December 17, 2006

In the mood...

It's a great weekend to be in the mood....for love...for the holidays...

I'm 13.5 lbs lighter and feeling strong and rejuvenated. Almost all the Christmas shopping is done, wrapping has begun, and work is almost over for the year.

Tonight we made what's hopefully our annual pilgrimage to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, and although it wasn't snowball fight-worthy this year like last year, it was still magical in its competitive commercialism. Ah, the true spirit of Christmas...animatronic decorations and multi-colored lights.

I hear that Howard Beach's decorations might be better, but I'll believe it when I see it. I do think I'm going to check out the Bronx Zoo's holiday lights this year....

December 16, 2006


There are people that suck the life out of you, and then there are insects that suck the blood out of you and make you itch. I got a little bit o' both in my life right now.

Apparently in St. Thomas there are sand flies that come out of, well, the sand and bite you and suck your blood. I am covered in welts. And, a week later, I am still itchy.

Between that and the Christmas tree, I'm real fun to be around.

The sand flies were just another one of the baffling things about St. Thomas. The Ritz resort also had an iguana beach where giant iguanas would come out and bake in the sun on the rocks. And if you stand there long enough, they'll walk right up to you.

I'm told that the ocean had a lot of living things swimming around in it, but without my glasses I had to just trust the reports of minnows and other creatures swirling about. I did spot a starfish on the ocean floor but we decided not to disturb it, so we didn't really get a closer look.

There were some cool parrots and hummingbirds at the peak of the Skyride, a tramway that takes you up a mountain to an observation point (actually, Paradise Point). It's sort of an enclosed ski lift - with three connected cars that ascend and descend together - located by where the cruise ships dock. It's really a lovely view and the birds were just a bonus.

We didn't stay for any of their crazy cocktail drinks, but I did manage to get a Christmas tree ornament before we left...It was the only piece of crap worth buying in the whole "downtown" area (even including all the pirate paraphernalia!).

No parasailing or snorkeling this trip but maybe next time. I'm ready to get into Christmas.

December 09, 2006

Only in the Caribbean...

I am way too low-class to deserve the kind of fantastic treatment I'm getting at the Ritz-Carlton Club in St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands). We were supposed to stay in the regular resort but because of a mix-up, we were placed in the residential wing, which means I'm in a huge 2 BR suite, and have keycard access to a club room where there is free food 3x a day. And good food. And amazing service. And everybody says, "My pleasure," and somehow I think they mean it.

And what do I do? Play a game of Asshole, drink straight rum and get so drunk that I lose my room key.

I keep suspecting that I'm supposed to be tipping everybody but mostly people are just being nice. And letting me into my room @ 3 a.m.

And even though the beach here is small, the ocean is gorgeous and warm and the sky is clear with these huge white puffy clouds that turn dark gray when the moon shines behind them.

Before I came here, I kept saying how I'm not a lay-on-the-beach kind of person, but that's pretty much all I want to do. I can't really think of a reason to leave the resort, it's so nice (though I think we are going to take a weird ski lift tomorrow to see some mountaintop views of the island). Today I got a "Tranquility Massage" at the spa from Michelle, a Texas-born mom who moved to USVI when she sent her son off to college. I'd been getting massages so much @ the gym that I forgot how nice a spa can be.

So far, though, I'm not very interested in St. Thomas itself. The taxi ride from the airport was harrowing along a winding road with tons of hairpin turns, and everything we drove by looked pretty shitty. People like to shop here but honestly, they're all giving away so much free Cruzan rum (at the airport, at the hotel check-in....) that I don't need to buy booze, and I really don't want any beads or jewelry.

As nice as the weather is, it's really strange being here now because the hotel is decorated for Christmas and they're piping in all this Caribbean-flavored xmas music. It's really weirding me out. But at the spa today, I did think their evergreen branch/seashell decor was quite nice. And sparkly.

I'm still absorbing it all. I'm having a hard time adjusting. But for my first trip to the Caribbean, this is a pretty nice way to go....

November 18, 2006

...And the sun shines on the bay....

Ok I've lost the 4 lbs I gained in SF and then some, making my detox total 12.5 lbs. My posterior also feels stronger and strangely higher after walking up all those hills.

My pants fit too, at least, 3 out of 4 pairs. There's that one last pair I want to squeeze into, a pair that fit at this time last year.

In SF we took a lot of public transportation, which includes the cable car system (a tourist attraction, and rightfully so - it's quite thrilling), BART, and MUNI. While I was there I became obsessed with MUNI and its retro look - both in terms of its logo and also the actual stations, which reminded me of downtown Syracuse circa 1979. It was actually all very clean and well taken care of, so although it was old, renovation would only be for cosmetic purposes since everything was fully functional and quite pleasant.

Despite the convience of public transportation, we did our fair share of walking, including up a huge hill to see the crookedest street. That portion of Lombard St. makes its way into lots of video games, and it's no wonder. The hill's incline is so steep there that we wondered how the cars didn't flip over - until we saw the signs that strictly enforce parking at exactly 90 degrees.

Thankfully we didn't walk up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower, but instead took the bus. We didn't see the wild parrots that live in the neighborhood but we did catch some really great panoramic views of the city from the top. San Francisco has some amazing cloud formations, or at least did while we were there, and it was very inspiring to look out over the water and see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building...

After that it was a bit disappointing to see how nothing Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman's Wharf are, but I did manage to snap a shot of In-N-Out Burger (another LA reference) in a very...touristy SF scenario. We also got to ride the F line streetcar which was cool. They have all kinds of different classic streetcars on the route including some from New Orleans, but the one we were on dated back to 1948 and was a smoooth ride over to the pier where we were catching our ferry to Alcatraz.

