30 April 2008

Back Home Again

We're back from California. The trip was good, though the travel was a bit more arduous this time. I know there are plenty of jaded folks who travel all the time on business and have had every possible thing happen to them. It wasn't that bad, but it wasn't great either.

The first leg of our flight, from Green Airport in Rhode Island to Chicago, was one of the bumpiest flights I've ever been on, and we were in a 737, not some little prop-putter (that would come on the way home, ha). I had a crying baby directly in front of me and an extra-wide person to my left whose right thigh was taking up some of my seat as well. Oh, and this was my first time (and if I have any choice in it, my last) flying Southwest, with their charmingly low-rent non-system of not assigning seats, so I got stuck in a middle seat, and the Mrs. got the middle seat directly behind me. When we had arrived at the gate and deciphered Southwest's needlessly arcane boarding sequence, the Mrs. said to me, "I think we could have checked in online and gotten a better spot in the line." Oh.

It was raining in Chicago, so the landing was kinda rough, and it seemed like we were going way too fast when we hit the runway. But that flight was only two hours, so it was over soon enough. After we pushed back from the gate for the remaining leg, the rain kept us sitting on the approach lane for about 25 minutes before we were cleared to take off again, but after that, the rest of the flight to San Jose was mercifully uneventful. We were closer to the front of the boarding line this time, and somehow we were able to score a pair of seats together only five rows back from the exit door, so we were out quickly once we'd reached the gate.

After a brief restroom stop we proceeded downstairs to the baggage claim, and to Southwest's credit, the baggage was already hitting the carousel, and somehow, my bag was among the first dozen or so to emerge from the chute. (The Mrs. had chosen not to check her bag.) Someone was out there hustling those bags off the plane.

San Jose is one of those airports that is constantly under construction, and the rental car facilities, which used to be right in the lower levels of the central parking structure, are now located in a satellite lot. Getting there involves walking the length of the garage, crossing the access road, and getting on a shuttle. The shuttle goes around to the other terminal, then takes a long, leisurely cruise to the far reaches of the airport property, crosses a little bridge, and then cruises for another three minutes or so to get all the way around the outer perimeter of the various lots to pull up to the building with the agencies' service counters. Fortunately, the late hour meant that there was no line, so having touched down at 10:30 PM Pacific time, it was still only 11:00 when we drove off in the rental.

Travel tip: if you are arriving at your destination at a late hour and are picking up a rental car, you're going to get the bottom of the barrel in terms of car choice. I did not fully realize this until we were returning the car, and saw that the people ahead of us returning compacts were unloading a shiny, if somewhat awkward-looking, Nissan Sentra, and a brand-new 2009 Toyota Corolla. Neither of these cars is exciting, but either one would have been more pleasant. For us, there were only two compacts left, a Dodge Caliber (a funny-looking tall hatchback thing that replaced the craptacular Neon) and a Chevrolet Cobalt (an incredibly dull sedan that replaced the craptacular Cavalier). The decision was made for us when the Mrs. noticed that the Caliber had crank windows. The poor lot dude stuck on night duty had already started to fill out the paperwork for the Dodge, but she made him switch us to the Chevy.

(Notice that these mediocre cars are from American companies? Just saying. The nicest rental we've had was a Hyundai.)

We arrived at our ultimate destination at about 11:45, but in the deep, densely wooded darkness of the Santa Cruz hills, we could not find the house itself. A couple of U-turns and another run up the hill revealed that we simply hadn't gone far enough up the road: there, on a little green outbuilding, was one of those huge metal signs you order from a catalog, with the number and name of the street, with a light angled onto it. The house itself was on the opposite side of the road, but it was the same shade of green as the shed, so we knew we were in the right place.

24 April 2008

Dog Arrangements

We're off to California again today. Our usual dog-sitter fell through (we have one of our friends stay at our house to provide continuity for the dog in our absence), and our back-up fell through as well. But we're flying on Southwest this time around, which means we have to drive to Rhode Island, and my mother lives a couple of miles from the airport, and we were going to leave the car at her house anyway, so she has been pressed into service for emergency dog care.

At first she was reluctant to do it, thinking it would be too difficult to walk our dog along with her own, but I pointed out that since she has an enclosed back yard, our dog won't really need to be walked; running around and sniffing things out there will be plenty of activity for her. She finds our dog pretty irresistible in general, so she agreed.

As before, I may or may not post while away, depending on how things go.

