The Shortest Holiday

I didn’t do anything for Halloween yesterday.

I didn’t decorate my front porch, give out candies to kids (there hardly have been any for the past decade), go to any parties or events, or even dressed up in costume.

I’ve got nothing against Halloween, it’s a nice, fun time, it’s just…so brief.

Now, all year long I was kicking around an idea for a Halloween costume in the back of my mind every so often. I would have put my long black locks to use and dressed as Star Wars sequel trilogy villain Kylo Ren.

But a recent vacation and work have kind of put planning on the back burner. Most of all, the cost of such a costume (which would have included the largest capital expense of the purchase of the character’s trademark crossguard light saber) was prohibitively high, for such a brief event.

Let’s break it down:

It’s still fine to give Christmas presents on December 26.

It’s perfectly acceptable to wish someone “Happy New Year!” on January 2.

If the 4th of July falls on a Thursday or Friday, it’s perfectly normal to extend the patriotic spirit through the weekend (Some would argue it’s normal, albeit potentially annoying, to still fire off your remaining fireworks stash post July 4).

Eating Thanksgiving leftovers through the weekend? Totally expected.

But on November 1, IT’S NO LONGER HALLOWEEN.

Maybe it’s the change of the calendar month, but Trick-Or-Treats, Jack-O-Lanterns and costumes are already passe come the turn of November. Thanksgiving Mode has already taken over (and the capitalistically-inclined would insist that (Commercial) Christmas is already here.

Even on October 31st, save for office and school costume contests, the holiday is primarily nocturnal, so with the sun going down at give or take 6 p.m., you really only have six hours at the most to actually celebrate Halloween.

Thursday was a day I’m required to work late, and didn’t leave my duties until around 9 p.m. So for me, I only had three hours to celebrate Halloween. For an anticipated budget of at least $200 for my intended costume, that didn’t come out to be a good bang for the buck.

Previous Halloween costumes trended heavily toward pop culture: Wayne Campbell from Wayne’s World, one of the Men in Black, Elvis Presley, the elevator guy from Psy’s “Gangnam Style” video and Max Headroom.

Oppa Gangnam Style! My Halloween costume, October 2012.

Perhaps my most involved costume was my 1982 Halloween coup de grace: Pac-Man, a major project involving large amounts of cardboard and yellow poster paint, it was one of the winning costumes in my elementary school’s Halloween parade. Yes, that one required a bit of parental assistance during the construction phase, and at least a couple days’ preparation, but cardboard and and a few bottles poster paint hardly broke the bank.

But fear not, for 365 days from now, Kylo Ren will still be pop culturally-relevant, with the ninth Star Wars episodic saga film, The Rise of Skywalker yet to be released this coming December, my genetics have proven I’m in no danger of losing my hair, and best of all, Halloween 2020 will fall on a Saturday, giving us the benefit of a Halloweekend.

With Halloween 2019 in the past, it’s not so much a blown opportunity, but rather a new start: I now have 52 weeks to prepare for joining The Dark Side of The Force. And maybe I’ll even get a mask 3-D printed or something. I have no excuse now.

NYC/Pittsburgh 2019 (Day 6) – Call of the Idlewild

Rainbow over Somerset, PA.

Sunrise, Somerset
A rainbow greeted us in the distance towards the north here in Somerset, PA, which is about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. We’re here to spend the day in nearby Ligonier, which is home to Idlewild & Soak Zone theme park, just a few miles northwest of here.

EconoLodge in Somerset, PA.

We began the morning enjoying the free breakfast buffet here at the EconoLodge lobby, where we were gifted with the almighty waffle maker. My niece loved the waffles, which I enjoyed as well as the free coffee. I also wanted some water, and fortunately there was a hot and cold water dispenser around the corner near the vending and ice machines. We checked out a little past the 11 a.m. deadline, but they were really chill about it.

Somerset County Courthouse

We made a quick tour through the town’s main drag, Center Street, which, for a change didn’t look like the generic ‘burb we encountered last night in Paxtonia. There were actually unfamiliar businesses and more rural-looking architecture to the local housing stock. We passed by the unmistakable Somerset County Courthouse, a 1906 Italian Renaissance Revival structure, which was common in the turn of the 20th century. We made a quick U-turn through a side street near a local hospital (UPMC Somerset Hospital) and rolled by the courthouse again for a quick pic/video and more meandering way out of town. It had a clash of old-timey 20th century businesses and hipsterish 21st century cafes. But the town was unmistakably rural.

PA Route 219, a.k.a. Flight 93 Memorial Highway.

We drove straight through a rural road, past farms and numerous churches and took a cloverleaf entrance onto PA Route 219, where the landscaping was a well-manicured lawn of grass inside the cloverleaf. I wondered whose job was it to trim it while on a riding mower. PA 219 is also known as Flight 93 Memorial Highway, as the location where the ill-fated flight crashed into a field near Shanksville, PA on September 11, 2011 rather than its intended target, the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. Today, there is a National Memorial site, but it was some 10 miles east of where we were exiting on Route 30.

Route 30 en route to Lingonier, PA.

Then we headed west on PA Route 30, where we were greeted with lots of green rolling hills (albeit beginning its transition to Fall orange) and small towns, like Jenner, Jennerstown and Laughlintown. Most striking was how we’d crest over a hill and see the road as a straight line headed down into a small valley, but continue as a straight line up the next hill. We saw at least two of those (pictured above), though the sharpness of the elevation was far more pronounced when seen in person.

The town square of Ligonier, PA.

Ligonier, population of about 1,500, was founded as a colonial-era British fort (which included a young Lieutenant Colonel named George Washington among its forces) to ward off the French from the area. Ironically, the fort and town was named after a British army officer of French Huguenot heritage). Later on it became a railroad town, until the Pennsylvania Railroad line went out of operation in the 1950s. As we cut north on Market Street from Route 30, we passed through a traffic circle surrounded by the requisite town square, almost like Hill Valley from Back To The Future. It was just a block from there where we stopped by a local restaurant called Carol and Dave’s Roadhouse to order sandwiches to-go for our Idlewild picnic later on. I parked the car at a small metered parking lot and before we left, I quickly snapped some photos of the town square.

Wild About Idlewild
Just a few miles west from Ligonier (during the trip I kept assuming the name of the town was “Lingonier“) is a theme park called Idlewild & Soak Zone. Being Fall already, we were there for the former and not the latter, which was closed anyway for the season. The theme park has its roots as a campground founded by Thomas Mellon (Yeah that Mellon) in 1878, and became an amusement park in the 1930s. Idlewild has earned the Golden Ticket Award recognition from the theme park industry publication Amusement Today as “Best Children’s Park” every year from 2010 to 2018.

