Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Our weekend in upstate New York

We spent last weekend in Niagara Falls visiting some friends that Liz used to work with at her last job. For a four-day weekend, we had a full schedule:

Friday: We visited Fort Niagara and saw a reenactment of a battle from the French and Indian War. That night, we dined and danced at the country club's annual dinner for the Porter Cup amateur golf tournament. We were the youngest people there by at least twenty years.

Saturday: we saw the American side of Niagara Falls, Goat Island, and the whirlpool gorge. In the afternoon we followed the last group in the final round of the golf tournament, taking a break after six holes to eat lunch. Since our hosts' house abutted the 17th green, we caught up with the leaders there and saw the finish on 18. Spencer Levin won the tournament despite playing his worst round of the week. I mention his name only on the odd chance that he someday becomes famous and Liz and I can say we saw him when he was just an exceptional college player. (He did have an excellent chip shot on 17 in the third round on Friday.) On Saturday night we went to a cocktail party in honor of the neighbors' daughter's engagement to a Manhattan restaurant chef. The party was in the backyard of the neighbors' house, with a spectacular view of the Canadian side of the Niagara River and an amazing sunset.

Sunday: we ate brunch at and then toured the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. Dinner that night was a New England clam bake (though as the pot only had five clams in it, it was more of a lobster bake) with mussels, sausage, potatoes, corn, and lobsters. To cap things off, we saw the fireworks from the nearby outdoor performance of the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra.

Monday: we went to Canada. We saw Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, which I have to admit is more impressive than the American side. You can't understand how powerful these falls are until you see the water rushing by and feel the spray in your face. After lunch, we stopped in Niagara-by-the-Lake, a village with an old historic hotel and many quaint shops and restaurants. We bought a few souvenirs, including a bottle of icewine, which is made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine. For dinner we had a special treat: on Sunday afternoon, the neighbors who had given the party on Saturday borrowed a few large bowls from our hosts, explaining that the chef (their daughter's fiancee) was cooking that night. On Monday morning, they returned the bowls with some leftover pasta. It was penne tossed with fresh tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, mozzarella cheese, and olive oil, and it was delicious. Even though our clambake was excellent, I think I should have gone to the neighbors for Sunday dinner to watch this professional chef at work.

We flew JetBlue to and from Buffalo, and I have to say that I love this airline. Complimentary DirecTV at every seat is a fantastic innovation. They turn on the TV feed while you're still on the ground, and leave it on through touchdown, taxiing, and even deplaning. So on Friday morning I watched OLN's coverage of the Tour de France, and on Monday night I flipped channels from the Democratic convention to A&E's "Airline" to ESPN. The flight was only an hour, but with TV it didn't even feel that long. I'm not sure I'd be able to last on a cross-country flight (it's still a small cramped plane), but on East Coast routes of three hours or less, I'd be just fine.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Lance Armstrong vs. his rivals

This commentary on Lance Armstrong's prospects for victory in the Tour de France appeared yesterday on, so it's already outdated -- he won today's time trial race to the summit of L'Alpe d'Huez -- but a friend alerted me to this great line:

Once in the Pyrénées for two hard climbing stages, Armstrong punched the accelerator with his trademark high-cadence rhythm, and the favorites fell away like the French defending Paris.
Never miss a chance to dis the French.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Don't be "That Guy"

In today's Washington Post David Segal writes about typical boorish behaviors he's encountered in his years of attending rock concerts. I can't say I've seen any of these first-hand, but it's been many years since I went to a club for a concert where people actually listened attentively to the music (as opposed to a P-Funk All-Stars show, which is about the dancing as much as the music).

The article reminded me of my bygone concert-going days, where we'd make fun of the people who came to the show wearing the t-shirt of the band that was performing. "That Guy is everywhere" was a popular concert quote. According to us (originally Brad, I think, though I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong) dressing that way was exceedingly uncool. It was OK to buy a concert t-shirt at the show, but you couldn't wear it until at least the next day. Rob and I inadvertently created a corollary of this rule at a Who show in 1997 by wearing the same Van Halen t-shirt. Don't wear the exact same shirt as someone else in your group, especially if the band on your shirt has no connection to the one performing that night. Not only will your friends make fun of you, but so will people you don't even know.

