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Christmas Eve in Atlantic City

Posted by evankessler on January 10, 2011

Bally's Casino

Image by Paul Lowry via Flickr

Christmas time brings about a dilemma for many a Jew Yorker. Though there are heaps of our ilk spread across the five boroughs, the Christian holiday is still often regarded as an opportune time for many people, chosen or not, to spend a few days visiting the lands from whence they or their significant others came in order to be closer to family or just warmer/different environs.

So with the holiday frost nipping at my heels and the prospect of being a lonely Jew on Christmas cooped up in my Brooklyn apartment with no one to play with–as many of my faithful and faithless friends took the low road out of town– I pondered my own brief escape from the frigid prison of cinema and Chinese food. I came up with a plan that amused me so.

ATLANTIC CITY!

I wasn’t so sure that the East Coast’s Las Vegas of depression (the west coast’s being Reno) was even open on Christmas Eve, but the more I pondered this plan, the crazier and more enticing it became. The last time I’d been to that particular stretch of the Jersey Shore, I’d emerged a winner to the tune of $800 (thanks Donald Trump!).  Being recently unemployed, I figured that kind of luck might do me some good in the wallet department. Plus, as someone who enjoys new and odd experiences, I figured you couldn’t beat a Casino on Christmas Eve in terms of depravity.

With two days ‘til Christmas, I spent a large portion of my evenings brushing up on Blackjack situations with digital outings on Yahoo! Games. And just when losing fake money began to cast serious doubt, my faith in the probability of reward was restored when both a TV show I was watching and a song I was listening to mentioned casino situations. These were sure signs that fate was calling me to that boardwalk without ill intentions.

When Christmas Eve morning came, I had a few things to sort out before I could make my AC run. Feed roommate’s cats, check; file unemployment claim, check; Stop at the bank and take out $200, check; turn off irresponsibility sensors, check! Atlantic City here we come!

Now one can’t magically teleport to Atlantic City just yet, but I’d be willing to invest any future winnings on the furthering of such technology as it would help to avoid the encounter with the cavalry of the downtrodden that line up for the buses that leave every half-hour from the Academy bus gates at the Port Authority of New York. It’s an assemblage of various financially-strapped but morbidly obese, blue-haired elderly, and faux-high rollers that spend $35 round trip hoping to meet the tattered-dress-wearing, cigarette-dangling, bleached-blonde version of lady luck who spends most of her time– be it summer or winter– on the Atlantic City boardwalk courting the lonely and desperate for one night stands. She may not be the sexiest girl in town, but you wouldn’t kick her out of bed–at least until the nicotine stench started to attach itself to your clothes and everything else in the room.

With teleportation yet to become an option, I endured the two-and-a-half hour slog down the 130-mile stretch of highway towards destiny. Contrary to popular myth, this bus ride wasn’t all sweet dreams and rose petals. The requisite discomfort that accompanies even the briefest stints on public transportation became apparent even before leaving the station as several passengers took the opportunity to relieve themselves in the bathroom. Not that this is the improper place to do so; it’s just that doing so that early into a road trip tends to give the recycled bus air that not so pleasant aroma with an undesirable immediacy, to be coped with throughout the entirety of the journey.

Not to be outdone in the malodorous bouquet department, the woman sitting next to me unveiled a fully dressed Subway sandwich reeking of pungent processed meat and vinegar; several strands of dried out, confetti-like lettuce hanging out from a compressed region of submarine sandwich siphoned the scent towards my nostrils, like an excited toddler shooting down a waterslide.

I knew what I was getting into before choosing to make this trip, but the accompanying misery of transportation had somehow presented itself as appeal. That misrepresentation was now abundantly clear. To combat my foul-scented surroundings I turned my focus to literary matters, having a copy of Mark Twain’s “The Innocents Abroad” at my fingertips and an iPod full of 9,000 plus options blasting distraction into my ears. My pilgrimage to personal gain had been gifted with a certain amount of tunnel vision, lest an unforeseen distraction should arise. The only thing resembling such a distraction were the two reasonably attractive ladies seated behind me, whose presence seemed quite the heavenly apparition in a bus full of degenerate gamblers hellbound for the holidays. I would’ve attempted to engage them, but they were enrapt in conversation from the get-go and they presented nary an entry point, so rather than butt-in, I minded my own.

From my previous experiences on the road to Atlantic City, I had always remembered the trip as being a straight shot without any stops, but this route suggested otherwise. The bus took refuge at a few New Jersey rest stops, the most amusingly named being the “Cheesequake” rest stop. The naming powers that be must have run out of inspiration while conjuring names to honor with fast food commerce for in the midst of such notable historical contributors as Vince Lombardi, James Fenimore Cooper, and Clara Barton they took a moment to acknowledge and appease the gods who might rain such a dairy natural disaster upon unfortunate turnpike travelers. Though, personally I may have gone with the more likely to occur Dark Chocolate Hurricane.

After more than 2 hours of cramped travel, the signs were encouraging. We could be getting closer to our destination, and just like came an actual physical road sign that alerted us that Atlantic City was nigh. The shame of it was that I had to put my book away mid-chapter, but the excitement and fortune that lay on the horizon were certainly worth it. The gambling haven was in plain sight. Our bus was scheduled to make the Showboat Casino its ultimate destination. I had never been to this particular establishment and was looking forward to it, if only because I spent the entire trip trying to figure out which song that I like contains a mention of “the Showboat Casino Hotel” (that would be Cracker’s “Happy Birthday to Me”).

When the bus pulled into the Casino’s individual station, the crowd sprung excitedly from their temporary perch ready to take the slots and tables (but mostly slots) by storm. Unfortunately, before anyone leaves the bus in this situation a Casino representative must be fetched so that they may present individual visitors with their $25 gambling coupon to be used only on slot machines. One young man–who had only taken the bus as transport to family for the holiday– was reprimanded by a few silver foxes when he tried to leave the bus for fear that he might get first dibs on the coupon. The prospect of one person gaining a gaming advantage had turned this cooped up bunch into a pack of petty, ravenous animals.

After 5 minutes more of waiting on the bus, the Showboat Casino representative arrived and people began to disembark, but with one new wrinkle– the bus was now stopping at Bally’s. Half of the passengers had had enough and made their cash grab where the bus stood, while the other half stayed on at the prospect of being let off at Bally’s. I was to be counted among the latter. It’s not that I necessarily had a preference towards one over the other, rather in my previous experience at Bally’s I remembered the coupon being recoupable for cash, which I preferred over having to spend $25 on slots. And if you’re playing 5ç slots with $25 to spare, that amounts to something like 500 slot plays, so you’d much rather have the cash.

Once the bloodlust for Showboat Casino coupons came to a close, our bus was cleared to make its final descent into Bally’s, where the coupon anticipation act repeated itself in a more civilized fashion, the only disappointment being that my remembrance of a $25 cash prize was, in fact, a mirage.  I entered the building with a Casino card and a ticket for $25 that I was told was to be slipped into the slot machine with an accompanying card. Despite several tries to convert my ticket to slot credits in the vast archipelago that is the Jackpot Islands, I was more or less lost in a sea of casino card technology. I took my leave for the cozy confines of a card table.

Scouring the Blackjack Table minimums I came upon several $15 tables that bookended those with $25 minimums. I found an end table with an open seat to my liking and peeled $120 out of my wallet. Mumundkumar, the friendly dealer, accepted my cash challenge, exchanging it for a fresh batch of $5 and $10 chips.

I can’t say things went bad or good for the first stretch. My tablemates and I were in a perpetual state of equilibrium; you win some, you lose some. Though there was a tender moment between myself and my immediate neighbor–a Plaxico Burress look-alike with a blinding diamond ring on his right hand– when we both hit on hands on 14 and 16 respectively only to be rewarded with a 7 and 5. The result was a celebratory high-five that was not at all awkward.

Excitement and camaraderie aside, the hands that Mumundkumar–or Mac as he preferred to be called– weren’t that kind to us. I was probably down $40 when his replacement, Xiao, took control of the card shoe. I didn’t fare quite as bad with this new dealer and I was somewhere around $30 in the black when Mac came back. The charade of false hope went on for another several minutes before I was down to my final $5 and had to dig out another Andrew Jackson in the hopes he’d veto the Impending Poverty Act of 12/24/10. But Mac’s next two hands pushed the bill through anyway.

Dejected and unsure of my immediate gambling future, I took to the boardwalk to suss out a food option and ponder the value in making further get rich quick attempts versus deciding to pack it up and cut my losses . Remembering that it was 6pm on Christmas Eve, I knew I’d have to scramble back towards a casino-sanctioned eatery to fill my poor belly. Luckily, I happened upon a Nathan’s and indulged in some of their famous fare before pulling myself up by my bootstraps and back onto the road of Atlantic City triumph.

I contemplated a move to the Taj Mahal, the site of my previous successful outing and took a stroll through Caesar’s Palace, but in my obsessive compulsive heart of hearts, I didn’t want to leave with the feeling that I had let Bally’s beat me. It didn’t hurt that I knew somewhere Bally’s had $10 minimum tables and those might stop or at least slow the hemorrhaging of money from my wallet. I decided to seek them out.

My search took me from the plain, classy wing of Bally’s to the gimmick-laden Wild West Casino extension, where there was a bar charging for $2 drafts just feet from any table where your alcohol was guaranteed free. I managed to locate the precious $10 tables in this region, but such tables were popular with other hard up folks. Instead, I plunked myself down at another $15 minimum table complete with a sexy-wild west lass emblazoned on the façade as Tim McGraw’s “Indian Outllaw” blared through the speakers.  I couldn’t see my dealer’s name, as her hair covered her nametag, but I figured I had plenty of time to be sociable and learn.

Mystery dealer was relatively friendly when it came to leaving my small fortune in tact; she may have even tacked on a 20-spot or two. All I know is that I had more than what I started with when I first cashed into the table and that made me less count conscious. Instead I was able to enjoy the ebb and flow of the game. You win some, you lose some; you don’t get too far down. After 40 minutes or so of ups outweighing downs, my new, somewhat profitable acquaintance took her leave never to return. In her place, arrived a somewhat more attractive dealer of Southeast Asian descent, with an overly friendly disposition.

Seated at a nearly perpendicular angle to her, I could not spy her nameplate and strike up conversation. I was waiting for her to spin towards me so I could grab a glance at her tag, only when she finally did she resembled her predecessor in that there was a stream of hair flowing over where I would normally spy her name. I did however catch a B and two L’s interrupted by her black strands. I assumed her name was “Belle” but couldn’t get over the thought that she didn’t look like a Belle or Bella or anything involving a B and two L’s.

As “Belle” continued to deal, my pile of chips began to look about as healthy and wealthy as a pile could look when using the wisdom of playing by the blackjack book. I had easily gained back my losses for the evening, if not broke into the black yet again.

The vibe of the table was an extremely positive one. Seated along with me were three African-American men of varying ages. One heavyset 20-something year-old that had the demeanor reminiscent of the local aged wise man whom had seen it all before. The next man was the actual elderly man, who while maybe not wise was certainly sleepy, and the third just a calm, cool and collected middle-aged guy who kept quiet but wasn’t above the occasional excitement. During our time together at the table it felt as though we were all amassing small fortunes. The table sage kept a running commentary of encouragement in a gentle, assuring tone throughout our tenure together even during tough hands.

“That’s okay. You played the hand right. It’s all gonna come back to you.”

“There it is. As long as you do what you’re supposed to do you’re going to come out a winner.”

“Alright, nice play. You got it, I told you.”

“You can’t help what happens with the dealer. Just play your game.”

With his positive demeanor, consistent flow Confucius-like wisdom and tee-ball coach encouragement, you’d think he was doing much better than he actually was. I didn’t notice it through the haze of good vibes he was sending everyone’s way, but he was actually losing. I soon realized he was betting more than the $15 minimum despite having at one point warned against going too high above it.  He ducked out for a few hands and exchanged another $20 for chips before saying his final goodbye to the table.

Somewhere in that final stretch of the near 2 hours spent being peppered with affirmations an older white gentleman joined the table, best described as a cross between Larry David and Alan Arkin, only severely lacking in affable nature and good humor. Upon the previous table cheerleader’s exit, he tried to assume the throne of table morale raiser. When 10s, face cards, or Aces were handed out to any player, he’d shout “that’s the name of the game” before the dealer displayed that players second card in the hope they’d been dealt a blackjack. It was an admirable attempt, but not exactly inspiring. And after hearing it two to three times during every hand it began to be somewhat grating–you might say slightly more grating than the Casino’s soundtrack of outdated pop songs, none of which post-dated early 2003.

Also joining the table, in the vacant middle slot, were a duo of older white southern gentlemen. I use the term “gentleman” loosely not to represent mannered men, rather to denote their being most likely in possession of male genitalia and on the verge of incoherent drunkenness. One of the pair was actually engaged in the game of cards, the other undertook the brotherly duties of propping him up and explaining to him that he couldn’t take action on other people’s hands. Their demeanors were also quite different. The soused and skinny senior Private Pyle was angry and unfriendly, while his bald and bearded buddy was a regular good time Charlie, laughing whole-heartedly at his friend’s expense in guttural bursts and exclamations in my general direction each time he chose to stay on 8 or hit on 19.

Their act grew tiresome and somewhat uncomfortable. The drunker and more ornery of the two frequently threatened violence against his friend if he didn’t let him play the way he wanted to play, while the more jolly one just got obnoxiously louder and more prone to pointing out his friend’s inadequacies. At one point a space opened up next to the drunker southerner and a young woman volunteered her chips to play there, but the Pyle shooed her away because he didn’t want the distraction of having to see her cards in his line of vision.

