I Love New York (part 1)

“They” tell you not to make eye-contact with people in New York and for heaven’s sake, don’t speak to people in the city or on mass transit. I say ‘bullshit!’ Don’t talk to the visibly deranged or those who obviously don’t want to be bothered. Otherwise, go for it. Who knows what interesting conversations and experiences you might be missing, sitting in your insular fear-cloud.

Here’s a picture which perfectly illustrates my point:

Messenger on Metro North 5-15-09
Click to embiggen.

If I hadn’t engaged him in conversation I could have said “I saw an interesting bike messenger on the train.”

Since I did, I had the pleasure of chatting with him for a bit and when I asked if I could take his picture, he struck this great pose. Just as you’d suspect from the photo, he was a very colorful and interesting character; one I never would have met if I’d listened to “them” and their “conventional wisdom”.

My vacation

It’s been a busy few days. I drove to Connecticut to my little sister and brother-in-law’s Tuesday (the 12th). Due to the traditional late start, I didn’t roll in until 4AM Wednesday, which meant that Wednesday was basically a recovery day.

Thursday was DaveCon. I rode the train into NYC from CT, met up with all my a.f.l. pals and had a fabulous Late Show experience. Then we shot the Tony Mendez Show (starring Tony Mendez) and off to dinner. Tony joined us at dinner and, as ballet season hasn’t started yet (he’s a huge fan), this year he stayed all evening, eating, sharing behind-the-scenes gossip and shouting “no more pictures“. A more in-depth DaveCon trip report is in the works. (DaveCon photos, here)

Friday I again rode the train in and met Traci, Helen, and the no longer yella Brady for pie. Due to some bad directions I was a bit late and missed Micah and David Yoder. Helen and Traci were headed to see the new Trek movie at the I-Max theater and Brady was bound for points unknown. I headed out to shop and sight-see by bike. Once I got going I was so totally overcome with, and enamored by, the rush of slithering through traffic that I lost sight of everything else. I weaved my way up the East side, through Harlem, into and around Central Park then down through the theater district and Times Square. Basically the only stops I made were to grab a hot dog, a pretzel, a banana, a slice of pizza, etcetera, devour it, and jump back on the bike. Finally, spent, I made my way back to Grand Central Terminal. I thought I could take my bike on any off-peak train and so I bought my ticket and boarded the 8:04 train to New Haven. Along comes the conductor and informs me that no, I have to wait for the 8:35 train, so, dejected, I get off the train and wait. Not a big deal, Grand Central is a wonderful place to pass some time, I was just tired and ready to head ‘home’.

Saturday and Sunday were spent hanging with the family and the doggies and a wonderful home-cooked meal, complete with a Vermont Mystic Apple Pie (thanks, sis, and Danny, for finding the pie).

Monday was another day of riding in NYC. Pie for breakfast then another train ride into the city. The weather was a bit cool and threatening-looking so the wind breaker put in an appearance (all day). I was a bit more successful in my shopping endeavors, and had a delightful lunch/snack in Chinatown. I had some sort of mystery cake; a dense sponge-type cake, covered in crushed nuts and filled with banana creme. This, a cup of tea and a big slab of fresh-baked bread set me back the princely sum of $2.10. (Cycling Manhattan photos, here)

I really can’t overstate how much fun I had. DaveCon was, once again, everything I could hope for (well aside from not getting the tour or photo-ops at Dave’s desk. Curse you, Kevin Spacey! And a pox upon you too, “Survivors”).

Cycling in Manhattan was, quite possibly, the most fun I’ve ever had. Weaving and slithering through traffic I felt, quite literally, like some kind of super-hero. I really do love New York.

Special thanks to all those involved for making it the trip of a lifetime (you know who you are).

Tuesday I drove back home and got to see Pennsylvania by daylight for the first time. It’s a lovely state. I’m thinking of relocating to Sugar Notch, PA.

Oh, and Kevin Spacey? You’re still on ‘the list’.

I’m not sure why, but this still moves me.

