty much always Reno. It ain’t like a box a chocolates. You always know precisely what you’re gonna get.

Although I did find out that you shouldn’t attend a minor league baseball stadium on the final weekend of the season unless you want them to be out of everything. I understand not having all the beers in stock. Don’t want to have half a keg that has to last through to next April. But the mini helmets for the ice cream? Come on, those will be perfectly fine next year.

But I’m not here to talk about minor league baseball or the cockamamie drink-ticket policy that the casinos are starting to implement. Really? You’re going to charge me for a Grey Goose? That’s probably a blog post for another time.

No, for some reason, this trip to Reno reminded me of another trip to Reno many years ago. Before I blogged. Scary to think that time ever happened. I think we used pagers and wore Day-glo parachute pants. And maybe the Challenger ran into the World Trade Center. I’m not sure. The older I get, everything more than a week old just fuses all together into one large morass that is “Youth.”

Although this story involves having a regular bartender, so it was probably after the age of twelve. Let’s hope.

My regular bartender, you see, served happy hour at a bar that had NTN/Buzztime trivia. For those of us who preferred to exercise some brain cells while killing the others. I spent many an afternoon there grading papers, because when a student writes a term paper comparing the military draft to the NFL draft, his teacher just might need a cold one.

The bartender had been in an on-again, off-again relationship with a guy. The relationship tended to be “off” at the times she was pregnant with his child and then “on” when whoever he was banging in his off-time got pregnant. Quality relationship, I assure you.

One time whilst not pregnant, she realized he was a flight risk lifelong catch, and decided that if she liked it, she ought to put a ring on it. Like, right quick! Because no better person to enter into a legally-binding life-partnership with than someone who might or might not be around next week.

She asked some of us regulars what we were doing that Sunday because, if we wanted, we could come to their wedding in Reno. It turns out I wasn’t doing anything. Heck, my bartender wasn’t going to be working, so there was little chance of scoring free drinks in town. Is there anywhere else I might find some free drinks? Reno, you say? Well, that sounds like some synergy right there!

As I said, this was a long time ago, when Nevada casinos offered free drinks. These days, they require $100 worth of bets and a Maruader’s-Map-style oath solemnly swearing that there is more money where that came from as long as they continue to ply me with alcohol. And that I won’t lose that money in any of their competitors’ establishments. And, naturally, that I am up to no good.

When Sunday rolled around, we loaded up in a couple of cars and caravaned to the most romantic place on Earth. Sorry, I meant the most romantic spot in Nevada. Make that northwestern Nevada. Not counting the Tahoe vicinity. Or maybe Burning Man. Or, I don’t know, the Mustang Ranch?

You know what? I’ll just say it. Reno’s a shithole. And thank God for that, because if it were a place people might want to go, I wouldn’t be able to find $5 tables anymore.

We stopped off at Boomtown, the first casino you come to along I-80.

Boomtown’s super classy. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s similar to Primm along I-15, being the stateline between California and Nevada, ie the first place you can gamble en route to your gambling destination. Except that, whereas Primm has three or four casinos, Boomtown only has one. Primm also has roller coasters. And the Bonnie and Clyde death car. And shows. Boomtown has none of those.

Now that I think about it, Boomrown’s nothing like Primm. Primm is still about an hour away from Vegas, so maybe you need to take a leak or you’re not going to make it to The Strip in enough time to bet on the Super Bowl coin flip. But Boomtown’s only about five miles from Reno. There’s no viable reason to stop there on the way into Reno. There’s reason to stop there on the way out, because you can pay Nevada prices for gas instead of California prices for your drive back. But on the way there, it only serves people with poor planning abilities or no impulse control. Kinda like a couple deciding on a whim that they should get married this weekend.

I don’t remember why we stopped. Gas? Smokes? Regardless, they got in a fight about something. Not sure what. Gas? Smokes? Anyway, we all decided to hit the buffet here on the way back to commemorate the occasion, and it was onward to the drive-thru chapel.

Except it wasn’t a drive-thru. That’s the fancy Vegas shit. These Reno rat-bastards made us get out of the car to negotiate the ceremony details! They haggled over prices and pictures and, I don’t know, whether the deluxe marriage package comes with large fries or if they have to be ordered separately. I didn’t inquire about the primae noctis add-on.

Although to be fair, I don’t know all of the privies of the negotiation because I was stuck outside watching the five kids they share via various previous relationships and what George Washington referred to as “foreign entanglements.”

Also, I might’ve been a bit twitchy, because I have a general rule about being outside in Reno. And the general rule is: under no circumstances should one ever be outside in Reno.

If you’ve never been to Reno, I’ll paint you a picture. Pull up a mental picture of Las Vegas. Now take away all the fountains and Sphinxes. And rides and shows. And attractive people. And any building built after 1980. You can keep the weather, though. Oh, and maybe ass a little dilapidated infrastructure and a few homeless people passed out on the sidewalk. Now you’ve got Reno.

Oh wait, did I say the weather is the same as Vegas? I only meant in the summer. The winter weather is way worse in Reno.

But that’s all on the outside. Inside, they have these wonderful, climate-controlled resorts with neon and free alcohol.  There’s a reason three of the Reno casinos decided their best bet was to combine into one three-block long structure so that people can move from one to the other without breathing legitimate air.

But whatever, Bartender, for you I’ll travel all the way to my Mecca, able to see the Great Mosque, my religious fervor gambling addiction quivering in my bones. Ignore the Silver Legacy! I’m here to celebrate a friend’s most blessed day, a day she’s been looking forward to since at least last Thursday. So I’ll suck it up and get ready to throw some rice or confetti or… wait, was somebody supposed to bring the rice?

Although it doesn’t matter, because here come Bride and Groom and, oh no, they don’t look too terribly happy. Did someone forget the Smokes? Gas?

“I fucking told you,” Bride was saying.

Groom was mumbling something or other.

“They won’t marry us unless we get a marriage license.”

Wait, what? This is Nevada, home of the quickie wedding. Don’t they issue the marriage certificate AT the wedding facility? All you should have to do is prove your identity as an adult and sign on the dotted…

Wait, what’s that? Groom didn’t bring his ID? Was that his super secret way of avoiding this date with destiny? If I “accidentally”  leave my driver’s license at home, I’ll escape scot free! 

Except Bride said she told him this would happen. Clearly she knew he didn’t bring proper identification to his own wedding. I would be intrigued if I could get over my sweating scrotum and quivering gambling glands.

Awe, what the hell. Inquiring minds want to know.

Turns out Groom didn’t have his driver’s license with him because he was no longer in possession of said license. It’s a temporary thing. He’s supposed to get it back soon.

Why was Groom temporarily identification-less? Had he perhaps left it at a bar the night before? Maybe it went through the laundry in his gym shorts. Or the cops took it away. Do cops take your ID away? I always assumed that, if the courts suspend your license, you still get the card back. In case you need to get married in Reno or something.

No, it turns out Groom had recently been involved in a car crash. And, as a dutiful driver, he got out of the car and exchanged information with the other driver.

By literally giving his driver’s license to the dude.

I’m going to let that one sink in for a bit. I think I went into a daze when I heard it.

