26 October 2007


So, tomorrow we leave for our trip to California (thankfully, not the part that's on fire), and today is the Mrs.' last day at her job. She's quitting because she's burned out, which is completely understandable after six and a half years in her field, human services.

It takes a certain sort of person to do this work, and the Mrs. is definitely that sort of person, but unfortunately the work has a tendency to chew people up, so she's pulling the plug before she loses the ability to care at all. We often joke about each other's jobs, how I couldn't stand doing hers because I don't like dealing with people, and how she would die of boredom if she had to do mine because she can't stand sitting at a desk and staring at a computer all day.

Last night she made up gift bags to give to her immediate group of coworkers. Along with a couple of other trinkets, each one contained a little bottle of vodka and two equally small bottles of mixers. It's kind of a joke, but not really, since she's said that drinking seems to be everyone's favorite pastime in her office. I certainly don't condone drinking to excess, but I understand it: my father was a police officer for twenty years, it's how he coped with the stresses of the job, and there are a lot of similarities between human services and law enforcement. Maybe it's a good thing she's leaving, after all.

She doesn't know what's next, and at the moment it doesn't really matter, hence the vacation. We'll spend some time with her family, and she can try to clear her head, maybe give some thought to what she might want to do.

My biggest dilemma regarding the trip? We're going to be staying in a home with no TV reception and no cable, so I'm probably going to miss the rest of the World Series and Sunday's Patriots game. Also, I'm pretty sure her sister still has only dial-up internet access, so I'm going to experience some web withdrawal as well. I don't even recall any bars in her little town. I guess I'm going to be forced to relax too. Hopefully I'll have something interesting to tell when we get back...

24 October 2007

Assault with A Tasty Waffle?

I know this happened a few days ago, but I do have a job and a few other responsibilities, so I'm just getting around to it: over the weekend, Kid Rock was arrested for beating up a guy in Atlanta.

Now, let me state up front that I really don't care about Kid Rock one way or the other. To me, he's a human cartoon, and I'm certainly not interested in his music. (I try to stay away from celebrity trash culture as much as possible, though I do watch The Soup on the E! network, and that half-hour per week is just about enough).

The main reason the story caught my attention in the first place is because the assault happened at a Waffle House. First, the idea of a B-list celebrity and his entourage throwing down with a guy at a branch of the Southern roadside institution is about as perfect a scenario as it gets; seriously, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with something better. Second, I've been to a couple of Waffle Houses, and they're pretty awesome. Decidedly low-rent, but that's part of what makes them awesome.

I know people, like my father-in-law, who turn up their nose at the place, but they've been around for over 50 years, so they must be making some people happy. If you're driving in the South, it's pretty much a mandatory stop, something you really should experience for yourself at least once. I recommend the waffles.

ADDENDUM: While I was writing this piece, I was having trouble coming up with a good, catchy title, so I asked the Mrs. if she had any ideas. Unfortunately she didn't, and I didn't either--I was not happy with this one, but it had to have something. Days later, I was describing the story about the assault to one of our friends, and the Mrs. suddenly blurted out "Waffles and Whup-Ass!" I looked at her and said, "Where was that when I needed it?"

22 October 2007

I Saw Stars

Not the ones in the sky, and not the kind you sometimes see when you whack your head on something. These Stars are a band from Montreal, and Friday night's concert at the Berklee Performance Center turned out to be one of the most enjoyable shows I've seen in many years.

I first heard of them in a New York Times review of their third album, Set Yourself on Fire, which came out in late 2004 in Canada and early '05 in the US on the independent Arts & Crafts label. The album resonated deeply with me, because the lyrics of several songs seemed like they were describing events from my own life. Their music is difficult to categorize: sometimes orchestral, sometimes intimate, sometimes aggressive, sometimes tranquil. I wondered how some of it would translate to live performance.

Beautifully, as it turned out. The house was gratifyingly full, and the band jumped right into the songs from their new album, In Our Bedroom After the War, later coming back around and playing much of Set Yourself on Fire. Sometimes, there is a real connection between performers and audience, and if you're lucky, you get to experience that and feel it as it's happening. That's what happened Friday night. Rarely have I seen a band so completely invested in every moment of its performance, and so grateful for the opportunity to share its music with its fans.

