Vacation

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.

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

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

New York, Part V

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

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

9/11 Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because the historical exhibition was intense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So we drove.

Rental

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

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

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

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

Just as Benjamin Franklin would’ve wanted it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

At least he got to ride first class.

New York, Part IV

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

Times Square

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

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

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

Three Broadway Shows

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, it ended up being a Broadway show.

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Puft

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

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

Margaritaville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disney Store, Hershey Store, M & M Store

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope.

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

Nope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least Giraffe found something he liked:

M & M

New York, Part III

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

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

Food

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

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

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

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

Oh, and we wanted to see Central Park first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

New York, Part II

Find Part I Here.

Part Two of my non-chronological, written-after-the-fact recap of my trip to New York. Today’s focus is on some of the adventures in getting around the island: The Subway and the anathema of every tourist trap, the Hop-on/Hop-off Bus.

Subway

I don’t mean to get all West Coast Snooty here. I know New York is known for its subway. I know you had mass transit a century before we started getting around to it. But damn, BART’s got you beat, hands down.

Sure, BART doesn’t go ninety percent of the places you want to go in the Bay Area and you usually have to drive to a station, thus negating part of its purpose. Then again, the New York system seems to have some pretty major blind spots, too. I thought it would be as ubiquitous as the Underground in London. It is not. Good luck getting west of 7th Ave.

New Subway slogan: Harder to ride than BART and less useful than the Tube!

Seriously though, would it kill you to have more than one sign that says which train is coming next? BART only has one or two lines per station, but they still tell us when the next three trains are coming and where they’re heading. In New York, some stations had a fancy touchscreen directory that you could maybe, hopefully find when and where the next train is, but only after swiping through countless ads and screens not related to subway trains at all and whispering sweet nothings in the directory’s ear and cupping its balls just so. Other stations had one hanging sign, usually all the way down at the end of the track, often turned off. Other stations had abso-fucking-lutly nothing.

However, I like your idea of a local/express option. Locals stop at every stop, expresses only hit the major ones. There’s a lot of times I would like to have my BART train skip all the stupid stations where nobody gets on or off. And when Subway trains were listed as local or express, it was easy enough to figure out. Sure, with no forewarning, you pretty much had to wait till the train was on top of you to figure out if you should board or not, but at least the train itself was (usually) labeled. On the way out to the Mets game, we were told to take the express, and were quite happy to see 80% of the stations going by. On the way back, we couldn’t tell if express trains were running at all, so we boarded a local and took forty minutes to get back.

7-train.jpg

(Speaking of the 7 Train to the Mets game, here’s the only verification that we took public transit. Giraffes tend to get nervous underground.)

But then there are the expresses that aren’t listed as expresses. Rat bastards! The 1, 2, and 3 lines run on the same general track through Manhattan. The 1 Train makes every stop, the 2 and 3 do not. As far as I could tell, that was not designated on any map. Fortunately, some nice locals told us to hop over to the 2 train. Well, they didn’t tell us, because we didn’t ask, because we thought we were pros at this little system after four days. Fortunately there were two other tourists rude enough to ask some locals how to get to Times Square, and the local told them to transfer to the 2 train. I overheard and was rather appreciative.

A couple more things I found odd about the subway. One was the cost. It cost the same whether you’re going one stop or to the end of the line. Boston’s T Line worked the same way. BART works the opposite, where the farther you go, the more you pay. That was great when I was heading to and from the Mets game. But when I only had to go two stops, it was kind of a pain in the ass. Maybe it’s done to discourage laziness. Or maybe it’s done to encourage people to venture out of their comfort zone. From a political economics standpoint, it makes the tax very regressive, not something I would associate with a city that just nominated a socialist. Any time anyone, rich or poor, near or far, pays the same dollar amount, that burden rests more on the poor. I also assume that the rich or middle class are the ones likely to go farther, or to visit lower Manhattan from the far ‘burbs. Whereas the working poor are more likely to only go one stop or two stops, doing groceries or errands.

The last thing I found weird was that people went in and out via the same turnstiles! What sort of chaotic morass is this? BART entries CAN go both ways, but they’re always programmed to go only one direction at a time, and they change based on time of day. In the morning at an inbound station, maybe four of the five turnstiles are for entry, but in the afternoon, they’re showing exit. In New York, they’re all entry and exit AT THE SAME FUCKING TIME!!! The outward direction doesn’t require a ticket (hence the universal $2.75 fee for each ride – they only “charge” at the entry), so the turnstile is always freely flowing in the outward direction. The inward direction is locked until the metrocard is swiped.

Eventually, though, I came to be fine with this. Even maybe preferred it. Obviously, the only time you’re going to have a large influx of traffic is when a train just arrived. And giving them access to all of the turnstiles helps expedite matters. I’m reminded of Oakland A’s games where 30,000 people were just released from the stadium, yet can only use three turnstiles. But under normal times, it wasn’t hard to avoid having two people trying to use the same turnstile in opposite directions at the same time. All you do is look up, see someone approaching one turnstile, and sidestep over to the next one. We do it on the street all the time, right?

Hop-on/Hop-Off Bus

Hop On

I have a love/hate relationship with Hop-on/Hop-Off Busses. They’re something of a necessary evil. Most of the cities they run in are a bit too large, too spread out, too diverse to do piecemeal. If you’re going into a city blind, a quick jaunt around the city is a good way to get the lay of the land, maybe make some plans for the rest of your trip. My wife had never been to New York before, and I wanted to make sure we weren’t just doing the things I wanted to do. So either she reads through seventy-five travel websites, or we do a two-to-three hour circle around Lower Manhattan.

Completely logical. And yet…

It’s hard to not roll your eyes at people espousing how much they know about a place based on their hop-on/hop-off “experience.” Even after I spent the better part of two days riding it, I had to roll my eyes at myself.

And of course, once you’ve bought the 48-hour pass, you’re pot-committed. You can’t do ANYTHING else for the next 48 hours because, dammit, you paid for the damn bus.

An unlimited subway ticket would’ve been more affordable. If only I hadn’t bought the fucking AirTrain ticket instead.

