Saturday, December 24, 2005

Listless: Yes, I am without list. As happens all too often, I am suffering from a cold. Or maybe it's pneumonia. Or bird flu. Whatever it is, it's bloody annoying.

Here's the week football column. BTW, you can see all the columns here. There's only a couple left to write this year, and that's good, because cranking out 3000 words about football every week is pretty taking over my life. Once the season is over I promise a long-ish post to catch you up on everything.

For now, back to bed.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Dumpage: Once again I am late in linking the football column. Considering the results, I should pretend it never happened. As penance, here are some links I have been collecting for you.
  • For all my scientist friends, a lab report to be proud of.

  • Travel round-up: upcoming hot destinations from Frommers, Fodors choice hotels, Gayot's top hotel openings, what's coming to Vegas. Sign me up for the Conrad Majestic.

  • I am not a fan of the band U2. I find their music mildly annoying, and ridiculously overrated. I find Bono to be monstrously annoying and intellectually infantile. So I took a sly delight in the first line of this Paul Theroux editorial: "There are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can't think of one at the moment." Heh-heh.

  • 52 reasons why ESPN sucks, is full of gems. (Naughty language alert.)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Getting There: The football column has pretty much totally consumed my life. I've gotten to the point where I am glad there are only three weeks left. But it's been quite an experience. It's really the first time I've written anything under a hard deadline. I knew it would be lots of work and lots of compromises, but anticipating something and actually living it are, as always, very different experiences. That said, I won’t hesitate to do it again next year. Here’s Week 14.

Also posted is my review of Wynn Las Vegas over at Hotel Chatter. Final judgment is that it is neck and neck with THEhotel as the best on the Strip.

So through the end of the year I have three more football columns and, yes, my Hawaii write-up. My sincere hope is that when I am done with those I will be well positioned and properly conditioned to complete my next novel. I have also been collecting some links, so you should get a link dump pretty soon.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Bad Me. Bad, Bad Me.: Wow. Not only has it been half a month since my last post, I failed to link up my Football Picks for week 12, never mind the recently released week 13.

My excuse, as you will realize if you follow the picks, is that I have been in Vegas, betting games like a man posessed. Technically, I was in Vegas twice. I flew out for a couple of nights before Thanksgiving, stayed at MGM Grand, followed by three nights at Red Mountain Spa in Utah, including a day trip to the surreal Bryce Canyon National Park, then back to Vegas for a couple of nights at the fabulous Wynn.

There won't be a singluar write up this whole mess. If you want to know a bit about my time in Vegas, you need to read Week 13. I will also be writing up the Wynn for Hotel Chatter. I may also write up MGM since I stayed in their new uber-stylish West Wing, but probably not; it'll get prioitized away I think.

I doubt I'll write about Red Mountain either. The facilities are unimpressive -- not bad by any strech, just nothing special (although they are working on an upgrade), but what you get is some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. And it's about three hours from Bryce Canyon where I took a ton of pics, but they do not do justice to the place. Again, I probably won't write anything about it, but I will try to share my pics. For the time being here are four. (They are fairly large .bmps -- about 1 meg each; I'll try get more and smaller ones up soon):

The view out my front door at Red Mountain Spa.
On the road to Bryce at 10,000 ft.
Bryce Panorama
Bryce Panorama with Thor's Hammer

So all that is coming, along with my long promised write up of Hawaii, which now seems so far in the past.

I'm also actively investigating the possibility of grafting at least two more hands onto my body. Nobody seems to be taking me seriously though.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Cleaning Up: As usual, when I set to ranting, I end up all wrong about everything. Turns out the flash drive I spoke of last time was working fine after all. My new and somewhat tempermental buddy, Mac OS X, managed to write some kind of bizarre file to it that had a date stamp with the year 2106. It probably wasn't the date stamp itself that caused the problem, but some other manglation (I just made up that word, but I like it) in the file that ended up making the entire drive unwriteable in some circumstances. Truly weird. But I owe the folks at SanDisk an apology for hammering them unmercifully last week. Very sorry guys. If it helps, many equally deranged idiots have done the same to me, so I know the feeling.

I am now down to one rebate to wrangle from Best Buy, official retailer of Satan, and my hassles of the past weeks should come to a close. Yes, I know there are countless people in the world who can only dream of a life where they only had my problems. I know this, but I have to write about something.

I could write about the weather. It's cold. Winter is here and I already hate it. I finally pulled my winter coat out of the closet. It sucks (winter that is, my coat is fairly stylish). And there are those countless people again, flipping me off for complaining about such trivialities.

Instead of going on in this vein, let me point you to my football picks for this week, and promise a big fat juicy Hawaii article Real Soon Now.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Whoops, Almost Forgot: This week's picks are up.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Still Fighting: Well, I'm batting .500 for technology this week which, as you know, is a great improvement over last week. I purchased a Roku Soundbridge; a device that enables me to send audio from iTunes through wi-fi to my stereo. Surprisingly, that went off without a hitch. A very cool gadget.

Then my little 256 meg flash drive began to have trouble saving files. I am very dependent on this little thing for back-ups and for transferring files, so I rushed out the very day of the first error and bought a new one. Naturally, that one doesn't work, it is completely empty but keeps reporting out of disk space errors. It's really a dead simple little device. There is no reason in the world these things should fail. Idiots. The company is SanDisk and they should be deeply ashamed of their inability to make this simple product function correctly. So once again, I will have to head back to the return line.

Here're some links to distract you in case you have had the misfortune of having a couple weeks like I just had (they start out useful and interesting, then go downhill fast). I'll be abck in day or so with a link to this weeks picks.
  • In the category of Important Things to Know we have a) How the universe will end, and b) Everything you need to know about Bird Flu. I'll leave it to you to decide which is more important. I will however highlight the importance of not giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a rooster in the second article.

  • The life of a restaurant critic. Including how she stays so thin...

  • Fodor's on the current state of New Orleans and Cancun. I've never been to Cancun, but it's going on the list now.

  • You would probably know Sarah Silverman as Chandler Bing's honkingly nasal girlfriend Janice (or maybe from SNL if you happen to be one the last four people who still watch SNL). But she is really a terrific all 'round comedienne. Quite a funny chick. "Quiet depravity" and "Demure outrages." [CORRECTION: Chrissy writes to tell me that Janice was not played by Sarah Silverman but by Maggie Wheeler. The lesson, as usual, is that I am a moron.]

  • Speaking of comedy, I find Ricky Gervais deadly funny. You know him from the original British The Office and from HBO's Extras. Judging form this article, he seems to be one of the few comedians who takes the practice of comedy seriously which, in spite of being oxymoronic, is a good thing. I guess we can all be grateful his early efforts at trying to be the new George Michael didn't pan out.

  • Speaking of awkward sexuality, according to Time magazine, Yankee outfielder Hideki Matsui has an interesting hobby that just makes him loveable: "...his only eccentricity, if it can be called that, is his extensive private library of adult videos. His refreshing ability to laugh self-deprecatingly about his porno collection, reporters say, is one reason why fans and even nonfans have taken to him so much." I guess he's safe from the fate of Ron Mexico.

  • Extensive porn collections always remind me of college. And right on cue, Playboy selects their top party schools for 2005. The winner is Arizona St.: "But don't mistake their apathy for stupidity, most of these Barbie and Ken look-alikes have mastered the art of taking and even passing a test while hung over." Some things never change.

  • This is not me. Seriously, it's not.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The World is Going to Hell: I have always had the sneaking suspicion that I am going to end up one of those old guys who does nothing but grouses and spews invective all day long. Hopefully, I would be a little more classy about it than your standard issue knee-socks-and-sandals geezer, maybe something like Dr. Gregory House, or possibly John Geilgud's Hobson from Arthur. But I don't think it was until the past week or so that I finally realized why people end up that way. It's really because you have no choice.

Now bear in mind I am coming off a weekend where I got my rebates rejected by Best Buy, official retailer of Satan, and ended up having to drop $300 to deal with flat tires. This week I have the pleasure of getting pimp-slapped by the world yet again.

Here in the bone-dry Midwest winters, one practical luxury you can treat yourself to is a humidifier. It keeps you from waking up in the morning cacking from a dry tongue and bleeding from 2-inch deep crow's feet. I buy a new one every year, because the water here is so heavily laced with lime that by the end of the winter, the moving parts are all cemented together.

I have now purchased two of them this year and neither one has functioned properly. I don't know about you, but waiting in line to return small appliances makes for a joyful weekend in my book.

And today, I discover my condo association has unanimously decided to levy an extra $700 assessment this year to "replenish the reserve".

