Sunday, August 31, 2008

New York City

Last weekend, Rachel and I headed up to New York City for the weekend.

Honestly, New York City is not one of my favorite places. It is crowded, and the people do not tend to be very happy or friendly. We went this particular weekend in order to meet up with Sarah and Greg Cornell (pictured here) and to attend a New York Mets game at Shea Stadium (Shea will be demolished, like Yankee Stadium, at the end of this season).

We arrived early Saturday morning and began our day with a tour of the Bronx Zoo. Above is a video of the polar bear, who was especially playful. I give the Bronx Zoo high marks. Although it is not large in land area, The Bronx Zoo has high quality exhibits and very good habitat for its animals. The only downfall was that it was a bit crowded, like all other spots in New York City.

Saturday evening, we took the subway from Time Square to Flushing Meadows in Queens to see the New York Mets play the Houston Astros at Shea Stadium. She was built in the late 1950's. It has several seating levels, which results in a lot of restricted view seats (you can't see foul balls due to the overhanging level above you).

Citi Park will open in 2009 and is situated directly adjacent to the Shea Stadium outfield. It looks like it will be a very nice park. The brick facade is beautiful.

Flushing Meadows is also home to the tennis stadium. This is the stadium currently hosting the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament. The tournament began the Monday after this Saturday. It looked like a very cool stadium. I was surprised it was that big. I think it would probably hold every tennis fan in the United States - all 4,000 of them.

Sunday, we took a bus tour of Uptown Manhattan with Sarah, Greg and their friends. We had the worst tour guide ever. He was plenty knowledgeable, but he was certainly not excited about the material. I guess in some ways, he was reflective of the stereo-typical New Yorker - unhappy with life in general.

This is a shot of the Time Warner building.

Our tour took us by the Trump Towers. No sign of "The Donald" nor his hair.

Central Park. It always amazes me how large Central Park is. We learned that every tree, path and hill was planned, planted and created. The original city planners really had foresight to leave that much open space available.

Metropolitan Museum of Art.

My favorite spectacle in the city is always the New Yorkers. It is a sea of diverse humanity. This gentleman is one example. He has great hair. Unfortunately, picture quality is low because I had to inconspicuously shoot this with my cell phone. New Yorkers are entertaining, even if they are not very friendly or happy.


In order to avoid driving, Rachel and I took Amtrak from Philly to New York for the weekend. It was the first time that either of us had ridden Amtrak. It was actually a very pleasant experience. So, for this "Reflections", I decided I would tell you reasons you might want to take Amtrak, if you have the opportunity, rather than fly:

1) LEG ROOM - The coach class seats have more leg room and more butt room than an airplane seat. Side-by-side seats, so you don't have to worry about being crammed into a row of three or more.

2) Arrive 15 minutes before your train leaves. No more arriving 2 hours before your flight. For short to intermediate trips, Amtrak will often get you there faster than a flight, once you factor in 2 hour early arrival, likely delays and waiting on checked luggage.

3) Use your laptop and electronic devices the entire time. No longer do you have to turn off your electronic devices to take off and land. Best of all, each side-by-side seat comes with its own set of electrical outlets, so you don't have to worry about your laptop battery expiring during your trip.

4) Safety - although Amtrak does not have a perfect record, you are much more likely to walk or limp away from a train wreck than you are from a plane crash. The only way gravity could take effect would be if the train wreck occurred on a bridge.

5) Central location - I can think of very few airports located centrally inside a city. You typically must land and then secure other transportation arrangements to get to your urban hotel. Not so with Amtrak. Amtrak stations are located centrally inside most cities. Our hotel was two subway stops from NYC's Penn Station, where our train arrived.

6) No surcharges or lost luggage. Unless you are packing for a 3 month trip, you don't have to check luggage on Amtrak. You can comfortably stow all of your suitcases above your head in the luggage racks.

7) Although there are some pretty cool airports these days, 19th century train stations are simply beautiful. They are some of the coolest architectural expressions in many cities.

8) No expensive airport parking. We parked at our local train station for free, took regional rail into the city, where we caught Amtrak. If we would have flown, we would have paid $30 to park.