I know it sounds ridiculous but visiting Alcatraz was really a dream come true. I've always been a prison movie fan and have always been fascinated with prison politics, death row controversies, etc. Plus I like spooky places. We took a night tour of The Rock and although I didn't feel any real indication of hauntings, I was way creeped out, especially going into the pitch-black solitary confinement cell. Our night tour also took us upstairs to the hospital, where the walls were flaking with paint and every room was dark, save for an eerie lantern casting white light from the center of the room. The site has a history as both a military prison and a maximum security prison, so a lot went down there. It feels weird to take a tour of it with hundreds of other people, to gawk at the torture that people experienced, and then buy branded bars of soap and posters of mugshots. But I got a Christmas tree ornament anyway. The soap smelled horrible, but if it hadn't, I probably would have gotten that too.

We didn't shop a lot in SF but I got a few souvenirs, including a 7" vinyl single and the new John Legend CD from Rasputin, and more importantly, wine. We didn't want to check our bags on the plane so we had the Homewood Winery (the only place you can get their wine) ship our Flying Wizzbanger and Cabernet Sauvignon to the office. It should be arriving shortly. Homewood - with its generous tasting portions and intriguing varieties - was definitely the best winery on our day-long tour of Napa and Sonoma. Our bus also took us to the Larson Family Winery, Madonna Estate, and Viansa, which had some great wines and a lovely Tuscan marketplace where we got a nice lunch.

It's nice to know that seemingly cheesy touristy things actually work out quite well: not only was the "Woods + Wine" tour a great deal, but also full of adventure. Before you head out to wine country, you're first taken across the Golden Gate Bridge and stop for a photo opp, and then on to the redwood forest (spotting yet another prison, San Quentin, in Sausalito along the way). We did an hour-long hike in Muir Woods and stopped long enough to gawk at some of the oldest trees in the country, and a black-tailed deer that scuttled by. This is just stuff I've never seen before.

I really felt like I could live in SF, which is the first time I could say that about a city other than New York. I think first I have to visit again and see some of the stuff I missed (the Mission, SoMa, Pacific Heights, the Presidio, Berkeley). And next time I'm definitely walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. If I'm lucky there'll be an earthquake so I can feel it sway 25 feet. I probably won't jump off, even though it's famous for that.

November 15, 2006

When the lights go down in the city...

I walked home from work tonight in the misty rain, starving. I was missing San Francisco a bit, or at least being on vacation...The weather was so great when we were there, and although I was hungry there too, at least I wasn't detoxing fully so I got to eat and drink lots of good stuff.

We arrived late Thursday and took BART from OAK to Powell Street, in the heart of SF's Union Square area. After walking uphill with our luggage, through the red light district Tenderloin area, we made it to the York Hotel on Sutter St. Not only was it recommended by the New York Times, but it was one of the shooting locations of Hitchcock's classic Vertigo. Always aspiring to live a life noir, of course I tried to get the Kim Novak Room or the Vertigo Room but we had to settle for a different room down the hall. It's a quaint, clean hotel with few amenities but it's a great deal, and a slice of Old Hollywood.

Lots of SF is reminiscent of Old Hollywood in fact: it's similarly old but in a sort of mid-20th century way. I was thrilled to discover an SF outpost of LA's landmark Trader Vic's, a tiki-themed place I've always begged people to take me to but was never lucky enough to visit. Fortunately Edith was game so we sidled up to the empty bar and chatted up the bartender, Lars, drinking zombies and Mai Tai's and 23-year aged rum....Getting free mojito shots and tastes of smoky tequila....

That was really the only night we drank a lot. We tried to do everything in moderation, sharing plates at Zuni (where we split a delicious baked pear with a dessert gorgonzola and wildflower honey) and Colibri Mexican Bistro...We never got to try sushi but we did have a great meal and drinks in the Haight, a disgusting neighborhood that houses Amoeba and a bunch of stereotypically incense-soaked hippie stores. It's very strange to find Magnolia Pub & Brewery and The Alembic there - two lovely places that serve their own-brewed beer (draught and cask!), great food and beautifully crafted cocktails.

San Francisco is actually full of restaurants that serve craft beer, including their own local Anchor Steam. At Magnolia I had their Prescription Pale Ale, and I got to try Pranqster Belgian Style Golden Ale at Hog Island Oyster Co. on our way to Alcatraz...More on that later...

Fortunately we didn't just eat and drink while we were there, but we crammed too much into our short trip to write all about here now...But despite all the walking uphill (and hiking through Muir Woods), I still gained four pounds while I was away. Fortunately I've lost about two by detoxing again since my return.

October 29, 2006

Carving out my niche

My day started out spookily enough. After waking up at 6:30 a.m. to a hot apartment, I got back to sleep and was awakened again at 8 by my alarm going off one hour too early, thanks to Daylight Savings. When I woke up the second time I realized there was a huge scratch down my calf - I'm not sure whether I did it to myself during my weird dreams, or whether something else in my apartment did it. I've always thought my apartment was haunted - books falling off bookshelves, waking up thinking someone was in the room - but I hate to think something like that scratched me. Then again, I hate to think it was something else.

It doesn't help that my apartment is all tricked out for Halloween. Royal vs. papal: preview of Dan's costumeI've got the Day of the Dead streamers and candy corn lights and fake blood dripping down the window, so no wonder I'm a little spooked. I can never have enough frightful stuff so I was thrilled today to come across the Party Box on Rt. 17 in Lodi, NJ. Dan was looking for a cape but I was looking for a few finishing touches to my decorations and devilish costume, and it satisfied our every need. It's a little more ghetto than Party City, but it will definitely be a destination to visit early in the season next year...