23 April 2008

Forced into the Groove

On my commute home last night, I ended up sitting next to a guy with his iPod cranked up so loud I was forced to listen to his music, distorted and scratchy, blasting out of his ears. I couldn't identify the music, but it had the general parameters of a funky groove. In other circumstances this is something I would probably enjoy, but I was trying to read, and my brain could not block out this intruding stimulus, so I kept losing the thread of the article and ended up rereading the same section several times before giving up. I shot the guy a couple of annoyed looks, but he was blissed out in Funkland and never noticed.

It reminded me of the old days (which is to say, the 80s), when people would get on the subway carrying gigantic boomboxes blasting Run-DMC or whatever the hot hit was at the time. But in fact the blaring-headphone phenomenon is closer in spirit to when you're stopped at a red light and the car adjacent to you is bleating and vibrating with the driver's music choice. Invariably the sound is buzzy and distorted, because the music has been on so loud for so long that the vibrations have loosened the screws that attach the speakers to the back window shelf. Yeah, it was like that.

21 April 2008

Patriots' Day

Here in Massachusetts, today is Patriots' Day, which is observed as a state holiday in commemoration of the Battle of Lexington and Concord that started the Revolutionary War. It's also the day when the Boston Marathon is run, and it coincides with school vacation week in most cities and towns.

But here at the office, it's one of the only holidays that we don't have off, and with everything going on in the city today, getting to and from work was a bit more tricky than usual. Not terrible, because I stayed away from the Copley Square area. Usually I get off the Orange line at Back Bay and take the 39 bus down Huntington Avenue, but that route (along with many others) gets altered on Marathon Day, so I just stayed on the train to Ruggles, where I got on one of the many buses that runs through the hospital area.

Last year I took the day off, but we are going away again later this week, back to Santa Cruz for more family stuff related to the Mrs.' father's passing a few months ago. I'll be out of the office for four days, so it didn't seem necessary (or a good use of my vacation days) to take today off. And anyway, I would rather have off the day after Thanksgiving, or Christmas Eve, or the week between Christmas and New Year's, which are all paid holidays for us.

17 April 2008


It's deadline week again, but things are going well. Once again I am ahead of schedule, and hopefully I can maintain this from month to month.

Otherwise I feel like I haven't had much to say, which is not good from the perspective of you folks who visit here looking for fresh content. I feel some degree of obligation to post semi-regularly, so I thought I would collect some miscellaneous bits that aren't necessarily postworthy on their own.

--I finally have a boss again, after a period of more than six months. He started this week, but oddly, I have not yet spoken to him. You would think that someone would have brought him around and introduced him, but that didn't happen. I saw him yesterday at our weekly bagel breakfast, but as soon as he was introduced to the group, he fell into a conversation with our publishing director and remained so for the next thirty minutes. Even as the gathering was breaking up and people were heading back to work, they were still talking, so I guess I'll catch up with him at some point.

--The Mrs. has a job interview today. While not remarkable in and of itself, this is her first one since she decided to attempt to go back to work, and it's with her former employer, which is a bit ironic, though the position in question is in a different office and is somewhat different in nature.

--My sister is participating in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer next month. I am not soliciting donations on her behalf, but perhaps you too know someone who is planning on walking that you could support. It's 40 miles over two days, and she has been training for a couple of months, walking gradually longer distances with her walk partner, and even going to a gym three times a week. This is impressive because, like me, she is fairly averse to physical exertion in all forms.

--For the first time in several years, the Mrs. and I are getting both a federal and a state tax refund. This was largely due to me being unemployed or underemployed, and one year to my not having enough withheld. For the past couple of years we have used out state refund to pay the balance we owed the feds, but this year we're getting a few hundred bucks back from each.

--We're probably going to use some of that refund for a memory foam mattress, and since Jordan's Furniture is doing their Red Sox promotion again this year, we'll probably buy it from them. Given that Jordan's issued refunds to about 24,000 customers after last year's World Series victory by the Sox, they decided to make it a little harder this time: in order for us to get back whatever we end up spending (excluding tax and delivery charges, of course), the Sox must not only reach the World Series and win it, but they must do so in a four-game sweep. But hey, that's how they won it in '04 and '07, so who knows?

13 April 2008

The (Your Company's Name Here) Life

The Mrs. doesn't read this blog, but she suggested this post: while reading Entertainment Weekly, she came across an ad for George Michael's upcoming tour. (Twenty years ago, while still in high school, she was a fan, so it's understandable.)