Look, I know I have a tendency to get a little bit snooty in my middle-class upbringing. I understand that other people’s experiences and worldviews can’t always match my own and maybe some people are raised to think that “giving the other driver your information” means something different than I think it does.

Then again, I’ve been in a fair number of accidents in my life, and was capable of jotting down the other driver’s license number and insurance info perfectly fine, even in the times before cell phones could immediately take pictures of that information. And never once have I offered to give away my primary form of identification. Nor have I asked for said in return. Nor has anyone I’ve ever gotten into an accident with offered their identification nor requested possession of my identification, except for the temporary purpose of copying down the information.

Taking the other person’s identification is indicative of human trafficking, not a minor rear-ender.

Who the hell gets in an accident and immediately says, “Hey, here’s my driver’s license. You can send it back to me whenever you’re ready. Want me to buy you a stamp?”

Well, maybe a guy who is trying to avoid hitchin’ his old lady that weekend.

Now you might think that, a time when one of the two signatories to a legal contract isn’t able to prove their identity isn’t the best time to plan a last minute trip to said document signing, but whatever. Who can argue with True Love?

Regardless, I guess this trip to Reno is wasted. Whatever shall we do? And I’m only asking because the glistening dome of the Silver Legacy is just a few blocks away and it may or may not be speaking through my subconscious, begging me to come visit. She’s letting me know in no uncertain terms that she knows I’m in her neighborhood and that I better not be thinking about turning tail and skipping town before giving her a little laugh and a tickle. I’m just sayin’, y’all, ain’t no scorned lover like a scorned lover with more money than the Pope and more secret recording devices than… the Pope. The Silver Legacy knows what I’m doing all day, every day, and most of the time, she approves. But some of the time…

Do we have to caravan back together if they didn’t even tie the knot? I know they were talking about a celebratory buffet at Boomtown, but that’s only if there’s something to celebrate, right? Do we still need to go to the buffet at Boomtown if we’re just calling it lunch?

But wait, Bride has a plan. Of course she has a plan, because she was just telling Groom that she told him this would happen. So she’s prepared. Not prepared enough to, like, pick a different date for the wedding. Or a new fiance. But she’s prepared.

Groom brought other forms of identification. Nothing official, mind you. Not a social security card. Not a military i.d. Groom’s never been in the military, so that would be tough. But I’m guessing he’s been arrested before. Would a mug shot would count as an official government document?

He brought mail from home. Um, okay. I know it’s often used as proof of residency, but that’s not really what they’re going for here. They don’t need to prove that Joe Schmoe lives at 123 Main Street, but rather, WHO IS Joe Schmoe.

He also brought his work i.d. Good news is it has picture of him. Bad news is it’s not terribly official. I mean, the liquor store that you’re rent-a-copping at might be comforted by the fact that ABC Security is capable of color printing a badge, but if you give me a five-minute crash course in Photoshop and point me toward a Kinko’s, I could get a homeless guy standing in for Groom in this ceremony.

So this is why Weddings n’ Chips isn’t willing to marry these two. They have to prove that the state of Nevada will issue them a marriage license. They can go to the Superior Court and see if someone more official than an Elvis impersonator will sign off on the Crayola stick figure that their 4-year old wrote “Daddy” under.

Just kidding. There are no Elvis impersonators in Reno. Way too upbeat. If Reno had any impersonators, it’d probably be Phil Collins. Or Falco.

“I don’t know how the hell we’re supposed to find City Hall,” Bride says.

At this point, one of the guys I drove up with, one of the other lushes who not only has a regular, daytime bartender, but who has a regular, daytime bartender who saw fit to invite him to her drive-thru Falco wedding, looks into the Reno skyline and says, “Um, maybe it’s that square building with the American flag that says ‘RENO’ across the top?”

Well spotted, Dude. So much for lushes not having great observational skills. I might’ve noticed that giant building if it hadn’t been in the vicinity of casinos. His vice is not currently in sight, so maybe it’s easier to focus on minor details like thirty-story square buildings with flags on top. My vice is beckoning me, telling me to ignore those other buildings. Those other buildings are skanks who don’t understand what I really need.

So Bride and Groom are heading to the government building on a Sunday to see if they’ll accept Groom’s t-shirt tag as formal identification. Who knows how long that’s going to take? Whatever shall the rest of us do whilst waiting for a rush judgment from the government?

“Saaaaaaay,” I posit. “Would you mind if we maybe… I don’t know… found some air conditioning and maybe a…”

I can’t finish on account of the shakes and the salivations, but my message is clear enough by the single tear forming in the corner of my eye.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” says Bride, whose focused elsewhere right now. “I’ll text you when we find out and, if we can get married, you can meet us-,”

I didn’t hear the rest of what she said, as I was suddenly moving at the speed of light toward yon distant Heaven. The other lushes came with me. It’s vice o’clock!

I dropped the lushes off at the casino bar, despite the fact that it went against every fiber of my being. Don’t they know they can just walk an extra five feet and camp out at a slot machine and then wait fifteen minutes or so for the septuagenarian cocktail waitress to maneuver her walker over in their direction? And then they can get a well drink! Sure, they might’ve lost $50 by the time she gets back with that free drink, but then they can say they didn’t lose $50, they just purchased a $50 watered-down Jack & Coke.

So I sat down at the slot machine and had just ordered my “free” drink when my phone buzzes. It’s my bartender telling us that they made it to the “justice of the peace” and were granted a “marriage license” and were heading back to the “chapel.” She’ll meet us back there.

Well, shit.

I tell my friends to drink up. Those bastards were already been on their second drink. Not that we’d been there for long, but let’s be honest, we all met in a bar and have a regular bartender who invited us to her wedding, so we can down the drinks pretty quick.

I return to my slot machine to wait for my drink. Time slows as I wait for my cocktail. Or “Cock Drink,” as one of my favorite casino servers of all time once referred to them. I think she was about two hours off the boat from Russia. They don’t hire these women for their conversational abilities. They hire them for their ability to bend time like the Matrix and keep our sorry asses glued to our seats donating more capital into the gaping maws of their reverse-ATMs for as long as possible. They are hired to ensure that people continue flocking to the middle of an unlivable desert to visit wonderful nirvanas of neon.

“Chug, chug, chug!” my friends chanted as we headed back to the car. Not that I needed to chug. It was a long way up to the car on level “Luck You Can Find a Spot at All on a Sunday” of the parking structure. Plus, this is Nevada. We can have booze outdoors. Probably in the back seat of a car. Hell, probably while driving, although please don’t take those last two suppositions as legal advice.

Nonetheless, I chugged all the same and we made it to the car and we drove back to the wedding spot and what did we see when we got there?

Our bartender walking out the front door. With her new Husband. Family members cheering on the steps. Throwing hands in the air with illusionary rice.

That’s right. We missed the wedding. The very reason we had gotten up early and driven to this Hellblight place.

Now, I might’ve exaggerated for storytelling purposes about how long it took me to get my drink. I really don’t think we were in the casino for more than about ten minutes before we got the text. And we busted our ass to the car and were outbound within five minutes of that. And we told her we were on our way.

