Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Birmingham and Heading Home - Day 5 & 6

My last full day in Birmingham was pretty laid back. After just being lazy around the house all morning, hunger finally necessitated us actually getting up and heading out for the day.

We went to a small local restaurant "Paw Paw Patch"... self-described as "Country Cooking". Anything sterotypically southern is here for your culinary enjoyment. I had some mighty tasty fried chicken, along with expanding my horizons with some fried green tomatoes and creamed corn. The corn looked like it was being eaten for a second time, but was surprisingly tasty. The fried green tomatoes looked fried and tasty, but I could live without them. Andrew got some fried okra, which I tried and found to be decidedly meh. But Southern it definitely was.

We then went over to the Birmingham Zoo, and I took advantage of my nearly-expired membership to the Woodland Park Zoo, which basically gives me reciprocal free admission at nearly every zoo in the country. I saved about $13.50, which made it almost worth it to buy a membership. Nice zoo, nothing too amazing, but definitely had some nice areas and the different climate actually yields some animals you wouldn't see at Woodland Park.

After heading home for a quick break, we went to see a movie at the dollar theatre. Andrew still hadn't seen National Treasure 2, so I saw that again for the second time in 4 days. However, seeing it on something a bit larger than a 12" screen made a huge difference. It was still worth $1.

It is now Tuesday and time to head home after a much relaxing and eventful vacation. After a nice quick flight from Birmingham, I'm now sitting here eating lunch in Charlotte on about a two-hour layover. Sitting here eating my lunch of a bacon burger at the faux airport Chili's, it was a bit surprising to glance up at the televion and see the right honourable senator from the state of Washington, Maria Cantwell, on CNN. Of course, there is no audio, nor captions, other than the byline stating something to do with oil, and furthermore I'm no lip reader, which is good too because I just now realized that Cantwell doesn't really have any lips (other than the ones she seems to draw on her face).

Another hour or so until my flight leaves, in addition to all of my pictures from this trip I've posted online, I realized that I've got several groups of pictures spanning as far back as Emily and Nathan's wedding nearly a year ago that I still haven't posted and labeled. Perhaps most of these will make their way up shortly as well.

O'Hare is the next stop on my journey home, and I highly doubt they provide free internet like the fine hospitality of the south provides. On a side note, this being my first venture to the Charlotte airport, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend being stuck on a layover here. Bright and airy, with plenty of space to relax and not feel like you're stuck in an airport. Admittedly, that might change if you were here for 4 or 5 hours, but for a 2-hour layover it's quite nice.

Back on United for the final two legs of my trip. I'm expecting less than luxurious coach accomodations. I'm also slightly disconcerted that my flight out of Charlotte still has no gate number assigned with just over an hour until departure. Seems a bit odd, but probably nothing to worry about. Along with that, it's already estimated to arrive in Chicago 7 minutes ahead of schedule. Somehow I doubt that.

The voyage home continues...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Chattanooooga - Day 3 & 4

Day three had us heading off to Chattanooga, Tennessee for the night. It's only a little over 2 hours to drive up there, but we made a short detour along the way.

In the small town of Scottsboro, Alabama lives the place where you find all of the things you never knew you lost. The Unclaimed Baggage Center, home of everything you've ever left behind on an airplane, or in your lost luggage, or probably in the airport too. That's right, it all ends up in Alabama. What does that mean? Not a whole lot. In addition to the racks and racks of clothes, you'll find tons of iPods and every other iPod-like-device ever created. Sounds too good to be true? It is. Everything is priced pretty ridiculously, if you ask me. Sure you save a bit of money over what you'd pay for something brand new, but not that great of a deal, especially for an iPod that looks like it's been to Siberia and back (and probably has). On the gimmick scale, this place rates at 9 out of 10... don't waste your time.

After that brief stop, we continued on to Chattanooga. Getting there requires crossing briefly into Georgia, then up into Tennessee. For probably a hundred miles around, you see signs, billboards, and what seem to be trademark birdhouses all advertising...


