Thursday, August 30, 2007

...And The Capitol Of New York Is Albany (Day 4)

Many hotels have the free breakfast deal but that usually amounts to some coffee or juice and a muffin selection. This Holiday Inn Express surpasses that, adding in the eggs, French toast and, among other things, a kick ass cinnamon bun. From what little we've seen of the clientele, it looks to be mostly businessmen. There's a fascinating Human Resources seminar going on today so we figured that we'd be all alone down at breakfast by the time we got moving at around 9:00. Nope. There were many other lazy asses to fight with over the spoon for the eggs.

The first stop of the day was the Children's Museum of Science and Technology. Only a few miles east of Albany, this small place actually kept the kids entertained for a couple of hours. It's small so it doesn't feel overwhelming and it's cheap so it adds to the sting of the cost of the crapetorium we went to yesterday. A snake was stroked. A rabbit was pet. A weather forecast was created (see below) and best of all, a gift shop was avoided (but not without a fight).

Then it was off to Albany for the highly-recommended New York State Museum. But first, let's have lunch. The travel gods seemed to be on my side today. After we parked the car, we saw that the lot was now full. We were the last car. That, like, never happens. Albany resident and long lost pal Dave recommended some Mexican place but I didn't get that recommendation until we had already headed underground and the kids saw McDonald's. There was an abnormally-large woman on line who took advantage of the latest nod towards gluttony: the 42 oz. beverage. She, of course, ordered a Diet Coke. Americans are so predictable.

The museum was nice and the kids were more than their usual hyper. I spent awhile at the very impressive 9/11 exhibit. I saw cool stuff like actual parts of the Twin Towers and a fire truck that was damaged down there. I also saw stupid stuff like the EMS jacket then-Governor Pataki wore when he toured the area. And another gift shop was avoided. We did, however, buy the kids some of the freeze-dried Astronaut Ice Cream you see in every museum gift shop in the world. As a quick tangent, let me say that astronauts sacrifice their lives in the name of science. They deserve better than the Styrofoam crap in a Mylar bag that they're given. And making them buy it in museum gift shops? Uncalled for.

As half of the family headed off to the American Idol concert at the Times Union Center, I took my daughter to a seedy pub to meet up with Dave. This is the difference between the dad with one kid and a dad with two. I had some beers with an old friend while my daughter ran around a crowded pub. She did pretty well, even trying some fried ice cream (but making me scrape the fried part off). I also had my very first bad cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee. I don't want to talk about it.

We depart tomorrow but not before a trip to a water park. When did I become a redneck?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Killing Time (Day 3)

I'm torn between wanting to have the kind of vacation where you sit around and do nothing, and not wanting to feel like I'm wasting my time. I'd be perfectly happy sitting on my ass all day but the kids need something to do. But when you give them something to do, they complain about it.

Today is supposed to be a travel day of sorts. So we pack our stuff, say goodbye to the flies and grab some breakfast at some random bagel place in town. The wife and I discuss plans for the day. Heading to Albany comes later. Or should we head there now? Nah, too early. So there's the Cooperstown Fun Park. But bumper boats and mini golf? We can do that anywhere. So I convince everyone to head to the Petrified Creatures Museum. Dinosaurs and some digging for fossils. Guaranteed fun. The condition of the website should have tipped me off.

But first we have to find the place. The GPS hasn't been too friendly this week but it does know where this museum is located. Actually, it knows how to get to the highway on which the museum is located. So we follow the robot and get to the right road. But that's it. It's like wanting to go to Nassau Coliseum but only getting as far as Hempstead Turnpike (trust me, this is a great analogy). The "friendly" woman on the phone said we were about 5 miles away and that the museum is a mile past Route 8. Just head east on Route 20. My sharp navigation skills and constantly failing short-term memory had us heading west on 20, towards Route 8. It wasn't until we were several miles beyond 8 that I realized the difference between east and west. We turned around and backtracked the 20 miles we just traveled and then came upon a house with a huge sign announcing the museum.

