September 21, 2007

Back on East Coast Time

My internal clock has been so messed up, ever since we set our watches back an hour in Nashville, only to find out that directly north of there in Kentucky, we had to set our watches forward again. At Maker's Mark (NOT our first stop of the day), we realized we had no clue what time it was.

So back to Nashville and back on Central time, then back to NYC on Sunday for a little (r)EST, and then out to LA on Monday to mess me up even further.

All week I've pretty much still been on New York time, going to bed at 9:45 p.m. and waking up on my own at like 6:45 a.m. I needed my rest anyway: the all-day conference was exhausting.

Wednesday night I made the stupid decision to go to a conference-related after-party at the Mondrian's SeaBar. The highlight of the party - besides the host who invited me and who looks like Sawyer from LOST - was spotting Simon Rex (who I love because of his association with Felicity) in the lobby, not being able to get into the party that I was in.

The only other celebrity sighting was actually conference-related: Carson Kressley at the Lifetime-sponsored cocktail party just prior to Seabar.

I've been under an allergy attack since last week, but my antics on Wednesday night - which included a late-night stop at In-N-Out Burger where I lost my bag and then quickly retrieved it - set me over the edge. Now it's a full-blown sickness.

It's a bummer because I really did try to lay low this whole trip. I even skipped dinner after taking a Cardioke class at the Hollywood Pop Academy, though I did think twice after walking by Hooters...

Cineramadome CeilingFrom a business perspective, the trip was really good, but I didn't get much out of it personally. Knowing the Hollywood Roosevelt's rich history (and renowned hauntings), I was really excited to stay there, but it was definitely not worth the hype. And I didn't spot any glitterati there despite it currently being a hotspot for celebutantes.

The conference was at the historic Cinerama which was really cool to sit in - and make a presentation in. Its domed roof looks like a honeycomb both outside and in. And the attached Arclight Cafe is a nice spot to grab lunch.

synchronized swimmingMost bizarre moment of my trip?
A tie:
- Approaching a guy in In-N-Out Burger and saying, "You're cute, but you look like you're on drugs" and having him respond, "Well, I am on drugs. You need to work on your tact."
- Synchronized swimming exhibition at the conference wrap party

Now back in NY and I hope I sleep normally. I won't be changing time zones for another month, when I have to spend the weekend in Minneapolis.

September 17, 2007

What I Remember from the Kentucky Bourbon Festival

Actually I remember a lot. We thought we would get a lot drunker than we did, but considering each tour was like an hour and each tasting was only like five minutes, we had plenty of time to recover between each of the distilleries.

We flew into Nashville first and then drove three hours to KY on Thursday. The state of Kentucky is basically built on caves and caverns, but we didn't have time to explore any of them. Also, given its rich history in war and military battle, it's really haunted. In fact, the Bourbon Festival's home base, Bardstown, is known as one of the most haunted places in the country.

Thursday night we actually got to take a ghost tour of the town, which took us to the old Jailer's Inn, a local cemetery, and our own hotel - The Old Talbott Tavern. During our tour we saw some supposedly ghost-induced chandelier flickering, but that was our only encounter with the supernatural there. Thank God, too - we were a little afraid to wake up with somebody standing over us.

The Tavern is the place to be during the festival, which actually isn't saying much. We thought the whole event would be a lot more exciting, with a lot more people. Nevertheless, we had fun in the bar that night, hanging out with the locals, drinking cheap bourbon and dancing to the live band and DJ.

All told, we managed to hit five distilleries and eat a lot of bourbon balls. We got so hyperglycemic that we succumbed to chain restaurants for food (like Pizza Hut and Longhorn Steakhouse) when we got too crazy to drive any more.

Best Tasting: Heaven Hill, where we missed the tour but got to sit in a larger-than-life barrel and try some great high-end bourbons like the Elijah Craig 18-year

Best Tour: Maker's Mark, where our tour guide Betty let us stick our fingers in the tubs of corn mash in various stages of yeasting and taste the bourbon-making process in the works.

yeasty partially cooked sour mash

Best Distillery: Woodford Reserve, which has a beautiful plot with really old buildings, and a barrel track for barrel-rolling (which essentially replaces trucks)

Hardest-to-Find Distillery: Woodford Reserve. It's hidden in the middle of a bunch of horse farms, and there aren't really any signs. Google Maps and GPS think it's somewhere else and sent us off the beaten path. We got lost on the way there and on the way out.

