Thursday, December 24, 2009

Urine Luck

There are certain times in ones life when the discovery of a tool leads to inspiration of sorts. Blogging was one of those events back in 2003 or so. After opening my account and remaining dormant for months, I had a back-of-the-cab discussion with Paul, Cathy, and a friend of theirs in town about the crazy city of New York and how there needed to be a way to keep track of places that I wanted to go, events that transpired, and the life that was being lived. It was fairly successful over the years, even if the production line of posts isn't quite like it was in the past.

Recently I was out at dinner with some friends and was learning all about the book of James. It was fascinating and was something that I had yearned for throughout the years that I had been blogging. I hope that the book of James provides another moment of inspiration since I went out and bought something just like the book of James: a pocket-sized faux-leather personal journal. It's great for keeping track of my thoughts, making a note about websites that I need to check back on when I get home, and pretty much anything else that I can think of that needs to be documented.

Thus, it is Christmas Eve and I wish to provide you with a taste of my own book of James. Oh hell no, there's a poem in store for ya'll!

The First Day of (Peruvian) Christmas
    by J. Riley

You're in Luck,
   when the faux-hawk that you rock,
   stands up like a shock
   and when 230v > 110v, I nearly knocked my socks off. 

   The sirens will sounds,
   that there's a new gringa in town.
  The fish will clown
  while her tooth is getting crowned.
  This, with the girl that wore my wedding gown.  

J. Riley, Feliz Navidad! Pictures that go along with the linguistic art above will have to wait until I get back to NY...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Thanksgiving Week: The Abriged Version

It's been an unprecedented week and a half of greatness around here lately - and it didn't even include computers! Okay, I lied, there was some nerdliss bliss going on as well as some other awesome things. Such as:
  • I caved in and took Erika to see a sigh-fi movie (pun intended). I am not the biggest fan of these movies and the thought of paying $30 for tickets and a drink to see "2012" is not ideal. It is, however, acceptable if you watch "2012" and a second movie on her agenda ("New Moon") is conveniently starting right when we walk out of the theater - and a double-feature night was on. Okay, so we were stuck in the first row, but it was too good of a deal to pass up!
  • Thanksgiving week is always awesome because it's a short work week and there is plenty of weight to be gained (in the wrong parts). But what makes it even more awesome is when a friend comes to town from Slovakia! Roland rolled into town on Tuesday, and it was on! 
  • Roland and I always get into some kind of trouble together, usually involving car accidents. But with no cars in my household, Roland found other ways to accomplish this. I'll spare the details, but suffice to say that bright and early on Thanksgiving morning, I was going across the street to White Castle to see if they had a plunger I could use. They didn't, but luckily the grocery store was open and they did! Why does this stuff always happen on the holidays, just like when I locked myself out of my apartment on the 4th of July, when my super was out of town for two weeks?
  • Since I am rarely in town during Thanksgiving (unless I'm recovering from jaw-surgery and eating liquids), we made plans to actually fight the crowds and watch the spectacle that is the Macy's Parade in mid-town. And by watching, I mean getting there about 10 minutes before the final float passed by. I'm not a big parade guy, but the other members of my household are, so we hit that. 
  • We followed the parade up with a stroll down 5th Avenue and, much to my surprise, many of the stores were already hawking their goods at Black Friday prices. Much to my chagrin, Roland forced us to go into Armani Exchange, which I consider to be one of the least likely places for me to enter due to their ginourmous "A|X" labels on everything they sell. Or so I thought. The place actually rocked my world in terms of style ingenuity. Wow, where has this store been in my life?? I still didn't buy anything, but there was plenty of eyeballing going on in that store. Vas shoved it in my face by modeling in and buying half the store - but at outrageously reduced prices!
  • We arrived home and realized that we still had to cook. Ughhh....actually I was in a productive mood so I went to work on prepping the goods and stressing Erika out to the point that she went and took a nap. Rachel Ray promised that it would take only 60 minutes to make this meal and I was dead set on getting it done within an hour and a half - at which I failed! But, damn, did we do well. Of course, I realized at the end that I forgot to make the mashed potatoes, so I put Vas to work grating the 1/2 pound of manchego while I quickly boiled the Yukon Golds and everything came out just perfect. We followed that up by sobering up from the pre-meal aperitif(s) and delicious Hungarian white wine and watching "Pelham 123", which was predictable but alright. 

The succulent fowl breasteses

Justin as a sous-chef in 1997 (Italy)                                              vs.                                                 2009 (NY)
  • We decided to do the Black Friday thing in Manhattan since Erika and I had to go to the city at the plumber-crack of dawn anyway and Roland wanted to hit the town early and do his shopping. We did marginally well at getting to our appointment on time while Roland worked at his pace and eventually arrived at 11:00 ;o). We all did pretty good at saving some cash and Vas found the caloric love of his life at Pax - Wholesome Foods. But this day is just exhausting here, dealing with the throngs of people fighting for clothes on sale.  I think that Macy's on Black Friday is something everyone should experience once in their lifetime - for the pure frustration of it all.

The first floor at Macy's in Herald Square on Black Friday

  • Saturday was our lazy day of recovery from Black Friday. The apartment was trashed, but Roland and I rolled out at about 3:00 to go eat some bagels and leave Erika to her homework. It was nice to have some one-on-one time with the guy that I consider one of my best friends in the world and talk about life and normal random scheisse that we don't get to talk about when we're busy traveling with six other friends to the heights of Machu Picchu, remote beaches in Brazil, or packed into a rental car en route to Berlin for the World Cup final. We strolled around Central Park and returned in time to relax some more and get ready for the evening's main-event at a world-renowned night club - Pacha NYC.
  • The last time that Vas and Csilla came to NY, we were too beat to make it to a disco and I promised him that this time would be different. We missed a world-class DJ in David Guetta by one painful day, but the local guy who was spinning that night did the job as we arrived lubricated with Vilmos at around 12:30 at night with two of Erika's friends. The place was hopping and it was definitely one of the most epic nights in recent memory since we didn't return home from "brunch" at Sanford's until almost 6:00am! I realize now that I'm too old for that since I still haven't recovered from that night! 

  •  Sunday was Roland's last full day in town and he had some additional items that he needed to purchase before heading home - including a new piece of luggage that he totally got ripped off on in midtown. I probably should have mentioned that he can negotiate on those prices before he wiped out the credit card. This thing he bought was just completed ridiculous and felt like it would fall apart without even putting one of his 97 bags (give or take a few) of Abercrombie & Fitch clothes in it. He recovered from that purchase well, however, when we did a final supper of Astoria-fresh sushi at Watawa on Ditmars. The place was packed on a late Sunday night, but it was pretty good stuff, even if it wasn't as good as the first sushi place he visited shortly after arriving (Bistro 33)
J. Riley, after family, friends are the next best thing to have at Thanksgiving!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Geek Squadron

Wow, how long has it been since I've blogged? I have some really good
excuses, and some really bad ones.

Good Excuses:
- I was in California! For three and a half days. Erika and I decided
at the last minute to go visit the family and go see my grandma, who
hasn't been feeling too good lately. We found some stellar prices two
days before the weekend on Jet Blue and took advantage of the fact
that Wednesday was a bank holiday and that I have a bunch of "sick"
leave time left for this year that I won't be using (hopefully). We
spent two wonderful days with the grandparents and then had a half day
left to tool around the Bay Area. I succeeded in some goals (Technical
Support, eating Mexican food, eating In 'N Out burger, spending
quality time with the family, and visiting my long lost storage unit)
and failed miserably in others - most notably on cleaning out said
storage unit. What the heck is all the crap in those boxes? I opened
the door to it, realized that I drastically underestimated the amount
of junk that's in there, and locked it back up again. See ya in
another three years!
- I've turned my apartment into a major hot-box and have been getting
high for two weeks - on computers. My apartment is literally a
technology-agnostic sandbox at this point. Windows XP, Windows 7,
Windows Vista, OS X Snow Leopard, Ubuntu Linux 9.10. You name it, and
I've been working on it. I brought my dad's old computer back to NY
with me and had to spend too much time getting it ready for
exportation to Peru at Christmas. Then I acquired (through semi-legal
means) Windows 7 that I needed to install on my laptop. After that, I
somehow found an amazing new picture-album program that just had to be
installed on Stefan's Linux box in California. I've been pounding my
head in the wall for three days on that now and it still isn't
working. And yesterday Vas's new Macbook Pro arrived and of course I
needed to get wireless working and install Windows 7 on his Boot Camp.
There are now computer parts and packaging strewn across tables and
floors in my apartment and I'm just waiting for Erika to finally say
enough is enough and make me organize stuff.
- I've been planning Thanksgiving in NYC. Although nothing is as good
as a Thanksgiving with family, this year we'll have to make due with
good friends as Vas is coming to town and Susyash and the Irishman are
trekking up for the day. I'm really looking forward to it and Erika
and I have some work to do getting ready for that. Serving platters?
Large forks? Serving utensils? Guess it's time to finally use up those
Crate & Barrel gift cards from February!
- We joined the gym!

Bad Excuses:
- We joined the gym! Last night. Erika and I have finally had enough
of being lazy at night since our contracts at Meatheads-'R-Us ended in
the summer. After debating, hymn-and-hawing back and forth on the
decision, we finally saddled up and signed a one-year contract with
the nice gym down the street. I'm eagerly anticipating my first spin
class in over a year and look forward to increasing my brute strength
and fitness this winter.

We've got a busy two weeks ahead of us with Roland coming to town,
Thanksgiving, etc. but I'll try to keep the faith a little better. As
soon as I get that damn picture album software working...

J. Riley, lots of stuff going on in the background as well. Stay
tuned, all three of you!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Getting to Know Your Relatives

1. Whats your name spelt backwards? (should that not be spelled?)
Seniah Nitsuj.  Japanese maybe? I am the complete opposite of Japanese, so I guess that makes sense.

2. What did you do last night?
Went to a cloud computing event put on by Canonical Ubuntu. Very exciting - and free food and drinks to boot!

