Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Two More Winter Sports

The next day, the others went back to the mountain for some more skiing.  Discretion being the better part of valor (not to mention that I'd returned my skis the day before), I thought it might be best to, y'know, not give it another shot.

I decided instead to go ice skating.

I haven't been ice skating for years.  I kinda lost interest after I twisted an ankle ligament (not by skating, interestingly enough -- it was a Freak Theatregoing Injury) -- anyway, I quit skating when my doc said the ligament was "as healed as it's going to get, but if you injure it again, ..."  I didn't like where that ellipsis lead off to, so I'd decided to stop jumping or doing anything remotely ankle-hazardous skating.  Which made the whole skating thing really dull.

So I went to the rink in Park City just to see where I was with skating, and whether it caused any ankle (or, at this point, knee) strain.  Surprisingly, it didn't.  Sure, my feet hurt like hell, but that was good pain.  And I got back a good deal of my skating.  It was funny because, when I got there, I was fairly uncertain just skating around, and wobbled my way into a forward crossover.  By the time I left, I had a lot of my crossovers back (with speed), some turns, a two-foot spin, and a waltz jump where I jumped a whole 12 inches or so (oooh, ahhh).  When I left, a woman who I hadn't even seen out there commented something like, "It all comes back, doesn't it?" which made me feel really good.  (She also added, "You were really working out there," which made me feel even better.)

The really scary part about the whole thing was that my three hour "Never Ever" skiing lesson actually made me a better skater.  (And boy, do I hate admitting that.)  But I had always been told stuff about centering spins on "the ball of your foot" (well, skate) and the problems of "sitting too far back" on the skates, but I'd never really felt it before.  After a few hours on skis (which are, y'know, way longer than skates) it was very easy to understand what all of this meant and (even better) felt like.  I was making small adjustments in my skating based on where I was putting weight in my boot, and I'd never been oriented on that detail before.  Neat how one thing helps the other like that.

Our final wintertime activity was snowmobile riding, which we did for two hours before we had to catch the plane yesterday.  By this time, there were only four of us (one of the other ladies had already gone home) so we pretty naturally fell into pairs for the snowmobiles.  The guys drove and we chicks sat on the back.  (I tried to get into a leather-jackety motorcycle mama character, but it's hard to do when you're wrapped up to your eyeballs in cold-weather gear.)

My driver was Steve.  Steve was very wise in choosing a snowmobile.  He picked the one at the front of the line, right behind our guide.  And he pretty much matched the guide move for move.  So we kept a pretty fast pace.  The snowmobile driver behind us was taking her own sweet time, which slowed up everyone behind them (and prevented them from seeing what the guide was doing, making it that much harder for them).  Every few minutes, the guide would pull over (and we'd pull over behind him) while we'd wait for the others to catch up.

So this one time, we're pulled over, and the snow looks so white and clean and fresh, I figure I'm going to get off and make a snow angel.  So I step off the snowmobile.  Then I take one step outside the "road" we've been driving on -- and I'm up to my knee in snow.  No kidding.  And there was no walking out of it, either -- every step was just as deep, or deeper (kinda like quicksand).  I ended up throwing my body down (to distribute the weight over a wider surface) and rolling back to the snowmobile.  I wasn't going to try that again.

So we keep riding, and then we get to a big clearing, and the guide just tells us to "have at it" so all 9 of the snowmobiles start tearing around the clearning.  (Well, 8 of us do.  One thinks they're running out of gas.  The guide tells them that the gas indicator is most likely wrong, but they don't want to risk it.)  So we're snowmobiling around this clearing full-speed.  And it's on a hill, so the turns are HARD.  Steve has to pretty much sway his whole body to one side (I lean in sympathy) to get the damn thing to turn.  He offers me a shot at the controls.  I decline, seeing as it's a hill and itseems like pretty tough terrain.  He offers again and I figure, "What the heck -- when else am I gonna drive a snowmobile?"  So I take the controls and Steve is telling me what to do from behind, being all encouraging with the "that's right, just ease on the throttle" and stuff like that.  So I do a small turn to the right and then I need a sharp turn to the left and we're going uphill.  I'm going pretty slow so I yank it hard to the left with all the force I can muster and it doesn't seem like we're really MOVING.  Steve says something from behind me but I can't hear so I kill the throttle.  At which point Steve repeats himself -- he'd said "Don't stop when you're going uphill."


We're good and stuck now.  We wave over the guide and he and Steve pick the snowmobile up from the foot or so of snow in which it is now buried.  Of course, I had to get off the snowmobile when they did this, so I became buried in the snow again too.

Later, we stopped in another clearing -- a flatter one -- but, by this time, I wasn't willing to try again and risk getting us stuck a second time.  Besides, Steve was starting to get genuinely good at this and he was having fun driving us between tightly-placed trees and racing around at high speeds.  (And I only got whacked in the face with a tree-branch once.)