Monday, July 19, 2004

The Tate Modern Gallery

I was going to write a lengthy review of my visit to the Tate Modern Gallery last Wednesday, but it's just not coming together. I took some pictures of the outside of the gallery and the interior "Turbine Room" featuring a giant metal spider sculpture. The rest of the gallery was off-limits to cameras. I skipped the temporary exhibits of Edward Hopper's works and a French (I think) artist, and instead viewed the permanent collections instead. My favorite items were "Revolution," an exhibit of Soviet propaganda posters from the 1920s and 1930s, some of which I saw at MoMA here in NY a few years ago, Chris Ofili's "Double Captain Shit" featuring dung genitalia (NYC readers may remember Ofili's Virgin Mary painting caused a stir at the Brooklyn Museum of Art a few years ago), and a painting by CRW Nevinson entitled "Soul of the Soulless City," which showed the artist's disdain for New York, but which I liked anyway. You can see some of these works at the Tate's web site, including the Nevinson painting, but not the "Revolution" posters. Which is too bad, because I would have loved to get reproductions of some of them for our apartment. Nothing like Soviet propaganda to motivate me to work harder.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Quick London trip review

This is going to be a quick take on the rest of my London trip. A slightly more detailed version will follow, assuming I write it on the flight back Friday afternoon, along with pictures.

Tuesday and part of Wednesday I spent at work. Tuesday night's dinner was at Busaba Eathai, a Thai restaurant northwest of our hotel, near the British Museum.

On Wednesday afternoon I went to the Tate Modern art gallery, then took myself out for a cheap fish & chips dinner at Garfunkel's (yes, I'm aware it's a lousy diner). On Thursday we had lunch at Brown's with the London IT staff, then they took us to Global Switch, my firm'sbackup data center for our European offices. We ended our evening at West India Quay with many beers, some pizza, and the entertainment of dragon boat racing on the small inlet/fjord/man-made riverbank alongside the restaurant row.

It was a mildly disappointing week at the Light Bar at St. Martin's Lane Hotel. While there were some attractive members of the opposite sex, for the most part it was a slow week, with many empty seats. Tuesday and Wednesday nights were particularly sad, as the bar was a complete rod-fest. But sweet liquor kills the pain, and the firm paying the bills makes you forget the pain ever existed.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Spider-Man 2 premieres in the UK in Leicester Square

When I got back to the hotel this afternoon, I flipped channels and stopped on MTV. It was the UK version of "TRL" live from Leicester Square, where they had rolled out the red carpet for the S-M2 premiere. I wasn't interested enough to go right over there, so I stayed in the room, talked to Liz, and then went out to dinner with a co-worker. After dinner we walked over to the square to see if there was still any excitement. After we waited and strolled around a bit, the premiere ended and the attendees came out. There was still a large crowd of fans gathered around the red carpet, and we were amused by the behavior of the people as they saw their favorites stars (nearly all of whom were unrecognizable to Americans like me). I did see David Hasselhoff, or at least the back of his head, after a man in front of us kept saying "Knight Rider! Knight Rider!" Hasselhoff stopped to sign a few autographs, long enough for me to pick him out. He's taller than I expected. Otherwise we didn't know anyone who came out. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst were there (because I saw them on a news report after I came back to the room) but they must have slipped right into their limos and left. We then went to the bar at our hotel, hoping that since it's a fancy celebrity hangout maybe someone famous would be there, but it was not to be. We stayed for a drink anyway because we're guests and they have to serve us even though we're not attractive movie stars.