3. The last thing you downloaded onto your computer?
Match of the Day Highlights from the best football game of the season on Sunday - Liverpool 2 - Man United ZERO.

4. Have you ever licked a 9 volt battery?
Yes, I remember the taste to this day. I think I used to do it to see if the battery was still alive. I can only assume that it's something Graham told me to do.

5. Last time you swam in a pool?
In Brazil on my honeymoon during a torrential downpour that flooded the streets. 

6. What are you wearing?
A smelly white t-shirt and sweats.

7. How many cars have you owned?
Two - 1965 Buick Special and 2001 GTI

8. Type of music you dislike most?
Death Metal

9. Are you registered to vote?
Registered to vote Democrat

10. Do you have cable?

11. What kind of computer do you use?
Anything I can get my hands on. Dumb terminal or HP Laptop

12. Ever made a prank phone call?
Uhh...duh. Made some great calls with the exchange students in high school.

13. You like anyone right now?
Yea, my wife's not bad. ;o)

14. Would you go bungee jumping or sky diving?
Yes and yes. I think I would rather bungee jump first.

15. Furthest place you ever traveled?
Brazil to the south, Kazmir Dolny Poland to the East, Tahiti to the West, and Vancouver to the North. I need to work on some of that.

16.Do you have a garden?
Does a bonzai plant count?

17. What's your favorite comic strip?

18. Do you know all the words to the national anthem?
I just know the "Jose can you see?" part I think

19. Shower, morning or night?

20. Best movie you've seen in the past month?
Pineapple Express

21. Favorite pizza toppings?
Whatever's on the grandma slice - grilled onions and stuff. Also a fan of the pineapple and canadian bacon varietal.

22. Chips or popcorn?
Definitely chips, I can eat a whole bag in a sitting. It's my guilty pleasure. Though I am a fan of popcorn as well.

23. What cell phone provider do you have?
Verizon, thank god. Now please bring us the iPhone!

24. Have you ever smoked peanut shells?
Who doesn't? Wait, what? Must be a slang term that those damn kids are using.

25. Have you ever been in a beauty pageant?
Negative ghost rider.

26. Orange Juice or apple?

27. Who were the last people you sat at lunch with?
The boss

28. favorite chocolate bar?
Kinder Country, by a mile

29. Who is your longest friend and how long?
Stefan and Ryan are about the same length, somewhere around 6'3"

30. Last time you ate a homegrown tomato?
Yesterday. It was probably homegrown by someone in China.

31. Have you ever won a trophy?
Yes, they give them to everybody when you're a kid, regardless of skill!

32.Favorite artist?

33. Favorite computer game?
Pro Football Manager, though I haven't played it yet.

34. Ever ordered from an infomercial?
Yes, after imbibing a bit too much, I ordered the infamous crush-proof hose. I am considering dipping my toe back in those waters for the Slap-Chop. Anybody use one before??

35. Sprite or 7-UP?

36. Have you ever had to wear a uniform to school/work?
Yes, I wear my monkey suit every day.

37. Last thing you bought at Walgreens?
Pass. I have no clue. Probably a pack of gum so that I could get ATM cash-back.

38. Ever thrown up in public?
Yes, but not since I was young.

39. Would you prefer being a millionaire or finding true love?
Can't buy me love!

40. Do you believe in love at first sight?
I am way to pessimistic to believe in that.

41.Can exes just be friends?
Not in my case.

42. Who was the last person you visited in the hospital?
My doctor or Jonathan, not sure which.

43. Did you have long hair as a young kid?
I had hair when I was a child, so that counts, right?

44. What message is on your voicemail machine?
I don't have a voicemail machine, I just have a mobile.

45. Where would you like to go right now?

46. What was the name of your first pet?

47. What kind of back pack do you have, and what's in it?
I have an O'Gio that's empty except for some power converters, but I usually use Erika's red North Face that I bought for $20 from some guys that probably stole them.

48. Last incoming/outgoing call on your phone?
Mom and Mom!

49. What is one thing you are grateful for today?
I am grateful for my wife, my family's health, and getting to talk to Nana on Skype!

50. What do you think about most?
PGD and Cincinnati. And Liverpool.

Monday, October 19, 2009

We've Got Worms

Actually, they are more like visitors. After not having anyone visit me in the last few years after the initial rush, Summer and Mom & Dad have all visited us in lovely Astoria. Now, we've got Vas confirmed on a flight to come here for a week during Thanksgiving (my second Thanksgiving since I've been here, and my first where I can actually eat solid food) and on Saturday, Leif said "Hey what are you doing next weekend? I think me and my girlfriend will fly out to visit next week if you're around!" Uhhh...OF COURSE! It's about time! Anyone else? I would love to have to actually put a calendar to use to fill the vacancies on our futon!

If you're thinking about visiting us anytime soon, it is probably better for you to consider coming sooner rather than later because we've been having some interesting conversations in our household lately. Specifically, around the thoughts of the option to move to the Cincinnati region. WTF? I don't even know if it is an option, but I think that it may be. It won't be happening anytime soon, but you really just never know. For once in my life, I'm trying to think long term, but at the same time trying to appreciate the now and thinking about everything in between...

This past weekend, I was a volunteer at a kids soccer coaching clinic up in Harlem. It sounded like the perfect kind of gig for me, inspiring youths to take up the beautiful game and eschew other lame American sports like American Football ;o). It had so much promise, but it was actually one of the worst volunteer experiences I've had. Not because the kids weren't awesome, because they were. More so because the volunteers had a penchant for proving to everyone that they were awesome soccer players. Bragging about the position they played, how they used to take penalty kicks, and kicking the ball as hard as they could at the teenage goalkeepers, while "playing" with the under-10 kids.And the two teenage goalkeepers were so inspired to prove that they were awesome that they would block every single kick anytime one of the little kids tried to kick the ball. Clearly, there were some egos that needed to be massaged. It was definitely not about the kids, and that's just lame. By the way, I have a hard time just kicking the ball without falling down, so I certainly didn't have any point to prove to anyone :)!

Today I brought in awesome bagels from the local bagelria to work as part of the October birthday celebrations that we have. At the coordinator's request, I bought two dozen, plus the bagelria gave me four extra for free. There's only like 12 people in my group, so it was clearly a ridiculous amount of massive, warm bagels, so I thought I'd give one to the homeless guy begging for money on the subway stairs. He looked at me and said "I don't want THAT!" I said okay and put it back in the bag before he said "Fine, I'll take it". Yo, man, don't do me any favors just because you can't buy booze with a freakin warm, delectable bagel!

J. Riley, Vas and Susyash, I haven't seen any blogs in the required time, so this will continue to be the short feeds. You scratch some words on your blog, and I'll scratch mine! I'm waiting....

Monday, October 05, 2009

Dishing Out the Truth About Ikea

First off, congratulations to Summer on her accomplishment

Last year before I moved into my new apartment, I went on a mad shopping spree to buy stuff for my apartment - you know the essential stuff like a futon, a table, dishware, energy-saving lightbulbs, etc. It was my first experience, but I was amazed at how cheap the stuff was there and, really, how some of the stuff is actually pretty decent quality. The "silver"ware has been great. Despite finding some phantom screws underneath it, nobody has sat on the futon and crashed to the floor (where the hell did those screws come from, anyway?), and even the dishware has been surprisingly sturdy and shatter-resistant (despite my utter clumsiness and lack of a grip with my rubber gloves on while washing them).

So imagine my surprise when yesterday I discovered the following....ON THE SAME DAY, within hours of each other:
  • A large chip off the edge of one of my big plates
  • A small microscopic chip (though surely capable of giving me a bloody lip, I'm sure) off the edge of one of my glasses.
  • A crack on the handle of one of my mugs. 
I'm certain that these things weren't there the day before. I have no option but to judge Ikea dishware like I judge Chrysler transmissions: they should come with a "Best if used by" date. In this case, 1.5 years or 400 hand-wash cycles, which ever comes first.

It's been an exciting week and half since we last talked. I had my birthday party at the German beer garden, which went off exceptionally well and without anybody getting arrested for dancing on the tables or other drunk and disorderly conduct. The place was surprisingly packed by about 6:30 on a Friday night, which is just way too early. I guess the hipsters living off their trust funds don't really have to go to work, so they just leave their artist studios when they feel like drinking liters of beer on the first night of Oktoberfest. But I digress (and mock).

We engaged in a battle with a neighboring group for control of one of the large "beer banken" and eventually won when their soldiers started standing and loitering, at which point we flanked their position and gained the high ground so that all of our soldiers could settle in for the evening with hard tack (also known as tasty sausages, fries, and an assortment of delectable mustards [thanks Paul!!]), beverage sharing, and jovial music. Have I been reading too many Civil War novels since Gettysburg? The beer garden was great, although it might have been a little too "hip" for me and despite the genuine beverages and food, I think I prefer the aura of the Czech beer garden in Astoria a bit more for a regular visit. But it was a nice change of scenery for a Birthday.

This past weekend was an interesting one. It started off the way the best weekends always start off - with an evening full of movies ("Che II" in this case) and technical support! Nana got herself a shiny new computer and despite an initial setback of "Boot device not found" (not something that you want to see ever, especially the first time you boot up your computer) Frata quickly mastered English with an Indian accent and then the art of the computer's innards and they had the computer up and running and ready for system restoration from Your's Truly's Technical Support (highly recommended, by the way. Look them up). I got mischievous and accidentally disconnected myself from my Teamviewer remote access to their computer, but I got everything working by Sunday.

Saturday we enjoyed a few hours of Bachata and Merengue classes (look out sketchy Jackson Heights discos!) followed by a downpour and a road trip to Trader Joe's to stockpile our food for the next few days (chips)/weeks (cheese)/months ($0.67 beers). At night, we were graciously invited to check out the Royal Manhattan Triumvirate's (that would be Paul, Cathy, and D) favorite singer Brandi Carlile - live and in concert at the visually and acoustically beautiful Beacon Theater. A highlight of the performance that only someone like my dad could truly appreciate was when the whole band moved to the front of the stage, in front of the monitors and sound equipment, and performed a song that the entire theater could hear christal-clear. The show was very impressive and I give Paul, Cathy, and D a thumbs-up on their musical tastes after that show!