Rock City is basically what it sounds like, a tourist trap at the top of Lookout Mountain, apparently named because you can look out from the top and see seven different states. I think that's a bit of a stretch, but whatever. You'll see plenty of Rock City in the photo album. It's actually pretty cool, but if it wasn't enough of a gimmick, its biggest draw... the brand new Starbucks across the street. Spare me.

We dropped down the mountain and into Chattanooga, found our hotel and checked in then went downtown to see what there was to do. It was pretty late in the evening so the main plan was to find dinner, but we figured out what was there. We found dinner and then eventually made our way back to the hotel.

On Sunday, we headed back downtown and went to the Tennessee Aquarium. Definitely one of the best aquariums I've ever been to, and the fact that it was raining off and on all day long made it good to be inside for a few hours. We had lunch and wandered around Chattanooga for a few hours before heading back down to Birmingham.

Had barbeque for dinner and then were lazy the rest of the day. Still feels like a vacation.

Monday is the last day before I leave Tuesday morning for another marathon of flights back to Seattle. Good times.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Birmingham - Day 2

Friday in Birmingham was a pretty eventful, yet relaxing day. I seem to still be living on Pacific time though, as I got up around 10am Central, which is about when I'd normally get up to go to work on a Friday.

Once we got up and ready to leave, it was uh, lunchtime. :) So we made way for my most fitting start to the trip, Chick-Fil-A. I love me my Chick-Fil-A. Delicious, if not more delicious than normal. After lunch we drove a bit around the more scenic parts of Birmingham (and let me tell you, the scenic parts are few and far between.) We made it to the Southern Museum of Flight, aptly located over by the airport. For anyone who's been to Boeing's Museum of Flight in Seattle, this obviously pales in comparison, but is remarkably impressive. They had lots of older planes, especially military planes. Very nice museum.

After that we did more wandering around Birmingham, before ending up at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Big gardens with lots of trails up through trees and such. It was pretty fun (lots of pictures to be seen in the photo album). After a rousing game of "name that herb!" we headed back home and made pizza for dinner.

After dinner we went over to the Birmingham Race Track. Now I've been to plenty of horse race tracks, but this was my first greyhound racing track. It was... decidedly different. Dispense with the pageantry of horse racing, it looks like someone came up with this in their backyard one day. Furthermore, far more luck is involved in choosing the winning dogs. If there was any element of skill involved, it completely escaped me. It was interesting though.

We came home and it was time to go to bed, though we promptly didn't go to bed for another 2 hours. But that's typical. Hey, I'm still on Pacific time. Today we're heading up to Chattanooga for a couple of days, with plans to make a few bizarre stops along the way. As usual, it should be fun!

It took me only one day to feel like I was actually on vacation. Perhaps I really did need a vacation more than I thought I did.

Friday, April 25, 2008

TV Commercial Roundup

For the benefit of those of you with a Tivo, here's another roundup of great commercials that you may have skipped over. One advantage of being forced to watch live TV occasionally is that you get to see some of these really great commercials that themselves are worth watching. Today we have two more you need to see:

Who doesn't miss the days when Lou Piniella was the Mariners' manager? Even when the M's couldn't win a game, there was still a reason to watch!

Great commercial, especially with all of your favorite Discovery Channel stars. I could watch this over and over... which I do, because Discovery replays it constantly. I guess that's what you do when you get a winner.

Planes, Planes, and more Planes - Day 1

Who would have thought taking 3 flights zigzagging across the country in the same day would be tiring? Oh, yeah, everyone. That's OK, it wasn't so bad actually, but there were some adventures.

It began with a relatively uneventful flight down to San Francisco. After being loaded into the cattle-car known as United, we made our way down in a relatively quick hour and a half (well, in the air at least). In fact, we got there so early, there was still a plane waiting at our gate to leave, so we proceeded to sit on the taxiway for about 15 minutes, negating any resemblance of being early.