The first thing you see is the gift shop, filled with archaeology-themed crap better suited for the treasure box in a dentist's office. And the nice musty smell was a hoot. We were told by the lady to follow the path and push various buttons to learn about the area. Then we could come back in and get some tools to do some digging. The educational stuff had nothing to do with dinosaurs but a little to do with fossilized plants and snails. I wanted to bypass all this but I had a feeling that the woman was going to quiz us before letting us do some digging.

After the prerecorded info about the lake that existed 300 million years ago, the kids got to play on and around some huge dinosaurs which were made many years ago out of chicken wire and papier mache. They were falling apart and there was cheesy, prerecorded information about each dinosaur which, I'm pretty sure, was recorded by the friendly woman and her husband. The T-Rex sounded a bit like Henny Youngman. And the info was set to a rhyme.

After we got our tools, we were guided to a huge rock pile where we could look for fossils and keep whatever we found. AA kept thinking he was finding stuff. At one point, he went into the woman to ask what it was. She said it was definitely a fossil but no one knows what it is. Uh huh. I think that the woman and her husband bought this property and were stuck with a pile of rocks. So instead of cleaning it out, they opened a museum and had idiot tourists come by and haul the rocks away. And pay for the privilege as well!

On the way into Albany, we stopped at a Denny's for lunch. My snob of a spouse was impressed by the choices of side dishes they had for kids (grapes, goldfish crackers, mixed fruit) but was shocked, shocked!, that the pineapple came from a can. At Denny's no less! The waitress invited us to her farm where she paints and the family gives pony rides and stuff. I wonder when they deliver the ransom note.

Dinner was at a pizza place near the hotel. I asked for anchovies on my manicotti and got artichokes. Oh well.

An Unfortunate Nickname

Take Me Out (Day 2)

We decide to head across the road to the Lakefront Restaurant for breakfast. I’m not sure why we did this. We ate there for dinner last night. The service was awful. The food was mediocre. And such small portions!!! Okay, with that out of my system, I’ll mention that Steph had the lobster and I had the shark special. Well why not? I mean, isn’t Cooperstown known for it’s seafood? We are on the famous Otsego Lake, after all. And there are authentic plastic fish hanging from the ceiling.

To enjoy the cuisine at the Lakefront, one must enjoy flies. There are tons of them up here. Lots of Mets fans as well, but I digress. We ate breakfast outside and there was actually a fly swatter provided at the table.

And I finally got to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I’ve never been here before so I was looking forward to it, although I wasn’t sure how much enjoyment I’d get with my hyperactive spawn in tow. But it was just me and the boy and with an interactive quiz to follow, it was okay. I sufficiently lowered my expectations of his interest in the history of baseball and kept the eye rolling and teeth gritting to a minimum. If I could only get him over his obsession with gift shops, I’d be okay. I suppose if I stopped buying him crap at gift shops, that would help.

The baseball-themed day was capped off with an always-scintillating minor league baseball game. The Oneonta Tigers (single-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers) were at home against the Lowell Spinners (single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox). The GPS screwed us again. Damaschke Field is located at 95 River Drive. The GPS sent us directly to a small, white house. Using my suburban wiles, I determined that this could not be a minor league baseball park so we went to a gas station where we learned that 95 River Drive is the home of the owner of the stadium. That' 21st century technology!!!!

Evenings are not great times for my kids to be paying attention to anything, let alone a minor league baseball game. So I’ll forego any commentary on my mood and say that the game turned out to be pretty good…if you’re a Lowell fan. The guy pitching for the Tigers was making his debut and he pitched 7 innings of 2-hit shut out baseball. Meanwhile, Oneonta had a 3-0 lead and the game was flying along. There were none of the between innings promotions going on so it was baseball only until the 7th inning stretch. Take Me Out To The Ball Game? G-d Bless America? Nope, just some woman from the HR department of the company that was sponsoring tonight’s game singing Lee Greenwood’s schmaltzy “G-d Bless The USA”. And people had their hands over their hearts as if we were singing the national anthem.

Like I said, there were none of the usual promotions for the fans but that didn't stop the local businesses from getting involved. When players do well, they win food. One guy went 2 for 3 with a couple of doubles and made a spectacular throw from left field, earning him a bunch of subs, pizzas, and selections from various mini marts. Not a bad deal for a guy at single-A.