J. Riley, and now, back to my regularly scheduled activities of reading Civil War novels (I'm on the Last Full Measure after reading Killer Angels) and studying up on my 2010 health and welfare benefits.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Mattress Topper Results

The results are in! I woke up this morning with a back that felt as good as it ever has. I don't even remember the last time that I woke up with my back to relaxed and flexible! One slight problem: I give the bed a thumbs up and the lady sitting next to me gives it a thumbs down. I hope she get's used to it - it would be a shame to have to cut it in half :o/

J. Riley, my body needs the topper tonight, salsa lessons were rough!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wait, what's this? Do I miss the UES?

Topper Clocker

Foam mattress topper implemented to make my bed almost as tall as Erika. Starting the clock for the 30-day trial! First impressions (pun intended):
  • That chemical smell that I read about? Yes, it's true. I let it "air out" yesterday, but I am not willing to wait another day. 
  • My mattress pad is massive, and is plenty big enough to cover the mattress topper. 
  • Laying on the mattress pad, I felt hot. That might have to do with the fact that it feels like it's 90 degrees outside with 99.9% humidity.
  • My sheets are massive, and are still too big even with the mattress topper.
  • Laying on the sheets on the mattress pad on the mattress topper, the temperature wasn't too shabby.
  • So far, with mattress topper installed, no sign of obnoxious chemical smell.
J. Riley, off to see a screening of Ken Burns National Parks.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Another Year, Another Beer Garden

See what I did there? I love Google Reader, but I also love seeing my hit counter go up on the blog - self gratification or something like that. So now you have to click on the blog link from Reader to read it all. If I could add a link to Facebook to do the same (rather than posting the whole blog), I would do the same thing - force people to click on the link, increase my counter by one, and increment ye old counter.

Anyway, as everyone knows (thanks to Facebook), it's my birthday on Friday. Strange, I never really celebrated my birthday much during adolescence or college, but I enjoy doing something here in New York.
I think my first out-of-body/outer-borough experience was on my birthday, when I visited the (now local) Czech beer garden. I remember it well....Susannah was too cool to come on time and arrived just before we were leaving and all my friends except Melissa bailed on me just because I wanted to go dancing at some non-reputable Polish disco in dirty Greenpoint. But I'm not still bitter about that! ;o)

Well, I'll turn a new year in a few days, so I've turned a new leaf and will be going to Radegast in the hipster safe-haven of Billyburg for this year's birthday. Having a birthday that is around the day that Oktoberfest commences is a great benefit (and so is having a Name Day around the start of the summer). So all you New Yorker friends of mine, I expect to see you on Friday night next to me with a liter of German beer in one hand and a bratwurst in your other! Whether I decide to go back to the nearby Polish disco or not remains to be determined!

Just a note: how not to celebrate my birthday (yes, this is how my cube looked when I came back from lunch. This will be removed tomorrow morning):

J. Riley, my foam mattress topper arrived today (finally)!!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jury Selection Dereliction

So last week I got pretty much the first jury summons of my life. I think I got one a few years back when I was in California, but it was one of those bring a book, show up, get dismissed jobs that were good for providing excuses as a reason to wear jeans and not have to go to work for the whole day. In fact, that may have been one of the infamous "pool days" in the old apartment complex....

Anyway, I luckily avoided having to go to jury duty while I was bouncing around Civil War battlefields earlier in the week, but I did get called in on Thursday. I wasn't sure what to expect, so I pretty much dressed for work and ended up getting stuck in this big hall with a hundred other people until my name was called for jury selection at 3:15 (after arriving at 8:30am).

Jury selection is interesting. The lawyers are probing the attendees to find out if they speak English (a surprisingly number of them don't), if they hold any grudges against the city or the defendant, etc. etc. They told us that if we were selected, we could expect the case to go for two weeks in court. I was all into learning about this process and being and court since it seemed kind of exciting, but two weeks? Uhhh, I got things to do, people (like salsa classes) !!!

Anyway, long story short, the lawyers were always bickering and we even had some "objections!" - in the freakin' jury selection phase! Isn't this supposed to be like an hour long? It ended up going for three days with each day starting at about 11:30 (we were told to be there at 10:30am) because the lawyers kept having to go to the judge to settle their differences. Today was the pinnacle - we were told to be there at 10:00am, only to wait until noon before the lawyers finally left the judge's office to come talk to us. The second lawyer finally got to start asking us her questions and five minutes in, during a question directed at me (sine I had told them that in my experience, city employees had been lazy), we got an objection from the other lawyer and then they had to go talk to the judge. So we got a two hour lunch, came back, and we were all basically told we could go home.

What a waste of three days! Thank god I didn't have to actually attend this court case, it would've been done in a month at this rate!

J. Riley, at least I didn't miss any salsa classes...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

History Lessons

When mom asked if we could take a road trip when they were going to be here visiting, I had a couple ideas come to mind. Since I haven't really taken a road trip outside of Manhattan other than up to Cooperstown, it wasn't hard to find destinations. A fishing village in New England? Some hiking that would overlook the Hudson River valley? Long Island? Scenic lakes upstate? Washington DC? Through the process of elimination and in talking to my parents, we came up with Gettysburg and Philadelphia, PA.

Those of you that know me pretty well know that I've always been a history buff, and as a child I was particularly interested in the Civil War. Then I went through a Central and Eastern Europe phase after visiting Hungary, and recently (for some reason), I've been learning more about South American history. But the peculiar thing is that other than by reading books, I have little personal experience with early American history, other than a trip to Charleston and to DC as a 13 year-old. This trip would help me catch up and also teach Erika somethings about the United States that she was interested in.

So with Google Maps (and, thankfully, a rented GPS unit named "Miss Garmin") in hand, we took off for Pennsylvania at around 6:00am on Monday morning. The plan was simple: go to the Visitor Center and figure out what there was to do when we got there. I had heard that Gettysburg had a pretty well structured tourist route and dad confirmed it at 5:30 in the morning while we were all getting ready. We made it through Manhattan without any issues and about four hours later, we arrived in scenic Gettysburg.

At the visiter center, we found out we could take a personal tour of the battlefields with certified tour guides for the reasonable price of $50 and with tickets to the museum and the amazing and massive "Cyclorama" it came out to about $25 a person, which is not bad for a day's experience. The tour guide took the wheel of our rental car and four about three hours, we saw all the major battlefields and learned all about the three-day battle that turned the course of the Civil War. It may not sound that interesting, but I think we all agreed that it was a thrilling experience and ignited my fire to read more about the history that I loved reading about as a child.

After spending the day in Gettysburg, we hit the road again and pointed Miss Garmin in the direction of our Hotwire-acquired hotel in downtown Philadelphia. We got in pretty late and wandered around trying to find some food (this city was definitely not one that never sleeps!) and eventually came across a sports-bar that served up some pretty decent food and home-brews. We had planned on taking advantage of Restaurant Week and eating high-class for low prices, but everything was closed by 10:00pm - pretty weak in my book! But we were beat anyway and had a busy Tuesday planned, so getting to bed by midnight was definitely top of the list!

On Tuesday morning, we had some Belgian waffles and then decided that we should probably figure out what there was to do in Philadelphia, since we had no idea. We found the Tourist Center on a map and soon found out that all of the tourist stuff in town was run by the National Parks Service and was, therefore, free!! We got tours of Independence Hall, pictures with the Liberty Bell, went to Benjamin Franklin's printing press, saw the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier, learned about some of the original documents signed in the 1700s, and took a bus tour around town for $2. And, obviously, we ate an amazing Philly Cheesesteak to make sure that our heart's cholesterol levels were higher than they were before we went on our trip.

Philadelphia as a city is, as a matter of fact, not that bad. It's definitely a city with black or white, and no shades in between. And I'm not just talking about race! It has beautiful architecture all over town, but take the wrong exit and you're in the ghetto of all ghettos. But even the ghettos look like they just need some fixin' up and you've got an amazing Victorian house on your hands. The people in Philly were generally nice and it had a big city feel without the attitude and rush that people in New York have. Nice restaurants were planted all over town and prices were pretty reasonable.

Overall, it's hard to describe the trip, but I did learn more about American History than I have since probably High School (which isn't saying much!) and I highly recommend both places as destinations for history buffs. And I further confirmed that my parents are probably the best travel companions I could ask for!

J. Riley, my library queue has grown significantly after this trip!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Gettysburger and Turkish Delight

This past weekend marked my parent's third trip out to New York to visit - but their first visit since I've lived outside of Manhattan. It was also going to be an interesting trip since they've seen the museums and the typical tourist stops and also because my mom wanted to drive through "the country" and see some landscapes, which would be the....second time I've made a trip outside of Manhattan since I arrived on these shores six years ago (slight exaggeration, but not by much).

My parents arrived Friday evening after a looong day of flying delayed - and feeling quite famished. Apparently, Delta's low-cost flights are self-subsidized by charging for the food and for "extra baggage" (i.e. everything not carried-on). We put that issue to bed by feeding them with a taste of Astoria: my famous (in my household of two) Harissa Spaghettini along with fresh, soft whole wheat pita breads and hummus - which I knew mom would love since she's a big fan of Greek food. Apparently they weren't kidding when they said they were famishes since we nearly polished off two pounds of whole wheat pasta between the four of us.

From there on out, we were non-stop for four days - although it really didn't seem too rushed. Let's break it down, bullet-point style...