But aside from my general issues with these tour bus companies, there were some rather specific problems with the New York varietal. I went on their website like a good boy. I purchased it online like a good boy. At which point I had to… go down to their primary office in order to stand in line in order to turn the vouchers I just purchased in for actual tickets. The line at the office included people who had already purchased, people who were looking to purchase, and people looking for information. I think there were some Broadway shows being sold there, too.

And no, that last sentence was not for humor and exaggeration. There was some sort of Broadway package being sold in the same place, and in the same line, as the hop-on/hop-off bus.

The end result was a twenty-to-thirty minute wait to get a physical representation of a product I already purchased. Have they not heard of kiosks?

Once I finally got the ticket, I had to walk three blocks to catch the actual bus. En route, I passed maybe ten guys hawking the hop-on/hop-off bus I had just purchased. These guys are as ubiquitous, and as subtle, as the guys in Vegas slapping their hands with strip club advertisements. I assume they must be paid on commission, because they’re fucking vultures. Even when we told them we had already purchased, they only took a step or so back, still watching us warily. They’ve been burned by that line before, like the Girl Scouts at the store who know that the whole “I bought cookies at the office” is complete bullshit. And I can only assume that, had I purchased from one of these guys standing right by the bus, if I would’ve had to walk the three blocks back to the office, and stand in line for a half-hour, with a voucher they had printed.

And speaking of printing the ticket, take a look at how convenient this motherfucker is to carry around a densely-populated metropolis:

And of course, I had to unfurl the whole fucking thing every time I decided to hop back on a new bus. So that they could scan the…

Holy fuck, it’s a goddamned QR Code? Like, one I could very easily have just downloaded to my phone back at the hotel when I purchased the product on their website? When the hell was this business model constructed, 1988?

Once you’re on one of these buses, you’re at the whim of the narrator. Most of them have a live narrator, who speaks into a microphone, that you can listen to by plugging in earphones to the side of the seat. You can also change the channel to listen to a pre-recorded narration in any number of languages. Sometimes the pre-recorded is the better option, because the live narrators are a complete crap shoot.

The first one we had wasn’t too bad. He was a cranky old-timer who started the tour with colorful stories about all of the adult theaters that lined Times Square in the seventies. He then complained about Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, and mocked a guy for liking the look of the latter. On the downside, he had a tendency to get lost in the script and repeat himself. Sometimes it was understandable. He’d say an Empire State Building anecdote when it first became visible, then repeat it again five minutes later when we stopped in front of it.

Empire

But the repeats started coming closer and closer to each other. Shortly before we “hopped off,” (does that sound dirty?), he went overboard, repeating the same sentence, literally word for word, back to back.

I probably should’ve checked him for a stroke. But hey, I gotta get off to see that 9/11 Museum and berate other people’s lack of humanity. I can’t be bothered saving somebody’s life.

There was also a point that we went quite a few blocks without him saying shit. I didn’t notice it at first. Just assumed we had hit one of those spots in Lower Manhattan where there’s nothing interesting. I mean, what the fuck is a flatiron, anyway?

Flatiron

But no, turns out Dude was on his phone. He popped his head back up the stairs to look around a bit. Said something about the intersection of fuckwit and twattle, then popped back down the stairs. Dude was giving directions to someone. After an extended period of time, he got back on the microphone.

“Yeah, so this is Tribeca. Stands for Triangle Below Canal. And Robert de Niro lives right…”

His phone rings and he’s back talking to his buddy. But now his convo is bleeding through the microphone. No. I said twatwit and fuckle. My bus never goes to fuckwit and twattle.

Rather entertaining, but eventually we had to take advantage of the “hopping off” aspect, so we didn’t get to stay long enough for him to rant about all the Chinamen in his fine city nowadays.

We got off at the 9/11 Museum. And at this point, I’ll just say that I did the 9/11 Museum. Not much I can add if I want to stay tongue-in-cheek and/or irreverent. For now, just… wow.

When we jumped back on the next bus, after waiting about forty minutes and seeing three buses from the competitor company, the one that doesn’t advertise itself as “most buses in Manhattan,” drive by, we were relegated to the lower deck with the forty other people who were in line by then. No air conditioning. And for even more “fun,” the new narrator screamed every statement he said, each of which started “Alright, folks, this is…”

Fortunately we weren’t with him very long. But this was the first time I opted for the joy of the prerecorded narration. He was also the narrator that was most adamant about tips.

Our third experience was the Night Bus, which unfortunately did not take us to Hogwarts. But fortunately it was our best narrator. Not the brightest. No real history or architectural knowledge, as prone to distraction as the dog in “UP.” Most of her commentary followed along the lines of “I don’t know why that’s here” or “There used to be another building here” or “A lot of my friends like this pizza place.” Kinda felt like my four-year old was narrating.

But you know what? She was the best narrator we had. Nice and genuine. She started out the tour with a profound statement: Some buildings are really impressive during the day but you can’t even see them at night. Some buildings don’t do anything during the day but light up beautiful at night. And some buildings are wonderful no matter what time of day.

She’s the only one we tipped.

The following day, we took the uptown bus loop. It said it went to Harlem, but that’s being generous. It went just far enough to see the Apollo Theater, then it hightailed itself south like a wave of anti-gentrification, with a cursory announcement about Malcolm X as we skedaddled down the street named after him. Good job, bus company. Wouldn’t want to see where the Cotton Club or the Polo Grounds used to be. Langston Hughes, anyone? Y’all know there’s a huge artistic movement named after Harlem, right? But never mind. There’s the Apollo. Watch out for minorities. And hey, now it’s on to museums for the uber-rich.

The uptown loop also had no live narrator. I think it was supposed to have a live narrator. Other buses we saw had narrators. There was an employee on the bus with us, but he was just checking people’s tickets and playing on his phone while taking up a primo seat most of the time.

And the pre-recorded needs a little help. A bit obsolete. When it was describing the Tavern on the Green, it said it was closed for remodeling. I thought that was odd, because we had seen it our first day, one of the wonderful lunch spots we passed right after our shitty lunch. Then the recording went on to say it would hopefully be re-opened by the summer of 2013.

Hmm…. Might need to stop paying two hundred salesmen throughout the island and update the recording instead.