Amtrak is not perfect. It is not cheap, but it is competitive with respect to flight prices.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Visit to Knoxville

Last weekend, I headed to Knoxville for a weekend of rest and relaxation and to shoot with the Knoxville R&H Team in the Helen Ross McNabb Charity Sporting Clays Tournament. And of course, if I visited Knoxville, I had to visit my favorite restaurant - Altruda's.

After picking me up at the airport, Mom and Dad drove me to the restaurant, where we met my Uncle Stan, Aunt Lou, Reid (Cousin) and Renee and their two kids, Kara and Ryan for dinner. In this picture, Aunt Lou is moving an empty Mich Ultra bottle to prevent Ryan from taking a swig (he is starting early).

Mom has Kara and Ryan as my Uncle Stan looks on in this picture.

After dinner, I went to Laddy's and Amy's, where Mark Clark and Patrick Wade met us. We hung out for the evening, watching the Olympics (and Michael Phelps's PHENOMENAL 100 meter Butterfly finish).

Saturday morning, Dad and I got up early and met his shooting team at Cracker Barrel for breakfast. We then headed up to Grainger County to "Birds and Clays", the site of the tournament. I shot with Shane Phillips, Todd Murphy, Steve Prater and Jon Arnold from R&H. Our team finished 3rd in the 10:30 AM flight. I shot OK personally, considering I had not shot a target in 2 years.

Saturday evening, I hung out with Mom and Dad. We ate a home cooked dinner, went out for ice cream and then watched Phelps break Mark Spitz's record. It was nice just to lay around and relax.

Reflections - McGhee Tyson Regional Airport

Sunday, I flew back to Philadelphia. The flight was fairly uneventful, but the experience was somewhat strange nonetheless. For those reading this blog, who have never flown into or out of Knoxville's airport, it is a very small, uncongested experience... quite relaxing really. A few strange experiences happened to me on this particular Sunday:

1) Waterless urinals are one of the latest achievements of the "Green" building movement. I fly regularly and have visited MANY airports over the past 6 months. I find it strange that McGhee Tyson airport should present me with my first personal encounter with a waterless urinal.

2) For the first time in my life, I had a delayed departure time actually bumped up. Don't get me wrong, I get delayed all of the time (especially flying into and out of Philadelphia). This time, I was initially delayed for one hour. When I arrived at the airport, the flight had been delayed 60 more minutes. However, as I ate my dinner at Ruby Tuesday's in the airport, I heard my name paged for final boarding. The flight was moved back up.

3) My favorite - as we taxied to take off, our flight attendant informed us that we were first in line for departure. In Philadelphia, I have sat in line on the runway as high as #36. In Knoxville, I have never seen two planes taxiing at the same time, much less waited in line to take off or land. I got a big chuckle out of that one.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

2 Weeks of Albright

Immediately following the Weekend of Tim, the group began celebrating 2 weeks of Albright (the relative durations should in no way be viewed as a reflection of importance of the two individuals; it is simply an indication of planned activities). Brian Albright, Plant Manager of the Rohm and Haas facility in Mozzanica (Milan, Italy), is back visiting the states for 2 weeks while the socialists celebrate August in Europe (scheduled work stoppage). Brian is on temporary assignment in Italy until October, when he will return to the states.

Tuesday evening, we all met at the Lucky Dog for weekly trivia. Pictured here are Aileen (Tim's sister, as promised), Nicole and Rachel. When Albright is in town, it is always "Lady's Night" at the Lucky Dog.

The boys were also in full attendance (Tim, Me, Keith, Albright and Rob).Although we fielded a full squad, we struggled with trivia - not even placing. (Tied for first and lost in the tiebreaker this week, somewhat redeeming ourselves).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Weekend of Tim

Last weekend, Tim Callahan turned 30!!! Pictured here are most of the male members of the Tuesday night trivia team (and also a subset of the monthly poker night). From left to right - Rob Jeter, Keith Edwards, Tim Callahan, Vince Valenzuela and yours truly. The celebration was at the pub where we play Tuesday night trivia - The Lucky Dog. They have excellent food to go along with their friendly staff and trivia nights.

In case you are wondering, we are all holding European Manbags. Nicole challenged us to dress like Tim. As Tim's sister Aileen so eloquently put it, "Just wear the girliest clothes you have." None of us could do Tim's wardrobe justice. Luckily, Meg brought purses for all of us.