We were feeling festive anyway because we went to pick our own pumpkins at Demarest Farms in Hillsdale, NJ. Bergen County has some beautiful foliage right now that's only a bit past peak - mostly a golden yellow color rather than reds and oranges - and it was a beautiful day for a drive. Despite it being so late in the season, we found some great pumpkins and picked them amongst an odd group of pug dogs - I mean, a lot of pugs and their owners. Still trying to figure that one out, and how they could be all out of apples (much to Amy's chagrin).

I was disappointed to not try the hot cider and powdered donuts that were so good last year, but alas, not part of my detox (which is soon ending, thank god). Fortunately being 8 lbs lighter has given me steel will.

too much to drink last nightWe did roast some pumpkin seeds with hot salt while we were carving, and I did partake of those...Check out the pics: this year I went for a spooky face rather than an abstract or modern art design, which I've done the past few years....

October 21, 2006

Upstate State of Mind

We drove up to Tuxedo, NY today for some Halloween festivities. We were hoping to make it farther upstate to Ulster County for their Headless Horseman attractions, but we didn't plan far enough ahead and it was sold out. So instead we took the Thruway to Route 17, to 17A and then took a left at "Fear" - the Forest of Fear, that is, in Sterling Forest on the site of the NY Renaissance Faire (something I have never visited).

We arrived a bit early, right when it opened at sundown, and felt a bit silly showing up with the sun still out, but it's a good thing we did. Man, this was the place to be. By the time we left around 8 p.m., there was a huge line to get in and a long wait for the attractions. It's totally the kind of place I would have gone on a date were it - and I - in Syracuse. And best of all we didn't feel old or silly at all being there because everybody from the area was there. And it's no wonder - the haunted house ("The Slaughterhouse") is awesome and truly startling. I nearly didn't make it through, only because I was going to try to hit on the guy in the vampire room....

There's a maze too in a weird circus tent full of deranged clowns who try to mess you up and make you lose your way, but we made it out of there pretty quickly. On our way out we passed some distressed ladies who seemed like they'd been in there for quite some time...

Before we left we took a ride on the Scrambler on their midway, despite our terror over how old it was and how half of it was broken. Since I haven't really been eating anything, I didn't get nauseous. We all managed to resist the "funeral" cakes and burgers and stuff they had there, and stuck to our detox.

Next weekend is pumpkin-picking, I think. If there are any pumpkins left.

The Forest of Fear is only about an hour and a half away from NYC metro area, a lovely drive for foliage-gazing along winding roads...

October 12, 2006

Here It Comes Again

I took Friday off to make this officially a three-day work week. With Monday off for Columbus Day, I got to actually enjoy last weekend. Good timing, too, since it was the annual Open House New York event, which has allowed me to explore the city's nether regions over the last few years.

This year we drove all the way down to southeast Brooklyn, spitting distance from the Rockaways, to Floyd Bennett Field - the city's first municipal airport, and the site of many historic flights (including Amelia Earhart). Park rangers who work for the National Park Service give regular tours, but last weekend they took us into all the "Authorized Personnel Only" areas, including a mezzanine and old residential quarters as well as tunnels under the old terminal building that have fallen in disrepair (and whose many stairwells have been filled with concrete or sandbagged shut).

One of the tunnels under the old terminal building, now Ryan Visitor Center

Another little-known fact is that you can just show up to one of the hangars and find volunteer engineers who will take you around and show you all the aircraft. We went to Hangar B, the big yellow one, and climbed up into old paratrooper planes, stuck our heads into cockpits, examined how salt water had eaten away at the aluminum of amphibious planes...Most of them can't fly but they're the real thing - only a couple are actually replicas.

After that I wasn't toured out yet, so I got dropped off in Flushing Meadows at the Queens Art Museum to take a tour of the old site of the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. There are a few permanent structures left over from the demolition that happened after the 1964-5 World's Fair, including the art museum (formerly the New York City Pavilion). Most people recognize the Unisphere, which has become a symbol for Queens (and is often televised with coverage of the US Open). But I think few people know about the old heliport (now a catering hall called Terrace on the Park which looks like a big table), or the old New York State Pavilion ("The Tent of Tomorrow"). The state pavilion is heartbreaking to look at - a series of three observation decks (with an elevator stuck 2/3 of the way up) plus an open round structure with a rotting floor that used to showcase a map of the NY metro area. There are some amazing photos online, and apparently a campaign to turn the site from ruins into a space museum.

The Hall of Science was really cool too, and since it's always open to the public, I need to go back. The building itself is architecturally weird, with its undulating exterior wall made of blue glass embedded in concrete. An aerial view shows you its amoeba-like shape. As part of the special tour we got access to the Great Hall, where you can actually see what the blue glass/concrete wall looks like from the inside, with the sun shining through. The Great Hall is a catering hall too, and probably a pretty impressive for events with its unusual lighting, wavy walls and high ceiling. Getting access to it was definitely a highlight of the tour. I wanted to lie down and sleep in there.

Getting home was a struggle since a building fell on the 7 train, but after wandering around that area and finally hopping on a shuttle bus, I feel like I've conquered another piece of Queens. But when will OHNY do guided tours of Glendale?

September 24, 2006

Ain't That America

I just came back from Indiana. The rest of the state has to be better than where I was.

The Chicagoland area encompasses the northernmost part of Indiana, including Gary (made famous by The Music Man) and Michigan City, both of which run along the south shore of Lake Michigan. We flew into Chicago on Friday for a bachelor/ette party and then headed wayyy out to Michigan City on Saturday to spend the rest of the weekend doing more wedding-related activities (mostly eating).

