Friday, December 30, 2005

Back home again

I got back to NYC on Thursday evening after two days in Reading, PA, visiting with my uncle and his family (they live in Boston but go to PA to visit my aunt's parents; it's a long story). Everything was in order at home, as I have a reliable cat sitter who makes sure the cats don't destroy the house. Since I'd missed a night of Hanukkah, I lit the candles for the fourth night and then immediately lit them again for the fifth night. Now I'm back on track.

I had a little adventure on Friday tracking down a UPS package that my friends in Pittsburgh had shipped to me before Christmas. I had tried to get the package re-routed to my office, but due to the strike or incompentence on UPS' part the re-routing never happened. However, the ZIP code in the tracking system did change, because last night the phone operator told me the package was at the UPS depot on West Houston Street. I went down there around lunchtime, but there was no package. The guy behind the counter told me to go to 180 Canal Place, which he said was in Manhattan, and gave me a phone number (with a non-Manhattan 718 area code) to call to confirm the package would be there. I tried the phone number, which of course didn't work, then called the UPS operator again to try to figure out just where the package was. After arguing with her for five minutes, she finally noticed the ZIP code problem and sent a message to the other depot to check for my shipment. While I waited for a call back, I stopped at Barnes Noble, checked a map, and confirmed that in fact the address was in the Bronx. A half-hour later, after UPS actually did call me to confirm they had my package, I was in the south Bronx at another UPS depot. Thankfully, they had the box, which turned out to be small enough they could have just left it next to my mailbox at home in the first place. I share this story with my few readers as a reminder: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE send any packages for me to my work address, not my home address. As a working man, I'm never home when FedEx, UPS, or the US Mail try to deliver packages. If you're sending me something you'd actually like me to receive, the office is the best place for me to get your valuables. E-mail me if you need my office address.

The weirdest thing so far about living the bachelor life is that I talk to myself all the time. I'm getting self-conscious about it now. I'd like to think that I'm talking to my cats and that they're listening, but I'm talking when they're not in the room, and even if they were, they're cats and so they're not listening to me anyway. I'll have to find some way to break myself of this habit, because I don't want my neighbors to think I'm the crazy guy who always talks to himself. Although this is New York, and there are plenty of people in this town who mutter, shout, or yammer on when no one is listening, so if I joined them it wouldn't be a problem.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

new pictures are up

They're photos of my visit with my friends in Pittsburgh and family in Reading, PA, at the Flickr site. I'll update the link on the right when I get back to NY.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

the news at home

I'm on day 3 of my holiday visit to Johnstown. It's been all sorts of fun so far. My parents and my brother were all here on Christmas Day for presents and a Hanukkah dinner of brisket and potato latkes. Yesterday we went to Pittsburgh, where we visited with some of my friends and stopped to see an elderly relative, then we braved a Best Buy for a little after-Christmas shopping. We're just hanging out at home today, then tomorrow we're off to Reading, PA, to see my uncle and his family.

Last night, after Monday Night Football, the late local news came on. My mother warned me that that particular news was horrible, and she wasn't kidding. The anchor flubbed her opening, then she threw to a reporter in the field, reporting that "a crime has been committed in Blair County." Since this reporter didn't have a camera crew, she was on the phone. And she had no idea what was going on, only saying that there might have been a homicide, but the police weren't providing any details. I don't think she even said what part of Blair County she was in. The worst part was that the station didn't have a decent graphic to put on screen while she talked. Usually, when you have a reporter on the phone, you see their picture in one part of the screen and a map of their location in another part. The station's graphic did show the reporter's photo, although it was a terrible photo that looked like it was cropped out of a candid at a happy hour. The rest of the screen said "ON THE PHONE" and showed a picture of a cell phone. I'm not kidding. I guess that was the picture in case you didn't know what a phone was. We had to change the channel after that. The other local news stations here aren't much better, but that was one of the worst I've ever seen.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

so much for the strike... now it's time to go home

I'm surprised the strike ended so quickly. After hearing all the rhetoric on the news Wednesday night I was certain the dispute would last through Christmas and into next week. When I arrived at the shuttle van stop on Thursday, one of my colleagues said that he thought it would be over that day, and I disagreed. It's a good thing we didn't make it interesting. Now I don't have to walk to Penn Station tomorrow morning to catch my train; it should be easy to get a cab at 8:30.

