Thursday, December 27, 2001

At Snowshoe



We had a fun 3-day trip to Snowshoe. Winter came late this year, so we only got one day to ski. But we made our own fun, and it was a nice opportunity to "get away from it all." I figure it was the first vacation from work I took that didn't involve somebody's wedding, or bunking at somebody's house.

Snowshoe as a resort was not exactly ready for visitors. The person who checked us in needed help to do so, the staff told conflicting stories about the availability of night skiing, the snack bar person had to ask for help ringing people up, a waitress was unfamiliar with the menu, the ski instructor didn't know what to do with our lesson tickets, etc. Each thing was minor, but it added up to an overall impression. Also, you'd think the lack of snow would lead them to arrange more activities, but the new aquatic center did not open until the day we left, and the comedy club opened up right after Christmas.

The snow itself they didn't have much control over. (Well, except for the fact that they made it, but they couldn't start until the week of our visit due to unseasonable temperatures.) As a result, they only had one trail top to bottom. (And one at the Silver Creek area, which we should have visited, but didn't.) After a few runs on the very crowded bunny slope, we headed to the top-to-bottom trail. Unfortunately, it was icy and not all beginner (green) terrain. More unfortunately, all the idiots on the mountain were zooming down it. (Not strictly true: some guy in a Jaguars jacket backed into me while we were in the lift line on the easy slope. Later, we saw him fall over trying to walk in the snack bar door.)

Here's something I realized: most people zooming down the mountain weren't good skiers. They just didn't know how to stop.

After a 2nd discouraging run down the mountain, Christina and I decided we needed a lesson to bring our skills close to where they were last season. It was a pretty good two-hour long affair, but by the end we were exhausted. The night skiing question was moot. On my last run on the bunny slope, my goal was to exercise all my newly acquired technique, but I ended up as the recipient of a snowboard in the shin. So I skied the last half straight toward the lodge yelling, "Ow."

The two best things that Snowshoe did were Saturday night fireworks and dinner at the Junction. But the overall best thing about the trip was hanging out with friends and throwing our cares to the wind.

Tuesday, December 25, 2001

Merry Christmas from Arizona



Merry Christmas from my parents' house outside of Tucson. We had a nice day. We opened lots of presents, then we had a nice dinner with my Aunt Pam and Uncle Bill. Earl and Claudia were over for a while.

My trip out wasn't too bad. I got to the general vicinity of BWI slightly more than 2 hours before my flight was scheduled to depart. The BWI parking radio station advised me that satellite parking was closed, and I was to head to the BWI rail station for "overflow parking". The roadside signs, by contrast, pointed me towards the Gold Lot. I chose the Gold Lot. Oops. Gold Lot closed. So I turned around, parked at the rail lot and took the shuttle to the terminal.



For this trip, I forsook United, my airline of choice, for the less expensive flight on Northwest. I consoled myself by using most of my remaining Northwest frequent flier miles to upgrade the outbound portion of my trip to first class. This seemed an even better idea after I heard the horror stories of long waits at BWI -- at least I would be able to get in the first class line. I needn't have worried. There was one person in the regular check-in line, and none in the first class line.

So I had 1.5 hours to wait for my flight. As I lined up to take advantage of early first class boarding privleges, I attracted the attention of a security screener who thought I was in line for an extra search. Upon discovering that I wasn't, she selected me for a "random" search. I can't complain about being singled out; I just hope they also perform searches on people they have to walk a bit farther to get to. I know I have a right to a same-sex frisker, but she explained he had "wandered off" to another airline. Whatever. I'm not sure which gender would be more invasive, but it was a mild frisk in any case.

So I boarded the flight not with the early first class boarding, but with everybody else. As I settled into my seat, I noticed there was some unusual amount of to-ing and fro-ing with one or more of the passengers, but didn't take much notice of it as I started to nod off. After we had pulled away from the gate, the captain announced that a passenger had been removed from the plane after she had gotten "contraband" past security and assured us that all of her luggage had been removed from the plane. OK...

The rest of the trip proceeded without incident, unless you consider taking 45 minutes to get my luggage an "incident". Both the flight out of BWI and the connecting flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix landed ahead of schedule. I used the flights to finish reading Fellowship of the Ring, in preparation for seeing the movie.

Sunday, December 23, 2001

Random Task



Well, I'm back from West Virginia, and what has happened in my absence? Nothing much, except...what the? Somebody tried to blow up a transatlantic flight?



Am I the only one who thought, paraphrasing Austin Powers, "Who tries to blow up a shoe? Honestly! You fight like a woman!"

Thursday, December 20, 2001

Off to Snowshoe

Christina and I are heading off today to Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia where we'll meet up with my fellow Georgia alum Margaret and her husband Derrell. It's supposed to be the best ski resort in the Mid-Atlantic. Only...there's not a lot of snow this year. So the slopes aren't open yet. They project opening some very limited terrain on Saturday, so I guess we'll get to enjoy that. And Snowshoe is supposed to be a lot of fun off the slopes, too, so...we'll see.

I did get to do some skiing last Thursday at Afton Alps, which is supposed to be one of the better ski areas in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. They were also just getting into gear for the season, so it involved skiing over some barely covered grass at times, and through the snow-making equipment. Fortunately, it was a cheap experience. $15 got me a lift ticket, and another $15 procured rental equipment, with a free lesson thrown in. In keeping with their theme, the lesson was given by a 15-year-old.

No, I'm exaggerating. He wasn't that old. Still, I figured he could ski a lot better than me, and I tried to behave as I would have wanted someone to if I had taught them math at that age. He was a better teacher than I would have been, but then again I probably knew more about math at that age than he did about skiing, so let's call it a draw. His advice helped me get back into the swing of things for the season, and get the most out of the limited terrain -- let's face it, even with all the slopes open, the Twin Cities don't provide an excess of vertical distance to ski.

So as we head off, I ponder this story.


Federal authorities investigating anthrax attacks that have killed five people are examining the activities of a senior research scientist who was twice fired from a company that produces the deadly bacterium, ABC News reported on Wednesday.


Citing federal authorities, the network said the scientist, once employed at the Battelle Company, a secret anthrax-producing facility in Columbus, Ohio, made a threat to use anthrax in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.


Sounds promising, no? But somewhere out there Richard Jewell is saying, "Not so fast..."

Friday, December 07, 2001

Notes on the News



There are a few news stories that have caught my eye in recent days that I thought I'd say something about.

Americans Enjoying Balmy Weather



No I'm not. This AP article talks about this week's unseasonably warm temperatures. I'd just like to go on record as saying that what I dislike about winter isn't the cold temperatures (as long as my heat is working). It's the short days. The warm weather does nothing about that. I had hoped to offset the depressing sight of coming out of work to a darkened parking lot by the excitement of being able to go skiing. Not yet, at least.

September 11th Fund helps AIDS, arts groups



"A loan of $33,000 went to the Institute for the Development of Earth Awareness, a $25,000 loan to a modern dance group, Jennifer Muller, and a $6,000 grant for the arts group 3 Legged Dog."

"Another criticism of the fund is that it appears to be in no rush to give away the $337 million it has raised. To date it has given away $51 million, or 15 percent of what it raised.
The group said that it has no timetable for giving away the rest and that it will continue to evaluate requests and disburse the money based on what it sees as the needs of victims and their communities."
---CNN story


The "and their communities" part is a pretty big loophole, isn't it? Some of the victims were from my town; should we ask for a new playground set at the elementary school? I'm not saying that the money isn't going to worthy causes. Most, if not all, undoubtedly is. But when people gave money to this fund, I don't think that's where they expected it to go. To me, it's sort of sad, but you have to watch what charities, even the well-intentioned ones, do with your donations. Otherwise you may get a bad taste in your mouth at the end.

I got a little bit worried when they were collecting money and never gave an estimate of how much money they'd need. If there's "extra" money, I'd rather decide myself how to fund it. I thought about sending my tax "rebate" to Sept. 11th funds, but ended up splitting it between Habitat for Humanity and the DC Area Food Bank instead. I figure with the economic disruptions to the local tourist industry, they can use it.

Leaders of Divided Cyprus Move Toward a Settlement





That's cool. It sounds like the European Union is pushing the Greek and Turkish sides towards a settlement.
When I was there in '94, I bought a can of Coke, I decided I'd open up and drink when Cyprus was reunited. That's going to be one old Coke. Also, while my parents and I enjoyed seeing most of the south (Greek) part of the island, I decided there wasn't enough to see to merit a return trip...unless the north was opened. (You can take a separate trip there, but since nobody but Turkey recognizes the north as a separate country, that's a dodgy enterprise.)

There are a lot of obstacles to reunification. I'm not popping the tab on the Coke or booking flights just yet. But I'm glad to see they're making progress.

Ashcroft Defends Anti-Terrorism Steps





Hoo boy. What to say about Ashcroft's testimonty yesterday? When I first heard it, I felt it was outrageous enough to be included here for criticism. Fortunately, other people have already done so. I'll just quote them and add, "What a jerk."