Anyway, there were 3 outs to go when Lowell put together a 5-run rally, stunning the capacity and record-sized crowd of 4,527 as the Tigers lost 5-3 and dropped their division lead to one game over the Spinners. I’d be upset if I cared at all. Click below to see the hit that tied the game at 3.

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted (Day 1)

First, a special shout out to my folks for handling the first week of the 2-week gap. I was able to dump off one of my kids with them. Vacation Proper began on a Monday morning winding through Western Massachusetts, trying to find the Mass Pike. Three cheers for my GPS, a gift from the family because it’s cool and because blind people have a better sense of direction than I do.

We headed for Howe Caverns, that traditional vacation destination for over a century. There’s something very 1950s about this but I can’t put my finger on it. I can definitely see the Cleavers or the Cunninghams (without Chuck, of course) spending a week or two up here. But before even thinking about that, we have to get lunch. The GPS posted about 9 McDonald’s withing a few miles but I really wanted to get on the highway. And I like Burger King better. And the kids want Simpsons toys. And I’m feeling benevolent. So I wait until we get on the highway and then search for a BK. Nothing until we get near Albany. I swear, the GPS said there was one 5 miles away but the universe must have expanded or something because my mechanical sherpa had me making a series of turns, on of them leading to a 6-mile detour. After some cursing, I found one closer. But AA has to go to the bathroom. I need gas anyway so we pull over at an Exxon.

Okay, here’s a rant: if you’re not getting gas, move your fucking car out of the way. Don’t block the pump because you don’t want to move your spandex-encased ass an extra 5 feet. I’m starting some maneuvers when AA and his mom come out to tell me there’s no bathroom. What kind of gas station has no bathrooms? Where do the employees go? Screw ‘em, I’m going to BK despite the fact that the minivan’s computer says we’re 2 miles from empty.

It’s a good thing we drove so far out of the way to get to Burger King. No more Simpsons toys. But there are plenty of Spiderman 3 toys. Spiderman 3 came and went several months ago.

The minivan’s computer now says we are 0 miles from empty. But the GPS says there’s a Mobil station .8 miles away. Fumes get us there and $49 later, we’re on our way. Again.

The cavern is cool, both literally (a constant 52 degrees) and figuratively. AA liked it but he thought he was going to get shark’s teeth from the gift shop. Little R ran away from me twice, which didn’t worry me because where was she going to go? But when she ends up with another part of the tour group and she’s unaccompanied by an adult, other adults start to wonder what the deal is.

And then it’s time for Cooperstown. The GPS says it’ll be about a 45 minute drive. I have it set for fastest time (versus shorter distance), but it inexplicably avoids all highways and takes me along some of the smallest country road I’ve ever seen. Cows line he fences along the way and grizzled men on tractors watch in wonder as my newfangled motorcar speeds along at a blistering 30 mph. It’ll be good to get to the hotel, which was recommended by a total stranger the wife met on a recent business trip.

Welcome to the Lakefront Motel.

The “Lakefront” part sounded appealing and I thought the 2nd word was “Inn” as opposed to “Motel”. It’s one of those 2-level motels where the doors open up on the parking lot. Former residents of State College, PA can compare this to a slightly upscale Imperial 400. On the bright side, it’s a 5-minute walk from the Baseball Hall of Fame and we’re not spending a lot of time around here. And it’s cheap so what should I expect? Wait, it’s $160/night? Holy crap.

Meanwhile, the kids are bouncing off the walls, taking too loud, and not listening to a thing anyone says to them. Of course, AA was perfect with his grandparents. Now I want to kill them both.

Well, there’s always tomorrow.