Funky Pie

On Sunday night I had dinner at an Indian restaurant across the street from the hotel. The lamb kebabs and chicken tikka masala were good, but nothing spectacular enough to warrant a post. However, dessert was a confection named "Funky Pie." It was neither funky nor pie: vanilla ice cream topped with toffee and hazelnuts, served in a graham cracker crust. But I had to order it based on the name, and it was delicious. The whole time I was eating it, I thought the restaurant should have had George Clinton and Bootsy Collins playing "One Nation Under a Groove" in the background.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

sightseeing in London, once again

I spent my first day in London walking in a wide circle around most of the major sites near the hotel. I was with a colleague from New York who hadn't been to London in about thirty years, so I took him past Big Ben, Parliament, the south bank of the Thames, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, and the theater district. I've seen all of these tourist haunts before, but not in several years, and it gave us both a chance to stretch our legs after sitting for six hours on the way here. I didn't have the opportunity to get to Madame Tussaud's, and I probably won't see it on this trip either. But I'm still hoping to see the Tate Gallery later in the week.

Random observation from the President's Club lounge at Newark airport: Gentlemen, if you're going to wear a blazer over your polo shirt, please, for the love of God, wear slacks, not shorts. The blazer over polo shirt with shorts and loafers look doesn't work for anyone regardless of how much money you have.

VH1 UK is showing videos from '80s movie soundtracks right now. I had forgotten how bad some of the videos could be, especially the ones that showed the movie stars jamming with or otherwise appearing in the video with the artists. Of particular sad note is the video for "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" from Mannequin, which features Andrew McCarthy wearing a long duster, sunglasses, duck walking and pretending to play the guitar while Grace Slick becomes a mannequin herself. While the video for "St. Elmo's Fire" also puts the cast of the movie into the video (and none of them look like they want John Parr singing to them) I have to cut it some slack because it's such a good song.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Too busy at work this week to post

I've had a busy week at work, which kept me from posting anything. Another guy who shares my responsibilities is on vacation for two weeks, so my projects went on hold while I covered some of his duties. Throw in the preparations for my London business trip and it meant nothing new in the blog all week.

I took today off and rode 45 miles around Manhattan on my new bike tires. The bike had three-year-old tires on it and I've had several flats on the rear wheel, so it was time to change the tires. I spent Wednesday evening struggling with the tires, eventually getting them onto the wheels, and in the process I became an expert at the procedure. However, it was such a hassle that next time I'll probably just let a bike shop do it for me. Now I know how to change an inner tube or tire in an emergency, but for regular maintenance it's just too much effort to do it myself. The new tires are faster than the old ones, so I'm glad I made the switch. Too bad I won't be able to ride again until I get back from London.

Friday, July 02, 2004

The 4/5 "Express" train myth

Gothamist links to a NY Daily News study of the local vs. express trains in the NYC subway system. They sent two reporters on a trip downtown from 86th Street to City Hall, and surprising no one except MTA designers, the local train rider won. Since Liz and I moved to the Upper East Side (or Yorkville, if you want to be that specific), I've suffered on these overcrowded trains like everyone else on that side of town. I decided that the East Side subways were intended to punish people who live on my side of the city, and in the Bronx, via this cruel form of torture. However, my consolation has been that at least the express train only took about 20 minutes to make the trip downtown. This morning's ride, for example, took almost exactly 20 minutes from when I boarded the train to when I got off at Fulton Street. But for the past three weeks, almost every ride to work on the express train has been filled with stops and starts and especially long waits in the tunnels while multiple local trains pass by. My average commute to work sometimes stretches to 40 minutes or longer. I saw this service advisory about track work on the downtown express tracks going on until mid-July. But the NY Daily News article says that riders can expect these delays until late September! That's ridiculous. In a subway system that regularly reroutes trains and repairs lines on weekends, why does the MTA have to work on train tracks during weekday rush hours? Is this some form of cost-cutting? They hired a contractor but refused to pay them overtime for weekend and late-night work, so they're working during the day? I've tried the local train, and sometimes it's quicker for me than the express, but ultimately I lose because the local ends at Brooklyn Bridge, one stop before my regular stop at Fulton. Then I have the choice of waiting for a delayed express train, which will probably be one that my local train passed in the tunnel, or walking to the office from there. The walk adds 10 minutes to my commute, even at my pace. Either way, I lose.

Since there's no other option for me to get to work, I'll just have to put up with the delays. And that's the most frustrating thing.

Yes, this post is a rant.