Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A day in the life....

I've been able to get up at 7 a.m. the past two days. That's really unusual for me. It means I've managed to get to work before 10 a.m., a kind of daylight I rarely see these days.


I walked to work kind of happy today, another new experience. Good things are happening. I think I've learned to appreciate them.


Still, I left work really late - 8:40 p.m. - and when I was walking down Bleecker to catch a cab, some really strange guy who was like a fat Truman Capote with a huge belly and a Walkman looked at me and shouted over his own music, "Oooh! Rockin' the legs with the brunette! Yeeeooooh!" I knew there was something magical about my dress today.


It was my cab driver's first day on the job ever and he didn't know how to get from MacDougal and Bleecker to Varick and Canal so I had to guide him turn-by-turn. Once we got on Varick, he started careening down the road. As I grabbed onto the backseat strap, he said in a thick Russian accent, "You like my driving? In my country, I was a race car driver!"


I laughed and then we both turned serious. I said, "Uh, really? Because if you say yes I'll totally believe you." He nodded emphatically and said, "Oh yes, back in Russia..."


He dropped me off at Tribeca Cinemas for Naked Angels, where I got a good up-and-down by the handsome gay organizer and a lot of eye contact from the female writer who cast me in her play. Love this dress.


I'm getting to bed about an hour late tonight so maybe I'll get up at like 8 tomorrow if I'm lucky.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Vacation vs Work

While I was in Syracuse, I was on email constantly and had co-workers calling me on my cellphone with one crisis or another. It didn't totally feel like vacation (more like working from home), but I chose to be so reachable so it would be easier when I got back.


When I got to Florida, I tried to make the work feel as much like a vacation as possible to even everything out. It started out hard enough: on Thursday I got up at 4 a.m. to catch a 5 a.m. cab for a 6:20 flight - which didn't leave til 7:10. Worried I wouldn't make my 9:35 connecting flight, I literally ran through the Atlanta airport from concourse C to A, getting there 5 minutes before the takeoff time (and wheezing terribly), and they wouldn't let me on the plane. Ended up running back and forth through ATL trying to catch an earlier flight, which proved impossible, making me have to bump my first meeting of the day.


Despite the difficulty getting there, we actually had a great meeting at Royal Caribbean - which is based in the Port of Miami among many other travel/hospitality/cruise companies. I was in a rental car (this time a red Aveo) for the first time in Miami in many years and I was zipping around like a pro, pushing my mental state aside and shifting into full work mode.


We had another great meeting, this time at the corporate headquarters of Burger King. Their offices are situated on a lagoon by the MIA airport, and when we walked through the reception area with the glass-topped Whopper coffee table, I knew I was going to have a good time. Upon our arrival we were greeted with complimentary Icee's (mine a frozen Coke which I used to be obsessed with, Kevin's a cherry limeade) and a platter of cookies. Like Wendy's, the hallways kind of smelled like the food they were marketing, but I found this scent pleasant and comforting, just like the times my father used to take us out for BK as kids (which was a "nice" dinner out compared to, say, McDonald's). By the end of the meeting, which went really well, I was bouncing off the walls, and gave an audible "oooh!" when they gave us parting gifts of Spider-Man toys.


Surfcomber Hotel pool under a blue sky
The day ended relaxingly enough, with some poolside time at the Surfcomber Hotel (and a free cookie at check-in!) and a $25 Johnnie Walker Gold and Drambuie cocktail at the Raleigh before bed. I only got one night at the Surfcomber because of hugely inflated weekend rates, but I sure enjoyed it.


The next day we had one final great meeting and then we were off. We'd planned to stay one more night because we were trying to fill Friday with as many meetings within driving distance as possible, but we ended up staying the extra night just to enjoy Miami. After lunch at Nikki Beach, some more swimming (this time at the Riande Continental), some Lincoln Road Mall shopping and a quick movie on my own, Kevin and I had dinner at the Delano where I had the best bluecrab and shrimp cobb salad. I then struck back out on my own to experience some nightlife, and I actually managed to find bars that locals hang out in, rather than the nightmarish nightclubs that are frequented by sweaty goombas and their fake boobed girlfriends.


Automatic Slim's has a stripper pole for drunk happy hour chicks, hot female bartenders who stand on the bar and pour vodka down dudes' throats, and a DJ that plays rock and soul mashups that keep you there even when you're done drinking. It got a bit too loud for me so I followed the recommendation of a local (Rachael Ray would be proud) and stopped by a bar called Lost Weekends, which is tucked away on Espanola Way just off Collins, but faaarrr away from the bikini-clad mania that has come to define South Beach. I had a bottle of Spanish beer called Mahou and met a local guy named Mike, who thinks I'm a crazy chick but also told me about a couple of other good beer bars I should check out in the future (take note: Abbey Brewing Co. and Zeke's Roadhouse, which has $3 beers of the world!).