The stage was decorated with flowers, and during the course of the show, the band members threw them out into the audience. By the end, the lucky recipients were holding their flowers up as they sang along.

Now, the good part: you can listen to a live Stars performance right here, courtesy of NPR's All Songs Considered online concert series. Unfortunately it isn't of Friday night's show, but the night after, when they performed in Washington, DC. Still, it will give you an idea of what they're like, and what you missed.

17 October 2007

Warehouse Wanderings

Last night I found myself at our local Costco, because that's what happens when you're married and it's Tuesday. But I'm not complaining; I like going there. It's usually pretty calm on weeknights, and there are almost always some unusual or interesting items for sale. I spent a few moments gazing longingly at the new high-definition TiVo, but I didn't buy it. Yet. Maybe I'll drop some hints about it for Christmas. And I found a nice pair of black Calvin Klein jeans for $22, something I was kind of looking for anyway.

But practically speaking, the main reason I go to Costco is because I like being able to buy large quantities of certain things. There's usually some savings involved, but often that isn't my primary motivation. I just don't like to run out of stuff, so as long as it can be stored without too much difficulty, I'm there.

On last night's visit I picked up a package of 24 rolls of Breath Savers. (I don't like Altoids because they're noisy and the dust gets everywhere.) Single rolls of these mints can cost as much as a dollar each, depending on where you buy them. Even if you buy a five-pack at CVS or Target, that's typically around $2, and I'll go through that package in a couple of weeks. (I'm slightly obsessed with avoiding bad breath.) This way I can keep some in my desk at work and some at home, and it will be a couple of months before I need to buy them again.

I also got two pounds of whole bean coffee for $10. It's a custom blend roasted for Costco by Starbucks, using Fair Trade beans, so that's a pretty good deal, and it will last about a month.

As I wandered around the store, I became aware that I could hear "Jingle Bell Rock." I felt suddenly queasy and thought, no way, could they possibly be piping in the Christmas music already? A minute or two later I didn't hear anything, then a few minutes later I heard a different holiday song. I believed that what I was hearing wasn't coming from the store's sound system, because I'm fairly certain they don't have one. But they did have Christmas trees and decorations on sale and on display, and that's where the music was coming from. After I'd heard it the first time, I had moved away to a different part of the store where I couldn't hear it, and I hadn't yet noticed the trees.

Even so, it gave me a scare to realize how close we are to the holiday-season onslaught and all that goes with it. It's only October 17th, but when I get back from my upcoming vacation, it will be a mere three weeks until Thanksgiving. I plan my shopping ahead as much as possible, and I do as much of it as possible online, in order to avoid the crowded, overheated, soul-crushing experience of being in stores during the holiday season. (A decade-plus of working retail will have that effect, and many others, on you.) When I do have to make a holiday visit to a store, I need time to prepare. I don't like being ambushed by Christmas music without warning.


I haven't complained about people's behavior in at least five or ten minutes, so...

What is it about revolving doors that causes most people's brains to instantly calcify? I'll grant that they are annoying, but they aren't really that difficult to operate. Or are they? Because it seems like about 75% of the time when I'm approaching one, someone in front of me, or on the other side of the doorway, has some sort of problem negotiating the door.

I've seen people try to crowd into the same section as their friends. I've seen people walk up to an already-moving door and just stop dead in their tracks, not knowing what to do (and of course, since I'm behind them I also have to come to a sudden stop). I've seen the same thing happen with a door that isn't moving. I've seen someone step into a door that was slowing down and, when it stopped, just stand there instead of pushing--maybe they thought it was motorized or self-propelled in some way?

I guess the revolving door is the pedestrian equivalent of the rotary: even if you know what to do when you come upon one, you can't assume that other people do.

16 October 2007

Full-Contact Commuting

As I was getting off the bus this morning to head into work, the guy exiting in front of me nearly got impaled by a kid on a bicycle. Fortunately, the bicyclist was able to skid to a stop before hitting the other guy. And it wasn't a messenger type, as you might expect given their general behavioral tendencies (you don't see many of them in the Longwood area), but a teen on a BMX bike.