But here we were, having completely missed the 60-second wedding we were here to watch.

The good news was that Bride wasn’t pissed. Heck, this wedding was happening because Groom was a flight risk, and after coming perilously close to driving all the way to Reno to NOT get married, I’m guessing she wanted to get this shit done. Who knows, maybe the government clerk was about to have a change of heart and call Weddings R Us to tell them to rescind the document. When the armored guard bends down in “Groundhog Day,” you take that fucking money and you walk away. Ain’t no time for equivocation.

(That last analogy was going to be about a prisoner during the Storming of the Bastille, but I thought that might be a bit obtuse for a post with tags about Reno and Quickie Weddings.)

The bad news was that the wedding had happened. Meaning we had to celebrate. So it was back to Boomtown for their majestic $7.99 buffet.

At least Boomtown has a casino. Those hour-old mashed potatoes will hold in the chaffing dish a little bit longer. After the shit-show of this day, I’ve got a hankering to bet it all on double-zero.

Disneyland, Part II

Thanks for coming back. Earlier this week, I wrote about my child’s first trip to Disneyland, which, oddly enough, coincides with my first Disneyland trip as a parent. Not sure if there’s any correlation between those two facts. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

Anyway, last time I hit on some of the big ticket items. It was a great polemic about Mountains of the Space and Thunder and Splash varieties, complete with heroic and doleful tales of Fastpasses and the various sizes of worlds and whether or not any of those worlds contain mermaids.

Seriously, it was a great little blog post. You should read it. And those of you who did read it, shhh, don’t tell the others that I’m full of shit when I said it was a great post. We’ll just keep that between us.

Part Two will be a little bit more disheveled. More random occurrences than deep dives. Some lingering questions. And more of a focus on the two coffee shops in Downtown Disney.

Turnstiles They still use turnstiles in their ride lines. I don’t know why I find that so odd, but I do.

The turnstiles are used to determine the popularity of rides. It counts each person that goes through. You used to be able to see the counters on most of them. On a few you still can, but most only keep it internally. Or probably digitally.

And really, I think that’s why I find their continued presence surprising. How have they not come up with a more convenient, more efficient way of counting how popular a particular ride is? They always seem to know how long it will take me to get to the front of the line. I never knew precisely how they did that, but on this particular trip, I ended up being the test run three or four times. Some employee hands you a random placard when you enter the line and then you’re supposed to hand it to the people that put you on the ride. It’s a standard “drug mule in the airport” operation. I could’ve been delivering nuclear spongecake or whatever the hell that word is that I’m not supposed to Google unless I want the TSA to delve extra deep on their next body cavity search. But I’ll just assume there was nothing nefarious in this particular handoff.

As for the turnstiles, you pretty much have to have the app downloaded on your phone to navigate the park these days. It knows where you are at any given moment. Mine kept telling me when food was nearby and asking if I wanted to mobile order. So one would think that, at any moment, they could see how many people are in line for any given ride. And sure, some rando grandma who doesn’t have the app on her phone might skew the numbers, but we could still assume that the same number of grandmas are in the line for each ride. Okay, maybe assume there are a few more grandmas in the Alice in Wonderland ride than the Matterhorn, but still. Statisticians can figure it out. That’s how they do political polling, right?

Or, I don’t know, you know that every inch of that park under video surveillance from multiple angles, right? Make a computer that can count the number of people in a screenshot at any given time.  Or just use that wait time as the primary barometer. It’s updated on my app, so I know it’s codified and digitized somewhere. If your statisticians aren’t holding on to the data and analyzing it for relative ride popularity, that’s on you, Disney, not me. Don’t make me continually run my junk into metal bars just because you’re lazy.

And while we’re talking about relative ride popularity, can we please get a fucking Fastpass on Alice in Wonderland? What is it with that ride that makes it the longest wait time, all day, every day? We showed up right when the park opened and it was already a 45-minute wait. Speaking of which…

Magic Hour. One of the two parks is open an hour early each day for people who are staying at the hotels or have paid for some extra perks. Basically, give Disney a shit-ton more money than the shit-ton you’re already giving them, and you can go in an hour early. We were staying at a Disney property, so we were capable of getting in early. We were never able to make it. What with a four year-old who’s staying up past her bedtime each night. Or parents who are staying up past their bedtimes. Or the security line that might be more popular than Alice in Wonderland. Or the seventy-mile trek through Downtown Disney, complete with not one, but TWO, Starbucks to distract you en route. I think we made it into California Adventure a whopping seven minutes before we might have otherwise. With Disneyland, we boarded the Monorail at five till.

But we did learn a vital lesson about Magic Hour. And that is, if you are going to the park right when it opens, don’t go to the one with the Magic Hour. We pretty much got to the park at the same time each day. On Sunday, we hit Disneyland right when the park opened and we could walk right onto rides for the better part of an hour. I think we had ridden Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder and Casey Junior and Peter Pan and Small World within the first hour. By contrast, when we got there at the same time on Tuesday, the day of a Magic Hour, Alice in Wonderland had a 45-minute wait, Big Thunder a half-hour, Haunted Mansion 15 minutes, and so on, because people had already been in the park for an hour. Had we instead gone to California Adventure that day, we probably could’ve ridden Radiator Springs and Soaring and the Toy Story ride in the same time it would’ve taken us to ride Alice in Wonderland.

Again, what the fuck is with the demand for Alice in Wonderland?

Toon Town. Speaking of things that need to be updated. The last time I went into Toon Town, the only time I’ve ever been in Toon Town, was when it first opened way back in, I’m going to guess, 1990 or so? I was already in high school by then. So I think we checked it out once for shits and giggles, but knew we were way too old for it. Now that I have a four year-old, it’s prime Toon Town Time. Or so I thought. But really, since Toon Town hasn’t been updated since it started, it isn’t really aligned with current cartoons. Roger Rabbit? Really? What child from this century has ever even heard of Roger Rabbit, much less seen the totally inappropriate-as-fuck-for-children movie?

But that’s not the only Straight Outta 1989 reference in Toon Town. When you visit the houses of both Minnie and Mickey Mouse, their television sets look archaic. The refrigerator doesn’t even have an ice/water dispenser in the door. Ditto with their washing machine and their dishwasher and their answering machine. Answering machine? Yes, answering machine! The answering machine is a focal point of each of their houses. You can push play on the fake audio cassette tapes and hear their outgoing message as well as messages that have been left by their friends. Needless to say, my daughter had no clue of what they were going for.

Oh, and while you’re in Toon Town, after going through their houses, you can see and get your picture taken with Mickey and Minnie. The line to see Minnie was about twenty minutes long. The line to see Mickey? I don’t know. We gave up once we made it around a corner and saw all the switchbacks in the next room. I’m guessing it would’ve ended up being around an hour. And while I was then about to go off on a rant about misogyny as present in the wait times to see mouses of different genders, we then hoofed it over to Donald Duck’s boathouse. There were, like, three people ahead of us to see Donald. And there was no official Disney photographer there. Take your own photos. Poor, poor Donald…

Food. For lunch, we went to the Golden Shower. No, I’m sorry, it’s called the Golden Horseshoe. But it’s easy to get the two confused. They both shove things into your mouth and then entertain and appall you with a show as debauched as it is offensive. The main difference is that a Golden Shower is less expensive. And at the Golden Horseshoe, they don’t secretly videotape you and hold that evidence in order to manipulate you into doing their bidding once you become President of the United States.