New York:
  • We woke up at the Haines/Salazar household version of the "butt-crack of dawn" for a Saturday - sometime around 8:00am - in order to fit our busy schedule into the day.
  • Naturally, this started off with a mouthful of carbohydrates from the place that I consider to have the best bagel in New York - Brooklyn Bagel and Coffee Co., right here in Astoria. We were running late for the next planned event though, so we grabbed our bagelwiches and jauntied down to the subway - destination Union Square.
  • We had a game to catch! It's been eons since I've made the road trips down to the 11th Street Bar to watch a Liverpool game, and dad was pretty stoked on trying one on for size, while the girls were perfectly happy to peruse the stores in Union Square rather than cram into the jam-packed bar at 10:00am. And, being one of the most important games of the season so far, it was a good day to be among Kopites as the Everton jeers were silenced by a 4-0 pounding of Burnley. I introduced dad to the folklore of the game, the stories and biographies behind the players, and the play-by-play & strategies of the game. I think dad has been converted ;o). The girls also scored with a hat-trick of their own by identifying plenty of things that they wanted to pick up the next day during their shopping blitzkrieg.
  • We had no time to spare when we stopped for a brief grab and go lunch at Rice, because we had a Big Onion tour of NoLIta and SoHo to take. We were introduced to the cast-iron facade architecture of beautiful SoHo, the history of the buildings, and the location of 18th-century brothels before wandering over to the "other" St. Patrick's church to marvel at in NoLIta. It was a bit of a crowded tour considering the location, but it was interesting nonetheless.
  • After marveling at Manhattan's first skyscraper (the Flatiron Building) and dropping of some papers in Chelsea, we slowed down and stopped to smell the flowe...-ing sewage at a small cafe to get our caffeine and sugar fix to keep us going. We didn't have much of a schedule to work off of at this point, so we loitered around, checked out furniture and the mattresses at Macy's (including the dreamy Tempur-pedic) and then headed off to dinner in Astoria with Shane-the-bitter-blue and Susannah at Mundo.
  • Mundo is hot. This place serves crazy delicious Argentine and Turkish-influenced food that Susannah and Shane are willing to travel an hour for. The place just has a really friendly vibe and the Argentine host (his name is Willie, apparently) is an expert in all things Astoria. We dined on delicious conversation, platefuls of sultry food, and several pitchers of sangria before we decided to try a recommended night-cap at the nearby (and recently opened) Sweet Afton, which was packed at the early hour that we arrived. Willie highly recommended the Red Lemonade and he was on the money with that one. It was like lemonade, except it lit you up pretty quick - just ask my mom ;o) !
  • On Sunday, we slept in a bit and had a lazy morning, although it could have been more lazy after our second experience at hidden brunch-spot Elo. Erika and I had experience at this place with Summer and this time around wasn't much better. Last time, we waited almost an hour for the Sunday morning chef to show up before we bailed and this time wasn't much better. The food was solid, but nothing to write home about (except in a blog). Note-to-self: don't bother getting their til noon for brunch because the chef doesn't bother getting there until then either.
  • The only location that we had scheduled to visit was picturesque Fort Tryon and the Cloisters. After a long and un-fruitfull walk through the LES to buy Teany tea (closed due to a fire), dad and I decided to stop into the newly opened (!!!) Topman in SoHo. I've browsed their website, but I didn't have any idea that they would open a US location until it was spotted on our tour the day before. It's a great place for a little Fort Tryon of our own - shoes! I've been looking for some new dual-purpose shoes to replace my aging Euro-pumas and I scored a pair for my birthday - but not before dad found a pair of Euro-treaded Plimsolls of his own liking :o).
  • To wrap up the day (in Manhattan), we decided to take the train road-trip up to Fort Tryon Park for a walk despite the Cloisters being closed. With such magnificent weather, Fort Tryon was the only place to be with it's lovely views of the Hudson Valley and it's tree-shaded paths. If you've been-there-and-done-that in Manhattan, then it's worth a trip up to this corner of the city for some relaxation.
  • One of the benefits of going all the way up to Fort Tryon Park is that you can also take a vaguely interesting tour of Washington Heights and Harlem from the safety of the MTA public buses on your way home. These colorful ethnic communities aren't normally visited by visitors to the city, so it was nice to see them although gentrification is definitely taking it's toll on these out-edges of Manhattan.
  • The last stop of our day was going to be meeting Susannah at the Bohemian Beer Hall and Garden - definitely a place to stop for reasonable food and fare on a blissfully warm afternoon/evening. They have a whole hosts of beers that we partook in along with burgers, kielbasa, and bratwursts to fill our bellies.
At this point, the next stage of the journey began as my dad and I headed out to Laguardia Airport to pick up a rental car with GPS and everything. Miss Garmin was definitely a worthwhile investment for the trip, though she had some serious issues with airports. She did NOT like to go to Astoria (from Astoria) and did not like to go back to the airport in Astoria (from Astoria). Both trips took at least an hour each, even though upon further review I found that the airport was essentially right down the street from me. Luckily, everything in between was golden with this little beauty.

We didn't know much about what we were in for when we departed at 6:00am on Monday morning for a four hour drive to southern Pennsylvania, other than what dad found on the internet that morning while everyone was waking up and putting on their faces. All we and Miss Garmin knew is that we were heading for the Tourist Visitor Center: Gettysburg.

J. Riley, to be continued....

Friday, September 11, 2009

Laborious Day Weekend

Ahhh....Labor Day Weekend. It's the last weekend of the year to enjoy
true summer weather - if you live in New York and the year is 2009,
apparently. In fact, it was pretty much the only typical summer
weather that we go to experience the whole year, other than the two
weeks of swampy nastiness that we got back in August. With the weather
so nice out, it was great weekend to take advantage of outdoor
activities like the beach, collecting your vitamin D in a park next to
a river, or drinking fresh, cold brews in your local beer garden.

It turns out that it is also a great time to celebrate your Brazilian
heritage. Of which I have none, despite trying as best as I can to
pull it off. I failed at capoeira, I failed at trying to attend
Brazilian Day festivities in New York on Saturday, and I nearly failed
on finding a welcoming venue to watch the Brazil vs. Argentina (!!!)
World Cup qualifying game on Saturday night. I also fail at having
bronze skin, but that is stating the obvious.

All was not lost however, as good things come to those that wait. I
did manage to successfully wallow through the streets of New York
before enjoying a sushi feast at Sushi Samba and enjoyed overly-drinks
drinks and mildly flavorful food at the wonderfully themed and aptly
named "El Basuerero" (Spanish for "garbage") with Erika and Susannah.
We followed that up with a neighborhood search for the big game (why
does everyone insist on charging $10 to watch a mammoth football game
like this?) and after more than three strikes against us, stumbled
upon a pizza place that was showing the game free of charge. And as a
bonus, on the way home we found a Brazilian restaurant that had a
samba band playing music with amazing dancing going on (not including
yours truly!) and sweet demonstrations of capoeira *inside* the
restaurant, followed by even more samba dancing.

On Sunday, after nearly getting snuffed out by throngs of Brazilians
on 6th Avenue celebrating Brazilian Day, we made our annual road trip
to Jersey to spend the day with Andrea and Alan. We always have a good
time with them, despite the trials and tribulations of figuring out
New Jersey Transit, which frustrates me to no end and causes me to get
yelled at by my wife for cursing Jersey on more than fifteen
occasions. But, we arrived at the target location without much
incident and, again, had a great day out there. Andrea and Alan made
us a huge pile of barbecued and homemade food that led to some serious
expansion of the ever growing gut. But we did manage to properly burn
off a few inches with the help of the Wii, which I had never actually
tried before. Man, is that the best thing ever invented or what? Wii
purchases for Erika and me will be graciously accepted for either of
our name-days, birthdays, or Christmas. Or anytime, really!

Other than that, we spent Friday night in the company of some of
Erika's Peruvian friends for one of their birthdays and ate some
underwhelming Peruvian food in the village, though we did have a good
time with them. We also continue with our salsa classes (we got
unlimited lessons for a month for $125 - look out John Travolta!!!)
and look forward to my parents' arrival for five days tonight! We are
going to make only my second road-trip in the six years that I have
lived hear on Monday, hopefully it goes better than some of my other
driving experiences in Jersey when I first moved here!

J. Riley, Civil War country, here I come!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Mattresses on My Mind

So I've had a lot of problems with ye old mattress in my apartment -
despite the fact that it was fairly expensive and only one year. I've
thought about buying a new one, but it's such a waste of cash,
especially considering that I just finished paying it off yesterday
(literally - 18 months interest free!). I was thinking about getting a
nice product from Ikea, which has amazing prices for some good stuff,
but the more I thought about it, the more a foam "topper" made more
sense. It's basically like a 2" deep piece of high-density foam that
supports the bod like one of those fancy Tempur-Pedic mattresses that
cost an arm and a leg and that only wealthy people (like my sister)
can afford. Well, I wouldn't say a 2" deep foam sheet is quite the
same, but it's the same idea and I'm pretty sure that it's worthwhile.

The only problem is - which one do I buy? There's roughly 2,356,724.1
places online that sell them, and some of those places have multiple
models like synthetic material vs. organic (soy foam? really???),
multiple densities, natural latex, etc. etc. The prices range from
<$100 to several hundred dollars. There are just too many options for
me to go "yogurt shopping" about in this situation, especially when
they are not there for me to feel, touch, and smell (which I hear is
big issue for some of the synthetic ones). Does anyone have one of
these guys? Is the synthetic smell really that intoxicating?

J. Riley, hmmm...eBay has some nice prices :)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Parties in the Hood

Erika and I had a nice couple days planned for last weekend. It all started out by making homemade pizzas on Friday night coupled with some movies on a disgustingly humid night. I hadn't made homemade pizzas before, and since I don't have a pizza stone, I wasn't exactly sure how the crust was going to work out. We ended up using whole-wheat pita bread with tomato sauce, a bunch of vegetables, and topped off with cheese. They actually turned out pretty good, as did the movie!

For the weekend, we had some options on the table. We could take a road (train) trip to the beach for one day or we could walk from Central Park to the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday when they closed down Park Avenue for this purpose. Or we could do both. Or we could do neither. Which we did.

The forecast for Saturday was gloomy. 70% chance of torrential downpour, a light-show in the sky with a booming orchestra, and hot & steamy temperature when it wasn't raining.