Also, the narrator changed when we got into Harlem. Not sure if “random white voice” was deemed inappropriate for Harlem. Or if the random white male behind the voice refused to talk about Harlem. Or, more likely, the route has changed since his 2012 recording.

The recording also repeated the same thing on both sides of Central Park, just like the live dude on the downtown loop. And it must’ve said “Watch out for low-hanging trees. Your safety is important to us.” about twenty times.

Maybe HAL was having a stroke. Again, I didn’t bother to check.

Of course, the best part about the uptown loop was getting to re-enact one of the best scenes in cinematic history. I present to you: The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Giraffe!

Stay Puft

New York, Part I

Wife and I went to New York (and Boston) back in June, so what better time for a patented Wombat Travel Blog. In the past, I’ve done this two ways: writing and posting what we did each day (the “Live Blog” approach), and waiting till the end to post one big summary.

This one will be a hybrid. There was a lot to do, little free time, and as an added bonus, this trip was sans in-laws, so it had alcohol! So I’ll be up front and admit that I’m writing a lot of this after I’m already home. And I intended to get it out quicker, but it’s grown past 15,000 words, so that took a while. But I’ll still split it up into five somewhat chronological and/or logical daily(-ish) posts, giving the faux-impression that it’s live. Hopefully it’s no more confusing than my usual fare.

But yeah, I know “Welcome to Margaritaville” has been closed for weeks and Pride happened a month ago.

As background, Wife’s never been to New York. I went there twice before. But the last time I was here, there were two giant identical towers on the southern edge of the island. I’m guessing nothing’s changed since the nineties, right?They don’t randomly, like, build 50-story buildings on a whim, right?

Oh hey, look what’s going up across the street from our hotel:

plane

One more caveat: We left the child at home with the in-laws. She made us take her giraffe stuffed animal with us. So most of our touristy pictures will feature not us, but a stuffed giraffe. Enjoy!

Flight Redeye. Nuff said. We got a “free upgrade” to the emergency exit row. Not sure how, not sure why. They just called our name over the loudspeaker and asked if we’d be willing to open the door if need-be. I said sure. I know they try to sell those seats as an upgrade, so maybe if they can’t sell them, they give them away. But how do you pick the two people in a plane of 150 for the free upgrade.

Even better, we went from the fourth boarding group to the first. More time to get on that midnight flight and promptly fall asleep. Oh crap, I have to stay awake through the drill so I can answer “yes” when the flight attendant asks if I’m willing to open the fucking door. I’ve been through this rigmarole before. You can’t just nod, you have to say “yes.” To prove you know English. Because, as we all know,  “yes” is one of the last words anybody learns in English. It is the true barometer of English comprehension.If you can say the word “yea,” you are certainly capable of following complex instructions while plummeting toward your death amongst 150 other people similarly circumstanced and taking it all wonderfully in stride.

I read a book to keep me awake until the obligatory “yes,” and when I went to put it away, the seatback in front of me was way too far to reach. So I just put the book on my lap. And nothing helps you get to sleep faster than constantly being worried that you’re going to drop your book. Eventually I tucked it in next to my body.

But here’s the rub. If I’m planning on sleeping the whole flight, the extra foot room doesn’t do me much good. If anything, it made it a bit awkward. The seat in front of me will usually prevent me from slumping too much. Without that natural cocoon, I wasn’t really sure how to position my body to get comfortable. Do I sit straight up, with my legs stretched out in front? Do I curl up and tuck the legs under? Do I open my legs in a whore-pose? I didn’t know then and I still don’t know.

Also, my original “ungraded” seat was a window seat. I had booked it that way so I could lean up against the fuselage to sleep. My wife was similarly planning on leaning against me, but now neither of us had support to the side, and instead we both just lie there like a couple of unwrapped mummies. Plus, now I was in the aisle, so any time my elbow went into the aisle, someone brushed against it.

And all of a sudden I was wondering if my original seat was still available. I bet the rat bastards that were originally in this seat paid extra for a chance at sleep! And dammit, the plane didn’t even crash so I didn’t even get to open the door! Of all the luck.

So while I don’t entirely believe in the accuracy of my Fitbit at tracking my sleep when I’m in and out of consciousness, according to it, I slept one hour and three minutes on my overnight flight to New York. Can we say “refreshing vacation?”

At least Giraffe got some sleep:

sleeping.jpg

AirTrain

After we landed, it was a chore just getting to where our New York experience could begin. We had to take the “AirTrain” from JFK airport to the subway station, then ride the subway into Manhattan with somewhere between one and three transfers, depending on how well I’m reading this map. The AirTrain doesn’t really go anywhere other than the subway, but it still is counts as its own entity with an entirely different ticketing system. We waited maybe ten minutes for the first train.

When the train finally arrived, naturally everyone flocked in. Then some dude got off the arriving train and waved us all away from getting inside. He kinda, sorta looked official, because he was wearing a red coat and who would wear a red coat unless it was required by the job? Plus he seemed to have a walkie-talkie sort of contraption.

Anyway, when he comes out of the front of the train and does his big wavy-hand, don’t-go-in-this-train move, some patrons had already started to sneak into the other three doors of the train. So red-coat dude follows some of those patrons in and shoos them back out onto the platform. Like “C’mon patrons, why the fuck would you just be walking onto a commuter train like that? Don’t you know you gotta be invited first?” This maybe takes two to three minutes. Then we’re all standing there in front of an empty AirTrain, doors wide open, wondering if this is some prank.

Dude talks into his walkie-talkie, gets an answer that seems to please him, then announces that this train is going to Howard Beach. Well shit. There are two spots to catch the subway, and Howard Beach was not the subway that would get me to where I wanted to go. In fact, only about ten percent of the people standing around are going to Howard Beach. They get on the train, red-coat dude goes into the train and pushes a button, then hops back out onto the platform with us and sends the poor souls off to their doom.

At least that’s what I’m guessing. It definitely seemed like a super-villain move.