On the way back, we kept stopping to make sure all the snowmobiles were with us.  At one point, we'd lost one.  The guide left us all there while he drove back to see what happened to the other snowmobile.  I was thinking all sorts of horrible thoughts (missed that last turn, horribly lost, drove off the edge of the mountain...) but it turned out to be much more mundane:  Ran outta gas.  I'm sure the "Toldya so" was of little consolation to the two people sitting back there on a stalled snowmobile for twenty minutes, until someone figured out they were gone.

Monday, March 27, 2006

My Second Assault on the Mountain....

... and five assaults on a hill.

Seeing as my knees had (seemingly) recovered overnight, I was ready for my second assault on the mountain.  At the very least, I'd wanted to run down the turtle slope (the same run I'd done in class) once or twice without having to stop in the middle for more instructional tips (as we'd done when we were in class).  Then, I planned to "graduate" to the "first time run."

My knees were fine all morning.  They were fine when I put my ski boots back on.  They were fine when I trudged over to the mountain.  They stopped being fine when I walked up the steps to retrieve my skis from the ski valet.  This was (I now realized) the first time I was bending my knees in the ski boots, and it hurt. 

I soldiered on.  Got the skis.  Tightened the boots.  Got on the skis.  Started on down the hill toward the lift.

OK, here's the problem.  The snow down there had gotten way more icy during the day, requiring one to push a lot harder into the snow in order to get any sort of traction (i.e. slow down).  So I was booking on down the mountain faster than I'd intended, and couldn't slow my speed without pushing down on my knees really really hard.  Much knee pain.  Very bad.  What's worse was that I was now at the bottom of the mountain, while the resort was quite a ways back up.  I couldn't figure a way to get OFF the damn thing without riding the lift up and skiing back down (because hiking up the mountain (sideways) was totally out of the question).  And I didn't know how I was going to do this.  So I had me a (patented) mini-breakdown (inconveniently located right in front of the lift line) and started crying and stuff.  So, here comes Peggy who offers to ride the lift up, ski halfway back down, go back into the resort, go into her locker, free my shoes, come back, and ski my shoes down to me.  Then I would be able to walk off the bottom of the mountain (without skis and boots) and carry my skis back on solid ground.  This we did.  I took off my skis and boots and waited (with her husband) for her return.  Once I got outta the boots, my knees felt a lot better.  I might have looked ridiculous walking off the mountain in street shoescarrying my skis and boots ("Pedestrian!  Coming through!"), but at least I got out of there without having to call ski patrol.  :)

Returned my skis to the shop.  ("Have you had enough?"  "I've had more than enough") and came back to the condo.  Skiing is clearly not my sport.  At least, not without some extra knee support.

Later that night, we decided to go tubing.  Tubing is one of those activities that requires no effort on your part for the fun payout, so I was all for it.  We got to the tubing place at about 7:10 -- they closed at 8:00.  They charge $8 for one run down the mountain and $19 for two hours, and we couldn't decide what to do since we didn't know how many runs we'd get in.  The people behind the counter finally resolved this by offering us a one-hour for $9.50 rate. :)

So we ran out and grabbed us some nice inflated tubes.  (Not really inner tubes.  I think these were especially made for the purpose.)  We then rode the tube lift -- that's just a cable that they hook your tube onto by a little attached handle, and you sit in the tube as it rides you up the tubing hill.  When we got to the top of the hill, we tied our tubes together and sailed on down.  After our second run, the guy told us that they were closing soon, and if we moved really really fast maybe we could get in one run on the short hill and another one on the big hill.  Clearly they did not realize our determination to have fun -- we got down the big hill (all five of us tied together) three more times before closing.  The last time we had so much velocity, we went sailing right past the little mats they have set up to slow/stop you, laughing all the way in a big pile of tubes and people.  Way fun.

Got some dinner, then came back and attempted to play some poker.  I'd never played Texas Hold 'Em before (but had watched it on TV) -- and since two folks in our group understood it less than I did, it seemed a good environment in which to learn.  We ended up playing until about 1:00 in the morning, by which time I had everyone's chips in front of me!  (This was not exactly a tribute to my poker playing, as one of the experienced players went "all in" on a bad hand early 'cause he'd wanted to go watch sports onTV, and I'd made a rather big mistake (as dealer) which ended up saving me a loss of a Huge Pile of Chips.)  But still, it was fun, and I Didn't Totally Suck.  :)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

$200 for 53 seconds

Park City is conveniently located near Salt Lake City.  Indeed, it is so conveniently located to Salt Lake City that it hosted some of the Olympic events back in 2002.  Like the ski jumping.  And the bobsled.