On Saturday, breakfast at the 11th Street Diner and a walk down the boardwalk (which is where I got sunburned, with the noon sun directly overhead) sent us off to the airport fed and sunned, hot and ready for home.


Now that I'm back, despite how much work I did all week, I've got a lot of work waiting for me. But I feel good about it. I accomplished a lot while I was away. And managed to have some fun, too.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Happy Anniversary, Baby!

Today marks my 10th anniversary in New York City.


I graduated from Colgate on May 18, 1997 - witnessed by my parents (surprisingly), Maria, and Aunt Joanie and Uncle Jack (who aren't really my aunt and uncle). Maria stayed the night, which allowed me to take her to the Hour Glass downtown and introduce her to old hookups and all the people she'd been hearing about but never met. The next morning, she helped me load the truck I'd rented.


We drove back to Syracuse that morning and picked up our friend Tim, who'd volunteered to drive down to New York with me. I remember heading south on Route 81, inexperienced in driving at all, much less such a large vehicle, and veering off to the side a lot, startled by the rumble strips which are designed to keep truckers from falling asleep. I kept saying, "I have complete control of the vehicle" (a tipped hat to my father), but in truth, I didn't. I didn't know what I was doing.


By the time we got to Paramus on Route 17, I was really freaked out. I was terrified of driving through the Lincoln Tunnel, and Tim was kind enough to offer to switch with me and drive himself, through the tunnel, through Times Square, down Third Avenue to my new home - the NYU dorm building Third North.


When we got there it was thunderstorming terribly, so we had to unload the truck in the pouring rain, the rumbling of those big gray rubber bins matching the rumbling above our heads. I was moving into a familiar location - another dorm, just like the one I'd left behind in Hamilton, only this one had air conditioning, cable TV and security.


Tim stayed overnight and I put him on a Greyhound bus the next day. On our way to Port Authority, when we'd walked all the way to the west side because I didn't know how to navigate the subway system, we saw a crazy homeless preacher guy, whose absurdity totally made Tim's trip worthwhile. But when I put Tim on that bus, I realized I was all alone.


His parting words were that I should walk the city streets - particularly at night - with a key in my hand, that I could use as a knife if attacked. For months I followed that advice. I don't really remember when I stopped. Or when I stopped being scared on the streets.


But now New York is home to me. I was just away for a week - combination of Upstate vacation and business trip to Miami - and I was so homesick by the end I couldn't stand it.


They say the 10th wedding anniversary should be celebrated with Tin or Aluminum. I thought about getting a bunch of people together in a bar or something but instead I had dinner alone at Rodeo Bar after I got back from Miami. At some point I think I don't want to dwell on how long I've been here or how old I am or any of that nonsense. But I do feel accomplished. And far less scared than I used to.

Monday, May 14, 2007

On the Road

obnoxious rental sportscar
I took a nice day trip today, something I don't often do when I come Upstate. I realized I'd never been to Ithaca, and lucky enough my friend Liz from college lives and works there, so it gave me a great excuse to go visit. I rented a Budget Rent-A-Car, and in typical form I tried to get a modest compact car, but instead they gave me an orange convertible Eclipse Spyder. Obnoxious. But fun to drive at a very natural 80 mph.


Ithaca is best-known for its natural wonders, something I learned from all the "Ithaca Is Gorges" t-shirts that I've seen on college kids throughout the years. As a kid we always used to visit caverns and gorges, which makes it curious that we never made it to Ithaca, even though it's only about an hour south of Syracuse.


It seems fitting that Liz lives in Ithaca, since a fond memory of her is driving to Chittenango Falls together one summer during college and getting right in the waterfall together, just in our bras. The water felt like fists pounding on our backs. We rode back to Colgate in the car still topless, just in our bras. It felt very natural and liberating.


So before I met Liz for lunch I stopped by Taughannock Falls State Park in Trumansburg, which has a great falls overlook and Gorge Road, which follows the whole gorge (and which also has many pedestrian hiking trails). I couldn't figure out a way to actually get down right by the falls but there's definitely a walkway there...


We had lunch at the Cafe Dewitt in the Dewitt "Mall"...Then a walk through the Ithaca Common (the outdoor mall), where I left my ATM card in the M&T Bank machine. I hate the ones that suck your card in. I always leave my card behind in them.


Ithaca is in the center of the Finger Lakes Wine Country, nestled on Cayuga Lake, but most of the wineries are north of the city. I visited the one that's actually in Ithaca, Six Mile Creek Vineyard which is situated on a pre-Civil War cemetary and former stagecoach stop. For just $1 I got to taste six different Upstate wines. Of course on a Monday afternoon I was the only person there, but I was happy to bring back a bottle of Vignoles white and Dolce Vita sweet red back to Mike and Maria to imbibe later.


Before leaving I wanted to make sure I got to see one more waterfall - there are many more - so I swung by Ithaca Falls which is basically right in the middle of the city, across from a school, just off a pretty well-trafficked road. I got so close to the falls that I could feel the mist coming off of them, and I was surrounded by fly-fishers and local students lounging as they studied for the end of the school year...I think the area must be in a drought because all the water levels looked really low and receded to me, especially considering how close I was able to actually get.