The tour's shows were listed by date and location, but no cities or states were given, just the names of the venues where is to perform. Out of 21 dates, all but three venues have corporate-sponsorship names like American Airlines Center and General Motors Place. The exceptions? Madison Square Garden (it seems quite odd that naming rights to it have not been sold yet), The Forum (ditto), and the San Diego Sports Arena (sounds like they're just lacking imagination).

So how long, then, before promoters start selling naming rights to the actual tours? Like the Ensure George Michael Yep, That Geezer's Still Around Tour? Or the Energizer Huey Lewis Needs a Retirement Home Experience?

(Thanks, Mrs.)

10 April 2008

T'd Off

According to an article in today's Boston Globe, men who wear visible crewneck undershirts under their button-front shirts are committing a fashion crime. Wow, who knew?

I found this article pretty ridiculous, for a couple of reasons. First, I had to read the article twice to discern that the writer's specific complaint seems to be against guys who wear dark T-shirts under light dress shirts. I don't necessarily disagree with this (I do think it looks dumb when you can read a T-shirt's graphic through the shirt on top of it), but it seems like a pretty flimsy hook on which to hang a feature story, and it's poorly executed.

Second, it's a weak argument, and the author proves it himself by pointing out how he sees men dressed this way all over. If that's the case, I would say that the guys wearing the style are right and the author is wrong. Third, the author's regular gig for the Globe is reviewing movies, so how exactly does that qualify him to tell us how to dress?

He seems to think guys should wear V-neck undershirts, but there are quite a few of us who prefer to keep our chest hair covered when we're in public. Modesty is so underrated these days.

09 April 2008

Rock On

Eesh, where were we? Too long since the last post. It's not like I've been swamped with work, or doing anything especially exciting (unless you find household errands exciting, in which case, well...)

I did manage to finish a book that I had started a couple of months ago, but hadn't made much progress on until about two weeks ago. The Sound of Our Town is a history of Boston rock & roll by Brett Milano, who has been covering local music for various newspapers and magazines for decades, so he knows his subject. He starts with local doo-wop groups in the 50s and works chronologically up to the present day. It's definitely worth reading for anyone who's a fan of local music, and a good introduction to Boston's rich rock history for those who are not familiar with it.

04 April 2008


I just saw a guy in the restroom wearing flip-flops. I should point out for those of you visiting from elsewhere that rain has been pouring down all day today here in Boston, and it's about 40 degrees.

Sometimes I just want to ask people, "What's wrong with you?" But I don't. Should I?

This Is Why I Married You...?

Last night I asked the Mrs. if she wanted to come into town and meet me for lunch. She thought about it for a few seconds (not a good sign) and said, "Not really."

I asked, "Why not?"

She: "Because I'd have to drive in, and find a place to park..."

Me: "Well yes, you're so busy these days." (The Mrs. is still enjoying a life of leisure after leaving her job at the end of October.)

She: "I see you all the time anyway."

Me: "Well, I see you all the time too, but I still asked."

02 April 2008

Shack Attack Flashback

A couple of months ago, I got a new high-definition TiVo to go along with my high-def TV. I was going to write about it, but most of my friends have been hearing about my TiVo obsession since I got my first one in 2005, and everybody else, well, usually people just roll their eyes. Either you're already a believer, or you don't care at all. Anyway, I wanted to move the older TiVo into the other room and hook it up to the other TV. I needed some network cable, the round stuff with the connectors that look like wider phone-line thingies.

I asked the IT guy at work if he had any cable lying around, and he dropped some off at my desk later that day. I brought it home and put it somewhere, but I didn't move the TiVo right away because there was some stuff on it that we hadn't watched yet. After we did get around to watching those shows, I didn't move the TiVo right away, out of laziness more than anything else.

On Sunday I was feeling somewhat industrious, so I started doing a bunch of little things around the house that I'd been meaning to get to, and eventually I got around to moving the old TiVo. Of course, this was the point when I realized I didn't know where I'd put the network cable, which I needed to connect the TiVo box to my cable modem so it can obtain programming information via the internet. (TiVos can also do this through a phone line, but our home phone is the voice-over-IP kind, and for some reason, these two pieces of electronic gear don't always play well together.)

I spent about two hours looking for the cable. Our apartment isn't that big, and there are only so many places it could be, so I looked in those places over and over again, along with every other likely possibility. It's also ten feet long, so wherever it was, it would be fairly obvious. I did not find it, which led me to the conclusion that it may have been accidentally thrown out. I don't know if that's what really happened, but believing that's what happened makes me feel a tiny bit better about my inability to find it.