I had planned a couple of long weekends before the year was out, including one to my beloved French Quarter to check on progress, but now the best I'd be able to do is the Super 8 in Gary, Indiana.

Yes, I realize I am not alone in having to deal with these aggravations; that's why so many people end up as curmudgeons. You are helpless to fight this. What am I supposed to do, form a task force to improve quality control in the room-sized humidifier industry? Grab one of the greasy teenage "sales reps" at Best Buy and explain the finer points of customer service? And where, exactly, do I go to replenish my reserve?

You are powerless, insignificant. Taking action against the infuriating nature of the world gets you lip service at best, and a rubber room at worst. Reacting by spraying the source of your frustration with Uzi fire will only get you a 5x10 cell and a toothless 300-pound roommate with an extensive collection of leather goods.

What else can you do? You have to grouse. Pathetic as it is, it is the only assertion of your self-worth that is left to you. And by the time you've reached old age you have no choice but to do it 24/7 just to keep even with the world.

God only knows what is in store for me this weekend.

So. How are things with you?

This weeks picks are up. I'm slowly chipping away at my Hawaii travel essay. And I hope to get a nice fat set of links up sometime soon for your surfing pleasure.

Too bad it's all wasted on the ungrateful world. Blech!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Are You Ready For Some...: Football picks are up over at Blogcritics. So it begins.

What a hellacious Friday. Pretty much everything that could've gone wrong did. Nothing, I mean NOTHING, worked the way it was supposed to. Either I screwed up or the rest of the bloody world screwed me up. It started with a flat tire and a blown out spare. Continued with my grand scheme to transmit internet radio from my laptop to my home stereo failing due to assclown manufacturers. Similarly, my humidifier ceased to work (a humdifier is an absolute necessity here once the wondows are shut up and the forced air heat goes on full time).

Then, to add insult to injury today, Best Buy has refused to honor the rebates I sent in because of a missing document that Best Buy claims doesn't exist. Biggest group of incompetant assclowns in the known universe. Nice of them to take the time to club me with their customer appreciation baseball bat. This one, I am not going to let rest. Bastards. Tomorrow, their customer service department will rue the day.

If there was one saving grace to the weekend is was that I was able to get out with a freind for a drink and take in Chrissy Burns at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase. Wickedly funny stuff (R-rated, BTW). Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The 411: First, you can read my review of HBO's latest original drama, Rome, over at Blogcritics. Second, when I was in DC recently, I had the pleasure of staying at The Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City. I've written about it in my travel journals before, so this time I wrote it up officially for Hotel Chatter. Lastly, later this week begin the heartily anticipated and heavily feared football picks. You may safely exhale now.
What a Disaster!: Speaking of the Ritz-Carlton, the one in Naples was recently hit by hurricane Wilma (scroll down a bit). When Katrina hit New Orleans nobody was prepared. When Wilma hit the R-C in Naples, they hung a little plastic bag with a flashlight and a glow stick on everyone's door. In New Orleans, people were desperate for food and water. At the R-C Naples, people had to navigate the buffet with their flashlights after which they were met at their linen covered tables with pitchers of water and fruit juice. In New Orleans, the city was pretty much underwater. At the R-C Naples, they had a "minor water intrusion." That pretty much settles the question of who should be running FEMA.
Do You Know What It Means...: The NYT (reg. req.) rounded up the recent hotel re-openings down in the Crescent City. Time to make good on my promise to go back to The Quarter as soon as possible. If I don't, the hurricane wins. I suspect more up to date info can be found at the N.O. Convention and Visitors Bureau, where they claim the NEW New Orleans will arrive in January 2006. I don't think I can wait that long.
Meanwhile, in the City That Can Do No Wrong...: That would be Vegas. Frommers has done a great round-up of this year's developments and announced projects (and a few rumors). It looks like most of the older, run down properties, primarily on the North Strip, are living on short time. That's not surprising, but the big beneficiary will likely be The Stratosphere, a decent place that has been stuck out in crudest section of the Strip.

I have to admit I'm somewhat surprised New Orleans didn't choose to rebuild itself in Las Vegas. They could have had the Bellagio fountain flood the casino every hour or so. Hey, it beats Sirens of the Caribbean.
Stupid Promo Hall of Fame: So I'm watching Monday Night Football and they run this little promo featuring Mike Vick, where they ask him a couple of glib questions and he answers with all the urban cool he can work up. The last question was, "What's the best way to manage having two girlfriends at once?" I am not making that up. Some Einstein in the NFL PR office actually thought that was a good question to ask Mike Vick. The answer he gave was something about having two cell phones. I would have paid $500 to hear him say, "Just be sure to use a pornstar name when you have to see the doctor."

Next up, the League sells airtime during the Vikings game to Carnival Cruise Lines.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Gone and Back: I spent the first half of last week in Washington DC again -- an occurrence so common that it barely merits a mention. In fairness, however, I have to mention that Northwest Airlines came to my rescue when I screwed up my flight times. I mistakenly thought that my flight left Detroit at 5pm, when in fact it was scheduled to arrive in DC at 5pm. Imagine my surprise when I reached the gate.

But the attendant was on the ball. She got me on standby for the next three flights, just in case. Then managed to get me on the first one and didn’t bat an eye about giving me the only available seat, whish happened to be in first class.

Then, my conference finished early so a hightailed it to the airport to see if I could get on an earlier flight back home and once again, the Northwest agent did me proud. Not only did I get on an earlier flight, but I had a row of seats all to myself.

So I owe Northwest as big a thank you, at least the size of my gripes when they screw up (and that’s pretty sizeable).

I have to say that messing up my flight times really rattled me. I can be fairly spacey, but there are few people who are as consistently on top of their travel arrangements as I am. People who are disorganized tend to have one or two things that they keep in order, just so there is some semblance of sanity in their lives and for me, travel plans are one of those. It made me worry about getting old. It could be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s. More likely though, the reason is simply that I am a complete moron. Which is much better.
Reversal of Fortune: How bad can it get for my bets? I want Cincy and Jacksonville to lose and Pittsburgh to win. Not only does Cincy win, but Jacksonville beats Pittsburgh. Not only that, the Giants are looking good in the NFC and Philly is struggling, so my hopes of Philly getting to the Super Bowl are declining.

It gets worse: the Cardinals are now three outs away from going down 3-1 in the NLCS. Update: Now they are down 3-1. They don’t deserve to win. How can a team that had the best record in the majors put guys on 1st and 3rd with nobody out and the season pretty much on the line and not get a single run to tie the game. Had they come back in the 9th and won the game, that could’ve turned it all around. Tey would have had the momentum going forward. Instead, they just added some drama to Houston’s victory. Stick a fork in ‘em.

I don’t know if the above words make any sense. I’m still a little dizzy from banging my head against the wall for a full three minutes. I’ve gone from having a decent chance to come out ahead to being only slightly less than six feet under in the span of a few days. Why do I bet these futures? Why do I violate my own rationally derived rules and take these wild chances? The reason, once again, is that I am complete moron.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Hanawannabe: Just a quick note to let you know that those wacky travellers over at Hotel Chatter have posted both my Hana hotel reviews: Hana Kai Maui Resort, and Hotel Hana Maui. Do check them out.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Getting There: You can read a brief review of the TV show House I knocked off over at Blogcritics. I have some other articles coming, specifically a couple of hotel review for Hotel Chatter (submitted but not posted just yet), then my write up of my recent trip to Hawaii. All coming real soon.
Ramblin’ and Gambin’: As you know I have some sports futures bets outstanding. My baseball bets that I made last yea, are close to resolved. My 8-1 bet on the Twins to win the AL went down the toilet, but my 3-1 on the Cardinals to win the NL is still on. They just have to beat the winner of the Astros-Braves series and I’ll be cool.

My football futures are hanging in there. Well, except for my +130 on Cincinnati to have less than 8 wins, which is looking laughably bad right now. Having started 4-0, they’ll have to go 3-9 through the rest of the season for me to get a payoff. Alas. My +110 on Jacksonville to do no better than .500 is OK -- they’re currently 2-2. My +110 on the Steelers to win 11+ is looking OK also. My 6-1 on Philly winning the Super Bowl remains, I think, a good prospect. I still don’t see another team from the NFC beating them to get there, especially considering Ron Mexico is proving to be a bit fragile. Tampa Bay is a little scary, though.