The uncomfortable vibe continued on through the alternating of two dealers. The lovely “Belle” with the pleasant demeanor was temporarily replaced by Anthony, a tall, crooked-toothed, salt-and-pepper jheri curl wearing dealer who wore his daddy issues on his sleeve– as evidenced by the fact he introduced himself by saying, “You can call me Anthony, or just call me a bum like my father used to.”

Anthony was a little clumsy with the cards, but he still did a somewhat admirable job. He may not have been the ideal casino dealer, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t effectively and consistently gather chips from the losing hands he doled out. My recently amassed fortune was slowly depreciating under his watchful eye, but had been cushioned enough and was periodically replenished so as not to induce panic. Anthony’s dealing inconsistencies caught up with him on one hand as “David/Arkin” decided he was going to split a pair of 9’s against the dealer’s 7. But before he could get to show his intentions, Anthony passed over him assuming he would stay as he was showing a winning hand. It wasn’t unjustified as most of us at that table wouldn’t have split that hand. It’s not what the book says to do and aside from drunk and disorderly to my right, we were all pretty much using that standard.

His presumptive split skipped over, un-fun David/Arkin let his displeasure be known in the most passive of manners, despite the fact that he had won the hand. Throughout the next hour-and-a-half or so he was a master of passive aggression, continually dropping hints that he would be a whole twenty-dollars richer if not for Anthony’s blatant disregard for his unlikely maneuvers. I believe there was even another dealing stint with “Belle” before Anthony returned and the entire situation came to a head, As the pit boss came to welcome another player to the table, Arkin mumbled something about Anthony owing him twenty bucks. The mumble grew to a grumble and ultimately to a roar.

The game was stopped and a debate raged with Anthony and the pit boss for ten minutes. The table all but cleared out and the grumpy gambler had won the day as he received a voucher for twenty-whole-dollars! The commotion managed to clear out most of the table including the pair of belligerent Dixie drunkards and the game resumed with Anthony still dealing. The instigator of the commotion was so utterly proud of his self, but realized that everyone else still present was mighty perturbed at the interruption. He tried to lighten the mood, justifying his actions as a means to an end for clearing out our unruly neighbors and wearing that like a badge. But at least they had created some laughable, if frightening entertainment.

“Belle” returned soon thereafter and proved to be a boon to my profits. I had managed to go from just above even to close to about $105 in the red for the evening under Anthony’s reign. But “Belle” bought back an air of calm to the table along with good fortune. When it threatened to be just me and the complaint department at the other end of the table, a boatload of Korean tourists quickly filled up the seats keeping us company for quite some time, followed by a Darius Rucker look alike that somehow managed to look younger while having a sprinkling of salt in his hair.

The latter sat with his girlfriend who when one of the Koreans dropped out found a spot at the table. It was during this relatively prosperous time I noticed “Belle’s” nametag again. I realized a “P” peaking out from behind her hair, ultimately coming to the realization that the dealer I’d come to know and love as “Belle” was not in-fact named Belle. I had only been reading the blanks surrounding B and L-L that went on to spell B-A-L-L-Y-‘S. It was a good thing I hadn’t felt comfortable enough to ask “Belle” any pertinent questions while mentioning her name. Then again, maybe I would have learned her actual name.

Despite my newfound lack of knowledge as to my friendly dealer’s first name, I pressed on in my quest to become more acquainted with an increasing amount of hundred dollar bills. My ultimate goal for the evening was to earn four-hundred-dollars or enough money to buy a new camera– preferably a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 or Canon Powershot S95, prior to my upcoming trip to New Zealand.

The David/Arkin hybrid soon left the table as did the Koreans and I found myself seated with Darius without his girlfriend to my right. The only wrinkle here was that Darius was not playing. He was watching me play, constantly applauding my decisions. It was a very awkward game of me vs. “Belle” with an enthusiastic audience of one.

Supremely confident in my blackjack skills, Darius started betting on my hands. If I bet $15, he’d put $15 more in my little circle. If I had to double down, he’d contribute to my double down pile. We were doing pretty well together. He continually used his winnings to tip the dealer and tip me. We regularly engaged in high fives and fist bumps when the thrill of victory arose and optimistic chatter when it didn’t. It was simultaneously thrilling and degrading. We were a team, but I was his lucky horse.  After a lengthy winning streak, I urged him to return to his own place at the table, as it was really awkward to play the dealer one-on-one like that. He did for a few hands and then said goodnight.

No one to play with, but the dealer and still with a goal in mind, I continued to battle “Belle” for my ultimate monetary reward. But the light sting of the occasional glass of bourbon and the heavy intake of above average oxygen levels began to have its effect on me. My eyelids, despite being told otherwise by the piping in of refreshing elements, had a heaviness about them– and a slight tinge of pain began pulsating within my temples.

I saw the money on the table, counting it at $380. That was $120 more than I had changed for chips. It wasn’t $400 plus, but it was a good haul. I pushed the entirety of my chips towards “Belle” signaling to her that I was done for the night and the morning– seeing as the clock at somehow managed to crawl to 2:53am.

“Changing $330!” screamed the friendly dealer to notify her pit boss.

Confused, I looked down at my chips certain I’d divided them into even piles and calculated the amount correctly. Then it hit me. At some point in the course of the evening the pile of 10 $25 chips suddenly morphed from $250 to $300 in my brain. She was right. It was only a $70 takeaway. While it was better than nothing, it was a definite disappointment.

I bid my new friend adieu and cashed in my non-fortune and headed towards the Bally’s bus port, reflecting on the past 12 hours. Had my AC outing been a success?

Well, let’s see; I had come in search of bizarre characters-check; holiday desperation-okay maybe a little bit; and a positive flow of cash into my wallet­–$70, could be worse. It would seem all my goals had been met, but a strange thing happened as I strolled through the last stretch of slot machines– I caught my a glimpse of myself reflecting on a flat stretch of metal illuminated by a dim, blinking display. I saw a tired, disheveled wreck of a 32-year-old whom traveled two-and-a-half hours to a casino on Christmas Eve to revel in the sadness of others and win enough money in order to buy a camera only to come up well short of his goal.  I was the exact person I had come to see.

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Posted in Gambling, games, holidays, human interest, humor, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Just So You Know, Everywhere Else Kinda Sucks

Posted by evankessler on December 10, 2010

Two months ago I booked a vacation to a distant swath of land well outside the borders of the United States. Soon after making my travel arrangements I noticed that my journey, scheduled for February 20 til March 10 of 2011, was in conflict with the expiration date on my passport. Luckily, this gave me more than a reasonable amount of time to renew the legal document that allows me,  a U.S. Citizen, to traverse the globe to nations accepting of such persons within their humble borders and giving them the temporary go ahead to intermingle with their native populace. My application for renewal was mailed out in the middle of November and, like clockwork, my renewed passport arrived today in the mail.

 

Shiny Happy Passport

The last few days have existed in anticipation of the moment I’d be cleared to for landing at a foreign airport. So knowing full well what the US Postal Service envelope sticking out of my mailbox was, I proceeded to tear it open with near-wreckless abandon in an utter frenzy of excitement. There it was, a sturdy blue booklet emblazoned with the words “Passport” and “United States of America.”  I proudly opened my authorization key to the rest of the world to examine its contents, but before I could even thumb through it I was savagely beaten over the head with an American flag.

The inside cover of my passport was adorned with “a lithograph of Moran Percy’s 1913 depiction of Francis Scott Key gesturing to the garrison flag flying above Fort McHenry on the morning of September 13, 1814″ (via No Caption Needed)  and accompanied by a lyrical excerpt from our own national anthem:

O say does that star spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave

The patriotism didn’t relent from there. The opposite page contained quotes by Abraham Lincoln from the Gettysburg Address:

“…And That Government of the People, By the People, For the People Shall Not Perish From the Earth.”

Having seemingly affirmed the greatness of the United States in no more than two fell swoops, the citizenship-establishing document finally got down to the nitty-gritty displaying the pertinent information of the passport holder (in this case, me) only to be add a reminder  on the opposing page that the United States is not only great because of what happened on the first two pages, but also because it has bald eagles and the constitution, and if you should decide to leave and never come back, you’ll never again get to see another bald eagle reading the constitution near an amber wave of grain.

But hold on, we’re not out of the Great American woods just yet. Whereas my old passport just seemed to have some innocuous, shaded pattern business going on in the background, each additional page on my new passport was replete with patriotic quotes and scenic wonders in between both shining seas. Cacti, Mount Rushmore, a New England Lighthouse, a Mississippi River Steamboat, the Rocky Mountains, the Liberty Bell, and yes the Statue of Liberty were all there as if to say, “we know you’re going somewhere else right now, but just so you know everywhere else kinda sucks.”

I’ll be sure to think about that when I’m scaling a hill along the far off coast of New Zealand, wishing I was leading a cattle drive North from Amarillo. I’ll hear the whistling wind blowing against the rocks and it’ll sound just like the voice of Dwight David Eisenhower saying, “Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must  first come to pass in the heart of America…and oh yeah, this place? Fuck this place.”


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Feeling Minnesota

Posted by evankessler on August 27, 2010

This past weekend the land mass of Minnesota , with it’s 10,000 moisture-filled pores known as Lakes, beckoned me to squeeze all of the life and excitement I could from the sponge-like state in a span of time others might deem entirely too brief to do anything of note. The challenge was to experience the vast array Midwestern American culture, wringing out all I could in the realms of cuisine, amusement, and general oddities all in a stretch lasting less than 84 hours.

Arriving at 1:30 CST in Minneapolis, I fully regret the three and a half hours it took for Operation Experience Minnesota to spring into action, but it was  a  detour since gathering friends together, renting cars and checking in to hotel rooms would ultimately serve us favorably in our stay in the Gopher State.

Having anticipated the journey weeks in advance, I came prepared with a bushel of activity to partake in. The most pressing matter upon our arrival was of the gastronomic variety. Throughout the course of this particular day, I had only had a bottle of fruit drink and some airplane peanuts; I was bordering on starving.

Gathering up a crew consisting of my high school friend Joe D, his wife JSarah, and a crew of Joe’s College housemates and their significant others; we made for the Minneapolis meat monument known as Matt’s Bar. Sure the name Matt’s Bar doesn’t call to mind anything spectacular. The moniker reminds one an insignificant small town dive along the lines of Moe’s Tavern; but Matt’s bar is so much more. It’s the home of the “Jucy Lucy.”

Matt's Bar: Home of the Jucy Lucy and Purveyor of Fine Budweiser

I Pledge Allegiance to Matt's Bar Its for Fine Meat and Cheese Fare

What, pray tell, is a “Jucy Lucy?” Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s a delicious burger with a molten cheese core and a renowned item on the list of Minneapolis culinary specialties.  It had to be tasted.  The six other members of the out of state crew agreed with my assessment.

We were able to procure a few tables in the back of the famed establishment after a brief wait and before even gazing upon the menu we all agreed what we were there for. Aiming to expedite our order, Laura (a member of our party) took it upon herself to round up the order so as to speak for the table when the waitress arrived. The preparation was all for naught as the waitress arrived and went on with her own system of taking orders simply blurting out, “How many Lucy’s? How many orders of fries?” She also had to go about the business of seeing the onion situation(fried, raw, no) for each individual burger. That hadn’t been accounted for in Laura’s original plan. The process was efficient nonetheless; and we tacked on a few pitchers of beer to go with our meaty delights.

The anticipation was great, but the wait didn’t seem too long. I was seated directly across from Steve and Laura who were situated below a wide-screen TV showing opening round games of the Little League World Series. This particular game was showing Minnesota vs. Texas and it seemed innate that I would be pulling hard for Minnesota to pull this one out despite being down 10-4 in the final inning. A brief tinge of excitement fell over me when the hometown heroes brought the game within a 2-spot with a grand slam, but that it all went downhill from there as they just couldn’t pull it out.

No matter, dinner was served. Placed before us, wrapped in sandwich paper, were our Jucy Lucys. The waitress instructed us to wait a few minutes lest we be scalded by the molten cheese inside. We obliged her warning, though I was definitely tempted to have a go at it. I opted to take my burger with fried onions au natural. I had read that you didn’t need to put any condiment embellishment on these delightful treats, so I tried to go as authentic as possible, just Jucy Lucy, me and a pint of Leinie.

Jucy Lucy Before

Slightly reluctant to scarf down the goodness in too few bites, my first nip revealed a very flavorful patty, but failed to draw first cheesy blood. The next bite was a different story. It wasn’t quite a Clint Malarchuk gusher, but it definitely would’ve warranted a trip to the emergency room if it were the result of sharp object on skin.

Jucy Lucy After

The yellow ooze was something more than just cheese on a burger. It was a flavorful burst of deliciousness that also served as a nice dipping sauce for the fries once it had settled onto the paper. The Jucy Lucy was indeed Juicy and a wonder for taste buds to behold. Part One of Operation Experience Minnesota was indeed a triumph.

The early goings of our experdition were not without casualties. Joes’s wife JSarah had suffered a bit of a neck strain/spasm earlier in the day prior to making the trip and it was not treating her kindly. So as we prepared for phase 2 of Mission Minneapolis, two key members of our team were knocked down for the count.

Like a Sergeant leaving behind two wounded soldiers (and a mediocre writer clinging on too tightly to war metaphors), we pressed on to achieve our objective; to have the most fun we possibly could during our one day in Minneapolis.

