Tuesday, July 31, 2012

At least he had an EZ Pass

"They endured."  So goes the last line of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, an apt quote for my weekend excursion to New York City with Seamus.  We took a Cville-NYC shuttle line that I would name if I weren't about to blast them with a bad review.

The first hint that something was amiss was five minutes after we got on the road when the driver nearly missed a turn, despite the GPS. Did he not even know his way around Charlottesville?  We made our second pickup near K-mart.  A man stepped on the bus, greeted us, and announced he was going to sleep and would probably snore.   He did, too, but that's OK because, as you will see, he became the hero of the day.  We were a group of seven passengers in a fifteen seat minibus.  The driver informed us that we'd make one stop at the halfway point in Maryland and that we'd be arriving in New York around noon.

Soon we were properly on our way.  At an intersection about fifteen miles outside of Charlottesville, the driver made a surprise right turn, despite the squawking of the GPS.  To silence it, he yanked its cord while we continued east on route 33--the driver evidently planning to take the back roads to Fredricksburg where we'd pick up I-95.  This isn't the usual route to NYC, but I couldn't blame the driver for wanting to avoid I-66 in Washington, which is Satan's highway.  At any rate, I was more worried about freezing to death until a girl at the back of the bus asked the driver to turn the air down.

We continued in silence for awhile, until eventually we reached the outskirts of Washington DC, where traffic was backed up. The driver picked up his phone and I heard him say, "Oh hey, instead of staying on 29, I cut over to 95.  Was that a mistake?"  The boss evidently answered in the affirmative.  The driver then said, "Traffic is backed up and I don't think I'm going to make my fuel stop."  Everybody on the bus was now wide awake after hearing this alarming announcement, but nobody said anything. The driver told his boss he would "take care of it."  I unpacked my sustained-energy "breakfast cookie" and calmly ate it while awaiting our fate.

It was now unbearably hot in the van.  We asked the driver to turn the air back on, which he did.  The traffic unclogged itself, the van became more comfortable.  Maybe everything would be OK after all.

A drop of water hit my arm.  Startled, I looked for the source, couldn't find it, decided I was imagining things, when another drop hit me.  And another, and another.  A muffled explosion of giggles in the back seat told me that the girls in the back were getting wet too.  The source, of course, was the air-conditioner.  Well, OK, a few drops of water never killed anybody, no worries.  The drops became more frequent. Water was now dripping from the vent near the roof of the bus and splashing into the tray of potato chip packets which had been provided for our snack.  The driver was oblivious until suddenly an absolute waterfall poured from the ceiling into the driver's cabin, soaking the dashboard, the paperwork, the cell phone and the GPS.  Why don't you turn the air off? suggested the snoring man.  He looked at me and rolled his eyes.

The driver turned the air off.  Water continued to flood the driver's compartment, while he attempted to rescue his papers and dry off the dashboard, with one hand on the wheel.  It immediately became unbearably hot in the bus.  But we were in Maryland now.  We drove and we drove and we drove.  We were approaching Baltimore.  We were in Baltimore.  We were through Baltimore and yet still we did not stop.  Maryland is a small state.  I have driven across it dozens of times. It doesn't usually take very long.  Never has any drive across Maryland taken as long as this one.  We had now been on the road for over four hours.  Perspective for those of you unfamiliar with our local geography:  Charlottesville to Washington DC takes two hours, to Baltimore three hours, Philadelphia, four hours, NYC, six hours.  And now it had taken us four hours just to get to Baltimore.

At last, we reached the Maryland House rest stop.  The driver told us that he was going to see if they could send us a replacement bus.  At this point I had to speak up:  "But won't it take three hours for it to reach us?"  "Yes ma'am," the driver said, in a pained tone as if I were being difficult.

I definitely did not want to stand around a rest stop for three hours waiting for another bus.  Luckily, neither did any of the other passengers.  The plan was to press on without A/C.  We all exited to use the bathroom.  The driver unloaded a cooler of drinks and put it on the sidewalk.  He said he'd get gas and return.  We passengers dropped the ball here.  It was only after I watched him drive down the ONE WAY drive to the gas station, that I realized he wouldn't be able to come back to get us.