On the way out of town, I had to stop by Purity Ice Cream, the shoppe that claims to have invented the ice cream sundae. I got a junior hot fudge sundae with Gimme Mocha Fudge ice cream, named after the local favorite Gimme Coffee. It was OK but Carvel honestly was better. The hot fudge sauce rocked but the ice cream was a little too much ice and not enough cream.


I tried not to get a speeding ticket on my way back to Syracuse and dropped my car off at the airport. I never drove it with the top down (considering my distaste for wind) but I had a fine time cruising around in it today.


When I got back home, Maria made pasta with mushrooms and garlic for me, which we all ate with some of the wine from earlier today. We all talked about our days. It felt like a real family.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Leavin' Las Vegas Behind


I had a good trip to Las Vegas, but I guess the price for that is working a 13 hour day today. You know how mass never goes away, it just changes its state? It's the same with work and time. If I'm out of the office for 5 hours, I've got to stay 5 hours late.

I flew out to Vegas Sunday on a 7 a.m. flight, a nearly miraculous feat for Sandi of the Rises-Late-in-the-Day tribe. I wanted to have some time by the pool and actually enjoy my trip, rather than just working the whole time. I'm glad I did - I flew on a refurbished Song airplane on Delta Airlines, which meant a TV at my seat and the opportunity to watch the fantastic flick The Pursuit of Happyness(which I'll be quoting henceforth until further notice). I arrived in Vegas happy.

I got sunburned in like 10 minutes at the pool, with record 90+ degree heat and burning sun. Caesar's Palace has three pools but I couldn't stay out any longer so I only got to swim in one of them...So much for the exercise I was hoping to get.

But, we were in Vegas for a work conference, so I can't complain much. And boy did we work. Lots of early mornings, chasing people down, handing out business cards, taking copious notes during keynotes and panel discussions....EXHAUSTING. We barely wanted to leave the hotel.

mirrored ceiling tub
Had I been there on vacation, I could've made more of our crazy, gaudy, old school Vegas hotel. My room in the Forum Tower was some kind of hedonistic chamber, with two remarkable features: 1) a mirrored ceiling above the bed, and 2) a big round tub on a raised dias in the bedroom. Total party bath. What a waste to be there alone.

The last time I was in Las Vegas, I stayed at the Stratosphere with the worst flu of my life. Back then, even through my sickness, I always thought Vegas had no character of its own and, like Epcot, was just a composite of copies of other places. In good health during this trip, I felt the same. But my hotel room - despite its "Roman" theme - gave me a little glimpse of a bit of Vegas character. Or at least my fantasy version of it.

Still, most of the restaurants we ate at - Mesa Grill, RAO's, Spago - were just reproductions of New York or LA establishments.

Everybody loves Vegas and Atlantic City for the gambling or the drinking or the general sense of debauchery I suppose, but the normally party-centric Sandi takes a break in those circumstances. Yes, I gambled a little, basically breaking even with a $2 deficit, even playing roulette for the first time - but the highlight of my trip was the relaxing massage I got courtesy of the conference hosts at the Bellagio spa. It was a little unnerving because during our tour of the facilities, they pointed out the jacuzzi room and said that swimsuits were "optional." After a double take and asking if they had any swimsuits to borrow (I didn't bring one, and they don't), I turned to Edith and said, "I dare you."

I got out of my massage before she did and ran right in there. Imagine her dismay when she entered the room in a robe and I'm submerged in the bubbling bath, wondering how she's going to manage getting in the pool naked. Of course I wasn't comfortable either. I don't think the bubbles hid anything.

the view from BOA's terraceBut it was all very relaxing and set us up to have a nice Casa Noble tequila at Bradley Ogden and a business dinner at BOA. We didn't have much energy to go gambling again but we made a valiant effort to check out the MGM Grand and Paris casinos. I wished I'd been able to find a Press Your Luck slot machine like the one I won $100 on years ago, but I entertained myself with the bonus rounds on the I Dream of Jeannie penny slots ("Does that make you happy, master?").

Unfortunately my relaxation ended as soon as our return flight started circling over New York City, unable to land because of JFK's inclement weather closure Tuesday night. When we finally did land, the lightning on the field prevented any staffers from guiding us into our gate. We sat a long time on that plane.

The weather was still bad when we finally deplaned, and I had the pleasure of waiting a half hour for Carmel to pick me up in the rain. No Carmel. No cabs (and a looong taxi stand line). I finally had to call my old Atlantic standby car service NYC Two-Way, who came to my rescue and finally got me home at 2:30 a.m.

I'm a little dragged out and have got to take the train out to Connecticut on Monday for work. But three friends' birthdays this weekend should help me find some, ahem, relaxation before I have to start working like a dog again.