I know this video is old-hat to the majority of my fellow netizens. But the MP3 player just shuffled up the song that the video is set to and I was moved to post this. Hopefully the one person out there who hasn’t yet seen it will, and will enjoy it as much as I do. The song, if you’ve ever wondered is “Praan” by Garry Schyman. One translation I’ve seen goes thusly:

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

If you’d like to purchase an MP3 of this magnificent tune, you can do so here: Praan.

Anyway, for whatever reason this really resonated strongly with me today, so I thought I’d pass it along.

The Return Trip

In the time honored tradition of starting at the end and working back, I’m going to tell you bitch about my trip home. Just so you’re not totally in the dark, I will tell you that I went to visit my sister and brother-in-law in Connecticut and to NYC for DaveCon, to see The Late Show with David Letterman.

OK… so, I was supposed to fly out of White Plains, NY at 5:29 PM yesterday (Monday), change planes at Washington Reagan Airport, and arrive home at 8:49.

5:29 came and went. They kept coming on the PA and reassuring us that the plane was on its way and had just been delayed by weather. The plane finally lands and they promptly herd us out onto the tarmac, across a couple of hundred yards of said tarmac, and onto our plane. Everyone gets seated, the flight attendant does her little safety puppet show, then the captain comes on. The plane’s weather radar system is broken. They had hoped to fix it while on the ground but couldn’t, so we will all need to exit the plane, head back to the terminal, and make other arrangements. Melon Fever!

We are directed back to the ticket counter, where they have two people working; frantically trying to find all of us alternate flights while also taking care of everyone else who’s checking in and what-not. After many very tense minutes, they find me a flight connecting in Philadelphia which is boarding… right fucking now. So, I’m off to security, where, thanks to the fact that I’ve been outside on the tarmac, I now have to go through not just regular security, but the whole everything-but-the-cavity-search-shebangabang. I keep setting off the metal detector, in my haste I’ve forgotten the various items I moved from my bag to my pockets after I went through security the last time.

I gather up my crap, not even taking the time to put my laptop back into the bag, and run for my plane. I make it, they pull the steps away and close the door as I’m settling into my seat.

And then we wait, and wait… then wait some more. Finally we’re airborne for the short hop to Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia my flight to Dayton was (predictably) delayed as well. Late boarding and delayed enough on takeoff that they actually served us beverages while we waited to take off.

Anyway… by the time I arrived in Dayton it was nearly midnight. The good news (apart from making it at all, in one piece) was that they did manage to get my bag off of the broken plane and onto the correct plane, so my bag did arrive when and where I did.

All in all, a perfectly crappy way to punctuate what was, otherwise, a fantastic trip. More on that later.

Vacation Cliff Hanger

As of right now, I’m on vacation (it’s actually the first time off I’ve had this year and not been sick). Tomorrow it’s off to the airport where I’ll catch a flight to an undisclosed location. I’ll be back in a week with tales to tell and photos to share. Stay tuned!

DaveCon 2008

For years I’ve jealously read others’ DaveCon reports, vicariously sharing their excitement and dreaming that one day I too might be invited to attend. When that day came and I got the invitation from Traci, I was stunned. My shock was so great that I was convinced that there had been some sort of a mistake (that could happen with a bulk mailing) or (though I couldn’t really imagine) it was some sort of cruel joke.

After emailing Traci and getting her assurance that there was no mistake, I was really invited, I felt, as I told Traci, like a kid at Christmas. I really did; I don’t know the last time I was so excited.

Immediately, I made arrangements to stay with my sister and BIL in Connecticut, booked my flight, and put in for the time off from work. As the days passed, my excitement waned somewhat, then, as DaveCon approached it again built to a fever pitch.

Other than discovering, a few days before I was supposed to leave, that one of my connecting flights had been canceled (Travelocity did a fine job taking care of this), my flight from Dayton to White Plains was uneventful. I did enjoy chatting with my seat mate on the second leg of my flight, Adrianna, who was quite lovely and friendly. Alas, she’s married, but she was nice enough to pose for a picture.