After that, trains started coming more frequently. And I know they started coming more frequently, because I had to wait for three more of them. The next one, red-coat dude announces, is an inter-terminal train, so it’ll only go around in a loop and never make it to the subway station. The next train, wouldn’t you know it, is another fucking Howard Beach one. But at least this time I can verify it because the electronic sign that had previously just said a very ambiguous “Inter-terminal and Howard Beach and Jamaica Station trains all run on this platform” is now actually saying “Approaching train is a Howard Beach train.” That key piece of information was missing for the past fifteen minutes. We had only a red-coated, walkie-talkied dude to base our information on. And I’m not saying I don’t believe him, I’m just saying in this day and age, I believe the HAL that programs the digital instructions sign a little more than a fallible human.

BART always says what train is approaching and how long you have to wait for the one you actually want, by the way. Probably more on that tomorrow.

So twenty minutes and four trains after arriving on the platform, we’re finally on our way to Jamaica Station. Along with a shit-ton of other commuters.

And this is where the fun begins.

There’s no ticket booth at JFK, so you pay when you get off the AirTrain at the subway station. I guess I understand this policy. The inter-terminal train needs to be free, and the government wouldn’t want to make them accidentally pay for something they don’t need, right? Man, the government HATES when people overpay for things. That’s why taxes are so easy to file.

Unfortunately for me, whereas I could have bought at a leisurely pace while waiting the twenty minutes for our train, now all 150 people had to purchase their exit ticket at the exact same time. There were four ticket machines.

Now I’m totally admitting what happened next was my fault. I could have slowly taken my time to ensure I wasn’t making a mistake. I could’ve told all the people jostling for position behind me to go fuck the right off. I should not be susceptible to peer pressure. But I’m also the guy who looks in his rearview mirror every time I have to make a left turn, and if there are cars behind me, I’m gunning a much narrower gap.

So, while puffing out my back to protect myself from the Black Friday crush behind me, I selected which ticket I wanted to buy. I selected AirTrain. The next screen asked if I wanted to buy a discounted 10-trip ticket. With ten people clearing their throats behind me, I quickly thought it would be a good idea. I had just been looking into subway discounts, such as 7-days, unlimited rides for $32. So when I saw “Would you like to buy 10 discounted trips for $25?” I thought, Sure!

Do you see my error? Yeah. I just bought ten trips on the AirTrain, NOT the Subway. Because I’m clearly going back to the airport eight more times in my five days here… Fuck.

Well, I figured, maybe an MTA card is an MTA card and this one will allow me to get into the Subway anyway, right? Wrong. This ticket allowed me to exit the AirTrain portion and not a damn thing more.

So then I had to buy an actual subway ticket to complete my journey. Woo-hoo!  My first hour in New York, I hadn’t even made it outside of a protected environment yet, and I’d already spent a frivolous twenty bucks on something I didn’t even need.

Bring on Saks 5th Avenue!

Transportation Shithole Assheads

As many of you know, I recently went on a trip to Hawaii.

But this post isn’t about Hawaii, per se.

This post is about to most wonderful part of any travel adventure: the Transportation Safety Administration.

This was the first “long haul” flight I’ve been on in a while, what with a three-year old and all. But I’ve had plenty of short and long trips throughout my life, both before and after 9/11, both with and without a small human in tow. I know the TSA and its procedures well enough. And they’re utter bullshit.

This time through the anal-probe carousel that is Security Clearance, the agent was nice enough to give my daughter a sticker. I have suspicions as to why this time, her eight or tenth time flying, she was gifted a sticker, but at this juncture, I’ll just mention the form of the sticker:

Hawaii TSA

How fitting. Of course she’s a junior TSA agent. Isn’t every toddler? She rifles through bags that don’t belong to her, not bothering to put back or refold any displaced items. She makes arbitrary, continuously-changing rules with little basis in reality or logic. The consequences for breaking said rules, however, are dire. She is also prone to some inappropriate tantrums and is entirely unaware of personal space.

One time I was flying on Christmas and the TSA unwrapped one of the presents in my checked luggage. It was a cookbook. They placed the torn-open wrapping paper inside the front cover of the book. Hopefully you sleep better at night knowing that pancake recipes aren’t falling into the hands of terrorists.

My biggest problem with the TSA is the lack of consistency from one airport to the next. In Sacramento, I have to remove my laptop and my kindle from my carry-on bag and put each in its own bin. In San Diego, laptops come out, but tablets stay in. On a recent trip out of Orange County, all of them could stay in the bag. Same airport, different time? No.

I take back my earlier comment. My three-year old is way more consistent. Her make-believe ice cream stand seems to have squid ice cream every time I ask for it.

I thought the whole point of federalizing airport security was for consistency. If what is allowed or not allowed is based on the whims of the high-school dropout hoping to see ladies’ boobs at the MRI machine, then we might as well return the process to local control.

On a recent trip out of Sacramento, I was asked if I had any food in my carry-on. Food? I know about liquids, but when did food become an issue? The agent said food was allowed, but they would have to take it out of my bag and open it or cut into it in order to make sure it’s legitimate food. My aunt in Southern California has an avocado tree and I was planning on returning with many avocados. If the jackasses cut into each one, that would greatly reduce the amount of time they would be of use to me.

Fortunately, the return trip was out of Ontario, so no mention was made of food. Also, this did not come up the next time I flew out of Sacramento. So terrorists, if there’s some new food-based plan of attack, don’t try to get it on a plane in Sacramento. They might or might not be onto you, depending on who’s working. The other 5,000 airports seem to have missed that memo, though.

Part of it might be personal. You see, I have an Irish last name and a relatively common first name. Which means there’s an IRA terrorist with the same name as me. Hooray!

For most of the 2000s, this meant I was often “randomly selected” for additional screening. Often at the gate. Nothing’s worse than being pulled out of the “first come, first seated” Southwest line and watching all of the window seats passing me down the tunnel.

It happened often enough that I started to wonder if it wasn’t all that “random.” Not that the government would lie to us or anything. But maybe I was being singled out because I was a twenty-something male, traveling alone, usually without any checked luggage. Or maybe it was because I had ordered a copy of “Triumph of the Will,” the Nazi propaganda film, for use in my classroom.

But it was really just fun and games until airlines started using those kiosks and online check-in. You see, Mister IRA-name can’t use either of those methods. Mister IRA-name needs to physically hand his ID to a real-life human being. How many of THOSE do you see at the airline desks these days?