So last night we were going to Trader Joe's on Memorial Drive, and I realized that I could pick up a cable at the MicroCenter across the parking lot. I used to go there fairly frequently, but I hadn't been in the store in several years. I also knew that I could get a cable cheaper online, but the frustration of not being able to find the original made me impatient and disinclined to wait another week in order to save a few bucks.

Normally a trivial errand like this wouldn't be worthy of a post, but when I went to pay for the cable, I was confronted with the ghost of Radio Shack. Since the purchase was only a few dollars, I chose to pay in cash. See, MicroCenter likes to send you promotional flyers in the mail, just like the Shack used to a generation ago, back when they were still vaguely relevant in the consumer electronics marketplace. If you buy something with a credit card, MicroCenter gets your info from the transaction and puts you on their mailing list. If you pay cash, they ask you for your name and address, so they can put you on their mailing list.

You would think that a $10 network cable would not be considered a significant enough purchase to trigger the address request, but I can recall buying something like a $2 headphone adapter at the Shack and getting asked for my name and address, so I suppose I should not have been surprised that the MicroCenter cashier asked me. I started to give a fake name and address, almost on instinct, because it's what I used to do back in the Shack days, but then I stopped. I looked at the cashier and said, "Can we just skip this nonsense?"

I amended my question by making it clear that I understood she was just doing her job, and I wasn't trying to give her a hard time. She shrugged and took my money, so I guess they aren't too rigid about it, but it all just seems so silly. Regardless of what MicroCenter thinks, the presence of a flyer in my mailbox is not going to make me any more likely to shop there.

01 April 2008

Bargain Clicking

Over the weekend, I started putting away some of my heavy-duty winter gear, like my parka and the seriously insulated boots (Chippewa, made in the USA) that I bought after that first December snowstorm. Am I worried that we might get a storm in April? Nope, I'm not even considering the possibility. Having worn one pair of boots or another pretty much every day for the past four months, I've reached the point where I'm kind of tired of them. I'm ready for the weather to warm up, so I can break out some of my favorite retro sneakers. In fact, I'm tired of most of my winter clothing. Happens every year around this time.

In a similar vein, one morning a few weeks ago I was getting ready for work when I realized that I was tired of wearing jeans every day. For a long time I had thought myself lucky because I had jobs where I did not have to adhere to a dress code, but suddenly I found myself wanting more variety. It's not like I don't own any other pants besides jeans, but when I took a closer look, I found that in fact I had little else: one or two pairs of khakis that fit, one or two pairs that no longer fit, and a couple pairs of corduroys.

Beyond wanting to mix things up, I think this also has something to do with environment. At my previous office job, the company's founders (two around my age, one about a decade older) and most of the other employees dressed like the computer programmers and web developers they were: jeans, T-shirts, sneakers, the occasional button-front shirt, shorts in summer. One guy took off his shoes as soon as he arrived in the office, and padded around in his socks all day. I took my cues from the rest of them, and adjusted my manner of dress slightly so it more or less aligned with what everyone else was wearing.

The same thing is now happening at my current job. I've been here for more than two years; I started as a contractor, and was hired as a full-time employee almost a year ago, so I feel established and like I belong. The guys in this office don't dress up, but they do dress one or two notches better than the guys in my previous office, so I am reacting to that by wanting to elevate my own dress accordingly.

On my lunch break a day or two after this realization, I was poking around on eBay and drifted into the clothing section. I've bought shoes on eBay, but no articles of clothing other than a coat a couple of years back. After a few minutes, I realized that there were tons of brand-new clothing items for sale, much of it dirt cheap.

As a result, over the past couple of weeks I have picked up several new pairs of khakis at an average transaction price of around $11 each plus shipping. One of the pairs of pants that no longer fit me was a style I particularly liked, a nicely broken-in khaki made by Polo and inspired by World War II uniforms, that I found on clearance a few years back at Bloomingdale's in Manhattan. They are well-made and (at least when I first got them) fit me extremely well.

I love these pants and was really bummed that they no longer fit me, so I was very excited to find some of them available in my current size on eBay. (Note to self: make an effort to prevent waistline from expanding any further.) Finding them at all felt like a victory, since they are not carried by many stores; in those that do, they retail for around $100 a pair, so finding them so cheap on eBay was a double bonus.

I also scored an $80 pair of L.L. Bean shoes for $20, and a vintage Woolrich shirt-jacket (a good layering item during the transitional weather of April) in excellent condition for $10. There are a couple of other auctions that have a few more days to go, but other than those, I think I'm set for a while. On the other hand, there's a part of my brain that says I should buy as many pairs of these favorite khakis as I can find, and hoard them.