On the day of the show I took the Metro North from Waterbury CT to Grand Central Station. From the moment I stepped into the main terminal at Grand Central I was in complete sensory overload, a state in which I would remain for the rest of the day. I was totally overwhelmed by Grand Central and couldn’t make heads or tails of the subway map, so I wound up getting off of the subway on 42nd street at Times Square. Feeling much more confident in my ability to navigate above ground, I started walking up Broadway toward the Ed.

I finally make it to the Ed, snap a couple of quick photos of the marquee and make my way into Angelo’s. I knew everyone was meeting upstairs, but upon arriving upstairs I started to feel a bit panicked, not spotting a familiar face anywhere. After a few tense moments I recognized Micah, Helen, David Yoder and Traci (then others, quickly) and wandered over to introduce myself and say hi. Various folks asked about my cat, reaffirming my suspicion that I’ve unwittingly cast myself in the role of “idiot with cat on his head”. I suppose there are worse things to be known for. Traci gave me a DaveCon button and a kazoo (compliments of Pat Fleet, who, sadly, couldn’t be here), Donz gave me DVD’s, Bob (Nek) offered me a delicious chocolate, and before I knew it, it was time to line up at the theater.

We got our tickets (I got #17), received some instructions from the pages, were informed that the theater’s restrooms would close at 2:00 and told to be back at 2:30. I went to the CBS store and bought a sack full of t-shirts and coffee mugs, then to Rupert’s for more shirts and mugs and a quick photo of Rupert. When I saw a group of AFLers chatting with Mike McIntee I wanted to introduce myself and say something clever about him mocking me in the Wahoo a few weeks back but only managed to grab a couple of photos before he disappeared back into the theater. About this time I realized that I had miscalculated my bladder capacity / nervousness ratio and asked Donz where I might find a restroom. He directed me to some sort of salad-bar/restaurant/store about a block north, saying that if I bought something they might let me use their facilities. I quickly made my way there, bought a Coke, left some coffee, and rushed back to the Ed where I found that we were already lining up. I assumed my place in line next to the lovely Shirlee.

We were herded into the lobby, instructed as to the dos and don’ts and ‘warmed up’ (as if that were necessary!) by a page who was quite engaging and funny and who seemed to really enjoy being there. After waiting around for a bit, Marilyn passed out the ceremonial Altoids and we were let into the theater.

Entering the theater was like walking into a dream. I’ve seen it so many times on TV that it was familiar, but it’s so much more impressive in person. The background cityscape/diorama, in particular, is so much lovelier than it appears on TV. The whole thing was so surreal, it was (at the risk of sounding cliche) like a dream.

I found myself in the third row right in the center, sitting between the lovely Shirlee (who was flanked on the other side by Mark) and two nice non-afl ladies.

Eddie Brill came out and greeted us, even specifically mentioning the ‘alt letterman people’, which almost caused me to, in my excitement, utter one of the ‘forbidden sounds’. They showed the classic “Dave works at Taco Bell” video then Eddie told a few jokes.

Then the excitement really starts to build. The band starts to play as they take the stage one by one, introduced by Eddie B. The band sounds absolutely amazing, I could listen to them play all night. Finally the big moment arrives and Dave comes bounding out onto the stage. I was literally misty-eyed and covered with goosebumps, I was so excited. Dave tells a couple of jokes and chats with us (the audience) a bit, then asks if anyone has any questions. Shirlee does! With ninja-quickness her hand shoots up and Dave calls on her. Dave and Shirlee chatted for a moment and Dave asked if either of the guys beside her (myself and Mark) is her husband. “No”, she replies. “Who are they?”, she shrugs and says she doesn’t know. Gee, thanks, Shirlee. She asks why there isn’t a statue of him in the wax museum, Dave makes a joke about appearing in person and then it’s time for the show!

Dave heads backstage, the band begins to play and when Alan Kalter announces Dave, it’s another goose bump moment for me.