And if you go on over to the Olympic Park and pay them $200, they'll give you a bobsled ride on the real live actual Olympic bobsled track, in a specially modified four-person sled that takes passengers. 

We are told this is WAY BETTER than the bobsled rides you can get at Lake Placid -- 'cause there, they'll only take you on the second half of the track and you don't reach speeds greater than 45 miles per hour.  This was the whole competitive track -- all 15 (or was it 14?) turns of it, with top speeds pushing 80 mph. 

Having not met a real bobsled up-close and person-like, I couldn't tell you all the modifications made to our sled.  I can tell you that we didn't have to push it and jump in, and the driver controlled both the driving and the brakes.  We also had a small amount of padding to sit on and handles to grab onto (which, believe me, we did).  But, basically (after watching a short video, being fitted with a helmet, and signing the ever-so-important release) they tossed us in a sled with a driver, and sent us screaming (figuratively and, in the case of the woman behind me, literally) down the bobsled track.

Extremely nifty experience.  We'd been warned that, when you go into the curves where the sled is sideways, you're gonna experience up to 4 or 4 1/2 G's of force on your person.  Also warned that "after turn 4, you pretty much turn into a bobblehead."  This was true.  From inside the sled, it did pretty much look like one of those films you've seen "from the sled's point of view" in which the camera is bouncing a lot.  The difference is, it is YOU that's doing the bouncing as the world flies by at 75 miles per hour.  And feeling the forces pull on you as you go through the different turns.  It was absolutely amazing -- and an experience I doubt you can get anyplace else.

I can't IMAGINE how our driver was actually DRIVING the thing.  I mean, the turns were coming up so fast, and he was just expertly keeping us on a straight course right through them.  I barely had time to register "oh, that's turn 4, the first 'G-force' turn coming up" when we were feeling the forces push us into the sled, and it was all I could do to just count the next four turns as we went through them fast and furious.

For all everyone says about 53 seconds being a short amount of time (in light of the cost), I can honestly say that I totally got my money's worth.  It isn't like the ride was so fast I couldn't pay attention and enjoy the experience.  And, by the end, I was pretty much bobble-d out and ready to get back on solid ground. 

In the taxi on the way back to our condo, the driver asked how long we'd been in Park City.  It had been about 24 hours.  The guy asked what we'd done with our time, and I said, "Oh, learned to ski; rode a bobsled."  Not bad for the first day.  :)


So, bright and early yesterday morning, we get up and head for the ski resort.  As I've been taught, I am wearing my ski boots and shlepping my skis over my shoulder.  I try to give off the impression that I know what I'm doing, but I fail miserably.

Ski boots are made to hold your let in the correct position -- which is bent slightly forward at the ankle.  This may be the correct position for skiing, but it doesn't do much for walking, or stepping on and off busses.

We make it to the resort, and the guys in our group go off to ski and snowboard.  Peggy, Linda and I sign up for group lessons.  Peggy is in a slightly more advanced class, while Linda and I sign up for the "Never Evers." 

It's three hours long and there are 9 of us in there.  We spend the two hours or so talking about how to stand when we ski, putting on one ski and trudging around a circle, putting on the second ski and trudging around, and -- eventually -- attempting to ski.

Not true -- actually, it's attempting to stop.  Skiing comes pretty naturally when you're on skis on a slope.  Stand there and gravity takes care of it for you.  What we need to learn is how to slow our velocity and stop.  We do this by skiing in the "wedge" position.  You know a snowplow stop?  When you kick the tails of both skis out (and the tips in?)  You make a giant V and stop proceeding forwardly.  We are taught to actually SKI this way -- move down the hill with our skis in something like a V.  We can alter velocity by the pressure put on the V; we can alter speed by varying the position of the V, and (with effort) we can alter direction by pointing the V where we want to go.

So -- once we've all proven we can stop ourselves at will -- we learn how to use the "First Time Chair Lift" and get to the top of the "First Time Run."  Actually, he doesn't take us down the First Time Run -- there's an even easier path down the mountain (I believe he calls it the Turtle Slope) and we wedge our way down that thing.  Twice. 

It isn't particularly difficult and most of us (including me!) manage to get through the entire proceeding without falling.  (Indeed, most of thefalling was done by people who were trying to do more advanced stuff.)  Yay.  I was skiing.

The problem was, spending three hours with your shins bent slightly forward and your legs in a V is MURDER on the knees, and my knees ain't that hot to begin with.  By the time we finished our second run down the mountain, I started taking off my damn skis before the instructor even told us too, because I was DONE and my knees needed a rest. 

Class WAS over, so Linda and I went to check in our skis with the Ski Valet guy (come to think of it, I think I need to claim my skis from him today) -- actually, Linda returned her rentals to the shop, as she was finished permanently.  I just needed a rest.  And I needed out of the damn boots.