Although a five mile walk from the park to the bridge on hot concrete and little shade sounded like pigs in mud, considering the weather we decided to pass on that this time around and instead dedicated the day to the indoors, doing laundry, watching football, and trying to stay dry.

Amazingly, we did stay dry. Probably because it never rained, not even a drop! No lightning, no thunder, nothing. Just hot, humid, disgusting temperatures. By 10:30 at night, I had a case of cabin fever and was cursing the gods for not quenching my thirst for water from the sky. I decided that maybe we should take up Wunderbar, our local German drinking hole, on their offer of drink specials and live music. I figured we could go there, have a delectable, frothy, imported beverage, check out the music scene with the bountiful hipsters, and then retire home to my residence at a reasonable hour.

There's only one problem with going to Wunderbar - it's in the G-to-the-hetto. There's nothing around this place except possibly abandoned warehouses, projects, chop-shops - and a library. I scavenged through my meager belongings and couldn't find a suitable self-defense weapon (my nunchucks were buried somewhere in the back of my closet), so I decided to rely on my awesome capoeira skills and also to wear my running shoes. Because, uhh, you know, I can do the best capoeira jengas with those on. I told Erika to prepare to go to downtown Lima, which means no necklaces, no earrings, no weddings rings, no wallets, etc.

Anyway, we made it safe to the beer hall, I went to the bathroom, Erika got hit on (I believe the term "sausage fest" would be an ideal term for the place), we drank some refreshing liquids that comply with the German beer purity law Rheinheitsgebost, and we downed a savory bratwurst with sauerkraut while trying to shield our ears from the horrendous screaming that came from the rock-band singer's amplified voice. Judging by the increasing number of people that joined us
outside the place, I don't think anyone was left inside by the time the band finished playing. Yikes!

On the way back, we heard something that sounded like Brazilian music outside, which is odd considering there is nothing else around the beer garden. We decided to walk around and try to see where the music was coming from and came across a group of younger people who were walking into a building of some sort. So, we followed them up the stairs like nobody's business and low and behold, we were on the roof of a building where a Brazilian party was going down! We just missed the live music, but a DJ was spinning it up, drinks were being served (due to the above traveling restrictions, I carried no cash), and several barbecues were in effect. It was completely random, but completely awesome at the same time. We hung out there for a while and did some dancing and were completely anti-social as usual, so we decided to head home after a while and see if this is something that was going on every week or what. We found no evidence of this party whatsoever on Google.

J. Riley, and on Sunday, I was so sure that the rain would catch up to us, that we stayed inside. And it didn't rain.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Belt

Have you ever noticed how when you go to work in your business casual
clothing and you forget your belt, you feel almost naked? Yikes,
that's how I feel today...

J. Riley, sore back AGAIN this morning.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ass That Back Up!

Ohh....wittiest of titles, why do you fail me now? There is so much I can do with the word "back", but my creativity is lacking right now. Maybe that's because I haven't written anything for a few weeks :^o

In any case, Roland promised to write more, and he blasted us all with his warrior diet advertisement (or maybe, like my Twitter account, his blogger account was hacked?), so I will do likewise and put something out there for my minions.

First, I need to gripe about this back of mine. Or this bed of mine. I've got enough health problems, so let's go ahead and blame it on the bed. What do you do with a one-year-old mattress in perfect condition that has left my back in tatters every night for the past week? Should I put this thing on Craigslist, suck up the loss, and order a bed from Vas's Slovakian mattress company? I have no idea what to do with this thing. I literally have problems walking in the morning, my mid-back muscles around my lower ribs (not my spine, so this isn't an issue a
snap, crackle, and pop can fix) are hurting me so bad - thus requiring me to take a hot shower in order to have it loosen up, which subsequently leaves me sweating in my apartment, just in time to go outside to the swampy weather and wait for my bus. Something's gotta give!

Speaking of my back, and completely unrelated to the bed issue, it has been observed by various people (such as the wife) that I have bad posture. Obviously, I could have told me that, which is why I used to sit on the exercise ball at work (it deflated a while back). But that wasn't the solution, and I couldn't figure out the solution until recently, in my salsa class, the teacher told me to stop slouching and pull my shoulders back to straighten my neck. Wait, what? He nailed it
on the head, and now I know how to correct my posture. So I'm working on maintaining this shoulder-back position, which is pretty difficult for me to do without thinking about it.

Aaaaand....a perfect segway to salsa dancing. We've been taking two lessons a week for the past month, with mixed results. The good thing is that nobody else knows about this dance studio, so it's been almost private lessons every week, which is great. Fact: I am the only man
who goes to class every week, so I always get great personal instructions, mostly "constructive" criticism about my posture, bending my knees, learning to lead a partner, and rolling my shoulders and hips, which I clearly not genetically built for. But it's still a lot of fun! Being the only "couple" in the class, and much like my three year old niece, the teachers would like Erika and me to have a "dance recital" (my words, not theirs) in front of a group at their grand opening party in October. I was thinking that this sounded like fun, except that I can only imagine how embarrassing it will be when I forget the steps mid-routine. I think I'll pass...

J. Riley, glory glory hallelujah, football starts this weekend! And Summer is visiting!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Outer Borough Tour

Last week I was watching the latest No Reservations from Anthony Bourdain, when he was traveling with his crew to Melbourne, the city that I consider "forgotten" in Australia. I really don't know anything about the place, which is why I found this particular episode intriguing. What I didn't realize is that Melbourne is a huge melting pot that he described as the San Francisco of Australia. So he waltzed around sampling the local fare (and tasty beverages) like he typically does on his show and then he hit up a simple, back-street Szechuan restaurant. The food that he had there looked absolutely amazing and loaded with hot chili peppers. He commented that it is hard to find amazing Szechuan Chinese food even in a place like New York, which I mildly scoffed at - until I remembered that I can no longer consider myself a Manhattan snob anymore, considering I am the Jack of Queens (get it?). I have heard about some diverse food out in Flushing, Queens, which sounds like a disgusting place to me. Flushing, as in a toilet. Flushing, as in a part of the sound where all the pollution ends up. Flushing, as in a melting pot to where you can take a $2 shuttle from Manhattan Chinatown to. Wait, what was that?

So, Friday night after work, it was on; destination neighborhood: Flushing; destination cuisine: legit Szechuan Chinese; restaurant name: "Spicy and Tasty"; ethnicities represented in the discovering party: Latina, Gringo, and Indo-Caribbean; number of ethnicites other than Chinese in "Spicy and Tasty": 0. That's right, Erika, Priya, and I landed in a hotbed (pun intended) of spicy and tasty Szechuan cuisine. In Queens. That amazing part about this neighborhood is that I got off on the last stop on the 7 train and was immediately transported to Chinatown's Canal St, only with a few more buses (commuter, not tourist). It was jam packed with a wide variety of ethnicities and there were a ton of places to go eating. This is actually a legitimately sweet neighborhood, I could say.

Spicy and Tasty did not tell a lie about their food. The appetizers were being made at the counter next to the entrance and they were already prepared, so we knew that we were getting the spicy goods that couldn't be watered down like our entrees would be. They produced an inferno for my taste buds, but I couldn't get enough of the bamboo shoots and the bean curd? Amazing. Bean curd, who the hell eats bean curd. I didn't even know what bean curd was, but I couldn't understand what the waitress was saying so I said "yea, we'll take that one". Bean curd is like tofu, except it's more firm and tastes like CHEESE! Awesom stuff, I ate every last sliver of it.

After a dinner of double-cooked pork bellies (like a plate of thick bacon and veggies), spicy shrimp (juicy), and lamb home-style (blazing and succulent), we were all fat and happy and had enough left over to feed us for the next two days. But, being in this neck of the woods, we couldn't just go home without getting some legit boba tea. Question: why is boba tea so expensive? Those tapioca balls can't be that expensive to make, and surely the tea is cheap. Whatever, it's still great to drink and to introduce to the eager-to-try, easy-to-please wife :o).

Next stop: Priya's new apartment in Jackson Heights. Well, technically it's a year old and we visited it last year after she bought it and it was completely empty. And MASSIVE. It's now nicely furnished and is still the biggest one bedroom apartment I've seen in my life and is located in a very charming, historically protected neighborhood where something like 180 languages are spoken. Slightly diverse. Priya is awesome to hang out with and like a true Trini (from Trinidad), she busted out a bottle of quality rum (which was actually from Guayana) to treat us to some stiff rum and cokes. Just the smell of rum brough me back to the days of Bacardi-induced hangovers. But quality liquor never does that to you, so I got to enjoy some risk-free Cuba Libres for the evening. Before we knew it, it was 2:00am and we had to get home since we were planning on exploring Brooklyn the next day (in a blog to be named later). But we have lots of plans for hanging out with Priya this summer, like hitting up some clubs, eating some home-cooked caribbean food, getting her to come to our salsa classes, and drinking some more of that goooood rum!

J. Riley, a $10 taxi ride and we are home!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer Starts....Now!

Scientists haven't figured out why yet, but lately I've been....motivated. It's really weird. I am not sure what it was that flipped the switch for me - among other things, it could have been the realization that I will most likely live until I'm only 60, it could have been the wife telling me that I should try to accomplish more things with my plethora of free time, it could be the start of summertime in Astoria, or it could have been the new book that I'm reading that has opened my eyes and my mind to what is there for me to experience.

So on the weekends, I've started exploring my living environment - destination unknown. Well, that's not totally true. Last weekend, out of sheer boredom, I decided that I had to experience an article that I read when I first moved to this hood: The Top 5 Sandwiches in Astoria. Sandwiches? Really? It sounds kind of boring in light of the fact that we live in a crazily diverse area, but I decided that it would be a worthwhile adventure to undertake on a beautiful weekend. Unfortunately, I didn't start until Saturday evening on the 4th of July, so I only got through two of them - last weekend. The first one I hit was the one with the most consonants and the fewest vowels on the list: Cevapdzinica Sarajevo. Apparently Google Maps can't figure out our weird hyphenated addresses any better than me, so it was quite an experience finding this place. Was it worth the journey? Yes, because I got to see a new neighborhood and found some cool looking places to hang out and eat. But the Cevapi were a little bit fatty/greasy for my taste. But at least it was interesting!