"As someone who was actually prepared to listen to Attorney General John Ashcroft's defense of military tribunals and other security measures, I have to say that I was completely disgusted by his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday....the very worst of it was the way that the attorney general cast defenders of civil liberties as witting or unwitting traitors."
---Jacob Weisberg, Slate


Have some of Mr. Ashcroft's critics exaggerated the danger to liberty? Have they -- have we? -- been wrong in some judgments? You'd have to be awfully arrogant, or foolish, or both, to deny the possibility. But if American political history stands for one solitary point it is that democratic debate is good and makes the country stronger...Mr. Ashcroft may not like the criticism. But his job is to defend dissent, not to use the moral authority of his office to discourage people from participating in one of the most fundamental obligations of citizenship.
---The Washington Post

Thursday, December 06, 2001

Theft



I wish I had something more pleasant to post, but the big news is that Christina's apartment got broken into yesterday. Sigh. What a world we live in.

Monday, December 03, 2001

Sanctimonious Frauds



I know disliking and demonizing the other team is part and parcel of any good rivalry, and I certainly still smart from a Michigan loss or two to Notre Dame. But the puffery Notre Dame boosters engage in is particularly galling and makes them more insufferable than other bastions of evil.


So I allowed myself a little schadenfreude to hear about the firing of Bob Davie, their football coach, a few days after I heard him say,

``It's not true. I believe in Notre Dame and its integrity and honesty. It might happen somewhere else, but not here. It's the first time I've been confronted with it. That story is not true.''


Let me emphasize this. Notre Dame has no more "integrity and honesty" than any other college football program. The main thing that makes it have less (since Lou Holtz left, anyway) is the pretension that it has more.

Think Notre Dame has trouble because academics matter so much there? Here is how much it factored in the decision to fire Bob Davie:

The players posted the two highest semester grade-point averages the past two semesters of any other team since the school started keeping track in 1990, and the team was honored by the American Football Coaches Association for having a 100 percent graduation rate last year.


As the Chicago Tribune's Rick Morrissey puts it:

Left to its own devices, the Irish Nation would ask for 4.0 grade-point averages and 4.3 speed, though not in that order, and on second thought, never mind the GPAs.

CR-V pictures





I posted some pictures of me with the CR-V that Christina took on Saturday for those of you who would like to see more detail than in the one above.

Friday, November 30, 2001

I Heard the News Today, Oh Boy



I have a certain amount of difficulty waking up in the morning. One of the ways I try to trick myself into getting up is by having the alarm on the TV go off. The idea is that I'll get absorbed in whatever news story is being reported and wake up while watching it. In recent months, that hasn't always worked. "Reports of another anthrax infection" is the sort of news story that makes me want to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.

This morning I woke to a reporter on Headline News saying something about people going to going to somebody's star on the Walk of Fame. Uh, oh, I thought, a celebrity has died. Then I heard the anchor say something about "Harrison" and I had a brief, but intense worry about Harrison Ford. Of course, I soon learned that former Beatle George Harrison had died. How sad. I was too young to understand the impact that John Lennon's death had on people (but enough of a news-watcher to wonder why it was pre-empting all other coverage), but I see the sadness here. I thought I remembered that he had denied having a relapse of cancer last summer, and I thought, "Well, guess that wasn't true." Of course, it was nobody else's business, so I feel he was entitled to say whatever he wanted, but then I looked it up and I was wrong.


"In July 2001, he released a statement asking fans not to worry about reports that he was still battling cancer."


Looks like I misinterpreted that. Now it makes sense; he just didn't want people to worry about him. And I find that very touching.

Thursday, November 29, 2001

Very Interesting...




``It seems the attacker ... wanted to force through an increase in the budget for U.S. research on biological weapons.''


Here's an interesting article about who might be behind the anthrax attacks. I was floating a similar theory about a month or so ago. I mentioned it to Christina, and she sorta remembers it, but I unfortunately don't have any more corroboration.

New Car



Woo-hoo! I bought a new car. Details to follow.



(Mine's silver.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

Thanksgiving





I was going to post a summary of our Thanksgiving in North Carolina, but thankfully Christina did so today and saved me the trouble.

Sunday, November 25, 2001

The World Has Changed



So I wake up this morning to the headline Japanese war effort sets sail. I know they're our allies. They surrendered to us 27 years before I was born. Maybe there are too many World War Two movies out there. But a little piece of me went, "Uh oh," before realizing this was a good thing. I think.



Anyway, I've been wondering a lot lately what headlines I'm going to wake up to. Part of me scans the news every morning for "Bin Laden's Body Found in Cave Rubble" or "Bastard Who Was Mailing Anthrax Found and Strung up By Thumbs." I mean, those have to be the top two, right? But I wonder. Anticipation is a tricky thing. The news lately turns out to be so different that what we expect. Sometimes for the worse..."94-year-old woman dies of anthrax". Sometimes for the better..."Taliban run screaming like little girls." So it's not that I'm pessimistic. I think there will be a day with a great headline. I just have to wonder if it'll be any less surprising than finding out that the Japanese navy is setting sail for a war zone again...

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire





So baseball is talking about getting rid of my beloved Twins. This is apalling on so many levels.



  • First is the dismantling of the Twins. Sure, take the team of my childhood and rip them up without so much as a further thought. It's like the Mayflowers in the middle of the night moving the Colts out of Baltimore or the Browns going the other way. (Though that loss was just temporary.) And for what? Because the owner is tired of running the team and wants the cash to retire? The Twins are a decent team, and they've shown the ability to draw fans when the franchise doesn't put a joke of a team on the field.

  • "There exists no prospective market . . . [for an] economically viable franchise for next season." Ahem. Looking around me, I see one. The nation's capital (or Northern Virginia, if they must) can easily support a team. As I heard someone point out, the idea that it would detract from Baltimore is a red herring. Hire an accountant. Figure out the value of the Orioles before and after. Pay Peter Angelos the difference, plus a bonus if he'll just shut up. It'll be a lot less that the $500 million they're talking about giving to the Twins and Expos to go away.

  • The offer to expand other teams' rosters to make up for the jobs lost is a joke. It makes sense for a couple of hours (at least to me), then falls apart. If you play a numbers game, the total number of jobs goes up. But what ends up happening? You eliminate 8 starting non-pitcher jobs (9 if you have a designated hitter), and 4 or so pitchers who start on a regular basis. Even on a "small market" team like the Twins, that's a lot of million-dollar jobs. And you create 2 jobs per team at the end of the bench, where the guys are lucky to be earning $200K/year. Now, I don't have a lot of sympathy for the athletes, but it's appalling that the owners would present this as a "fair deal."



I could go on, but the point is that sports is supposed to be fun. If they get rid of the Twins, baseball will be about as much fun as watching Scrooge McDuck count his money. If so, good bye and good riddance from this Twins fan. I'd rather watch arena football.

Sunday, November 04, 2001

Hail to the Redskins





I went to the Redskins game today and watched them beat the Seahawks 27-14. It was a lot of fun, especially since the Redskins dominated the game. George's uncle had an extra ticket, so I went with George, his uncle and some guys they know. George's uncle has had season tickets for 45 years. He said the first tickets he bought were $19.90 for a season's worth (6) tickets. He bought them with his paper money while he was in high school. People like him are why I don't hold out much hope of moving off the season ticket waiting list any time soon.

I took the digital camera Christina won in a radio station contest recently. I didn't get many opportunities for pictures, and not all of them turned out, but the above is from where we parked, and below is from our seats.

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Trick or Treat

Well, the trick-or-treaters have come and gone for the evening. It could be my imagination, but I think there were fewer of them this year. Maybe everybody's just scared. As a result, I have much candy left over.

This year's crop of trick-or-treaters seemed nice enough. I'm generally too busy doling out the candy to judge the merits of the costumes, but I'm certain able to judge the kids' etiquette.

Here, for public edification is my list of trick-or-treating no-nos.
DON'T

  • Just shove your treat bag at me wordlessly. It's called "trick-or-treating" for a reason. Say "trick-or-treat", accept the candy, say "thank you" and move on. I'm not a cafeteria employee or something. (And you should say "thank you" to them, too.)
    I did have a couple of kids tonight who not only didn't say anything, but they didn't even present their trick or treat bag. Poor kids; I think they were just shy.



  • Try to grab the treats out of my bowl. I'm not naive enough to think that letting kids pick candy out themselves will result in anything but one kid taking half the bowl. So don't come up and try to grab it when I don't offer your choice. I had one kid who, dissatisfied with the Junior Mints I had given him along with his lollipop, put them back, started to grab for some Nerds while saying, "Can I trade..." I cut him off with "no", but let him keep the lollipop. Should have kept the Junior Mints, kid, you could have traded it for something. (Upon hearing this story, Christina chastised me for being "mean" to the kid. I countered I was just doling out valuable life lessons.) By the way, making candy requests is OK. ("Ooh, can I have a lollipop?")

  • Collect for UNICEF. It's trick-or-treat, not trick-or-money. Didn't get any of those, but I'm just warning you.

