September 2001 Archives

Bellybuttons?

So I, along with a whole bunch of other people, sat down and watched the series premiere of Enterprise on Wednesday night.

Well, it didn't suck. And compared to "Encounter at Farpoint", which was the Next Generation series premiere, it was actually pretty good. On the other hand, "Encounter at Farpoint" was so bad that Next Generation could only improve from there.

I have to say that I liked it. It's not as good as Farscape, but very little on TV is that good.

Though I must admit to being surprised at one thing: Vulcans have bellybuttons.

When in doubt

Fall arrived this morning.

(When in doubt, write about the weather.)

Yesterday was just another late summer day, rainy in the morning, clearing up in the evening. Warm, warm enough to wear shorts if you wanted.

It was cold this morning. Dropped all the way down to 50 degrees. Brr. Just like that, a switch was thrown, the seasons changed and it's "welcome to autumn" all of a sudden.

And everyone automatically switches into their fall and winter gear. Gone are the light summer dresses and the baggy shorts and the madras shirts and the strappy sandals; long coats, black leather, sweaters, and boots reign instead.

Black is back, baby.

Unfortunately, so are my nasal allergies.

. . .

Fixed some broken .mp3 links. Boy Scouts works now. Also moved my travel pictures off of Panix and on to asterius, adding an extra link over there on the right side of this page.

For some reason, I'm getting more and more tempted to redesign this page again...

. . .

The Onion gets it right.

Cookie Monster

"Depart not from the path which fate has you assigned."

These fortune cookies keep getting cheerier and cheerier.

County Fair

Vincent T. Lombardi once said:

"It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up."

Sometimes I feel like one of those whack-a-mole moles. Popping up only to get knocked down again.

The good news is that I'm not writing about the World Trade Center anymore. Well, at least I've stopped for a while. I went down to Ground Zero on Sunday evening. I should have the pictures up early next week.

RIP

Isaac Stern, 1920-2001.

He was a man who really knew how to get to Carnegie Hall.

A few random notes....

Maybe it was Iraq?

. . .

Never fight a land war in Asia. Particularly when you're talking about Afghanistan. It took the British 50,000 men to find out the hard way.

Offhand, I can only think of two generals who've ever lead successful extended land campaigns in Asia.

  • Genghis Khan
  • Alexander the Great

It is instructional to note that neither Alexander nor the Great Khan made it home alive.

Bill S.

This is late September, not the middle of March, but:

O! pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers;
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood;
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy,
Which like dumb mouths do ope their ruby lips,
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue,
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use,
And dreadful objects so familiar,
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
All pity chok'd with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene I

Calm

I went to go see The Magic Flute last night at City Opera with my family.

Two-and-a-half hours of Mozart can have a tremendous calming effect on the nerves.

FSVO 'Normal'

New York is slowly returning to something approaching normal, week now after the disaster (what do you call it? "The Attack?" "The Bombing?" "The Crash?"). Well, "normal" in the sense that people are going back to work, the stock market is open again (and it promptly fell 700 points—whee!).

But not "normal" in the sense that things will go back to the way they were. They'll never go back to the way they were. It's like a giant hole has been punched through the heart of the city, and even though all wounds heal with time, this wound is going to take a very, very, very long time to heal.

An early estimate is that it's going to take about a year just to clean up the mess. And it's probably going to be more complicated than that. You see, when they were building the WTC, they had to contend with the fact that they were building the world's tallest buildings (at the time) in what was essentially the middle of a river.

And now that they have to tear it down and clean it up, they're faced with exactly the same problem.

But that's just physical infrastructure.

There are still (as of this writing) almost 5,000 people still listed as missing, and, unfortunately, it's pretty unlikely that any of them have survived this long. The flyers with names and pictures of the missing are all over Manhattan. The greatest concentration of flyers is at the memorial site at Union Square. It's numbing to see all the names and faces and the pleas for information.

Young, old, middle-aged. White, black, brown, yellow, and all shades between. Newlyweds, near-retirees, recent graduates, new parents. Bankers, waiters, analysts, security guards, policemen, musicians, firemen, drivers, secretaries, engineers, traders, handymen, bartenders, flight attendants, athletes, writers, stage-hands, pundits, pilots, artists. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, pagans, agnostics, atheists. Brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, lovers, sons, daughters.