The next day, I was going to hit up Sal, Kris & Charlie's Deli on my way to the park after stopping by the office to pick up my sunglasses. On my five minute walk to the office from the bus, I came across a gem among the chop-shops and warehouses that line the roads near my office: A newly opened dance studio that has lessons nightly on Latin dancing! Wholly crap, I had totally been thinking about taking some lessons with Erika when she gets back, and this place is like 5 minutes from work with reasonable rates and probably no customers! More on this later...

So after snatching my glasses, I headed to the deli to get me a monster 'which. I was cracking up because this deli is just that - a typical New York bodega-style deli, but they were packed with customers ordering artery clogging meat between two slices of bread. This thing probably had more calories than I had eaten in a week but, you know, I didn't really care! For the first time, I had a sandwich in my hands that brought me back to the epic meals I used to eat on the weekends in SLO-town during college. I mean, look at this thing!

Anyway, after spending the day basking in the sun and digesting five pounds of processed meat, cheese, and bread, I came home with my next mission in mind. The community college next to my office offers Spanish conversation courses that I neglected to enroll in a few months back due to me being lazy and assuming that I shouldn't have to pay for something that Erika can do for free. I found out how well that worked when I went to Peru last month and was more mute than at any period in the past! So I checked into it again and found that a class that offers two hours of lessons two days a week is going to be starting in August. I figured that I could enroll in Spanish II since I'm not completely hopeless in Spanish, but Erika insists I need to enroll in Spanish I. I guess I should have figured that out after being out of my league in the free classes I took in the past :o/ .

So, this summer is shaping up nicely. I took my first Salsa class last night (free every Thursday night) and, as expected, I was the only student who showed up. This place is fresh off the boat, so that didn't really surprise me. But it turned out to be brilliant - personal classes are normally expensive and I got a lesson customized to me! I was actually surprised at how my limited knowledge of the basic salsa step and rhythm carried over to the moves that I learned. I had an awesome time though and pretty much quadrupled the number of steps and moves that I can break out on the dance-floor now :o). Erika and I will certainly be attending a plethora of these classes starting Sunday!

Of course, I'm going to have to try to fit those classes in between the other events going on this summer, though, such as the free movies in the parks that are starting this week. Free mainstream DVDs in Astoria Park on Monday nights followed by independent foreign films at Socrates park on Wednesday nights. So it looks like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights are scheduled. We've gotta take Salsa lessons somewhere in between, though!

The J. Riley, taking full advantage of the summer this year!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Peru Recap for June

I'm back from my trip and, while I'm still working on recovering from my flight, I'm alive! It was a pretty busy week that involved lots of public transit, lots of naps on said public transit, and some interesting tidbits!

  • I met an interesting couple on the flight down to Peru that are from Cardiff-by-the-Sea (it's a small world). He is an English teacher in Oceanside and for some reason reminded me of my dad. Might of had something to do with the gray goatee, the bald head :o), and they laid-back surfer attitude. They were on their way to Cusco and didn't really seem to know what they were doing, so I gave them the lowdown and recommended a few places to eat. He was also interested in possibly having dental work done somewhere in Latin America so we traded emails and I gave him my assessment of Peruvian dental care. I heard back from him the other day that they totally loved Jack's (Who doesn't? Or so I've heard...) and had a good time in Cusco, despite it being really cold. Anyway, they cashed out of their house in SD at the peak of the real estate bubble and purchased some property in Costa Rica and are planning on retiring there. Sounds like a good idea to me!
  • Ryan got married - religiously! They had their wedding in a nice church followed by a reception in a tent (similar to our's, but different shape, etc.) at an Air Force club. I had a great time hanging out with Ryan's old buddies, all of whom I had met one time or another throughout the years, and of course his wonderful family. Erika and I had a lot of fun at the wedding and danced our shoes off (shocking!) and enjoyed some of the tasty beverages that were served up.
  • Surgery! Erika's mom made it through her plastic surgery with flying colors and, despite not being allowed to leave the hospital yet, she is doing great. We spent a few hours at the hospital every day and hopefully she will be home and recovering soon!
  • Shopping! Erika and I went to a jacket market in downtown Lima and scored some sweet long baby Alpaca wool jackets for the winter! We paid a total of about $100 for both of them. Unfortunately, due to my size being unusual for Peru, I had to take my jacket to the tailor to get the arms extended and to make it fit my body better. It's worth the extra $15 to make sure I'm warm for the winter.
  • Concerts! I had my first experience at a major concert (~30,000 in attendance) in Peru. We saw a Dominican bachata band that we like (Aventura) play a great show, even if I didn't understand anything the singer was saying. Just like rappers singing about life in the hood, the lead singer ("Romeo", which totally fit his character) sang about things that might be considered "typical" for Dominican men like cheating on your girlfriend/wife, how to be a gentleman when you tell your girlfriend/wife you cheated on her, and how to tell your best friend that you are cheating with his girlfriend/wife :o) . But he was quite a showman and we had a great time, even if our feet were about to explode after standing up for about 5 hours by the end of the show.
  • Concerts :o( Despite the show being great, I had my first experience at someone trying to rob me! I was standing in line waiting to get into the venue (with thousands of others, it was not very well organized) when I suddenly felt a super hard jerk on my arm backwards. Someone was trying to steal my flippin' watch! I turned around, dealt a swift capoeira Armada com martelo kick to the guy's mandible (maybe it was more like this), leveling him and stepped on his neck until the police rushed over and arrested him. And then I woke up from my stooper and turned around, shocked, looked at the guy (who of course pointed to someone else) and ran to catch up to Erika and tell her what happened, massaging my wrist the whole time. Of course there were no police in the area, despite the mass of people. I was freaked out and worried about my wedding ring, her wedding/engagement ring and watch, etc. Of course, she wasn't as concerned since this is not an unusual event in Peru (she's had three watches stolen and her wallet stolen twice) and said "I told you to be careful". Needless to say, I gave her my watch to protect it and was glad that she was the one handling all the money during the trip.
  • Michael Jackson :o( RIP. I always wanted to see him make a comeback and it's sad to know that he went out the way he did and hard to believe that he isn't around anymore. I honored his passing by buying a $2 illegal DVD of one of his concerts. Aventura tried to honor him by singing Billy Jean during the concert, but it was horrendous and they got half way through the first chorus before stopping. How do you not know the words of that chorus??
J. Riley, I need more sleep if I want to shake the persistent cough and runny nose that I have. Ohhh...late night flights, when will you cease to torment me with this on every trip?

Monday, June 29, 2009

You know how you feel

You know how you feel when your flight was delayed, it's 3:00am, and the pilot just woke you up? Yea, that's how i feel.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pizza Hut

Last night, much to my chagrin, we ate at a Pizza Hut in Peru, which is decorated to be an "elegant" restaurant here, albeit with the same greasy pies as we have in the United States. It's neighbor, KFC, was even much fancier than what we have in the States. The pizza was okay, but I was impressed with the fact that they brought out aji (hot sauce) as a condiment for the pizza. After complaining about the perfection of the machine made pizza, I told Erika it was not bad for a Pizza Hut. She said "It's because Peru has better produce/topping quality than in the US". Ha! I won the bet after confirming that the produce/toppings/cheese, etc. are all from the US.

J. Riley, the hot pepper was a little different, too. A bit more regional, thank god...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dental Tourism - La Cuenta Por Favor (Check Please)!

After much pondering and reflection on just what the hell to do about my teeth while I'm down here in Peru, I decided that I would utilize one of my remaining appointments to at least get the tooth that needed the onlay checked out, because my conclusion on that tooth wasn't totally confirmed yet. I know that my dentist in NY had said that the area around the existing (metal) filling on that tooth was turning gray. That sounded like a legitimate reason to have something fixed, because there was obviously something wrong.

So, I checked into my dentist here in Peru to talk about that tooth. He explained that over time, metal (almagam) fillings will eventually turn the area adjacent to it gray, since the filling itself is gray and, after reviewing the tooth again, could find no reason to have it fixed because the filling and the tooth were perfectly fine as is. Again, he didn't want to do work on me - that's a good sign!

So, five minutes after sitting down, I said "Great, that's all I needed to hear" and was basically ready to get up and leave. But he hadn't given me the "Thanks for coming in, maybe I'll see you again" look, message, etc. In fact, I heard a dental DRILL start and the assistant was suddenly standing next to me. And drilling on the aforementioned "root canal" tooth commenced. Okay, I'm not sure what the hell is happening here, but he had already started drilling so I just let it continue. I was thinking, what if he misunderstood and is starting the process to create the crown! And I'm leaving in a few days! Ack! It won't be done! What the hell have I gotten myself into! (De ja vu?). Then there was a pause and I could ask, unusually optimisticly, "Umm, are you just opening up the restoration to observe and confirm your earlier assessment?" Luckily, he was! He had told me during the first meeting that he was 80% sure that the tooth was fine, and that the only way to confirm it 100% was to open it up and take a look inside.

So I was totally cool with the fact he wanted to give me his 100% assessment, though it would have been nice to have a heads up! I guess that's a trade off when dealing with someone who's English is his second language. But I trust the guy, so I was cool with that. After probing him with questions after his drilling, he confirmed his earlier assessment that the four walls of the tooth are in great condition and no crown was needed!

So, he started the restoration (filling) for the tooth again and my mind was just thinking and analyzing the situation. First, I noticed that the tools (tooth picky things) were dark, not shiny stainless steel. Oh my god, they are RUSTY! Wait, can one of those tools be sanitized and still be rusty? I couldn't really think of a reason why not, and he was only touching tooth, afterall, not my gums. But I was mildly freaked out and kept trying to catch the angle of it to confirm the initial visual assessment. I just couldn't focus my eyes that close and figure it out. Finally, I did catch it and realized it was just dark colored - maybe tempered steel or something like that. NOT rusty.