  • Go door-to-door without a costume. Apparently this is a cool thing to do for the junior high school set. Ooh, I can get candy without having to degrade myself by dressing up. Well, guess what kids, dressing up is fun, and you're missing out by going as "kid in a sweatshirt."



That's about all I have to complain about for now. Have fun, and don't get sick on all that candy.

Sunday, October 07, 2001

Hail to the Victors





Yep, I'm still here, just haven't felt a lot like posting. Partially, not travelling around has left me feeling like I have a lot of time to finish my tale of my trip to Britain. I will finish that story eventually, but since I took a trip of a different sort yesterday, I thought I'd talk about that now.

I got the opportunity to buy some tickets to the Michigan-Penn State game from the UM club of Washington, DC. So I invited Christina, arranged to have Teddy walked in the evening, and headed out to State College, PA.

State College is, according to Yahoo! Maps, about 4 hours away from Christina's in Laurel. (For those of you who are interested in such stuff we took I-95 to I-695 to I-83 to US-322.) In reality, the trip was no more than three-and-a-half hours, which got us there around 2. The trip was mostly uneventful, but for a while I was worried because I hadn't double-checked that the game really started at 3:30, and not earlier. Fortunately, Christina was able to check the Washington Post sports section and confirm what my single-checking had indicated. The leaves were starting to change color on the drive. That was pretty. And for those of you who are interested in this stuff, Pennsylvania has now re-numbered its road exits to correspond to mile markers. Thank goodness! Georgia switched a few years back, and it was about time.

We had plenty of time to walk almost all the way around the stadium looking for our section, wait patiently to get in, find our seats, and get some mediocre hot dogs. Our concession bill came to a reasonable $10.50. Not wanting a lot of bills in change, I gave the guy $21. This mental arithmetic stumped him. Sigh.

The game itself was a lot of fun. We waited to sing the national anthem, because we were told ABC was now airing it live. After that, and some firing up from the Michigan travel band, which was seated nearby, the kickoff began. Michigan performed well on offense, at least until it was time to score touchdowns. They failed to convert on a fourth down early in the game, and then settled for a couple of field goals to lead 6-0 late in the half.



But with the clock running low, Michigan managed to put together an 80-yard-drive to take a 13-0 lead going into halftime. The halftime show appeared to be some sort of salute to "My Fair Lady", so I headed for the restrooms. Let me tell you, I have not seen a worse laid-out stadium in my lifetime. One direction there was a crush of people leading the stands, the other direction was practically empty. I took the other direction and looped around. I thought I was home free when I saw the restrooms, but that was the women's restroom. The men's was on the other side of a snack bar. Who puts the snack bar in the middle of the restroom area? Men headed for the restroom pushed by the snack lines to reach the bathroom. By the time I was making it back to my seats 20 minutes later, Michigan was finishing off another touchdown drive that was to provide the last points of the game.

The rest of the game was still fun. The fans tried to interfere with each other's cheers. Michigan fans would cheer "Go Blue" and the PSU fans would add "And White!" (Though there soon stopped being enough PSU fans around to be heard.) Penn State fans would start the "We Are...Penn State" cheer with "We Are..." and Michigan fans would supply "0-3". Late in the game, I yelled "0-4" and got a bunch of people converted over to that. Also, when they announced the scores of other games, I yelled "What about Slippery Rock?" (At UM games, it was a tradition to announce the Slippery Rock score, and cheer SRU. I, of course, didn't know any of the other Michigan fans, but it was nice to share an "in joke" with them.)

The game was soon over, and Penn State had been shut out at home for the first time since 1965. I felt sorry for them, and for Joe Paterno, their coach. He entered this season needing only one win to tie Bear Bryant as college football's winningest coach, and he may not get it. Still, I was glad to see a Wolverine win, especially after so many Redskin losses this year.

The many fans leaving early did nothing to prevent a much more time-consuming exit. State College is in the middle of nowhere in the mountains, which means that the 2 and 4 lane roads leaving it get overwhelmed by the 107,879 fans in attendance. (Though that number has to be ticket sales -- there were a lot of empty seats.) And of course, the State of Pennsylvania had decided to do construction. I guess I can't make fun of it too much -- when we hit Baltimore, two lanes of I-95 south had been closed down just as fans were leaving Camden Yards and Cal Ripken's last game. The trip back ended up taking about 3 more hours than the trip up.

All in all the day was a lot of fun, though if I do it again, I may just stay overnight.

Monday, September 17, 2001

My Trip Began With Flight 2



Darn those time changes. Despite getting to sleep pretty late last night, my body decided to get me up wide awake at 6 this morning.

Anyway, "Bill", co-worker A and I left on a shuttle from work on Friday the 7th. Because of potential traffic delays, we were put on a shuttle at 3 for a 7:45 flight. We got to Dulles a little after 4. That gave us mucho time to kill. Fortunately, Bill is a Red Carpet Club member, and he can bring two guests.

The Red Carpet Club is an oasis United provides in the airport to its customers who pay for the privilege. It has comfy chairs, free sodas and munchies, free local phone calls, and perhaps most importantly, a quiet air that harkens back to a more refined era of air travel. So we sat there for a couple of hours. A and I read; Bill used his laptop. Then I ran out to McDonalds to get hopefully-mad-cow-free beef for the last time in a while.

My verdict on the Red Carpet Club -- it's nice. But I have a pretty good ability to find a secluded spot in the airport and tune everything else out. Once, when I was a kid, I was waiting for a bus at a playground with a whole busload of other kids. I was sitting on a swing or something reading a book. When I looked up, I noticed the bus had arrived and all the other kids had gotten on and were now yelling at me to hurry up. Which is to say with my nose in a book, which it usually is while waiting at an airport, I can't tell the difference between the Red Carpet Lounge and an unused gate I've wandered off to. Besides, next year with my Premier Executive (50,000 mile) status, I'll be able to use the Red Carpet Lounge when traveling internationally. But I can definitely see the attraction of the place.

So then it was time to board. We were on United Flight 2, which is United's round-the-world flight. It's the counter-clockwise version -- from Santa's perspective, at least. It goes Dulles to London to Delhi to Singapore to Hong Kong to Los Angeles and back to Dulles again. We were only on it for one hop, but there were a number of Indians on it for 2. (I sneaked a peek at their boarding passes.) Economy Plus and its 6 inches of extra leg room did not exist on this flight, and foolishly I put my carry-on luggage under the seat in front of me and reduced my leg room a bit more. Last time for that. I've learned my lesson, and I think there's going to be a lot more room in the overhead bins in coming years.

And so it was across the Atlantic for the most light-hearted flight I'll be taking for some time.

Sunday, September 16, 2001

Buying a Shirt in London



Well, I'm back. More on that later.

So after I posted the last entry, I went off in search of a new shirt. We had gone down Earl's Court to get mediocre tapas Thursday night, so I figured the commercial district there must also have a clothing store, right? I think in America I would have been OK -- in America, everybody sells t-shirts. "Try Our Mediocre Tapas" or some such. And at the very least, there would be an intermingling of stores. But no, in London, they specialize. I walked block after block, with the only thing even close being a women's clothing store. I stopped into a bookstore. I bet in the US, you could get t-shirts at Borders. But at the Waterstone's, no such luck.

Finally, I came to a store that looked like it might sell shirts. As I ducked inside, I gradually realized that it was a gay sex shop. I mean, the sign on the wall that said "sex shop" was one clue. Then the pictures of buff men was the other. And the shirts were just way too expensive. Especially for a style I was not going to wear more than once.

Finally, in desperation, I ducked into a Mailboxes, Etc. and asked where I could buy shirts. The guy suggested High Street Kensington, but said it was about a 20 minute walk, and it was 5:40. He wasn't sure if the stores closed at 6. Uh-oh. So I walked a block north, went to the Earl's Court Underground Station, and took it a stop to Kensington High Street. It was almost 6 when I got there (but my feet thanked me). And the tube stop led out right to a Marks & Spencer that was open 'til 8. Whew.

So I got a shirt much more my style, for a third the price. Good. Then I walked back to the hotel (should have taken the tube again), and met F for dinner. We went to a pub. It was the same pub I had fish & chips for lunch, but I thought I could avoid being repetitive by ordering the lasagna. No dice; they were out of the sauce. So I ended up ordering curry, the 4th time I had Indian food on this trip.(Hey, what am I going to eat? English food? Not unless it's breakfast.) Tip: if you order Indian food, order it from Indians, not Englishmen.

I got up early this morning for my flight. Everything was more or less normal. There were those men with guns. As with last year, I got the extra hassle treatment when checking in, only now everyone got it. And I got a quick frisk thrown in.

The flight back was reassuringly mundane, mostly. You know, cramped seating, Smelly Guy sitting next to me. We did have to circle New York for a while because, presumably, of air traffic delays. That allowed the captain excessive time to point out Manhattan to people on both sides of the plane. "It's still on fire; you can see the smoke covering the lower part of the island." I don't think it's still on fire.

When we landed, everybody clapped. Then the flight attendant said, "Welcome to America; God Bless America," and we all clapped again.

