Sunday, September 19, 2004

a day out with the guys

The theme of James' bachelor party, held in the afternoon and evening of Saturday, September 18, was "reset." We spent our day at Chelsea Piers, a bowling alley, and at a laser tag arcade in Times Square, and at each one we ran into minor and major problems that required the intervention of facilities staffers. Despite our difficulties, we had a great time hanging out, as we always do.

My role in the day's events started with a long bus ride downtown to meet everyone at the Chat 'n Chew diner near Union Square. I was supposed to get measured for my tuxedo before brunch but didn't make it because of the flooded subways. I was lucky to get there in time to eat. After a tasty omelet stuffed with sausage, peppers, and Mozzarella, we hopped on the subway and on the good foot over to Chelsea Piers. Our first stop was the driving range where we each rented a club and paid for a ticket for 80 or 100 balls. We ended up with three stalls at the far left end of the second level, where we proceeded to hit the crap out of the golf balls and tried not to injure ourselves or others. Near the end I was hitting the balls about 80 yards, which I thought wasn't too bad for someone who hasn't touched a driver since one day in high school gym class when they tried to teach us how to swing a club. The stalls have automatic ball tees: a mechanical tee pops up with a new ball each time you hit one (instead of the usual low-tech method of a bucket of balls). We had trouble with one of the stalls the entire time, and near the end of our stay this stall started popping the new ball up and down, like a whack-a-mole game. So now we had a new game: time your swing to when the ball popped out of the hole. Rich, who has actually played golf, was getting some serious lift with this method, while I had trouble with the timing. It was a unique twist on the otherwise routine driving range concept.

Next, we went downstairs to the batting cages. I passed on taking any swings myself, since I haven't looked at a pitch in over ten years and I was never much good at hitting a baseball or a softball. I'd already had enough trouble hitting a ball that wasn't moving over at the driving range, so I didn't want to try my hand at the batting cage. We didn't have too much trouble with the cages, though Rob tried the baseball "simulator," which was a video screen with a projected pitcher. When the projection wound up and threw, the baseball flew at you from a small hole near where the pitcher's release point would be. But for five or six pitches, the pitcher threw but no ball came out. One of the attendants reset the machine and Rob was able to finish his cuts. But this was an ill omen for what was to come.

We left Chelsea Piers around 5:30 and stopped at F&B on 23rd St. for a snack of gourmet hot dogs with fancy toppings -- I had one with guacamole, salsa, and shredded cheddar cheese. Our next stop was the bowling alley at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. James had seen it before and decided it was a "hive of scum and villainy" that would remind us all of our suburban or rural upbringings. It wasn't quite as nasty as we had expected, and actually wasn't such a bad place to spend an hour or so, especially if you had some time to kill before your bus left. We paid for an hour on one lane, figuring we'd easily get in two or three games even with six people. But we had too many mechanical problems with the lane. Our pin reset machine didn't reset properly a few times, our time ran out early, and even when they extended our time because of the breakdowns, our lane still shut down on us before we were done. So we overpaid for one game for six people. Even though we wanted to bowl another game, we decided we'd given them enough of our money and went to Virgil's for dinner. As always, Virgil's served us some excellent platters of ribs, lamb, chicken, sausage, beans, collard greens, and cornbread. Even the Cajun spring rolls we had as an appetizer were well done. Properly refueled, we walked two blocks to our final stop: Lazer Park.

By this time, some of us were realizing that we're not in our 20s anymore. Due to injuries, strains, and other mechanical failures, we were down to four players in the laser tag arena: James, Jon, Greg, and myself. We paid for two missions of two games each and after another wait, we entered the arena around 10:45. They gave each of us a "vest" which was bulky shoulder pads with a gun attached by a thick cable. The game was manhunt, or deathmatch if you prefer, but either way it was every man for himself. We were lumped in with about 15 other people, mostly teenagers, mostly racially mixed. In other words, the four of us were the "white boys." In the first game, something went wrong with my shoulder pads set, as I got shot about five times and then was unable to shoot anybody for the rest of the game. Jon had the same problem, and we just assumed that we had a limited number of lives. The second game went a little better. The pads worked properly, and instead of a score of -535, I fought my way to about 100 (25 points for shooting someone else, -5 every time someone shot you). In the second mission's two games, the four of us teamed up and controlled a corner of the arena. The first game of the second mission was a better effort for us, since the other kids didn't know what we were doing. They were all shouting about how they were getting creamed in our corner. In the last game, we took a different corner and tried to defend it, but the kids fought their way in. Eventually it devolved into a standoff, as we were trapped shooting at the kids and waiting for our pads to clear each time we got shot (each time you get hit, the system says "shields up" and you can't shoot anyone
for 4 seconds). Considering how upset the kids seemed to be at our tactics, I think our team was successful. When we were done, it was nearly midnight, and Rich and Rob had to get back to Brooklyn to get the car for the drive back to DC. So we parted ways in the Times Square subway station and I got home around 12:30 AM, about 13 hours after I left.

I think James had a good time, which was the most important thing since it was his party. Of the four main activities, the one I'm most likely to try again is the driving range, which is a surprise to me. Bowling is a close second, but I've done that before so it didn't really count as a new experience. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed hitting the balls and trying to figure out the basics of a golf swing. I'm not saying that I'm about to buy a set of clubs and start playing the links every weekend, but I'd definitely go to a driving range again. Maybe not the one at Chelsea Piers, though. Since I have no frame of reference, I have no idea what it should cost to hit 80 balls. But $20 for balls and $4 for a club seems a little expensive, so I don't think their driving range is going to become one of my regular haunts. Laser tag was fun, but Lazer Park's arena is too small and too crowded for me to go back there. And the kids were more than I wanted to deal with. I think I'll stick to the first-person shooters on my computer.

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