All gone.

Everyone who died had a story. Everyone who died had hopes. They had dreams, fears, desires, duties. They had their favorite things—their own versions of brown paper packages tied up with string, their own bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. They had their own lives, each as rich and complex and full of incident as any other. And they all left those they loved, and those who loved them, behind.

One of the more remarkable things I noticed at the memorial were all the calls for peace. Maybe I'm stating the obvious here, but bombing Afghanistan back to the stone age (doing so wouldn't accomplish much, since they're already there) isn't going to bring the dead back. Do those who did this horrible thing, those who are behind it, do they need to be punished? Absolutely. There is no question about that. But in fighting our enemy, we cannot become them. Justice will be served—it must be served—but it cannot come with a steaming, stinking helping of revenge. We need to heal our own, to mend somehow this gaping ugly stinking hole that has been ripped through the city.

Maybe it's a little pat, and a little too alliterative, but healing needs hope, and it needs love.

Wedding Bells

I went to a wedding today.

Normally, this wouldn't be earth-shaking news (well, I hadn't been to a wedding in something like over 10 years, which may say something about my social habits or lack thereof, but whatever). But it's a sweet story.

Before I start, I should add that my office has been hosting the phone banks for the Mayor's Office of Emergency Services. This has not been the control center, just where the phone banks are. The net result is that the main floor of the station has volunteers all over the place, answering phones, trying to track the missing, the wounded, the lost, and the found.

Paul and Monique (I don't know what their last names are) were going to hold their wedding on Friday, September 14, 2001 (i.e. today). Then the towers came tumbling down, and the world changed. They abandoned their wedding plans and signed up as volunteers, putting the good of the city ahead of their own plans.

Today, at around 3:30, or so, in the main hallway, surrounded by fellow volunteers and Channel 13 employees, Paul and Monique were married in a brief ceremony. The bride wore a white veil, an orange shirt, and gray pants (I think). Cheers broke out when the judge said, "You may kiss the bride."

It was really sweet and surprisingly moving, that amidst the chaos, the shock, and the general grim atmosphere, that two people were joined, that they took the steps for a (hopefully) long and happy life together.

It was a real feel-good moment.

The huge cake that the Cupcake Cafe was able to whip together certainly didn't hurt.

. . .

You really should look at this:Cynthia Malaran's WTC: Watching The Changes.

9-11-01

| 1 Comment

This is what I was doing yesterday.

I was at home, getting ready to leave for work. The message on the internet was short and slightly irreverent:

BREAKING NEWS from CNN.com — World trade center damaged; unconfirmed reports say a plane has crashed into tower. Giant monkey unharmed.

I thought it was a joke. But I checked in to CNN.com, just in case. Staring me in the face was a simple picture of the World Trade Center, smoke pouring from one tower.

I flipped on the television. Every channel had that same, bizarre image on - a single tower billowing dark, black smoke. A thin dark line stretched across the face of the tower, possibly where the wing of the aircraft had hit the tower.

But the line was so big. Huge. If that really was the impact line, then it must have been a big airplane. A commercial airliner. Unthinkable.

On the television, commentators were chattering away, buttressing and then contradicting each other, their apparent confusion only making the matter worse.

I reached for the phone and called my mother.

“Mom, turn on the television. An airplane just crashed in to the World Trade Center.”

I couldn’t see the towers from the windows of my apartment, so I stood there, looking at the pictures, trying to wrap my brain around the impossible. I remembered that in the late 1940s, a B-25 bomber flew into the Empire State Building in the fog. Those images, of the bomber half-in and half-out of the old skyscraper, were bouncing around in my head. But it was a clear, sunny day. And the airplane - what kind of airplane? - had been swallowed entirely by the tower. I looked out the window, to see who was out on the street. And then I glanced back to the television, only to see a monstrous fireball emerge from the side of the other, previously pristine, tower.

“Oh my God, Mom, there was just a huge explosion in the other tower!”