I enjoyed the fact that you can purchase beer inside California Adventure. And you know what? It’s not that badly priced. Sure, $9.50 for a 12-ounce pour is extreme, but they’re microbrews. It would probably cost $6 or $7 at a restaurant. At the minor league ballpark in Sacramento, a microbrew will set you back $11. So if Disneyland’s only going to charge $9.50, that’s a bargain. It’s pretty much the same price for a churro, and from an economic opportunity-cost perspective, I will get much more enjoyment out of the beer. At one point, I was happy to find myself at the Karl Strauss stand. I really wanted a Red Trolley. It’s one of my favorite beers. But I thought that would be way too pedestrian. Why should I pay $9.50 for something I could buy a six-pack of back home for cheaper? Especially when this cart has four or five other flavors of Karl Strauss, and if they make such a good red, maybe I should try one of their other varietals. I got the pale ale. I shoulda had a Red Trolley.

Other food adventures: Jack Jack’s Nom Noms makes wonderful cookies. You get them straight out of the oven.

Downtown Disney has not one, but two Starbucks. Starbuckses? Starbi? They are super fast and if you mobile order while you’re in line at security, your order will be ready by the time you’re passing by. But even better than the instant gratification, I got to tick something off my bucket list that I didn’t even know was on it. On the first morning, Wife mobile ordered at what turned out to be the far Starbucks. When I went into the first Starbucks we came to, the order wasn’t there. I thought maybe it wasn’t ready yet, but Wife’s app said otherwise. See what you can use an app for, Disney? So we had to go to the next Starbucks, but we weren’t exactly sure where it was. So what did I do? I walked back into Starbucks Number One and asked them where the nearest Starbucks is. The barista didn’t even bat an eye. “About a quarter-mile up ahead on your right.”

We ended up eating twice at the Red Rose Tavern twice, not because we had heard anything about it nor that it was particularly good the first time. But without being able to go through the castle, you have to circle around Disneyland, so we usually found ourselves around Fantasyland when we were hungry. Plus they have mobile ordering. The main reason I reference the Tavern, however, is because of this sign:

IMG_20190310_095721_539

I can only presume that this means that, after 11:00 am, they continue to serve breakfast, but it’s rather ashamedly.

Quick Hits. At one point, the Monorail honked. What the hell was it honking at? Was there another monorail on the track? Did the driver see some cute mouseketeer and was trying to get her digits? There shouldn’t be any reason that the only vehicle on a track that is suspended thirty feet in the air should ever need to honk.

When we were driving on Autopia, a duck crossed the road. We all had to come to a stop. Boy, back when I was a kid, everybody would’ve been slamming into the stopped car in front of them. But nope. Here everyone just voluntarily slowed down to match the car’s speed in front of them. I’d say this is representative of my aging and maturing, but there were kids behind me who also stopped. Maybe it’s just that the ride is so boring compared to the rest of the park now, that the only kids who ride it want to treat it like a true experience instead of a thrill. Or maybe this is just the result of the suspicious disappearance of bumper cars from American society.

Speaking of the old rides, remember when the submarine ride was the most boring ride in the park? Then they added some Disney characters and now it’s an hour-long line. Because before it was about science and now it’s about Disney characters. Just like Small World. But you know what? I didn’t like it before and I still don’t like it. I’m not normally prone to claustrophobia, but man, you get me on that ride and I become imminently aware that I’m under water. I caught myself holding my breath for long periods of time, subconsciously thinking I needed to preserve my scant remaining oxygen. Give me a ride where you plummet from deathly heights any day. But there is nothing appealing or enjoyable about being under water.

A word of advice: If you decide to go to Disneyland by yourself and you’re looking to take advantage of their “single rider” program, go for it. It’s super convenient. It cuts the wait time substantially for a number of rides. I’ve known groups who all go in as single riders to get through the lines quicker. But if you are going the single-rider rout, a family of three like mine is your bread and butter. So do me a favor. Even if it’s a little bit overcast, which I know is a daunting, precarious situation for you SoCal’ers who make up the majority of single riders, what with your access to affordable season passes and whatnot. But please, Single Riders, please don’t wear an ankle- length tab trenchcoat for your wondrous daytrip to Disneyland. It makes us family of three people a little bit nervous when you’re put in the compartment with us.

I saw quite a few t- shirts that said “most expensive.” A play on the old “best <birthday/vacation/anniversary> ever” shirts, only now they admit the reality that their cost is way more remarkable than any fleeting joy. And these shirts appeared to be officially-licensed Disney apparel. I don’t know whether I should be appreciative of Disney getting in on the joke or aghast at the utter don’t-give-a-shittiness of it.  I mean, they’re actually charging people to wear something that acknowledges how they’ll grab every last penny out of your still-bearing heart. But the best pairing of this particular trope was a couple I saw walking side by side. Her shirt said “best anniversary ever. ” Wanna guess what his said?

There was a yacht rock cover band playing in front of Pixar Pier at California Adventure. We didn’t stay to listen to them for long. In fact, we were really just buying a soda or a churro or some similar product within earshot. They finished up one song and started another. It was “Africa,” by Toto.  Of course it was. My daughter’s response? “Hey, Alexa plays this song at home. ” One of the sides of this parent-child dynamic is in for a ride awakening when she goes to kindergarten and all of her friends were raised on Justin Bieber and Katy Perry.

Finally, the app needs to show bathroom wait times, too. Just saying. It usually rivals that odd the most popular rides and unlike the Matterhorn,  the consequences of a mistiming goes fast beyond a drained telephone battery.

Disneyland, Part I

About a month ago, I took my first trip to Disneyland as a parent. And needless to say, I’ve got some stuff. I’ll hit some of the big ticket items today, and return with some quick hits later this week.

Obviously, I’ve been to Disneyland plenty of times before. I grew up in Orange County, so Disneyland was more or less a babysitter for some substantial latchkey portions of my youth. And I’m an Angels fan, so I probably am not quite as filled with wonder for The Mouse Corp as those who only encounter it via their movies and a bi-annual trip to Anaheim.

That being said, it’s been a few years. And of course, the last time I went there with a four year-old, I was incapable of writing a blog. Or writing at all. Or changing my own poopy diaper.

So if you’re looking for the best spot to view a certain parade or ice cream cart with the shortest line or the brightness in my daughter’s eyes the first time she saw the line for Alice in Wonderland, you might want to look elsewhere. If you want a crotchety old man whining about the good old days of Disneyland, you might get a little of that. But it’s really just a snapshot of what’s changed, what remains the same, and how the hell we’re supposed to maintain our phone battery for 16 hours if we have to bust out the Disneyland app every five minutes.