Anyway, weekly picks begin in earnest around week 8. I think I’ll be posting them over at Blogcritics just so I can be embarrassed on a much larger scale if I’m wrong.
Preview: Although I haven’t even started my Hawaii article, I want to share a few pics with you as an appetizer.
Required Reading: The Care and Feeding of Your Introvert. This should be required reading for extroverts everywhere. Including fines and jail time for failure to comply.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Aloha: Well I'm just back from an altogether too brief sojourn over to Hawaii. Spent a few days on Kauai, on the splendidly laid back south shore, then a couple of days in the "heavenly" town of Hana. I am back and fighting mild jet lag, but I have a bunch of stuff to write about, including a couple of reviews and travel articles so I'm hoping that the upcoming week or so will be productive. But for now, I need to get my jet-lagged self to bed for a while. Back soon.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Status Memo: Two major technological changes have occurred. First, I am now a Mac person. Yes, my new laptop is a 12" ibook. I'm posting from it now. It's taking some getting used to (there is no backspace key; there is a delete key that works like a backspace key but no key that functions as a delete key in Windows, at least not that I have discovered yet), but so far it seems pretty sweet. Of course, I will admit I am comparing it to my old Dell which weighs 12 pounds, holds a charge for about 15 minutes, and has a broken CD burner. I am slowly converting over, finding Mac versions of this application or that, etc. Hopefully, it won't be to long a journey. The good news is that I will be much less hesitant to bring my laptop on my travels -- or maybe that's bad news.

Second, I now have broadband. Yep. Comcast high-speed internet. Hard to believe, considering everything I do on the web, that I have been on dial-up until now. This is not entirely a luxury though. The plan is to give this a little time to make sure it works as advertised, then ditch my land line and dial-up ISP. Once the promo deal is over, the broadband goes up to ~45.00/month. Considering I spend close to 70.00/month for landline and dial-up, and I can't remember the last time I made heavy use of my land line, this is actually going to save me money in the long run. In fact, I could probably sign up for Skype or Vonage and still break even, and have broadband to boot.

Of course, the wireless router I am going to buy is a luxury...

Speaking of tech motivated changes, one of the strangest aspects of my life lately has been the near complete elimination of commercials. The DVR that came with my digital cable service completely insulates me from commercials during those rare occasions when I'm watching commercial television (I stick to HBO, Showtime, Encore, and the other non-commercial channels), and Sirius saves me from commercials while driving. As I think about it, I realize that never before in my life have I been commercial free. It's a very strange sensation to me when I encounter a commercial now -- which I do during football games -- I press fast forward and nothing happens. I'm not entirely sure how this is going to affect my understanding of a world where commercials can become shared cultural experiences. I like it a lot. But still, it's a strange sensation.

Lastly, you can read about my recent trip to Grand Cayman.
What to Read: Since I am not writing much web stuff these days I want to share a couple of journalists who maintain frequently updated sites that I have become very attached to, for you to visit if you need some stimulating reading.

First there is Terry Teachout who keeps a blog called About Last Night over at Arts Journal. Terry is probably the most eminent critic alive at the moment. He sits on the National Council for the Arts and covers just about every form of art -- films, books, music, TV, you-name-it; high, low and middle brow -- for a number of publications, not the least of which being a weekly column in the (dead tree only) Wall Street Journal. Though a critic by strict definition, Terry often refers to himself as an enthusiast; someone who enjoys writing about what he enjoys. The key, I think, to his success is that he assumes a role beyond sharing an opinion and suggesting what you should and should not consume art-wise. He understands that the critic should be an encouraging voice in civilization's never-ending conversation about the arts.

I'm also quite jealous of how well and frequently he writes. I delude myself that I could do that if I didn't have a day job.

Second, we have the best sportswriter alive, Bill Simmons, who writes for Truly, deeply, hysterically funny at times. Simmons is Boston native, currently displaced in LA, and as you can guess, he was in rare form last year what with his home teams winning both the Super Bowl and the World Series.

It's a fairly obvious fact that sports journalists generally have an inferiority complex. They think that they are not a significant as 'real news' journalists so they are always attempting to make sports into something societally momentous or deeply symbolic. Simmons is one of the tiny minority who understand that sports is simply a form of entertainment (that you happen to be able to bet on).

You see, Barry Bonds steroid usage or Terrell Owens flagrant inanity are not things to take to heart and analyze for what they say about the world at large. They are roughly the equivalent of a Russell Crowe phone assault or anything that comes out of Tara Reid's mouth. They are just absurdities that God put on this earth to entertain us. Simmons knows this (perhaps especially well since he did a stint in Hollywood as a writer for Jimmy Kimmel) and peppers his writing with all sorts of sarcastic pop culture references.

He is, at this point in time, the most entertaining journalist around in any genre.

Anyway, just a couple of places for you to visit when you curse me for not having anything new posted. Which would be always...
Nawlins, Soon Rather Than Later?: I just wanted to point out this article (update: the article appears to be no longer on line) on the state of The French Quarter down in the Crescent City. It seems they are driving like bulldogs to get things back up and running. Some great quotes:

New Orleans has always been a strange location for a tourist mecca, plopped between a lake you can't drink and a river you can't swim. Know where the city gets its drinking water? The septic end of the Mississippi. It's a hearty populace that can drink the silt and insecticide flushed from nine agricultural states. It's a hearty horse that can slurp such stuff, then pull a carriage full of tourists through the sweaty brick streets.

A walk down Bourbon suggested that the party street prepared well for the storm. (Apparently, strippers are used to fleeing town quickly.) The Unisexxx Club's sign still teased/threatened tourists with "World Famous Love Acts by Men and Women."

At Big Daddy's lounge, one of the street's biggest and most-raucous strip clubs, a generator was keeping the iconic mechanical swing, featuring a fake pair of showgirl legs, dancing in and out of a window.

Finis Shelnutt, owner of the building that houses Alex Patout's Cajun restaurant - think crab cakes, crawfish ÇtouffÇe - was sweeping debris from the sidewalk and hosing it down on a recent sweltering morning. He kept the place open during the storm, serving reporters and police officers who happened by. Food was scarce, and the ice was going quickly.

Preservation Hall, tabernacle of traditional jazz, is closed indefinitely but appears undamaged. The CafÇ du Monde looked in need of nothing more than a leaf blower before it could begin serving its powdery beignets again. Assuming the roof's fine, Pat O'Brien's popular courtyard bar could reopen quickly.

Among the holdouts, there is no self-pity, only optimism and - perhaps most important of all - the city's trademark sense of merriment. When they were done cleaning, they hooked a sign to the wrought iron gate. "Jesus swept," it said.

This makes me very happy. I vow to be one of the first visitors back to The Quarter. But my favorite quote is this one:

"Honestly, the French Quarter is cleaner than it's ever been in 22 years," said resident Mike Howell, who has a doctorate in political science and tells fortunes for a living in Jackson Square, the bustling core of the city.

He gets the Golden Waiter Award for best use of an advanced education. I'm sure he ends each of his readings with the words, "You can trust me, I'm a doctor."

Friday, September 02, 2005

Spoke Too Soon: OK, I couldn't wait until after Labor Day. I missed you too much.

I have been in Grand Cayman -- a full write-up is coming -- and Las Vegas (again) -- a full write-up is probably not coming, but I will regale you with snippets below. Cayman was about 95 degrees and 140% humidity everyday. There wasn't a day in Vegas where we didn't see 105 degrees. Needless to say, I am properly bronzed.

But the students started filing back to their hovels here in Ann Arbor, and this Saturday is the first Football Saturday. I think I may have to declare the summer officially gone. Alas. I'm glad I didn't waste it.
Vegas Notes: I doubt I'll write up this last trip. Maybe. I've written so much on Vegas I'd likely be repeating myself. Instead, I'll just share some quick observations.
  • I stayed at Caesars, which I had written off as grotesquely overrated based on my previous time there, but it truly rocked this time. All pools open, good service all around -- just the opposite of last time. I'm still high on THEhotel as the top summer place to stay, but Caesars gives it a good run at (usually) a lower price.

  • Poolside cabanas are the bomb.

  • There is Elvis, there is fat Elvis, then there is drunken fat Elvis. The latter does a fine wedding ceremony, but the bride risks getting felt up.

  • Everything in Vegas is far away. Even on the strip. The properties are so large that unless you are staying in your hotel or going to one immediately across the street or next door, you're in for a hike. I'm pretty sure they could hold a leg of the Tour Du France completely within Caesars or MGM. The system of monorails and trams is severely limited. There is no city in more dire need of a good quality mass transit system than Vegas. But then where would we get Taxicab Confessions?

  • The TI (Treasure Island) has done a good job repositioning itself from it's obnoxious pirate days. Fun bar called Kahunaville with the flare bartenders, and a great dance club/burlesque theatre called Tangerine. Definitely in the running for a winter stay. (Summerwise, the pool is not worth a damn, but you can use the nice one next door at Mirage.)