Of course, I was switching to US Airways for the remaining two legs of my trip, which flies out of the complete opposite end of the airport. So out from my gate I go, walk all the way to the center of the terminal, leave security, wait for their train, and take the train to the terminal at the opposite end of the airport.

After waiting in line again to go through security. Of course, once I make it to the almighty x-ray machines, I get pulled aside. "Can we look in your bag, sir?" Of course they can, what do I have to hide? Oh yeah, that completely unopened bottle of water I bought past security at Sea-Tac figuring I wouldn't have to go through security again. "Yes, TSA goons, you can take it." I still don't see the point of liquids causing any sort of security hazard, but I suppose it's all for the safety or our country, blah blah blah. I'll take my chances.

So I make it through security, and continue to walk all the way to basically the end of the terminal, where just as I arrive at the gate it's time to board. So much for grabbing lunch, I guess I'll just get on the plane.

Five hours on the flight to Charlotte. Fortunately the US Air planes are a bit more spacious than United, so it was pretty comfortable. The time passed by pretty fast. There were what I considered an abnormally large number of kids on the flight, running up and down the aisles at times, but they were pretty well behaved, even though the flight attendants had to get them to stay out of the way a few times. The in-flight movie was actually good, and one I hadn't seen, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. I have to admit, even though I was watching the movie on a 8-inch screen from 10 feet away, I think it was better than the first National Treasure, which I also enjoyed. The rest of the flight was relatively uneventful until during the second round of beverage service an entire bloody mary was spilled by the flight attendant on the rows right in front of me. First of all, the smell was just, uh, great. I felt bad for the one guy who had it spilled basically down his back. At some point, if it were me who got spilled on, I would have just completely started laughing. But that flight ended fine and all was well.

Spent a few hours in the Charlotte airport. Down-home Southern Hospitality at its finest. The restrooms all have attendants, and the terminals all have rocking chairs. Fortunately I had some extra time to relax and get some dinner (which was the only thing substantial I had eaten all day), then walked all the way out to the end of the airport to catch my plane to Birmingham.

The Birmingham flight was quick and smooth. The only funny part was the uncanny resemblance of the flight attendant to Mythbuster Kari Byron, but back in her shorter-hair years. She was equally as quirky and funny too. Made for a very entertaining flight.

After 12 hours in transit I finally made it to Birmingham. Andrew picked me up and after checking out his new(er) place, it was time to go to bed. I think today will require a trip to Chick-Fil-A for lunch... because that will make me happy.

Vacation is nice. No pictures yet, but I'll be sure to take the camera out today and get some shots of the scenic world that is Alabama. More to come...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How I Met Your Mother

I just got around to watching Monday's episode of How I Met Your Mother on my DVR.

This is the funniest sitcom on television. Certifiably. End of story.

Tomorrow morning I'm off on a plane to Birmingham, AL, via San Francisco, CA and Charlotte, NC. Expect some great blog entries coming up this week for you avid readers. :)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Global Warming? I think not.

It's the middle of April...

... and it's snowing.

It's the latest Spring snow in history... beating the previous record of April 16th. It feels like January. I think this means we'll have an abnormally hot summer. 6 days ago it was 78 degrees and sunny. What's the world coming to?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Another update...

Curling season is finally over. After a weekend where I curled at 2pm and 2am on Saturday night/Sunday morning, it's a good time to take a 6-month break from throwing rocks at houses. Another fun, yet surprisingly long season. I think the added complications of buying a house and moving in the middle of the season made it feel much longer than it really was. But on the bright side, I now have a much more relaxing summer lined up. The season was a resounding success, with my defending-champion Friday night team coming in a resounding 2nd place, yet my Thursday and Monday teams firmly in the "also ran" category.