Thankfully, a Southwest Agent (not a TSA agent, mind you) finally told me one time that it wasn’t my Nazi film or my demographics, but my name that was tagged. The Irish terrorist is thirty years older than me, so just seeing my birthdate was enough. I started booking with my middle name and have never had a problem since. Which is nice, because these days, if you can’t check in 23 hours, 50 minutes early, you’re going to being sitting in a middle seat.

With my curiosity piqued, I googled my name and learned more about the OTHER guy. He killed a cop in Belfast while escaping from jail. Yikes. Except it also appears that his whereabouts are fully known. You know, the whole Good Friday Agreement and “What’s a little car bomb amongst friends?” He still lives in Belfast. Meaning it probably ain’t him boarding a flight to Burbank.

But whatever, TSA, good job protecting us from British separatists. Wait, did the IRA want to leave or stay in Britain? I don’t remember. I’m American, and we try to ignore white terrorists. But the 3/8 Irish in me says, “Go Catholics! (or Protestants) Get rid of those rat-bastard Protestants! (Or Catholics) Semper fi, motherfuckers!”

Semper fi is gaelic, right?

All of this talk of “random screenings” and excessive scrutiny brings me back to my recent trip to Hawaii. We got the magical TSA Pre-Check designation. I had assumed I was ineligible, but it turns out that, as long as I’m not the first name on the reservation, it’s all good. “Right this way, Mrs. Smith and your husband, Mr. Bin Laden.”

The reason I could pre-check on this flight was because my in-laws, who booked the reservation, have paid for the privilege of pre-check. And if you’re willing to give money to the government, then you are clearly one of the “good guys.”

So I was prepared for an expedited security process with the TSA Pre-Check. But I figured it would be faster because there were fewer people in front of us. And that was part of it. But wait, there’s more! If you order in the next fifteen minutes, you get…

I was allowed to leave my laptop in my bag. No questions about food. No standing spread-eagle and holding my breath while the perv behind the screen checks out my junk. And, are you sitting down for this last one? I was able to keep my shoes on.

What the fuck? Aren’t shoes non-negotiable? Isn’t the shoe the single most-used weapon in the entire history of hijacking?

No? It was only one attempt made by one dude one time? And it failed? Hmm. Does the TSA know that?

Regardless, how the hell does the purchasing of a security clearance mean I don’t have explosives in my shoe? Wouldn’t someone with the resources to turn a shoe into a bomb also have the resources to pay for pre-check? And, to repeat, we only had to go through the metal detector, not the MRI, and I don’t think C-4 triggers a metal detector.

And maybe my in-laws had to go through some additional screening to get a pre-check validation. But I sure as hell did not. And I don’t even think you have to be a citizen in good standing, because my brother-in-law is British and I’m pretty sure he gets pre-check.

And I know, there is really nothing more American than”money = good.” It is a practice going back over a century, when first- and second-class passengers were able to go through quick look-overs on the ship, while the steerage (human cattle) class had to endure hours of lines and inspections and possible quarantine at Ellis Island.

Not at Angel Island, mind you. Those immigrants were not white, so they ALL had to go through the lines and inspections and quarantine. Wasn’t it Chester A. Arthur that wondered aloud why we have to let in immigrants from a bunch of shithole countries? No? Was it a more recent president?

I hate to go all populist, Occupy loser here, but seriously, what is it about poor people’s shoes and laptops that make them more likely to be used as weapons?

It’s either that, or the TSA would still be able to detect weapons with laptops in bags and shoes on feet. But if that’s the case, why do the riff-raff still have to do the whole rigmarole?

It has to be a marketing ploy. I assume fewer people would buy the pre-check if they still had to do the shoes and the computer thing. And of course, the only thing the government cares more about than curtailing our liberties protecting us is money. So if a terrorist hijacks a plane but there’s a new park in Tulsa, everyone’s cool with that trade-off, right?

All I know is that, if the government treated everyone the way they treat the rich, we’d all be making it through security in a matter of minutes. But would we feel safe if we went through security too fast? Because the TSA’s job is only to make us feel safer, not actually protect us.

If I have to take off my shoes, then cure up the Louis Armstrong, because it’s a wonderful world.

Unless I paid a lot for those shoes. Those shoes stay on. Membership has its privileges, and everybody’s happy.

Including my daughter. She got a fucking sticker!

We never got that kind of kickback in steerage class.

Hawaii, Part V

This should be the final installment in my Hawaiian vacation travelogue. Travel-blog-logue? Hell’s yeah. You can go back to the beginning or not. Today will be a little mish-mash of my final days on the Big Island, as well as some of the minor bits that have fallen through the cracks in the previous days.

Backyard: Okay, what the hell is this?

Hawaii Confined1

This was right next to the putt-putt golf course in our back yard. I assume it houses some underground equipment for the nearby pool or faux-river or, hell, the fitness center that has more dust than Betty Ford’s muffin. You find equipment stored underground like that all the time. But as I got closer, the wording struck me as odd.

I expected something along the lines of “Authorized Personnel Only.” Maybe even a nudge-nudge “No Admittance,” although we all know that every place admits somebody, of else there wouldn’t be a door. I would’ve even been fine with a “Danger” or a “High Voltage” warning. What I was unprepared for was this:

Hawaii Confined2

Confined Space? What the fuck does that even mean? Whatever’s underneath these doors is the same size as the cover, right? Is this like a reverse-Tardis, where it’s smaller on the inside. If that Doctor Who reference wasn’t obtuse enough, my first instinct was to write “A Pylon from Land of the Lost” – this rabbit hole can get a bit scary when I’m writing more than once per week.

What dumbass made the inside smaller than the door? Is it maybe concave? An upside-down pyramid? Ooo! Ooo! Like a Pylon!

But why does this particular warning exist at all? There was no keyhole anywhere on it, nor any conspicuous levers nearby, so whoever has access to it should already know the dimensions, correct? I doubt some random guest stumbled upon a secret panel in the nearby health spa, ran over to the exact metal panel it opened, then said, “Whoa! It’s confined! Better go back to my rum punch.”

Plus, wouldn’t even this random blue-hair SEE that the space beneath the door was confined once they had magically opened the door? Making the warning, again, pointless.

Unless… Doesn’t confine also mean to trap or imprison?

Uh oh. Didn’t they film “Jurassic Park” here?