We were there to visit the park’s Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood attraction, as my niece is a huge fan of the PBS show, an animated spin-off of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and she was most excited at the prospect of going on the “Daniel Tiger” rides. Its location here is most appropriate, as Fred Rogers is a Pittsburgh area institution, and his hometown of Latrobe, PA is situated between here and Pittsburgh.

Right away, the park looked small, laid-back and unpretentious, and decidedly less commercialized than the parks I’m used to in California – which was actually refreshing. The $32.99 admission (paid at the entrance to the gravel parking lot) was certainly a bargain compared to Disneyland. Upon entering the park it reminded me of a cross between Knott’s Berry Farm and Santa’s Village, and being not very crowded or noisy, more of the latter.

We walked through the amusement park rides and midway games area and across a bridge spanning Loyalhanna Creek. This unspoiled connection to nature was a nice touch. My niece rode a mini bumper car ride before getting in line to the very popular Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood ride, which, though somewhat long, wasn’t more than a 20-minute wait. The ride was a 15-minute ride on an actual electric trolley (3rd rail-powered) that resembled the iconic red trolley from Daniel Tiger’s and Mister Rogers’ shows. We rode through a tunnel and stopped by various places in the show where we were greeted by 2-D electromechanical characters from the show, which interacted with the tour guide via recordings. It wasn’t a very technically sophisticated ride, but the cheery, sing-along tone of the attraction certainly succeeded in delighting the toddler-aged Daniel Tiger audience, and that’s what really mattered here. My niece was certainly satisfied at “meeting” Daniel himself (although our off-season visit meant that a Daniel Tiger costumed character roaming the park for photo ops was not available, unfortunately). We also rode on a small live-steam railroad ride around the southeast corner of the park, winding around the natural forest area and one a bridge over the creek, before disembarking near the parking lot. We got off so we could have our picnic and my niece can run around in the children’s play area.

As she ran around on the rope netting, slides and ball pool areas, we had our picnic of Carol and Dave’s sandwiches. I ordered the meat loaf sandwich, only to discover it was just the open-faced option, which was nothing more than a slice of bread, slice of meat loaf, some gravy and french fries.

We planned to ride on the ferris wheel, but my niece opted out of it mid-line. I did take her to the midway games area, where she chose to play one game which consisted of throwing balls into empty toilet bowls. She threw the balls herself and got one in, and won a pink sugar skull stuffed doll toy (She’s quite good at these, having won a stuffed toy at the Santa Monica Pier during her visit his past Summer). We also had some ice cream and she got up on an empty performance stage to do her one-woman show (with help from her sidekick, mommy), and played on some playground slides later on. I wanted some ride action, so late in the day I rode on a gyro-spin ride all by myself (as, I was the only person on the entire ride). As people left, there was a bell at the exit for people to ring if they were satisfied with their visit. My niece enthusiastically rang it. My brother-in-law reminded me it was exactly 6:00 p.m., so I tolled the bell six times. My only regret that day was not stopping in the souvenir shop, which was already closed by the time I realized I wanted to go.

Greetings from Latrobe, PA.

The Home Stretch
This was the last leg of the journey to Pittsburgh. Having driven nearly 400 miles from New York City, it was time to gas up. I stopped by a Gulf station along Route 30 and spent a couple moments enjoying the unfamiliar rural setting with the setting sun and looming storm clouds in the distance.

Further along, an overpass read, “WELCOME TO LATROBE – “IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD” clued us in on the town’s most famous citizen: Fred Rogers, who was born here in 1928. Parts of the town served as archetypes for Rogers’ famous television neighborhood. The Neighborhood Trolley was partly inspired by the West Penn Railways interurban trolleys in Latrobe that ran until 1952. But as the sun set lower and the storm clouds loomed ominously closer, we didn’t have time to explore. We did pass what looked like a large cathedral to the north of us, which my brother-in-law searched online to discover it was the campus of Saint Vincent College, a private Catholic Benedictine university, also known for being the training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers and home of the Fred Rogers Center, which maintains Mister Rogers’ archives.

Heavy rain (and it got heavier) in the northeastern Pittsburgh suburbs.

Closer to our destination, Route 30 snaked through Greensburg, PA, which, honestly, resembled suburban San Diego (sans palm trees) in its 21st century big box shopping center generic-ness. Then after Adamsburg, we hut the PA Turnpike again (why hello again, uncertain e-toll booth), where we trudged closer to Pittsburgh in sometimes extremely heavy rain, while constant lightning lit up the sky to the north of us.

Freeport Road in Harmar, PA, post-rainstorm. Look ma, no sidewalks.

Along the rain-soaked journey it was the ride on the tunpike bridge spanning the Allegheny River that signaled our arrival. Leaving the Turnpike on the Allegheny Valley exit (Hello yet again, questionable e-toll booth), we arrived at our home for the next three nights, the Days Inn Pittsburgh-Harmarville. The entire Harmar area was somewhat of a rest-stop town, full of hotels, motels, fast food restaurants and gas stations. The ground was wet but the rainstorm had passed, although the lightning show was still going on in the distance. There was actually a small line at the lobby to check in, and our first room on the 2nd floor had a faulty toilet that wouldn’t stop filling its tank, so we got switched to Room 236, just a few doors down. The cacophony of chirping crickets dominated the area, which was full of hillside trees yet to be uncovered by the veil of night, and the warm humid air also contained the semi-sweet aroma of local plantlife. We were also on the north bank of the Allegheny River, and some 15 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, which has yet to be seen by anyone else in my traveling party. We had arrived, yet were still unsettled and unoriented. It’s that sense of unfamiliarity that provides the main thrill when traveling.

It was only a little after 7 p.m. when we arrived, the night was young but we weren’t leaving the hotel. My brother-in-law noticed there’s a Target in the neighborhood, and he offered to take a stroll there for water, snacks and supplies. Upon his return, he bought salads for us to eat for dinner and bought a couple cans of beer from a local market which had a “Beer Cave.”

No Sidewalking
Later on in the evening, around 10 p.m., I wanted to do my own exploring, so I set out into the night to get my first minimal taste of Pittsburgh. I recognized that this place…had no sidewalk. I was unsure whether to walk through the various parking lots, or on the street, which had a white line a few feet from the curb (or was that a bike lane?). I ended up doing both, perhaps in search of an eventual sidewalk. The intersections were confusing, as they had ADA ramps on the corners…which led to grass or gravel.

At the wondrous Giant Eagle market.

The Giant Eagle Has Landed
I stopped at what appeared to be a mini-market operation called Giant Eagle Express, which had its own gas station outside. But upon entering, I encountered a full-scale medium-sized supermarket with bakery, cafe and full-service deli. And it, too, had this “beer cave” my brother-in-law talked about. It was also open 24 hours. I was here to also try to buy a local transit pass, the ConnectCard, which was supposedly available at Giant Eagle locations, but could not see any mention of it here. I also briefly contemplated taking a bus ride into Pittsburgh, but being the weekend, the last bus into town had already gone, and there was no means to return later. I walked west towards a creek, which had a bridge, but no means to cross it, so I ended up walking on the paved street median. However, on the way back, I discovered there was a sidewalk portion of the bridge after all – that was hidden by a tall concrete barrier. Oops.