After the show we found out that thanks to my new archnemesis Kevin Spacey’s Jamba Juice escapade on May 19, the crew was replacing the carpet and thus there would be no tour nor photo-ops at Dave’s desk. A bit of a bummer, but I was riding far too high for it to, as Intern Lyle might say, ‘harsh my mellow’. It’s really a shame. Kevin Spacey was one of my favorite actors but now he will remain ‘on my list’ until I get my picture taken at Dave’s desk. I just pray that his relegation is only temporary.

We taped our Tony Mendez show, which was great fun, though I did find myself self-consciously hiding from the camera. Everyone else was great with their acting. I don’t know if they’re all naturals in front of the camera or if it’s born of familiarity, but it really seems to come quite easily to them.

Dinner was fantastic and I really enjoyed chatting with Renee and her two friends (I’m not sure they’d want to be named, so I won’t). Tony Mendez stopped in and I was thrilled that he sat at my table, chatting happily and even sharing some behind-the-scenes gossip! He had forgotten to bring me a cue-card like we’d discussed earlier at the theater, but he took my address and assured me that he’d mail me one. He is such a nice guy, so personable and generous with his time.

After dinner, many of us headed to a local watering hole called Smith’s to continue the festivities. Some of us were so overwhelmed by the day’s events that we opened up and shared far too much, much to everyone’s embarrassment. (OK, actually, it was just me).

All good things must come to an end and eventually it was time to go. Walking with Nick and Marilyn who had so generously offered me a ride back to my sister’s, thus sparing me from having to catch the last train to Waterbury at 9:07 I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks. A man with a cat on his head! A kindred spirit! I pointed and said something brilliant like “Look! A man with a cat on his head!” and he said something mildly confrontational about us both having the same ‘biker beard’. As I stood there dumbstruck he asked if I had a couple of dollars for a man with a cat on his head. “Yes, I certainly do”, I said, reaching for my wallet. I happily handed him all the singles I had on me (3? 4?) as Nick and Marilyn warily edged away, their expressions telling me “We’ll leave you here if we have to, bumpkin. Come on.” Not wishing to be left for dead in the big city, I followed.

We made it to the parking garage where I was astounded to discover that a month’s parking in New York costs more than the rent on my 2-bedroom apartment with a view of the park back home in Ohio.

Traffic was a bit of a nightmare for some reason, so it took quite awhile to get out of the city. I was thankful that I wasn’t driving. We did come upon some sort of motorcycle “Fast and the Furious” type gathering which was interesting, if a bit unnnerving. Try as I might I couldn’t seem to keep my eyes open for the ride home and spent a good bit of it nodding off. Thanks to the wonders of GPS and Nick’s impeccable driving skills we made it safely to my sister and brother-in-law’s. I again thanked them for the ride, said good-bye and wearily trudged up the steps, through the door, up the stairs, and collapsed into bed.

Wrinkles in the fabric of time/space

Einstein (with whom I happen to share a birthday) was right vis-à-vis the relativity of time and space, and I have proof.

As you drive from Indianapolis, Indiana toward Dayton, Ohio on Interstate 70 there’s a sign not too far from the Ohio border that says “Dayton 40” (miles). Roughly 1 mile later there’s another sign; this one says “Dayton 39”. So far so good. 5.2 miles later, after crossing into Ohio, there’s a sign. This one reads: “Dayton 40”. Not 34, not 35… 40!!!

Richmond, Indiana (right on the state-line) has always made me vaguely uneasy, now I know why!

Ok, maybe it doesn’t prove the theory of relativity, but it certainly proves something!

Travelogue Part 7, the final leg (Or, “That Damned Cat”)

Upon arriving back at Mom’s house in Indianapolis, I received a very warm welcome from my mother and her two kittens. My cat had elected to be sequestered in a room by herself, having decided she wanted no part of anything involving kittens or any people who weren’t me. Cali (Caldonia if she’s misbehaving) had a lot to tell me. Either she was extremely happy to see me, or she thought she’d been abducted by aliens, it all sounds the same to me.