Using our next hour to recover from the “jucyness” of the lucy, the remaining revelers met in our hotel lobby at around 8pm. I had a plan in mind. I wanted to go to Nye’s – a bar so well-regarded that it had been named Best Bar in America by Esquire– as our first stop. My plans aside, I was only a small cog in part of a  group now. I wasn’t the only one who had ideas, so when Dan first suggested we go to Brit’s Pub, I reluctantly agreed with this as our first stop on the nightlife tour.

At first glance, Brit’s seemed like any other plain pub. For a gimmicky British Pub-type it had precious few options in the way of authentic British brews. Nothing, I couldn’t get at most bars in New York anyway. I voiced this opinion once, but refrained from anything else that might be construed as whiny because I realized it was silly. This place wasn’t so bad. It had Twins games and Rugby on the TV. No one was bumping anyone out of the way, so as to cause someone to spill their beer. This place was alright. Then we made the move to go upstairs and outside because Dan heard they had lawn bowling. I wasn’t too excited about lawn bowling since we have a few places to play Bocce here in Brooklyn, but once we made it outside I shut the hell up.

Brit's Impressive Lawn Bowling Expanse

Brit’s had an impressive, grassy expanse for which visitors could get competitive.  The well-manicured bowling green was unfortunately in use for a corporate event and we couldn’t partake in the festivities, but I was still impressed by the layout. We stayed at Brit’s for at least 3 beers before packing up our things and heading on to the next bar, but not before being joined by my good friend Matt and his wife Lindsay.

The next move was a bold one and one that I greatly approved of. Rather than grab a cab, we decided the night was too lovely and the next bar was too near. We walked through downtown Minneapolis seeing many impressive architectural specimens on the way til we came to a bridge that crossed the Mississippi River and brought us to Northeast Minneapolis where we were soon face to face with the aforementioned Nye’s Polonaise.

Along the way we saw a Mary Tyler Moore Statue...

and this lovely fountain scene...

before walking over...

the Mississippi River.

Nye’s seemed like a classic old-time bar. I don’t really know how to characterize it other than that. It had a long, dimly lit bar and older man with a foreign accent behind the bar. There was a tiny stage in the corner where instruments rested for the time being. Most of the people I encountered in the establishment were relatively attractive, but not overly hipster-ish. It had the general easygoing vibe of your local dive, but something more unique.

Nye's Polonaise!

A Classy Looking Joint

We arrived to find 7 available stools at the bar even though the vibe was anything but dead. Soon after our arrival the house polka band retook the stage and began steadily churning out standards. At one point I was sure I recognized one of the songs just from the first few notes as “Pennsylvania Polka” from the film Groundhog Day. Lo and behold, the singer started in on the lyrics. There was just something comforting at this bar as I sipped on Grain Belt and made easy conversation with an old friend. I felt like I was in Brooklyn.

Polka Your Eyes Out!

The night went on and my urgency to see all that I could see caught up with me. My friend Anna, a Minneapolite, recommended I check out U Otter Stop Inn for a dive-y karaoke bar. So our crowd gathered outside yet again, though we lost Matt and Lindsay, and off we went to the next stop.

Maybe We Otter Not

I’m not sure what I was expecting. Maybe I was spoiled by the great feel of the last 2 places, but U Otter Stop Inn was cramped and kind of annoying. Gopher and Viking Pride lined the walls and the crowd was a bit rowdy, though not completely out of hand. Part of me longed for civility, but also held on for somewhat of a unique experience. Instead, I just got your run of the mill cheap beer and some underwhelming karaoke without the thrill of participation.  I put in for a few karaoke songs, but was pretty sure I’d never get to hear them.

I have no idea what this song is.

Minnesota Pride

Rather than wait it out til the end of the night, we piled in a cab and headed back downtown where we ended our night at a place called The Local. After a beer or two it was closing time and we each headed back to our respective hotel rooms. At some point in the night Joe and his wife had made for the emergency room to deal with her neck issues. I returned home to the empty hotel room that the 3 of us had shared and passed out happily on the firm slab of heaven that was my bed.

I slept like an angel, even though at some point I heard Joe and JSarah tiptoe back into the room. I wasn’t waking up for anyone at that point. I was just too comfortable.

Not sure what time I woke up the next day, but I knew we’d be checking out soon after I did. Joe had secured a late checkout thanks to his emergency room visit. We didn’t hurry though. Steve, Dan, and company left before us for some breakfast and got a head start out west towards Spicer, where we were all headed for a wedding.

Our plan was to pick up Suli at the Airport and maybe catch up with them by the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Darwin, MN. It didn’t really work out that way. We got a later start than expected after grabbing brunch at The Local and having some issues with our GPS on the way to the airport. We eventually reached Suli waiting by pickup section of the Delta Terminal. He had been waiting a bit, but his trip was just beginning. All told it was probably the same amount of time he would’ve waited to rent a car.

So we were off. Not really much to do but drive west and wait to be enveloped by small town awesomeness. That awesomeness enveloped us about an hour and 25 minutes into our road trip. We had just stopped to get some water and take a bathroom break along Route 12 and been cruising along through towns with miniscule populations for close to a half hour when on the driver’s side Suli spied a wrestling ring surrounded by a crowd and with some townsfolk cheering on some grapplers. Someone in the car let out a “holy shit!” and before we knew it we were looking for a spot.

Hell Yes!

Upon parking and further investigation, we were about to witness the FLWA Wrestling and the Dassel Church of Christ’s Bible Slam 2010. At first we stood back as mere observers afraid of being pegged as outsiders. A match had just ended and the ringmaster was announcing another FLWA event two Sundays from the day. He encouraged the audience to make the scene, while also putting an accent on the importance of going to church that day too…or at least finding some time to go to church if you were going to go to wrestling on a Sunday. With that reverent proclamation, he proclaimed that it was time for a ten-minute intermission.

A Thing of Notable Importance in Dassel

JSarah and I took this as an occasion to wander around the town. We saw a sign for the Dassel Historical Society four blocks away and made for it with excitement as a way to pass the time between bouts. We were cut off as Joe and Suli pulled up in the car and told us to get in. Joe said someone gave him the finger and he wanted to leave due to feeling unwelcome. This was a bit of a red herring. Some woman in a car gave us the finger when we didn’t know if we could cross the street as she waited for us to cross. It wasn’t that big of a deal. It wasn’t as if the townspeople were waiting to sink their pitchforks in us. JSarah and I got in the car, but convinced Joe and Suli to pull over and stay awhile. We were going to see going to catch some of Bible Slam 2010 no matter how welcome or unwelcome we were.

Before the wrestling commenced there were some announcements and the ringmaster got some volunteers to throw out some Bible Slam shirts to the audience. Joe and I hooted and hollered but still didn’t get any of the precious apparel thrown our way. Sure we could have paid $5 for one from anyone in town, but we didn’t want to give them the feeling that small town folk were so novel and we were mocking them in anyway.

Once the shirts were all distributed, the next match was announced. The Challenger/Villain Sammy Savard took to the stage and started bashing the audience and the town of “Dass-hole,”(Dasshole) Minnesota and its inhabitants with repetitive banter and insults that made you think he was just waiting for them to announce his opponent. Luckily, the FLWA champion soon arrived.

” (Paul the ?)Psycopath” arrived in a Ghostbusters-like vehicle with his face plastered on the side of it. He sat in the back seat and the driver/orderly from the Mental institution came around to let him out.  Psycopath paraded around the stage…and that’s when all hell broke loose. You can see it below.

We didn’t stay for the entire match. Things got a bit ridiculous after awhile and we had a ball of twine to see. We were so close we could almost taste the quirkiness of the upcoming roadside attraction.  Several small towns later, we found ourselves parked across the Darwin, MN Gazebo that housed the Giant ball of twine 12 ft. in diameter. It loomed quite large, but didn’t make for a great photo op since the plexiglass that protected it was entirely too reflective. If only it had been a more cloudy day.

The Sign Says It All

The Picture Doesn't Say That Much

Eager to obtain further proof of my visitation, I went to Jack’s Tavern across the street to seal this momentous occasion with a souvenir shirt. I liked quite a few of the shirt designs, but most of them were either size XXL or only available in silly colors that I would never wear. After making the poor girl behind the counter remove nearly every single shirt I was going to have to settle on buying the first Medium of any shirt she found. I threw $16 her way and off we went towards Spicer; the site where our good friend Eric would be tying the knot the very next day.

Upon our arrival at the Willow Bay Resort, we rejoined our friends who had left ahead of us and made friendly conversation with the folksy proprietor of the establishment located on beautiful Nest Lake. The owner/manager was surprised when we asked him for the key since locking the door was not such a common occurrence in them there parts.

Our cabin situated above the front office/store, had quite the homey feel with a nice view of the lake. There was a living room and kitchen area and two bedrooms, one of which had a bunkbed in addition to the queen-sized. Each cabin also came equipped with it’s own grill and fire pit. We had stumbled into a bit of a rustic paradise for what was definitely a reasonable  rate.

Our Little Slice of Minnesota Heaven

The first order of business after settling into our temporary abode was to enjoy some soft adventure on the placid lake. There were a pair of kayaks, a paddle boat, and two water-bikes for the taking. Having a bit of kayak crush, I made my selection. We had several hours to kill before a booze cruise with the bride, groom, and other guests, so the lake was our chief source of entertainment prior to grilling some dinner, during which Dan impressed everyone with his ability to duplicate (to an extent) the “Jucy Lucy.”

Dan Brings Jucy Lucy to a Simmer

Dinnersota

Class of Dinnersota '010

Once water amusement was had and patties were enjoyed, we made towards another cabin retreat where we met up to have drinks with all who would be joining us aboard the booze cruise. Some old acquaintances were on hand and some new ones made as we enjoyed a few brews in celebration of the bride and groom. The party continued as we headed out into the middle of Green Lake aboard “Cruisin’ at Melvin’s.”

Joe and Eric Go Cruisin' on Green Lake

For all the fun that goes with the idea of going on a booze cruise, the prospect looses of lot of its luster when the Booze Cruise in question carries a somewhat rank odor and resembles the infamous bug scene in Indiana Jones in Temple Doom. There were areas of the boat that were quite literally covered in creepy crawlies– the bathroom probably being the most notable.  So while people sucked down drinks and alcoholic whipped cream, their enjoyment was tempered by the fear of being chewed down to the skeleton by a swarm of various mites. Post booze cruise there was another round of drinks at the aforementioned cabins and some tumult that followed before we could effectively call it an evening.

The next morning, Sunday, bore a large resemblance to the previous day after we had arrived at the cabins; there was plenty of time for water sports and grilling prior to the wedding that was to begin at 5pm at the local Bible Camp Chapel. Being of Jewish background I always view the act of entering anything seemingly as Christian as a Bible Camp with a little bit of caution and cynicism, but the scene was both lovely and rustic. We were greeted by a babbling brook and a mini-waterfall on the way up to the chapel and when we we entered a hair late, the wedding was just set to start. Joe, JSarah, Suli and I hurried past the wedding party and found our seats near to the rest of our group and took in a wonderful ceremony that lent equal portions from both the Jewish and Lutheran (?) faith.

Some Wedding Going on or Something

The act of actually departing from inside the chapel was a little time consuming. Each row, before exiting the building was  to be received by the bride and groom while still seated in their pew. It was nice to stay seated and relax for a bit, but it was a perfect day outside and I did have a longing to enjoy the outdoors.

Once outside we were all given lacy baggies of birdseed, in lieu of rice, to toss at the newlyweds on their exit from the premises. In anticipation of the moment I undid the bow of my baggy feeling that I had it safely in hand. Within a matter of seconds my birdseed had emptied out on the floor in tragic fashion. Thankfully, someone was kind enough to lend me some of theirs so that I could load up and loft some projectiles into the hair of the bride and groom.

Bride and Groom Unknowingly Wandering Towards a Birdseed Firestorm

Bible Camp was a merely a pitstop on the road to the wedded bliss of Sunday evening. The party carried on in the small resort town of Spicer, from the shore of where it had gone mobile the previous evening. Melvyn’s on the Lake played host to the reception and also played host to what was probably the first ever dancing of the Hora in the history of Kandiyohi County. After the just married couple arrived via boat to the venue, there was a wonderful cocktail hour followed by heartfelt speeches and plentiful  dinner and dessert options; though it wasn’t until the dancing portion of the evening commenced when the wedding felt as if it were in full effect.

Behold, Jewish Folk Dancing!

It started with an awkward invitation for the attendees to witness some “Jewish Folk Dancing,” which seemed to lend with it an air of  novelty along the lines of watching walruses mate at the zoo for the non-chosen folk. The DJs had to be instructed to put the song on repeat for when the track on his CD first ended we had barely started circling the room and were not even close to lifting up the bride and groom on their respective chairs. Our mission was eventually accomplished and our heritage celebrated, but it was not without some uncomfortable pauses in the excitement.

The Elevated Portion of Jewish Folk Dancing

From there on out the wedding took on the personality of late 80’s early 90’s prom. The DJs, who were employees of 94.1 “The Loon” knew somewhat we wanted to hear, but also were not shy about accepting our requests. They seemed in awe of our uninhibited, sloppy-enthusiastic dancing. Maybe they were gearing up to put our moves on youtube or were truly captivated by the zeal with which we took to the dance floor, but I think we kind of knocked their socks off with our collective will to party and request good songs that they themselves were into.I was sober for most of the wedding, but I didn’t hold back when it came to having a good time and more or less kept myself in motion throughout.

Post-Wedding Fireside Chat

The party eventually dwindled down and it was back to the cabin for our crew which had grown to 10 in the past few hours. Rather than call it a night a few of us sat out by the firepit and drank a few beers. There was even some irresponsible lakefront high jinks as JSarah and I pedaled around the lake as a few others swam out to the floating dock.