In two weeks I'll be heading down to the South to visit Andrew. It's been nearly 2 years since I went down there, whereas he's been up to visit all of us in Seattle about 3 or 4 times (or maybe more, I've lost count). I'll be celebrating Confederate Memorial Day in Alabama, which will probably be a non-event down there, but at least interesting. Of course, in my constant frugality, I saved money by building the most convoluded flight itinerary down and back. I'll be leaving Thursday morning and fly to San Francisco, then to Charlotte NC, then to Birmingham. On the following Tuesday I'll go from Birmingham, to Charlotte, to Chicago, and finally home to Seattle. About 6000 miles criss-crossing the country for the low, low price of just $235. I don't mind too much... at least that's what I say now. :)

Work is going well. My new commute averages about 25 minutes, which is probably about the top of my tolerance zone, but acceptable. I think I'll enjoy the commute a bit during the summer when I can enjoy the nice weather while I'm driving home. The only part I don't enjoy is that I'm filling up the gas tank much more frequently now... add in the occasional drive down to visit the parents and it's even worse. But at this point, given the state of the bus system here that would add another 30-45 minutes each way to my commute, the time and flexibility of driving is more valuable to me. They really need to expand the light rail, even if it'll be 10 years for them to finish it. That's what I say.

Now I just need to figure out what new and fun things to do during the summer. Perhaps another attempt to get motivated to improve my golfing skills is in order. I need to actually get myself over to the driving range more often, just to remind myself how dismal my skills are. Or maybe something else is in order. We'll see.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


It's been a while since a blog entry, and fittingly we kick things back off with a musical review.

The 5th Avenue Theatre closed their 2007-08 season with what ranks as one of my favorite musicals, Cabaret. It's one of the few musical soundtracks that sees frequent play on my MP3 player. It goes without saying that I was looking forward to this show all season. But it wasn't quite as I expected.

Each time you have a new production of an old musical (the original Cabaret opened on Broadway in 1966), you tend to get a fresh new interpretation. One advantage is that you tend to get the best features of all the previous productions. This show was no exception.

The story surrounds Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer in Berlin during the rise of Nazi Germany, who meets an English cabaret star named Sally Bowles. The scenes take place in the context of the Kit Kat Klub, a seedy nightclub with a flamboyant master of ceremonies. The Emcee serves as the narrator tying the entire show together, and is really the true star of the show. This is the only constant throughout the productions I've seen. Once you reach the edges, things vary wildly.

It was the 1998 revival where I developed my love of the show, so I can't help but compare this rendition to then. The 5th's production has a markedly different feel. Where the 1998 revival envisioned the Kit Kat Klub as a very dark and black locale, this version took a bright and jovial approach, characterized by bright reds and shimmering light. Initially I wasn't as impressed, but as the show went on I began to like it. As has almost become expected at the 5th Avenue, the set design was befitting of the finest theatrical productions you'll ever find.

A huge credit goes to the 5th for focusing on the story. The story itself felt much more prominent than previously where the focus seemed to be more on the cabaret song-and-dance aspect. This saved the show for me.

Even the music leaves room for interpretation since much of it is so tightly integrated to the show itself. Perhaps I am a bit too attached to the 1998 soundtrack, but I was a bit disappointed by the music arrangement. The songs were vastly the same of course, but I felt that many of them were taken at a much slower tempo than was really befitting of the show, bringing the cadence of the entire show down with them. With the first act at nearly 1.5 hours, this could have helped as well. I consider that this may have been a conscious decision, but I wasn't impressed. The show could have been better served by being a bit more lively, and though I'm rarely displeased with the musical output of the 5th's productions, this one left me with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. The orchestra was a bit sloppy and especially out of sync with the singers at times. Ironically, this probably gave it more of an authentic cabaret feel as I would envision it, but if that was their goal it wasn't overt enough to be convincing and the result was underwhelming.

On to the ratings...

Cast: 3 stars - I wasn't particularly impressed. The lead roles were well played, but musically a bit lacking.
Script: 4 stars - The storyline is simple, yet compelling. Proof that complexity is not necessary for a solid script.
Technical: 4 stars - Kudos to the design crews. I give it another 1/2 star bonus.
Music: 3 stars - It pains me to do it, but I must.
Overall: 4 stars - The vision saved this show. Well worth seeing!