As he continued the work and as I continued to analyze my situation, I noticed that he was pretty much usuing the same tools that my high-end orthodontist uses to zap the teeth with the infrared gun (or whatever it is) to harden the layers of the restoration. Big point for him on that. At two points of the restoration, he was talking on the cell phone that his assistant held to his ear without missing a beat in my mouth. This restoration was too easy for him! After all, his specialty is bite disorders, oral rehabilitation, and the mandible (lower jaw bone).

So after becoming comfortable with the restore, zap, restore, zap process of each layer, my mind drifted to the fact that I had only brought $40 with me that day and he accepts cash only. Crap! Would he let me come back later after visiting the bank? Crap! I didn't bring my insurance form! Maybe I could go to the bank and then print out the form at some nearby internet cafe. Yea, I'm pretty sure he would be cool with that.

Soon enough, he was finished. Previously, my tooth edge was sort of like a crater, where the outside edge was almost sharp and the restoration was more or less recessed a bit inside the tooth, which felt weird to me. And the tooth, due to the fact it was flat and didn't have the "cusp" (point to match the lower tooth). This guy not only restored it to the point it was before he drilled, he added the point to it to match my lower tooth! So now the tooth feels like a normal tooth, not an unusually flat, recessed tooth. Wow, sweet job!

So I was all done, now just to settle the bill. I asked him what the total was for this and he said $35. Holy scheisse! $35 to assess a tooth, drill out another, assess that tooth, and create an awesome restoration? I was amazing stoked and 100% sold on getting all future work done with this guy. It cost me over $200 (after insurance paid) to get a small restoration done a few weeks ago at my NY dentist. And, as I mentioned, insurance will pay for half of this bill, making the total cost $17.50 :o)

So as we walked around town, I thought about my NY dentist, in particular about whether their assessment jived with what this doctor told me and, as a result, whether or not I wanted to continue to get my teeth cleaned there. And I realized that their assessment wasn't necessarily wrong, they are just more aggressive about fixing the teeth and want to fix everything to the highest level to make sure there are no problems in the future. A crown would have definitely fixed my root canal pre-molar, no additional assessment or question necessary. An onlay would have gotten rid of the metal filling on my back tooth so that no discoloration would result. They weren't wrong, per se, but it would have been nice if they gave me the whole story rather than holding back alternatives and options. But in the future, I'm getting all serious work done here, and the doctor and my bank account are happy to hear that.

J. Riley, Erika's friend thought I paid too much for restoration :o) . I'll gladly "overpay" for the best dentist!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dental Tourism

I arrived in Peru last week with grand expections: we could kill three birds with one stone by fitting in my friends' Ryan and Lili's wedding, Erika's mom's surgery, and of course the completing the latest chapter in my storied dental history all in the course of a week or four. Although I'm only five days into it, it looks like I might have introduced another bird to the story.

I had a dentist appointment on Wednesday night to attend right after I got off of my flight in order to ascertain the possibilities of getting my crown and onlay started by a highly respected dentist in Lima. It is a little bit unfair to expect that I could arrive at 10:00pm at night and have a dentist who doesn't even know what I (or my X-rays) look like to come to a quick conclusion on what needs to be done and, at the same time, for me to determine if it is indeed a dentist that I would trust with doing this work on . But I was pretty impressed already by the fact that he was willing to wait around until that hour to see me, even though he had a 3:15am flight the next day to Northern Peru to participate in a meeting or teach a course at the esteemed university there.

To preface this appointment, there were some reasons (other than financial, the primary reason) that I was exploring this option. I've started to question the integrity of my dentist after they told me that I needed to have a crown done because I had a tooth that had a root canal - two years ago. This same dentist is the one that told me that I needed the root canal done in the first place and was actually the dentist that had put the restoration on that tooth after the root canal. Why would it take them two years to tell me that I suddenly need a crown on a tooth that has been in the same condition since that time? Their excuse was that "teeth that have had root canals can be brittle and can break if you bite something hard". So why didn't they tell me that two years ago? I queried the other dentist in the office who usually does the work on my teeth and her synopsis was "Well, it's not really required since there is not impact with the tooth on the bottom, it's just recommended." Differing opinions in the same office make me want to get another opinion.

So the dentist in Lima spent a lot of time reviewing my x-rays that I brought along and poked around my mouth a little bit checking out the teeth that needed to be worked on. He was a younger guy than I had pictured and he was pretty quiet for most of the time, studying the various pictures of my jaw. But after about fifteen minutes, he sat in front of me and gave me his opinion of the situation. He said that the four walls of the tooth that had the root canal were healthy and strong and that very little of the tooth had been removed when the root canal was done, so he was 80% sure that nothing else was needed on that tooth. He could tell 100% by removing the restoration that covered that tooth, but he basically confirmed what my initial opinion was - that it wasn't needed. He said that having a root canal alone does not make a tooth brittle. What makes the tooth brittle is when a tooth has a lot of decay - or something along those lines. But he was very clear that a root canal alone does not require a tooth to have a crown and that my tooth was healthy and strong.

The second tooth he didn't talk to me much about, but just said that there was nothing that needed to be done other than the restoration that had already been performed. I was confused about that because I was supposed to get an onlay done on that tooth. Was he looking at the right tooth? What about the "gray" area around the existing (metal) filling that my dentist mentioned? He said that anything that needed to be done about that filling would be cosmetic only, but that there was no other problem. After the appointment, I was reading through my dentist's notes and they mentioned the tooth number, so I will go back to the dentist in Lima on Tuesday to just make sure I'm on the same page as he is.

So this was not the results I was expecting, but is that a bad thing? The dentist in Lima himself mentioned that he is used to seeing people with serious issues (if you've been to Peru and seen people's teeth, you'll understand), so does that mean he is accustomed to only looking for serious problems, wheras my dentist in NY is looking for little problems and fixing them before they become bigger problems? It seems like there are more questions now than there were before, so I will likely go back to NY and get a second opinion there as well before deciding what to do...

J. Riley, sigh.....

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Home Alone Part....n

I've lost count.

Erika has taken off down to Peru to help her mom out with some stuff, so I'm home alone again. This is giving me time to work on all sorts of nerdy stuff on Linux and doing some self-realization with the help of an excellent, easy to read book called A New Earth.

I've been doing all sorts of work on my - I mean Stefan's - new server. I was working on it enough to have a to-do list of about 25 things and after getting the most useful stuff done, which was amazingly easy, I hit a road-block in terms of my motivation (and the fact that I don't have Stefan's firewall's password). With Erika gone and our laptop with her, I've attacked the latest laptop that we're importing to Peru (that goes with me) with a vengeance by deciding to run Linux on it, instead of slow Windows. The great part about this is that I can actually run a fully-functional version of Linux without actually installing it on the hard-drive, using just one CD. I'm sure the majority of my readers are eagerly waiting for instructions on how to run Linux on THEIR computers without installing it, but I'll resist the urge to preach to everyone about the ease-of-use, performance, the security, and the power of running such a wonderful Operating System by just burning one CD and booting off of it - unless you email me.

After listening to his podcast, I decided that I should borrow the book by Eckhart Tolle called "A New Earth". After reading the first ten pages, I decided this is a book that I must own, so I went online and purchased one for $5 on Great investment. I don't even know where to start with this book, but suffice it to say that I've learned so much about myself and my thoughts and things that need to change in the first ten pages that I'm sold....

J. Riley, working from home today due to suspicious cough and headache. No other flu signs, I think it's just a common cold. Hope they let me off the plane in Lima next week!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Geek Squad

Stefan and I (mostly "I") have been working on some "special projects" on my - I mean Stefan's - new Linux box. We've got the photo galleries working, I've learned about the exciting world of virtual domains with Apache, and I recently approved Stefan's shopping list of items that he's going to purchase for his other computers. I like how this relationship works: Stefan tells me what geeky tools he wants, I approve, he buys it. I tell Stefan what I geeky tools I want, I approve, and Stefan buys it. Last night, I approved his purchases of several new massive hard drives for several computers, enough to run a small company with. On my part, I plan on putting this equipment to use. Some special projects, most of which are for research and learning reasons only, that I have on my Todoist to-do-list:
  • Lock down the Linux box
  • Configure remote access to his Ubuntu GUI for my special project use.
  • Configure a secure email server with encrypted logons and attempt to setup Horde IMP email on it.
  • Configure a MUX (is that the right term? "Backup") e-mail server.
  • Create a PHP and MySQL-powered DVD/Movie library web application for Stefano
  • Setup remote backup/rsyncs between about four computers in three locations.
That should keep me busy while Erika is gone. By the way, Erika is going to Peru for three weeks to attend to Ryan and Lili's reception dinner and wedding (!!!) and attend to her mom after her surgery. I will be going down for a week and a half to attend the aforementioned wedding parties as well getting major dental work done (one crown and one inlay) in a third-world country by a "renowned" (I hope) dentist for 1/4 of the price that it would cost me in the States. My boss is great because he's going to let me "telecommute from home" on my non-medical, non-party days, which is a pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

In other news, I spent an hour and a half over the past 24 hours listening to a conversation on Oprah ("Harpo" backwards) with a guy named Eckhart Tolle about his book (actually, the first chapter of his book; it's a 9-part series). I also spent at least one hour at work discussing his ideas with a co-worker at work today. I haven't been much of a spirtual thinker the last few years, and I continuously rejected my co-worker's suggestion to listen to these podcasts for several months because usually this kind of stuff makes me fall asleep - FAST. Those of you who know me know that I think these New Age type people are total wack-jobs, but this Tolle guy is bring up some damn interesting things to think about. If anybody is interested, download the report on his first chapter and spend an hour and a half listening to it and thinking about it. It's a lot easier than I thought. The other chapters (which I haven't got to yet, but I'm fascinated with) can be found at the bottom of this page.