I saw the bus at the gas pump.  I saw the bus pulling away from the gas pump.  The bus disappeared.  We waited and waited and waited.  No bus.  I told the snoring man that I was worried the driver had not found a way back to the parking area and had gotten back onto I 95 and was circling around.  The snoring many said that wouldn't it make more sense for the driver to just walk over and get us?  Yes, that would make more sense.  The reality is that several busloads of people pulled up to the parking area and were unloaded, toileted, reloaded and gone, while we continued to stand by the cooler as if it were some sort of reassurance that we hadn't actually been abandoned on I 95.

"Sorry, sorry," chuckled the driver, pulling into the parking area a good twenty minutes after he'd pulled away from the gas pump.  "I had to charge the GPS."  This was obviously bullshit, but nobody said anything.  The bad news, the driver said, was that the flood had made his written directions illegible, but luckily the GPS would carry us through.  The good news was that he'd talked to his boss again and it was decided that we could have the AC on for half-hour periods, interspersed with half-hour periods of no A/C.

We reloaded with a new ETA of 1:40 pm--one hour and forty minutes late--but at least we would get there.  Maybe everything would be OK. I dozed for a bit and when I awoke, we were on the New Jersey Turnpike.  The GPS still showed an ETA of 1:40.  The heat was almost unbearable and every time the air was turned back on, we had to endure several seconds of super-heated air blasting at us before it cooled.  Our progress seemed sluggish.  We were getting passed on the right and passed on the left.

 I was having grave concerns about the driver's mastery of GPS.  Somehow, in the unplugging and the flooding, the volume had been turned down.  Evidently, the driver didn't know how to turn it back up. As we neared New York, I watched the driver sneaking quick peeks at the GPS and then quickly looking back at the road.  Then he got off the turnpike at the Verrazano Bridge.   I watched the GPS describe a giant U-turn.  The driver caught on to his mistake.  We made a time-wasting loop and got back on the turnpike.  Then we exited for the Holland Tunnel.  The driver paused the bus at the little no-mans land between the road and the exit, wondering what to do.  "LEFT!" said the snoring man, who was from Brooklyn.  We were now safely on the exit to the Holland tunnel.  Maybe everything would be OK after all.  We pulled up to the toll both. The driver asked the toll booth operator, "How do I get to the Lincoln tunnel?"  I literally could not believe my ears.  If he wanted the Lincoln tunnel, WHY DID HE GET OFF AT THE EXIT FOR THE HOLLAND TUNNEL?  The toll booth guy, with ill-concealed contempt, told him to make a U-turn and get back on the turnpike.  Meanwhile, our ETA crept later and later and later.

The driver took us down an interesting side tour of a row of shabby industrial buildings and made a U-turn, when the guy from Brooklyn spoke up and suggested that we just take the Holland tunnel, since it would get us to Manhattan, which is where we all desperately wanted to be.  Finally, finally we were headed in the right direction.  Surely everything would be OK now.

There was, of course, the usual insane traffic back up leading up to the tunnel.  There is always a lot of aggressive lane changing at places like this, but our driver was utterly unprepared for it.  We sat there while taxis surged around us on both sides and took up spaces in lanes that we could have grabbed.  A one-eyed man stumbled among the cars with a tin can, asking for donations.  The guy from Brooklyn spoke up again and coached the bus driver through this difficult area.  If he hadn't, I think we'd still be stuck at the entrance to the Holland tunnel.

Manhattan at last!  Our drop off place in the meatpacking district is relatively close to where we exited the tunnel and the guy from Brooklyn (formerly snoring man) guided the driver the entire way.  Our official time of arrival?  2:40pm.  We endured.








Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: Elizabeth

Today's assignment is a book I've wanted to read for ages, mainly because a character in a Barbara Pym novel discusses having read it.  And then it was mentioned on Downton Abbey!  I am referring to Elizabeth and her German Garden written by Elizabeth von Arnim in 1898.  In this book, Elizabeth muses on her garden--attached to a medieval German abbey in which she lives with her husband, the "Man of Wrath" and her three "babies."  Sounds boring, but it isn't, I swear.

Elizabeth leads a fantastically privileged life--ironically refers to the servants as her "minions," has difficulties with her gardeners, who seem to have an inclination to either quit or go crazy--but you can't help liking this woman, who also wrote The Enchanted April, one of my favorite books, and an excellent movie besides.  Her nickname for her husband hints at marital problems (and difficult husbands are an issue in The Enchanted April as well).  The "Man of Wrath," at one point, argues at length in support of the legal classification of women, children, and idiots as one group.