I'm blogging instead of packing, although I've got all my clothes in the bag already. I'm still thinking about DVDs and my usual assortment of tech gear, and I'm sure I'll forget something I'll want later. I'm only traveling for five days, so it's not like I need to pack for a month. And I finally received all of my gifts today, so I have at least one present for everyone in my family. I'm looking forward to my mother's cooking, seeing old friends back home, and just getting away from New York for a few days. This has been possibly the most difficult holiday season of my life, and in fact I'm looking forward to seeing it end. Many things in my life are going to change in January and I'm anxious to start making those changes. 2006 will be vastly different from 2005, and in a sense I'm ready to tackle that now. But first I've got to get through Christmas and New Year's Eve.

I didn't intend for this to be an end-of-the-year post. I will be online at my mom's house -- I'm taking my D-Link wireless router with me to hook up to her broadband connection so I can surf anywhere in the house. I am a geek. There may be some holiday blogging. If I haven't wished you a happy holiday in person or in your own personal e-mail from me, consider this post to be your holiday message. Have a safe and happy Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever you're celebrating.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Thursday commute report

Wednesday night's ride home was better than Tuesday. I got into a van at 4:45 and we drove up through SoHo, the East Village, and then took Madison Avenue from the 30s up to 85th St where I got out. It was about an hour, as opposed to the two hours it took on Tuesday night. I was able to stop at the bank, buy another holiday gift, pick up my laundry, and get some much-needed groceries.

This morning was the worst commute so far. I arrived at the shuttle stop at about 8:20 to find six other people already waiting. A few more showed up until there were about 10-12 of us. We all waited over an hour for the shuttle to arrive. Four people bailed out and took a cab around 9:20, so when the shuttle did show up just after 9:30, we had 10 people to squeeze into a 7-passenger SUV. And we did it. We had two people up front (the driver and one passenger), four people in the middle two seats (no bench, just 2 seats, so they were sitting on laps or armrests), three on the bench seat in the back, and me and another guy riding in the trunk space in the rear. It was by far the least comfortable ride, but at least it was much warmer in the car than it had been outside. I've been here almost an hour, and my feet are finally warming up.

Thank God I don't have to work tomorrow -- the conditions are really starting to piss me off. The more I read about my fellow cyclists' commutes on my NY cycling e-mail list, the more I think about riding my bike to work. I'd have to get some new cycling clothes and a warm pair of shoes or boots to wear, and a light for the ride home, but I could do it. If the strike is still going on when I come back to work in January, I think I'll try riding to work. I'll miss out on the social aspect of the shuttle commute (getting to meet fellow Firm employees) but I'd rather spend an hour riding to work and freezing my ass off than standing around waiting for a shuttle van that might not even have enough room for everyone.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

the trip home was not so much fun

I spent most of my day wondering how the firm intended to get us wayward Manhattanites home after they got us to the office this morning. Around 4 PM I got the e-mail saying that the first shuttle buses were leaving at 4:30 and the next ones at 7 PM. I got my boss to let me leave at 4:30, promising him that I'd work from home when I got there. I grabbed my stuff and hustled out the door to the designated waiting area on Broadway. But no one told me or the other few commuters that they'd moved the vans around the corner to Liberty St. Luckily I noticed one of the firm's office managers directing people to the vans and found the right one for my neighborhood. I had been chatting with one of my co-workers who also lives near me, and he and I squeezed into the back seat of the SUV, with a few other people already waiting to leave. We sat until 5:15 and then finally pulled away for what turned out to be a two-hour ride home. We took 3rd Avenue all the way north, and it was stop-and-go, but mostly stop, until we passed the Queensborough Bridge at 59th St. After that, it was a breeze, but getting to that point sucked. I was tired, starving, my left leg was cramping up, and all I wanted to do was get home. I walked in the door about 7:20, and we went right back out to Pizzeria Uno for dinner. I hadn't planned to go there for my birthday dinner, but when I saw on my walk home from the van that it was open I figured why the hell not. (In an odd coincidence, Liz and I had had dinner at a Pizzeria Uno in Washington, DC's Union Station exactly 10 years ago on my 22nd birthday.) It was the tastiest suburban restaurant food I'd had in a long time. Finally, I came home for good around 9 PM. I got to open a few birthday cards and presents (Master and Commander on DVD [I know it came out two years ago] and the deluxe edition of Who's Next) and try to get a little work done.