Which wasn't an easy thing to do since my shoes were back at the condo.  Linda and I found a little shop that was selling comfy shoes (lined with fur and all) and we each bought a pair -- even though they weren't exactly in our sizes.

We got lunch, came back to the condo, sat in the hot tub for awhile, and got ready for... the next entry.  :)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Greetings From Utah

I know I'm in Utah because the news talks about "LDS" and everyone knows what they mean.  Not like you can't find Mormons anywhere else or anything, but they don't often show up on the news in Los Angeles.

I'm amazed that I made it here.  And my luggage did, too.

Last night, I'd done the online check-in, so I had a boarding pass, but I still needed to check my bag at the airport.  And you have to check your bag 1/2 hour before the flight leaves.  Now, normally, I'm flying out of LAX and it's real early in the morning and I get there an hour in advance as a matter of course.  But today, I flew out of Burbank, and my flight didn't leave till 1:30, so I thought I could run some errands....

The plan:  Go to bookstore (buy book); go to ATM (get cash); go to nail shop (get nails done) and then head on out to the airport.  I even planned ahead by wearing flip-flops -- that way, my little pedicure could dry AND I wouldn't have to take off my shoes to go through security.

The plan failed.  There was no parking at the bookstore (and I realized I'd left some stuff at home), so I went home, got the stuff I forgot, tried again.  Got parking right in front -- thought this was a good omen or some other sign my luck was changing, but noooo.  Took me WAY too long to find my book.  (Could not figure out which genre they hide the Tuesday Next books under.)  Left and figured I'd skip the ATM and go straight to the nail place.

.... where a "fast" manicure somehow turned into 45 minutes.  At one point, I'm looking at the clock and it's about an hour fifteen before my flight leaves, and I'm just, "I gotta go -- NOW."  The woman was holding a little brush in her hand to touch up my nail polish and I was all, "Forget it" and ran out of there.  With the little tissue paper still flapping between my toes.

Got in the car and SPED to the airport.  (Had been trying to not screw up my nail polish, but I whacked my fingernail on the turn signal and cut a cute little "racing stripe" right down the center of one of my nails.  Also ended up with a pink-tinged turn signal.)  I was doing, like, 80 (oops) and I started to slow down figuring I'dmake it.  After all, I had only five more miles to go and it was only 12:45.  (Remember, now -- I have to have my bag checked in by 1:00 or it ain't getting on the plane.)  And traffic ... stops.  Well, slows to a crawl.  I'm frantic.  I have that GPS navigational thingie in my car, and I try to get it to give me an alternate route to the airport.  It finally tells me to get off at the next exit but, I look ahead, and it looks like traffic on the freeway is clearing after that exit, so I figure I'll risk staying on the road.

12:50 -- I am TEARING into the airport.  You know those little radar gun/speed signs where they say "YOUR SPEED IS xx" right next to what the speed limit for the road ACTUALLY is.  Well, it won't even tell me my speed.  It's just flashing SLOW DOWN at me.  I halve my speed and the sign tells me I'm doing about 28.  Next to a sign saying the speed limit inside the airport is 15.  Oops again.

Finally pull up to the valet guy (no time for self-parking).  He's pulling my bag out of the back and trying to fill out my little valet ticket at the same time.  He asks me my name.

My last name is 10 letters long and nobody can spell it.  I make a quick decision to truncate my name to four letters (note to self: don't lose valet ticket and have to rely on ID to claim car), tell him the key is in the ignition and run over to curbside check-in.

There are no employees at curbside check-in.  It's gotta be 12:55 now.  All they have are the damn kiosks.  I run up to a kiosk and feed it my credit card.  I have to go through about 4 screens until it figures out who I am and what flight I'm on, and we're wasting precious time here.  Finally, it finishes.  I wait for it to print a receipt and I also wait for the one (ONE!) employee manning the counter to give me my baggage tag that printed out.  He comes over to the kiosk and sees a receipt someone left on it.  "Is this yours ma'am?"  "No, it's not."  I prove it by showing him mine, in my hand.  I'm still waiting on the baggage tag.  He then sees someone had left a hotel room card-key by the kiosk.  "Is this yours?"  I'm about ready to tear his head off.  My flight leaves in a half hour; I haven't been through security yet; he has custody of my baggage tag -- and yet he has decided NOW would be a good time to clean up the kiosk area.  I stifle the impulse to strangle him and come up with a "No, that's not mine either, sir."  The "sir" worked.  He puts the tag on my bag.

I run my bag over to the baggage screening machine.  I've bought a TSA lock for it.  Those are locks that the TSA has special keys for.  So you don't have to stand there while they screen your bag -- they'll just toss it into the screener and if they have a problem, they can open it themselves.  So I hand off my bag to the guy and prepare to run to the security line.  And he stops me, saying that "We broke our key to this particular TSA lock, so we need you to wait while we screen your bag."  AARGH.