Up to that point I had thought that it had been an accident. But then, the other explosion, the other tower. I at first thought that I had been mistaken, that there had been a second explosion in the first tower, or maybe debris from the first accident had somehow—someway—gotten into the second tower and exploded late. But there had been no marks on the face of that second, southern tower. And a little voice inside my head quietly—persistently—forebodingly said “This was not an accident.”

The smoke was now streaming out of both towers. I don’t remember if I stood - if I sat - if I paced around my apartment. I was flipping channels rapidly, the differing views from different helicopters of the two wounded towers providing an almost cubist experience; with a little imagination I could see myself flying around the towers. I wanted them to go back to the explosion, to look at it again, to see if you could see something - anything.

And then they slowed down the tape. And the shape was unmistakable. Blurry, pixilated, fuzzy, out-of-focus. But clear enough. A twin-engined passenger airliner. Heading for that southern tower. Dipping behind the first stricken tower. Emerging for only a frame or two in the gap between the skyscrapers. Vanishing again. And then that massive, horrible explosion.

Horror. Nothing but horror.

And they played it again.

The President of the United States came on the television, and gave a brief statement, confirming what had been an increasingly sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. An “apparent terrorist attack.”

Other reports started to trickle in. An explosion at the Pentagon. Airports closing. Amidst the confusion, the only thing that seemed clear to me was that nobody knew anything.

I asked my mother if she’d heard from my brother.

“No word yet.”

Stuyvesant—his high school—is less than five blocks from the WTC.

I sat down at my computer and fired off a quick status email to my sister: “I’m OK; Mom & Dad are OK; am assuming that William is OK.” I followed it with a quick email to my brother, betting on the slim possibility that he might be able to access his email. “William - report in. Email, cell phone, phone home, whatever.”

I slowly got dressed, and went downstairs to go to work.

The streets were empty. I walked down to 66th Street, looking for a taxi or a bus to take me to work. I found one on the corner, near the ABC studios. I told the taxi driver where to take me, and then he turned to me and said “One of the towers collapsed.”

“What?”

“One of the skyscrapers collapsed. The second one that got hit. It’s gone.”

I was thinking that perhaps the top of the building, above the explosion, had toppled, leaving a truncated, grotesque mockery of a once-proud building.

“No, it collapsed completely.”

Then he told me how he had been downtown only five minutes before the first plane had hit. He showed me his log book. I looked at it. 8:40 a.m., the intersection of Water and Wall streets.

The street outside of my office was jammed with people. It looked like half the population of the building had decided to spontaneously evacuate.

Inside, the building was eerily quiet; an uncommon hush had descended. It was a hush that would spread across the city. I found my boss, and asked him if there was anything that I could do. Nothing was the response. I asked him if we had had any people at the World Trade Center that morning. The news was not good. One of our engineers had been there and we hadn’t heard from him.

I checked my email, and responded quickly to a couple of “Are you OK” queries. No word from my brother. That wasn’t entirely surprising, as local phone line service at my house had gone out before I left for work, and my cell phone wasn’t working at all either.

I settled down in front of a TV, trying to digest what had happened—what was happening. The pictures made it clear that there was no more southern tower at the World Trade Center. Only the one was left. A shroud of smoke and dust at the base of the center made it difficult to tell how much—if any—of the southern tower was left.

The talking heads were saying that New York city schools were in “lock-down” mode. There were reports that there was a car bomb at the State Department. The Mall in Washington DC was on fire. No, there was no car bomb. Someone was saying that there was a third plane that brought down the tower. An airliner had crashed in Pennsylvania somewhere. A bomb scare downtown. Missing, hijacked aircraft. All air traffic in the United States had been grounded.

Then the second tower collapsed. There was no commentary as the top part of the skyscraper gently settled, with a gray skirt of smoke coming out around the tower where the aircraft had hit. And then in horrifying slow motion, but with sickening quickness, the rest of the tower collapsed upon itself.

There were more reports of schools still being in lockdown, but that some kids were being allowed out in the custody of their parents. An email came in from a senior vice-president, telling everyone to go home. On the television, lower Manhattan had been engulfed by a giant gray cloud.