I have to say, I was unimpressed with both.

I've been to Chicago before, but on business trips staying in a nice hotel and not really seeing suburbs (except Highland Park, where Michelle is from). This time around I got to drive around the southern neighborhoods (yikes - I swear it's stuck in 1979) and eat deep dish pizza for the first time at Lou Malnati's (I like Uno's better). Even though I'm the groom's friend, I got stuck with the bachelorette festivities, which was planned as a sleepover. The problem is, we didn't really do anything. There was a bellydancing instructor who came to give us a lesson, but she wasn't very good and just did a lot of talking and not a lot of teaching. I don't think we really learned anything, and I felt like an expert compared to her. Can't wait to go back to Crunch and take another class with Mimi.

The best part was staying over in an amazing converted loft apartment in the old Rowe Building on Printer's Row near the Loop in downtown Chicago. The bride's sister-in-law has an amazing space and it was cool to be in such a historic area I'd never seen, with the El tracks looming above...

It was too bad we had to drive the hour and a half out to Michigan City, but we did some exploring there too. I knew that there were a lot of dunes along the beach shore, and we got to see one for ourselves: Mt. Baldy, a huge mountain made of sand that - because of wind, erosion and other environmental factors - actually moves 4 ft. every year. It looms 123 ft. high above the Lake Michigan shore and there's only one way to get to the top: a practically vertical climb of pure sand, flanked by foresty trees. I was certain I'd never make it up there but after taking my time, I managed to ascend to the flat top and see the gorgeous and bizarre view (obstructed only by the weird fossil fuel plant next door). By the time we stumbled down the vertical drop to the bottom (some ran, I squished my bare feet in very slowly and carefully), our legs were covered up to the knees in sand, grains like cinnamon sugar, soft and sweet between our toes.

Michigan City has this nature thing happening but it's also riddled with chain restaurants and big discount superstores. For a small town, it has no small town feel - only highways, a weird casino that's half boat / half building, and tons of cigarette/tobacco shops and fireworks stores. I was happy to eat at the Bob Evans for breakfast, but I don't know if that was because it's good or because I was anxious to get away from my repulsive motel room with the terrifyingly dirty bedspread.

The wedding today took us back to nature, at the International Friendship Gardens. It looks like they have a great variety of gardens and hiking trails there, but we stuck to the official wedding area which, although chilly today, was a beautiful venue for a marriage ceremony.

I'm glad I was there this weekend - after all, it's all about friendship - but I'm betting that Vic's December wedding in St. Thomas is going to give me a more enjoyable vacation.

September 04, 2006

Labor Day Weekend Travels Part II

The trip back today went relatively smoothly. I did get to stop in Scranton and eat at Perkins, though their "new-improved" salad bread bowl is really bizarre, and not that tasty. But it's still a great place to eat, even by yourself, and I got a sugar cookie to go, to keep me company on the rest of the trip home.

I left Syracuse a bit later than I wanted to (making a requisite stop at Carousel mall), so of course I was pretty much rushed the whole way back to Newark. Instead of stopping at every scenic overlook and taking pictures like I wanted to, I treated the trip back as more of a fact-finding mission for the next time I drive through that way. Besides all the previously mentioned restaurants, there's also The Crossings outlet mall, and Bushkills Falls (known as "The Niagara of Pennsylvania"). Plus, Pennsylvania (esp. the Scranton area) has all these coal mine tours, and even a mining museum. Probably great family vacation attractions, which means of course I want to go.

But today I spent a long time in stand-still traffic on 80E, and soon thereafter my check engine (or check oil?) light went on, so I was anxious to drop that frickin' rental car off in Newark.

By the way, if the car rental company asks you whether you prefer a KIA Rio or Optima, tell them "Neither. Give me a car with a quiet transmission and a steering wheel that doesn't shake."

September 02, 2006

Labor Day Weekend Travels Pt 1

I rented a car today and drove up from Newark, NJ to Syracuse, NY. What a shithole Newark is. The last time I rented a car there (which is much cheaper than Manhattan), I was driving home for Christmas, and I got terribly lost getting to the highway. Finding my way went much more smoothly and quickly today, and soon I was careening down Route 80 in the rain, through the Poconos and the Del Water Gap, past the area where I went skydiving last year for my birthday.

I smartly planned my trip upstate with Maria in two sections: two hours to Scranton, pit stop, and then two hours to Syracuse. We made a detour outside of Scranton to Clarks Summit, a cute mountain town that houses all the chain restaurants you could ever want, including the only open Bennigan's I've seen in months and Waffle House. They also have a crazy restaurant right next to Waffle House called Vince the Pizza Prince, whose structure is an actual castle. I'll have to eat there one day but today I was hell-bent on introducing Maria to the famous waffles and coffee.

I think on my way back to NYC on Monday I'll drive the same way and stop to eat at one of the several fully operational Perkins restaurants in the Scranton area. I thought they were all long gone (the Syracuse locations having been replaced by Denny's), but lo and behold, they're all over the place (including three on Staten Island!).

Weather is crap and I'll probably skip the State Fair this year. Hope the visibility on the ride back is better than on the way up here.

August 26, 2006

A rainy night in New York

The rain didn't stop us from enjoying the Dutchess County Fair last night, whose crowd was pleasantly light because of the weather. By hell or high water, we were going to eat veggie tempura and sausages & peppers and buy dozens of tickets to ride the rides. I haven't been that nauseous in a long time, and not only because of the fried food but because of the very looooong rides whose repetitive motion always bothered me as a child and now is practically unbearable to the adult me.

I also fed a llama and a camel from my hand which was nauseating in a completely different way.

