Wednesday, December 06, 2006

All burned out

It's all Bryan's fault.

He came down this weekend with his friend Michael and among all the other good times we had, we also put Burnout back in the ol' Xbox and spent a few hours on Friday night and Saturday morning crashing cars and racing on the streets of Palm Bay and Crystal Lake. And now, I find myself wrapped up in the game again, obsessed with completing the next task to be unlocked -- which happens to be a six-race series in which I have to finish first in each. The worst part is that I had won the first five two days ago before a knock at the door. I pressed the start button to pause it and let the maintenance man in. But in pressing start, I had merely skipped the intro to the race and jumped to the start -- and when I looked at the TV, my car sat idle at the starting line while the other three were nowhere in sight.

Anyway, enough of that. On Saturday -- after our Burnout sessions -- the four of us drove across the George Washington Bridge to the New York Botanical Gardens for the Holiday Train Show.

Comin' 'round the bend

An artist uses natural materials to recreate dozens of New York landmarks -- both famous and historic -- which are then placed amid the mostly green displays in the Haupt Conservatory, with the track laid around them.

First, the layout takes you through some standard, educational displays in the vast conservatory -- including a 110-degree (well it sure seemed like it) reproduction of a rain forest that I couldn't linger in too long on account of my winter coat and my tendency to overheat when the temperature in any room gets higher than about 72 degrees.

The show is expansive and fun, but I think I prefer instead the holiday train display at Citigroup Center in Manhattan. For one thing, it's free (not that the $18 at the botanical gardens wasn't worth it -- OK, maybe it was worth about 10 bucks), but my personal preference is for the recreation of tiny little towns, communities and landscapes, so for that reason I'm partial to Citigroup's display, which has buildings, trains, cars and figurines in a relative scale. At least the display at the gardens was less crowded and we were free to move about more easily, rather than being herded through a line under the pressure to keep moving so that the people behind us could get a look at the next scene along the way.

Intending to find out what Gingerbread Adventures was all about, we headed deeper into the complex after exiting the train show -- but then got sidetracked. Michael walked into the gift shop, and it was all over. I'm not sure what this impulse cost him and Bryan, but Casey and I left with $80 worth of Christmas ornaments, including copper-coated ornaments of an acorn and a grape leaf and a silver-dipped mistletoe to replace the flattened, mangled, mangy, moldy one we threw out last year. But from the looks of the Gingerbread Adventures, which is to say it appears geared towards children, it was worth 80 dollars to skip the walk across the grounds to find out the truth.

Just beyond the gift shop stood a cluster of trees -- OK, it's a botanical garden, there are trees everywhere. But just beyond the gift shop, the "reflecting pool" had sprouted a stand of evergreens, which had then been bedazzled with lights and ornaments for the holidays.

Reflecting trees

It is just me, or does that look like a rather tiny reflecting pool? I mean, to me, this is a reflecting pool. Here, it looks like they built a foot-high wall around a depression in the middle of this plaza where water tends to collect and called it a reflecting pool.

Anyway, after that, we were off, back across the river to New Jersey and lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Englewood before taking the bus into Manhattan so we could indulge in wine at dinner and not have to worry about driving home.

On Sunday, after seeing a hilarious play which I may elaborate upon later, we parted ways, and once I had a moment to myself, I fired up the Xbox and began my recent quest to conquer six races in Burnout.

Reflecting in the reflecting pool

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