There are  humorous conflicts with a governess, and an annoying art student who comes to stay for Christmas, but overall, this book is about the joys of solitude.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Having your oats and eating them too.

If you read blogs--and since you are reading this it is safe to assume that you do--you must be aware of the Oatmeal Renaissance, spurred mainly by healthy living bloggers who have elevated this humble food to the status of the Holy Grail.  And why not?  I acknowledge that oatmeal is cheap, delicious, healthy, and filling.  Still, I can't help but feel mildly amused at its new place as a high status food.  And also mildly irritated at bloggers who profess themselves gurus in the Art of Oatmeal and post fifteen-minute instructional videos on how to make it, for which they get adoring comments along the lines of, "OMG!!!!  Thanks for this!  I NEVER would be able to make oatmeal myself without your help!"  Come on.  If you need a fifteen minute instructional video on how to make oatmeal, you might want to consider sticking to cold cereal.

Not only is there oatmeal, there is Overnight Oats in a jar.  The idea here is that you put raw oats, liquids, chia seeds (an essential ingredient) and tasty mix-ins of your choice into a mason jar (because the only thing hotter than oatmeal right now is the mason jar) let it sit overnight in the fridge and eat it cold in the morning.  The result looks like moldy cottage cheese.  But it is good for you!

For a brief period, I was all about overnight oats, because they saved me time in the morning, and I could bring my jar to work and eat breakfast at my desk, although the disgusting appearance of this breakfast made me feel a little self-conscious, particularly the time I mixed in powered peanut butter,  so it looked more like vomit in a jar rather than moldy cottage cheese, although really, which is worse?




Soon I realized that raw oats have an unhappy effect on the digestive tract.  And yet, I really wanted to continue to eat an oatmeal breakfast at work, at the normal breakfasting time of 9:00am, instead of force-feeding myself at 06:45, as I had been doing before.  I decided to try pre-cooking my oats at night.  Did you know that when you cook oatmeal in a mason jar in the microwave you get a volcanic eruption of oats that hardens instantly and must be scraped off the microwave ceiling with a chisel?  I didn't know it either, but I am pleased with this addition to my fund of knowledge.  At any rate, I took the small amount of oatmeal that hadn't exploded all over the microwave, and mixed it with yogurt and chia seeds and jam and put it in the fridge over night.  Pre-cooked overnight oats are a vast improvement over raw ones and my digestive tract thinks so too.

When I check back later, I expect to find fifty-seven comments saying, "OMG!!! I never would have thought to COOK my oats before putting them in the fridge overnight!!!"


Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: Cool interlude

I am so hot and lethargic lately, I seriously considered writing "Friday Reading Assignment:  the TV edition."  I had to dig into my mental archives to find a worthy book and came up with  Frost on my Moustache by Tim Moore.  The title is the punchline to a hilarious joke, told in the book, which I'd love to retell here, but I don't want to spoil it, and anyway this is supposed to be an all-ages blog.  Tim Moore is one of my favorite travel writers, because he's funny  and incompetent, and comes up with harebrained travel adventures, such as following the path of Victorian adventurer, Lord Dufferin, as he does in this book.

It's been a long time since I read Frost on my Moustache, but it is firmly ensconced in the mental list of books that I definitely want to reread.  I recall a miserable journey on a ship, followed by a bicycling tour of Iceland, for which he is pathetically unprepared.  Then come terrifying flights to Spitzbergen and Franz Josef Land, where he's consumed with fear of being eaten by a polar bear and endures a grueling sort of tubing adventure in icy water.  Funny, and comfortable reading when it's 98 degrees outside.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Oh, public school.

I know it is hard to summon up righteous indignation when it is so hot, and on a Monday too, but I am going to ask you to try.  A friend of mine alerted me to this little tidbit in our city's public school handbook (emphasis mine):



VALEDICTORIAN For classes of 2012, 13, 14, this award is given to the highest academically ranked graduate (weighted GPA). For class of 2015 and beyond, Valedictorian will be elected by the senior class from a pool of students with a 4.0 GPA or higher.

SALUTATORIAN For classes of 2012, 13, 14, this award is given to the second-highest academically ranked student (weighted GPA). For class of 2015 and beyond, Salutatorian will be elected by the faculty from a pool of students with a 4.0 GPA or higher.




