Friday, January 25, 2008

Random notes from the first night in Florida

At dinner:
Dave: Sometimes, Laura calls Tony "Tom."

Dan: She has said it was the best three minutes of her life ...

Tom: I always say, why go 30 when three minutes is enough.

Approximately five beers between the hotel bar and Lollipops, which would account for the handwriting in my notebook.

[This attempt at logging my intake for the weekend was not fruitful. The fact that I came down with a bug and cut back on my drinking also made it a pointless endeavor.]

God, so much I could've written, but it would've been weird to have a notebook in a strip gentleman's club. Because I'm not Kerouac.

It's 3 fucking 15, and we plan to be at the track by 10/10:30. (Also, on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air on Nick @ Nite, Tyra Banks was the guest hooch [Jackie] who Will and a guy had a drinking/arm wrestling competition over. It's hilarious to see Will Smith go from this -- a bad sitcom I used to love -- to a box office gold mine and Oscar nominee.

I purposely brought my "Rudy Sucks" T-shirt because of Florida's primary on Tuesday, but my illness forces me to wear multiple layers to bed, and I don't venture out of the room in the T-shirt all weekend.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

En route to Orlando

36,000 feet over Tennessee. Or a Carolina. Somewhere that still leaves us an hour from our initial descent into Orlando. I write on the tray table in 28A as the iPod cleverly shuffles to "Seatbacks and Traytables" by Fountains of Wayne. The combination of cloud haze and hte time of day -- it's dusk on the ground, but still rather bright up here -- makes it tough to see off into the distance on the ground, so these rivers and developments and fields -- farms? -- below mean little, at least as a guide to determining our position.

Dave still has no idea where we're going, beyond Orlando. I don't know that he's versed enough in the Florida party scene to realize that Tampa (or, of course, Miami) would be more traditional sites for debauchery, but maybe he'll catch on when we head east and the signs start saying Daytona.

He and Tom just walked back down the aisle to chat -- Dave's antsy without a computer or iPod -- and it look slike they took Tony back with them to an empty seat. But he checked his bag, while mine sits above me, so moving would've been pointless for me.

The clouds below have taken on the look of river rocks, or even cobblestones laid out flat and haphazardly, stretching into the distance with dark veins running through them. Kind of like the cracked desert in that Dali painting.

I ran into Tom at the airport train station, having boarded his train in Secaucus. We breezed through security (hardly a line) and bought a couple of beers ($16.22, with tip) to wait. "Is it wrong to start drinking on a bachelor party trip before the bachelor?" Tom asked. "Only if he'd be mad that we didn't wait for him," I said. "And I don't think Dave will car." But now that the pint of Bass (1) has given me a headache. Unless that's from reading all of Sports Illustrated or a couple games of Tetris on the iPod.

6:25 - Just felt the deceleration and initial drop for our approach. Headache's gone and hte first stars shine in the darkening eastern sky. A peek out the other side of the plane shows a burning orange horizon. The "selection of comedies" is ending with an episode of The Simpsons I watched eight days ago, the Barnacle Bay episode. Earlier, I noticed According to Jim and the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Weird mix. Oh -- now they're just "teasing" everyone with The New Adventures of Old Christine only minutes before it will have to be shut off.

Upon landing, the background music piped in to the cabin is the same that played while we awaited takeoff -- and it begins with someone's cover of James Taylor's "Shower the People." That song then gets stuck in my head.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In the land of idiots

On the way to the airport last week, I remarked to Casey how we were courteous, conscientious commuters, moving quickly with our suitcases and not blocking aisles or exits as we got on and off the trains or moved along the platforms. I have a heightened sense for self-absorbed travelers, on whom I'm quick to affix an asshole label, whether they might deserve it or not if I were to study them or get to know them beyond an anonymous observation on the train or the plane. But you know what they say about first impressions.