  • And there are more hotels going up. George Clooney and Brad Pitt are partners in a new place called Las Ramblas. (A truly ugly name; why not call it Ocean's 13?) You can see the plans on their website. It looks to be a block or so off strip, which in Vegas may translate to a mile or two, and impresses me as a bit antiseptic. Then there is Starwood hotels which will be launching a 1.4 billion dollar W hotel that they claim will be the new creme de la creme. Poor Steve Wynn; his spotlight wasn't very long, was it? At some point this hotel building has to turn sour.

  • Zumanity, the "erotic side of Cirque du Soliel," is something of a let down. More over to the bawdy side of the spectrum than I thought it would be. With couple of exceptions, the acts are unspectacular by Cirque standards. And if you are an audience member sitting front and center, be ready to be put in a potentially embarrassing situation. I don't care what the concept, one should never request an audience member simulate a sex act on stage. That's like pornographic karaoke {{shudder}}. You're probably better off sticking to the traditional Cirques.

  • It can be embarrassing to try to get seated in a restaurant if you aren't wearing pants. This principle, however, may not be limited to Vegas.
Odds On: For the record I have six active sports bets going. The regular football picks don't start for me until half way through the season when things shake out a bit, but I do indulge myself in some pre-season futures bets.

Last Thanksgiving, I got 8 to 1 on Minnesota taking the American League championship. I thought that was a great bet; at the start of the season Minnesota was the pick by many prominent baseball writers to win it all. Of course, now they are not even going to make the playoffs. I also got 3 to 1 on the Cardinals taking the NL. That one is looking good.

This time I allowed myself some Football total wins over-unders, specifically:
  • Pittsburgh over 10 wins, +110

  • Jacksonville under 8.5 wins, +110

  • Cincinnati under 8 wins, +130
(+110 means I win $1.10 for every dollar I bet, +130 means $1.30)

I also got 6 to 1 on the Eagles winning the Superbowl. I don't think they are the best team, but they are clearly the best in the NFC which means they are in the best position to get to the game, then anything can happen. Right? RIGHT?
Way Down Under in New Orleans: There's not much left to say about New Orleans. The only question is when, or if, the city recovers.

Unlike most opinions I have read, it's not immediately obvious to me that they can rebuild what was. I have visited New Orleans twice, both rollicking good times. But I stuck to the French Quarter where all the activity is (and I'm pleased to see the Quarter was spared the worst of the flood). The city proper leaves much to be desired, and as a vital economic area it has been on a downward trend for many decades. It is rife with crime. The politicians are consummately corrupt. There will be masses of businesses that will collect their insurance money and head elsewhere to set up shop -- probably Vegas. People will have to follow.

Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic. It's remotely possible that this becomes the opportunity to straighten the city out. Property values plunge; rents drop in synch; new development moves in; a fresh start. Even if businesses don't return, there's always the possibility of going the Savannah route and turning the place into a piece of living history; kind of a Mardi Gras theme park. I'd go so far as to call it probable that the Quarter comes back -- there is still money to be made there.

But if it's gone for good, will it will be a real loss? For the folks with roots in the area, of course it will, but for others, I don't know. It will be a loss to the convention business (and a gain for Vegas, a city that needs no more gains). It will be a loss to the culinary world, for sure. It will be a loss in that it was one of the last places that truly embraced a certain form of hedonism, and thereby celebrated an aspect of humanity that normally (and properly) gets repressed. But for the residents and businesses that relocate and continue their lives elsewhere, it may not be such a loss in the long run.

It will be a loss for you if you never saw New Orleans. The Crescent City of my memory was a place to dazzle all five senses from dusk 'til dawn. I can easily picture myself as an old man, sitting in my rocking chair, affecting a Louisiana drawl and telling all the youngins, "Chillun, if you never saw N'Awlins, you never saw a party."

My favorite sports columnist, Bill Simmons, says it this way:

Walking around Bourbon Street my first night there, I remember being legitimately blown away -- it was like showing up at somebody's messy frat house after a keg party, only for miles on end. But it was a functional craziness. Everyone wanted to walk around, get plastered, throw some beads, have fun and cross a few lines. Debauchery ruled the day. As I wrote at the time, New Orleans was one of the rare cities that made you feel like you were appearing in a movie scene, even if you were just walking down a street or making a pay phone call.

Speaking of which, if it does come back I'm guessing they'll throw a party. Oh my, will they throw a party.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Blog Breakin' Beats: I haven't exactly been blogging with any sort of frequency, so I’m just going to go with the flow and take an official blog break until after Labor Day. Because, like they tell you at all the leadership seminars, when you’re having trouble getting motivated the best thing to do is just give up.

Any writing time I have between now and then will hereby be devoted to fiction. In the meantime, please feel free to look at my guide to Savannah.
Reaching the Fingertips : Last weekend was spent 'Up North' as we say in Michigan. It started with a quick run to the airport to get Miss Kate at 5-ish on Friday evening, then a dash north to position ourselves for a quick run at picking up HRH Miss Anna at her summer camp in Cheboygan the next morning.

At this point, those of you from southeast Michigan are rolling on the floor at the concept of making a dash north at 5 PM on Friday in August. You know full well that a dash north at that time will amount to moving at about 5 miles per hour until well into the night, with the accompanying degradation in one's opinion of the entire human race and quite probably a sprained middle finger.

Needless to say, we sacked that plan immediately and headed west to Chelsea, where we had a tasty and leisurely meal at Common Grill, giving the rabble some extra time to clear off the freeways. We then headed north from there and only ran into traffic around Flint, where we again took a westerly detour. Finally we came to Grayling, where we had arranged reservations, through Travelocity, at a cheapie motel called America's Best Value Inn. We were arriving late (midnight or so), and I was fairly impressed that they called us about 10pm to check if we were still planning on showing up instead of just giving our room away. Of course, try as we might, we couldn't find America's Best Value Inn.

Now, you probably haven’t heard of Grayling Michigan. That would be because there is no reason you should have. It's a little town along the main highway to and from northern Michigan. It is likely used as a convenient stopping point for campers, hunters, color watchers, and other folks going 'Up North'. Basically, you get off the freeway and there is a string of downscale stores and businesses, primary among them are cheapie motels -- there’s about 7 or 8 of those, but nowhere to be seen was America's Best Value Inn. (At this point I was having 'Nam style flashbacks to getting pantsed by Travelocity over the Dream Hotel in NYC. But I digress.)

We drove this strip a couple of times, including another venture on and off the freeway to retrace our steps, but still saw nothing. Ragged out from our long drive and too tired to continue the blind exploration, we called asking for a landmark. Pizza Hut was the landmark we were given, but as an afterthought we were also told that the sign in front says Super 7 motel, not America's Best Value Inn. They will eventually be America's Best Value Inn, they just haven’t changed the sign. Apparently they saw no need to let us in on this secret when they called originally, never mind let Travelocity know about it (or Expedia, as of this writing anyway).

Now I ask you, what are you supposed to do or say at that moment? One indication of adulthood is that you quietly accept that throttling some asswitted dolt is never productive. I could have paid with a check from a closed account and just claimed that I hadn't gotten around to updating my checkbook yet, but that would have just got the law on me. I could have stolen some towels, but as an act of moral retribution that lacks a certain impact and besides, the towels weren't worth it. What was there to do but be stunned at the abject stupidity? Clearly, the cluetrain does not stop here.

Could there have been some sort of brand recognition for the Super 7 motel that they didn’t want to let go of? Did they not want to risk losing that huge market of travelers for whom the Super 8 Motel chain was just a bit extravagant? Or was their target market the folks looking to upgrade from Motel 6?

Ah well, the remainder of trip went pretty well. After gathering up HRH, we spent an evening chilling in Charlevoix -- a sweet little Lake Michigan town. An afternoon baking in the sun on the beach, an exceptional dinner at Charly's Restaurant, and a nice shiny sunset from the pier -- ahhhh. We even managed to dodge traffic on the way back.

Luck didn’t hold out, however. Kate and Anna's flight was cancelled -- thank you Independence Air -- and they were given a voucher to a hotel that did not honor vouchers from Independence Air -- thanks again.

If you live in Michigan, it's important to get 'Up North' once in a while. You have to be able to say things like "We were Up North for the weekend..." or "You know, last I was Up North..." It makes you seem genuine. Otherwise everyone will think you’re some kind of transplant from 'Back East' or 'Down South' or 'Out West' or something. I'm covered for a while.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Back From The South: Spent last weekend in Savannah, celebrating my Mom's 80th birthday. I offered to take her anywhere and having read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil she chose Savannah (where they simply refer to it as The Book). Who's a good son, eh?