Bibbity Bobbity Boutique I had one role,  and one rule,  when I became a father of a daughter. I know Chris Rock says all I have to do is keep her off the pole. But that’s still a few years away. In the meantime,  when she was born,  I said “no princesses.” I have a friend who went full princess with his daughter. She had every single Disney doll in her room, and every night,  she picked out the proper pajamas to go with the proper doll which might also go with the proper sheets and the soundtrack that accompanied her to never-never land. (Although I’m not sure if she ever dressed up as Peter Pan to head to neverland.) Princess,  princess,  princess, and as a result, that girl is a motherfucking  PRINCESS. And, in line with Chris Rock,  we can all agree that princess is the first step to stripper, right? I mean, if Ariel was willing to give up her voice to please the patriarchy, can her dignity be far behind?

And why would we want our daughter to adore to some antiquated title of nobility, whose greatest life accomplishment is being born to the right parents, when there are so many other options of strong women for her to emulate. Let’s tell her the story  of Angela Earnhardt. Or Sandra Day O’Connor. Or, if we want to stay in the fictional realm, let’s go Squirrel Girl. Anything’s bet than Stockholm Syndrome and the Beast. even if it’s the Hermione version.  Hey, how about Hermione as a goal?

So, now that my daughter’s approaching get fifth birthday, that means she’s about a quarter of the way to adulthood. The quarter mark is a good spot to send a progress reports. So lets see how I’m how I’m doing.

Bang up job,  Wombat!

Of course,  this photo is brought to you by the princess makeovers available at Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, hidden in the far, far corner of Fantasyland. And, in case you were wondering, it is NOT included with the price of admission. I don’t know precisely how much it costs. When I asked my wife, “Do I want to know how much this costs?”, her answer was,  “No.” Good enough for me.

I do know that we didn’t pay for the whole shebang. She didn’t get to meet any of the princesses or take a picture in the pumpkin carriage.  That’s the full  package,  not the low-end crackwhore package our poor daughter was subjected to by her evil, natural-born step-parents.

While I was in the Boppity Boppity Buttfuck,  I heard a daughter ask her dad how much the makeover would cost. She wasn’t there for a makeover. Evidently, it also serves as a giftshop. I totally didn’t even know it existed, though I’ve been going through this nook and cranny for forty years. Probably just something my teenage/bachelor/non-parent male had blinders to.

By the way, the castle in the middle of Disneyland was closed when we were there. How the hell do you close something that effectively serves as a thoroughfare? It made it a pain in the ass to get to certain parts of the park. Damn you, Disneyland for making me walk!

Anyway, when the non-makeover daughter asked her father how much a makeover would cost, he said,  “I don’t know. Probably fifty bucks or something.” I almost fell over in amusement, but I don’t think I’d be able to afford the copay if I fainted. Or the giftstore crap I’d probably break on the way down.

The Consumerism is Strong. On Day One, we went back to the hotel for a nap and the only way to get my kid back to the park was to entice her with a stop at the Disney Store. Let me repeat, she didn’t want to go back to Disneyland. She only wanted to go to the Disney Store. And every time we got off a ride, she wanted to shop in the gift shop that each ride conveniently dumps you out into. And really, what’s it going to hurt? All she wants is these stupid little pins. I doubt they cost much more than… Holy crap! Are those pins made out of Golden Showers?

On the first night, during that compensatory store visit, she bought a Baby Sven doll. At least they called it a Baby Sven, but it looked more like the leftover Eeyore dolls that weren’t selling. So they wrapped a cute little swaddle around it and all of a sudden the donkey becomes a baby reindeer, and a fifty year-old property is rebranded as the hottest thing in the market right now.

Daughter carried Baby Sven around for the next thirty-six hours. It had a fun little handle so she could swing it around, often tossing either Sven or the swaddle into whatever stagnant water could be found. I think somebody vomited on Haunted Mansion when we were on it. I’m surprised she didn’t immediately become an artillery captain measuring the windspeed to gain the proper trajectory for ballistic arc to land in the vomit like a World War I trench.

But seriously, how do you vomit on Haunted Mansion? It’s one of the smoothest rides in any amusement park. I’d normally assume alcohol, but the closest inebriation you can get is in the other amusement park and costs $10 for a 12-ounce pour of 6% alcohol. So I’m at a loss. Maybe Dude should have gone next door to the Winnie the Pooh ride.

Oh hey, did you know they have a “Pooh Corner” in Disneyland? Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near any restrooms. They really needs to find someone with a sense of humor to design their park.

Sorry, where was I? Oh right, Baby Sven. By Day Three, that swaddle was the most sodden, disgusting piece of cloth in America. But it didn’t last much longer, because when we took the Monorail into the park, somebody commented on her doll. So Daughter took off the swaddle to show it off. I don’t know precisely what happened next, but when we exited the monorail, Sven was swaddleless. A woman ran after us, asking if we dropped a blanket. We said yes. She said she put it “on the platform,” so Mama trudged back up the exit stairs to look. Daughter got a look of abject horror, of existential dread, on her face, and started asking what would happen if Mama can’t find the swaddle.

So maybe it’s that she had already played through the permutations in her head. But I was impressed with her reaction when Mama came back down, empty-handed. A look of sadness, of profound loss. Her shoulders drooped, her cheeks fell, she looked down toward the ground. A single tear fell from her eye. And then she looked back up and said, “Well, it’s okay, I guess.”

And I’m thinking, “Woo Hoo! How’s that for parenting? Our four-year old has the coping mechanisms of a Tibetan monk!”

Then she says, “We can just go buy another one.”

Did I say Tibetan monk? I meant American suburbanite.

It’s a Cross Promotion After All. I’ve gotta give credit to my four-year old. She didn’t shy away from anything. The first ride she wanted to go on was Haunted Mansion, and we ended up on that bad-boy three times. We also rode Splash Mountain three times. Twice in a row at one point, because it was an overcast day so you could pretty much walk right on it. She did the Matterhorn and Big Thunder without missing a beat and she cracked up the entire time we were on Guardians of the Galaxy. Thank God she’s got my instinct for thrill rides. As opposed to some of her friends, for whom Pirates of the Caribbean was too scary.

But then there’s the OTHER ride we went on three times. Ugh. Because if a kid’s favorite things in the world are unicorns and rainbows, you know she’s going to want to hit It’s a Small World over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

I’ve never been a fan. Okay, that’s probably not true. I’m sure at one point, I loved it. But once I hit the age of reason, I realized how truly horrible of an experience it is.

I used to call it “It’s a Stereotype After All.” Because nothing conveys the idea that “there’s so much that we share” than to imply that all Scots wear kilts and Indians are snake charmers. Yeah, that’s the way to foster tolerance and inclusion.

But now there’s something way worse than a little old-fashioned essentialism going on in that ride. In typical Disney fashion, they’ve eschewed ideas of love and inclusiveness for a chance to highlight more of their characters. Go fuck your world peace, we’ve got some movies to shill.

It’s obnoxious. Peter Pan is flying around the London portion of the ride. Pinocchio is in Italy. Donald and the Three Caballeros are in Mexico. Aladdin’s in the Middle East. And Lilo and Stitch are surfing in Hawaii. That’s how you know they haven’t updated the ride in a couple of decades. Otherwise they’d have Moana.