Those who get the quick-draw label of asshole include:
  • Commuters who put their bags on the adjoining seat during rush hour, knowing someone will ask them to move it. There's no way you're getting the whole double seat during the rush, so why force someone to ask you to move your shit?
  • Subway riders who make no effort to move from the door while others enter or exit the train, as well as those on the platform who stand in the way -- or try to get on -- while people are still getting off.
  • The two young bitches who made no effort to hold the elevator at the Newark Airport train station even though they could see us coming through glass wall and heard our calls to wait.
  • Pretty much everyone else who flies, but particularly those who rush over and crowd the gate area as soon as the announcement is made that preboarding will begin momentarily. If you fly often enough to know that the preboarding announcement means boarding will begin soon, you fly often enough to know that first it's first class and old people, children and families, and sometimes Continental OnePass Elite members. Then they'll start boarding rows. But you people just have to stand in the way, don't you?
  • And, of course, those who ignore carry-on rules, particularly when they place their suitcases in the overhead bins incorrectly -- wheels to one side when I believe wheels out is preferred.
I suppose this extends from the anxiety of driving -- sidewalk rage, I guess. Driving in northern New Jersey can bring out the worst in the best drivers. Sometimes, I have to remind myself to chill. But every clueless or aggressive driver on his or her cellphone gets to me a little. And I count each car that passes me as I wait in the crosswalk on my way to the train each day, glaring at the drivers who ignore New Jersey's yield to pedestrians law. I plan to make a sign to hold up as I stand there -- just as soon as it's light out so they can see it at 5 p.m.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Palm Beach look-back

January 17, 10:50 a.m.

On our approach to West Palm Beach for Lisa's wedding, we look down on neat rows of houses with terra-cotta roofs in developments that are golf courses first, communities second. "It looks like hell," I say.

~ ~ ~

2:40 p.m.

We head to Burger Heaven in Palm Beach for lunch, sitting at the rectangular, three-sided counter, where Casey admires the giant lemon cakes in the middle and I idly scan the restaurant, still a little dazed from the morning flight. We're in New York five days a week, sometimes six or seven if we go in on day soff, but we come to Palm Beach and not three hours after landing, I spot Michael Kors sitting at a table on the other side of the room. His back was to me and a good-looking boy-toy sat across from him, facing our way. We might've been the only people in the place who would've recognized him, and I probably wouldn't have if he wasn't wearing a black T-shirt and jeans.

"Does Michael Kors hang out in Palm Beach?" I asked Casey.

"He might," she said. "Why?"

"Because that guy over there looks just like him." Just after I said that, he turned his head and I had the best look at him yet and Casey said, "Yep that's him."

It turned out later that she had a picture of the back of his head, from when she took a picture of the cakes.

~ ~ ~
9 p.m.

Drinks at The Breakers -- early 20th Century Palm Beach oppulence, where a room for four nights costs as much as our monthly mortgage. One in our group said the valet scoffed at the $4 tip. On top of the $13 specialty drinks and $6.75 bottles -- bottles! -- of imported beer .. and the automatic 20% gratuity. I would've preferred to give two bucks for our two drinks, but $7 it is. But what do you expect from a place that offers, for $2 a drink, ice cubes made from Fiji water in place of the normal ones made from the swill that is tap water drunk by savages.

~ ~ ~

January 18, 2:15 p.m.

How I know I'm getting old, from "Guide to the Photo Process," a sign explaining the various types of prints at a photography exhibition at the Norton Museum of Art:

Color print ... Prior to the advent of digital printing, it was the most common type of color photograph.
~ ~ ~
8:37 p.m.

After the crabs are gone at Riggins Crab House, Brooke considers whether she wants to go to the restroom. Her decision is made when she looks at her hand and says, "I think I was bleeding from the crabs."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Boarded up on Willow

That little restaurant on the corner of Willow & 19th St. in Weehawken has finally closed. I passed it each night on the ride home to Edgewater and I'd wonder how it stayed open in such an undesirable location. I felt sorry for it, which of course was a feeling of sadness for its owners. I never drove by during dinner hours, though, so maybe I just missed the magical rush each night. Maybe it was a thriving little eatery, though I couldn't tell you what the cuisine was -- other than that it was exotic and, therefore, probably not of interest to me. But its neighbor is boarded up as well, so maybe the forces that closed the little restaurant and its kitchen design neighbor weren't those of the straightforward supply/demand/consumer interest ilk, but rather a landlord who chose to sell and a new owner bringing grander plans to his corner property on the northern end of Willow Ave. near the Lincoln Tunnel entrance.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Mark lives in IKEA; I just help out

When I read about comedian Mark Malkoff's plan to live in IKEA in Paramus last week, I decided that I had to go see this spectacle for myself. So on Wednesday, I drove up to the store with no real plans to shop; I was just going to wander the displays until I came across his "apartment."