More Signs: Here’s a slightly more entertaining sign:

Hawaii Dive

I know it doesn’t look like much. Just a standard “No Diving” sign next to a standard pool. A shadow-dude in a diving position with a red circle and slash.

Except for the little artistic embellishments. The accoutrements  that add a little sense of flair. Flair in the “Office Space” sense.

I love Dude’s head crashing into the bottom of the pool. Sure, it’s always implied that that’s why you don’t dive, but rarely is it drawn in such detail. You don’t see a picture of a syphilitic penis on a pack of penicillin, after all. But here, you see Dude clearly in a lot of pain, what with the lightning bolts at his neck and the, I don’t know, is that an explosion or a blood splotch where his head is hitting the cement?

Not to criticize a guy who’s clearly in a lot of pain, but the form on his dive was pretty weak. What the hell are your arms doing, Dude? Was that really a dive or were you trying a new, upside-down doggie paddle? Not blaming the victim here, but had you dove like a normal human being, you’d probably only be suffering from a couple of broken wrists, instead of the bad case of electricity neck and mild scalping you’ve got going on.

The other thing I liked about this graphic was that this was one of the few versions that was outside the pool. Most were inside the pool, right next to the depth marker, which seems a bit too late. A wonderful, upside-down vision of what you will look like a split second from now as you whizz past into the four-foot depths.

Coconut: I’m a big coconut fan. Wife is not. She was hoping to get it out of my system while in Hawaii. She failed.

Stateside, it’s not always easy to get coconut-flavored concoctions, although it’s becoming easier, especially in Summer. But in Hawaii, it is everywhere and in everything.

Grocery store, first day, wife says” “Look, honey, coconut cookies.” Got ’em. And are those coconut chips? Okay, if I must.

Second day, Costco. Coconut Clusters. Mother-in-law says she usually goes through a bag of those by herself if she’s in Hawaii for a week. Well then, I guess it’s two bags this week. (Editor’s note: We only made it through one bag, which means the other one’s going home with Daddy!)

Day Three Breakfast: Pancakes with coconut syrup. And to think I was about to go for the kalua poak benedict. Good thing wife pointed me in the other direction, because that coconut syrup was divine. When I wake up in a cold sweat two weeks from now, trying desperately to hang on to memories of once not being stuck in a classroom with hormonal teenagers every day, that syrup will be what is coming out of my pores.

Day Four. Coconut brittle with macadamia nuts.

Final Day: Coconut Mai Tai.

And have you heard of this libation called a pina colada? If only they had coconut-covered macadamia nuts, I’d be in- whoa-hoa, what’s that I see at the airport?

The only coconut-flavored product I didn’t partake in was coconut. Because those are a pain in the ass to husk.

So sorry, Wifey. While my coconut obsession was temporarily abated, it was not cured.

Coffee: Last day in Hawaii, let’s check the culinary checklist. Macadamia Nuts: check. Coconut: check. Coffee: Oops, not yet.

So while in-laws were getting their last round of golf in, nuclear family drove up into the hills to check out a plantation. Plantation? That seems racist. Can’t call it a vineyard, but farm seems so… yokelly. Whatever. Two of the plantations seemed to get the best reviews. One required reservations and weren’t open until 10:00. The other did not and was open at 9:30. Considering in-laws’ tee time was at 7:15, we opted for the earliest/least planning required.

Not sure how the 10:00 AM one could’ve been any better. This place was awesome. Thirty-two hundred feet elevation in the “cloud forest,” which totally sounds like a Star Wars location, complete with a nature trail attached to get the little one’s wiggles out after she had to sit through the “boring coffee talk.” Of course, during the walk, she had to listen to me sing “Nature Trail to Hell (in 3D),” and might have preferred boring coffee talk by the end.

Everyone we met there was nice. When we first got there, they said the first tour would start at 10:00 and ushered us into the gift shop for some free samples “in the meantime.” Okay, don’t mind if I do. At one point, a lady from the shipping department came and refilled her travel mug from one of the carafes.

“At least you never have to worry about running out of coffee around here,” I told her.

“We never run out, but it seems like I have to brew the next batch a lot,” she responded.

No pour-overs in the break room, here.

Did I mention they had four iced teas for tasting, as well?

The tour itself was very informative. I’ve been doing winery tours since I was 21, and have done beer tours at everything from brew-your-own to all of the big three. But this was my first coffee plant. They showed us ripe, unripe, and overripe cherries (the coffee beans are inside cherries). The tour guide squeezed a ripe cherry to get the bean out, put it in water, showed us the next step called “removing the silver lining.”

We went inside the plant, which was scarcely larger than a garage, with machines that could do all of the processes he just showed us in a more continuous process. Then another machine could sort by size, and they had a newfangled computer doohickey that could even sort the beans by color(there’s a sweet spot in the color range).

Then he asked if we wanted to see the roaster room. Of course we did. He said no one’s ever said no. Even people that don’t like coffee still like the smell of it, right? They had three roasters that they called papa bear, mama bear, and baby bear. The last one was mainly for a couple pounds at a time. They sold a different tour experience where, with guidance, you could pick your own cherries, sort your own beans, and roast your own coffee to take home. Sounded great till I saw it was over two hundred bucks. Nah, I’ll take the free tour, thanks. I’ll buy the good shit you’ve got in the gift shop. The last thing I want to do is pay five times as much for whatever crappy swill I would make.

All in all, I’m glad we fit this into our final day.

And now I can go out-snooty all the hipsters I see at Philz and Blue Bottle.

Hawaiian Language: I owe French an apology.

Sort of. For the apostrophes. Hawaiian has way more apostrophes than French. But French, you’re still on notice for having a whole bunch on non-pronounced letters in your words.

Hors d’ouevres. I rest my case.

Hawaiian has no unpronounced letters. It’s about as phonetic of a language as you’re going to find. If the word is spelled out as ha’la’poluki’i, then it’s pronounced like it looks. I assume this is because Latin letters were added to a spoken language after the fact.

The Hawaiian language seems primitive. I don’t mean primitive as in uncultured. I mean “in the early stages of development.” Italian is a primitive language, in that it was the earliest language to evolve from Latin. Thus it has fewer letters than French or Spanish or English.