Tim and Nicole (his wife) enjoying Tim's molten chocolate birthday cake.

Rachel and Meg Edwards at The Lucky Dog.

On Saturday evening, Nicole surprised Tim by having us all attend the Trenton Thunder (A - Yankees farm team) baseball game. Tim got to throw out the first pitch. About 15-20 birthday honorees got to throw out pitches. Although Tim got the pitch to the catcher with no bounces from 54 feet, a 9 year old boy and 2 teenage girls threw harder than he did. I guess he is getting old.

The coolest part of the evening was the "bat-dog". During the first inning, they use a golden retriever as the ballboy/batboy. The dog goes out and fetches the bat after the batter gets a hit and brings it to the dugout. He also retrieves foul balls and takes them back to the dugout.

In this video, Tim is accosted by the Thunder Mascot.

Tim and Nicole at the baseball game. Nicole is a good wife to set up all of these great events for Tim's birthday, and to put up with him under normal circumstances.

Several of Tim's family members attended the baseball game. His sister Aileen (don't ask me how I didn't get a picture of Aileen; don't worry, she will be in my next blog), his mom and dad, several aunts and uncles, and Nana (pictured here) all came to the game. I met Nana at Tim's and Nicole's Super Bowl party earlier in the year and got to sit next to her for the first few innings of the game. She is a riot. Nana and I get along very well together because she is a big-time Duke basketball fan. She knows her stuff, too - not an amateur.

Keith with the twins - Kate and Abbie.

Vanessa (Rob's wife) with Emma. Emma has the most beautiful blue eyes and smile. She can brighten your day when she grins at you.

Rob and Jack. Jack has not acquired man's fascination with baseball quite yet. He was ready to call it a night about the 6th inning. I was, too, as I had forgotten how long minor league games take due to all of the between inning activities, like kids running the bases, the dugout dance contest, etc.

On Sunday, "The Weekend of Tim" continued with the guys hitting the golf course (Keith, Tim, me, Rob). As usual, Tim was about 15 strokes better than #2, and I was last. We had great weather and a lot of fun. Our place was the post course watering hole. Rachel had much appreciated snacks waiting on us.

REFLECTIONS - Adder for the Neyland Stadium Renovation Project When visiting the Trenton Thunder during "The Weekend of Tim", I saw this "doozy" in the bathroom. It got me to thinking of items that might be helpful to include in the Neyland Stadium renovation (in case you cannot tell, this is a handy-dandy cupholder for your drink positioned conveniently in the bathroom. Another helpful suggestion for the folks at Neyland Stadium - Eastman recycle bins in the Men's restrooms. This would eliminate the clutter pile of Jack Daniels bottles that are routinely discarded after mixing in Coke's. Remember... Good Sports Always Recycle.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Hargis Family Visits Philadelphia

Weekend before last, Rachel's family came to visit us in Philadelphia for the first time.
Her parents, pictured here at General Washington's headquarters at Valley Forge, flew up on Southwest with Rachel's Uncle Tommy (right). They arrived on Thursday evening. Friday mid-morning, we took them over for a trolley tour of Valley Forge.

After a quick lunch at our house, we drove downtown to take a double-decker bus tour. The bus tours are a great way to see Philadelphia. You can purchase a ticket good for 24 hours. We rode the bus the entire time because we liked the tour guide on our bus. However, you can get on and off at attractions as you like. The bus makes ~10-12 stops at various historic locations throughout the city.

This is a picture of Rachel's mom and Uncle Tommy on the bus. We had a great day for the tour. It was sunny, but not blazing hot (mid 80's).

Rachel and I on the bus.

This is a picture of City Hall, built on one of the five original squares in Philadelphia. A statue of William Penn sits on top of the building. It was the tallest building in Pennsylvania by gentleman's agreement until the 1960's or 1970's. Several buildings have been built since in Philly and Pittsburgh that are taller. Since that happened, Philadelphia has not won a major sports championship (yes, Philly, like all losing sports cities, has a curse).