I didn't get far. At the top of the escalator I noticed a small film crew and figured another news team was there for a lighthearted feature. But before I barely had a foot on the tiled floor, I was stopped.

"Hey! Can you help me out?" a voice behind me said. "Go grab that chair over there -- My name's Mark, by the way. I'm living here for a week. I can't move from this spot, so I need you to grab that chair over there and push me back to my home."

I didn't really think twice about it. I walked over to the desk setup, grabbed the rolling office chair and went back to the escalator. Mark sat down and directed me through the store.

"So what brings you to IKEA today?" he asked.

Had I told him the truth -- that I was there to see him, curious about this weird endeavor -- I might've ruined the moment for him. He thought he'd stopped a regular customer at the top of the escalator and convinced him to push him through the store. So I took a truth out of context.

"We just bought a house in the area, so I'm looking for a few things," I answered, noticing that the cameraman was focusing on me, rather than a wide shot of both of us. That I had no intention of actually buying anything wasn't something I felt he needed to know.

After a few minutes, I got Mark back "home" -- we re-shot the ending so that the cameraman could get the angle from inside the bedroom -- and jumped on the bed, then toasted with sparkling apple juice. As I signed the release form to be in the video, Mark and the crew thanked me several times for helping them out, and Mark added, "I feel bad about that one couple. I think they were offended."

"They'll get over it," I said. "This is New Jersey."

"Anyway, thanks again," he said. "If there's any way I can help you out, you know, just let me know."

"I will," I said, "if I ever find myself living in a department store."

So you'll see me in the following video short. I'm at the end, bringing him "home."

Monday, January 07, 2008

Day 137

For those who are into numerology, this probably means something:

On the day Jaime and Dan's son was baptised and we all visited their new house -- #137 -- my ride home for the night was ... yep, car 137.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Pretty big small talk

Usually the small talk from the drivers on my way home at night sticks to innocuous topics like who's left in the office at that hour or how drunk the pretty people are outside Marquee. This morning, it was basically the topic you'd least expect from idle chit-chat on the way to New Jersey.

"So," he said, "what do you think of Obama vs. Hillary?"

I laughed. I didn't have a chance to watch the debate at work and I dislike the political process in general, at least the way it's evolved in this day and age. During this primary process, the candidates on "the same side" have to spend months (or, it seems to be this time around, more than a year) bad-mouthing the same people who, in the end -- by November -- will be once again friends and allies.

Since maybe one out of every 20 drivers feels the need to talk beyond asking where I live and which exit to take, I'm not expecting a repeat of last night's brief -- and one-sided -- political discourse. Unless I have the same driver tonight.

It turned out to be an uneventful and quiet ride home after that. In 22 months at this job, I've had more than my share of weirdness on the relatively short drives home. A couple months into the job, the car I was in was hit head-on by a drunk driver who had crossed the line. The car was banged up pretty well, but we all walked away from the accident OK.

I've had a driver who alternated between going too slow and too fast and weaving between the lanes on four-lane River Road in Edgewater, even stopping at a traffic light at one point straddling the white line. That prompted a car that was behind us to call the police, who pulled us over about a block from my apartment. Another driver got a speeding ticket on River Road.

Recently, one driver was rear-ended by a semi as we were stuck in stop-and-go traffic in Weehawken because the outbound helix from the Lincoln Tunnel was closed and all cars were diverted to the local streets. Amazingly, there was no damage. Another driver ran over something on the helix -- he heard the thump and I felt it beneath my feet -- and then insisted on pulling over near the top of the helix (in the right travel lane) to inspect his car.

Also a few months into the job, I left work at 5 a.m. one day after a 16-inning Mets-Phillies marathon and had to be up by 7 for a ride to the airport. In checking my destination, my driver asked, "Lincoln Tunnel to Boulevard East?" which is accurate, if a little slower and not my preferred choice when going to Edgewater. But I didn't want to have to be too alert and give constant directions, so since he seemed to know the way enough, I said OK. Only as we approach the Boulevard East exit, he makes no move to take it, and by the time I alert him, it's too late, so we have to continue until two more exits to make the u-turn.