But then the promotions became even worse. Woody and Jessie from Toy Story were in… well, I don’t know, the American part of the ride? I don’t explicitly remember anything dealing with the Lower 48. But now there’s a cowboy world. Because, you know, if you’re going to curtail to stereotypes, then I guess Cowboys and Indians, it is. Ignore the fact that the park is actually in a very suburban, cosmopolitan part of that same country. If it’s America, then let’s put a sheriff’s badge on a cowboy. Especially if said cowboy happens to be a Disney property.

And seriously, Native Americans, how can you not get on board with the message of the song? Are you saying you didn’t get along with the cowboys? But “there’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware…” that it’s going to be taken from you in exchange for smallpox-laden blankets. So that’s a win-win, right? So glad they threw Toy Story characters into that portion of the ride, because who doesn’t want their genocide a little bit cuter?

But wait, there’s more! Because after “The West” and Hawaii portions, we went to a place whose inhabitants really need to hear the message – underwater! Because Ariel’s a Disney character. So they’ve turned an entire room of the ride into mermaids and groupers and racist crabs. I mean, I guess it fits with the fiction of the ride. If we’re going to say that we all have more in common than we have different, then we might as well say mermaids exist, too. One seems just about as rooted in reality as the other.

Although I do wonder what room was taken out to put Ariel in? Which nationality was relegated to a tiny corner of another country’s portion or thrown out altogether. Did the Native Americans used to have their own room, but now they have to be thrown in with Whitey? So sorry! And that apology’s coming from me, not Disney. Disney is just saying “Fuck you, you’re not as important as that extra sale of a thirty year-old DVD.”

Maybe, since the ride was last redesigned before Moana, they had shrunk down the Scandanavian portion. But that won’t last for long. You know that, when they do their next maintenance, all the blond-hair, blue-eyed Abba-clones will be replaced by Anna and Ilsa and Sven and Olaf. Unless, of course, the anti-semitic Walt Disney wrote in his last will and testament that the park must always show proper deference to Aryans.

Space Mountain. Space Mountain was closed when we went, so my daughter will have to wait another five years or so to ride that one, since I think Disneyland is sold out for the next decade once Star Wars land opens. I know that they routinely shut down rides for updates and maintenance, and our bad for going in the slow part of the calendar. Heaven forbid we actually want to get on rides. But this particular year seems a really odd year to close down this specific ride. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s, like, some new land opening in Disneyland at the end of May. If you weren’t aware, then you probably weren’t on our Big Thunder train. Because the thing damn near tipped over at the top of the first hill when we all simultaneously leaned to the left to get a better view of the Millenium Falcon poking its nose out of an impound lot in Mos Eisley.

The new land has to do with, like, some Stars and maybe some Wars. Hopefully that doesn’t pique your interest, because every hotel in the area is booked the entire week that its open. In fact, the impending opening of Galaxy’s Edge was the main reason we were going to Disneyland at all. I initially said no until my daughter could go on all the rides, because the worst day of my life was when I went to Six Flags Magic Mountain at a height of 46 inches. And this was in the days before kids lands and variable height requirements per ride. So I spent the whole day sitting on benches with my aunt while my sister and mom went on all the rides. I wasn’t going to subject my daughter to the same life-defining torture. Almost made it. She was tall enough to ride everything except the Indiana Jones ride (who woulda guessed that ride would be more restrictive than Matterhorn?) and the Incredicoaster. I got to do the latter. If you’ve seen the movie, it’s hilarious.

But we had to take her now, because I have a bad feeling it’s going to be even more crowded than usual for the next year. Or two. Or fifty. At least by the time my daughter is fifty-five, she can go on all the rides.

But seriously, if Star Wars land is opening in a month, why would you close Space Mountain now? I’m thinking nobody’s going to give a crap about that ride for the first year or two that Galaxy’s Edge is open. Not only will its theme seem even more dated than usual, but it’s on opposite sides of the park. Maybe they’re trying to have it updated in time to coincide with the Star Wars theme, but Space Mountain seems to coincide more with the other cheesy 1970s sci-fi, not the fantasy-inspired Star Wars.

But whatever. Maybe they’ll use the time after Star Wars Land opens to finally put Arendale in Small World.

The Case of the Missing Fastpass. Okay, so a weird thing happened with my Fastpass when I was in California Adventure. And it happened twice, which makes me think it’s more feature than a glitch.

We had a Fastpass set up for Soaring. We had already been on it once. It was the first ride we went on, and my kid loved it. Have I mentioned that she’s a ride fiend? I mean, it’s not like Soaring is super fast or shaky or whatever. But it does kinda feel like you’re hovering in midair with the ground hundreds of feet below. I’m fine with any ride, but even I get a little lurching feeling in the pit of my stomach on that ride. There’s a certain helplessness to it. It really feels like they should rename the ride “Falling” instead of “Soaring,” because that’s the sensation that I get.

Regardless, the kid loved it, so we re-upped on Soaring for later in the day. We had a 2:00 PM Fastpass, and we were planning to use that as a chance to get back near the entrance and maybe go rest in the hotel room for a bit. But the, at about 1:55 PM, I got a notice on my phone that the Fastpass for Soaring was canceled. It was replaced with a “Wild Card” Fastpass, which I could use on any Fastpass ride.

Odd, I figured, but maybe Soaring had shut down. The wait time for Soaring dropped from about two hours to about thirty minutes within a five minute span of my Fastpass being canceled. But the wait time never actually bottomed out at zero, nor was it ever listed as “temporarily closed.” Maybe the drop in wait time was only based on them canceling everybody with a Fastpass. Fuck all those people who had foresight, let’s get you people in line on the ride.

I wasn’t sure if the “can use it on any Fastpass ride” meant any ride OTHER THAN Soaring or not, nor could I figure out if Soaring was currently running or if all of those people were waiting in line for thirty minutes in the hopes that the ride might come back online. And I didn’t really feel like hoofing it over to Soaring to find out, so meh, kid just enjoyed Goofy’s Sky School, so let’s go once more without the wait this time.

But then it happened again. We had timed two Fastpasses back to back to end our day. Radiator Springs and then Guardians of the Galaxy. Like I said, my kid’s not messing around. But right as we were about to get on Radiator Springs (Even with the Fastpass, you have to wait for twenty minutes on that ride. Without a Fastpass, it takes two hours.), I get a notice that my Guardians of the Galaxy Fastpass has now become a wild card.

But this time, I’m ready. And more importantly, this time it’s a ride I haven’t already gone on so I’m much more reticent to just go on Goofy again. So I watched the wait time like a hawk. It dropped a bit, but was still showing 45 minutes. And again, this time I’m curious if the drop was from all the canceled Fastpasses.

Only one way to find out. We walked over to Guardians of the Galaxy. Turns out it’s running perfectly fine and our wild card Fastpass works perfectly fine for it.

So while I joked about it the first time, I’m now wondering if this is a thing. It never happened the two days we were in Disneyland, but happened twice on our one day in California Adventure. But California Adventure has fewer rides and closes earlier. Whereas you can still get a Fastpass for most Disneyland rides well into the evening, you have to book the California Adventure ones long in advance. So maybe they overbook some. Maybe when that wait time creeps up toward two hours, they “release” a bunch of the Fastpasses into the wild to alleviate the wait time. After all, one time it worked on us and we went on a different ride. And really, if my daughter didn’t have her heart set on Rocket Raccoon and Groot, maybe we would’ve just gotten right back on Radiator Springs.