Worst of all was a new ride for me, the Cliff Hanger which mimicks hang gliding but lasts forever and just goes in circles. But fortunately, by the time we went on that ride, we'd already enjoyed the Zero Gravity (formerly known to me as the Round-Up), 1000 Nachts (formerly known to Mike as the Rainbow) and swing rides as well as my staple, bumper cars.

After the Cliff Hanger I ran right over to Bob Maxwell's Walk-A-Way Sundae stand to experience the magical healing powers of square vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate and peanuts on a cone. Cures a sick tummy every time.

The drizzle also did not deter us from dipping into the hot tub when we got back to Mike's house. Somehow it only feels right when the weather is chilly and gloomy like yesterday, and it's pitch black out.

The quick trip was a bit exhausting but we managed to get up in time today to drive to Cold Spring and grab a meal at Cold Spring Depot, the haunted old train station that's been converted into a restaurant. I'm pretty sure we sat in the exact spot where the woman who haunts the station was originally murdered. I felt a little nauseous there, too.

And now back home to NYC where I have to try to explain to people what things are like Upstate.

August 13, 2006

Christmas in August

Yes, that's me right in the front, second from left in the pic

Last night I went out to the Audio Magick studio in West Babylon (that's Long Island, yo) to sing backup vocals for the new Twisted Sister Christmas album.

Of course I wasn't hand-picked for the gig. In fact, the invitation had nothing to do with whatever talent I may or may not have. But fortunately working in the music industry has its perks, and one of them happens to be a bizarre opportunity such as this, when a band needs a lot of voices and free labor.

Being the Christmas music afficionado that I am, it was hard for me to stand back and not music direct the whole thing ("no, you're going too slow!"), but actually Mark and Jay Jay did a great job corralling us and making the whole night really fun, despite our hunger and the hot temperature of the small studio.

We didn't get to meet Dee, but we sang "Deck the Halls," "Silver Bells," "Let It Snow," "O Come All Ye Faithful" and their take on "The Twelve Days of Christmas" called "Heavy Metal Christmas." Look for my name in the liner notes - Twisted Christmas comes out later this year on Razor & Tie. A proud moment for my recording debut.

Did I mention I love Long Island?

[Edited on 5/21/16 8:52 p.m. PT to fix broken links and photos]

July 22, 2006

I have complete control of the vehicle.

The Dodge Caliber is a weird little car. I rent a lot of cars, but never has the driver seat been so much higher than the passenger seat, and never have I needed to adjust the steering wheel. It's a strange little box - roomy enough - but its small size and sturdy build actually make it hard to see outside of the car. I have a hard enough time changing lanes and checking my blindspot - thank God I had Mike in the backseat saying things like "Watch out for that car in front of you."

We drove down to Six Flags Great Adventure yet again yesterday, this time to see Club Kidz Bop - I'll withold my reviews. The weather was terrible, but Six Flags apparently never closes because of rain, and we had to go there for work anyway, so off we went despite the bleak forecast (which our resident meteorology expert Mike confirmed).

Lucky enough this time we actually got to do the Daredevil Dive, which was probably the highlight of the day. Mike missed it because he wandered off for an Italian ice, but had he stayed he would've seen me and Edith being strapped together, tethered and launched 157 ft. up into the air, clutching onto each other, arms interlocked. We were then released, bungee-style, to swing back and forth over the crowd. A good precursor to skydiving for anyone who's never done it. And it wasn't scary at all for me, except for that moment before the freefall (but thankfully you're suspended by a strong tether instead of hurdling towards the ground). You can do the ride with up to three people bundled together, so we're looking for a third participant for the next time....
We also rode Nitro based on Mike's recommendation, and I too had a visual fade-out - not a full-on blackout, but everything turned sort of purple as the ride banked over that last turn. Very satisfying, especially since the threatening sky and severe thunderstorm warnings closed down the rest of the rides for most of the day.

A decent dinner at Champps bar & grill in Edison's Menlo Park Mall gave us a good break from the rain, and when we were done we had a relatively short drive home. Finding a lucky meter-free parking spot on 25th Street helped me get into bed at a decent hour, and when I checked the car this morning I discovered that there was no damage to the car, despite hitting the curb on a flooded highway exit when a deluge of water hit our windshield the night before. Relieved, I gave that weird red Caliber back to Dollar car rental by 10 a.m. and came home to go back to bed.

June 23, 2006

Oh, what an adventure

There's nothing like taking the day off from work to go to an amusement park and see a concert. Yesterday actually marked the second time I'd been to Six Flags Great Adventure in two weeks - this time to see Angels & Airwaves in concert (you may know their conveniently-titled single "The Adventure").

Marc Ribot has a song that says that the hills of New Jersey are so lovely, and although it was meant as a joke, he's right. Once you get past all the industrial crap, driving down the Garden State Parkway actually is pretty green. And hiding among those hills are all sorts of great finds - relics of suburbia like outlet malls and 50's-style drive-in diners like Stewart's.

It's the same Stewart's that makes the root beer (not the Stewart's convenience stores that we Upstaters know), and there are a few left around the country, several of which actually in NJ. We stopped at the one on Rte 9 in Howell but there's one in Kearny and in Vineland with variations in menu and decor. We didn't use the car-hop service (like you see in American Graffiti) but we did eat hot dogs with bacon, steak sandwiches and waffle fries. And root beer in a frosty mug. A&W has got nothin' on these guys.

