Amtrak, Biography, Featured, Movies, Road Trips, Sundry, Travels, USA

Week of 22 November, 2009

I don’t narrate my life any more, whether for good or for ill. Well, maybe . . . I should try a weekly update. This has been working well at work, anyway.

Saturday, 21 November

On Friday I took Mei out to dinner, since we were going to not see each other for most of a week. We went to an Indian place up near the Kips Bay theater, where we then saw “Where the Wild Things Are”. I think the first time I saw that book I was impressed with its style, and so my Mom thought I liked the story and read it to me a bunch, but I always thought Max was kind of a spoiled brat. At the end of the movie I mumbled to Mei, “if my son pulls that crap he is not getting any chocolate cake.” When asked if he’d get any dinner, I responded that I wasn’t so sure. I wonder if the kid might have some blood sugar issues such that missing dinner may be a bad move.

Saturday morning, Mei was up early to go to work. I slept in a bit, and treated myself to brunch at Teddy’s, which served me two eggs, fried potatoes, Canadian bacon, rye toast, fruit salad, orange juice and coffee for $8.25. Now, Cheryl’s has some tastier food, so I’ll take Mei over there, but if it is just me, I stick with the cheaper, hearty meal.

I went home, washed the dishes and relaxed a bit, until around 1400 when I rode up to Penn Station to catch the 3:45 to Chicago. Now, a plane would have been faster and cheaper, but now that I live in New York, I can “afford” the relative luxury of a train ride home. The train was pretty full, and a guy named Don sat next to me. I got the modem working on my laptop and caught up somewhat on Internet reading. At Albany they took our engine off the train and shunted a series of cars from Boston onto the front. This was exciting to me, so I shot some dark, blurry video from the passenger area.

I treated myself to dinner in the dining car. Lamb shank, half a bottle of wine, dessert, coffee, and conversation with a cute college couple who were switching to the California Zephyr in Chicago, arriving in Emeryville on Tuesday to enjoy Thanksgiving in Santa Cruz. Robin the Film major and Miru the Art History major. They’re both minoring in Making a Living.

Despite ample legroom and a glass of Scotch from the Cafe car, I tossed and turned a great deal.

Sunday, November 22

After much tossing and turning at some point I blanked out for what must have been several hours, until they turned the lights on at 7am. I kept my eyes covered with my scarf for another hour or two, taking peeks out at as Indiana passed us in an early morning haze. After South Shore we set our watches back an hour, and our train pulled into Chicago about 15 minutes early.

Don had disappeared by morning. He found me on the platform at Union Station and explained that I had been tossing and turning so much he found a seat elsewhere. He said he wanted to afford me more room, but I think he also wanted some peace and quiet. I also got to bid Robin and Miru adieu, then went upstairs to be reunited with my family. We had brunch at a place called The Breakfast Club, and headed home.

I took a walk around the neighborhood, noting the really cheap house prices, the fat and friendly squirrels at Indian Boundary Park, and the friendly duck who approached the benches with what looked like a weird chewed gum wattle hanging from his chin. When he got closer I saw he was missing his lower beak, and that wattle was his tongue hanging limply down his throat. He looked otherwise healthy, and I like to think that people manage to stuff some food down his throat. My hunch is that he will not survive the winter.

After a dinner of Mom’s ham-and-potato casserole, at some point we were watching squirrel videos on the Internet, starting with this family classic.

Monday, November 23

For some reason my work laptop couldn’t join Mom’s wireless network, and after trying to fix it I only made things worse, so I upgraded Ubuntu to 9.10, and then fixed networking.

Following advice from Mei, I did some very light research on the physical rehabilitation benefits of the Nintendo Wii, and after talking with Gwen, went ahead and ordered a Nintendo Wii and a Nintendo Fit for Dad’s birthday. With any luck, he’ll find the video game system sufficiently engaging that it will improve his physical activity and range of motion.

In the evening we ordered a pizza from Gulliver’s and I found that Netflix had Wall-E available for instant viewing, which I showed Mom on her laptop. (Now that I have a DVR again, standard cable TV is just obnoxious.)