Savannah was about 4 steps beyond hot and humid, but it is a fascinating place, especially if you are into history and/or historic house and building renovation. More on that when I write it up fully.

My flights there and back, on the other hand, were 4 steps beyond annoying. Northwest flights to Savannah are on small planes operated by those two-bit, third-rate, fourth-class outfits - Mesa Airlines, Mesaba Airlines, Canadair, Assclown Airlines; I never figured out exactly which one - that seem to exist solely to employ angry, dull-normal cretins who pissed off one too many customers at Burger King.

I had reserved an aisle seat (like always) but I thought I might check at the gate if an exit row was available. The attendant was a battleaxe of a woman who was muttering hostile missives and wondering aloud why "...they blame me for everything. It's not my fault if Northwest overbooks." I gave her my best ingratiating smile as I approached. In return she glared through two-inch think lenses, thinned her lips to taught ribbons, and tossed me the kind of look that Tony Soprano reserves for someone who is late on a payment. I beat a hasty retreat, guessing she would have reassigned me to a seat next to the toilet. As it was I felt lucky to get away with only an unexplained half-hour delay sitting on the runway.

On the way home, I started with a three hour delay in the airport. Note: Small airports are usually terrific -- no problems getting there, no crowds, no traffic congestion -- but you do not want to be stranded in one, unless an afternoon shopping for souvenir spoons in a 10x10 gift shop is your idea of a ripping good time.

Once in the air, I had a new experience: a flight attendant with BO. I have encountered other passengers with BO before, but never a flight attendant. Luckily I am very skilled at positioning the overhead air conditioning fan to act as a force field against noxious odors.

Lastly, as insult to injury, we eventually make it to within 50 feet of the gate in Detroit and we have another 20 minute delay while we wait for some semi-literate Neanderthals to show up wave their red batons at the plane while it enters the gate. People had turned full-on back-flips to rearrange connecting flights to account to for delay and then still lost their connection thanks to this final atrocity.

Northwest and Detroit Metro Airport continue their slow backslide into the incompetence of a few years back.

(Admit it. You've been pining for a travel rant from me, haven't you?)
Lance Link, Secret Chimp: OK, if you understand the title to this post don't read these links; your mind is filled with way too much random stuff already.
  • This may have played by now but the graphic alone cracks me up. Tom Cruise is Nuts.

  • Back in January I pointed out that Anna Benson is the new Paris Hilton (second post from the top). Seems I was dead on accurate. My buds over at Hotel Chatter have the scoop on Anna's participation in the World Series of Poker.

    After serving a 10-minute penalty for dropping the "f-bomb," a violation of tournament rules, Benson returned and asked her dealer, "Does that mean I can't say any other word? I can say c - - t, p - - - y and c - - k, but I can't say f - - k?" Benson -- whose $10,000 entrance fee was sponsored by -- was immediately booted from the game.

    Good judgment there,

  • I've busted on Detroit before, so I have to point out this article by ESPN's Jason Whitlock which goes me one better while actually trying to praise Detroit:

    Detroit is the old high school sweetheart who landed the boy who went on to win the Heisman Trophy and put together a Hall of Fame career. Yes, she lost her hourglass figure three kids ago, and suffered through some painful public infidelity. But now, in her 40s, she's still on the arm of the man of most women's dreams, controls most of his money, and has the freedom, emotional leverage and confidence to come and go as she pleases.

    Then later we have:

    Detroit is the big, sweaty woman squeezed into a size-10 dress, daring anybody to suggest her body ain't booming.

    Somebody at City Hall should politely suggest Jason turn his attention elsewhere.

  • Think you qualify as an extra for Pirates of the Carribean III:

    Extreme characters and hideously unattractive types, ages 18-50. Odd body shapes or very lean to extremely skinny. Missing teeth, wandering eyes and serial killer looks with real long hair & beards. Wigs & makeup are not what we're looking for. We also need little people, very large sumo wrestler types, extremely tall or extremely short people, albinos, amputees. Any size or shape that is NOT average is best.

    Kind of reminds me of Bourbon Street.
I promise my next set of links will contain more for the intellect and less trashy celebrity shenanigans. But they just make it so easy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Potted Plant: That'd be me. Have no idea why I haven't posted anything. I can't recall any specific things that have been holding me up, although I have actually had a tiny semblance of a social life the past week or so.

I am so happy to have a/c again that I have kept my place hermetically sealed and have been wallowing in the cool comfort -- especially nice since this has to have been one of the hottest, stickiest summers since dinosaurs ruled the earth. It was supposed to help me get more written since I would be able to hang around comfortably all day instead of just after dark, but like most other things that I have thought kept me from writing, the heat turned out to be more of an excuse than an actual problem. Still have hopes of getting a lot more done once I get over this playboy raconteur role I have been playing lately.

In the meantime, a plea for more sports-oriented reviews came down from the head cheese over at Blogcritics so I knocked off a quick one about an HBO special on Mickey Mantle I happened to see the day before. It amazes me how writing works. Sometimes stuff like this comes up out of the blue and I can knock off a few hundred words in an hour or so. Other times I can sit and stare at a single line of dialogue for eternity and nothing happens. It's at those times that excuses and rationalizations are my sole source of sanity.

That and alcohol.

I'd like to tell you more is coming soon, but that would likely be a lie. More is probably coming next week sometime. I just hope somebody comes by to water me until then.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

How's That For Fast?: I give you my latest New York adventure. Damn, I am a hard working guy. It's longish; lots of links and pics. Have fun.

Friday, July 08, 2005

It's Been a Long Time: And it will be longer still. I am working on the write up of my NYC trip. Should be done this weekend barring disasters. In the mean time here are a couple of interesting (non-facetious, for a change) links:
  • My good buddy Ben Stein on business travel. So very right about first class and aisle seats.

  • The more I read through the Aubrey-Maturin Patrick O'Brian series, the more I think it will go down as one of the most astounding literary achievements in history. I have to force myself to read a different book in between each installment just so I don't get completely lost in it. This article is in sync with my feelings.

  • Science magazine's top 25 scientific questions. Fascinating stuff.

  • This Flash animation, the one on the left, is mesmerizing. If she gets stuck, you can move her with your mouse.

The above mentioned NYC trip started out in Baltimore (a work thang). NYC pics will be available with the article, but for starters, take a look at these three Baltimore panoramas.

The NYC ones are much better. Back real soon (I hope).

Friday, July 01, 2005

Here’s Some Stuff For You: Just a few things before I spend the whole of the holiday weekend away from the computer.

First up, my longish essay on the state of HBO drama is up over at Blogcritics.

Second, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this (113k pdf file) which is supposedly an actual complaint received by Continental Airlines from a recent passenger. It rings true, though. And at worst it’s fake but accurate. Funny as hell.

Funnier than hell -- in fact funnier than Mike Tyson and Russell Crowe combined -- we have the personal web site of one Andrew Bynum, a high-schooler recently drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA. I can’t summarize it. I can’t even cut out highlights, so perfect is it. It is completely loaded from top to bottom with the purest and most profound juvenile inanity ever conceived. I could not have invented this character no matter how hard I tried. You have to read it in its entirety. In fact, since I’m sure the Lords of the NBA will make him take it down as soon as they discover it, I’ve saved a copy here in case it’s gone by the time you read this. I think I laughed for twenty minutes straight. Ladies and Gentlemen, the bar has been raised.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Hot Enough For You?: Recently back from an East Coast swing. A brief stay in Baltimore followed by a slightly longer, but not long enough, stay in The Apple. This trip included lots of city explorations, a trip to MoMA, and the Tony-nominated musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels -- all will be discussed thoroughly in the fullness of time.

Also, I'm close to finishing a fairly long essay on the state of HBO Original Programming. I had hoped to have it done before I left but, as usual, my eyes were bigger than my schedule.

I still have no A/C. It's going to be a bigger project than originally expected, and I had to get the condo folks involved because it looks like we may have to commit the heinous sin of violating a common area. I managed to survive the first heat wave, but this current one is wearing on me. I really have no problem with the heat if I'm just hanging around, but it dogs me stagnant if I have work to do -- like writing, for example. Into the 90s tomorrow, but at least the weekend is supposed to be cooler. I hope to get a lot of silly nonsense done while everyone is away on holiday.