Behold, a self-service MILKSHAKE MACHINE!

Pittsburgh Knows Their Sheetz
My brother-in-law also mentioned a place called “Sheetz” – the one with the Beer Cave. What I discovered was something even more incredible. Sheetz is a regional western Pennsylvania convenience store chain which also offers a full-scale sandwich/hot food deli (which is somewhat of an understatement). It’s sort of the western PA counterpart of Wawa, which is a familiar sight to folks in Philadelphia and the eastern end of the Keystone State. The “deli” features a computer terminal for ordering, though actual humans make your sandwiches. Then you pay at the counter. But what enthralled me, besides the broad selection of snack chips from brands other than Frito-Lay, was a F’real automated shake machine that makes milkshakes for you from pre-frozen containers. I MUST TRY THIS.

Ladies and Gentlemen…a Walk-In Beer Cave! Mind Blown.

And also, what my brother-in-law said was true. There was a walk-in Beer Cave. I didn’t buy any brews just yet, but I did walk in. I’d imagine it would be a fun place to be trapped in during a hot day.

Norfolk Southern line in Harmar, PA.

As I walked back to the hotel, through the parking lots, in the damp night air, the sound of a diesel horn and the rumbling of freight cars greeted me to satisfy my railfan sensibilities. It was the Norfolk Southern railroad line paralleling Freeport Road, viewable from my hotel balcony. They were nearly all unit trains carrying gondola cars full of coal from the regional coal mines. How very Appalachia.

NYC/Pittsburgh 2019 (Day 5): Road Trip!

The rental. 2019 Hyundai Elantra. Pimp my ride.

One For The Road
Today was a travel day, this time, a planned road trip to Pittsburgh, PA (the side trip). I reserved a car online at the local Avis location, which was located right in the Upper West Side at 76th and Broadway. After a quick breakfast of coffee, croissant and knish at nearby NYC institution Zabar’s, it was a quick walk to the Avis office to meet with my sister to pick up the car. The last time I rented a car here, they gave me a tiny 2-door Hyundai Veloster coupe that we drove to Montreal. This time, I specified a 4-door, and after confirming whether I’d get a 4-door, they gave me a free upgrade to a 2019 Hyundai Elantra (I might have gotten a 2-door otherwise). After fetching it, I had to park it reasonably close to the apartment as we finished packing up and loading. It took around 4 loops around the neighborhood until I just relented and double-parked in front of a double-parked FedEx truck, and waited in the driver’s seat until a minivan finally left.

Driving down West Side Highway with One WTC in the distance.

At around 4 p.m., we were off, though of course this is NYC we’re talking about, and leaving town on a Friday afternoon is no easy task. We headed down the West Side Highway and only hit the speed limit for a few seconds until traffic brought us back to reality and down to street level; it was a slow crawl until Chelsea Street, and then we were cruising with little traffic until Canal Street, where we had to gradually veer left over the course of several minutes in order to enter the Holland Tunnel. Ah, traffic, NYC style.

Driving under the Hudson via the Holland Tunnel.

Then, it was a slllloooowww queue until reaching the actual tunnel. Fortunately, the flow of traffic was constant, driving some 90 feet below the surface of the Hudson. We got out in Jersey City, and I even passed a gas station that I filled up at prior to returning a rental in the Avis office at the Newport Centre Mall back in 2015. From there it was a straight path following the route of I-78. Now here is where the fun begins: The toll booths.

For Whom The Toll Tolls
The one thing this Californian can’t stand here out East is not the right turn on red (I just discovered that’s what the right-hand traffic light is for), but those damn tolls. And it’s not the fact that I have to pay for them, but because they’re do damn confusing. Hear me out: The last time I rented a car, I avoided the NJ tollway system completely and only had to deal with NY state’s system, which had cash lanes where I could pay with cash. I’m using a rental car equipped with an E-Z Pass electronic toll transponder, but I specified to Avis that I didn’t need it activated and preferred to pay for cash tolls. Okay, fine.

So please understand the confusion when I enter a cash toll lane (which also allows E-Z Pass-equipped vehicles), get ready to retrieve the toll ticket at the start of the system, and am told – even by a toll gate attendant – that my car’s E-Z Pass system was already activated.

Say what? There’s an automatic $3.95 fee collected daily plus any tolls I accrue that’s charged to my credit card, even post-car return. Paying cash would mean I’d pay double the toll, but I’m still not 100% sure my E-Z Pass transponder is activated, because it’s not flipped down. Ugh.

Somewhere in western New Jersey.

Traffic was slow through urban New Jersey, then let up halfway through as the evening sky grew darker. Finally, we crossed a bridge going over the Delaware River and were greeted with this:

The Pennsylvania state line urges you to Pursue Your Happiness.

And then we were greeted with a set of toll booths. I went through the cash lane, but I was already allowed to pass. And then I saw a couple of flashes of light. California drivers, long dealing with the PTSD triggered by red light cameras, get real nervous when there’s a flash of light when you pass through a road utility where you’re not quite confident you really belong there. Ugh.

It was after the Pennsylvania state line where I realized that my headlights weren’t fully on; it was one more notch on the steering wheel knob to turn them on. Good timing, as dusk was transitioning into nightfall, and memories of my 2015 car rental flashed back – where a NY State Trooper pulled me over for not having my headlights fully on (I was only given a verbal warning, phew).

Somewhere in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Darkness fell. We passed by myriad places with an “Twp” following their name. Then passed industrial towns that have seen their heyday long ago: Bethlehem. Allentown (complete with Billy Joel song recollection). Then we passed by tons and tons of places that contained the -town, -ville and -burg suffixes.

Pit Stop in Harrisburg
My niece really like chicken and rice for dinner, so we had to cater to her tastes. My sister and brother in law searched for Asian-ish restaurants along the way and found a place called Shogun Asian Fusion in the Harrisburg suburb of Paxtonia, on the Mountain Road exit off of I-81 (which I-78 turned into a few miles back). It was primarily a Japanese-style place, featuring sushi as its mainstay, but we had various entrees. I had the Pan-Seared Sesame Tuna, which was full of vegetables, which was fine for what I should be eating for dinner. It wasn’t California quality Asian food of course, but we all agreed it was decent enough.

