Thursday, December 31, 2009

Take a hike, 2009

It has been my custom to write a "wrap up" post at the end of the year, usually while I'm bored at work on New Year's Eve. I was actually a little busy today, so this post is going up late.

2009 started out well enough and had its high points. The Steelers won the Super Bowl and the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, which would be enough to make any year stand out. I also went on a couple of great vacations, in New Orleans and on Block Island. I played some of my favorite works with NYRO and heard the New York Philharmonic play some as well, perhaps too often. I helped organize and run another successful NYRO benefit gala and I've learned some lessons that will make 2010's gala even better. But then there were the sour moments that are foremost in my mind as the year comes to a close. I'm not as happy as I was when the year started. That's something I need to work on in 2010.

Ten years ago I was married and stuck in a crappy job in a new city that I hated. Now I'm divorced and in a much better job in that same city that I have grown to love in ways I never expected. I have regrets about some things from the past decade but I wouldn't change many of them. I've loved and lost. I've had highs that were unforgettable and lows that I never want to know again. I traveled Europe and Asia in this past decade. I've become that cantankerous old guy at my job (not so old yet) who knows where all the bodies are buried. I've made some incredible friends. I picked up the viola again after too long a break, and I swear to God I'm not putting it down again until my fingers stop working.

That's it for me. I'm off to drink bourbon and forget about the past for a while. See you on the flip side.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I spent my Christmas weekend in Bowie, MD, this year, visiting my father and stepmother instead of my usual Johnstown holiday vacation. After four years of Johnstown at the holidays, I was ready for a change.

I got caught in the mess at Penn Station on my way out last Wednesday. My scheduled train had a mechanical problem which eventually forced Amtrak to cancel the train. They'd already told the big-city passengers to move to the Acela on the next track, so they sent the rest of us headed for small towns (like New Carrollton, MD, the closest stop to my dad's house) back to the concourse to catch the next train. We boarded another train scheduled to leave at 9:41 AM, but it was sitting on the tracks with no power. None of the tracks had power. We sat on this train for about 45 minutes before the conductor told us all to get off the train and take the PATH commuter trains to Newark, where we could get on southbound trains. So we all trudged over to 6th Avenue and crammed ourselves onto a PATH train. At Newark no one from Amtrak had any idea what was going on. Some of us discussed the idea of renting a car. Shortly after noon we heard that power had returned at Penn Station and that trains were moving again. Around 12:45 my train pulled into Newark and many of us crowded onto it. Somehow I got a seat. After five hours, I was on my way. I got to DC just in time to meet some friends for dinner at Clyde's near the Verizon Center.

The rest of the trip was far less exciting. I spent several hours going over music, recordings, and photos of my grandfather and family for a website project that is scheduled to launch early next year (or whenever I get around to launching it). My mother drove down the day after Christmas for a visit. I got to watch the Steelers edge the Ravens and keep their slim playoff hopes alive. And most importantly, I was able to spend some time with my father, who I never seem to see often enough.

I returned to New York on Monday afternoon, somewhat revitalized. Vacations help but returning home always seems to bring out the same old stressors. Still, it's good to be back and I'm looking forward to a better 2010. This year didn't turn out quite how I'd planned. Next year will definitely be an improvement.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Duke Nukem Never

Wired has the inside story on how 3DRealms' long-promised Duke Nukem Forever never came out. I knew some of the details on the game's many delays, like the various engine changes. But I didn't know about creator George Broussard's obsession with including the latest and greatest visual effects in his masterpiece. The story is a study in when the artist lets the public see his creations.

I played Duke Nukem 3D back in 1996 when I was still in college. While I loved the game, newer games with better graphics quickly took Duke's place on my computer. Like everyone else who loved the game and the character, I followed DNF's developments in the late 1990s and eagerly awaited a playable demo or even video footage. But by the early 2000s the game had become a punchline. Now I doubt we'll ever see anything playable from the 12 years 3DRealms and Broussard spent developing this game. It's a shame.

Monday, December 21, 2009

This is the birthday that was

How I planned to spend my 36th birthday:

After the NYRO concert on Saturday night, have a quick drink at the bar, then run home to get about five hours sleep. Wake up at 5 AM, go to the airport, fly to Pittsburgh, go to the Steelers-Packers game. Eat at Primanti Brothers, drive back to the airport, sleep at the hotel, and fly back to New York on Monday morning.