Most Bizarre Tourism Moment: In the Jim Beam tasting room, which we shared with a huge group of Japanese tourists who didn't speak any English. Those poor Kentucky women pouring the bourbon didn't know what to do with them.

We also visited Buffalo Trace which was pretty unremarkable for me, but cool for Edith I think, who liked watching them bottle the Blanton's. We missed Four Roses and Wild Turkey because we ran out of time, with most tours ending around 3 in the afternoon. We were kind of sick of hearing about virgin white oak, white dog and angel's share anyway, and had gotten to the point where we just wanted to taste the bourbon.

I think some people must come and have a life-changing experience during the festival like in the movie Sideways, but for us, it was just a cool thing to do, that we could probably only do with each other.

By the time we left, I was glad to go, but maybe it was just to get back to some normal drinking water. The running water in our hotel was so gross that I didn't want to wash my hair with it.

Fare of the Country; Where Kentucky Makes Its Bourbon - The New York Times 1993
On Kentucky's Bourbon Trail - The New York Times 2007
Riding the Bourbon Trail - The Philadelphia Inquirer 2007


The Kentucky Bourbon Festival was a nice excuse to fly in and out of Nashville and finally visit "Music City." There was a lot less to do there than I expected, but the food was good and the hotel was awesome.

Union StationWe stayed at the old Union Station train station, which has been converted into a Wyndham hotel. It's one of a few kind of gothic, stone structures looming in the skyline - alongside the Customs House and the local high school. In fact, everything seems to be a historical landmark, not only on Broadway through downtown, but everywhere we went. Union Station's clock tower (which inspired us to hunt around the hotel, looking for its entrance) is visible from afar, and was definitely a beacon in the night when we were walking home from drinking $6 pitchers and eating bacon-stuffed hot dogs at Paradise Park Trailer Resort on our last night there.

We got to hear some decent cover bands sing Elvis, Garth Brooks, and Nickelback songs. Bands play all day long all along the strip, and the bars are packed, even early in the afternoon. We resisted an afternoon beer buzz and went out to Tootsie's at night (where FarCry was entertaining a bunch of bachelorette parties). It was claustrophobic and rowdy and full of Colts fans, but we got some cheap beers and got to try Miller's new lime-and-salt chelada-style beer "Chill."

The hot dog was probably the best thing we ate in Nashville, but we also had a lovely elegant dinner of new southern cuisine at Watermark in a new trendy neighborhood called The Gulch. Other highlights included the steam pot at South Street and trout dip at Broadway Brewhouse and Mojo. Although the food didn't totally knock me over, I loved the experience of visiting the Loveless Cafe, a former motel that's on the outskirts of town.

In fact, we got to see quite a bit of Nashville, and not just the touristy stuff. Saturday night we went to the Tennessee State Fair, which is pretty small and entirely local. Supposedly nobody really goes to the state fair because they all visit other counties' fairs, but we had a good time watching the pig race and riding the rides.

We did the tourist thing too, visiting Ryman Auditorium (the former church / home of Grand Ole Opry), the new Opryland, the Dukes of Hazzard museum, Purity Dairies factory, Lane Motor Museum...

Driving a SmartCar!Seeing all those crazy European cars at the museum, test-driving a SmartCar (the Swatch-designed Mercedes-manufactured minicar), and driving so much around KY and TN made me totally want to get a car. It's idiotic for me to think I could have one in Manhattan, but a tiny little fuel-efficient car with a sticker price of $11,000 somehow seems totally do-able.

In the meantime, I'm only here for one night and I've got to fly out to LA for work tonight. Stay tuned for more dispatches from the West Coast....

September 08, 2007

Photo Essay: Coney Island’s Last Friday of the Summer

I'm cramming in as much as I can. It's like the world is ending soon.

Since it was the last Friday with fireworks at Coney Island, I had to go, even if that meant going by myself.

The evening's highlights? Riding the El Dorado bumper cars 3x. Nathan's cheese dog with sauteed onions.