FINALLY, the bag gets screened.  (I'm all set to say, "The long metal things are the blades on my figure skates, sir" but he doesn't question it.)  I dash through security just in time to run on my plane.

(I lie.  There was actually time to grab a fruit bowl at the coffee shop on the way, to eat on the plane, but the story sounds better if I just ran right on.)

So I made it!  I'm here in Park City -- with my stuff and everything!  I'm here with four other people (two couples) and we've rented this really nifty 3-bedroom condo for the weekend. 

We didn't do much except get unpacked, pick up our rental skis (and boots and poles), get dinner, and go to the grocery store (with this nice whole kitchen here, we'll be cooking dinners).  I still haven't got my bearings yet on our location.  Actually, none of us have.  When we headed off for the ski rental shop, we walked two blocks in the wrong direction until I asked, "Are you sure this is the right way?" and they looked at the map and realized, no, it wasn't.  Once we got to the intersection where the ski shop was, we STILL couldn't find it, and ended up going another block or so out of our way.  And we very nearly got on the wrong bus for the grocery store.

But we're here.  And we're warm.  And we're fed.  And we got skis.  And we're getting set for tomorrow. :)

Excitement and Trepidation all at once

OK.  I've been whitewater rafting.  I've scuba dived.  I've hurled my person into a canyon attached to a bungee-like swing.  But I've never skied.

This will be remedied shortly, as I leave for Park City tomorrow.

I haven't really had time to prepare for this particular adventure in any real sense.  (Peggy and her husband made all the arrangements -- I just booked flights that looked like theirs, reserved skis at the same place, and generally followed their instructions.)  Sure, I took a little time out from the whole Awards-producing thing in order to buy ski pants and a ski jacket that fit ...

... and by the way, let me just point out that "Large Petite" is not a contradiction in terms.  Why do clothing manufacturers seem to think that just because my butt got bigger, my legs and arms must be a foot longer?

Where was I?  Oh, yeah, so I took some time out to buy ski pants, ski socks, ski gloves, and a ski jacket, but haven't put a whole lot of effort into figuring out what is to be done with said items.

I've been pointed in the direction of Park City's ski school, where I intend to take a three hour group lesson which should give me enough information to chew on for the rest of the weekend.  I was a little concerned that maybe I needed to sign up for more lessons.  I mean, they've got a six hour semi-private lesson billed as the "ultimate introduction to the sport of skiing. We assure that your experience will be positive and stress free."  I thought this was looking good, until I read the bit that said, "We are so confident in this lesson that we guarantee you will be riding the First Time Chair lift with comfort by the end of the lesson."

Dear Lord.  It's going to take them six hours to teach me how to ride the freakin' chair lift?

Figuring a little preparation is a good idea, I found this helpful article on how to get on a ski lift.  Which appears to take eleven steps to say, "Wait for the chair to get under you, and sit your butt down on it."  There is, of course, the companion article on how to get off a ski lift.  Friends tell me that the real concern there is step 10, which simply says, "Glide a safe distance away from the chairlift area before pausing to collect yourself."  I can see where this might be a tad problematic.  Especially since, near as I can figure it, I'll be riding the ol' "First Time Chair lift" before such time as someone has taught me how to "glide a safe distance."  And, even if I have some sort of natural capacity for safe-distance gliding, there's no guarantee that the dude who got off the First Time Chair lift right in front of me has similar gliding ability.  So, yeah, I'm envisioning many a pile-up at the top of the First Time Chair lift.  Yeah, the skiing thing is going to be quite the adventure.

On the plus side, assuming I don't break any key parts of my anatomy on Saturday morning, I'm scheduled to do something way way fun Saturday afternoon.  Hint:  It's costing me $200 for just less than a minute and I can't freakin' wait!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

So, what did I get?

Mom23nca asks what hotel I ended up with on my latest venture with Hotwire.  It was a result that made me burst out laughing.

See, I left out some of the story about how I usually deal with Hotwire.  Frequently, when I search for hotels for a particular weekend in New York, nothing comes up.  (Or, nothing in my price range.)  But, often, something will come up a lot closer to my travel date.  So what I usually do is book a back-up hotel -- something which (unlike purchases on hotwire) is fully refundable.  And then I keep checking hotwire periodically, and if a hotel comes up, I snag it and cancel the back-up reservation.

The past two times I've done this, I've had the same back-up hotel.  I've never actually stayed there -- because both times, I ended up cancelling it in favor of a better deal on hotwire.  But it ended up being my backup hotel because it tended to have a fairly reasonable rate (just around $200 -- which, sadly, is reasonable for New York) although the rooms always looked pretty small so I generally liked trading up to something on hotwire if the price was right. 