Saturday, September 15, 2001

Oops



I called United and was told I needed to go to Heathrow to get my ticket re-issued. So, after a few phone calls back home and a satisfying lunch of fish and chips, I took the long Tube ride out there. When I got there, the ticket line was suprisingly short. After the 6 individuals in front of me were helped, I stepped up and was told that my flight was, in fact, going to take off. Did I still want to be on it? Well, yes, except for the fact that all of my luggage was back at the hotel. The guy apologized, and said that he'd put me on a flight tomorrow. That was pretty cool, especially since I thought they were booked up until next Thursday. "Aisle or window?" he then asked me. Wow, guess they have more seats than I thought. So I got my window seat, and will be attempting to leave again tomorrow. This time I'm not calling first. Look here if you want to see the flight status.

On the way back to the Underground, I walked a few feet away from security forces carrying rifles. That was fairly jolting.

So now I have to buy a clean shirt for tomorrow. (I have clean everything else for one day.) I think I can handle that.

Stuck Here for a While



I called United this morning to see if I should show up for my flight, and they told me it was canceled. That's not what their web site is saying right now, but that doesn't matter as I've been re-booked. I'm sure if the flight does go out, somebody with a more pressing need to get back will get my seat. In general, I realize my cares aren't such big ones in times like these, but they're what occupy my time, so they're what I'll write about.

You never want to have a conversation with an airline agent that includes her asking the question, "Have you ever heard of this airline?" I had (Sabena). But they had cancelled tomorrow's flight from Brussels that she was trying to get me on, so that attempt failed, as did a previous one to get me out on a United flight out of Munich. She started asking about Austrian Airlines, at which point I enquired whether I could get a US carrier.

Well, not any time soon. I may have a reservation on a United/British Midlands codeshare out of Manchester Monday. And I have a back-up on a United flight out of London on Thursday. My current plan is that if I can confirm (as well as possible) my flight out of Manchester, I'll take the train up there tomorrow (Sunday) and leave from there. Right now I've got a reservation on a Lufthansa/British Midlands codeshare from London to Manchester Monday at 7 AM. I really don't want to take that, since I'll have to get to Heathrow between 3-4 AM. And the transfer will just make the whole process worse.

So I'm hanging out and seeing what is going on.

Friday, September 14, 2001

Last Night In England?



Well, I headed to St. Paul's Cathedral. Stood with the crowd outside and listened to the broadcast of the service. I was moved when they played the Star-Spangled Banner. I sang along; nobody else within earshot seemed to know the words. Then again, they all knew the words to the Lord's Prayer. One guy behind me knew most of the words to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and he had a pretty good singing voice. I sang along with "America the Beautiful", but everybody else seemed to be singing different words.

Then I took off for the Tower of London. I had planned on visiting that all along, and so I thought I'd finally take it in. It was really neat for a history buff, even if the treatment was a bit Disnified. The "Beefeater" tour really helped me get oriented in the place, but he acted a little bit too much like a cartoon character for my taste. Ah, well. Then I got to go through the White Tower, which was the original fortress started by William the Conquerer. It was a little awesome walking in what had been the home to English monarchs for a few hundred years. And it was interesting seeing how the building had been used over the years. One of those uses was as an armory, so they had a lot of historical weapons on display.

Then I went off to see the Crown Jewels. It seemed kinda silly, but obligatory. Nevertheless, I was impressed. I actually found myself letting out an involuntary whistle. I didn't know people really did that. After that, I saw the Medieval Palace, the Bloody Tower, and the Wall Walk. All worthwhile, although again, the reconstructions of some of them seemed a bit hokey.

But I'm glad I got some garden-variety tourism in with all that's going on. I tried to call United to make sure I was still on my flight tomorrow, but I couldn't get through. I can't tell if that was because they were busy or because I couldn't figure out the phones. Keep your fingers crossed.

Other's People's Thoughts



Well, Friday morning and I'm back at the cybercafe. I have hundreds of messages to sort through. That's what I get for signing up for all those "news alert" services. I think I've gone through them and gotten all of the e-mail from people not knowing where I was and concerned about me. In a little bit, I'm going to try to go to St. Paul's Cathedral. There's a memorial service there at noon. I know I won't be allowed in -- the Queen and such are going to attend. But it seems like some sort of show of support by being outside.

Christina has posted some thoughts about the changed world we now live in. Jeanene has some thoughts from Tuesday.

Thursday, September 13, 2001

It's Raining In London



I'm back from dinner. Medicore tapas recommended by the Lonely Planet London guidebook. The first three dishes we ordered -- chicken, chorizo & mussels -- all came in more or less the same red sauce. For seconds, we had a hard time finding something that didn't involve red sauce. That was the squid rings & Spanish omelet. I'm not a huge fan of squid, but I prefer it served fried than our other alternative. I don't know what was "Spanish" about the omlette. It was certainly not as good as the English breakfast I turned down this morning.

In my early 20s, I could stay up all night w/ no consequence beyond sleepiness the next day. Now, as I near the end of my 20s, I find myself unable to cut into my 8 hours of sleep much w/o getting headaches and upset stomachs. Blech. Eventually I was fine, though. Also, I'm running out of my allergy nasal spray; should have checked that more closely before coming over here. Ah, well, with decongestant and antihistamine, I'll make it.

Wish I had something more coherent to say than whining. Ah, well.

On A Lighter Note...



Christina had another article published at exawin.com. This one's about whether a strategy book can help your gambling.

In London



Hi. I'm in London, which is a weird time to be at a time like this. I had been out in a more rural portion of England, and I have to admit I was a bit jolted when we were driving in and I saw skyscrapers for the first time. They've always made me a bit nervous, but they never seemed as malign as now.

Anyway, some colleagues and I checked into a fairly nice hotel in South Kensington. I guess work'll be picking up the tab; I don't know. I don't much care, but I have to have something to worry about that I can do something about. In the short term. For a while I was obsessing over the stupid hotel reservation I had at a place in London that doesn't seem to exist. More on that later, perhaps. I'm tempted to write up the earlier portions of my trip over here, because I figure people need a good diversion right about now. Who knows?

Anyway, I'm supposed to be on a flight back on Saturday. I'm a little bit optimistic that it'll go. I mean, it sounds like they may start tomorrow, so things should be getting back to "normal" by Saturday, right? But who knows. I'm saying that a lot. If I don't get out Saturday, it'll probably be a long time. Someone who had a flight today is now scheduled to go out on Tuesday. Guess I'd be in line behind him if things get messed up.

I probably won't have much to say directly about recent events. If you know me and you're reading this, I'll probably be talking to you in person. If not, well, what do you want to know what I think?

I miss my country.

Thursday, September 06, 2001

The Las Vegas Wedding



Christina just had a short article published on Vegas weddings.

Wednesday, September 05, 2001

Vegas Pictures

I've posted some pictures from the trip to Las Vegas. Also, see the collections by Jeanene and George. (About half of the pictures in my album were e-mailed to me by Martin; I posted the ones that didn't make it to Jeanene's page.)

[As of Dec. 2004, George's link no longer works.]

Monday, September 03, 2001

Wedding Bells



Finally, it was time for Martin & Jeanene's wedding. I must admit I was more choked up by the ceremony than I expected. I could see what a special moment it was for the two of them to have all these people that they cared about together at once. And the look of pure bliss on Martin's face when Jeanene walked down the aisle was priceless.

The wedding was not strongly themed. Jeanene had on a lovely dress that she had made herself. The girls were in medieval costume, but Jeanene's son was in a tux, not armor. The minister was probably the one in the strongest get-up -- it wouldn't have entirely shocked me for him to say, "Of course I can cast the marriage spell; I am a third-level cleric." But he didn't, and the ceremony was short and sweet.

Afterwards, we all moved to the reception room. Basically, we hung out for a few hours, drank, ate and danced. Or did some approximation of dancing, as the pictures will no doubt reveal. The reception was small and intimate, and we got to spend a little time talking to the newlyweds. That was nice; at some weddings, you just sorta glimpse the couple across the room.

Afterwards, it was back to play the plastic horses. I think the happy couple was supposed to arrive at some point, but Christina and I were both exhausted. We had an early flight the next morning, so we called it a night.

The next morning we were woken up by a call from George, who had won most of his money back, and wanted to spend it on breakfast for people. Unfortunately, we had to catch our flight, so we packed and took a taxi to the airport. When we got there, they said our flight from Denver to Dulles had had a change of plane, so we couldn't get our seat assignment until we got to Denver.

I don't want to sully this with a litany of complaints, but the rest of the trip home involved a mechanical delay, not being given seat assignments until the last minute, another plane change (to an even smaller plane) at the last minute because the mechanical problem cropped up again, a rush for seats on the new plane, and the jetway getting stuck when we finally landed in Dulles 3 hours late. Not the worst flight experience I've had, but it was up there.

Anyway, Vegas was cool. The main point of the trip was, of course, the wedding. And it was neat to be a part of that special moment. Vegas itself was more fun than I've experienced in the past. Since then, Christina and I have mused about going back. Probably someday...but not until I learn how to count cards.

Saturday, September 01, 2001

Shoe Shine



Well, before I head off to London next Friday, I should really finish up the story of last month's trip to Vegas. That leaves me with Saturday to tell about.