I grabbed my bag and found my boss. There was nothing I could do at the office, so I told him I was going to try to find my brother. Miracle of miracles, the phones at work were working. I called my parents and told them what I was going to do. They still hadn’t heard from him.

I left the building and started walking down Tenth Avenue. It was a beautiful day out. Warm, but not too hot. There were far more people walking uptown than down. There was a strange in the air. I heard the roar of a jet fighter overhead, and looked for it. An F-15 over the Hudson. I never thought I’d see the day when armed interceptors patrolled the skies over Manhattan. Then again, I never thought I’d see the day when the World Trade Center would be destroyed in suicidal terrorist attacks.

I walked down to 15th Street, where Tenth Avenue meets the West Side Highway. Hordes of teenagers were making their way uptown along the bike path along the river. Someone grabbed one of the kids and asked them where they were from.

“We’re from Stuyvesant High School. They evacuated the school.”

I slowly started to pick my way down the bike path, scanning the crowds for my brother’s face. There was no traffic at all on the West Side Highway. I would later learn that Manhattan had been sealed off — no traffic either in or out. There had been a exodus across the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge as people made their way by foot across the East River, away from Manhattan, away from danger.

I was less than two miles from ground zero when the rest of the students from Stuyvesant had passed me. There were other refugees from lower Manhattan heading up, too — men, women, in varying states of griminess. A woman in a dark blue suit was crying in to her cell phone, saying she had seen people jump from the burning towers.

Ambulances would punctuate the stillness, full sirens on, heading north, heading for hospitals. Emergency vehicles — fire trucks, cars with sirens on them, cops on motorcycles — would appear out of nowhere, rushing somewhere, and then disappear.

And then people started running north, away from the disaster area. I heard cries of “Gas Leak!” I ran across to the east side of the street. There was a pay phone there. I picked it up — it was ten seconds until I got a dial tone. I got through this time, but they hadn’t heard from William yet.

I yielded the phone to a middle-aged woman in a tan suit. And then people started running again. A construction worker was yelling “Gas Leak!” again. I grabbed the woman, and told her to start running, to forget the phone call.

I cut inland, into the West Village, until I found another pay phone. My cell phone was still not working. I was in line behind a Chinese teenager who was giving a quick update to someone — her parents? a friend? an aunt? — in rapid-fire Cantonese. This time I got a dial tone immediately. My parents still hadn’t heard from William.

I walked back up Hudson Street, joining the human migration northwards. I stopped and looked for a bus. No sign of a bus.

As I neared 14th Street, a man on a bicycle passed me, his long hair dancing in the wind as he sprinted up towards Eighth Avenue. Across the back of his white T-shirt he had written “Give Blood.”

I stopped at Martin’s house on 22nd Street to see how he was doing. He was fine, as were Sandy and Kristina. His cat Floyd was pretty freaked out. Of course, Floyd is not exactly a normal cat. Called my parents again. William had finally called. We had missed each other somehow. I think that he had already passed me by the time I had gotten down to the West Side Highway. I later learned that he was in the process of evacuating his school when the second tower collapsed.

I made another stop along Eighth Avenue, at the offices of a production company that I do some freelance work for. The office was abandoned, save for a few people who worked a company that sublet space from my employers. I checked my email again, responding to the emergency “How is Everybody” emails that were flying around. I also updated my webpage, alerting any potential visitors that I was fine, as was the rest of my family (I took the time to fix an embarrassing error: for some reason, I’d been entering all the September entries with “August”).

Then I finally made it the rest of the way up to my parents’ house, spotting a few more F-15s keeping the peace along the way.

It is hard to explain the feel of the city now. There is an odd, stilted quietude; there are virtually no cars on the street, and people are hushed. It feels depopulated, as if the normal hustle and bustle of the city had been told pack it in for the night and go home. There were very few people out on the streets last night. It feels like the city as a whole has withdrawn because of the shock and the horror; as if it has paused for a moment of collective introspection. Walking home last night I passed a well-dressed blonde woman standing in a phone booth. She was crying into the phone.