So, I usually book the backup hotel for around $200 a night, then I end up booking a 3 1/2 or 4-star hotel on Hotwire for a better price and I cancel the backup.  This time, the weekend was really booked.  Most hotels I checked were around $300 a night; a cheap hotel that I'd heard good things about was totally sold out; and my standard backup was pushing $230.  Hotwire offered me a 3-star hotel for $122 -- if it had come with that extra 1/2 star, I would've pounced on it, but 3-stars might be a little questionable, so I was cautious.  But not having found anything better, I took a deep breath and went with it...

.... and got my usual backup hotel.

Monday, March 20, 2006

"Please not the Edison; Please not the Edison..."

You ever use Hotwire?  It's kinda like Priceline, but not.

It offers you discounted rates on flights, hotels, and rental cars -- but you don't know exactly which flight, hotel or rental car you've purchased until you've actually agreed to pay for it.

I don't use hotwire much for flights, because I'm quite particular about exactly when I fly, and telling hotwire "put me on some plane to New York on such-and-such a date" generally isn't specific enough for me to be willing to buy whatever they come up with.

On the other hand, hotwire is a no-brainer for rental cars.  I mean, unless you're totally attached to a car rental company with their loyalty program and bonus points and stuff like that.  But, basically, if I'm going someplace and need a rental car, I don't car which rental car company I'm renting from -- just as long as it's one of the reputable ones and they have a good rate.  Hotwire is all about that.  It says to me, "Hey, we'll give you a rental car on the day you want out of the airport you want for $25" (whereas going directly to the rental car company will cost me $40) and I say "sold."  And only AFTER you pay does it tell you which car company you've just contracted with.

And then there's hotels.  The great big middle ground of Hotwire purchasing.  Suppose you want to go to, say, New York.  You tell Hotwire you'd like a hotel in New York, please.  Now, it won't make you get just ANY hotel in New York.  You can narrow your search by neighborhood and star rating.  But, ultimately, you're likely to end up staring at a screen that is offering you ... well, in this case it was offering me a 3-star hotel in the Theatre District for $122/night. 

And that's all you know.  You can shop the price around (I think hotwire searches are good for an hour) and see if you can meet the price someplace else.  Sometimes there are "customer reviews" on the hotel and you can read them and see if this information can help you suss out the hotel's identity.  You can even compare "amenity lists" to see if you can't get a good idea of what hotel it is (or isn't).  But, ultimately, there comes a time when it's just you and "enter" button -- where you have to agree to pawn up that price and stay at that hotel ... and then you wait and see what hotel it is, and hope it's something you'll be happy with.  It's playing roulette with your travel plans -- you spin the wheel and hope it doesn't come up zero -- but if it's good, you end up with a decent hotel at an impossible price.

I do this a lot.  I know some people (hi mom) think I'm absolutely insane to book a hotel without knowing where I'm going to stay.  To be fair to hotwire (knock wood), they've never given me anything I just Couldn't Deal With.  The hotels I've gotten from them have ranged from "I can live with that" to "Holy COW, that's a good deal."  And I know that, if they even ONCE give me something I CAN'T deal with, it'll be the end of me and hotwire.

But for now, I still remain poised above the "Enter" button, whispering off a quick prayer to the God of Idiots Who Book Travel This Way, and see what I'll get.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Short List of Thoughts I Am Not Permitted to Have....

.... my, the cat hasn't thrown up in a long time -- wonder if she's over that.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Juggler Wars!

OK.  So, if you click on this link, you'll see a video of a dude named Chris Bliss, juggling to a Beatles tune. 

Bliss's video, the attention it is getting, and, apparently, the fact that Chris Bliss continues to breathe air, annoy a fellow named Jason Garfield.  Garfield is quite a good juggler and he believes that what Bliss does ... isn't.  He rants about Bliss on this page here and he has gone to the trouble of creating a video he calls "the bliss Diss" (his failure to capitalize Bliss's name is intentional, but his rationale for this escapes me). 

Now, in his rant, Garfield says "You can play any song that I've never heard, and I could juggle three balls to it and make up the choreography as I went along and it would look similar to the chris bliss routine except there would be difficult tricks and I wouldn't look like Leslie Neilson."  This is not, however, what he does in his video.  In his video -- which you can see over here -- he takes the same audio track from Bliss's video (complete with Bliss's audience applauding in places) and choreographs his own routine -- a five-ball routine, which is apparently intended to both blow Bliss out of the water and parody him simultaneously.  (Garfield explains that he could choreograph an original five-ball routine to this music, but that isn't his goal.  His goal seems to be doing exactly what Bliss does, but doing it with five balls.)

There's a comment thread running under his video, and the comments are widely diverse in terms of which video they prefer.