Now it's 12:30 AM and I have to decide what I'm doing tomorrow. I would dearly love to work from home, but I think I'll end up taking the shuttle van service again. The good thing is that I only have to do it for two more days, then I start my vacation and I can worry about walking to Penn Station on Saturday to catch my train.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"How'd you get to work today?"

That's the big story here in New York, where the transit union went on strike at 3 AM this morning. Wow! I never thought the union would give me such a great birthday present. Hell, I didn't realize they even knew it was my birthday. Anyway, I took my firm's shuttle van service near my apartment and rode downtown with five co-workers I'd never met before. The driver must have been a livery cab driver under normal circumstances, because he drove that SUV through traffic like it was a 4-door sedan. We all buckled up as soon as we passed the police checkpoint at 96th St. and the driver floored it for about five blocks. The commute took about an hour and 15 minutes; normally, the express train subway ride is about 20-25 minutes. So far I haven't heard how the office intends to get us upper Manhattan dwellers home tonight. I assume it's going to be the same system in reverse, but they could do something else with cabs if they can get enough. Tomorrow I might have to work from our midtown office, and I can just walk there. My holiday vacation starts on Friday, so I only have to worry about getting to work for two more days this week. Then I have to figure out what to pack and plan how I'm getting to Penn Station on Saturday morning for my train ride to Johnstown. Right now I think I'll be walking there and wearing out the wheels on my suitcase.

I took a few pictures of the traffic on Lexington Avenue this morning on my way to the commuter van stop. They're over on my Flickr site.

Could this be the worst birthday ever? 21 would be hard to top

It's December 20, which means that I'm 32 today. Happy birthday to me!

Once again, I'm waiting for word of a transit strike in New York, which would mean that the 7 million people who usually get around in buses and subways would be above ground trying to walk, take cabs, or bike to work. My firm has set up a shuttle van service from about 10 blocks away from my apartment, so I don't actually have to walk halfway to lower Manhattan tomorrow morning if there's a strike. On the other hand, I'm not looking forward to the fistfights and potential rioting at 96th St, where the police will have checkpoints to make sure that any cars going downtown from that point have at least 4 people in them. I have a feeling that it will be like the last chopper out of Saigon over there, with people fighting for cabs and offering huge sums of money to drivers to get them downtown. I'm bringing my camera to get photos of the chaos. At least it will be another uniquely New York experience to share with my family, friends, and this blog. But I'd prefer if the union stayed on the job. I'm a liberal Democrat, but I've been anti-union since high school. After enduring a divisive and disruptive "selective" teachers' strike my senior year (the teachers decided each day whether to strike or not -- we'd have school for a week, then no school, then back in school for a few days, then a strike day, etc.) I decided that unions were no longer necessary. This is the third potential transit strike I've been through in New York, and I'm getting tired of it. These are public employees, and it's against the law for them to strike. They face fines and possible jail time for striking, and I hope the state enforces those fines. If they're going to make the city suffer, I want each and every one of those workers to feel the pain too.

Adding to the troubles tonight was a sudden, late-night leak in our bathroom. I was just settling in to watch "PTI" when Liz hollered about a ceiling leak next to the bathtub. Our superintendent came right over to check it out, and it had already slowed by the time he appeared, but it was more excitement I don't need right now.

And, of course, there's the BIG reason why this might be the worst birthday of my life. If you haven't heard the news yet, e-mail me and I'll fill you in.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Dr. Phil sez "You don't need to go to school to find your inner moron."