Unfortunately that meant our stomachs were not in prime form for lots of rides, but we did survive the hour-plus wait to get on .the Superman ride which, in terms of avoiding regret, was worth it. Flying through the air stomach-down is actually quite relaxing. Doesn't really feel like you're going upside-down. It was nothing like El Toro, which kicked our asses the week before. New this year to Six Flags, El Toro is a wooden-style rollercoaster that goes faster than any ride I've ever been on. Vertical drops. G-force like you wouldn't believe. It makes you feel drunk. Ole!

So I've got one more trip to Six Flags in me this summer, next month to see Club Kidz Bop. Maybe I'll finally work up the nerve to ride Kingda Ka then. And maybe when we go back to the Cheesecake Factory in Edison on the way home, I'll actually leave some room for cheesecake.

June 18, 2006

Long and Strong

I was bummed to have to give up my Saturday to drive one of my label's artists and her manager around Long Island, but I consoled myself when I realized that Long Island is probably the one place where I could actually find a guy who wants to take me to the mall and listen to Journey. After all, the one guy I actually do know who fits the bill lives in Cedarhurst. So I packed up the rental car and I picked up my passengers and zoomed over to the Queens Midtown Tunnel for an early morning drive down the L.I.E.

My previous excursions to Long Island have taken me to some of the usual destinations - Fire Island, Jones Beach, Westbury Music Fair, Roosevelt Field - but the only other time I had to work out there was just out to Farmingdale and fortunately I wasn't doing the driving. This time around I had to navigate my way all the way out to {ahem] a charity soccer tournament in Commack.

On the way out there somewhere around exit 36 we got hungry and were making good time, so we started driving towards Mineola (sort of) in search of food, and found a great little bagelry on Mineola Ave. called Barbara's Bagels. I have no idea who Barbara is but her bagels are fantastic. I was trying to be good so I managed to avoid the french toast bagels (replete w/powdered sugar) and the flagels, which just sort of looked like flattened-out bagels.

After getting to Commack and surviving some drizzle on a soccer field, we had to head back towards the city to Port Washington, a surprisingly cute watefront area (with neighboring Danbury and Manhassett) with lots of upscale shopping, gated communities and a crazy school/retreat tucked away in the woods (whose sign asked that we preserve the serenity of their campus, meanwhile I was peeling out as I made a U-turn in their driveway because I was lost). After petting some doggies and kitties at North Shore Animal League (which was surprisingly depressing) we got a late lunch at the very scary-looking Mexican/South American restaurant Mi Ranchito / Senor Pollo, whose excellent fajitas and vegetarian burrito weren't scary at all! (You know anyplace with pictures on their menu really could go either way...) Appropriately, we then caught a matinee screening of Nacho Libre at the soon-to-be-renovated movie theater on Main Street.

The hilarity of the film didn't get my spirits high enough to mentally survive the noisy, chaotic ride back to JFK - not hearing the GPS, making a few wrong turns, getting stuck in very slow traffic. Whilst trying to avoid a mental breakdown right there, I really wished I had hijacked the trip and dragged everybody to Garden City for some hot mall action and the Cheesecake Factory. At least then my quest for the man of my dreams might've been satisfied... Between that and not making my travel companions happy despite best efforts, the whole mission felt pretty impossible.

And now back to work. And further evidence that I need a pet.

June 03, 2006

A quick jaunt to Florida

Just got back tonight from a quick work-related trip to FL - flew into Ft. Lauderdale and drove a very short distance to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood (technically on the Seminole Reservation). Even though we were there on business, we had plenty of time to explore the casino, eat lunch at Hooter's, and take a dip in the very shallow pool (which is more like a lagoon with a water slide).

Thankfully I didn't drop too much money this time around - I was enjoying watching my coworker gamble while I held tightly onto my money. I did blow some cash playing some slots that ended up very boring (including Monopoly and Enchanted Unicorn, shockingly not a magical experience for me). Didn't get to try my luck at Hexbreaker which was the highlight of my Turning Stone casino experience, but that's OK.

The rooms at the Hard Rock are great, and there's music playing everywhere. When I checked into my room they had the stereo already pumping music, just waiting for me to arrive. Plus there's memorabilia everywhere, and a huge blown up photo of Stevie Nicks hanging over the front desk.

We had the latter portion of Friday night to ourselves so we went dancing at Pangaea, which mixed current hip hop and R&B with some throwback hits from the Monsta Jamz era. On our way back to our rooms we popped into Tequila Ranch, but once again I was in no shape to ride the mechanical bull. Yet another missed opportunity...

Somehow managed to get ourselves up this morning and go on a quest for Waffle House, which wasn't too far in neighboring town Dania and where I had the best soft-scrambled eggs with cheese I have ever had (besides in my own kitchen). And of course a waffle and a cup of famous coffee.

With a few hours to spare before our flight back to NYC we went in search of a mall, only to find that the Millenium Mall was definitely not from this millenium, and it was totally abandoned (I now wish I'd taken a picture). After also chasing down the dog races and a couple other malls which turned out to be strip malls, we drove to Miami for the Aventura Mall. Too bad we were too full to eat at the Cheesecake Factory there.

Took the necessary run through the local Target store (just on the other side of the Miami-Dade county border) and then drove through a brief, thunderous downpour on our way to the airport. My driving was stellar for the sake of my coworker, but I still made several illegal u-turns while getting lost. Serves me right for not getting the GPS this time.

May 30, 2006

I Heart Upstate New York

Howe's modest entryway

Back Upstate just one month after our trip to Albany for Kidz Bop Live, this time for another visit to Mike's house in Barrytown and for a road trip to Howe Caverns in Howe's Cave, NY. I had been there as a kid - in retrospect, my father did a very good job finding touristy ways of entertaining us back then - but really only remembered something about stalactites and stalagmites and being afraid of whatever was dripping on my head, and had a vague recollection of a boat ride. Visiting there again - in a relatively large group of 8 people - was fun in a predictable kind of way, especially since I'd just visited the caves at Ruby Falls in Chattanooga's Lookout Mountain a year ago. After we got to Howe's we realized that they also do a lantern tour (like the Castle Labyrinth in Buda) - that coupled with the fact that they didn't turn the lights of at all during the boat ride this time around gives us plenty of reason to go back.