Note:  it doesn't say that the valedictorian will be elected from the top ten-ranked students, or from all students with a GPA of 4.0 or higher, but from a "pool" of such students, which suggests that students are being chosen for this pool by the administration.  What's up with that?  


I heard that the reason for the change is fairness.  To me it seems pretty unfair to snatch the awards away from the two students who actually earned the two highest GPAs.   


I am the sort of person who isn't aware of trends until they come up and punch me in the face.  Is this in place at every school in the US and Charlottesville is the last one to join the crowd, or are we piloting a new weapon in the movement to turn public education into total bullshit?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment

Last week I burdened you with Faulkner, so I propose something a little easier today:  The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe.  If there was ever a book that influenced the creators of Mad Men, it was this one.  That said, it isn't Mad Men, just shares some elements with it.  It's 1952 and five girls are in the typing pool of a publishing house in New York.  They have sex and career-related adventures. This is one of those delicious books that you can escape into at the end of a hard day.  Sorry guys, this novel is bound to be more popular with the ladies.


Source: amazon.com via Aileen on Pinterest

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bacon and Benches.

The internet hath asked for the recipe for caramelized bacon and the internet giveth.  I found the recipe in The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser, which has become my cooking Bible.  It's very simple.  Take a one-pound box of brown sugar, dump it into a bowl and stir in 1/4 cup water.  Take a pound of (ideally best-quality, thick-sliced) bacon and dredge each piece in the sugar.  Place the bacon pieces in a large, rimmed, parchment-lined baking pan.  Bake at 400 for 8-13 minutes per side.  Allow to cool and cut into little pieces.

A while back, I wrote a piece bitching about why Charlottesville's Downtown Mall is not a welcoming place to people who don't intend to spend any money.  There were some supportive comments, but also some rumblings that I was whiny, cheap, and un-funloving.  Really?  Is it so improbable that the need to sit down in public is not always coupled with a desire to purchase a beverage or a meal? The one scenario that keeps coming to mind is a mother with a nursing infant.  What are you supposed to do if you're downtown and your baby needs to be fed?  (To anyone who says "bottle" a big hand is going to come out of your computer and smack you in the head.)  Of course, the last place you would ever park yourself to publicly nurse a baby would be in front of a crowd of rowdy homeless people.  On the other hand, should your only other choice be to take a screaming baby into a restaurant and order something?  Or flee to your car?  Or walk all the way home with a hungry, crying baby?  Or what if you are elderly?  What if you are recovering from illness or surgery and you just need to rest your legs for five effing minutes?

Now the issue has hit the local news, as the city removes more benches from the mall, for the specific purpose of booting a crowd of rowdy homeless people.  I totally get it that these people are annoying on the Mall.  I am on the Downtown Mall a lot--usually passing through on my walk home from work. I put on my don't-fuck-with-me face and breeze past the panhandlers and they don't bother me, but I can see how some people would find them intimidating.  On the other hand, they are people.  Human beings.  It seems a bit, I don't know, medieval, to snatch away amenities to keep "that sort" away from the mall.  What's next?  A designated homeless-only area?

The thing is, there has never been a time or a culture that didn't have public beggars.  You can't make them disappear by removing benches from a public place.  There are no public benches along the stretch of W. Main St. near the ABC store yet there is often a sketchy group gathered there.  What's the solution there?  Remove the liquor store?  Remove the trolley stop?  Nobody can buy liquor or ride a bus because a few people want to hang around and be obnoxious?




Monday, July 09, 2012

Revenge of the Animals

It was a very exciting weekend, due to the fact that Mrs. G of Derfwad Manor made a stop in Charlottesville on her cross-country tour of the US.  Local blogger Jen of Jenontheedge hosted a party. It was great to meet Mrs. G and other Virginia bloggers, including the hilarious Suburban Correspondent.

One topic of conversation was a new tick bite disease.  Am I the last person in the world to hear of the  victims of the lone star tick who suddenly develop a severe allergy to meat?  The epicenter of this disease is right here in Central Virginia, where there have been 1,000 cases of tick-bite-related meat allergy.  Can you imagine a life without bacon?  A fate worse than death.  Are the vegetarians all dying laughing over this?

So I get home from this party, my head full of a new disease to fear, and the first thing Seamus says to me is, "Can you take me and my friends hiking tomorrow?"