We got up and made our first destination Walgreen's to pick up some sundries for the bride and ourselves. Unfortunately, there isn't a line of taxis outside Walgreen's, like there is with more tony Vegas locations. So we then hoofed it over to the Luxor, where we dropped off the sundries at the bell desk for Jeanene.



The Luxor is, to my opinion, the most distinctly themed of Vegas' casinos. I mean, the whole thing is a giant pyramid, for heaven's sakes. Faux-Egyptian stuff is everywhere. I think if and when I make it back to Vegas, I'd like to stay there for the whole kitschy experience. (Though the margarita glass in the shape of the Statue of Liberty from New York, New York is right up there.)

We made our way through the line at the buffet to meet up with our friends. The line was fairly long, although you could bypass it if you were a "VIP". We weren't. The food was pretty good, and for 1/2 the price of the Paris one, I probably shouldn't complain. Still, I think I could eat at that Paris one every day for the week. I couldn't say the same for the Luxor.

We counted at least three separate bride/groom pairs at the buffet. To me, it's sort of sad to have the reception to your wedding at the buffet. It's even sadder that they weren't allowed to go through the "VIP" line.



Then we walked over to Mandalay Bay, at what is currently the southerly terminus of the Strip. It's a nice casino -- I can see why Circus Circus renamed itself after this, their latest property. The sports book was as nice and large as advertised. I should have made my bet on Michigan there; they had better odds than the Excalibur. Always comparison shop, I guess. I really wanted to see Zen Sum, since we weren't going to get a chance to eat there. The guidebook said, "diners sit at a counter and pick tasty plates of dim sum from a conveyer belt." How cool is that? Apparently, not cool enough, 'cause it was closed. Its successor restaurant fortunately retained the "futuristic restroom area"; I'll have to give that a closer look on another visit. We walked through the casino to the shark exhibit, but upon finding out they wanted actual money, I decided we might as well head back to the Excalibur.

So we went back. I played the plastic horses for a bit while Christina started to get ready for the wedding. Then I started to get ready. With about an hour to go, I figured I had enough time to get my shoes shined before the wedding. So I went downstairs to the casino floor. On my way down, I realized that I had failed to pack a tie, so I wandered through the gift shops until I located a nice gold one.

Then it was off to find the shoe shine stand. After directions from some casino employees of varying helpfulness (including one who claimed they didn't have a shoe shine stand), I made my way over. The guy invited me to have a seat, and asked me if I wanted "the full treatment". These shoes have been living in the back of my closet for quite some time, so I said, "Sure." The guy was quite a showman, talking about the necessity of proper shoe care and the ethic of doing a good job. He explained that the shoes needed dyed at least once a year. So he did this and that with them, rubbed some dye on, took them off my feet, and set them on fire.

Yes, set them on fire. At about this point, John Giglio came wandering by to use the restroom. I tried waving at him, but his eyes were transfixed by the flaming footwear and he failed entirely to notice my presence. Only when exiting did he notice me. He asked me if I was going to have my shoes set on fire. I explained that I already did, and the shoe shine guy explained to John how this was much better than the "New York shine" John may have been used to.

At some point, the guy asked me what my shoe size was. After I told him, he mentioned that a customer had given him a pair of shoes of that size, but they didn't fit him. This seemed odd, but I was in a bit of a hurry, so I just played along. Later, of course, the guy tried to get me to try on the shoes. I reminded him that I was in a hurry. The weird sense I was about to be dragged into some shoe scam, along with the fact that the guy never explained how much more "the full treatment" was than a regular shine balanced against the entertainment value of the experience and what was really a great shine ended up having me leave him a good, but not great, tip. His entire manner deflated when he saw my enjoyment wasn't going to translate into an extra $10.

I tried to call Christina to let her know that the tie excursion and shoe fire was making me run late, but my cell phone wouldn't work on the casino floor. I tried calling from a hotel phone, but there was no answer. I rushed back up to get my jacket, and as I popped out of the elevator, she stuck her head out of another. She was understandably concerned that I had just gone ahead to the wedding without her. At this point, I began to realize I couldn't close the top button on my shirt. After much exertion, we ended up buying a safety pin at the sundries cart and making due. With mere moments to spare, we headed off to the Excalibur wedding chapel. Fortunately, the previous wedding had not concluded, and Martin and Jeanene's ceremony had not gotten started.

Well, that's enough for now. The exciting conclusion soon...

Monday, August 20, 2001

Playing the Ponies



After we got back to the Excalibur, I met up with George and Ben to bet on horse racing. No, not real horses. That would be silly. I'm only talking about the best game they have in Vegas -- the Derby. The Derby consists of a miniature racetrack around which plastic horses move. Since this is the Excalibur, the jockeys are all knights. (At the Luxor, they race camels. At Caesars' Palace, chariots. At the Imperial Palace, horses. The Imperial Palace is kind of boring.) The racetrack area is decorated with all sorts of painted fantasy miniatures. My friends and I discovered that we had painted some of them. (Actually, Ben called me up in the middle of the night to tell me that. But that's another story.) Anyway, when the horses reset, odds flash up for any of the 10 possible combos of 5 horses to finish 1-2 (in whatever order). You plunk your quarters in the machine and root for your horse(s) as they jostle around the track. (A strategy I found helpful was to put a quarter on each pair involving one particular horse, thus reducing the complexity of my rooting.) I mostly involved betting on long shots. Even if they didn't win, it was only a quarter a bet, which took place every minute or two. And they brought us free drinks. (Which was a reason why the simplicity in betting was a bonus.)

We played that a while, and then it was time to get ready for dinner at the Monte Carlo. Instead of a traditional rehearsal dinner, Martin and Jeanene's families were having a dinner for the people who were in town Friday night. Very cool. So we got together with others headed over there, and hopped into a taxi to the Monte Carlo. The Monte Carlo is supposed to be a "quieter and classier place" and it seemed to be, as we headed to our destination.



We met up with the happy couple and their families in the Monte Carlo Pub & Brewery. It was a pretty fun place, as microbreweries tend to be. And it was nice to see the families in place, though I had to confess to Martin's mother (a library employee) that I had lost the guidebook. Gasp. That, and much else, was soon forgotten as we ordered enormous quantities of beer. The giant cylinders of beer towered over the table, and Ben and Steve soon became engaged in a bet (this is Vegas, remember) over which one would be finished first. I was proud and am now a little embarrassed to say that the one on our end finished first.



I engaged with a conversation with John Giglio about the meaning of modern art. Poor John. He just got into Vegas, and here he was serving as the designated artist for a bunch of drunk people (hey, it wasn't just me). But he did help give me insight into some of the things I saw on my visit to the Tate Modern last year. With respect to things like Duchamp's toilet seat, he pointed out that it was part of a conversation on the nature of art. That conversation may not involve me, and that may raise the question of why it was in a public exhibition. But that didn't mean what I saw wasn't art. Secondly, although he pointed out the futility of denying something as art (what are you going to do, argue with the artist?), he said people shouldn't be afraid to criticize what they thought of as bad art. Cool. Then we toured the pool (much better than Excalibur's) before being asked to leave and enjoyed the convivial company.

After the party wound down, we took the monorail up to the Bellagio. The Bellagio is one of the swank joints on the Strip and it showed. Our first stop was the conservatory. Filled with beautiful plants, it was what Christina called "the only real thing in Las Vegas". After a brief walk there, we were off to our next stop.



Continuing my art lesson for the evening, we headed over to the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. Actually, instead of the permanent "for sale" collection that the gallery opened with, it now showcases a series of exhibits. The exhibit currently there is Steve Martin's collection of art. Yes, that Steve Martin. He's got a good bit of money, and has used it to collect some very nice "Modern and Contemporary" paintings. A drawing by Picasso, a Lichtenstein piece...these were some interesting works. One artist I was introduced to through this work was David Hockney, a Brit who transplanted to California. It was weird because after I saw this exhibit, he seemed to pop up everywhere...in Bill Bryson's Britain book I was reading, in a weblog I read... I don't know if it was because I started with the Tate Modern, but I've really gotten interested in modern art.

I did manage to set off the alarms at one point when I pointed a bit too closely (in their opinion) at one of the paintings. Maybe the best part was the audio tour. First of all, I love those audio sticks where you punch in a number and somebody tells you about the painting. Second, the "someone" in this case was Steve Martin. How cool was that?

Anyway, after touring the collection, we were too tired to make it downtown with Ben & co. for more gambling, so we headed back to the Excalibur. (I was awakened a few hours later with the news about the painted miniatures.)

Saturday, August 18, 2001

Paris, Las Vegas





One of the tricks of getting around in Las Vegas is knowing which casinos are owned by the same companies. See, there's not very efficient public transportation on the Strip. There's buses. There's a trolley system, which was hard to find and when Christina did find it, she said it took forever. But if you want modern mass transportation, you have to content yourself with going between casinos in the same "family."