More (fake) quotes like this one can be found at this wonderful site. Like

"You don't need gonorrhea to poop on a cracker."
"You don't need a sense of moral decency to watch Spongebob Squarepants."
"You don't need to watch my crappy show to rock me like a hurricane."

Some of them sound real enough that Dr. Phil might have uttered them.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

waiting on a transit strike

Like clockwork, another three years goes by, and it's time for another possible strike by the transit workers' union here in New York. In December 1999, they threatened a strike up until the last moment, when they agreed to a contract. And again in December 2002, the strike talk and plans went on until and after the deadline, when the negotiations produced an agreement. Now it's December 2005, and the current contract expires at midnight tonight. Given that there hasn't been a strike here in 25 years, I shouldn't be too worried, but the rhetoric coming from the union doesn't make me feel good about the situation. One account of the union rally at Grand Central Station earlier this week noted that when the union head asked the crowd "what do we want?" many voices could be heard shouting "strike!" instead of "contract!" That's not what I had hoped to hear. As of last night negotiations hadn't made much progress, but since the last two contracts resulted from last-minute bargaining I expect this one to be the same. So I'll stay up until midnight tonight and see what happens, and if there's a strike I'll find some other way to get to work. It's supposed to rain and snow overnight and into tomorrow morning, so it will be wet and icy on the roads. If the weather were clear, I'd ride my bike to work in a heartbeat, but since it will be wet, I'll probably walk to 34th St. and take either the PATH train to the World Trade Center stop or take the water taxi to Wall Street. That's almost 60 blocks for me to walk, but I think I can manage it. It's about two miles -- not a fun walk in any weather, especially winter, but it's doable.

Monday, December 12, 2005

one holiday party down, one to go, and Tuba Christmas

We held our holiday party for our friends on Saturday evening at our apartment. The guest list swelled to 25+, which is about 10 more people than we've ever had here before, so I was apprehensive about how we'd get all these people in here and keep them happy. Luckily, as with most parties, not everyone stayed the entire time and some people arrived late, so it worked out OK. We supplied the drinks and a dessert (cupcakes from Eleni's Bakery) and our friends brought the food. By keeping the food in one room, drinks in another and people in the living room, we managed to keep the traffic flow under control. We had promised that there would be games, but with so many people spread all over the apartment, we ended up talking most of the time. I think near the end of the night a few people got a card game going, but I preferred to stick to polite conversation and working on the medium-strength hangover I had on Sunday morning. After everyone left, we threw out most of the leftover food, except for some of the cupcakes, and stowed the leftover alcohol for next time. Then we crashed and I slept off that hangover until late this morning. Monday night is the office holiday party, so it's a good thing I got my tolerance back up this weekend. I'd like to enjoy a Chimay or two without becoming the drunken life of the party.

On Sunday afternoon I went to Tuba Christmas at Rockefeller Center. I went last year but since I arrived just before it started I didn't have a great view of all those tubas and euphonia. This time I got there about 30 minutes early and found a spot near the ice rink with a good view of the musicians. I was jammed in with some parents whose kids were playing, including a woman whose 10-year-old was one of the youngest participants (his tuba was almost as big as he was). The music was just as enjoyable as last year, even with the conductor's loud, braying, off-key renditions of the words. I might have to find a friend in the group for next year, so I don't get into trouble with the stage moms. One of them actually said "I think that if you don't have a kid in this thing, you shouldn't get to stand down front." Yes, there were people in front of her blocking her view of her son, but if she wanted the best spot, she should have gotten there earlier, like I did. Next year I'll invent a cover story about my half-brother or cousin or someone who plays the tuba. I don't think mentioning my grandfather's tuba career or my father playing the euphonium back in college will curry much favor with a stage parent with a video camera.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Child's Play 2005

For the third year in a row, Penny Arcade is conducting their Child's Play Christmas toy drive for childrens' hospitals. This year, they've expanded the wish lists to 18 hospitals in the US, two in Canada and one in the UK. You can order a gift from and have it shipped directly to the hospital of your choice. Or you can donate money directly to the campaign via Paypal or check. I don't usually push charitable giving on my readers, but I think that sick kids are a worthy cause and I like to help out the guys who create one of my favorite webcomics. So if you feel like doing something special with your holiday bonus, send a few bucks their way.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I'm a "Stalker!"