We did go hiking Saturday despite the ticks and this was the first time in my life that I encouraged the use of bug repellant.  We hiked to the lovely Snake Hole swimming hole at Sugar Hollow--a natural pool in a cool mountain stream with a clean, rocky bottom. Its name reminded me that in all the fuss about ticks, I had forgotten to worry about snakes.  Still, we saw no snakes, and only one tick, and I felt both virtuous and adventurous for doing something on a 100-degree day other than skulking inside in the air conditioning.

Speaking of air conditioning, we were among the tiny minority that didn't lose power after the derechopocalypse, but our air conditioner died last week, when the temperature was in the 100s.  I don't mean to sound ungrateful, as thousands of people were suffering far more than we were.  It's one thing to have no A/C on a hot day, and quite another to have no A/C, water, lights, washing machine, fans, or refrigerator.  Still, we suffered and perhaps I felt a little less guilty for having a freezer full of ice cream.  I am grateful for what we had, but it is a tad ironic, no?


Friday, July 06, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: OMGFaulkner

The first time I read The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, was in college and I read the entire novel in a few hours, cramming for an exam.  Not the ideal way to read any book, and certainly not this one, although even after that cramming experience, I loved it and knew I would read it again one day, properly.  Now I'm re-reading it for the fifty classics project.

Faulkner makes me feel intellectually feeble, and there's nothing I can say about The Sound and the Fury that hasn't been said before.  Just read it.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Patience on a Hot Tin Roof

I am going to be terribly boring today and talk about the weather.  You may have heard about the devastating storm that left a swath of destruction across the mid-Atlantic.

I stepped outside briefly Friday night and noticed a barrage of heat lightning, with no thunder.  Suddenly, the wind picked up--there was one particularly terrifying gust that toppled Jon's motorcycle--then things calmed down.  We thought the storm was over, but it turned out this was just the beginning of a pattern of fierce wind, flickering lights, panicking dogs, followed by calm.  After a particularly long period of calm, I decided the storm must finally be over and went upstairs to get ready for bed.  Then came the most terrifying gust of all.  I had an internal sense that something awful was about to happen.  Then came a noise of hundreds of tennis balls being hurled at the roof with great violence.  Hail?  But there was no hail (or rain) and the noise stopped after a few seconds.  All seemed calm and we went to bed, although I barely slept, due to worry about Grace who was spending the night at a friend's house on which an entire tree had fallen, and Brigid, who was camping in a tent at a music festival somewhere in Northern Virginia.  (They are both safe, but we didn't hear from Brigid until late Sunday night.  Her phone had been dead.)

Jon left for work very early Saturday morning.  As soon as I got up, I climbed out of my bedroom window onto the sunroom roof and from there ascended a ladder to the roof over the main part of the house.  A huge tree branch was lying on our roof, and appeared to have made a violent impact with our chimney.  It was impossible to assess the full extent of the damage because of all the leaves.  It was a walnut tree, which explains the thundering tennis ball sound I'd heard the night before.

There was no way I was going to wait twelve hours for Jon to get home to get this mess off our roof.  I got a tree saw and a set of clippers, climbed onto the roof, still in my pajamas and attacked the branch.  There were actually two branches on the roof and I managed to haul one of them over the roof peak and slide down to the relatively flat bit over the bathroom and then saw it into manageable chunks.

The other branch turned out to be still attached to the tree, so I gave up.  I was suddenly aware of the intense heat--our roof is made of tin--and that I had neglected to put on sunscreen, and that my pajama shirt was soaked with sweat.

Here are a few pictures I took on Sunday, after the cleanup.  It didn't even occur to me to take pictures at first.

The only discernible damage is to this flimsy chimney liner, plus two missing bricks, one of which I dislodged while using the chimney as a support while I sawed.  On Saturday morning, this entire area was covered with the tree branch.




The bit of branch that's still on the roof.




That horizontal bit to the left is the end of the branch that's still attached to the tree.


Yesterday morning I work up with unhappy thoughts about sleeping wrong, a bad mattress, a sudden affliction with arthritis, or lupus, or lyme disease, and it wasn't until nearly dinnertime that I realized that the reason I ached so much all over was from my unexpected upper-body workout.  My left wrist is especially unhappy.


We've got an arborist coming today to give us an estimate on removing it.  Last night we had another thunderstorm, with wind and I heard some ominous noises on the roof.  The branch appears to have shifted a bit.  If it falls off the roof on its own, it will likely catch the power line on the way down.