Friday morning we got up finally hungry. We wanted to try one of the better buffets in town, so we decided to head to the Paris casino. The taxi line at the Excalibur looked way too long, so we crossed the street to the MGM Grand. Well, maybe that wasn't the most efficient choice. The MGM Grand is huge -- it's the biggest hotel in the world, and the casino itself is cavernous. After working our way to the back of the property, we waited for a few minutes in the baking heat for the tram to Bally's. After a short journey via the backs of the casino's, we arrived to Bally's, our destination. Sort of.

You see, instead of getting a permit to build a new casino for Paris, Bally's (well, actually the people who own the rights to the name "Bally's", but never mind because it only gets more confusing) got a permit to build Paris as an extension to Bally's. So wandering through the Bally's casino and asking three or four people for directions got us pointed in the direction of the Paris hall o' shops (with the appropriate French motif and a very similar fake sky to the Venetian). After a brief wait in line, and forking over $20/person, we were ready for the best food we'd have in Las Vegas.

Wow. Here's my recommendation. If you're ever in Vegas, go to the Paris buffet. But don't eat for 24 hours ahead of the time. Everything was delicious, but it was hard for me to stuff it all in my face. Especially by the time we got to dessert. I guess Paris suffers in some reviews compared to other buffets because of the lack of variety of the food (most of it is French-themed), but oh is it good. I was a little bit turned off by the sight of people lining up to pile 20 or so shrimps on their plate -- especially because they missed the scrumptious salmon right next to it. I can't praise this food enough.

After lunch, we headed back to Bally's, where we played the slots and video poker machines briefly. Christina inexplicably turned down an offer of a free drink, and then we were on our way back to Excalibur via the MGM Grand.

Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Bachelor Party



After lunch, we went over to Treasure Island to pick up Christina's Cirque du Soleil ticket. She was going to see "Mystere" that evening while I went out with the guys for Martin's bachelor party.

After that, we wandered over to the Venetian. The Venetian is really wild. First of all, it's one of the Strip's swankiest addresses. Second, the Venice theme is really done over the top. They have a canal. Indoors. On the second floor. We wandered around the canal and the impossibly expensive shops for a while, took a few pictures, and then headed back to the Excalibur.

Next on our agenda was the Excalibur's pool. It was, as pools go, not great. As things that are not pools go, it was pretty cool, since after all, it was a pool. But it never reached four feet in depth, and it was swarming with screaming kids. The slide was kind of cool, but the line was a bit long (and I was the oldest guy there w/o a kid in tow.)

By then, it seemed time to meet up with the guys for the bachelor party. I called Ben and arranged to meet them at the San Remo buffet. I still wasn't hungry after lunch. By the time I got there, they had finished their meal, and Martin was back at the craps table. Apparently I just missed him loudly proclaiming the beauty of ham. Then we met up, and Martin and Steve, not suprisingly, decided they were worn out and needed naps. George was going to play the nickel slots, and since I wanted to join him, I went over to join the San Remo slots club.

I guess it's a good idea to join the slots club, because if you play enough, you get free stuff. Also, if you play a table game, they use the card to record your complimentary stuff. The form asked a lot of nosy questions, like my phone number, but fortunately they didn't object when I left that blank. Unfortunately, when I got back, George had lost his $2 at the slots, so it was time to head to the Excalibur. (I never did make it back to the San Remo.)

There, I joined their club (and got Christina a card for good measure) before we headed to the tables. First up, George, Ben and I took a look at the craps table. I used my knowledge of probability to outline why certain bets that they were told were bad were, in fact, bad bets. Ben described craps as a fast paced game that could have you losing or winning money very quickly. Since I wasn't really interested in risking a whole lot of money, we headed to the blackjack tables instead.

I started with $100 and mostly took my cues from Ben as to when to hit or stand. Eventually I began to pick up on general rules, though I guess I really should study the strategy more carefully if I plan to play much in the future. The guy (pit boss?) came over and told us he couldn't comp us unless we bet $10/hand rather than the minimum $5/hand. I wasn't really interested in comps, but Ben and George upped to $10. The guy ended up mixing up my card with George's, which was pretty cool, except for the fact that I don't think he ended up trying to give George anything. Oh, well. Anyway, after a while I was up $80, and it was time to gather Martin, Steve and Paul for the serious part of the bachelor party festivities.

I guess I'm supposed to adhere to some sort of "code of silence" about the activities of the bachelor party. Just as well; I don't have much interesting to say. The evening ended for me when Paul and I, after playing pool for a while, couldn't find anybody else to meet back up with, and headed back to the hotel.

Thursday, August 09, 2001

Lunch at the Palm





The next morning we got up and took a cab to the Imperial Palace. The Imperial Palace houses the Auto Collection, which Christina really wanted to see. The guidebook said that admission was $7, or free with a coupon from the casino. Seeing this, I think, "Why would the casino give us a coupon? Let's pay the $7." Christina, on the other hand, thinks, "Where can we get the free coupons?" So she -- get this -- asks people. And gets the free coupons. Huh. Well, live and learn.



So we spent an hour or so looking at some really cool cars. My favorite, I think, was the popemobile. Certain cars were less impressive -- ooh, it's a Chevy Impala. Ooh, this car was owned by Tom Jones. Or Elvis. OK, that is pretty cool. Elvis' Caddy. Best of all, the cars were all for sale (this is Vegas, after all), so we could dream about hitting it big and driving home in one cool ride. Sadly, that didn't happen, so I don't have to worry about where to park the popemobile. (In case you're wondering what the pope is doing these days w/o the popemobile, this was a specially modified Land Rover solely used for his visit to England.)

I'm going to get all sorts of hits from people searching for "popemobile" now, aren't I?



After that, it was across the street to Caesars Palace for lunch. We had a lot of trouble getting into Caesars Palace. No, not the dress code (this is Las Vegas). Rather, all the construction that they have going on. After a while, we made our way in and through the casino (the number one rule of Vegas is that you have to go through the casino to get anywhere) to the Forum, their set of shops. I'm not sure who comes to Las Vegas to go shopping -- people with too much money, I guess. Which describes Las Vegas' favorite visitors in general.



We headed to The Palm. Now, I've eaten better food -- I ate better food elsewhere on this trip -- but I'm not sure I've eaten in a restaurant with better service. The staff was very attentive, but they made us feel very welcome. Usually, I would say "nice restaurant" + "good service" = "me feeling uncomfortable." But these guys were great, and served the most ridiculously large quantities of food imaginable. I couldn't even finish my giant hamburger, and I wasn't hungry for the next 20-odd hours. An offhand remark by Christina about her birthday led to the staff bringing out a slice of cheesecake with a candle on it and singing "Happy Birthday". All in all, a great time, and perhaps the highlight of the day for me.

Wednesday, August 08, 2001

Tuesday, August 07, 2001

New York, New York

Well, I'm back and starting to recover after a few fun-filled days in Las Vegas for Martin and Jeanene's wedding. I actually cut myself off from e-mail and the Web for 4 days, so I'll try to post recaps in the upcoming days.

The flight out on Wednesday was thankfully uneventful. I fell asleep for most of it, while Christina watched Shrek. (The only event of note was something I failed to realize until the next day -- I left the Las Vegas guide I had checked out from the library in the pocket of the seat in front of me.) We got there more or less on time just before midnight, which enabled me to wish Christina a Happy Birthday while we were waiting at the baggage carousel.

After collecting our bags, we hopped into a cab to the Excalibur, our hotel. My guidebook says that Excalibur not only is designed for kids, but seems "to be both designed and assembled by children." I think that's overly harsh. The medieval theme is cute, if a bit grating after a while. And I've had far worse experiences in Holiday Inns. Moreover, the price was very nice, especially compared to what the neighboring hotels/casinos/resorts/whatever were charging.

After checking in, we were hungry. Christina tends not to eat much before flying, and I hadn't had a lot that day myself. So at 1 in the morning (4 Eastern Time), we headed to one of the few restaurants the guide recommended that was still open -- America in the New York, New York casino/hotel. We walked on a bridge across the street separating the two establishments.

The NY, NY casino looks pretty interesting from the outside. The "building" consists of the Manhattan skyline squashed together, with the Statue of Liberty (wearing an ESPN SportsZone jersey during our visit) thrown in for good measure. We headed straight for America, which in and of itself is rather visually compelling. It has a huge (90 ft by 20 ft) 3D map of the US hanging up over the restaurant. Fittingly for Christina's birthday, we sat under Texas. (She was born there.) They were running a crab legs & steak special, for which we both eagerly opted. The food was pretty good (much better than I remembed from America in Union Station), and the service was somnewhat indifferent. The highlight of the meal for me was the 32 oz. raspberry margarita...or rather the souvenir cup it came in (for only $4 extra). This plastic container is in the shape of the Statue of Liberty. It's so tacky. It's so Vegas. Perfect.

Having filled our stomachs, we headed back to the Excalibur to rest up for the day of celebration to come.

Wednesday, July 25, 2001

University of Virginia





As part of my continuing goal of visiting World Heritage sites, before meeting my friends, I headed to the University of Virginia, one-half of a World Heritage site. OK, maybe less than one-half, but I would have had to get up earlier in the day to visit Monticello. That, as well as counting the site as visited, will have to wait for a later visit. Which will definitely come this winter during ski season. (I did visit Monticello during 8th grade, but I'm not counting that, mostly as incentive to make another visit.)