Tuesday, November 24

Dinner was $2 burger special at the sports bar near the house with Mom. I was supposed to go by Sue’s house to help repair chairs with glue, but forgot, so I invited Sue to join us for burgers, and she and Mom concluded over dinner that it would be easiest for everyone concerned if we just brought a few more chairs to Sue’s house.

Wednesday, November 25

At work I took a stab at converting my Django application from a SQLite backend to MySQL, but ran in to all sorts of trouble because in trying to reload the data, Django freaks out because Django’s internal metadata has changed between versions, and newer Django doesn’t want to deal with older Django’s data. So much for making things painless. Anyway, this will take more effort than I had hoped.

After work I shied away from the tuna casserole and discovered the leftover pizza I had promised Mei had in fact been consumed. She also scored an earlier flight so after picking her up at O’Hare, I had her order a pizza at Gulliver’s which I picked up on the way home. On the one hand, this was the late night before Thanksgiving and she would have been sated on our local leftovers. On the other hand, she was only going to be in town for the day and I wanted to indulge my girl in a Chicago pizza.

Thursday, November 26

Thanksgiving! Turkey at Sue’s house. As a bonus, Erik and Jeannie joined us with their one year old kid and Jeannie’s parents, who don’t speak much English. Of course, Chinese know how to feast just as well as Americans so they were very much at home. I was able to exchange a very few words in Mandarin, with Jeannie’s mother enthusiastically guiding my pronunciation.

Friday, November 27

Up at the butt crack of dawn to drive Mei back to the airport in Grandma’s car. She was hoping to try and catch an earlier flight just-in-case there might be delays. I dropped her off at O’Hare at 6am, then drove back home and hibernated. Mei called around noon to say that she had caught her scheduled flight, which arrived on-time in New York, and she would rest a few hours before work.

I took the bus down to join Erik and Jeannie at their place for lunch. Chinese-style noodles, followed by Jeannie’s inaugural experiment with home-made pizza, and then a dim-sum style dessert with puff pastry and ice cream. Fanciest home-made lunch I have had in some time. Along with Jeannie’s parents we were joined by Erik’s college friend. On the way back I saw a fire truck blocking Lincoln, and a body covered in a white cloth resting in the street. An ambulance came up and picked up body. I would guess a hit pedestrian, and only now do I wonder if they may in fact have been retrieving a corpse. At Paulina I managed to card in at the turnstile and leap through the closing doors: always a rush!

Dinner was Thanksgiving Part 2, featuring Janice and Dan and Dan’s new girlfriend. We played charades.

Saturday, November 28

Brunch at P&S with Mom, Grandma, and Jessica. I packed a container full of turkey, stuffing, and veggies that proved a delicious Greyhound meal. My “Third Thanksgiving” at a truck stop McDonalds amid other pilgrims. I also grabbed a small order of french fries.

Greyhound is more uncomfortable than I remember. All the same I slept better than I had on Amtrak. I figure my body had adjusted to “travel” mode over the week, the first night out of the usual comforts of my own bed being the hardest.

Sunday, November 29

At 2AM our coach arrived in Cleveland, and we all had to get off so the coach could be cleaned, but we could leave our stuff on and we eventually got to re-board before the other passengers joining us from Cleveland. This was not a joyful experience but at least the Cleveland station had some architectural style and orderliness to it that reassured us that the ugly chaos of Chicago is not the universal truth of Greyhound.

At around 2AM, there were about three bus loads of passengers boarding coaches for New York. We waited in a separate line as the throngs marched past, until our coach was ready and we were once again aboard. My new seat mate was a tall, thin, blond, bespectacled English major named Joe returning to NYU from Louisville, (lew-uh-ville) Kentucky. Nearby was a passenger from Chicago who, through strategic sprawl of his own corpulence and feigned sleep, had managed to secure two seats to himself thus far. But as the bus filled up and the Pretty Girl came aboard, he suddenly discovered that the seat next to his was astonishingly empty, and he gallantly offered it to her. Alas, the Pretty Girl had not just come into her beauty yesterday, so she managed to look past this offer to other seats that might be available to plain-looking folk. But at this point, the bus was pretty darn full, so she soon accepted the offered seat.

From Cleveland it was two rest stops until we hit Newark Penn Station, which was choked with poorly managed traffic. After some patient navigation were were finally en route to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and it was not much after noon that I was home, and grateful for a shower.

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