But at the same time, that’s kinda chintzy. Look, if you want to give me the option to swap my Fastpass out for something I’m currently closer to, that’s fine. But the first time it happened, I was under the impression that I could not go to the ride I had booked earlier. Again, Disneyland, we have the app, you have the turnstiles, you know how many Fastpasses you’ve given out at any given time. This shouldn’t be a problem. And this definitely shouldn’t be, as it appeared to be, a standard operating procedure.

You can read Part II here.

An Anniversary… of DOOM!

Anniversaries suck.

I mean, not anniversaries in general. What’s not to love about celebrating the fact that a certain event happened on this specific date in a different year?

No, I mean specifically my own wedding anniversary.

Again, this is not a judgement on my marriage. I love my wife. We have a wonderful marriage the other 364 days of the year.

And it’s not like our anniversary reminds me of some horrible occurrence on our wedding day, wherein Elton John lept upon the alter screaming “I Wanna Kiss the Bride.”

(How’s that for a 1980s deep cut?)

Quite the contrary. Our wedding was one of the most well-regarded shindigs of 2011 and beyond. We picked a great spot and kept the people entertained. Heck, we even had the guests were trading baseball cards with people they had never even met during that awkward post-ceremony/pre-reception time while we were taking pictures and signing the license. Because when you get married in your late-thirties, you’ve been to plenty of those weddings that leave the guests in a time-bending lurch at that time.

Oh, and did I mention the groomsmen got to play “Rock Band 3” in the wedding venue’s “Man Cave” the whole weekend? Fucking awesome! Way better than the time I was a groomsman and we were all holed up in the golf-course bathroom for three hours while the bridal party took their pictures.

So the wedding was great. The marriage is great. The anniversaries… man, Wife and I suck at those.

It’s not usually our fault. Honestly! It’s just that fate has conspired against us to ruin not one, not two, but THREE of our wedding anniversaries. It’s always something different. Sometimes it’s medical science, sometimes it’s the fury of nature, sometimes it’s… whatever the hell just happened last month.

Our first two anniversaries went off without a hitch. A couple of lovely bed-and-breakfasts in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Similar locale to where we got married and, as a bonus, wineries! On our first trip, we went north toward Sierraville and the Lakes Basin. We picnicked by a lake and opened a bottle of wine that had been given to us as a wedding present. Thus started a tradition where we would purchase a bottle of wine to be consumed on our next anniversary trip.

This vaunted tradition lasted precisely one year. Two if you count the bottle we got at the wedding.

The following year, we traveled up to Jamestown off of Highway 108. They have a railroad museum up there. We got to see the train car that they filmed “Back to the Future 3” on! It was specially-made for Michael J. Fox to hide how short he is. We drank Year One’s wine and bought another bottle for Year Three.

That bottle might still be in our wine rack. Because our third anniversary was the first one that went sideways.

Our daughter was born three months prior to our third anniversary. I wish I could go all high-and-mighty, new-parenty and say we couldn’t POSSIBLY think of leaving behind our newborn treasure. But truthfully, we had grandma lined up for months. Baby was perfectly fine that weekend. Momma, on the other hand, was not.

I wrote a while ago about some of the complications my wife had after the delivery of our daughter. In a nutshell, the pregnancy and the delivery went fine, then my wife spent the next six months in and out of the hospital. So even if she hadn’t needed to be in the hospital that specific weekend, it was going to be a low-key anniversary. We booked a B&B about twenty miles from our house and figured we’d only be gone 36 hours or so, at which point we could get back to our baby and deal with whatever medical issue she might be having at that time. You know it’s a fun year when you can bank on medical drama weeks in advance.

Unfortunately, there was no way we could’ve banked on this particular drama. September of that year brought an inflammation, and the subsequent necessary removal of, her gall bladder. The good news was that this was probably one of the mildest/run-of-the-mill medical issues she had that year. Evidently many pregnant or postpartum women have gall bladder problems. It’s one of those stupid organs we don’t need anymore and it tends to get all riled up when you have the audacity to put a fetus up in its territory.

The bad news was that, when Wife went in to the doctor on the Thursday before our trip, they said she should go to surgery immediately. She told them to, very politely, go fuck themselves because if they aren’t going to cover pre-existing conditions then we ain’t gonna cancel our pre-existing B & B reservation. They looked at her with a very serious furrow of the brow.

Actually, Wife was way more polite than that. And way more polite than I would have been at the midway point of six months of medical incompetence. But she had become a pro at the whole thing by then, and she knew they wouldn’t give her the surgery immediately anyway. Sure enough, we finally admitted her on Saturday, and they didn’t remove her gall bladder until Tuesday. Her blood pressure was too high. So maybe they should’ve just shut the fuck up on the whole “cancel your anniversary” shit.

But we did at least cut our sojourn short. It was originally planned to be a two-night stay, but we cut it to one. It turns out that the two other reservations at the B&B for that night also cancelled. Since we were pretty damned local, the innkeeper asked if we minded if he took his teenager out to see a movie that night. After all, it’s not often they have a Friday night with a shit-ton of guests. We said sure. We went out to dinner and came back to a completely empty house. Kind of weird. I wanted to go kick back in their game room and crack open a beer. But that would be kind of mean with Wife unable to imbibe.

So instead we sat around an empty house that was not our own in a somber mood. We knew we were going to be leaving first thing in the morning to drive her to the hospital, where they would be removing a key portion of her body. Add to that the fact that she had already spent weeks upon weeks at the hospital that summer, and the empty B & B just made it seem a tad too real, a tad too final.

But, damn, the breakfast the next morning was pretty fucking good.

And we were so happy, when Year Four came around, that Wife hadn’t had any parts of her body inflamed or removed for over six months!

But I guess health isn’t the only reason to cancel a weekend away. Year Four just came at an all-around bad time. Child was a little past one-year old. Wife and I were still trying to figure the whole work-and-parent balance. I mean, I guess we still are, and will be for another, oh I don’t know, twenty years? But a one-year old requires different attentiveness, like changing diapers and mashing up food. Whereas a four-year old only has pre-school friend drama. Wait a second. Is there any way I can go back to cleaning up soiled drawers?

One additional wrinkle we had in Year Four was that we had just bought a new house. We signed the paperwork and got the keys the two weeks before our anniversary, so we were still pretty much living amongst, and out of, fifteen hundred square feet of boxes.

It’s been three years since we moved in now and we’re still not entirely out of the boxes. Like I said, we’re still figuring out that whole “working parent” thing. And we’ll ignore the fact that, even before we were parents, we never finished unpacking my crap from when I moved in with her. So maybe we’re still figuring out the whole “Working Adult” thing. But man, when I retire in twenty years, the house is gonna be SWEET! Too bad my aching legs won’t be able to get up the stairs by then.