I got to UVa right after the 11 am tour was to begin, but I had some amount of difficulty finding the Rotunda. So I fell in with a tour that was transpiring on the Lawn. At first, I thought the tour guide needed more education, as she referred to the "Academical Village", but I eventually realized that this must be the term that Jefferson, for whatever reason must have used. Unfortunately, shortly into the tour, I realized that this was a tour for prospective students and their families, and when the tour became less interesting that the cement some construction workers were pouring, it was time to jump ship.

So back to the Rotunda. Entering the Rotunda at roughly 11:30, there was a tour just beginning (which is not what the schedule indicated). Anyway, it was a pretty cool tour. The Rotunda was originally the library, and I don't know how many times I heard about the significance of Jefferson's making the library the center of his university (as opposed to the chapel). I also learned that after a fire, the interior (which did not survive the fire) was substantially rebuilt to accomodate more books. After the library moved out in the 1930s, the Rotunda was mostly empty until the 1970s when it was restored. So now it mostly holds meetings, such as their equivalent of a board of regents, or dissertation defenses. I don't know what it says that a building with mostly ceremonial function is now the center of the university. But I do know that it would have been cool having a dissertation defense in such a historical building, as opposed to the one I had mine in at an older university.

Anyway, it was interesting seeing what Jefferson wanted in a university, especially after my recent reading of that John Adams biography. The tour guide spoke with reverence about Jefferson's designs for the Rotunda, but I started to imagine him yelling at the construction workers (slaves?) if the crenellations weren't done just right. Hmm.

Sunday, July 22, 2001

Traveling Uncle John



[I went to Charlottesville yesterday to visit friends from grad school. The following story was written in honor of my visit by their 2 3/4 year old daughter and her grandmother. I have preserved the original spelling to maintain the artistic integrity of the piece. -- Jon]

TRAVELING UNCLE JOHN


By Amelia Clark and her grandmother JO


Uncle John is tall and has dark hair. He lives in Washington, D.C. Uncle John works for Uncle Sam and he does a lot of traveling.

One day Uncle John had a very busy day traveling. He flew in a plane from Washington to New York City. When he arrived, he was very hungry so Uncle John had a hot dog with mustard and catsup. When he finished his work, he flew from New York City to Miami, Florida.

When he arrived, he was very hungry so Uncle John had a hot dog with mustard and catsup. That made TWO hot dogs. When he finished his work, he flew from Miami to Valdosta, Georgia. That man does a lot of traveling, doesn't he?

When he arrived, he was very hungry so Uncle John had a hot dog with mustard and catsup. That made THREE hot dogs. When he finished his work, he flew from Valdosta back to his home in Washington, D.C.

When he arrived home, Uncle John was very, very tired and hungry. But, he was happy, happy to be home. He took off his shoes and went to his kitchen at home. "I am sooooo hungry, but I do NOT want another hot dog." So, he had a can of soup with some crackers.

Uncle John then put on his pajamas. His pajamas had little red and blue planes all over them. Uncle John then went to bed because had had a long day and was very tired.

Where do you think Uncle John will travel tomorrow? Do you think he will eat more hot dogs?

July 2001

Thursday, July 19, 2001

The Running Mate





I recently finished Joe Klein's The Running Mate. This is the sequel to Primary Colors, which I read during my trip to Belgium last year.

The Running Mate never quite made the splash that Primary Colors did. It's easy to see why. Primary Colors was a roman à clef about the 1992 Clinton campaign. To my mind, it captured the strengths and weaknesses of Bill and Hillary Clinton in a way that led more insight than a stack of newspaper and magazine profiles. The Running Mate is about a different cast of characters, primarily a Senator who is a Vietnam Veteran. Klein says at the end that Charlie Martin is inspired by the six Vietnam veterans who serve in the Senate. But it's not just one -- though you can see a lot of John McCain in Martin, this book doesn't give you a lot of insight into McCain. Primary Colors was a novel about politics. This is a love story with a political setting. Joe Klein's strengths lie in writing about politics.

One thing that struck me while reading the book was how scandal in Washington has become a routine thing. The many fictional scandals in the book all seemed familiar -- everybody has particular roles to play; there are pre-set means of spinning facts, managing the press, etc. I guess with Chandra Levy in the news, this fact stares us in the face. But it's amazing how much of what goes on in politics is completely orthogonal to the task of governing the country.

Saturday, July 14, 2001

Stoney's





We went to Broomes Island to Stoney's for crabs and other seafood last night. Winter, normally a hard season for me to put up with, went easier this year, due to my newfound enthusiasm for skiing. Now it's summer, and I find myself looking forward to ski season. How, then, to get through the summer?

Crabs, of course! A few weeks ago, we went to Cantler's Riverside Inn in Annapolis. In the past few years, I've generally eaten steamed crabs maybe once or twice a year. That means that when I eat them, I sort of recall how to do so, but not really. So I expend a lot of effort for a little bit of crab meat, and by the last crab I've sort of got the hang of it. Well, this year I determined to eat more crabs and develop my crab-cracking skills. (Such a noble pursuit!)

Unfortunately, this is one of the worst seasons for crabs in memory. Stoney's was selling medium crabs for $36/dozen. We ordered half a dozen, and thankfully, they messed up and brought us a dozen (while charging for half). There's not a lot of meat on the mediums (compounding the work/meat ratio problem), but I could feel my skills picking up as I enjoyed the crab meat. Then I had Stoney's enormous crab cake sandwich. It's recommended as the best in the area by The Washington Post. The only place I've had better crab cakes is the Captain's Galley in Crisfield -- and that's quite a drive for some crab cakes.

By the way, directions were hard to find on-line, so if you ever find yourself looking to get some good crabs and/or crab cakes in a scenic waterfront location in Southern Maryland, here's what you do. Take Route 2 South or Route 4 South (they merge). Make a right on Broomes Island Road (MD-264), and follow that practically to the end before making a left on Oyster House Road (it's a loop). Stoney's should be hard to miss.

Tuesday, July 10, 2001

John Adams





I finished reading David McCullough's new biography of John Adams. I enjoyed it greatly, and it's helped solidify where my sympathies in early American history lie.

I had never really liked American history growing up, and as a consequence I hadn't really studied it that much beyond what was required of me. In particular, I took no American history in college. As I've grown a little older (and perhaps wiser), I've become more interested in my country's history. I've tried to remedy my gap in knowledge by going back and reading books, specifically biographies, relating to American history. Originally the plan had me moving roughly chronologically through American history, but I got stuck somewhere near the Civil War -- there was that biography of Grant I never finished. As it turned out, the readings I did about early American statesmen -- Washington, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster and more -- developed in me an interest in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in America independent of my original study plan.

So I picked up this latest biography. McCullough devotes some amount of effort to puffing up Adams at the expense of Jefferson. In many cases, he scores good points. Particularly devastating, in my mind, are the reactions the two of them to the French Revolution. Adams, quite early on, realized, "This is going to get out of hand." Jefferson, by contrast, was still cheering it on while the streets of Paris were running red with blood.

It is popular to avoid taking sides in historical disputes of long ago. After all, the people of two hundred years ago lived in an age with its own set of values. Their quarrels are not ours. Some of them may hold views that we find abhorrent today, but we must judge them in the context of their era. True. But some of them were, so to speak, on the right side of history. Jefferson, Jackson, and many of the anti-Federalists were slaveholders. Jefferson famously wrote against slavery ("I tremble from my country when I reflect that God is just."), yet continued to practice it. John and Abagail Adams did not own slaves, and their son John Quincy became an ardent abolitionist.

The Federalists had the foresight to see what a strong national government (as opposed to a collection of strong state governments) could do. If the anti-Federalists had won the historical battle of ideas, we could forget about a Federal Reserve, an Interstate Highway System, and possibly even a strong military. Granted, the Federalists had their flaws. They could be elitists, and Jefferson and Jackson played a great role in making American a more egalitarian society. But I think the next time someone asks me which political party I favor, I'll tell them I vote Whig.

Monday, July 09, 2001

Take Me Out to the Ball Game





I may have only been to 7 World Heritage sites, but I've now been to baseball games in 8 of the 30 major league parks. Baltimore, Cincinnati, Oakland, San Diego, Boston, Minnesota, Toronto, and now Arizona. I like to attend sporting events as part of my tourism. It's fun, and it gives me the chance to see how people in a particular area enjoy their sports.

Well, in Arizona they enjoy it in a brand-new baseball stadium with a retractable roof. You might think the roof was there to keep out the heat. Maybe it does keep out the worst of the summer sun in the day, but at night they are generally content to put the top down and run the air conditioning full blast. Generally. But last night was during monsoon season, so they kept the roof closed up just in case. The windows, though, were a nice touch and gave the place less of a closed-in feeling than other domed stadia I've been to. Before the sun set, I could see the mountains in the distance; that was pretty cool.