J. Riley, The fingers in my hand have been tingling a lot today. I should probably be concerned about this, considering my myotonic dystrophy :o/

Thursday, May 21, 2009

White T(ech)rash

I'm starting to feel like an urban white trash nerd. Parked on my lawn (carpet), I have an old, dilapidated car (desktop computer) that doesn't run, a rusty lawn-mower (digital camera) that won't function, and a bunch of spare parts (keyboards, power cords, PC cover screws, hard drives) laying around.

J. Riley, all I need now is a cold 40 ounce Mickeys (liter of fine, imported beer) to be set.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Pumas On Order

I really need new shoes. I really need these new shoes:

J. Riley, so I ordered them!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pondering Relocations...

Last weekend, Erika and I embarked on a trip out to California for Faryn's graduation! The whole family was gathering, so I knew it would be a great time to hang out with everyone again and get to introduce Erika to Southern California and its peaks and pits. I feared the worst: that she would opt to stay in San Diego and let me go back to New York alone!

In an optimization strategy, we decided to stay for five days and try to get as much done as possible in such a short amount of time. As well as the graduation festivities, the clan planned outings to the Getty Center in LA and a chance to nurse the graduation hangover with a day at Disneyland, followed by a lovely tour of LA (barf), and a few days down in San Diego.

And the trip was grand. The Getty Center was more than I imagined that Los Angeles could muster in terms of culture (note: I openly discriminate and am prejudiced against the megatropolis of LA). Open-air, wonderful views of the city, world-class art, fresh creeks, florist sculptures, and architectual exhibits abounded at the Getty Center - it was everything that I imagined LA wasn't. My only regret was that we didn't have enough time to spend there as Graham, Erika, and I drove up from San Diego in the morning and there was traffic and Faryn's big event to attend/experience in the afternoon.

I remember my college graduation day. I wanted to see everyone before I left town and on graduation day, but there just wasn't enough time. Like myself, everyone had visitors in town and each person had there own events to attend. I remember my roommate Ryan and I having a low-key barbeque or pot-luck of some sorts at our apartment. But it was just a crazy day with the ceremonies, seeing people for the last time, and hanging out with all of our visitors.

I suppose Faryn's graduation was a similar experience for her! We unloaded and changed in the hotel and rushed to her apartment to find her in amongst her boxes doing her hair and her roommates still packing. We had rushed there thinking we were going to be late for her department's congregation at the school, only to find out later that the event didn't start for another hour and a half and was really just a place to go eat some fresh fruit and delicious sun-warmed cookies, all of which I ate way too much of. But we hung around there with Faryn as she said hi to her departmental friends.

After an early dinner of Greek food near the campus, we went back to the stadium to catch the graduation ceremonies and witness the honoring of EIGHT HUNDRED students graduating. Yes, all of their names were read outloud :o) ! We had giggled in sympathy for Erika when she said that her graduation from college was two hours long, but this event turned out to eclipse that by at least 30 minutes! But, there were some memorable moments such as the tossing of tortillas by the students (???) and some racial epithets (is that a word?) by one of the speakers (classy). But at least there were plenty of interesting costumes for the guests at this event: girls with skirts barely covering their undies, terrible bleach-blondes, and the now infamous curly-black-hair mulleted guy with elf-en pointy-toe shoes five sizes too big and a bad case of slacks that were too tight and non-existent underwear. Why I didn't capture this character in digital photos, I don't know!

After graduation, we drove around Pasadena looking for a place to celebrate and settled on a sushi joint were dad proceeded to lead us to a happy place with saki-bombs! We ate some pretty good sushi at the place too, props to Summer for her selections right up my alley! I gotta say, Pasadena is a pretty nice place with loads of clubs, bars, and restaurants. I don't think I had ever been there before, but I would definitely return if I was unlucky enough to find myself in LA in the near future.

We crashed hard that night, it was a long day after a six-hour flight the night before and about five hours of sleep. It helped that the Hampton Inn we stayed at was much, much nicer than the one I stayed at for a week in Columbus, Indiana back in the day!

Sunday was the triumphant return to Disneyland for the first time since about Junior High for me, and Erika's first time at a Disney location! We met Graham, Brie, and the kids there and about five pictures in, our camera broke. As Summer would say: FAIL! Lucky for me, I have a sister that, ahemmm, "offered" her camera to me to use for the day.

Disneyland was great. It was everything that it was the first time I went with my grandparents when I was eight years old. My dad attempted to support his veto of excessive purchases of gifts for my niece by asking us what we bought on that first trip. All I remembered at the time was a new wallet and $20 (!!!!) that my grandparents gave me and my brother. I think I lost some of the money (not for the first time), but I definitely remember buying a toy musket-style rifle from somewhere in Frontier Land! We did all the rides there, some with the kids, and some later on without, and they were still great. It's A Small World was interesting despite not changing in 50 years (they even have Peruvians!), they scored big points with Pirates of the Caribbean, and of course the roller coasters like Space Mountain, Matterhorn, and the Thunder Mountain train ride. Those rides don't need to change! The only one that was lame was the Haunted House. At least put something spooky in there!!

We did about 14 hours at Disneyland before we shut the place down. We could definitely have used a second day at the Disney properties to get the full experience, and that probably would have been a better idea than trying to show Erika LA on Monday morning after dining and saying goodbye to the North-bound part of the Haines train. LA was a disaster. Armed with my trusty AAA map provided by the hotel, we headed out to try to find film studios and Hollywood. And I was provided with the first sign of disaster quickly after departure from the hotel. I GOT LOST TRYING TO FIND THE HIGHWAY FROM DISNEYLAND! This is not an easy thing to do people, but I managed it. I was so stressed out driving through LA and didn't manage to find the exits I hoped to find to the studios. So, I got off the highway to turn around and found out that there was no entrance back onto it.

My head was turning red and I could feel the steam starting to whistle out of my ears. Eventually, two hours later, we found lovely Beverly Hills and I mellowed out (a little bit). Hey, we're on Sunset Blvd, this is the right way to Hollywood, right? Yea, right down to seedy-town, Hollywood. Luckily, I used the phone-a-friend lifeline and was rescued with some directions to the star-walk. It was under-impressive (as I expected), but Erika was trying her best to not slap me in the face with my wonderfully negative attitude the whole time. She was disappointed that we weren't doing a studio tour (my fault I guess), so I attempted to satiate the situation with tickets to the wax museum, Guiness Book of World Records, and Ripley's Believe It or Not. Some of the things at these places were interesting, but I was itching to get out of LA and head to San Diego.

Ahhh...San Diego. I was immediately relaxed when we pulled into In 'N Out (after passing too many in LA) and chowed on the greatest burgers in the world. We hung out with Brie and Graham at night, relaxed some more, and slept in the next morning at our hotel by Moonlight Beach. Auntie Jude came by in the morning and we mosied on down to the beach at about noon and enjoyed the patches of sunshine and warmth there. I took a dip in the water for a while and just enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere. Auntie Jude said, "Justin, you guys have to move here".

After Auntie Jude departed, we went back to the hotel and showered and looked presentable for lunch at Encinitas's fantastic Peruvian restaurant Q'ero (the artists formerly known as Amici's) with my old friend Russell and his family. Russ spent two years of his youth in Ecuador, so it was fun to hear his old stories of Ecuador and compare it with Erika's Peru. Q'ero did a good job of reigniting Russ's sensory agents with their flavor and atmosphere, things he hadn't experienced since he left Ecuador nine years ago. At the end of the relaxing meal and the climactic tres leches cake (best Erika has ever had, I might add), Russ said, "J, you should move out here. No, you HAVE to move here."

We walked through Encinitas afterwards, doing some window shopping and Erika did some beauty products shopping before we arrived at Swamy's surf-spot, where we parked it on the benches and enjoyed the sunshine and the surfers on the cliffs before us. We planned on walking up to Graham and Brie's a little bit later but were saved when they called us to find out where we were. Graham was roasting up a carne asada tri-tip, so we met up with Brie and did some grocery shopping at the lovely gourmet Seaside Market before heading up the hill for dinner.

Dining on Graham's food is on my list along with Mexican food and In 'N Out when I'm in SD. Despite the late lunch, the food was great as always and we hung out, watched some reality TV and basketball, Erika and Brie shared wedding albums and stories while I was in heaven setting up Graham's new Mac with remote access (!!!) . It was just so relaxing, possibly aided by the fact that the kids were asleep already :o) . Brie said to us, "It would be so great if you guys moved out here!"

On our last day, we took Ellie to Sea World with us. It's tough being so far away from everyone, so we thought it would be a great idea to spend some time with the newest 3-year-old adult of the family. Surprisingly, Brie had no objections for us taking her off her hands for the day ;o). Not surprisingly, Ellie already had the map at Sea World memorized and the first thing she wanted to do was....? The pet show? No. Shamu? No. Penguins? No. SHARKS! I think that's pretty bad ass that my three-year-old niece wanted to go hang out with the sharks. Well, we did hang out with them after we rushed to see the Dolphin Show. She also wanted to touch the sting-rays. The idea sounded good to her, but she wasn't quite comfortable actually touching them. We also went on the newish Wild Arctic Ride, which Ellie barely passed in order to ride. I felt a little bit dizzy on the ride and was worried about her, since it was pretty scary and violent. Afterwards, she said "That was so fun!!!!" I was slightly naseus :o). We hit almost everything during the blissfully blistering hot day in Mission Bay and Ellie was destroyed by the time it was time for us to leave. She actually fell asleep in the stroller in the parking lot on the way back to the car, how's that for timing?

Finally, to cap the trip, we filled up Graham's fish water tanks with fresh ocean water and watched the surfers before hitting up a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place to check off the last box. We drove around downtown a little bit before heading to the airport to our red-eye flight. As expected, Erika loved San Diego as much as I did (like always). I woke up the next morning to rain in the sky and grey New York and Erika and I both thought, "We need to move to San Diego".

J. Riley, looking forward to the economic recovery, cuz I need a job in SD.