At one point I was having a few steering issues and everyone had gone in. I found myself helplessly pedaling in a very undesirable horror movie predicament. I was waiting for some creature to emerge from the lake and mysteriously swallow me. Fortunately, I was able to wrest control of my floating bicycle and bring it safely to shore after a few minutes. Jsarah and I sat out for a few more minutes finishing our beer and then called it a good night.

I was somewhat sad to leave the Willow Bay Resort on Monday morning. Nest Lake looked so inviting upon waking up. Sitting in a kayak in the middle of it while wakeboarders hydroplaned in the not-so-distance seemed like a nice alternative to how I would’ve liked to spend my day. Alas, we had to get to Minneapolis. Our flight was leaving a little after 5pm and there was still a little we wanted to do.

After saying our teary goodbyes to our fellow temporary lake-dwellers, Suli, Joe, JSarah, and I headed out of Spicer only to be snagged by the prospect of lunch at the town Dairy Queen –where I’m pretty sure most of the employees were 13 years old. So…after Dairy Queen with high-tailed it out of Spicer, stopping only along the way to Minneapolis to take a photo of the sign for Darwin, MN.

It had also been previously decided that we were leaving Spicer at an earlier time to make an appearance at the (in)famous Mall of America, the largest Mall in the United States– if not the world. Upon our arrival at the daunting shopping complex our first task was to find the perfect parking spot. We settled on the section marked Georgia Peach where we found a juicy spot right next to the entrance. We braced ourselves for commerce and we got it in triplicate.

Suli About to Find Out How Welcome Pakistanis are at the Mall of America

The overwhelming monument to shopping boasted an impressive expanse of ways to waste your time. From an amusement park to a casino/hotel. Luckily, I didn’t find the casino in time as I’d have been content not to waste my time gazing into the various Caribou Coffee storefronts or the Minnesota Vikings locker room team shop in its stead. I may have never even found my way to the food court where I ended up deciding to dine on an underwhelming salad option.

What I regret most about my trip to the Mall of Americas is that I didn’t make it to the cheese shop or ride the roller coaster. But those are adventures reserved for another time. It’s hard to hit all of the choice emporiums when you have to wade through several incarnations of The Gap and other well-known retailers who seem to be populating an abundance of the storefronts in different wings of the shopping arena, just in case shoppers tire out and decide the north end of the mall is entirely too far of a hike and one’s purchasing pals would be better suited leaving them for dead near the Rainforest Cafe.

Who Doesn't Love the Smell of Commerce in the Afternoon?

We covered 3 of 4 mall compass points and then it was off to the airport to bid the fair state of Minnesota adieu. I’d love to say something climactic and uniquely Midwestern occurred during our wait for our Delta flight, but aside from a bit of a delay it was just standard airport fodder. I was hoping the flight would be overbooked so that I might volunteer my seat and spend a little extra time in town and possibly score a free plane ticket to anywhere in the continental US for my troubles, but there were no such announcements.

Instead we boarded our flight two hours late and arrived back in LaGuardia without a hitch. All’s well that end’s in a boring fashion I suppose. Though, I can’t say I was the least bored by Minnesota.

Posted in Travel, Weddings | Leave a Comment »

Escape from New York

Posted by evankessler on July 9, 2010

Fourth of July weekend brought patriotic tidings to the residents of New York City, but those All-American antics were nary accompanied by a cool breeze that might make that star-spangled banner yet wave. Instead the holiday weekend was trailed by a crippling triple-digit heat wave that all but deadened the celebratory spirit. The electric company warned against excessive use of  power fearing outages across the bustling metropolis, shutting down some air conditioning or at least knocking them down to lower settings that left residents gasping for an icy cool liquid refreshment not consisting of something that had just been wiped clean from their brow.

Rather than spend the entirety of the week drowning in my own sweat, I made an executive decision to seek refuge where the air conditioning was central, and  the soothing relief of chlorinated water was mere steps away from my alotted workspace.

Paradise Is Only A Few Steps Away

Paradise Is Only A Few Steps Away

Three hours from my Brooklyn home lie a secret hideaway of sorts, a place that only gets taken advantage of by this foolish city denizen every few years or so when I feel the need to go for a swim.  It was about that time.

It had been three years since I had ventured to the land of P. Diddy white parties, Steven Spielberg, and childhood memories involving the smoking of pretzels in a pool house. Three years was indeed too long. So after an early work shift on Tuesday I hopped on the Long Island Railroad only to be met several hours later by my beaming mother who had long been singing the praises of time spent on the East End.Sure I fancy myself city folk, but it’s really hard to turn down the prospect of free meals and swimming when faced with such a dreadful alternative.

The days since have been filled with a rather pleasant routine. Something along the lines of: wake up, eat breakfast, swim, work, swim, work, swim, work, eat dinner, sleep, rinse, repeat. I can’t say I’ve experienced a great variety of things save for the different strokes I’ve employed in my many laps back and forth in the pool, and a brief jaunt to the beach, but that’s not what I came out here for. The trick was to simply change the scenery. One can only stare at one’s kitchen table for so long and eat the same peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day before they’re liable to go insane.

Sure the week had some pathetic moments. I was obsessive compulsive about obtaining a suitable amount of exercise, feeling as though doing 20 laps of elementary backstroke in a pool 36 feet in length was akin to a real achievement. Every chance I got I added another 20-25 laps to my total.  I pondered whether or not I could achieve a swimmer’s body with such an intense workout schedule.  There was also precious little human interaction save for parental advisory. In their absence I decided to test my camera timer and take action shots of my solo pool fun, which may or may not be the saddest thing in the world.See below and decide for yourself.

Self Pool Portrait '10: Feel the Excitement

The Creature Emerges Back at the Surface

Pool Fever: Catch It!

Reigning Gold Medalist in the Elementary Backstroke Does A Victory Lap

That being said, this was time I needed. A breeze from Brooklyn was blowing towards the east calling my name and saying “Go East Young Man.” It’s seemed silly not to follow it.

Posted in beach, Travel, vacation | Leave a Comment »

I Feel Itchy

Posted by evankessler on July 2, 2010

The pages of my passport are aging none too gracefully resting in that large coffee can in the southwest corner of my bedroom buried beneath receipts and brochures and other far more useless pieces of paper and metal objects.  Not to say that my toenail clippers aren’t useful, but I don’t think I could present them to an immigration official at the border of the foreign country of my choosing and have them serve as a sufficient enough bribe to secure myself access inside distant boundaries of any of the world’s 193 other Independent countries.  Those same immigration officials might find me well-pedicured as a result of their usage but only in the case that my non-identification wielding appearance arouses such suspicion that I’m detained and subjected to a shoeless inspection that may or may not involve the complete perusal of other body crevices and crannies.  Having a valid passport, I don’t see that scenario as being very likely.

Sometimes I dream that I’ve arrived in a foreign country via a lengthy airplane flight only to realize that my passport has been forgotten in that coffee can and for all intents and purposes it has been. Not since a brief jaunt to the UK in May 2009 have I ventured out of my American comfort zone.  I’ve barely even ventured out of my Brooklyn comfort zone to take Manhattan in the least Muppet-like of fashions. Ithaca and San Francisco have called to me in the past year, but I’d say I’ve been pretty tethered to Park Slope 11215 in the in-between spaces.

The only long distance journeys I’ve truly been on have been in my mind.  I’m continually hatching schemes for travel blogs and journeys of self-discovery for fictional characters that exist only in my head.  Whenever I hear the name of a new country I take a digital journey to learn about the sights, language, customs, food and ultimately the cost to travel to those far off lands. Believe me, there is quite the gaping chasm in the comparative cost between imaginary travel and the actual journey. It’s this largely prohibitive obstacle that has all but clipped my airplane wings, without which it’s nearly impossible to reach down and scratch a travel itch.

I haven’t let constraints kill the dream just yet, but lately I’ve been engaging in deeply masochistic behavior, browsing craigslist for apartments and job listings in far off lands like Ecuador and Croatia; tickling my creative fancy by dreaming up hitchhiking trips to Luxembourg or scheming to get my sea legs wet while going “Around the World to 80 Bays.” The summer sun hammers rays of oppressive heat against my door inviting me to come out and play, but that door could be anywhere and those things beckoning me on the outside could be different every single time. Is it just me or does “routine” seem like it should somehow work out as an anagram for “torture?”

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Evan Kessler’s Eurodream Vacation

Posted by evankessler on February 9, 2010

Man, was I disappointed to wake up today.  I was having one of those awesome “this can’t be real” dreams before I was so unfortunately shaken from my slumber by a brief impulse to blink into reality. When my eyes opened to the real world, the clock read 8:30am and I was in my apartment and not at a European train station deciding that I could probably stand to go to Madrid for a few days and then maybe head over to Barcelona, before making my way to Prague for a brief spell; all of this after spending a week or so in London on the heels of a wedding I had to attend. I don’t know who got married, but I’m sure it was lovely.

The Magical Eurail Map Rife With Possibility

Instead I’m stuck in an alternately lovely yet frigid Brooklyn, looking for some steady employment and daydreaming of the day I can afford to make such exotic travel decisions.  Quite the depressing predicament if you ask me, especially considering I was at the point in the dream when all of my plans were falling into place.

First, I would surprise my friend Victor at his bar, El Hombre Moderno in Madrid.  After a few days of enjoying the cosmopolitan nightlife en Madrid con Victor y mis amigos nuevos Irene y Elena , I’d take the train to Barcelona where my comrades Dmitry and Nina would welcome me with open arms and an open apartment.  We’d go to the beach and gorge ourselves on Serrano Ham and Manchego while drinking wine for a few days and that would be that.

The entire idea of a trip to Prague just seemed like something I casually tossed up in the air mid-dream, like it could be easily accomplished.  Unless, I was traveling by plane it would take more than one day of trekking from Western to Eastern Europe and most likely run me a pretty penny, but I’d stop in Switzerland and Austria, Monaco, Slovenia, and Croatia along the way.  Maybe this wasn’t the most effective plan, but anything is possible in my EuroDreamTopia. Unfortunately, it remains just that, my EuroDreamTopia. And so I look forward to another enchanted evening under the covers with eyes closed and foreign tongues wagging strange words that I rifle through my guide book searching for the meaning of.

Who am I kidding, it probably won’t come up again.  Tonight I’ll probably dream of Lions roaming the streets during this coming Snowpocalypse or being forced into military service after the Canadian invasion.  The mind goes where it wants to.

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The San Francisco Treat

Posted by evankessler on June 18, 2009

IMG_0047

It’s been at least 8 years since I’ve indulged in a portion of Chicken Rice-a-Roni, but I had an odd craving for the entree accessory as my plane touched down at San Francisco Airport early afternoon on Thursday.  It had been a largely uncomfortable experience on my flight.  Either the seat in front of me didn’t  have much in the way of working mechanics or the guy in front of me was really heavy, because he did a good job leaning well past the upright and locked position before, during, and after takeoff.   I thought American Airlines had limited personal space, but my this journey via Delta took the proverbial cake.  Oh well, I guess I can’t complain.  To paraphrase Louis CK, the ability to travel via airplane is kind of a miracle.  I got the opportunity to fly in the air and 6 hours later I was somewhere else.  That somewhere else was a place I hadn’t been in around 24 years to see a friend I hadn’t seen in, well, several months.  All of that aside, I was near all sorts of interesting things, the San Andreas Fault being one of them.  I was secretly hoping to experience a low magnitude tremor, but was glad it didn’t strike the moment the landing gear made contact with the runway.

As I left the plane and headed towards the pickup gate, I was met by my old roommate and cue balled confidante, Sean M. Months prior whilst enjoying a beer in NYC my good friend and his wife had invited me out to their humble abode to take part in their major BBQ festivities during the 2nd weekend of June.  Who was I to turn them down?  Well, I was one broke Hebrew, but that didn’t stop me as I wielded my skymiles with panache and ultimately set foot on West Coast soil.  I was glad to be there and ready to take the Bay area by storm.

The View of The Golden Gate Bridge From Sean's Apt.

The View of The Golden Gate Bridge From Sean's Apt.

The Twists and Turns of Lombard Street Off In The Distance

The Twists and Turns of Lombard Street Off In The Distance

Sean and I made bee line for his apartment, a one bedroom with an absolutely breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Lombard St amongst other things, in the North Beach section of town.  He quickly  informed me that he wouldn’t be able to immediately perform his hosting duties as he had to take his lovely wife Masharika for a haircut, which he would be on hand for for moral support.  I was none too put out by this, as I had some San Francisco plans on the horizon anyway.

First order of business, make a visit to my friends at OneRiot.  Funny thing was, the moment I got to Sean’s apartment, I sort of knew where I was going.  I had looked up the start point and the finish point on the map prior to going to California and already determined that I would take the scenic route.  All I had to do was walk up the hill on Sean’s block and walk down the other side to The Embarcadero and follow it Southeast, which was to say make a right when I got to it.  Then, when I got to Brannen St, all I had to do was make a right and I’d be pretty close.  Sounded easy enough.

No Hill Too Steep!