After dinner, it was the final trek to our first hotel. Taking Route 22 through Paxtonia to Route 322 and back on I-81, I noticed how…generic the place looked. At least under the cover of night, American suburbia looked no more unique than any other place. The restaurant was embedded in a bix-box shopping center with a Home Depot, Kohl’s, Costco, Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond. Down the Route 22 (Jonestown Road) was a Pep Boys, a Taco Bell, and various mobile phone retail outlets. Besides the regional bank chains, all of the signs looked familiar. I could have been driving through Orange County for all I knew. For someone who takes pride in seeing unique facets of America, it was partly troubling and partly embarrassing.

The original plan was to make a quick stop to see the Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg, but since we’d pass the same way back on Tuesday, and in the daylight, we decided it was best to bypass Harrisburg proper altogether for now and head to the hotel.

After crossing the Susquehanna River (one of those Eastern geographical names I’d only hear of from the names of old railroads), it was another two hour trek driving west through southern Pennsylvania. Although my sister was ready to step in as backup driver for this journey, I’m on enough of a traveler high to stay awake and alert through the journey (without any additional coffee save from what I had this morning in NYC). Some fun singing/rhyming games led by my niece, who was strapped in the child seat, helped made the 130-mile trek pass by relatively quickly.

Blue Mountain Tunnel

Appalachian Action
And then, we crossed the Appalachian Mountains, via a number of long tunnels. Blue Mountain Tunnel. Kittatinny Mountain Tunnel. Tuscarora Mountain Tunnel. These tunnels were around a mile long, engineering marvels in their time and place. The Appalachians were an exotic range I only heard of in U.S. History class, where I was taught to pronounce it “Apple-asian.” It wasn’t until I met a group of Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers in the Owens Valley who told me they had previously hiked the “App-latch-un” Trail. But here I was, driving a car through a series of tunnels bored through them. Driving in the night doesn’t afford you much sights. I can recall driving downhill in a very long curve, as if we had rounded a mountain somehow.

Somerset For The Night
Just before 1 a.m., we finally arrived in the small town of Somerset, PA, just off of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Just prior to exiting, we encountered the daunting row of toll booths and once again I drove through it, with a flashing light, wondering if the sensor registered the toll or not. Oh well. anyway, it was a short winding drive up a small hill and onto the EconoLodge Somerset which I hastily booked just the night before we left (I booked it via when I should have booked it on the Choice Hotels site and used a discount code I had as an ASCAP member. Oh well, the motel was only $56 for the one night). Unlike some of my recent hotel experiences, the innkeepers didn’t bug me about checking in late. The room was located on the 2nd floor in a motel building with interior hallways and an elevator. And it just so happened that the room given to the group that drove in all the way from New York City was #212. The room was clean, though I wasn’t used to a hotel room without a carpeted floor. Speaking of which, one negative about our hotel room experience was that the floor above us seemed almost paper-thin, that we could hear the occupant pace back and forth constantly into at least 3 a.m. (What was up with that person?).

NYC/Pittsburgh 2019 (Day 4): The Aukmaster, The Shawarma and Mr. Met

Elson “Mega Bass” Trinidad meets up with Eric “The Aukmaster” Wolf at Grand Central Terminal.

The Aukmaster Reunion
As much as I love my niece dearly, I also wanted to get out of the Upper West Side and do what I love doing most when traveling — exploring. Today, I was finally able to do that, starting off with a 1 p.m. lunch with Eric, one of my good friends from high school, who moved back to NYC last year after living in Houston for many years. We decided to meet at the iconic center information booth/clock at Grand Central Station, which is in his work neighborhood. Eric and I graduated from high school 30 years ago this year (!), and maintained in touch through the years. I visited him 20 years ago during my 3rd visit to NYC when he lived in Manhattan, and the last time we hung out was in 2001 when he was in Los Angeles for a convention, and we lunched over french dip sandwiches at Philippe The Original. That was 18 years ago — and 18 years was about the age we were when we graduated high school. It was cool to see Eric, who went by the nickname “The Aukmaster” back in the day due to his fascination with the marine bird (my nickname, at least among our crowd, was “Mega Bass” – from the Sony Walkman I was prone to toting around which had that low-frequency boost switch prominently displayed on its front panel). Eric gave me a vinyl LP of his own guitar music, which he took up as a hobby several years after high school. He told me he decided to meet me at Grand Central Terminal since the last time we met was at Los Angeles Union Station, and we had lunch at Grand Central’s historic 106 year-old Oyster Bar restaurant, which unbeknownst to me existed below the main station hall!

The Grand Central Oyster Bar restaurant, an institution since 1913.

I had the Fried Ipswich Clam Sandwich with cole slaw, and for dessert I had a slice of New York Cheesecake (which I just referred to as a “cheesecake” of course), since I had never had a New York Cheesecake in New York City before. We talked about our parents’ health, various people from high school we’ve seen or been in touch with, the planned 30th high school reunion in Las Vegas in November and the various dynamics/quirks of New York and Los Angeles local politics. I told him I visit NYC every other year, and will most likely go visit his house in suburban Westchester County during my next visit. We walked up Lexington Ave, past the various police roadblocks for the United Nations General Assembly this week to his office at Sotheby’s before parting ways.

On The Avenue, I’m Taking You To 42nd Street
I walked back towards Grand Central and then headed west on 42nd Street to Hudson Yards. I was already familiar with the Midtown Manhattan grid of east-west numbered streets and north-south numbered avenues, so I was basically here to explore. I passed a place called “Pershing Square” which, unlike L.A.’s park, is the area under the Park Avenue viaduct by Grand Central. I also caught nice vantage views of the MetLife Building and the Chrysler Building. I also passed just south of the hustle and bustle of Times Square (been there, done that), but not without encountering the spillover crowds of people passing out discount flyers for various attractions, as well as Spanish-speaking women in Minnie Mouse costumes accosting various Latino passers-by. I also passed by the massive Port Authority Bus Terminal, which I don’t remember going to before, although I may have in 1999, but the place had since been remodeled to where it’s no long recognizable. I also heard there was a Jollibee location here, but I was unable to find it. I did see numerous Hudson News periodical/snack stands that didn’t seem to sell bottled water that wasn’t Dasani. I also encountered a Time Out NY-branded street piano and a woman performing on a piano on a performance stage, entertaining bus passengers and shoppers. Besides taking a peek, I was also there to seek reprieve from the overcast humidity in the structure’s air conditioning system, before exiting the building at 9th Avenue.

From then it was due south to 34th Street, where I got to stop by a market for some potato chips and Poland Spring water, and encountered the sights of various restaurants, a stacked parking lot, the sight of the Empire State Building (now settling for seventh place among NYC’s tallest buildings), the B&H Photo Video electronics superstore, and finally westbound on 34th to Hudson Yards.

The 150-foot public art sculpture called “Vessel” (a.k.a. The Shawarma) at Hudson Yards.