What really happened:

Saturday's blizzard didn't seem so bad in the afternoon. Holly and I continued to plan our trip all day, working out minor details over IM. I got ready for the concert and was on my way out the door when Jess told me that she'd heard that someone's flight out of JFK on Sunday had already been canceled. I checked JetBlue's website and our flight out had been canceled too. It wasn't even 6 PM on Saturday and the trip was off. I resolved to go and play a great concert and worry about the game later.

The concert was fantastic. Getting the chance to play Saint-Saens' "Organ" Symphony was a thrill I had waited twenty years to experience. When the organ thundered that massive C major chord to start the finale, I had a huge smile on my face. The floor of St. Mary's shook with the force of the organ and the power of the brass behind me. Between them, I could have played "Yankee Doodle" and no one would have heard me. After the concert, we had a few drinks with my friends from the orchestra and discussed our plan for Sunday. While I was disappointed that we weren't going to make it to Pittsburgh for the game, I was happy to be able to sleep in on Sunday and relax on my birthday. And that's basically what happened. It was a leisurely morning, with birthday cake and omelets for breakfast. I went for a walk in the afternoon and saw families frolicking and sledding in the snow in Prospect Park. Then I went to James and Jess's apartment to watch the Steelers-Packers game and have dinner.

The game was not on in New York, so I listened to the first half online and then found a few underground sites where I could watch the FOX feed from overseas. And I was able to see the last few minutes of the game on their TV, when Mike Wallace caught a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger with no time left on the clock. The booth review kept me from my customary touchdown dance, but I whooped and waved my Terrible Towel when the extra point won the game. I was happy the Steelers won, but I felt bad for the Packers and for Holly. However, I have every confidence we'll be watching the Pack in the playoffs in January, while the Steelers are at home wondering how their season got away from them.

So I never made it to Pittsburgh, and I have an expensive but worthless piece of unused card stock as a permanent reminder of a game I never attended. But I had a fantastic day here in New York anyway. It was a great way to start my 37th year on this planet.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Muppets: Ringing of the Bells

I especially like the Chef's sweater. It looks like something a guy from Sweden would wear.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Some random musings about the Steelers

My reaction to the Steelers' fifth straight loss last night (to the Cleveland fucking Browns) was to finish off a bottle of rum and send texts and e-mails that I would later regret. Sleep did not make me feel much better.

I'm not here to swear off my team or call for anyone's head. The Steelers won the Super Bowl last year and have two championships in the past five years. I've been blessed as a fan. But five-game losing streaks are not something I'm used to seeing from my team. Especially when those losses are to the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns, all among the worst teams in the league. Now we can include Pittsburgh in that group. Those six wins on the schedule look like flukes now.

I have a plane ticket and a game ticket for next week's game vs. the Packers. I'm going to get up before dawn next Sunday morning (also my birthday) and fly to Pittsburgh to see my team. Two weeks ago it looked like a playoff contender showdown. Now the Steelers are just playing for respect. I'm going to the game with Holly, a Packers fan (though I won't hold that against her). It's the first time I've dated a serious football fan and then had my team play her team. That scenario alone will make the afternoon more interesting. If we don't kill each other during the game we'll have a great time.

It's going to be hard to watch the playoffs without the Steelers. The good thing is that my blood pressure will go down and I won't order my best friend to leave my apartment because he's rooting for the other team. And then there's the long off-season of regret and ruminations. The Steelers won't be down for long. I have faith.

And I have the Penguins.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Why are you on the phone in the elevator?

There are some people who work in my building (not on my floor) who get on the elevator in the middle of a cell phone call. Inevitably, these people end up shouting "Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?" into the phone before looking at it curiously. I'm talking about full-grown adults who have lived in the cell phone age long enough to know when and where cellular network coverage is available. The elevator is not a place where one can expect to get full bars or even one bar. It's in the middle of the building, surrounded by steel and concrete. Elevators are where cell phone signals go to die. Yet these people check their phones like dropped calls are a mysterious phenomenon never before experienced by human beings.

These are also the same people who answer the phone on the subway while the train is above ground, then shout "hello? Hello?" again when the train goes underground. Your phone is not made of magic, sir. It does not work in the bowels of the city (and we like it that way, lest we all be subjected to your inane conversation for our entire journey). Why don't you put that thing away before you hurt yourself? I'll give you a dollar and you can get yourself a candy phone to play with. Enjoy!