But after losing the previous anniversary to medical drama, there was no way we were going to let this one fall by the wayside. Who cares if we can’t find our suitcases or that wine bottle from two years ago that we couldn’t drink last year? We booked a B&B near Murphys, California, which is another cute foothills winery town, albeit further south than usual. It wasn’t far from Jamestown, where we spent Year Two, when we had encountered some of the wineries near Murphys and decided we wanted to double back.

As the anniversary approached, we both broached the subject of cancelling. Had Year Three been spent out of the hospital, we probably would’ve canceled earlier than we did. But cancelling two anniversaries in a row kinda feels like a bad thing.

You know what else is kinda a bad thing? When the entire foothill region catches fire! Maybe the universe was telling us to take another year off, although that’s pretty mean of the universe to sacrifice lives and property just to send a message to a couple of numbnuts in the suburbs.

Anyway, I called the B&B to cancel our reservation.

“Oh, were you calling about the message we left you?”

“No. What message?”

“We wanted to see if you were willing to give your room to firefighters for a refund.”

“Oh, sure. We’d love to. Thanks.”

“Wait, you said you didn’t get out message? So you were going to cancel regardless?”

“Was I? No, I think that I…”

“Too late. No refund. But the firefighters thank you for your donation.”

Okay, that might not have been the actual conversation, but it wasn’t far off. I think they refunded us one night, but not the second.

Regardless, we made it to our fourth anniversary with a whopping fifty percent completion rate. We were dead set on raising that bad-boy up to a D- grade by Year Five. One of the wineries we belong to in Amador County rents out the owner’s old house in the middle of the vineyard. Pretty sure the vineyards will be hydrated enough to withstand any wildfires. Wait, what happened in Napa last year?

Actually, we were in Napa Valley last year for Year Six. I know Napa seems to buck a certain trend. It’s not in the foothills, and if I ever get around to writing that “Wine” post, I’ll contend that it isn’t really wine country, either. But it was on Groupon late in the game, so winner, winner! Even better, we managed to be there two whole weeks before it turned into a hellacious moonscape of soot. Anniversary mojo is back, baby!

So going into this, our seventh, anniversary, we had almost forgotten all about our earlier foibles. To quote bastardize “Major League,” we had a successful anniversary in Year Six. We also had one the year before. If we could do it this year, it will be a streak. Oops. The third strike is always the hardest one in getting a turkey.

Sorry, mixed my sports metaphors there. The latter “strike” was a bowling strike, being referenced in a paragraph about a baseball movie. Bad Wombat!

This year, we decided to go back to the Amador region. This was a little bit of a late plan, but Year Six hadn’t really taken shape until a few weeks prior, so why plan ahead? Actually, seeing as how we already went to New York and Denver and San Diego in the past few months, we weren’t entirely sure we should take another weekend away. Even though it was a month earlier, we were kinda treating Denver as our anniversary weekend.

But then we realized that all of the wineries in the Amador region were doing a festival. We’ve always talked about going to one of those, and if it falls on our anniversary weekend, we can’t really NOT go, can we? Once we confirmed there were still rooms available (not an automatic in a town of less than a thousand inhabitants on a weekend that draws members from fifty different wineries), we decided to head up.

No fire this time! Yay! In fact, the weather was absolutely sublime. Partly cloudy, low eighties. STRIKE 1. I guess after getting evacuated from Camptathalon in August, nature decided to take it easy on me. And the wine festival was wonderful. I wasn’t sure how it would work, but you get a glass and you go from booth to booth getting a half-ounce of wine each time. Delightful! Why haven’t we done this before?

STRIKE 2.

The plan was to head into town to check in at our B&B and then walk to the brewery across the street.

“Oh, I don’t have your reservation.”

GUTTER BALL.

The innkeeper says this as soon as she answers the door, before we even tell her our names.

Wife starts to pull up the Travelocity reservation on her phone, which is not that easy in a town where they consider 3G to be the GOOD kinda cell service.

“Oh, well I’ve had pneumonia all week, so I moved all of my reservations to the hotel in town.”

Okay, that’s fine. We don’t mind staying there. In fact, we tried to book that first, but they were all full as of three weeks ago. If you could just point us in the right…

“But I’m feeling better now. So you can stay here if you want.”

Um, okay. Even though you don’t have our reservation? What’s the catch?

“It’s not the room you booked. It’s this one that’s on the outside, not in the actual B&B. But hey, it’s an upgrade because it’s a king-sized bed instead of a queen-sized bed. It’s our most popular room. But the people that had booked it are now staying at the nice hotel in town. I can show it to you.”

Umm… okay?

So she escorts us around the side to the “Carousel Room.” What a day to leave the clown porn at home!

Well, okay, maybe we could make this work. I mean, the brewery’s closing hour ain’t getting any younger. Even if it is kinda weird that she “doesn’t have” our reservation and everybody else has been sent packing. No horror movies start by being the only customers in an abandoned hotel, right?

Should I be concerned that the innkeeper’s talking to the corpse of her mother?

Still, while we don’t have specific plans for the next day, we kinda wanted to hit another winery or two on the way home, maybe have lunch at the restaurant we had our first date in, and grandma’s already booked to babysit through the afternoon tomorrow. Plus, did I mention the brewery’s open until 8:00 within stumbling difference? So why the hell not? Sure. We’ll take the room.

“Oh great, I’ll run your card.”

You mean the card we used on the website to make the reservation that you never received?

“What is your name?”

Umm… Has this not come up yet?

“Oh, by the way, there’s no breakfast tomorrow. Because, you know, I once had pneumonia.”

Blink. Blink.

So Wife and I return to our car with things to discuss our plan of attack outside of Typhoid Mary’s earshot. Both of us are a little bit skeeved out. Too many oddities. We couldn’t really tell if she was trying to get rid of us or not. Or if we were going to wake up in our mortal shells the following day.

Finally, despite the call of the brewery, we decided to cut our losses and head home. We walked back up to the front door to return the key.

“Oh, do you need to get back home to your child?”

I don’t specifically recall mentioning we had a child. Maybe it’s mentioned in our missing reservation. Or else she’s already analyzed some DNA we dropped on our “tour” five minutes earlier.

“No,” we respond, “it’s just that the room we reserved is… um, I mean the breakfast that was supposed to… um, yeah, you know what? We want to go home and see our daughter.”

“Well, okay,” the innkeeper says. “But the website is going to charge you for the night, anyway.”

Oh, you mean the website that didn’t have our reservation? That one?

Turns out that, yep, as soon as we were back in cell range, the charge had already gone through. And get this, it was the rate for the “upgraded” carousel room. I didn’t check to see if they had added the clown porn surcharge.

So let’s see, that’s two good anniversaries, two bad ones, two good ones, then one bad.

My daughter would look at that and say, “Look, Daddy, it’s a pattern!”

And I would say, “Good, honey. And what can you predict about the next one?”

And then my daughter will be grounded until after Year Eight.

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.

0625181249573066522.jpg

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?

0625182124b1255717861.jpg

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.

0623181440a1046702505.jpg

0623181400a574912897.jpg

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:

06261817301152898280.jpg

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.

20180626_1623302143821786.jpg

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.

play-2.jpg

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?

becco.jpg

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.