Hungry For Some Shawarma
Hudson Yards was my destination to see this big public art thingy that opened in February of this year that instantly went on the list of things to see in NYC for this visit. Entitled “Vessel” by Thomas Heatherwick (a.k.a The Shawarma), the $200 million brand new tourist attraction certainly attracted this tourist to walk all the way from Grand Central. It was big enough to where I didn’t have to hunt for it; it was right there next to the Hudson Yards subway station (and where a Farmers’ Market was happening today). There were tickets to be had to get inside and walk up this thing, but ironically, I got an email telling me that I was able to buy Dodgers playoff tickets (home was calling). I wrestled on my phone for the next half hour setting up the public Wi-Fi connection and buying a pair of tickets for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, to be played on Saturday, October 12 – before the opportunity passed and tickets got sold out. After the tickets have been purchased, it was time to get the tickets to this Vessel/Shawarma thing, which were free, but required an appointment time to keep crowds manageable. To my chagrin, the next opportunity to buy tickets was Monday, September 30.

Crowds at the base of “Vessel” (a.k.a The Shawarma).

Okay, so forget that. It was getting very windy, a little cold (I put on my light hooded jacket), and starting to drizzle. It was time to leave this place that’s trying hard to be the new World Trade Center, get on the 7 train at the nearby Hudson Yards subway station, and head down to Queens.

On The 7.

Flushing In The Meadows
In about half an hour I found myself getting off at Mets-Willetts Point station, next door to Citi Field. It was only 5 p.m., and the Mets game wouldn’t start for another 2 hours, so I gravitated down the wooden boardwalked pedestrian bridge to the adjacent Flushing Meadows Park to finally see the Unisphere – the main monument of the 1964 World’s Fair – with my own eyes – it was peeking from the view of the 7 train, beckoning me to come closer. Fortunately, it was a very walkable half-mile to the large steel globe structure. Snap!

Meet The Mets
My ultimate destination today was the Citi Field, home of the New York Mets since 2009. This is my 2nd MLB game this week (I saw the Dodgers vs. Mets on Sunday) and my seventh MLB stadium. Having been to Yankee Stadium 2.0 during my last visit in 2017, it was time to visit the NY’s NL stadium.

With the Mets out of playoff contention and playing the last-place Florida Marlins, this wasn’t going to be a sell-out anyway, so I just bought a $22 seat for Promenade level, Section 414, Row 5, Seat 7. It was a small section above home plate, but not quite as high as the nosebleeds. Since the stadium was a cookie-cutter new-generation ballpark, it had great sightlines and the flexibility to walk around the stadium ant watch the game from different locations.

Some observations:

  • They have an onsite Mets Hall of Fame and Museum near the main entrance.
  • The entrance rotunda is heavy on Jackie Robinson history and images. I guess they can kinda claim this since Jackie played in the next borough over.
  • The rumble of airplanes and LaGuardia and the nearby 7 train is omnipresent throughout the game.
  • There is no stadium organist. It’s all pre-recorded music.
  • Students from a local elementary school sang the National Anthem.
  • The game is kicked off with a video recording of a Mets fan saying, “Play Ball!”
  • There are a few nods to the old Shea Stadium, such as a bridge in the right-field area with an insignia and plaque on the former Mets stadium. The original home plate is out in one of the parking lots, but I didn’t have the time to seek it out.
  • Lots of great food options, and the required hotdogs and beer aren’t as expensive as in Dodger Stadium.
  • There are a number of cashless (credit/debit card only) concession stands.
  • The “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” 7th-inning stretch song is just an old recording, and they just sing “the home team.”
  • I could not really spot the press box area.
  • The overall fan experience is much more laid-back than at Yankee Stadium (maybe because the Mets aren’t playoff-bound this year).
  • The working-class Queens ethic is really present in the stadium atmosphere, moreso than at Yankee Stadium.
  • You can see the Manhattan skyline from the left field-side stairwells.
  • Nobody cared that I wore a Dodger cap. Unlike at Yankee Stadium, I didn’t spot any other Dodger fans.

The game was scoreless until the 7th inning, when the Mets drove in two runs, but the Marlins fought back in the bottom of the 7th and in the 8th; former Met Curtis Granderson (who got an ovation from the crowd) hit the go-ahead homer that sealed the deal during the game. No pony in this race of course, but I would have loved to see HR leader Pete Alonso hit his 52nd bomb at this game (alas, he went 0 for 4). I did, however, get to meet the team’s mascot Mr. Met (the first-ever MLB mascot I’ve met, no pun intended), after tracking him down and following him through the main field-level corridor. Perhaps it’s because of my Dodger hat that he knew I was just there to visit, but I had my phone in Selfie Mode, he leaned and paused to pose, I snapped the picture, we shared a fist-bump, and the deed was done.

Lovely post-game pic.

After the game it was just a short walk up to the 7 platform and back to Penn Station, and a transfer to the 1 back to the Upper West Side.

NYC/Pittsburgh 2019 (Day 3): More Upper West Side Life

West Side Community Garden.

Afterschool Special
I made some progress with my jetlag, waking up around 11 a.m. and had some breakfast, so I decided to pick up my nice from school. My sister and I walked to the school, where she acquainted me with where the parents gathered and where the kids got dropped off at. After we picked her up, we briefly hung out at West Side Community Garden, which to my surprise is another park built with funding from the Trust for Public Land, just like my local Madison Avenue Park back in East Hollywood. did some shopping at a nearby store called Face Values and Beyond, which confused me because I had never heard of it before, yet it shared the same branding as Bed Bath and Beyond (I later learned that it’s a merger of BB&B and a local cosmetic store called Harmon Face Values). I really only ended up buying some water and snacks there as my sister went off to do some errands and I took my niece to the nearby playground, where she proceeded to play with kids from other nearby schools on the jungle gym, and follow these little boys around who were operating a radio-controlled car.

My nice enjoying the Brio train set at West Side Kids

Later we headed home, but not before stopping by West Side Kids, a local indie toy store where she enjoyed playing with the Brio wooden train set and convinced uncle to get her a My Little Pony doll.

Pies, slices and squares galore at Made In New York Pizza.

Adventures In Babysitting, Part II
My sister and brother-in-law went out for dinner, and it would have been a family affair had my niece not taken a nap. So it was another night of babysitting. Before they left, I made sure to grab dinner at their local recommended pizzeria, Made In New York Pizza, where I had their trademark (albeit controversial) Spicy Pepperoni Square and a slice of plain (cheese). I also went to a nearby market and ordered a Greek Salad to go, and ate them all back at the apartment. The Pepperoni Square was nice and crunchy on the edges, with a more-than-ample amount of pepperoni. The cheese slice was nice as well. The salad from the deli had quite a bit of iceberg lettuce (more than this Californian is used to) and tiny cheese slices. And almost on cue, my niece woke up crying again.