Paging Clark Griswold

What kind of person takes a family vacation these days? If you believe travel magazines and the occasional commercial, lots of happy families take to the road or the air every day, exploring one part of the US of A or another. Personally, I haven’t taken a vacation in years for a number of reasons. Only a few of those reasons are handled through high doses of psychologically-prescribed drugs. And by “vacation”, I’m talking about the true, get away from it all, vacation. Not the kind where you schlep off to Florida to visit relatives. That’s cheating because you’re not dealing with hotels and other things that go along with the typical vacation. I have a minivan. I have a family. A have a supply of anti-anxiety medication. Family vacations should be a cinch. The closest I came to a vacation was last summer, where something told me it would be fun to drive the family to Virginia, park the car on the Amtrak Auto Train to Orlando, spend a couple of days at the Nick Hotel (okay, that part was cool) and then drive down to see the in laws. And you wonder why I don’t go on vacation.

Well the scheduling gods were truly against me again this year as we had to try to fill the 2-week gap between the end of camp and the beginning of school. While a trip to a beach or some kind of simple thing like that would have been easier, finances kept us local. But what to do with an 8-year old with no attention span and a 4-year old who won’t remember anything we do anyway? I was presented with a number of nails-on-a-blackboard ideas and ended up with where I am now, in a tiny motel in Cooperstown, NY.

To be continued....

Monday, August 13, 2007

Greatest Hits of a Generation, and a Sale on Chick Peas

As the boomer generation of music lovers ages, it becomes harder and harder to find classic rock. The New York area is down to one dedicated classic rock station and they've been playing music from the grunge era lately. But just yesterday, I heard the opening strains of "And You And I" by Yes coming from the speakers of a most unlikely of places.

Shop Rite.

This wasn't some remixed version of "And You And I". It wasn't some classic song from the 70s redone into shopping-friendly Muzak. No, this was the original hit by the original artist. This was followed by Lou Reed singing "Sweet Jane". And before I had the chance to put down the 8-pack of Juicy Juice Apple Juice I was holding, on came "Can't Find My Way Home" by Blind Faith. My iPod couldn't play a better list. I found myself singing along while I wheeled my cart past the tampons.

And then I remembered where I was: smack in the middle of suburbia, daughter in tow, pushing $200 worth of groceries along with hordes of people just like me. Has Shop Rite become the place to go to catch some great tunes? Do I have to go to Foodtown next time I need a Pink Floyd fix? It's possible that I have to accept the fact that I am of an older generation. With the younger generation filling the airwaves with their crap (and it is crap), people like me have been forced to find shelter in the frozen foods section of our local supermarkets. Local arenas and stadiums have, for me, been replaced by Pathmark. Maybe that's okay. It's okay until I start singing Jethro Tull's "Thick As A Brick" and adding the lyric, "clean up in aisle 4."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Extreme Weather: God's Greatest Weapon

Early this morning, I got this e-mail from a friend of mine:

Just a few trains are affected, here’s what to avoid since these lines are all reporting 30+ delays: 4, 5, 6, N, R, 1, 2, 3, A, C, E, F, L, J, D, M, B, Q, Metro North, and LIRR. Not a huge problem, just a little flooding. You know, throughout the entire subway system. Buses aren’t really working either. Consider yourself warned. Give it up and just walk.

New York City has been through a lot in it's history and has always managed to come through. But throw a little rain into the mix and it's ever man for himself. My train line was shut down and there were several flooding-related traffic jams on all highways leading in to Manhattan. That's to be expected. But this morning was ridiculous. 9/11 was a tragedy. If it were raining that day, it would have been a disaster of biblical proportions.

People don't seem to know what to do with themselves in bad weather. I understand chaos when some town in Texas gets a few inches of snow. They're not used to it. The majority of today's rain came early in the day and by the time I got on a bus in New Jersey, the sun was poking through the clouds. Yet somehow, there was enough rain to shut down a majority of the subway system and fill the humid streets of Manhattan with commuters trying to get on buses. It looked like those scenes you see of crowds of people in Calcutta trying to get onto a train. Madness I tell you! Madness!!!!!

There was an episode of "The Bionic Woman"with John Houseman playing disgruntled OSI engineer Dr. Franklin. He creates the killer Fembots (hubba hubba!) as well as a weather machine which enables him to create catastrophic storms. If some terrorist group ever got a hold of one of those, we'd be in big trouble. Forget bombs or anthrax or something. Make it rain a lot. That'll bring us to our knees!