Hawaiian has, like, three letters. Okay, maybe a few more, but not many. As far as I can tell, the only consonants in Hawaiian are H, K, L, M, N, P, and W. And let’s be honest, H and W are bullshit letters. They could be replaced by all of those apostrophes.

So only five hard sounds are found anywhere in the language. It’s got to be hard to come up with deep concepts using only five hard sounds. Since they can’t come up with new combinations of sounds, they just add more of the same combinations to make longer words. Almost every word is a combination of smaller words. Aloha is a combination of “alo” (presence) and “ha” (breath of life). I assume mahalo (thank you) must combine two other words with “breath of life.”

But eventually, there have to be words that don’t include a breath of life, right? Or else every word does, making it pointless.

I’ve become a bit of an amateur linguist of late. What I mean by “amateur linguist” is that I listen to a podcast. Isn’t that the modern equivalent of junior college?

The podcast, Lexicon Valley, talks about how sounds are produced and how languages progress. “Mama” is the first word most babies produce because first they are just yelling “ahh,” then they close their lips and make an M sound. Hence: “Ahhh,maaaa,maaa.” The second place most babies find to stop the vowels is where the teeth will pop out. Hence “Dada” or “Tata” are variations of their second word/sound.

Except not in Hawaiian. Hawaiian has no equivalent of the T or D sound. The main sound they make with their tongue on the top of their mouth in N and, ironically, L. Think about how many languages have trouble with the letter L. Particularly a number of Asian languages, which one would think are the closest neighbors of a Polynesian language. And yet Hawaiian, with only five hard sounds, mastered L.

But at some point, the ability to communicate must be inhibited with this limited combination of sounds, right? If I have to wait till the end of the word to know what you’re saying, that would seem difficult. Wait, are you saying palalulu or palalula? And is there no mumbling in Hawaiian?

At the airport on the way out, I saw a Hawaiian word search magazine. At first I thought that must be really easy. There can’t be too many words. I mean, if three of the words you have to find are Hono, Lulu, and Honolulu, you only have to find it once, right?

But on second thought, holy crap, wouldn’t that be difficult? How do you start a word search? You find all the words with the obscure letters, right? Hey, these two letters have an x. Look for an x. And drizzle has two z’s next to each other. Should only be one place like that in the whole puzzle, right? (And the predictable bastards probably put them diagonal from each other, trying to be tricky, but that also means they’re toward the center.

What are you going to look for first in a Hawaiian word search? There are only ten letters, and I’m not sure if any of them appear more or less than any of the others. And yeah, look at the front cover of that bad boy:

Hawaii Word Search

You know what’s worse? No apostrophes.

Hawaii, Part III

Part III of my Hawaii trip. You can read Part I and Part II if you want. But you aren’t missing much context by starting at the midpoint.

Pools: We hung around the resort a lot more on Day Three. In-laws golfed in the morning, giving wife, baby, and me a chance to go out to breakfast. Wife and I enjoy eating out for breakfast. In-laws are mostly opposed to it. They think there isn’t much you can get out that you can’t make yourself. They’ve clearly never seen me try to poach an egg.

There are three pools at our timeshare/resort/codominium complex. I think I’ve referred to it by all three of those names thus far, and I don’t see myself settling on just one going forward. So assume I’m talking about the same place.

Because we have a three-year old, we’ve come to name the pools through an intricate nomenclature system. There’s the slide pool. It has a water slide. Did I mention that there isn’t a lot of deep context here? There’s the deep pool, because it’s the only one in the entire complex that is deeper than 4 1/2 feet. Ergo it is the one that requires child to be in floaties, cause if I can’t touch, I can’t grab her when her very-novice swimming skills fail her. Child calls the deep pool “the square pool,” because she just doesn’t have the wisdom and nuance to know “deep.”

Then there’s the warm pool, and holy crap, I’m being generous. How often, when it’s 80 degrees with 80 percent humidity, do you get OUT of the pool to cool off? It’s the pool closest to our condo, so on the first day, we tested it out for a bit before hitting the store. That day, the weather was a bit rainy and windy, so the fact that the pool was lukewarm was appreciated. The following day, the outside temperature was twenty degrees warmer and I figured the pool would be the same temperature it had been before, meaning ten degrees cooler than the outside.

Nope. Even the blue-hairs said the pool was “really warm.” My wife said it was “like a bathtub,” but that is a disservice to bathing. If bathtubs felt like that, I would have medieval body odor. This was more like a… I want to say sauna, but it’s a little more… I got it! A broth!

Maybe we’ll head back to the deep pool tomorrow. Put the wings on the toddler and throw four months of swimming lessons out the window.

Golf: It’s a resort in Hawaii, so obviously there’s a golf course. Two, in fact. But what I’m more impressed with is the golf course right in our back yard.

Not a full golf course, of course. Not even a driving range. But a putt-putt golf course. Not putt-putt as in miniature golf. There are no windmills or “Hole-in-One” tunnels. But putt-putt as in a place where you can putt. I think the locals call it a… um… green?

Actually, the locals here would probably call a putting green a ha’la’a’ua’ma’lai or something similarly unpronounceable, but more on that later.

What we have in our backyard are three legitimate putting greens.

Hawaii Golf

Kinda cool. Yesterday, two random dudes were playing a skins match against each other. They each played two balls at a time. They tied on the first hole, but the second one has a pretty wicked slope on the right-hand side. One of the guys didn’t read it properly until his second ball and three-putted his first. After that hole, they called out the score, saying how many holes and strokes he was behind.

But the score they called out didn’t match the two holes I had just witnessed, meaning it was an ongoing competition. I assumed that meant there were other holes throughout the complex. Maybe there were a total of eighteen holes spread out between all of the backyards. I walked around a few other people’s backyards, but couldn’t find anything.On the map of the complex, there is a symbol of a golfer, denoting putting greens, behind our unit. As far as I can tell, that symbol isn’t anywhere else on the map.

Seems odd to put three putting greens tucked into a few backyards, and nowhere else in the entire complex. I know they need room for three pools, plus barbecues and tennis courts and a fitness center that looks like it was last used in the Carter Administration, but I think there’s room for at least one other putting green.

