Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Month That Was - January 2007: I know it's well into February, but my first post about new year: and so the worm turns. That's a strange aphorism and I have no idea where it came from. I"m sure Wikipedia could tell me but I don’t really care. Already things have changed for the better from 2006 in at least one area, but it’s a personal spot that I am not about to take public at the moment -- maybe in the future. Anyway, the trend is up.

The football column is officially over for another season and I have, for the time being, sworn off hotel reviews. Having revised Misspent Youth (I swear that book always seems about halfway finished no matter how much or how little time I spend on it), I am now copy editing the Business As Usual again for the umpteenth time in anticipation of a new publisher picking it up once I remove it from the evil dirtbags who call themselves publishers that have it now.

Without further ado, let's get it started.

Ice Storm
Chilly Down South
Living in the Past
Lousy is as Lousy Does
The Ice Storm: As I write this it is 4 degrees here in Dexter and everything is covered in a thin film of the dirty salt that was used to melt the ice on the roads that was left over from the recent ice storm.

And a particularly nasty ice storm it was. For those of you with no experience in the north, ice storms occur when the temperature is just cold enough to start the rain to freeze before it falls. Everything gets soaked by this water that is just a hair's width from turning to ice, then the temperature drops a bit more and it freezes solid wherever it's wet. If this continues for a couple of days, the ice builds up on all the wires and branches and the weight starts causing things to collapse. A huge tree branch collapsed over the road right in front of me -- had I been about fifteen seconds earlier it would have fallen atop my roof, or worse, smashed my windshield.

But generally, the people who suffer most are those whose power lines collapse. There were folks who were out of power for 3 or 4 days. All the area hotels were filled up. People were buying day passes to health club or the YMCA to take a hot shower. Others were looking like the GEICO Caveman. It was a mess of epic proportions.

Luckily, I only lost power long enough for the clocks to reset, but my company was powerless for a full day, and so I got a free day of hooky. If there is an upside to an ice storm, it’s that it makes the world look like it’s made of crystal. So naturally I used my hooky day to take some snaps.

Iced Tree
Weighted Branches
Winter Barn
Frozen Fruit
More Frozen Fruit
Need to Thaw the Paper
Chilly Down South: I made a relatively brief trip down to Sarasota for some family business, followed by a couple of all-too-quick nights in Savannah with Miss Kate and Her Royal Highness.

Sarasota was chilly (for Sarasota, it was balmy for single digit Michigan). I think it was in the low 60s and rainy one day. As I think back, this is probably the first time I've been down that way during high season; for whatever reason I usually end up down there in the middle of the summer heat. Sarasota disappointed me a bit this time, and not just the weather. One advantage of off-season visits is that the traffic is not at all bad, but in the heart of the winter when the old folks congregate -- wow. Get ready to sit and wait a bit before you head off down the road at a solid twenty mph under the speed limit.

The other thing I found disappointing was that they took down this enormous sculpture of the famous Life magazine cover that I mentioned back in May. It was only temporarily there to begin with, but there was a move afoot to make it permanent which would have been a great icon for the city. Naturally, the cranky old seniors griped enough about it that they let it go.

Did manage to have a nice long lunch overlooking the beautiful Sarasota Bay, which was probably the highlight. Also, stayed at the delightful Hibiscus Inn Suites. I got this via a recommendation at Trip Advisor and it sounded like something special. It is, in fact, a motel. That's right, Mr. Hotel Snob himself managed to reserve a room at a motel; pull you car up to the door and be careful crossing to the pool that is in parking lot just next to the main road. Uh-oh.

But Hibiscus Suites is a great place. The rooms are actual suites with separate bedrooms and kitchenettes. The place is well kept up. Free wireless throughout. Continental breakfast every morning. A full slate of HBO channels. Good location. Best of all, the service was great and the staff exceedingly friendly. It’s not cheap; it's roughly in line with an actual hotel of the same standards, but I highly recommend it. It would work especially well for an extended stay. I’d give it a full review but I am swearing off hotel reviews for the time being.

The other notable thing about Sarasota was the car I rented. I used National and planned to reserve a mid-sized sedan. I quickly discovered that luxury class cars were only a couple of dollars more, so I upgraded, expecting a Caddy or a Lincoln -- standard livery issues. Nope, I got an Infiniti G35, and a bright red one at that. Sweet ride. It's got push button starting, which is a bit of a gimmick, and a big LCD in the middle of the dash that operates as the radio, satellite nav, environmental control, missile defense system, etc. Strong engine, good handling, but I don’t think I would buy one. There was significant throttle lag, minimal headroom (and I am not a big guy), and frankly, I'm just a lot more comfortable with non-digital controls. Still, it impressed the hell out of everyone.

On the way back I made a quick detour to Savannah to meet up with the ladies. They didn't arrive until after midnight on Friday due to a late and delayed flight, and had to fly out before sunrise on Sunday, but we did get to take the tours on Saturday and wander the city a bit. Savannah remains exceedingly charming, even with temps in the 50s.