A nice leisurely stationary cage ride on the Wonder Wheel...

View One of the swinging cages, viewed from my stationary cage

And, of course...

Click for more photos

I was standing on the boardwalk, while the fireworks were being launched right off the beach. The smoke choked me and blew burnt remnants of the encasements over my head and into my hair, but I loved it. Fireworks have never been so loud.

I only wish I could have shared it with someone.

September 03, 2007

Flying Solo

When I first came to the city, despite having a roommate, I spent an inordinate amount of time by myself. None of my friends liked to party as much as I did, so I hung out in bars alone, but I also ventured out into the nether regions of the city solo. I always figured nobody was interested in doing the things I was interested in doing, and I hate being turned down / stood up / bailed on, so eventually I just stopped inviting people.

When I became friends with Dan in 2003 and Edith in 2004, suddenly I had partners-in-crime. I've gotten spoiled by that. So today, when I had a day off but Edith out of town and Dan working (and generally distracted and unavailable lately anyway), I had a really hard time figuring out what I wanted to do...alone. There are plenty of places I want to go and see, but now I know it's just not the same unless you have someone with whom to share them.

I didn't want to waste the nice weather though, so I ventured back down to Lower Manhattan. I was there briefly after my Governor's Island adventure, and I could see it pretty well from the Floating Pool Lady, so it's been on my mind lately. To think there was an actual castle in Manhattan that I hadn't visited - I was aghast!

So I took the 5 train down to Bowling Green, with my headphones and book in tow. To be honest, I actually wanted to get a leg up on the new food stand that opened today, Picnick. There'd been such a buzz about it, raising it to near Shake Shack level, and considering I've never been able to handle the line at Shake Shack, I figured I'd get in on this place early.

Despite the hype - Sullivan St. Bakery bread, fresh ingredients, wrapped in paper with edible ink - it was pretty fricking disappointing. I guess I expected something freshly prepared, even in their little booth space, but I got basically a prepackaged, refrigerated sandwich called the Pork 'n Roll, whose thinly sliced pork loin and coleslaw were good, but not worth a subway trip. Would have been a lot better even room temperature. Myself, I'll take 'wichcraft in Bryant Park any day.

Still, it was pleasant enough to have a bite while listening to the sea birds and waves, watching all the sailboats and ferries criss-cross past each other in the water. The Statue of Liberty loomed dark in the distance, and Governor's Island winked knowingly at me.

The last time I was at Battery Park was in 2003 I think, on the 4th of July when Freddy stood me up for a Ryan Adams concert. I went anyway, I think somehow thinking Freddy would eventually show up, but in retrospect I now know what a fool I was for going and waiting for him. I remember sitting on a park bench by the subway station the whole time, not committing to go into the bandshell area. After the concert was over, I headed uptown, tail between my legs, to watch some fireworks at a coworker's roof. I pressed my purse to my side the rest of the night, hoping to feel the phone vibrate. It never did.

Today at least I planned to be alone, and really had no expectations. Castle Clinton itself is pretty boring to look at - most people go there to buy tix for the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island. But its history is fascinating. It originally jutted out into the water, on its own little plot of land, protecting the lower entry to the island (which was a battery of cannons, hence its name). Landfill was brought in around it, making the castle a proper part of Manhattan. It's easy to forget that Manhattan's lower tip used to be shaped differently, but when construction workers recently discovered the old wall that marked the original pre-landfill border of the island, it served as a good reminder of our changing geography.

When "Fort" Clinton's military function was no longer necessary, it became a popular location of public recreation - concerts, fireworks and the like. It then was used as an emigrant landing depot, and eventually housed a public aquarium (destroyed by Robert Moses in his plans to build the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel).

I thought about going to the Statue of Liberty since I've never been, but I got there too late and the line was long anyway. So I hung out once again on a park bench, this time reading my book and soaking in the atmosphere - which consisted mostly of pigeons pecking the sidewalk in front of me. And as the Lower Manhattan skyline gleamed in the bright sunlight, I was struck by the juxtaposition of modern skyscraper and military relic. What a strange city I've made as my home...

Video: Revolutionary Wall in Battery Park - The New York Times