The tall building here is the Comcast Tower, the first LEED Platinum skyscraper in the world. It was completed within the past year and is now the tallest building in Philadelphia. It is also credited with "Reversing the Curse". A new statue of William Penn was constructed on top of the Comcast Tower (any new building project in Philly is forced to donate "art" to the socialist economy; therefore, Philadelphia is the "sculpture" city). Since William Penn once again looks over the city, the curse is lifted as demonstrated by the Philadelphia Soul winning the Arena Football Championship. Although I have argued that arena football does not officially qualify as a "major" sport, Philly residents insure me that the Phillies are going all the way.

This is the love statue in Center City. It is the most photographed sculpture in the world. The "O" is crooked to symbolize that love is not perfect, but it is beautiful none the less "blah blah blah".

A nice shot of the Philadelphia skyline as we took the double-decker from the Museum of Art towards the Philadelphia Zoo.

Following our tour, we took Rachel's family to Jim's for a Philadelphia Cheesesteak. We decided on Jim's because it was highly recommended by the tour guide and an insert in the U.S. Airways travel magazine. Most importantly, Jim's serves a mean "vegie" cheesesteak. Most Philadelphia natives would scoff at the idea, but it was very handy for Rachel and her mom.

Rachel's dad enjoyed his cheesesteak.

The final picture below is one of my favorite shots of Philadelphia, looking down the Ben Franklin Parkway from the Museum of Art. This street was constructed to resemble the Champs D'Elysees in Paris.

REFLECTIONS - Yankee Stadium

On Saturday afternoon, we headed to Yankee Stadium. After the Hargises arrived, Uncle Tommy mentioned that he would like to visit Yankee Stadium. Since it will be bulldozed at the end of the season, this was sort of his last chance. Rachel and I had been trying to arrange a trip, too, so this was the perfect weekend.

Since the trip was sort of last minute, I had the "opportunity" to drive the family from Philadelphia into the Bronx. Unfortunately, the Bronx is the borough of NYC furthest from Philadelphia. The drive was actually pretty easy until we got to the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey to the Bronx. At this point, my blood pressure elevated significantly due to the traffic. However, we made it safely to the game.

We parked next to the stadium, picked up our Stubhub tickets and headed for our seats. Our tickets were not very good, but they were inside the stadium. The weather was beautiful that day, as there was a nice breeze and temperatures were only in the low 80's. We paid $5 each for our Nathan's hot dogs (except for the vegetarians in the group), grabbed some peanuts and cokes and enjoyed the Yankees whipping the Angels. I am not a Yankee fan, but the atmosphere was great.

From our seats, we could see the new stadium being built next door. It looks like it is going to be a really nice stadium. If it is not, the world's richest franchise can only blame themselves.

Ironically, a girl in the row in front of us will be a graduate student at the University of Tennessee and work in the Marketing Dept. for Athletics beginning this fall. Her mom was hilarious. She was obviously an immigrant and was an avid Yankees fan. Yankee Stadium is definitely a diverse collection of mankind.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Run For the Hill of It

Two weekends ago, Rachel and I ran the "Run For the Hill of It" - a 5 mile race along the river next to Chestnut Hill College. As you can probably tell from my picture below, I was less than thrilled to have my picture made before the race (besides the fact that I was up running 5 miles at 7 AM on my Saturday morning). My payback... Rachel gets the headline photo.

In all honesty, the race was actually pretty good. It was on an unpaved path that followed Wissahickon Creek. Almost the entire run was covered by a canopy of trees, and the morning was unseasonably cool for late July in Philadelphia. As poor as the pre-race pictures may look, believe me, they are much better than the post-race pictures would have been. Plus, it was nice to get the day's workout completed before lunch.

REFLECTIONS - This Dyson Guy is Pretty Smart

I am sure that most of the readers of this blog are at least topically familiar with the Dyson line of vacuum cleaners. They are the commercials with the guy who describes his invention of the bagless vacuum cleaner that uses multiple cyclone technology to prevent the vacuum from losing suction. Although very expensive, the vacuum cleaners are pretty darn cool.

At any rate, Mr. Dyson's new invention is located in the bathrooms at the Providence, RI airport. This is a picture of the Dyson hand dryer. Instead of the conventional convection heat hand dryers in most public restrooms, the Providence airport are trialing these babies. It is a "green" alternative to the heated dryers. No heat. In only 3 seconds, this device literally sucked every bit of moisture from my hands. It was AMAZING!!! Apparently, it uses much less energy than the conventional dryers, too.