The back of Olana at sunset

Even though Howe Caverns was the main destination on our trip, we started following a lot of the brown signs in the area that point out historic sites, and Mike being from that area had his own favorite spots to show us. Historic Hudson Valley is a network of these types of sites, mostly manors and estates owned by socialite families and often - like Olana - designed by famous artists. Olana (designed by Hudson River School painter Frederic Church) was really a standout for us - walking around as the sun just started to go down, this Persian style fantasy was much more ornate than a lot of the other Greek Revival and Beaux Arts houses we saw.

After sunset on the banks of the Hudson River in Clermont's back lawn, the next day we were really hyped for more exploring. We checked out the garden at Bard College and marveled at the amount of painters standing with their canvases under parasols - totally a scene out of a Victorian movie. The neighboring Montgomery Place has a cool hidden waterfall just on the border of the Bard campus so we took a hike through there despite our flip flops and temperature-inappropriate jeans.

I guess I never really knew that area of the state at all - Dutchess County, Sleepy Hollow... I've learned so much and my hometown isn't even all that far from there. Now that I have a plan to go back to Syracuse in a couple of weeks, I'm determined to do more exploring and get to know my roots better.

Plus, I think there's maybe another roadtrip ahead, next time to Cooperstown which appears to be much more than just the Baseball Hall of Fame. And maybe we'll get to stop at Dairy Queen again - if not the one in Oneonta, then back to the one in Hyde Park (thank you Chris)....

May 23, 2006

Chk-a-Cherry Blossoms!

My friend Bill took a date to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden the other day and he reports that the cherry blossoms are all gone - vacuumed from the premises. Fortunately, I managed to make it there during the Cherry Blossom Festival a couple weeks ago, despite prohibitively long lines at the front entrance. I of course tried to go with a date, too, but once again I've overestimated romantic interest so instead I went with my partner-in-crime and had a great time.

It's no wonder all the blossoms are gone - people down the tree-lined walkway shaking every branch they can reach, the petals snowing down on all our heads. Maybe that's why the girls in the band we saw, Gaijin A-Go-Go, carry umbrellas.

It was my first visit to the Botanic Garden, and it's gorgeous. Tons of other kinds of flowers and plants - tulips, roses, etc. - on a perfect sunny Saturday. I hope to head back to Prospect Park soon for some paddle boats or horseback riding or to check out the birds.

May 22, 2006

For those about to trapeze, I salute you

The tent @ Trapeze School New York. No, that's not me flying through the air - and we went at night.

Taking a flying trapeze class kicked my ass. Somehow jumping out of a plane with a guy strapped to my back in September didn't scare me, but grabbing a 10 lb. bar while dangling off a platform 23 ft. above the ground did.

Granted, I couldn't see anything because I didn't dare to wear glasses (and couldn't get my act together in time to come up with another solution). The whole experience is so disorienting - flying through the air, not seeing anything, all the echoes of the tent and the traffic of the West Side Highway blending together...I knew that there was someone yelling instructions to me, but I couldn't hear it. I also knew - intellectually - what my body was supposed to be doing, but I had no idea what my body actually was doing.

In fact, I still don't know - looking at the bruises I have on my knees, upper arm and side, clearly something kicked my ass. Could it really have been the net I landed on?

Overall I'm really glad I did it - after all, as Tim said, bemoaning that you're not good at trapeze is like saying you're no good at swimming with sharks. But still, I can't help but say, I totally sucked.

Hopefully in retrospect I can look back on it with fondness, remembering Manny, the hot guy that strapped me in. In the meantime, my muscles are killing me and I can barely get dressed in the morning, and I know I'll probably never see Manny again. Thank God for Deborah, my massage therapist at Crunch. Oh, sweet relief....

May 16, 2006

LA Day 3

There's this big weekly party on Tuesdays at the Standard so there was a huge line outside tonight when I pulled up to the valet. I could get in no problem as a hotel guest but I've chosen to hang out in my room and watch an episode of Nash Bridges next to a pile of day-old pancakes, which I keep nibbling on. I'm no snob.

It was a busy day starting at 8:30 a.m. with breakfast at the Mondrian's restaurant Asia de Cuba, which was more Cuba than Asia but as far as huevos rancheros go, excellent. Though dreary like NYC when we woke up, the sun eventually came out during a nice drive out to Santa Monica, where we wasted some time on the Pier and my face got a little color. It was a reprieve from my day full of meetings, which ended nicely at the Beverly-Wilshire lounge (and a fantastic manchego cheese plate, plus the complimentary spicy nuts and olives and breads).

Instead of joining my colleagues for a margarita-soaked Mexican dinner I went to the LA branch of my weekly cold reading series, but it was a total bust. When I left early I had convinced myself that my car had been stolen because I just didn't remember parking that far down the street. Fortunately I didn't lose my mind and kept walking.

Rounding out the night was a quick stop at Amoeba, a half hour before they closed, where I snagged the Greg Dulli solo album, Mark Geary's latest, and a MTV-branded bhangra compilation from India. Can't wait to listen.

May 15, 2006

LA Day 2

OK, so I didn't ride the mechanical bull. I realize it's a life-long dream, but I just couldn't while full on beef and in front of my coworkers. I needed Maria or Edith or Dan or some other encouragement, not the demands of people who expect me to live up to a certain stereotype that I'm not sure I fit.