The same thing happened to me twenty years ago on Commonwealth Avenue, except I was the person getting off the bus, and the bicyclist did hit me. Somehow I managed to avoid any injuries, I think because the bicyclist wasn't going very fast.

But come on, this is just stupid. You're pedaling along on your bicycle, and you see that bus up ahead of you slow down and pull to a stop, and the doors open. What do you suppose is probably going to happen next?

12 October 2007

Screw That Noise

So now we have to suffer music in T stations. Swell.

For the moment, at least, "T-Radio" (why is it hyphenated?) is an experiment and is only being tested in North, South, and Airport Stations. I pass through North Station twice a day, on my way to and from work. In the morning I stay on the Orange Line, unless I'm running really late, but on the way home I switch from Green Line to Orange Line, so I have been subjected to this a couple of times.

Just in case there's any ambiguity, I'm less than thrilled. There's already plenty of noise in the stations, and from my brief exposure, I thought the music was far too loud. If it was played at a low enough volume, it might just blend into the background and be innocuous, but that isn't the plan.

The music is basically the same sort of middle-of-the-road junk you'd hear in the supermarket. Fine, so be it. But what the press release conveniently omits is that there is also going to be advertising. Ah, now the picture becomes a little clearer: the T is looking for additional revenue. I guess I can't blame them, but there must be other ways to do so without making the ridership any more angry than it is already.

I can appreciate the idea of wanting to use the system to promote local cultural and entertainment destinations that are T accessible, but there's already a PA system in place that finally, after years of futility, seems to be audible most of the time, so why not just use the existing system? I'd rather hear those types of announcements than the incessant platitudes of the general manager every two or three minutes, assuring us that "safety is our number one concern." (Shouldn't attempting to keep the trains running on time be the T's number one concern? Just asking.)

Amazingly, the T has provided a convenient way for riders to express their opinions on this experiment: on their web site there is a feedback form, which is also accessible via a link on the main page of the MBTA site. I encourage everyone reading this to use the form to offer your thoughts, whether for or against. If the T hears from enough people, they will know we are paying attention. And if you happen to see the students that the T is hiring to survey riders about the project, it might be good to give them a couple of minutes of your time as well.

One more thing: I have to wonder what this experiment says about the T's priorities. Is piping crappy music into stations really more important than working to reduce the crime rate on the T, or than trying to find ways to improve the system's performance? Or is it possibly meant to distract us from those issues?

10 October 2007

Back from a Break

Wow, has it really been a week? Well, I've been sort of busy. I got stuck in some of that T madness last Friday. With the morning chaos on the Orange Line, I ended up leaving Wellington station after standing around for about 30 minutes staring at trains that were too full to get onto and weren't moving anyway; I backtracked on my usual bus route to a point where I could connect with an express bus that took me into Haymarket. Ultimately I was about an hour late for work, not that anyone's keeping tabs on me. Then in the afternoon, there were some Green Line delays as a result of the fire in Park Street, though thankfully I did not experience the Red Line problems firsthand.

We also had representatives of our Midwest-South contingent in town for a few days, which necessitated a drive to Maine for some eating and shopping. The rest of the long weekend was taken up by watching football and baseball, reading, and general hanging around.

Now things are back to the normal routine, though we are gearing up for an actual vacation at the end of the month to the environs of the Mrs.' sister, otherwise known as Santa Cruz, CA. It's quite a beautiful and pleasant place, and I imagine that I will forego blogging for a few days while there, and report on our activities after we've returned. But the trip isn't for another couple of weeks, so in the meantime I will (hopefully) get back to something resembling a normal posting schedule. Stay tuned...

03 October 2007

Blog Design 101

I've been keeping this one to myself for a while, but I can't hold it in any longer. To all the cool kids who think white text on a black background is the best-looking and most stylish choice for their blog's template: guess what? No one can read that without going blind, cross-eyed, or both. Your blog might be something I'd actually want to read, but if you choose this color combo, I'm not even going to try.