No Hill Too Steep! (Well It Wasn't That Steep Yet)

So with that I started up the steep hill, which may have been “Telegraph Hill” but I could’ve made that up.  All the while, I was making a few phone calls which ended up accompanied by heavy panting as my calves propelled my body toward the top.  When I reached the end of the road, I was met with even steeper stairs.  From afar the end of the road look as if it could have been the high point of the hill, but it was not so.  It was another couple of minutes of upward trajectory, before I found stairs going the opposite direction.  There seemed an endless array of stairs heading down prompting me to think they should’ve made an 70’s era show called “The Stairs of San Francisco” instead of “The Streets…”   As I walked downward through thills with the waterfront and The Bay Bridge in sight, I noticed that I was surrounded by residences.  These residences didn’t have driveways and were nestled in this scenic hilly region.  I wondered how much of a bitch it was for the people who lived there to move in or get large amounts of groceries inside on a given day.  Nonetheless, they were very attractive residences and probably quite pricey.

Behold, The Embarcadero!

Behold, The Embarcadero!

As I finally found my way down to the Embarcadero through Levi (of Blue Jeans fame) Plaza.  It kind of felt like I was roaming through a college quad.  After emerging through that area and hitting the road, I walked along the opposite sidewalk for a bit before crossing towards the piers. The Embarcadero was a wind tunnel of sorts.  I felt sort of nerdy liking the fact that I was walking along the “Embarcadero” since it was a word in one of my favorite songs.  I was listening to other things on my iPod but I couldn’t help feel cool thinking the lyrics, “dying on the banks of Embarcadero skies, I sat and watched you bleed.”  The view was rather nice and I enjoyed looking at the ocean and the piers.  I couldn’t imagine such harsh occurrences as Jeff Tweedy sang about happening there.

These Skies, I Find, Are None Too Daunting

These Skies, I Find, Are None Too Daunting

Soon enough I came to the street where I thought the park where I was supposed to meet my OneRiot editor, Carmel.  Only, I for some reason thought the park would be a major deal right off of the Embarcadero.  I was a bit off.  After a few phone calls we finally straightened up the directions and we encountered for the first time, despite having known each other somewhat since 2007, in a little area by the name of South Park.

It was a bit of an odd encounter.  Not uncomfortable, just funny in the way that you have such an online rapport with someone and not really being sure what to expect of them in person.  That being said, she was perfectly lovely and inviting.  She invited me into our site’s office, which was actually a shared space between several sites with two desks allotted to our operation.  We sat and talked for a bit and had a few moments of awkward silence while she edited a post. Shortly after that it was off for a friendly drink at a pretty sweet bar called the 21st Amendment.  We enjoyed some more getting to know you even though I sort of already know you chatter and she picked up the tab as we indulged in some beer and tempura string beans.  Though, during our talk I received a call from Sean and I figured that Carmel might have to get back to work anyway.  So after our brief, yet lovely meeting, we said our goodbyes and I took off again down the city streets.

Sean instructed me to follow 3rd Street down and I would run into him.  I took his word for it and enjoyed my stroll down the scenic avenue.  I even ran into Sean’s wife with her freshly lopped locks (covered by a hat) going for a jog.  It seemed kind of funny to me that I could so easily run into someone like that.  Sure we weren’t far from their home, but I was starting to like this city.  It seemed pleasant enough.

On my way to encounter Sean I stopped to take a photo of a huge California flag swaying in the breeze, which just so happened to be in front of San Francisco’s tallest building.

Two Proud Flags Swaying In The Breeze

Two Proud Flags Swaying In The Breeze

I know that because Sean told me just after I took the picture.  That’s where we ended running into him.  From there it was back to Sean’s hood for a drink.  His area was basically Little Italy, but it bordered on Washington Square and Greenwich St.  Funnily enough, when Sean and I lived together in NYC, we lived pretty close to those two things.

A Speedy Bald Blur Approacheth.  That Speedy Bald Blur Be Named Sean.

A Speedy Bald Blur Approacheth. That Speedy Bald Blur Be Named Sean.

Our first stop for a drink was the Columbus Cafe where the crowd gathered to watch the Magic-Lakers game.  The first thing I noticed at the bar though was a dude just hanging out there wearing a snuggie.  That seemed pretty stupid.  Other than that, I liked the vibe of the bar though and there was a 2 for 1 special, though I never got to use my #2 beer chip.  Sean stood there drinking our beer as we watched a little girl sing the national anthem.  A graphic flashedon the screen, “The Magic are 7-0 when ____ ____ Sings.”  For some reason we both thought this was hilarious.  Well, The Magic won the game so I guess it worked.

The next stop on my “just got into town” tour of SF was dinner at Capp’s Corner, a favorite old school family-style Italian joint of Sean’s.  We were met by a good deal of Sean’s family.  Sean’s parent’s were there, his relatives from Newcastle in England, and his godmother (also a Brit) joined us for some festive fare.  We were later joined by Sean’s brother Ian and Masharika.  I enjoyed my hearty dinner of Veal Milanese, Minestrone soup, and salad as well as the lively conversation.

After dinner Sean’s family went to catch a play next door and Sean, Masharika and I headed out to the Mission to meet up with Ian and catch a movie in Dolores Park.  First, we made a pitstop at a bodega for some beer before heading over.  With a fresh 12 pack of Modelo Especial in our hand we moseyed on over to the park and quickly found Sean’s brother Ian who was enjoying the company of his friends near the back of the crowd seated in front of a reasonably sized outdoor screen.  There were several blankets spread out over the expanse and our threesome was welcomed to the fray.  I sat next to another couple visiting from Manhattan and made some small talk about New York City before settling in with a drink and surveying the action.  Prior to the film starting they had a survey asking  “what would ‘Jew’ like to see?” in reference to the next film at the park.  It was the choice between two Woody Allen films, Zelig and Annie Hall.  I made my displeasure known to my immediate surroundings about the offensiveness of the obvious pun.  Ian and I did a little hooting and hollering, which I think was unheard in general.

Sean & Mash Settling In At The Park

Sean & Mash Settling In At The Park

Settling Down WIth an Icy Cool Modelo Especial

Settling Down WIth an Icy Cool Modelo Especial

Soon enough, it was time for the movie to begin.  The film we were to take in was Sita Sings The Blues, the director’s animated personal interpretation of the Indian epic, The Ramayana, which unfortunately can’t get a wide release due to musical copyright issues. Prior to the film actually starting, the guy doing the intro who wasn’t the director talked about how the film personally affected him, which was kind of annoying since it seemed like the kind of discussion you have after you see a movie. None of us knew what he was talking about so hearing him drone on just seemed like an impediment to actually watching the movie.

When the movie finally began, I have to say, I found it to be clever and likeable.  Unfortunately, I also found the atmosphere of the park to be uncomfortable due to my ass on the uneven ground and the brisk wind sweeping through the premises.  There was an overwhelming sense of “brrrr” that alcohol couldn’t defend us against.  Despite enjoying the content of the film, the weather forced the hand dealt by our impatience and discomfort.

Just like that, after a few trips to the darkened port-a-potty, we were off to seek indoor refuge at a bar in the Mission.  I have no idea what bar it was where we chose to down a few, but I found the atmosphere to be rather pleasant.  We hung out with one of Ian and Sean’s mutual acquaintances for a brew or two.  I think her name was Nicole.  Once that was done we headed back to North Beach for a night cap at one of Sean’s favorite neighborhood joints, a classy lounge by the name of Tony Nik’s Cafe.

My memory of our time there is a little fuzzy.  I know there was an odd conversation with a female tourist from Cleveland, but the content of that conversation is not something that I could pull from my the depths of my cranium if I wanted to.  Sean maintained the next day that she had been hitting on us, to which I say, “good for us.”

The next morning I awoke feeling a tad bit hungover, but I didn’t fret, because the chalkboard on Sean’s bathroom wall alerted me that this was the Summer of Fun.  So I knew my slight pain would fade away and be overtaken by good feeling.

The Fact That This Sign is In The Bathroom Just Speaks Volumes About Sean

The Fact That This Sign is In The Bathroom Just Speaks Volumes About Sean

At Sean’s behest I had a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios after which I stared blankly and wondered just what the day had in store.  Sean was leaving to pick up some essentials for the next day’s BBQ.  Just after finishing up with showertime, Masharika walked in and asked if I was up for breakfast.  Despite having just partaken in some cold oat O’s, I thought I could use some more sustenance to chase away the hangover blues. And just like that we were out the door to meet Masharika’s friends in town from DC at the Buena Vista down by Fisherman’s Wharf, a spot renowned for it’s Irish Coffee.

When we got there we were greeted by Tanaz, Janine, Danilo, the latter two of which I had met several months back at John’s Pizza in New York.  I was pretty much against drinking for awhile that day, but when everyone sat down and ordered a coffee drink that included alcohol I felt compelled to join in.  I ordered the Baileys Irish Cream Coffee as a tribute to my British friends. After taking our order the waitress returned with the coffees and as we pored over the menu joked that she’d be back in 20 minutes to take the rest of our order….at least she thought she was joking.  It may have taken longer than that as I was nearly out of water and my coffee drink was all but done when I finally got to order my cinnamon french toast.  By the time our food was brought out in a casual fashion, Masharika had made the decision to join her husband in running errands for the next few hours and our party of five had dwindled to four.

The food itself was utterly pedestrian.  My french toast came drenched in butter and was rather bland.  Everyone else seemed equally unimpressed.  Once we finished our meal the waitress took what seemed like another half hour to get our bill.  Once we got the bill, it took her another ten minutes to actually let us pay it.  As the spanish say, “Que riduculo!”

It was probably somewhere around 1pm when we finally got out of there and started heading back towards North Beach via the Wharf.  Janine, Danilo, Tanaz and I met up with their friend Anya with infant in tow and moseyed along the water taking in the view of Alcatraz and eventually the masses of  blubbery sea lions lazing about on wooden docks “ort ort-ing” and flapping about ’til their heart’s content.

Kings of The Sea Jungle...Or Something

Kings of The Sea Jungle...Or Something

At some point one of us received a phone call becking us back to the North Beach area to meet up with our hosts and partake in some delicious california style burrito deliciousness, but having just finished up some mediocre eats, we were not in a rush.  Instead we slowly made our way towards little Italy, stopping for some tasty Italian pastries along the way at a shop called Mara’s.  I stood in line wondering what to get, when a helpful woman seemed to appear out of nowhere and suggest a circular raspberry treat.  I couldn’t deny an out of the blue recommendation, so I indulged in fruity yet flaky goodness.

Italian Pastry Goodness

Italian Pastry Goodness

Once we all finished with our snacks we headed back up to Sean and Masha’s where we snagged a beer.  We were also met by their friends Mike and Barbara, whom I had also met in NY at some point during my tenure with Sean.  The next stop was Pancho Villa’s in the Mission district.

We pulled up to a spot in a seemingly questionable part of town with a playground and some rather sloppy folks hanging around it.  Regardless of the seedy characters hanging about, we floated right past them with the thought of burritos on the brain.  The entrance to Pancho Villa’s was graced with a security guard, and just inside a mariachi band belted out Mexican tunes to a lengthy line of hungry locals.  Despite the cafeteria-esque atmosphere, there was a feeling of overwhelming pleasantness that filled the air. Maybe it was the fact that we were about to indulge in some ultra-deliciousness.I ordered from the vast menu of burrito options.  One Chicken Burrito Especial.  Perfect.  I waited in line and got a Modelo to compliment my meal and sat down with the crew ready to taste a sublime San Francisco treat.

Pancho Villa's Chicken Burrito Especial: The Burrito of Champions

Pancho Villa's Chicken Burrito Especial: The Burrito of Champions

I was not at all disappointed.  Not only was this concoction pleasing to the palate, but it was wrapped with what could best be equated with German-style engineering.  This this was not leaking fluid.  It was an air-tight package that kept deliciousness in and drippage from seeping out.

Following our tasty outing, we took a brief walk through the seedier section of the mission only to realize that our parking meters were running out.  It didn’t really matter though as the group split up.  I went back to Sean’s and Mash’s place though and hung out as they readied their apartment for a big adult dinner with visiting friends. As they did, we enjoyed Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and a Pittsburgh Penguin victory.

Slowly but surely people piled in.  There were some familiar faces as far as people who had visited back in Bleecker Street days.  There were also children, running about, wrestling, and ultimately learning lessons about how it’s not idea to bounce your head on the couch as it will sometimes throw you in a direction where you might ricochet off into a table.  That’s the magic of having kids around; you get to watch as they learn what not to do.

Dinner itself was absolutely delicious.  Despite having previous stuffed myself several hours before.  I took part in three carnitas and some tasty dessert.  This was not a good idea as I was also drinking at the time.  I didn’t feel nauseated or anything.  It just felt as though my body had been filled with meat and beer to it’s maximum capacity.

As the party filter out, a few of us were left standing.  Sean wanted to go out to the bars.  I wasn’t sure I had it in me since my stomach felt as though it could explode with further alchoholic endeavors, but seeing as I was in SF for the first time in 24 years, I went with the flow.

This Bavik's For Me!

This Bavik's For Me!

Our first stop of the night was a laid back lounge/bar called ChurchKey.  They had a great beer selection and a cozy upstairs.  I couldn’t help but feel out of the conversation.  I wasn’t out of my element or annoyed at the company.  I just couldn’t help but think how full I felt as I casually sipped my Bavik.  We didn’t have time to get comfortable at the first bar though, as soon after most folks finished their drink, the party raged on to bar #2.  Our next top was a club/bar called Mojito.

Upon entry, I immediately opted out of the alcohol sweepstakes, preferring to sip water and watch the slightly above average live hip-hop act performing.  The real performance to watch though was that of a particular white couple who were really grooving on the dancefloor.  I was transfixed and I’m pretty sure my friend Summer would’ve been too as she recently alerted me that she really enjoys watching white people dance.  With this display of robotic movement and arrhythmia, I could not blame her.