After much negotiation, I tried the walk-around-the-neighborhood method, which also worked. I distracted her by pointing out dogs in the neighborhood being walked, which cheered up her spirits a good deal and made her forget about missing her parents. As we walked, south on Amsterdam this time, I happened upon a restaurant named Playa Betty’s, which touted itself as “Cali-Style Beach Food” to my amusement. I only wanted to walk up to the menu display to see what they had, curiously. As expected, a lot of very expensive tacos, enchiladas, as well as items with avocado and kale in their ingredients. And don’t forget the margaritas! I was very amused. We also passed by a familiar bagel place which my niece told me that her daddy would frequent often, and we paused in front of Amorino gelato, where I floated the idea of ice cream to her, she initially declined, then changed her mind. Success! We enjoyed some gelato which cheered her up even more. Intending to meet with her parents after they were finished with dinner, she suddenly had a craving for pizza, and it was a return to Made In New York Pizza, where she had a White Cheese Square and a plain slice. After texting her mom and dad where we were, they eventually surprised her at the window and everything was cool again. We all went back to chill out, although she became quite the insomniac night owl, opting to play with her toys rather than go to sleep for school the next day. I, too, pulled a late-nighter, mainly to write yesterday’s entry into this blog.

NYC/Pittsburgh 2019 (Day 2): Just Settling In

(Upper) Wesssoiiiide!

Jetlag Is A Thing
I almost forgot the three-hour time zone difference between Eastern and Pacific would wreak havoc on my inner biology. During my last visit, I took a redeye flight, landing at Newark Liberty just before dawn to enjoy the sunrise and join early commuters on their way to work on the NJ Transit train, but that afternoon I crashed hard.

This time around, I took an afternoon-evening flight and slept around 3-ish, playing with my niece (who had to go to school in the morning, yikes) and ended up beginning my day in earnest around 2 p.m.

I got to walk around the Upper West Side along Amsterdam Ave, making a personal errand for snacks and groceries at Key Food Supermarket on Amsterdam and 86th. Though not new, culture shock re-set in as I almost forgot how compact and dense the supermarket experience is in NYC: Relatively small store footprint, baskets, not carts, narrow aisles, shelves stacked high, yet you can still find pretty much everything you need here.

I also got to visit my “regular” Halal food cart on 86th and Broadway. Not The Halal Guys, but a relatively generic one found all over NYC. The chicken/lamb combo over rice is what I’ve been getting at this cart since 2015, so that functioned as my defacto lunch/dinner for the day.

Adventures In Babysitting
Later that evening, I got to babysit my niece as my sister and brother-in-law went to her school to attend a parents’ welcome dinner event. She was taking a nap when they left, which only meant she woke up to much tantruming when they were gone. So I did what this uncle did best, and tried to distract her by promising I’d take her to her parents to kill some time. One outside, she stopped crying and I carried her along the streets of the Upper West Side. At first I unsuccessfully tried to distract her with ice cream from the local Van Leeuwen, but she wasn’t into it. Then we walked around the corner and stopped into the Danish postmodern trinket store Flying Tiger on Columbus to provide massive distractions. But her parents left the dinner early and went home, and we headed back to the apartment. Walking a nearly five year-old up nine flights of stairs is no small feat.

The City That Never Sleeps (Mostly)
With the rest of the family asleep, I felt I had to venture out of the Upper West Side for a bit. So I took a brisk 11 p.m. walk down Broadway and passed the post-concert crowds leaving Lincoln Center. It was a relatively warm night, in the upper 60s. I took a light jacket with me, but later in my walk I ended up taking it off. I was also attracted to the sight of a new, extremely tall and narrow skyscraper being built in the distance, which gave me a spontaneous destination. I soon learned it’s called 111 West 57th Street, an 82-story, 1,428 foot-tall luxury supertall condo that, when completed next year, will be the 3rd tallest building in NYC. The development also incorporates Steinway Hall (yes, the same Steinway of piano maker fame) in its lower stories. Cater-corner to it is another legendary music venue – Carnegie Hall. And in the distance glowed the lights of Times Square, a place I haven’t visited since 2015. So, it beckoned as the next spontaneous destination.

New York is famously called “The City That Never Sleeps.” The connotation isn’t exactly true – the city actually does sleep, and even though state law allows bars to be open until 4 a.m., most of them actually close at midnight during weeknights. The 24-Hour City axiom, however, is true at Times Square, a location powered equally by electricity and tourist revenue. Stores and restaurants are open well past midnight. The farther one goes from Times Square, the earlier the activity ceases.

Although Times Square was not a new sight to me, I did walk up the now-iconic TKTS Red Steps in the middle of Times Square, a sort of de facto bleacher section for tourists to ogle at The So-Called “Crossroads Of The World” where various residents from different part of the world gather for selfies and even romantic moments. I took a sardonic selfie and posted it on Instagram. But then I realized that I can take pics and selfies here with no shame, as the Red Steps functioned as a safe space for tourists – and though I was not new to NYC, I was still one of them.

I also realized here that I already had a history in NYC. It was here in Times Square that I stayed at the Marriott Marquis Hotel during a family trip in 1991.

New York is famously called “The City That Never Sleeps.” The connotation isn’t exactly true – the city actually does sleep, and even though state law allows bars to be open until 4 a.m., most of them actually close at midnight during weeknights. The 24-Hour City axiom, however, is true at Times Square, a location powered equally by electricity and tourist revenue.

I continued to walk south until 43rd street or thereabouts, right at the foot of the location where the legendary ball drop happens every New Year’s. I ate a $3 bag of roasted candied cashews as a snack and decided to walk back uptown, passing the Ed Sullivan Theater where I had seen tapings of both David Letterman and Stephen Colbert’s Late Shows in 2015, and then elected to board the 1 train (at the base of the Tr*mp International Tower of all places) back to the Upper West Side instead of walking back all the way. I boarded a 2 train but realized after consulting a map that the 79th Street station only served the 1, so I got off at 66th Street and waited a few more minutes for the 1 to arrive. At 79th Street, after alighting my train, I saw a rare NYCTA Maintenance Of Way train speed by on the express track.

In NYC, they pick up the trash all night long (all night).

The Last Haul
As I walked back to the apartment, I noticed a NYC Sanitation trash truck picking up trash along Amsterdam. It was about 1:30 in the morning. I had no idea trash pickup happens late into the night.

So maybe this really is a city that never sleeps.

NYC/Pittsburgh 2019 (Day 1): Vacation, All I Ever Wanted


It’s about that time again for a vacation. I realized that I never took a formal vacation in 2018. Although I did take a business trip to Atlanta and did the required two Summer and Winter jaunts to the Owens Valley, I didn’t an actual vacation. So I vowed to take one. To my chagrin, my U.S. passport expired in January (with only two countries visited, and one of them was just Canada), so this trip will have to be another domestic one.