Anyway, let me gather up my life and get things ordered, then I'll square away some fresh material.
Out On The Links: Just the usual internet chum...
  • I do not have a very strong opinon on Mitch Albom, but this guy thinks he is a terrible writer. You can tell because his site is titled Mitch Albom is a Terrible Writer. OK, it’s a guilty pleasure.

  • I have seen these Demotivators before but they never fail to make me chuckle. Get to Work: You aren't being paid to believe in the power of your dreams. Heh.

  • In my travel writings, I have made fun of roadside motels on more than one occasion. Well, if these groovy motels are successful, that’ll be one less source of material.

  • Speaking of travel, it appears I am starting to make some headway in my eternal battle against the hotel mini-bar. The Chicago Tribune is on my side.

  • In the another-reason-to-live category we have the upcoming Family Guy movie, Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story. You amuse me. When the world is mine your death shall be quick and painless.
Fightin' Round the World: Now I have yet more evidence to suggest the world only exists to keep me entertained. Russell Crowe was in New York to promote Cinderella Man -- "When America was on its knees, he brought us to our feet." – and he couldn’t get the phone in his room to make an international call. So, like any reasonable traveler, he took it up with the Front Desk. Hijinks ensue:

Crowe appeared in the lobby with his room phone in hand asking for Josh [Estrada, the desk clerk], as the two other clerks looked on aghast.

Estrada identified himself and Crowe, grasping the phone over his head with two hands, hurled it at him as if he were making an inbounds pass in a soccer game.

The clerk was knocked to the floor by the blow. Crowe then picked up the ceramic bowl and threw it, turned around, bowed and assumed the karate stance, according to witness accounts.

Meanwhile, Estrada scurried out a nearby door and dialed 911. Police arrived shortly after and arrested Crowe, who spent the rest of the night behind bars.

He “assumed a karate stance.” How absolutely hilarious is that picture? Maybe he’s rehearsing for the lead in the next Brock Landers film.

But this is better:

Much of Crowe's lobby act was captured by a hidden security videotape camera, the sources said.

That tape is now in the possession of the Manhattan district attorney's office...

The tape MUST come out. It has to. We need to initiate legislation in congress or something. I mean, there have to be a dozen tabloids that would pay eight figures for that tape. If I worked in the Manhattan DA’s office, I would make a copy for the highest bidder and be wandering around the Caribbean in full Tommy Bahama regalia before they had a chance to file charges against me. (That’s a hint, for you folks in the DA's office.)

It’s perfect. Just perfect.

Cinderella Man -- "When the desk clerk was on his knees, he whipped a ceramic bowl at him."

Monday, June 20, 2005

Not Dead Yet: Not even coughing up blood last night. Not sick at all as a matter of fact, just have an enormous number of concerns in the tactile world that need my attention. Give me a week to ten days.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

How Hot Is It?: It's so hot I actually made an appointment to get my A/C fixed. Of course, that won't be until next week, by which time things will probably have cooled down a bit. After three summers without A/C, you would think I could continue to do without, and although my rationale for doing this is that I'm going to have to get it fixed anyway if I ever sell the place, the truth is, it has been just to uncomfortable to get any writing done until things cooled down around 10PM.

Anyway, I did finally make it through The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson. My review was not particularly positive. Anyway, I have moved on to reading the next book in Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey-Marturin series, which I became addicted to after seeing Master and Commander. After that, I'm open to suggestions.

I haven't written anything about HBO dramas, even though Deadwood ended a couple weeks back and Six Feet Under has just started. Maybe that is next.

More stuff below. For now, you'll have to excuse me. I need to take a break to do some serious sweating...
The New Will Rogers: That would be Mike Tyson -- he of the endless insights into the modern era. He never fails to say something quotable, something memorable. In preparation for his upcoming fight, we have this interview where he gifts us with such gems as these.

"I want to be a missionary. I think I could do that while keeping my dignity without letting people know they chased me out of the country." (Who knew that after everything, Mike still has dignity?)

"If you saw a (police) lineup and saw Tyson and Dahmer and they asked, 'Who killed and ate those people?' you would pick me and not Jeffrey." (That's true; people tend to forget that Evander Holyfield is still alive, only somewhat gnawed upon.)

"You have to understand. It is a pervasive (belief) that I'm an animal - undomesticated as well. But regardless of the bizarre (stuff) I've done, I'm a very rational individual. But everybody still thinks I'm crazy and stupid because that's what they want to believe."

"My biggest fear now is to go to a New York state penitentiary - then I'll see all my demons," he says. "My family, people I know, put me in that den of iniquity. I could easily be right there with them because, really, I am one of them." (What could be more rational?)

"Nobody's going to change me. I'm going to fight that. You can't change me; you can't tame me. When you say that, I'm going to bite you even harder. I'm more ferocious, more complicated. I'm not going to let anybody win a popularity contest off my conduct."

In the face of all that, Mike keeps his eyes on the prize. In his weigh-in with upcoming opponent Kevin McBride, he offers this clever quip.

"I'm gonna gut him like a fish."

Mike Tyson just keeps on giving. He is the Mark Twain of the criminally insane; the Oscar Wilde of the violently deranged. He is truly the Will Rogers for the new century. He never met a man he wouldn't bite.
Link Dump: For when you know you should be working...
  • PJ O'Rourke on celebrity: "America's media and entertainment industry has a gross (as it were) revenue of $316.8 billion a year. If we subtract the income derived from worthy journalism and the publishing of serious books, that leaves $316.8 billion."

  • Gamblers betray Harry Potter. British bookies notice a distinct increase in bets on certain character's death coming from the town where the book was printed. A leak? If you don't want to know who they are betting on, don't click through.

  • Speaking of disturbed athletes, it looks like Ricky Williams may actually return to the 'phins after all. Aaron Schatz, of Football Outsiders doesn't care. Schatz is right, of course, but I wouldn't be quite as quick to write off Ricky because I am a great believer that a year off can help heal all sorts of little injuries. Although it also means you're a bit out of shape. Ricky could come back strong in the following year. And let's suppose after the defensive build up of this off season, Saban uses next off-season to build the o-line. Then the 2006-7 'phins could have something. And Maria Sharapova could return my phone calls.

  • Speaking of weed breathers, two of them got hold of Jimmy Buffett's cell phone. Turns out he had some pretty eminent phone numbers in there, including Bill Clinton and George Clooney. Get this: "We were sitting around smoking weed and strolling down the list on Jimmy's phone, going 'Wow!' " [Jason] Martin [the busboy who stole the phone] told Page Two. He said he didn't call anyone on the list. But according to the police report, Martin said some of his friends may have crank-called former President Clinton...Martin, 22, said he found the $500 phone at 4 a.m. May 29 outside the Cuban joint Brisa Atlantica. Buffett was spotted going wild on the dance floor earlier that morning. No one seemed to miss the phone until May 30, when a Buffett minion dialed the cellphone's number, and Martin answered..."He said I was a thief and a liar," Martin said. "Then I called Jane's [Buffett's wife] number, and she was nasty to me. So I told them I wouldn't give it back." Ah, the mind of a reefer addict. So instead of collecting reward, he got fired and the Secret Service was on his ass over the Clinton call. But frankly I'm more disturbed that Jimmy, who must be pushing 60, was "going wild on the dance floor." Could not have been pretty.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Hot, Hot, Hot: So today was the first HOT day. The temp gauge in my car was well into the upper eighties. It is now officially summer. Hoo-yah! That means no more lines or waits anywhere in Ann Arbor. It has also served as a reminder to me that I need to get my A/C fixed. I have done without it for about three years now, mostly because I have come to appreciate the heat, but given my long term plan to sell this place, I should probably have it fixed straight away. Of course, that means dealing with the pain-in-the-arse repair shops and that means I will be taking a day off for no good reason other than to sit around waiting for them to show up.

Feh! It's summer, and there's no going about on a whinge during the summer.

I spent a couple of quick days in DC last week on work although I did get to see Kate and Miss Anna. Wasn't a bad trip; I stayed right downtown in the city instead of out in Virginia and got a chance to see some areas of the city I hadn't seen in years, like Chinatown, the Dupont Circle area and Georgetown. I must admit that I found the city is not quite as dirty and nasty as I remember. Still glad I don't live there, though.

I can make a couple of restaurant recommendations. First, for a tasty wood-fired pizza you should try Matchbox which is on the edge of Chinatown. Great beer selection. For a snack, you can get a nice appetizer of three slider sized burgers with a pile of these delicious, delicately wispy onion rings, which are the antithesis of an Outback Blooming Onion.

Second, Cafe Milano in Georgetown is where all the cool kids are going. Exceptional pasta and fish dishes along with a healthy wine list. Bustling but not too loud, it's perfect for a social evening with a pack of friends. The bar was full of stylish, well-heeled, inside-the-beltway types in their dress-to-impress wear.