Anyway, after much kitty-petting, socializing with Mom, tamale eating, and a good night’s sleep it was again time to hit the road. The cat seemed happy when she saw that I was gathering not only my things, but hers as well. I took this as a sign that she would behave herself for the drive home, as she had done for the drive to Mom’s. After loading my bikes, clothes, cd’s, assorted accoutrements, the cat’s food and toys, and 10 dozen tamales (sharing ain’t all it’s cracked up to be) I came for the cat. She was quite docile about going into the carrier, which I took as another good sign. She started to meow, (or more accurately to howl) as I carried her to the car, but this wasn’t a point of too much concern, she had done this before but had quieted down fairly quickly once we got in the car.

I don’t know if it was because it was dark (unlike the trip coming) or if it was because she was still freaked out about being left for 2 weeks+ with two somewhat obnoxious (but thoroughly adorable) kittens, but whatever the case, she was inconsolable – howling, panting, and just generally caterwauling non-stop. I thought that if I opened the carrier (aka cage) and petted her, she would calm down (as she had done previously). This was not to be, however. Instead she immediately made a bee-line under my seat, where she continued to serenade/berate me as loudly as possible. You would think I was torturing the poor thing, from the sound of it. Upon realizing that I couldn’t simultaneously reach under the seat to pet and comfort the cat and see the road, I opted to put on a CD, turn the volume up loud enough to drown out her impassioned howling, and make haste getting home. During the brief pauses between songs, I tried to calmly reassure her (through gritted teeth) that we would be home soon.

Indeed we were home soon but she had apparently decided that she was going to take up permanent residence under the seat. “Fine”, I thought. “I’ll carry in a load of stuff; a few minutes alone in a cold car should change her mind”. Upon my return, she was still hiding under the seat. I attempted to extract her from the front of the seat, which proved quite impossible. I’m not sure how she managed to squeeze under in the first place. Thankfully the space under the rear of the seat is larger and I was able to drag her out. She didn’t put up a struggle as I re-inserted her into her carrier, though she did resume howling as I carried her inside.

As soon as we got inside and I let her out, she was transformed. It was as though nothing had happened at all; business as usual in kitty-land.

If only I, too, could go from total screaming freak-out to docile tranquility so readily, life would be so much easier.

Travelogue Part 6, the Trip back to Indianapolis (Or, “Thank You, Officer!”),

So, it was with a heavy heart and 20 dozen tamales packed in styrofoam coolers that I left Midland, on my way to Mom’s house in Indianapolis to pick up my cat and part with some of my beloved tamales before the short jaunt from there back to Ohio. I was a bit concerned that I was leaving several hours later than I had planned and that shortly after awakening I felt as though I hadn’t had enough sleep. No worries, though; after all, sleep is for sissies!

Having renewed my vow never to return to the state of Oklahoma, my chosen return route was; Fort Worth, Dallas, Texarkana, Little Rock, West Memphis, then north along the Mississipi river on I-55, across the SE corner of Missouri, to I-57 into and across Illinois, to I-70, then through Terre Haute, and on to Indianapolis.

I was quickly approaching Fort Worth and making very good time. A group of trucks seemed a little too eager to move aside and let me pass, but I chose to ignore the alarm that this sounded in the back of my mind. A little while later, I’m about 5 miles west of Ranger, Texas (Not to be confused with “Walker, Texas Ranger”, the worst TV show ever made. Well one of them, anyway.) when I crest a small rise while passing another group of slower traffic. As soon as I come over the top of the hill, “Shit!” the median just ahead comes to life with headlights and flashing blue lights. I glance at the speedometer, which is now swinging down toward 80 (the posted limit was 65) as I signal my lane change back to the right, frantically hoping it’s not me he’s after. Alas, there is no one else, it has to be me. I’m filled with a heart-pumping, sick to my stomach rush of adrenaline, but I can’t help smiling just a bit as my mind replays the tape of Johhny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” saying:

Few people understand the psychology of dealing with a highway traffic cop. Your normal speeder will immediately panic and pull over to the side. This is wrong. It arouses contempt in the cop heart. Make the bastard chase you, he will follow.