For the past few half decade, my usual travel destination was New York City, mainly to visit my (then-) baby niece. Since she’s turning five, it’s another visit during an odd-numbered year to NYC, but since I’m King of The Sidetrip, where I need to visit someplace new, this vacation will also include the city of Pittsburgh, PA.

Now, I have been to NYC seven times — in 1991, 1993, 1999, 2003, 2014, 2015 and 2017. All of those visits, save for 2003 (where I flew into Providence, RI and visited NYC via car) and 2014 (where I took a cross-county, 3-day, 2-train Amtrak trip by rail) involved flying into Newark Liberty International Airport. It just seemed logical to fly into an airport where you can see the NYC skyline, plus JFK seemed so far away looking at a map. But this time, I just wanted a different experience, so JFK was it.

Also, in my 2017, 2015 visits and 2014 flight home, I’ve flown Virgin America, LED lighting and in-flight safety video and all. But due to Alaska Airlines’ acquisition of Virgin, and because I have some semblance of frequent flyer mileage with them, I flew Alaska.

Alaska Flight 468.

It’s Time To Fly
Being someone who doesn’t fly too much, I’m not as jaded about flying as most people are. I always think of flying in an airplane as a special event. I was able to get to LAX Terminal 6 two hours before flight time and had a lunch/dinner at The Habit’s in-terminal location, feasting on an Ahi Tuna burger and some sweet potato fries (not bad, actually, and not as expensive as I thought).

That gave me time for a brief wait to board Flight 468 to JFK. The actual flight was okay, save for a few things:

  • Due to my Saver fare, I had to settle for the middle seat.
  • This was a Boeing 737 and not an Airbus A320, thus a noisier ride and no video screens. 🙁
  • Because of no video screens, no more Virgin America safety video, or any safety video for that matter. Also, no flight tracker. None of that.
  • I had to settle for a very expensive ($39.95) Gogo in-flight internet. Which wasn’t very fast, and wouldn’t allow any streaming. Bleah.
  • They served me a ginger ale and a small pack of cookies.

On the positive side, there was a very strong tailwind that had us arrive at JFK almost an hour earlier than scheduled. Also, aside from flying over Chicago, it was pretty much all clouds below us, so there was nothing really to see out the window during most of the flight anyway.

The first thing I see after exiting the jetway.
How very nice.
Whoa, wayfinding. This is the hall right after the Baggage Claim area and before the curb.

JFK, Blown Away, What Else Do I Have To Say?
Flight 468 touched down at 11:05 p.m. EDT. There was some mighty long taxiiing involved. Right away, my preconceptions about JFK were wrong: I can also see the NYC skyline from the airport. As I disembarked the plane and felt my first whiff of terrestrial air (and a sense of the weather from the jetway gap), I noticed the jetway led to a long, winding set of ramps to the actual terminal waiting area, which was unusually small. After a quick restroom break (which helps pass the baggage claim waiting time), it was on through a narrow hallway, and some stairs going down a level to the baggage claim area. As expected, I found my bag already on the carousel and went on my way. I was looking for the AirTrain, which leads me to the Jamaica, Queens train station. It was pretty dang straightforward, with some good wayfinding and some pretty nice aesthetics, at least as far as this terminal was concerned. I followed the arrow and walked in a straight line and once out of the building, I crossed the road and into the AirTrain terminal to take the elevator up. Total time elapsed from wheels-down to AirTrain terminal: 25 minutes. Wow, I was blown away. Impressive.

All Aboard…TheAirTrain!
Both the Newark and JFK airports are run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and both have an inter-terminal rail systems that connect to outside transit. In AirTrain JFK’s case, it’s an 8.1-mile system running since 2003 that connects to both an NYC Subway station (Howard Beach) and a joint NYC Subway/Long Island Railroad transit center (Jamaica Station). I headed for the latter, with the interest of taking a 23-minute LIRR commuter train into Penn Station. Aside from waiting twice the normal time due to maintenance, I was impressed. I also noticed JFK Airport was not so much a conventional airport, but a neighborhood of several terminal buildings. The train, which is totally automated and runs on conventional standard-gauge rails (i.e. not a monorail) really flew through the airport and over the Van Wyck Expressway. Finally, the tracks curved east onto the equally-impressive-looking Jamaica Station, where many passengers had to buy NYC MetroCards (a $5.00 fee) to leave the turnstiles. I also bought a $2.75 subway ride (a combo option exists on the ticket machines) for my connecting train after Penn Station.

That architecture…
The 12:16 to Penn Station.

Heading To Penn
Being off-peak, trains weren’t that frequent, and I just missed a Penn Station-bound train if it weren’t for still orienting myself with the station, I bought a LIRR ticket ($7.75) to Penn Station and got down to Track 2, where I had to wait 15 minutes for the next train. It was there I finally realized, looking across the tracks to a lonely street with a couple buildings, that I was actually in New York City. You just have to stop amidst the travel rigmarole to actually appreciate and realize where you are. The train finally arrived and I sat in a bumpy, mostly-empty commuter train through suburban Queens heading west to Penn Station, with one stop at Woodside. Soon enough, I was at the subterranean platform at Penn Station, and pulled my one checked luggage up the stairs into the terminal. It was familiar territory, although I had to quickly glance at a Subway map to confirm that I was getting on the 1 train. The Subway entrance wasn’t very far from where I got off at, as opposed to the NJ Transit train from Newark which alights at the opposite side of the station (and a long trek to the Subway).

The Uptown 1 train.

Again dealing with an off-peak schedule, I had to wait some 16 minutes for the next Uptown 1 train. Finally, it took me on a half-dozen stop final trek to my destination, my sister’s apartment in the Upper West Side.

79th & Broadway, Upper West Side, here I am again.

Hello Again
To my surprise I saw and smelled the fallen rain on the ground, which I did not see at JFK or Jamaica. This was already familiar territory and I was soon at my sister’s place, with my brother-in-law greeting me and helping me schlep the checked luggage up the stairs, where my kindergarten-aged niece was waiting for me to a big hug. Traveling involves the sight of many strangers, but it’s all worth it once you see some familiar faces.

I also realized that the total time from landing-to-final destination from JFK was exactly the same as from Newark: Two hours.