The surreal quality of the city right now has been amplified by the fact that the prevailing winds have shifted today, and are now coming out of the south, spreading the fumes from the disaster scene across Manhattan. There is a faint smell of burnt rubber hanging in the air, even as far up as my apartment. And then there’s the , a sonic manifestation of the pensiveness that pervades the city; and the occasional sirens, not unusual in the usual urban symphonies of honks and squeals and assorted random noises, but unsettling in the slightly nervous calm that grips New York.

New York City is a tough city, and it will harden you.

But the response of the people of this city has been astonishing. Yesterday there were four and five-hour waits to give blood. Today, emergency centers around the city were having to turn away volunteers — total strangers, most without any sort of medical training, just New Yorkers willing to lend a hand in their city’s hour of need. I have seen with my own eyes hundreds of volunteers manning phones in emergency response centers, helping people try and track down missing and injured loved ones. Impromptu memorials have gone up in parks downtown. The Mayor was asked at a news conference if there had been any looting. He looked at the questioner as if they were from Mars.

(I don’t think that anyone would accuse me of being the world’s biggest Rudy Giuliani fan, but he has really distinguished himself, showing real leadership in this crisis. I won’t mention other people in leadership positions who did not distinguish themselves during this calamity.)

I don’t know who masterminded this attack.

I don’t know what an “appropriate” response would be.

There is that old cliche: “And at that moment, everything changed forever.”

I do know that a city has changed forever.

I do know that life has changed forever.

Things really never will ever be the same.

I am lucky.

I am safe. My family is safe. My friends are safe.

I can only hope that you and your are healthy and safe as well.

My thoughts tonight — and, I suspect, for many days and nights to come — are with those who have not been as fortunate or as lucky as I.

Good night.

Fine

I am fine.

My family is fine.

My thoughts are with those who have not been as fortunate as I.

Fall In The City

I was going to drone on about the glory of the opening of the new NFL season, at least until I got lunch.

My (and yours, too) fortune cookie today:

You will meet a mysterious person this week who will offer you a "golden opportunity"

Hey, can’t complain about that…

The LA Report

I left New York on Friday afternoon. The Friday before a holiday weekend. Real smart, eh? So I allotted myself two-and-a-half hours to get to the airport.

Traffic leaving the office actually wasn't as bad as I had expected it to be. My cabbie took the Midtown Tunnel and the LIE to Woodhaven Boulevard. It turns out that my cabbie actually lived out by JFK, and this trip was like going home for him.

From Woodhaven Boulevard to the Belt Parkway and then on into JFK. I was there quite early.

The airplane trip itself was pretty uneventful. It went up, it came down, all without incident. The movie was Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, which seemed pretty amusing despite the fact that I was watching it without the sound. The end of the movie seemed eerily familiar though, as if I had seen it before in a dream.

You can learn a lot about a movie by watching it with the sound off.

Once we landed (a very smooth landing, and my compliments to United Airlines), I picked up my luggage, and headed outside and waited for the car rental shuttle. And waited. And waited.

Apparently, LAX is working on consolidating all the car rental facilities into on place, much like how it is at SFO (and Newark, if I remember correctly). This hasn't happened yet.

Until it happens, any weary travelers who have rented a car need to head out to the curb and wait for the shuttle van from their car rental company of choice. For any future travelers to LAX, I'd like to make an observation. Of all the major car rental companies, the one that sends shuttles around the most is Hertz, and the one that sends them the least is Thrifty.

Of course, I was renting from Thrifty.

Once I finally got to the Thrifty office, there was more waiting in line.

I'll skip over the gory details, but I eventually managed  to rent a PT Cruiser for the price of a regular full-sized rental car. Not to shabby. Gotta know how to work the system.

Then I headed off for Bucky & Eldrid's house. It's lots of fun trying to drive through a city that you don't know in a car you've never driven before in the middle of the night.