The night didn’t last much longer after that.  Two drinks into our stay at Mojito it was time to call it quits.  We were back at the homestead ready to say goodnight…for Saturday would be a big day.

When I woke up the next day wheels had already been turning at a feverish pace.  Sean and Masha were back and forth seemingly prepping for they huge BBQ in Krissy Field.  I slowly rose to an alert state and with my two hosts gone, setting up their station in the Park, I took a stroll down to Washington Square (the very same square where Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe as was jokingly repeated all weekend) to take in a bit of the North Beach Festival occurring there.  I wandered around the grounds a bit marvelling at the differences between East Coast and West Coast events.  Not that there were many, but there was a granola stand which seemed more West Coast hippie to me and a big featured food tent trumpeted their specialty of Garlic Crab Fries.  Interesting.

I Guess Every City Has Their Thing

I Guess Every City Has Their Thing

I took in some female singer’s performance and continued my direcitonless pacing kind of hoping I might run into someone I knew that I didn’t know lived in SF.  While that didn’t happen, I ran into Mash’s friend Anya and her son who were in the company of another friend named Cassie.  I sat with them awhile, but I had already put a call in to my friend Katie from back in my days at Ramapo.  We had plans to meet at the big Krissy Field BBQ.  Katie called and asked me when she should leave.  I told her the later of the two options as I had not yet begun my walk to the party site and Sean’s wife had said that it would take me 30 minutes.

At around 12:35, I headed out of the park towards another.  I went up Sean’s street, up the hill, down the hill, over Levi Plaza and out to the Embarcadero, just like two days before.  Instead of making a right however, I made a left in the direction of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I walked past the wharf feeling like I was almost where I needed to be.  I saw some greenery up ahead, but alas when I looked at the signs, I was not at Krissy Field.  I stopped into a store to ask a girl how far I was.  She had no idea where I was talking about and told me walking would take me another three hours.  This couldn’t be right.  I completely ignored her advice to take a taxi and stopped into the next store.  They told me it would take me another 20 minutes.  Ah…much better.  I was on the right track.

I kept walking towards the bridge, but it still seemed really far away.  Every time I thought I was there, it turned out I was not.  Fort Mason was not Krissy Field.  Further along Fort Mason was not Krissy field.  Then I came to an area that was covered in tents and seemed bustling with people.  I thought I must be just there.  Unfortunately, this was not Krissy Field just yet.  Rather it was the setting for the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon.  How long til I get there?  I called Sean, he told me I had another mile or two to go.  I was starting to think that the girl in the first store was right.  I worried about whether Katie was just standing in Krissy field wondering where the hell I was.

Not There Yet!

Not There Yet!

FInally, after jogging a bit, I came to the very beginning of Krissy Field.  I walked through some grass and came to a path and just as I did, my phone rang and I looked off in the distance and saw Katie standing there.  Wow, finding her was easy.  Apparently, she had just gotten there as well.  It had been several years since we had seen each other , but she didn’t look very different.  Maybe she did, but I think once you know someone, you kind of always do.  Just like that we were hanging out, though I was slightly distressed about finding the right place.  We were still able to do some valuable catching up on the way.

Sean had told me he was near the picnic house and we were near a picnic house, just not the right one.  Finally after a phone call or two, we straightened out that we had ten to fifteen minutes left to walk.  This wasn’t a huge bother as it was a nice time for more walk and talk catchup.  Finally though, we came to the end of our journey near the Golden Gate Bridge. It was about 2:15, and the party had been raging for an hour or so.  There was a huge crowd of people present, again, some people were familiar and some were not.  I indulged in the tasty but deadly Maddison Juice also known as Sean’s dad’s Sangria and we grabbed some food en route to finding a spot to sit on a hillside where nearby Sean’s friends were indulging in the game some call Cornhole.

Katie and I Relax On Our Hillside Perch

Katie and I Relax On Our Hillside Perch

Our View of Cornhole

Our View of Cornhole

My View of Katie

My View of Katie

That was pretty much our spot all afternoon.  We sat around talking about friends, dudes, broads, cities, families, jobs, pants, hopes, dreams, aspirations, and general whatnot; stopping only for refills and watermelon unknowingly soaked in vodka precariously placed  in reach of small children.  There were a few moments where we stopped and mingled with others, but our afternoon was more or less a two person operation.

Around 5pm the party started to disband and I pondered my next stop.   Katie nipped that in the bud though when she asked if I wanted to go with her to meet a sort of ex to get some pants back.  Just like that we were off walking down the road back to wherever we were walking.  I more or less had no concept of where we were.  We ended up at a place called Bar 821, with a bartender named Juan slinging drinks.  Conversation continued interrupted only by the appearance of her ex, whose name currently escapes me.  He stayed for a drink or two.  We had one more there before deciding to tie another on at the establishment next store, one Mini Bar SF.  It was there we ran into a few of Katie’s friends and I took a brief sojourn across the street for a slice of pizza before rejoining and ultimately going back to Bar 821 where we basically closed the place down.

From there I decided it would be best for me to head back to meet up with Sean, Masharika and the rest of the party across town.  I said a brief goodbye to Katie and  hopped in a cab.  I don’t quite recall where I met up with them but I know the name of the bar had a particularly feminine quality.  We stayed there for one beer, though they’d been there for  longer and had worked themselves into quite a drunken lather.  It wasn’t time to go home just yet as we made one more stop at a dancy joint near The Cannery for a bit more booze and to give some people the opportunity to shake what their mother gave them or deprived them of. It was a rather lively end to the evening, but it closed things out with a bang loud enough to make waking up the next morning an arduous task.

Mash...Semi-Shaking It

Mash...Semi-Shaking It

By the time I came to on Sunday, Sean and Mash were gone.  I was most distressed about Masharika’s absence as I knew she was meeting up with her friends for some early morning donuts….and not just any donuts. Her friends had heard about a place called Dynamo Donuts whose specialty was an artery clogging confection with maple flavor, apples, and bacon drizzled on like sprinkles.  We had discussed this two days before and I had completely missed out.  My heart is probably happy about that one, but my taste buds are still curious.

Seeing as I took my sweet ass time to actually face the world, Sean was back shortly after I got out of the shower and dressed.  He recommended that I go down to the AT&T Park to check out the stadium, but first we took a stroll through the North Beach festival yet again and I stopped for some tasty sustenance at Golden Boy Pizza.  By the time Sean got me down to the ballpark  the game had already started been in progress awhile, but he told me there was a spot in the outfield where fans could stand and watch the game for free.  I wasn’t sure what this meant, but I said I was game and Sean had to return a host of materials from the previous day’s party to the burbs an hour north, so I didn’t have much to do otherwise.

With that Sean dropped me off by the stadium and I slowly shimmied past the Giants Wall of Fame and statues of Juan Marichal and Willie Mays until I reached the famed McCovey cove where Roid Raging Barry Bonds belted several four-baggers.  I was glad to see several boats with flags showing their allegiance to their hometown team.  A few kayaks roamed the waters also hoping for a long fly ball to rightfield.  As I walked further along the water staring at plaques denoting team and individual (Bonds’) accomplishments, I came to a gated area with a security guard with fans inside.

A's And Giants Fans Alike Await Home Runs At McCovey Cove

A's And Giants Fans Alike Await Home Runs At McCovey Cove

This area was basically inside the right center/right field wall.  You could spit onto the warning track and if a ball rolled to the gate, you’d be at eye level with the outfielder assuming you were the same exact height.  The best part was, it was all free.  Not a ton of fans, but rather a pleasant few filed in to watch some of the game through the fence.  It was kind of enjoyable listening to the radio play by play being pumped through the speakers.  You really got the feeling that the San Francisco Giants really loved their fans to throw this pleasant enough bone to those who might not be able to afford going to the game.  They also had a concession stand open for people standing in this section.  It warmed the cockles of my baseball-loving heart.  I stood in this section for about three whole innings.  Never really getting a great view of the action, but I did see a few hits and a run score.

Giants Outfielder Nate Schierholtz Looks To Adjust His Wedgie

Giants Outfielder Nate Schierholtz Looks To Adjust His Wedgie

I took off heading into the 9th inning as the Giants were up by 6 and I didn’t want to get in the middle of fan-demonium upon a mass exodus from the stadium.  I wandered around the area unsure what to do.  I had been left no explicit directions as to where anything was.  After some unmotivated hanging around, I started zig zagging down 2nd and 3rd streets.

Eventually, I came to the Moscone Center.  I sat on a bench there for a few minutes unsure of what to do.  I flipped through the San Francisco Chronicle and then continued on. Walking along 3rd I came to a sign that said Yerba Buena Gardens.  I followed the arrow and came to an absolutely breathtaking little park area with a monument to Martin Luther King Jr. in the form of a waterfall sculpture adorned with quotes from the slain civil rights leader.

MLK Jr. Memorial at Yerba Buena Gardens

MLK Jr. Memorial at Yerba Buena Gardens

I took it all in and then walked on through a passage I spied which brought me to the Contemporary Jewish Museum which I had seen advertised.  The museum had an impressive facade, but the only area open at the moment I arrived was the store.  I decided to go inside, but as a result of the recent Holocaust museum shooting I went through an extensive security check.  The store itself didn’t impress me much, but I was amused by the series of Jewish Baseball Cards, trumpeting the history of Jews in baseball. I think they were missing a few more prominent members of the tribe as I saw no mention of Sandy Koufax in the deck.

Outside The Contemporary Jewish Museum

Outside The Contemporary Jewish Museum

Once I realized I was none too curious about Hebrew curios and history books I made my way further through the alley and continued down the street.  I noticed I was surrounded by rather ritzy stores all of the sudden.  Sean had previously told me that the Union Square was full of upscale shops.  This made me figure that I was in said area so I ventured further in to look for the actual square.  Lo and behold, I happened upon the aforementioned area marked by an artistic heart rendering and a rather tall monument to Admiral Dewey which is blinding to the eyes when the sun is in full effect.

Approaching Union Square

Approaching Union Square

I did not stick around that region for too long.  I briefly lost my sense of direction though after stepping out of the square.  I regained my composure rather quickly though and continued back towards Sean’s apartment.  On my way though, I happened upon anothe curious sight walking down Kearney.  I looked to my left and noticed the street signs were mostly written in Chinese.  I thought I must be nearing Chinatown.  It was time for another detour.  And with that I took a stroll through Chinatown, ultimately culminated when I figured I had seen enough of the same tea shops and sword souvenirs.

Is This America Or China? Make Up Your Mind Chinatown!

Is This America Or China? Make Up Your Mind Chinatown!

I hung a left and headed back towards the avenue I had been on only to stumble upon another landmark; an alley formerly frequented by the beats that had since been renamed for Jack Kerouac.  This area housed the famed bar, Vesuvio and the City lights Bookstore.  These two stops were recommended to me by my good friend Jess I.

The Street Sign Says What It Has To

The Street Sign Says What It Has To

I felt my accidental sightseeing was nearly complete, but I did a little more street staggering, stopping to gaze briefly upon the beat museum and the row that housed houses of ill repute along my way back to Sean’s.

Billboards of Ill Repute

Billboards of Ill Repute

They've Got The Beat, But No Go Go's Albums

They've Got The Beat, But No Go Go's Albums

Finally, I walked back through North Beach street fair on my way back to Sean and Mash’s for dinner.  We enjoyed some tasty tacos and called it a weekend.  I hadn’t any desire to hit the town that night.  I was all worn out and ended up just watching Hannah and Her Sisters, under their “Free Movies On Demand” as they packed for an upcoming trip.

Monday morning I woke up bright and early.  Sean drove me to the BART and I took it all the way to the airport, where I caught my Delta flight all the way back to NYC.  The day didn’t end without a few whimpers though.  Upon landing at JFK Airport an hour early at 5:11, we proceeded to sit on the runway for two hours before making our way to the gate.  I understood the bad weather kept some planes from taking off, thus stopping us from having a gate to go to, but the Delta crew couldn’t have been more obnoxious about it.  They treated some of the passengers like petulant children.  Instead of asking them to please stay seated they announced that unbuckling your safety belt was “unacceptable.” When people questioned the crew about their connecting flights, which is usually well within reason, they chided the passengers and made an announcement to not bother them with their concerns because they had “no idea.”  While I remained patient, some people had to catch connections and they were treated very poorly.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such poor customer service.

In any case, when I finally got off the plane, it was quite a relief.  I felt bad for those who had missed flights, but I was glad to be back home.  I was also glad to have been gone for a few days as well.  San Francisco, I just may have left a piece of my heart on adrift in the wind blowing through those Embarcadero skies.

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I Could Conceivably Leave My Heart On A Cable Car

Posted by evankessler on June 11, 2009

sf_cable_car_gg_bridge

Despite the fact that my bank account is currently wheezing up quarters in it’s gasp for greenery, the Evan Kessler world tour continues thanks to the miracle of Delta Skymiles.  Having spent some time in Thailand, Cambodia, and the UK during pieces of this calendar year, I’ve decided that my next stop would not require me to cross any oceans nor would it afford me the chance to gaze upon any Arctic region from above 35,000 feet.  I’m keeping things continental this time and heading out to the West coast, to the “City by the Bay.”

So why am I off to San Francisco?  Well, I’ve got some unfinished business.  Tony Bennett told me I left my heart there and seeing as it’s been 23 years  since I’ve seen that organ, I’m going to win it back even if it kills me.  Actually, I do have some fond if fuzzy memories of my maiden voyage to Frisco  that occured sometime in late 1985/early 1986.  For one, I remembered staying in a really sweet house that was owned by a friend of my father’s that was right on the water.  The garage had an elevator and the guy had a son named Arnold or Anu.  I also remember  taking the ferry through the fog back from Alcatraz as we listened to the Giants-49ers playoff game on the radio.  As far as other memories, maybe they’ll come flooding back to me like a rush of water or rubber balls flooding down the famously hill streets of San Francisco.