25 Random Facts About Me

  1. I am a certified crocodile hunter. No, I’ve never killed one, but I know how to capture one. It’s really not as hard as it looks.
  2. On December 9, 2004, I was supposed to get married to a beautiful young woman named Angelica. But three days before the wedding, she just…vanished. I never heard from her again. I don’t know whether she decided to bolt or if something tragic happened to her. I’m all over her now, but that thought still haunts me to this very day. Okay, maybe just a little.
  3. At the age of 8, I inadvertently saved a man’s life when I accidentally lobbed a baseball into a man’s chest in Griffith Park. I felt real bad about it until my parents told me years later that he was having a heart attack and the strike from the baseball likely unclogged his arteries.
  4. I was a finalist for the 1982 California State Spelling Bee but an unfortunate bout with the chicken pox that week caused me to miss the final rounds and drop out of the competition. Damn.
  5. I have two godsons and one goddaughter. One of my godsons is a tailback for the Michigan State Spartans. Way to go, Eddie!
  6. While waiting for a bank of elevators, I have the uncanny ability to predict when the next elevator cab arrives without any sort of visual reference.
  7. As an infant, after a convulsive reaction to an immunization shot, I was dead – for five minutes. I obviously survived that incident.
  8. I have a fear of dragons. Chinese New Year makes me feel uneasy.
  9. My favorite English word: “perturb.”
  10. I never tell people this, but in high school, I was on the archery team. Even though my high school never had an archery team.
  11. I like to put gummi bears in my coffee.
  12. Guilty pleasure 80s movie: “Robot Jox.”
  13. I can actually hear dog whistles. Really faintly, though.
  14. My favorite part-time job ever: Junkyard car compactor guy.
  15. I am allergic to donuts.
  16. When I was younger, I used to harbor a deep hatred towards Canadians. But I have since learned to be more accepting of their ways.
  17. Though I grew up as the “first-born” in my family, I am actually the second-born in a set of twins. But my parents, who were very poor at the time, gave up my fraternal twin sister for adoption. When our family’s financial situation improved, we began a search for my twin sister, but unfortunately, after all these years, we’ve come up empty so far. 🙁
  18. My favorite Spanish word: “molcajete.”
  19. My favorite pet as a child: A goldfish named “Horsie.”
  20. Many people know me as a singer, keyboard player or bassist, but my main instrument is the crystal glasses.
  21. Worst childhood memory: Walking home from school and being attacked by bullies throwing grapefruit at me. Despite that ordeal, it never affected my ability to eat grapefruit.
  22. Celebrity enocounter: I met veteran TV news anchor Walter Cronkite and asked him an important question. His response, “Sorry, I don’t think I can find your sister, but I wish your family the best of luck.”
  23. I collecting hotel key cards.
  24. When people ask me what’s the best song I ever wrote, I tend to evade the subject. The reason why is because someone plagiarized it…and I failed to copyright the damn thing. I feel sooooo stupid about that. And no I won’t tell you what song it is and who plagarized it.
  25. If you’ve read this far, congratulations! And I’ll take this opportunity to let you know that NONE of the above facts about me is true! I made all that crap up! Bahahahahahhh…Okay, okay one of them is true. But I won’t tell you which one. Hope you’re amused. Thanks for reading!


Blahnik blahnik blahnik

Getting Organized to Start Off 2018

Starting Off in Grand Fashion

Happy New Year! Manigong Bagong Taon! Feliz Año Nuevo! I spent last night ringing in the New Year at Grand Park in Downtown Los Angeles, which has been doing their #NYELA event for the past five New Year’s Eves. I’ve gone to them every other year (to ring in the even years, incidentally – 2014, 2016 and now 2018) and each time the event has gotten better. Centered around a high-tech digital projection show on the west face of Los Angeles’ City Hall (which turns 90 this year), what started out as a quiet projection show has now blossomed into a multi-stage music event with a small fireworks display at the stroke of midnight. The crowd was large, and grows every year, but very lively, very civil, and not too packed where one can’t move around. I was even able to meet up with my friend Maya in front of the main stage below City Hall just in time to see the big show at midnight (my own video above). Los Angeles has come a long way since the anticlimactic lighting of the Hollywood Sign as an anemic attempt to ring in the new millennium.

To My Heart’s Content

I’ve had this site for over five years but have really neglected the potential of this blog (paying my annual hosting fee for nothing more than a glorified email server…), citing things like procrastination and wasting time on Facebook, among other things. But since we’re starting off the year, a time when people traditionally make resolutions, this is actually a fulfillment of one of them.

During my nearly 10 year-long love/hate relationship with Facebook, I’ve been prone to sharing my original jokes, memes, musings, and life experiences on my FB posts, but because of the sudden discontinuation of (and sister Gothamist sites) in November of last year (hey, this is the first time I referenced 2017 as “last year,” cool…), whereby over a decade of content was gone forever, leaving their writers with nothing to link past work with for future opportunities, or even the use archived articles for historical reference, it gave me pause to wonder, “How much of my online content online do I actually own?” The content on Facebook is, for all intents and purposes, the property of Zuck and Co., and not mine or yours. If one day FB were ever to go Error 404 on us, then…our prized moments, photos, videos and other posts would be gone forever. Since I own this blog, and have the whole WordPress thing set up anyway, I might as well use it. So here goes…

Annual Traditions

The biggest New Year’s Day tradition here in Southern California is an internationally-recognized floral procession followed by a collegiate football match. Many people have various New Year’s Day traditions; in the past I’ve spent The First Day Of The Year doing things like going to family parties, hiking, attending church, going on a bike ride, going to a brunch hosted by some new friends I just met the night before, or just vegging out at home. This year was more like the latter, but with a purpose: It’s time to get organized, yo.

Email organization

Into the “2017” folder you go, email from last year!

I decided to just spend the day at home getting things in order aside from cleaning up my room, I also devoted time to organizing my email folder [above], moving all my mail from last year into the “2017” folder, deleting all unnecessary email (marketing/list email, “me too” replies and the like, while archiving any emails that contributed to my life story over the past 12 months) and starting from a near-empty inbox.

Photo folder archives

How I organize all my archived cell phone pics on my PC. And yes, I rock both a PC and Mac.

Another New Year’s ritual is the (Semi-) Annual Archival Of My Cell Phone’s Photos and Videos. Since I got my first digital camera in 2001, I have made it a point to regularly move my photos off of the memory card and into year-organized folders on my computer (with subfolders organized by month – named as “01_January,” “02_February” etc. so they will show up in chronological, and not alphabetical, order on the computer). Not only does it free up memory for the card, but it also allows for an archive of my photos. That way, if I need to recall a photo from a certain event, I can simply call it up by date. And thanks to the high amount of available data storage in memory cards, and the more ubiquitous use of phones as both still and video cameras, I do this archiving thing every January and July, starting off with a blank DCIM directory twice a year. I also back up these photo directories onto an external hard drive for safekeeping.

New year standards

Yes, I actually filled a whole page with “2018” handwritten 156 times. Because that’s just how I roll.

On a decidedly less technical realm, here’s an annual New Year’s tradition I’ve done since I was in elementary school: Getting used to writing the new year [above]. Due to habit, most of us are still prone to writing the previous year on homework, on reports, on checks or other sorts of documents. So to combat that, I forced myself to do “standards” and write the name of the new year repeatedly on a piece of paper. That way, training myself via muscle memory would get used to me writing out the new year.

I guess I should be ready to face 2018, now that I’m organized, or at least somewhat so. Let’s see if I can consistently keep up this blogging thing…