Eventually, I got up to Topanga… after driving up on the 405, over on I-10, up on the PCH, and up Topanga Canyon Road… which is a dark and windy road at night…

---

I'm going to skip over most of the events of the next several days, in large part because I'm lazy and I'm sure that you don't want to read the minutiae of how I kept getting lost in Glendale. Here, however, are some highlights:

  • Big shoutouts to my friends Bucky and Eldrid, who were more than gracious in putting me up for a couple of nights. Also to their son Cieran, who was quite tolerant of this strange, hulking houseguest he'd never seen before (well, actually, he had, but he'd only been two months old at the time, so I don't think he really remembered me).
  • Yes, I went to the Apple Store in the Glendale Galleria. Yes, it's very nice (the mall itself is a fairly standard suburban mall, which was kind of weird -- I guess the last time I'd been inside one of those was back when I was in college, seven years ago. It was really odd seeing all these stores I hadn't seen in literally years, and seeing that, quite frankly, they hadn't changed much at all. But I digress), and it's nice to see Apple push the brand as not just computers, but as a lifestyle. But there was almost no-one in the store. Of course, the fact that it was 4 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon may have had something to do with it.
  • Driving a blue PT Cruiser for four days was really cool.
  • I did go to one day of the Farscape convention. No, I did not go to LA intending to go to that. But, you know, it was there, and I was there, and since the upcoming New York convention was sold out...
  • If you are planning on going to LA (or live in LA and haven't gone yet), get thee to the Getty Center. It is an incredible facility for looking at art (the permanent collection itself is, well, uneven, which is due the fact that it's built on the personal collection of J. Paul Getty, and as he was a collector and not an art historian or critic, he bought things that he liked. Having said that, there are some very nice pieces, and the staff works very very hard to update and make the collection relevant). The Walker Evans exhibit (actually, there are two separate but linked exhibits) is amazing. And the buildings and facilities are astounding. The only other museum in the world I can think of that comes close is the Louisiana in Denmark. To top it off, the cafeteria actually serves pretty good food. Nothing that I think would make Jean-Georges sweat, but it's nice to be able to eat real food at a museum (not the cheapest cafeteria in the world, but what the hey). If I had to make any changes, I wouldn't. I would add things, though. I would add more modern and contemporary art (they aren't always the same thing, depending on how you define the word "modern") and I'd add Asian art. But these really are minor quibbles.
  • The Biltmore (correction: the Millennium Biltmore, and I'm not going to provide a link because their website, well, think of a four-letter word that starts with "s", ends in "cks", and has a "u" in the middle) in downtown LA is an absolute gorgeous old-school hotel. Well, the lobby, the function rooms, et cetera are. The rooms themselves lack that little bit of presence (well, actually, they lack a lot of presence -- they're fairly anonymous rooms), and, since it was Labor Day, the only dining facility open was a sports bar, which was highly unfortunate, since they were having a little trouble with getting a steak sandwich right, but whatever. I suspect the regular cooks had the night off. Of course, downtown LA itself is completely abandoned on the weekend anyway...
  • I don't drive in New York. I think that it'd be bad for my already fragile mental health (there are those who would argue that just living in New York would be bad for anyone's mental health, but we're not going to get into that right now). Having said that, though, I will say that traffic jams in New York are always due to one of three things: construction, accidents, or idiots who block an intersection. This is not the case in LA. I'm driving down the Ventura Freeway to pick up a friend (more on her in a minute) for dinner, and I suddenly see a sea of brakelights in front of me. I obligingly slow down, in order to avoid slamming into the car in front of me. The entire freeway slows down to 30 miles an hour. I'm thinking that there's some sort of minor accident up ahead, maybe on the other side of the road. We continue to cruise along at 30 miles an hour (more or less) for a mile or two. Then it suddenly opens up and we're back up to full freeway speed. No accident (on either side of the road), no construction, no nothing. It was as if there was some kind of mass hypnosis at that point in on the freeway, commanding everyone to slow down to less than half what they had been doing previously. Very strange.
  • Maybe it's just me, but... in New York (Manhattan in particular, but this could be applied to most of the outer boroughs), I don't have any trouble finding things (places, stores, museums, locations in general). This is particularly true even when I don't know where I'm going is ("Yeah, the bar's in SoHo kinda, heading over near Little Italy"; "the Whitney's near Museum Mile somewhere"; et cetera). However, in LA, you can't find anything unless you have exact, precise, down-to-the-millimeter directions ("Take the 134 to the first Burbank exit. Hang a left. Go straight for three blocks. Make a right turn. Go two blocks, past the fire station...").
  • Another note about driving in LA: 99% of the drivers I encountered in my four days there were, for the most part, pretty good drivers. Stop for pedestrians, signal for turns and lane changes, etc. But then there are the guys who careen across three lanes of traffic to get to the freeway exit...
  • Very special thanks to M—, about whom I find it very difficult to write about, because whenever I try to write about her, the higher reasoning parts of my brain get jammed in some kind of mental vapour-lock situation and any pretense of objectivity just flies right out the window. So I'm just going to leave it at that for now.