Now for the  one real reason, I’m going to San Francisco…love.  My good friend and former roommate Sean met the love of his and life and subsequently married her.  They got hitched over the winter holiday season and didn’t have a big  bash, but seeing as it’s the tail end of spring they figured that now was as good a time as any to celebrate their nuptials in a typically laid back West Coast fashion.  Yes, on Saturday they’ll be having a BBQ and I will be there.  I will also be there Thursday, Friday, Sunday, and the early part of Monday taking up space in their apartment as  the happy couple  hath extended the warmth of their home to me.

Love’s all well and good, but I also have some other things on my visitor’s docket.  I’m mixing a little business with pleasure as I hope to swing by the OneRiot offices to meet my editor for whom I’ve been writing since November and have had e-lations with since late 2007.  Finally, I hope to reconnect with my friend Katie from my days at Ramapo High School.  I shall take her in my arms and make her mine.  Actually, I’ll probably just  have a few beers with her and enjoy some good quality catching up time in the midst of my brief, maddening sweep of The Paris of the West.  Stay tuned.

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A Few Things About Britain

Posted by evankessler on June 1, 2009

As some of you well know either by knowing me or by having read the last post, I was in London two and a half days last week.  While I know this is not a lot of time, there were a few things that struck me as either enjoyable, funny or just plain interesting while I was there.  Here are a few of those things:

1.  I enjoyed the “To Let” signs all too much.  In the us these signs would read “For Rent” or “For Lease”, but seeing them all over London, the only thing that sprung to mind was that these were signs for a “Toilet” only the letter “i” had faded away.  I knew this was not the truth, but I generally had a base level of amusement each time I passed such a sign, especially one advertising “Office To Let.”  I don’t like to consider my sense of humor that simple, but sometimes it is.

Sometimes You Gotta Go

Sometimes You Gotta Go

2.  Rubber Duckzilla- Being in foreign countries, you sometimes see very odd commercials.  These commercials for Oasis spring water made me cackle.  Sure I like their mimicking of Japanese monster movie culture, but the thing that gets me is the tagline “For people who don’t like water.”  I think a good portion of the third world would be perfectly happy with potable water before they were showered in Oasis, but people not liking water just seems like such an absurd notion.

3.  Britain, despite popular contention, does not have as much talent as it thinks.  With all of the Susan Boyle hype blazing up the youtube charts, I’ve started to realize that what gets passed off as “talent” these days is more and more ridiculous.  Either someone should change the dictionary to show a fat father and son showing off their silly dance moves next to the actual word, or executives should rename the show that has taken the world by storm, “Yeah, Britain’s Got People.”

4. I find that the general willingness of people in Britain to just go have a pint whenever you say, “Let’s get a pint” really agrees with me.

5. I enjoyed learning that Manchester United Midfielder Paul Scholes is nicknamed “The Ginger Hand Grenade”

The Ginger Hand Grenade

The Ginger Hand Grenade

6. I was able to relate to the general disdain the Brit football fans seemed to have for Ronaldo and Manchester United.  I immediately equated the team with the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez.  While watching Ronaldo play, I could tell he carried himself in the same cocky manner as A-Rod and that there was a certain arrogance that just emanated from his being. He even sort of looked like him, though not really.  I instantly hated him and I’d never really watched him play.  Weird how that works.

A-Rod of Soccer

A-Rod of Soccer

7. I like the creativity that shone through in the naming of things.  Old Street, Great Eastern Road, and most notably Banoffee Pie.  It was Banana and Toffee.  Banoffee.  Get it?  I suppose you can make a banana and coffee pie and call it the same thing though.  Oh well.

Tofnana Pie with Ice Cream

Banoffee Pie

8.  I really felt like like a part of London for a few days.  True, I didn’t do more than hang in my hotel, grab a few pints, and go to a few shoots.  However, I never felt like a tourist.  I never really knew where I was going either, but that comes with my natural lack of direction.  The people I met were excellent and I couldn’t help thinking that if they lived in New York, I’d be friends with them here as well.

Posted in Advertising, blogging, Football, humor, learning, lists, Sports, Travel, United Kingdom | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

An EK In The UK

Posted by evankessler on May 29, 2009

I’m not the Anti-christ and I’m not an anar-chist (pronounce accordingly), I’m just me, Evan Kessler, a simple American blogger who just so happened to spend Tuesday through Thursday of this week down in London town.  God save the queen indeed.  My tale is not a cautionary one, nor does it involve seedy characters from a previously unseen underbelly.  It’s merely a story rife with planes, pubs, pints, and once we’re out of the p’s there’s a commercial shoot and an awkward encounter with a hand model.  So without further ado, I suppose it’s time to launch into this as only I can…seeing as this is my little anecdote.

Following the largely alcohol-fueled insanity of Memorial day weekend, I spent the majority of my Monday making sure I was completely prepared for my brief jaunt to the United Kingdom.  Unbeknownst to me, prior to my departure, my roommates had planned yet another BBQ for the actual holiday.  So as I prepared to take off for the airport I did a slight amount of mingling and even partook in a few burgers to fatten me up for the flight.

A little after 7pm I made for the Flatbush LIRR stop, which took me to Jamaica where I caught the JFK airtrain to the American Airlines terminal.  I had given myself a little too much time as check-in was a breeze.  Apparently Monday night is not the most popular time to fly.  I killed some time at the airport sports bar watching the Mets vs. Nationals whilst drinking a tall glass of the King of Beers.  I didn’t want to get too comfortable and too involved in the sport fanfare, so after I was done with my glass I made my way to the gate where I enjoyed some reading.  I did my fair share of browsing my fellow passengers.  I became somewhat fascinated with a man who bore a striking resemblance to one of Harrison Ford’s more famous characters.  The only thing he was really missing was a bullwhip…but if he were the flight marshall, perhaps he had one in his carry-on.

Harrison Ford's Kingdom of The Crystal Skulls Stunt Double Waits For A Flight

Harrison Ford's Kingdom of The Crystal Skulls Stunt Double Waits For A Flight

The flight began boarding an ample amount of time prior to our scheduled 11:30 takeoff and I settled in to my seat towards the rear end of the plane.  For a while, as the plane continued boarding, I had an empty seat next to me.  This seemed too good to be true and ultimately it was.  There were a few large hasidic men mulling about a few rows up not-so subtly eyeing my seat.  I was half-resigned  to the fact that one of these bulky men in bulky clothing would end up in that seat and slightly intrude on my personal space for the duration of the flight.  I lucked out though.  As it turns out, the two men were discussing with the flight attendant how they would rather not sit next to a woman and so the smallish woman was moved to the seat next to me as opposed to one of the bulkier gentlemen.   It wasn’t a fateful occurrence or anything.  We didn’t have an enchanting conversation and fall in love, but I was able to sit comfortably for the duration of my six-hour flight across the Atlantic.

It was around 10:30am on Tuesday when our plane reached it’s gate at  London’s Heathrow Airport.  I was a little unsure what to do once I got off of the plane aside from going through immigration and having my passport stamped.  The only directions I had were to meet my driver at “the J”.  Unsure if this was the name of a place in the airport or the slang name for the pick-up area, I just followed signs past the baggage claim.  Sure enough…I came to an area with people wrapped around what could’ve been a j-shaped area holding signs for passengers.  It was none too long before I happened upon the bloke with a sign reading E. Kessler.  Being familiar with my own name, I surmised that this was for me.

After a brief walk to the car, my driver took me on a left side of the street adventure through what seemed to be the entirety of this historic world capital.  It really does strike one silly, just how clean and well kept a city London is.  Every row of houses has a certain charm, each old building appears to be laden with some sort of history and aged artfulness.  My driver was none too familiar with the area in which my hotel was located.  He gave the GPS a good workout until we happened upon the Hoxton Hotel in East London.

The First Thing I Saw Upon Entering My Hotel

The First Thing I Saw Upon Entering My Hotel

Upon entry into the lobby I was met by an orange shell sculpture of a Lamborghini Countache…not really the type of thing you expect to see in the lobby, yet it was kind of a sweet setup.  Upon checking in at the front desk, I asked the concierge-type person if anything had been left for me in the way of an itinerary.  “No” was the answer to that question.  I was kind of shocked by this.  In my previous experience with the PR company who invited me on the trip there had been a whole host of activities for everyone invited.  This time there was nothing.  I was going to be in London for two whole days.  What was I to do?

My first move was to go up to my hotel room and dump my luggage.  Upon exiting the elevator on the 2nd floor I was greeted by a neon-lit futuristic appearing hallway.  I felt like I was in the movie Tron.  After a few false starts with my key card, I entered a relatively small-but incredibly sleek-looking room, with appealingly modern decor accented by a low-key lighting motif and some unique pillows, not to mention my very own flat-screen TV.

My very first move upon dumping my stuff in room was to find out what my plan of attack was supposed to be.  I immediately removed my computer and emailed my contact, Zaireen.  Despite the fact that I should’ve been tired, I was really eager to do something in London and sent an email to that effect, but I was still unsure if anything was planned on arrival even though no itinerary at the front desk suggested as much.  I was a little hungry as well, and wanted to go have a walk around to find a pub that I could get a meat pie and a pint.  Instead, I waited around my hotel for a bit and waited for word to come.

Soon enough I got an email from Zaireen suggesting that I wait til 3pm when she would be by and we could grab a pint.  Seeing as I didn’t really know where I was and that waiting til 3pm wasn’t so far off at this point, this sounded like an okay idea.

It was a little after 3pm when I met up with Zai in the lobby of the Hoxton.  Having never met before I had to rely on her to recognize me.  It was pretty effortless though and despite having never met in person, there was an overall air of familiarity about her.  Maybe it’s that we had already talked on the phone or maybe it was because she bore a strong resemblance to my friend Marisa who I used to work at VH1 with, but I found that we were off to being fast friends.

We didn’t take an incredibly long trek to find a suitable spot to have a pint.  We settled for just down the road at the Three Crowns.  It wasn’t the most sophisticated of pubs, but it had plenty of suitable options for drinking and that’s all we needed.  I feel ashamed that I can’t remember what I got a pint of, but it was most likely something that sounded traditional and British to me.  We sat for a few minutes inside and got to know one another before moving the festivities outside and enjoying the unusually clear London weather. It was a bit chilly, but I was clad in long sleeves so it was none too much of a bother.

After finishing our pints and talking for a bit, I told Zai that I was eager to have a walk around.  I wasn’t too interested in doing touristy things, but I wanted to hang around and walk near the River Thames.  Into the underground we went at the Old Street station.  I was a little confused by the complexity of the map and the zones, but Zaireen did her best to help me navigate before actually getting on.  I got myself an Oyster card and joined my new friend on the train to Bank where I was instructed to switch lines to Embankment and get off the train there.

The 2nd leg of my Underground journey was taken alone, but it was none too difficult.  I took the District line to the aforementioned stop and left the station.  When I exited I was in the Charing Cross region, which I quickly realized was one of the more touristy area.  As I walked out of the station and made a few turns I was face to face with the Thames and could see the London Eye and Big Ben all in the not-so-distance.  I wandered along the bridge over the river for a bit trying to take pictures of myself with landmarks in the background.  A kindly British girl offered to take my picture for me.  I took her up on the kind gesture, but I think I ended up liking one of my own photos better.

Keeping An Eye On The Eye

Keeping An Eye On The Eye

After staring at the Thames for a few, I decided to stroll around the neighborhood and see what I could happen into.  I strolled right into Trafalgar Square and the Theater district.  It sort of felt like Times Square with an HMV store and souvenir shops and general chain stores including a TGI Friday’s.  What I really wanted was something to eat, specifically a Meat pie.  However, my first order of business was a quick pee.  The pint from before had left me with an urge to splurge.  I found myself wandering around the London Trocadero, a mall like structure, which luckily happened to have a pay toilet.  It cost me a pound, but it was well worth it since afterwards I felt foot loose and fancy free.

As I wandered through the Trocadero looking to find a way out I saw daylight through female accessories store that may or may not have been a Claire’s.  When I finally got out of the mall and to an outdoor sidewalk I found myself staring at Waxy O’Connor’s.  Waxy O’Connor’s is a pub I first frequented in London eight years ago while on a post college jaunt through Europe with my friend Joe D, Rich M, Matt C, and Sapfest.  I had a bit of a laugh at the coincidence and decided to snap a photo to show my friends back home.

Misty Water Colored Pub Mem'ries Of The Way We Were

Misty Water Colored Pub Mem'ries Of The Way We Were

Several seconds passed after I took the photo.  I started to walk away and then said to myself, “Aw screw it,” and headed in.  I greeted the bartender and ordered a Beamish Stout as advertised on one of the taps, but my request was rebuffed since they were fresh out.  I don’t remember what I requested next, but they were out of that too.  I settled for a Carling and began reading my free London newspaper that I was given in the Underground that was more or less the UK equal to AM New York and the Metro.  I felt odd drinking my pint and not saying anything though, so I looked for a point to open up conversation with anyone at the bar.  I noticed a hefty helping of Budweiser in the refrigerator behind the bar.  This surprised me.  I thought the Brits took a lot of pride in their beer, too much to serve an inferior American brand, especially one with the audacity to refer to itself as royalty in the land of the Queen.  I took this as my conversation entry point and soon enough I was immersed in all types of conversation with the bartender Vivian and a kindly, yet somewhat slightly grizzled man in his late 30’s early 40’s named Gerry with two snake tattoos on his forearms.  We talked beer, football, and general cultural issues throughout the course of three pints. I was probably there a good hour and a half to two hours before finally taking my leave as the sun was beginning to go down.