For my part, I really wonder whether Garfield could do as he claims and actually choreograph a comparable routine -- with either three or five balls.  As it stands, his routine (and his rant) seem to show a remarkable lack of understanding of the artistry involved in Bliss's video.  At one point, Garfield notes:  "A perfect example of how little people know about juggling is that one of his strongest audience response points was when he JUST juggled the BASIC pattern. Something I could get ANYONE with basic motor skills, not even great ones, to do in under an hour. BUT, he did it when the music got soft and went just to piano, so it went with the music."  I see his point (well, ok, it took me several hours to learn the basic pattern, so I wonder what that says about me) -- but still, Bliss juggles three balls in a basic pattern and the audience loves it.  Why?  Because the music is running pretty quick at this point and Bliss is hitting each ball on each beat of the music.  When Garfield does it with five balls, he's got to throw two out of each hand at once.  It's undeniably more difficult, but the extra balls keep it from being as clean as Bliss's, and therefore it isn't a direct interpretation of the music.

Garfield ends his rant with: "If you watch the ice skating competitions in the Olympics, I don't think you're going to appreciate some douche bag skating in circles and tapping his toes, chipping out pieces of ice to the beat of a Beetles song."  (He's so polite, isn't he?  And misspelling "Beatles" ain't gonna win him any friends over here.)  The funny thing is, I think ice skating is actually the perfect metaphor here.  If you've ever had the pleasure of watching, say, Underhill & Martini skate to "Unchained Melody" (a still photo from that is here -- use your imagination), you know that they can do with a bunch of lifts and a throw-axel and heck of a lot more than a lot of other skaters can do with triple-twists and side-by-side jumps.

Garfield is undeniably skilled.  But it isn't just skill that impresses an audience, but what you do with what skills you've got.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I can barely walk

The thing they don't tell you about the adrenaline rush is that you come down from it.

Yesterday -- the day of the awards show -- was just a nonstop day.  I met my co-producer for what was supposed to be our final strategy session at a deli at 2:00.... except I was a half hour late due to three little producing crises beyond my control.  So I show up and scarf down some potato latkes (surely the Breakfast of Producers) and we get to the theatre at 3:00 and ....

.... I don't want to say it was a blur.  That's not right.  I remember every minute.  But it was non-stop until about 12:30 in the morning when we finally loaded up my car (good thing I have that SUV), made one last sweep around the theatre to make sure we didn't forget anything, and hit the road.

Non-stop.  Running.  Up and down stairs.  Backstage.  Front of house.  Auction.  Caterer.  Bartender.  Moment to schmooze.  Moment to meet someone.  Back to work.  Every once in a while, I'd pop my head into another room and ask, "Is someone not working?" because I'd always have a job for them.

Around 6:00, I ran backstage and slipped on my dress for the evening.  And my high heels.  I only had about five minutes to do this (someone had run off to find someone else for me -- so it would be nice if I was there when they got back), but it was a free five minutes and I wasn't sure when I'd see so many minutes together again with nothing filling them.  So I took off my street clothes, threw on my dress.  Tried to put on hose -- stuck my finger right through them.  I had a spare pair but I was running out of time.  Just threw on the shoes and ran.  No time for makeup.  No time to fix the hair.  Just clothing.  And shoes.

Ran back upstairs.  Met people.  Organized people.  Organized things.  Doors opened around 6:20 and there was suddenly more to do.  I noticed the caterer had set out some tasty food, but I couldn't partake.  It wasn't so much the TIME thing, but I couldn't envision myself tying up both hands by holding a fork and plate.  I was carrying around pre-marked programs for our presenters and flashlights for our escorts, and my Magic List of What I Had To Do -- I couldn't put that down for mere FOOD.

Left the caterer's check in the pocket of my jeans in the dressing room.  Back downstairs, find check, back upstairs.  At some point I realized I had ONE hand to spare for sustenance, so the bartender poured me a Coke (and kept 'em coming). 

I presented the first award of the evening, which was a good thing, because by then, my feet were killing me.  I was never going to finish all that running in high heels, so I hobbled back downstairs and put my comfy shoes and socks back on.  I didn't entirely care about the image this presented.  No make-up; hair flying everywhere -- what difference would shoes make?  (Besides, it was a very eye-catching dress.  Hopefully, nobody would notice my footwear.)

More running.  I watched a lot of the show from my seat, but also had a lot of things to do so timed my escapes carefully and ran all around the theatre for the next few hours.  Never hungry, never tired.  And now that the shoes were comfy again, no problem there.

Got home around 1:00 a.m.  Unloaded my car (took two trips from the garage).  1:30, I'm on the couch.  Still not tired.  Still not hungry.  Still flying on the adrenaline.  Posted to the journal.  Watched "24."