Then there was the guy who asked, as I settled in and buckled my seat belt, if we were to take the Lincoln Tunnel. I said that was correct, and he proceeded to head south on 9th Ave. and turn left on 14th St., instead of making the immediate right onto 15th, as every driver does to get to the Lincoln Tunnel. I figure that maybe he's new and is more comfortable taking 8th Ave. up to the tunnel. But after we continue east on 14th past 8th, I speak up. "Oh!" he said. "I thought you said the Holland Tunnel." Um, no dude, I didn't say anything. You said Lincoln and I confirmed it.

One Saturday night before the writers' strike, when Saturday Night Live was still live, I got out of work right at 2 a.m. and went down to the street to wait for my ride. We use the same car service as SNL, so sometimes on Saturdays we have a longer wait from 1-2 a.m. because of the high demand at 30 Rock. It was a busy night on 9th Ave., and while I waited with a co-worker, an SUV on the corner kept flashing its lights. Having never seen anything but a Town Car driven by the drivers at the company, we didn't think anything of it. Only after five or 10 minutes did the SUV pull away from the curb and pull up to us, a placard from the car service in the window with the number I was told was my ride. I got in and explained that I'd only ever seen Town Cars and had no reason to expect anything else. "Some of us have nicer cars," he said in a pissy tone.

At least he didn't talk on the drive; his iPod was blasting some Indian rock (or some other catchy far-away music) and when he asked me, somewhere on Route 3 in New Jersey, what exit was mine, he had to repeat himself until he turned down the volume.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Not sure if Santa did this much traveling

Man, I'm a bad blogger. Or just a liar. After intending to keep a log of our holiday travels, I couldn't even deliver one post from the road. I guess after that first day in Pennsylvania -- our night at grandma's -- I just settled into the routine. We'd arrive someplace, say hello, chat, eat, drink, go to bed, wake up and do it all over again. When I did find myself on the computer, it was either to get photos off my camera, look up something online, or for work. Not once did I find myself in a quiet, bored moment alone with my laptop with an urge to write.

So here's the outline of our odyssey from Dec. 22, 2007, to Jan. 1, 2008:
  • Dec. 22: Left home, drove one hour to my parents'.
  • Dec. 23: Left my parents', drove three hours to grandma's house -- over the (Delaware) River and through the (eastern Pennsylvania) woods -- in Mechanicsburg.
  • Dec. 24: Left grandma's and drove three hours to Casey's mom's in Greensburg
  • Dec. 25: Left Greensburg and drove an hour to Casey's dad's in Johnstown.
  • Dec. 26: Toured Frank Lloyd Wright-built homes Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater in the Laurel Highlands/Ohiopyle region of southwestern PA. Casey's dad did all the driving, which was nice.
  • Dec. 27: Worked. Took an hour break mid-day to head back to Greensburg.
  • Dec. 28: Left Greensburg, drove an hour to Casey's sister's in Pittsburgh.
  • Dec. 29: Left Pittsburgh, drove the six-and-a-half hours home, with an hour for lunch in Lewisburg, Pa.
  • Dec. 30: Left home, drove four hours to Bryan's in Boston.
  • Dec. 31: No driving. Cleaned Bryan's place, partied out '07 and into '08. Closely monitored intake to ensure good night's sleep and painless drive home.
  • Jan. 1: Left Bryan's and drove four hours home.
Insane, no? It was a bit crazy, but it didn't really drag on me too much. The consecutive nights in Johnstown and Boston provided a noticeable break from the day-to-day packing, loading-the-car, unpacking grind. The fact that only one day in the Pennsylvania leg involved more than three hours in the car (and only one day overall was more than four hours) helped keep it from feeling like 10 days on the road, with shorter stints of visiting.

The main thing, of course, is that we were able to see everyone in both families for a good amount of time and we made it through the whole stretch without any injuries or accidents or speeding tickets. The car came through fine as the miles piled up past 124,000 and other than some mild rain on the 23rd and a morning of wet, non-sticking snow and then driving rain until we reached New Haven on New Year's Day, the weather was great.

So that's how 2007 ended and 2008 began. A year ago, we were preparing to begin our house hunting. This year, I'm preparing to finish what amount to the last two or three major renovations we have planned. Before long, I hope to have replaced all the floor mouldings so that we can insulate the walls, finished the basement by replacing the paneling and furnishing it, and finishing off the closet in the office so that it can be organized and will no longer look like a storage locker.

Some resolutions, if you will.