Speaking of travel, I know I've been promising you an essay on Canada, but you're not going to get it. Instead I offer you the extended post below on road trips, which in conjunction with my last two hotel reviews, and considering you've been through the spa stuff before, pretty much covers the more interesting aspects of the trip.
Road Trip: In retrospect, I must say my road trip through Canada and on to Lenox MA was quite a surprise. First off, I encountered virtually no traffic problems whatsoever. No construction delays, no accidents, no rush hours. Not even coming into Toronto at about 5PM on a Friday night. Even the wait times crossing the border were relatively short. (Perhaps not surprisingly, the cross into Canada is a virtual wave-through -- "Do you have any firearms?" "No." "Your final destination in Canada?" "Toronto." "Have a nice day." -- but the cross back into the U.S. is a bit of a event, including the showing of ID and border guards well over to the suspicious side of the scale. They all seem comport themselves as if you owe them money.)

I had harbored a secret dread of this road trip, stemming quite probably from my memories of family vacations as a child -- multi-day ventures that quickly turned into extended exercises in hostile frugality and discomfort on principle. Going deep into the night to save $5 on a motel; suffering without bathroom stops in the interest of being taught a lesson; endless griping and smoldering antipathy towards everything and each other. Some people learn to look back sort of thing romantically. Not me. I'd just as soon forget.

Even as a poor, young adult, road trips involved driving my old Toyota Celica -- no air conditioning, no cruise control, and with only an AM/FM radio that, on a good day, would emit sounds other than static as long as the radio station was less than five miles away. I would drive the length of I-75 from Michigan to Florida, allowing myself the indulgence of a single night's stop in the toothless Mecca of the Georgia/Tennessee border where I could get a bug-infested room for $17.95 -- remember to ask for towels when you check in.

It's really no wonder I developed such a fear and loathing of protracted auto travel.

But this time, facing a mere 12-hour trip to the Berkshires in Massachusetts, I made arrangements for an extended weekends -- outbound Niagara Falls and inbound in Toronto -- to break the trip into manageable chunks.

Prior to leaving, I took the opportunity to get my butter-smooth Camry (with A/C, cruise, PS, PB, sunroof, etc.) detailed just to make for a more pleasant environment. And then there's Sirius, which serenaded me with anything I desired from jazz standards to techno at the flick of a button.

In Niagara I stayed at the Hilton in a Jacuzzi Suite. In Toronto I got a massive room at Cambridge Suites. In Lenox, I was at Canyon Ranch. It's good to be king.

There is something to be said for surviving to middle age. Demons exorcised.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Pic Dump: I spent a few minutes going through some of the pics from the past couple of months so I thought I'd share some of the least embarrassing ones. These are typically from 100-300K. A snap for broadband but will require patience for those of you on dial-up.

From Toronto:

From Ann Arbor:

From New Orleans:

And yes, I know I still owe you a full accounting of my trip through Canada. Real Soon Now.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Scribbling Status: Where did that week go?

I prepared a couple more hotel reviews for Hotel Chatter, but it looks like only one got posted. My review of Cambridge Suites in Toronto. It's entirely possible the other one got lost in cyberspace. That only means you'll have to wait until my next travel essay to hear about Niagara Falls. [update 5/24 -- Here's the second one on the Fallsview Hilton.]

For the time being, I have sorted things out with Business As Usual's new publisher. So at least that's moving along again. Sadly, it means I have to spend more time re-proofing that damn thing.

After all that, back to fiction.
Armchair Traveling: I have been trying to read The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson, at the suggestion of my friend Chrissy, who says my writing brings his to mind. I can see why she would say that. He is a total smart ass, and writes relatively terse, irony laced observations about normal things. Bryson is a Yank who went to live in England as a young adult and turned full-on Limey. He returns to the US and undertakes a road trip around the country, avoiding big cities, in a Chevy Chevette and stays at cheap, skanky roadside motels (not my kind of travel, to say the least). Ostensibly, he is in search of the glorious, Rockwell-esque image of small town America, but for the first hundred pages or so he bitches about everything. He gets down on every thing he sees and everyone he encounters. I’m fine with that to an extent, but when it is so incessant it comes to sound mean-spirited despite the wittiness. I almost gave up on it but it slowly seems to be picking up so I’m continuing, tentatively, for now. A full review may follow.

By the way, if you are looking for a truly delightful comic travelogue, I can’t recommend Hokkaido Highway Blues, by Will Ferguson, highly enough. It is a recounting of Ferguson’s adventures as he hitchhikes the entire length of Japan. In the course of it, he rips on the Japanese as well as anyone, but you never doubt his love for the place and the people. One of the most entertaining books I have ever read.
Travelocity Blows (My Mind): Every time I have interaction with Travelocity I come away shaking my head. First off, let me say that Travelocity employees are some of the politest most helpful people I have ever run across. And, within the framework of what I assume to be Travelocity policies, they do an excellent job. (Note: I am guessing that Travelocity out-sources customer support to India, considering the accents of literally every employee I have spoken with. That's fine with me. If all customer services reps were that polite I'd suggest everyone outsource to India.) But here's the thing. The interactions I have with Travelocity make no sense what-so-ever.

You may recall my previous experience (which I commonly refer to as getting pantsed in New York City) wherein I booked myself into a newly-opened, fairly luxurious boutique hotel in midtown Manhattan and, when the hotel decided they weren't ready to open after all, Travelocity re-booked me into a dingy HoJos nearby. I spent about two hours on the phone (mostly on hold) to try to get them to book me somewhere else, this time a comparable property. They said couldn’t; they just said check out of the Hojos and book yourself somewhere else. I ended up staying at the Hilton, which I booked on their website. I have no idea why they could not do that for me -- presumably they have access to their own website -- and instead had me wait on hold for two hours to essentially accomplish nothing.

This time I had booked tickets to the Caribbean on Cayman Airways (last summer), which meant no e-ticket, I had to have paper tickets. Fine, but then the hurricane flattened the island just a few days before I was scheduled to go. I had to re-book within a year and I started the process last week. After a number of calls, I discovered the correct way to do this when paper tickets are involved. So I followed the procedure, which involves preparing a written request for my re-booking and snail mailing it into the "re-issues department" at Travelocity along with my now useless paper tickets. So that's exactly what I did.

Two days later I get an email stating they could not re-ticket me and give me a number to call to sort things out. OK, so I call the number, and after a brief wait on hold a very polite woman listens to my story. She puts me on hold for another few minutes then tells me that I will need to talk to the re-issues department, and then transfers me to them. Head shaker number 1: Why didn’t you just give me the number to the re-issues department in the email you sent?

So I wait on hold for another, oh, maybe 10-15 minutes until I get a very polite woman in the re-issues department. She asks me the same questions about why I'm calling. So I go through that again, and she says, OK let me look up your record. So she looks up my record and recites my story back to me from the record. Head shaker number 2: If you could easily look up my story, why make me go through it again?

So the nice woman proceeds to ask me what flights I would like to re-book on. Since I don’t know off the top of my head, I have to open a copy of the written request I sent in to tell her. That's what I do. Her response is, "Yes, I see; that's what I have here." Head shaker number 3: If you had it in front of you, why did you ask me?

Next, the polite woman says she'll have to put me on hold and get in contact with a Cayman Airways agent. This wait on hold was well in excess of thirty minutes. Presumably she was on hold waiting for a Cayman Airways rep herself. After the interminable wait, she comes back and tells me that my reservation is all set and they will Fed-Ex me new paper tickets. I ask why they sent an email to me saying they couldn’t re-ticket me when there was no problem. She makes some sort of comment about needing to verify something or other, before re-booking. But I didn't verify anything. WTF?

This goes beyond head shaking. This is where we get to mind-blowing. After two hours on hold, I gave them no information they did not already have. I answered no questions they did not already have the answer to. I cannot fathom why I needed to make this call.

So I'm guessing when you need paper tickets re-issued through Travelocity, the policy is as follows:

  1. You must submit a written request for a re-booking, specifying the new flights you want.

  2. That request will be summarily ignored, but it will trigger an email to you saying we couldn’t do as you requested and to please call.

  3. You will have recite the details of your request to a minimum of two representatives, who only then will look at the written request you sent in and inform you that you did in fact request what you think you did.

  4. Only at that point will an attempt be made to re-book your flight and you must wait on hold for as long as it takes to get that done.