Ignoring the good Doctor’s words, I immediately panicked and pulled to the side. Texas Highway Patrol officers don’t mince words, as soon as he stepped up to the passenger’s side window he told me who he was and why was stopping me.

Texas Highway Patrol. I pulled you over for exceeding the posted speed limit.

Of course, I’m very contrite and apologetic, explaining that I’ve had to leave my father, who’s very ill, back in Midland and that I guess I was a little distracted and got to going faster than I intended. You know, basically pleading for mercy without coming right and begging (and not really expecting it to work). He asks for my license and proof of insurance. I promptly hand over my license but can only find expired insurance cards. He suggests I continue to look while he checks my license. When he reapproaches the window he asks, “Did you find that?”
“Yes sir, it’s right here”, I reply, shakily handing the current insurance card over.
He glances at it, hands it back, then reaches back in with the dreaded pad and pen. I am positively dumbstruck as he tells me that he’s giving me a written warning, I feel as though I’m having some sort of out of body experience. I sign where he tells me, and hand it back saying, “Thank you, officer.” I’ve never uttered those words with more conviction in my life… I really meant it.
He tells me to be safe and keep my speed down, then sends me on my way.

I’m not sure if it was divine intervention, mercy on his part, or dumb luck (perhaps brought on by the figure of Señor Misterioso glowing atop my dashboard), to which I owe this good fortune, but believe you me, I am immensely grateful and thankful.

Travelogue Part 3 (or; “Hot tamales!!!”)

So, I arrived safe and sound in Midland. One of the first things I asked the family about was Bernard’s, a tortilla and tamale factory which sells (in my estimation) the world’s best tamales. No one knew if it was in the same place or even if they were still in business.

Sitting around with my Dad a few days later, he asks if I want to go for a ride. “Sure,” says I, and off we go. I’m just driving aimlessly, we swing by the house where I grew up, which was really quite sad; the neighborhood has taken a definate turn for the worse during the roughly 16 years since I last saw it. My boyhood home looks very weary and run-down and the Elm trees that once lined the streets are all gone, victims of Dutch Elm Disease, apparently.

As we wander through the downtown area, which is still surprisingly familiar, despite an abundance of ‘new’ buildings, I remark that it seems as though Bernard’s wasn’t too far from where we are. Dad agrees and asks if I want to try to find it. “Yes I do!” Now we have a mission! Dad seems unsure that he can actually find it, but then directs me right to it. Amazingly, it looks exactly the way I remember it! Stepping inside nothing has changed, it’s as though I’ve walked through a portal back in time. I can practically see myself, 10 years old, waiting nervously beside my Grandmother while they ring up our tamales.

Then came an even bigger shock, Mrs. Bernard, who was an old lady back way back when, in my youthful eyes, is still there! Of course, she’s older now, but unmistakably the same lady. The whole experience is so overwhelming, I literally am briefly reduced to a nervous 10 year old. “Un docena tamales, por favor”, the words tumble out, automatically, and even as I’m handing her my money I realize that this is not nearly enough tamales.

With my deliciously fragrant bundle in hand, I rejoin Dad in the car. I’m beaming, glowing… I’ve been dreaming of Bernard’s tamales for so long. Our mission now accomplished, we head back to the house. It’s all I can do to keep out of the tamales until we arrive, but unwrapping and eating greasy tamales while driving a stick shift would be a messy proposition.

The tamales are everything I’d hoped for. Spicy enough to make you sweat a little, just the right masa to meat ratio, and just fantastically; sinfully good. Of course now I have to have more, and finding coolers to load full of tamales and bring back becomes a top priority.

So anyway, If you like real Mexican food and you ever find yourself in Midland, Texas, stop at:

Bernard’s Tortilla Factory
511 N Tyler St.
Midland, Texas

Trust me, you won’t be sorry.