Finally got to sleep around 3:30.  Alarm went off four hours later.  Morning.  Work.  I can handle this. 

It didn't REALLY hit me until about, oh, 4:00 today.  I'd thought it was just that I hadn't gotten much sleep last night, so I was having trouble concentrating on work.  But it wasn't that.  My feet hurt.  My legs hurt.  My whole body is wobbly.  I had to pause for a rest break coming up the stairs to my condo. 

Now that all the excitement was completely out of my system, my body has finally decided to tell me what it thought about me running around non-stop for damn near ten hours yesterday.  

It is not amused.  

Now it can be told

OK, so.  Remember a few entries back when I stopped posting regularly because of this unnamed thing I was doing?  It's done.

Some of you may know that, on the side (i.e., not my day job) I'm a theatre critic.  I'm a member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and ... as of just about an hour ago ... the organization's new President.

The purpose of the Circle is to encourage and recognize theatrical excellence.  We do this by giving out awards.  Annually.  At a show.  Which happened tonight.

Which I ... along with another member of the Circle without whom I so could not possibly have done this ... produced.

I think I likened the experience to putting on a wedding or something, as it was the closest thing I could think of ... except this is probably way worse.  Three hundred people.  In a theatre.  With a reception.  With food.  And beverages.  And awards.  And presenters.  And performers.  And a host.  And trophies (well, plaques) to give away.  And insurance to obtain.  And rights to the music.  And a silent auction.

And, over the past month -- if you want to know why I wasn't posting -- we had pretty much every crisis imaginable.  OK, not true -- I could imagine a lot more.  But there were plenty.  Like, when we couldn't get a liquor license.  Or insurance.  Or when we didn't get the contract from ASCAP.  Or when a woman who was in the business of doing silent auctions said we were starting too late and there was no way we'd get anyone to donate anything

But it worked.  I'm here to tell you we put on a helluva show.  Sure, things went wrong -- like the four interns who were supposed to be there at 5:30 which somehow turned into two interns at 6:30.  Or that the caterer made a little too much dinner and little too little dessert.  And it isn't even OVER yet, because some people left before picking up (andpaying for) their silent auction items, so I've got them here in my living room.  And the engraver screwed up on, like, a half-dozen plaques, so we have to get them remade.  And we still have to pay ASCAP and close out the ledger and figure out how we did on the event financially.

BUT ... the good part went good.  The show came in at two and a half hours (which was great because we were a half-hour late getting started); everyone who we had asked to be on stage (host, presenters, performers) ALL agreed to do it and they were WONDERFUL.  (It is SO great when your first choices say "yes.")  The winners seemed really touched and gave great speeches.  We had 35 items for the silent auction (take that, woman who said it couldn't be done).  And, all things considered, we gave the theatrical community a damn good night.

I am a satisfied camper.




Sunday, March 5, 2006

Is ANYONE thinking?

Got the Oscars playing in the background.  Jake Gyllenhall just announced some tribute to "epics" in which they're showing clips of all sorts of movies (some which may or may not qualify as "epic" -- Grease?  I don't think so).  And Gyllenhall says something about how -- when you watch this montage, you'll see how you can't possibly appreciate them anywhere else but the big screen.

And while this must be mighty entertaining for the few thousand watching from the Kodak Theatre, the other (purported) millions of us watching these clips on our TVs can have only one of two reactions:

1.  It's letterboxed on my TV and it looks just fine.  To hell with seeing movies in theaters, I'm going to sign up with Netflix right now.

2.  You're right, it does look crappy on my TV.  Why are you showing me something that you know is going to look bad?  I should change the channel and watch Reba -- that's actually made for TV.

I am also extremely annoyed by the music in the background of all the acceptance speeches.  I'm used to the music as a "speed it up and get off the stage" cue -- and maybe the people in charge of this show thought that by playing through all the acceptance speeches, the winners would keep it quick.  But it's damned distracting.  If all of these presenters get to make speeches with nothing in the background, the damn winners should be paid the same respect.

Friday, March 3, 2006

No! Anything but that!

This event thing -- which I'm not talking about only because there's an off chance people involved may be reading and I should keep all my headaches private -- had a very bad day yesterday.

So bad, in fact, that I made brownies at 11:00 last night.

And then, while the brownies were cooling, I heard that unmistakable sound of something untoward happening in the fridge -- like the big half gallon of OJ just tipped on its side or something.

So I need to open the fridge to get some cold water out -- and I figure I'll pick up whatever fell -- and when I open the door, the carton of eggs, which had somehow fallen out of its little plastic compartment in the fridge door and was, at this point, precariously balanced between the door and one of the shelves -- well, that carton comes crashing down, splattering its contents all over the inside of my fridge and my kitchen floor.

Yeah, nothing like cleaning up five broken eggs to really put a cap on a day.