  5. Thank you for choosing Travelocity.

I am so stunned by the consummate lunacy and monumental futility of this interaction that I can’t even get upset about it. Needless to say, I steer clear of Travelocity these days at all costs. I just hope the tickets actually get to me and there isn’t another disaster that makes me have to contact them again. If I do, I shall have to remember to drink heavily ahead of time.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Is This Any Way to Run A Hospital?: The big deal was that last weekend required an urgent trip down to DC that, among other things, required me to spend some time inside a hospital (just as a visitor). Hospitals are truly disquieting places. They are like hotels, but with really, really bad service. But the most unnerving thing is how disorganized and confused everyone seems all the time. It's almost as if the only reason you get any treatment is that a deeply harried nurse happened upon you at the right time. And then, you're lucky if she happens to be familiar with the treatment you need. Or she didn't misread your chart. Or accidentally wander into the wrong room.

Case in point, one nurse upon noting that the alarm was beeping and flashing on an I.V., walked over to it, gave it a look of total confusion, and pressed the "silence" button, then went about her business without any concern for why the alarm was going off and without a reassuring word to pass on, like "That's nothing serious, I'll get someone to come in and check it," just complete indifference to the fact that a flashing red light labeled alarm on a device that was feeding chemicals into the patient's arm was going off. The service industry equivalent would be responding to a complaint about a fly in the soup by taking the customer's soup spoon and fishing it out, then walking away without a word, except in a situation where the customer just had surgery and was dependent on the soup of continued existence (I'm straining for the analogy, I know). Seriously, these hospitals ought to farm out their operations to Ritz-Carlton. At least they could train them to knock before entering a room.

I will grant that this was the only hospital I've ever been to that had valet parking. That was cool. No turn down service though...
Wynn and Lose: It is almost certainly true that I would have given a minor, non-essential organ to be at the opening of Wynn Las Vegas, the new monster hotel on the strip from Steve Wynn, the man behind the Bellagio. Hotel Chatter had some opening day pool pics, which made me drool. So I went to the website of the Wynn to check on rates and availability and was totally stifled. I gave it a few days, and tried again -- same issue. So what else was there to do but write an open letter to Steve Wynn for my dear friends at Hotel Chatter to post. Very cathartic, I must admit.
Off To See The Wizzinator: Am I wrong to get such a kick out of this sort of thing? Just when you thought a pinnacle had been attained by the man -- nay, the legend -- that is Ron Mexico, comes along one Onterrio Smith, running back for the Minnesota Vikings. Onterrio had occasion to take a commercial airline flight, which means Onterrio was up for a potential TSA search. Onterrio was not in a particularly good position to get searched. It seems Onterrio was packing some serious gear. Specifically, a device called the Whizzinator.

The Wizzinator. Can you guess what the Whizzinator is? It's not the kind of item you're going to find at Wal*Mart. The Whizzinator. It's not a device for producing processed cheese. The Whizzinator. It's not $9.95 from Ronco if you order before midnight. Actually, its full name is The Original Whizzinator, just so you won't get it confused with some cheap imitation. The Original Whizzinator is a device designed to produce a clean urine test.

From the article:

The $150 device includes a prosthetic penis attached to a jockstrap and plastic bag. Using a syringe, the user fills the bag with a precisely measured amount of water blended with the urine powder to create a clean sample. When the user takes a drug test in front of an observer, the water is released through the prosthetic with a valve (the instructions recommend the user cough to hide the sound of the valve unsnapping).

Pure unadulterated slapstick. Really, couldn't you envision such a scene in some asswitted teen comedy; Sean William Scott as the quarterback under suspicion has to give a urine sample, so he employs the Whizzinator only he can't get the thing unsnapped so he keeps coughing and coughing. Everyone is looking on in confusion, then suddenly it unsnaps and sprays all over Will Ferrell as the observing doctor.

Except this is real life. The Whizzinator is an actual product that actual people can buy (I refuse to link the site). And Onterrio Smith is an actual football player. One who already has a couple of strikes against him in the NFL substance abuse program. So what does Onterrio do when confronted with said device? Well, he naturally claimed it wasn't really his; it was for his cousin. An excuse worthy of Bart Simpson in his prime. At least he didn't claim it was just in the luggage when he bought it.

I have no idea if the NFL will count this as a third strike. I suppose if they wanted to they could track down the "cousin" and check out his story. On the other hand, knowing the NFL, there's probably some sort of clause that allows them to suspend a player for being in possession of fake penises anyway. And I guess poor Onterrio can write off any product endorsements except for The Original Whizzinator itself, or perhaps certain Larry Flynt business ventures.

Next we come to ACT II wherein desperately bored lawmakers claim the Whizzinator is "violating our trust and compromising our security." Presumably a link to cancer and global warming will be found shortly. The public good requires an investigation. "Are you now, or have you ever been, associated with a fake willie?" (There's a Bill Clinton joke in there somewhere, I'm sure.)

For those interested, you can buy a Vikings #32 (Smith's number) jersey with the name Whizzinator from the NFL shop. Although not for long, one expects.
Odds and Sods: Been a while since I did a link round-up, so here we go.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A Pledge: I had to duck out for a four day weekend that can only be described as worrisome but ultimately successful. I'll let you in on some of it later. In fact, I hearby pledge to dump some serious content on you this weekend. Even if I have to put off fiction or review writing.

I just can't seem to catch up.

Plus, I just realized I have to move. The guy who lives below me smokes like a fiend and it literally gets to the point where I can't stand to be in the living room because the smell wafts up from below. Of course, I can't very well tell the guy to stop smoking in his own home, can I? So I have to move. I have to sell this place and move somewhere nearby, maybe an actual house so I don't have to worry about this sort of nonsense.

Plus, I'm having serious issues with the new publisher of Business As Usual that I won't go into here, but it's giving me a basal level of infuriation to deal with whenever the issue of a given moment subsides.

I don't remember a time in the last ten years when I was so completely frustrated with everything.

Whatever the case, new content this weekend. Promise.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha: OK I had hoped to be able to get a travel article up, and something else as yet undefined, by the weekend, but something suddenly came up. It looks like a may be a week or ten days before I get anything written now. The entire first half of this year has been an complete head spinner. It should slow down soon; it'll have to because I really need to get some stuff done and get back in the swing of writing.

I have to share the latest on HRH Miss Anna's acting career. First she took a role in music video by a very scary looking band called Catatonik. You can download a couple of their songs from the site. Note the ending 'k', which should tell you all you need to know about what a genuinely rebellious group of individuals they are. They could have gone all the way and called themselves Katatonik, but nobody likes an anarchist. Anyway, here's a pic of Anna in full video shoot regalia. Disturbing on so many levels.

The bigger news is that the shooting of the pilot for the potential TV series Signals has gotten underway. Here's the site; read all about it. Also available are a few of pics of Anna in the gallery section, here's one mid-scene (Anna is on the left); and here she is (again on the left) hanging with the "cute boys" on the set. Is that a Mona Lisa smile, or a sneer?

Speaking of pics, I took some good ones on my trip through Canada that I’ll share with you once I get it written up. Sadly, every good pic I took of the Horseshoe Falls also contains an extreme close-up of my thumb. I swear I haven’t done that since I had a Polaroid Swinger in the 1970s. But I do want to share a couple of shots of Canyon Ranch in Lenox, MA. Check out the main buildings, then imagine it in summer (here and here).

Back as soon as I can…

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Hold Still, Wouldja?: OK, last weekend in Niagara Falls, then the week at Canyon Ranch in Lenox MA (I think I dropped a couple of pounds), the this weekend in Toronto. I will write about Niagara Falls and Toronto, but probably not CR since I've hit you with spa trips in the past and this was pretty much more of the same (although not quite as good as the previous two). Let me see what I can slap together to post by next weekend.

I made this one a road trip and my loyal Sirius radio receiver saw me through the endless stretches of Canadian farmland. It was cold and rainy for just about the whole trip but I still managed to get some fun in. Short version: Niagara Falls was OK, pretty much exactly as I remember it from childhood. Toronto, on the other hand, is now one of my favorite cities. Trip details, hotel reviews, etc. will be forthcoming.

Question: When a Canadian needs to sleep, does he "need to catch some zeds"? I admit to frezeing momentarily when the spelling of my last name came back as M-A-Zed-Zed... Culture shock.

I did remembr to set my DVR to capture the hopefully triumphant return of The Family Guy tonight. Who's a clever boy, eh? I haven't watched it yet, but I'm sure I'll let you know what I think. It's gotten to be kind of a habit.

Also, I have souvenir featherless chicken buttons. You read that right. It's the kind of bling makes the homies say "ho" and the girlies wanna scream.