---

Here's a short restaurant review I wrote while I was actually at the restaurant, on my last day in LA.

As I type, I am sitting in the "Encounter" restaurant at LAX. It's in the space where the old observation lounge used to be, under that large, strange white thing that sits in the middle of the airport and is LAX's trademark piece of architecture (something that all three NYC airports utterly lack, the TWA and Delta terminals at JFK notwithstanding).

Have to say that, so far, the "Encounter" experience has been somewhat underwhelming.

When one enters the elevator, music so bad that even Star Trek would have rejected it plays. The decor is dimly lit in blue and purple, with Lava Lamp accents everywhere. Swoopy! and Swervy! (according to Word, neither is a real word) motifs predominate. It's as if they took the worst of Disney's Tomorrowland and pumped it up. The overall effect is like something out of James T. Kirk's worst nightmares. And oh yeah, there's this band, playing Latin-tinged lounge music. The band consists of a bassist, a percussionist (not a drummer), a piano, and a flutist. The music they're playing was popular well before they were born.

Oh yeah, the food.

Honestly, it's not very good. At least the dishes I had. Well, the beef carpaccio was actually rather nice. But the pork chop was a) boneless (what's the point of a chop without a bone in it?) and b) drenched in this strange sweet sauce that completely overpowered the pork. It would have worked really well as an accent, but it completely dominated the dish.

A nice touch was that the chop came with a column of mashed potatoes (with a little limp spinach on top, but we'll ignore that for the time being). I hope that it was intended as a tribute to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, because, if it was, it was pretty clever. If it wasn't, well, I've had better mashed potatoes.

It was also pretty damn expensive.

But the waitress was very nice, and the band, despite the music, was playing with enthusiasm, which is half the battle. And honestly, I don't think that the food is supposed to be the main attraction here (which is something that I have a problem with—it is a restaurant, after all—but maybe it's just me).

If you love kitchy sci-fi, well, you'll love this place.

If you don't, well, there's not much point in dropping by.

---

The flight back didn't entirely stink, but here's something weird: the counter agents wouldn't let me check in until four hours before my flight. This was a problem, since I was at the airport at 10:30 a.m., and my flight didn't leave until 10:00 p.m., and I wanted to check in so I could get a good seat and drop my suitcase off and not have to worry about it the rest of the day.

Eventually, the compromise was reached that could check in and get my seat changed, but I still wasn't allowed to check my bag.

The flight back was uneventful (as well it should have been, since I was asleep for most of it), but I kept being accidentally awakened by the flight attendants. Well, once time it wasn't accidental, since they turned on all the light in the plane, which makes no sense to me since it was a red-eye flight.

And of course, the pilot really bounced in the landing, waking everybody up.

And then there was the 55-minute wait for the bags, and then the rush-hour trip into the city... (if we'd gotten the bags 15 minutes after we'd landed, which would have been 6:20, getting into the city would have been a piece of pie, (or easy as cake, depending on how you want to mangle the aphorism); however, since it was basically 7:00 a.m. when we got the bags, plus the wait for the taxis, we got stuck in full-on prime rush hour traffic. I fell asleep on the freeway, near La Guardia, and I woke up to find my cabbie navigating the streets of Long Island City on his way to the Queensborough Bridge).

Then I went back to bed, and then I finally got in to the office.

What a way to travel, eh?

Redeye

Just got back from LA this morning. Will have a somewhat longer update soon (later today? tomorrow? who knows? The Shadow Knows....).

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