Vivian Watches on As I Imbibe Yet Another Carling

Vivian Watches on As I Imbibe Yet Another Carling

Still hungry, I staggered out of Waxy O’Connor’s in search of a meat pie to satisfy my stomach.  I had planned to head back on the train and find something near my East London hotel, but before I made it to the Underground station I happened upon The Brewmaster.  On the menu at “The Brewmaster” I spied the item “Beef and Ale Pie.”  This sounded like just what the starving doctor or artist ordered.

I went in and ordered up my culinary choice along with a half pine of lager and waited patiently staring at the window and again uncomfortably browsing through the paper while attempting the crossword puzzle.  Soon enough my feast was on hand and I was ready to savor the deliciousness.

Meat Pie and Mash

Meat Pie and Mash

With a bit of gravy added on, I immersed myself in meat, crust, and gravy accompanied by a generous helping of peas and mash and was able to carry on my evening narrowly averting my hunger crisis.

What I didn’t avert, however, was the confusion of being in a strange city.  I found my way to the nearest underground station, which was not the one I started from.  Nonetheless, I was certain I could navigate my way back.  Before I could do that though, I would have to get my Oyster card to work.  I thought it had enough pound-age left on it to net me a return trip to Old Street, but the turnstile disagreed.  I went to the ticket machine and fumbled with my unfamiliar currency in a slightly drunken state and eventually just settled on getting a new ticket for zones 1 and 2. My route back was slightly different than the one I came from seeing as I had started my return route at a different stop.  That being said, I was able to pick up the route fairly easily once I stared at the map for a few extra seconds.

It was a different story once I exited the Old Street Station.  I’m not sure what exactly happened for when I first got on the train with Zai earlier it looked as if making my way from the hotel to the exit was a fairly straight shot, even though I couldn’t see the hotel from the station entrance.  Walking back by myself was a different story.  I must’ve turned off too early down a street that was just before the hotel that I thought was the actual street my hotel was on or something to that effect, but I spent the next 15 to 30 minutes circling the perimeter around that which The Hoxton Hotel was located. I had to stop into a market or two just to ask.

It was a little frustrating because the entire time I knew just how close I was, but I was somehow avoiding making the correct turn.  Eventually, I saw a green glow emanating from decorations in the front windows or the windows of something nearby and save for a quick stop at the market across the street for some toothpaste, I was back home.

Upon re-entry to hotel central, I attempted to get a little writing done, but promptly fell asleep on my bed directly next to my computer.  This occurred at around 10:30pm.  I woke up around 2:30am feeling semi-well-rested, but with entirely too much time on my hands to kill.  I was still tired, but not overly sleepy.  I turned on the television and came across Game 4 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals, watching those til what I think was a little after 5am.  The thing that struck me funny about the coverage was that they carried the regular American broadcast, but during the commercial breaks they would cut to two British guys in a studio just discussing the game.  I guess it’s not that odd, but I think I’m just used to being bombarded with commercials at every possible second where sports aren’t going on that analysis during breaks seemed novel.

I didn’t really get a good deal of sleep the rest of the morning.  At one point I looked myself in the mirror and found my eyes terribly bloodshot from the lack of sleep.  I tried to get a little more shut eye, but left the TV on.  I caught a little bit of the famed soap Neighbours, which I found none too interesting save for the man in the corner of the screen translating all of the dialogue into sign language.  I wondered if this was the norm on most other channels.  It would probably prove terribly distracting in moments of serious drama.

The din of the television did eventually coax me into at least a little sleep and when I woke up, I hopped into my incredibly sleek shower to attempt to wash away the crustiness from my eyelids and start the day anew, even though the day had been around 7 hours old for me at that point. I partook in the lovely breakfast provided by my hotel and readied for a full day down in London town.

Zaireen came by the hotel and grabbed me at 11:30 am and we made our way to the shoot.  The weather was exactly what I would expect from London, which is to say cloudy and drizzly.  It wasn’t raining so much that you couldn’t get by without an umbrella, which was good news since I didn’t need one.  The shoot itself seemed to be in a very hip area of London in a bar-type setting.  Upon arrival I was introduced to Zai’s co-worker Mandy, a pleasant, friendly and somewhat cheeky blonde woman who seemed like she instantly took to people and people instantly took to her. We also met up with another blogger named David from City Drinking, an in depth site about all things drinking in the UK, also a good bloke and pleasant conversationalist.

I’m not sure if the location was an actual bar or if it was a warehouse with two sets within, but it didn’t really matter I guess.  We were there for “The Apartment” shoot for the new Bailey’s “Listen To Your Lips” campaign.  Very early into our stay at the shoot we were introduced to James from Bailey’s and Hugh from JWT London.  They were basically the two people at the heart of my stay in London as they’d be the ones providing me with all of the pertinent information on the campaign I was there to write about.  Hugh sort of reminded me of Stephen Merchant, though a little bit older and certainly more distinguished looking, whereas James reminded me of my friend Robert were he older and spoke with a much different accent.

I found their information to be most helpful and their demeanor to be more than friendly.  The set seemed none too tense as the overall feel of the commercial kind of circulated around the environment.  The shoot consisted of models singing along to catchy songs and I found myself humming the music to myself at points or wanting to sing along.

After a bit of shooting, lunch break was called for and we made our way to the craft services truck.  Next to the craft services truck was a grey double decker bus where all of the cast and crew were to enjoy their meals.  It was the same sort of bus where Andy Millman and Maggie would eat while  during many a scene on the show Extras.  There I partook in a lovely meal of Jerk Chicken with some rice and beans and extremely garlicky bread that we all feared would put a damper on talking for the rest of the day.

We stayed at the shoot a little while longer, before I headed back to my hotel for a brief nap.  There was an underlying excitement heading into the evening hours.  Not only was there a plan for another pub outing with myself, Zai, and Jonny whom I had met in Miami last year, but throughout the day there had been a tremendous buildup about a particular sporting event taking place that evening  You could hear talk of the Champion’s league final jumping off the lips of Brits on virtually every corner you walked.  The city was abuzz for the evening’s match that featured Manchester United vs. Barcelona in what was ostensibly the Super Bowl of actual “football.”

I’m not a huge fan of the sport most Americans refer to as Soccer, but I do find it extremely watchable and entertaining in it’s highest form and these were the two best teams duking it out.  So before even meeting up with Zai and Jonny later I was excited to bear witness to some serious English Football fanaticism that I hoped would border on stereotpyical hooliganism.

It was closer to 7pm, I believe when Zai and Jonny met me in my hotel lobby.  My first thought was that we’d eat at a pub that would have the game and plenty of rowdy fans shouting either in support or disdain for Man U.  Instead, we settled on making our first stop solely a dining outing at Pizza Express, a chain sit-down pizza establishment where one orders gourmet personal pizzas.  I was a little surprised at our restaurant choice as I was hungry for Football atmosphere, but I was also hungry for edible food.

Soon enough the three of us were immersed in conversation and thin crust.  We discussed everything from work to technology, to just general catching up stuff all the while downing two bottles of wine.  This was a welcome respite from the pint after pint pace of the day before.  A relaxing meal amongst friends was no match for screaming hordes of football fans.

Jonny and Zai Before Banoffee Pie

Jonny and Zai Before Banoffee Pie

Jonny and Zai seemed to finish their meal in a flash.  I surmised this must’ve been on account of me doing so much talking, but once my pizza slate was wiped clean rather than make for the pub to check the action on the pitch, we eased into dessert.  Zai got the chocolate cake and Jonny and I each got a slice of Banoffee Pie.  The ordering of Banoffee Pie led to me sarcastically remarking that everything was named so creatively.  I also made a motion that name Banoffee Pie was misleading since it could easily be mistaken for Banana and Coffee flavored, when it was in fact Banana and Toffee flavored.  I suggested a compromise of Tofnana Pie.  That way both flavors win and everyone knows what they’re eating.  Naming aside, the Tofnana Pie was delicious.

Tofnana Pie with Ice Cream

Tofnana Pie with Ice Cream

With desert in our stomachs and the bill paid, it was off to the pub to partake in more pints.  Unfortunately, one member of our party was dropping out.  Zai decided she was tired and with that Jonny and I set out for the rest of the evening.  Our first attempted stop was The Old Blue Last, which from the outside looks like a traditional booze joint, but according to Jonny has since become a trendy pint place for the stars.  He recounted a story about a none too pleasant encounter with Kelly Osbourne and a member of the Arctic Monkeys involving an accidentally spilled pint, no apology and an unforgiving bouncer inside said establishment. The previous incident apparently hadn’t completely turned Jonny off to drinking there, but the fact that they had no TV on to display the match certainly put a damper on our quest.We settled on a pub none to far away, just down the road called The Nelson’s Retreat.

IMG_9696

Upon entering The Nelson’s Retreat we found just what we, or at least I, was looking for.  The pub was packed with football fans screaming intermittently at the action going on on-screen.  Unfortunately, we had missed a good deal of the match as it was around the 60th minute of play when we arrived.  Fans were into the game though as Barcelona held a 1-0 lead over England’s Manchester United.  The majority of the crowd though seemed to be pulling for the foreign element as I had sort of figured out that Man U can easily be equated with the New York Yankees as a hated rival in many league circles.  They even had their own A-Rod type character in Cristiano Ronaldo, who I instantly grew to hate when his extreme arrogance emanated through the screen the first time I saw him on the TV.  He even sort of looked like A-Rod, which just brought about bad feelings.  Shortly thereafter he was given a yellow card for a somewhat dirty tackle, which had the crowd up in arms against the Man U superstar.

Some Football Celebration Going On On The Pub Screen

Some Football Celebration Going On On The Pub Screen

Several minutes into our stay as I downed another Carling while Jonny sipped on a Tiger, we bore witness to Lionel Messi’s game clinching header, that gave his Spanish squad a 2-0 lead.  From then on things seemed to die down in the pub.  Jonny and I eventually got a seat at the bar and closed the place down talking about our Miami trip the previous year and doing an increasing amount of catching up, much of which included talk of his expensive purple convertible he had been coaxed into buying by his ex and his impending move into his new apartment.  I was sort of jealous of his profitable station in life, but glad since from all I’ve seen of him, he is a deserving guy.

The night had one last stop after we left the Nelson’s Retreat and that was back at the jolly old Hoxton Hotel.  We sat down for one more beer at the hotel bar and ended the night on a high note talking about Jean Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris and various other stars of the ouevre.  Yes, my final night in London was quite the fine time.

I had set a wake up call the following morning as I had to pack up and check out before being met by Zai in my hotel lobby to head out to the final day of shooting.  I had already gotten the meat of information I needed for my JoshSpear post, but I had forgotten my camera the previous day.  So on this go round I could try to grab some quality snaps of the shoot while soaking in the uncharacteristically warm London sun on a 75 degree day while camped out on a rooftop, watching models and directors do their thing.

On Set With Bailey's

On Set With Bailey's

Craft Services Line

Craft Services Line

Grey DoubleDecker Bus: It's Where To Eat

Grey DoubleDecker Bus: It's Where To Eat

While being joined by a similar cast of characters in Zai, Mandy, and much of the same creatives from JWT and Bailey’s, there was also a blogger named Cate who ran a site called BitchBuzz.  The lot of us had a rather good time taking in the sites and enjoying the shoot.  At one point we became fascinated with the fact that there was in fact a hand model on the shoot.  We watched as she daintily held her digits deflecting against all contact.  She seemed to keep them hid aaway from harm in her pockets and just taking extra care as to not doing anything foolish like get them caught in a  blender or mangled by any non-existent bandsaw.  We couldn’t help but stare waiting for her prized fingers to show themselves.  I made a few attempts to get good photos of her but never really succeeded.

Later in the shoot day, after again eating at our Extras-esque meal base, I noticed Zai was sitting next to said hand model.  I calmly approached with the rest of our group and just as I was going to covertly snap a shot an awkward situation was created.  Zai basically confessed our fascination to the hand model, putting me on the spot by telling her I had something to ask her when all I really wanted was a photo of her hands.  Mandy and I scrambled for a good question to ask her regarding hand modeling, but all we came out with was something along the lines of “how do you get your hands ready?”  That was pretty weak and the model was kind of standoffish, asserting that she hadn’t been booked as a hand model before walking away. Oh well.

So much for our dream about knowing everything there is to know about hand modeling.  Oh well, we got over it and went on to watch even more of the shoot for the next couple of hours.  However, the time soon draw near for me to leave for the airport and myself, Cate, Zai, and Mandy headed out for one last pint at a place called The Big Chill Bar.  There didn’t seem to be a heaping helping of English beers there and instead I ordered a Budvar.  While we only had 45 minutes or so to shoot the shit at the end of our busy day, it was certainly enjoyable.  I felt like it was the fitting end to 2 wonderful days in London.

Just like that, I was on my way back to the Hoxton Hotel with Zaireen to pick up my bags and head off to the airport.  As the driver pulled away from the Hotel I had this overwhelming feeling that London was a place that suited me.  Sure I hadn’t stayed a month and I didn’t have to pay rent or navigate the underground on a regular basis, but there was a certain comfort to being there.  I felt welcome there and I guess I have the folks at Immediate Future, Bailey’s and JWT to thank for that.   I guess my only question now is, when can we do it again?

Posted in Advertising, blogging, Making Friends, Travel, vacation, work, writing | 2 Comments »