At dinner, Kate and I ordered a bottle of wine and the clueless greenhorn waiter proceeded to bring three glasses, including one for the fourteen-year-old Miss Anna. She was quite delighted to have a glass unquestioningly poured for her and we allowed her to have a sip or two and then quickly emptied her glass into our own. No doubt the story will be somewhat embellished when she tells it in school and will scandalize the soccer moms of Reston, VA for weeks to come.

It was a nice little break for me. But I'm still casting about for travel possibilities this year. The suggestion box remains open.
Living in the Past: I am amazed by how much my movie watching habits have changed over the years. Like every young adult, I used to get geared up to see the new releases. I'd follow what was coming out and when and often go to theatre to see it first run. Goodbye to all that.

First, I have very little use for new movies. There are so many fine films from years past that I could likely go the rest of my life fully entertained if the entire industry collapsed.

Second, like any artistic endeavor, 95% of all films suck. OK, maybe only 10% suck profoundly, but the overwhelming majority is just complete waste of time. And there is virtually no way to get a valid advanced read on them. You certainly can't get it from the trailers, which are perfectly honed to create the desired impression. You can't really even get it from criticism since, like the films themselves, most criticism is bad: some criticism is bought, and the remainder? Well, we know what opinions are like, don't we? (Actually criticism becomes much more valid after you have seen the movie, when it becomes a conversation about the film rather than a desperate evaluation of whether it is worth your time.) Theatrical film releases are dying because nobody wants to spend $10 for a 95% chance at wasting two or three hours of their lives, except maybe teenagers.

Perfect example: Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong. It got a ton of hype, had a killer trailer, and garnered generally good reviews. Here's the thing: it's lousy. It's three hours long, the entire first hour and fifteen minutes or so are character establishment, and the characters aren't all that interesting. Then it turns into a big budget action flick with amazing computer-generated effects, but the action is really no better than any of the ten other big budget action flicks with amazing computer-generated effects that come out any given season.

It came on HBO last Saturday and I was feeling a bit burnt out and lethargic so I decided to watch it instead of be productive. It certainly functioned as something that required no productive effort. Not even thought. I completely validated my policy of not watching new movies, though.

In contrast, one of the gazillion channels on Comcast Digital recently re-ran the old '70s classic Midnight Cowboy. It is showing it’s age, but it is still a remarkable film (not for the kids -- I believe it actually got an "X" rating back in the day; it’s a nasty "R" these days). It is still a very affecting human story, not just based on the eventual sentimentality the viewer feels for the characters, but for the way it captured the humanity of the lowlifes at the center. It's extremely unlikely that anyone involved with the production was ever a dirtbag, penny-ante con man, or a cowboy gigolo wannabe, yet both characters seem genuine and fully formed. That's talent. Even though I had seen this movie before (but not for many years), it is an aspect of it I had not considered.

Anyway, the point is not that Midnight Cowboy is better than King Kong. It's that newness means nothing to me. I don't care that Midnight Cowboy is from a bygone era and I really don't care that much that I have seen it a couple of times in the past; it was the better way to spend time. Are there new films that are as good as Midnight Cowboy? Probably, but it's not worth the effort it would take to sort through all the crap to find them. Better to let time sort that out. I suspect that is going to be the general circumstance for me, forever. I am sure I will stumble on new films to enjoy once they've aged a bit and show up on-demand, but I don't need any more new movies. They are plenty I haven’t seen yet, and plenty to revisit and find newness in.

This is another way of saying I'm getting old and I don't cotton with all this new-fangled noise. Actually, the problem is that there is very little new. Facts are rearranged, but little is different. When you're young everything is new and all the humanistic insights of the arts are fresh. When you're old(er), something really and truly new only comes along once in a while. Meanwhile, you understand that pretty much all the insights have been out there for all the ages. So living in the past is just as good, only cheaper and less annoying.
More Lousy New Stuff: TV stinks to high heaven at the moment.
  • House has gotten so ludicrous that Hugh Laurie can’t even save it.
  • HBO's Rome has stared its second season and it is dreadful and dire. It needs to be cancelled before it turns into Oz or worse. They have even ruined Pullo and Vorenus.
  • I gave in to the hype and watched the season premiere of 24 which was unspeakably bad. Really, one of the worst pieces of drama I have ever seen.
  • I almost got sucked into Ricky Gervais' Extras which is good for a guffaw or two. It adheres to the current fashion in comedy -- the Humor of Awkward Discomfort (you can include Curb Your Enthusiasm and Borat in that too), which I find trying after a couple of episodes. I may continue to tune in for the celebrity cameos, which are a stitch.
  • No more NFL. (When do two-a-days start?)

So now what? Well, let's see, The Sopranos last eight episodes come April. Not much until then. Lucky I have all those movie channels otherwise I might have to do something worthwhile with my time until then.

Next month, I promise to cut down on the film and video and maybe offer a couple of comments on what I have been reading.