My Jay Mohr sighting at Sweeney Todd on Saturday made the Gawker Stalker post today. It's about halfway down, and reprinted verbatim from what I sent in.

I will now return to blogging about sports, technology, and occasional happenings in my personal life.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sweeney Todd

Saturday night's entertainment was a performance of Sweeney Todd at the Eugene O'Neill Theater. I got the tickets a few weeks ago after reading the review in the Washington Post and figuring that we couldn't miss Patti LuPone playing the tuba and singing. We weren't disappointed. The show is staged without a pit orchestra; the actors not only sing their roles, but play multiple instruments when they're not singing or acting. Michael Cerveris, who played Sweeney Todd, also played guitar, LuPone played tuba, and several others played cello, violin, accordion, flute, piano, bass, and percussion. I'm not a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim's music, but the performances here really brought out the energy and excitement in his songs. LuPone was terrific, of course, but the real star was Michael Cerveris. He was menacing but soft, tender but vicious. And the staging was simple: a backdrop of shelves with pots, pans, and other knickknacks, and just chairs and a large black coffin on the stage itself. The coffin served as a table, platform, podium, and occasionally a coffin. It wasn't my favorite of the Broadway shows I've seen (that would still be 2000's The Music Man with Craig Bierko) but it was definitely one of the most creative shows I've seen.

Also, at intermission I was standing at my seat thinking "I wonder if there are any celebrities here tonight." Just then, as if I'd conjured him out of the air, I saw Jay Mohr walking up the aisle. He was wearing a zip-up gray hoodie sweatshirt over a yellow T-shirt and jeans, and on his way back from the concession stand looked a little wobbly. I sent the sighting to Gawker, so hopefully I'll make the Gawker Stalker column this week.

Friday, December 02, 2005

A visit to "The Colbert Report"

Not long after "The Colbert Report" premiered on Comedy Central in October, I requested tickets to a taping. We went to last night's show at the studio on West 54th St. in Manhattan (the old "Daily Show" studio). The routine was the same as when we went to a TDS taping back in November 2000: we waited outside in line for about two hours, then went into the waiting room for another 15 minutes before getting into the studio itself. The stage manager made a few jokes and let us know how he would cue us to cheer during intros and commercial breaks. Then the warmup guy came out and made fun of some of the people in the audience and used a few jokes from his usual standup set. Finally, just before the taping, Stephen Colbert himself came out, running around the set and milking us for tremendous applause. He answered a few questions, staying in "character" the whole time, then they started the actual taping. If you saw the show Thursday night, we were sitting two rows up, directly behind Rick Springfield when he made his quick appearance to help Stephen get "Jesse's Girl" out of his head. But they used a camera angle that didn't have us in it, and it was dark where we were sitting anyway. After the Herb Alpert reference mid-show, when they played part of "Spanish Flea," the in-studio commercial break music was all Herb Alpert, and Stephen sat at his desk miming the following: playing a trumpet in time with the music, mixing himself a drink, and a little dancing. It was fantastic: I could practically see the shaker and tumbler in front of him. He flubbed one line in the last segment (about the face transplant) and they had to start over, which meant we had to laugh at the same jokes twice, but otherwise it was a fine show. I figured out why they leave all of Stephen's prompter mis-reads in the show. Each act is one continuous take, and if he messes up part of the "Word" segment (for example), they have to redo the show from the beginning of the segment, which might be five or six minutes. It's hard to laugh at the same jokes a second time, so I think it's a wise production decision to go with the flow the way they do. And he's making fewer mistakes, so it's becoming less of an issue. We would have loved to see the "On Notice/Dead to Me" list make another appearance, but that's probably a once in a while gimmick. Still, it was great fun, and I'll have to think about going to another TDS taping sometime just for kicks. I still want to be in Conan O'Brien's audience, too. I've got until 2009 to do that one (the show might move to LA after that, when he takes over Leno's job).