Other than that, though it was a nice stadium, I didn't get the sense of a lot of character. It had the famous swimming pool, but we were on the opposite side, and it looked smaller than I'm used to seeing it on TV. It had all sorts of special sections -- restaurants, picnic areas, etc. Each had its own corporate sponsor. We were seated in the "Infiniti Diamond" section. To get to your seats, you went through a special restaurant area -- which held no great attraction for us, as we stuffed ourselves with Indian food at my aunt and uncle's prior to the game. Once seated, we were not beset by vendors, but rather had a chance to order food from the restaurant from our seats -- with a 18% service charge included.

The game itself was entertaining. The Diamondbacks were fairly hapless, not scoring until the bottom of the 9th. (Good thing we stayed.) The Athletics put together a reasonable offensive performance, and there was a nice mixture of entertaining hits and skilled defense. And so after 2 hours and 45 minutes, we headed back to my aunt and uncle's to pick up my parents' dog, and started back through the desert home.

Friday, July 06, 2001

Casa Grande



It's not every day in this country that you get to see the ruins of a 700-year-old building. But today was one of those days. We were supposed to go to Kitt Peak National Observatory last night to take part in their Nightly Observing Program. But monsoon season came early, so they canceled on us.

I still felt a need to get in a certain amount of tourism on this visit, however, so I selected Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, and my parents and I drove there today. Casa Grande was built by the Hohokam people, who occupied this area for almost two millenia before fading away around 1450. Nobody is quite sure what happened to them, but I was personally relieved that the white man can't be blamed for this one.

In 1694, Father Eusebio Kino passed by and named the ruins "Casa Grande." According to the Pima Indians who lived nearby, the people who used to live there were "all used up" or "ho-ho-kam". And thus the Hohokam got their name. Over the next couple of centuries, travelers drew closer to the ruins, with a rail line within 20 miles and a stagecoach path practically bumping up against it. However, it appears that there were only about a dozen years of serious danger (and some vandalism) for the ruins before Benjamin Harrison issued an executive order making it a National Monument. In the intervening years, they've built a canopy to protect it from the elements.

There's not a lot to see. The Park Service web site says that you should allow about an hour to look through the visitor center and to walk around the ruins, and that seems about right. The building is a shell, with detailed features hard to make out. You can see the holes in the walls that allow the sun to shine through exactly on the summer solstice (or mark other astronomical events). But the main thing to do is wander around marveling at the fact that there were people building multi-story buildings, playing ball games and building irrigation canals many, many years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. And, of course, enjoy the desert vistas.

World Heritage Update



  • Casa Grande is not a World Heritage site (yet), but it is on the U.S.' provisional list.
  • Martin has been to 9 World Heritage sites. Ken writes that he's been to 4, but his wife has made it to 12.
  • The 13 sites that Bryson mentioned as meeting all 4 of UNESCO's criteria for inclusion as natural World Heritage sites are the Great Barrier Reef (Australia), the Tasmanian Wilderness (Australia), the Wet Tropics of Queensland (Australia), Shark Bay (Australia), Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves/ La Amistad National Park (Costa Rica/Panama), Galapagos (Ecuador), Te Wahipounamu (New Zealand), Lake Baikal (Russia), Vallée de Mai (Seychelles), Yellowstone (USA), the Grand Canyon (USA), the Great Smoky Mountains (USA), and Canaima (Venezuela). Since his book was published, Gunung Mulu National Park (Malaysia) has also been added. Pretty impressive list.

Thursday, July 05, 2001

World Heritage




"Of the five hundred or so sites on the planet that qualify for World Heritage status (that is, a site of global historical or biological significance), only thirteen satisfy all four of UNESCO's criteria for listing, and of those special thirteen places, four--almost a third--are to be found in Australia."
--Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country, pp. 204-5.


I came across this sentence in my reading yesterday, and it has intrigued me. For one thing, how many World Heritage sites have I been to? I took a look at the list and counted. I've been quite the world traveler of late, so I thought I'd accumulate a pretty fair total.

Seven. That's all. (I'm only counting ones I've been to since I graduated from college. If I counted back to eighth grade and before, I might be able to add one or two others.) They are Brugge (Belgium), Paphos (Cyprus), Suomenlinna (Finland), Durham Cathedral (UK), Fountains Abbey (UK), Hadrian's Wall (UK), Edinburgh (UK).

Any notion of using this as a tourism checklist is scotched by a number of factors: the size of the list (690 properties), the rate at which new properties are added to the list (61 last year), and the location of some of them (e.g., Iran, Iraq, Libya). Still, it helps identify places of universally recognized interest, and I probably will make an effort to see more and more of them in my travels.

I find it somewhat funny that none of the places I've been is in the US. The National Park Service does maintain a list of places it would like to have as World Heritage sites; I've been to a handful of those.

Let's get interactive for a change. How many World Heritage sites have you been to? I'm curious. Drop me an e-mail and let me know. (It's not too hard to go through the list, since you can skip over countries you've never been to.)

As for the original Bryson quote that led me down this path, I think it's in error. There are 4 criteria for being named as natural sites. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the Australian sites he describes as meeting all 4 criteria. But of the 690 sites, 529 are cultural, 138 are natural and 23 are mixed. So I think it would be closer to say that of the 138 natural ones, only thirteen satisfy all 4 criteria (though even that I haven't verified).

Wednesday, July 04, 2001

Upgrade



Greetings from Arizona, where I'm spending the 4th with my parents. The flights out were amazingly uneventful. Amazing to me, at least, after I almost got stranded overnight in Minneapolis -- or Chicago -- a couple of weeks ago.

My flight from BWI to O'Hare went fine. The plane was full -- I guess a lot of leisure travelers, like me, are taking advantage of the holiday to get in an extra day of vacation without using up annual leave at work. The flight took off on time, and landed with half an hour to go before boarding was supposed to begin for the flight to Phoenix.

When about 45 minutes passed, I was a little nervous. But then they started to board. I was able to get on right away, by virtue of an upgrade to First Class. United gives its Premier frequent fliers 4 500-mile upgrade coupons for every 10000 miles we fly. You redeem enough coupons to cover your flight and hope there are seats left. As "Bill" has pointed out, that means that if you play your cards right, you fly in first class roughly 1 out of every 5 flights. Playing your cards right, for me, meant not being willing to use 1000 upgrade miles for the 621 mile flight from Baltimore to Chicago, but using 1500 miles for the 1440 mile trip from Chicago to Phoenix. Apparently, a mere Premier member often has difficulty using the upgrades, but I think most of the high-miles road warrior were at home for the holiday.

When I sat down in 1st class, it was next to an 11-ish-year-old boy. Pretty soon a woman came up to me and asked if I would change seats so they could sit together. Ordinary, I'm extremely accomodating to such requests but I looked at my window seat, and the aisle seat she was offering me. I said that I'd really had my heart set on the window seat, but if she couldn't find somebody else, I'd make the switch. She soon came back to tell the boy that the guy next to her was willing to trade seats with him. At this point, however, he decided that life was good where he was, so he stayed put. Which made me all the happier I hadn't agreed to switch.

On the way out here, I read In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson. I'm planning to be in Australia a year from now for a conference, so I've decide to start learning more about the Land Down Under in order to plan my stay there. I'll probably take a week or so off before or after the conference to travel around, and a travelogue seemed more promising a way of learning what parts of this vast country are worth visiting than merely perusing a guidebook. This book certainly helped me get a feel for the country and its sights. Bryson's writing style is interesting...wry and thoughtful.

Monday, July 02, 2001

A.I.





We saw A.I. at the Rio in Gaithersburg yesterday after lunch at the Hamburger Hamlet. I had never been to the HH before, and they did produce a fine hamburger. After living in University Park for 3 years, Gaithersburg's sort of jarringly outer-suburban. But it's pleasant, I'll give it that.

In general, I enjoyed A.I., though it wasn't spectacularly good. I wonder what Kubrick would have done with it. (Though after having seen Eyes Wide Shut, I no longer believe in his infallibility. Oh, yeah, and Barry Lyndon, too.)

Warning, a spoiler or two in the review ahead.

In a word, I found the whole thing pretty creepy...can you imagine having Haley Joel Osment as your kid? I would have dumped him in the woods even if he were the real one. Cree-py.

The plot ambles on, exploring this 21st (?) century post-global-warming society. It will from time to time take big leaps. Sometimes those leaps require a certain suspension of disbelief. (Don't the future police choppers have LoJack?) But mostly it's just a fairly interesting story with fairly distant characters and pretty cool special effects.

The original story upon which this is based is on-line here. Apparently there are two other sequel stories which also figure into the plotting of the movie, but I haven't seen them. Although Kubrick and Spielberg changed a number of things from the story (I'm disappointed that they got rid of the tapeworm -- that was one of the more believable parts of the story), the movie did have the feel of a science fiction story. Most SF movies feel to me more like some other genre -- typically western or thriller -- transplated into "the future." A.I. fell more into the speculative fiction genre I'm used to reading.

Anyway, 3 stars out of 5.

There is an interesting Washington Post article about Osment today. He sounds like a bright, interesting kid. But creepy.