Which brings me back to the competition between these two golfers. If the competition wasn’t snaking through the compound, it must be an ongoing competition wherein they play the same three holes over and over, every day. And if that’s the case, how did dude not know about the wicked slope on the right-hand side? Shit, my toddler figured that out after just watching them once.

March Madness: Quick update: as predicted, I got my ass handed to me on Day Two. No, I didn’t bet on Virginia, but I did go from 6-0 on Thursday to 1-4 on Friday. Unfortunately, the one I got right was part of a parlay, so really it was an 0-fer day.

The good news was that I adjusted my betting based on what I knew was coming. I dropped each of my parlays down to $5. No way I would have had the fortitude to do that if I was in Reno. I would’ve been chasing the dragon all day long. If I double my bet each time, I only have to hit once to break even…

All-in-all, I sent my friend to Reno with $35, and he will be returning with $72. Not bad.

Allegedly.

Lunch. What’s the opposite of that whole “Fool me once” aphorism? When I am right the first time, then wrongly assume I’ll be right in the future?

On Day One, we had a wonderful lunch at the Kona Brewing Company. Day Two was a lackluster golf course clubhouse, to go. On Day Three, after the in-laws came off the golf course, we needed to grab lunch. I figured, for the second day in a row, that we would go to the food court we had grabbed dinner at on Day Zero (the night we arrived). For the second day in a row, I was overruled. Turns out I’m the only one that really wants to try that burrito place.

Instead, we all decided to go to a place called an Ale House on the map of the complex. Kona Brewery was so good, the Ale House must be solid, right?

Yeah, not so much.

This place was a glorified bar. I mean, props to them for having a kids menu complete with crayons. But to call it a “grill and bar,” one has to put air-quotes around the first two words.

Father-in-law thinks this used to be the golf clubhouse, but as the resort expanded, they moved the first hole to a more centralized location. Of course, nobody was thrilled with the current golf clubhouse the day before. Could a long-abandoned golf clubhouse-turned-dive-bar break the mold?

Should’ve been clued in by the fact that it was noon and we were the only patrons. Second strike was a full page of the menu taken up with many wonderful-sounding pizzas, marked with the caveat “only available after 2 PM.”

I asked if this was accurate, and the server said that, yes, their pizza guy doesn’t come in until two o’clock. Sound business decision, if you ask me. And I assume this newfangled “pizza” creation is something that only one person on the whole flippin’ island can figure out how to make.

I got the buffalo chicken sandwich, which listed as having buttermilk ranch and bleu cheese dressing. I assumed, as at most wing establishments, I’d get to choose between the two. Nope. They don’t have bona fide bleu cheese dressing, so the sprinkle bleu cheese crumbles on top of a ranch dressing that quite clearly just came out of a pouch.

Wife settled for tacos. She was equally unimpressed.

But hey, at least they were offering $5 Smithwicks & Guiness for St. Patrick’s Day. Wait, is $5 a good price for Smithwicks and Guinness?

Luau: For our evening meal and entertainment, we went to the luau we had been roped into by the timeshare concierge.

The last time I was in Hawaii, I was in fourth grade and Ronald Reagan was still president. So the amount of time that has passed, and the fact that nine-year-old me might not be the most accurate recorder of events, means my recollection of what happens at a luau might not be all that accurate. I mean, can you imagine, but I didn’t even THINK about blogging my experience back in 1984!

I seem to remember we had to drive or take a shuttle way out to a remote field. People came from hotels all over the region. We did the limbo. They lined everyone up for a kissing line (yeah, “come get groped” wouldn’t fly in 2018). I remember it being a very immersive experience.

This time, it was in a courtyard at the hotel attached to the timeshare complex. Rows and rows of tables were set up for food. There was no room for a limbo. It was clear early on that we were going to be sitting and watching, not participating in, a show.

But there were free mai tais! I don’t remember those when I was nine.

The food was excellent, though. I ate way too much. I assumed there’d just be pork at the end of the salad buffet, so I filled up on salad. Big mistake. There were four different meats plus rice and mashed potatoes and I had no room on my plate. Or my stomach, but that wouldn’t become apparent for another thirty minutes. Good thing they weren’t expecting me to do the limbo or anything, cause all my fat ass could do after that meal was sit and watch the dude with the six-pack abs doing his dance.

And maybe have another free mai tai.

Am I the only one who feels like kalua pork should have a Kahlua flavor?

The show after dinner was great, though. All of the kids were invited up to the front. I tried really hard to not be a helicopter parent, and my daughter tried really hard to not be an only child. I couldn’t actually see her curly hair at the end of our table, but I watched the spot in between to make sure she wasn’t wandering off in a different direction. When they were told to go back to their parents, everyone was relieved to find she hadn’t been abducted by the knife-wielding maniac that is always lingering around helicopter parents and only childs.

The show had the standard polynesian dances and costume changes. I particularly liked when they dressed up in jeans and checkered cowboy shirts to commemorate the 1908 national rodeo championship, which was won by Hawaiians. Very odd to see people looking like Chris Penn in “Footloose” performing typical Hawaiian dance moves.

The scantily-clad ladies with grass skirts and coconut bras were impressive, too, but let me go full homo by returning my attention to six-pack dude. I mean, there were other guys, too, but a few of them had somewhat pudgy dad bods. Polynesians aren’t known for the svelte look.

Three of the guys, with Sir Six Pack taking front and center, finished the show with a fire dance. Holy shit. They started with torches lit at one end, then used their mouth to transfer the fire to the other end of the stick. I hope it was a trick, a button hidden somewhere on the torch, but there definitely seemed to be fire in their mouths when it was done. Brought to you by Zantac.

When the fire batons were lit, they started spinning them in circles, twirling them in the air, throwing them back and forth to each other. The normal stuff you’d see with a baton gymnast, except these particular batons were flaming on both ends. Sir Six Pack ended the show by lighting two batons on fire and twirling and tossing them both. At times, it looked like he was carrying a fire bicycle across his body, a fire wheel hanging from each shoulder. Then he moved the wheels to front and back. Child was sitting on my lap by this point, and I almost had to push her out of the way to get a better view for her safety.

When it was finished, even I was sweating. Although that could’ve been the eighty percent humidity.

Or the three free mai tais.