Nevertheless, Saddle Ranch had some damn good tri tip and garlic mashed potatoes. It took a second to get them to bring me just a regular margarita (not a huge one, not a smoking one) and now I'm not drunk but just tired.

We went there after throwing a musical showcase at the Silent Movie Theater, which tapped into some weird past life / karmic / genetic destiny instinct that made me feel very comfortable there. Must be nice to see your name in lights.

So now I'm back and looking at leftover pancakes from this morning's breakfast at the Griddle Cafe. Fantastic plate-sized pancakes survive takeout containers pretty well and taste almost as good cold.

I thought I would be kind of bored for the next two days but it looks like I'll be pretty busy so I'd better get to bed soon. My face is slightly sunburned and I have to drive myself around tomorrow (thank you Tim) so I must be well-rested.

May 14, 2006

LA Day 1

Back in LA on business and the usual dread I feel about the West Coast isn't so bad today, but then again all I had to do was fly JetBlue with Tim and hang out today.

For the first time I'm staying at The Standard Hollywood, my normal breakfast spot. My room is great, and the executive chef David Linville fed me a huge chocolate-covered strawberry and generously topped off my glass of champagne. I felt a little out-of-sorts because Extreme Makeover was having their wrap party here tonight, which meant the pool was closed.

Fortunately, they gave us access to the pool at the Chateau Marmont, which is gorgeously nestled amongst much foliage and several bungalows.

After a quick swim, Tim and I went to El Compadre for dinner, where I had two flaming margaritas and we shared a chile relleno before I had the usual, carne asada. It reminded me of New York, namely Mexico Lindo the restaurant I live above. Really dark and cozy, our booth was almost like our own bungalow we dreamed of having whilst swimming at the Chateau Marmont.

April 24, 2006

For once, my glasses weren't mangled

Barrytown landmark oak tree in the snow

We visited Mike in the Hamlet of Barrytown this weekend. Apparently ever since the post office by the train tracks on the river closed, Barrytown no longer really exists, but Mike refuses to change his postal address to "Red Hook" (not to be confused with the very quickly gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood).

I found the whole place spooky but maybe it was the rain, or the deer, or just the pure age of it all (we're talking Revolutionary War era stuff).

There are also all these crazy churches that have been converted into houses and storefronts, in addition to the churches that are actually still functional.

Had a great dinner in Rhinebeck at Terrapin and came back to Mike's house, stripped down and got in the outdoor hot tub despite the rain and the fear of getting attacked by wild coyotes or a bear. I think Mike's white picket fence kept them away.

March 29, 2006

Back from Budapest

Edith and I have returned from visiting the Gooliva household, having carried bottles of Hungarian wine on the 10-hour plane ride. I think we're still feeling a little slippery after bobbing around in the mineral-rich waters of the Turkish thermal bath at Rudas, whose construction dates back to the 1500s. Apparently the water there is radioactive. I think I'm glowing from my trip.

Despite the really affordable cost of everything, I did manage to spend almost all of my Forints (yes, Hungary is part of the EU but they're a little behind on using the Euro), mostly on food I think. As a Scottish tourist told us at Gerloczy Kavehaz (where I ate grilled smoked ewe's cheese), "Food, good. Service, crap." So we prepared to stay a long time at each restaurant. Had plenty of traditional Hungarian foods like goulash and various paprika-spiced meats and fishes, and actually a great quick cafeteria-style meal at a Turkish restaurant (where I had my first chocolate baklava, yum). Other highlights include a great food & drink spot called Fat Mo's (nice wine selection) and any place we could get some fried camembert w/berry sauce or some Pick salami.

Cocktails were both good and bizarre - we tried the herbal digestif Unicum which tasted like Jaeger but worse, definitely something you have to choke down. I stole the signature glass it's served in from the restaurant to remember my accomplishment of actually finishing it.

We had some really great cocktails at Negro Bar, the area's first cocktail lounge ever (which only opened as recently as 2004). For fans of NYC mixologists (at places like Employees Only, Flatiron Lounge, Angel's Share, 5 Ninth, etc.) this is a good place to get a well-mixed drink with good ingredients. But weirdly Havana Club rum is really popular and so are Galliano and - gulp - Black Velvet.

Negro is right by St. Stephen's Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika), where we saw the relic of St. Stephen's right hand (which apparently they parade around in August as a religious celebration).

Among the other weird-and-wacky sights we checked out include an underground labyrinth of caves (carved out by all the hot springs under the city of Buda) - which we took a lights-out, self-guided tour carrying oil lanterns - and a tram that takes you up the hill of Buda Castle called the funicular. We tried to check out a lot of transit-related stuff in Budapest, including the underground museum (weird) and taking the subway, busses, and trams. But our best (and most expensive) experience came unplanned - when we were fined for not having a ticket on the tram in Buda. The transit cops there try to act really scary and made us get off the tram, and acted like he was giving us a great break by only charging us 2500FT, but it turns out that's all you owe anyway if you're caught on the spot. A bit thrilling, and a bit scary, but a good lesson - because we were prepared when we got stopped again at the red line station at Kossuth Lajos ter!

Took lots of photos of Parlament, Chain Bridge, and the skyline from both the Buda and Pest sides of the Danube. We really loved just walking around and stumbling upon stuff to do, like the Spring Festival street fair at the end of Vaci uta where we shared a sweet spiral cake sprinkled with cinnamon.

We didn't learn a ton of Magyar (the Hungarian language) but I'm definitely inspired now to learn some more German after flying Lufthansa. Anyone who visits my apartment will witness how nice their silverware is.